The Spirituality of the Christian East – 20140119

In the Eastern Church, spirituality is lived dogma. That is why even in the midst of discussions that divide opponents we experience a spontaneous transition to personal attitudes closer to what we may call a devotion common to all Christians. Strictly speaking one should not pray to Christ but through Christ, as Origen warned us.

It comes as no surprise that Christians love Christ. But how? Ancient liturgies praised him, thanked him, worshipped and implored him. Tenderness and intimacy began to be emphasized only with some reservations in the early days: by the martyrs, by pilgrims to Jerusalem, in Syriac religious poetry. Yet even the Byzantines have An Office of the Most Sweet Jesus which antedates the Jubilus attributed to St. Bernard.

From the entire tradition, it is good that we quote at least one anonymous writer included in the Philokalia, who greatly praised the excellence of the famous Jesus Prayer.

pantocrator

This is the doctrine that has been handed down to us by our inspired Fathers. The whole effort of their lives was to fill themselves with the sweetness of Jesus. Their whole hunger was for Jesus. This is what filled them with indescribable spiritual joy. By calling on the sweet name of Jesus they received special charisms and were elevated above the cares of the flesh and of the world.

There are two paths which can lead to a tender love for the Savior: the sweetness of God because he is God; and his human amiability, because no man has ever spoken as did he. These two paths ultimately merge, for Christ is a single divine-human person.

It is our love of Jesus that allows us to join ourselves to Him in worshipping the Father in the Spirit. In worshipping the Father we, of course worship Christ and the Spirit. The complexity of the Trinity can be daunting. You will note that every prayer in our services ends with a doxology to Father, Son and Spirit. The Son taught us how to pray, saying, Our Father Who art in heaven

Athanasius of Alexandria – 20140119

To gain a proper perspective on the Eastern view of salvation, we have to be aware of its distinctive ideas about humanity and its implications. For the most part, the Eastern view of humanity looks forward to the renewing of the image of God. The underlying anthropology is not necessarily more positive put, instead of operating mainly in guilt-concepts, its looks upward, so to speak, to the image of God to be fulfilled in mortal human beings. This sets the tone for the rest of its beliefs about salvation and theology in general.

The view of the human being in the Christian East is based upon the notion of participation in God. This natural participation, however, is not a static given. Rather, it is a challenge and the human being is called to grow in divine life. Divine life is a gift, but also a task, which is to be accomplished by a free human effort.

A person becomes the perfect image of God by discovering his or her likeness to God, which is the perfection of the nature common to all human beings. The Greek term homoiousios, which corresponds to likeness in Genesis 1:26, means precisely that dynamic progress and growth in divine life and implies human freedom. In Greek patristic thought there is no opposition between freedom (likeness) and grace (i.e., God’s image in human beings): the presence in man of divine qualities, of a grace (God’s image) which makes him fully man, “neither destroys his freedom, nor limits the necessity for him to become fully himself by his own effort: rather it secures that synergy or cooperation between the divine will and human choice which makes possible the progress from glory to glory and the assimilation of man to the divine dignity for which he was created.

I think that this is one or the clearest descriptions I have seen. Think about it. It preserves God’s presence in our lives and also our freedom. It asserts that God created us with the capacity to cooperate with Him in gaining a unity with Him. This unity is achieved by our work to allow ourselves to think and act in the image and likeness of Jesus, the God-Man.

Unlike much of classical Western theology, the Eastern fathers never viewed the creation of human beings as perfect even before the Fall. Humans are created imperfect and, as free rational beings, they have to go through the stages of growth necessary to bring them to a maturity which allows them to see that they have been made in the image and likeness of God.

It is important to assertindex that this Eastern approach is as correct as the Western approach, although often people think that the Western approach is the whole truth and the absolute truth. There is no dogma that says we have to adhere to one or the other approach.

 

A Look at the New Testament – St. Paul – 20140119

Paul’s communities were not primarily intended for the practice of religion as one dimension of life; rather, they were groups learning about and practicing a comprehensive way of seeing and living. We must remember that there was not a highly developed liturgical life at that time. The worship of God was made by using the Jewish services and also having a common meal which was eaten in commemoration of the meal that Jesus shared with His disciples.
The Greek word translated church is ekklesia. It means assembly and those called out – a community. Lacking the modern associations with church, the Greek word is a good term for the communities that Paul established.

Another reason church is misleading is that Paul’s communities were small, much smaller than most modern churches. We must recall that by the year 6o the total number of followers of Jesus was about two thousand, half in the homeland and half in the Diaspora. Thus any particular community would have been small. We perhaps should imagine Paul’s communities as small as fifteen or twenty people and perhaps as large as a hundred or two (as in Corinth). And even when there were that many Christ-followers in a given city, they most often probably met in smaller groups. We must also recall that during this period Christianity was still being persecuted. It was until the fourth century that Christians could freely and publicly meet.12_stpaulicon_270

One reason is the architecture of the ancient world. The spaces in which communities of Christ-followers could meet were small. It is common to speak of the earliest Christian communities as house-churches. That term correctly makes the point that they did not have church buildings. But it is misleading because it uses the words church and house. “House” implies a private family home large enough for a gathering. Most early Christians, with some exceptions, however, lived in much more modest living accommodations – in four-and five-story tenement buildings. Recall that a good number of the Christ-followers were probably also slaves and among the poor. They would not have had space for a gathering of fifteen or twenty or more.

But some of these tenement buildings and some homes of the wealth on main streets had “shops” on the ground floor. These included retail, manufacturing and repair shops in which artisans like leatherworkers and others worked. These spaces were not large, they averaged about two hundred square feet. But, unlike residential space, they were unused some of the time. In them, small early Christian communities met.

In recent years, some religious groups with large memberships have tried using house-churches in order to encourage greater intimacy among members.

Being a Vibrant Parish – 20140119

vibrantparishWhile we are well-enough informed about the liturgical life of the early Church and the Fathers, we are not very informed about their private prayer. The reason for this is the fact that they advised everyone not to talk about it. This was their secret hidden work. The secret inner work was a constant inner conversation with God. God was in the inner temple of the soul and man was in constant communion with Him. This inner communion was not easy. A struggle, a spiritual combat was needed with the hostile powers that sought to divert their attention from God. We all have, I am sure, experienced this constant struggle. The world and all of its things (especially now with the advent of technology — who can live without their cell phone today) can distract us from the primary task of life: a deeper union with God. Part of this hidden work was repeating over and over again to oneself either quietly or more loudly certain prayers or Scripture verses or entire Psalms. This allow them to engage their memory about life’s primary task. In the process, the thoughts sank not only into the memory but into the depths of their souls and minds.
St. John Climacus refers to this secret occupation when he writes: Not even in the dinning room did they stop mental activity but according to a certain custom, these blessed men reminded one another of interior prayer by secret signs and gestures.
In this manner the soul is converted into a temple of God, a monastery, where prayer is continually offered to God. For, let us remember, there is not one liturgy but three liturgies:
1)    the liturgy of corporate prayer celebrated in Church;
2)    the liturgy of private prayer offered constantly in the chapel of the heart; and
3)    the “liturgy after the liturgy;” the liturgy that begins when we leave church and continues all week long: the liturgy of love and service to the world performed in the name of Christ.
The practice of the presence of God is not beyond your ability. The main thing is to attempt to make it real in your life. Try it, you’ll like it!

Getting to Know Something About Our Eastern Catholic Faith – 20140119

In 858, fifteen years after the triumph of icons under Theodora, Photius became the Patriarch of Constantinople. He has been termed the most distinguished thinker, the most outstanding politician, and the most skillful diplomat ever to hold the office of Patriarch. Soon after his accession he became involved in a dispute with Pope Nicolas I (858-67). The previous Patriarch, Ignatius, had been exiled by the Emperor and while in exile had resigned under pressure. The supporters of Ignatius, declining to regard this resignation as valid, considered Photius a usurper. When Photius sent a letter to the Pope announcing his accession (the long-held custom was that churches would inform others when new patriarchs were chosen – they never asked permission). Nicolas decided that before recognizing Photius he would look further Into the quarrel between the new Patriarch and the Ignatian party. Accordingly in 86i he sent legates to Constantinople.
Photius had no desire to start a dispute with the Papacy. He treated the legates with great deference, inviting them to preside at a council in Constantinople, which was to settle the issue between Ignatius and himself. The legates agreed, and together with the rest of the council they decided that Photius was the legitimate Patriarch. But when his legates returned to Rome, Nicolas declared that they had exceeded their powers, and he disowned their decision. He then proceeded to retry the case himself at Rome: a council held under his
presidency in 863 recognized Ignatius as Patriarch and proclaimed Photius to be deposed from all priestly dignity. The Byzantines took no notice of this condemnation and sent no answer to the Pope’s letters. Thus an open breach existed between the Churches of Rome and Constantinople.
The dispute clearly involved the Papal claims. Nicolas was a great reforming Pope, with an exalted idea of the prerogatives of his see, and he had already done much to establish an absolute power over all bishops in the west. But he believed this absolute power to extend to the east also: as he put it in a letter of 865, the Pope is endowed with authority over all the earth, that is, over every Church. This was precisely what the Byzantines were not prepared to grant. Confronted with the dispute between Photius and Ignatius, Nicolas thought that he saw a golden opportunity to enforce his claim to universal jurisdiction: he would make both parties submit to his arbitration.

Learning About the Practices of Our Religion – 20140119

mysticalsuperOrigen’s teaching about the Christian mystery and the Liturgy is the soil from which grew one strand in the Byzantine tradition of liturgical interpretation. Developed by Dionysius the Areopagite in the fifth century and Maximus the Confessor in the seventh, it was taken up and given its finial form in the fifteenth century by Symeon of Thessalonike.
In order to fully understand the resultant interpretation of the Liturgy, however, we must backtrack to the fourth century and consider the beginning connection between doctrine and worship.
In 313 Constantine issued the edit of tolerance which transformed the situation of Christians in the Roman Empire. Up until that time, Christians were persecuted because of their refusal to worship idols and serve in the army. After the edit, the Church was under imperial patronage, and in the East Constantine, though not baptized until the end of his life, came to be venerated as equal to the apostles.
It must be remembered that much like Volodymyr in Rus (Ukraine), Constantine was brought to the faith by
his mother, Helena. Representations of the Emperor, and of his mother Helena, together with the cross she
found in Jerusalem, are often found in the decorative scheme of later Byzantine churches. Favored by
Constantine at the beginning of the century, Christianity became the official religion of the Empire
towards its end, under Theodosius I.
Imperial patronage had immediate and profound consequences for the Church, not least in its worship. The Emperor’s influence soon made itself felt, even in the domain of doctrine. The fourth century was one of fierce doctrinal conflicts within the Church. Early in the century the Alexandrian priest Arius raised a storm that was to rage for half a century and disturb Christendom for far longer by teaching that the Son was not God as the Father was God, but was a creature, albeit the first and highest of all created beings. A good deal of early Christian writing did imply the subordination of the Son to the Father. But once the explicit affirmation of his inferiority had been made, it was seen to strike at the heart of Christian faith in salvation through Christ. If it was not God who was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, then we are not saved.
We must always remember that there was no separation between Church and State. The emperor was the Head of the Church and the State (Two-headed Eagle)

Sunday January 19, 2014

The readings appointed today for our worship are rich in spiritual content. The Gospel, which is Luke’s account of Jesus’ encounter with the Rich Young Man, addresses a question which should be on our lips: What must I do to share in everlasting life. The Epistle, on the other hand, which is taken from Paul’s letter to the Colossians, exhorts us to Let the word of Christ, rich as it is, dwell in us. The practice of virtue, which was at the very core of all of the Lord’s teachings, is the key for us sharing in everlasting life.
The question is, What keeps most of us from the practice of virtue? In a few simple words, our possessions and their connectedness to the uncertainties of life. Perhaps the greatest challenge that we humans face during this earthly existence is the challenge of not having any real control over life. Our possessions give us a sense of having control, even though it is deceptive since there are many things (e.g. tornado, fire, theif) that immediately take our things away from us. We collect things to ward off the fears that are truly connected with the vicissitudes of life.
In his comment on this Gospel story, St. Clement of Alexandria provides us with some insight into its meaning. Clement asks: What made the young man depart from the Master, from the entreaty, the hope, the life, previously pursued with ardor? It was the Master’s exhortation to Sell your possessions. Christ does not bid the young man to throw away the substance he possessed and abandon his property. Rather, according to Clement, Christ bids him to banish from his soul his notions about wealth, his excitement and morbid feeling about it, the anxieties, which are the thorns of existence, which choke the seed of life. Clement further points out that many have disposed of their wealth to no benefit, if their underlying passions remain – their simple longing for the feeling of security that they believe their possessions and wealth provide.
St. John Chrysostom noted that even the poor are lost if they have within themselves the same overwhelming attraction to possessions and wealth. The things of this world cannot really give us security against the feelings connected to the uncertainties of life.
The only true solution to facing the uncertainties of life is: belief in the love of God our Father. Belief in the love of our Heavenly Father provides us with the security that is needed. Think about how secure we feel when we feel loved.
I suspect, however, that one of the things that keeps us from feeling that we are loved by God is our fear that He will punish us for being weak and human! It is our belief that He became man and, therefore, understands us and does not punish us for being human.

