Taking up the Cross: saying no to killing

It does appear that if we are going to truly follow Christ, we are called to the cross and to martrydom.  Christ seems to have accepted the fact that his disciples would be as hated and persecuted and hunted down as He was.   Just read His statements to His disciples in the New Testament.
Nowhere does He tell us to kill anyone, but He does suggest that we must be willing to give up our lives in order to follow Him.
Of course pragmatically we then ask, but doesn’t that mean He envisioned all His followers eventually being killed?
One can look at Christian history and say – take note, Christianity conquered the Roman Empire without an army, without shedding any blood (though the blood of Christians was shed), without killing anyone.   It is one of the facts that really distinguishes Christianity from Islam which had an army from the beginning and used it to convert people.  Muhammad was quite willing to use the sword to get conversions.  Jesus never advocated such a thing.
So I actually think all your concerns are valid, and pragmatic and real.  Were Christians to sit quietly while Hitlers and Stalins massacred millions?   Or were we supposed to find another way to resist?   Maybe if the Christians of Germany had been willing to die as martyrs for Christ instead of dying as “heroic” soldiers in Hitler’s army, the history of the 20th Century would have been very different.  The same is true is Russia – in 1900 the Russian Orthodox Church claimed  100 million  members in Russia.   There were but several thousand Bolsheviks.   The Bolsheviks won.  The Christians were not willing to all die for their faith.  Instead, they preserved their lives by joining the Russian army and persecuting those who persisted in being Christian.  It is said that 100,000 bishops, monks, nuns, priests and believers were murdered by the communists.  That is a huge number, but it represents  one tenth of one percent of the number of people the Russian Church claimed as members.  Stalin himself is responsible for the deaths of 20 million citizens of the Soviet Empire.  Where were the Christians then?  They had all humbly become communists in order to save their lives.  The former Christians were now murdering their fellow citizens.
I only offer this as an alternative view.  Did Christians have to go to war and kill to save Christianity, or had they been willing to be Christians and die rather than participate in killing, would the 20th Century have been an entirely different history?
I am not saying that taking up the cross is easy.  It does entail suffering.  And I am not sure I could choose that path when it comes time.   Do I really believe in God’s kingdom so much that I am willing to die rather than to kill?
Of course I have embrace the priesthood, and by our canons I as a priest am forbidden from killing – if I kill then I give up the priesthood.   It means that in becoming a priest, I agree to become a martyr rather than to kill.
Your questions are most valid and most difficult, and some of the most challenging aspects of what it means to be a Christian.

Christianity and Science

Over the past 11 years, in preparing to deal with an Introduction to Religion course which I teach in 3 classes over two semesters each year at the University of Dayton I have been required by the university to present to the class lectures on Genesis 1-3 (required reading for the course). Over these years and classes, I have gone through the text many times, always gaining new insight into the text. I have not only read and reread the text of Genesis 1-3 text but also read about the modern controversies between Creation Scientists and Darwinian Scientists and about the current scientific evidence and what it tells us about the origins of humanity. I will admit when I started teaching about Genesis 1-3, I was not that versed in the controversies swirling around the text. I assumed the text was true but had no idea that the very nature of truth was at the heart of the controversy. I was in the beginning, willing to accept a loosely literal interpretation of the text but also through my own educational background did not doubt that science and evolution were also true.I had not considered well the ways in which the claims of science and the claims of believers were in fact contradictory and allowed those controversies to sit on the back burner seeing no need to resolve them, no way to do it in any case, and comfortable with the intellectual dissonance between the competing claims. I was comfortable both with the shots that Intelligent Design folk took at atheistic scientists and with the dismissive jabs science aimed at biblical literalists. I was not in any camp, and only casually tried to make sense of it all. I was sure the Genesis text was inspired and meaningful and true, so atheism had to be wrong. I probably kept a vague hope that the truth of Genesis 1-3 would become obvious B science=s relentless pursuit of truth would eventually even show in what sense Genesis was true. But during these years, the more I read, the more I listened to my students questions and read their thoughts about Genesis in the papers I had them write, I realized there were some significant issues which I had to work out in my own mind. Thus was born my personal theological reflection, QUESTIONING GOD: A LOOK AT GENESIS. Personally I have found that a purely literal reading of Genesis is not intellectually sustainable. There are too many hints in the text itself which indicate a non-literal reading is called for. There also are too many significant contradictions in the creation accounts found in chapter 1 versus chapter 2 to allow the stories to be read literally.
I read how the ancient Christian writers assuming as they did that Genesis was written by Moses endeavored laboriously and creatively to explain away any apparent contradictions in the text. They were well aware of the contradictions and point them out, but then proceeded to try to explain them away, assuming they must for the sake of logic be explained away. But when I read the conclusion of modern scholars, who saw no need to reconcile the contradictory texts, but rather saw evidence for two differing stories written/edited by distinctly different peoples at widely differing moments in history, I accepted the notion that the stories in fact should not be harmonized, but should be mined for the riches each one offers to search for what it means to be human and to the pursuit of understanding the fullness of Gods revelation. What this has led to for me is the realization of the many levels of truth which a text can contain. Reading through the New Testament and the Patristic writers of early Christianity, one sees that they joyfully perused the scriptural texts for allegorical, symbolic, spiritual, moral, and prophetic meanings. They also always read the text in the light of Christ B Christologically and Christocentrically. This was their normal way of reading any text of the Old Testament, including Genesis 1-3. One does not have to go too far to realize that we do this all the time with significant texts. Thomas Jefferson penned the words of the Declaration of Independence: We hold these truths to be self evident that all men were created equal.If pushed in a discussion about this almost all my students deny the text is literally true and hold to some version of it depends what you mean by.” They readily admit we are not all equal, we are not all Einsteins or Pavrottis or Michael Jordans. Jefferson had slaves so he didnt think all men were equal either. So we realize that with certain qualifiers to explain the statement, we might agree on its truth, but that is not a literal reading of the text. We also realize we understand that text differently than Jefferson himself who did not include women, Africans, Indians, the uneducated/unEnlightened, or those who didnt own land in his idea of Amen. So in what manner is the text “true?” It comes down to how we interpret it. We really do interpret the text of the Declaration of Independence differently than Jefferson did B we have expanded its definition of men but then we claim we really are following his tradition, his thinking, his meaning (must not literally!). This is as true of any writing we might look at including scripture. Biblical literalism is hard to sustain intellectually, for me personally. I realize others can do it. But I find it untenable, because for me at least, like the development of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of the Virgin in Roman Catholic theology, it is a position that necessitates a certain amount of mental and theological gymnastics and forced explanations and acceptance of questionable propositions to justify it and keep it consistent. It is for me far more intellectually satisfying and spiritually beneficial to have to deal with the issues that are raised by accepting the fact that Genesis 1-3 is more profitably read if one uses the traditionally accepted other readings which Christians have relied on through history.

I do understand that once one accepts the notion that the biblical text is not always meant to be read literally, people feel they are on a slippery slope B for how can we know if any of the bible is literally true if we allow that some parts of it are not? My contention is that this is the role that Church plays in bible reading. It is a fact that if we accept Enlightenment individualism, no one person alone ever can fully determine when a bible text is to be understood other than literally. But if we read the bible within the community of the church, within the church=s history, within the tradition of the church including its dogmas, patristic commentary, canons, hymns, etc, we can discern when and how to read certain texts in a non-literal fashion. This very notion goes against the grain of Protestant bible reading principles which seem to assume that every individual has the ability to fully interpret any and all scriptures. I think this assumption is false. I think we need guidance as is shown in the New Testament itself which interprets for us many Old Testament texts which if we didnt have the New Testament hermeneutic we would never understand the Old Testament text as it is interpreted and used in the Christian scriptures. Yes, we may have to intensely study and debate the meaning of some texts, but I think we can come to some understanding that all texts are read literally some of the time and some of the texts are read literally all of the time, but some texts are not read literally at all. In 1 Corinthians 9:9-10, St. Paul writes, For it is written in the law of Moses, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.‘ Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Or does he not speak entirely for our sake? It was indeed written for our sake.The Old Testament text he comments on is perfectly understandable and meaningful if read literally. However, if we read it literally, according to St. Paul we miss the point of the text and of God’s message. I also think this happens to be true of Genesis 1-3 where if we insist on a literal reading of the text, we are going to miss the very point of the text and of Gods message. I can imagine St. Paul saying, Do you think it is science that God is concerned with in Genesis 1-3? Wrong! It was written for our sake and speaks to us about what it means to be human, and what it means to be a creature of God. It isnt science, it is theology!At some moment in the 15 billion year history of the cosmos, the universe became self aware. This moment was the dawn of humans. How and when this exactly happened is not recorded for us in history, but it is recorded for us in theology in Genesis. It is described in Genesis as the work of God in His creation. God brought forth this magnificent and new creature capable of self awareness, of consciousness and self-consciousness, of conscience, of free will and of love. That moment was not recorded by the news media nor by any ancient historian, but it was later described within the two stories of the creation of humans found in Genesis 1 and 2. God now had a most unique creature in his universe to deal with, to carry on His plan, to have dominion over the rest of the creatures. It is a story of hope and potential but also of fall, of pain, of sorrow, of sin, of death. I dont believe the story was intended to be science, and certainly it was written long before the modern scientific method of inquiry became our common way of approaching the universe. It is not trying to pose or answer the questions which 21st Century science asks and considers important. It is however endeavoring to offer eternal truths about humans, which considering it is perhaps 3000 years old, it has done divinely! My own conclusion (which won’t satisfy many) is that science and religion are really looking at things from two very different perspectives, and though they may be writing about the same thing – the origin of the universe – they see things as differently as a botanical taxonomist and a romantic poet see a rose. I do hold to a two realm approach to knowledge. I think science and religion are part of two differing ways of knowing.

