February 4, 2014

Psalm 64

Hear my voice, O God, in my prayer; preserve my life from fear of the enemy.
The righteous shall be glad in the Lord and trust in Him.
—Psalm 64(63):1,11 (LXX)

These verses are used in services for St John the Baptist and the martyrs. St Augustine in commenting on this psalm says, “The voice of the martyrs prays for this, ‘rescue my soul from fear of the enemy:’ not so that the enemy might not slay me, but so that I might not fear an enemy’s slaying.”

Fr Roman Braga
Fr Roman (Braga)

The translation used here today comes from The Holy Psalter of Prophet and King David (2012) arranged and edited by Father Roman Braga, the elder of the OCA’s Romanian Episcopate and spiritual father of the Dormition women’s monastery in Rives Junction, Michigan. Father Roman, 92, now in declining health, has been living at the monastery and serving the nuns there since 1989. He was born in Romania in 1922, spent five years in a Communist prison, was then tonsured a monk in 1954 and spent another five years in labor camps. He is thus one of the living confessors of the faith. In 2012, he gave an interview to Wonder, the OCA’s online young adult publication and spoke about fear and the spiritual impact of living under a Communist government.

The communists could not control what is inside of you, but you couldn’t express what you were thinking, you were not able to express your opinion. And this not only as a monk or as a priest or as a Christian, but as an intellectual in general. Not all intellectuals in Romania during the communist regime were communists. In order to survive they were forced to say one thing but they believed something else in themselves. So they had a double life. It was one thing what they had in their mind and in their soul – their convictions, and another what they were expressing aloud. It was all a matter of survival. So that was a very, very difficult life.

It was not like here where you are not afraid of anything. You are not afraid to express yourself; it was not like this. People were saying exactly what the government asked them to say in order to be able to have a job, to be a teacher, to have a profession, to be able to provide for their family their daily bread. But what they thought and believed the communist couldn’t control.

We were happy in prison in a way. Let aside all the physical tortures. Physical tortures are nothing. You suffer from them even, you can even die. But the communist imprisonment is worse than physical torture. They want to keep you at the limit of normal and abnormal, but they couldn’t control what is inside of you.

In a way, for a priest the communist prison was good because there in prison we were praying. Once you are convicted (of “crimes” you did not commit) you are placed in a cell, there is nothing else. They put the intellectuals and especially the priests in solitary confinement at least one or two years, and in a way that was very good for us. Not having anywhere to go or even look out a window because there were no windows in those cells of solitary confinement you have to look, to go somewhere; and so you go inside yourself, inside your heart and inside your mind to examine yourself, to see who you are and why God brought you into this world. You question whether God even exists, and what is your relationship with God.

When we were free we did not have time to ask ourselves these questions. Our faith was superficial because you can learn a lot of things and can have a mind like an Encyclopedia full of all the knowledge, but if you don’t know yourself and who you are!. Even if you know everything in the world you are superficial if you do not ask yourself who am I? Why do I exist? What is the destiny of my life? Why did God create me? If I believe in God what does God want from me?

These things when you live in freedom you do not ask yourself because you are in a hurry to do a lot of things, to read a lot of books and you become the slave of the books, the slave of the knowledge, of concepts of philosophy and so on. But you do not have the time to meditate on who you are. When you are free you are made out of quotations from books. We were not allowed in prison to have any books. In 11 years I did not see a pencil or a piece of paper, or a book, and not only myself, but all the intellectuals and all the priests. The communists gave books and papers to read to simple folks because they wanted to convince them to become communists. They wanted, however, that the intellectuals be transformed into beasts, become like animals. The interesting think is that it did not happen. Instead you became yourself because you started to examine yourself. Once you were out of prison, they were interested that you do not make propaganda to tell others what happened in prison, and so on and so many of us were expelled from the country just so we do not to tell the others what was going on in prison.

Metropolitan Council Meeting, Christian Churches Together, Father John McGuckin

Chancery snowfall at dusk

The Metropolitan Council begins its meeting this morning and will continue through Thursday. Yesterday’s heavy snowfall severely disrupted flights and travel plans (but the snow also gives the chancery a beautifully Narnian look, complete with lamppost.) We will gather at 9:00 am and see what adjustments have to be made to the schedule.

His Beatitude will join the meeting this afternoon after participating in a meeting of heads of churches with Christian Churches Together in Newark, NJ. This is the broadest representative body of Christian Churches in the United States, and includes Roman Catholics, Orthodox (Eastern and Oriental), mainline Protestants, Evangelicals and Pentecostal Churches. Father Leonid Kishkovsky, past Moderator of the CCT and one of its founders, will accompany Metropolitan Tikhon.

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Fr McGuckin
Fr John McGuckin, Metropolitan Tikhon

Last Friday His Beatitude attended the Alexander Schmemann Memorial Lecture at Saint Vladimir’s Seminary delivered this year by Father John McGuckin, the Ane Marie and Bent Emil Nielsen Professor in Late Antique and Byzantine Christian History at Union Theoloigical Seminary in New York City and Professor of Byzantine Christian Studies at Columbia University. Metropolitan Tikhon participated in the academic convocation which immediately preceded the lecture and bestowed an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree on Father McGuckin for his decades of academic work and numerous books and publications.

Father McGuckin’s lecture focused on Vladimir Lossky’s The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, published in 1954 shortly before Lossky’s untimely death. While the book has had a seminal influence on Orthodox theology in the 20th century and helped establish the preeminence of the “neo-patristic synthesis” (championed by Father Georges Florovsky) vis a vis the “sophianic” tendency represented by Father Segius Bulgakov, McGuckin hoped that the polemics of that time could be overcome in 21st century Orthodox theology. The central point of both those approaches was the importance of theology as the fruit of an experience of God in the Church.

McGuckin argued for a future Orthodox theology that is neither sophianic nor neo-patristic but is above all faithful to the Gospel, lived out in the present and able to rise above all factions and philosophies other than “the philosophy of the fishermen” (Saint Gregory the Theologian.) The Church is not a sect, McGuckin said, and therefore contains a range of expressions both “progressive” and “conservative.” And this “chaotic mix” is part of what it means to be the one, holy, catholic/sobornal and apostolic Church. He concluded that the theologian must know the real world that believers inhabit today, with the goal ultimately of offering compassion and hope to our own broken and alienated society. 

The full text of Father McGuckin’s lecture can be read at http://svotssynaxis.wordpress.com/2014/02/01/on-the-mystical-theology-of-the-eastern-church/.