Midwest-Cleveland, OH – September 20 – 23, 2012
East-Hillsborough, NJ – October 11-14, 2012
West-Los Angeles, CA – November 1-4, 2012
This is a real-time transcription of the welcome address at the Eastern Encounter 2012 (November 3rd) by Fr. Justin Rose of St. Philip the Apostle Melkite Mission in San Bernardino, CA. Although it has been reviewed, it may contain errors, for which the webmaster unreservedly apologizes.
Our Eastern Catholic Churches need clergy, monastics, and laity all exercising their baptismal priesthood as defined by the Acts of the Apostles. The Domestic Church is one centrally important expression of the Royal Priesthood.
This conference couldn’t be more timely. We’ve heard terms like secularization bounced around in our culture. It is important for us to discuss where our ministry as church comes into place.
What is our job description?
The Pew Forum says there’s a rise in the “nones.” Those who do not identify with any religious affiliation. We need to discuss the royal priesthood in a culture that is increasingly reflecting on the role of faith in our lives.
Acts 2:42ff defines 5 aspects of being church and therefore of the royal priesthood: 42 And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43 And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. 44 And all that believed were together, and had all things common; 45 And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. 46 And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, 47 Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.
The summary of Christian life is
- Koinonia/Fellowship or Community
- Diakonia/Service or Stewardship
- The Early Church had the preaching of the apostles. For us, education comes in many new forms: online classes, blogs, websites, publishers, audio books, etc
- Geography dictated how we did education. To gather people together in one room was the only way to convey information in the past. Now the internet allows greater communication.
- Because of the changes in communication, we can focus more on prayer and fellowship when we gather together now.
- The call of the baptized is to grow in community.
- “It’s not my ministry, it is the ministry of the Church.”
- A priest addresses a deacon as “my fellow celebrant” and we say the laity celebrate with the clergy. On the other hand, bishops and priests serve the liturgy.
- He’s pushing back in his parish against social activities that are not communal. Ethnic and cultural celebrations are wonderful but “not lasting.” Family activities are low cost and easily arranged. They give opportunities to “love on each other” which builds community.
- What are we doing in our communities?
- Youth and young adults often gravitate to social work.
- Every Thursday, his parish serves the homeless and the working poor.
- Want more people in your church? Less parties (BINGO, festivals) and more service.
- Deacons have a responsibility in the church that they need to reclaim. They are the pastoral arm. They lead the royal priestly efforts to serve the suffering.
- Liturgy means “work of the people,” not just of the choir or the clergy.
- Litanies tell the faithful who they should be praying for.
- Basic preaching of the faith. This is the foot in the door.
- Early followers of Christ shared a simple, clear message of the Good News.
- Evangelization must come before all the rest. It comes first.
- At the end of the Acts passage, Luke notes that the followers of Jesus had the favor of all the people. The community was exercising its royal priesthood by preaching and serving within their daily routine.
- One of the desert fathers (Abba Pembo?) said, “If you want to convert the world, convert yourself.” This is the heart of the new evangelization.
Our times are similar to the Apostles’ times.
- Roman roads brought commerce and an exchange of cultures and information, just like the internet does today.
- The world was rich in literature and culture. Many people were bored with the organized religion around them. Sound familiar?
We continue to function as if there is a Christiandom still in the world.
- We need to shift our focus. This is the goal of the Year of Faith.
- The pope and the Patriarch of Moscow’s work together recognizes that the world has shifted.
- We need to see the world as an opportunity to evangelize.
- Humility, learning, lived experience, stewardship must come first before we can tell others about it.
At the conclusion of the Synod of Evangelization, the bishops recalled John:
Looking specifically at the context of new evangelization, the Synod therefore reminds of the necessity to revive faith, which risks being made obscure in the context of today’s cultures, also faced with the weakening of the faith by many baptized persons. The encounter with the Lord, which reveals God as love, can only come about in the Church, as the form of receptive community and experience of communion; from this, then, Christians become its witnesses also in other places. However, the Church reasserts that to evangelize one must be evangelized first of all, and sends out a plea – starting with herself – for conversion, because the weaknesses of Jesus’ disciples weigh upon the credibility of the mission. Conscious of the fact that the Lord is the guide of history and therefore that evil will not have the last word, the bishops invite the Christians to overcome fear with faith and to look at the world with serene courage because, while full of contradictions and challenges, this is still the world God loves. Therefore no pessimism: globalization, secularization and the new scenarios of society, migration, even with the difficulties and suffering they entail, they must be seen as opportunities for evangelization. Because this is not a question of finding new strategies as if the Gospel was to be spread like a market product, but rediscovering the ways in which individuals come close to Jesus.
The word that most stands out is conversion.
- We must be a people of conversion and repentance.
- Metanoia means to turn away from something.
- We must turn away from ignorance, laziness, watered down faith.
- We must turn away from the idea of time-card church where we show up for our 1 hour per week.
The domestic church is the very heart of the priestly work we do.
- Your dining room table is a second altar. The work done there is sanctified.
- The love of the family lived in ordinary life is the work of the royal priesthood.
