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The Mission of Orthodoxy

by Father Alexander Schmemann

On this day, December 13, 2017—(liturgically speaking, as the new day begins at sunset)—the 34th anniversary of the repose of Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann [Dean of St. Vladimir’s Seminary 1962–1983], we recall his love for his adopted country, the United States, and his hope that the Orthodox Christian faith could grow in North America organically, with a vitality constantly renewed by the breath of the Spirit of God.

Schmemann_bannerThe following article by Father Alexander summarizes his thoughts on the still-burning issue of the intersection between faith and culture; it addresses the question of how to be “truly Orthodox yet fully American.” It was adapted from a lecture given at the 1968 National Conference of Orthodox College Students and printed in Volume III, No.4 of CONCERN, a youth-oriented magazine no longer in publication.

Father Alexander’s words are particularly penetrating this evening, as we begin the liturgical cycle for the Feast of St. Herman of Alaska, missionary to North America. Father Alexander had the privilege of reposing on that joyful feast, which holds so much meaning and promise for his hopes for Orthodoxy in America.


What is the role and task of Orthodox Christians in America? Too often we want solutions to problems which we have not formulated, progress toward a point which we have not yet defined, victories in battles in which we don’t know who is fighting whom.

The time has come to clarify the issues, to formu­late the problems we face together, to discuss the solutions and the priorities in our existence as Ortho­dox in a Western country which is our country. Are we a group of exiles? Are we a spiritual and cultural ghetto, to be perpetuated against all odds? Are we to dissolve ourselves here in what is called “the Ameri­can way of life”?  What is this American way of life?

It is my purpose to deal with the fundamental framework of these questions. In my first lecture to freshmen at Saint Vladimir’s Seminary, I always use the same symbol: If you have a big library and move into a new house, you can’t use that library unless you build shelves. While it is still in boxes, you own that library, but it is of no use to you. My purpose, then, is to build the shelves and then to try to see what are the priorities of our Orthodox situation today.

It is impossible to speak about our situation in America unless we refer it to our normal and essential term of reference, the Orthodox Church. The Ortho­dox Church—whether Greek, Syrian, Serbian, Romanian, or Bulgarian—has always been both the heart and the form of an Orthodox world. Only here in the West, and for the first time in the history of Ortho­doxy, do we think of the Church in terms only of a religious institution such as diocese, parish, and so on. No one in organically Orthodox countries has ever thought of the Church as being distinct from the total­ity of life. Since the conversion of Constantine, the Church was organically related to society, culture, education, family, et cetera. There was no separation, no dichotomy. The Russian word for peasant is simply christianin, which at the beginning obviously meant Christian.

Here, then, we find the first radical difference which we have to face in America: We belong to the Orthodox Church, but we do not belong to an Ortho­dox culture.

Here, then, we find the first radical difference which we have to face in America: We belong to the Orthodox Church, but we do not belong to an Ortho­dox culture. This is the first and most important change, and unless we understand that this is not an academic proposition, but the real framework of our existence, we will not see clearly through our situa­tion. For everything in the Orthodox Church points toward a way of life; the Church is connected to all aspects of life. Yet we are deprived of this connection because, upon leaving our churches on Sunday morn­ing, we return to a culture which was not produced, shaped, or inspired by the Orthodox Church and which, therefore, in a way is deeply alien to Ortho­doxy.

CULTURES IN COLLISION

The first Orthodox immigrants in America never thought about all this, for in many ways they continued to live within an organic Orthodox “culture.” They were still living within that type of unity be­cause they belonged to what in American sociology is known as a “sub-culture.” After the liturgy, Russians or Greeks would meet in the church hall, and they would meet not only as Orthodox but also as Russians or Greeks or Bukovenians or Carpatho-Russians—and they would meet precisely in order to breathe their native culture.

At the beginning, all this was completely normal. Even today you can live in certain places as if you were not living in America. You can live there with­out knowing very much English, without any real contact with American culture. But whether we like it or not, that “immigrant” chapter of our history is coming to an end, and this is where the younger generation comes in.

Today’s Orthodox young people do not have that immigrant mentality. Orthodoxy for them is not primarily the remembrance of childhood abroad. They will not keep Orthodoxy simply because it is “the faith of their fathers.” Suppose we apply this principle to others: Then the Lutherans should keep the Lutheran faith, the Jews the Jewish faith, and finally, the son of an atheist should keep atheism because it was the “faith of his father.” If this is the criterion, religion becomes a mere cultural continuity.

But our claim is that our Church is Orthodox, or more simply, the Church, and this is a frightening claim. It implies that it is the faith for all men, for all countries, for all cultures. And unless this implication is kept in mind and heart, our claim to be the true or Orthodox Church becomes hypocrisy, and it would be more honest to call ourselves a society for the per­petuation of the cultural values of a particular geo­graphic region.

Our faith cannot be reduced to religious practices and customs alone. It claims the entire life of a human being.

Our faith cannot be reduced to religious practices and customs alone. It claims the entire life of a human being. But the culture in which we live, the “American way of life,” is something which already existed when we came here. Thus we find ourselves an Eastern Church with a total claim on our life, yet living within a Western society and a Western way of life.

The first problem can, then, be formulated very simply, although its solution is extremely difficult: How are we to combine these things? How can we live our Orthodox faith which claims the totality of our existence within a culture which also claims to shape our existence?

This is the antinomy of our situation; this is where all our difficulties are rooted. Yet unless we understand it, we will always have wrong solutions. These wrong solutions—quite popular today—follow two basic patterns.

I will call one pattern a “neurotic” Orthodoxy. It is the attitude of those who, whether they are native Orthodox or converts, decide they cannot be Ortho­dox unless they simply reject American culture, who build their spiritual home in some romantic and ideal­ized Byzantium or Russia, and who constantly curse America and decadent Western society. To them, “Western” and “American” are synonymous with “evil” and “demonic.” This extreme position gives a semblance of security. Ultimately, however, it is self-destructive. It is certainly not the attitude of Saint John, who, in the midst of a violent persecution, said so simply, “And this is the victory that has overcome the world, our faith” (1 John 5:4). And further, he said, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment” (1 John 4:18). In the attitude of some, however, Orthodoxy is transformed into an apocalyptic fear which has always led to sectarianism, hatred, and spiritual death.

The other dangerous pattern is that of an almost pathological “Americanism.” There are people who, when they hear in Church one word in Russian or Greek, react as if it were a betrayal of Christ. It is the opposite neurosis, the neurosis of those who want Orthodoxy to become American immediately.

In the first neurosis, Orthodoxy is reduced to a fanatical and negativistic sect; in the second one, “American” is falsified, for America is not at all a country which requires surrender, conformity, and the acceptance of the mainstream mentality as the “American way of life.” What makes this country great and indeed unique is precisely the openness of its culture to change.

A MESSAGE UNCHANGED

And who knows whether it may not be the real mission of Orthodoxy in America to change the American culture which has never really been chal­lenged by a different set of values? No doubt Orthodoxy has an understanding of human being, life, world, nature, et cetera, radically different from those prevailing in American culture, but this difference itself is a chal­lenge for Orthodoxy rather than a justification for withdrawal, negativism, and fear. To avoid the two extremes, to be truly Orthodox yet fully American, seems to be the only real Orthodox tradition. How and where do we then begin?

I have already said I have no ready-made an­swers. I do, however, have a few thoughts which I would like to share with you—a few thoughts about the conditions which may set us on the difficult path.

One of the great dangers of modern, and especially American, culture is its reduction of a human being to history and to change. This is the first thing we Orthodox have to denounce and to resist. We must openly con­fess that there are things which do not change, that human nature does not, in fact, change; that such realities as sin, or righteousness, or holiness do not depend on the changing pattern of culture.

Yet I am absolutely convinced that sin is ex­actly the same for me as it was for Saint Paul, and that if there is no Devil, Christianity is no longer the same religion it was for nearly two thousand years.

