Christ Crucified

“Paul did not think of crucifixion with Christ as a once-for-all event of the past…On the contrary, ‘I have been crucified with Christ’; that is, I have been nailed to the cross with Christ and am in that state still; I am still hanging with Christ on that cross. The implication for the process of salvation is clear; since resurrection with Christ comes at the end point, then in a sense (in terms of soteriological effect) Christ remains the crucified one until the parousia, and those crucified with Christ continue to be crucified with Christ throughout the period of overlap…God has dealt with the problem and power of sin by condemning sin in the flesh, that is, in Christ’s death.”     (James D. G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, pgs. 485, 183)

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The Knowledge and Vision of God

“The true knowledge and vision of God consists in this – in seeing that God is invisible, because what we see lies beyond all knowledge, being wholly separated by the darkness of incomprehensibility…What is the significance of the fact that Moses went right into the darkness and saw God there?  At first sight, the account of this vision of God seems to contradict the earlier one. For whereas on that occasion the divine was seen in light, this time the divine is seen in darkness. But we should not regard this as involving any inconsistency at the level of the mystical meaning which concerns us. Through it the Word is teaching us that in the initial stages religious knowledge comes to people as illumination. So what we recognize as contrary to religion is darkness, and escape from that darkness is achieved by participation in the light. From there the mind moves forward; by its ever-increasing and more perfect attention it forms an idea of the apprehension of reality. The closer it approaches the vision of God, the more it recognizes the invisible character of the divine nature.”    (St. Gregory of Nyssa, quoted in John Chryssavgis, The Way of the Fathers, pgs.72-73)

Christian Unity: Being of One Mind

Philippians 2:1-2

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”

“As  Christ in the flesh was visible, so the unity of the church is to be visible to all.   The unity of the church is manifest in Christians praying together, professing the same faith, and in the Eucharistic celebration, together with the bishop, who is the celebrant, the leader, and the teacher.    He is the local point of unity, the guardian and the charismatic teacher of apostolic tradition.”      (Veselin Kesich, Formation and Struggles, THE CHURCH IN HISTORY. Vol. 1,  pg. 131)

The Cheerful Giver: Christian Stewardship

2 Corinthians 9:6-11 

St. Paul the Apostle

This I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of         necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, have an abundance for every good work. As it is written: “He has dispersed abroad, He has given to the poor; His righteousness remains forever.” Now may He who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food, supply and multiply the seed you have sown and increase the fruits of your righteousness, while you are enriched in everything for all  liberality, which causes thanksgiving through us to God.

THE CHEERFUL ORTHODOX GIVER: PLEDGING & TITHING

“As Orthodox Christians living in an excessively competitive society, in which Mammon is the god of choice, we need to recover this sacramental aspect of tithing as a symbolic offering of ‘all our life to Christ, our God.’ Tithing is less an economic issue than a spiritual one. It is not just a means to support programs and ministries of the institutional Church. Its true purpose is to acknowledge, in the most concrete and visible way possible, that God is absolute Sovereign over our life, and that our faith in Him – and in His faithfulness – signifies absolute trust in His promises (Mt 6:19-34!).” (John Breck, Longing for God, pg. 219)

GENEROUS GIVING OF YOU SELF AND YOUR TIME

“If you ever wish to associate with someone, make sure that you do not give your attention to those who enjoy health and wealth and fame as the world sees it, but take care of those in affliction, those in critical circumstances, those in prison, those who are utterly deserted and enjoy no consolation. Put a high value on associating with these; for from them you shall receive much profit, you will be a better lover of the true wisdom, and you will do all for the glory of God. And if you must visit someone, prefer to pay this honor to orphans, widows, and those in want rather than to those who enjoy reputation and fame. God Himself has said: I am the father of orphans and the protector of widows. And again: Judge for the fatherless, defend the widow. Then come and let us talk, saith the Lord. (St. John Chrysostom, Ancient Christian Writers: Baptismal Instructions, No. 31, pgs. 97-98)

