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Reflections of an Orthodox Priest

The Pastor is a man of God, called and separated for a specific ministry, that is, the preaching and teaching of the whole counsel of God, especially the gospel; always maintaining a relationship of prayer on behalf of the saints. His role is one of teaching, motivating and persuading people to be discipled for Christ his Master and to lead others to the Saviour.

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Dear Parishioners and Friends of St. John’s,

This is a first in a series of short essays I would like to share with you.First of all, I would like to express the gratefulness I feel for being a priest in this parish. In 25 years of being a priest – in many different types of Orthodox parishes – this parish (St. John Chrysostom Albanian Orthodox Church) has been the warmest, friendliest, and most open of all I have served. From the Albanians who founded this church years ago, to the Albanians who came decades later, to the many active parishioners from Georgia, Cypress, Egypt, China, Serbia, other countries, and, of course, America, it is a wonderful mix of Orthodox Christians, doing our services in the language of the country, which is the Orthodox Tradition.

As a priest – and spiritual father of the parish – it is important that I reach out to everyone, despite background, in whatever way I can. At the same time, I must also follow the Orthodox traditions and canons. Sometimes there is a conflict between what a parishioner may want and the Orthodox way. It is incumbent upon the priest, then, to sit down and explain the historical points of our church and try to come to an understanding of the present situation. If the priest is not willing to listen to the needs or desires of his parishioners, there is something clearly wrong. We – the clergy and the people – need to work together to continue to act and believe in a way that is in accordance with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In the Divine Liturgy, when the priest exhorts that “Christ is in our midst”, this is not simply a form in the service; it is a heartfelt feeling, and the greetings between priest and parishioner (and parishioner to parishioner) is a very real and important part of this time together. It demonstrates that despite differences, backgrounds, ethnicity, age, or whatever, we are all Christians, recognizing each other in the love of Christ.

I will write more as we go along. The next thing to reflect on is baptism and communion. In the mean time, I welcome any and all to come to me withwhatever issue you may have. I am totally open to all of you and, as your priest, I love you. Please do not forget that God loves you unconditionally. This is the basis of our faith.

The unworthy servant of Christ,

Fr. Brooks



Today, as we continue our series, I would like to reflect on the sacrament of Baptism. Baptism is the first step toward living a Christian life in the Orthodox Church. It is a joy, for the parents, the sponsors, and indeed, the entire community. Most of our Baptisms, now, are infant Baptisms, which I want to focus on here.

On the 40th day after giving birth, the mother comes to the church with her child. The Churching is actually for the mother as she returns to the community; however, prayers are said not only for the mother, but also for the child, as we “Church” the mother.

At some point after that, the parents contact the priest to meet with him and talk about the Baptism which is to come. After this, it is important for the parents and the sponsors (godmother, godfather) to meet again with the priest. We discuss the Baptism, its importance, and what will take place at the service. After this, we decide on an appropriate day and time for the child to become a member of our Orthodox community.

Fr. Georges Florovsky, the former Dean of St. Vladimir’s Seminary, referred to this sacrament as an “inaugurated Baptism”. In other words, this sacrament simply starts the process of becoming an Orthodox Christian. While there is a tradition in some Orthodox communities that the child is brought to church three Sundays after Baptism, the reality is that the child needs to be brought to church every Sunday after Baptism. The reason for this is to allow the child to be accustomed to a different environment: to smell the incense, to hear the music, to see the icons, to receive communion.

At St. John’s, we have a great Sunday school program that starts in pre-school. When the child is old enough for this, he or she should be ready to begin the learning process of our faith and continue until high school. We not only have Sunday school for the children, we also have several activities throughout the year that bring kids (and parents) together to enjoy more fellowship.

It is important that when a child is born, the parents contact the priest, so we can begin this process.

In the next reflection, I will focus on the Eucharist (communion) and all that means to us as Orthodox Christians.

I look forward to serving you always, in any way I can.

Your brother in Christ,

Fr. Brooks



WHAT IS THE SPIRITUAL LIFE?

What is the spiritual life? Many professionals in the field of religion, and many practitioners of various religions, often speak or write of the “spiritual life”. I’m not sure what this even means. From our very first story in the Scriptures, we were made in the image and likeness of God. Later, God presents his divinity in the form of a human being, in the form of Jesus who, as we say, is both divine and human, fully, without separation. Did Jesus have a “spiritual life”, the implication of which is that he also must have had a “non-spiritual life”? Is that possible? Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom) writes,

A thought that has been repeatedly thrust at us in the form of quotation from the Gospel or from literature, which somehow clicks in a situation and acquires deep meaning, is no longer a quotation from Shakespeare or from the Scriptures; it is truth that has been put into words which are so significant and so powerful.

Metropolitan Anthony’s point is clear: truth is truth. I would add to this thought that life is life. There is no, or should be no, separation between the “spiritual life” and the “non-spiritual life”. Most of us are not monks or hermits; we are human beings living in a very complex world, one that entails our families, work, friends, hobbies, social obligations, church, and other aspects of our day to day existence. It is easy to compartmentalize all of these aspects of our lives, as if to separate them like slices of a pie.

I often hear people say, “I’m not religious, but I AM spiritual”. Interesting. To me, it sounds like saying, “I don’t have a physical body, but I AM a human being”. It’s not that it’s not necessarily true; it just makes no sense to me.

Life is life. Perhaps our task is to find ways to integrate the various aspects of our lives, to seek wholeness rather than separation. For example, when I am driving down the street and someone – perhaps unintentionally – slows me down, I can get angry, lose my sense of what I am actually doing. I’ve got to make it to my next appointment, and I can’t lose a minute of “my” time. Could it be that that extra minute actually provides a little more time to think about my next appointment, and, rather than spending a minute getting angry, I use that time to simply breathe, to consider what I am doing and why? Maybe I should thank the person ahead of me for slowing me down!

Life is life. There is no “spiritual life” and “non-spiritual life”. Jesus is our greatest example, whether it is at a wedding, with the woman at the well, going off to the desert to have some silence and solitude, his “spiritual life” is simply his life. Ah, but how do we do this; how do we altar our approach to changing our perspective on this issue? When I was living in the Himalaya, my lama would repeat to me, “slowly, slowly, step by step”. Each of us must decide how to do this. Perhaps prayer, some silence, and reflection would be the first slow steps I would take, and I would use Jesus as my example.



FISHING

I sat on one of the large rocks of the jetty – before I began to fish – and watched the morning unfold over the dark gray waters of the Atlantic. The cooler than normal temperature reminded me that summer was on the wane. With the last days of August slipping into September, cooler winds and soon, color-changing leaves, I thought about an obscure date on the Orthodox calendar. September first marks the beginning of our New Year, a date which gets lost among our feast days and fast periods, our activities in the church, our way of considering time. In this country, we are much more American than Orthodox. Our lives are lined by significant days throughout our calendar: New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, the 4th of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, (secular) Christmas. Most do not even know when the Feast of the Transfiguration occurs, and this is one of our most important feast days.

I was wearing a light windbreaker, feeling the breeze, watching the sky move from ebony to a very pale lightness. As the light ascended, I could see some seagulls, and in the distance, there were dolphins bobbing in the water, two by two, as if in some synchronized swimming event. Does a new year really begin? I considered this.

What does 1 September mean? Calendars change; they are a way to mark the year. Prior to the Julian calendar, there were only 10 months in the year (the Calendar of Romulus). This was changed in 44 B.C. The Church has always recognized September first as the beginning of the church liturgical cycle, with the first major feast day as the Birth of the Theotokos and the last major feast day as the death of the Theotokos.

Is this important? Calendars are calendars; they are constructed to provide an order of the year. They change, for example, having a “leap day” every four years. Most of us here in America will continue to recognize January first as New Year’s Day; however, recognizing that the Church year begins on September first allows us to pause and reflect on where we stand in relation to the Divine. It allows us to yet again consider the changes that lie ahead of us as we begin again to follow the Church year and to consider how the order of feasts and fasts affect us.

I stood up, made the sign of the cross, and began to bait my hook. It was a beautiful, isolated moment as I reveled in the solitude of the morning. I cast my line into the water and simply breathed. Alas, I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I caught no fish!

Fr. Brooks



The Present Participle And The Church

This may seem like a rather heady reflection; however, it is quite simple and will give more force to our understanding of the New Testament and the Church, so hang with me for this one. Few languages utilize the present participle the way it is used in Greek. It is often considered a “verbal adjective” as it gives action to the noun. For example, in English, we may use the noun “the shepherd”, while the Greek may use “the shepherding one” or “the-herding-the-sheep one.” One can see the difference between the two languages, as one provides an explicit action.

Let’s take another example. A king is one who takes care of his people. In English, we may simply use the noun “the king”, with some subtle implication that he is the one who takes care of the people. In the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) the prophets rose up to criticize the king because he was not taking care of his people. Instead of “the king”, the rendering of the participle could read, “the-taking-care-of-the-people one”; otherwise, he is not the king, but simple a man in fancy clothes, living sumptuously at the expense of his subjects.

The English word “church” is derived from the Greek word “ecclesia” which means “the assembly.” It is as the assembly that we are, indeed, the church. This is why the Orthodox Church gathers together for one Liturgy (and only one on any given day) and all eat and drink from one chalice. Again, using the present participle, we see this as the assembling one, or as the coming-to-the-assembly-to-worship one. It is wonderful to live across town and write a check to our favorite parish, but this does not make us a church member; it makes us a-check-writing-friend one. Obviously, there are exceptions, especially for those who simply cannot assemble due to their age or infirmity. We pray for them at our gathering, and the assembly goes out to them, typically by the priest who takes the sacrament to those who cannot make it to church. The others know that they are members when they assemble with the brothers and sisters who gather to worship.

I recently saw a cartoon of Jesus is speaking with a young traveler.

The traveler: Facebook?

Jesus: No, I literally want you to follow me.

The traveler: Oh, Twitter?

Jesus: Okay, I’m gonna start over again, and you can tell me where I lose you.

There is, if we follow my thinking here about the present participle in Greek, no such thing as a Christian. There is, however, a-following-Christ-and-all-he-stands-for one.

As we move forward toward God, may we all make sure our language has the same force or power of the present participle in New Testament Greek!

In Christ’s Love,

Fr. Brooks



Meeting
June 26
th
Charity & Benevolence Committee Meeting 7:00 pm
Event

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Monthly Parish Council Meetings 2018

Meeting will be on July 10, 2018

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Saint John Chrysostom Albanian Orthodox Church
237 North 17th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103

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