Category Archives: Formation

Sunday, August 9 (OS July 26), 2021: Tone 6; 7th Sunday after Pentecost; Hieromartyrs Hermolaus, Hermippus, and Hermocrates at Nicomedia (ca. 305); Ven. Moses the Hungarian, of the Kyivan Caves (the Near Cave) (1043); Martyr Parasceve of Rome (138-161); Ven. Gerontius, founder of the Skete of St. Anne, Mt. Athos (13th c.)

Epistle: Romans 15:1-7
Gospel: Matthew 9:27-35

The Apostle Paul ends his exhortation to “bear with the scruples of the weak” by telling us to “receive one another, just as Christ also received us.” To bear with the weak, to serve our neighbor, and work for his salvation even when he criticizes and condemns us for doing so, all these things glorify God.

And not only does this glorify God; it builds the unity of the Church. By bearing with each other we slowly learn to think and speak “with one mind and one mouth.”

To this though, I need to set aside the besetting sin of the Pharisees. For all their learning and authority in life of the Jewish People, the Pharisees were simply busybodies. It offended them that somewhere, someone, had an experience of grace that they–as the “leaders” of the People–hadn’t first approved and sanctioned.

Look at the Gospel we heard this morning.

Once again, Jesus restores sight to the blind and casts out a demon. And, once again, what is the response of the Pharisees, those self-appointed guardians of Israel’s social order and false peace with Rome? They ignore what their eyes tell them and condemn Jesus. “He casts out demons by the ruler of demons.”

And though He is, once again, rejected by the religious leaders of Israel, Jesus doesn’t turn His back on the People of God. Even as the words of condemnation follow Him, Jesus goes to “all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, and healing every disease among the people.”

The Pharisees, these self-appointed guardians of an unjust and uncharitable worldly order, find Jesus to be so offensive because He is truly free. And, once again, they make clear that human freedom is as much an affront to the busybody as any self-serving politician or tyrant.
Our freedom is not found in the crass ability to choose between options. As we’ve seen before, whatever practical value it might have, freedom of choice is inherently self-limiting. Money spent for this is no longer available for that; time that is given to complete this or that project or task vanishes in the doing.

When I limit freedom to merely the exercise of discrete choices, life becomes an unending series of tasks; of ever-increasing costs and ever-decreasing benefits. There is never enough time, there is never enough money, there is never enough help. When freedom is for no more for me than the ability to pick between “A” and “B” or between “B” and “A,” communion with God and neighbor slowly evaporates into a life of anxiety and resentment.
And then, one day, I wake up and realize for all the success, for all the people in my life, I am alone and feel like a failure.

It is this life of ever greater loss and increasing isolation that characterizes the life of this world, of the Pharisees, of the busybody. The anger and the jealousy, the divisions, and bitter words, the petty frustrations, anxieties, and fears that characterize the world (in both its secular and religious forms) are the fruit of pursuing a communion that always slips away.
But, to return to St Paul’s admonish this morning, we who are in Christ are called to a different kind of freedom; the freedom of self-sacrifice, of bearing with others in their weakness, of welcoming the stranger, of putting the whole of our life at the service of the salvation of others. When we live in this way, we are not simply imitating Christ, we are not simply channels of grace but ourselves reservoirs of grace from which others can draw as needed for their own salvation.

The Christian’s new freedom doesn’t ignore the practical details of life that so often drive us to distraction. Piety without technique is simply another way of pursuing faith without works and

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead (James 2:14-17, NKJV).

So what must we do? How then are we to live?

Let me suggest this. Take a moment and simply stop.

And when you stop, say the Jesus Prayer, read a short passage from Scripture, or simply speak to God as one friend speaks to another.

The things that distract me, the obligations that seem to pull me this way, and that are usually not only unavoidable but important and necessary. The temptation is that I all too often allow the good things in life to overwhelm me.

This happens because I see them merely as tasks to be completed, responsibilities to be met rather than what they are.

We are, the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas says, made of our responsibilities for “the widow and the orphan, the stranger and the sojourner.” We have these responsibilities, however, because God has invited us to share in His great love for the world.

In all this, however, God is not a harsh taskmaster or judge but an indulgent Father Who takes delight not only in our success but also accepts graciously our well-intentioned failure. God knows that I am weak and that I struggle to love as He calls me to love. And when, as I inescapably do, I fall short of what love demands, He is there to lift me up, to heal me, and free me from the chains that bind me.

And not just me but you as well.

God knows that we only slowly grow in love for Him and for our neighbor. But, like Jesus in the Gospel this morning, He never turns His back on us even when we fail or when, like the Pharisees, we turn our back on Him.

