June 26, 2012

A Broad Place

“He brought me forth into a broad place” (Psalm 18:19).

In today’s gospel we sense Jesus’ frustration (yes, he was often frustrated). No matter how God demonstrates his presence, or through whom, people will find fault and start name-calling. John the Baptist was too ascetic, so “he has a demon”. Jesus was far too lax, so he’s “a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” 

But it’s true that some are more naturally attracted to ascetic rigor while others—equally seeking God—thrive on fellowship and community service. God has given such a range of possibilities for life in the church, according to our own varying personalities and inclinations. But debates in the church tend to push us to either/or instead of blessing the holy variety of the gospels.

I recall a priest from North America asking an elder on Mt Athos about current debates concerning the “right” way to be an Orthodox priest: with beard or without, long hair or short, cassock or clerical suit, vespers or vigil on Saturday night. “Which is the right way?” And the elder replied, “Both are right.” “How is that possible?” the priest asked, “They are completely different.” “No,” the elder insisted,  “Either choice is right—but only if it is inspired by love of God and desire to serve the neighbor.” This is another way of saying, “by their fruits you shall know them” (Matt 7:16), or as Jesus says it today, “Wisdom is justified by her children” (Matt 11:19).

We keep wanting to shrink the Church down to our own size, but God keeps opening it up, “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and bestows his riches upon all who call upon him” (Rom 10:12). The Church is a broad place, with room for all kinds of people and many forms of service in the name of Christ.

Baltimore: St Tikhon’s Seminary Board Retreat


His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah is president of all three OCA seminaries, and I as chancellor serve on the Board of Trustees of each school. Yesterday and today we have been in Baltimore for a board retreat, listening to speakers on issues of governance and development. That may provoke a big yawn from readers, but we need to be grateful to everyone in our church who takes on such responsibilities at any level of church life, from parish and diocesan councils to Metropolitan Council and Seminary boards. Institutional structures like those are the skeleton that gives shape to the living body of the church. Lest we forget, when St Paul talks about the Body of Christ and the people whose particular gifts “God has appointed in the Church” he includes those with the skills of governance (kubernesis, 1 Cor 12:28).

Overseeing budgets and raising funds is naturally a big part of board service, but the number one goal is “mission protection,” making sure that the seminary, parish, diocese etc is in fact serving the mission now and in the future. And while reviewing the past and dealing with the present are important, 50% of a board’s time should be concerned with the future: thinking, praying, planning…but also dreaming. “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions” (Joel 2:28).