Having recently returned from the 19th All-American Council (July 23-27, 2018) in St. Louis, MO, I submit this Pastoral Reflection to our Holy Trinity community. The Council was entitled “For the Life of the World” and celebrated the 55th anniversary of a book written in 1963 by the late Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann, who reposed twenty years later, in December, 1983, at age 63, yet his continued influence upon the entire Christian world in his methodology to Liturgy and Eucharist is overpoweringly reflective, and, perhaps, unquestionably ground breaking. Every Council Plenary Session, ostensibly every piece of church business, was conducted in the spirit of Father Alexander’s love of God, love for Liturgy, and the essential act of Communion with God, in every sense of the world, especially sacramentally. Liturgy, we learned from the writings of Dionysius the Aeropagite, “stamps itself on the soul of man.” So much of what serves to confuse, fracture, and even embitter those in today’s culture, can be healed by the continual return to Liturgy and Eucharist, especially during a time when so little else has meaning. Christ gives us his life, freely, along with all the fundamental elements of the created world which, in essence, become vehicles to communion with God; and all accompanying joy, all mercy, all grace, by virtue of the redemptive act of His Incarnation, according to Archbishop Melchizedek (Diocese of Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania) Our lives have far less meaning than if lived in any other spirit than to be in relentless pursuit of resting in communion with the Creator, of heaven and earth, and of all things both visible and invisible (Nicean Creed).
There was a strong monastic presence at the Council, and it was comforting to drink from their fountain of wisdom. Another critical element the Council discussed was a 56-page booklet written by Metropolitan Tikhon, the current Primate of the Orthodox Church in America, entitled: “Of What Life Do We Speak? Four Pillars for the Fulfillment of the Apostolic Work of the Church. Pillar I: The Spiritual Life in Christ. Pillar II: Stewardship. Pillar III: Relations with Others, Pillar IV: Outreach and Evangelism. On Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon, forums, led by Bishops from the Holy Synod, and joined by a panel of other contributors, led two-hour reflections on these four Council themes. I attended the Spiritual Life in Christ (Pillar I) and Outreach & Evangelism (Pillar IV).
Permit me to share my thoughts, and particularly how it impacts each of us at Holy Trinity. I spoke of some of this, primarily Pillar I, during last Sunday’s homily. Much of what Father Alexander writes of in “For the Life of the World’ is against secularism, an ideology which divides religious matters from the state, but also begins to creep into the mindset of each person; and after a period of time, they become alienated from the Divine, and all that is good, and all that has meaning. The result is a death in this world, not in the literal sense of the word, but death from God and all his beauty, wonder, and awe. Secularism, Fr Alexander writes, is a particular form of heresy. It is a world view, he goes on to add, which separates us from the power and grace of God. Humanism is another dangerous system of thought which emphasizes human understanding as beyond that of the Divine. Man begins to break away in his covenant relationship with the Creator and becomes less important; this is why a return, weekly, daily if even possible, to Liturgy & Eucharist begins the process of theosis (holiness) which is necessary for salvation, eternal life, and the Kingdom of God. More Liturgy and more Eucharist strengthens man, and along with prayer and good works, helps us to sort through the daily insanity which encroaches and can overpower us, but only if we let is. And this is why, infrequent participation at Liturgy & Eucharist, only contributes to the destruction of the spiritual life, and the soul of man. Liturgy is perfect prayer, as it continually brings to remembrance, along with the presence of God. Liturgy is where Orthodox proclaim the name of God, which always makes Him present, and brings Him into the immediate moment; a sacred and treasured moment, so that in Liturgy, we are never apart from God. When we are at Liturgy, we enter into the treasure chest of heaven.
The Evangelism Pillar (IV) offered a variety of thoughts, all most excellent, perhaps because of their simplicity and practical application. The moderators suggested that unless people are brought into a loving Eucharistic community, then they are simply being fed a lot of information, and their interest will dissipate, and they will eventually become unfulfilled. Developing meaningful (Christian) relationships is how to best grow the community. If the power of Christ’s love is not transmitted, and tangibly expressed, people will leave, and not return. I have always felt what we do best at Holy Trinity is build strong relationships, but perhaps we need to be reminded of that again, and again, during this period of summer malaise in our church. There are two critical steps for effective evangelism:
- BE THE CHURCH: The church is first and foremost liturgical, and it has everything we can possibly need. The people by being and acting like a church should, will bring other people into the church; and if we are not being the church, then we will exist as a club, and worse yet, be seen by others as a cult. People must be integrated into the life of the church, and that is the responsibility of each member.
- LOVE ONE ANOTHER: A true Christian exudes the love of Christ. Most people are looking for love, and are craving community.
Normally, upon return from the AAC, delegates are left with a road map on how to share and proceed in disseminating content with their worshiping communities. The 19th AAC left me with a feeling of a more personal buy-in. It is challenging to fuse a practical and instructive 56-page booklet, one teeming with scriptural and patristic references, and thoughts from For the Life of the World, into a 1,091-word easily twigged epilogue. I thank the HTOC community for making the funds available for me to attend the 19th AAC. In conclusion, beginning next Sunday, August 12, and for ensuring two Sundays as well (Aug. 19, 26), I will offer thoughts from Metropolitan Tikhon’s reflections during my weekly homilies on Pillars II, II, IV.
-- Father Marc V.