One Church or A Confederation of Churches?
Central to the Moscow Patriarchate’s objection to the recent Tomos of autocephaly for the Orthodox Church of Ukraine is that there is no central authority in the Church. Rather, we saw earlier, the claim is that the Church is administratively “a confederation … of independent Churches which are not subordinate to each other, even if by protocol they occupy certain places.” It’s important to remember that this analogy is self-consciously drawn from the realm of secular politics rather than either the Scriptures of the Church fathers. Let me offer a few examples from the Scriptures to help explain why this appeal to secular geo-politics is theologically questionable.
For the Apostle Paul, the Church is the Body of Christ. For example, he reminds the fractious Corinthians that just as the human (or indeed, any) “body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body” we who are in Christ are one.
For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact, the body is not one member but many (1 Corinthians 12:12-14).
He draws out the practical implications (vv. 17-18) of this a few verses later when he asks
If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased.
Likewise, in Ephesians (4:1-16()Paul goes on to articulate the bodily analogy in terms of specific charisms (spiritual gifts) that are distributed to individual believers for the benefit of the whole Church.
He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;
In addition to the more general goal of building up the whole body, these gifts are also given so that
…we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.
The gifts are meant to function both to build up and correct. Or as he tells Timothy about Scripture “for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
None of this, to be sure, means the Church is not administratively a confederation of independent churches. It does, however, mitigate against the rejection of a strong sense of primacy in the Church.
St Paul, for example, has no problem publicly castigating St Peter for the latter “compel[ling] Gentiles to live as Jews” and thereby denying by his actions that “a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified” (see Galatians 2:11-16).
Likewise, we read in Acts that the early Church had the authority to impose a universal norm on the whole Body of believers. In response to the controversy that arose because Paul and Barnabas baptizing, but not circumcising, new Gentile Christians “The apostles and elders” of the Church in Jerusalem “met to consider this question.”
After hearing both sides the Apostle James delivers what he explicitly describes as “my judgment” for the whole Church. Gentile Christians need not keep the Law of Moses but only “abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood” (Acts 15:1-22).
While this does not demonstrate a universal primacy, it does give pay to the idea that each local church is independent.
Underlying Moscow’s position, however, is a faulty logical and theological assumption. In the political realm, independence is not absolute. One major point of the UN, to use Hilarion’s example, is so that nations can hold each other accountable to each other in a real and not just abstract moral sense.
In the Church, there are moments when our freedom in Christ can ONLY be exercised through deference. We are, after all, told by St Paul, that to submit “to one another in the fear of God” (Ephesians 5:21). And, in another place he says, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” It is in this way that we come to have the mind of Christ (see Philippians 2:3-5).
This submission is true not only in the political realm but on all levels of the Church. Child to parent but also parent to the needs of the child. We see it between husband and wife. We see it in the parish between the pastor and the congregation and in the diocese in the relationship of bishop and clergy and clergy with the bishop to the laity.
At one moment or another, we all of us are called by Christ to submit to another. And we do so not out of fear but as the natural consequence of the charisms. Just as the charismata are the concrete ways or modes by which we are in communion with Christ they are also, in Christ, the way in which we are in communion with each other.
To assert that the Orthodox Church is, administratively, a mere confederation of local Churches as Metropolitan Hilarion does, means that in truth we are NOT One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. In all levels of the Church, there are moments of subordination. We cannot place a fence around the local Churches because, if we do, if there are never moments in which one Church is subordinated to another, then there is no accountability, and so no communion.
Moscow’s argument is that each Church is independent and there is no Church is subordinated to any other Church or indeed the other Churches. To say this is to say that the gifts of the Church of Russia are not gifts also for the Church of Greece or Serbia or America or Constantinople.
It is instead to say the Churches exist as parallel social groups.
Consensus & the Heckler’s Veto
One of the arguments against autocephaly the Orthodox Church of Ukraine is that it was granted without a consensus of the other national Churches. I’ll speak about consensus in a moment but first I think it’s worth pointing out that the Moscow Patriarchate (through its representative Metropolitan Hilarion of the Department of External Affairs) contends that “administratively the Orthodox Church is a confederation (using the language of civil society and a comparison with a political structure) of independent Churches which are not subordinate to each other, even if by protocol they occupy certain places.”
