The Spirituality of the Christian East — 20140504

Theophan, you will recall from last week’s Bulletin, gave us a different image, I believe, of what sin is by giving us characteristics of a sinner. A sinner can be described as a person who is concerned about many other things than his or her relationship with God. A sinner is a person who   deprives himself of God’s help or grace.

In his writings Theophan presents what he sees as the general features characteristic of a sinner. He states:

Having turned away from God a man becomes centered on himself and puts himself as the main object of his entire life and activity. This is certain, because after God there is nothing greater for a man than himself.

This is why we can state that all of us are sinners since the natural tendency in all of us is to think more about ourselves than about others. This is also why the message of Jesus is challenging. He challenges us to be selfless and other-centered instead of self-centered. This, I believe, is one of the primary lessons that all humans must learn during this lifetime. We must learn how to be other-centered.

One author, who I tend to agree with, sees the following as some of the characteristics of our modern society:

· Disenchantment of the world: the loss of sacred and metaphysical understandings of all facets of life and culture;

· Secularization: the loss of religious influence and/or religious belief at a societal level;

· Alienation: isolation of the individual from systems of meaning (e.g., family, religion, meaningful work);

· Commodification: the reduction of all aspects of life to objects of monetary      consumption and exchange;

· Decontexutalization: the removal of social practices, beliefs, and cultural objects from their local cultures of origin; and

· Individualism: growing stress on individuals as opposed to meditating structures (e.g. , as family, village, church).

Think about this!          Christos Voskrese!

FROM THE PASTOR’S DESK

easter2I would offer a big Thank You to all those who worked to make our Easter Dinner a special event. I especially would like to thank Art Borodich who did the main cooking. I would extend thanks also to Corinne Boyko & Mary LaDouceur who gracious stepped in and helped when plans changed. A Big Thanks to all who made desserts. They were absolutely delicious and delightful. Despite our small number, we had a wonderful time.

Sunday April 27, 2014

Though the tomb had been sealed, from the tomb You arose, O Life and Christ our God. Though the door had been locked, You appeared among the  Disciples, O Resurrection of All; and thus You restored an upright spirit for us according to Your great mercy. Tropar

Christ IS Risen! Indeed He IS Risen!

This weekend we celebrate the Anti-Pasch, which brings to a close, in imitation of the First Passover, our eight day celebration of the New Passover. Just as Moses led the Jewish people out of captivity in Egypt, so Christ our Savior, through His Resurrection from the dead, has led us out of captivity to sin and death and to God’s Promised Kingdom. The Resurrection is the new Exodus (Passover) and Christ is the new Moses.

During Bright Week, which we have just completed, we celebrated the Lord’s Resurrection every day (in fact Resurrection Matins can traditionally be celebrated every day of this special week). After this special week, the Church celebrates the Resurrection of Christ only on  Sundays (this is why we have the eight different Tones for our Proper Prayers during the remainder of the year).

Bright Week also initiates a change in our liturgical calendar. During the 50 days between Easter and the feast of Pentecost, Sundays become the first day of the week (during Ordinary Time, the rest of the liturgical year, Sundays are considered the last day of the week).

The Eastern Church is brilliant in her celebration of this great feast. On the very first weekend after Easter she recalls, for the sake of building our faith, that even one of Christ’s Disciples, Thomas the Twin, had refused to believe that Christ arose from the dead. She shares the story of Thomas’ disbelief so that we might believe rather than disbelieve in the Lord’s Resurrection.

Many modern people find it difficult to believe that Jesus arose from the dead and dismiss this story as a myth or a contrivance by the disciples. Even the disciples had a difficult time, at first, to believe in this miracle. But many experienced Jesus as alive, as did Thomas, and disbelief was changed in to belief. Our faith in this mystery is fortified by the testimony of first-hand witnesses. All we know about the disciples and followers of Jesus tell us that they were not deceivers. The proof? They were willing to die for their belief. It is difficult to deny the truthfulness of   people who were willing to die for what they knew to be true. Believe! This truth will set you free.     Христос Воскрес

A Look at the New Testament – St. Paul – 20140427

Before the Great and Holy Week, I was sharing my thoughts and those of the Scripture scholar Marcus Borg about the Letters of St. Paul which were written much before the four Gospels and, it is believed, probably influenced the writers and compilers of the Gospels. The focus of the thoughts shared were about Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.

