Ukrainian Autocephaly and Responsibility Toward the Faithful


Excerpts from the intervention of His Eminence Metropolitan Ignatius of Demetrias, Chairman of the Synodal Committee for Inter-Orthodox and Inter-Christian Relations During the Extraordinary Session of the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece

(12th October 2019)

Your Beatitude Archbishop of Athens and all Greece, Brothers in Christ,

The Synodal Committee for Inter-Orthodox and Inter-Christian Relations, which I am honored to chair, explicitly followed the mandate of the Standing Holy Synod of the Church of Greece. In this light, I would like to summarize the prevailing perspectives during the Committee’s discussions, drawing your attention to the following five points:

1. The Ukrainian Orthodox people

As His Beatitude pointed out in his opening address, we are concerned with the Orthodox people of an independent state, which Ukraine constitutes today. We are dealing with millions of Orthodox faithful, who have historically suffered from policies of either Poland or Russia. Therefore, our focused discussions on the validity of Ordinations and the stance of Bishops must take into account the existence of millions of believers for whom we are responsible.

As the Archbishop of Athens and All Greece underlined, shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the declaration of independence of Ukraine, the latter requested that its local Church be granted the status of autocephaly, in accordance with the pattern of the other Autocephalous Churches. This original request was a genuine one. The fact that it was co-signed even by the current Metropolitan Onufriy is a strong indication that it was a comprehensive request, in the sense of reflecting the desire of the entire people and the hierarchy, so that they would achieve independence from subservience to the Russian hierarchy. Unfortunately, this general request was not answered adequately and the issue remained pending. Nevertheless, we are dealing with an independent Ukrainian state, a people with a particular identity, to which the Orthodox faith has also contributed.

2. The role of the Russian Orthodox Church

I think that it is also appropriate to explore the role of the Russian Orthodox Church. And I insist on the term ‘Russian Orthodox Church’, inasmuch as experience has unfortunately demonstrated that our brothers give priority to the adjective ‘Russian’ over the adjective ‘Orthodox’. Regretfully, this is a reality that has been already observed since the fall of Constantinople. In fact, while the Russian Orthodox Church had every opportunity to resolve the issue by taking steps towards autocephaly, or at least by proposing a solution that would be acceptable to the Ukrainian people, it sadly failed to do so. Despite a long-lasting dialogue of nearly thirty years on the matter, the Russian Orthodox Church did not want to provide any solution. Meanwhile, the Ecumenical Patriarchate had also contributed to this dialogue in an effort to show its support. However, after Russia’s invasion of Crimea, all of these efforts collapsed. Today, no one believes that the Russian Orthodox Church could provide any solution that would prove satisfactory to the Ukrainian people. Such a view clearly belongs to the past. No solution will ever emerge from that side.

Indeed, not only did the Russian Orthodox Church fail to present any solution, but its attitude during the preparatory process for the Holy and Great Council of 2016 was moreover completely negative. As we all know, autocephaly was among the questions discussed during this preparatory process. Thus, in the 1980s, the Ecumenical Patriarchate even appeared to consent to a relativization of its own privileges. Accordingly, adhering to a strict process, the Ecumenical Patriarchate requested pan-Orthodox consensus for the granting of autocephaly.

During the pre-conciliar meetings leading up to the Holy and Great Council of Crete, we were asked to address the question of signatures consenting to autocephaly. There was no further discussion on the text itself, which had already been agreed upon. This was without a doubt precisely the point that demonstrated the contention of the Russian Orthodox Church and its obsession with refusing the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s proposal. The proposed process followed the precedent of granting autocephaly to the Church of Greece and adopted the terms ‘determines’ and ‘codetermines’, signifying that the decision is ‘determined’ by the Ecumenical Patriarch and ‘codetermined’ by the rest of the Primates.

We attempted to explain to the Russian Orthodox representatives that once the Ecumenical Patriarch had signed the decision, it could not be questioned. On the contrary, Autocephaly would already have been granted. Nevertheless, the term ‘codetermine’ still implies a powerful action because it indicates participation in the actual decision. Nevertheless, the persistent contentiousness of the Russian delegation was inconceivable. Allow me to share with you that I personally reminded the senior representative of the Russian Orthodox Church, ‘The Ukrainian issue is at hand. Do you not see this? Can you not comprehend what will happen?’ In response, he invoked his Patriarch’s insistence that he should not retreat from his position on this matter. I am not quite sure whether his claim was legitimate after all. Today, it might even be questioned.

The Russian opposition arises in the context of the international theological dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. In this regard, it emanates from the unwillingness on the part of the Russian side to accept any concept of primacy in the Eastern Church. This is the heart of the problem. For it seems that the representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church believe that, if the Ecumenical Patriarch had signed [the Tomos of] Autocephaly in the proposed manner[1] during the process of granting autocephaly, then they would somehow accept that ‘there is a Primate’. This remains a problematic point for the Russian Orthodox Church.

As a result, the question of granting autocephaly was not discussed at the Holy and Great Council of 2016. Had it been discussed there, there would have been no issue today. Not only was it not included in the agenda, but the Russian Orthodox Church also chose not to participate in the Council, invoking the absence of the Patriarchate of Antioch. We believe that it could in reality have also played a part in Antioch’s participation in the Council. If the Russian Orthodox Church had participated in the Council, we firmly believe that it would have been able to ensure and record in the proceedings the pledge of the Ecumenical Patriarch not to proceed with granting autocephaly without its consent.

3. The Ecumenical Patriarchate and its obligation

The Ecumenical Patriarchate considers that it was obligated to take action. With very few exceptions, everybody recognizes that it had and still has the right to grant autocephaly, a privilege that the Holy and Great Council certainly did not deny. The Ecumenical Patriarchate is concerned about the ecclesial and spiritual life of the faithful that I mentioned. For that reason, it provided a solution to a problem that could not otherwise possibly be solved. It acted in a particular way, because this is precisely the ministry of the Patriarchate, its task within Orthodoxy.

Granting autocephaly is a prerogative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which in the case of Ukraine does not negate the ecclesial entity headed by Metropolitan Onufriy and the Russian Orthodox presence in Ukraine. The status of these does not change; they are neither excommunicated nor led to schism. The Ecumenical Patriarchate has not broken communion with them. On the contrary, it is they who have broken communion with it. The Ecumenical Patriarch continues to commemorate Patriarch Kirill according to the diptychs. Thus, he continues for his part to be in communion with Onufriy, while at the same time offering the possibility of ecclesial communion to the Ukrainians belonging to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. No one can dispute this prerogative of the Ecumenical Patriarch.

4. The Church of Greece and its unity

Let us turn now to our own Church of Greece. Herein lies the most vital point, Your Beatitude. I agree with you when you cite Article 3 of the Greek Constitution [which concerns relations between Church and State] that we safeguard and do not wish to change.

As the President of the Hellenic Parliament has rightly pointed out, Article 3 does not merely concern the relationship between State and Church, but it also relates to the unity of our Church with the Ecumenical Patriarchate. This is a unity that we cannot call into question or permit to be jeopardized in any way because it involves the unity of the Body of our Church and our hierarchy, especially since a considerable number of our hierarchs in the so-called ‘New Lands’ belong spiritually to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and only administratively to the Church of Greece. We should never become embroiled in a conflict with the Ecumenical Patriarchate over the Ukrainian issue because this would lead to our own division, our own problematic relationship with the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Why would we ever do that?

5. Geopolitical developments and national matters

Without doubt, the current situation also has geopolitical dimensions. We recognize our own responsibility today. For better or worse, no autocephaly was ever granted with reference to intra-ecclesiastical factors alone. It always had to do with geopolitical developments as well. I am sorry if some do not understand what is happening in our time: where we belong and how responsible we are for the outcome.

What the Russian Orthodox Church will do after the recognition of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church by the Church of Greece is up to the Russian Orthodox Church. In any case, it always operates in a way inappropriate to an ecclesial ethos and is not respectful of the autocephaly and independence of our Church. This will be demonstrated if it decides to break communion with us, which in turn will prove precisely that we must maintain our own unity, support the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and – as you have rightly argued, Your Beatitude – recognize the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. If we maintain unity, we will be able to overcome any omissions and correct any mistakes; whereas if we are divided, we will never be able to contribute to that which all of us desire, namely the oneness and unity of the Orthodox Church.

Thank you.

Hierarchs of the UOC of the USA Welcome Metropolitan Epiphaniy of Kyiv at the Spiritual Center of the Church in South Bound Brook, NJ

(UOCOFUSA) His Beatitude Metropolitan Epiphaniy, Primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine was formally welcomed by the hierarchs, clergy and faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA at the Spiritual Center of the Church in South Bound Brook/Somerset, NJ on Monday 21 October, 2019.

Welcoming the Primate of the OCU on the front steps of the historic St. Andrew the-First-Called Apostle Ukrainian Orthodox Memorial Church, His Eminence Metropolitan Antony called Metropolitan Epiphaniy’s attention to the fact that it the first visit of the Primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine to the sacred temple of Ukrainians in the United States of America, as St. Andrew’s Church is the first monument to the victims of the Artificially Created Genocidal Famine in Ukraine of 1932-1933.

Upon entering the church and blessing the clergy and faithful in attendance, both metropolitans of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (one in Ukraine and one in the United States of America) exchanged statements of spiritual joy for the opportunity that the Lord presented to the world-wide Ukrainian Orthodox community to reestablish Sacred Bond through the Mother Church of Constantinople.

His Eminence Metropolitan Antony made references to countless hierarchs, clergy and faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, Canada, Australia, Western Europe and throughout Diaspora who for the past 100 years of their existence in the Western World, offered unceasing prayers of intercession for the spiritual “freedom” of the Orthodox Church – the people of Ukraine. The sacred bond between the Mother Church of Constantinople and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Diaspora served its spiritual purpose towards the unification process and canonical and sacred recognition of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine by the Holy and Sacred Patriarchate of Constantinople, and most recently by the Church of Greece and soon by other Autocephalous Orthodox Churches throughout the world. Since the reception of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA into the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1995, one of the primary goals of the hierarchs of the Church was the granting of the Autocephaly to the Church of Ukraine. The Church in Diaspora remained as a living torch of presence in the Orthodox world, constantly reminding everyone of the historic right to Autocephaly of the people and the Church of Ukraine.

Responding to the words of welcome of Metropolitan Antony, His Beatitude Metropolitan Epiphaniy expressed strong sentiments of spiritual joy and for the people of Ukraine and Ukrainians in Diaspora as they now they enjoy the most sacred union through the motherly care of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. The primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine thanked both hierarchs of the UOC of the USA for their service in the process of the formal canonical Synodal granting of the Tomos of Autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. Moreover, Metropolitan Epiphaniy turned his attention to His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, the former Exarch of the Ecumenical Throne to Ukraine, and offered gratitude for the work that was accomplished by Vladyka Daniel, while serving in Ukraine and representing His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.

Assisted by Archbishop Evstratiy of Chernihiv, Metropolitan Epiphaniy presented the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA with the gifts of commemorative silver coins, honoring the historic events of granting of Tomos of Autocephaly. Moreover, an embroidered icon of the Protection of the Birth-Giver of God was presented to the UOC of the USA, commemorating the decision of the Council of Bishops of the UOC of the USA to place the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the United States of America and Ukraine under the Sacred Protection of the Birth-Giver of God.

Following the visit to St. Andrew Memorial Church, the delegation of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine was treated to a walking tour of the entire 53 acres of sacred land of the Metropolia of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA.

The first stop was made in the crypt of the Holy Resurrection Mausoleum of St. Andrew Memorial church, where the remains of the first spiritual leader of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church rest – patriarch and metropolitan Mstyslav (Skrypnyk) of blessed memory. In honoring the memory of the spiritual leader of the Church in Diaspora and later in Ukraine, the Primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine honored the memory and service of countless hierarchs, clergy and faithful of the Church in Diaspora and Ukraine who throughout centuries prayed for the day of spiritual ‘freedom” and the sacred ability to pray in the tongue of the Holy Fathers and Mothers of Kyivan Rus-Ukraine.

Archbishop Daniel, assisted by the newly elected Vice-president of the Consistory Very Rev. Fr. Victor Wronskyj and Treasurer of the UOC of the USA – Very Rev. Fr. Stephen Hutnick, led the walking tour of the Metropolia Center of the UOC of the USA, while visiting the memorial grave site of the first hierarch of the UOC of the USA – Archbishop Ioan (Theodorovich); the National Ukrainian-American Veterans Monument, the main Cemetery Cross of St. Andrew’s Cemetery, which is dedicated to the numerous heroes of Ukrainian people, who died for the freedom of the ancestral Ukraine; the Ukrainian Insurgent Army memorial.

Having crossed the historic bridge to the administrative side of the Spiritual Center of the Church, Metropolitan Epiphaniy visited St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary, which this year marks 47th year of academic presence as the theological school of the UOC of the USA. Meeting the full-time students of the Seminary, His Beatitude bestowed his blessing to all students and wished them spiritual and academic excellence.

Ukrainian Cultural Center and Archives section of the building were the next stop for the delegation from the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. His Beatitude Metropolitan Epiphaniy paid special attention to the main hall of the Cultural center, where the XXII Sobor of the UOC of the USA took place just a day prior to Metropolitan’s visit. While at the Center, Archbishop Daniel called Metropolitan’s attention to the icon of Christ the Savior (made in a mosaic style of iconography, consisting of the photographs of the youth of the Church, which was presented to His Eminence Metropolitan Antony on the 70th anniversary of his birthday). Moreover, the Prime Hierarch of the Church of Ukraine venerated the icon of the Protection of the Birth-Giver of God – the main Sobor icon of the UOC of the USA (beautifully written by iconographer Cheryl Pituch).

Having toured the site of the entire Cultural Center, which is also a home for St. Andrew School of Religion of Ukrainian language (which consists of over 100 students) and of the dance group Barvinok, Metropolitan Epiphaniy formally entered the main administrative building – the Consistory of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA.

Touring the administrative offices, Metropolitan Antony presented a tour of the formal portraits of all hiearrchs of the UOC of the USA from the moment of the formal foundation of the Church in 1918. The portraits were painted in Ukraine by Artur Orlenov, an artist whose work Metropolitan Epiphaniy immediately recognized.

Entering the second section of the complex of the Consistory, Metropolitan Epiphaniy visited St. Sophia Seminary Library, which a home for about 60,000 volumes of theological books as well as other literature, covering the history of Ukraine, the United States of America, etc.

The Primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine paid special attention to the present exhibit of “Rushnyky” in the location of the temporary exhibit hall of the Ukrainian History and Education Center. Meeting the director of the Center Mrs. Natalia Honcharenko (as well as Dr. Michael Andrec – archivist; Dobrodiyka Oksana Pasakas – collections manger and Yuri Mischenko -curator of the exhibit), Metropolitan Epiphaniy presented the executives of the museum with a personal gift – a traditional “Petrykivka” embroidered towel, which immediately became of a historical value, as it was gifted to the museum by the Primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.

The formal visit concluded with an informal reception in the Consistory building of the UOC of the USA in honor of His Beatitude and the delegation of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. Meeting with the clergy and the faithful of the Church, Metropolitan Epiphaniy answered their questions and presented himself for numerous photos with the individuals in attendance. In conclusion of the visit, a special presentation was made to Archbishop Evstartiy and Dobrodijka Oksana Pasakas – both of whom celebrated their birthday on that day. Traditional MNOHAYA LITA – GOD, GRANT YOU MANY YEARS was chanted.

Having bid farewell to the members of the community in attendance, Metropolitan Epiphaniy bestowed his archpastoral blessing before heading into the formal meeting with the hierarchs of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA in order to reflect and to address common pastoral and ecclesiastical projects and endeavors for the Glory of God and His Holy Church.

In the late hours of afternoon on Monday, October 21, 2019 the delegation of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, headed by His Beatitude Metropolitan Epiphaniy departed the Spiritual Center of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA for Washington, DC.Hierarchs of the UOC of the USA Welcome Metropolitan Epiphaniy of Kyiv at the Spiritual Center of the Church in South Bound Brook, NJ

Photos by Subdeacon Yaroslav Bilohan

(61 images)view slideshow >

Visit from Archbishop Daniel

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.

Vladkya Daniel and the faithful after Divine Liturgy.
The Sermon!
Blessing of Students at the Start of the New Academica Year.
UW-Madison OCF made Vladkya an honorary Badger.
UW-Madison OCF made Vladkya an honorary Badger.
On Wisconsin!

Be Perfect!

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.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Be Brave! Be Strong! Be Loving! Be a Saint!

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?

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory