Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Parish is for the Family

Recent comments in response to the post on the use of authority, and especially in response to the upcoming "Called & Gifted" Workshop my parish is hosting has got me thinking. It seems to me that the theme that underlies our discussion here (and really more generally in the Church) is a question: What is the purpose of the parish as that institution has come to exist in the Church?

The parish is about, I would suggest, fostering and sustaining marriage and family life.

Granted not every Orthodox Christian is, or will be, married. And not every married couple will be blessed with children. But it seems to me that we could do more to encourage healthy marriages and families. To take only one example, I find it worrisome that, unless there are canonical grounds, almost any couple who wants to be married in the Church is married. Among us, pre-marital preparation is often hit or miss at best. Granted not all priests have the time or talent to prepare couples for marriage, but this doesn't absolve us from providing more adequate preparation. Given the divorce rate in America, I find it hard to believe that everyone who wants to be married in the Church is called by Christ to be married or that all those who are called are fit for marriage.

What also got me thinking along these lines is a post on one of the blogs I follow, Pseudo-Polymath. The author of the blog quotes an essay by Wendell Barry in his "book (and eponymous essay) Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community: Eight Essays Wendell Barry," in which Barry makes "impassioned" argument for "the importance of community." To illustrate the importance of community, and the harm down by its absence, "Barry notes the inability of public discourse to deal with sex and other issues is due to the failure of community":

Once it [a society or culture] has shrugged off the interests and claims of the community, the public language of sexuality comes directly under the influence of private lust, ambition, and greed and becomes inadequate to deal with the real issues and problems of sexuality. The public dialogue degenerates into a stupefying and useless contest between so-called liberation and so-called morality. The real issues and problems, as they are experienced and suffered in people's lives, cannot be talked about. The public language can deal, however awkwardly and perhaps uselessly, with pornography, sexual harassment, rape, and so on. But it cannot talk about respect, responsibility, sexual discipline, fidelity, or the practice of love. "Sexual education" carried on in this public language, is and can only be, a dispirited description of the working of a sort of anatomical machinery — and this is a sexuality that is neither erotic nor social nor sacramental but rather a cold-blooded, abstract procedure which is finally not even imaginable.
The public discussion of sexual issues has thus degenerated into a poor attempt to equivocate between private lusts and public emergencies. Nowhere in public life (that is, in the public life that counts: the discussions of political and corporate leaders) is there an attempt to respond to community needs in the language of community interest.

While are Catholic brothers and sisters (and especially the late Pope John Paul II) are often accused of being obsessed with matter of sexual morality and intruding into the bedrooms of married people and consenting adults, such criticism reflect precisely the rhetorical lack that Berry highlights. Much like the larger society, Orthodox Christians have retreated from a public discourse about sexuality. If Berry is right in his analysis, this retreat points to an underlying deficiency in our own community life. Or, more on point, a lack of community in our parishes. More often than not, and again as with the larger society, we have privatized conversations about sexuality even while we formally affirm the sacramental nature of marriage and family life.

But the rhetoric of Christian community, whether biblical or patristic, parochial or monastic, liturgical or administrative, is by and large rhetoric about the family and so necessarily assumes a certain, public, sexual ethic that most be taught, and defended, publically. We are, for example, brothers and sisters in Christ, with a common Father in Heaven. The parish and the monastery are under the presidency of a father (or in the case of women's monastery, mother). The clergy are all called father whether he is a patriarch, a bishop, a priest or deacon.

But for this rhetoric to be effective, it must be more than simply formal—it is not enough to use the rhetoric of the family, we must actually be a family and here's where our practice fall short of our ideals.

Reading through the various responses to the use of authority in the Church, it seems to me that there is a fair amount of distrust in the Church for those in positions of authority. My own view (admitted idiosyncratic and unsubstantiated by rigorous research in either the social sciences or the Church fathers), is that the response to this distrust is not administrative reform (though that is no doubt needed) but an explicit commitment in our parishes to the good of the family.

I do not think that we can foster trust among us apart from repentance. The character of that repentance, I would argue, is a shared commitment to supporting and defending marriage and family life according to the tradition of the Church. As I alluded to above, marriage and family life are not the only concern of the parish. As a practical matter though, I think we can begin to renew our communities by focusing, among other things, on the needs of the married couples and families in our parishes.

The question become now this, how can our parishes foster marriage and family life even as our monasteries foster a commitment to a life of public prayer and private repentance?

Your thoughts are actively sought.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Caring For the Community: Stewardship of Our Treasure

Sunday, September 28, 2008: 15th SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST (1st of Luke)—Tone 6. Ven. Chariton the Confessor, Abbot of Palestine (ca. 350). Synaxis of the Saints of the Kiev Caves (Near Caves). Ven. Kharitón of Syanzhémsk (Vologdá—1509). Ven. Herodion, Abbot, of Iloezérsk (1541). Prophet Baruch (6th c. B.C.). Martyrs Alexander, Alphius, Zosimas, Mark, Nicon, Neon, Heliodorus, and 24 others in Pisidia and Phrygia (4th c.). Martyrdom of St. Wenceslaus (Viacheslav), Prince of the Czechs (935). Schema-monk Kirill and Schema-nun Maria (parents of Ven. Sergius of Rádonezh).

So it was, as the multitude pressed about Him to hear the word of God, that He stood by the Lake of Gennesaret, and saw two boats standing by the lake; but the fishermen had gone from them and were washing their nets. Then He got into one of the boats, which was Simon's, and asked him to put out a little from the land. And He sat down and taught the multitudes from the boat. When He had stopped speaking, He said to Simon, "Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch." But Simon answered and said to Him, "Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net." And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking. So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!" For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish which they had taken; and so also were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men." So when they had brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed Him.

We come now to the third and final element of our consideration of Christian stewardship, treasure or the financial aspect of stewardship. By way of introduction to what is often the most challenging part of stewardship, let me quickly summarize what’s been said to this point.

Christian stewardship is part of the general human vocation to work. We are all of us called to cooperate with God in making the creation a fit and beautiful home for the whole human family. As Christians we are called not only to work, but in Christ to freely and creatively use our time, talent and treasure to redeem human ingenuity, creativity and effort that have all been marred by Adam’s transgression in the Garden. Put another way, we are called not simply to cooperate with God in the work of creation but also the work of redemption. A Christian steward is one who puts his or her time, talent and treasure to the service of caring for the physical, social,
educational and spiritual needs of the human family.

The exact form this stewardship will take in the life of a particular Christian is determined by many factors. Our life circumstances, the needs of those around them, and must fundamentally of all their own personal vocation all shape what it means for each of us to be a steward. It is this last one, the vocational, that we most typically neglect in challenging people to be stewards.
So the first question to ask when discerning my own stewardship commitment is not how much money will I give, but what is my calling? What is my vocation? It is out of these questions that our stewardship emerges.

Unfortunately, and here let me turn to a consideration of the financial aspect of stewardship, we rarely ask these questions either of ourselves or of those in our parishes when we ask people to commit financially to the work of the Church. What we typically do instead is talk to, really at, people about numbers.

