Friday, June 18, 2010

Life In The Church - In Season and Out of Season

Dear Parish Faithful,

St. John Chrysostom writes: "The Church is the foundation of virtue and the school of spiritual life. Just cross its threshold at any time, and immediately you forget daily cares. Pass inside, and a spiritual ray will surround your soul. This stillness causes awe and teaches the Christian life. It raises up your train of thought and doesn't allow you to remember present things. It transports you from earth to Heaven. And if the gain is so great when a worship service is not even taking place, just think, when the Liturgy is performed - and the prophets teach, the Apostles preach the Gospel, Christ is among the believers, God the Father accepts the performed sacrifice, and the Holy Spirit grants His own rejoicing - what great benefit floods those who have attended church as they leave the church."

With his wonderful gift of rhetoric, St. John conveys his passion for life in the Church and the actual attendance of church as an ongoing experience of spiritual renewal and refreshment. As we approach the summer months, these are words to bear in mind with the hopeful result that they will continue to inspire us to be present in church with regularity for the Lord's Day Liturgy, whether we are home or away. (A little bit of careful planning should be able to get most everyone to another church on a given Sunday when away from our parish). I cannot recall a Sunday in recent memory when we had as few communicants as at last Sunday's Liturgy. I realize, of course, that many people were away for the weekend, but it did bring to mind a felt need to keep everyone vigilant as summer approaches. To continue using an old expression, there is no such thing as "summer vacation" away from church - at least not for Orthodox Christians! The Lord's Day begins with the Liturgy - rain or shine - and then departing with the peace of Christ in our minds and hearts, we can disperse to whatever activities we may have planned for the day.

Everyone may also want to think about - and plan appropriately - about making it to church "on time." We always begin with a small group for the beginning of the Liturgy at 9:30 a.m. on Sundays. All things considered, much too small. There may be in some instances good reasons for this, but there is always the ever-present temptation of carelessness and negligence. Habits are habits, and they are always difficult to change. Once a routine has been in place for a long time, it is hard to break even when domestic circumstances themselves change. Please bear in mind a long-standing pastoral directive: If you arrive in church after the Gospel (and that is late!), you are not prepared to approach the Chalice for Holy Communion.

One advantage of the summer months is that things may actually "slow down" a bit. Here is a good time to spend further time learning the Faith. We would not want said of us, what St. John said of his own urban-centered parishioners:

"If you ask them who Amos or Obadiah is, or how many prophets or apostles there are, they can't even open their mouths. Yet they can tell you every detail about the horses, the singers and the actors. What kind of state is this?"

At Christ the Savior/Holy Spirit we will continue to preach the Gospel "in season and out or season." Our goal is then to live it as well as possible.

I am attaching a short list below of items to bear in mind as the summer months approach. Hopefully you will find some things that will prove helpful in maintaining your spiritual vigilance in the approaching months.

Fr. Steven

Things to Remember for the Summer

There is hardly a good reason to be less “Church-centered” in the summer than during the other seasons of the year. There is nothing “seasonal” about God: If God withdrew His presence but for a moment, we would simply cease to exist! Here are some suggestions meant to maintain our vigilance with the approach of the summer months:

+ Inform Fr. Steven if you are traveling, so that we can pray for your safety and well-being in the Liturgy.

+ Make a point of trying to be near an Orthodox parish on a Sunday for the Liturgy when you are out of town.

+ Think of making a pilgrimage to an Orthodox monastery. If you are “on the road” there is the possibility that a monastery may be in “striking distance” at least for a brief visit.

+ Remain vigilant in preparing for Holy Communion: respect and keep the weekly fast days of Wednesday and Friday; keep a total fast (no food or drink) from at least midnight on the eve of the next day’s Liturgy; periodically confess your sins, etc. Make your evening before next day’s Liturgy be peaceful. Come to Vespers!

+ Be aware of, and keep the Dormition Fast in August (1-14). There is also the beautiful Feast of the Transfiguration and the blessing of fruit on August 6. This year we will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the glorification/canonization of St. Herman of Alaska.

+ Participate in the Summer Bible Study, preceded by Vespers.

+ Choose another quality book related to the Faith for summer reading. We now have a very good parish library with Orthodox literature at many levels.

+ Do not let your daily rule of prayer lapse during the summer months. Perseverance, according to the saints, is one of the keys to an effective prayer life.

“The joy of anyone who rejoices is preserved in the Church.” St. John Chrysostom

Monday, June 7, 2010

Al and Tipper Gore, Freedom and Nothingness

Dear Parish Faithful,

Something a bit different ... I found the attached Op-Ed "interesting," but also deeply troubling because of its implications and omissions. I would venture to say that many/most people married for 20 - 60+ years, face at least some of the temptations - if only fleetingly or passingly - that are outlined in this study. It would have to be a remarkable marriage to be totally unscathed by such "thoughts." But what I find very troubling is the self-absorption and self-centeredness that informs the decisions that are leading to more divorce among people married for so long. There is no infidelity, or abuse; just that "itch" to "move on," which has become a mantra for further "self-discovery." I may have missed something, but there is no comment in this study as to how "modern" people view such virtues as fidelty, commitment, trust, self-sacrifice, etc. Such virtues seem to be obstacles in the pursuit of self-gratification. Certainly, the word "freedom" is losing all meaning. If this is the future, then we must realize that our children and grandchildren are going to grow up in a (Godless) world that is "slouching toward Gomorrah," and exchanging sanity for insanity.

When all is said and done - and thought over deeply - the "self" has no foundation besides the "nothingness" from which it emerges. Only if God is the One who draws being forth from nothingness, does the "self" have a grounding that is stable and meaningful. However, I have attached a response sent to me from Fr. Tom Hopko, who develops that very theme in his brutally straightforward manner. Perhaps you may want to read his response following the Op-Ed itself.

