Friday, November 28, 2008

Same Old Barns

Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,

Before delivering the short Parable of the Foolish Landowner (LK. 12:16-21) the Lord first offers the following admonition by way of preface to the parable itself: "Take heed, and beware of all covetousness, for a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." (LK. 12:15) The parable gives story-form to the truth of that admonition. Yet, the timeless and universal truths revealed in this particular parable can have the unfortunate effect of blunting the depth of its inner meaning. As if the clarity and obviousness of the parable somehow removes its "sting." We then feel content with repeating the worn-out and cliched saying (accompanied by a pious sigh): "When you die, you can't take it all with you." Spoken in such a spirit, this becomes a form of lip-service to what Christ is getting at, while in reality we brush the parable aside as "not applicable." But the parable goes far beyond the banality of that cliche which, in itself, still contains more that a hidden hint of despair over the prospect of death and loss. The parable is compact enough to include in this meditation:

The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully, and he thought to himself, 'What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?' And he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry. But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.

The Parable of the Foolish Landowner is not only about the loss of material wealth due to our common human finitude, against which we have no real defense (though leaving it for our loved ones is something of a consolation); but more importantly about the loss of not being "rich toward God." Then the parable is not only about the inevitability/necessity of loss, but about the cost of a self-inflicted poverty and a freely-chosen path of neglecting God. In the post-Resurrection Church, the loss of such "riches" becomes even more acute, based on what the Apostle Paul so powerfully expressed:

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. (II COR. 8:9)

The landowner is chastised in the end because he turned his new barns into the treasure that attracted his heart's desire, "for," as Christ taught: "where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (MATT. 6:21) These "barns," in turn, represent whatever it is in our lives that becomes a treasure more valuable than God. It should be deeply sobering and convicting, indeed, when we think of how grossly materialistic some of these "treasures" actually are. It's the same old barns, but now with modern conveniences! "Nothing new under the sun ..." In the parable, the Lord has God call such a confusion of priorities "foolishness." Basically, this is misplaced spiritual energy. The "energies" of our human nature are so misplaced as to be considered wasted. Directed toward the self, they lack any root by which to be nurtured by divine grace, for the self cannot serve as a substitute for God. Since there is no indication that the rich landowner was a theoretical atheist, it appears that he, as countless others, may have been trying to manage a "balancing act" - if not "bargain" - of sorts: (outward?) piety toward God together with the heartfelt pursuit of building new barns and then eating, drinking and being merry to his heart's content. Very human desires, but draining enough to transform one into a practical atheist - believing in God's existence, but living as though God did not exist.

To be "rich toward God," is to put God first and foremost in our lives. To build up our relationship with God is infinitely greater than building up new barns. We do not know when our soul will be "required" of us. Even though we postpone thoughts of our mortality, or project them into a vague, indistinct and seemingly remote future, the reality could be different. Only God knows. To hear God pronounce "Fool!" in the end would be beyond tragic, especially if we are immersed in the life of the Church and its call to eternal fellowship with God. We have this life as a gift in order to become rich toward God. The Parable of the Foolish Landowner is a fair warning of what squandering that gift may ultimately mean.

Fr. Steven

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Two 'Pearls' from Fr Hopko

Dear Parish Faithful,

On Sunday, I shared a short piece of writing with the rest of the parish during the post-Liturgy discussion. After reading this out loud to everyone present and answering a few questions, it was clear that what I read made an impact on everyone, and there was more than a little discussion about it afterwards in the hall. Some of you were not there, so I am forwarding this document to everyone as an attachment to this note. This was sent to me by Fr. Thomas Hopko, and though not expressly indicated, I am sure that it is a work from his hand. Entitled "How Do I Know?" it stands as one of the best practical applications of Orthodox theology and spirituality that I have ever encountered. In a series of twelve simple and direct paragraphs, Fr. Hopko has synthesized an enormous amount of teaching in a thoroughly accessible manner that anyone and everyone can completely understand. This writing amounts to a "How to Live" directive for all Orthodox Christians. It is all quite uncomplicated - but also quite challenging.

I will also have some more copies available on Sunday. Actually, Fr. Hopko also sent me a sheet of "55 Maxims" which he must have prepared as an even briefer set of teaching for daily Christian living based on the present document. I will also have copies of that available.

Please forward any comments or questions that you may have.

In Christ,

Fr. Steven

Webmaster's Note: Both of these offerings from Father Hopko are available on our parish website in printable PDF format, along with a podcast from Fr Tom explaining the 55 Maxims in MP3 format.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Nourished in the Atmosphere of the Temple...

Dear Parish Faithful,

Today, November 21, is the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple, one of the twelve major feast days of our liturgical year. Though lacking a biblical source, the Church's Tradition has accepted the account found in the 2nd c. work known as the Protoevangelion of James. This is the same source that has given us some details about the Nativity of the Theotokos. In this account, we are told that Joachim and Anna brought their daughter, Mary, to the Temple as a three year old child. This was in fulfillment of a promise the aged couple had made to God: to offer their child to the Lord in thanksgiving for His gift to them of ending Anna's barrenness with a child. In a joyous procession in which young maidens went before her with lit torches, Joachim and Anna bring Mary to the Temple to be received there by the High Priest Zacharias, future father of St. John the Baptist. Zacharias, in turn, brought her into the very Holy of Holies, where she would remain until she was twelve years old, fed there miraculously by an angel.

In his explanation of this Feast, Archbishop Kallistos Ware wrote the following:

As with the feast of the birth of the Theotokos, what matters is not the historical exactness of the story but its inner meaning. This account of Mary's Entry into the temple and of her dwelling there signifies her total dedication to God, in readiness for her future vocation as Mother of the Incarnate Lord. At the Annunciation, the Holy Spirit overshadowed her at the word of the angel and she conceived the Savior; but the Spirit had also dwelt within her from infancy, preparing her in body and soul to be a fitting tabernacle for the Deity - a living Temple, a personal Holy of Holies. Such is basically the spiritual meaning of the feast. Its chief theme is this indwelling grace of the Spirit, present and active within her from her earliest moments. As one of the texts for the day expresses it, speaking not of the Annunciation but of her Entry into the temple: "All the powers of heaven stood amazed, seeing the Holy Spirit dwell in you" (Great Vespers, Theotokion before the Entrance).

The Feast also anticipates the Nativity of Christ, because it comes during the Nativity Fast, and we are able to contemplate the chosen vessel of God who will offer to the Lord His human nature, thus making His dwelling among us possible.

The future Mother of God was nourished in the atmosphere of the temple. The temple was pervaded by a sense of holiness, for it was the dwelling place of God. It was sacred space set aside for that very purpose. We learn from this Feast that Christian parents offer their children to God when they bring them to the church, from the Forty Day Prayers leading up to Baptism and Chrismation and the reception of the Eucharist. An essential part of this "offering" is the continued practice of bringing our children to church - the temple - with regularity. It is in the setting and atmosphere of the church that our children learn how to pray and to worship the living God. They are able to thrive in a community setting with fellow Christians - young and old alike - and learn to become integral members of a parish family. They form friendships as they grow together in Christ. It is only in the church that our children can receive Holy Communion and be united to Christ. When they come from the earliest age with regularity, they get to know their priest and to trust him, so that they are not frightened by him on an occasional visit! Children learn about right and wrong by confessing their sins from an early age. The warmth of the church attracts children - the candles, incense, vestments, icons and singing that appeals to their sensory perception of reality. All parents are like Joachim and Anna when they lead their children to the temple of God as an offering of thanksgiving to the Lord who has blessed us with them. How empty our lives would be without the Church!

This Feast reveals to us the place of the "temple" in our lives as believers in Christ. If you notice, we commemorate Joachim and Anna at the end of every service as the "ancestors of God." This daily commemoration is a reminder of their "everyday" piety and righteousness before God; of the sacredness of the sacramental bond between husband and wife and the role of intimacy and love within that bond; and of their sense of responsibility before God to offer their children in service to God. All of that is manifested whenever we bring our children to church with joy and gladness.

Fr. Steven

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

On the All American Council, Part 2: The Negative

Dear Parish Faithful,

As positive and groundbreaking as the recent All American Council was, it was not impervious to some negative elements that should also be addressed in order for a well-rounded assessment of the Council to emerge. We hope and pray that the new direction of the OCA, guided by the Spirit in the election of our new Metropolitan Jonah, will slowly prevail over time. Many of the faithful, reading some of his speeches and papers, are quite impressed by his combination of theological knowledge and pastoral concerns. So, we will continue to pray that the promise the new metropolitan brings to his role as the primate of the OCA will be fulfilled in due time to the glory of God and the well-being of the Church. No transition is perfectly smooth, as obstacles and "baggage" from the past do not simply disappear. Based on what I witnessed and heard at the Council, here is how I assess some of these troubling spots:

The Negative

In his report to the Council, our chancellor, Fr. Alexander Garklavs, reminded the gathered delegates that there are three independent lawsuits pending against the OCA. One of them is ludicrous in my opinion: a $25,000,000 law- suit brought against the OCA by Robert Kondratick for "defamation of character." Many believe that this is an ill-conceived attempt at intimidation by the deposed and defrocked Kondratick. Something like: "the best defense is a good offense." However, the OCA is counter-suing him, and this became a rather contentious and time-draining issue at the Council. Fr. David Garretson, newly-voted on to the Metropolitan Council, challenged the wisdom of this counter lawsuit based upon the Scriptures (In I COR. 6, the Apostle Paul reprimands Christians for taking each other to court); and the "cost-effective" nature of the suit. Legal counsel is not inexpensive. The debate dragged on inconclusively, and the suit and counter-suit are both pending - to drag on indefinitely? The other two suits are more serious and can pose some real problems in the future, again threatening to impose some devastating financial burdens on the OCA.

The forward thrust of the Council clearly dominated the mood and decisions of the Council's deliberations. By this I mean that the delegates were turning to the future and a hopeful recovery for the OCA following the release of the SIC Report and its affirmation of financial and moral malfeasance in the highest level of the OCA's administration. By the time of the Council the reality of the scandal had settled in - even for its most ardent deniers I would imagine -and damage assessments had been made. With the public discrediting of the two former metropolitans - Theodosius and Herman - for their complicity in these crimes; and the discrediting and then defrocking of the former chancellor, Robert Kondratick; there was a kind of weary relief present that not only have we "survived" this tragic event, but that we can now move into the future strengthened in our faith and sense of mission here in North America. Hence, the near-euphoria at the election of Metropolitan Jonah who embodies all of those hopes.

Nevertheless, there was still more than a backward glance at the ambiguous and troubling role of the rest of the Holy Synod as the scandal unfolded. How much did the other bishops know and when? Were they complicit, and to what extent? As our spiritual leaders, were they far too passive in trying to uncover the truth of what occurred and deal with it swiftly and effectively? Why did the other bishops not support Archbishop Job who was trying to act decisively? Since the supposed three "letters of apology" from the Holy Synod were received with an overwhelming sense of dissatisfaction, would the Holy Synod, as a body, make some gesture of repentance to the assembled delegates so that the past could be decisively put behind us? No such gesture was forthcoming. Basically, there was no sign of repentance. The "Service of Repentance" on Monday evening was a great disappointment for many, in that it amounted to a Compline Service with a talk attached at the end. The challenging questions that were asked remained unanswered, avoided, or dismissed. Bishop Benjamin of San Francisco and the West, as chairman of the committee, did deliver a good summary of the SIC Report; but his evasion of the questions that followed was further marred by a certain sarcasm, condescension and irritation directed toward the floor and the respective speakers who posed their questions or comments with restraint and respect. When asked a challenging question about the apparently "light" disciplinary actions taken against the two former metropolitans, Bishop Benjamin managed to elicit a ripple of uneasy laughter by his sarcastic retort that in "this age" we don't whip people and throw them in dungeons. Clearly, a re-entrenchment of episcopal authority and "prerogatives" - that bishops are only accountable to each other - was on display, much to the dismay of many of the delegates, including myself.

Of all members of the Church, how sad that it is our bishops - our spiritual leaders - who see an act of public repentance as a weakness that must be avoided. Spiritual authority is grounded in humility and moral strength, not in juridical and legalistic attitudes. What a lost opportunity to set an example that would have had a powerful impact on all who were present! Then the past would really have been "buried" once and for all. The Holy Synod chose otherwise.

On the brighter side, I was informed by one of the new members of the Metropolitan Council, that in its first session with the Holy Synod, there was a good sense of over-all cooperation and support for Metropolitan Jonah. The metropolitan was also at ease and made it clear that he will remain very accessible to all persons and concerns in the future. Hopefully, this spirit of goodwill will prevail in the upcoming months of reconstruction and renewal. The Council undoubtedly concluded with a very positive sense of new direction. Metropolitan Jonah is a man of vision for the OCA. We lost that vision in a dark era. It is the responsibility of all Orthodox Christians - clergy and laity - to work for its restoration and the proclamation of the Gospel here in North America in the years to come.

I would be glad to answer any further questions.

In Christ,

Fr. Steven

Friday, November 14, 2008

On the All American Council and our new Metropolitan

Dear Parish Faithful,

Here are a few preliminary reflections on the momentous events of the recently-concluded AAC in Pittsburgh. I will write today of what was positive, and later about the negative. There were also developments with a bit of both.

The Positive

Overwhelmingly, the great event of the Council was the wholly unexpected election of Bishop Jonah of the South to the position of Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church in America. This sent more than a "buzz" through the crowd of hundreds of delegates. It was more like a powerful current of energy. Bishop Jonah, at the time of his election on Wednesday, had been a bishop for only eleven days! Although not without precedent, this was something approaching "historic." He was consecrated as Bishop of Fort Worth and auxiliary bishop of the South by Archbishop Dmitri in Dallas on November 1. I cannot imagine that (m)any Council participants arrived in Pittsburgh believing that the Council would present Bishop Jonah as a viable candidate to be chosen by the Holy Synod as the new metropolitan. His name was not initially heard in the corridor gossip of the delegates. It was "shocking" in the good sense of the word - an unpredictable event that "in the twinkling of an eye" transformed the entire Council into a lively and hopeful body. The movement toward this unlikely choice began on Tuesday evening, following what some have described as a stirring talk by Bishop Jonah to the assembled delegates. I encountered this rapidly-spreading sentiment on Wednesday morning, before we began filing into the Plenary session ballroom, and it obviously continued to swell and gain momentum. The first ballot found Bishop Jonah with the most votes, and with Archbishop Job with the second most votes. The second ballot confirmed those two choices by further distancing them from the other candidates. With these two candidates clearly being the Council's choices, the Synod withdrew to behind the sanctuary curtain to make the final decision. The Holy Synod then chose Bishop Jonah to be the new metropolitan to the continued surprise and delight of many. Loud and heartfelt cries of "Axios!" (He is worthy!) reverberated throughout the assembled body. I can assure you that the happiest person at the Council at that moment was Archbishop Job. He did not consider himself qualified for the position and did not want the position. He was profoundly relieved when it was all decided.

What exactly happened? Why such a break with past tradition? I am far from being an "insider," so I can only offer my own speculation based upon that endless stream of gossip, conjecture, and endless talk alluded to above that accompanies such events with an uninterrupted flow of speculation. (Everyone indulges in it, but after awhile it gets tiresome. By the end of the day, you just want to take a walk, a cleansing shower, or lay your head on a pillow and drift off, exhausted, into a peaceful sleep). There is something of an art to separating the wheat from the chaff. Basically, however, it got down to a deeply felt need for real change and a new beginning. The black hole of our scandal was sucking the life out of the OCA, and the election of an untainted candidate with a good reputation now seems like not only a brilliant and spontaneous response by an alert body, but the work of the Holy Spirit in guiding the Church to a future of renewal. Archbishop Job was thus in an ambiguous position as the mood of the Council unfolded. Although he clearly embodied integrity and a desire for uncovering the truth, endlessly repeated by his supporters; he was also seen as a representative of the Synod of Bishops that failed in its stewardship and vigilance. Inescapably, he also embodied the "old guard," and it was this tainted association with the past fifteen years that took some of the life out of his role as an agent of honesty and openness. Nevertheless, he did capture many of the delegates hopes and votes, being the second choice by far. No other candidates were close. This means that the delegates strongly rejected the past, refusing to accept, but rather seeing through, the shameful attempts at cover-up and dissimulation. Did the Holy Synod choose for change, or was their election of Bishop Jonah an "anti-Job" declaration? Fortunately, it does not matter. We now have the openness of the unchartered but promising future before us. "If God is with us, who can be against us"?

As I openly stated to the parish, I voted for Archbishop Job. On the second ballot, when we are instructed to write down two names, I wrote the names of Archbishop Job and Bishop Jonah. I saw the wisdom of this choice. For me it was not exactly an "Obama moment," as many were calling it based upon the obvious parallels of the two elections; but I am quite satisfied with the decision for an untested but untainted voice of an apparently enthusiastic young bishop who has the Gospel of Christ foremost in his mind and on his "agenda." I know more than a few persons who know Metropolitan Jonah well, and they unanimously speak of him with great admiration and respect. Every time he spoke he returned us to prayer, fasting and almsgiving, together with love of God and neighbor expressed through a living faith. All of this adds up to making his election a turning point in our future. Only God knows and time will tell.

Next week: The Negative

Fr. Steven

Monday, November 10, 2008

Archbishop Lazar on the Problems of Youth in the 21st Century

Dear Parish Faithful,

Many of you were present yesterday when Archbishop Lazar Puhalo was in our church celebrating the Liturgy. I believe that he made a very positive impact. Below is a very penetrating article which is a paper he wrote for a theological conference. It touches on youthful idealism and the morally corrosive effects of Consumerism. I highly recommend the over-all content. Please print it if necessary and find the time to read it carefully. It is challenging and that is good. He makes a very insightful application of the Garden of Eden story of the Bible to contemporary life-style issues.

In Christ,

Fr. Steven


Archbishop Lazar Puhalo


Doubtless several aspects of the social and moral crises among young people will be discussed at this conference, so I will focus on only one aspect of it.

It is difficult to say whether Communism or Consumerism has had the more negative impact upon the aspirations of the natural youthful idealism. Consumerism is, however, the system with the greatest world-wide impact, and its effect on young people needs to be explored.

In general, young people are gifted with a natural tendency toward idealism, But at the same time, they are quite vulnerable to contrary influences. Part of this vulnerability stems from the high level of hormonal activity in their growing bodily systems, and also from the fact that mylenisation in the pre-frontal and frontal lobes of the brain is not completed until the early twenties. These facts, however, only create the possibility of social and moral disorientation. The ethos created by Consumerism (Consumer Capitalism) both takes advantage of, and feeds, all human susceptibilities and vulnerabilities. It is this aspect of the social and moral problems of modern youth that we will briefly examine.

When we discuss the human condition, the Biblical story of the Garden of Eden is always a good place to begin. Whether one wishes to take the story literally or understand it as a metaphor, it bears profound insights into the human condition and, in particular, into the struggle of youth.

We will not discuss the story of Eden in detail; let us just examine what it tells us about our condition. While we are told that God created Adam and Eve in His own image and likeness, We are told by the Orthodox Church that they were as youths, not yet mature, still growing and developing. The image of a tree is given and it is designated as "the knowledge of good and evil." We are further told that Adam and Eve would receive this knowledge from God when they were mature enough to cope with it and handle it in an appropriate manner. However, Satan, the ancestor of the advertising industry, tempted the first people. "Don't trust your father. There is nothing wrong with this knowledge, he does not want you to have this knowledge." He might have said, "Don't trust the social and moral system that your grandparents had. They don't want you to have any fun or enjoy life." Then, Adam and Eve were tempted with a counterfeit of something that they already had. "Don't trust God, disobey him and you will become like God." But they already were in the likeness of God. Somehow they forgot about that and accepted the counterfeit in place of the real gift. We are told that Adam and Eve fell, but what did they fall from and what did they fall into? They fell from an ethos of unselfish love into a new condition of egoism, self-centredness and self-love. And what do we inherit above all else from this fall of mankind? The habitual misuse of our energies. This is the actual nature of what we call "sin," the habitual misuse of our energies. In short, they fell into an unauthenticity of life.

Whatever else one thinks that the story of the Garden of Eden tells us, it is clear that it tells us about the social and moral struggle of youth and about the egoism and self-love that entered into the human nature in a profound way. The story tells us that the normal condition of mankind would be an ethos of unselfish love which would lead one into the highest level of social and moral life: the love of neighbour, to love our neighbour as ourselves. When Christ said that the Law and the Prophets consist in this: to love the Lord our God with all our being, and to love (cherish and nourish) our neighbour as ourselves, and then told us to do unto others what we would wish to have them do for us, and again to "have love among yourselves," He was really calling us to return to the ethos of Paradise.

But what else does the story of Eden tell us about our nature? Satan implanted in our hearts desires that caused our natural emotions to become passions. The word "passion" means "suffering." Satan led us into desires that cause inner human suffering, desires that cannot actually be fulfilled no matter how often we yield to them. This inner human suffering, the passions, can cause a person to fall into deep bitterness. Such bitterness can lead us to pursue the desires and seek to stifle the suffering of the passions by attempting to fulfil them.

How does Consumerism add to all this and cause a social and moral disorientation? Partly by making us subject to the happiness-seeking sickness of mankind. Of course, there is nothing wrong with experiencing happiness. However, to come to true happiness, one must first become content. Contentment is the prerequisite for true happiness. The happiness-seeking sickness comes about when man thinks that fulfilling his desires will make him happy. As an economic and social system, Consumerism requires that people consume. They must consume more than they need and even more than they actually desire, without regard to the destruction of the environment or the pain they may cause future generations. We must be aware that the advertising industry, which is like the serpent in Eden, employs both psychologists and psychiatrists in order to study how to increase man's desires and passions. You cannot market to contentment, you can only market to desire and the passions. But in order for the system to prosper, it must increase the passions and desires of people, but ensure that they can never be fulfilled. Happiness must always be just one more purchase away. The industry must, therefore, learn how to prey on the egoism and self-centredness of the fallen human nature. Who is the most susceptible to such advertising? Young people. They do not have enough experience and maturity to cope easily with a programme of propaganda and indoctrination that feeds their already strong and compelling desires and passions. And how could they when, during the last century and into our own 21st century, the adult world has abandoned its responsibility and fallen under the prelest of pretending to still be young, following after the excesses of uncontrolled desire and undisciplined passions? This is why, at least in America, we see advertisements that begin "IF YOU DESIRE IT, YOU NEED IT."

Why do many young people, despite all these pressures and temptations, nevertheless retain the high idealism of youth and find a more moral social ethos? Because we are not in complete bondage to the fallen human nature. God has given us another part to our own nature, and that part the Orthodox Church calls our "hypostasis." The hypostasis, which we would assert is a gift of grace, is our individual personhood. It is this that makes it possible for us to have a degree of freedom from the confines and forces of the fallen human nature.

This is the point at which the diligent teacher, the careful parent and the compassionate priest can reach out to our youth. Being careful not to forget how great our own personal struggle was in our youth, we can offer guidance without being bullies, moralists or hypocrites. We cannot lump all young people together, even the ones who are in trouble and seem to be pursuing a life of egoism and self-love. Each one is an individual with his or her own "hypostasis." We should not allow ourselves to fall into the sin of "moralism" (which is not the same thing as morality). Rather, those adults who are still willing and able to take on the responsibilities of adulthood and maturity, need to rediscover the adult role of leadership, so often abandoned now. If the adult world cannot display some degree of discretion, self-control and self-discipline, how should we expect the younger generation to do so? From whom would they learn it? And yet some of our youth do master this, and put many adults to shame.

What are the weapons of the new "serpent of Eden?" Television of course, the misuse of the computer, and every means of advertising that seeks to increase desire and the passions. Remember that we said earlier that what we inherit most of all from the fall of mankind is the habitual misuse of our energies. Thus, the struggle is really to master the proper use of our energies. This is not simply a moral issue. This is a very practical and pragmatic matter also. Discretion, self-control and self-discipline are all necessary not only for any society to continue to exist, but also for the individual if he or she has any hope of an authentic life, a life that has meaning and true happiness. In this regard, I will assert that framing our teaching purely in terms of morality is not always useful. We must include that, but teach morality not just in "bad/good" definition, but also from a pragmatic point of view, a concept relating to the quality of life itself. Somehow, teachers, parents and priests need to study and learn how to counteract the delusions offered in such a convincing manner by the advertising industry and by the counterfeit promises of Consumerism. We must recognise the innate and natural idealism of youth and seek to nourish it with love, trust and enthusiasm. Ultimately, we all, and especially our parents and priests, must learn that great and healing gift of co-suffering love about which the ever-memorable Vladika Antony Khrapovitsky spoke. Such a love has the power to penetrate the heart of another person and nourish in them the seed of moral rebirth.

If I can add anything to the dialogue of this conference, I offer these concepts:

  1. That youth is gifted with a natural inclination to idealism which must be nourished, never discouraged as being "naive."
  2. That adults must fully accept the responsibilities of adulthood, with the discretion, self-discipline and self-control of maturity.
  3. That the advertising industry is the new "serpent of Eden."
  4. That Consumer Capitalism, with all its material benefits, also creates an ethos of egoism, self-centredness and self-love. It feeds on uncontrolled desire and unbridled passion.
  5. That there is no other force or power that we possess that can serve for the spiritual healing and moral rebirth of another human being except the gift of co-suffering love.

Friday, November 7, 2008

A Petition for the (New) President

Dear Parish Faithful,

We now have a new president elect in Barak Obama. Millions of Americans (64,985,624) are quite happy; and millions of others (57,125,842) are quite unhappy - at least in this immediate post-election period. Personally, I am not politically-oriented enough to be struck with any post-election blues, whether I am elated or disappointed. But if you are, take a deep breath, look up into the heavens, and repeat with the Prophet Isaiah, "God is with us!" In any event, everyone must acknowledge that the election of Barak Obama is "historic." Because, in historic time this is a huge leap from the Civil Rights Movement of the mid 60's, to a new African-American president only forty odd years later. Yet, I see no good reason to interpret this historic event in either "millenarian" or "apocalyptic" terms. (Please look those terms up if need be). If our current president is a Democrat or a Republican, we will continue to offer up the following petition that you are all familiar with:

Again we pray for the President of our country, for all civil authorities, and for the armed forces.

This prayer is for wisdom, courage, patience, sound decision-making and every other virtue that is essential for good leadership and stewardship of our nation. In a profoundly troubled world with a complex of problems that are almost overwhelming, we realize the need for those virtues in our president. We therefore need to be "party blind" in our prayer as citizens of one and the same country.

I have some enormous problems with some of the interpretive aspects of our strictly observed "separation of Church and State" doctrine that characterizes the relationship between "religion" and the "public forum" in our country. But I am also convinced that a particular Church - and here my concern is with the Orthodox Church - does not, as an institution, back one or another candidate. The Church was greatly compromised by its close relationship with the monarchies of the past. Because of this, the so-called "golden age" of the nostalgically-remembered past, was actually a "golden cage" of spiritual submission on the part of the Church to a State that often betrayed its own Christian foundations. Each and every adult member of the Church will hopefully make a choice based upon a good assessment of the "issues" combined with the application of sound Christian principles. I submit that it would be impossible to find a candidate who would completely uphold all of the moral, ethical, and spiritual teachings of the Church in a totally satisfying manner. So reason and conscience are essential elements in the decision-making process of voting.

Life goes on with all of its joys and sorrows. We are all part of the greater drama of sin and redemption. The eternal questions about the meaning of life and of our relationship with God are the most essential ones. In no way does that mean that we ignore the "details" of life, including our role as social and political beings. I am just trying to add a greater perspective in the post-election atmosphere of either "victory" or "defeat."

Fr. Steven