Communique

The Assembly of Bishops finished on May 21st. In the communique the bishops, among other things, stated:

“The Holy Hierarchical Assembly was astonished with the behavior of certain media sources, electronic and written, whose goal was clearly not objective and responsible public information, but the ill-intended dissemination of untruths regarding events from the life of the Church. Unfortunately, media reports during the course of this Assembly were conducted with the same intentions and prejudices regarding the health condition of His Holiness Patriarch Pavle of Serbia. The Assembly has concluded that such behavior by some media outlets does not have the aim of disseminating timely and truthful information to the public, but provoking disturbance and disorder among the faithful people in our local Church and among the general public.

Understanding Evil

Remember that, as I said, the right direction leads not only to peace but to knowledge. When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is left in him. When a man is getting worse he understands his own badness less and less. A moderately bad man knows he is not very good: a thoroughly bad man thinks he is all right. This is common sense, really. You understand sleep when you are awake, not while you are sleeping. You can see mistakes in arithmetic when your mind is working properly: while you are making them you cannot see them. You can understand the nature of drunkenness when you are sober, not when you are drunk. Good people know about both good and evil, bad people do not know either.

– C.S. Lewis
“Mere Christianity”

An Hour of Heartfelt Rue

Here is an excerpt from Thomas Mann’s “The Holy Sinner”, the fantasied tale of Pope Gregory in which Mann re-tells the medieval legend of a brother and sister who fall into sin and have a child. The child is sent away in secret only to come back years later when he discovers his true origins, in search for his sinful parents. Though he doesn’t realize it, he finds his mother whom he chivalrously defends against a rather rude wooer and they are married. They live happily ever after, both concealing their secret pasts until they realize their secret is one and the same and husband and wife are really mother and son.

They exchange these words before the son goes to his severe penance of spending seventeen years living on a rock and advises his mother to seek her own atonement. (It’s while on this rock that the Church of Rome finds itself without a pope. Two men receive a similar vision to come and seek out the ‘Father of the Christian world’):

[The mother says] “Grigorss, my child and lord….My horror grows every minute and with amazement that long before now flaming anger has not crashed down upon the accursed, that earth still dares to bear me, after what my flesh committed. I, I am the chief criminal, I know too well, and unspeakable dread mounts in me of the hellfire that threatens me…Is there no counsel that if I, poor woman, must dwell in hell, it might be after all a little milder than to other damned?”

“Lady,” said he, “speak not thus, neither give way to despair, it is against command. For of himself may man despair but not of God and His fullness of grace. We are both thrust into the marsh of sin up to our necks, and if you think you are deeper in, that is pridefulness. Add not this sin to the rest or the pool will go over mouth and nose. God’s hand is stretched out that that may not happen; this consolation I gathered in many books. Not for naught have I seriously studied Divinitatem in the cloister of God’s Passion. I learned that He takes true contrition as atonement for all sins. Be your soul never sick, if your eye be wet only an hour from heartfelt rue, believe thy child, thy spouse and sin, then you are saved”

Sabor

The annual May session of the Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church began in Belgrade today. Patriarch Pavle is unable to take part so His Eminence Metropolitan Amphilohije will preside over the meeting. There is talks that a new patriarch will be chosen…but then again there are a lot of things people are talking about that really is none of our business.

As you see above the hierarchs have gathered for the Invocation of the Holy Spirit. It’s best we leave it to the Holy Spirit to guide our church through our bishops than to pay attention to what people are saying and rumors being spread online.

I will make you fishers of men

In Edward Rutherford’s epic novel London, the story of the city from one generation to another, he describes the disappointed feelings of one of his characters in the 17th century who had dreamed for a long time of sailing to America and joining the Puritans. She finally goes and upon returning to London the author describes the following:

Truth to tell, Martha had grown a little disappointed in Massachusetts. She had hardly like to admit it even to herself while she was there; but as she confided to her friend Mrs. Wheeler: “There has been some backsliding in New England.” In Boston and Plymouth, even. And when Mrs. Wheeler gently enquired what it was that had tempted some of the colony from the path of righteusness, Martha did not hesitate. “Cod. It’s fish that have taken men from the Lord.”

