Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Support for Abducted Syrian Hierarchs

Support for Abducted Syrian Hierarchs

Updated April 29: The Archdiocese encourages all of her members to show their continuing support for kidnapped archbishops Paul and John of Aleppo, first and foremost through heartfelt prayer. We also encourage people to sign and promote the online petition available here at the website of the White House, calling for United States government action on behalf of the abducted metropolitans. Please use the petition at this link.
Support and attention for Archbishop Paul and Archbishop John continues to grow. The Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America has published their joint letter to US Secretary of State John Kerry here. The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese has published Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew's call for the release of the archbishops. The Russian Orthodox Church has published several statements, including the patriarchal message from Patriarch Kirill to Patriarch John X available here, along with the list of documents available below. Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church prayed for the release of the metropolitans, as announced here. The Archdiocese is grateful for these and all other ongoing efforts for the sake of Archbishop Paul and Archbishop John, and all our brothers and sisters suffering in the region.
Letter of Patriarch Kirill to Patriarch John X50.42 KB
Letter of Metropolitan Hilarion to Patriarch John X58.49 KB
Letter of Patriarch Kirill to Mar Ignatius Zakka I Iwas38.8 KB
Letter of Metropolitan Hilarion to Mar Ignatius Zakka I Iwas48.89 KB
Letter of Patriarch Kirill to UN Secretary General Ki-moon53.63 KB
Letter of Patriarch Kirill to US President Obama56.15 KB
Letter of Patriarch Kirill to Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan58.05 KB

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Homily for Palm Sunday in the Orthodox Church

