Friday, December 22, 2006
I thank the almighty God for blessing me to stand before all of you today, humbly beseeching you to acknowledge me as a servant in Christ’s Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Although there are many things that may be said on such an occasion, many truths and lessons one can learn and take away from such an experience, I believe that the most important of these is to understand the significance of the deacon within the context of church life.
Living in the Canadian Diaspora, we seldom encounter the office of the deacon and it may be that we understand his role even less. Yet, the deacon is an integral part of our understanding of Orthodox Communion. We often hear that the Church is a living organism; the mystical body of Christ. In this body, we tend to think of the priest as the head, the leader, and the shepherd. We accept him in the place of Christ and learn from his example how to lead others in the faith. It is through the priestly office that we learn how to preach the Christian faith and how to inspire Christ in our fellow man. The priest inspires all of us to fulfill the priestly vocation that all Orthodox faithful possess through baptism.
However, it is possible that sometimes we may be so eager to lead that we forget that there always must be those who follow. In the Gospel of Matthew chapter 20:26-27, Jesus reminds us, “but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave.” It is these words of Christ that I turn to today; words exhorting us all to be servants to one another; to put our neighbor before ourselves. In our Orthodox family every one of us plays a specific role, fulfills a specific function. Not one is greater than the other. We are reminded of this truth through the office and example of the deacon, whose life should not be one of honour, distinction, or renown, but humility, servitude, and obedience. The first deacons served tables and fed widows, distributed alms and helped with daily tasks. Where the apostles inspired leadership, the deacons inspired obedience to that leadership. Where the apostles inspired power through the Word, they inspired strength through weakness. Where the apostles inspired faith through preaching and signs, they inspired it through good works. So it must be for the deacons of today.
I say these things to remind myself and all of us that ordination to the deaconate is not a simple honour bestowed as a reward upon those who have lived a just and moral life. If that were the case, I would be the last to be recommended for such a position. The role is not one of honour but one of servitude. Understood in this way, the deacon’s office is not one that many should aspire to, but one undertaken by the few who feel called to do so. It is not an affirmation of holiness, nor a song of praise. It is not a prize to be won through any efforts of our own. Like the Holy Eucharist, it is a gift which we are called to participate in, unworthy as we are. It is a grave commitment made by those who are called despite their mountains of imperfections.
For as long as I can remember, I have heard this call within my heart. Despite my sinfulness and multiple shortcomings, the call remains. I have answered it throughout my youth and young adult life. Today I pledge to continue answering this call to the best of my ability, knowing that nothing is possible without God who makes the priest, the deacon, the teacher, and the doctor. Not all can be priests, not all deacons, not all teachers, or doctors. Yet we are all children of God struggling to do His will in the role we have been given. We are all created with a purpose and to know one’s self is to understand and come to terms with our individual calling. Once discovered, we must have the humility to accept this calling and fulfill that which is required of us. The deacon reminds us of this ultimate truth and he must be the embodiment of this humility so that the Body of Christ is never deprived of any of its members. As for myself, there are many in my life who have helped me realize my place in the Holy Body of the Church; those who have guided me by their words, deeds, and examples. It is to them that I owe who I have become and they deserve my everlasting gratitude.
First and foremost are my parents, George and Akrivi. If I were to speak of love, I must think immediately of them; for there is no greater example of selflessness that I have witnessed in this world than that of my parents. They have inspired me to give as they give; to sacrifice as they sacrifice; to devote myself as they devote themselves to all that is good. I thank them for teaching me the art of self-giving and may God Bless them always.
Along with my parents, I would also like to thank my two sisters. Throughout my youth Stamatia and Maria have always been by my side to support me, encourage me, laugh with me, and love me. It is their love that sustains me and unites our family. They are my examples of how we are to love one another as brothers and sisters. One could not ask for better siblings. I thank them for teaching me through their devotion.
I also would like to thank my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and extended family for the love they have shown me through the years. Each in their own way, with their own strengths, experiences and advice, have taught me about life, sacrifice, commitment and responsibility. I thank them for their role in my upbringing.
Still, I cannot forget those who nurtured my spiritual thirst and were responsible for my theological education. These are the clergy, professors, and fellow seminarians who accompanied me and were my guides throughout my religious education. To my professors at the Toronto Orthodox Theological Academy I thank you all for being my first guides in my exploration of Orthodoxy. You gave freely of yourselves to instill in us, the seminarians, the Word of God as it is found in the multi-faceted life of the Church; a special thank you to His Grace Bishop Christoforos of Andidon, who was truly a father to us all at the academy. He taught us how to live the faith instead of just talking about it. I thank him from the bottom of my heart for his living example. I would also like to thank my professors at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in New York for the excellence of their instruction and their example of how to truly live within a Christian community. I would like to especially thank Professor Richard Schneider for his mentorship, his guidance, his instruction, and his faith in me. He is an inspiration to all who pursue theology and is truly one of the shining stars of the Orthodox Church today.
To my fellow seminarians, both here in Toronto, and in New York: you will never know your importance in my life. We are truly a brotherhood of the few who are willing to follow this great and holy vocation. It is a hard path, especially in this secular and cynical world. At times when I have felt the weight too great to bear, our brotherhood has always been there to remind me that I am not alone. Thank you all for standing by me whenever I needed you and thank you even more for your friendship and love.
Of course, my spiritual education would have never happened if I did not have excellent spiritual guides to keep me on a straight and level path. Here I would like to thank three individuals: Firstly, Fr. Odysseus Drossos and Fr. Panagiotis Avgeropoulos, for their spiritual guidance over the years and for their faith in me as a person and as a future clergyman of Christ’s Holy Church, and secondly my brother-in-law Fr. Constantine Hatzis, who has been a brother to me in every way and whose character has always been an example for me to emulate; a special thank you to Fr. Constantine and Fr. Panagiotis for their help in my liturgical preparation for my ordination today.
Last, but not least, I would like to thank my beloved wife Joanna. Having known me before I entered seminary, she has been by my side throughout the last 7 years of my life. She has been devoted to the Church all her life she has shown me this same devotion throughout our time together. She embodies love and sacrifice, tolerance and patience. She is my co-worker in the vineyard of our Lord and I could not have asked for a better counterpart for this great task. With her I would also like to thank her parents George and Angeliki, as well as her brother and sister, Nick and Christina, for all they have done for me. They have all loved me like a son and brother and have supported me in my vocation from the moment I met them.
In closing I would like to thank His Eminence Metropolitan Archbishop Sotirios. Your eminence: you have always believed in me and guided me; respected my opinions and ideas; nurtured my strengths and steered me away from my weaknesses. I thank you for all you have done, not just for me, but for all of us; for your unceasing efforts to better the Church in Canada. I offer myself as a servant in this, Christ’s vineyard that has been entrusted to you. May he continue to bless and guide you, as you continue to guide us. May God give me strength to lift the cross which He is has given me. With your blessing, I approach His Holy altar with faith and reverence.
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Reflecting on these words, I realize, now more than ever, how important it is for priestly candidates to live pure and blameless lives. Now, by "pure" I don't mean perfect. I mean that they should not have committed any of the "Big" sins; those sins that will attack the credibility of their ministry. Sins such as fornication, backstabbing, lying, cheating, stealing, etc. Namely, sins that have public as well as personal consequences. I'm not saying that it is therefore OK to sin privately, however, it is much harder to minister when your name is not clean. For example, how will people seek advice about marriage from a priest who is divorced, advice about chastidy from one who fornicated before marriage, advice about fidelity from one who cheated on his girlfriends in his youth. It just doesn't work.
1 This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth
a good work. 2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife,
vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; 3 Not
given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a
brawler, not covetous; 4 One that ruleth well his own house, having his children
in subjection with all gravity; 5 (For if a man know not how to rule his own
house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) 6 Not a novice, lest being
lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover he
must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach
and the snare of the devil. 8 Likewise must the deacons be grave, not
doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; 9 Holding the
mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. 10 And let these also first be
proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless. 11 Even
so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. 12
Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own
houses well. 13 For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to
themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ
Jesus. 14 These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: 15
But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself
in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and
ground of the truth. 16 And without controversy great is the mystery of
godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of
angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into
It is for this reason that throughout all of our Holy Tradition we constantly find warnings that a priestly candidate must be free from all public blame. He must be an example to all so that his ministry can be effective. The sheep will not follow a sheppherd who acts like a wolf. And it does no good for someone to be a wolf all their lives and then suddenly attempt to play the sheppherd. Many think in this way; that they can engage in all types of immoral behaviour in their youth and then change when they get ordained. This is absolute nonesense. If we have learned anything from studying 2000 years of Church history, it is that sanctity and holiness take years to master and is a constant process. Furthermore, ordination is not some magical event, as some would think, that suddenly makes someone a holy leader of a community. In essence, I believe that ordination should confirm that which one already is. If one is to become a priest, one must possess the characteristics way before his actual ordination. This is why the canons outline, as does Timothy above, the type of person a priest must be before he is ordained.
Many of us believe that the past will be forgotten and that youth is meant for experiencing all types of things, good and bad. They believe that their past sins will not affect their future lives. This is our greatest dillusion. Spiritually, we are the sum of our moral decisions, with very few exceptions. What we do everyday of our lives affects the next day, just as every step in a climb determines which way we are heading on the mountain; up or down. Those who would seek ordination, including myself, must always remember this truth. The truth that if we want to be sheppherds of the flock of Christ, then we should be living that lifestyle way before our odination. Skeletons in the closet always come out, just as evil cannot evade the light forever.
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Really, am I the only one that has noticed that Christians are repeatedly getting the short end of the "politically correct" stick? Why is it that no one can say anything about Muslims, or Jews, but when television, news papers, books, commentators, comedians, and actors speak out against, and slander Christianity, nobody seems to care much? Bill Maher continuously bashes Christian institutions in his comedy show but no one makes a protest. The pope says one thing about Islam, and they're burning his effigy in the streets! How many Christians have we ever seen burning Mohammed effigies?
The point is that this so-called "Politically Correct" world is yet another mask for our intolerance of each other; what we stand for, and what we believe. We do not live in a society of free speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of ideas. We can't even say Merry Christmas out loud for fear of offending someone not of the Christian persuasion. I mean c'mon people. If a Jew puts a star of David on his door in my apartment building, why should it bother me? And yet I am not allowed to hang a Christmas Sign on my door for fear offending others. Indeed, in some buildings it is prohibited.
