September 19, 2013

Psalm 8

Out of the mouths of babes and infants You have fashioned perfect praise!
O Lord, our Lord, how glorious is Your Name in all the earth!
Psalm 8: 2,1 (Lazarus Saturday, Palm Sunday)

Palm Sunday
Children on Palm Sunday

That familiar expression “out of the mouths of babes,” when a child blurts out a truth unspoken by adults, comes from Psalm 8:1. This is also a verse used on Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday, when we celebrate the children recognizing Jesus as the Messiah. “Like the children with the palms of victory, we cry out to You, O vanquisher of death, hosanna in the highest, blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord” (Troparion).

Jesus said that unless we become like children we cannot enter the kingdom of God. And what is more kingdom-compatible than the spontaneous joy, wonder and praise of creation in this psalm-prayer-poem?

Sometimes the only adequate response to a poem is another poem. And sometimes we need more practice being children. So I’m going to take a risk and do both. Here’s a children’s poem I wrote in Bright Week a couple of years ago. 

Sarah’s Prayer

When Sarah knelt at night to pray
She asked her Dad what she should say.
He thought some moments and replied
With words his Dad once had supplied:
“When you come before a king,
Large petitions with you bring.”

He gently patted her gold hair,
Kissed her and went down the stairs.
She thought in silence by her bed
Then let the words now fill her head:
“When you come before a king,
Large petitions with you bring.”

She went through all the day’s garage
But nothing there could she call “large.”
A spat she’d had with her friend Lynn,
But that was hardly a big sin.
She had unfinished homework due tomorrow,
But that was just a minor sorrow.

Sarah got up from knobby knees
And out the window pondered trees,
Moonlight, stars, the cry of loons,
Her parents laughing in their room.
Quiet peace and joy she felt
As she got down again and knelt.

“Oh, God, this joy and wonder that I feel
May it in time for all be real.”
She lay back softly on her pillow,
And words brushed her like a willow,
“When you come before a king,
Large petitions with you bring.”

—Fr John Jillions

The Assembly of Bishops

Assembly of Bishops
The Assembly of Bishops, Chicago

Speaking of “large petitions,” many of us have been praying and working for decades to see one united Orthodox Church in North America.

The Assembly of Bishops is meeting now in Chicago in a process that could—we hope—lead to that. But there are also anxieties in our parishes and dioceses about what that unity will look like. I am discovering this as I call each of the OCA’s diocesan chancellors across the continent in preparation for the Metropolitan Council meeting next week.

My aim in making these phone calls is to hear the outlook and concerns from across the Orthodox Church in America. What are the preoccupations of clergy and parishes? How do people generally feel about the current state and direction of the OCA? What do they think are the particular strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats now facing our Church?

One of the constant themes that has surprised me—because it has come up so often and is so deeply felt—is commitment to the vision of a united but autocephalous Orthodox Church in North America. This is coupled with anxiety about the direction of the Assembly of Bishops. There are deep reservations about the intrusion of overseas churches in the affairs of North America. What will be the OCA’s place in the whole scheme of Orthodox unification? Will the Assembly be able to hold on to the vision of an Orthodox Church in and for North America? Or will this be swept away? 

From these conversations I understand that maintaining and enhancing our communications, connections and collaboration with overseas churches is essential. Indeed, many of our OCA people—especially in our Albanian, Romanian, and Bulgarian dioceses—have very strong connections with family, friends and churches in Europe. Care and attention to the diverse pastoral needs various immigrant communities is also crucial, and we need to do more of that. But going back to the old days of being governed by Old World patriarchs is a non-starter.

This may be offensive to some, but that’s the reality of what I’m hearing from chancellors across the OCA.