Thursday, October 26, 2006

Visiting St Seraphim Cathedral in Dallas

I had the opportunity to visit with His Eminence this past weekend at St Seraphim Cathedral in Dallas. It was a delightful trip, both because of the generous hospitality of Archpriest Joseph Fester and the Cathedral family and because of the overwhelming iconography in the Cathedral. The resident iconographer, Vladimir Grigorenko, continues his labor of love atop scaffolding that fills the nave. The unfinished project is breath-taking; once completed, it will be heaven on earth.

I've been given permission to petition for admittance into the Orthodox Church in America's late vocations program to prepare for ordination to the diaconate and presbyterate.

Please remember me, my family, and our mission congregation in your prayers.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Service Schedule Change for October 21-22

We will not gather for Vespers on Saturday evening, October 21.

Sunday morning Typika is still scheduled to be read at 10:00 AM Sunday morning, October 22.

Stay tuned for more updates...

Orthodox Nuns Live for God

(The Herald Republic newspaper in Yakima, Washington recently featured this article by Adriana Janovich about a nearby monastery of Orthodox nuns)

SATUS PASS -- On a pine-covered patch off U.S. Highway 97, the Pacific Northwest meets the Byzantine Empire.

Evergreens shelter a collection of structures that look more like typical Northwest cabins than a Greek Orthodox monastery.

In the wee hours, the woods are dark. So still, so quiet, so peaceful. Elsewhere, bars are closing, truckers are making the long haul, children have been asleep for hours.

At the roadside monastery at the edge of a forest, Greek Orthodox sisters are praying for them all.

From this remote sylvan setting 10 miles north of Goldendale, more than a dozen nuns pray for the world. Their prayers continue until the stars disappear from the sky, the sun rises and shines, and darkness sets in again...

(Read it all here. Photo googled from Directions to Orthodoxy)

Thursday, October 12, 2006

A Convert Reflects on the Church

Over on the website Beliefnet, Dallas Morning News columnist Rod Dreher has formally announced his conversion to Holy Orthodoxy in a blog post entitled "Orthodoxy and Me."

Much of the post concerns his reasons for departing from Roman Catholicism, which are heart-breaking and obviously deeply painful. But it is profoundly refreshing to read his early impressions as a convert to the Orthodox Faith, especially as embodied in the congregational life at St. Seraphim Cathedral in Dallas (home to His Eminence, Vladyka DMITRI).

The following lines, with which I resonate, were especially striking:

"As far as tradition goes, I have moved with my family to a church that I believe stands a much better chance of maintaining the historic Christian deposit of faith over time. To be more blunt, I have moved to a church that in my judgment within which I and my family and my descendants will be better able to withstand modernity. Basically, though -- and this is as blunt as I can be -- I'm in a church where I can trust the spiritual headship of the clergy, and where most people want to know more about the faith, and how we can conform our lives to it, rather than wanting to run away from it or hide it so nobody has to be offended."

Yes. Exactly.

Welcome home, Rod.

Many Years!

Father Sergius Clark to Visit October 14-15

This weekend we will welcome Fr Sergius Clark, one of our visiting priests, who comes to us from Saint Justin the Martyr Orthodox Church in Jacksonville, Florida. He will serve Great Vespers at 5:00PM on Saturday, October 14 and Divine Liturgy at 10:00AM on Sunday, October 15.

Father, bless!

Monday, October 09, 2006

October 9: The Glorification of Saint Tikhon

Today is the commemoration of the glorification of Saint Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow and Enlightener of North America. My family was received into the Orthodox Church on this day, so we honor him as our patron. Borrowing from the Serbian Orthodox tradition, that would make today our Krsna Sava!

According to the hagiographical material available on the OCA website, Saint Tikhon was born as Vasily Ivanovich Belavin on January 19, 1865 into the family of Ioann Belavin, a rural priest of the Toropetz district of the Pskov diocese. His childhood and adolescence were spent in the village in direct contact with peasants and their labor. From his early years he displayed a particular religious disposition, love for the Church as well as rare meekness and humility.

