Orthodoxy, Autocephaly and America

Archbishop Job of TelmessosThe Permanent Representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the World Council of Churches, Archbishop Job of Telmessos, in an interview  with the Greek newspaper “Ethnos of Sunday”  said the following about the current dispute  between the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Moscow Patriarch over the autocephaly of  the Orthodox Church in Ukraine:

Autocephaly transcends ethnophylism and regionalism by ensuring the unity of the Church within the local Church as well as between the local Churches. It does not preclude serving the pastoral needs of Russian-speaking, Romanian-speaking, Greek-speaking, English-speaking or any other believers living in Ukraine, and allows for the communion with Constantinople, Moscow and all other local Orthodox Churches.   We must not forget that the Orthodox Church is one, because it is the Body of Christ. Therefore, it is not possible to divide the body of Christ. The Church belongs to Christ and not to Constantinople, Moscow, Kiev or anyone else. For me, it is a little strange that an Orthodox living in Ukraine does not want to be under the jurisdiction of Kiev but under the jurisdiction of Moscow…

OCAFor me this is an interesting comment which I hope the Ecumenical Patriarch actually believes when it comes to Orthodoxy in America.  Archbishop Job thinks it a little strange that an Orthodox living in Ukraine does not want to be under the jurisdiction of Kiev.  Isn’t it equally strange that these same bishops imagine that Orthodox in America should be under these foreign jurisdictions?   Many of us Orthodox in America don’t want to be under Moscow or Constantinople but want to have exactly what Archbishop Job says – a local church administered by bishops in America.  He sees autocepahly as the glue which holds together in unity the local church and the very thing which then unites that local church to all the other Orthodox Churches.  Certainly that is what autocephaly can and should be in America.  I hope these words words and this wisdom will be used to recognize just such an autocephalous Orthodox Church in America.

Independence Day (2018)

Even apart from these celestial gifts distinguishing the saints from other living people, there are further ways of recognizing their superiority. For instance, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, summoned to him all the peoples to worship the image that he had set up (cf. Dan. 3:1-30). But God in His wisdom so disposed things that the virtue of three children should be made known to everyone and should teach everyone that there is one true God, who dwells in the heavens. Three children, captive and deprived of their liberty, spoke out boldly before him; and while everyone else, in great fear, worshipped the image, and even if not convinced did not dare to say anything, but was virtually speechless, like beasts dragged along by the nose, these children behaved very differently.

They did not want their refusal to worship the image to go unrecognized or to escape notice, but they declared in the hearing of all: ‘We do not worship your gods, 0 king, nor will we bow down before the golden image that you have set up.’ Yet the terrible furnace into which they were cast as punishment was not a furnace for them and did not manifest its normal function; but as if reverencing the children it kept them free from harm. And everyone, including the king himself, through them recognized the true God. Not only those on earth, but the angelic choirs themselves were amazed at these children. (St Symeon Metaphrastis,, THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Loc.  33936-58)

As we celebrate Independence Day in the United States, we can think about the nature of freedom by considering the narrative in the Book of Daniel about the Three Youth in the fiery furnace.   Those 3 Jewish children though captives exiled in Babylon were able to exercise their free will despite their enslaved existence.  The Babylonians on the other hand though living at home as free citizens  also lived in fear of the king and were not able to exercise their consciences but rather lived the king’s lie.  So who was truly free – the slaves who had free will or the citizens who had no right to refuse their king’s demands?

Christian freedom means the right to live the godly life even if threatened by punishment of death.  Choosing martyrdom for Christ is the greatest example of choosing free will.  Christian freedom is not just about making all kinds of consumer choices, or being able to express oneself without constraint.  Christian freedom is far greater than any rights guaranteed in the Constitution or in the Bill of Rights.  As becomes obvious in the Orthodox spiritual tradition, freedom is denying oneself in order to follow Christ.   As St. Mark the Monk  noted Christian freedom,  has nothing to do with unrestricted self-expression ( Counsels on the Spiritual Life, Kindle Location 1717-1718).  Rather the Christian is one who is able to deny the self in order to conform himself to the will of the Creator.  This is something all of us Christians in America need to consider.  “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).

