Archive for October, 2006

On this page, beginning with his entry dated October 20 (see links/anchors there), a good Orthodox priest, Fr. Steven Kostoff in Ohio, begins a series of reflections on the Book of Revelation within the context of Orthodoxy. The recent re-run of The Simpsons rapture episode put me in a Revelation state of mind!

Another edition of The Orthodox Encyclopaedia on how Russian missionaries brought not only the Gospel, but writing, schools, and hospitals to a region in Siberia on (today’s) Kazakh-Chinese-Mongolian border in the 90 years before the Bolshevik Revolution…and again in the past generation. They remember Alaska, too!

The transcript includes these words from the host:

In the Soviet {era}, more was destroyed than the churches, more killed tha{n} the numerous clergymen: the seventy years of atheism broke the centuries-old tradition of the Russian missionary work. In the pre-1917 Russia, it was one of the priorities in internal policy. In 1769, the Holy Synod decreed that preaching should be made “in meekness and charity, without use of threats or persecution.” The Russian missionaries always taught both through word and through their own lives. Today, the missionaries have to study the ABC{s} anew.

(PS: Did you know Siberia is mostly forest? We get the impression it’s mostly frozen tundra, like extreme northern Alaska, or most of northern Canada, but it’s actually mostly trees, not at all a frozen wasteland!)

Here’s the English transcript of an edition of the Russian TV program The Orthodox Encyclopaedia, that’s pretty informative.

Healthy, deep, profound Monasticism (male and female) is in many ways the heartbeat of the Orthodox Church in traditional Orthodox countries. Monks have been key in the rejection of heretical Councils and doctrines. Orthodoxy traditionally prefers to draw its Bishops from the ranks of the monks. Many Orthodox have sought the spiritual counsel of monastics in addition to their own parish priests. And monastic Mt. Athos, Greece, “the Holy Mountain,” is in many ways a center of the Orthodox Church.

In general, Orthodoxy hasn’t adopted “active Religious” like the Latin Church has since its fall from Orthodoxy, although in Orthodoxy there are varieties of ministries centered around many monasteries, and the recently-glorified St. Maria Skobtsova – Mother Maria of Paris – was a very atypical, very “active” monastic. Orthodoxy doesn’t have a formal “cloister” like even those “contemplative” Catholic monasteries that remain; it wouldn’t be inaccurate to call Orthodox monastics as a whole “semi-cloistered” – some get out more than others. Some monasteries are dedicated to the complete liturgical cycle, every day; some to education; some to other forms of social service.

One doesn’t enter the monastery because one wants to “get ahead in the Church;” we shouldn’t want much with one such, actually! But as Dostoyevsky reminded us through the mouth of Father Zossima in The Brothers Karamazov, one enters the monastery because one is convinced that one must do so in order to save one’s soul and conquer one’s sins and passions. It’s not because one feels s/he is better than others, but worse, actually. Ideally these men and women have struggled fulltime with their sins for years before they’re tapped for wider service to the Church.

Orthodox monasticism is not without its problems. Occasional sex scandals, pedophilia scandals, alleged cultism, alleged heresy, financial iffiness, fraud, self-righteousness, the bad kind of extremism…. All of which might prove you don’t become a monk or nun to “escape the world;” you bring the world with you. Or as one Father put it, what monastics do all day is “fall and get up, fall and get up, fall and get up.” And sometimes, frankly, some monastics’ behavior doesn’t warrant such ‘putting the best possible face on it’…but rather, prosecution.

Not much of a plug, is it! But I urge you to consider it nonetheless.

St. Tikhon of Zadonsk Monastery in Pennsylvania is one with which I have some in-person familiarity, and have never heard anything bad about it as an institution, nor mostly about its monks, priests, and Bishops as such, and it is in many ways the heart of The Orthodox Church in America (OCA), and is the first Orthodox monastery in the Americas. (Its founding a century ago by St. Tikhon of Moscow and St. Arseny of Winnipeg is the subject of an ongoing series of articles in Your Diocese Alive in Christ, the very-widely-read periodical of The OCA’s Diocese of Eastern Penna., which surrounds this stavropegial institution, i.e., it doesn’t technically belong to the local diocese, but to the Primate of the jurisdiction.) They’re very liturgically-oriented, and have a great choir (especially on Sundays). It continues to be the residence not only of Bishop TIKHON of Eastern Penna., but also Metropolitan HERMAN, Primate of The OCA and Tikhon’s predecessor of many years – not infrequently one of these will be serving the Liturgy there on any given day – as well as 9 or 10 monks, including some priest-monks.

Among women’s monasteries, I’ve heard good things about Holy Myrrhbearers Monastery in upstate New York, Monastery of the Transfiguration in western Penna. (the one founded by the former Princess Ileana of Romania, a candidate for glorification as a saint; I’m sure they used to have a website), and Dormition of the Mother of God Monastery in Michigan, all OCA.

