Fr. Kyrillos’ Comments and Confessions
I have to confess that I begin to write this month’s Comments with trepidation and anxiety. The tragic events of 11 September 2001 in the USA are fixed in my mind’s contemplation. Perhaps this happens also to you. They operate in the memory making questions for our thoughts to answer. Those of us who know history of the last fourteen hundred years or those who have had historical experience of the political power by Islam feel the gust to come. The answer following my thinking is a vision of the XXI century pregnant with fear for my children and their children’s children. These events seem to call to memory the reading from Leviticus we commented on last month of September: “I shall subject you to terror…I shall punish you seven times over for your sins” (Lev. 26:16). My comments then were considering the warnings that the Mother Church, mixed with positive teaching, gave us to encourage us to examine the way that we live and to plan our lives for receiving benefit from the favour that a new year is. The warnings point out to the seriousness if we did not heed them. The warnings of the Church were not new but old; they reaffirmed with words of the New Testament in the Blood of Jesus Christ, the Old Testament of the Law and the Prophets-which Jesus had not come to abolish but to fulfil (Mt. 5:17).
The Media keep us abreast with the commotion that runs throughout the political powers of the world. Death and destruction has unleashed sentiments of justice and defence but they mingle also with anger and vengeance. However, there is not on their lips reference to the lessons of History. One of the reasons for this behaviour, in my opinion, lies in the un-Christian way that those who called themselves Christian live their lives. To be a Christian seems to appear as simple as to have parents who say that they are Christians and have been baptized as a baby; if one belongs to a Greek, or some other national Orthodox state, then one is a Greek Orthodox, or Russian Orthodox, etc.; if one belongs to a Catholic nation, then one is a Roman Catholic; if one is English, then one is C. of E; or one can find oneself in that melting pot of multiple groups, or churches, which derivate from that so-called Protestant Reformation. This, through the five centuries since its beginning, has proved to be so fertile in forming groups that even today they are still creating churches or, as they all like to name them, DENOMINATIONS. To be a Christian indeed appears to be not only simple but, also, pluralistic, a concept much insisted on by many of our contemporaries of the so-called post-modern age.
I should clarify what I mean as “un-Christian.” They do not live a life in the Church, with the Church and according to the Church. To be a Christian looks very simple however it is, in truth, very complex and difficult. Jesus Christ told us in no uncertain terms: “it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Mat.7:14) or “Try your hardest to enter by the narrow door, because, I tell you, many will try to enter and will not succeed” (Lk. 13: 24); and, if you remember my comments in September, “If any one wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me” (Lk. 9:23). There is, one road, one gate or one door, and one way to be a Christian. How can we find this narrow and only way? Christ also told us:
”All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations; baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave to you. And look, I am with you always; yes, to the end of time” ( Mt. 28:19-20).
Therefore, for the last two thousand years plus, the Apostles and their successors, the bishops, and with them the priests, have not only written the New Testament but also many other writings-among them what we call the Fathers-and also left many instructions, by word or practice, for us to learn, know and remain in that narrow road, gate, door and way which takes us to the Eternal Life. All this, with the millions of people who freely have accepted and follow the commands of Jesus through the centuries, is what we call the Ecclesia, The One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. And because the Church is a ‘whole which sends a strait glory to God’-Orthodoxia-we say Orthodox. To send or give this Glory to God means not just to say or call “Lord, Lord,” that is, God, God, or go to Church every day, or say I am a national-orthodox Christian, or a Christian of the Bible, but, as Jesus Christ said, “the person who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Mt. 7:21).
To enter more in the mood of these comments, perhaps, it would be helpful if you read, in the quiet of your room, chapters 5, 6 and 7 of the Gospel of St. Matthew. In those chapters you will see the complexity of being a Christian. You will see the necessity of the individual work and the effort that each person has to make to be a Christian. Therefore, what detailed plan merits the enterprise for following Christ and for being a disciple of His! And you will see also the need for us to study not only the New Testament but the Old as well. All the wisdom, experience and hard labour stored during the two thousand years of Christianity are contained in the Church. The Church communicates all to us if we mould ourselves progressively according to her. For this we have to grow slowly and patiently day-by-day with her instruction and with the reception of her nourishment.
The present practice in the Greek Orthodox Church of infant baptism has put a great burden to parents and godparents. On them rests the education of the child. And, in some way, has taken away from the child his birthright of choosing freely and whole heartily to follow Christ. It has made the baptism, some how, in a magical hope and, even worst, in an occasion for worldly parties and the collection of presents. The job of the godparent has become a giver of yearly presents and financial assistance.
I have to confess that greater trepidation and anxiety, than that with which I began to write this comments, invades my heart when I am going to baptize a baby. Very rarely I allow the use of the Greek language for the full service of baptism in my Church. Some of you may feel unhappy hearing this. I will tell you one an anecdote and you will understand why.
Some years ago, in the Church I ran at the time, there came to me, for arranging the baptism of his beautiful baby, a young father, a very strong, decisive and successful Cypriot fellow. As usual, before hand I enquired about godfather, or mother, and many other little things, all needed, for us to be prepared and relaxed during the development of the service. Then he added: “Ah! Father! Nothing of all that English nonsense that you put on, eh! We are Greeks!” I very happily replied: “Of course, if you, the godfather and your family feel that in Greek you understand well the Service, we do all in Greek.” The day came and, as arranged, I began and went on through the exorcisms in Greek. Several times, in the midst of photographic flashes, movement of tv cameras, sonorous smiles, etc., I was forced to stop and to tell them all to be quiet and pray with me, unhappily with very little success. When we arrived to the recitation of the Symbol of the Faith, that is the Pistevo- the Creed-neither the godfather, the father of the child or any one in the congregation were capable of reading it in Greek, of knowing it by heart and much less of knowing it in English. I do not have to tell you that from that moment onwards the rest of the service, in its entirety, was conducted in English and, then I noticed, the congregation kept an attentive absolute silence! At least for once that father and family had heard, with understanding, what is supposed to be their faith in God and what they were accepting as responsibility for teaching to their child. Neither have I to tell you about the magnificent party, we all enjoyed, after the service. As a matter of course, in a friendly way, I said to the father that he should have invested some of the money, wasted in the party, in buying a few books to learn the Faith, which he is so proud to belong to.
Unfortunately this is not a rare case. Very frequently those who are going to take up the responsibility of teaching and guiding the new Christian, simply, should not be allowed to baptize children. And I, as priest, fear for my own salvation. Am I contributing to mocking God and the damnation of souls in allowing the malpractice of the Sacraments or Holy Mysteries?
“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God. For the Lord will not leave unpunished anyone who misuses His Name” (Exodus 20:7).
I’ll see you next month…, God willing!
© Fr. Kyrillos LERET-ALDIR.
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