November 8, 2013

Psalm 30

“A Psalm of David. A Song at the dedication of the Temple.”
(Psalm 30, heading)

Most of the psalms have headings added by pre-Christian Jewish tradition long after the psalm was composed. These can be musical instructions (Psalm 4, “To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments”), personal names associated with the psalm (“A Psalm of David,” “A Psalm of Asaph”) or—such as today—the tradition has given a historical reference linking the psalm to some event in the life of David, although the connection isn’t always obvious, as here. Most likely, the Temple Mount, Mount Zion, is being linked with verse 7 “Thou hast established me as a strong mountain.” 

Saint Nikolai Velimirovich (1880-1956) commented on this inscription, turning it into a meditation on the relationship between the outer, material temple, and the inner temple of our own soul. All too often pride in the outer building results in neglect of the inward being. Or in the words of verse 6, “As for me, I said in my prosperity, ‘I shall never be moved.’”

A nation poured its whole soul into the walls of a single temple, and it remained empty and soulless. Whoever entrusts his whole soul to stone for protection and ceases to keep watch over it himself, will truly be in the world as the shadow of an aspen tree.

“We have built God a temple,” say the capricious, “and we have paid off its debt. From now on we only have obligations to ourselves alone. We have given to God what is God’s, now we shall give to ourselves what is ours.”

You wretches, what need will God have for a temple, if you have no need for it?...

When you build the best for Him, you are setting an example for your soul, showing her what she should be building within herself.

When you build for Him better than for your own body, you are setting an example for your soul, showing her that she should also be building herself a stronger, more sublime and radiant habitation than what the body needs and—than the body itself.

(from Prayers by the Lake, in Johanna Manley (ed.), Grace for Grace: The Psalter and the Fathers, 98-99.)

Saint Vladimir’s Seminary 75th Anniversary

SVOTS 75th
St Vladimir’s Seminary 75th anniversary celebration

What an inspiring and glittering event last night, weaving together accomplishments of the past and present with bold plans for the future. It was all done on a grand scale, reflecting the big tasks being tackled, all of which require big funding. And there were many stepping up to the challenge.

The scale of such undertakings can be intimidating for those accustomed to parish bake sales. But the sobering fact is that throughout church history it has been major benefactors who have built the cathedrals, monasteries, school, universities and institutions that have stood the test of time. We need everyone to be connected in whatever way they are able to build the church, but we also need those who have the means to come forward in a way most cannot.

SVOTS 1980
The chapel at St Vladimir’s, Prof David Drillock directing (circa 1983)

Yet none of this begins with money. As Father John McGuckin noted, Saint Vladimir’s began with dedicated teachers who had nothing but a “pocketful of dreams.” He said, “They had more hope than caution, more dreams than common sense.” They, and those who followed them, insisted on academic excellence and creativity, proclaiming the Orthodox gospel of Christ without obscurantism. He concluded by exhorting the seminary to continue its catholicity, its pan-Orthodox mission and “witnessing to a world that is growing ever more tribal.”

As I said yesterday, His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon is recovering from pneumonia and couldn’t attend. But he did send a message that was read by Archbishop Nikon of Boston as the celebration ended.

We are not simply recognizing 75 years of an earthly institution and its material output, but rather 75 years of personal accomplishments by gifted individuals who have labored in a deeply Christian way to form other individuals into pastors, leaders and teachers, to write books and compose liturgical music that would touch people in a personal manner and, in general, to build the community of the Church through their common commitment to the life in the Spirit.

May the next 75 years of the Seminary’s existence bear as much fruit as the previous 75 have and may the Holy Spirit inspire all that you have done and continue to do, each in your own personal way, for the continued growth of Saint Vladimir’s Seminary and the glory of Christ and His Eternal Kingdom.

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I will be at Saint Vladimir’s today from 10:30 am until 9:00 pm for a very full day of Board meetings.