Posts Tagged 'the Bishop MARK fan club'

A visit from His Grace Bishop MARK

In a perfect world, the way I — or any other cantor — would learn the ropes of a hierarchical visit would be to spend ten to fifteen years singing at the analogion with a protopsaltis who knew what he was doing. Excepting that, I would take a priest who understood the rubrics with a thorough knowledge of detail and could explain clearly what was supposed to happen from the cantor’s perspective. Excepting that, liturgical books that were written to address matters from a cantor’s point of view rather than a cleric’s would be acceptable.

None of those possibilities in fact being the case, what I’ve had to do for the last five years is pretty much wing it. For my first episcopal visit, Fr. Athanasius handed me a photocopy of the Liturgikon’s rubrics for the Divine Liturgy and said, “These are wrong, but you’ll get the basic idea.” He gave me notes on what was really supposed to happen, which I followed, and in turn, that wound up being not quite what we did either. Some variation on that has occurred every time since then; each visit has gotten a little better, and each visit has yielded a priest or somebody coming up to me afterward and saying, “Oh yeah, what I forgot to tell you earlier was this…” It wasn’t until after the third visit, I think, that anybody bothered to tell me that the bishop is supposed to vest during Lauds and that there are some changes made to accommodate that action.

There are multiple issues; I don’t know what I don’t know, so if somebody tells me something that’s incorrect or incomplete, I don’t have any way of knowing that until after the mistake is made. Plus, our diocese has its own in-house hierarchical service book that differs from the Liturgikon in a couple of respects, the net result of that being that I don’t trust any rubric I see printed anywhere without somebody in a position of authority telling me, “Yes, that’s actually what we’re doing,” because it’s clear not everybody’s on the same page (literally). What has sometimes happened is that a priest will tell me to do one thing via a note sent from the altar or some such, only to have a subdeacon come scurrying along twenty seconds later instructing me to do exactly the opposite. Our priest has always served with His Grace at the altar, so he himself doesn’t know exactly what should be happening from the perspective of the kliros. This is made more complex by the fact that our diocesan service book, while unquestionably useful, is written by and for a priest, not a cantor. For example, at the reception of the bishop it’s just noted that “the following hymn is sung in tone 4” instead of “the irmos for the ninth ode of the Palm Sunday canon,” which would make it infinitely more useful in terms of actually locating the music for said “hymn in tone 4”. To say nothing of the fact that, every time we’ve ever had a hierarchical visit, the Trisagion has gone haywire; the congregation hears the Trisagion to which they’re accustomed, they automatically start singing along, but but they don’t realize that it’s different with a bishop until they notice that the choir has stopped and that they’re singing over His Grace. Yes, the order of the hierarchical Trisagion is in the bulletin, but it is perhaps unreasonable to assume that everybody has has read or retained it in-depth. At one of his last visits, Bp. MARK stopped in the middle of the Trisagion with a bit of a smile and said, “We’ll get this right someday.”

(Let me emphasize, lest I be misunderstood, that I do not think it reasonable or realistic to expect the congregation to know the order of the hierarchical Trisagion. This is one of those areas, rather, where I think the argument for a model of congregational singing that consists of “everybody sings everything” breaks down.)

But, again, each time has gotten a little better, and for His Grace’s visit a couple of weekends ago for the Feast of All Saints we got it mostly right. The one thing I know I missed was the “Many years, master” that replaces “We have seen the true light…”, but I had Papa Ephraim’s long “O Lord, guard our master and chief priest” prepared for the Kairon, and the solution for the Trisagion problem was to swap out the setting from Cappella Romana’s The Divine Liturgy in English, adapted for hierarchical use. It was not the familiar version, so the autopilot problem was avoided. (Bp. MARK had mentioned to us before that the Greek model, as heard on the Angelopoulos Divine Liturgy recording, was in fact the usual Trisagion for hierarchical visits.) I got one person afterward who asked, “Since when is God ‘strong’ and not ‘mighty’?”, but beyond that, things were pretty smooth.

While he was here he also gave a talk on ministering to a college town (which may show up down the road on Ancient Faith Radio; we’ll see — do note that an iPhone is actually a really fantastic portable voice recorder, and I was very glad to have it when our $2,000 sound system failed), and we also briefed him on where the building conversation stands. When we showed him Andrew’s sketch and told him about his ideas, his response, in short, was “Build it. Just let me know how I can help.”

