January 23, 2013

Beautiful Buildings ?

Then, as some spoke of the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and donations, He said, “These things which you see – the days will come in which not one stone shall be left upon another that shall not be thrown down.” (Luke 21:5-6)

We Orthodox often emphasize beauty in worship. Icons, frescos, church buildings, vestments, gold and enamel liturgical vessels and candlestands, music, incense, candles, even the movements of the bishops, priests, deacons and servers should be beautiful, lifting up hearts and minds to the worship of God. The beauty of worship is a theme repeatedly underlined in the Scriptures too. From the earliest chapters of Genesis, starting with the sacrificial offering by Abel, the Bible takes every opportunity to say that the worship of God deserves only the best we have to offer.

People are especially generous when it comes to Church beautification projects, perhaps because they see and feel the results immediately when they come to worship. But sometimes I have the feeling that we lose perspective in our devotion to beautifying our churches. Beautification can become a monument to human pride and self-satisfaction rather than a call to prayer and doing God’s will “on earth as it is in heaven.” It’s a lot easier to raise money for re-guilding a cupola, building a bell-tower or putting up a new iconostasis than for scholarships for seminarians, for missions, for youth, to help the needy or (and this is the least inspiring of all) the operating expenses that keep the church open to witness the gospel of Christ.

Jesus spent long hours in the Jerusalem temple. His disciples, like most of us, could get carried away with wonder at what inspired human beings can create and build. Jesus reminds them that material glory, however devoted to the divine, can’t last forever. In our own day, beautiful but empty churches are eloquent testimony to that. 

Archbishop Justinian Visits the Chancery

Abp Justinian Visits Chancery

Archbishop Justinian visited the Chancery yesterday for lunch with Metropolitan Tikhon and the OCA staff (see story and photos here.) Former Chancellor Father Daniel Hubiak was with us for the occasion too. After serving as chancellor, Father Daniel spent a number of years in Moscow as the OCA’s first representative to the Russian Orthodox Church and forging the OCA community at Saint Catherine’s Church. The current head of external church relations for the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), served in those years as an assistant priest to Father Daniel.

The conversation was congenial, informal, candid and wide-ranging. We discussed some of the differences in Orthodox pastoral life and church experience in Russia and the United States, and the challenges of serving in both regions. Of particular concern are the pastoral needs of Russian-speaking immigrants, and preparing clergy who have the skills to work with them. Archbishop Justinian made the point that many immigrants who may not have been especially pious while in Russia discover God through the upheavals of immigration. We spoke about ways that the OCA and the Russian Church might build bridges to collaborate, especially in training of seminarians and clergy for missionary work.

Today I’ll be catching up on lots of office work. Tomorrow the other officers and I will be heading to Washington, DC for a packed few days surrounding the enthronement of our Metropolitan Tikhon at Saint Nicholas Cathedral (1/27). The other events include the March for Life (1/25), the enthronement of Ukrainian Orthodox Archbishop Anthony (1/26), and the meeting of the Holy Synod (1/28).