Science’s philosophical base is skepticism and doubt and relies on the scientific method of testing, proofs and evidence as the only basis for its claims. It is completely materialistic. Science forms theories and tests and retests the theories. Theories are simply the current best opinion as to how things work based on the evidence we have. But science’s skepticism means the interpretation of facts is always subject to question, revision, replacement. For example whereas Newtonian physics was good enough to get man to the moon and back, today scientists regard Newtonian physics as an inadequate model for truly understanding the universe and look to Quantum physics and mechanics and the theory of relativity as a more adequate framework for comprehending how the universe really works. Religion, though often involving doubt and questioning, is not based in skepticism but in faith. We believe in the existence of God – and hold to this often without any evidence, or we at least interpret the evidence in a particular way. But we are faith based and bring our faith to our interpretation of things, including science. We accept in religion that sometimes we cannot know something, sometimes we dont experience something, but we do accept the witness and testimony of others, including that testimony recorded in scriptures and in the tradition of the Church. It means that for us at times our doubt and our faith is directed at the reliability of the witnesses to the truth being claimed. We accept on faith that some revelations and some spiritual experiences are not available to all, and that sometimes all we can do is accept the tradition of the churchs trust in and acceptance of an event or an experience. We do not believe that all spiritual experiences are merely personal, subjective, only of the intellect. We believe that spiritual experiences even when limited to an individual can be tested against the tradition including the scriptures. Christianity in its history certainly has not accepted any and every claim to revelation or dogma, but has painstakingly discerned what is theological truth. Theology is not merely subjective opinion. There has been an immense discerning process through the centuries, through debate, through councils, through reading and interpreting scripture, through rejecting some ideas and writings.
The scientific method which for some is the only way to approach any claim to truth, is not meant for discerning between theological claims. While some theological claims can be evaluated in terms of reason and rationality, sometimes the claims to theological truth can only be experienced or tested within the context of faith, of a faith community, or by living according to its tenets trusting that its goodness will be revealed to us. Not everything in religion is without some type of support, but often the support comes in the form of the testimony and witness of believers. Here again, we are left with evaluating the trustworthiness of these people when their claims cannot in fact be tested. Faith and reason are not always and necessarily opposed to one another. But they sometimes belong to the two different ways of knowing. Whereas science demands testing and proofs, theology must rely on testimony, wisdom and discernment. When Galileo defended notions that the earth revolved around the sun in opposition to the Churchs geocentric approach, he had only the mathematical proofs of arcs to offer and could not bring forth any other evidence. And though Galileo backed down as a faithful son of the church from his position, he did warn the Pope that at some point on this one issue the pope and the church were going to find themselves opposing the truth, a truth which would eventually be demonstrated from scientific reasoning. When the church has failed to understand the limits of its particular way and realm of knowing and usurps its authority and treads on scientific knowledge it has often embarrassed itself. We in the church have to live by the humility we claim to value and recognize there are other realms of knowledge and ways of knowing the universe which are beyond our competencies. I believe it was Galileo himself who said, that religion does not teach us how the heavens go, but only how to go to heaven. Christianity gains nothing by refuting evolution accept perhaps alienating the scientific community from religion. The real source of problem regarding evolution is the biblical literalists. We should let them fight all they want. We have a much more significant mission and ministry not to alienate the scientific community so that we can in fact engage them in conversation regarding issues of morality which are in our competency to discuss and evaluate. Then we could bring our message to issues of genetic engineering and research, abortion, stem cell research, cloning, ecology, and a host of other issues. The fact that science can study the world with no regard to religion, doesn’t mean that everything science says is wrong. But it also doesnt mean that science is the only way of knowing worth anything. Science has its limits. As Einstein commented, science can tell us what we can do, but it can’t tell us what we should do. He felt that was the particular role of religion in society. (ex, Science says we can make nuclear weapons, it cant however tell us if we should make these weapons). The issues of morality which science often runs up against are issues that require more than the scientific method and scientific reasoning to discern. Since we live in the same one world, even though we have different realms of knowing, we could then bring science and religion together to discuss scientific research and appeal to reason with scientists about why we need to consider what we should do not just what we can do. I don’t think believers have to fear science, or evolution, nor do we have to deny the truths that science presents which the bible doesn’t confirm. The bible doesn’t mention dinosaurs, but I think they are true and really roamed the earth millions of years ago. Science as a way of knowing speaks about theories B interpretations of the known facts which are constantly tested to see whether they do account for all that is known about a situation. Some biblical literalists try to jump on this idea, especially regarding the theory of evolution and say it is theory not fact. But all scientific thinking is contained in theory B the theory of electricity, the theory of gravity, of thermodynamics, aerodynamics, etc. They all are theories and so may be changed, improved, rejected, when new evidence is presented. But they also have shown themselves to be true enough to guide much of our daily technology. There may be ways in which the theory of evolution is wrong, gaps in its evidence and things it cant fully account for. Scientists at times are critical of evolution in one of its aspects or another (which biblical literalists immediately pounce on). However, whatever faults scientists find with Darwinian Evolution, they still are accepting the general principles of the theory and of the scientific method, and of skepticism and of doubt, and of scientific reasoning. Saying something is Atheory@ in science doesn=t mean it isn=t true.

I don’t think Genesis 1-3 is meant to be science as we understand science today. It is expressing truth but is simply not interested in the same things that scientists are normally interested in. It does not try to produce evidence for its claims. It rather is offering us a chance to understand what it means to be human, to be the very way the entire created universe became self aware. And it offers a claim that we accept on faith (Hebrews 11:3), namely that it is not merely an issue of natural cause and effect which resulted in humans being on the planet. We believe in one God the father all mighty, maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible. We accept on faith and on the testimony of scripture that we are created in the image and likeness of God. (Many of my students mistakenly write that we are created in the image and likeliness of God!). We believe this means something for how we live, how we relate to the rest of creation and how we are to treat all other human beings. Genesis 1-3 offers us a God inspired insight into who and what we are more than if offers us scientific and historical fact about the first human beings. It helps us come to an understanding of how we are to relate to the rest of creation and to one another.


Why do you cry to me?

