The Diocese of the South
Orthodox Church in America
STATEMENT ON THE SPECIAL SESSION OF THE HOLY SYNOD

STATEMENT OF HIS EMINENCE, ARCHBISHOP DMITRI
ON THE SPECIAL SESSION OF THE HOLY SYNOD

To the Clergy and Faithful of the Diocese of the South:

On Thursday, March 27, the Holy Synod of Bishops withdrew its previous recommendations that Bishop Nikolai take a leave of absence and agree to leave his diocese. If that action would have stood, it would have amounted to a “de-facto suspension” of Bishop Nikolai without due process as set forth by the Statute of The Orthodox Church in America and proper Canonical order.

Being fully aware that the bonds of trust and love in the Diocese of Alaska are being sorely tested, the Holy Synod has set in motion a process to address the issues in the Diocese of Alaska as requested by His Grace Bishop Nikolai. Archbishop Nathaniel and Bishop Tikhon have been charged by the Holy Synod to go to Alaska next week and listen to the concerns of the clergy and laity of the diocese. They will report back to the Holy Synod at its regular May meeting. Bishop Nikolai will fully cooperate with Archbishop Nathaniel and Bishop Tikhon and will do what is necessary to restore peace, trust and love amongst his flock.

I ask that you continue to pray for the Bishop of Alaska, his clergy and the faithful so that with the coming Feast of Feasts, we all may incarnate the words we sing on Pascha night:

“Let us embrace each other! Let us call ‘brothers’ even those
that hate us and forgive all by the Resurrection.”

With love in Christ,

+DMITRI

Archbishop of Dallas and the South
2008 ARCHPASTORAL MESSAGE FOR THE GREAT FAST


ARCHPASTORAL MESSAGE FOR THE GREAT FAST 2008
HIS EMINENCE, THE MOST REVEREND DMITRI
ARCHBISHOP OF DALLAS AND THE DIOCESE OF THE SOUTH

Dearly Beloved in the Lord:

“…And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich…” (Luke 19:2)

For Orthodox Christians these words signal the imminent approach of the Great Fast. Zacchaeus Sunday is the first of five Pre-Lenten Sundays, each with a theme related to repentance, revealing the true nature of the Fast and thus of the Christian life generally.

During Lent abstinence from various foods is stressed; dietary habits are given much consideration. As most Orthodox realize, however, the overall Fast is more comprehensive in scope and content. An authentic fast takes into account the whole of one’s life, the voluntary stripping away of any activity and indulgence that prevents a person from seeing and knowing Christ as He is (Luke 19:3).

To those who would question the relevance of a fast for modern man it may be stressed that fasting is an ageless discipline, essential for every generation. It addresses man’s fallen state, his need to be delivered from evil, enslavement to fleshly passions and the things of this world. “Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:21). “…all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any…” (1 Corinthians 6:12; read on the Sunday of the Prodigal Son). Fasting is not an attempt to earn salvation, nor is it practiced as a form of self inflicted punishment for personal sins. Rather, with regard to ascetical efforts the focus is consistently on repentance, love and purity of heart, ultimately derived through an intimate union with Christ.

Thus during Pre-Lent – our preparation for the forty days – we hear about: Zacchaeus (Luke 19) who in the face of truth and love incarnate, repented, made restitution, and divested himself of all ill-gotten gain, thereby acquiring salvation; the Publican (Luke 18) who left the temple justified because of a brief penitential prayer, “God be merciful to me a sinner;” the Prodigal (Luke 15) who “came to himself” and returned to the house of a loving father, prepared out of shame to renounce all “rights” as an heir, but was restored compassionately to his former dignity; the Second Coming of Christ (Matthew 25) at which time Love will be our Judge, and love – feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned – will be a criterion for the Lord’s Judgment of men; and finally the necessity for people to forgive others (Matthew 6) if they in turn expect to receive divine forgiveness and open themselves to God’s saving grace. These lessons address man’s inner disposition, his growth in God’s likeness toward which the Fast is directed.

Looking further at certain liturgical particularities one may reference a hymn sung on the eve of Lent. It refers to the type of effort expected from the faithful and the reason why the Fast is highly anticipated each year, characterized by a quiet joy:

“Let us set out with joy upon the season of the Fast, and prepare ourselves for spiritual combat. Let us purify our soul and cleanse our flesh; and as we fast from food, let us abstain also from every passion. Rejoicing in the virtues of the Spirit may we persevere with love, and so be counted worthy to see the solemn Passion of Christ our God, and with great spiritual gladness to behold His holy Passover.” (The Lenten Triodion, Bishop Kallistos Ware and Mother Mary)

Simply put, Lent is a time for cleansing the heart and soul, preparing for the “feast of feasts” which communicates to us the most profound mysteries of the Faith. The late Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann referred to Lent as a journey to Pascha. Indeed Christ’s victory over death is the goal as well as inspiration for the forty days. The light of the Resurrection, however, illumines the whole of one’s life.

As a “tithe of the year” the Great Fast provides an annual opportunity to recommit to basic Christian disciplines and to reassess priorities that guide us continually. The Fast places our feet back on the path of salvation; it provides a much needed focus on repentance, humility, love and forgiveness in light of that which is offered to us in Christ. By diverting one’s gaze from Christ a person easily falls prey to every temptation, he loses perspective on life. Historically many people have found this to be true. The pride of the Pharisee who “prayed thus with himself” has deluded many a Christian, it has divided Christ’s disciples over the centuries into differing camps over various issues at every level of Church life. Our generation is no exception. In this respect the following words of St. Paul written to the Corinthians are as applicable today as they were in the time of the Apostle:

“Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been declared unto me of you, by brethren…that there are contentions among you…Is Christ divided?” (1 Corinthians 1:10-13).

How powerfully these words ring presently throughout the Body of Christ. And yet, again, there is nothing absolutely unique about problems we experience in the modern Church. Divisions, controversies, “murmurings” amongst the faithful, unethical behavior; the history of God’s people is replete with such references as well as with instances of individuals who found perverse pleasure in promoting these things. Often our sin is that we fail to learn from the past.

What may also be found in history are examples of the wise and prudent rising above the pettiness of their day. They concentrated on “the one thing needful” while avoiding the spiritual pitfalls that entrapped so many, simultaneously and successfully addressing contemporary concerns. Such people are still in our midst. They inspire and teach by word and example. They continue to remind us that, “God is love,” and of the New Commandment, fulfilled by those who “deny themselves, take up their Cross and follow Christ.”

I call upon our Diocesan clergy and faithful to approach the upcoming Fast with reverence, a desire to be cleansed spiritually, “…rejoicing in the virtues of the Spirit…(so that we may be) counted worthy to see the solemn Passion of Christ our God, and with great spiritual gladness to behold His holy Passover.” Come what may, we must never allow the evil one to divert our attention from the Lord. Zacchaeus experienced the blessings that await those who desire, ‘to see Christ, Who He is.’ May we be accounted worthy of the same.

