Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Healing Silence

Sunday, November 30, 2008: 24th SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST (10th of Luke)—Holy and All-praised Apostle Andrew the First-called (62 A.D.). St. Frumentius, Archbishop of Abyssinia (Ethiopia—ca. 380).

Now He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up. But when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said to her, "Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity." And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God. But the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath; and he said to the crowd, "There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day." The Lord then answered him and said, "Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it? So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound-think of it-for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath? And when He said these things, all His adversaries were put to shame; and all the multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him.

(Luke 13:10-17)

St Augustine sees in the woman with "a spirit of infirmity," the woman that Jesus heals in this morning's Gospel, a figure of the whole human race. We, each of us, like her, us "bent over and bowed down" Augustine says. But where this is literally the case for the woman, our own infirmity is somewhat different. In the case of humanity the "devil and his angels have bowed down the souls of men and women" causing them "to be intent on temporary and earthly things" stopping us "from seeking the things that are above."

With Augustine's observation in the back of our mind, we might want to ask, what is it that has us bent over? What is it that has caused me to neglect my own spiritual life, my own relationship with Jesus Christ and His Body the Church? Where is it that I have turned inward and away from God and my neighbor?

While the answer for each of us will be, I suspect, a bit different, we nevertheless can speak in a general way of the sign or the symptom of our own personal infirmity. We get a clue as to this in the words of St Cyril of Alexandria. Reflecting on the response of the ruler of the synagogue, the saint says that he is "not angry because of the Sabbath." Turning in his sermon to speak to the ruler of the synagogue St Cyril tells him: "Since you see Christ honored and worshipped as God, you are frantic, choked with rage" and so you "waste away with envy."

And then the saint comes offers his diagnosis: "You have one thing concealed in your heart and profess and make pretext of another." The angry heart is a heart held in the grip of "vain reasoning." Though the context is different for each of us, we are all of us at different points in our lives doubled over in anger, "choked with rage" in Cyril's words. If I am honest with myself, how can I deny that, like the ruler of the synagogue, there are times in my life when Christ can justly call me a "hypocrite, pretender, and insincere"?

And like the ruler of the synagogue, I often make use of the things of God—of the Gospel, of Holy Tradition, and the teachings of the saints to name only three—to justify my anger, my lack of concern for the "things that are above." And more often than not my anger takes the form of my criticism of others, forgetting as I seem to do quite frequently that I am bent over myself.

Looking then into the angry heart, what might be the way out? How can we, like the woman in the Gospel, come to stand upright and be healed of what has bound us? How might we lay aside what St Ambrose calls our own "earthly burdens" and our burdensome lusts and so learn again to stand upright and experience in this life a foretaste of Eternity?

For the first several years as a priest I would encourage people to fast and pray. But what Id didn't realize is that for many the Church's counsel that they fast and pray is just one more burden, another thing on an ever growing to do list. Before any of us can find profit from prayer and fasting, we must first simplify our lives. I don't mean here that we should begin by selling all our possessions and giving to the poor, though God love you if you can do so freely and cheerfully. No what I mean is something different.

Our first step to being restored by grace to spiritual health is to cultivate in our life silence. As I said a moment ago, I would encourage people to pray whose lives were filled with noise and activity. TV, radio, music, internet—all of these constantly going, making noise, distract the person from thing Eternal and enslaving them to things temporal.

So we need first and foremost to cultivate in our lives. Silence is not merely the absence of sound but is, as the philosopher Max Picard writes, the space between sounds that make words meaningful.

Our lives are so filled with noise that it masks the sound of anger and rage in our hearts. Worse, the noises deafen us to the pain and lose to which anger and rage are the typical human responses. Underneath your anger is sorrow, lose and pain. There is in each our lives real suffering that Jesus longs to heal.

The ruler of the synagogue was no doubt an important man in his community, a busy man, a man with great responsibilities. If he is an unsympathetic figure in the Gospel it isn't simply because of his hypocrisy. It isn't simply because they would deny grace to the woman in affliction. No, what makes him such a pitiful figure (to borrow again from St Cyril) is that the ruler stood there in the presence of Him Who by the "glory and the splendor of His works solved all inquiry and doubt in those who sought Him without ill will" and missed the opportunity for healing himself.

Because the ruler of the synagogue would not, could not, still even for a moment his own angry thoughts, his own raging heart, "Shame fell" on him for his "corrupt opinions." Rather than be lifted up, he "stumbled against" Christ "the chief cornerstone" and so was himself "broken" rather than healed.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, amidst all the activity that quite rightly goes along with our preparations to welcome the Birth according to the Flesh of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ, let us cultivate in our lives moments of silence. Still, if not the anger at least the irritation, so that, unlike the ruler of the synagogue we will not be covered in shame but rather in the glory of the Divine Light.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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Saturday, November 29, 2008

What Type of Blog Is This Blog?

I ran my blog through Typealyzer, an online analyzer that determines the blog's Myers-Briggs Personality type.  Here's what came back for this blog:

INTP - The Thinkers
The logical and analytical type. They are especialy attuned to difficult creative and intellectual challenges and always look for something more complex to dig into. They are great at finding subtle connections between things and imagine far-reaching implications.

They enjoy working with complex things using a lot of concepts and imaginative models of reality. Since they are not very good at seeing and understanding the needs of other people, they might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what the

I don't know about the blog, but the results are a close enough match for me at least!

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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In Memory of the Trampled Wal-Mart Worker: A Contemplative Rant

From Anamachara:The Website of Unknowning:

Here’s some unhappy post-Thanksgiving news: Wal-Mart Store Employee Trampled to Death by Black Friday Shoppers. It’s a grim story. Not only did frenzied shoppers trample an employee, but they just kept on stepping over his body once he fell. They pushed fellow employees who were trying to help him out of the way. And then they got angry when the store closed, in the wake of the poor man’s death.

Do we need any more proof that the American Dream has collapsed into a commercial nightmare?

My friends, we who believe that life ought to be organized around contemplation rather then consumption have a large and difficult task ahead of us. First of all, I think we must be clear that traditional forms of religion, or even currently popular forms of spirituality, appear to be powerless to fight against the forces of mammon. I’m afraid that we can expect little or no help from the various institutional churches, since the liberal churches appear to be stuck in a quagmire of declining membership while the conservative churches come across as ignoring pretty much all issues except those involving the regulation of middle-class sexuality. And we most assuredly cannot expect any help from the panoply of new age or post-religious spiritualities, since they are so mesmerized by the ‘law of attraction’ and so forth that they are more part of the problem than part of the needed cure.

If you’re a conservative Christian and you’re worried about sex, then do something about human trafficking. If you’re a liberal Christian and you’re worried about the ongoing relevance of your faith, then take a stand against excessive consumerism. If you’re a non-Christian but interested in Christian contemplation, then at least recognize that contemplative spirituality demands that people come before either things or money or ideology. Regardless of your political or theological persuasion, we all need to address the question of how our faith should inform our relationship to the earth, to natural resources, and to sustainable living. And in any case, I believe this kind of activism will only make a difference if it begins with a life of deep, sustained, daily prayer.

The Rolling Stones once sang, “I shouted out, ‘Who killed the Kennedys?’ When after all, it was you and me.” LIkewise, my friends, it was you and me who trampled to death that Wal-Mart employee in the midst of a Black Friday rush. We must avoid the temptation of seeing our culture as divided into consumerist goats and non-consumerist sheep. That just introduces another dualism into our lives, and solves nothing. We are all mad shoppers, we are all air and water polluters, we are all eagerly hypnotized by our baubles and trinkets while the world around us gasps in a fever.

The question is, what are we going to do about it? And I think the answer must begin in silence, sustained silence. From there, we must remove the beams in our own eyes. And I’m not sure what comes next, because I’m still working on those first two steps for myself. But I believe the Spirit will lead us. We just have to snap out of the reverie long about to be lead-able.