“Why do you cry to me?” In Exodus 14:15, the fleeing Israelites find themselves in dire straits – trapped by a sea on one side and the pursuing Egyptian army on the other; they have nowhere to go and bitterly criticize their “liberator” Moses for having led them to their scandalous and inescapable situation.  Moses boldly tells the tremulous people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again.  The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be still”  (Exodus 14:13-14).No doubt, Moses believed every word he spoke, and he too intended to sit back and watch what God would do for them.  But the LORD, who has a habit of demanding synergy at the darndest times, “said to Moses, ‘Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward’” (14:15).  The ball was in Moses’ court, not God’s.  It was Moses’ move, not God’s.  God is not going to do for His people what they have to do for themselves.  God warned Noah of the impending flood with which He was going to destroy the earth.  God informs Noah of this cataclysm, but does the LORD build Noah an ark?   NO.  God tells Noah to build the ark.   Salvation is not a spectator sport – you either participate or you lose.To the trapped Israelites, God simply says, “Go forward – move, do something.”  If you want to be saved, get yourselves involved in the process.The members of the OCA, much like the Israelites of Exodus 14 are crying to God for help in dealing with an ongoing scandal and leadership failure.  We are waiting for God to do something to help us.  Perhaps some are just bitterly complaining; others are waiting for God to do His thing.   God’s word is the same to us as to the Israelites – “Move forward!  What are you waiting for –  your complete destruction by the Egyptians?  Why are you just standing there motionless and crying out.  Take action, move forward!”  We need to do some things for our salvation.  And just like God didn’t build Noah’s ark, neither is God going to build our church.  God is not going to do for us what we are capable of and supposed to be doing for ourselves. We have to build the Church in America, just like Noah had to build the ark for his salvation.  We have to move forward in solving our problems and stop thinking that God or someone else is supposed to do our work for us.  God is not our servant to clean up our messes.  We are supposed to be His servants and do His will and establish His Church in America.  The ball is in our courts and we need to build the ark despite of whatever sinfulness we find all around us or even in our midst.The current scandalous mess we of the OCA find ourselves in tempts some, like the Hebrew children, to wish they were back in Egypt, back where there were strong rulers (Pharaoh!), back under the rule of foreigners rather than stuck in the current wilderness of Sin (Exodus 16:1), dying of thirst for the Gospel and for righteousness.  Moses was at wits end, but God told him to strike the rock from which water would pour forth  (Exodus 17:6), and as it turns out that rock was Christ  (1 Corinthians 10:4).   The wilderness sojourn which caused such bitter complaining was necessary for their and our salvation, for them and us to come to Christ, for them and us to learn faithfulness, to trust in the Lord, and to do what is right.  We in the OCA too many be stuck in a Wilderness of Sin, but we also know what is good, right and true, and we are to do these things despite our circumstances.The entire Exodus story has meaning for our current situation.  Exodus is not merely or even mostly ancient history about what God did in the past.  It is a message intended for us today.    Exodus is interpreted by St. Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians as a message to us, not just a record of past history:  “Now these things are warnings for us, not to desire evil as they did… We must not indulge in immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day (that would be the whole OCA!!!!).  We must not put the Lord to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents; nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.  Now these things happened to them as a warning, but they were written down for our instruction, upon whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Cor 10:6-11). 

It is we who need to hear their story and to come to the full realization that we like the ancient Israelites have been told by God to move forward.  Again, we can hope like the timid Israelites to return to the past, to return to the old world of Egypt, or we can embrace the autocephaly given to us, traverse the wilderness of Sin and move forward to the kingdom of God.  As St. Paul said so eloquently, “Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,  I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Let those of us who are mature be thus minded; and if in anything you are otherwise minded, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained” (Philippians 3:13-16).

 “Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, ‘Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, “They always go astray in their hearts; they have not known my ways.” As I swore in my wrath, “They shall never enter my rest.”’  …  Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest remains, let us fear lest any of you be judged to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them; but the message which they heard did not benefit them, because it did not meet with faith in the hearers” (Hebrews 3:7-11, 4:1-2).The dire and scandalous situation of the OCA today is obviously not the first time God’s people have found themselves feeling trapped, or even misled by their leadership.  We have the advantage of knowing the Exodus story which St. Paul says was written for our instruction.  We know how their story turned out BECAUSE they didn’t remain paralyzed in frustration and fear but rather they moved forward in faith and hope, guided by God’s promise (and yes they had to overcome a very persistent reluctance on the part of the majority to do what was before them and who wanted instead to return to what was behind them).  Our biggest fear should not be failed leadership or scandal, but only that we will harden our hearts in disbelief against God because of the problems we face.  Moses in what he believed was faithfulness yelled, “Stand firm!”  God on the other hand, said, “Quit standing there and move forward!”  We have much work to do in the OCA to get to where God is leading us.   

The Process of Choosing a Bishop

While the Orthodox Church is clearly hierarchical, and the bishop is essential to the life of the Church through the diocese, it is amazing how little thought or time is put into selecting, nurturing and training candidates for the Episcopal office in the modern Church.  This is not because we do not have a clear idea about what a bishop is or what he does.  The Tradition contains clear lists which describe the role and character of the bishop.

In the New Testament, St. Paul lists quite a number of prerequisites  and  requirements for a man to be considered for the office of bishop in 1 Timothy 3:1-7   and Titus 1:7-9.  Among them are :     husband of one wife, a good manager of his household, above reproach, temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher able to refute those who contradict sound doctrine, a lover of goodness, master of himself, upright, holy, and self-controlled, no drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not arrogant or quick tempered and not greedy or a lover of money, moreover he must be well thought of by outsiders.  St. Paul had high expectations for those who became bishops in the Church.  Obviously some of these have to do with the personality of the man and are not traits which are teachable/learnable.   This of course raises the questions as to whether the process of choosing a new bishop is more about the church membership discerning which of our Orthodox men are “gifted” toward being bishops (or perhaps discerning which live a genuinely Gospel life) or is it more about selecting men based on their well known personality/characteristics and then helping to train them (give them skills) to handle the duties of the bishop’s office?  Most likely both are true; the real question being whether we will use both/either in selecting the next generation of bishops in the OCA or will we limit ourselves to using a man’s not being married as our only criterion for selecting a bishop?

The canonical tradition lists certain requirements for a man to become a bishop including age,  the fact that he is not a recent convert but rather a long time Christian so that his “faith, reputable life, his steadfastness of character and considerateness of demeanor may be well known” (Canon 10, Sardica, 343AD).  He also was to know the Psalter by heart, be a frequent reader of the Scriptures and Canons, and to live according to God’s commandments (Canon 2, of Nicea 2, 787AD).  In these lists we do get a sense that these are not skills one is taught after being selected as a candidate for the office of bishop, but rather these are the lifelong skills that one demonstrates which causes one to be considered for the office.  It is only because of the way that a man conducts his life – a way that is readily observable to the rest of the Church – that he becomes a potential candidate for the episcopacy.

The Statutes of the OCA list numerous duties of the bishop, among which are expounding the faith and morals of Orthodoxy, guidance in all spiritual matters of the diocese, various administrative duties, discipline of the clergy and laity, president of the diocesan assembly, making canonical visits to all diocesan parishes.  One would think that since some of the duties of the bishop are skills which are teachable/learnable, so our real step is to discern which man we want to do these tasks in the Diocese, and then to make sure he is given the training which will help him fulfill the duties of the office. 

The Pauline list is probably closer to the expectations of most diocesan members for their bishop than is the OCA’s Statutes.  But it is also probably true that rarely are any of these characteristics brought up when actually considering specific candidates for the Episcopal office.   In fact the Synod of Bishops seems to discourage any open discussion of the qualities of any man for the office of bishop or metropolitan, fearing some form of campaigning or politicking will enter the process which is deemed to be spiritual rather than political matter.  When electing the metropolitan even basic facts about potential candidates such as their age and educational background are not disseminated.  Voting is done virtually cold – votes are cast with no slate of candidates listed just to see if someone has overwhelming popular support; this is then thought to somehow be the will of God.

When it comes to electing a diocesan bishop, the members of the Synod of Bishops through the Metropolitan often talk about “acceptable” candidates, even though they never define the criteria for acceptability.  At times, “Syosset” indicated the existence of a “list” of acceptable candidates for the office of bishop.  But again we have never been told, “Acceptable to whom?” or “Acceptable based on what criteria?”  And certainly we don’t know who was automatically excluded or included regardless of any criteria.   And the list of names itself, even when its existence is mentioned, never is made public.   One wonders why the secrecy?

One aspect of the canonical criteria for selecting a bishop which is specifically mentioned in the OCA statutes but is not part of the Pauline list nor even part of the early history of the church can be stated in this way:  the bishop cannot be in a heterosexual union nor can he desire to be in one, which in 21st Century America means the gene pool is very small, and is a group of which gay men are a large part.  St. Paul in 1 Timothy specifically listed his notion about who is the right man to be a bishop:  husband of one wife, and MANAGES his household well.  The received tradition basically abrogates the biblical spirit and intent.  What St. Paul saw as the very condition for choosing a bishop:  husband of one wife and a good manager of his married household (which is where he would get managerial experience),  becomes in the canonical tradition precisely the man whom we may not choose to be a bishop.

So how did we get to the point where the very criteria which St. Paul and the New Testament established for a man to hold the office of the bishop becomes reason to reject a man from being considered for that office? 

It has to do with the changing realities of life in the Byzantine Empire, a changing sense of piety, and public opinion.  

