Monthly Archives: November 2008

12 November

Trauma rarely brings forth the renewal of an institution’s vocation. Rather, it often hardens the executives and leadership into a stance characterized by formalism and fear. Not surprising. 

Institutional leadership is responsible for insuring that all those who work within its frame are able to do so with relative confidence. Scandal brings trauma rather quickly in its wake and a shudder rocks the whole of the institution from top to bottom and places the sector of society dependent on it on the ground of uneasiness as well. That is why those in leadership in all institutions from political parties, the judiciary, universities, and churches seek diligently to manage scandal through the quiet corridors and back rooms with which they are most familiar. As first responders to what they may think they know but hope is not so they use whatever ability they have to respond with great discretion. Usually such “work a rounds” are adequate to the task and no one is the wiser. In the church we do not like to reflect on this aspect of the responsibility (ability to respond) of leadership. It seems disingenuous, manipulative, and wrong. But that is our puritan mind at work a suitable stance perhaps for some in the church but one that is at the heart of the great schismatic traditions of Christianity and that cannot work within institutions larger than a few likeminded people. The Orthodox mind seems to me to be of quite another quality. But more of that later.

As we prepare to nominate a new Metropolitan it may be worth thinking about what scholars have claimed to be the two key qualities commonly found in the selection of bishops in the first three centuries of the church. First the community sought the person who had the gift of discernment: a person who listened not only to what was being said but who sought to hear the heart of the speaker, a person who was free enough of their own passions to be open to the whole of the community and to make judgments with a view to the salvation of all. And, finally, they sought a person who was not uncomfortable with the missing of the mark. Who among us has the gift of discerning the church’s needs as it seeks to serve the life of the world? Who among us has the gift of discerning the gifts of the faithful that may be ordered to minister to the needs both within the church and the world? But the gift of discernment was not enough. There was a second quality that was also deemed needful: the will to put the gifts together with the needs free of one’s own appetite for power or lack of courage and faithful to a vocation of service for the healing of the world.       

The formalism and fear born of trauma which quite normally will nest in our own church may have a short life with little reach if our new Metropolitan has the gift of discernment and a will rooted in what our spiritual ancestors saw as the vocation of the bishop. Let us bless him as we walk along the way, not only to recover from scandal, but to resist stepping onto the fields of institutional formalism and fear. It is not the ground for our ministry to the life of the world.

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Filed under AAC reflections from David J. Goa, Orthodox Church in America 15th AAC

St. Tikhon of Moscow’s Recommendations for Church Reform

Submitted to the Holy Synod of the Church of Russia in 1905, 
in Preparation for the Great Council of Moscow
Eventually held in 1917-1918

 

English translation from the Russian by Alex Maximov,
with editing by Dr. David C. Ford 
St. Tikhon’s Seminary and Monastery Church
S. Canaan, PA

 

This translation is of the text as it appears in the Russian-American Messenger.

 

 

Opinions on the Issues Proposed for Discussion  at the Pomestni Council of the All-Russia Church 

(November 24, 1905)

On the issue of the division of the Russian Church into metropolitan provinces.

By the decision of the Holy Synod as of March 18-25, 1905, it was suggested that the office of the Patriarch be reinstated in Russia.  This would not only reflect the significance and grandeur of the Russian Church, but it would also move its governance closer to the order outlined in the Canons.

The desire to follow that order calls for another reform in our Church – its division into metropolitan provinces. As is known, we already have metropolitans at the present time – but they only differ from other bishops by titles and not by rights.  However, according to the canons the metropolitan is the “the head of the area,” and the bishops in each region must treat him as the head and do nothing that exceeds their authority without his consideration.  

Aside from canonical reasons, practical considerations speak for the division into metropolitan provinces. The Russian Church is too vast, and the highest Church authority is burdened with an abundance of matters many of which may be transferred to the provinces.  It is quite reasonable to agree with the thought expressed in the suggestion of Mr. Ober-Prokuror as of June 28, 1905, # 100, that “it is impossible to deny the existence of unique tasks in various territories of the Empire which require Church administration and which serve as a vital reason for the establishment of regional and  district self-governing bodies (as for example in the western region, in the eastern provinces, and in the Caucasus).”  