We can love not simply because God loves us but because He will always love us.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Why Ss. Cyril & Methodius is On Campus

My parish (Ss Cyril & Methodius Orthodox Church) is on the campus of the University of Wisconsin -Madison. We are where we are, primarily to reach out to UW students, faculty, and staff both those who are Orthodox and those who aren’t.

It would be easier for us as a parish to be in one of the suburbs and come on to campus on a regular basis. Rental property around the UW is roughly 30%-50% more expensive than the rest of the city. As a practical matter, this means we are only able to rent a small space. Purchasing land or a building for our own church building will likely be something the priest who (eventually) follows me.

Nevertheless, it is worth being on campus. It is important that the Church have a witness not only at UW-Madison but as the young man in the video says, on all college campuses.

Many Orthodox Christians worry about the culture and what is happening on campus. They worry that their children or grandchildren will fall away from Christ and the Church. Sincere as they are in their concern though they are, Orthodox Christians simply aren’t approaching campus ministry for what it is: a mission field.

Please take a few minutes to watch the OCF video. When you have, consider supporting the OCF with your prayers but also your time, talent, and treasure. Whether you’re concerned about the culture or the 60% of Orthodox Christians who will leave the Church by the time they’re 25 years old please support the OCF. Better yet, support a mission parish within walking distance of campus so that students have access to Christ and His Church.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Homily: Don’t Be A Busybody!

Sunday, August 9 (OS July 26), 2021: Tone 6; 7th Sunday after Pentecost; Hieromartyrs Hermolaus, Hermippus, and Hermocrates at Nicomedia (ca. 305); Ven. Moses the Hungarian, of the Kyivan Caves (the Near Cave) (1043); Martyr Parasceve of Rome (138-161); Ven. Gerontius, founder of the Skete of St. Anne, Mt. Athos (13th c.)

Epistle: Romans 15:1-7
Gospel: Matthew 9:27-35

The Apostle Paul ends his exhortation to “bear with the scruples of the weak” by telling us to “receive one another, just as Christ also received us.” To bear with the weak, to serve our neighbor, and work for his salvation even when he criticizes and condemns us for doing so, all these things glorify God.

And not only does this glorify God; it builds the unity of the Church. By bearing with each other we slowly learn to think and speak “with one mind and one mouth.”

To this though, I need to set aside the besetting sin of the Pharisees. For all their learning and authority in the life of the Jewish People, the Pharisees were simply busybodies. It offended them that somewhere, someone had an experience of grace that they–as the “leaders” of the People–hadn’t first approved and sanctioned.

Look at the Gospel we heard this morning.

Once again, Jesus restores sight to the blind and casts out a demon. And, once again, what is the response of the Pharisees, those self-appointed guardians of Israel’s social order and false peace with Rome? They ignore what their eyes tell them and condemn Jesus. “He casts out demons by the ruler of demons.”

And though He is, once again, rejected by the religious leaders of Israel, Jesus doesn’t turn His back on the People of God. Even as the words of condemnation follow Him, Jesus goes to “all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, and healing every disease among the people.”

The Pharisees, these self-appointed guardians of an unjust and uncharitable worldly order, find Jesus to be so offensive because He is truly free. And, once again, they make clear that human freedom is as much an affront to the busybody as any self-serving politician or tyrant. 

Our freedom is not found in the crass ability to choose between options. As we’ve seen before, whatever practical value it might have, freedom of choice is inherently self-limiting. Money spent for this is no longer available for that; time that is given to complete this or that project or task vanishes in the doing.

When I limit freedom to merely the exercise of discrete choices, life becomes an unending series of tasks; of ever-increasing costs and ever-decreasing benefits.  There is never enough time, there is never enough money, there is never enough help. When freedom is for no more for me than the ability to pick between “A” and “B” or between  “B” and “A,” communion with God and neighbor slowly evaporates into a life of anxiety and resentment.

And then, one day, I wake up and realize for all the success, for all the people in my life, I am alone and feel like a failure. 

It is this life of ever greater loss and increasing isolation that characterizes the life of this world, of the Pharisees, of the busybody. The anger and the jealousy, the divisions, and bitter words, the petty frustrations, anxieties, and fears that characterize the world (in both its secular and religious forms) are the fruit of pursuing a communion that always slips away.

