July 27, 2011

The Temptation from the Right:

The Spiritual Root of Schism

In recent times we have seen several examples of tiny groups of zealots, who have split away from various Local Orthodox Churches, Greek, Romanian, Bulgarian, Russian, Serbian and others. Their schisms have occurred on the self-justifying pretext that their participants alone have the pure Orthodox Faith and alone adhere to the canons. We have also seen, almost automatically, how these tiny groups of zealots have then argued amongst themselves and split further. For example, there are at least fourteen groups of Old Calendarists in Greece, but their total number is less than 1% of the whole population. What is the spiritual root of such schisms?

The root, as ever, is pride, lack of humility. The passion of condemning others makes hearts swell in self-admiration at supposed self-righteousness and even, in the imagination, holiness. This means that, rather than seek out qualities in others, the schismatic seeks out their faults. Quite often the logic is to find someone in the Church, if possible a member of the clergy, and the more senior the better, who has said or done something obviously wrong and then conclude: ‘I cannot accept the discipline of being in communion with ‘them’ (= the millions of people in that Church) because one person in their Church is wrong. If I am in communion with them, then my own pure faith will be stained and I will be contaminated. Therefore, I will belong to another group, which will be a new Church, and so I will remain pure’. In this way the devil deludes his victims into thinking that their group alone is pure, virtuous and righteous. This is pure pride, for none of us is pure, virtuous and righteous. 

If Christ could tolerate Judas among the Twelve, who are we to complain about the eccentric opinions of some erring intellectual? All this becomes the sin of self-delusion, for it is reinforced with self-justification. This is why it is impossible to reason with them, for any disagreement is interpreted as a personal affront. Sadly, self-justification may lead to gossip and slander and the use of dreams or false prophecies in order to cover egoistic passions and ignorance: ‘St X told me this, therefore I am right’. ‘St X appeared to me in a dream and told me this’. (And through diabolical self-flattery, they are not only right but also holy, for did not St X justify them and were they not so worthy that St X even appeared to them – and to them alone?). Thus is revealed an exclusive revelation, a dream based on imagination, which is in fact only self-flattery, the mocking of the demons.

This in turn can lead the victims of these passions to cut themselves off from communion with others, ironically, with the accusation that others have cut themselves off from communion with them. To cut oneself off from communion with others in the same Orthodox Church is to say that the others’ sacraments are somehow defective and do not communicate grace. This is a rejection of the Body of Christ – of the Church. This is the definition of schism. This is precisely that same pride which then causes its victims to cut off communion with one another, to split into numerous sects, parties, factions, ‘isms’ and argumentativeness. This is the spirit, which always seeks to find fault in others, to criticise the good intentions of others and constantly to change ‘jurisdiction’. 

In this way, the words ‘Church’ and Christ’ are replaced by the names of leaders, often the names of individual bishops. ‘I am of Paul: and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas’ (I Cor 1, 12). Then accusations, recriminations, insults and argumentativeness begin and bring death to the soul, for the soul can only thrive on peace and the catholicity (sobornost) of the Church: ‘In peace let us pray to the Lord’. (There is no prayer without peace). ‘For the peace from on high and the salvation of our souls, let us pray to the Lord’. (There is no salvation for the soul without peace). ‘For the peace of the whole world, the good estate of the holy churches of God, and the union of all, let us pray to the Lord’. (We pray for the whole world and, in catholicity, for all the holy Churches of God (Greek, Russian, Serbian, Georgian, Cypriot, Bulgarian, Romanian...) and the unity of all people, not just for a tiny sectarian corner).

Schismatics like to justify themselves by claiming that they alone follow the canons strictly (akrivos) and they alone struggle for purity and piety. This in fact is only self-justification. In the same way, the Jews condemned Christ because He healed on the Sabbath. Only they followed the law (the canons), which they quoted in detail, only they were righteous. But such righteousness is the righteousness of the pharisee, of the letter of the law, not of grace. And the spirit of the pharisee is always destructive and negative, always accompanied by unjust insult, slander, jealousy and hatred, even the crucifixion of its victims. However, all this can be made up for and forgiven by the abandonment of self-justification and the return to obedience, which is called repentance. Those who sadden Mother-Church by falling away from Her always gladden Mother-Church by returning to Her. 


July 04, 2011

New Blog Site

I have started a new blog site to journal my experiences at seminary. My post to this blog will be quite limited.


June 30, 2011

St. Tikhon's Seminary - Our New Journey

This is one of the more personal posting that I have ever made here. Since enrolling in the Orthodox Pastoral School (which I highly recommend for those looking for an online theological education) I have largely neglected this blog. This neglect will likely only continue as I start my seminary education this fall at St. Tikhon's Theological Seminary.

