Category Archives: Articles

A Picture of the Soul; A Reflection on “The Picture of Dorian Gray”

By Nathan Jekel

If you have ever been a student, chances are you have been instructed to read a book that you had no interest in. One such book that is often assigned to students is The Picture of Dorian Gray. Though this may seem at best a waste of time and at worst a pernicious attempt to disrupt your life, I am going to suggest that in reflecting on certain themes that it raises, you may reap spiritual benefits from Oscar Wilde’s novel. By interpreting the story of Dorian Gray through the lens of our faith, we can gain insight into how indulgence of the senses harms the soul the how one can receive spiritual healing.

dorian grayThe novel takes place in London in the late 19th century, chiefly among members of the upper class. The story begins as Basil Hallward, an artist, finishes a masterful portrait of Dorian Gray, a beautiful young man whom he has recently met. When Basil’s friend, Lord Henry Wotton, sees this portrait and expresses a desire to meet Dorian. Basil is reluctant, but Lord Henry soon achieves an introduction. Lord Henry is fascinated by Dorian’s innocence and avails him of his own worldview wherein the distinction between good and evil is unimportant and the purpose of life is the pursuit of sensual pleasures. Dorian, being young and naïve, is quickly captivated by Lord Henry’s lifestyle, and we see him begin to live solely for the indulgence of his senses.

The senses are our means of receiving information from the world around us. Every good thing and every evil thing that we encounter enters us by way of our senses. St. Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain says this in his Handbook of Spiritual Counsel: “Life enters when [the senses] are governed well and do not partake of their usual passions. Death enters when they partake of “corpses” as do the birds of prey; …when they eat rotted food as do the flies.” If we expose our senses only to good things – e.g. nature, scripture, and the divine services – we keep our minds and souls pure and unblemished. If we allow our senses to be barraged by the evil things of this world – e.g. violence, sensuality, and idle gossip – then we become enslaved to passions and worldly lust.

Saint-Nicodemus-of-the-Holy-Mountain-Athos
As Dorian becomes thus enslaved, he begins to destroy people’s lives through his cruelty and selfishness. He notices that for every terrible act he commits, his portrait – with which Basil gifted him – undergoes a physical change. Scars appear on the painted visage and the expression becomes cold and cruel. As the years pass and Dorian blackens his soul with wicked deeds, the portrait – which Dorian hides away in his attic – becomes ever more hideous, while Dorian himself remains unnaturally young and beautiful. How relevant this is to our own lives! The things of the world appeal to our senses, but under the surface they are “corpses” and “rotted food.” Likewise, the world teaches us to care painstakingly for our outward beauty and to ignore the corruption that lies within us. Let us waste no time in denying the world and confronting ourselves. As St. Isaac the Syrian says, “This life has been given to you for repentance; do not waste it in vain pursuits.”

When Dorian finally faces the reality of his situation, he does not repent but attacks his portrait in anger and despair. Like Judas Iscariot, who, racked with guilt for his betrayal of Christ, hung himself, Dorian felt remorse for his actions but did not seek forgiveness. St. Paul says in his Second Letter to the Corinthians: “Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance… For Godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, …but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:9-10). When we examine our souls and see our sinfulness, we pray for Godly sorrow that we might repent and be forgiven. “Are you a sinner? Do not become discouraged, and come to Church to put forward repentance” (St. John Chrysostom).

The Church’s message to sinners – let us not tell ourselves that we escape this category – is not one of condemnation, but of hope. Christ himself said, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). “I do not will the death of the ungodly man. So the ungodly man should turn from his way and live” (Ezekiel 33:11). The Church gives us many opportunities to retreat from the sensuality of the world and examine our lives. By following the prescribed rules of fasting, prayer, and scripture reading; and by attending the divine services, we will begin to detach ourselves from earthly cares and instead fill our senses with “every good and perfect gift” (James 1:17).

Having explored The Picture of Dorian Gray from the perspective of an Orthodox Christian, we have found that it has relevance to our own spiritual journeys. By enumerating Dorian Gray’s mistakes, we can be on guard against making similar ones in our own lives. So, whether you are a student faced with a reading assignment or anyone with an obligation to read a book, I encourage you to approach your reading with a mind that is open and yet firmly grounded in the teachings of Jesus Christ and his Church.

Sign-Posts or Ortho-Speak?

Sign-Posts or Ortho-Speak?

Mr Andrew Boyd

Our salvation is in and through Jesus Christ.  As we hear our Lord and Savior tell us in the Gospel of John, “I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture” (Jn 10:9). This Door, however, is not meant to be a secret known only to a select few, but to be shared with the all the nations (cf Mt 24:14). We Christians have the duty to point the way to that door, to be signs illuminating and revealing it.

signsLanguage is the most basic way that we preach the Gospel, and in our ever-changing culture, our language is becoming less effective as it blends more into the noise of trending social media topics, cable-news-led fear-mongering, and interest-group-based truthiness. Words are reduced to characters, conversations reduced to tweets and texts, and eternal truths reduced to sound-bytes.

On the opposite side of the same coin we are seeing increasing complexity and exclusivity within a group’s shared language. New terms are invented in pursuit of efficiency or because of a perceived inadequacy in past expressions, and in the culture where such a phrase exists, the fastest adopters are rewarded.  Society is constantly finding newer “politically correct” labels for people and events. Those in the medical industry have long complained that their dialect is a nonsensical slurry of three-letter acronyms. And the business world is a veritable linguistics factory, constantly churning out new ways of expressing “value-added” over and over again.

Exhausted_man_holding_headAs someone who works in corporate communications, I spend a good part of my day waging an uphill battle against “business speak,” coded phrases that mean little and make everyone feel part of a safe and special club. Phrases like “game-changing” “value-added” and “deferred success” are either lazy place-holders for original thoughts or fancy-sounding euphemisms (“deferred success” means failure). Although these expressions reach new heights in modern business parlance, such terms permeate our culture. One of the worst instances of this deliberate encrypting was the downright Orwellian “Failure to Thrive” diagnosis I once read on a hospital chart.  There is no reason to believe that tweets, texts, sound-bytes, acronyms, or clever amalgamations can  actually help us communicate more effectively. Only more exclusively.Meanwhile, so long as the speaker understands the point of the communication, it doesn’t even matter whether the message was actually received and understood.  I told them exactly what I meant. They just didn’t understand!

We Orthodox Christians fare no better. We have our own terms and our own ideas which, when taken to the extreme, serve to form our own safe and special club. Though most of us are capable of setting these phrases and ideals aside from time to time, it’s discouraging how quickly these themes surface in conversations on our faith.

Typically we share about our faith in five different ways. Each is perfectly understandable, but each one tragically misrepresents or outright ignores the centrality of our faith in Jesus Christ. Each is a lost opportunity for sharing the Gospel with another person in our lives, and it is critical that we recognize where (and how easily!) we often go astray.

1. Ooh! It’s sooooooooooo  Pretty.
We love to show off how beautiful our faith is, which is not really a bad thing, but neither is it preaching or missionary activity. Despite one account of St. Vladimir’s conversion (you know the phrase: “we knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth”), few in our faith are here because it’s “pretty.” We’re here because of Christ. That’s not always a pretty thing, at least by conventional standards. Christ’s saving work on the Cross is to us the most beautiful Door towards salvation, eternal life, and the loving embrace of the Father.

history_lesson2. “Well you see, back in 1054…” 

Few are the people who want a history lecture, but this is the most common thing I hear when people start to answer any question about their faith. It’s right up there with the dreaded “We’ll we’re like the Catholics but… ( insert your difference du jour:  married Priests, leavened Eucharist. Filioque).” Our faith, our story of salvation did not start in 1054. Neither do we identify ourselves as “like those other people, sort of”. Christ is not a door to Byzantine history or sectarian identity.

3. “Is Outrage!” 

“I’m an Orthodox Christian so I find (x) to be a complete outrage”. In this equation, (x) can stand for anything from a specific social policy or politician, the current tragic situation in the Middle East, the movements of the moon in relation to the Earth (cough, calendars), the fall of Constantinople, really anything. This is a very tragic type of sharing because we use our faith to join the “look at me” culture instead of transforming culture and being in myself a sign pointing towards the Door.

4. “I’m Welsh, so of course I’m Orthodox”

We all know this one too, when we define our faith first by an ethnic culture. By doing that we but boundaries on the preaching of the Gospel that shouldn’t be there and anyone hearing or reading this kind of language is bound to react with “Well, I’m not Welsh, so I guess that’s not for me, those food/dances/music sure do look nice though.” This door reads “Welsh Only”.Blue Doors Locked

5. “Well, my Antiochian archimandrite said I should refocus my nous away from Patristic theologoumena

This is the most pernicious of all the ways we speak about our faith because not only does it rob the Gospel of its catholicity, but it makes us into gnostics. When we use these coded “Orthodox-only” phrases we, knowingly or unknowingly, tell the world that we are smarter and know more than they do, and that anyone who doesn’t know this specially coded language is on the outside. It’s reminds me always of all the questions that the Pharisees and other religious authorities tried to stump Christ with in the Gospels. Witnessing this way doesn’t just remove the sign from the Door, but dismantles it and throws away the instructions for rebuilding it (which in this extended metaphor are those very nice instructions from Ikea in multiple languages with efficient, Swedish pictures.)

These five ways are the most common types of how we speak about faith publicly, in conversation, at coffee hour, in social media, that I have encountered. They may have their value, but mostly they simply give us something to speak about besides Jesus Christ. Challenge yourself the next time you identify as Orthodox in public not to answer with anything but the good news of Jesus Christ. Take the social risk, don’t fall back on history, culture, coded language, outrage or aesthetics.

madisonI feel this challenge every day when I walk up Madison Avenue to my office. Today, will I have a genuine encounter with someone on the street? Will I preach a good word to them in language or action? Will I follow Christ’s example and step outside of social norms and comfortable religious definitions and meet a Samaritan at the well? Or will I do what I do most days, blast Byzantine chant on my iPod and complain under my breath as I push European tourists out of my way.

The choice is mine every morning.

 

 

 

Living Translations

Living Translations

Fr. David C. Rucker
OCMC Mission Specialist

 Therefore, since we have been given this ministry of loving others, because we have received unconditional love from God Himself, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. But even if our Gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them. For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake. … But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. … For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So then death is working in us, but life in you.          — 2 Cor. 4:1-12

St-Paul-Preaching-in-AthensAs an apostle (missionary), St. Paul was learning how to live and tell The Story of who God is and who we are created to become to a new generation, in a new culture, in a new location. That, by the way, is what Christian Orthodoxy is about: Who is God? Who am I? It is Truth and Reality in all its fullness. This is why the story is called “Gospel”, which means “good news.”

But the original context of the term “gospel” was not just “good news” in some generic, mild sense. It was fantastic, anxiously-awaited, life-changing and life-saving news! When a city or kingdom was being attacked by invading enemies, the people in the path of potential destruction would be waiting to hear if their king’s army had been able to defend and defeat those threatening them. If the message came that the enemy had been defeated, that meant a village would not be burned to the ground, that mothers, daughters and wives would not be raped, that sons would not be sold into slavery, and that men would not be brutally murdered. When the “gospel” arrived by emissary with the announcement of the king’s victory, this was the best news of a life-time!

If we are not living and sharing the Christian Gospel in a way that elicits this kind of response in people ready to receive “good news,” we ought to ask ourselves some hard questions. What news are people hearing and seeing from us? Have we resorted to a prepackaged presentation of the Gospel that disregards the hearer’s language and culture?  Are we mistranslating the message either with our words or actions?

There is only one story: The never-changing Gospel

There is only one story: The never-changing Gospel

There is only one Story, the “never-changing Gospel.” The Good News is that we were meant to share in the divine Love and Communion of the Holy Trinity and that although communion is broken, it can be healed and harmony restored between us and our Creator, between us and other persons, and between us and creation. The closer any movie, book or person comes to telling or living The Story, the more it moves our hearts.

This is true for every people group in the world. All share a sense of failing to live up to the Ideal as understood in their society.  In some cultures The Story has been virtually forgotten””the people have become blinded (the Piraha people of the Amazon might be an example, but the disillusioned Protestant missionary who attempted to translate the Bible with them might be an even better example), while others have kept parts of the story alive through oral tradition, with a longing for more (for example, the Santal of India, the Karen of Burma, the Lisu of China, and the Asmat of New Guinea).

But don’t look for one single method of telling The Story (proclaiming the Gospel). The methods are as varied as the people who share and the ones who hear. After all, the Good News is not a religion, philosophy or school of thought. The Good News begins with a personal encounter and ensuing relationship with Jesus Christ, Who is unconditional Love Incarnate. If we believe Jesus is The Way and The Truth and The Life, we can expect the Gospel to be lived and shared through each one of us in unique and unrepeatable ways that are just right for our own culture, language, and time in history. Culture and language are always changing, and so we change as well. We really do have this message “in jars of clay.” Contrary to what many think, Orthodox really do believe in “change.” After all, repentance (healing) means change!

St. Paul points out a common experience which is required of each person to effectively incarnate (live and tell) the Gospel to others. Each person must be “delivered to death for Jesus’ sake”, or, as he wrote in the first letter to the Corinthians, “…I die daily…” (15:31), and to the Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ…” (2:20). The deep wounds of sin, death  and the devil (broken communion, fear of never becoming a Person or genuine human being, and the constant accusations of the Liar and Deceiver) which are manifested in pride, self-love, and vain glory can only be healed by a violent death of all my rights and expectations. To believe in the Christ of the New Testament means nothing less than trusting my whole life and all I have and all I love to Him. I will only discover how much I have truly done this as those things I hold most dear are threatened or taken away. And it is in the middle of that pain and suffering, actually in death itself, that I become most like Christ and experience the Incarnation in my life. Those are also the times when the Good News will be proclaimed in my ever changing culture in the clearest, most authentic ways to people whom I have grown to love. Any motive other than the love of Christ is suspect, and can be quite dangerous to myself and others (2 Cor. 4:14).

220px-Tikhon_of_MoscowWe have recently celebrated the glorification of a number of our American saints, including St. Tikhon, Enlightener of North America and Moscow (9 Oct). After nine years of serving as the hierarch in America, and having assisted in raising up new hierarchs such as Innocent and Raphael, he was transferred to become the Metropolitan of Moscow, and as such, presided over the All Russia Council (1917-1918), in which the Patriarchate of Moscow was restored, more than two hundred years after Peter the Great abolished the position in 1700. The council members knew that whomever was elected would face tremendous challenges and persecution from the Bolsheviks. Revolution and civil war seemed inevitable. Metropolitan Tikhon’s name was drawn from the lots and during the service that immediately followed the Patriarch-elect declared: “From now on, my duty shall be to take care of all the churches of Russia and to die for their sake every day. May He who has called upon me grant me His divine help and His all-powerful blessings.”

Translate Computer Key In Blue Showing Online TranslatorOur calling and the cost to live out the never changing Gospel in an authentic, culturally accurate way is no less today. You might well be the only translation of Orthodox Christianity that one of your friends or acquaintances get to see or experience this week. Will your translation be Good News to them?

