Archive for June, 2005

If you don’t like what you see or hear – or don’t see or hear – when visiting an Orthodox parish, it’s possible you’ll like a different one. The diversity among Orthodox churches in the Western world means there are varieties of ways of saying and doing things, not only between jurisdictions but also within them. Consider it a blessing in disguise!

In the USA, many parishes now worship all or mostly in English (especially the OCA, the Antiochians, or the Carpatho-Russians)…but some still worship predominantly in Biblical Greek, Old Church Slavonic, or another language. Many parishes are welcoming to visitors and inquirers…but some simply can’t understand why you’d be looking at them if you’re not of that ethnic background (unless you’re marrying into their Church!). Which is not to say the experience of ‘breaking down their door’ wouldn’t be worthwhile for you and them…! Racially, we’re mostly white at this time, but with increasing converts from other groups; and in Alaska most Orthodox are Alaska Natives.

And if you don’t have your choice of parishes, well, you might be surprised that you’ll learn something almost anywhere.

Anyhow, it’s said a potential convert should attend a parish for a year before ‘taking the plunge.’ Some priests or jurisdictions may allow less time, or more.

Inquirers might appreciate many of the notes and articles in the Orthodox Study Bible: New Testament and Psalms. It has its critics, but it represents a good start IMHO. It’s often available cheaper used, through the usual websites (where I got mine!); Conciliar Press’ prices ought to plummet once their complete Bible comes out ‘any time now,’ maybe, “as long as supplies last.” And that complete Bible should be huge and pricey, looking at the current NT!

To underline the Orthodox self-image as opposed to a religious sect, the late Fr. John Romanides once compared the local parish or diocese to a clinic, and the Councils of the Church to gatherings of healing professionals like an ‘Orthodox Psychiatric Association‘ (my terminology). He went so far as to say that Orthodoxy didn’t so much become an ‘official religion’ of the Roman Empire, as the norm for healing and for distinguishing legitimate, true healers of soul and society, from quacks! And this became supported by Roman law, just like modern “medicine” and “psychiatry” are supported by national and state laws. Hence, per Fr. John, “[W]ords and concepts which do not contradict the experience of glorification and which lead to purification and illumination of the heart and glorification are Orthodox. Words and concepts which contradict glorification and lead away from cure and perfection in Christ are heretical.”

Just another glimpse into the Orthodox mind!

Many Orthodox prayers and writings sound dualistic to Western ears, that is, they seem to degrade the body and the material creation and the self, and elevate the “spiritual.” Actually what they do is restore the proper, original perspective, such as I’ve discussed previously. We were created in love with God and in control of our bodies and drives, and at peace with the rest of Creation. Like some “Celts” say, Orthodox teach that the body doesn’t have a soul, but the soul this body; but in a union intended to be permanent, now interrupted between personal death (“falling asleep”) and the General Resurrection. And sometimes the word soul is a way of referring to the whole person. Without a human soul we’d be mere primates. There is no disembodied “spiritual” aspect; we are forever (by God’s Graciousness) body and soul. But since the Fall of Adam and Eve, we’ve been in fact more animalistic than prior (at the risk of degrading animals!), and the Orthodox cure of the soul aims at restoring our attitudes and our reality. So when reading or praying Orthodoxly, remember that it’s not dualistic…we are.

For most of these Saints, see here.

  • Herman of Spruce Island, Alaska – Ukrainian/Russian, monk, missionary
  • Innocent of Sitka, Alaska – Russian, married parish priest, missionary, bishop, went on to be Metropolitan of Moscow, the most influential Orthodox churchman of his time
  • Juvenaly of Iliamna and his companion: Juvenaly – Russian, priest-monk, missionary, co-proto-martyr of North America; Companion – probably Tanaina Indian, Juvenaly’s guide, church reader, co-proto-martyr of North America
  • Peter the Aleut – Kodiak Islander, young adult, martyred in San Francisco. My patron Saint!

