Thursday, October 18, 2018

Ukraine - Synod of Bishops' Statement

Our ROCOR Synod has published a statement regarding the crisis in Ukraine. Several of our parishioners asked me to let them know when this statement was available, and I am doing so here so that others who are interested will have easy access to it. Please reach out to me with questions, concerns, or comments. I have disabled comments here as I do not think this situation lends itself to on-line discussions as these often provide much more heat than light to an emotional subject such as this. I again call upon all our parishioners to pray fervently that the Lord guide His Church to a peaceful solution in fidelity to the holy canons.

Fr. Gregory

Synod Statement - English

Synod Statement - Russian

Friday, October 12, 2018

Ukraine Issues – Next Steps in the Crisis

Let me first say: I am sad. Of course, we must trust God that the gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church as He has taught us. And I most certainly do trust God in this regard. But usually we struggle against those outside the Church trying to prevail against the Church. Today I must share with you that those who are part of the Church are working against Her, and this makes me sad. I wish I didn’t have to write this note. But I would be shirking my pastoral duties if I did not. And so I will. But not with any other feeling than sadness. I was sad all day yesterday. I am sad today. I fear I will be sad tomorrow. People are asking me what to do. What you find below is my suggestion – at least until we receive further instructions from our hierarchs.

I am disappointed to have to report that on October 11, 2018, the synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate took a definitive step towards granting autocephaly to those who had previously left the Ukrainian Orthodox Church under the shadow of scandal, and then subsequently began schismatic church-like structures in Ukraine (and around the world). Here is what St. John Chrysostom says about schism:


Schism is not a game – it is a very serious spiritual sickness akin to heresy, as St. John writes in his piece linked above. Never before in the history of the Orthodox Church has it happened that someone who left in schism from one Local Church was accepted knowingly by another Local Church. The Local Churches, seeing themselves before October 11, 2018 as equals, were very careful not to involve themselves in the internal affairs of the other Local Churches. Yes, of course, sometimes one Patriarch might intercede privately on behalf of someone or make a suggestion to another brother Patriarch, but never before has such an egregious deviation from the canons of the Church been attempted by any Local Church. The main canon in question (there are several) is Canon II of the Second Ecumenical Council and is printed here in its entirety:

The bishops are not to go beyond their dioceses to churches lying outside of their bounds, nor bring confusion on the churches; but let the Bishop of Alexandria, according to the canons, alone administer the affairs of Egypt; and let the bishops of the East manage the East alone, the privileges of the Church in Antioch, which are mentioned in the canons of Nice, being preserved; and let the bishops of the Asian Diocese administer the Asian affairs only; and the Pontic bishops only Pontic matters; and the Thracian bishops only Thracian affairs. And let not bishops go beyond their dioceses for ordination or any other ecclesiastical ministrations, unless they be invited. And the aforesaid canon concerning dioceses being observed, it is evident that the synod of every province will administer the affairs of that particular province as was decreed at Nice. But the Churches of God in heathen nations must be governed according to the custom which has prevailed from the times of the Fathers. 

We must stress here the ecclesiological (having to do with the Church) understanding of the Orthodox Church that existed and was universally accepted until October 11, 2018: all bishops are equal and all Local Churches are equal. That is, the Orthodox Church does not have a Pope along the lines of the Roman Catholic Church. To be clear, we do not have a bishop of bishops, who can reach into the other Local Churches and impose his will on them. In fact, more than any other reason, this was the cause of the Great Schism: the Church does not have a “super bishop” and since the Romans sought to impose one on the rest of the Christian world the Romans left the Church of God. More than 300 years ago the Ecumenical Patriarchate gave the permanent right to the Patriarch of Moscow to appoint the Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine. In other words, the Ukrainian Church became part of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Ukrainian Church exists as an autonomous body under the umbrella of the Russian Orthodox Church, just as our Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia does, and the Japanese Orthodox Church does. ALL the bishops of the Ukrainian Church asked the Ecumenical Patriarch to leave the Ukrainian Church as it was and not to grant autocephaly to the schismatic groups found in Ukraine as this would cause chaos within the Church and undoubtedly cause the relationship between the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the secular government to become more complicated and difficult than it already was. Yet, despite the pleas of every canonical Orthodox hierarch in Ukraine the Ecumenical Patriarchate decided to recognize the schismatics and remove their well-deserved priestly and hierarchal bans.