Further comments are always welcome.

In Christ,

Fr. Steven

OPINION | June 04, 2010
Op-Ed Contributor: The 40-Year Itch
For many married 20 to 60-plus years, the decision to divorce does not mean failure and shame, but opportunity.

HERE’S an old French expression I found useful when I wrote a book about couples who divorced after long marriages: “I wasn’t holding the candle.” It means that I couldn’t know what happened between the two people in a marriage, so how could I possibly know why they split?

That hasn’t stopped speculation about Al and Tipper Gore, who are behaving with grace and dignity as they keep to themselves their reasons for ending 40 years of marriage. Public reaction has followed a pattern, beginning with shock and disbelief: “They seemed like the ideal couple, so perfect together.” Outrage came next: “Was it all a sham, especially that kiss on the convention stage?” And finally fear: “Are all marriages doomed to wither and die — and will mine be among them?”

But such questions expose just a few widespread but unrealistic assumptions about late-life divorce. Divorce lawyers tell me the fastest-growing segment of their clientele is the middle-aged and elderly... Continue reading the Op-Ed on

Reply from Fr Thomas Hopko:

Dear Fr. Steven,

Nothing new here.

Just read Roger Scruton's Modern Culture. His analysis is excellent. His solution...sad.
Also read David Bentley Hart's Atheist Delusion His analysis is excellent. His solution....surprising.

Freedom and Nothingness and the exercise of my self-will in freedom informed by nothing are everything..

All claims of meaning are actually ploys of the powerful to preserve their power.
Talk of sacrifice and fidelity are also lies of the powerful to maintain their power

(Even the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed is a "text" of the powerful to maintain their power.)

There is no objective reality, nothing transcendent, no meaning of any kind beside the freedom to be bound by Nothing.

Those claiming belief in God (like, perhaps Al Gore and Tipper) see 'God' as that which affirms and even commands (not creates, informs, orders and enables) their freedom to be bound and formed by absolutely Nothing -- because 'God' wants them to be free and happy as they decide to be in a completely meaningless reality actualized solely by their freedom to be constrained by Nothing.

That's it: the "post-modern culture". It is essentially a Culture of Unending Adolescence. Scruton calls it Yoofanasia.

Its spirituality -- fantasy, sentimentality, romanticism and unbounded freedom which is, in fact, madness. It is not a culture of 'disbelief' (which would give some sort of reality or status to 'belief)'. It is a rather a 'culture' of absolutely nothing; an enslavement to Absolute Nothingness. It is wholly demonic, the product of the Devil, in the literal, etymological sense of the term..

That's it.

Love to all.

Fr Tom

Thursday, June 3, 2010

ROMANS: An Orthodox Bible Study

Dear Parish Faithful,

Our annual Spring/Summer Bible Study will begin next Wednesday evening. We will begin with Vespers at 7:00 p.m. and the Study will follow at around 7:45 p.m. As announced, we will read, study and discuss the Apostle Paul's Epistle to the Romans.

This is St. Paul's longest, most challenging, and yet probably the richest of his epistles in terms of over-all content - theological, spiritual, and pastoral. This Epistle has shaped Protestantism more than any other New Testament book; but based upon a particular - if not peculiar - reading going back to Luther and Calvin. As Orthodox, we find this reading very one-sided and, at times, even misguided. The Church Fathers, beginning with St. John Chrysostom, read this Epistle differently. We will definitely address some of these issues involved in the interpretation of Romans. (Though, we will most certainly not complete the entire Epistle in one summer).

I will try and avoid the usual "exhortation" that amounts to an attempt to "talk" parishioners into attending the Bible Study. Whatever those attempts sound like on paper, they are not that effective in the long run. Parishioners are either interested or not interested in the Bible Study (does that mean the Bible itself?). Those who are interested find a way of attending, even if not that convenient; and those who are uninterested, find an excuse not to attend, no matter how weak that excuse may actually be. Somewhere in between, of course, are those parishioners who would like to attend the Bible Study, but cannot for legitimate reasons that can include unavoidable schedule conflicts to domestic responsibilities. Of course, others do not even think about it, indicating how remote and "off the radar screen" the very idea of a Bible Study is.

Therefore I would simply ask everyone to at least reflect for a moment:

+ How do I view and understand the Bible?

+ Have can I cultivated a "relationship" with the Holy Scriptures?

+ Do I read the Bible with any regularity?

+ How am I able to guard against a mere "personal interpretation" of what I read?

+ Have I ever discussed the content of the Bible with others in a group setting and with a leader/facilitator?

+ If not the parish Bible Study, then what kind of regularly-scheduled event would
I commit to during the summer months?

+ Why do I venerate St. Paul as a great saint?

+ Have I ever read his Epistle to the Romans?

+ Do I understand the Epistle readings on any given Sunday morning at the Liturgy?

+ If not, what can I do to help myself understand the Epistles better?

It is my humble opinion that most of those questions can be answered in a very positive way within the context of our Spring/Summer Bible Study.

If you take a look at the church calender, you will notice that we stopped reading from the BOOK OF ACTS on the Sunday of Pentecost. And since May 25, the readings on the calendar are appointed from the EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS. We will continue to read from this lengthy epistle until June 28, the eve of the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. I will either directly speak of Romans in some of the upcoming homilies, or try and incorporate some of those readings in the homilies as the next few weeks unfold.

To summarize: The Spring/Summer Bible Study will begin next Wednesday evening, June 9 - the Lord willing. (For more information, go to our parish website...)

Fr. Steven