Friday, September 7, 2018

To Deepen our Experience, and Expand our Hearts

Dear Parish Faithful,

"And they held steadfastly to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers." (ACTS 2:42)

I would like to share some pastoral considerations that I have compiled over time, to perhaps lead to further reflection on how we can "expand" our lives in the Church as circumstances allow. The question we are facing is the following:

What can we do on a practical level that would deepen our experience of God and bring us deeper into the life of the Church?

We exist as Christians on the personal and parish levels. In both areas there is room to expand our hearts as we expand the amount of time necessary to fulfill the words of Christ to make God and neighbor our first priority. At home, we can:

+ Be regular in daily prayer by devising and adhering to a “Rule of Prayer.” This means that everyone needs a good Orthodox Prayer Book. This Rule needs to be practiced with consistency and attention – in both the morning and the evening. The Prayer of the Hours could punctuate your days with the remembrance of God while at work or home. (I can provide you with that prayer if you do not have it). The Jesus Prayer can be on your lips at any time during the day.

+ Read the Scriptures with some consistency. Becoming “scripturally literate” is essential for a Christian.

+ Make a point of even a short prayer or blessing before sitting down to a meal – alone or with the family. All that you have is ultimately from God. We need to recognize this in a concrete manner.

+ Honor and observe the fasting days of the liturgical year.

+ Offer the Prayers of Preparation for Communion before the Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning. These are found in any good Orthodox Prayer Book.

+ Respond to those in need of your help and assistance when the opportunity arises.

On the parish level, here are some items to consider:

+ Become more than a “Sunday morning only” participant in worship. Incorporate the Saturday evening Great Vespers into your life with some kind of pattern: once-a-month, for example. Honor the Feast Days by making room on your personal calendars so as to be present.

+ Become more aware of being a steward of your time, talent and treasure. Is there a parish ministry that you feel drawn toward? Please speak with me if that is the case. Be responsible in the ministry that you are already committed to. Be a “cheerful giver” of your treasure for the upbuilding of the church. Trusting in God’s love, overcome any reluctance to share of your material and financial blessings by pledging generously to the church.

+ Become more aware of the diversity of persons that you worship together with. Everyone who walks through the door is your neighbor. We are members of the Body of Christ, not mere “individuals” who accidentally worship in the same church. Meet those that you do not know. Avoid judging others by appearance. No one is “better” than the next person, regardless of social status or other worldly considerations. We are all sinners seeking salvation from the “Physician of our souls and bodies.”

Rejoice in being an Orthodox Christian! Rejoice in being able to come to church and worship the living God! Rejoice in the people that you have providentially met in the Church! Rejoice in Christ our Savior!

Glory to You, for every sigh of my sadness,
Glory to You, for every step of my life, for every moment of joy,
Glory to You, O God, unto ages of ages.
Akathist of Thanksgiving - "Glory to God For All Things"

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Conviction and Commitment in the Church New Year

Icon of the 'Indiction', the Church Year.

Dear Parish Faithful,

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (MATT. 16:16)

We are now into the Church New Year (September 1) as we will soon celebrate the first major Feast Day of the liturgical cycle – the Nativity of the Theotokos - on September 8. And yesterday evening (September 4) we celebrated the remarkable Akathist Hymn "Glory to God For All Things." 
A new year, of course, means a “new beginning” or the renewal of our lives in Christ;  and the opportunity to examine both our deepest convictions and commitments.  In fact, I believe that there is a profound connection between our convictions and our commitments.  What we are convinced of, we will commit to.  
As baptized and chrismated Orthodox Christians who confess our sins and receive the Eucharist, I will assume that our deepest and dearest conviction is equal to that of the Apostle Peter:  that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of the living God.  This is what distinguishes us as a parish community – a shared conviction that unites us as the local Body of Christ. Here conviction is synonymous  with the content of our faith.  This is what we believe, a conviction about Christ expanded in the Nicene Creed that we confess at every Liturgy we attend, and beginning with the words, “I believe.”  
As our faith hopefully deepens through the years, we become further convinced that the convictions we hold are true.  Since these convictions are about God, then we are touching upon “ultimate reality.”  What this demands is seriousness and sobriety of both our minds and hearts:  “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!”  (HEB. 10:31)

Personally, I find it impossible to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and not to have that conviction as the most  important and significant aspect of one’s very existence.  I believe that this conviction transcends all others, and that it is the guiding force of our commitments.  Since, ultimately, this conviction chooses life over death, it is thus a matter of life and death.  This conviction transcends the difference between male or female; rich or poor; even Conservative or Liberal!  
The words of Christ make this clear.  How else can we interpret this “hard saying” of the Lord:   
“He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (MATT. 10:37)  
Otherwise, we may just be fooling ourselves about our deepest convictions.  With the best of intentions, such a delusion can result in a certain hypocrisy.  
However, if we look at this more positively, we can understand that  this is where conviction leads to commitment, or perhaps a renewal of our commitment if it has weakened.  Even if we continue to struggle with the battle between faith and doubt when assessing our conviction about Christ; or if we share the anguished cry of the anonymous father in the Gospel:  “I believe, help my unbelief!” (MK. 9:24); even then we realize that our convictions can remain abstract or sterile without a genuine commitment to embody them in our daily lives.  
If we believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, then we must witness to this truth with all of our strength.  In other words, we commit to living as Christians tangibly, concretely, and as unhypocritically as possible.  Broadly understood, the words of Christ to the rich young man who was seeking the way to “eternal life” can serve as a sure guide to embodying our convictions about the Lord in a conscious commitment to following Him:

“If you would enter life, keep the commandments … You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  (MATT. 16:17-19)

Even further, we can continually study and do our best to embody the moral and ethical teachings found in the Sermon on the Mount, beginning with the beatitudes.  Now there is an ennobling and worthy lifelong project that will probably never reach completion!

Be that as it may, I would like to focus more in the remainder of this meditation on our ecclesial lives which we live out on the parish level and which we take home with us during the week.  
If the Church new year is a wonderful opportunity to (re)commit ourselves to our lives in Christ, then we can always begin with the ABCs of the spiritual life:  prayer, almsgiving and fasting (MATT. 6:1-18).  At home, on a daily basis we must commit to praying with regularity.  We need to have our eyes and then our hearts open to those who need our assistance.  And we need to practice the discipline of fasting according to the Church calendar as part of our ascetical efforts of freeing ourselves from over-dependence/obsession with food and drink.  Reading the Scriptures with regularity as part of our daily lives can certainly be added to this.  This is all basic, but if we have forgotten it, then it can be restored through repentance and effort.

As a parish community, our most foundational commitment is to the Lord’s Day Liturgy.  The Eucharist on the Lord’s Day is the “alpha and omega” of our parish existence.  All parish life flows outward from the Eucharistic Liturgy and returns there for both sustenance and greater vision.  The sharing of our time, talent and treasure will, to a great extent, be determined by our joyful experience of God in and through the Liturgy.  
A “reluctant giver” will view the Liturgy as a religious obligation that needs to be fulfilled; but a “cheerful giver” is one who approaches the Liturgy as an inexhaustible gift from the Lord.  For it is there, at the Liturgy, that we are truly a koinonia – a communion – of brothers and sisters in Christ; for we commune together of the Body and Blood of Christ, uniting ourselves with Christ and with one another.  When we speak of commitment in communal terms, it is our continuing presence at the Liturgy – and as  Eucharistic beings – that should define us.  I believe that this is one of the many strengths of our parish.  A very high percentage of our “parish census” is at the Lord’s Day Liturgy on any given Sunday.  (Arriving on time may just be another matter that needs to be worked on!). I also encourage you to expand your liturgical commitment, and "make room" to be present for our other services throughout the year - from Feast Days to Vespers.

Yet, as our society becomes ever more “secular,” there are increasing temptations to view Sunday as any other day with various attractions and things to do.  Sunday has lost its privileged status in our contemporary world. “Rest” is a rather quaint concept today, suitable for the unengaged, the elderly, or for those who cannot quite keep up with the fast-paced rhythms of today’ world.  Thus, a wide range of events have now spilled over into Sunday, posing an ever-widening challenge for our loyalties.  
Among the clergy, at least, a major concern and topic of open discussion is the proliferation of children’s sporting events that are regularly scheduled now for Sunday morning.  Loyalty to the team is promoted in almost “evangelical” terms. This is one instance of the many pressures put upon the contemporary Christian family, and which demand careful thinking and hard decisions.  Yet, all decisions must return to the twin realities of conviction and commitment.

The Church New Year is a blessing that allows us the time for renewal, for reflection on our priorities, and for repentance if we have somehow lost sight of our “first love” – the conviction that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God; and if our commitment to Christ has somehow melted away into directions that do not necessarily lead to life.  Yet, “now is the acceptable time!”

