Saturday, February 14, 2009

"I Desire Oversight Over My Own Heart"

A great deal has taken place in our Church world in the six months since I last posted. I'll make note of a few moments that have had special significance for me.

On September 7, 2008, Archimandrite Theodosius (Ivashchenko) was consecrated Bishop of Seattle.
He began the address following his nomination with these words:
After the resolution of the Council of Bishops of the Russian Church Abroad concerning my election as candidate for the episcopal ministry, the first things that occurred to me were the words of the holy and righteous Job the Much-suffering: that which I feared, the same hath overtaken me (Job 3:25).

Having nothing wherein to boast save my infirmities alone, how will I bear the responsibility I will now receive from you? At this time, my soul is seized with great trepidation. This state is like that which I experienced twenty years ago, when I received the monastic tonsure in the cradle of Orthodoxy, the Far Caves of the Lavra of the Caves of Kiev. I studied much while I was within the walls of that ancient monastery of Holy Russia, one of the estates of the Mother of God. The clergy and elders of the Lavra, who had survived persecutions and the liquidation of the monastery, served as its living chronicle. The accounts they related confirmed me in my faith, and their wounds bore witness to their struggles and the recent era of persecutions.

I am also grateful to the Kiev Theological Seminary, which opened at that time on the grounds of the monastery, and where, through the efforts of the instructors, the seed of the divine Truth was sown in our souls.

I desired to serve the Lord in that place, to which He had called me. But while our intention suggests one thing, life determines otherwise. Well did Bishop Barnabas (Belyaev), one of the blessed hierarchs of our Church who struggled in the last century, say: "Man chooses the path, but the Lord directs his steps."

And so, even though I envisioned this path of service to the Lord, He set for me one such as is described by St John of the Ladder: "I desire ovesight [episcopacy] over my own heart" (Discourse 28:51).
On December 5, 2008, His All-Holiness, Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia, reposed in the Lord.His Eminence, Metropolitan Hilarion of Eastern America and New York, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, wrote the following heartfelt message of condolence following the Patriarch's repose:
It was with heartfelt pain that I learned of the repose of His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia, and on behalf of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, I express our condolences to the Holy Synod, my brother archpastors, reverend fathers, brethren, sisters and children of the Russian Orthodox Church.

In truth, as St Symeon the New Theologian, says, “The beginning of life is the end, the end, the beginning, and I know not whence I come, where I am, I know not where I will go tomorrow.” Such is the lot of each mortal. And now, in our common funereal prayers, we see the bright image of His Holiness Patriarch Alexy, who was truly a kind and selfless podvizhnik [ascetic struggler], working for the rebirth of the Russian Orthodox Church, which arose from ruin after so many years of godless persecutions. The newly-reposed Patriarch was a preacher of repentance and the return of the Russian nation to its historic roots, its Holy Russian ideals.

I call upon my brother archpastors, clergymen and flock of the Russian Church Abroad to pray for the soul of His Holiness Patriarch Alexy.
On December 17, 2008, Archimandrite George (Schaeffer) was consecrated Bishop of Mayfield.
Bishop George gave the following interview shortly after his consecration:
Your Grace, you lived for almost five years on Mount Athos. How has this reflected on your ecclesiology and on your perception of other Orthodox Churches?
Before I went to Athos, my life here in the monastery was isolated from people of other jurisdictions. That changed when I arrived there, not only because I was living among so many Greek monastics, but I was able for the first time to meet monks from Russia at St. Panteleimon's Monastery, as well as many pilgrims from all over the world. Because the monks in our kellion all spoke English, the Greeks would often send English-speaking pilgrims to us, the 'Americans'. Consequently, even though we were living in the forest, on a remote peninsula in northern Greece, we would hear stories about Church life all over the world. I was also edified by the high level of monastic life in the monasteries there and saw how the so-called zealots had a completely different spirit. All of this helped me see various Church issues in a different light, and I saw that everything isn't just black and white.

What would you consider the first priority in the missionary work in America? That is, what measures should be taken for the successful preaching of the Orthodox faith in this country?
I have been living in a monastery for some years now and it will take a little time to evaluate the situation. First of all I need to actually visit the various parishes and meet the priests and get their suggestions. I don't presume to know what needs to be done, other than working on the level of spiritual life in the parishes which already exist. We must have a healthy spiritual life if we expect to bring anyone to the Orthodox Faith. If we have this, people will see it and their souls will be attracted to it.