There are no valid reasons at the same time to fear that the division into metropolitan provinces would contradict the principle of state unity.  These provinces are only parts of one and the same Church, whose highest administrative body is located in the capital of the Empire.  In spite of some local peculiarities, the common Faith nevertheless remains in the provinces, and its unity already in itself is the solid moral cement that bonds the multinational population into a single family.

As far as the division itself of Russia into metropolitan provinces is concerned, it is of course unfeasible to base it upon one single principle – such as, for example, geography or ethnography.  In some cases it would be necessary and quite natural to use the first of these two as the basis for the division, and in other cases, the second, and in yet some other cases to take into consideration the prior history of the Orthodox nationalities that make up the Empire.  

In accordance with that, the division of Russia into the following metropolitan provinces might not seem unreasonable: 

  • Novgorod Province, which would include all the northern provinces with the exception of Petersburg, where the Archbishop of Petrograd, the Patriarch of all Russia, would reside; 
  • Vilno Province for the Western region (the former Uniate diocese); 
  • Kiev Province for the South-Eastern region;
  • Moscow Province for central Russia; 
  • Kazan Province for the eastern provinces and the Volga region; 
  • Tbilisi Province for the Caucasus (the Exarch of Georgia ought to be called Catholicos); 
  • Tomsk (or Tobolsk) Province for Western Siberia, along with the Turkestan region; and
  • Irkutsk Province for Eastern Siberia, where it might be possible to include the Chinese and the Japanese Orthodox Churches. 
  • And the North American Diocese should be reorganized into the Exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church in North America.  The fact is that its members include not only different nationalities but also different Orthodox Churches, each of which, within the unity of the Faith, has its own peculiarities in canonical structure, in liturgical order, and in parish life.  These peculiarities are dear to them and are quite tolerable from the common Orthodox point of view. 

Therefore, we do not believe we have the right to encroach upon the national character of the local Churches.  On the contrary, we are trying to preserve it in them, giving them an opportunity to be under the direct authority of a superior of their very own nationality.  Thus last year the Syrian Church here received her own bishop (the Most Reverend Raphael of Brooklyn), who is considered to be the second vicar to the bishop of the Aleutian Diocese, but is almost independent within his area – and the Most Reverend bishop of Alaska is in the same position.  The Serbian parishes now are subject directly to a special superior who still remains in the rank of archimandrite, but he might be elevated to the order of a bishop in the near future.  And the local Greeks would like to have their own bishop, regarding whom they are petitioning the Athens Synod. 

In one word, an entire exarchate of Orthodox national Churches might form in North America, with their own bishops headed by an Exarch – a Russian archbishop. Each one of them would be independent in his own area, but matters common for the entire American Church would be dealt with by way of sobor under the chairmanship of the Russian archbishop.  Through him the connection of the American Church to the All-Russia Church is preserved, along with a certain dependency on her. 

At the same time, one should not lose sight of the fact that life in the New World compared to the Old has its own peculiarities, which have to be taken into consideration by the local Church as well.  Therefore a greater degree of autonomy (autocephaly) should be granted to the American Church than to the other Russian metropolitan provinces. 

Within the structure of the proposed North American Exarchate, the following might be included:

  • The Archdiocese of New York, which would have all the Russian parishes in the United States and Canada under its authority; 
  • The Diocese of Alaska, which would include the churches of the Orthodox inhabitants of Alaska (Russians, Aleuts, Indians, Eskimos); 
  • The Diocese of Brooklyn (Syrian); 
  • The Diocese of Chicago (Serbian); and
  • The Greek diocese (?).

In order to resolve the issue of the division of Russia into metropolitan provinces, we do not consider it excessive to say that the bishops of prominent cities, although subject to the metropolitan, might bear the title of archbishop, especially those who have vicars.  Regarding these vicars, however, it is preferable that they be aides to the bishop and be independent in those cities and areas that they bear the title of and reside in in as many cases as possible.  In general, it is necessary to define the position of vicar bishops and give them more rights than they have presently.

Regarding the reform of the diocesan administration and court.

The diocesan administration also requires reform.  At the present time the main organ of this administration is the chancery, which draws many reproaches from the laypersons as well as from the clergy itself.  The Statutes of the chancery are outdated and are imbued with extreme formalism, which extinguishes the “spirit of life.”  There is a need in the revision of these Statutes that the chancery in its spirit be brought closer to the “council of elders” (presbyters) which existed under the bishops in ancient times.  It should not serve as a “divider” separating the bishop from the clergy along with the flock.  The Right Reverend Bishop of Volyn writes in his review,

“The fewer matters that the bishop refers to the chancery, the better it would be for the Church.  Thus, assignments to places of duty, transfer of clergy, and various decisions concerning liturgical matters must be dealt with outside of the chancery and be referred to it after such matters have been decided upon.  The bishop must use the existing administrative bodies as little as possible and must himself deal directly with those appealing to him.”