His Eminence goes on to say that the Churches are
…like countries in the United Nations. They are listed in a certain order, but it does not mean that one country is subordinate to another one. In the same way, the Orthodox world has never known subordination of one Church to another Church. Now the Patriarchate of Constantinople wants to create such subordination, and the newly established organization in Ukraine is an “autocephalous church” (I say it in inverted commas), designed in accordance with the desires of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. It is not a truly independent Church, because the tomos granted to it lays down many conditions on which it receives this so-called “autocephaly.”
Sticking to the Orthodox anglosphere the OCA in its response to events agrees with Moscow that the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) is illegitimate and so they will not commemorate the primate of the OCU His Beatitude Epiphaniy, Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine noting “That no changes be made to the diptychs, noting that the Orthodox Church in America has not been formally requested to make such changes.”
Bracketing for the moment the ecclesiological question of whether or not the Orthodox Church is administratively one or not, there is the epistemological question of the nature of consensus. What do Orthodox Christians mean by the term?
While some (notable the Moscow Patriarchate) seem to think any decision about the autocephaly of the Church in Ukraine be one to which all the Churches agree (i.e., unanimous). Moreover, this unanimity must be reached before any action is taken.
The former at least is not the plain meaning of consensus; the latter seems impossible given the requirement of a unanimous decision. And, in both cases, this turns “consensus” into a heckler’s veto.
The Catholic scholar James Chastek writing at Just Thomism offers what I think is a helpful insight as Orthodox Christians work through our current ecclesiastical crisis. In his post Consensus and Silence, he writes that what I would call the only relative value of consensus:
In the end, scientific or academic consensus is just one more set of arguments, no more or less than Plato’s descent of regimes, Mill’s Socrates and the pig, Hume’s fork, or Euclid 3.16.
He goes on to say that the appeal to consensus conceals within itself “the breakdown in social trust that allows people to accept an argument without having to go through it all.” Sociologically he traces this wound to trust to the growing “disillusioned with authority in the ’60’s and ’70’s.” Over time, distrust–suspicion–has become an intellectual habit of the disillusioned. And so “insisting on consensus is probably just a symptom of this disillusion.”
While Chastek is concerned with the peer review process in academia, his observations about this process are equally applicable to the Church. “Consensus is largely peer review, peer review is peer pressure, and peer pressure only silences dissent when it is relatively weak.” When the community is intellectually, morally and spiritually healthy. there is no
…need to silence anyone since contrary opinions never arise. They’re never even thought. You don’t usually need to tell people that what they’re thinking is not comme il faut any more than you need to tell them that what they’re wearing is.
What I think Chastek is pointing to is this: In a healthy community there is an ability to disagree agreeably. There is no need to silence minority opinions. The eccentric knows he views are marginal but there is still room for his views in the community.
It is only when I forget that our discussions, debates, and disagreements are all in the service of articulating the truth or am insecure in my own convictions that I am tempted to impose silence on those who disagree with me.
This temptation “is exacerbated” when I or the community has become “rigidly peer-pressured” and abandons an appreciation for the positive role of “eccentrics.”
In other words, we are where we are because (some of us at least) have grown to value conformity more than charity. The schism in Ukraine has gone on for almost 30 years. By the standards of the Great Schism–now more than a 1,000 years long–this is small potatoes.
But in both cases, I see a worrying tendency to seek out reasons to avoid the hard work that reconciliation requires.
To its credit, Constantinople has been willing to do the hard work. At the Council of Crete and in bilateral discussions with Moscow, the Ecumenical Throne tried to involve other Churches in the process of reconciling the various splinter groups in Ukraine. Unfortunately, these overtures were not reciprocated by Moscow or some of the other local Churches.
The challenge we face is this. To think of the Church administratively as a confederation of Churches degrades the conciliar nature of the Church. AAnd if, as Metropolitan Hilarion contends, the Church administratively is merely a confederation of Churches in which no Church “is subordinate to another one” consensus is nothing more the heckler’s veto rather than what it should be: the shared discernment of the truth.
Statement of the Permanent Conference of Ukrainian Orthodox Bishops Beyond the Borders of Ukraine
To the Venerable Clergy, Clergy, Monastics and Faithful of our Holy Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Diaspora:
CHRIST IS RISEN! INDEED HE IS RISEN!
