Learning Our Faith from the Church Fathers – 20140413

In Eastern thought, salvation is understood essentially in terms of participation and communion with the deified humanity of the incarnate Logos – Christ. The Eastern fathers even dare to call the Spirit the “image of the Son”; by this they imply the truth that the Spirit is the main agent which makes communion a reality. According to Athanasius, the Son has given us “the first fruits of the Spirit, so that we may be transformed into sons and daughters of God, according to the image of the Son of God”. Thus, if it is through the Spirit that the Word of God became a human being, it is also only through the Spirit that true life reaches us.

The Church has always struggled with her ideas of how God operates. How do the Father, Son and Holy Spirit operate as one being and yet retain their individuality. The doctrine of the Trinity is the Church’s way of saying that there is only ONE God and yet there are THREE distinct Persons that are this ONE God. A mystery. Something that we humans find very difficult to understand. Yet the Church has always maintained her belief in monotheism and yet sees this ONE God as working in three very different ways.

Authors throughout the history of the Church have wrestled with how to express how our Triune God works in time. One author asks, “What is the effect and the result of the sufferings and works and teachings of Christ? Consider in relation to ourselves, it is nothing other than the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Church.”

Another author reminds us of the fact that the role of the Spirit in salvation is to confirm the personal dignity of the deified human person. He writes:

If our individual natures are   incorporated into the glorious humanity of Christ and enter  the unity of His Body by baptism, conforming themselves to the death and resurrection of Christ, our persons need to be confirmed in their personal  dignity by the Holy Spirit, so that each may freely realize his own union with the Divinity. Baptism – the Mystery of unity in Christ – needs to be complemented by Chrismation – the Mystery of diversity in the Holy Spirit.

 Interestingly, the Eastern fathers attribute to the Spirit all the multiplicity of names that can be attributed to grace, as is evident, for example, in St. Gregory Nazianzen and St. Basil. They freely speak about the Holy Spirit as effecting deification, perfection, adoption and sanctification. Eastern Christians sing, “The Holy Spirit gives life to souls; He exalts them in purity; He causes the sole nature of the Trinity to shine in them mysteriously.”

We will probably never totally realize during this lifetime how the Holy Trinity operates in human life. We simply have to believe that They do!

The Spirituality of the Christian East – 20140413

We must realize that change in a person is only truly produced by God’s grace; yet it does not occur without the participation of a person’s free will. In repentance or metanoia, free will must participate in the very act of the change itself. This change for the better and turning to God, although experienced as instantaneous, is only something that transpires over time. A person passes through several preparatory stages during which his   freedom is united with God’s grace. In these stages, grace gradually takes possession of freedom, while freedom submits itself to grace. These stages are necessary for everyone. Some people pass through them quickly, but for others its takes years. Who can understand everything that is happening here, especially since there are so many ways that grace acts upon us and the states of people upon which it acts are so innumerable? One must understand, however, that for all this variety, there is one common order of change and no one can avoid it. Everyone who repents is a person who is living in sin – and every such person is changed by grace. Therefore, based on an understanding of the state of a sinner in general and understanding the relation of freedom to grace, one can depict this process and determine its rules.

We say that all of us are, during this lifetime, in a state of sin, that is in a state of   imperfection. We were created in this manner. Life presents opportunities for us to spiritually grow, eliminating, over time, basic imperfections. Regardless of this, however, we will never achieve perfection during this lifetime nor do we have to in order to grow ever closer to deeper union with God. The joy of this earthly existence is the journey to deeper union with God. Life is the way that it is so that we are supported in our attempts at personal change. The true purpose of life is personal change and growth!

Epistle of His Beatitude Sviatoslav to Youth

patssI rejoice that on Palm Sunday, on the day of the Entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem,

I again have the opportunity to address you.

“Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16: 33)

You always, and especially during this tough winter and an anxiety-ridden spring, have been in my prayers and my thoughts.  I want to assure you that in all the difficult challenges, troubles and sorrows, the Church remains your steadfast Mother to whom you can always turn to in order to renew your strength, to find peace and hope.