 

Rather, the chancery should deal with “household” and financial matters, as well as be a judicial body.  We do not find it necessary and agreeable with the canons of the Church to separate the Church court from the chancery, and making it into a separate organization, regarding which many wrote in the ’70s of the last century.  

But this does not mean that the chancery court is not at all in need of reforms.  On the contrary, they are necessary regarding its composition and in the scope of the judicial matters it is to deal with, and in the order of legal procedures.  The staff of the “court table” in the chancery, aside from a person appointed by the bishop, should include two clergymen, elected from the clergy at the diocesan convention.  

In regard to the electoral principle we have to deal with two extreme opinions.  Some are ready to see salvation from every kind of evil in the electoral principle, and so they promote it in places where there is no particular need for it.  And those who hold the second of these opinions reject the electoral principle as being completely defective, seeing in it an expression of “parliamentarianism,” the spirit of the republic. 

But in the true Church of Christ, where there should not be any possessiveness and  dominance of one group, with another group struggling in opposition, as we see so often in the world – and where, on the contrary, all should be seeking the common good, uniting in amicable, harmonious work, the electoral principle might be applied not without benefit in many areas.  Thus it can be allowed in the selection of spiritual judges, and in the selection of a dean (if he is regarded not only as an organ of the archpastoral power but also as the one who expresses and tends to the needs of the clergy and the churches of his area in front of the diocesan authorities – needs that a bishop cannot personally identify in many dioceses). 

As far as the issues for the chancery court are concerned, divorce cases should be excluded from it in favor of the civil court, while preserving for the Church the right to acknowledge or disagree with the decisions of the civil authorities in these cases, and to determine herself who might be allowed to enter into a second marriage after a divorce.  Clergy accused of disturbing the public peace and order, of insulting someone, of disorderly conduct, etc., must be tried by the civil court as well.  Often when the guilty one is tried for these types of offenses by the spiritual court, he becomes subject to punishment that is less severe than it would have been had he been tried in the civil court.  This in turn results in criticism, and the clergy itself becoming less disciplined.

Disapproval of the procedures of the chancery court is expressed as well.  They should be reformed also, according to the latest methods of legal proceedings.  In particular, improvements in conducting the so-called “investigations” of the clergy are much to be desired, since even if they end in an acquittal of the accused clergyman, they undermine his authority in the eyes of his parish.  Here, more rights should be given to the bishop to replace such investigations with a private probe. 

Speaking of reforms and improvements in the diocesan administration, one might also wish for changes and improvements in the way the diocesan councils of the clergy are organized.  They first appeared for the purpose of identifying the means to satisfy the material needs of the spiritual-educational, missionary, and charitable organizations in the diocese.  But should the clergy always “leave the word of God and serve the tables” (Acts 6:2)?  Why should their right to gather and have discussion about service to the Word of God – about issues of the spiritual life, of pastoral guidance, of missionary work, of the struggle against heresies, and so on – not be recognized?  Nowadays in some dioceses these matters are discussed at the “flock meetings.”

The scope of the work and the issues under the authority of the diocesan councils ought to be expanded everywhere by putting on their agenda all matters that concern all aspects of the church-parochial life: matters of faith, education, deaneries, and almsgiving.  And as far as material, financial, and “household” issues are concerned, for their discussion, the representatives of lay folk must be invited without fail, especially the parish presidents [starosta] and the members of the parish councils.  Indeed, the parishes pay all sorts of dues, and it is not surprising that the parish presidents do not want to pay the dues established by the [diocesan] council since nobody consulted them at the time the dues were imposed.  

With the participation of laymen in the diocesan councils, the councils themselves might be conducted in the manner of church conventions that are practiced in America – by Episcopalians, for example.  They have joint sessions of clergy and laymen, as well as private sessions of clergy only that concern purely spiritual matters.  This type of lay participation would bring into Church life a more pronounced “churchly” character, and would promote its rejuvenation.

Regarding improvements in the parish.

