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.


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

Learning About the Practices of Our Religion – 20140112

To the third century, if not earlier, may be traced the roots of that symbolic interpretation of the Liturgy which was to become an integral part of the Byzantine tradition. The third-century Alexandrian theologian Origen, building upon an earlier tradition, developed a theology of the Christian mystery which profoundly influenced subsequent Eastern theology. The mystery is the reality of salvation, made present in a visible sign which both reveals and conceals it. Origen applies this sacramental principal to the whole of the Christian economy. Christ himself is the fundamental Christian mystery in whom God and man are united, so that the divinity is both concealed by the humanity, yet revealed by it to those who have eyes to see. Those who have faith see humanity, but believe in the God who indwells it.
The mystery who is Christ is presented to us in the Scriptures, the Church, and the mysteries/sacraments. In all three the literal, outward and apparent reality conceals an inner spiritual reality. We must learn to see in the letter of Scripture the spirit, in the Christian community the incarnate Word, and in her visible rites and ceremonies the saving activity of God.
I believe this is a very important point. In the Scriptures, if we truly take to heart what is written, we find the way to live, the spirit we must attempt to interject into all of our interactions with others. In the community we must come to see Christ. It is the second school (the first being the family) that we have to learn how to live like Jesus lived. The Christian community should teach us how to treat others so that when we go out into the world we can treat others like Jesus treated the people He encountered.
The eucharistic banquet is a symbol of the union of the soul with the divine Word of God, and prefigures the perfect union to which we look forward at the end of time. But the different aspects of the rite also have symbolic value, as well as the whole. The altar, for instance, is the symbol of our interior worship; the smoke of the incense represents the prayers offered by a pure conscience; the priest is a symbol of the apostles and the kiss of peace expresses genuine love. For Origen the Christian rite fulfills its prefigurations in the Old Testament, expresses the spiritual worship we are meant to offer now, and is the image and anticipation of the worship of heaven. But all this requires that those taking part in the rite be initiated into its true significance, which does not lie on the surface

Sunday January 12, 2014

At Your baptism in the Jordan, O Lord, worship of the Trinity was revealed, for the Father’s voice bore witness to You, call You His “beloved son” and the Spirit in the form of a dove confirmed the truth of these words. O Christ God, Who appeared and enlightened the world, glory be to You.

This weekend continues our celebration of the feast of Theophany. It is perhaps the greatest of the various manifestations God has made of Himself to humankind. It is the event that began Jesus’ ministry and, since we see Him as our Teacher and Master, we embrace with faith what it  reveals to us.
What does it reveal? It reveals to us that God, when he created humanity, did have an understanding of how humans should think and behave in order to understand the meaning and purpose of life on earth. It did reveal that this earthly existence is, in effect, a place where we can learn how to be spiritual, human beings.
How do we know this? Our reading    today from St. Matthew’s Gospel states this: From that time on Jesus began to proclaim this theme: “Reform your lives! The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  So our earthly existence is all about learning how to be the spiritual-human beings that God intended when He created us.
This idea is reinforced by the message we receive from Paul in his letter to the Ephesians. He states: Each of us has      received God’s favor in the measure in which Christ bestows it….till we become one in faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son.” When we become one in faith and knowledge of God’s Son, we begin to understand how to live and learn how to be God’s children. God the Father called Jesus, the God-man, His beloved Son. In saying this God revealed to us that we  humans are His beloved children – sons and daughters – and He has brought us into existence at this time in order to: (1) complete His creation, and (2) allow us the greatest opportunity to spiritually grow.
It is my sincerest belief that each of us is born at a particular point in time and have certain people enter into our life for the purpose of helping us spiritually     develop our ability to be God’s children.
In the Divine Liturgy we articulate our understanding that God the Father so loved His world that He gave His Son so that the whole divine plan concerning us could be completed. The whole divine plan concerning us is this: We are given various opportunities in life and various people in order to help us come to a       true understanding of the meaning and        purpose of life. We believe that God wills all of us to come to the fullness of life and we believe that He has done everything possible, even coming into the world in the Person of His Son Jesus, to help us come to this understanding. His only    desire is that we might come to know Him as our loving and caring Father.

