Tuesday, September 26, 2006


I recently had a meeting with my metropolitan and I have been scheduled for ordination to the Holy Diaconate sometime at the end of November/early December. I new this day would come and I have been preparing for it a long time, however, now that I have a definate idea of when and where, it seems even more a serious matter. Already so many warnings and teachings come to mind. Namely the words of Chrysostom, Basil, Ignatius, Timothy, and Paul. All offer words of wisdom as to what a Deacon, Priest, or Bishop should be; how they must act, how they must live, how they must believe. An especially poignant verse is one that my lovely wife emailed to me today. It's an excerpt from the epistle of Timothy. Chapter 3:1-16

1 This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth
a good work. 2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife,
vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; 3 Not
given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a
brawler, not covetous; 4 One that ruleth well his own house, having his children
in subjection with all gravity; 5 (For if a man know not how to rule his own
house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) 6 Not a novice, lest being
lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover he
must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach
and the snare of the devil. 8 Likewise must the deacons be grave, not
doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; 9 Holding the
mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. 10 And let these also first be
proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless. 11 Even
so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. 12
Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own
houses well. 13 For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to
themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ
Jesus. 14 These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: 15
But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself
in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and
ground of the truth. 16 And without controversy great is the mystery of
godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of
angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into

Reflecting on these words, I realize, now more than ever, how important it is for priestly candidates to live pure and blameless lives. Now, by "pure" I don't mean perfect. I mean that they should not have committed any of the "Big" sins; those sins that will attack the credibility of their ministry. Sins such as fornication, backstabbing, lying, cheating, stealing, etc. Namely, sins that have public as well as personal consequences. I'm not saying that it is therefore OK to sin privately, however, it is much harder to minister when your name is not clean. For example, how will people seek advice about marriage from a priest who is divorced, advice about chastidy from one who fornicated before marriage, advice about fidelity from one who cheated on his girlfriends in his youth. It just doesn't work.

It is for this reason that throughout all of our Holy Tradition we constantly find warnings that a priestly candidate must be free from all public blame. He must be an example to all so that his ministry can be effective. The sheep will not follow a sheppherd who acts like a wolf. And it does no good for someone to be a wolf all their lives and then suddenly attempt to play the sheppherd. Many think in this way; that they can engage in all types of immoral behaviour in their youth and then change when they get ordained. This is absolute nonesense. If we have learned anything from studying 2000 years of Church history, it is that sanctity and holiness take years to master and is a constant process. Furthermore, ordination is not some magical event, as some would think, that suddenly makes someone a holy leader of a community. In essence, I believe that ordination should confirm that which one already is. If one is to become a priest, one must possess the characteristics way before his actual ordination. This is why the canons outline, as does Timothy above, the type of person a priest must be before he is ordained.

Many of us believe that the past will be forgotten and that youth is meant for experiencing all types of things, good and bad. They believe that their past sins will not affect their future lives. This is our greatest dillusion. Spiritually, we are the sum of our moral decisions, with very few exceptions. What we do everyday of our lives affects the next day, just as every step in a climb determines which way we are heading on the mountain; up or down. Those who would seek ordination, including myself, must always remember this truth. The truth that if we want to be sheppherds of the flock of Christ, then we should be living that lifestyle way before our odination. Skeletons in the closet always come out, just as evil cannot evade the light forever.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Dare to be Truthful, Dare to be Real!

Now, I know that everyone has gone ga ga over what the Pope said about the poor Muslims. Everyone, on both sides, has an opinion on either why he was incredibly insensitive to Muslims or whether he should have said more. Yes, there are fanatics on both sides of the line. Personally, I don't care so much as to the content of his speech. What concerns me is the fact that "Political Correctness" has gone so far as to eliminate the freedom of speech. Furthermore, this so-called "correctness" is somehow always in favor of all religions except Christianity.

Really, am I the only one that has noticed that Christians are repeatedly getting the short end of the "politically correct" stick? Why is it that no one can say anything about Muslims, or Jews, but when television, news papers, books, commentators, comedians, and actors speak out against, and slander Christianity, nobody seems to care much? Bill Maher continuously bashes Christian institutions in his comedy show but no one makes a protest. The pope says one thing about Islam, and they're burning his effigy in the streets! How many Christians have we ever seen burning Mohammed effigies?

The point is that this so-called "Politically Correct" world is yet another mask for our intolerance of each other; what we stand for, and what we believe. We do not live in a society of free speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of ideas. We can't even say Merry Christmas out loud for fear of offending someone not of the Christian persuasion. I mean c'mon people. If a Jew puts a star of David on his door in my apartment building, why should it bother me? And yet I am not allowed to hang a Christmas Sign on my door for fear offending others. Indeed, in some buildings it is prohibited.

