Everything is beautiful in a person when he turns toward God, and everything is ugly when it is turned away from God.
Fr. Pavel Florensky
As I am preparing for next weekend’s interview on A Crisis of Beauty, I am digging back through my writings on the topic. In Orthodoxy, all truth is one and the same truth, simply seen from various angles. Thus, beauty is a perfectly fine place to begin when thinking about God or pursuing God. Many times, it may be the best place to start.
In thinking about darkness and light – and their role in our apprehension of the truth – I cannot but think about Beauty, which is a primary place in which the light of God is made manifest among us (if rightly perceived). The heart that is full of darkness cannot truly perceive beauty: the heart which is full of light, cannot help but perceive it. Perhaps a measure of our heart can be found in how we perceive the world around us: is it primarily a place of beauty or darkness? It is difficult in the fallen world to maintain a witness to beauty. And yet those places where it is made manifest to us are so poignant, so piercing, that I think we cannot and should not remain silent about them. Perhaps they should be shouted from the rooftops!
The quote from Pavel Florensky contains a world of truth, indeed, from a certain perspective it contains the whole of the Gospel. It is both commentary on how we see the world (as beautiful or ugly) or how we are within ourselves. The ugliness of sin is one of its most important components – and the inability to distinguish between the truly beautiful and the false beauty of so much of contemporary life offers a profound diagnosis of our lives and culture.
To say that God is beautiful carries insights into what we mean by knowledge of God. “How do we know God?” is one question. But if we ask the question, “How do we recognize Beauty?” then we have also shifted the ground from questions of intellect or pure rationality and onto grounds of aesthetics and relationship (communion). The recognition of beauty is a universal experience (as is the misperception of beauty). But the capacity to recognize beauty points as well to a capacity within us to know God (if Florensky is right). I would offer that this capacity is itself a gift of grace – particularly when we admit that the recognition of beauty is subject to delusion.
In a famous passage from The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky’s Dmitri Karamazov has this to say on beauty as well as delusion:
Beauty is a terrible and awful thing! It is terrible because it has not been fathomed and never can be fathomed, for God sets us nothing but an enigma. Here the boundaries meet and all contradictions exist side by side. I am not a cultivated man, brother, but I’ve thought a lot about this. It’s terrible what mysteries there are! Too many mysteries weigh men down on earth. We must solve them as we can, and try to keep a dry skin in the water. Beauty! I can’t endure the thought that a man of lofty mind and heart begins with the ideal of the Theotokos (Madonna) and ends with the ideal of Sodom. What’s still more awful is that a man with the ideal of Sodom in his soul does not renounce the ideal of the Theotokos (Madonna), and his heart may be on fire with that ideal, genuinely on fire, just as in his days of youth and innocence. Yes, man is broad, too broad, indeed. I’d have him narrower. The devil only knows what to make of it! What to the mind is shameful is beauty and nothing else to the heart. Is there beauty in Sodom? Believe me, that for the immense mass of mankind beauty is found in Sodom. Did you know that secret? The awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man.”
Dostoevsky’s paradox, that “beauty,” for the mass of mankind, is found in Sodom, is a paradox that can hold two meanings. Either it can mean that even the corrupted “beauty” of Sodom can be redeemed (this is not Dostoevsky’s own intention) or that our heart can be so corrupted that we perceive the things of Sodom to be beautiful (closer to Dostoevsky’s point). We can also bring in a third – that of Florensky quoted above – that the “beauty” found in Sodom is corrupted precisely because it is turned away from God. It’s repentance can also be its restoration of true beauty.
I prefer this third thought (which is more or less the same as the first) in that it carries within it the reminder that when God created the world He said, “It is good or beautiful” - both the Hebrew and the Greek of Genesis carry this double meaning.
We were created to perceive the Beautiful, even to pursue it. This is also to say that we were created to know God and to have the capacity, by grace, to know Him. Consider the evangelical imperative: “Go and make disciples.” What would it mean in our proclamation of the gospel were we to have within it an understanding that we are calling people to Beauty? The report of St. Vladimir’s emissaries to Constantinople that when they attended worship among the Orthodox they “did not know whether we were on earth or in heaven. We only know that of a truth, God is with them,” is history’s most profound confirmation of this proclamation.
St. Paul confirms the same when he describes the progressive work of our salvation as “the knowledge of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” If we would have our hearts cured of the illness that mistakes Sodom for the Kingdom of God, then we should turn our eyes to the face of Christ. There the heart’s battle will find its Champion and beauty will find its Prototype.
I am excited by the opportunity to have this conversation with Kevin Allen on Ancient Faith Radio. He does a masterful job of researching and guiding a conversation within the world of Orthodox thought. This is a topic that has been greatly on my heart and in my thoughts lately (no surprise to readers). “Tune in” on Sunday, May 26, at 8 pm Eastern Time (New York time). The program is also recorded for those who cannot listen live. There are also “callers” – the most unpredictable and often the most interesting part of the conversation. Let others know and join the conversation!
