Being Christian in a Western Democracy


Fr. Ilya Gorsky

In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Our first and foremost concern is our salvation. We are on this earth to seek out God, to love Him, and to do all in our power to be like Him. The holy Scriptures stress this again and again. In [the Gospel of] Matthew our Lord says, "But seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you." In Chronicles we read the same: "Seek the Lord and His strength. Seek His face continually." And there are many other quotes from the New and Old Testaments. The emphasis is on continuous seeking to be God-like. This, of course, means keeping oneself away from sin. We long for God and the next world. The next world is our home, not this one.

In the course of this discussion we must also remember that good government or a good society is not an end to itself; but rather, they are just the circumstances within which we must earn our salvation.

Why are we talking about being Orthodox Christians in a western democratic society? There are many forms of government in the world and one should be able to live a Christian life in any of them. Particularly, since this world is just a temporary abode for us. Throughout the Holy Scriptures, we are taught to respect government. As we well know, Our Lord, in response to the Pharisees' questions on paying the Roman taxes said, "Give unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and unto God that which is God's." The Apostle Paul clearly states, "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers for there is no power but of God and the powers that are ordained of God." We may be familiar with this passage but Saint Paul continues this verse with the following: "Whosoever therefore resists the power, resists the ordinance of God. And they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good and thou shalt have praise of the same. For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil be afraid, for he beareth not the sword in vain for he is the minister of God. A revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. For this cause, pay ye tribute also for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues tribute to whom tribute is due, custom to whom custom, respect to whom respect, and honour to whom honour."

Why can't we just follow these commandments and try to live a Christian life, seeking the kingdom of God? What is this special concern that we need to talk about democracy? To be brief, the answer is that western democracy is filled with traps, half-truths and deceptions. Good and evil have been so intertwined that one can easily mistake one for the other. One may thus be committing grievous sins and not be aware of it. The answer has everything to do with one's salvation.

Just to give you some examples of traps and half-truths and deceptions...

All men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. This statement is taught and accepted by democratic peoples as the mainstay of American democracy. This statement is purported to mean that all men are to be treated equally by the law. By its reference to God, this statement seeks to make itself more credible as if it is God-sanctioned. However, this reference to God is grossly misstated. God created people with an equal chance of salvation. But even then, different people are endowed by their Creator with different numbers of talents, each to facilitate their salvation. As for earthly equality, which is referred to by that statement, people are born as unequal as night and day. A person who is born a millionaire with all the facilities at his disposal, is he equal to someone born, for example, in Harlem? How could you say these two persons are equal? Are both treated equally before American law?

Then the issue of tolerance, another example. Tolerance in western democracy is billed as a supreme and unquestionable good. God endowed men not with inalienable rights but with free will. And God forces no one to be with God, but longs for men to freely choose to love Him from their hearts. However the tolerance, this preoccupation with tolerance has degenerated to extremes. Open tolerance, for example, of homosexuality and not only tolerance, but promotion.
As we see from Saint Paul, throughout the history of man government has been instituted by God to keep man away from sin, to aid man in his quest for salvation. In the pre-Mosaic law, in the Garden of Eden, the first government consisted of one single law, instituted by God, to allow man to obey God out of his own volition. As we know that first law was broken by Adam and Eve and they, and the entire human race, became estranged from God. Adam and Eve were thus punished for their sin. The consequences of their sin are borne by mankind to this day.

The Hebrews received God's law through Moses on Mount Sinai. This law was both religious and secular. Actually, it was just one set of laws for both. Any disobedience to it was a sin against God. There existed no dichotomy between secular and religious laws. There was no contest between secular laws and religious laws. And also, each person was responsible for his own sins before God. As we know, the Hebrews were punished many times for disobeying God. God sent judges to help the Hebrews in time of need, for example, Gideon and Samson, and to bring them back to God when they strayed, like the judge and prophet Samuel.

In today's language, this would be called a theocracy. In the eyes of the western democratic society in which we live a theocracy is a most oppressive intolerant form of government, markedly worse than a dictatorship. In reality, it is the best form of government. Laws were given to man directly from God, each person answering only to God. God was the head of that state. However, what we are taught in this democratic society, is that that was the most evil of forms of government whereas our Church teaches that this is the best.

The Hebrews, however, saw that other peoples were governed by kings and were envious. They sowed discord among themselves and felt that a king would restore order. They asked the prophet Samuel, who was also the judge at the time to anoint for them a king. Samuel at first refused but received word from God. "And the Lord said unto Samuel, 'hearken unto the voice of the people and all that they say unto thee, for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them. Hearken unto their voice and make them a king.' And Samuel anointed Saul to be king. Note that the Hebrews did not rebel openly against God, but asked God's judge and prophet Samuel to anoint for them a king, and God so instructed Samuel.

From the time of the kings there became a dichotomy in laws - the secular law, in other words, those issued by the king, and God's law, those given to the Hebrews on Mount Sinai. But that is not really the main issue. The king anointed by God to rule His people was now personally responsible to God for the laws that he imposed on the people. If the king issued laws contradicting God's law and thus led his subjects into sin, God would hold the king accountable for the sins of the people whom he was leading astray. The people, being sworn to support the king, God's anointed, would be judged by God much less severely for any of their sins caused by improper laws instituted by the king. Throughout history, we have seen how God punished the kings who have led God's people astray, those who have abused the power with which God entrusted them to lead the people to salvation, because as we remember, government is there, instituted by God for the salvation of the people.

We must remember, though, that God punishes to seek the repentance of the sinner, and the king is no exception. A person who is beyond repentance may be left alone by God and in this earthly life may appear to flourish. Likewise, such a king may be allowed to rule by God to punish people who deserve such a king. (A saint who once lived in a country ruled by a particularly harsh king asked God, "Why did You place such a bad king over us?" God answered, "Because I could not find anyone worse.")

Imagine an Orthodox Christian monarch anointed by God, who governs his people with a fear of God in his heart. He understands the heavy burden placed on him by God for he must answer to God for all the souls of his subjects. If his laws are too loose, he is not using his sword to keep his people from evil. If his laws are too strict, he may be pushing his subjects to sin. Imagine being governed by such a monarch. You can almost relax and not question the righteousness of his laws for he is the God-fearing, the "Father-King", fulfilling, to the best of his abilities, the heavy cross which is imposed on him by God, the cross to govern the people. Imagine the weight of such a cross. Millions of souls are your responsibility. No wonder the coronation of an king or queen is compared to the sacrament of ordination. But our western democratic society looks on all monarchs as being equivalent to dictatorships. The aspirations of an Orthodox monarch to govern his subjects according to God's law are equated to a dictator's lust for power and riches. Both are considered equivalently evil.

Then the time came and the people again rejected God's appointed ruler as in the time of Samuel. But this time the people rejected God's anointed ruler not by asking, but through force, via revolution. This time they were not asking God for a king. Now they want to be kings themselves and they did not ask but usurp and they killed God's anointed. And again, God allows this to happen. They seek to be masters of their own destiny. They seek to be answerable to no one. They seek to make their own laws, a government "of the people, by the people, for the people", through democratic voting. But with the usurpation of the throne of God's anointed, they have also taken the heavy cross of governing - for themselves.

The people now choose their rulers and the laws which the rulers choose in their name. Now the people are responsible for the laws and bear the same full accountability that God's anointed king used to bear. For example, if a king issued a law allowing abortion, all the resulting murders of innocent babies were sins of murder on his soul.

Likewise, having usurped the the throne of God's anointed, if you knowingly vote for the politician who espouses abortion, all resulting abortions are sins of murder on your soul. "But wait", you say, "I am not the only one. There are millions of others who voted with me." Yes, that is true, but a sin is a sin. If ten people conspire to commit murder, does each one carry just one tenth of the sin? If so, then if the conspiracy involved a hundred, a thousand , or a million of people, then for each person, it's almost not even a sin? But no, we know, that if ten people commit one murder, each
person's soul carries the full weight of such a sin.

So what is happening in our country? We have the sins of millions of murders of innocent babies on the soul of each voter who cast his vote. How many repent? How many such sins continue to mount on each person's soul? And we have not even touched the other so called issues like homosexual rights - this abomination before the eyes of the Lord, is protected and promoted, and taught openly to the innocent children of our schools. How many people freely chose the rulers who passed such laws? We have the AIDS epidemic, and we have more frequently occurring earthquakes, hurricanes and floods. We can no longer remember a time when one could walk safely in our streets. Very faintly and very infrequently we may hear a voice saying, "This is punishment from God." We also then hear many persons' response, "These epidemics could not possibly be a punishment from God. Innocent people and even babies are struck. I refuse to believe who God is so cruel."

But who is truly innocent in a western democracy? Each one votes for the candidate of their choosing. Each one can open their mouth in protest or defence of a law but how many do? According to the Apostle, one who has an opportunity to do good and does not, has committed a sin. So who is innocent? The babies, perhaps. But the consequences of sins of the parents are borne by their children. This is a spiritual as well as a physical law. Physically speaking, babies born of drug addicts are addicted themselves. Spiritually speaking, according to the scriptures, a parent's sin is borne by seven generations of offspring. It may be theologically debatable whether the number seven, in this case, is the specifically countable seven, or the generic seven, like the seventy times seven number of times we are instructed to forgive one who commits a sin against us. The consequences of the first sin of Adam and Eve are still being borne by us, removed only through the sacrament of Baptism-Chrismation.

Considering the multitude and magnitude of the sins in our society, in other words, how many sins are being committed, and they're all placed on so many people, with each person responsible for those sins, there is no question that these epidemics are punishment permitted by God. He is jolting us to repentance. The wonder is that He does not smite us from the face of the earth as in Sodom and Gomorrah. I suppose there must still be more than ten righteous men in this society.

So our democratic society has usurped the place of God's anointed. Is it now content? The answer is of course, "No." Although this country has proclaimed itself a Christian country for the last two hundred years, it is now coming to the next step. Not content with being kings, the people now want to take the place of God. They want to become gods, but not through the path of salvation offered by God, but again through usurpation. Laws being enacted currently are anti-God. The current laws protect and exalt the sin and the sinner while the worship of God is curtailed. As we know, one can hardly mention God in the schools at all.
So, how should we then live? We must return to our primary concern, our salvation. When we vote, we must be cognizant of what we are doing. We are selecting our rulers and as with all our actions, we must answer to God for them. But we must realise that when we vote, we bear the responsibility of a king. We are effecting the enactment of laws which will affect many souls, either promoting sin or preventing sin. And we answer to God with the full weight of the cross of governing. Once we acquire the right to vote if we do not vote to promote righteousness when we are able, we commit the sin of inaction. How great is this sin. We remember Eli, the high priest and judge who raised the prophet Samuel, his entire house was put to death for the sin of inaction for not restraining his sons who were evil priests. We read in the holy Scriptures, "because his sons made themselves vile and he restrained them not."

How much of the Apostle Paul's commandments concerning government authority is applicable here? We must particularly note the passage "For rulers are not a terror to good works but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good and thou shalt have praise of the same. For he is the minister of God to thee for good, but if thou do that which is evil be afraid for he beareth not the sword in vain. For he is the minister of God a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil."

When the governmental authority is clearly opposite, it rewards evil and persecutes God, we must be extra diligent. Saint Paul was speaking in the time of pagan Roman emperors, and when the emperors demanded sacrifices to the pagan gods, Saint Paul did not obey the authorities, but as many other Christians, received the martyr's crown. We thus must not blindly obey the governmental authorities.

In conclusion, let us reflect on our salvation. We must seek the kingdom of God. Christ told many parables in which He said "the kingdom of God is likened unto ...." and He would relate a parable. All of these parables are extremely important to us, for Christ is explaining to us that which we must seek. We have all heard the parable of the talents many times. The talents are being given to us not just at birth, but throughout our lives. The talents are our tickets to the kingdom of God, our opportunities to do good. If we accept them, take up the cross given to us, and work the good presented to us, we will gain more talents. If we reject the opportunities to do good, these talents will be taken away from us and given to another who will bring them to fruition at the appointed time. A simple but poignant example is Saint John of Shanghai and San Francisco, who comforted and took in so many orphans. These orphans were in the streets of Shanghai and undoubtedly could have been cared for by any one of a multitude of people besides Archbishop John. The orphans were, in fact, talents given to all these people by the Master, but each one of these people rejected them, buried the talent, and said to God," Here is your talent, as you have given it to me. I do not want to do your work." And so the talent, the opportunity to do good is taken from the evil servant and given to one who already had ten other talents - to Archbishop John, who accepted the cross of the talent and raised a multitude of orphans and brought fruit a hundredfold.
A transcript, edited by Fr. Hieromonk Michael of Saint Petroc Monastery with the permission of the author, of a talk given at the Saint Herman Conference in1994


Refreshment Sunday

[Ed. note - apologies for this being a week late. I was still recovering and was unable to post. I hope to make a post about our Simnel Cake from last week on the Editor's Personal Blog - http://orthodox-okie.blogspot.com ]

From Saint Petroc Monastery, Cascades, Tasmania.


This Sunday, “Mid-Lent Sunday” has, from very ancient times, also been known as “Refreshment Sunday” - possibly because of the Gospel of the day, the feeding of the five thousand and possibly reinforced in later times by the First Lesson of Evensong for the day, which ends with the refreshment of the brethren by Joseph (in many ways, himself the type of our Blessed Lord). The flavour of the variable parts of the Liturgy today is somewhat that of relief from the prevailing sombreness of Lent. The “Mi-CarĂªme” of the Church of France, the “rejoice” of our Office, the “gladness” and “peace” of the Gradual, the “trust” of the Tract, the “comfort” of the first Collect and the “praises” of the Offertory all seem at odds with the predominant theme of Lent. The “free Jerusalem” springing out of the bondage of Sinai, in the Epistle and the Gospel’s feast in the wilderness, together with the other variable parts of the Liturgy, all show the way to the miracle which gives point to this Sunday, revealing our Lord as refreshing men materially by the operation of His providence, and mystically as their spiritual Refresher.

This feeding of the five thousand has many levels at which we can look at and learn from it. In the first place it is to be seen in the context of the Passover, as a fulfilment of the prophecies made in the Old Testament regarding the Messiah and particularly in this Old Testament context, it is to be seen in relation to the feeding of the Children of Israel in the desert of Sinai with the manna. Then too, it has very strong overtones in verse 11, of the Eucharist. But let us look at it first as the refreshment of men. From the literal point of view, the miracle was stupendous and well- calculated to show that the providence of God the creator of all, is quite able to take care of those whom He loves. Incidentally, it has been calculated that the two hundred pennyworth of bread mentioned by Saint Philip as being insufficient, would, at the fairly standard Roman Empire price of the day, have meant around 2,000 ten ounce loaves (rather like the modern Pitta bread of the Middle East). Given that Saint Matthew (14:21) states that there were “about five thousand men, besides women and children”, one may extrapolate this as meaning that perhaps there were as many as eight to ten thousand people in all to be fed. Philip was therefore very accurate in saying that the amount of bread that each would get from two thousand such loaves would be insufficient for perhaps ten thou-sand who had not eaten all day. Hence the stupendousness of the feeding of these thousands of people from the five barley loaves and two small fishes. The literal, material power of God to do what He will for those whom He loves is well demonstrated at this level of viewing the miracle.

The mystical meaning of the miracle is shown by the several acts recorded in the eleventh verse and these are certainly of a distinctly Eucharistic character:

The loaves are placed in Jesus’ hands as an oblation and He in turn, offers them to God the Father. Jesus gives thanks for the loaves before handing them to the Apostles to start the distribution. This eucharistisation of the loaves endows them with capacities which they did not previously possess. He distributes them to His ministers as to persons receiving gifts from Him
for the benefit of others. By the intervention of these ministers, not by direct distribution from Jesus to the multitude, do the people receive the eucharistised bread, by which their hunger is satisfied. Jesus final instruction to gather up the leftovers that nothing may be lost tends to emphasise the eucharist-like character. This the type of the work of the Church is set in front of us in the midst of the Lenten sorrow for our failure to do that which is required of us. Our eyes are lifted momentarily to the work which we must do. Both fasting and abundance are at the command of the Lord."


Trinity Sunday

Sermon from Saint Petroc Monastery
Fr. Hieromonk Michael

Today begins the longest season of the Church’s year: Trinity-tide, which lasts until the end of November, almost a full month of Sundays. Today as a special matter however, we celebrate the revelation of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. God, we are told repeatedly throughout the Holy Scriptures, is eternal. He has no beginning and He has no end. The Father’s Son is eternal: He is begotten before all ages, the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father eternally. Heaven, the eternal Kingdom of God has no time in any earthly sense. It follows that our earthly, physical time has little significance.in Heaven. What then, does this mean for us when we look at the Church? The worship of the Church? The relationship between us and Christ?

From a Heavenly point of view, everything that has happened and will happen is, in a sense, happening “now”. While we are clearly told that some things which are yet to happen are unknown to any but God Himself, nevertheless, from the Heavenly point of view, Christ is God and man, Christ is being born of Mary who becomes thereby the Mother of God’s Incarnation, Christ is teaching and we are milling around Him, He is being tried, beaten and nailed to the Cross, we are consenting to that and we are at the same time crying for it and for ourselves. He is dying for us, He is being buried, visiting Hell, preaching to and leading the righteous sons of Adam out of Hell, He is rising again, He is teaching the Apostles in detail about what the Church is to be, its mission and how to understand His words. He is ascending to the Father, He is requesting the Holy Spirit from the Father, the Apostles are preaching, the Martyrs are dying, It is not some long-ago thing - it is now - the Church is spreading, the Holy Spirit is instructing the Fathers of the great Councils how to build and guide the Church. It is all happening in the present tense: We are an integral part of all that. It is not the past - it is the present for the Orthodox Believer. That is why we ask our friends to pray for us, to plead on our behalf - our friends - whether they be here on earth or reposed before us, great saints of the last millennium or humble friends of our youth, they are all our intimate neighbours who gather around us and pray to God for us. The Orthodox Believer reads the words of the Fathers and he is at the same time there listening to them, they are his friends, his mentors, his neighbours. It is as natural for him to ask them to intercede for him as it is for him to ask his brother-in-this-world to help him. From all this it follows that the Christian Priest serving before God in the Divine Liturgy, does not (cannot) repeat Christ’s Sacrifice of Himself. What the Priest and the Church do is to participate (both as penitents and as joyful recipients) in that original timeless, once-for-all Sacrifice at Calvary. Our worship is the worship of Heaven, we participate shoulder-to-shoulder with the crowd of Saints, Elders, Martyrs and Faithful. We have no time to make worldly observations during the Liturgy, this is truly our “time out” for we are in another place during the liturgy, with those who are our true friends and fellow disciples all over the world and throughout time, there is no differentiation other than that we are still here struggling to perfect ourselves and they are encouraging us and praying for us as we go. And in a sense, we are already there with them in this participation in the worship of Heaven before the Throne of God. The Holy Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost, the Triune God is eternal and we are part of the eternality in that we have been given the gift of eternal life in Him.


Russian "Union of Orthodox Citizens" calls for WRO in Europe

23 August 2005, 10:14
Union of Orthodox Citizens appeals to Alexy II to break all relations with the Vatican and start missionary work in Europe and America

Moscow, August 23, Interfax - As the Uniates have become more active in Ukraine the Orthodox public have appealed to Patriarch Alexy of Moscow and All Russia to end all relations with the Roman Catholic Church and begin missionary work in Europe and America.

‘It is necessary to accept in the fold of the Orthodox Church all the Old Catholic communities who wish to join it, to establish a Russian Orthodox school for training Latin-rite clergy for service in Europe and America and to develop intensive Orthodox missionary work there’, an appeal of the Union of Orthodox Citizens to Patriarch Alexy states.

The authors of the appeal, the text of which was given to Interfax, believe that any relations with the Vatican should be interrupted since the Catholic Church is believed to use them only for her own purposes.

‘In our view, any agreement with the RCC pursues exclusively the Vatican’s interests and prevents the Church of Christ from carrying out the service commanded by the Lord. There is only one way to beat a card-sharper - not to sit at a card-table with him’, the Union of Orthodox Citizens maintains.

The Union of Orthodox Citizens is headed by chairman Valentin Lebedev: "Our aim is to make politics Christian, instead of turning all Christians into politicians.”

Interesting news - not having the original, I'm wondering if he meant 'old' Catholics (as in traditional) or 'Old Catholics', which have liberalized to a great degree? Or, he might have meant various groups of Old Catholic origins... I'm unsure.

Originally posted a year ago on Orthodox Okie.


Wednesday of Holy Week

From Saint Petroc Monastery, Fr. Michael

Today, we pray in the last Collects that God would quicken our understanding that we may believe in the eternal life that He has given us. That is, that our understanding of this gift may be enlivened. The whole purpose of Christ was our life - our eternal life. Life in this sense exclusively means life with God. Beyond that there is only death, which is the meaning of what happens to those who deliberately turn away from God, who persistently until the end deny God, and deny the eternal life.

Any one of us may turn from such disbelief and claim our place with God, but to do so, we must achieve that belief in God and in His gift to us.

From such unbelief, we turn first of all, by confession, for in confession before His Church and the whole company of Heaven and to Him, we acknowledge our denial of Christ, of God and of His great gift to mankind and all that we have done in offence resulting from that unbelief.

Confession, for the Believer is no mere statement of belief, but a full, personal statement of our failings throughout our life. Confession is an unburdening and at the same time a turning away from our former selves and a turning towards and embracing of the path to union with God, the eternal gift that He has made possible for us.

Eternal life and the possibility of union with God, union with the energies of God, unity with His will, perfect alignment with God, complete harmony. That is the possibility that is held out to us. That is what Christ made possible and what God makes available.

Some grasped the possibilities very early on and the reality was expounded by the Fathers of the Church as we, mankind struggled to come to grips with this astounding gift.

This is vastly more than merely “going to church” of a Sunday. This is being unable to stay away from that lifting up of our hearts to God and following Christ’s specific commandment. “Do this in remembrance of Me”. This is not a whimsical test to see if we could follow such a commandment. It was the prescription of communion with Him, the nearest that we can approach on this earth in the normal course of events. Normal course of events? - the Divine Liturgy is a cosmic event every time - it is an intimate participation in the most profound event of all history and beyond time. We ought to let nothing stand between us and our participation in this event-beyond-time, in this time of communion.

Palm Sunday

From Saint Petroc Monastery, Fr. Michael

Palm Sunday is the great triumphal arch of the Christian year, through which we follow our Lord and Saviour into the week of His suffering, degradation and death. Palm Sunday seems to be a bittersweet day of hope. Hope to be bitterly dashed on the hard rocks of the religious authorities of the day and the people that accepted without much apparent thought, their deviant teachings, teachings which over the centuries had moved far from the will of God. Yet, that having happened, we must not regret one whit the events of Holy Week and Good Friday, for, without them, we would not be saved. Without them, we have nothing but the old law by which, as Saint Paul says, we are condemned. We may and must sorrow for our transgressions, each and every one of which contributes to the necessity of the sufferings of God on the Tree of Life which we call the Cross. Because of that which we cannot now call back, the Arch of Palm Sunday must inevitably lead to that distant tree removed so far from the Garden of Eden whence it and we began.

The last week of Lent has always been observed by Christians as a time of special solemnity; and from the momentous events of the last week before the Crucifixion which this week represents to us, it has, from early times been called the Great Week, Holy Week or the Holy Week of Great Lent. During this week, as early as the time of Saint John Chrysostom, there was a general cessation of business among Christian people. Fasting was observed with greater intensity and strictness and, after the conversion of Byzantium, Emperors tried to set an example of charity and mercy of which our own Royal Maundy is a surviving relic.

Palm Sunday is mentioned early in the Christian era. Saint John Chrysostom tells of palm branches being shaken as one of the customs of the day and as recently as this past century in England, people customarily cut willow branches to carry after the Liturgy on Palm Sunday.

We have the Book of Exodus (15:27) telling of the Children of Israel coming to the oasis of Elim with its twelve wells and forty palm trees and we know too from Leviticus 23:40 the significance of palms and willows in the Old Testament. Then in Revelation 7:9, we are told of palms used liturgically. Hence the ancient ceremony of the blessing of the palms with its Lesson and Gospel telling us of the events which we commemorate today: Christ entering His Capital as King, welcomed and worshipped by His people, fulfilling the prophecies of Isaiah 62:11, Zechariah 9:9. The King had come to His City, the city that He had prophesied would be destroyed - as it was forty years later, the King Who had prophesied that here He would be put to death - as He was after four days. This King is our God, come for no other purpose than to die at the hands of men, that those who would believe, could be freed from the consequences of their transgressions. Here, on this bright, sunlit Spring morning, He came, riding through the city gate, praised and welcomed by the crowds - many of whom would cry for His death a few days later. Following Him in the procession were twelve men, one of whom would sell Him to the authorities, one of whom would deny that He was the greatest friend and all the rest of whom would run away from Him. Yet He came on to carry out the last acts of His earthly life, to forgive all these in advance, to ask the Father to spare them, to give to them the means of grace and the hope of glory: To set down for them the way of staying with Him, strengthened and protected by Him through the Holy Mystery of the Eucharist.

And so through the Arch of the gate of the City, and the arch of Palm Sunday, Jesus, King of kings rode on the humility of a peaceful donkey, the King of Glory has come in, upon whose shoulders shall rest first the Cross of suffering, succeeded by the government of all who are given Him by the Father.


What Must We Do to Raise our Ecclesiastical Culture?

(Lecture by Protopriest Nicholas Karypov delivered at the 13th Conference of the Diocese of Sydney, Australia and New Zealand, held at SS Peter and Paul Cathedral in December 2001) - From 'The Official Website of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia.'

What do I mean by "ecclesiastical culture?" First of all: the cultivation of the idea that nectar exists beyond the flower's beauty (according to the thoughts of St Basil the Great), but also a clear understanding of the relationship between the flower and the nectar.

With this aim in mind it is necessary to clarify what the Church is, for often this remains a shallow, superficial concept of the Church either as an organization, a building, or an ideology. Few Orthodox parishioners think of the Church as an image of Eucharistic life, of constant repentance, of reconciliation with God among brothers and sisters in the parish. One famous Russian parish priest in the early 20th century, Fr Alexei Mechev, called his parish his "repenting family."

Of course, the awareness of this notion is very low amongst us, and so we need to quickly catechize everyone. I mean something more than what people learn at parish schools or religious instruction (The "Law of God"—think about this phrase). Indeed, we often operate under conceptions of this expression, returning to the pre-Christian model of behavior and thought, as though we had never heard the words of Apostle Paul and other Christian writers on the difference between Law and Grace.

In my experience, this gap in the proper catechistical knowledge cannot be filled by the priest during a sermon. Sermons, due to time limitations, are more pieces of advice—not lessons. Lessons must be conducted in groups or in person.

The above has led us to the topic of this lecture—to study which happens in a person in our time. A priest must cooperate in the proper approach to reading [spiritual literature], by recommending books and brochures to read, and making them as accessible as possible through the church kiosk and library. People need the guidance of priests and of experienced persons in selecting suitable reading material, depending on their individual level of knowledge.

Increasing the number of parishioners educated in ecclesiastical matters is a great step towards improving a situation wherein parishioners are passive consumers of the spiritual education provided by clergymen. The Orthodox Church never considers the clergy a separate caste of "Brahmans," head and shoulders above mere mortals. In practice, mutual isolation leads to misunderstanding between the clergy and laity.

At one extreme is the unhealthy veneration of so-called spiritual elders; the other extreme is the disrespectful attitude of the democratic mind which leads to anti-clericalism. Clergymen and laymen must communicate and understand each other on the basis of real conciliarity. We must elevate our knowledge of ourselves, of God and of the Church. The Church cannot be healthy if we fail, all together, to raise our level of knowledge, and correspondingly raise our Orthodox consciousness. The clergy cannot do this alone. We need personnel, we need people who have knowledge to further this cultivation.

Following my opening comments, I would like to offer some practical conclusions, which I hope can be expanded further in our discussion.

It is necessary to organize unified groups of catechistic workers from among the clergy and laity to:

a) prepare people for baptism. This must be done not only for adults, who should be prepared over the course of 6-12 months or more, but also should include at least 2-3 preparatory sessions with parents and Godparents of children being baptized.

b) prepare young people for marriage: to explain what Christian wedlock is, what love is. Yes, yes, people need to be told this, or the number of divorces will increase.

c) help people in times of sorrow after the loss of friends or relatives, explaining the reason and need for prayer for the dead.

d) organize a system of visits by clergymen and laity to the elderly and infirm.

e) organize good spiritual libraries, periodicals, video and audio tapes and compact disks. We can and must establish a means of limited publications, to make instructive and educational video and audio recordings.

Speaking of various teaching means in catechism, one cannot exclude monasteries. St John Chrysostom said that one good example is better than a thousand sermons (even, apparently, his sermons!). Our ancestors would say "Angels are the light of monks; monks are the light of laymen." We must not organize tours but pilgrimages to monasteries. There we learn what cannot be learned from books, or from sermons.

Our ethnocentrism, the confusion between our love for our homeland and for God is a problem for all Orthodox Christians in the New World .

A similar problem is our tendency to live in isolation in a self-created spiritual and emotional ghetto. We must find a way to have contact and communication with Orthodoxy of all cultures, even if on a daily, unofficial level, and also to relate to and bear witness before the non-Orthodox, who are often very interested in hearing us. With God's help, a great deal can be accomplished .

A good lesson from history is that of the different fates of the Church of the Jews and the Church of the Gentiles. The latter blossomed and grew thanks to its freedom and openness, in contrast with the spirit of exclusionism of the Church of the Jews. There are enough examples of this phenomenon in the later history of the Church, for example, in the cultural exclusionism of Russian history of the 15-17 centuries, which led to the tragedy of schism.

In our diocese, we could have better communication between parishes. There is a degree of isolationism among us: a "leave us alone" attitude. Some of my parishioners have complained that they are not greeted warmly in the parishes of other cities. Of course, this does not mean that we are good and everyone else is bad. We probably act the same way towards them.

There is a real need to attract children and youth to actively participate in services through the creation of youth and children's choirs (the church music conferences are very successful in this regard), to develop interest in learning in the next generation. We are faced with a woeful ignorance in liturgics, even with regard to the order of the Divine Liturgy itself, the Eucharist. Study groups should be established with the goal of learning this aspect of Orthodox Culture.

Our diocese has a fair degree of success with its annual youth conferences in Australia for some 40 years now. We must provide the opportunity for adults to participate in regular conferences, too. A few such conferences have proven successful already, though they are not regularly scheduled.

The Greek colony of Australia, because of its large population, was able to establish good Orthodox schools and colleges. Now a good number of non-Greek students are enrolled in them; in the future we might cooperate more among the various Orthodox groups in this regard. Because of our fragmentation, our children end up studying in state, private or Catholic schools. I understand that this might sound somewhat bold, taking into account the seriousness of the divisions in ecclesiastical politics and ethnic exclusionism, but an organized minority can move mountains, especially if it is accord with God's will. In fact, there is an interesting experiment in cooperation among Orthodox Churches: in 2002, a unified Russian -Serbian Youth Conference is to be held in Victoria .

To start: we must seriously examine our church schools and see what needs to be done to better reflect life in Australia. Unfortunately, our schools are often more like "Potemkin villages" created to please the older generations.

The opinion was expressed at our Diocesan Council meetings in Sydney that the diocesan assemblies themselves must be reinvigorated. As a result, the idea of a new type of lecture arose, somewhat different from traditional reports in which we list our "accomplishments" and enable each individual delegate to feel good about himself, but as a whole, we are stultified. Can we begin to think positively about these gatherings, as a forum for expressing the conciliarity of the Church instead of patting each other on the back?

Since conferences provide an opportunity to feel our conciliar unity, one would like to think that meeting once every three years is not enough. If we wish to grow together spiritually, and make decisions on the future of our diocese together, and not only in financial or legal matters, then we must reconsider whether it is enough to only meet every three years.

The aim of this lecture is to stimulate our thoughts on the question of improving our Church Culture, or, to use a modern expression, to "improve our quality of life," meaning, of course, church life.

Where church life truly thrives there is a spirit of repentance, of restoration, not the self-satisfied resting on our collective laurels.



Fr. Michael, Saint Petroc Magazine, Vol. III, No. 2, July 2000

Western Rite Orthodoxy is undoubtedly part and parcel of the One Holy Orthodox Catholic Church. We are inextricably bound up in Orthodoxy. We cannot and will not be disentangled from Orthodoxy. But, where are we going?

Western Rite Orthodoxy is a child of great promise within the Orthodox family. Given time, love and care, it could grow into a valuable contributor to Orthodox society. What is needed is vision. Saint John (Maximovitch) had such vision. He could see a future in which Western Rite Orthodoxy was restored to retake its rightful place in the family home. We need that vision to be revived in the Church, not just in one or two countries, in a Metropolitanate here and an Archdiocese there, but widely.

Most of us are barely capable of seeing what is directly in front of us. We have no idea how long we must plan for in the earthly Church. We may have very little time, or we may have a millenium. It really doesn't matter. Part of our good work of loving our neighbours is to make provision for neighbours yet unborn. So, we plan new Parishes and make provision for the future work of the Church, spreading the knowledge and love of God.

Western Rite Orthodoxy is integral to the Church's mission of spreading the Word of God. We have been given a tool which enables us to work with people who might not respond otherwise.

More than that, we have a present opportunity. Western society is in a state of spiritual turmoil. We have the only true answer for those in Western society who will hear. We must therefore act with a sense of urgency. When we delay, souls proceed without hearing the message, we fail in our duty to God, and we fail to love our neighbour.

God has given us this tool to use, to speak to our people and we will answer for having failed to use it. We cannot bury this tool in the garden and then produce it on the Day of Judgment, hoping to be praised for having preserved it. We must take it out into the world and use it - with energy and vision - as Saint John of Shanghai did.

After the Chrism Dries

Fr. David Tillman, Saint Petroc Magazine, Vol. III, No. 3, September, 2000. (Reprinted from AGAIN MAGAZINE, Volume 21, Number 1 - Winter 1999)

"Our merciful Lord says, Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it." (Matthew 7:13, 14)

Coming into Orthodoxy may look like the end of a long journey home, but on another plane it is just the beginning of another journey - the journey into the Kingdom of heaven. This pilgrimage is the hard way, the way of the Cross, and it is fraught with dangers and pitfalls.

There is a steady stream of souls coming into the Orthodox Church, but, alas, there is also a persistent trickle of those going out. Some are scandalized, disillusioned, and heartbroken; some are rebellious, defiant, and - may God rescue them and us - perhaps lost forever. Joy comes only through the Cross, and all are tempted to flee from it. Let us take refuge in the divinely inspired promise of the Holy Apostle John that as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name (John 1:12).

Let's get some basic doctrine down before we have a sober look at the journey after the chrism dries and the baptismal garment is folded and put away. I believe in One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, and the Orthodox Church is it. What the Orthodox Church has received from the Lord (the prayers, the liturgies, the Bible, the Mysteries, the Councils, the Fathers, the icons, the canons - in sum, the entire Tradition) is absolutely trustworthy. To reject these things in their proper place and order in the Church is to reject Christ as Head of the Church. To gain these things through Jesus in the communion of the Orthodox Church is worth every sacrifice.


What we have received is absolutely trustworthy. The way we incarnate it in this world as individuals, parishes, dioceses, and the like can be an affront to God. If one flees to the Orthodox Church never expecting to encounter sinners again, one is deluded. Sinners are to be found in abundance not only among the laity, but among the clergy as well. St. John Chrysostom taught that the roads of hell are paved with the skulls of erring Orthodox priests, and erring Orthodox bishops are the lampposts!

In fact, even whole churches can fall into sin. The current Bishop of Corinth is reputed to say often that his church has not improved that much since the Apostle Paul left. And we must never forget that the seven churches described in St. John's Apocalypse (the Book of Revelation) were Orthodox churches! They're gone now. Their lampstands may well have been removed forever. Whether this is due to the vicissitudes of Greco-Turkish politics or to a deeper cause, we know that God preserves the Orthodox Church where she is faithful.

There are real live sinners in the Orthodox Church, and anyone that enters thinking to escape them will be terribly disappointed. He might have better luck entering a hospital in order to avoid sick folks.

One escapes nothing by coming into the Orthodox Church. What happens is that everything is intensified, but with a new clarity. The late Flannery O'Connor (a Roman Catholic writer of the first rank and native of the Deep South) was once asked why her stories, and those of so many Southerners, were peopled by such freaks. She replied to the effect that perhaps the Southerner's advantage is that he can still recognize a freak. The Orthodox Christian's advantage is that he can still recognize sin when most of the world would like to deny its existence. There are sinners pedestrian and venal in the Orthodox Church. There are sinners who have damaged and torn lives and consciences. There are sinners intellectual and simple. One healthy sign amidst so much that is unhealthy, even dangerous, is that there is an unchangeable vocabulary of sin, repentance, accountability, and God's coming judgment in Orthodoxy. One can hide from it, but one cannot escape it. The Orthodox Church still recognizes sin and celebrates virtue, even to the judgment and condemnation of some who would count themselves members in good standing, with medals and citations to prove it.


Many come to the Orthodox Church with impossibly high expectations of her. Some of these expectations are quasi-magical. One can be baptized, chrismated, and communed with utmost care in Orthodoxy and still go to hell. The Holy Mysteries grant us an encounter with the Most Holy Trinity; they are not magic. They cannot make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. A sinner who will not cooperate with this grace will be condemned by it.

Many a recovering drunk will say of his recovery program, It works if you work it! The Mysteries of the Church (which is itself the Great Mystery) work if you work them. One can be baptized in the deepest font made and be held under a good long time in each immersion and still end up in hell, for the lack of daily trying to die to self so that one can truly die with Christ and rise with Him. So many fixate on the outer form to the exclusion of the very presence of God in the Mysteries. The Lord is present to empower us to be faithful, not to magically transform us into lovers of Himself and our neighbors without struggle on our part. We must make the effort to lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us (Hebrews 12:1).

An excessive fixation on the ultra-correct celebration of the services of the Church can be the result of this magical thinking. Some seem to be thinking that if the services are just done right (and there are wildly divergent definitions of done right) then the struggles will be over. Magic lusts after mere power. Alas, many prefer magic to grace and are disappointed that Simon the Magician was never canonized in the Orthodox Church! So they leave, or worse, stay and drive off the weaker brethren. It is heartbreaking to see people scandalized by the sins of others and/or their own sins and struggles. The antidote to this in faith is the foundational virtue of humility. When all is said and done, all that is wrong with the Church in her earthly pilgrimage (remember, there's nothing wrong with her Head) can be discovered by looking in a mirror.

Every Orthodox Christian from the Apostolic Age until today must say at every Divine Liturgy that he himself is the chief of sinners. After many years of saying it, many come to believe it. Of those who believe it, many begin to do something about it. It is at this point that one begins to see and experience the Messianic miracles in abundance. At least on the moral plane one begins to witness, if not personally experience, the disfigured lepers being clean sed, the lame walking, the blind seeing, the dumb speaking, the demons being banished, and the dead being raised.

Yet some persist in wanting - may we say lusting for - a guaranteed magic rather than grace. Those healed by the Lord had to get up, get to work, and get home. Who are we to demand more? Jesus gives us His grace, the presence of the Holy Spirit, to walk the narrow way. He doesn't send a taxi to get us!


Being faithful is a struggle on both the individual and the corporate levels. Some give up the battle and settle for a worldly comfort. This is true for individual souls, parishes, dioceses, and patriarchates. None of us is immune to the desire to take the rest appointed for the Last Day right now. North Americans and Western Europeans have a great struggle with the devil's most subtle weapon: prosperity. Again on every level, there are those of us so seduced by prosperity that we create a huge stumbling block to many souls. Worldly prosperity and numerical growth are not always signs of spiritual growth. After all, cancer cells grow much faster than normal cells.

The antidote to the comfy poison of prosperity is ascetic effort. Ascetic effort is the directed and controlled violence of war against the passions. Ascetic effort can be derailed by pride, publicity, and legalism. There are times we Orthodox, again on both the individual and corporate levels, can simultaneously make the Pharisee blush and the publican despair. There are some who deny the centrality of ascetic effort, especially fasting. There are others who can keep a Lenten kitchen more fastidiously than any scribe or lawyer of old could ever have hoped to keep Kosher. Where humility and mercy are lacking, God is banished in the name of Orthodoxy, and souls are led astray.

The Lord grants us grace step by step so that we can walk a balanced walk. When we are confronted with fellow sinners, we need not despair and begin looking for a Church more Orthodox than God. This is a temptation. Neither do we need to say, "Well, no one else is fighting sin in his life, so I am off the hook." In balance we can be grateful to God that He brought us to the Orthodox Church, but we need not have any illusions that the Church would be diminished without us or is enriched by us. With sobriety we can do what grace makes possible and bless the Lord.


One of the finest teachers in the North American Church tells the story of his enthusiasm in his first assignment as a parish priest. At one point his bishop reminded him, Father, the Church saves you. You don't save the Church. This is a saving balance and sobriety in the Christian walk. There is nothing extreme in it. Passionate and intemperate enthusiasm can be purified and tamed to become patient and long-suffering zeal. Being on fire with love for the Lord is absolutely necessary, but it must be a controlled burn.


One of the signs that we are getting off the narrow way of the Cross is ingratitude toward or condemnation of our origins. For those of us who came to Orthodoxy from the Western denominations, this is a major and serious temptation. One must enter Orthodoxy walking forward singing, not retreating backward shouting. It is the height of ingratitude to be without at least a prayer for the folks that taught one to call on the name of Jesus.

In the entryways of many an ancient church building (called the exonarthex) one could see pictures of Plato and Aristotle. The Church knew that the philosophies of the pagan Greeks were inadequate to the mystery of faith in Christ. The Church knew that too many had attempted to subordinate the Tradition to pagan categories and had been lost because of it. Despite all of this she allowed a beautiful expression of gratitude to Plato and Aristotle as seekers of Truth, sometimes even referring to them as the Moseses of the [pagan] Greeks. In this we see sober, open-eyed, and Christ-enlightened gratitude.

Truth is truth wherever it is found, and it always has some relationship to Jesus, who is, of course, the Truth Incarnate. Ingratitude for whatever glimmer of truth came to us from even the most doubtful of sources is a singularly evil symptom of profound spiritual malaise. From the denominational perspective, there are few bodies more inadequate than the snake-handling sects, but their call for total commitment and focus is laudatory. On Judgment Day one can speculate that a rattlesnake-handling sect may fare better because of its hundred-percent commitment, albeit in ignorance, than an Orthodox parish that has it all, at least on paper, but is only thirty percent committed. Where ingratitude is found, judgments abound, and presumption cannot be far behind.

Having said these things, we must be careful not to teeter off the other side of the narrow way by saying, It does not matter what you believe as long as you are sincere and committed. Although God is everywhere present and fills all things (as we say in our opening invocation to the Holy Spirit before nearly every private or public prayer of the Orthodox Church), He condescended to be objective - describable, touchable, knowable - in the Incarnation. The Faith has an objective content.

The Lord did not come to give us mere propositions. He came to restore our relationship to Him by freeing us from the tyranny of sin, decay, and death. Nevertheless, this relationship can be described accurately in ways He chose. There is right theology with attendant right practice. The Lord entrusts us with the Faith to equip us to walk the narrow way He pioneered. When we treat the Faith in presumption as our right, we distort it and disfigure it. The light in us becomes darkness, and we cause scandal and harm even though we may be members in good standing of the Orthodox Church.


What should be said in conclusion? Simply this: The Lord came to save us from the reality of rebellion, sin, death, and decay in every facet of our being. The only way to be saved is to take up our cross and follow Him in obedient death to self and sin. If, in reality, our following Him is a charade, then all the tools and arsenal the Lord has provided for our salvation and sanctification will condemn us. Coming into the Orthodox Church does not take away the necessity of genuine repentance. It s a matter of grace, not magic.

In reality, if we have not died with Christ and risen with Him, we will find the Marriage Supper of the Lamb intolerable. The real God makes real repentance possible so that people can enter into the real Kingdom of heaven. It requires a genuine walk in faith with the power of our God, who cannot be fooled. The journey is not over yet.