On Sunday, September 15, 2019, his Eminence Archbishop Daniel together with Subdeacon Ihor Protsak made his first pastoral to one of the newest communities in the UOC-USA. With the blessing of his Eminence Metropolitan Antony, Ss Cyril & Methodius Ukrainian Orthodox Mission was started in 2017 by Fr Gregory and Mtka Mary Jensen together with a half a dozen other faithful Orthodox Christians in Madison, WI. Since then, the community has grown to 30 men, women and children.
Unique among Orthodox communities, the mission was established for the specific purpose of reaching out to Orthodox and non-Orthodox college students. Located on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the mission’s outreach is important not only for the students but for the life of the Church in America. By the time they are 25, 60% of those baptized as infants will leave the Church. Of the 40% who remain, only about 1 in 4 will be in church on a regular basis. The community of Ss Cyril & Methodius is working to change this situation for the better.
Like the mission, the UW OCF chapter has grown quite a bit in the last few years now numbering over 50 students. Students together with UW professors attend Sunday Liturgy at the mission. The OCF also meet several times a month for social events, spirited discussion about, well, everything or services projects. By God’s grace, the OCF’s witness on campus has led several UW students to inquire about becoming Orthodox Christians.
At Liturgy, Vladkya Daniel challenged the congregation to see all the material and educational blessings they have received as invitations from God to become better human beings, better citizens and, above all, more committed and faithful Orthodox Christians.
After Liturgy, at a potluck lunch with the community, parishioners spent time speaking with Vladkya about a wide range of topics. The younger children of the parish enjoyed learning about his miter and Panagia. His Eminence also spent time talking with the college students about their experience on campus and their plans for their futures. In gratitude for his visit and support of the mission and its outreach to college students, the OCF made Vladkya an honorary Badger (On Wisconsin!).
The parish, the OCF, Fr Gregory and Mtka Mary all extend their gratitude to Vladkya Daniel and Subdeacon Ihor for their visit and look forward to more such visit in the years to come.
12th Sunday after Pentecost; Martyrs Adrian and Natalia and 33 companions of Nicomedia (4th c.).
Epistle: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 Gospel: Matthew 19:16-26
Glory to Jesus Christ!
Especially in the Old Testament, the understanding of wealth and poverty is different than what we hear today both in secular culture and even from Christians. It’s important to keep this in mind to rightly understand the events in today’s Gospel.
While the modern concern, for example, with “income inequality,” is not absent in the Scriptures, the fact that some are rich and others poor is not taken as inherently unjust. Rather a person’s economic condition is seen as reflecting the will of God for that person.
This doesn’t mean–in either case–that my economic condition determines my moral standing in the presence of God. While God makes some rich and others poor, all are bound by the same obligation to keep the commandments as Jesus reminds the rich young man.
Additionally, to say with the Old Testament that wealth is a blessing doesn’t mean that it isn’t without its own moral obligations and dangers. With wealth comes the responsibility to use wealthy wisely.
Those who have more have a heavier obligation to care for others; not one’s own parents and children but the poor as well. As we hear in today’s Gospel, fidelity to these specific obligations–to act justly, to love mercy “and to walk humbly” with God (see Michah 6:8)-is the start of perfection.
Listen again to the conversation between Jesus and the rich young man. In response to the man’s question “what must I do to be saved?” Jesus says simply and directly that he must keep the commandments.
It is only when the young man wishes “to justify himself” that Jesus invites him to live by a higher standard. While his salvation is not in question, he is still lacking. He can be perfect if only he is willing to do what perfection requires.
And what must he do? What does perfection require? The man must sell all that he has, give the profit to the poor and to follow Jesus as His disciple.
In saying this, Jesus is not calling into question the moral goodness of wealth. But what He is doing is highlighting an Old Testament concern about wealth
Too easily, wealthy can be used to buy illusory independence from God and neighbor. “Those who trust in their riches will fall,” we read in Proverbs (11:28, NIV) “but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf.” Likewise, “Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God” (Proverbs 14:31).
The question for my life then becomes this: What is it in my life that keeps me separated from God and neighbor?
For the rich young man in the Gospel, it was his many possessions but what it is for me? The specific command of our Lord to the young man is helpful here.
Jesus doesn’t condemn wealth as such but He does challenge the man to put his wealth at the service of others. “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
And so the question for me becomes, what am I holding on to that can be put at the service of others? What am I holding on to that keeps me from drawing closer to Jesus Christ by keeping me separated from you? What are the areas of my life where I think God is absent and where my will rather than His will is sovereign?
The other thing about wealth is that it is often used to buy the appearance of respectability. Put slightly differently, what in my life do I use to earn the favor of others rather than the favor of God?
Or how do I use you to bolster my own self-image rather put the gifts God has given me at the service of your flourishing and sanctification?
My brothers and sisters in Christ! All of us can be like the rich young man. We can all hold on to things that we use to justify our separation from God, our indifference to those in need and our pursuit of worldly success at the expense of the Kingdom of God.
The solution to this is not to pretend that our wealth isn’t wealth. It is rather to make a conscience and consistent effort to put our wealth–material, intellectual, or social–at the service of the Kingdom of God.
Today, Jesus calls each of us to perfection. He calls each of us to take that which keeps us from Him and put it the service of God and of our neighbor.
September 1 (OS August 19), 2019: 11th Sunday after Pentecost; Afterfeast of the Dormition of the Theotokos; Commemoration of the Holy Martyr Andrew the General and the 2,593 martyred with Him.
Epistle: 1 Corinthians 9:2-12
Gospel: Matthew 18:23-35
Glory to Jesus Christ!
For all that he criticizes them, St Paul sees the Church at Corinth as the “seal” of his ministry. For all that they fall short of the Gospel, the Corinthians are the tangible proof that the transformation of Saul of Tartus into the Apostle Paul is real.
And not only this.
The murder of Christians has become the father of the Church at Corinth and it is as a father that Paul reminds them of their obligations. He has the same “the privileges granted to the other apostles.
Like Peter and the rest, Paul and Barnabas are exempt from “manual labor” and instead have the right to earn their livelihood in recompense for his preaching as the Lord appointed” (St Augustine, The Work of Monks, 2).
Immediately after sketching out his rights, Paul says that he and Barnabas “we have not used this right, but endure all things lest we hinder the gospel of Christ.”
As we’ve seen, central to being a disciple of Christ is the willingness to embrace a life of “voluntary self-restraint” in imitation of the kenosis, the self-emptying, of the Son in His Incarnation for the salvation of the world.
For his part, “Paul does not exercise his rights because they might be an obstacle to the gospel.” In addition, by freely setting aside what is owned him, he is all the freer “to argue that he was not one of the false apostles” (Ambrosiaster, Commentary of Paul’s Epistles).
There is something admirable about not exercising our rights. There is also something admirable about accepting without complaint injustice and even abuse. For these, we have the example not only of Jesus but the Apostles and martyrs whose blood is “the seed of the Church” as Tertullian says (Apologeticus, 50).
And yet, Jesus doesn’t call us to a life of passivity. We are instead called to pick up our cross and follow Him (see Matthew 16:24; Luke 9:23).
Nor can we be passive because and fulfill our calling to “preach the Gospel to all creation” and to “make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things” that Jesus has taught us (Matthew 28:19-20).
While sometimes we must remain silent, there are times when the same voluntary self-restraint, the same self-emptying, that requires me to bear with injustice and suffering, moves me to speak and even speak forcefully. There are times when obedience to Christ requires from me to act and even act forcefully.
To see this we need only look at the parable in today’s Gospel.
The King has compassion for the servant who owes him an unimaginable amount of money. The debt is so large that it couldn’t be paid off in several lifetimes. Nevertheless, rather than assert his right to repayment the King forgives the debt.
But this isn’t the end of the story.
Because the wicked servant fails to forgive a smaller debt from his fellow servant, the king doesn’t just re-instate the debit. He doesn’t even just send the man to prison or sell his family into slavery. No, he turns the unforgiving man over to torture “until he should pay all” he owes.
The king’s reasoning becomes clear in the details of the parable.
The wicked servant doesn’t just ask for the repayment of what he’s owed. He violently attacks his fellow servant; “he laid hands on him and took him by the throat” (Matthew 18:28, KJV)
Moreover, the size of the debt tells us that the wicked servant isn’t an ordinary servant. He is a close and trusted servant of the king. How else could he secure such a large loan?
The conflict between the two servants is not one between equals. The wicked servant is a wealthier and a more prominent member of the king’s household.
Given this, by his lack of forgiveness, the servant reveals himself to be an enemy not only of his fellow servants but of the king as well. He is a violent, unforgiving man who exploits his equals in their need and the trust of the king.
It is for these reasons that his fellow servants complain to the king and that the king responds as he does.
There are times in our Christian lives when, like the servants in the parable, we must speak because our silence will leave someone outside the Kingdom of God. There are times when we must act because failing to act means that someone else will suffer harm by our failure to intervene.
In these cases, my failure to speak or to act makes me culpable for the evil I see. By my omission, I sin and sin grievously.
To be sure, too many Christians use the obligation to speak or act as an excuse for their anger. They are concerned not with mercy or justice but of doing harm under the guise of the Gospel. These individuals have the “form of godliness but denying its power” because they lack charity; they preach but don’t believe, they confess but they don’t repent. And so St Paul tells us “from such people turn away” because they will lead us astray and if possible even corrupt the Church from within (2 Timothy 3:5, NKJV).
Even a cursory examination of Church history will reveal any number of such bad Christians. These are they who, as Apostle Paul says, “preach Christ … from envy and strife, and … from selfish ambition” instead of “from goodwill” and “love” (Philippians 1:15-16, NKJV).
Our faith as Orthodox Christians, our lives as disciples and apostles of Jesus Christ, will sometimes require that we speak even as, other times, we will be called to remain silent. This time we patiently endure, while at another time we act and act boldly.
The difference between the two is simple enough.
While I am free to endure the evil inflicted on me, I am never free to remain quiet and passive when evil inflicted on you! The former requires courage and can even make me a saint; the latter reveals me to be a coward in need of repentance.
My brothers and sisters in Christ! Jesus calls us today to be brave! To speak on behalf of those without a voice and to act on those without the ability to resist wickedness.
Be brave, be strong! Love requires both and without love what are we?