Shedding Blood

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On the need to cut off the passions quickly before the soul becomes used to them

 

Set your minds, brethren, to the examination of your affairs and don’t neglect yourselves, because even a little neglect can lead us into great danger. I lately paid a visit to a monk and found him recovering from an illness. As we were talking I learned that he’d been alone and had contracted a fever that lasted seven days. It was then forty days since the fever had left him and he still hadn’t regained his former strength. You see, brethren, what a trial it is if something goes wrong with you. People usually dismiss a small disorder and don’t realize that if a little thing happens to injure their body, especially if it’s weak to start with, they’re going to need a great deal of time and effort to put it right again. In this case, the poor man had a temperature for only seven days, and look how many days he suffered without recovering. It’s the same with the soul: you commit a small sin and you spend a lot of time, shedding blood, before it’s put right.

We find a variety of reasons for illnesses of the body: it may be that the medicines were old and therefore didn’t work; the doctor wasn’t experienced and tried the wrong remedy; or patients lacked the discipline to comply with what the doctor told them. Now we can’t say this about the soul- that the Doctor lacks experience or doesn’t prescribe the right medicine- since Christ is the Doctor Who knows everything and applies the proper remedy for every sickness: for empty ambition, humility; for love of pleasure, temperance; for avarice, almsgiving. In other words, each disease of the soul has a commandment which is the appropriate remedy. The Doctor’s not incompetent and the remedies are never out-of-date or ineffective, because the more Christ’s commandments are applied, the fresher they become. So, the only impediment to the soul’s healing is our own recalcitrance.

We should attend to ourselves and be vigilant while there’s still time. Why do we neglect ourselves? We should be doing good, so that we’ll find help in time of trial. Why do we fritter away our lives? We’re always hearing this, but we don’t care much about it and are indifferent to it. We see our brothers [in the monastery] snatched away from the midst of us and it doesn’t put us on our mettle, even though we know that, in a little while, we too will be facing death. Since the moment we sat down to talk, we’ve used up two or three hours of our time and are that much closer to death. We see that our time’s running out, but that doesn’t frighten us. Why don’t we remember the saying of that Elder that, if you lose gold or silver you can always find more to replace it, but time, once lost to idleness and negligence, can never be found again? No matter how hard we try to regain one hour of this time, we’ll never do so. How many people long to hear the word of God and don’t find it, yet we who hear it are indifferent to it and aren’t roused by it. God knows, I’m astonished at the callousness of our souls, by the fact that we can be saved, yet don’t want to be. Because we could cut off our passions at birth but we don’t bother to. We allow them to grow and harden, so that we make the last evil greater than the first. As I’ve told you often enough, it’s one thing to pull up a blade of grass and another to uproot a great tree…

I’ve told you the different ways that people fall into bad habits. If someone loses their temper once, this doesn’t make them irascible; if they fornicate once, this doesn’t make them fornicators, nor, if they give alms once, are they charitable. Virtue and vice are formed in the soul by repeated actions, and ingrained habits bring with them peace or punishment. We speak of virtue bringing rest to the soul and vice bringing punishment. Why is there this difference? Because virtue is natural and inherent in us; the seeds of virtue within us are ineradicable… The case of vice is entirely different. By doing repeatedly something which is wicked, we’ll acquire a habit which is foreign to us, which isn’t natural….

There’s one more thing you ought to know about this, though, which is that it sometimes happens that a soul has an ingrained tendency towards one particular passion. If it indulges that passion even only once there’s an immediate danger that it’ll turn into a fixed habit…

So there’s a need for great vigilance and zeal, plus fear, if we’re to avoid falling into bad habits. Believe me, brothers, anyone with a single passion that’s become a habit is destined for punishment. Even if you do ten good works for every one resulting from a bad habit, the latter will prevail over the good actions. If an eagle almost escapes a snare but is held fast by a single claw, it’s lost the power to get away. It’s outside the net, but is still half-held by it. The hunter can strike it down at will. So it is with the soul: if it has one passion set into a bad habit, the enemy can strike it whenever he pleases, because he has the upper hand over the soul through that passion. This is why I’m always telling you not to allow a passion to take root in your soul. We have to struggle, and pray to God night and day, lest we fall into temptation. As people, we’ll be defeated and slip into sin, but if so, let’s get up again quickly, do penance and weep when we’re faced with God’s goodness. Let us be vigilant and continue to strive. Then, seeing our good intentions, our humility and our contrition, God will give us a helping hand and extend His mercy to us. Amen.

 

Abba Dorotheos

Healing Fear (2013)

The Life of St Luke the Surgeon — Film

Ταινία «Θεραπεύοντας τον φόβο» (2013)

Film: “Лука” (Luka)
Year: 2013 (released 2014)
Running time: 110 minutes
Director: Oleg Sytnik
Cast: Vitaly Bezrukov (Luke), Ekaterina Guseva, Andrew Saminin, Alexander Jacko, Vladimir Gostyukhin, Alex Shevchenkov
Manufacturer: “Patriot Film” (Ukraine, Belarus), with the support of the State Agency of Ukraine for movies and the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Belarus
Synopsis:
The film “Luka” is the dramatic destiny of of the world famous surgeon who would become St. Luke of Crimea, the great surgeon and priest — V. Voyno-Yasenetsky (Luka).
The year was 1917. Young doctor Valentin Voyno-Yasenetsky with his wife and four children moved to Tashkent, beset by civil war. Voyno-Yasenetsky became head physician in the city hospital. He not only saved hundreds of patients every day, operating under the bullets of the permanent street battles, but he fought for his life and the life of his beloved wife, dying of TB. In the midst of communist persecution, he was alone with four children on the outskirts of the former empire, so he decides to become a priest. And since then, he never gave up either scalpel or cross, and he went with them through all their hard exiles and arduous life, treating both body and soul.

 

St. Luke of Crimea was an Archbishop in the Russian Orthodox Church during Soviet times and an occasional prisoner on account of his faith, suffering extended physical torture in Soviet gulags for as long as 2 years at a time.

He is called the “Blessed Surgeon” because in addition to his work in the Church he was also a practicing doctor and professor of medicine, known internationally for his research on anesthesia and his innovative surgical techniques. St. Luke reposed in the Lord in 1961, and his prayers and relics are known to heal many people today of physical maladies.

Come To Me….

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Athonite Film Wins Award at International Film Competition

 
Monks and students at Athoniada Ecclesiastical Academy participated in the 3rd International Cinema Competition with a short film titled Come To Me….
 
The final ranking was announced in Athens on May 25, 2017 at the Michael Kakoyannis Foundation during the award ceremony. It was one of seven films awarded out of 290.
 
Athoniada Academy is a school that operates out of Karyes on Mount Athos. It was originally founded in 1749 by Ecumenical Patriarch Cyril V and housed in a building of Vatopaidi Monastery.
 
The school provides a junior high school and high school education, with free housing, schooling and food, and the students live a common life.
 
All the necessary facilities for living such as washing machines, dryers, sports, table games, books from its modern library, computer room with modern computers, etc. are available.
 
All the students are taught what is also taught in public schools, and additionally there is offered Ecclesiastical Music, Iconography, Liturgics, Teleliturgics, Athonite History, Interpretation of Gospel Passages and Patristic Texts, Ethics, and other things.
 
See the award-winning short film prepared by the Athoniada Academy students:
 
 
 
 

A Smile from Eternity

Honorable Mr. Papanikolaou,

A few hours after the entombment of elder Joseph, you posted at your website an article with the title «Funeral of Blessed Elder Joseph of Vatopedi – A Smile From Eternity«, describing in a few words the event aided by a few pictures.

The photograph of the reposed, who is smiling not only with his lips but with all the expression of his face, made  a great impression on people, which we can see  from the articles and comments in numerous web-sites.

One can indeed come across dead people with a glowing face, a peaceful expression, but with never a smile. On the one hand all the spiritual fathers say that the time of death is horrifying for man. On the other hand we read in the book of the Sayings of the Desert Fathers that even the most advanced ones , out of humility, did not let down their guard before entering eternal life, where there is no longer any danger.

In addition, Elder Joseph had a major heart problem and he was very debilitated by this illness. So how did he repose smiling?

The answer is: NO, he didn’t repose smiling, but HE SMILED AFTER HIS REPOSE.

After a conversation of us with some fathers of the monastery, we convey to you the story of the event.

The two monks that were with him until the very last moment, sprinted to the abbot, Elder Ephraim, to let him and the rest of the fathers know about the repose of Elder Joseph and the former two didn’t pay attention to the reposed, who was left with his mouth half-open.

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Thus, they came back to the cell, to prepare the reposed according to the monastic order. Elder Ephraim ordered them to leave his face uncovered. The fathers tried to close his mouth, but as it was quite late, his mouth remained open. They even tied a gauze around his head, so that his mouth would remain closed, but after they removed it his mouth opened up again. About 45 minutes had already gone by, since he had passed away.

-Elder, what should we do, it looks bad with the  mouth open?

-Leave him as he is, do not cover his face!

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They sewed him inside his monastic mantle as according to monastic custom. The whole procedure so that he was put inside the mantle and sewed in took another 45′. Then, they cut off the cloth around his face –according to the order- and found the elder as everybody can see him now, smiling.

Did he listen to them and granted them this litle favour, so that he didn’t hurt their feelings? Or, was it that he wanted to grant us an indication what he saw and let us know the state in which he is now?

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The smile of elder Joseph of Vatopedi, is the First supernatural event after his repose and has become a great consolation for everybody.

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Panayiotis Koutsou

Source: Diakonima

 

Choice

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“Lord, let me come and join you in that land which beckons me, in those fields that I love.”

“No, it is in this town that you must meet me.”

“Lord, I long for the sun and the wilde flowers over there.”

“I only have this black sky and these thorns to give you.”

“But Lord, there is only noise and smoke here.”

“There is something else as well; there is sin.”

“Lord, I would so like to see again the blue water that you knew!”

“Here, hearts are sick and souls are dying in darkness.”

“Lord, I could perhaps stay if you entered into my heart, if you took my hand. But when I see these streets […] my whole being revolts and escapes in thought over there. Must I therefore still stay here, with my sadness and my solitude?”

“My child, is it so difficult to decide? And to walk where I walk?”

*

Lev Gillet, ‘A Monk of the Eastern Church’, “Sunday Letters”, Elisabeth Behr-Sigel, p231

* Specially dedicated to my spiritual father

Eldress Theosemni: a Quiet and Hidden Ascetic

The life of the beloved Eldress Theosemni is a Synaxarion account of perfection in self-emptying and martyric asceticism in silence and humility. Her personage and her venerable example cannot be appreciated through the description and listing of her virtues, for it is impossible to explain, through words, the balance and grace of a person who spoke through her silence.
By the Nun Theoxeni, Abbess of the Holy Monastery of Chrysopigi, Hania, Crete

The Eldress Theosemni, Anastasia-Aristea Dimtsa in the world, was born in Larissa in the year 1938, the third child of pious parents. When she was just four years old, she lost her father and the care of the family fell to its newly widowed mother, who was from Eastern Romylia and was wholly dedicated to God.

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From the time she was a child, she received profound love from Christ and the Church, and she would hasten to attend the services and all-night vigils with a zeal that was unusual for her age. She also participated with great zeal in the youth activities at church and, from a very early age, expressed her desire to serve as a missionary.

She studied at the Red Cross’s School for Nursing, from which she graduated with highest honors. She chose this path out of zeal to serve humans in pain.

In 1966 she became a nun at Meteora. It is widely agreed that her monastic path was a model of obedience and asceticism. Unforeseen difficulties arose at that time, at the beginning of her monastic path, with which she dealt prudently, quietly, and humbly.

In 1976, Eldress Theosemni went to Hania (Crete) with two other nuns and, with the blessing of his eminence Metropolitan Irenaeus of Kydonia and Apokoronos, she took on the reconstruction, from its foundation, of the ruined Chrysopigi Monastery. Over the course of twenty-four years she worked in silence, with perfect self-renunciation. Her spiritual presence and her ascetic example encouraged many souls to dedicate their lives to the Bridegroom Christ, and she led them and established them in the Lord.

The abbess was an ascetic, a lover of struggle, and prudent. She restored the Holy Monastery of Chrysopigi from ruins, along with its miraculous icon of the Life-Giving Spring, and gave the monastery a spiritual foundation. She also restored the neighboring monastic dependency, the Monastery of St. Kyriaki. In her final years, she sought a more deserted place for the sisterhood. She established the Monastery of the Transfiguration on a rock, under the fatherly care of the venerable Elder Porphyrios.

At the age of forty-eight she became seriously ill with cancer and was miraculously cured by Elder Porphyrios, who had an especial love and respect for her. Ten years later, her sickness returned to her, during the four final years of her life. She accepted her sickness with great courage and perseverance, immense patience, gentleness, and deep peace, unceasingly fulfilling her duties until her final breath.

Her end was a blessed one, as her life had been. She fell asleep in the Lord on the 31st of May 2000, at the age of sixty-two.

Quiet and Hidden
Eldress Theosemni was a model nun, according to the teachings of the Fathers. In everything she did, she combined gifts that are seldom given, with great capability, on both the theoretical and the practical level. She was hard working and energetic, but simultaneously ascetic and hesychastic. By nature quiet and reserved in her relations with people, she was able to hide her great gifts and virtues even from the people around her, and to ascribe successes to others. Although she was very mature, organized, methodical, clever, and observant, she always managed to ascribe the result of any work to everyone involved, as though it was wholly a team effort. In this way, she taught the sisters not to seek after personal glory.

“That which moves me more than anything else,” she would say, “is the example of the Panagia. Her humility, obedience, and silence. An angel went and told her that she would give birth to Christ, God, and all she said was, ‘Behold the handmaiden of the Lord.’ She didn’t say anything else. Only obedience. And she was hidden. My prayer is that we will acquire these virtues….”

The Eldress never believed in her many spiritual gifts. She was marked by a profound humility, not just simple “humble words,” or pietistic comeliness.

She managed the monastery’s affairs without any discord. She had the discernment to know which sister should undertake any given job, or a particular responsibility, and made use of the talents of all. In whichever place or job in the monastery she provided oversight, she was observant enough to know what needed to be fixed or improved, and this always took place with propriety and with a quiet explanation.

The Eldress herself took care of various jobs in the monastery, and did not limit herself to just the fulfillment of the duties of the abbess. She made good use of her time with remarkable creativity.

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The Holy Monastery of Chrysopigi in Hania, which the Eldress Theosemni renovated and where she quietly worked for twenty-four years

When she realized that some aspect of the monastery’s work was running behind or was unsuccessful, she got involved herself, without getting upset or uptight, and with her remarkable simplicity saying, “let’s have a look, sisters, with patience, at what other way we can do this….” And, of course, she always found a solution.

The Eldress had immeasurable respect for all of the sisters, and no one ever heard her speak in an offensive manner. Unless she was asked, she did not counsel anyone, and only infrequently would she give her nuns unsolicited counsel. And when she did, she would censure herself, saying that she was not worthy to teach.

Humble, Merciful, and Ascetic
Let us have a humble spirit. May we be careful to never see the sins of others, only our own sins. We, however, want to fix other people, but don’t want to fix ourselves. Eh…does this happen, though? No, we don’t fix ourselves! Our brother is not to blame for whatever happens, our spiritual condition is to blame. It’s this condition of ours that upsets us, which makes us judgmental, which causes us to get angry. We mustn’t blame others for these things. The causes are within us. If we ever do or think something good, let us not regard it as our own achievement, but the achievement of God. And let us say, “You, my God, You gave it to me. It’s yours and You allowed it and gave me the strength to do it.” In this way, we chase thoughts of vainglory far from us.

She had the spiritual gift to administer and direct  the sisterhood without getting upset, without raising her voice, without having to check up on, or to threaten by giving her nuns a rule of penance. She generally did not give rules of penance. If she did it on occasion, she was very sad about it, which is why she would be the first to fulfill the rule of penance that she had given to the sister. As abbess, she never accepted special attention or honor.

The Eldress was exceedingly merciful. She loved and honored, without distinction, people in need and in difficult situations. No one left the monastery with empty hands. She did not even overlook those who, for whatever reason, were not able to make it all the way to the monastery. She experienced such great joy when she gave, that she felt like she should be the one giving thanks. “We mustn’t ask anything from people,” she would say, “but we should give them everything.”

The Eldress loved to hide within the sisterhood. She would generally not appear to visitors, especially when large groups would visit the monastery. She always sought to remain far from crowds. While she shared in the people’s pain, and would pray a great deal for their problems, she systematically avoided social contact with them. “This,” she would say, “is the work of the guest master,” and in this way she taught the nuns not to seek social relations and conversations with pilgrims, whether acquaintances or relatives. She would say, characteristically, that “the spiritual life of the monastic progresses through isolation and silence.”

She carefully examined every part of the monastic life and did not ignore anything as though it were unimportant or too detailed. She never allowed herself to make changes, remaining always faithful to the spirit of the Fathers. It is characteristic that she never gave a blessing for a loosening of the fasting regulations unless such a loosening was indicated in the Orologion. Even when she was sick, she kept the fasting rules precisely. On one occasion, she found herself outside of the monastery at the very beginning of Great Lent, for radiation therapy, and she still kept the first three days of Lent with precision [a complete, strict fast], and then had the first round of radiation therapy on Wednesday afternoon of the first week of Lent, after the Presanctified Liturgy.

During her whole period of sickness, despite the insistent requests of the sisters, she never asked for any specific kind of food, but accepted with thanks whatever food she was offered.

“As monastics, we must practice asceticism. We shouldn’t eat until we’re full. We should arise from the dinner table and be hungry; in any case, this is what we promised. Even Christ practiced asceticism. He ate little, he had only one tunic. And He taught his disciples not to have anything. Let us do the same. Asceticism: in food, in sleep, in standing for long periods. Let’s try to do these things and we’ll see what a blessing we have.”

The blessed Eldress Theosemni never protested for anything, to anyone. She regarded martyrdom and being crushed as part and parcel of the monastic life, with the certainty that God allows trials for our salvation.

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The Transfiguration, the new monastery that was built under the fatherly oversight of Venerable Porphyrios

Full of Love and Untiring Prayer
The Eldress would always cover over the failings of others, she never blamed anyone and never judged, criticized, or complained about someone who had done her wrong or had slandered her. She forgave and loved all people from her heart, effortlessly, which is why everyone felt at ease with her, despite her serious and careful demeanor. For her part, she did not feel as though she was doing anything more than fulfilling the obligations of a nun.

Let us have love. When we reproach someone, we don’t love them. They will only understand through love, not through being gloomy, angry, and judgmental. We’re mistaken if we think that other people have wronged us. The problem is within us. Only let sweet words come from our lips. And if we don’t have anything to say, a smile suffices. Let’s gift others with our smile, with our love. When we don’t love our brethren, we don’t love Christ. It’s no good for us to say we love Christ if we don’t love our brethren.

Humility is to make excuses for our brethren in all things and for all things. The humble person cuts off her own will.

Once, near the end of her earthly life, reference was made to instances where she made remarkable sacrifices and was particularly humble, and she responded laconically, “Sisters, let’s not transform our daily duties into some kind of achievement, if we have at some time, by the grace of God, done something….”

The Eldress struggled for the salvation of the whole world. She prayed unceasingly for the known and unknown, small and large, Christian and non-Christian, for all people.

Most of our prayer should be for the world. We should pray, “Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,” but this “me” should refer to the whole world. If we pray for others, God gives us more grace than He would have if we were just praying for ourselves. And whatever good things we ask on behalf of others, God also gives to us. Let’s say the prayer continuously. This softens the soul. It makes it soft, so that it loves all people. All people seem good to it and nothing upsets it.

She was once walking down a street in London, after a visit with a professor of oncology, who had just told her that the mass in her lung had returned and that she would have to undergo more therapy. She was thoughtful and, in answer to the question posed by the sister who was with her, as to whether she was upset by the problem of her health, she answered, “No, I have left this concern completely to God. What I was thinking about just now, and it’s for this that I’m concerned, are those young children we met on the corner who were begging. I noticed that they were pale and their hands… oh, my… how their hands were! I feel terrible. I’m afraid that they’re taking drugs. And that girl, how beautifully she played guitar and sang! She also could have sung….”

Patient in Her Sickness
Her serious long-term sickness was a source of pain for everyone else, but not for her. While she suffered, no one noticed any sadness or disappointment on her face or in her words because of the bodily trials and pains she suffered and endured. She continued her life with psychical strength, remarkable patience and meekness, courage and boldness, endless faith and obedience to the will of God. She continuously transmitted to everyone the joy and hope of communion with Christ, and the strength of the foretaste of eternal gifts, which her blessed soul experienced already in this life.

“Let us hymn and glorify God in trials,” she would say, “Let’s not be beggars and only ask things from God, ‘Give me, why won’t you give it to me?’ May our lips be used to glorify God. Let’s not be sullen and self-absorbed. Let’s say a ‘Glory to Thee, oh God!’ We must not forget.”

And referring to her own sickness:

My sisters, don’t be saddened that I’m sick. Think that whatever God gives is for our good. Whatever He allows is for our salvation. Whatever this is…and let us thank Him. Do you know what joy and what peace comes from thanking Him for all things, and from glorifying Him? Submit everything to God. This is the work of a nun: prayer for everything, for everyone. Haven’t you heard what Fr. Porphyrios said, “With joy, leave all things to God.” Let us have our minds constantly on Christ. This is the only way we will be patient in our sorrow and in whatever trials come to us.

The peace that exuded from Eldress Theosemni’s face gave comfort to the insecurities of everyone and her peaceable speech was therapeutic for the souls of those who listened to her. Her whole life was a harmony of spiritual vision, teachings, and action. The Eldress incarnated the humility of the holy Fathers, which is why people near her experienced peace and an otherworldly joy, the same kind that we sense when we are near Saints.

Her Repose
While still in this life, the blessed Eldress had already truly lived the foretaste of heavenly blessedness in silence and humility, and through her repose reconciled people with death. The people that came to Chrysopigi from Crete, from Greece, and from overseas, to pay their last respects and to venerate her relics, all witnessed to the same experience: they described the sweetness and absence of fear that they felt before her relics.

The two days that preceded her burial were a touching experience, full of blessings for everyone, not only for those that knew and loved her, but also for the whole Church. Parents who had lost young children in tragic accidents described with tears how, for the first time, they felt comforted. Others touched their infants to her, as they would to the relics of the Saints. Children both young and old approached her coffin and touched her again and again without fear, for they saw her smiling, as she had unceasingly smiled even when in pain.

The funeral of the blessed Eldress was uncommon. It was a triumphant funeral service, a revelation for everyone, a tangible revelation of the mystery of sanctity. There was no despair and sadness, but victory over death, the joy of the Resurrection. A young person said, “It’s like Holy Friday when we bury Christ with the certainty of tomorrow’s resurrection.” Everyone felt that the reposed Eldress Theosemni had passed to heavenly blessedness from a life in which she had had a foretaste of, and had grown accustomed to, the joyful feeling of immortality. She had experienced this to such an extent that she was able to communicate psychical comfort and the overcoming of sorrows to everyone, along with the reality of the approach of eternity.

The blessed Eldress Theosemni departed in light from the present life, during which she had lived within the perspective of the future age. Her grave had become a source of consolation, hope, and an education in eternal blessedness, not only for the nuns of her monastery, but also for all of the pilgrims, known and unknown, who thronged from near and far. And a story, well-known to the Church, was repeated: of how a person who lived in obscurity and silence became a preacher, an inspirer, and an initiate, not of human words and actions, but of the mystery of eternity.

 

Source: Pemptousia

What I Wish I Had Known

 

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Thirty-nine years ago I left this campus with gifts similar to yours. Like you, I have been blessed to have studied under some of the greatest Orthodox theologians of the time. Like you, I enjoyed or endured a community that was sometimes supportive and at other times challenging. I forged friendships with peers that would sustain me for a lifetime. Like you, I experienced some of both Crestwood’s and New York’s air, accents and crowds. And like you, my time at St. Vladimir’s came with the responsibility to live among God’s people and fulfill my royal priesthood with the added responsibilities that come with the knowledge and understanding gained here.

As difficult as my mission was to be, ministering to people of different generations, from varied ethnic and socio-economic strata, from hippies to Babbas, your challenge is greater. In addition to dinosaurs of my generation, you will live among post-modernists who imagine themselves to be the center of the universe, and who believe themselves to be self-contained, needing no “other” for fulfillment. You will minister to people for whom truth is, at best, relative. For many, including baptized Orthodox Christians in our pews, people believe themselves to be self-sufficient, needing no other, and, amazingly enough, “no other” includes God.

I must confess, I came to seminary confident that I knew quite a bit about my faith and parish life. I had served in the altar from a very young age, had been an officer of our teen group, and had served as a member of the choir and parish council. Every semester I realized I knew less and less, and today I am the least confident in my grasp of theology. I am committed, however, to an understanding that this is indeed the process of education, particularly when encountering the ultimately unknowable. In any case, we serve as best we can, striving to be faithful to God and the complex people that we serve.

Are you ready to commence your lives as churchmen and women? Let me share what I wish I knew when I started my church life some forty years ago.

From this holy place, I went forth with gifts that included relationships with holy mentors. These men and women loved God and loved His Church, and almost all of them have now gone to their rest. For a while, at least, they were available to me. I remember offering a lecture on human sexuality at an Orthodox clergy conference, with Frs. John Meyendorff, Thomas Hopko and Paul Lazor in the audience. That was a memorable, yet intimidating, day for me. Somehow, at least for a day, these mentors had become something like peers. This is not to say that I can claim to be a theologian, but we are all church workers, and as such, they were willing to be for a while in the audience. They had no obligation to offer their validations, but they accepted me as a fellow churchman and were willing to sit on the other side of the desk. Today, dear graduates, our relationships change, as you are no longer seminarians but co-servants in Christ’s ministry. You would do well to maintain your relationships with those who have shared themselves with you these past days.

Among the gifts I received from this place were studies in Scripture, history, canon law, liturgical theology, liturgics, music, pastoral care and dogmatics. When in class, I thought that these subjects would be helpful as background, never realizing how I would need to call upon these lessons daily and directly to meet real pastoral needs, defend our teachings, and answer honest questions from parishioners. As I reflect, I wish I had done more of the readings.

Among the gifts, too, were relationships with peers, which today I value in equal measure with those of the mentors, and with my studies. The men and women with whom I studied side-by-side would help me understand what is normal in my own development as a churchman, and offer support and perspective to help me problem-solve, adjust to married life and grow as a person. Do the work you need to do in order to keep these relationships alive. You will need them in the future.

All of these gifts I have used over the last thirty-nine years as I endeavored to meet my needs as a person, the needs of my family, and the needs of God’s people, among whom my bishop sent me to live as his representative. I was to serve them by tending to the corporate prayer; showing them God’s compassion in confession and counsel; providing hospitality that demonstrated God’s love; sharing time with them, showing God’s caring for them; and journeying with them as we grew up, or at least aged together.

Thirty-nine years ago I was twenty-four years old and serving a parish as a priest. Some of you will serve God in the Church as priests or deacons, other as leaders, and still others as counselors. Sometimes the witness of one who is not ordained is more powerful, because people can’t think that you are witnessing because it is your “job” as a clergyman. In any case, all of us who have been gifted with our encounters at this holy place will serve God’s people and be judged by how we represent God. This, I contend, is despite our varied roles and capacities. Because you have been here, God will use you within His royal priesthood to meet the needs of His people.

Today I wish to call your attention to the uniqueness of our vocation: unique, because each of us will be used by God differently. This is so because of the experiences that we brought with us when we came here. It is also true because of the uniqueness of our life-journeys, which will include different people, circumstances and challenges. I strongly urge you to embrace your age. Don’t be a father at age 25 to a 70-year-old. Be like a son who has been to seminary and comes with much to learn and much to share. Win them over as persons, and let them use you and your holy relationship to encounter God. Come on “too big,” and they will run away, or cut you in half! Allow yourself to have fun with all the kinds of wonderful characters that God has called to live in His Church.

I can’t say that every moment of my life was fun- packed and glorious. I can’t even say that my time here at this sacred place and thirty-three years in the parish was always fun. But the joy of witnessing God’s work in the lives of my family, parish and community from the inside was spectacular. Life in the Church allows us to see God working as closely as if we were on the stage of an improv, seeing the plot made up and unfold before our eyes. Such is our life as churchmen and women. How blessed it is to be constantly in the epicenter of God’s work, and able to see it, too.

Friends – and I call you friends because I share with you honestly what is on my mind and in my heart – I paid a lot of attention to keeping balance in my life. Balance, and setting appropriate priorities, are achieved only by deliberate and consistent work. Work to monitor and control your time, energy, and resources. It is an effort to order the use of these gifts deliberately, and with a vision of our goals, charge, and mandates. Work to identifying our real needs and meet them. In my opinion, our priorities must be set in the same order that God through His Church gives us His gifts.

Now, this is not to say that if a parishioner is dying and in need, you should go fishing. Rather, be sure to use your flexibility as the manager of your own time to meet both needs, not foregoing your own priorities. You can visit the hospital, or arrange for another priest to make the visit before your trip. Use your flexibility to make up for missed family obligations when the schedule of Church priorities is beyond your control. Too often, we teach people to have unreasonable expectations of us; then we get frustrated when we can’t meet them. We need to gently and firmly teach, teach and teach. Fighting is different from teaching, and fighting is not productive. We must gently model and teach what is reasonable, fair and holy.

The first sacrament for all Christians is baptism. In this sacrament we are initiated into the Church and enter into an intimate relationship with God from inside the body of Christ. So my first priority is my relationship with God and my needs to maintain and nurture that relationship. This includes time for prayer, including listening to God through study and quietness as well as sabbath or regular rest. It also includes maintaining the varied relationships with other people that I need to be fed and stay healthy. Let me ask you, what can I offer my wife and family if I am compromised by not being right with God? It is somehow a gift to my family to model a healthy relationship with God and to receive the truth and inspiration that comes from God through prayer, reading and relating to mentors, peers and protégés.

The second sacramental and liturgical dance around the Gospel Book is that of marriage. Marriage is a gift that keeps on giving, and keeps on taking. Successful marriages are dynamic and developing. We become more and more united with each other and God as we succeed in becoming more and more vulnerable, open, honest and intimate. God has given us each other to find Him. This takes lots of work, as we praise God together and meet the challenges He gives us in our lives. When we model making our spouses and families a priority, we better serve the parishioners who are learning more from our lives as examples, than from our preaching and teaching. We serve our parishioners better when we take better care of our families and ourselves.

Thirdly and lastly, before our funerals, some process around the Gospel book in their ordinations. Here I will loosely include those of you who will successfully avoid formal ordination, but will nevertheless serve God through the Church in other capacities. We do well to remember that priesthood is not a job, but a life. We live among God’s people as examples, teachers, coaches, friends, confidants and servants. All real leadership and power in the Church is in serving. In serving, you will be given by those you serve trust and authority. In serving, you will prove your authenticity as a churchman or Christian. In serving, you will influence others and God will work. In serving, you will fulfill your vocation and enjoy the joys of a blessed life. By witnessing to others, you will see God work in their lives and in your own. This is awe-inspiring; be open to this awe. It is a gift from God and will strengthen your faith and feed you in your own journey.

Among our personal needs, which we meet so that we can meet the needs of others, are prayer, continued study and the three kinds of relationships I have described: those with mentors, peers and protégés. It is said that everyone needs a Paul, Bartholomew and Titus. We need mentors, who can offer us support from their experience and help us learn how to make use of our gifts. Mentors teach us how to avoid common pit-falls, and help us learn our roles. We also need peers, who can remind us that our labor is difficult, especially in these quickly changing times. We need protégés, who can challenge us to grow by understanding what God is doing in our lives and giving language to feelings and thoughts. Protégés challenge us to live honestly and deliberately.

Americans are notorious for not doing the work it takes to develop, nurture and keep relationships. Your parishioners will complain to you about how lonely they feel. When you organize events to bring them together, they will in great numbers not come. People seem to assume that friendships should just happen. Today’s technological world is isolating and friendships take lots of work.
It is reported that most Americans, excluding spouses, will go to their graves without more than 1.5 meaningful relationships. It is essential for us to work at our relationships to have balance and health. Please, do that work.

Secondly, it is important to lead with confidence, based on your role as leaders in the Church as defined by the bishop who sent you to live among the people. If you fight for your position, it will be understood that your position is up for negotiation. Instead firmly, patiently and lovingly teach about the roles we live in the Church for the benefit of the people and community. A favorite analogy for me is that the world is playing tag. If you chase them, they will run. If you stand still, they will be able to stop running and eventually listen. Approach each soul with all of the respect due a complex creature in the image and likeness of the ultimately unknowable God. If you don’t push, they will eventually follow. If you try to sell, they will not buy. A mentor told me once that the priest never wins a fight. If he prevails over another person he gets an enemy that needs to win back his dignity, and if he loses the skirmish, he loses credibility. We need to reframe our disputes so that everyone can win. Sometimes we can put off a discussion long enough for everyone to save face. To be more efficient, sometimes we treat people as if they were all the same. This shows little respect for the person. When you show respect to your parishioner, you counter he effects of the world and the surprised parishioner will begin to release the anger that he carries from being disrespected in and by the modern world.

Brothers and sisters, you represent the Church for the faithful and, as social creatures, those you serve want – no, need the love and acceptance of their Church community. You represent God, whom your parishioner fears is angry and far away. I am convinced that the hostility people have toward their church leaders comes from the basic fear of rejection. So afraid are they of rejection, that they protect themselves with animosity, distance, resistance and anger. Ultimately, the priest and church leaders will stand over their lifeless bodies and proclaim even if their life had been worth living. Church leaders are imagined to have great power, so in return, some do all kinds of things to protect themselves. In such challenging moments, be kind. Be patient. Be loving, and wait. They will grow or leave. In my service to the Church, I have successfully outlived every parish member that ever gave me trouble.

When faced with challenges, ask critical questions, like, What is true? What is real? What is fair? and, What is holy? The adage that “what we need most, we learned in kindergarten,” has merit. Seminary is helpful, too, but we do well when we simplify and remain honest with God and those we serve. That is your priesthood, the priesthood of everyone baptized into Christ: to be with God before man and man before God. That is your Christianity. As Church leaders, you will teach by example, sometimes with words, but always by living with and within the community.

Thirty-nine years ago, I began a life in the church harvesting fruits that others had planted and pruning trees that would bear fruit for you to harvest. It brings me great joy to see that God’s call is still being heard. By being here today, and by your willingness to serve, you validate my choice to work in this ministry. You have made a wonderful choice. You will see God working in the lives of the people you serve. You will see His healing, restoration and forgiveness in the lives of those you live among. You will share an intimacy with parishioners that no one else has an opportunity to enjoy. You will be stretched, challenged and sometimes even rejected, yet here the adage is true: that which does not kill us will make us stronger. God will minister to your pain Himself, and you will mature. You will learn what joy comes after sorrow, and your faith will grow. My dear brothers and sisters, if I had to do it all again, I would choose the same in a heartbeat. You have chosen well to study here and you have chosen well to serve the Lord, our God.

*His Grace Bishop John offered this address at the 2017 Commencement of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Yonkers, NY. Bishop John is an alumnus of St. Vladimir’s.

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