DIOCESAN DAYS 2012
AUGUST 31ST - SEPTEMBER 2ND
Remembering the Future Things
16th Annual Diocesan Days Gathering in the West Brings Together Clergy, Monastics and Pious Faithful
for Three Days of Spiritual and Social Activities
This year marked the 16th gathering of the local Church in the West. The presiding hierarch, His Grace Bishop Maxim, convened the clergy, monastics, and laity of his diocese, affirming the Eucharistic dimension of the local Church of God; that the Liturgy itself is the center of our life and a very act of passage and ascension into the Kingdom of God and the Future Life.
The theme for the 2012 diocesan days pointed to this often forgotten dimension of the Church and her Eucharistic gathering. “Remembering the Future Things: an End even greater than the beginning,” points to the very function of the leitourgia as the gathering and the work of God’s Church to reveal that the true meaning of all things is in Christ - to actually become the manifestation of the new creation redeemed by Jesus Christ.
So, “remembering (this as) future things,” places us at the beginning and at the end of all things, giving us a new perspective on our present and future life. We no longer look upon spiritual life and the Divine Liturgy (or Eucharist) as some ‘external rites’ to be observed and fulfilled, but rather as our participation in, and passage and ascension into the Kingdom of God.
The Church being aware of the struggle in the present world always references the Kingdom of God. While addressing so called “issues of the day,” the Church never loses Her main dimension, that is, the participation in the Heavenly Liturgy, and thereby empowering Her members and the world to overcome the mundane in order to ascend to Her level, the level of the Church of God – the Body of Christ.
The blessed gathering over the Labor Day weekend (August 31 through September 2 of this year), as established by the local bishop of Los Angeles and the West, began on Friday afternoon with a clergy seminar. Frequent clergy gatherings for pastoral meetings and seminars is an ongoing activity blessed by His Grace Bishop Maxim for the purpose of continued education of his clergy, assisting them in their pastoral work in today’s ever so challenging society.
Visiting Hierarchs for Diocesan Days were: His Grace Bishop Ignjatije of Branicevo diocese, His Grace Bishop Grigorije of Zahumlje-Herzegovina-Littoral diocese, His Grace Bishop Longin of New Gracanica-Midwestern America diocese, and His Eminence Archbishop Joseph of the Diocese of Los Angeles and the West, part of the Self-Ruled Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese in America.
While His Grace Bishop Grigorije addressed the youth on Saturday afternoon, reminding them of the importance of participating in the Liturgy and Church’s ministries, His Grace Bishop Ignjatije was a keynote speaker for the entire weekend. His Grace Ignjatije became a bishop in 1994 having his cathedra in Pozarevac. After 1988 he taught as a professor of Dogmatics and Systematic Theology at the Faculty of Orthodox Theology of the University of Belgrade, Serbia. His theological conceptions are mostly influenced by St. Maximus the Confessor and Metropolitan John Zizioulas. He is one of the most renowned contemporary Orthodox theologians and thinkers of this generation. He has written several books and many articles published in scholarly journals and theological magazines.
During his address to clergy on Friday, Bishop Ignjatije underlined the importance of knowing what the Church is according to the Holy Fathers, where some of them see the Church as an eschatological community gathered around one bishop to serve the Eucharist. According to St. Ignatius of Antioch, the Liturgical gathering is the actual presence of Christ - in the person of the bishop, apostles, and in the person of the presbyters and the people gathered round them. The Eucharist then is the icon of the last event of the Kingdom of God and of the Church.
The existing divergence in the approach to the ecclesiology (teachings about the Church), where one approaches the ecclesiology from the above mentioned Eucharistic perspective, and the other from an ascetical perspective, are reconciled when we see asceticism as a way of assisting and helping us on the road that leads into communion with God who is Holy. Therefore we become holy only when we enter communion with Him, but not through our own ascetic struggles. His Grace Ignjatije reiterated that our communion with God should always be seen and realized through the person of Jesus Christ.
On Saturday morning the Hierarchical Liturgy was presided over by Bishop Maxim, while His Grace Ignjatije gave a key note address following the Liturgy on the theme of salvation. Here too, His Grace brought in his deep and insightful thoughts inspired by the Holy Fathers of the Church. Salvation (as opposed to Western thought that sees it as salvation from sin), according to Orthodox teaching is salvation from death. Hence, the central event, according to Orthodox theology, is not the cross; rather, it is the Resurrection.
The essence of our salvation is salvation from death itself. Death is defined as the discontinuation of personal relationships, e.g., hugging, kissing, smiling, etc. Here too we find two perspectives. The first one approaches death as a change of form. The positive science employs this approach. The second one views death from the perspective of personhood. A unique person finds his or her identity in unity with other person.
When you express love towards another person, you find that that person’s response to be unique. When you love somebody, you find that person becomes a source of life for you. What happens when we see life from this perspective? When that person dies we begin to realize that the person we knew no longer exists. For example, a mother, if she loses her child cannot say, “Oh, I will have another child,” she cannot conceive that.
So, from this perspective, death is really that enemy which threatens, and ultimately destroys, our lives. This is why the Holy Fathers approached theology from the standpoint of personhood. Our God is a communion of persons - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God wants us to live in communion with Him, because He is a God of love and out of love He creates the world.
On the afternoon of the second day, the Diocesan Assembly took place, during which various reports on ministries of the diocese and parishes were presented. Bishop Maxim expressed his profound joy in seeing all gathered for the annual Diocesan Days and the assembly touched upon the following theme found in Bishop Ignjatije’s interview:
It reminds us that the Future Age measures and judges every aspect of our life. The Truth of the Church heals human weaknesses and transcends linear historicism by making the Kingdom of God an essential part of the anamnesis, i.e., the historical consciousness of the Church and of Christians. Thus, the Church can say in the Eucharist remembrance that she – paradoxically – “remembers the…Second Coming [of Christ].” This is done “in the Holy Spirit” and this “transcendence” of history takes place both within and through history, thereby sanctifying and affirming history even more…The existence of the Church is revealed in the Liturgy. The ancient practice of going to the temple for the Liturgy meant bringing and offering the gifts which had been taken from the world and the people, offering the gifts, revealed themselves in the Church. It is this same Church, beloved in the Lord, with which you commune in every Eucharist gathering in your parish and with which you participate today in our 16th Diocesan Days Assembly, realizing, affirming, and invoking the unity of the Heavenly Kingdom of God. May the fullness of the Life that never ends be ours, both today, and always.
Following the assembly, Folk Fest took place with dance groups from St. George parish of San Diego; St. Archangel Michael’s, Salt Lake City; St. Petka, San Marcos; and St. Simeon the Myrrh-flowing, Las Vegas. The program was led by Mrs. Ljiljana Pantovic who, together with the chairman of the 16th Diocesan Days, Fr. Blasko Paraklis, prepared an outstanding program. All participants attended the Vespers service held later that evening.
The following day, the Lord’s Day (Sunday), a Hierarchical Liturgy was presided over by His Grace Bishop Ignjatije, concelebrated with the guest hierarchs, diocesan clergy, and monastics. Bishop Maxim, once again, greeted everyone, expressing his joy and thanks for this blessed gathering of his diocese. His Grace once again invited all to attend the banquet and wine symposium scheduled for that afternoon.
During the banquet address His Grace bishop Ignjatije spoke on the theme of family life and contemporary challenges facing Orthodox Christians:
I am not an expert in economic issues; as every man, I too observe this contemporary situation from my perspective, that is, the perspective of the Orthodox Church, Scripture and our common witness. First of all I don’t’ think it is necessarily a crisis, rather a monetary dilemma, one that has to do with our currency. In other words, it seems the crisis that we are speaking of has to do with the industrial goods that technology has provided - such as mobile telephones, computers - that somehow we just don’t have enough of, or that we think we don’t have enough of. So the crisis today is often defined in terms of how many types of gadgets we have, or that we might no longer be able to afford as many of them - we have identified this as some sort of monetary crisis, because we can no longer live within the means that we have grown accustomed to…crises do exist, but they are not crises of a monetary nature. The Holy Fathers make it clear that for us there are things that can work against us. It is not that I reject advances in technology, but we have to be critical in our approach to today’s technology and everything that it has to offer us. Be careful, because we are called to live and to help one another, to be careful with our life and not to abuse it in any way, especially with the technological advances that have now seemingly produced the type of monetary crisis that we are addressing.