Let me explain how we typically have approached stewardship and then contrast that with what I think is a more holistic approach ground in the human and Christian vocations.
In an early time—and for me “earlier” means a parishes I served within the last 10 or 15 years—we asked people to participate in the financial life of the parish by paying dues. For all practical purposes, if one wished to a member of the parish, one paid a set annual amount. While sometimes membership included participation in the sacramental life of the Church, that is, the at least occasional reception of Holy Communion and yearly Confession, the sacraments often fell by the wayside. What mattered instead was that people paid their dues.

(I should add that while the dues system was common, it was neither a universal practice nor was it always practiced a heavy hand way that was indifferent to the spiritual life of the parishioners. But even at its best, the dues system tended to leave people with the impression that the Church was a fraternal organization not unlike the Masons or Shiners rather than the Body of Christ.)

Recently there has been a move away from dues and toward tithing, or giving 10% of your income to the parish. Unlike dues, tithing is usually presented in a way that is sensitive to the spiritual aspects of how we use our money. But, and forgive me if I offend here, tithing is often presented as if it were the biblical model of giving. It isn’t.

As it is usually presented today, tithing is a modern rather than New Testament or patristic practice. The New Testament does not recommend the practice of tithing as. And while there were some Church fathers who preached in favor of tithing, they generally focused neither on giving simply 10% nor on giving what one gave to the parish. St John Chrysostom, for example, argued that since we have received so great a gift from Christ as eternal salvation we ought to give more than 10%. We should give, 20%, 30%, 40% or more—having received all, we should give all. And, he concludes, we should give it to the poor without consideration for how they would use what they are given.

Both the dues system and tithing have their merits. And both are often well-intentioned attempts to meet a real concern, the financial health and stability of the local parish. But both approaches, it seems to me, rely on coercision to do so. In the first case, the dues system, one often found oneself or family members threatened by a lay board with a denial of the sacraments. An infant would not be baptized, a young couple would not married, the dead not buried, because you were not a member. (Even today one finds parishes where one must “join” the parish via a financial commitment in order to be married for example.)

Our practice of tithing is can also often be manipulative. Granted it isn’t coercive in the way the dues system is. But it is no less often an affront to the vocational basis of Christian stewardship for all that it is more gently taught. As I said above, while there is some support for tithing in the Scriptures and the Fathers, there is nothing in either that suggests that one must give 10% of one’s income to the parish. If anything, tithing is offered as the standard for one’s support not of the parish but the poor. This isn’t to say giving a tithe of your income to the parish is wrong. It certainly is not wrong. But, and this is the important part, it is not an obligation. The most one can say about tithing is that it is a rough and ready guideline. It is not a standard.

So what is the standard?

In his second epistle to the Corinthians Saint Paul tells us this:

But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you always having all sufficiency in all things may have in abundance for every good work. (9. 6-9).

When I first heard this passage in St. Paul, the thought I had was that I was supposed to give what God wanted me to give. And do so with a great big smile on my face. In other words, I thought I had to make myself cheerful, whenever I was called upon to make a sacrifice.

But thinking, I have since come to realize, is exactly backwards.

We are not asked to be cheerful about what we give, but rather to give only that which we can give freely and cheerfully. The emphasis here then is not on the giving but on being cheerful.
And so again, God loves a cheerful giver.

So what are we to do if we wish to be wise stewards of our treasure? How do we make use of our money in a manner that honors our own personal vocations?

What I will often tell people is this: Decide how much you can set aside for charitable giving. As a practical matter, 10% is a good base amount—but you are not limited to that amount if your circumstances suggest something different. The important thing here is that you set aside an amount even as you set aside regular times for prayer and hold to a fasting rule based on the tradition of the Church and the circumstances of your own life.

When it comes time to dividing up what you set aside, I usually suggest that half go to the parish and half go for other charitable needs. Let me say right up front, I’m not saying give half to the parish this because I think the parish is more important. Rather, it reflects the fact that we usually can do more as a community than as individuals. Add to this that, as practical matter, outside of the family, the parish is the community with which we are most involved and so it is the community through which we most actively participate in and do the most good.

Money given to Orthodox organizations such as the International Orthodox Christian Charities, The Orthodox Christian Mission Center or non-sectarian agencies such as the Red Cross (and I would encourage you to support one or more of these) is usually spent according to someone else’s idea of what is important. Contributions to the parish are local and are usually spent in a manner that is closest to what God would have from us in our own lives.

Finally, we must keep in reserve at least a small amount for unanticipated charitable giving. It might be a special appeal from the parish, or the Red Cross. It might just as easily be a need within our own family or circle of friends. If, thank God, that need doesn’t arise, well, give the money to the parish or IOCC—but as wise stewards of our treasure, we need to prepare for what we cannot anticipate.

Our charitable giving is giving to help met the needs in the different communities of which we are members. It is important that we not limit our giving to only the parish.

Let me make that stronger: No ethical priest will ask you to simply support the parish with your time, talent and treasure. As I said, we are all of us members of many different communities—our family, the parish, the diocese, the Church, our country, and the human community. The needs of different communities do not the same immediacy for us. But this doesn’t mean that, for example, our commitment to the human family should be less important than our commitment to our own family.

The commitments are different to be sure—but this reflects our ability to more directly influence for good one community rather than another. I can more easily work for the good of my family than I can, say, the Orthodox Church throughout the world.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, our stewardship commitment, our use of time, treasure and talent, is not something that can ever be limited to only one area of our lives or remain as a static percentage of our income. By its very nature, and St Paul alludes to this in the passage I quoted a moment ago, stewardship means that we grow and develop in the use of our gifts. We must not simply do good passively, in response to events and then only when asked. Instead if we are faithful to our own vocations and our call to be stewards of all the good things which God has given us, we will find ourselves increasingly seeking out ways we which we can be of service personally and directly.

May God in His grace and love for mankind make it so for each of us today and forever until we stand before Him in that Kingdom which is to come.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory
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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Monastic Vocation and Witness

A recent post seems to have generated a great deal on interest—not all of it appreciative—on lay spiritual formation in the Orthodox Church. Reading through the comments I find much with which I agree, but rather more with which I must disagree not only in substance but in tone.The Great Schema or Megaloschema - this is my ...

There seems to be no disagreement with the theological assertion that the Christian life is grounded in Holy Baptism. Indeed, one of the most critical voices in the comments section offers us a series of patristic quotes that in fact argue this very point. Indeed, one cannot claim to be an Orthodox Christian (or Catholic Christian for that matter) and deny this. "Baptism," writes Nicholas Cabasilas, "is nothing else but to be born according to Christ and to receive our very being and nature."

The sacramental foundation of the Christian life does not negate the importance of our free assent to Divine Grace. Far from it. Without repentance the grace of Baptism lays dormant in the soul. Metropolitan Spyridion (GOA, retired) once expressed the matter this way: To be a Christian requires two things, repentance the Holy Baptism. While God is indifferent to the historical order, we are us converts or we are Christians in name only. Or, if I may borrow from St Ignatius of Antioch on his way to martyrdom, "I do not wish only to be called a Christian; I wish to be a Christian!"

Within the Tradition of the Church, monastic life holds a pride of place for the clarity, and intensity, with which the monk lives the life of repentance that flows from our New Life in Baptism. Bishop-elect Jonah (himself a monk of the Valaam Monastery of the Transfiguration of the Savior in Russia), the former abbot of the Monastery of St John of San Francisco, summarizes monastic life in a brief essay that appeared several years ago in Again magazine: "Five Good Reasons NOT to Visit a Monastery The temptations of monastic maximalism." I think this essay might help clarify the matter under consideration here.

