Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov

The Joy of a Life in Christ

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 15 October 2015

When we speak about spiritual or religious things, all too often we use words without truly understanding their meaning. We speak of love, for example, but how many pause to ponder what it actually is? As priests, we repeat Christ’s commandments like a mantra to our parishioners: “Love God, love your neighbor, and love your enemies.” And our parishioners get the hint; they come back to us during confession and confess the sin of not having enough love. How many priests and parishioners ever stop to wonder just how one is to get more love? By being ‘nice’ (whatever this means)? No, this is not love, this is just being ‘nice.’ By being kind? No, kindness is very good, but it is different from love. By being polite? This very useful trait seems even further from the nature of love than is kindness. Perhaps by helping others? This also is not love, per se. What kind of commandment is it–to love–when there does not seem to be a good way to fulfill it, let alone an “easy and light” one (cf. Matt. 11:30)? (more…)

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What is Wrong with Gay Marriage?: Random Quotes from an Unpublished Paper: Part 9

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 25 August 2015

These are random quotes from an unpublished paper. I will post more quotes from the same paper every few days during the Dormition Fast (Old Calendar).

As a case study of how a liturgical understanding of marriage may be relevant to the realities of our lives, let us take a look at the “issue of the day,” same-sex marriage. We shall not discuss why society seems eager to promote same-sex unions. Whatever their reasoning is–some notion of fairness for all (why toward gays and not polygamists or zoophiles?) or society’s financial and legal support for gay unions (are gay unions a beneficial and stabilizing institution in our society to be supported and promoted?)–the Church has her own reasons.

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Furthermore, arguments based solely on scriptural prohibitions of same-sex acts have their own limitations. Some may be satisfied by saying that same-sex marriage is sinful because the Apostle Paul identified same-sex acts as sinful. But a more inquisitive mind may ask ‘why?’ And why is the Church so selective about the Scripture? Why do we allow divorce and remarriage, for example, which is nothing less than blessed polygamy, when Christ Himself prohibited it and called it adultery (Matt. 19:8-9)? Perhaps, a second marriage is just as sinful as same-sex acts, as the Apostle Paul indicated: “Do not be deceived; neither… adulterers, nor  sexual perverts [‘men who lie with men’–ἀρσενοκοῖται]… will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9-10). The second-century apologist Athenagoras put it very plainly: “He who rids himself of his first wife, even if she be dead, is an adulterer in disguise because he transgresses the hand of God, for in the beginning God created but one man and one woman.”

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Saint Basil the Great uses the word ‘polygamy’ (πολυγαμία) to refer to remarriage after divorce(canons 4, 50). He treats all marriages after the first, initial, marriage as sinful and different from one another only in the degree of sinfulness (canon 4). While seemingly tolerating at least some second marriages after a one-year-long excommunication of the newlyweds, Saint Basil notes that third marriages are ‘uncleanness’ (ρυπάσματα–canon 50), and anything beyond that is ‘animal behavior’ (κτηνώδες) and ‘worse than adultery’ (canon 80). (more…)

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Marriage: Random Quotes from an Unpublished Paper: Part 8

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 25 August 2015

These are random quotes from an unpublished paper. I will post more quotes from the same paper every few days during the Dormition Fast (Old Calendar).

In the Orthodox service, no vows are exchanged; after the initial inquiry as to whether the two people want to be married to each other (more on that later), they say absolutely nothing. They also do nothing: something is done to them–crowns are placed on their heads, they are led by the priest around the gospel stand, the common cup is given to them, even their wedding rings are placed on their fingers by other people.

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Marriage is not a sacrament because it is listed as such in the catechism, and it is not a sacrament because God blesses the couple in some general way.  We have noted earlier that sacrament brings transformation: it is not quantitative (whereby vows, blessings, certificates, etc. are added to the couple) but qualitative–the couple does not remain the same two people they were before the weddings but is transformed (“changing them by Your Holy Spirit” in the Eucharistic sense) into something they were not–a specific icon of Christ and His Church.

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Just saying this, however, does not make it so. Many–if not most!–of our Orthodox marriages do not resemble the icon of Christ and look very similar to whatever model of marriage our current society presents. (more…)

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Random Quotes from an Unpublished Paper: Part 7

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 24 August 2015

These are random quotes from an unpublished paper. I will post more quotes from the same paper every few days during the Dormition Fast (Old Calendar).

Many people understand confession also as a singular and sometimes rare event.  Some in the Russian Orthodox tradition only go to confession once a year.  Others may confess more often and even more or less regularly…  But let us replace the word ‘confession’ with the word ‘repentance.’  What is the difference?  Imagine a thief who proudly tells his friend about all the things he has stolen, and then goes and steals some more.  He has just confessed his sins—undoubtedly.  But has he repented?  Now imagine a Christian who goes to confession, names all his sins—he is well aware of them—and then goes and continues to live in sin without any intent to change his life.  Can this be considered a sacrament? Obviously not. While God is ready to erase the sins from this person’s life, the person does not want them erased, he wants to keep them.  He confesses them without any resolve to change his life, that is to say, without repentance. Jesus did not urge people to confess, but but to repent: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17). In other words, repentance, even without the rite of confession, is transformative and, thus, sacramental. Confession without repentance, on the other hand, is not sacramental insofar as it is not transformative.

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Repentance is transformational not only in the immediate sense associated with the rite of confession, but in the most profound and mystical return to the Tree of Knowledge. Adam sought divine knowledge, but his lust blinded him to the large sign at the entrance: γνῶθι σεαυτόν. Repentant man stands before the Tree, having learned both good and evil; through repentance he finally achieved the knowledge of who he truly is. He no longer treats the Gift as an object–good for food, a delight to the eyes, and advantageous to his personal success. Instead, he offers a “broken and contrite heart” to God, born out of the waters of the tears of repentance (Ps. 51:17), offers it as a priest bringing a sacrifice to the holy table; and by thus entering into the fullness of the likeness of his Creator, he participates in the fullness of communion with his God by becoming His Body. And so, it is no longer, “It is good for food” (Gen. 3:6), but, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28)

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The main sacrament, the sacramentum sacramentorum, is not what happens to the bread and wine of the Eucharist, awesome as that transformation is, but what happens to us when we unite so intimately with our God, when He enters into us even physically, when we carry Him in our bellies. The sacrament does not end when the church service is finished; at that time, it only begins.

