Principles and Nostalgia

OrthoAnalyika Shownotes: 23 August 2009

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1 Corinthians 9: 2-12; St. Matthew 18: 23-35

If I am not an apostle to others, yet doubtless I am to you. For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. My defense to those who examine me is this: Do we have no right to eat and drink? Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working? Who ever goes to war at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its fruit? Or who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk of the flock? Do I say these things as a mere man? Or does not the law say the same also? For it is written in the law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.” Is it oxen God is concerned about? Or does He say it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written, that he who plows should plow in hope, and he who threshes in hope should be partaker of his hope. If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things? If others are partakers of this right over you, are we not even more? Nevertheless we have not used this right, but endure all things lest we hinder the gospel of Christ.

Today the Apostle Paul is laying down a certain pattern of living for all who pastor Christian communities. His major point seems to be that Apostles are worth their wages. Evidently, these were some in Corinth who disagreed. They were willing to pay other men for lesser services, but not the Apostle through whom Christ offered the gift of healing, immortality, and perfection. It is not hard to imagine the discussions this community probably had on this subject: it is so easy to attack Christian leaders with the charges of hypocrisy and worldliness. “After all,” folks might say; “our Gospel teaches that the way to perfection is through humility, self-sacrifice, and service to others. It teaches that we should do good without any expectation of reward. Shouldn’t those who teach us model this kind of behavior themselves?”

The answer is, of course: “yes.” Christian leaders, be they lay ministers, board members, music leaders, cantors, subdeacons, priests, bishops, and even the very Apostles themselves must exhibit Christian virtues. On a personal note, it was a violation of this rule that was one of the last straws of my involvement with our old Protestant parish in Ohio: we hired a Choir director based entirely on his talent as a director, without consideration of the known fact that he did not believe in Christ.

There is not doubt that leaders who behave badly do a great deal of damage. But St. Paul’s virtue (much less his faith in Christ) was not in question here: he was (and remains) a model pastor.

Just as our faith compels us to give our second coat to the man who has none – despite the fact that he should be meek and humble enough to be happy with the rags he has – so to does our faith require us to offer what we can to those who lead us, despite the fact that their calling and monastic tonsure obligate them to be satisfied with nothing but our scorn. If we leave the beggar in his rags and scorn our leaders, pastors, and bishops, their faith will sustain and perfect them; but ours will condemn us.

St. Paul uses practical examples from everyday life (such as how we pay soldiers when we send them to war and allow famers and shepherds to subsist off the results of their labor), as well as historical precedents and logic to defend his right to compensation. St. John Chrysostom points out that these comparisons are apt because there is no doubt that St. Paul fought the enemy as hard as any soldier, raised as much fruit as any farmer, tended his flock as well as any shepherd, and served as diligently as any other man before him. And from strictly utilitarian grounds, is there any doubt that Corinth – and every Christian community that can afford it– is better off with full-time pastors, priests, and bishops?

But I want you to note what St. Paul does next: he takes a simple argument about the righteousness of clergy compensation, and turns it into a way to teach a more general and far more important principle. After establishing his right to wages, he does not ask for them. You see, rather than drive away those foolish children who would think him a hypocrite if he accepted pay for his voluntary Christian service, he did not accept pay from them. The general principle that he is teaching is that we do not do things that will drive others away from Christ, even if we are entitled to them. This is because we are far more concerned with bringing people into contact with the Risen Lord Jesus Christ than with our own rights. Because of our love and thankfulness, we want others to experience the peace and joy of Orthodoxy more than any thing else that we may have earned.

While this principle has numberless applications in our everyday life, let me share a couple that I have seen put into practice: we know that there is nothing wrong with drinking in moderation, but if we lived in a culture that associates drinking with immorality, then we would not drink in public, lest people associate our Lord with immorality. We know that there is nothing wrong with married priests, but some in our community have a hard time with the concept of a priest being married; so when Pani and I are around such people, we do not show each other the same affection that we might around those of you whose faith is more mature. These do not become general rules in and of themselves: we do not become teetotalers (or celebate!). We hope that their faith will mature to match ours, but no matter what, the pastoral principle is always operative: we live so that others might learn the Truth. We do not allow our actions to become stumbling blocks that impede people on their Way to Christ. May God grant us the discernment and strength to put this principle into practice.

Mail Call:

Why don’t you think that the government is a good tool for doing social justice? Why isn’t it a good tool for enforcing moral behavior?

The President thinks it is, as do most in the NCC. I don’t agree. Who do you feel closer to: Christians of the opposite political side, or non-Christians of the same political side? I don’t like it because 1) I think we should turn to the government as a last resort; 2) there are usually other ways. Our imagination of other ways(much less our ability to implement them) has been atrophied by our dependence on governmental solutions. This would be fine if government solutions were morally neutral, but they are not; not when the government is governed by heretical ideas (I am not saying that politicians and bureaucrats are heretics, only that their ideologies are). Even if they were Orthodox – as in the idealized hagiographies of symphonic government in the Eastern Roman Empire, Rus’, Serbia, and Russia – then I would be reluctant to entrust them with the power to provide anything but the barest minimum. As Captain America pointed out to Iron Man in the Civil War: governments change. I’m with Cap on this one!

Question: What do you think of The Shack?

Answer: The Shack is a major bestseller. Bookstores are having a hard time keeping it on the shelves. My first reaction is that I am happy that so many people are reading this and getting interested in theology. The story is one of a broken man finding peace through a mysterious encounter with the Triune God. As such, it is a imaginative presentation of the Gospel; much in the vein of C.S. Lewis’ fictional work (The Chronicles of Narnia, The Space Trilogy, The Great Divorce, The Screwtape Letters). As with Lewis, William Young is presenting a sort of parable; and as with any parable, you can end up on dangerous ground if you take it too far (is Christ really a big lion? Is Ares really an archangel and the ruler of Mars? Is Christ really a thief?). In the case of The Shack, the danger comes in if you forget that God the Father is utterly unknowable (except through His Son, Christ; in The Shack He appears as a human being) and that the Trinity is 1) a great Mystery 2) comprised of three Persons who make up one God, and 3) is most completely described as “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”. Read, enjoy, and ask questions!

For those of you who are interested, our Fall Orthodox Study Group will be studying several works of fiction; the first will be The Shack. I can also recommend other books of Christian & secular fiction (and non-fiction) that are good “theological” reads. What have I been reading?

Living Green (with me): living more healthy. Diet. Exercise. Health Care? Rewards preventative medicine and living healthy (HSA), but protects against disaster (as long as you keep an emergency fund). I have very little control over the health care plans offered to me; but there is something that I have almost complete control over: my diet and exercise. These should be under the same kind of Christian discipline that my reading habits, prayer rule, sexual habits, etc. are under. Mail: update on fitness and weight. New toy. Three weeks on diet (lower cholesterol, weight secondary)

News: Transfiguration. Fruits. Heritage Days. Completely knackered. Never really been so tired.

Good feedback on new vestments. Starting to gear up for a new teaching season (C’ville and here in town). Also practicing for Heritage Days. Interesting movies coming out: Avatar. Surrogates. Legions?

Freedom Segment: Nostalgia. I get nostalgia. We have to make decisions as we try to improve our lives; obviously this means cutting certain things (i.e. sinful habits) out of our lives; but there are also some good things that don’t fit easily into new habits. I don’t watch much football anymore. I occasionally miss that, but music really brings out the nostalgia. Same for parishioners: Ukrainian music. It hits them right in their hearts. That doesn’t mean they want to change back to doing it all the time – only that they really enjoy it. I am glad that we are taking the time to sing these songs – and we are trying to make it a regular part of our routines. I do not have the same sense of nostalgia for these songs – I don’t really even understand all the words in the secular folk songs. I love singing them because I love folk music and I love singing with other people (and the joy it brings).

Downside: it does remind me of the things that I have left behind as I have followed the Lord’s calling to serve Him in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Honestly, as much as I love it here, the fact that it is in New England only serves to accentuate this. I love American and English Christian hymns. But there is very little place for them here: if I were in the south, I might be justified in using them as an outreach tool (or as a sort of support group with others who like to celebrate their love of the Lord in this particular way). And if America had been evangelized by the Orthodox the same way they had evangelized in Ukraine, we would have intentionally incorporated the indigenous American melodies into Orthodox worship and celebration. But because Orthodoxy has been part of diasporan nationalism – meaning part of the attempt to avoid religious and national assimilation, we seem to have the exact opposite attitude towards all things American. Orthodox people do not even consider baptizing and adopting local religious culture (except, perhaps, things like pews, political congregationalism, and a trade-union or club sort of attitude towards membership). So not only don’t we reach out as well as we could to others in this country; when diasporan Orthodox become more American and experience and enjoy American expressions of Christianity, they are drawn away from Orthodoxy to experience them. [counter-trend: Western Rite – but notice the backlash… and it was almost as foreign. Music very different. It is not folksy.]

I know the situation is more complicated than this, and that there are theological defenses for walling ourselves off from the secular influences that have penetrated into almost every pore here in America, but I hope that you will at least admit that the situation is interesting and counter to the ideal. I love that America is multi-cultural, and I love serving the Ukrainian faithful and their descendents. I consider myself as a sort of outside missionary to them, and I am so happy that they have accepted me and allowed me to serve them (and they really have).

But what about all of the unchurched in America? Surely we must have energy to serve them as well. There must be a balance, and this balance must always be based on our Christian obligation. That doesn’t mean, by the way, that our Ukrainian Orthodox parishes should become anything more or less than they already are: it may mean opening more and more missions not just to serve Ukrainians outside of commuting distance from Ukrainian parishes, but designed specifically to bring Orthodoxy to people who have no strong diasporan ties. And this seems to be happening in all of our Orthodox jurisdictions – we just need to support it. Maybe one day I’ll even be able to sing the old hymns with other Orthodox Christians in the parish hall or at a festival the same way we do Ukrainian ones here. Then again, maybe not: nostalgia and my attitudes about evangelism pale next to my thankfulness for having and sharing the fullness of the faith. I know that you can never really go home and the glorious present which is unfolding into the perfect future is the only tense really worth holding onto. Besides, the cultural vessel is so much less important than the the Mystery that it shares. Just a thought. I’d love to hear yours.