When I served as a mission priest in northern California, I would often plan out my Sunday sermons several weeks at a time. So, for example, when I was first assigned to St George Greek Orthodox Church in Redding,CA I decided that in the first few months, the Sunday sermons would focus on the basics of an Orthodox Christian spiritual life: Daily & liturgical prayer, fasting, almsgiving and stewardship. After this I focused on the sacraments, the daily & yearly liturgical cycle and, finally, the Creed.
The sermons themselves always followed the same basic structure: (1) Dogmatic: What is it that we believe as Orthodox Christians about the topic at hand? (2) Illustrative: What does this topic look like in practice? This was usually where I would refer back either to the Scripture readings at Liturgy and/or the lives of the saints. (3) Applicative: How can we, practically, live out the Church’s faith embodied in this topic? Especially important here was brief consideration of the obstacles and facilitating conditions for people’s spiritual lives; what do we do that gets in the way of our living out the Church’s faith and what can we do to foster living out the Church’s faith.
Some people simply didn’t like my preaching in this way. As one person put it, “I come to church for inspiration not a lecture. I want a positive thought to carry away with me for the week.” In the main, however, most people where open to this type of preaching and eventually began to find it profitable for their own spiritual lives.
The key to preaching successfully this way was planning out the course of the sermons over several successive Sundays. This was especially important not only as the congregation grew, but also as I was asked to take on responsibilities for communities in Crescent City (also St George, a small mission station on the far northern coast of California a 4½ drive away) and later for St Nectarios parish in Pasco, WA (which was a 6 hour trip by air that required me to stop over at 4 airports).
Let me change focus here to blogging.
One of the challenges of keeping a blog is writing on a regular, and, ideally even a daily basis. To do that with new material (rather than merely linking to what others have published), I need a structure, a general sense of topics that I want to cover on any given day of the week. And, as with preaching, not only will this serve to keep me on track, it will give readers a sense of what I’ll be looking at each day and so they can keep an eye out for the days when there is likely to be something of particular interest to them.
So, here’s my weekly schedule with a brief summary of that day’s theme:
· Monday will look at the Sunday Gospel reading for the following Sunday. I think it helps us in our spiritual lives if we reflect on the Gospel reading throughout the week and, even if as it is likely, the sermon you hear on Sunday doesn’t pick out the same themes that I focus on, bring the two together is a good thing.
· Tuesday is devoted to Current Events. Our spiritual life can’t be separated from what is going on around us so this post will be a general interest essay about something in the local, national or international news during the last week and how it might pertain to the Christian life.
· Wednesday is for Church News. Like Tuesday’s post, this is a general interest essay about what has happened in the Orthodox Church during the last week and how it might pertain to the Christian life.
· Thursday is my day to wax (or is it wane?) poetic on Ecumenism. Especially important here are topics & events in Orthodox/Catholic relations.
· Friday I’ll write about Spiritual Formation. As with my preaching, these will be theoretical and practical reflections on discovering and incarnating our identity in Jesus Christ in light of the tradition of the Orthodox Church.
· Saturday is a day without an established theme (and so this post), my Free Topic day in which any & everything that has struck my fancy in the last week might make an appearance. This is also the day in which I would very much like to address at length questions or topics that readers submit to me. While the comment box has its value many people have raised issue that simply don’t lend themselves to quick answers. So, what do you think I ought to address? Drop me an email through the “About Me” link.
· Sunday is devoted to my great delight, Liturgy. My doctoral dissertation looked at the psychological structures and dynamics of communion in Liturgy and though it has been better than 10 years since I finished it and got my degree, I am still interested in the relationship between Liturgy and our psychological, spiritual and community lives. Since I often travel on weekends, in addition to a general essay on Liturgy, I will occasionally offer my thoughts on serving Liturgy in different communities.
One of the great paradoxes of the spiritual life is that we need limits to grow in freedom. In fact as we grow in the spiritual life, or at least as I have, I experience not only more freedom, but also a greater appreciation for limits. One of my professors in graduate school, the Roman Catholic priest-psychologist Adrian van Kaam, would say that human freedom is never absolute; our freedom is always a situated freedom. As I said earlier, this means that we realize our freedom not by leaving behind or denying or minimizing the empirical structures that limit our life, but by going ever deeper into those structures.
The fathers of the Church say that the human person is both a microcosm and a macrocosm. By this they mean we are both a “miniature” of the creation AND that we give expression to the whole of creation. Or, to use another phrase, our personality is meant to be a catholic personality—a unique expression of the whole of what it means to be human.
However we describe it, the realization of our identity requires a structure that makes transcendence possible and which roots us firmly in our own life. My hope is that by structuring somewhat my essays here, I can provide that experience of “going beyond” and “going deeper” for myself and you dear reader.