Dear Parish Faithful,
"The heart is deep." (Ps. 64:6)
I recently read the following from Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware): "As somebody said to me recently, 'If I died tomorrow, nobody would notice'." Before explaining some of the context behind this sad and troubling lament, allow me to simply point out for the moment that it is from the Foreword of the new book by Sister Nonna Harrison, "God's Many-Splendored Image." The entire Foreword is a ringing endorsement for Sister Nonna's book, and coming from a figure such as Metropolitan Kallistos, it makes one immediately interested in the book's content. (The other endorsements on the back cover are also quite impressive). As previously announced and promoted, this is the book that we will be reading, studying and discussing together in this year's Fall Adult Education Class, beginning on Monday evening, November 8, and continuing for the traditional six sessions. I just finished my first reading of the book, and I can say that it was one of the best theology books that I have read in recent years. More than just a "good read," this book is insightful, challenging and, ultimately, very inspiring. Sister Nonna is deeply concerned about the dehumanizing processes that lead many people to find life meaningless; or which leads others to oppress and exploit innocent human lives. The only response is to understand that we are created "in the image and likeness" of God, which Sister Nonna explores throughout the book in a masterly fashion. As Sister Nonna writes in her simple, but poignant dedication:
This book is dedicated to all those people whom other people have thrown away. It shows that God does not throw people away.
I am hoping that many of you have already purchased your personal copy of this book, and have already started reading it, or will so soon. The book is written in a clear accessible style that explains the various themes carefully and lovingly. I am also hoping that many of you will participate in this year's Fall Adult Education Class, where we will share our reading experience of Sister Nonna's book. If you need some further encouragement, or a "pastoral push," then hopefully this will be it! Yet allow me to say a few more words about this annual educational event "in the life of the parish."
I strongly maintain that the "three pillars" of a healthy parish are, and will remain: 1) liturgical worship; 2) education/catechism; and 3) charity. There are certainly many more things, but these are essential and radiate outward to touch other aspects of parish life. Knowing our Orthodox Faith as well as possible is not an option, but a God-directed responsibility: "Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you ... " (I PET. 3:15) Bible Studies, Education Classes and Retreats are the major ways in which we fulfill this responsibility. This is not one of those burdensome or boring responsibilities in life, but one that is exciting, illuminating and inspiring! For our present concern, once you commit to the class, then you commit to reading the assigned book and deepening your understanding of our Faith - with an eye toward "putting into practice" what has been read. In fact, in this instance, Sister Nonna's book has the phrase "Christian Formation" in the subtitle.
In addition, what I have learned over the years is that the fellowship experienced is as important as the content of the book that we read as a group. We are in this together: the whole process of struggling to be Christians in a secularized and dehumanizing society; of learning how to become better friends "in Christ," and supportive of one another; of being able to trust one another and to speak freely in front of each other of our concerns and even fears about the challenges of life and the world around us. So our "sessions" go way beyond a classroom setting of imparting knowledge or "getting the information right." The only "homework" is to read the assigned chapter for each session; and the only "test" is how well we can apply what we learn to our lives. (The "final" may just be the Last Judgment!). Again, a sense of fellowship develops that is inviting to just such a setting. This takes time, but it has happened over time in our parish, and I thank God for that.
But test what I am claiming for yourself, and join us this year! Take up the challenge of opening your minds and hearts to a book that may change some of your assumptions and convictions about living out the Christian life. Drink deeply of the accumulated Christian wisdom of the past and how that wisdom can be applied and actualized in today's challenging world. We will have a sure guide in Sister Nonna who will do her part in deepening our sense of being God's many-splendored image. As Metropolitan Kallistos wrote as the last sentence of his Foreword: "Here truly is a work that I can recommend with all my heart."_____
Sister Nonna will quote and explain many of the insights of the Church Fathers in her book. I recently gave a homily about the Fathers, and then wrote a Meditation on how important it is for us as Orthodox Christians to familiarize ourselves with their lives and works. That Meditation is posted on our website, under the title "Learning the Fathers." I noticed that our Webservant provided links to Wikipedia for all of the Church Fathers listed in my Meditation. This fits in perfectly with my pastoral suggestion that you make a point of reading about the Fathers as much as you would do of a contemporary personality, from a politician to an entertainment figure. Just click on the name and you are immediately at the Wikipedia site with a good short biography on that particular Church Father. The proverbial "apple a day" supposed has good results. How about a "Church Father a day" - or even a week. Something good will assuredly come of it. The Church Fathers only a click away - they never would have guessed!