I’ve observed before that, when I participate in a hierarchical Divine Liturgy, the structure of the service and the way the parts function suggest to me that the presence of a celebrating bishop is actually assumed to be the norm, and that only having a priest as the celebrant is the accommodation. A way this was made manifest this time around was at the Cherubic Hymn. To back up for a second — in February, Fr. Peter had me sing the long Cherubic Hymn from The Divine Liturgy in English for the Divine Liturgy of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. He had liked how it had worked liturgically during John’s visit; we only needed to sing it once (instead of the threefold repetition we have to do with our usual setting), it was unhurried, and then he actually had enough time after the Great Entrance to do what he needed to do. “Sing it again,” he said, “I want to see if it really worked as well as I remember.” Well, afterward, he said, “No, that won’t work. It’s too long. I was waiting behind the iconostasis for three minutes for you to finish the first part.” So there went that idea.

Well, what was clear that weekend, as we repeated the Cherubic Hymn a third time, and then had to repeat “Let us now lay aside all earthly cares” on its own, a second time, then a third time, and still a fourth time before the procession came out from behind the iconostasis, was that the reason the other setting was “too long” is because it assumes the presence of a bishop. What was also clear was the assumption that the Cherubic Hymn will cover the Great Entrance a good chunk of the way around the church, since the priest only has one petition before he reaches the bishop at the solea. “Perhaps it’s better to make the long way the usual way so that you aren’t having to rejigger everything when the bishop comes,” I observed to Fr. Peter afterward. “You might be right,” he said. I think I will probably have the choir review the long Cherubic Hymn for next time.

In any event, it was good to have Bp. MARK with us; I haven’t seen him since January of ’09, a month before the confusion (as it is convenient to refer to it) started. Εἰς πολλὰ ἔτη, Δέσποτα!

“…if we were to be just, then we must, first and last, to put pastoral care for the People of God before ourselves and before any other standard”

Hi.

I still don’t have an internet connection where I’m staying. It started going in and out a couple of weeks ago, and then last Monday (the 6th) it died entirely. My host spent about four days trying to get somebody on the phone to figure out what the problem was, and finally last Saturday (the 11th) a person came out to check the line. Turns out that the phone comapny put a splitter on the line, and did something that disabled the DSL connection when they did so. They are supposed to fix it, but it isn’t working yet. There appears to be some movement, because the light on the router that was blinking before, indicating the connection was totally toast, isn’t blinking anymore, but the light that needs to be on to indicate there’s a working connection hasn’t come back on.

Sigh.

In the meantime, I can go spend money at an internet café, and I can also connect via the wireless connection at the Athens Centre, but in neither case do I really have enough time to either upload pictures or blog — I barely have enough time to catch up on e-mail.

As soon as I have a regular, working connection again, I will have photos to post and plenty to chronicle for those following along at home. I’m sure nobody’s really losing sleep over whether or not I’ve posted something new, but I thought I’d let you know anyway.

In the meantime, with a tip of the hat to RightWingProf, I think there is much worth chewing on in this piece written by Archimandrite Touma, abbot of St. Silouan Monastery in Douma, Lebanon. Many thanks to Samn! for taking the time to translate the essay.

Pastoral Care and the Crisis of Power!

In the See of Antioch, at the current time, there is a confrontation, a crisis of opinion, and painful consequences may follow. Are the bishops, within an eparchy that is headed by a patriarch or a metropolitan as an ecclesial administrative unit, bishops over a territory and a faithful people, or are they auxiliary bishops (asaqifa musa’idun)?

The traditional position, within the Orthodox ecclesiological framework, makes the bishops within a single eparchy brothers and the primate (mallak) of the eparchy first of all the first among equals and secondarily the head of a local council, governed by principles and canons and made up of the bishops of that eparchy. This assumes that each of them oversees a territory and a people. In principle, bishops are not titular or auxiliaries, dependent upon the metropolitan or the patriarch.

But, historical events came about in past eras that divided some bishops from their territories and their flocks, as happened in the Byzantine Empire after the fall of some of its regions to the Ottomans. It was hoped at the time that exiled or refugee bishops would return to their regions. However, matters became more complicated and situations worsened and such bishops found themselves permanently exiled from their flocks. Or, the dioceses which they had overseen in principle were emptied of their Orthodox people.