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In order for there to be a good fruit of this union of man and God, in order that the two become one flesh, one Body, we must become what we eat, we must be transformed into the likeness of the self-sacrificial God. Thus, we must repeat that which we had said concerning every other sacrament and act that we have examined: communion is not when we get something, receive something, it is not an act of a consumer; rather, communion is when we give and sacrifice, when we become God’s priesthood, the “sacrificers” in the cosmic Liturgy. And it is ourselves that we are called to bring to the holy altar of God.

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Random Quotes from an Unpublished Paper: Part 6

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 24 August 2015

These are random quotes from an unpublished paper. I will post more quotes from the same paper every few days during the Dormition Fast (Old Calendar).

Many Orthodox lay people and even some clergy believe that once a person has been baptized as an infant, he remains Orthodox for the rest of his life.  This really should be the case: “We, then, enter the font once. Our sins are washed away once, for they should never be repeated.” But often it is not the case.  Baptism is the entrance into the Church—both as the mystical Body of Christ and as a human institution established by God.  But neither one of these is a prison, and anyone is free to leave at any time.

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In this context, we should all ponder the prayer of Saint Ignatius of Antioch: “Only request on my behalf that I may not merely be called a Christian, but may really be found to be one.”

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Archimandrite Ianuarii (Ivliev) noted another aspect of baptism. According to Fr. Ianuarii, Christian baptism closely resembles the rites associated with the transfer of slaves in the Roman empire. A newly-purchased slave was stripped of his old clothing, immersed in water in a symbolic death to his old master and re-emerged as a servant of the new master. This immersion was done in the name of the new master. New clothing was given to the newly-baptized slave, and he was then sealed with a seal or a brand of his new master. From that point forward, the slave belonged to the new master, served him, represented him, and also enjoyed his protection.

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Random Quotes from an Unpublished Paper: Part 5

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 22 August 2015

These are random quotes from an unpublished paper. I will post more quotes from the same paper every few days during the Dormition Fast (Old Calendar).

In order to reclaim liturgical consciousness, we must strive for an entire paradigm shift in our lives. We have already mentioned the fact that for most Christians, elements of Christian observances seem to be secondary to the rest of their lives outside the church. Church services, prayer rules, Scripture readings, and changing diets (often mislabeled as “fasts”) are squeezed in among the primary obligations of secular lives–work, shopping, vacations, holidays, etc. People usually complain that they do not have time for prayer, or for attending church services, or that it is too inconvenient for them to fast; but hardly anyone ever complains that they cannot find time for work, or for a vacation, or that it is too inconvenient for them to eat bacon or ice cream.

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One instrument has been used consistently to both change the disposition of the heart and to demarcate liturgical acts: prayer. We observe a daily rule or prayer, which sanctifies the day and also marks the night as sacred time. But often, we do not properly understand the role of prayer in our lives. We feel that the sacred time in our day is the time spent in prayer.  We treat prayer as some form of obligation: 15 minutes for God, the rest of the day for myself.  Indeed, we often misunderstand religious obligations and see them in the same way as we see our social obligations.

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In other words, the sacred time of the day is not the time of prayer, but the time which is marked, framed, crowned by prayer—that is to say, the whole day itself.  A good example of this could be a beautiful chalice: as sacred and beautiful as it may be, it’s what’s inside that matters.  Or a beautiful temple—it is sanctified not by gold and glitter, but by the presence of God; and without God inside, it is merely a museum of beautiful architecture and fine arts.

(more…)

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Random Quotes from an Unpublished Paper: Part 4

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 21 August 2015

These are random quotes from an unpublished paper. I will post more quotes from the same paper every few days during the Dormition Fast (Old Calendar).

We already touched on the central idea of sacrifice in Liturgy. To illustrate this idea, one needs to look no further than the Eucharistic service of the Church. We can remove the singing, the commemorations, and even the reading of the Gospel, and the sacrifice of Christ offered to His people will still preserve the liturgical character of what remains. But if we preserve all of the singing and the commemorations, and read the entire Gospel, and yet remove the sacrifice, then what remains is no longer Liturgy.

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God did not establish His flock in order to take care of priests and bishops. Neither did He establish His flock just so priests and bishops would have someone for whom to care.

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Christ is the Lamb of God. To say this is not to say that Christ is a cute fluffy animal that God enjoys for a pet. To say ‘the Lamb of God’ is to say ‘the animal which has been chosen to be slaughtered as a sacrifice.’

(more…)

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Random Quotes from an Unpublished Paper: Part 3

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 21 August 2015

These are random quotes from an unpublished paper. I will post more quotes from the same paper every few days during the Dormition Fast (Old Calendar).

One implication of creation being Liturgy–not just participating in, but being–is that it is a communion with God and with all in God. We have already touched on the interconnectedness of man and creation in God. But what about the interconnectedness of men and women? So far, we have used the word ‘man’ to denote mankind or all of humanity. But by what mechanism or concept can we speak of mankind as one ‘man’? Clearly, there many ways to address this question–mankind as a biological species, or as a global society, or as an overarching cultural phenomenon–all of which can be viewed in a Christian theological context, but none of which directly speaks to the eartho-heavenly nature of mankind. What may bring us closer to that aspect of human unity is a closer examination of community through Liturgy and Liturgy as community.

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This “altogetherness” is the very essence of the sacrament of the Divine Liturgy. Earlier in our discussion we noted that a sacrament happens when the free will of God intersects with the free will of man. The resulting product of this synergic act is transformation.  What happens in the sacrament of the Body is not a quantitative change (one person added to another and yet another form a group of people in one place) but a qualitative transformation–it is no longer a mechanically-assembled group but an organic, living Body: “..send down Your Holy Spirit upon us [first–S.S.] and upon these Gifts… changing them by Your Holy Spirit.”

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Likewise, in Christ, all of humanity is saved and restored. Christ took into Himself one and only human nature. Male and female, Jew and Gentile can all be saved in Christ because they all share in the one and only human nature. If this were not so, if each person’s nature was unique and different, then in order to save male and female, Jew and Gentile, Christ would have had to become incarnate as each one of those natures and separately and individually the natures of each person ever born on this planet, but this is not so. By sharing in one nature with all mankind, Christ healed and restored this nature within Himself, and all who share this nature have the ability to partake of its renewal, all can change their family tree and become descendants of the New Adam.

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Random Quotes from an Unpublished Paper: Part 2

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 19 August 2015

These are random quotes from an unpublished paper. I will post more quotes from the same paper every few days during the Dormition Fast (Old Calendar). 