Friday, August 31, 2018

Understanding Holy Tradition

Dear Parish Faithful,

It was two Sundays ago that I delivered a homily that included some commentary on St. Paul's extraordinary passage found in I COR. 15:1-11. I simply concentrated on the Apostle Paul's use of the term paradosis which is properly translated as "tradition." 

In this context, and to this day, tradition is that which is "handed over" or "handed down." In the passage under discussion, the Apostle will use the terms "received" and "delivered" to convey the sense of "handing down" or "handing over" the paradosis of the Church - the Tradition that is there from the beginning.  He "received" and then "delivered" the basic Christian proclamation "that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve" (I COR. 15:3-5). 

In other words, the Apostle Paul "received" and "delivered" the very content of the Christian Faith: the Good News of the redemptive death and resurrection of Christ. Tradition is thus conceived as something very positive, even essential, to the ongoing life of the Church.

That is simply a brief introduction to a passage that I wanted to share following that recent homily because of the common subject matter of Tradition. This passage is actually a mere footnote found in the book Rock and Sand by Archpriest Josiah Trentham. For the moment, this footnote is of interest because of what it implies about translations of the Bible. It is a good example of how translation implies simultaneous interpretation

If we like to use the term "Christian America" then we have to acknowledge that that means basically "Protestant America" for it was the early Protestants that shaped American Christianity. And this creeps into fairly recent translations of the Bible which are also and consciously, I would say, interpretations that lean in the direction of a Protestant reading of the Scriptures. And here I am focusing on the New Testament. Allow me to turn to this passage to see what I am getting at:

Translations inevitably reflect theology and hermeneutics, but some Protestant translations advance the cause of Protestant ideology more than they provide accurate translation. A good example of this is the New International Version (NIV), so exceedingly popular amongst Protestant Evangelicals today.
The theological agenda of its translators is all too clear. Take, for instance, the word in the New Testament for tradition, in Greek, paradosis. The New Testament refers to apostolic tradition, ecclesiastical tradition, which is to be embraced by all Christians, as well as man-made tradition, unholy tradition, which nullifies God's word and is to be avoided by Christians.
Conveniently, but not honestly, the NIV translates all references to apostolic "tradition" by the word "teaching" or "teachings" and  all references to man-made "tradition" by the word "tradition." Hence, the innocent reader of the NIV will come to the conclusion that the only tradition that exists is man-made and unholy and will never know that there is such a reality in the New Testament as apostolic tradition.

Again, this translation seems to clearly reveal a particular interpretive lens that does not allow for a positive assessment of Tradition. 

As Orthodox, we clearly distinguish upper-case "T" Tradition from lower-case "t" tradition(s). There is the Apostolic Tradition so splendidly "delivered" by the Apostle Paul in I COR.; and there are "man-made" traditions, some of them quite fine and wholesome - others questionable - but not to be treated as on the same level as Tradition. Thus, Baptism for the forgiveness of sins and the bestowal of life-giving grace belongs to the Tradition of the Church. Yet, various Orthodox Christians throughout the centuries have different traditions around how a Baptism is celebrated. The same could be said for Marriage and even for Funerals. 

As Fr. John Meyendorff has written about this issue:

"No clear notion of the true meaning of Tradition can be reached without constantly keeping in mind the well-known condemnation of  "human traditions" by the Lord Himself. The one Holy Tradition, which constitutes the self-identity of the Church throughout the ages and is the organic and visible expression of the life of the Spirit in the Church, is not to be confused with the inevitable, often creative and positive, sometimes sinful, and always relative accumulation of human traditions in the historical Church." Living Tradition, p. 21.

There is a real urgency to this task of distinguishing Holy Tradition from human traditions argues Fr. John in another passage:

"The very reality of Tradition, a living and organic reality manifesting the presence of the Spirit in the Church and therefore also its unity, cannot be fully understood unless it is clearly distinguished from everything which creates a normal diversity inside the one Church. To disengage Holy Tradition from the human traditions which tend to monopolize it is in fact a necessary condition of its preservation, for once it becomes petrified into the forms of a particular culture, it not only excludes the others and betrays the catholicity of the Church, but it also identifies itself with passing and relative reality and is in danger of disappearing with it."  Living Tradition, 25-26.

One of our main tasks as Orthodox Christians living in the 21st century is to make that clear distinction between the Holy Tradition of the Church — Apostolic in origin and authority — and the many "traditions" that we may enjoy, but which cannot be placed on the same level. Orthodoxy cannot be a museum that deifies the past, but a living Tradition that makes present to every generation the "faith once and for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3).

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Beheading of St John the Forerunner

Dear Parish Faithful,

"Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." (MATT. 11:11)

Today, August 29, we commemorate the Beheading of St. John the Forerunner and Baptist. There is an entire cycle of liturgical commemorations dedicated to St. John as there is of the Theotokos. We celebrate his Conception (September 23); his Nativity (June 24); his role in the Baptism of the Lord (January 7); and again, today, his martyr's death at the hands of King Herod. His violent death, of course, foretold the death of Christ on the Cross, for anyone who spoke the Truth was liable to condemnation.  

This article provides a good overview of the details of his beheading as told in the Gospels of Sts. Matthew and Mark.

August 29 is always a strict fast day in honor of St. John.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

'Beyond Death and Judgment' - The Dormition of the Theotokos

Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,

We enjoyed a truly wonderful celebration of the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos yesterday evening. Attendance was very strong, there was a full choir, and the Vesperal Liturgy both lively and prayerful. The decorated tomb which contains an icon of the Virgin Mary in blessed repose, was surrounded by flowers brought to church for that purpose and then blessed at the end of the service to be taken back home. As always, it was good to see some of our parish children and young adults present and worshiping. This "summer pascha" has steadily become an integral event of our parish life. And this is "meet and right."

American Christianity has been shaped by the Protestant ethos, and that basically means that there is no real place for the veneration of the Mother of God. This was primarily based upon a reaction against the perceived excesses of the medieval West's Marian piety by the early Protestant reformers. In a short time, this reaction became a thorough rejection - at times quite vehement - in many Protestant circles. So the Virgin Mary pretty much disappeared from Protestant worship and piety. Perhaps the classic example within Church history of "throwing out the baby with the bath water."

Orthodox Christians cannot succumb to any such truncated form of the Church's living Tradition. (However, there have been clear signs recently of a "recovery" of the role of the Virgin Mary in some Evangelical circles). One of my beloved professors from seminary always used to say that a sign of a spiritually strong parish is that parish's devotion to the Mother of God. For she is the personal image of the Church - warm, embracing, nurturing, protecting.

Since the Dormition has no biblical source, this feast slowly developed over the course of the first five centuries of the Church's history on the basis of a wide variety of sources - primarily narratives, rhetorical homilies and theological poetry/hymnography. (Much of this material now exists in English translation). There is no one authoritative text or document.

However, though details may differ, a tradition emerged that tells of how the apostles were miraculously brought back to Jerusalem in order to surround the bedside of the Virgin Mary as she lay dying. Upon commending her holy soul to her Son and Savior, she peacefully "fell asleep" in death (the meaning of the word dormition) in the presence of the apostles who stood weeping and grief-stricken by her bedside. With great solemnity they buried her pure body which had itself been the "tabernacle" of the King. The traditional place of her burial is a tomb close to Gethsemane. When the tomb was opened on the third day so that the Apostle Thomas, who arrived late, could venerate the body of the Theotokos, it was found to be empty. The "Mother of Life" was thus "translated to life!"

Archbishop Kallistos Ware summarizes the Church's understanding of this tradition in the following manner:

Without insisting on the literal truth of every element in this account, Orthodox tradition is clear and unwavering in regard to the central point: the Holy Virgin underwent, as did her Son, a physical death, but her body - like His - was afterwards raised from the dead and she was taken up into heaven, in her body as well as in her soul. She has passed beyond death and judgement, and lives wholly in the Age to Come.

The Resurrection of the Body, which all Christians await, has in her case been anticipated and is already an accomplished fact. That does not mean, however, that she is dissociated from the rest of humanity and placed in a wholly different category: for we all hope to share one day in that same glory of the Resurrection of the Body which she enjoys even now. (The Festal Menaion, p. 64)

Fr. Thomas Hopko further elaborates on the meaning of this beautiful Feast and how it "relates" to every generation of Christians:

Thus, the feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos is the celebration of the fact that all men are "highly exalted" in the blessedness of the victorious Christ, and that this high exaltation has already been accomplished in Mary the Theotokos.

The feast of the Dormition is the sign, the guarantee, and the celebration that Mary's fate is the destiny of all those of "low estate" whose souls magnify the Lord, whose spirits rejoice in God the Savior, whose lives are totally dedicated to hearing and keeping the Word of God which is given to men in Mary's child, the Savior and Redeemer of the world.

Dormition, of course, means "falling asleep," the Christian term par excellence for how we approach the mystery of death. And here we further approach the paradox, from a Christian perspective, of death itself - the "last enemy" that causes great anguish and grief; but yet which now serves as a passage to life everlasting, and thus a cause for festal celebration in the death of the Mother of God. For the Virgin Mary truly died, as is the fate of all human beings; and yet "neither the tomb nor death could hold the Theotokos" who has been "translated to life by the One who dwelt in her virginal womb!" Without for a moment losing sight of the reality of death (notice the weeping apostles around the body of the Theotokos on the Dormition icon), from within the Church we can actually celebrate death during this "summer pascha" because of the Resurrection of Christ.

Thus, the Feast of the Dormition clearly raises the issue of death and dying, and what we mean by a “Christian ending to our life.” For the moment, though, here is a challenging paragraph from Fr. Thomas Hopko about some of our own misconceptions – basically our fears – that often find us wandering far from an Orthodox approach to death and dying:

I believe that the issue of death and dying is in need of serious attention in contemporary Orthodoxy, especially in the West, where most members of the Church seem to be “pagan” before people die and “Platonists” afterwards. By this I mean that they beg the Church to keep people alive, healthy, and happy as long as possible, and then demand that the Church assure them after people die that their immortal souls are “in a better place, basking in heavenly bliss” no matter what they may have done in their earthly lives. — From Christian Faith and Same-Sex Attractions, p. 89, note 2.

To add a bit more to this, here is a passage from Bp. Ilarion Alfeyev, that reinforces the Christian understanding – and hope – that accompanies us at the moment of death:

For the non-believing person, death is a catastrophe and a tragedy, a rupture and a break. For the Christian, though, death is neither a catastrophe nor something evil. Death is a “falling asleep,” a temporary condition of separation from the body until the final unification with it. As Isaac the Syrian emphasizes, the sleep of death is short in comparison with the expectant eternity of a person. — From Orthodox Christianity, Vol. 2, p. 496.

St. Gregory of Nyssa states this Christian hope with clarity:

By the divine Providence death has been introduced as a dispensation into the nature of man, so that, sin having flowed away at the dissolution of the union of soul and body, man, through the resurrection, might be refashioned, sound, passionless, stainless, and removed from any touch of evil. – Great Catechetical Oration, 35.

This is precisely why we can call the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos, “pascha in the summer!” The Virgin Mary and Theotokos died a “deathless death.” Now we have the opportunity to participate in this mystery in the celebration of this event as nothing less than a Feast. The Leave-taking of the Feast is on August 23. That means that we continue to sing and chant the troparion and kontakion of the Feast in our liturgical services until then, in addition to other hymnography of the Feast. I would strongly urge everyone to incorporate these hymns into your daily rule of prayer, including their use when you bless your meals as a family, replacing the Lord's Prayer up until the Leave-taking. If you can't sing these hymns, you can certainly recite them! The troparia and kontakia or the major Feasts are included in many Orthodox Prayer Books, but if you do not have the texts available at home, I am including them here:

Troparion of the Dormition

In giving birth, you preserved your virginity!
In falling asleep you did not
forsake the world, O Theotokos!
You were translated to life, O Mother of Life,
and by your prayers you deliver our souls from death!

Kontakion of the Dormition

Neither the tomb, nor death, could hold the Theotokos,
who is constant in prayer and our firm hope in her intercessions.
For being the Mother of Life, she was translated to life
by the One who dwelt in her virginal womb!

The decorated tomb of the Theotokos, containing an icon of her sacred body in blessed repose, will be back in its usual place and open for our veneration whenever we enter the church. The great Feasts extend in time, giving us the opportunity of integrating them into our lives in a meaningful way.

Friday, August 10, 2018

The Transfiguration: Cultivating the Image of Divine Beauty

Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,

We will reach the Leavetaking of the Transfiguration of Christ on Monday. Just a few more thoughts before we get there.

The mysterious presence of Beauty is revealed on Mt. Tabor in an overwhelming manner when Christ is transfigured there resplendent in divine glory. This is the beauty of the first-formed human creatures, created to reflect the beauty of the divine nature, for by grace they - and we - were created in the image and likeness of God.  And they were placed in a world that also reflected this divine beauty.  That is why God, after completing the creation process, declared that is was all "very good."

Yet, the presence of sin marred that beauty. This lost beauty was restored to humanity when the Son of God assumed our human nature, uniting it to His divine Person and revealing the glory of God in a human being. Thus, on Mt. Tabor, Christ reveals the beauty of His divine nature and the beauty of our created human nature. This is why the Transfiguration is often referred to as a Feast of Beauty.