The catch off the New England coast had been phenomenal, past all the settlers’ wildest dreams. “There are so many fish, ” they declared, “you can almost walk on the waters.” Every year the Massachusetts fishermen were sending between a third and half a million barrels of fish across the ocean to England. “God has granted them such abundance they do not think they need Him,” Martha complained. “They are laying up treasures on earth instead of heaven…..They speak of God but they think of money,” Martha admitted sadly. And some of the fishermen did not even trouble to do that; Martha could never forget, or quite forgive, the terrible occasion when the eldest Dogget son, now a sea captain of some wealth, had turned on her and shouted: “Damn it, woman, I came here to fish, not to pray.”

From the Pulpit

There is weekly column that appears in our local newspaper for the clergy to contribute, called From the Pulpit. Last year, around Halloween, I called them up and asked if I can submitted something related to the holiday. They told me it doesn’t work like that. If I wanted to contribute they’ll send me a schedule and that’s when my column would appear. They sent it to me back in January and I was scheduled to mail something in by the end of April. I filed the letter away, forgot about it and then later remembered that it was April something or other. When I found it I discovered it was due in two days, on Holy Tuesday. I decided to write about St. George. It appeared today in the paper or read it here:

George the Great Martyr was hero for standing up for his faith
From the Pulpit

By Rev. Milovan Katanic

The classic image one has of a hero is usually seated on a horse, fighting off the attacks of an evil monster with a sword in one hand and, in the other, a damsel who had hitherto been in distress. That image is very reminiscent of a well-known icon in Eastern Orthodox iconography; more specifically, the icon of St. George the Great Martyr. In the month of May the Serbian Orthodox community of Hermitage, whose church is dedicated to this same brave martyr, will celebrate his memory with a special festal celebration.

That having been said one wonders if St. George can truly be considered a “hero.” After all, the image we’re most familiar with, of him seated on a horse and slaying a dragon, is more legend than history, which is to say that it never happened! Perhaps the lore was prompted by the publication of “The Golden Legend,” a book by James of Voragine in 1265. Here is described how the soldier George was passing through a town that, unbeknownst to him, was being terrorized by a neighboring dragon. In order to satisfy the dragon’s appetite the villagers had been supplying it with two sheep a day, which later turned into one man and one sheep.

The king of this region devised a sort of lottery system to determine who would be the next victim. This rather ingenious system would come back to haunt him as the lot fell on his own daughter. It was when the daughter was sent to the dragon that George happened to be passing through the town and spotted a lady weeping. He asked her what the problem was but she, rather valiantly, told him to go his way unless he also be fed to the dragon. At that very instant the dragon appeared, George took out his sword and slayed the dragon, becoming the town hero. The king offered him gold and riches but George only asked that the money be given to the poor. Some fifteen thousand were baptized in that town on that occasion and Christianity was introduced to the people.

The only factual detail from this account is that he actually was a soldier. Yet, his heroism derived not from slaying dragons but from standing up to his supreme commander, the Emperor Diocletian, and confessing his Christian faith. He subsequently became known as a “great martyr” as the emperor, in his unrelenting and unabashed fury, lashed torture upon torture on him. After all, he was one of the emperor’s best soldiers and it enraged him to unimaginable levels that he would rather bow down to Christ than himself.

Would this courageous act of confession constitute heroism in our contemporary lexicon? While atheistic dictatorships are not extinct from the more remote corners of the world, they certainly have no place here. No, evil and godless rulers are not forbidding us from going to church. We have enough problems competing with our teens’ extracurricular activities to worry about evil rulers. A pious, church-going family from my parish missed almost a month of church because of their child’s sports schedule. They complained to the coach, but to no avail. Planning anything with teen groups in almost all churches has become a true task. Of course, since many of the teens rely on parents for transportation, the problem becomes all the worse. Such stories have become commonplace in the recent past and, in most cases, it’s not only clergy who are complaining.

It’s funny, even though the story of St. George with the dragon is fictional, icons still depict him seated on a horse and slaying a fiery monster. Rather than saving a damsel in distress, the slaying of a dragon is symbolic for slaying godlessness, idolatry; the sins of gluttony, greed, etc. In the end I suppose that’s what real heroes do — they save their souls.

Rev. Milovan Katanic is pastor of St. George Serbian Orthodox Church, Hermitage.