IV Pre-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference

Representatives of the Local Orthodox Churches were called to meet by his All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. They met the 6th – 12th June 2009 at the Orthodox Centre of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Chambésy, Geneva, Switzerland to discuss one topic, the Orthodox Churches of the Diaspora. We are the Diaspora.  The definition of what the “Diaspora” can be found below (see the underlined text) in the portions of the communiqué that was issued at the conference. The reason that this whole process has started is because our Church structure is, quite frankly, uncanonical.  Why you ask?  Well, the canons of the Church state: that there is One Orthodox Bishop in a city for all Orthodox in that geographical area.  Here in the States, for example, you can have a Greek Orthodox bishop, an Antiochian Orthodox bishop, an OCA bishop, a Serbian bishop and more in the same city. THIS IS NOT THE WAY THE SYSTEM WAS DESIGNED.  Our history is quite complex and the reality is that the Orthodox in America, Western Europe and Australia are organised ethnically.  This is not an acceptable situation.  His All Holiness and the other Church leaders realise this and are starting to begin a process that will remedy this situation. The representatives met under the president-ship of Metropolitan John of Pergamon,

Metropolitan John

Metropolitan John of Pergamon

who was appointed by the Patriarch. This is part of their statement.

“The Conference expressed the willingness of Orthodox Churches to solve the problem of the canonical organisation of the Orthodox Diaspora, conforming to ecclesiology, tradition and canonical practice of the Orthodox Church. The Conference decided to create new episcopal assemblies in some regions of the world to order the question of the Diaspora, i.e. the Orthodox faithful installed in areas beyond The traditional boundaries of the local Orthodox Churches. The presidents of the Assemblies are bishops of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the given region, and in their absence, the bishops in accordance with the order of the Diptichs of the Churches. All the bishops of the Orthodox Churches who exercise their pastoral ministry in the communities existing in each of these regions are members of these Assemblies. The Episcopal Assemblies are for the mission to manifest and promote the unity of the Orthodox Church, to exercise pastoral diakonia to the faithful of the region and to render to the world their common witness. The decisions of the Episcopal Assemblies are taken in accordance with the principle of unanimity of the Churches represented within these Assemblies by bishops.

…The remaining topics of the holy and great Council, i.e. the method of proclaiming of autocephaly and autonomy, and the order of Diptichs, will be discussed in future meetings of the preparatory inter-orthodox commission and will be submitted for approval to the following Pre-conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conferences.”

These representative will meet again, in the mean time we PRAY!

Who are our friends?

Last February, I wrote on this same subject, but his coming Sunday the Church commemorates two feasts that interest me enough so that I will discuss it once more. The first feast is All Saints Sunday.  In our lectionary and movable calendar, All Saints is always the Sunday after Pentecost.  The Western churches mark this feast on the day before Halloween.  Honestly, the connection has become lost in all the Halloween nonsense. Don’t get me wrong, I love Halloween for toddlers and pre-school children…they’re really cute all dressed up, but after that it goes down hill fast.  The whole thing has lost its dimension.  Never mind that now, All Saint’s Sunday has been set aside to commemorate all people enlightened by the Holy Spirit.  The beauty of this feast day is that the Church remembers those souls who are unrecognised saints.  What? Those persons who we do not recognise as saints, but who have known God and whom he knows.  This group of people has lived in all times and places, and has reflected Christ in their lives. Each of us have known such people of faith and have said to ourselves: “He/she is a real saint.”  Well, the Church sets a side this Sunday to commemorate them. Don’t think the rest of the year these people are forgotten. At every liturgy, immediately after the consecration ,the celebrant prays for a group of saints who have been ‘well-pleasing to God’. Each function they have provided the Church is listed from ancestors, to apostles, to teachers, the last phrase spoken is “every righteous spirit made perfect in faith.”  Again, we are called to understand that we can’t recognise everyone who is righteous, only God has this insight.  This Sunday we take time to acknowledge our own limited perceptions.

