A Homily on Terrorist Attacks
David the Psalmist and Prophet said, “Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge. I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” [Ps. 16.1] After learning of the attacks in Parish yesterday, I began to think on the effect this is going to have on all of us. Ever since the attacks on 9/11, 2001, we have been in conflict, and war, against a certain group of people who call themselves “Muslim”. In every possible way, they are the poorest example of a real Muslim in the same way a radical person who would use the name of Christ could be called a Christian.
Thus, some want to say that this is a war between Christianity and Islam, between the two major faiths of the world. To be sure there can be no mistaking that there are a group of people acting in the most heinous and despicable manner using the name of their God, Allah, and their faith, Islam, to perpetrate a carnage and an unspeakable amount of death and harm to totally innocent people. They are not interested in whether or not we believe they are right or wrong, they are only interested in their own twisted cause.
But is this truly a war of religion? Is there even such a thing as a war of religion? Would we not actually be in error if we reduce these attacks to a Christian vs. a Muslim conflict? The last attack in France was against an organization that satirized their founder; and then they attacked the area populated by Jews. There will certainly be people of other faiths, even ones of no faith, numbered with the victims of this and all such attacks. So are they Muslims in revolution? Even the head of Iran, President Hassan Rouhani condemned the attacks as not befitting the Muslim Faith.
The Friday night, as I was returning to Anchorage on a flight from Fairbanks with my daughter and granddaughter, I was led to look again at one of my favorite small books titled The Agony of the Church, by St. Nicholaj Velimirovich of South Caanan. It is a compilation of lectures he was addressing to the Student Christian Movement which had come to Serbia from England. It was not long after the beginning of World War I, and I think the fact that that war was begun because of a Serb, he wanted to address the tragedy of that war and impress upon the students what role, if any, the Church should play in the conflict.
After explaining to them how the various churches in each nation involved in the conflict had failed to live up to their real calling as a Church of Christ, he went on to declare the failure of Europe in general in what he referred to as “The Poverty of European civilization”. He said the following:
The poverty of European civilization has been revealed by this war. The ugly nakedness of Europe has brought to shame all those who used to bow before Europe's mask. It was a silken shining mask hiding the inner ugliness and poverty of Europe. The mask was called: culture, civilization, progress, modernism. All was only vanitas vanitatum[i] and povertas povertatum[ii]. When the soul fled away, what remained was empty, ugly and dangerous. When religion plunged into impotence, then:
Science became a mask of pride.
Art—a mask of vanity.
Politics—a mask of selfishness.
Laws—a mask of greediness.
Theology—a mask of skepticism.
Technical knowledge—a poor surrogate for spirituality.
Journalism—a desperate surrogate for literature.
Literature—a sick nostalgia and a nonsense, a dwarf-acrobacy.
Civilization—a pretext for imperialism.
Fight for right—an atavistic formula of the primitive creeds.
Morals—the most controversial matter.
Individualism—the second name for egoism and egotism.[iii]
He felt that those people in that day had given up their true calling in Christ and exchanged it for a false Patriotism and Imperialism, in which each church followed their respective governments into war instead of resisting it or speaking against it. He said that “Patriotism is a natural quality, but Christianity is supernatural. Patriotism is a provincial truth, but Christianity is a pan-human truth. Patriotism means love of one's country or one's generation, Christianity means love of all countries and all generations. Christianity includes a sound and true Patriotism, but excludes untrue and exaggerated Patriotism as it excludes every untrue thought and feeling.”[iv] This is exactly what has happened to the followers of ISIS, they apply a false patriotism to their religion and fail to realize the damage they are doing to the very thing they seek to exalt.
None of us will agree with their purpose or their goal, as we understand it. But we cannot mistake their actions which are designed to elevate our anger and human passions to a boiling point so we boil over with hatred for them and sink to their level of retaliation. They want nothing less than a global conflict so that, in their way of belief, there will be a return of the Mahdi, or twelfth Imam. They have an eschatology as defined and shaped as the one held by many Christians. Theirs based on a tradition handed down since the 9th century, Christianity, one based on the Book of Revelation. In both cases, it is the view of those who hold to a very fundamentalist view of their faith that leads to this conclusion. We all confirm our belief in the return of Christ in the Nicene Creed, recited at every Divine Liturgy. But what we do not do is state the manner in which this will occur. One wonders if there are some who almost hope for some type of “Apocalyptic Showdown” where the forces of one faith will be pitted against another one toward a “victory” of some sort.
