Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Abp. Makarios of Kenya visits the US

(OCMC) - Mission Team Chicago was blessed to welcome His Eminence Archbishop Makarios, Metropolitan of the Archdiocese of Kenya, for their annual event to raise awareness and support for Orthodox missions. The evening banquet saw many people from many communities gather in fellowship and to learn about the Church in Kenya. His Eminence was grateful for the warm welcome and encouraged those in attendance to support the growing Church in Kenya through the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC).

OCMC staff were able to hear firsthand from His Eminence what some of the needs are in Kenya when he visited the Mission Center in St. Augustine, Florida, following the event in Chicago. In His Eminence’s time with the staff, he spoke candidly about the difficulties that the Church in Kenya is facing in the wake of the global financial crisis. There are several important ministries active in Kenya right now, according to His Eminence, but none more vital than the seminary.

The Makarios III Seminary located in Nairobi trains Orthodox clergy from all over Africa. It is also a center for translation where OCMC Missionary Meg Engelbach is currently working with OCMC Mission Specialist Dr. Michael Colburn to translate Church texts into many languages that are spoken throughout East Africa. The young men that graduate from the seminary become the priests and catechists that spread the Faith and pastorally care for the faithful.

Also of great importance to His Eminence is the continued operation of the 30+ primary and 18 secondary schools that the Church runs. These schools not only empower Kenyan youth for the future, but also serve as a powerful witness to the Orthodox Faith. Immersed in the prayers and experiencing the love offered by the Church in these schools, many children and their families decide to become Orthodox Christian.

All of these initiatives are in dire need of support. In order to ensure that this support is used most efficiently and in order to effectively coordinate the many activities of the Archdiocese, His Eminence asked repeatedly that all support for the Church in Kenya go through the OCMC.

As Clean Week began, His Eminence prayed with the faithful at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Orlando, Florida. OCMC Executive Director Fr. Martin Ritsi and Teams Associate Director Pres. Renee Ritsi also hosted a dinner for the Metropolitan that was attended by several Orthodox clergy from north Florida including His Grace Bishop Dimitrios Couchell before His Eminence headed back to Kenya. His Eminence's parting words were aimed at all Orthodox Christians in the United States. “Please continue to pray for me and for the Church in Kenya. This is needed above all else.", His Eminence shared.

Sometimes it's just a matter of perspective

Monday, March 2, 2015

Russian Church provides clarity on communing the faithful

This is an important document both because of its historical points as it is for the clarity of the Church of Russia's perspective on communing the faithful. Read it. You may well be surprised by some sections.

(Jordanville) - On the Participation of the Faithful in the Eucharist

Document approved at the Hierarchal Consultation of the Russian Orthodox Church, February 2–3, 2015 in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow

The eucharist is the main Sacrament of the Church, instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ on the eve of his saving Passion, death upon the Cross, and resurrection. To participate in the eucharist and to partake of the Body and Blood of Christ is commanded by our Saviour who through his disciples said to all Christians: “Take, eat: this is My Body,” and “Drink of it, all of you: for this is My Blood of the New Testament” (Matt 26:26-28). The Church herself is the Body of Christ and, therefore, the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ visibly manifests the mystical nature of the Church, building up the ecclesial community.

The spiritual life of an Orthodox Christian is inconceivable without the communion of the Holy Mysteries. Receiving the Holy Gifts, the faithful are sanctified by the power of the Holy Spirit and are united with Christ our Saviour and with each other, making one Body of Christ.

The Sacrament of the Eucharist requires special preparation. In the Church, the time itself – be it the span of a human life or the entire history of mankind – is an expectation and preparation for the encounter with Christ, while the entire rhythm of liturgical life is an expectation and preparation for the Divine Liturgy and, accordingly, for communion, for which sake the Liturgy is celebrated [in the first place].

The practice of communion and the preparation for communion has changed and taken different forms throughout the history of the Church.

Already in the apostolic period, the tradition was established in the Church to celebrate the eucharist every Sunday (and, if possible, even more often, e.g. on the days of martyrs’ commemorations), so that Christians might remain in unending communion with Christ and with each other (see, e.g. 1 Cor 10:16–17; Acts 2:46; Acts 20:7). All members of the local community took part in the weekly eucharist and received communion, while the refusal to take part in the eucharistic communion without solid grounds was subject to condemnation:

All the faithful who come in and hear the Scriptures, but do not stay for the prayers and the Holy Communion, are to be excommunicated, as causing disorder in the Church (Apostolic canon 9).

