With the recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to impose the legalization of same-sex marriage on all of the States, many people wonder how this will affect the Church. The answer is, of course, quite simple: it does not affect the Church at all in any way whatsoever. The Church has lived in the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the Communist Empire, the Capitalist Empire, various democracies, monarchies, aristocracies, oligarchies, etc. and kept the truth she received from God unchanged. The Church has lived through ages of Roman immorality, Byzantine Christian state officialdom, the Middle Ages in Europe, the Muslim invasion of Palestine, the humanism of the Renaissance, the Soviet attempts to build communism, the American separation of Church and State, and many other ages and circumstances, and she still kept her truth because she received it from God. In other words, it does not matter what any given society in any given age chooses to “celebrate”–gay pride or burkas, cannabis or ecstasy, pornography or abortion, alcoholism or prohibition–the Church does not receive her truth from social movements or Supreme Court decisions. The Church receives her truth from God and that is why she is not blown in this direction or that by various winds or tossed by different currents. (more…)
Many Christians seem preoccupied with identifying the sinful things about the world in which we live in an attempt to renounce or reject them. Whether it is the attitudes about gay marriage, or making the acquisition of material goods a life’s priority, or the immoral values of our modern society–some Christians devote their lives to fighting against the vile vices of this world. To be sure, we are called to fight “against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). But for some reason this fight all too often turns into a battle against “flesh and blood” (ibid.). It is certainly easier to fight against their vices than against the sin that lives in my heart and to find something to renounce in them rather than to cultivate virtues in my own soul. But a certain level I find such an exercise counterproductive. I think it a much more worth-while pursuit to describe that which must be adopted. (more…)
Can the question of repentance be addressed in a short-term model of pastoral counseling? Is the culture of instant gratification and quick fixes helpful in our understanding of repentance? Can we as pastors work with the tools and terminology offered to us by the modern world and frame the Orthodox teaching of the spiritual life in those terms?
No, we cannot address repentance in a short term model. We should not even try to do this. We need to teach, and preach, and talk, and counsel about the fact that repentance is a process, and that short counseling sessions, or conversations with a priest, or advice received during confessions may serve as mile-markers, or guiding points, but certainly not as one-time magical cures. (more…)
We heard in the Gospel reading that the Father gave all judgment to Christ, and that this judgment is righteous. We also know from Scripture that it is merciful. Why is this? Why does judgment belong to Christ, and why is His judgment righteous and merciful? It is because He knows what it is like to be us. He lived among us; He became one of us. He didn’t just look down from a cloud, but came down and lived the human life. He looked into the eyes of the righteous and the sinners, He spent time with politicians and prostitutes, He observed the Pharisee and the Publican. He experienced poverty, hatred, betrayal, torture, and death. He walked in our shoes. He knows what it is like to be us. This is why He is the one to judge; and this is why His judgment is righteous and merciful. I think this gives hope to all of us.
The missional dimension of the Liturgy points to an act, a process of Christ’s salvific work. Therefore, no single element of the Ordo can fully or clearly manifest this missional dimension. It must be a process aimed at the same goals as Christ’s mission. Since Christ’s mission is to save man by re-establishing a communion between man and God within Himself, then we must identify a process by which we unite to Christ if we are to find that which manifests the missional dimension of the Liturgy. Of course, what unites us to Christ is the entirety of our Christian life. But if we were to take a more narrow perspective, then it seems that it is not so much the liturgical service as the preparation for this service that most clearly manifests the missional dimension of the Liturgy. (more…)
The principle of correlation or concelebration in Liturgy described by Fr. Alexander Schmemann brings the laity into the equation of the Liturgy and strikes at the very heart of clericalism. Clericalism, at least as it exists in the Russian Church, seems to elevate ordained priests to some strange position within the Church. People are convinced that priests are not normal humans, that they have some special “superpowers” acquired through ordination, and that they are very much separate from the rest of the faithful–as if they were some alien beings. And while these ideas may be correct in some specifics–I do believe that priests receive divine grace from God–they are wrong in principle. (more…)
“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!”–Psalm 133:1
While there are many wonderful and holy pastors who labor in Christ’s vineyard, many others seem to experience problems of a peculiar nature. One way to identify the source of these problems to call it the lack of mentoring or apprenticeship. The situation is really quite simple: a newly-ordained priest gets assigned a rector and the only priest of a parish, which may be either in a remote location or the only Orthodox parish in a city. The dean may be too far and too busy to visit very often, the bishop may come once a year, other priests may visit only occasionally and not for the explicit purpose of offering any mentoring or advice. Thus, the newly-ordained priest is left to his own devices (and vices). Moreover, a priest is the leader of his community, and even older parishioners hesitate to play a mentoring role, and it would certainly not be their place to offer pastoring advice. Very few priests seem to be lucky enough to have real mentors who are actively involved in their lives and guide them in their spiritual and professional growth. There are some factors which could potentially mitigate the negative effects of the lack of mentoring of young or newly-ordained priests. (more…)
From a lecture by A.I. Osipov:
There are three “levels” of sanctity
1. Humility: this is when a person realizes his true state of sinfulness, realizes that he is incapable of saving himself, and thus, realizes that he needs a savior. This person may not have had an opportunity to change his life (repent-metanoia), he has not fulfilled any commandment–he has not done anything at all, but he realized his condition and need for savior. An example of such a person is the Good Thief.
2. Righteousness: this person is what one may call a “good Christian”–he tries to fulfill all of the commandments and rubrics of the Church, he obeys civil laws, he follows the rules of morality in relation to others. A person at this stage still has passion which are not conquered or conquered only partially. If such a person also possesses humility, then he is on his way to step three and will actually not see his righteousness. Other people will see him as righteous, but he will not recognize it in himself. If he does not have humility, then he becomes proud of his righteousness and turns into a Pharisee.
3. Holiness: a person at this stage conquered or suppressed passions, and the seed of of the “new creature in Christ” which had been planted in his fallen nature flourished into that level of maturity which is possible in this earthly life. In this state, the person no longer needs any external religious or moral rules because the law of God (rather, the Law-Giver Himself) is present in his heart. Because such a person is no longer of this world, this world has less dominion over him: he may walk of water as did St. Mary of Egypt, or his flesh may glow as did that of St. Seraphim, or wild beasts may obey him, or his flesh may not be affected by the cold or the heat, or the rain and the wind may listen to his command–these examples abound in the lives of many ascetics. And this state of holiness is mostly achieved by those who renounced the world (see The Ladder ch. 1) for the same reason why any perfection is achieved through complete dedication. If I only dabble at the violin and occupy the rest of my time with studies, priestly duties, family life, travel, entertainment, etc., etc–then I will not be very good at playing the violin. But if I want to be a virtuoso, then I have to practice for 10 hours each day and forsake everything else.
It is often said that a certain portion of what we have belongs to God. In the Old Testament, we see the commandment to tithe. This commandment is interpreted in many different way by modern Christians, but all seem to agree that it is good to take some portion of what we receive for our labor and give it to God by donating it to the Church or to the needy.
Some also note that the same should be done with out time. Just as in the Old Testament the Sabbath day was for the Lord, so also Christians speak of Sunday as being the Lord’s Day thus acknowledging that a certain portion of their time is to be devoted to God. It is not my goal here to examine the exact meaning of the term “the Lord’s Day” or to elucidate the nature of tithing. This is just some fun maths.
If we treat our time the same we treat other things that we have, then 10% of it should rightfully belong to God. In a 24-hour day, that is 2 hours and 24 minutes. Some may feel that is is not fair because we have to sleep for 8 hours each day. Well, 10% of a 16-hour waking day 1 hour and 36 minutes. Even if we were to subtract another 8 hours of full-time employment and propose that the time that we actually have is only 8 hours, 10% of 8 hours is 48 minutes. Do we give 48 minutes of our day to God? Suppose, this could be time spent in prayer, reading the Scripture, helping those in need–do we spend at least 48 minutes of each day doing those things? Something to think about…
…soul-killing theatrics and the saddest comedy–elders who take upon themselves the role of the ancient Holy Elders, possessing none of their spiritual gifts–may it be know to them that their very intent, their thoughts and ideas about <…> obedience are false, that their very way of thinking, their mind, their knowledge are self-deception and demonic delusion…–Saint Ignatii Brianchaninov, On the Life in Obedience to an Elder
If priests were chosen on the basis of their life experience, spiritual maturity, spiritual gifts, and wisdom, then they could make excellent fathers-confessors and spiritual fathers. But this is no longer the case. Many priests are chosen only because they have an interest in becoming clergy, have some specialized education, and do not have any canonical impediments. In other words, rather than choosing a candidate on the basis of the presence of positive qualities, one is chosen on the basis of the absence of negative ones. Virtues and spiritual gifts are not considered a prerequisite for ordination.
Every parish priest is forced to be a father-confessor. This is not ideal, but there is very little most priests can do about it. Much damage can be done to the soul of a parishioner if a young priest, lacking life experience, spiritual maturity, and the wisdom that comes with age, gives bad counsel during confessions. But in our current situation, most young priests cannot avoid playing the role of a father-confessor.
When it comes to a Spiritual Father, however, priests must be counselled to reject every notion that they have anything to do with that title. Of course, a priest is a spiritual father to many of his parishioners in the sense that he may have brought them to Christ, he may have baptized them and instructed them in the life in Christ. But the term “Spiritual Father” is very often (if not almost always) misunderstood to mean a very different concept. In monastic literature, in which all of our faithful are encouraged to immerse themselves, the Spiritual Father is the Holy Elder, and the relationship between the Father and his Child is the complete denial of self will on the part of the Child and the acceptance of full responsibility of the part of the Father–a model which is impossible among lay people for practical reasons. When this monastic concept is wrongfully applied to a parish priest and his parishioners, it creates an extremely dangerous spiritual delusion for all involved. Priests play a theatrical role of an “Elder” having none of the spiritual gifts necessary for this vocation. Parishioners play an equally-theatrical role of obedient spiritual children, blind to the fact that only true obedience and only to a true Holy Elder leads to a greater communion with God. Theatrical obedience to a theatrical “Elder” is nothing but “self-deception and demonic delusion.”
Playing the “Father/Child” game may be fun, but it is “playing with fire.” The unfortunate “Child” may have a false sense of safety under the theatrical obedience to a “Father,” but this relationship will be barren at best and bear ugly and bitter fruit at worst. To be a real Spiritual Father, one must be anointed by God with the spiritual gifts necessary for this vocation. To paraphrase Saint Seraphim of Sarov, one must first acquire the Spirit of peace within himself, before those around can be saved. The misuse of the term ‘Spiritual Father’ in parishes to refer to any priest, and the misunderstanding of the entire concept of spiritual fatherhood (and “spiritual childhood”) found in monastic literature is a substitution of of the real Spirit and the real life in Christ for a fake spirit and a fake life, a pretend-life, a theatrical performance, a game. And this is the real danger: we know that the real life in Christ leads to salvation, but the same cannot be said about playing the game of a life in Christ.
“[T]hese subtleties [of theology] are alchymized to a more refined sublimate by the abstracting brains of their several schoolmen; the Realists, the Nominalists, the Thomists, the Albertists, the Occamists, the Scotists; these are not all, but the rehearsal of a few only, as a specimen of their divided sects; in each of which there is so much of deep learning, so much of unfathomable difficulty, that I believe the apostles themselves would stand in need of a new illuminating spirit, if they were to engage in any controversy with these new divines. St. Paul, no question, had a full measure of faith; yet when he lays down faith to be the substance of things not seen, these men carp at it for an imperfect definition, and would undertake to teach the apostles better logic. Thus the same holy author wanted for nothing [but] the grace of charity, yet (say they) he describes and defines it but very inaccurately, when he treats of it in the thirteenth chapter of his first epistle to the Corinthians. The primitive disciples were very frequent in administering the holy sacrament, breaking bread from house to house; yet should they be asked of the Terminus a quo and the Terminus ad quern, the nature of transubstantiation? the manner how one body can be in several places at the same time? <…> (more…)
Can Christianity be likened to rocket science or brain surgery? Does it rely on acquiring a tremendous amount of knowledge in order to be practiced? I find these analogies very imperfect, despite the fact that I have used them in the past. Equating Christianity to brain surgery is simply indefensible on any level. (I myself have used this analogy in reference to the Church as an institution, which is somewhat more appropriate, since the Church is so Byzantine.) The one I recommend adopting is that of a sport. Paul used it. Imagine the sport of running: it is a rather simple thing–certainly–not brain surgery– there is not much of a book that one can write, even though many do for various reasons. But no matter how many books you read, nothing replaces going out and running. Not even a little bit. If you do not run but read many books, you will not advance as a runner even an inch. But if you go running every day instead of reading books, you will become a half-decent runner. True, advanced knowledge about pacing, nutrition, recovery, injury-prevention and alike can greatly improve your running, but the core of the sport is still the actual act running, rather than the act of reading. It is the same with Christianity: no amount of book knowledge of theology can replace daily practice. Daily practice, on the other hand, will produce results even with only minimal book knowledge.
Does the rational mind play a major role in our experience of God or in how well we can know God? Should we primarily rely on the academic study of theology in order to get closer to God? I love images, so consider this: it takes an active brain and a mind in order for me to experience the presence of a puppy. If I have no brain or if my mind is defective I may have problems or even be completely unable to experience the presence of a puppy. On the other hand, I do not have to know or understand how the puppy works in order to experience his presence. I do not have to have a Ph.D. in biology, or to dissect my puppy in order to experience him. Mephistopheles went even further and proposed that when it comes to a living being, to dissect is to lose every hope of understanding how the “thing” works, because once dissected, it is no longer a living being you are studying. In other words, what I think is important is to know where to stop. You can enjoy the love, and the licks, and the joyful bark, and the mess on your carpet–all with the necessary use of your brain with all of its faculties–but only for as long as you do not decide to dissect. In much the same way we can have the experience of the Trinity without figuring out or even trying to figure out all of the mechanics of how the Trinity works. We can also be under the protection of the Theotokos without trying to write a treatise on Her ever-virginity. This is not to denigrate the rational mind but to recognize its limits. We know very well that our physical body has its limits; we may push them at times, but we do not question them. It is the same with the mind–it has its natural limits. Everything has its proper place in our experience of God.