August 7, 2012

Jesus the Troublemaker

Jesus was a troublemaker for the religious leaders of his day. If he weren’t, he never would have attracted any attention. But repeatedly, as in today’s gospel, we find him butting heads with the designated authorities, the “chief priests [archiereis] and the elders [presbyteroi]” (Matt 21:23). It’s notable that those two Greek words are used today for bishops and presbyters/priests. So we could say that Jesus finds himself in trouble with the bishops and priests. But Jesus was not anti-institutional. He fulfilled all the normal requirements of the Jewish Law, he went regularly to the Temple and synagogue, he advised people to listen to the teachers, to seek out the priests and called his listeners not to reject the Law but to uphold an even more rigorous standard. Yet he was not part of the bureaucratic power structure, or what the Soviets called the apparat. He was a prophetic figure, charismatic, unpredictable…and therefore dangerous. Institutional leaders always want to be clear about lines of authority. Who do you report to? Who is your boss? Who said you could do that? Or, as the gospel puts it, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” (Mt 21:23). Jesus refuses to fit into their categories and so won’t answer their questions directly. Instead he gives a few more biting parables that the leaders can’t fail to see are critical of them, adding to their increasing desire to get rid of him (see Mt 21-23). I read recently that a new Roman Catholic bishop called on his flock to cultivate “docility.”  That’s just the sort of behavior the chief priests and elders wanted from Jesus. 

As a presbyter/priest myself, and one of those responsible to the bishops for maintaining the good order of the institutional church I have to be careful here, but this shows precisely why our Lord and the scriptures are potentially subversive of any comfortable status quo, and why there has been a constant tension in the history of the church between the institutional and charismatic.

On the other hand, not everyone who goes on line to express their opinion is a charismatic prophet. This isn’t a new problem. The Epistle to Titus says, “There are many insubordinate men, empty talkers and deceivers…they must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families…” (Titus 1:10,11). This is where discernment comes in. The Orthodox are masters of antinomy, keeping together two apparently contradictory viewpoints. Keeping together the institutional and the charismatic, and seeking to rightly discern can be messy, fractious and time-consuming, but it’s also a healthy way of checks and balances that we reject at our peril. 

Helen Detke Retires after 27 years

Helen Detke
Helen Detke and two of her Granddaughters

Yesterday’s celebration of the Transfiguration was the perfect setting for Helen Detke’s retirement celebration. After the Transfiguration Liturgy, blessing of fruit and service of thanksgiving, we had flowers for Helen, a beautiful brunch, speeches and a delicious cake. Family and friends (notably Archpriest Sergei and Matushka Gerry Glagolev, and Arlene and Constantine Kallaur) joined the chancery staff in thanking her and wishing her well, after working since 1985 as a secretary and administrative assistant for the Orthodox Church in America.  Archbishop Nathaniel and other bishops sent messages of congratulations and gratitude. During some difficult years at the Chancery she was known as someone who worked quietly, calmly, confidentially and with good humor and without gossip. She recalled many good times, especially the hosting of Patriarch Alexy II and a delegation from Moscow in the 1990’s. “It was my joy to be here,” she said, “to work with people who wanted the best for the Orthodox Church in America, who gave of themselves. Every day was a gift for me to come in, to be with people I enjoyed being with.” One of Helen’s biggest legacies was working with the Fellowship of Orthodox Stewards, where she served many years as the right hand to FOS directors Archpriest Sergei Glagolev, Archpriest Basil Summer and others. “Many wonderful people gave so generously. And they gave because they were asked. They believed in the ministries of the Church. You have to ask people, your own people, if you want the ministries of the Church to thrive.”

We will miss you Helen.  May God bless your retirement years.