But, to return to St Paul’s admonish this morning, we who are in Christ are called to a different kind of freedom; the freedom of self-sacrifice, of bearing with others in their weakness, of welcoming the stranger, of putting the whole of our life at the service of the salvation of others. When we live in this way, we are not simply imitating Christ, we are not simply channels of grace but ourselves reservoirs of grace from which others can draw as needed for their own salvation.

The Christian’s new freedom doesn’t ignore the practical details of life that so often drive us to distraction. Piety without technique is simply another way of pursuing faith without works and

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead (James 2:14-17, NKJV).

So what must we do? How then are we to live?

Let me suggest this. Take a moment and simply stop. 

And when you stop, say the Jesus Prayer, read a short passage from Scripture, or simply speak to God as one friend speaks to another.

The things that distract me, the obligations that seem to pull me this way, and that are usually not only unavoidable but important and necessary. The temptation is that I all too often allow the good things in life to overwhelm me.

This happens because I see them merely as tasks to be completed, responsibilities to be met rather than what they are.

We are, the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas says, made of our responsibilities for “the widow and the orphan, the stranger and the sojourner.” We have these responsibilities, however, because God has invited us to share in His great love for the world.

In all this, however, God is not a harsh taskmaster or judge but an indulgent Father Who takes delight not only in our success but also accepts our well-intentioned failure. God knows that I am weak and that I struggle to love as He calls me to love. And when, as I inescapably do, I fall short of what love demands, He is there to lift me up, to heal me, and free me from the chains that bind me.

And not just me but you as well.

God knows that we only slowly grow in love for Him and for our neighbor. But, like Jesus in the Gospel this morning, the Father never turns His back on us even when we fail or when, like the Pharisees, we turn our back on Him.

We can love not simply because God loves us but because He will always love us. 

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

The Corona Virus, Prudence, Folly & a Disciplined Imagination

The thinking seems to be this: It was horrible in Wuhan, it is horrible in Lombardy, and horrible in some other country nobody gives a damn about. Therefore, when it happens to my town—and it’s when, not if—it will be equally horrible everywhere. And worse than horrible, because we are not as prepared or as willing to be as draconian as the Chinese. It isn’t horrible this moment, right now, here, but because it will be horrible means it is already horrible.

That seem a fair summary? One survey found “1 In 5 Americans Expect They’ll Be Diagnosed With Coronavirus“.

None of it is right.

In Wuhan itself, the City of Doom, some 2,446 souls departed their fleshly existence earlier than expected. Google tells us the city has between 11 and 19 million, depending on whether you count the entire metro area as “the city”.

Source: Coronavirus Update V — Madness Has Arrived – William M. Briggs

The thing I’ve noticed after more than 30 years as a university chaplain is the tyranny of abstract ideas not only in academia but in society more broadly.

This make sense because, well, we educate our leaders in universities. Naturally then, whatever their profession or vocation, unless taught otherwise our leaders in church and society are as prone as their university educated peers to suffer under the tyranny of the abstract. Where I’m going with this is here.

We don’t have discipline over our imaginations. This makes us exceptionally vulnerable to the kind of fear and anxiety we’re seeing now.

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be prudent. It does mean, however, that we may confuse prudence with folly or recklessness. Without a disciplined imagination we are likely to think the best way to save the village is to bomb it.

Liturgy in the West-part 3

Alexander Schmemann, “On the question of liturgical practices,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly,  Vol. 17, 3, 1973, pp. 239-243.

The monastery at Valaam keeps the complete cycle of daily services everyday. Vespers, Compline, Midnight Office, Matins, First, Third, Sixth and Ninth Hours together with the Eucharist are celebrated daily. On average this takes between 8 and 10 hours and this even though, as one monk from Valaam told me, “We chant quickly!”

Not every monk attends every service. This is because, as the monk went on to tell me, “if we did, the rest of the monastery’s life would grind to a halt.”

As we think about the liturgical life of the parish, it is important to keep in mind the amount of time–and as will see in a moment, effort—it takes to serve the prescribed services. For some parishes, even daily Vespers at about 30-45 minutes is more than they can do. As for daily Matins (which typically can run 60-90 minutes), this too is frequently beyond most r parishes.

However most parishes can serve some, or even all, of the Hours on a regular, or maybe even daily, basis. And most parishes can serve Great Vespers on Saturday and the eve of feasts as well as serve Divine Liturgy on Sunday and at least some feast days.

All of this, however, assumes not only good will and interest on the part of both the priest and the congregation but also the knowledge of how the services go together. Take a look at Matins for the Sunday of the Last Judgment. You can find them online here and here.

You’ll notice that there are hymns for both the Sunday in the tone of the week (tone 3) and from the Triodion for the Sunday of the Last Judgment. And while there are rubrics in the text, they aren’t always as clear as we would hope. (If you don’t know what all these books are, you might want to look them up online.)

This means to have anything more than Vespers and Divine Liturgy requires that there be at least one or two people in the parish who know how the services go together.

Sometimes we have chanters or choir directors or readers who can sing the service as laid out in the typicon using the Horologion, the Octoechos, the festal and daily menia and Lenten Triodion (assuming that your parish has all these books). If not, then someone, usually the priest, has to cut and paste the service together from online sources and then print it all out for the readers.

Either way, the daily services–to say nothing of the festal and lenten services–can be complicated to put together to say nothing of serving.

As I said above, none of this is meant to discourage you! But I think it does help us understand some of Schmemann’s complaints about the liturgical problems of the Church in the West. Celebrating the services of the Church is a time and labor intensive process that requires we know not only the music and the structure of the services but also the theology behind the services.

Understanding the Church’s worship is especially important for when, as priests, you have to make decisions about what services will be celebrated and how the community will celebrate them. The more you know about not only liturgical history, the rubrics and the theology of the Church’s worship, the better able you will be to make intelligent, pastorally prudent decisions.

Schmemann’s complaints really boil down to this last point. Do priests understand enough of the Church’s liturgical tradition to make  intelligent, pastorally prudent decisions. Or are they, are we, as he suggests, merely “winging it” or making up the services as we go along?

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Liturgy in the West-part 2

Schmemann, “The Spiritual Problem,” St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly, 1965, Vol. 9, #4, pp. 171-193.

As much as I’ve returned again and again to Schmemann’s work, I’m always frustrated by a certain superficiality in his discussion of the problems of Orthodoxy in America.

On one level, I think he does an admirably job in describing the challenges faced by the Church in America. Where I think his work fall short, and the current article is a good example of this, is his failure to consider the history of Christianity’s growth in America. If he did, he would (hopefully) have seen that the failures or problems of the Church in America are not unique to the Orthodox Church. They are rather common to all those established Churches transplanted to America from the Old World.

Those Christian communities that grew here, grew because, as Schmemann says, they took seriously the human heart’s desire for God. And all these churches were upstart groups. Small, sectarian groups that emphasized personal repentance, a strict moral code, asceticism, rigorous worship and philanthropic commitment. To be sure these largely evangelical Christians had different views from the Orthodox Church about what all these disciplines of Christian life meant. But for all that they frequently preached a rather superficial and often moralizing view of the Gospel and emphasized an emotional style of worship, they did lead people to Christ and did so frequently at the numerical expense of those formerly established Churches.

What I think Schmemann fails to take account of is that the Church in Old World was an established Church. This meant not only that the Church was supported financially by the Empire or the State but that the Church was able to outsource much of her administrative life to the government. You see this today in Greece were (until recently) clergy were not only paid by the government but that the government protected the Church from “competition” from non-Orthodox religions.

Coming to America, and here I think Schmemann is correct, meant Orthodox Christians had to be personally responsible for all the things the State did in the Old World. If as Orthodox Christians we failed, we failed because we weren’t ready to be responsible in this way. It is because we lacked the practical experience that we failed to do all the things necessary to fulfill the Church’s mission to preach the Gospel, worship God and sanctify the whole of human life making it into the sacrament of God’s presence He intended it to be.

Or rather, we didn’t so much fail as were overcome by the myriad practical details that, until recently, were taken care of for the Church by the State. In other words, we—laity, clergy and hierarchs—were not ready for the kind of freedom , to say nothing of responsibility, America offered.

Like other formerly established Churches, religious freedom has been corrosive to the Church. Even seemingly vibrant non-Christian traditions have proven unequally to the task of freedom. It’s worth reflecting on the fact that Muslims lose an even higher percentage of young people than does the Orthodox Church. What does this tell us?

It tells me at least that neither community was ready for responsibility that comes with the freedom America offers us.

Schmemann is right to point out that if our commitment to the Orthodox Church is not personal it will not endure. No matter how beautifully or faithfully or regularly we celebrate the Divine Liturgy and the other services of the Church, if we do not preach personal commitment, if we do not help people grow in their personal commitment to Jesus Christ and the Gospel, we will fail.

Toward the end of his article, Schmemann says it is possible for the Church to exist and even thrive in America but only if we embrace the “deep sense it is freedom that constitutes the only truly ‘American way of life.’” For all their theological shortcomings, this is how early American evangelical Christians were able to take what was, in 1776, a largely unchurched America and make it a vibrant, churched America. As late as the early 20th century, Chesterton was able to truthfully describe America “a nation with the soul of a church”!

So what must we do?

First, we must reject “the superficial and oppressive conformities which have been consistently denounced and castigated by the best Americans of all generations as a betrayal of the American ideal.” In place of this we must help people understand and live out the reality that as Orthodox Christians in America we have both the freedom and “the duty, of choice and critique, of dissent and search.”

It is only in this way, that we can help each other understand that it is in the Church and through the worship of God that each of us can discover the possibility “to be himself.” I become who God has created me to be by being a faithful Orthodox Christian.

If we fail, we fail because we haven’t taken advantage of the opportunities God has given us in planting the Church in countries and cultures in which not only is the Church NOT established but frequently criticized. Or as Schmemann concludes, “there is nothing in the American culture which could prevent the Church from being fully the Church, a parish truly a parish, and it is only by being fully Orthodox that American Orthodoxy becomes fully American” or Ukrainian or German or Mexican or whatever.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Liturgy in the West-part 1

Alexander, Schmemann, “The Liturgical Problem,” St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly, 1964, Vol. 8, #4,  pp. 164-185.

Schmemann concludes his article on the different challenges to the Church’s liturgical life in the West with a bold and frank statement not about liturgy but about the evangelical witness of the Church.

It is in and through liturgy that the Kingdom of God “comes with power” (Mark 9:1)—power to judge and to transform. It is liturgy which, by revealing to men the Kingdom, makes life and history, nature and matter a pilgrimage, an ascension towards the Kingdom. It is liturgy, in short, that is the power, given to the Church, to overcome and destroy all “idols”—and secularism is one of them. But liturgy is all this only if we ourselves accept and use it as power.

Earlier in this same essay, he argues that secularism is not, as we might suppose, the absence of religion or even hostility to religion. Rather it is about a certain, unwholesome “autonomy” from the Gospel.

When we have a secular worldview, we may very well believe that the Gospel “can supply life with ethical standards, with help and comfort.” What secularism excludes, however, is the very possibility of “transform[ing] life into … [the] very content is God and His Kingdom.” And so, the typical Orthodox Christian (priest as well as layperson) believes “in God and in the immortality of the soul, he can pray and find great help in prayer, but once he has entered his office and begun working, this work itself is not even supposed to be ‘referred to’ the fundamental religious realities of Creation, Fall and Redemption, but is indeed ‘self-sufficient’ or autonomous.”

The practical effect of this is that the vast majority of Orthodox Christians go through their days without any awareness of the presence of God in their lives. And without such an awareness, they are incapable of gratitude to God. As a result, they never come to see their lives—with all the accompanying successes and failures, its joys and sorrows, its hopes and frustrations—as they really are: A gift from God given to them not only for their salvation but the salvation of the world.

This is why Schmemann says people come to Liturgy on Sunday (if they come at all since less 30% of us will be there on Sunday) merely to take a break from the daily grind of work and family life. Or maybe, they see Liturgy as the Christian equivalent of a secular “safe place,” a brief retreat from a hostile culture.

In either case, they have no sense that Liturgy (to say nothing of the other services and sacraments of the Church) is the means by which they don’t just offer their lives to God but receive their lives back from Him but not only renewed and transformed. As I mentioned in the January lecture, at the Divine Liturgy, we don’t simply offer our lives to God (“Lift up your hearts to the Lord”!) but at Holy Communion receive that life back transformed by Christ into a share of His life.

I am skeptical of Schmemann’s rosy view of the liturgical of the Church in the patristic era or in traditional Orthodox countries. I’m unconvinced not because I reject his analysis of secularism but because I agree with it.

Schmemann’s analysis of secularism is, I think, the fundamental problem we face as sinners in every age and in every culture. We are always tempted to put God in a box, to limit God’s role in our lives. Think here of the hymn from Matins on Forgiveness Sunday:

Woe to thee, O my wretched soul! Thou hast received authority from God to take thy pleasure in the joys of Eden, but He commanded thee to not eat the fruit of knowledge. Why then hast thou transgressed the law of God? (Ode I)

We fell precisely because we refused to accept with thanksgiving creation and our whole of our life as God’s gift to us.

Instead, and like Adam, we try to re-arrange things according to our own will and for our own purposes. And we do this whether we are Americans or Ukrainians, whether we live in the USA or Europe or any traditional Orthodox country.

Taken together, what does Schmemann’s analysis tell us about the liturgical life of the Church?