I will use the word ‘mankind’ throughout to refer to all humans, both male and female. I will also use ‘man’ and ‘he’ to mean ‘human’ and ‘he/she.’ I do not do this from a position of male chauvinism–my writings on the equality of males and females in Christ speak for themselves. I do this out of concern that linguistic acrobatics may distract from the main points of the study. My Greek professor once told a joke. Someone noticed that there was ‘man’ in the word ‘woman,’ so they decided to change it to ‘woperson.’ But then someone noticed that there was ‘son’ in ‘person,’ and so the word was changed to ‘woperchild.’ My goal here is to no longer be distracted by whether the words ‘wo-man,’ ‘fe-male,’ or ‘s-he’ are inherently offensive and how they can be changed, but instead to focus on the main points of our study.

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Saint Irenaeus of Lyon wrote: “God formed Adam, not as if He stood in need of man, but so that He might have [someone] upon whom to confer His benefits.” Surely, these “benefits” are not gold, or material possessions, or entertainment, but communion with God Himself and the participation in His divine life.

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Communion with God, so intimate that man becomes the Body of Christ, is the essence of the Eucharist. Fagerberg goes even further in claiming that Saint Ephrem describes the story of Eden as a liturgical story:

“God expelled us from the environs of the tree of life lest we be eternally disfigured. Do not think we were expelled from Paradise because God was jealous of divinity and would not share it with anthropos. The Christian narrative is not the myth of Prometheus. The expulsion was on account of man and woman’s untimely grasping at that for which they were not prepared. The sin was not that man and woman took something which God never intended them to have; the sin was that the serpent convinced them to take it prematurely.

He deceived the husbandman

so that he plucked prematurely

the fruit which gives forth its sweetness

only in due season

— a fruit that, out of season,

proves bitter to him who plucks it.”

Paradise, and all that was within it, and the creation in which it sat had the purpose of both preparing man for the reception of God’s divine Gift and offering it to him in due time. This is also a liturgical model: the Liturgy both prepares man for the reception of God’s divine Gift and offers it to him in due time. But the Gift stolen without the process of “tilling and keeping” one’s heart is truly bitter: “Then after the morsel [given to him by Jesus], Satan entered into [Judas Iscariot]” (John 13:27).

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The intersection of God’s free self-sacrificial act of love for man  and man’s equally free self-sacrificial act of love for God constitutes the Liturgical sacrament. Elsewhere, I have written about a distinction between miracles, works of man, and sacraments. When God acts alone, it is a miracle; when man acts alone, it is a work of man; when the wills and acts of God and man intersect, it is a sacrament.

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Random Quotes from an Unpublished Paper: Part 1

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 17 August 2015

These are random quotes from an unpublished paper. I will post more quotes from the same paper every few days during the Dormition Fast (Old Calendar). 

It is often asserted that in the Early Church theologians did not write works merely for the sake of writing something. Rather, it is said, they responded when their faith was being challenged and wrote apologies and clarifications of Christian doctrine. I personally think that some people like to write, to think and to express their thoughts in writing. Even if the Christian faith had not been challenged by heresies and misunderstandings, I am certain that some people would still have written for their own benefit, if no one else’s, and the Church would still have the theology of Saint Clement, and the beautiful works of the Syriac mystics, and also Chrysostom’s On Virginity as well as Augustine’s Confessions. Nonetheless, writing purely for the sake of writing can lead one astray toward subjects irrelevant or even irreverent. When one is so enamoured with the sound of his own voice that he loses track of why he is speaking or writing, and the very act of speaking or writing becomes a pleasurable end in and of itself, then, perhaps, it is time to think about a career in creative fiction rather than Christian theology.

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In other words, the vision of Christian rebirth and transformation seems to be that of a completely new creation, total newness–the newness of time and space, of the meaning of life and death, even a new heaven and a new earth–all is to be new with, perhaps, some remnants of the old, such as dishes, or diapers, or an occasional physical illness to be patiently born as a cross in full realization of its temporal limitations and of the faith in the world to come which is without illness, sadness or sighing. However, what we see in reality is people who get baptized but not transformed or renewed. Their life remains the same as it was before the baptism, their worldview does not change, and neither do their values. A weekly Liturgy, or some shortened prayer rule, or a vegetarian diet during Great Lent is added to their otherwise-unchanged secular life. Their Christian transformation is quantitative rather than qualitative; their most frequent complaint is that they do not have the time for church services or prayer rules because they are trying to cram some elements or activities of a Christian life into a life already overstuffed with other activities. They are trying to live a double life and in the best-case scenario their life becomes fractured in the process: Sunday mornings are for church obligations, the rest of the week is for the obligations of the world, and the two do not intersect…

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no one can serve two masters, for he will be devoted to one and despise the other (see Matt. 6:24). And this is exactly what happens–the add-on Christian obligations and activities become a burden: church services and prayer rules interfere with leisure time, they are seen and felt as an inconvenience; fasts “ruin” birthday parties and are a nuisance on secular holidays, unless one decides to dispense with the fast on those occasions and thus resolve the overlap of secular and religious activities in favor of the secular ones. Life becomes compartmentalized: one practices Christianity when one is in church or in church settings and secularism when one is at work or with friends who are not “church people.”

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Study Notes: On the Sacramental Nature of Marriage

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 15 July 2015

One of the obvious differences between the Orthodox and Western understanding of marriage is that in the West, marriage is what two people do, while in the East, it is something that is done to them. This difference is expressed in the wedding service. In the West, the two people give a set of vows, thus entering into a contract with each other. In the Orthodox service, no vows are exchanged; after the initial inquiry as to whether they want to be married to each other (more on that later), they say absolutely nothing. They also do nothing: something is done to them–crowns are placed on their heads, they are led by the priest around the gospel stand, the common cup is given to them, even their wedding rings are placed on their fingers by other people. Whatever the historical development of the Orthodox rite may have been, its form points to the belief in the sacramental nature of marriage. In this way, the rite of marriage similar to the Eucharist. One does not produce the Body and Blood of Christ the way that one would negotiate and produce a contract. All of the actions of the priest and the congregation are not aimed at the production of the Gifts, but at preparing their own hearts and souls for receiving the sacrament. (more…)

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Study Notes: The Authority of Priests

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 5 July 2015

All too often, a priest acts as if he were a secular leader, a board president, a CEO of a non-profit, a manager of an organization. To be sure, priests do hold a position of authority in the Church. But what kind of authority is it? What kind of headship? I really like the Roman Bishop’s official title: “the servant of the servants of God.” Regardless of how it is realized in the life of any particular pontiff, the title itself is very much Christ-centric and conveys the correct idea: a priest or a bishop receives his authority from Christ, and it is His, Christ’s, authority, not the priest’s. So, in order to find out how a priest is to exercise his authority, we must look at how Christ exercised His authority and learn from His example. (more…)

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Study Notes: What Is Prayer?

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 3 July 2015

As many of you have already figured out, the way my brain works is that in order to make sense of something, I have to paint a picture. Once I was asked to speak on prayer at a symposium. Here is the picture that I made up for myself.

First, I decided to figure out what prayer is not. It is not a conversation with God. If someone called me on the phone every morning and every evening and read the same text every single time without pausing to see whether I have anything to say, I would not call that a conversation. I would call that the weirdest thing that ever happened to me. Furthermore, prayer is not meant to tell God how we are doing or what our needs are (e.g., “God, I have cancer/need healing/my son is out late, please keep him safe, etc.”). If God knows everything–and this is the kind of God in whom we believe–then He does not need us to tell Him what our needs are. So, if prayer is not meant as a dialogue, nor is it meant to convey any information, what is it? (more…)

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Study Notes: Death by Baptism

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 1 July 2015

Nowadays, children get baptized for any number of reasons: because their family is Russian (Ukrainian/Greek/Serbian, etc.), because it is what they have “always done,” because the grandmother insists, because the parents want the child to be able to take communion or to go to Sunday school, or for any number of other reasons. But the Apostle Paul says that baptism is a manifestation of Christ’s death in our lives (Rom. 6:3)–no, no, not a symbol of His death, not a theatrical re-enactment, not a remembrance, but the “making-real,” the “making-present” of His death. Paul says that the baptized “put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27)–but what kind of Christ? The one who was tortured. The One who was crucified. The One who died. The One whose wounds did not heal even in His glorious resurrection (Luke 24:39). (more…)

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Study Notes: The Greater Hermitage

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 27 June 2015

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…)

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Study Notes: Models and Images of Spiritual Life

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 25 June 2015

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…)

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Study Notes: On Preparation for Holy Communion

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 22 June 2015

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…)

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Study Notes: Liturgical Minyan

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 20 June 2015

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…)

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Study Notes: Royal Inadequacies of the Royal Priesthood

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 16 June 2015

“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…)

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Study Notes: Three Levels of Sanctity

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 13 June 2015

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.

See also:

Models and Images of Spiritual Life

Mechanics of Salvation

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Study Notes: Call No Man a Father…

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 4 June 2015

…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.

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Study Notes: Amen to that!

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 1 June 2015

“[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…)

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Study Notes: On whether Christianity is Rocket Science

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 1 June 2015

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.

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Study Notes: On the Role of the Rational Mind in Theology

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 1 June 2015

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.

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Study Notes: Pastoring in the Shadow of the Cross

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 30 May 2015

We often think of pastoring as having one primary function–to take care of the flock. This may be expanded into a list of tasks: feeding, leading to green pastures, protecting from wolves, etc. But can there be other aspects of pastoring that are not found under the function of caretaking? For many years, I had a flock of goats, and in my experience, while protecting and feeding are very important in the work of a pastor, there are other things that cannot be ignored. For example, Paul so famously mentions that the pastor is also to take of the fat of the flock or of its milk. In other words, the relationship between the flock and the pastor is mutual in nature–it is not just the pastor who does things for the flock, but also the flock who does things for the pastor. If fact, in the case of my goats, this was why I kept them. I did not keep goats in order that I might take care of them; rather, I kept them because I wanted the milk, and caretaking was a means to that end. But while this reasoning works for people who keep flocks of animals, it cannot be true of the Church. God did not establish His flock in order to take care of priests and bishops. Neither did He establish His flock just so priests and bishops would have someone to take care of. Caretaking is a means but to what end? (more…)

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Study Notes on Pastoral Counseling: Mechanics of Salvation

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 29 May 2015

The idea that the parish is a hospital is very common; so common, in fact, that the very question of this assignment is quite rhetorical. Rather than asking whether I agree that the parish is a hospital, it seems to me that the assignment is assuming that I agree and asks me to explain why.

It should be said that the assertion that the parish is a hospital stems from the larger idea that the Church is a hospital, and any parish is the visible representation of the Church as a whole. There are many well-known scriptural passages and statements found in the writings of the saints that assert just that–so many, in fact, that it hardly seems necessary to recount them here. But the basic assumption, as I see it, comes from the Christian understanding of sin and its consequence. There are some views that sin is a transgression against God or His law, and that the wages of sin is death in the sense that every crime needs a punishment, and the crime of sin carries the penalty of capital punishment. Note, that death comes not as a result of sin, but as a result of punishment. In other words, unless someone decides to punish the criminal and carry out an execution, his crime in and of itself does not directly cause him to die. If this is not quite clear, I will explain the Orthodox position as a way to contrast. (more…)

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Study Notes on Liturgics: Laicism

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 25 May 2015

Recently, I heard a new word: laicism. It is a made-up word, of course. I guess, what the speaker was trying to convey is a reference to a phenomenon of church life which is a reverse of clericalism (anti-clericalism). In other words, if clericalism can be described (to some degree of approximation, of course) as the attitude of the supremacy of those ordained to clerical ranks over the lay people, the attitude of “us versus them,” some notion that we are the “real” Church, whereas the ignorant, unchurched masses are the sheep, the animals to be led, who do not know what is good for them. The clergy often act as if they had some special and unique grace and right. Layicism, then, is the attitude of lay superiority over the clergy, some notion that the lay people are the “real” Church, and that the clergy serve at the pleasure of the laity, that priests are to be appointed and dismissed by a council of a few lay people who think themselves some guardians of the church, while a priest is merely a “hireling” (John 10?). In other words, both clericalism and ‘layicism’ are nothing more than the “us vs. them” bizarrely and abhorrently adorned in “churchy” terminology. But how can this be? “Is Christ divided?” (1 Cor. 1:13) Is there a ‘class’ of clergy and another of lay people? Are not both members of the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12 but see the whole chapter)? Are not both the “royal priesthood” of Christ (1 Peter 2:9)? Paul teaches that in Christ, “there is neither Greek nor Jew” (Gal. 3:28). Did he really have to specify that there is also neither priest no church board member? (more…)

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Study Notes: 20 MAR 2015

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 20 March 2015

Study notes on liturgics

“… Pictures as windows is a Western tradition. Think of a typical painting of a landscape hanging on a wall–it is like a window to the outdoors. By the way, picture frames also symbolize window frames. In pictures of people, the spectator is “spying” on the person who is depicted. This corresponds with the Roman Catholic devotional practice of imagining various scenes from the Bible and “observing” all of the details through imagination–“spying” on Christ or the saints. (See my paper on mental imagery in Catholicism and Orthodoxy–it should still be somewhere online.) Perspective in Western paintings is forward: two parallel lines come to a point in the scene of the painting.

In Eastern iconography, the perspective is reversed: two parallel lines come to a point “in front” of the icon, right where a person who is looking at the icon would be standing, and come apart in the icon itself. Done properly, parallel lines come together in the middle of the chest of the person looking at the icon. Thus, it is the exact opposite of the Western concept: instead of me “spying” on Christ by looking into heaven through a window, He is looking into my heart from heaven. An icon is a window, but it is not a window into heaven; rather, it is a window from heaven into our world.

Another feature which can be observed in Eastern iconography is saints “coming out” of the icon. Think of an icon which is recessed into the board with the border “sticking out” around the edge. The saint depicted will always have a hand or part of the halo coming out of the image and onto the border, or Saint George’s spear and the hoof of his horse come out onto the border–as if the saints are in the process of coming out of the icon into our world.

in Western art, the human is the subject (the viewer) and the painting is the object. In Eastern iconography, the Lord or a saint is the subject (the viewer) and the human is the object. It is not so much that we are looking at them as it is that they are looking at us, they are the “cloud of witnesses.” This is also true of architecture. The Western spire “pokes” at heaven, tries to pierce it–it is as if the humans are trying to build a tower that can reach into the heavens. In Eastern architecture, the most ancient forms have a heavy low dome that looks like the sky (and is painted with stars on the ceiling). It is as if heaven lowered itself, came down to earth. The Russian “onion”-dome style symbolizes drops of oil dripping out of the sky. Oil, of course, is the symbol of the Holy Spirit, of anointing, of grace. In other words, the grace and the presence of the Holy Spirit comes down to us here on earth. Art, architecture, theology, worldview–we could go on and on, all of it is connected…”

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Study Notes: 15 MAR 2015

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 15 March 2015

Notes on the study of the Liturgy.

This phrase “It is time for the Lord to act.” is pronounced just before the beginning of the Liturgy in the exchange between the deacon and the priest. The explanation that I was taught is as follows. During the Liturgy of Preparation (Proskomedia), people do what they can: they bring offerings (prosfora), they say prayers “again and again” (these prayers are now placed in the beginning of the Liturgy of the Word), they prepare the bread and the wine and place them in sacred vessels. But they are unable to make bread become the Body of Christ or, even more importantly, we ourselves cannot become the Body of Christ by our own doing. In other words, no matter what people do–all the right things–they cannot save themselves. The Father must will for this to be so. Christ must offer Himself as the sacrifice. The Spirit must come down upon the faithful. We have done all that we could and fell short. So, now “it is time for the Lord to act.” This is somewhat similar to our Lent. Lent proper ends on Palm Sunday. We fast, we pray, we strive, and we greet Christ at the height of what we are capable of–we greet Him with palm branches, shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” This is all that we are capable of. But this is not enough; we fall short. Only a few days later, the same crowd will be yelling: “Crucify Him!” These are not different people, bused in from another part of the country. These are the very same people. Our best is just not good enough. Everything we do during Lent–fasting, praying, venerating the Cross, reading The Ladder of Divine Ascent, chanting the Great Canon for four hours straight–all of this is simply not enough, we cannot save ourselves through any of that. And so, our Lent ends on Palm Sunday, and then “it is time for the Lord to act.” What happens next is not what we do, but what He does–Passion Week. Passion Week is His doing, His acting. While He is washing His disciples’ feet, one of them is betraying Him (John 13). While He is giving them His broken Body, they are arguing about who will be the greatest (Luke. 22). While He is praying to the point of sweating blood, the disciples are sleeping (Mark 14). And while He was being arrested, beaten, and crucified, they flee and hide (Matt. 26; John 20). We tried and we failed. Now it is time for the Lord to act!

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Study Notes: 12 MAR 2015

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes, Women in the Church by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 12 March 2015

Notes of the study of liturgics

On whether the Apostle Paul’s comments about women are politically incorrect

NB: these are only random thoughts which are not necessarily correct.

In Orthodoxy, we see God not so much as a judge who punishes criminals, but rather as a physician who heals the sick. Thus, when God gives a punishment, it is not meant as torture but medicine. This medicine may be bitter, and the medical procedure may be painful, but pain is not the goal. For example, when a surgeon takes a knife and cuts into a man to remove cancer, he is not doing this because he enjoys hurting men, but rather because he wants to heal them: “He did not actually curse Adam and Eve, for they were candidates for restoration” (Tertullian).

Furthermore, when we look at the medicine, we can guess at the diagnosis. For example, if I know that you take antihistamine, I may guess that you have allergies. If I know that you take ibuprofen, I may guess that you have some inflammation.

So, when we look at the kind of medicine that God gave to Adam and Eve, we may begin to make guesses about their afflictions. To Adam God said: “You will work hard” (Gen. 3:17-19). Perhaps, Adam was lazy? Perhaps, instead of cultivating the garden of his soul, he let it get overgrown with weeds? Perhaps, he did not fertilize it enough with virtues? To the woman God said: “Your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you” (16). It is immediately after that that Adam called his wife’s name–that is to say, he asserted authority over her (20). This, of course, is a reversal of what God had said prior to sin: “A man shall leave his mother and father and cleave to his wife.” Since Adam did not have a mother and father (and, presumably, was not expected to leave God), this was the social order for their descendants (2:24). And yet what happened after the fall is the exact opposite: the woman leaves her father and mother (her family) and cleaves to her husband. And the visible symbol of this is that she changes her family name and takes on her husband’s family name.

If such is the medicine–submission to her husband–what, then, was Eve’s illness? Perhaps, she aspired to rule over Adam? This is not immediately clear to us from the text, but since we are studying worship, let us look at the fall through that lens. Certainly, the story of the fall is not about a stolen apple (or pomegranate).

Who is so foolish as to think that God, in the manner of a gardener, planted a paradise in Eden, toward the east, and … that a person could be a partaker of good and evil by eating what was taken from the tree? … I do not suppose that anyone doubts that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries. (Origen)

Adam and Eve were to partake of the fruit, which is communion with God, but they needed to prepare themselves first. They needed to till the garden of their souls and partake of the fruit as a gift from God. Instead, they chose to steal it. Eve saw the fruit and thought three things: it is good for food, it is delight to the eyes, and it gives knowledge. She fell into the “lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride of life” (1 John 2:16). It is as if one were to go up for communion in church and think within himself: “Hmmm… This is a pretty chalice, I wonder if it is an antique. The wine is quite tasty (now, the bread could be better). And I am glad that everyone is looking at me; they think that I am so spiritual.”

So, rather than partaking of the fruit as a sacrament, with due preparation and from the hands of God, Eve just took it of her own human will, and “she also gave some to her husband, and he ate” (Gen. 3:6). In other words, she communed him, she asserted her role above Adam. Instead of Adam receiving the fruit directly from God, Eve asserted her role as an intermediary between Adam and the fruit–it was in her possession, she usurped the right to distribute it.

If such was Eve’s illness, it makes sense that God gave her the medicine that He did, and that the Apostle Paul said what he said about Eve having been deceived in the garden. Thus, it is not about political correctness at all, but rather, it is about medicine. If someone were to ask us to undress, we would think such a request odd and politically incorrect. But when a doctor asks us the same thing, we just do it, because we know that it is for our benefit. And we patiently subject ourselves to various procedures, poking and probing, pills, mixtures, needles, etc.–all the things we would never tolerate from anyone except a physician.

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On whether women epitomize humanity and men epitomize divinity

The problem is that divine nature is different from human nature. By nature, we are not the same as God. But for men and women, nature is the same–the one human nature. By nature (ontologically), men are the same as women. This nature is manifested in two different forms–male and female–and in many different persons (or, rather, through many different hypostases), but it is one and the same nature. This is why the Apostle says that in Christ, there is neither male nor female. That is to say, both males and females by nature have equal access to communion with Christ, salvation in Christ, theosis, sanctity, etc. Women are not “lesser” creatures. They certainly do not “epitomize” humanity while man “epitomizes” divinity. One could argue that as a general rule, men seem to rely more on rational thinking while women seem to rely more on intuition or the feeling of the heart. But this only proves that women are closer to the spiritual world, since the spiritual world is not understood by the rational mind and is instead experienced through the heart.

If men are to be icons of the divinity and women are to be icons of the humanity, then we may find a bit of difficulty in tracing the two different paths to salvation. If we propose that all men somehow naturally are icons of the divinity (what does that even mean?), and all women are somehow equally naturally born as icons of the humanity, then we may have a hard time explaining this concept with any degree of intelligibility. And if we propose that men and women are born the same, but then for the sake of salvation men have to represent divinity while women must try to represent humanity, then that makes even less sense and presents an even larger theological difficulty (at least, in my mind).

Furthermore, this goes against the Scripture. Note that when Paul speaks about men being like Christ and women being like the Church, he is essentially (ontologically) talking about the same thing. Christ is both divine and human, and so is the Church. There is no Christ without His Body, which is the Church. There is no Church without Christ. Without Christ, a “church” becomes a Bible-study club or a Christian song concert. The Church, in order for is to be the Church, has to be fully human and fully divine. Christ and His Church are “unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably” united into one. What is even more fascinating, in Eph. 5:31, Paul introduces this concept by re-establishing the original order of Gen.: a man will leave his father and mother–it is almost as if he were trying to say that the Son of God left His Father and cleaved to His Church to become one flesh with Her.

Finally, the priest may be an icon of Christ’s divinity for the people, but at the very same time he represents the people or Christ’s humanity before God, he is also an icon of the Church. When he turns to the laos and says, “Peace be unto all,” he bestows Christ’s blessing on them. Yet in the very next minute he turns to the Theos and offers prayers for and on behalf of the people.

In other words, I would have a difficult time justifying a concept of women being icons of humanity and men being icons of divinity, or even comprehending this concept. But perhaps, I do not fully understand your argument? What precisely do you mean when you say that, “The man is essentially a microcosm within humanity of God, whereas the woman is the ultimate representation of humanness. As such, humanity in relation to God is feminine. God in relation to humanity is masculine.” What exactly do you mean by this? If it is feminine to be meek, and humble, and to serve, rather than to be served, if it is feminine to obey the will of the masculine, and to love, then Christ is… the perfect example of femininity! His interaction with His Church is expressly feminine. Eve are created a helper, a servant for Adam? (Gen. 2:20) Then she is an image of Christ, because Christ is the Servant (see Isaiah 52-53, Matt. 8:17 and Acts 8:34-35), He is the one who washes feet (John 13). By the way, in this context, to become an icon of Christ is to strive toward what is commonly misunderstood as feminine traits, not masculine ones.

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The original YOLO discovered!

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 6 March 2015

The original YOLO has been discovered, and it reads “YODO”–“you only die once.”

“And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment…” (Heb. 9:27 RSV)

You only live once, and you only die once, so make it count, always keeping in mind that we will have to answer for our actions!

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Study Notes: 19 FEB 2015

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 19 February 2015

“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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Study Notes: 13 FEB 2015

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 14 February 2015

…and yet, Cain killed Abel. One may suppose that since Cain’s sacrifice of the fruits of his labors had not been accepted, he may have decided to offer a greater, human one–his younger brother. What is really interesting in this story is that God points out Cain’s sin (Gen. 4:7), and Cain immediately goes and slaughters Abel (8). Was this in a horrifically-mistaken effort to atone for his sin? Clearly, God saw this act as a great sin and cursed Cain in much the same way that He had cursed Cain’s father (12 cf. 3:17, 23).

Abraham’s sacrificing of Isaac probably would have been expected or even required in the land from which he hailed (Ur of the Chaldees). Abraham may have mistakenly thought that Sarah’s barrenness was due to some sin, and that if they were to have many children, a human sacrifice for that sin was required. According to some rabbinical as well as modern scholars, God’s demand of offering Isaac as the sacrifice may have been not so much a thundering voice from heaven as a religious duty that Abraham would have felt in his heart. (This, of course, is not the common interpretation of many of the Church Fathers.) God again showed that He did not require a human sacrifice, that a sacrificial lamb is not a replacement for human sacrifice, but an icon of the Lamb of God slain before the foundation of the world.

Both Abel and Isaac are biblical icons of Christ.

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Study Notes: 4 FEB 2015

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 4 February 2015

Notes on bioethics:

“There are two misunderstandings about marriage which should be rejected in Orthodox dogmatic theology. One is that marriage exists for the sole purpose of procreation. What, then, is the meaning of marriage for those couples who have no children? Are they advised to divorce and remarry? Even in the case of those who have children: are they actually supposed to have relations once a year for the sole purpose of ‘procreation’? This has never been a teaching of the Church. … Another misunderstanding about marriage is that it should be regarded as a ‘concession’ to human ‘infirmity’: it is better to be married than to commit adultery (this understanding is based on a wrong interpretation of 1 Cor. 7:2-9). Some early Christian sectarian movements (such as Montanism and Manicheanism) held the view that sexuality in general is something that is unclean and evil, while virginity is the only proper state for Christians. [Needless to say, they have since died out.–S.S.] The Orthodox tradition opposed this distortion of Christian asceticism and morality very strongly. In the Orthodox Church, there is no understanding of sexual union as something unclean or unholy.” —Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeev)

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Study Notes (31 JAN 2015)

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 31 January 2015

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Notes on bioethics:

The scriptural admonition is for married couples *not* to deny each other sexual relations, except by mutual consent for the purpose of prayer and fasting. Abstinence from sexual relations (by mutual consent) is certainly appropriate the evening before receiving the Holy Sacraments, and during the day that one receives them. It is certainly *not* an absolute “requirement” of the Church to abstain on all fast days (and on the eves of fast days), or during the 11 days after the Nativity when marriages are not permitted. The Russian Church in the 13th century issued guidelines for married clergy on these issues, and they included as days of mandatory abstinence only the first and last week of Great Lent, the two weeks of Dormition Lent, and Wednesdays and Fridays during Nativity Lent and the Lent of the Holy Apostles. The married state is blessed and the marriage bed is undefiled. The Holy Church in protecting the sanctity of marriage and the well-being of the spouses, as well as encouraging procreation and the raising of “fair children” has no interest in creating artificial impediments to preclude spouses from “rejoicing in one another.” —Archpriest Alexander Lebedev

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Study Notes (29 JAN 2015)

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 29 January 2015

Apostolic Canon 9(10) — 49 (51) A.D.

All those of the faithful that enter into the holy church of God, and hear the sacred Scriptures, but do not stay during prayer and the holy communion, must be suspended, as causing disorder in the church.

Апостольское правило 9 — 49 (51) г. по Р.Х.

Всех верных, входящих в церковь, и писания слушающих, но не пребывающих на молитве и святом причащении до конца, как безчиние в церкви производящих, отлучать подобает от общения церковного.

Толкование. Иже не пребывают во святе церкви до последния молитвы, но еще святей службе поемей и совершаемей, исходят из церкве, таковии яко бесчиние творяще во святей церкви, да отлучатся.

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Study Notes (26 JAN 2015)

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 26 January 2015

Notes from a lecture on bioethics:

Fundamentalism and fanaticism are not the same as Orthodoxy.

The clergy may be experts in some fields but they cannot be experts in all fields. And yet the clergy, bishops in particular bur also priests, are routinely asked to offer opinions on the widest variety of topics. Unless the clergy learn to consult with and listen to the real experts in whatever field the question belongs to, they often give erroneous opinions due to their lack of knowledge on the matter.

Just because we can do something goes not mean that we should. Just because we can build a nuclear weapon does not mean that we should, or just because we are technologically capable of polluting our own planet (from which we as of now have no way of escaping to a different one) and killing off many species of animals, does not mean that this is good idea. Technology must be guided not by scientific curiosity, or some notion of “progress,” or geopolitical greed or fear, but by moral and ethical values of what is truly good for humanity.

“The passion of greed is revealed when one is happy in receiving but unhappy in giving.” –St. Maximus the Confessor

For many people, their belief in technology is greater than their belief in God, and so they measure God against technological  or scientific advances instead of measuring technological advances against God’s purpose for our lives.

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Study Notes (25 JAN 2015)

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 25 January 2015

Notes from a lecture on Liturgy:

Orthodox worship is not something that people create in order to please God, but something that God reveals to people as an icon of the heavenly worship. Heaven comes down to earth and we see a glimpse of its glory. We enter into communion with it on its terms; we converse with it using its language; we do not begin anything here and now but rather enter into something that is eternal. We do not reenact or remember the Mystical Supper of Christ but partake of the one and only.

Worship is not intellectual of contemplative, even though it contains both of these elements.

Worship is not prayer, even though it certainly contains prayer.

Worship is communion with God.

We commune with the eternal God while being temporal beings and are thus bound by the limitations of our current state: we have times for services, daily, weekly, yearly and other cycles. But through this temporal communion with Christ we aspire to the eternal communion with Him: “Grant us to partake of Thee more fully in the unwaning day of Thy kingdom!” (from the Divine Liturgy)

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Study Notes (15 JAN 2015)

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 16 January 2015

Notes from 15 JAN 2015 lecture on youth ministry: 

Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them… –Luke 18:15*

They, the parents, not youth pastors or Sunday school teachers, were bringing their children to Jesus, and it is still the solemn responsibility of parents today to bring their children to be touched by the Lord. As we see from this verse, this responsibility begins even when a child is only an infant.

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Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. (Prov. 22:6)

This advice is given to a parent, not to a youth pastor or a leader of a youth group.

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Come, O sons, listen to me, I will teach you the fear of the Lord. (Ps. 34:11)

Once again, this is not an example of a youth pastor or a Sunday school teacher speaking to his or her youth group members or pupils. This is a father speaking to his sons. Similar verses can be easily found throughout the Bible.

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Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction, and be attentive, that you may gain insight; for I give you good precepts: do not forsake my teaching. When I was a son with my father, tender, the only one in the sight of my mother, he taught me… (Prov. 4:1-4)

Yet another example of advice quite different from: “Hear, O sons, your youth group leader’s instruction, and be attentive to your youth pastor, that you may gain insight… When I was a son with my father, he always dropped me off at Sunday school.”

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Very similarly, Church Fathers–notably, Saint John Chrysostom, who is often quoted in these matters–spoke to parents about the proper instruction of their children, not to youth pastors. To the best of my knowledge, there was not a separate youth ministry with a youth pastor, secretary, and treasurer in the Archdiocese of Constantinople under Saint John.

Family is the first and fundamental community in which a Christian must learn and nurture in his or her heart the fruits of the Holy Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Gal. 5:22-23 RSV)

The spiritual growth of every child is best facilitated in a strong, loving, and supportive Christian family. 

A Christian family begins with the sacramental marital union of husband and wife. The “principal and ultimate goal [of Christian marriage is] the spiritual and moral perfection of the spouses.” (“The Mystery of Marriage in a Dogmatic Light.” Bishop Artemy Rantosavlievich. Divine Ascent: A Journal of Orthodox Faith. (Vol. 1 Nos. 3/4), 48.)

 

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Study Notes (14 JAN 2015)

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 14 January 2015

Notes from 14 JAN 2015 lecture on bioethics:

Embalming of a body routinely performed by funeral homes in the U.S. is a violent procedure in which blood is drained out and dangerous and harmful chemicals are pumped in instead. The blood of the human actually goes down the drain after being treated with chlorine. In the Scripture, blood is treated as very important and the substance that contains a creature’s life or soul. Christ Himself gives us His Blood in the Gifts of the Holy Communion. Without going too deep into theology, it seems that embalming goes completely against Christian anthropology and worldview and must be avoided. In those rare cases when embalming is unavoidable, blood must be preserved and placed into the grave with the body.

A Christian Ending is a handbook for burial in the ancient Christian tradition.

http://www.achristianending.com/

More on Orthodox burial: https://frsergei.wordpress.com/2011/11/14/funerals-and-memorial-services/

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Substance abuse, brain injuries, and chronic depression–all can decrease the function of the frontal lobes of the brain which negatively affects logical thinking, reasoning, and planning. This problem is especially compounded in people younger than 25 when the brain is still developing.

New research in neuroplasticity shows that the brain is able to heal to a great degree. In many ways the brain is not hardwired by substance abuse or even brain injury. It can recover much if its normal functioning by building new neuro-pathways. In Orthodoxy, we know the power of repentance. The original Greek work for repentance is metanoia–’the changing of the mind.’ And indeed, the mind, even the brain, can and does change–for worse if we choose to live in sin, and for the better if we choose life with God.

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Study Notes (13 JAN 2015)

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 13 January 2015

In his introduction to our doctoral cohort, one of the speakers mentioned that many people in America are preoccupied with their bodies more than they are with their souls. The example he gave is of people who religiously go to the gym, spend many more hours working out than they do praying or attending church services, and spend a lot more money on gym memberships than they donate to the church. By these actions, the speaker proposed, they show what their true priorities are. And perhaps, some people truly do devote their lives to worshiping their own flesh by becoming “health nuts”; but it seems that workouts and gym memberships are not the only ways that people reveal their true priorities.

For some reason which I do not understand there is a custom among some Orthodox Christians to look down on people who take care of their health. But the same people do not seem to find it un-Orthodox when someone ruins his or her health. For whatever reason which I also do not understand it is considered perfectly Orthodox to consume large amounts of starchy, greasy, sugary foods–even during Great Lent (dark chocolate is lenten, is it not?). People can spend more money on nutritionally-empty products that ruin their health than they donate to their church and spend more time on the couch than they do in prayer or at church, and somehow no one accuses them of having wrong priorities. Or what about people who buy luxury cars instead of giving more money to their church or helping the poor? Or what about people who buy many more clothes than they actually need? Or what about people whose television sets are the latest and the largest (and the most expensive)? There are so many ways that people waste their time and money instead of praying or feeding the poor or helping the church, that it is rather odd that those trying to stay healthy and take proper care of the body God gave to them are singled-out as having wrong priorities.

When people do not take care of their health or even damage it through their lifestyle choices we do not accuse them of being un-Orthodox. But when people eat healthy foods and go for a jog every morning or workout at the gym we accuse them of loving their flesh too much. Something is wrong with this thinking. It seems to me that it is the people who suffer from gluttony and laziness who are the ones that love their flesh too much. They give in to its desires and pleasures. But healthy eating and exercise take a lot of discipline of the body, denial of the body, willpower to fight against the demands and urges of the body, asceticism, if you will. Everyone who tries to follow a healthy diet will attest to how difficult it is, and how much willpower it takes, and how it is very much like fasting. Everyone who regularly exercises knows how much effort it takes and how much energy it gives in return for being able to pray and attend services. But how much effort or willpower does it takes to eat a donut or to sit on the couch? And what spiritual benefit is gained from being overweight or from owning a large-screen television set?

Of course, the seminary speaker was not talking about people who just eat broccoli or go for a light jog in the morning. Also interestingly enough, the seminary has a very nice gym right on campus, and both of my professors this term regularly go to the gym. But I think that comments like that should be moderated lest these comments are misunderstood by the faithful to mean that exercise is bad and candy bars are good. Perhaps, there can be promoted an understanding that moderation is best in everything–time spent at the gym as well as amounts of cakes or french fries eaten or unnecessary clothing, or gadgets purchased. Balance and moderation may be a much better pastoral approach than the customary pseudo-monastic vilification of those Christians who choose go to the gym or the questioning of their priorities. Otherwise, what is next? Will we proclaim that people should not brush their teeth because that means that they value their flesh too much? And maybe cavities in the teeth should be seen as sent or allowed by God just like obesity, hypertension and diabetes? According to the CDC, adult obesity rate in the U.S. is 34.9% (that is more than one in every three people!). Perhaps, rather than questioning the priorities of those who choose to exercise in order to remain healthy and productive members of the Church, pastors could turn their efforts toward promoting the understanding of the human body as a gift from God to be respected and properly cared for.

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Study Notes (12 JAN 2015 / 2)

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 12 January 2015

Notes from 12 JAN 2015 lecture on bioethics:

End-of-life care in the United States often includes great pain and heavy sedation, especially when someone is dying from advanced cancer. When it is not cancer, medical treatments can include feeding and breathing tubes which obstruct the person’s mouth. Even when a person is dying of old age with no other complications, a “failure to thrive” state may make the person unable to think clearly or to swallow. All of these circumstances may prevent a person from giving their last confession or receiving Communion.

It is very important not to wait! If your loved one is ill, especially if he or she is elderly and ill, it is extremely important to call a priest immediately. Let the priest come while your loved one can still give a confession and receive Communion. Perhaps, the illness will last a long time–the priest can continue to come once a week to give Communion to your loved one. Perhaps, the person will get better–he or she can come to church and give thanks to God for healing. Whatever may happen later, do not wait to call a priest today. The best way that we can show love is not by giving someone false hope or by bringing them “get-well-soon” cards, but by making sure that that have access to the sacraments of the Church when they need them.

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Study Notes (12 JAN 2015 / 1)

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 12 January 2015

Notes from 12 JAN 2015 lecture on youth ministry:

The foundation of a child’s worldview is formed in the first five years of life. This is why it is important to regularly bring babies to church. Children who were raised in the church from an early age will always feel at home there even if they go through a period of struggles later in life. Children who were kept away from church by their parents often feel uncomfortable in church. Children who are brought to church only rarely or not at all until they are older often want to leave the church immediately, cry, refuse to take communion and cause much grief to their parents.

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Prov. 22:6)

“Train up”–actively train, work with your child from an early age, do not neglect the task of actively teaching your child the way of Christian life and salvation

“a child”–a very young child; start working with your child from the earliest age; ‘a child’ does not mean ‘a teenager’; if you wait until your child is grown, it will be too late and you will have missed the formative years

“will not depart from it”–people go through different periods in their lives and some may fall away from God and the Church for a time; but if they have a solid foundation that their parents gave to them from an early age, they will always have a path to return to their roots, to God, and to the Church

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