July 5, 2012

Independence, Individualism and Public Service

Yesterday was Independence Day and thanks to the New York Times I re-read the Declaration of Independence and an op-ed piece on how individualistic we’ve become as Americans. “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” may be unalienable rights, but they also can be interpreted in a selfish way that Thomas Jefferson would lament.

Christianity likewise can be selfish. Secularism is still a big enemy of Christianity, but the resurgent interest in spirituality is at least as dangerous. Especially for the Orthodox, who could fit right in with increasing demand for me-first spirituality.  But pure spirituality (as if there even is such a thing) can lead to a self-preoccupied religious life that cares little for the needs of others, for the wider civil society and for culture.  Such hyper-spirituality is also what St Paul had to fight on many occasions. So he insisted not only on the reality of the Cross, but on what that meant for our day-to-day life as followers of Christ: real, messy, incarnate, this-world service to others in His name. Besides his tireless missionary work in new territory (while working to support himself as a tent-maker), he puts a lot of effort into making collections for the poor in Jerusalem (Rom 15:25-29). He was also mightily concerned with the practicalities of what was going on in communities,  because there is a perpetual temptation to be closed-in and insular. But Christianity has always been about widening our family and expanding our universe. As Jesus says today, “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister and mother” (Matt 12:50). Saying yes to Christ and Christian spirituality means also saying yes to the life of the church, to public service in the name of Christ and expanding the boundaries of “family”.

Lesser Synod Meets Today

St. Sergius chapel set up for Lesser Synod meeting
St. Sergius Chapel set up for Lesser Synod

The Lesser Synod is the group of four bishops who carry forward the work of the Holy Synod in between the Fall and Spring meetings.  Met Jonah chairs, and the members are Abp Nikon, Abp Tikhon and Abp Benjamin. The officers of the OCA (Chancellor, Secretary, Treasurer, Director of External Affairs) are also present for most of the sessions, which take place in St Sergius chapel. The OCA’s General Counsel is often present as well to give updates on legal cases.  In addition to the regular work of the Synod—reviewing clergy matters, hearing reports and updates, part of today’s agenda will be to contribute to the ongoing discussion about realigning responsibilities between the Central Church administration and dioceses (two weeks ago a group of clergy and laity appointed by the Metropolitan Council had a conference call to initiate the conversation; the process will be facilitated by Dr Dmitri Solodow.) A proposal for establishing an Office for Continuing Education will also be considered, since this has been identified as a major gap in the OCA’s training of clergy and church workers.

The meetings will go into the evening and possibly continue tomorrow morning.