Loving One’s Enemies

christ4Christ taught His disciples that to follow Him means to have a love which is greater than simply loving those who love us – we are even to love our enemies.   St. John Chrysostom noted wryly in a couple sermons that we have a hard time even loving our friends, let alone our enemies.   Russian priest Fr. Alexander Yelchaninov noted how easy it is for us to lose our equanimity because we bristle at the slightest offense and are always ready to take offense at what others say.

It is only necessary for us to become aware of the slightest feeling of hostility towards us, of the faintest reproach or ridicule, and all our sympathy towards the person in question vanishes, leaving no trace. We are pleasant as long as people are pleasant to us. Yet this has nothing in common with what a genuine, brotherly attitude towards men should be.

Being pleasant towards others is something, but still doesn’t measure up to Christ telling us to love even our enemies.  What He commands us to do is to have such self control that we do not react to others but rather we act toward them.  When we react we allow our emotions to take over.  When we act toward others we chose how we will behave toward them and we don’t allow them to control our emotions.   Christian love is not an emotional reaction to others but a choice of behavior.  We attempt to imitate Christ who died for us while we were still sinners.  We attempt to follow Christ who forgave those who condemned Him to death.  We choose to treat all others as God treats all – giving sunshine and rain to everyone and offering salvation to all the world.

Considering Chambesy: The Articles Governing the Assemblies

chambesyIn this series of blogs I will be commenting on issues dealt with and created by the Fourth Pre-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference in Chambesy (June 6-13, 2009).  These blogs are my own opinions and do not represent those of anyone else.  The first blog was Considering Chambesy: The Mother Churches, then Considering Chambesy: The Diaspora, third Considering Chambesy: The Issues, then Considering Chambesy: The Decisions.   All of the ideas expressed here are my own, as one Orthodox Christian living in the USA  and do not reflect the opinion of any other person or organization.

In this blog I will be offering comments on the document   RULES OF OPERATION  OF EPISCOPAL ASSEMBLIES IN THE ORTHODOX DIASPORA  which outlined what Chambesy is proposing for dealing with “the problem” – dealing with what they term “the Diaspora”:  Orthodox Christians living in places in the world not envisioned by the traditional, canonical structure of the Church.  The very fact that the canons did not envision a Christian world beyond Byzantine territories or a history for the Church after the Byzantine Emperor disappeared should tell us something about the limited scope of those who wrote the canons.  Something “greater than the canons” (think about the Lord’s comments in Matthew 12:6,41-42) has occurred in the world and Orthodoxy is being prompted by God to think about the entire world not the limited world as envisioned by the Byzantine Fathers in their notion of “ecumenical” which was equated with the Byzantine Empire.     God wants us to view the entire world which He loved (John 3:16), and not limit our thinking to equating “the world” with the Byzantine territories.  The Christian faith and Christian faithful are not limited in time or space to Byzantine or Russian Empires and their “Diasporas” any more than God’s people are limited to those who are Jews according to the flesh (Romans 9:6-8; Galatians 3:6).

chambesy3Article 2.    The purpose of the Episcopal Assembly is to manifest the unity of the Orthodox Church, to promote collaboration between the churches in all areas of pastoral ministry, and to maintain, preserve and develop the interests of the communities that belong to the canonical Orthodox Bishops of the Region.  

The “Episcopal Assemblies” are the main temporary “fix” Chambesy created to deal with “the problem” (at least as the Chambesy participants understood the problem, though it is not totally delineated).   It is true that in America at least there is not Orthodox unity in administration or in “voice” to the world.  There is however a surprising level of similarity in some of the jurisdictions in America despite the lack of administrative unity (see for example the Patriarch Athenagoras Orthodox Institute Report “The Orthodox Church Today” which compares attitudes and issues of parishes and priests in the Orthodox Church in America and the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese). 

What will be interesting to see is how these Episcopal Assemblies “maintain, preserve and develop the interests of the communities” in America.  Will this turn out to be simply a way to maintain and develop “ethnic” identity, interests and culture in the Diaspora and to keep the Diaspora loyal to the mother church?     Or, for me as an Orthodox in the OCA, will my interest in Orthodox mission, ministry and evangelism to America be what the Episcopal Assembly will endeavor to preserve and develop?     Of course it is possible that the Episcopal Assemblies will realize that they have to deal with both interests.  A real question here is to what extent the Orthodox Church is mostly about preserving ancient cultures as versus having as its main focus bringing the Gospel to all people, times and places (in which case the Diaspora is but a subset within the interests of the Orthodox Church in every region of the world, but not its only or even main concern).

For myself, the autocephaly of the OCA means that at least one jurisdiction has been enabled and empowered by a mother church to fully deal with its own issues and problems and not have to see itself as only or mostly Diaspora with a need to preserve a “foreign” culture in a new land.   The autocephaly of the OCA represents for me a chance for some Orthodox to fully embrace Orthodox mission and evangelism to this “new” world and not merely to preserve the interests of the old world in America.   The OCA has been given the opportunity to see itself not merely as a Diaspora but rather to act  fully as the local Church in America: like the Seed of the Gospel intentionally and firmly planted in this land.

Article 9.    The work of the Episcopal Assembly is conducted in accordance with the principles of the Orthodox conciliar tradition

Article 10.        The decisions of the Episcopal Assembly are taken by consensus.

Articles 9 and 10 introduce two terms which I do not know how the bishops of the mother churches interpret:  conciliar and consensus.   I am most happy to see both of these words in The Rules of Operation document.  I think both of those terms contain ideas which are particularly of significance and importance to Orthodox who live in America or in any place in the world which has embraced the ideas of freedom and democracy which stem from the ideals of the 18th Century Enlightenment.   Old World Orthodoxy in general has raised some concerns about these ideals and has not fully endorsed them (see for example  The Basis of the Social Concept of the Russian Church).  I think in this sense Orthodoxy has something positive to offer Christians in America:  a chance critically to consider serious social and political issues as Christians from a non-American viewpoint.   However, American ideals also offer a crucial opportunity for the Orthodox critically to consider what conciliarity and hierarchy mean for the Church in the 21st Century in which church and state have been separated and in which despotic rule has been rejected. 

OCAnewsOf what does consensus consist in Orthodoxy?  How is it attained?  What does transparency and accountability mean for Orthodox leadership?  What is the Church’s relationship to a free press?   How does the Church function in a world in which the internet instantly circulates everything that happens to everyone in the world?   What is conciliarity?   How is it engaged in a hierarchical church?  What does hierarchy mean in the church when the world no longer endorses or favors ideas of despotic rule?   What does conciliarity and hierarchy mean in a democratically ruled society?  To what extent does Orthodoxy claim that Byzantine ideas of hierarchy are mandatory and normative for the Christian Church?  To what extent can Christians in the so-called Diaspora use their own understanding of consensus and conciliarity to shape the local Orthodox Church?

There are many questions to be answered, if the Episcopal Assemblies are permitted to deal with the real local concerns of the church membership.

Next:  Considering Chambesy:  the Chairmanship of the Ecumenical Patriarch