Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Splitting our Parish – Why Speculative Gossip is not Helpful for Salvation


Christ is Risen!

Several times in the last few weeks I have heard people say to me something along these lines:

“We must cease the evil early Divine Liturgy because it is splitting our parish!”

Well, no one said “evil”. But that was the clear implication. And it makes the statement both more interesting and more accurate based on what usually came next, a sort of speculative gossip or critique of the early Liturgy by those who do not attend it, but have decided that they want those that do attend it to come back to the late Liturgy. To be clear: no one has said they want the early Liturgy canceled for any other reason than because the complainer wants what the complainer wants. Care for those who attend the early Liturgy has been lacking in each and every one of these interactions. And no one who is complaining – not one person – has talked to those who are attending the early Liturgy to see what they want – why they are attending the early Liturgy. It seems that what they need and what they want are not important – important is only what the complainer wants. 

This is not how we “do” Orthodoxy. God is first. Neighbor is second. We are third. In the waxing poetic about the terrible and horrible parish-splitting early Divine Liturgy we have gotten the last two of these priorities mixed up. We are focusing not on our neighbor and our neighbor’s needs, but on our own selfish needs. The early Divine Liturgy exists to serve those who would not otherwise be able to attend the late Liturgy. Those who attend early have various concerns ranging from Covid, to the petroleum smell in the barn causing migraines, to the peace and quiet at the early Liturgy, and so on. People who attend the early Liturgy are people too, and they have their own concerns.

If we had just one priest we would have one Liturgy. One priest can serve one Liturgy on one altar on one day. That formula is set canonically – this is not a local decision or even a diocesan decision – this is a Church decision. But we are blessed to have two priests. At least we are blessed to have Fr. Joseph. My presence as a blessing is still a bit in dispute…. And that means we can have two Liturgies on Sunday. And that means that we can serve those who would not come to the late Liturgy – no matter their reason. What is interesting is that those that attend the early Liturgy do not say “I feel like I am not part of the parish.” On the contrary, to a person they are thankful that we provide this option for them and they feel MORE a part of the parish. Those who are complaining have decided many thoughts for those who attend the early Liturgy, including that they are not part of the parish.

Let us get our priorities straight. God is first. Neighbor is second. We are third. And let’s think before we speak. If those who feel called to make sweeping generalizations about things they know nothing about continue their speeches in this regard maybe those who attend the early Liturgy really will start to think we don’t love them. But because they are not obsessed with trying to manage other people’s lives, or trying to manage things they are not responsible for, they thankfully don’t seem to feel that way. Perhaps soon the early Liturgy will become the place that those go who do not want to hear such empty words spoken by those that should be mature Orthodox Christians. Only the Lord knows. But as your Rector I answer for the souls of ALL in our parish – not just those that want to attend the early Liturgy or the late Liturgy. And this is exactly why I am writing this post. Let us assume that those who attend the early Liturgy do not have ulterior motives to do evil to our parish family – until they prove otherwise. That is how we live as Orthodox Christians: assume that others are good until they prove they are not. And let us assume that our Rector has at least some sort of plan in his head and has made the parish schedule with the hope to provide the most people possible the greatest access to the Divine Services of the Holy Church – until he proves otherwise. And if he does that, let us pray that the Lord will help him. That is how we live as Orthodox Christians: we pray for those that we see are trying their best, but making decisions we disagree with.

The Parish Council decided at its meeting on May 24 to continue the early Liturgy through the summer to try to better understand the needs of all our parish family members.

LET ME BE CLEAR: your feedback is always welcome! But please reflect on the three main priorities listed above before providing that – this will make your feedback valuable and actionable, rather than just a complaint that you are not getting what makes you happy. The Lord did not become incarnate to make us happy – He became incarnate to provide us a path to the Heavenly Kingdom. Let us emulate Him in valuing salvation about our personal proclivities! This will assure that we care for our neighbor’s salvation even more than ours. In that light, we hope that the silliness about splitting the parish with the early Liturgy can be put to rest and replaced by our collective rejoicing that our brothers and sisters that cannot attend the late Liturgy have the opportunity to participate in the early Liturgy!

Asking Your Prayers,

Fr. Gregory 

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