Witnessing to the Giver of Life!

321432Sunday, January 22, 2017 was observed as “Sanctity of Life Sunday” in Orthodox Christian parishes across the United States. The commemoration, which marks the 44th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in the U.S., served as a prelude to the annual March for Life, to be held at the U.S. Capitol on Friday, January 27.

Our seminary President, Archpriest Chad Hatfield, will be participating with many of our seminarians and their families in the annual March for Life. As we prepare for that day, we will be reflecting on the words of Metropolitan Tikhon, primate of the Orthodox Church in America, and spiritual head and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of our Seminary. Read his Archpastoral Message, below.

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Light Shining through the Darkness

St. Gregory of Nazianzus
Festal Orations • Popular Patristics Series 36
Trans.Nonna Verna Harrison
(SVS Press 2008)

In the East the feast of Epiphany, January 6, originally included Christ’s birth, the adoration of the magi, and Christ’s baptism, a pattern that survives in the Armenian Church to the present day. When St. Gregory wrote his orations, the two festal dates of the Nativity and Epiphany were just beginning to be reorganized. The following excerpts—taken from St. Gregory’s Oration 38, originally titled “On the Theophany,” and his Oration 39, originally titled “On the Holy Lights”—address both the Incarnation and Baptism of our Lord. St. Gregory’s edifying words illumine our spiritual paths as we continue to meditate upon both recent feasts.

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Oration 38

1 Christ is born, give glory; Christ is from the heavens, go to meet him; Christ is on earth, be lifted up. “Sing to the Lord, all the earth,” and, to say both together, “Let the heavens be glad and let the earth rejoice,” for the heavenly one is now earthly. Christ is in the flesh, exult with trembling and joy; trembling because of sin, joy because of hope.

3 Now is the feast of Theophany, and so also of Nativity; for it is called both, since two names are ascribed to one reality. For God appeared to human beings through birth.

4 This is our festival, this is the feast we celebrate today, in which God comes to live with human beings that we may journey toward God, or return—for to speak thus is more exact—that laying aside the old human being we may be clothed with the new, and that as in Adam we have died so we may live in Christ, born with Christ and crucified with him, buried with him and rising with him.

17 Run after the star, and bring gifts with the magi, gold and frankincense and myrrh, as to a king and a God and one dead for your sake. With the shepherds give glory, with the angels sing hymns, with the archangels dance.

18 Travel blamelessly through all the stages of Christ’s life and all his powers, as a disciple of Christ. Be purified, be circumcised, that is remove the veil that has surrounded you since birth. After this teach in the temple, drive out the traders in divine things, be stoned if necessary that you suffer this; you will escape from those throwing the stone, I know well, and you will flee through the midst of them like God. For the Word is not stoned. If you are brought before Herod, do not answer for the most part. He will revere your silence more than the long discourses of others. If you are scourged, seek the other tortures. Taste the gall. Drink the vinegar, seek the spittings, accept the blows, the beatings; be crowned with the thorns through the harshness of life in accord with God. Put on the scarlet robe, accept the reed, and the worship of those who mock the truth. Finally, be crucified with him, die with him, be buried with him willingly, so as also to be resurrected with him and glorified with him and reign with him, seeing God as far as is possible and being seen by him, who is worshipped and glorified in the Trinity, whom even now we pray to be manifest to us as clearly as is possible to prisoners of the flesh, in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory and sovereignty unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Oration 39

1 The holy day of lights, to which we have come and which we are deemed worthy to celebrate today, takes its origin from the baptism of my Christ, the true light, which illumines every human being coming into the world, effects my purification, and strengthens the light we received form him from the beginning, which we darkened and blotted out through sin.

2 Therefore listen to the divine voice, which resounds very strongly in me, the initiate and the initiator of these mysteries; and may it also resound in you: “I am the light of the world.” And because of this “come near to him and be illumined and your faces will not be ashamed,” being marked with the sign of the true light. It is the time for rebirth; let us be born from above. It is time of refashioning; let us receive again the first Adam. Let us not remain what we are but  become what we once were.

*Image of the icon of the Nativity and Epiphany, fresco, posted with permission from St. Steven’s Serbian Orthodox Cathedral, Alhambra, CA

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“Where Is Your Faith?”

Homily on Luke 8.22–25 delivered in Three Hierarchs Chapel on October 12, 2016
By Seminarian Philip Maikkula

philip_maikkua_0-medium_300_x_300_maxIn the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“Where is your faith?” Did you notice that question? Our Lord asked his disciples…where is your faith?

It’s almost a silly question. After all, the disciples seemingly did everything right. They got into the boat with Jesus to sail across the Sea of Galilee, and when the weather turned for the worst, they cried out to Jesus in their moment of distress.

