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.

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?

The Final Four

It seems to me that it is ironic that “March Madness” happens each year during Great Lent.  If you’re a sport’s fan, like me, you watch the progress through the brackets; always looking forward to the next weekend.  For those readers outside the U.S., what I am talking about is the basketball playoff system that is used by the college and university system here in the states.  After playing in their leagues across the land, the top sixty-four teams begin a playoff leading to four teams which are called the Final Four. During that last few days, the tension increases while the last four teams play each other until there is one winner. I think that there is a parallel with the Fast. 

We’re constantly pointing to our goal, Pascha. Each service prompts us to remember the final step, the Resurrection.  We work our way through the brackets, each Sunday of Great Lent.  At each stage there is a victory.  The victory enables us to move on to the next.  As we progress through these Sundays, we must prepare for the next level.  During the week, the Church gives us “practice opportunities;” the Pre-Sanctified Liturgies, the Akathist Hymn.  Each, in their own way, not only encourages our progress, but also supports our efforts.  Each Sunday gives us a new game strategy, with an almost ESPN-like hall of fame player featured.  Each of us is supported by a coach, our father confessor.  The final week the excitement grows and by the last few days there is real tension.  Like the march to the Final Four, it is much more satisfying if you have been involved from the very beginning of the long progression to the big finish, but you can get into it at the very end and still feel the exhilaration.  Here’s where the really moving divergence comes to pass.  Unlike the Final Four, there are no losers, when our “big week” is over.  Everyone is a winner.  We can all cheer, because this triumph is universal and eternal.

Discerning the Signs of the Times (Part 3)

The chapters we will explore today are chapters 5 and 6.  It is my opinion that the editors of this book made a slight mistake.  I believe that the order of these two chapters should be reversed.  So, I am going to discuss chapter six, first.  The topic of this chapter is Alexander Bukharev.  He was a Russian religious thinker of the nineteenth century.  Honestly, he is a reasonably unknown except to a few Russian specialists.  As Mme Behr-Sigel reveals, Bukharev’s theology has influenced many Russian theologians of this last century, the names of which, we would all recognize from the Russian émigré community of Paris.  Most of all, I believe Bukharev influence is evident when the topic of the “mystical theology” of Orthodoxy is discussed.  A child of a clergyman, a theologian, monk-priest and once again a layman, Alexander returned to the world after some years in monastic life.  In his teachings, he emphasized the parallel between the kenotic love of Christ

Rublev's Face of Christ
Rublev's Face of Christ

and being the servant of one’s neighbor in the world.  Through his life and writings, we can see a Christian who does not cloister his faith, but makes faith alive in service to humanity.  For Bukharev, a faith alive was one that had a social context to alleviate suffering in the earthly world.  As Behr-Sigel says: “Bukharev’s approach was the integral connection between this ‘mystical theology’ and the concern for a compassionate, actively creative and transforming presence in the world.”  The Monk in the City as Elisabeth titles her essay elucidates a life of service linked with a profound spiritual empting of one’s self to express the love of Christ.  This theology expresses “worship of the living God through service to others” is evocative of the life of Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

The proceeding chapter focuses on the story of Mother Maria Skobtsova (1891-1945)a spiritual inheritor of the theology of Bukharev.  Born in Latvia, her name in the world was Elisabeth Pilenko.  She became a politically active Socialist in Russia around the time of the revolution; escaping to Paris with her husband.  In Paris, she became involved with the Russian Students Movement and became friends with many of the Russian theological intelligentsia.  Sergius Bulgakov became her father confessor.  A theologian, poet and social worker she petitioned her bishop to take up the habit.  She was professed and was given the monastic name Maria.

