What is Your Name, Brother?
The customary Lenten pastoral conference and retreat of the Western American Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church was held in San Francisco from March 8 to 10 of this year. New to our Diocese is Professor Deacon Matthew Steenberg who moved to San Francisco from England and has been assigned to St. Tikhon of Zadonsk church. Father Matthew gave the first lecture of the conference on the topic of whether God causes earthquakes, such as the ones that devastated Haiti and Chile.
Father Matthew presented the patristic view that it is not God Who causes earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, and other disasters, but our sins that cause the created world to be in disharmony and to suffer. The destruction and division that we witness in nature are a reflection of the fallen state of our hearts. Having been created as the sacred priest of God, man holds the key in his heart not only to heaven and hell (cf. Luke 17:21), but also to creation, which he is to sanctify and offer to the Creator. Thus, the condition of our heart affects not only us personally, but also those around us and even the created world.
However, unlike some televangelists, who imply that the sins of those who suffer cause God to bring the suffering upon them, the Fathers of the Church urge us to examine our own hearts just as Christ Himself commands us: “…those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish” (Luke 13:4-5).
Later that same day, His Eminence Archbishop Kyrill tonsured Father Matthew a monk with the name Irenaeus. The brethren greeted the newly-tonsured hierodeacon with the traditional greeting: “What is your name, brother?” Father Irenaeus is to be ordained into the holy priesthood on Sunday, March 14.
On the following day, Constantine Zalalas presented a talk on Saint John Climacus’ ascetic work, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, and shared his thoughts on the importance of fasting.
Protopriest Alexander Lebedev talked about his work as a member of the Interconciliar Committee of the Russian Orthodox Church, and touched on such issues as the implementation of Chambesy agreements, relations with the OCA, the meaning of some statements made by Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeev), and our response to this controversy, and other important topics.
The final day of the retreat began with the Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts officiated by His Eminence Archbishop Kyrill and His Grace Bishop Theodosy. After the Liturgy, His Eminence greeted Father Protopriest Alexander Lebedev with his 60th birthday. Father Alexander has served Christ’s Church for over 40 years, first as a deacon and then as a priest.
After lunch, and before departing for our respective parishes, many of us had some time to talk, share memories, experiences, and just enjoy each other’s company.
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! (Psalm 133:1; 132:1 in Greek enumeration)