We cannot over-state the novelty of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s approach here – such things have NEVER been allowed in the Orthodox Church in the past. This is a very strong move away from the Orthodox Church’s history and practice, and thus there is chaos now in the Orthodox world. The Ecumenical Patriarch is respected as the “first among equals” of the Patriarchs since he is the bishop of Istanbul, which used to be Constantinople – the seat of the Byzantine Empire. But 600+ years have passed since that empire ceased to exist, and there is but a very small remnant of Orthodox faithful left in Istanbul. Still – the other Local Orthodox Churches, not wishing to undermine the precarious position of the Ecumenical Patriarch there have not made any moves to change the dyptichs – the Ecumenical Patriarch has been left as first in honor. But we must understand this clearly: first in honor does not elevate the Ecumenical Patriarch above the other Patriarchs.

Before October 11, 2018 the entire Orthodox Church worked on the principle of conciliarity – all bishops are equal and all Local Churches are equal. The unilateral and unheard of move by the Ecumenical Patriarchate on Thursday of this week breaks with that 2+millenia teaching of the Church and seeks to place the Ecumenical Patriarch at the head of the other Patriarchs not as regards the honor of his See, but as a sort of Eastern Pope. If his decision to ignore the canons and practices of the Orthodox Church as regards Ukraine are ignored by the other Local Churches the question must be asked – who is next? There is a schism in the Holy Land – will the Ecumenical Patriarchate grant autocephaly to that schismatic group? There is a schism in the Serbian Church – with the Ecumenical Patriarchate grant autocephaly to those schismatics? Where will it end? Ukraine is potentially just the first in a series of destructive blows to the Orthodox Church as we know it and have known it from the time of Christ – and this is why the Orthodox world is now in chaos. Will the other Local Churches stand up to Istanbul? If not – they could suffer the same attack as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is now suffering. No one wants to undermine the Ecumenical Patriarchate, given the very precarious situation of the Orthodox in Turkey. But the Ecumenical Patriarchate is undermining the Orthodox Church. What to do?

As noted previously here, the Russian Orthodox Church ceased commemoration of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and joint services with hierarchs of the Ecumenical Patriarchate several weeks ago when, in violation of the canons of the Church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate established hierarchal exarchs in Ukraine. The Holy Synod meets on Monday, October 15, and no doubt we will receive clear instructions then about how we are to approach this now escalated crisis. Until then, our reaction should be as it always is to any crisis: prayer. We must pray for all the Orthodox hierarchs – that the Lord will guide them during this most difficult time. We must pray for Metropolitan Onuphry and the other canonical hierarchs, clergy, and faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. They are likely to suffer greatly now that this decision to proceed to autocephaly has been taken. We must pray for the Holy Synod – that the Lord will grant them the wisdom needed to guide us through this crisis. We must pray for the schismatics – they have been joined to the Church without repentance of any kind. This cannot be a good path for their salvation. The Church and the sacraments are not magic. The path of return and repentance has always been the same – until October 11, 2018. Perhaps the schismatics are in the most precarious situation of all involved here. Deprived of the opportunity to repent in an authentically Orthodox manner they have been confirmed in their rebellion and there is essentially no reason for them to regularize their spiritual situation as far as they (and the Ecumenical Patriarchate) are concerned. Pray, pray, pray. Many need prayers. And our next reaction to this and any other sort of crisis: love. We must show love to those who are suffering most. Yes – love through prayer. But also through our actions. We have many, many Ukrainian parishioners. We do not do politics in our parish and that prohibition remains. It is not any of our parishioners’ fault that such actions have been taken to increase the suffering of the people of Ukraine. Many of our parishioners’ families and friends will suffer from this decision. Some will be injured as they protect their parish churches and monasteries from forcible takeover by the schismatics recognized by Istanbul. Some may even be killed. Blood will be shed. There is nothing we can “do” from here from a worldly point of view. But we can strongly support our ROCOR hierarchs’ future initiatives to provide help in Ukraine. And we can be a parish family imbued with love for God and for our fellow man. I call all our St. Vladimir’s family to strive zealously in this regard.

