Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another (Romans 12.10).
Summertime has been trumped up as a lazy hazy interval -- slower, lackadaisical, pleasantly humdrum. There is a song that Nat King Cole use to sing, at this time of year: "Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer, those days of soda, and pretzels, and beer."
I haven't heard this played yet in 2012.
Because this summer has been anything but lazy.
In the Orthodox American community, there has been nothing humdrum since the heat wave has rolled in. The weather has blistered the fields a sodden brown with solar flares, and towering storm cells (some at 30,000 feet) have bombed acres of golfball hailstones on little Pennsylvania towns.
Before you think these are the end times, look more immediately. The times, as a secular prophet once averred, they are a changin’.
I’m not going to launch into an eschatological assay (and I mean that word) here. That subject is grist for a lot of mills. What I will do is to suggest, kindly, that we should draw a line from the heatwave and the stormwave to conditions in our community, and in ourselves.
Let us focus even more onto what “community” means. We will set aside some rather scary hermeneutical possibilities about national and global-humanitarian meanings that roil under the thunder front.
We will consider, instead, our own distinct community: our Orthodox pastoral brotherhood.
Friends, I think in crisis especially we must be friends. For crisis is what we’re in as an American Orthodox community. For us in particular, it is a good crisis -- but “crisis” nonetheless, as it is a period of profound change and challenge. For others of our brethren in other communities, it is a toxic crisis.
Moments of stress do not, normally, bring out the best in people. There were probably more acts of cowardice on the decks of the Titanic than there were acts of courage -- this is so simply because normally, fallen human nature falls apart when things are tough.
A good leader is someone who can stand up against the tidal wave of normalcy. A good clergyman is someone who can resist the craven urge to fall apart and run away, and surrender his better mind to pessimism, backbiting and despair.
A good man speaks -- by how he thinks -- well of his brotherhood.
And I will tell you this -- something that you need to know … and you may as well hear it now, sooner than later. This free and Christian choice of “love without hypocrisy” … this choice of “kindly affection and brotherly love” … this choice of “giving preference to one another” …
… this patently Orthodox Christian choice is a choice you’ll have to make in seminary, both in and out of class, both in and out of the academic year, both at seminary, at home and out and about whatever you do in the summer.
Let me go further. The choice will only grow more challenging after ordination. For the forces that array against love, and against the Peace of the Body of Christ, grow even more appalling once you get parachuted into the parish.
It is not for nothing that St. John Chrysostom himself feared the psychic winds that buffet the soul of every priest (in his book, On the Priesthood).
It is not for nothing that St. Paul himself wrote these rightly terrifying words:
“And apart from these other things [which is itself a dizzying understatement], there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?” (2 Corinthians 11.28-29)
THESE WORDS should be read by any man who hears and is considering a priestly vocation.
I have never used all caps in my essays before -- but I do now (probably for the last time) only to make sure that they scare the hell out of you.
In a way, friends, the Titanic is always going down, but it never sinks completely. There are always lifeboats but they must be found. There is, after all (and I cannot resist this), the RMS Carpathia that may be reached, with room enough and to spare for all the weary and heavy laden … especially, to put a severely ironic twist on Emma Lazarus’ words:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free ...
Who do you think, brothers, the huddled masses in the lifeboats are?
Our own people.
Our Orthodox community is confronted by a sea-change, a climatic revolution, even a polar shift. History is turning before our eyes.
You have heard this before, and others rightly are saying, “Calm down. Be at peace. Hold fast. Do not abandon your post.” Listen to them because they are right.
But I will tell you exactly what that means for you and me, in this specific, concrete pastoral brotherhood.
There are two simple headings -- actions to stop immediately, and actions to start (and sustain): and they are all applications of Romans 12.9-13.
Actions to stop:
* Speculating on the motives of other people
* Speaking of others in derogatory, demeaning terms
* Pointing to the faults of others as soon as you feel your own faults pointed to
* Feeling sorry more for yourself than for the distress of others
* Talking more about people than about ideas and beautiful things
* Rehearsing memories of injury, insult and offense
* Practicing the art of victimhood
* Practicing the darker art of reviewing a guy's social standing and political value before engaging in conversaton
* Giving yourself permission, and rationales, for seething in anger & soaking in despair
* Finding an audience for denunciation, and playing to the crowd
* Considering yourself and your pals as a "spin-free zone"
* Making the Church indistinguishable from just another Reality TV Show
* Beating the hell out of Jesus
Actions to start and sustain:
* Thinking of others -- especially the difficult ones -- as icons of Christ
* Making the distinction between irritations and sins
* Forbearing mere irritations
* Forgiving sins
* Blessing enemies -- what does this mean? It means that whenever you think of someone you're mad at (or you feel hurt by -- and, by the way, quit conflating the feelings of anger and "feeling hurt" -- they are the same damn thing), you're 'sposed to bless them right then and think "I forgive him/her ... Lord, bless him/her." And it means doing this seventy times seven, with the product divided by zero (which represents the value of your prosecutorial claims)
* Considering gossip as just another word for revenge
* Combing thoughts with a fine-tooth comb for the lice of denunciation
* Fearing idle talk as the breeding ground for judgmentalism
* Considering the phone and the keyboard as more perilous than a matchstick in the Colorado forests, more grievous the next killer flu
* Repeating to yourself this magical phrase: "I am only a man ... I am lesser the second I try to be greater"
* Making the dinner table and living room a “denunciation-free zone,” or -- to use the old word -- a place of peace
* Washing Jesus’ feet, and letting Him ascend to Heaven -- where you and I belong
After all ...