St. Innocent on Orthodox Mission Work

4624867820_b6c41af6dc_nWhat, then, shall we do? How ought we to proceed when, in the words of the Gospel, the harvest is great in our country (i.e., many remain unconverted to Jesus Christ)? “Pray to the Lord of the harvest,” Jesus Himself teaches us [Mt. 9:38]. Thus, first and foremost, we must pray. If even in everyday matters people fall back upon prayer – asking God’s blessing at the beginning of some work and then throughout asking for renewal and strengthening of the work’s might (where prayer means nothing more than help), here, in the matter of conversion, prayer becomes the means itself – and a most effectual of means, for without prayer one cannot expect success even under the most perfect of circumstances.

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Thus, it is not our missionaries alone who must pray; no, we their brethren must further their work by our own prayers. And what ought we to pray for? First, that the Lord will send workers into His harvest; second, that He will open the hearts of those who listen to the Word of the Gospel; third, that He will increase our Society’s numbers more and more; and finally that He will strengthen and confirm in us the desire we all now feel to further this work to the attaining of our goal.

(St. Innocent Apostle to America, Alaskan Missionary Spirituality, p. 141-142)

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Blessed Father Herman of Alaska

We remember the death of St. Herman of Alaska on December 13.  Here is one story from the life of St. Herman:

“Once the Elder (St. Herman) was invited aboard a frigate which came from St Petersburg. The Captain of the frigate was a highly educated man, who had been sent to America by order of the Emperor to make an inspection of all the colonies. There were more than twenty-five officers with the Captain, and they also were educated men. …  Father Herman gave them all one general question: ‘Gentlemen, what do you love above all, and what will each of you wish for your happiness?’ Various answers were offered … Some desired wealth, others glory, some a beautiful wife, and still others a beautiful ship he would captain; and so forth in the same vein. ‘It is not true,’ Father Herman said to them concerning this, ‘that all your various wishes can bring us to one conclusion—that each of you desires that which in his own understanding he considers the best, and which is most worthy of his love?’ They all answered, ‘Yes, that is so!’ He then continued, ‘Would you not say, is not that which is best, above all, and surpassing all, and that which by preference is most worthy of love, the very Lord, our Jesus Christ, who created us, adorned us with such ideals, gave life to all, sustains everything, nurtures and loves all, who is Himself Love and most beautiful of all men? Should we not then love God above every thing, desire Him more than anything, and search Him out?’ ”

All said, “Why, yes! That’s self-evident!” Then the Elder asked, “But do you love God?” They all answered, “Certainly, we love God. How can we not love God?”  Father. Herman replied, “And I a sinner have been trying for more than forty years to love God, I cannot say that I love Him completely,” Father Herman protested to them. He then began to demonstrate to them the way in which we should love God. “if we love someone,” he said, “we always remember them; we try to please them. Day and night our heart is concerned with the subject. Is that the way you gentlemen love God? Do you turn to Him often? Do you always remember Him? Do you always pray to Him and fulfill His holy commandments?” They had to admit that they had not! “For our own good, and for our own fortune,” concluded the Elder, “let us at least promise ourselves that from this very minute we will try to love God more than anything and to fulfill His Holy Will!” Without any doubt this conversation was imprinted in the hearts of the listeners for the rest of their lives.”

Of Rainbows and Pharaohs

“The rainbow shall be in the cloud, and I will look on it to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”  (Genesis 9:16)

The view from my hotel window said it all.  There was a beautiful rainbow in the sky over Atlanta.  In the photo immediately above you can even detect it was a double rainbow – the 2nd is about 1/3 of the way from the right side of the photo.  The rainbow reminds us that God, according to Genesis 9:16, is looking at the same thing that we are at the same time.  For us Orthodox, it certainly means that outside the liturgy, in nature, we can focus our attention on something and realize God is gazing at the same thing we are at that moment.  We can meet God’s gaze in space and time.    Not that God is not paying attention to creation the rest of time, but in the rainbow we have a unique experience of looking at something that also catches the Creator’s attention and God remembers all of humanity and all creation in that experience.

