Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Fr. Meletios Webber on Priesthood and Spiritual Fathers, Part Two

In part two of the interview with Fr. Meletios Webber we discuss the role of the parish priest as spiritual father, crossing jurisdictional lines looking for a spiritual father, confession as counseling, penances, whether you have to take bad advice from a priest, does ordination make a priest clairvoyant, do we need a clairvoyant elder and much more.  Listen HERE

Orthograph #106 - Saving Souls or... ?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Holy Spirit, Priests and Spiritual Fathers - Part One

Fr. Meletios Webber, the Abbot of St. John of San Francisco Monastery was in town last weekend and gave a retreat that I recorded.  I also got to spend a couple hours with him recording an interview on the "grace of ordination", the role of the priest in parish life and his role as a spiritual father.  Some of the questions I ask in the interview:  What "lack" is made up by the Holy Spirit in ordination?   Does the priesthood make a man clairvoyant and infallible? Is your parish priest your default spiritual father? What if you don't like him? Do you have to take advice given to you in confession if you think its wrong? What about penances? What does it mean if your priest floats 3 feet off the ground? All this and more...  Listen HERE

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Drop the Filioque

During the recent Papal visit in England the Fox News captured a young man holding up an uncommon protest sign demanding the removal of the filioque from the Creed.  While that is normally seen as an "Orthodox/Catholic" issue, it was immediately clear to me from the picture that this young man was not Orthodox. 

Monday, September 20, 2010

Saints and Evangelism

In the saint there exists nothing that is trivial, nothing coarse, nothing base, nothing affected (fake), nothing insincere. In him is the culmination of delicacy, sensibility, transparency, purity, reverence, attention before the mystery of his fellow men…comes into actual being, for he brings this forth from his communication with the supreme Person (God). The saint grasps the various conditions of the soul in others and avoids all that would upset them, although he does not avoid helping them overcome their weaknesses. He reads the least articulate needs of others and fulfills it promptly, just as he reads their impurities also, however skillfully hidden and through the delicate power of his own purity, exercising upon them a purifying action. From the saint there continually radiates a spirit of self-giving and of sacrifice for the sake of all, with no concern for himself, a spirit that gives warmth to others and assures them that they are not alone. … And yet there is no one more humble, more simple, no one more less artificial, less theatrical or hypocritical, no one more “natural” in his behavior, accepting all that is truly human and creating an atmosphere that is pure and familiar. The saint has overcome any duality within himself as St. Maximos the Confessor puts it. He has overcome the struggle between soul and body, the divergence between good intentions and deeds that do not correspond to them, between deceptive appearance and hidden thoughts, between what claims to be the case and what is the case. He has become simple, therefore, because he has surrendered himself entirely to God. That is why he can surrender himself entirely in communication with others.
The saint always lends courage; at times, through a humor marked by this same delicacy, he shrinks the delusions created by fears or pride or the passions. He smiles, but does not laugh sarcastically; he is serious but not frightened. He finds value in the most humble persons, considering them to be great mysteries created by God and destined to eternal communion with Him. Through humility the saint makes himself almost unobserved, but he appears when there is need for consolation, for encouragement or help. For him no difficulty is insurmountable, because he believes firmly in the help of God sought through prayer. He is the most human and humble of beings, yet at the same time of an appearance that is unusual and amazing and gives rise in others to the sense of discovering in him, and in themselves too, what is truly human. He is a presence simultaneously most dear, and unintentionally, most impressing, the one who draws the most attention. For you he becomes the most intimate one of all and the most understanding; you never feel more at ease than near him, yet at the same time he forces you into a corner and makes you see your moral inadequacies and failings. He overwhelms you with the simple greatness of his purity and with the warmth of his goodness and makes you ashamed of how far you have fallen away from what is truly human, of how far you have sunk in your impurity, artificiality, superficiality, and duplicity, for these appear in sharp relief in the comparison you make unwillingly between yourself and him. He exercises no worldly power, he gives no harsh commands, but you feel in him an unyielding firmness in his convictions, his life, in the advice he gives, and so his opinion about what you should do, expressed with delicacy or by a discreet look, becomes for you a command and to fulfill that command you find yourself capable of any effort or sacrifice…

Who ever approaches a saint discovers in him the peak of goodness, purity, and spiritual power covered over by the veil of humility. He is the illustration of the greatness and power of kenosis. From the saint there radiates an imperturbable quiet or peace and simultaneously a participation in the pain of others that reaches the point of tears. He is rooted in the loving and suffering stability of God Incarnate and rest in the eternity of the power and goodness of God….
Dimitru Staniloae. The Experience of God, Holy Cross Press, pp. 232-234

If our lives were even close to being like this among the people we meet day to day, there would be no need for programs, advertising, campaigns, cultural relevance, techniques, classes, seeker friendly services and contrived hype. The only relevance that is real, has integrity and is grounded in the life in Christ is personal relevance: one to one, face to face, incarnational encounters with people. When people are objectified as demographics or as personal evangelistic projects, God becomes the agent of affectation, condescension, duplicity, schemes and phoniness. Because we are not personally an icon of Christ, we create an "image" for our churches to draw people in.  Because we are not saints we learn techniques and methods designed to manipulate people, and our personal personas become a well-crafted facade. We employ external techniques because we are still fragmented by sin, we lack integrity, the inner seamlessness of holiness.  Methods are calculated schemes, a snare for the unwary and feeble, for the undiscerning needy or the just plain desperately hungry who take our bait. But techniques and programs are not love, they are a camouflaged trap and the outsider, the sinner is the prey. In the end we trap the "man" but kill his spirit when he discovers he was a demographic target or hand picked as a project to be worked over no matter how friendly the spiritual mugging was.

So, how do we evangelize and "engage the culture"?  I think the answer is this: There is no Orthodox service for the baptism of a "culture".  There is only one baptism: of persons, and one at a time. The "Church" does not engage cultures, saints encounter people. When enough people live as saints and enough persons are baptized because of those encounters, cultures change.  (But even so, cultural relevance or baptism of a culture is still not the goal, the salvation of the person is.  An "Orthodox culture" guarantees nothing personally to anyone.  Modern Greece with the highest promiscuity and abortion rate in Europe along with its abysmal percentage of church attendance of baptized Orthodox at least anecdotally indicates that having an "Orthodox culture" is no guarantee that "Orthodoxy" is influential culturally or personally).

If the Church is to be relevant, the Church has to be relevant to each member, they must engage its agenda to make one a saint. And its members as saints are personally relevant to people. It is impossible for the Church to be relevant to "the world" apart from its creation of saints within it. Putting up websites, hanging banners or doing programs to attract a demographic and then working "the plan" on those they attract is a cheap back up because we have few saints among us who walk in the world as salt and light.  Madison Avenue and market research replace the "fragrant aroma of Christ" (II Cor. 2:14ff), the beauty of "love unfeigned" (Rom. 12:9) in the image of Christ to attract people to Faith. 

A phony, insincere, arrogant, base, impure, irreverent, insulting, impatient, selfish, egoistical, narcissistic, angry, harsh, judgmental, rude and impious person is irrelevant to everyone. The Saint needs no banner, no website, no technique, no contrived marketing image because he is in the image of Christ and thus relevant to each person he encounters, regardless of culture or demographic. 

If Dimitru Staniloae is even close, what the Church needs is more saints to go into all the world, not more marketing plans to get people to come to the Church.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Monday, September 13, 2010

Does Jesus Need New PR?

By posting their banners in the previous blog post, I inadvertantly joined the "viral marketing" of the WTF Campus Ministry.

So now the banners have moved from the realm of "unfortunate hilarious gaffe" to a true WTF?
(For you Orthodox that's "What the filioque???"

Recently a Church in the Phoenix area did an edgy billboard and mailing campaign for a sermon series called "Bringing Sexy Back" with a signature poster of the bottoms of two sets of feet in an obvious conjugal position.  The series was "R" rated, it was an "evangelistic effort" and it got what it was looking for: wide discussion on talk radio... viral promotion.  I listened to some of the talk on the way to work and the only people who were impressed with the campaign were, well... "edgy" Christians.  Many of the "worldly people" the campaign was aimed at thought it was pretty dumb and saw it for what it was: Christian "bait" to try to get them into the door. But, one MIGHT ask, "How far should a Church go to "speak to the culture" when doing PR for Jesus?"  Is it a legitimate undertaking to get edgy to appeal to the unchurched, or are Churches setting themselves up for being made fun of by the world who sees it as ultimately just more churchy ill conceived desperation and stupidity and a compromise of our own values and message?  We Christians don't need to make fun of each other for stuff like this, and even if we try to, like most things, the non-Christians do a much better job at it anyway.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

Epic Fail, Church Signage

Why it's a good idea to have someone on parish council that has a clue about current culture.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010