When Vasily was still a boy, his father had a revelation about each of his children. One night, when he and his three sons slept in the hayloft, he suddenly woke up and roused them. He had seen his dead mother in a dream, who foretold to him his imminent death, and the fate of his three sons. She said that one would be unfortunate throughout his entire life, another would die young, while the third, Vasily, would be a great man. The prophecy of the dead woman proved to be entirely accurate in regard to all three brothers.

From 1878 to 1883, Vasily studied at the Pskov Theological Seminary. The modest seminarian was tender and affectionate by nature. He was fair-haired and tall of stature. His fellow students liked and respected him for his piety, brilliant progress in studies, and constant readiness to help comrades, who often turned to him for explanations of lessons, especially for help in drawing up and correcting numerous compositions. Vasily was called "bishop" and "patriarch" by his classmates.

In 1888, at the age of 23, Vasily Belavin graduated from the St Petersburg Theological Academy as a layman, and returned to the Pskov Seminary as an instructor of Moral and Dogmatic Theology. The whole seminary and the town of Pskov became very fond of him. He led an austere and chaste life, and in 1891, when he turned 26, he took monastic vows. Nearly the whole town gathered for the ceremony. He embarked on this new way of life consciously and deliberately, desiring to dedicate himself entirely to the service of the Church. The meek and humble young man was given the name Tikhon in honor of St Tikhon of Zadonsk.

He was transferred from the Pskov Seminary to the Kholm Theological Seminary in 1892, and was raised to the rank of archimandrite. Archimandrite Tikhon was consecrated Bishop of Lublin on October 19, 1897, and returned to Kholm for a year as Vicar Bishop of the Kholm Diocese. Bishop Tikhon zealously devoted his energy to the establishment of the new vicariate. His attractive moral make-up won the general affection, of not only the Russian population, but also of the Lithuanians and Poles. On September 14, 1898, Bishop Tikhon was made Bishop of the Aleutians and Alaska. As head of the Orthodox Church in America, Bishop Tikhon was a zealous laborer in the Lord's vineyard.

He did much to promote the spread of Orthodoxy, and to improve his vast diocese. He reorganized the diocesan structure, and changed its name from "Diocese of the Aleutians and Alaska" to "Diocese of the Aleutians and North America" in 1900. Both clergy and laity loved their archpastor, and held him in such esteem that the Americans made Archbishop Tikhon an honorary citizen of the United States.

On May 22, 1901, he blessed the cornerstone for St Nicholas Cathedral in New York, and was also involved in establishing other churches. On November 9, 1902, he consecrated the church of St Nicholas in Brooklyn for the Syrian Orthodox immigrants. Two weeks later, he consecrated St Nicholas Cathedral in NY.

In 1905, the American Mission was made an Archdiocese, and St Tikhon was elevated to the rank of Archbishop. He had two vicar bishops: Bishop Innocent (Pustynsky) in Alaska, and St Raphael (Hawaweeny) in Brooklyn to assist him in administering his large, ethnically diverse diocese. In June of 1905, St Tikhon gave his blessing for the establishment of St Tikhon's Monastery.

In 1907, he returned to Russia, and was appointed to Yaroslavl, where he quickly won the affection of his flock. They came to love him as a friendly, communicative, and wise archpastor. He spoke simply to his subordinates, never resorting to a peremptory or overbearing tone. When he had to reprimand someone, he did so in a good-natured, sometimes joking manner, which encouraged the person to correct his mistakes.

When St Tikhon was transferred to Lithuania on December 22, 1913, the people of Yaroslavl voted him an honorary citizen of their town. After his transfer to Vilnius, he did much in terms of material support for various charitable institutions. There too, his generous soul and love of people clearly manifested themselves. World War I broke out when His Eminence was in Vilnius. He spared no effort to help the poor residents of the Vilnius region who were left without a roof over their heads or means of subsistence as a result of the war with the Germans, and who flocked to their archpastor in droves.

After the February Revolution and formation of a new Synod, St Tikhon became one of its members. On June 21, 1917, the Moscow Diocesan Congress of clergy and laity elected him as their ruling bishop. He was a zealous and educated archpastor, widely known even outside his country.