The Russian novelist Dostoevsky (+1881) famously and somewhat enigmatically once said:  "Beauty will save the world." Yet, Dostoevsky also realized that in a world filled with sin, beauty can evoke responses that fall short of any saving value. In fact, beauty can even degenerate toward sin and sensuality, as one of Dostoevsky's greatest creations, Dmitri Karamazov, acknowledged with great anguish.

Therefore, for Dostoevsky beauty itself had to be "saved" and linked to Truth and Goodness. Thus, for the Russian novelist, beauty is not simply an aesthetic concept, but one that must have a moral, ethical and spiritual dimension for it to be rightly perceived and experienced. And for Dostoevsky as well as for not only great artists, but the great minds of the Church, beauty is not an abstract concept or Idea. Beauty is a Person, and this Person is Christ.  In Christ, Truth, Goodness and Beauty are harmoniously united.  This is why Dostoevesky also spoke of the "radiant image of Christ."  In another famous passage from his pen, found in a letter of his, Dostoevsky articulated his personal "creed:"

I have constructed for myself a symbol of faith in which everything is clear and holy for me.  The symbol is very clear, here it is:  to believe that there is nothing more beautiful, profounder, more sympathetic, more reasonable, more courageous and more perfect than Christ and not only is there nothing , but I tell myself with jealous love that never could there be.

It is these qualities that make Christ such an attractive figure that a well-disposed mind and heart not unduly influenced by the marks of a fallen world will almost naturally turn to as an "ideal," but again as a concrete living Person. There is a passage from Fr. Alexander Elchaninov (+1934), taken from his personal diary after his death, that captures that same intuition as found in Dostoevsky:

It is impossible not to love Christ. If we saw Him now, we should not be able to take our eyes off Him, we should "listen to him in rapture;" we should flock round Him as did the multitudes in the Gospels.  All that is required of us is not to resist. We have only to yield to Him, to the contemplation of His image - in the Gospels, in the saints, in the Church - and He will take possession of our hearts.

Here, again, there is an inherent moral, ethical and spiritual dimension from that beauty that flows outward from Christ. This is rendered in the form of very practical and concrete advice in the words of Vladimir Solovyov (+1900), for many the greatest Russian philosopher known to us:

Before any important decision, let us evoke in our soul the image of Christ. Let us concentrate our attention upon it and ask ourselves:  Would He Himself do this action? Or, in other words: Will He approve of it or not?
To all I propose this rule: it does not deceive. In every dubious case, as soon as the possibility of a choice is offered to you, remember Christ.  Picture to yourself His living Person, as it really is, and entrust Him with the burden of your doubts.
Let men of good will, as individuals, as social factors, as leaders of men and peoples, apply this criterion, and they will really be able, in the name of truth, to show to others the way toward God.

This concreteness is all the more interesting, for Solovyov was often a highly speculative thinker. That what he wrote just over a century ago is hardly a public ideal any longer is to our great loss.  It is our role to maintain and cultivate the image of divine beauty in our lives as seen in the face of the incarnate and transfigured Christ as a  sacred obligation.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Getting to know St Herman of Alaska

Dear Parish Faithful,

We do not have that many formally glorified/canonized saints in North America, but the one probably most well-known is Blessed Fr. Herman of Alaska.

He was not native to North America, but journeyed here from Russia, landing in Alaska in 1794 and remaining there for the remainder of his earthly life. But if we are not familiar with St. Herman's life, I would highly encourage everyone to make a point of becoming so. Fr. Herman is a splendid image of holiness and in his "counter-cultural" way, could be a shining example to us of placing the Gospel first in our lives. He belonged to no political party, embraced no ideology, and lived among the poor and downtrodden. His entire life was evangelical.

Here is a very full account of his life provided by the OCA on its official website. It may take a bit of a commitment of time, but do your best to make that commitment when it works in your life, and become familiar with one of our "heavenly patrons."

Of great interest are some further links below. One of them is the address back in 1969 of the Holy Synod of Bishops in which we can gain fascinating insight into the very process of how a man or woman is determined to be worthy of official glorification/canonization.

Here, then, is some further good reading during our current Dormition Fast.

From the OCA website:

* Editor's Note: See also our parish website's Special Resource Page on St Herman, which has additional materials, videos, audio, a bibliography of suggested books, icon galleries, and much more.