Our western society has this delusion that we can all live in this perfect "Politically Correct" bubble in which everyone can live in peace and harmony as long as they never express their true belief system. This is oppression at its worst! At least in 3rd world countries, places we consider to be uncivilized, they are not so fake. They may be killing each other over their beliefs, but at least they have them! Here, we seem content with a bland, no-confrontational, let's all get-a-long Protestant mentality that seems to be eroding the very foundations of our faith.

So Big Deal, the Pope said he disagreed with Islam. He stated a historical fact that Islam has brought much more war than peace. This is a historical observation that even the most novice of historians could make. Who cares. He is entitled to his opinion. I, for one, am proud of him. Proud because he dared to say that, which most Christians are thinking! We all belong to a faith of some sort. And by belonging exclusively to a faith, we imply that what we believe is right, while others are wrong. If we didn't believe this, be it Christian, Jew, or Muslim, than what is the point of following anything exclusively? If a religion does not claim absolute truth, how can it maintain any kind of following or offer any kind of ontological teaching?

Therefore, if we believe in our respective religions, than why pretend like we don't? Muslims have no problem damning the whole world according to their belief system. That's fine, it's their right. That's why they're Muslims. When will we, as Christians, wake up and realize that we have religious rights too. We have the right to say that we have the truth, that we are right. That's what being in a true multicultural society is; accepting different points of view, even if they disagree with yours. "political Correctness" is just a way of stifling such freedoms so that we can all live peacefully in denial of our most fundamental beliefs. This is because most westerners do not have the stomach for the alternative: actually discussing our differences openly. They do not have the religious conviction in most cases. And we Orthodox often fall into the same group.

The Pope attempted to tell the truth in a global society that reprimanded him because it hurt its ears. It didn't want to hear because accepting such criticisms makes things a whole lot harder. Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. Muslims exist in most countries, far and wide. Therefore, it is too painful to consider the consequences of actually having to theologically debate them in every society. Just as it is hard to debate with any other religion. We simply are not up to the task and furthermore, we are afraid. Don't get me wrong; I'm not a hater of Muslims, Jews, or any other people. I have friends in both these circles. And because I am there friend, and I respect them and their freedom, I believe that they can say anything they want about Christianity. I will not retaliate because I love my fellow man and allow him to disagree with my faith; a policy practiced by most Christians today. However, is it too much to ask that we Christians actually demand the same respect from those who burn papal effigies? Can we not live in a world where we disagree, but at least have the freedom to dare to be truthful about our beliefs? Dare we be real?

Monday, September 04, 2006

The Contemplative Man

I am currently reading the book "The Wounded Healer" by Henri Nouwen and one of the chapters caught my attention. It's called "The Contemplative Man." Here Nouwen speaks of the characteristics of a minister who is able to contemplate his present age with clarity and compassion. He states,

"The contemplative is not needy or greedy for human contacts, but is guided by a vision of what he has seen beyond the trivial concerns of a possessive world. He does not bounce up and down with the fashions of the moment, because he is in contact with what is basic, central and ultimate. He does not allow anybody to worship idols, and he constantly invites his fellow man to ask real, often painful and upsetting questions, to look behind the surface of smooth behaviour, and to take away all the obstacles that prevent him from getting to the heart of the matter. The contemplative critic takes away the illusionary mask of the manipulative world and has the courage to show what the true situation is. He knows that he is considered by many as a fool, a madman, a danger to society and a threat to mankind. But he is not afraid to die, since his vision makes him transcend the difference between life and death and makes him free to do what has to be done here and now, notwithstanding the risks involved."

The above quote (especially the bolded passages) really hit home with me during recent events in my life where I was put in particular situations that I felt were inappropriate and which everyone else believed to be acceptable. Furthermore, when asked why I was not thrilled about the situation, I was chastised for being too radical, too fanatic, and being a "party pooper."

I am finding more and more, as priesthood approaches, that many of the so-called "social norms" of our society are not for me and more and more I am realizing the extreme clericalism that our people impose on their relationships with priests. They believe that priests are the one's who are supposed to be holy and mature, while at the same time exempting themselves from such behaviour as if they were not Orthodox. I found myself recently contemplating why in certain situations (Eg. in the club) it is considered inappropriate for a priest to be present and yet totally acceptable for all other Orthodox Christians to attend. It is inappropriate because what the priest stands for is ultimately incongruent with what the "club life" stands for. And if we are all attempting to be "Christ-like," and the priest is our spiritual leader in that quest, why do we separate our behaviour from his? Why is it OK for us to do things he cannot?

It is truly a daunting task attempting to preach a message that no one wants to listen to. It is even more disheartening when even your closest friends and family don't understand the message either; when they are part of "the illusionary mask of a manipulative world" and they are unable to take that mask off because they have been conditioned to wear it for as long as they can remember. And even when they dare to remove it, their friends make sure to put it back on them immediately.

Henri Nouwen says that such a ministry can only be done with support and never alone. Yet, I see that in our day an age, in many cases, it will have to be done alone because there is no one else to lean on for support. I find the task sometimes too daunting, too disheartening, too difficult , having no one I can turn to except my fellow priests, among who, only a handful understand the true nature of things. The only solace is Christ's words "with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." May He give me the courage to bear the inevitable ostracization that will ensue in my upcoming journey.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Monasteries, Monasteries, Rama Lama Ding Dong!

Now I know most people will curcify me for what I'm about to say, but I truly believe that we Orthodox, as a whole, are definately going down the wrong path when it comes to monasteries.

I was recently in Greece, which I can tell you is not the best place to find spirituality these days. I liken it to the Byzantine Empire at the height of its decadence. Because it's a an Orthodox nation, everyone takes for granted that they are Orthodox and hardly anyone takes the faith seriously. However, the monasteries are flourishing in a way never before seen. Everywhere one goes it can be observed that people are flocking to the monasteries for spiritual enlightenment, solace, direction, and advice. Now this is all good and dandy if the monasteries were not using this opportunity to make a fortune off the faith of the populace.

Now I know these words seem harsh and many will tell me, "The monasteries need to make money to survive." Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with monasteries making money to feed themselves and others, but I do have a problem with the thousands (and sometimes millions) that they are making from entrance fees, prescribed candle prices, bookstores, etc, etc, etc. One monastery would not even allow us to take pictures because they had sold the rights to a publisher for their next upcoming book that will feature a more "professional" look at the monastery, sold at a premium price, at all bookstores across the country and abroad. I mean, com'on, I can't even take a picture of the places I worship at? That's a little extreme.

When I go to Mt. Athos and the monks pick me and my bishop up in 2005 Land Rovers with leather interiors, that's a little excessive. Where is the the asceticism that people are flocking to the monasteries for? And yet people insist that this is the true path for an Orthodox Christian and that the city parishes are somehow "not holy enough" for them.

Then I returned to Canada, where I believed that we had not progressed soo much in this spiritual downfall. We have two Greek Monasteries here and to my knowledge, they were still fairly moderate in their quest for money. Boy was I wrong. On the vespers of the feast of the monastery her in my town, I was shocked at what I saw. Not only did they build a beautiful gate, pave the road, build a new parking lot, and build a brand new outdoor stage fore big events, I also had to pass through the daunting gauntlet of "Stations" that were all designed to extract money from me. And each time I passed by one of these "stations," either trying to sell me candles, trinkets, stickers, or multiple collection trays, the council members would give me a rude smirk when I didn't drop some money in the tray. "I'm sorry sir, I didn't budget for having to pay for the holy unction at the back of the chapel!" And last time I checked, monks didn't need expensive gates and state-of-the-art stages. What's wrong with the old stage, the dirt road, and parking on the grass? Isn't that all part of "escaping from the world?"

Truly, it seems to me that the quiet, ascetic life that people have always been drawn to at monasteries has been lost for a more commercial, and hate to say more luxurious, way of living. People will always flock to the monasteries and will always give money, however it's what the monks do with that situation that makes the difference. Do they use their excess $ to feed the poor, create programs for the needy and downtrodden, donate to hospitals, etc etc etc? I've never seen our monastery do such a thing. While at the same time, they jack up their prices soo much that it's actually cheaper for me to order clerical vestments from Greece than to buy them from our local nuns.

Going back to my earlier point of people abandoning their local parishes for the "Holier" environment of the monastery. Even if this were so, I still see a huge problem with it. Not only should people understand that their local parish is their number 1 priority, but they should also understand the difference between living a monastic life and living a life "in the world." Yet furthermore, the problem is twofold because now, not only are people flocking to the monasteries with this misconception, but they are not finding such peace and solace anymore, they are finding yet another form of commercialism. This reality will force them to view the monastery in a way it's never been seen before; a clique for "super Orthodox" to congregate in so that they can believe that they are holier than the rest of us. Furthermore, due to the loss of the spirtual innocence of such holy places, this clique is sure to be founded more on popular culture than on authetic spirituality and humility. Perhaps the monasteries found that the latter just doesn't sell as well as the first. Who knows. Frankly, I weep for our future generations.