- An example of the priestly work in the domestic church: when he was a deacon, he visited the house of a family for dinner and fellowship. When he went to leave, the woman of the house stopped him and made the sign of the cross on his forehead. Although he never forgot after she told him the first time, she explained every time she did it that she had blessed every one of her children in that way every night. What a powerful demonstration of the royal priesthood for her to have done this!
- Another example: He heard glass jars clinking and went to investigate. He found a woman filling many pickle and mason jars with holy water. She explained that she put a little in everything she cooked throughout the year. In this way, she sanctified her priestly work in the domestic church.
We need to turn away from vocations programs.
- We don’t have a vocations crisis. We have a holiness crisis. We have a domestic church crisis.
- We need prayer, fasting, and almsgiving programs.
- We need to keep the faith alive in the domestic church.
- We need a renewal and re-discovery of the same old evangelization.
We need to see the home differently—as the domestic church.
- St. Macrina convinced her mom to free their slaves, allow them to work on the family estate for pay, and to turn their home into a monastery.
- We don’t need to go so far—hopefully none of you has slaves!—but we do need to bring the monastery into our home.
- I’m not trying to put burdens on people. The domestic church isn’t re-creating Mt. Athos on Elm Street. It’s a place of love.
- Singing hymns before dinner
- Reading and listening to the Bible is a joyful part of daily life
- The Jesus prayer is a familiar comfort
St. Basil noted the importance of community: “If you live alone, whose feet will you wash?”
- We need to turn away from the ghetto mentality. Archbishop Joseph Tawil used this phrase in his 1970 Christmas pastoral:
We have not yet mentioned the principal dangers which threaten our communities and their mission to the Churches: the ghetto mentality and the assimilation process.
In a ghetto life is closed in upon itself, operating only within itself, with its own ethnic and social cliches. And the Parish lives upon the ethnic character of the community; when that character disappears, the community dies and the parish dies with it.
One day all our ethnic traits – language, folklore, customs – will have disappeared. Time itself is seeing to this. And so we cannot think of our communities as ethnic parishes, primarily for the service of the immigrant or the ethnically oriented, unless we wish to assure the death of our community. Our Churches are not only for our own people but are also for any of our fellow Americans who are attracted to our traditions which show forth the beauty of the universal Church and the variety of its riches.
- Is the Church of Christ universal or not?
- What happens when others come near to our churches? I first used the phrase “into our churches,” but there aren’t many who come in, are there? So I changed it to “near our churches” because that’s as close as we let them get.
- We must turn away from and repent of this ghetto mentality and turn toward each other.
- When others ask you what religion you are, how do you answer? Do you say Eastern Catholic? Ukrainian? Melkite? Catholic? Christian? Simply align yourself with Christ. “I am a Christian.”
- He gave several examples of evangelizing to others and expanding their worldview by giving the answer of Christian. One example: he was at a mall in an elevator dressed, as he usually is, in his cassock. A man asked him what religion he is. He said Christian. The man said, “My pastor is a Christian and he doesn’t dress like that.” The elevator doors opened and Fr. Justin said, “Well, why not?” The man’s view of Christianity just expanded and a seed was planted.
- We have to turn away from hating each others’ music. How can we come together if we won’t turn away from mocking others?
- The apostles and martyrs did not see themselves as victims. They engaged the popular culture.
Contemporary (Post-Modern) Culture vs Modern Culture
Modern cultural values were “in the head” or intellectual in focus because of the influence of the Enlightenment.
- Rational discourse
- Black and white thinking
- Celebrating human ability, even at the rejection of God’s ability
- Science vs. God
- Evolution vs. Genesis
- Authority came with a title or uniform (you respect a police officer because of his badge).
- ost-modern cultural values are relational and wholistic in focus, placing a burden not on rational apologetic arguments but on relationships and experience.
- Warmth of hospitality
- Family orientation
Don’t try to convince a post-modern person unless she can see you living it authentically yourself.
- Underlying post-modern thought is the idea that truth or meaning is subjective. We must have priestly compassion for the anxiety and angst felt by the post-modern person because they’re being told to deny the existence of God within them.
- Pastors can only be shepherds of the flock if they are among the sheep.
- Many thirst for the living water. You have the bucket in your hands.
- The Samaritan Woman—St. Photini—should be the patron of the post-modern age and the New Evangelization.
This age, like any other, speaks to new opportunities.
- Post-modern values pose the same threat to the faith as modern values (communism, atheism) posed 100 years ago.
- “Nones” believe in God but have a problem with “organized religion.” (Joke: that’s why I tell them they should be Melkite. We don’t have any organization!)
- We need to open the gates of our ghettos because we have something to offer these people to redefine their understanding of organized religion.
People look for non-conformity.
- As a PhD student in a cassock on a liberal campus (University of California), you’d expect him to be the subject of attack or ridicule. He’s never experienced that. He has daily conversations with students, faculty, and staff who are happy he is there.
- While people are looking for their own authenticity, they want to see you being authentic to your own faith.
- We can exercise our royal priesthood by wading out into the vast sea of our culture and standing with them.
- Let us be a choir of stewards and leaders who humbly lead people through our own authentic expression of the faith.
We are not just here to change ourselves, but the whole cosmos.
- Conversion, or metanoia, is the hardest change of all.