New Year’s Resolutions for the Orthodox Church

January 21, 2013

For years I used to make New Year’s Resolutions. I gave myself the task of creating a list of them within a two week period. I started to think about them in earnest around January 1 and vowed to finish the list by New Year’s Day on the Julian calendar (January 14). It was then my practice to preach about making New Year’s resolutions. What I had hoped to accomplish in sharing my own resolutions was to encourage my congregation to make their own new resolves and changes.  Hopefully the resolutions that they made would lead them closer to Christ, and therefore a more fulfilling life. In Orthodox fashion, I always made three separate resolutions. Usually I tried to have a variety on the list – a spiritual resolution, a personal resolution and a parish related one. Frequently my personal resolutions revolved around the themes of being a better Orthodox Christian, a more dedicated priest and the time honored – lose weight and exercise more. Essentially these were a “to do” list – vows really – for the rest of the calendar year. Some I kept more faithfully than others, but a sincere desire to keep them was my prayer. As I made resolutions and encouraged my congregation to do so, I often thought that the Church  needed to change and make some resolutions of its own.

While the Orthodox Church, as the Bride of Christ, the Heavenly Church is a perfect one, the Earthly Orthodox Church is far from perfect.  A quick perusal for a week or so of Church news from around the world, and in particular from Orthodox countries, will demonstrate just how imperfect the Earthly Church actually is. Greater ecclesiastical schisms, scandals involving bishops, financial improprieties, unnatural and unattractive relationships between civil and church authorities are only a few of the weekly stories one finds about the Church in the world press. As if present day scandals are not enough, the Orthodox Church even has the difficulty of agreeing on a single calendar on which to celebrate holy days. As a result of these iniquities, a significant number of those baptized in the Orthodox Church have either left the Church, are nominally involved in the life of the Church, or are totally disinterested in Church life. An even short visit to Greece, Russia, Ukraine or any other traditionally Orthodox country will prove this disheartening truth.

To be sure, there are also wonderful, selfless, compassionate and humbling things that take place in Orthodox parishes throughout the world.  Unfortunately these most Christian of actions don’t usually make the pages of the world press and therefore remain largely unknown except to the Lord. (Matthew 6:4) In my experience as a pastor for over 20 years, the most kind hearted and empathetic acts of charity are done by individual Orthodox Christians who selflessly help, in what even manner they can, to ease the suffering, pain, loneliness, sickness and hunger of others.  They are truly the sheep of Christ. They do these acts without the fanfare and publicity that usually accompanies similar acts done by those in the church who want their generosity and efforts detailed on the front pages of diocesan newspapers and websites.

What the Orthodox Church needs is a cleansing. The resurrection of the Orthodox Church in the former Soviet Union and Eastern bloc countries has not produced a purer church, a golden church. After going through the fires of hell during the years of atheistic communism, the church has decided once again to get into bed with the government and politicians. The Orthodox Church in Greece, which did not live through the same horrible system as did the Church in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, has become incredibly anachronistic and political. The Greek Church has lost a significant number of its faithful to either those Christian groups more faithful to the gospel message of Christ or to the enticing allure of crass consumerism bereft of spirituality.

If the earthly Orthodox Church is to ever be closer to a reflection of the Heavenly Church, it needs to make some changes.  Here are a few suggestions for resolutions the Orthodox Church needs to make and keep, not just for 2013 – but forever.

1) Be more Christ like – love more, forgive more, see the goodness and intent in people.

2) Preach the Gospel – at times use words.

3) Accept that discoveries in modern science are not a conspiracy created by people who are anti-Christian.

4) Begin to dialogue with those who have been ridiculed and maligned by the Church, starting with gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people.

5) Acknowledge that sexual orientation is not chosen by the individual but is decided upon by the Creator and given as a gift to heterosexuals and homosexuals.

6) Take a fresh look at the service of Adelphopoiesis (Bratotvorenie) or “Brother-making” and begin to see it as a possible Orthodox same-sex marriage liturgical service. As the Church saw the need to create a service for second heterosexual marriages, it needs to create such a service for same-sex couples.

I acknowledge that this list is more than the three tasks I usually assigned to myself and the above list is certainly not an exhaustive one.  Those who love the Church, as I do, know that the earthly Church must change in order for it to remain the same – the reflection of the Heavenly Church – the Bride of Christ.

  1. Rachel Said,

    With regards to the service of Adelphopoiesis, I read John Boswell’s book on the topic, and found it to be a very good read. But whenever I look it up, other Christians usually condemn it. I’m not sure this is due to their general attitude towards homosexuality (so they can’t see the book as anything but wrong as default) or an issue with his research/scholarship. Have you read it? And if so, what did you think?

  2. andre Said,

    I have read and really studied the Boswell book. There are scholars – and I think due to the volatility of this subject they are the only ones worth reading as commentary on Boswell, who do take issue with several of Boswell’s conclusions. There is a book called “The Boswell Thesis”. It is a collection of articles by scholars in the various fields commenting on Boswell’s work. In general they acknowledge that the services existed, however there is no agreement on their meaning or purpose. As with any study of early liturgics in the Church, it is very possible that they have various meanings. To illustrate my point – look at the contemporary Orthodox Church. Is there a single practice when celebrating baptisms, marriages, funerals, confessions? No, there is not. What is important to me is that the Orthodox Church needs to recognize the need for same-sex crownings and develop such a service – which can be based on the earlier “brotherhood” services. As we know such services are already being celebrated by Orthodox priests in mainstream jurisdictions.

  3. Noel Warren Said,

    As a young man my 3 NY resolutions were usually more sex, more money and less work. Kind of fits the current state of the Greek Orthodox Church, at least in Greece, according to your article. Anyway as John Lennon said “life is what happens when you are making other plans”, because my wife got most of the money in the divorce, I had to retire from work through illness and at 62 sex is is becoming so difficult it is hardly worthwhile. Despite all this or because of it, LIFE IS GOOD!
    I find it sad that parishioners are leaving the Church in droves rather than standing up and waving their cheque books at the Bishops and saying “fix it or else”. In Australia the laity are so timid. With the decline in membership the noisey well organized rigth wing conservatives capture the podium.
    Anyway we shall never give up!
    Cheers, Noel.

  4. andre Said,

    With age sometimes wisdom comes. There are reasons that Canon Law states age requirements for ordinations – of course 30 and 35 was at one time considered “middle age”. Perhaps it is time to re-visit those age requirements in Canon law. A priest of 50 and a bishop at 60 certainly has a better perspective on life and is likely to be more pastoral than a 25 year old fresh out of Seminary or a bishop who is ordained at barely 35 who has never seen the inside of a monastery for more than a few weeks. I know this from experience as I was quickly ordained and elevated – but what did I know at the age of 25? Certainly not enough to be put in charge of souls. But, I listened to my bishop and accepted the titles and responsibilities.

    To be sure there are very good priest and parishioners who do the work of Christ and reflect His love and forgiveness in every thing that they do.
    We need to be more honest but then again, so do the bishops and priests.
    I bid you peace.

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