Arlington Sermon

Last Sunday, after His Eminence visited our Sts. Anargyroi parish, he celebrated a vespers service at St. Athanasios in Arlington.  The Philoptochos chapter there is named for St. Barbara, so the vespers was for the eve of her feast.  Here is the sermon delivered by Fr. Manoussakis:

Sermon on the Feast of Saint Barbara

Delivered at the Church of St. Athanasius, Arlington

By the Very Reverend Fr. Panteleimon Manoussakis

(on the 3rd of December 2017)

Your Eminence, Metropolitan Methodios of Boston;

Reverend Fathers;

My beloved Brothers and Sisters—those of you who stayed within the Arc of the Church and, in particular, those of you who chose to remained outside the walls of the Church;

We have gathered this evening here in order to commemorate Saint Barbara. Every saint in the Church’s calendar is like the icons on either side of the icon of Christ in the iconstasis. If you look at the icon of the Virgin Mary on the one side and at the icon of St. John the Baptist on the other, you will notice that both of them point away from themselves and towards Christ. It is as if they were saying “pay no attention to us, but direct your gaze to Him.” If this is the case for the Theotokos and St. John how much more, then, it should be the case for each of us priests.

No-one among us priests, regardless of how pious, saintly, successful, or kind we may be, could consider the Church as his personal estate or the priesthood as his personal accomplishment. We clergy ought to resist the temptation of personality cult—to avoid that is, to make ourselves the center of people’s attention so that we can allow Christ to shine through us, as if it were through some transparent material. When our devotion is centered on the person of the priest instead on Christ, of whom the priest is only a sign and reminder, then that priest has failed. Such a priest becomes an obstruction that hides Christ from his parishioners. In short, he becomes a “Christ” instead of Christ, that is, an “anti-Christ.”

The same secular mentality that gives rise to the temptation of a personality cult leads also astray those among our faithful who behave as if the Church belongs to them, instead of them belonging to the Church. We often meet people who seem to understand their communities as a self-regulated, semi-autonomous church, over which they demand to have the first and final word. This, however, is not the structure of the Church. The Church is hierarchical, a term that has become particularly detestable to our democratic ears. To our modern minds “hierarchical order” conjures up negative associations of forceful submission, inequality, and domination. Yet, an authentic understanding of order belongs to a worldview of a cosmos in which every single thing has its place and is allowed to be the kind of thing it is. Without hierarchy, there is nothing to protect us from the tyranny of sameness masquerading as equality. Under such equality, however, all degrees of difference are lost and with them the proportionality that ascribes to each of us our proper place. St. Paul writes, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” (1 Corinthians 12:21). Nor can any part of the body demand that every other part be equal. A human body whose every member is a foot is not more tolerant or democratic; it is simply monstrous. Without difference, order, and proportion there can be no beauty, goodness, and truth—and above all, that characteristic that pertains uniquely to the Church, namely, unity.

How is this unity to be achieved? Is it perhaps by confessing the same faith? That alone does not suffice, for faith alone becomes abstract and thus it degenerates into an ideology. Is it perhaps by a common rite of worship? Yet, aren’t there schismatic who followed the same rubrics in their worship as we do? Then, where from could we derive that much desired unity, that oneness for which we pray in our liturgies? Oneness, my dear brothers and sisters, is a characteristic of the One, but we are many and for as long as we remain many we cannot become the One Church unless we are in communion with the One of our Eucharist, namely our Bishop. This is the salvific role of the Bishop: to gather the scattered members of the Church into the unity of the one bread and the one chalice of the Eucharist which he has the right to celebrate. He alone is the celebrant. He alone is the unifying principle. He alone can establish a holy altar around which we, the many, can gather in order to form the one body of the Church. He alone can make the many one by bestowing on each and every one, through and by the holy sacraments, the dignity that belongs to the citizens of God’s kingdom. Without the Bishop, there is no Church. Without the Bishop, we are merely a number of people unrelated to each other. As twenty students in a classroom don’t make up a class unless they have a professor, and as fifty musicians cannot make an orchestra without their conductor, so too five or five hundred Christians in a room by themselves could never become the Church without their Bishop. Take, if you wish, the most beautiful building, adorned with splendid icons and iconography—without the Bishop, it can never become a church, but it would remain bricks and stones. The Bishop alone has the prerogative to consecrate the buildings of our churches where our salvation is wrought. And only the Bishop can consecrate the holy altar from which our sanctification flows. Even though we, priests, perform the sacraments and celebrate the Eucharist, we can do so only in the Bishop’s absence and on his behalf. In every local church there is in fact only one priest, the Bishop. He unities us to each other and, through him, we are united with the faithful of other local churches, with all the churches across the world. If, for a moment, a parish were to consider itself independent, then there would be nothing to unite it with the faithful across the world and throughout history—that is, with the Church as a whole. Such a parish would inevitably end up in self-isolation.

