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His Grace, Bishop JOSEPH’s Remarks on the 20th Anniversary of St. Mark Church
June 4, 2006
Irvine, California

The Very Reverend Father Michael, Deacon George, esteemed officers and members of the Parish Council, officers and members of the organizations, and all the faithful of St. Mark Church:

Today, we celebrate the prayers, hard work and sacrifice so many of you and the founders of this parish have made for 20 years to the glory of Jesus Christ.  Building up a parish is one of the hardest challenges Christians can face.  It involves cooperation with other, love, patience, perseverance, and sacrifice of our own desires and total commitment to God’s will.

Like a flower, a parish comes to be what it is through many stages.  What starts off as a green bud gradually becomes a radiant and fragrant blossom, exploding with beautiful colors and captivating scent.

As any of us who have tended flowers know, it is not easy to keep healthy.  They can never be taken for granted.  Flowers need sun and rain, the right balance of fertilizers, and occasionally pesticides.  What is true of plants is true of parishes, if they do not continue to constantly grow, they quickly die.  New stems must come forth from the old ones, so that growth begets growth, and the plants build upon their previous seasons.

They must be tended to by a knowledgeable gardener, who knows when to let the plants throw forth shoots, and when to trim off dead branches.  He waters and cultivates, pulling out weeds and planting new seedlings.  With a watchful eye, he spots diseases and pests that can destroy growth and cripple a healthy plant.

For many years, Fr. Michael Laffoon has tended to this community, and I admire his dedicated service to God through his ministry to all of you.  He has helped you, the good people of this community, stay the course set forth by the Gospel of our Lord.  He has encouraged you in the Faith of your Fathers, the Holy Fathers who have proclaimed the Gospel from the beginning.

Some are born into the Church, while others come as children and adults, yet we are all one family.  We have one Father, the Lord God.  We have one Savior, Jesus Christ.  We have one Spirit, the Most Holy Spirit.  We have one Mother, the Holy Church.  We may come from Antioch or Anaheim, yet God loves all of us and desires to save all of us.

Each member of the family is like a petal in a flower.  No one by himself is the flower, but a flower is the unity of many different parts.  Some are colorful, while others are plain.  Yet, every one of them is essential.  As the flower grows, it builds up its existing parts while creating new ones.

Fr. Michael and I know that this parish has a wonderful future, so long as you continue to carry the message of the Gospel to the world around you and bring more and more people to the Holy Orthodox Faith.  To do this, you must first be faithful to the Faith yourselves.  Those of you who persevere in prayer, I urge you to continue on and encourage those who struggle with living out the Faith each day.  If you desire God’s joy and peace to at the center of this community, then you yourselves must let God into your hearts and be transformed by Him.  Let God cleanse you of your sins, so that you may be radiant with His glory.

Just as the bee is attracted by the fragrance of the flower, people will be attracted to this community by its spiritual beauty and fresh growth.  Allow God to prosper you by His grace, be open to the inquirer and minister to the suffering.  In loving others, you allow God to love you all the more.

I rejoice that God has done a mighty work in building up this Holy community, and I congratulate you for faithfully following Him.

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