Tuesday, December 31, 2013
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Thursday, October 10, 2013
And now your priest says that you must pray.
But not all prayer has to be hour long stints (as good as that might be) or on your knees (as helpful as that might be) or in a quiet room (as conducive as that might be) or very formal (as much as that might be an aid.) Intense and meaningful prayer can be a few simple sincere words. So, yes...we should pray every day and with great fervor.
When you are in love, it is absolutely great to have the evening or the day to spend with the person of your dreams. But when that is impossible how reassuring it is – how much it makes your day to receive a text, “Just thinking of you.” “Love you.” “Can’t wait to see you.” Don't you think God would be satisfied with a "tweet" rather than nothing at all? Of course He wants to hear from you. If you cannot say a rosary or an akathist, send a hello.
We always seem to be too busy for God but God is never too busy for us. On the contrary, He always makes time for us, and is available for us 24/7, 365 days a year. We shouldn't look to God only in times o0f difficulty and trouble. We should turn to Him every day. A glance in His direction with a smile goes a long way in letting Him know that we love Him, are thinking about Him, and are happy He is a part of our lives.
Saturday, September 21, 2013
God can afflict also as a means of purification. We may be walking the righteous road but there are things in our life that must be purified. We may be given over to affliction so that our relationship with God becomes purer and stronger. Like gold in the furnace, God tries us and tests us, that the gold of our heart may be pure and solid, and that our souls may radiate with the glory of His righteousness; that our lives may become acceptable offerings in His sight, like fragrant incense.
Saturday, September 14, 2013
Wednesday, August 7, 2013
Pope Francis, spiritual leader of the more than 1.2 billion member Roman Catholic Church, in meeting with youth during his recent visit to Rio di Janeiro for World Youth Day 2013, told the young people present to “go and make a mess in your dioceses.” In other words, he wanted them to shake things up, stir up the pot as it were, and make some changes in the way faith is lived and practiced in the local Churches. I am sure the Pope’s words made a lot of bishops in the Catholic Church very uneasy.
It is no longer business as usual in the Catholic Church. The “old boy network” is fast being dismantled and Francis is steering the “Ark of Salvation” in a different direction. Many Orthodox Christians would ask the questions, “What does what is happening in the Roman Catholic Church have to do with us? and “Why should we care what the Pope does? Well, my friends, the answer is very simple. It is because the pope, as a bishop, is doing and saying things that most of our bishops do not do and say. True, the Ecumenical Patriarch speaks in defense of the protection of the environment, and that is certainly a worthy cause, especially since it is God’s creation and we must all be good stewards of it. Unfortunately, however, it is not enough. Our bishops do not speak on the other important issues as Pope Francis does.
When you read the numerous, almost daily articles being written about Pope Francis in media outlets such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Huffington Post, you will find a common theme running through all the articles, and that theme is one of “revolution.” In many ways, Pope Francis has started a real revolution in the Catholic Church. He is intent on making the Church relevant in this world by ensuring that it adheres faithfully to its primary function of preaching and living the Gospel. He is slowly stripping the Church of any perception of it being a multinational corporation or business and seeks rather to make it the society of faith, the Kingdom of God on earth, that Christ intended the Church to be.
As I said in an earlier post, I am a true Pope Francis fan. Obviously, I have never met him, but I truly owe him a deep debt of gratitude. For several years now, and especially the past two years, I have questioned my role and effectiveness as a bishop. I have listened to numerous accusations and heard remarks to the effect that I am not a real bishop because I drive around in an old pickup truck; because I cut my hair and don’t have a beard; because I don’t wear a cassock all the time; because I take my mother and godmother to play bingo or to the casino once a week; because I worked as an EMT, etc. “He can’t be a real bishop because OUR bishops don’t do things like that!” The “legitimacy,” “credibility,” and so-called “canonicity” of both myself and the Church I shepherd have always been judged in light of those things that I do or don’t do, especially when it comes to the “externals.”
But Pope Francis has proven that statement to be totally false. Thank you, Pope Francis, for renewing my belief that a bishop is nothing more than a servant and no different than the people he serves and for renewing in my heart the joy of what I do and the life that I live as a servant of the Lord.
It is true, I do drive around in a beat up pickup truck, but that truck has served me and the Church faithfully for many years. It gets me where I have to go and it has helped me deliver thousands of toys to thousands of underprivileged children throughout Oneida, Herkimer and Madison counties for many years; it has provided the means to deliver hundreds of Thanksgiving baskets to needy families in the same geographic areas and for the same number of years; and it has helped deliver furniture from our Cathedral thrift shop to newly arrived immigrant families from Burma, Bosnia and elsewhere. Yes, that little tan pickup truck has served me and the Cathedral parish well. With over 160,000 miles on it, it has been a hard worker for the Church and will be sorely missed when it is gone.
It is true that I cut my hair and do not wear a beard. Simply put, I don’t have a beard because I have a skin condition which does not permit it. And I cut my hair because I prefer short hair. Long hair and a beard are fine if one wants to wear them, but having a beard and long hair does not make one a better priest or bishop. In fact, having a beard and hair that is unwashed, greasy and full of dandruff, like some Orthodox priests have, certainly does nothing to edify or inspire the faithful.
It is true that I don’t wear a cassock all the time, and sometimes I do not wear one when I am at the Cathedral, but that is only because I am working and it is inconvenient to wear it when one is cleaning or doing some kind of physical labor. Sometimes I don’t wear it because I simply want some privacy. A priest is on call 24/7, seven days a week, 365 days a year. We need our own private and personal time too in order to take care of ourselves physically, mentally, and emotionally.
It is true that I go to the casino. I take my mother once a week. It is our time together and I make no apologies for it. It is nothing more than entertainment and a day out with my mom or family so nothing more should be made of it than what it is.
It is true that I worked as an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician). I did so for nine years, and some of that time was even after I was made a bishop. Those were nine very happy and enjoyable years. I saw my work as an EMT as being nothing more than a way to fulfill the Lord’s command to care for the sick. If my health situation permitted it, I would still be doing it as part of my priestly and episcopal ministry.
Orthodox Christians, and I use the word Christian lightly because for many Orthodox it’s more important to be “Orthodox” than it is to be “Christian,” can be a very judgmental people. Don’t get me wrong, I know many Orthodox people who are good Christians, but I also know a great many more who have no idea what Christianity is really about. Because of this, the Orthodox Church has become a closed society. It’s as if there is a sign on the door of some of our churches that says, “Sinners and other Unacceptable People Not Welcome here.” The “Unacceptable People” could easily be defined as those who are not of the same ethnic background or liturgical heritage; or who may be gay, divorced, homeless, of a different skin color, or who don’t think the same way they do.
It saddens me to say this, but I find very little Christianity in Orthodoxy. And Pope Francis is making that even more evident as each day passes. The words and actions of the Pope make abundantly clear that as far as the Church is concerned, only Christ and the Gospel matter. What that means is that we should be focused only on the eternal truths revealed to us in the Gospel and making them present in our world.
Christ has given us the way to salvation and that way is a life in Him, a life which carries within itself the riches of love, mercy, compassion and forgiveness. And we are to share these riches abundantly with others. In our Orthodox Church, I don’t see very much sharing of these riches with fellow believers let alone non-believers.
As Pope Francis continues on with his program of renewing the Catholic Church we will increasingly see that what continues to separate the two Churches will not be so much the theological differences that we have argued about for years but the very fundamental way in which the two Churches each witness to and live the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Pope Francis has certainly made it clear to the world that He wants the Church to be a society to be emulated. Hence, his aggressive program to strip the Church of its worldly trappings and power and replace them with the power of God and the life suggested and encouraged by the Gospel.
Pope Francis is fast becoming a respected moral authority throughout the world and is equally as fast re-establishing the papacy’s prestige and image even among the most ardent secularists. The reason he is successful in this area is not because he speaks with the power and authority of a monarch, but rather with the power and authority of one who knows and understands his position to be one of service. By his example, we come to know that for the Church, only Christ and the Gospel matter and that’s what people really expect and want from the Church.
I made mention in the beginning of this post that Pope Francis is the spiritual leader of more than 1.2 billion faithful throughout the world. The reason I took pains to point that out is because if all of those 1.2 billion people take hold of his message and follow his example, what tremendous changes for the better would occur in the world. Maybe it’s idealistic to believe such a thing could happen but I believe that all things are possible with God. And, let’s be honest, people ARE listening to the Pope in ways and places we would never have before thought possible.
Pope Francis gives confidence and inspires. He has truly inspired me and given me the confidence to know that I am on the right course and that it is ok not to be a part of the status quo. I became so concerned about maintaining the “image” of an Orthodox bishop and trying to gain the acceptance and recognition of my so-called brother bishops and of other Orthodox Christians that I started to lose sight of who and what I really am, especially in light of being a Christian. I think what it boils down to is that we should be Christians first and foremost and that will make us better Orthodox and Catholics. In fact, I am starting to believe that if union between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches is ever to be a possibility, we need to dispense with all the theological dialogues and find out what we share in common first as Christians. In this matter, the Catholic Church is light years ahead of the Orthodox Church because we Orthodox really don’t know how to live and act as Christians. As I said, it is more important for many of us to be Orthodox than it is to be Christian.
In watching Pope Francis, the vision and understanding I once had of the Church at the beginning of my priesthood and especially at the start of my episcopacy is once again coming into full view. I feel re-energized and invigorated once again that the true mission and purpose of the Church is to be at the service of the people of God, to be a society of joyful and joy-filled believers who find their happiness and fulfillment in Christ and the life He offers. It doesn't matter what people think of me; it only matters how I stand in the eyes of Christ, who is my life and reason for being, and my only Judge.
The personal attacks used to bother me, but thanks to Pope Francis they won’t bother me anymore. In fact, to those of you have been my detractors and persecutors, I want to thank you, for you have taught me good lessons in humility, patience and forgiveness. You have also helped my prayer life immensely. Please keep the arrows coming because they keep me on my toes and help me grow in many ways.
And Pope Francis, once again, thank you so much, for you have given me new hope and restored to my heart and my life a sense of joy and peace that has been absent for a long time. I hope to make my priesthood and episcopate one worthy of the blessings of God by your holy example, which I hope will continue to inspire, motivate and keep me grounded for many years to come. There will always be dark days and difficult times in one's life, but Your Holiness has reminded me by your words and life that Christ is the Light that dispels the darkness and leads us all to a calmer, safer, and better and happier place. Many years, Despota!
Saturday, July 27, 2013
I was watching EWTN’s live coverage of the Way of the Cross at World Youth Day in Rio a little while ago and carefully watched Pope Francis as he made his way through the crowds to the site of the day’s activities. His interaction with the people, the way he spontaneously stepped off the Popemobile to bless a statue here, receive a gift there, or just to talk to and bless people and children was amazing. You could see the joy and happiness in the man’s face; that he was thoroughly enjoying every moment of it. You could tell it wasn’t about him just being the pope, but more about being a pastor and shepherd. And that emphasis is what makes him being Pope all the more special and appealing.
Pope Francis, the “Supreme Pontiff”, is so much more approachable than most bishops and priests. In the few months that he has been Pope, numerous stories have been surfacing about the acts of kindness the bishop does for others. But, the surprising thing about what he does is that his acts of kindness are not so much random as they are deliberate. What I mean to say is that his acts of kindness are genuine. They are genuine because that is the type of man he is…a kind man; a man who loves people and loves to be with them. You don’t see that kind of personality among most of our Bishops.
Pope Francis doesn’t see himself primarily as the Supreme Pontiff but as a pastor and bishop first and second. Certainly the man knows who and what he is, but I personally believe he is more comfortable with his roles as pastor and shepherd and that is inspiring. He has within himself the heart of Christ and that is why people like Sir Elton John have come to respect him.
Pope Francis has accomplished much over the past few months but the real test will be how he handles the hot button issues that have caused so much agony and pain for and in the Roman Catholic Church. But, if the last three months are any indication of the Pope’s tenacity and commitment to having a holy Church, then I think we are going to see a lot of garbage being thrown out the windows of the Vatican and a lot of spit-shining of the Catholic Church’s image going on before the year is out.
If Pope Francis succeeds is cleaning up the Catholic Church, then other Churches and ecclesial communities around the world are going to find it very hard to continue in their “business as usual” mindset. While the Catholic Church may not now be a model to emulate in several areas, I think it will definitely become THE model to emulate in a lot of ways in the not-to-distant future. Certainly our Orthodox Church will find it hard to ignore the fact that this Pope is dead serious about setting things right in his Church. Given that, our bishops will have to rethink their priorities and positions, especially in areas of administration and governance, relationships with the faithful, and ministry.
Our greatest talent in the Orthodox Church is the gift we have for polemic. We are awesome in our ability to point out the dysfunction in the Catholic Church but refuse to see that same dysfunction in ourselves. Whatever dysfunction exists in the Catholic Church, I think its days are numbered under Pope Francis. The Pope is 76, and while he is in relatively good health, he nevertheless understands that time is precious and that he must do all that he can to correct what is wrong in his Church while he is physically and mentally able.
Pope Francis is a good example for all of us bishops, both Catholic and Orthodox alike. There are lessons we can learn from him, good and valid lessons. Some (and probably most) of my brother Orthodox bishops would say there is nothing a “heretical and schismatic Roman Catholic non-bishop” can teach us. In fact, most would say he should look to us to teach him the right way. The problem with that assertion however is that many of our bishops only preach the Gospel and don’t actually live it, whereas not only does Pope Francis preach the Gospel but he actively lives it. The man is full of compassion, love and respect for his fellow human beings, and it makes no difference of what faith they are. Not only is that the sign of a true Christian, but it is also the mark of a true gentleman.
During one of his speeches at World Youth Day, Pope Francis told the people gathered that he wanted to rid the Church of clericalism. Can you imagine how that must have made some of the bishops and priests present there and watching on television sweat! And if any of our bishops were watching and heard that, I am sure they rushed to their medicine cabinet to grab their nitro or an aspirin tablet because the statement probably caused them chest pains.
All too often, clergy, especially bishops, act as if they are better than those they are called to shepherd and serve. How often have you encountered a priest or bishop who is patronizing; talks down to you or even denigrates or humiliates you in some way? Some are even downright rude and arrogant. Sadly, such behavior among the clergy is commonplace. Clergy, especially bishops, have a skewed sense of privilege and entitlement. Clergy should be humble and kind. They should emulate Christ in the way they live their lives and in the way they deal with God’s people.
We clergy are no better than the faithful which we serve. We may stand at the head of the assembly by virtue of the sacramental priesthood we have been given, but that certainly does not make us better than them. We are called to lead them in holiness and virtue. We are called to be teachers, pastors, and servants who are just, fair, patient, loving, compassionate, forgiving, merciful, honest and very devout and staunch believers. These are the characteristics of a good spiritual father, pastor and shepherd.
Pope Francis is an example of what a good pastor, shepherd, servant and priest is. We Orthodox bishops and priests can take many lessons from him and learn much from him. We would do well to pay close attention and assess where we are and what we are doing in our own Churches in light of what he is doing in his Church. Arrogance and a blatant refusal to learn lessons from people outside our faith will not bring us closer to God.