Monday, October 29, 2007

October 31: Priestmartyr John Kochurov

A Meditation for Sunday, October 28 on Galatians 6:11-18

One of the most difficult truths in life may sound quite simple: Appearances can be deceiving – things are not always as they seem.

That may sound self-evident, but I think the case can be made that we all fall prey to certain deceptions and delusions in this life. For example, someone suffers some great adversity, like a painful, terminal illness or perhaps the loss of a child. People whisper behind her back, asking what she did “to deserve” such calamity.

Or perhaps we see someone who is very wealthy, dressed in fine clothes, and living in a fine home. We think, surely God has blessed him! What could he have done to deserve such wealth, such prosperity? But do you remember the parable Jesus told in last week’s Gospel – how a rich man and a poor man died, and the rich man was tormented in the afterlife because he had neglected the needs of the poor man? The spiritual truth of their situations was exactly the opposite of the way it appeared in this life.

Again, the truth is that appearances can be deceiving. Circumstances are not always what they appear to be. This was the issue Saint Paul was facing with the Church in Galatia, to which he was writing in the epistle reading for this morning. There were powerful leaders in the congregation there that were calling for a return to certain Jewish customs, especially the practice of circumcision. Some commentators have called these powerful leaders “super-apostles,” because they were apparently very eloquent and charismatic and influential. From what we know, one reason for their popularity was that they and their followers, by following the Jewish customs, were able to avoid persecution. They were prospering, they were thriving, they were avoiding the hardships being endured by other Christians, and they boasted about their success.

And Saint Paul makes it very clear in his letter that their worldly success was completely faithless, utterly wrongheaded. “God forbid,” he writes, “that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.”

Saint Paul insists that faithfulness to God may involve defeat and persecution and complete demoralization in this world. That is the cross of Christ. That is the cross that we are called to take up and bear as we follow Christ. For in Christ Jesus, he writes, “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything” – neither of those outward practices ultimately matters at all. What matters is the new creation, the life God has shared with us in Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit. What matters is how we come to share in that mercy, that faith, that hope, that love. Inasmuch as Christ’s life becomes our life, burdens and crosses will come our way. But as Saint Paul insisted, “let no one trouble me about that – I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” He’d been beaten, his health broken. But he had lived faithfully.

Whatever his outward appearance, he knew the peace and mercy of God.

As I thought about this passage during this past week, I was reminded of the life of Saint John Kochurov, whom the Church will commemorate this coming Thursday, October 31. Do you know Saint John? He’s one of our own – he ministered right here in the United States. Born in rural Russia in 1871, he was an excellent student who earned the privilege of studying at the Saint Petersburg Theological Academy, one of the greatest schools in Russia at that time. His dream was to be a missionary in the United States. And after graduation, that dream was fulfilled. In 1895, he made the journey to America, was married, and ordained a priest. He was assigned to a small mission in Chicago, where he labored for years building the community, ministering to new immigrants, and incorporating people from all kinds of different backgrounds into parish life. Eventually, he was rewarded for his labors with the rank of Archpriest and given administrative responsibilities under Archbishop Tikhon, the Metropolitan over all America.

But family needs back in Russia required his return to his homeland. He returned, and in 1907 he was assigned to teach high school in Estonia, a position which didn’t allow him to be involved in the regular services of the Church. But he persevered for nine heart-breaking years and finally, in 1916, he was given pastoral responsibilities at a beautiful and thriving Cathedral Parish outside of Saint Petersburg. At last, life seemed to be calming down, falling into place – he was doing the work at which he excelled.

But the very next year, the Revolution exploded. The Bolsheviks seized power and artillery fire from the opposing armies pounded the city. The people fled to the Churches for refuge and prayers, and Father John led litanies and processions for peace throughout those horrible days. At one point when the Red Guard had the upper hand, a number of priests were arrested – including FatherJohn Kochurov of St Katherine's Cathedral. Though their prayers had been for peace, they were accused of supporting the enemies of the Revolution. On October 31, 1917, they were taken outside the city and executed by firing squad.

Thus, Saint John is remembered as a faithful pastor and preacher who died as one of the first martyrs of the Soviet yoke.

His life seemed so full of promise, he worked for years to build and cultivate faithfulness, only to experience one setback after another. And then, just when he found himself doing the work he enjoyed the most, he was martyred. Was he a failure? By the standards of this world, many would probably say so.

But the Church knows better. We know that appearances can be deceiving – things are not always as they seem.

We remember the words of Saint Paul: “God forbid that we should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to us, and we to the world.”

Like Saint Paul, Saint John Kochurov came “to bear in his body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Remember his holy example, and that of all the saints and martyrs.

For they teach us that often, it is in our failures, our weaknesses, and our defeats that the power and love of God are made known. Amen.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Remember: Vespers this Saturday, October 27 at 5:00 PM!
October 25: Saint Tabitha of Joppa

Saint Tabitha, the widow raised from the dead by the Apostle Peter, was a virtuous and kindly woman who belonged to the Christian community in Joppa. Being grievously ill, she suddenly died. At that time, the Apostle Peter was preaching at Lydda, not far from Joppa. Messengers were sent to him with an urgent request for help. When the Apostle arrived at Joppa, Tabitha was already dead. On bended knee, St Peter made a fervent prayer to the Lord. Then he went to the bed and called out, "Tabitha, get up!" She arose, completely healed (Acts 9:36).

St Tabitha is considered the patron saint of tailors and seamstresses, since she was known for sewing coats and other garments (Acts 9:39).

A hymn commemorating Saint Tabitha from the Prologue of Ochrid:

Tabitha died, not that she might no longer live,
But that the world might be astonished at the miracle which came to pass.
Beside her deathbed Peter humbly knelt,
And uttered fervent prayer unto the Lord.
She was resurrected in body! And the unbelievers heard
How the Lord hearkened to the apostle's prayer
And returned the living soul to the dead body.
And Peter turned the unbelievers to the Faith.
O wondrous miracle, of a kind unknown in the world!
By the name of Christ, death was conquered.
Death was conquered, and life rejoices.
The young Tabitha rejoices in life;
And, more than in her own life,
She rejoices that she served as a wonder to the unbelieving world.
She was resurrected in body! The unbelievers heard,
And their own souls were raised from the dead.
O great Peter, servant of Christ,
Pray to our Savior for us;
Resurrect our souls, buried in the mud-
You, who revived Tabitha by the power of God

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Love Without Limits

This meditation comes from Father John Breck's regular column on the OCA website. Here, he is quoting the work of Father Lev Gillet, who frequently wrote anonymously as "a monk of the Eastern Church"

Infinite Love storms the very gates of our life. It could be that I've already achieved a kind of peaceful co-existence with God. Perhaps I've been able to convince myself that I am more or less "in order" with my soul and therefore more or less at ease with myself. Maybe I've even foreseen a happy and peaceful ending to my earthly life.

Then suddenly all these assurances are turned upside down by a divine calling. God demands something of me that I never expected. It's almost like receiving the news of an unwanted child.

Should I listen to this urgent request? Should I make a decision that will cost me dearly? Why in the world would I? Everything seemed to be going so well. Is it really necessary to accept these uncertainties, these new anxieties? Do I really need to tread again the tortuous pathway of that first calling, the one that came so long ago? Do I really have to leave my own familiar homeland, with no idea as to where God is leading me?

I never spoke these things to God, but I certainly thought them. Of course I never said "No" to the Lord, but I have certainly given Him a reply that amounts to a respectful refusal: "Please allow me to live in your presence just as I am!"

"Just as I am…." That person who is me, myself, represents a present state of being, a life lived in a well defined situation, with a collection of things to which I've become thoroughly attached. That includes my relationship with God, which seems perfectly adequate. What more could I want?

Love without limits seeks to invade my life. It troubles the calm waters of my daily existence. It shatters all that seems stable, in order to open before me new horizons that I never before imagined.

Will I refuse? Will I run from this announcement, this command, that God has just spoken to me? If I do refuse, I may not necessarily be estranged from every other form of love. But the love I finally do embrace will be both relative and limited. It will amount to a rejection of absolute Love, with all its audacious demands. It will be the stillness of a stagnant pond, rather than the tumult of the high seas.

Lord of Love, break the bonds that hold me back! I will never return to that place of familiar complacency. O Lord of Love, may I live before you as the person I shall become!

Read it all here.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Archpastoral Letter from His Eminence

It is always a great joy to receive words of pastoral wisdom from our Archbishop. As many of you know, the central administration of our jurisdiction, located in Syosset, NY, has been enduring a scandal related to the misuse of funds. Our Holy Synod of Bishops and the Metropolitan Council continue to address the various issues and the implementation of better practices for fiscal accountability. The following letter addresses the latest developments in this ongoing crisis.

Profoundly important are the words chosen by His Eminence to conclude his letter: "
move forward reunited in a renewed spirit of cooperation, dedication and sacrifice so that the great mission of The Orthodox Church in America may continue."

The Diocese of the South
The Orthodox Church in America
PO Box 191109
Dallas, TX 75219-1109

Sunday, October 21, 2007
The Venerable Hilarion the Great

To the Clergy, Monastics, and Faithful of the Diocese of the South:

I wish to thank you for your prayers, especially on the Day of Prayer and Fasting held in the Diocese of the South on October 16 during the meeting of the Holy Synod. I believe that in many ways our gracious Lord heard our prayers and assisted all those working last week in Syosset.

I consider the meetings to have borne some important fruit as we all do our part to steer the ship of our beloved Orthodox Church in America through the stormy seas we find ourselves in. Continued cuts in spending were made in what I believe is a necessary course to reduce the size and scope of the central church administration. Additionally a necessary personnel change took place to strengthen the position of OCA treasurer with a person of competent credentials.

The appeal of the former chancellor was also heard and it is being taken under consideration. Each member of the Synod has been charged to review the appeal, point by point, and offer opinions so that when the Holy Synod meets again in December we may render a decision on the merits of the appeal.

I also consider the new attempt to assemble an unhindered special investigation committee answerable only to the Holy Synod and Metropolitan Council an important step. If this new committee can ask any question of any person about any subject related to the previous work of the central church administration under review with full access to all documents, then there can be a reasonable expectation that such an investigation will put all of these events into their proper context so that we may learn what occurred, why it happened, and how we can try to avoid any defects in policy and judgment in the future.

Such difficult and confrontational meetings are not something that any of us look forward to. They take their toll on all who participate, but when we fall short of the glory of God, they become a necessary duty of those called to positions of leadership in the Church. Especially in challenging times we must face such tasks with prayerful resolve and determination so that we may demonstrate our love for God, one another, and His Church.

As the senior hierarch on the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America and your diocesan hierarch in the God-protected Diocese of the South, I ask for your continued prayers for me and for all the clergy, monastics, and faithful in this diocese and throughout The Orthodox Church in America. I ask that we keep a steady and open hand and a patient and loving heart as we, hopefully, and finally, resolve the outstanding questions and lingering issues that still confront us. We are a young Church and an even younger diocese but we are also a Church populated with talented and spirit-filled clergy and laity who truly desire to learn the necessary lessons from this chapter in our history and move forward reunited in a renewed spirit of cooperation, dedication and sacrifice so that the great mission of The Orthodox Church in America may continue.

With love in Christ,
Archbishop of Dallas and the South

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A Day of Prayer and Fasting
His Eminence, our Archbishop DMITRI, has declared today a day of prayer and fasting throughout the Diocese of the South. Please remember the Holy Synod of Bishops and the Metropolitan Council of the Orthodox Church in America as they gather this week for a joint meeting at the Chancery in New York.

Also remember the Centurion Longinus, who was present at the foot of the Cross to witness our Lord's Crucifixion and declared, "Truly this was the Son of God." (Matthew 27:54). He became a bold proclaimer of the Gospel, eventually dying as a Martyr in his native Cappadocia.

To read Vladyka's letter, click here.

For more on the Martyr Longinus, click here.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Great Vespers and Divine Liturgy this Weekend
Make plans now to join us for Great Vespers on Saturday, October 13 at 5:00 PM and Divine Liturgy on Sunday, October 14 at 10:00 AM.
Father Sergius Clark will be our visiting priest.
All services are in English; visitors are welcome!
The church is located off O'Neal Lane, just south of Interstate 12. For a map and directions, click here.
Come and See!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Icons, Apocryphal Truth, and Other Thoughts...

Several of us had the opportunity to preview the new exhibit at the Louisiana Arts and Science Museum, entitled "Traditions in Transition: Russian Icons in the Age of the Romanovs," which will be on display through Theophany (January 6, 2008).

The exhibit is well done and includes a number of explanatory notes that are faithful to Orthodox teaching on iconography. There are few probable misidentifications - mistaking St John Chrysostom for St John the Theologian - but overall, it was a delight. Also on display is a collection of Old Testament works by Marc Chagall.

As a companion to the display, please take the time to consider this thoughtful essay which recently appeared on the First Things website. The writer, an art historian named Matthew Milliner, takes very seriously the canonical tradition of iconography and hagiography, noting the ways various stylizations and embellishments contribute to - rather than detract from - the communication of the Truth through icons and accounts of the lives of the Saints.

Here's a sample:

On a trip to Crete last March to research onetime Venetian colonies, our class of twelve wandered into an Orthodox church in Chania. It was one of the many Cretan “double-nave” churches that, select art historians would argue, originated in Crete’s Venetian period, when both Orthodox and Latin services were sometimes held under the same roof. Within this tiny space, surrounded by icons, we found we were not alone. Joining us was a tall, stately Cretan; his sweater hung neatly over his shoulders. He spoke British English with the trace of a Greek accent and was eager to entertain questions.

We seized the opportunity and asked about a particular Cretan icon of Mary consoling the infant Christ. By this time most of us were seated, and our guide gave an impromptu lecture.

Mary was permitted, due to her wisdom, to study in the Temple from a very early age. Because of her access to Solomon’s mysteries, she knew what was to happen to her son. And so, as Gabriel confronts Christ in this icon with the instruments of the Passion, Mary comforts her son.

Sensing incredulity, he explained himself with a smile.

This story of the Temple is a myth, not in the sense of a lie, but in the sense of a code that must be decoded to get to the truth.

What first sounded like Dan Brown nonsense has proved itself a useful method for extracting value from so many curious historical accounts. As the French scholar Emile Mâle claimed, apocryphal tales “grew out of love and longing for more intimate knowledge of the life of Jesus and of all who were with Him,” and “under the trappings of legend the people’s insight almost always divined the truly sublime.” Whether or not Mary actually studied in the Temple is beyond the point. It is an apocryphal tale, but one that explores and amplifies a canonical truth: the mystery of the nativity and passion of Christ, whose historicity is not beyond the point.

To expect contemporary Christians to navigate this delicate terrain is much to ask. Either the entire sweep of the Creed is all just a beautiful story valuable only for the sentiment or action it can inspire (the thinner strands of narrative theology); or each detail, however insignificant, must be verified or discarded according to standards foreign to the biblical accounts (certain breeds of fundamentalism). G.K. Chesterton referred to the first error as the “aesthetics, or mere feeling, which is now allowed to usurp where it has no rights at all, to wreck reason with pragmatism and morals with anarchy.” The second he called “the temptation of the professors to treat mythologies too much as theologies; as things thoroughly thought out and seriously held.” I would not be the first to argue that both errors are two sides of the same Enlightenment coin: Refusing to accept that miraculous events can occur or submitting every distant detail of such events to dated standards of historical scholarship. Instead, Christian truth fulfills and transcends these shortsighted categories, containing what Hans Urs von Balthasar called “its own interior authenticity,” to which aesthetics and historicism need both submit...

Read it all here.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

October 1: The Protection of the Theotokos

Troparion-Tone 4

Today the faithful celebrate the feast with joy
illumined by your coming, O Mother of God.
Beholding your pure image we fervently cry to you:
"Encompass us beneath the precious veil of your protection;
deliver us from every form of evil by entreating Christ,
your Son and our God that He may save our souls."

Kontakion-Tone 3

Today the Virgin stands in the midst of the Church
and with choirs of saints she invisibly prays to God for us.
Angels and bishops worship,
apostles and prophets rejoice together,
since for our sake she prays to the pre-eternal God.