How many times I have heard, for example, that in “our age” the concept of sin must be changed if it is to be relevant to modern man. How many times we have heard that in “our age” we cannot speak of the Devil. Yet I am absolutely convinced that sin is ex­actly the same for me as it was for Saint Paul, and that if there is no Devil, Christianity is no longer the same religion it was for nearly two thousand years. It is not enough to speak, as some Western theologians do, of the “demonic.” It is not enough to identify sin with alienation. And it is at this point that Orthodoxy has a tremendous responsibility, for it is fundamentally the belief in unchanging realities, it is the denunciation of all “reductions” as not only doctrinally wrong but also existentially destructive.

Thus, the first condition for anything else is sim­ply faith. Before anything else is possible, before I can speak of myself as belonging to this or that gen­eration, as immigrant or native, of our age as technological or post-industrial, and so forth, there is this one funda­mental reality: a human being standing before God and finding that life is communion with Him, knowledge of Him, faith in Him, that we are created literally for God.

Without this experience and affirmation, nothing has meaning. My real life is in God and in heaven. I was created for eternity. These simple affirmations are rejected as naive and irrelevant today, and in spite of all its Christian terminology. Western Christianity becomes more and more a self-centered humanism. At this point, no compromise is possible, and every­thing depends upon whether Orthodoxy will remain faithful to its God-centeredness, to its orientation to­ward the Transcendent, the Eternal, the Divine.

We do not deny that human beings need justice and bread. But before everything else they need God. Thus, we truly can do what we are called to do in spite of all temptations. The seemingly “charitable” character of these temptations misses the unchanging truth that our call is not only to proclaim or to defend, but first of all to live this unchanging, eternal hierarchy of values in which God and God alone is the beginning, the con­tent, and the end of everything.

This is the real content of the Orthodox faith, of our liturgy, of our sacra­ments. This is what we celebrate on Easter night. This is what is revealed at the Eucharistic Table. It is always the same thing, the same prayer, the same joy: “Thy Kingdom come … ” It is the understanding of life as indeed preparation, not simply for an eternal rest, but for the life which is more real than anything else—a life of which this life is but a “symbol” and a “sacrament.”

And Orthodoxy will lose all its salt if each one of us does not strive first of all for this personal faith and for this hunger for salva­tion, redemption, and deification.

I can hear and sense the reaction: “Oh, again paradise and hell; is that Christianity? Can this be preached in the twentieth century?” And I will an­swer: “Yes, it is. Yes, it can.” It is because so many people today have forgotten this, it is because all this has become “irrelevant” for Christians themselves, that so many are in hell already. And Orthodoxy will lose all its salt if each one of us does not strive first of all for this personal faith and for this hunger for salva­tion, redemption, and deification. Christianity begins only when we take seriously the words of Christ: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteous­ness; and all things shall be added unto you” (Mat­thew 6:33).

A VISION FOR THE FUTURE

But now let me share with you my second preliminary thought: Just as each one of us must discover for ourselves the “unchanging” and take part in the same, never-ending, spiritual fight, we must dis­cover ourselves as belonging to one particular genera­tion of Orthodox Christians living in the twentieth century in America, in a secular and pluralistic culture and in the midst of a great spiritual crisis.

What can we do together? What are the Orthodox imperatives for our common and corporate task? I think that here the priorities are rather clear, espe­cially when one speaks to students and for students, for the “student” is today the purest representative of what I call the “second Orthodoxy in America.” The first one—whether he came from the “Old World” or was born here—is still an immigrant in his mentality. He lives within the American culture but is not yet an organic part of it.

A student is by definition someone who can and must reflect. So far Orthodoxy in America has not reflected upon itself and upon its situation here. The Orthodox student is the first Orthodox who is called to reflect on his or her life as an Orthodox in America. On this reflection depends the future of our Church here, for this reflection will obviously be aimed at the problems that I mentioned earlier. So this is a crucial task. You will say either “yes” or “no” for the entire Orthodox Church on this continent.

Mission within our present situation means something more than simply convert­ing individuals to Orthodoxy. It means primarily an evaluation of American culture in Orthodox terms, and this is the real mission of the Orthodox “intelligentsia.”

To say yes, however, means to rediscover the Church as mission, and mission within our present situation means something more than simply convert­ing individuals to Orthodoxy. It means primarily an evaluation of American culture in Orthodox terms, and this is the real mission of the Orthodox “intelligentsia,” for no one else can do that.

THE ESSENTIALS OF ENCOUNTER

It is here that I must stress again the fundamental quality of American culture: its openness to criticism and change, to challenge and judgment. Throughout the whole of American history, Americans have asked: “What does it mean to be American?” “What is America for?” And they are still asking these ques­tions. Here is our chance, and here is our duty. The evaluation of American culture in Orthodox terms requires first a knowledge of Orthodoxy, and second a knowledge of the true American culture and tradition.

One cannot evaluate that which one does not know, love, and understand. Our mission, therefore, is first of all one of education. We—all of us—must become theologians, not in the technical sense of the word, but in terms of vital interest, concern, care for our faith, and above everything else, in terms of a relationship between faith and life, faith and culture, faith and the “American way of life.”

Let me give you one example. We all know that one of the deepest crises of our culture, of the entire modern world, is the crisis of family and the man-­woman relationship. I would ask, then: How can this crisis be related to and understood in terms of our belief in the one who is “more honorable than the cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the seraphim. . . “—the Theotokos, the Mother of God, the Virgin?

Between the two extremes—of a surrender to America, of a surrender of America—we must find the narrow and the difficult way of the true Orthodox Tradition.

Where all this will lead us, I do not know. In the words of a hymn of Cardinal Newman: “I do not see the distant scene, one step enough for me.” But I know that between the two extremes—of a surrender to America, of a surrender of America—we must find the narrow and the difficult way of the true Orthodox Tradition. No solution will ever be final, and there is no final solution in “this world.”

We shall always live in tension and conflict, in the rhythm of victory and defeat. Yet if the Puritans could have had such a tremendous impact on Ameri­can culture, if Sigmund Freud could change it so deeply as to send two generations of Americans to the psychoanalytical couch, if  Marxism, in spite of all its phenomenal failures, can still inspire presumably in­telligent American intellectuals, why can’t the faith and the doctrine which we claim to be the true faith and the true doctrine have its chance? “O ye of little faith …. “

Marx and Freud never doubted, and they won their vicious victories. The modern Christian, how­ever, has a built-in inferiority complex. One historical defeat pushes him either into an apocalyptic fear and panicking, or into a “death of God” theology. The time has come, perhaps, simply to recover our faith and apply it with love and humility to the land which has become ours. And who can do that if not those who are given a full share in American culture?

Two things, then, are essential: first, the strength­ening of our personal faith and commitment. Whether priest or layperson, man or woman, the first thing for an Orthodox is not to speak about Orthodoxy, but to live it to full capacity; it is prayer, it is standing before God, it is the difficult joy of experiencing “heaven on earth.” This is the first thing, and it cannot be reached without effort, fasting, asceticism, sacrifice, or with­out the discovery of that which in the Gospel is called the “narrow way.”

And second, to use a most abused word, there must be a deep and real dialogue with America—not accommodation, not a compromise, for a dialogue may be indeed violent. If nothing else, it will achieve two things. It will reveal to us what is real and genuine in our faith and what is mere decoration. We may, indeed, lose all kinds of decorations which we errone­ously take for Orthodoxy itself. What will remain is exactly the faith which overcomes the world.

The more I live here, the more I believe that the encounter between Orthodoxy and America is a providential one. And because it is providential, it is being at­tacked, misunderstood, denied, and rejected on both sides.

In that dialogue we will also discover the true America, not the America which so many Orthodox curse and so many idolize, but the America of that great hunger for God and His righteousness which has always underlain the genuine American culture. The more I live here, the more I believe that the encounter between Orthodoxy and America is a providential one. And because it is providential, it is being at­tacked, misunderstood, denied, and rejected on both sides. Perhaps it is for us, here, now, today to understand its real meaning and to act accordingly.