Important as it is to celebrate the service well (“Say the black, do the red”!), this isn’t enough. Again, liturgy isn’t magic. To celebrate the services well means to celebrate them with not only with faith and understanding but also with the expectation that through our worship of God we will not only be saved but transformed. This happens because in the Church’s worship we personally encounter Jesus Christ and receive His forgiveness.

And this isn’t simply something that happens to us. Through the liturgy God the transforms and saves the world. In liturgy the creation itself is brought into an ever-greater conformity.

This means not only the material world. The social world—the world of work and family life especially—are transformed in and through the Church’s worship. If all of human life and creation are not renewed, then none of it is renewed and we are not saved.

We are not saved without the renewal of all of creation because human beings are both a microcosm and a macrocosm. To be human means that we are both an image of all creation and that all creation is fulfilled in us.

So, again, what does this mean for the liturgical life of the Church?

We must invest the time and energy need to understand the Church’s worship and what it means to worship God as Orthodox Christians. This means not only that we need to study but pray. Too often priests limit our prayer lives to our celebration of the Divine Liturgy and the other sacraments and services of the Church.

But if I only “pray” in Church, I can be sure of one thing. I don’t really pray at all. As a priest, I must daily, hourly, offer my life to God as a “sacrifice of praise.” Without this, I won’t have the grace needed to help my parishioners be themselves transformed by the Church’s worship.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Liturgy & the Spiritual Fatherhood of the Priest

Let me make a provocative assertion. The priest has nothing of his own and it is only in accepting this that he can hope to have a personally fruitful ministry.

While women are maternal by nature, men are fathers only by analogy. Motherhood—whether biological or spiritual—is inherent in what it means to be a woman. For men, however, paternity (again biological and spiritual) is not intrinsic to their nature.  A man’s fatherhood is a participation in the singular, unique and unrepeatable Fatherhood of God. As we read in Scripture: “Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven” (Matthew 23:9; see also 1 Corinthians 8:6).

Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) is Being as Communion says we call God Father because He is the Source of all. He begets the Son, He spirates (breaths) the Spirit, and He is the Creator of “all things visible and invisible” calling them “from non-existence into being.” In addition, the Father sustains all things in existence by His Word (see Colossians 1:15-18).

A priest’s spiritual fatherhood is not his but a participation (sharing) in the Fatherhood of God. While the priest is not the source of things in the parish (a sadly not uncommon misunderstanding among priests and laity alike), he is responsible for helping people come to know God Who is the source of their lives and the life of the parish. According to St Dionysius the Areopagite this is the work of illumination.  A priest reveals the hidden and unsearchable presence of God in the lives of those he serves (see Jeremiah 33:3).

Dionysius also says that to accomplish this the priest must himself have attained the second of the three stages of the spiritual life: illumination. (The first stage is purification, which is both the requirement for ordination to the diaconate as well as his primary pastoral mission. The third and final stage is theosis, which is both the requirement and mission of the bishop.) It is primarily through his liturgical ministry that the priest fulfills his task to illumine not only the life of the faithful but also events in human society and the nature of creation itself.

Or to say the same thing in a different way, ordination to the priesthood is a call to a prophetic office.

This prophetic ministry is accomplished in and through the words and actions of the various liturgical services of the Church. Through his liturgical ministry, the priest reveals for all to see (include to himself!) the will of God. For example, “the servant of God N is baptized…”; “May God now through me a sinner forgive you…”; and, of course, “take, eat, this is my Body…take drink, this is my Blood.” All of these are prophetic actions in that they reveal or manifest God’s plan to “gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him” (Ephesians 1:10).

This is why all of the sacraments of the Church include an epiclesis, an invocation of the Holy Spirit. In fact, this invocation of the Spirit is included in all the services in the prayer “O Heavenly King.”

I said above, that the fatherhood of the priest—like the fatherhood of all men—is not his by nature but only by participation in the Fatherhood of God. Likewise, liturgical ministry of the priest is not his. It is rather lent or delegated by the bishop to the priest (this is something which sadly, is not infrequently misunderstood by priests as well as the laity and even at times bishops).

Zizioulas in Eucharist, Bishop, Church points out that in the early Church, the bishop presides at the celebration of the Eucharist. While he stood in the first place (as an icon of God the Father in the Holy Trinity), he did not stand alone. Rather he was surrounded by the presbyters, assisted by the deacons and in the presence of the faithful (who are themselves not only a unique order in the Church but through baptism the first order and foundation on which all subsequent orders are conferred).

The presbyter or priest only took the first place at Liturgy when (for one reason or another) the bishop was unavailable. Especially as the Church grew this would often mean a priest would be sent to an outlying, rural community to celebrate the Eucharist and the other sacraments with them. He was sent because the bishop couldn’t go.