What I do believe is that the Spirit’s leading must involve a combination of contemplation and action. We who hear the call to silence do not have the luxury to recite our Jesus Prayer ad nauseum while everyone else goes to hell. At that point, our contemplation becomes infernal. No, we bask in the silence in order to be empowered to live Christlike lives. We must be prepared to cast the money-changers out of the temple. And we must begin by dealing with the money-changers who are our own selves.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Tradition: A Personal Mode of Seeing

One of the more interesting insights offered by Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon in his book Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church, is his argument that tradition exists "enhypostatically." As near as I can tell what he means by this is that tradition—any tradition—does not exist in an abstract or pure sense, but only insofar as it is embodied in the life of concrete persons and communities.

While Zizioulas discusses the enhypostatic expression in terms of asceticism and liturgy, I want to reflect here, somewhat overly briefly I admit, on how tradition—and specifically the Christian Tradition—shapes how we see ourselves and the world of persons, events and things that constitute our lives.

Last Sunday (11/23) I sat with the catechumens in the parish I serve. We are reading together Clark Carlton's book The Way: What Every Protestant Should Know About the Orthodox Church. Carlton mentions that the NIV translates 2 Thessalonians 2.15 ("So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings [traditions in the KJV] we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.") in a way that does violence to the text, but which supports the Evangelical dismissal of tradition in the life of the Church.

This isn't necessarily to fault the translators of the NIV, after all we never read Scripture in a vacuum, but always in light of certain (often unexamined) presuppositions. In a word, our reading of Scripture is always based on tradition, always.

As the discussion continued, we began wrestle with the place of the Tradition of the Orthodox Church in our own lives. For many, and especially many converts, Holy Tradition is a goal to be fulfilled. But over the course of 2,000 years, the tradition has been embodied in many ways by myriad people and communities in a variety of historical and social settings. This means that the Tradition of the Church is not only, old but deep and (within limits at least) varied.

No one can hope to do everything that was ever done and so, if I'm not careful, I will pick and choose the part of Church history that I prefer and confuse that with the whole of the tradition. One of the examples I used with the catechumens was monastic hairstyles. The "modern" practice is for monks to have long hair and untrimmed beards. But if we look at icons of early bishops—I used St John Chrysostom—we see that an earlier practice was for monks in the East to cut their hair in much the same way that one sees in traditional Western monastic life. Look sometime at the icon of Chrysostom and then look at picture of Frair Tuck. The hair styles are more than a little similar.

So if we are not to imitate the past, what value do we find in Holy Tradition?

Guided and guarded by the Church's dogmatic and moral teaching, our life of prayer (personal and liturgical) and asceticism (especially fasting and care for the poor), we become ever more sensitive to what is Good, True, Beautiful and Justice. We see these first in the Scriptures and the lives of the saints, especially as they are communicated to us in the Church's liturgical life. And then, building on this foundation, we become ever more aware of the presence of the Good, the True, the Beautiful and the Just in ourselves and in the world of persons, events and things that constitute our everyday life.

This discovery that these are not simply abstract notions but embodied realities is not the end of the adventure. As I come to recognize for example the Good, the force of that recognition confronts me with the presence of wickedness, falsehood, ugliness and injustice first of all in my own heart and then in the world around me. As I never tire of reminding my own spiritual children, I do not learn from my mistakes, I learn what is true and then come to see I am mistaken.

Goodness, Truthfulness, Beauty and Justice, as with the Tradition that sensitize us to them, are not abstract philosophical constructs or historical curiosities. They are rather embodied realities. If because of Adam's sin these they are only more or less embodied in me, if my life is still disordered, or if Beauty (for example) is marred, this in no way detracts from the reality that it is the Church, the Body of Christ, that most fully (though not exhaustively) embodies these in human history.

Where we have gone wrong, I think, is we have rarified Holy Tradition. We have made it a thing, an objective standard to be imitated. In doing so we have lost sight of Holy Tradition as, to borrow from Vladimir Lossky, the Presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church as it leads and guides the faithful throughout history.

And it is this same Spirit which inspired not only the writers of Sacred Scriptures, but those who preached the Word. It is this same Spirit Who inspires the Church at prayer in the Liturgy and in the secret places of the human heart. And it is this same Spirit Who sustains and guides the saints who have struggled to remain faithful to the Word.

When we see Holy Tradition as something external to the person, to the traces of grace in the human and community, we miss all this and the Christian life, the life of the Church, becomes (to borrow from Christos Yannaras) yet one more source of division in the human heart and family, albeit now a religious division.

A blessed and Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI: On Signs of a Living Faith

From Pope Benedict XVI's Wednesday General Audience in Rome we hear words worth considering.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 26, 2008 ( Often we tend to fall into the same misunderstandings that have characterized the community of Corinth: Those Christians thought that, having been gratuitously justified in Christ by faith, "everything was licit." And they thought, and often it seems that the Christians of today think, that it is licit to create divisions in the Church, the body of Christ, to celebrate the Eucharist without concerning oneself with the brothers who are most needy, to aspire to the best charisms without realizing that they are members of each other, etc.

The consequences of a faith that is not incarnated in love are disastrous, because it is reduced to a most dangerous abuse and subjectivism for us and for our brothers. On the contrary, following St. Paul, we should renew our awareness of the fact that, precisely because we have been justified in Christ, we don't belong to ourselves, but have been made into the temple of the Spirit and are called, therefore, to glorify God in our bodies and with the whole of our existence (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:19). It would be to scorn the inestimable value of justification if, having been bought at the high price of the blood of Christ, we didn't glorify him with our body. In reality, this is precisely our "reasonable" and at the same time "spiritual" worship, for which Paul exhorts us to "offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God" (Romans 12:1).

To what would be reduced a liturgy directed only to the Lord but that doesn't become, at the same time, service of the brethren, a faith that is not expressed in charity? And the Apostle often puts his communities before the Final Judgment, on which occasion "we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil" (2 Corinthians 5:10; and cf. Romans 2:16).

If the ethics that St. Paul proposes to believers does not lapse into forms of moralism, and if it shows itself to be current for us, it is because, each time, it always recommences from the personal and communitarian relationship with Christ, to verify itself in life according to the Spirit. This is essential: Christian ethics is not born from a system of commandments, but rather is the consequence of our friendship with Christ. This friendship influences life: If it is true, it incarnates and fulfills itself in love for neighbor. Hence, any ethical decline is not limited to the individual sphere, but at the same time, devalues personal and communitarian faith: From this it is derived and on this, it has a determinant effect.

Let us, therefore, be overtaken by the reconciliation that God has given us in Christ, by God's "crazy" love for us: No one and nothing could ever separate us from his love (cf. Romans 8:39). With this certainty we live. And this certainty gives us the strength to live concretely the faith that works in love.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Some Further Thoughts on the Called & Gifted Workshop

As I said in my last post, the "Called & Gifted" Workshop my parish hosted this past weekend went quite well.

The content of the workshop was very good. As I have mentioned before, I think that Orthodox Christians tend to emphasize the monastic vocation so much that we underplay the vocational implications of holy baptism. Sherry Weddell's presentation I think did a very good job of helping people understand the importance--and priority--of our personal, baptismal vocations.

Specifically, she pointed out that in baptism we are both called to an apostolic and evangelistic work AND given gifts (charisms) that make it possible for us to fulfill that work. We are not, in other words, simply passive consumers of religious good, but have been sent out (Gk: apostolos, "someone sent out", e.g. with a message or as a delegate) by Christ to announce (GK: euangelion, or "good news") the Gospel or the Good News. The charisms/gifts we receive at baptism are what make it possible for us to do this. These charism, Sherry stressed, are not given to me for me alone, but for you, for your salvation.

Christians are called and gifted by Christ to be men and women for others--and this is true whether we are laypeople, monastics, clergy or hiearchs--we are all of us called to live for others.

Seeing ourselves this way means being willing to see the Church in a new way. The Church is not an end in itself. As Metropolitan JONAH said in Pittsburgh at the All-American Council, what happens at Liturgy is important, but is only about "5%" of what it means to be a Christian. The rest of our Christian life is about how we treat others. This is a very challenging notion for many of us.

My life as Orthodox Christians, my salvation, is not simply about me, but my willingness to serve others in their need.