With the passing of time, this inaugurated the custom of consecrating titular bishops who, at first, longed for military or political turnarounds that would return an Orthodox presence to their former regions. When the years went by and the winds did not blow as the boats wished, hopes changed to almost a formal etiquette, and the custom became firmly entrenched of choosing titular bishops who quickly became helpers (musa’idun) or auxiliaries (mu’awinun) to some of the actual primates of the eparchies, dependent on the patriarch. This gave birth to an unintended custom, without any ecclesiological base. However, it became accepted and enshrined in practice insofar as the ancient traditional practice among us of each bishop being the bishop of a people and a territory into decline in practice. With it, the page closed on local synods within one eparchy and it sufficed to have synods on the level of patriarchates or the equivalent.

Some circles, today, hold fast to the contingent practice over ecclesiological theology because it has become widespread and followed for many years. The temporary became permanent. Others hold to intellectual principles of ecclesiological theology and hope to rectify the current historical deviation in this situation and to return dioceses to their traditional function, especially since there exists a need, here and there, for more bishops of territory and people so that we do not go too far in making the episcopate in general only an administrative, ritual function. The bishop is the pastor par excellence and must remain so in practice.

Between those who seek this or that line of thought, today, there is confrontation and debate. It does not appear that it will result in a speedy understanding in the foreseeable future and it is to be feared that it will grow into an impasse and from there into something with an unpraiseworthy outcome.

How to get out of this dilemma?

The answer is not easy. However, if we were to put forward the reasons for this crisis, we do not find it to be simply ecclesiological or canonical in nature, but also historical, temperamental, and psychological. We have become accustomed to such with the passing of generations! It is not easy for those who have become accustomed to sole power in their eparchies and to dealing with titular bishops almost like deacons to have partners in power within the lifetime in which they work. Let us say it frankly: the problem is the problem of a power struggle! Few are prepared to let go of their prerogatives! The issue, at the base, is not ,as it is put forward, a theological issue and it is not a pastoral issue. What determines the traditional or the ecclesiological, theological or the canonical argument, at the basic level, is the holding on of each of the concerned parties to the power which they think rightly belongs to themselves and not to others. Each one brings forward this or that evidence, in reality, because it is convenient for him. If we were to hold fast to ecclesiological theology and the traditional canons, in the matter before us, then we would have to openly express only a small number of the positions we implicitly adopt or to which we consent and which are not in agreement with [Orthodox] principles.

The question of the diaspora, especially North America, is today in our opinion the foundation of the current problem and what brought to light the intellectual divide which had long remained hidden. The status of any of the Orthodox churches, the See of Antioch included, is not sound there, either from an ecclesiological or a canonical standpoint. By what right do we hold on to the dependence of the Antiochian Archdiocese in North America on us? That eparchy is no longer at the stage of just being sent out. We helped it during its beginnings, but now it is mature, and more mature than us here in its theology and its learning and its organization. By what right, then, is it assumed that it should be under our care? Is it because some of its people have left us? So what? Generations and generations have grown up there for years and the people in those lands have become American. Is it because there is a sentimental heritage which ties us to them and them to us, or because there is something like nationalist feelings which hold us to them and them to us so that they must be subject to our local ecclesial structure? This has no relation in any case to ecclesiological thought nor to the ancient ecclesiological practice which has come down to us from the Apostles and saints. Thus the practical theology which we use in this matter is faulty and unacceptable if we were to be fair and correct.

And what is to be said about the canonical disorders that we’re up to our ears in over there?

The situation of all the Orthodox eparchies dependent on mother churches in North America is uncanonical. There is one Orthodox church in those lands whose situation is sound and canonical: the American Orthodox Church (OCA). This alone is independent and autocephalous and this is de-facto recognized by the other Orthodox eparchies. Its recognition, formal or implicit, by the eparchies depending on mother churches is clear and frank confirmation that the status of these eparchies is uncanonical and unsound. If these eparchies and mother churches on which they depend were to be logical with themselves and consistent with Orthodox ecclesiological and canonical thought, in the true sense of the word, then they would belong to the OCA or would at least enter into an understanding with it and the thorny crisis of the Orthodox presence there, theologically and canonically, would end. The simplest position and the most sound is for us to leave the Orthodox in North America to themselves and to encourage them to arrange their affairs themselves! We and the other mother churches are the ones who are complicating their affairs!

