“Without Spot or Wrinkle or Any Such Thing”
Today’s epistle is familiar as the reading at marriages,“ Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her…” St Paul goes on to say that Christ’s desire for the church is that she would be purified of defects. Now, anyone who spends any length of time in any church will soon be able to point out its spots and wrinkles. The test then is to keep loving the church while holding on to our vision of what Christ desires and working for improvement. It’s not easy to keep looking up and walking the narrow path and either falling to one side—glossing over real problems—or the other, throwing up our hands and giving up. But it’s at that point of intersection, when we could go either way—fantasy or despair—that we have the test of faith in Christ. Is our faith, our house of faith, built on sand or on a rock? Christ promises that everyone who does what he teaches will be unshakeable. We are in a season of uncertain political promises, but Christ’s promise has been tested and proven time and again. But every time we face this dilemma, the test feels new, because “we walk by faith, not by sight.” God does not give us the satisfaction of knowing ahead of time that it will all work out. That would undermine our faith, which needs these repeated exercises to stay strong and grow and depend just a little bit more next time on the One who is our rock.
While many Americans will be glued to their television sets watching the first of the presidential debates in Denver, I’ll be a few miles away from the site but in another world. Under the guidance of Archbishop Benjamin the Assembly of the Diocese of the West is meeting at Holy Transfiguration Cathedral. The church was founded in 1898 by Russian and Serbian immigrants, and in 1905 it was consecrated by Saint Tikhon, who built the original wooden altar. Last night after vespers I went to dinner with the Diocesan Council and listened-in on their hopes and concerns. As Archbishop Benjamin pointed out, while there has been “drama” on the OCA’s national level, on the whole the diocese is sound. After the liturgy this morning the Assembly will hear reports from across the diocese and address the usual questions of finances, especially in relation to the central church administration. But I was struck by a short but thought-provoking report from a Saint Tikhon’s seminary intern, Father Benjamin Huggins, who served with his family in Durango, Colorado this past summer. They had the use of cabin that was turned into a chapel, and served vespers daily. “Although it was only my family for many of the services, it was truly a blessing to have this as part of our daily lives.”
This experience has given us a sobering glimpse of what then life of a parish priest will be like for our family, it allowed us to enter into a cycle of services to the extent we were able, and it gave us the opportunity to serve with a small group of faithful in a mission setting.
We spent about two months in Durango and while we were there I was able to work as a teacher for the school district for a few weeks. Although it was only a part-time job, it gave us an idea of what life would be like if I were to work a secular job and work as a priest as well. We spent a lot of time in the town as a family participating in the life of the community. There has never been a consistent Orthodox presence in this town, so it was encouraging to see the interest that people had in the Church simply by the conversations with locals. Participating in the local soup kitchen also allowed us to serve the broader community.
There is a small group of faithful in Durango and we were able to get to know them over the two months we were there. We had a meal after each Liturgy and spent time with each family on an individual basis at one point or another. They are a small but strong group and we look forward to being with them again.
May God bless Father Benjamin and his family. More than 95% of the counties in the United States do not have an Orthodox presence, let alone an OCA parish. We have our work cut out for us.