The early Christian practice of communion at every Divine Liturgy remains an ideal even for the present time, as part of the Tradition of the Church.

At the same time, the growth in membership of the Church in the third and especially the fourth centuries led to some changes that entailed changes in liturgical life. As the number of the martyrs’ commemorations and feast days increased, eucharistic liturgies began to be celebrated more frequently – however, the presence at these assemblies for every Christian was considered to be merely desirable, but not mandatory. The Church has countered this tendency with the following canonical regulation:

All who enter the church of God and hear the Holy Scriptures, but do not communicate with the people in prayers, or who turn away, by reason of some disorder, from the holy partaking of the Eucharist, are to be cast out of the Church, until, after they shall have made confession, and having brought forth the fruits of penance, and made earnest entreaty, they shall have obtained forgiveness (canon 2, Council of Antioch).

Nevertheless, the sublime ideal of constant readiness for the reception of Holy Mysteries became hard to attain for many Christians. For this reason, already in the writings of the Holy Fathers of the fourth century we find evidence for the co-existence of different customs with regard to the regularity of communion. Thus, St Basil the Great refers to the communion four times a week as normative:

And to receive communion every day and to partake of the holy Body and Blood of Christ is good and beneficial, for [Christ] himself clearly says: ‘He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood, has eternal life.’ ... We receive communion four times every week: on Sunday, on Wednesday, on Friday, and on Saturday, and on other days, if there happens to be a memorial of a Saint (Letter 93 [89]).

But less than half a century later, St John Chrysostom remarks that some, including monastics, started receiving communion only once or twice a year:

Many partake of this sacrifice once in the whole year, others twice; others many times. Our word then is to all; not to those only who are here, but to those also who are settled in the desert. For they partake once in the year, and often indeed at intervals of two years. What then? Which shall we approve? Those [who receive] once [in the year]? Those who [receive] many times? Those who [receive] few times? Neither those [who receive] once, nor those [who receive] often, nor those [who receive] seldom, but those [who come] with a pure conscience, from a pure heart, with an irreproachable life. Let such draw near continually; but those who are not such, not even once (Homilies on the Hebrews 17.7).

In the fourth century, the rule concerning the mandatory eucharistic fast, which emerged already in the pre-Nicene period, was definitively established, mandating a complete abstinence from food and drink on the day of communion until the reception of Christ’s Holy Mysteries: “May the holy sacrament of the altar be celebrated by the people who have not eaten” (canon 41/50 of the Council of Carthage, reaffirmed by canon 29 of the Council in Trullo). However, already in the late fourth – the beginning of the fifth century some Christians started to associate communion not only with the observance of eucharistic abstinence before the Liturgy, but with the time of Great Lent in general, as attested by St John Chrysostom. The saintly bishop himself, however, was urging his flock for a more frequent communion:

Tell me, I beseech you, when after a year you partake of the Communion, do you think that the Forty Days are sufficient for you for the purifying of the sins of all that time? And again, when a week has passed, do you give yourself up to the former things? Tell me now, if when you have been well for forty days after a long illness, you should again give yourself up to the food which caused the sickness, have you not lost your former labor too? For if natural things are changed, much more those which depend on choice. ... You assign forty days for the health of the soul, or perhaps not even forty, and do you expect to propitiate God? ... These things I say, not as forbidding you to approach once a year, but as wishing you to draw near continually (Homilies on Hebrews 17.7).

By the eleventh and twelfth centuries in Byzantium, among monastics, the tradition was established to receive communion only when it was preceded by a discipline of preparation that included fasting, the examination of one’s conscience before the spiritual father of the monastery, and the reading before communion of a special prayer rule which emerged and began to develop in that period. Pious laypeople began to take their direction from this same tradition, because monastic spirituality in Orthodoxy was always perceived as an ideal. In its strictest form this tradition is represented, e.g., in the directives of the Russian Typicon (chapter 32) which, in contrast with the Greek Typicon, mentions a mandatory seven-days fast before communion.

In 1699 an article titled “Note of Instruction” (Uchitel’noe izvestie) was included as an appendix to the Russian Sluzhebnik (Euchologion). This article contains, among other things, a directive concerning a mandatory term of preparation for holy communion: whoever desires, may partake during the four long fasting periods, while outside of these fasts, one must fast for seven days – this period, however, can be reduced:

If they desire to approach the holy communion outside of the four usual fasts, let them fast for seven days beforehand, remaining constant in prayers at church and at home – this is for those who are not in need, when in need, let them fast only for three days or for one day.