The Command to Follow Christ

“The Lord tells us, ‘I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the Light of Life.’  In these few words He gives a command and makes a promise. Let us do what He commands so that we may not blush to covet what He promises and to hear him say on the day of Judgment, ‘I laid down certain conditions for obtaining My promises. Have you fulfilled them?’ If you say, ‘What did you command, Lord our God?’ He will tell you, ‘I commanded you to follow Me. You asked for advice on how to enter into Life. What life, if not the Life about which it is written: “With You is the Fountain of Life”?’ Let us do now what He commands. Let us follow in the footsteps of the Lord. Let us throw off the chains that prevent us from following Him. Who can throw off these shackles without the aid of the One addressed in these words, ‘You have broken my chains’? Another Psalm says of Him, ‘The Lord frees those in chains, the Lord raises up the downcast.’” (The Blessed Augustine of Hippo, Synaxarion of the Lenten Triodion and Pentecostarion, pg. 211)

The Episcopal Assembly’s Odd Man Out: The OCA?

This blog is a belated follow-up to the blogs Autocephaly, the OCA and the Episcopal Assembly and Mother Churches?

1st North American Episcopal Assembly

While the Episcopal Assembly is working toward uniting the various Orthodox jurisdictions in North America, it also has to deal with the issue of the relationship of the various jurisdictions in America, not just to each other, but also with their respective “mother” churches.  Any attempt to bring an ecclesiastical/hierchical unity has to deal with the relationship of all jurisdictions and parishes in America to their mother churches overseas.   All the parishes will have to decide whether they can relate to each other as parishes in America or whether they can only relate to each other as their mother churches permit; unless, of course, the mother churches agree on jurisdictional unity and order their diaspora parishes to embrace the leadership and vision of a proposed unity.   

For the OCA,  our relationship to our “mother” church has already been resolved and is not a problem.  The Russian Orthodox Church granted autocephaly to the OCA in 1970, and so our bishops have no mother church to which they have to answer and so don’t have this additional layer of complexity to deal with in resolving jurisdictinoal separation (read some answers to questions on autocephaly by Fr. Thomas Hopko).   

So, the OCA’s sitting at the Episcopal Assembly table with a lesser status than the other jurisdictions is actually appropriate.   We are watching to see how the other jurisdictions are going to deal with their relationships to their mother churches in order to make unity in America possible.    In some sense we do sit apart from the rest. The other jurisdictions’ bishops most still represent the interests and positions of their mother churches.  We in the OCA have no overseas interest that we represent.  The Episcopal Assembly (apparently in the mind of the mother churches who created them) is to help the jurisdictions sort through their own loyalties and dependencies.   The OCA’s  loyalty is to the Orthodox Christians in America and to the Orthodox mission to be an indigenous church.   Unlike the bishops of the other jurisdictions, OCA bishops don’t have to figure out what a “mother church” wants or expects us to accomplish.  We are free to work out church unity ourselves because we have autocephaly.  That is the gift the Russian Orthodox Church gave to us, and ultimately to all Orthodox in America.

The other jurisdictions have to sort out whether they are diaspora and dependencies of a mother church or whether their focus is to be Orthodox Christians living in North America. They have to whether they are to remain loyal to their old world patriarch or to the wishes of a different old world patriach in their effort (if they are sincere) to attain Orthodox Church unity in America.  There is going to be for the other jurisdictions a real issue of choosing between Orthodox unity and loyalty to the plans and will of their mother churches.  For the OCA, this decision has already been made back in 1970.

These issues of discerning the will of the mother churches and what they want for their parishes in America simply are not the challenge facing the OCA. We can offer advice to the other jurisdictions and parishes based on our own 40 years of experience, but we cannot resolve the challenges they face based on their loyalties to their mother churches.   Our challenge as the Orthodox Church in America is not to discern or enact the wishes and plans of the mother churches but rather to incarnate our loyalty to Jesus Christ and to His Church in America. We are not going back anywhere, we are not diaspora but rather if we have any homeland on earth we live as Christians in North America.   We have a Synod in this country and stand ready to help any other jurisdiction to become also the Orthodox Church in America, in whatever form that is to take as an autocephalous church.

St. Innocent

We have been struggling really hard with being an autocephalous church including dealing ourselves with our recent scandals, weaknesses, and failures,  as well as in dealing with an American mindset and American values.   We, like every Orthodox jurisdiction in America, are figuring out relating to the American ideal enshrined in the separation of church and state and in the extreme importance placed  on the individual over and against any social institution.  But, then, unlike all of the other jurisdictions we do not have to also determine our relationship to an overseas patriarchate or another government or a different culture.    This is what autocephaly means for us.  This is what the OCA brings to the table of the Episcopal Assembly.

Orthodoxy in the World: The Present Future

This is the final blog in this introductory series to the Orthodox Faith.  The First blog is Orthodoxy in the World & Light to the World. The previous blog is Orthodoxy in Dialogue with America.

In general Orthodox throughout the world have viewed the West’s embrace of Enlightenment Ideals  with suspicion.   Orthodoxy does not believe that the rights of the individual should always trump the rights of a nation, society, family or religion.    Because Orthodoxy views the human as a being always in relationship to others, Orthodoxy would want to see individual rights discussions balanced with an emphasis on the right and need to love others which means taking into account the value of society itself.  When it comes to fundamental human rights, Orthodoxy would want to say the most fundamental human right is to be able to love and to be loved (which includes forgiving, asking for forgiveness, repenting, granting mercy, stopping all cycles of revenge).

            As a minority religion in America, and one that has suffered some prejudice and rejection, the Orthodox tried to protect their people by encouraging in the case of inter-marriages that the non-Orthodox person join the Orthodox Church.   Orthodoxy’s own sacramental thinking discourages its clergy and members from any form of interfaith sharing of sacraments and in some case participating in other forms of worship.   In America, because the Orthodox were often perceived as ethnic and therefore different, the refusal of Orthodox to actively participate in ecumenical events often has gone unnoticed.  Orthodoxy believes that Christianity itself was meant to be one church, and has seen the divisions in Christianity and the diversification of Christian liturgies and theology as a negative evil further rupturing human unity.

            Because Orthodoxy does not have a single worldwide leader, but rather is organized along the lines of national churches, it often does not speak with one voice on many social issues.  However, and perhaps somewhat surprisingly, there is a fair amount of agreement among the Orthodox on many contemporary issues, and almost totally agreement on theological issues.   To date the various Orthodox groups in America do not have a unified church leadership, but rather are organized along ethnic lines.  The Orthodox therefore do not have one person or source to which to turn when seeking an Orthodox viewpoint on current issues.    Orthodox Christian leadership has generally taken a “conservative” stance on social issues:  pro-life being opposed to both the death penalty and abortion; opposed to genetic engineering, human cloning and stem cell research; opposed to same sex unions; and supporting family issues and the importance of motherhood in society.   Orthodox Church leaders when addressing the issue have also tended to be in favor of many forms of ecology and question the rapacious effect of consumerism on the environment.

The role of leadership in the church has been hotly debated throughout Orthodox America.   Some Orthodox newly arriving in America find allowing women leadership roles or voting roles in the church to be totally new and questionable.    Even the notion of voting (democracy) in deciding church policies (doctrine has not been debated much anywhere in the modern Orthodox world)  has met serious objections, especially from the hierarchy.    The role of the laity (whether male or female) has been disputed as the church becomes increasingly Americanized.   Bishops and priests sometimes express a fear of losing control of parishes as a result of democratization which they feel has no place in the church and which they sometimes interpret as anti-clerical.  On the other hand, as more of the membership is Americanized and educated, the laity demand more openness, transparency and accountability from their clergy and hierarchs.     Because the country is pluralistic religiously, Orthodox leadership has found it difficult to maintain absolute “denominational” loyalty.   This has caused some church leaders in America to encourage further withdrawal from non-Orthodox gatherings.   Conservative and fundamentalist thinkers are sometimes attracted to Orthodoxy,  pulling the church into that direction as they bring with them their disdain for the “liberalism” of their former denominations.    Many of these converts see the unique dress of Orthodox clergy as signs of the different and thus right ways of the Church.    This has caused numerous other Orthodox to wonder whether Orthodoxy is in fact bringing the faith to America or whether these new converts are in fact reshaping the Church to more closely resemble what they imagine Orthodoxy to mean. 

The challenges for Orthodoxy in America are many – cultural conflicts, as well as trying to discern the difference between Tradition and custom.  There is also the difficult issue of how to bring about Orthodox unity in America when its parishes are organized along ethnic lines or have loyalties to old world politics and patriarchs.  The issue is how does Orthodoxy incarnate the Church in America – what will it look like?  How can it be faithful to its past and tradition and yet able to witness to the Gospel in the 21st Century?

Orthodoxy in Dialogue with America

This is the 18th blog in this introductory series to the Orthodox Faith.  The First blog is Orthodoxy in the World & Light to the World. The previous blog is Orthodoxy in Relationship to Christianity Worldwide.

Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, Dayton, OH

Orthodoxy entered into America as a true minority religion in an already Christian country.   Technologically the Orthodox came from inferior cultures as they came to North America.   Politically they often arrived  as almost powerless with their fellow Orthodox living in countries dominated by Islam or atheistic communism.    Their initial reaction was often to try to preserve their customs and practices in their small ethnic enclaves to protect themselves from the American culture, which they often experienced as hostile to them.

            During the height of the cold war, many Orthodox coming from communist dominated countries often felt themselves under suspicion of being spies and un-American, despite their frequently ferociously anti-communist stance.    The issues which occupied the Orthodox were often not the contemporary issues of modern America.    Feminism and the ordination of women which have been prominent in religious debates in America have played a very minor role in Orthodox discussions.  Part of this is the result of the fact that American Orthodoxy tends to take its cues on issues from the “old world” and there feminism is still a minor issue.   Orthodox  being very conservative and traditionalist in custom often brought to their meetings and discussions the structures and thinking that dominate in the old world –  not only were the questions “foreign” to Orthodox thinking, but they were calling upon Orthodoxy to make changes it was in no way prepared to make as it struggled (by trying to preserve its past, its tradition) to adapt to and to survive in the new world.

Protection of the Theotokos, Dayton

Orthodoxy in relationship to the American scene has struggled with:

–         America’s extreme individualism (as versus the Orthodox understanding of a human as a being always in relationship to others) – including notions that morality is basically determined by each individual not by society;

–         America’s unconstrained consumerism (as versus a spirituality which emphasizes self denial as the way to love) – including the sense that a constitutionally guaranteed pursuit of happiness means you should consume as much as you want and can afford;  

–         America’s love of things new (versus Orthodoxy’s constantly looking to tradition and the past to understand all things new) – including new ideas about God, morality, and truth;

–         America’s distrust of authority (versus a church which emphasizes hierarchy and tradition) – including a distrust of ancient or traditional ways of doing things;

–         America’s “meritocracy” (versus the Orthodox reliance on entitlement for those in positions of authority) – especially in relationship to bishops who traditionally commanded respect, not because of accomplishments but because of the office they held;  

–         America’s clear separation of church and state (as versus the Orthodox sense that there should exist cooperation, a symphony, between government and religion which are two branches of authority both given by God); and

–         America’s love of democracy and deciding most things by majority rule (as versus the historical Orthodox alignment with empires and kings in which there was not voting, but obedience to decisions handed down from on high) – including a modern tendency in American churches to vote on everything  from morality, to liturgy, to theology and thus to truth.

Next: Orthodoxy in the World: The Present Future

Deny Yourself and Take up Your Cross

Mark 8:34-9:1

At that time, the Lord called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” And he said to them, “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.”

 “You say that you have no success. Indeed, there will be no success so long as you are full of self-indulgence and self-pity. These two things show at once that what is uppermost in your heart is ‘I’ and not the Lord. It is the sin of self-love, living within us, that gives birth to all our sinfulness, making the whole man a sinner from head to foot, so long as we allow it to swell in the soul. And when the whole man is a sinner, how can grace come to him?  It will not come, just as a bee will not come where there is smoke. There are two elements in the decision to work for the Lord: first a man must deny himself , and secondly he must follow Christ (Mark 8:34). The first demands a complete stamping out of egoism or self-love, and consequently a refusal to allow any self-indulgence or self-pity—whether in great matters or small.” (Theophan the Recluse, The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology, pg. 260)