Our western society has this delusion that we can all live in this perfect "Politically Correct" bubble in which everyone can live in peace and harmony as long as they never express their true belief system. This is oppression at its worst! At least in 3rd world countries, places we consider to be uncivilized, they are not so fake. They may be killing each other over their beliefs, but at least they have them! Here, we seem content with a bland, no-confrontational, let's all get-a-long Protestant mentality that seems to be eroding the very foundations of our faith.
So Big Deal, the Pope said he disagreed with Islam. He stated a historical fact that Islam has brought much more war than peace. This is a historical observation that even the most novice of historians could make. Who cares. He is entitled to his opinion. I, for one, am proud of him. Proud because he dared to say that, which most Christians are thinking! We all belong to a faith of some sort. And by belonging exclusively to a faith, we imply that what we believe is right, while others are wrong. If we didn't believe this, be it Christian, Jew, or Muslim, than what is the point of following anything exclusively? If a religion does not claim absolute truth, how can it maintain any kind of following or offer any kind of ontological teaching?
Therefore, if we believe in our respective religions, than why pretend like we don't? Muslims have no problem damning the whole world according to their belief system. That's fine, it's their right. That's why they're Muslims. When will we, as Christians, wake up and realize that we have religious rights too. We have the right to say that we have the truth, that we are right. That's what being in a true multicultural society is; accepting different points of view, even if they disagree with yours. "political Correctness" is just a way of stifling such freedoms so that we can all live peacefully in denial of our most fundamental beliefs. This is because most westerners do not have the stomach for the alternative: actually discussing our differences openly. They do not have the religious conviction in most cases. And we Orthodox often fall into the same group.
The Pope attempted to tell the truth in a global society that reprimanded him because it hurt its ears. It didn't want to hear because accepting such criticisms makes things a whole lot harder. Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. Muslims exist in most countries, far and wide. Therefore, it is too painful to consider the consequences of actually having to theologically debate them in every society. Just as it is hard to debate with any other religion. We simply are not up to the task and furthermore, we are afraid. Don't get me wrong; I'm not a hater of Muslims, Jews, or any other people. I have friends in both these circles. And because I am there friend, and I respect them and their freedom, I believe that they can say anything they want about Christianity. I will not retaliate because I love my fellow man and allow him to disagree with my faith; a policy practiced by most Christians today. However, is it too much to ask that we Christians actually demand the same respect from those who burn papal effigies? Can we not live in a world where we disagree, but at least have the freedom to dare to be truthful about our beliefs? Dare we be real?
Monday, September 04, 2006
"The contemplative is not needy or greedy for human contacts, but is guided by a vision of what he has seen beyond the trivial concerns of a possessive world. He does not bounce up and down with the fashions of the moment, because he is in contact with what is basic, central and ultimate. He does not allow anybody to worship idols, and he constantly invites his fellow man to ask real, often painful and upsetting questions, to look behind the surface of smooth behaviour, and to take away all the obstacles that prevent him from getting to the heart of the matter. The contemplative critic takes away the illusionary mask of the manipulative world and has the courage to show what the true situation is. He knows that he is considered by many as a fool, a madman, a danger to society and a threat to mankind. But he is not afraid to die, since his vision makes him transcend the difference between life and death and makes him free to do what has to be done here and now, notwithstanding the risks involved."
The above quote (especially the bolded passages) really hit home with me during recent events in my life where I was put in particular situations that I felt were inappropriate and which everyone else believed to be acceptable. Furthermore, when asked why I was not thrilled about the situation, I was chastised for being too radical, too fanatic, and being a "party pooper."
I am finding more and more, as priesthood approaches, that many of the so-called "social norms" of our society are not for me and more and more I am realizing the extreme clericalism that our people impose on their relationships with priests. They believe that priests are the one's who are supposed to be holy and mature, while at the same time exempting themselves from such behaviour as if they were not Orthodox. I found myself recently contemplating why in certain situations (Eg. in the club) it is considered inappropriate for a priest to be present and yet totally acceptable for all other Orthodox Christians to attend. It is inappropriate because what the priest stands for is ultimately incongruent with what the "club life" stands for. And if we are all attempting to be "Christ-like," and the priest is our spiritual leader in that quest, why do we separate our behaviour from his? Why is it OK for us to do things he cannot?
It is truly a daunting task attempting to preach a message that no one wants to listen to. It is even more disheartening when even your closest friends and family don't understand the message either; when they are part of "the illusionary mask of a manipulative world" and they are unable to take that mask off because they have been conditioned to wear it for as long as they can remember. And even when they dare to remove it, their friends make sure to put it back on them immediately.
Henri Nouwen says that such a ministry can only be done with support and never alone. Yet, I see that in our day an age, in many cases, it will have to be done alone because there is no one else to lean on for support. I find the task sometimes too daunting, too disheartening, too difficult , having no one I can turn to except my fellow priests, among who, only a handful understand the true nature of things. The only solace is Christ's words "with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." May He give me the courage to bear the inevitable ostracization that will ensue in my upcoming journey.
Friday, September 01, 2006
I was recently in Greece, which I can tell you is not the best place to find spirituality these days. I liken it to the Byzantine Empire at the height of its decadence. Because it's a an Orthodox nation, everyone takes for granted that they are Orthodox and hardly anyone takes the faith seriously. However, the monasteries are flourishing in a way never before seen. Everywhere one goes it can be observed that people are flocking to the monasteries for spiritual enlightenment, solace, direction, and advice. Now this is all good and dandy if the monasteries were not using this opportunity to make a fortune off the faith of the populace.