Perhaps a good sign for the Orthodox Church in America which is holding its All American Council in Atlanta.  Certainly the infamous “days of trouble” (as they have been frequently dubbed) – scandal and failed episcopal leadership – are part of our past history.   And the OCA navigated those turbulent waters without the intervention of government (friendly or hostile) and without the intervention of a mother church in a foreign land.  The OCA, not a child anymore, has accomplished what an autocephalous church must do – deal with internal problems, apply appropriate discipline and fix the problems.  Other Orthodox jurisdictions may wag their heads as they look at the troubles the OCA has experienced and see us as weakened and on the verge of collapse, but we have gained by our experience.  We have been forced to deal with our problems and to overcome them.  We exposed our problems rather than denying them.  We have survived, which also lays a good foundation for our wrestling with the future.

I am reminded completely of the story form Exodus 14 of the Israelites escaping Egypt with Pharoah’s army in hot pursuit.  Trapped by the Red Sea, the people furious with Moses for getting them trapped between the sea and the Egyptians, Moses, confident that God will save them, cries out to his fellow Israelites:

 “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.”

God will save us, He will do it all!  But, NO, that is not what God does.  For in the very next line, God puts salvation on the shoulders of Moses:

The LORD said to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward. Lift up your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go on dry ground through the sea. And I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they shall go in after them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, his chariots, and his horsemen.

What is God going to be doing in this desperate situation?

He is going to be goading the Egyptians to attack!

That’s what He offers.   He asks Moses, “Why are you crying to me to save you?”  “You lead the people into the sea.”

Holy Moses!

I find this one of the best stories in the Old Testament.  Poor Moses sees the stage is set for God to miraculously save them, only to be told by God, “Why are you crying to me?  I appointed you as their leader, so lead them!”

The OCA has gone through a similar experience.  We had to rely on our divinely appointed leadership to get us through and out of the trap we had  gotten ourselves into.  Those were the times of trouble, and leadership has emerged, as has the OCA from the trap it was in.  A resurrection like the Israelites experienced in the Exodus.  We had to do it not by fleeing one land into another, but by affirming that in this land, we are the autocephalous Church and we have to deal with our problems, no matter how much we have been the cause of them.

The adoption of the revised Statutes as this AAC, the implementation of strict rules of best practices in financial matters – transparency and accountability – and in dealing with clergy misconduct and sexual misconduct in the church, all are signs that the OCA has come through these rough waters in a more healthy fashion and much matured.  We have been battered, but we better understand what God’s love demands from us in North America in the 21st Century.

For me personally, there is also some relief and comfort in the sense that I can trust my Metropolitan and my bishop.  No longer do I feel the need to play the diocese against the central church, or to have to choose which is the lesser of two evils.  Those were feelings that were even cultivated by a former chancellor and seemed so necessary to survive as a priest.  I no longer feel hypocritical about asking many years for our episcopal leadership.  The raging wars are now in the culture, but in many ways these are outside the Church itself.

“Glory to You, building your church, haven of peace in a tortured world.” (from the Akathist, “Glory to God for All Things”)

For a long time it seemed to me the Church was as tortuous as the world itself.  But what I have found at this year’s AAC is that I am at peace in my Church, the OCA.  Thanks be to God.  May God grant many years to Metropolitan Tikhon and Bishop Paul.

The AAC of the OCA

18thAACFrom my perspective, the 18th All American Council of the Orthodox Church in America is remarkable.  This is not because any new or groundbreaking ideas have been presented, adopted or accomplished.  On the contrary, the Assembly is doing little more than what it is expected to do administratively for the OCA.