In Russia people of all walks of life used to go to Optina Hermitage in order to find answers to their questions. Is it possible in America, or perhaps is it better for lay people to bring their problems to 'white' (married) clergy who might better understand their daily struggles?
The Optina Elders and St. Seraphim had no difficulty understanding the daily struggles of the people who came to them, simply because they were inspired by the Holy Spirit. The same Holy Spirit is active in the Church and the clergy today. In every case it depends both on the priest and on the faith of the people. So many times in the Gospel Christ speaks about a miracle happening because of the faith of the people involved, and in the Gospel it also says that in Capernaum Christ did not work many miracles because of the unbelief of the people. If people have faith, Christ will speak to them and guide them through their confessor, no matter who he is.

What is the role of monastics for the Orthodox mission, if any?
The role of monastics is simply to be good, sincere monastics, striving to live a life of repentance and self-denial. Just the sight of humble monastics, their bearing, their gait, is enough to edify people... but it can also scandalize them, if they are behaving shamelessly and improperly. Monastic sobriety is more than abstaining from alcohol.

You have been to Russia several times. What have you brought home, and how has your attitude toward the Church there changed?
The first time that I traveled to Russia I had no idea what to expect. One hears so many different stories, both good and bad. I was very favorably impressed, and I was amazed by the vastness and variety of the Russian land. I saw the immense task that the Church there has in rebuilding the actual church structures and in establishing normal church life, catechizing millions of people. I saw many rebuilt churches and monasteries, along with photos of the ruins that they had stood in their place just ten years previously. And everywhere there were more churches and monasteries being renovated. I saw how there is a wide range of opinions within the Church there. Some people abroad tend to judge the entire Church according to the actions or statements of a few. I guess that this would be like judging all Americans according to the behavior of small minority. Some people focus on everything negative, meanwhile overlooking everything positive. We are not used to seeing everything on such a huge scale.

We often hear about a negative impact of a consumer society on the life of Orthodox Christians. Are there any positive aspects of the American culture that may benefit the life of the Russian Church?
Many Americans are very philanthropic, generous, and self-sacrificing, even some people who aren't particularly religious. Many churches in America have charitable organizations, and the people devote a lot of time to helping the poor and the sick. This altruism is very common among American converts too, and I think they are surprised that it is not so common among the Orthodox. I have seen it in some parishes, and I think it is something that we need to work on more.
Some wonderful photographs from Bishop George's life can be viewed here. Below is a photograph of the future Bishop George while living on Mt Athos.

Each of these events has, as I mentioned above, affected me in a deeply personal way. The new Bishop Theodosius served patiently as my father-confessor for a few years when I was an undergraduate and he was living in the Skete of the Resurrection of Christ near Minneapolis, MN. He is a very dear man, an exemplary monk, and a dedicated pastor. I first encountered the late Patriarch at the Holy Trinity - St Sergius Lavra in 2006, and had the great honor of serving with him, in 2007, during the first service he conducted in a parish of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. I worked daily over the course of several years with the new Bishop George in the printshop of Holy Trinity Monastery, of which he was for years the supervisor. Later we were neighbors when I returned to teach in Holy Trinity Seminary. Bishop George has served for many years as a spiritual father both for the community in Jordanville as well as for the monks of the Hermitage of the Holy Cross in West Virginia, where he will have his official residence. It is wonderful to see the ranks of the hierarchy filled by such dedicated monastics as Bishops Theodosius and George.
I haven't the slightest doubt at that Bishops Theodosius of and George – as well as the newly-consecrated Bishop John of Caracas (pictured below, with the two Metropolitans) and Bishop Jerome of Manhattan (pictured above; known to most of you as Fr John Shaw) – will worthily continue the rich spiritual traditions of their predecessors. I was likewise very much heartened to learn of the election of His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah, as the new Primate of the Orthodox Church in America. I hope and pray that he will bring peace and reconciliation to that troubled Church. (Metropolitan Hilarion's letter of congratulation is especially noteworthy.) I likewise pray that the newly-elected Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia may serve the good of the Church.
May God grant them all many years!

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