Thursday, September 13, 2007

What’s in a name?

This Article was met by some resistance when originally published. Some thought that I was advocating the abandonment of all Greek in our parish -- but such was not the case. Our concern must be for the one, holy, orthodox, catholic faith and the spread of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus. We can honor heritage, but not allow that hertiage to get in the way. Those coming home to Orthodoxy surely must respect the long history of those who brought this Holy Faith to the United States -- and those of the varying Ethnic Backgrounds must Remember that we are Orthodox and Greek or Serbian or Russian. To become Orthodox does not mean becoming Greek or Russian!

One of my fondest memories of our coming to Orthodoxy happened just after our Chrismation. As we came into the fellowship hall for the Evening in Athens that was in progress, Angelo approached, and with a twinkle in his eye said, “Now, you Greek!” Those of you who have seen “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” will remember that same line after Ian Miller is baptized. Good fun!

I suspect from reports that I have heard, that the same could be stated in any one of a number of Orthodox jurisdictions. “Now, you Russian!” “Now, you Serbian” The list could go on. (This isn’t only an Orthodox thing, either: Lutherans of yesteryear and some of today would say, “Now, you German!” In the first third of the twentieth century, many German Lutheran congregations switched to English because of the anti-German sentiment).

On the one hand, there is not a thing wrong with such light-hearted statements.

But the “dark side” lies in the fact that some, albeit well-intentioned pretty much mean it. That is to say, they will speak of the Greek (or Russian, or Serbian, or …. ) Church and mean just that. Not the Greek ORTHODOX Church, but the GREEK Orthodox Church. That becomes a dangerous thing. It implies, whether it is intended or not, that Christ’s Church is a national thing and that there are many, rather than one, Church.

I am told that if you are in Greece (or Russia, or Serbia or … ) that it is the Orthodox Church that is referenced, or “the Church.” However, when our forefathers came to this country, which has no “state church,” they quite naturally spoke of their Church by their nationality. And it was true that Greeks who came to this country did speak Greek, and Russians Russian, and Serbians Serbian and Romanians, Romanian (and so on), because at that time it was their native tongue.

However, it was the same Divine Liturgy. It was the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. It was Christ’s Church. And that joined all across the nationalistic and ethnic backgrounds. The hierarchs could gather and speak with one voice, although in different languages.

That was then. But we don’t live “then,” but now! And we all rejoice in the faith of Holy Mother Church, we rejoice that we are joined in Christ! And we truly do say to all around, “come and see!”

And we can rejoice that our liturgy is a living liturgy, but that it is the liturgy of the Holy Church and that it doesn’t change willy-nilly with every fad and fancy, as it is a guardian of the truth served by faithful priests and bishops!

However, we are now American. And our language is English. And we want those who join us to see and hear and understand the faith handed down. We do not want to make comments that would suggest that because a person doesn’t share our ethnic background that they are “second class.”

At the same time, we certainly don’t want to lose the timeless beauty of the Greek in the Divine Liturgy (and, of course, those of other backgrounds might say the same).

Our Liturgy, our Church is so rich and full that it takes time to experience it all. Our worship is multi-dimensional, “3-D” or even “4-D” compared to then one dimensional and two dimensional “worship” services of so many others that call themselves church. It takes time to assimilate it, and we certainly don’t want language to be a barrier, nor do we want our own attidudes to become a barrier to the Faith given in Christ!

So, Ezekiel, what are you saying?

First, we can treasure our ethnic backgrounds, but we must guard against allowing those backgrounds to destroy the unity we have in Christ. We dare not suggest that people need “become Greek” or “become Russian” (and the list goes on) to be Orthodox. Treasure the heritage and pass it one, but don’t equate ethnic background with the Church.

I think that we also need do what we can to make our Divine Liturgy accessible to all. That doesn’t mean changing it, but it does mean being aware that many who come are not versed in Greek. It is true that over time one can learn the Greek of the Liturgy, to be sure – but we want all to know what they are saying the “Amen” to! I would be willing to work with Father and with Vassilli to assure that the hymnody of each Sunday and feast is accessible to all. As I look about at Divine Liturgy, I see many who aren’t really aware of the marvelous apolotykia, troparia, and kontakia that are being sung. With words, all could follow and even join in the song of the Church!

Above all, we need to assure that people see the marvel of the Church united in one Eucharistic fellowship over every nation and ethnic background. We want all to see that we are indeed Orthodox, in order that they may see the Church in our country, not merely as a transplant or ethnic oddity. That doesn’t mean that we lose the rich heritage that has been handed down from our ethnic backgrounds – but it does mean that we never let that cloud the fact that we are joined in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, in Christ, in whom there is no Jew nor Greek.

We have received the True Light! And we have received the Heavenly Spirit! Now, we deny our selves, take up our cross and follow Jesus. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

We are Orthodox. We are Christian.

With all humility and love in Christ


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Journey Home

This article was published in our parish newsletter in March, 2006

I (and my wife) were born into Lutheran homes, and we were baptized as infants in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Both of our families were active in their Lutheran congregations, and both of us were raised in “traditional” Lutheran homes.

At the age of about 13, when I was confirmed, my pastor suggested that I consider becoming a Lutheran pastor. I’d never even though of this before. My education began in High School, continued through Junior College and Senior College, and culminated with four years at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. I left the seminary in April of 1972, and was ordained in that month. Karon and I were married in 1968, and our daughter Tracey was born in 1972, son David was born in 1976, both in Cedar Rapids Iowa.

As a Lutheran pastor, I served parishes in Mt. Vernon, Iowa, Troy, Michigan, and finally in Glen Carbon, Illinois. The first and last parishes were “traditional,” in that the Lutheran Liturgy was followed, and Christian growth and training was based the Small Catechism of Dr. Martin Luther and the Lutheran Confessions. The church in Troy, Michigan followed “church growth” techniques of various protestant groups and abandoned even the historic liturgy and teaching of the Lutheran Church.

In the last two decades of my ministry and life as a Lutheran, I was very much concerned that the “deposit of truth” be maintained. My parish in Glen Carbon was liturgical and celebrated Eucharist every Sunday and on feast days. I offered Confession and Absolution, although not many received this. I encouraged daily disciplined prayer, and as I grew in my understanding of the Fathers, encouraged reading and studying them.

However, within Lutheranism, particularly the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, the Confessions of the Church were given lip service, while practically speaking they were abandoned. Although Confession and Absolution were part of what Lutherans confess, the official church body didn’t require the practice. Increasing, any semblance of the historic western liturgy gave way to “pick and choose” when it came to worship. Rather than seeing improvement in these things, or any sort of repentance, things were glossed over. A number of my colleagues and I became very much concerned that Lutheranism, in particular the Missouri Synod, was akin to the Titanic. Everyone was always waiting for the next convention or the next administration to “fix” things, but it didn’t get better.

It couldn’t get better because when one asks wrong questions, one gets wrong answers. And where truth is obscured or made relative, there can be no freedom, but only a constant movement here and there. Prayers and Liturgy are replaced by high sounding doctrinal discussions which leave the people behind and which are aimed only at scoring points. And this is not what the Nicene Creed means when it says “one, holy, catholic and apostolic.” That phrase of the creed has always been very important to me, and to a number of my colleagues. We believed that this Church was visible (not invisible, some idealistic hoped for reunion), alive, well – and as our Lord Christ says: the gates of hell did not prevail against it.

We wrestled with the fact that seriously reading the Confessions of the Lutheran church indicated that there really shouldn’t be a “Lutheran” church at all: for the Reformers were demonstrating that they were actually one with the ancient church. Indeed, it is clear that they would hold to the ancient fathers, to that which the Church had handed down. Their claim was that Rome had ceased doing that – thus a call for Reform!

Three plus years ago, our small group began discussion which included Orthodox of the Antiochean Archdiocese, among them Fr Gordon Walker, one of a group of people from Campus Crusade for Christ that discovered the Fathers, formed an “orthodox” church body, and then discovered that there was an Orthodox Church, the ancient Church. We wrestled and prayed. Initially, although we certainly found large areas of agreement, we were pretty much convinced that Lutherans could still function.

Our prayers and study continued, amidst the crumbling Lutherans. All of us were very much concerned that the Office of the Holy Ministry (the Priesthood) was more often than not not seen as ordained by Christ and given to His Church. Pastors were defined as those selected to carry out things given to every Christian to do. They were literally hired and fired. All of us were very much in the minority in our church body regarding the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Theotokos. Most treated her ever virginity as a “pious opinion, ‘ in spite of the fact that the Church East and West confessed and taught this from the apostolic times.

Lutherans are run by a congregational polity. This is to say that a local congregation has autonomy and can do pretty much as it pleases. Indeed, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod is a “voluntary assembly of congregations,” NOT the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. And as such a body, it really has no bishops. It even uses language that says that every pastor (priest) is a bishop – directly contradicting the teaching of the Fathers and the Church through the ages.

I have wrestled with these things increasingly in these last years. I’ve seen the church body in which I was raised split into many warring factions, its polity becoming a corporate giant concerned with survival and success as the world counts such things. Where was the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church?

And then, in February of 2005, our little group held a retreat at Dormition Monastery in Rives Junction, MI. I was overwhelmed as the Sisters sang the hours, beginning at 5 am, lasting until 7:30 am. I was touched by the Spirit at meals in which idle chatter was non-existent, and during which Fr. Roman Braga read from St Maximos the Confessor. And in evening discussions, this man who had survived Soviet solitary confinement and called it a blessing radiated the quiet peace and love of Christ. We were all deeply moved as Archbishop NATHANIEL spoke with us at an evening “banquet.” He treated us with love and respect and spoke of Christ and His Church in a way that I’d never seen in any President or official of a Lutheran Church Body. It was shortly after this that for me, my journey to Orthodoxy changed from “if” to “when.”

Indeed, one of my parishioners, the man who is now my Godfather, said to me on more than one occasion in the last half of 2005 (after he returned to the Church), “You are Orthodox. How can you continue to serve at a Lutheran altar.” Karon and I were talking (it was probably mostly me at that time) in June already about my increasing discomfort with what calls itself Lutheran.

And then, at Greek Fest this past September, met Fr. Dumitru. He and I “clicked” as they say. Indeed, I felt a closer kinship to him than I did to many of my Lutheran colleagues in office! What a joy that meeting was!

Now the question was “when.” Through some rather harrowing experiences in the fall of 2005, my lovely wife and I determined that the time had come to leave our Lutheran heritage for Orthodoxy. I won’t say much about that time, except that it became very clear that Lutherans have no proper bishops, and that pastors are treated by so many as hirelings. It also became clear that God was moving: He provided very supportive, loving and loyal families (I hope that many of them will soon join us), and the Church has now received us. Fr Dumitru’s “Welcome Home” after our Chrismation on February 6th brought tears of joy and relief.

The Church has indeed survived the onslaughts of hell! And despite the follies and foibles of sinful creatures, the Divine Liturgy continues to give faith! You can be certain that the Church remains in her Heirarchs, Bishops and Priests concerned and sworn to guard the deposit of Truth! Never take that for granted! For here, Christ is in our midst.

“We have seen the true Light. We have received the Heavenly Spirit.

We have found the true Faith, in worshipping the indivisible Trinity,

for He hath saved us.”

Ezekiel +