What stands out in my mind is the irenic spirit exhibited in the plenary sessions in which the OCA Statute revisions were almost unanimously adopted (97% voted in favor) and the proposed budget and funding plan were so overwhelmingly adopted (92% voting in favor).  The spirit of the council is exhibited in the gentle spirit of Metropolitan Tikhon, whose opening address captured the tone of the Council, and I hope, the future direction of the OCA.

Met Tikhon AACThe Council, under the shepherding of Metropolitan Tikhon, shows every sign that the OCA is ready to move beyond the years of turmoil that marked the past decade.  Council delegates showed a willingness to trust and follow leadership that was in fact working with the Holy Spirit.  Metropolitan Tikhon gave a long opening address in which he skillfully wove in the story of the religious sojourn of his own ancestors into the history and current situation of religion in America today.  His talk was a vision of hope that Orthodoxy in America, which contributed richly to the melting pot which is America, now living in a country of even greater social diversity and heterogeneity, can in fact thrive.   The Orthodox ethnic experience was one in which the ethnic groups tried to maintain their cultural and linguistic distinctiveness in the midst of the melting pot.  The OCA is realizing a new experience – that we as Americans can also be Orthodox, and we as Orthodox can be Americans.  While there are some who feel this is purely accommodation – allowing American values to replace Orthodox values – others see that Orthodoxy has functioned as the salt of the earth in every culture into which Orthodoxy has moved.  Orthodoxy has functioned in many different cultures, even those completely hostile to its existence.  I’m reminded at least of the anonymous early 3rd Century Christian document, “The Letter to Diognetus” which among other things says:

For Christians cannot be distinguished from the rest of the human race by country or language or customs. They do not live in cities of their own; they do not use a peculiar form of speech; they do not follow an eccentric manner of life. This doctrine of theirs has not been discovered by the ingenuity or deep thought of inquisitive men, nor do they put forward a merely human teaching, as some people do. Yet, although they live in Greek and barbarian cities alike, as each man’s lot has been cast, and follow the customs of the country in clothing and food and other matters of daily living, at the same time they give proof of the remarkable and admittedly extraordinary constitution of their own commonwealth. They live in their own countries, but only as aliens. They have a share in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign land is their peopleagapefatherland, and yet for them every fatherland is a foreign land. They marry, like everyone else, and they beget children, but they do not cast out their offspring. They share their board with each other, but not their marriage bed. It is true that they are “in the flesh,” but they do not live “according to the flesh.” They busy themselves on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. They obey the established laws, but in their own lives they go far beyond what the laws require. They love all men, and by all men are persecuted. They are unknown, and still they are condemned; they are put to death, and yet they are brought to life. They are poor, and yet they make many rich; they are completely destitute, and yet they enjoy complete abundance. They are dishonored, and in their very dishonor are glorified; they are defamed, and are vindicated. They are reviled, and yet they bless; when they are affronted, they still pay due respect. When they do good, they are punished as evildoers; undergoing punishment, they rejoice because they are brought to life. To put it simply: What the soul is in the body, that Christians are in the world.

This seems much closer to Metropolitan Tikhon’s vision than any sectarian withdrawal from the world.  He is a monk, and though having withdrawn from worldly pursuits, he understands the words of Christ:

“Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are. … But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” (John 17:11-21)

Our goal as Church in America is to be a witness to the love, compassion and Good News of Jesus Christ.  We are to give opportunity to others that they might themselves come to repentance (we can’t compel or legislate repentance – it must come from the person’s heart).  We can’t force others to repent, but can invite them to repentance, to offer them good reason to choose a godly way of life.  Our message though is challenging – we invite people to know the love of God, not through self love but through loving others.  On the one hand our underlying assumption of free will resonates to independently  minded Americans.  On the other hand the call to love others is at odds with the self-centered and selfish ideals of total individualism.

My own sense of things is this vision is again being offered and proclaimed in the OCA in a time of uncertainty and in a constantly changing religious and moral landscape.  Our message doesn’t change, but the people to whom we speak are constantly changing.  We have to be steadfast in our love toward them.

 

Saints: Understanding Holiness

This Sunday in the Orthodox Church in America we commemorate the Synaxis of All of the Saints of North America.

Archimandrite Hierotheos Vlachos reminds us what it means to refer to the Saints:

“The Holy Fathers were Saints. Sanctity does not have a moral sense, but an ontological one. They are called Saints ‘by virtue of the Holy one Whom they partake of’.  Holy God imparts His uncreated energy to people and sanctifies them. He actually dwells in man by grace and thus man becomes a dwelling place of the holy Trinite God; a living temple of God.” (The Illness and Cure of the Soul in the Orthodox Tradition, p 47)

Saint Jerome  (d. 420AD) says of the relics of saints:

“We do not worship relics any more than we do the sun or moon, the angels, archangels, or seraphim. We honor them in honor of Him whose faith the saints gave witness. We honor the Master by means of his servants.”   (The Road to Emmaus: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life by Jim Forest, p 46)

Bishop Paul’s Pre-Consecration Address

On Saturday, December 27,  bishops of the Orthodox Church in America consecrated His Grace, Paul, Bishop of Chicago and the Diocese of the Midwest.  On the eve of his being consecrated as bishop of the Diocese of the Midwest, then Bishop-Elect Paul offered some words to the faithful of the Diocese.  Amidst his vision of his episcopacy, he offered these words:

My episcopacy will be built upon my weakness and not my strengths. This is where the work of the Cross continues as I experience another new baptismal moment in my life. Saint Paul speaks of this reality in 2 Corinthians 12: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities, for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Bishop Paul consecration

For me to be a “successful bishop,” I must make those words of Saint Paul my own and live by them. What is the fruit of carrying my cross, which is really His Cross? What should it look like in the life of a Bishop?

By the Grace of the Holy Spirit I need to carry this Cross with joy! People have enough burdens and difficulties to deal with in daily life. They need to see in the example of their Bishop one who sees the Cross not as a heavy burden that is carried with resentment, but as the light yoke for which Christ wants us to come to Him and give to us, so that we might find rest. In His ultimate voluntary act of self-surrender, the Cross, Christ was motivated by the joy set before Him: He offered Himself on behalf of everyone and everything to call us to repentance and to bring us into His Kingdom. That was His Joy!

Bishop Paul also on the eve of his consecration said:

People need to see in their Bishop someone who is transparent and has the courage to admit his failings and ask forgiveness when he is in the wrong. I can continue to go on with many attributes, but they all bear witness to one unifying reality. People need to see in their Bishop someone who is truly humble, where his yes means yes and his no means no. The ministry of the Bishop is not his ministry, but it is the ministry of Christ Incarnate!

You can read his full address at Bishop-Elect Paul’s Words to the Diocesan Faithful.

Bishop Paul

May God grant the newly consecrated Bishop Paul many years of joyous ministry in our Diocese!

The Midwest Diocesan Effort to Discern God’s Will

The Diocese of the Midwest is in the process of electing a new ruling bishop.  This is a normal part of the life in a hierarchical church, though in the long history of the Orthodox Church many times the selection of a bishop took place in unusual circumstances, and sometimes they elected an unusual character as bishop.

MidwestDioc2

A few years ago the diocese followed an active selection process in which it attempted to discern the will of God for the Diocese.  At least some Orthodox historians have felt  the theological process of selecting a bishop is not “electing” (in  a modern ‘democratic’ sense of the word) a man to become bishop, but rather the diocese is trying to discern who is it that God would have serve Him in this capacity.  The election of a bishop is thus an effort by a diocese to discern the divine will.   Our diocese followed a process in which a committee narrowed the field down to three ‘vetted’ candidates who were then presented to the diocese for consideration.  Some thought the process was a return to ancient Christian practice, while others thought the process placed too much emphases on a modern sense of democracy and choosing between competing candidates.  However, the OCA follows tradition which does not allow campaigning for the office of bishop.  So the members of the diocese had to use their own wits in determining which one of the three men to put forward as the candidate to become our diocesan hierarch.

Unfortunately, the chosen candidate’s own stay in office was truncated as he had to step down from office.   And so, far more quickly than we ever envisioned, we are back at the point of having to choose a man to be our diocesan bishop.  Perhaps we can say that we did not do well in discerning God’s will, so the fault is our own.  Maybe we relied too much on believing we knew what was best for the diocese, rather than on really trying to discern what is it that God wants for His Church in the 21st Century.   Or perhaps we took our eyes off of Christ and looked for a prince or a son of man, rather than looking to Christ.   We relied too much on what we thought was good for the Church rather than allowing the Holy Spirit to show us what direction the Church was to be taking.  That is a temptation for the modern church in the West.    Democracy, for all of its virtues in choosing secular leaders,  is not a fool-proof way of discerning God’s will.

Thus, we are faced this year with choosing another man to present to the Synod of Bishops and to ask them to elect him as our next archpastor.  The Diocesan Council has set us on the path of accomplishing this selection of a bishop this year in as much as it is calling for a special diocesan assembly in October to chose the man we want the Synod to elect as our next diocesan bishop.

GassiosIn some ways this is simply a continuation of what was started several years ago.  It is following through on that process as we consider again a man who was chosen by the diocesan episcopal search committee as one of three final candidates.  We did chose a man in 2010 who we asked the Synod to elect as our bishop, but he is no longer in office.  We have before us a priest who served in our diocese for many years, Fr. Paul Gassios, who was vetted both by the Synod of Bishops and by the diocesan episcopal search committee.  Fr. Paul was not chosen in that 2010 assembly, but that certainly was not because he is unqualified for the position.   At that time, we the members of the special diocesan assembly collectively did not discern that Fr. Paul was to be our bishop.  We thought otherwise, and yet the man we chose did not long remain in office but had to step down.  Apparently He was not the one God wished we would have to be our bishop.  So we are given opportunity to try again and discern God’s will.  Like a number of other priests, I think Fr. Paul is the obvious candidate for us to put forward.  He still meets the criterion for the office as was determined by the process we chose to follow.  For his part, he has not actively pursued this office but rather has shown a willingness to obey a call to serve the church.

Maybe in this process we learn again the lesson that God’s people have had to learn before about selecting a leader.  As the Lord said to Samuel the Prophet, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).  Those words are just as true today as they were when Samuel heard them and as they were in 2010.  If we rely too much on external appearance, on whom we think looks like a bishop, we may fail to choose the man who has the heart which the Lord looks at.  Doesn’t matter how much we think a man looks like a bishop, what we have to discern is whether he is the man God chooses to be bishop for our diocese.

We can see that choosing a bishop has proven through history to be a difficult task – even when a candidate for the office has all the appearance of a pious man.

Renouncing World Serving“Reflecting on Christ’s exchange with Peter in John 21, Chrysostom remarks  that Christ does not say to this apostle, If you love me, practice  fasting, sleeping on the ground, prolonged vigils, or any particular deeds  of justice or mercy. Rather, he instructs his disciple, “Tend my sheep.”  In a similar vein John argues that mortification of the body and other ascetic  rigors are insufficient to produce the discernment and vigilance required of a leader in the church. Indeed the isolated and inactive life of monks may hide the defects of some men, while those who serve the church in public must expose their souls to all.  In another passage he points out that even the example of an apostolic life is of no avail in  disputing heresy and false doctrine, yet this is the constant struggle of  the priest.”  (Andrea Sterk ,  Renouncing the World Yet Leading the Church: The Monk-Bishop in Late Antiquity,  kindle Loc. 2013-17)

Let us pray that God will direct our thinking and open our hearts and minds to discern what it is He wills for our diocese.

Archbishop Seraphim Found Guilty

SeraphimThe Canadian press is reporting that the former OCA Archbishop of Canada, Seraphim Storheim, was found guilty by a judge of the sexual misconduct charges against him.  You can read the story in the Winnipeg Free Press and on CBCNews.

He was put on trial as a result of allegations of two men, brothers, who claimed the sexual abuse occurred in 1985.   The judge found him guilty of one of the charges but ruled that the second man’s testimony did not meet the burden of proof required by the court.  The court will set sentencing in a couple of months.

The OCA will now continue its own investigation into the allegations to determine what canonical and ecclesiastical discipline should be brought to bear on Archbishop Seraphim.   He has been on suspension and a paid leave of absence for several years while the trial slowly wound its way through the Canadian judicial system.

Though he never publicly acknowledge it, knowledge of the allegations is thought to have caused him to remove his name from consideration for the office of Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church in America back in 2008.

While justice has been done, the tragic effects of such events will continue to reverberate through the lives of all of those involved in this case, including the membership of the Diocese.  We all can pray that now the Diocese will have the Christian strength, love and courage to deal with the aftermath of the events themselves, the trial and the judgment.

You can also read the statement of the OCA Synod of Bishops on this case.

St. Herman of Alaska and the Future of the OCA (II)

We sang Matins this morning as is our parish custom on Friday mornings.  Today we had the additional blessing of celebrating the life of St. Herman of Alaska, the first canonized saint of Orthodoxy in America.  The Orthodox Church in America has recognized the missionary zeal of her early saints as being the basis for the vision and ministry of Orthodoxy in America.  And while the OCA has struggled in recent years administratively, it has not forgotten the Light of Christ that was brought to our shores by these Orthodox missionary saints.   The OCA shares the responsibility for carrying forth through the 21st Century the mission and ministry of the canonized Saints who lived, witnessed and ministered in North America.  (see my blog: St. Herman and the Future of the OCA)

Certain of the verses from the Canon for St. Herman of Alaska stood out in my mind this morning.

THE ETERNAL LIGHT OF CHRIST OUR SAVIOR
GUIDED YOU, BLESSED FATHER HERMAN, ON YOUR EVANGELICAL JOURNEY TO AMERICA,
PROCLAIMING THE GOSPEL OF PEACE.
NOW YOU STAND BEFORE THE THRONE OF GLORY;
INTERCEDE FOR YOUR LAND AND ITS PEOPLE://
PEACE FOR THE WORLD, AND SALVATION FOR OUR SOULS!

It is the light of Christ which guides the Saints of the Orthodox Church, and which is to guide Orthodoxy in America.  If we lose sight of the only purpose of the Church, to be a light to the world, we will become just another human institution in our country.  We are to stand before God and to pray with the saints for the salvation of the world.  If we do that faithfully, others will notice God too.

You were a good shepherd and loving father, Saint,
a help and healing for the afflicted, needy and infirm,
a refuge and teacher to orphans.
Do not take away the protection of your prayer
from us whom you have left orphaned.

St. Herman was what the Church should always be: “a help and a healing for the afflicted, needy and infirm.”   That is what Orthodoxy in America should strive for.  Our goal and purpose is not mainly to imitate rubrics from the Mother Churches, but more importantly we are to incarnate Christ in whom we are and wherever we are.   We happen to be in America in the 21st Century.  This is where we belong and this is where we are to experience Christ, to witness to Christ, and to make Christ present to the world.

The people were amazed and wondered, Saint Herman,
that you lived alone in the forest.
I am not alone, you said, But God is with me:
He who is everywhere, and His holy angels!
How can one be cast down, having such company!
And now as you dwell in the heavens,
do not abandon us who dwell on earth.

God is with us.  This is a simple truth which we sing and celebrate in our liturgical services.  When we forget that our purpose is to worship God here and now, we lose sight of the presence of God all around us.  If we are unaware of God’s presence in our lives, how can we witness to God’s love and presence to the rest of the world?  Our parishes and our parishioners are to be lights to the world: to make everyone aware of God’s presence by being totally attuned to this truth in our daily lives.

You laid up treasure in heaven, zealot of divine things,
leaving nothing behind in your cell
to be found for those who sought treasures on this earth.
Teach us now, unmercenary Father,
to treasure up heavenly things,
and offer our hearts to the Only Priceless One.

Our treasures as Orthodox Christians are not really in the past, but rather are present and revealed in the liturgical life of the church, and in the communal lives of our parishes and in the lives of our parishioners.  The treasures of Orthodox Christians are in heaven, in that world and kingdom which is to come.   Our treasures are not in some past century or in some other nation or empire or in some other language.   The treasures of Orthodoxy are available to everyone in every generation and in every nation on earth, including our own.  The fullness of the Church is found in every Orthodox parish and can be experienced today.  It is an experience we can strive for and encounter every day of our lives. That is what it is to be Orthodox.

Old age, infirmity and even blindness
did not stop at all your intercession for the people before authorities.
You begged them to prefer mercy to sacrifice,
that they themselves might find mercy from the Lord.
Now as you stand in heaven, do not cease to intercede for us
before the Lord.

St. Herman’s ministry and mission was not crippled by aging or by any infirmities or handicaps.   That is something we in the OCA or in any Orthodox jurisdiction in America should remember.  Yes we have stumbled and suffered setbacks and at times seem weak and ineffective.  Yet our mission and purpose remains the same.  We are to be faithful to God just like those Three Youths who were thrown into the fiery furnace by an evil king who thought he could destroy them and their faith.  They sang a hymn of praise to God even in the midst of the fiery furnace.  Even oppression and the threat of death could not change their faithfulness to God and witness to His greatness.

And today is not only the commemoration of the repose of St. Herman of Alaska, it is also the anniversary of the repose of Fr. Alexander Schmemann, who I at least consider a great teacher of Orthodoxy in America.   His writings inspired me to stay in the Orthodox Church and to work to buildup Orthodoxy in America.  You can read one article honoring this great teacher of Orthodoxy in America at An Essay on the 30th Anniversary of the Repose of Fr. Alexander Schmemann.

LOGOIn honor of St. Herman and Fr. Schmemann, I join my fellow Orthodox in inviting all of our OCA members to offer this Christmas season, extra financial support to the ministries, mission and vision of the Orthodox Church in America:  Become a Steward.  I have this month for the first time in many years renewed my own support of the mission of St. Herman and the vision of Fr. Schmemann for Orthodoxy in America.

You too can support the work and vision of an Orthodox Church in America at :  Support the Vision and Mission of Orthodoxy in America.  

St. Herman of Alaska and Future of the OCA

Today we commemorate the repose of St. Herman of Alaska (d. 1837).  St. Herman was among the first Orthodox missionaries to come to North America and to work to establish the Orthodox Church in the New World.  It is his missionary spirit – leaving Old World Orthodoxy behind in order to establish a new vine of Christ’s holy Church – which makes the Orthodox Church in America so unique in North America.   The OCA has a particular witness to offer: not just establishing a branch of an Old World Orthodox jurisdiction in America, but a new vine being planted to grow into an indigenous Orthodox Church.

There are those who want the Russian Church to be in America, or the Greek Church or Syrian or Serbian, Romanian or Albanian or whatever Old World tradition they want to establish and preserve here.  All of that is OK for whatever the reason, they all are establishing Orthodoxy here.  As St. Paul describes it:

“Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of partisanship…”   (Philippians 1:15-17)

But for me, there is something about the autocephalous Orthodox Church in America which represents a special potential for Orthodoxy in America to not simply be a transplant of an ethnic Old World Orthodoxy in the New World, but rather to truly be  an Orthodox Church in America as fully Orthodox and unique as are each of the Old World Orthodox Patriarchates.  That idea has inspired me to stay in the Orthodox Church and to work for its development.

Even the hymns for the repose of St. Herman speak of the missionary nature of his work: moving forward into the New World to establish the Church of Christ:

REJOICE, HOLY TEACHER OF CHRIST’S NEWLY-CHOSEN FLOCK!
BY THE GRACE OF THE WORD OF GOD,
YOU ENLIGHTEN HEARTS IN THE SHADOW OF IGNORANCE.
BY THE SPIRIT OF MEEKNESS AND HUMILITY,
YOU INSTRUCT US IN GODLINESS,
BY BROTHERLY LOVE AND COMPASSION,
IMPLANTING THE TRUTH OF FAITH.
WONDER-WORKING FATHER HERMAN,
PREACHER OF THE LIGHT OF CHRIST,
AS YOU BANISHED THE DARKNESS OF DEMONS,
ENLIGHTEN OUR HEARTS,
THAT SET FREE FROM THE DARKNESS OF UNBELIEF,
WE MAY OBTAIN GREAT MERCY!

Orthodoxy is about brotherly love and compassion, meekness and humility, enlightenment and freedom, godliness and grace.  It is not mostly about being Greek or following Russian rubrics.   It is about the Gospel, the Kingdom of God and our Lord Jesus Christ.  Orthodoxy is about salvation and joy.

Joyful North Star of the Church of Christ,
Guiding all people to the Heavenly Kingdom;
Teacher and apostle of the True Faith;
Intercessor and defender of the oppressed;
Adornment of the Orthodox Church in America:
Blessed Father Herman of Alaska,
Pray to our Lord Jesus Christ
For the salvation of our souls!

Orthodoxy is not about living in the past or even living the past now.  Rather Orthodoxy is always moving us toward the eschaton, that Kingdom which is to come.  We have received a tradition which we are to live in the 21st Century in America.  We are not trying to recreate the 19th Century or some other golden past.  We are to live the Gospel now in order to witness to its life and power and in order to pass it on to the next generation of Christians where ever they may live and of whatever ethnic makeup they are.  Again St. Paul gives us the direction:

“… 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.”   (Philippians 3:13-14)

SchmemannIn addition to commemorating the repose of St. Herman of Alaska, December 13, 2013, marks the 30th anniversary of the falling asleep of Fr. Alexander Schmemann.  For me he was a great inspiration as well, showing that Orthodoxy is about the coming Kingdom of God and is not mostly a museum of the past.   We are to live the Gospel, and Fr. Schmemann showed us how we can do that through the liturgical life of the Orthodox Church.

It is the inspiration of St. Herman of Alaska and Fr. Alexander Schmemann that also causes me to invite all of you to share in the vision, mission, and hope which the Orthodox Church in America represents:  Orthodoxy not just preserving its past and promoting ethnic culture, but Orthodoxy living and proclaiming the Kingdom of God to North Americans in the 21st Century.

Fr. Alex Kuchta, the Diocesan clergy representative to the OCA’s Metropolitan Council asked us to join him in a renewed support of the mission and vision of the OCA.  He wrote recently:

But if you believe that the Orthodox Church in America is much more
than just a collection of parishes and dioceses.
If you believe that we share a common vision of what the Orthodox
Church can be to serve the people of North America.
If you believe that the mission and ministries of the OCA can make a
difference in people’s lives.
Then I hope you will consider taking the step to add your name to the
band of Stewards who feel the same way.

OCAI join Fr. Alex and all of those who have recently committed themselves to making an extra donation to the Orthodox Church in America to support its mission and ministries.  This Christmas season if you want to make a difference, give a Christmas gift to the OCA in support of its work and vision: Become a Steward.  I have.

You too can support the work and vision of an Orthodox Church in America at :  Support the Vision and Mission of Orthodoxy in America.  

See also St. Herman of Alaska and the Future of the OCA (II)