Metropolitan Jonah: A man of extraordinary kindness

“Oh how great is thy goodness, which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee; which thou hast wrought for them that trust in thee. . .” – Psalm 30:19 (LXX)
 
It is often the seemingly simplest things in life which give us the greatest joy, from the happiness of an unexpected call or e-mail, to an impromptu dinner surrounded by the warmth and laughter of great friends. Yesterday was filled with both these simple joys for me. I’ve resumed my correspondence with one of my mentors, the world-traveling futurist and educator Gary Marx, and in the evening I attended a fascinating conference planning session and wonderful dinner with a group of Orthodox friends.
 
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Metropolitan Jonah invited a group of Orthodox friends to his house here in Washington. As a university student, I was the youngest person present. It was a great joy to be with so many dear friends (and several new acquaintances, including an Anglican priest and a newly-arrived Orthodox monk) brainstorming about panel and lecture topics, reaching out to would-be sponsors and affiliate organizations, and discussing media outreach strategies. We are in the infancy of planning a series of pan-Christian conferences focused on the overarching themes of secularism and the place of faith in public life.
 
Vladyka is a wonderfully kind host! Following several hours of enthusiastic discussion, and tea served by Vladyka, we moved to the dining room for a delicious Lenten dinner which he had prepared for us. My godmother has told me many times, and I discovered for myself that he is a very gifted cook! It was very touching to gather together in his home enjoying this lovely dinner which he had made for all of us. The main course was a savory vegetable stew with squid (an Athonite recipe, he told us) along with plenty of pasta, bread, fresh tomatoes and cut lemon.
 
For dessert we enjoyed blackberry turnovers and cherry pie with soy ice cream, and I was delighted to see that my godmother (who is not of Jewish heritage) brought hamentaschen! These triangularly folded fruit pastries baked with poppy seeds are a delicious Ashkenazic Jewish tradition. Most often eaten during the Purim festivities, the time when Jews commemorate the Hebrews’ deliverance from destruction through the courage of Queen Esther, they remain popular year-round with Jews and non-Jews alike. It was a delight to eat these Jewish pastries during our Orthodox Lenten dinner, as I recalled my introduction to them during my Long Island childhood.
 
The food was delicious, but it is the warmth of the conversation, the easy and frequent laughter (Vladyka and the visiting Anglican priest are both wonderful storytellers) which I will most remember. It was a great blessing to spend the evening with such wonderful church friends. The dinner was yet another reminder of how profoundly blessed I am to have such a kind and thoughtful man as my spiritual father and bishop.
 
To those of us who are blessed to see him regularly, Metropolitan Jonah is a shining example of Christian love actualized through thoughtful actions, a warm nature and a heart filled with a deep awareness of God’s presence and an abiding love for serving others. Unassuming, down-to-earth, and warm-hearted to the core, he is a blessing to talk with and a joy to learn from in his brilliant Bible study talks and incisive and pastoral sermons. I feel very blessed that I have come to know him over these past several years, and that I have the opportunity to continue learning from him. To all those whose lives he touches, he is a great blessing.

On Ecumenism

“We should view the non-Orthodox as people to whom Orthodoxy has not yet been revealed, as people who are potentially Orthodox (if only we ourselves would give them a better example!). There is no reason why we cannot call them Christians and be on good terms with them, recognize that we have at least our faith in Christ in common, and live in peace especially with our own families. St. Innocent’s attitude to the Roman Catholics in California is a good example for us. A harsh, polemical attitude is called for only when the non-Orthodox are trying to take away our flocks or change our teaching.”
– Fr. Seraphim Rose (1934-82)

“God is love, and therefore the preaching of His word must always proceed from love. Then both preacher and listener will profit. But if you do nothing but condemn, the soul of the people will not heed you, and no good will come of it.”
– St Silouan the Athonite (1866-1938)

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This evening, I received an update that someone had commented on one of my recent blog pieces. The person, using the name “Orthodoxy or Death”, commented the following:

“Another friend who attended the banquet described to me his shock to hear Fr. Leonid praise Metropolitan Tikhon in his introduction with these words, again a thinly veiled attack on Metropolitan Jonah: ‘This one is no Lone Ranger!’ I respect Father Leonid for his many years of engagement with various ecumenical bodies, such as the World Council of Churches, but I find it difficult to view him as a man of integrity given that he engaged in such derisive remarks about a former Primate of his whom he seems to delight in insulting, regarding as almost an enemy. This just doesn’t seem to me like a Christian way of thinking — or speaking — especially from someone with so many years of active service in the Church.”

Why would you respect anyone for “engagement with various ecumenical bodes, such as the World Council of Churches”? Has he upon every appearance and interaction with that body told it repeatedly that they are all in schism and heresy and that Orthodoxy alone is the Church, and no real Christianity exists outside of us, and that Orthodox shouldn’t even be members of such false “ecumenical” groups?

Here is my reply: 
  • You misconstrued the meaning of my respect for Fr. Leonid– which, I must say, I’m afraid is not very deep since he took a leading role in the uncanonical conspiracy to force Metropolitan Jonah to resign. As the name you use is “Orthodoxy or Death”, it is clear that you are quite anti-ecumenical in your sentiments.

    I don’t know why you ask a question to which you obviously know the answer. Fr. Leonid certainly does not do as you described, since none of these bodies would respect him if he did. No one embraces a faith if they are made to despise and feel ashamed of their own. Instead they become defensive and become less receptive to hearing about the other faith. Would anyone convert to Orthodoxy just because they are made to despise the faith of their childhood, rather than love Orthodoxy for its incomparable fullness? I have never met such a person.

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    Fr. Hiermonk Seraphim (Rose), 1934-1982

    Even the most prominent anti-ecumenists of our day, such as the late Fr. Seraphim Rose, wrote that non-Orthodox peoples must be treated not with polemics and derision, but as fellow icons of Christ, even if they do not worship the same God we do or recognize Christ or the Theotokos the way we do. If we do not treat them with basic kindness and respect as human beings, fellow children of God, we will not be in a position to communicate to them anything about Orthodoxy. False prophets who seek to convert people to their heretical faiths, such as the leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon/LDS Church), The Episcopal Church, Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientologists, and most if not all evangelical pastors must be condemned as such, as heretics or even as non-Christians, but we much reach out to their ordinary members with love and kindness to begin to bring them away from these heterodox churches or religious groups. Here is a wonderful link which goes into more detail, quoting from Fr. Seraphim Rose and St Silouan the Athonite, my patron saint:

    http://orthodoxinfo.com/inquirers/howtotreattheheterodox.aspx

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    Starets Silouan of the Holy Mountain (1866-1938), my patron saint and one of the most brilliant, illumined Orthodox hiermonks and ascetics.

    I wrote what you quoted above in the interest of basic Christian charity- I wanted to find something to respect in Fr. Leonid. I do not presume to know what exactly he talks about in these dialogues, but I imagine he, in a more polite way, communicates some of the points you mentioned above.

    Engagement in these bodies, generally in the form of lengthy meetings and the writing of many statements of agreement and intent between different hierarchs and various non-Orthodox religious leaders, is often rather vapid in content but generally serves a purpose in that it makes various often extremely heterodox bodies aware of our existence. They become acquainted with our theology, many witness the incomparable beauty, richness, and theological fullness of our Liturgies and other divine services, and I imagine some have been moved to convert to Orthodoxy, inspired by their engagement with our Faith.

    Think of all the tiny Protestant churches which have embraced completely heterodox [usually Calvinist] theology. I imagine sometimes, in areas dominated by more insular, communities of cradle Orthodox which do not reach out beyond their own parish, Orthodoxy has little to no witness or presence outside these small ethnic communities. This itself is an abdication of the Gospel mandate in Matthew 28:19.

    I do not support the kind of involvement in these ecumenical groups which has led to some Orthodox abandoning their obligation to share the Gospel in an organic way.

    Your comment raises an important point- how do we best spread the Gospel? I firmly believe that we should offer to bring our friends to church, and better educate ourselves about our theology and the lives of the saints and the details of the Liturgy, so that, if put in such a scenario, we may talk truthfully and accurately about our faith. This is an area where I have found many predominantly cradle Orthodox parishes to be impoverished, especially those which adapt a generally negative view toward converts, or who presuppose that all converts bring with them significant evangelical, Roman Catholic, or other theological ‘baggage’. These parishes often have almost no faith outreach and do not see the need for the laity to serve as Christian witnesses at all.

    However, those converts who seek too overtly to change what they see as problems in their parishes, or who presume themselves somehow as being more knowledgeable and therefore “more Orthodox” than many of their fellow parishioners, only end up hurting and alienating the cradle Orthodox in their community rather than lovingly and carefully convincing them, for instance, to refrain from putting in pews, or the priceless wisdom found in not abbreviating the Liturgy. The root problem here is a profound failure in catechism and a lot of either overt or latent secularizing/modernizing influences which have crept into many parishes.

    I am in support of ecumenism insofar as it involves engagement with those outside the Orthodox Church for the purposes of 1) teaching them about our beliefs and not simply pretending we all believe the same thing, which we obviously don’t or there would be no need to engage as separate bodies in these dialogues, 2) attempting to show to those in other Christian communions that our Church holds to the original, apostolic Christian Faith, and 3) working toward collaborative solutions to end problems afflicting all of humanity, from the horrific reality of abortion, to child mortality in developing nations, to cyclic poverty and endemic violence in many poorer communities.

Arctic Cross: Journey into Orthodox Alaska

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Are you looking for a worthwhile cause to support? Visionary documentary filmmaker Dimitry Trakovsky has successfully secured enough micro donations to fund his filming and production of a feature-length documentary examining the history, struggles and personal agency of Yup’ik Alaskan natives in the context of their Orthodox Christian faith, but he still needs encouragement!

Here is the link to the beautiful 10 minute intro trailer for the documentary film “Arctic Cross”. Working through the Kickstarter micro donation program, project producer/director Dmitry Trakovsky set an initial goal of $5,000. As of March 23, 2012, he successfully garnered this amount of funding through a host of small donations. Professional anthropologists, Orthodox seminarians, and many interested young and ordinary people looking to raise awareness of the problems facing the Yup’ik people came together to contribute to make possible the production of a feature-length film.

This short trailer, with its interspacing of beautiful natural images amid interviews with a local, endearing Yup’ik elder, the village priest, a local native anthropologist, and several struggling locals, gives a strong sense of the stark contrasts of life for many Alaska natives.

The awe-inspiring natural scenery of this wild land, and the hidden beauty of outwardly simple wooden Russian churches, stands in stark opposition to the crushing cyclic poverty and addiction problems facing local natives.

This film examines how Yup’ik Alaskans are dealing with decades of alcoholism, drug and domestic abuse, and the cycle of debt-induced poverty and lack of access to education.

When the US “purchased” Alaska from the Russian Empire in what was then known as “Seward’s Folly” in 1867, white Protestant missionaries journeyed north, believing they were setting out to convert heathen nations. These missionaries practiced a kind of ‘cultural imperialism’ against the mostly Orthodox Christian native peoples they encountered. They removed Yup’ik children from their traditional homes and local customs, forbade them from speaking their native languages, and tried to compel them to adapt to white ‘Anglo’ culture. Trakovsky’s film explores the at times inspiring, but often tragic legacy of this largely unknown period in American history.