Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Marriage in the Church – Why?

There are some of us in our St. Vladimir family who have not yet gotten married in the Church. We should address this issue, not with acrimony, but from an educational point of view. It is my hope that if we do this it will become clear that marriage in the Church is not some sort of optional thing, but is absolutely crucial if we hope to be successful as a couple. And we’ll talk about what “successful” means too. It might be something different than what you are thinking as you begin this note…

We should begin by making it clear: the point here is not to DEMEAN those who have not yet been married in the Church. It is understood that each person and each couple come to God at a different pace. The Church is here for you and your salvation. God is patient and loving. But that does not mean that we should equate ignorance with bliss either. The Church is a spiritual hospital – we all need to be healed. Staying away from treatment is not healthy once we realize we need that treatment. And the fact of the matter is, all couples need the treatment of the Sacrament of Marriage the Holy Church offers us.

But why bother, right? We’ve been together for years. The civil ceremony seems to have “stuck”. We love each other. That’s all that matters isn’t it? Love conquers all…

Love may conquer all – but that is Christian love. Not romantic love. Romantic love is not unimportant, but the hyper-focus we have a society have on this aspect of married life is an extreme that sets us up for failure, given few of us manage to age looking just as we did at 25. We are greatly hobbled in our limited lexicon for the word “love” in English. Russian is equally hobbled. The Greeks were good with love – they have lots of words for it and that is helpful. For instance, eros is not at all the same as agape. But for us – it is all “love”. And that is not helpful. Certainly we are not going to state here that love is not important. Of course it is. But our culture of marriage in society is very much informed by the Western Christian idea of marriage: that marriage is a contract with certain responsibilities of each partner in the contract. If the contract is broken the marriage is broken. This is true in Judaism and Islam too, by the way. But this is NOT true in Orthodoxy. Marriage is not a contract. At least is it not a contract strictly between the husband and wife. And this is made clear by the promises that the bride and the groom make to each other in the Orthodox wedding service. What are those promises? There aren’t any. :) The vows are made to GOD – not to the other spouse. And thus the Orthodox marriage is a covenant with God – not a contract with another human. Of course, it would be ideal if the bride and groom had discussed a few things before the marriage takes place, but they make two vows in the marriage service – both to God: that neither has promised themselves to any other and that they do this with a free will. That’s is. But that is everything. Because God is now a central part of the marriage. IF it is accomplished in His Church.

Those who are reading this are almost certainly Orthodox Christian churchgoers. God is part of their lives already. From a theological mathematical point of view “civil wedding + church attendance = God is part of our marriage”, no? Not really. It is not that a civil marriage doesn’t mean anything. Of course it does. Those who manage to stick together without God as an sacramental part of their marriage should be lauded – this is a great accomplishment! But why wouldn’t we ask God into our marriage? Not in the way that we make up with our own theological math, but in the way that HE HIMSELF taught us is the Christian way – the Orthodox way. How did He teach us? Recall please, where was the first miracle of Jesus Christ accomplished? At the WEDDING IN CANA OF GALILEE. Certainly Jesus Christ – the God man – could have chosen any place that He liked for His first miracle. He was not constrained to do this at a wedding. But He did. This was not a mistake. This is God clearly blessing marriage – that as Christians we may be married (and this might be surprising to you: this was a burning question in the early Church). And moreover, not only MAY we be married, but GOD BLESSES us to be married. If we chose the married life it is clear that this needs to be accomplished with God’s blessing – it is not our decision to do whatever we like. Of course, we could ignore Christ’s first miracle and His blessing of marriage. But we could also ignore the fact that He gave Holy Communion to the Apostles and told us to do this in remembrance of Him. In either case (and in all cases)  ignoring God is not going to be terribly helpful in our striving for transfiguration in Christ. Essentially, ignoring this teaching of Christ is striving for transfiguration WITHOUT Christ. I’m not the best priest – that is obvious. But even with my weaknesses and ignorances it is pretty clear to me – we aren’t to ignore the very teaching of our Lord that marriage is blessed where He is present. And striving for transfiguration without Christ is not likely to be terribly fruitful. The marriage in Cana of Galilee was blessed because Jesus Christ was there. Jesus Christ is present in His Church, which He gave us for our salvation. Thus, the only place for Orthodox Christians to be married is in the Church. And for those who are not yet married in the Church – it is probably time to heed the call of the Lord and accept His gracious invitation to be part of our marriage. And to have the sacrament of matrimony served for us in the Church.

But given that the goal of marriage is personal gratification and financial stability of the two parties involved why does this all matter? BECAUSE THAT IS NOT THE GOAL OF MARRIAGE! Success in marriage is measured by only one metric: salvation. Salvation is transfiguration in Christ. This is how we should choose a spouse and this should be our over-arching goal: salvation. Of course, there are other goals along the way, but this is the big one: salvation. Marriage, despite lots of good jokes in this regard, is not about suffering. Nor is it about having children (this is an expected and hoped-for part of marriage, but not the main goal). The main goal is salvation. Full stop.

But what if we came to the Church after we were already married? Then what? Are we lost? Of course not! One can be married at any point! There is no statute of limitation on marriage. I’ve married people quite beyond the usual age for marriage (into their 60s or 70s), and there is even a special marriage service for those who have been married outside the Church for a long time. It is not necessary to make a huge big deal of this. Such a Church marriage can be taken care of quietly and prayerfully. It not need be a huge undertaking. But it MUST be undertaken. Strictly speaking those living without a Church marriage are living in sin. It is understood that the Soviet authorities were not exactly promoting Church marriage and therefore many of our parishioners might not have a Church marriage. This is not a reason to judge anyone – that was just the plain fact in the Soviet Union. But thank God – the Soviet Union is no more. No one is constraining you from accomplishing this important – frankly crucial – sacrament of the Church. Why should we be holding to anachronistic atheistic practices? The answer is: we should not. :)

You all know a couple or a couple of couples who are not yet married in the Church. This article is NOT a call to embarrass these folks or make an example of them. Rather, let us apply this as we do all the guidance of the Holy Church: with love. Let us lovingly encourage our friends and loved ones who have not yet been married in the Church to do so at the earliest opportunity. With love. With genuine concern for their salvation. If you have this co-suffering love – love that has as its center the sincere desire for the salvation of another – then you can move mountains. And your invitation to your close ones who are not yet married in the Church will not be an occasion for strife, but an occasion for rejoicing in the Lord. A zealot for Church marriage must be a zealot for Christian love. Pray for this love first, only THEN talk to your close ones about this.

It is my hope that 2019 will be the year that EVERY one of our St. Vladimir’s couples is married in the Church, that by January 1, 2020 we will have 100% of our families living with the grace of the sacrament of marriage. May the merciful Lord grant it!

Fr. Gregory

Post Script:

One of our parishioners rightly pointed out that there is an exception to this rule: those who are married outside the Church, but baptized together in the Church. In this way the Grace of the Sacrament of Marriage is imparted to the couple through reception into the Church. This is an important caveat, and I’m very glad that our parishioner reached out to remind me of this!

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Vigil – Let Us Attend?

There are 9 Divine Services appointed to be served each day of the year. Those are:

Vespers
Compline
Midnight Office
Matins
First Hour
Third Hour
Sixth Hour
Divine Liturgy or Typica
Ninth Hour

In parishes generally Compline and Midnight Office are served very rarely, as is the Ninth Hour. Not never – just rarely. The typical parish cycle of Divine Services is:

=== Evening Services ===
Vespers
Matins
First Hour
=== End of Evening Services ===

=== Morning Services ===
Third Hour
Sixth Hour
Divine Liturgy
=== End of Morning Services ===

Sometimes the evening services are served separately, one right after the other. But sometimes, if the commemoration of the saint or feast is a significant one (and always on Saturday evenings in the Russia Church) the three evening services are combined into a Vigil. It is still the same three services – these are just combined a little differently than when they are served separately.

Typica is served on days when there is no Liturgy appointed, or when the Liturgy is Vesperal in nature (Presanctified Liturgy, or one of the combined Vespers/Liturgy services like on the eve of Nativity or Holy Saturday or other similar days).

It is important for us to fight the idea that the evening and morning Divine Services are “separate”. Of course, they are separated by time. We can’t deny that. Although there is no time in the Heavenly Kingdom and we should not forget that when we discussing the Divine Services, where earth and Heaven meet...

Rather, we need to strive to see the evening and morning Divine Services as one whole, with the evening services being an important (and by important we mean “crucial”) part of preparing for the Divine Liturgy. That is especially true if one is communing, but also important if one is not. Why is that?

The reason is this: the vast, vast majority of educational material found in the Divine Services is located in the evening services. About 60% of the evening services is changeable – every day is different. On the contrary, about 80% of the morning Divine Services DO NOT CHANGE – every day is the same. The Divine Liturgy is the the most important Divine Service from a theological point of view – this is without question. The Angels marvel at the Eucharist, which does not exist in the Heavenly Kingdom. When we are present at the Divine Liturgy we are present at the events in the life of our Lord commemorated there. There is no more important service from that point of view – this is the ultimate expression of the incarnational reality of our Orthodox Faith.

But just because the Divine Liturgy is the ultimate Divine Service does not mean that the others are somehow useless. And if we are honest – this is how we treat the other services. I don’t mean this is how we think about them. At least hypothetically. We don’t despise them in our thoughts. But in our deeds we do. Because we do not come to God’s House for these important educational services. These services are important for those preparing to join the Church from a catechitical point of view, but they are important for the rest of us too. And if we are honest – the level of our spiritual/theological education is rather low from a historical perspective. In Byzantium one could find people arguing on corners and in the marketplace about the nature of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, the place of icons in the Church, etc. I do not think that we will soon return to those days, nor do I think that is necessarily a goal for which we should strive. But to know our faith: to read the Nicean Creed with complete understanding, to know the lives of the saints, to know the major theological beliefs of our faith, to build an Orthodox ethos and filter that allows us to live in the world without becoming part of the world – all these are strengthened greatly by attending the evening Divine Services. It is said that if one were to attend all the Divine Services every day of the year one would never have to open another book – all these things would be part and parcel of our lives. That time is probably not coming again soon – when most of us could attend most Divine Services every day. But I would suggest that we can and should strive to move more towards that place. Towards making the Divine Services more important in our lives. And we can begin by more diligently and zealously attending the evening Divine Services whenever we have the chance to do so.

Evening Divine Services: Educationally Most Important

Morning Divine Liturgy: Theologically Most Important

Thank God we have the opportunity to have many Divine Services in our parish. And I sincerely thank all of you that make that possible! But that does not mean there is an expectation that everyone would attend every service. Rather, what it means, is that there are many opportunities to be in God’s House, the parish church, and that for most people there are opportunities that correspond to their free time outside of their usual work schedules. It is understood that not all free time outside of work can be 100% dedicated to attending the Divine Services. But how about 10%? What about 5%? If we work 40 hours per week that means we have 128 hours of time every week we are not working. Yes – we have to sleep. Yes – we have to eat. Yes – we have to do chores. All understood and expected. 5% of 128 is 6.4 (we’ll round this to 6.5 to make things mathematically easier). That would be 6.5 hours for the Divine Services if we dedicate 5% of our free time to this pious pursuit. Saturday evening services are about 2.5 hours. That leaves 4 hours left. Sunday morning Liturgy is about 2 hours. That leaves us 2 more hours every week that we could dedicate to the Divine Services if we decided we would spend just 5% of our non-working time in God’s house. Do you know what takes about 2 hours? One weekday evening cycle of the Divine Services. Or one weekday Divine Liturgy (actually these are more like 1.5 hours, but who is counting?). Perhaps for some thinking about this mathematically is helpful...

As we prepare for the Nativity Lent, which begins on November 28, let us also prepare ourselves to make a renewed effort in this regard: to attend the evening Divine Services more often (especially if partaking of Holy Communion the next day – this is really a must unless one lives very far away, is very sick, or very young): on Saturday evenings, on other evenings, or even at Midnight Liturgies. Your sincere efforts in this regard – to draw nearer to the Lord through the Divine Services that He has guided in their development fo
r our salvation – WILL pay spiritual dividends. And it is the right thing to do. It is the Orthodox thing to do. It is a direct investment in our striving for transfiguration into the sons and daughters of God. And if you teach your child to attend the Saturday evening Divine Services you will never wonder where you child is on Saturday night – even when they leave the nest of the family home to strike out on their own. Good spiritual habits taught in childhood tend to be practiced in adulthood as well. May the Lord strengthen us to be zealous to attend and participate (via our attendance, for we are always participants in the Divine Services when we attend – never spectators) in the Divine Services for the good of our salvation and to teach our children to do so as well!

Fr. Gregory

LEARN MORE:

Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky: “The Holies are for the Holy” - On the Divine Liturgy

Archpriest Seraphim Slobodskoy: “The Divine Services” (Excerpt from “Law of God”)

Monday, October 29, 2018

Death in a Place of Worship

On Saturday 11 people were killed and many were injured when the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh was attacked in what is being reported as a hate crime. It is important for us, as people of faith, to speak out clearly and unequivocally in such situations. There is a time and a place for theological disputes. This is not that time. This is not that place. This is the time and place to say without any hesitation: violence in a place of worship is NEVER acceptable. Never. Full stop.

I think there is a temptation to downplay such things when they do not touch our community. That is perhaps “normal” or “natural”, but as Orthodox Christians we have to strive to go beyond “normal” - we have to try to raise society to a higher level. And this begins with striving to not allow such things to be acceptable on any level – even if we have to push ourselves in this regard because we are not personally touched by the tragedy. We must affirm in ourselves and we must teach our children that even if we disagree with someone’s theology we never resort to violence and we never accept, encourage, or condone such violence. Never. Full stop.

In sampling the mass media this morning I have been quite disappointed. One would hope that such a tragedy would provide an impetus to unite our country. On the contrary, everything I have heard and seen so far from the media shows that this tragedy is being used as a weapon to blame and attack the “other side”. This is destructive, counter-productive, and promotes the furtherance of evil. It seems that whatever tragedy besets our country and the world there is no effort to unite and work together. Rather, every opportunity is taken to attack the “other side.” To separate. To divide. In such situations is there an other side? Not if we all see each other as God’s children. There’s just one side in that paradigm. The truth of the matter is that we are all God’s children. Yes – some are theologically challenged. That does not make them not God’s children. The Lord values each of our souls – He desires that “all be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.” (I Timothy 2:4) All. Not some. Not just the ones we like. The ones we know. The ones we identify with. ALL.

And now we get to the “what can I do about it?” part of this note.

This is our job brothers and sisters – to bring all to the knowledge of the truth. We do that mostly by our example. Do we exemplify the Gospel in our lives? Does the love of Christ shine forth within our hearts to such an extent that it enlightens those around us and motivates them to love Christ too? Do we understand that by serving others we serve God (and act on that understanding)? If not (and I’m a long way from that so please pray for me!) then we have work to do. Let’s start by refusing to accept the destructive paradigm being put forth by the mass media in our days. That every tragedy is the fault of the “other side”. Those on the left blame the right. Those on the right blame the left. And the reason this is so wrong? No one is telling the truth that the real culprit is: evil. The constant battle to weaken and undermine the “other side” is a distraction. It keeps us from paying attention to and fighting the real foe: evil. That evil which comes from the prompting of the Devil. That evil which come from within the hearts of some who have been deluded by the paradigm of the “other side” being the culprit which must be destroyed, and are self-justified in their evil actions by their delusion. It is not acceptable for us to be political partisans on this level. Full stop.

Of course, some of us lean to the left, others to the right. That is fine – as long as we remember that we only have one “party” as Orthodox Christians – and that party is Christ. And that means we strive for moderation in our own lives – and that we promote moderation as we are able to in those around us. Again – our example comes first. If we are wild-eyed partisans we should not be surprised if our children our our spouse cannot maintain moderation. Extremism in politics leads to violence, and so perhaps this is one of the most destructive things we can provide a bad example about. Remember that our example effects those around us (not just in this case, but always): our children, our spouse, our neighbors, our friends. In their eyes our actions exemplify what an Orthodox Christian is. We are Orthodox Christianity for most of the people we know. Let that sink in for a second. We ARE Orthodox Christianity for most people in our lives. With that in mind, let us remember that we must be examples of the Gospel: the Law of Love. If that is front and center in our lives then we will not see a “right” or a “left” - we will only see the children of God. Just as we must see those who were killed in their place of worship on Saturday. As children of God. May He have mercy on them! And may He have mercy on us – that we will exemplify His Gospel. If we are serious about this – if we really get to work in this regard – we can make a difference. Our example can change the world. But success only comes before work in the dictionary. In all other instances we must work before success comes. If we can work sincerely in this regard - and ask the Lord’s blessing on our work – we can have great hope in success. Success that will lead us to the Heavenly Kingdom, and many around us too. This is how we should react to the evil perpetrated on Saturday, and to every future evil act. Let us learn from this. Let us change ourselves. Let us stop listening to those who are trying to get us to support future evil acts by incessantly seeking to make the “other side” worthy of destruction. That is not our Orthodox way. Our way is to examine ourselves, work on ourselves, and know that the Lord who loves mankind will help us to transform ourselves and the society around us if we will only put our trust in Him.

Fr. Gregory

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:

ON SCHISM IN THE CHURCH

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.

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Russian

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.

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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.