This is a time of incredible challenges and simultaneously a time of deep conversion, a time of deliberation and change.

Together, we all are experiencing a complex, uncertain, while at the same time, an inspirational time.  It is a time of incredible challenges and simultaneously a deep conversion, a time of deliberations and changes – a time, during which we can feel the presence of God in our history and His limitless love.

The festive entry of Christ to Jerusalem also took place at a difficult – perhaps even critical – time for the Old Testament people of God.  The confused and disillusioned people of Israel waited for the Messiah — the One who would release them from the chains of slavery and despair. People expected change, the embodiment of their great wish – the coming of the king who would free Israel, reinstate peace and will rule all nations.  The palm branches, held in their hands, symbolized the expected peace.  They shouted “Hosanna!” which means “Save us!”

And Christ really did bring a victory – a victory much greater than the one which the Israelites expected:  not a political victory, but a victory over death!  Humankind met a real spring, an authentic renewal and liberation, whose only source is God the Lord.  Only He through his strength can remove everything that has died and has petrified, and he offers a person a new life, new hope, and a new chance. This was foretold by the prophet Isaiah in these words: “Remember ye not the former things, neither consider the things of old.  Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it?” (Isaiah 43, 18-19).

The first who felt that novelty in Christ and who greeted Him, were the children!  Young people are the ones who first feel the need for something better, because youthfulness is the spring of life.  They do not only simply need what Christ grants, do not just expect change, but they accept it – they permit this novelty to sink inside of them, and yearn for the fullness of life.  Youth starts moving towards God and is the one who is the first at realizing the fruits of God’s coming.

The Israeli people waited for the Messiah who would give them political freedom.  We also sometimes expect that someone will build for us a better world, will do a miracle.  This position is even evident in our prayers—we pay and wait that something will change without our participation.

Yet God needs our cooperation and gives us strength to realize the changes which we are requesting.  Therefore we should realize that an authentic change is the result of the cooperation of the person with God.  Let us remember how Christ taught his apostles: “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing” (John 15: 5)

A vivid example of the fact that Ukrainian youth deeply realized the mutual responsibility for themselves, for others, and for the entire creation became the events of the last months, which will enter history as the “revolution of dignity”.

It is my sincere belief that youth, believing youth, is a force that is capable of changing society, our people and their independent state.  It becomes attractive, widening the wave of renewal, engages others to join them, disarms the opponents and numbs the lips of the falsehood speakers.

A vivid example of how deeply Ukrainian youth realized their responsibility for themselves, for others, and for all of creation can be found in the events of the last few months, which will enter history as the “revolution for dignity”.  Our young people showed Europe and the whole world a new quality, demonstrated the authentic treatment of the values of freedom, dignity, and solidarity.

This was truly a grandiose change in the life of the Ukrainian people, which should become the outlook of further development.  In no case, it cannot be relegated to heroic moments of the past, left behind.  Maidan is a start, just as the festive entry of Christ into Jerusalem is the beginning of  Holy  Week, Christ’s passion, His voluntary humiliation and crucifixion on the cross.  Today Jerusalem glorifies Jesus, although He will shine with authentic glory only when as victorious over sin and death He emerge Resurrected from a sealed grave.  This cannot be stopped by anything or anybody: neither the stone which sealed the entrance to the grave, neither the weapons of the soldiers who guarded the grave, nor the culinary agreements of the godless rulers.

Unfortunately, a deep and fundamental change cannot be painless — a movement demands self-sacrifice. We also experienced that in the past months.  The bright and pure sacrifice of the Heavenly Hundred…  We deeply felt the commitment of the Maidan heroes, their deaths strongly impacted each one of us, and particularly those, who suffered  the  heavy loss of a family member, a friend or a colleague.

However, the definitive finale is not death, but victory – victory over evil, over death, over all that  degrades dignity and  takes away freedom.  We clearly realize that the movement towards change  leads through suffering to resurrection.  Renewal – is a movement towards resurrection.

