Monday, November 28, 2016

Sunday Morning Confessions by Appointment Only beginning January 1, 2017

For some years we have struggled with Sunday morning confessions ending on time at 9:45 a.m. It is understood that those who are very ill/infirm, the very young, the very aged, and those who live more than one hour away from St. Vladimir’s almost certainly cannot participate in person in the Vigil (or come to church from 3:00-5:00 p.m. when we have scheduled open time when confession could take place) on Saturday nights and will need to confess on Sunday mornings. However, for as long as anyone can remember, we have struggled to start the Liturgy at 10:00 a.m. sharp due to the need to hear confessions not just after 9:45 a.m., but even after 10:00 a.m. As we have grown as a parish this has become more of an issue. Thus, beginning on Sunday, January 1, 2017, it will be necessary to schedule one’s confession on Sunday morning.

Is the message here that we want less people partaking of Holy Communion? OF COURSE NOT! Ideally every believer should partake of Holy Communion every Sunday having worthily prepared by attending the Vigil the night before, having read the pre-Communion prayers, and having fasted from midnight. But that is not reality and that is fine. Perhaps some day we will attain to that, but that day is not likely to be anytime soon. We want to encourage folks to partake of Holy Communion to the greatest extent possible! But we need everyone to be responsible, to prepare themselves appropriately, and to make this a high priority in their lives.

Let me restate clearly: those who just cannot come to the Vigil service but wish to partake of Holy Communion and who wish to confess on Sunday morning (and who fit the criteria outlined above in this regard) may do so. We are HAPPY to have you do so. But those who don’t fit those criteria will need to reorder their priorities so that they attend Vigil on Saturday nights if they desire to partake of Holy Communion on a given Sunday.

This is not a punishment. We want to be as flexible as we possibly can – we want to help everyone who wishes to partake of Holy Communion to do so. But we can only do so much. And making everyone who has come on time to the Liturgy wait, and making the live audience on Orthodox Christian Network and the others listening to our Live Stream wait, is not reasonable. And so we will change. Everyone hates change. I hate change. But I too am going to put some more “skin into the game” so to speak, since we are going to move the moleben that used to be at the end of the Divine Liturgy to 8:00 a.m. every Sunday. That means I’ll be there about an hour earlier than I am now. That is OK – this is a good thing for me. And that means that there will be time for Proskimide to be served (the preparation of the Holy Gifts that will become Holy Communion during the Divine Liturgy) and still be ready to start Confession at 9:00 a.m. sharp.

Exceptions will be made, of course. But ONLY in the most dire of circumstances. We are not doing this to be mean, or to exercise power, or prove that we can do it. We are doing this because the present system simply doesn’t work for us anymore. Let me be very clear: you can confess at any time during the week during open time. That is 10 hours that I set aside each week so that we can meet for any reason. And that time can certainly be used for confession in preparation for the partaking of Holy Communion on the coming Sunday. Confessions will be held before, during, and after every evening Divine Service during the week, as well as after every Divine Liturgy during the week. If you are at church and would like to confess, but don’t intend to partake of Holy Communion on a given day, after Liturgy is the perfect time to do that. Just let me know you’d like to do that and we can make it happen as a rule.

Certainly some folks are thinking: how will this possibly work? People who do not have an appointment will try to go to Confession on Sunday morning. Or those who have scheduled at 9:00 a.m. will arrive at 9:45 a.m. Indeed – that almost certainly will happen. :) We will post the list of those who have made an appointment on a stanchion in front of the confessional so that that there are no questions about this. And again – if someone is in a dire need to confess and to commune on Sunday that will be allowed of course!

Here is the new schedule that we will follow beginning on Sunday, January 1, 2017:

8:00 a.m.: Moleben to St. Vladimir

  • Asking St. Vladimir's prayers before the Lord for our parish family, our building project, and our school project

9:00 a.m.: Confessions by Appointment

9:45 a.m.: Confessions End

10:00 a.m.: Divine Liturgy

Here are important resources for preparing for Holy Communion:

Schedule a Confession with Fr. Gregory

Preparation for Confession & Holy Communion

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Please share thoughts and especially concerns with me. Change is not easy. I absolutely acknowledge that and find change difficult myself. But, I do not see another reasonable option. If we all stick together and support each other lovingly – as brothers and sisters in Christ – I believe once we adjust to this new schedule we will all be much happier, since we will KNOW that the Divine Liturgy will start at 10:00 a.m. every Sunday.

I will begin making announcements in Church and on our web site and social media soon. That way everyone – even those who don’t have internet access – will be aware of this change well in advance. Thank you for your support and understanding!

With Love in our Lord Jesus Christ,

Fr. Gregory

Friday, November 11, 2016

Veteran's Day is Today

On the 11th day of the 11th month of the 11th hour the "War to end all Wars" ended. Today. 98 years ago. Sadly, that hope of the end of war that was manifest on that day has not yet come to pass. Perhaps it never will. But we should pray for that. Not just on this day - but always. Being thankful is an Orthodox way of life. Today let us be especially thankful for our veterans for their sacrifice on our behalf.

I would like to call to your attention the picture we are including here. We thank all our veterans for their sacrifice. This almost goes without saying. But note the diversity of the soldiers and sailors depicted there. America is a land of immigrants. Sadly, some of the older immigrants are reacting to the newer immigrants in a racist way over the last few days. This is completely inappropriate from an Orthodox Christian point of view and we must speak out strongly against it - openly and with zeal. Racism was condemned by the 1872 Council of Constantinople. We are fully bound by that decision. Not only should Orthodox people not be racists - they simply cannot be. It is theologically impossible:

“We censure, condemn, and declare contrary to the teachings of the Gospel and the sacred canons of the holy Fathers the doctrine of phyletism, or the difference of races and national diversity in the bosom of the Church of Christ.” (Article I of the Decree of the 1872 Council of Constantinople)

Let us pray for our country - and let us be a shining example of tolerance towards our fellow man - both the "old" immigrants and the "new" immigrants. This is the Orthodox Christian way. This is not to say that we should not have an opinion or weigh in on the immigration policies of our country. As noted previously and recently here - this is not inappropriate. But if we choose to comment our contributions should RAISE the level of discourse, neither falling into racism or the other extreme: disdain for the "lower classes" or the "uneducated" or the "uninformed" that exercised their right to vote in Tuesday's election and may have played a large part in the election of Donald Trump. Both of these extremes are completely inappropriate for an Orthodox Christian. Every human is made in the image of God - no matter his or her color, ethnic background, or for whom he or she voted in this year's election.

As those around us lose their minds in this regard let us keep ours, and let us pray for our country - especially on this day when we remember the sacrifice of our veterans. Their selfless defense of our nation against those that would destroy it should be an example for us in our days. If we can emulate them and their efforts this can unite us as "one nation under God", as it is written in the Pledge of Allegiance. May the Merciful Lord grant it!

Fr. Gregory

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Politics at St. Vladimir’s – our Party is Christ

People will know you are My disciples if you have love one for another. (John 13:35)

Yesterday Donald Trump won the presidency of the United States. Probably just about everyone is a little surprised about that. Be that as it may, if you are a Trump supporter you are happy today. If you are Clinton supporter (or a Trump opponent – these two stances are not necessarily equivalent), or a supporter of another candidate you are not happy today. This is how our system works: one person wins, everyone else loses.
In other words, follow the golden rule. As always...

Donald Trump gave a very magnanimous victory speech early this morning. He said many good words. Hilary Clinton gave a very magnanimous concession speech a bit later this morning. She said many good words. President Obama gave a very magnanimous transition speech this afternoon. He said many good words. Of course those who have lost are hurting. Of course those who won are rejoicing. But our leaders modeled for us the way our system works. Yes, the old adage may be true that you can tell if a politician is lying by whether or not his or her lips are moving. Still, perhaps even despite our basest instincts, we fight to the end, then we extend a hand of friendship and support to our opponents, and we stop the fight. The election is over. We support the winner and facilitate a smooth and peaceful transition of power.

The leaders are done fighting. We need to emulate them. The election is over. We need to stop. We decided at St. Vladimir’s some years ago not to do politics. This was in relation to the Ukrainian crisis. But I don’t remember ever rescinding that call to not do politics in our parish. We have Trump supporters, Clinton supporters, and supporters of other candidates in our parish. But our party is Christ. Elections have repercussions. This will be the case with this election, just as it was with every presidential election that has ever taken place. The President has great power. That is the system we have. But our party is Christ. We have a tradition in America of a vigorous democracy and a zealous press. And this is good. But our party is Christ. This post would have been exactly the same if Clinton would have won rather than Trump. Our party is Christ.

Our parish family is very diverse politically, ethnically, linguistically, and in just about every other way. Posting more about the evils of Trump or the evils of Clinton does nothing now except promote factions within our parish family. This does not advance the party of Christ. The election is over. The leaders are done fighting. We need to emulate them. Now our job is to pray. Just as it would have been if Hilary Clinton would have won, or any of the other candidates. Yes – today we are happy or sad, depending on our politics. But our party is Christ. We must be above the petty politics of the street and react in a Christian way – through prayer. Posting more now, writing more now, arguing more now – this provides heat to arguments, but does it shed light on anything?

This is not to say that we should not hold political feet to the fire. Our country’s ongoing political discourse is important for our republic to function. But if we will participate in this as we go forward: please consider your words in light of your parish family. Will you add heat, or will you shed light? And will you advance the party of Christ, or will you sully His name? The political discourse is not in and of itself sinful, but HOW we participate in it very well might be, if we hurt those we love most – at least those who we SHOULD love most – our parish family with whom we struggle together for our mutual salvation. Remember: we perish alone, we are saved together. If we isolate members of our parish family we make them “alone”, and we will have to answer for our unchristian acts.

To say we don’t do politics in our parish may not really be accurate, because of course most everyone has their political view. Better put, I think we can say: we don’t do politics that hurts our parish family. This is what it means when we say our party is Christ. If we want to say “we don’t do politics” as shorthand for that I think that is just fine. I am not asking you not to have an opinion. I am asking you not to use your opinion to hurt others. To think of others and the bonds within our parish family before you exercise political speech, if you decide to do so. I think that is the Christian way. I hope you will agree with me and act accordingly.

Fr. Gregory

Monday, November 7, 2016

Election Day - Prayers & Votes

Election Day is Tomorrow – Prayers and Votes We do not talk too much in our parish about elections and this is by...

Posted by St. Vladimir Orthodox Church, ROCOR on Monday, November 7, 2016

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Ethnophyletism – Not at St. Vladimir’s

“We censure, condemn, and declare contrary to the teachings of the Gospel and the sacred canons of the holy Fathers the doctrine of phyletism, or the difference of races and national diversity in the bosom of the Church of Christ.” (Article I of the Decree of the 1872 Council of Constantinople)

Lately some folks have been complaining about our parish Church School instructing in English and Russian, rather than in Russian only. Before we discuss this more fully, let me include here our Church School Mission Statement:

“The mission of the St. Vladimir Church School is to gather Orthodox Christians of all nationalities and backgrounds, as well as all those desiring to embrace the Orthodox Christian Faith, as a parish family for mutual spiritual support and the salvation of our souls. The Church School, as an integral part of the parish family, exists to train the future saints of the Church in their formative years. We strive to emulate in our lives, and to actively model in our Church School, the relationship between the persons of the Holy Trinity as the highest and most profound example of love.”

Now, on to the conversation. There is not a special place in Heaven for those who are of a certainly nationality. See Article I quoted above. There may be a special place in Hell for those who think that their nationality will save them, but that is just speculation on my part – the Church does not have such a teaching. And further, nothing could do more to HURT the Church’s efforts to sanctify the post-Soviet societies in which is works than for people to somehow think that their Russianess or Ukrainianess, or Kazakhstaniness, or Americaness, or Canadianess or whatever nationality they are will save them. In other words, those that promote phyletism work actively against the Church and its efforts to bring souls to salvation in Christ.

Orthodox Christians should be patriots. That is, we should love our countries. Many of us were born in one country and now live in another. Or were born here but of patriotic parents who were born in another country. This presents a problem. How can one be a patriot of two countries? Especially countries like the United States and Russia, who seem to have such opposing world views?

More importantly, how can we be patriots but avoid phyletism? For the purposes of our conversation here, let us use racism as a synonym for phyletism. I like to say phyletism, and I think everyone else does too. It is a funny/pleasant sounding word. And makes one sound like they know something that someone else doesn’t. Still, it isn’t something most of us say every day, but as people who live in America we hear and use the word racism a lot. And this can help us to unpack this issue, that all parishes with multiple nationalities struggle with from time to time.

