An Orthodox View of Life and Learning — Fr. John Behr

October 30, 2011

A lecture in seven parts given at Eastern University by Fr. John Behr, an Eastern Orthodox priest and Dean of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Yonkers, New York, where he teaches Patristics. Fr. Behr has taken degrees from Thames Polytechnic and Oxford University, where he studied under Bishop Kallistos Ware. He was previously the editor of the Popular Patristics Series released by St. Vladimir’s Press.

Part One:

Part Two:

Part 3  Part 4  Part 5  Part 6  Part 7

Why We Sing the Divine Liturgy

October 29, 2011

By Jane M. De Vyver

The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is always celebrated with unaccompanied singing, because the human voice, the only instrument that God Himself created, is considered the sole instrument worthy to be used in His praises. Only the human voice can adequately convey the heart’s love for God. The voice does not just produce a musical sound, but combines beauty of sound with intelligible words so that we can praise and glorify God with both our hearts and our minds, and so “that we may welcome the King of all, Who comes invisibly escorted by angelic hosts.”

We sing everything in the Liturgy because speech is not as beautiful as song, and only the most beautiful we can offer is good enough for God. We sing everything, because what is celebrated is the Divine Liturgy, not the human liturgy, and in the divine vision, the angels constantly sing praises to God and behold his ineffable beauty. What we do on earth in the Divine Liturgy, where we participate in and taste the first fruits of the Kingdom of God, is a reflection of the Celestial Liturgy. We sing in the Cherubic Hymn, “Let us who mystically represent the cherubim, and sing the trice-holy hymn to the life-creating Trinity, now set aside all earthly cares.” When we do set aside all earthly cares, we can indeed rejoice in the peace, love, and harmony of God’s Kingdom, and express that joy in the beautiful song.

Since we (those who sing) represent the cherubim on earth, and the cherubim constantly sing God’s praises, naturally we, likewise, sing constantly throughout the whole Liturgy, and as beautiful as we can but without any insincere showiness.

Indeed, the task of standing in the place of the cherubim at the Divine Liturgy is a very high calling.

The choir and people of St. Innocent Orthodox Church (Olmsted Falls, Ohio) join in singing the Divine Liturgy

In addition to singing the praises of God, singing the liturgical text throughout the year also fulfills the important function of teaching the people through the words of the hymns. Thus to accomplish both purposes, the singing must be done with careful attention, awe, reverence, humility, and above all, with understanding. Because we praise God with our minds as well as our hearts, the Church’s services have always been in the language of the people so that all may participate with understanding.

All of the Church’s teaching of salvation, history, all of the Church’s spirituality and inner essence in life are contained in the fulness of the Church’s liturgical life, and therefore,

If you know what you are chanting, you acquire consciousness of what you know; from this consciousness you acquire understanding; and from understanding you bring into practice what you have become conscious of,  (Theoleptos)

and this is the description of Christian life.

From Vespers: Bless the Lord (Psalm 102)

October 26, 2011

Deaf Outreach Resolution at Upcoming Orthodox Council

October 23, 2011

In an Orthodox parish serving the Deaf in Moscow, a priest signs one of the readings in Russian Sign Language

Here is something exciting for those of us who have been longing to see Orthodoxy in America make a firm commitment to ministry to the Deaf. One of the resolutions to be considered at the upcoming 16th All-American Council of the Orthodox Church in America (held October 31-November 4, 2011 in Seattle, Washington) is a call for the Church to reach out to the Deaf:

Deaf Outreach Resolution

WHEREAS we are called to spread the Word of God in many tongues (1 Cor. 14:9), yet the languages of a specific group of people throughout North America, namely, the deaf community, have been underrepresented, Whereas members of the deaf community, most of whom use sign language as their primary mode of communication, find it virtually impossible to enter into the liturgical fullness of the church,

BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED that the Holy Synod be requested to explore the creation of a deaf outreach ministry to help every level of the Orthodox Church in America more effectively meet the specific needs of the deaf community.

I ask readers to join in prayer that the Council in Seattle will embrace the resolution for this ministry which is long overdue for Orthodoxy in America.

For further reading:

Orthodox Christians Who are Deaf and Blind

St Mark the Deaf

Orthodox Church for the Deaf and Blind

With the Rise of Militant Secularism, Rome and Moscow Make Common Cause

October 23, 2011

H/T: Catholic Online

By Fr. Johannes Jacobse

NAPLES, FL (Acton Institute) – The European religious press is abuzz over recent developments in Orthodox – Catholic relations that indicate both Churches are moving closer together. The diplomatic centerpiece of the activity would be a meeting of Pope Benedict and Patriarch Kyrill of the Russian Orthodox Church that was first proposed by Pope John Paul II but never realized.

Some look to a meeting in 2013 which would mark the 1,700th anniversary of the signing of the Edict of Milan when Constantine lifted the persecution of Christians. It would be the first visit between the Pope of Rome and Patriarch of Moscow in history.

A few short years ago a visit between Pope and Patriarch seemed impossible because of lingering problems between the two Churches as they reasserted territorial claims and began the revival of the faith in post-Soviet Russia, Ukraine and elsewhere. The relationship grew tense at times and while far from resolved, a spirit of deepening cooperation has nevertheless emerged.

Both Benedict and Kyrill share the conviction that European culture must rediscover its Christian roots to turn back the secularism that threatens moral collapse.

Both men draw from a common moral history: Benedict witnessed the barbarism of Nazi Germany and Kyrill the decades long communist campaign to destroy all religious faith. It informs the central precept in their public ministry that all social policy be predicated on the recognition that every person has inherent dignity and rights bestowed by God, and that the philosophical materialism that grounds modern secularism will subsume the individual into either ideology or the state just as Nazism and Communism did. If Europe continues its secular drift, it is in danger of repeating the barbarism of the last century or of yielding to Islam.

The deepening relationship does not portend a union between Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Roman Catholics are more optimistic about unity because they are less aware of the historical animus that exists between Catholics and Orthodox. Nevertheless, while the increasing cooperation shows the gravity of the threat posed by secularism, it also indicates that the sensitive historical exigencies can be addressed in appropriate ways and times and will not derail the more pressing mission.

The cooperation has also caused the Churches to examine assumptions of their own that may prove beneficial in the long run. The meaning of papal supremacy tops the list.

On the Orthodox side the claims to a universal jurisdictional supremacy of the Patriarch of Rome have been rejected since (indeed, was a cause of) the Great Schism of 1054 (see here  and here ). That said, the Orthodox see the Pope of Rome as the rightful Patriarch of the Church of Rome and could afford him a primacy of honor in a joint council but not jurisdiction.

On the other side, the Orthodox do not have a Magisterium, a centralized Church structure that speaks for all the Orthodox in the world. This has led to some fractious internal wrangling throughout the centuries although doctrine and teaching has remained remarkably consistent.

It will come as no surprise for anyone to know that the Orthodox have difficulties with some of the claims made by the Catholic Church concerning the precise responsibilities and the nature of the authority associated with the Bishop of Rome. The Catholic Church has long recognized this as a basic difference between the Orthodox and Catholic worlds. The rise of militant secularism, however, and the cultural challenges this creates for Orthodox and Catholic Christians alike, have focused everyone’s minds on how they can cooperate to address these issues of ethics and culture.

Protestants have a stake in the outcome as well particularly as attitudes have softened towards Rome due in large part to Pope John Paul II’s exemplary leadership during the collapse of communism in the last century. Protestant ecclesiology has no real place for priest or pope which makes the nature of discussions between them and the Catholics or Orthodox entirely different. Nevertheless, as the soul denying ramifications of secularism become more evident, an increasing number look to the Catholic and Orthodox Churches for leadership.

The most visible ambassador for the Orthodox Church is Oxford-educated Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev of Volokomansk who runs the Department of External Church Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church. Observers report that a deep respect and even genuine fondness exists between Hilarion and Benedict which has contributed to the recent thaw.

Both of them note with alarm the increasing attacks on the Christian faith in Europe and on Christians themselves in other parts of the world, a development they term “Christophobia.” Hilarion brought these points forward several years back when he first challenged the European Union for omitting any mention of the Christian roots of European civilization in the EU Constitution. That earned him considerable worldwide notice and he has become increasingly outspoken towards any attempts to silence the Christian testimony or dim the historical memory of Christendom.