Unto Ages of Ages

Unto Ages of Ages

Mr Alexander Titus

We frequently hear about the “secular” worldview, “secular humanism,” or simply “secularism,” set in contradistinction to the “religious,” “faith-based,” or, as is the typical case in the West, “Christian” worldview. However, it’s always extremely important to define our terms carefully, especially when dialoguing with those whom we disagree, lest we talk past each other. With this in mind, I actually think it’s this very word, “secular,” that can help us understand the place of the Gospel in our ever-changing world. In short, I want to suggest that the term “secular” is in reality a deeply Christian word, and one which we shouldn’t let so easily go to the media pundits.

We frequently hear about the “secular”  in contradistinction to the “religious" ...

We frequently hear about the “secular” in contradistinction to the “religious” …

Etymologically, the word “secular” derives from the classical Latin saecularis, the adjectival form of the noun saeculum, the rough equivalent of the English “age” and the Greek Î±á¼°ÏŽÎ½ (from which we also get “aeon”). Thus the formula in saecula saeculorum is the literal Latin translation of the Greek εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων, or in English, “unto the ages of ages.” The phrase, besides serving as the conclusion to the most common and recognizable Orthodox doxology (“Glory… now and ever…), finds its origins in the letters of St Paul. Unfortunately, many Biblical translators seem to believe that it is merely a poetic way of saying “forever and ever,” and render it as such in English.

While it’s certainly true that “ages of ages” has the sense of “eternity,” the more literal meaning also contains a connotation of immediacy. That is, when we glorify (“doxologize”) God using this language, we aren’t simply making a declarative statement about his “timelessness.”Rather, we are formulating, in a sense, his glory as an evangelical proclamation in our own saeculum and in every saecula. In other words, we call ourselves accountable to make God’s glory, mercy, and love known in and throughout every age. Similarly, the Gospel, as the annunciation of this glory in the world, is not only “timeless” but fundamentally “timely.”

We are the beloved disciples unashamed at the Cross in saecula

We are the beloved disciples unashamed at the Cross in saecula

Our God of course isn’t one content to “exist” in timeless eternity, but one who makes himself known in his creative activity and throughout history. So too the Gospel cannot simply “exist,” but requires the participation of human beings to become manifest at all times and in every place. I would contend, therefore, that Christians are called to be “secular” precisely in this sense: not of the world, but in the world, timely as well as timeless. We are the midwives at the Nativity in saecula, the beloved disciples unashamed at the Cross in saecula, and the Apostles sitting beneath Pentecostal tongues of fire in saecula.

Yet what could this look like in specific, concrete terms? When I was the OCF director at my home parish before I came to seminary, I tragically never thought to implement the idea which I’d like to suggest now to any young adults, and especially college students:

Many suburban and urban college campuses have a large block of public space, usually a grassy quad, which, if memory serves, is heavily populated during typical weekend evenings with people going to and from various bars, clubs, and parties. If this is the case, consider gathering together on Friday evening to organize a food and/or clothing distribution for the needy, right in the midst of this space. I hope this wouldn’t be an attempt to shame the partiers, but rather gently and humbly to show them an alternative. In this act of charity, you’re visibly taking your “party” evening, which modern “college culture” says you should take for yourself to drink and make merry, and using it solely for the service of others.

Christ identifies himself quite literally with the poor and downtrodden: “I was hungry and you did not feed me” (Mt 25.42). I don’t think this is simply a call to be “humanitarian,” but in fact is a very real and timely Gospel proclamation. Hence if we take seriously the notion that we are to make God’s glory known “unto ages of ages,” witnessing (μαρτυρώ – as in ‘martyr’) to our fellow human beings in this secular world is a good place to start. This is, after all, the only world we have.

Metropolitan Tikhon responds to Wonder blog

primate-seal

His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon, offers the following reflection on the recent discussion that was generated by Fr. Robert Arida’s article,“Never-Changing Gospel; Ever-Changing Culture,” which was posted on this blog.

I

In the “About” section of the Wonder Blog, a publication of the Department of Youth, Young Adults and Campus Ministries of the Orthodox Church in America, it is stated that the purpose of the blog is “… to spur discussion, both online and off, and provide material for those engaged in campus and young adult ministry” and “… help provide a ”˜good defense’ for our faith, hope and love.” In spite of this stated purpose, many have questioned the article’s usefulness, requested to know the authority under which it was published and have even called for its removal. Others have recognized its positive contributions to the complex and difficult theme of the relationship between Gospel and culture.

In light of the ensuing lively and informative discussion, and in consultation with my brothers on the Holy Synod, I am instructing the editors of Wonder to replace the lead article in question with my present reflection.

II

As a preface to my own reflection below, I would like to offer a clarification on the question of oversight. Although the Holy Synod takes the sacred confession of the holy dogmas of the Orthodox Church with the greatest of seriousness, it is not charged in the matter of theologoumena and areas requiring pastoral discretion and economiato function as a sort of “thought police” but rather, each bishop is entrusted with leading and guiding his flock within the light of Christ, according to the commandments of the Gospel and within the norms of the holy canons and the teachings of the Holy Fathers. On occasion, the Holy Synod does issue directives and encyclicals on various timely subjects and themes that require a clear statement to the flock.

In reference to the discussion of contemporary issues related to marriage and sexuality, I would direct the reader to several documents which have been published by the Holy Synod and are available on the OCA website:

  1. Encyclical on Marriage
  2. Synodal Affirmation on Marriage, Family, Sexuality and the Sanctity of Marriage
  3. Synodal Affirmation of the Mystery of Marriage

In reference to the specific topic of homosexuality, which is presumed by many of the respondents to Fr. Robert’s article to be the primary issue of discussion, I would draw the reader’s attention to the following paragraph from the third document above:

In light of the decisions rendered on June 26, 2013 by the Supreme Court of the United States of America with regard to same-sex marriage, we, the members of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America, reaffirm that which had been stated in June 1992, namely that marriage involves the union of one man and one woman, as divinely revealed and experienced in the sacramental life of the Church. As such, the Church does not, and can not, condone or accept marriages apart from those involving one man and one woman who seal their relationship in the all-embracing love of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Synod has also recently blessed the re-activation of the Department of Pastoral Life, which is in the process of being re-evaluated and will begin its work in the very near future. It seems that the present discussion on Gospel and culture is one that would benefit from a more in-depth analysis than can be provided on a blog. It will be my recommendation that the issues raised here be one of the first areas to be addressed by the Department of Pastoral Life and that all those who have contributed to this present discussion be invited to participate.

III

I would also like to offer some preliminary reflections on the present discussion. In a paradoxical way, our discussions on “culture” seem to take place primarily at conferences, in books and articles and on websites and blogs. All of these, while certainly part of our culture, tend to remove us spiritually from the very context that we are speaking about.

I am conscious of this because I am writing these words as I sit in Boston Children’s Hospital with my nephew Tyler, who is today recovering from a ten (10) hour surgery yesterday to correct his severe scoliosis. Tyler is 16 years old and has undergone seventeen (17) surgeries on his back over the last 7 years. Prior to that, he lived his life in a plaster cast which was necessary to correct the severe curvature of his spine and prevent the puncturing of his internal organs. By God’s grace, and the prayers of many, yesterday’s surgery, involving the removal of expandable metal rods and the permanent fusion of his vertebrae, went successfully and is hopefully the last such surgery he will have to endure.

It is in contexts such as this that we most acutely face the reality of the relationship between Gospel and Culture. When a human being either undergoes such difficulties or is charged with ministering or helping someone in such a situation, the discussion ceases to be merely academic and becomes very real and immediate. I would not want us to lose sight of the human person and his salvation in Christ when we talk about “culture” and its relationship to the Church.

This does not negate the importance of knowledge, study and reflection. Others will have more academic and historical expertise on broad topics such as “Christ and Culture.” The discussion raised in this specific blog discussion is not new. For a very concise exposition of the Church’s approach to “culture,” I would direct you to the excellent book, Ancient Christian Wisdom and Aaron Beck’s Cognitive Therapy by Hieromonk Alexios [Trader]. Although the book focuses on a specific modern therapeutic approach within the context of the patristic witness, the approach taken by the author could serve as a model for an Orthodox approach to many other disciplines.

The first chapter of that book lays out the three general approaches taken in early Christianity to the practice of medicine: (1) the Tertullian model: resistance, rejection and enmity, 2) the model of Valentinus the Gnostic: absorption, manipulation and merger and 3) the Patristic model of Clement of Alexandria: selection, integration and transfiguration. The author chooses this last model as the most legitimate and the most reflective of a patristic approach of discerning openness. I offer the final words of that first chapter for your reflection:

The remaining option is the approach seen in figures such as Saint Basil the Great and Clement of Alexandria, an approach of discerning openness that selects, incorporates, and transfigures. This approach is implicitly asymmetric and hierarchal by virtue of the ontological value of salvation in Christ in contrast with the value of temporary psychological well-being. With this approach, Christian teachings act as a filter admitting some concepts, rejecting others, and in other instances suggesting alternatives. To be successful, this patristic approach requires clarity in terms of a patristic mindset capable of placing valuable insights from cognitive therapy into their appropriate niches within a patristic worldview and system of values. This is no simple task. Immersed as we are in a scientific worldview, our thought patterns are often unwittingly guided in a direction quite different from that of the Fathers. What was for them a natural perception must often be for us a matter of deliberate and continuous choice.[1]

We do, however, have the privilege of being able to choose to be methodologically guided by the Fathers on the sojourn before us. An Orthodox Christian theological worldview can be outlined and serve as a patristic basis for evaluating the implicit philosophical worldview of cognitive therapy. Relevant pastoral advice and ascetic teachings by the Fathers can be selected and arranged in order to form a patristic context for examining discrete components of cognitive therapy. In this way, we can strive to follow along the bold patristic path of those conquerors of death into the promised land of the Church where “the mystical trumpeters of the Spirit”[2] proclaim the truth of our faith: “all things are possible to him that believeth”[3] ”” Egyptian gold can be forged into a censer by a Christian hand.

If one were to replace “cognitive therapy” with any of the other philosophies and approaches that one finds in our world, perhaps the suggested patristic approach could be used effectively, at the hands of experienced priests and laymen, so that those positive elements of the culture that can be harmonized to the eternal Gospel of Christmight be used in a way that can build the bridges necessary to reach those who do not know Christ, choose to ignore Him or reject Him altogether, much as Saint Paul invoked the unknown God in speaking to the Athenians[4].

IV

In our Orthodox context, we are very good at speaking to each other, but we are less successful when trying to speak to those “who are not my people” (Hosea 4) in order to make them disciples of Christ. We must be willing to admit that, in many ways, the earthly representatives of the Orthodox Church – bishops, priests, and lay folk – have failed to address the culture in a meaningful way. We struggle to have a united ecclesiastical voice on both the global and local levels. With rare exceptions, our voice is weak in academic, cultural and political contexts. Perhaps this is due to our own human weakness, spiritual slothfulness, and inability to communicate the truth of the Gospel to the world around us.

But perhaps we need to begin by listening more and asking ourselves if we are truly able to hear the questions that are being asked by our college students, by our relatives, by the strangers we meet on the street, by our neighbors? On a blog, where anonymity is often the rule, it is difficult to discern who is speaking. I am grateful that the clergy who have responded to Fr. Robert’s article have all identified themselves and have commented in a Christian and respectful manner. I do not know whether the other commenters represent the target audience of the blog (young adults and college students) or not. But I would encourage all of us to open our ears to their voices and questions, so that we might help them to more effectively resist the temptations of the secular world and make their own the truth of Christ and the Gospel.

In our Orthodox circles, we like to debate issues such as the proper English translation for exclamations at the Gospel: are we to “listen” to the Holy Gospel or are we to “hear” it? Rather than endlessly debating the semantics of the matter, I would suggest that, whether we are assisting a relative who has undergone surgery or responding to the pointed questions raised by our youth, we ought to pick one translation or the other and simply do it (James 1:22).


[1] Cf. Nicholas Woterstorff, Reason within the Bounds of Religion (Grand Rapids: 1984), pages 68, 76 and 108.

[2] Glory at Vespers for the Feast of the Holy Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council in plagal tone 2.

[3] Mark 9:23.

[4] Acts 17:23.

The Holy Spirit Walks into a Jazz Club…

The Holy Spirit walks into a Jazz Club…
Prof. Peter Bouteneff

When asked about the Holy Spirit, I like to begin by saying that we know very little. It’s almost as if the less said, the better. There is not very much in the Bible. The Fathers said close to nothing – especially compared with how much they wrote about Jesus Christ. The prayer life of the Church is established on the foundation of the Holy Spirit – just about every act of prayer begins with a prayer to the Spirit (O Heavenly King) – but doesn’t say much about the Spirit.

Upper-RoomStill, we’re not left completely speechless. The Holy Spirit that Jesus tells us about is the same Spirit that spoke through the Prophets. He is the Spirit of truth. The Spirit is associated with light, with life-giving, with making us living human persons. It is by the Holy Spirit that we human beings have our greatest vocation: to be deified, to become as God is. The Spirit is “everywhere and filling all things” and yet we ask him to “come and abide in us, and cleanse us from impurity.”

But when someone asks you about the Holy Spirit, you have to decide what you’re going to focus on. Just as when you’re asked anything about God and the Church, you have to figure out what question you’re actually being asked, what the person is ready to hear, and how much of their attention you realistically have. And when they’re asking about the Holy Spirit you have the additional challenge of there being less concrete data to work from.
As it happens, this is all very fresh on my mind. I was in a café last week, where I regularly sit in with a jazz group. That group is led by a tenor saxophonist – he’s Jewish, but is always intrigued or amused by the fact that I teach at an Orthodox Christian seminary. Usually he just jokes about it – “Oh Peter’s here! Now we can get spiritual!” Or he makes a thing about my being “a big academic.” Last Monday, though, he surprised me. He took me aside and said, “Peter, you know my wife’s a Catholic, right?” “No, I didn’t, actually!” “Well she and I were talking and neither of us could figure out who or what the Holy Spirit is. Can you help me out on this one?”

jazzclubAlright – time to get that mechanism going: consider what is really being asked, and what he may actually be ready to hear. So after asking him a couple more questions, here’s how I handled it, and you can tell me if you think I did well.

“To be honest, John, I think your not being able to figure out who or what the Holy Spirit is, is a good start.”

Puzzlement.

“There’s not actually a lot of data about the Holy Spirit, either in the Bible or afterwards.”

“Ok, so what do I tell my wife?”

“Well, especially since she’s a Catholic, consider what Jesus says on the subject. The two main things there: Firstly, the Spirit is associated with truth. There is a lot that people don’t know, or don’t understand, and the Spirit guides them into truth. Secondly, Jesus says that the Spirit will teach people about who he is, who Jesus is.”

“What does that mean?”

“Well, who Jesus is, is a complicated question, that has always a lot of possible answers, since day one. Jesus himself kept asking people, ”˜who do you think that I am?’ And got different answers. So people need guidance on that question, and Jesus promises the Holy Spirit will tell his disciples who he actually is.”

The main scriptural reference I had in mind was John 15:26 – “But when the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me.”

But also John 16:13-14 – “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; …. He will glorify me…”

I could have gone further with him, but I saw his eyes beginning to glaze over. We were outside his comfort zone, not just because he’s a Jew and I’m talking about Jesus, but because we’re getting to the spiritual. He’d initiated the conversation, but I felt we’d taken it as far as we could that night.

But it seemed to me that one important thing to say about the Holy Spirit is just that: that the Spirit brings truth where there is so much possibility for falsehood. That he is Christ’s Spirit: the Spirit rests upon Christ, Christ sends the Spirit into the World, and the Spirit reveals and glorifies Christ.
Ocandletheotokosne more thing, just between us: what the Spirit does is what we are supposed to be doing too. The Spirit’s vocation is our vocation as well, in all we say and do. To be givers of life and of light, to speak the truth, to reveal and glorify Christ.

The Holy Spirit, Our Living Tradition

The Holy Spirit, Our Living Tradition
Rev. Theophan Whitfield

Orthodoxy is paradoxy

As Eastern Christians, we often express our comfort with theological tension by throwing up our hands and saying with a playful smile that “Orthodoxy is paradoxy.”   Our Lord is glorified when he is raised up on the cross, God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness, those who would be first must be servant of all  ””  these are a few of the biblical examples of the tensions which define our faith.

As the history of the Church unfolds, the examples multiply:  we become by grace what God is by nature (St Athanasius, On the Incarnation), Mary gives birth to God (Council of Ephesus, 431), the lamb of God is divided but not disunited, ever eaten but never consumed (Liturgy of Chrysostom).

Orthodoxy can be experienced by some as fuzzy around the edges, as lacking the intellectual rigor that might be on high display in other Christian traditions.  Some suspect that we revel in paradox because we don’t have the resources and resolve to say something with precision and clarity.  This, we know, is not true.  But such an initial reaction is understandable.  When confronted by divine mystery, our reflex in the first place is to bow down, rather than to break it down.  From the outside, our hesychia might appear to be hesitation.  Our stillness, as paralysis.

As Orthodox, we do not think first and pray second.  For us, the order is reversed.  When we wish to answer the question “What do we believe?” we first ask ourselves the question “Well, how do we worship?”  Liturgy guides theology.  Worship blossoms into belief.

schmemann - lex orandiIn other words, we hold fast to the fifth-century expression that lex orandi lex credendi  ””  the rule of prayer is the rule of belief.  Among Roman Catholics and Protestants, the arrow of priority is more easily reversed.  In the Christian West, the question “How should we worship?” leads quickly to the question “Well, what do we believe?”  For many Christians who are not Orthodox, theological speculation comes first, and in the second place decisions are made about how to make worship life conform to theological results.  Ask an Evangelical Christian why there are no contemporary hymns to Mary, and she will probably answer that the teachings of her tradition rule out the correctness of honoring Mary in that way.  The Christian West often says:  dogma before doxology.  In the East, it is doxology before dogma.

“But that’s backwards!  Why?”  No one has actually said this to me, but I confess to saying it to myself from time to time.  In any case, as Orthodox Christians, we have a quick response.  Our bedrock belief is that the living tradition of the church just is the power and presence of the Holy Spirit within the messianic community.  Holy tradition just is the Spirit of Truth, breathed out now and always upon those who gather to hear the apostolic preaching of Christ and him crucified.  For Orthodox, doxology is the elder twin of dogma for reasons first stated by the Apostle Paul, who writes that the refusal to give God honor and thanksgiving is the root cause of the “suppression of truth” (Romans 1:19-21).  Through worship, truth is protected and clarified.  And this is so because our worship is enlivened by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth.

Don’t take my word for it.  To his disciples, Jesus describes this connection between glory and truth which the Spirit makes possible.

“I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.  All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:12-15).

Jesus makes a promise:  that worship will be the seedbed of theology.  And as Orthodox we gladly hold him to it.  In the Spirit, glory and truth commingle.  The Spirit glorifies the Son, and guides us into all truth.

Jesus rejoices that the Holy Spirit is the one who completes an essential circle.  Scripture bears witness to the Son (John 5:46), and the Son bears witness to the Father.  The Holy Spirit, in turn, proceeds from the Father through a disclosure (phanerosis) to individual Christians, and this pouring forth is always “for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:3-7).  The Holy Spirit is breathed on the apostles so that their preaching from scripture might truly bear witness to Christ, who in turn bears witness to the Father, and this is in the first place for the “common good,” as the Apostle Paul stresses throughout 1 Corinthians.

From the Father, the Spirit proceeds.  The Spirit, moving us to join him, glorifies the Son.  The Son bears witness to the Father.  As I say, it’s a circle.  But it is a circle with which we are comfortable.  This is the circle we pray.

But to stop here would be to stop painfully short.  Any discussion of the Holy Spirit that has no consequences beyond the armchair or pew is theological entertainment, at best.  As we pray, the Spirit of truth is the “giver of life,” not necessarily the giver of answers.  And life in the Spirit is always measured by what we do, not by what we know.  A deeper understanding of the Holy Spirit should always provoke a deeper desire to do the Holy Spirit’s business  ””  to glorify the Son, to proclaim his lordship by keeping his commandments (Matthew 7:21).

cappadociansI started by saying that Orthodoxy is paradoxy.  If this is so, it’s not because Orthodox Christians seek to evade responsibility by hiding in the smoke and mirrors of a circus theology.  In fact, the opposite is true.  At the center of our call as Christians is the commandment to love our neighbor in the manner of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:27-37), and that when we encounter the “least of these my brethren” we encounter the one by whose name we are called (Matthew 25:31-46).  This is perhaps the central paradox in the Christian life, and somewhat distressingly it comes to us as a commandment.  There is no avoiding this one.  Neither can we afford to pin Matthew 25 on the wrong side of the line between “Things to think about” and “Things to do.”  We cannot bow in the direction of the parable of the sheep and goats, but otherwise walk away after some awkward exegesis and hand-waiving.  We are called to live this paradox of paradoxes.  And how we fare will be the single topic of discussion on the great and last day.

Glory to God, the Holy Spirit comes to our rescue, filling us with promised power from heaven (Luke 24:49)!  Words about the Holy Spirit can be impossible to set down in a satisfactory manner  ””  something which I am proving in spectacular fashion as you read this essay  ””  but where words fall short, acts of love without fail will provide a full disclosure (phanoresis) of the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian.  Where the Holy Spirit is, there we find human beings and communities transfigured by love.  Where the Holy Spirit is, it becomes possible to meet Christ in each person.  Where the Holy Spirit is, it becomes possible to surrender ourselves in love to the will of God and to the needs of others.  The Holy Spirit makes the love of neighbor possible, and it is through this love that the Holy Spirit glorifies Christ.

In the end, if we want to understand the Church’s teaching concerning the Holy Spirit, then our time is best invested, not in reading a work such as St Basil’s On the Holy Spirit, but in reading St Basil’s On Social Justice.  The practical challenges of loving others as we love ourselves can seem formidable.  According to St Basil, for example, we should never possess more than others, and that the more we abound in wealth the more we lack in love (“To the Rich,” SVS Press, 43).  But what sounds like a challenge is really the opportunity of a lifetime.  On Social Justice and other reflections on the commandments of love are not unrealistic explorations of the hard words of Christ.  Instead, they sketch a vision of the very life we claim to desire each time we sing or pray O Heavenly King.  A work such as On Social Justice is a picture of answered prayer, a portrait of life in which the Holy Spirit is everywhere present and filling all things  ””  ”˜fullness-ing’ all things, really.  Go and read On Social Justice, you will find there a vision of life in which the treasury of blessings truly abides in us.

Acts of the Holy Spirit

Acts of the Holy Spirit
Dn Jason Ketz

The Acts of the Apostles is a title which ostensibly describes the main feature of the evangelist Luke’s second volume in the Luke-Acts series:Acts describes the spread of Christianity through the work of the disciples of Christ, who have now been commissioned and empowered to preach the Gospel as Apostles.  But for as much as the apostles – first Peter and then Paul – are the main active characters throughout the book, there is a continuity which bridges all of the Apostles’ works and words, and forms a parallel to Luke’s Gospel account.  This continuity is the Holy Spirit.  In the same way that The Gospel According to Luke is an account of the works of the Christ, Acts is an account of the works of the Holy Spirit. Through Acts, the evangelist depicts the Holy Spirit directing the formation of the Church and empowering the preaching of the Gospel as the message emerges from Jerusalem and spreads toward Rome.