In 692AD, the Quinisext  Council of the Church, adopted Canon 12 which forbids bishops from remaining married after their consecration.  The Canon notes that at that time the bishops in Africa and Libya are still living with their wives, according to the more ancient practice which allowed such a thing.  The Canon says it is neither abolishing or overthrowing the Apostolic authority which allowed married bishops but “as caring for the health of the people and their advance to better things” and in order not to give offense to anyone (specifically those who objected to married bishops) it was then decided that from that point on bishops could no longer live with their wives.   The Canon basically acknowledges that piety and public opinion have changed and that it is no longer acceptable for bishops to live with their wives.   The Canon does not in any way fault the more ancient and apostolic practice, nor does it pretend that it is offering a continuation of ancient tradition.  It simply says times and piety have changed and so a new rule is needed to support the new popular piety.   John Zonaras, commenting on this Canon in the early 12th Century, wrote in defense of this new piety for bishops, “When the faith first was born and came forth into the world, the Apostles treated with greater softness and indulgence those who embraced the truth, which as yet was not scattered far and wide, nor did they exact from them perfection in all respects, but made great allowances for their weakness and for the inveterate force of the customs with which they were surrounded, both among the heathen and among the Jews. ”   Zonaras says it was because at the beginning of Christianity we were not ready for a higher morality that bishops were allowed to marry.   But now Zonaras  argues that since the Empire has become Christian and Christians are no longer surrounded by heathens and Jews but are the overwhelming majority in the Empire, a new set of “higher standards” for clergy can be expected.  One such standard is that not only may the bishop no longer co-habit with his wife, but also no women may live in a household with him.    Basically his explanation for this change in practice is that the changing historical realities of the world including that there is now a Christian Empire means “higher” standards can be set for the clergy.  What he and the Byzantines never expected of course was that God might allow their Empire to be swept away into the dustbin of history.  So if we no longer live in a particularly Christian Empire and we Orthodox are a minority religion, would not Zonaras’ logic say it is time to change our practices regarding married bishops again?   Zonaras seems to be arguing that the very thing canonical tradition allows is for the Church to adapt to its changing historical realities.

Quinisext did not forbid electing a married man to the episcopal office; it only said that the bishop can no longer remain living with his wife.   Canon 48 of Quinisext allows for a married man to be elected as bishop as long as he and his wife mutually agree to live separate, celibate lives.   The wife would enter a monastery, the husband would provide for her out of his episcopal provisions.   If the now ex-wife was deemed worthy she was to be ordained as a deaconess but was not to serve with her ex-husband.

By the time of the 7th Ecumenical Council, 2 Nicea (787AD), further changes in piety and standards had occurred.  Canon 18 forbids there to be any woman in any home or property which the Bishop happens to live in or visit.  Even female slaves were required to leave the property when a bishop was present, and the Canon as it literally reads forbids even the bishop’s mother, sisters or daughters to be in the same house with him.   This is probably the case because by the end of the 8th Century bishops were being drawn not from married men who agree with their spouses to live celibate lives, but from monastics who should not have any reason to have women around them – and also it is obvious that there is an increasingly negative assessment of women at this time.   However, if we think that rule seems extreme, we might take note that a rule in adopted in Rome in 595AD forbade any lay persons from being in the Pope’s personal employment – all those working for the Pope had to be clergy or monks – so even the lay man was not permitted in the Pope’s presence.  {On the other side of this exclusion of all lay men and women from the presence of bishops, St. John Cassian (d. 435AD) warned monks to avoid not only all women but also at all costs to avoid all bishops too!}

We have moved along way from St. Paul’s listed requirements for a bishop in his epistles  to Timothy and Titus.   Moreover,  the world which adopted these canons no longer exists.  One would think that so-called “traditionalist” Orthodox who so often are completely hostile to modern American ways and see our current world as “unchristian” would have to admit that the world which existed when the canons were adopted is long gone.  Using the very rationale for adopting the canons in the first place, and in order for us to be most faithful to the Gospel and for us to present the Gospel to modern man, we need to take into account again some of the more ancient ways of thinking about bishops, including the Apostolic tradition recorded by St. Paul the Apostle to the Nations.     

 St. Paul clearly saw the episcopal process of being one in which we choose/discern the right man for the office.   We would do well in the OCA to clarify our criteria for episcopal candidates so that we know what kinds of men we should be considering for the office of bishop.  We could help the process by simply talking about the traits and characteristics of a good bishop instead of focusing on their lack of marriagability which obviously is no particular virtue. 

The Church’s canonical tradition did not foresee in 21st Century N. America that eliminating the married heterosexual from the pool of candidates would so limit the field of candidates as to leave the church virtually void of any skilled managers, or any servant leaders when it comes to selecting a bishop.

Certainly no bishop in recent memory has been chosen because he best fit St. Paul’s list of requirements for the episcopal office.  In fact our bishops lacking any managerial experience often appear to rely on their willingness to despotically tyrannize as a substitute for real leadership.  Or hoping to be liked by others, they avoid having to deal with problems lest they do something wrong (and being wrong is forbidden by “Orthodox” tradition that says they must be always right/correct, that in fact they can never be wrong).  

Years ago when the Midwest Diocese was struggling to find a new bishop, there were several bishop-wannabees who made themselves known to the diocesan chancellor.   He once observed that the one common trait of all of the bishop- wannabees was that they were particularly inept at doing anything practical even for themselves but were quite good at letting others serve them.  Hardly traits we would hope for in our bishops!

Whether our current bishops like the terminology or not, St. Paul saw management skills as essential to the Christian bishop.   One has to wonder with our bishops today whether any of them ever even held a job, let alone managed anything.  And managing as bishop today includes dealing with the changes in communication which the Internet has caused.  No longer are the actions and decisions of a bishop or the Synod unknown to their dioceses or to the world at large.  Instant communications is a real part of the world, and part of the work which a bishop must manage.

Rather than some secret list of “approved” candidates for the episcopacy, perhaps what the OCA really should invest in is running through the seminaries a special 1 semester seminar (residency required) in which men who have been nominated as potential bishops (self nomination not acceptable) must attend.  The course work might include a study ST. Paul’s list of character traits,  a study the New Testament’s ideas of leadership, discussions on the OCA Statutory duties of a bishop and learning the skills to accomplish these duties, discussions with currently ruling bishops (even non-OCA ones), a study of canonical tradition, and learning some managerial skills, as well as studying current law relating to issues such as sex abuse, drug abuse, malpractice and also current professional research on the treatment of such problems.  To get into this seminar, all candidates would have to submit to a psychological examination.  No one could be chosen as a bishop who had not completed this education, and the list of possible candidates for vacant dioceses would include those who have successfully completed the course.

Recent events in the OCA have shown that bishops really are supposed to be overseers and managers of diocesan affairs including financial affairs and the work of chancery personnel.   Bishops are not just liturgical symbols who get dressed in Byzantine imperial vestments to impress, or worse oppress, the uneducated masses.  If the OCA is truly going to be the Orthodox Church in America, it needs men who are trained and qualified to take on all the responsibilities of the bishop’s office which are listed in the OCA statutes and which are dictated by the complexities of modern concerns and issues.   We do need men who are well versed in the Holy Scriptures, and whose lives, thoughts, and habits are well known, so that they can both address the issues facing their 21st Century flocks and model a Christian way of life to the membership which has to deal with all of that 21st Century living presents to us.

