This past week, Rdr. Gregory and I attended the 20th All American Council of the Orthodox Church in America. For those who are newer to Orthodoxy, the AAC is a gathering of all of our Holy Synod of Bishops, as well as one priest and one lay delegate of every parish in the Orthodox Church in America. Those in attendance included Orthodox Christians from Alaska, Mexico, Canada, and all around the Continental United States, who gathered to receive updates on the Orthodox Mission here in our land, as well as to continue to plan a path forward for the Church.
The theme of the council was “Becoming Vessels of Grace”, because truly this is what the Church is in the midst of the world. We are the ship that protects the faithful who are journeying through life from the waves of temptations in the world that seek to topple us.
His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon opened the council with an address that included a story from Abba Ischyrion, which adds some interesting insight into the difficult situation that we have as Orthodox Christians to further the mission of the Church in being a “Vessel of Grace”:
The holy fathers were making predictions about the last generation. They said, ‘What have we ourselves done?’ One of them, the great Abba Ischyrion, replied: ‘We ourselves have fulfilled the commandments of God.’
The others replied, ‘And those who come after us, what will they do?’
He said, ‘They will struggle to achieve half our works.’
They said, and to those who come after them, what will happen?’
He said, ‘The men of that generation will not accomplish any works at all, and temptation will come upon them; and those who will be approved in that day will be greater than either us or our fathers.’
This comment made by Abba Ischyrion made me wonder how close we are to that last generation. In our own day, temptation is absolutely everywhere. The creation of the internet and the smartphone have amplified these temptations, by making it difficult to disconnect from the sinful world in order to reconnect with the Grace of God. Silence and stillness are virtues in our day that are extremely hard to acquire unless we are able to pull ourselves away to a monastery for a retreat. Even then, it takes a few days to allow the noise of the world to cease so that we can once again hear the sweet voice of the Holy Spirit.
The noise of the world since the invention of the iPhone has been loud. Every day, we hear messages and articles that show how our government and our society is surrounding God-Fearing Christians with rhetoric and laws that go against the very teachings of the Church, and of our very Human Nature. Sexual relationships outside of the bond of marriage are now considered “normal” and acceptable by a vast majority of society. Homosexual temptations and relationships, rather than being another passion and temptation to fight with internally, are now celebrated with a month that appropriately bears the name of the greatest sin: “Pride”. (Lord have mercy…as if sin isn’t bad enough, now we live in a society that takes pride in it?!).
Our institutions and lawmakers have furthered confusion in our young children, teaching them that it is ok and perfectly acceptable to change the very nature of how they were created. I tried to research a list of how many accepted “genders”, and it ranged from anywhere from 15 to 72! We claim to be an enlightened and advanced civilization, yet we have a difficult time identifying what all of human history was able to see: God created mankind with two genders, Male and Female!
There are so many more societal temptations and thoughts of the fallen world that permeate and infiltrate our inner peace on a daily basis, being beamed directly to our smart phones for us to wake up and read about. What is to protect us from these confusions and destructions of the soul?
The Unchanging Vessel Of Grace: Our Holy Orthodox Church.
While many so called churches update their teachings to the flows and whims of fallen humanity, the True Church remains firm and unwavering, and that was incredibly evident at the gathering for the All American Council. To a standing ovation from the priests and laity in attendance, the Holy Synod of Bishops cut through the noise of the world. Without worrying about civil repercussions, or being deemed “hateful”, or without any regard to how it might be received to others outside of the faith, they reaffirmed the Truth by offering guidance to the faithful in regard to these important issues of our day. The entire statement is one that is full of love and compassion for those who are struggling, or for those who are unable to see these truths. I will offer one paragraph that highlights the crux of the letter:
“Therefore, in accord with the timeless plan of God our Creator, the unchanging teaching of Christ the Savior announced through his holy apostles and their successors, and the consistent witness of the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America, the Holy Synod affirms what the Scriptures clearly and plainly proclaim and the holy fathers unerringly confess, namely: that God made human beings in two sexes, male and female, in his own image, and that chaste and pure sexual relationships are reserved to one man and one woman in the bond of marriage.”
Holding Fast to the Faith, regardless of what “the world” thinks. We either accept the Gospel in its entirety, or we do not. There is no in-between! We give thanks to God for the sturdy ship of the Orthodox Church in America dear ones!
While there are many more things to highlight from the week, including the incredible Liturgies that were beautifully celebrated with 100 member choirs in all kinds of different languages and expressions, I want my reflection with something that Metropolitan Tikhon said at the end of the council in regard to our Patroness here in Fenton, St. Mary Magdalene. St. Mary is often called the Apostle to the Apostles. That word “Apostle” comes from the Greek word “Apostolos” which means “to be sent out”. This was something that St. Mary Magdalene did after she had been the first to experience the Resurrected Christ! She took her experience inside the Vessel of the Church and spread it to all that she encountered! This too is our mission dear ones! We have all been given the gift of the steady ship of the Church which has held within it the unwavering Truth and Grace of God. The sea of the world, especially these past several years, has become violent and turbulent. Mankind finds itself drowning, grasping and searching for meaning in an increasingly meaningless world. It is our responsibility, especially with the expansion of the walls of the Ship taking place at our Church, to fill it with those who are seeking a “calm refuge” from the storm.
Through the prayers of our Holy Patroness St. Mary Magdalene, may we be made worthy of such a task!