Rod Dreher: Letter from a Frustrated Priest

In the article excerpted from below, Rod Dreher is writing specifically about the culture of the Roman Catholic Church.  Therefore many of the points that he and the priests he quotes make do not apply to the Orthodox Church.  However, to the extent that the problem is really about power, then any institution similarly constituted is similarly vulnerable to fostering an unhealthy culture of conformity and silence.  This is why Fr. John Peck and I recommend that priests practice (or have the capability of practicing) tent-making.  It is also why it is vital that a priest’s fundamental loyalty is to Christ and His Church; with dedication to the Church’s bishops being derived and dependent on that fundamental loyalty – not vice versa.  Please note that the article is about how hard it is to speak out against an abusive culture (which is difficult and rarely worth the risk so is rarely done) NOT about how hard it is to speak out against uncanonical, illegal, or obviously immoral activities (which is difficult but everyone agrees should always be done!!!).  As to the question of whether such coercion exists within Orthodoxy, glory to God that we have God-fearing bishops that support their priests!  But if there really was a problem, please note that the indicators would mostly be …. silence.   – Fr. Anthony Perkins

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Letter From A Frustrated Parish Priest

[Below are a couple of excerpts from the letter a priest sent to Rod Dreher – READ IT ALL!]

Rod Dreher (Image from http://www.uu.edu/news/release.cfm?ID=2375)

A huge part of the problem [of coerced silence/conformity – .ed] is priests are stuck in their career as priests. I realize “stuck” is a strange word here. But given our relatively low pay we don’t have the ability to move to another career should the difficulties as a priest become too grave. If you don’t have any other options, then the people in authority over you have quite a bit of coercive power. The bishop has financial power over you, spiritual power, power of assignment, power to suspend, power to send for psychological assessment, etc. Now ideally, if a bishop is righteous, this would all work out for the good of the priest. But what if he isn’t? Or what if the priests in his curia who are advising him are corrupt? If you are a priest in such a diocese what are you to do?

If you are in your 30s you might leave knowing you can start over, but if you are in your 50s? …

My point here is, given the backlash a priest knows he very likely will receive by exposing corruption, he will either have to be willing to put up with persecution for possibly the rest of his life or he has to be willing to leave the priesthood. This makes the stakes rather high. …

[Again, read the whole thing. – ed.]

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About Rod Dreher
Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in St. Francisville, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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Your Vocation is My Vocation (Homily by Fr. Gregory Jensen)

Homily given by Fr. Gregory Jensen at Ss Cyril & Methodius Ukrainian Orthodox Mission
an Orthodox Christian community on the campus of UW-Madison

Sunday, July 15 (O.S., July 2), 2018: 7th Sunday after Pentecost; Placing of the Robe of the Mother of God.

Epistle: Romans 15:1-7/Hebrews 9:1-7
Gospel: Matthew 9:27-35/Luke 10:38-42; 11:27-28

Glory to Jesus Christ!

We have been looking at the importance of taking seriously the spiritual gifts that each of us has been given at baptism. The thing I want you to consider today is this: Because our personal vocations emerge out of the exercise of these gifts, hospitality is essential to the life of the Church.

Hospitality is not a matter of potlucks or fellowship meetings or open houses. Seen in the light of our baptismal vocation, hospitality is the willingness–the eagerness really–to support each other as we pursue our personal vocations.

This reveals a depth of meaning in Paul’s admonishment that we “who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak” and that we “not to please ourselves” but rather seek to “please” our neighbor.

This doesn’t mean giving in to each other. Rather, we are to act for the “good” of each other and for our mutually “edification.” This is only possible, however, to the degree that we each of us personally pursue the will of God for our lives.

So, again, hospitality is rather more encompassing–and serious–than potlucks, fellowship meetings, and community open houses.

In the full sense, hospitality means dedicating ourselves personally and as a community to fostering each other’s vocation. This is why St Paul tells us to “receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.”

Turning to the Gospel, we get a clear picture of what it means to practice hospitality.

