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Archive for August, 2004

From Touchstone ‘s 31 August Mere Comments:

Bishop Hilarion of Vienna and Austria

Intervention at the meeting of the Plenary Commission on “Faith and Order”, Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), 30 July 2004

The “Faith and Order” paper No 181, “The Nature and Mission of the Church”, includes a section on “communion real but not fully realised”. This section contains the following statement:

One blessing of the ecumenical movement has been the gradual and increasing discovery of the many aspects of life in Christ, which our still divided churches share; we already enjoy a real, if imperfect communion.

I would like to challenge the very notion of “a real if imperfect communion”, which appears also in other “Faith and Order” documents in various modifications. This notion seems to me to be questionable, misleading and deceitful. The only “real” communion that could exist between Christians is Eucharistic communion, and if we do not have a common Eucharist, it means that there is no “real” communion among us. We may–and indeed should–lament about this fact, but we should not deny it and pretend that we have already reached, or almost reached, the koinonia which is to be the crown of our ecumenical endeavour. [Emphasis added]

Our inability to share the Eucharist, in turn, reflects the most profound division in dogma, spirituality, ethics, in the very experience of faith that exist among various bodies calling themselves “Christian churches”. Metropolitan Gennadios of Sassima in his response to the paper in question has rightly pointed out that “there is little ontological unity and little agreement among those. who confess Christ as God and Saviour”. And let us be honest to one another and not pretend that the question is about a “unity in diversity”: we are deeply disunited, in spite of almost a century of the ecumenical movement. [Emphasis added]

The tragedy of contemporary Christianity, I believe, consists in the fact that, while we are all engaged in a laudable struggle for unity, processes are underway within some Christian communities which alienate us from one another ever more profoundly. And I think it is no longer the divisions between the Catholics and the Protestants, or the Orthodox and the Reformed, or one confessional family and another that should be an object of our primary attention. We must address very seriously the fundamental discrepancy between the traditional and the liberal versions of Christianity.

I believe that the recent liberalization of “faith and order”, of dogma and morality within a number of Western churches of the Reformation has alienated them from the traditional churches–notably from the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches–more than several preceding centuries of Protestant history. As a result of this liberalization and in spite of many decades of ecumenical quest for unity, we are now more profoundly divided among ourselves than ever before.

I would like to conclude my intervention by a plea to take more seriously the tragedy of division existing among Christians of different confessions, and to look more honestly at the sources of our disunity instead of pretending that the “real”–even if “imperfect”– communion which we are all seeking is already achieved. [Emphasis added]

Leave it to an Orthodox bishop to say it straight. It’s strong medicine, but it’s medicine we so desparately need.

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“Making Eucharist”?

I came across a phrase recently that has raised some questions for me. I’ve read it on some of the blogs I read, and have heard it in some conversations among friends. “Making Eucharist.” As I understand the phrase, it’s meant to indicate what the celebrant does as part of the Lord’s Supper/Eucharist; he or she “makes Eucharist.”

But the more I’ve heard this phrase, the more it has become deeply offensive to me. As I understand the Eucharist, we humans do not make anything. We entreat, in faith, the Holy Spirit to come down upon the gifts of bread and wine and make them the Body and Blood of Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who makes the Eucharist; we receive it. This is no magical mumbo jumbo or sacerdotal mojo: it is a gift of the Holy Spirit. And indeed, this Eucharist makes the Church; apart from it, there is a group of people, but in and through it this group of people become the Body of Christ.

So when I hear someone say something like “Let’s go make Eucharist,” it is seriously bothersome to me. I am deeply saddened and hurt at what seems to me like a failure to honor the work of God in the Eucharist.

But, let me be quick to say that I may be misunderstanding a) what those who use the phrase “make Eucharist” really mean, and/or b) what the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist actually is.

Would any of my readers care to address this question for me?

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In two earlier posts (18 May and 11 June), and as the first item in this post, I have made reference to answers to prayers which have come about in conjunction with asking for the intercessions of St. John the Wonderworker.

To summarize: concerned about providing adequately for my family, but not (then) making a very adequate income, I prayed that somehow it would work out that my willingness to work would be matched with opportunities to work honorably and provide for my family’s needs. As it happened, shortly after beginning to pray that prayer, I was able to begin working full time at Northwestern’s library (where I’ve worked for the past three years now) and I was assigned a summer class to teach. We also received a very timely (and swift) tax refund check–the very day I asked St. John’s prayers that we would receive it soon (we had been expecting it, but not quite that fast). And, when we could have been made to pay a very costly ticket related to our car accident, the other party failed to show, and the ticket was nullified.

