“So, my brethren, earnestly desire to prophesy…” (1 Corinthians 14:39)
We commonly think of prophets as those especially gifted people who have insight into future events. This was certainly a feature of the Old Testament prophets. More commonly in both the Old and New Testaments, prophesy is about being a powerful witness of God’s will and word, and often swimming against common currents. Thus, Jesus dramatically coming into the temple to chase out the moneychangers was understood to be a prophetic action. But there is also a more peaceful, educational dimension to prophecy, and that is what St Paul is describing.
In first century Judaism there was a popular notion that the age of the classical prophets was over. But God’s word for the day could still be heard through the prayerful reading and interpretation of scripture. This is what inspired pious Jews to study the Torah and its rabbinic interpreters. Such study and reading still requires a fresh infusion of the Spirit, and was thus a form of prophecy. Paul and the early Church took this to a new level, and emphasized that with Pentecost, God had opened up the age of the Spirit predicted by the Old Testament prophets, especially Joel (2:28-32; Acts 2:17-21). Everyone who was now in Christ had access to the Spirit and could desire to prophesy, or in other words to be filled with the Spirit, to discern His presence and action, to read God’s word with understanding, to have guidance in decision making, to encourage others. In this there could be a temptation to spiritual excess, and so Paul had to remind the Corinthians to do everything “decently and in order,” but he had no desire to kill the prophetic instinct that God have given them.
Despite Paul’s controversial words about women keeping silent in church (14:34-35), elsewhere in 1 Corinthians he assumed that women too were prophesying (11:5). How to explain this inconsistency? Some scholars think this passage is simply not Paul’s, but was added later. Others say Paul may have been dealing with a particular set of husband and wives and circumstances in Corinth, or that he was referring to mere social conversation. The Fathers aren’t very helpful here either. St John Chrysostom says, “A woman is softer of mind than a man and more subject to being flooded with emotion. Thus he sets husbands as protectors for the benefit of both.” This opens up lots of big questions about changing social mores and how these fit, or not, into the Orthodox Christian vision of life. But I’ll have to leave that for another time.
Planning for the All American Council
The Holy Synod will meet on August 13th in Detroit and one of the major items to be considered will be where and when to hold the special All American Council to elect a new Metropolitan. Although there are some voices in the Church saying that we should not hurry into an election, but let everything settle down and hold the council at its next regularly scheduled time (2014), advice from the OCA’s canon law experts is pointing us in the direction of a council sooner rather than later. The Statutes envision calling a council within three months after the metropolitan’s see is formally declared vacant, but the bishops have some leeway in this matter according to the OCA Statutes, when “some unavoidable necessity forces a prolongation of this period…” The bishops will have to decide if there is “unavoidable necessity,” but the main factors are purely logistical: finding on short notice an available hotel or other venue large enough (including possibly a church) to hold a 2-3 day AAC at reasonable cost to the parishes of the OCA. Yesterday’s meeting at the chancery with Bishop Michael and Council organizers was very fruitful and produced a number of cities and possible dates to be investigated. Possible months are November 2012, March 2013, July 2013. Organizers will look at Detroit, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Jacksonville or Denver. Now don’t get excited yet, this is all still in the exploration stage. We hope to have details and options to present to the bishops by their meeting in August.