“People who criticize the Church….”

The article below appeared on the Serbian patriarchate website this morning which I instantly felt compelled to translate. *In the meantime the patriarchate has published my translation here.

A group of priests from Cacak, in their disagreement with the regulations of the Church and the spiritual authority of the leadership in the Church, have formed an electronic forum known as “Borba za veru” (“Struggle for the faith”), so that by means of this site they might allow the public to know of their opposition to the Serbian Church. Here we must instantly cite the words of the Apostle Paul from Holy Scripture which are compulsory to all, which state: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves” (Rom. 13:1-2). This was said during the time of pagan rule. It was meant directly for the governing rulers, and all the more to the spiritual, church rulers. What rulers are these? The Church is, by succession from Christ our Lord, apostolic. And by its conformation, through the Apostles, it is episcopal, under the leadership of the bishops.

The highest ruling body of a local Orthodox Church is the Holy Assembly of Bishops, in which all hierarchs of that Church, in a conciliar fashion, make decisions regarding all the issues and problems of church life. This Assembly, to an extent, can be compared to the role of a country’s national assembly.

The Holy Synod of Bishops is the executive body of the Holy Assembly of Bishops. This is church government, similar to civil government. The president of the Holy Synod, as well as the Assembly of Bishops, is always in our church the Patriarch. Members of the Holy Synod are four hierarchs from our church, while the secretary of the Holy Assembly of Bishops and the officers, as the support staff, carry out the administration of the Synod.

Each diocese is administered by a bishop, who has the fullness of the archpastoral grace in liturgical serving, teaching and ruling of the Church in his diocese. The priest has all of this in his own parish, but to a lesser degree, depending on the blessing of his bishop.

All the faithful of the Orthodox Church are must fulfill the requirements of their Church with love and obedience. The Church awards those very zealous faithful. If the need arises to assert warnings, reprimands or other disciplinary measures (epitimija – penance), it is carried out by the governing church rulers.

The Holy Synod is in charge of the bishops and, and ultimately, the Holy Assembly of Bishops.

The diocesan bishop is in charge of clergy and monastics of his diocese.

The diocesan bishop issues congratulatory citations, warnings, reprimands and other epitimija to the faithful as members of the Church.

The state does the same, except it will use force, or even weapons, on unruly citizens.

The Church, however, does not do that. When God created man He gave them freedom, reason and a moral law, to know how and for what purpose will they use that freedom. If they abuse it, then follows, according to the words of Christ, an evangelical warning from the clergyman who is in charge. If this is not sufficient, they take two persons (not just whoever) as two witnesses. If even then they do not listen and repent, then they are to tell it to the Church – which in practice signifies the higher, hierarchical rulers. If they do not even listen to the Church then, with no coercion, they are excommunicated from the Church, for whom, until they come to their senses and repent, they are treated as pagan, godless. But if they realize their sin and violation and they sincerely repent and seek forgiveness, the Churh, as a good Mother, will accept them with love and their error and sin she will forgive according to the Lord’s commandment: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand…”.

Up until World War II all Orthodox Christians of our Church who, with good intentions, wrote about the Church or discussed something regarding the life of the Church, did it with the blessing of their diocesan bishop or the Holy Synod, under whose jurdisdiction was all church education and published materials. Under the many years of communist rule, that practice and rule came out of practice. And so today anyone will write whatever they wish and say whatever they want, whether that be for the Orthodox faith or their own on behalf of Orthodoxy, whether it be for or against the Church in which they were baptized, these self-proclaimed critics, with a multitude of ignorant comments, as a truth of their own, they will drag their readers and listeners into fallacy. This is done in some extreme vain desire of theirs to falsely portray the Orthodox Church in Serbia, and even in Russia and other places, as if it is supposedly falling apart and so they are forced to take the rudder, without the bishops or clergy, in order to “save the Church”.

They do not know, nor do they want to know what the Church is, what church hierarchy is and what our Orthodox faith is about.

They do not know, nor do they want to know, that Christ our Lord is God and the Son of God, that He is infallible, that He descended from the heavens and was incarnate on earth to teach us with the teachings of His Gospel that we live and find our salvation by it. They do not know that the Christ’s Church is also infallible and indestructible as Christ is. They do not know that we Christians are saved in the Church and through the Church: She saves us and not we Her.

People who criticize the Church and its representatives on earth, without the authority to do so, pour fire on their heads, for they do not know, nor do they want to know, that Christ is the Judge over all mankind and not them, they are especially not called to judge the archpastors of Christ’s Church on earth.

For this reason the group of citizens in Cacak who have named their non-church forum “Borba za veru” (“Struggle for the faith”) should know, as well as everyone else, that it is neither a part of the Church nor was it launched with the blessing of the Church but it was founded by a group of sectarian minded rebellious citizens to battle against the Church, her elders and its liturgical and disciplinary order. For all those things which have been done away during the time of our enslavement to the Turks, or wartime enslavement, as well as any other abnormal difficulties and troubles, it is the obligation of the Church to, in time, bring to normal order. The local Orthodox Church – each one, as well as ours – is controlled and is judged by the ecumenical Orthodox Church, and not a sectarian minded group of rebels who are obsessed with themselves, their vanity and their ignorance of themselves, their Church, their duties and responsibilities and place in the Church.

All such sectarian minded, spiritually unsound and misguided critics, if they could see and face their errors, would be ashamed and would rush to make peace with themselves and their souls with their Church and would rush all the more to bring peace, unity and love both in their souls and their surroundings instead of rebellion; which is the opposite of what they have now done, towards the end of December 2012, as they showed with their rebellious and blasphemous lies against a number of bishops, as well as against a candidate who as a priest peacefully defended his doctoral thesis.

Here it is good to remember that folk wisdom: don’t run in front of the thill or the wagon will run you over.  The Lord, through the Church, has given us everything we need for our salvation. The fulfillment of that He Himself has affirmed with the human body which He took upon Himself. Furthermore, without any bargaining with us, He keeps silent and waits. His Church does the same. There is no rush to eternity in Heaven. They wait for us and watch to see with what will we fill the span of our lives here on earth with. In respect, love and obedience with patience for our Creator and His holy Church or in rebellion and pride which had once turned an angel into Satan and rejected God and His Church. God is not the God of many but the chosen. He who makes an effort to seek out the wisdom of Holy Scripture, should understand and comprehend that.

Archimandrite Jovan

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Second Chances

So much for New Year’s resolutions. Actually, I didn’t make any. Even if I did I doubt posting more on my blog would make the cut. Not enough time in the day to worry about such things. But inactivity is unappealing wherever it might show up. And seeing the sparse postings I’ve been having recently has only motivated me to at least try to dedicate just a little more time here.

There are always second chances. Even with resolutions. Especially when you take into consideration that according to the old calendar the New Year has just arrived today. (Happy New Year’s, by the way.) A good quote, in the same vein – sort of, from Fr. Ted’s blog (here):

“Even if you are not what you should be, you should not despair. It is bad enough that you have sinned; why in addition do you wrong God by regarding Him in your ignorance as powerless? Is He, who for your sake created the great universe that you behold, incapable of saving your soul? And if you say that this fact, as well as His incarnation, only makes your condemnation worse, then repent; and He will receive your repentance, as He accepted that of the prodigal son ( cf.Luke 15:20)  and the prostitute (cf. Luke 7:37-50). But if repentance is too much for you, and you sin out of habit even when you do not want to, show humility like the publican ( cf. Luke 18:13): that is enough to ensure your salvation. For he who sins without repenting, yet does not despair, must out of necessity regard himself as the lowest of creatures, and will not dare to judge or censure anyone. Rather, he will marvel at God’s compassion, and will be full of gratitude towards his Benefactor, and so may receive many other blessings as well.” (St. Peter of Damaskos in The Philokalia – The Complete Text, Volume Three, pg. 160)

Srecan Badnji Dan

badnjak13

Badnji dan is the last day of the Christmas fast but also the time when the badnjak is brought into Orthodox homes, from whence it gets its name and which the Orthodox Church gave a special meaning because the name badnjak is connected with the word vigil, being that on that day a vigil was kept awaiting the birth of the Savior. The faithful receive blessed badnjaks which they take into their homes. Families are gathered in their homes around the hay and leaves as in Christ’s cradle in the straw of the cave of Bethlehem. The night of joy approaches and the shepherds and wise men. This feast day of family joy is celebrated in our parishes.

According to tradition, the badnjak burns on the eve of the feast until Christmas, when the birth of Christ is announced. The badnjak is, by rule, is a young oak tree and represents the symbol of the tree which, as it is said in tradition, the shepherds brought to Joseph and Mary to kindle the fire and warm the cave in which Jesus Christ was born. In Orthodox homes Badnje Vece – Christmas Eve – is a family feast when the household is gathered around the lenten table.

adapted from an article by Deacon Neven Marinkovic

 

The Royal Hours at Christmas

H/T: Orthodox Church in America (here)

All Divine Liturgies in the Orthodox Church are preceded by the chanting of the Hours services, consisting of psalms, hymns and prayers. But in the great cathedral of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, the Byzantine Emperor was present each year at the service beginning the celebration of the Nativity of Christ. Therefore, the Hours preceding the Vespers and Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great on Christmas Eve are given the name “Royal Hours.”

The Emperor’s attendance at the service was in part a demonstration of his humble acknowledgment that Jesus Christ reigns over all mortal beings. The third psalm is Psalm 45: “My heart overflows with good tidings as I sing my ode to the King; my tongue is like the pen of a skillful scribe. Thou art the fairest of the sons of men; grace is poured upon Thy lips; therefore God has blessed Thee forever. Gird Thy sword upon Thy thigh, O mighty one, in Thy splendor and beauty. Draw Thy bow, ride forth in triumph and reign, for the sake of truth, and meekness, and righteousness.” Such words could apply to only one Sovereign.

The verses of the Royal Hours make no attempt to conceal the human confusion and anguish of Joseph. He tells Mary, “I am troubled; what can I say to you? Doubt clouds my mind; depart from me! What has happened to you, O Mary? Instead of honor, you bring me shame. Instead of joy, you fill me with grief. Men who praised me will blame me.”

The verses also chillingly describe the effect of one powerful man’s jealousy and fear. Herod was willing to kill innocent children to keep his unique position as ruler: “Herod was filled with alarm when he saw the righteous wise men. Overcome by fury, he determined precisely when the child was born. Mothers were robbed of their infants: Their tender lives were reaped as a bitter harvest.”

Mary could not stop the terror and sorrow created by Herod. But she could lovingly reassure Joseph. In the verses she says: “Why are you so troubled? Why are you in misery seeing me with child? Do you not understand at all? I bear a fearful mystery! Cast your fears away, and learn a strange wonder: God in His mercy descends from heaven to earth. Within my womb He has taken flesh! When He is pleased to be born, you will see Him. You will rejoice, and worship Him, your Creator.”

The Royal Hours give us a whole atmosphere surrounding the birth of Our Lord: the venality of Herod who fears being supplanted; Joseph’s fear of disgrace; Mary’s faith, which leads her to inspire Joseph—and us—with words like “mystery” and “wonder” to describe the event she does not fully understand but has fully accepted.

Father Alexander Schmemann has rightly called the Royal Hours “one last meditation on the cosmical meaning of the Nativity, on the decisive and radical change it performed in the entire creation.”