Archpastoral Message of His Beatitude Met. Jonah on Nativity ’09

To the Very Reverend and Reverend Clergy,
Monastics, and Faithful of
The Orthodox Church in America

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

We rejoice in the coming of the Savior, the Advent of the Son of God into this broken world. His Nativity anticipates and prefigures His Second and Glorious Coming again in the flesh, not clothed in the swaddling bands of humility, for but a few years; but in the radiant vesture of the Kingdom to reign forever.

For us Orthodox Christians, the Nativity of Christ is the Winter Pascha, and our celebration is rooted in the liturgical life of the Church; the world’s “Xmas” hymns go on and on, oblivious, rather intentionally, to the point of the celebration. While we enjoy the worldly celebration, the family time, the gifts and giving, these are empty if we miss the central celebration itself: the services of the Nativity, culminating in receiving the Holy Mysteries. We can have Christmas without the Nativity, as does the world; but for Christians the Feast of the Nativity is Christmas!

We pray and fast to prepare ourselves for forty days before Christmas not only to be obedient to the Church, but to prepare ourselves to receive the Mystery of Communion. Will this Christmas be unto salvation, discerning and receiving His Body–that same Body born of Mary and laid in the Manger, the Son of God who has taken flesh and likened himself to us, so that He might liken us to Himself? Or do we judge ourselves, unaware or oblivious to the Mystery of Christ’s assumption of our nature. We pray and fast to open our spiritual eyes, so that we can see Christ, discern Christ, know Christ–not just as a historical figure who taught nice things, but as God who has come and will come again.

The traditional Christmas carols talk about Baby Jesus lying in the manger. Let us contemplate this mystery during this season, a mystery that at that time only His Mother really understood: that this little infant, no different than any other, would become the Savior of the world, and redeem mankind, indeed all of creation, from death. What infinite potential, the potential of a man fulfilling the Divine Likeness, and manifesting God in His flesh, was invested in that little child. Who would have thought that a child born in the most destitute poverty and anonymity would become the criterion of judgment for the whole world?

We can also contemplate this same mystery in the life of every child. Who knows what the destiny of that child will be? Who can tell if he or she will become a point of hope for the whole world? That same infinite potential, the potential for deification, the potential for a life transfigured by God, the potential for a life that will bring joy and peace, or beget such a child?

The Feast of the Nativity is not only the contemplation of God taking human flesh. It is also the great celebration of humanity, that God so loved as to become one of us, that through that One, joy and peace and salvation may be given to the whole world. Let us treasure the life of every child, who is the image of Christ born of the Virgin, and remember the great calling which he or she, and each of us, has in God. Let us also remember that the ultimate fulfillment of that calling is found in the transformation of our very flesh, in which God became incarnate, that having become man for our sake, He enables us to partake of His Divinity on that glorious day of His coming again in the flesh.

With love in the Newborn Lord,

SIGNATURE
+JONAH
Archbishop of Washington
Metropolitan of All America and Canada

Thou Shalt Not (?)

I have been studying Judaism in my History of World Religions class as of late. During my studies I have had some certain things strike me as odd.

The first of these is that classical Judaism does not stress the afterlife hardly at all (and in some sects, none). I was perplexed at first and began to think to myself “why?”

Is it perhaps because they didn’t believe in it? That can’t be the case. One only has to go to a Jewish funeral to witness the knowledge of an afterlife, or witness one of the prayers in the Merits of the Fathers to see that Jews (well of the orthodox variety at least) tend to still see that there is a life after this one.

Perhaps it is because they have no Messiah. In reality, most Jews (again with the exception of orthodox jews) don’t even believe in a literal Messiah. Many Jews today, in fact, believe that the foundation of the Modern Israeli state, with all its downfalls, constitutes the promise of the messiah.

So why is it that Christianity is so “other world” obsessed and Judaism simply is not. Perhaps it has to do with the body.

Judaism has EVERYTHING to do with the body and what is done in it. As Christians we believe it is heresy to separate the body from the soul, this is Gnosticism. So, too, with Judaism, the soul and body are thought of as inseparable. If ever there is a separation at death, that is up to G_d, but otherwise, we cannot seperate the two in our understanding of the human person.

We find this because when God gave his chosen people their law, he largely gave them a way to rule their bodies. When God created man, in bodily form, he said that it was very good. “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” God, in this passage, unites inseparably the human body with the human soul. He creates the whole of the human person in His image, or eikon. Thus, when he gives them the law, he gives them ways to conform theirselves, largely through the body, to the way of life.

In Leviticus there are laws on what to eat, what to drink (the law of kash rus, or kosher). There are laws about human interaction. Laws about how to treat animals. How to sacrifice. How to bathe. . . and the list goes on and on. All together there are over 600 laws in the OT directed towards the body. Heck, there are even laws about women’s interaction with others during their menstrual periods. Why is God so obsessed with the Body?! Because we are made in his image and likeness.

I believe that the degredation of the Church’s witness in the world as we see it today, whether it be Orthodox, Catholic, or Protestants, doesn’t have much to do with modernism, post-modernism, or any other ism. It has to do specifically with how man and woman have chosen to use their bodies. In short, it can be traced back to the sexual “revolution”.

The failure of the church to stand up to the world on the issues of the human body is the problem, not its ascent to modern philosophy. As Nietzsche envisioned “When the Church loses the ability to say ‘Thou shalt not’ it will  lose all authority.” When the Church gives into contraception (as the protestant churches have in full, and the orthodox seem to be moving towards, though not as fast and with limits) it loses ground in its moral authority in the world, for she is to be the physician of the human person.

This is the same problem with Homosexuality. I love homosexuals. They are beautiful creations of God. Some of my . friends are homosexuals. But, this does not mean that the Church ought to sanction their lifestyle, because she knows that the active homosexual lifestyle is not GOOD for the human person! Instead, she ought to be teaching and correcting, comforting and counseling that person to wipe off the soil that has encrusted over the image of God in them, just as all of us must work out our salvation (in the Church) with fear and trembling.

The Church is the body of Christ in the world. She is the salt, the bitter preservative which saves the world. When it attempts to become an attractive and tasty item like sugar and ceases to become salty, it looses its ability to preserve and correct.

I believe, very firmly, that the reason that there are so many divorces in the church today also has to do with this lack of preserving in the church. For instance, and getting back to the area of contraception, I see a problem with oekonomia being practiced to allow contraception to the extent which it is allowed in the American Orthodox Church. Oekonomia is applied to something that is sin, but is not easily given up. It is concession to sin, often involving a lessening of penance, in order for the weak human person to be weaned off of sin. Its purpose is primarily for addictions and a concession for human weakness. If a person can, AT ALL, resist the sin of contraception, he or she should not be sanctioned to use it, because it is not good for fostering the practice of chastity within the marital bounds. (Of course this is ultimately up to the Bishop through the Priest, but I would argue that it ought to be used much more sparingly than in current practice).

Contraception sets forth an unnatural dichotomy and usage of sex within the human marriage bonds. It allows the couple to engage in sexual activity much more than envisioned by God. This brings about an unhealthy balance within the marriage that equates the quality of the marriage with the quality of sex. The further degredation of this, which I am seeing in my own generation is the bypassing of marriage alltogether, in an effort not to get sucked into a “loveless” marriage somewhere down the road (because our understandings of that marriage have become inordinate, equating sex with relationship).

It also brings about a problem with the very nature of the conjugal act itself, in essence re-defining it. God created the female body to work in a particular way in cycles of fertility. When a couple usurps those boundaries by using contraception, which have their aim at disrupting those cycles, it allows them to act in a way unestablished by God. The Human Marriage, which God established even before the fall of man into sin as very good, ceases to be a salvific sacrament of grace to save the human person, and becomes instead an instrument of death. It becomes an institution of the hedonism of our day.