Regarding contemporary families and the problems faced by them (and what spiritual experience from the last century can we use in order to enhance our spiritual lives today in contemporary society), His Grace Ignjatije related the following:
As with every problem we have to look at the source of these problems we are aware of. Just as a doctor looks at the source of a disease in order to administer the right medicine, so I too will make an attempt to make a diagnosis of the source of the problems of family life today. We know that families in our society are in great crisis, both here in America, and in Serbia where I live. The source seems to be in the individual’s approach to family life, and that our way of living today seems to be one of concentrating on the self-sustaining person rather than on a shared life with others. As a matter of fact, we know that contemporary European philosophers have chosen to define hell as the other person, “my hell is the other person with whom I have to live.” And of course, hedonism has its impact on life as a constant search for pleasure. So, when individuality and hedonism are combined, there is no room for community living and society is destined to fall apart. We also observe that marriages often last for only for a few months. There is a general lack of respect for each other; somehow we lose the uniqueness of the other person…So the crisis that we are identifying is with the family, rather than the concept of the family unit itself. It seems that everyone in the family today wants to live as an individual, though under the same roof. The child’s room becomes off limits to the parents so that parents cannot even go inside their own child’s room. Somehow we have given them an individualistic perspective on life. This is probably a result of the influence of protestant theology, this individualistic approach to organizing our families and our society.
Not wanting only to criticize, I would offer suggestions on how to resolve these problems. How do we get out of such a crisis? I propose that we teach ourselves and our children that we cannot live without each other that we belong to one another. We have to rediscover that we live not only for ourselves, but for each other. Our blessing and task is rediscovering that we live for each other and that there is not only the individual. I as a person do not exist without you. We see in the other person a brother and a sister. This even has an influence in our church life…Marriage and family life requires sacrifice. Husband and wife are called to sacrifice for each other. When we serve the other we actually serve God. We need to see God in the other person and recognize that God is the one who controls the other. Today, married couples often times delay having children because they want to enjoy life together now and think that later on they may want to have children, only after they have experienced all the comforts of this life. Unfortunately for some, it then turns out that they cannot have children later. So, you see how that works out. I think that we have to go back to the basics. We need to learn and teach that we belong to each other. Salvation is in the other person; there is no salvation in isolation, but only in communion with each other. An old Latin proverb, unus cristianus nulus cristianus, “one Christian is equal to no Christian,” speaks much to today’s spiritual and societal problems, albeit it is individuality that we are addressing at this time. Death is defined as rejection of the other person. Let’s learn together that the other belongs to us and that we belong to each other. Let’s teach this to our children. Let’s teach this Biblical truth from the first chapter in Genesis when God looked and said: “it is not good for man to be alone on the earth.
The Wine Symposium featuring wines from Tvrdos and Hilandar Monasteries in a comparison tasting with local California wines, started at five o’clock in the afternoon. According to abbot Sava of the Tvrdos monastery, their wines recently garnered three awards at the Decanter Magazine wine competition in London: Vranac, Bronze Medal; Zilavka, Bronze Medal; and Cabernet Sauvignon, Honorable Mention. This first wine symposium was well attended.
Grateful to One God in Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - for this is blessed gathering of God’s Church, His Grace Bishop Maxim, clergy, parish representatives, and the faithful of this God protected diocese in the west are already making plans for the 50th anniversary of diocesan establishment and the Eucharistic gathering which will take place in 2013.
We offer our thanks to His Grace Bishop Maxim for his guidance, to members of the Diocesan Council, the chairman of the 2012 Diocesan Days, Fr. Blasko Paraklis, the hosting parishes: St. George parish, San Diego; St. Archangel Michael, Salt Lake City: St. Petka, San Marcos; and the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos, Orange County, as well as to their parishioners and the chairpersons of each meal and activity.
We extend our special thanks to St. Steven’s Cathedral and their clergy: Fr. Nikola Ceko, dean, and Fr. Norman Kosanovic, the Wine Symposium organizers, folklore groups, and all of the guests and faithful who support the work of the Western American Diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church.
Protopresbyter Bratso Krsic