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.

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)

Orthodox Conciliarity: Commitment to the Past or Present Reality?

Holy Great Council“The Orthodox Church, in her unity and catholicity, is the Church of Councils, from the Apostolic Council in Jerusalem (Acts 15.5-29) to the present day. The Church in herself is a Council, established by Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit, in accord with the apostolic words: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15.28). Through the Ecumenical and Local councils, the Church has proclaimed and continues to proclaim the mystery of the Holy Trinity, revealed through the incarnation of the Son and Word of God.” (ENCYCLICAL OF THE HOLY AND GREAT COUNCIL OF THE ORTHODOX CHURCH, Crete, 2016)

This past June, a Holy and Great Council of Orthodox bishops was held in Crete.  The pre- and post- Council documents emphasized the conciliar nature of the Orthodox Church. This emphasis on the importance of council to the governance of the Church seems to be a way of contrasting Orthodoxy with Roman Catholicism’s pyramidal papacy.

The concept of “conciliar” can be interpreted in different ways.  In the United States, influenced as we are by egalitarian ideals, some tend to hope conciliar implies the interaction and input of every member of the Body of Christ, the Church, whether they be lay (female and male), clergy or episcopal.  In other parts of the Orthodox world, “conciliar” is heard more as “synodal”, meaning the bishops assemble to discuss Church issues and to issue decrees for the rest of the church members to follow.  In this thinking, conciliar is more about the hierarchical nature of the Church and is mostly about bishops assembling together.  Bishops then may meet in some fashion, like at diocesan assemblies, with their constituents, keeping a more “top down” nature to the Church.  In the different Orthodox self-governing churches, the notion of “assembly” connotes different things with assemblies having different amounts of “power” or input into the rest of the Church life.  The degree to which the synods of the various self-governing churches influence or have power over the primates of the churches and over the episcopal members of the synod varies from local church to local church.  Though they can do co-exist, there is a tension between hierarchial and conciliar/synodal in church governance.

What is true about Orthodoxy today, or so it seems to me, especially about the existing self-governing churches, is not so much that Orthodoxy is committed to a conciliar form of church governance and life, but rather Orthodoxy is committed to the memory of past great Councils.  Past councils, ancient ones significantly, are treated as the gold standard for Orthodoxy, even if the self governing churches are not relying on conciliar governance today.   A “conciliar attitutude” is more today a commitment to an ideal about past councils, but not necessarily entrusting the Church today to conciliar governance.  The hierarchs see themselves as the defenders and protectors of the Faith, but not necessarily councils/synods as having that task or being “over” themselves as hierarchs.

The fact that great councils are few and far between even in the “local” self-governing churches is one indication that Orthodox values past councils more than it values conciliarity in current governance.   The Russian Church for example has not done much with the decisions and thinking of its own great council of 1917.  That council’s conciliar attitude and commitment have not been revived in the Russian Orthodox Church today.  Nor does its memory seem to be very influential in the Russian Church.  Yet that 1917 Council was very committed to a conciliar mode of governance.  The current Russian Church is not motivated to revive that.

Some of the most famous ancient councils were rife with conflict and debate, and the church did not shy away from these issues or try to put on a face that everyone was in agreement.  These councils may have hoped for unity of mind but they openly acknowledged there was disagreement.   They did not try to show unity by avoiding the debates going on in the church.  If the past councils are going to be immortalized, we today are going to have to recognize they were held because there was real disagreement in the Church.  The Councils were not always able to bring an end to those disagreements or to bring a unity to all Christians.

The willingness of some Orthodox churches to abstain from this year’s Holy and Great Council shows conciliarity is not completely part of the current view of governance in the Church, especially as a worldwide, i.e. Catholic, community.  The system of autocephalous churches may allow some unity within each “local” church, but it fails to bind all these self-governing churches together.  The notion of council at this greater level becomes threatening as the “local” churches fear losing their independence.  They want to believe all Orthodox agree on all issues, but can maintain that position only by disallowing any real, open discussion.  If they don’t meet, they can pretend there is unity because they avoid discussing the troubling issues which divide them.  But then, maybe avoiding discussing divisive issues, is a strategy for maintaining a desired yet absent real unity.  If they don’t discover there is real disagreement, they avoid dividing the Church.  Yet, if one looks at history, the Ecumenical Councils did not prevent or end divisions in Christianity but resulted in them – note the monophysites and Nestorians.

In terms of governance, the Church today seems more committed to and defensive of its hierarchical nature than its conciliar nature.  Each of the autocephalous churches have hierarchs/ primates who are interested in maintaining their unique power and privileges within their “local” church.  The willingness of the primates to submit their authority to a council’s oversight is not there [Thus some abstained from attending the Holy and Great Council]. The desire to protect “local” episcopal authority seems especially true for the “nationalistic” tendencies in Orthodox self-governing churches today.   These “local” churches fear an “international” Orthodox council/ synod will interfere with their local governance and they don’t want to allow their decisions to then be judged by a higher synodal authority.  They don’t want some “pope” to be over them, but neither do they want to have to answer to a council of international bishops, even if they themselves are part of that council.  The Orthodox see their local autocephalous jurisdictions as the legitimate center for power in the Church and do not want to have to acknowledge a church structure/ power greater than their self-governing (= “local”) church.

In this instance, we can see, perhaps, why it was that Emperors convened the Seven Ecumenical Councils.  The authority of each bishop within their dioceses was left undisputed.  The Emperor however could demand that all the bishops must accept the decisions of the Council.  The Emperor didn’t interfere in each diocese, but all bishops were under his authority.   This helped maintain conformity and unity in the Church without the need for a pope – a super-bishop above all other bishops whose role was to maintain unity.  In the Christian West, the withdrawal of the Roman government to Constantinople, meant the Emperor’s influence was also lessened, and it fell on the bishop of Rome to insist on unity among the bishops.  The papacy developed where the emperor was no longer influential enough to insist on unity among the bishops.  The decline of the Roman Empire led to the disappearance of ecumenical councils.  In Russia after the time of Peter the Great, the Tsar/ government completely dominated the church, enforcing conformity through government power.  Only in 1917 did the Russian Church endeavor to throw off this secular system and try to re-establish the conciliar nature of the Church.

Without an emperor as a independent power over the bishops,  the power of Orthodox hierarchs grew within their dioceses.  And, the power of the primate of the autocephalous churches increased as well, making their office and jurisdictions more independent of the influence of other self-governing churches.  Conciliarity, if it existed at all occurred within the autocephalous church, or within dioceses, but there was no longer a structure to bind all the primates together.  They had a vague sense of sharing an Orthodoxy of faith, but the primates/ autocephalous jurisdictions become increasing alienated from one another.

That Orthodoxy is a hierarchical church is demonstrated constantly in church governance today throughout the world.  Bishops make sure everyone knows the church is hierarchical.  The vestments of the bishops have all of the trappings of the Byzantine emperor and display power and authority over all others.  The role of synods and councils in church governance is not always as obvious, though in some places in Orthodoxy episcopal synods do wield some obvious power over individual hierarchs.

Still, the conciliar nature of the church manifests itself at times in the different Orthodox self-governing churches.  In America, the conciliar nature of the Church is present in most jurisdictions in one form or another and to one degree or another.  It seems to me that all Orthodox jurisdictions in America are more influenced by conciliarity than are the “mother” churches.    The Orthodox Church in America has a strong commitment to the conciliar nature of the Church.  This is shown in its active synod of bishops, the role of diocesan assemblies, the All American Council, the various diocesan and bishop councils, and in parish councils and meetings.  Men and women participate in one form or another at all levels of church councils in the OCA.

It is interesting to note that in the Nicene Creed adopted by the 1st two Ecumenical Councils, hierarchical is not in the description of the true Church; the Church is said to be one, holy, Catholic and apostolic.  In the 4th Century they didn’t include “hierarchical” as a sure description of the Church.  “Catholic” which is clearly in the Creed, is the word that also can imply a conciliar nature to the Church.  The Slavonic version of the creed has that idea in relating “catholic” to sobornost.  It implies conciliarity.  The fullness of the faith exists in every Eucharistic community, and locally the Church does live as the Body of Christ, alive not just in the hierarchy but in every member of the Church.

 

 

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)

 

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

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.

 

The Orthodox Church: Mystery and Miracle

“O strange Orthodox Church, so poor and so weak…maintained as if by a miracle through so many vicissitudes and struggles; Church of contrasts, so traditional and yet at the same time so free, so archaic and yet so alive, so ritualistic and yet so personally mystical; Church where the Evangelical pearl of great price is preciously safeguarded – yet often between a layer of dust….Church which has so frequently proved incapable of action – yet which knows, as does no other, how to sing the joy of Pascha!” (Father Lev Gillet in The Inner Kingdom by Bishop Kallistos Ware, p 24)

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)