Fr Jonah writers that

A monastery, among other things, is a place which practices the liturgical and spiritual life in a maximalist way. This maximalism is expressed in a number of ways, including long, full services, strict ascetic discipline, and very conservative attitudes in everything from language, style, and dress to how one conducts one's personal life. . . . The monasteries incarnate Orthodox culture, regardless of what ethnic flavor it may have. It is the timeless, universal (Catholic) culture passed on by the holy fathers and mothers of the Orthodox Church, through personal discipleship and obedience. The monastic culture is nothing other than obedience to the Gospel, through discipleship to our spiritual fathers, who convey the tradition of how to live out the Gospel in its fullness. To visit an Orthodox monastery is not just to visit that particular community in that place at that time. It is to enter into that living Christian culture which has been handed over from generation to generation by the holy fathers.

But, we need to exercise great care—a care that appears to me absent in some of the comments—that we confuse the monastic witness with the monastic vocation. Again, Fr Jonah:

Monasticism, the way of repentance, is a radically different way of life from living in the world, with a family, a job, and in a parish. Parishes are the front lines of where the Church meets the world, where a culture is sanctified and transformed by the Gospel. People lead busy lives in the world, and are not able to lead as active a liturgical life as in a monastery. Parish life seldom is and often cannot be maximalist in ethos. Yet a parish is not a compromise, a second-class way of being a Christian.

The importance of lay spiritual formation is that it focuses on what Fr Jonah calls the "very high calling" of being "a Christian in the world" and being called by Christ to take "the Gospel to the world." To be faithful to our calling requires that we be both a "living and witnessing to Christ" and do so precisely in and through our "participating fully and actively in the culture." Monastics, lay Christian men and women living in the monastery,

have a different calling: to be "not of this world," and to structure their lives solely by the Gospel, and by the traditions of the Church, especially the liturgical cycles. It is very important to remember that there is no difference between the services prescribed for a parish and those of a monastery. There is no difference in the rules of fasting, prayer, or piety. The main difference is that people in parishes are engaged in the world, and monks are not. The monasteries are critically important to the life of the parishes: they constitute the reservoir of the living Tradition, in its purity, where people can experience the Gospel lived out in a radical way. Monasticism can inform their lives, inspire faithful laity to greater dedication of their lives to Christ and the Gospel, and provide a place of healing and spiritual consolation.

That the monastery and the parish follow the same rules of fasting and prayer does not mean that monks and lay people fast and pray the same way anymore that all monastics—even in the same monastery—follow these rules in the same manner. "Fasting, and all the other rules of the Church, are a means and not an end. If we fast, and feel proud about it, and condemn another for not being so strict, it would have been better for us if we had not fasted at all (Romans 14:3 ff)."

While the maximalist witness of monasticism is a great blessing to the Church, and really to world as well, it is a witness not (as has been pointed out in the comment section) without its own risks. Specifically, there is a temptation "to think that the monasteries are doing it 'right,' while the parish is doing it 'wrong.'" Following from this is a "second temptation." We might find ourselves—consciously or unconsciously—thinking "that there is not as much grace in the parish services, and that the services and liturgical/spiritual life are not being taken seriously." Subtlety, but no less really, Fr Jonah points out,

This inevitably leads to judging the parish priest as less 'spiritual' and lazy because he cuts the services. Little do we remember that at our first monastic services we were the first to sit down when we had a chance, and glance at our watches every five minutes, wondering if and when it was ever going to end! Parishes abbreviate out of pastoral necessity, and at the discretion of the pastor. One must not judge a priest or parish when they are doing all they can!

Informing this judgment though is invariable our own lack of appreciation for the gift of our own life and vocation as Christians living in the world. It is this fundamental lack of gratitude for our own vocation given to us in Holy Baptism, and sealed in Chrismation and nourished in Holy Communion. For many, I would argue that most Orthodox Christians (and I suspect Catholics, but I will leave this to Sherry) who are indifferent to daily prayer, fasting, Confession of sins and good works because they have never been taught that they have a vocation that is every bit as valuable and God-pleasing as monastic life.

The Church, as Fr Jonah points out, is "a spiritual hospital." Within this hospital, "the monasteries are the intensive care wards, with the specialists." When we try and generalize the monastic vocation to the whole Church, when we try to impose monasticism on the parish (or ourselves), we fundamentally dishonor not only the monastic life, but also reveal our own lack of gratitude to God for the gift of our own life. We can never lose sight of St Paul's teaching that the Church is a Body with many members and that each member has his or her own function. The eye cannot not pretend to be a foot; a lay person in a parish cannot pretend to be a monk. Each order in the Church has its own vocation and just as "You don't go to a family doctor for cancer . . . you also don't go to a neurosurgeon for a cold." Without a doubt one finds in the monastery

The great elders are those specialists who through years of ascetic purification and experience know how to deal with many of the big questions in life that people bring. Many have great spiritual gifts. Many do not. Most monastics are not elders by any stretch of the imagination. This does not compromise their ability to serve as confessor, consoler, and spiritual father. Whether it is a parish priest, a priestmonk, an eldress, or a great elder, the source of the advice and consolation is ultimately the same: God.

The hallmark, Fr Jonah argues, of a "true elder" is that he "always leaves a person with a profound sense of freedom, even when he reveals to a person the will of God. There is never any manipulation or personal agenda. The elder simply wants the salvation of the person, and is a vessel for him of God's love and forgiveness." It is the absence of this sense of freedom that I think most characterizes the tendency of some to monasticized the Church. The witness of monasticism, to return to my initial distinction, is to challenge us to live our own vocation with the same intensity and purity of heart that we see in the monks. The fruit of my fidelity to my personal call is not only my own personal inner freedom, but also that there is absent in my dealing with others any manipulation or personal agenda on my part. If this is not manifested in my life to the degree it is in an elder, this fruit should at least be relatively present.

Along the way to this life of freedom "The great temptation is to idolize the elder, and even substitute him/her for Christ. A personality cult leads to the destruction of both the elder and the disciples." Likewise, we our also we may be tempted to substitute the monastery and monastic life for the more ordinary, though no less important, life of a Christian called to sanctify the world. In either case we cannot substitute the monastic vocation for our own personal vocation. And this is precisely what happens when we forget that monastics is the fruit of baptism but that it does not exhaust the meaning of baptism.

In the final analysis, the goal of both monastic life and the vocation of the Christian in the world is the same: "obedience to God." But this obedience is not found in either the monastery or the parish as institutions, but rather only and "always within the Church" as together in mutual respect and support for each other's unique vocation we move "always toward a more profound level of communion, both ecclesially and personally."

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory
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Friday, September 26, 2008

The Use of Authority part V: Authority & Our Witness

John Chrysostom, Constantinople, early or midd...Image via WikipediaLet me conclude by suggestion that the right use of authority, our willingness to be ruled by law and our commitment both to fulfill and transcend the demands of justice are all essential to the effective outcome of our evangelical witness. When we fail to exercise authority rightly (that is according to the standards of this world or not at all) we abandon the Gospel. Again, as Paul writes:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:
"I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent."
Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Cor 1.19-25)
So for example, when we minimize or ignore misconduct within the Church we not only fail to win the favor of the world, we simply compound their disdainful view of us. It is a mystery to me, but it seems that the world can "bless" any vice except hypocrisy, and especially when it is motivated by piety. So strong is the association of hypocrisy and piety that Ambrose Bierce calls hypocrisy "prejudice with a halo."