We are not called to pleasure, though God allows it for the enjoyment and fullness of the human person. The primary purpose of marriage is not pleasure, but the union of man and woman with the ultimate outcome being the procreation of the human race. Those who cannot conceive for whatever reason are not in sin, because they are fulfilling the commandment of God to “be one as I and the Father are one.” This is no fault of their own. But those who choose to contracept, in an effort to usurp the boundaries the sovereign God has placed on our personal lives (and yes, this includes financial aspects as well. See Matthew 10:29-32) are willfully choosing to disobey the Church’s teaching on that subject, choosing their own pleasure over the good order of things as established by God (not to mention that this practice will inevitably lead to the extinguishing of not only the Christian people, but the Human race if taken to its natural end, but this is another discussion in itself).  We are called to repent, and believe, and be baptized. In the sacraments of the Church there is salvation, outside there is death.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son; so that whosoever believes in Him shall enherit eternal life. […] For Christ did not come into the world to condemn it, but to save it and unite it unto himself.” The restrictions of the Church on the body are not meant as empty law imposed on its members, but as the bringing about of the koinonia which exists in the body of Christ. It is for the salvation of the human person.

Think upon these things. As always I welcome your thoughts and reflections

In Christ,

Ben

Encyclical of the Holy Synod of the OCA on Marriage

russian_orthodox_weddingAs I am in the preperation for marriage, I will confess that it is one of the most important topics on my mind. I found this encyclical to be particularly beneficial, tomorrow I will try my hardest to post the pastoral initiatives which the Holy Synod prescribed.

Encyclical Letter of the Holy Synod of Bishops
of the Orthodox Church in America
on Marriage
“. . . the two shall become one flesh.” (Ephesians 5:31)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

We find it imperative to address you on an issue of crucial importance for the Christian life. An increasingly secularized world tends more and more to neglect the traditional biblical understanding of marriage and family. Misunderstanding freedom and proclaiming the progress of a humanity supposedly too mature, sophisticated and scientific to follow Christ’s Gospel, many have abandoned its moral demands. The consequences are plain for all to see: the family is disintegrating, legalized abortion is killing millions of unborn children, corrupt sexual behavior is rampant. The moral foundations of society are collapsing.

We, the bishops of the Orthodox Church in America, therefore proclaim anew to you, the flock entrusted to our care, the great and holy vision of marriage that is gloriously preserved and manifested in the doctrine, liturgy and canonical tradition of the Church. We do not make this proclamation in the name of an outdated conservatism or because we consider our present society intrinsically more corrupt than the past generations. We speak because we are concerned for the welfare and salvation both of you, the members of our flock, and of all men. We speak of “that which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our own eyes … concerning the word of life” (John 1:1). We speak because we know the Truth of the Gospel of Christ to be the eternal Truth, the one needful thing, the good portion (Luke 10:42) for all men, in all times and places.

Many – Orthodox, non-Orthodox, and even non-Christians – admire our beautiful Marriage Service. Our task is to show them the vision that this Service reveals, a vision of marriage as an icon of the Trinitarian life of God Himself, and to indicate the responsibility and commitment that this vision of marriage implies.

We therefore appeal to all of you who are responsible for the life of our parishes and for the future of our youth to make a common effort to provide appropriate guidance and help to all in matrimonial matters, both through your own personal examples of pure and upright lives and undefiled marriages and also through words of exhortation and explanation, “knowing how you ought to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6), and through programs of education.

From the Old Testament Scriptures we learn that God created man “in His own image,” “male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27), and, since that beginning, “a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24), Man and woman are mutually complementary, and this complementarity, expressed in their union and common activity, reflects the very image and likeness of God. This spiritual basis of marriage clearly transcends, without suppressing, the fleshly union of the bodies. Fleshly relations when separated from spiritual ones are depraved; they must be woven into the pure and total love between a man and a woman united in marriage.

In the New Testament Scripture, from the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, we learn that marriage is a unique and unbreakable union of husband and wife joined by God Himself: “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder” (Matthew 19:6). The Marriage Service likewise makes it clear that the bridegroom and the bride are united not by themselves, but by God: “For by Thee is the husband joined unto the wife” (Marriage Service). For this reason the Orthodox Marriage Service is devoid of any oaths or marriage vows on the part of the couple. Their desire and freely given consent are certainly necessary for the marriage, for sacraments are not acts of magic that eliminate the need for human cooperation. Yet no vow or oath can possibly join a man and a woman together in the gracious and absolute way called for in Christian marriage. The true Christian marriage is effected by God Himself. In such a union, described by St. Paul as “a great mystery” (Ephesians 5:32), human love and desire for companionship become a love pervaded and sanctified by divine grace: water is transformed into the good wine, as it was at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee. In a Christian marriage husband and wife manifest in their own lives the union between God and His beloved people; between Christ, the Bridegroom, and the Church, His Bride (Ephesians 5:32). God accompanies husband and wife, bringing them into a unity which will be revealed as perfect and eternal in His Kingdom, and filling their lives with the Holy Spirit so that selfishness and division may be overcome. He sanctifies and purifies their total relationship. According to the prayers of the Marriage Service, God communicates to those being joined in unity and love, faith and oneness of mind, holiness, purity and chastity, joy and glory, and the possibility for eternal life. He unites them in body and spirit, heart and mind.

