Building an Orthodox Parish – 5 points

 

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A large part of the problem with some Orthodox parishes (at least of my acquaintance) is not lack of money or lack of a nice building (nice as money and good buildings are), but the fact that they have not been built upon a proper foundation. The Scriptures have lots to say about the value of a good foundation, and the Lord teaches us that if the foundation has not been properly laid, the whole edifice built upon it is in danger of being swept away (Matthew 7:24-27), if not literally, then certainly spiritually.

I know of a number of parishes which have been thus swept away—not that they no longer exist as parishes, but that they no longer exist as true temples of God. Some have become spiritually toxic, and are more accurately described as synagogues of Satan (compare Revelation 2:9). To be a truly Orthodox temple of God, the community must first have in place a solid foundation. And as St. Paul reminds us, “no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11). One can try to lay other foundations, setting in place the wood, hay, and straw foundations of ego and the cult of personality. But Jesus Christ is the only real and lasting foundation, either for a parish or an individual’s life. How can a one build on this foundation to become a truly Orthodox community? I suggest five ways.

First of all, the priest of the parish must dedicate himself to his people and to washing their feet, as the Lord Himself gave both example and command (John 13:1f). Too often young priests assume they are entitled to respect simply because they wear a cassock. It is true that all persons should be treated with respect and courtesy, but it is also true that respect must be earned. The priest’s ordination does not entitle him to respect so much as it gives him the opportunity among his people to earn it. And he earns it by selflessly serving them, counselling them, loving them, weeping with them, sharing their burdens, and being accessible to them at all times. By doing so he earns credibility so that he will be cut some slack when he errs or makes unpopular decisions. But it takes time to earn such credibility, as some young clergy have learned to their cost.

Secondly, the priest must preach Jesus Christ, and nothing else. What else, you may ask, would a priest preach? Alas, there is a long list of possible alternatives. He might preach simple moralism (“Let us be loving and nice”); he might preach the glories of his ethnic heritage. I remember a very nice Greek bishop enthusing at a church’s dedication about “our beautiful religion”, by which he almost certainly meant his beautiful Greek religion. Better to enthuse about our beautiful Saviour, for to enthuse about our religion is another way of enthusing about ourselves.

And one might preach Orthodoxy—the subtlest of all snares. That is, one might describe the glories of the Orthodox Faith, its sound doctrines, its wonderful sacraments, its glorious icons—and how Orthodoxy is a superior faith to all the other faiths on the market. In other words, one might preach about our beautiful religion, shorn of its ethnic components, which is still a way of preaching ourselves. The apostles preached Jesus Christ as Lord, God, and Saviour, and how one could live in obedience to Him and become transformed. Orthodoxy is not the content of our Faith, but the mode of its reception. We serve the Christ preached by the Orthodox Church, not the Christ preached by (say) the Mormons. But Christ remains the content of our preaching.

Thirdly, the parish council must be united in standing behind and supporting their priest. Too often parish councils become the sites of a tug of war, a struggle for power, with the priest pulling in one direction and his council pulling in the other. In this struggle, no one wins, especially not the supposed winner. The council must have the same goal as the priest—i.e. not to collect and retain power, but to serve Christ and His flock, and they must support their priest because he is in the forefront of fulfilling this common goal. He is not their employee, but their papa, and should be treated as such.

Fourthly, the community must make love their aim—that is, the creation of genuine community. This is impossible to do without eating together and working together, and to this end, all Sunday Liturgies must have a time of eating appended to it so that the people can eat, talk, and share together. All the Pauline epistles presuppose the presence of a close community, and without it Christianity remains a mere cultic experience, lacking its crucial social component.

One church I knew of always had a meal afterwards, but they charged for the food so that the social time functioned as a fundraiser. Not surprisingly many skipped this meal and left right after the Liturgy, especially those with large families who could not afford to pay $10 a head for perogies and borscht. When I suggested that they have a free pot-luck meal instead, they were aghast at the possible loss to their budget. They valued income over the creation of community—and over church growth. They have their reward.

Finally, the community must be eschatologically oriented. That is, they must regard themselves not primarily as citizens of this world or as Americans or Canadians or as citizens of any other country, but as citizens of the Kingdom. Patriotism is wonderful, but the good must not be allowed to become the enemy of the best, and the Church stands under the Cross, not under any national flag. To make the flag paramount is idolatry. Through his preaching the priest must encourage his flock to see themselves as sojourners in this age, with their eyes fixed on the horizon to behold the blessed hope of the Second Coming with the cry of “Maranatha!” in their hearts.

Living this out consistently will mean that the society around them will increasingly regard them as aliens, as unwelcome intruders, and as disturbers of the secular status quo. We all know where the front line of this battle is being drawn, and we must not flinch or compromise. Our Lord’s words to the apostles, “If you were of the world, the world would love its own, but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:18-19) have lost none of their relevance. The priest must preach and the people must accept that to become an Orthodox Christian is to leave one moral universe and to enter a different one. And they must read the fine print before making this decision—that of inevitable conflict with the world and of possible persecution.

These are the principles and the foundation upon which new missions should be built and already established churches should conform. Conforming to them does not require changes in the congregation’s constitution and bylaws, but only humility of heart and a desire to grow. In the end, it comes down to vision: does one have a vision of one’s church as a place of counter-cultural transforming truth and a laboratory of love, or simply as a place to go to in order to fulfil one’s spiritual needs? If the latter, then you should know that God cares less than nothing about your spiritual needs. He cares about you and your transformation. And that transformation is only possible if you catch the vision of your church as a place of uncomfortable truth, and of healing love.

By Fr. Lawrence Farley

Source: No Other Foundation

Metropolitan of Morfou Neofytos: ” Saint Porfyrios as I Experienced Him”

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Amazing compilation of everyday Saints’ stories and parables by the Metropolitan  

#Saint Porphyrios #Saint Paisios #Saint Iakovos Tsalikis #Modern Greek Saints

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Freedom from Suffering

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The moment we accept death, true life can begin.  (Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra)

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The secret to his freedom does not lie in the rejection of his suffering, but in his joyful acceptance of them. He will be truly free only when he lets go of wanting to be free of his sufferings, for all freedom and all life depend on our being in right relation to God. When he accepts his death; when he allows himself to hear the sound of his footsteps descending into the grave, he will find that death no longer has a hold on him, for now he is with God. The darkness will vanish and he will see only light.

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If he accepts to become an instrument of God’s will, he will emerge triumphant; but otherwise he will fail.

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If “l” exist God cannot exist, for there cannot be two gods, and so it is either God or the self. When someone sees only his own suffering, God cannot answer him, for it is precisely the mistaken, negative attitude toward suffering that constitutes the separation between him and God. But if “I” cease to exist, if my relation to my suffering changes, then I can be united to God. This union depends on the denial of my self, so that God can come into my life.

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I must learn to accept suffering with joy, to find joy within my suffering, to realize that even in my moments of glory, I am nothing but “dust and ashes” (Gen 18:27), a pelican in the wilderness (Ps 102:6), lost in a desert land, seeking shelter in a landscape of ruins. I must realize my sinfulness, my nakedness, my alienation from God; I must realize I am like a sparrow alone o a house top (Ps 102:7), not because I have some psychological problem, but because I have been separated from God. … In this cry, this calling out, there exists the hope that I will hear the sound of His footsteps, and these will overtake my own and lead me to salvation.

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Source: Psalms and the Life of Faith, by Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra, pp 104-10

Elder Aimilianos and Christ Pantokrator

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Please have a look at the eyes of the Elder how much they resemble Christ’s ‘different’ eyes and left vs right features in that famous Sinai icon*. Isn’t this a striking similarity? I am completely mesmerised, if I may use such an expression, with this photograph of the Elder, and I have been spending really a lot of time simply looking at him, ever since his repose in Christ. Compassionate, Peaceful, yet Stern too. It feels like an icon to me, and not a photograph. Your thoughts?

Elder aimilianos

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Many (1) agree that the icon represents the dual nature of Christ, illustrating traits of both man and god, perhaps influenced by the aftermath of the ecumenical councils of the previous century at Ephesus and Chalcedon. Christ’s features on his left side (the viewer’s right) are supposed to represent the qualities of his human nature, while his right side (the viewer’s left) represents his divinity.

(1) Cf. Manaphēs, Sinai: Treasures, 84; Robin Cormack, Oxford History of Art: Byzantine Art (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 66.

 

Elder Aimilianos Simonopetritis Has Departed This Life

Gerondas Aimilianos

Newly reposed Elder Aimilianos, 23 years of illness. Memory Eternal! Such a special spiritual father! I have known him through his books, homilies and my friends’ testimonies, how he intervened and changed their lives.

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You have made known to me the ways of life; you will fill me with joy with your countenance (Ps. 15, 11)

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*As for the little city hermit, he has disappeared because he has to undertake a Mission Impossible at his Spiritual Father’s word. Prayers are requested since it does feel like a Mission Impossible.

Find Yourself and Find Your Own Way to Serve God

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Words By Convent Fathers

 

By Fr. Sergius Nezhbort

Sometimes we have to embrace the reality and accept the circumstances of our lives as they are. It doesn’t mean that we have done something wrong. Most likely, we simply have to go through that period in life. You’ve got to spend it with dignity. You must not step back, be scared and run away. You must remain with God. (Sermon after the Divine Liturgy on January 20, 2019)

By Fr. Sergius Faley

As soon as you’ve caught yourself doing something wrong, and you feel that your conscience rebukes you for it, you should repent immediately. You’ll be lucky if you repent before you get to the analogion with the crucifix and the Gospel on it. […]

By Fr.  Alexander Pashkovsky

As soon as a person feels offended, he or she is exposed to the power of pride and therefore is left without God’s shield. That is when it is great to bring your sins to memory and to rebuke yourself. (Sermon after the Divine Liturgy on January 9, 2019)

 

By Fr. George Glinsky

“We must witness with our life because when we face ordeals, then we shall be able to show ourselves as preachers of the truth of Christ more fully. All extreme situations, let alone persecutions for the faith of Christ, will purify us before God’s face and show who we are and to which extent we are ready to speak about Christ, about God who opens the Heavenly Kingdom for everybody, about God who is Love.” (Sermon after the Divine Liturgy on January 16, 2019)

“The trials that we go through are not only sent to us personally but also to all who are tied to us with invisible bounds of love. I’m talking about the Church of Christ. […]

 

By Fr. Valery Zakharov

 

God always treats us the same: with love. His love may be sorrowful or buoyant but it’s love nevertheless. (Sermon before a Confession in the Boarding Home for Children with Special Needs on January 11, 2019)

More words at The Catalog of Good Deeds