By using the elements of this world, Art reveals to us a depth which is logically inexpressible. It is in fact impossible to “tell” poetry, to “decompose” a symphony, or to “tear apart” a painting. The beautiful is present in the harmony of all its elements and brings us face to face with a truth that cannot be demonstrated or proved, except by contemplating it. - Paul Evdokimov
A while back, I suggested that the experience of Beauty was far more fertile ground for conversation (and conversion) than the various reasonings of what passes for theology. This is both true because the experience of Beauty, even for the non-believer, is less laden with warnings, hesitations and arguments than the traditional language of belief, as well as the fact that there is the possiblity for some level of mutuality of experience between believer and non-believer.
The immediate doubts and questions that some would raise: “What do you mean by Beauty,” etc, is actually an abandonment of the conversation and a return to philosophy and argument. Rather than argue about the meaning of Beauty, we can simply ask, “Describe an experience you have had of something beautiful.” More to the point, “Describe an experience you have had of something profoundly beautiful.”
It is a fertile ground for conversation (from an Orthodox perspective) because of the nature of Beauty itself. Orthodoxy holds that Beauty is a revelation and reflection of God. Within some of the Fathers, there is a Trinity of ideals: Goodness, Truth and Beauty. I have read treatments that use this to reflect on the Persons of the Trinity, but I will not pursue that here. Rather, I will offer this brief summary:
God alone is good and goodness only find its meaning within God. Truth is the Good presented for our understanding. Beauty is what Truth looks like.
In our modern culture, discussions of the good have become deeply fragmented and politicized making them difficult if not impossible. Truth is at least as strained. Beauty, however challenged and relativized, still offers possibilities for conversation: if not for the discussion of a particular object of Beauty, then at least for our common capacity to perceive Beauty. The conversation becomes even more fruitful if we eliminate more moderate experiences and concentrate on those that are profound. These are relatively few, but not so uncommon as to make conversation impossible.
The experience of the profoundly beautiful elicits from us a response that is not far removed from worship. Rudolf Otto’s classic, The Idea of the Holy, speaks about the experience of the numinous, the mysterium tremendum. His descriptions and categories could also be applied to certain experiences of Beauty.
I first heard Rachmaninov’s Vespers when I was in college (the early ’70′s). It was not nearly as well-known or ubiquitous as it is today. My wife and I were working in our apartment when the Vespers came on the radio. We stopped what we were doing and sat transfixed for the whole of the performance. I was no stranger to Church music, including the finest of the West, but I had heard nothing like Rachmaninov’s Vespers. I waited carefully for the end of the recording to hear the announcer’s description. I went out the next day to find the album (the old Melodiya recording by the National Chorus of the USSR – still the best performance I have heard).
Hearing the Vespers was an experience of profound beauty. I had tears. It awoke a hunger in me that, to some degree, has to be credited with my conversion to Orthodoxy decades later. Nowhere else have I ever encountered such beauty – in sound, in sight, or words. As St. Vladimir’s envoys said of their experience of Orthodox worship in Constantinople, “We did not know whether we were in heaven or on earth. But we know of a truth, that there, God dwells among men.”
The continuity between sound, word and image is a hallmark of Orthodox Christianity. The historical doctrines of the Church are generally stated in succinct aphorisms rather than in lengthy works of qualifications and nuance. Poetry often carries theology in a manner superior to prose.
Beauty has become detached from modern culture in general. It has not been abolished from our lives, but has often been isolated. It’s isolation reveals that we do not live our lives well. But the experience remains. The experience does not call forth words so much as silence. It has the power to draw us outside of ourselves. Beauty can create within us a deep sense of peace and wholeness as we participate in it, or, conversely, create a great sense of our own emptiness. But it does not leave us unchanged.
The witness that in Beauty we encounter God or something deeply united to Him, is an article of faith. It is not a point of argument – for the argument quickly distances us from the Beauty itself. Rather, the witness points to Who God Is when Orthodoxy speaks of God. At Pascha, the prologue of the Gospel of St. John is read and we hear the witness:
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth (1:14).
It is similar to the witness of the Temple Guards:
Then the officers came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why have you not brought Him?” The officers answered, “No man ever spoke like this Man!” (Jn. 7:45-46).
In part, the recognition of Christ’s divinity was found within the experience of His beauty (words, glory, goodness, etc.).
It is this union of the Christ of history and the experience of Beauty that draws from the mouth of believers, “My Lord and my God!” Believers bear witness that in Christ, they have encountered the very content of Beauty itself. As such, the very fact of His existence bears witness to the existence of God and the Goodness of God. If Christ exists, then God exists. And if Christ is God, then God is Good and Beautiful in all things.
But in our conversations, we need not be anxious and press others into the fullness of our own conclusions. In our day and time, it is often enough simply to stop and recognize Beauty and the union we have with one another in that mutual recognition. There is so much history of a tragic nature that shapes the heart of atheism. As I have noted elsewhere, the agnosticism and unbelief of many is entirely understandable and should not be judged. The ugliness that mars the lives of Christians makes the mutual acknowledgement of Beauty difficult for many. We do well to bear witness to the Light and offer fewer arguments. In the mutual experience of the Light we may find a human vocabulary in which Christ can be known.
The poetry of the Book of Job offers this observation of Beauty (in contrast to its many, many words):
Then Job answered the Lord and said: “I know that You can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Listen, please, and let me speak; You said, ‘I will question you, and you shall answer Me.’ “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, And repent in dust and ashes.”
In ’03 there was a small Indy film, Dopamine. The story involves a young computer programmer who is part of a small tech start up in the Bay Area developing an artificially-lived computer character. The cartoon-like bird, can “hear,” “see,” and “interact,” with the user. The tech company manages to place its prototype in a children’s classroom. The programmer develops a relationship with one of the classroom teachers. The situation raises interesting questions for him:
Are human beings essentially different from the computer-generated bird? Are we only very sophisticated chemical systems that react to others in an equally sophisticated manner?
To raise the level of poignancy, the young man also has a mother suffering from Alzheimer’s. He sees a once beautiful relationship between his parents disappear as his father is reduced to the role of caretaker. His initial take on life is indeed that we are no more than complex chemical reactions – his mother’s loss is tragic but still only as a shift of chemicals. However, he begins to discover (perhaps to hope?) that there is something more that cannot be quantified. It is a story of modern love as well (by analogy) as a story of the modern search for God.
The more we understand of our world, the more troublesome becomes our thought about ourselves within the world. If my experience of the world is inherently mediated by chemicals (via neurons, etc.), and that same experience can be significantly altered by altering the chemicals (increased serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, etc.), am I anything more than the sum-total of the chemical cocktail in my brain? What is the place of the self, the soul? Where is God in the chemical equation? Is there a chemistry of religious belief (and unbelief)?
Of course, there is nothing new in these questions. Materialism in one form or another (“the material universe is all there is”) has been an live option since the birth of philosophy in Greece. What is new is our increasing understanding of the workings of the material world and the sense of cogency that accompanies it. Materialism seems yet more cogent (sensible and plausible) because we can increasingly use only material arguments to account for all that we see.
Christians can easily become disquieted at this turn of events. The growing materialism of the modern world feels quite threatening for some. Many simply choose not to think too much about these things or grasp at every scientific straw that might lend support for the faith. My own thought is that the clash between materialism and the Christian faith is the result of bad theology and the failure to understand some very foundational aspects of the faith.
St. John Chrysostom, in the prayer of the Anaphora, describes God as “ineffable, beyond comprehension, invisible, beyond understanding, existing forever and always the same” (ἀνέκφραστος, ἀπερινόητος, ἀόρατος, ἀκατάληπτος, ἀεὶ ὢν ὡσαύτως ὤν). God is uncreated, utterly unlike anything created. But we believe that the Uncreated became a Creature in the Incarnation of Christ. This is the primary revelation of God: “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father,” Christ says (Jn. 14:9). We also believe that it is possible to perceive God, to recognize His work, to know and understand His presence and His action (“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” Mat. 5:8 NKJ). This latter reference notes, however, that such perception is also related to an inner state (pure in heart). This perception can be generous in the extreme (the “wise thief” sees Christ and understands everything “in a single moment” despite his criminal life). But such a generous perception is not at all the same thing as a material object, or within the category of material objects. God does not present Himself as an object – thus not in an objective manner. The human experience of objects (and “objectivity”) is not an example of evidence, reason and acceptance. The human experience of objects is that we take them or leave them, ignore them, use them, abuse them, lie about them, etc. Were God to present Himself as an object among objects, the fate of such a presence would differ in no way from that of other objects. The Incarnation is a case in point. God is objectively present in Christ – and we killed Him. Thus it is not at all true that God could make the case for His existence in a manner that would be salvific if He but accommodated Himself to our objective requirements.
In the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16), the Rich Man cries out to Father Abraham to let the poor man, Lazarus, return from the dead and go to his brothers and warn them.
Then he said,`I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, `for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ “Abraham said to him,`They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ “And he said,`No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ “But he said to him,`If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’ (Luk 16:27-31 NKJ)
This parable sees something of a literal fulfillment in Christ’s raising his friend, Lazarus, from the dead. What we are told is that it is precisely from the time of the miracle of Lazarus’ raising that the leaders sought to kill Christ (Jn. 11:53) and that they sought to kill Lazarus as well (Jn. 12:10).
But God is merciful. The flow of a life between unbelief and belief is something of a dance and a journey. He gives us Himself in accordance to the ability of our heart. He draws us to Him, often imperceptibly. Even in the life of belief, the dance and journey continue. For there, we are told, we see Christ “in a mirror, dimly” (1Co 13:12 NKJ). The “dimness” of our present perception is a reflection of our heart and not of the quality of the revelation. As the continue in the journey, the mirror becomes yet more clear.
But what of the chemical mix, the brew within our brain within and through which we experience the world? Would an increase of dopamine or serotonin change our perception of the mysterious God? My own experience in life says no. My brain has been “all over the map” in the course of my lifetime. My perception of God has sometimes been more clear during times of great depression and quite dim when it was otherwise. And the opposite has been true as well. The perception of God is, in the teachings of the spiritual fathers, not driven by our emotional or mental states. It exists both within and beside these states.
There is a perception, a “seeing” that is beside the seeing of the mind. This is the perception of the heart. The tendency of our mind (thoughts and feelings) is to fragment everything. We see details. We are overwhelmed with details. We experience the world as a cacophony of the senses. Repelled by one and attracted by another, we stumble through life like a drunken man, pushed and pulled by the things around us. This is a description of the passionate life. With increased purity of the heart, however, there comes the increased ability to perceive the whole. To see one thing, not only as itself but in its relations as well, is the beginning of knowing the logos of something. Were we to perceive everything in such a manner, we would perceive the truth of all things. For nothing is as it is in itself, but only as it is in relation (including most especially its relation to God).