St. Methodios, Patriarch of Constantinople

The second commemoration we observe this Sunday is taken from the fixed calendar book of the months.  The Menaion for June 14 celebrates St. Elijah the prophet and St. Methodios I, Patriarch of Constantinople.   Methodios is someone extremely special to me.  You see, he was the subject of my doctoral studies.  I spent time getting to know Saint Methodios.  I could go on for many pages about this saint of the Church.  Reading my book (See link below) I would like to point out that Patriarch Methodios started out as a complete stranger, but the real man came to life as I studied him.  I understood his humanity, moreover I became aware of his sanctity and the contribution he made to the Church. Each of us need to know a saint, really know him or her. They are more than names on a calendar or a figures in an icon, they are people who struggled and overcame their humanity to become a reflection of Christ.  Holy Saints of God Pray for Us!

Great and Holy Council

Last Sunday, we commemorated the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council who met in Niceae in the early fourth century (325 AD).  When I got home I started to think about why we haven’t had an ecumenical council since the eighth century.  Historically, we should review some facts about all the councils.  All these gatherings had some common denominators.

The Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council

The Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council
  • The were never called as “ecumenical” councils.
  • They were later recognised as such.
  • They were called to decide specific questions, which had arisen and troubled the Church.
  • These included : “Who was Jesus?”  and “What is the nature of the Holy Trinity”?
  • They also settled issues that were derived from the above questions such as: “Who was Mary?”
  • They were convened by Imperial Decree.

OK, what is the hold up, it’s been since 787AD. Haven’t we had burning issues in the Church since the eighth century? What about the Great Schism?  Didn’t this issue warrant a great conclave to settle the dispute? It seems to me (just personal speculation) that two related reasons may have disturbed the accustomed polity of the Church.  One was the person and influence of the imperial house. Namely, the emperor who, following the example of St. Constantine, always convened the councils.  What happened after the eighth century was Islam.  The Byzantine Empire was confronted by the peril of Islam and the Church’s regular relationships between all the five ancient patriarchates was disturbed.  Later, the emperor was literally fighting for the life of the empire. We all know about the estrangement of the western church through political issues and ego. Then came the crusades and the relationships between the East and West deteriorated.  There were several attempted councils of “reunion”; but they were, quite frankly, coerced in the face of the eminent fall of Constantinople and the Islamic threats. The works of St. Mark Eugenics detail the difficulties for the Orthodox at Council of Ferrara-Florence in the mid 15th century. Then came the times of captivity, both the Ottoman and the Communist eras.

Now times have changed, but one thing that has not changed is the great need for the Church to come together and discuss things that need attention.  I, for one applaud, His All Holiness for moving in the direction of calling a great council of the Church.  Let’s not be so cynical by immediately thinking of “evil agendas” and “egos”.  This week as we prepare for Pentecost, don’t we, as Orthodox Christians, still believe that the Holy Spirit lives in the Church? The council will convene and the Spirit will assure the outcome, not the machinations of politics and human desires. What should you and I do to guarantee the outcome?  PRAY, start from now and fervently pray for the council.   Then and only then can we as the faithful influence the conclave.

Now that I found it what do I do with it?

Today is the feast day of Sts. Constantine and Eleni.  I was thinking about the event that we relate with St. Eleni (I like this better than Helen).  St. Eleni is remembered for not only being the mother of the Emperor Constantine, but in British folklore she is thought to be the spouse of “Old King Cole.”  That’s right the same King Cole as in the nursery rhyme.  Well, that shows you how much useless dribble fills my mind.  Back to the subject at hand, we remember St. Eleni because her search for and discovery of The True Cross of Christ.

The True Cross   The True Cross

 We all know the account of her discovering a mound with sweet basil growing among the weeds and stones of Golgotha, digging and uncovering several old crosses.  Subsequently, to determine the True Life-giving Cross from the crosses of the thieves she had a corpse placed on the wood. The dead person was brought back to life when he was placed on the True Cross. The recounting of this tale caused me to ponder a very significant point.  It occurred to me that at one time or another in our life’s journey we all lose faith. Perhaps, it is a great disappointment, or the death of someone we love, an illness, depression or a myriad of other reasons. We just lose it.  If we are fortunate to find our way again, either by struggle, the help of a friend, time’s healing passage or by the guidance of a spiritual guide, then we are faced with an ultimate decision.   Now that I found it what do I do with it?  St. Eleni can be a guide to our future  action.  What did she do?  What she didn’t do was sit back on her laurels and just take the “applause” of the assembled throngs, the people and her son.  She did what we all should do!  She put her faith into action.  She built churches all over the Holy Lands.  What can we do when we discover or rediscover our faith?  When we join Christ and His Body as a result of our embracing the faith or returning to the fold, our ultimate choice is what to do now.  The example of St. Eleni is – do something with your faith.  Let it light a fire in our heart and inspire us to put our faith to work. Feed the hungry, teach the uninformed, visit the sick, help the helpless, comfort the downhearted, be there for someone, reach out and encourage the timid.  The bottom-line is to become Christ to someone and make your faith a living faith!

 

 

Enlightenment

We remember the Samaritan woman on the fourth Sunday after Pascha and on February 26 each year.  The Holy Gospel has not given us the name of the Samaritan woman, but the Tradition of the Church remembers, and calls her in Greek – Photini, in Russian – Svetlana, in the Celtic languages – Fiona, in Western languages – Claire, all these names speak to us of one thing – of light.  Again light, we spoke of light only two weeks ago! There is not a mention of light in the Gospel story of the Samaritan woman but, the light is there in the person of Our Lord. As in many encounters with Jesus, there is light or rather enlightenment.

St. Photini and XC 

       St. Photini and XC

The Apolitikion for St. Photini begins with these words, “All illumined by the Holy Spirit…,” once again, light. The constant mention of this phenomenon should cause us to stop and wonder. In this meeting with Jesus, the woman at the well gained insight into her own life and into salvation history.  Enlightenment can be defined as: the action or state of attaining or having attained spiritual knowledge or insight.  OK, what insight did she gain.  She understood the relationship of Jews and Samaritans.  She knew she was living with this guy who wasn’t her husband. She well knew her marriage history.  What is left?  It seems to me that Photini still had doubts as to Jesus’ identity. We read her question to the city dwellers, “Can this be the Christ?” She did peak the people’s interest so that they went out to meet Jesus.  After they came face to face with him and listened to him they believed.

 The tradition of the Church tells us that Photini and her family were present at Pentecost. We read that St. Peter addressed the crowd by saying,”Repent and by baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2, 38) Her enlightenment was linked to her baptism, which the Church refers to as illumination.  She sought forgiveness for a life away from God. This was a process beginning with her meeting with Jesus and His coming into her life and her receiving the Holy Spirit, her empowerment at Pentecost. She was on fire with Christ, but the flame had to be nurtured and fanned from a spark lit by the Light and the warmth of the Holy Spirit.

Paralyzed

This week our Church commemorates the Sunday of the Paralytic.  The Gospel reading is taken from St. John 5, 1 – 15.  One thing struck me after I read this passage.  Aren’t all of us paralyzed in one way or the other?  The young man in the Gospel account was physically impaired for many years, but he never gave up on the possibility of being healed.  He waited by the pool for thirty-eight years for his deliverance.

Christ and the Paralytic

Christ and the Paralytic

Many of us who are paralyzed spiritually, emotionally or psychologically sit by the side of life.  There may be limitations to our understanding, we may not be able to move past a scar on our heart, perhaps we cannot forgive some hurt we have experienced.  Do we live our life trying to be healed or trying to ignore our malady?  The question that Christ asked the young man is very pertinent to our own circumstances or powerlessness, “Do you want to be healed?”  At first, the obvious response would be an indignant, “of course,” but many of us wear our debilitation as a badge of identity.  Not too many weeks ago, we were anointed with the sacrament Holy Unction.  While we were being anointed, the invocation reminded us that Christ is the physician of our souls and bodies. Souls and bodies, we are told that the young man needed physical healing. Nonetheless, waiting next to the pool for thirty-eight years to be healed must have left emotional scars on the young man. As we analyze all the miracles of Christ, He heals each person whom He encounters; provided that the person turns him in faith.  The healing always restores the person to wholeness.  So, it is understood that all aspects of this paralyzed man was healed.

Turning to Christ in faith is not a magic formula.  Wholeness involves the restoration of our spirit. This restoration may impart to us the capacity to recognize our paralysis, to understand its cause and to start on a path to wellness.  Its possible physical limitations remain with us to illumine our heart to overcome the deeper emotional weakness. The healing of Christ is a mystery as is the opportunity to witness His love in our life.  Our witness, like the young man’s in the temple, is the acknowledgement that God is working to transform our heart.

Light

 

It’s funny how much the theme of light comes up during Great Lent and Holy Week. I was looking at an icon just a few days ago. The icon was in a dark corner with a vigil light placed in front of it and the light danced on the image making the image shimmer. The effect  

vigil-light
  catalyzed my thinking about light.  In modern times most of us, who are urban dwellers, really don’t understand darkness. The ambient light somehow prevents us from experiencing true darkness. Since it is difficult to experience true darkness, can we really understand the power of light? Many times you read or better still, speak to someone about their experience of the Easter Vigil, the first thing they mention is the light and how it seems to come rolling through the Church at ‘Come Receive the Light.’ 
The dictionary on my computer defines light in two ways. First, it gives a very precise definition of the physics of light, photons, electromagnetic waves and energy quanta; then it uses this phrase to describe light for the rest of us “the natural agent that stimulates sight and makes things visible”. It was this definition that I’d like to explore theologically, stimulating sight and making things visible, in what way? In the Pre-Sanctified Liturgy, celebrated during Great Lent, the phrase we hear is “The Light of Christ”. It occurs to me that there is a lens by which we should filter the light we see…Christ! If our light is seen through this lens then how should we perceive it? But, Christ doesn’t say: “I am the lens” he says; “I am the LIght.” He is the source of what is visible, but what are the implications of being the source of the visible? We should define our world by His perception not our own. We see in icons and hear in hymns that Christ shatters the darkness. Does he shatter our darkness? Do we allow His Light to illumine our heart and mind? St. John states quite succinctly in the Gospel reading read during the Paschal Liturgy, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1, 5). The most difficult surrender is the surrender of our fears. These fears are our greatest darkness.  

Christ is Risen!   

Christ is Risen!
Christ stands ready to be the Light in our darkness. Our task is to permit the Light to enter, to roll back the great stone of our own tomb to let the power of the Light penetrate our private darkness.
The Light has overcome the darkness.

Pascha 2009

 

PASCHA  2009

 

Christ is Risen!!

 

 

 

I APOLOGIZE FOR NOT POSTING A BLOG LAST WEEK.  UNFORTUNATELY, MY COMPUTER DIED DURING HOLY WEEK.  I  AM WORKING ON THE PROBLEM.  GOD BLESS YOU ALL!  

Dn. George

Discerning the Signs of the Times (part 4)

Chapters 7 and 8 of Behr-Sigel’s essays centre on the central theme of Mme. Sigel’s life, the issue of women and men in the Church.  As these chapters are read, it must be pointed out that the essays were written for the most part in the 1980’s and 1990’s.  The reason I call this to the mind of readers is that at that time this topic was being encouraged by the general trends in ecumenical and theological scenes world-wide.  Unfortunately, the extension of this movement, a more significant role for women in the Church, led to a relativism that opened the door for the current and more difficult issue within the contemporary ecumenical setting.  The newest difficulty for the Orthodox is the problem of the role of practicing homosexuals, be it their “marriage” or ordination.

