October 24

Shepherds or Butchers?

Fr. Alexander Schmemann

Clericalism suffocates; it makes part of itself into the whole sacred character of the Church; it makes its power a sacred power to control, to lead, to administer; a power to perform sacraments, and, in general, it makes any power a power given to me! Clericalism separates all “sacredness” from the lay people: the iconostasis, communion (only by permission), theology. In short, clericalism is de facto denial of the Church as the body of Christ, for in the body, all organs are related and different only in their functions, but not in their essence. And the more clericalism clericalizes (the traditional image of the bishop or the priest emphasized by his clothes, hair, e.g., the bishop in full regalia!) the more the Church itself becomes more worldly; spiritually submits itself to this world. In the New Testament, the priest is presented as the ideal layman. But almost immediately there begins his increasingly radical separation from the lay people; and not only separation, but opposition to lay people, contrast to them. The tragedy of theological education lies in the fact that young people who seek priesthood are consciously or unconsciously seeking this separation, power, this rising above the laity. Their thirst is strengthened and generated by the whole system of theological education, of clericalism. ~Fr. Alexander Schmemann [Journals, pp. 310 & 311]

Fr. Alexander had a way of cutting to the core of things that I have always found refreshing. Having read, and enjoyed, many of his books, I found his journals (published posthumously) to be the one of the most honest and refreshing things I have ever read from an Orthodox clergyman. In the section above, as on other occasions, he reflects on clericalism, specifically from the vantage point of the Dean of a seminary, having seen scores of young men pass through the doors of his institution, many times I’m sure after the wrong things.
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October 12

The Seduction of Being Right

photo courtesy of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Ottawa

“People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway. If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway. For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It never was between you and them anyway. ~Mother Teresa

There are many ways that the Enemy seduces men into falling away from God. One of the more sinister and silent is the seduction of being “right” and placing oneself above others. Basically, it’s the sin of vainglory and nothing more than the original sin of pride. That’s not to say that there is no truth and no right or wrong. It’s simply to say that mankind can often follow a sad preoccupation with being “right” about things, and finding comfort in being part of the “right” group, rather than solace in God. I am an Orthodox Christian, in the classical and canonical sense, and I’m grateful and happy to be so. There is sanity to be found in Orthodoxy, especially with more and more Christians apostasizing from the ancient faith than ever before. However, I’m sitting here thinking about Orthodoxy, and about growing up Evangelical Orthodox, and then joining the OCA and about where I’m at right now. I keep thinking about the danger of being preoccupied with being “right”. I don’t mean searching for the Truth, but more the need to be right and have a “security” in feeling a part of THE Church and an adherent to the “right” way. I’m all for orthodoxy and the Truth, but it seems to me that a large portion of time is spent on debating and defining that truth. Jesus is the answer and the Church is His body, and ultimately the Gospel and the commandments are very simple – Love the Lord God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. And, also, as St. James says, “…pure religion is this: to take care of orphans and widows in their suffering, and to keep oneself from being corrupted by the world.”
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July 2

Summer Camp & Longing

Rejoice!

“It was when I was happiest that I longed most. The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing to find the place where all the beauty came from.” ~C.S. Lewis

It’s time for Summer Camp again, and once again I find myself full of longing. It’s not always around Camp time, but it does seem to get stronger at this time of year. The quote from Lewis, above, sums it up better than I could ever say it. Jack has a way of doing that.

Perhaps some of you can relate, and perhaps not. Perhaps I’m truly crazy, but so many times throughout my life I have had such a strong sense of longing – a longing to see “home” – not to leave this life that is so wonderful, but to get back to where it is that I came from. I know I’ve said these things before, probably too often, but it is what it is and I can’t seem to shake it. God seems so close and yet sometimes so far away. Heaven is there and yet I can’t quite seem to grasp it. The way a tree sways, or a scent on the breeze in mid-summer, or even the color of the azure sky; all of these can sometimes have an ethereal feeling about them. There are times when many of these things remind me of something, and it’s not a nostalgic feeling but much more of a longing. The imprint of Eden remains despite the corruption that exists, and I can see it through what would seem to be a very thin veil.

I think others feel this way as well. I find myself surrounded by artists and musicians, poets and writers, all of whom feel lost, disillusioned, and like they’re not fulfilling their own purpose. We all believe and are often able to see, even if in nothing more than a glimpse, the influence of God all around us. And yet, we continue to drudge along at jobs that stifle, and stay silent at churches that are asleep.

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May 19

It’s Too Heavy For Me To Carry

Heavy Burden 1

It is damp and dreary here in West Indy, but the flowers on my porch and in my yard are in full bloom, and that makes all the difference. I’m sure some hate the thought of “yard work” or anything to do with planting and keeping something growing alive, but for me it’s bliss to have a few hours alone with nothing more than dirt, plants, and silence. I haven’t always been this way, but the older I’ve gotten, and the more chaotic things are with the rest of life, the more I’ve come to cherish the brief, shining moments in my little garden. In many ways the simple task of planting something and watching it grow, while at the same time adding beauty and color to an otherwise drab exterior – well, it reminds me of something else; something bigger and older and quite simply, better than most of what I see and hear around me.

The flowers and plants remind me that some things in this life are still beautiful and worth fighting for – my wife and marriage, my Godchildren, my family and friends, and the Good and Truth that remains here against all odds. I find that God places little reminders everywhere, and usually they come right when I need them. And hence, the reason for this post. I mentioned in the last update that I would be telling some of the stories of living with 3 children not my own and the dramatic change that this has brought upon my wife and I. This is one of many, and like my flowers, it’s one way in which God has broken through the haze and blur of postmodern life and stirred this otherwise cold and sleepy heart.

The last couple weeks have been particularly trying for us as parents. Due to some unfortunate…

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