May 10, 2013

Never Helpless

Then Peter said, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” (Acts 3:6)

Mother Theresa

Every day we are faced with practical problems and people in need, calling for attention, help and solutions. Mother Teresa was once asked about this mountain of needs and people, and the apparent hopelessness of making much of a dent in the misery all around her. And she said, “Start with one.” Peter looked at the crippled man in front of him, his heart was filled with compassion but he had no money to give. What he did have was new faith in the resurrected Lord.  This is a story of miraculous physical healing (and such events still happen), but the main point is that Peter took an interest, spoke with him, interceded for him, extended his hand and helped him up. God did the rest. In Peter’s case this took a few moments. We may face similar occasions when a few words with a passing stranger make a difference. Or to make a difference we may be called to faithful friendship, prayer and service for a period of years when results are imperceptible. I once asked one of Mother Teresa’s Sisters of Charity in Newark how many people in the neighborhood converted as a result of their work. “That’s none of our business,” she replied, “Our job is to serve. What God does with that is up to Him.” With faith in the risen Lord we are never helpless. 

Back at the Chancery

I took the red-eye last night from Los Angeles, got to JFK at 5:48 am, took a train home, rested a bit (I don’t know about you but I don’t sleep well on planes), picked up the car and went to the office.

The Committee on Pastoral Practice finished going through a draft report on areas of consensus based on a detailed study of the current practices in the Orthodox jurisdictions across North America. We drew up a list for further study of topics where as yet there is no consensus among our churches. The report is not ready yet for distribution, but here’s a sample of some of the variations in practice we will need to explore:

How should converts be received (baptism, chrismation, confession of faith) and can we reconcile the differences between jurisdictions?
How should confession be done? To whom? What qualifies the priest to hear confessions, and can every priest to be a confessor? What is the role of monasteries around in confessing non-monastics?
How are penances understood and applied?
What is proper preparation for communion?
How are couples prepared for marriage? 
What consensus can we achieve concerning inter-Christian and inter-faith marriages?
What common policies and procedures ought we to have concerning divorce and remarriage?
Burial of non-Orthodox? Consistent practices for suicides? Cremation?

I must say that I was grateful to be part of this slow process, working our way through pages of responses from the churches, seeing where we are identical, where we have slight differences and where we have even serious divergences in practice. All of this is refreshing, because it means we’re on the road to hammering out a real unity among Orthodox Christians.