“ORTHODOX SPIRITUALITY IN PARISH ADMINISTRATION”

by Bishop Demetri (Khoury)

 

Ninth Biennial Clergy Symposium

Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America

July 15-19, 1996

 

Fraternal Charity among the Clergy

As we begin our deliberations and discussions on this year’s topic of “Orthodox Spirituality in Parish Administration, it seems to me that we ought to take a moment to look at our relationships amongst one another. There is an old adage, that “we cannot give to others what we do not ourselves possess.” Specifically, I am referring to fraternal charity among the clergy of our God-protected Archdiocese. What I am about to say to you is based on twenty years of experience as a parish priest and one and a half as a bishop. It is not theory but rather practical advice. Those of you who know me well know that if I am anything it is practical.

We read and hear so many things, that unfortunately we often times “tune out” the things we need to listen to and consider more deeply than others. Our familiarity with the scriptures too often leads us to patiently wait as they are read, while at that same time not really pay attention. That is why I asked Fr.Chad to begin this evening’s meditation with the reading from St. Paul’s famous pericope on “love.” It forms the basis of my talk, and I ask that all of you take out your bibles, which I am everyone brought with them, and read it again before you retire for the evening. Indeed I would ask that you it keep it very much in your minds throughout this week. As you see one another in chapel, in meetings, in recreation, think of how you can apply the message of St. Paul to your own dealings with one another.

We live in a world that expects, if not demands, excellence from us. We also live in a society that is richly blessed with the resources to make such excellence possible. For example, could we have imagined fifteen years ago the huge impact that personal computers would have on each one us, individually and as pastors? Very few of our parishes are not computerized. In addition, fax machines, E-mail, and cellular phones have made it possible for us to be efficient beyond our wildest dreams. In a matter of minutes we are able to accomplish what used to take hours and days. But we have to ask ourselves, are we as efficient, in our dealings with one another? As our efficiency in administration has improved has our love for one another increased as well, or have we sacrificed Christian love on the altar of administrative efficiency?

There is nothing wrong with being administratively efficient, per se. But we who preach the Gospel, must always live by the same Gospel we preach, and so the question becomes “Are we reflecting and exhibiting the love that St. Paul admonishes us to have, while at the same time working so hard to be good administrators?”

Honestly fathers, I mean deep down in our hearts where we often fear to go, aren’t we all, bishops, priests and deacons, guilty of being uncharitable to one another? It is so easy to find fault and criticize others, to poke fun at someone, to belittle a brother for something that is not ours to criticize. We proclaim and preach on the gospel message “do not judge others, lest you be judged” but we do it anywise, don’t we? And when we do, we are so gifted at finding reasons for doing so. We forget again and again the very message we have been commanded to preach, “do not judge others, lest you be judged!”

Let us take a look at St. Paul’s message, and with the hope of understanding it better, substitute contemporary examples:

“Though I speak many languages, each with a perfect accent and am able to sing troparia in any of these languages, with a voice that is like one of the angels, but look around at my brothers and say within my heart, ‘This one is so ignorant because he speaks only one language’ and ‘this one hasn’t learned how to speak without an accent yet’ and ‘that one couldn’t chant a hymn correctly or beautifully if he spent an entire year practicing’ then I have become obnoxious to my brothers, I have become like a piercing police siren or the annoying shriek of electronic feedback.

“And though I have the gift of excellent preaching, able to explain all sorts of difficult scriptural passages and complex theological ideas, considered by all who know me as a truly learned and wise man, and though I am able to celebrate any liturgical service observing all the rubrics and displaying the height of grace and poise so that even the most hardened of hearts are moved to compunction and repentance and thereby return to God, but have no love or compassion for my brothers who are not as gifted or filled with grace and poise, I am nothing. I am like the scent of flowers, something experienced, but lacking real substance.

“And though I am able to organize my day such that I am able to account for every minute, accomplishing a great number of tasks so that I am able to do much more than others, gaining for myself the reputation of a great worker capable of squeezing more out of an hour than anyone else, yet cannot find time for my brother who needs my help and my encouragement, and if I do have time to help my brothers but do so with an air of arrogance thinking in my heart that if it were not for me my brothers would look foolish and stupid and that I am the reason they get anything done, but have no love for my brothers, I am nothing and I have done nothing. I am like a mime who cuts the air and slices the wind with his hands and arms, but at the end of the day, has nothing to show for all his efforts.

