From Obedience Comes Friendship

Sunday, July 5 (OS June 22), 2020: 4th Sunday after Pentecost. Hieromartyr Eusebius, Bp. of Samosata (380). Martyrs Zeno and his servant Zenas of Philadelphia (304). Martyrs Galacteon, Juliana, and Saturninus of Constantinople. {St. Alban, protomartyr of Britain (c. 305)}

Epistle: Romans 6:18-23

Gospel: Matthew 8:5-13

Glory to Jesus Christ!

Seen from the outside, the Gospel appears as an unbearable imposition on my freedom. An unending list of do’s and don’ts. To use St Paul’s phrase, humanly speaking, that is in my spiritual or emotional immaturity, the Gospel feels to me likes “slavery.”

And yet with time and experience, I begin to realize that far from limiting my freedom it is the Gospel–and specifically my obedience to the Gospel–that makes my freedom not just possible but a treasure to be jealously guarded.

Humanly speaking, St Paul says, the options before me are stark. I can live as a slave “of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness” or as a slave to “righteousness for holiness.” It is the latter, the way of holiness, that is the way of true and lasting freedom. To see this we need only reflect for a moment of what it means to follow the way of uncleanness.

We should first of all admit that there is something undeniably attractive to following this path because it is the way of my own will. Choosing what I want to do based on my desire at the moment seems not just desirable but intoxicating.

But my desires are constantly shifting, pulling me this way and that as different options present themselves to me. And so soon I discover that this is a life of increasing fragmentation.

Think about the sin of vainglory, of pursuing the praise and good opinion of others.

Yes, at first, this might result in my trying to be a better person. Soon though I discover that winning–much less keeping–the good opinion of others is a trap. Even my closest friends will at times disagree with me; even the most generous friend will now and then have no time for me or as much time for me as I want.

As the opinion of others becomes more important to me, I’ll begin to seek out anyone who can affirm me, spend time with me. I do this because I am trying to find the sense of self-worth that can only come from within as the fruit of my relationship with Jesus Christ.

And so the Apostle says the fruit of this way of life is a life of “lawlessness leading to more lawlessness” as I surrender control of my life not to others but to my own desire for their approval.

Living like this doesn’t make any of us happy. How can it? What is more insubstantial, what is more flicked than desire?

Yesterday we celebrated Independence Day. In the preamble to the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson says that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” This last right, the right to pursue happiness, is not (as we are sometimes told) the right to follow every passing whim. It is rather a life that fosters human flourishing, of becoming evermore the persons God has created us to be.

For Jefferson, for St Paul and the Christian tradition as a whole, happiness is found not in doing what I want but doing as I ought. It is in this sense that we can talk about the United States as a Christian nation. Not Christian as the Church is Christian but rather Christian in the sense that in our founding we drew inspiration from the Christian ideal of living not as we want but as we should.

Hearing this needn’t upset us.

This is neither a diminishment of the Gospel nor an unwarranted glorification of America. Rather it is simply seeing for a nation what Jesus sees in the centurion: An epiphany of the Church’s faith outside the Church.

The centurion’s faith was praiseworthy because it freed him from the vain pursuit of the good opinions of others. Because he was free in this way he was able to love his servant.

It was for his servant’s sake that the centurion was willing and able to humble himself before Jesus. Through faith, through obedience to God, master and servant became much more. They became friends.

We are now as a nation suffering all manner of dissension. We are internally divided and are fast becoming not neighbors or even fellow citizens, but enemies. We are suffering this because–on both the Left and the Right–we have abandoned “the pursuit of happiness,” in favor of the pursuit of fickle desire and, above all, power over others as a way to bolster our own frail sense of self-worth.

In a fallen world, we are not friends unless we choose to be so. This choice is not a matter of simply agreeing with each other. Much less is it the fruit of superficial attraction.

It is faith in Jesus Christ and obedience to the will of God that makes yesterday’s enemies into today’s friends. And this happens not because you have changed but I have.

My brothers and sisters in Christ! “From this day forth from this very hour and this very minute,” as St Herman of Alaska said, “let us love love God above all and seek to accomplish His Holy Will.” Let us from this moment commit ourselves more fully to Christ and so make friends of our enemies and show the world how the divisions that afflict us can be healed.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Pastor’s Note for Sunday, 21 June 2020

Sunday June 21 (O.S., June 8), 2020
2nd Sunday after Pentecost
All Saints of America
Glory to Jesus Christ!

This past Monday (6/15), Dane County began Phase 2 of our re-opening (Forward Dane). Based on the size of our space, we can accommodate approximately 30-40 people As a practical matter, this means that everyone who wants to do so is now able to attend Liturgy.  You can attend either in the chapel or the fellowship room if you are more comfortable doing so.

The guidelines below about social distancing and face masks are not unique to our diocese but are standard for all parishes in the United States and reflect the recommendation of the Assembly of Orthodox Bishops in America (Assembly of Bishops Releases Guidelines and Considerations for Safer Orthodox Church Services During the COVID-19 Pandemic).

Social Distancing. I would ask you to comply with the request from Metropolitan ANTONY and Archbishop DANIEL to maintain as much as possible a distance of 6 feet. Again as a practical matter, this means maintaining social distance between households rather than individuals as such. To help with this, all the large chairs have been removed from the chapel. There are folding chairs along the walls for those who need them.

Face Masks. Please remember as well that for all adults (13+) and can do so, face masks are mandatory. There are disposable masks available on the table outside the chapel door. Please dispose of the masks in the trash can when you leave the building.

Coffee Hour. While a full coffee hours is not currently possible (i.e., no snacks) we will have coffee outside in the parking lot after Liturgy.

Liturgical Schedule. Great Vespers will again be celebrated starting the Saturday afternoon (6/20) at 5 pm. I’ll hear confessions both before (starting at 4pm) and after the service. Divine Liturgy will be celebrated Sunday at 9:30am with Hours & Pre-communion Prayers starting at 9:15am.

A Final Word. The last several weeks, months really, have been a trial for all of us. Not only have our daily lives been upended with safer-at-home orders with many of us were required to work from home when we weren’t faced with reduced hour or even unemployment. We have seen what are (for American’s anyway) uncharacteristically empty grocery store shelves. Added to this recent weeks have seen protests and riots not only around the country and the world but down the street.

And of course we have not been able to pray together and receive Holy Communion together under the same roof.

The temptation in all this is to forget that we are brothers and sisters in Christ. We hear almost daily pundits and politicians who make the simplistic and unwarranted assumption that disagreements about practical matters about the pandemic or race relations are evidence of a wicked intention on the part of those with whom they disagree.

For months, we have all been subject to the overwhelming, unrelenting drum beat of dissension not so much as the meaning of citizenship but about how to foster the common good and to “secure the blessings of liberty” for all. Given this it is not unexpected that we would be tempted to think in similar ways about the life of the Church.

We must avoid the temptation to assume that disagreements about practical matters is evidence that our brothers and sisters in Christ are motivated by malice, stupidity or an absence of faith.

Succumbing to this temptation harms not only my own soul but my neighbor’s soul as well. Worse, it makes me an ally of the Enemy of Souls who lives only to divide us from God and each other.

Over the last few weeks and months, I have come to an ever deeper appreciation of the late Soviet dissident  Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s insight that The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained.Whatever else it might require, our vocation as Orthodox Christians–our evangelical witness as much as our own spiritual life and life as a parish–begins and ends in our willingness to see and bless even the smallest expression of goodness that we encounter in our neighbor and society. It is only in doing this first that we prove ourselves faithful to the Scripture:He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes (1 John 2:9-11).I am looking forward to seeing all of you this weekend. FINALLY!

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Sunday Sermons & Livestream Services

Christ is Risen!

Before the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent quarantine order here in Madison, I’ve been posting written versions of the Sunday homily. Since the ‘safer-at-home’ order here, we’ve been livestreaming the Liturgy. Rather than posting the sermon, I would invite you to attend Liturgy online via our parish Facebook page: Ss Cyril & Methodius Ukrainian Orthodox Mission.

Thank you for your continued participation and support. May God keep you and yours safe and healthy!

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Coronavirus Update

Glory to Jesus Christ!

Weekly Services:
Presanctified Liturgy & Great Vespers: CANCELLED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE
Divine Liturgy, 9:30 AM Sunday

Because of the Corona Virus and out of concern both for the health of the faithful and the general public, the bishops have directed that the parishes NOT celebrate any of the divine services EXCEPT Sunday Liturgy:

We direct that ALL liturgical worship services in our parish communities, except for Sunday Divine Liturgy, must be suspended until further notice.We direct all our beloved and devoted clergy to celebrate Divine Liturgy every Sunday morning, without a choir, but with the participation of at least a reader or cantor.  The Eucharist MUST be offered “in behalf of all and for all” during this horrific crisis. We will not close the doors of our parish churches in the face of our faithful who wish to participate in the Liturgy but the restrictions of remaining at least six feet apart must be followed as per regulations set by federal, state and local governments and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

You can read their letter on the matter here.

Therefore, beginning this week and for the foreseeable future, we will not celebrate either the Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified or Great Vespers. I will be available BEFORE (8:30 on) and AFTER Liturgy if you want to go to confession.

The bishops asked that those over 65 years old, those with chronic health issues or any who might be ill to please not come to church for their own health and the health of others:

…we do direct that ALL our faithful over the age of 65 completely refrain from visiting their parish churches because they are the most vulnerable and susceptible to the pandemic virus.  Further, regarding all other faithful, we can no longer recommend that “those who exhibit no symptoms continue to gather for services”. THE RISK OF INDIVIDUAL “SELF-DETERMINATION” OF ILLNESS OR SYMPTOMS OF THE VIRUS, A FLU OR SIMPLY A COLD – INCLUDING YOUR OWN HIERARCHS – ARE SIMPLY NOT ACCURATE IN TOO MANY INSTANCES. We have canceled all our own scheduled parish visitations throughout this pandemic crisis, so that no obligation is perceived by the faithful to be present to welcome their hierarchs.

As your pastor, I would recommend that all of you, but especially those over 65 or with chronic health concerns, exercise great prudence in your fasting in the coming weeks. As the bishops point out, one can be infected while also not exhibiting symptoms. Fasting is meant to weaken the body to free the soul. In our current situation, it is important for us to remain healthy not only so we can meet our obligations to Christ, our family, friends and work but also so that we don’t inadvertently become a source of illness for those in the community. Therefore I would recommend that those who can, fast as strictly as they are able on Wednesday and Friday. Use your discretion for the other days of the week.

Some of you will not be at Liturgy on Sundays. This is perfectly fine. For those who wish to do so, I have sent a copy of the Typica service that can be said in place of attending Liturgy (here). If you have trouble opening or printing the pdf, please let me know and I’ll send the service directly to you.

Finally, it breaks my heart that we because of the pandemic, we will not seeing each other on a regular basis. Please pray for our bishops, Mtka Mary and I, even as we are all praying for each of you.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory