From an interview with Archpriest Pimen Simon who is pastor of Church of the Nativity Old Rite Orthodox parish in Erie, Pennsylvania, part of ROCOR (Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia). His parish had been part of the Old Believers, but reunited with mainline Orthodoxy in 1983. While traditions are emphasized by the Old Rite Orthodox, Fr. Pimen expresses a very balanced view of traditions and Christian faith in this interview. (Some background: Fr. Pimen refers to “Western Christmas.” Like many other Orthodox, his parish follows the Julian Calendar which means they celebrate Christmas 13 days later.)
I was very impressed with the following remarks by Fr. Pimen:
We Orthodox Christians, probably because of our own sin of pride, often make comments that, very often, let’s say in Roman Catholic Churches now, and even Protestant Churches, they’ve become more social agencies than repositories of salvation. And we really need to understand, of course, that the first goal of the Universal Church and also of the parish church is to save souls. That’s its first goal.
But we cannot deny the fact that when our Lord comes back — and we know this from chapter twenty-five of St. Matthew– he makes very clear that his questions to us will not be ones such as: “Did you have a beard? Did you say the Vigil? Did you make prostrations?” He says “Did you feed the hungry? Did you clothe the naked? Did you give drink to the thirsty?”
And so we know that Christian love and charity really is a prime obligation of the parish. We try very hard. I don’t think we did it well years ago, and we still have far to go in this area, but we’ve tried in the past thirty years. We work certain days, for example, at the Benedictine-sponsored soup kitchen. They have different groups come in every day and serve meals for the poor. Our parish serves at that soup kitchen one Friday every month. We serve at that soup kitchen on Western Christmas so that the nuns can celebrate their Christmas and the poor still have a place to have dinner on December 25th. We deliver food baskets to maybe forty, fifty, sixty families at Western Christmas so they can celebrate Christmas and have food enough to eat. We run a food pantry and are now delivering food to maybe forty or fifty families every other week so that they have enough food in their community.
Even though it’s during the Nativity Fast, we have a Christmas party for about one-hundred and fifty really indigent children who are mostly from homeless families who have nothing, so we can give them something during Western Christmas. So there’s many ways that any ROCOR parish, even a small parish, can do things that don’t cost you a lot of money. In fact the food pantry I mentioned for the fifty families may sound really admirable, but there is a food bank here in the area, with most of the food being provided by them, and so we’re not paying for the food. We’re simply picking it up, distributing and so forth. Therefore, we can’t make the argument that we can’t afford to do that. It simply comes down to the fact that we can’t afford not to do this, because, once again, as we discussed earlier, how will we answer the Lord and say to Him, “But Lord, I didn’t know it was you.” If we do that, He will say to us, “Go onto the left side and be with the goats rather than the sheep.”
The whole interview can be read here.