Mother Maria of Paris
Mother Maria of Paris

She strongly wished to continue a monasticism open to the world in the manner of Alexander Bukharev.  In the 1930s she reached out to the suffering poor of Paris. A controversial socially active monasticism caused a scandal with more conservative church members, but Mother Maria endured.  With the advent of World War II, Mother Maria and her friends reached out to help Jews hide and escape Nazi persecution.  She was betrayed to the Germans and was put to death, taking the place of a young girl scheduled to die in the gas chambers.  Her martyrdom took place in the last days of the war in Ravensbruck concentration camp;   On January 18, 2004, the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul recognized Mother Maria Skobtsova as a saint along with her son Yuri, the priest who worked closely with her, Fr. Dimitri Klépinin, and her close friend and collaborator Ilya Fondaminsky. All four died in German concentration camps.  On January 18, 2004, the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul recognized Mother Maria Skobtsova as a saint along with her son Yuri, the priest who worked closely with her, Fr. Dimitri Klépinin, and her close friend and collaborator Ilya Fondaminsky.

Discerning the Signs of the Times (Part 2)

The two chapters, which we will look at today, center on two very diverse topics.  Beginning with Chapter 3, Mme Behr-Sigel discusses a lifelong passion of hers.  The title of this chapter reveals her focus, Orthodoxy and Peace.  Rightly, the beginning of this chapter deals with the liturgical aspect of peace. Even though it is not always emphasized, this should be the crux of any discussion of the theology of the Church.  I once read a statement from a well known Orthodox theologian who endured the Communist repression of the Church in the last century.  He said that Church was striped of all her riches, schools, and influence; as long as the Liturgy was served, the Church would survive.  This was the reality of persecuted Orthodoxy; liturgy is the heart of the Church and fed the soul of the faithful.  Behr-Sigel chose to begin her essay with this observation.  She points out the central place of peace within the Divine Liturgy.  The deacon begins the Great Litany asking that “peace” be the entire bearing of the participants in the liturgy.  

Peace Unto All
Peace Unto All

The priest blesses and calls for “peace for the congregants and they respond asking for his spirit to be peaceful.  Clergy exchange the Kiss of Peace.  With the exception of the personal pronouns “we and us,” peace is the single most often used word in our liturgy.  After focusing on the centrality of peace in the liturgy, Elisabeth then discusses the effect that nationalism and national identity influence the Church and its mission to strive for peace among nations.  No doubt, complex geopolitical issues affect the closely knit church-state relations in many Orthodox countries.  Behr-Sigel points out areas of concern to Orthodox peoples; Serbia (note the date of the article), Palestine, and the cooperation of Constantinople, Russia and the WCC and peace efforts.  Never the less, the increased presence of Orthodoxy in the west should help provide a catalyst for a pan-orthodox peace movement.  For further information link to the Orthodox Peace Fellowship (http://www.incommunion.org)

Chapter Four discusses a theological theme which is dear to my heart.  The topic is the concept of kenosis.(see post Standing by) The scriptural heart of this principle is not only Philippians 2, 5-7 as pointed out in the essay, but also all of salvation history. 

Extreme Humility
Extreme Humility

The kenosis of Our Lord is at the center of Orthodox theology.  God humbling Himself to take on flesh, so that He could identify with us His creation is the essence of His salvific mission in obedience to the will of the Father.  The hymns, poetry and art of the Church bear witness to this tenet.  Behr-Sigel describes the prevalence of this concept in Russian theological thought and literature.  The monastic vocation is a true reflection of this theological concept and has been since its inception in the Egyptian and Palestinian deserts.  Modern Greek theologians Zizioulas, Nellas, and Vlachos; in addition to many familiar Russian theologians have written about this aspect of Orthodox theology.  Dr. Behr-Sigel masterfully weaves the theme of kenosis and its imprint on the soul of Russia and her people.

Discerning the Signs of the Times ( Part 1)

This edition of the Friday blog will centre on the preface, the introduction and the first two chapters of this book.  In the preface, Fr. Michel Evdokimov introduces Dr. Elisabeth Behr-Sigel.  My mother, of blessed memory, was fond of reminding my sisters and me that you can always tell a person by their acquaintances and friends.  Reading the names of Mme. Elisabeth’s Orthodox friends in the Russian-French community is like reading a who’s who in twentieth century Orthodox theological circles.  The names Bulgakov, Lossky, Evdokimov and Gillet jump off the page, only to stress the rare times in Paris during the life of Elisabeth.

discerning2 Continuing this introduction to Mme. Behr-Sigel in chapter one she relates her journey to embrace the faith.  I was struck how very similar her story was to so many of our fellow Orthodox in this country.  Marriage to a member of the Church combined with study and the influence of church members all contributed to bring Dr. Behr-Sigel to Orthodoxy.  As a noted member of the academy in France, Mme. Behr-Sigel brought a wealth experiences to the Church family.  Additionally, she lived during the critical times of the two world wars and the turmoil within the Christian communities of Europe and the world as the result of the wars.  The two great issues which incited fervor in Dr. Behr-Sigel were questions that, in my opinion, remain to be fully explored and more completely resolved.  These concerns are the subject of the full participation of the royal priesthood, most especially women, in the Church and the question of how the Church responds to the challenges of modernity and its impact on the Church.  These two great trials continue to confront us as the Church.  It will be a voyage of discovery as we read this book.

I read with great personal interest the second chapter of the book.  These pages contain a reprint of an address Behr-Sigel gave at the Orthodox Theological Institute at Cambridge in 1998. The topic of Dr. Elizabeth’s lecture discussed the task of Orthodox Theological Formation.  This talk was an opportunity to once again return to the two themes which animated Behr-Sigel, the role of women in the Church and modernity and the Church.  If one reads the speech closely the call for Orthodox theological formation at a center of western learning was essential to equip future Church leaders to address issues facing us in this age.  The Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies at Cambridge (http://www.iocs.cam.ac.uk/) has provided a fertile environment for teaching theology to the lay, academic, and pan-Orthodox peoples of Great Britain for over ten years.  Ria and I have been privileged to benefit from many of the Institutes programs during our years in Britain.  The vision of Dr. Behr-Sigel, expressed in her address, that the centre at Cambridge becomes a source of teaching Orthodox Tradition has been realized.         Dn. George

The Beginning of Great Lent 2009

 AS OUR HOLY ORTHODOX CHURCH PREPARES US GREAT LENT, SHE PREPARES US FOR A JOURNEY.  SHE SPEAKS TO US CONCERNING OUR JOURNEY TO PASCHA.  THE JOURNEY WE BEGIN IS TO THE CROSS, TO THE TOMB AND TO THE GLORIOUS RESURRECTION OF OUR LORD, GOD AND SAVIOUR, JESUS CHRIST.  WE ARE REMINDED THAT WE WILL NOT MAKE THIS JOURNEY ALONE, BUT THAT WE WILL JOURNEY WITH THE LORD, AND TRAVEL WITH OUR BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN CHRIST.  PREPARING FOR THIS JOURNEY WE ARE NOT GIVEN A LIST OF THINGS TO BRING, NOR DOES THE CHURCH TELL US WHAT TO EAT OR NOT TO EAT ON THE ROAD.  HOWEVER, SHE SPEAKS DIRECTLY TO US ABOUT OUR ATTITUDES.  LENT CAN BE SUMMED UP BY THE PHRASE, “SHARING AND CARING” INSTEAD OF “DO’S OR DON’TS”.  ATTITUDES CONCERNING OUR NEIGHBOUR ARE OF THE PRIMARY IMPORTANCE DURING THIS PREPARATION FOR PASCHA.  IN OUR HEARTS, EACH OF US KNOWS THAT OUR LIVES ARE FAR FROM PERFECT.  WE REALIZE THAT WE MUST SEEK FORGIVENESS FROM GOD FOR FALLING AWAY FROM HIM, BY PUTTING HIM OUT OF FOCUS IN OUR LIVES.  WE KNOW THAT THIS FORGIVENESS IS NECESSARY FOR OUR RETURN TO HIM.  AT THE BEGINNING OF THE GREAT FAST, WE ARE TOLD THAT THE FORGIVENESS, WHICH WE SEEK FROM GOD IS CONDITIONAL.  IT IS CONTINGENT ON OUR ATTITUDES TOWARD OTHERS. ARE WE PREPARED TO SHARE OURSELVES WITH OUR NEIGHBOUR?  ARE WE PREPARED TO CARE WITH COMPASSION?  CAN WE FORGIVE OTHERS?  DO WE CARRY ANIMOSITY IN OUR HEARTS, WHILE SEEKING FORGIVENESS FOR OURSELVES?  OUR FORGIVENESS FROM GOD IS COMMENSURATE WITH THE FORGIVENESS WE OFFER THOSE WHO HAVE OFFENDED US.  THE GREAT CHRISTIAN MARTYR OF THIS LAST CENTURY, DIETRICH BONHOEFFER SUMMED UP OUR RESPONSIBILITY TO OUR FELLOW CHRISTIANS IN THIS WAY:   

Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

” IN A WORD, LIVE TOGETHER IN FORGIVENESS OF YOUR SINS, FOR WITHOUT IT NO HUMAN FELLOWSHIP CAN SURVIVE.  dON’T INSIST ON YOUR RIGHTS, DON’T BLAME EACH OTHER, DON’T JUDGE OR CONDEMN EACH OTHER, DON’T FIND FAULT WITH EACH OTHER, BUT ACCEPT EACH OTHER AS YOU ARE AND FORGIVE EACH OTHER EVERY DAY FROM THE BOTTOM OF YOUR HEARTS.”

AS WE BEGIN OUR LENTEN JOURNEY, LET US NOT BE SO CONCERNED WITH WHAT ENTERS OUR MOUTHS, AS WHAT COMES OUT OF THEM.  AS WE PROVIDE FOR OUR SPIRIT IN ADDITIONAL PRAYER AND SOUL SEARCHING.  LET US SUBDUE OUR EGOS AND OUR JUDGEMENT OF THOSE WE ENCOUNTER.  LET US TURN TO GOD IN REPENTANCE WITH HUMILITY, ONLY AFTER WE SOFTEN THE HARDNESS OF OUR OWN HEARTS AND GRANT FORGIVENESS TO THOSE CLOSE TO US.  WE MUST REACH OUT TO THOSE WHO HAVE HURT US OR OFFENDED US.  EQUALLY WE MUST GENEROUSLY ACCEPT OTHERS SEEKING OUR FORGIVENESS.  AS THE HYMNS OF VESPERS OF FORGIVENESS REVEAL:

 “REJOICING IN THE VIRTUES OF THE SPIRIT – MAY WE PERSEVERE WITH LOVE, AND SO BE COUNTED WORTHY TO SEE THE SOLEMN PASSION OF CHRIST OUR GOD, AND WITH GREAT SPIRITUAL GLADNESS TO BEHOLD HIS HOLY RESURRECTION.”

What does God want from us?

I don’t know if you ever ask this question, but as far as I’m concerned I seem to ask this question a lot! Ok, God what do you want from me? It seems that I am always asking the question without expecting an answer. Well, the Gospel for next Sunday, the Gospel of the Last Judgment (Matt 25, 31 – 46) answers this

SEPERATING SHEEP FROM GOATS
SEPERATING SHEEP FROM GOATS

question pretty specifically and without equivocation.  The entire exhortation can be boiled down to one sentence. Blessed are the merciful! It requires mercy to feed, clothe, heal, visit, give drink, or welcome. St John Chrysostom remarked in a sermon on this passage, that we take pity on a poor stray dog and feed him when we encounter him, but we are most likely to ignore our fellow human if we come upon them by the side of the road. If we care for the physical needs of our fellow man, do we ignore their more basic spiritual needs? Do we welcome strangers to Church or think about clothing them in the garment of incorruption, their baptismal garment? Do we try to feed them with spiritual food, free them from the prison of loneliness or despair? It seems that if we go down to the soup kitchen or meet people’s physical needs out the back door of the community center, we’ve done our good deed.

How can we reach out? However, we really don’t want “those kinds of people” in the pew next to us. It is easy to give a loaf of bread, but a much more difficult commitment to share the bread of life, the Holy Eucharist. The banquet of the Kingdom is the wedding feast, and the king wishes all to attend. He desires the room to be full. The servants gathered “the good and the bad” and invited them into the feast. Has the king invited you? Whom shall you bring?