Bishops are in the church not over it

The problem with bishops misusing church funds sadly is not a new one in the history of Christianity.  One need only look at Canons 24 and 25 of the 341AD Council in Antioch to realize such problems were common enough and serious enough to warrant the establishment of canonical rules to govern both bishops and church funds.  Part of what was happening in the first half of the 4th Century is that in the wake of the Constantinian embrace of Christianity, Christian communities are emerging out of hiding and having to learn new ways of coping in the Christian friendly world.  One aspect of living in a world where persecution was occurring is that Christians often tended to hide their finances and wealth from the prying eyes and hands of their persecutors.   Because the early Christians had a strong ethic of providing for their poor, communities did collect as large of sums of money as they could to take care of these charitable needs.  Bishops as the recognized leaders of the Church were often the target of persecutions, and so the Christians frequently entrusted their finances to a steward appointed by the bishop; a steward who because he was less known and not the declared leader of the church would not necessarily be on the radar of the police/persecutors of the Church.  When Christianity emerged out of its hiding as the persecutions came to an end, even more wealth was donated to the Church, and the bishop was the man who was totally responsible for overseeing the distribution and use of this wealth.  The steward was the man appointed by the bishop to keep track of the wealth and to insure that the bishop’s personal finances were not mixed with the church finances.  But in the new world of Constantinian Christianity, some bishops did not readily adjust to the openness of the new circumstances and continued to be very secretive about not only their personal finances but also those of the Church.  This lent itself to certain abuses by some bishops who took advantage of the secretiveness to use Church monies for their private benefit.   Antioch Canons 24 and 25 are one effort to regulate these problems.   The Canons acknowledge that the bishops have the authority and competency to determine how Church funds will be used.  However, the funds were mostly used for charitable purposes and for clergy salaries (though no documentation exists to show what percentage went to each – the lists that exist show that needy widows and orphans far outnumber the clergy who are to serve them).  The bishop also has the right to use Church money for expenses related to his work.  What is mandated is that though the bishop has the authority and judgment to make use of the funds as he determines, the actual use of the funds is to be done with the full knowledge of the presbyters and deacons, and nothing is to be concealed from them.  All church property and finances were to be well known – no secret funds, no discretionary funds, no hidden accounts.   Thus the Church established a system of checks and balances to keep the monarchical episcopacy functioning within the context of the local Body of Christ rather than “over it” or apart from it.There was a practical reason for this as well – so that when the bishop dies, his personal property can be easily separated from Church property.  Though the bishop was absolutely essential to the life of the Church, the Church had to survive the bishop and so the Church had to know exactly what it owned and what resources it had, otherwise the canon notes both the church and the bishops’ relatives are injured by the confusion and it ends up in lawsuits!    In other words the bishop is essential to the life and well being of the Church, but the Church is not coterminous with the life of the bishop.  Canon 25 goes on to address the issue of what happens if the bishop is not content with having enough funding for his own expenses and begins to secretly misuse Church funds for his own purposes and in effect ceases to manage the Church’s funds and begins to use them as his personal funds.    Again the canon notes this happens when the bishop fails to keep all the presbyters informed about Church finances and instead appoints his own inner circle (especially his kin) to handle Church monies, thus turning Church money and property into his family’s money.   When this occurs Canon 25 specifically says that the synod of the providence is to conduct an investigation into the affair and demand the bishop give an account of himself.   If it turns out that the result of the investigation shows that in fact the poor suffered as a result of this mishandling of Church funds (the Canon assumes it might be possible that the bishop’s kin are honest and just) and that the presbyters are defamed by this action, then the synod must determine what discipline is needed to correct the situation and take the appropriate action. One of the other things that becomes obvious in this time is that the role of the bishop is changing.  In the early centuries of Christianity, the bishop was almost totally identified with his local community.  The funds at his disposal were for the benefit of the local community.  Consequently the presbyters, deacons and members of the community were pretty cognizant of how the funds were being used.   At about the time of the Constantinian embrace of Christianity, the Church structure began to change from community focused churches forming a confederation to a universal church in which the bishop’s main role was to connect the local communities to each other in an empire-wide structure.   This consequently changed the focus and the needs of the bishop.  Now the bishops’ expenses became more related to their travel and to their interaction with other bishops and both less connected to the needs of any one local community and less known by or controlled by presbyters or the local community.   Coupled with taking advantage of the old “secrecy under persecution”, we can see how a dishonest bishop could easily be tempted by and take advantage of the situation and use monies without any local/presbyteral control.   The OCA in the past several years seems to have inherited the worst of both worlds – a metropolitan who had no local attachment and no presbyterium to which he had to fully report his finances and a new tendency to see his role in some jet setting fashion where he was traveling all over the world with no connection or accountability to a local community.   The efforts to make the OCA a major player in world Orthodoxy, while a vision attractive to those who wanted their church to be important, certainly turned the central church into the piggy bank for the globetrotting, jet setting and dare we admit playboy antics of our leadership?   They become totally funded by local communities, but their activities had no connection to the local communities and thus no oversight by the very people providing the funding.  The secrecy of the central church establishment enabled them to misuse monies with no threat of ever having really to give account to the membership of the OCA.Part of the cure for the OCA is to return to the early church’s focus on the local community, in which the bishop is accountable to the very community which he oversees.   The Christian image of the overseer is not one in which the bishop is above or even opposed to the local community, but rather has responsibility in and for the people entrusted to his care – who in turn have the responsibility to demand an accounting from the bishop for his stewardship.  If we return to seeing monies given to the church as primarily to be used in Christian ministry on a local level, we would see more local interest in and ownership of the Church’s mission.  The vision of the OCA as one of the major players in the world of  patriarchal, autocephalous or autonomus Orthodox Churches, caused the OCA to forget its first priority as having a mission to America rather than a mission to world Orthodoxy.   

Council of Antioch 341AD 

Canon XXIV. IT is right that what belongs to the Church be preserved with all care to the Church, with a good conscience and faith in God, the inspector and judge of all. And these things ought to be administered under the judgment and authority of the bishop, who is entrusted with the whole people and with the souls of the congregation. But it should be manifest what is church property, with the knowledge of the presbyters and deacons about him; so that these may know assuredly what things belong to the Church, and that nothing be concealed from them, in order that, when the bishop may happen to depart this life, the property belonging to the Church being well known, may not be embezzled nor lost, and in order that the private property of the bishop may not be disturbed on a pretence that it is part of the ecclesiastical goods. For it is just and well-pleasing to God and man that the private property of the bishop be bequeathed to whomsoever he will, but that for the Church be kept whatever belongs to the Church; so that neither the Church may suffer loss, nor the bishop be injured under pretext of the Church’s interest, nor those who belong to him fall into lawsuits, and himself, after his death, be brought under reproach.  

Canon XXV.Let the bishop have power over the funds of the Church, so as to dispense them with all piety and in the fear of God to all who need. And if there be occasion, let him take what he requires for his own necessary uses and those of his brethren sojourning with him, so that they may in no way lack, according to the divine Apostle, who says, “Having food and raiment, let us therewith be content.” And if he shall not be content with these, but shall apply the funds to his own private uses, and not manage the revenues of the Church, or the rent of the farms, with the consent of the presbyters and deacons, but shall give the authority to his own domestics and kinsmen, or brothers, or sons, so that the accounts of the Church are secretly injured, he himself shall submit to an investigation by the synod of the province. But if, on the other hand, the bishop or his presbyters shall be defamed as appropriating to themselves what belongs to the Church, (whether from lands or any other ecclesiastical resources), so that the poor are oppressed, and accusation and infamy are brought upon the account and on those who so administer it, let them also be subject to correction, the holy synod determining what is right.  

The Gospel begins with the Resurrection

When we read the Gospels, we might come to the conclusion that Christianity begins with the birth of Jesus Christ since that is what happens first in the Gospel according to St. Matthew and according to St. Luke.  We need to remind ourselves that Gospels were not written as some sort of diaries (or blogs!) recording the events in Jesus’ life as they happened.  Rather the Gospels are written several decades after all of the events reported in them had occurred – including the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.   The resurrection of Christ from the dead is in fact the first real Gospel proclamation –  “Christ is risen!”   This is where the particularly Christian message begins.  It is only after His resurrection and after the apostles had begun proclaiming the resurrection that they saw a need to record the Master’s teachings and the events which made up His life.   Christianity thus begins with the Good News that “Christ is risen from the dead!”    And indeed in Christian history, Pascha, the Resurrection of Christ (what we often call Easter), was the first feast of Christianity.   Christians began celebrating the birth of Christ only a couple of centuries after the resurrection!   The very first proclamation of the specifically Christian message (which also is the beginning of the Christian faith) is the angel telling the myrrhbearing women that Christ is risen, and that they in turn need to inform the disciples of this.  The proclamation that “Christ is risen” is the Gospel, the evangel, that is offered not only to believers and disciples but ultimately to the whole world.   Christianity has never ceased proclaiming this Gospel of the resurrection, though at times Christians have forgotten the centrality of the message.  Nowadays some Christians seem to think the first message and the most important message is to obey the Ten Commandments, or to denounce sin, or to warn/threaten people about eternal punishment.   But in Christian history and experience, we first encounter what God has done for us – our salvation – in the risen Christ, before we are told to obey God.  (The Jews had a very similar experience – the Exodus out of Egypt happens before the commandments are given).    In Orthodoxy, the centrality of the resurrection Gospel was never forgotten, though for many Orthodox they hardly pay attention to it.  For the resurrection Gospel is usually read during the Matins of Sunday morning in a service completely dedicated to the resurrection.   In parishes of the Byzantine tradition, the matins service is the service done before the Divine Liturgy begins, and since by custom many Orthodox arrive late the resurrection theme and Gospel are not always heard.  In the Slavic tradition, the resurrection Gospel would be done most frequently as part of the Saturday evening “vigil” which in American parishes is often not served as the shorter Vespers service is done, or even if served often poorly attended.     In our parish we do Saturday evening Vespers and do a Gospel reading in the Vespers service so that those who attend can hear the proclamation of the resurrection.   And though many of us in the parish view the Saturday Vespers as an optional and non-essential service, it is in this service that we proclaim the resurrection Gospel and bring ourselves back to what is central and essential to Christianity.   The proclamation of the resurrection Gospel brings us back to the first and central message of the Christian religion – Christ is risen.   All Christian teachings stem from the fact that Christ is risen from the dead.   Some forms of Christianity stray from the basic Christian message because they forget the centrality of the resurrection of Christ from the dead.  When you feel your own life moving in a non-Christian direction, come back to the resurrection, where Christianity begins, where we each enter into Christianity through faith and baptism and the Eucharist and the Gospel.   Christian spiritual renewal begins with the resurrection, and with our hearing that Gospel, believing the Good News, and living the evangelical life.  In our parish, we have opportunity to listen to this event and to celebrate every Saturday night.  So if you are interested in getting back to authentic, original, primitive Christianity, without all the historical and human accretions, and want to know what was the message of apostolic Christianity, come to Saturday Vespers and celebrate the resurrection.

The “Peace” Proclaimed at the Gospel

As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.  (Ephesians 6:15)

 At the Sunday Divine Liturgy, the proclamation of the Gospel is enclosed within a dialogue between the priest, the deacon and all of those assembled for the liturgy whose main theme is peace.    Before the Gospel reading:Priest: Wisdom. Attend. Let us listen to the holy Gospel. Peace be with all of you. People: And with your spirit. Deacon: The reading is from the holy Gospel according to (Name). Priest:Let us be attentive. People: Glory to You, O Lord, glory to You. (The Deacon reads the Gospel lesson for the day.) After the Gospel Lesson:Priest:Peace to you who has proclaimed the Gospel.People: Glory to You, O Lord, glory to You.  Note that just before the Gospel is proclaimed, the priest wishes “peace” to all who are listening to the Gospel, and everyone in turn wishes the priest peace (“And with your spirit”).  Peace becomes the very context in which we wish the Gospel to be heard.  No matter what else may be going on in the world, or in our lives, or in our hearts and minds, we wish peace to each other so that we can hear the Gospel within the context of harmony and concord.   Even if we don’t all agree 100% with each other on everything, we still wish that all of us may hear the Gospel within the context of a common peace.  We don’t all have to agree with everyone on every political issue to be willing to hear the Gospel in the context of peace.  The peace we wish each other is that each of us will be able to fully hear or listen to the entire Gospel lesson so that we understand what God is saying to us collective as the community of Christians, and individually as believers.The proclamation of the Gospel, the Good News of Christ, should on one level bring to us peace, strength, hope, faith.  This is after all God’s Good News to the world which He loves.  In listening to the Gospel we are entering into the peace which God offers to His creation.  At the conclusion of the Gospel’s proclamation the priest wishes peace to the deacon who has proclaimed the Glad Tidings of Jesus Christ.  The wishing of peace is a thanksgiving to the man who was able to proclaim the Good News to us – a News which inspires us, exhorts us, comforts us, challenges us, teaches us, corrects us, gives us hope and builds us up.“Peace” is one of main things we petition God for throughout the liturgy – peace is the context in which we approach God in prayer and one of the main conditions for life which we ask from God.Hearing the Gospel, the Good News that God loves us and forgives us in order to save us, should also bring peace to our hearts and minds.  This will become the basis for our willingness to do God’s will.However, the peace with which God surrounds us may also prove to be discomforting or disquieting.  The Gospel may challenge the very way we think, the way which we see the world, the viewpoint to which we cling.   The Gospel is proclaimed not only so that “others” can hear it, but also because it is to speak to us.   Too often members are glad to hear the Gospel because they think someone else (“they”) needed to hear that lesson.   All lessons are for all of us, and not just when we agree with the lesson!   We each should also feel challenged sometimes in our thinking as we listen to  each Gospel lesson (“My thoughts are not your thoughts nor My ways  your ways,” says the Lord.  Isaiah 55:8).  The most important Lessons from the Gospel are not the ones we think “others” should hear, but the ones which confront us in our own way of thinking!The Gospel should challenge us in our ways whether we are old or young, male or female, Democrat or Republican, saint or sinner, conservative or liberal, passionate or indifferent, poor or well off, empowered or disenfranchised, idealistic or disillusioned.   The peace from God which surpasses our understanding  (Philippians 4:7) may challenge our thinking, our self understanding, our self justification, and our assumptions in order to bring us to repentance (a change of heart) and to the ability to hear God and follow Him.

Capital Punishment

The relationship of Christians to the death penalty has a long history, and it is not as simple as finding a Bible passage that allows or forbids capital punishment.  It is much more the overall message of Christ – especially since He came to destroy death which is the final enemy of both humanity and God – which causes the Christians to proclaim the sanctity of human life.   Christ died on the cross to save sinners, not to condemn or punish them.  Christ destroys death, He doesn’t transform it into a useful tool for overpowering the nations of the world.   St. Paul portrayed the Christian struggle as the defeat of spiritual powers and principalities and specifically rejected any idea that our warfare was with flesh and blood.  In other words, Christianity is not to conquer the world with police and military like an Islamic jihad, but has to engage in a spiritual warfare for the hearts and minds of all people.  “For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).   The Gospels themselves in the story of Jesus being tempted by Satan portray all worldly kingdoms and government power as basically being under Satan’s dominion (Luke 4:5).

I would offer the following thoughts about why the Church upholds the sanctity of human life and why it has the attitude it does toward abortion, capital punishment and war.   Obviously this is not an all inclusive commentary on the topic.   There are endless books written on these topics and the issues are hotly debated and nuanced by the abundance of commentators who address the issue.  I am only trying to provide some insight into and defense for the Church’s pro-life stance as it looks at these issues.

First, the Scriptures that specifically sanction the death penalty are all part of the 613 laws of the Jewish Torah.   The keeping of these Laws was understood by the Jews to be the specific and only way to be righteous in the eyes of God.   For Christians on the other hand, righteousness is no longer attained through the keeping of the Torah, nor does Christianity see the keeping of the Torah as possible or even desirable (Read Acts 15:28-29 to see how few things from the Torah the Council of Apostles thought were binding on converts to Christianity – 3 to be exact).  The basic stance of the New Testament is that in fact the Law never enabled the Jews to become righteous, rather it only ended up pointing out their sinfulness.   The basic Christian message is that grace, truth, salvation and righteousness come through Jesus Christ, not through the keeping of the Law.   So if we think keeping any part of the Law will make us righteous in God’s eyes, then we are thinking like Old Testament Jews and we must therefore keep every detail of the 613 laws, not just the laws we particularly agree with.  Since such an effort would be seen as “Judaizing”, it is not thought to be compatible with Christian spirituality.

Second, Jesus as well as most of the disciples and all the early martyrs were victimized by laws allowing capital punishment.  So capital punishment was not viewed as tremendously positive in the early Church but were often viewed as allowing the unjust punishment of righteous people.Third,  for the first 325 years of Christianity, Christians were a persecuted minority, who had no share in government power.  As such the Christians tended to see imperial anything as belonging to a kingdom which was not Chirst’s.  Christ’s Kingdom was not of this world, it had no laws of capital punishment, nor any army which was sanctioned to kill anyone including its enemies.   Early Christians saw military service as incompatible with Christian values – with the life and teaching of the Crucified Christ.   Likewise, from the Roman point of view Jews and Christians were forbidden from being in the army since neither would recognize the Emperor as god, nor would they honor all the gods of the Roman pantheon.    So basically both the Roman Government and the Christians were in agreement that Christians could not participate in the military nor in the executing of criminals.  Once emperors began to accept Christianity, a serious tension was created between the apostolic values of Christianity which forbade killing (since they couldn’t be in the army, nor public executioners,  nor gladiators, nor murders, the Christians basically embraced a policy of not killing other humans).   What happened for numerous emperors and public officials (Constantine himself being the prime example) was knowing they might have to kill as a result of their office, they postponed their baptisms until they retired from office or until they were on their deathbeds so that through baptism they could be forgiven for any killing they had done in their life time and would never have to kill once they became a Christian.  

One can see in the New Testament some of the struggle of Christians with government in Romans 13 where St. Paul writes :”Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. … For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority* does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer” (13:1-4).  Here we see St. Paul clearly defending government authority to punish wrongdoers.  His statement is certainly exceptional because Jews in general did not defend Roman authority in their lives.  But as many have noted Paul has oversimplified his case – he does not take into account government persecution of Christians (some think he wrote the letter before any persecution of Christians occurred), the possibility of an evil government punishing good citizens, nor a Christian government dealing with people.  He only assumes that government is necessary for civilization to exist and that Christians have to deal with the reality of government authority so they may as well have a proper respect for the God-given institution of government.  One need only look at a book like Revelations written when the persecutions were in full swing to see a Christian view in which the government is identified and equated with Satan and all that is evil.  No doubt since most ancient governments were “totalitarian” in one form or another, the early Christians assumed they would always be dealing with that reality – one could hope for a benevolent and just government but even if the government opposed all righteousness the Christians would have to live with that because they were actually citizens in a Kingdom not of this world.  The martyrs basically renounced their citizenship in this world and declared themselves denizens only of the Kingdom of Heaven.

It is only with government officials and emperors who grew up as Christians, and when Christianity became the majority religion so that the military was made up of mostly Christians,  that the Church faces the reality that its members will be killing other humans as members of a Christian empire and thus as Christians.  At the beginning of the 4th Century, it was forbidden by Christians and by the Roman Government for Christians to be in the military.  By the end of the 4th Century the Roman government required everyone in the army to be Christian!   Quite a change in the reality of Christians in the Roman Empire.But Christians struggled with this new role, and not all were comfortable with it.  The monastic movement to a large extent was a protest movement against the imperial/state Church.  Monasticism grew not in response to secularism, but rather as a protest against imperial Christianity.   Many felt the values of the Kingdom of God were incompatible with the values of the Roman Empire.   Nevertheless the embrace of the Church by the Empire was complete, and Christians now found themselves in positions where they had to participate in killing other humans.   The monks fled the deserts to try to practice the values and rules of the Gospel without imperial interference.Chrysostom remarked, “Our warfare is to make the dead to live, not to make the living dead.”   And he like many was troubled by the Church and state becoming identical.   St. Basil the Great lamented the situation by declaring that Christians must serve in the army if called by the state to do so, but then they were to serve a three year penitential excommunication discipline for having participated in such activity – whether or not they actually killed anybody, if they were part of activity that led to others being killed, they were to repent of this.  He saw the need for the military as part of the failure of Christians to convert the world.The Byzantines believed that somehow as Christians they were to create an empire  “on earth as it is in heaven.”    Thus their earthly empire was to conform to their notions of heaven – including love, forgiveness and mercy.  That ideal proved to be very hard to realize especially since they found themselves so often surrounded by invading armies –  Persian, Arab, the Rus, Bulgar, Turk, and Latin armies to name the most noted all threatened Constantinople at one time or another.  The Byzantines found it very hard to uphold purely Christian practices in dealing with their enemies.St. Vladimir of the Rus when he accepted Christianity as his personal faith and religion, endeavored to abolish the death penalty in his kingdom as he felt it was incompatible with the Faith.   He did not want to be responsible before God for deaths that were committed in his name or by his decree.   Two of his sons, Boris and Gleb, are famous saints in Russian Church history for choosing to die rather than defend themselves against their brother who wanted to take over the reigns of power upon Vladimir’s death.   Both Boris and Gleb said that since they were now Christians they would not take up the sword against their power-hungry and murderous brother.  They accepted death as the price they had to pay for maintaining their Christian faith.Even once the empires embraced Christianity there was a real struggle with the Christian message and Christian ideal about life and how it relates to such things as capital punishment.   The Canons of the Church command bishops as part of their normal duties to go to the courts and plea for mercy for prisoners and for the condemned.    Church buildings throughout the empire became sanctuaries, where persecuted and condemned people could take refuge to seek protection by the Church against the state.  In this same tradition, all Orthodox Churches today do officially condemn the death penalty as an excessive power abuse by human governments.   This does not take away from the reality that we live in a fallen world, in which not only do people do evil, but evil is a force to be reckoned with by the Church and by governments as well.  Governments have a responsibility to protect their citizens from murderous people within the society.   Armies and wars are part of this fallen world, and though an undesirable inevitability, and even an evil necessity, a necessity none-the-less.   Jesus said there is no greater love than for a man to lay done his life for his friends.  Generally Christians have seen this as accepting that at times war is justified, but the statement really only blesses dying to protect our friends, not killing to protect them.Since the basic message of Christianity is forgiveness, mercy, love, peace, and the defeat of death itself, Christians have had a fairly consistent belief in the sanctity of human life and have struggled with the use of capital punishment and armies to deal with the evil present in the world from the beginning of the Church.   Christ did not teach his disciples to kill anyone, nor did he advocate warfare or killing as a means to spread His faith.   The early Christians, unlike the Muslims, conquered the Roman Empire without having any army or police on their side and without killing anyone.It is also true that once the Christians came into power in the Roman Empire, they were not shy to use and rely on the police to enforce their teachings and to persecute non-conformists and non-Christians.   Constantine placed the police at the disposal of Christian leaders, and Constantine demanded the Christians to conform to a uniformity of belief and practice which they had never had before his embrace of Christianity.   But Constantine used his powers exactly as he did as a pagan – there is absolutely no change in his totalitarian methods when he grants toleration to Christianity.  He will even murder his own son when he believes his son to be a threat to his reign.   And perhaps because the Christians were not prepared for embracing power, or because they didn’t take time to envision what Christian government would look like, they fairly uncritically accepted the old ways of government as the only ways of government and came to use the same old pagan methods to attain Christian ends.   So while the Empire is being Christianized, the government ends up operating as it always did in pre-Christian Roman times.  The Christians for the most part simply accept old pagan Roman practice regarding war and capital punishment as the way which government operates.   Monks fled this new form of Christianity, and some bishops tried to oppose it, but the merging of Church and State will end up being a large scale acceptance by the Christians of government practices as they existed in pre-Christian times, with an eventual  effort by the Emperors to modify some old practices by Christian standards (for example, eventually crucifixion as a form of capital punishment will be abolished; bishops will be expected to plead mercy for prisoners and the condemned; gladiator fights and chariot races will be phased out).  As a final comment and confession, a number of years ago when at an All American Council the OCA took up the issue of taking a position on the death penalty, it was perhaps the only Orthodox body in the world which had not spoken against capital punishment.  A vote was taken of the delegates and the vote solidly favored opposing the death penalty in order to uphold the Orthodox totally pro-life position.  I was in the minority which voted against that resolution.  My opposition stemmed from the fact that I could imagine people (organized crime, ideologues – like today’s al-Qaeda, for examples) who would only see our mercy as weakness and who would move to destroy us when they could and who would show no mercy to us and would be quite willing to kill us since we hadn’t killed them.  I could even imagine us filling prisons with such people and then not begin able to control these prison populations.   However, since that time I have come to accept the consistent pro-life thinking, and do believe the execution of prisoners is incompatible with the Gospel.  This has probably occurred in me as I watch al-Qaeda in action and knowing they would kill me in a second both because I am a Christian and because I am an American.  I do not want to become like them, nor to embrace their values or methods. I want to be more Christ-like.   I am a disciple of the Crucified Christ, not the crucifying one.  God is the giver of life, evil the destroyer of life.    Human life is sacred and sanctified, even though it can become distorted by evil.   One Byzantine Emperor boasted that his Christ loving army could destroy evil.  I do not believe evil or the evil one can be ultimately defeated by war or by the death penalty.   I guess I have come to accept that the battle with evil will continue on earth until Christ comes in His Kingdom and the final enemy death is defeated.  Meanwhile I will sing, “Christ is risen from the dead trampling down death by death.”I wrote this long mediation not to be the final word on the subject.  I am sure some of you will be able to bring to bear on the topic other passages from Scriptures or examples from Church history which should be remembered or considered.   My only intention was to try to explain why I think the Orthodox Church throughout the world today has accepted as part of its pro-life position an opposition to the death penalty.    Considering the Orthodox Christian experience in Muslim dominated societies and under the militantly atheistic communists, it is not hard to imagine why Orthodoxy worldwide has tended to view capital punishment as a tool of oppression, and the friend of the devil himself.

The Feast of the Meeting of our Lord (2008)

I wish you the blessing of the Lord on this the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple.  If you haven’t done it already, read Luke 2:22-40 in order to learn the event that we Christians celebrate today.  The 40 day old infant Jesus is brought into the Jerusalem Temple and the Righteous Simeon realizes in looking at the baby Jesus that he in fact is seeing God’s Messiah.  As Simeon says to God, “my eyes have seen Your salvation.”
There are many reasons why this Feast is significant to Christians and to Orthodox theology, some of which I noted in my sermons at Vespers last evening and in today’s Divine Liturgy.  I want to re-emphasize with all of you something I mentioned in my sermons.
During Vespers on the Eve of the Feast, one of the Scripture readings was from the 6th chapter of the Prophet Isaiah.   The Seraphim says to Isaiah, “Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, And their ears heavy, And shut their eyes; Lest they see with their eyes, And hear with their ears, And understand with their heart, And return and be healed”  (Isaiah 6:9-10).   It has to be for believers one of the most terrifying and depressing messages that we could receive from God.   What God is saying is that He is so unhappy with His people that the very proclamation of His message, instead of being revelation to us, will cause us to be unable to see, hear or understand the message!  God’s speaking to us is going to make us deaf to Him, just like listening to really loud music eventually damages the hearing of the listener – it is the very hearing that makes us go deaf!     God is saying to His people:  “You always claim you want me to speak to you and you complain when I am silent.  But you never listen to me when I do speak, and never do what I say.  So now my very speaking, my very message to you is going to cause you not to hear or understand what I have to tell you.   You would be better off if I didn’t speak to you at all, but I am going to speak to you anyway and my voice and message will make you deaf.   Then I am going to judge you for you hard-heartedness in demanding that I speak to you but refusing to listen to me.”   
I want to emphasize the scriptures are written for us.  They are not mostly to tell us what happened to those unfaithful people long ago.  They tell us about what can happen to us if we behave like the people of old.   It is not those “terrible ancient Jews” we need to be concerned about.  The issue is about us – are we behaving in such a way that God is so disgusted with us that if He speaks to us it will only cause us to be blind, deaf, and to have unbelieving hearts?   This is a terrible thought.  
The awfulness of such a message should make us repent, humble ourselves, and ask God not to do this to us, but rather to open our eyes, ears and hearts to His Word.  In fact, if you listen to the words of the litanies and prayer that Archbishop Job has asked us to add to the Liturgy in prayer for our Church as we deal with the serious problems the OCA faces, you will hear exactly this message:  We are sorry God that our behavior has caused you to turn away from us.   The prayer blames no one but ourselves.  And the prayer doesn’t tell “others” what they need to do, it starts with us and what we can do:  repent, turn our hearts back to God, get the wax out of ears, rub the sleep from our eyes, and remember the Gospel.   Even if we can’t change the behavior of others, we certainly can amend our own lives.   That certainly is the message of St. Simeon who lived in a time when love for God was in short supply.  The people of Jesus’ day were not more open to God than we are – just remember the crucifixion!
So, is last night’s Scripture lesson nothing more than a depressing warning?   The Good News of this Feast is that despite what God said He was going to do to the unbelieving people of God – closing their ears, eyes and hearts – there still was one man, Simeon, who heard the Holy Spirit (Luke 2:26-27).  Even when God warns He is going to stop the ears of everyone from hearing His message, it is still possible for one to hear the message just as Simeon did.  And not only did Simeon hear God and understand the Lord’s message and obey His Word, Simeon also was able to see what God had done.  Simeon was able to see God’s salvation (Luke 2:30).   God never leaves His world without hope.  God is not predestining us to failure.  If He gives us hearts not capable of understanding, He does it only for a time and only in order to make us feel the pain of His absense in order to bring us to our senses (like the Prodigal Son).   However few they may be, there always are some Simeons in the world who are attuned to God.  Salvation is always at work in God’s creation and among God’s people.   St. Simeon is the very icon of hope for us.   So it is very appropriate that we sing his prayer at every Vespers, our sunset prayer service.   Darkness may have come, but there is always hope.
The Good News for us is that even if we find ourselves in a day and age when our nation or our church seem to have quit listening to God, or have even quit seeking God’s Word, it is still possible for us to hear, see and understand what God is doing and what we are supposed to be doing!   Our ability to hear and understand God is not totally dependent on whether our friends, family, nation, church or the majority are still able or willing to listen to God. 
So even if you fear that the world is going to hell in hand basket, or if you worry that our nation has forgotten God, or if you are despairing that our Church has lost its way and seems indifferent to God’s will, take Simeon’s example and experience to heart.   God still speaks to those who love Him, He still reveals Himself to those who want to do His will, He is still accessible to those who long for His love.  St. Simeon gives us reason to hope and to believe in the God who so loves the world that He gives eternal life to the world through His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
May God grant each of you and all of us eyes, ears and hearts which are seeking Him.

Meditation on Zaccaheus

Yesterday, (Sunday, February 10), our Gospel Lesson was from Luke 19:1-10, the story of Zacchaeus, the rich tax collector [or as someone said,  he was an accountant who took advantage of his position to enrich himself] who because he wasn’t tall was forced in an undignified manner to climb a tree in order to see Jesus.  (And I’m willing to bet as one who enjoyed the proper life as a person with money, he was not accustomed to climbing trees, and couldn’t do it very gracefully or with any agility!)   Certainly that particular crowd, knowing their fellow townsman, the ill-reputed Zacchaeus quite well, figured that thieving sinner had no right or reason to be allowed to get close to the Holy God’s chosen One, Jesus.   More than a few elbows flew to keep Zaccaueus away from the road side.   But of more importance in the Gospel Lesson, Jesus saw Zacchaeus and invited himself to Zaccaheus’ home.

Then, as Luke narrates the story in verse 19:7,  “All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’”  Indeed!

Yes, it is true that Christ went to the home of a sinner, but it turns out that that is not ALL Zaccahaeus was.  People may have pigeon-holed him and stereotyped him as such, but he was far more complex than being a thieving sinner and a cheat but nothing more.   It suited those people well to make Zaccaheus conform to their image of him.  It is so easy to hate a caricature; why would anyone bother to really know him? 

So Christ goes to the home of a hated sinner, a rich thief, and one who get rich by his thievery.   That however is not the whole story.  For Jesus also went to the house of a man who was able to hear the Gospel, and not only hear but respond to it.  He went to the house of a man who was capable of repentance and of mercy and of empathy.  It was these other aspects of his person that Jesus apparently not only was able to see, but helped bring out.  

Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus, but the crowd was blind to the real person, or the depth of his being.  So in this Lesson about seeing, who was really blind in the story?   It was not the hated sinner Zacchaeus but the crowd of people who thought they had a closeness to Christ which they also thought Zacchaeus could not have.   If they had eyes and ears to see and hear, as Christ would often say, they could have seen – but obviously they didn’t WANT to see these things in Zacchaeus.  It’s just like us when we can see nothing but evil in the people we don’t like or approve of.   We humans do have a tendency to demonize anyone we don’t like, that way we don’t have to treat them humanely and can justify our own inhumanity towards them.  

But hidden from the crowd’s eyes is Zacchaeus’ true self, or perhaps his emerging consciousness and self.  What the people couldn’t see in Zacchaeus – his heart, his mind, his regrets, his lack of peace, his empathy, his desire for God, etc – is what Jesus revealed about Zacchaeus.  So ultimately though Jesus did go to the house of a sinner, he came out of the house of a righteous, repentant man.  It was the same man’s house.  Was it that Jesus changed the man, or that the man only needed the catalyst of Christ to bring out the change in him?  

Zacchaeus the crooked accountant could get an awful lot of what he wanted in life by cheating the people from whom he collected their taxes.  But what he had come to realize is that money was not what he really wanted, nor could it get him what he wanted.   Zacchaeus the repentant sinner became more generous than he was greedy, for not only did he promise to pay back all he had stolen, he vowed to give his wealth to the poor.  What taking money from others could not give to Zacchaeus – peace, love, God’s approval and favor – giving to others was able to bestow upon him.  The saying turned out to be true:  it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35).

As for the crowd who believed themselves closer to Jesus than the thieving sinner and hated rich man Zacchaeus, they showed no signs of being able to change, to repent, of being empathetic toward a fellow human being, of caring about his salvation.  Was it the cheated crowd or the cheater Zaccaheus whose heart was hardened to the Gospel of repentance?

We who are to be witnesses to Christ to Christ’s love and mercy, to his call to repentance and forgiveness, can we see others as Christ saw Zaccaheus – a man whose heart, though hidden, was after God and/or for God – or do we only see sinners and think them not worth our time?   Do we allow our assessment of others to blind us to how God sees them?  Do we allow our hatred for sin to cause us to forget the Gospel of love?  Christ came into the world, not to condemn sinners but to save them (John 3:17).

In the Gospel lesson, it was not the sinner Zacchaeus who was blind to God, it was those who felt themselves close to Christ who were blind to God’s desire, love, mercy and will.