As I shared, the first part of the letter dealt with the complaints that Paul received from the community about some of the things that were happening. In part it dealt with the fact that       the community was becoming fractionalized because of some of the distinctions that were being made between the more affluent members and the poorer members.

Portions of the rest of the letter responds to specific questions that the community directed to Paul.

The beginning of chapter 7 (it is suggested that as you read this you also open your New Testament to his first letter to the Corinthians), refers explicitly to this: Now concerning the matters about which you wrote. The verse then continues: It is well for a man not to touch a woman. Is this what Paul thought? No. That sentence is from a letter to Paul from the community in Corinth. Some were advocating total abstinence, and others wanted to know Paul’s teaching on the matter. The sentence functions as a section heading for Paul’s comments on marriage, conjugal relations and divorce which occupy the rest of the chapter (It is interesting that they ask a man who was not married about these things).

In the next chapter, Paul addresses the question of whether food sacrificed to idols, especially meat, can be eaten by Christians. In the urban Gentile world, most meat was from animals that had been sacrificed to various deities – idols from a Jewish and Christian point of view. So could Christ-followers eat it? Paul’s answer: yes.

It must be remembered that Paul was writing to Gentiles and Jews who were followers of Jesus and living in the Roman Empire. Roman religious ritual would sacrifice various animals and then offer the meat for sale to citizens. The Roman temples were what we would now call the community butcher shop. Paul answers yes because he reasoned that eating the meat did not imply worshipping a Roman god.

This was not an uncommon practice. Even Judaism at that time offered animal sacrifice to Yahweh. Some of the meat was eaten by worshippers while, on other occasions the animal was totally burned.

This approach to worship probably seems foreign to most modern people since our worship of God has become so abstract and symbolic. The reality is that we offer food in worship of God, which is symbolic of life, and consume it. Think about it.                      Krisztus feltámadt!

Getting to Know Something About Our Greek Catholic Faith — 20140427

The state of mind, the forms of worship, the spirituality and theology of the Eastern Church are not merely a matter of rite: they imply a specific vision of life and eternity, uniting Easterners of many different backgrounds: Melkites, Ukrainians, Ruthenians and other Slavs in one Church, under one Lord, Jesus Christ. The Eastern Church was highly influenced, originally, by the thinking and philosophy of Greeks, Syrians, Semites and even Egyptians.

The Eastern Church and its culture are not truly Eastern, although born and developed in the Eastern part of the Roman Empire. The words East and Eastern are historical and geographical terms designating a rather nebulous    reality with uncertain contours. They encompass nations and cultures from the Bosphorus to the Far East, passing through Asia, China and Japan, and from the Ural Mountains in Russia to the peninsula of Kamtchatka on the Pacific Ocean.

For Americans, these words are so confusing that when applied to the Byzantine Church, they may submerge its identity in a shadow of unreality, since in our language these terms are generally applied to Far Eastern countries and not to the Near-East, or Levant to which this Church belongs.

It is the Near-Eastern nations, or Levantines, which Hellenic civilization penetrated, without dispossessing them completely of their original ethnic characteristics. Both Syria and Palestine, which occupied very special places and positions in the formation of the Byzantine Church, used the Syriac language, which was later replaced by Arabic. Georgia and Armenia spoke the Armenian language. Near-Eastern nations, with their particular cultures, were in some way united by a common element, the Greek language, without becoming Greek themselves. In later   history, they all converged on Byzantium to contribute to its formation and development without making it Eastern. The definitive history of Byzantine science and philosophy, literature and theology has yet to be written, but the main lines stand out in sufficient details to reveal their attractive beauty and diversity in their harmonious unity.

It should be noted that each of the ethnic groups that have become encompassed by the Byzantine Church have, especially in terms of spirituality, added to the original Byzantine approach. The temperament of each   ethnic group has added to the expression of the faith as originally received from Byzantium.

Χριστός Ανέστη!  

The Spirituality of the Christian East — 20140427

Before the Great and Holy Week, I began to share the thoughts of one of our Father among the saints, Theophan, as a means of sharing some insights into Eastern spirituality as it is experienced by Slavic peoples. He was Slavic.

In his writings he has much to say about the state of a sinner. It is very important that we hear what he has to say.

Theophan writes that the sinner who is to be renewed through repentance is often described in the Word of God as being submerged in a deep sleep. The distinctive feature of such persons is not necessarily their manifest depravity. It is rather the absence of an active, heart-felt, and selfless desire for pleasing God, together with a resolute aversion for everything that is sinful. Piety is not the primary object of their concern and labor. They are concerned about many other things, but are absolutely indifferent to the matter of their own salvation and are not aware of the danger they are in. They are neglectful of a good and righteous life and lead a life that is cold to faith, although this life may sometimes be outwardly irreproachable.

In many ways this gets at the heart of what Eastern spirituality sees as sin. Sin is a state of being unaware of the work that must be done during this lifetime – namely the work of making sure that our thinking, attitudes and behaviors are congruent with the teachings of Jesus. Many people fail to think about their attitudes which, most frequently, are formed by our society and not by the Gospel.

This is one reason why the Slavic Byzantine Church always talks about our voluntary and involuntary sins. Our sinful nature is not defined by the things we do but rather by our attitudes, thinking and lack of awareness about our spiritual life. Example: God doesn’t care that we lie 30 times. He cares that there is something within us that seems to require that we lie about things.                    Χριστός Ανέστη!

Called To Holiness — 20140427

As I have shared with you, I believe that when members of a Christian community truly understand that they are Called to Holiness, the community becomes vibrant.  One might ask: What makes a parish or community vibrant? People who truly believe in the Good News given to us by God through Jesus Christ and who demonstrate this belief by their involvement in the parish community and their willingness to pray. When God calls us to Holiness, He typically calls us to be a part of a community, that is a group of people who share the same vision of life and see the value and necessity of being a part of the Body of Christ extended in time, a part of the Church.  

While it is true that you don’t have to belong to a Church in order to pray to God or to be a good person, for some reason God chose to establish a Church. An essential part of our spiritual growth is directly connected to our involvement in a spiritual community. There is value to communal prayer. A spiritual community – the Church – is a place where we can learn how to unconditionally love others. We need to be a part of the Church. Why? Because God shared this reality with us through His Son. His Son Jesus brought people together and got them to see the importance of authentic relationships and living in community. God obviously had a reason for allowing the Church to develop through Jesus’ efforts.

Learning to live peacefully in community with others and develop a common vision of life, is the way that God planned humans should live.

I say this because that is what Jesus did. The problem often is that people chose to join a community and not be active or fail to learn the lesson of how to live in community. For example, we know that there will always be disagreements when people live in community. The challenge is to learn how to work out the disagreements and not damage the community by walking away.

When we profess to be a member of a Christian community, it is essential that we understand that we have a responsibility to take our membership as seriously as possible and, to the best of our ability, support the community in any way that we can and be convinced that our spiritual growth can only be achieved within the context of the spiritual community.

Jesus chose to live and work in a community. A vibrant community supports its members in their efforts to live a Christian life.                          Χριστός Ανέστη!

Learning Our Faith from the Church Fathers — 20140427

When Christ revealed the identity of the Father and of God, he placed this revelation within another, still more inaccessible mystery, that of the Trinity. God is Father because he has a Son who is God, Jesus Christ. The basic principle of divine fatherhood was thereby transposed to a level which surpasses merely human thought.

Again the Church, in Her understanding of Who Jesus is, had to come to a new understanding of Who God is. The result of the Church’s belief that Jesus is both Divine and human was the development of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity – a doctrine that says that God, while He is one God, is comprised of Three distinct Persons.

The divine Trinity is the fundamental mystery of the Christian faith. It is the one starting-point from which the other elements of the Christian faith can be understood. This doctrine could not have been truly formulated without the help of Greek Philosophy.

For the Greeks, the perfection of knowledge consisted of theology, that is the knowledge that results from the study of God. For the Greeks, the aim of theology is knowledge of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In the opinion of Gregory Nazianzen the grace of the kingdom of heaven consists in the Holy Trinity uniting itself wholly to the whole soul.

It seems that two different ideas are found in the theology – the knowledge that has developed about the Trinity. There is the “Alexandrian-Latin” view and the so-called “Greek” view. The teaching of the Western Church goes back to Augustine and Boethius who assert that in God everything is one to the extent that there is no opposition of relations. Therefore, God is the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. By contrast the Greek Fathers of the Church seem to remain more faithful to the terminology of the New Testament. The Father Almighty is the creator of heaven and earth, and hence the principle of cosmic unity in the extra-divine universe. This Father, however, is also the source of intra-divine unity. The Son and the Spirit are one in the Father. And since the function of the divine Persons corresponds to the place each occupies in the bosom of the Trinity, the salvific value of the mystery of the Trinity is manifested. It is the Father who is the ground of human divinization.

Trying to put words to this Mystery, seems to boggle human thinking. One of the important ideas that emerged in the struggle to understand God is the fact that the Son is the Word of God – that Person Who gives expression to the Father’s thoughts.       Christ IS Risen!

Learning About the Practices of Our Religion — 20140427

As we think about the Divine Liturgy, we must ask: What was the Divine Liturgy like at the time of John Chrysostom? We know that he attempted to simplify the Divine Liturgy of Basil the Great and the other Fathers that formulated Anaphoras.

John Chrysostom, the golden-mouthed, won his reputation as a preacher during his years as a priest at Antioch, 386-98. In the latter years he was chosen, we might say unwillingly, to be the Bishop of Constantinople. For six years he presided over the church in the capital, attempting to reform its life and morals. The hostility of the Empress Eudoxia and Patriarch Theophilus of Alexandria caused him to be deposed in 404.

Theophilus of Alexandria had little tolerance for anything that was not   Christian. After he became Patriarch of Alexandria in 385, he ordered the destruction of all pagan temples in North Africa and used the stones to build churches. He supported Origen until questioned by a group of monks about the immateriality of God. Having pondered the issue for a few years, he condemned Origen c. 400 and began to persecute monks who followed him. When four Origenistic monks appealed to John Chrysostom, the Patriarch of Constantinople, he began to attack John and attended the Council of Oak that deposed John. Some believe that Theophilus acted as much out of jealousy over the primacy of Constantinople as from the love of Christian doctrine. When Theophilus died in 412, his nephew Cyril succeeded him as patriarch. Theophilus’ tract against Chrysostom is extant.

Interesting enough is the fact that Theophilus is declared a saint as well as John Chrysostom.

John Chrysostom was, in his own day, linked with liturgical reform. His name became linked with the Divine Liturgy that we typically use throughout the year.

From his sermons preached in the capital we can form some impression of the Eucharist there in his time, while scattered literary references and the results of archaeological investigations enable us to place the Liturgy in its architectural setting.

Many people do not think about the fact that the formation of the Divine Liturgy was also closely connected with the shape and architecture of the church building in which it was celebrated. The worship ritual that has been passed down to us and that we use, was influenced by many different things which, hopefully, I can address during the next several weeks. The space that we worship in, whether we are aware of it or not, does influence our sense of worship and our feeling of worship.       Kristus vstal zmŕtvych!

From the Pastor’s Desk — Sunday April 27, 2014

A BIG THANK YOU

Another BIG THANK YOU is truly in order after last week’s celebration. It was absolutely glorious! I loved every minute of it. We had absolutely great singing and I felt the regular members brought the spirit of the day to all of our visitors. Bob Boyko, Stephen Pipta, Len Mier really helped make it special as well as all those who sang. I truly love your spirit and willingness to truly celebrate the Good News given by Jesus Christ!