I found out this news out only last week and have so much to do in order to be ready for a move across county (from Arizona) in a month. While at St. Tikhon's I hope to be able to give some time to this blog but I am only kidding myself if I think that it will be more than the occasional update; seminary life, a wife, and three kids will have me spread pretty thin. I ask all of you who stumble upon this blog to please keep my family in your prayers as we set out on our new journey to St. Tikhon's. Financially we do not know how we will exactly do it but will be depending on God to see us through.

For those of you that are interested I am trying to sell some of my older books to free up space and get a little extra cash for the road trip. I have them listed on Amazon. Some are Orthodox others are more random but it would be appreciated if you could make a purchase if you see something that you like. Go here to see them listed: http://www.amazon.com/shops/AGK47705LY64P

With love in Christ,
Michael L.

April 25, 2011

The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia - Official Website

The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia - Official Website: "NEW YORK: April 22, 2011
Paschal Epistle of Metropolitan HILARION of Eastern America and New York, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia

I greet you, fellow archpastors, and dear in Christ fathers, brothers, and sisters, with the luminous, universal, and eternal triumph of Holy Pascha. Along with you, I cry out with all my heart: Truly Christ is Risen!

How much bright joy these words contain! They destroy all sorrows, disappointments, hardships, and privations, while bestowing consolation and blessings.

Christ is Risen! If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain, says the Apostle Paul; our hope in Christ would be to no purpose. But Christ is risen, thereby demonstrating that He is truly God, that the doctrine preached by Him is true, and that our faith is true. He promised His Apostles that He would suffer, die, and rise again on the third day – and His word was fulfilled. He arose in our human flesh, which means, according to His veritable promise, that we too will be resurrected at the time determined by Him. He is “the first-born from the dead,” as He is called in the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great that is served on Sundays during Great Lent. And we who believe in Him will also arise and be with Him.

None of our troubles or afflictions, neither sorrows nor the loss of loved ones, can overshadow the joy of the Resurrection of Christ. For our life is not here; here is but a temporary sojourn, a preparation for the real life, the life of eternal blessedness. There we will meet God, the saints, and all who were close to us. Celebrating “this chosen and holy day” of great joy in this earthly vale, let us recall the words of F. M. Dostoevsky who, while in exile in a labor camp, said: “I have not become despondent and low in spirit. Life is life everywhere: life is within us and not in externals. I am surrounded by people; to remain a man amongst men and to remain a Man forever, in whatever misfortune, not becoming despondent or falling into despair – this is what life is about, this is its goal.”

May God, the Lover of Mankind Who arose on the third day, help the people of New Zealand and Japan, who continue to experience the terrible consequences of the disasters that have befallen them! May the joy of Pascha fortify and renew the inner strength of all us sinners, who are trying, each according to his strength, to follow Christ and to bear one’s cross!

May the Lord bless the work of the upcoming Council of Bishops, called upon to chart the future path of the saving ministry of our Russian Church Abroad! During these holy days, let us send up prayers to the Most Blessed Virgin Theotokos, our Hodigitria, and to St. John, whose incorrupt relics rest in the Cathedral of the “Joy of All Who Sorrow” in San Francisco, that the Lord, Who is the Giver of Life, may pour out His grace-filled power on the Council of Bishops, that “all counsels be fulfilled,” by the grace and will of the Holy Spirit.

“My joy, Christ is risen!” This is how Saint Seraphim of Sarov would welcome all who came to him. So do I, a sinner, welcome each of you.

Christ has Truly Risen, fellow hierarchs, most honorable fathers, beloved in the Lord brothers and sisters!

With Paschal joy in the Risen Christ, and asking your prayers,

+ Hilarion,
Metropolitan of Eastern America and New York,
First Hierarch of the Russian Church Outside of Russia.
Pascha 2011

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April 05, 2011

On Attendance Declining in Russian Churches in the West : A Russian Orthodox Church Website

On Attendance Declining in Russian Churches in the West : A Russian Orthodox Church Website: "Why is Attendance Declining in Russian Churches in the West?

Archpriest Serafim Gan Mar 23rd, 2011

Archpriest Serafim Gan

There are, of course, many reasons.

The old emigration was more ideological: it was concerned with the instruction and upbringing of future generations in the spirit of Orthodoxy, with love for the Church, for the Homeland, and for our rich Russian culture saturated with spirituality. It created churches, schools, and social and patriotic organizations. It was aflame with love for Russia and its ideals of holy Russia.

Many of the founders of “Russia abroad” have already gone to the better world; and the new emigration has a more economical character. Although, to tell the truth, a considerable part of this new emigration visits churches when homesick, where consolation and, in a way, a piece of Russia can be found.

Nevertheless, the majority of these people loses the language quite quickly and forgets about its ancestry, while those trying to remain Russian and Orthodox have problems in bringing up their children in a corresponding spirit.

Parents, descendants of the old emigration, have the same problem. Their children assimilate and integrate into the local environment, forgetting about the great heritage of their grandfathers and grandmothers.

In our complicated foreign conditions, this is analogous to falling away from the faith, since here rejection of one’s ancestry amounts to renouncing one’s life in the Church.

As for local converts, who are zealous when they begin their integration into the Orthodox Church, they often “unconvert,” as one ever-memorable bishop of the Russian Church Abroad put it.[1] But, thank God, this does not happen to all of them.

Besides the aforesaid, we do not sufficiently explain the divine services; we do not penetrate together with our parishioners into this bottomless treasury of wisdom and piety that our liturgical traditions represent. Therefore, many people stand in church uncomprehendingly, losing interest. But the more people know, the more they will become interested and begin to penetrate the meaning of the divine services, thereby acquiring benefit and strength.

But the principle reason, in my opinion, is that we, clergy and laymen, have failed to be Christians.

When we discuss the modern vacillations of mankind – the surrounding rage, hate, temptations, and absence of faith – we blame everything on “the mighty of this world” and on the people around us – that is, on others and not on ourselves. We like to point out their sins, deficiencies, and errors, forgetting “to look in our own garden,” as popular wisdom puts it.

The Apostle Paul warned that many people would not turn to God, would not come to the Church because of us, believers, inasmuch as they do not see in us real followers of the Risen Jesus, Who would shine with His beauty and holiness, with His victory over evil, Who would through their lives spread the Kingdom of God “in this adulterous and sinful generation.”

People in our communities likely do not see us as examples of a vital and compelling preaching of Christianity, one that would inspire them to serve God. And, indeed, if we take a look at our lives, we see that, unfortunately, the life of an Orthodox person does not correspond to the Gospel by far.

Archimandrite Spyridon, a nineteenth-century missionary-preacher in Siberia, had major difficulties in preaching the Gospel to Buddhists. Once he visited a Buddhist monastery, where he had a discussion about Christianity with the monks-llamas. After a two-hour conversation, one of these llamas said the following:

“Yes, Mr. Missionary, the Christian religion is indeed the highest and most universal religion. If there were intelligent creatures like us on other planets, they could not have another, better religion than Christianity, because Christianity is not of this world, but is God’s revelation.

“In Christianity there is nothing human or created; it is God’s thought, pure as a tear or a crystal. This thought is the Logos, which John the Theologian says became flesh in the incarnation of God. Christ is the incarnation of Logos; His teaching has shown the world new paths of life for people and was a revelation of God’s will for them. This will is that Christians live as Jesus did. And Christ’s doctrine was the echo of His life.

“But have a look yourself, Mr. Missionary, have an impartial look: does the world live as Christ taught? Christ preached peace, meekness, humility, universal forgiveness, and to love God and people. He commanded to pay back harm with good, not to collect riches, not just not to kill but also not to be angry, to preserve marriage in purity, and to love God more than father, mother, son, daughter, wife, and even more that oneself. So taught Christ; but you Christians are not like that.

“No, Mr. Missionary, first let Christians themselves believe in their God and let them show us how they love Him. Perhaps then we will accept you missionaries as God’s angels and will accept Christianity.”

Further, Fr. Spyridon writes: “How painful and offensive it was, but I understood that in many regards the Buddhist llama was right; I could not take offense at him personally. ‘What could this be,’ I thought, ‘are we Christians ourselves enemies of Christ’s preaching? Does our life really dishonor Christianity in the world?’ And I felt vividly that, indeed, my life goes counter to the Gospel” (Christian Thought, 1917).

Put simply, we should blame neither those who do not come to church nor this world that “lieth in wickedness,” which distracts them from “the one thing needful”; but we should look at ourselves. And here it is necessary to remember the words of Archbishop Anthony (Medvedev; + 2000) of Western America and San Francisco, who said: “We should not look at others and reproach them, but should care constantly about correcting ourselves and living as Christians.”

Believe me, beloved, I write these reflections neither to criticize our devoted clergymen and laymen, nor to upset them, but rather to create serious and thoughtful discussion about this important question, to learn how others solve this problem. The present spiritual crisis is, it seems to me, God’s instruction. And to receive God’s instruction means to receive mercy from Him.

Therefore, having realized our deficiencies and striving to overcome them, we should not despair, but rather try, according to our strength, to reach out to God and to put right our church life, to make it “the light of the world” and “the salt of the earth.”
[1] Editors’ note: This is a play on words in Russian. The Russian word konvert, borrowed from the English word “convert,” literally means “envelope.” Hence, the same sentence could be literally rendered: “As for local envelopes, who are zealous when they begin their integration into the Orthodox Church, they often ‘become unglued,’ as one ever-memorable bishop of the Russian Church Abroad put it.”

Translated from Russian by Ekaterina Chernysheva

Edited by Jacob Aleksander Books and Hierodeacon Samuel (Nedelsky)

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"Let My Prayer Arise" Bortniansky duet