If there is a strength in our modern way of seeing, it is in the power unleashed by the focused seeing of one thing. The so-called scientific view breaks the universe into component parts and in all things seeks for causes and effects. Knowledge of one thing (more or less) splits the atom. But the failure to see all things and the logoi of their existence turns such power into sheer destruction. We know a great deal while knowing almost nothing. The question: where is God in the chemical cocktail, is the question of the scientist – it is to look for God as an atom among the atoms.
As a modern man (inescapably), I have most often found God at the borders and edge of my existence. Overwhelmed by the fragmentation of my own mind, I begin to know God in my not-knowing. It is to take my reason to the boundaries of its ability and allow myself to see just beyond that. It is also to step back and refuse to see all things as fragments. To see all things in relation is also to cease to be an observer (in some manner). For if all things are in relation, then I am in relation as well, not as observer but as participant. To see myself as participant is itself a small form of ascesis, or spiritual training. It is a requirement of love – for love has no objects, only participants.
In the film I referenced at the beginning of this article, the young man is thrown into confusion by the contradictions of his experience. Either life is nothing more than the chemistry of his brain, and thus no more significant than the digital programming of a computer model, or there is something unquantifiable, something “ineffable, beyond comprehension, invisible, beyond understanding,” etc. within our experience and just beyond the edge of our knowing. His choice lies between the fragmented mastery of the chemical equation and union with the Joy that extends beyond.
Belief in God makes a choice that is not dissimilar.
Irony is probably too much to ask of youth. If I can remember myself in my college years, the most I could muster was sarcasm. Irony required more insight.
There is a deep need for the appreciation of irony to sustain a Christian life. Our world is filled with contradiction. Hypocrisy is ever present even within our own heart. The failures of Church and those who are most closely associated with it can easily crush the hearts of the young and break the hearts of those who are older.
I can think of at least two times in my life that the failures of Church, or its hierarchy, drove me from the ranks of the Church, or what passed for Church at the time. As years have gone by I haven’t seen less that would disappoint or break the heart – indeed the things that troubled me as a young man barely compare with revelations we all have seen in recent years.
No hands are clean. Evangelical, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, the failures and coverups are in no way the special province of any. The question of truth remains – but in a contest of the pure, everyone loses. Irony remains. Our failures would not be so poignant if the Kingdom were not so pure. Judas’ betrayal is darkened all the more by the fact that his victim is God Himself.
All of which brings us back to the irony that remains. The greatest irony of all is the God who forgives and remains ever faithful to us despite the contradictions.
When speaking with seekers – those who are asking questions about the Orthodox faith – it’s important early on to be sure that they are not in search of the perfect Church. The One, True Church means something quite distinct from perfect. A good read through Orthodox history (which for a thousand years is just “Church history”) refuses to give up an ideal century – the mark and measure for reform. Any student of the New Testament has to admit that there are no Letters to the Perfect. I find it ironic (in another sense) that there are those who search for the “New Testament Church” as though it were an ideal.
This applies equally to those who seek the flawless argument, the reasonable and logical God. That search will also end in contradiction, to be resolved only by irony, for those who can bear it. It is thought by many of the fathers that the very creation is an ironic act – the gift of existence that will require the gift of forgiveness – such is the irony of freedom and the mercy of Divine Love.
From the moment of the resurrection, Christ continues to gather scattered sheep. Betrayal, denial and cowardice were the hallmark of the Church on Good Friday. But from Christ we hear no blame – if only because He never thought us to be other than we are.
Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs which he did; but Jesus did not trust himself to them, because he knew all men and needed no one to bear witness of man; for he himself knew what was in man (John 2:23-25).
And if we are honest with ourselves and know what is in man, then we can only give thanks for the wondrous irony that, knowing all that, Christ gave Himself for us anyway. It is the very character of love.
I have been asked a few times over the years the meaning of St. Paul’s statement that “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7). There is either almost nothing to say about it or far too much to say about it. But it is the irony of the Cross: Love enduring all things. If you know the Cross and the Love that is crucified there, then the verse likely needs no explanation. Christ is His own exegesis.
And when I turn myself to the Church (or myself), I can only reach for Christ and the assurance that the contradictions we offer Him will be forgiven. And this is a thought to cling to even in the best of times. For any who would be His disciples, the Cross and its irony is the only path that is ever offered. Glory to His grace!
Pascha has begun (though still a few hours away here in the Eastern United States). But if you listen carefully, you can begin to hear the bells sounding from the East. Christ is risen!
This delightful Youtube video is a favorite of mine. One of our readers and occasional commenter, Dejan, (without a doubt my favorite Serb) provided the English translation. The words are from a poem by St. Nikolai Velimirovich who served for a time as the Rector of St. Tikhon’s Seminary – truly one of the great Serbian saints of the modern era.
People rejoice, nations hear:
Christ is risen, and brings the joy!
Stars dance, mountains sing:
Christ is risen, and brings the joy!
Forests murmur, winds hum:
Christ is risen, and brings the joy!
Seas bow, animals roar:
Christ is risen, and brings the joy!
Bees swarm, and the birds sing:
Christ is risen, and brings the joy!
Angels stand, triple the song:
Christ is risen, and brings the joy!