We write to you all having been informed about recent events in Ukraine surrounding the life of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. If you have not yet heard or read anything about these events, which are filling the social websites and media in and beyond Ukraine, we hereby inform you that the President of Ukraine met in a day-long audience with His All-Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, on Bright Monday – 9 April 2018. The result of this meeting was the beginning of the Patriarchate’s long-awaited consideration of Autocephaly for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
Upon his return to Ukraine, President Poroshenko immediately began the process of rallying the hierarchs of the Ukrainian Orthodox jurisdictions in Ukraine and the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian Parliament). All the hierarchs of two of the three jurisdictions and the vast majority of the Rada responded to the President’s emotional appeal to support the process of asking His All-Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew and the Holy Synod of Constantinople to move forward with the process of granting a Tomos of Autocephaly to the Church in Ukraine, which has for 1030 years been the canonical territory of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, since 988 when our nation was baptized and confirmed into the Holy Orthodox Faith.
Not even under 332 years of non-canonical and often tortuous subjugation to a foreign Orthodox patriarchate could the faithful of Ukraine be convinced that they did not belong to the authority of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. This is simple history, as documented by generations of Patriarchs and Synods of Constantinople, which never abandoned its canonical rights and privileges in Ukraine.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate, through releases on its own website and through the media has confirmed that the process of considering the Autocephalous status of the Church of Ukraine has begun, which will continue through the next meeting of the Holy Synod to be held in May.
President Poroshenko in all his public appearances and statements about these current events has been incredibly enthusiastic about the possibility of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Ukraine being granted even by the 1030thanniversary in July 2018 of the Baptism of Ukraine into the Orthodox Faith in 988 by Equal-to-the-Apostles, Great Prince Volodymyr.
The Permanent Conference of Ukrainian Orthodox Bishops Beyond the Borders of Ukraine has written a strong letter of support for the actions being taken by His All-Holiness and the Holy Synod of Constantinople regarding the possible granting of a Tomos of Autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church. We have assured His All-Holiness of the unceasing prayers of not only the hierarchs, but also the millions of Ukrainian Orthodox clergy and faithful in and beyond the borders of Ukraine, for him personally during this process.
We invite our faithful to join us in this prayer:
Prayer for the Unification of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church
O Lord our God, You can see, as the invisible and visible enemies divided the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and with it all Ukrainian people. Help us to promote the unification of Ukrainian Orthodoxy into a single Church, putting the cornerstone of apostolic rule that orders us to know that every nation, and among them the Ukrainian people, must have its first hierarch.
O Lord, inspire our separated brethren, so that they will unite around the Throne of Kyiv into a single Church and that Christian love would prevail among all of us, because You said: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another”.
Look upon us, Lord the Lover of all mankind, and do not punish us for our iniquities, voluntary and involuntary, committed in knowledge and in ignorance. Let us have a true love amongst us, forgive us our trespasses and do not remember our transgressions.
Great Merciful Master, protect and preserve Ukraine from those who encroach on its independence and wants to divide it, as you have always protect the Christian countries. Let a single Ukrainian Orthodox Church be a strong spiritual foundation for the indivisible Ukraine and the unity of our people, let it enemies be scattered and let peace, harmony and unity prevail in us.
O Lord, You said: “For without me you can do nothing.” Hear, o God, prayer of your faithful and bless the begun matter of the unity of the Orthodox in a single Church of Ukraine to lead to a successful conclusion. To His All-Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew, the Ukrainian Orthodox Hierarchs, the President, the Verkhovna Rada, and all those who work for this, send wisdom and inspiration of Your Holy Spirit, and in the good cause of the recognition of the Ukrainian Church to bring everyone to close conclusion. For Yours it is to have mercy on and save us, our God and we glorify You, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
With Archpastoral Blessings,
+YURIJ, Metropolitan of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada
+ANTONY, Metropolitan of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and Diaspora
+JEREMIAH, Archbishop of the Ukrainian Orthodox Eparchies of Brasil and South America
+DANIEL, Archbishop of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and Western Europe
+ILARION, Bishop of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada
+ANDRIY, Bishop of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada
Aquinas’s Thoughts on God
Source (Eclectic Orthodoxy). Far from being a ‘supreme being’, a nameless deity beyond the world who is ultimately in charge of everything, God is maxime ens, who enjoys being in the highest possible degree. Such a reality must be thought to be utterly simple, but simple in the ‘concrete’ sense of perfection, including, in its simple being, the perfection of all things. And, as implied by his universal perfection, God is self-diffusive goodness, the abundant source of all the good gifts which creatures receive from him, among which the gift of ‘being’ occupies the first place. Consequent upon its simplicity, the reality of God must be thought to be infinite, but infinite in the sense of being most intimately present in each thing, causing it to be from within. And also, as implied by its simplicity, it must be thought to be absolutely unchangeable, but in the sense of being enduringly present to everything which changes over time. The mark of subsistence as qualifying the simplicity of the divine being appears here to be of crucial importance. It is not the subsistence of a supreme substance, conceived somehow as inert and static, enclosed in itself, prior to its creative activity with respect to the world of creatures; rather, the divine essence is the full and unrestricted actuality (actus purus) of being, which, by nature, tends to communicate its actuality to other things by letting them share in being.