Female saints

Some Women Saints of the Church

The injustice is that this current development has pushed aside the valid concern of the role of women.  This issue is a topic that must be faced with thoughtful study and consideration.  Behr-Sigel introduces her approach to this topic with a discussion of the question of Holy Tradition vs. common tradition.  This inquiry is tantamount to the consideration of the conversation about women and the Church.  What is true Tradition and what is custom?  Our Church is a Church of Living Tradition; from this Holy Deposit of truth springs all the teachings of the Church.  The Bible, the dogmas, the teachings of the Holy Fathers and Mothers of our life as a people of God are all part of Holy Tradition.  This Tradition is the sinew of faith.  In addition, the life of the Church in history develops traditions with a little “t” which are the practices and customs which acculturate the Church in a time and place.  There are times that these two traditions are confused.  They are not only confused, but in an attempt to preserve essential Tradition, everything is zealously preserved even the non-essential. What is the true authority by which the Church is regulated?  Within these two traditions, the ferment and question of the role of women becomes entangled.  Did we not have women deaconesses within the Holy Tradition of our Church?   Did we not see their diminished manifestation in the tradition (little t)?  The Church of today must grapple with this question.  Behr-Sigel asks the difficult questions, while witnessing to the process by which the Church is using to deal with these matters.The theological foundation which forms the backdrop of this conversation is the subject matter of the next few chapters.

The beginning point is, of course, the example of Jesus and His relationship with women.  The essay points out correctly Our Lord dealt with the person, not with groups.  He encountered individual humans, not men or women, not colours or nationalities, nothing but a personal encounter with God was the reality of coming face to face with the Messiah.  Behr-Sigel rightly calls to our attention that Jesus shattered the “tradition” of His time concerning with whom he “should” associate.  Women, tax collectors, adulterers, prostitutes, Samaritans, lepers, those possessed by demons; none were taboo for the touch of the Master. These examples are telling us what is important is the person relationship with Christ, the encounter not the convention of society.  Is this example borne out in the life of Church?  What is the Tradition and what is tradition?

Silence

This last Friday, I did not place my accustomed posting on this blog.  Ria and I were in Houston for the forty day blessing of our newest grandson, Peter.  It was a great honour for us to be present as a new child of God made his entrance into the temple of Our Lord.  I hope you all excuse me for being a proud Papou and skipping the last entry.  I promise to make it up, as this conversation continues.

LazarusToday, I would like to talk about silence.  As I was growing up, my parents always referred to the Friday before the Saturday of Lazarus – as the “Silence (oi koufi)”.  I always thought this was because the Akathist had finished and there wasn’t a service that night.  Ok, there was silence.  Now, I look at this a bit more deeply.  If you remember a few years ago, there was this movement to help young people make better decisions by using the question, “What would Jesus do?”  As I recall, there were even little rubber bracelets with the letters “WWJD” on them. In this case this is the question that should be asked.  The Gospel reading of the Raising of Lazarus, (John 11, 1 – 45) begins with Jesus apparently hesitating to go to his friend’s aid.  Well, this supposed hesitation had a real purpose, for all to see the glory of God.  How was this to be accomplished?  Our Lord seemingly was blasé about Lazarus’s illness and rushing to his side.  After staying put for two days, Jesus prepared to go to Bethany informing His disciples that Lazarus was dead. As Jesus encountered Martha and Mary, they expressed thoughts that we all feel at sometime, “if only.”  They were sure that if only Jesus had been there Lazarus wouldn’t have died, but Jesus was silent and missing.  For us to truly understand Jesus’ hesitation, we need to know a bit about the Jewish teaching concerning death.  At day four, in the Jewish understanding, the soul left the body in other words the body was a cadaver, a corpse. So if Lazarus was a corpse, Jesus did not simply resuscitate him.  As Jesus called forth Lazarus and Lazarus walked out of his tomb Christ created life from dead matter.  The Creator God bestowed life on Lazarus.  Christ is God and the silence of Lazarus’ tomb was shattered. To the assembled crowd this silence was deafening.