Tuesday, June 8, 2021

The Pandemic of Grumbling

“If you are constantly angry and complaining, it is indicative of a proud soul. Humble yourself, reproach yourself, and the Lord is powerful to give you comfort and a helping hand.” St. Anatoly of Optina (“Living without Hypocrisy”, p. 35)

First, I have to plug this really wonderful book: “Living without Hypocrisy”. If you are thinking about summer reading now, and we hope you are, then please consider picking up a copy of this book. I would argue that this might be one of the most important books you could own if you are seeking guidance towards the Heavenly Kingdom, and I sincerely hope that we are all seeking that!

But this piece is not about books. It is about grumbling. It is interesting that the pandemic has given us many ancillary pandemics besides the medical pandemic. There is the pandemic of self-will that we have talked about on various occasions here and also in church. But there is also the pandemic of complaining. That one seems to have gotten worse as we have gotten closer to the end of the pandemic here in America. I’m not sure why. But the reason is inconsequential. It is the symptom we have to treat. And if we treat the symptom with some diligence and effort we will also cure the disease. And as St. Anatoly points out above: the underlying disease is pride.

Pride is something we all struggle with. This is nothing new.

“Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18)

This is only one of 46 instances of the word “pride” being used in the Old Testament according to the King James version. I include this particular quote because I think it is a good one to memorize. This one is good to memorize too:

“God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.” (I Peter 5:5)

I think most people will read up to this point and think something along the lines of “I don’t grumble – this is about others and not about me.” If we are going to embrace that delusion then at least let us add to that “...and I hope it helps them!”. But it is probably better not go down the path of delusion. Rather, let’s look at ourselves straight in the mirror and see there the grumbler that we are talking about. Me first – I’m a bad grumbler. I am WAY to soft on myself, WAY to obsessed with my own personal comfort, WAY too focused on me and my wants and “needs” (most of the things I consider needs are really just selfish wants if I am honest about this). Maybe I am projecting my own fallenness on the rest of the parish family. I was pretty certain that was the case. Until I began to hear about this one complaining about that thing in the parish, the other one complaining it is too cold in the barn, the other one complaining it is too hot, the other one complaining about the early liturgy, the other one complaining that the late liturgy has all the sinners attending, etc. Ad naseum. 

We’ve got to understand dear friends, according to the Lord’s own words:

“...we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22)

That doesn’t mean that the parish is striving to give everyone as much tribulation as we can. But there will be difficulties in our lives. As Christians we have to embrace that reality and decide now: will I grumble as a pagan when there is some tribulation, whatever that may be, or will I accept this humbly as a Christian and let it be for my salvation and God’s glory? Every time things are not just as we want them and we DON’T grumble: we gain treasure in Heaven. And the opposite is true too. When we grumble we feed our pride, which keeps us from God’s Kingdom.

“You do not just suddenly leap into heaven, but you enter it with humility. The worst of all sins is when we are overwhelmed by our pride and our own opinion about everything.” St. Macarius of Optina (“Living without Hypocrisy”, p. 34)

I appeal to you now dear parish family: let us struggle against grumbling! For this is nothing more than a manifestation of pride. And pride will deprive us of the Heavenly Kingdom. Rather, let us trust God that those things we cannot control, like the temperature in the barn, are according to God’s will for our salvation. If we can give these things to God, if we can trust God that He understands what is best for our salvation, then we win. Humility wins. Humility give us the Kingdom (along with repentance, but the humble man is also repentant of his falls). The parish will do the best to make our worship as comfortable as possible during these few weeks until we get to July 1 and all services will then be in the church proper. We are almost at the end! We have almost won the race! Let us not throw away our impending victory as we approach the finish line by our grumbling! We need to learn not to grumble now – the Lord has given us a GREAT OPPORTUNITY in this regard. Is worship in the barn super comfortable? No – it is not. Did our ancestors manage to worship without air conditioning? Yes they did. And many of them attained the Heavenly Kingdom, in large part by not grumbling and accepting that those things they could not control were according to God’s will, and thus best for their salvation.

If we don’t deposit our grumbling ways in the pandemic they will accompany us as we exit. We’ll complain about this or than incessantly – until we complain ourselves right out of the Kingdom. We have a special penchant for grumbling about the weather in Michigan for some reason. It doesn’t matter if it is warm or cold, wet or dry. No matter the weather: we grumble. Perhaps this is where we begin to turn away from grumbling and towards the Heavenly Kingdom? Let us actively curate our thoughts around this weather grumbling and fight it with all our might! If we do that, and we ask the Lord’s help, then His words about tribulation (although being a little uncomfortable about the weather is not really tribulation – but we have to start with “milk” before we can be read to endure the “meat” of tribulation as the martyrs did) will ring true in our ears and drive our actions:

“In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

AND

“In your patience possess ye your souls.” (Luke 21:19)

May the Lord help us not to grumble – about anything – that we may attain His Kingdom!

Asking Your Prayers,

Fr. Gregory 

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

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

 


Christ is Risen!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Asking Your Prayers,

Fr. Gregory