I’ve had good intentions to write a column for our website since being appointed chancellor by His Eminence last July. I am not sure exactly what shape this will take, but I’m hopeful that a less structured format will encourage me to share more tidbits from around the Diocese and other reflections.
Following the rigors of the Great Fast, and all of the joy of the Lord’s Pascha, we find ourselves in the radiant Fifty Days. His Eminence, our Archbishop Benjamin presided at Holy Week and Paschal services at his Cathedral and launched right back into his rigorous travel schedule including the regular meeting of the Holy Synod last week.
For me this year, Bright Week and the days following have been a mix between clarity and struggle. I particularly enjoyed serving Bright Week liturgies in Santa Rosa, Fremont, and with area clergy on Bright Thursday at Holy Trinity Cathedral.
But if I think back to how I’ve really been spending my time since Pascha, in terms of hours per day, it’s often been administration. Developing programs, organizing calendars, wordsmithing bulletins, preparing for meetings… the list goes on. The real highlight of my last few days has been working on compliance with the new fingerprinting laws from the State of California. I mean that’s really what I thought I was signing up for when I went to seminary 22 years ago!
And to my brain, the bottom line – the “conclusion” – is that any problem we face in our Church life could be rectified if we only had a little (or a lot!) more money and personnel (time!).
And what my brain is trained to do—by education, by society, by history, by the culture, and so forth—is to treat all of these “business” concerns as somehow an aberration. Almost a betrayal of the gospel. How many new religions have been created in the last 2000 years in search of “pure religion”?
So, it was incredibly helpful to have during yesterday’s scripture readings, the selection from the Book of Acts, Chapter 6:1-7. To me one of the most powerful aspects of this account is that it comes up so rapidly in the life of the Holy Spirit-governed Apostolic Church. It’s just in the second chapter that we experience the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the birth of the Church. And what are the Apostles now dealing with? Murmuring of one faction in the Church against another because of day-to-day challenges. I can only imagine how unpleasant it might have been to referee a semi-ethnic conflict between two factions of widows in a small church in Jerusalem in the first century!
But this is the work. This is present in the Holy-Spirit-managed Church from the very beginning. And the Apostles don’t seem confused about this at all. For example, we heard these Apostolic words Saturday evening: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27).
This ability to do the work of the Kingdom of God now, in this world, is something that only can happen fruitfully in light of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Just as when the widows were being neglected, the way we live as Church is how we live out our belief in the resurrection.
One of the ways we live as Church is by being careful stewards of what is entrusted to our temporary care. And, I think, taking holy risks is one way (paradoxically) to carefully steward the gifts we’ve received. There was a kind of beautiful risk in the Apostles appointing the Seven of Acts 6 to their new ministry. And all of you throughout our Diocese take beautiful, hope-filled, optimistic risks all the time. Just one recent piece of news that fits this description, to me, is the purchase of a building by St. Jacob of Alaska Mission in Bend, Oregon at the end of March. After approximately twenty years of creating an outpost of the Kingdom in central Oregon, that congregation is now blessed with more stability and a home for divine worship.
The last few weeks have also put me in regular contact with brothers and sisters in Christ fleeing Ukraine and other areas affected by war. It seems to me that we who are incredibly privileged and blessed in this region of our planet have a duty to minister to those coming to our cities, towns, and churches. And, God willing, our faith and witness in the Diocese of the West might be “watered” by brothers and sisters – and clergy! – newly arrived. To me, this all feels like a jigsaw puzzle with the pieces turned upside down, but I am hopeful that we can work to take appropriate, measured, holy risks. With God’s help!
May signals that graduations and commencements are coming soon. I recently heard from most of the Diocese’s seminarians at St. Tikhon’s and St. Vladimir’s about summer plans and returns home. We’ll celebrate our graduating seminarians in due time but please keep our 15 diocesan seminarians in your prayers as they complete the semester. We also keep in fervent prayer Matushka Priscilla Shipley (Chico, CA) and her family.
I am looking forward to some short trips and meetings in various districts of our Diocese in the coming weeks. And, as usual, I welcome your messages and phone calls if there is anything we should talk about. Thank you for keeping His Eminence and our entire Diocese in your prayers.
A few pictures from Holy Trinity Cathedral’s 2023 Paschal Services: (More on Facebook. Click here)