To this twofold secularization of the Church that manifests itself both though a narcissistic personality cult and through a divisive autonomy we respond by commemorating our saints—men and women with genuine ecclesiastical ethos. Neither did they claim their rights, nor did they allow others to claim them as their right, but rather they “sought God’s righteousness” (Ps. 118:94). “When they were cursed, they blessed; when they were persecuted, they endured it; when they were slandered, they responded with kindness” (cf., 1 Cor. 4:12-13), so that they may receive abundantly the grace of the only God. To Him belongs all glory, amen.

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December 7th, 2017 by Fr. Greg

Christian Unity 2017

Last Saturday a bunch of us from the Metropolis joined our Catholic brethren as well as representatives from other Christian traditions – our Coptic friends, the Black Mission Alliance, Congregacion Leon de Juda, the Mass. Council of Churches, the United Church of Christ, and many others – for a day of Christian unity.  There were workshops and fellowship culminating with a worship service at the beautiful Holy Name parish in West Roxbury.  There is an account on the Metropolis site here and some remarks from Cardinal Sean here.  It was a great day – the worship service was beautiful, with hymns from different choirs and an inspiring homily from Cardinal Sean – and a nice gathering of different Christians from across the Christian spectrum.  Let’s pray for and plan more such events!

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January 30th, 2017 by Fr. Greg

Archpastoral Reflection

Below is a reflection from His Eminence Metropolitan Methodios on the refugee crisis and Greece.  You can read the original here.

Daily, those of us who have access to Greek television broadcasts are horrified by the unspeakable human tragedy occurring in Greece. It is reported that over 100,000 refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other Muslim countries – ravaged by war and internal strife – have been forced to leave their homelands in search for a better life in Europe. As many as 4,000 brethren – many children in the arms of their parents! – have died a horrific death, drowning in the cold waters of the Aegean Sea on their way to what they hoped would be a new life, a new beginning. Those who miraculously managed to survive are now trapped in Greece, forced to endure the winter months sleeping outdoors – in the mud! – because many countries in the European Union have closed their borders. Greece, dealing with its own economic disaster, is left alone to deal with this monumental humanitarian tragedy. Let us recognize Christ Himself in the person of every suffering refugee who is a stranger in a foreign land – naked, hungry, and thirsty love and care. Let us seek out ways to offer our assistance. As we continue our Lenten Journey, let us remember the words of our Savior, treasured in the 25th chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew: “As you did it to one of these the least my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40).

Let us remember in our prayers the countless Christians crucified and beheaded because they refused to renounce their faith in Jesus Christ. Let us pray for the repose of those Bishops, Priests, and devout laymen – victims of a modern day genocide – whose blood soaks the ground where Christianity flourished for thousands of years.

Let us clasp the hand of another, and another, and another, until all humanity stands united as brothers and sisters in the household of God, praising His almighty and majestic name.

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March 18th, 2016 by Fr. Greg

Dash Cam Approval

Do you have a dash cam – a dashboard camera?  I would argue that you should.  They record video and audio footage of the road in front of you when you are driving and also anything else – such as conversations with a police office who pulls you over.  Many people have them in case of an accident or perhaps a bad encounter with an officer.  I had a bad encounter upon being pulled over in NY for talking on my phone while driving (Mass. is one of the last states that allows you to do it without a hand-held device).  I am used to Worcester and Marlborough police – very professional and courteous – and felt rather threatened during the encounter.  When I returned home I happened upon a deal for this dash cam and bought it (and then was disappointed to see I had to buy a separate memory card, but whatever).  Now I use it every time I drive.  Apparently in Russia everyone has them because there is so much crime (go to YouTube if you don’t believe me about how ubiquitous they are there).   The wiki article mentions that in some countries they are illegal.

The other day I blessed a house of a friend who is a police officer.  I had to ask him – what do he and other public safety officers think about dash cams?  He thinks they are great and they benefit both the driver and the police by recording whatever happens.  I have to admit I had a small amount of disquietude about having one  – I am very pro-police and I didn’t want it to look like I had it for that reason.  His answer reassured me.

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March 7th, 2016 by Fr. Greg

Religious Freedom

Today’s assignment in the blogger challenge (and make sure to check out the other participating blogs here) is Eden.  Eden, if one thinks of it as having been a real place, has traditionally been associated with Mesopotamia – the land between rivers.  Tonight we had our annual Marlborough-Hudson Interfaith Association’s Thanksgiving service.  Normally at this event I do a prayer or hymn from our Orthodox tradition but I did something a little different this time.  In light of what has been happening in Iraq and the Near East with ISIS, I thought I would talk about how we should be thankful that we are free to worship, talk about our faith, and gather with people of other faiths.  To this end I read Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which was a predecessor of the First Amendment to the Constitution.  Authorship of it, along with of the Declaration of Independence and founding the University of Virginia, were the three of his many accomplishments that Jefferson chose to put on his epitaph.  I went to UVa and so I have a natural affinity for Mr. Jefferson, as we ‘Hoos are supposed to call him.  He was also a philhellene and a supporter of the Greek revolution (although he considered the Orthodox Church to be monkish tomfoolery).  Here is the complete text of his Statute:

An Act for establishing religious Freedom.

Whereas, Almighty God hath created the mind free;

That all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens, or by civil incapacitations tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and therefore are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being Lord, both of body and mind yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do,

That the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavouring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time;

That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions, which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical;

That even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor, whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness, and is withdrawing from the Ministry those temporary rewards, which, proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labours for the instruction of mankind;

That our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions any more than our opinions in physics or geometry,

That therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence, by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages, to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right,

That it tends only to corrupt the principles of that very Religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments those who will externally profess and conform to it;

That though indeed, these are criminal who do not withstand such temptation, yet neither are those innocent who lay the bait in their way;

That to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy which at once destroys all religious liberty because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own;

That it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government, for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order;

And finally, that Truth is great, and will prevail if left to herself, that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them:

Be it enacted by General Assembly that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities. And though we well know that this Assembly elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of Legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding Assemblies constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare that the rights hereby asserted, are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right.

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November 20th, 2014 by Fr. Greg

Day 32: Blogger’s Choice #3

Once again we have free rein (correct usage, although “free reign” is so entrenched in our language that it too is considered correct) to choose our own topic.  Today I want to go with some random observations I have been making lately.  As I have written here, we enjoy the Advent season in our house and don’t go crazy with gifts, etc., and I feel this gives me some clarity in cutting through the craziness of the season.  I am looking forward to our church Christmas pageant Sunday as well as Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services.  This is all despite the extreme cold we have had lately and some auto troubles, particularly a dead car battery the other day.  Here goes:

-The poem is called A Visit From St. Nicholas, not Twas The Night Before Christmas.  Let’s get this right.  The wiki article is interesting – I had no idea there was a controversy over authorship.

-We have had a lot of snow recently which is not always the case for December.  I am appalled at some of the driving I have seen.  Massachusetts people like to pride themselves on their ability to deal with the weather and their driving skills – talk to any Mass. person who has lived elsewhere and see what they think of drivers there.  So, what has happened?  Did we forget how to drive?

-I was driving the other day when one of the local high schools let out and noticed a crossing guard for high school students at an intersection that had crossing signals and a short distance between sidewalks.  Do we really need a crossing guard for high school students, especially when there is a signal?  We are a long ways away from the days of the pioneers.

-Now that Oldies 103 is gone, we listen to a station out of Rhode Island for Christmas music.  It is nice hearing the classics, but it really seems like their playlist is on repeat every hour.  On a recent trip to see my father in the Merrimack Valley area, we lost the signal and found a station that is NH based (I think).  It was refreshing to hear different Christmas tunes.  Of course, in the MP3 and streaming era it is hard to complain about this stuff – we can always make our own playlists.

 

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December 20th, 2013 by Fr. Greg

Day 24: The Zygote

Fr. John chose this topic for our assignment because Day 24 was the feast of the Conception of the Virgin Mary – very fitting!  The idea here is, I think, to talk about life and the abortion issue.  At times in the Orthodox blogosphere and in social media our bishops have taken some shots for supposedly not speaking up about life issues.  I disagree – I think it is more that our bishops leave the political stuff to the politicians and prefer not to meddle with such things.  In our own Metropolis, His Eminence has always spoken out forcefully on moral issues.  He recently received national props around the blogosphere for his address to the Metropolis Clergy-Laity assembly, but to those of us under his jurisdiction we were not surprised – he has always spoken from the seat of Moses when necessary.  A typical, and unreported, example happened several years ago at a Greek event where a congressman (who is not Orthodox) spoke.  The MC introduced him and mentioned, among other things, that he was pro-choice.  Later in the program Metropolitan Methodios got up to speak and, before he began his remarks, he looked over to the gentleman and said “Congressman _____, I hope your choice is pro-life”.  He then went into his talk on another subject.  It was awesome – I started furiously texting friends (discretely, since I was at the head table).  It was the perfect moment, and I hope it made the congressman – a very good man whom I consider a friend – do some thinking.

40DAYSBLOG

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December 11th, 2013 by Fr. Greg