Focus on the Faith – The Glorious Fourth
THE FOURTH OF JULY – Matthew 12:38-45
The Fourth of July is always a time for celebration in our land. It is a chance for family and friends to gather together for barbeques, outdoor activities, and fireworks. On Independence Day, the cause of our celebration is freedom, freedom from a cruel, repressive government, and freedom from a tyrannical king. This freedom is not only about liberation “from,” but also liberation “to;” freedom to chart our own course, to work for our own goals, and to reap the fruits of our own labors.
It is common practice in our churches to offer a Prayer Service, a Molieben of Thanksgiving on the “Glorious Fourth,” and here, in the Pacific Central Deanery, it has been our custom for nearly 100 years to make a pilgrimage to Fort Ross and offer the Divine Liturgy there at the chapel in thanksgiving to God for this wonderful country of ours.
While today’s civil holiday may not be found on our ecclesiastical calendars, we can certainly derive some spiritual food from it, right along with our festive foods and ice-cold beverages! The Fourth of July can be an opportunity for us to recall that there is a spiritual struggle for independence that goes on in our lives, and in our hearts, every single day. The tyrannical king is the devil; his cruel government is this fallen world and death; the overwhelming tax burdens and the tax collectors are our sins along with the demons who wait in the aerial toll-houses to accuse us at our death. These are the same demons, who would love nothing more than to find seven buddies, kick the Heavenly King out of our hearts, and replace Him with themselves, as we heard about in the Gospel.
Nothing is better, nothing is more natural to human beings than spiritual freedom. The Lord Jesus Christ said: “If the Son (of God) therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36.) But in order to gain this freedom, this freedom which is only found in Christ, there needs to be a revolution, a revolution in us! Now the word “revolution” literally means to turn around. Isn’t that what repentance is? A turning around? A change of direction? A change of mind? Repentance is a spiritual struggle to turn, a spiritual revolutionary war against the tyranny of evil. Repentance is a noetic rebellion and an ascetic strategy of separation that employs spiritual armaments given to us by the grace of God. St Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: For the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly, but our weapons have Divine power to pull down strongholds; casting down vain imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and brings into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5.)
So, then, the Fourth of July can serve as a good reminder to us that we need to keep up the struggle and “Fight the good fight of faith” (1 Tim. 6:12.) It’s only when we let our guard down, relax our efforts and our resolve, that we find ourselves slipping back into the clutches of our Adversary, the King of wickedness, and falling into the tyranny of his cruel and oppressive government. “Stand fast therefore” (says St. Paul) “in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1.) Amen.
Archpriest Basil Rhodes
Lives of the Saints
St John (Maximovich), Archbishop of Shanghai and San Francisco (July 2, 1966)
This brightly-shining Saint of our own day was born in Russia in 1896. In 1921 his family fled the Russian Revolution to Serbia, where he became a monk and was ordained a priest. From the time of his entry into monastic life he adopted a severely ascetical way of life: for the rest of his life he never slept in a bed, sleeping only briefly in a chair or prostrated before the icons. He ate one meal a day, in the evening. Teaching seminarians in Serbia, he instructed them each day to devote six hours to divine services, six hours to prayer (not including the divine services!), six hours to good works, and six hours to rest (these six hours obviously included eating and bathing as well as sleeping). Whether his seminarians followed his counsels we do not know, but he himself not only followed but exceeded them.
In 1934 he was made Bishop of Shanghai (in the Russian Church Abroad), where he served not only the Russian emigre community but a number of native Chinese Orthodox; from time to time he served the Divine Liturgy in Chinese. When the Communists took power in China, he labored tirelessly to evacuate his flock to safety, first to the Philippines, then to various western countries including the United States. He served as Bishop in Paris and Brussels, then, in 1962 was made Archbishop of San Francisco. Throughout his life as monk and hierarch he was revered (and sometimes condemned) for his ascetical labors and unceasing intercessions. During his life and ever since, numerous miraculous healings of all manner of afflictions have been accomplished through his prayers. Once, in Shanghai, a caretaker, investigating strange noises in the cathedral after midnight, discovered Bishop John standing in the belltower, looking down on the city and praying for the people. Years later, when he visited Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, New York, the priest responsible for hosting him found the saint walking through the halls of the monastery, standing outside the door of each room and praying for the monk or seminarian sleeping within. When the Archbishop had prayed outside each room, he returned to the beginning of his circuit and began praying again; and so he spent the entire night.
Even as Archbishop, he lived in near-absolute poverty. His appearance was striking: His cassock was made of blue Chinese “peasant cloth,” crudely decorated with crosses stitched by orphans who had been in his care in Shanghai. His Bishop’s “miter” was often a cloth cap to which he had glued paper icons. Even in the United States, even while serving the Divine Liturgy (which he did every day), he went barefoot in all seasons. (Eventually, after he was hospitalized with an infected foot, his Metropolitan ordered him to wear shoes; thereafter, he wore sandals). Needless to say, he was an embarrassment to those who like their bishops to make a more worldly appearance, but among his various flocks throughout the world, there were always those who recognized him as a Saint in his own lifetime.
Following his repose in 1966, a steady stream of healings and other miracles was accomplished through his intercessions, and in 1996 he was glorified as a Saint of the Church. His incorrupt and wonder-working relics can be venerated at his cathedral in San Francisco. At St John’s funeral, the eulogist told his mourners (and all of us): because Archbishop John was able to live the spirituality of the Orthodox Church so fully, even in modern, western, urban society, we are without excuse.
Footnote: An acquaintance of Monk John once met him on a train in Serbia. When asked his destination, Monk John replied, “I’m going to straighten out a mistake. I’ve gotten a letter meant for some other John whom they intend to make a bishop.” The same person met him again on his return journey and asked if he had been able to resolve his problem. John answered, “The mistake is much worse than I thought: they did make me a bishop.”
Orthopraxis – Clergy Etiquette
Greeting Clergy in Person
When we address Deacons or Priests, we should use the title “Father.” Bishops we should address as “Your Grace.” Though all Bishops (including Patriarchs) are equal in the Orthodox Church, they do have different honors that accrue to their rank. Thus, “Your Eminence” is the proper title for most Archbishops (among the exceptions to this rule is the Archbishop of Athens, who is addressed as “Your Beatitude,” as he is the First Hierarch of an autocephalous Church). “Your Beatitude” is the proper and usual title for Patriarchs and Metropolitans who are also heads of autocephalous Churches. There are exceptions, however. For the Patriarch of Constantinople, the correct address is “Your All-Holiness.” We use “Your Holiness” for the Patriarchs of Russia Bulgaria, Georgia, and Serbia.
In the tradition of the Russian Orthodox Church, when we approach an Orthodox Bishop or Presbyter (but not a Deacon), or an Abbot or Abbess of a monastery, we make a bow by reaching down and touching the floor with our right hand, place our right hand over the left (palms upward), and say: “Bless, Master” or “Bless, Your Grace,” or “Bless, Your Eminence,” “Bless Father,” “Bless Mother,” etc. The Priest or Bishop then answers, “The blessing of the Lord (be upon you”), blesses us with the Sign of the Cross, and places his right hand in our hands. We then kiss his hand.
We should understand that when the Bishop or Priest blesses us, he forms his fingers to represent the Christogram “ICXC” a traditional abbreviation of the Greek words for “Jesus Christ” (i.e., the first and last letters of each of the words “IHCOYC XPICTOC”). Thus, the Hierarch’s or the Priest’s blessing is the mystical blessing of Christ. This is the reason that a lay person always kisses the hand of a Priest or Bishop. Additionally, it shows respect for his office. More importantly, since both hold the Holy Mysteries in their hands during the Divine Liturgy, we show respect to the Holy Eucharist when we kiss their hands. In fact, Saint John Chrysostom once said that if one were to meet a Priest walking along with an Angel, that he should first greet the Priest and kiss his hand, since that hand has offered the Holy Mysteries and touched the Body and Blood of our Lord. When we take leave of a Bishop or Priest, we should again ask for a blessing, just as we did when we first greeted him.
What about Bishops and Clergy from schismatic Orthodox churches? It depends, but usually no.
What if you encounter a bishop or priest and you are unsure of their jurisdiction? Don’t be afraid to ask them if they are Orthodox and to which jurisdiction they belong.
What about heretical or heterodox clergy or ministers? No, never.
It’s important to know also that an abbess in the Russian Tradition is greeted exactly as a Bishop or a Priest. Monks and nuns are greeted with the word “bless!” (Благослови! Evlogeite!) with a bow of the head and the right hand over the heart. Don’t kiss their hand unless they are a spiritual father or mother of renown. Also do not touch and especially never hug a monk or a nun.
In the case of married clergy, the wife of a Priest or Deacon is also informally addressed with a title. (Bishops are never married in the OC). Since the Mystery of Marriage binds a Priest and his wife together as “one flesh,” the wife shares, in a sense, in her husband’s Priesthood. This does not, of course, mean that she has the very Grace of the Priesthood, but some of the dignity of her husband’s office certainly accrues to her. The various titles used by some of the national Churches are:
- Russian: Matushka ( MA-toosh-ka. Emphasis on the MA!))
- Greek: Presvytera (Pres-vee-TE-ra)
- Serbian: Papadiya (Pa-PA-dya) or Protinitsa (Pro-TI-nit-sa)
- Albanian: Prifteresha
- Ukrainian: Panimatushka (Pa-nee-MA-toosh-ka)), or Panimatka (Pa-nee-MAT-ka)
- The wife of a Deacon is also called “Matushka” in the ROC, but in the Greek Church “Diakonissa”.
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