Obviously, Christian marriage will never find its ultimate fulfillment and happiness in this world. Like all things in Christ, marriage too must pass through the cross, through temptation, suffering, trial and finally death, before coming to its ultimate consummation in the Resurrection and the Kingdom of God which will come in power at the end of the ages. All this Christian couples experience as they strive to realize in their own lives the great gift given to them by God in marriage: “Thou hast set upon their heads crowns of precious stones; they asked life of Thee, and Thou gavest it them” (Psalm 21, the Prokeimenon of the Marriage Service). For those who fight the good fight as good and faithful servants, the crowns become their eternal reward as witnesses to Christ and the wedding garments are transformed into robes of salvation and eternal glory.

Marriage is the most perfect realization of love between a man and a woman: two become one. Love unites in such a way that two lives become one life in perfect harmony. This love, sanctified by God, is the great source of the happiness which is sought in marriage, and in it lies a power that transforms both those who love and those who are loved. Because of this transforming power of love, all the difficulties and defects in family life can be overcome. True love never ceases, whether in this world or in the age to come. Faithfulness and confidence must reign in marriage, for there can be no deception in love. When husband and wife are united by love, they share a common life and help each other in everything they do, for their love for each other expresses itself in mutual help and support.

Such love implies a relationship in marriage which is total in character. Husband and wife must live not for purely individual gratification, but for each other, for such is the meaning of true love. Marriage must be offered to God continually and consciously, and it must always be rooted in the life and teachings of the Church. Husband and wife can achieve their final glorification in the age to come only by self-sacrifice for the sake of one another in this life unto the glory of God. Christian marriage is a specific application of one of Christ’s fundamental teachings: “He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 10:39).

The greatest miracle of this divinely sanctified love of marriage is the procreation of good, fair and holy children. In the image of God who brings forth life in love, the Christian marriage, a unity in love established by God, brings forth holy and good life (1 Cor. 7:14).

The perfect marriage can only be one, single and unique. The prototype of marriage, the unity between Christ and His Church, excludes multiple marriages: Christ has only one Church; the Church has no other Christ. Even death cannot break the bond of perfect love. Therefore, the Church does not advocate second or third marriages, even for widows or widowers; rather, they are tolerated as condescension to human frailty and weakness, while fourth marriages are totally forbidden.

The crowning which takes place in the Marriage Service reveals the bridegroom and the bride to be a new community in Christ. The husband is the head of this community, as God is the head of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:3) and as Christ “is the head of the Church” (Ephesians 5:23). His headship is not a power over his wife and family, but a divinely-given responsibility, to be discharged after the image of Christ, the perfect man. “. . . a man approved of God among you” (Acts 2:22). His headship is a service of love and sacrifice. He is to nourish and cherish his wife and family “as Christ does the Church” (Ephesians 5:29). The wife is the helpmate of her husband, his beloved companion for life, his source of joy and wellbeing. In Eve, the mother of life, the fullness of life was revealed, for without her Adam was alone and had no companion fit for him (Genesis 2:18). As the bearer of life in the conception of children, the wife has an immediate concern for life and its quality. It is she who gives content to the life of her husband and family: purity, kindness, peace, gentleness and the concern for others. Her true adornment is “the imperishable jewel of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Peter 3:4).

To live up to its high calling, the Christian family must be firmly established in the Faith. Husband and wife must strive to learn more about the Faith and to accept its teachings as the law of their life. It must become for them the authority, against which all else that they read, hear or see is tested and evaluated. It is especially important that the Christian family participate in the life of the Church; by praying at home, by coming to the church services, by participating in the sacraments, by observing the Church’s fasts and feasts and by keeping her traditions. It is also important that the Christian family participate in the general life of their parish and have as friends those distinguished by a firm personal faith and purity of life.

Each Christian must seek the advice and guidance of the pastors of the Church. Especially before entering into marriage, Orthodox men and women must contact their pastor, so that he might explain the true nature of marriage in the Church and help them better to understand all the demands of a truly spiritual and moral family life. Each family likewise must continue to live under the guidance and with the help of the Church and her pastors.

With the help of God all the difficulties and misfortunes which are inevitable in life will be overcome, because what is impossible for man is possible for God. With faith in God, the husband will be truly capable of leading the family in the way of salvation toward the Kingdom of God, loving his wife and his children more than himself. With the help of God, the wife will be capable of being a source of purity, holiness and love for the entire family. And the children born for God in such a family from the beginning will be brought up as Christians. Such a family will be a beautiful model and source of faith, goodness and kindness for all those around it.

The Christian ideal of marriage and family, manhood and womanhood, is incomparably more exalted, balanced and fulfilling than those broken, one-sided or totally erroneous ideologies of today’s world which reduce the meaning of human life to the satisfaction of sexual appetites, material security, or to other such limited functions and desires. In Christ man is revealed as son and friend of God. He is able to become a member of Christ in soul and body. In the Christian marriage, he is able to achieve an eternal, unique and total union in love.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ: be true men and women. Be faithful to the Christian ideal of marriage and family. Let our Christian families be united in mutual love and concern. Husbands and wives: love each other; love your children. Children: respect your parents. “Submit yourselves one to another in the fear of God” (Ephesians 5:21). “Mortify immorality, impurity, evil desire … on account of these the wrath of God is coming” (Colossians 3:5-6).

+ IRENEY
Archbishop of New York
Metropolitan of All America and Canada

+ SYLVESTER
Archbishop of Montreal and Canada
Temporary Administrator of the Church

+ JOHNArchbishop of Chicago and Minneapolis

+ JOHN
Archbishop of San Francisco and Western United States

+ NIKON
Archbishop of Brooklyn

+ KIPRIAN
Archbishop of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania
Secretary of the Holy Synod

+ VALERIAN
Archbishop of Detroit and Michigan

+ THEODOSIUS
Bishop of Pittsburgh and West Virginia

+ DMITRI
Bishop of Hartford and New England

+ GREGORY
Bishop of Sitka and Alaska

+ JOASAPH
Bishop of Edmonton

+ HERMAN
Bishop of Wilkes-Barre

By The Waters of Babylon

Several weeks ago was the Sunday of the Prodigal Son. This service in the Orthodox Church is an especially special one because it is the last sunday before Great and Holy Lent. The staple of this service is the inclusion of Psalm 136 (137 for Protestants) which is only sung 3 times the entire year.

This verse is quite possibly the most beautifuly poetic exposition of exile of the people of God. When we as Christians sing this song, we realize that it is ultimately fulfilled not in the exile of the Jewish people (though they certainly posess some of its meaning), but in the ultimate fulfillment of the people of the Church in exile here in this foreign land. In commemoration of this, I’d like to share with a beautiful versions of this Psalm, in Slavonic. Remember, in this Lenten season, Blessed are they that bash their passions on the rocks

View The Video Here

The above video features video footage of the Holy Passion-Bearers St. Nicolas II and his family.

By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. Alleluia.

We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. Alleluia.

For there they that had taken us captive required of us a song; and they that had carried us away required of us a hymn, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. Alleluia.

How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? Alleluia.

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand be forgotten. Alleluia.

If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem as my chief joy. Alleluia.

Remember, O Lord, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Down with it, down with it, even to the foundation thereof. Alleluia.

O wretched daughter of Babylon, blessed is he that shall reward thee as thou hast served us. Alleluia.

Blessed is he, that shall take and dash thy little ones against the rock. Alleluia.

Just as a quick side note, the Orthodox Church has always taken this passage allegorically for the bashing of our passions on the rocks, they do not sanction infanticide of Babylonian Children. . . so please go out and do the former and refrain from the latter.