Jesus doesn’t simply heal the blind men. He does first something He often does. He affirms the faith of the two men. In doing this He also creates the opportunity for them to affirm their faith in Him.

Jesus saying “Yes!” to the men is what makes it possible for them to say “Yes!” to Him.

In doing this, Jesus also ennobles the men. Or rather, He reveals to them–and to those around them–their true dignity. These men, blind and broken, poor and on the margin of society, though they are can nevertheless approach the Creator of the Universe and make a direct request of Him. A beggar can stand before the King and expect to have his petition not just heard but granted!

I suspect this as much as the restoration of their sight is what inspired the men to go and “spread the news about Him in all that country.” Even though Jesus told them to remain silent, experiencing the mercy of God and grasping for the first time their own value, these men became bold.

St John Chrysostom says that the “command to silence” was meant not to constrain the men but to rebuke “the religious leadership” of the Jews. As we see in the next verses, many among the Pharisees were hard-hearted. They refused to accept that “the crowds placed Jesus before everyone else–not merely before people who lived at the time but even before all who ever lived.”

Chrysostom goes on to say that the crowds put Jesus first not simply “because He was healing people but because He healed them quickly, …. easily” and of “countless” incurable diseases (“The Gospel of Matthew,” Homily 32.1, in ACCS, NT vol Ia, pp. 187, 188).

In other words, what Jesus does, He does freely and with authority. His love and mercy are not conditioned by anything other than His willingness to make right that which is wrong and broken in us.

As Jesus is for us, we must be not only for each other but for all we meet.

As Jesus is always ready to heal us, we must be willing to do for each other and all who we meet.

As Jesus reveals to us our true dignity and worth, we must do for each other and all who we meet.

My brothers and sisters in Christ! We hear today that the Theotokos is worthy of praise not because she gave birth to God but because she heard the word of God and keep it!

Today God speaks to us and tells each of us to practice hospitality. God calls each of us to assist each other in fulfilling our vocations. The details of these vocations are as different as the gifts we each have been given.

But for all that they, and we, are different, we share one vocation. To reconcile the world to God and to reveal to each person their true worth and dignity as those loved by God.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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Homily was published here with the permission of the author.  

Spiritual Gifts and Your Vocation (Homily by Fr. Gregory Jensen)

Homily given by Fr. Gregory Jensen at Ss Cyril & Methodius Ukrainian Orthodox Mission,
an Orthodox Christian community on the campus of UW-Madison

Sunday, July 8 (O.S., June 25), 2018: 6th Sunday after Pentecost; Virgin-martyr Febronia of Nisibis (304).

Epistle: Romans 12:6-14
Gospel: Matthew 9:1-8

Glory to Jesus Christ!

God’s grace in our lives is not abstract. This is what St Paul tells us today and we neglect his teaching to our determinant.

The gifts given to each of us at baptism aren’t simply practical ways to preach the Gospel and bring others to Christ. To be sure, they are these but they are more than this.

Our gifts are the concrete manifestation of God’s grace, of His love and divine life in our lives. This means that our gifts are how we are connected to God and so, as St Paul makes clear, to each other.

When we are ignorant of our gifts or neglect their exercise conflict and discord arise in family, the parish and even the Church. Again, the spiritual gifts that St Paul speaks about are nothing less than the manifestation of divine life in our lives and the concrete bonds of charity that unite us one to another in Christ.

Apart from God’s gifts, I’m not morally or spiritually different than the paralytic was bodily. Like the paralytic’s desire to walk, apart from the gifts received at baptism a life of Christian faith, hope and love remain just beyond my grasp. Faith is mere conformity, hope just optimism and love? Love becomes mere sentimentality.

This situation is made all the worse when, on the social level, we actively stifle the discovery and expression of the gifts received.

One way we do this is that we deny the possibility that God pours out His grace in the form of concrete gifts. Do this and it is only a short hop to denying that each Christian has a personal and unique vocation.

Our vocation is not a predetermined “slot” or “job” or even “office” in the Church. Rather it emerges slowly as we exercise the gifts given in baptism. There are few things more deadly to appreciating the baptismal vocation of each and every baptised Christian than the simplistic confusion of calling with discrete tasks.