Let me be clear here too: it is OK to have this discussion. It is GOOD that we have people of multiple nationalities in our parish. This is the image of the Church with a capital “C”. The Church is diverse, and our parish is diverse. That diversity brings lots of good things, and the struggle against phyletism is a GOOD thing. If we were fully homogeneous as a parish we would not have an opportunity to have this conversation. And that would be bad, because people might begin to hold heretical views (phyletism is a HERESY after all) and we probably wouldn’t even know that. So thank God that we get to work this out together as a parish family!

I think as mature Christians we could not accept the following sentence as expressing Orthodox theology appropriately: “White people are superior to Asian people.” Or superior to African Americans. Or Native Americans. That just rubs us the wrong way. We know that can’t be true and thus we cannot accept that. But let’s switch things up a little bit and see if we can accept this sentence: “Russian people are superior to American people.” Hmmm. That is a little more tempting. Or how about this: “Russian language is a hallowed language and thus superior to Spanish.” Or Vietnamese. Or English. Or Swahili. Sts. Kyrill and Methodius understood this and this is why they taught the Slavs Greek language and culture before they catechized them. St. Innocent too, in his work in Alaska, Russified all the natives and only then taught them about Christ. But where did St. Innocent learn Russian if Sts. Kyrill and Methodius Hellenized the Slavs? Wait – something is wrong here. In fact Sts. Kyrill and Methodius sanctified the pagan Slavic culture they found when they came to bring Christ to our ancestors. And St. Innocent and St. Herman and the rest of the missionaries in Alaska sanctified the native pagan cultures they found there. They did not force the people to learn Russian. On the contrary, Orthodox Christian missionaries have ALWAYS learned the local language and preached in it, rather than trying to turn the local people they were preaching to into Hellenes or Russians or whatever the missionaries were.

This is not to say that there is not some benefit to knowing a language and culture that has been “sanctified” by centuries of Orthodox influence and guidance. Of course there is. But the Church preaches to the “natives” in the language they know. Period. There is no other authentic Orthodox approach to mission. And this is why we use both Russian and English in our Church School. If children come from a Russian speaking home and have not been to American schools for very long of course – it makes good sense to teach them in Russian. But it also makes good sense to teach them in English too, since honestly, very few of our children are heading back to Russia, Ukraine, or Belarus anytime soon. Some may be – we do have a somewhat transitory population in our parish given that we are in a university town. Again – this is why we offer instruction in both languages. But it will always be both. Because even those who are heading back to the motherland will be benefited by knowing important things like Holy Trinity, Jesus Christ, Old Testament, New Testament, etc., in English too. Like it or not, English is the lingua franca of our times. Our Church School exists to make saints. The child in the school might be a saint. But so too might the child he or she teaches when he or she is a Church School teacher in the next generation. The point is to make saints that can make more saints! We aim to make saints that can train the next generation of saints, and so on and so forth, until the Lord comes again.

I would like to make one other point here, that folks often are confused about. That is this: we often get very concerned that young people go to college and leave their faith due to challenges to their faith they encounter there. But the latest research in this regard seems to points to the fact that those young people who leave their faith in college do so not because of something they have found in college. On the contrary, by the time they go to college they are, by and large, confirmed in their faith. Or confirmed NOT in their faith. That is, college provides the opportunity - the freedom - for young people to live a life away from God if they have already decided to do so in their early to mid teen years. Thus, it seems college is not the problem – it just provides the freedom to actualize a decision that has already been made in High School. This leads to the inevitable conclusion that the Church School and the Youth Group are really quite crucial to establishing our young people in their faith. This is not to say that the average American college is a bastion of support for Christian values. But the challenges to Christian values found in the academy are met in an Orthodox way, by and large, by the students that have already established themselves in the faith, and in a secular way by those who have already decided to live a life separate from God. The moral of this story: we need to put more resources into our children’s formative years. We need to model a Christian life for them from their earliest years. We need to have our kids in Church School, in Youth Group, and most importantly: at the Divine Services (in a way that is moderate and appropriate for their age) to the greatest extent possible. And we need to pray that the Lord strengthen them in their faith and guide them to salvation. This is what matters in the end. Not phyletism. Phyletism is a heresy. Let’s concentrate on what matters as a parish family so that we can save our souls and the souls of our children, and listen to the wisdom of the Holy Church: no phyletism at St. Vladimir’s.

Fr. Gregory