Along with the diocesan administration, the life of the parish needs improvement. It is undeniable that in many places in Russia the life of the parish is very stagnant.  The connection between the parish and the Church [as a whole] is weak.  In some parishes the people only turn to the church to satisfy immediate needs; they attend church only on feast days.  Educational and charitable institutions in places like that are absent; the voice of the priest is rarely heard, and few take it into account.  

Very much has been written about all of this recently.  Loud voices are heard regarding the revival of the life of the parish, and the rebirth of the ancient significance of the parish – regarding not only allowing the parochial community to take care of the material needs of the church building, helping the needy, and providing education, but also the very selection of the candidates for priesthood.  It is hard to object to the recognition of the parish as a legal entity which has the right to private property (this has not taken place yet and therefore it is necessary to make changes in our legislation in this respect, as well as on the issue of the acquisition of property by the churches, monasteries, and the clergy in general).  It is also hard to object to the parochial community, with its priest at the head along with the elected council members, being able itself to manage and be in charge of its administration.  Of course, none of this would be done without the knowledge and control of the diocesan authority.  

This is exactly how things are dealt with in most of the parishes of North America.  Here the churches constitute the property of the congregation (parish); and even where the deed is in the name of the bishop, they are maintained by the parish itself.  Usually there is an annual meeting of parishioners (rochny meeting), where the church uryad is elected – the parish administration (the parish president, treasurer, and parish council); at this meeting a report is presented on the income and expenses for the whole year.  In some parishes the report is done semi-annually, or even monthly.  The parish council has the responsibility to collect from the parishioners rochnoe (an annual contribution of five dollars or more), and to do collecta (collect donations).  The parish not only maintains the church building but also pays the salary of its priest and its diakouchitel (the amount varies in different places), according to a mutual agreement between the priest and the parishioners.  Also at the meeting, fees are agreed upon for ceremonial services.  All of this is recorded in statuti, which are approved by the bishop.    

If there is no parish house, then the parish rents an apartment (with furniture, light, and heat) for the priest, and accommodation for the school – and in some places for the reading hall.  There is a brotherhood in each parish (and in the populous parishes there are several brotherhoods).  The brotherhood always has a religious character – it selects some saint (or feast) as a protector (patron); from its income it makes contributions for the upkeep of the church, for the priest, for the school, for refurbishing and beautifying the temple.  Aside from that, it also pursues charitable goals – it gives zapomogi to its members in cases of sickness, injury, and unemployment.  And within the brotherhood there is sometimes a benevolent court for the members.  

In general the brotherhoods here are very popular.  Together with the “Orthodox Mutual Aid Society,” with which they unite, and which also by itself helps with the construction of churches and the education of the people, the brotherhoods contribute much to the enlivening of the church-parochial life.

But even here in America there is no election of priests, and thus far we consider it untimely to institute it.  This should be said about Russia even more so.  In itself, the principle of election of clergy is legal, its introduction is desirable, and it is necessary to strive to implement it.  But to set out to introduce it everywhere and right away would mean, according to the vivid expression of The Right Reverend Bishop of Volyn, “to offer a severely sick patient lardy, coarse food, which would be useful for a workman, but mortal for an ill person.”  In his notes, The Right Reverend Bishop reveals the disease of the contemporary parish community in detail, which renders it not ready to have the right to elect a worthy pastor.  Our spiritual schools [i.e., seminaries], which have almost monopolized the right to produce candidates for the priesthood, also present difficulties for the introduction of the elective principle.  Here we approach this issue.

On improving the theological-educational schools.

The foremost shortcoming of our theological schools is that they pursue two goals which in themselves are quite respectable, but in practice they do not always agree with each other.  The theological schools exist, firstly, for the purpose of educating the children of the clergy, and secondly, to prepare candidates for the priesthood.  But not only the children of clergy might become these candidates, but also from other social groups.  Meanwhile, people from other social groups, although they are accepted into the theological schools, it is in very limited numbers, which in effect restricts the flow of fresh forces from the lay folk into the clergy.  

On the other hand, not all children of the clergy wish to join the priestly rank, and they are forced to do so against their will, since there is almost no other option available for them upon graduation from the seminary.  And this is where the constant dissatisfaction, grumbling, and insurgencies of the seminarians start from.  Wishing to calm them with something, the faculty introduces various leniencies into the order of the seminary life, trying to bring a civil character to the seminaries, which causes direct damage to the achievement of their other goal – that of preparing candidates for the priesthood, servants of the Holy Church.  As a result, the ranks of clergy are joined not only by those who do not wish to do this but also by those who are most undesirable for this.  Who and what benefits from this order of things – or to say it better, disorder of things?