THE MISSION OF ORTHODOXY

We know that the Orthodox youth of America must have a mission. And the first condition for mission is a spiritual foundation; we simply cannot move anywhere without faith and a personal commitment to Christian life. Further, it seems that we must think of our mission in terms of the particular situation we face in America, in this thoroughly secularized society.

But, what is a mission? “Mission” is one of those words much used and much abused today in America. So we must, first of all, clarify its meaning for us.

On the one hand it is clear to all, I hope, that in a sense every Christian is called to be a missionary. Every Christian is sent. When we say “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church,” the term “apostolic” means not only the continuity of ministry, as so many people seem to think, but also the apostolicity, i.e., the mis­sionary nature of the Church and of each of her members.

My being a missionary can be understood in a threefold way. In the first place, I am sent to myself. This means that the new Adam in me is always ready to challenge and to fight the old Adam—the “I” who is still very much “of this world” and subdued to it. In the second place, I am sent to others. This again is universal, and is not limited to bishops, priests, and missionaries in the strict sense of the word. And finally, I am sent as a missionary to the world. The scope of our vision and faith is always the salvation of all that for which Christ died, and He died “for the life of the world.” Thus, one cannot be saved without giving oneself to this mission. Everyone is a missionary .

Yet, on the other hand, as we begin seeking for concrete applications of these general definitions, the idea of mission becomes confused. It is indeed the eternal problem for each Christian individually and for every Christian generation to find their modality of mission—the way God wants them to fulfill their missionary calling. Just as each human being is unique, the way of fulfillment of vocation is also unique. And just as each historical situation is unique, the Christian mission of each generation is also in a way unique. This is why there are so many disagreements and controversies among the Orthodox today. Everyone admits that something needs to be done but there is no consensus yet on what exactly is to be done, and how. The disagreements concern, indeed, the nature of the Orthodox mission today.

THE PAST AND OUR TRADITION

In such a situation, we must always begin by looking to the past, by consulting with our tradition—not “archaeologically,” with an impossible, unrealis­tic, and futile desire simply to “restore” the past, but in an effort to discern the mind of the Church. The entire history of the Church is in a way the history of her mission, that is, of her relation to and action in the world. And as we look into that past, we discover there a rhythm, which I think could be defined as the rhythm of crisis and consolidation.

The entire history of the Church is in a way the history of her mission, that is, of her relation to and action in the world. And as we look into that past, we discover there a rhythm, which I think could be defined as the rhythm of crisis and consolidation.

Consider, for example, the Book of Acts, the earliest record of the Church’s life. It begins with an almost idyllic description of the first community in Jerusalem. The Church is growing, she is liked by all people, she is at peace. The difficulties—like the one with the couple who tried to lie and cheat—are quickly solved. Then comes the crisis, which is pri­marily a radical change in the external—cultural and spiritual—context within which she has to live.

Suddenly there are new problems facing the Church and disturbing her initial peace. There is the problem of mission to the non-Jews, the problem of circumcision, the concerns about the Jewish way of life—not even questioned before. It is, in other words, a crisis of growth, which is always painful and bitter. The Apostle Paul—the bearer and the symbol of the crisis—knew that without facing it, the Church would have remained a little Jewish sect and would never have been the universal challenge, the universal “question mark,” on everything in this world—all that she actually did become because of that first crisis.

But then a period of consolidation begins. From the midst of the second until the end of the third century, we discern a constant effort to do just that: to consolidate, to organize, to define the life of the Church, to build it on clear and solid principles­—the apostolic succession, the apostolic constitutions, the apostolic traditions, the canon of Scripture. On the eve of Constantine’s conversion the Church exists as a well-organized institution, “adjusted” to her universal mission, with a well-oiled mechanism for the solution of her daily problems.

There comes, however, a new crisis, provoked this time by the conversion of the Emperor and—in him—of the entire Graeco-Roman society. The Em­pire, which to the Church was the very symbol of the Antichrist, the Harlot, the new Babylon, becomes Christian. And it becomes Christian by a direct intervention of Christ Himself, who elects Constantine to be a “second Paul.” Once more the entire framework of the Church’s life is radically altered. There comes not only security and peace, but also wealth and privi­leges, the splendor of new basilicas, the rain of gold and silver, the political power, the new social status.

The bishops who only yesterday were in prison or in hideouts are invited to come to Nicea at the expense of the State, receive a “red carpet” treatment, and are submerged with gifts and honors. All this is so new, so unheard of! No wonder it provokes a crisis in the very consciousness of the Church.

The best proof of the new crisis is the great monastic exodus of the fourth century. At a time when Christians seem finally to enjoy all power, all possibilities, at this very time the best Christians, in tremendous numbers, leave for the desert. Yet, the important point here is that this very exodus becomes the starting point of a new consolidation, of the cre­ative adjustment of the Church to her new situation in the world. For without the monastic exodus and chal­lenge, the Church would have been in danger of accepting too easily her new and privileged “status”:  that of the State religion, of identifying herself with a culture, of losing the intensity of her eschatological prayer:  “Thy Kingdom come!”

It was the monk who, by preserving Christian maximalism and forcing it into the very texture of the Empire, laid in fact the foundations of the “Orthodox world” with its inner and creative tension between “heaven” and “earth.” What indeed made that Chris­tian world Christian, in spite of its many defects and shortcomings, is the fact that it never reduced the human being to anything—be it economics, or society, or culture—for it always remembered the eternal and divine vocation of Adam, always kept the Kingdom of God as its ultimate value. It always knew that every human is a sinful crea­ture called to heavenly glory, to the “honor of a high calling.”

POST-CHRISTIANITY

Our situation today is once more that of crisis, and it is the nature of that crisis that is to shape the orientation of our missionary effort. The fundamental meaning of the crisis lies in the fact that the Christian world born out of Constantine’s conversion, and the subsequent “symphony” between the Church, on the one hand, and the society, state, and culture, on the other, has ended.

Please do not misunderstand me. The end has come not of Christianity, not of Church or faith, but of a world which referred, however nominally at times, its whole life to Christ and had Christian faith as its ultimate criterion. All dreams about its restoration are doomed. For even if Christians were to recover control of states and societies, that would not auto­matically make these societies “Christian.” What happened occurred on a much deeper level.

The fact is, we are no longer living in a Christian world. There are those who simply accept the world’s view and surrender to secularism. And there are those whose nervous systems have not withstood the shock of the change and who, faced by the new situation, are panicking.

The fact is, we are no longer living in a Christian world. The world we live in has its own style and culture, its own ethos, and, above everything else, its own worldview. And so far Christians have not found and formulated a consistently Christian attitude to­wards the world and its worldview and are deeply split in their reaction to it. There are those who simply accept the world’s view and surrender to secularism. And there are those whose nervous systems have not withstood the shock of the change and who, faced by the new situation, are panicking.

If the first attitude leads little by little to the evaporation of faith itself, the second threatens us with the transformation of Orthodoxy into a sect. A man who feels perfectly at home in the secular and non-Christian world has probably ceased to be a Christian, at least in the traditional meaning of that term. But the one who is obsessed with a violent hatred and fear of the modern world has also left the grounds of the genuine Orthodox tradition. He needs the security of a sect, the assurance that he at least is saved in the midst of the universal collapse. There is very little Christianity and Orthodoxy in either view. If some forget that the Kingdom of God is “not of this world,” the others do not seem to remember that “per­fect love overcomes all fear.”

What the Church needs today, as it has needed it on several occasions in the past, is a dy­namic movement of young men and young women, a kind of “order” to fulfill the tasks that institution alone cannot and must not fulfill.

