|Father Nektarios Serfes - Orthodox Spirituality||Last Modified October 5th, 2003|
By Archimandrite Nektarios Serfes
Written on 28 May 2003
The Holy Spirit
The Church is the Ark of Salvation. In her bosom, we find Our Lord and make our sure, humble way to eternal salvation. Is it any wonder, then, that the Evil One will do everything in his power to subvert the Church and seek to undermine both her authority and her sacred power? Yet we have Christ's solemn promise that nothing will overcome the Church. Even though she is battered and bruised in this world, her mission will not be denied.
The Greek Orthodox Church is not for sale!
Why? "Where Christ is, there is His Church" wrote St. Ignatius the Martyr. Then again St. Cyprian another well know holy Father of our Church wrote: "Do not think that you maintain the true Gospel of Christ, if you separate yourselves from the flock of Christ." It's is time to serve the Lord and not violate that trust we have in Him, and then again, our Lord God will have mercy on us. Let us seek the Lord our God and Savior as his loving servants, and follow His commandments, choosing to live as pious and faithful Orthodox Christians, and in the end we will be filled with blessedness, and find the door of paradise.
The Greek Orthodox Church in America under His Eminence, Archbishop Demetrios, and under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople (Istanbul) and is not for sale!
The Greek Orthodox Church, wherever it may be found throughout the world, and in whatever culture, is not for sale!
The Orthodox Christian Laity (OCL) in America has recently expressed, in print, their ideas as to what the Orthodox Church is, and should be. Going further, they have given their opinions as to how the Church should be run. At the same time they have expressed dismay at the way they see the Church being run now. This situation has resulted in confusion and distress among many devout Orthodox Christians.
Their principal grievance at this time is that the laity within the Church have no say, and that the Patriarch himself simply gives the final word on whatever the subject is, and that no other word or opinion will then be considered. I would ask, has the President of the OCL ever met our Patriarch in person, and has he ever spoken with him? He is a true Christian, and is a very understanding individual as well as a kind soul. Remember, as Canon 39 and of the 85 Canons of the Holy Renowned Apostles specifies: "For he is the one entrusted with the Lord's people, and it is from him that an accounting will be demanded with respect to their souls."
We as Orthodox Christians in America have failed to be obedient to those to whom obedience is due. We must realize what true obedience is to our spiritual Father, as well as being determined to walk daily, under his guidance and prayers, on the path towards our salvation. Our spiritual Father is the Patriarch, who himself does not just act upon his own words and ideas but has a Synod of Bishops which he consults. The Patriarch does not make any decision of importance to the Holy Orthodox Church without much prayer and receiving the guidance of his Synod of Bishops, who themselves, of course, come before our Lord God in humble prayers on every subject. Then, only then, does our Patriarch act upon the whole decision of the Church in Constantinople.
The complaint has been made that the Patriarch responds in Greek. He does so because Greek is his main language. The Holy Scriptures were written in Greek, and the language of the Church is Greek, so it is entirely proper that the Patriarch will respond in the language of the Church. Here in the United States we appreciate that English is also the language of the Church, just as in other parts of the world another language will be used alongside Greek. But whatever language may be most familiar to you, it is important to remember that the Greek best expresses the true meaning of what the Patriarch or other leaders of the Church want to say to us. All this is so well know that it is a puzzle that this should have become a matter of discussion and contention.
The main problem we face at this time is that we sometimes fail to realize we are a Christian Church, the body on earth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Even though the path of Holy Orthodoxy teaches us all the Christian principles, at times we act as if we are not Christian at all in the way we approach certain issues, or in the way we present ourselves to the non-Orthodox world around us. Sadly, we find that this is the situation with the OCL movement at this time. What they are stirring up within the Church, bringing accusations about our Patriarch or our local hierarchs, results in developing schism and the scattering of the innocent faithful flock of our great Shepherd. Scandal also results as the flock is left wondering if this is indeed the right Christian approach.
We must ask too, who told the OCL movement in America that the SCOBA (Standing Congress of Orthodox Bishops in America) is promoting the actions of the OCL? What letters have been addressed in the manner the OCL is expressing at this time by SCOBA?
The Patriarch is our spiritual Father who loves us all, prays for us, and is concerned about the growth of our Orthodox Church in America. When have we ever heard from him or his Synod of Bishops to the contrary? Every time our Patriarch addresses us by letter it is always filled with Christian piety and love for us all. He desires that we continue to live the Orthodox Faith and be guided in all things by the Holy Spirit. He has been appointed Patriarch so that he may, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, be our guide and our model. His desire is that we should follow the path of righteousness in the grace and peace of the Holy Spirit Who guides our beloved Orthodox Church. Every priest, every bishop, and the Patriarch himself are always ready to listen. But to simply demand that our Patriarch and the bishops of our Church do this or that, according to our selfish desires and ideas, demanding action when considered prayer is needed, is not the proper Christian approach. Every decision made by our Church is done in prayer, and through prayer we talk and we listen. Through prayer comes agreement, so that the experience of the Holy Apostles written in Acts 15:28, "For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us" becomes true, and life-giving for us in this generation. Then we act.
The laity within the Orthodox Church without a doubt has the right to express themselves, but their ideas and proposals can best be presented in a proper manner either at the Clergy Laity Assembly, or to their local hierarchs. They should not simply set up meetings or go into print, spending thousands upon thousands of dollars in the process, which could be much better used for other much-needed Orthodox concerns and programs already well developed by our Church in America. What about the Seminarians or the children at St. Basil Academy? Just two examples out of the many.
Bear in mind that the last Clergy Laity Assembly 2003 in Los Angeles, more laity were present then priests. It is the hierarchs, the priest and the laity working together hand in hand, depending on the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who lead the Church forward. Never forget that the Holy Spirit continues to guide the Church we all love! The Holy Orthodox Church of which the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, under the jurisdiction of His Holiness, Patriarch Bartholomew and his Synod of Bishops, is an important part.
Then again, why does the OCL threaten the courts in America will be called upon to take action against the whole Orthodox Church if their demands are not met? No American court has the right to interfere with the dealings of the Orthodox Church. Civil courts deal with civil matters, not the matters of the Orthodox Church, and that is why we have a Patriarch, and his Synod of Bishops, as well as an Archbishop of America and his Eparchal Synod of Bishops. In a text obtained from the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Denver, His Eminence Metropolitan Isaiah states,
"The civil government of the United States of America has been called upon at various times to interpret and define the status of the Greek Orthodox Church in America. Courts at various levels, including the Supreme Court, have held that: a. The Greek Orthodox Church is a hierarchical (as opposed to congregation) church; b. The Greek Orthodox parishes are affiliated with, or a part of the Greek Orthodox Church; and c. As such, the secular court declines to become involved in any determination of theological or ecclesiastical issues, including governance of the Church; these issues are the exclusive prerogative of the Bishops."
The OCL' s approach is truly dishonorable and disrespectful to the teachings of our Church. We do not threaten the Church - we work with the Church, loving one another and helping one another to grow and develop in our most Holy Faith. The Greek Orthodox Church in America is not for sale!
Christians do not work against one another. They work together hand in hand, loving one another and living as true and faithful Orthodox Christians. The Orthodox Church we know is the same Church which our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is leading with His Right Hand. The Orthodox Church is not for sale! Christ has given His life on the Cross-for us all, and then has been raised from the dead, bringing us life everlasting - the same faithful children who love Him and His teachings. The holy Fathers, the holy Saints, and the holy Martyrs of our Church have showed us the way - and that way is the way of Christ our Lord, loving one another and working with one another, seeking to be righteous Christians, and good as well as faithful Christians.
The Orthodox Church is not for sale! We have those who would like us to think the best way for the Church to go forward is for it to be run simply by the laity, all by itself - this is the unfortunate opinion one gets form OCL. However we know that what is proper, and what is true, is that the laity and the bishops of the Church have always been willing to work hand in hand, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Together they bring about growth and development, accomplishing much, meeting the needs of the Church's loving, faithful people, and bringing glory to our Lord God.
This is truly a time when we need to help and pray for one another with increased energy and determination, offering our great talents to our beloved Orthodox Church, praying within the Church as one united flock, loving one another, and living the life of true Orthodox Christians. This is a time when we must seriously consider the effect of this dispute upon the youth of our beloved church. What kind of an example does this show them? Will all of these unkind words and actions of the OCL cause people within the mystical Orthodox community say: "I am leaving the church because this is not a Christian church or a true Christian body?" What grief this would bring to our Lord and Savior Who gave His life for His Church!
Let each of us labor together, and let us also be patient. As times goes on we shall experience new ways in the growth of our Church, letting the Holy Spirit guide us and help us. Our Gracious Lord God said He would be with us all always, even until the end of the world.
Let us not be discouraged or express dismay, but have hope and faith that our Lord God will continue to bless us all with His peace and love with His Right Hand, and that His purpose will be worked out in and through us.
May our Lord God watch over us and help us, and may we all labor for Him together as loving and faithful Orthodox Christians.
Cancel these meetings and bring to an end these words that bring dismay and schism! Seek out ways and means to bring growth and further development as Christians loving one another and supporting one another, as well as praying for one another. Let us look upon our Holy Orthodox Church as a Christian Church, and let us follow the examples of the teachings of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ.
Through Prayers Of Our Holy Fathers,
Lord Jesus Christ Son Of God,
Have Mercy On Us And Save Us!
Glory Be To God For All Things!
Content written/compiled by Father Nektarios Serfes.
(c) Father Nektarios Serfes