The hard problem we must all face is that any attitude that places an idea of worldly victory, Christian or otherwise, it is not a victory for Christ. St. Nikolaj stated it this way:
“Saintliness includes goodness and sacrifice, and excludes all the earthly impure spirits of selfishness, pride, quarrels and conquests. Therefore, when the Church returns to her fundamental ideal, she will return to her elementary simplicity in which she was so powerful as to move mountains and empires and hearts at the beginning of her history. That is what the world needs now just as much as it needs air and light, i.e. an elementary spiritual power by which it could be moved, cleared up, purified and brought out of its chaos to a solid and beautiful construction.”
Every Sunday we sing the Psalm in the Second Antiphon, “Put not your trust in princes, in sons of men, in whom there is no salvation.” [Ps. 146] We understand that at the very foundation of our faith is to first trust God, to provide for us, to care for us, to protect us from enemies, and to trust no one else. In the current situation, it is hard to have faith in such a way as this. But this is exactly what the Psalmist prays, and should be our prayer, “Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.” Not in anyone, or anything else, only in you. Verse four of this Psalm we pray, “Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows;their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names upon my lips.”
Beloved, we cannot choose another god. We cannot follow another path except the one given us by God. We are now at a very important place in the salvation history that continually is being written in every act of every person who speaks the name of Christ. We must tread carefully on this path. Right now no one wants to do what we know is right. The forces of evil are at work, and we must resist them and fight against them in every way possible; but the way to fight them is not to plunge headlong into their world, but to do what St. Paul, our Lord’s Apostle, has asked us to do. “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” [Rm. 12.14] These are hard words for us to hear right now.
Does something need to be done to stop the continued attacks of this ISIS? Of course. Do we need to be vigilant in the defense of our country against such actions? Without question. But in the process we need to be mindful of who we follow. God does use evil for good, it has happened before and it can happen again. Let our prayer be that of the Prophet David when he said, “You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Let us all seek to be in His presence where we will have fullness and joy forevermore. Amen.
+ Rt. Rev. Bishop David, Bishop of Sitka and Alaska
[i] vanity of vanities
[ii] Poverty of poverties
[iii] Project Gutenberg's The Agony of the Church (1917), by Nikolaj Velimirovic, p. 17
[iv] Ibid. p. 10
Losing the Fountain of Immortality
Tonight, as I flew back from Kodiak and the trial of the man who did the vandalism at Holy Resurrection Cathedral there, I began to think about what it is that the church exists for in that city. In every community, there are houses of worship of many varieties, Protestant, Roman Catholic, Orthodox Christian, as well as a plethora of other and sundry forms of religious expression. Our culture has truly become a melting pot of spiritual idealism. Our independent nature as Americans calls us to find our own path, seek our own version of God, and then be able to practice that belief unencumbered by the rules of government interference.
The trial gave me several insights into the manner that matters of faith get articulated in the arena of public dissertation. The modern “Agora”, if you will, of our discussion becomes the court room where the ideas and concepts of faith are tested not for their religious content, but for their “value” to the community. Here, whatever was held Sacred to the Orthodox Christians of Kodiak, was put to the test against the backdrop of destruction and how that destruction should be measured and valued in terms of the extent the perpetrator was guilty of a Criminal Mischief in the Third Degree, and what was the actual “dollar and cents” value of what was destroyed. It mattered not what we believed, our Creed was not on trial here; but what was on trial was the level of spiritual content of the items that had been desecrated.