On August 15, 1917, a local council was opened in Moscow, and Archbishop Tikhon was raised to the dignity of Metropolitan, and then elected as chairman of the council. The council had as its aim to restore the life of Russian Orthodox Church on strictly canonical principles, and its primary concern was the restoration of the Patriarchate. All council members would select three candidates, and then a lot would reveal the will of God. The council members chose three candidates: Archbishop Anthony of Kharkov, the wisest, Archbishop Arseny of Novgorod, the strictest, and Metropolitan Tikhon of Moscow, the kindest of the Russian hierarchs.

On November 5, following the Divine Liturgy and a Molieben in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, a monk removed one of the three ballots from the ballot box, which stood before the Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God. Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev announced Metropolitan Tikhon as the newly elected Patriarch. St Tikhon did not change after becoming the primate of the Russian Orthodox Church. In accepting the will of the council, Patriarch Tikhon referred to the scroll that the Prophet Ezekiel had to eat, on which was written, "Lamentations, mourning, and woe." He foresaw that his ministry would be filled with affliction and tears, but through all his suffering, he remained the same accessible, unassuming, and kindly person.

All who met St Tikhon were surprised by his accessibility, simplicity and modesty. His gentle disposition did not prevent him from showing firmness in Church matters, however, particularly when he had to defend the Church from her enemies. He bore a very heavy cross. He had to administer and direct the Church amidst wholesale church disorganization, without auxiliary administrative bodies, in conditions of internal schisms and upheavals by various adherents of the Living Church, renovationists, and autocephalists.

The situation was complicated by external circumstances: the change of the political system, by the accession to power of the godless regime, by hunger, and civil war. This was a time when Church property was being confiscated, when clergy were subjected to court trials and persecutions, and Christ's Church endured repression. News of this came to the Patriarch from all ends of Russia. His exceptionally high moral and religious authority helped him to unite the scattered and enfeebled flock. At a crucial time for the church, his unblemished name was a bright beacon pointing the way to the truth of Orthodoxy. In his messages, he called on people to fulfill the commandments of Christ, and to attain spiritual rebirth through repentance. His irreproachable life was an example to all.

In order to save thousands of lives and to improve the general position of the church, the Patriarch took measures to prevent clergy from making purely political statements. On September 25, 1919, when the civil war was at its height, he issued a message to the clergy urging them to stay away from political struggle.

The summer of 1921 brought a severe famine to the Volga region. In August, Patriarch Tikhon issued a message to the Russian people and to the people of the world, calling them to help famine victims. He gave his blessing for voluntary donations of church valuables, which were not directly used in liturgical services. However, on February 23, 1922, the All-Russian Central Executive Committee published a decree making all valuables subject to confiscation.

According to the 73rd Apostolic Canon, such actions were regarded as sacrilege, and the Patriarch could not approve such total confiscation, especially since many doubted that the valuables would be used to combat famine. This forcible confiscation aroused popular indignation everywhere. Nearly two thousand trials were staged all over Russia, and more than ten thousand believers were shot. The Patriarch's message was viewed as sabotage, for which he was imprisoned from April 1922 until June 1923.

His Holiness, Patriarch Tikhon did much on behalf of the Russian Orthodox Church during the crucial time of the so-called Renovationist schism. He showed himself to be a faithful servant and custodian of the undistorted precepts of the true Orthodox Church. He was the living embodiment of Orthodoxy, which was unconsciously recognized even by enemies of the church, who called its members "Tikhonites."

When Renovationist priests and hierarchs repented and returned to the church, they were met with tenderness and love by St Tikhon. This, however, did not represent any deviation from his strictly Orthodox policy. "I ask you to believe me that I will not come to agreement or make concessions which could lead to the loss of the purity and strength of Orthodoxy," the Patriarch said in 1924.

Being a good pastor, who devoted himself entirely to the church's cause, he called upon the clergy to do the same: "Devote all your energy to preaching the word of God and the truth of Christ, especially today, when unbelief and atheism are audaciously attacking the Church of Christ. May the God of peace and love be with all of you!"

It was extremely painful and hard for the Patriarch's loving, responsive heart to endure all the Church's misfortunes. Upheavals in and outside the church, the Renovationist schism, his primatial labors, his concern for the organization and tranquility of Church life, sleepless nights and heavy thoughts, his confinement that lasted more than a year, the spiteful and wicked baiting of his enemies, and the unrelenting criticism sometimes even from the Orthodox, combined to undermine his strength and health.

In 1924, Patriarch Tikhon began to feel unwell. He checked into a hospital, but would leave it on Sundays and Feast Days in order to conduct services. On Sunday, April 5, 1925, he served his last Liturgy, and died two days later. On March 25/April 7, 1925 the Patriarch received Metropolitan Peter and had a long talk with him. In the evening, the Patriarch slept a little, then he woke up and asked what time it was. When he was told it was 11:45 P.M., he made the Sign of the Cross twice and said, "Glory to Thee, O Lord, glory to Thee." He did not have time to cross himself a third time.

Almost a million people came to say farewell to the Patriarch. The large cathedral of the Donskoy Monastery in Moscow could not contain the crowd, which overflowed the monastery property into the square and adjacent streets. St Tikhon, the eleventh Patriarch of Moscow, was primate of the Russian Church for seven and a half years.

On September 26/October 9, 1989, the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church glorified Patriarch Tikhon and numbered him among the saints. For nearly seventy years, St Tikhon's relics were believed lost, but in February 1992, they were discovered in a concealed place in the Donskoy Monastery.

It would be difficult to imagine the Russian Orthodox Church without Patriarch Tikhon during those years. He did so much for the Church and for the strengthening of the Faith itself during those difficult years of trial. Perhaps the saint's own words can best sum up his life: "May God teach every one of us to strive for His truth, and for the good of the Holy Church, rather than something for our own sake."

A New Home for Holy Resurrection Church in Clinton, MS

An Orthodox Approach

CLINTON — With its plain white walls, crimson carpet and orderly rows of pews, the sanctuary inside the former Mount Salus Presbyterian Church might have suited most any Christian denomination.

But the congregation that bought the steepled brick building has removed many of its amenities to prepare the church for a redecorating project aimed at offering a glimpse of heaven.

"An Orthodox temple is thought of as a place of meeting God," said the Rev. Paul Yerger, pastor of Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church, which recently bought the building. "Sort of a cosmic meeting of God and man, of heaven and Earth."

With some 2 million believers in North America, Orthodox Christians remain a minority in the U.S.

But Orthodoxy in the South is on the rise. Over the last three decades, Orthodox churches in the southern U.S. have multiplied from a handful of congregations to more than 60 churches and missions stretching from Virginia to New Mexico.

Most churches that buy buildings once occupied by a different denomination don't need to reconfigure the space significantly to fit with their traditions. But Orthodox worship is so distinct that Holy Resurrection's move requires certain theological renovations.

Gone are the pulpit, pews and organ. The red carpeting has been stripped to reveal the tile floor. And the the white walls have been painted sky blue and earthen brown.

All of the changes help create a traditional Orthodox worship space, which is designed to help believers experience the kingdom of God on Earth.

"For Orthodox we tend to think of the church as primarily defined by worship more than anything else," Yerger said. "In our worship services we're united with Christ and the saints."

(Read it all here. Visit the website of Holy Resurrection Church by clicking here.)

Sunday, October 08, 2006

A Meditation for Sunday, October 8

The Good News of our salvation is sometimes described in terms of a rescue operation: Christ Jesus is our champion, our hero, who enters into hostile territory to reclaim a good creation that has fallen into enemy hands.

He declares the coming of His kingdom, the powers of sin and darkness are pushed back and defeated. He gives sight to the blind, the lame walk, the deaf hear, and even the dead are raised.

That’s what we see in the passage from Luke 7 this morning. In a city called Nain, Jesus and His disciples see a funeral procession. A young man has died and is being carried to his burial. Jesus sees his grieving mother and the Savior has compassion. He tells her not to weep; He tells the young man to arise. And he does! The young man who was dead rises and is graciously reconciled to his mother.

There are two other scenes in the Gospels where our Lord Jesus raises the dead. In each case, the compassion of our Savior is a prominent theme -- we see Christ our God caring deeply for those who grieve. Death is pushed back and life is restored.

You may recall one of the other scenes, the raising of Jairus’ daughter. Jairus was a leader of the synagogue, and he pleads with Jesus to heal his daughter, who is ill. Jesus is delayed, taking time to heal a woman who suffers from a flow of blood. By the time He gets to the house, the little girl has died. Jesus enters into the midst of the grieving crowd around her bed and raises her to life.

The third scene is that of Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha in Bethany. Word comes to Jesus that Lazarus is ill; this time He is delayed several days. By the time He arrives in Bethany, Lazarus is already in the tomb and his body is decaying. Mary and Martha are overwhelmed with grief. Jesus calls Lazarus to come forth from the tomb, even though he’s been there several days and in the words of the old King James version, his corpse “stinketh.”

In each of these scenes, our Savior has great compassion. He is the giver of Life who is more powerful than the enemy, death.

The Fathers of the Church noticed the different circumstances in each of these scenes and ascribed a spiritual meaning to them. They taught that our Lord Jesus brings life to his beloved children, no matter how dire the state of our sinfulness and spiritual death. He brings light, no matter how deep the darkness. With Jairus' daughter, she has just died, just slipped away. And Jesus calls her back. With the young man from Nain, he’s about to be buried, on his way to the cemetery, and Jesus calls him back. With Lazarus, he’s been in the tomb several days, his body is decomposing, and yet, Jesus calls him back.

No matter how rebellious, no matter how lost, no matter how spiritually dead we may be, the Fathers looked to these passages as an assurance that Jesus Christ our God is "mighty to save," deeply compassionate, trampling down death and bringing life!

That is a wondrous thing, a word we desperately need to hear, a word that reminds us that our compassionate Savior loves us with a love that is stronger than death. His reconciling love is stronger than our rebellion. We need only to listen to his words and respond, we need only to arise, to get up, when we hear his powerful, life-giving Word.

As the crowd in Nain cried out, “God has visited his people!”

That exclamation, “God has visited his people!”, is the theme of the festal commemoration that we mark today, the Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council. That was the council that met in the year 787 in Nicaea, which vindicated the use of Holy Icons in the Church.

We may think it odd that a council would meet for such a thing -- and that we would continue to remember such a thing -- but their deliberations were profoundly important. The heresy they addressed, iconoclasm, taught that God was so spiritual, so transcendent, that He must not be pictured. The iconoclasts taught that those who honor the holy icons are worshipping wood and paint, worshipping idols like the pagans.

But the Fathers condemned that teaching. They acknowledged that in the Old Testament, there was a prohibition regarding making images of God. But with the coming of Jesus in the flesh, they noted, God has chosen to image Himself. The hidden God has now been revealed, and in the words of St. John's Gospel, "we have beheld his glory." We can now picture God, because God has graciously visited his people -- God has now revealed Himself in the flesh of Jesus.

When we honor and venerate the holy icons, the wood and paint are not our primary concern. As St. Basil the Great teaches us, and as the Fathers of the Council upheld, the honor we show to the icon passes on to the one depicted.

Of course, the wood and paint are not insignificant. As St. John of Damascus teaches, we do honor matter, because it is through matter that our salvation has been accomplished. God cares about matter, about the physical, the touchable, because He created it, and because God the Son became physical, touchable flesh. He healed sick bodies and raised the dead. He loves us, body and soul.

To our compassionate God, “matter matters.” And so we honor and venerate the holy icons, we honor one another by sharing the kiss of peace, because matter matters.

