Orthodox Contact

A St. Nicholas Melbourne Publication

www.stnicholas.org.au

Issue #36 October 2002.

*******

Beatitude

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

 Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when men shall revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.  (Matt 5:3-12).
*******

On the way of the Cross it is the least blessed in this world’s terms who have the opportunity and challenge of being available, in their emptiness and their weakness, to receive the fullness of life in God’s Kingdom. Theirs is the way of love which they share with Christ as they walk with Him. Losers are in fact winners in eternal life!

‘The Correctness Disease’

From time to time the journal Divine Ascent arrives in our mail from the Monastery of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco, CA. Issue No. 7 carried an article on the St Herman of Alaska Monastery. In this there was a candid and helpful section describing the development and refining of their missionary outreach. ‘Services were done almost entirely in English. Much of the literature they published, as well as the talks given both at the Monastery and in parishes, developed a very zealous approach to Orthodoxy, the convert phenomenon, and the question of jurisdiction. They strongly advocated against any kind of modernism in the Church ... the preoccupation with Church politics became increasingly problematic, and the fathers shifted their rigor and zeal to a more moderate stance; not, however, before making enemies.’

‘Fr Seraphim realised that, as he said, “we helped create a monster” with the zealot articles the Brotherhood had published. He shifted his attention to pointing out the dangers of the “correctness disease” (which tries to define where grace is and isn’t) and to affirming that the Moscow Patriarchate and other canonical Orthodox jurisdictions are, despite their problems, still grace-filled and legitimate Orthodox Churches ... Father Seraphim began to emphasise “Orthodoxy of the heart,” rather than of the head and of external correctness.’

Some of us who have heard Fr Damascene, another member of the St. Herman Brotherhood, speak on his Australian tours, will remember him saying that on mission outreach in Russia the phrase “I’me more Orthodox than you are,” was to be heard on the mouths of demons. Indeed we do well to avoid such judgmental  attitudes.

Early on in our time of introducing Orthodoxy as an option for ‘Westerners’ in Australia, we found ourselves ordering in case loads of Peter Gillquist’s ‘Becoming Orthodox.’ This book was very well received and proved to be accessible within our local mind-set. Personally I have always been grateful for the title: when we embark on the process of exploring and seeking to appreciate the splendours of Orthodoxy, we do indeed embark on a journey, in the process of which we ourselves are stretched and need to grow and to develop. We are not into ‘instant’ perfection, we are entering a process of becoming, of entering more fully into ‘life in Christ.’ Those who have the responsibility of caring for others who are on this journey, need to exercise considerable discretion. There is always the need to balance challenge with encouragement, demand with reward.  In other words, wise and appropriate pastoral care is of the essence. “For we all with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” 2Cor 3:18.

Some of us have been studying St Mark’s Gospel lately in the Diocesan School. In this Gospel we read of the Pharisees, they were upholding the faith, acting as guardians of it in an occupied country with all the pressures of alien influences. They were very zealous for the exact keeping of the Law. Our Lord and His practice in the care of others caused them more than a few problems: He did not always keep the Sabbath, He even healed people then and when challenged was heard to reply that “The sabbath was made for man not man for the sabbath” Mark 2:27.

In his central section about Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem to face the Passion, Mark gives a carefully constructed presentation of the disciples’ growing comprehension of the situation. The section is introduced at 8:22 with the healing of a blind man in two stages: at first he sees ‘men as trees walking,’ he has vision, but it is distorted; then, after some more ministry, he sees clearly. Peter at 8:29 confesses Jesus to be the Christ, but he then rejects the notion of a suffering Messiah.  He has a partial and distorted vison of what Messiahship involves. Then Jesus, as He proceeds ‘on the way’ to Jerusalem, constantly has to counter the disciples bargaining concerning their own status in the new kingdom, they were suffering from a bad case of ‘Who is the greatest?’ Again they have partial vision as to who He is, but it is distorted due to their pride. We may note with some fascination the interweaving of themes and allusions: the later parts of Isaiah give us the stories of the suffering Servant, earlier (2:12-13) we have the sections in which we read of ‘the Lord of hosts [who] has a day against all that is proud and lofty ... against all the cedars of Lebanon, lofty and lifted up.’ The men ‘as trees walking’ are imaged as ‘proud and lofty,’ a preview of the disciples’ problem.