And we cannot overlook our friends and loved ones who are parishioners of St. Nicholas Church and the other Greek Archdiocese parishes in our area. We have always had a good relationship with our fellow Orthodox and we should continue that now. In fact, we should redouble our efforts! We must take the high road here. Not just the sort of high road – the highest road! Our response must be prayerful, loving, and sober. A real example of how an Orthodox Christian should live – and how one should deal with a crisis. We have emotions – this is “normal” from the human point of view. But the fathers teach us that there were no emotions before the fall – and that should tell us something about letting our emotions guide us. The soul is to guide the fallen body – and that includes emotions – and not the other way around.

May the Lord grant wisdom to the hierarchs! May He grant us sobriety, love, and zealous prayer! And may He grant peace to the much-suffering people of Ukraine!

Fr. Gregory

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Ukraine Issues – A Short Primer on the Present Church Crisis

As with any crisis in the world, in the Church, or in our families, our first reaction as Orthodox Christians should be prayer. And sobriety. Sober prayer to the Lord that He help us to work through the crisis at hand and to grow spiritually during the time of the crisis. If we can solve the problem then we should try to do that. If not – then we should ask the Lord to solve it in a way that is best for the salvation of all involved. But we should not lose our peace. We begin with this because keeping one’s peace is a real challenge in emotional situations – let us ask the Lord’s help in this regard in light of the present crisis in the Church.

As most people are aware from the broader Orthodox Media, there are Church issues in Ukraine that have caused a rift between the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Moscow Patriarchate. I had hoped to address this in the sermon on Sunday, September 16, but I overlooked this. Perhaps this was providential, but in any case I ask your forgiveness for my oversight. Nature abhors a vacuum, and this is especially true in situations like this. The last thing that I want, as your Rector, is for this situation to go unaddressed. We need to talk about this. I hope this venue will provide us a fruitful opportunity to do that.

The Russian Church has made significant efforts to not politicize the situation in Ukraine. I will do my best to do the same here. Given the emotional situation surrounding this question, and the abject misbehavior by several players in this unfortunate drama, it may seem that simply by reporting the facts I am being political. This is not true and not my intention. I urge you to discuss this situation with me if you are concerned – I am happy to talk with anyone about this further. My goal here is to inform our parish about this situation, keep us strongly united as a parish family, and keep this latest problem from impacting us in any negative way.

The issues with the Church in Ukraine are not political in nature, at least from the point of view of the Russian Orthodox Church. In short, the President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, asked Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople in April 2018 to examine the Orthodox Church situation in Ukraine and to grant autochephaly to the Ukrainian Church. This seems quite inconsequential on its face, except that this is a Church question – not a political question. The fact that the present government in Ukraine is uncomfortable with the Ukrainian Church being part of the Moscow Patriarchate is completely without merit in this situation. Or at least President Poroshenko’s concerns are not more consequential than the opinion of any other Orthodox Christian in this regard. Not invalid, but not more more valid than any other lay member of the Orthodox Church. Every bishop in the Ukrainian Church – every single one – voted to maintain the status quo, that is, that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church remain a self-governing part of the Russian Orthodox Church. From the Church point of view that is the end of the question. In the 2000-year history of the Church autocephaly has NEVER been imposed on a Local Church that was not requesting it. Doing nothing would further peace and concord among the Orthodox flock of Ukraine and among the other Orthodox Local Churches (Serbians, Russians, Georgians, Jerusalem, Antioch, Constantinople, etc.). Every Local Orthodox Church other than the Patriarchate of Constantinople has come out in favor of maintaining the status quo – every one.