If in the early Church, the priest was not (to use contemporary language) ordained primarily to celebrate the Eucharist, why was he ordained? Zizioulas’s Eucharist, Bishop, Church is helpful here as well.

In addition to the biblical requirements for ordination (see 1 Timothy 3:1-7), it was expected that a candidate for the priesthood have demonstrated as a layman certain abilities (or really, spiritual gift after the pattern in 1 Corinthians 12:28, Romans 12:3-8, Ephesians 4:7-16). Specifically, the man had to be able to teach the Gospel, to offer wise counsel to the bishop to help him govern the church and to prudently and justly administer the wealth of the church.

It was because they demonstrated the ability to teach, counsel and administer in a godly fashion that men were ordained to the priesthood to assist the bishop in governing the local church. And it was because they had demonstrated their fidelity “in what is least” (governance) that they were trusted “in much” (the celebration of the Mysteries) as the need arose (see Luke 16:10).

To go back to what I said at the beginning, the priest has nothing of his own. His spiritual paternity is by participation in the Fatherhood of God. His prophetic office is fulfilled through his faithful celebration of the Divine Liturgy, the sacrament and services of the Church. And in the parishes, he speaks not in his own name but as representatives of the bishop (this is why he can only celebrate the Eucharist on an antimension with the bishop’s signature).

And yet, as St Paul says of himself, though the priest has nothing of his, in Christ he possesses everything (see 2 Corinthians 6:10) in Christ.

If I may offer a final personal word, the more I have come to understand that everything I have and do as a priest is not mine but only entrusted to me, the more I find real joy and peace not only in the liturgical life of the Church but the strength and willingness to meet the many demands and obligations of serving in the parish, teaching at the seminary, ministering to college students and representing the Church in the wider community.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Envisioning Emmanuel

Introduction. The Eastern Church doesn’t really have the liturgical season of Advent. We do have a fast period as part of our preparation for the Nativity that extends from November 15/28 through December 24/January 6. We only have two, preparatory

Sundays. Our liturgical preparation begins in earnest only on December 20/January 2, with the Forefeast of the Nativity. It is only from December 20 through December 24, that the Eastern Church uses the language of expectation characteristic in the West. For example, at Vespers on December 20 we hear:

O ye people, and raising our thoughts on high let us go in spirit to Bethlehem; and with the eyes of our mind let us gaze upon the Virgin, as she hastens to give birth unto our God, the Lord of all.

To help sketch out how the Orthodox Church envisions what it means to say “Emmanuel” that “God is with us,” I want to look with you at the icons and hymnography of four feasts—the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple and Theophany. Taken together these are meant to fix our hearts on that “great mystery in a cave” that “opened once again … [the] gates, O Eden” and granted “the world great mercy.”

Feast of the Annunciation Liturgically as well as in our icons, the Orthodox Church’s envisioning Emmanuel beings 9 months before Christmas on the Feast of Annunciation when. It is at this moment when, as we hear at Vespers, our salvation is accomplished. And as the hymnography makes clear, it isn’t simply humanity’s salvation or even the Virgin’s salvation that is accomplished but my personal salvation as well:

Behold, our restoration hath now been revealed to us! God unites Himself to me, in a manner past all telling! Delusion is dispelled by the voice of the archangel! For the Virgin receiveth joy, an earthly woman hath become heaven! The world is released from the primal curse! Let creation rejoice and chant aloud: O Lord, our Creator and Redeemer, glory be to Thee!

In His conception, Emmanual is not simply God With Us but God With Me (and You as well). The fact that we were born and live some 20 centuries later doesn’t change the fact that in becoming Man the Son has united Himself to every person and is so doing salvation is accomplished for all even if it is still to be appropriated by each. The reason for this is because what we suffer from Adam forwards is not immorality but a separation from God.

Turning to the icon, we see that humanity’s salvation is not accomplished without our cooperation. Based on the events recorded for us Luke (1:26-38), the angel announces to the Virgin her role in salvation history; respectful of the necessity of her free ascent, he then waits patient for her fait. The hymnography for the feast shows the Virgin to be a full participant in this process. Taking on the role of a prosecuting attorney, she interrogates Gabriel to avoid, as she says, the mistake “My first mother” who in “accepting the serpent’s knowledge, was driven away from divine sustenance.”

The coming of Emmanuel then is not only a monument of divine grace but one which brings into sharp focus human freedom revealing to us both God and ourselves.