There is something in Thomas’ conception of God as ipsum esse per se subsistens that does not fit very well into the picture of ‘classical theism’. Classical theism, as it is usually understood, tends to view God as an absolute entity existing independently of the world. The theistic God looks more like a being, a ‘self-contained substance’ above and apart from the world, than the pure actuality of subsistent being itself. From Thomas’ perspective, this would mean that the independence of God, as over against the world of finite beings, is conceived wrongly. It is as if the character of subsistence, attributed to a theistically conceived God, is a logical expression by means of which we think of God as separated from the world, as a distinct reality, while Thomas intends to express by subsistence that the being of God is separated through itself from all other beings. The difference is crucial. For Thomas, God is not ‘separated’ from the world as a subsistent entity conceivable apart from his causal relationship to created beings; it is as cause of all beings that God ‘separates’ himself from all his effects by distinguishing those effects from himself. In this sense the ‘concept’ of God is, in truth, the concept of the relationship of God and world, conceived as an ordered plurality of diverse beings, each of which receives its being from the divine source of being. For Thomas there is no way of thinking of God concretely outside the relationship. The independence, or absoluteness, of God characterizes the way He relates as cause to all other things; it is the independence of the perfect goodness of God, who is not under any obligation or necessity to fulfil himself by creating, but who acts out of his own goodness, establishing all other things in being by letting them share in his own perfection.
Rudi te Velde, Aquinas on God, pp. 84-85
Archpastoral Paschal Letter 2018
To the Beloved-of-God Pastors, Venerable Monastics,
and all the Faithful Children of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the Diaspora and in Ukraine
“It is the day of Resurrection, let us be illumined O people! Pascha, the Lord’s Pascha; for Christ God has led us from death unto life, and from earth to heaven, as we sing a song of victory.” (Paschal Canon)
Very Reverend and Reverend Fathers! Dear Brothers and Sisters!
Christ is Risen!
Today the visible and invisible worlds rejoice, today human voices unite themselves with the voices of the Holy Angels who glorify the Saviour of the world, Christ, risen from the dead. BHis Resurrection, Christ opened to us the path to eternal and blessed life. He, as the Sun of Righteousness, shines His Divine Radiance upon the entire universe, pouring out the rays of His salvific light on all who with faith and love approach Him.
St. Gregory the Theologian, in his paschal sermon, declares: “Pascha – this is the feast of feasts and the festival of festivals, which outshines all other solemnities as much as the sun outshines the stars.”
The entire Orthodox world has just recently experienced the events of Passion week. All we Orthodox Christians have spiritually experienced the derision and suffering which Christ experienced during the final days of His earthly life. One of His disciples betrayed Him; though innocent, He was condemned, scourged, spat upon, mocked, and crucified upon the Cross. It seemed that death, hatred, and evil had triumphed. Some believed that the Saviour would have no followers, for He was no longer among the living.
But we see that Christ, through His Resurrection, was victorious over the enemy of the human race, He destroyed the gates of hell, “by death He trampled down death,” and opened to us the doors of the Heavenly Kingdom.
By His Resurrection, Christ showed forth His Divinity and offered us the promise of our own future resurrection.
The Resurrection of Christ is the foundation of our faith, and faith is that which is most important and necessary in the life of every person. The faith of the apostles was strengthened by the Resurrection of Christ, which was renewed in them by the Holy Spirit and gave them the strength and inspiration to preach the word of God and to establish the Church of Christ on earth.
The holy apostles speak of the Resurrection of Christ not only as an event in the earthly life of the Saviour but as an event in the life of each of us who receive the good news of Pascha: “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you” (Rm. 8:11).
Through His death on the Cross, Christ accomplished the cleansing of the sins of the entire human race. The Resurrection of the Saviour has granted eternal life to each of us. But faith in the suffering and resurrection of Jesus Christ is, by itself, insufficient. A deep unity with God in all aspects of our life is absolutely necessary. The Holy Apostle Paul teaches us: “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin” (Rm. 6: 5-6).
Our earthly life, and our attitude towards God and neighbour, should bear the seal of an unbreakable unity with the Lord God. St. John the Theologian says: “If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if any one serves me, the Father will honor him” (Jn. 12:26).
Observing the actual state of things in the world we see the spiritual and moral decay of humanity. Hatred and wickedness rule in the world, which leads to murder and war. The contemporary person runs after material values, ignoring the spiritual. So let us not forget about our youth and children – let us call them to their natal Church and to God. For they are our future. May the Risen Christ help all of us to conquer sin and enter onto the path of salvation.
During this year we will mark the 100th anniversary of our Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Canada and in the USA. Let us prayerfully remember all the founders, benefactors, and builders of our temples and strive to continue their work for the benefit of the Holy Church.
Dear Brothers and Sisters!
The Holy Evangelist John the Theologian writes that the first words of Christ the Saviour to His disciples after His Resurrection from the dead were “Peace be to you” (Jn. 20:19). We should receive these words with special feeling today because it is exactly peace and concord which the contemporary world needs. “When we lose peace, we then become enemies of those who heard from Christ ‘Peace be to you,” says St. John Chrysostom.
And so let us strive to protect this peace, and in our prayers to ask the Risen Christ that He would rule in Ukraine, in our communities, families, and most importantly in the souls of each one of us. During this magnificent feast of the Holy Pascha of the Lord, we prayerfully beseech the Christ the Risen Saviour and our God, that He would bless our Ukrainian nation and grant it unity, peace, spiritual and economic growth.
May the Blessing of the Risen Christ be with all of you!
Truly, Christ is Risen!
With Archpastoral Blessings,
+YURIJ, Metropolitan of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada
+ANTONY, Metropolitan of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and Diaspora
+JEREMIAH, Archbishop of the Ukrainian Orthodox Eparchies of Brasil and South America
+DANIEL, Archbishop of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and Western Europe
+ILARION, Bishop of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada
+ANDRIY, Bishop of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada
Why Property Rights Matter for Religious Liberty
Ecumenical Patriarch’s Letter for the Opening of the Great and Holy Lent
CATECHETICAL HOMILY ON THE OPENING OF HOLY AND GREAT LENT
+ B A R T H O L O M E W
By God’s Mercy
Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch
To the Plenitude of the Church
May the Grace and Peace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ
Together with our Prayer, Blessing and Forgiveness be with You
We offer a hymn of thanksgiving to the Triune God, who has rendered us worthy once more to reach Holy and Great Lent in order to fight the good fight of ascesis and turn towards the “one thing that is needful” (Luke 10:42).
In a world averse to asceticism, in the presence of contemporary de-sanctification of life and domination of self-centered and self-indulgent ideals, the Orthodox Church insists on a Lenten period of spiritual struggle and “venerable abstinence” for its children in preparation for Holy Week, the Passion and Cross of Christ, so that we may become witnesses and partakers of His glorious Resurrection.
During Great Lent we are called to experience the creative and salvific economy of the Trinitarian God more deeply and to partake in the eschatological inclination, direction and progression of ecclesiastical and spiritual life more tangibly. We become conscious of the tragic impasse of the self-serving arrogance of the Pharisee, the hard-heartedness of the elder son in the Parable of the Prodigal, the callous disregard for hunger, thirst, nakedness, sickness and abandonment of our neighbor, according to the gospel account of the future judgement. We are encouraged to imitate the repentance and humility of the Publican, the return of the Prodigal to the household of the Father, in whose Grace he trusts, as well as those who show mercy to the needy, Gregory Palamas’ life of prayer, John the Sinaite’s and Mary of Egypt’s life of ascesis, so that strengthened through the veneration of the holy icons and the precious Cross we may arrive at a personal encounter with Christ the life-giver who arose from the tomb.