As with the individual Christian, so too with the Church. The Church is a community for others in their need. We can't withdraw into our parishes and claim to be faithful to Christ.

Very easily, this kind of message could become a mere harangue. One of things that was most effective in the workshop was Sherry's very matter of fact presentation of the information. As one woman in my parish put it, "It was all very business like," direct and to the point. The power of the message was its truthfulness, her words were their own confirmation.

Talking with one of the men in the parish and with my godson who came from Pittsburgh for the workshop, we were in agreement that other Orthodox Christians would also find this a profitable use of their time. In the coming months we hope to do two things.

First, continue the process of discerning our own personal gifts and our gifts as a community. Second, and following from this, we hope to work with Sherry and the Catherine of Siena Institute to adapt more specifically the "Called & Gifted" Workshop to the pastoral needs of the Church.

The lives and examples of the saints play large part of the "Called & Gifted" Workshop. During the weekend, Sherry and I illustrated the different charisms that God gives to His People by telling about the lives of different saints, East and West, Orthodox and Catholic. While the theological content of the workshop does not require much (if any) revision for an Orthodox audience, I think that it would be good for me to do addition research in the lives of the saints as their lives can help illustrate our baptismal vocation to be apostles and evangelists.

Finally, in addition to our time together, one of the best things that was done over the weekend was the "Catholic Spiritual Gifts Inventory." This is a very simple self-scored paper and pencil test that gives the test taker a place to begin his or her own prayerful discernment of his/her personal vocation. While such a test can't replace the insight that comes from our spiritual fathers, it does have great practical value in helping us understand the different gifts God may have given us.

Grounding our vocation not in our conformity to an external standard but to the prompting of grace in our hearts and confirmed by the Church is something both perfectly compatible with Holy Tradition and often sadly lacking in our work with people in the parish and the seminaries. St Anthony the Great says somewhere that if I would know God I must first know myself. The "Called & Gifted" Workshop is I think a valuable aid in helping Orthodox Christians fulfill the saint's advice to us.

Again, thank you to all who made the "Called & Gifted" Workshop a success. After Thanksgiving, I hope to have photos for you.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

This Weekend’s “Called & Gifted” Workshop

This past weekend, Friday November 21-Saturday November 22, 2008, the parish I serve, Holy Assumption Orthodox Church (OCA), Canton, OH hosted a "Called & Gifted" Workshop presented by Sherry Anne Weddell, who together with Fr Michael Fones, O.P., is co-director of the Catherine of Siena Institute in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Unfortunately, Fr. Mike had to fly to Eugene unexpectedly early Wednesday morning (11/19) to be with his dear friend Pat Armstrong who was gravely ill. (Please remember Pat and her loving husband Rich, and their family (which includes Fr. Mike) in your prayers) and so was not able to attend the workshop.

As I mentioned in an earlier post (Lay Spiritual Formation: An Ecumenical Opportunity), the "Called & Gifted Workshop" is a project of the Catherine of Siena Institute. It 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 program itself was well attended with 50 participants (roughly equally divided between Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics). Among other joys, the rector of St Innocent Orthodox Church (OCA) Fr Michael Butler (and my college roommate) came down from Olmsted Falls, OH with 5 of his parishioners. My godson Chris ("Chrys" who comments frequently and eloquently on this blog) also came from Pittsburgh for the workshop. Given the rather miserable weather (the snow squalls were so bad we had white out conditions at several points) I was grateful that ANYONE attended much less that we had visitors from northeastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania!

Sherry asked me to fill in for the absent Fr Mike and so I found myself in the interesting position of explaining to Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians the renewal in Roman Catholic thinking that came about as a result of the Second Vatican Council. In addition to a more Eucharistic view of ecclesiology, the Vatican II also presented a renewed understood the vocation of Catholic laity in the modern world.

This renewal was in response was in response to challenges facing not only Catholics the Orthodox Church. This is especially the case for the Orthodox Church we move more and more into American culture.

This, I should add, is not a "covert" vs. "cradle" thing—but a natural part of our growth as the Church here in America. Precisely because, as Fr Alexander Schmemann would argue, Christian life is always "from above," from Heaven and not simply from below (i.e., from history or culture) we are always being challenged to see ourselves, the Church and the world around us every more clearly in the Divine Light.

It amazes me, for example, that people can be so attached to their vision of how a parish is supposed to be, that they would rather see a community fail rather than change (forgetting for a moment as St Gregory of Nyssa reminds us, the ability to change--and change often--is what makes it possible for human beings to become like the God Who changes not).

Thus though the new grace we may obtain is greater than what we had before, it does not put a limit on our final goal; rather, for those who are rising in perfection, the limit of the good that is attained becomes the beginning of the discovery of higher goods. Thus they never stop rising, moving from one new beginning to the next, and the beginning of ever greater graces is never limited of itself For the desire of those who thus rise never rests in what they can already understand; but by an ever greater and greater desire, the soul keeps rising constantly to another that lies ahead, and thus it makes its way through ever higher regions towards the Transcendent.
One of the points that Sherry frequently returned to in her own presentations is that by virtue of our baptism, each of us in our uniqueness is an essential part of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. All of us, whether lay or ordained, are not called to proclaim the Gospel, but we are given unique gifts (charism) that our apostolic and evangelistic call both possible and fruitful

Thinking of Sherry's presentation, I am reminded of the words of Metropolitan Jonah at the All-American Council. To the degree that the Church becomes is an end in itself, to the degree that it becomes "just for us' and not "for the life of the world," to that degree we lose a part of the joy that should be ours. Or, as His Beatitude put the matter,

Being Orthodox is not about what we do in church, that's maybe 5%. Being an Orthodox Christian is how we live. It's how we treat one another. It's our self-denial and our self-giving. It's our self-transcendence. And, ultimately, what does that lead to, but the complete fulfillment of our personhood in Christ, so that we become who God made us to be in a communion of love with one another. One of the most important things, so far as tasks go that I think it's a vision that we can embrace as a community.
That 5% is important, critical, essential, but it is only the starting point. We need that 5%, but, we also need to keep our priorities in order. As Jesus says in the Gospel:

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. (Mt 23.23)
Metropolitan Jonah and Sherry were both touching on a theme near and dear to Schmemann's heart: the temptation to "secularism." When the Church becomes an end in itself, it becomes merely a part of life and not life itself and as a result, we live lives that seek always to Christ and the Gospel neatly in their places so that we are not disturbed and we can go about our lives.

Secularism, our neglect of our baptismal call and the gifts we have received in Holy Baptism is antithesis of what we mean when as Orthodox Christians we speak about theosis, of our coming to participate in divine life. As iron in the fire takes on all the qualities of fire and yet remains iron, so we take on all the qualities of God and remain human. This is what we mean when we say, as Catholic or Orthodox Christians, that Christ has redeemed us. He has redeemed all of human life or none of it. Again, as Schmemann says, "the term 'sacramental' means that for the world to be a means of worship and a means of grace is not accidental, but the revelation of its meaning, the restoration of its essence, the fulfillment of its destiny." (For the Life of the World, p. 121)

There are many blessings that came out of this past weekend. One of the chief though is that it demonstrated, to me at least, that Catholic and Orthodox Christians can assist and sustain each other as we strive to be faithful to Christ and His call to us. Yes, certainly we disagree on some points. But there is much we share and that we can do together that does not betray our respective traditions.

Several of the Orthodox participants were so impressed that they asked if we might tailor the "Called & Gifted" Workshop for use in an Orthodox context. I spoke with Sherry about this and she is certainly open and supportive of such a project. My own view is that there is relatively little that would need to be done.

Hopefully, I'll be able to post a link to photos of the weekend on the parish web page. Until then, I would encourage people to take a look at the Catherine of Siena web site and its blog, "Intentional Disciples."

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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Igumen Gregory Woolfenden

In your prayers, please remember the soul of the newly departed servant of God, the ever-memorable Igumen (priest-monk) Gregory Woolfenden (Fr Gregory in the center of the picture). A liturgical scholar, a dedicated priest and my friends. When we spoke on the phone who ever called would identify himself by saying "Fr Gregory? It's the other Fr Gregory." Since the other Fr Gregory had an English accent, it was funnier when he said it.

May his memory be eternal!

In Christ,

(the other) +Fr Gregory

p.s., Below is the announcement of Fr Gregory's repose from Bishop Daniel, of the Ukranian Orthodox Church.


Dear brethren in Christ: Greetings in our Lord!

We were just prayerfully informed that the servant of God, Igumen Gregory (Woolfenden), pastor of the Nativity of the Most Holy Birth-Giver of God [St. Mary] Ukrainian Orthodox parish, New Britain, CT and professor of St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary has reposed in Christ - born to eternal life - after the long and arduous struggle. Funeral services are scheduled as follows:

December 1 - 7PM Panakhyda at St. Mary Parish, New Britain, CT
December 2 - 10AM Liturgy at St. Mary Parish, New Britain Ct.
December 3 - 10AM Rite of the Monastic Funeral at St. Andrew Memorial Church, South Bound Brook, NJ.

His Eminence Archbishop Antony, President of the Consistory of our Holy Church has requested that we include Fr. Gregory in our prayers and liturgical commemorations and participate in the funeral services.

May his memory be eternal!

With prayers in Christ from Genk (Belgium),

By the Grace of God Bishop
His Grace Bishop Daniel
Office of Public Relations
Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA
PO Box 495
South Bound Brook, NJ 08880
Tel: (732) 356-0090
Fax: (732) 356-5556

Memory Eternal!
God Bless!

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Thoughts on the New Metropolitan

My respect and affection for Metropolitan Jonah are both deep and sincere (we served together in northern CA for about 7 years--he was a frequent visitor to my home when I was in Redding and I a frequent visitor to St John's Monastery).

That said, I think that--whatever his many gifts, Metropolitan Jonah can't make things right in the OCA on his own. As I said at the beginning of the OCA mess, we are wrong to think the problems facing the Church are just the result of a few bad apples. Likewise, the road to spiritual, pastoral and financial health is one that requires we all take responsibility for the life of the Church and commit ourselves personally to Christ and the Gospel.

We run into problems when we forget that our calling, our vocation given to us in baptism, is to proclaim Christ and Him crucified--we are all of us apostles and evangelists of the Good News and not of Orthodoxy as such. The tradition of the Orthodox Church--Liturgy, theology, icons, and asceticism--is not an end in itself--rather it is the context out of which we proclaim the Gospel.

I think of late we have heard too much about Orthodoxy and too little of Christ and the Gospel. Kerygma and Dogma are not opposed, as St Basil the Great reminds us--but neither are they the same thing. For all the converts we've received and new churches and monasteries that we've built, our focus has been too inward--too much of dogma--and too little outward--preaching the kerygma:

"Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation" (Mk. 16:15).

"God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation to save those who believe" (1 Cor. 1:21).

"We proclaim Christ crucified" (1 Cor. 1:23).

"For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord" (2 Cor. 4:5).

We will undermine our own hope in His Beatitude, and worse we will betray Christ, if we fall back into our old habits of being focused on ourselves and our own needs. We should by all means root ourselves ever more firmly in the Tradition of the Church but only so we can move with boldness and proclaim the Gospel. Again, we have spent too much time preaching Orthodoxy and too little Christ and Him crucified.

We ought not to make the mistake of preaching Jonah and not Jesus.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Love is First A Turning Away from Anger & Harshness

Sunday, November 23, 2008: 23rd SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST (9th of Luke): Afterfeast of the Entry Into the Temple. St. Amphilochius, Bishop of Iconium (394). St. Gregory, Bishop of Agrigentum (6th-7th c.). Repose of Rt. Blv. Great Prince Alexander Nevsky, in schema Aleksy (1263). St. Mitrophán, in schema Makáry, Bishop of Vorónezh (1703). Martyr Sisinius, Bishop of Cyzicus (3rd c.). Martyr Theodore of Antioch (4th c.).

(Above: Rembrandt's, The Rich Fool)

Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: "The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, 'What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?' So he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. 'And I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry."' But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?' So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.
Glory to Jesus Christ!

There is, as I sometimes forget, a seeming harshness to the Gospel. We see that harshness in the parable that we hear in the parable of the rich fool from St Luke's Gospel.

Look what happens in the parable, judgment is simply pronounced. There is no dialog, no discussion, or exploration of options. There is none of those little ways we have of avoiding, or at least softening, the truth of our situation. Jesus is brutally straightforward: The rich man is self-satisfied fool who has placed his faith in himself, in his own abilities and the wealth he has accrued. But when seen in the Divine Light, all these things are revealed as without substance. "There is no there, there," as Gertrude Stein once said in a rather different context.

At this point though we must exercise great caution; we ought not to think that the harshness we hear in the parable and in our Lord's words reflect any anger in God. Speaking of how God calls the sinner to repentance, St Ephrem the Syrian says that

Our Lord gives most of his assistance with persuasion rather than with admonition. Gentle showers soften the earth and thoroughly penetrate it, but a beating rain hardens and compresses the surface of the earth so that it will not be absorbed. "A harsh statement evokes anger" [see, Prv 15.], and with it comes injury. Whenever a harsh word opens a door, anger enters in, and on the heel of anger, injury.
The harshness, the anger, we hear in the parable belongs not to God, but to the rich fool. Or, as St John Chrysostom has it, "All things depend on our decision, certainly also to raise anger or to soothe."

Thinking about the parable, and how the fathers understand anger, I begin to ask myself what it is about the rich man, about his heart, that becomes a source of damnable anger?

I think that the answer is to be found in the rich man's trust in himself. His self-confidence is a confidence that he purchases at the expense, as St Cyril of Alexandria reminds us, of charity. Let me be clear here, it is not wrong to have confidence in the talents and gifts God has given you. But this is not the situation of the rich man; (again from St Cyril) he

does not look to the future. He does not raise eyes to God. He does not count it worth his while to gain heaven. He does not cherish the poor or desire the esteem it gains. He does not sympathize with suffering. It gives him no pain nor awakens his pity. Still more irrational, he settles for himself the length of his life, as if he could reap this from the ground. . . . "O rich man," one may say, "You have storehouses for your fruits, but where will you receive your many years? By the decree of God, your life is shortened."
His self-confidence, his trust in himself, comes at the expense of trust in God and compassion for his neighbor. I suspect that, in the beginning, his lack of trust in God was, as it is for many of us, more passive than active, more a matter of a certain flaccid thoughtlessness rather than vigorous malice. So to with how we respond to our neighbor. Rarely do we hate our neighbor or wish him ill. My lack of pity typically reflects carelessness on my part than any hardness of heart.

But slowly my lack of trust in God, my lack of compassion for my neighbor can, and does, becomes an active distrust and even an open hostility toward others whether human or divine. More at first from carelessness than malice, I come to see God and neighbor as opponents, as obstacles to the expression of my will and the fulfillment of my desires. It is this carelessness, that the fathers of the desert called acedia, or (to use a more modern terms), a forgetful indifference to the spiritual life and a preference for my own will. In a word, the rich man's folly is the fruit of the sin of sloth.

And what the desert fathers call acedia the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas calls "the natural atheism of the soul." Or, to use another of Levinas's images, acedia sees life as a "warm bath," comfortable, without demands, but also without challenges and progress and which is lived in isolation from all others, be they God or neighbor.

But for all that it fosters in us a spirit of passivity and isolation acedia is also the well-spring of anger and harshness. I cannot live passively and in isolation. Eventually the ebb and flow of daily life will challenge my delusions. It is in that moment of challenge that the anger in my soul will flare to life and, even if I do not utter a harsh word, I will entertain harsh and horrible thoughts against my neighbor and even against God.

The rich man in the parable is a fool; he sees God and neighbor as opponents, as thieves and enemies. But, as it often is in the spiritual life, there is hidden within even the darkest sin a hint of grace and mercy. Try as he might the enemy of souls can never quite obscure the path back to God—and how could it be otherwise? Since he has always been a liar; he never creates, but only corrupts; he can never reveal the truth, but rather always works furiously, and purposelessly, to obscure what God has made manifest, in creation, in Christ and in each and every human heart.

And if this is true generally, it is especially true in the parable of the rich fool.

If my spiritual death is a dying by degrees, well, so too is our salvation something that is accomplished by grace and equally small changes. By divine grace and our own small acts of gratitude toward God and compassion for our neighbor in need we can be healed of the anger and harshness that grips our lives. And we can even in this way be healed of the passive indifference to the spiritual life we call acedia. And all of this can be done here and now, in even the most ordinary and humble circumstances of everyday life.

How are we to begin? Humbly, by small steps that we take right now.

"Love sinners," St Isaac the Syrian to us, "and do not despise them for their faults. Remember that you partake in an earthly nature, and do good to all. Let your manner be always courteous and respectful to all. For love does not know anger or lose its temper or find fault with anyone out of passion." He continues by telling us that we must "not reprove anyone," that we must "avoid laying down the law," and "shun impudence in speech," and above all we must "Be subject to all in every good work, except to those who" like the rich fool in the parable, "love possessions or money."

To God be the Glory!

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory
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Friday, November 21, 2008

Missio Dei & Pietism

Whatever ever else we might say about "missio Dei," it is I think an attempt to overcome the deep strains of pietism that have become the norm in American Christianity (including Orthodox Christianity). The Greek Orthodox ethicist Christos Yannaras has written extensively on pietism as an "ecclesiological heresy." In his book The Freedom of Morality, he writes that:

Pietism made its appearance as a distinct historical movement within Protestantism, at the end of the seventeenth and beginning of the eighteenth centuries, around 1690-1730. Its aim was to stress "practical piety," as distinct from the polemical dogmatic theology to which the Reformation had initially given a certain priority. Against the intellectualist and abstract understanding of God and of dogmatic truth, pietism set a practical, active piety (praxis pietatis): good works, daily self-examination for progress in virtues according to objective criteria, daily study of the Bible and practical application of its moral teaching, intense emotionalism in prayer, a clear break with the "world" and worldly practices (dancing, the theatre, non-religious reading); and tendencies towards separatism, with the movement holding private meetings and distinguishing itself from the "official" Church.

Rightly he points out that in pietism, "experience" (very narrowly defined as a particular kind of experience) becomes paramount. "For pietism, knowledge of God presupposes the "rebirth" of man [i.e., a "born again" experience --web ed.], and this rebirth is understood as living up to the moral law of the Gospel and as an emotional experience of authoritative truths. Pietism presents itself as a mystical piety, and ultimately as a form of opposition to knowledge; as "adogmatism," in the sense that it ignores or belittles theological truth, or even as pure agnosticism cloaked in morality."

Though pietism arose in Protestantism, it has had a great effect of "the spiritual life of other churches, to this day" including he argues the Orthodox Church. As a result, and in "combination with humanism, the Enlightenment and the 'practical' spirit of the modern era-- the spirit of 'productivity' and 'efficiency'-- pietism has cultivated throughout Europe [and the US] a largely 'social' understanding of the Church, involving practical activities of public benefit, and it has presented the message of salvation primarily as a necessity for individual and collective morality."

We see the consequences of this in the increasingly common "utilitarian institutional mentality" that has come to infect "has led many churches and Christian confessions" resulting in what Yannaras describes as "a fever of anxiety." Lost in all this is the "miracle of repentance," of even the remembrance that we can experience a "transfiguration of sin into loving desire for [a] personal communion with God." As a result the " Gospel message is 'made void'," having been "emptied of its ontological content" in our desire to honor "the principle of keeping up appearances." And when appearance matters most of all " the Church's faith in the resurrection of man is made to appear vacuous," and we no longer understand that the Church is the epiphany that makes manifest that in Christ we are offered salvation "from the anonymity of death."

For Yannaras, the symptom of what has been lost—not simply in Western Christianity but also (as his criticism make clear) also in the East—is that rather than being prophetic events that announce the victory of Christ not simply over death, but over death in me, "the sacraments takes on a conventional, ethical character." And so, for example, "Confession turns into a psychological means of setting individual guilt-feelings at rest" the reception of Holy Communion a "reward for good behavior-when it is not a scarcely conscious individual or family custom bordering on magic" And, as I can attest from my own pastoral experience, even Baptism is robbed of its eschatological and soteriological content becoming instead "a self-evident social obligation, and marriage [as Fr Alexander Schmemann never tired of point out simply] a legitimization of sexual relations without regard to any ascetic transfiguration of the conjugal union into an ecclesial event of personal intercourse or communion."

Missio Dei is an attempt, I think, to rediscover a living sense of what Yannaras calls the "ontological truth of Church unity and personal communion" that has become ever more elusive in Protestant Christianity. But again, pietism has also had an effect on the pastoral life of the Orthodox Church such that the three forms of "sectarian" Orthodoxy I summarized above are simply taken as the norm, and even a desirable way of forming the life of the parish.

I would wonder, by way of conclusion, if missio Dei might not be a fruitful avenue of ecumenical conversation between Protestant and Orthodox Christians?

As always, your comments, questions, and criticisms are not only welcome, but actively sought.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Tradition as Hermeneutic and Mission

Fr Deacon Steven Hayes raises some interesting points in response to my earlier re-posting on the notion of "mission Dei." In response to my observation that Holy Tradition is (or should be) a hermeneutic by which we come to understand ourselves and the world of persons, events and things, Father writes: "That's what I understand by "Orthodox worldview" or Orthodox "fronima" -- trying to understand the world and other people and things around us in the light of the Orthodox Christian faith." I certainly agree with on this. In fact part of why I became Orthodox was because I became convinced that, as embodied creatures, human beings only know anything in light of a shared narrative, a tradition. This being the case, which narrative I followed, which tradition in which I stood, became very important for me.

Looking around I found that the Tradition of the Orthodox Church helped me make the best sense of myself and my own experiences. But this wasn't all. In addition to it subjective value (i.e., the value of Holy Tradition "for me") I also saw the objective value of the Tradition of the Church. Holy Tradition is a rich source of insight to help me understand the world of persons, events and things in which I found myself.

But Fr Steven also helped put into words my own discomfort with "missio Dei" as it has come to be articulated in the Emergent Church movement. Specifically and again returning to the words of the good deacon, "The problem I have with 'missio Dei' is that I can't see what else it could be. The proponents of 'missio Dei' seem to think it is a new thing, something no one has ever thought of before. But it seems to me that it is something that underlies all Orthodox assumptions about mission – 'as the Father sent me, so I am sending you'. It seems axiomatic." He then I think puts his finger right on the matter when he says perhaps the problem he (and I) have with "mission Dei" is that "Protestant ecclesiology is different."

Let me offer some random and somewhat unstructured thoughts on the theme Deacon Steven raises.

Maybe it's an American thing, but here in the States one often see Holy Tradition approached as an objective standard to be fulfilled rather than a hermeneutic. While these are not necessarily in opposition (and in my experience they are not only not opposed, they converge), it is not uncommon to see people here approach the Tradition in a neurotic fashion—as an abstract, rarified image to which people must conform—rather than a light that illumines human life and shows the traces of grace in the life of the person or community.

As a pastoral matter, this results in the life of the parish being constructed according to a personal ideology. By this I mean that when we fail to see the hermeneutical character, we build our lives around an idea that we have abstracted from the Tradition. As a consequence, we end up valuing some elements of Holy Tradition and our lives over others. In a word, our life often internally coherent, is not catholic (kata, +holos), or whole.

Typically this lack of wholeness takes one of three forms:

  1. A tacit, and sometimes explicit, assumption that the parish is for "our" people. "Our" people might be either a members of a particular traditional ethnic community (Greeks, Russians, Arabs, etc.)
  2. A group that prides itself on being "not-ethnic." This is often, though by no means exclusively, a community composed of converts. Interestingly, in the OCA (and I assume this is so inn other jurisdictions) one finds cradle Orthodox for whom anything of their own ethnic tradition is consistently minimized or rejected
  3. Among some communities there is a frank imitation of monastic life. In these communities, the life of the community does not so much center around liturgy as much as it is reduced to liturgy. I should point out that, as with the other two examples, the attachment to monasticism is ideological. Monastic life is a great blessing for the Church. Those communities that purport to adopt a monastic model

In all three of these deformative approaches to Tradition and the life and mission of the Church, our vision becomes increasingly narrow and sectarian, our style of relating to one and other becomes increasingly chaotic and authoritarian (the first symptom of this is the administrative life of the community decays).