Much of the confusion we see in the Church, to say nothing of our inability to retain young people, is the result of neglecting the intimate connection between baptism, the spiritual gifts, and personal vocation. When these connections are not made, or worse denied, being Christian becomes nothing more than being “a good person.” Or worse, “being nice”!

This moralizing view of the Christian life attracts no one. It is especially uninspiring to the young. If this is all it means to be Christian, why be Christian at all? After all, society is filled with morally good people who are often more “Christian” than Christians.

Ignoring or denying the personal vocation of each Christian has another negative consequence. It is the beginning of a demographic death spiral. It contributes to a situation in which the most thoughtful and idealistic believers–often the young and converts–walk away.

They walk away not from Christ and His Church but from the frankly superficial idol that we offer them instead. Bad as this is for the individual, it is worse for the Church.

As those who are seeking something deeper leave, the spiritual vitality of the parish, the diocese and eventually the Church suffers. We become complacent. At first, we are satisfied with a pat answer. We don’t concern ourselves with a vibrant life of faith, hope and love. In time though we lose our taste for a Christian way of life that is deeper, wider, more comprehensive and that can transform not only our lives but the lives of those around us.

Over time, we lose as well the sense of sin and so the magnificent liberating effect of the forgiveness Jesus extended to the paralytic and wishes to give to us as well. The Christian life becomes flat, uninspiring and, frankly, dull and unattractive. What beauty do have to offer, after all, but the beauty of a repentant soul made whole by forgiveness?

My brothers and sisters in Christ! This doesn’t have to our lot! On that first Pentecost, the Resurrection of Christ was preached by those who only recently cowered in fear. Those who, only days before, abandoned and denied Jesus, became His apostles and evangelists.

Those who the world persecuted and despised would shortly turn the “whole world upside down” (Acts 17:6). How did this happen?

The world was turned upside down because the disciples took seriously what St Paul tells us today. The disciples knew that they were richly blessed by God with gifts given to them for their salvation, the salvation of the world and the Glory of God!

Secure in this knowledge they transformed the world through the preaching of the Gospel, making of disciples of the nations, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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Homily was published here with the permission of the author.  

FB Live: How to Choose a Seminary (and succeed in Distance Learning)

 

There are several seminarians (not to mention theological programs; which is different).  Just in the United States, we have:

Resident Seminaries:

  • GOARCH
    • Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology – Brookline, Massachusetts; Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
  • OCA
    • Saint Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary – South Canaan, Pennsylvania; The Orthodox Church in America
    • Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary – Crestwood, New York; Orthodox Church in America
    • Saint Herman’s Orthodox Theological Seminary – Kodiak, Alaska; Diocese of Alaska in The Orthodox Church in America
  • ROCOR
    • Holy Trinity Orthodox Seminary – Jordanville, New York; Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia
  • Serbian Orthodox Church
    • St. Sava’s Serbian Orthodox Seminary – Libertyville, Illinois
  • American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese
    • Christ the Saviour Carpatho-Russian Seminary – Johnstown, Pennsylvania; American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese
  • UOC-USA
    • St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary – South Bound Brook, New Jersey
  • EP
    • The Patriarch Athenagoras Orthodox Institute – Berkeley, California

I’m sure I’m missing some programs, but the first eight are the ones I’m familiar with.

Distance Learning (some of the above also have Distance Learning programs; I attended St. Sophia’s for my priestly formation):

  • Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese: St. Stephen’s Course in Orthodox Theology (I completed this for my diaconal preparation)
  • ROCOR:  The Pastoral School of the Diocese of Chicago and Mid-America
  • GreatMartyr Euphemia Orthodox Theological Academy. Vicariate for Palestinian/ Jordanian Orthodox Christian Communities in the US (EP)
  • St. Gregory Nazianzen Orthodox Theological Institute – affiliated with Tesla University in Serbia.

So how do you choose?

It’s a bogus question.  You aren’t shopping.  You can make suggestions, but it’s really up to your bishop.  Don’t spring it on him (hey Vladika, I just graduated from XYZ – please ordain me!).  Get ecclesiology right, and do it from the beginning.

What about accreditation?

It’s nice for many reasons, but it isn’t required for ordination unless your bishop wants it to be.  Unaccredited degrees make using that degree for anything other than ordination difficult (but not impossible).  If you want an accredited degree, then be sure to share that information with your bishop.  BTW: you’ll learn a lot about yourself and your bishop’s management style during the process of discernment.  That’s a very useful part of the process.  Get used to it.  You don’t shop bishops any more than you shop seminaries!

Is Distance Learning really an option?

  • Some bishops use Distance Learning programs, some don’t.  Some use them as part of the discernment and training process just for potential deacons, some for priests, too (e.g. St. Sophia’s weekend priestly formation course).  If you and your bishop decide that Distance Learning is the right choice for you and your family (and there are many reasons why it might be!).

Make the best of it: it’s not a “dumbed down” version of resident seminary – unless you want it to be.

  • Make the most of the education.  Think of it as the Oxford system.  Read deeply, interact with your professors, and join forums with your classmates.  Be realistic – especially if you are working full-time, taking care of a family, and serving in a parish.  The residencies are invaluable.
  • Formation.  You have to pray.  You have to learn your strengths and weaknesses – and those of your family.
  • You are apprenticed to your parish priest.  Not just for spiritual formation, but for tutoring and OJT.  You don’t get that at full-time seminary.
  • Immerse yourself in the life of the parish.  Every service. Charitable ministries.  Parish board.  You don’t get that at full-time seminary.
  • Take advantage of opportunities to visit other parishes and the bishop.

There is no one size fits all solution for preparing a man for the priesthood.  Don’t look for the easiest way: make the most of the way that you, your priest, and your bishop make for you.  There are certain skill and knowledge sets that you need to have to begin serving as a priest, but it’s just as important that you become the kind of man that can serve as a priest (e.g. dependable and virtuous) – and that your bishop recognizes you as such.  Without any of those three, it just isn’t going to work.

And ordination is only the beginning of the journey!

St. Nikolai Velimirovic on the Mystery of Ordination

On the Mystery of Ordination
By St. Nikolai Velimirovic

And when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them (Acts 6:6).

By laying their hands on the chosen faithful, the apostles consecrated bishops, priests and deacons. It is apparent from this that the Christian Faith is not only a teaching but also a power. It is not enough merely to know; it is also necessary to have power. It is not enough merely to be chosen by men; one must also be affirmed by God. If power were not necessary for the priestly vocation, neither would the laying on of hands be necessary; only teaching passed from mouth to ear would be needed. The laying on of hands, therefore, signifies the transfer of authority and the descent of power on the chosen one. The power is in the grace of God, Who strengthens man, sanctifies and illumines him. Truly, the grace of God is that which teaches, leads, shepherds, and through the Sacraments strengthens the flock of Christ. A priest is the vessel of this inexpressible, awesome and all-sufficient power of grace. Blessed is that priest who understands what a precious treasury he has become! Blessed is he if the fear of God does not leave him day and night until his last breath! There is no greater honor on earth, no greater responsibility than the calling of the priesthood. By the laying on of hands by the bishop, the priest has come into contact with the heavenly and eternal source of grace and with the authority of the apostles. By this, the priest has become a companion in grace and a concelebrant with all the Orthodox priests from apostolic times until today, with the great hierarchs, with the countless number of saints, confessors, miracle-workers, ascetics and martyrs. He is gently adorned by their dignity, but he bears the burden of their merit, their example, and their reproach.

O my brethren, great and most great is the ministry of a shepherd of Christ’s rational flock. He is responsible to pray to God for all, and all the faithful are required to pray to God for him.

O Lord, Supreme Hierarch, sustain the Orthodox priests in strength, in wisdom, in purity, in zeal, in meekness and in every apostolic virtue by the grace of Thy Holy Spirit. To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.

From the Prologue from Ochrid (homily for May 30).