The Holy Spirit’s presence in Acts is generally recognized and accepted by the readers with little extra attention. We read the expression “…filled with the Holy Spirit…” and then the ensuing action, but the act itself is more easily remembered than that which initiated it.  The Holy Spirit then becomes an afterthought, or rather a forethought.  Of course, neither the Holy Spirit nor the book of Acts is any worse for the wear because of our absentmindedness, but perhaps we are.

Trinity-EHPI have noticed a persistent discomfort among Christians (Orthodox and other Trinitarian denominations) in discussing the third person of the Holy Trinity.  Everybody does well speaking of the Father and the Son, but the Holy Spirit is, again, an afterthought.  Usually people have a few phrases, offered confidently, which sums up a doctrinal position on the Trinity. Often the phrases are derived from the statements added to the Creed by the Second Ecumenical Council, while Orthodox Christians are particularly likely to quote phrases from the prayer “O Heavenly King.”  To be very clear, these answers are all correct. But they are impersonal in a way that descriptions of the Father and the Son are not, and rare indeed is the Christian who doesn’t stumble when answering a follow-up question.

Try it sometime.  Ask somebody how they know what they do about the Holy Spirit.  We talk about things like the filioque, but do we really understand the Holy Spirit’s origin or procession?  We describe the Holy Spirit as the Giver of Life, but don’t the scriptures tell us that the Lord God kills and makes alive; brings down to the grave and raises up (Deut 32:39 and 1 Sam 2:6)? We describe the Holy Spirit as everywhere present, but is that a unique description of the third person of the Trinity?  Even the phrase “comforter” (paraklete) is not unique to the Holy Spirit. Christ tells the disciples  “I will pray the Father, and he will give you another comforter, to be with you forever” (John 14:16).

By asking these questions, I am not suggesting we need to beef up our doctrinal defense of the Trinity.  Trinitarian doctrine took quite a lot of time and ink to articulate authentically, and not all of us have the gift of parsing out all of the nuances of our teachings. Furthermore, there is comparatively little written on the Holy Spirit.  What I am suggesting, rather, is that we can and should become comfortable offering  a personal answer to the question “who is the Holy Spirit?” As I mentioned earlier, people do well in talking about God the Father, or about Jesus Christ. And we do well because we draw not just from the Creed or from fourth century writings, but from the scriptures which inspire and undergird the doctrine.  Why not turn to Scripture to develop our understanding of the Holy Spirit?  And if we turn to Scripture, why not start with Acts?  The book is our most extensive single work discussing the Holy Spirit, and while Luke may not explain who the Holy Spirit is, all readers will find themselves well-versed onwhat the Holy Spirit does.

paulandananiasAnd what does the Holy Spirit do?  In Acts, the Holy Spirit ”˜fills’ a Christian, first as the gift promised to those who confess Christ, and again in preparation for an act which promotes the spread of the Gospel. This promise of the Spirit, first received by Christ in the resurrection (Acts 2:33), is then poured forth on all the faithful.  It is easy to imagine the fervor associated with these occasions – perhaps as a scriptural precedent for the American revival experience of the 19th century. Many evangelical Christians speak of the Spirit in precisely this context – a personal, emotional and active internal experience. But Luke does not discuss the converts’ reception of the Holy Spirit in personal or emotive terms.  And while fervor is probably an accurate inference for the dozen converts in Ephesus (Acts 19:2), the scene at Cornelius’ house (Acts 10) recounts the descent of the Holy Spirit,  and with no account of the believers behavior except for Peter’s demand for their baptism.  Nor does Paul have any response when receiving the Holy Spirit initially, except to regain his eyesight. So while it’s plausible to believe that receiving the Holy Spirit may be an emotional or perhaps even physiological experience for newly confessed Christians, there is no basis to believe that such an experience is required confirmation of one’s baptism “by water and the Spirit.” And as Christian baptism has largely been ritualized, it would seem far more in line with the text to believe and accept that Christians who have received the Gospel through the Apostolic tradition, and have been baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, have received the gift of the Holy Spirit, however that may manifest in an individual’s experience.  Meanwhile, our attention would be better spent not on recounting the experience of our first reception of the Spirit, which is undoubtedly in our past, but on the continued presence or renewal of the Spirit, which is depicted in Acts as a recurring experience for active Christians.

Enabling of the spread of the Gospel begins with the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, after which the Apostles preach Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection to the crowd of (largely diaspora) Jews gathered to celebrate the feast (Acts 2). The apostles were the first recipients of the Holy Spirit, but also the first who were motivated to preaching through the Spirit’s presence.  And while one cannot overlook the miraculous occurrence in which all those assembled heard the Gospel in their native tongues, the action undertaken by the apostles was preaching. Peter is again filled with the Holy Spirit in preparation for preaching (Acts 4:8). Paul was filled with the spirit when confronting the magician Elymas (Acts 13:9). Phillip was encouraged by the Spirit to speak to the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8) using the Suffering Servant of Isaiah as a springboard for preaching the good news of Jesus Christ. Stephen was filled with the spirit during his final oration (Acts 7), and Paul’s mission to the Gentiles was explicitly commissioned by the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:2).  To be sure, the Holy Spirit confirms Christians, as the gift promised to all the faithful.  But the Holy Spirit also is repeatedly present in the faithful, in order to spread the Gospel.

stephen's martyrdomIt would be tempting to describe the Holy Spirit as ”˜making apostles,’ but specifically, the Holy Spirit makes evangelists andwitnesses.  The Holy Spirit fills people so that they can point others toward Christ.  In Acts, this is generally a spoken process – preaching (the kerygma, as discussed by later generations of saints and theologians). But Luke has also provided a model for a later form of witness: the martyr. Not only are Peter, Paul, Phillip variously filled with the Holy Spirit before preaching to crowds, but Stephen is also filled with the Holy Spirit before his final preaching (Acts 6:5, 6:10) and again at the time of his death at the hands of his persecutors (Acts 7:55). Stephen is confirmed as a martyr already at the end of the book (Acts 22:20)  In the two centuries following acts, a fusion of Acts with the Johannine writings, and continued reflection on Old and New Testament texts allows martyrdom to develop into a very specific type of witnessing to Christ.  The martyr holds to faith in Christ, confronting the world and revealing Christ’s Lordship and power over life and death by accepting his or her own death for the sake of the Gospel; accepting death with a confident hope of the resurrection.   In these various accounts of martyrdom, also referred to as acta – “acts” [of the Christian Martyrs], the Holy Spirit is again at work (sometimes tacitly, sometimes explicitly) preparing the martyrs – filling them with faith to stand as witnesses.  Meanwhile, Acts has also provided the basis for our belief that the Holy Spirit inspires the preaching of the Gospel, and that the Holy Spirit comforts and advances the Church, through its presence in the assembly.

illuminatescriptureOf course The Acts of the Apostles is not a stand-alone treatise on the Holy Spirit, nor can a doctrinal understanding of the trinity be garnered from this work alone.  Acts exists in harmony with the whole of Scripture, and is understood through the lens of faith, as we have received it from the Apostles.  In other words (in Paul’s words – 1 Cor 12:3), the Holy Spirit’s first action in each of our lives is to open our hearts and minds to these texts and these teachings, so that we can confess Jesus as both Lord and Christ (cf Acts 11:16). We need not let the complexity of Trinitarian doctrine intimidate us, for it seems that the Holy Spirit is the person of the Trinity with whom we Christians are actually the most intimately familiar. May all of us continually be filled with the promise of the Holy Spirit!

The Holy Spirit in Christian Worship

The Holy Spirit in Christian Worship:
An interview with Dean Theophilos and Leigh-Ann Des Roches

Dean Theophilos is a graduate of St John’s College in Santa Fe, NM, and is currently pursuing a Masters in Addiction Studies through the Hazelden School in Minnesota. Dean works as an alcohol and drug counselor with Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge, and attends St George Greek Orthodox Church in St. Paul, MN.

Leigh-Ann Des Roches completed undergraduate studies at University of Wisconsin: La Crosse. She holds a Masters in Addiction Studies from Hazelden School, and also works as a drug and alcohol counselor for the Hazelden clinic.  Leigh-Ann grew up worshiping at the Wayzata Evangelical Free Church, and is expecting to be baptized at St Mary’s Orthodox Cathedral this summer.

Hi Dean and Leigh-Ann. Thank you for agreeing to speak with me.  This month, Wonder is focusing on the Holy Spirit. Each of you has explored Christian worship in multiple denominations (we’ll cover your backgrounds more as we go along), so I was hoping you could share some thoughts with us about the Holy Spirit in Orthodox and other Christian worship.

Dean, let’s start with you.  You’ve grown up in the Greek Orthodox Church. Where do you see the Holy Spirit in the context of the Orthodox Divine Liturgy?

D: I understand the Holy Spirit as, well, the engine driving the service.  The Sprit gives our liturgy a sense of weight, or value. A sense of direction, of momentum, a sort of continuity, but mostly, I see the Spirit as the driving force in Liturgy.

Leigh-Ann, I’ll circle back to your thoughts on Orthodox worship, but first, how do you understand the Spirit in Evangelical worship.

onfireL: I’ve been thinking about this question for a week or so now, since I agreed to do this interview, because the question is actually hard to answer.  The trinity is simply not talked about.  The focus is almost entirely on Christ within Evangelical worship.  God the Father seems very remote in the prayers and in the discussion. And the Spirit isn’t really seen as a separate ”˜person’ so to speak.  So the focus is always on Christ.  So what is the Spirit?  I guess I would say that the Spirit is basically like the Ghost of Jesus.  Maybe like the energy of Christ. It’s really hard to explain…does that make any sense?

Sure, I think I know what you’re getting at.  But is this a hard question for everybody: Who is the Holy Spirit?

D: I think that the Holy Spirit is highly complicated.  The two of us took a catechism class this spring, and spent a class session on the Holy Trinity, and it’s incredibly complex.  Very few people can really give a thorough, clear, and accurate explanation of the Trinity.  Although I don’t feel pressured to, either.  The nice thing about Orthodoxy is that we are able leave room for “mystery.”  This seems fitting for the Holy Spirit, for the Trinity: a mystery that we can’t completely grasp.

Dean, what’s been your experience when you’ve seen or participated in Protestant Worship. How would you describe Protestant understanding(s) of the Holy Spirit?

D: Well, through Teen Challenge I’ve been exposed to Pentecostal worship and beliefs, and among the Pentecostals there is a continued use of expressions of “On fire for the Lord” and “Feeling the Spirit.”  They see an encounter with the Holy Spirit as a personal experience. There’s this fervor involved.  And even more, it seems that they need that experience – that fervor – that emotional engagement to make the worship ”˜real.’

evangelical worshipL: Yeah, we would use the phrase “On fire for God.” And it was this definite sense of emotional movement.  If you don’t feel emotionally moved, we would say “you don’t have the Spirit.”  I feel there is a very clear expectation in Evangelical worship to have an emotional experience.  And the whole program caters to our emotional needs, and is tailored to create this emotional effect.  Look at Christian Rock. It’s incredibly modern music, meant to directly impact us, resonate with us, and move us.  That’s how and why the music is used.  And that movement – that’s the Spirit.

Dean, what do you think – is there place for emotional impact or personal experience within the Divine Liturgy?

D: It’s certainly not required, but that idea that the Spirit is there, and can move us, I believe is still available in our worship. That’s why I said at the beginning that the Spirit is the engine driving the service. The service still happens, whether or not I’m caught up in the moment, but the power that makes that happen – that can definitely be felt, and that’s the Spirit. Plus, we do have a sensory experience in the liturgy, and particularly through the Eucharist.  This should not be overlooked.

Leigh-Ann, what do you think about Orthodox worship and the Spirit?  What has your experience been so far.

L: Orthodox Liturgy is so radically different from anything I have ever experienced before, I’m still working to accept that. I had no idea growing up that any Christians would worship in this manner.  It’s incredible, and I’m still sorting it out. Which is why I’m particularly glad that there isn’t an expectation that we have to understand it – that it can remain a mystery, because Orthodox Liturgy is still very much a mystery to me. I find myself returning to that idea often.

iconcornerLeigh-Ann, what is one thing that you find to be a positive change in leaving Evangelical worship and coming to Christian worship?

L: I am so glad that my experience of the Divine Liturgy is not dependent on the Sermon, or the Gospel, or my personal experience. The Gospel and Sermon are there, but they aren’t the only feature in the service.  More importantly, I don’t need to be emotionally brow-beaten or condemned, or I don’t need to be emotionally validated, for the worship to have meaning.  So I’m realizing that I’m experiencing the ”˜same’ Liturgy differently each service…I hope that’s a good thing.

Dean, what is something you find uniquely positive about Protestant / Evangelical worship (and I apologize for using these terms so loosely – please offer clarification where you can!)

D: Something unique about Grace (mega-) Church is hearing that long, engaging sermon.  Each homily is so powerful that it offers a unique take on our faith, and on the Holy Spirit, for that matter.

L: Both of us try to visit a number of different denominations of Christian communities, because we’ve found that we’re better able to relate to our clients, who often have serious emotional trauma with religious underpinnings. So even the briefest exposure on our part can give us some insight into the pain these people are experiencing.  And it helps us see what’s out there.

Leigh-Ann, can you share some thoughts on the positives and negatives of Evangelical worship? What aspects (as it relates to the Holy Spirit) of Evangelical worship are you ready to leave behind, and what do you hope that you can retain as you transition to Orthodox Christian worship?

L: A large part of my coming to Orthodoxy has been becoming OK with how I grew up. So this is a difficult question. The negative, I feel, to Evangelical worship, is the idea that an emotional response is required. If you don’t feel the Holy Spirit (or however it’s phrased), it’s a problem. Perhaps you’re not good enough, perhaps you’re trying too hard. But it’s something that you’re doing wrong. So the Christian experience becomes contingent on our emotion. I think that dependence is bad. In fact, I’ve heard the emotional experience of faith given such priority that – you know how people have a ”˜saved date,’ right? The day they were saved.  I’ve talked with people who have changed their ”˜saved date.’ Or were contemplating changing it, because they felt saved at one time, but then they felt even more saved later, so they are suddenly questioning the validity of that first experience, like maybe they didn’t actually feel the Holy Spirit like they thought they did.  That understanding of salvation doesn’t sit right with me.  These struggles with our own feelings seem almost abusive – to attribute our emotional experience to God’s actions.  Meanwhile, as I’ve been preparing for Orthodox baptism, there has  been no discussion about what I may or may not feel or experience.  We’ve discussed the ritual, but not how it will or should impact me.  It’s just a stated fact that I will receive the Holy Spirit as part of the sacrament, whether or not I happen to feel anything.

Also, the Evangelical experience is highly stimulating. It really caters to us. The music. The lights. The homilies which help us deal with real life. There’s not enough looking back.

resurrectionOn the positive side, I really enjoy the idea that we should have a personal relationship with Christ. That we can feel Christ, or connect with Christ, or know Christ in some way, without going through other mediums.  This seems very different from Orthodoxy, with the structured liturgy, icons, sacraments.  I’m still sorting this out.

Dean, what do you see as positives and negatives?  Or, if there is an element to evangelical worship that you feel Orthodox Christians should consider more seriously, what would that be?

D: I agree with Leigh-Ann: the idea of having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is really powerful. Plus, the possibility of emotional experience, of being personally moved during worship is also healthy. To ”˜feel the Spirit’ really keeps a person engaged. It keeps our whole selves involved in worship, and allows us for a heightened awareness of God’s presence.  If we don’t allow for this possibility, it’s easy to depict God as very removed from our daily lives.

On the other hand, it becomes negative, and perhaps dangerous, when that emotional experience is required for the worship to be ”˜authentic’ or ”˜alive.’ Also, people need stillness.  Christians need stillness.  From my experience, there is simply not enough stillness in Evangelical worship.

L: I agree. My experience involved almost no idea of stillness, and it’s almost perceived as a bad thing – an absence of Christ.

D: Yes, and in fact maybe it’s better when people struggle. Our experience isn’t always positive in life. Why should our faith always be easy and positive?  I remember bringing Leigh-Ann to her first anastasis Pascha service, and watching her struggle to stay awake for this liturgy which was entirely incomprehensible to her.  And I remember thinking that in a very real way, her struggle to stay awake is an experience of the Spirit, of faith. It is as authentic as mine. Why can’t we see the Holy Spirit in that person? Why do we just see the fervor? Of course the Spirit is there, with all of us!

My final question for both of you is whether or not there is a place for dialogue between East and West; between Orthodox and Protestant or Evangelical Christians, on the Spirit?  In other words, there seems to be a layer of jargon here -Orthodox Christians that I know don’t often speak in terms of a personal relationship with Christ, on fire for the Lord, or feeling the Holy Spirit. But if we were to understand these terms, is there room for dialogue? Or are we still just so radically different?

otechestvoD: Well, theologically, the doctrine of the Trinity is very difficult. East and West, all of it is hard, and I won’t lie, it doesn’t help dialogue at all. Most Trinitarian Christians are bad at explaining the Trinity. Now, on the practical or experiential level, yes! Absolutely, there is a place for dialogue. Orthodox Christians should be able to discuss our experience during worship, and we should be prepared to share that with outsiders.  What is it that all visitors say when the come to our Liturgy?

L: that it’s gorgeous, but boring.

D: yes, boring. Now, whether they should experience anything is one question, but hopefully the liturgy is not boring to us, and we should be able to share our experience to help explain why we worship with the complex ritual we have. That’s where the dialogue is: how we worship, in any form that matters. That’s what is important for Christians to share with each other.

Freely Did You Receive, So Freely Give

Freely Did You Receive, So Freely Give

By Protodeacon Peter Danilchick

 

We are born into a specific place and time and into a family with established values and customs.  We develop and grow within this reality but also with our very own God given personalities and talents.  God also gives us personal mentors and examples, from our earliest days, who impart their wisdom and their own life lessons to us.  If we are receptive and sensitive to these opportunities, our lives are enriched and our personalities develop into adults who not only strive to achieve great things in our own lives, but also strive to share and care for others in need.carousel_5

Growing up I attended church regularly, serving as an altar boy for many years. At school I was good in mathematics and science and was encouraged to study engineering, which I did.  My undergraduate college department of electrical engineering had adopted an unusual team-based approach to education in which individual study and student team problem solving was the norm. The professors did not lecture; rather, they posed tough problems and asked probing questions. As a result, I became very interested in inter-personal dynamics and management processes, without losing focus on technology.

While in graduate school, I was very fortunate to get to know Fathers Alexander Warnecke, John Kozak and Alexander Schmemann.  They were to me the very icons of the Church’s challenge to the world (and herself) through the Gospel, the Liturgy and action. Their initiatives and passion for the Church inspired me and encouraged me to become more active in church life.  At the age of 24 I attended my first NY NJ Diocesan Assembly as a parish delegate.  That was the start of my interest and active participation in the organizational side of the church.  I worshipped regularly and met my wife at a university OCF meeting.  We were both very committed to our church community and church sponsored activities.  We volunteered at a church camp, taught Sunday school, and remained very involved.

Following graduate study in electrical engineering, I was offered a position at Exxon in the very new area of information technology. My career with Exxon rapidly segued into general operations management, strategic planning, and new business development. By then we had three children.  Soon after that, I was encouraged to enter the late vocations program at St. Vladimir’s Seminary.  I studied and completed the program and was ordained deacon.  Not very long after ordination we started moving around the world with my job at Exxon, spending sixteen years overseas in Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Germany and Australia. In all these places, we worked to build up the local Orthodox parish community (and established the first legally-registered Orthodox Church in Singapore).

We were so very thankful for the church communities we found in many of the places we lived.  When there were no established churches, like in Singapore and Hong Kong, we simply knew that we had to do all we could to serve the Orthodox Christians in those countries.  We felt that we had been so blessed by all those who had come before us and dedicated their lives to the church that we, in our own way, had to do what we could where there was need.  Although it was often a lot of work, it was extremely rewarding and we met so many wonderful people along the way.

In retirement, we continue working in the Church with St Vladimir’s Seminary as a member of her Board, with the OCA in various governance and advisory positions, and with the Assembly of Bishops Secretariat, trying to help the bishops to bring about Orthodox unity in America.  Many of the skills that I learned with my career with Exxon, such as management best practices, financial accountability, organizational development, and strategic planning have been very useful in my service to the Church. As well, my experience working with people in varied international cultures has enabled me to better relate to the different ways people approach problems and relationships. Serving in churches of Russian, American, Antiochian, Japanese, Greek, and Romanian traditions around the world have given me the gift of experiencing the fundamental Gospel ties which bind us together and which supersede language, custom and rubrics.

I have, for as long as I can remember, been amazed and challenged by Jesus’ sending out of the twelve disciples as recorded in Matthew 10. He gave them seemingly impossible tasks: heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out demons, witness without fear before authorities, and expect hatred and persecution in return. How could this be possible? I think that Jesus gave the key in two simple commands: firstly, freely give what you have freely received and, secondly, don’t worry about what you will say at times of trial, those words will be given to you then. We thus come out of ourselves and place ourselves in the hands of God.

Man is a Eucharistic being, in the words of Fr Alexander Schmemann.  Our destiny is to receive the gifts given us by God and to give thanks for them. By giving thanks, we recognize that they do not come from us, neither do

we deserve them, but they are a free gift from God. And part of giving thanks for a gift is making the best use of that gift and sharing it with others. All of us have gifts, whether of knowledge and expertise, wisdom and insight, compassion and love, to name a few. God presents us each day with opportunities to share these gifts. It is up to us to seize those chances to be a transmitter of God’s gifts to others, in whatever life environment we find ourselves.

Sometimes we do not think that we are up to the task involved in these opportunities. We do not think we have sufficient knowledge or expertise, or wisdom and insight, let alone compassion and love. But Jesus said that we shouldn’t worry about these imagined inadequacies; remember his words that we should not worry about what we will say in times of trial. Conversely, he said that his power is made perfect in weakness, precisely because that is where we cease to rely upon ourselves and rely upon the Lord’s power at work within us. Our problems come when we hold back because we are afraid of what others will think of us, or that we will fail and appear weak and foolish.

In the simplest terms, we need to do what we need to do, instead of worrying about what we should do or what we might do. If there is an opportunity to learn, to serve, to help, seize it! Seize it in faith that God will help you. “Freely did you receive, so freely give.” And do not worry about results. Have faith that God will perfect his strength in your weakness. And in all things, give thanks for each other and everything!