Now I know these words seem harsh and many will tell me, "The monasteries need to make money to survive." Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with monasteries making money to feed themselves and others, but I do have a problem with the thousands (and sometimes millions) that they are making from entrance fees, prescribed candle prices, bookstores, etc, etc, etc. One monastery would not even allow us to take pictures because they had sold the rights to a publisher for their next upcoming book that will feature a more "professional" look at the monastery, sold at a premium price, at all bookstores across the country and abroad. I mean, com'on, I can't even take a picture of the places I worship at? That's a little extreme.
When I go to Mt. Athos and the monks pick me and my bishop up in 2005 Land Rovers with leather interiors, that's a little excessive. Where is the the asceticism that people are flocking to the monasteries for? And yet people insist that this is the true path for an Orthodox Christian and that the city parishes are somehow "not holy enough" for them.
Then I returned to Canada, where I believed that we had not progressed soo much in this spiritual downfall. We have two Greek Monasteries here and to my knowledge, they were still fairly moderate in their quest for money. Boy was I wrong. On the vespers of the feast of the monastery her in my town, I was shocked at what I saw. Not only did they build a beautiful gate, pave the road, build a new parking lot, and build a brand new outdoor stage fore big events, I also had to pass through the daunting gauntlet of "Stations" that were all designed to extract money from me. And each time I passed by one of these "stations," either trying to sell me candles, trinkets, stickers, or multiple collection trays, the council members would give me a rude smirk when I didn't drop some money in the tray. "I'm sorry sir, I didn't budget for having to pay for the holy unction at the back of the chapel!" And last time I checked, monks didn't need expensive gates and state-of-the-art stages. What's wrong with the old stage, the dirt road, and parking on the grass? Isn't that all part of "escaping from the world?"
Truly, it seems to me that the quiet, ascetic life that people have always been drawn to at monasteries has been lost for a more commercial, and hate to say more luxurious, way of living. People will always flock to the monasteries and will always give money, however it's what the monks do with that situation that makes the difference. Do they use their excess $ to feed the poor, create programs for the needy and downtrodden, donate to hospitals, etc etc etc? I've never seen our monastery do such a thing. While at the same time, they jack up their prices soo much that it's actually cheaper for me to order clerical vestments from Greece than to buy them from our local nuns.
Going back to my earlier point of people abandoning their local parishes for the "Holier" environment of the monastery. Even if this were so, I still see a huge problem with it. Not only should people understand that their local parish is their number 1 priority, but they should also understand the difference between living a monastic life and living a life "in the world." Yet furthermore, the problem is twofold because now, not only are people flocking to the monasteries with this misconception, but they are not finding such peace and solace anymore, they are finding yet another form of commercialism. This reality will force them to view the monastery in a way it's never been seen before; a clique for "super Orthodox" to congregate in so that they can believe that they are holier than the rest of us. Furthermore, due to the loss of the spirtual innocence of such holy places, this clique is sure to be founded more on popular culture than on authetic spirituality and humility. Perhaps the monasteries found that the latter just doesn't sell as well as the first. Who knows. Frankly, I weep for our future generations.
Thursday, August 31, 2006
Saturday, April 22, 2006
However, as usual, certain "traditions," that we have as Greeks, really make me wonder whether we truly understand the great and Holy Mystery of Pascha, or whether we have missed the point altogether. For example, when people begin hanging their crosses on the large liturgical cross used in the procession on Holy Thursday, in order that they may obtain a "special" blessing, I think we've gone off the proverbial deep end. Furthermore, it's not only crosses, but also scarves, trinkets, and even underwear and socks! Such things have no place on the cross of Christ! And yet not only do we see such things, but even worse, we allow and tolerate them.
Now, some may think that this particular issue is not one to get upset about. Most of our people think that this is a nice tradition that does no harm to the general believers, however, let us look at the source of the tradition. The cross, like all icons, is a symbol that reminds us of the original cross that bore Christ, just like an icon of a saint reminds us of Christ who the saint attempted to emulate. The symbol itself has no power except that of invoking our belief. This is why we do not worship icons, we venerate them.
If we follow this logic, than we can understand that all crosses are the same symbol of the prototype. No one cross is holier than the other and even those icons and crosses that perform miracles, are chosen by God and work signs at particular times for particular reasons. It is not because they are inherently holy in themselves. However, we see on Holy Thursday the utter idiocy of people taking their own crosses and hanging them on another cross because they feel that that cross is somehow holier than theirs'. What we are seeing here is a comparison of holiness between two objects which symbolize the same thing. People believe that because the liturgical cross is kept in the altar, it is somehow special and "holier" than other crosses.
Now stop me if I'm wrong, but wasn't this kind of thinking the reason for iconoclasm? Isn't this so-called harmless "tradition" really a form of idolatry? We are literally believing in some kind of Cross "Mojo" that will make everything ok if we touch it. The cross of Christ has become, for many, the magical Orthodox talisman. And what makes it worse, is that the priests do nothing to stop this behaviour. Even when this mentality extends to the candles that are burying on the cross, which people wait for all night just to receive a piece, and of which the priests do nothing about. By not dealing with the issue, we help perpetuate it. Silence, in many instances, is equivalent to consent. But it seems that no one is up to the task.