During this blessed period, the communal and social character of spiritual life is revealed with particular emphasis. We are not alone; we do not stand alone before God. We are not a sum of individuals but a community of persons, for whom “existence” means “coexistence”. Ascesis is not individualistic but an ecclesiastical event and achievement—our participation as believers in the mystery and sacraments of the Church, a struggle against selfishness, a practice of philanthropy, a Eucharistic use of creation and a contribution to the transfiguration of the world. It is common freedom, common virtue, common good and common adherence to the rule of the Church. We fast as defined by the Church and not as we individually please. Our ascetic effort functions within the framework of our relations with other members of the ecclesial body, as participation in events, initiatives and actions, which constitute the Church as a community of life and of “truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). Orthodox spirituality is inextricably bound to participation in the entire life of the Church, which culminates in the Divine Eucharist; it is a piety that is nurtured by the Church and expressed as Church.
The period of Great Lent is not a period to highlight religious or emotional extremes or superficial sentimentalities. From an Orthodox perspective, spirituality does not mean turning towards the spirit and the soul, which fosters a dualistic reduction of matter and body. Spirituality is the permeation of our entire existence—spirit, mind and will, soul and body, our entire life—by the Holy Spirit, which is a spirit of communion. Accordingly, then, spirituality means transforming our lives into church, a life inspired and guided by the Comforter, a genuine bearing of spiritual gifts, which presupposes our own free cooperation and participation in the sacramental life of the Church, a godly way of life.
Venerable Brothers and beloved faithful in the Lord,
When spirituality is authentic, it cannot also be fruitless. Whoever truly loves God also loves one’s neighbor everywhere as well as creation in its entirety. This sacrificial love that “never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:8) is a Eucharistic act, the fullness of life on earth, the foretaste and truth of the last times. Our Orthodox faith is an inexhaustible source of empowerment, enabling us in spiritual struggle, God-loving and philanthropic action, and generous bearing of fruit in the world for the benefit of all. Faith and love constitute a uniform and uninterrupted experience of life in the Church. The practice of ascesis, fasting and philanthropy in the Holy Spirit and communion of the Church comprises a barrier preventing ecclesial piety from becoming a religious idol and barren introversion or individualistic feat.
The Spirit of God blows unceasingly in the Church, where God is forever “with us”. In these holy days of Great Lent, we are called to intensify our ascetic struggle against selfish attitudes, to be in “constantly waiting in prayer” (Romans 12:12), “living in humility and practicing acts of mercy” (Abba Poemen), living virtuously and mercifully, forgiving others and exercising love toward one another, glorifying God as the Giver of all that is good, and thanking Him for His abundant gifts. “Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).
Therefore, we invoke on all of you the strength from above so that we may all, with a burning and cheerful desire, welcome this Holy and Great Lent. We wish you “a smooth journey through the fast” and bestow our Patriarchal blessing to our venerable brother hierarchs in Christ, as well as the beloved spiritual children of the Holy and Great Church of Christ throughout the world.
Holy and Great Lent 2018
† Bartholomew of Constantinople
Your fervent supplicant before God
2018 Lenten Epistle
The Great Lent (2018) Epistle of the Permanent Conference of Ukrainian Orthodox Bishops Beyond the Borders of Ukraine
To: The Reverend Presbyters, The Honourable Diaconate in Christ, Venerable Monastics, and Pious Faithful of our Ukrainian Orthodox communities Beyond the borders of our ancestral homeland, Ukraine
We, Orthodox Christian faithful, cry out to our heavenly Father with the heartfelt plea, “My compassionate Lord, call me back to Eden!” at Vespers on the eve of the Sunday commemorating Adam’s expulsion from Paradise. We stand together on the threshold of the Holy & Great Fast, preparing to depart on our forty-day sojourn; our collective gaze is trained on the horizon and on the dawn of the New Day, illumined by the brilliant light of the empty tomb of the New Adam; the light which signifies a promise kept through the act of great sacrificial love, which affords us the possibility of our return to Eden!
In these present days, we find ourselves amid a world saturated with the temptation of pride and conscious, deliberate overconsumption for self-satisfaction and the acquisition of material excess. It is becoming – at a frighteningly rapid rate – ever more devoid of acknowledgement of both God’s law, on the one hand, and the reality of sin, on the other. The deception of the godless idea which attempts to convince us that we can embrace all things that bring us pleasure and satisfaction “so long as no one gets hurt,” is nothing other than a dangerous restating of the serpent’s temptation of Adam and Eve to break their covenant with God by partaking of fruit not created to nourish them, and to acquire knowledge not meant for their comprehension. The result of this initial betrayal of God’s commandments did not limit the “hurt” to Adam and Eve only, but tainted all of humanity with the corruption of sin; for all of us – the fatal consequence of a personal act of betrayal, based on belief in the lie of the evil one that, “You will not surely die” (Genesis 3:4).