From the Orthodox side it is clear that the leadership that deals with the concrete issues that affect the decline of the Christian West is emerging from Moscow. One reason is the sheer size of the renewed Russian Orthodox Church. The deeper reason however, is that the Russians have direct experience with the suffering and death that ensues when the light of the Christian faith is vanquished from culture.

Decades before the fall of Communism was even a conceptual possibility for most people, Pope John Paul II prophesied that the regeneration of Europe would come from Russia. At the time many people thought it was the misguided ramblings of a misguided man. It is looking like he knew more than his critics. We are fortunate to have these two leaders, Benedict and Kyrill, to help guide us through the coming difficulties.


Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse is an Orthodox priest in the Antiochian Archdiocese of North and South America. He is president of the American Orthodox Institute and serves on the board of the Institute for Religion and Democracy. He writes frequently on social and cultural issues on his blog and elsewhere.
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The Action Institute is committed to Integrating Judeo-Christian Truths with Free Market Principles. This article frist appeared as an Acton Commentary and is used with permission of the Author and the Institute

Repost: Can East & West Coexist With Married Priests?

October 22, 2011

An earlier version of this article appeared soon after this blog began. It has since been greatly expanded with new research and recent developments noted. I beg the indulgence of long-time readers for this re-post for newer readers.

If, in the future, there is a reunited Church: Could Orthodox and Catholic parishes coexist with different disciplines — celibacy & married clergy?

The Question:

Catholic and Orthodox theologians and Bishops have been dialoguing with the eventual goal of solving their respective religious differences and working towards a reunion of the two Churches. There are varying views as to how successful the talks are proceeding or as to what issues must be resolved and which may not be as important. While the task might seem impossible to achieve, the doctrinal differences are not the focus of this article. Instead, imagine that the differences have somehow been solved or reconciled. Now, it’s time to live together.  How will the two Churches’ differing views regarding priesthood and celibacy fit into this equation? Could they coexist?

The Problem:

The normative Roman Catholic position is that only single men can be ordained to the priesthood. Likewise, the Orthodox have celibate clergy, but they are usually required to take monastic orders, to fill the family void. However, Orthodox Bishops will also ordain married men to the priesthood. (Neither Church allows single men who have been ordained to later marry.) In a reunited Church, could Orthodox and Catholic parishes live side by side with people possibly transferring between parishes, one ordaining married men to the priesthood and one limiting it only to unmarried, single men?

A Microcosm of the Problem and its History

This tension has actually existed inside Catholicism itself. Many people are unaware that the Catholic Church actually has two disciplines regarding married priests. The Eastern Catholic Churches (Churches which, for the most part, reunited with Rome after breaking communion with Orthodoxy) actually permit a married clergy. One reason this is not as well known is because Eastern Catholics make up only about 2 per cent of the entire Catholic Church.

So we can take a look at the history and current status of these two disciplines already existing in the Catholic Church and this can help us evaluate whether the two disciplines could coexist if Catholicism and Orthodoxy were to reunite someday.

This difference in discipline already existing in the Catholic Church is explained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

1579 All the ordained ministers of the Latin Church, with the exception of permanent deacons, are normally chosen from among men of faith who live a celibate life and who intend to remain celibate “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.” …

1580 In the Eastern Churches a different discipline has been in force for many centuries: while bishops are chosen solely from among celibates, married men can be ordained as deacons and priests. This practice has long been considered legitimate; these priests exercise a fruitful ministry within their communities….

Another reason the Eastern Catholic discipline of a married priesthood is relatively unknown is because it is generally restricted to the traditional homelands of these Eastern Catholic Churches. This can be seen in the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches (the Eastern Catholic canon law). While Canon 373 states:

[T]he hallowed practice of married clerics in the primitive Church and in the tradition of the Eastern Churches throughout the ages is to be held in honor.

Canon 758 §3 refers to “special norms” established by the “Apostolic See” (the Pope) for ordaining married men:

The particular law of each Church sui iuris or special norms established by the Apostolic See are to be followed in admitting married men to sacred orders.

In practice, this means that according to Eastern Catholic canon law there is no restriction on Eastern Catholic Bishops ordaining married men to the priesthood in their home territories (Ukraine, Slovakia, Romania, the Middle East, etc.), but there are restrictions in place outside of their homelands.

This issue of restrictions on ordaining married men to the priesthood in other lands became a burning issue for some Eastern Catholics in the USA from about 1890-1935. But, first, a little more historical background of how this all developed.

Most of the different Eastern Catholic Churches arose in the 16th – 18th centuries as groups of Orthodox Christians decided to enter communion with Rome. The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, for example, concluded a formal accord called the Union of Brest in 1596. One point of the agreement was:

9. That the marriages of priests remain intact, except for bigamists.

In Eastern Europe, even today, a married priesthood is the norm for Ukrainian, Ruthenian, and Romanian Eastern Catholics, with thousands of married priests in the Eastern Catholic homelands. Married clergy is of absolutely no issue in areas where Eastern Christians predominate

But, when Eastern Catholics started emigrating to the United States from the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the latter part of the 19th century, they discovered that the idea of a married clergy was offensive to Roman Catholic Bishops and priests in the USA. The official website of the Byzantine Catholic Metropolia of Pittsburgh recounts the Vatican’s intervention to solve this conflict:

With tensions between the American Catholic bishops and the Greek Catholic clergy and faithful escalating, the Holy See in Rome intervened. In an attempt to clarify the situation, on October 1, 1890, the Holy See issued a decree concerning Greek Catholics in the United States. This decree instructed the newly arriving Greek Catholic priests to obtain jurisdiction from and to function under the authority of the local Roman Catholic bishop. Additionally, the decree stated all Greek Catholic priests functioning in America should be celibate. All married priests, according to the decree, should be recalled to Europe.

Rather than resolving the situation, the Vatican’s decree only served to exacerbate the relationship between the bishops, the Greek Catholic clergy and faithful. Inevitably, these differences between the American Catholic hierarchy and the Greek Catholic clergy and faithful ended in a schism.

At a meeting in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Father Alexis Toth was harshly rebuffed by the Roman Catholic Bishop John Ireland. The parish had no services that paschal season. Later that year Father Toth and his parish of 361 souls petitioned the Russian Orthodox bishop, residing at that time in San Francisco, to accept them under his jurisdiction. After investigations and exchanges of visits, this was accomplished. A zealous missionary, Father Toth, by the time of his death in 1909, brought fifteen Carpatho-Rusin parishes with over twenty thousand souls into the Orthodox Church.

An Eastern Catholic clergy meeting in 1890. Fr. Alexis Toth is seated third from the left.

The move to Orthodoxy, spurred on by the confrontation between Archbishop John Ireland and Fr. Alexis Toth (exacerbated when Ireland was told that Toth was a widower), laid a foundation for the Orthodox Church in America. Ea Semper, a 1907 papal decree, “reaffirmed celibacy” in the US Ruthenian Church. It is estimated by one source that by 1916, 163 Eastern Catholic parishes with 100,000 faithful had gone over to Orthodoxy. (St. Alexis Toth was canonized by the Orthodox Church in 1994.)

The Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Church website details another schism over enforced celibacy by the Holy See on Greek

St Alexis Toth, canonized by the Orthodox Church in America in 1994, is viewed as helping to establish Orthodoxy in America

[Byzantine] Catholics, starting in the late 1920s:

In 1929, the Holy See issued a decree entitled Cum Data Fuerit. In this decree, the Holy See reiterated its previous position that the Greek Catholic clergy in America must be celibate….When the Holy See rebuffed all appeals, Bishop Takach insisted that the celibacy decree must be obeyed. Using the celibacy decree as a rallying cry allegedly to safeguard traditional Eastern traditions, some priests and laity started an open campaign against him and attacked his authority to govern the Exarchate. Many parishes were drawn into the conflict and numerous legal battles for control of church properties ensued. Regrettably, the conflict produced a schism within the Exarchate and led to the formation of the Independent Greek Catholic Church.

A contemporary analysis of the conflict appeared in Time magazine in 1937, and reflected back to its beginnings :

With the growth of Greek Rite Catholicism in the U. S.—it now numbers 1,000,000 faithful with 300 churches—the Roman hierarchy instituted a subtle campaign to Latinize its conduct. Feeling that a minority of married priests might cause envy among celibate Catholic priests, Pope Pius X in 1907 issued an apostolic letter enjoining celibacy upon all priests laboring in the U. S. In the same year he established the first U. S. Greek Catholic diocese, sent Bishop Stephen Soter Ortynski to fill it and enforce the order. So incensed were the Uniats—claiming that by the Treaty of Ungvar in 1646 their clergy had been granted the right to marry before ordination — that Carpatho-Russian and Ukrainian members of the church snubbed the papal letter. It remained unenforced.

Last week in Pittsburgh this old battle was once more raging. Its centre was the person of the fat, gimlet-eyed, Carpathian-born bishop of the Carpatho-Russians, Rt. Rev. Basil Takach. Sent to the U. S. in 1924, Bishop Takach had won instant approval by ordaining married men to the priesthood. But in 1929 another apostolic letter was issued by the Vatican, this one forbidding bishops to appoint married priests to Greek Rite posts. Bishop Takach obeyed the order, but in Bridgeport, Conn., a priest dared not only oppose it but circularized Greek Catholic churches to stir up more opposition. This priest, a widower named Rev. Orestes Peter Chornock, was thereupon removed from his rich, comfortable Bridgeport parish, rusticated to a tiny church in Roebling, N. J.

Last week, Bishop Takach, sitting tight in his episcopal residence in smoky Munhall, Pa., had a full-fledged revolt on his hands. Father Chornock was named bishop of a new, dissident faction, to be called the Carpatho-Russian Greek Catholic Diocese of the Eastern Rite, U. S. A. Bishop-elect Chornock’s diocese was born when 36 of Bishop Takach’s priests petitioned him to appeal the second papal order. Father Chornock and five other clergy were excommunicated by the Vatican. By last week their faction had grown to include 40 parishes, drew 300 lay and clerical delegates to a convention in Pittsburgh.

In 1929, Rome issued the document Cum Data Fuerit which forbade the ordination of married men to the priesthood in Eastern Catholic Churches in the USA.

The “celibacy wars” of this period are chronicled in depth in the bookHistorical Mirror (pp. 127-304), compiled by Fr. John Slivka, one of the last married men ordained to the priesthood in the Byzantine Catholic Church before the 1929 ban. The “Independent Greek Catholic Church,” led by Metropolitan Orestes Chornock,  was received into Orthodoxy by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople in 1938 and is now known as the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese (ACROD). The story is told from the ACROD point of view in the book Good Victory by Fr. Lawrence Barriger. Barriger’s book reproduces some information not found in Fr. Slivka’s book, including a document from the Roman Curia in 1934 explaining why the Pope was insisting on the ban on married clergy in the USA. The Cardinal in charge of the Oriental Congregation wrote:

This regulation [re: celibacy] arose not now, but anew, from the peculiar conditions of the Ruthenian population in the United States of America. There it represents an immigrant element and a minority, and it could not, therefore, pretend to maintain there its own customs and traditions which are in contrast with those which are the legitimate customs and traditions of Catholicism in the United States, and much less to have there a clergy which could be a source of painful perplexity or scandal to the majority of American Catholics….As regards their particular canonical discipline, the Holy See could not have affirmed its integral application at all times and in all places without taking into account the different exigencies and circumstances. Thus one can well understand how a married clergy, permitted in those places where the Greek Ruthenian Rite originated and constitutes a predominant element, could hardly be advisable in places where the same Rite has been imported and finds an environment and mentality altogether different. (Full text of letter can be found here.)

After this, the idea of a married clergy in the Eastern Catholic Churches was seen by some as something that was being phased out, even in the home territories. For example, in the 1950s Australian priests Rumble and Carty wrote the following in the popular apologetics series Radio Replies, (published with a preface written by Fulton J. Sheen):

These [Eastern Catholic] churches are gradually leaning towards the complete acceptance of celibacy, just as it prevails in the Western Church. Though the Holy See has not imposed the discipline of the Latin Church upon them, they are gradually imposing it as an obligation upon themselves….Today the great majority of priests in the Uniate [Eastern Catholic] Churches do not avail themselves of the right to marry before ordination. They voluntarily choose to remain single, and being ordained as single men, adopt celibacy as the law of their future lives. The time will certainly come when these Eastern Uniate Churches will wish to have the full discipline of the Latin Church in regard to celibacy extended to them also….[M]any of the Uniate Eastern Churches were for long periods separated from Rome by various Eastern heresies, and returned to unity with Rome only after having contracted habits rife amongst Eastern heretics. The Pope insisted that, on returning to the unity of the Catholic Church, they should renounce all heretical elements, and accept everything essential to the Catholic Faith. But in disciplinary matters, he did not desire to impose the full severity of Western regulations suddenly, preferring to lead them gradually to an appreciation of the higher Latin ideals. Provided the Eastern Churches are prepared to accept all the essential things, there is no reason why they should be excluded from the unity of the Church. And granted their submission, it is but reasonable to make allowance for their previous customs, and patiently wait for them to grow into the full discipline of the Church gradually. Of recent years this growth in the direction of a full acceptance of celibacy is most pronounced. (Volume 3, 1183, 1185)

However, this negative view towards a married clergy began to change after one of the decrees of Vatican II affirmed:

[Celibacy] is not demanded by the very nature of the priesthood, as is apparent from the practice of the early Church and from the traditions of the Eastern Churches.  (Presbyterorum Ordinis, 16)

Still, it seems there is no agreement in the Catholic Church if the Eastern tradition of a married clergy is a “right,” or an exemption which is tolerated. The toleration model is how Radio Replies (Vol. 1, Sec. 1195) presented it in the early 20th century:

1195.    Are there not Oriental Churches united to the Catholic Church, yet without the law of celibacy?

Yes. They have been exempted from the law obliging all Priests of the Latin Rite. The Church has tolerated the ancient custom of marriage in those Eastern Churches which have sought re-union with her, allowing married men to be ordained amongst them, though marriage subsequent to ordination is forbidden.   But in the Western Latin Church the full law must be observed.

Does that view of married priests being an exemption to be tolerated still prevail?

The Post-Vatican II Situation

In 1978, Pope Paul VI wrote Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Maximos V after the Patriarch ordained a married American to serve the Melkite Eparchy (Diocese) in America, while he was visiting in Canada. The Pope termed the ordination “illicit” and the priestly faculties were removed. In the letter, Pope Paul VI asserted what he felt was his right to regulate this tradition and explained that having married priests in America

poses some delicate problems for the Latin-rite community. This is why the Holy See, as your Beatitude has been informed from time to time, has decided, on this particular point, to suspend the application of the general principle of the preservation of the traditions proper to Eastern communities outside their patriarchal territories. [Source, page 41]

Writing in an article in St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly in 1986, Melkite priest Fr. Philip Khairallah complained that things were still at an impasse regarding ordaining married men to the priesthood in the USA:

This question has still not been resolved. The five married priests now serving in the Eparchy are held in limbo. They have not officially been given pastoral assignments. Whenever the question has been raised, the answer has been that (1) the Patriarch and his Synod are still dialoguing with Rome, and are waiting a resolution to the problem, or (2) they have to wait until the new Canon Law for the Oriental Churches is promulgated. In ecumenical meetings with the Orthodox, one question is always asked: Why has Rome forbidden the Melkites to live according to their traditions, and if this is what is meant by being in communion with the Church of Rome, then will all the other Orthodox traditions go the same way? (St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, Fall 1986, Page 210)

It is apparent that if the Eastern Catholic tradition of ordaining married men is a “right,” it is still subject to regulation by the Pope. This can be seen most clearly in what happened to the Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Church when it canonically sought to restore a married priesthood. In 1998, the Ruthenian Church was set to promulgate, after consultation with Rome, its Particular Law (to be used in conjunction with the Eastern Catholic Canon Law). It received a receptio or approval of the new laws from Rome in July of that year. Statute 44 of the new Law caused great excitement among Byzantine Catholics:

Statute 44 – 1. The Council of Hierarchs of the Metropolia of Pittsburgh notes the very clear direction of the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on the Eastern Churches, canons 373, 28, 39, and 40 of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, paragraph 1 of Orientale Lumen, which direct a return to the original patrimony of the Eastern Catholic Churches. The Council of Hierarchs also notes that there is currently a married clergy in the Latin Church in the United States, and that it has been implemented without scandal to the faithful of the Latin Church.

2. This same Council of Hierarchs ascertains that the imposition of clerical celibacy introduced by the decree Cum data fuerit and reaffirmed by the decree Qua sollerti are currently in effect for the Ruthenians in the United States.

3. The Council of Hierarchs declares that these special restrictive norms imposed by the Apostolic See are no longer in force and, thus, in the Metropolia of Pittsburgh, marriage is not an impediment to presbyteral orders.

The first news dispatch about the new laws, written by a member of the canonical commission and published by a Byzantine Catholic newspaper in August 1998, was entitled “Married Priesthood Restored to U.S. Byzantine Church.” It gave these reasons for the restoration of the right to ordain married men and also noted the ecumenical implications:

The law concerning married priests is based on the decrees of the Second Vatican Council, Eastern canon law, and the pope’s apostolic letter Orientale lumen, all of which direct a return to their authentic patrimony by the Eastern Catholic churches.

The Council of Hierarchs, in commenting on this restoration of the married priesthood, noted that the retention of the married presbyterate was one of the conditions of the Union of Uzhorod, that the prohibition of married clergy for Eastern Catholics in the United States brought great harm to the church, that there are currently over 100 married Roman Catholic priests serving lawfully in the United States and that there has been no difficulty among the faithful of the Latin church, and, finally, ecumenical considerations vis-a-vis the Orthodox churches. The Byzantine bishops also noted their many efforts and successes in returning to the Eastern patrimony in the areas of liturgy and doctrinal teaching. (emphasis added)

In 1999, Metropolitan Judson of the Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Church promulgated canons which required dispensations from Rome before ordaining married men to the priesthood

However, some inaccurate initial press reactions by news media outside the Byzantine Church suggested a possible “showdown” between the Ruthenian Church and the Vatican and some conservative Catholic groups represented it as a rebellion against Rome. The upshot was that the Vatican withdrew its approval and stopped the promulgation of the “married priest’s statute.” A news report from 1999 explains:

Last year, [Metropolitan Judson] Procyk was set to announce that Rome had approved 50 new canons governing everything from seminary education to sacraments. One would have allowed Byzantine bishops in the United States to ordain married men without special permission.

But a conservative Catholic news organization misinterpreted the change as a revolt against Rome. The Vatican then placed all 50 laws on hold while talks continued between officials of the Vatican’s Congregation for Oriental Churches and Byzantine canon lawyers from the United States. The Vatican approved the final text this year.

It is speculated that the Eastern (Oriental) Congregation gave the original approval, only to have another section of the Curia in Rome get involved once some negative reactions reached Rome. The final version of the Ruthenian Particular Law, promulgated a year later, removed what had been called “the married priests’ statute” and reaffirmed the right of the Pope to regulate whether married men could be ordained, this time on a case by case basis:

Canon 758 §3 §2. Concerning the admission of married men to the order of the presbyterate, the special norms issued by the Apostolic See are to be observed, unless dispensations are granted by the same See in individual cases.

In the past ten years things seem to be lightening up somewhat. One Eastern Catholic webpage notes a few ordinations of married men (after being vetted by Rome) have occurred in the USA. Many more ordinations have happened in Canada (and a few in the USA) in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.  Other news reports state these ordinations are “allowed by Rome,” but are done “with little fanfare to avoid attention,”  and “celebrated quietly.” The Melkite Greek Catholic Church ordained one married deacon to the priesthood in 1996 with no public response from Rome.  (See “A Quiet Revolution,” from Catholic World Report, March 1997.) However, subsequent ordinations of married deacons to the priesthood in the American Melkite Church have occurred in the Middle East where the Ban does not apply.

In 1998, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, reversing a previous stance, went on record to state they had no objection to the ministry of married Eastern Catholic priests. Yet, tensions still exist in some places between Eastern Catholic and Roman Catholic Bishops over this matter. In 2002, the Italian Bishops’ Conference (CEI) asked the Ukrainian Catholic Church to not send any married priests to staff Ukrainian Catholic parishes in Italy because “they would create confusion among our faithful.” Chiesa news reported:

And as long as each group stays in its respective country of origin, it’s okay with the Vatican. But as soon as married Eastern priests emigrate and mingle with the celibates, Rome enters a state of alarm. The Vatican has asked Western bishops to raise a barrier and the CEI did so immediately, as did other European episcopates.

The same source notes a 1998 directive from the Vatican Secretary of State that married Ukrainian Catholic priests leave Poland and return to Ukraine was eventually reversed after interventions by other Cardinals. Helping to resolve that conflict was determining that the historic Ukrainian Catholic territory includes part of what is now Poland (due to border changes over the years), and so it was determined that these married priests were not working outside of their historic homeland after all. That 1998 news report highlighted this issue of “canonical territory,” explaining that

According to canon law for Churches of the Eastern Rite, the ordination of married men is allowed. However, the reported request from the Vatican says that the paragraph of the canon law governing the issue [ordaining married men to the priesthood] is valid only in traditionally Eastern-rite countries, but not in the countries where Eastern-rite Catholics have immigrated.

Accordingly, this later article notes the concept of territory is still considered important:

But the dominant position in the curia remains that of cuius regio eius est religio: no mingling between celibate and married priests in the same territory.

In 2010, Italian news sources were reporting that the Italian Bishops’ Conference was blocking the introduction of married Romanian Catholic priests to serve the estimated 500,000 Romanian Catholics in Italy to “prevent possible confusion among the faithful.” At issue, again, is the concept of “canonical territory.” These news reports also noted that the papal regulation of married clergy in the Eastern Catholic Churches outside of their home territories still remains:

On 20 February 2008, the regular meeting of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reaffirmed the validity of the norm of a binding obligation of celibacy for priests of Eastern Catholic Churches who exercise the ministry outside the canonical territory. The pope, however, has given the Congregation for the Eastern Churches the authority to give a dispensation from this norm, with the approval of the Episcopal Conference in question. (Translated from this Italian news source.)

These more recent events above demonstrate that the conflict between Roman and Eastern Catholics over a married priesthood is not something that belongs to the past, but still has reverberations today.

Recent Calls to Remove the Ban

In 2009, Fr. Lawrence Barriger, writing in the ACROD publication Church Messenger, noted the 80th anniversary of the 1929 Vatican decree Cum Data Fuerit and proposed two things Pope Benedict XVI could do to improve ecumenical relations over this issue:

The tragedy is that Rome, eighty years later, is still unwilling to regard the Byzantine-Rite Catholic Church in the United States as anything but a tolerated Church. In recent years the Byzantine-Rite Church attempted to secure the restoration of the married priesthood in the United States once again. The Vatican reaffirmed the celibacy provision of Cum Data Fuerit by its refusal to act on the request of the Byzantine Church.

If Pope Benedict really wanted to demonstrate his understanding of and regret for the divisions in families and the heartaches that Cum Data Fuerit had caused in the Byzantine Church since 1929 he could do two things. In the external forum he could rescind the excommunication of Metropolitan Orestes Chornock with the admission that his return to Orthodoxy was done out of the love of his Church and people which Rome, wittingly or unwittingly, was in the process of destroying.

Internally the Pope could rescind the celibacy provision of Cum Data Fuerit to demonstrate that Rome no longer regards our Eastern Rite brothers and sisters as unwanted and unloved, subject to the needs and prejudices of the American Roman Catholic Church. Until then we can only conclude that no matter how “Eastern” services appear in the Byzantine Church that it is still fundamentally simply a group of Roman Catholics who have a “different Mass.” (February 22, 2009) p. 4

In 2010, Coptic Catholic Bishop Aziz Mina called for the end of the Ban on ordaining married men outside of traditional Eastern Catholic homelands

In 2010, at the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops held in Rome, Coptic Catholic Bishop Aziz Mina from Guizeh, Egypt made a call for the end of the Ban on ordaining married men outside of the traditional homelands of the Eastern Catholic Churches. According to Catholic News Service:

The Coptic bishop also asked Pope Benedict XVI to revoke a decision made in the 1930s that Eastern churches can ordain married men only in their traditional homelands.

The Holy See Press Office also reported on Bishop Aziz Mina’s speech on the Vatican website. Proposition 23 from the Final List of Propositions sent to Pope Benedict XVI for the Synod of Catholic Bishops for the Middle East (dated 23 October 2010) included this request:

Propositio 23
Married Priests

Clerical celibacy has always and everywhere been respected and valued in the Catholic Churches, in the East as in the West. Nonetheless, with a view to the pastoral service of our faithful, wherever they are to be found, and to respect the traditions of the Eastern Churches, it would be desirable to study the possibility of having married priests outside the patriarchal territory.

Cardinal Antonios Naguib has asked Pope Benedict XVI to remove the restriction against married Coptic Catholic priests outside of Egypt.

Coptic Catholic Patriarch Cardinal Antonios Naguib referred to this request for permission to ordain married priests for Coptic Catholic parishes in the USA while on a parish visitation in Nashville, Tennessee in July, 2011. The Patriarch explained to the local press that the Coptic tradition allows

married priests. But canon law only allows married priests to serve in Egypt, and the priests serving the diaspora around the world must be celibate.

He added that

The Coptic Catholic Church has appealed to Rome to lift that rule…

It is too early to gauge what the reaction from Pope Benedict XVI will be to this request.

Why are some Eastern Catholics ordaining married men outside their traditional homelands but others aren’t?

UPDATE: November 23, 2011 — For updated information on the Ban and how it is currently applied, see the article: Vatican: Ban on Ordaining Married Men in Western Lands is Not Dead.

So, why are married Eastern Catholic priests starting to appear in some parishes (for example, in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Canada and the USA), but are more closely regulated (for example, in the Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Metropolia of Pittsburgh), or are not permitted (for example, the Coptic Catholic Church parishes in the USA or the parishes of the Romanian Byzantine Catholic Church in Italy)? This appears to be tied to three factors:

1) The status of the Particular Law for that Eastern Catholic Church

2) Whether that Eastern Catholic Church has its own parallel hierarchy in place

3) And, if that Eastern Catholic Church has its own parallel hierarchy, do the Bishops of that Eastern Catholic Church encounter opposition from the local Latin Rite Bishops?

For example, the Particular Law (an addendum to the Eastern Code of Canons) of the Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Metropolia of Pittsburgh only applies to the American Church. As noted earlier, the statute requiring dispensations for the ordination of married men was imposed by Rome and made a part of their Particular Law in 1999. This happened after complaints were made by some in the Latin Rite to the earlier version which would have permitted the ordination of married men. Other Eastern Catholic Churches (such as the Ukrainian and Melkite Churches) have their own Particular Laws, but these were formulated inside the traditional homelands and do not address the issue of ordaining married men outside their the homelands. As a result, the Ruthenians in the USA have had the unfortunate experience of having the restriction explicitly spelled out in their canon law.

Parishes of Eastern Catholic Churches which do not have a parallel hierachy in place (such as the Coptic Catholics in the USA or the Romanian Byzantine Catholics in Italy) usually end up following the celibacy rule because their parishes are subject to Latin Bishops. So, Catholic Coptic parishes in the USA become subject to the Ban. With no parallel heirarchy in Italy, the Romanian Byzantine Catholic Church ends up being required to only send in celibate priests because their parishes in Italy are overseen by Italy’s Latin Rite Bishops.

The situation is different for the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Canada (UGCC) and the USA as it has its own parallel hierarchy in place. UGCC parishes there are not subject to the Latin Rite Bishops but to their own Ukrainian Catholic Bishops. As noted earlier, some Ukrainian Catholic Bishops have been quietly ordaining married men to the priesthood in UGCC parishes in the USA and Canada. How has this been received by Rome?

In discussing this situation, the Catholic weekly America reported in 2003 that the Vatican is not suspending such married men who are ordained to the priesthood in Western lands:

Despite a rule the Vatican insists is still in force, it has stopped suspending married men ordained to the priesthood for service in the Eastern Catholic churches of North America and Australia. The ordinations are occurring regularly, although they are not great in number, and they are celebrated quietly. “Rome will allow the ordinations, but it does not want a bishop to ordain married men, then splash pictures all over the place,” said the Rev. Kenneth Nowakowski, rector of Holy Spirit Seminary in Ottawa and spokesman for the Ukrainian bishops of Canada.

However, the Ban is viewed as “unchanged”:

Msgr. Lucian Lamza, an official in the Vatican’s Congregation for Eastern Churches, said on May 22 that the Vatican’s ban on the ordination of married men for the Eastern churches in the West “remains unchanged.” The ordinations “are against the norm,” he said. “But, of course, these priests can validly celebrate the liturgy and sacraments,” since the ordinations are sacramentally valid. He would not discuss the Vatican’s reaction or lack of reaction to the ordinations.

Questions that remain

Can East and West coexist regarding married priests? Certainly, the relationship between the Eastern and Roman Catholic Churches on the issue of married clergy has seen an improvement over conditions that obtained throughout most of the 20th century. Still, there are many questions that remain that prevent a clear answer if conditions are such that West and East could peacefully live together with these two traditions in place.

Why must Eastern Catholics still live with restrictive rules regarding ordaining married men in many countries which have a large Roman Catholic presence? Would Orthodox need to live similarly in a reunited Church?

In a reunited Church, would the Latin Church feel a need to ask for special cooperation from the Eastern Churches on this issue? For example, would future candidates for ordination from Eastern Churches in a reunited Church need dispensations from Rome, thus ensuring, for example, that men from Western parishes weren’t going over to the East to get ordained?

Would ordinations of married men in Eastern Churches need to be done quietly? Or, could both Churches (West and East) live side-by-side with the differing traditions without any restrictions?

Finally, would the Orthodox tradition of a married clergy be viewed as a custom that is tolerated and subject to regulation by the Pope, or as a right?

For further reading:

A Critical Consideration of The Case for Clerical Celibacy

Fr. Touze and Roman Miopia

Romance Blooms in a Catholic Seminary for Fr. Roman

Do Not Resent, Do Not React, Keep Inner Stillness

October 20, 2011

H/T: Silouan

by Abbot Jonah Paffhausen of St John Monastery  (now OCA Metropolitan Jonah)

When I was in seminary I had the great blessing of becoming the spiritual son of a Greek bishop, Bishop Kallistos of Xelon. He ended his life as the bishop of Denver of the Greek Archdiocese. It was he who taught me the Jesus Prayer. The whole spiritual vision of Bishop Kallistos had three very simple points.

  • Do not resent.
  • Do not react.
  • Keep inner stillness.

These three spiritual principles, or disciplines, are really a summation of the Philokalia, the collection of Orthodox Christian spiritual wisdom. And they are disciplines every single one of us can practice, no matter where we are in life – whether we’re in the monastery or in school; whether we’re housewives or retired; whether we’ve got a job or we’ve got little kids to run after. If we can hold on to and exercise these three principles, we will be able to go deeper and deeper in our spiritual life.

Do Not Resent

When we look at all the inner clutter that is in our lives, hearts and souls, what do we find? We find resentments. We find remembrance of wrongs. We find self-justifications. We find these in ourselves because of pride. It is pride that makes us hold on to our justifications for our continued anger against other people. And it is hurt pride, or vainglory, which feeds our envy and jealousy. Envy and jealousy lead to resentment.

Resentfulness leads to a host of problems. The more resentful we are of other people, the more depressed we become. And the more we are consumed with the desire to have what they have, which is avarice. Often we’ll then engage in the addictive use of the substance of the material world – whether it’s food or alcohol or drugs or sex or some other thing – to medicate ourselves into forgetfulness and to distract ourselves from our resentments.

One of the most valuable and important things that we can thus do is look at all of the resentments that we have. And one of the best ways of accomplishing this is to make a life confession. And not just once, before we’re baptized or chrismated. In the course of our spiritual life we may make several, in order to really dig in to our past and look at these resentments that we bear against other people. This will enable us to do the difficult work that it takes to overcome these resentments through forgiveness.

What does forgiveness mean? Forgiveness does not mean excusing or justifying the actions of somebody. For example, saying “Oh, he abused me but that’s O.K., that’s just his nature,” or “I deserved it.” No, if somebody abused you that was a sin against you.

But when we hold resentments, when we hold anger and bitterness within ourselves against those who have abused us in some way, we take their abuse and we continue it against ourselves. We have to stop that cycle. Most likely that person has long gone and long forgotten us, forgotten that we even existed. But maybe not. Maybe it was a parent or someone else close, which makes the resentment all the more bitter. But for the sake of our own soul and for the sake of our own peace, we need to forgive. We should not justify the action, but we should overlook the action and see that there’s a person there who is struggling with sin. We should see that the person we have resented, the person we need to forgive, is no different than we are, that they sin just like we do and we sin just like they do.

Of course, it helps if the person whom we resent, the person who offended us or abused us in some way, asks forgiveness of us. But we can’t wait for this. And we can’t hold on to our resentments even after outwardly saying we’ve forgiven. Think of the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” If we don’t forgive, we can’t even pray the Lord’s Prayer without condemning ourselves. It’s not that God condemns us. We condemn ourselves by refusing to forgive. We will never have peace if we don’t forgive, only resentment. It is one of the hardest things to do, and our culture does not understand it. It is to look at the person we need to forgive, and to love them – despite how they may have sinned against us. Their sin is their sin, and they have to deal with it themselves. But we sin is in our reaction against their sin.

Do Not React

So this first spiritual principle – do not resent – leads to the second. We must learn to not react. This is just a corollary of “turn the other cheek.” When somebody says something hurtful, or somebody does something hurtful, what is it that’s being hurt? It’s our ego. Nobody can truly hurt us. They might cause some physical pain, or emotional pain. They might even kill our body. But nobody can hurt our true selves. We have to take responsibility for our own reactions. Then we can control our reactions.

There are a number of different levels to this principle. On the most blatant level, if someone hits you don’t hit them back. Turn the other cheek – that’s the Lord’s teaching. Now, this is hard enough. But there is a deeper level still. Because if somebody hits you, and you don’t hit them back – but you resent them, and you bear anger and hatred and bitterness against them, you’ve still lost. You have still sinned. You have still broken your relationship with God, because you bear that anger in your heart.

One of the things which is so difficult to come to terms with is the reality that when we bear anger and resentment and bitterness in our hearts, we erect barriers to God’s grace within ourselves. It’s not that God stops giving us His grace. It’s that we say, “No. I don’t want it.” What is His grace? It is His love, His mercy, His compassion, His activity in our lives. The holy Fathers tell us that each and every human person who has ever been born on this earth bears the image of God undistorted within themselves. In our Tradition there is no such thing as fallen nature. There are fallen persons, but not fallen nature.

The implication of this truth is that we have no excuses for our sins. We are responsible for our sins, for the choices we make. We are responsible for our actions, and our reactions. “The devil made me do it” is no excuse, because the devil has no more power over us than we give him. This is hard to accept, because it is really convenient to blame the devil. It is also really convenient to blame the other person, or our past. But, it is also a lie. Our choices are our own.

On an even deeper level, this spiritual principle – do not react – teaches us that we need to learn to not react to thoughts. One of the fundamental aspects of this is inner watchfulness. This might seem like a daunting task, considering how many thoughts we have. However, our watchfulness does not need to be focused on our thoughts. Our watchfulness needs to be focused on God. We need to maintain the conscious awareness of God’s presence.

If we can maintain the conscious awareness of His presence, our thoughts will have no power over us. We can, to paraphrase St. Benedict, dash our thoughts against the presence of God. This is a very ancient patristic teaching. We focus our attention on the remembrance of God. If we can do that, we will begin to control our troubling thoughts. Our reactions are about our thoughts. After all, if someone says something nasty to us, how are we reacting? We react first through our thinking, our thoughts.

Perhaps we’re habitually accustomed to just lashing out after taking offense with some kind of nasty response of our own. But keeping watch over our minds so that we maintain that living communion with God leaves no room for distracting thoughts. It leaves plenty of room if we decide we need to think something through intentionally in the presence of God. But as soon as we engage in something hateful, we close God out. And the converse is true – as long as we maintain our connection to God, we won’t be capable of engaging in something hateful. We won’t react.

Keep Inner Stillness

The second principle, the second essential foundation of our spiritual life – do not react – leads to the third. This third principle is the practice of inner stillness. The use of the Jesus Prayer is an extremely valuable tool for this. But the Jesus Prayer is a means, not an end. It is a means for entering into deeper and deeper conscious communion. It’s a means for us to acquire and maintain the awareness of the presence of God. The prayer developed within the tradition of hesychasm, in the desert and on the Holy Mountain.

But hesychasm is not only about the Jesus Prayer. It is about inner stillness and silence. Inner stillness is not merely emptiness. It is a focus on the awareness of the presence of God in the depths of our heart. One of the essential things we have to constantly remember is that God is not out there someplace. He’s not just in the box on the altar. It may be the dwelling place of His glory. But God is everywhere. And God dwells in the depths of our hearts. When we can come to that awareness of God dwelling in the depths of our hearts, and keep our attention focused in that core, thoughts vanish.

How do we do this? In order to enter in to deep stillness, we have to have a lot of our issues resolved. We have to have a lot of our anger and bitterness and resentments resolved. We have to forgive. If we don’t we’re not going to get into stillness, because the moment we try our inner turmoil is going to come vomiting out. This is good – painful, but good. Because when we try to enter into stillness and we begin to see the darkness that is lurking in our souls, we can then begin to deal with it. It distracts us from trying to be quiet, from trying to say the Jesus Prayer, but that’s just part of the process. And it takes time.

The Fathers talk about three levels of prayer. The first level is oral prayer, where we’re saying the prayer with our lips. We may use a prayer rope, saying “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,” or whatever form we use.

The next level is mental prayer, where we’re saying the prayer in our mind. Prayer of the mind – with the Jesus Prayer, with prayer book prayers, with liturgical prayers –keeps our minds focused and helps to integrate us, so that our lips and our mind are in the same place and doing the same thing. We all know that we can be standing in church, or standing at prayer, and we may be mouthing the words with our lips but our mind is thinking about the grocery list. The second level of prayer overcomes this problem, but it is not the final level.

The final level of prayer is prayer of the heart, or spiritual prayer. It is here where we encounter God, in the depths of our soul. Here we open the eye of our attention, with the intention of being present to God who is present within us. This is the key and the core of the whole process of spiritual growth and transformation.

II. So how do we do this?

The Prayer of Stillness

The foundation of the spiritual process is learning to keep inner silence, the prayerof stillness. On the basis of this, we gain insight into how to stop resenting and to stop reacting. Then the process goes deeper and deeper, rooting out our deeply buried resentments and passions, memories of hurt and sin, so that the silence penetrates our whole being. Then we can begin to think clearly, and to attain towards purity of heart. Before beginning this process, it is important to have an established relationship with a spiritual guide, a father confessor or spiritual mother, to help you. Confession is a central part of the spiritual life, and things that come up in prayer, as well as resolving resentments and other issues, are part of that. It is also valuable to expose obsessive or sinful thoughts to your confessor. Simply exposing them deprives them of their power.

We always need to be accompanied on the journey within. Prayer is always a corporate action, leading to the transcendence of our individual isolation into a state of communion with God and the Other. The Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner,” or some form of it, can be used as a vehicle to help us bring our attention into a prayerful state. The Jesus Prayer states the intention of our prayer, and we use it first verbally and then mentally until it goes beyond word and thought and becomes pure intention in deep silence.

A prayer rope is very helpful to get started, not so much as to count prayers, but to keep the physical level of attention. We say one prayer on each knot, going round and round the rope, until our attention is focused in prayer. Then we can stop moving around the rope, and be still. The rope is not important in and of itself; one can pray just as well without it. It is an aid. Another aid is to follow your breath. What is important is not to get caught up in technique, but to pray.

The Prayer can be said standing, kneeling or sitting. If one is ill, lying down is acceptable; but it is hard to preserve focused attention while lying down. Prayer is not relaxation. It may relax you, but that is not the point. Posture is important to help keep your attention focused. If you’re sitting, it helps to keep your back straight and your shoulders back. One can also be prostrate on the ground, but it takes practice to let go of the physical distractions.

In beginning to pray, remember that God is “everywhere present and filling all things.” In prayer, you make yourself present to God. Open your mind and heart, your awareness of God, so that the sense of God’s Presence fills your consciousness. At first, we may not have a sense of God’s Presence. But the more disciplined our practice of prayer, the more that conscious awareness of God will fill our mind and heart. This is not an image, a thought “that” God is present (though this is a place to start), or a feeling or physical sensation. It is simply an awareness. This is the beginning of spiritual consciousness, where our awareness moves from the head to the heart, and from God as an object to a sense of being rapt in God’s Presence.

How to Enter the Prayer of Stillness

In short, sit down and collect yourself, and remember that God is present. Say the Trisagion Prayers if you wish. Breathe in slowly and deeply a couple of times, following your breath to the center of your chest. Begin to say the Jesus Prayer quietly, slowly, until you have a sense of God’s Presence. Then let the Jesus Prayer trail off, and go into silence. Thoughts will come, but simply let them go by. Don’t let them grab your attention. But if they do, gently dismiss them and bring your focus back to God’s Presence, perhaps using the Jesus Prayer to reestablish your intention to pray. Go deeper within yourself, below the thoughts, into the deeper stillness and awareness of Presence, and simply abide there.

The period of prayer should start out with a few minutes, and may entirely be occupied at first with the Jesus Prayer. Eventually, over a period of weeks or months, as you begin to master keeping your attention focused and dismissing thoughts, let it expand up to twenty or thirty minutes. Two periods of prayer, early in the morning and early in the evening are an excellent discipline.

Surrender and Detachment

The Prayer of Stillness is a process of inner surrender to the Presence and activity of God within yourself. Surrender your thoughts, feelings, emotions, ideas, agendas, plans, images and submit them to the Divine Presence. This is surrender of the ego, and the enkindling of our spiritual awareness. We stop our ego and its thoughts from distracting our attention, and permit God’s energy to work within to heal our souls. This is a kind of active and willful passivity, so that God becomes the active partner in prayer.

It becomes obvious that we cannot hold any kind of rancor or resentment, lust or passion, in our minds while trying to enter into silence. In fact, all our attachments to things, people, concepts and ideas have to be surrendered during silent prayer, and thus, they are brought into perspective. The more we connect with God in prayer, the more detached we become. It is a necessity if we are going to progress in prayer and in communion with God. All things that are obstacles to our living communion fall away, if we let them. The key, of course, is to surrender them and let them go.

The Emptying of the Subconscious

One critically important process that occurs is the emptying of the subconscious. After we have gotten to a point of stillness, over a period of days or weeks, we will be flooded by memories of past hurts, sins, resentments, images and sensations, and wrongs done to us. At first, we feel like we make progress in the prayer, and it is nice and peaceful.

Then, with the flood of memories, we feel like we are going backwards. This is progress! It is the beginning of the process of the purification of our soul. It is extremely unpleasant, at times, but the key is to not allow ourselves to react. These memories have been suppressed, and are now coming to awareness so that they can be dealt with. This purification is already the action of grace illumining your soul. During prayer, make a mental note of the memory or sin, and then take it to confession. Sometimes these memories and the feelings connected with them can be overwhelming. This is why accompaniment on the spiritual journey is so important.

You need someone who can encourage and reassure you, as well as help you resolve the issues that come to awareness, and forgive your sins. It is extremely distressing when suppressed memories of abuse and violent emotions come up. It can not only be confusing, but it can dominate our consciousness. We have to deal with these issues, as they come up, in order to be purified and open ourselves to God. This means working through forgiveness, accepting forgiveness, and forgiving ourselves and God.

The Imagination

Another thing that comes up is images, which play on our mind and imagination. There are two main levels here: first, the memory images we have seen that are connected with our passions; the second, images from our imagination. All the images we have ever seen are stored in our brain. They range from the face of our mother from our infancy, and other joyful images, to pornographic and violent images or those who have hurt us.

These images are especially powerful if they are attached to some kind of passionate act, of lust or anger. They can be a strong distraction from awareness of God. What is important is to remember that these are just thoughts, memories, and we can dismiss them. They have no power over us that we do not give them.

The task is to get beneath them, and let them go, and eventually take them to confession. The second level of images is what is produced by the imagination. We quiet down, and start to pray, and go into all sorts of imaginal realms, populated by angels, demons, and any and everything else. Many people take this as spiritual vision. But it is not. It is the realm of delusion, and there is nothing spiritual about it. This is especially dangerous if one has a past with hallucinogens and other psychotropic drugs.

The task is, first, to stay with the Jesus Prayer. Then, after much practice, go into silence and be absolutely resolute to allow no images, even of Jesus or the saints, into one’s mind during prayer. The imagination is still part of the mind, not the spirit (nous).

Even icons are not to be contemplated in an objective sense, bringing the image into the mind. As St John Chrysostom wrote, somewhere, “When you pray before your icons, light a candle and then close your eyes!” The icon is a sacrament of the Presence. Spiritual work is very serious business. If we do not work through the issues that arise in a healthy way, they can literally drive us crazy. It takes a deep commitment to the spiritual process, so as not to be distracted by the emptying of our subconscious, and led into despondency or despair. The task is to perservere, and let the process take its course. This means confessing our thoughts and resolving our resentments, and receiving absolution of our sins. Eventually, it works itself through, though it may take months or years to do so. As Metropolitan Anthony Bloom said, somewhere, when it gets too heavy, sit back and have a cup of tea! God is going to be there; it is we who have to work through our issues so we can be present to Him.

Dealing with Resentments

Resentment and reaction are deeply interrelated. Resentment is an impassioned reaction, based on a judgment of a person (or the self), where our passions are ignited. Resentment is a reaction which we hold within ourselves, and allow ourselves to nurture. It comes from and feeds off our passions, from judgment of others. Resentment is judgment and objectification of a person according to his actions, which have offended us.

The real key to resolving resentment is to realize that it is not the other person who is causing it, but that it is our own reaction. The actions of the other person may have precipitated the reaction, his words or deeds, his sin; but the reaction to those sins, words or deeds is purely our own.

We can only control what belongs to us; we cannot control another person. It is our decision to allow ourselves to be possessed by our passions and reactions, or to take control over our own lives. It is our decision to take responsibility for our own reactions, or to allow ourselves to be caught in the vicious cycle of blaming the other person, in resentment and self-righteousness. Blame and resentment lead nowhere, except to bitterness and unhappiness. They make us into helpless victims, which, in turn, robs us of the power to take responsibility for ourselves.

Resentment comes when we refuse to forgive someone, justifying ourselves by our self-righteous indignation at being hurt. Some of these hurts can be very deep: abuse,abandonment, betrayal, rejection. Sometimes they can be very petty. We keep turning the hurt over and over in our minds, and refuse let it go by justifying our anger. Then we feel justified in hating or despising the person who hurt us. Doing this, we continue to beat ourselves up with someone else’s sin, and compound the other person’s sin by our own resentfulness.

We blind ourselves to our own sin, focus only on the sin of the other, and in so doing, we lose all perspective. We have to put things into perspective, and realize that the other person’s actions are only part of the equation, and that our own reaction is entirely our own sin. To do this, we have to move towards forgiveness. To forgive does not mean to justify the other person’s sin. It does not mean that we absolve the other person—not hold them responsible for their sin. Rather, we acknowledge that they have sinned and that it hurt us. But what do we do with that hurt? If we resent, we turn it against ourselves. But if we forgive, we accept the person for who he is, not according to his actions; we drop our judgment of the person. We realize that he is a sinner just like me. If I am aware of my own sins, I can never judge anyone. We can begin to love him as we love ourselves, and excuse his falling short as we forgive ourselves. It helps when the person who hurt us asks for forgiveness, but it is not necessary. We must always forgive: not only because God forgave us; but also because we hurt ourselves by refusing to forgive.

Our resentments can also be extremely petty. Sometimes we resent because we cannot control or manipulate someone to behave according to our expectations. We become resentful of our own frustration, where the other really had nothing to do with it. All our expectations of other people are projections of our own self-centeredness. If we can let other people simply be who they are, and rejoice in that, then we will have tremendous peace!

We have to be watchful over ourselves, so that we do not allow ourselves to project our expectations on others, or allow resentment to grow within us. This kind of awareness, watchfulness, is nurtured by the practice of cutting off our thoughts and practicing inner stillness. By this, we practice cutting off our reactions, which all start with thoughts. We can come to see what is our own reaction, and what belongs to the other.

Eventually, we see that our judgment of the other is really about ourselves, our own actions, words, attitudes and temptations, which we see reflected in the other person. To face this means to face our own hypocrisy, and to change. If we judge and condemn someone for the same sins, thoughts, words and deeds that we have ourselves, then we are hypocrites. We must repent from our hypocrisy. This is real repentance: to recognize and acknowledge our own sin, and turn away from it towards God and towards our neighbor.

We have to see how our sins distract us from loving our neighbor, and from loving God. Our love of our brother is the criterion of our love of God. St John tells us, “How can we love God whom we have not seen, if we can’t love our neighbor whom we can? If you say that you love God and hate your brother, you are a liar”. If we love God, then we will forgive our neighbor, as God has also forgiven us. The conscious awareness of our own reactions and judgments, of our attachment to our passions of anger and our own will, is the first level of spiritual awareness and watchfulness. We have to move beyond self-centeredness (oblivious to others), to becoming self-aware, aware of our own inner processes through watching our thoughts and reactions.

Repentance and Confession

Awareness of our sins and hypocrisy, our short comings and falls, leads us to repentance and the transformation of our life. Repentance, conversion, the transformation of our mind and our life, is the core of the Christian life. Repentance does not mean to beat ourselves up for our sins, or to dwell in a state of guilt and morose self condemnation. Rather, it means to confront our sins, and reject and renounce them, and confess them, trying not to do them again. What this does is, that to the extent we renounce and confess our sins, they no longer generate thoughts, which accuse us or spur passionate reactions.

Sometimes we have to confess things several times, because we only repent of, or are even conscious of, aspects of the sin. Things that make us feel guilty, provoke our conscience, or that we know are acts of disobedience all should be confessed. We have to train our conscience, not by memorizing lists of sins, but by becoming aware of what breaks our relationship with God and other people. We need to be conscious of God’s presence, and realize what distracts us from it. These things are sins. Of course, we are experts at deluding ourselves, when we really want to do something, and we know that it is not blessable.

Confession is not only Christ’s first gift to the Church, the authority to forgive sins in His Name; but is one of the most important means of healing our souls. Sins are not sins because they are listed in a book somewhere. They are sins because they break our relationship with God, other people, and distort our true self. Sins are sins because they hurt us and other people. We need to heal that hurt, and revealing the act or thought or attitude takes away the shame that keeps it concealed, and prevents healing.

We need to confess the things that we are the most ashamed of, the secret sins, which we know are betrayals of our true self. If we don’t confess them, they fester and generate all sorts of despondency, depression and guilt, shame and despair. The result of that is that we identify ourselves with our sins. For example, same-sex attraction becomes gay identity. Failure in some area becomes a general self-identification with being a failure.

What is critically important is that we are not our sins, thoughts or actions. These things happen, we sin, have bad thoughts and do wicked and evil things. But we are not our thoughts or actions. Repentance means to stop and renounce not only the actions, but to renounce the identity that goes with it. Thoughts are going to come. But we can learn, through practicing inner stillness, to let our thoughts go. They will still be there, but we can learn to not react to them, and eventually, simply to ignore them.

The process of purifying our self is hard and painful, at first; but becomes the source of great joy. The more we confess, honestly and nakedly, the more we open ourselves to God’s grace, and the lighter we feel. Truly the angels in heaven (and the priest standing before you bearing witness to the confession) rejoice immensely when a person truly repents and confesses their sins, no matter how dark and heinous. There is no sin so grievous that it cannot be forgiven. NOTHING! The only sin not forgiven is thinking that God cannot forgive our sin. He forgives. We have to forgive our self, and accept His forgiveness.

Preparing for confession is an important process. It means to take stock of our life, and to recognize where we have fallen, and that we need to repent. The following should help to prepare for confession, but it is not a laundry list. Rather, it should help to spur our memory, so that we can bring things to consciousness that we have forgotten. It is more of an examination of conscience.

The Passions

  • Gluttony,
  • Lust
  • Avarice
  • Anger
  • Envy
  • Despondency
  • Vainglory
  • Pride

The Commandments

  • Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself

Loving God

Do I love God?
Do I really believe in God, or just go through the motions?
Do I pray, and when I do, do I connect, or is it just mechanical?
Do I rush through prayers, Scripture readings, and spiritual literature?
Do I seek the will of God in all things?
Do I rebel against what I know to be God’s will, and the Christian life?
Do I try to be obedient, and constantly surrender my life to God?
Do I go to church, go to confession and communion regularly, keep the fasts?
Do I try to be conscious of God’s Presence, or not?
Do I try to sanctify my life? Or do I give in to temptation easily? Thoughtlessly?

Loving our Neighbor

How do I treat the people around me?
Do I allow myself to judge, criticize, gossip aboutor condemn my neighbor?
Do I put people down? Do I look for their faults?
Do I condescend and talk down to others?
Do I treat others with kindness, gentleness, patience? Or am I mean, rough and nasty?
Do I try to control others, manipulate others?
Do I regard others with love and compassion?
Do I bear anger or resentments against others? Hatred, bitterness, scorn?
Do I use and objectify others for my own pleasure or advantage? For sex, for profit, or for anything else which de-personalizes him/her?
Do I envy and bear jealousy towards my neighbor? Do I take pleasure in his misfortunes?
Do I act thoughtlessly, oblivious to the feelings or conscience of the other?
Do I lead myneighbor into temptation intentionally?
Do I mock him or make fun of him?
Do I honor the commitments I have made? Marriage vows? Monastic vows?
Do I honor my parents? Am I faithful in my relationships?
Do I have stability in my commitments?
Am I conscious of how my words and actions affect others?
Have I stolen anything, abused or hurt anyone?
Have I committed adultery?
Have I injured or killed someone?
Do I covet other people’s things? Do I lust after possessions or money? Does my life revolve around making money and buying things?

Loving Our Selves

How am I self-centered, egotistical, self-referenced?
Do I take care of myself, physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually? Am I obsessed about my self, my image, my appearance, my desires and agenda?
Do I indulge in laziness? Do I get despondent, depressed, despairing?
Do I beat myself up, indulge in self-hatred or self-pity?
Do I injure myself? Do I have low self-esteem, or think myself worthless?
Do I blame other people for my reactions? Do I feel myself a victim?
Do I take responsibility for my own reactions and behaviors?
Do I engage in addictive behaviors, abusing alcohol, food, drugs, sex, pornography, masturbation? How do I try to console myself when I’m feeling down?
Do I have anger and resentment, rage, and other strong emotions and passions suppressed within me? Do I act out on them? How do they affect my behavior? Can I control them or do I abuse other people?
Am I conscious of how my words affect people?
How am I a hypocrite? Can I face my own hypocrisy? Am I lying to and deluding myself?
Do I have a realistic idea of myself? Am I honest with myself and others? What kind of façade do I put up?
Have I done things that I don’t want to or am too ashamed to admit? Abuse of others or animals, incest, homosexual acts, perverse actions? Have I abused drugs, sex or other things that I don’t want to acknowledge? Am I afraid that I am those things—an alcoholic, drug addict, gay, child abuser? Am I afraid to confess them?
Can I forgive myself for these things? What do I feel guilty about? Does guilt control my life?
Am I being faithful to myself, to God, to others? Does my life have integrity?