If I love my brothers, that love must be a patient love for I must “be patient with all” (1 Thess 5:14) and it must kind for we are told to “be kind to one another” ( Ephesians 4:32). When I see my brother succeeding in his ministry and being recognized for his accomplishments, even if he has failed in the past many times, I must love him and manifest that love by refusing to be envious for we are told “Let not your heart envy sinners” (Proverbs 23:17). Perhaps if we were to have not only the recognition but also the problems and the burden of past failures we would not be so envious. In my love for my brothers I must be on guard not to let that love be shown in a flashy or obvious manner, as if the fact that I am loving my brother is more important than the fact of my brother being love at all. In loving, who is being loved is of greater importance than who is loving. My love must not put itself on display screaming out to the whole world “look at me and at what I am doing” for we are told “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30), and again “If anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he has deceived himself.” (Galatians 6:3)

When I love my brother I must do so humbly, quietly, with a spirit of genuine love and concern, not brashly, or rudely, or worse with a mean spirit that insults rather and than comforts. We are warned not to be “rash with your mouth” (Eccles 5:2). How often have we spoken too soon, said the wrong thing, or left too many things unsaid, things that would have brought comfort, solace and peace to our brothers. Instead in our path we have left bitterness and hearts broken by our words. And I must avoid seeking my own way, being pushy with my love, for we are directed to “let no one seek his own, but each one the others well-being.” (1 Cor. 10:24). When I love am I seeking to truly love another, with no thought to my own needs or comfort or satisfaction for having loved, or am I instead thinking only of the need of my brother, rejoicing in the opportunity to give to him what he needs and what only I can give him, knowing that in doing so he will gain everything and I will gain nothing. If I do this I must be prepared to fight the temptation to be angry for “Good sense makes a man slow to anger” (Proverbs 19:11)

If I love my brother, and he does something happens that upsets or hurts me, I need to overlook. The worse thing I can do both for myself and my brother is to keep score of wrongs as they occur. Better that I should forgive every offense no matter what it is or how big or small it is, and do so immediately. This is the way our Father in heaven deals with us, for He said through Jeremiah the prophet “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Do we honestly believe we can do less to one another, than God Himself does to us?

Neither should we rejoice when a brother falls into sin, but should we should run in charity to cover it over as with a cloak, wanting to hide the sins of our brothers rather than point them out. Remember the example of Christ “when he had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts, He said to man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored as whole as the other.” (Mark 3:5) What we give to others will be given to us, and what we withhold from others will be withheld from us.

In the same vein, we should rejoice in the truth, seeking to point out in one another what is truly good, beautiful, honorable and worthy of emulation, and avoid looking for what is not good, ugly, dishonorable and scandalous. How often have we been tempted to bend the truth, to lessen it or cover it up altogether with our bitter jealousies? Did not St. John write “I rejoiced greatly that I have found some of your children walking in truth, as we received commandment from the Father.” Nowhere does God tell us to deal with falsehood, neither does he tell us to spread it or increase it.

Is one of our brothers a burden, to himself, to some of us, to all of us? Then the love we profess to have for God demands that we “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. And in doing so we ought to “believe all things”, that is to say we must “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own insight.” To rely on our own insight is to presume that we know all things, see all things or at least will be able to do so at some point. In our hearts we know that this is not the case and that it never will be.

Even when we see a blatant fault in one of our brothers, and we have gently, lovingly, compassionately pointed this out to him, asking his forgiveness for our boldness, wanting only what is best for him, we must not lose hope, for love “hopes all things” — it keeps looking up, it maintains a positive outlook for a positive result, it does not despair, it keeps on going “forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead” (Phil 3:13).

Our love for one another, our patient endurance of each others faults, our constant support of one another’s efforts to learn, to grow, to become better, to move on, all of this must endure all things without exception, without reservation and without compromise. If God is love and God is eternal then His love is eternal. And that means that if God loves us and we must love Him by loving one another in return for His love, then our love for one another must likewise be eternal. At no point can we allow our love to wear out, grow dim or become short in supply. “Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Gal. 6:9-10). God’s love cannot fail, and neither must our love for all of God’s children but especially for our brothers in the service of God, for they “are of the household of faith.” Love, if it truly Christian, does not fail. And therefore in everything regarding one another, we must begin and end with love. As St. Paul advised the Corinthians “Let all that you do be done with love.” (1 Cor. 16:14)

Fathers, I fear that we may have hurt our own efforts at ministering to the faithful, and brought upon ourselves much misery. Too often, far too often I have noticed many of the things which I have just spoken about. I have watched priests make fun of other priests, I have heard priests criticizing one another, not for the sake of helping their brothers but to inflict injury and pain, and sad to say they have succeeded. It makes me sick of heart both to have seen this and to tell you about it. But I cannot turn my back on my responsibility. I tell you this not to hurt you or to make you angry, but because this problem has gone far beyond the confines of our noble calling and our special brotherhood. Those whom we serve, the faithful of this archdiocese have begun to notice this lack of charity among the priests for one another. And make no mistake it exists on all levels of the clergy! Many of have spoken to me about it, asking me to “please do something about this Sayidna.” All of us, I am sure, have been hurt by unkind remarks from our parishioners, or attitudes which when experienced by us leave us confused, angry and frustrated. It is bad enough when these things come from the faithful because of a serious lack on their part. But it seems that many are watching us deal with one another in these ways, and have concluded that if the clergy can be so disrespectful of one another, then so can we. Do you see how our lack of love, of charity, of compassion, of understanding and of sympathy for one another, has like a deadly snake slithered off to bite others, who in turn inflict more pain and hurt on us? In this respect we are guilty not only of being a bad example to our spiritual children, but of being a burden to one another.

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