Just yesterday, another answer to prayer came about. I have really felt that I needed to teach at least two classes this fall to make ends meet. But I only had one class definitely assigned to me. Another class was “in the works” but enrollment was low and there was serious doubt about whether the college would go forward with the class. One deadline for a decision came, and there was enough of an uptick in enrollment that another deadline was set. I learned yesterday that the college decided to go ahead with the class, so I will be teaching two classes.

I could understand if I’d asked St. John’s intercessions for one need, and that prayer was answered, how one who otherwise believed in answers to prayer might be skeptical whether St. John really did intercede for us. But here a good almost half-dozen specific prayers have explicitly sought St. John’s intercessions since late spring/early summer, and each of those have been answered. Clearly God hears the prayers of his people, and clearly the saints who are part of the Church Triumphant pray for us.

I hasten to add that I do not see in this some sort of “magical formula.” With regard to this class I just got assigned: I was prepared to receive a negative answer from God, and prepared to work at finding ways to make our finances work. I knew that St. John would only ask God that which was for our souls’ salvation. Maybe having two classes would not be good for my salvation or that of my family. So I’m well aware that simply because I ask St. John’s intercessions for a particular need is no “guarantee” that I’ll get what I ask for. To reiterate: this ain’t magic.

But this “rate of answered prayer” has me wondering: should I take on St. John as the patron saint of our family? He clearly has demonstrated his love and care for our family and our financial needs. At the risk of asking a really foolish question: How does one decide on a family patron saint? My own personal patrons are St. Benedict of Nursia and Blessed Seraphim Rose. Dare I “make” St. John Maximovitch our family patron?

[Note: I should add that with the exception of the first paragraph, this post is an email I sent to my priest this morning.]

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“Christianity in practice, and monasticism above all, is a matter of staying in one place and struggling with all one’s heart for the Kingdom of Heaven. One may be called to do the work of God elsewhere, or may be moved about by unavoidable circumstances; but without the basic and profound desire to endure everything for God in one place without running away, one will scarcely be able to put down the roots required in order to bring forth spiritual fruits. Unfortunately, with the ease of modern communications one may even sit in one spot and still concern oneself with everything but the one thing needful—with everyone else’s business, with all the church gossip, and not with the concentrated labor needed to save one’s soul in this evil world.

“In a famous passage of the Institutes, St. Cassian warns the monks of his time to ‘flee women and bishops. . . .’ Women, of course, tempt by means of the flesh, and bishops by means of ordination to the priesthood and in general by the vainglory of acquaintance with those in high positions. Today this warning remains timely, but for the monks of the twentieth century one can add a further warning: Flee from telephones, traveling, and gossip—for they will cool your ardor and make you, even in your monastic cell, the plaything of worldly desires and influences.”

Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works, p. 459

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Memento Mori

We are called to make a life of faith, a way of living, from the flotsam and jetsam of daily moments and events. Here’s one such piece from my life today.

He said: “I was in my early forties,
With a lot of life before me,
An’ a moment came that stopped me on a dime.
I spent most of the next days,
Looking at the x-rays,
An’ talking ’bout the options an’ talkin’ ‘bout sweet time.”
I asked him when it sank in,
That this might really be the real end?
How’s it hit you when you get that kind of news?
Man what’d ya do?
(more…)

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[T]he less you think of spiritual life in the abstract and the more you are just struggling in the labors of daily life, praying according to your strength . . . the better for you. Orient yourself towards zealous Orthodoxy, and then just struggle from day to day, and God will give you wisdom.

Letters from Father Seraphim, p. 133

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“We are told by the Holy Fathers,” Eugene [Fr. Seraphim] explained elsewhere, “that we are supposed to see in everything something for our salvation. If you can do this, you can be saved.

“In a pedestrian way, you can look at something like a printing press which does not operate. You are standing around and enjoying yourself, watching nice, clean, good pages come out printed, which gives a very nice sense of satisfaction, and you are dreaming of missionary activity, of spreading more copies around to a lot of different countries. But in a while it begins to torture you, to shoot pages right and left. The pages begin to stick and to tear each other on top. You see that all those extra copies you made are vanishing, destroying each other, and in the end you are so tense that all you can do is sort of stand there and say the Jesus Prayer as you try to make everything come out all right. Although that does not fill one with a sense of satisfaction (as would watching the nice, clean copies come out automatically), spiritually it probably does a great deal more, because it makes you tense and gives you the chance to struggle. But if instead of that you just get so discouraged that you smash the machine, then you have lost the battle. The battle is not how many copies per hour come out: the battle is what your soul is doing. If your soul can be saved while producing words that can save others, all the better; but if you are producing words that can save others and are all the time destroying your own soul, it’s not so good.”

Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works, p. 380

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