As always, your comments, questions, and criticisms are not only welcome, but actively sought.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Let us never forget the Ottoman genecide against the Armenians, Greeks, Kurds and Assyrians.


MSNBC is doing a survey whether the Armenian Genocide should be recognized or not. As of a few minutes ago the numbers showed Yes 20%, No 80% !

The Turks have mobilized a global campaign to shift results towards "No" but we can let them. The Armenian Genocide is a historical fact, along with other many other crimes against humanity of behalf of the Turks, and it should be recognized.

Please vote ' YES ' at the below link and send it to everyone you know.

Despina Axiotakis
General Secretary
Cyprus Federation of America
Phone: 201-444-8237
Fax: 201-444-0445
Cell: 201-981-5764

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Five Rules for a Spiritual Father - Vultus Christi

Since we've been taking about confession the last few post, I thought these words from Father Mark's (a Roman Catholic priest in the Tulsa, OK diocese) blog Vultus Christi would be of interest. Orthodox readers might take pause slightly at Father's reference to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, but (that aside) his advice is very and should be the baseline for what is expected of priests.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

1. Before meeting anyone for spiritual counsel, humble yourself profoundly before God, acknowledging your inability to do the least good for souls without Him. "Separated from me," says the Lord, "you have no power to do anything" (Jn 15:5). "We have a treasure, then, in our keeping, but its shell is of perishable earthenware; it must be God, and not anything in ourselves, that gives it its sovereign power" (2 Cor 4:7).

2. Offer this spiritual work as an act of love to Our Lord Who says: "Believe me, when you did it to one of the least of my brethren here, you did it to me" (Mt 25:40).

3. Efface yourself as much as possible so that Christ alone may act. You are but the humble friend and servant of the Divine Bridegroom. "The bride," that is the soul, "is for the Bridegroom; but the bridegroom's friend, who stands by and listens to Him, rejoices too, rejoices at hearing the Bridegroom's voice . . . . He must become more and more, I must become less and less" (Jn 3:29-30).

Talk and act in the name of Jesus Christ and in utter dependence on His Spirit. "If any man speak, let him speak, as one who utters oracles of God. If any man minister, let him do it by the power, which God supplies: that in all things God may be honoured through Jesus Christ" (1 P 4:11).

4. Seek not to attach souls to yourself. Beware of hidden motives of a self-serving natural order. Trusting in the grace of the Holy Spirit, orient those who come to you ad Patrem, towards the Father alone, Who reveals Himself in the Eucharistic Face and in the Heart of Jesus Christ.

5. Consecrate each and every soul who comes to you to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Mother of Mercy and Mediatrix of All Graces. Exercise your spiritual paternity in synergy with her motherhood. "And His Mother said to the servants, 'Do whatever He tells you'" (Jn 2:6).

Confession and Evangelism: The Indifferent Penitent

Now that the All-American Council is behind me and before I need to focus on the Called & Gifted Workshop my parish is hosting the Friday and Saturday, let me return to my thoughts on the role of Holy Confession and the evangelism of the faithful.

Though not without their own challenges, I find ministering to the regretful penitent and the angry penitent easier—and frankly less frustrating—than the indifferent penitent. That said, let me put aside my own personal struggles and ask you to reflect with me on the experience of being indifferent.

A bit of cliché (often heard in youth and young adult ministry) though it is, it is true I think that the opposite of love is not hate but indifference. To nurture indifference for someone is not to hate them, but rather to invalidate them. We are mistaken if we imagine indifference—either in others or in ourselves—as neutrality or passivity. Indifference is rather an active refusal to see the good, the true, or the beautiful in something or someone. Remember, simply because something is, it is good and so calls me to transcend my plans and preoccupations.

An indifferent response to the Gospel is certainly related to indifference in the general sense. Especially in confession though there is an added quality that the priest ought not to overlook in either the penitent or himself. Specifically, indifference embodies a rupture in the delicate, and dynamic, relationship between the subjective and objective dimensions of life.

Culture, tradition, language, are the tools that help me to first discover and then express myself. Self-knowledge and self-expression, in other words, are always both personal and social. Or, as one of my altar boys told me one Sunday when I asked him why he dyed his hair jet black, "I wanted to be an individual like all my friends."

In my experience, the indifferent penitent does not see the Gospel or the Tradition of the Church as being in the service of their own self-discovery and self-expression. Not only that, they often see these as in opposition to their own self-discovery and expression.

The confessor must help the person find the natural place of conversion between the person and the Gospel. To paraphrase James Fowler (a psychologists who studies faith development), the confessor must help the indifferent penitent find his own personal story in the larger Christian story AND find that larger Christian story as it is written in the smaller story of his own life.

Let me explain.

It is hard for me to read the Psalms, which I do most mornings and evenings, without recognizing myself, my own experiences and struggles, in the words of King David. Reading the Psalms I discover the story of my life in words that Jews and Christians have been praying for centuries. This means that Psalms are not foreign to me. Yes, they are David's story. And yes as in traditional Orthodox biblical hermeneutics, the Psalms I can see in them the prayers of Christ, it is He Who referred to in Psalm 1 for example, as the "blessed" Man Who follows not the counsel of the wicked. But they are also my story, the express my feelings, my thoughts in times of sorrow and persecution and joy.

Not only that though. In time I come to see the Psalms in me. The Psalms are also a part of me—I realize that the great struggles of David and Jesus are also played out in my life.

Through his questions and observations this is what the confessor needs to help the indifferent penitent come to see. This is not telling the person that that he must conform to the Gospel (which is unlikely to be received well if the penitent see the Gospel as foreign to his experience) as to some external norm. Rather, the confessor must listen carefully to the themes in the person's confession (scant though information might be) until he (the confessor) can hear the points of convergence between the penitent and the Gospel.

Clearly this requires more than a little skill and insight on the part of the confessor. Next week, after my parish's Called and Gifted Workshop this weekend, I will conclude this series by offering some thoughts about what qualities and skills the priest might bring to the prophetic ministry of Holy Confession.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

From Psychblog: “7 Reasons Leaders Fail”

Especially as the Orthodox Church in America moves into a new era, I thought the following post on why leaders fail might be of interest. I am especially intrigued by the comment that while there has been a fair amount of research done on the psychology of leadership, we have neglected research into why people follow--the psychology of followership, if you will, is not well researched or understood it seems.

In any event, I offer the below for your consideration, questions and comments.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Around two-thirds of workers say the most stressful aspect of their jobs is their immediate boss, their line manager (Hogan, 2006). While this will come as no surprise to most, this statistic suggests a massive number of unhappy working relationships. So, does this mean that leadership is failing on a massive scale? Well, not exactly...

A recent article published in American Psychologist beautifully explains why so many people experience their managers as piping hot geysers of stress (Vugt, Hogan & Kaiser, 2008). What emerges is that bosses aren't inherently bad people (mostly), but that the modern culture of work sets them up to fail. Here are the seven main reasons I've picked out from this article for why leaders fail:

1. Strict hierarchies.
For Mark Van Vugt of the University of Kent and colleagues a large part of the problem with many modern organisations is their hierarchies. Leaders are at the top of the chain and are assumed to have all the answers, so they make most of the decisions. In reality knowledge and expertise is spread across people in organisations. But it's the leaders who must be seen to lead and so followers get frustrated because their superior knowledge and expertise is frequently ignored. This leads to:

Leaders often don't make any better decisions than followers, and frequently make worse ones. This is another consequence of strict hierarchies. Rather than setting up leaders to fail, Van Vugt et al. (2008) argue it's better to agree that leaders are not always the best people to make the decisions. Spreading the responsibility around, or using more participatory strategies for decision-making is often more effective. But this isn't the way things generally work, part of the problem is:

3. Huge pay differentials.
Followers often hate their leaders because of the huge difference in their salaries. It's hard to feel any sympathy for someone whose pay is stratospheric (average CEO pay is 179 times that of average workers). And, because more pay means more status, leaders can quickly come to believe they really deserve the God-like status their pay suggests, resulting in their thinking they have all the answers and that they have the right to treat their employees less than fairly. In the bosses' defence, though, there are:

4. Impossible standards for leaders.
Perhaps because of the huge pay and incredible demands, followers expect their leaders to be almost superhuman. The leadership literature identifies a whole range of personal qualities thought important for a good leader. These include integrity, persistence, humility, competence, decisiveness and being able to inspire the troops. While a leader may be high on one or two of these, they are unlikely to have the full set. Followers are almost bound to be disappointed by what is, after all, another fallible human who is just trying to:

5. Climb the greasy pole.
If the boss is nice to you, it's a bonus, because it's not required for them to get on in the organisation. Leaders are promoted by those higher than them, not those below them - so it's only necessary for bosses to impress their bosses. This is a recipe for disaffection amongst the followers. Talking of which, forget the psychology of leadership, what do we know about the:

6. Psychology of followership?
One of the best points Van Vugt et al. make is that although it's leadership that has been most extensively studied and discussed, most of us end up as followers. So really the psychology of followership is more important than leadership. What is it that makes us follow someone else? And, more subversively: do we need leaders? For example, some research shows that when people know what they're doing, they resent having leadership imposed on them. Generally, though, there's little known about followership, and how to avoid:

7. Alienation.
As a result of the strict hierarchies, huge pay differentials, poor decision-making, greasy-pole climbing and feeling powerless to change huge bureaucracies, followers naturally develop feelings of alienation, and alienation kills motivation and productivity, along with any hope of job satisfaction.

Talk is cheap
By implication the way to rectify these perceived problems is to do the reverse. Don't instigate rigid hierarchies, discourage huge pay differentials, democratise decision-making and don't set impossible standards for leaders. Some organisations are already managing this - presumably those in which followers don't find their bosses the biggest sources of stress - but most are not.
Of course talk is cheap and recognising the problem is quite different to knowing what to do about it, or having the courage to do it. Anyone wanting to make these types of changes across an organisation would have to be a really great leader - and there are truly few of those around.

What do you think?
Do you recognise these problems in your organisation? Has anyone tried to do anything about it? Are there other major reasons leaders fail?

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Video of the Election Metropolitan Jonah

The Pittsburgh Post Gazette has a very well done video summary of the election of Metropolitan Jonah.  You can see the video here: Orthodox Church in America selects new Metropolitan.


Be at peace with your own soul
then heaven & earth will be at peace with you.

Enter eagerly into the treasure
house that is within you,

And you will see the things that are in heaven,
for there is but one single entry to them both.

The ladder that leads to the Kingdom
is hidden within your soul...

Dive into yourself and in your soul
and you will discover the stairs
by which to ascend.

Saint Isaac of Syria

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Saturday, November 15, 2008

"Star Wars" - an a cappella tribute to John Williams

I have not posted a Saturday "Just for Fun" entry in quite a while. And so let me correct that now.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

For lyrics and mp3, click here:

Friday, November 14, 2008

On Friday We Remember the Cross

Back in the day, I was quite the fan of the Catholic lay Franciscan and musican, John Michael Talbot. Since on Friday we remember the Cross of Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ, I thought would offer this video by JMT.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

h/t: Vivifact!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Bishop Jonah of Fort Worth Elected Metropolitan of All America and Canada

By the grace of God, the newly consecrated Bishop JONAH of Fort Worth, TX was elected this morning in Pittsburgh, PA as the Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church in America.

His Beatitude and I served together as missionary priests in northern California for several years.

It is with great joy that I was able to be present for His Beatitude's election. I would encourage everyone to listen to Metropolitan's words that he addressed last night to the All-American Council. I have posted the news release from the OCA web page.

May the Lord Our God grant to His Beatitude, the newly elected elected Archbishop of Washington and New York and Metropolitan of All America and Canada, many years!

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

PITTSBURGH, PA [OCA Communications] -- On Wednesday, November 12, 2008, His Grace, Bishop Jonah of Fort Worth was elected Archbishop of Washington and New York and Metropolitan of All America and Canada at the 15th All-American Council of the Orthodox Church in America.

His Grace, Bishop Jonah Elected Metropolitan of All America and CanadaHis Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah was born James Paffhausen in Chicago, IL, and was baptized into the Episcopal Church. While still a child, his family later settled in La Jolla, CA, near San Diego. He was received into the Orthodox Church in 1978 at Our Lady of Kazan Moscow Patriarchal Church, San Diego, while a student at the University of California, San Diego. Later, he transferred to UC Santa Cruz, where he was instrumental in establishing an Orthodox Christian Fellowship.

After completing studies at UCSC, James attended St. Vladimir's Seminary, graduating with a Master of Divinity degree in 1985 and a Master of Theology in Dogmatics in 1988.

He went on to pursue studies towards a Ph.D. at Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, but interrupted those studies to spend a year in Russia.

In Moscow, working for Russkiy Palomnik at the Publishing Department of the Moscow Patriarchate, he was introduced to life in the Russian church, in particular monastic life. Later that year, he joined Valaam Monastery, having found a spiritual father in the monastery's Abbot, Archimandrite Pankratiy. It was Archimandrite Pankratiy's spiritual father, the Elder Kyrill at Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra, who blessed James to become a priestmonk. He was ordained to the diaconate and priesthood in 1994 and in 1995 was tonsured to monastic rank at St. Tikhon's Monastery, South Canaan, PA, having received the name Jonah.

Returning to California, Fr. Jonah served a number of missions and was later given the obedience to establish a monastery under the patronage of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco. The monastery, initially located in Point Reyes Station, CA, recently moved to Manton in Northern California, near Redding. During his time building up the monastic community, Fr. Jonah also worked to establish missions in Merced, Sonora, Chico, Eureka, Redding, Susanville, and other communities in California, as well as in Kona, HI.

In the spring of 2008, the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America elevated Fr. Jonah to the rank of Archimandrite and he was given the obedience to leave the monastery and take on the responsibilities of auxiliary bishop and chancellor for the Diocese of the South.

Bishop Jonah's episcopal election took place on September 4, 2008, at an extraordinary meeting of the Holy Synod of Bishops. Earlier in the summer, his candidacy was endorsed by the Diocese of the South's Diocesan Council, shortly after Bishop Jonah had participated in the diocese's annual assembly.

Bishop Jonah was consecrated Bishop of Forth Worth and Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of the South, at St. Seraphim Cathedral, Dallas, TX, on Saturday, November 1, 2008. Consecrating hierarchs included His Eminence, Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas and the South, Locum tenens of the Metropolitan See; His Grace, Bishop Tikhon of Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania; His Grace, Bishop Benjamin of San Francisco and the West; and His Grace, Bishop Alejo of Mexico City and the Exarchate of Mexico.

Metropolitan Jonah will be installed by the OCA's Holy Synod of Bishops at St. Nicholas Cathedral, Washington, DC, on December 28, 2008.

May the Lord bless His Beatitude, Jonah, newly-elected Metropolitan of All America and Canada with many years of fruitful service in His Holy Vineyard.

Eis polla eti, Despota!

Listen to Metropolitan Jonah's address to the All-American Council from Tuesday, November 11, 2008.

Listen to the Divine Liturgy and Metropolitan Jonah's homily from Wednesday, November 12, 2008.
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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

OCA’s All-American Council: Balancing the Spiritual, Administrative and Financial

Later this week, I will finish my series on confession. This week, that is Monday 10 November through Thursday 13 November I am in Pittsburgh, PA (our old adopted hometown) for the 15th Annual All-American Council (AAC) of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA).

Our agenda here this week is three-fold.

First, we have the general business of the Church—spiritual, administrative and financial. To borrow from Heidegger's discussion of Dasein, these matters are the part of the facticity of the human. While our attitude or approach to them may change, the life of any human person or community involves these three. Again, what changes is not the presence or absence of spiritual, administrative or financial concerns, but whether we respond to them well, that is in a manner that allows the mystery of the human, and thus the Light of the Triune God in Whose image we are created, to shine through. To the degree that this light is manifest, then to that degree we have become a bit more who we are already.

Second, we are concerned with the election of a new Metropolitan. It will be this man's task to serve as first among equals on the Holy Synod of Bishops. He will also be responsible for leading and guiding the OCA as we strive as a community to be a faithful witness to the Gospel and a source of unity for the various Orthodox Churches here in America.

Third, and what is maybe most focal in people's awareness here is the need to resolve the recent financial crisis and its attendant matters.

In his opening address last evening the locum tenum of the Metropolitan See of the OCA, Archbishop Dimiti, bishop of Dallas, TX, pointed out that the OCA is a young Church—albeit a young Church that stands within an old tradition. The financial misdealing, how people have responded to this matter, the lack of trust that this has engendered in the Church is (potentially at least) a moment of purification for the Church and an opportunity to re-evaluate and re-commit ourselves communal and personally to what God would have from us.

Placing the discernment of our vocation at the center of the AAC is I think a wise choice. Yes, it is certainly not without its own risks—chief among them that we leave unexamined and unresolved our administrative and financial shortcomings in preference for inspiring, but ultimately fruitless, reflection on the spiritual dimension. And for many, this flight from the more mundane aspects of life is the great attraction not simply of the Orthodox Church but religion. Again to return to Heidegger, the human is always fleeing from itself, from the limits of its own life.

But when we flee our limits, we flee also our potential and the in the end the great and good gift of our own humanity.

Listening to people talk about how many in the Church have suffered a loss of trust in bishops, how we have at times seen each others as opponents and enemies of each other and of Christ and His Church, I find myself returning to the thought, from whence have mistrust and animosity come if not from the human heart?

While not wishing to deny that each man's sin is his own, it seems to me this mistrust, this animosity, is not something that was caused by misconduct in the Church. Rather misconduct is the means by which my own lack of trust, my own negative feelings and fear of others, has been made manifest. These feelings are not caused by external events—external events are (and to borrow from Heidegger) the condition of possibility that allows for the revelation of my own lack of trust.

It is from the mistrust in my own heart, my own lack of faith that allows me—though does not cause me—to see you not as a gift of God for my salvation and the salvation of the world, but as an obstacle and enemy bent on my harm.

Again, each man's sin is his own. But my response to your sin is also mine. The manifest sinfulness of others is for me a challenge. Will I despair, will I give myself over to the lack of faith, hope and charity that lies silently within my own heart. Or will I instead acknowledge before God and you that for me to be human is impossible without you by my side? I cannot be who I am without you, since after God I am dependent on my neighbor and the whole web of human and social relationships that we strive to live under the form of our administrative and financial lives.

We have, O Lord, not lost our way, but have lost Your Way substituting our own will for Yours. Through Your great mercy and love for us, You have allowed us to stumble and fall and so see our need not only for You but for one another. Grant us in these coming days to find the humility, the strength and courage not only to reach out a helping hand to each other, but also to grasp that hand humility, the strength and courage to take the hand that is offered.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Sunday, November 09, 2008

An Orthodox Bishop Talks Politics

John Couretas over at that most excellent blog of the American Orthodox Institute has a post this morning on recent comments by Bishop Savas of Troas (GOA) on His Grace's blog "Sava on a Rolla." Let me let John speak for himself:

Did God ordain an Obama victory? You get that impression from Sava on a Rolla, the blog of Bishop Savas of Troas. In a post titled, "This is the Day that the Lord has made!," the chancellor of the Greek Archdiocese celebrates the victory of President-elect Barack Obama in terms that can only be described as divine:

Do I expect miracles from the President-Elect? Am I confusing the man with the Messiah? Of course not. But neither is he the Antichrist, as some of his opponents would have you believe. Americans did a good thing yesterday, an inspired thing. They didn't voice their opinion, they shouted it. A new day has dawned, a day that the Lord has most emphatically made. Are you as delighted as I am? Send up thanks to the Lord our God! Are you for any reason unhappy? Pray to the same God for our President-Elect's enlightenment.
I don't know. It's almost like reading the Genesis account of Creation. OK, the Bishop's guy won, and he has every right to celebrate. Then he goes — to put it nicely — really over the top.

You can read the rest of John's comments here.

Below for your thoughts are my comments posted on AOI:


Thank you for your post and comments on Bishop Sava's blog.

The election of Sen Obama as the 44th president of the United States is, I think, a mixed good. Certainly, it is noteworthy that within Mr Obama's lifetime we have traveled as a society from the shame of Selma (a shame I should add was not limited to the South) to the election of an African-American as president. In addition to this, I think his election will have a generally positive effect on how we are viewed throughout the world, especially (though not exclusively) in Europe.

I agree with His Grace that "The Body Politic is another body altogether" from the Church. I agree as well that the "only way the [Body Politic] can approximate the [Body of Christ] is if the goal of government were to fulfill the law of Christ, which is to 'bear one another's burdens' (Gal 6:2). 'Have you seen your neighbor?' asks one of the Desert Fathers of the Church, and continues, 'You have seen your God.' Blasphemy? Reread St John's 1st Epistle."

Where I disagree with him, and agree with John, is his contention that "The goal of government ought not to be to protect us from one another, to teach us to treat the other as competition or nuisance or threat, but to help us to help one another." Here His Grace conflates a number of points in a manner that obscures rather illumines an Orthodox Christian response to government–secular or ecclesiastical.

To dismiss out of hand the policing function of the government is simply not biblical. St Paul is clear, the government is entrusted with the sword not only to punish wrong doers but also for the common good (see Rm 13.1-7).

Immediately after discussing the God-ordained authority of the government (a government hostile to Christians in general and Paul in particular) and the obligation of the Church to submit to that authority, the Apostle then begins to delineate in verses 8-10 the obligation of Christians to love their neighbor. Government, rightly ordered, I would argue, allow us the freedom and affluence to care for one another. While not perfect, there is no better example of this the US government.

While governments can and do have a role in the care of especially the weak, they do this first and foremost through the establishment of an society in which its citizens are (relatively) free from the predators among us (which I why abortion cannot be legalized–it is a threat to the life of one of the weakest among us).

This first step is admittedly a negative one–but the policing powers of the State or no less essential for being protective and preventative.

Following on its police powers, the State much ensure the equal treatment under the law of all it citizens. This means not only passing and enforcing laws against criminal conduct, but also contract law and the somewhat more mundane concern of government for commerce, weights and measures.

None of this of course will make us virtuous. But the American systems does not aim at cultivating virtue it the citizenry. Rather the US Constitution presuppose virtuous citizens and strives (however imperfectly at times) to provide them with the political freedoms need to exercise virtue without fear.

Where the American experiment seems to be breaking down is our transfer of virtue from the private realm to the governmental. We have come to expect the State to be virtuous so that we don't have to be.

The genius, and weakness, of the American experiment it that the government presuppose strong, healthy private (as distinct from governmental) mediating structures –the family, the church, newspapers and businesses–that stand between the person and the government and serve to foster virtue it the citizenry.

But these smaller, mediating structures, have more and more abdicated their responsibilities as corporate citizens–what does the Orthodox Church do for example to counter the range of social ills in her midst–unwed mothers, divorce and dead beat dads to name only three–that plague society as a whole?

I agree with those who say that Pro-Life Christians are sometime narrow in our focus. But that narrowness of vision is not the exclusive property of the religious right. The religious left also seem disinclined to foster virtue as well.

(For example, what percentage of the Orthodox Church's resources go to care for the poor? What percentage of the GOA's budget is given to the poor? What do we say to men who abandon their children and the mother of their children?)

There is much in Bishop Sava's words to reflect on. But I am worried that his post reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the American experiment and the Church's obligation as a corporate citizen in the Republic.

Again, thank you for your important ministry.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory