From Constantinople, through Rus', to America
Archpastoral Address to the Visitation of the Sts Cyril and Methodius Seminary to Christ the Saviour Seminary in Johnstown on the Eve of Pokrov (13 October) 2010
We are here tonight to celebrate our closer fellowship, and to hope for a growing association together.
Indeed, we cannot help but meditating upon the concept of "unity," and what that might mean for us in the future. I would like to go beyond the mere discussion of benefits to our respective jurisdictions: I would go so far as to discuss "unity" in terms of our mission to American society, and our proclamation of the Gospel in this world.
To do this, I would like to start by meditating upon a familiar object – an object that is peculiar to the Apostolic Priesthood: the priestly stole, the epitrachil.
The Symbolic Meaning of the Epitrachil
Whenever we place the epitrachil around our neck, we pray this Psalm of David: "Blessed is our God, Who pours out His grace upon His priests: it is like the oil which ran down the beard of Aaron, the oil which ran down unto the hem of his garment" (Psalm 133.2).
It is important today, in the setting of this historic visitation, that we look at the context of this verse. It is the second verse of a short Psalm, which I will read in its brief entirety:
Behold how good and how pleasant it is
For brethren to dwell together in unity!
It is like the precious oil upon the head
Running down on the beard
The beard of Aaron,
Running down unto the hem of his garments.
It is like the dew of Hermon,
Descending upon the mountains of Sion;
For there the LORD commanded the blessing--
Please notice the details of this little Psalm! Let us look carefully at how these verses lift up the epitrachil from the violence and ugliness of the world, and set its placing upon the head of the priest in the beauty of the Gospel, and in the peace that passes all understanding.
The conclusion of the Psalm makes this goal of beauty and peace obvious. The symbolic meaning of our priestly stole is deeply eschatological: It is like the dew of the cool heights of Mount Hermon that descends, like comforting grace, upon the place of God's blessing. And God's blessing is eternal life, a life that is experienced in the Apostolic Church here and now.
The Ministry of Theosis
The epitrachil is a material symbol that connects us to the very real beauty and peace of Sion. It connects us, and through the authority of our priesthood, it connects the people in our fellowship, to Apostolic Vision of Trinitarian Grace.
This is the reason why this precious oil is seen as running down the beard of Aaron, all the way down to the edge of his high priestly vestments. The Grace of this descending oil is extended through the priesthood of the Apostolic Church. It begins with the overflowing, self-emptying love of the Three Persons of the Trinity. It spills out as Grace into all the universe, and reaches out to every single human being. It is the Beautiful Light of the Burning Bush of Moses. It is the Pillar of Fire of the Children of Israel. It is the Bright Smoke of Solomon's Temple. It is the Brilliance of the Cloud on the Mountain of Transfiguration. It is the Ineffable Brightness of Pascha, and the Gladsome Light of the Holy Dormition.
This Grace calls every man, woman and child. "God is willing that no one should perish," St. Peter writes in his second Epistle, "Instead, that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3.9). This is the proper "pre-destination" of all mankind. The vocation of every single human being ever created is nothing less than the full induction of his whole life into Theosis.
In another well-known passage, St. Peter writes this about Theosis:
His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world ... (2 Peter 1.3-5).
Let us now draw the line that makes the connection through all these verses of the Psalm that we recite, when we drape the epitrachil around our neck. The epitrachil is the sign of the Priesthood. The Priesthood is the continuing Apostolic Ministry to the human race, calling every man to life in the Good News: It brings the healing of Trinitarian Grace to every human being who is wounded and brokenhearted, and who is condemned to death by sin.
Every priest, under the insignia of his epitrachil, is an image and servant of the original Good Samaritan, who recognizes humanity that has been assaulted by the Evil One ... who stops and anoints with oil and wine the wounds of brokenness and despair ... and who takes the prodigal sinner Home where the Light of Theosis is always burning, to dine at the Eucharist, the Holy Table of the Lamb.
The Meaning of Unity and Disunity
The epitrachil, as everyone knows, is draped from the neck. Its pinnacle, or zenith, is at the head. Thus, we are meant to understand that the Grace of the Priesthood proceeds from the One High Priest, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, Jesus Christ.
And we are also meant to understand from the epitrachil that Grace proceeds from the unified fellowship, the sobornost, that we have in the Headship of Jesus Christ. This is why the first verse is so critical in our discernment of this vastly important sign of the priesthood: Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! (Psalm 133.1).
I propose an idea that we have known in our hearts from the beginning. I propose that for the Apostolic Priesthood, the unity of a single epitrachil is essential. It is not optional. This Apostolic Priesthood of the Good Samaritan, which is so desperately needed by a dying wounded world, can only proceed from a unified brotherhood predicated upon the Apostolic Vision. The phrase "how good and pleasant it is" has nothing to do with mere niceness or comfort: it has to do with the Divine Beauty and Peace – the same Peace that our Risen Lord breathed upon His Disciples in the afternoon of the Voskresinije, the Velik Den'.
Let us consider what we mean by unity. And let us ask a question about unity that needs to be asked – especially now. Why have we tolerated its absence? Why has the perversion of unity – why has disunity achieved so much acceptance and respectability? Why have we given default status to the conditions of schism and alienation?
Disunity is an unnatural condition of disruption. It is not produced by heresy. Instead, heresy is the fruit of disunity. It is the intellectual product of a failed, divided community – a community that did not pray enough, forgive enough, and reach together toward the Apostolic Faith enough.
Disunity is unnatural. It is possible only in the darkness. Only in the dark precincts of a broken world is there such a thing as entropy and decline, where there is only an increase of division and schism. Only in disbelief and in the ghettoes of passion is it possible that fellowship breaks apart into parties and interest groups, into divorced spouses and broken families.
Let us look instead at the positive condition of unity.
The unity that is "good and pleasant" is a fellowship of true community. It is a family that dwells in a single united economia. It is predicated on gift-exchange and self-surrender, forbearance of wrongs, even historic wrongs, and patience with growth over time. It rejoices in differences of appearances. It is confident in the unity of mind and spirit in the heart, where there is "One Faith, One Lord, One Baptism."
A community such as this truly acquires the Holy Spirit in the heart of its fellowship, and thousands, literally thousands, will be saved because of this acquisition, and the goodness and pleasantness of this unity.
Is this an impossibility? Or have we become so inured by distance and division that it merely seems impossible?
The uses of memory
Because we have a single beginning, we must therefore be called to a single end. This is only the natural character of time and growth in the Kingdom of God. In the conditions of Divine Grace, fulfillment is promised in every calling: "I am sure," St. Paul writes in the Epistle to the Philippians, "that He Who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1.6).
Let us call to remembrance a time when we were not divided: a time when we were united. Let us travel the length of the epitrachil back to the moment when the stole is a single strand at the head, instead of a division into two separate columns as it touches the floor.
Let me help you remember. Listen to that which continues to draw us together. Listen to the artifacts of our common history, the continued melodies of our memory. Listen to the echoing strains of Bohorodice D'ivo at the summer otpust. Listen to the voices crying out, and the faithful making their poklon in the aisles, as they sing preterpyvij. Remember the baskets of Pascha late Saturday night and before the Dawn. Remember the Sunday dinners of your mother's roast chicken, the kielbasa on Bright Monday morning after Liturgy. Remember the jaslickari, the first star on Christmas eve and the joyous strains of Roždestvo.
Prostopinije as Memory
We should especially remember the clearest, brightest sign of our singular past. We manifest this sign at every Divine Liturgy and every Divine Service. Indeed, whenever we congregate as Christian, Rusin people, this sign emerges as clear as sunrise in the morning.
Of course I am speaking here of the Carpatho-Rusin legacy of prostopinije — and it is a golden legacy. It is rightly treasured and cherished. As we sing its beautiful cycle of eight tones, in the various settings of tropar, kondak, bohorodicen, samolahsen, sticherij and irmos, we are hearing two sets of echoes. First of all, we hear — of course — the dogma of the Apostolic Church. We hear the Tradition that binds us with the rest of Eastern Christendom.
But secondly, we hear something that defines us in Christian difference. We hear echoes and ancient strains from the Carpathian mountains. We hear melodies that were sung on the hillsides, in far off rustic churches. We hear tones that were gathered from songs that were sung in the towns on summer evenings. We hear echoes from pilgrimages, and the chorus of older women as they trod carefully up hillsides to shrines set in high mountain meadows. And in the great Feasts, we even hear older, more ancient melodies — melodies which carry the haunting tones of Kiev and Constantinople.
Our very own tradition of liturgical music is a potent force of cohesion. It is probably the most important sign of our ethos as a people. It does not confine us to a certain race. It does not hold us in the past. It does not prevent us from reaching out to our neighbors in our locations.
Instead, it reveals to us indications of the specific ministry that God has given us — a ministry that we need to extend to our neighborhoods. I think that in our prostopinije there is revealed a certain winsome character of our historic society. Every historic group has its own particular memories of how God's Grace has established peace and transformation within its culture. We Rusins have our own memory — a memory that we need to witness to our neighborhoods, to America in general, and even to the sad and sterile West. I suggest to you that our plain chant is the single greatest channel of that memory. It signifies our acceptance of the common man, and our treasuring of the home and family. It communicates a faith in God through adversity, and a joyful hope in His deliverance.
All these memories, and all these extensions of our common history, are all little bits of happiness and sentiment, but they are more than mere nostalgia: they are potent reminders of a Divine call — God's Will — for us to restore that which we have torn asunder. We sing too well and too much alike for unity to remain unattempted. We are too inter-related to stay apart. We are too familiar to remain unfamiliar.
Let us face facts: we have more in common culturally with each other than we do with others in our respective jurisdictions.
If you look back far enough, you will always find Adam. In other words, we separated brethren should remember, and if we do, our Christian memory will discern a single, timeless fellowship that calls us home again.
In Christian history, and only in Christian history, departures and schisms, alienations and disunity may certainly be overcome. If we can heal our past, we can offer healing to this present.
This possibility of providing real healing to our people, and to all the people in the byways and the highways, the hedgerows and the wayside who need to come to the Wedding Banquet — this possibility should be all the motivation we need to pursue some immediate aims.
To this end, I make the following proposals.
I propose that we sing together, and practice ascesis together. Instead of attempting an intercommunion now and attempting the complications of jurisdictional reality, I propose that long before we are able to commune together at the Table, that we work and practice toward that moment in Vespers and Matins, in pilgrimage and works of charity.
I propose a yoking of our seminaries in an organized, ongoing association. In this regard, it would be rewarding to pursue a common study program of our two seminaries — a careful study and discussion of the work of St. Maximos the Confessor: Centuries on Love. This work, in particular, would lay the groundwork for a fresh understanding of fellowship and unity.
I propose that our two jurisdictions establish united programming, such as an annual family conference that emphasizes catechesis and prayer. Too often, our laity come together for business meetings, but do not come together for spiritual growth as a family.
I propose that together, we support the call issued by the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation in Georgetown this past weekend. As Fr. David Petras, who was one of the Consultants, already knows, the Consultation called for all Churches to return to a strictly astronomical observance of the Nicene decree for the dating of the Paschal celebration. We should, together, support this effort. It is bad enough that the Christian community is divided in the celebration of Easter. It is a far worse scandal that the Byzantine Christian community does not say Christos Voskrese on the same day. Next year we celebrate Pascha on the same day. I hope that this unified celebration continues without interruption.
I propose that we accept this present interval, the delay of our canonical intercommunion, as a Providential ordering of our growth in fellowship. I propose more than academic exchange, for in a moment where the Man of Lawlessness is soon to be revealed, academics and philosophy are not enough: instead, I call us to a common sacrifice, a mutual pouring out of self in kenosis, and a shared taking up of the Cross and discernment of the Apostolic Vision.
The Signs of the Times and Disunity
Our people are scattered. They have been swallowed by the empty world.
They have forgotten the songs of cerkva, the pritvor and the kermeš. They have been catechized by the marketplace and violence. They have wandered into multiple divorce and broken houses. They have gathered reprobation and mindlessness into their own embrace.
The modern world has not been kind to our children, and our forefathers — on both sides of Brest-Litovsk and Užhorod — wait in anticipation, praying in the Bosom of Abraham that we will be brave at this moment ... that we will not let this moment go. The fathers wait — both Orthodox and Greek Catholic, both Maxim Sandovich and Theodore Romzha — for they like Rachel hear the confused cries of Rusin children and all their neighbors.
Indeed, the Lord calls, for He sees the people of this land without a shepherd. The blind are leading the blind in this day and age, where the god of the world has been more successful than ever at blinding the age in disbelief.
People are perishing for want of a Vision — so says King Solomon in Proverbs (29.18). Let us be true to the sign of the epitrachil. It is time to stop going alone in disunity. Let us go together, once again, two by two into the harvest field, joined together in unity in the mountain of Sion, under the Headship of Jesus Christ.
A Legacy at the Kiss of Peace
Years ago, Metropolitan Judson Procyk of blessed repose invited me to an Anniversary Hierarchical Divine Liturgy, which he and several other bishops of the Eparchy would celebrate.
I remember every day a certain moment during that Liturgy which transcends the limitations of time. He walked over to me during the singing of the Nicene Creed, and we stopped and both recognized the significance of this moment. Fifty years earlier, such a gesture on his part would have been incomprehensible. My presence at the Liturgy would have been just as unthinkable.
And yet, here we were, at the Kiss of Peace. I told him then what I tell you now: do not let this go. Christ is in our midst: do not let this moment pass away.