A TWOFOLD MISSIONARY PERSPECTIVE

If, as I said above, it is the very nature of the present crisis that must shape our missionary perspective, that perspective, in my opinion, consists of two fundamental attitudes, two urgent tasks:

  1. We must maintain at all costs that which many people today contemptuously call the Christian insti­tution. It takes some courage in our day to defend the institution against the powerful and anti-institutional trend which exists both on the right and on the left. It is indeed the ironic paradox of our time that the ultra­conservatives are at one with the ultra-radicals in undermining the institution.

The ultra-conservatives, by constantly measuring and comparing the “spirituality” or the “orthodoxy” of bishops and jurisdictions, appoint themselves as judges, setting the criteria and deciding charismatically whom they accept and whom they reject. In other words, they take upon themselves the decisions that belong to the Church and end up replacing the Orthodox doctrine of the Church with a new variety of Donatism or Montanism, heresies of misplaced and misdirected maximalism which, just because of their perceived maximalism, were the most difficult to de­stroy.

The ultra-radicals simply reject the very princi­ple of institution, which to them seems boring and alienating, and are ready to revise and re-evaluate everything in the light of their own supposedly “charismatic” insights. Here and elsewhere we find a common, deep misunderstanding of the Church:  the relationship in her between the institutional and the charismatic. And this misunderstanding is rooted, above all, in the lack of the fundamental Christian virtue: humility.

It is difficult, yet necessary, to say to young people who want excitement and maximalism, imme­diate action and spectacular achievements: “Your first duty, your first spiritual achievement, consists pre­cisely in accepting the institution, and doing so on its own terms, not yours. It consists in becoming­ deeply and humbly-part of it.”

For what is institution? It is the very fact of the presence and continuity of the Church, always the same, in the world, regardless of all crises, of all changes. It is the guarantee that whether there are prophets or not, whether there are saints and leaders to inspire and lead us, there will be a priest standing at my bed at the hour of my death, pronouncing words of hope, joy, and victory which he did not invent and may even have not felt, but which through him have been preserved by the Church. It is the guarantee that Sunday after Sunday someone—who may be good, bad, or mediocre—will have the right and the duty to offer to God “His own of His own on behalf of all and for all” and thus to make possible all charisms and all inspiration.

  1. There must be a faithful remnant which relates to the world as it is today. This is the second task; the one that could be performed beyond the unchanging limits of the institution, and which is determined by the specific situation in which the Church finds her­self at any particular period of her history. If the proper function of the institution is to maintain and to make available always and everywhere the unchang­ing essence of the Christian faith and the Christian life, this mission deals with this or that particular situation, with the world as it is now. Again, this mission is always the task of a remnant.

To me the answer is comprised in one word: movement. What the Church needs today, as it has needed it on several occasions in the past, is a dy­namic movement of young men and young women, a kind of “order” to fulfill the tasks that institution alone cannot and must not fulfill. If the inner core of such a movement is to consist mainly, if not exclusively, of students, it is because a student is by definition a being whose life is yet open and available.

But the emphasis, of course, is not on “student” but on “movement.” The student, as any other member of such a movement, is its subject and agent, not its object. The movement is, in other words, to be di­rected at the tasks to be performed for the Church and not at some specific “student needs.”

Here’s a spiritual profile of a “missionary” in this necessary movement: prayer, obedience, and acceptance.

VOWS FOR TODAY

I have in mind a kind of spiritual profile of that movement and of those who will take part in it. To me, it looks in some way like a new form of monasticism without celibacy and without the desert, but based upon specific vows. I can think of three such vows:

  1. PRAYER: The first vow is to keep a certain well-defined spiritual discipline of life, and this means a rule of prayer: an effort to maintain a level of personal contact with God; what the Fathers call the “inner memory of Him.” It is very fashionable today to discuss spirituality and to read books about it. But whatever the degree of our theoretical knowledge about spirituality, it must begin with a simple and humble decision, an effort, and—what is the most difficult—regularity. Nothing indeed is more danger­ous than pseudo-spirituality whose unmistakable signs are self-righteousness, pride, readiness to mea­sure other people’s spirituality, and emotionalism.

What the world needs now is a generation of men and women not only speaking about Christianity, but also living it. Early monasticism was, first of all, a rule of prayer. It is precisely a rule we need, one which could be practiced and followed by all and not only by some. For indeed what you say is less and less impor­tant today. People are moved only by what you are, and this means by the total impact of your personality, of your personal experience, commitment, dedication.

  1. OBEDIENCE: The second vow is the vow of obedience, and this is what present-day Orthodox lack more than anything else. Perhaps without noticing it, we live in a climate of radical individualism. People tailor for themselves their own kind of “Orthodoxy,” their own ideal of the Church, their own style of life. And yet, the whole spiritual literature emphasizes obedi­ence as the condition of all spiritual progress.

What I mean by obedience here, however, is something very practical. It is obedience to the movement itself. The movement must know on whom it can depend. It is the obedience in small things, humble chores, the unromantic routine of work. Obedience here is the antithesis not of disobedience, but of hys­terical individualism. “I” feel, “I” don’t feel. Stop “feeling” and do. Nothing will be achieved without some degree of organization, strategy, and obedience.

  1. ACCEPTANCE: The third vow could be de­scribed, in terms of one spiritual author, as “digging one’s own hole.” So many people want to do anything except precisely what God wants them to do, for to accept this and perhaps even to discern it is one of the greatest spiritual difficulties. It is very significant that ascetical literature is full of warnings against chang­ing places, against leaving monasteries for other and “better” ones, against the spirit of unrest, that constant search for the best external conditions. Again, what we need today is to relate to the Church and to Christ our lives, our professions—the unique combination of factors which God gives us as our examination and which we alone can pass or fail.

Although we are not of this world, we are in it.

THE TASK AHEAD

One might ask: What would a movement of this kind set as its goals? What would be its mission?

The first goal would be to help people, and first of all the movement’s own members, to experience and to live their Orthodox faith. We all know there exists today a real discrepancy between the Orthodox ideal of the Church—of “sobornost,” of liturgical life—and reality. There must be a place, a situation, where this ideal can be tasted, experienced, lived, be it only partially and imperfectly. Here the experience of other Orthodox movements is conclusive. It is because their members experienced—at their conferences, retreats, study groups—the joy and the meaning of Church life that they could witness to it and call to the Church “at large.”

Then the second goal of our mission can be termed intellectual. We are living at a time and in a situation in which all, not only professional theolo­gians, are called to know and to be ready to confess. Our time is the time of a gigantic ideological struggle. Without a new concern by the Orthodox about the content of their faith and its implications for their entire life, our Church will lose.

Finally, the movement is to care about those needs of the Church about which a parish or a diocese does not or cannot care: reaching youth, finding the total place and function of the Church in our world, accepting—creatively—the challenges of modern culture. All this is our task because being not of this world, we are in it, left in it to witness and to reveal.

All this will take time to build. Yet we must think in terms of a remnant, of a movement, of service. We must begin with ourselves, if we are to be of service to the Church. When God gives something, a talent, He wants us to invest it. He wants us to serve.

There is no other way of following Christ.

This article is available in pamphlet form from Ancient Faith Ministries.

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Jesus never said: “Hey Buddy, get a job!”

By Deacon Larry Soper

Deacon Larry Soper is a 2nd-year Seminarian in the Master of Divinity program. He hails from North Canton, Ohio, and his home parish is St. George Serbian Orthodox Church, Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Eastern America. Prior to coming to the Seminary, he spent a decade working at a renowned drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in Akron, Ohio, where, he says, he “discovered what living the gospel really means” by working among the poor, the disenfranchised, and those with physical and mental illness.

His sermon was written under the supervision of Father Sergius Halvorsen, assistant professor of Homiletics and Rhetoric at St. Vladimir’s Seminary.

SB_St Nicholas_image.jpg

Homily in Three Hierarchs Chapel

Feast of St. Nicholas, December 6, 2017

Gospel of Luke 6:17–23

17 And He came down with them and stood on a level place with a crowd of His disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem, and from the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear Him and be healed of their diseases, 18 as well as those who were tormented with unclean spirits. And they were healed. 19 And the whole multitude sought to touch Him, for power went out from Him and healed them all.

The Beatitudes

20 Then He lifted up His eyes toward His disciples, and said: “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. 22 Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you, and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven, for in like manner their fathers did to the prophets.

 In the name of the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

“Hey buddy, get a job!”

“They’re just lazy, they don’t want to work.”

“They only have themselves to blame.”

“Now they want to take what I have worked so hard for.”

“They’re all on drugs.”

“I’m barely making it as it is, let alone give it to someone who doesn’t know the value of a dollar!”

These are things we hear often when it comes to the world and it’s stance on those in need. Yet, today we celebrate our beloved St. Nicholas, an icon of Christian generosity, kindness and mercy. And we venerate St. Nicholas because is it not easy to be generous, kind and merciful.

In fact, it is extremely difficult.

A long time ago, there was a man who had fallen on very hard times. He had been wealthy, and important. Business had been great and he had enjoyed the very best that money could buy.

But everything had changed. His business had failed, his investments had gone bad, and he was down to the very end of his savings. He had lost it all, and now he feared that he would starve.

So, he came up with a desperate plan…a desperate and horrible plan. In order to survive, he planned to sell his three daughters into slavery. The very worst kind of abusive slavery you can imagine.

But as the man went to bed, when everything was quiet, he must have been in anguish. As he thought of his plan to sell his daughters, thought of the merchants, the haggling, the tears, and the large sum of money, did he think about starting a new life for himself? But how could he ever live with himself? How could he carry on knowing that he sold his own beautiful children into slavery?

Thank God, I don’t think any of us here are in quite as serious a situation. But perhaps we are not total strangers to this man’s struggle.

When we find ourselves at the end of our time, or patience, or finances, how easy is it to ignore, or reject the people around us? And when we do—when we have gained that extra bit of cash, or that extra bit of time, or that extra bit of privacy—we also have gained the haunting knowledge that we have forced someone else to pay the price. That haunting knowledge that we chose not to help someone in need. That haunting knowledge that we chose self indulgence over self sacrifice.

But Christ does not abandon us in the haunting knowledge of our sins. Today, Christ stands in our midst. He stands in the midst of a great multitude of people from Judea, and Jerusalem, from the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, from Crestwood and Yonkers.

Today we stand with that multitude of people needing healing from illness and from spiritual torment. And, we, along with the entire multitude, seek to touch Christ, to be healed by the Physician of souls and bodies. Today we not only touch Christ, we receive his very Body and Blood, and we are healed. And in that healing, we see just how wealthy we are.

We can rationalize it all too easily by saying “I have worked for everything I have. Nobody gave me anything!”

Really?

With a closer look, those of us who are blessed to be in the positions we are, may want to look at our answered prayers that we recite or chant during our worship. We have said these petitions just a few minutes ago:

For our deliverance from all affliction, wrath, danger and necessity, let us pray to the Lord.

For all things good and profitable for our souls and peace of the world, let us pray to the Lord.

Help us, save us and have mercy on us and keep us O God by thy grace.

Take a moment and reflect on those words and all of the other petitions we pray every Divine Liturgy. Our hard work and the pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps may not be the heroic and solo effort we think it is. Our ability to achieve and to succeed is granted by God—our peace, heath and safety, an answered prayer. Our success or status is a result of being helped, saved and kept by God’s grace.

It is easy to focus on what we think are unanswered prayers as opposed to focusing on what prayers and requests have been answered. In many cases, they have been answered abundantly. With this abundance we are called to use it to emulate Christ’s mercy.

Truly, Christ has helped us, he has saved us, and he has mercy on us, and he keeps us by His grace. For every good gift, and every perfect gift is from above.

Having received such wealth, such blessings, we follow Christ. We follow Christ out into those places where we find those multitudes who are in need of healing and mercy and salvation.

Today we bring the mercy of Christ to the poor. For Jesus does not tell people to get a job, rather Christ blesses the poor as he says theirs is the kingdom of God.

Today we bring the generosity of the Lord to the hungry. For Christ does not call them lazy, but he blesses the hungry and promises that they will be filled.

Today we bring the comfort of Christ to the weeping. For he did not tell them to “get over it and toughen up,” but rather Jesus blesses them saying that you will have joy.

We follow Christ by giving our support to the poor.

We follow Christ by inviting the lonely and the forgotten to seats at our tables and by our fireplaces.

We follow Our Lord by comforting those who weep with a kind word, gesture or visit.

We follow Christ not only in our ministry to strangers, but also in our ministry to those we know, especially our children, our parents, our spouses, our friends and neighbors.

Now is that time for the mercy and love and generosity of Christ.

That man, long ago, who had planned on selling his daughters. Little did he know, but God sent someone to save him from his sin. St. Nicholas heard about what the man was going to do. And instead of publicly humiliating the man, or accusing him of planning evil, St. Nicholas secretly dropped a bag of money through an open window at the man’s home.

With that large sum, the man was able to arrange a marriage for his oldest daughter. And with more money that St. Nicholas provided, the man was able to provide for his other daughters.

This is how Christ calls us to love.

In this season of Advent, we embrace the fast so that we can share what we have with others.

In this season of Advent we pray to God for the courage and the grace to love everyone around us.

In this season of Advent, we follow Christ in acts of mercy, and kindness and generosity.

Holy Father Nicholas pray to God for us.

AMEN

 

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The Entrance of Theotokos into the Temple: Making the Past, Present

The Entrance of Theotokos into the Temple: Making the Past, Present
By Archpriest Steven Kostoff (Master of Divinity ’81)

The festal cycle of the Church sanctifies time. By this we mean that the tedious flow of time is imbued with sacred content as we celebrate the events of the past now made present through liturgical worship. Notice how often we hear the word “today” in the hymns of the Feast chanted at Vespers:

Today let us, the faithful dance for joy … “

Today the living Temple of the holy glory of Christ our God, she who alone among women is pure and blessed …”

Today the Theotokos, the Temple that is to hold God is led into the temple of the Lord…

Again, we do not merely commemorate the past, but we make the past present.

We actualize the event being celebrated so that we are also participating in it. We, today, rejoice as we greet the Mother of God as she enters the Temple, “in anticipation proclaiming Christ to all.”

Can all—or any—of this possibly change the “tone” of how we live this day? Is it at all possible that an awareness of this joyous Feast can bring some illumination or sense of divine grace into the seemingly unchanging flow of daily life? Are we able to envision our lives as belonging to a greater whole: the life of the Church that is moving toward the final revelation of God’s Kingdom in all of its fullness? Do such questions even make any sense as we are scrambling just to get through the day intact and in one piece, hopefully avoiding any serious mishaps or calamities? If not, can we at least acknowledge that “something” essential is missing from our lives?

SB_Theotokos_Entrance_NOV17I believe there are a few things we can do on a practical level that will bring the life of the Church and its particular rhythms into our domestic lives. As we know, each particular Feast has a main hymn called the Troparion. This Troparion captures the over-all meaning and theological content of the Feast in a somewhat poetic fashion. As the years go by, and as we celebrate the Feasts annually, you may notice that you have memorized these Troparia, or at least recognize them when they are sung in church. For the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple, the festal Troparion is:

Today is the prelude of the good will of God, of the preaching of the salvation of mankind,
The Virgin appears in the temple of God, in anticipation proclaiming Christ to all,
Let us rejoice and sing to her: Rejoice, O Fulfillment of the Creator’s dispensation!

A great Feast Day of the Church is never a one-day affair! There is the “Afterfeast” and then, finally, the “Leavetaking” of the Feast. So this particular Feast extends from today, November 21, until Saturday, November 25. A good practice, therefore, would be to include the Troparion of the Feast in our daily prayer until the Leavetaking. That can be very effective when parents pray together with their children before bedtime, as an example.

Perhaps even more importantly, within a family meal setting, would be to sing or simply say or chant the Troparion together before sitting down to share that meal together. The Troparion would replace the usual prayer used, presumably the Lord’s Prayer. All of this can be especially effective with children, as it will introduce them to the rhythm of church life and its commemoration of the great events in the life of Christ and the Virgin Mary.

Do you have any Orthodox literature in the home that would narrate and then perhaps explain the events and their meaning of the Great Feast Days? Reading this together as a family can also be very effective. A short Church School session need not be the only time that our children are introduced to the life of the Church. The home, as we recall, has been called a “little church” by none other than St. John Chrysostom!

We must remember that Orthodox Christianity is meant to be a way of life, as expressed here by Fr. Pavel Florensky:

“The Orthodox taste, the Orthodox temper, is felt but is not subject to arithmetical calculation. Orthodoxy is shown, not proved. That is why there is only one way to understand Orthodoxy: through direct experience … to become Orthodox, it is necessary to immerse oneself all at once into the very element of Orthodoxy, to begin living in an Orthodox way. There is no other way.—The Pillar and Ground of the Truth)


NOTE: Father Steven is the pastor of Christ the Savior-Holy Spirit Orthodox Church, in Norwood, Ohio. Special articles and resources on the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos and all the Great Feasts are available on that parish website: www.christthesavioroca.org.

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Sermon on Luke 12:16-21 (The Rich Fool)

Sermon on Luke 12:16-21 (The Rich Fool)
By Daniel VanderKolk

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Today God calls someone a word that no one ever wants to hear: “fool“!

How scary is the thought of being called a fool by God!

Why does God call this man a fool? The man was rich. He worked his land well. He saved his extra crops. God even blessed his soil and gave this rich man good harvests.

So why is this rich man called a fool by God? Is it a sin to work hard, budget for the future, and save our resources?

No. Hard work is the virtue of diligence. Budgeting for the future is the virtue of prudence. Saving our resources is the virtue of frugality. So why is this rich man a fool?

Because this rich man fooled himself into thinking that all he had in life was his own. The man who wisely managed his goods, foolishly managed his thoughts. This rich fool said to himself: “I am the author of my life, my goods are my own”. This rich fool wrote God out of his life.

He separated himself from God who said, through the words of Saint Paul, that those rich in this present age should be rich also in good works. They should be ready to share. They should be generous. They should store up treasure for themselves in heaven.

This rich fool did not see himself as a steward of God’s treasure. He thought that by ignoring God’s command to feed the poor he would have more of the good things in life. He thought that he would have more joy and fulfillment by following his own will and ignoring God’s will.

parable of the rich fool_2017The rich fool forgot that God gives us all good things in life. The rich fool forgot that God wants us to be filled with joy by accumulating an abundance of virtues. The rich man only sought to please his own stomach, never once thinking about how to please God. His body lacked no physical food, but his soul was starved for virtue.

God gave the rich man treasuries of food so that the rich man would cultivate love in his own heart by being charitable to his neighbor. But the rich man chose the fleeting joy of an overfull stomach rather than the eternal joy of supporting the poor. God wanted this man to be rich in virtue.

This man’s stomach wanted him to be starved for virtue. God knows that we easily love our stomachs more than we love His commandments. Thankfully, God easily loves us more than we love our stomachs.

God loves us so much that He gave His only-begotten Son to a humiliating crucifixion. But Christ’s life did not end with death. Christ conquered death, ascended into Heaven, and reigns at the right hand of the Father.

So too, our lives do not end with death. After death, we will be judged. And after the judgment we hope to behold our Lord in heaven. We hope to feed on the joy that comes from eternal communion with God. As we sing in the Troparion for the Departed: “Give rest to the soul of thy servant O Savior, preserving it in the blessed life which is with Thee, who lovest mankind.”

Because of Christ’s victory over death, we no longer fear death. Because of Christ’s victory over death, we look with joy to the life to come. We steward well the treasures God gives us in this life. We eagerly hoard good deeds and virtues, because they are the only things we can take with us into the next life.

On the 26th of December, 1782, Vassily Drozdov came into this world. He grew up in the town of Kolomna, near Moscow. God gave Vassily many gifts. He was able to study in some of the finest schools in Russia.

He never once thought that he deserved or earned his good things in life. He was grateful to God for all of the treasures he received. Vassily knew that he was partner, with God, in all of his endeavors in life. When God, in His love, gave Vassily learning and understanding, Vassily, with deep gratitude, wanted to return God’s love.

Out of love for God, Vassily chose to use his intellectual gifts to pursue virtue, for God’s glory. Vassily taught at seminary, considering the professional duties of a teacher of utmost importance. He cared for his seminarians, spent time with them, prayed for them, and loved them.

Vassily also used his intellectual gifts to feed the sheep outside of his seminary. Late at night, when Vassily was tempted to eat, drink, and be merry, he called his own stomach a fool and chose to be rich toward God. He labored at night, writing edifying words for his Orthodox brothers and sisters.

Vassily loved his neighbor. Vassily loved God. Vassily loved virtue.

On the 6th of November, 1808, Vassily, the seminary professor was tonsured Philaret, the monk. “Philaret” means “he who loves virtue”. Truly, St. Philaret, the Metropolitan of Moscow, loves virtue with all his heart.

Emulate his love. Practice the virtue of thankfulness today. As you sit down to eat dinner tonight, pause for a moment.

Think of all the hard work that went into your meal. Think of the people who labored over your food. Think of the good favor God showed you in allowing the farmer’s crops to grow and produce the food that you are now eating.

Think of God’s love in supporting our economy, the economy that allows you to purchase such good food. Think to yourself that although God implants in us the need to nourish ourselves with food, He also allows us to enjoy our food and derive pleasure from fulfilling our daily needs.

And then say aloud: “The poor shall eat and shall be filled. Those who seek the Lord shall praise Him; their hearts shall live forever.”

And as you eat your dinner, fill your mind with nutritious thoughts. Think of how St. Philaret enjoyed eating food but did not obsess over his stomach. Think of how St. Philaret loved virtue more than he loved food. Think of how St. Philaret was a good steward of the treasures God gave to him, because St. Philaret knew that all good things in life come from God.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Seminarian Daniel Vanderkolk is a 3rd-year Master of Divinity student, from the Diocese of the Midwest, Orthodox Church in America. Prior to coming to St. Vladimir’s Seminary, he taught 10th-grade Latin Language and Literature at Oakdale Academy in Waterford, MI. This homily was given on Sunday, November 19, 2017, at Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, New Haven, CT, where Seminarian Vanderkolk is a student intern under rector, Archpriest Michael Westerberg. On that Sunday the Orthodox Church also commemorated the repose of St. Philaret, Metropolitan of Moscow.

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“Following Jesus to a deserted place”

Second-year Seminarian Brian Crivella gave this homily during our daily Matins service in Three Hierarchs Chapel, Thursday, October 12, 2017, as part of his Master of Divinity program coursework requirement. The Gospel reading for the day was Luke 9.7–11, and Seminarian Brian especially concentrated on verse 10:

And the apostles, when they had returned,
told Him all that they had done.
Then He took them and went aside privately into a deserted place
belonging to the city called Bethsaida.

Before enrolling at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, Seminarian Brian was a member of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, Mentor, OH, Orthodox Church in America, Diocese of the Midwest, and had spent nearly 8 years on active duty in the U.S. Coast Guard—performing search and rescue missions on the Great Lakes, and even patrolling the Caribbean Sea to catch drug smugglers and traffickers!

We are pleased to share Seminarian Brian’s labor and good words with you.


“Following Jesus to a deserted place”

In the name of The Father, and The Son, and The Holy Spirit. Amen

Today, Luke tells us of a man who seems to have it all. He has servants who attend his every want. His home is huge. Everyone wants to see him, to have his ear. Herod is a king, and on top of the world. But Herod is perplexed.

There is a Man, a Man performing all sorts of miracles. Who is He?

One of the old prophets had risen again, they whisper. Others declare it is Elijah, who has appeared as foretold.  But then the bombshell: it is John. John the Baptist had risen from the dead.

When he hears this, imagine how Herod must have reacted. Imagine his face falls dark. His brow furrows. His nostrils flare. He declares, “John I have beheaded,” asserting his control of the situation.

And, indeed, John he did behead. Because despite all he has, Herod is empty. Despite all his friends, Herod is lonely. Despite his total authority and control, Herod is helpless. There is something deep inside that Herod doesn’t fully understand: a gnawing, a deep emptiness and despair.

SB_deserted place2_crivellaHerod is not any different from us. Especially us. Like Herod, our lives are filled with worldly luxury and conveniences.

The world tries to convince us to fill ourselves with our carnal desires in order to feel happy, to feel satisfied. If we just had the right stuff, the right people, or went to the right places, we’d feel happier. Right?

But the things that are supposed to make us happy, don’t keep us happy. The things that are supposed to satisfy us don’t satisfy us.

We tell ourselves, “You know, if I were just more popular, I’d be happy. If more people really knew me and about me, they’d love me.” So we spend all day on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. We don’t get anything done. Then, when we finally turn off our phones and look around, we find ourselves alone.

So, maybe, what we need to do is to take a trip? To see something new, experiencing something fun, something exotic or relaxing? A trip to the beach…a trip out of town…a trip to the game?

But soon we find ourselves back home, back where we started. We’ve seen something new, but our life remains the same. We’ve gone to relax, but now we’re back to our stressful job, our stressful school, our stressful relationships—all of them unchanged.

We tell ourselves, “Let’s go see the new movie.” We grab the newest game…newest iPhone…newest car. New, new, new. “New” will make us happy.

But the newness wears off. We take our things for granted. They get stale, old, boring.

The crazy thing is, the more we try to fix our broken feelings, the more we inevitably feed into them. We become lonelier, sadder, emptier.

But this is how the world says to fix it. Yet, it doesn’t fix it.

But there is a way to fill this ache, this gnawing within each and every one of us. There’s someone that can help us cope with the deep brokenness that we all experience and struggle with. Someone whom we can follow, who will heal us.

To Bethsaida the multitudes follow Him, even when He seemed far away, “in a private place.” Yet as soon as they hear that He is there, these multitudes, these great groups of people, drop everything to follow after Jesus—not their jobs, not their toys, not their school, not their social standing or friends; they follow after Him.

When we follow Jesus, we no longer follow after ourselves or the world. When we follow Jesus, we don’t need to fix ourselves.

Just as the multitudes did, we receive what we really need to be satisfied. We receive Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ, who bears all our burdens, pains, longings, and shortcomings with us—our struggle with our shortcomings, our failings, or the pain in our past. Christ carries them, with us, to the Cross.

Follow him. It doesn’t matter if He’s far away, privately with His 12 disciples. The multitudes followed Him there. We follow Him there, with them. Christ gives us the very strength to do it. Christ gives us the strength to forgo the empty desires of this world, just like the multitudes.

As we put down our phone and spend time with those around us, in person, attentive to them, we are following after Christ.

As we travel—not for our entertainment nor for our enjoyment but for the sake of another who cannot leave their home, their hospital bed, or their prison—we are following after Christ.

As the precious extra time and money we’re blessed with finds itself spent on giving good things to our neighbors who have nothing or food to all those who are starving, we are following after Christ.

As we stop following after the way of this world, we are transformed in Christ, and our mind is renewed.

Today, we follow Christ where He resides privately with His disciples in Bethsaida. We give thanks for all that He has born with us. And as we draw ever nearer to Him, we bless and fill others with good things in His name. In this way we are truly fulfilled and truly satisfied.

Glory to God!

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Homily upon First Archpastoral Visit of His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon in New Academic Year

His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon, primate of the Orthodox Church in America, and Chairman of the Board of our seminary, made his first archpastoral visit of the new academic year to our campus on Sunday, September 24, 2017, which marked the Synaxis of All Saints of Alaska. In addition to seminary faculty, staff, and seminarians, and area faithful, participants in a three-day conference organized by the Orthodox Vision Foundation [OVF] gathered for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, at which Metropolitan Tikhon presided in Three Hierarchs Chapel.

We’re pleased to share His Beatitude’s inspiring homily on that occasion, which thoughtfully focuses on a “martyric” way of life as a witness to Christ and His teaching, and which marks the perfect path to becoming truly human.

[Reprinted article, with permission from oca.org]


HOMILY

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

At the beginning of today’s Epistle to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul offers these words:

Working together with him, then, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, “At the acceptable time I have listened to you, and helped you on the day of salvation.” Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. (2 Cor 6.1–2)

AllSaints-NAmerica-DeisisIt often happens that the readings from the lectionary fit the occasion perfectly. And so today the Orthodox Vision Foundation has brought many of you together for the first time, Orthodox leaders in your fields of business, science, medicine, the arts, education and social service to get to know each other, to learn about the possibilities and challenges for philanthropy, for new projects, and to experience a taste of a seminary’s life. It is good that you see for yourselves the students and families and faculty and staff who have set aside other careers and potentials in order to sacrifice and serve the mission of the Church. It is remarkable that every year a new crop of men and women make this decision to set upon the uncertain path of service in the Church.

They are needed and you are needed to carry this mission forward.

I know that Father John Behr began the conference with a talk on martyrdom, on the martyr as the image of a human being fully alive. Today we celebrate the feast of the Protomartyr and Equal to the Apostles, Thekla, a disciple of Saint Paul and a great image of martyrdom. The second epistle for today, for the martyrs, was from Romans, chapter 8.And here we have one of the most moving passages in Saint Paul’s letters speaking personally and precisely about this life of witness.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8.35–39)

The Gospel for the martyrs makes this an exhortation for our witness today:

This will be a time for you to bear testimony….You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and kinsmen and friends, and some of you they will put to death; you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives. (Lk 21.12–19)

As you all know, this picture is a reality today. Millions and millions of Christians, from all churches—Orthodox and non-Orthodox—face serious pressure and outright persecution in many parts of the world. We here are called not only to help share their burden, but also to share their witness for Christ where we are, here in North America. Perhaps we often get discouraged at the prospects as we look around at the meager fruit from years of labor. But once again, the readings are perfectly fitted for today. The Sunday Gospel recounts the great and unexpected catch of fish:

Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a great shoal of fish; and as their nets were breaking….But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the catch of fish which they had taken…. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him. (Lk 5.5–11)

With realistic statistics there are about 1,000,000 Orthodox in the United States, which is a very small fraction of the 325,000,000 people in our country. In North America the population is 500,000,000. It is time for us, as the Orthodox on this continent, to expand the mission of the Church. In the Orthodox Church in America, since the arrival of the first missionaries in Alaska in 1794, over 700 parishes and missions have been established, by God’s grace. In the last ten years, we have provided over $1,000,000 in planting grants to new missions. But this is a drop in the bucket. In the United States, 90% of the counties in this country do not have a single accessible Orthodox parish, where the services and the life of the community are open to all and conducted in the language understood by the local population, either English or Spanish.

And, of course, there are thousands and perhaps millions of new immigrants and refugees who are looking for the life of the Church in their own languages.

But all of those languages become intelligible not through the development of better translating programs or through countless hours spent with Rosetta Stone. As practical and helpful as these tools are, the languages that separate us become intelligible through our love for one another, but not the emotional or saccharine love that is presented to us in social and entertainment media, but the sacrificial love of martyrdom. Another great saint that we commemorate today is Saint Silouan the Athonite, who gives us some guidance in this when he writes:

The greater the love, the greater the suffering of the soul. The fuller the love, the fuller the knowledge of God

The more ardent the love, the more fervent the prayer. The more perfect the love, the holier the life.

The Orthodox missionary task in North America sets before us a huge challenge worthy of a lifetime of work. But this will mean not only plans and projects and funding and measurements of success. It will call on us to deepen our spiritual life. It will call on us to keep attending to healing what is broken in our own lives. It will call on us to share in humility the healing that we have received in Christ.

There can be no missionary effort, no way to reach those who question Christ and the Church, those who doubt, the 25% of the population who have given up on faith, those who suffer, those who are broken, without our having first entered the arena to become a genuine person in the image of Christ. It is here that we begin to fulfill our apostolic ministry.

I close with the words of a fiery preacher of the 20th Century, Saint Nikolai Velimirovic, himself having given a martyric example in the concentration camps of Dachau. He offers this prayer:

You are the only event of my life, O lamp of my soul.

When a child scurries to the arms of his mother, events do not exist for him.

When a bride races to meet her bridegroom, she does not see the flowers in the meadows, nor does she hear the rumbling of the storm, nor does she smell the fragrance of the cypress or sense the mood of the wild animals — she sees only the face of her bridegroom; she hears only the music from his lips; she smells only his soul.

When love goes to meet love, no events befall it. Time and space make way for love.

Aimless wanderers and loveless people have events and have history. Love has no history and history has no love.

Brothers and sisters. You who are gathered here have so many gifts. You are accustomed to working hard, overcoming failures, persisting and enduring. By God’s grace, may this time together this week enable you to apply all that you have received and experienced to recommit yourselves—or perhaps commit yourself for the first time—to serve Christ and the mission of His Church for the life of the world. There are so many ways to serve this mission. May our Lord inspire you to find those ways that most set your soul on fire for the glory of the Kingdom and to the glory of God.

Amen!

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Glory to God for Autumn

This reflection is by  Alumnus Archpriest Steven Kostoff (Master of Divinity ’81), pastor of Christ the Savior-Holy Spirit Orthodox Church, in Norwood, Ohio. He references the Akathist Hymn titled, “Glory to God for All Things,” also sometimes known as the “Akathist of Thanksgiving.” This remarkable hymn, attributed to Metropolitan Tryphon (Prince Boris Petrovich Turkestanov, +1934), was found among the effects of Protopresbyter Gregory Petrov, upon his death in a prison camp in 1940. The most commonly used title for the hymn was taken from the words of St. John Chrysostom, as he lay dying in exile—words of praise arising from amidst terrible sufferings.


Fall officially begins at 4:02 p.m. (East Coast time) on Friday, September 22. And that means later today. From my personal—and, admittedly, “subjective”—perspective, there is nothing quite like the fall among the four seasons. For me, one of this season’s greatest attractions is found in the flaming red, orange, yellow, and golden leaves that transform familiar trees into a series of neighborhood “burning bushes,” each one seemingly brighter than the other. When combined with a piercing blue sky on a sunlit day and a certain crispness in the air, I find myself more vividly aware of the surrounding world and thankful for God’s creation.SYNAXIS_Burning Leaves2

On a somewhat more “philosophical note”—more apt to emerge, perhaps, on an overcast, windswept day—we may realize that this “colorful death” signals the fleeting nature of everything beautiful in this world, “for the form of this world is passing away” [1 Cor 7.31]. And yet this very beauty, and the sense of yearning that accompanies it, is a sign of the beauty ineffable of the coming Kingdom of God and our restless desire to behold and experience that beauty.

Growing up on a typical city block in Detroit, I distinctly recall a neighborhood “ritual” that marked this particular season: the raking and burning of leaves that went on up and down the entire block once most of the leaves had spiraled and floated to the ground. Everyone on the block raked the leaves down toward the street and into neatly formed mounds of color that rested alongside the curb. Then they were lit, and the task of raking now became that of tending and overseeing the piles of burning leaves. This usually occurred after dinner for most families, but one could still see the shimmering waves of heat that protected one from the early evening chill and the ascending ashes rushing upward. Please momentarily forgive my politically incorrect indifference to the environment, but I thoroughly enjoyed those small bonfires near the curb as the pungent smell of burning leaves filled the air. This unmistakable smell would, as I recall, linger in the air for a couple of weeks or more as different neighbors got to the task at different times.

The entire scene embodied the wholesomeness of a 1950s first-grade reading primer, as “Mom” and “Dad,” together with “Dick” and “Jane” (and perhaps “Spot,” the frisky family dog) smilingly cooperated in this joint, familial enterprise. The reading primer would reformulate this “celebration” of healthy work and a neatly ordered environment into a staccato of minimally complex sentences: “See Dad rake”; “Dick and Jane are raking too”; “Here comes mom!” This all served to increase the budding student’s vocabulary while reinforcing a picture of an idealized—if not idyllic—American way of life.

Since my parents were peasants from a Macedonian village, we never quite fit into that particular mold—especially when my mother would speak to me in Macedonian in front of my friends! And yet I distinctly remember teaching my illiterate mother to read from those very “Dick and Jane” primers so that she could obtain her American citizenship papers, which she proudly accomplished in due time.

Before getting too nostalgic, however, I will remind you that this wholesome way of life— something of an urban idyll—was taking place at the height of Cold War anxiety. This, in turn, evokes another clear memory from my youth: the air raid drills in our schools that were meant to prepare us and protect us from a Soviet nuclear strike. (Khrushchev’s shoe-pounding exhibition at the United Nations, together with his ominous “We will bury you!” captured the whole mood of this period.) These carefully executed air raid drills were carried out with due solemnity and seriousness—lines straight and no talking allowed! We would wind our way down into a fairly elaborate—if not labyrinthine—series of basement levels that were seemingly constructed, and thus burdened, with the hopeless task of saving us from nuclear bombs! We would then sit in neatly formed rows monitored by our teachers (apparently oblivious to the real dangers of the Cold War world) until the “all clear” signal was given, allowing us to file back to our classrooms. Thus did the specter of the mushroom cloud darken the sunny skies of “Dick” and “Jane’s” age of innocence.

I must acknowledge that my short nostalgic digression does not offer a great deal for reflection. So as not to entirely frustrate that purpose—and because I began with some brief reflections on the created world—I would like to offer some of the wonderful praises of the beauty of the world around us from the remarkable Akathistos Hymn, “Glory to God for All Things.”

This hymn, which has become quite popular in many Orthodox parishes, is said to have been composed by an Orthodox priest when he was slowly perishing in a Soviet prison camp in 1940. In unscientific, yet theological-poetic imagery, he reminds us of what we are often blind to: God’s glorious creation. Would he have “missed” all of this if his life were as free as ours are to be preoccupied with daily concerns and cares that leave no time or room to look around in wonder?

O Lord, how lovely it is to be Your guest. Breeze full of scents; mountains reaching to the skies; waters like boundless mirrors, reflecting the sun’s golden rays and the scudding clouds. All nature murmurs mysteriously, breathing the depth of tenderness. Birds and beasts of the forest bear the imprint of Your love. Blessed are you, mother earth, in your fleeting loveliness, which wakens our yearning for happiness that will last forever. In the land where, amid beauty that grows not old, rings out the cry: Alleluia! [Kontakion 2].

You have brought me into life as if into an enchanted paradise. We have seen the sky like a chalice of deepest blue, where in the azure heights the birds are singing. We have listened to the soothing murmur of the forest and the melodious music of the streams. We have tasted fruit of fine flavor and the sweet-scented honey. We can live very well on Your earth. It is a pleasure to be Your guest. [Ikos 2].

I see Your heavens resplendent with stars. How glorious You are, radiant with light! Eternity watches me by the rays of the distant stars. I am small, insignificant, but the Lord is at my side. Your right arm guides me wherever I go. [Ikos 5].

His words bring to mind Dostoevsky’s enigmatic phrase: “Beauty will save the world.”

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