Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Disappearance of Holy Orthodoxy

“Father Paul Florensky used to say in the [nineteen] twenties that he admitted the possibility that a local, national church would cease to exist. The promise to remain invincible to the gates of hell was given to the Ecumenical Church, not to the church of a given country. Similar thoughts were expressed by Bishop Theophan the Recluse. In the 1870’s, at a time of seeming prosperity for the Russian Church, he wrote ‘The younger generation is kept within the limits by memories of their childhood, of their parents’ traditions. But what will happen to their children? What will keep them in bounds? I believe that within a generation or two our Orthodox faith will disappear’ (Letters concerning Christian life, 1886, pp. 70-71).”

—Sergei Fudel, Light in the Darkness, pp. 14-15
italics in the text added

Except for the first graphic of the current issue Dynamis cover, all the others come from Dynamis issued during the ministry of Fr. James Retelas. They were not included to illustrate the topic, but rather to provide a visual contrast with what is today being promoted as Orthodox Christianity in one Portland community.
Click the images to ZOOM.

This morning I was having breakfast, and I noticed a copy of Dynamis lying on a chair in the corner of the room. That’s the newsletter of my parish church, now the Cathedral of Holy Trinity. The full-color masthead is eye-catching. I designed it in the days when Fr. James Retelas and I revived the publication perhaps fourteen years ago, and renamed it. We had been talking about a new image and focus for The Voice of Holy Trinity, and then I woke up in the middle of the night with the verse ringing in my ears, “…since the kingdom of God is not just words, it is power,” and the Greek word δυναμις (dýnamis = power) immediately came to mind. I recounted this to Fr. James, and he thought that would give a good focus and establish a sound theme for our newsletter. Then, for many years, I was the general editor and often main writer. I used to put scripture verses at the top of every page, trying to relate them to whatever news or articles were below.
Back to my subject, I saw the Dynamis lying on a chair, and so I picked it up and started reading it instead of the book I had brought to the table. The front page article, as always, was a missive from the current pastor. This time entitled “Gather My People to My Home.” Apparently the theme of this year’s clergy-laity congress, the pastor broke it down into three points (as he seems to do with everything) so we could understand it better. How to gather God's people home? Easy! (1) Come to services ourselves. (2) Create a friendly environment when you get here, so any strangers walking in will feel welcome. (3) Actively invite friends and neighbors to come (or come back) to church. “When you say to someone ‘we miss having you around,’ and do so with sincerity and sensitivity, this can be a profound expression of love.” This is our pastor’s advice, and as always, he signs himself, “With Deep Love in the Lord,” at the end of every message.
The Dynamis (the September issue, out well before the beginning of the month!) was very well organized and full of colorful photos this time, because August had been a very busy month. So much had happened, so much to look forward to, as Fr. Paul had ended his message, praying “may God truly ‘bless the crown of the year of God’s goodness,’ granting us all every spiritual and material blessing.” As I perused the many pages of the issue, I felt like I was looking at a family album or corporation yearbook. Nothing but happy faces, activity after activity. This is what newsletters are for, I guess.
Finally, towards the end, pictures gave way to more serious stuff, articles about the Greek cultural museum that has found a home in the space that Fr. James had called “the Upper Room,” announcements about a Greek film evening, Rebetiko festival, and workshops on Greek textiles. (Too bad I had to sell my collection of ancient Greek coins a few years back to supply missing income during a family emergency—I could have donated them to the museum!) The museum page also tucked in the announcements that aroused me to write what I am about to express. Two things, first the schedule for Saturday “Vespers Education Lecture Series,” and second, “Run For the Congo Women.”
For the non-Orthodox reader, the Orthodox “Sunday” begins at sundown on Saturday with a service called “Great Vespers.” This service lasts a minimum of an hour and can stretch to 90 minutes or more in some churches and seasons. The idea is, to worship together on the Lord’s day three times, evening prayer, morning prayer (orthros = dawn), and then the divine liturgy (main service culminating with Communion). What to do between the evening and morning services? What else? Go home, have a light supper, pray some more (apodeipnon = after dinner prayers), study your bibles together, sleep, and then get ready in the morning for more worship.
Why do I entitle this article, “The Disappearance of Holy Orthodoxy” and preface it with a quote from a modern church father? Well, look at the Saturday evening schedule that I read in Dýnamis

September 6 — In place of Vespers, we will celebrate the “Akathist in Praise of God’s Creation,” [followed by a lecture] Topic: “The Wonder of Creation”
September 13 — Creation as Sacrament: Finding God in All Things
September 20 — Preserving God’s Creation: Our Human Responsibility
September 27 — Orthodoxy and the Environmental Moveme

This is more of what the current pastor is pursuing since “taking over” our community about two years ago. Coming fully equipped with a pacifist, environmental, vegetarian, secular humanist, politically left agenda, fully intentioned to raise our community’s consciousness to a new level, using his specific talents for oratory, the Greek language, and dramatic choreography to gather support from those Orthodox whose “religion” is the performance of ceremonies and the throwing of gala social events, our “pastor” and his helpers are transforming what once was a spiritually focused and free, alive Christian community, into a mechanistic, controlled, modern corporation of working bodies, slaves in fact, not of God, but of the world system and its representatives. A world system that likes to “galvanize” people into action, enrolling them in meaningful and compassionate activities like the one that follows, the second thing that stirred me to write this article.
“Run For the Congo Women” brought to my attention something I had never heard about, that there is a civil war or something going on in what used to be called the French Congo. Apparently about four million people have died and women are abused and killed in large numbers. If this is true, it makes me wonder where the UN is in all this, the EU, or even the US? “Compassionate” people should get their governments to intervene. Instead, we have “Portland’s own local hero, Lisa Shannon” organizing an event on September 14th called “The Portland Run for the Congo Women.” The church’s own Philoptochos is inviting women from our church to run/walk in this event, and is even asking men “to help financially with a small donation.” (Items in quotation marks are exactly reprinted from Dýnamis.) I suppose this is a way to show solidarity with suffering humans whom we will never personally see or get to know, and to feel good about ourselves being compassionate and sympathetic.

What I have just described is where the Portland Holy Trinity community is headed. It truly amazes me how the good work of many generations of priests and pious laypeople can be undone or “transformed” in so short a time and by so few people. Part of this is the reticence on the part of Orthodox Christians to stand up for their faith when it is being challenged, especially by clergy. The result is that the Church can be derailed in a local area from its primary purpose and harnessed to the futile efforts of the world under its blind guides. The human damage can still be enormous, hundreds and even thousands of lives thrown away right here where you and I live, as souls are lost, not just bodies in faraway countries, yet even they are included in the ones that Christ came to save, He who taught us,

All authority in heaven and earth has been given to Me. Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.

Matthew 28:18-20