How does our good Lord deal with all this? He does not loose His cool and reject those whom He has called, but keeps on quietly teaching them within the circumstances of the interactions of the journey. James and John seek to bribe Him into giving them the best seats, He teaches them of the status of the suffering Servant. Then the author of Mark, in his exquisite literary craftsmanship, portrays the blind and much maligned beggar Bartimaeus, ‘sitting by the roadside,’ a seat in good view of Jesus, ‘front row of the stalls’ indeed. It is he, who when healed, gets up and ‘follows Jesus in the way.’ The way of gradual learning is integral and acceptable within the Gospel. It is natural to the process of discipleship and to be nurtured within it.

Again, within our study of St Mark’s Gospel we have been noticing just how often the reaction to Jesus’ marvellous works, to the Kingdom of God manifest through Him, is one of astonishment and wonder. How often do we ourselves  recognise that it is as we grow in our sense of the wonder and the beauty of Christ, that we are moved to deeper worship of God through and in Him. We share a joy in the verse of St Ephrem:

                I stood in fear, having become aware of You;

                I grew because I magnified You.

                Whereas You do not thereby grow,

                the person who increases praise of Your Majesty

                grows in You a great deal. (Faith 32:5)

Our Wednesday evening group has been doing a little Bible Study on St Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians. When one considers that work one realises that Paul spends much of the first three chapters encouraging his new converts, ‘to lead a life worthy of God who calls you into his own kingdom and glory’ (2:12). He does not weigh in to correct them until the beginning of Chapter 4 and then carefully, that they, who are called to sanctity, should not be continuing the sexually immoral standards of their worldly environment. So often, like St. Paul, we do well when we are to assist others ‘on the way’ of the Lord, to encourage them, to help enlarge their horizons as to the wondrous provision of God and to walk with them on the journey. Criticism is so often crippling, we do not handle it well, we get discouraged and even give up. It serves only to divide and to destroy the life of the Church. ‘Love is patient and kind’ 1Cor 13:4. Love realises that all of us here ‘see in a mirror dimly’ and only ‘know in part’ 1 Cor 13:12. Therefore, in love we may seek to encourage one another and to journey peacefully together within God’s Church.

We do well ro recall Irenaeus’ teaching that: ‘we do now receive a certain portion of His Spirit, tending towards perfection, and preparing us for incorruption, being little by little accustomed to receive and bear God.’  (A.H. 5.8.1.)  So, in our world of ‘instant’ answers and immediate access we hare none too accustomed to nurturing the virtue of patience, however, we may find that in matters of growth in faith, we are going to need this. As children in the faith, we all take time to develop, to grow in our life in Christ.

New Developments at Saint Paul's Mission Parish, Melbourne

"A young man and his wife have said "Yes Lord"". These were the words of His Eminence Paul Saliba in his sermon at the evening Liturgy at Saint Paul's on Sunday September the 15th 2002.

The Metropolitan was elated and rejoicing with the congregation at the prospect of ordaining Sub Deacon George El Khouri. The church was packed with many standing. Fathers Dimitri, George, Colomba and Geoff were present in the sanctuary and a bi-lingual Liturgy was served with all the priests contributing.

The choir sang their hearts out for the occasion. We were also celebrating the first anniversary of the founding of the mission parish and someone commented afterwards about how much the choir has advanced and developed after only one year.

The welcome to Deacon George and his wife Amal was very warm and the celebration supper afterwards in the hall, organised by the ladies committee, was magnificent.

It is anticipated that Deacon George will be ordained as a Priest by the beginning of next year. Then Father Geoff and Father George will work hand in hand for the spiritual growth of St Paul’s, accommodating the needs of the congregation at all levels.

We praise God, Who is working His purposes out as year succeeds to year, and we value your prayers for the Saint Paul's community as they enter this exciting, but also demanding, transition period.

                                                                          from Fr Geoff Harvey.

Towards the Resurrection

by Fr Dimitri Baroudi

I have known Andre, who wrote ‘My story of Death and Resurrection,’ and his wife Jeannette, two dear friends, from our young days in the context of the Orthodox Youth Movement in El-Mina. Then, we endeavoured together  to direct the energy of our youth to the hearing of God's Word and obedience to it.

The years passed and we continued to be in sporadic contact. One day in July 2000, news reached me from Lebanon of the passing of their young son Fadi in a car accident. He was on his way to his parents, back from his work in Dubai. I was struck by the news. My thoughts and prayers went to the young man and his parents. I pondered the way in which they would have come to terms with this painful accident.

I mustered the strength to call them. Neither of them could speak to me, so I conveyed my condolences through others. I realised the weight of their cross and they said to me "pray for him". I prayed for him and them and I continue to remember them in my prayers.

I continued to call them, and each time I felt I was standing before a deep and solid faith that "moves mountains". To them, the sufferings of the cross have been transformed into the light of the Resurrection. The Resurrection has become real and present as they live it today in their hearts and their very home. They see Fadi with them, sharing their prayers. They see Fadi and perceive his presence "at every moment, at home, in the street, in the faces of his friends and loved ones." They live this equation: "if you wish to live with your loved one who has departed from you, you only have to love the Lord Jesus deeply."

This is a living witness from ordinary people who have known the Lord in their childhood, and this knowledge was the foundation of their lives. The man later left his commitment to his faith and was lost in life's cares for a while. In an unexpected hour he was crucified, nailed on the cross in his turn. He fell silent and did not comprehend what had happened, and in silence there is a return inwards, to that place where the face of Jesus is found. He repented before Him, before the Crucified God, and saw the brightness of His light beyond the cross. He realised that his son had not left him, but that he is "present, close to you, you commune with him and he with you". For he now "loves the Lord Jesus deeply."

 *******

My Story of Death and Resurrection

I hesitated much before writing about my experience with sin and pain in body and spirit. But I felt that this experience might help some of those who have been through it, and those who may yet do so. This experience has helped me discover that the Lord Jesus is truly present with us on earth, that he loves  us and comes to our aid, and is able to do everything.

The Lord has planted in my heart, from my childhood and throughout my youth (in the Orthodox Youth Movement – El-Mina chapter), the seed of his divine love. Alas, I did not care for that seed. The current of the world led me into darkness, my spirit retreated, and I drew far from the Lord. I knew from the beginning that Christ's invitation to repentance was a fearful and difficult one. I therefore chose to continue leading a selfish life. I was distracted in my own world. I did not possess the courage to detach myself from the darkness of the world, from the centre of storms and sin. If one day I happened to visit Church to attend a feast or a memorial, I would refuse to pray or to look upon the Crucified One. I would feel greatly disturbed. This led me to draw far from the Church for a long time.

I remained in this situation for twenty five years, until 1997, when I underwent open heart surgery. In the darkness of the night preceding the operation, I closed my eyes and prayed, without knowing that the seed of divine love, which the Lord had planted in my heart through my participation in the Youth Movement, had not died. That was my very first ardent prayer, and I felt an inner peace. I returned home recovered and went on with my life without repentance. I made myself forget, once more, God's love for me. After a while, I began experiencing aches in my legs, and a long time passed as I visited various doctors.

On July 7, 2000, the family was gathered in the house, awaiting the arrival of our son Fadi (29 years) who was coming from Dubai to spend his holidays with us. Fadi did not arrive. He had died in a traffic accident on the road from Beirut to Tripoli. The news left us for dead. I awoke from the shock hurting physically and psychologically. So much so that I now find it difficult to describe the images of death which haunted me.

In Church, where his friends were singing hymns and praying for him, and where his mother sat in silence, I suddenly asked for the Psalter and began reading parts of it aloud. I felt in that moment that I was alone with Fadi. I then reached the sentence "my spirit longs for you O God". My spirit was troubled and I closed my eyes. I stopped reading, and wept. I felt that, at that very moment, I was born once again. I felt that time that my tears were ones of repentance. In that moment I tasted the heavenly light for the first time and I experienced divine love. Today I can state that true repentance is one of the most important divine miracles that God bestows on us.

The days passed and were very hard on us. Fadi was our beloved. He had received a Christian upbringing and lived in the midst of the Orthodox Youth Movement. He was entrusted with many responsibilities and, in turn, gave much. He graduated with distinction from a German university in the field of Computer Engineering and the Internet. He became a lecturer at one of Dubai's universities, where he shone as a teacher and was loved by all. He hated injustice and deceit and loved everyone very much. He did not differentiate between the learned and ignorant or between the rich and poor, for he regarded all human beings as God's children and saw the Lord's face in every man. This it was that led me one night to ask my Lord: did Fadi have to leave us, so that I may be saved? And I left the answer to Him... Here I remembered the words of Metropolitan George (Khodr) in his book "Words from the Gospel": "He departed from us to prepare a place for us with God...".

My illness increased greatly after Fadi's death, and I started to discover God's love as I was bedridden and suffering pains in body and spirit. So I pored over His words and those of His Apostles and I would feel comfort through every word I read. How beautiful are Your words O Lord, they are simple and comforting and healing.

Was it God's wisdom that I should descend into the depths of hell in order to realise my inner darkness? I now feel that my sin was an affront to God's love, and I have prayed that the Lord may grant me to pass the remainder of my days on this earth only with Him and in His love.

After I was struck with a paralysis in my legs, I had to undergo another dangerous and urgent operation, this time in my spine. I was not afraid of the outcome of the operation, but I was terrified of the possibility that my repentance may not have been sufficient. All that I asked of my family and friends at the time was to pray that the Lord may have mercy on me. Fadi, though absent, was present with me in my discourse with my Lord.

I awoke from surgery and was able to move my legs. After I learned that all those who loved me had prayed for me, including my brothers in the monasteries and fathers the priests, I knew the power of prayer and its effectiveness. I realised that the Lord had accepted my repentance, unworthy though I was. I was able to walk on both legs. I entered the Church for the first time since the operation leaning on my crutch, and felt an awesome fear as I lay in the Lord's bosom, preparing to receive the body and blood of Christ.

And now, my wife and I would like to offer our experience, which followed Fadi's departure, to every person who has lost a loved one. For Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life. This wonderful hymn has given us a tangible answer which is that our son is residing with Jesus, his redeemer[1]. This prayer has completely altered our understanding and changed all our thinking concerning death. The Lord Jesus wished to be incarnate, crucified, to die and then rise to make us understand that he has completely annihilated death and trampled on it. Thus, there is no death after today. Only eternal life which begins on this earth.

There is no reason for us to be sorrowful over the departure of anyone we love, if we have a true and undoubting belief in the resurrection of Christ. Instead, we must rejoice, for the one who left us is joined to God's love and has become an intercessor for us with the Lord. For this reason, life in our house has been transformed after Fadi's departure, and now moves in God's sphere. We turned his room into a prayer corner where we converse with the Lord, before the icons, and we feel that our son Fadi shares in our prayer. Today we perceive his presence at every moment, at home, in the street, in the faces of his friends and loved ones. We live together in greater intimacy than when he was present with us in the body. Thus our sadness has been transformed into joy despite the fact that the suffering will remain to the end. It may be necessary in order to draw us ever closer to the Lord.

Our real experience is that if you wish to live with your loved one who has departed from you, you only have to love the Lord Jesus deeply. Then, although absent, your beloved becomes present, close to you, you commune with him and he with you.

Our belief today is that God wished to take our son to His eternal world, to the divine beauty which is  infinite and indescribable, "to make him hear what no ear has heard and see what no eye has seen nor the heart of man conceived". This is the pinnacle of the divine love, so blessed are you my son for you now live in the love of your Lord with all of God's beloved ones.

Pray for him and for us.

By Andre Andraos.

First published in An-Nour Magazine, issue 4, 2002.Translated with the author's permission at the parish of St. Nicholas', East Melbourne, September 2002.


[1]               It is perhaps appropriate to note that Fadi is the Arabic word for Redeemer.

For our Enemies,  Let us pray to the Lord

 I'm not sure why Prayer for our Enemies has been excluded from the public worship of our parishes these days. I've heard liturgical prayers -- during the Great Entrance, for example -- for many groups affiliated with 9/11: victims, families, friends, rescue workers, civil authorities, and armed forces. Conspicuously absent, though, is the one group for whom we are commanded to pray: our enemies.

Here's a long, but powerful, prayer from Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic, the Serbian bishop of the last century. He witnessed courageously against Nazism, and was arrested and shipped off to Dachau. This is strong stuff:

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them. Enemies have driven me into Your embrace more than friends have. Friends have bound me to the earth, enemies have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world.

Enemies have made me a stranger in worldly realms and an extraneous inhabitant of the world. Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an unhunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by enemies, found the safest sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath Your tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

They, rather than I, have confessed my sins before the world.

They have punished me, whenever I have hesitated to punish myself.

They have tormented me, whenever I have tried to flee torments.

They have scolded me, whenever I have flattered myself.

They have spat upon me, whenever I have filled myself with arrogance.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Whenever I have made myself wise, they have called me foolish.

Whenever I have made myself mighty, they have mocked me as though I were a dwarf.

Whenever I have wanted to lead people, they have shoved me into the background.

Whenever I have rushed to enrich myself, they have prevented me with an iron hand.

Whenever I thought that I would sleep peacefully, they have wakened me from sleep. Whenever I have tried to build a home for a long and tranquil life, they have demolished it and driven me out.

Truly, enemies have cut me loose from the world and have stretched out my hands to the hem of Your garment.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Bless them and multiply them; multiply them and make them even more bitterly against me:

so that my fleeing to You may have no return;

so that all hope in men may be scattered like cobwebs;

so that absolute serenity may begin to reign in my soul;

so that my heart may become the grave of my two evil twins: arrogance and anger;

so that I might amass all my treasure in heaven;

ah, so that I may for once be freed from self-deception, which has entangled me in the dreadful web of an illusory life.

Enemies have taught me to know what hardly anyone knows, that a person has no enemies in the world except himself.

One hates his enemies only when he fails to realize that they are not enemies, but cruel friends.

It is truly difficult for me to say who has done me more good and who has done me more evil in the world: friends or enemies.

Therefore bless, O Lord, both my friends and my enemies.

A slave curses enemies, for he does not understand. But a son blesses them, for he understands. For a son knows that his enemies cannot touch his life. Therefore he freely steps among them and prays to God for them.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

  Derived from Orthodox Peace Fellowship, sent on by Timothy Beach.

 

 Our Mailing List

Those of you who look at the title of this issue of Orthodox Contact will notice that the whole newsletter is now available on the internet for those who have access to this facility. We are very grateful for those who are young, skilled and enthusiastic, who arrange to transfer the text to the web site for us.

At present we have quite a considerable number of issues to mail overseas, of which a proportion go to persons who have contacted us over the internet and who would probably be quite comfortable accessing it there. 

The internal Australian mail situation is becoming increasingly expensive also, since Print Post does not currently afford us any financial advantage over the standard mailing rate.

Therefore, it is with these considerations in mind that we propose to send this issue to everyone on the mailing list, but hereafter only to mail those persons who specifically request it. We will assume that all others who are particularly interested will look for Contact on the internet.

We will look forward to hearing from some of our readers and encourage you to send us news for future issues or comment as to what you find to be most useful. We began this work for the benefit of persons exploring Orthodoxy who were scattered across our large continent. We still have enquirers, we also have a growing number of resources. So, it is over to you for comment ... But please note that if you want to receive ‘Contact’ by mail you need to let us know.

*******

Coordinating Contact:

 December 2002:deadline for written contributions November15th. Please send them to
Riasaphor Virginia. 14, Mihil Street, Preston, Vic. 3072. Tel. & Fax. 03 9484 2238.

e-mail: virginiahutchinson@bigpond.com

 We thank Archimandrite Nabil for his assistance.