Today we give thanks to Christ our God, who loves us… and who tangibly, physically, “has visited his people,” that we might share his life. Amen.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

October 1: The Protection of the Mother of God

A meditation for Sunday, October 1, 2006

One of the great falsehoods -- indeed, one of the damaging lies -- that Christians sometimes tell about ourselves is that if we believe in God, if we have faith in Jesus, then things ought always to go well for us. We ought not to suffer, to struggle. Life should be "smooth sailing."

That illusion is shattered by the reading from 2 Corinthians 6. Saint Paul, who believed Christ our God with all his heart, soul, and mind… Saint Paul, who gave his life as a missionary apostle to the Gentiles, describes the “afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, tumults, labors, watching, hunger” that he and his fellow workers have endured. It’s a difficult, somber picture of the faithful Christian life.

And yet, certainly, the picture is not without hope. Saint Paul also describes the very good things that characterize his ministry: “purity, knowledge, forbearance, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God.” The Christian life, the life lived faithfully following Jesus, can and will be all of that: a wondrous joy, even as it is also a cross to bear. It’s a joyful sorrow: it’s the pain of repentance inseparably bound up with the wonder of forgiveness, it’s a heart open to love that is bound to face rejection.

This joyful sorrow is nowhere more manifest than in the call of Jesus in the Gospel reading from Luke 6: “love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”

Do this, and your reward will be great… but in the meantime, it will be all those things that Saint Paul described: great joy intricately bound up with great sorrow. It’s hard enough to learn to love those who love us back -- that in itself can be filled with peril and heartbreak! But our Lord Jesus calls us beyond that to love even our enemies, to do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and to be merciful even as God is merciful.

We glimpse this quality in the lives of the saints, who give us an example of great holiness. Oftentimes, the saints who lived these difficult words were dismissed as crazy and foolish by the world. They attempted to love their enemies, to be merciful, and the world mocked them for it. They came to be known as “fools for Christ,” and it’s the calling of the holy fool that brings us to the theme of the feast we mark today: the Protection of the Mother of God.

Tradition tells us that a little over eleven hundred years ago, the city of Constantinople was under threat of attack. A foreign navy was about to launch an offensive and the people were frightened. They didn’t flee; instead, they flocked to the churches of the city to pray throughout the night. At one of the vigils was Saint Andrew, widely known as a “Fool-for-Christ,” who looked up and saw a wondrous thing:

Our Most Holy Lady Theotokos coming through the air, resplendent with heavenly light and surrounded by an assembly of the Saints. Saint John the Baptist and the holy Apostle John the Theologian accompanied her. On bended knees the Most Holy Virgin tearfully prayed for Christians for a long time.

After completing her prayer she took her veil and spread it over the people praying in church, protecting them from enemies both visible and invisible. The Most Holy Lady Theotokos was resplendent with heavenly glory, and the protecting veil in her hands gleamed "more than the rays of the sun."

Saint Andrew gazed trembling at the miraculous vision and he asked his disciple, the blessed Epiphanius standing beside him, "Do you see, brother, the Holy Theotokos, praying for all the world?" Epiphanius answered, "I do see, holy Father, and I am in awe."

What Saint Andrew the “Fool-for-Christ” and his disciple Epiphanius saw that night was a revelation of the mystery of the Church Triumphant: the saints of heaven, led by the Virgin Mother of God, at prayer for us.

In the joyful sorrow of our Christian lives, in midst of the tumult that can threaten to overwhelm us, we are reminded that we are not alone. God has situated us in His Church, His Body, in the midst of brothers and sisters who are called to struggle with us and to uphold us in word and deed and prayer. And that mystical Body, the Church, isn’t limited to this little gathering here and now. It extends throughout time and into the heavens: it includes the saints throughout the ages, all the host of heaven, led by the Queen of Heaven, who in her earthly life “heard the word of God and kept it,” who now intercedes for us before the throne of heaven.

The Gospel for us this day is that God provides for us, even along the difficult path that we may walk. Fear not: for we are not alone. We are upheld by the faith of the Church, which teaches us the Truth and helps us to abide in that Truth. We are encompassed by the prayers of the saints, of the Theotokos, so that we may endure.

And that, brethren, is a wondrous and amazing thing, awesome to behold. Amen.