Questions came asking what was broken in the Cathedral? Were there windows that were damaged? Was the floor damaged? Did he take any money from the Cathedral? Can the items he destroyed be replaced? If so, how much are they worth? Are there items that cannot be repaired or replaced and can you give them a value? I sat there wondering was it only about the equivalent cash value to them? Did they not, could they not, see that what was truly damaged was the Sacred Space we hold so dear, the place where we bring our babies for Baptism, the place we bring our spouses for marriage, the place we bring our departed loved ones for burial? It was that violation of the holiness of Holy Resurrection Cathedral that was violated, and that very idea, holiness itself, that was damaged in the vicious attack.
This question of damage was answered most succinctly by Fr. Innocent in his direct testimony to the court under questioning by District Attorney Stephen Wallace. During his questioning, DA Wallace asked Fr. Innocent what was the most valuable item damaged by the perpetrator. Fr. Innocent thought for a while before he answered and then gave a most profound statement. One would have thought that he would have said St. Herman’s Cross, or perhaps the Holy Gospel, or the Tabernacle. He didn’t say any of those things. When he spoke, he said the most severe damage was to the Reserve Sacrament, the Holy Eucharist, the Holy Body and Blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Yes, he was right, it wasn’t a material thing, not golden or wooden, or old or large or small, it was that one thing that brings all of us to this church to worship God, it was His Holy Body and Blood, strewn across the floor, mixed with the broken glass, cloth, Holy Chrism Oil, and whatever else was on that floor, which he had to consume, and leave the Parish without its presence. That was the highest and most valuable item lost in the senseless destruction.
One of the hymns we sing as we come forward to receive the Holy Eucharist has the line, “Receive the Body of Christ, taste the Fountain of Immortality”. In essence, then, in this vicious attack on the church, what the church nearly lost was that “Fountain of Immortality” that is at the heart of our relationship to God. It cannot have a price put on it, it cannot be measured in worldly terms, nor can it be compared to any other earthly things, no matter how important they may be to us, as in the case of St. Herman’s Hand Cross. There is no comparison to a life of immortality promised to us by a loving God, and even the person who sought to destroy that fountain can repent and receive that precious gift of immortality, and we should all pray that he does.
Sowing Our Tithe
A Homily on II Cor. 9:6-11
By Bishop David of Sitka and Alaska
Today you heard St. Paul’s words to the Corinthians, telling them the one who sows sparingly will reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully shall reap bountifully. What is it about the Corinthians that caused St. Paul to talk to them this way? What point is he trying to make to them? Were they farmers that needed to grow more crops? Were they rich financiers from which he wanted money? We know that St. Paul had so many problems with the Corinthian Church that his two of his longest Epistles are written to them. Corinth was a city free from persecution, it had pagan temples, its Christians were weak spiritually; they were surrounded by people of greed, lust, drunkenness, polytheism, freethought and divisiveness. In short, it wasn’t that different from the land we live in today.
St. Paul had asked them at different times to help raise money for the suffering church in Jerusalem. Because of its status and freedom, it was also wealthy and capable of helping others, if taught to do so. So it is that we have this revealing passage on his thoughts on the relationship between giving and God’s response.
It is simply stated, but true. It is stated in a way that shows the relationship between the giving and receiving in Faith, and it tells us how it is to be done by all of us.
When we give to God, we are not just giving something away. We are not exchanging one type of bounty for another. We are not doing something because we are looking for a reward, although we could, in reality be doing all of these things. St. Paul makes it clear we should be doing so with real joy, cheerfully, because we want to, and for no other reason. Orthodoxy does not believe in the so-called “Prosperity Gospel”, the belief held by many of the televangelists that if you give them what they ask you will be highly rewarded in a financial way. If fact, St. Paul is careful to present his idea about giving in a way that demonstrates the way our Creator has always operated in relation to his creation.
He uses the term “sowing”, a farming term related to how a farmer plants his seeds to collect a crop in the fullness of time. As anyone knows who has ever been around farming, your yield from the seeds you plant is directly related to the quantity of seeds you put into the ground. In a given area of ground, a farmer knows how many pounds of seeds he needs to have a good crop yield. He also knows that if he skimps on the seeds, he’ll be looking at a poor harvest, but if he plants liberally, his chances of a bumper crop are much greater.
But the farmer also knows that it is not just the amount of seeds he puts into the ground, it is type of soil, the amount of rainfall, the warmth or coolness of the climate all are factors in the outcome. We may ask what has this to do with giving money to God? We find the answer in the further explanation that St. Paul when he states everyone has to give as he “purposes in his heart”, meaning as he intends to give because he has looked at all the needs around him and made a good choice. Its not just in giving the money away, its giving it away for the right reasons at the right time. And even more than that, it must be done cheerfully. In other words, we should receive joy in the act of giving.
When the farmer plants his seeds in the spring, he has no idea how wet or dry the summer will be, nor how warm or cool the weather will be, all he knows is that each time he did this in the past, he received his crops in their time. He realizes that if he lets the seeds remain in the sacks he will have no crop, he has to put his faith in the way God works, the way the seeds, the soil, the water and the wind work together to receive his reward in its time.
All of this brings us to our current situation we find ourselves in. God has given all of us a great amount of “seeds” for our benefit. We can use them however we want, we received it freely for one reason, we are citizens of Alaska. Nowhere else in the United States is there such an act of honor placed on its citizens. We didn't put the oil in the ground, nor did we create the oil companies that harvested the oil, we didn’t even formulate the system from which we receive this bounty. Only our act of being born, or moving to, Alaska made this possible for us. We can be thankful for a good governor, like Jay Hammond, and a legislature that had the foresight to make this possible, but in the end, it is almost entirely an act of God that has given us this gift.
So, seeing how little we have actually done to receive it, should we not be willing, with joy in our heart, return back to God a portion of what we have received? Is it not in our interest and for our own benefit that we should be willing to over back to God from this seed that is ours to plant for our own future, the same way that our state planted those first oil revenues as seeds for growth, so that they would multiply and make this blessing possible?
Beloved, with joy in our heart, let us plant the seed of faith, and do so not grudgingly, but cheerfully, so that we will be able to see the fruit of our efforts in due time. Let St. Paul’s prayer for the Corinthians be his prayer for us, and “May He who supplies the seed to the sower, and bread for food, supply and multiply the sedd you have sown and increase the fruits of your won righteousness, while you are enriched in everything for all liberality, which causes thanksgiving through us to God.
Superior Court finds 'most serious' aggravating factors in Church vandalism trial
Holy Resurrection Orthodox Cathedral
Contact: Father Innocent Dresdow, 907-942-4163
'No injustice not countered with truth': Superior Court finds 'most serious' aggravating factors in Church vandalism trial
October 30, 2015, Kodiak, Alaska--In a dramatic affirmation of the core beliefs of the Orthodox Christian community, Superior Court Judge Frank A. Pfiffner ruled yesterday that defendant Arkimedes Garcia acted with "gross religious disrespect" when he vandalized Holy Resurrection Russian Orthodox Cathedral in June. Garcia pled guilty to a single consolidated charge of criminal mischief in the third degree, a Class C felony, on October 20. In yesterday's non-jury trial ruling Judge Pfiffner agreed with the State of Alaska's argument that a "most serious" aggravating factor be applied.
Garcia was arrested on June 10 at the cathedral. The doors and windows on the church had been damaged or broken, and many items in the church, many of which are considered by the Orthodox to be holy, were disturbed, broken and/or desecrated. Garcia was found exiting the church shirtless, shoeless and bloodied. His blood was later found strewn around the church, including inside the altar.
Garcia's guilty plea was one reason given for the Judge's decision yesterday. The plea substantiated the State's argument that Garcia understood what he was doing when he used a shovel to smash into the church, pulled items off the altar and threw objects into windows. Defense arguments that Garcia's behavior had been out of character, that he had been suffering from a head injury, were found to be unsubstantiated.
Two other factors contributed to the Judge's decision: the amount of the damage and the brief amount of time it took Garcia to inflict this damage.
Using evidence provided by Kodiak Police Department, Fr. Innocent Dresdow, rector of the cathedral, and church insurance documents, the judge ruled that Garcia inflicted $109,485 damage to the physical assets of the church in a span of only ten minutes. These assets included the windows, doors, altar cloths, ornamental fans, flooring, furniture, censors, a decorative Gospel cover, a censor, a tabernacle, two crosses gifted to the church from the Patriarch of Moscow, a glass vial and a hand cross carried to the Kodiak by St. Herman in 1794.
St. Herman is the founder of the church in Kodiak. His cross, which he carried to Kodiak from Russia, normally sets on the reliquary inside the cathedral has been used by priests since St. Herman's time to bless the faithful. That simple wooden cross is encased in a light metal riza which bears an icon of Christ. The riza protecting this cross, "has been peeled back like the top of a sardine can," the Judge said. "It can never be fixed."
The tabernacle and the glass vial contained, respectively, the church's "reserve sacrament" and its "Holy Chrism." These items were among those which could not be quantified monetarily but which factored heavily in the Judge's decision, because of the tremendous religious value these hold for the faithful. In his comments, the Judge referred repeatedly to Fr. Innocent's testimony over the previous two days, in which the role of the reserve sacrament was discussed and the sacred nature of the Chrism defined.
The Judge rejected defense claims that the monetary damage was only about $65,000 and that the fact that it could have been greater were factors mitigating a "most serious offense" ruling.
The totality of the vandalism, Judge Pfiffner said, weighed heavily in his decision. Holy Resurrection Russian Orthodox Cathedral is the oldest Russian Orthodox Church in North America, he pointed out, and pilgrims from all over the world travel here to remember Saint Herman and venerate his cross. It's "overwhelming," the Judge said, "especially the desecration of the reserve sacraments and also the damage to St. Herman's cross and the Holy Chrism."
The Right Reverend David, Bishop of Sitka and Alaska, attended two of the three days of testimony. "The decision of Judge Pfiffner represents a true model of justice in every sense of the word," Bishop David said. "I saw him use his judicial authority to allow both sides to present all the evidence they sought to have admitted, to weigh it carefully and always inform the presenter that it would be given the weight it deserved in deciding the case. His verdict shows his skill of being on the bench for many years and applying the law in a balanced and knowledgeable manner.
"We could ask for no better verdict than one that weighs all the evidence and reaches a conclusion based on the law and validates our belief in the system. Today, that is exactly what happened and we should all give thanks to God for granting the wisdom and jurisprudence to Judge Pfiffner to decide this case as he did, with a careful interpretation of the law that leaves no question unanswered and no injustice not countered with truth."
What follows is a posting on FaceBook by the Dean of the Kuskokwim Deanery and Rector of St. James Church in Napaskiak, Fr. Vasily Fisher. It is well written, concise and to the point. I pray we all heed his words and pledge a tenth of our PFD to our local Church.
Greeting in the Lord!
Today, and soon we all, will begin to be blessed with a free gift which is given to us each year. The PFD. It is a gift that we do not work to receive. It is a gift that is a blessing from the State of Alaska, and a blessing from God.
This is a rather touchy subject to write about but we need to remember that as Baptized Christians tithing is what we do. Tithing is part of who we are. The scriptures speak of giving back to God that which is His. If we are Christians, we tithe. Its that simple. To give to God out of the Joy of our hearts. Give back to God with thankfulness for all the blessings He gives to us.
2 Corinthians 31:5 - "As soon as the command was spread abroad, the people of Israel gave in abundance the first fruit of grain, wine, oil, honey, and of all the produce of the field. And they brought in abundantly the tithe of everything."
Leviticus 27:30 - "Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or the fruit of the trees, is the Lord's; it is holy to the Lord."
We all as baptized Christians tithe, Bishops, Priests, Deacons, Readers, Choir, those who work in the church, and all laity. We all give back to God ten percent of what He blesses us with. It is an opportunity to feel the Joy of giving back to God with Faith and Love. In this day and age, it is God who we must remember first, for the sake of our loved ones and our children so that they too, may know the true JOY of giving back to God as Abel did in the old testament.
Genesis 4:3-5 - "In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel for his part brought of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.
Let us all Joyfully give as did Abel, in thankfulness and prayer because that is who we are, Christians who give back to God. ALL of us. From this Joyful giving our loved ones and children WILL learn about the Joy of giving back to God. Glory to Jesus Christ.