Every Priest Has Thought of It…

one time or another, especially if things are bumpy in their own jurisdiction. They look over the fence, see the greener grass and wonder, “What’s it like to be with __________?”  It’s what sometimes happens when you’re a kid and mad at your parents. You think “Boy I wish I was that family’s kid they have it so nice over there.”

Well, not really.

Most of the time when you see someone else’s family they’re on their best behavior, the house is cleaned, the meal is good, and everything looks, well, polished. If you were to drop in a few days later, who knows? Dad in his underwear. Toys all over the floor. House smells like yesterday’s supper. When we don’t need to put on our best face we’re more like who we really are.

It’s the same with Orthodox jurisdictions. When things are challenging in ours we see the other “family” down the block and envy their supposed peace and stability. Tired of whatever is challenging us the grass on the other side does look greener. A Priest thinks “Boy, if I was just part of that jurisdiction everything would be better.” Compared to our mess the family down the street looks real good sometimes.

It’s understandable. To be in ministry requires a certain amount of idealism. The long hours and lower salaries would make no sense if there wasn’t some vision out there, some shining light to make up for the routines. You have to keep your eyes higher and your soul on better things to make it as a Priest. Nothing is worse than a tired, cynical, Priest. Nothing is more pitiful.

So we always look for silver linings in every cloud. It’s a survival thing. Sometimes those silver linings look like another jurisdiction, another Bishop, a point on a distant but not too clear horizon. Who wants to stay and work through pain and troubles when they could be avoided? Who wants to endure the slog of bearing each others burdens when a lighter yoke seems close by? It is a sweet illusion.

Yet that’s what it is, a dream. The Church is full of people, made up of human beings. Sometimes we’re really great to hang around with and other times we’re just a pain in the rear. All of us have our own dads in their underwear and toys all over the floor. Moving down the street doesn’t make that go away. After the honeymoon is done you’re pretty much back where you were before. It shouldn’t be, but crazy stuff is part of the reality of the Orthodox Church, from day one until now, and there will be no escape until angelic trumpets sound.  Get used to it.

Now this doesn’t mean that we can’t seek the best, the most holy, the most good and work to implement it in our life. The ideal is important and we should always strive for it. People forget, though,  that the Church is about human beings in training to be saints and the majority of us will never get most of it in this life. That shouldn’t excuse our sins and struggles but it should put them in perspective. Sometimes people in the Church can be cruel, vindictive, selfish, arrogant, and dark, myself included. Sometimes the consequences of their actions can be grim. Yet it’s that way with all of us. There may be a temporary respite somewhere but the same human failings are present no matter where the Church is, and so, by the way are its glories.

Moving to a new town? The only close Orthodox parish may be in another jurisdiction. Go and enjoy. Involved in a new ministry? Jurisdictions swap clergy for a variety of reasons all the time. Go with a blessing. Ticked off at someone or some group in your own jurisdiction and looking for an escape? Might as well stay and work it out because the chances are you’re just going to be with a new group of fallible humans struggling to live up to the high calling and dropping the ball. In other words the real world.

 

Orthodoxy and Yoga…

I will actually give you another of my favorite examples, which is taken from the saint of our parish, St. Ephraim the Syrian. He has a beautiful image which tells us what kind of effort we are to make. St. Ephraim sees the human person as the “harp of the Spirit,” this lovely musical instrument. To play well the music of the Holy Spirit, we need to be clean: the harp needs to be clean and well-tuned, and its strings neither too tight nor too slack. That is our spiritual effort, the ascesis, all the things that are recommended in the Orthodox Church and the Orthodox tradition of fasting, almsgiving, repentance, thanksgiving, prayer: all these are means to achieve the tuning. That is what I see synergy is: a redirection of energies God-wards so that God’s energies can flow into us and transform us. I hope that answers some of the criticism.

Read more here…

More Insights…

When controversies are ignited and flare up in the Church, which happens and has happened often, alas, we inevitably hear appeals from Church circles to cease these controversies in the name of peace and love. Now, this would be cause for great joy, if only in these appeals there were no unmistakably different overtones: “Your controversy is not important. It is of interest to no one: only ‘specialists’ and ‘scholars’ can understand it, so all this argument leads only to seduction and harm.”

And here we must point out to these accusers something very important which they have apparently forgotten. They have forgotten that peace and concord in the Church are inseparable from the Truth. An outsider who does not believe and is not part of the Church would smile and shrug his shoulders, “What is truth?” That is precisely Pilate’s question to the Savior who stood before him. And the Savior did not respond, because and “outsider” does not believe in the possibility of Truth. For him the truth is always relative and measured according to advantage, improvement or expedience. But for us who know and believe that the Church is founded on the Truth made flesh, that all her life is in Him who said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life,” for us there is nothing in the Church which is unimportant, because everything is measured by this Truth and is subordinate to it.

Yes, there have been many controversies in the Church, and its earthly history is replete with them. They occurred not only in times of trouble, like ours, but also when Church life flowered, in the golden ages of the Ecumenical Councils and the Fathers of the Church. Only then no one would have dared to acknowledge anything in the Church as unimportant. So for this cause they debated and for this cause they were persecuted and exiled for one word, for one “iota” (an accurate assessment of the Aryan controversy at the time of St. Athanasius the Great), that above all on earth they placed the Truth and fidelity to the Truth. And in these controversies there was more true love for the Church and her people, whom the Lord Himself through His incarnation deemed worthy of the knowledge of the Truth — more ardor, more faith than in the lukewarm “latitude” and “tolerance” of our time, when so much in the Church has become the portion of the clergy alone and the “specialists”. We should not be seduced by controversies about how to plan our Church life in accordance with the Truth, because in these controversies there burns a living anguish for the Church and its destiny, but rather by the sea of indifference among the Church populace itself which surrounds these controversies and by the skepticism with which even religious people treat these “unimportant” matters.

Of course in our controversies there is so much human passionateness, sinfulness and narrowness. They should and must be enlightened by prayer, love and patience. No one person embodies the Truth in its fullness, but each one is required to aspire to it, to call upon his spiritual intellect, his will and his heart to come to “the knowledge of the Truth.” “Put everything to the test; hold fast what is good,” says Paul the Apostle. And if in humility we attempt always to obey the Truth, if we try unceasingly to overcome all which is sinful and narrow for the sake of the Truth, then our controversies born of human weakness may lead to the glory of the Church, “for the strength of Christ is made perfect in weakness.”

Priest Alexander Schmemann
The Word of the Church, Paris, December, 1949

Translated from Russian by Robert Parent and first published in English in the Holy Trinity Cathedral LIFE, Vol.1. No. 6, February 1994″

From http://www.schmemann.org/byhim/important.html