Pray for me and forgive me, brothers and sisters in Christ.

With love in Christ

+DMITRI
Archbishop of Dallas and the South


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2007 NATIVITY OF OUR LORD ARCHPASTORAL MESSAGE

The Diocese of the South
The Orthodox Church in America
PO Box 191109
Dallas, TX 75219-1109

Dearly Beloved in Christ:

“For He is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us. Having abolished in his flesh the enmity even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; and that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: and came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God...” (Ephesians 2).

The preceding scriptural passage is read on the 24th Sunday after Pentecost (this year November 11th, the Sunday prior to the beginning of the Nativity Fast). St. Paul is describing a most significant aspect of the Incarnation. The enmity between nations and people of differing races, taken for granted as something natural and actually sanctioned by “religion,” was destroyed by the Incarnation, the entrance of God Himself into time, into human history.

The Incarnation is the great turning point of history. Even the secular world marks its time “Before Christ” (BC) and “Anno Domini” (AD -- the year of our Lord). Time, since Christ, is the modern era. Twentieth-century man likes to think of his century as the truly modern one, and of deep concerns for equality and justice as being products of his time. Yet, all that is said now about these concepts was said many centuries ago by Jesus Christ Himself, and society is only beginning to catch up with His “advanced ideas.”

Racial equality, brotherhood among nations and peoples, integration -- these are ideas that one hears expressed continually in our day, and many, even some Christians, regard them as foreign to the teachings of the Church. The fact is that Christians themselves have obscured and distorted the fundamental characteristics of the new life that God Incarnate gave to the world.

Religion has been, historically, the sanctifier of national differences. The “Faith” often has coincided with the boundaries of the nation, and unfortunately, Christian communities have been strongholds of ethno-religiosity-national faith ideas.

One radical misunderstanding of Christians of their own faith is partially responsible for this attitude. Christianity is often thought of as one of so many “religions,” when the truth is that Christianity is not religion in the usual sense of the word. It is above religion; Christ came to complete and crown religion. It is the new life in Christ, the worship of God in spirit and in truth.

Unaided by direct revelation, man’s relationship to God found its expression in “religion,” yet, when the fullness of time was come, and God entered into the world, the real nature of that relationship was revealed. This revealed relationship, then, is “super-religion,” above and beyond all pietistic systems devised by man, the end toward which all religion was directed.

However, throughout Christian history there have been those who would force Christianity into the mold of traditional religion and make of it one more competitor for men’s loyalties. Even in our own Church, by historical accident, the Faith has been identified with nationalities. It is particularly sad that Christians have not taken the initiative and, being true to their nature, broken down the walls of partition. It is tragic that Christians have identified themselves with the old idea of religion as the separator of mankind. Due in part, to this misunderstanding, a large-scale abandonment of the Church was seen in years past, and is evident even to this day.

In reality, faith in Christ is the force of unification and could solve the world’s problems; all those things which captivate men’s minds in our day -- peace, brotherhood, equality, social justice -- have their origin in the teachings of Jesus Christ. The Church has always prayed for the union of all men in the Liturgy, because she is convinced that God so wills it. Tragically, when men speak now of peace, brotherhood, equality and social justice, they offer humanism as the only basis for these ideals.

The unity and peace of which St. Paul spoke are unity and peace that only Christ can give, and this is exactly what faith in Christ leads to. Unity and peace on any other foundation only leads to further chaos and wider gulfs of separation.

We Christians must re-examine ourselves and allow ourselves to be unified, indeed reconciled to one another in Christ. We can start by removing, with God’s help, all enmity and ill-will that exists among ourselves; we must consciously make ours the following characteristic measures by which we can judge just how close we are to Christ – “do unto others as we would have them do unto us,” “forgive men their debts, just as our heavenly Father forgives us our debts.” No matter how chaotic the world may be, no matter how much hatred and bitterness that exists among men, we know that when men take seriously Christ’s command to “love our neighbor as ourselves,” the influence and effect of that love is so great that it can again overcome the world.

With love in Christ,
+DMITRI
Archbishop of Dallas and the South

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Archpastoral Letter of His Eminence, Archbishop Dmitri -Oct 21, 2007

October 20

To Be Read and or Reproduced for Distribution to the Clergy, Monastics and Faithful of the Diocese of the South
_________________________________


The Diocese of the South
The Orthodox Church in America
PO Box 191109
Dallas, TX 75219-1109

Sunday, October 21, 2007
The Venerable Hilarion the Great

To the Clergy, Monastics, and Faithful of the Diocese of the South:

I wish to thank you for your prayers, especially on the Day of Prayer and Fasting held in the Diocese of the South on October 16 during the meeting of the Holy Synod. I believe that in many ways our gracious Lord heard our prayers and assisted all those working last week in Syosset.

I consider the meetings to have borne some important fruit as we all do our part to steer the ship of our beloved Orthodox Church in America through the stormy seas we find ourselves in. Continued cuts in spending were made in what I believe is a necessary course to reduce the size and scope of the central church administration. Additionally a necessary personnel change took place to strengthen the position of OCA treasurer with a person of competent credentials.

The appeal of the former chancellor was also heard and it is being taken under consideration. Each member of the Synod has been charged to review the appeal, point by point, and offer opinions so that when the Holy Synod meets again in December we may render a decision on the merits of the appeal.

I also consider the new attempt to assemble an unhindered special investigation committee answerable only to the Holy Synod and Metropolitan Council an important step. If this new committee can ask any question of any person about any subject related to the previous work of the central church administration under review with full access to all documents, then there can be a reasonable expectation that such an investigation will put all of these events into their proper context so that we may learn what occurred, why it happened, and how we can try to avoid any defects in policy and judgment in the future.

Such difficult and confrontational meetings are not something that any of us look forward to. They take their toll on all who participate, but when we fall short of the glory of God, they become a necessary duty of those called to positions of leadership in the Church. Especially in challenging times we must face such tasks with prayerful resolve and determination so that we may demonstrate our love for God, one another, and His Church.

As the senior hierarch on the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America and your diocesan hierarch in the God-protected Diocese of the South, I ask for your continued prayers for me and for all the clergy, monastics, and faithful in this diocese and throughout The Orthodox Church in America. I ask that we keep a steady and open hand and a patient and loving heart as we, hopefully, and finally, resolve the outstanding questions and lingering issues that still confront us. We are a young Church and an even younger diocese but we are also a Church populated with talented and spirit-filled clergy and laity who truly desire to learn the necessary lessons from this chapter in our history and move forward reunited in a renewed spirit of cooperation, dedication and sacrifice so that the great mission of The Orthodox Church in America may continue.