Philippians 4:4-9
John 12:1-18
            Human beings are blessed with the ability to focus on what is most important. So much of what we do at work or school, for example, requires that we tune out distractions and give our minds to the task before us.
            St. Paul reminds us that we especially need to do so in the Christian life by giving our minds to what is true, noble, just, pure, lovely, virtuous, and praise worthy.  Palm Sunday is a time that we all need this reminder as we enter into the mystery of our salvation as Jesus Christ journeys to His cross, descent into Hades, and glorious resurrection.               
            Nothing about this week comes naturally or easily to us.  We understand wanting our enemies to suffer, but not freely suffering for their sake.  We understand religious people judging others with self-righteousness, but not loving sinners to the point of dying on their behalf.  We understanding wanting our side to win, but not that true victory comes by laying aside all that looks like power in this world.  We think that we understand a remote God in the heavens who does not understand how hard life is down here, not One who hangs on a cross, occupies a tomb, and descends to Hades.    
            There are times when what has been cloudy and confused becomes bright and clear, when what has been hidden is made manifest for all to see.  Today is one of those times.  For Jesus Christ, who revealed that He is the resurrection and the life by raising His friend Lazarus from the dead, now enters Jerusalem as the long-awaited Messiah to the welcoming cheers of the crowd. 
            But even before He gets to Jerusalem, the forces of darkness had decided to kill Christ because they could tell that someone who could raise the dead was a threat to their power; for He was neither a conquering general nor a Pharisee-like interpreter of the Law; and those nationalistic religious leaders had no use for a Messiah who did not serve their schemes of domination.
            On Palm Sunday, it becomes clear that the Savior Who enters Jerusalem today is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  He is the Passover Lamb whose death and resurrection will conquer death itself. Mary, Lazarus’ sister, performed a prophetic act when she anointed Christ with the same kind of costly ointment that was used to anoint the bodies of the dead.  This Messiah, this One who is truly anointed to save His people and the whole world, will be rejected by the leaders of the Jews and crucified under the authority of the Romans.  And when He is lifted up upon the Cross, He will draw all who believe in Him-- Jew, Gentile, male, female, rich, poor, all nations, classes, and races—to the life of a Kingdom that transcends this world and our petty divisions.
            Jesus Christ will not reign as a soldier, a politician, or a rich man, but as a Suffering Servant, a slaughtered lamb, a despised victim of torture and capital punishment.   The crowds are right on Palm Sunday to welcome Him as a conquering King in Whom God’s promises will be fulfilled.  But they misunderstand what kind of King He is and how He will conquer.  For He rules from a cross and an empty tomb; instead of killing Roman soldiers, He kills death by allowing Himself to be killed; in the place of a magnificent stallion fit for a king, He rides a humble donkey that would impress no one.
            The crowd is right, “Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel.”  They shout “Hosanna,” which is a plea for God’s salvation to come upon the earth.  And it does through the Lord’s death and glorious resurrection.  But that’s not what the crowds expected; it’s apparently not what the disciples or anyone else anticipated.  For it goes against all our preconceived notions of what it means to be successful, to be powerful, to rule upon the earth, and to be respectable and religious.
            And it’s still a very hard lesson for us to accept, for there is too much of the world in all of us and the demons never work harder than when we are trying to grow closer to Christ. That’s why we need to follow St. Paul’s advice to focus on what is truly holy this week, to rejoice always, and to “let your gentleness be known to all men.”  As St. Paul wrote, “The Lord is at hand” which is never more true than on this feast as He enters Jerusalem to the cheers of the crowds.   
            In Holy Week, what had been cloudy becomes clear; the truth is out in the open and we cannot ignore it any longer.  Jesus Christ is the Passover Lamb, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world.  He is our Champion, our Savior, our King, yet in His humility and love, the incarnate Son of God suffers on the cross as the lowest of the low in order to bring us to the heights of heaven and the joy of life eternal through His empty tomb.
And this week we journey with Him to that cross, becoming participants in His passion.   Like Lazarus, we sit at table with Him.  Like Mary, we anoint Him for burial.  Like those gathered in Jerusalem, we welcome Him with palms and praises.   Like the disciples, we eat the Passover with Him; like His mother Mary the Theotokos, the other faithful women, and the Apostle John, we kneel before His cross.  Like Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, we bury Him.  And like the stunned myrrh-bearers and the doubting apostles, we will marvel at the unspeakable joy of His resurrection.  For what looks like complete failure is actually total triumph, as we will see in the early hours of next Sunday.   
Holy Week is the climax of Jesus Christ’s life and of ours, too.  For He goes to the cross for us; He dies and rises for our salvation, to bring us into the unending joy of eternal life, to defeat our ancient foe.  So it’s time to lay aside our usual distractions, excuses, and obsessions, and enter into the passion of our Lord by worshiping Him in the services of the church, as well as in every thought, word, and deed this week.  If we can’t attend literally every service, can all pray at home, read the Bible passages for Holy Week, and give less attention to the world and more to God.
It’s time to embrace the great mystery of our salvation, of our Savior’s infinite love and mercy, and thus share already in the blessedness of the Kingdom of Heaven.  Holy Week is the time to enter into the Light that shines brightly even from the terror of the cross and the darkness of the tomb.  Yes, our Savior has endured all these evils for us purely out of love; and He will soon rise over them triumphantly. 
On Palm Sunday, it is clear who Jesus Christ is:  The Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world.  How will we respond to Him as He goes to the cross for us? Hopefully, with the fear of God and faith and love, we will draw near and not abandon or disregard Him.      
Yes, that will take intentional focus and the discipline to turn away from temptations, distractions, and unholy thoughts that become obstacles along our path.  Nonetheless, we must follow St. Paul’s guidance to “Be anxious for nothing” and allow “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding…[to] guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”  
“Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, the king of Israel.  Hosanna in the highest!” 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

There is Hope for Power-Hungry Disciples, a Prostitute, and Us: Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Great Lent in the Orthodox Church

Hebrews 9:11-14
Mark 10:32-45

           The tragic events of the last week both in Boston and in West have reminded us all of the brokenness, pain, and corruption of life in the world as we know it.  God did not create humanity for terrorist bombings, industrial explosions, fear, mourning, and suffering, but to participate in the peace, joy, and holiness of the heavenly Kingdom even as we live in the world He created.  As we near the end of Lent this year, we should have no illusions about how far human beings have fallen short of fulfilling the Lord’s purposes for us.
            His reign has nothing to do with the pursuit of worldly glory and power of the sort that James and John sought by asking Christ for positions of honor.   Our Savior told them that they did not know what they were asking, for to follow Him into the Kingdom will require that they drink the cup and undergo the baptism of suffering and death.  The Lord reminded them that “even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”  The world still looks down upon humble self-less service that puts others first, but that is the way of Christ’s salvation and of all true discipleship.  
            On this fifth Sunday of Great Lent, we remember St. Mary of Egypt, someone who also had to abandon the ways of the world in order to follow Christ.  She had been a prostitute and a slave to her own perverse sexual passions.   Her life was an obscene scandal, but that changed when an invisible force prevented her from entering the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.  She then asked for the help of the Theotokos, entered the church to venerate the Holy Cross, and obeyed a divine command to spend the rest of her life in repentance and strict asceticism as a hermit in the desert.  When the monk Zosima stumbled upon her almost 50 years later, he was amazed at her holiness.  But like all the saints, she was aware only of her sins and her ongoing need for God’s mercy.
            Like hateful violence, sexual immorality stands as another symptom of fallen humanity’s spiritual disease.  Regardless of what is popular or easy today, the faithful and lifelong union of man and woman in marriage remains the only context for the sexual joining of two human beings that the Body of Christ has ever blessed or affirmed. Marriage is a sign of the relationship between Christ and the Church and is ultimately for our growth in holiness, for our salvation.  Passions and desires may tempt us to other kinds of behaviors and relationships, whether we are married or single. Regardless of the particulars, no kind of physical union outside of true marriage provides a way to participate more fully in Christ’s victory over sin and death.  We will only make our spiritual state worse by engaging in other activities.     
            St. Mary of Egypt presents a powerful counter-cultural example that, yes, it is possible to resist even deeply rooted temptations and to turn away from corrupt ways of living that have become all too familiar.  Do not accept the lie that life was so much easier for people long ago.  Human nature has not changed and our struggles today are surely no harder than hers.  When St. Mary of Egypt prayed before the icon of the Theotokos, she acknowledged for the first time the sad truth about her life.  She had heard in the past that Jesus Christ came to save sinners, and now she knew that she was one.  And that humble confession was the beginning of a life of such holiness that we devote a Sunday in Lent each year to her memory.
            Have you ever noticed that we do not hide repentant sinners in our Church? Instead, we put them on icons and sing about them because they are wonderful examples of the kind of people we hope to become by God’s mercy. So take heart and keep hope alive.  The same Lord who patiently corrected power-hungry disciples and who made a great saint out of an enthusiastic prostitute wants to make each of us shine with the light of holiness also.  But for that to happen, we have to follow their example of repentance by humbly setting right what has gone wrong in our lives, serving others in humility, and fighting even our deeply rooted and most appealing passions.
            Yes, in Christ Jesus there is hope for us all, no matter what we have done or who we have become.  Now, so near the end of Lent, it is time to get over our pride and embarrassment, to take the medicine of confession and repentance, and to follow our Savior to His cross and empty tomb.  For He is still the One who brings light into our darkened world and heals all our wounds.  

Saturday, April 13, 2013

"Lord, I Believe; Help My Unbelief": Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Lent in the Orthodox Church