Sky humble yourself, and elevate the earth:
Christ is risen, and brings the joy!
Bells chime, and tell to all:
Christ is risen, and brings the joy!
Glory to You God, everything is possible to You,
Christ is risen, and brings the joy!
At the Matins service of Holy Friday the following hymn is sung:
Today is suspended on a tree He who suspended the earth upon the waters.
The King of the angels is decked with a crown of thorns.
He who wraps the heavens in clouds is wrapped in the purple of mockery.
He who freed Adam in the Jordan is slapped on the face.
The Bridegroom of the Church is affixed to the Cross with nails.
The Son of the Virgin is pierced by a spear.
We worship Thy passion, O Christ.
We worship Thy passion, O Christ.
We worship Thy passion, O Christ.
Show us also Thy glorious resurrection.
This version (below) is being sung by the late Archbishop Job of Chicago (OCA). In the service, the 12 Passion Gospels are read (12 gospels recounting the sufferings of Christ) and the Cross is brought out for the veneration of the faithful. This hymn is sung during the procession with the Cross after the reading of the 6th gospel.
Its poetry is typical of the liturgical thought of the Fathers. The death of Christ is ironic – indeed – the whole of Christ’s ministry is ironic. Things are turned upside down. God becomes man so that man can become god – this is ironic beyond measure! But the Fathers also saw in this irony the hiddenness of the mystery of our salvation. A literal reading of the world – a straightforward approach to our salvation – would be expected and anticipated. There is nothing hidden within such an account. But the hiddenness of things is the nature of wisdom. Wisdom is for the one who seeks, the one who listens, the one who looks beyond the obvious.
And it is there that the Wisdom of God is revealed in all of its ironic glory: a King crowned with thorns; God wrapped in mockery and suspended from a tree! In our own lives this same wisdom continues. The way of life is found in the way of the Cross. He who loses his life saves it. The gospel commands can only be understood in this wise foolishness. Forgiving enemies is foolishness, yet is our only hope.
Fr. Steven Voytovich with the Rev. Deryck Durston, ACPE’s Interim Executive Director.
On May 13, 2013, the Board of the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE) unanimously approved the application forwarded by the Orthodox Church in America’s Department of Institutional Chaplaincies seeking formal faith tradition membership in the organization. The original application had been submitted to ACPE in December 2012.
ACPE primarily certifies clinical pastoral education supervisors who run CPE programs and accredits training programs they conduct. The organizaton held its annual conference in Indianapolis in mid-May.
ACPE was formed in 1967 to bring together two organizations—the Council for Clinical Training and the Institute for Pastoral Care, both established in the mid-1930—and several faith-based accrediting bodies, including Lutheran and Southern Baptist associations. The latter became denominational representatives as merger discussions continued. The National Council of Churches and the Association of Theological Schools played roles in the merger process.
“In fact it appears that all were on board to come together, and brought along representatives of the council and the institute toward a formal merger plan over developing a ‘federation of accrediting bodies,’ representing the other popular plan to move forward,” said Priest Dr. Steven Voytovich, Director of the OCA Department of Institutional Chaplaincies. “Due to the ‘denominational’ participation early on in its formation, faith group membership and representation is unique and formally structured in ACPE as compared to other credentialing bodies (APC, AAPC, ACCA, CPSP). Even though their governance is being restructured, denominational representation remains one of four ex-officio board members. The OCA has joined approximately 30 faith groups in taking the step of formal membership in order that faith traditions continue to be a vibrant presence in the clinical training arena.”
A main function of the OCA Department of Institutional Chaplains is to review and process requests for formal endorsement for men and women to serve in non-military institutional settings such as hospitals, hospices, long-term care, emergency response, corrections, and other settings, and to approach credentialing bodies for certification as chaplains, CPE supervisors, and pastoral counselors.
“The Department also seeks to support endorsed persons in their ministry contexts. Recommendations for endorsement are forwarded by this department to the Office of the Metropolitan,” Father Steven continued. “ACPE membership represents another formal step this department has taken to be an active presence in the pastoral care and counseling community in our country and beyond.”
According to Father Steven, “a formal endorsement process was instituted by the OCA in 2003, and the OCA became a recognized Endorser in the Commission on Ministry in Specialized Settings in 2005. The OCA joined the Association of Religious Endorsing Bodies (AREB) in 2007.”
Father Steven, who currently serves as AREB Chair, shared the importance of our Orthodox witness in this greater caregiving arena as a means to fulfill in part the OCA’s mission “to be the Body of Christ in North America” and, as noted in the Tomos of Autocephaly, to “maintain direct relations with all other Churches and confessions, Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike.
“It is a blessing to be able to support our mission in this very meaningful way,” he added. “The OCA currently has about a dozen endorsed chaplains serving across the country in a variety of settings, and holding a broad spectrum of certifications from among the credentialing bodies. All the endorsers meet during these national conferences with credentialing body leadership.
“The Rev. Deryck Durston, Interim Executive Director of ACPE, has pushed to have endorsement formally brought into that office during his ten-year tenure in the ACPE national office,” Father Steven continued. “Even though he will soon be leaving his director role, Rev. Deryck will continue to be the ACPE consultant for endorsement. AREB is grateful for the working relationship with all the credentialing bodies to assist those seeking certification to obtain proper endorsement, and for the formal nature of this relationship with ACPE.”
Additional information on the work of the OCA Department of Institutional Chaplaincies may be viewed here or here.
In the wake of the tornadoes that devastated the suburbs of Oklahoma City, OK on Monday, May 20, 2013, His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon, has called upon all faithful Orthodox Christians to offer prayers for those who lost their lives, their families, and everyone touched by the tragedy.
“We call upon everyone to remember in their prayers the victims of the Oklahoma City Tornado and those whose lives have been affected by this disaster,” said Metropolitan Tikhon. “We ask that our risen Lord will bring comfort to those who have lost everything—including loved ones—as well as the responders who continue to search for survivors. May our Lord grant eternal rest to those who lost their lives in the tragedy, and may He comfort those so afflicted.”
The Orthodox Church in America has three communities in Oklahoma—Holy Apostles Church, Bixby, OK; Saints Cyril and Methodius Church, Hartshorne, OK; and Saint Basil the Great Mission, Weatherford, OK — none of which were affected. Updates will be posted should further information be received.
Seventeen graduates from Saint Vladimir’s Seminary are now being sent out as priests, deacons, and lay ministers in service to the Church. At Commencement Exercises on Saturday, May 18, 2013, the seminary awarded diplomas in three programs: one Master of Theology, eight Masters of Divinity, and eight Masters of Arts degrees. Graduates represented a broad range of ecclesial jurisdictions and included both Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Christians; four priests and one deacon were among the graduates.
Brian GerichAnne Glynn MackoulMother Inéz
Additionally, the Board of Trustees awarded three accomplished Orthodox Christians honorary degrees. Doctorates of Humane Letters honoris causa were bestowed upon Seminary Trustees Brian Gerich and Ann Glynn Mackoul, and upon Mother Inez Ayau Garcia, Abbess of Hogar Rafael Ayau, an Orthodox Christian orphanage in Guatemala.
Commencement crowned the week’s celebrations, which also included the annual Board of Trustees meeting, a Trustee–Student dinner on Thursday evening, and a Friday Trustees dinner with staff and faculty.
On Saturday morning, May 18, His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon, Primate of the Orthodox Church in America and President of Saint Vladimir’s Seminary, and His Grace, Bishop Nicholas, Auxiliary Bishop for Brooklyn of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of North America, concelebrated the Divine Liturgy, during which second–year seminarian and Commencement Salutatorian Nicholas Roth was ordained to the Holy Diaconate. Metropolitan Tikhon also presided at the afternoon Service of Supplication in the campus Chapel of the Three Hierarchs before joining the faculty, staff, graduates, and visitors for commencement ceremonies. Board of Trustee His Eminence, Metropolitan Zachariah Mar Nicholovos, Northeast American Diocese of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, also attended the Service of Supplication and participated in the graduation exercises.
The Rev. Dr. Sarah Fogg
The Rev. Dr. Sarah Fogg delivered the Commencement Address. Director of Pastoral Care at Saint John’s Riverside Hospital, Yonkers, NY, Dr. Fogg has supervised dozens of Saint Vladimir students in their hospital visitation and chaplaincy training. Dr. Fogg recalled her personal relationships with seminarians, saying, “As you came for training, I engaged with you in preparing you for pastoral visits. I learned more what hands on pastoral ministry is, as I challenged you with what God has for you. Thank you for seeking me out.”
Metropolitan Tikhon, who in addition to serving as the seminary’s President chairs its Board of Trustees, opened the Commencement Exercises and conferred degrees upon the graduates. In his closing remarks, he encouraged the senior class to remember to be watchful. “Watchfulness will help you preserve all the virtues you have acquired as you go forward into the world. Watch with your heart and do not simply look. Watch your pastors. Watch your flocks. Watch your neighbors. Watch your enemies. Why? So that you might see Christ in others. May God strengthen and bless all of you. May He inspire all of you to take what you have received here, to go out into the world as watchful servants.”
Harrison Russin, Valedictorian
The Valedictorian and Salutatorian were selected by the faculty on the basis of their excellent performance in all aspects of seminary life, including academic work, participation in chapel services, and completion of community service assignments. Class Valedictorian Harrison Russin, who served as Student Ecclesiarch from 2011 through 2013, also earned a commendation for community service. Harrison was awarded the Saint Basil the Great Award for high academic achievement twice during his years at Saint Vladimir’s, and is a gifted musician who sang with the SVOTS Octet all three years. His thesis was titled “The Iconology of Fr. Sergius Bulgakov.” Harrison will begin a Ph.D. program in the fall of 2013 at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, studying in the field of musicology.
“Commencement isn’t the end, it is the beginning,” noted Harrison in his address. “The best analogy for me is to compare this time to Great Lent. Seminary has been a process of death to self, and struggle. Seminary has not been easy—yet today is our Pascha.”
Newly ordained second–year seminarian Deacon Nicholas Roth was Salutatorian. “As you leave today, you join the ranks of those who have come before you,” Deacon Nicholas said. “Our alumni build up Orthodox communities, teach the Orthodox faith, care for those in need. In your time here you started student organizations, gave back to the community, and worked to teach the Orthodox faith to all who would listen. Today we celebrate all you have done and we look to see more of what you do in the future.”
This year for the first time, the Student Council presented a new award to a faculty member. Decided by student vote, the Saint Macrina the Great Award recognizes the dedication and achievements of a seminary professor. In its inaugural year, outgoing Student Council President Priest James Parnell presented the award to Archpriest Dr. Alexander Rentel, Assistant Professor of Canon Law and Byzantine Studies and the John and Paraskeva Skvir Lecturer in Practical Theology. Anna Margheritino, wife of Seminarian Sandro Margheritino, was commissioned to paint two icons for the Saint Macrina Award; one will be continually displayed on campus, and each year, another will be presented to the Award recipient.
Archpriest Dr. John Behr, Dean, and Archpriest Dr. Chad Hatfield, Chancellor/CEO, congratulated and encouraged the graduates as well. “As we said at the Liturgy this morning: ‘Axios Axios Axios!’” exclaimed Father John. “Friends, as you depart from here, never forget the words that Christ said: ‘You did not choose me, but I choose you and appointed you that you should bear fruit.’”
President of the Alumni Association Board Gregory Abdalah presented each graduate with a cherry wood frame to display their diplomas, and welcomed them to the Saint Vladimir’s Alumni Association. “You join over 2000 alumni spread over 20 countries on six continents,” noted Mr. Abdalah. “Just like the Apostles went out and preached the Gospel to world, you act as ambassadors who carry on their legacy, as you take Saint Vladimir’s into the world.”
In association with its 75th Anniversary Celebration, Saint Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary here will host its 2013 Continuing Clergy Education Symposium June 18-20, 2013.
Speakers and presentation themes to be featured include the following.
“The Glory of Christ-Centered Marriage”—David Ford, Ph.D., Professor of Church History, Saint Tikhon’s Seminary. A brief study of various Church Fathers and contemporary elders extolling the glory of Christ-centered marriage, especially in light of the various attacks on and increasing confusion about traditional marriage in our society as a whole. In particular, we will undertake a close study of Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra’s classic sermon, “Marriage: The Great Sacrament.” References also will be made to the Lives of the married saints.
“Transforming Psychological States into Spiritual Ones: Some Practical Advice from the Fathers” — Christopher Veniamin, D.Phil. (Oxon.), Professor of Patristics, Saint Tikhon’s Seminary. Description: How do we live as Christians? Or perhaps a better way of framing the question would be, how do we die every day as disciples of Christ in our broken world? This presentation aims to give practical advice on living the commandments of Christ, based on the theology of the Church Fathers.
“Sanctify Those Who Love the Beauty of Thy House”—Igumen Sergius (Bowyer), Abbot of Saint Tikhon’s Monastery and Interim Dean of Saint Tikhon’s Seminary. Perspectives on living the Liturgy. The course outcome is to have a renewed appreciation and love for the Divine Liturgy and Liturgical life of the Church with the understanding that it is the school whereby we are initiated into the mystery of eternal life. The lecture will focus on Biblical-Patristic sources to enlighten the listeners as to the centrality of the Church’s liturgical life while gaining a greater understanding of how they are the primary tool for the Church’s outreach and evangelism.
“Exorcism: A Current Perspective”—Archimandrite Athanasy, monk of Saint Tikhon’s Monastery. The course will offer an overview of ancient and modern understandings of exorcism, the purpose of the exorcism prayers, how to discern case by case what issues might be affecting an individual’s and when and when not to consider an exorcism, the importance of having recourse to the Bishop, modern medicine, and resources for discernment and contextual applications.
“The Exploration and Development of the Ministry of Presence”—Archpriest John Kowalczyk, Senior Lecturer in Pastoral Practice, Director of Field Education, Saint Tikhon’s Seminary. The Ministry of Presence: “When two or three are gathered in My name, I am in their midst” (Matthew 18:20). The Orthodox pastor explores the “prayerful ministry of presence” with the application of the theology of the sanctification of time. The presentation will aid the Orthodox pastor in navigating in difficult pastoral scenarios which will be found “outside his comfort zone.”
Registration fee is $50.00 per participant, which includes room and board.
Courses are available for clergy continuing education, approved by Archpriest Ian Pac-Urar. This is a service provided by the faculty of Saint Tikhon’s Seminary to facilitate the continuing education of clergy, mandated by the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America.
Registration information and other resources related to the Orthodox Church in America’s 2013 Parish Ministries Conference, slated to be held at Marymount University, Arlington, VA July 10-13, 2013, were mailed recently to all parishes.
A detailed schedule and on-line registration forms may be found here. A list of workshop speakers will be available in the immediate future. Early registration at a lower cost is available until May 31.
“We are excited to be adding a new partner this year to our Ministries Conference,” said Daria Petrykowski, conference coordinator. “The newly formed Department of Continuing Education has approved the conference as a venue for clergy to earn continuing education credits. We look forward to partnering with our clergy and lay leaders to better minister to our communities.”
A flyer/mini-poster with conference details may be downloaded in PDF format.
The Fellowship of Orthodox Christians in America [FOCA] recently announced that the theme of its annual “Celebration of Faith” creative arts contest for youth will be derived from John 8:12—“I am the light of the World. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”
Youth are invited to create and submit original works, based on the theme, representing the fields of creative writing, music, photography, and visual arts. Suggestions include photos or paintings of how God’s light impacts the world around us or how works of charity impact others. Individuals may submit essays, poetry or short stories illustrating how God’s light sustains us and helps us to become lights in the world. Entrants may wish to draw ideas from thematic resources available from the Orthodox Church in America’s Department of Christian Education.
Completed entries should be mailed no later than June 16, 2013 to FOCA Celebration of Faith, c/o Beth Willison, 232 Arrowhead Dr., Slippery Rock, PA 16057. Entries will be displayed and awards presented at the FOCA’s 2013 National Convention, slated to be held in Cleveland, OH June 27-July 1.
For additional information, please contact Ms. Willison at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For the first time since his election as Primate of the Orthodox Church in America in November 2012, His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon was the guest of His Eminence, Metropolitan Philip at the offices of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America here on Tuesday, May 14, 2013. Metropolitan Tikhon was accompanied by Archpriest John Jillions, OCA Chancellor; Archpriest Leonid Kishkovsky, OCA Director of External Affairs and Interchurch Relations; and Subdeacon Roman Ostash.
Joining Metropolitan Philip in welcoming the OCA delegation were His Grace, Bishop Nicholas, Auxiliary-Brooklyn and Resident Assistant to Metropolitan Philip; Archpriest Thomas Zain, AOCA Vicar General; and Archpriest George Kevorkian, AOCA Assistant to the Metropolitan.
A warm atmosphere provided the context for substantive conversations about the current plight of Christians in the Middle East—and specifically the situation of the two Syrian hierarchs who remain in captivity—as well as the OCA’s recent history, the ongoing work of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America, and hope for a united autocephalous Orthodox Church in North America.
The Department of Youth, Young Adult, and Campus Ministry of the Orthodox Church in America has completed its “Journey to Pascha” Video Series. These short videos were produced, written, and directed by a team of young adults from Holy Theophany/Saints Constantine and Helen Church, Colorado Springs, CO. Intended to document the parish’s journey through Great Lent, these videos share that communal journey with the greater on-line community.
Over the course of Lent and Holy Week, the videos were shared on the Department’s Facebook page and YouTube channel. The journey is broken up into four separate videos:
“Rachael Billings, a young adult at Saint Constantine and Helen approached us with this incredible idea several months ago,” said Andrew Boyd, OCA Youth Director. “Working with our social media team, she has refined her project and produced four video segments documenting her parish’s communal journey to our Lord’s Pascha. She’s taken on an amazing amount of work herself and overseen the project from planning to production and editing.”
“The Church’s role in social media is the same as the Church’s role anywhere,” said Matthew Andrews, a parishioner of Holy Assumption Church, Philadelphia, PA, and member of the Youth Department’s social media team. “That role is to preach the Gospel and share the liturgical life. This project will be a unique way to inject our journey to Pascha into the social media landscape and to showcase the value of making that journey within the context of a Eucharist community.”
“I am so thankful for all who volunteered to assist me in this project, and for my parish priest, parish choir, and fellow parishioners who graciously allowed me to share them with the online world,” said Ms. Billings.
Saint Vladimir’s Seminary’s summer continuing education programs begin May 26, 2013. For those registering on-line before May 15, the $50.00 registration fee will be waived. Register here.
Programs being offered this summer include the following.
Sunday, May 26–Sunday, June 2, 2013
Iconography Workshop for College-Age Youth, endorsed by Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF) — Kh. Erin Kimmet, Annunciation Press Icons, iconographer and workshop leader.
Friday, May 31–Saturday June 1, 2013
Conference on Poverty, co-hosted with Acton Institute — Archpriest Chad Hatfield, SVOTS chancellor/CEO and conference coordinator; hosted in memory of Deacon John Zarras, SVOTS alumnus (’06).
Thursday, June 6–Saturday, June 8, 2013
Pastoral Counseling: Conflict Resolution Skills — Dr. Albert Rossi and Archpriest Dr. Nicholas Solak, workshop leaders.
Sunday, June 9–Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Seventh Annual Diaconal Liturgical Practicum — Archdeacon Kirill Sokolov, practicum leader.
Monday, June 17–Friday, June 28, 2013
Suffering and the Nature of Healing — Dr. Daniel Hinshaw, Visiting Professor; an academic 2–credit course.
A PDF of the summer program schedule may be downloaded in PDF format.
Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary’s Board of Trustees will award three honorary doctorates during the school’s 74th Commencement Exercises, Saturday, May 18, 2013. Doctorates of Humane Letters honoris causa, will be bestowed upon Trustees Brian Gerich and Anne Glynn Mackoul, and upon Mother Inés Ayau García, abbess of Hogar Rafael Ayau, an Orthodox Christian orphanage in Guatemala.
This year, St. Vladimir’s will bestow 8 Master of Divinity, 8 Master of Arts, and 1 Master of Theology degrees; four priests and one deacon will be among the graduates. The Rev. Dr. Sarah Fogg, director of pastoral care at Saint John’s Riverside Hospital in Yonkers, NY, will be the main commencement speaker. For many years Dr. Fogg has supervised seminary students in their hospital visitation and chaplaincy training at Saint John’s.
Commencement Exercises will begin with a 2:00 p.m. Service of Supplication in the campus Chapel of the Three Hierarchs, presided by His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon, Primate of the Orthodox Church in America and President of the seminary, with Commencement at 2:30 p.m. in the Metropolitan Philip Auditorium of the John G. Rangos Family building. A public reception will follow.