With love in Christ,
+DMITRI
Archbishop of Dallas and the South

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ARCHPASTORAL LETTER OF HIS EMINENCE, ARCHBISHOP DMITRI

TO BE READ IN EVERY DOS COMMUNITY ON SUNDAY, OCTOBER 14


The Diocese of the South

The Orthodox Church in America
PO Box 191109
Dallas, TX 75219-1109


Sunday, October 14, 2007
Commemoration of the Holy Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council


To the Venerable Clergy, Monastics, and Faithful of the Diocese of the South:

As many of you know, the fall session of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America will take place on October 16th through October 18.

Never in the history of our Church, either as the Russian Metropolia or as the autocephalous Orthodox Church in America, has she been beset by so many internal difficulties as she is now. As the central administration of our Church has grown, the problems have increased, and we have reached a point in which that organ is in real turmoil. This will be the principal concern of the sessions of the Holy Synod and hard choices need to be considered.

When our Lord Jesus Christ was being crucified, the soldiers who were carrying out the governor's orders divided His clothes among them, except for one thing: His tunic, described by the Evangelist as woven from the top throughout, a seamless garment. For the holy Fathers, this garment symbolizes the oneness or unity of the Body of Christ, the Church.

The unity which is essential is that of faith and love, not simply organizational unity. But, the devil has been at work from the very time of the Lord's death and resurrection to rend that garment. Divisions, schisms, heretical groups have been the product of his work. The Orthodox Church, in her faith, has preserved the garment intact; on the other hand, she has faced crises of organization, enmity among the brethren. We of the Orthodox Church in America now face such a crisis. The number of proposed solutions to our problems is matched by the number of accusations and recriminations.

As we hierarchs meet to face these difficulties, and face them we must, we must do so in the prayerful hope of finding a solution to them, we not only remind our fellow-hierarchs but also all our people, that the Lord Himself has given us the formula for resolving the aberrations contrived by the devil. We must ask as once did the disciples, “Why could we not cast him out?” The Lord's answer to us must be the same: “this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.” (Matthew 17:19-20).

I am, therefore, asking the clergy, monastics, and faithful of the Diocese of the South to join in a day of prayer and fasting (on Tuesday, October 16th), so that the devil, whom we have permitted by our sinful weakness to produce the current turmoil we now face, may be cast out. As hierarchs, and for all those who will gather this coming week in Syosset, we must face up to the hard choices that must be made for the good of our beloved Orthodox Church in America.

I ask that you pray for me and for all those who will gather this week. Pray that we will have the courage to face our own weakness and sinfulness so that we may be guided only by the Holy Spirit. Pray that none of us may be led to confusion. Pray that the seamless garment of faith and love that is the Church, can be restored and that trust and integrity can be rekindled. Pray that none of us view our position of responsibility in the Church as a “right” but as a sacred privilege, and if that sacred privilege has been abused by anyone that we repent and forgive so that a new start for the Orthodox Church in America can begin.

There is too much work for us, in bringing the fullness of the Gospel to the people in the southland and the entire Orthodox Church in America, for us to fail to “redeem the time, for the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:6).

With love in Christ,
+DMITRI
Archbishop of Dallas and the South


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The Commandment of Love

April 28

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

Our Lord Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. In His person He reconciled man to the Creator of all. So great was His love for those whom He fashioned in His image that He Who is God, “made himself of no reputation, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:8). In the history of the world no greater act of love has ever been performed.

Christ Who is both perfect God and perfect Man, being an actual historical figure, was the only One in the history of the world who ever revealed the truth about God and human existence, and who could testify how it is that man is to relate to his Maker and to his fellow man. Jesus Christ is the only means whereby God and the meaning of life may be fully known, not merely one of many means. Thus, for Christians our Lord is the key to salvation. “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou has sent.” (John 17:3) Christ is the Source of this saving knowledge of the One, Truly existing God.

All that our Lord accomplished during His earthly life was for the salvation of the world, and that because of God’s boundless love for man. Jesus taught that God is love and that man, being created in His image, should reflect that divine love. The central theme of all of Jesus’ preaching was love.

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” (22: 37-39)

“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”

“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven...” (Matthew 5: 44-45)

And then, St. Paul, who was chosen as the Apostle to convey our Lord’s teachings to the whole world, who understood so deeply the importance of Christ’s Advent, says in his first Epistle to the Corinthians, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing..........And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three, but the greatest of these is love.” (13: 1-3, 13)

The message is clear enough. Though we have faith and hope, if we have not love, we are nothing. Or to put it in personal terms, related to daily responsibilities: even if we have “our Church” and faithfully perform all that is required of us by the local community; even if we serve long vigils and pray day and night; even if we develop worthwhile ministries and projects within parishes and dioceses; even if we keep all of the fasts and observe every Church holiday; if we do not have love, but rather, are filled with hatred, resentment, pride or arrogance, our efforts are for nothing. We may even profess to have the True Faith, but if love is lacking our efforts to propagate that faith sound like the ravings of fanatics, to those both within and outside the Church.

Love is not only that which saves us and the content of the Christian life, but inasmuch as it is that it also constitutes the basis of all Christian endeavor including missionary activity. “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35). In recent years the Orthodox Churches in America have seen the publication and production of thousands of Orthodox books, audio tapes and the like, in English. Resources that our forefathers in Christ could only dream of are at our fingertips. Computers and the Internet have opened up even further possibilities. As a result the faithful have become more aware of their own faith and of their responsibility to share it with others. Coinciding with this progress has been the (re)introduction into daily vocabulary of terms such as: “outreach,” “church growth,” “evangelism,” “catechumens,” “church planting,” and the like.

These changes reflect an incredibly positive turn of events. The tools necessary to accomplish our various tasks as Orthodox are at our disposal. But how shall we use them? Again, Christ provides the key. All is given out of love so that it may be distributed freely out of love. Our work as missionaries ultimately must have no other goal but the salvation of the neighbor, sought after out of love. Numerical increases in our census reports, apparent successes of various Church programs are important, and can be indicative of real spiritual advancement within the Body. One should continually be mindful, however, that these “measurable” signs of growth mean little, if anything, when love is absent. For we strive to bring people into a fellowship of love, reflective of the perfect divine love and unity existing between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When the call to “love as I have loved you” becomes firmly ingrained in our minds, when we begin to comprehend by God’s grace, the depth of those words, then not only will our missionary efforts be successful, but the term “efforts” will seem, in a sense, a misnomer. Joy, radiating from genuine love for those around us, will be at the heart of our missionary endeavors and will make light the burden of our efforts.
 
Then Veneration of the Virgin Mary in the Orthodox Church

August 15

(From an article which appeared in the Dallas Morning News.)

 
Because of recent discussions about the Catholic Church's considering defining a new dogma concerning the Virgin Mary it might be of interest to Christians of other Churches to have some explanation of the Orthodox Church's position concerning her.

The Orthodox Church honors and venerates the Virgin Mary as "more honourable than the Cherubim and more glorious without compare than the Seraphim.........."  Her name is mentioned in every service, and her intercession before the throne of God is asked.  She is given the title of "Theotokos" (Greek  for "Birth-giver-of-God), as well as "Mother of God".  She has a definite role in Orthodox Christianity, and can in no way be considered an instrument which, once used, was laid aside and forgotten.

Objections to the veneration of the Theotokos are based primarily on what is called "a lack of scriptural evidence to support such a practice."  While it is true that the Church depends heavily on her Tradition other than Holy Scripture (Ecumenical Councils, liturgical books, and the writings of the Fathers) for details and the precise definition of the nature of the veneration of the Virgin Mary, there are several passages of the New Testament that really form the basis for our practice.

The angel Gabriel was sent by God to announce to the Virgin the birth of the Saviour:  "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.  Blessed art thou among women."  (Luke 1:28)  This angelic salutation forms a part of the hymn of the Church most frequently sung in her honor.  Could we be wrong in repeating the words of the very messenger of God?  Elizabeth, the Virgin's cousin, considered it an honor for the Mother of her Lord to visit her.  "And whence is this to me that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?"  (Luke 1:43)  Is there any real difference between saying "Mother of God" and "Mother of the Lord"?   Surely, God is the Lord! (Psalm 118:27)  In the course of her visit to Elizabeth, the Blessed Virgin spoke the words that form the principal hymn sung in her honor at the Matins service.

My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.  For He hath regarded the low estate of His handmaiden, for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed."  (Luke 1: 47-48)

Elizabeth had already been "filled with the Holy Spirit", precisely that she might cry out:  "Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb."  (Luke 1:41, 42)  This honor given the Theotokos by her cousin is exactly what all generations of the Church do when they call her blessed.  Finally, when Jesus saw His mother and the disciple John standing by the cross, He entrusted him with her care, but He also established a new spiritual relationship between them in saying to the disciple:  "Behold thy Mother!" (John 19:27)  What possible significance could this declaration of our Lord have except to make His Mother the Mother of all Christians?  If she really had other children would she be in need of an outsider's home?

The Incarnation of God was foretold in the Old Testament.  A race was chosen for a specific purpose:  to produce a holy humanity from which God could take flesh.  Mary is the one who, in the Lord's words, "heard the word of God and kept it."  (Luke 11:28)  Through her personal sinlessness she fulfilled all the hopes and prophecies of Israel.  She figured greatly in the very prophecies, the most important of which is that of Isaiah:  "Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel." (Isaiah 7:14)  The Church has always considered the following as prefigures or symbols of the role of the Theotokos in the Divine plan, and appoints them to be read on the eves of three of the feasts dedicated to her memory.  The first is the story of Jacob's ladder, which refers to her being the means by which God chose to enter into the world physically.  "He saw in his sleep a ladder standing upon the earth, and the top thereof touching heaven, the angels also of God ascending and descending by it".  (Genesis 28:12)  Then from the Prophecy of Ezekiel are the words concerning her perpetual virginity:   "And the Lord said unto me:  This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall pass through it;  because the Lord God of Israel hath entered in by it, and it shall be shut."  (Ezekiel 44:2)  The same is true of the burning bush seen by Moses:  Mary contained in her womb the God-man, Jesus Christ, the God who is a consuming fire, and was not consumed.

The consequences of denying the Theotokos a part in the life of Christians are more serious than one may think in view of all its implications.  Orthodox theology insists upon the two perfect natures of our Lord Jesus Christ;  He was perfect God and perfect Man.  The Virgin Mary communicated the humanity of the Incarnate God.  The redemption of the human race was possible through the union of God and man in Christ.  De-emphasis of the sinlessness of Christ's Mother, insistence upon her having other children by Joseph (which cannot be demonstrated by the New Testament), and failure to remember her part in the history of the salvation of mankind have contributed to a general misunderstanding in some churches of the Incarnation in all its fullness and power.  Very closely related to the above-mentioned things is the denial of the virgin birth of Christ, a rather popular feature of present-day liberal theology.  After the virgin birth, the next basic teaching under attack is the divinity of Christ, and His resurrection, and with that, the Holy Trinity Itself.

The Virgin Mary in the Orthodox view is not regarded as a mediatrix or co-redemptress.  She is an intercessor for us, and the content of prayer addressed to her is a request for her intercession.  The Orthodox concept of the Church is the basic reason for the invocation of the Theotokos and all the saints.  The Militant Church on earth and the Victorious Church in heaven are intimately bound together in love.  If it is proper for one sinner to ask another sinner to pray for him, how much more fitting it must be to ask the saints already glorified and near the throne of God to pray for us.  Surely, they know something of what goes on here, for else how could there be rejoicing in heaven over the conversion of one sinner? (Luke 15:10)  The saints in heaven are equals of the angels (Luke 20:36), who are used by God in the accomplishment of His purpose (Acts 12:7)
There is scriptural evidence to support the traditional Orthodox attitude toward the Virgin Mary and the saints.  The other equally valid parts of Tradition also afford abundant evidence of its soundness and importance.
Great Fast 2007 Message

Archpastoral Message of His Eminence, Archbishop DMITRI
The Great Fast 2007

Let us set out with joy upon the season of the Fast, as we prepare ourselves for spiritual combat.
Sticheron for Forgiveness Vespers


Dearly Beloved in the Lord,

What a blessed gift is the Great Fast. What an opportunity for us to reorient our life in Christ and flee from those things that separate us from God and our neighbor. Indeed, we are called to set out with joy because it is the blessed life of Christ Himself in His Resurrected glory toward which we journey.

But before we can enter into the full joy of Pascha, we must prepare ourselves by walking the full path of the Great Fast. Contrary to a western understanding of Lent as a period of time in which we “suffer” or “deny” ourselves, when we “give something up for Lent,” the Orthodox approach to the Great Fast is a time when we add to our regular routine and spiritual discipline. The Church adds more services, not as a burden, but rather to give us additional opportunities to encounter Christ and our neighbor in worship. We begin with the powerful Forgiveness Vespers and the soul searching Canons of St. Andrew of Crete and the simple but profound celebrations of the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts. We also challenge ourselves to carve out more time in our daily lives to pray more so that our spiritual attention can be better trained to see the world, indeed the entire Cosmos more clearly as the place where God is at the center and we are called to be good stewards.

And so we will work diligently to purify our souls and cleanse our flesh, and fast from food and abstain from every passion. Our fast is not an end unto itself, but a means for us to strip away our dependence on “this world” and become more closely dependent on God. To empty ourselves so that we may permit God to fill us with Himself.

At the center of the Great Fast is love. The highest of the virtues, it is the love of God that we will strive to acquire - Rejoicing in the virtues of the Spirit, may we persevere with love. Can any of us say that we love God enough or our neighbor? Can any of us say that we are satisfied with our life in Christ? Can any of us say that we have reached perfection? No, we all have many miles still to travel on this journey and the Church, in Her wisdom, and by God's Grace, has given each of us another year, another chance, to enter this season of joy, the “Bright Sadness” as Fr. Alexander Schmemann aptly called it.

We begin together by asking each other for forgiveness in the sure knowledge that if we forgive ourselves and each other and truly confess and repent of our sins, God forgives us also. We literally face each other, we look each other in the eye, and we challenge ourselves to consign to oblivion anything that divides us, personally and communally. The power to forgive is truly divine, and God has given that power to us. Let us freely choose to use this gift now and forever.

Please forgive me for all those things I have done to offend you or in my weakness not to have done for your spiritual welfare. I ask for your prayers.

With love in Christ,

+DMITRI

Archbishop of Dallas and The South

March 28, 2007


To the Reverend Clergy and Faithful of the Diocese of the South:

I wish to share with you my thoughts related to a particular action taken this past week at the Synod meeting in Syosset.

There was an attempt to “rescind” the canonical transfer of a cleric in my diocese from the Diocese of Washington and New York to the Diocese of the South. Although I affixed my signature to a document, the action to “rescind” a canonical transfer is not canonically sustainable and thus it is null and void. A cleric cannot be transferred from one diocese to another unless the ruling Hierarch of that cleric is freely willing to transfer him to another bishop and that bishop is freely willing to accept him. I did not transfer the cleric in question back to his former diocese. Further, I have never transferred a cleric to another bishop without the free consent of the cleric. The cleric in question remains in the Diocese of the South as set forth in a letter dated March 22, 2007. (See attached)

As a bishop, I am a shepherd of souls and not a master of men by lording over them. True love and obedience are free of coercion. My archpastoral decisions are made with the spiritual care of my entire flock in mind and nothing else.

Sadly, I have heard that the cleric in question may be suspended. Of course, he can only be disciplined by me, since I am his diocesan bishop. Thus any action to suspend him by someone else would be improper, especially in light of my support for his cooperation in the current situation that faces The Orthodox Church in America.

My love for all of my brothers on the Synod of Bishops is not diminished in the aftermath of our most recent meeting. In fact, I pray even more fervently for their well-being as I am sure they do for mine. We are united in a bond of love, even if, from time to time, we may differ in our views as to what is best for our respective dioceses and for the good of The Orthodox Church in America.

I ask all of you to pray for our Metropolitan. He is called to be a figure of unity in the bond of love as “the first among equals” of the bishops of our Church. He finds himself in a very delicate situation which I trust he will carefully navigate without concern for himself since we do all things not for our own glory but for the glory of God.

It is unfortunate but not uncommon that the “sower of division” the Evil One, works very hard to distract us during the Great Fast and even more as we approach Holy Week and the Feast of Feasts, the Resurrection of our Lord. Nonetheless, we must be ever vigilant to keep our focus on Christ and not be distracted by those who would twist our words, or worse, the words of the Gospel, and leave us spiritually dissipated and disunited.

As many of you know, I am currently working on a Commentary on the Gospel of John, and in that research I have also been reading his Epistles. I ask you to consider his words from 1 John 4:17 ff as we bear one another's burdens in the bond of love:

Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. We love him, because he first loved us. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.

Mindful of the saving Grace of our Lord, the Physician and Healer of our souls, I humbly ask for your continued prayers as I remain yours,

With love in Christ,

+DMITRI

Archbishop of Dallas and the South
On the Feast of the Meeting of Our Lord

On February 2nd the Church celebrates the great feast of The Meeting of our Lord in the Temple. The Gospel lesson for that day relates how the mother of Jesus brought Him to the temple, as was the custom and requirement under the God-given Law of Moses, of Israel (Exodus 13: 2,12; Leviticus 12:2-8).

When the righteous Simeon, who received Christ in his arms at the temple, saw the child he knew immediately that this was the Redeemer promised by all of Israel’s prophecies, for the elder was inspired by the Holy Spirit (Luke 2:26-27). Being inspired he himself uttered prophetic words which form the hymn sung or chanted at the end of every Vespers service: "Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word; for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation which Thou hast prepared before the face of Thy people, a light to lighten the gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel" (Luke 2:29-32).

This particular feast is part of the great celebration that began forty days prior, with the the Nativity of Christ (December 25). Eight days later (January 1) we remembered the Circumcision of Christ and then His Baptism (January 6). The commemoration of these events in our Lord’s earth life basically form one feast, the feast of the Incarnation of God the Word.

God literally entered the world, into time and history. He was physically present in the midst of His people, His creatures whom He loves. Our Lord took on human nature in order to reconcile unto Himself, man who had strayed far from the Source of his life.

In taking on the "form of a servant" God, at the same time, in the Person of Christ, fulfilled every requirement of the Law that He Himself had given to His people through Moses. He demonstrated, thereby, that everything that had happened in Israel’s history could not be described merely as a succession of unrelated events. Rather this was a history with a definite goal: the salvation of mankind. He identified Himself as the Director of that history and fulfilled its expectation.

When the righteous Simeon took the child into His arms and declared that this indeed was Salvation Incarnate, the "Light to lighten the gentiles, and the glory of Israel," a new era began; the era of God’s presence among His children.

To this day, all of the Church’s celebrations, no matter what the event commemorated may be, whether in the life of Christ, of the Theotokos, or of the saints, all are celebrations of Christ and the establishment on earth of the Kingdom of His presence. He initiated this Kingdom and promised its ultimate realization. And now, just as the Old Israel had awaited the beginning of God’s Kingdom, the New Israel (the Church) awaits the Second and Glorious Coming of Christ and the fullness of His Kingdom, revealed.

Although all of our celebrations are intimately rooted in the knowledge that we have been called for complete communion with Christ and to live in function of His Kingdom to which we already belong, we still live in a world that has for the most part rejected what Christ gave it, that is, authentic life "in abundance," life with real purpose and meaning. We Christians, in spite of having accepted what God’s intervention in human affairs gave us, slip repeatedly and fall into the great temptation to convert the things of this world into gods. We are constantly attracted by ways of seeking happiness and fulfillment that exclude God. This, of course, always proves to be vain and futile.

So our lives vacillate, back and forth, between the assurance of salvation and indifference, between moments of real joy because we know that God is with us, and moments of boredom because we cannot give ourselves totally over to Him.

Every Christian celebration reaches its climax in the Divine Liturgy for the feast. In this sacred work, when God’s people assemble in His name, we actually become participants in the Heavenly Kingdom to come. We are as literally present with Christ in His future Kingdom as the Apostles were with Him at the Last Supper. So the Kingdom is initiated among us and we enjoy it before our time, by anticipation. This is what every Eucharist is; this is what our feasts and celebrations are all about, and that is why the Eucharist is the very center of all of them.

I will emphasize again, however, that although what we have said is true, we continually orient our lives towards everyday pursuits, often living as though we had never experienced this divine reality. That is why repentance and penitential seasons are in order. That is why in just a few weeks we will enter the Great Fast or Lent during which time we are exhorted to repent of our sins. To flee from self-righteousness, pride, feelings of superiority and mistreatment and intolerance of our neighbor. To strip away anything and everything that disorients us from the "Orient from on high." The dual weapons of prayer and fasting are once again given to us "in abundance" in the season of the Great Fast so that we may get back to the essentials of our life in Chirst.

Such an experience should remind us that as Christians we have really "seen the True Light, received the Heavenly Spirit, found the true faith" in this experience of the Kingdom of God. Now, we must live it each day with joy and commitment.

To Christ Who willed to be held in the arms of the righteous Simeon for our salvation be glory, honor and worship, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
On Confession

January 2

When Confession Becomes Idolatry:

Father Confessor and Penitent

Archbishop Dmitri

(This Reflection can also be downloaded from the Parish Resource Documents)

 

Confession, one of the seven mysteries of the Orthodox Church, is referred to more traditionally as the sacrament, or mystery, of repentance.  In this rite the penitent confesses his sins in the presence of a priest, is prayed for by the priest who beseeches God to reconcile the individual to the communion of the faithful, is exhorted to make changes in his life that more fully reflect one’s faith in Christ, and is given words of counsel or advice by the priest who is also present to bear witness to the contrition of the penitent.

Confession is perhaps one of the more difficult sacraments to acknowledge and accept by those coming to the Orthodox Church. The reasons for this are varied as are the responses that can be given to any objections. Many of our readers are undoubtedly familiar with both; numerous articles and recorded lectures address this topic. At this time we will only emphasize that people entering Orthodoxy eventually find great comfort in the mystery of repentance. Ironically, one of the initial sources of hesitancy – the open confession of sins in front of another person, i.e. the priest – becomes a liberating factor in the sacrament itself. It is experienced as a relief, a lifting of a burden to verbalize one’s sins to another human being. Again, there are reasons for this that will not be described here. Suffice it to say that the human dynamic in confession, the communication and relationship between the penitent and the father confessor is significant.

As important as it may be, however, abuses can and do occur which may lead to a misunderstanding of confession itself, as well as of the role of the priest in the sacrament and the life of the parish.

Practically speaking, an abuse often committed by the clergy is lengthy counseling during confession. There is advice fitting in the context of confession, and then another that is more appropriate when given during a meeting in the priest’s office. A distinction should be made for at least two reasons. First, extensive counseling during the sacrament easily leads to a shift in emphasis from the contrition of the penitent and his actual confession, to the guidance given by the priest: the most important words uttered are those made by the one confessing his sins.  It is not necessary in the sacrament for a clergyman to be overly scrupulous in his examination of an individual’s deeds and thoughts. Second, lengthy confessions place an undue hardship on others waiting in line to make their confession, especially parents with small children and the elderly. Except in rare circumstances people should not have to remain in Church for hours before speaking with the priest. Discernment and discretion should be used; sensitivity to those waiting in line is in order.

More serious, however, is the tendency for some to be overly dependent upon the need for frequent confession. Extraordinary cases may exist where a person must come to confession every week, or every other week when receiving communion regularly. Generally speaking, however, such cases are exceptions and likely indicators that other remedies are required, in addition, to treat the penitent. The description of one being dependent on frequent confession is used intentionally. Confession can become as a narcotic, an idol to the penitent, the reason for coming to Church above all other reasons, an end in itself.  This description may seem exaggerated, but such cases assuredly exist in our parishes. It is possible, for instance, to visit certain communities belonging to the OCA and the Diocese of the South, having more than one priest, and observe people attending festal celebrations primarily to confess their sins to one of the priests during the service. Such a practice and similar ones reflect a misunderstanding not only of confession but of the significance of feasts in the Orthodox Church.

  

The above approach to confession can be associated with the dangerous tendency to exaggerate the dynamic, the relationship between the father confessor and the penitent. As specified above the main responsibilities of the parish priest in the sacrament are to hear the actual confession, bear witness to the contrition of the individual, and to give appropriate and concise advice related to one or more sins confessed, if necessary. Anything more should be accomplished outside of the sacrament proper, and fall in the realm of the priest’s competency and counseling abilities. The penitent should be learning as well to take responsibility for his own life and not to look to the priest for answers to every one of life’s questions. The Church has the task to educate and empower the faithful to discern on their own as Christians what is proper to say, do and think on a daily basis through the operation of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Where such an approach is not being taken by both clergy and laity a type of quasi-Orthodox cult can develop.

 

In this context we should stress that in the Orthodox Church in America one’s father confessor is typically the local priest.  He has the task imparted unto him by his bishop to oversee and administer the entire life of the parish. This includes being responsible for the lives, the spiritual health, of his parishioners, and dispensing the sacraments, ensuring that those who approach the chalice are prepared, having confessed their sins. Such a task is worked out best by the local priest who has regular interaction with Church members. Should an individual seek spiritual counsel from another father confessor he should first receive a blessing from his priest, exercising a certain degree of caution. Pseudo-elders exist – some being associated with American and foreign monasteries – eager for disciples ready to give themselves over to their guidance.

    

None of this is written to diminish the importance of confession or the priest’s role in the parish, or to demean our beloved monasteries.  Rather, with the newly illumined particularly in mind, we hope to prevent abuses and misunderstandings that can easily arise out of enthusiasm for one’s new found faith and out of a desire to counsel and help those in need. I hope that our clergy and faithful will take these words to heart, maintaining a fervent wish to “be saved and come to the knowledge of the Truth.”

 

 

2006 NATIVITY MESSAGE OF ARCHBISHOP DMITRI

But when the fullness of the time was come,

God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the

Law, to redeem them that were under the Law, that we might

receive the adoption of sons” (Galatians 4:4-5). 

In this brief passage taken from the Christmas Epistle, by directing our attention to the Incarnation, the Apostle Paul sums up the joy of the Nativity Season, the joy of our Faith. “God is with us,” we triumphantly sing during the Christmas Eve Vigil; we rejoice that in the Person of Jesus Christ, God became Man to enlighten, sanctify, and reconcile us to Himself, to bestow on us dignity befitting His children. But as many as received Him (Christ), to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His Name” (John 1:12). In Christ, as children of God our joy is complete, inexpressible and full of glory (John ; 1 Peter 1:8).  As with the “peace from above” for which we pray repeatedly during each divine service, Christian joy “passeth all understanding” (Philippians 4:7); it is impossible to comprehend except through experience, as it proceeds from an intimate relationship with God.  Our joy in the Lord – the joy of Christmas – is mixed with great hope even in the midst of adversity for ‘God being with us’ empowers one to place everything into perspective, to understand profoundly every facet of human existence – triumphs and tragedies – as given meaning and possibilities through the Incarnate Lord. Christ, after foretelling His death and that which was to befall the disciples, told them, “…in the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16: 33). People know about tribulation; they know, as well, superficial happiness which is fleeting and unfulfilling. What they ultimately need and desire most is that which we experience profoundly at this time of year: authentic Christian joy which, early on, enabled the Church to be victorious in the world (XFr. Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World), and which has been the basis of Her mission ever since.

It is my personal prayer that our lives will be characterized continually by this most precious fruit of the Spirit (Galatians ). Whatever the present circumstances of our lives may we now relate to them in light of the joy of the Kingdom revealed through God’s Son.  This blessed season is one of rejoicing, forgiveness and love. God becoming Man demands an incarnate response from His followers. Faith in Christ must lead to a complete change of will and of attitude toward life itself in light of the Savior’s appearance, to a life so transparent to His presence that it could be said, “…nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, Who loved me, and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

 

Christ, in the Sermon on the Mount, sums up the kind of Godly existence – incarnate response – that is possible for His disciples in this world. St. Basil the Great, emulating his Lord, accomplishes something similar in the form of a prayer: “…rear the infants; train the young; support the aged; encourage the fainthearted; gather together the scattered and lead back those who wander astray, and join them to Thy Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Free those who are vexed by unclean spirits; travel with those that journey by land, by sea, and by air; protect the widows; defend the orphans; deliver the captives; heal the sick. And those that are under trial, in the mines, in exile, in bitter bondage, in every tribulation, necessity, and danger, do thou remember, O God….” These words will be chanted numerous times during Nativity and Theophany. As we recite them now and in the months ahead during Lent let us remember that the faithful constitute Christ’s Body in this world; we are His mouthpiece, arms and legs to a society longing to see evidence of a Savior. That for which we pray we have a responsibility to accomplish: “…training, supporting, encouraging, reuniting, leading, protecting, defending, delivering, healing, and remembering...” By (these things) shall all men know that ye are my disciples…” (John 13:35).

 

My recent visits to parishes in the Diocese have been a comfort to me as I see such efforts being made by its members.  There is much yet to achieve in terms of evangelism, education and charity, and certainly our ongoing endeavors in these areas are in constant need of improvement.  The “success” of our mission, however, is being felt by our struggles to remain faithful to that vision of God and man revealed in and through Christ. I am constantly amazed by the challenges to that vision, put forth by both Christians and non-Christians. In the name of Christian love diverse lifestyles are now described as acceptable and in some cases are “blessed” by various churches; quasi-evangelists can be found whose message varies little from that of professional motivational speakers; salvation is often preached in legalistic terms, rather than as a natural result of a living relationship with God through the Incarnate Lord; Christ’s divinity is denied not only by members of other religions but is seriously questioned by numerous Christians; and the meaning, the far reaching effect, of this most radiant season is trivialized by believers themselves – lost – not merely by the excessive emphasis on gifts and overindulgent celebrations, but through a false dichotomy present in the minds of many between the feast of the Nativity and the family. “Christmas is for families,” “Christmas is for children,” we hear repeatedly. The evidence of such widespread, limited sentiment was revealed powerfully in 2005 when many non-Orthodox Churches were closed on Sunday, December 25 because it was accepted and taken for granted that most members would stay at home to be with their loved ones.  It seems that, religiously speaking, confusion reigns in the minds and hearts of millions of people, even amongst Christ’s followers. Yet, with the simple declaration, “God is with us,” we proclaim the end to such bewilderment and ignorance, and the joy of knowing the truth which sets us free.  With the birth of Christ we affirm the coming of a Savior sent to unite rather than divide; to forgive rather than judge; to enlighten, not confound; to heal and bind, not destroy.

 

Brothers and sisters in Christ let us thank God for the gift of His Son. Through our actions and words may we be found worthy of His love. Let us look deeply into our hearts, taking stock of the only appropriate response to such a gift, a life dedicated to emulating our Lord. The blessings of this Nativity Season be upon all of you.

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!


+ Dmitri

Archbishop of Dallas and the South

2006 NATIVITY FAST ARCHPASTORAL LETTER

In His love for man God chooses the method, time and place for revealing His will. This is true for each of us personally, having ‘eyes to see and ears to hear.’ This has been the case with regard to the life and history of the Church. It is true with regard overall to our Lord’s saving dispensation. St. Paul, in his epistle to the Romans, reminds us that from the beginning God made Himself known through creation itself (-20).  In days of old, within the specific context of His plan of salvation, God spoke to Moses as to a friend and conferred the Law upon him. In addition the inspired prophets declared God’s will to the Israelites.  All of these things, however, pointed to – were preparing the way for – a greater revelation of God through the advent of our Lord Jesus Christ: But when the fullness of time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5). The Messiah came to make God’s will known as fully as is possible for men to receive it. He appeared “to give knowledge of salvation unto (God’s) people…to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide (their) feet into the way of peace” (Isaiah 9:2, Luke 1:77,79). This light is the radiance of the Nativity Season, “the light of Christ which illumines all.”

As I look around the Diocese I am pleased with the efforts of many to insure that the light of Christ’s Gospel shines in the South, that God’s word and will are preached.  Their dedication is evident by the existence of almost seventy parishes, missions, mission stations and monasteries in the Diocese. Each was founded by God’s grace and the sacrificial efforts of original and current members.  We are further encouraged by increasing census figures, year after year. Since 1998 the Diocese has increased its membership by over sixty percent. The energy and enthusiasm evident in our clergy and communities presently is reminiscent of that which characterized the Diocese almost thirty years ago. It is coupled, however, with a maturity gained from three decades of missionary endeavor pointing the way to future development.

     

From the general reference to our history one can surmise that growth, and consequently change, are not new experiences for members of the Diocese. Furthermore, these thoughts are shared at what appears to be a time of significant changes for the OCA and Churches in the South. As is known the Orthodox Church in America, administratively, is in a state of major reorganization. This has presented challenges to clergy and laity in recent months. In the face of this specific situation I do not counsel others to ignore the reality of that which confronts us. I do, however, continue to advise the faithful to pray and to keep their gaze upon Christ without Whom even the best of intentions and efforts can quickly degenerate into something other than a holy work. We must use wisely the days given us to discern God’s will and presence revealed in present circumstances.  While “getting our house in order” we must not lose sight of the sacred work of teaching and baptizing to which we have been called.

 

More specifically I would ask parishioners and Church leaders, both clergy and laity, to take this time of the Nativity Fast to assess the overall life of their respective communities while preparing for the feast of Christ’s Birth. Knowing the task placed before us to call ‘all men to salvation and to the knowledge of the Truth,’ what are we doing, or not doing, as Orthodox to remain faithful to our Commission? What are our parish schedules like relative to liturgical services, education classes and outreach events? Is there more that we can be doing in these areas? Are we challenging our parishioners spiritually? Are we providing them with concrete tasks and goals relative to Church growth and evangelism?  What type of community facilities do we have? Do they reflect a traditional style of Orthodox architecture and are they conducive to growth? Are communities with temporary rental quarters developing plans for permanent parish owned structures? Do our parishes have money budgeted each year for charitable work? Are they paying their tithes and assessments? I would like for the faithful to spend their limited time, energy and resources focusing on these issues as much as possible so that the work of Christ may progress as rapidly as possible.

Again, history demonstrates that most of our communities have put forth effort in these areas and have achieved results. But more can certainly be accomplished. A turning point has been reached not only by the OCA’s national administration, but by the Diocese as well, in light of which we should begin to expect more from ourselves and our respective parishes. In the DOS we have gained experience and knowledge over the years that seasoned clergy and laity are putting to good use. A new generation of Orthodox is emerging whose zeal for the Faith and eagerness to serve are inspiring.  The Church’s youthful leaders seem undaunted by sometimes difficult challenges and ready to learn from veterans of “the good fight.” As far as evangelism is concerned they do not ask “why,” as much as they question, “why not?” This new spirit, combined with insights of experienced faithful, has helped to raise the bar of expectations here in the South.

 

Next year will inaugurate the celebration of thirty years since the Diocese of the South was established, and although we can rejoice in the almost seventy institutions with which we have been blessed, that number could just as easily be one hundred. As I mentioned in the beginning, God chooses the method, time and place for revealing His will. The current situation in the South is certainly a clear expression of His will for further growth and development.  Again, please take this time of the Fast to prepare diligently for the Lord’s Birth, discerning the kind of wholehearted response that such a gift requires from us personally and from our parishes. ‘May our light so shine before men, that they may see our good works and glorify our Father which is in Heaven, always now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.’


+ Dmitri

Archbishop of Dallas and the South

 

 

  



A Christian Understanding of Freedom -Archbishop DMITRI

People generally use the word freedom in order to describe two things: the first and perhaps most persistent meaning of the term is simply lack of subjection to any kind of ownership or tyrannical authority, the lack of restriction of one’s actions, the absence of obstacles to self-determination or personal choices, the right to make up one’s own mind with regard to occupation, speech, assembly, religion and so on. Naturally, this kind of freedom is entirely desirable and, in many ways, our very nation came into being out of a deeply felt need for this. Although our democratic system of government has experienced many pitfalls and defects, and throughout the course of our history we have not always been able to achieve perfect freedom in the sense just described, it is none the less true that few would question the desirability for such freedom. Men are still willing to make enormous sacrifices - their very lives at times - for the ideal of freedom.

Christian teaching lies at the very heart of such an ideal. And in spite of the ups and downs of Church history, wherein even the Church has seemed to be an accomplice to agencies and forces that would deny this kind of basic right to the human race, it would be inaccurate to say that the Christian Church in most of its classical forms teaches that men are not destined to be free in this very sense. It is incompatible with Christian teaching to maintain that man should be shackled with restrictions against his personal freedom to pursue a way of life to his own choosing.

At the same time it appears also that freedom is being increasingly applied to a kind of license which says that man is not to be subjected to any kind of restriction that is not to his liking. Even when the common good demands the contrary he is somehow to be free to "do his own thing." The blame for much of the disorder and confusion of our own times could perhaps be laid to this concept of freedom: the near capitulation of our legal system in face of demands for freedom to peddle pornography, to sell drugs, to defy the law enforcement agencies of the cities, etc.

In this particular article it is not our intention to dwell on the matter of freedom as described above, making this a plea for law and order. Rather, we wish to present a general account of the Orthodox Church’s understanding of freedom, in light of Christ’s work of redemption, His "breaking the chains of hell and overthrowing the tyranny of hades."

Jesus said, "If you continue in my word, then you are my disciples indeed; And you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free" And those who heard Him said, "We are Abraham’s seed, and we were never in bondage to any man, how sayest thou, you shall be made free?" And He answered, Verily I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin." (1 John 8:31-34)

He said in another place, "I am the way, the truth and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. If you had known me, you should have known my Father also; and from henceforth you know Him, and have seen Him." (John 14: 6-7)

Jesus Christ is the truth about God and the truth about man, since He is both God and man. God’s real nature is completely revealed in the Son of God, the Incarnate Word, and the whole truth about man, his worth, value and dignity, are realized and made manifest to man in the Son of Man, Jesus of Nazareth. And since man’s fundamental sin was and is godlessness or atheism, we then understand what is meant by the statement that "Christ came into the world to save His people from their sins."

An author once pointed out that, "Mankind is in bondage until Christ sets men free." St. Paul in the Epistle to the Romans says, "For when you were the servants of sin, you were free from righteousness. But what fruit had you then from those things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now set free from sin and become servants to God, you have your fruit unto holiness, and as your end, life everlasting." (6:20-22)

The deepest and most fundamental of the Church’s understandings of freedom is simply the freedom from sin and its wage or consequences. The understanding that Christ has given to men a freedom that cannot be taken away, no matter what the external circumstances of life may be, has provided the strength, the dynamism, the very life of the Church in the different periods of her bondage, her restrictions. There was the long three century persecution of the Church by the Roman Empire, and the very martyrs were witnesses and advocates of their freedom in Christ. The Moslem conquest and domination of much of the world that had been Christian, and the reduction of Christians to second-class citizenship, the restrictions against their proclaiming the Gospel, brought no despair to those who knew Christ and His truth. This lasted well into the nineteenth century in certain places. And in our own twentieth century, restrictions and persecutions, perhaps heavier and more severe than in any other time, in Communist lands failed to extinguish the light of Christian truth, and finally the most essential Christian freedom.

It is in Christ, as perfect Man, that man comes to the full realization of what it means to be in the image and likeness of God. For man’s freedom is an Icon, an image of the Divine Freedom itself.

It is just when our freedom lies within the "opus Dei," the work of God, that it does not cease to be true freedom. The "Let it be to me according to thy word," of the Virgin at the Annunciation does not come from a simple submission to His will, but that very acceptance expresses the ultimate freedom of her being. In this sense, she was the first fruits of the intervention of God into human time and history, the first product of the Incarnation. She is the image of the Church, those who receive the Word of God and keep it, of those who would lose their life and gain it.

Christ, in becoming Incarnate, has permitted us, not to imitate, but to relive His life, to conform ourselves to His essence.

In each Christian’s response to God, in saying, "let it be to me according to Thy will," he identifies himself with the God-Man Christ, and in this way, the Divine Will, freedom comes as an expression of one’s own will. The will of God, His work, His freedom have become one’s own. "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me," says St. Paul. (Galatians 2:20)

None of the foregoing is said to diminish or to negate in any sense the validity and importance of all human beings, especially Christians, to seek, to work for freedom in the usual earthly, if you will, sense of the word: social justice, equality, and the right to pursue, unrestricted, a better life here and now for the human race. The Christian, if he takes his commitment seriously, can never be guilty of putting restrictions in the path of others, of coercing, of forcing. On the other hand, what has been said is conceived as a reminder that much of the Christian world, my own Church, has a long experience of this, has lived under repression in places where freedom, justice, equality, and the right to differ, were given lip-service, but were not realities. The hope of Christians, their consolation is based on a higher freedom, which only God can give, which our Lord Jesus Christ showed us.