Let Us Be Pro-Life, for the Life of the World

His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon, primate of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA)​ and Chairman of the Board of our seminary, led the Orthodox Christian delegation in the 45th March for Life in Washington, D.C., on Friday, January 19, 2018. Seminarians, faculty, and administration from St. Vladimir’s Seminary joined him and Orthodox Christians from all jurisdictions around the country in the annual March—including members of our pro-life, on-campus Student Interest Group, the St. Ambrose Society​. 

Metropolitan Tikhon also offered the following prayer at the pre-March program. He was joined on stage by His Eminence, Timothy Cardinal Dolan of New York.

45th Annual March for Life, Washington, D.C., January 19, 2018

I don’t come here to represent an ideology or to put forth a new thought.
I am not here to disclose a new insight or to speak for others.
I don’t even come here to speak for myself.
I come here to speak out the Gospel, to speak for the One who died “for the life of the world.”
In this phrase I see the summary of all that our communion today is about.

SB_Met Tikhon_Opening PrayerAnd so, together with my brothers from the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Roman Catholic tradition, I ask you to join me in offering a prayer to the One who died, not for the lives of the world, but for the life of it.

O Lord Jesus Christ, we know that all things and all people of all times share a kinship, a oneness that even surpasses our understanding. They all have one life and one life only, flowing through everything that breathes and everything that exists. When You came into the world, You did not just become human, but You also took on this one life and clothed Yourself with it, making it Your seamless tunic.

As life is one, all violence of any kind is of the same essence, the tearing of the one tunic. The tearing of the tunic will take many forms: abortion, execution, war, racism, genocide, oppression, slavery, hatred of any kind, but the essence of all is one and the same. All such acts are only symptoms of one and the same illness, “the sin of the world,” of which we are all part, which is self-love.

It is tempting to place blame for death only on some, but to be pro-life means to understand that violence is not the sin of some, but of all, that all violence of all time is the sin of all.

The truth is that every human being is Your image and everyone’s life finds infinite value in You, regardless of one’s sins.

Lord, You show us that life has only one source and only one victory: self-sacrificial love. Help us to be self-sacrificial love for all, and we will conquer death. As the great Syrian saint, St Isaac said:

Be persecuted, but persecute not.
Be crucified, but crucify not.
Be wronged, but wrong not.
Be slandered, but slander not.
Have clemency, not zeal, with respect to evil.
Lay hold of goodness, not justice.
Justice does not belong to the Christian way of life, and there is no mention of it in Christ’s teaching.
Rejoice with them that rejoice, and weep with them that weep: for this is the sign of limpid purity. Suffer with the sick, and mourn with sinners; with those who repent, rejoice. . .
Be a partaker in the sufferings of all men, but keep your body distant from all. Rebuke no man, revile no man, not even those who live very wickedly.
Spread your cloak over the man who is falling and cover him.

My Brothers and Sisters,

Let us be pro-life and thus not oppose Christ’s dying for the life of the whole world.

Let us be pro-life and be against anything that injures life, against any violence, under any circumstances.

Let us be pro-life and understand the kinship of all people and even of all other creatures and all things.

Let us be pro-life and thus become unable to endure the injury done to any creature.

May we be all this to the glory of our Almighty God, revealed in Trinity at the river Jordan, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, both now and ever and unto ages of ages. AMEN.

Sanctity of Life Sunday 2018

His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon, primate of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA)​ and Chairman of the Board of our seminary, ​will lead the Orthodox Christian delegation in the 45th March for Life in Washington, D.C., on Friday, January 19, 2018. Seminarians, faculty, and administration from St. Vladimir’s Seminary will be joining him and Orthodox Christians from all jurisdictions around the country in the annual March — including members of our pro-life, on-campus Student Interest Group, the St. Ambrose Society​.  Metropolitan Tikhon has been asked to offer the prayer at the pre-March program and will be joined on stage by His Eminence, Timothy Cardinal Dolan of New York.
We are re-printing here from the Orthodox Church in America’s website His Beatitude’s message for “Sanctity of Life Sunday,” which will be observed January 21, 2018, in OCA parishes and in other Orthodox Christian jurisdictions throughout the U.S.

Archpastoral Message of His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon

To the honorable Clergy, venerable Monastics, and pious Faithful of the Orthodox Church in America,

My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ:

From the moment they were born, both Moses and our Lord Jesus Christ faced great danger: as infants someone wanted each of them dead. Moses’s life was saved because the Hebrew midwives feared God more than Pharaoh, so they refused to follow the order to kill the newborn males (Ex. 1:17). And our Savior’s life was spared because of angelic intervention (Mt. 2:13).

2018-0118-theotokos-nourisher-lifeBut the Holy Innocents were not spared. Herod’s lust for power, or rather his deep-seated insecurity, led to the massacre of a multitude of small children, and the bitter weeping of their inconsolable mothers. We sing of this at the Ninth Royal Hour on Christmas Eve: “Mothers were bereft of their infants, and by an untimely death their babes were bitterly harvested. Breasts grew dry and sources of milk were stopped. Great was this calamity!”

The root of sin and specifically of violence toward our fellow human being has not changed since those times. It has always been our passions: anger, fear, judgment, despair, jealousy, pride, vanity, to name only a few. Moreover, the Fathers of our Church have always taught that the nature of all passions is one and the same: love of the self. This is, in the words of our Lord, “not to think the things of God, but those of man” (Mt. 16:23), or in other words not to think as God does, but as people do. We learn from the Apostle Paul how God thinks. He does not think of His divinity as a thing to hold onto, but empties Himself taking the form of a servant (Phil. 2:6-7). The mind of God is not only not to kill, but to give life to the world through His death (John 6:33, 51).

Locking ourselves within our own minds and setting ourselves as the standard of life, not only do we not see God for what He is, but we don’t see our fellow human beings for what they are. They become objects of our ideas and plans, props in our own life narratives, subjects of our own desires. We hurt others in so many ways just to make them fit us better. The calamities we inflict on each other are not different in nature since the beginning of time, they are only greater. Today we have means to injure others on extraordinarily larger scales. We have the means to hurt others all the way on the other side of the planet with the typing of 280 characters. We have means to execute the condemned by the thousands. We have means to destroy the enemy by the hundreds of thousands. Finally, we have means to kill the unborn by the millions and billions. The only difference between us and the sinners of ancient times is that we have greater means for putting ourselves first and imposing ourselves on others.

Yet, the scariest of all things is not even the scale of our means of violence. Rather it is the fact that our human mind has devolved in its own universe to the point of finding justification for all these terrible violences. At times it even seems that we are drawing near to justifying anything. Human law, established firmly in “the things of men” and not in those of God, follows suit. So many wars have been legal. So many executions have been legal. So many genocides—legal. Christ’s own crucifixion—legal. So much violence has been done in the name of the law and of the good of the human being.

In front of this terrible reality some of us will be drawn to prayer. Others will be drawn to helping all the victims of this terrible violence. Others will be drawn to changing the law. But in front of all of us, regardless of our inclinations, is put forth the only Way and the only conquering of death and victory of life—Christ, the one who “died for the life of the world” (John 6:51). There is a great mystery hidden in this truth, because Christ died for the life of the world at the hands of the world. This is how St. John Chrysostom puts it:

Tell me, what is the goal of the Gospel of grace? Why the revelation of the Son of God in the flesh? So that we bite and devour each other?

…Christ didn’t die only for friends or for His own, but also for His enemies, for tyrants, for impostors, for those who hated and crucified Him…

Throw the net of love, not so that the lame will fall, but rather that he be healed… and thus having searched the hidden depths, pull out from the chasm of perdition the one drowned by his thoughts…

Do not hate! Do not turn away! Do not persecute! Rather, show him pure and true love.

And how Christ died “for the life of the world” at the hands of the world clarifies for us the most crucial thing, namely that life has only one source and only one victory: selfless or self-sacrificial love. Let us be selfless love for all and we—in the one who is Love and Life itself—will conquer death:

Be persecuted, but persecute not.
Be crucified, but crucify not.
Be wronged, but wrong not.
Be slandered, but slander not.
Have clemency, not zeal, with respect to evil.
Lay hold of goodness, not justice.
Justice does not belong to the Christian way of life, and there is no mention of it in Christ’s teaching. Rejoice with them that rejoice, and weep with them that weep: for this is the sign of limpid purity. Suffer with the sick, and mourn with sinners; with those who repent, rejoice…
Be a partaker in the sufferings of all men, but keep your body distant from all. Rebuke no man, revile no man, not even those who live very wickedly.
Spread your cloak over the man who is falling and cover him. (St. Isaac of Syria)

May the world see our love, receive it from our own cross, and fill itself with life in it!

With love in Christ,

+ Tikhon
Archbishop of Washington
Metropolitan of All America and Canada

New Year’s Resolution: A Chance to Pray, to Love, and to Be a Helper

By Sarah Byrne-Martelli, Seminarian

Sarah Byrne-Martelli, BCC, was Board Certified with the Association of Professional Chaplains in 2004. She is a Chaplain at Massachusetts General Hospital and is endorsed by the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese. She received her Master of Divinity degree from Harvard Divinity School and currently is a Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.) student at St. Vladimir’s Seminary.

She wrote the following essay for a broad audience (Orthodox and non-Orthodox!) as part of an assignment for her D.Min. class, “Advanced Preaching and Communications.”

Sarah also co-hosts a podcast on Ancient Faith Radio called, “The Wounded Healer.” Sarah, her husband, Peter, and their son, Rafael, are members of St. Mary Orthodox Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do good things happen to bad people? We hear these questions a lot, and wonder how to make meaning of this. Do we deserve the good things, the bad things? Where is God in all of this? If we do good things, and live a decent life, not hurting anyone, it seems like we should have some guarantee that life will be good. But a quick glance around shows us that this is not the case.

list of resolutions on blackboard with three blank, numbered sticky notes
photo: moneysmart.com

We all know the stories…. Our sweet, elderly neighbor, who goes to Mass every day, had a stroke and is in the hospital. Your boss is a complete jerk, who disrespects people at every turn, and yet he gets promotions and accolades while you get nothing. My friend’s young wife is dying of cancer and they have a six month-old baby. And so on and so on…. And after a while, it’s too much to bear: bad things happening to good people, and good people suffering, all the time.

Some people respond by rationalizing these questions from a rigid religious perspective. There is this idea that God controls literally everything, from whom you marry, to your job offers, and your daily experiences. It’s like God is a micromanager. God helps you find your keys, and grants you that sweet parking spot you got at the supermarket. It’s related to the old “everything happens for a reason” line that people love to say, to reassure themselves. If I had been standing a foot to the left, that tree would have fallen right on me and I would have died. Everything happens for a reason! Hashtag #blessed. Well, that’s good for you, but what about the man it did fall on? What was the reason for that? Was that guy bad? Are you good? Was he good? What does that even mean? It makes you want to give up.

Perhaps more appealing is the idea that God is not involved at all, and we are the authors of our own destiny. You’ve probably heard of bestsellers like “The Secret,” with its “law of attraction.” Simply put, the law of attraction states that if you put out positive energy into the universe, you will receive it back. If you put out negative energy, you will receive it back. It’s like your mind is an existential magnet. If you manifest your vision, you deserve all the good you get. That sounds really appealing…until something bad happens. What’s the reason? What about the wonderful person who manifests positive energy, yet gets cancer? Did she deserve it? Is she to blame?

These ways of thinking are at best internally inconsistent, and at worst incredibly hurtful. If you have a tragedy, and someone responds with, “Well…everything happens for a reason!” or “You must not have manifested enough positive energy,” you know it feels like a straight punch to the gut.

And you have full permission to reject these responses. The good news is there is a better way to face the troublesome fact that seemingly bad things do happen to seemingly good people.

Chaplain Sarah Byrne-Martelli, BCC

As you know, my tradition is Orthodox Christian. Reductive responses and cheery slogans don’t resonate with the rich theology of the Church. We don’t have this idea that God is a creepy puppeteer, orchestrating everything. God is not a cosmic babysitter, or a petty micromanager. If He were, I wouldn’t want to believe in Him either!

And we’re also not just sending and receiving energy into the cosmos, like rechargeable batteries. It doesn’t work that way.

I’ll start with an important premise. God is good. Everything and everyone who God created is good. Everyone. Yes, even those people who seem “bad.” We are all made in God’s image. And this God created us to be free. Real love doesn’t force anyone to do anything. We can do whatever we want.

But as humans, we tend to do things in a way that prioritizes our own pride, our own needs, our own selfish ways. This allows the force of evil—a twisting of the good—to take hold in people. This is what it means to live in a fallen world: that the second humanity had a chance to do something selfish, they did—cue Adam, Eve, and the apple. It took them about one second to mess with the freedom that God gave them. With this freedom came sin, and death, and suffering, all inherited, in a sense, from our ancestors. With this freedom comes a world of struggle and tragedy.

Suffering comes as a result of this inheritance. But that’s not the end of the story.

God responds to suffering in the person of Jesus, who was real, who lived and saw everything that was going on. Jesus walked and talked and knew what it was to be human. He responded to the suffering He encountered with compassion and clarity. He calmly turned things upside down. Instead of condemning an adulterous woman, He called the crowd to examine their own failures. He touched the supposedly “unclean;” He welcomed the noisy children; He taught that every suffering person is our neighbor. Jesus loved the poor and ate meals with sinners. Every human experience, every tragedy, every joy and grief—all are known to Jesus.

It can seem like the end of everything when a tragedy happens to someone we love. We ask, Why? We ask, Do I deserve this? Those are good questions, and Jesus himself asked questions like this, as He approached His own death. Again, He gets it, because He was fully human. He faced the pain of suffering, betrayal, and death head-on, with compassion, forgiveness, and love.

Life is not just about doing good works or having an impressive faith so nothing bad happens to you. It is not about judging others or making assumptions about another person’s “energy.” It’s about a path of holiness that constantly seeks peace and radical kindness to ourselves and others. It’s about approaching suffering with gentleness and introspection, not as if we deserve it or don’t deserve it. It’s not about good people and bad people and good things and bad things. It’s about seeking the only truly good thing: aligning ourselves with the heart of God, the love of God in us and around us. It is a daily choice—a choice that God gives us.

Well, then, you say, why does God need us to choose it? If God is so powerful, then why doesn’t God just do something?

Well, God has already done everything. God has done everything in the person of Jesus. And even Jesus was not immune to tragic feelings. He cried with compassion for his friend Lazarus who died. Jesus shows us so tangibly what God is like. We can do the things that He did.

When a tragedy happens, we hear that wonderful quote of Mr. Fred Rogers, telling us to look for the helpers. Mr. Rogers was a minister, you know, and his faith was quietly woven throughout his work. He said, look for the helpers. The helpers are choosing love, kindness, compassion. This is where we see God, when bad things happen. When we look for the helpers, we see that God is not distant, God is not gone. God is alive among us. And in moments when we don’t see any helpers, then perhaps the helper is already close by. Perhaps we are the helpers, the ones called to love someone in need.

The ultimate fear—that life has no meaning and tragedy is unavoidable—is conquered by a love that fills and surrounds everything that exists. That’s what I mean when I say that God has done everything, and He is never far away.

Now of course, sometimes we still grieve, we still fear, we still shake our fists at the sky. We don’t just magically bask in God’s glory and act perfectly. Life can be incredibly sad, and overwhelming, and heartbreaking. I have spent countless hours with people in the midst of traumatic loss. I have witnessed a mother and father cradling their stillborn twin babies. I have witnessed my best friend going through a terrible divorce. I have witnessed the shock of a new diagnosis, the shock of sudden loss, the shock of a heart attack. It is honestly a mystery. We don’t know why. But faith helps us abide and be brave. Faith turns to God in the shock, in the sadness, in the heartbreak. Faith gives thanks for the helpers and empowers us to help, in love and in faith.

The grief we feel is a cue in our hearts that this is not right, that death cannot be the end. Grief is borne out of love, and this love cannot be overcome. And honestly, sometimes there are no words. Sometimes silence is the most loving response.

On the cross, with His last breath, Jesus said, “It is finished,” and was silent. “It is finished” doesn’t mean it’s over or it’s done. “It is finished” means it is complete. Even the final tragedy— death—was conquered by the love that never ends. God does everything that can possibly be done. It is God’s complete way of saying: My children, I love you, and I’m here with you.

The question “Why do bad things happen to good people?” isn’t the question we should keep asking. Instead, we must bravely ask: How can I be a helper? We must say, God is good, and life is messy, and God has redeemed it all. We must say, Lord have mercy. We must say: Help me understand, help me love.

Does everything happen for a reason? Yes, but it’s not the reason you think. It’s not because you deserve one thing, and someone else deserves something else. The reason is that everything in life—loss, joy, grief, gratitude, everything—is a chance to pray and a chance to love. It’s a chance to seek the helper, to be the helper, and to pray, cry, and give thanks. Helping others, we witness true goodness, and we share this goodness with a world that so desperately needs it.

Archpastoral Message on the Feast of the Nativity of Christ 2017

His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon, Chair of the Board & Spiritual Head of St. Vladimir’s Seminary

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

My beloved Brethren and Blessed Children in the Lord,

As we come to the end of the civil year, we reflect back on a period in which tragedy, acts of terrorism, shootings in public spaces, political confusion, and sexual misconduct allegations dominate the news. The darkness which enshrouds the world adds to the burden of our personal and family struggles: addictions, estrangement, divorce, and all manner of conflict wrought by human passions. We might be tempted to wonder how love could have so definitively fled from the hearts of human beings.

SB_Archpastoral Message_Image_Nativity_2017The feast of the Nativity in the Flesh of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ is a reminder to all of us that “heaven and earth today make glad prophetically” and angels and men “keep spiritual feast, for God, born of a woman, has appeared in the flesh to those that sit in darkness and shadow.” The light that we receive today is not merely a physical light that pierces the gloom which surrounds us, but rather a transfiguring light that both reveals God’s love for us and inspires us to grow in our love for God.

There is no philosophy or ideology that can overcome the irrationality of the world. It is only the transfiguring light of Christ—His divine and sacrificial love—that can accomplish this. It is only through love that we can, with the animals in the manger, “accept Him who by His Word has loosed us dwellers on earth from acts that are against reason.” When we despair at the tragedies in the world and in our lives, let us remember that it is precisely in the midst of such darkness that the Word of God chose to be incarnate.

Archimandrite Zacharias suggests that “when we are confronted by the ruins of human love and find ourselves completely broken, then two solutions can be given: either we turn to God with our pain, so that God enters our life and renews us, or we continue to be deceived by our human plans and slide from one tragedy and barrenness of soul to another, hoping that one day we will find perfection.”

The world longs for authentic love but seems to remain mired in the global tragedies that we witness every day. In our horizontal and human relations with one another, what is missing is God Himself, a third and divine-human Person to purify and heal our imperfect and broken relationships. Whether it be husband and wife, brother and sister, or larger communities, true love and abiding peace can only be found through our communion with God.

In our Orthodox context, this takes place through the Divine Liturgy and through our efforts to nurture the sacrificial love of God in our own hearts. “Paradise begins on earth through love for God and love for our fellows. In this lies the entire wealth of eternal life, for man has been created to give eternal glory to God. His delight is to return this glory to His image, man, who then returns greater glory to his Creator.”

Today’s feast is a reminder that it is through this cycle of glorification and love between God and man that we find our true fulfillment. May the new-born Christ grant us the courage to keep His love in our hearts, to connect with our fellows through prayer, sacrifice, and humility, and to remember that, no matter the degree of our own brokenness or the brokenness of the world, Christ has come to give us hope for renewal, “for what He was, He has remained, true God: and what He was not, He has taken upon Himself, becoming man through love for mankind.”

With love in the New-Born Christ,

+ Tikhon
Archbishop of Washington
Metropolitan of All America and Canada

The Nativity Fast: “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel!”

Homily delivered Sunday, December 10, 2017, in Three Hierarchs Chapel
By Archpriest Chad Hatfield, President of St. Vladimir’s Seminary

Gospel Reading: Luke 17:12–19 

Then as He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off. And they lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” So when He saw them, He said to them, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan. So Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner? And He said to him, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.”

Epistle Reading: Ephesians 6:10–17 

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Advent Calendar_40day imageThe Nativity Fast is not one which we mostly observe, and not one upon which we tend to focus. Maybe that’s because our Nativity Fast has fewer liturgical or traditional observations that help us to focus—as compared to the Great Fast prior to Pascha.

Converts to Orthodoxy have incorporated some of their former Christmas customs into this season, especially in recent years. They’ve kept the tradition of the Jesse Tree, and some have blended visits from St. Nicholas and St. Lucia. Additionally, they’ve introduced Advent calendars, Advent Wreaths with additional red candles to accommodate the length of our Orthodox fast, and even Advent Logs. They’ve even appropriated the word “Advent” itself, which derives from a Latin word meaning “coming” or “arrival.”  And, ready or not, “O come, O come, Emmanuel” is very near!

During this season, we all need to focus on today’s epistle reading: we are in for a fight—Spiritual Warfare. Our life in Christ is at stake! We have all types of “spiritual armor,” so to speak, at our disposal, but often we fail to use it, and we are ambushed easily.

The writer of the Book of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) said, “There is a shame that leadeth to sin: and there is a shame which is for glory and grace” (Eccles 4.21). Let us make for our own, the “shame” which is for grace and glory.

We witness that type of shame when we read in the Gospel about the one who is a sinner bathing the feet of Jesus with her tears and wiping them with her hair. We see the glory when Mary, and countless others down through the ages, chose the “good portion” that would not be taken away, either in this world or the next. Through this shame and to this glory may God in His mercy lead us all!

I am of an age to remember when this time of year was given over—in my former church—to the contemplation of the “Four Last Things”: Death, Judgment, Heaven or Hell. All priests built their sermons around these four last things, just before Christmas.

It would still do us good, in the midst of the “Christmas Rush,” to reflect on the Last Judgment, as this is the season when, as we say in the Nicene Creed, when He comes again to judge both the living and the dead. “O come, O come, Emmanuel!”

Christ, at the end of His public teaching, gave two parables about judgment. One is called the “Parable of the Talents.” It describes the judgment in store for those who posses Christian privileges. They will be judged by the use they have made of the gifts given to them. A stern judgment awaits those who have not used their gifts at all. My Christian friends, this is a judgment for us.

The other is called the “Parable of the Sheep and Goats.” It describes the judgment upon the Gentiles, that is, the outsiders, the people who have not been within the Christian covenant. They are judged by their practice of the natural virtues of kindness—to the naked, to the sick, to strangers, to prisoners—and if they have been good to the naked, the sick, the strangers, the prisoners, they have all unknowingly been near to God, and have been doing kindness to Christ Himself.

SB_icon of Virgin MaryAnd, it would also do us good to reflect upon heaven and hell, among these “Last Things.” Actually, we anticipate them daily, in the here and now. Every act of faith and charity, every movement of the heart and mind towards God, is an anticipation of heaven. The Eucharist we now share is a little sharing in heaven’s worship, and the Holy Spirit working in us is the first fruits of the heavenly baptismal inheritance, the power already of the age to come. “O come, O come, Emmanuel!”

So too, we anticipate hell whenever we isolate ourselves in our pride and selfishness, and make barriers between one another, thus making a barrier between us creatures and our loving Creator! Our life as Christians is one of conflict and ambiguity: we live under grace, and yet sin dies very hard within us! Heaven and hell already do battle, and the conflict between them may be raging within our prayers, as well as within our actions.

The Gospel reading today reminds you and me that we are like “lepers,” separated by our disease of sin from the source of LIFE, the Word made flesh, who touches and heals. In the haste of this hectic season, let us be careful to join the Samaritan and give thanks. “O come, O come Emanuel!”

Note: The image of the Advent Calendar was reprinted from http://manymercies.blogspot.com/. This blogger provides educational resources and instructions for many children’s crafts to help parents raise their children in the Orthodox Christian faith.

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.


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.


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).


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.


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.


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.

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.

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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!”


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.