Archive | Meditations

Fr. Patrick’s Meditation from February, 2012, Parish Newsletter

“… Meditate On These Things”  Philippians 4:8

A reflection on my recent trip to Lebanon…

There is no greater reality check than real experience.  This thought has been on my mind ever since I began planning my trip to Lebanon for the consecration of our Bishop ANTHONY and the other two new auxiliary bishops of our Archdiocese.  Initially and admittedly this thought was a source of fear; the fear of experiencing something different, challenging what my preconceived and self-convinced notions have been telling me for many years.  As God’s Providence has allowed, it was truly my blessing to see the Mother Church of Antioch first hand.  I’m sure we all agree that it is good for us to be stretched physically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally.  I guess this was my time and I am so grateful to everyone who supported my travel in one way or another.

I will not be so bold as to over-generalize and say that all Americans, and anyone affected by the spirit of western culture, are presumptuous and autonomous.  I do believe, however, that self-governance, whether collectively as a nation or as a matter of personal self-determination, leaves men dangerously subject to the temptations of individuality, isolation and self-praise.  The truth of the matter is that the very air of western culture is permeated with the “dogmas” of individuality and self-determination, and anyone raised in it or living under its influence cannot help but breathe it.

The majority of my thoughts have turned (not surprisingly) to matters of faith and the life of Orthodox Christians in the Church.  I am still sorting through my first experience, as brief as it was, of indigenous Orthodox Christianity.  The cornerstone of St. Ignatius Church, Madison, WI, reads “2004.”  The church where the consecrations took place was built in the 12th century.  Our St. Ignatius Church has yet to raise one generation of Orthodox Christians while Holy Dormition Church at the Balamand Monastery has raised dozens of generations within her walls.  This one thought alone speaks volumes to my soul and my conscience.  Hopefully it does to yours as well.

As I stood before the Patriarch of Antioch, preparing to present my friend for consecration to the Office of Bishop, I couldn’t help but think of how unprepared I was to be standing in this place, a place of deep holiness and history.  I wondered to myself how many pious and reverent priests had stood in this spot, and for the first time in my life I saw directly the order of my Church, from the headship of the Patriarch, to the Synod of Metropolitans, to the priests and deacons, to the chanters, and to the body of the laity standing in prayer, all part of a great tapestry, each important in their own way, ordered and yet equal, individual yet incomplete without the other, a father and his children yet brothers one and all.  I do not wish to romanticize this experience by imposing upon these people any expectations of perfection.  That would be unfair to those involved, and I in no way would want to allege that the Orthodox Christians of Lebanon of think they are somehow standard-bearers for the Church.  In fact I felt quite the opposite.  I felt the people of Lebanon only wanted to share with us their life in Christ, to let us know of their love for us, to feel a part of who we are, and to let us know that they are part of us.  I am certain that in my life I have never felt such a grand expression of hospitality, and I have never felt more certain of my feelings of insignificance stemming from my own life as a self-determined individualist.

I’m afraid this experience has raised more questions than answers as I ask myself, “Where do I/we go from here?”  When early on I expressed apprehension about traveling for the consecrations one of our parishioners told me, “Father, we want you to go.  Your growth from this experience will only help our parish.”  Certainly I hope this will be the case.  And it might be this one point – the American church’s lack of an ordered culture – that will command my attention for the rest of my priesthood.  Forgive me, but I did envy my brother priests in Lebanon who do not have to deal with the diversities of culture and expectation that exist here in America.  I believe there is a common understanding of structure, authority, expectation, and place that stems from the order of this beautiful culture.  While our air is permeated with  “dogmas” of individuality and self-determination, the air in Lebanon is permeated with the dogmas of a shared society and culture.  This did not diminish at all any one’s individual personality or character (in fact, I met many “characters” in Lebanon!); yet it does eliminate at least one layer of uncertainty which allows a priest greater ease in simply doing his job.

These thoughts are just a beginning.  There may be one consolation to being a self-determined individualist, however.  The isolation of an ill-defined or lost social life may very well lead one to seek a connection with the faith community of the Holy Church.

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Fr. Patrick’s Meditation from Dec. ’11 / Jan. ’12 Parish Newsletter

  … Meditate On These Things                        Philippians 4:8

  “If there were less of what seems like ease in our lives they would tell more for Christ and souls… We profess to be strangers and pilgrims, seeking after a country of our own, yet we settle down in the most un-stranger-like fashion, exactly as if we were quite at home and meant to stay as long as we could.  I don’t wonder why apostolic miracles have died.  Apostolic living certainly has.”

Amy Carmichael, Missionary to India, +1951

      It has been noted to me that there is a specific definition of the word “Apostle” and what it means to be one.  It is an important teaching which defines the word’s meaning essentially as membership amongst our Lord’s twelve Apostles and the Apostle Paul.  Exploring this definition can help us understand the continuity of the Church’s apostolic ministry.  Each time we recite the Nicene Creed we proclaim our Church to be, “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.”  We proclaim to believe in the Church’s authority in the practice of Apostolic Succession, the authority of the Lord’s Apostles passed on from one bishop to the next in unbroken succession through the laying on of hands AND the spirit of sanctity accompanying the life of a true shepherd of the Church.

“An apostle is one who’s sent” says the refrain of a children’s song written by Kh. Gigi (Baba) Shadid.  This accurate definition of the Greek word “apostolos” (apostolos) brings to mind the notion of the apostolic spirit of “being sent.”  A more complete definition would also include that an Apostle is one who is sent by the risen Lord to “make disciples” and to “baptize” (Matthew 28:18ff).  This is the calling of the “Apostles,” but what does it mean to be “apostolic” in the 21st century and to have the spirit of the apostolic ministry present in the ministry of the Church and in the lives of each of Her members?

I  recently read that there are two fundamental characteristics of an Apostle’s life: 1) love for God; and 2) a truly tender care for one’s neighbor.  These characteristics are demonstrated clearly in the defining moments when the risen Lord thrice asked the Apostle Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me more than these?”  Upon Peter’s affirming response the Lord definitively commanded, “Tend my sheep” (John 21:15-17).

“Do you love me more than these?” is THE question that has resounded through the centuries, as it did when it was first asked of St. Peter, like roaring thunder.  For St. Peter it was the opportunity to free himself from the three-fold guilt he incurred when he thrice denied Christ.  For each of us it is a bold reminder of what it means to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ, and the importance of our response in carrying on the apostolic ministry of the Church.

I find this to be one of the most trying facets of my life as an Orthodox Christian and Priest.  I suspect each of us, assuming one is even thinking about life and faith in this way, and no matter what his vocation, would agree.  How do we truly love and appreciate this life we have been given and yet not allow that love to eclipse the love we have for the One who has given us this life?  Fundamentally Orthodox Christians are challenged by this question at virtually every moment of our lives.  Starting with our love for God as expressed in the priority we make for worship, personal prayer, scripture and devotional reading, stewardship, and the turning away from every soul defiling influence; and finishing with our love for our neighbor as expressed in fellowship and in the way we serve others by putting first something other than ourselves (we can fill in the blank regarding the circumstances of our own life).

Amy Carmichael has made a very pointed observation here.  The ease of life that has permeated modern society, including the Church, has greatly diminished the apostolic image of Christ for the world, as the power of the apostolic message has been made lukewarm at best by men’s abandonment of the pursuit of heaven (or at best mingling a tacit pursuit of heaven with a vigorous pursuit of personal interest).  Probably one of the saddest developments of this failure is that some Christians even equate God’s blessings with the acquisition of material prosperity.  I especially grieve for our youth who, while being presented with a skeleton of faith, have also been allowed (and maybe even encouraged) to mingle with the false standard of living proffered by the materialistic and sensual images of American society.  Is it any wonder, as I mentioned in a recent sermon, that statistics show – even in our Orthodox churches – that only 1 in 10 of our children remain in the church (let alone take responsibility for the apostolic ministry of the Church) once they reach college age.  Why should they when they’ve been allowed (again, “encouraged”) to feel “quite at home” in the world and have been shown little by way of apostolic conviction for living as “strangers and pilgrims.”

If we are concerned about the witness of “apostolic living” in the world today where are we to begin but with ourselves?  There are many possibilities for change and many sacrifices to be made.  Beloved, this should be our joy as disciples of the risen Christ and should in no way be considered burdensome.  We are especially privileged to be recipients of the fullness of Christ’s apostolic Church, and we are responsible for what we have been given.  I do not believe that apostolic miracles and living have fully died; but if by chance we think we love God, and love not; if we think we tenderly care for our neighbor, and care not; if we think we have embraced the apostolic ministry, and embrace not; let us now rededicate ourselves to a TRULY apostolic way of life.

(Reprinted from January, 2008)

 

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Monthly Meditation – November 2011

Prior to his death on December 13, 1983, Father Alexander Schmemann celebrated his last Divine Liturgy on Nov. 24, Thanksgiving Day, at St. Vladimir’s Seminary. At the end of the Liturgy he called upon all of us to give thanks to God. It has been a few years since I last presented Fr. Alexander’s words to this congregation. Here, once again, are these most precious words from one of contemporary Orthodoxy’s most precious treasures:

     “Everyone capable of thanksgiving is capable of salvation and eternal joy. Thank you, O Lord, for having accepted this Eucharist, which is offered to the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and which filled our hearts with “the joy, peace, and righteousness in the Holy Spirit.” Thank you, O Lord, for having revealed Yourself unto us and for giving us the foretaste of Your Kingdom. Thank you, O Lord, for having united us to one another, in serving You and Your Holy Church. Thank you, O Lord, for having helped us to overcome all difficulties, tensions, passions, and temptations and for having restored peace, mutual love and joy in sharing the communion of the Holy Spirit.
      Thank you, O Lord, for the sufferings you bestowed upon us, for they are purifying us from selfishness and remind us of the “one thing needed: your eternal Kingdom.” Thank you, O Lord, for having given us this country where we are free to worship You. Thank you, O Lord, for this school, where the name of God is proclaimed. Thank you, O Lord, for our families: husbands, wives and, especially, children, who teach us how to celebrate Your holy Name in joy, movement and holy noise. Thank you, O Lord, for everyone and everything. Great are you, O Lord, and marvelous are Your deeds, and no word is sufficient to celebrate your miracles. Lord, it is good to be here! Amen.”

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Monthly Meditation – October 2011

“Our thoughts create either harmony or disharmony in the world.”

Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica

There can never be enough said to reprove the belief that whatever a man does behind closed doors, “as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else,” is his own business. This erroneous way of thinking comes from the church of rugged individualism. It cannot be emphasized enough what a flat out lie this belief is, a masked entitlement that has become an embedded deception at the very foundation of what “enlightened” men call personal freedom.

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Monthly Meditation – August/September 2011

“Be mindful, O Lord, of the presbytery, the diaconate in Christ and every priestly orde.”

From the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great

We returned yesterday from Chicago and the 50th Biennial Antiochian Archdiocese National Convention.  It was a week which proffered spiritual renewal, the rekindling of old friendships and many good memories.  In particular I am somewhat overwhelmed by the reality of my best friend and brother in Christ, Fr. Anthony Michaels, being elected for consecration to the Holy Episcopate and assigned to serve as auxiliary for our own Midwest Diocese.  [I teased Bishop ANTOUN saying, “You took away my friend and gave me a boss.”  He merely replied, “He’s still your friend!”]

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