In his inaugural speech in 1978, Blessed Pope John Paul II, who will be canonized as a saint in two weeks, stated:  “Do not be afraid!  Open wide the doors for Christ.  Open the borders, economic and political systems, cultures, civilizations, and the development of His  rule of salvation.”  His words are an appropriate call also to us.  Let us not be afraid!

His successor on Peter’s throne, Pope Francis, also talks about courage and addresses youth:  “Dare to swim against the tide.  Dare to be authentically happy.  Say “NO!” to ephemeral artificial culture which considers that you are not capable to take responsibility for yourself and to accept really great life challenges.” Maidan is our entry to Jerusalem.  We saw glory, experienced suffering and comprehended the power of sacrifice.

Dearly Beloved in Christ – Dear Young Ukrainians!

The whole world saw that you are capable of swimming against the tide, take on responsibility and face challenges and danger eye to eye. You can change the world.

Maidan is our entry into Jerusalem.  We saw glory, experienced suffering and comprehended the power of sacrifice.  And we know that the trials will continue.  But this is not all of it.  Our revolution — spiritual, personal, national – is a process.  Greatness is ahead of us and we can reach it only together with Christ.  We will see victory in the greatness and dignity of the Resurrection, which is the greatest and a fundamental victory – over death and sin.  Do not be afraid!  Christ has already won: and our victory is in Him.

Blessings of the Lord upon you!
+ SVIATOSLAV

Issued in Kyiv
At the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ on April 1 of the Year of the Lord, 2014

We request all priests – pastors to read this epistle to the faithful
after every Divine Liturgy on Palm Sunday, April 13 of this year.

Sunday April 6, 2014

In you, O Mother Mary of Egypt, the divine likeness shone forth
faithfully, for by taking up the cross, you followed Christ.
You gave example to be not concerned with fleeting life,
but to be watchful over the eternal soul. Therefore,
O Venerable Mary, you now rejoice with the angels.

Kowalchyk-St_Mary_St_ZossimaWith this weekend we complete the fifth week of the Great Fast. Our Gospel reading relates Christ’s going up to Jerusalem with His disciples. It says that their mood was one of wonderment, while that of those who followed was fear. Hopefully we approach the Great and Holy Week with a sense of wonderment. Indeed  the  foundational story of our Christian faith should provoke wonderment and not fear.

Christ’s story speaks of unconditional love and forgiveness. By the very way He lived His life and death gives us a sense that His teachings about life and how to live life are true. He is our model of how to deal with the challenges of life and even the cruelty of others. His story gives us a clearer idea about and understanding of life if only we open   ourselves to the true meaning of His life.

Like the disciples who went with Christ to Jerusalem, we know the story of what transpired in Jerusalem. Christ was arrested, unjustly accused and convicted of treason and blasphemy, mocked, flogged, scourged and finally crucified. There is nothing new about His story. What is hopefully new, however, is what the story provokes within us. Hopefully our time of preparation – the Great Fast that is quickly coming to an end – has    softened our hearts and minds so that we hear His story in a different way.

Today the Church has us remember Mary of Egypt, one of the truly great female ascetical saints. When she truly opened her heart to His story, her whole life was changed. She realized the great love God had for her and, realizing this, she dedicated her entire life to prayer in her sorrow for her sins.

While God does not expect us to give up our present life and go and live in a desert as Mary did, He calls us to awaken our hearts and minds to His love for us.

Remember, it is never too late to truly prepare yourself for Easter. Use the remaining days of the Great Fast – there are really only six days since the Great and Holy Week is not really Lent – to open your heart and mind to God’s great love for you. Make the actions of Jesus personal. He wants to teach you and me how to live.

Getting to Know Something About Our Greek Catholic Faith – 20140406

holywisdomUntil recently the common expression by which we identified ourselves as a Church was Ukrainian Catholic. When Ukraine gained its independence, we reverted to our original name, Ukrainian Greek-Catholic. Although we have referred to ourselves as Christians using the Byzantine ritual, this word Byzantine has a pejorative connotation by some Western standards to signify a state of inferiority of both mind and spirit. The first vilification of the name came from the Carolingian officials when their King,        Charlemagne, was refused by Constantinople the title of “Emperor of the Romans.” Since that time disputes and wars grew ever bitter between Byzantium and the West. It reached an apex in the fourth Crusade when the Crusaders, all Western Christians, sacked Constantinople.

Because the word Byzantine represented the essentially Christian culture of an essentially Christian Empire, the atheists and anti-Christian encyclopedists of the 18th century, namely Voltaire, Montesquieu and, after them the famous English historian    Gibbon, created an aura of disgust and horror around it. Under their influence, the word Byzantine came to be, in European languages, synonymous with “barbarous,” “futile,” and “inane.” Everyone shied away from its use. One author remarked: “For centuries after the Crusades, it was the fashion in Europe to regard the Empire whose seat was beside the Bosporus as a grotesque ruin, a crumbling relic, an outworn survival which cumbered the ground only because the servants had been too lazy to sweep it away” It was not until the late 19th century, and especially in the twentieth, that this word and what it represents, were vindicated and rehabilitated to honor and glory.

By contrast, the word Greek had always enjoyed popularity and general acceptance. It connoted harmony of thought, artistic taste, poetry, beauty and human dignity. The official language of the Empire was Greek. The word “Greek” represented the most refined paganism with its marvelous culture. Even that most astonishing discovery in chemistry made by the Syrian Callinicus of Heliopolis was called “Greek Fire”

Since the beginning of Christianity, and for a long time later, Greek was the official language of both the Eastern and Western Church. The Western or Roman Church used it exclusively until the days of Pope St. Victor in 199. Later, it adopted the language of the people, the vernacular, which was Latin. It was then called the Latin Church.patcath

The Eastern Church, presiding over the development of the Byzantine Empire and its culture, kept Greek as its official language until the fall of Constantinople in 1453, and became known as the “Greek” Church.

By returning to our original name, we stress our spiritual heritage. Christianity, as practiced by Ukrainians, came from the Greek expression of the Church. Our ritual is an adapted expression of that ritual used by the Greek Church.

Learning About the Practices of Our Religion – 20140406

supper_01I have, in this article, been providing a basic description of the first recorded    Liturgy, the Liturgy of Clementine. The core of the Liturgy was a rather lengthy and eccentric thanksgiving for creation.  This represents, however, the early church’s understanding of the Eucharist. It actually predominated the Eucharistic practice in the first three centuries. In the verbal thanksgiving for creation, the early Church enfolded the offering of bread and wine in accordance with Christ’s command – Do this in remembrance of Me.

A different tradition developed in the first century in Jerusalem. It was Cyril of Jerusalem who restructured the core part of the thanksgiving service – the part we call the anaphora. In Cyril’s rendition of the anaphora, God is asked to

send down upon this sacrifice Your Holy Spirit, the witness of the sufferings of the Lord Jesus, that He may declare (or make) this bread the Body of Your Christ, and this cup the Blood of Your Christ, that they who partake thereof may be strengthened in godliness, may receive remission of their sins, may be filled with the Holy Spirit, may become worthy of Your Christ, and may obtain eternal life, You being reconciled unto them, O Master Almighty.

After this prayer, a comprehensive intercession for the Church followed which included all those considered to be members of the Church (e.g,, clergy, military and governmental personnel). The entire anaphora was then concluded with a Trinitarian doxology and the Amen of the people, which expressed the agreement of the people with that which was prayed by the clergy.

While the first part of the anaphora of St. Cyril reflects the traditional emphasis of the Eucharist as an offering of praise, the latter part reflect the newer interest of the fourth century in offering a propitiatory (i.e., supplicatory or make atonement for) sacrifice. In the Liturgy of Clementine, the newer tradition was     already combined with the older and the resulting pattern of the eucharistic prayer became that of all subsequent Eastern anaphoras.

The older and new concepts of the Eucharist, which both contributed to the shape of the Eastern anaphora, continued to coexist in Byzantine Eucharistic theology. Theologians spoke of Christ, now as the invisible celebrant of the Liturgy, offering the sacrifice of all the Church, now as the passive victim offered by the Church to God in order to propitiate Him. The later prayer of the Great Entrance combined them verbally when it said of Christ: For it is you who offer and are offered.

The development of the Liturgy is truly fascinating.
A Question: What does the Liturgy mean to you?

Called To Holiness — 20140406

Recognizing my uniqueness as a human being and having a desire to be holy doesn’t make me holy. While these are essential for my quest for holiness, they have to also be augmented by deliberate action.

By deliberate action I mean this: the development and implementation of a conscious and purposeful plan to become holy. Such a plan must include the things that I will do in order to achieve my goal.

When you read the lives of the saints you find that they all set about doing certain things that they felt would lead them to holiness. The things they have typically included are:
image332(1) prayer;
(2) acts of kindness;
(3) periodic fasting;
(4) Scripture and other spiritual reading;
(5) almsgiving;
(6) spiritual direction; and
(7) acts of mercy.
Most saints have included a mixture of these acts, specifically done with the intention of growing in holiness.

It is important that we are not misguided in our attempts to become holy. Just giving up things or doing things will not lead to holiness if we don’t engage in these actions with the specific intention of growing in holiness. In fact I would caution the idea of giving up things. Too frequently this approach tends to engender the idea that if I suffer or punish myself that God will love me more or that I will atone for my sins and be holy.

The fact of the matter is that I need to choose to do acts that I believe will lead to holiness.

It is also important, I believe, that we should feel comfortable in actually choosing the actions that we believe will focus our efforts in becoming holy. When we have a desire to be holy, God never second guesses our choice of actions. Our intention is critical. Like all Church actions and rituals, they are conducive to holiness if we intend to do them for the sake helping us in becoming holy.

I am also aware of the fact that in order to develop a conscious and purposeful plan to become holy I must also give up my human fear that holiness will change me so much that I won’t recognize myself. I truly believe that many people are afraid of becoming holy because they have misguided notions of what holiness is and also very misguided notions of who the saints are. Remember that holiness will not result in you becoming perfect!

Only one human is perfect. His name is Jesus, the Christ!

A Look at the New Testament – St. Paul – 20140406

In the last issue of this article I began sharing ideas about Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, the third letter to be written and included in the canon of the New Testament (NT). Paul’s first letter attempted to address certain divisions in the community that were reported to him. He had already left the community.

12_stpaulicon_270There were divisions within the community between the “rich” and the “rest” (same old divisions that we still see today). The letter tells us that few were wealthy: “Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.” But obviously some were. In this respect, the Christ-community in Corinth may have been an exception among Paul’s communities. It was mostly made up of urban workers, many of them God-fearers from the merchant and artisan classes. Some were prosperous enough to have become Paul’s patrons and benefactors. Although not from the super-wealthy class, they may have been what we might call “well-to-do.”

This conflict surfaces in chapter 11 and is the context for what Paul writes about the meaning of the common meal that he calls the “Lord’s supper.” This is actually the earliest reference about the special sacramental meal at the center of Christian worship.

It should be remembered that in the first century the Lord’s Supper was an actual meal. It was not just a piece of bread and a sip of wine. It was a full meal shared in common by the community. During this meal;, bread and wine would be prayed over and declared as the Body and Blood of Christ. What we now call the Divine Liturgy was part of a common meal in imitation of what happened at the original Last Supper.

We do not know how often, however, these early Christian communities shared this meal. It is thought that the community would have a common meal at least weekly, following the rhythm of the Sabbath. It may have been shared on a Sunday rather than on a Friday evening as in Jewish tradition.

