Archive | November, 2014

Starting from the end

by Archpriest John Shimchick

“I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning” [Isaiah 46:9-10].

Entering New York City’s Church of Saint Nicholas for the first time on December 13, 1898, Bishop Tikhon already was thinking about how to expand the Mission: He would begin from the end. Having been greeted by the pastor, Father Alexander Hotovitzky, he stated that his personal prayer as he entered his diocese was “Thy Kingdom come,” and that “missionary work is precisely work for the coming of the Kingdom.” By starting from the end — with the proclamation of the Kingdom — Bishop Tikhon knew he was in good company, for this is how both John the Baptist and Jesus had started their own ministries and first sermons [Matthew 3:2; 4:17].

Christians are often accused of being so oriented on a future Kingdom that they miss or are disinterested in the daily needs or issues of those around them. But our focus on the Kingdom is worked out and anticipated ever more fully throughout a lifetime of daily experiences — both within our liturgical and individual communities — in which we increasingly grow in coming to “know Christ and the power of His resurrection” [Philippians 3:10] by these encounters. The Kingdom to come has already begun; it can be experienced and tasted already. It is “within” us [Luke 17:21]. It is “at hand” [Matthew 3:2; 4:17]. Our experience now is only partial and incomplete; yet, even in the world to come, we will continue to grow “from glory to glory” [2 Corinthians 3:18].

A hologram — a three-dimensional image — “allows us to view a recorded scene or object from different directions…. So even small fragments of a shattered hologram may let us see the entire scene that it records, though only from one vantage point” [National Geographic, March, 1984, pp. 366-367]. When appreciated this way, any moment of our liturgical and sacramental lives can bring us to an encounter with the whole journey, the whole story. Indicators and paths to the Kingdom are presented from the beginning of our lives in Christ, are reinforced at every place along the way, and are proclaimed in prayer once we have fallen asleep in Him. For Father Alexander Schmemann, “The Church, actualized in the sacramental mysteries, especially in the Holy Eucharist and the liturgy generally, is the experience of the world as God’s Kingdom in Christ to be fully revealed in the age to come.”

On the eighth day after birth, as part of the “Naming” Prayers, it is hoped that the child, “having lived according to Thy commandments, and having preserved the seal unbroken, may receive the blessedness of the Elect in Thy Kingdom.” We pray that the one being baptized would be “no more a child of the body, but a child of Thy Kingdom” and “a child and an heir of Thy Heavenly Kingdom” [Chrismation Prayer]. Every Divine Liturgy begins with the words, “Blessed is the Kingdom,” affirming our destination and goal — to which the congregation replies, “Amen.” At the end of the Liturgy, following the reception of Holy Communion, we pray that “we may more perfectly partake of Thee in the never-ending Day of Thy Kingdom” (a hymn from the Matins of Pascha). After removing the crowns from the couple during the celebration of the Sacrament of Matrimony, the priest prays that they will fulfill their vocations as witnesses (martyrs) and thereby receive their crowns in the Lord’s Kingdom. In the prayers offered ruing the celebration of the Sacrament of Ordination, the bishop beseeches God to enable the newly ordained priest to be “worthy to stand in innocence before Thy holy altar and proclaim the Gospel of Thy Kingdom.” One is anointed during the celebration of the Sacrament of Holy Unction for the “perfect remission of sins, and for inheritance of the heavenly Kingdom.” At the end of our lives, the community asks of Christ that we may receive “the mercies of God, the Kingdom of heaven, and the remission of sins.”

When every sacramental moment is recognized as an opening or portal to the Kingdom, then every place in which it is celebrated — whether in the most ornate and established parish or the most recent and simplest mission facility — can be the starting point for this encounter. It can likewise be received by every person at any point throughout his or her life. The proclamation of the Kingdom is offered to those who indeed hear it for the first time, as well as to those who have been made new by truly hearing it — for the first time.

I once learned of a clergyman who had grown despondent about the mediocre “success” of his ministry. After some soul-searching, he stood in front of the congregation and told them, “You need a new pastor. And I want to be your new pastor.”  The work of “expanding the Mission” involves a need for new pastors and parishioners, but with some soul-searching and recommitment of our own, we can be those people.

Archpriest John Shimchick is Rector of the Church of the Holy Cross, Medford, NJ and Editor of “Jacob’s Well.”

Expanding the Vision

by Mother Christophora

On Friday, November 21, 2014 — the Great Feast of the Entrance of the Mother of God into the Temple — we dedicated a large addition that has been added to our monastery complex, the second major addition to our nearly 50 year old monastery. With us were His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon; His Eminence, Archbishop Nathaniel of the Romanian Episcopate, our diocesan hierarch; and His Eminence, Archbishop Melchizedek of Pittsburgh. We also hosted an open house for the greater community in which we live and for our many faithful supporters and friends.

Archbishop Nathaniel was here as a young priest in 1968, when the original building and church were consecrated by the late Metropolitan Ireney, Bishop Valerian and other hierarchs and clergy representing various Orthodox jurisdictions in America. One thousand faithful attended the consecration, along with the Abbess of the Monastery of the Veil, Bussy, France, and our beloved and venerable monastery foundress, Mother Alexandra. It was her vision to found a Pan-Orthodox women’s monastery, with services in English, where all would be welcome and feel at home.

Mother Alexandra wanted to feed the spiritually thirsty land of America with the ancient, spiritually rich, Orthodox Christianity. She envisioned people coming to our monastery to refresh themselves in their dry and mundane lives. She also envisioned a monastic community of Orthodox women from all ethnic backgrounds who would come to dedicate their lives to our Savior.

The monastic community has grown slowly, and only with God’s help. Although many have come to try this life, and live it for a time, only a certain number have been able to make full vows and live here permanently. As Mother used to say, “They comes and they goes, but mostly they goes!” Still, the monastic community of nine is rooted, strong and very dedicated. The sisters welcome guests, pilgrims and strangers daily. The doorbell rings, and a nun goes to greet the persons sent by God. The phone rings with prayer requests, a need for assistance or a need for someone to listen. And the ever-available Internet, something never envisioned by our founders, brings persons to us for intercession, information, interest or curiosity.

There is no doubt in my mind that the vision of our foundress has certainly been realized. And she was a woman with vision. She was gifted and dedicated. She was a woman who stopped at nothing — whether it was nursing wounded solders during World War II in Austria and Romania, founding a charitable hospital in the poor countryside near her Romanian castle, working to put her six children through college in America after she became an exile, entering a monastery in France at the age of 52, founding a monastery in America when not even Orthodox Christians knew that we Orthodox have nuns, or visiting her beloved Romania after the fall of communism in order start a organization to care for the many babies in orphanages suffering from AIDS.

Could this woman of vision have foreseen the future of America? Could she have seen the coming need for persons who know Truth, to stand for it? Could she have seen the moral decay and confusion that is ours today? Could she have seen the limitless number of paths of spiritual destruction that would tempt our youth? Did she see the coming persecution of Christians, subtle and overt, that is now present world-wide?

Mother Alexandra left us her vision, and she made her mark. It is for us to expand the vision — to be bold in a society that avoids naming right from wrong, and yet to love with the love of Christ, welcoming all who come to our door and showing kindness and generosity in physical as well as emotional and spiritual ways. And it is for us to be witnesses of Christ’s teaching, love and mercy until He comes again in all His glory.

Day by day, it can feel fruitless and tiring. But it is God Who is at work, while we serve as His instruments. To serve in this way, we must be faithful to the daily prayer and liturgical cycle, repenting of our sins and persevering in our personal struggles and keeping ascetic discipline by fasting from certain foods, as well as from the many temptations and distractions around us. And we must reach out to those in need and share all that God has given to us.

God will send Whom He pleases to our door. May we always be here to receive them.

Mother Christophora is the Abbess of the Orthodox Monastery of the Transfiguration, Ellwood City, PA.

The Scrutiny of Heaven

by Archpriest Lawrence Farley

The theme of the first All-American Sobor of our Church was “How to Expand the Mission,” and this is significant, for the fathers of that gathering identified their Church as “the Mission.” Our Church in North America is thus a missionary Church, with the missionary impulse written into our ecclesiastical DNA. Those setting the theme of that first Sobor knew this. We forget this today at our peril. We sometimes act as if our survival in this country is a “given,” and that because Christ promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church, Orthodoxy in North America is somehow immune to decline or eventual obliteration. It is not so. When the church in Ephesus proved unfaithful and disobedient to Christ, He threatened that He would “remove their lampstand from its place” unless they repented (Revelations 2:5). It is not beyond the realm of possibility that the Orthodox Church in North America could suffer a similar fate if it embarked and continued on a similar track did as the Church in Ephesus. After all, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8)—both in faithfulness and in judgment. So, the question remains now as it did for our forefathers at the first All-American Sobor: How can we expand our mission in faithful obedience to Jesus Christ? I suggest that a list of faithful duties should include four things.

First, we must preach Christ. This may seem too obvious to need stating, as some may ask, “What else would we preach?” Actually, sometimes we preach ourselves. Of course we call it “Orthodoxy” and not “ourselves,” but it is really ourselves that we are preaching. That is, we all too often give the impression that our message is about becoming Orthodox, and joining the true Church. We talk about the glory of our icons, the beauty of our Liturgy, the long pedigree of our history, the richness of our theology. The glory, the beauty, the pedigree, and the richness are all wonderful, but they do not constitute our central message to the world. Our main message is not “join us because we’re so wonderful,” but “come to Christ because He is Lord.” Obviously coming to Christ as Lord involves joining His Body, the Church, but joining the Orthodox Church is not the Gospel itself, but the way of responding to the Gospel. As Saint Paul reminded us, the trumpet must sound a clear note to be heeded (1 Corinthians 14:8), and the note our Orthodox Gospel trumpet must sound is about the necessity of living in repentant commitment to Jesus Christ. “We preach not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord” (2 Corinthians 4:5). We must preach Christ so relentlessly that when outsiders hear the words “the Orthodox Church,” they instinctively think not of “icons and brocade,” but of “repentance and commitment to Jesus.”

Secondly, we must worship with an eye towards our youth. The Church must evangelize or die, since it always lives its life on the precipice of mortality. That is, we are all going to die after about seventy or eighty years of life, and if we do not convert our children and our grandchildren to the Faith during that time, then the Church will be extinct in about two or three generations. Evangelism is often thought of in terms of outsiders, but it includes us insiders as well. A quick look around at the people in the pews will reveal that not all churches have retained their children, to the point where some churches consist primarily of the elderly. That is what the oft-quoted proverb, “Children are the future of the Church” means—we must convert and retain our children for the Kingdom of God, or our churches will eventually close (or, worse yet, be converted into museums). How do we keep our children in the Faith? I don’t know of any sure-fire way to guarantee that our children will remain faithful, but we can at least not make the way more difficult for them by worshipping in languages they do not understand. That is, our liturgical worship should be in a vernacular language, such as one the children speak at school and which comes to them as they watch television. That is the language in which the church should liturgize, though of course using the most elegant and stately version of that language possible. We sometimes face the temptation to liturgize long-term in a language other than the vernacular, in order to appeal to the immigrant population of Orthodox coming to us from abroad. That will pay immediate dividends in terms of making them feel welcome, but it builds in a longer-term problem when it comes to keeping the youth. The question must be squarely faced: Is the Church’s survival here ultimately dependent upon evangelization or immigration? Obviously we must utilize both in some way, but a Church like ours which aspires to be the indigenous Orthodox church of North America must give priority to one or the other. If we choose to give priority to the former, then we must make the vernacular the main language of our liturgical worship.

Thirdly, we must keep the Faith which was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). The perennial temptation is to alter and water down the Faith so that it conforms more closely to the world’s ever-changing canons —or, in more Scriptural language, to let the world squeeze us into its mold (Romans 12:2 Phillips). Our generation, as with every generation, faces its own temptations to conform to the moral fashions of the day. Altering the Church’s traditional Faith to conform more closely to the world around us might gather popularity in the world’s eyes, but it is not the scrutiny of the world with which we are ultimately concerned, but the scrutiny of Heaven. A number of denominations in North America have already changed their belief and praxis to conform more closely to the world, but this seems not to have resulted in the secular masses stampeding into their emptying pews. Rather, the faith-groups which seem to be growing are precisely the ones which demand the most from their adherents and which differentiate themselves most radically from the secular world around them. Nonetheless, our fidelity to our apostolic Tradition should not be motivated simply from a desire to avoid the numerical decline afflicting others, but from a desire to please the Lord and remain faithful to the Scriptures. We should settle it in our minds in advance: If we remain faithful to our apostolic Tradition in our public preaching, a number of people will be very vocally upset with us. They will accuse us of being judgmental and uncompassionate, write angry letters, and denounce us. But we may take comfort in something Dorothy Sayers once said (in her essay “The Dogma is the Drama”): “It is not the business of the Church to adapt Christ to men, but to adapt men to Christ.” This remains true, even though there are those who resist being thus adapted. Proclaiming the truth always is divisive and it always upsets certain people. Bearing this with serenity is the cost of our being faithful in a dark age; it is what carrying the cross is all about.

Lastly, our Church communities must become islands of welcoming love and mutual support, shining like lights in the world, filled with the children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation (Philippians 2:15). The world is a hard and unforgiving place, and the human heart accumulates many knocks and wounds from it in very short order. Our parishes should present an alternative to the way of the world, and be seen as places where everyone may come, and repent, and find a safe home and a loving family. The Lord told us this long ago: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). Too often are our parishes are simply gatherings of religious people who are really not that much different from anyone else. We need to repent, and become communities of acceptance, radiating a love which makes us different from anything found anywhere else in the world. Religiosity is easy to resist. Resisting love is much harder.

All Christians of the traditional sort in North America will face challenging days in the coming decades, and will have to endure a kind of internal exile, increasingly banished from society’s mainstream. That is fine, and represents a new kind of opportunity. It was difficult to do mission work and convert people to Christ in a day when most equated being a Christian with being “nice.” Hardly anyone makes that equation any more. The time of Christianity’s ascendency and privilege in North America is over. The time for real mission work has begun.

Archpriest Lawrence Farley is Rector St. Herman of Alaska Church, Langley, British Columbia.

Putting the Inner Spiritual Life First

by Archimandrite Sergius [Bowyer]

To impact the world in which we live, the Church reminds us that in order to change our world, we must work on changing ourselves. Christ needs to come to dwell in us in a real and tangible way if we are to reach out to a thirsty, dying world. Saint Dorotheus tells us that the spiritual work we do on ourselves is a silent work on our neighbors. Consequently, our focus must be our inner life: deeply devoted and committed personal prayer, frequent confession and Communion, pain staking repentance, attending worship services and living a Eucharistic life, doing inward works of mercy, etc. These may seem selfish to some, but the reality is that our inner life and disposition qualify what we do outwardly.

Therefore we are not to refrain from all the normal “outward” religious activities, nor are we to disdain them. However, we do prioritize putting the inner spiritual life first, and then the good outward works become a manifestation of inward spiritual growth and vitality. We may be become barren and joyless if we constantly give to others without a deep commitment to a life of personal and corporate prayer which centers our life and hope on the Eucharist and our time with the Lord alone. Saint Silouan tells us that the principle way we show our love for God is in our life of prayer, for prayer is a matter of love.

If we really wish to expand our Orthodox mission, we must work with all our energy to continue to evangelize and re-evangelize ourselves, studying and praying to make the mind of the Church our own, seeking God deep in our own hearts, “for the kingdom of God is within you.” It is only when we focus on this inner existence of the heart that we will have real life from Christ to offer to the dying world, remembering all the while that we cannot give what we do not have.

Archimandrite Sergius is the Abbot of Saint Tikhon’s Monastery, South Canaan, PA.

Archbishop Platon: The Orthodox Vocation in America

by Archpriest Andrew Morbey

“I shall endeavor to instruct the pastors that they should teach their flocks in such a way, that people of other creeds, seeing our faith and good conduct, should praise our Father, Who is in heaven” [Metropolitan Platon].

Several months after the Mayfield Sobor in 1907, Archbishop Platon arrived in New York to replace Archbishop Tikhon. He gave his first sermon on September 22 of that year at Saint Nicholas Cathedral in New York City. His theme on this occasion was that the presence of Orthodoxy in North America provided an opportunity for the growth of the Church and its message of salvation. He said, “our concern is to announce salvation and eternal life, and we must announce it not only in word but in our conduct. We must show ourselves and continue to show ourselves to the world, Orthodox Christians not in name only but in reality…. It is time for us to show our Orthodoxy, with all directness and sincerity, in this America of many creeds.”

Metropolitan Platon noted that “the greatest majority of Americans have not the slightest idea of our Orthodoxy,” adding that this lack of knowledge need not actually be an impediment to Orthodox witness. Rather, it simply means that the time is ripe: “Time itself demands of us, that the power and crystal purity of Orthodoxy should be manifested to the world.” The Orthodox can present a witness to the Orthodox faith on the basis of the faith itself, not compromised by pre-conceptions of Orthodoxy.

He also noted the consumerism of American society, which might well be considered an impediment to the Orthodox Christian witness: “But will the people of this country, so proud of their material success, listen to us?” But even if the American predisposition towards materialism may pose a problem for evangelization, “whether or not they listen to us is their concern;” our concern is to be faithful to the Orthodox faith, to be living witnesses, to manifest “the power and justice of our Orthodox faith” – not only rhetorically “but in practical terms.” The allures of American life are strong, but like the Holy Martyrs who “preferred death to this life for the sake of their faith,” the Orthodox in America must “consider this life as nothing compared to our faith.” In other words, the opportunity for Orthodox America poses the question of ultimate loyalties. Our ultimate loyalty is to the Orthodox faith, not to America and not to other cultural heritages.

Archbishop Platon was not afraid of the denominational pluralism of America. He accepted that this was the reality of the new world. He envisioned Christians of all sorts finding common purpose in confronting “the world of atheism and unbelief” that “has nowadays risen against Christianity.” This can take place because the faith of others, from an Orthodox point of view, is not a faith half empty but a faith half full. All that is true in the various denominational confessions is true because all truths participate in the truth to be found in Orthodoxy. Those who harbor animosity against Orthodoxy ought to realize this. Orthodoxy is not their enemy. Such Christians should put away enmity and anger. And so too should the Orthodox. He says, “when will they realize the truth that alien creeds are also joined to Orthodoxy by their wholesome side?” This is a spiritually fruitful approach to the reality of pluralism, grounded in practical virtue. “Let us be friendly and kind toward one another, let us be considerate in our personal intercourse.” This can be done without compromise, without subverting our faith. “But in all that touches our faith, let us stand only on the ground of historic truth.”

In order to seize the God-ordained, providential opportunity of Orthodoxy in North America, to grow and to spread the Orthodox faith, it is necessary that Orthodox believers have themselves an intentional, active faith. As they assimilate in American society, they ought not compromise that faith; rather, “let us fill the demands of our Orthodoxy and firmly hold to it.” Archbishop Platon said that he would make it his first priority to instruct all the parish clergy to make sure that, while they encourage the faithful to be steadfast, they should do so in such a way that is not simply reactionary, but open to rich opportunities for Orthodox witness, “that people of other creeds, seeing our faith and good conduct, should praise our Father, Who is in heaven.”

Archpriest Andrew Morbey is Dean of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Minneapolis, MN.

Registration open for 18th AAC youth program volunteers

AllAmLOGOAdult volunteers are now being sought to assist with the youth program during the 18th All-American Council of the Orthodox Church in America, slated to convene in Atlanta, GA July 20-24, 2015.

All volunteers must register here.

All volunteers will be expected to complete a three-stage review process before their participation can be confirmed. The first step is to apply at the above link. Youth Program Coordinators will examine applications. All references will be checked and, upon acceptance, applicants will complete the second stage, which will entail completing an OCA-funded training program on youth protection and a detailed background check. After this stage is completed, volunteers will be interviewed by the Youth Program Coordinators. Volunteers who successfully pass these stages will be informed of their acceptance.

Volunteers will be expected to pay their own travel and hotel expenses.

The deadline for volunteer registration is March 20, 2105. The number of volunteers is limited, so early application is encouraged.

Questions and/or requests for additional information should be addressed to Priest Benjamin Tucci, AAC Youth Program Coordinator, at