You might imagine their emphatic reply to our Lord’s question: “Our faith is in you Lord! That is why we called out to you to rescue us.” But is that really what’s going on? After all, if the disciples were faithful to Christ, then why then did our Lord question their faith?

Notice a few things.

Notice, our Lord didn’t say, “Have a little more faith,” as if the disciples were panicking because they didn’t quite think that Jesus could handle the situation. If that were the case, you might imagine Christ turning to the disciples to say: “Don’t worry…I’ve got this.” But of course our Lord didn’t say that, because, the disciples weren’t struggling with too little faith.

Notice also, our Lord didn’t say, “Keep the faith,” as if the disciples were losing faith at the sight of waves crashing into their boat. If that were the case, you might imagine Christ turning to his disciples and saying with a reassuring nod: “Keep your chin up!” But of course Christ didn’t say that, because the disciples weren’t struggling to simply keep their faith.

Notice again, our Lord didn’t say, “Understand your faith,” as if the main problem for the disciples were the quality of their catechesis. If the solution to the disciples fear and panic were purely academic, then you might imagine our Lord saying, “Get a little education.” But of course, our Lord didn’t say that.

Instead what did he say? “Where is your faith?” You see, the disciples had faith. They had it. But their faith was in their own ability, their own skills, and their own achievements. These were profession fisherman, after all, who spent countless hours on the Sea of Galilee. They were experts with boats and knew about storms on the sea.

You see, the disciples’ main problem was that they had placed their faith in themselves.

They treated our Lord like we might treat a life preserver: there in case of emergency, but normally we manage things on own. You can see this is true because the disciples only turned to Christ when it seemed that all hope was lost and the boat was going under. They only needed Him when their own skills had come to an end.

Today, Our Lord is asking us, “Where is your faith?” I would guess that all of us have found ourselves, like the disciples in some degree, experts in our own little worlds that we know so well and can control. Professionals. Skilled. Practiced. Whether it be at our jobs, our homes, our schooling, or our hobbies.

Yet, I dare say we all have found ourselves like the disciples, overwhelmed by the storms of life. In those situations, it’s so easy for us to trust our own strength, our own abilities, and our own talents. In fact, like the disciples, it precisely in those areas in which we feel most confident that we tend to forget that God is in the boat with us. And when the storms of life rage, how often do we find ourselves overwhelmed by fear, anxiety, and despair because we have been relying on ourselves instead of Christ.

The Holy Prophet Moses reminds us in his farewell speech to the Israelites: “Be strong and of good courage, do not fear or be in dread…for it is the Lord your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you.”[1] You see, because the Lord Our God is with us always, whether in the calm or in the midst of the storm, we need not rely upon our own strength. Because Christ is with us, we place our faith in Him rather than ourselves.

I’m reminded of the example of the Three Holy Youths, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. I’m sure you remember the story. King Nebuchadnezzar had set up a giant statue of gold in Babylon and commanded all the people of the land to bow down in worship when they heard the music play. But when the music began, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to worship the idol of the king. When spies informed the king of the actions of the young men, he was filled with fury. He had warned that those who would not obey would face death in a fiery furnace. How dare anyone disobey his command!

Yet, even when brought before the king and offered another chance to bow down and worship the golden image, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused the king’s command. You see, the Three Holy Youths remembered the God was with them, and because their faith was completely in our Lord, they had peace.

They told the king: “Our God is able to rescue us from the fiery furnace, and he can deliver us from your hand, but even if he doesn’t, we will not worship the idols of Babylon.” Because their faith was in God, they could calmly face any storm, even death.

So when the king heated the furnace seven times hotter than normal, and the flames leapt so high that even those who threw the three youths into the furnace perished because of the heat, even still, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were faithful to the last.

And what did the king see?…four men standing in the flames. Just as Moses had promised long ago, our Lord Jesus Christ is with us. He was with the Three Holy Youths in the furnace. He was with the disciples in the midst of the storm. He is with us in the midst of our lives.

Today Christ asks us: “Where is your faith?” Let us answer as the Three Youths did from the midst of the storm of flame… “With all our hearts we follow thee.”[2]

Amen.

[1] Deuteronomy 31.6

[2] Prayer of Azariah 1.18 LXX version of Daniel


Philip Maikkula is a second year seminarian in the Master of Divinity program. Philip and his wife, Whitney, have two children together. After seminary, Philip and his family hope to pursue further studies in the area of Scripture in order to serve the Church.

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The Fifth Sunday of Luke: Good Deeds during Advent

Sermon delivered October 30, 2016
By the Very Reverend Timothy Baclig, SVOTS Class of 1983
Pastor of St. Michael Antiochian Orthodox Church of the San Fernando Valley

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Father Timothy Baclig, who grew up in Hawaii, being honored by his parish and family on the occasion of his 30th anniversary to the priesthood.

The lesson of the Fifth Sunday of Luke is among the lessons that introduce us to the season of Advent, preparing us for the Feast that celebrates the birth of our Lord. It focuses our attention upon the practice of good deeds, reminding us of God’s love and personal sacrifice by sending His Son into the world.

In our time there is a great deal of attention being given to the subject of wealth and poverty. St. John Chrysostom spoke at length on the subject. (His writing is available in English, published by St. Vladimir’s Press, entitled: On Wealth and Poverty.)

People whose lives are shaped either by wealth or poverty manifest certain attitudes and behaviors. Significant attitudes and behaviors can also be evident among those whose lives move from poverty to wealth and from wealth to poverty. Very often, whether someone worked to earn his or her wealth, or simply inherited wealth, is very telling.

For Christian believers, the core virtue in the case of both—which is the true test of one’s sincerity—is humility. Humility as a virtue is the foundation Christian love. It is the basis of a “good confession” and the true motive of love. Its opposite is arrogance, selfishness, greed, and hatred—all of which we are warned about by our Tradition, beginning with Christ, the Apostles, and the Holy Fathers. And, their warnings come with their pointing out consequences.

We also hear in the Gospel our Lord’s own warning: “To whom much has been given—much will be required” (Luke 12.48). Money will not buy you everything.

Sadly, there are many who think the opposite. It amazes me how some have believed that pouring millions into a political campaign will guarantee an election. People are not as naïve as some would think. It is sad to think what all of that money could have done to help those who are now facing incredible suffering.

The parable of “The Rich Man and Lazarus” of today’s Gospel lesson is in two parts: 1) the life of the rich man and Lazarus on earth, and 2) their life after death. The two are contrasted to make the following points: There is an eternal perspective to life; and this eternal perspective gives us a sobriety, and an understanding that a spiritual quality is acquired in this life, whether a person is wealthy or in poverty.

In commenting on this parable, St. Gregory the Great speaks of the effects of poverty and riches on the rich man and Lazarus: “The fire of poverty cleansed Lazarus of his evil deeds, and the happiness of this passing life rewarded the good deeds of the rich man. Poverty afflicted [Lazarus] and wiped him clean; wealth rewarded the [rich man] and deprived him of everything else.”

In a commentary by St. Ambrose we hear: “Lazarus was a pauper [one of extreme poverty and lived by charity] in this world, but [was] a rich man before God . . . Yet not all poverty is holy nor is wealth sinful, but as excess dishonors riches, so sanctity commends poverty.”

One’s eternal destiny, therefore, is something that begins in this life, and our stewardship of material things—whether in abundance or in poverty—has a direct effect on our spiritual life.

The message at the beginning of Great Lent (in the Paschal Season) is very similar: “What doth it profit a man if he were to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8.36). We are reminded before Great Lent that insofar as we are merciful to others, so will our Father in heaven be merciful to us; and that doing good to the needy is the same as having done a good deed to the Lord.

Likewise, at the start of the Nativity Fast, and at a time of the year when we are commemorating our nation’s many blessings at Thanksgiving, we are again reminded that merciful kindness, Christian charity, and love are among the spiritual virtues that save us from needless agony and eternal torment.

Prayer

O Lord, our God of love and great mercies, we thank Thee for your goodness in providing for all of our needs. Purify our hearts and minds from all forms of selfishness, neglect, and arrogance. Grant us the vision to see and to understand the meaning of your Gospel message as we gather about your table and anticipate dining in your heavenly kingdom. Forgive us our sins of omission and renew in us the desire to serve others as serving Thee. For Thou art He who came to serve and not to be served, and unto Thee do we ascribe thanksgiving and worship, together with Thy Father who is from everlasting and Thine all-Holy good and life-giving Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Enjoy more of Father Timothy’s sermons on his parish website.

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The Church and Politics

By Protopresbyter John Meyendorff, Dean [1984–1992], Professor of Church History [1959–1992], St. Vladimir’s Seminary. Excerpted chapter from Witness to the World (SVS Press 1987)

john-meyendorff_0In the time of Christ, the Jewish society in which He lived was split into several quite distinct political groupings which offered diametrically opposed options: the “zealots” wanted to organize rebellion against the Roman authority which ruled the country; others—including the priests and other officials of the Temple, as well as the “publicans” who collected taxes for the Romans—defended collaboration with the powers that be.

The “zealots” saw in Jesus the Messiah, and urged Him to head the rebellion, but He, while acknowledging the Messianic title, “ate and drank with publicans,” while at the same time He denounced the “hypocrisy” of the establishment. At no time, however, did He identify Himself with either “conservatism” or “revolution.” His message was that of supreme and absolute freedom from all the entanglements of human “politics”: His disciples were called to become citizens of His Kingdom, not the servants of political “causes.”

He certainly identified himself with the “poor” and the “little ones,” but not in order to call them to revolution. He called them “blessed” because He considered them closer to the Kingdom than the rich. He did castigate the rich, but only by calling upon them to give to and to love the poor.

No new social system can be constructed on the basis of His teaching. However, no system of social thought has ever had, throughout the centuries, as much social influence as the Christian message. This influence was real whenever and wherever the Church was able to be truly itself; wherever the Gospel of Jesus Christ was accepted for its own sake, not for the sake of earthly political causes.

Christian history is full of tragic and contradictory abuses of Christianity. Christian empires used it to conquer the “infidel” through violence. The rich have preached non-violence in the name of Christ to pacify those who envied their wealth. The bourgeoisie monopolized Christianity and made it synonymous with social respectability.

All these abuses from the “right” provoked today’s reaction from the “left”: social radicals identify Christianity with a utopian program of egalitarian society in this world. As a mater of fact, however, their ideal is just as utopian as that of the “holy empires” of the Middle Ages.

The Church ceases to be the Church if it excludes either the rich or the poor; for where else than in the Church will the rich learn how to give and become poor, and the poor how to transform their poverty into “poverty in the Spirit,” for which the Lord called them “blessed”? — March, 1969

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Being ‘Salt and Light’ in an election year

The following is an excerpt from The Forgotten Faith, by Fr. Philip LeMasters, Professor of Christian Ethics at St. Vladimir’s Seminary

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The cultures, forms of government, and economic systems in which Eastern Christians find themselves vary widely around the world. It is safe to say, however, that we are responsible for discerning how to witness to the social implications of God’s kingdom, even as we live within earthly kingdoms, where our options are inevitably limited. In American democracy, for example, voting for one candidate instead of another is rarely a choice for perfect good instead of perfect evil. At times there might not be a candidate on the ballot for whom we can vote in good conscience. Nonetheless, believers should prayerfully discern how to live out the teachings of the faith in relation to the given set of circumstances in which they find themselves.

Prudent judgment and a conscience formed by solid Christian teaching and practice are necessary to determine what candidates, parties, or ballot initiatives best serve God’s purposes for the collective life of humanity. Christian citizens should vote accordingly. Politics remains, however, the art of the possible. And faithful people with identical moral commitments may disagree, for example, over what specific candidates and policies will best serve to protect life in the womb, provide more appropriate care for the sick and dying, encourage the flourishing of families, and enact better stewardship of natural and economic resources.

In comparison with many Western churches, the Orthodox Church does not have a precisely defined political theology, and rarely identifies itself with a partisan agenda in the American sense. At the risk of stretching the category too far, voting and other forms of political action may well involve us in what the Church calls involuntary sin. These are sins that we do not intend, may not even know about, and cannot reasonably avoid.

For example, someone may in good conscience support a candidate or party whose positions do not line up perfectly with the social vision of Eastern Christianity. That candidate may enact policies that are contrary to God’s purposes in various ways, but if voters did the best they could under the circumstances with limited options, the spiritual gravity is not nearly as great as that of voting for a candidate because he promised to increase abortion rates, start pointless wars, promote sexual immorality, and disregard orphans. Even a candidate whose positions fit perfectly with Christian values may exercise bad judgment, be overwhelmed by circumstances, or otherwise end up doing more harm than good.

In the world as we know it, there are surely politicians who cynically use religious and moral rhetoric to gain votes without ever intending to act upon their promises. There is a brokenness, an imperfection about the collection life of fallen humanity that is impossible to avoid completely in politics and social life. Perhaps that is part of the reason Orthodox pray for the forgiveness of sins, “voluntary and involuntary, of word and of deed, of knowledge and of ignorance,” before taking Communion. No matter how we vote or live, we stand in constant need of our Lord’s mercy.

The Christian witness is not simply or primarily a matter of voting, of course. The first calling of disciples is to be faithful to their lord, which is a vocation fulfilled through the life of the body of Christ, not by isolated individuals. Particular members are formed, strengthened, and encouraged to live faithfully each day, as they offer themselves and the world for blessing and fulfillment in God. Such a path of discipleship, grounded in the Church, is necessary in order to speak with integrity about matters that extend beyond the visible boundaries of the community of faith.

For example, Christians, both individually and collectively, must pursue sexual purity throughout their lives and fidelity in marriage if they are to have anything to say in societal debates about the family or sexual ethics. If we don’t, we don’t have the standing to speak about these matters. Congregations and families have ample opportunity to live out the Christian witness on how to raise children, how to welcome pregnant women in difficult circumstances, and how to provide care to sick and lonely people.

