Monday, August 17, 2009

June 21, 2009

Glory to Jesus Christ!

Our Lord Jesus Christ's first action after having been baptised in the waters of the Jordan and going into the desert and fasting and praying, was to create the first parish. He was gathering together the first congregation of Orthodox Christians. Rather, the first congregation of Orthodox catechumens, because these men were to spend the next three years being instructed by Him in the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, in the plan of salvation, in what it meant to be a disciple of the Son of God. At this point they are not called apostles yet. They are called disciples, those under the discipline or obedience of a master. Later, He would send them out two by two to the cities of Israel and they would become apostles. Finally, He would send them out to the ends of the earth. But for now, they are gathered together to be instructed, to be formed.

Today, we celebrate also as well, in the secular sense which certainly our Orthodox culture seeks to transfigure, the national day dedicated to fathers, and we also remember grandfathers and spiritual fathers on this day. And we're reminded that the head of a family ought, by right, to be a father. Not because he's the boss of the mother. The two of them stand equally under God. But because he's the one who is supposed to be the face of the family, the one who takes the hits, the one who displays the aggression. And also the one who... In the formation of a well balanced child, there are two things needed: One is conditional love that requires that one conform in order to receive. And there's the other, which is unconditional which doesn't have to be earned. The unconditional love is the mother love. It accepts the children and says, “You are mine. You came from my body. You will always be mine. There is nothing you can do that will make me deny you.” And the conditional love is the father saying, “You tow the line, or I'm not going to pay any attention to you. You do what's right, or you will not have my favor.” If you don't have mother love, you have a complex. You become insecure, and that's not good. But it you don't have father love, you become a psychopath, and you pray on society, and you abuse people, and you think only of yourself. So that's why both of these are needed.

As I was contemplating these things, I listened to a lecture that was given at St. Vladimir's seminary this week, that was broadcast, telecast, live on the computer. The lecture I noted was one that was given by Fr. Alexander Garklavs The chancellor of the OCA, whose grandfather, who adopted his father was archbishop John Garklavs who ordained me. And Fr. Alexander was talking about the great synod of the Russian Church that took place after the revolution had begun – actually, the revolution happened in the middle of it. And he mentioned this: That, eighty six bishops, ten years earlier when the council was supposed to be held because everything in Russia crept along like a cockroach with only two legs, went very slowly. And so ten years earlier when questionnaires had been sent to the bishops to ask them about life in their diocese, and there are thirteen volumes of these answers that had been collected, every bishop of sixty-eight diocese that responded said their biggest problem was the death of parish life in their diocese. That for about two hundred years, the parishes of the church within Russia had become sort of religious curio shops and supermarkets. The priest came into church. He waited for people to come to have molyemins said, or to have panahedas said. He served the sluzhbas, he served the scribes services, he collected trebi and he went home. There were exceptions to this, but by and large, the priesthood had become professionalized. The priests had stopped being in a real sense patushki to their families, they'd stopped being fathers. They had become practitioners of priest craft. They had become liturgizers.

All the bishops said, “We need to change this.” But where was the pattern going to come from? Well obviously from the scriptures. In the early church the Christians lived in one accord, they shared their goods when they needed to. They cared for one another. Widows and women who wished to live a celibate life were supported by the church, and in exchange they worked for the building up of the community. But what pattern could they look to in order to restore parish life in the great Russian Empire? They found two patterns. The first and most primitive form of this was that which was in existence in parts of the Ukraine, and in parts of Valencia and Bukovina, where the people lived under the rule of Catholic kings. In those countries, the Orthodox had to band together to defend themselves. They formed brotherhoods, and the brotherhoods had to build the churches. The churches weren't built by dukes and princes. There was no national government to build churches in those Catholic countries. In fact in most of them they couldn't even be built out of stone or brick. They had to be built out of wood so that if the local ruler got aggravated with you he could burn the church down. So in these places, the communities formed brotherhoods, sisterhoods. And these brotherhoods and sisterhoods cultivated family life within the parish. The parish began to take on, in these places, the nature of a community. It was no longer simply the sacred supermarket where you went to get your grace and then go home. It was the place where you came together to meet, to love, to care, to rejoice with those who rejoice, to weep with those who weep. That's why in a real sense every service that happens in this church, whether it's a funeral, or a wedding, or a baptism, even though it may be called a trebic service, a needs service, it's still a service of the entire church. Everyone should always be welcome to it, because they are things that happen in the family of God.

And then they found another iteration of this parish family idea. And that was that the people who had come to America, most of whom were from Ukrainian or Carpatha-Russyn backgrounds, and who had left Uniatism and had become Orthodox Christians again. These people had formed parishes complete with parish charters, with bylaws, with councils, with brotherhoods, with trustees who built churches and took care of them. And the priest, then, was a member of the community. He was not a dictator. He was not a petty over-groupen fuhrer. He was not a tyrant, nor was he the mystical wizard who had all the secrets, but the leader of worship for the people. And so, it turns out that just about the time of the Octoberist uprising, one of St. Tikhon's priests arrived late from America to participate in the great council. What he carried in his hand was the statutes of the churches in North America, the parish constitutions that directed that their ought to be staretzi, and that there ought to be trustees, and that together with this group of people, the priest was to work – not as their employee, but neither as their dictator – as their father. Not as Pope, but as patushka. To build up the body of Christ. To make it a family. And although it was never implemented as it was supposed to be, and even today has not been implemented in Russia, this American statute was adopted by the great council as the guiding statute of the reorganization of parishes throughout the Russian empire.

This means, brothers and sisters, that even though our American church was small – about eight thousand Russians, about seven thousand Ukranians, about six thousand Galizians, four thousand Romanians, and four thousand Bukovinians, about two thousand Arabs – and I'm not getting these figures right because I'm trying to remember them from the back of my mind – and, Tikhon added, 250 Estonians and Americans. He groups them together. Even though it was small, it had already started to give gifts back to the mother churches of Europe. The idea of how a church should be structured. But brothers and sisters, you must understand this: If a parish is as it's supposed to be – a family – that it has to function as a family. It means everyone in it taking their responsibility. It means that those who take greater responsibility not either boasting about it or feeling abused, but rejoicing in God that they are able to carry a heavier load. It means not shirking. It means knowing that if you don't go to work today there won't be bacon on the family table tonight, that being a parish family is different from having your name on the roles of a religious department store where Orthodox mysteries are dispensed. It means bearing another's burdens and thus fulfilling the whole law of Christ.

So there is an awful involved there. Some of you probably read that Andrew Jones died Friday. Eight years and six months his mother took care of him. His father suffered watching him. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week she cared for him. He had a breathing installed when he was three years old, and so for five years she had to every half hour of his entire life aspirate him, draw the fluid out of his lungs. She bore a dreadful burden, and she bore it like a hero. And what she did was, she perfected a saint. She took a little life that was given to her, a little life that, because of the lottery of genetics, that unfortunate thing that came into the world because of the fall of man, the good and bad genes and all that – which if you have good genes, or you think you do, then you become some kind of fascist and you want to look down on everybody else, and if you have a problem, you say, “Why did it happen to me?” It's the lottery of a fallen world. It's the way the roulette wheel falls out as the process of human procreation goes forward. She took this life from God, she brought it to the waters of baptism. The baby was immersed and given new life. He lay in his bed and never uttered a word. He received holy communion four, five times a year. He watched VeggieTales bible stories, and he had the ones he liked and the ones he didn't like. He had a lively life in his mind because his mother talked to him all the time, but no life at all in his mind. It was a prison, until God completed the work He had begun in a very short time. Having lived a short time, he accomplished a great time and God took him to Himself and now, sinless, he shines among the saints of heaven. And, if it were not out of our place to do so, because it's a canonical matter, we could say, “Holy child, St. Andrew, pray unto God for us.”

This is what a family does. And I've managed, because our church owns some graves that I wangled out of a relative that needed a tax deduction once, and because we've worked with a funeral home for a long time, and because the family was receiving some help from MedicAid, we only owe about $400 for the opening and the closing of the grave. I'm going to ask anybody who wants to to contribute to that, and you can have a part in this. But, the church has taken care of everything. We've done it because we're a family and because it's our job to do that as a family. And we have given to the world an ideal, and if we forget that ideal, we will have betrayed our patst, we will have betrayed St. Tikhon, St. Alexander Holovitsky, St. John Kcharov, the brave men who trod across this land, Sebastian Dabovich, and Bishop Rayfield, and founded the church, from shore to shore. You know, in1890, there were only two churches of the Russian Church in America. Now there is no Russian Church in America, canonically, there is only the Orthodox Church in America. With many parishes and many sister churches here.

What it all means though is that we have to understand that although the parish hall is not as important as the altar and the temple, that it is an extension of that, just as the family table in the house of an Orthodox husband and wife is an altar on which they, as priests of their household, offer sacrifices of sweat, and blood, and labor; to nourish each other, to nourish their children, and from which they give to the poor and for the support of the church, so that, gathering place there is our village. If all things were as our predecessors, the founders of this church, thought they were going to be, we would all be living in houses around here. Thank God we've got three people that have houses here. We'd all be living around here, and when the bells rang everyone would know somebody had died. And when services were going on, if the priest decided to start services a half hour early and rang the bell, you'd say, “Oh, Father got anxious,” like deacon John did this morning when they cut off the third hour. But we're not, we're scattered. And so there's no place for us to meet. It's not appropriate for us to socialize in the temple, is it? This is where we gather to work for God. This is the factory where we grind out grace, where our liturgy, our work for the people of God, is done. And that's the place where then we gather to share our love for one another, our community, our companionship, our fellowship; to mourn with those who mourn, to rejoice with those who rejoice, and to bear one anothers' burdens.

And so today, on this Fathers' Day, I, who am celebrating this for the twenty-fifth time – and it would be the twenty-sixth except I came after Fathers' Day in 1984 – this day here, I want to say to you that the vision we have here, brothers and sisters, is in a very really way the fruition of St. Tikhon's vision, of St. John Alexander's vision, of the vision of the great Sabor – the vision that was never realized in the Russian land but by God's grace may be someday – of a collection of families, of communities, of brotherhoods and sisterhoods gathered under the loving care and intelligent guidance of a patushka who is not on a power trip, to work out their salvation together for the triumph of the kingdom of God. What we have done is more than they imagined, for they imagined a community made up of Romanian, and Serbian, and Arab, and Russian, and Ukranian churches. We have created a community made up of Serbian, and Ukranian, and Russian, and Romanian, Bulgarian, Eritrean, Hispanic, African American, and just plain old Irish, and Scotch, and English Americans in one congregation, under one roof, at one altar, receiving grace from one chalice. We must never let that die. My fear is that when I fade off into the sunset, that someday somebody's going to have an idea that's going to turn this place into some kind of a rigid single nationality, ethnically exclusive, old-time, ghetto church. And that all that we have been able to accomplish will somehow or the other disappear. But you know, it's not my job to preserve it. It's not the dad's job to stay alive for 150 years to make sure his kids are good. It's his job to make sure they know what they're supposed to do so that when he's gone, they'll keep the work going.

So, to our Lord Jesus Christ, who made us one family, who tore down all the walls of dividing, who made of us from many nations one holy people acceptable to Him, a chosen generation, a royal and peculiar people, priestly before Him – to Him be glory and dominion and majesty, and may His blessing descend upon and abide with this congregation unto the consummation of the ages.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, glory to Jesus Christ!

Glory forever!

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