Most of us are content in viewing many of the traditions in our church as a type of magic or voodoo. The Eucharist is one of the main examples of this, where people see it as a special gift that we receive after we have done a certain amount of prescribed actions to justify the taking of it. It is not seen as an expression of who we are as the people of God because such an understanding requires everyone of us to accept that we must change our whole outlook on life; that we must live Orthodoxy every day, not just on Sundays; that we must love our neighbor and give to the poor; that we must pray and actually take time to learn our faith. Yes, such an understanding is much harder to accept and much more unpopular to the status quo. And so, what do we do? We fall back on what is easiest; Magic. We keep it simple: I do A so I can be entitled to B. That's it! However, that usually breeds idolatry and fanaticism; two of the most prominent occurrences within our church.
I guess I'm just tired of our people lying to themselves about who they are and what they believe, while the clergy are content to simply pacify the people for their own convenience.
Thursday, April 20, 2006
The reasons for joy should be apparent to my long time readers. It is the single event in history which reforms everything in the past, present, and future into a new understanding, a new life, a new creation. It is both God and man's victory over death and sin. It is the hope in which we place all our trust as Christians; the hope of resurrection...the hope of salvation. It is for this reason that Lent, Holy week, and the Resurrection are such pontent spiritual events in our lives. From the very devout to the most nominalist Christians, Pascha marks an important time. This is why Holy Saturday night is always marked with an overabundance of people in our churches. They are all drawn to the power of the resurrection, even though many do not quite understand it.
It is these same masses of people that, while at the same time give me a great sense of family when assembled together, greatly upset me. I guess the number one reason for this frustration actually stems from this same overwhelming feeling of family that I feel only once a year. The fact that this is the only time when most of our baptized Christians actually show up to church is both hopeful and discouraging. I mean, I am glad to see them here at least once a year, and yet what a shame, what a discouragement, what a failure for the church, that these are not seen more often.
In this season, I find myself pondering the "what if's"of church life. "What if" these people could be reached on a more personal level? "What if" they could understand and truly live their faith? "What if" even half of them would contribute to the family of the church on a weekly basis. I guess Pascha always inevitably reminds me of the potential we have as Orthodox Christians and how far we have yet to go. The potential can be seen on Anastasi night; thousands lined up outside every church, waiting to the recieve the light of resurrection. However, the fact that 90% of leave before the actual Paschal Liturgy starts, thus missing the whole point of the resurrection, shows me how far we have yet to go.
Having said this, the subsequent question that most often follows such a statement is usually the one of blame. Who is to blame for this sad situation? Who can we turn to when searching for answers? Is it the priests, who sometimes have become accustomed to treating the divine services as a routine that they must simply get through in order to appease the expectations of the people? Is it the unruly youth, who simply do not care about church or God in this faithless generation? Or is it the parents who neglected to raise them properly? Is it the self-imposing bishops, or is it the fanatic extremists who seek to cleanse Orthodoxy from all the above mentioned types of people?
While asking all these questions, it has become abundantly clear that, just as the church is a living body (one that is affected by all its members), the problem of spiritual laxity rests with all its members. ALL are to blame and ALL are responsible for this situation. Pointing fingers at one or the other is simply a waste of time. The church will only grow and heal itself through a communal co-operation of all its members.
However, there is somewhat of a greater onus on the priest to set this co-operation in motion. The reality is that the body needs to have a brain from which it is to receive its direction. Now, it is true that many times, the hand or the foot do not want to listen to the brain, just as many groups of people do not want to listen to their priest. However, it is also imperative that the brain is functioning correctly, not sending the wrong signals to it members. In like manner, when the priests do not have a vision of where the church must go, and in addition, lack both the knowledge, wisdom, and personal spirituality to achieve such a vision, then how can we expect the members of the body to listen? The hard reality is that the Church is a communion, and as such, the actions of everyone affect everyone else. I repeat, the church cannot function without the co-operation of all its members.
This is the reality of our lives, the truth of our existence. However, it is this truth that most peopel do not want to accept. They simply can't be bothered with the problems of other people. And so, the ultimate enemy is us, ourselves. Our inability to think and act in a selfless manner is our greatest obstacle. In short, we lack the ability to Love. And it is this lack of Love, during the season of absolute Love, that makes me both joyful and sad at the same time.
May we all have a blessed and life-changing Pascha.
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
Now don't get me wrong. It's not that I am judging any of my friends and family for having little or great faith. That is besides the point. What I find difficult to deal with is my relation to them. There are so many things that I want to say; so many things I want to do; so many things I want to witness to, and yet, in this day and age, it rarely seems appropriate to do so. I know that we must always witness to Christ wherever we are and among whoever. Yet, it is hard when I sometimes feel that no one will understand.
We (seminarians) are constantly surrounded by people who, although are general good, mostly don't care about the faith that they profess to have in God's one true church. It is this indifference that I find daunting and discouraging. I wonder how I will be able to reach these people in my future ministry? How will I be able to deal with the many self-professed theologians and know-it all of the faith; those who believe and those who do not, and those who simply despise me for what I stand for. And more importantly, the danger of myself becoming one of these people; allowing the uphill battle to get the best of me and thus fall into temptation and sin.
Sometimes, the only solace and support we find is in fellow students of theology who have grown up in the same environment and have the same vision of the church. These are the few that understand each other and can speak on the same level. Unfortunately, we grow up in a fictional and idealistic environment that is called the seminary. There, things are as they should be but not as they are in the real world of parish life. And to add to this divide and frustration, there are so few of us who have chosen this path, that we usually rarely see each other after we leave seminary. The Lord scatters His prophets to the ends of the earth (as He should) and they lose their support system.
As my best friend, who is a priest, once told me, "Priesthood is very lonely because no one gets you, no one is truly your friend because there is a great divide." This is very true. The bible reminds us of the alienation of the prophets from the world. Indeed, they were killed by those who they tried to help. And perhaps that is the only way to deal with this sadness I sometimes feel when contemplating my life's vocation and calling. We must accept that those who we will try to help will probably betray us anyways. We will receive little appreciation (if we do our job well that is) and we will have success in small increments. However, we must rejoice over that one sheep which went astray more than the 99 that went not astray.
If we truly preach the Word correctly, we must be ready to be very unpopular. We like to read the lives of the saints and see those who were very popular amongst the people as our examples. However, in the Gospel of John, Jesus outlines that those who do evil (most of us) do not like the light because it will expose their evil deeds. They do not want to come near to it, but rather prefer the darkness. If we, as the priests, are to show them the way, which is illumined by the true light which is Christ, how many will actually receive what we say with joy? This is something that we should think about before we enter the all holy priesthood. Truly, in this day and age, it is a very unpopular club that we seek admittance to. And so we must ask ourselves why we are seeking this above all other things in life.
Monday, April 10, 2006
Personally, I have only been moderately successful in my personal fasting, and I'm not afraid to admit it. I find that at this point in my life, my wedding approaching, and a number of other things on my plate, I have found it hard to stay focused on the spiritual from day to day. However, I must say that ironically, my involvement in church activities has doubled while my personal prayer life has decreased.
Having said that, and admitting to not being the spiritual guru I usually pretend to be, I would like to talk a little about this little thing called fasting. Now, I know that in today's day and age, fasting little resembles what our early Christian ancestors would consider self deprivation. I see that we all fall into three kinds of fasting groups. Those who fast for others, those who fast for themselves, and those who fast for God.
Those who fast for others, are usually like the Publican who keep the letter of the law in reference to the food they eat, and yet somehow forget that about all the other parts of fasting; control of mind, speech, heart, ect. They seem to forget that Christ taught that it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth that defiles him. These are the people who, although keep the physical fast, excel in judging others, slander, personal and public shamefulness, etc etc etc.
The second type is the one who fasts for themselves. These are the self-driven fasters who feel that if they keep the letter of the law, they will somehow be justified by the end, and thus be holier than others. Or, they have such a deep-seeded guilt for certain actions which they have done (which we all do) and feel that this is a way to somehow make up for them. These people do try hard, but their efforts, as well as those who fast for others, are misplaced because they are both driven by selfish reasons. These people can fast day and night and yet never come to church except on Holy Saturday.
The third type is the one who conforms to the fasting prescribed in the bible by Christ. He/she is the one who fasts in secret and does not make a big deal about it to others. They admit when they fall, thus showing their humility. They draw closer to the church in their time of temptation, they pray, and they help the poor. They spend more time thinking about others, than they do thinking about their own hunger and complaining about it. They basically try even harder to be the same people they have been the rest of the year, only without sin.
Now I know that I have fallen into the first two categories most of my life. However, I do believe that the best thing we can all do during the fasts, and especially during Lent, is to cling even closer to the church. That is, to do things which are COMMUNAL. Why do things that are communal? The answer should be clear: Our faith is all about love through communion with others. Our whole lives should be about getting closer to Christ by getting closer to our fellow man. This is why the early Christians fasted mainly for social reasons, that is to save money to feed the poor. Feeding the poor is a social responsibility of us all and shows the ultimate form of love for one's neighbor.
If we are not doing things that increase our love for our neighbor during Lent, than what is the point of fasting? I have great difficulty with many of my friends who come up to me and tell me how much they fast, and yet they refuse to attend church services, commune, or confess, because they cannot stand the people who attend their church. This, to me, is missing the whole point of the fast. I would rather that these individuals eat whatever they wanted but attended church every service, read the scripture, and helped those in need.
Now many have disagreed with me on this. Many priests have told me that fasting from food is something basic that everyone can do. It is a start to a spiritual journey. If someone cannot do anything else, at least they can fast from foods they love. I have difficulty with this view. I do not believe that fasting is the beginning. Like soo many rituals we have in the church, fasting is an expression of what we believe. It shows our devotion, not only to God, but to our fellow man who is made in the image and likeness of the creator. IF we hate those who attend our church and refuse to confess because we harbor judgment against our local priest, than we have already separated ourselves from the community of the faithful, from the family which we are supposed to be fasting for.
Everything we do in the Orthodox Church has a communal dimension and this is something that most of us do not understand. We have made fasting into some pseudo-self- fulfilling and self-loving exercise which will benefit us for our own selfish reasons, instead of viewing it as simply another part of the Orthodox Communal lifestyle; A communion that we cannot escape as Orthodox, unless we want to create a church that was not founded by Christ and the apostles but by man. The criteria for all our actions must be Christ and His example. It can never be the rules in themselves that bring about salvation. They are only their to help us achieve communion with one another and God. If we cannot see Christ in our fellow man; if we do not even know the scriptures, or even the creed and what it means (that is, the basics of our faith), than we have much bigger problems to worry about than whether we ate meat on Friday or not. That's just my two cents.
Sunday, April 09, 2006
Saturday, February 18, 2006
Presentation on: Lenten Spirituality
By: Theodore Paraskevopoulos B.Th., MA.Th.
- There is no Lenten spirituality only Spirituality
- We see this part of the year as holier or more special than any other part
- We think that Pascha is somehow holier than any other Sunday
- This separation makes us feel that we have to be holier and make more of an effort during this season
- Most Orthodox only Commune at Easter and so this is seen as the best time to “clean up our act” so that we can be worthy to take communion
- This separation sets up a false dichotomy between Lenten behavior and non-Lenten behavior, a disconnect between how we live our lives during Lent and how we live the rest of the year
- Lent is seen as the culmination of all we believe and strive for spiritually
- Everyone talks about the resurrection of Christ as being synonymous with our resurrection
- We see Pascha as the end of our spiritual struggle
- Yet we fail to realize that it is not our resurrection that we are commemorating at Pascha, but Christ’s
- Ours is still yet to come
- The apostles didn’t understand the message of Jesus until after the resurrection and even then they still had to face trials and tribulations
Lent as a Beginning
- The resurrection of Christ was not the end but the beginning of their spiritual journey
- Lent has to be the beginning of a whole year of praising God
- The early Christians did not have Lent or a yearly celebration of Pascha because they lived as holy people all the time
- It is better to think of the whole year and our whole lives and Lent’s role in that larger picture
- When we are born through baptism into the church we begin a journey
- Like the apostles climbing mount Tabor, we too are climbing a mountain
- The summit is Christ
- Christ’s resurrection is the belief, the reason for the journey, the reason for our faith while our resurrection to eternal life is the summit
- There are only 2 ways to go on a mountain: UP or DOWN
- And this is the key question for us as Orthodox Christians: UP or DOWN?
- Are we moving towards the summit or are we moving away from it?
- When we sin, we slow down but then we repent and we increase our speed
- The key is not how many sins we commit, for God knows that we will always sin
- Therefore worthiness cannot be measured by the quantity of Sins we commit
- Worthiness is measured by our Orientation
- Sin will always happen no matter what
- It is where we go after we sin that makes the difference
- We should not measure our sins and think in terms of worthiness, as if by the end of Lent we are any worthier to take Holy communion
- If this were the case, then why is it that, during Lent, the church makes Holy Communion more frequent than at any other time in the year?
- We are supposed to be communing
- In preparation for lent we hear about the Publican and the Pharisee, the Prodigal Son, the Last Judgment. But the last Sunday before Lent, what do we hear? Forgiveness
- That’s what it’s all about
The Ultimate Reason for Lent
- The church gives us Lent not as a specially pious time to get ourselves ready for the one time we take communion in the year, it gives us Lent as a reminder of what we should be doing the rest of the year
- If we fast more during Lent, it is because we should be fasting all year
- If we pray more it is because we should be praying daily and at all times
- If we commune more, it is because we should be communing every Sunday
- We are not doing these things and that is why we see Lent as something so different from the rest of our lives.
- Lent should be a reminder of what we have been doing all along, not a change from the ordinary
- If we are climbing the mountain of faith, Lent is the sign that reminds us which way s UP
- It is not the end of journey, but the reminder why we began the climb in the first place
- Christ taught us to constantly love one another all the days of our lives, not just in the spring
- And so Lent is only effective, only useful when we remember its place within the whole spiritual struggle, when it reminds us that every Sunday is a resurrection, everyday must be one of prayer, and our Lenten Spirituality should be a life long spirituality.
Now, I know that this sounds like a very simple and even somewhat base question. However, observing our parishes and hearing many priests of today speak, it seems to me that the overall goal has been lost in a sea of cares and worries about other, more apparently important things. When a priest is asked why he is a priest, he usually gives the customary answer; to spread the Gospel. However, of we are to look more closely at their, and our, allocation of time and resources, one would perhaps find that there is much more time spent on all those things which seem necessary to preach the Gospel, but not the actual preaching itself.
For example, such things are fundraising for the new church, new books for the choir, luncheons and gala dinners and festivals to raise funds for different purposes. The building of community centres, the organization of golf tournaments, etc etc etc etc. And if we have time, we'll throw in a catechism class once a year.
While youth attendance, chritable works, and general adult religious education and understanding is at an all time low, we seem to think that we are progressing quite well. This is because most Greek churches are full on Sundays and for most of us, numbers equal success. If the church is full, then we are getting maximum return on our spiritual investment. If the churches are full, it means that more people are listening to the Word of God and applying it. Isn't that right?
I think not.
I think that most of our churches are full because Greeks keep getting married, have babies, and and hence re-populate the local GreekTown. They need a place to socialize and pay their cultural dues, and the church is happy to provide such a place. I have trouble believing that all these people show up to church right before Communion because they truly understand their worship service and find fulfillment in it. I actually refuse to believe that these people are actually hearing the Gospel. If they were hearing it, then I am convinced that our numbers would significantly drop. This is because Jesus' message is not an easy one to hear, or to put into practice. And if our masses truly understood what was expected of them, I think that most of us, including myself, would turn and run.
Is this not the reason why we, as leaders of the church, often sugar-coat most issues? I mean, lets face it, we rarely hear any fire and brimstone from the pulpit these days, as in the days of St. John Chrysostom. It's not in style to preach social responsability. It's not in style to say things that are divine and yet are not politically correct. We are not allowed to offend our modern sensabilities or to rub people the wrong way, because they will not come back next week.
In essence, when it comes to the truth of the Gospel, we are like parents who spoil their children rotten because they do not have the back bone to sometimes be hated by their children for their own good. The difficult issues in people's lives are always hard to address because no one wants to hear that they are wrong. But we keep coddling and sheltering people from the harsh reality of life, sin, and the price of salvation, using the guise of Love as the shield behind which we shirk our parental responsabilities to our spiritual children. We always like to use the excuse that we are sinners as well and so we, as priests, have no right to preach too harshly to the people because we will bring more people in with honey than with vinegar.
But who says that more is necessarily better. It is true that we are called to preach the Gospel to all nations, but didin't Christ also say that "many are called but few are chosen? "And again "Narrow is the gate that leads to salvation?" Who says that we should always be looking for the the bigger better deal. If we build ten new churches does this mean that they will be full in twenty years? I see that that we prefer to have the churches built because we assume that the people will always be there. This is is our mistake as Orthodox leaders in the faith. Especially among the Greeks, where evangelical outreach has not been a necessity until now. We have been soo spoiled by the natural perpetuation of Orthodox numbers due to culture, that we have forgotten our true mission to spread the word. We have become so lax and so conformed to the system, this Burger King parish mentality, that we have even begun to neglect teaching those who are already Baptized.
We have priests treating their ministry as a 9-5 job where they put in only the bare minimum and no more. Services are tailored and cut to become more convenient and easier. Heck, the service of Priestly preparation (Kairo) is all but gone because no one believes that they should be at church at least half an hour before a service to prepare themselves mentally and spiritually. Few go out of their way to offer more than what is barely required of them and even less are truly dynamic and innovating in the way in which they convey the message of God. Priests do not even correct their liturgical mistakes, and in many cases, do not even take time to write their own sermons, usually opting to get them off the net or from a book. As long as they have time for the parish council meeting and the Local Golf tournament, the Sunday preaching can go on the back burner.
A teacher of mine once said that a priest must enter a church with a definite vision of where he wants to go with his congregation and then spend time getting his people as close to that ideal as possible. However, there must be that initial goal, vision, ideal, if anyone expects to grow with his community.
Taking that into consideration, I think it's time to re-examine our initial vision as leaders and future leaders of the church. Is it possible that we have begun to preach the creation and not the creator?
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
There is a wise policy in the church which states that a new priest should never be placed in the community where he grew up. This is done because the unfortunate reality is that those who are closest to us have difficulty seeing us as anything other than a brother, son, friend, fiance, etc. They have trouble accepting what we have to say even though they may trust us more than most people.
I find it an upward battle trying to convince, not the masses on Sundays, but my own family members, that the faith is more than their long-held village traditions that in many ways even contradict the truth that is Christ. It is these people who would rather listen to the uneducated priest at their parish, who will admonish them to perform so-called spiritual acts they he can neither explain nor substantiate, while rejecting sound theological explanations that have been proven to be correct. Furthermore, if the priest told them the same thing as I, they would probably listen. It is the power of the almighty collar and our society's blatant enforcement of unhealthy clericalism. The priest is the holy one and the seminarian doesn't know anything until he is ordained and then is somehow "fully enlightened."
And for us young guys, who have paid our dues, studied for years (as opposed to many of our priests who have never stepped into a theological institution), we are deemed no better than a distraction, or worse, good entertainment. We are seen as children who are attempting to corrupt our "holy" traditions with our radical ideas that have been poisoned by western academia. We are the ones who are "inexperienced" and do not know as much as the older generation, while it is our theology that is more rooted in Holy Tradition and the Fathers than most of the incoherent babble that is being spewed at people in most parishes every Sunday.
Now, I can understand this mindset for the older generation who associates themselves with the older clergy, but the real kicker is that their children follow suit. They side with their parents' infantile theological conceptions and fight against the ministry of the younger generation. Regardless if the younger generation will benefit the youth much more than the older. It is a matter of enculturation and mistrust of those close to us.
Tuly, "A Prophet is never accepted in his own country." The words of Christ were never more true. IT is an upside down world we live in when the average youth is willing to listen to the younger generation, but the seminarian's own family will fight him on every issue. They cannot see their son, brother, fiance, as a spiritual leader because they have seen all his other sides; his faults, weaknesses, shortcomings, and mistakes that he may make. They see these things and their priestly ideal is shattered. And so they refuse to take anything he says at face value and would rather listen to anyone with a collar. This psychosis makes people freely reject sound theology for madness and spiritual incoherence. As long as the madness comes from a position of authority and not from the person who takes you out for dinner and tells you he loves you.
And indeed, this is a symptom of a sickness within our church. The sickness is the idolization of a position and the inability for the laity to accept a priest who is human with human flaws. People do not want a flawed man teaching theology because they do not want to associate church with home. That would mean that they would have to practice acceptance and trust that that person, flawed as he may be, is still in charge of their spiritual direction. This is a step many are not capable of taking. In the meantime, we the young feel a little like the prophet who said, "Lord, who has listened to our words.?"
It is becoming abundantly clear that the road is a lonely one when is comes to family and priesthood. Perhaps this is why Christ said that whoever wants to follow Him must abandon Mother and Father. Although we usually interpret this passage in a metaphorical way, maybe Christ forsaw a more literal reality for those who have attempted to follow Him, becoming sheppherds of His flock.