September 12, 2012

The First Apostolic Mission

“And He called to them the twelve, and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over unclean spirits. He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics…So they went out and preached that men should repent. And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them.” (Mark 6:8-9, 12-13)

I believe in the historical Church. By that I mean that I believe that the Lord remains with the Church throughout history, as He promised, guiding it by Holy Spirit over the centuries. And if the Church is a living Body, then we can expect that it will grow, develop and change, while remaining at its heart the same. The late Archbishop Paul of Finland compared this to a baby who grows into an adult. She looks very different from decade to decade, but she remains the same person. Any body that stops growing is dead. Still, as Orthodox we place special value on God’s revelation in the past. In this Tradition the most precious treasure we have is the New Testament, which gives us a picture of the infant church and its vocation. As I say, we don’t try to replicate past history, but we do need to be confronted with that early, inspired life because not every later development in the life of the church is healthy. The New Testament requires every age and place in the church’s history to re-examine itself. 

So in today’s Gospel we are given a picture of the first mission by the apostles. It is an image of simplicity, even down to the type of clothing the apostles are to wear, indistinguishable from the people to whom they are sent. No long robes or fancy hats, in contrast to the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. The message too was the same that John the Baptist and Jesus first announced. We hear “repent” and we think “fundamentalist religious fanatic.” But really, it’s a call for everyone to stop and take stock and reflect on their lives, desires and aims. When people can’t get out of the bad habits that bind them they need help to “cast out the demons.” And wherever there are people suffering from illnesses of body, soul and spirit, they need prayer, anointing and healing. 

We are no longer in first century Palestine, but surely that first mission has something to teach the Orthodox Church today.

Challenges Facing the OCA and a New Metropolitan

Christ, Parma, OH
Icon over entrance of Holy Trinity Church, Parma, OH

A couple of corrections.

First, I neglected to mention yesterday that Father Chad Hatfield, the Chancellor of Saint Vladimir’s Seminary, was also present last Friday with Bishop Michael to greet the Catholicos of the Indian Orthodox Church at St. Mary’s Indian Orthodox Church in the Bronx. He presented His Holiness with a gift of recent SVS Press publications and announced a new printing venture with the Church in India.

Second, 1965 was not the last time a Council was held in a church. Protodeacon Peter Danilchick wrote, “The 13th All-American Sobor was held November 1967 in the 2nd Street Cathedral [Holy Protection, NYC]. I was a delegate there from Saints Peter & Paul (Father Alexander Warnecke’s church) in Syracuse, NY.” I stand corrected.

Speaking of Protodeacon Peter, he has a long and distinguished history of service to the Orthodox Church, especially in the area of administration and strategic planning (he is a retired Exxon executive.) At the meetings of the Metropolitan Council (9/25-27) and Holy Synod (10/9-11) Protodeacon Peter will be facilitating a discussion about the challenges facing the OCA and the new Metropolitan. 

It is obvious that we will need a period of healing and recuperation. We need time to think about what’s happened over the last ten years, not just the last few months, and how that has shaped the way we in the OCA do “church.” In a sense, we need to transition from wartime to peacetime after the last ten years of struggles. We are just now emerging from this, everything is still too raw, and it will take a lot of time, discussion and effort to re-tool the working relationships, reduce suspicions and rebuild trust. It will also take a lot of patience and mutual forgiveness.

May God give us courage, perseverance and hope as we seek to build up the Church under the direction of the Holy Synod and new Metropolitan, whoever he is.