28 October 2007

Of the Lord's Mercy

Tomorrow is another personal anniversary. It will mark one year to the day when I publicly announced my resignation as the Fifth Pastor of Zion Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Detroit.

During the month between my resignation and its public announcement, I continued many of the usual pastoral duties. These were done at the request and with the permission of both the English District President and the officers of Zion Church. I was most uncomfortable carrying out their wishes, but carry them out I did.

During that time, I also had several conversations with the District President during which, at his request, I told him the outline and basic points I would make in my Statement of Resignation. Three times during that interval the District President pointedly, yet gently and kindly, asked me if I was sure about my decision. On these occasions he also offered both a defense of Lutheranism and that it was not too late to change my mind. The third time he did so was immediately before the service on 29 October, during which he announced that I would resign. I shall always be grateful to the Rev. David Stechholz for his loving determination and his concern for my family's and my well-being.

I am also grateful to Rev. Stechholz for sitting by my side during my Statement of Resignation. As one might guess, it was emotionally difficult to read a statement severing ties with the parish I had loved and served for 11 years. In fact, at some points I could not continue. Yet showing his continued compassion, Rev. Stechholz read aloud what I could not read. Afterwards, as was proper, he offered corrections about where he and Lutheranism disagreed with my reasons for leaving Lutheranism. But, as ever, these were loving rebukes made, as he often said, "from one brother to another."

At this point last year, I was completely at a loss to explain how my family and I would fare financially or otherwise one year later. Both when I resigned on 29 September and when I publicly announced that resignation on 29 October, I had no prospects for full-time employment, and I had resigned myself to the fact that I might never again serve in a pastoral or priestly capacity. And while I had a desire for being Orthodox in the Western tradition, there were no realistic prospects for fulfilling such a desire.

Now, one year later, more has happened than I ever imagined or desired. Thanks to the kindness of the local Catholic priest and parish, I have full-time employment. Due to the kindness of many, my family never suffered loss of health coverage and we were able to survive the financially thin months. By the grace and kindness of the Lord, last December my family and I were received (with several others) into the Orthodox Church at St George in Troy. In January, the Metropolitan graciously blessed the decision of the Holy Synod concerning the application for ordination which Bishop MARK urged me to make and, at the same time, Metropolitan PHILIP blessed constitution for the re-establishment of a Western Rite parish in Detroit. On 10 February I was ordained a Deacon, on 11 February I was ordained a Priest, and on 18 February the inaugural Mass at Holy Incarnation Orthodox Church was celebrated.

Looking back, one may say that the Lord mercifully confirmed my decision with His blessing; or one may say that the Lord mercifully cares for His own despite their fool-hardiness. I, of course, will argue for the former, but I'm sure many Lutherans will tend toward the latter. In either case, this past year is due to nothing of mine and everything of the Lord's mercy.

Kings & Priests

For all who are born again in Christ, the sign of the Cross makes us kings, and the anointing of the Holy Spirit consecrates priests; so that apart from the special service of our ministry, let all spiritual and reasoning Christians know that they are of royal birth, and sharers of the priestly office. For what is so kingly as the soul that is subject to God, and the ruler of its own body? And what is so priestly as to dedicate to the Lord a pure conscience, and to offer Him on the altar of our hearts the unstained gift of our love?

From Sermo IV of St. Leo the Great

Let us Give Thanks

The following is an excerpt from the sermon preached at Holy Incarnation Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church. Following the lectionary for Gregorian Use parishes in the Western Rite Vicariate, the sermon is based on the Epistle reading for the Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King.

Let us give thanks to God our Father, not just with words but with all that we are and all that we have. For through His Son and in His Spirit, Our Father has made us worthy to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light. This means that He has elevated far beyond what we deserve; and He has given us a share in something that, regrettably, we don’t strain for with every fiber of our being. For we tend to be caught up in mundane things—what we shall wear, what we shall eat, what we shall do this evening. And we tend to strive for things that never last, things that fade away, and even for things that corrupt more than uplift our souls.

As I say this, I point the finger first at myself. And I say this to draw a picture of our corrupted selves. But most of all, I say this so that we might all see and realize the generosity, the magnificence, and the overwhelming kindness that Our Father has bestowed upon us. For while we too often stumble in darkness from one passion to the next, while we too often fix our eyes on things that will not last, while we too often worry and fret about things that have no eternal consequence, and while we too often strain for that which will never truly satisfy, there is Our Father—delivering us from the power of darkness, and translating us into the kingdom of his dear Son.


Let us therefore give thanks. But let us not use words only. And let us not only strive to do better. But let us also give thanks by reordering our life—what we value, what goals we set, how we use our time, and so then how we live. For our goal ought not be to attain success in this life, but to attain the kingdom of heaven. And our goal ought not be to taste and experience all we can of the pleasures that fade and corrupt, but to taste and see that the Lord is good. And our goal ought not be to live life to the fullest, but to attain the fullness of life, which is Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the King

The sixteen hundred year anniversary of the Council of Nicea in 1925 was the occasion for Pope Pius XI to promulgate the universal celebration in the Roman Church of the Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King. This feast is also celebrated in all churches of the Western Rite Vicariate of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. The purpose of the feast, according to Pius Parsch, is “to renew in the minds and hearts of the faithful the ancient concept of Christ as divine King who, enthroned at the right hand of the Father, will return at the end of time in might and majesty.”

The theme of Christ’s kingship is celebrated often (if not also weekly) throughout the Church’s year of grace. Yet this theme is accentuated on the Sunday before the Orthodox churches in the Western tradition glorify the Lord who is triumphant in all His saints.

21 October 2007

Tagged - Seven True Things

Anastasias at Kyrie Eleison tagged me. The rule, as she explains it, is that I'm supposed to list seven true things. Apparently, these things are supposed to introduce whatever readers I have to greater knowledge about myself. Hence, I can't simply write I'm male, I'm a priest, etc.--all of which are true. So I'll try to comply with the spirit of this game. My list, I'm sure, will be quite boring.

1. The longest I've lived in one house is 11+ years (1 June 1995 to 17 Aug 2006).

2. My youngest child is two.

3. Three of my siblings live in one state. (No, it's not "confusion.")

4. I currently work four jobs.

5. I teach five classes in the Theology & Foreign Language Departments at a Catholic High School.

6. The number of years my wife and I have been married is divisible by six.

7. In the only marathon I've ever run, I ran the first mile in 7 minutes. (I ran the rest of the marathon in 2 hr 32 min.)

And now, for whatever it's worth, I tag Ben Johnson, Chris Hall, and David Sch├╝tz.

Remember Your Sins in order to Forgive

The following is an excerpt from the sermon preached at Holy Incarnation Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church. Following the lectionary for Gregorian Use parishes in the Western Rite Vicariate, the sermon is based on the Gospel reading for Pentecost XXI.

Let us not take advantage of Our Lord’s mercy and forgiveness. Let us not treat it as some cheap gift. Let us not disrespect the Lord’s sacrifice. For the Father sacrificed His Son, and the Son willingly became our sin and endured our suffering and entered our death—all so that we might be reconciled to God the Father. Let us not take for granted Our Lord’s mercy by returning to our sin—by letting pride or our passions continue to control us. Above all, let us not make light of Our Lord’s forgiveness by refusing to forgive all men. For when we refuse to forgive, we show that our pride is greater than our faith; and we show that we have forgotten both our repentant fear, and the Lord’s abundant mercy.

That is precisely what happened with the servant after he had been forgiven. He forgot both the enormity of his debt, and the magnitude of the master’s kindness. He forgot his fear, and the master’s compassion. And so his pride not only returned, but also metastasized into greed and selfishness. His fellow servant spoke the words that he had first spoken—words that should have reminded him of the forgiveness that he had received from the master. “Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all”—that is both what he had said and what he now heard. Yet in his pride, in his desire for fairness and justice, he forgot mercy—the mercy he had received. So he threatened and throttled his fellow servant.

Because he refuses to forgive, Our Lord judges the man to be ungrateful. Because the unforgiving servant did not forgive as he had been forgiven; and was not merciful as His Father is merciful. For with the same measure that you shall mete withal, it shall be measured to you again.

For this reason, each of us should be mindful of his sins. Had this man remembered the debt that had been forgiven, he would not have been so cruel and inhuman. Therefore, we should keep before our mind’s eye our own past deeds, as well as the Lord’s forgiveness. Yet let us not remember them so that we doubt the Lord’s mercy. Instead, let us remember our sins so that we do not fall into sin again; and so that we deal kindly with those who struggle with sin. “For there is nothing that makes the soul truly wise, so truly gentle and compassionate, as the continual remembrance of our sins.” (St John Chrysostom)

In the same way, there is no greater deed than imitating the mercy of God by forgiving those who sin against us. So let us remember both the Lord’s mercy and our own sins so that we practice humility and deal kindly with all men, even our enemies. And in forgiving others, we will grow in our remembrance and knowledge of Our Father’s ineffable compassion toward us which the Spirit has so generously showered upon us through the blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with His Father in the unity of the same Holy Spirit, belongs all glory, honor and worship, now and ever and unto the ages of ages.

14 October 2007

Speaking & Hearing - From the Lord's Mercy

The following is an excerpt from the sermon preached at Holy Incarnation Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church. Following the lectionary for Gregorian Use parishes in the Western Rite Vicariate, the sermon is based on the Gospel reading for Pentecost XX.

That Our Lord deigns to speak, and that we are able to respond in faith—both trace back to the Lord’s mercy. For what is Our Lord’s speech but His Word? And this Word of the Lord—is that not the Son of the Father, who is so united to His Father that He is the Word of God? St John plainly says that the Word was with God, and the Word was God; and that this Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we saw his glory, the glory as it were of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. What Our Lord speaks, then, is not just any noise, but His unbegotten Word. And that He determines to speak His Word means that He is determined to send forth His Word into the ears and hearts of men.

Now, the Word of God goes forth, not by compulsion, not by necessity. For there is nothing that compels the Father to speak; there is nothing that forces the Word of God to go forth; and there is nothing that requires the Word of God to be intelligible to us so that we might know and understand what He says. Yet the Word of God goes forth, nevertheless. And He makes Himself known to us by conforming His heavenly speech to our meager language, and by bringing His unfathomable wisdom down to our level. Why does He do this—unless it is love that moves Him; unless it is mercy that drives Him? For only one reason, then, does Our Lord speak, and the Word of God go forth, and the Spirit of God carry the Lord’s Word into our ears. And that one reason is so that we might hear; and hearing, we might take to heart what He says; and by taking to heart, we might respond with faith and love; and by responding, we might attain the kingdom of heaven.

But how can we hear, how can we take to heart, how can we respond, and so how can we attain? Does not our hearing also trace back to the Lord’s mercy? Is it not the Lord’s mercy that not only sends forth His Word, but also sends us His Spirit so that the Lord’s Word is understood, and so does not die in our ears but bears fruit in our lives?

09 October 2007

Does God Need Christ's Atoning Work?

It is a provocative, yet philosophically and theologically untenable, question when we posit that the atonement was necessary in order to meet some need in God. St. Augustine, among others, addresses both philosophically and theologically any notion of necessity in God. Philosophically, any necessity in God questions the freedom that God is and makes the mistake of ascribing to God human limitations. Theologically, St Augustine builds on this same conclusion. Permit my colleague, Fr Patrick Henry Reardon, to summarize St Augustine.

Medieval and Renaissance theories about the Atonement appear to suffer from a common and easily identified misunderstanding, and I take it to be this: They all assume that there is some need in God that must be met and satisfied by Christ's sacrifice on the Cross. Something in God is the beneficiary of the Cross, whether His honor, or His justice, or His wrath, or whatever. These theories postulate in God some requisite that could only be addressed by the suffering and death of Christ. God—or some aspect of God—is the beneficiary of sacrifice.

I submit that an idea of this sort is very difficult to sustain from biblical teaching about sacrifice. There are simply too many scriptural texts insisting that God does not need it. Introducing a brief survey of such texts, St. Augustine comments, "And who is so foolish as to suppose that the things offered to God are needed by Him for some uses of His own? Divine Scripture in many places destroys such an idea" (The City of God 10.5). Augustine then goes on to cite several texts from the Psalter to this effect, limiting the number "so as not to be tedious."

If God does not need sacrifice, however, man certainly does, because "whatever correct worship is paid to God profits not Him, but man." Man, then, not God, is the beneficiary of a sacrifice offered to God. God does not need sacrifice, but man needs to offer it.

This quotation is a selection from Pastoral Ponderings by Fr. Patrick Reardon. Here is the complete Pondering on the Atonement.