We, God’s faithful, need to be vigilant in our daily lives, lest we, too, be tempted to fall for aggressive, secular, atheistic “enlightenment” which is not enlightenment at all! It is, rather, only a symptom of the growing distance between the Lord and His creation and the dangerous comfort with this distance humanity appears to display. Today, arguably, more than ever in the history of our world, the warning of the Psalm to “put not your trust in princes, in the sons of men, in whom there is no salvation,” rings loud and clear.
And so, once again, our precious Mother, the Holy Church, gathers her children, the faithful members of the Body of Christ, into the protective embrace of the Holy and Great Fast. We will enter the spiritual springtime of renewal, refreshing the image of Christ in us by hearing and declaring the unshakeable truths of the Orthodox Christian Faith (1st Sunday). We shall be reminded that this life and its temporary, corruptible pleasures are not our goal, rather it is eternal, joyous communion with God in His Divine Energy (2nd Sunday). We will be witnesses to the victory of sacrificial, selfless love which brings light, life and hope, conquering darkness, death, and despair (3rd Sunday). We will be encouraged to struggle and battle in spiritual warfare, to ascend the ladder of virtues which reaches up to the Heavenly Kingdom (4th Sunday). Finally, we will be comforted by God’s offer to forgive all our sins – as small or as great as they may be – and we will be inspired to repent, reject the temptations of the world, overcome the passions of the flesh, and flee to our desert where there is peace and where we can hear the call to return to communion with Christ and to Paradise (5th Sunday)!
And so, our dear ones, as we prepare to embark on our Lenten sojourn, let us be of good courage and turn our efforts away from satisfying the wants of the flesh and toward good deeds, to recognizing Christ in one-another – especially in those who are in need of our compassion – and let us commit our spiritual efforts toward receiving God’s grace. Let us not be distracted by the cynicism and empty promises of the godless, but let us stand together confidently as members of the Body of Christ, the New Israel; let us liken ourselves to Old Israel as they took their first steps in freedom from bondage, and begin our Lenten journey with the joy-filled words of the Holy Church:
Let us begin the all-holy season of fasting with joy; let us shine with the bright radiance of the holy commandments of Christ our God: with the brightness of love and the splendor of prayer, the strength of good courage and the purity of holiness! So, clothed in garments of light, let us hasten to the holy resurrection on the third day, that shines on the world with the glory of eternal life!
We, your spiritual fathers, hierarchs, and constant intercessors, bid each one of you a blessed Lenten sojourn, to the glory of God and for our salvation and eternal life!
With love in Christ, the Lord,
+Yurij, Metropolitan – Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada
+Antony, Metropolitan – Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the Diaspora
+Jeremiah – Archbishop, Ukrainian Orthodox Diocese of Brazil and Church South America
+Daniel – Archbishop of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and Western Europe Eparchy
+Ilarion – Bishop, Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada
+Andriy – Bishop, Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada
The Great and Holy Fast – The year of our Lord 2018
The mystery of man’s reconciliation with God
Lowliness is assured by majesty, weakness by power, mortality by eternity. To pay the debt of our sinful state, a nature that was incapable of suffering was joined to one that could suffer. Thus, in keeping with the healing that we needed, one and the same mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ, was able to die in one nature, and unable to die in the other.
He who is true God was therefore born in the complete and perfect nature of a true man, whole in his own nature, whole in ours. By our nature we mean what the Creator had fashioned in us from the beginning, and took to himself in order to restore it.
For in the Saviour there was no trace of what the deceiver introduced and man, being misled, allowed to enter. It does not follow that because he submitted to sharing in our human weakness he therefore shared in our sins.
He took the nature of a servant without stain of sin, enlarging our humanity without diminishing his divinity. He emptied himself; though invisible he made himself visible, though Creator and Lord of all things he chose to be one of us mortal men. Yet this was the condescension of compassion, not the loss of omnipotence. So he who in the nature of God had created man, became in the nature of a servant, man himself.
Thus the Son of God enters this lowly world. He comes down from the throne of heaven, yet does not separate himself from the Father’s glory. He is born in a new condition, by a new birth.
He was born in a new condition, for, invisible in his own nature, he became visible in ours. Beyond our grasp, he chose to come within our grasp. Existing before time began, he began to exist at a moment in time. Lord of the universe, he hid his infinite glory and took the nature of a servant. Incapable of suffering as God, he did not refuse to be a man, capable of suffering. Immortal, he chose to be subject to the laws of death.
He who is true God is also true man. There is no falsehood in this unity as long as the lowliness of man and the pre-eminence of God coexist in mutual relationship.
As God does not change by his condescension, so man is not swallowed up by being exalted. Each nature exercises its own activity, in communion with the other. The Word does what is proper to the Word, the flesh fulfils what is proper to the flesh.
One nature is resplendent with miracles, the other falls victim to injuries. As the Word does not lose equality with the Father’s glory, so the flesh does not leave behind the nature of our race.
One and the same person – this must be said over and over again – is truly the Son of God and truly the son of man. He is God in virtue of the fact that in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He is man in virtue of the fact that the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.
Pope St Leo the Great
What if she had said No?
(Universalis) The question may strike you as irreverent. How dare I suggest that the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Heaven, Tower of David, and all the other titles, could have left us in the lurch like that?
But what if she had?
Could she have said No? You might say that of course she couldn’t, she was far too holy — but you would be guilty of demeaning and dangerous sentimentality. It is demeaning because it turns Our Lady from a free human being into a sanctified automaton. The whole glory of the Annunciation is that Mary, the second Eve, could have said No to God but she said Yes instead. That is what we celebrate, that is what we praise her for; and rightly so.
This sentimental view is dangerous too. If we believe that the most important decision in the history of the world was in fact inevitable, that it couldn’t have been otherwise, then that means it was effortless. Now we have a marvellous excuse for laziness. Next time we’re faced with a tough moral decision, we needn’t worry about doing what is right. Just drift, and God will make sure that whatever choice we make is the right one. If God really wants us to do something he’ll sweep us off our feet the way he did Mary, and if he chooses not to, it’s hardly our fault, is it?
So Mary could have said No to Gabriel. What if she had? He couldn’t just go and ask someone else, like some sort of charity collector. With all the genealogies and prophecies in the Bible, there was only one candidate. It’s an alarming thought. Ultimately, of course, God would have done something: the history of salvation is the history of him never abandoning his people however pig-headed they were. But God has chosen to work through human history. If the first attempt at redemption took four thousand years to prepare, from the Fall to the Annunciation, how many tens of thousands of years would the next attempt have taken?
Even if the world sometimes makes us feel like cogs in a machine, each of us is unique and each of us is here for a purpose: just because it isn’t as spectacular a purpose as Mary’s, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. When we fail to seek our vocation, or put off fulfilling some part of it, we try to justify ourselves by saying that someone else will do it better, that God will provide, that it doesn’t really matter. But we are lying. However small a part I have to play, the story of the Annunciation tells me it is my part and no-one else can do it.
Faced with the enormity of her choice, how was Mary able to decide? If she said No, unredeemed generations would toil on under the burden of sin. If she said Yes, she herself would suffer, and so would her Son; but both would be glorified. Millions of people not yet born would have Heaven open to them; but millions of others would suffer oppression and death in her son’s name. The stakes were almost infinite.
You might say that Mary didn’t worry about all this, just obeyed God; but I don’t believe it. What God wanted was not Mary’s unthinking obedience but her full and informed consent as the representative of the entire human race. The two greatest miracles of the Annunciation are these: that God gave Mary the wisdom to know the consequences of her decision, and that he gave her the grace not to be overwhelmed by that knowledge.
When we come to an important decision in our lives, we can easily find our minds clouded by the possible consequences, or, even more, by partial knowledge of them. How can we ever move, when there is so much good and evil whichever way we go? The Annunciation gives us the answer. God’s grace will give us the strength to move, even if the fate of the whole world is hanging in the balance. After all, God does not demand that our decisions should be the correct ones (assuming that there even is such a thing), only that they should be rightly made.
There is one more truth that the Annunciation teaches us, and it is so appalling that I can think of nothing uplifting to say about it that will take the sting away: perhaps it is best forgotten, because it tells us more about God than we are able to understand. The Almighty Father creates heaven and earth, the sun and all the stars; but when he really wants something done, he comes, the Omnipotent and Omniscient, to one of his poor, weak creatures — and he asks.
And, day by day, he keeps on asking us.