Feast of the Nativity. The eucharistic theology of the Annunciation, of communion restored and offered, is also a theology of divine illumination. Just as by His Incarnation the Son has united Himself to each human person, by His birth He illumines not only the human heart but all creation. As sing on Christmas day

Thy Nativity, O Christ our God, * hath shined the light of knowledge upon the world; * for thereby, they that worshipped the stars * were instructed by a star * to worship Thee, the Sun of Righteousness, * and to know Thee, the Dayspring from on high. ** O Lord, glory be to Thee.

Turning to the icon, we discover that salvation embraces not only the human person and human society but the material world. Again, from the hymn on Christmas day:

Today the Virgin giveth birth to Him Who is transcendent in essence; * and the earth offereth a cave to Him Who is unapproachable. * Angels with shepherds give glory; * the Magi journey with a star; ** for our sake a young Child is born, Who is the pre-eternal God.

Hear in the hymnography and see in the icon not only the Christ Child and the Virgin but also the other human, angelic, animal and material actors in salvation. All have their role to play in healing the broken communion between God and humanity.

However, not everything we see under the warmth of the divine light is pleasant. I want to draw your attention particularly to St Joseph. We know from St Luke that he was not only a “just man” but a kind man who did not want to shame Mary by making here “a public example” (Matthew 1:19). For this reason, he struggles with his role in the incarnation; Joseph must think through what recent events mean. This is important because it makes clear that the Son comes not simply to redeem the soul or even the soul and body but all the faculties of the human person.

Reflecting on the salvation of the whole person, leads St Maximus the Confessor in the 7th century to affirm that because sin has damaged our intellect, even understanding the empirical character of creation requires divine grace and illumination to say nothing of the cultivation of the intellectual and moral virtues.

Feast of the Presentation. The highly stylized representation of animals and the natural world in icons, reflect a soteriological vision that extends not only to the human person but to the whole creation—animate and inanimate. All are redeemed, all are illumined, because in His Incarnation the Son has fulfilled the primordial but failed vocation of the First Adam.

    As for us, created as we are in the image the God Who is Himself free from any necessity, from any external constraint, the coming of the Son of God requires our free, personal response. What is implicit at the Annunciation is made explicit at the feast of the Presentation.

We are called to make our own, personal ascent to Jesus Christ. We are called, as we hear in the hymnography for the feast, to “receive Him Whom Symeon perceive[s] as our salvation.” Salvation, in other words, is an invitation extended to all and to which we must freely and personally respond.

The personal character of salvation means that not only has Christ fulfilled the Law but, as St Justin Martyr will say in the 2nd century, all human knowledge and virtue as well. God has prepared not only the Jews but also the Gentiles for His incarnation. And both the Jew and the Gentile are called to imitate Symeon and receive Him Who is “the fulfillment of the promise” not only of the Law and Philosophy but also of each human heart.

Feast of Theophany. What the West celebrates as the Baptism of our Lord, the East celebrates as the Feast of the Theophany. As with Nativity, historical events are only one part of a broader theological conversation embodied in the Church’s art and worship. As the Greek Orthodox theologian Christos Yannaras puts it “The ontological content of the eucharist– eucharistic communion as a mode of existence– assumes that the communal reality of life has a cosmological dimension: it presupposes matter and the use of matter, which is to say art, as the creative transformation of matter into a fact of relationship and communion.”

    Yannaras’ point here reflects Orthodox soteriology. Salvation is not merely a forensic affirmation of righteousness in Christ but, in the words of the Apostle Peter, a “sharing in the divine nature” (see 1 Peter 1:4) or in Greek theosis and in English deification.

    The God in Whose nature we share is of course Himself a community of Three Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The creative transformation of matter into an event of communion is an extension of what we’ve seen so far. Having transformed human life and all of creation from within, Jesus Christ invites us to do likewise.

    The pattern of this transformation is the Holy Trinity. This is why I would like to end my discussion with the icon of Theophany. It is at Theophany, at Christ’s baptism in the Jordan by John (Matthew 3:13) “that the worship of the Holy Trinity is revealed.” In the icon for the feast, we see both the Son and the Holy Spirit the Father’s “finger, crying out and point from heaven, openly declared and proclaimed to all that the one then being baptized by John in the Jordan was His beloved Son, while at the same time manifesting His unity with Him.”

    In the theology and iconography of the Orthodox Church to say that God is With Us, is to profess our faith in the Holy Trinity. It is also to remind ourselves of the evangelical mission of the Church to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). Last of all, it an affirmation and acceptance of the depth and breadth of human freedom.