STATEMENT OF UKRAINIAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS IN SUPPORT OF OUR CHURCH IN UKRAINE IN THIS TIME OF DURESS

The hierarchy, clergy, religious and faithful of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in the United States of America express our complete confidence and support for our Patriarch Sviatoslav, Reverend Hierarchs, Clergy, Religious and Faithful of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine in their response of offering much needed pastoral care for the brave Ukrainian citizens voicing their opposition to the suppression of freedoms in today’s society in Ukraine. Their response of love and understanding and nurture recalls for all the compassion which Jesus showed for the oppressed.

We share the amazement of the civilized world in observing the harsh and brutal responses of the Ukrainian government to our Church and to people expressing their concerns for the welfare of their neighbors and their nation. The reports of threats of intimidation by government officials as to the legitimacy of this Church of Martyrdom, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, cause all of us great concern for the welfare of all people of Ukraine, and particularly for all faiths and religious communities.

We call upon our brothers and sisters of all faiths in the USA to support those who show great courage in opposing those who would want to restrict the expression of religious and other basic human freedoms in Ukraine.

The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church only recently emerged from the oppressive circumstances it endured for over fifty years under Soviet communism, with the hope and commitment of freely celebrating our faith in a democratic nation. Unfortunately, persons with oppressive and repressive ideologies continue to exercise an inordinate control amidst a people simply desiring to live freely and to express their faith without fear of retribution and assimilation into one dominant faith. Such persons in authority pose a danger to people of all faiths in the former communist countries. Ukraine can be regarded as the stage for the re-imposition of specific ideologies of control and repression. The only remedy is for people of all faiths, together with persons committed to the development of a nurturing democracy in Ukraine, to speak in solidarity and to support those who demonstrate great courage in raising their voices in protest against the forces of oppression.

We call upon our clergy, religious and faithful to pray steadfastly for the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church hierarchy, clergy, religious and faithful in Ukraine that the merciful Lord sustains their courage to speak the truths all of us need to hear. We call upon all to assist our brothers and sisters in whatever ways that may be needed, so that we may share in regenerating a Church emerging from martyrdom. Let each of us be vigilant in ensuring that the world is aware of what is happening so that all oppression is widely exposed and doomed to failure.

We also call upon all freedom-loving individuals to pray and support the cause of religious freedom in Ukraine and in countries where such basic freedoms are suppressed. Pope Francis has steadfastly stirred all of us to disturb the complacent, so that we do not surrender to an attitude of indifference and apathy to the hurts and sufferings of others. The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, its hierarchy, clergy, religious and faithful have revealed themselves as not surrendering to indifference in response to the re-imposition of oppression in Ukraine. The martyrs of the past are the great witnesses that today inspire strength, hope and courage to those who oppose these acts of oppression.

I ask you to stand steadfast with them, equally committed to a world offering to all the basic human rights of freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion and conscience, and the right of self-determination. Pray and resolve to have courage as we raise our voices in opposition to the repressive efforts to deny these basic rights throughout the world and especially in our beloved homeland Ukraine at this time.

In Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, almost 250 years ago, brave men founded a nation upon the ideal that all men and women are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights – “that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. These words burn in the hearts of freedom loving peoples everywhere and inspire our brothers and sisters in Ukraine at the present hour.

As we pray to Almighty God, let us ask that the Wisdom of the Holy Spirit inspire and enlighten all, especially the present-day oppressors, to heed the Old Testament command of God inscribed on the Liberty Bell, “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof”. And we pray, through the Grace of God, that these words will soon resound throughout Ukraine.

God bless you with that which will enable you to respond generously and with great courage.

Given on the Feast of Theophany of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ on the Julian calendar, January 19, 2014 in the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

+Stefan Soroka (author)
Metropolitan-Archbishop of Philadelphia

+Richard Seminack
Eparch of St. Nicholas in Chicago

+Paul Chomnycky, OSBM
Eparch of Stamford

+John Bura
Apostolic Administrator of St. Josaphat in Parma

(You can also read this statement on our website.) http://www.ukrarcheparchy.us/way/Statement%20(1)%20A.pdf

A Look at the New Testament – St Paul – 20140112

As I began to share in the last issue of this article, we need to imagine Paul’s approach as much more conversational. Consider the story in ACTS 16 of Paul’s conversion of a Gentile ”God-lover” named Lydia, whom he met in a Jewish gathering just outside the gates of Philippi in northern Greece (I would encourage you to pick up your New Testament and read this chapter in ACTS). Lydia was a successful businesswoman. A dealer in purple dye, which was highly valued and expensive in the ancient world. She was from Thyatira in Asia Minor and was now in Greece. Obviously very competent and intelligent, she had become attracted to Judaism.
According to ACTS, Paul engaged her in conversation. Soon she and her whole household converted to become Christ-followers. What might Paul have said to Lydia? It seems implausible that Paul simply proclaimed, as some Christian preaching does today, that we are all sinners and that Jesus died for our sins, so we can be forgiven and go to heaven if we believe in Him. Why would Lydia respond to that kind of message?
Instead, we need to image Paul telling her about Jesus, about the kind of man he was, what he taught, and what he did; about his execution by the authorities; about Paul’s own experience of Jesus appearing to him, convincing him that the way of Jesus was the way of the God of the Bible; and that Jesus was Lord and Messiah, the promised one of Israel. In short, Paul would have talked about Jesus and testified to his meaning and significance. He would have emphasized that in Jesus a new form of Judaism had been created in which Gentiles could be full participants “In Christ,” as he wrote in one of his most famous verses, “There is no longer Jew or Greek” (Galatians 3:28). He would have invited her into a new community in which she could be both Gentile and Jew. Indeed, Paul’s purpose was to create communities of Christ-followers or to integrate converts into communities that already existed.
Paul’s communities of Christ-followers are called “churches” in most English translations of the New Testament. Doing so is potentially misleading, because of the modern associations with the world “church.” It most commonly means a building and/or a community of Christians, large or small, organized for “religious” purposes with designated leadership roles and a set of beliefs or doctrines.
The communities of Paul were not churches in this modern sense. The first church building dates from the mid-200s, and churches were not common until after Constantine legalized Christianity and became its patron in the 300s. He was, as you know, highly influenced by his mother.

Getting to Know Something About Our Eastern Catholic Faith – 20140112

It was writers at Charlemagne’s court who first made the Filioque into an issue of controversy, accusing the Greeks of heresy because they recited the Creed in its original form. But Rome, with typical conservatism, continued to use the Creed without the Filioque until the start of the eleventh century. In 808 Pope Leo III wrote, in a letter to Charlemagne, that, although he himself believed the Filioque to be doctrinally sound, yet he considered it a mistake to tamper with the wording of the Creed. Leo deliberately had the Creed, without the Filioque, inscribed on silver plaques and set up in St Peter’s. For the time being Rome acted as a mediator between the Franks and Byzantium.
It was not until 860 that the Greeks paid much attention to the Filioque, but once they did, their reaction was sharply critical. The Eastern Church objected (and still does) to this addition to the Creed, for two reasons: (1) the Creed is the common possession of the whole Church and, if any change is to be made in it, it must be done by an Ecumenical Council. The west, in altering the Creed without consulting the east, is guilty, as one author puts it, of moral fratricide – of a sin against the unity of the Church; and (2) most of the Easter Church believes that the Filioque to be theologically untrue. They hold that the Spirit proceeds from the Father alone, and consider it a heresy to say that He proceeds from the Son as well. There are, however, some Orthodox who consider that the Filioque is not in itself heretical, and is indeed admissible as a theological opinion – not a dogma – provided that it is properly explained. But even those who take this more moderate view still regard it as an unauthorized addition.
It is all about how we understand the life of the Trinity and the roles that each Person plays within the Trinity. Of course this is all in accord with human thought and not something that God has revealed to us. The role of the Father is to “beget” the other two Persons. He is the Creator. However, since all Three Persons in the Trinity are equal and one, this, in reality, is a mute point.
Besides these two major issues (i.e.. the role of the Pope and the Filioque, there were certain lesser matters of Church worship and discipline which caused trouble between east and west: the Greeks allowed married clergy, the Latins insisted on priestly celibacy; the two sides had different rules of fasting; the Greeks used leavened bread in the Eucharist, the Latins unleavened bread.

Since we are still living it, I shall continue to present ideas about the Great Schism