Naturally, there are those who claim that the problem of the diaspora is, to a great extent, a problem of nationalist sentiment. The sentiments exist, but not to the degree that is thought. The Church in the past has dealt with nationalism– in Constantinople, in Antioch, and elsewhere– and she is able to deal with it in every time and place whenever proper ecclesial sentiment abounds. But if nationalistic notions eclipse concern of the Church, then this is a dangerous event and a serious deviation because we are no longer a church possessing one faith, but rather a group of tribes. The truth is that the mother churches hold on to their eparchies in North America because they do not want to be stripped of their prerogatives and their benefits and their power there. The issue of money plays an important role in this matter and likewise does political and ecclesial influence. None of this has any connection to the Church in the exact meaning of the word, not to her theology, nor to her canons, nor to pastoral care for her people nor to her spirituality.

I will return to the subject of the bishops and I will say that the hidden cause behind the debate going on between those who hold to the concept of titular, helper bishops and the concept of local bishops over a people and a territory is, in reality, related to the passions. There is struggle for power, in the worldly sense, going on, and the arguments put forth call for each to claim his own power and leadership. But we have no power to receive, rather service to give for the Church of Christ and the People of God. For this reason, if we were to be just, then we must, first and last, to put pastoral care for the People of God before ourselves and before any other standard. The struggle for power going on today is, unfortunately, on account of this pastoral care! The single legitimate and acceptable question in this context is: what is most appropriate for the care of the Orthodox faithful here and there?

For this reason it is to be hoped that the interaction of the metropolitan with the bishops within a single eparchy, wherever they may be and especially right now in North America, will be first of all with goodness, love, humility of heart, and magnanimity. The issue of the episcopate, which has long been outside the genuine ecclesiology, will not be solved by emptying it of its pastoral content and enshrining its titularity, and not by, in response, idolatrously harping on the application of cannons but rather by the metropolitan embracing the bishops as brothers, and the bishops the metropolitan. Calmly and deliberately we will become able to solve our issues in cooperation and simplicity and flexibility, relying on [Orthodox] principles, and we will raise up the People of God in truth so that God will be glorified in us. The way of dividing, subjugating with decisions from on high, and debasing is of no avail. It will only alienate and create factions and lead to schism! I say this and it is to be feared that we are in a delicate and dangerous situation. Orthodox America will not be treated in the ruinous way we are accustomed to in our lands here! If we do not leave our selfishness and our pride and build each other up with kindness and generosity and put the good of the Church and its unity and theological principles ahead of any personal consideration, whatever it may be, then worse is to come!

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of St. Silouan the Athonite– Douma
Sunday July 12, 2009

Englewood: “…the Archdiocese has not received any document that contains the signatures of all of the hierarchs who were in attendance at that meeting”

The Archdiocese posted this.

The Patriarchate replied with this.

The Archdiocese now says this.

I no longer have any clear idea what this is actually about. I can tell that certain people are in disagreement about who is in charge, but I couldn’t tell you the first reason why anymore.

Holy Synod of Antioch: “the nature of the Episcopate is one”

From OCANews:

The Holy Synod of the See of Antioch, after long discussion and deep deliberation of the Synodal decision of February 24, 2009, and with the recommendations of His Beatitude, the Patriarch, it affirms that the nature of the Episcopate is one and the same to all those who are consecrated as bishops.

The Holy Synod of Antioch affirms and reminds that all bishops of the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America are bishops who assist the Metropolitan,

And that, furthermore, any diocese of the one united Archdiocese, under any circumstances, cannot be considered an independent Archdiocese. The Holy Synod of Antioch alone has the prerogative to establish Archdioceses in the See of Antioch.

Issued June,17, 2009

Bp. MARK has already weighed in on this; we will see what actually happens, if anything. It strikes me that the Synod has perhaps said as much as they can without appearing to lay the hammer down on any person in particular — which, perhaps, means they haven’t said much of anything at all, except to say that AOCNA’s self-rule status is for all intents and purposes a legal fiction with no particular effect that they are willing to recognize. Perhaps this is a first move towards folding AOCNA back in as a more normalized part of the See of Antioch? I don’t know — I guess we’ll see.

How much should we read into these pictures?

AOCNA’s North American bishops with Metropolitan PHILIP on Friday, 24 April:

And with Patriarch IGNATIUS on 2 June 2009:

It’s tempting to want to use the contrast between Bps. BASIL and ANTOUN as the barometer…

OCANews: All bishops but Met. PHILIP to go to Damascus next week

Mark Stokoe and friends report that the six bishops who were enthroned in their dioceses, minus Metropolitan PHILIP, will travel to Damascus on 1 June for meetings with Patriarch IGNATIUS IV.

Full story here.

AOCA Chancellors issue opinion on Holy Synod’s 24 February decision

The Archdiocese’s own attorneys have weighed in. The conclusion is the money quote, to say the least:

…the February 24th decision is not a valid decision of the Holy Synod of Antioch. Moreover, even if were, it would have no effect on our Archdiocese since it wasn’t intend to apply to our Archdiocese and if it was intended, it would not apply because it is inconsistent with, negates, and would violate the irrevocable Resolution on Self-Rule, the Archdiocese Constitution and the Archdiocese Articles of incorporation, filed with the State of New York. Unless properly amended, these documents cannot be overridden and the February 24,2009 decision is inapplicable to the Self-Ruled Archdiocese.

Pursuant to the Constitution, all members of the Board of Trustees including the clergy and the hierarchs have an obligation to insure that the Archdiocese Constitution and Articles are protected. A constitution defines certain rights and privileges and obligations, these apply to the entire church population including the laity. It is incumbent upon all members to insure that these provisions are not violated even if one disagrees with them.

There is an element of trust that is underlying the role of a member of the Board of Trustees (and a member of the General Assembly) whether the person is a hierarch, priest, or member of the laity. That trust is that the member will act in the best interests of the Archdiocese and follow the dictates of the spirit as well as the letter of the Constitution.

If the members do not act to protect the Constitution and the self-rule as defined therein, then they will have violated that trust. The consequences, among others, will be a legitimate lack of trust by clergy and laity in the leaders of this Archdiocese. That would be tragic.

In Christ,

Robert A. Koory

Chancellor

Charles R. Ajalat
Chancellor

Full text is at the link above, and my hat is tipped to Mark Stokoe and co.

Metropolitan Jonah: “There is an American Orthodox church. Leave it alone.”

Pan Orthodox Sermon by His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah at St. Seraphim Orthodox Cathedral

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Well. Right or wrong, God bless Metropolitan Jonah, who has the saint’s utter lack of fear when it comes to saying what he believes God has called him to say.
So, is he right? Is he wrong? Hard to say. I suspect some people are going to find these remarks disrespectful, and I am not unsympathetic to that point of view, but I also think the reality is that prophetic words which need to be said tend to rub somebody the wrong way no matter what. That’s not to say the people who feel disrespected are wrong.
All I can say is, whether he is right or wrong, I hope people are listening. Not just the “right people,” whomever we might imagine them to be — I hope everybody is listening. Only if everybody is listening will these prophetic words have the value they need to have.
(Among the people I hope are listening is His Grace Bishop MARK. I think he and Metropolitan Jonah would be an utterly devastating team.)
(Second tip of the hat of the day to Rod Dreher.)

To a particular anonymous “clergyman in this region”

From the comments section on OCANews:

I am so sick and tired of hearing all this non-sense and garbage. The bottom line is that many of these Bishops, namely Bishop Mark, have over-stepped their bounds and began doing practices that threatened the unity of this Archdiocese. I know this for fact as I have personally witnessed this behavior as a clergyman in this region. I happen to agree with the detroit clergy and applaud them for saying what many of us are were already thinking. May God grant Met Philip Many Years!!!

These are strong words indeed. In the interest of taking such accusations seriously, since clearly Bp. MARK’s practices, according to the perspective of this clergyman, threatened the unity of the Diocese of Toledo and the Midwest, to say nothing of the entire Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, I invite the cleric to explain to me, a convert of Danish and English extraction with not a drop of Syrian, Lebanese, or Palestinian blood anywhere in his veins, just what those practices were and why they were divisive or overstepping his bounds.

I will acknowledge my own sin of judgment and pride in saying that my first thought upon reading this is, “Which practices were these? Not allowing bingo? Asking that his churches be the instruments of charity and not the recipients? Insisting that parishes pay their priest according to guideline? Telling parish councils that they were to treat the priest as the person placed in charge by the bishop and not as an employee? Not allowing non-Orthodox — to say nothing of non-Christians — to be communed? Standing firm on priest assignments when the priest hadn’t done anything wrong? Insisting that services be scheduled according to Archdiocesan norms?” I freely admit that as my judgmental, uncompassionate bias, and I ask the forgiveness of all who read this.

So, please, Father, whoever you may be, explain it to me. I have had many wonderful firsthand experiences of Bp. MARK, and when I read words like yours, I just don’t get it. Help me get it, please. Help me understand just what it was that threatened your well-being and our unity that required this treatment of Bp. MARK and his brother bishops.

Seriously — this is an open invitation. E-mail me something I can post, leave a comment, whatever you want to do. Tell your side of the story. It is Lent; let us promote what goodwill and understanding we can during this season.

The door is open.

The golden rule, reality and other musings: or, happy first day of Great Lent

You know, there’s a particular reality that’s a bit hard to face when it comes to organizations. Not just churches (but churches are definitely included) — really, any organization. What I’m talking about is, of course, the Golden Rule.

“Of course,” you’re thinking. “Do unto others as…”

Nope, sorry, that’s not what I mean. What I mean is this: He who has the gold makes the rules.

This is more or less true everywhere. Government, non-profits, business, so on and so forth. There’s a very simple reason for it: unless the people able to write big checks have an interest in staying in the game, they won’t. Probably most of us would like to think that if we had lots of money, we’d behave differently, but the fact of the matter is that the more you have to protect, the more you will act to protect it — that is, the more you will act in what you see as your own best interests, and you will define what your best interests are in terms of what you have to lose.

Take charitable foundations. Do you think those exist for any other reason than it is in the best economic interests of the people funding them to do so? These entities exist because what it costs to fund them is less expensive than paying taxes on the same money. Show me somebody who gives away lots and lots of money without setting up a foundation or a charitable trust, meaning that they don’t care what the tax implications are, and I’ll show you somebody who is being truly selfless with their money. That’s not to belittle those who set up these organs of charity with truly the best of intentions, not in the slightest; this interaction of tax laws, wealth, and charity functions as intended, and in our society there’s probably no other way it could work. I’m just saying that it is probably naive, at best, to think that there isn’t anything in it for the person writing the checks.

As I said at the start of this rambling monstrosity, of course this applies to churches. At Overlake Christian Church, which is where I spent the plurality of my childhood churchgoing, the folks who wrote the biggest checks were the ones who got facetime with Pastor Bob Moorehead. That was evident even to an eight year old. And, really, why would it be any different in a church of 6,000 people (huge by 1985 standards) which had a mammoth building to maintain and which had designs on building an even larger structure?

At the church where my wife and I were married, it played out a little differently, but it was still the same story. The service schedule was structured around giving pride of place to the “Contemporary Praise Music” Eucharist — why? Because that was the service that had the greatest attendance of young, wealthy families. The choir and organ Eucharist had several older wealthy people, but the Microsoft families were able to outbid them (this was the late ’90s and early Aughts, after all).

You have to keep the people paying the bills in the game. They have to get value for their money, and there has to be an additional benefit proportional to the additional giving. How can it be any other way?

In the same way, I tend to see the perceived discomfort between so-called “ethnic” or “cradle” Orthodox and converts, if it actually exists at all, as being primarily an economic issue. Pews? Organs? Byzantine chant? Liturgical language? Even, yes, how episcopal authority gets defined and exercised? These are all issues subject to how the bills get paid. This isn’t something many of us who came to Orthodox Christianity for convictions of faith want to hear, but I think it’s probably the case.

Let’s take a hypothetical Orthodox priest from a country we’ll call Dolaria. He’s got a parish of three-quarters ethnic Dolarians, the richest five of whom give approximately 95% of the parish’s annual budget. The other quarter is mostly converts and maybe people from other ethnic backgrounds for whom a parish from “their own” church is too far away; maybe this group gives more consistently and regularly than the previous group, and maybe not. One way or the other, all told, this quarter of the parish makeup gives about 15% of the annual budget. On a given Sunday, the church might be three-quarters full and attendance might be split 50-50 between converts and ethnic Dolarians. Despite a fulltime priest, the parish only serves Orthos and Divine Liturgy on Sunday during a normal week. The metropolitan area in which this predominantly Dolarian community finds itself has a number of other parishes which tend to be heavier on converts, but the Dolarian parish’s annual budget is bigger than all of the rest of them combined.

Perhaps this hypothetical priest doesn’t participate much in pan-Orthodox events when they occur. Maybe a convert priest presses him about this, and also rags on him a bit for building a brand new church, an exemplar of traditional Dolarian Orthodox church architecture — except that it has pews and an organ. We can hypothesize that the Dolarian priest replies, “You know, you converts can play happy-clappy pan-Orthodox unity all you want, but the reality is that I’ve got a big church of Dolarians that takes up all my time, and the people who pay me to do that are Dolarians. When you converts actually match or outnumber us in giving and in attendance, then we’ll talk. A convert who comes to every service but gives $1,000 a year doesn’t help keep the doors open and the lights on in the way that a Dolarian who comes maybe once a month but gives $500,000 a year does. If ten people are writing me checks for $1 million apiece towards a $15 million church, and they want pews and an organ, they’re going to get it. If a hundred people are writing me $100 checks towards that church, and they want an open floor with no organ, I’m sorry, but they’re in the wrong demographic across the board for me to be willing to die on that hill.”

And you know what? While I wouldn’t like it or agree with it, I wouldn’t necessarily be unsympathetic to that point of view. Freedom of religion in a pluralistic, capitalist society where there is officially a separation between church and state effectively means that you get the religion for which you’re able to pay. To put it another way, if you want a church to be a particular way, you have to put your money where your faith is. We speak as Christians about “sacrificial giving,” but the reality is that the vast majority of people, particularly the wealthy, even Christians, and yes, even Orthodox Christians, are not going to give anything they can’t afford to lose. Ten middle-class converts who have bookshelves of the entire Popular Patristics line from St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press are neither going to be able to match ten ethnic millionaire entrepeneurs who have no idea what the Council of Nicea decided and prefer to hear the Liturgy in <fill in name of language> because it makes them feel more <fill in name of ethnicity> even though that means they don’t even know what we actually sing in the Paschal troparion, nor are the middle-class converts going to bring in enough additional middle-class converts to outmatch the same.

We converts can say all we want that we just want to submit to the Tradition, that we should follow the Typikon, we want traditional music (but sung in English!), traditional architecture, have a fuller liturgical schedule, take out the pews and chairs, only have a tuning fork for instruments, have icons handwritten in Byzantine style with egg tempera and mineral pigments, and burn nothing but olive oil and beeswax with not an electric light to be found. I myself am firmly in that camp, believe me.

Economic realities interfere pretty fast with that picture, however. First of all, a priest costs money, or at least he does if you actually want him to be able to survive. Not paying a priest carries its own cost — if he works a secular job, that means he will have less time for his parish. Plus, if you really want a fuller liturgical schedule, and you have a priest with a family, you almost need two priests. That costs money, too.

Traditional music? It takes having people who know what they’re doing musically. Guess what? That will in all likelihood cost money.

Traditional architecture? Hoo boy, does that cost money.

Take out the pews and chairs? Since that will likely cause a chunk of your congregation to leave, that has a cost.

Longer services? You’ll probably lose people over this, too. Check.

Handwritten icons? Wait till you see the bill. Yes, that costs money. A lot of it.

Olive oil and beeswax? Inherently higher maintenance, which means it costs money.

To apply this to current events, if there is a perception among people who write checks with lots of zeros (at least, zeros to the left of the decimal point) that an organization is in the process of giving away the farm to people who write checks with far fewer zeroes, behave in a way which makes them uncomfortable, and frankly, whom they might perceive as having less of a vested interest in that organization than they do (because, let’s be honest, this is a group of people who already left something else to be part of this organization, so how do we know they won’t do it again?), they are going to pressure the leadership of that organization to start making different choices. And, eventually, the power of the pocketbook will be the deciding factor. The outcome will go to the highest bidder. He who has the gold makes the rules. Issues of canonicity, conciliarity, communion, doctrine, tradition, etc. simply do not have the force in our current system, the so-called “marketplace of ideas,” that being willing to write a check does. When the emperor was able to outbid everybody, that was one thing, but that’s not how we do things here and now.

Let me make something clear: this is in no way an indictment of the people who write the checks and expect, implicitly or explicitly, things to go their way — neither is it an indictment of the people to whom those checks are given and who then act accordingly. That is, for better or for worse, the way our culture works. Adjunct to that is the idea of choice — if you don’t like it, go someplace else or start your own. That Orthodox ecclesiology doesn’t exactly allow for that is an internal technical matter, not truly the concern of the culture at large.

Rather, I’m really talking to fellow converts. We need a reality check, folks. I include myself in that — I’m low-level support staff at a university and a part-time grad student, married to a full-time grad student. I can only do so much, and even that’s hard to do. The people whom I have brought to church with me are people in similar situations — students and working class folks who read a lot. It would take around sixty pledging units like us to be able to pay the priest’s compensation (which is already less than what he’s worth), and two hundred pledging units like us to be able to completely replace our parish’s budget. As it is, our parish has around eighty pledging units total. Yes, I’m there for virtually every service, but so what? That means I’m taking up more space and resources than that for which I am able to pay, more than likely. I’m a net loss for my parish, in other words, particularly since as the choir director and cantor I’m also one of the only paid staff. My potential as a net loss is further amplified by music having a status as a potential flashpoint of controversy. The most mild, reasonable, and practical of musical decisions made by a cantor/choir director — say, picking a setting of the Liturgy that the choir is actually able to sing — has the potential to be a reason for somebody to leave, and take their pledge with them. Trust me on this point.

We need to assume that we, as converts, will get the respect we can afford. Metropolitan PHILIP likes to point out the growth in the number of Antiochian parishes since he was became primate; what would be a better metric of growth, I think, would be an aggregate total of the annual budgets of all parishes, adjusted for inflation. I’m going to guess that that number would not suggest as optimistic a present reality as the number of parishes does.

I suspect that current events are, in one way or another, related to people in charge having to follow the money. I’m not sure it’s any one person; I think both New Jersey and Damascus have vested financial interests which need to be tended, which, again, canonicity or no canonicity, is the way things work in the here and now. The rent has to be paid, whether or not a bishop has been canonically enthroned as a diocesan bishop and not as an auxiliary. We proclaim ourselves to be the true Church; it does not follow that we are the perfect Church or a Church which, under current circumstances, can operate independently of financial concerns.

Does that change what anything looks like, for good or ill? No. However, does it change anything about the faith or how we are supposed to live it? No. Does it change Christ? It would be blasphemy to suggest that it did. What it does mean is that we must necessarily scale our expectations about what parish life is like to appropriate levels, and not to expect that people who are human are going to be anything other than human. Our deacons, priests and bishops (and cantors — especially cantors) are all working out their salvation with fear and trembling, too. It also means it is incumbent upon us to pray, to confess, to act and give according to our convictions, as much as we possibly can, and to understand that the way the world works, to say nothing of all the broken people in it, things are going to move slowly even if we do that.

I’m not thrilled about what I’m hearing about this decision from Antioch or the potential consequences; I love my bishop dearly and do not like seeing him demoted, not in the least. It’s actually rather shaken me to the core, simply because it seems to be a very large and significant action which is about nothing so much as power and money and which has nothing to do with the faith. But that’s exactly it — it has nothing to do with the faith. It does not impact who Christ is, or my need for communion with Him, one whit. As well, given that this is the very beginning of Lent, to rush to judgment and start separating the various figures into the “good guys” and the “bad guys” is very clearly a temptation which requires resistance. Avoiding Big Macs and nachos over the next few weeks isn’t all we have to do; we also have to avoid judging our brothers… and our priests, and our bishops… and especially our cantors who have to sing so many ginormously long services over this week alone to say nothing of Holy Week… and instead put in the effort to love them.


Richard’s Twitter

adventures in writing alexander lingas all saints bloomington all saints orthodox church american orthodox architecture american orthodox music american orthodoxy Antiochian Archdiocese Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America Antiochians books byzantine chant cappella romana chant church architecture ecclesiastical chant ethnomusicologists ethnomusicology fellowship of ss. alban and sergius Greece Greek greek food greekness hazards of church music international travel tips ioannis arvanitis joe mckamey john michael boyer kurt sander Latin liturgical adventures liturgical architecture liturgical music liturgical texts and translation liturgy liturgy and life lycourgos angelopoulos medieval byzantine chant Metropolitan PHILIP militant americanist orthodoxy modern byzantine architecture modern greek music music as iconography my kids will latin and greek when they're newborns my kids will learn latin and greek when they're newborns orthodox architecture orthodox architecture is bloody expensive Orthodox choir schools Orthodox Ecclesiology orthodox outreach orthodox travel pascha at the singing school Patriarchate of Antioch Patriarch IGNATIUS IV Patriarch of Antioch publishing random acts of chant richard barrett in greece richard toensing rod dreher sacred music st. vlads st john of damascus society Syriac the Bishop MARK fan club the convert dilemma the dark knight The Episcopacy The Episcopate the only good language is a dead language this american church life travel we need more american saints why do we need beautiful music in churches?

Blog Stats

  • 230,421 hits

Flickr Photos