It seems, however, that in Corinth the meal ceased to be a common meal. The wealthy would gather early for the meal. By the time the working people got to the meal, the wealth had already eaten and some, because there was also drinking of wine, were tipsy. They may have also served the best wine and best food to themselves before the others arrived. Such was common among the wealthy in the world at that time. This, of course, violated Paul’s understanding of the Church as the one “Body of Christ.” It is for this reason that Paul included in this first letter a condemnation of the practice of the wealthy.

Learning Our Faith from the Church Fathers – 20140406

In order to reach the goal of Theosis, prayer, humble service, meditation and similar exercises are not only necessary but also highly recommended. The notion of merit – that is that we can do anything to merit union with God – is truly foreign to the Eastern tradition. While it is true that Eastern tradition indicates that cooperation with the workings of God’s Spirit is essential in order to achieve Theosis, this does not mean that we can merit Theosis. In general, the attitude of Eastern tradition towards grace (God’s help) and free will is less reserved than in Western tradition. In the East, the question of free will has never had the urgency that it assumed in the West from the time of Augustine. The Eastern tradition never separates grace and human freedom. Therefore, the charge of Pelagianism (i.e., that grace is a reward for the merit of the human will) is not fair. It is not a question of merit, but of cooperation, of synergy of the two wills, divine and human. “Grace is a presence of God within us which demands constant effort on our part.” One of the Eastern Fathers has stated that “The Holy Spirit, acting within us, accomplishes with us our salvation” and that “being assisted by grace, man accomplishes the work of his salvation.”

I suspect that this distinction might be difficult to understand. What is being said is that when we truly cooperate with God’s Spirit we can achieve greater union with God.

One of the distinctive characteristics of Eastern theology is in captured in the following: the early Christian understanding of creation and of man’s ultimate destiny is truly inseparable from the    power of the Holy Spirit working in creation. It has always been the task of the Eastern wing of the church to keep alive this orientation of the continual working of God’s Spirit in creation. Creation itself is sustained in existence by the active power of God’s Spirit.

Some Eastern theologians have stressed that this emphasis on the Holy Spirit actively working to keep all things in existence has been lost in the West as greater emphasis has been placed on the role of Christ in salvation history. A truly healthy attitude about human salvation needs a balance between the work of Christ and of the Spirit.

Since the divine Spirit is the Giver of Life, His main work in salvation is the divinization of human beings. So the role of the Holy Spirit in Eastern soteriology (doctrine of salvation through Jesus Christ) is highlighted by the ultimate goal of salvation which is Theosis. Salvation has as its ultimate realization union with God in the age to come – the deification of the created beings whom Christ saved.

The Spirituality of the Christian East – 20140406

As we know, and Theophan affirms, the beginning of the Christian life is truly “established in baptism”.  It is a ritual which initiates us into a way of living and believing – into the Church of Christ. God, we believe, has given the Church the ability to provide us with help in living as Jesus lived.

Initiation alone, however, is not effective in helping a  person live as Jesus lived. To embrace the Jesus way of living one must become committed to embracing the way of thinking and living espoused by the Church, the community that believes that Jesus revealed the way God intended people to live in order to spiritually grow and experience the fullness of life.

Saint_Theophan_the_Recluse_1

Theophan suggests that a good number of initiated persons do not learn how to live like Jesus lived either because their parents didn’t take the time to bring them to church and make sure that they received a religious education OR they were seduced by society and its values. Many people seem to think that it is sufficient to just be initiated into the Church – that is receive the Mysteries of Baptism, Chrismation and Holy Eucharist. While these Mysteries open the doors to the Jesus Way, they do not force a person to embrace this Way. It should be pointed out that simple attendance at the Liturgy and the reception of Communion does not guarantee that we will be personally transformed. We must cooperate with the help that comes from God when we do these things. Thoughtful attendance at Church and humble reception of Holy Communion can greatly assist us in finding the ability to live like Jesus lived – to live as God intended us, as human    beings, to live.

Frequently our society can distract us from a real commitment to living the Way of Jesus. Our personal goal must be to live in accord with our beliefs and faith. Ask yourself: What do I believe about God and life?