Being a Vibrant Parish – 20140112

As many have surmised, I have been encouraging through this article the practice of the presence of God as a means to become a vibrant Christian and, therefore, help the community to become a vibrant parish. This practice is one of the oldest approaches used by the Eastern Church to promote spirituality. It is an approach that promotes an awareness of God within and also interior peace. It is only in quiet that we can hear God speak to us and to sense His presence.
One author suggests that perhaps this is the reason God makes silences in every life: the silence of sleep, the silence of sickness, the silence of sorrow, and then the last great silence of death. One of the      hardest things in the world is to get little children to keep still. They are in a state of perpetual activity, restless, eager, questioning, alert. And just as a mother says to her child, “Be still,” and hushes it to sleep that it may rest, so God does sooner or later with all of us. What a quiet, still place the sick room is! What a time for self-examination! What silence there is in a house where a loved one has died! How the voices are hushed, and every footstep soft. Had we the choosing of our own affairs we would never have chosen such an hour as that; and yet how often it is rich in blessing. All the activities of our years may not have taught us quite so much as we learned in the silences of sickness, sorrow and death. So God comes, in his irresistible way, which never ceases to be a way of love, and says, “Be still, and know that I am God.”:
It must be understood that silent prayer cannot stand alone. It is intimately related to public worship. As one of the saints said, “There can be no closet prayer without common prayer.” It is common prayer that gives us the inspiration and enthusiasm to practice closet prayer.
What the Church hopes will happen is that when we come together for common prayer we will be motivated to continue that prayer at home during the rest of the week. The Divine Liturgy should inspire us, since it reminds us that we are joined to God and others in the common bond of life, to pray in private and continue  experiencing the presence of God.

Formulate a goal today!

Have you set any goals for the new year? I do think that it is important that we set, in particular, spiritual goals for the coming year. When we do this we are reminded that there is truly nothing more important than our spiritual growth. To do this will help you to become serious about your faith and spiritual life.

Think about this! Our faith tells us that life is immortal and that we will live forever and that how we spend the future is dependent upon what we learn during this lifetime. So, can we ever be too concerned about our spiritual life? Think about it.
Formulate a goal today!

Athanasius of Alexandria – 20140112

In a discussion of the idea of Theosis in the Bible, based largely on Maximos the Confessor, Jaroslav Pelikan (a noted author on the Eastern Church), points out that the idea goes beyond individual passages of Scripture. He writes:

The purpose of the Lord’s Prayer was to point to the mystery of deification. Baptism was “in the name of the life-giving and deifying Trinity.” When the guests at the wedding in Cana of Galilee … said that their host had “kept the good wine until now,” they were referring to the Word of God, saved for the last, by which men were made divine. When, in the Epistles of the same apostle John, “the Theologian,” it was said that “it does not yet appear what we shall be,”: this was a reference to “the future deification of those who have now been made children of God.” When the apostle Paul spoke of “the riches” of the saints, this, too meant deification.”  

Even when the objection is raised that often these texts are taken out of context, exegetes are not overly concerned. Even nowadays, Eastern theologians feel much more comfortable with the idea of  the   spiritual interpretation of Scripture.
Eastern theology is lived theology rather than analytical speculation. In fact, definite limits are set on human inquiry into things divine by apophatic theology, very characteristic of Eastern theology, that proceeds mainly by negation.
Apophetic theology is an approach to the study of God which proceeds by saying what God is not. It is an approach which believes that we can never truly know who God is, since comprehension of Him is truly beyond the capacity of our understanding. We can only, with any true assurance, say what He is not (example: God is not limited – He is beyond any limitations).
What theology is able to say about God and God’s dealings with humanity are mainly what these things are not rather than what they are.
The idea of theosis permeates much of the liturgy and prayer life in the Eastern Church. A good example is the Canon for Matins of Holy Thursday in which the church confesses in its worship: “In my kingdom said Christ, I shall be God with you as god.” The ancient liturgy of St. James proclaims:

Thou has united, O Lord, Thy divinity with our humanity and our humanity with Thy divinity. The life with our mortality and our mortality with They life; Thou hast received what was ours and has given unto us what was Thine, for the life and salvation of our souls, praise be to Thee in eternity.

For me personally, the Eastern approach is much more acceptable. Think about this! How presumptive of humanity to think that it can, in some way, define God. Our western society, because of the scientific approach, seems to need to define God. Let us not presume to know Who God IS. Let us praise Him!