It seems that the most natural way out of this situation is that the diocese should have special theological schools (the issue is not how they are named; it is possible to preserve the old name of “seminary”) which would accept without distinction children of all social groups who have finished the courses of secondary educational establishments and who feel the inclination towards the spiritual rank.  The subjects taught at these schools would be theological, their mode of life would be strictly religious, and the passage from them would be to one thing – service to the Church.  The present theological schools may be converted into the secondary educational establishments of the Spiritual Authority, in which the clergy would bring up their children, but the curriculum of these schools must be general.  In this way, those who graduate from them could go, if they wish, to higher educational establishments, and those who feel a calling for spiritual service after graduating from them would enter a theological school.

This is the way candidates for priesthood are prepared not only in the non-Orthodox churches, but also in Austria by the Orthodox and the Uniates.  The question is, however, who would maintain these schools of the Spiritual Authority?  Using Church money?  But this money would go for the upkeep of the theological schools.  And the Church would hardly give money for the education of those who might not serve it in the future.  The government?  But it already supports the secondary educational establishments for all without exception, where children of clergy might enter as well. This means that there is no reason to maintain special schools for them.  And the clergy itself would hardly be able to support such special schools.

On the other hand, no matter how unsatisfactory the theological schools of our day are, nevertheless one might not want to challenge their existence.  Some of them have been in existence for over a hundred and fifty years, and they have produced a significant number of outstanding, prolific figures in all fields of religious, government, and public service.  Therefore, would it not be better and fairer to establish the schools proposed above at the existing seminaries?  

In other words, the curriculum of the general secondary school must be introduced at the theological schools and seminaries where the children of the clergy study, while at the same time preserving the character, the religious order of life that is native to the clergy since childhood.  The seminary would have theological courses (lasting three years) taken by those who wish, who have finished the secondary educational program at the seminary or at another civil educational establishment.  These courses would provide an educational program and training of a strictly religious character, one which is necessary for future pastors.  With this sort of arrangement of things, the question of financing the theological schools is naturally taken off the agenda. The Church and the government and the clergy would take part in it as before. We only have the following left to say.

On the issue of participation of the clergy in public organizations and other matters that might be discussed at the future All-Russia council.

Some are against the participation of the clergy in public institutions because pastors thereby join the stir of worldly events and the bustle of life which is contrary to their direct duties and the eternal principles of pastoral service.  To that, however, one might object that since a pastor is the guide of the conscience of a Christian, his spiritual life, and spiritual, purely Christian principles, must be reflected and implemented in the area of worldly affairs especially in a Christian state.  And who better than clergy can remind the public institutions about these principles?  And is this the time for the clergy to show inactivity and indifference when the government willingly is inviting elected persons into collaboration?  And is this the time to give up the influence of the Church over the government, when circumstances are turning in such a way that the Orthodox Faith is turning from the dominant one in the State to one that is only tolerable – and in some places even intolerable? It is only necessary that the spiritual participants in the public institutions think of themselves specifically as representatives of the Church, advancing Her views there and not their own, even if they might be humane and liberal.

As far as other issues are concerned which might be discussed at the council, there would be quite a few of them.  And it would be better for the representatives of the Church authorities to put them on the agenda themselves and discuss them than to be forced to do so by Mr. Rozanov and other followers of the “new way.” 

From among these other issues, in light of the decree on tolerance in faith, the issue of the relations of the Orthodox Church with the Old Believers and other confessions is highlighted in the recommendations of the Ober-Prokuror.  In accordance with this, a question might be raised regarding “unity of faith” (about a bishop who would be in charge of the common faith issues and who would take part in the sessions of the Holy Synod), and about the oaths of the Moscow Council of 1666 which until this day confuse some of those who adhere to the old rites.  

For the American mission it is necessary to receive a resolution of the issue of relations with the Anglicans and their hierarchy; and for all the churches abroad, the resolution of the issue of the calendar.  It is necessary also for the representatives of the various Orthodox churches living abroad to coordinate practical matters in liturgical and canonical areas so that other confessions see that we indeed have “one faith.”  For the Russian Church it is necessary to have a new Slavic translation of the liturgical books (the present one is out of date and is incorrect in many places) by which the demands of some to serve in the everyday Russian language might be forestalled.  It would not be excessive, it seems, to make certain changes in the liturgical services – for example, to shorten ektenias which are repeated often, and to read aloud some secret prayers. The fasts also could be discussed, as well as the issue of the relinquishment of one’s spiritual rank and the possibility of getting reinstated, etc.

Many of these issues are common to the entire Church.  Therefore, when these matters are discussed it is necessary to hear the voices of representatives of all the eastern and Slavic churches.  It is most desirable to invite them to the All-Russia Council (the rectors of the representation churches in Moscow could serve as the representatives).  And it is even more desirable, after the local Church council is held in Moscow, to have a council of all the Orthodox Churches.  A great need is felt to have it, and its summoning would bring unquestionable benefit for the [entire] Holy Orthodox Church.

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Filed under Orthodox Church in America 15th AAC, Preparing for the 15th All-American Council

St. Tikhon of Moscow’s Last Sermon

During His Years of Ministry  as the Archbishop  of the American Missionary Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church (1898 to 1907)

Given on the Sunday of Orthodoxy (the First Sunday of Great Lent) in 1907

English translation from the Russian by Alex Maximov, 
with editing by Dr. David C. Ford 
St. Tikhon’s Seminary and Monastery Church
S. Canaan, PA

 

This translation is of the text as it appears in the Russian-American Messenger.

 

Farewell Sermon
Preached on the Sunday of Orthodoxy 
at the New York City Cathedral 

This Sunday is called “The Sunday of Orthodoxy” or “The Triumph of Orthodoxy,” since on this day the Holy Church solemnly commemorates her victory over Iconoclasm and other heresies.  And this triumph of Orthodoxy took place not just a thousand years ago.  No – for due to the mercy of God, the Church up to this day, now here and now there, gains victory and is triumphant over her enemies – and She has many of them.  

It is not a coincidence that the Church is likened to a ship, sailing amidst a ferocious, stormy sea which is ready to drown it in its waves.  And the further the ship sails, the harder the waves slam against it, the fiercer they attack it!  But the harder the waves hit the ship, the further they are thrown away and rejoin the abyss and disappear in it, and the ship continues its triumphant sailing as before.  For “the foundation of God standeth sure” (2 Tim. 2:19), since the Church of Christ is built on an immovable rock, and “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18).  

The Church of Christ is the kingdom not of this world.  It does not possess any of the attractions of the earthly world.  It is persecuted and slandered.  Yet it not only avoids perishing in the world, but grows and defeats the world!  This happens everywhere, and here in our land as well.  “We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Act 4:20).  

It is true that our Church here cannot boast of the quantity of its members, neither of their erudition.  Just like the “preaching of Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23), for some it seems lowly and contemptible, and for others it seems simple and foolish, but in reality “God’s power and wisdom” [1 Cor. 1:24] are concealed in it.  It is strong and rich with the authenticity of the doctrine which has been preserved unaltered, with full adherence to the guiding regulations of the Church, a deep sense of liturgical service, and a plenitude of grace.  And with all of this it is gradually attracting the hearts of people, and it is growing and getting stronger more and more in this country.  

You brethren have witnessed and seen for yourselves the growth and strengthening of Orthodoxy here.  Just a mere twelve to fifteen years ago, we, aside from faraway Alaska, barely had any churches here.  There were no priests, and the Orthodox people numbered only in a few dozens and maybe a few hundreds.  And even they lived dispersed, far from one another.  

And now?  “The Orthodox are seen this day in this country.”  Our temples appear not only in big cities but in obscure places as well.  We have a multitude of clergy, and tens of thousands of faithful – and not only those who have been Orthodox for a while, but those who have converted from among the Uniates.  Schools are opened, the brotherhoods are established.  Even strangers acknowledge the success of Orthodoxy here.  So how can we ourselves not celebrate “The Triumph of Orthodoxy,” and not thank the Lord who helps His Church!

But it is not enough, brethren, to only celebrate “The Triumph of Orthodoxy.”  It is necessary for us personally to promote and contribute to this triumph.  And for this we must reverently preserve the Orthodox Faith, standing firm in it in spite of the fact that we live in a non-Orthodox country, and not pleading as an excuse for our apostasy that “it is not the old land here but America, a free country, and therefore it is impossible to follow everything that the Church requires.”  As if the word of Christ is only suitable for the old land and not for the entire world!  As if the Church of Christ is not “catholic”!  As if the Orthodox Faith did not “establish the universe”!  

Furthermore, while faithfully preserving the Orthodox Faith, everyone must also take care to spread it among the non-Orthodox.  Christ the Savior said that having lit the candle, men do not put it under a bushel but on a candlestick so that it gives light to all (Matt. 5:15).  The light of the Orthodox Faith has not been lit to shine only for a small circle of people.  No, the Orthodox Church is catholic; she remembers the commandment of her Founder, “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature and teach all nations” (Mark 16:15, Matt. 28:19).  

We must share our spiritual richness, truth, light, and joy with others who do not have these blessings.  And this duty does not only lay upon the pastors and the missionaries but on the lay persons as well, since the Church of Christ, according to the wise comparison of the Holy Apostle Paul, is the body, and every member takes part in the life of the body.  By means of all sorts of mutually binding bonds which are formed and strengthened through the action of every member according to his capacity, the great Church body receives an increase unto the edifying of itself (Eph. 4:16).  

In the first centuries it was not only the pastors who were tortured, but lay persons as well – men, women, and even children.  And it was lay people likewise who enlightened the heathen and fought heresies.  And now in the same way, the spreading of the Faith should be a matter that is personal, heartfelt, and dear to each one of us.  Every member of the Church must take an active part in it – some by personal podvig spreading the Good News, some by material donations and service to “the needs of the holy persons,” and some by profuse prayer to the Lord that He “keep His Church firm and multiply it” – and concerning those unaware of Christ, that He would “proclaim the word of truth to them, open to them the Gospel of Truth, and join them to the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.”  I have told this numerous times to my flock.  And today, upon my departing from this land, I once more command all of you to preserve and act upon this, and especially you brethren of this holy temple.  

You witnessed yourself last Sunday that “The foreknowledge of God drew you closer to the bishop’s cathedra, and that the awareness of this closeness elevates your Christian spirit and edifies the nature of your undertakings, inspiring you for everything good.”  Your temple is a Cathedral.  It is preeminent in the diocese.  And being its parishioners, you brethren must give others an example in everything good that concerns the life of the Church, including caring for the Orthodox Faith.  

Furthermore, your parish is Russian, almost entirely consisting of people who came from Russia.  And to this very day Russia has been famous as a holy Christian land, whose adornment is the Orthodox Faith, the piousness of her people, and her temples of God.  So brethren, uphold here in a foreign land the glory of your motherland.  Manifest yourselves before the non-Orthodox as the Russian Orthodox people.  

I can say with comfort that in these days, with your zealous attendance at our temple, you’ve made a good impression on the local residents.  And you have especially gladdened my heart and expelled the sadness and grief which was felt not only by me in other places at the sight of empty temples during the feastday Church services.  

May the Lord strengthen you to excel in the Orthodox Faith more and more – my last prayer is about this . . . Today I depart from you.  And so, farewell, fathers and brethren of this holy temple, who are close to me not only in spirit but in our joint prayers, labors, and residence!  Farewell to you, the rest of my flock scattered across the wide horizon of this land!  Farewell, all those of you wandering in the deserts, working in the mountains and in the depths of the earth, and those on the islands far out in the sea!

Farewell to you, my Cathedral temple!  You are dear and close to me.  It has been during the time of my service that you were opened, you were adorned during my time as well, and you were made a cathedral during my time.  Perhaps for some who have seen the large, magnificent temples in Russia, you might seem small and modest, and you do not shine with gold and silver and precious gemstones like those temples do.  But for Russian Orthodox people, who suffered here for a long time without a temple, you represent a precious treasure, and they rejoice that they have you – like the Jews who returned from the Babylonian captivity rejoiced at the time of the construction of the second temple, even though it was not as splendid as that of Solomon.  So:

“Oh Lord, the God of Israel!  May Thine eyes be open toward this house night and day, that Thou mayest hearken unto the prayer of Thy people when they shall pray in this place! . . . Moreover, concerning a stranger that is not of Thy people, when he shall come and pray in this house, hear Thou him from Heaven, Thy dwelling place!” (3 Kingdoms 8:26-27, 39-41).

Farewell to you, this country!  For some you are the motherland, the place of birth; for others you gave shelter, work, and well-being.  Some received the freedom to profess the right Faith in your liberal land. God spoke in ancient times through the prophet, “And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the Lord for it: for in the peace thereof shall you have peace” (Jer. 29:7; Hebrew text).

And so, let us pray to the Lord that He send this country “a plenitude of the earthly fruits, fair weather, timely rain and wind, and preserve it from the cowardly, flood, fire, sword, invasion of foreigners, and civil strife.”

Let God’s blessing be upon this country, this city, and this temple.  And let “the blessing of the Lord, with grace and love for man,” rest upon you all, “now and ever and unto the ages of ages.  Amen.”

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Filed under Orthodox Church in America 15th AAC, Preparing for the 15th All-American Council

Two considerations

We are in a grave but modest moment in the life of our treasured church. Grave but modest and this is driven home to me as I remember. 

In 1999 I visited Nike (Nicea). It was the past coming to meet me from the future. When I was 12 our pastor, recognizing my interest in theology and my father’s competence to assist me, asked that I write an essay on the formation of the Nicene Creed as my capstone exercise for confirmation. It was in this exercise that I met Athanasius and Arius and developed my nose for Gnosticism. So it was with particular eagerness and sense of grace that I traveled from Istanbul across the Marble Sea up over the mountains and down into the valley along what is likely the same road that the bishops took back in 325. Unlike them I did not travel by a white donkey or on horseback. Someday perhaps that particular pleasure will be afforded me or one of my children. 

We are uncertain where the site of the church of the first council was located but quite certain of the church of the second council and it remains standing albeit as a ruin. Since 1453, just days after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, this church has functioned as a mosque. Then in 1935, if my memory serves me, an earthquake toppled the dome. It has stood empty every since. It is a modest church and now some 20 feet below the ground level. The dome peaks up above the ground and I drink latte with my colleagues in the courtyard café just behind the dome and we look down on this ancient stone structure and our memory, nurtured by the church, moves back to those extraordinary days when Athanasius and his Bishop may have sat where we sit. I thought of Athanasius (more likely his bishop) and Arius drinking coffee or wine together and seeking to make sense out of their difficult and enduring and profoundly substantive dispute. The very formation of the Church’s self-understanding was at work in those conversations. More important our understanding of the meaning of the Incarnation was being hammered out. A moment like few others for our spiritual ancestors. That is why we treasure it.

In the church at Nike you can now see the symanthrone made of stone with two tiers, an arch shape surrounding the holy table. Perhaps 21 bishops could sit here while the proceedings were taking place. Close to the entrance you can see the decorative tile making the place where the Emperor sat during the gatherings. Obviously not all the bishops who attended could be accommodated on the symanthrone. Only the metropolitans, I suspect, would take up their place behind the holy table. Whether this was also the place of the first ecumenical council or only that of the second makes no matter for the gravity of what this place has come to mean for our understanding.

Remembering Nike brings the modesty of our grave deliberations at the All American Council into focus.

We are in a grave but modest moment. It is important to remember and hold tenderly our jurisdiction, our bishops and clergy and all our sisters and brothers who, first and foremost worship with us. It is important to hold firm our understanding of the Church knowing how it is held together. As the next few days unfold they may challenge many of us and challenge the fabric of our jurisdiction. No matter how our life together unfolds we all need to redouble our work and marshal our skill for the life of the world and re-member our life together within our particular liturgical family. One thing, and, perhaps one thing alone, is clear because it is always clear even when we forget it. We are not going to harm the Church, the Body of Christ, since it holds together in Him who was before the foundations of the world.  Our appetites and fears, our hurts and dreams are not at the centre of the Church but in each of our churches we are called to have them healed. Our union with Christ is a matter for each of us to consider and we are called to do so with the confidence that the lover of the world does not depart because of our missing of the mark, but rather embraces us in our struggles, broken covenants, in all our folly. As we are taught in every liturgy, it is not our sin that is the problem. Our sin is not unique to us. It is not unique to those who we imagine have let us down. How lovely it would be for some sin to be unique, for the sins of our shepherds to be unique. It is an old story and the questions that are before us are whether or not we will find the words, the melody, to sing a new and life-giving song based on the renewal of our mind.

We are in a grave moment. We are in a modest moment.

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Filed under AAC reflections from David J. Goa, Orthodox Church in America 15th AAC