Even those who do not love us, expect better of us than they do of themselves, and even more at times than we do of ourselves. The right understanding and exercise of authority within the Church and by the Church is not optional. Once upon a time, the Church's use of authority in the service the good of the human family, converted an empire. Granted this conversion was imperfect, but then what conversion isn't? If this were true during the patristic era, how can it be any less true in our own?

Speaking on the exercise of divine authority in Christ, St John Chrysostom says that "God wants for nothing and has need for nothing. Yet, when He humbled Himself, He produced such great good, increased His household, and extended His Kingdom." The saint then turns his attention from Christ to the Church, to us and himself: "Why, then, are you afraid that will become less if you humbled yourself?"

The exercise of authority, the upholding of the rule of law, the fulfilling and transcending of the demands of justice requires from us--from me--a humility that we--I--often lack. But this lack reflects fear and a lack of the love that drives out fear. Looking into my own heart I know that I often fail to exercise the authority I have been given because of my own fear and lack of gratitude for what I have been given in baptism and ordination--I wonder is it any different for any of us?

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Byzantine, Texas: 4th Union of Brest workgroup held

4th Union of Brest workgroup held

Making no assumptions about what you know of Ukrainian history, the Union of Brest was:

the 1595-1596 decision of the (Ruthenian) Church of Rus', the "Metropolia of Kiev-Halych and all Rus'", to break relations with the Patriarch of Constantinople and place themselves under the (patriarch) Pope of Rome, in order to avoid the domination of the newly established Patriarch of Moscow.
(UOC News) - On the blessing of His Beatitude Metropolitan Volodymyr of Kyiv and all Ukraine on September 14-18 the session of the workgroup on writing the history of the Brest Union is held at the blessing of His Beatitude Metropolitan Volodymyr of Kyiv and All Ukraine.

The group working on the project of writing history of the Brest Union of 1596 is composed of the Orthodox, Catholic and Greek Catholic researchers.

The project of writing the Brest Union history was launched by the international fund «Pro Oriente» in 2002 when the creation of the extra-confessional workgroup consisting of theologians and historians was initiated. The purpose of the project was carrying out the critical historical analysis of the sources, containing information on the events of 1595-96, caused by the attempts of the Orthodox Metropolitans to make Union with the Roman Catholic Church. The necessity of such research was stipulated for by the existence of the contradictory and mutually exclusive interpretations of the events by the end of the 16th century in various historical surveys. That is why the participants of the workgroup from the very beginning set a task to clear out on the basis of the sources how the events that took place 4 ages ago were understood by their participants.

By the present three sessions of the workgroup were held: In Vienna (2002), Teplytsia (2004)and Lviv (2006), during which the publication project of the research material was discussed and approved.

On September 14, on the premises of the Kyiv Metropolis in the Kyiv Caves Monastery the 4th session of the workgroup started. Its co-administrators were the fund «Pro Oriente» and the Department for External Church Relations of the UOC. Taking part in the meeting were President of the fund «Pro Oriente» Johann Marti (Austria), Archbishop Jeremiah of Vroclav and Schetin (the Orthodox Church of Poland), chariman of the Department for External Church Relations of the UOC archimandrite Cyril (Hovorun), professor of the Institute of Theology and History of the Christian East and of the Catholic theological department of the University of Vienna priest Ernst Christoph Suttner (Austria), professor of the Institute of History of the University of Belostok Anton Mironovych (Poland), professor FranciszekMarek (Poland), Dean of the Institute of Church History of the Ukrainian Catholic University Oleg Turiy (Lviv), teacher of the Saint Tikhon Humanitarian University Vladyslav Petrushko (Moscow), teacher of the Kyiv Theological Academy Volodymyr Burega (Kyiv, the UOC representative), teacher of the Ukrainian Catholic University Igor Skogylias, Director of the European Research center of the Kyiv Mohyla Academy Kostyantyn Sigov (Kyiv), chief secretary of the fund «Pro Oriente» Marion Vittine (Austria).

H/T: Josephus Flavius at Byzantine Texas
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The Use of Authority part IV: Authority is Mutual

In the Christian understanding, exercise of authority is always mutual. Authority is given within the body, for the body, but it can never supplant the authority of the members of the body either in their own areas of responsibility OR for the responsibility of the one for the whole:

For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body-whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free-and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body," is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body," is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. And if they were all one member, where would the body be? But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you"; nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way. (1 Cor 12.15-31)

Returning to my initial concern, that of misconduct in the Church. Based on the above, I would suggest that the enforcing of laws, even punishment and requiring (where possible) restitution for harm done, are not only NOT contrary to the exercise of authority within the Church, but in fact consonant with its exercise and even necessity.

When, as AK and Mark allude to, we minimize sexual misconduct by clergy, and/or ignore or minimize the needs of victims, we have failed to exercise authority in a Christ pleasing manner. The problem, as I see it, is less that a monastery offers hospitality to a defrocked priest but more if no one in the Church offers hospitality to those who suffered the consequences of the misconduct that lead to the priest's removal from the ranks of the clergy.

Likewise, we must be critical of the exercise of authority that has as its goal the "reputation" of the Church if good opinion of others comes at the expense of those who were harmed. Paul is not indifferent to how those of good heart outside the Church view the Church. Indeed, this is part of why he dismisses from fellowship the incestuous couple and requires that the use of tongues be limited within the assembly.

I will conclude these reflects tomorrow by arguing that, paradoxical thought it may seem, in the Church we must exercise authority is such a way that we bear the contempt of the world precisely for the life of the world.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Use of Authority part III: For All or Only For Me?

While there have been some good responses, in main the Church's response to misconduct in the Church, has suggests to me a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of public authority as given for the common good. Paul, ever the clear eyed commentator of all things human and divine, puts the matter directly: authority is "appointed by God" (Rms 12.1) not as a terror "to good works, but to evil." (v. 3) Granted Paul is speaking in this passage of civil authority, but even within the Church the Apostle to the Gentiles was willing to exercise a terrible authority in the face of evil.

The same man who writes the hymn of the primacy of love among the spiritual gifts (1 Cor 13), soundly condemns the divisions in the Church (1.10-17; 3.1-3; 6.1-11), sexual immorality (5.9-12; 6.12-20), the indifference of some to the spiritual and physical needs of others in the community (8.1-9; 11.21-22), and even (implicitly to be sure) criticize his brother apostles (9.1-18). Without a hint of the embarrassment that has come to characterize the contemporary use of authority (when it is not exercised in a heavy handed manner), Paul lays down rules for worship (11.1-16; 14.6-19, 26-40) and sexual morality (7.10-40).

And when there are those among the faithful who would sacrifice the common good in the pursuit of their own self-desires?

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named[a] among the Gentiles-that a man has his father's wife! And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you. For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. (5.1-5)

After excommunicating (to speak anachronistically) the offending couple, Paul then goes on the chastise the Church for its failures. The Church was willing to sacrifice its shared responsibility to preserve the common good rather than offend (given the general tenor of the community) wealthy members. Again Paul:

Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (vv. 6-8)

This brings us back full circle. Authority, the rule, the fulfillment and transcendence of the demands of justice is in the service of the common good. But the common good is served only through an attention of those in authority to the particular good of those who are members of the community. Granted as the community grows numerically, this service of the common good by attending to the particular good of individuals becomes increasingly complicated, but the principle is nevertheless consistent. As human reason serves the good of whole physical and spiritual good of the person through reason's thankful obedience to Christ, so too in marriage the father serves the good of the family through his thankful obedience to Christ. Likewise, for the priest in the parish, the bishop in the diocese and the civil authority in the state, are all called to serve the good of all by serving the unique good of each.

BUT, as we will see tomorrow, the visible authority within the body does not invalidate the shared responsibility, and thus authority, of all members of the community to work for the common good of all by serving the particular good of others.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Use of Authority part II: Serving the Common Good

Building what I said yesterday, I would argue that the right exercise of authority, the rule of law and the respectful transcendence of justice, are what makes it possible for us by grace to be "renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created [us], where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all" (vv. 10-11) and,

as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. (vv. 11-16)

Classical Christian political philosophy (which is grounded in the experiences as the sacramental presence of City of God in the midst of the City of Man) draws from the parallel Paul sketches between the human body and the body of human society. In the human body, it belongs to reason (broadly understood to include what we call emotion and desire) to rule the whole body. We get a sense of what reason's rule means in the prayer at tonsure in the baptismal service:

Master, Lord our God, who honoured mortals with your image, furnishing them with a rational soul and a comely body, so that the body might serve the rational soul, you placed the head at the very top and in it you planted the majority of the senses, which do not interfere with one another, while you covered the head with hair so as not to be harmed by the changes of the weather, and you fitted all the limbs most suitably to each one, so that through them all they might give thanks to you, the master craftsman.

The human person is seen as a harmonious whole. The head (i.e., reason) has the first place in the body, but is submissive to the rational soul. I would suggest that we see in the rational soul not the faculty of reason, but the source of human reason AND an image of Christ. Reason governs the body, but is not only not separate from the body, but dependent on it. And, together, reason and the body are submissive to Christ. It is only through a thankful obedience the human person can be him or herself. Reason, emotions, desires, senses, and physical needs--can function properly, that is, without interfering with one another, in obedience to Christ and with a reason being exercised with concern and respect for the proper role of all the faculties of the body.

This is what Paul tells us in Romans when, writing about the different spiritual gifts given to each member of the Body of Christ, he writes:

For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. (Rm 12.3-8)

Authority is given for the service of all. This service is not passive, a benign neglect if you will, but rather (I would suggest) a matter of actively fostering the common good by serving the particular good in Christ of each member of the Body. Again, Paul:

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality. (vv. 9-13)

Tomorrow, I want to reflect briefly with you on what we can learn about authority from those times when we fail to exercise authority "on behalf of all and for all" but only for some and ourselves.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory
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A White Gown

“Father, why are you sad?” - a pupil asked the elder.

“People forgotten how to see truth. Three times I showed three of you white clothes with a dirty stain. And I asked, ‘What do you see?’ ‘A dirty stain,’ said every one of you.

And no one thought to answer - a white gown. “

H/T: Fr Milovan Katanic of "Again and Again."

Monday, September 22, 2008

Synod of Bishops

VATICAN 5-26 October 2008 Pope Benedict XVI convenes synod of world's Catholic bishops

The 12th general assembly of the Synod of Bishops meets in October to discuss "The Word of God in the Life and the Mission of the Church." Significantly, Bartholomew I, the 270th patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church, will attend this first Synod called by Pope Benedict XVI.

One result of the Vatican Council II of the Catholic Church, which ran 1962 to 1965, was the decision to welcome "fraternal delegations" to synod assemblies. Father Joseph Ratzinger was a theological consultant for the 3-year Council. Now Pope Benedict XVI, he extended an invitation to the Synod to Bartholomew I when he visited the Vatican in March. The Patriarch accepted, and both leaders will address the Synod.

The gesture represents one of the Vatican's few fruitful overtures to leaders of the Eastern rite, or Orthodox, branch of Christianity, which split from the Roman church in the Middle Ages. Vatican sources describe the gesture as in "the spirt of Ravenna," referring to the mixed international commission for theological dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church that was held in Ravenna, Italy, in October 2007.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the pontifical council for Christian unity, explained the development to Vatican Radio in March as an important step forward, although "the road to full unity is still a very long one." The main obstacle is the Vatican's insistance on the primacy of the Pope.

Pope Paul VI established the Synod as a \"permanent council of bishops for the universal Church\" in 1965.

This is the first time Pope Benedict XVI has called a synod and chosen its theme. His predecessor, the late Pope John Paul II, had already set the 2005 Synod on the Eucharist in motion.

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Thoughts on our Recent Dialog

baptism of christImage by Sacred Destinations via Flickr

Thank you to all for your comments.

I would please remind everyone—as I have some privately—that charity and respect for others are not optional here.

Reading through the various comments, I do not think I have anything to add to the comments offered. This is especially the case in those offered by Chrys and Sherry.

The "Called & Gifted" workshop is certainly not without its own challenges. But it is worth noting, I think, that this kind of practical exchange between Catholic and Orthodox Christians—especially on the grassroots level—has a long history. This is especially so in Russia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. To take but one example, no less venerable an Orthodox saints than Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain and Theophan the Recluse offered their own version of the Roman Catholic text Unseen Warfare: The Spiritual Combat and Path to Paradise of Lorenzo Scupoli.

St Theophan's work, to take another quick example, is noteworthy for his incorporation into an Orthodox spiritual context of the decidedly Counter-Reformation theme from Catholic spirituality of the dark night of the soul/spirit (San Juan de la Cruz).

And of course there is the defense of St Augustine by Blessed Seraphim Rose of Platina.

It seems to me that in any conversation between Catholics and Orthodox, both sides must exercise great care that we hold ourselves above the polemics of the Reformation/Counter-Reformation era. This is something, I must point out in the strongest possible terms, that historically voices on both sides have failed to do. It is somewhat ironic, to me at least, that in the contemporary Orthodox theology, some of the most strongly polemic voiced sentiments, at least in the Russian tradition, are found in the anti-scholastic passages of the works of J. Meyendoroff, A. Schmemann and V. Lossky. What makes this ironic is that these men are often characterized by self-professed Traditionalists in the Orthodox Church as liberals (or if you rather, modernists).

Orthodox theology—including the theological scholarship of the men I just referenced—would be much the poorer it seems to me without the work of such Catholic scholars as H. von Balthasar, H. de Lubuc, and L. Bouyer who in leading the return of Catholic theology to the Fathers also made possible a like return among the Orthodox.

Finally, and unless I miss my guess all, or at least most, of those who have commented on the "Called & Gifted" workshop are ourselves converts to either Catholicism or Orthodoxy. One great temptation, especially I must say frankly and directly for those who were not well ground in the Great Tradition prior to their becoming Orthodox or Catholic, is to assume wrongly that the Catholic or Orthodox incarnation that, by God's grace they have found, exhausts that the Great Tradition. If, as a matter of faith, we hold that one expression (East or West, Greek or Latin) is theologically normative, we may not reasonably assume as a consequence that normative equals exhaustive. It does not. Let me go further and say that neither tradition is exhaustive in its articulation of the Gospel. And, likewise, we cannot understand either the Western or Eastern expression of the Great Tradition separate from, much less in opposition to, the other.

If East and West have grown apart in recent years, this separation does not undo our shared historical foundation. Much less does schism undo over 1,000 years of communion anymore than my sin undoes the grace given me in Baptism.

Acknowledging as we do baptism in each other's community, reminds us that there exists between us a real, if imperfect, communion. And, even if we argue that baptism is absent in other tradition, we would do well—or so it seems to me—to remember that we have put on Christ in Whom God has joined Himself to all humanity. Vested now in the grace of Holy Baptism, having been incorporated into the Body of Christ, I have then also, and with my Lord, been joined in Him to those He has already united Himself to in the Incarnation. If I really believe that I am in Christ, then, in Christ, I am also already joined, as is He, personally to the whole human family.

Who then am I to say by my words or deeds that I would refuse this gift from the hands of my Lord and the Master of my life?

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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The Use of Authority part I: What is Authority?

Recent comments offered by AK and Mark Partalis raise for me important questions that are of both great theoretical and practical interest. Specifically, the comments they, and others, offer cause me to reflect on the nature of authority generally and in the life of the Church.

In classical Christian thought, authority--whether personal, secular or religious--is not an end in itself, but given for the common good. So for example we have Jesus reminding the disciples that in imitation of his example, they are given authority not to lord it over others, but for service:

Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, "You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." (Mk 10: 42-45)

The Apostle Paul builds on this idea when he argues that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are given to each on behalf of all:

And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head-Christ- from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. (Eph 4:12-16)

It is worth noting, that for Paul (as with Jesus) authority to rule, and by implication, the rule of law and the demands of justice, are not opposed to love. Rather, authority, law, justice are all in the service of joining and knitting together of the whole Body of Christ. Seen in this light, authority takes on a decidedly eschatological character--it points beyond itself to that time in the life to come when it will be revealed that " Christ is all and in all." (see, Col 3:11)

Authority, the rule of law and the fulfillment and transcendence of the demands of justice is what makes it possible for us, personally and communally, to put to "death" that in us which is of "the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry." (Col 3:5) These vices bring down upon us as Paul says, "the wrath of God . . . upon the sons of disobedience (v. 6) and bred in the human heart "anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, [and] filthy language." (v. 8) And not only that, but between us, in the social realm grounded not in truth spoken in love (see Eph 4:15), but rather a "lie . . . since [we] have [not yet] put off the old man with his deeds." (Col 3.9).

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory
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Sunday, September 21, 2008

To Burn and to Shine is Perfection

Representation of baptism in early Christian art.Image via Wikipedia

Sunday, September 21, 2008: Today's commemorated feasts and saints... 14th SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST—Tone 5. Sunday After the Elevation of the Cross. Leavetaking of the Elevation of the Cross. Apostle Quadratus of the Seventy (ca. 130). Uncovering of the Relics of St. Dimitry, Metropolitan of Rostov (1752). Ven. Daniel, Abbot of Shuzhgorsk (Novgorod—16th c.). Ven. Joseph of Zaonikiev Monastery (Vologdá—1612). Hieromartyr Hypatius, Bishop of Ephesus, and his Presbyter, Andrew (ca. 730-735). St. Isaac (Isacius) and Meletius, Bishops of Cyprus. Martyr Eusebius of Phœnicia. Martyr Priscus of Phrygia. Twenty-six Monk Martyrs of Zographou (Mt. Athos—1285). Ven. Cosmas the Bulgarian of Zographou (Mt. Athos—1323). Ss. John and George, Confessors (Georgia, 20th c.—Sept. 8th O.S.).

When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, "Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels. And He said to them, "Assuredly, I say to you that there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power."

(Mark 8:34-9:1)

Speaking of us who have been "baptized into Christ" and have "put on Christ forevermore," the Apostle Paul says that we "are the body of Christ, and members individually." (1 Corinthians 12.27, NKJV) He goes on to say something that never fails to stop me with amazement. The Apostle doesn't tell me what I am supposed to do; he doesn't list my obligations as a Christian. Instead he tells me, tells all of us that, well, let me simply quote St Paul:

And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way. (vv. 28-30)

Rather than telling us what I am supposed to do (and by implication, what I have failed to do) St Paul reminds us of who we are and of the gifts God has given all of us. In another place, he tells us that these gifts are given to each and every Christian not only for their own personal good but for the good of the whole Church, and through the Church for the salvation of the world. As he says, the gifts that you have been given are given to you personally in order that you are able to succeed in your call to "prepare God's people for works of service," and "so that the body of Christ," the Church, "may be built up." (Eph 4.11, NIV)

In the theology of the Orthodox Church, it is in Holy Baptism that we receive our own personal gifts. In Chrismation, as the late Fr Alexander Schmemann reminds us, we are sealed by the Holy Spirit as a confirmation that we are called personally to a life of good works. This call, finally, is nurtured in us by our reception of Holy Communion, our daily prayers, our fasting and above all through our acting on the talents we have been given.

While there are a number of ways in which we can come to understand what is our own personal work is within the Body of Christ, in November we will have an opportunity as a parish to take time out of our busy schedules and reflect together on our own callings and how each of us might be a wise and generous steward of the talents we have been given. I am referring to the "Called & Gifted" Workshop that we are hosting Friday and Saturday, November 21-22. Having participated in this workshop last year in Toledo, I know from experience how helpful these few hours will be for you if you take the time to participate.

One of the reasons the parish council and I are excited about this workshop is that it is a very practical, low key, solution to what is probably one of the greatest challenges facing the Orthodox Church. The Fr Nicholas Afanasiev in his book The Church of the Holy Spirit expresses this challenge this way:

There can be . . . in the Church, . . . no members who do not minister in it. … People cannot measure the quantity of grace which God gives without measure, but each of us knows that this measure is not always the same. The grace shines brightly in the saints, but in others it gleams little by little while never dying out. While the gifts of the Spirit are different, grace remains one and the same. But the appropriate measure of grace can be different even with the same gifts. … Wherever ministry is, there is the Spirit and wherever there is no ministry, there is no Spirit and no life. (pp. 16-17)

Not only are all of us called by God to fulfill certain task in His Name, God blesses us in baptism, chrismation and the Eucharist with the gifts (charismata) we need to fulfill the work to which He has called us. Without wishing to take away from the excellent work done by the parish council, St Ann's Society, the Church school teachers and choir, we should not think that these ministry, essential though they are to the life and health of the parish, are the only ministries to which people have been called.

There is not an Orthodox Christian parish in America (to take but one example) that was founded by the clergy. All of our parishes were founded by lay people and, especially in the case of our older parishes, lay people from the "Old Country" (which ever one that might be) or by their children or grandchildren. Again and again, it is the laity of the Orthodox Church, that have borne witness to the fact that God has blessed His Church with great gifts for (as Paul says) the building up in love and truth of the Body of Christ.

And not only that, again and again it is the laity who have testified to the generosity of God by their own willingness to respond generously, even sacrificial, to God's call by the use of the gifts God has given them.

In spite of the frustrations and even failures, we see all around us the evidence that Christ has poured out on His Church, on us, through His Holy Spirit, a great "diversity . . . of . . . gifts" that "God himself gives 'to each … for the common good.'" Again, as Fr Nicholas writes (pp. 20-21) it is "By virtue of this fact, there can be no" inactive Christians, no Christians without a calling and a ministry in the Church for the life of the world. Why? Because there can be such thing as an "inactive gift of the Spirit because the Spirit is an active principle by his very nature." Fr Nicholas then turns to his brother clergy, he turns to me, and says that "To deprive [the laity] of their dignity as [ministers of the Gospel and coworkers with Christ for the salvation of the world] is equivalent to depriving them of the gifts of the Spirit, of which God has made them drink on the day of their baptism." (1 Cor. 12. 13)

There is no one here this morning that has not been blessed by God with talents that, in ways both great and small, are given to him or her for the salvation of the world.

And there is no one here who if he or she responds, in even a small measure, to that call will not glorify God in their own lives.

And there is no one here who, in glorifying God, will fail to shine with divine light and burn with zeal for Christ and His Church.

To be a wise steward of the talents given us by Christ is no great burden. It requires only that we become ever more who we are already in Christ.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, become who Christ has called you to be, become who you are already. Use the talents you have been given and, in so doing give glory to God and reveal to the world, and yourself, your dignity as children of God, coworkers with Christ, and that you are already citizens of the Kingdom of God which is to come.

If I may, let me end by paraphrasing one of my own favorite saints from the medieval West, Bernard of Clairvaux. In a homily on the Nativity of St John the Baptist, Bernard tells his listeners "Merely to shine" with the divine light "is futile; merely to burn" with zeal for God and His people "is not enough; to burn and to shine [this is] perfection." May we all of us personally and as a parish, shine with the divine light and burn with zeal for God and His people and so manifest ourselves as having been made perfect in Christ by His grace and our own efforts!

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Lay Spiritual Formation: An Ecumenical Opportunity

Let me bring now to a conclusion my consideration of lay spiritual formation by looking at something my parish is planning.

On November 21-22, 2008 my parish, Holy Assumption Orthodox Church (OCA) in Canton OH, is hosting a Roman Catholic team who will lead a workshop meant to help people discern what their own unique gifts are given to them at Baptism. The "Called & Gifted Workshop" is a project of the Catherine of Siena Institute is "a program of the Western Dominican Province dedicated to equipping parishes for the formation of lay Catholics for their mission in the world." To do this, in their own words, they "provide innovative programs, resources, and leadership training that are faithful to Church teaching and will enable your parish to become a dynamic center of lay formation and mission." The workshop will be lead by the co-directors of the Institute, Fr Michael Fones, O.P. and Sherry Anne Weddell.

One of the reasons that I am excited about the "Called & Gifted" workshop is that they present an understanding of the Christian life grounded in an appreciation for the sacrament of baptism. Again, from the Catherine of Siena web site: "Every lay man and woman has been called by Christ (in his or her baptism) to a unique mission, and every lay man and woman has been gifted by the Holy Spirit in order to be able to answer that call."

To be very direct about it, often in the Orthodox Church we see the Christian life in terms of monasticism rather than baptism. We too easily forget that monastic life is the fruit of a baptism and, as such, does not, and cannot, exhaust what God does in baptism. Compare this monasticization of the Christian life to the baptismal vision of the Christian life that inspires the "Called & Gifted" workshop: "The Church calls these gifts of the Holy Spirit which Christians are given for the sake of others 'charisms.'" They continue by asserting that "Discerning our charisms is an important first step to discerning God's call. These gifts of the Holy Spirit are both clues as to the nature of the mission for which God is preparing us and tools with which to successfully carry out our mission."

The teaching of the Catholic Church "that all of the baptized are called by Christ to proclaim his Gospel in the world" is certainly one that any Orthodox Christian could affirm. But, as in the Catholic Church, the pastoral implications of our baptismal call are often neglected. Rarely "do parishes provide a formation that prepares Catholics for so great a mission." Beside my personal respect for both Fr Mike and Sherry, I hoping that they will be able to do for Orthodox Christians, what they have done so successfully for Catholics. What is this you ask? Very simply that help people "bridge the gap between the Church's vision for the laity and their participation in the Church's essential mission of evangelization," on the one hand "and the typical reality within the parish where there is little awareness of the mission of the Church, lay responsibility for the proclamation of the Gospel, and the necessity of lay formation for effective participation in evangelization" on the other.

It is ironic that while the Orthodox Church has received from other Christian traditions, tens of thousands of adults into her midst, we seem (as I have pointed out in other posts) to have failed to provide these new Orthodox Christians with sound a spiritual formation that seeks to help them discern what is their own unique vocation. And, I hasten to add, we have failed to do this for new Orthodox Christians because we fail to do this for those baptized into the Church as infants.

The question that might be asked at this point why am I seeking assistance from Roman Catholics? Why not invite Orthodox Christian speakers? Let me answer the last question first.

While there are many Orthodox Christians who could be invited to speak, I am not aware of any who are skilled in lay spiritual formation. As I said, often if we speak of the spirituality of the laity at all, we do so from an at least implicit monastic model. This is not to reject monasticism far from it. But (as I said above) monasticism is a mode, or way, of living out our baptism, but it does not exhaust the gift of baptism.

More than that though (and this gets at to why I am asking a Roman Catholic team to speak), pastorally the Orthodox Church has largely neglected the formation of the laity. More often than not, we imagine that coming to Liturgy, going to confession, keeping the fasts and a rule of prayer is sufficient. But as the results of Pew Charitable Trust survey suggest, this is simply not working. One third of those baptized as infants simply leave the Church; two thirds of those who identify themselves as Orthodox Christians are not in Church on any given Sunday; over half of those who join the Church as adults, will eventually leave. Given the statistics it is hard for me to avoid saying flatly that we have simply failed.

My hope is that Fr Mike and Sherry, speaking from their own experience as Catholics, will offer to us as Orthodox Christians a deeper insight into what it is we have all received in baptism.

If you are interested in participating in the Called & Gifted Workshop, please either email me or call the parish at 330.455.9146. Again, the workshop is being hosted at Holy Assumption Orthodox Church (OCA), Canton OH, November 21,2008 from 7- 9 pm and Saturday, November 22, 2008 from 9- 4 pm. The charge for the workshop is $20.00. Breakfast and lunch will be included on Saturday. Personal discerning sessions will be available after the seminar ends for an additional fee of $25.00.

Please register soon. Because of space constraints, we are limited to only 100 participants. As of this point, 20 of those spaces have been taken. I you are interested in participating, register soon. Once spaces our gone, we will add your name to a waiting list. If space becomes available we will inform you. If space does not become available we will of course return your registration fee to you.

I look forward to meeting you at the seminar.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Talk Like A Pirate Day

In honour of Talk Like A Pirate Day:

For more information:

Sunday, September 14, 2008

How Then Shall We Live? Our Use of Time

Sunday, September 14, 2008: Today's commemorated feasts and saints... 13th SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST-Tone 4. THE UNIVERSAL EXALTATION (ELEVATION) OF THE PRECIOUS AND LIFE-GIVING CROSS. Repose of St. John Chrysostom (407 A.D.). Monk Martyr Macarius of Dionysiou (Mt. Athos-1507). Monk Martyr Joseph of Dionysiou (Mt. Athos-1819).

Therefore, when the chief priests and officers saw Him, they cried out, saying, "Crucify Him, crucify Him!" Pilate said to them, "You take Him and crucify Him, for I find no fault in Him." The Jews answered him, "We have a law, and according to our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God." Therefore, when Pilate heard that saying, he was the more afraid, and went again into the Praetorium, and said to Jesus, "Where are You from?" But Jesus gave him no answer. Then Pilate said to Him, "Are You not speaking to me? Do You not know that I have power to crucify You, and power to release You?" Jesus answered, "You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin." When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus out and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called The Pavement, but in Hebrew, Gabbatha. Now it was the Preparation Day of the Passover, and about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, "Behold your King!" But they cried out, "Away with Him, away with Him! Crucify Him!" Pilate said to them, "Shall I crucify your King?" The chief priests answered, "We have no king but Caesar!" Then he delivered Him to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus and led Him away. And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha, where they crucified Him, and two others with Him, one on either side, and Jesus in the center. Now Pilate wrote a title and put it on the cross. And the writing was: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Then many of the Jews read this title, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, "Woman, behold your son!" Then He said to the disciple, "Behold your mother!" And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home. After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, "I thirst!" So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, "It is finished!" And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit. Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who was crucified with Him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe.

(John 19:6-11,13-20,25-28,30-35)

We are continuing our consideration of Christian stewardship. To summarize what we said last week, stewardship is concerned with how we use our time, talent and treasures to make of the creation a fit and beautiful home for the human family. In other words, our stewardship is part of how we fulfill God's call to our First Parents Adam and Even "to be fruitful and multiple, to fill the earth and subdue it."

There is, and again as we saw last time, a second level as well to stewardship. If stewardship is a synonym for the general human vocation to work, as a uniquely Christian pursuit, stewardship takes on an ascetical character. Christian stewardship is concerned with the redemption of human work, effort, creativity and ingenuity in and through our personal and shared obedience to Christ. It is important to keep in mind that no matter how much I imagine myself to be a good person I am always subject to the temptation to exercise my own creativity and ingenuity in a way that separates me from God or my neighbor. Or, and this is worse still, I might (as many have done) put my efforts into projects that separate from God or my neighbor, obscuring or even undermining by my actions his vocation, his own calling. All of this is to say that often human effort and creativity are misdirected.

In the Old Testament especially, sin is often described as "missing the mark." The idea here is this: Just an archery a small deviation left or right, up or down, will cause an arrow to miss the target, so too I often deviate from what God would have me do and so I "miss the mark" for my own life. Often the work I do is marred by sin. This often reflect my own personal sin (I do something sinful), but it might also reflect the selfishness of others, or simply some form of material want.

Our work than is an experience of joy and of corruption and frustration marred as it is by sin. Our work, as with the whole of human life, must be redeemed by Christ. To see this a bit more clearly, let us together reflect on the Cross of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ as we celebrate the Exaltation of the most Holy Cross. When we do we see immediately two different, but not unrelated truths.

First and foremost, the Cross makes manifest to a fallen world the depth of God's love for us poured out in Jesus Christ. Second, it is by the very brilliance of the light of God's love for us, which makes abundantly clear how corrupt human work has become. Let me explain.

Think for a moment of the long history of human effort, legal, religious, cultural, scientific and technological, that preceded the Cross. The Cross was for the Roman Empire a favorite means of executing those who--whether criminal or not--threatened the power of Caesar. It was imposed and sustained not only by the legal authority of the Empire, but also its military might and administrative genius. All of this human effort had to be brought to bear in order for Jesus to be crucified. And not only that. As the Gospel makes clear Jesus was sent to the Cross by those religious authorities who misappropriated and corrupted for their own purposes, the profound religious heritage that was the birthright of the whole Jewish people.

All of this otherwise good and fruitful human work was misdirected. The Cross makes manifest how the best in human ability can tragically miss the mark. Failing not only to glorify God and create for the human family a fit home, our work instead creates in the human heart a depth of fear and shame to the human heart so profound that "nothing is too hard" for mankind, even the murder of God.

At the same time that the Cross reveals the depth of human sinfulness, of my sinfulness, we must remember that it is first and foremost an expression of God's love and mercy. As such, the Cross reminds us that even horribly corrupted, human work still reveals God. But how different from the experience of Adam and Eve before the fall is my discovery of God on the Cross, for on the Cross, and by my own hand and as a reflection of my own misdirected work, He is killed and I reveal myself to be not a steward of His gifts but in fact the one who turns those gifts against the Giver.

How can we avoid then the misuse of the gifts we have been given?

As wise stewards of the gifts that God has given us, we should first and foremost use the gift of time to draw closer to God the Father in Jesus Christ through the Power of the Holy Spirit. "From this moment on," St Herman of Alaska says, "let us serve God at all times." This is accomplished not by simply spending time in church at Vespers or Liturgy. Don't mistake my meaning, I not suggesting people stay away from the services, far from it in fact. It is here, in the Church assembled in prayer before our Creator, that we learn how and for what we are to pray.

But too easily I can fall into the reassuring, but mistaken, notion that the measure of my relationship with Christ is how many hours I spend in services. For too many Orthodox Christians, participation in the formal worship of the Church is seen as the whole of what it means to spend time with God.

What I have in mind is a little different I think. As wise stewards of the gift of time we need to cultivate in ourselves a gentle openness and remembrance of God's presence in our lives. How easy it is for me to forget that each moment of my life is a sacrament of God's loving presence not only for me, but the whole human family. Just as Christ come to you in the Eucharist under the form of Bread and Wine, so too He comes to you in the seconds and minutes, the hours and days, the weeks, months and years that make up your life. In each moment, great and small, Christ is there with you and it is only necessary that you remember that at all times, and so in all places and in all things, you are in His Presence and He has embraced you with His love.

With this realization in my heart, whatever might be the frustrations and even failures I may encounter in my work--whatever that work might be--each moment of my life carries within it the possibility of my drawing nearer to Christ.

And not only that.

Mindful of Christ's presence in my life opens me to the realization that in each moment of my life Christ can draw others to Himself through me.

And not only that.

Mindful of His Presence in my life, he is able to draw me to Him through others.

How then should we spend our time, that one gift that, once used, can never be replenished? By striving to keep in mind that God is With Us at each moment of our life and that far one distracting from the other, our communion with God and our work (granted in very different ways) can each support and sustain the other. A wise steward of the gift of time sees time as much a sacrament of God's love for us as the Cross or the Eucharist.

Through retreats, daily prayer and the reading of Scripture, fasting, participation in the services of the Church, the cultivation of times of silence in our lives, and above through all the regular reception of Holy Communion, frequent Confession we come to an ever deeper awareness and appreciation of the presence of God in our lives. Though it may represent a relatively small percentage of how we spend our time, a sound spiritual life is essential if we, personally, as a parish and as a Church are to fulfill Christ's call to create a fit and beautiful home for the human family.

Having now secured the foundations of Christian stewardship, our vocation to work and the right use of time, we will in the next two weeks turn our attention to the practical means of stewardship: the use of our talents and our treasure.

May Christ our True God, through the power of His Precious, Life-Giving and most Holy Cross, open our hearts to a lively awareness of His Presence in each moment of our lives.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory