Justifying One’s Sins is Not Sincere Repentance

The Synod of Bishops has stumbled about looking for what their proper response should be to the scandal which dominated the OCA for the past few years.  The impending release of the SIC report caused them to try to find some kind of response to the crisis in leadership, vision and finances which sickened the entire body of the OCA.  Their most recent effort to offer a response and show some sense of leading the OCA came in the form of the October 9, 2008, Pastoral Letter from the Holy Synod of Bishops to the Clergy and Faithful of The Orthodox Church in America.  You can read their Pastoral Letter and form your own judgment as to whether the bishops have finally come to grips with the crisis and their personal and collective role in the mess.

Mark Stokoe on OCAnews.org has issued a resounding and deserved critique of the weakness of their effort.   Personally I think one sign of how sincere the bishops’ own repentance is will be their response to continued criticism.  If their repentance is sincere, the bishop’s will see the criticism directed against them as justified and understand that they deservedly must take their lumps.  However, if they are only trying to justify themselves, they will critically respond against those who berate them.  Like the adulterer in a marriage who gets angry that his spouse can’t get over the affair and forgive him and acts as if he is the victim, so too our bishops will show their hand and reveal their hearts.

I find for example it strange that the bishops want each parish to have a rite of mutual forgiveness, as if the parishioners are somehow responsible for the grief through which the scandal has put the entire OCA.   It is a act of mass forgiveness in a church which has rejected general confession as a normative practice of repentance.     It would make more sense if the bishops and the former chancery workers would issue personal apologies to the church and then ask forgiveness.  Instead the bishops’ Letter blames the passion of anger in the hearts of the membership for the continuing morass.  The reality is the people had reason to be angry – the leadership had betrayed them!  Christ’s anger at the money changers in the temple comes to mind.  Maybe Jesus should have tried a rite of mutual forgiveness instead of driving the thieves from the temple turned den.

Would that the bishops would weep for their sins as they are the cause of the passionate anger in the hearts of the membership.  Instead of faulting the members for the passion of anger, they should confess and admit that they are the cause of this grievous sin in the hearts of the faithful!

Lastly their letter calls for the faithful to again support the work of the national church.  It is a euphemism for asking us to get the money flowing back into the temple again.  But in my opinion, before that happens there needs to be a clear commitment on the part of the bishops to some vision of what the OCA is or should be.   Just resuming what has been disrupted is not the desired result of resolving the scandal.  What is needed is a true change of heart and mind (metanoia, repentance), new leadership, new vision, goals to move us in the right direction, not to return us to what was interrupted.  It is not only a re-evaluation of the statutes which is required, or an episcopacy which will try to learn from its mistakes, we could use bishops who weep for their failures and then who humbly present themselves to the faithful as the servants of Christ who know it is time to lay aside their imperial demeanor and to wash the wounded feet of Christ’s brothers and sisters.  For this scandal was not one of the faithful betraying the Church, but the appointed leaders scandalizing the faithful and crucifying Christ.

Talking with Your Enemies

As a person who always hopes that non-military methods could be successfully used to resolve some of the world’s problems, I was encouraged by The Washington Post article Patraeus Mounts Strategy Review in which General Patraeus outlines some of his strategy for conducting the war against terror in Afghanistan.  What was encouraging to me was his comments showing he understands that military policy is part of U.S. foreign policy, not its totality. Defense Secretary Robert Gates also emphasized this recently, perhaps indicating that some of our military leaders having experienced the nature of war also understand the importance of diplomacy better than some of our hawkish civilian administration leaders.

 Three points from the article:

Reconciliation of moderate Taliban insurgents who are willing to ally with the Afghan government is emerging as one main thrust of Petraeus’s approach, according to officials and experts who have discussed it with him recently.

Petraeus agreed but stressed that any outreach needs to be done in conjunction with the Afghan government. “I do think you have to talk to enemies,” he said at the Heritage Foundation. “Clearly you want to try to reconcile with as many as possible. . .”

An overview of the review team’s mission obtained by The Post says that including other government agencies and other nations in the planning will “mitigate the risk of over-militarization of efforts and the development of short-term solutions to long-term problems.”

Patraeus who is often cited by the current presidential candidates to support their proposals seems to value a notion that you do not always have to go to war with your enemies; sometimes it is better to negotiate face to face with them and choose a solution other than a military one.  Of course and unfortunately, it is true that even when a non-military solution is found, it is sometimes the strength of the military and the threat of war which helps insure that all parties abide by the agreement.  Nevertheless that the military leader most referred to by the president and presidential candidates sees the importance of diplomatic efforts is encouraging.

And as the world economic crisis unfolds it is comforting to hope that though opposing ideas as to how to deal with the crisis might emerge, and that nations may strongly disagree about causes of and solutions for problems, that the nations of the world might understand that diplomacy and not war is the way to help a destroyed global economy recover.

Talking with one’s enemies is not even close to the Lord Jesus’s teaching to love one’s enemies, but it also can be part of a more humane and pro-life strategy.  One can hope that as within our country, so too in the world, having enemies does not always mean they have to be killed.  And though it may only be a dream, is it possible that the nations of the earth could learn that negotiating and reconciling with enemies is sometimes a perfectly good way to defeat them?

The Sower, the Seed, the Soil

Sermon notes from 15 October 2000.   Luke 8:5-15.  The Parable of the Sower.

Seeds are not magical dust that bring about some magical change in the soil itself. The soil must itself be fertile, tilled, cleaned of weeds and rocks for the seeds to bear fruit. The seeds and soil work together (synergy) to produce growth.

It is not the sower who gives the seed growth, for he merely scatters the seed. The ability for the seed to come to fruition and bring an abundant harvest lies, at least in Christ’s parable, in the soil. So it is the intimate relationship between the seed and the soil which is critical. God has marvelously adjusted the seed and the soil which receives it to work together to bring forth the abundant harvest. God has created a marvelous world in which His Word and we who receive it work together to bring forth a wonderful harvest for God.

It is not the quantity of seeds which brings about the abundant growth either, good soil brings to fruition a few seeds as well as the many.

It is not the case that the good soil gets the most seed, for in the parable Jesus tells us that SOME seed falls on the good soil, it is the same SOME that fell on the path and on the rocky soil and among the thorns. The sower is generous to all, he does not withhold the good seed from the unproductive soil, just like God gives rain and sunshine even to the wicked.

The divine seed grows in us or remains dormant but prepared for growth. This gives each of us and the entire world great hope. No matter how bad a person appears to us, as long as that person lives, there is in him or her that seed and hope of salvation. So our parable is a parable of hope for ourselves and for the world.

And knowing that the divine seed is planted in our hearts and minds and souls, may be good reason for us to meditate on what will it take for that seed to gestate in us and produce its fruit. A good mother takes precious care of that seed growing in her. A mother often organizes her life around and in relationship to the child she bears. So we too should learn from the pregnant mother how to care for the divine seed, the Word of God, planted in each of us.

We receive the Word of God in ourselves from the father and in love are asked to bring forth the good fruit of God. Here, each Christian must be like the loving mother. Indeed the Mother of God becomes for us the very image of what each of us must be to fulfill the good promises of Christ’s parables and teachings. For Mary the Theotokos received the Word of God and it bore fruit for the salvation of the entire world. Each of us must become like her in allowing God’s Word to bear fruit in each of us. This is the feminine spirituality of the Church.