June 4, 2013

Contending for the Faith

Elymas the sorcerer (for so his name is translated) withstood them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. (Acts 13:8)

Then the Jews said to Him, “Now we know that You have a demon! (John 8:52)

The readings from Acts and John today both give me agita. I, and probably most of us, imagine, or rather fantasize, that as Christians we should be able to just live peacefully with all, serve God, serve our neighbor and enjoy Church. But the picture we get from the New Testament is one of perpetual argument and contention. Here Jesus is being attacked by the Jewish leaders. Paul and Barnabas are being attacked by Elymas. And in both cases the opponents are attacking the experience of Jesus, Paul and Barnabas. Jesus doesn’t really know God as he claims He does. Paul and Barnabas really did not experience the Risen Lord, as they claim they did. And in both cases, it is striking that neither Jesus nor the disciples back down. They continue to insist on their experience, even when that simple testimony provokes wrath.

Jesus they seek to stone, but He escapes. Paul on the other hand does something that I’m sure many of us would wish we could do at such moments. Not only does he not back down, he calls down divine punishment and rebukes Elymas in language we milquetoasts might even call unchristian! “O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord?” (Acts 13:10). Elymas was struck blind, to powerful effect on everyone else, who decided to listen a bit more carefully to the teaching of the Lord.

We should be careful about applying this example too easily, lest we mistake our passions for God’s inspiration. But likewise we shouldn’t dismiss the possibility that a loud public rebuke might on occasion be a way for God to get our attention.

Chancery Update

The Pension Board will be meeting today, chaired by John Sedor, with the episcopal oversight of Archbishop Nikon. Father Gleb McFatter (Dean, South Florida), chair of the Metropolitan Council’s Finance Committee is also a member and arrived yesterday for a preliminary meeting. In the evening Treasurer Melanie Ringa and I met with him to discuss the OCA budget, approaches to investment, stewardship and financial development (Father Gleb is an accountant and has his own accounting firm).

This past Sunday the “Spirit of Orthodoxy” choir sang beautifully in Rahway, NJ. It was a pleasure to join them in the bass section (Father Daniel Kovalak drove in from Williamsport, PA to add his basso profundo.) Father Joseph Lickwar, Chancellor of the Diocese of New York and New Jersey represented Bishop Michael and delivered a gramota honoring the choir and conductor Aleksei Shipovalnikov’s 16 years of service in promoting Orthodox liturgical music.

Father Eric Tosi and New Skete Community

Meanwhile, Father Eric Tosi was with the chapel community of New Skete Monastery, a community that is under the episcopal guidance of Metropolitan Tikhon (“stavropegial”). They invited him to advise them on organizational matters like setting up a non-profit tax-exempt 501(c)(3). He and the community of monks, nuns and laypeople (about 40) also had a lengthy conversation about outreach to the surrounding community and Orthodox evangelism, which Father Eric defines as, “The proclamation of the Good News of the Risen Christ with an invitation to become a part of the Body of Christ through participation in the Eucharist.”

Metropolitan Tikhon recently spent several days at New Skete during Great Lent. To learn more about the community see www.newskete.com.