August 14, 2012

Binding Heavy Burdens on Others

For most of this week the gospel comes from Matthew 23, Jesus’ terrible indictment of religious hypocrisy that we hear as well in Holy Week. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites…” He repeats this six times in a devastating rebuke to self-importance. This is especially stinging for us Orthodox who are so careful about clerical titles and pious obedience to masters and elders. “And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ. He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matt 23: 9-12).

St John Chrysostom comments on Matt 23:4 with particular insight about harsh pastors.

[Jesus] mentions here a twofold wickedness. First, they require great and extreme strictness of life without any indulgence, from those over whom they rule. Yet they are much less stringent with themselves. This is opposite from what the truly good pastor ought to hold. He ought to be a rigorous and severe judge in things that concern himself. But in matters of those whom he rules, he ought to be gentle and ready to make allowances. What these men do is just the opposite. For such are all they who practice self-restraint in mere words while being unforgiving and grievous to bear when they have no experience of the difficulty in actions. This is no small fault. (On the Gospel of Matthew, Homily 72.2)

Don’t get me wrong. Exalted titles and harsh pastoring don’t necessarily go together. Having just spent a very good full day of work in Detroit with our bishops and wearing long robes myself, I’m not rejecting the Orthodox tradition, only reminding ourselves that this tradition also includes these warnings. In fact, our titles and awards are pretty funny if you think about them. A skufya. A nabedrennik. A palitsa. It’s tough to tell your next door neighbour in American suburbia that you just got a promotion and can now wear a purple hat. But amongst ourselves, clerical awards are a humble indication that our bishop has noticed the work we do, and that does mean something.

Meeting with the Bishops

Holy Synod

It is a privilege for the officers of the OCA to sit together with our bishops and work closely with them in overseeing the life of the Church. From time to time of course they meet entirely on their own (though not on this occasion), but there is an excellent spirit of collaborative, good humored hard work for the building up of the church.

This is especially evident now. Most of us arrived on Sunday evening, and during supper and afterwards we had a substantive conversation about the Office for Review of Sexual Misconduct Allegations. On Monday, after breakfast and opening prayer, we worked all day on clergy matters (including the aftermath of Metropolitan Jonah’s resignation), reviewing the work of the central administration, hearing reports from Bishop Alexander and Father Leonid Kishkovsky on what is happening around the Orthodox world and planning for the special election at an All-American Council.

The date and place will be announced shortly, but we need more logistical information before that can be done. The bishops were of one mind that the election needs to be held sooner rather than later, and that this will be the sole focus of the special AAC. The locum tenens (Archbishop Nathaniel) has the limited task of preparing for the election of a new metropolitan and overseeing the good order of the church in the meantime. There was a sense among the bishops that this council needs to be humble, subdued and even penitential, what Father Alexander Schmemann described as the “bright sadness” of Great Lent. We are members of one another and we all therefore bear some responsibility for the events that have led to the election of a new metropolitan.

We all started to go our separate ways when the first shuttle van came to Saint Andrew’s House at 8:15 last night (many thanks to everyone there for their warm hospitality). I climbed in with Archbishop Tikhon, Archbishop Nikon, Bishop Melchisedek and Father Leonid. After an uneventful flight back to LaGuardia, dropping off Father Leonid in Sea Cliff, I got home around 1:00 am, tired but satisfied that the church is in good hands.