Hebrews 6:13-20
Mark 9:17-30
           Sometimes we stand before God with more doubt than belief, with more despair than hope.  Sometimes our worries and fears increase; the joy of life slips away and we feel rotten.  Maybe it’s our health, the problems of our loved ones, stress about a busy schedule, or other matters at home, at work, or with our friends.  We are sometimes simply at the end of our rope.
            If you feel that way today or ever have in your life, you can begin to sympathize with the father of the demon-possessed young man in today’s gospel reading.  Since childhood, his son had had life-threatening seizures and convulsions. With the broken heart of a parent who has little hope for his child’s healing, the man cries out, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.”  Christ’s disciples had lacked the spiritual strength to cast out the demon, but the Lord Himself healed him.  We can only imagine how grateful the man and his son were for this blessing.
            And imagine how embarrassed the disciples were.  The Lord had referred to them as part of a “faithless generation” and asked how long he would have to put with them.  He told them that demons like this “can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting,” spiritual exercises designed to strengthen our faith and to purify our souls.  Not only were the disciples unable to cast out the demon, they could not even understand the Savior’s prediction of His own death and resurrection.   At this point in the journey, they were not great models of faithfulness.
            In fact, the best example of faithfulness in this story is the unnamed father.  He wants help for his child, and he tells the truth about himself.  His faith was imperfect; he had doubts; his hopes for his son’s healing had been crushed many times before.  He said to Christ, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us.”  In other words, he wasn’t entirely sure if the Lord could heal his son.  All that he could do was to cry out with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” 
            And in doing so, he showed that he had the spiritual clarity that the disciples lacked, for he knew the weakness of his faith.  Still, with every ounce of his being He called to the Lord for mercy.  He received it and the young man was set free.
            If we have taken Lent seriously at all this year, we will have become at least a bit like this honest father when our struggles with spiritual disciplines have shown us our weakness.  When we pray, we often welcome distractions; and it’s so easy not to pray at all.  When we set out to fast from food or something else to which we have become too attached, we often become angry and frustrated.  When we try to forgive and be reconciled with others, memories of past wrongs and fears about the future often overcome our good intentions.    We wrestle with our passions just a bit, and they get the better of us.   We so easily do, think, and say things that aren’t holy at all.  We put so much else before loving God and our neighbors.  Lent is good at breaking down our illusions of holiness, at giving us a clearer picture of our spiritual state.  And often we don’t like what we see.   
            If that’s where you are today, take heart, for Jesus Christ came to show mercy upon people like the father in our gospel lesson.   That man knew his weakness, he did not try to hide it, and he honestly threw himself on the mercy of the Lord.  He made no excuses; he did not justify himself; he did not complain.  He did not hide his doubt and frustration before God.   He did not wallow in wounded pride, obsess about his imperfections, or worry about what someone else would think of him. Instead, he simply acknowledged the truth about his situation and called upon Christ with every ounce of his being for help with a problem that had broken his heart.
We don’t know how religious this man appeared to anyone else.   Perhaps his fasting had been his many years of selfless struggle to care for his son; perhaps his prayers had always been focused on the boy’s healing.  But we do know that this man, in humility and honesty, received the mercy of Jesus Christ when he called to Him.
With whatever level of spiritual clarity we possess, with whatever amount of faith in our souls, with whatever doubts, fears, weaknesses, and sins that beset us, let us all follow his example of opening the wounds of our hearts and lives to the Lord.  Jesus Christ heard this man’s prayer; He brought new life to his son.  And He will do the same for us, when we fall before Him in honest repentance, knowing that our only hope is in the great mercy that He has always shown to sinners like you and me whose faith leaves a lot to be desired.
If we need a reminder of the importance of taking Confession this Lent, this gospel passage should help us.    Christ did not reject a father who was brutally honest about his imperfect faith, but instead responded to his confession with abundant grace, healing, and love.  He will do the same for each of us who stand before His icon with the humble plea for forgiveness, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.”  There is no better way to prepare to follow our Savior to the agony of the cross and the joy of the empty tomb.         

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Adoration of the Holy Cross: Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent in the Orthodox Church

Hebrews 4:14-5:6
Mark 8:34-9:1
             In any kind of difficult challenge, it’s always inspiring to know that you are half way to the end.  It might be a race, a school year, or a project at work; if you’ve made it this far, you know that you can eventually reach your goal.
            We are now half way through the season of Lent, and the Church calls our attention today to the great symbol of victory, the great sign of hope, our Lord’s cross.  During the time of Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry, of course, no one was inspired by the cross, for it was a feared instrument of execution.  No one honored the cross and certainly no one thought that God’s Messiah would die on one. 
            So it was profoundly shocking when the Savior told His disciples that He would be rejected, suffer, die, and rise again.  When St. Peter tried to correct Him, Christ called him “Satan” and said that he was thinking in human terms, not God’s.  Then the Lord told the disciples what they didn’t want to hear.  They too must take up their crosses and lose their lives; that’s the way to enter into the blessed salvation of the Kingdom of Heaven.
            The hard truth that Jesus Christ broke to His disciples was that we can’t jump ahead to the joy of the empty tomb.  We must first go with our Lord to the cross; we too must die in order to rise again. And the unpopular truth is that every last one of us needs to die to our sinfulness, to how we have distorted ourselves, our relationships, and our world.  The Son of God offered Himself in free obedience to the Holy Trinity, taking upon Himself the full consequences of sin and death to the point of a horrible execution; He did so out of love for us.   And thus He opened the way to the Kingdom of heaven, to life eternal, for you, me, and all humankind; indeed, for the entire creation.   
            And that way is the cross, for if we want to share in the joy of His resurrection, of His victory over death, we must first participate in the struggle, pain, and sacrifice of crucifixion.  We must crucify the habits of thought, word, and deed that lead us to worship and serve ourselves instead of God and neighbor.  We must kill our pride, our selfishness, and our slavery to pleasure.         If we don’t crucify these passions, our souls will be too sick, dark, and weak to share in the glory of the resurrection.  Like St. Peter, we will think in human terms, not God’s, no matter how religious or moral we appear to others.   
            And the reality is that we have no shortage of opportunities to take up our crosses.  When we struggle to resist a temptation, when we battle angry thoughts against those who have wronged or somehow irritated us, and when we endure deep sorrows and disappointments with trust in God’s faithfulness and mercy, we take up the cross. 
            Fortunately, we do not go to the cross alone.  No matter what we are tempted to think at times, our Savior is no stranger to temptation, suffering, pain, and death. He sympathizes with our struggles because He endured them.  He was literally nailed to a cross, died, was buried, and descended into Hades in order to bring the joy of life eternal to corrupt, weak, imperfect people like you and me through His glorious third-day resurrection.  And in order to follow Him to the joy of Pascha, we must likewise take up our cross.
            So as we begin the second half of Lent, let us keep our eyes on the prize, looking to the great trophy of our Savior’s victory over sin and death, the cross, through which joy has come into all the world.  And even though it is a struggle and none of us does it particularly well, let us put aside our own preferences and obsessions in order to take up the cross through prayer, fasting, forgiveness, mending broken relationships, and showing generosity to those in need.   Let us offer our lives in free obedience to the Father, accepting whatever pain and struggle there may be in setting things right in our lives as best we can.  And no matter what burdens we may bear, no matter our frustrations and failures, let us press on the joy of Pascha.  Jesus Christ participated in death in order to bring us into His life, and we must participate in His death in order to share in the glory of His resurrection.  So let us deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Him.  For this alone is the way to the brilliant light and eternal blessedness of the Kingdom of God.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Dr. Paul Meyendorff Speaks at Abilene Christian University and St. Luke Orthodox Church, Abilene

Abilene, Texas: Dr. Meyendorff Speaks on the Sacraments of Eucharist and Confession

21–24 March 2013 • Off–Campus
The Fr. Alexander Schmemann Professor of Liturgical Theology at St. Vladimir's Seminary Dr. Paul Meyendorff traveled to Abilene, TX recently to offer one of the main addresses at an academic colloquy on "Eucharist and Ecclesiology" at Abilene Christian University. The conference, held in honor of Abilene's professor of Church History, Emeritus, Dr. Everett Ferguson, featured three keynote speakers. At the opening plenary session, Dr. Meyendorff presented a paper entitled "Church and Eucharist in the Orthodox Tradition." The colloquy brought together forty scholars and graduate students from the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Church of Christ traditions.Dr. Meyendorff speaks at a 2012 conference in honor of his father, Protopresbyter John MeyendorffDr. Meyendorff speaks at a 2012 conference in honor of his father, Protopresbyter John Meyendorff
One of the other Orthodox participants, SVOTS Board of Trustees Corporate Secretary The Rev. Dr. Philip LeMasters, presented a paper on "Eastern Orthodox Social Ethics in the Anaphora of St. Basil the Great" in one of the study groups. Father Philip is professor of Religion, director of the Honors Program, and dean of the School of Social Sciences and Religion at McMurry University in Abilene, and in 2011 he presented the keynote address for St. Vladimir's annual Education Day.
Fr. Philip LeMastersFr. Philip LeMastersFollowing the conference, Dr. Meyendorff led a parish retreat on the theme of the Sacrament of Confession at St. Luke Orthodox Christian Church in Abilene (Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America), where Fr. Philip serves as the rector. Noted Fr. Philip, "Professor Meyendorff unfolded for us the historical development of the practice of confession, and then responded to questions from parishioners during a lively discussion time. Those who attended learned a great deal and were most appreciative for the spiritual encouragement provided by his presentation, coming as it did at the beginning of Great Lent."