2014 Nativity Reflection by Metropolitan Jonah

A 2014 Nativity Reflection by His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah, ROCOR bishop and former Primate of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) from 2008-2012:

In silence let us behold the Incarnate God
as an infant,
Radiant with glory,
Swathed in rough cloth and lain in a manger.
Let us stand struck with awe
At the Presence of the Infinite Eternal One,
Born of the Virgin,
And exalted by the Angels.

We look through the cave of His Tomb
To the cave of the Nativity, overflowing with grace.
Swaddled in grave clothes, wrapped in swaddling clothes,
The same Christ comes forth clothed in glory.
We see the radiance of the Godhead in His face,
As an infant lying in the manger, and as a man hanging on the cross,
Coming forth from the tomb, a man reveals Himself as God,
Coming forth from the manger, God reveals Himself as man.

He became an infant to take on our weakness,
He became a man to identify with us in our suffering.
He showed our flesh to be a vessel of His Divinity,
And that His Divinity might contain our humanity:
God became flesh that we might become Divine,
The fullness of His Divinity indwelling our humanity,
That we might behold with our spiritual sight
The radiance of His Presence in our hearts.

He is baptized into our human life,
And takes on our death;
He is baptized into our death,
And imparts to us His eternal life.
He transforms our death by His life,
And transfigures our life by His death.
He buries us in the waters,
And shares with us His own life, enlightening and sanctifying us.

Look into the Cave,
And behold the Infant God;
Look into the Tomb,
And behold the Resurrected Christ.
Plunge into the depths of the waters,
And partaking of His death, be raised with His life,
That we too may be born
In the Kingdom of Heaven.

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On the Nativity of the Lord

When we celebrate the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, we celebrate not only His coming in the flesh 2000 years ago, we celebrate His coming to us – to be born in Him as He is born in us. Having taken on our humanity, we take on His Divinity. Having taken on our flesh, we take on His Godhead – by Grace. He came and became what we are, in order that He might make us what He is. He came in obscurity, in poverty, so that He might identify with our poverty. He became one of us, exactly as we are, so that He might make us as He is, and share His Glory, the Glory of the Only-Begotten of the Father Who is our Life, our Hope, the very reality of what we are and who we are. This is what it means to be a Christian – that our life is hidden with Christ in God. He is our true Life. He is the goal of our life. He is the substance of our life. “What an enormous Feast of Grace the Nativity is. It truly is the Winter Pascha. It is the very feast of our being reborn in God. It is the feast of our experiencing the Kingdom of Heaven here and now, and of our being born into Heaven.

-His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah, then-reigning Primate of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), January 1, 2012 at the Russian Orthodox (ROCOR) Cathedral of St John the Baptist in Washington, DC where he presided over the Divine Liturgy as the first OCA Primate to do so in a ROCOR church.

Metropolitan Jonah January 1 2012

His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah presiding over Divine Liturgy at the ROCOR cathedral of St John the Baptist in Washington DC on January 1, 2012. He was the first OCA hierarch to celebrate Liturgy at a ROCOR church with the blessing of His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral), First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad.

Photographic montage of St. Emperor Nicholas II

Courtesy of Nigel Fowler Sutton’s superb YouTube channel. Here Mr Sutton presents photographs of the Tsar from infancy to his final days of confinement and ultimate death.

Tsar Nicholas II was the last Emperor and Autocrat of all the Russias. Born on 18 May 1868 he came to the throne on 1 November 1894 following the untimely death of his father Tsar Alexander III. He ruled the vast empire of Russia until his abdication on 15 March 1917. Together with his family, he spent the next year in captivity, subject to great deprivation, ridicule, and harassment by his Bolshevik jailers. During the night of the 16/17 July 1918 he was murdered at the Ipatiev House in rural Ekaterinburg with his wife Empress Alexandra, his son the Tsarevich Alexey, his four daughters, the family doctor, his valet, the lady-waiting to the Empress and the family cook.

In 1981 the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) glorified the late Imperial Family as Royal New Martyrs of the Orthodox Church. The new martyrs also include St. Elizabeth Feodorovna Romanova, sister to Empress Alexandra and aunt-by-marriage to Nicholas II. In 2000, with the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Alexey II, the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church followed suit, glorifying them as passion-bearers, or those who meet earthly death with Christian dignity and fortitude.

Third century Greek prayer to Theotokos uncovered on papyri scroll

This remarkably preserved papyrus scroll dating to approximately AD 250 (52 years before the start of the savage Diocletian persecutions, and 63 years before Christianity was finally made a legal religion in the Roman Empire under Emperor Constantine the Great) shows clear, unambiguous continuity from the apostolic age and early Church down to the present Orthodox and Catholic veneration of the Virgin Mary. The third century hymn is almost identical to existing, centuries-old Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic hymns praising the Theotokos (lit. “bearer of God”).

In the Byzantine Rite used by the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches, the hymn occurs as the last dismissal hymn of daily Vespers during the fast of Great Lent. In Greek practice it is usually sung in Neo-Byzantine chant.

The Slavonic version of the hymn is also often used outside of Great Lent, with the triple invocation of  Great Lent. In Greek practice it is usually sung in Neo-Byzantine chant.

The Slavonic version of the hymn is also often used outside of Great Lent, with the triple invocation «Пресвѧтаѧ Богородице спаси насъ» (“Most Holy Theotokos, save us”) appended. Other than the traditional and modern chant settings, which are the most commonly used, the most well-known musical setting is perhaps that of D. Bortnyansky.

The short third century prayer reads as follows:

Here is a link to Greek monks singing the ancient hymn “Beneath thy Compassion”. It translates as follows:

Greek: Ὑπὸ τὴν σὴν εὐσπλαγχνίαν καταφεύγομεν Θεοτὸκε, τὰς ἡμῶν ἱκεσίας μὴ παρίδῃς ἐν περιστάσει ἀλλ᾽ ἐκ κινδύνου λύτρωσαι ἡμᾶς, μόνη ἁγνὴ, μόνη εὐλογημένη.

English: Beneath thy compassion we take refuge, Theotokos! Our prayers, do not despise in necessities, but from danger deliver us, only pure, only blessed one.

Romanian: Sub milostivirea ta scăpăm, Născătoare de Dumnezeu, rugăciunile noastre nu le trece cu vederea în nevoie, ci din primejdie ne izbăvește pe noi, una curată, una binecuvântată!

Here is more information about the history of this hymn via Father Silouan Thompson’s blog.

Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God

Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God

My interview with Dr Valerie Karras

On Saturday, June 27, 2015, I attended a fascinating Orthodox Women’s Conference held at the historic ROCOR Church of the Intercession of the Holy Virgin & St Sergius in Glen Cove, New York. Here are some pictures I took of the beautiful, small chapel.

Dedication plaque commemorating the founding of the parish in 1951.

Dedication plaque commemorating the founding of the parish in 1951.

Church exterior.

Church exterior.

These icons of the Lord and the Theotokos are originally from Tsarskoye Selo, the "Tsar's Village", the residence of the Russian Imperial Family.

These icons of the Lord and the Theotokos are originally from Tsarskoye Selo, the “Tsar’s Village”, the residence of the Russian Imperial Family.

The beautiful wooden iconostasis.

The beautiful wooden iconostasis.

The conference theme was “Living and Thinking Orthodoxy Yesterday and Today”. Dr. Nadieszda Kizenko, Associate Professor of History at SUNY Albany,  moderated the discussions. It was a great joy to see my spiritual father Metropolitan Jonah, who spoke on the theme of “Sharing Orthodoxy with Teenagers”, as well as my godmother, who both came up from Washington, DC along with a dear friend Sister Eisodia. Several wonderful parishioners from St John the Baptist ROCOR Cathedral in DC were also present for the event, which was attended by probably 70 people, mostly laity. The very kind Fr. Demetrius Nicoloudakis and his daughter Anastasia visited from Pennsylvania, and it was a great joy to meet them. Metropolitan Jonah spoke first, and then sat through the second presentation before returning to DC with my godmother so that they could attend Vigil at St John’s for his name’s day the following day.

Dr Valerie Karras, Adjunct Lecturer in New Testament at Eden Theological Seminary and board member at the St Phoebe Center for the History of the Deaconess, spoke on “The Liturgical Roles of Women in the Early and Byzantine Church”. This presentation was especially fascinating, as she covered a topic of great interest to me, the institution of the female diaconate which existed from the apostolic age up to the twelfth century in Constantinople. Following this second lecture, a delicious lunch was served by the volunteers. After lunch, Sr. Dr. Vassa Larin, whose sister Natasha Fekula organized the conference, spoke on the question of “Does Tradition Change?”. Sister Vassa, Research Fellow at the Institute of Historical Studies at the University of Vienna, is the popular host of the YouTube channel “Coffee with Sister Vassa”. Following this fascinating lecture, Professor Kizenko moderated a series of question-and-answer with the audience. At the end of the conference, I asked Dr. Karras if she had time for a brief interview. She warmly responded ‘yes’, so below, please read for yourself the results of our interview.

June 27 Conference Poster for "Living and Thinking Orthodoxy: Yesterday and Today".

June 27 Conference Poster for “Living and Thinking Orthodoxy: Yesterday and Today”.

Ryan Hunter: I’m with Dr Valerie Karras who just presented at the Orthodox Women’s Conference here in Glen Cove, New York on June 27, 2015. Dr Karras, where did you pursue your Master’s and your PhD?

Valerie Karras: I received my Master’s in Theological Studies from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology which is the official seminary of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. It’s located in Brookline, which is a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts. I then went to The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC and did all of my doctoral work there. I then went to Greece to start working on my dissertation, but I also enrolled in the doctoral program at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. I actually ended up finishing that doctorate, doing that dissertation, and completing that first. I then came back to the States and began teaching and finally finished my dissertation for Catholic University.

Ryan Hunter: What led you to become interested in the subject of the female diaconate in the early Church?

Valerie Karras: I had done some research on it and read about it during my Master’s, and some more during my doctoral work at Catholic University but actually it was really after I did my doctorate at Thessaloniki [that I became interested], because the topic of my doctoral dissertation at Thessaloniki was on patristic views of gender, the ontology of gender, looking at their exegeses, their interpretations of the creation accounts in Genesis. Initially I was planning on that to be the first chapter of a much larger work on Orthodox women, on women in the Orthodox Church, but there was so much there that that became my dissertation. So after I finished that and came back to the United States, I decided to just ditch all the research I had done before then for my initial topic, for my Catholic University dissertation, which was on monastic influence in the post-iconoclastic period, and instead I decided to look at what women were actually doing liturgically in the Byzantine Church.

Ryan Hunter: Who do you regard as some of your mentors, and how did they contribute to this field of study?

Valerie Karras: There are so many along the way. My parish priest actually, Father George Nikozises, who had been director of religious education before he came to our parish, suggested I go to the [Holy Cross Greek Orthodox] seminary. I had been planning on law school. Then I decided that I actually wanted to work with the Church, but what I was initially thinking of was doing administrative work dealing with our church choirs, I was very involved in the music of the Church. He said to me, “I think you need a stronger theological background”, so he suggested I go up there [to Brookline] to get my Master’s. I enrolled in the MTS [Master’s in Theological Studies] rather than the MA in Church Service because I was already doing the fieldwork so to speak, I was very involved with the National Forum of Greek Orthodox Church Musicians and the Diocesan Choir Federation, so I thought “I’ll just take as many theological classes as I can”, and then I fell in love with it, I just wanted to do Church history and theology.

At the seminary I had several professors who were supportive, in particular Father Ted Stylianopoulos and Archbishop Demetrios (Trakatellis), who at the time was Bishop Demetrios. Father Ted is the one in fact who suggested that I apply to Catholic University, I had not even heard of it. It was a perfect program for me, for what I wanted to do, and also where it was located in DC, because Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Library and Research Center is right there. Bishop Demetrios (at that time)– because I was debating about whether to switch to the MDiv program, which was a three year program– said to me, “You’re going on for a doctorate, you don’t need to do that.” One of his classmates was Elaine Pagels, now a professor at Princeton, and he said “She came right out of her undergraduate work. Just go on and do the doctoral program.” So I did. The other women who were at the seminary when I was there were important. Koula Fitzgerald, who had already graduated when I started as a student there, kind of mentored us together, and shared some of this material with us. Then over in Greece my dissertation chairman was very supportive even when I was doing stuff that he didn’t necessarily agree with, coming to conclusions, but he actually found one for me. At one point I had found all of this material from almost every Church Father I was looking at on how they don’t think that there will still be male and female, that the distinction literally will not exist in humanity in the eschaton, and we will no longer exist as male and female, as men and women. I found that in everybody except for Chrysostom, and he [my dissertation chairman] said to me “Oh no, Chrysostom has it too,go and look at his homilies on Matthew” where he deals with the Sadducees asking Jesus about what I like to call ‘one bride for seven brothers’, a take off of the musical. Sure enough, Chrysostom doesn’t say it in so many words, but there’s no other way to understand it, he says “notice that Christ does not say that they shall be like the angels insofar as they do not marry, but rather that they shall not marry because they shall be like the angels”. Well, the angels are sexless, genderless beings.

Zizioulas was really the most important one [at Thessaloniki], Metropolitan John of Pergamon, particularly when I first got there [Thessaloniki] because he was the only one of the three on my committee who spoke English. I spoke French with Fondoulis, who was the Liturgics professor there, for about two years until my Greek got good enough that I could carry on a conversation.

Ryan Hunter: Metropolitan John Zizioulas, the same one who the Ecumenical Patriarch just sent to comment on Pope Francis’ latest encyclical, Laudato Si, on the environment?

Valerie Karras: Yes, and he’s the one who’s also in charge of putting together the agenda for this Great and Holy Synod, the Council that’s going to be held. He’s probably the Constantinopolitan Patriarchate’s most important ecumenical officer. Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) last night [at Fordham University] said that he [Zizioulas] is the most important and best Orthodox theologian in the world today. I was really excited that Zizioulas was willing to work with me, and it’s funny because when I first met with him about this topic, I said that what I was expecting to find was that the Fathers were products of their time, that there would be some sexism, but I thought that on the theological level, this was my own feeling on the theological level, that sexual differentiation is an intrinsic part of human nature and that is somehow a reflection of the divinity, that it’s part of being created in the image of God, and Zizioulas kind of gave me this small smile, he said “I don’t think that’s what you’re going to find, but you start doing the research.” I did, and once I started doing the research, it took awhile for the Fathers to convince me, but they did and my views changed 180 degrees, so then I was like “Oh no, nobody wants to hear what I have to say because it’s going to be the ‘kill the messenger’ syndrome'”, and I have gotten a fair amount of that, people who don’t want to accept that this is really what the Fathers are saying. I’m very big on intellectual honesty, and I just put it out there, that this is what they [the Fathers] have said. You don’t have to accept it, these are all theologoumena, they’re not essential for salvation, just as you don’t have to accept the idea of women being ordained today to the diaconate, so that’s an issue that the Church needs to determine today. But you have to recognize that this is what these people said and did. Those are historical facts, you don’t get to choose your facts. What you want to do with them and how you want to understand them today in our contemporary situation is a different issue.

Ryan Hunter: Your presentation earlier highlighted the variety of consecrated and liturgical roles filled by women in the early Church. These roles gradually fell into abeyance. Do you realistically see them being restored?

Valerie Karras: Some of them have been, and it’s weird how they’ve been restored in different ways. I’ve noticed that a number of parishes at least in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, I’m not sure about the other jurisdictions here, they now have these young girls serving as myrrh-bearers during Holy Week. Now I would actually like to see what the Church of Jerusalem did, because it’s interesting — those [myrrh-bearers] were women [grown women who anciently filled the role of myrrh-bearer] and I think that there is still this issue…we have to deal with this crazy issue that somehow menstruation makes you impure. I think that’s why we like to see these younger girls dressed all in white, it’s all this purity idea. My response to that is going all the way back to that Didascalia Apostolorum from around AD 250 and it says “What’s the matter with you, woman, do you think that you’re without the Holy Spirit during this period? If that’s the case, you really have lost the Holy Spirit”, and then it goes on to say none of these things, and it mentions things like nocturnal emissions– these are all basic bodily functions, God has made our bodies this way, none of this is impure. I think that just takes care of it.

Ryan Hunter: So you said some of the early roles held by women have been restored...

Valerie Karras: Yes, the female diaconate in different ways. I’ll first mention a couple of the non-Chalcedonian Churches, the Armenian Church and the Coptic Church have, in different ways [restored the female diaconate]. Inthe Armenian Church starting around the seventeenth century we start seeing occasional references to deaconesses. Then it really seems to ramp up in the nineteenth century, and these female deacons in the nineteenth and twentieth century–and I don’t know whether there are any left alive now, I’m not sure what’s happened now in this modern era why they’re not doing it, but they were at least up through the middle of the twentieth century…

Ryan Hunter: Even after the Genocide?

Valerie Karras: Right, yes there were many, in fact I gave a talk at the large Armenian church in Worcester, Massachusetts when I was a professor at Hellenic College/Holy Cross, and the priest there, who had grown up in Jerusalem, he remembered a female deacon at the church or the cathedral  there — I’m not sure where exactly it was, and I don’t know, now I can’t remember whether this was something that he saw regularly, or whether she just happened to be visiting — because all of their female deacons in the nineteenth and twentieth century were nuns. He remembered her serving liturgically and that she did everything that the male deacon did, served identically, and in fact in that photograph that I showed [earlier at the conference] she [the Armenian deaconess] is vested identically to the male deacon.

Ryan Hunter: Yes, she has the orarion and everything…

Valerie Karras: Yes. A friend of mine, a colleague from another institution who’s of Armenian background, her family found a photograph of a great aunt who was a nun who was apparently also an ordained deacon. It’s a photograph of her with several of the other nuns who were deacons in this monastery, they’re all wearing the orarion. They’re not vested completely, but they’re wearing the orarion. It’s just amazing. Now the Coptic Church, as far as we can tell, there’s maybe some evidence that there were female deacons in the early Church, in the Church of Egypt, but not a lot.

Ryan Hunter: After the Chalcedonian schism, or?

Valerie Karras: No, it would have been before. They [the Coptic Church] have deaconesses today, they have a lot of them. They’re not ordained as a major clerical order, they’re consecrated.

Ryan Hunter: They’re considered a minor clerical order?

Valerie Karras: I’m not even sure it’s considered clergy, I think it’s more of a tonsuring and consecration. They’re doing all the kind of typical work that you would see of deaconesses in terms of social service and religious education and that sort of thing.

Ryan Hunter: What’s astonishing about what you just pointed out, the fact that it’s the Coptic Church that has resurrected and restored this practice–arguably this is one of the Churches that has suffered more in recent years than many of the others, so in times of crisis, in times of such turmoil, they’ve restored this ancient practice. Do you think there’s anything to be said for the argument that the first world Orthodoxy, so to speak — the United States, Canada, Britain, parts of Europe–they haven’t restored this practice because they haven’t encountered the kind of persecution that makes them want to restore that aspect of what the early Church did?

Valerie Karras: Maybe, but I think that it’s in these areas where we are seeing some of the strongest push for it [the restoration of the female diaconate]. I think that it’s because the Church in general is a minority and it’s in a new place , everything is sort of being rethought. You don’t just take for granted everything, but look at Russia. On the eve of the Bolshevik Revolution at the All-Russia Council, they were talking about it [instituting female deacons]. They didn’t really know a lot about it, but there were a number of prominent people, including among the royalty and the upper hierarchy [such as St Grand Duchess Elizabeth Romanova] who were talking about the need for a female diaconate. Now this would not be a restoration because the Russian Church never had it, and yet they knew about it and they thought that it was something that would be good for the Church. Of course, we’ll never know what would have happened if not for the Bolshevik Revolution, but there was this openness overall, it was like this breath of fresh air, the Patriarchate had just been restored, it was “let’s enliven Orthodoxy, what are we doing here?”

Ryan Hunter: Your presentation earlier suggested that many of the ancient vocations open to women in the Church — consecrated widows and ordained deaconesses for instance — could and should be revived. How do you see this being accomplished?

Valerie Karras: One way would be to do what Saint Nektarios [of Aegina] did. I think people forget that it has only been about a century — it’s really been less than a century — since we had a few female deacons in the Church of Greece ordained to the diaconate according to those euchologia (εὐχολόγιa) [prayer books with the services in them from the priest’s point of view]. So we’ve got Saint Nektarios doing this, and I think that’s a really important precedent that nobody said [this was impossible] even though there was some disagreement about what we had done. Nobody said it’s not legitimate, how could you say that when we have this long history? Presumably, all he did was use the rite, the service [of ordination] that’s right there in the older εὐχολόγιa.

Ryan Hunter: Were there any efforts by other hierarchs at the time to discipline him in certain ways for ordaining the women as deacons?

Valerie Karras: I think he was getting some sort of flak, because I think that’s why he wrote the letter to the Archbishop of Athens saying “well they were really ordained more like subdeacons” [a clever defense of his having ordained them at all]. But again, what’s the function? We have different functions for subdeacons and deacons. Subdeacons do not do petitions [during the Liturgy, e.g. “In peace let us pray to the Lord”] and these women did. I think that’s amazing because they [female deacons] didn’t do petitions even during the Byzantine period. The whole reason that he [St Nektarios] had ordained these women was because this was a women’s monastery [at Aegina] on this little island and they didn’t always have a priest, and he wanted them to have a fuller prayer life, a fuller liturgical life and cycle of services, their Liturgy of the Hours which is so central to monastic life. So it made a lot of sense, and I think that’s exactly why when the Synod of the Church of Greece decided that they would look at restoring the female diaconate, they wanted to restore it starting with these women’s monasteries, [they believed] that there was a real liturgical need there. Now I think that our parishes equally need them, not so much for liturgical reasons, although that can certainly help there too, but for pastoral reasons.

Ryan Hunter: You kind of touched on this before regarding certain Russian royalty that were active in this regard, but has any of your research touched on the role of Emperor St. Nicholas II or his sister-in-law Grand Duchess Elizabeth in supporting the institution of female diaconate in pre-revolutionary Russia?

Valerie Karras: No, I’m sorry to say that I only know a couple of things that I’ve read [in this area] because my own time periods of specialization are the Early Church and the Byzantine Church, so I don’t really deal with modern Church at all.

Ryan Hunter: I asked you this earlier, but I didn’t get it recorded, so I wonder if you could perhaps touch on this again. You mentioned that most Byzantine women were not public figures, but then we have the imperial consorts, the Augustae, the Empresses, and then we have some instances such as Irene of Athens of women who actually declared themselves as βασιλεύς, they declared themselves as emperors in their own right. Is there any evidence that you’ve come across that deaconesses, who would have been serving in the Byzantine Church at the time, were present at the coronation rites of Byzantine emperors or the empresses?

Valerie Karras: I haven’t seen that. but then I also just haven’t seen the rites described in a detailed way that would say “this is all the clergy that do it”. Because of your question, I do want to kind of look back at Constantine Porphyrogenitus’ De Cerimoniis to see if he’s got anything. Now, I had mentioned about the Empress Helena — I’m sorry I can’t remember whether she was married to, I think it was Emanuel II [Manuel II Palaiologos], I’m not absolutely certain, but it was one of the Palaiologoses, but this is the Late Byzantine period. She took the Eucharist, she took communion, at the door to the altar. Now by that period we know that there were no longer ordained female deacons. There seem to have still been female deacons, women who were styled female deacons but had not actually been ordained, but this may have been used as a monastic title. We know about that coronation, that enthronement, very well because of this Russian pilgrim who writes about it in detail. But it’s unfortunately in this period after female deacons.

Ryan Hunter: It’s interesting, when you mentioned that earlier in your presentation, that this empress as late as the late fourteenth or early fifteenth century was communing at the Royal Doors, at the entrance to the sanctuary, the Beautiful Gate, because that is where empress consorts of Russia, as well empresses regnant and all male emperors before the Pauline Succession Laws changed, received communion at their coronation rites. I don’t believe this was done at any other time, but at their coronation rites, they did receive communion at the Royal Doors. The emperor and I believe the empresses as well, if they were reigning in their own right, were anointed with the holy myron or chrism at the same spot

Valerie Karras: Presumably they were following Byzantine custom.

Ryan Hunter: All of the Russian coronation rites were based off of the available Byzantine service rites and customs.

Valerie Karras: So even though we only know this about Eleni, about Empress Helena, it probably was occurring with many or even all of the other empresses as well. Pulcheria’s situation is unusual because she was essentially reigning, particularly after her brother Theodosius II died [in AD 450]. She does take Marcion as her consort, but she’s the one who’s still running the show, because when she convokes the Fourth Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon [in 451]  — I remember this because of the work I was doing on monasticism — she sent out an imperial letter demanding that all the monks stay in their monasteries and not be wandering around and showing up at the Council [and disrupt the Council proceedings] because that had been an issue two years earlier with what was called the Robbers’ Council of Ephesus in 449.

Ryan Hunter: So the Empress Pulcheria herself, in her own name, wrote this letter, issuing an imperial edict?

Valerie Karras: Right.

Ryan Hunter: One other question. I personally am not afraid of this happening, I don’t see it as a threat of any kind, but as Sister Dr. Vassa Larin said earlier, the Church does not exist in a vacuum. Keeping that in mind, do you have any fear that people both within and without the Orthodox Church would mistake the restoration of the historic female diaconate as opening the door for advocates of women to the presbyterate [priesthood] and even to the episcopacy? How would you address those concerns?

Valerie Karras: Well obviously people do have that fear, and that’s why you get some really bad theology and a failure to be honest about the historical record from somebody like Father Lawrence Farley, who then admits that his concern is that if we were to restore the female diaconate then a female priesthood will be not far behind. No, I don’t accept that, because there are two major differences here. One is that where we have a long and solid history of the female diaconate, we do not have that with women ordained to either the priesthood or the episcopacy. So it’s a completely different issue on that level because it’s not a question of restoring something that historically existed, it would be a question of changing the eligibility for those two offices in our faith. So I think that’s one major difference.

The other issue is that these are two very different offices [the priesthood and the diaconate]. It really concerns me particularly when clergy don’t seem to understand the difference between the diaconate and the priesthood. Now there’s a relationship between the priesthood and the episcopacy, in fact of course one of the titles for bishop is ἀρχιερεύς, chief priest, head priest. So [in the Liturgy] the priest is acting on behalf of the bishop, that’s what the bishop signs the antimension that the priest has on the altar, so the priest is able to celebrate the Divine Liturgy, the Eucharistic Liturgy, and the other sacraments on behalf of the bishop. The only sacrament that the bishop does that the priest cannot do is the ordination of higher clergy, or of clergy generally. In the case of the deacon, the deacon is kind of a liminal position. Even though the deacon is ranked as one of the three major orders of clergy — we see that from the early Church orders, there’s clearly a distinction in the ordination rite, and certainly that’s made explicit in some of Justinian’s legislation — even though the deacon is ranked with the priest and the bishop as part of the hierosyni or priesthood in the broader sense, one of the major orders of clergy, the diaconate is still kind of a liminal office. As I mentioned before, the priest doing all these sacraments, being able to celebrate the sacraments, the deacon cannot; the deacon cannot be the celebrant, the deacon cannot baptize, the deacon cannot celebrate the Eucharist; he assists in the celebration of the Eucharist but he is not himself the celebrant.

Deacons cannot marry; in the Roman Catholic Church where the theology is that it’s really the two people getting married who marry each other, the deacon can be the one overseeing this because he’s really just the witness, but in our Church we see the priest or bishop as actually the celebrant of the marriage, and therefore it cannot be a deacon doing it. So the deacon is very different from the priest and the bishop because the deacon does not celebrate the sacraments. The word ‘deacon’ comes from διάκονος (diakonos), diakonia, the Greek word that means ‘service’. We see from the New Testament on that their primary roles were to do what we would today call social service, and they also did administrative functions — archdeacons, that sort of thing, they did a lot of the administrative functions for the Church.

The second thing that shows this difference, I think, is, strangely, the funeral rite. A deacon is buried as a layman, it’s the same rite as we use for the laypeople. They do not have the rite that is done for priests.

Ryan Hunter: Is that uniform throughout Orthodoxy?

Valerie Karras: It should be.

Ryan Hunter: InterestingSo everything that you’re saying is underlining the fact that there is this clearly articulated distinction between the order of the presbyterate, the priesthood, and the diaconate?

Valerie Karras: Right.

Ryan Hunter: So you’re not concerned that there would be some sort of push — “well, women have the diaconate now, so let’s jump to the priesthood”?

Valerie Karras: No, I don’t think it works that way. Don’t take this to mean that I don’t think that women can or should be ordained to the priesthood or the episcopacy; I’m saying that it’s a completely different subject, it is not closely related to the diaconate for the reasons I just said.

Ryan Hunter: Thank you very much for your time, and it was a very interesting interview. Thank you as well for your earlier presentation.

Valerie Karras: You’re welcome!

Response to Matt Parrott, Matthew Heimbach’s father-in-law, who responded to my Open Letter to Archbishop Demetrios

“Do you consider yourself a racist?”

“Sure! So what?”

– Matthew Heimbach to an interviewer in the video clip here.

A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject.

-Titus 3:10

Matt Parrott, Matthew Heimbach‘s father-in-law and supporter, and an active blogger at their curiously named “Traditionalist Youth Network”, has responded here to my open letter to His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios. Orthodox Christian observers will note right away the outrageous comparison Parrott makes with an illustrated Simpsons caption, equating Heimbach’s fight for “white pride” and “white separatism” to St Athanasius’ fight against the Arian heresy of the fourth century. (Athanasius contra mundum — “Athanasius against the world”, is here altered to read “Heimbach contra mundum). This, and the deliberately fascist-like sign or logo of three yellow arrows pointing upwards, should immediately raise concern for any Orthodox Christian.

Here are my critiques of Parrott’s essay.

1) “The charge of “phyletism” against Mr. Heimbach is intellectually irresponsible, as the scope of this canon relates to relations within the Church, specifically relating to communion and jurisdiction.”

As Heimbach’s own priest enunciates, the canonical Church regards “white separatism” as a form of phyletism. Bishop Anthony of the Antiochian Orthodox Diocese of Toledo and the Midwest, who excommunicated Heimbach in 2014, also defended Heimbach’s excommunication on the grounds of phyletism.

2) “In fact, the heresy of phyletism is being committed by those who insist that Whites and Whites alone must renounce, reject, or be silent about their White identities in order to receive communion. What’s been done to Heimbach is a textbook case of phyletism, denying him communion due to a political rejection of his racial and ethnic identity, the White American identity. All he’s ever asked is for the Church to extend the same dignity and respect for his racial and ethnic identity that it has historically done an excellent job of extending to every other identity. Being anti-white is found nowhere Holy Tradition.”

This is an argument out of nothing. No one in the Church is saying you cannot be proud of your ancestry if you are white. Everyone can and should be proud of his or her ethnic history and heritage. I am not saying, nor have I ever said, that Heimbach and his followers “must renounce, reject, or be silent about their White identities”. What I have said, and will continue to say, is that Heimbach is entirely missing what being an Orthodox Christian is truly all about. I will develop this point later on below.

3) “It’s very unfashionable to be pro-white in the contemporary American society, and the epithet of choice for men who are pro-White is “White Supremacist.” I assume Ryan Hunter quite probably doesn’t know the difference between a White Advocate and a White Supremacist, and doesn’t care to make the distinction.”

I do know the distinction, but I think it’s an artificially created one. There is no real distinction between “White Separatism” and “White Supremacy” except among those who subscribe to such notions (a tiny minority of Orthodox believers). Joining the Orthodox Church, one’s first and foremost loyalty ought to be to the Church, not to the ethnic or political nation to which one belongs. My brothers and sisters in Christ, my fellow Orthodox believers, many of whom are dear friends, are of all ethnic races. There is, in Orthodoxy, ultimately only one real race, of which numerous Church prayers speak: the Orthodox Christian race. All other distinctions are decidedly secondary, but Heimbach’s activism — identifying a “White nation”– brings these ethnic differences to the forefront. This is where I disagree with him. Instead of celebrating the racial diversity of the Body of Christ, the Orthodox Church, Heimbach exults in his whiteness at the expense of his Orthodoxy. So dedicated is he to whiteness, as it were, that he remains outside of the canonical Church.

I believe Heimbach and his cohorts are wrong for espousing White Separatism, which, from all my conversations with White Separatists and my reading about them, I understand to be thinly veiled racism.

4) Parrott here is portraying Heimbach as a victim:

“It’s alarming that Matthew Heimbach has been cast into the outer darkness by the Church for arguably (with a bad argument, at that) being a phyletist without the usual opportunities to defend or explain himself, whileMichael Dukakis has gone on for decades confirming that slaughtering the unborn is consistent with the Orthodox faith without censure, excommunication, or piles of incendiary public letters being fired off. This double-standard has yet to be explained or defended.”

Parrott should take this up with the Orthodox Church hierarchs. I have spoken out repeatedly on the subject of abortion, which the Church rightfully condemns as murder of unborn innocents. If I were a priest or bishop, I would never give Dukakis communion, as his public pro-abortion position puts him outside the teachings of the Orthodox Church. Dukakis should not be communed as an Orthodox Christian, just as Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden should not be communed as Roman Catholics due to their pro-abortion public political positions.

5) “The charge that Matthew Heimbach’s secular politics are outright heretical is hysterical and theologically indefensible. I’m sensitive to the fact that Orthodoxy–both within America and globally–has an obligation to demonstrate itself inclusive of every identity, but it also has an obligation to demonstrate itself above picking sides in secular politics.”

This is a clever bit of diversion. The only person “picking sides in secular politics” is Heimbach. While his positions are taken relative to secular politics (he’s on the far right), Matthew Heimbach’s politics are not secular by any means. He always appears in public wearing an Orthodox Christian cross, deliberately and consciously associating himself and his public image with Orthodox Christianity. At a public event he physically assaulted a man while carrying a three-bar Orthodox wooden cross. Note that this evidence of Heimbach assaulting the man while carrying the cross comes from a far-right neo-Nazi site, the Daily Stormer (as in SS Storm Troopers). The same article on the Daily Stormer, from April 29, 2015, asserts that “Matthew Heimbach will be now be producing a new podcast each week for Radio Stormer.” So he’s writing for a neo-Nazi website that deliberately uses fascist imagery, but we are supposed to believe he is not a racist, only a “white separatist”? Right…

This image, showing Matthew Heimbach physically assaulting a man while carrying an Orthodox wooden three-bar cross, appears on the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website.

This image, showing Matthew Heimbach physically assaulting a man while carrying an Orthodox wooden three-bar cross, appears on the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website.

6) “Please carefully reflect on whether or not to participate in or support the witch hunt against this humble Orthodox Christian parishioner, Matthew Heimbach.”

Again, Parrott seeks, amusingly, to portray Heimbach as a victim of a “witch hunt against this humble Orthodox Christian parishioner”. Heimbach is no innocent victim, but a deliberate provocateur and member of the far right who openly sympathizers with Romanian fascist politician and anti-Semitic activist Corneliu Codreanu. As the same article in the Daily Stormer notes, Heimbach “sees Corneliu Codreanu as his main influence and takes much inspiration from him.” Codreanu publicly advocated for Romania’s alliance with Nazi Germany.

7) You can see the anti-Jewish comments below the article for yourself. Here is one particular one that stood out to me for its nauseating content:

An anonymous coward, “Eric”, wrote the following:

Pressure to excommunicate Heimbach was completely political, and done under duress from groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center whose leadership believe in a “religion” that states the Virgin Mary was a prostitute and Jesus Christ was her illegitimate child. The goal here is to silence his political dissent by holding his religious beliefs hostage, can’t think of anything more insidious than that.

The fact that “Ryan Hunter” would side with Jews over another Orthodox Christian in pretty much every context shows that he’s in the wrong religion, he either doesn’t take it seriously or doesn’t understand what Orthodoxy is. He needs to go back to being an Evangelical or whatever he was before.

First off, “Eric”, I was a Roman Catholic before becoming Orthodox; I have never been an Evangelical in my life. Furthermore, as he is currently excommunicated from the Orthodox Church, Heimbach is not an Orthodox Christian. He remains outside the life and fellowship of the Church. After his excommunication from the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese in 2014, Heimbach approached clergy in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR). The ROCOR clergy agreed to accept him only if he promised to stop his political activities and cease all talk of white separatism, etc. Heimbach initially promised this, but, according to a senior ROCOR priest I interviewed today, he immediately went back on his promise. This ROCOR priest told me that Heimbach lied to several ROCOR priests about his intentions, a grave offense in the Orthodox Church. Thus, Heimbach, by his own choice, remains outside the Church.

8) A series of concrete, specific actions taken by Orthodox hierarchs oppose Heimbach’s message. His Eminence Archibshop Iakovos, then Primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, chose in 1965 to march alongside Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr at Selma. Earlier this year, His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, current Primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, commemorated the event alongside US President Barack Obama. As the Archdiocese’s news letter reads:

The Greek Orthodox Church has always been an advocate for equality and continues to fight against racism, prejudice, discrimination and xenophobia with fervent love for God and all people. To commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the March on Selma, and to highlight the efforts of His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos of blessed memory to advance the Civil Rights Movement, the Holy Archdiocese has launched a website with a plethora of historical resources and announcements for upcoming events around this most important time in our nation’s history. Please visit:civilrights.goarch.org

In closing, Heimbach an Parrott’s self-asserted allegiance to “white separatism” obscures the very real theological and religious unity that exists between people of all races who share the same religion. Heimbach’s true brothers and sisters are not white people, but, when and if he repents, his true brothers and sisters will be his fellow Orthodox believers across the world, including many non-white people. His loyalty to “white separatism” constitutes a denigration of his real non-white brothers and sisters in Christ. By identifying first and foremost as white, and saying he advocates for “white separatism” (voluntary segregation from the non-white community) Heimbach is saying to all non-white Orthodox Christians (many of whom are friends of mine), “You’re not one of my people. You’re not my brother or sister.” Matt Parrott and Matthew Heimbach should read my friend Nathan Lawrence’s open letter to Heimbach. Nathan is biracial Orthodox Christian. He is a personal friend of mine, and he has been personally hurt by Heimbach’s white separatist and nationalist views.

There is nothing wrong with having pride in your heritage. I am proud to be of English, Scottish, and Irish descent. But what matters far more than your biological descent is your adopted sonship in Christ as a member of the Orthodox Church. Heimbach’s error comes in valuing his ethnic identity above his sonship in Christ, a sonship he shares with my friend Nathan and many other people who are not white. I would humbly invite Heimbach to do as Nathan has asked, and meet with him. Share beer, break bread together. Heimbach, insofar as he is Orthodox, is a brother in Christ. Insofar as he remains excommunicated, until he repents, he remains outside the Church. Heimbach has been admonished by clergy of two canonical Orthodox jurisdictions, and persists in his anathematized beliefs. His ongoing public actions — most recently calling suspected Charleston shooter Dylann Roof a “victim” — and the posts of his organization speak to his lack of repentance. Unless he repents, anathema sit.

Metropolitan Jonah Released From the OCA to ROCOR

His Eminence Metropolitan Jonah, then Primate of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) in St Catherine's, the OCA podvorie in Moscow, with His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), Chairman of the Department of External Church Relations for the Moscow Patriarchate.

His Eminence Metropolitan Jonah, then Primate of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) in St Catherine’s, the OCA podvorie in Moscow, with His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), Chairman of the Department of External Church Relations for the Moscow Patriarchate.

Dear friends in Christ,

It is with a glad heart full of rejoicing that I share with you that earlier today Metropolitan Jonah received a signed letter of official release from Metropolitan Tikhon and the Synod of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) releasing him to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR). His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral), First Hierarch of ROCOR, has been notified that the OCA Synod has, at long last, made good on their promise to release Metropolitan Jonah. Vladyka Jonah is thus received into ROCOR’s jurisdiction. His status–whether he will be received as a retired or an active Metropolitan– is still to be determined by the ROCOR Synod. The OCA publicly and officially acknowledged its release of Metropolitan Jonah here.

This means that, at long last, Metropolitan Jonah will be free to serve wherever he is blessed to do so by the Synod of the ROCOR and Metropolitan Hilarion. He will be free to serve unhindered at St John the Baptist ROCOR Cathedral (where he has been serving for most of the past three years) and wherever else he is invited to do so, with the blessing of the ROCOR Synod. He will continue his teaching ministry at St John’s (including regular sermons and lectures which may be found here), continue to speak at conferences and symposia and other academic events, and, above all else, continue to serve weekly Liturgies at the Holy Archangels Chapel in Washington, DC. He ultimately plans to begin a monastery, but in the meantime looks forward to living and teaching the Orthodox Faith and serving his spiritual children.

Now that he is no longer in the OCA, Metropolitan Jonah will lose his modest stipend which he has, until now, received from the OCA in his capacity as one of their several retired Metropolitans. ROCOR cannot afford to grant Metropolitan Jonah a stipend, so he will rely on the charitable support of the Holy Archangels Orthodox Foundation to meet his basic living needs. You may donate to the Holy Archangels Foundation and subscribe to receive e-mails here.

In terms of his recent activities, Metropolitan Jonah met this past weekend with His Eminence Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia, who is visiting for the upcoming Washington, DC Orientale Lumen conference this week. Time allowing, Metropolitan Kallistos will join Metropolitan Jonah in con-celebrating Liturgy at the Holy Archangels Chapel this coming Friday, June 19.

At the end of June, on Saturday, June 27, Metropolitan Jonah will present at a conference at the ROCOR Church of the Intercession in Glen Cove, NY, titled “Living and Thinking Orthodoxy: Yesterday and Today” along with Dr. Sister Vassa Larin and Dr. Valerie Karras. Dr. Nadieszda Kizenko, Professor of History at SUNY Albany, will moderate the discussion. Below is the event poster.

June 27 Conference Poster for

June 27 Conference Poster for “Living and Thinking Orthodoxy: Yesterday and Today”.

Metropolitan Jonah will then travel to South Carolina to commemorate the murder and martyrdom of the Russian Imperial Family, the Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II and Tsarina-Martyr Alexandra and their children, along with the Tsarina’s sister the nun Grand Duchess Elizabeth and her companion the nun Varvara. He will serve vigil at the ROCOR Church of St Elizabeth the New Martyr in West Columbia on Friday, July 17, followed by Liturgy the following morning, St Elizabeth’s feat day and the day of her martyrdom. On Sunday, July 19, he will again serve Liturgy, followed by giving a lecture on “Temple Worship and the Liturgy”.

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Glory to God for all things!

Update on Metropolitan Jonah’s situation since Summer 2013

Image

I had sincerely hoped that after the agreement reached on May 27 between Metropolitan Jonah, Metropolitan Tikhon and Metropolitan Hilarion, I would never again have a need to write on this subject. It is a topic which, when I do take it up, causes me some discomfort. Yet it has come to my attention that several Orthodox commentators around the world have re-blogged my May 29 piece, in which I sought to communicate the news of the positive resolution at that time regarding Metropolitan Jonah’s situation, which appeared then to be entirely concluded.

I have remained silent on the subject since this summer, in vain hope that the situation would resolve, but, unfortunately, no new developments have come to light. In the interests of transparency, and desiring to preempt any possibly incorrect impressions readers of several blogs might glean from reading only my May 29 post, I must report a significant change in Metropolitan Jonah’s situation.

This past summer, without any forewarning, the Primate of the Orthodox Church in America, His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon, informed his predecessor, Metropolitan Jonah, that he would be permitted to serve only at the OCA parish of St Mark’s in Bethesda, Maryland, located immediately outside the District of Columbia. Metropolitan Tikhon’s letter instructed Metropolitan Jonah that he would only be permitted to serve at another Orthodox parish in the event that +Jonah receives +Tikhon’s express written approval. Additionally, Metropolitan Jonah has not been permitted to offer the Sunday sermon at St. Mark’s for some time.

The explanation Metropolitan Jonah received for this sudden, arbitrary change was that it might be seen as unusual or improper for a retired Primate of the OCA to be serving at the DC cathedral of the ROCOR. At the kind invitation of His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion, the very kind First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, Metropolitan Jonah had been serving at St John the Baptist Cathedral here in DC for almost one year following his sudden July 2012 resignation as OCA Metropolitan (at the request of the OCA Synod).

All of us here in the DC area were shocked by Metropolitan Tikhon’s letter, which came without any forewarning or expectation. This change in conditions obviously contradicts the assurances Metropolitan Jonah received in May of 2013 when he met and con-celebrated the Divine Liturgy with Metropolitans Hilarion and Tikhon at St Tikhon’s Monastery in Pennsylvania. At this Monday, May 27 meeting in the presence of Metropolitan Hilarion, Metropolitan Tikhon and members of the OCA Synod of Bishops promised Metropolitan Jonah (among many other things) his full freedom to serve wherever he was invited. Obviously, this includes the ROCOR Cathedral of St John the Baptist.

It is extraordinary to me that the most recently retired Metropolitan of the OCA enjoys such little freedom to serve. St. Mark’s has two attached priests in addition to its very kind pastor, the Rev. Fr. Gregory Safchuk, so there is no pressing pastoral need for Metropolitan Jonah to serve there. I am clueless as to why Metropolitan Tikhon or any of his fellow bishops on the OCA Synod felt it either necessary or appropriate to withdraw their earlier agreed-upon-promises to their former Primate and fellow bishop. The official OCA website has not featured any announcement of the changes in Metropolitan Jonah’s situation, nor have any members of the OCA Synod or Metropolitan Council commented publicly on the matter. 

Given the complete silence from anyone in the OCA headquarters in Syosset, NY on this matter, we can only wonder at the motives or concerns behind the decision to restrict Metropolitan Jonah’s service to this one parish immediately outside Washington, DC. Why would the OCA’s current Primate send a letter deliberately interrupting the ongoing parish ministry of his predecessor at another Orthodox jurisdiction’s DC cathedral? What need was there for this interruption, which caused confusion and concern among many parishioners at St. John the Baptist Cathedral here? Metropolitan Jonah’s ministry at St John’s was very popular, and his Bible studies well attended by parish members, as well as many from St Nicholas, the wonderful OCA primatial cathedral where I was chrismated in December 2011.

Since Metropolitan Jonah’s July 2012 resignation, St Nicholas parish membership has sadly declined, with some of their former parishioners becoming active members at St John’s. As someone who stopped attending services at St. Nicholas in late summer of 2012, returning only several times to the cathedral which I had so deeply come to love, I noticed the decline in attendance there, and the regular presence of many former St. Nicholas parishioners at St. John’s. 

The kind Fr. Gregory and delightful parish community of St Mark’s in Bethesda have warmly welcomed Metropolitan Jonah. He has continued to serve there regularly since the summer. The Metropolitan resumed his Bible study at St. Mark’s prior to his two trips to the United Kingdom over the summer and earlier this fall.

During his summer trip, Metropolitan Jonah was a guest of the Orthodox Fellowship of St John the Baptist, at whose summer Triennial International Conference he delivered one of the keynote presentations. During his fall trip, he was a guest of H.E. Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia. On both visits to the UK, Metropolitan Jonah was delighted to visit the wonderful Monastery of St John the Baptist in Essex, established in 1958 by the late and venerable Elder Sophrony Sakharov.

Along with so many friends of the Metropolitan across the country, I remain confused and concerned by the inexplicable reassignment of Metropolitan Jonah to St. Mark’s, given that there was no pressing need for his service there, while his ongoing ministry at St John’s was popular, widely beloved, and caused offense to no one. The complete silence from the OCA Synod is deeply troubling, though it is hardly surprising. It astounds me that placing such restrictions on the most recent former Primate of the OCA could be considered Christian in any way, let alone pragmatic. I pray for a resolution, yet what sense would I have to trust men who have so repeatedly broken their promises, even ones made publicly? Still, I must believe this is all in God’s Providence. May His will be done in all things.

 I would encourage any of you who wish to do so to contact the leading clergy in the OCA in hopes of obtaining some answers. They should be able to offer ready explanations as to why Metropolitan Jonah is no longer permitted to serve freely as he was prior to this summer.

 

You may reach His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon at his office at 516-922-0550 or via e-mail at metropolitan@oca.org. You may contact the OCA Chancellor, Fr. John Jillions at his office at 516-922-0550 ext. 130, or via e-mail at chancellor@oca.org. The OCA’s Secretary, Fr. Eric Tosi, may be reached at his office at 516-922-0550 ext. 129, or via e-mail at egtosi@oca.org.

Yours in Christ,

-Ryan

Positive resolution at last

Monday, May 27, at St Tikhon's Monastery: From left: Bishop Michael, Archbishop Benjamin, former OCA Metropolitan Jonah, current OCA Metropolitan Tikhon, ROCOR Metropolitan Hilarion, Bishop Melchizedek, and Bishop Mark.

Monday, May 27, at St Tikhon’s Monastery: From left: Bishop Michael, Archbishop Benjamin, former OCA Metropolitan Jonah, current OCA Metropolitan Tikhon, ROCOR Metropolitan Hilarion, Bishop Melchizedek, and Bishop Mark


“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!

It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments;

As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.”

-Psalm 133 KJV (132 LXX)

As many of you may have read via oca.org, e-mail, or the OCA Facebook page, Metropolitan Jonah’s ecclesiastical and financial situation with the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) has finally been resolved. As reported on the OCA website here, Metropolitan Tikhon invited Metropolitan Jonah to meet with him and members of the OCA Holy Synod this past Monday at St Tikhon’s Orthodox Monastery in South Canaan, Pennsylvania to reach a consensus on his situation.

It appears that all has at last been settled, and that the hierarchs and senior clergy in the OCA have agreed to honor Patriarch Kirill’s admonition in his November 2012 congratulatory letter to Metropolitan Tikhon that “through the efforts of Your Beatitude the American Church will restore full-fledged relations with other Local Orthodox Churches, restore peace and harmony within herself and make comfortable the further life of your predecessor at the Metropolitan See of Washington.” (Emphasis mine). Glory to God that after months of uncertainty, this at last has been accomplished!

Here is the text of the short article posted on Monday on OCA.org:

May 27, 2013

Metropolitan Tikhon, Holy Synod members meet with Metropolitan Jonah

SYOSSET, NY [OCA]

A brief statement with regard to the retirement of His Eminence, Metropolitan Jonah was issued by the Office of Archpriest John Jillions, Chancellor of the Orthodox Church in America, on Monday, May 27, 2013.

The text of the statement reads as follows.
“At the invitation of His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon, His Eminence, Metropolitan Jonah met with a number of members of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America at Saint Tikhon’s Monastery, South Canaan, PA and reached an understanding with the Holy Synod concerning his retirement. Following their meeting, Metropolitans Tikhon and Jonah, together with hierarchs of the Holy Synod and guest hierarchs, including His Eminence, Metropolitan Hilarion, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, concelebrated the Divine Liturgy marking the 109th annual Pilgrimage to the monastery.”

On Monday, May 27, Memorial Day, Metropolitans Tikhon, Jonah and Hilarion concelebrate the Divine Liturgy in the belltower of St Tikhon's Monastery, South Canaan, PA.

On Monday, May 27, Memorial Day, Metropolitans Tikhon, Jonah and Hilarion concelebrate the Divine Liturgy in the belltower of St Tikhon’s Monastery, South Canaan, PA.

Additionally, from this article on the pilgrimage to St Tikhon’s Monastery posted yesterday, May 28, on the OCA website, one may read the following excerpt:

“. . . In the revival of another custom that had faded in the 1980s, the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy was celebrated at the monastery bell tower, rather than the pavilion, on Memorial Day, Monday, May 27.  Concelebrating with Metropolitan Tikhon were Metropolitan Jonah; Metropolitan Hilarion, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia; Archbishop Benjamin; Bishop Melchizedek of Pittsburgh; Bishop Michael; and Bishop Mark.”

In terms of the details of the agreement reached between the hierarchs, Metropolitan Jonah has been awarded a monthly stipend along with insurance coverage to support his continued ministry in the life of the Church, and he will not be expected to absent himself from both Dallas and Washington, D.C. as some senior OCA leaders had previously demanded, but will free to live where he likes. He be listed as the OCA’s most recently retired former Primate and Metropolitan, and he will keep the style of Metropolitan, since he was consecrated to this primatial honor by the grace of the Holy Spirit at his enthronement at St Nicholas Cathedral in November 2008. 

Joyfully, Metropolitan Jonah is also free to serve wherever he likes and will be at liberty to eventually start a monastery in the DC Metropolitan area, as he has wished to do for some time. Plans are currently underway to look into acquiring a rural Maryland site near Washington, D.C. which has a host of beautiful buildings. Evidently, the OCA hierarchs have agreed that they will no longer oppose his transfer to another Orthodox jurisdiction (as some had previously) in the event that another jurisdiction requests his reception.

Metropolitans Jonah and Tikhon exchange the kiss of peace during the Divine Liturgy on Monday, May 27, 2013 at St Tikhon's Monastery in South Canaan, PA.

Metropolitans Jonah and Tikhon exchange the kiss of peace during the Divine Liturgy on Monday, May 27, 2013 at St Tikhon’s Monastery in South Canaan, PA.

In the meantime, two weeks ago Metropolitan Jonah launched a new seminar at the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St John the Baptist in DC, “Orthodoxy 101”. Here are links to the YouTube video recordings of the first and second lectures, respectively. For this seminar series, Vladyka has encouraged us to do additional readings and out-of-class research, in the manner of an engaging university seminar.

It is my sincere hope, as it is the hope of so many Orthodox Christians who have either remained in their parishes or found their spiritual home in another jurisdiction, that the OCA senior hierarchs will offer a public apology for the deeply offensive letter they released on July 16, 2012 which contains many falsehoods about Metropolitan Jonah. In time, I hope that the OCA hierarchs will realize that this simple step – a public apology for issuing a letter containing so many false allegations about their primate – will do more than any continued silence to bring about a fullness of healing to the faithful within the OCA. This is my hope, but not my expectation.

Still, these are joyous developments, and I am very glad that things have at last been resolved in a dignified and fair way. Glory to God for His providence which brings good out of evil and causes us to rejoice after sorrows.

Joyfully in the Risen Lord,

-Silouan

Pascha, the Feast of Feasts!

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Pascha, the Feast of Feasts!

“Enjoy ye all the feast of faith; receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness.”
(From the Paschal Sermon of St John Chrysostom, read at Paschal Matins)

Orthodox Easter, called Pascha (The Greek term for the Hebrew ‘Pesach’, meaning Passover) is the Feast of Feasts, since it is by far the most liturgically and theologically important Orthodox celebration of the year. For all Christians, the Lord’s Resurrection is the most sacred of days, but among Eastern Christians the feast is observed with a special solemnity and then great rejoicing.

In part, our rejoicing is due to the fact that Pascha is also uniquely a culinary delight for us. While many Protestants and Roman Catholics may choose to fast, prolonged periods of fasting are no longer the norm in the praxis, or normative and guiding practice, in these Western Christian traditions. All Orthodox Christians in good medical health are expected to adhere to an ancient fasting discipline throughout the year, handed down for centuries in the inner discipline of the Church. This includes abstaining from meat on Wednesdays and Fridays in remembrance of Jesus’ betrayal by Judas and His crucifixion, although following the Lord’s Resurrection we do not fast at all for a set period, and so the Paschal season for us is one of spiritual, and literal, feasting and rejoicing!

This is because Orthodox Christians keep an especially rigorous fast during the lengthy ascetic period of Great Lent, the 47 days preceding Pascha. During this time, we abstain from all meat, fish, olive oil and dairy products as a means to help us grow spiritually. We essentially go vegan for this time period. Not intended to serve as legalistic rules, the fasting guidelines for each person will differ slightly depending on the advice of one’s spiritual mentor, but among those Orthodox Christians who are not in grave or terminal illness or pregnancy (under these conditions any fasting is strictly forbidden) generally most observant Orthodox Christians will follow the fasting guidelines closely. Thus, Pascha is doubly joyous for us because our strict fasting gives way to a culinary feast without any restrictions in diet!

In the Russian tradition, decorated kulich – tall, cylindrical loaves of sweet bread baked with raisins and poppy seeds – are rich in taste and theological symbolism. Marked with ‘XB’, the Cyrillic initials for ‘Christ is Risen’, along with Orthodox crosses, their very decoration and height call to mind the Resurrection.

Made with the rich dairy from which we abstain during Great Lent, these are baked during Holy Week and blessed and consumed immediately after the midnight Paschal liturgy. They are cut horizontally, and paskha (a rich, sweet cream formed into a pyramid, made with cottage and ricotta cheese) spread on them.

I took the above image around 5am this morning in the parish hall after the Paschal Divine Liturgy at the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St John the Baptist, the parish I attend here in Washington.