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)

Thanksgiving 2017

A prayer for Thanksgiving Day

O Lord Jesus Christ, our God, the God of all mercies and compassion,
Whose mercy cannot be measured and Whose love for mankind is without limit: As unprofitable servants we bow down in reverence and fear before Your gracious majesty, and we humbly offer You this Thanksgiving for all the benefits You have bestowed upon our nation and our Church.

We glorify, praise, hymn and magnify You as our Lord, Master and Benefactor.  We bow down before You in Thanksgiving for Your immeasurable and priceless loving-kindness.

We pray that in the same way that You already blessed us, heard our prayers and fulfilled them, so also in the time to come as we flourish in love and virtue as a result of Your blessings grant always to accept our thanksgiving supplications and grant that we may bring glory to Your Holy Name each day that we walk on this earth.

Deliver our Church and our nation from every evil circumstance, and continue to accept, bless and prosper the work of our hands.
O Lord, grant us peace and tranquility so that we may live in godliness all the days of our lives. Count us always worthy to offer you thanksgiving, to tell about your wonderful blessings, and to sing praise to You for all the benefits you bestow upon us.

In humble gratitude we praise Your Name together with Your Father who is from everlasting and You Most Holy, good and consubstantial Spirit.  Amen.

Thanksgiving morning, 23 November 2017, there was a rainbow in the sky just at day break. A beautiful sight for Thanksgiving morning.

 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will look upon it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth.”    (Genesis 9:12-16)

A Separation of Church and State

The state is, to be sure, wholly  of “this world.” It belongs to the level of the reality which in the light of the Kingdom “fades away.” This does not mean, however, that it is either evil or neutral, an enemy to be fought or an entity to be ignored for the sake of “spiritual values.” On the contrary, it is precisely the experience of the Kingdom that for Christians gives the state its real meaning and value. The fall consisted primarily in the disconnection of “this world” from God and in its acquiring therefore a pseudo-meaning and a pseudo-value which is the very essence of the demonic, the Devil being “the liar and the father of lies.” To redeem the world, or anything in the world, is then to place it in the perspective of the Kingdom of God as its end and ultimate term of reference, to make it transparent to the Kingdom as its sign, means and “instrument.”

…The essence of all that exists is good, for it is God’s creation. It is only its divorce from God and its transformation into an idol, i.e. an “end in itself,” that makes anything in this world evil and demonic. Thus, as everything else in “this world,” the state may be under the power of “the prince of this world.” It may become a vehicle of demonic lies and distortions, yet, as everything else, by “accepting” the Kingdom of God as its ultimate value or “eschaton,” it may fulfill a positive function. As an integral part of “this world,” it exists under the sign of the end and will not “inherit the Kingdom of God.” But its positive and indeed “Christian” function lies in this very recognition of its limit, in this very refusal to be an “end in itself,” an absolute value, an idol, in its subordination, in short, to the only absolute value, that of God’s Kingdom.

It is well known that from a purely legal point of view the crime for which Christians were condemned and denied the right to exists (“non licet vos esse”) was their refusal to honor the emperor with the title of Kyrios, Lord. They did not denounce, reject or fight any other “defect” of the Roman Empire be it, to use our modern “fixations,” injustice (slavery), colonialism (the regime of imperial versus the senatorial provinces), or imperialism (expansion at the expense of other states and nations). Yet what they denounced and fought by denying the emperor the divine title of Kyrios implied in fact much more than all this, for it challenged once and for all the self-proclaimed divinity of the state, its claim to be an absolute value, a divine “end in itself.” And it implied therefore not only a negation, but also an affirmation. (Alexander Schmemman, Church World Mission, pp. 30-32)

Opposing Racism: Commending OUR LIFE to Christ

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“Happy is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith for ever; who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free; the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous. The LORD watches over the sojourners, he upholds the widow and the fatherless; but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin. The LORD will reign for ever, thy God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the LORD!”   (Psalm 146:5-10)

In many Orthodox churches, it is customary to sing the above Psalm 146 at the Eucharistic Liturgy.  The Psalm expresses an ideal for the life of the people of God and how we are to be godlike, and to act toward the stranger, the sojourner and the oppressed with the same intention as God Himself: executing justice for them all.  In fact, we are to treat them as we would wish to be treated (Matthew 7:12).  It is for this same reason, this same vision, that the Orthodox in America need to stand together with those who oppose racism and bigotry.  It is why we believers need to oppose white supremacist or neo-Nazi groups: such ideology goes against the very understanding we have of God, of what it is to be human and of Christianity.  All humans are called by Christ into a holy unity.  It may be natural to us to identify with people like us – same ethnicity, or race or social class.  These may be the people we spend the most time with, marry and live with in our neighborhoods.  Scripture itself has a great deal of “us” and “them” thinking.  We can choose to live with and marry people like ourselves, but in Christ, we are to treat all others – the stranger, the alien – as we treat people like ourselves.  St. Paul writes forcefully:

12801397374_0fe3e55abb_n“… remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ.