  • Tikhon of Moscow – Russian, bishop of All North America, Patriarch of Moscow, probably martyred by Communists
  • Jacob Netsvetov – Russian/Aleut Kreol, missionary, priest
  • Alexis of Wilkes-Barre, Penna., and Minneapolis, Minn. – Carpatho-Russian, convert, missionary, married priest
  • Alexander Hotovitzky – Russian, priest, missionary, martyred by Communists
  • John of Chicago – Russian, priest, missionary, martyred by Communists
  • Raphael of Brooklyn – Syro-Arab, monk, scholar, missionary, first Orthodox bishop consecrated in the Americas
  • Basil Martysz* – Polish, married priest, martyred by thugs in WW2 Poland (*-links to secure server)
  • Nicolai of So. Canaan, Penna., and Ohrid and Zhitsa, Yugoslavia – Serbian, bishop, scholar, concentration- camp survivor, “the New Chrysostom”
  • John of Shanghai, China, and San Francisco, Calif. – Russian, bishop
  • Arseny of So. Canaan, Penna., and Winnipeg, Canada – Russian, married priest, monk, missionary, bishop, founded first Orthodox monastery in Americas, and a seminary
  • Varnava of Serbia – Serbian-American, born in Gary, Indiana. I can’t find any more about him! UPDATE: Go here.

St. Herman of Alaska, quoted in The Life of St. [sic] Herman of Alaska, Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, St. Petersburg, 1894, translated by Archpriest Vladimir Stakhy Borichevsky, reprinted in St. Herman of Alaska, The Orthodox Church in America, 1970, pp 19-39 (quote on p. 30):

If we love someone…we always remember them; we try to please them. Day and night our heart is concerned with the subject. Is that the way you gentlemen love God? Do you turn to Him often? Do you always remember Him? Do you always pray to Him and fulfill His holy commandments? …For our own good, and for our own fortune…let us at least promise ourselves that from this very minute we will try to love God more than anything and to fulfill His Holy Will!

From Anonymous, “To Become Orthodox You Have to Make a Paradigm Shift”:

[A]s the New Testament teaches, there is a real (ontic) unity of worshipers with Christ through their sharing His uncreated Life and Energies (Grace), in which His goodness and all that He has done for humanity’s sake is shared by His members. This is called Divinization (Théosis); it differs from a pagan Deification (Apothé­osis) in not involving a union of essences.

The most common prayer in Orthodoxy is “Lord, have mercy.” In some services we say it 40 times in a row! I’ve been known to comment that, most of us being white for now, we sure say Lord Have Mercy alot! But this isn’t because we have hangups, or we imagine God as a punishing judge, or we have low self-esteem. (Any of these may be true, but not the reason!) Comparing ourselves to God in any quality or attribute has been likened to the mathematical principle that, compared to infinity, any number is as zero.

On the other hand, anything God does for us is Mercy, not just juridical pardoning of legalistic infractions. Mercy may be another name for God’s Favor, Grace, Graciousness, Assistance, Energy, Pity, Healing, etc.

It’s not uncommon to say it in Biblical Greek, Kyrie eleison,* or Old Church Slavonic (a parent tongue of Russian), Gospodi pomilui.**

(*-“KEER-ee-ay uh-LAY-zawn.” **-“GOSS-poh-dee paw-MEEL-oy.”)

This is also why the Jesus Prayer is a prayer for Mercy, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.” And why Psalm 51 (50 LXX), the Miserere, is the Number One psalm in Orthodox Church usage.

As we proceed in Orthodox spirituality, we become more conscious of our sinfulness, our huge difference from God’s Perfection, our involvement in “the sin of the world,” and indeed our hopelessness and utter dependence on God’s Mercy. Some of the greatest Orthodox Saints, on their deathbeds, have begged God for more time to turn their lives around! This would be depressing if we didn’t have God to turn to, if we didn’t know we could look for Mercy from Him, if we didn’t know that, as someone once said, as we take one step toward Him, He takes a million towards us…like the forgiving Father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

But on the third hand(!), Orthodoxy doesn’t use sin or “guilt” to beat up on us or enslave us like some religious groups do. In fact, some Orthodox priests insist on just one sacramental Confession per year, unless something really serious comes up.

So, Lord have mercy!