It is a small endeavor, but at our parish of St. Luke, we sponsor a table each year at the fund-raising dinner for Pregnancy Resources of Abilene, which is a wonderful ecumenical Christian ministry that provides pro-life healthcare and counseling to expectant mothers and to the fathers of their children. The organization even has ministries to women who have had abortions and to men who have fathered aborted children. If our own house is not in order, no one will take seriously our speeches, demonstrations, or activism on moral and social issues.

We will not speak with integrity if we do not actually live out the moral and spiritual agenda that we teach in ways that cannot be confused with a merely worldly agenda. If believers become addicted to spending money in self-indulgent ways or without regard to the needs of the poor, rhetoric about caring for the needy and vulnerable will fall on deaf ears. If patterns of convenience lead us to abuse the environment because recycling and conserving energy are simply too difficult, then the language of stewardship will amount to so many empty words. If we make our own economic interest the highest standard to the exclusion of concern for others or the common good, then we will end up loving money more than we do our neighbors.

True Christian faithfulness costs something and requires us to die to self as we grow into the life of the kingdom. Equating the Christian witness with simply joining in the regular political fray, by running our mouths or carrying signs, is a sorry substitute for the difficult, long road of following in the costly way of Jesus Christ. It is also to place worldly power and domination before taking up the cross.

Whether as a result of constant media bombardment through the internet, talk radio, or partisan cable news channels, many people on the right and the left—and the shrinking middle—seem to have succumbed to the dangerous temptation to think that the real playing field for matters of Christian faithfulness is located in mainstream politics. Eastern Christianity reminds us, however, that no earthly realm is the kingdom of God or the body of Christ. It is an illusion of Western democracy that you or I rule our nation, let alone the world. What we have real responsibility for is far smaller: our own souls, and those with whom we share a common life in a substantive way.

Of course, our lives are linked not only with members of our families and congregations, but also with fellow citizens of our nation and world, not to mention those of past and future generations. We must do the best that we can to offer ourselves and our world to the Lord for the fulfillment of his purposes for us and for the entire creation. How we vote or what bumper sticker we put on our car is a very small part of how we serve God, and even then there is not a one-to-one correspondence between any worldly political movement and the Holy Trinity.

Religious groups that are strongly identified with politics risk becoming so entangled in debates shaped by interest groups that their distinctive witness is obscured. To give the impression of being merely a political party at prayer is a good way to make the people think that the Church has little to say to the world that the world does not already know on its own terms. If all Christianity provides is a bit of spiritual inspiration to live, act, and think like dominant groups in our society already do, then we must ask seriously what it means to be salt and light.

In addition, politics makes strange bedfellows, and we must be careful not to tempt anyone to confuse the Gospel of Jesus Christ with a partisan political movement. Parties are collections of interest groups and ideological advocates. There is a danger in aligning the Christian witness so clearly with them that we give the impression that the faith unambiguously endorses a whole range of positions that may have nothing to do with Christianity—or are even contrary to it. Those who disagree on some extraneous partisan issue may then think that they must also reject our Lord.

Part of being salt and light is providing a distinctive witness, not blending into the background with everyone else. The cultural witness of the Church should not be reduced to questions of whom we will support, like any other interest group, to be in charge of the government in order to pass laws that serve our agendas. The fullness of the faith must not be reduced to passing laws or engaging in contemporary culture wars or partisanship, but instead calls for a spiritual vision and a way of living that grows from worship: fasting, almsgiving, reconciliation, and the other disciplines of the Church.

The most fundamental political action of the Christian community is not to support candidates or even the moral reform of society, but to become a living icon of God’s kingdom that draws others to the salvation of the world.

Orthodoxy’s most fundamental cultural engagement is neither American nor Russian, neither liberal nor conservative, neither Republican nor Democrat. It is to be faithful to the body of Christ. It is to be faithful to our Lord. Everything else grows from that fundamental commitment, and nothing can take its place. Though we rarely think of worship as having any political or cultural significance, the Divine Liturgy grounds the Church’s witness to God’s salvation. Indeed, it enacts the offering of our lives to the Lord that we should make every day as we enter more fully into the life of the Holy Trinity.

Instead of living according to the standards of the kingdoms of this world, the Liturgy begins with the proclamation of our ultimate destiny: “Blessed is the kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Petitions follow immediately for the peace from above and the salvation of our souls, and for the peace of the whole world, the good estate of the holy churches of God, and the union of all men. Then there are more prayers for God’s mercy upon the poor, sick, and needy, as well as for the governing authorities and armed forces.

The Church enters spiritually into the peace of the heavenly banquet in the Liturgy, into the wedding feast of the Lamb as described in the Book of Revelation. We offer bread and wine as symbols of the whole creation, for they are our fulfillment in the kingdom.

“Thine of thine own, we offer unto thee, in behalf of all and for all,” the priest proclaims immediately before invoking the Holy Spirit to transform these gifts into the body and blood of Christ. The Church prays here for the salvation of the entire world through the redemptive work of the Lord. More prayers follow for God’s blessing upon the Church, the sick, the suffering, and victims of injustice, as well as for the armed forces, that they will know peaceful times, that we in their tranquility may lead a calm and peaceful life in all reverence and godliness.

The Divine Liturgy is an enacted liturgical icon of our salvation. Through our participation in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, we enter into heavenly peace and holiness, not something reserved for the distant eschatological future, the blessings of sharing in the eternal life of God are already available to those who call upon the name of the Lord with faith, hope, and love. Even the most pleasant, peaceable, and just society is not the fullness of the kingdom, and suffers from spiritual and moral corruption in many ways. Nonetheless, all goodness is the work of God, and we should rejoice when any society does better rather than worse, whenever the Lord’s purposes for humanity are fulfilled, even imperfectly and partially. Christians should be the leaven in all societies, inspiring by word and deed anyone who will pay attention to the possibility of entering more fully into the blessedness for which we were created.

The salvation of human beings is an infinite journey of participating in God’s holiness. It is the dynamic process of theosis, as we become partakers of the divine nature by ongoing repentance and growth in Christ. We are not isolated individuals, but persons in communion, who flourish in relationship with one another. We cannot pretend that our relationship with the Lord is not shaped decisively by our relationships with other people, including how we treat others and organize our common life. The kingdom of God is a social image of salvation that in many biblical passages concerns meeting fundamental human needs, overcoming divisions between people that are the result of sin, and reversing the order of the world as we know it. Of course, humanity cannot build the fullness of God’s reign by its own power, but societies may be more or less in line with his intended purposes for social life. Surely how any community organizes its common life reflects the spiritual state of its members and shapes them for better or for worse.

God wants to heal, bless, and transform every dimension of the creation as part of a new heaven and a new earth. Nothing is intrinsically profane, evil, or beyond his concern. Hence the political life of humanity is not evil in and of itself or necessarily cut off from holiness or salvation. Neither, however, is it a way to usher in the fullness of God’s reign by dint of our own efforts. We are too weak and too corrupt for that, but our social interactions are a way that we may become more or less the kinds of people God created us to be in his image and likeness. The more the collective life of humanity provides a glimpse, no matter how faint, of the coming kingdom, the better. The more the ways of the world come in line with the faithful witness of the Church, the more fully society serves God’s purposes.

Church and state are distinct institutions, but what people believe and how they live are not ultimately separate matters. The witness of the Church and its members should model the blessed and truly human existence to which our Lord calls everyone, in ways that challenge the corruptions of every social order. If Christians fail to respond faithfully to that most fundamental vocation, they will have nothing to contribute to the culture, but if we will fulfill it even partially then we will be salt and light in our words and our deeds by calling the world to holiness. The Orthodox Church invites its members and ultimately everyone else to enter into the life of the kingdom.

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ENTHRONEMENT HOMILY OF BISHOP IRINEJ OF EASTERN AMERICA

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IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER AND OF THE SON
AND OF THE HOLY SPIRIT!

YOUR EMINENCES, YOUR GRACES –
MOST ESTEEMED BROTHER HIERARCHS AND ARCHPASTORS, REPRESENTATIVES OF OUR HOLY AND EXCEEDINGLY BELOVED SISTER ORTHODOX CHURCHES AND OF OUR OWN HOLY SERBIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH,
YOUR ROYAL HIGHNESSES – CROWN PRINCE ALEXANDER AND CROWN PRINCESS KATHERINE,
YOUR EXCELLENCY AMBASSADOR AND MRS DJERDJ MATKOVIC OF THE REPUBLIC OF SERBIA TO THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
DISTINGUISHED MEMBERS OF THE DIPLOMATIC CORPS,
MOST VENERABLE, VERY REVEREND AND REVEREND CLERGY,
MOST VENERABLE MOTHER ABBESS AND SISTERHOOD IN CHRIST,
MOST BELOVED BROTHERS AND SISTERS AND CHERISHED CHILDREN IN CHRIST OUR LORD,

“Now when forty years had passed [i.e., in the fullness of time],
an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in a flame of fire in a bush.
When Moses saw it he wondered at the sight; and as he drew near to look,
the voice of the Lord came, ‘I am the God of your fathers,
the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob.’
And Moses trembled and did not dare to look.
And the Lord said to him, ‘Take off the shoes from your feet,
for the place where you are standing is holy ground’ (Acts 7:30-33).

Standing here today in your august presence and having acceded to the eminent Throne of the Bishops of Eastern America of the Serbian Orthodox Church, in this resplendent Cathedral dedicated to the All Holy and Life-giving Trinity, I am reminded by this passage that the ground beneath us is in verity holy, having been dedicated to the glory of the Triune God in this fair City of Pittsburgh, itself blessed of God by the triadic confluence of the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio Rivers. Glory be to Him who has created all and to Whom I am summoned once again to offer the entirety of my being, now as a faithful steward of this Vineyard, promising to toil together with all of you, on behalf of all and for all.

I herein proclaim my steadfast loyalty and offer my deepest appreciation to His Holiness the Archbishop of Pech, Metropolitan of Belgrade-Karlovci and Serbian Patriarch Irinej, the Episcopal Council of North and South America, and the Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church for their confidence voiced on my behalf, having acclaimed my unworthiness worth of this exalted calling as Bishop of Eastern America.

In like manner, I would be entirely remiss as immediate past Bishop of the Metropolitanate of Australia and New Zealand, if I did not presently offer my exceeding and heartfelt gratitude to those dedicated clergy, monastics and devoted faithful, as well as my brother Hierarchs, clergy and laity of the pan-Orthodox community and wider Christian fellowship with whom I have labored over the past decade and whom I shall continue to carry unabated in my heart and prayers!

Daring to pause and to reflect at this auspicious moment, I call to remembrance a timeless sentiment of the ever-memorable First Hierarch of the then Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America, His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos. With whom I share in common the glorious day of his consecration to the Holy Episcopate and the humble day of my birth. Having arrived for the first time on American soil, he stated aptly: “I stand firmly with trembling knees!”

Following in the footsteps of my distinguished predecessors on the Throne of the Bishops of Eastern America: Their Graces Bishops Stefan and Sava, and His Eminence Metropolitan Christopher, all of blessed memory, and His Grace Bishop Mitrophan, presently Bishop of Canada; I, too, stand firmly with trembling knees in this sacred place. However, having been summoned by our Lord, the Great High Priest, I am emboldened by the prayerful presence and fervent support of you who have ushered me into this Throne on this day: my brother Hierarchs, Royalty, clergy, monastics and faithful laity of our Holy Church.

Albeit that this path has been firmly trodden, the knees of my heart and soul tremble as did the very foundations of the earth on that great and holy day of Pentecost. Yet I am comforted knowing that the episcopal authority bestowed in the Holy Spirit upon my uncertain hands and the pastoral staff which I now hold rest firmly on the most certain of foundation stones: Christ, the rock of the Petrine Confession (cf. Mat. 16:18) upon which He built His Church. Accordingly, preaching in the Cathedral of St John the Divine on the Sunday following Ascension in 1921, the Holy Bishop Nicholai delivered one of his most inspiring homilies, titled “The Stone the Builders Rejected”, stating:

I am told that the builders of skyscrapers in America dig the ground very deep until they find a solid stone under the earth. Then, and only then, they start to build in the heights up to the clouds. Dig deep, o brethren, dig deep into the earth of your body, till you find something more steady than your body. That is your soul. But don’t be deceived, for even the soul is not the steadiest stone in you. Dig still deeper into your soul, till you find in it the lamp of eternity, the nucleus of God, the eternal Christ, God’s wisdom and life, clothed with your soul, as your soul is clothed with your body. Rejoice then as the man rejoiced having found gold under [the] earth in his field, and make that nucleus the very corner stone of your soul building and of every building in your life, inward and outward.[1]

In order to so endeavor in our building, we must “be of good courage”, as Joab admonished his brother in the days of Old, “let us be strong for our people and for the cities of our God. And may the Lord do what is good in His sight” (II Sam. 10:12). I am, thereby, in the words of the same St. Nicholai of Zhicha, “grateful to God, to the people thankful and without the seal of shame, bravely looking toward the future.” Thus as the great prophet Isaiah, responding to the summons of the Lord, while walking through the valley and seeing about him the people of God, joyously and with fullness of heart exclaimed, as I today reiterate, “Behold I and the children whom the Lord has given me!” (Is. 8:18).

Beloved! We must consciously strive together for a life in Christ. For He first loved us, creating us as an extension of Himself – His Love – in this world and in this age. But this world, the holy ground on which we stand, which the Lord has created and sealed with His love and beauty (cf. Gen. 1:31), requires us to cooperate fully with the Triumphant God-Man so that we can joyfully enter the abode of God and be His people and that He would be with us and we would live according to the will of our Heavenly Father.

However, in this very world there continue to be numerous difficulties and travails as many do not desire to accept God’s love! They prefer to live in their own right without the Lord. The laws and order of the Creator have been forgotten in our contemporary societies. Many are those who unwittingly live in the world as people of the world, and not as laity according to God’s salvific will. Prayer, which is more and more banned in public space, is understood as the exhausting pursuit of vain religions, rather than an unlimited time and space in which to stop and fill our lungs with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit; in which we breathe freely with the true faith; and responsibly contemplate and fulfill ourselves in His love.

The sense of humanity and thus community, marriage, parenthood and family, which are the unshakeable foundations of every healthy, wholesome society originate from our Heavenly Father and find their perfection in the iconic likeness of the intercommunion of the Holy and Life-creating Trinity. Today, the meaning of life itself is quickly removed and replaced by distorted societal shadows in which our children are taught about self-seclusion and in which a mother and father are no longer required; in which marriage that is according to God’s will is no longer essential; in which brother and sister are no longer an integral part of our existence. A person in this world is reduced to an individual, one which lives as a self-sufficient and lonely being, without the mutual sharing of God-given talents and life, completely devoid of the sanctity of community.

Standing here today in your midst, myself being a son of the Serbian American Diaspora, I behold you, my faithful pastors and flock of Christ’s Holy Church, gathered liturgically around your hierarch in a common unity of faith. For according to the teaching of St. Ignatius the God-bearer: “The Church gathers as a community of faithful around its bishop!” And as I hear echoed the words of the Great Prophet, at the same time I see visibly opening before the eye of my heart that moving icon wherein St. Sava, our first archbishop, welcomes his father, the Venerable Simeon, father of our nation, before Vatopaidi Monastery on Mt. Athos, while receiving him in a tender embrace. In that eternal moment, as time stood still, a son became a father to his father; and a father became a son to his son.

Most beloved children, rejoice with me, for I have wholeheartedly accepted you in my paternal embrace as your father in Christ, and pray the Lord that you have also accepted me, your son and now first among you, in the warmth and joy of your familial embrace!

Brother Hierarchs, Your Royal Highnesses, reverend brethren, venerable monastics and faithful people of God, Christ-loving assemblage!

His Holiness our saintly Patriarch Pavle has taught us that it is not up to us to determine the time in which we will be born, neither the people into which we will be born. However, how we shall choose to live that is, indeed, for us to determine. As all peoples are blessed of the Lord, I truly rejoice and am grateful to God for the devout and good people of God into which I was born and by whom I was brought up and in whose Holy Orthodox Faith I was baptized. For the fullness of the Way of Saint Sava is understood precisely as our common and living Orthodox Christian inheritance, and in no way a sealed and isolated, lifeless path.

It is historically accorded to St. Sava, through one of his bishops named Irinej, that “we are considered to be East by the West and West by the East, while we belong neither to the East nor the West, but only to the Heavenly Jerusalem”. This is our particular Serbian and common Orthodox ethos, our creative might of communion with the world and our unique contribution to contemporary society, which is neither East nor West. The same must become in unity, “a harmony of elevated emotion, intellect and will power”, according to the holy Bishop Nicholai, whose blessing I received while in the womb of my mother, and whose holy presence I feel constantly beside me. For precisely in describing America, he noted:

The light of the East and the light of the West will rest at their noon on the continent, which lies between East and West. . .[2]

In that light make us worthy Lord, to behold Your Light, in order to fulfil the admonishment of Your Saint who continued by advising American church leaders to “make plans as large as the world and efforts as hard as those of the apostles”; “to prepare for a sacrifice as holy and as universal as Yours”. For in these troubled times, only such efforts issuing forth from a strong faith will be able to sustain those fainting from fear.

I beseech You, Lord, Who entrusted my humility with the care of this Vineyard, the holy Diocese of Eastern America, which You have planted with Your own Right Hand on this holy ground: let Your everlasting light guide me in prayerfully and diligently laboring, always together with those entrusted to my care. May we in our furrowing, planting and watering, reap the harvest of Your bountiful blessings. May Your Holy Right Hand always hold firmly our impoverished, outstretched hands and complete all that is wanting in us for the sake of Your holy ones. For You, Christ, are truly among us who have gathered in Your Name and You will be and remain with us, now and forever and unto the ages! Amen!

 

[1] The Living Church, Vol. 65, June 18, 1921, pp. 215-216.

[2](Velimirovic), Bishop Nicholai, “A Serbian’s Vision of America”, The Living Church, Vol. 65, June 25, 1921. p. 247-248.

 


Enthronement Homily of Bishop Irinej of Eastern America, The Serbian Orthodox Church (SVOTS Alumnus M.D. ’82)

Delivered on October 1, 2016 at Holy Trinity Cathedral Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

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