In practice, an extremely stringent approach toward preparation for holy communion, which had its positive spiritual aspects, led also to the fact that some Christians were abstaining from communion for a long time, citing their need for worthy preparation. The norm, contained in the Spiritual Regulation (1721), mandating that all Christians in the Russian Empire must receive communion at least once a year, was precisely directed against this practice of rare communion:

Every Christian must receive the Holy Eucharist frequently, but at least once a year. For this is our most eloquent thanksgiving to God for such salvation accomplished for us by the death of the Saviour... For this reason, if any Christian is shown to abstain long from holy communion, by this he shows himself to be not in the Body of Christ, that is, he is not a communicant of the Church.

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries pious people sought to receive communion at least during every one of the lengthy fasting periods. Many saints of that time, among them St Theophan the Recluse and Righteous John of Kronstadt, called the people to approach the Holy Mysteries even more frequently. As St Theophan said, “a measure [to commune] once or twice a month – is the most measured,” even though “one can say nothing disapproving” regarding a more frequent communion. Every faithful may be guided by these words of this Saint:

Try to receive communion of the Holy Mysteries more frequently, as your spiritual father will permit. But try always to approach with due preparation and, moreover, with fear and trembling, lest, by getting accustomed, you start approaching with indifference.

The confessing struggle of the Church during the years of persecution in the twentieth century motivated many clergymen and laity to revisit the practice of infrequent communion that existed previously. In particular, on May 13, 1931 the Provisional Patriarchal Synod stated in its resolution:

[Be it resolved that] the desire that an Orthodox Christian receives communion as often as possible, and those more advanced among them – even every Sunday, may be deemed acceptable.

At the present time, many Orthodox Christians receive communion much more frequently than the majority of Christians in pre-revolutionary Russia. However, the practice of frequent communion cannot be automatically expanded unto all the faithful without exception, for the frequency of communion is directly dependent upon a person’s spiritual and moral state, so that the faithful, to use Chrysostom’s words, may approach the communion of the Holy Mysteries “with a pure conscience, as much as it is possible for us” (Against the Jews 3.4).

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Blessed repose, Fr. Matthew Baker! Memory Eternal!

UPDATE: A fund has been put together to help the family. Please go here and render what aid you can.

From the blog Orthodox and Heterodoxy, the sad news that a family friend and good & faithful servant in the Lord's service has passed as the result of an automative incident.

We just learned the very sad and shocking news that Fr. Matthew Baker, a promising, brilliant scholar and priest who has contributed a number of articles to this site and is the close friend of a number of us, passed away in a tragic car accident this evening while traveling home from his parish assignment in Connecticut.
Complete post here.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Orthodox seminary in Jerusalem torched and defaced

Jerusalem (CNN) - A day after flames scorched a West Bank mosque, a Jerusalem seminary belonging to the Greek Orthodox Church was torched and defaced Thursday -- an act police suspect is the work of radical right-wing Israelis.

Both buildings were defaced with anti-Arab and anti-Christian slurs, including graffiti maligning Jesus on the seminary, said police spokeswoman Luba Samri. And in each case, there was writing in Hebrew referring to the "redemption of Zion" and "revenge."

The acts drew strong condemnation.

"There is no room for such deplorable activity in Jerusalem," Mayor Nir Barkat said Thursday. "We must eradicate this behavior and bring those responsible to justice."

Palestine Liberation Organization official Hanan Ashrawi called the acts "hate crimes (that) constitute a flagrant attack on all Palestinians, whether Muslim or Christian."

"These are not isolated incidents, but rather they fit a longstanding pattern of deliberate provocation, extremism and violence, and are a vicious assault on all Palestinians and their holy sites," Ashrawi said. "The recent events indicate that a holy war is already being waged against the Palestinian Muslim and Christian population."

The incident at the mosque may be a "price tag" attack -- a term used by radical Israeli settlers to denote reprisal attacks against Palestinians in response to moves by the Israeli government to evacuate illegal West Bank outposts -- according to officials. In fact, video from the West Bank shows two letters that translate to PT, for "price tag."

And authorities suspect a Jewish nationalist motive for what happened at the Greek Orthodox seminary.

Samri, the Israeli police spokeswoman, said that firefighters managed to douse the fire in that building's restroom and showers before anyone was injured.

But not much more is known than that.

Shortly after the incident, a Jerusalem district court issued a gag order that covered all details of the investigation and anything that identifies suspects.

Presanctified Liturgy at St. Catherine Church in Moscow


Does ecumenism have a future? - Russian Church responds

I am reposting this because Ancient Faith Radio has released the audio of this talk.

(mospat.ru) - Lecture by the Chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk at the Universities of Winchester (5 February 2015) and Cambridge (6 February 2015).

Dear members of the faculty, students and guests of the university!

I have been asked to give a lecture on the topic of interaction between Christians today. Does ecumenism have a future? This question has become ever more relevant and demands an all-round analysis.

When Jesus Christ founded his Church on earth, it was a single community of disciples bound together by faith in him as God and Saviour. At the Last Supper Jesus prayed to his Father that his disciples may preserve unity in the fashion of the unity that exists between the Father and the Son: ‘That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me’ (Jn. 17: 21). He then gave to his disciples his body and blood in the form of bread and wine and commanded them: ‘Do this in remembrance of me” (Lk. 22: 1). After his death and resurrection it was the Eucharist – the re-enactment of the Last Supper with the prayer that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ – that became the most important unifying element of the Christian community.

From the time the first generation of Christians had appeared the community had begun to grow rapidly. The apostles’ preaching to the Jews was no less successful than that of Christ’s. Yet it was among the pagans that Christianity began to gain great popularity very quickly. St. Paul played an essential role in the expansion of the Church’s mission. It was he who, with characteristic passion and conviction, defended the idea of the universal nature of the Christian mission. It was he who also insisted that in the Church there is ‘neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all’ (Col. 3: 11). It is to St. Paul that we first find the comparison of the Church to a body: ‘So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another’ (Rom. 12: 5). The head of this universal body is Christ himself (Eph. 5: 23).

In being aware of herself as a single organism, the Church, from the very first days of her existence, knew the risks linked with the preservation of unity under earthly conditions. The Church was created as a projection of the eternal on the temporal, as ‘the kingdom of God coming with power’ (Mk. 9: 1). So the Church was perceived not simply as an association of people, as an earthly community like other communities and corporations. The Church was understood by Christians as that spiritual expanse in which they encounter God, in which they are united with God through the indissoluble bonds of love, at the same time being united with each other by the same bonds. The unity of Christians has a supernatural aspect, and therefore also requires special, supernatural endeavours for its preservation.

From the earliest centuries people and communities fell away from the Church through disagreement with certain aspects of her teaching. These people were declared by the Church to be heretics and she rejected them. Sometimes they would found their own parallel churches and communities. However, in the majority of cases heresy, as a branch cut off from the trunk, died fairly quickly and the community of followers of a particular false teacher would fall apart and disappear.

Already in the early Church heresies would be classified according to how dangerous or not they were for the Church. Moreover, the word ‘schism’ entered the ecclesiastical lexicon, meaning the separation of a particular group of people from the fullness of the Church. Schisms could arise for various reasons – from personal arguments between hierarchs, from a particular local church community claiming the right to land of another community, and from arguments of a terminological nature on particular aspects of church doctrine. And while schisms arising on the grounds of heresy were treated severely and without compromise, those arising for other reasons would often be healed thanks to the diplomatic efforts of church hierarchs, and in some instances with the help of the secular authorities. This is a nuance often lost in ecumenical discussions today. St. Basil is often (as he is referenced below) an adept guide for us on how to deal with schism and the travails of disunity. 

Church history knows of several great schisms that have divided the body of world Christianity into several ‘families of Churches’.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Please pray for Fr. Thomas Hopko

As has been reported in many place, Fr. Tom's health has not been good of late. Please pray for him. It is telling that even in his diminished state that he is still putting out important commentary on the topics of the day.

I remember when the Latin Church was debating the new translations for the mass in English. In defense of "difficult" words some Roman bishops looked East and said (in summary), "Look. The Eastern Catholics and the Orthodox use these words without trouble. Let's not be afraid of words like 'ineffable' shall we?"

Now again we have the Catholic Church looking to the orient for guidance on another topic. This time it's what to do with communing the divorced. Fr. Thomas' comments on the topic are thought provoking: Orthodox understanding of marriage and of the marriage ceremony is not apples to apples with Catholic understanding. As a result you can't import Orthodox canons on communing the divorced without also carefully importing the Orthodox understanding of marriage.

(AFR) - In light of the debate in the Roman Catholic Church about divorce and re-marriage, Fr. Tom offers the Orthodox view of this topic as well as an explanation of the fundamental difference in how marriage is viewed in Orthodoxy. We are so happy to have Fr.Tom back recording podcasts. Please continue to pray for him.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Russell Brand talks about the dangers of porn

Works of New Martyr Daniel Sysoyev available in English

My heart leaps with joy. The blog Facing Islam recently posted an update from Father Daniel's Mission Shop that the English text are available here.


Catholic Church gets Armenian "Doctor"

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has declared Armenian poet and monk, Saint Gregory of Narek, a Doctor of the Universal Church. Meeting with Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Cause of Saints on Saturday ahead of his departure for Aricca on Lenten retreat, the Pope confirmed the proposal put forward by the Plenary Session of the Congregation to confer the title of Doctor of the Universal Church on the 10th century saint.

St. Gregory of Narek is widely revered as one of the greatest figures of medieval Armenian religious thought and literature. Born in the city of Narek in about 950 A.D., St. Gregory came from a line of scholars and churchmen.

St. Gregory received his education under the guidance of his father, Bishop Khosrov, author of the earliest commentary on the Divine Liturgy, and from Anania Vartabed, abbotof Narek Monastery. He and his two brothers entered monastic life at an early age, and St. Gregory soon began to excel in music, astronomy, geometry, mathematics, literature, and theology.

He became a priest at the age of 25 and dedicated himself to God. He lived most of his life in the monastery of Narek, where he taught at the monastic school. St. Gregory began his writings with a commentary on the “Song of Songs,” which was commissioned by an Armenian prince. Despite his reservations that he was too young for the task, the commentary became famous for its clarity of thought and language and its excellence of theological presentation.

He also wrote a number of famous letters, sharagans, treasures, odes, melodies, and discourses. Many of his prayers are included in the Divine Liturgy celebrated each Sunday in Armenian Churches around the world.

St. Gregory’s masterpiece is considered to be his Book of Lamentations. Also known as Narek, it is comprised of 95 prayers, each of which is titled “Conversation with God from the depth of the heart.” A central theme is man’s separation from God, and his quest to reunite with Him. St. Gregory described the work this way: “Its letters like my body, its message like my soul.” He called his book an “encyclopedia of prayer for all nations.” It was his hope that it would serve as a guide to prayer for people all over the world. After the advent of movable type, the book was published in Marseille in 1673, and has been translated into at least 30 languages.

St. Gregory of Narek is remembered by the Armenian Church in October of each year.

The artistry of Egor Zaitsev Nikolaevich

Good reminder for Lent

“Hell begins with a grumbling mood, always complaining, always blaming others… but you are still distinct from it. You may even criticize it in yourself and wish you could stop it. But there may come a day when you can no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood or even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself, going on forever like a machine. It is not a question of God “sending us” to hell. In each of us there is something growing, which will BE hell unless it is nipped in the bud. ”

– C.S. Lewis, from his book The Great Divorce

Monday, February 23, 2015

American Ukrainian group (UOC-USA) on trip to Ukraine

(UOC-USA) - The current visit of our UOC of USA delegation to Ukraine as part of the Permanent Conference of Ukrainian Orthodox Bishops beyond the Borders of Ukraine (PCB) to the various ecclesiastical jurisdictions in Ukraine was an extremely busy one with very important discussions and prayerful homage to important Ukrainian memorials.

The first round of discussions took place in our hotel conference room with His Eminence Archbishop Ihor (Isichenko) head of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Diocese of Kharkiv in Eastern Ukraine. The Archbishop made the long journey to Kyiv to share the history and current status of his diocese with our American and Canadian Bishops: His Eminence Metropolitan Yurij, His Eminence Metropolitan Antony and Their Graces Bishops Ilarion, Andrij and Daniel. Life in the Diocese is difficult for the clergy and faithful in the Kharkiv Region. In spite of the difficulties, the Church is still active and preaching Christ’s salvation to all.

In responding to questions from the members of the PCB and the Canadian and USA delegations, Archbishop Ihor expressed his firm conviction that unity will, indeed, come to the Church in Ukraine, although the path to that unity will be long and difficult and that it will take the cooperation of responsible and committed individuals from all of the present separate churches to build a firm foundation for strong and lasting unity. He is willing to be part of that effort, which will change the face of the Ukrainian nation.

Living in the Eastern regions of Ukraine with the separatist attacks and threats to local populations has caused much stress and apprehension amongst the population of those regions. It is not so profound as to disrupt normal life in the area, but the perceived threat seldom disappears from the conscientious thoughts of all the citizens.
Complete article here.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Patriarch John X of Antioch with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow