WESTERN AMERICAN DIOCESE, 1996
Appeal of the Pastoral Conference of the Clergy of the Diocese of Western America
“We thank Thee, O Compassionate One, Who by the Cross dost save our souls.”
(Sticheron at “Lord, I have cried...” vespers of Monday of the 4th Week of Great Lent)
We pastors, participants in the pastoral conference in the city of San Francisco , have gathered together under the gracious protection of the all-holy Theotokos, the Joy of All Who Sorrow, and our great holy hierarch and Wonder-worker John of Shanghai and San Francisco . We are glad of the possibility for close spiritual fellowship with our archpastors and one another in the task of building up the Church in the spirit of love, unity and openness. In these days of the Holy Forty-day Fast, when “the most precious Cross is set forth for veneration,” we have been praying together, we have united around the holy altar-table, we have shared our pastoral experiences, our joys and fears. We are aware that we are remiss in thanking the Lord for the rich mercies He has bestowed upon us. Expressing our gratitude to the Lord for the gift of the priesthood He has imparted to us, at the same time we also thank God, and call upon the spiritual children entrusted to us to be thankful to Him for the mercy of our being in the true Church of Christ . How this warms and fills our hearts with joy!
During the course of the conference, we found the following themes and questions to be particularly pertinent and topical:
1) We must never forget that the parish is a spiritual family. The parish is not a democracy, not a dictatorship, but rather a family. In this, the family of Christ, the spirit of love, trust, openness and modesty must prevail. All those seeking spiritual support will hasten to such a family. Many Americans, including the clergy and flock of various modernist and pseudo-Orthodox jurisdictions, as well as newly arrived Russians, are seeking spiritually for that Church which is in this world but not of this world. They are seeking in the Church for a bulwark, they are searching for the pillar and ground of Truth, and kindness, warmth, care and true spiritual concern from us. Let us open for these people the doors of our hearts and the doors of our churches. And let us not merely open the doors, but extend our hand to them.
We are very much concerned with the question of the restoration of piety among our parishioners. Saint John Chrysostom reminds us that the Church was not established so that those who pray in it may display their corruptible wealth, but to amass spiritual riches. In particular, it is totally unacceptable for women to approach the holy Chalice, Holy Communion, with lipstick on their mouths and to leave traces of this lipstick on the spoon and in the chalice; to do so is a profanation of what is holy. We also call upon women to come to church with their heads covered, as the holy Apostle Paul teaches us (I Cor. 11:5).
2) We also consider that it is essential to dedicate special effort and attention to our successors—our youth. They are the future of our Church. We have already lost many of them—partly because of acculturation and mixed marriages, partly through our own fault. We must make every effort to draw the youth to the Church, to the spiritual life. We call upon our children and our youth to be, with us, members of the Holy Church , to save themselves with us. The society in which we live has become a society of despair. The youth senses this—they have had little joy in the 20th century. True consolation is to be found only in the Church. With particular joy and enthusiasm we welcome the recent resolution of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia on the appointment of a standing committee for the organization of annual Saint Herman Youth Conferences—a necessary application of all possible means for the spiritual elevation of our youth. With other pastors, parishioners and the youth, we are prepared to work toward the realization of this objective. It ought to be noted that in parish life there is one terrible phenomenon which often repels children and the young—parishioners' constant condemnation of one another, and the pastors and archpastors of the Church. Let us combat this sin with all our strength.
3) During the course of the conference we remembered several of our departed spiritual leaders. We remembered Metropolitan Anthony, of whom Saint John wrote: “Every Orthodox Christian, whatever his nationality and from whatever country he hailed, was close to him. To everyone who had need of him, he was a good father and wise guide. Each one who approached him for spiritual advice, he treated as his own spiritual kinsman...” We also remembered Metropolitan Anastassy, who often gathered his clergy and the youth together, questioned them, listened to them, and bolstered them spiritually. Of course, we also remembered our Vladyka John. These holy hierarchs showed personal care for their clergy, their flock, and especially the youth. Following the book of the Proverbs of Solomon, they sought counsel: “There is salvation in much counsel.” The clergy and believers felt themselves to be a vital, real part of our Church. The grace-filled unity and trust which are so important for the edifying work of the Church, and which are shown, and must be shown, to be one of the characteristics of our Church Abroad, were palpable. When there is no counsel, when there is no trust, no personal concern and unity in the fold of the Church, the life of the Church suffers, and distrust, alienation, misunderstanding, a waning of zeal, and depression appear. We call all true cooperation in the Church.
4) Speaking of our spiritual leaders, we cannot remain silent about our Mother, our Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. The path of our slandered, misunderstood, isolated Church has been thorny. But thorny also was the path of those martyrs who suffered for the Faith at the hands of the Latins. The betrayal which took place four hundred years ago at Brest-Litovsk not only continues to this day, but is intensifying, drawing the local Orthodox Churches toward a new union with Rome . Thorny also was the path of the holy new-martyrs of Russia , who shed their blood for the confession of the right Faith. Thorny likewise was the path of those exiled for the Orthodox Faith. We cannot forget their blood, their faith, their principles, their zeal, their piety. We must stand firmly in the Faith, in the Truth. During difficult times, during periods of flux, it is a firm stand in the Truth which draws people: purity of faith leads to true joy. It is essential to preserve the spiritual heritage of our Church.
5) Our spiritual guides repeatedly warned (and continue to warn) us against the apostasy, the moral disintegration, the spiritual desolation, which are taking place around us. Once we allow our spirit to flag because of this and various parish difficulties (and this may happen without our even being aware of it), we forget the greatest of Christian virtues--hope. We forget the words of the Lord: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Lk. 12:32). Despite all the difficulties and all the darkness of today's world, we must hold joy and hope in our heart, for our Faith is a triumphal Faith. Have we lost our inner certainty that the Church will conquer? The gates of hell will not prevail against the Church (Mt. 16:18). Yes, we live in a world mired in sin, yet has not the holy Apostle Paul told us: “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Rom. 5:20)? A clear example of this is the city of San Francisco , in which many are sunk in the filth of vile lust, in the perversion of God's image in man--yet in this same city has appeared to the whole world the greatest consolation and mercy: the incorrupt remains of Saint John ! No, we shall not lose heart. We shall live in hope and transmit this spirit of hope to our youth. And with hope there will also be joy, which we also often forget. Has not the Apostle Peter commanded us to rejoice with joy unspeakable (I Pet. 1:8)? This joy we should also pass on to our youth.
6) The life of the venerable Basil the New contains the account of how he prayed that the Lord reveal to him the fate of his deceased disciple, Theodora. And the Lord answered the prayer of the saint. Appearing to him in a dream, Theodora recounted her passage through the way-stations of sloth, avarice, lust, pride, deceit... It is noteworthy that the final way-station before the entrance into the kingdom of heaven was that of hard-heartedness and lack of charity. If we successfully complete a great many struggles, yet lack charity, entry into the kingdom of heaven will be denied us. At the Dread Judgment, the final sentence will be that pronounced upon lack of charity. We, the pastors of the Church of Christ , are called especially to show charity towards the members of our flock; and, at the same time, the souls entrusted to us must show charity toward one another. But to ourselves personally we must show greater strictness, we must expect more.
Work with the youth, the mutual building up of the Church, the rooting in us of hope, joy and charity, faithfulness to the ideology and spiritual heritage of the Church Abroad, the restoration of piety, the extending of our hands to all who seek and desire salvation, and inexpressible gratitude to the Lord for everything--this is what we have been speaking of in our conference, this is what we have experienced and what we are aiming for. We are deeply convinced that, following this path, toward these goals, our Church life will become more vibrant, more edifying, more fruitful. Despite the fact that more effort, more prayer, more zeal for the Lord are demanded of the pastors, we feel a certain excitement and a fresh flow of spiritual strength. We wanted to share this with our brethren in the other dioceses, with our parishioners and our beloved youth, in the hope that the spark kindled today, by the relics of Saint John , will spread, burst forth, and be transformed into the flame of faith, love and hope.
Archbishop Anthony, Bishop Kyrill, and Conference Participants
Wednesday of Mid-Lent, 1996
San Francisco , California