Friday, June 22, 2012

A Farewell

Sometimes decisions come after a lot of painful deliberation and ambivalence. Others seem to present themselves naturally, all at once.

I've decided to shut down the blog, though the words will remain up. I should say that this has nothing to do with anyone other than myself; no authority figure in the Church has discouraged or prohibited me in any way from blogging. Rather, it just comes from an honest realization that I am most likely going to be extremely busy learning the nuts and bolts of being a priest, and the blog would, for me, simply be a distraction of something I could be doing, maybe should be doing...and if it's simply no longer an option, so much the better. My FB time is going to be severely curtailed, as well. I do plan on still reading friends' blogs, though, and commenting as able. Friends I've met in real life after meeting through blogs remain good and close ones.

I also suppose the close comes with the close of a phase in my life, which friends of mine and I have spoken about, regarding new converts' tendency to pontificate via blogs during their initial years of being Orthodox. While this can be helpful--I think this blog and my testimony blog actually served me quite well in articulating what I believed and have also led to several emails thanking me for help in coming into the Orthodox Church--I think there comes a time when converts in general have less to say and more to live. There are exceptions--Fr. Stephen Freeman and Steve Robinson both put out very regular, though very different, blogs that continue to challenge and inspire--but I think that, in my case, my move to seminary signaled a time when what was needed was less output and more input. Specifically, regular and personal prayer, study of spiritual and pastoral issues, and learning from experienced pastors about personal weakness and development as a man, a Christian, and a priest. Such exploration might make good blog posts, but when much of it is personal, and all of it is time-consuming, blogspot tends to go on the backburner.

I may start a new blog someday, once a "stride" is hit in the pastoral life. If so, I'll link to it here.

Thanks to all who've read over the past seven years. May God bless and keep you in your dedication to His Christ and His Church.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Thoughts on the last two months

Greetings from the ever-sparser apartment in Crestwood.

Craigslist has been claiming one piece of furniture after another so as to make room in the POD for the move.  Boxes take their places; all the while we're helping dear friends from the last three years load up their belongings as well.  Good-byes, together with sober glances that confirm that, yeah, we're all getting ready to jump off into God-knows-what.  Prayer for someone becomes a lot more concrete when you're getting ready to walk the same road yourself.

I helped one fellow into his moving van in the rain, and we remembered it was raining when we got here.  The front hall outside our room was flooding; he and I had to go outside to dig a ditch to divert the accumulating rain.  Welcome to St. Vlad's.

We're leaving as priests, me and most of the guys I'm closest to.  I think that has to do more with age than with office--the ordained are already married, and on the whole older by seven to ten years than the single folks, and we just run in different circles, have different priorities.  It's strange, since in seminary you can't swing a stick without snagging a cassock, your office doesn't stand out hardly at all (Random Spanish trivia: Just like corporate bosses are known as "the suits," clergy in Latin America were known as "Las Sotanas"--"The Cassocks.").  But a few things...

I was ordained March 18th, as the last time I posted here attests.  Priests are ordained right after the Great Entrance in the Orthodox Church, and we stop, holding the aer (communion veil) over our heads in front of the center icon podium.  I did not do this, though I had seen plenty of other seminarians stand there--maybe I didn't stop because no one actually said "stop there," but when I kept going, Fr. John Behr turned and said, "Go and stand before the Cross" (in the center icon podium).  I don't know what it is about Americans and British NOT understanding things said straight to their face, but I would have sworn he said, "Go and sing 'Before Thy Cross.'" What, right now?! I'm thinking.  Another priest said, in American, "Go stand on the other side of the Cross."  Ah.  Right.  Snafu ended.

So I'm there, aer that usually goes over communion over my head, looking at the crucified Christ.  And so here's where I'd expect to think, "I'm going to be crucified like Jesus, horribly mistreated, martyred," or somesuch.  What actually came up was, in general, I am Jesus' man.  Exclusively.  Not in a Petrine, "Lord, I am willing to die with you" kind of bravado, but just that I'm marked for that sort of "scandal of particularity" that you read about, that confession of Jesus of Nazareth, specifically and explicitly.  And this was followed by, And my job is to help other see that they're Jesus', too.  How that plays out for them.

Then there's the preparation of communion.  I'd heard some new priests gush over how amazing it was to pick up the Eucharist with your hands, take communion that way, etc.  Well, we all used to do it that way centuries ago, but whatever--that's not what struck me.  What struck me was watching a priest--any priest, didn't matter--take the Lamb that we confess to be Christ Himself, and manipulate, turn, cut, and gouge it deeply.  I get angry and feel violated when somebody points a finger in my face or steals my daughter's bike (this happened earlier in the semester); here's God allowing guys who are all too human to handle Him and slice Him into pieces. That's divine stillness for you.

And the sinfulness of the priest--which doesn't affect the sacrament itself, thank God--does bring up another issue: The care taken in the altar (one hopes) towards the materials of the Eucharist, the liturgical instruments, the gestures, etc., reflect an understanding that it really is only in response to the faithfulness of Christ to the petition of the assembly.  I've often said that, the longer I'm Orthodox, the more I'm convinced that, if our liturgical actions somehow force God's meritorious favor towards us, He must be ridiculously easy to impress.  Communion is serious business because Christ said He would be there.  We have no guarantee or ability to prove that, but we seek to express our belief in His presence through solemn acts of worship and praise.

My wife pulled me to the side today and said, "Here's what I've learned in seminary: A priest needs to say simple things, over and over again, so the people get it."

I have visited our parish in Miami and served in Spanish, seeing how things are laid out, seeing what needs to be done, prepared, etc.  Our small, SVS mission group departs day after tomorrow--or, tomorrow, seeing that it's past midnight--for a week at the Guatemala orphanage.  We'll serve Pentecost there, of course in Spanish.  Your prayers are always coveted and welcome.

Monday, March 19, 2012

From yesterday's liturgy -- we're here listening to a brief word from Metr. JONAH. It was a beautiful service.

Thank you to any and all who've expressed kind words and offered prayers. Please continue to keep us in prayer.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Commandments of St. Basil the Great to Priests

Study, O Priest, to make yourself a blameless worker, rightly dividing the word of truth.

Never stand at the synaxis having hatred toward anyone so as not to banish the Comforter.

On the day of synaxis do not judge, do not argue, but remain praying and reading in the church until the appointed hour in which you will accomplish the divine and sacred ceremonies; and thus stand with compunction and purity of heart in the holy sanctuary, not looking around here and there, but standing with shuddering and fear before the heavenly King.

Do not, because of human weakness, hasten through or cut short the prayers, neither try to please persons, but look only toward the King who is present and the hosts of angels that surround him.

Make yourself worthy by the holy canons.

Do not concelebrate with whom it is forbidden.

See in whose presence you stand, how you serve and to whom you dispense.

Do not ignore the Master's commandment and those of the holy Apostles: 'Do not give dogs what is holy; and do not throw pearls before swine.'

See that you do not deliver the Son of God into the hands of the unworthy.

Do not feel ashamed before those who are glorious on earth, neither before him who happens to wear the crown at the time.

To those worthy of communion dispense the gifts freely, as you also have received. Do not dispense unto him who does not observe the divine canons.

See that you do not let moth, mouse, nor any other thing touch the divine mysteries out of negligence, neither allow them to be exposed to dampness or smoke or to be contaminated by the unholy or unworthy.

These things and such things preserve in order to save yourself and those who heed you.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Ordination, Mission

In your kindness, remember me in your prayers; on March 18th, 2012 (Sunday of the Cross), I am scheduled to be ordained to the holy priesthood by Metropolitan JONAH here at St. Vladimir's in Three Hierarchs Chapel. Lent is a difficult time for all of us; we have to face demons regardless of any title that might or might not be in front of our name. Dealing with your shortcomings when you're a week and a half away from this office is another thing. Thanks again for your prayers.

We will be graduating, God willing, this May--so strange that I remember this post so vividly (perhaps because there hasn't been all that much activity on the blog since coming here). The move, it looks like, is going to be to Miami. An opportunity in the Church for a Spanish-speaking mission has arisen; again, your prayers for us in this uncharted territory. I am thankful for having already met brother priests in the area who will help me with their experience and guidance; it's comforting to know that we're not going in alone, inexperienced (even though this is a new cultural context for the OCA to deal with).

As if this weren't going to keep us busy enough, St. Vladimir's is taking a small group to the Hogar Rafael Ayau orphanage in Guatemala for a week-long service trip in late May. I've been asked to go. Thus, in the middle of getting ready to move, there's a pretty substantial trip. Matushka and I have talked about how this will be a good experience (the parish in Miami has roots that go way back with the orphanage); nevertheless, it will be a busy late Spring/early Summer.

To that end, then, I'm having to switch back into fundraising mode (for the first time in 15 years, which was the last time I went to Latin America on a mission trip). If you are able and willing to help us in this effort, please use the PayPal button in the sidebar to the right. We will be catechizing recent Latin American converts and helping the nuns in the monastery move their physical location from an incredibly dangerous area of Guatemala City ("Zone 1") to a place further out--more conducive to a monastic life, yes, but even more so for raising orphans.

A rather packed, abrupt post after a few months of silence, yes, but there it is. A blessed Lent to all y'all.