Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Tales from L.A. - "It Really Hurts"

I don't normally do this, but I thought this article by Fr John Bakas in Los Angeles was SO good that I asked his permission to repost it here. This article was published in the Orthodox Observer of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. Here is the full text of the article...




“It Really Hurts”

By Fr. John S. Bakas



From time to time, I get an email or letter that breaks my heart. I’m sure every one of our priests have had their hearts broken in similar fashion. It really hurts.


A few weeks ago, I received an email which read as follows: “My name is Dorothea. I was wondering if you may be able to give me some advice regarding my upcoming wedding ceremony.  My finance Paul and I are getting married early next year.  He was baptized Russian Orthodox and I, Greek Orthodox.  However, we are having a secular ceremony as we consider ourselves Agnostic, while relating to and living by Yogic and Buddhist philosophy. However, I have a deep desire to incorporate some of my Greek heritage into our wedding ceremony. My wish is to honor this part of my Greek culture and bring some of the tradition and ritual to the ceremony. Of course, I understand this is a very tricky thing to do, as the beautiful Greek rituals signify a sacrament that doesn’t quite fit our personal feelings and beliefs.”


I thought a great deal about this email and re-read it several times to get its full impact. I told Dorothea that it would be improper to make up your own spirituality as you please. It is syncretism at its worst. My words didn’t really matter to her. She was polite but very unbending. We rightly send Orthodox missionaries around the world, attempting to evangelize non-Christians in Africa, Southeast Asia, building churches and bringing the Orthodox Faith to them, yet right here in our own back yard we are losing so many of our own.  Just look around in any of our parishes and you will find the lost, the prodigals, the disconnected who have gone off as scripture says “to a far off land” far from Christ and His Church.


I’m afraid so many of us are conflicted about the role and purpose of our Orthodox Faith when it comes down to the parish level. Ask any three people what the role of the church is and you will probably get three different answers. I wonder if Dorothea and fiancĂ© Paul in their spiritually formative years were truly exposed to our real faith, the faith of the Bible, the Fathers and the deep Christ centered worship services of our Holy Tradition. I wonder if their spiritual quest was drowned out by cultural and ethnic pressures and priorities. I wonder if they saw their priest as a true spiritual father, leading them on the road of salvation or a religious “country club” director dressed in black and wearing a cross directing traffic in the diverse expectations and demands of parishioners. Was their sacramental and prayer life more important than the social, athletic and cultural activities that often overwhelm the attention of our focus to our Triune God?  Have we lost the balance?  Do we offer programs just to keep our people involved to show numbers or do we encourage activities as “ministries” of the church leading people to Christ through social, athletic and cultural programs.


I suspect that the overwhelming majority of our people have never read the Archdiocesan Uniform Parish Regulations.  In the Mission statement for each parish in the Archdiocese the following is made abundantly clear. “The diakonia (ministry) of the Parish will include proclaiming and teaching the Gospel in accordance with the Orthodox Faith; sanctifying the faithful through God’s grace in worship, the Divine Liturgy and the other sacraments; enhancing its parishioners’ spiritual life; and adding to the numbers of the faithful by receiving persons into the Church through instruction, baptism and/or chrismation.  In addition, the Parish shall establish educational and philanthropic activities to foster the aims and mission of the Parish and to edify its parishioners in the Faith and ethos of the Church.”


Many well-meaning parishioners and even some parish councils do not fully understand the role of the priest.  Their clichĂ©d role is not just “hatch” (baptism) “match” (weddings) “patch” (counsel) and “dispatch” (funerals). The U.P.R.s clearly states the fundamental role of the priest at the parish level.

“The Priest by virtue of his canonical ordination and assignment heads and administers the parish and exercise on its behalf the priestly duties, which consist in shepherding the Parish entrusted to his care, directing its orderly life, preserving its unity and keeping it faithful to its divine purpose.  He shall sanctify his parishioners through the administration of the sacraments and the performance of all other prescribed services of worship.  He shall also proclaim the Gospel and impart knowledge of the doctrines, traditions, canons and disciplines of the Church.  Further, he shall guide the growth and progress of the Parish in the Christian life through the performance of his pastoral duties.”


It seems so many have different expectations of the Church and Her clergy. What are yours? Are they in accordance with scripture and our Holy Tradition as taught unadulterated since Pentecost? Do we understand the Apostolic succession of the priesthood going back all the way to the High Priest, our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ who established the priesthood?


Our Lord’s final command to His priests, His Apostles, was the Great Commission. “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you and lo I am with you always even to the end of the age.” MT.28:16-20


I wish someone would have shared the Gospel (Good News) with Dorothea and Paul in their formative years. Perhaps, there would now be an Orthodox priest performing their upcoming wedding. Even though it really hurts,  it’s still not too late. The prodigal son came to his senses and returned to his Father’s house. I pray for the return one day of Dorothea and Paul and so many countless other prodigals to their Heavenly Father’s house, our Orthodox Church.



Fr. Bakas is Dean of Saint Sophia Cathedral, Los Angeles and a faculty member of Loyola Marymount University, School of Theology.


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