Father John of Kronstadt
Father John of Kronstadt
December 7, 2013
The President and Mrs. Obama; The White House; 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW; Washington D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President and Mrs. Obama,
Greetings and best wishes to you and to your two precious daughters in the spirit of this Holy Christmas season. I was honored to receive your invitation to attend a White House holiday reception on Friday, December 6th, 2013.
I remember fondly my attendance at the White House reception two years ago. The photograph which we took together on that auspicious occasion continues to adorn my office. Unfortunately Mr. President, I did not attend your holiday reception this year because while I do have the joy of Christmas, I do not have the peace of Christmas. This is the peace which the angels proclaimed on that Holy Night “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (Luke 2:14). Although I am Lebanese by birth and a proud American citizen for the past fifty-seven years, I received my secondary education in the cities of Homs and Damascus, Syria.
Mr. President I do not have the peace of Christmas because there is no peace either in Lebanon or in Syria. During the time which I spent in Syria as a student and secretary to the late Patriarch Alexandros Tahan, I ate the bread of Syria, I drank the water of Syria, I breathed the air of Syria and I enjoyed the most generous hospitality of the Syrian people.
No Mr. President, I do not have the peace of Christmas while two of my brother archibishops Boulos Yazigi and Youhanna Ibrahim are still in captivity in northern Syria with no news since their abduction. Actually Mr. President, we do not know whether they are alive or dead. Two weeks ago, Mr. President, twelve of our Orthodox nuns were abducted from the convent of St. Thekla of Maaloula, Syria. These nuns are innocent women who care for some orphans in the convent. These peaceful women do not have arms and do not fight but pray for peace every day and night. I contacted the State Department and spoke to Ambassador Ford who promised me that he is doing everything possible to gain the release of the two abducted Archbishops and the nuns, but to no avail.
Recently a video appeared on Al-Jazeera network which reportedly showed the nuns and the Abbess of the convent, Mother Pelagia in captivity, and she said that they were living in a villa. What a mockery! If the abductors wanted the nuns to escape the bombardment of Maaloula, they could have sent them to the Orthodox Patriarchate in Damascus, which can accommodate one hundred nuns. We know the truth Mr. President. The truth is that the video was made under extreme psychological pressure, which these nuns are enduring every day. There is every reason to fear for their safety.
Finally Mr. President, anything that you can do as the leader of the free world to stop the bloodshed and destruction in Syria will be very deeply appreciated. May the peace of Christmas which this broken world does not understand dwell in your hearts and in the hearts of your family forever.
Metropolitan PHILIP (Saliba)
The Self-Ruled Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese
of North America
“Let the wealthy learn to seek the wealth of good wishes, and to be rich in holiness; the beauty of wealth consists not in the possession of money-bags, but in the maintenance of the poor. It is in the sick and needy that riches shine most.”
St. Ambrose of Milan, Letter II, ch. 26
“There is nothing impossible unto those who believe; lively and unshaken faith can accomplish great miracles in the twinkling of an eye. Besides, even without our sincere and firm faith, miracles are accomplished, such as the miracles of the sacraments; for God’s Mystery is always accomplished, even though we were incredulous or unbelieving at the time of its celebration. “Shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?” (Rom. 3:3). Our wickedness shall not overpower the unspeakable goodness and mercy of God; our dullness shall not overpower God’s wisdom, nor our infirmity God’s omnipotence.” —
I was looking through vestments and my mind recalled this selection from St. John Chrysostom (from Orthodox Church Fathers, a discussion of beauty and the needs of the poor). I have recently visited a number of parishes with dwindling numbers and was saddened by their state while at the same time taken with how beautiful their sanctuaries were. There was a connection, I thought, between their insularity and their present state. Their buildings were in residential areas but they connected very little with the people who had moved to the neighborhood generations after the church had been built.
We think quite often about the next big benefactor to endow a project, but it seems that we hollow our parishes out when we fail to care for the poor. St. John the Almsgiver once said, “Those whom you call poor and beggars, these I proclaim my masters and helpers. For they, and they only, are really able to help us and bestow upon us the kingdom of heaven.” When we cooperate with God in His saving plan for mankind we shine a bright, beckoning light on all near us. But, when we fail to take in those in need, we are a hospital that admits no new patients. Beautiful, but pointless.
Read the rest here…
“DO ICONS AND RELICS WORK MIRACLES?
To put this question in proper perspective, let’s consider a few other questions: Did the Ark of the Covenant work miracles (e.g. Joshua 3:15ff; 1st Samuel 4-6; 2nd Samuel 11-12)? Did the Bronze Serpent heal those bitten by snakes (Numbers 21:9)? Did the Prophet Elisha’s bones raise a man from the dead (2nd Kings 13:21)? Did St. Peter’s shadow heal the sick (Acts 5:15)? Did aprons and handkerchiefs that had touched St. Paul heal the sick and cast out evil spirits (Acts 19:12)?
The answer to these questions is, yes, in a manner of speaking. Nevertheless, to be precise, it was God who chose to work miracles through these things. In the case of the Ark and the Bronze serpent, we have images used to work miracles. God worked a miracle through the relics of the Prophet Elisha, through the shadow of a Saint, and through things that had merely touched a Saint. Why? Because God honors those who honor Him (1st Samuel 2:30), and thus takes delight in working miracles through his Saints, even by these indirect means. The fact that God can sanctify material things should come as no surprise to those familiar with Scripture. For example, not only was the Altar of the Temple holy, but anything that touched it was holy as well (Exodus 29:37). To reject the truth that God works through material things is to fall into Gnosticism.
So yes, loosely speaking, Icons can work miracles—but to be precise, it is God who works miracles through Icons, because He honors those who have honored Him.”
“Helping a person in need is good in itself. But the degree of goodness is hugely affected by the attitude with which it is done. If you show resentment because you are helping the person out of a reluctant sense of duty, then the person may receive your help but may feel awkward and embarrassed. This is because he will feel beholden to you. If,on the other hand, you help the person in a spirit of joy, then the help will be received joyfully. The person will feel neither demeaned nor humiliated by your help, but rather will feel glad to have caused you pleasure by receiving your help. And joy is the appropriate attitude with which to help others because acts of generosity are a source of blessing to the giver as well as the receiver.”
St. John Chrysostom
h/t to Deacon John
I would just sit this morning, sit and let the services flow over me. Close my eyes and listen to the words. Hear the music and ponder the presence. To step away for a time would be to see the mystery and beauty of the dance without the loss of wonder that comes with the earthy business of choreography, of steps that have to be taken, of charts and diagrams and directions and rubrics.
I ponder what it must be like to be a Bishop at times, to nearly always come in to parishes that struggle with the hows and whys and where’s of worship on that one Sunday, for them, of the year. For a parish this is a challenge to be overcome. For a Bishop this is every Sunday. How do they themselves see the beauty and holiness of what they are doing when they are constantly giving directions, answering questions, and saying “Stand there, sit there, move to this place.”
In some ways it’s a blessing to have an iconostasis, a shield to protect those who stand without from the chaos that sometimes is within. For those who celebrate, the time spent behind those sacred walls is time to snatch glimpses of the holy, snippets of worship, and flashes of the beauty of what is happening all around them, the beauty that drove them to become celebrants in the first place. It’s as if when one circles the altar in ordination they are also sacrificing, for their lives, the ability to completely bask in that which brought them to the altar in the first place. From this day forward you will be directing altar boys, making sure you are on the right page, dealing with people who come into the sanctuary unannounced, and answering questions in the middle of prayers.
Perhaps, in the end, this is the ultimate offering of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, the temporary suspension of ever having a complete moment of reverence and awe so that others could have it if they so choose. On earth we are asked to catch glimpses, in heaven, in the presence of the Priest, we will be able to live and worship as we desire. Yet love even for the crumbs that fall from the Master’s table somehow keeps us going.
And now off to Liturgy.
Via Byzantine Texas…
We Orthodox are not Always Perfect, but Stay the Course!
Orthodoxy is not always easy, and there are many parishes that seem to make living our Orthodox faith far more difficult than needs to be. The lack of joy in some quarters is not about Orthodoxy, but about the fallen people who make up the Church. This is to be expected, of course, since the Church is a hospital for the soul, and therefore home to a lot of sick people. The good news is, we are all in the right place for the needed healing to take place, and wholeness and lasting joy will come to everyone who stays the course.
Don’t ever let a mean spirited parishioner, nor a harsh speaking priest, drive you from the Church. This is your home as well, and, just as in a dysfunctional household, a lot of growth can take place, even when the parish is not ideal. Pray for your priest, and for the people who have made you feel uncomfortable. Pray to Saint John the Wonderworker of San Francisco, who was such a loving father and pastor, for help. Although a good confessor and great preacher would be preferable to the priest who never has the time for you, the Church is still the place for you. He may deliver lousy homilies, and may seem harsh as a confession, and devoid of people skills, the reality is the Church is still the place for you.
There is an old saying in Orthodox: “The people get the bishop they deserve”. Instead of walking away from Orthodoxy, look around for a parish that might be a better fit for you and your family. If language is a problem for your children, find a parish that uses English. If your parish priest serves like a sorcerer, with all the correct and lengthy formulas, but is devoid of the love of Christ, pray for him. Yet if you and your children would benefit, by all means look into the possibility that another parish might be a better fit, and a place where you can all grow in the faith. Better to leave a dysfunctional parish, than to leave Orthodoxy.
If you have no other options, and your parish is the only Orthodox church in the region, make the best of it. Remember, most parishes were closed down completely during Soviet times. The priests and bishops sent off to their deaths, yet the Church lived on with the faithful making do under the harshest of times.
Ultimately, your life in the Church is all about Christ, and Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He will not betray you, for He is the source of all joy and goodness. It is Christ Who is the Great Physician, the Giver of Life, and the Healer of Souls. The Church belongs to Him, and in spite of the fact we priests sometimes fail to be the Light of Christ to our people, does in no way negate the fact that the Church is still the Fountain of Life, and the place wherein we can receive healing of all that ails us.
Love in Christ,