Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Priesthood - A Follow-up to Sunday's Lecture

Sunday our Great Lenten Lecture was about the organization of the ancient Church. The lecture was somewhat focused on the diocese, although it also touched on the bishop and his ministry in the diocese and how that developed over time. You can listen to the lecture here. The video is now up and you can see it here.

One of the interesting questions that came up at the discussion period afterwards was the development of the ministry of the priest over time. I think the answer I gave was perhaps not fully precise, and so I would like to point out the chapter on the hierarchy and priesthood in Fr. Michael Pomazansky's book Orthodox Dogmatic Theology as a place where you can get a much better answer than I gave. Please do have a look at that to learn more. You can also find the slide show from the lecture at this link. I am including that because the last slide mentions good further reading on this topic.

I think it is important to clarify the position of the priest in a parish. You can find the Instructions to Parish Rectors at this link – this is part of the Compendium of Regulations, Statues, and Laws of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia that we discussed at the lecture and which is recommended for further reading. The Rector servers in place of the bishop and because the bishop cannot be in many places at the same time. Some parishes have more than one priest if there are many parishioners, but generally only one priest is the Rector of a parish. All clergymen of a parish serve at the pleasure of the bishop – none has a “right” (as we understand that word in the west) to exercise his mission without the bishop's blessing.

In theory we could talk about this topic for quite a few more paragraphs, but I would prefer to continue to the conversation from Sunday's lecture here on Blogtushka. Please submit questions or make comments in the space below.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Serving the Holy Church

As I was preparing for my Great Lenten Lecture on Sunday, I came across this wonderful essay by Fr. Michael Pomazansky, one of the most important theologians of our era:

How Each of Us Can and Ought to Serve the Church

Fr. Michael graduated from the Kiev Theological Academy in 1912 – just a few years before the Russian Revolution. As a professor at Holy Trinity Seminary in Jordanville, NY, Fr. Michael influenced a whole generation of clergymen. As a writer Fr. Michael influenced and continues to influence many. I hope he will influence you. Fr. Michael conveys the traditional theology of the Orthodox Church in a way that is accessible and actionable for his readers. And this is important. Theological proofs and orations can be helpful and even beautiful, but often there is not a call to action in such writings. In the essay cited above Fr. Michael makes it very clear – everyone is called to serve the Church:

“Of course, the fullest form of serving the Church is for a person to give himself to Her completely for his entire life as a pastor or in another life of service, close to the pastorate. But we must not feel that only the ordained of the Church are called to be Her soldiers while the others are only observers—some sympathetic, others critical. Each of us has a place in the ranks of the soldiers of the Church, and the forms of participation the Church are varied. The Apostle writes: 'Let every man same calling wherein he was called' (I Cor. 7:20). Translating this quotation into contemporary concepts, we can say that there does not exist a constructive, honest profession and a social position where a good person could not at one time or another contribute his good mite to the of the Church. Look at how the fruits of pagan higher education used to great advantage by the great hierarchs Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom. What a precious heritage they are to the Church!”

You have heard me say this time and again. But now I am pointing out to you that I am not just making this up – even one of the preeminent theologians of our time says the same. And of course he is not alone – many, many of the great theologians, teachers, and hierarchs teach the same: we are all called to serve the Holy Church based on the talents that the Lord has given us, or has given us the ability to acquire with our efforts.

Now that we are well and truly in the midst of the Christian Spring that is Great Lent we should use this time of reflection and spiritual challenge (and hoped for growth) to reflect seriously on this. Fr. Michael's call to serve the Body of Christ is laudable, it is beautiful, it is important, and frankly speaking it is not very optional. Here are the Lord's words in this regard:

The Lord said, the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey. Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents. And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two. But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord's money. After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them. And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more. His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them. His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed: And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine. His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed: Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury. Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 25: 14-30)

Note please that we are not called here to be something we are not. Only the servant who wasted his talent was punished – the one with more and the one with less received EXACTLY THE SAME REWARD, although one had more talent that the others. This pretty starkly drives home two points: first, it isn't who has the most talent that receives the most reward – it is what you do with what you are given that matters, and second, if you are given a lot of talent in this life (as many of our parishioners are) don't be proud of that – just get to work using that talent for the One who will ask you to answer for it on the last day. Those who are given much simply have more work to do than those who are given little. Let us not waste time on pride – but rather get to work! And may we find a way, with God's help, to serve the Holy Church!

May the Lord grant all a spiritually profitable remainder of Great Lent!