There are quite a few – though not enough – Orthodox monasteries in the U.S. and Canada, most very small. An acquaintance maintains this website covering many Orthodox monasteries throughout North America, “canonical” and other.

…is on display in the Native Church in Alaska, doing better than ever right now.
[LA Times link updated 8 December 2007, archive fee now required]

BTW, they mention the Tlingit [pronounced KLINKit], the totem-pole-builders in S.E. Alaska. They were the Indians on the TV show Northern Exposure, but NX got it wrong on one account: their traditional religion isn’t shamanism or new age, but ORTHODOXY!

In fact, more than half of Alaska Natives are Orthodox, in spite of a century of government-sponsored ‘de-Russification’ and attempted indoctrination into Protestantism (so much for “separation of church and state”!), not to mention all the other problems forced upon Indigenous North American cultures and nations by WASP society.

A profound reflection on ‘Church’ by a good egg, Gregory Orloff. (Link is to a secure server.) Includes the following:

Without the Church, there can be no true Christianity. Nowadays in America, a popular brand of religious individualism claims “a personal relationship with Jesus” and “the Bible” are all a person really needs. But there are two problems with this mistaken thinking.

First, Christ did not promise His presence to isolated followers “going it alone.” He said: “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20). Furthermore, Christ did not leave us the Bible, bound in black leatherette, as a personal handbook. What He did leave us for guidance is the Church, of which He said: “I will build My Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against her” (Matthew 16:18). So one cannot get to Christ by bypassing His very own Body, the Church (1 Corinthians 12:27).

Appreciating the position of the Ecumenical Patriarch, and the Patriarchate, in Turkey, may help one understand the life of this Orthodox Church in its jurisdictions around the world, especially the ethnic Greek ones.

The Patriarch is basically the leading member of an ethnic/religious minority in Asia Minor/Turkey that has been oppressed and devastated under both religious and avowedly-secular Turkish regimes increasingly for 700 years. In fact, since WW2 alone the Greek Orthodox population of the Turkish Republic has plummeted from a quarter million to just a few thousand due to genocidal political, social, economic, and violent pressures – in violation of internationally-“guaranteed” agreements – inducing massive migration into Greece and beyond. As this biased (and frequently misinformed) Turkish academic complains, the Patriarch is a religious civil rights leader. (And for the record, here’s the text of the Lausanne Treaty, in which I can find none of the religious restrictions he believes are there [Can you?] – in fact quite the opposite.)

In this light, “Hellenism” in the Greek Church is as understandable as, say, “Afrocentrism” in the American Black community. And it’s not just Greeks with roots in Asia Minor or Constantinople who follow these matters closely; the Greek government takes a keen interest in Greeks in other countries, in their religious as well as political and cultural affairs, as do the Greeks in other countries themselves.

Some observers in fact consider the very survival of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to be in jeopardy – Orthodoxy’s First Church (among Equals).

FYI: A note about “ecumenism/ecumenicity/universality”: (1) In most people’s minds – apparently of both Orthodox (of most ethnicities, in fact) and Turks – the title “Ecumenical Patriarch” and the role “First Among Equals” have become conflated. But the Church of Constantinople was first among equals (at that time only in the East [second overall, behind Rome]) some time before its Bishop received the title Ecumenical Patriarch. The EP could unilaterally drop the title tomorrow, with no change in its role among the world’s Autocephalous Orthodox Churches, nor with respect to its jurisdictions around the world – the qualities in which most people feel its “ecumenicity” lies. IMHO, it’s almost like the title has become analogous to Pope, in the Roman Catholic sense, even if almost nobody in the Orthodox Church invests the EP with Roman-Papal powers or reverence.

(2) There is no way the EP could acquire the place in international law that the Roman Papacy holds. The Pope of Rome – “the Holy See,” i.e., the Latin Bishopric of Rome – is a legal person under (Western-European-rooted) international law, equivalent to a sovereign entity like an independent country. This status is rooted in medieval Western legal tradition and the Pope’s role in Western society since the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West. Orthodoxy traditionally adamantly insists on leaving the actual handling of civil affairs to the laity – emperors, governors, etc. The Ottoman ethnarchy, and Archbishop Makarios’ Cyprus, were exceptions to the rule. It’s too late to invent medieval tradition! Before the European institutions, the UN, or anybody else, the Ecumenical Patriarch is just a religious leader, or the Ecumenical Patriarchate a Non-Governmental Organization.

(As Wikipedia points out, the EP *is* the Ruling Hierarch of Greece’s autonomous Monastic Republic of Mt. Athos. But the Holy Mountain has never been an independent entity, it’s always belonged to some other Sovereign entity. And even its traditional exclusion of females is protected by Greece’s EU accession treaty, Euro Parliament protestations notwithstanding!)