For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”   (Ephesians 2:12-22)

Our vision as Orthodox calls us to this peace in Christ – to live at peace with those who are our neighbors.   As Christ taught, the real question is not “who is my neighbor?” but rather “how can I prove myself to be a  neighbor to those I meet?”  (Luke 10:29-37, the parable of the Good Samaritan).  We Orthodox in America need to prove we are Christ’s neighbor by standing against violence and racism and hatred, by siding with those we think of as the stranger, the alien, the sojourner.  Many of us Orthodox came to America as strangers and aliens (or our ancestors did), and many Orthodox as immigrants encountered prejudice and hatred for no other reason than our names, our languages, our Orthodox Faith.  Our message within our parish communities is to be Christ’s message of being neighbors, of love, of caring for the oppressed.  Our Communion is with Christ, not with those who practice or preach hatred and violence nor with those who teach any form of racism.

We would do well to remember our scriptures and the story of the great flood, and what prompted God to want to drown evil and send it back to the depths of the sea out of which it came:

“Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth.

And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh; for the earth is filled with violence through them; behold, I will destroy them with the earth.”  (Genesis 6:11-13)

Those promoting violence and hatred embrace a way of life which God has hated (Isaiah 59:7-8; Psalm 11:5-6; Proverbs 6:16-19) throughout the existence of the human race.

We Orthodox Christians are called to be one race, a race united in Christ, not based on genes but on faith and holiness:

4263457299_d973374b2e_n“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were no people but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I beseech you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh that wage war against your soul. Maintain good conduct among the Gentiles, so that in case they speak against you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”  (1 Peter 2:9-12)

If we pay attention in the Divine Liturgy, we realize all of us share in the same life.  The Liturgy doesn’t speak about “lives” but life (in the singular, one life shared by all of us):

let us commend ourselves and each other and all our life unto Christ our God.

enable us to serve You in holiness all the days of our life.

May the Holy Spirit Himself minister together with us all the days of our life.

 I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come

For a Christian ending to our life: painless, blameless, and peaceful;

To You we commend our whole life and our hope, O loving Master.

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We all share the same life given to us by God which is why we need to stand with those whose life is threatened by those who rant and rail for violence, hatred and racism.  Life is precious and sacred.  Racism precisely denies “our life” – our common humanity which Christ took on in the incarnation – the one human life given to us all by our Creator.

[The Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America has issued a statement regarding the events which took place  last week in Charlottesville, VA.  The statement deals with racism and violence in America and a call for all of us Orthodox Christians to adhere to the Gospel commands of Christ and to the Tradition of our Church.  You can read their statement at:

We Are Responsible for Our Neighbor’s Salvation

“Knowing as we do that we are responsible both for the salvation of our neighbors and their loss, let us so regulate our life as not only to be sufficient for ourselves but also to prove an occasion of instruction to others, so that we may draw down on us here and now the favor from God, and may in the future enjoy God’s loving kindness in generous measure, thanks to the grace and mercy of his only-begotten Son, to whom with the Father and the Holy Spirit be glory, power and honor, now and forever, for ages of ages. Amen.”

(St. John Chrysostom, The Fathers of the Church: St. John Chrysostom Homilies on Genesis, Homily 7, p. 104)

We are responsible for our own salvation and should live the life that corresponds to what we believe.  We are also responsible for our neighbor’s salvation which means we must live a life that witnesses to Christ in such a way that the neighbor will want to embrace what we have found in Christ.

Orthodoxy Celebrating American Religious Freedom

Wishing all my fellow Americans a safe and blessed Independence Day holiday.

“The theory that America is a melting pot no longer seems to be in vogue. Sociologists are pointing more and more to the pluralistic character of American society. Yet, while America is indeed a nation of many people of diverse racial, ethnic, religious, and social backgrounds, who are free to hold and cultivate their customs and languages, no cultural tradition is able to remain completely autonomous or unaffected by the lure of the American Way. The process of Americanization is inevitable and inexorable. Indeed, acculturation becomes easier with each succeeding generation.

There are those, however, who believe that the American Way is suspect and even corrupt. They maintain that to survive Orthodox people are obliged to live as a remnant in artificial islands, isolated from the mainstream of American life. This attitude is not simply myopic but also inherently wrong, because it constitues a betrayal of the Church’s self-understanding and mission. In fact, it is a prescription for the transformation of the Church into a sect and a sure way to erode her internal vitality and to dimish her role as a spiritual force in our society. In response to the moral and spiritual imperatives of the Gospel, we are obliged to rise above every fear, surmount every obstacle, and transcend every prejedice, which would deny the catholicity of the Church, seek to restrict her vision, limit her outreach and mission and seal her doors.

The Church is God’s eternal witness and the sacrament of his love for everyone. The Church is the sign and herald of God’s Kingdom in the midst of the contradictions and anomalies of the fallen world. The Church has no borders and knows no fences. She is the house of all, the universal community. As Orthodox Christians in America we need not abandon our roots nor be apologetic about the fact that we carry with us cultural values that have been hammered out in places and times other than our own. Indeed, this very fact acts to remind us of our responsibility and mission to be active and creative participants in the historical process. We have every right to hope and work for an American Orthodoxy because there are grounds for it in our collective histories.” (Alkiviadis C. Calivas, Essays in Theology and Liturgy: Vol. 2, pp 52-53)

 

Unity in the Orthodox Church

As our Lord Jesus approached His death, according to the Evangelist John, He offered a prayer for the unity of His disciples (John 17:1-13).  We proclaim this Gospel on the 7th Sunday after Pascha as we commemorate the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council.  At the beginning of the 4th Century, the time of that Council, the Church was in grave disunity, torn apart by theological controversy.  It was a time where the Constantinian peace for the Church was beginning – the persecutions ended, but disunity emerged writ large amidst the peace.     Our Lord Jesus Christ also prayed for the unity of all who would come to believe in Him through the work of His disciples and His Church.  Though we know Jesus spent long periods of time in prayer, this is one of the precious few prayers of His that we have recorded.    Here is part of what Jesus prayed for us before His crucifixion:

“I do not pray only for these, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you.  May they be one in us, so that the world may believe that you sent me. The glory which you have given me, I have given to them, so that they may be one even as we are one; I in them, and you in me. May they be perfected into one, so that the world may know that you sent me, and that you have loved them, even as You have loved me.  . . .  Righteous Father, the world has not known you, but I knew you; and these have known that you have sent me.  I have made your Name known to them, and I will continue to make it known; so that the love with which you loved me may be in them, and I in them.”  (John 17:20-26, EOB)

Our Lord prayed that all of us who follow Him may share a oneness, a unity like that which is shared by the Persons of the Holy Trinity.   He didn’t further define what the oneness might look like – a oneness of heart and mind because we loved one another?  Or because we perfectly agree on all issues?  A monolithic faith?

Of whatever this oneness consists, the world would learn from that unity that God the Father sent Jesus Christ into the world.   A lot is riding on this unity!

And yet, we see already in the New Testament various kinds of disunity emerging even in the age of the Apostles – some fruitful and some perhaps not.  There are four versions of the Gospel.  Peter and Paul disagreed mightily over some issues.  The Jewish and Gentile Christians experienced serious tensions.  Paul and Barnabus parted ways after a disagreement.

Today the Orthodox Church is endeavoring to work on its unity by calling a Great and Holy Council this month for the edification of the entire Church and the world.  And in some ways Orthodoxy’s condition today is like the Church of the 4th Century: we are emerging from a long period of having to exist beneath the radar of the world’s notice.  We emerge with some sense of peace and the possibility of letting our light shine to the world, rather than remaining hidden beneath a basket.  And yet, just as in the 4th Century, the emerging Church found itself a divided Church and had to grapple with the issue of disunity.   Interestingly, one can read the history of the Ecumenical Council in two different ways.  First, one can decide the Council affirmed clear lines of where the Church was not and who could not be in the Church, that the goal was to exclude those who had a different point of view.  On the other hand, it is possible (and certainly the many Councils that followed seem to indicate this), that the Church was searching hard for a language that was inclusive and that all could agree upon.  That unity through language proved elusive in history, yet the Church continued to pursue that goal as shown in the 5th and 6th Ecumenical Councils.

On the webpage of the Orthodox Church in America we read the following about this  month’s Great and Holy Orthodox Council and its noble goals:

“The convening of the Holy and Great Council as a sign of unity and as a witness to unity is a worthy vision for Orthodoxy pursued with patience and determination by His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. The painful difficulties in realizing this vision have always been evident. The dangers on the road towards this vision are now seen in bold relief, yet the beauty of the vision is clear as never before. Today, the Orthodox Churches stand before the world unable to conceal the wounds of our fractured relationships. Yet vision of unity will not be denied, because it comes from the heart of the Orthodox Faith and is intrinsic to the Good News of Christ. Whatever the difficulties and wounds we bear, we are following the Risen Christ and are empowered by Pentecost to witness to the Gospel of Christ everywhere and at all times.”

Orthodoxy has not embraced a notion that the unity of the Church lies in the person of the Pope of Rome.  It has held to some ideas of unity based in consensus and conciliarity.  But there is also a reality that by not holding a Great Council for 1200 years, the various Orthodox have not tried to actually make unity work, or to work on unity or work for unity.  There was a more nebulous (mystical!) unity of faith that held it together, and because they weren’t working together the unity wasn’t tested.  The Orthodox didn’t get together to work the unity, and this may be the only reason the unity held.  Many marriages and communities are held together by a false sense of unity based in the people avoiding each other and avoiding the conflicts which abound like mines in a field.  True community – a common unity – though may be real only when tested by real life interaction.  The desert fathers pointed out that going off to live alone in a desert is no proof that one has overcome one’s passions of anger, irritability, and irascibility.  One can pretend one is a peaceful person if one avoids others.  But such peace is pretend.

Now we read this statement recently released from the Ecumenical Patriarchate:

 

“The Ecumenical Patriarchate, which bears the first responsibility for safeguarding the unity of Orthodoxy… “

The sentiment seems to be closer to the Papal notion of unity than to ideas of the unity being found in conciliarity and consensus.  But that may be reading more into  the statement than it intends. The statement only claims a “first responsiblity for safeguarding the unity of Orthodoxy” not that the Patriarch represents that unity in his office.    It would seem that Orthodox Tradition has held more to a notion that unity was found in the Councils, not in one Patriarchate.  But again, Christ did not specify how this  unity would be maintained or what it would look like.  The OCA’s Synod does think the idea of the Great Council is part of a worthy vision, a noble ideal, perhaps.   In this sense, Patriarch Bartholemew might be in his office upholding a great ideal for the entire Church, a vision of unity.

2016 Holy Synod

I agree with the statement of the OCA and appreciate its sentiment.  We don’t need to pretend there is unity where it doesn’t exist, but we all can work for that unity in the Church. [The OCA being excluded from the Council is the perfect sign that unity does not in fact exist in worldwide Orthodoxy!]  And if contentions arise or are obvious, as the Church of truth, we don’t need to hide from them or pretend they don’t exist.  Rather we can witness to the world about how we deal with differences as Christians, following the Gospel, loving one another, bearing our cross.   As Orthodox Christians we ought to be able in faith and love to acknowledge our disagreements and the need to discuss them.  We should be able to put everything on the table, to speak the truth in love, and to acknowledge where we disagree without forming into oppositional camps.  After all, Christ teaches us even to love even our enemies.

St. Paul did not shy away from contention, controversy, debate or disagreement with his fellow apostles.  Yet, he writes of a vision of unity as well as a unity of vision:

“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” (Ephesians 4:1-6)

Unity does not mean the Church needs to be a monolith, with absolute agreement on every issue.  There can be unity as long as the leaders agree to respect each other and allow that bishops do have authority in their dioceses to do some things differently.  Bishops can respect each others abilities and authority to disagree without breaking the unity of faith, without ending a unity of vision or the vision of  unity.

In Acts 15, we see how the Apostles handled a painfully divisive issue which was tearing apart the nascent Church.

“And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them: ‘Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?  But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.’

Then all the multitude kept silent and listened to Barnabas and Paul declaring how many miracles and wonders God had worked through them among the Gentiles.  And after they had become silent, James answered, saying, ‘Men and brethren, listen to me: Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name.  And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written:
‘After this I will return
And will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down;
I will rebuild its ruins,
And I will set it up;
So that the rest of mankind may seek the LORD,
Even all the Gentiles who are called by My name,
Says the LORD who does all these things.’ …   Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood.  For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”   (Acts 15:7-21)

Perhaps if we followed the Spirit and the logic, we might realize we need to work on a unity among us Orthodox.  We have to actually talk to each other in order to form, maintain and nurture the unity and to show that unity in the face of differences amongst us.  This is not to mention the possibility that we are to see worldwide Christianity as our responsibility as well, and that we are somehow to hold a unity even with all “Gentile” Christians as well – all those who are beyond the household of Orthodoxy.

We have to discern whether in fact all the issues we can possibly discuss in fact require complete agreement, or whether a consensus that allows differences is in fact within the bounds of unity that Christ Himself envisioned for us.  We actually fail if we demand conformity in thinking on issues that Christ Himself does not demand unity.  We end up imposing a uniformity by which we try to create our own tower to heaven, which we know ended in Babel.  A falsely demanded conformity in thinking will result in a multitude of languages as every goes off to interpret the monolithic idea in their own way.  Better that we recognize there is disagreement and work with that reality, finding the way to maintain the bond of peace and concord of soul.  That would be truthful at least, rather than a pretend unity based in avoidance.

Unity is not real if it is based in simply not talking with each other.  We Orthodox have had a unity based on our not being able to meet together to talk as well as based on avoidance of issues.  But the fact that there are disagreements doesn’t mean that there is no unity.  Unity can be based in respect and trust that it is OK on some issues for their to be variety, disagreement and variation.  Unity turns out to be a polysemous word.  If we have love for one another, and refuse to break the love, we don’t have to absolute agreement on all issues.  The Ecumenical Patriarch has a noble and worthy vision of unity, can all of the Orthodox primates agree on a vision of unity?  There is plenty of biblical and historical example for them to follow.

Sanctity of Human Life Sunday (2016)

Sanctity of LifeToday the Orthodox Church in America recognizes the Sanctity of Human Life Sunday.  I want to mention a quote from President Obama’s 11 January 2016 State of the Union speech.   It’s not easy to find something from him to quote for this Sunday, but he said something which caught my ears:

So, my fellow Americans, whatever you may believe, whether you prefer one party or no party, our collective future depends on your willingness to uphold your obligations as a citizen. To vote. To speak out. To stand up for others, especially the weak, especially the vulnerable, knowing that each of us is only here because somebody, somewhere, stood up for us. To stay active in our public life so it reflects the goodness and decency and optimism that I see in the American people every single day.

The President called upon us to stand up especially for the weak and vulnerable, and to remember “that each of us is only here because somebody, somewhere, stood up for us.”  That is exactly the sentiment we who are pro-life and who believe in the sanctity of human life are doing for the babies in their mother’s wombs.  President Obama said we should speak up and vote.  We do that, and we also pray.

Christ  Blessing the Children

 Here is the prayer that the Orthodox Church in America offers for the Sanctity of Human Life Sunday.  It is a prayer for all, including the unborn babies and also for all politicians, even those who don’t respect the sanctity of human life in the womb.

O Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son, Who are in the bosom of the Father, True God, source of life and immortality, Light of Light, Who came into the world to enlighten it: You were pleased to be conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary for the salvation of our souls by the power of Your All-Holy Spirit. O Master, Who came that we might have life more abundantly, we ask You to enlighten the minds and hearts of those blinded to the truth that life begins at conception and that the unborn in the womb are already adorned with Your image and likeness; enable us to guard, cherish, and protect the lives of all those who are unable to care for themselves. For You are the Giver of Life, bringing each person from non-being into being, sealing each person with divine and infinite love. Be merciful, O Lord, to those who, through ignorance or willfulness, affront Your divine goodness and providence through the evil act of abortion. May they, and all of us, come to the life of Your Truth and glorify You, the Giver of Life, together with Your Father, and Your All-Holy and Life-giving Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Rachel Lamenting the Loss of Her Children