Sadly, however, this has done nothing to dissuade the Patriarchate of Constantinople from pursuing a course in abject deviation from historical precedent and the canons of the Church. That is – historical precedent and the canons of the ORTHODOX Church. The actions of the Constantinople Church are, however, in complete cooperation with the historical precedent of the Roman Catholic Church. In essence, the Patriarch of Constantinople seems to see himself as an Eastern Pope, a super-essential bishop who is above his brother bishops and Patriarchs and not bound by the canons or historical precedence of the Church. Exactly as the Roman Catholic Church understands the Pope of Rome. This is completely without precedent in the history of the Orthodox Church. Last week the Patriarch of Constantinople appointed two bishops for Ukraine. This is in direct violation of the established Church Canons and the history of Orthodox Christianity. This is novel, and this is what makes this such an issue. The Constantinople Church has NO standing in Ukraine – none whatsoever. If the Orthodox as a whole accepts this decision we essentially accept that we are no longer the Orthodox Church, that all canons and historical precedents are of less importance than the whims of one of our bishops. We will have created a Pope along the lines of the Roman Catholic Pope and jettisoned 2000 years of the practices of the Holy Church. And that is simply not acceptable. The Orthodox Church has always had a conciliar principle. All bishops are equal. All must follow the canons. All must work within the boundaries of their dioceses and not interfere in the dioceses of their brother bishops.

Sadly, this is not the first time the Constantinople Church has sought to take advantage of a chaotic political situation in this way. This statement of the Holy Synod from its extraordinary session on September 14 provides helpful background in this regard. This can be found below. But this latest action of Constantinople seems to be one step too far – the other Orthodox Churches are not willing to accept this deviation, and this historical/canonical stand has led us to the present impasse.



Metropolitan Onuphry, the canonical Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, recently gave an interview in which he “calls on the people of Ukraine to fear nothing, to preserve the purity of the Orthodox faith, and to live with God.” You can find that interview here below.



The main issue that could potentially influence our lives as Orthodox Christians here in Washtenaw County is our existing excellent relationship with our local St. Nicholas parish of the Constantinople Church. Before our reconciliation with the greater Russian Church our relationship with St. Nicholas’ was excellent. It has continued to be excellent. And I feel that it must continue to be excellent. Our bishops have not asked us to get involved in this situation other than asking us for our prayers. There are no sanctions being imposed beyond the episcopal level. Therefore I feel it is artificial and inappropriate for us to decide to impose sanctions of any sort on our own. There is a dispute at the episcopal level – we are to leave the dispute at that level. And pray for our bishops – that this crisis can be quickly and appropriately resolved for the good of the Holy Church.

We will end this conversation as we started it: as with any crisis in the world, in the Church, or in our families, our first reaction as Orthodox Christians should be prayer. And sobriety. Sober prayer to the Lord that He help us to work through the crisis at hand and to grow spiritually during the time of the crisis. If we can solve the problem then we should try to do that. If not – then we should ask the Lord to solve it in a way that is best for the salvation of all involved. But we should not lose our peace. We end with this because keeping one’s peace is a real challenge in emotional situations – let us ask the Lord’s help in this regard in light of the present crisis in the Church.

Let us put our hand to the plow, so to speak, in this regard. Let us pray for the peaceful and fruitful resolution of this crisis. Very few of us are going to receive a call from either Patriarch Kyrill or Patriarch Bartholomew asking us to get involved in the resolution of this problem. So let us entreat God that He help us. With God’s help everything is possible. I call upon all our parishioners to add to their daily prayer rule the Prayer for Peace in Ukraine that we have been reading at every Divine Liturgy at St. Vladimir’s for some years now. You can find that prayer here:

Prayer for Peace in Ukraine

Our part is prayer. Not gossip. Not criticism. Not condemnation. Not sharing our own “wisdom” with others. Not doing ANYTHING to lead our brothers and sisters into temptation, but quietly, lovingly, praying for a peaceful and authentically Orthodox solution to this crisis. Less talk. More action (that is, the action of prayer). May the Lord help us, and may He grant peace and salvation to the long-suffering Orthodox people of Ukraine!

Fr. Gregory

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

A Pilgrim's Words - Parish Pilgrimage to Holy Trinity Monastery 2018

Glory to God, 16 pilgrims from St. Vladimir’s visited Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville this past weekend (June 22-24, 208).  Located on the outskirts of a peaceful farming town in upstate New York, the monastery is the spiritual and cultural center for the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia.  The pilgrims were blessed to have participated in the beautiful divine services, prayed before the relics of thousands of saints and before a miracle-working copy of the Pochaev Icon of the Mother of God, venerated the resting places of influential bishops and abbots of the Russian Church Abroad, and helped the monks in their obediences.

Led by Fr. Angelos, the pilgrims took a tour of the monastery grounds and learned about its rich history.  Founded in the 1930s, the monastery was first inhabited by monks from the Pochaev Lavra in Western Ukraine.  The brotherhood, whose patron saint is St. Job of Pochaev, continues to publish a large amount of spiritual literature for the Orthodox faithful in America and Russia.  After a fire burnt the original monastery building to the ground, the monks and several benefactors built the present cathedral, which was consecrated in 1949.  The monastery steadily grew in size over the years, adding new monastic quarters, a famed museum, a large cemetery, and in 1988, for the celebration of the millennial anniversary of the Baptism of Rus, the bell tower.  Currently, it is home to Holy Trinity Seminary, one of the foremost Orthodox theological academies in North America.

The next monastery pilgrimage organized by St. Vladimir’s will be in mid-October to Holy Cross Hermitage in West Virginia.  Please contact Fr. Gregory or Dmitri Knysh for more details.

A Pilgrim

Editor's Note: St. Vladimir's sponsors a pilgrimage to Jordanville each spring and to Holy Cross Monastery in Wayne, WV each fall. A new pilgrimage - a men's spiritual retreat - is planned for Great Lent of 2019 to the St. John Skete in Hiram, OH.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Annual Meeting Reports and Other Documents


Below please find the pertinent documents and reports that are presently available for tomorrow's Annual Parish Assembly (as of 1200 2/10/18). We hope that by publishing these before the meeting you will have the opportunity to read these ahead of time, thus utilizing the short time allotted to each oral report (5 minutes + 5 minutes of question and answer time) for more questions and discussion than reporting.

Annual Meeting Letter & Agenda

Annual Meeting Ballot

Annual Meeting Rector's Report

Annual Meeting Brotherhood Report

Annual Meeting Youth Group Report

Annual Meeting IOCC Parish Report

Parish Day School Proposal 1/2*

Parish Day School Proposal 2/2*

*Technical problems make it impossible to combine these into one document. We ask your forgiveness for this inconvenience.

Please note: there will be a special parish assembly in the next few months to elect representatives to the tri-annual diocesan assembly to be held in Des Plaines, IL this June. More information on that will soon be available.

Please contact me with questions.

In Christ,

Fr. Gregory

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Parish Council Information

Parish Council meetings are scheduled for the following dates for the 2017-18 year:

3/29/18 CC
4/24/18 CC
5/29/18 CC
6/24/18 STV
7/22/18 STV
8/21/18 CC
9/23/18 STV
10/23/18 CC
11/18/18 STV
12/16/18 STV
1/15/19 CC
2/24/19 STV
3/3/19 AM

STV = at St. Vladimir's (after the weekly parish meal)
CC = Conference Call (generally evenings, but these times can vary - contact Fr. Gregory or Jack for exact details)
AM = Annual Meeting

St. Vladimir's Parish Family members are welcome to attend these meetings or to discuss issues they deem important with Fr. Gregory, Jack, or any Parish Council member. Deviations from this schedule are posted on the St. Vladimir home page in the "Announcements" section.

Those who would like to review Parish Council minutes are asked to contact Fr. Gregory or Jack. Minutes may be reviewed by any St. Vladimir parish member.

2018-19 Parish Council Members

Priest Gregory Joyce, Rector
Starosta: Jack (Alexey) Mitchell (1st year of 3-year term)
Treasurer: Mikhail Fisenkov
Secretary: Alexandre Alexandrov

Parish Council Trustees:

Marina Edwards
Dimitry Knysh
Nathan (Nathaniel) Longan
Igor Obertas
Natalia Veniaminova

2018-19 Auditing Committee:

Alexander Kurochikin

2017-18 Russian with Love Representatives:

Alexandre Alexandrov
Ken (Peter) Doll

Additional information regarding the Parish Council is below.

Normal Parish Bylaws

Organizational Chart - Normal Parish Bylaws

Rights and Duties of Parish Rectors

Instructions to Church Wardens

Sisterhood Statutes

Brotherhood Statutes

Monday, November 27, 2017

What is our work? What is our goal in life? What is our purpose?

“Labor not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life...” (John 6:27)

What is our labor, that is, what is our work as Christians? This is obvious on some level: our work is our career, and we fit Christ and His Church in where there is room. Work comes first. Then family. And then God.

Although it is good that God is in the equation, of course the above statement is completely backwards. Probably that is pretty clear to most, but less so to others. To understand a concept hypothetically correctly is not the same as modeling that hypothetical understanding as a reality in our everyday lives. As Christians we are to be lovers of labor, are we not? Yes – that is true. And the Lord said in Genesis when casting Adam and Eve out of Paradise that we would eat our bread by the sweat of our brow, did He not? Yes – that is true too. The problem is not the facts – we know these. The problem is how we apply these facts to our lives – how we apply theory to practice.

I think this excerpt from the Apostolic Constitutions is helpful for us as we consider this question of applying theory to practice:

“...the occupations of the faithful are a sideline, whereas worship of God is their real work. Therefore, make your occupations a sideline, for your sustenance, but make worship of God your main business, as the Lord said: ‘Labor not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life’ (John 6:27); and again, ‘Jesus answered and said until them, this is the work of God, that ye believe on Him Whom He hath sent.’ (John 6:29)”

The quotations from St. John’s gospel above are the words of the Lord himself – not the commentary of the Evangelist. Interpreting these, and the piece above from the Apostolic Constitutions, St. Nicodemus the Hagiorite writes in his outstanding book Christian Morality:

“Christians should regard their occupations and handiwork … not as vocations, [but only] for the sake of earning their livelihood, and … they should regard prayer and piety as their work and occupation primarily and intrinsically.” (p. 270)

Prayer and piety are our occupation. And what then is our goal? St. Theophan the Recluse informs us here:

“True, one may know man’s final goal: communion with God. And one may describe the path to it: faith, and walking in the commandments, with the aid of divine grace. One need only say in addition: here is the path - start walking!” (St. Theophan The Recluse, The Path to Salvation: A Manual of Spiritual Transformation)

St. Theophan is talking here about salvation of course. Yes – communion with God in this life (St. Seraphim calls it the acquisition of the Holy spirit below), but a transfiguration which continues into the next life as well. This is salvation from the Orthodox understanding. Not just morality; not just being good – these are the foundations upon which is built transfiguration in this life into the sons and daughters of God, and eternity with Him in the next life. The theological term for this is theosis, and you can find an outstanding pamphlet about this here where you can learn more – HIGHLY RECOMMENDED:

“Theosis: The True Pupose of Human Life” by Archimandrite George, Abbot of the Holy Monastery of St. Gregorios, Mount Athos (

So our work is prayer and our goal is salvation. Our purpose in this life is do everything we can do to support these. All else must be secondary. We ourselves should be, at best, third place in our priorities.

1. God (that is, our work of prayer and piety, leading to our goal/purpose)
2. Our neighbor (service to others for the sake of Christ is a crucial aspect of striving for our salvation – see below)
3. Ourselves

St. Seraphim of Sarov instructs us here:

“Fasting, prayer, alms, and every other good Christian deed is good in itself, but the purpose of the Christian life consists not only in the fulfillment of one or another of them. The true purpose of our Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God. But fasting, prayer, alms and every good deed done for the sake of Christ is a means to the attainment of the Holy Spirit. Note that only good deeds done for the sake of Christ bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Everything else that is not done for the sake of Christ, even if it is good, does not bring us a reward in the life to come, nor does it bring the grace of God in this life. This is why our Lord Jesus Christ said, ‘Whoever gathereth not with me scattereth’ (Matt. 12:30). (St. Seraphim of Sarov, “Conversation on the Goal of the Christian Life”)

See also, of course, the list of good deeds that we are to accomplish in this life in Matthew’s 25th chapter: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, giving shelter to the stranger, visiting those in prison and who are ill.

To me this is all great news! There is no secret as to what we must do – how we must spend the precious and fleeting time gifted to us in this life. Given that struggle is part and parcel of our Orthodox lives, now all we have to do is get our priorities in order. And work. As St. Theophan says above: “here is the path – start walking!”

And perhaps we should leave it at that. But I fear if we do we are missing something rather crucial: our children. It is wonderful for us to get our own priorities straight, but if we do not actively make it clear to our children that our work is prayer and our goal is salvation and everything else is secondary we have, at best, done half the job. Certainly no one will argue with this. It is good to include the kids. Get them involved. Tell them the right things. BUT – if we are honest – we at best give this lip service. Here is an example from our parish Church School which helps to illustrate this. I have been teaching Church School since we founded our school at St. Vladimir’s about 15 years ago. It did not take long for me to realize that the absolute LAST priority that parents have during the week is to see to it that their kids do their Church School homework and come to class prepared. Last. Nothing is lower. Other school work, sports, music, everything is given a higher priority in the average home. Of course there are exceptions. But they are few. For the most part the kids do not even look at their Church School books from the moment they leave my class on Saturday until they return 167 hours later the next Saturday. Undoubtedly this is due almost exclusively to my own significant shortcomings as a teacher which lead to me not motivating the students appropriately. I am not upset at this reality. However, I am arguing here that this reality is not acceptable for us as Orthodox Christians, not matter how bad a teacher might be (in this example), but despite the shortcomings of others in any example. That we need to do more than pay lip service to making God #1 in our lives. We need to model it ourselves and we need to teach it to our children in word and deed.

Thank God, the Nativity Lent is upon us! Lenten periods are excellent times of year to assess our spiritual priorities and make needed changes. If we all sincerely reflect on our priorities I am sure – my family included – we will make changes in the way we approach our spiritual lives. For example, we will MAKE time for the Divine Services, rather than squeezing them in when there is “free time”. St. Nicodemus writes in the same Christian Morality that I quote above that it is a shame that in his time laxity has become such a problem that people no longer go to church twice per day as they are required to do. Yes – twice per day. Of course, if they miss one visit because they live too far from church or something happens on the farm they can make up for this by spending an hour, or at the very least 30 minutes, standing in front of the icons and completing 300 Jesus Prayers with prostrations. I am not suggesting we adopt this practice. If we all came to church twice per day that would be wonderful, but given our spiritual level in our days let us plan to walk before we run, and come to church every Saturday night in addition to Sunday morning during the upcoming Lenten period. Just add Saturday night to your usual Sunday morning visit to St. Vladimir’s. And if you are already a regular worshiper on Saturday nights try to add one more service to your schedule during the week during this Lent – just one more. If we can do this, we don’t just talk the talk of prayer and piety, but we begin to walk that walk. And this is what our children need from us: not words – but action. Or perhaps better put, actions that reflect our words. May God strengthen us all to undertake a sincere struggle while asking the Lord’s blessing on this struggle. If we do this we can have great hope that the upcoming fast will be one which is for us and our family truly salvific. May God grant it!

Fr. Gregory