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BE YE NOT CONFORMED

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  • Basil Yakimov
    BE YE NOT CONFORMED by Fr. Boris Kizenko And be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 31, 2006
      BE YE NOT CONFORMED
      by Fr. Boris Kizenko

      And be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing
      of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and
      perfect will of God. (Rom. 12:2)

      Some time ago I accepted a parish that had many third- and
      fourth-generation émigrés: Just as had their fathers and grandfathers,
      these parishioners devoted a good deal of energy and money to the growth of
      their church, building an impressive modern-style edifice in a prosperous
      section of their city. They organized many social and profit-making events,
      kept their finances with a bookkeeping system that could have matched that
      of any reputable business, and in general seemed a model enterprise. Having
      spent all my years as a priest in relatively poor and small communities, I
      expected to welcome the material change.

      Very soon, however, the contradictions between form and content began to
      appear. No one came to vespers and matins services on Saturday nights,
      children were taken away for religious lessons from the Sunday Liturgy
      itself, and the bulletin's persistent "did you light a candle for, someone
      today?" began to sound more like a demand for money rather than a
      suggestion to remember the faithful in one's prayers. Our whole family
      began to feel part of an actors' troupe, coming out for performances at the
      scheduled times. The secular world of drama, however, can prove
      surprisingly moving on occasion, but religion here did not appear to offer
      even this satisfaction. Growing increasingly dismayed at the dearth of
      genuine spiritual life, I began to search for an answer.

      I did not have to look long. The members of the General Committee
      approached me themselves with what they, too, perceived as a problem. Just
      as I worried over their overlooking the forms of Orthodoxy--attending
      services, privately praying, keeping the fasts--so they felt concern over
      my preserving the forms. They wanted someone who could continue to lead the
      parish along the course it had developed for itself in isolation over the
      decades: integrating with modern society around it to satisfaction, it was
      a community of already well-established and upwardly mobile businessmen,
      both full of ambition and the desire to succeed, wanting a pastor and
      parish commensurate with the status they desired. And so they approached
      me, a man admittedly poorly versed in the' ways of the corporate world,
      with a specific request. Could I cut my hair and beard, wear a dark suit
      and collar instead of black robes? My appearance as an Orthodox priest
      struck too much of a jarring note; it did not fit in with their image of a
      proper leader. The classic ideal of an Orthodox pastor walking within those
      living on the earth as a reminder of the other world only disconcerted them
      as an awkward anachronism. I went home that night to think about my
      obligations both as their parish priest and as a servant of the Orthodox
      Faith, about form and essence, and realized several things.

      Why am I the way I am, I wondered. It is not because I am stubborn. It is
      possible that the modern way would even be more convenient for me. But I am
      Orthodox. It was my personal decision during World War II to serve God as
      an Orthodox priest, and appearance is an integral part of this.

      If we study Church history and the lives of our martyrs, we find that they
      often gave up their lives for Orthodoxy, even though sometimes nothing
      special was asked of them--only some incense in front of an idol, for
      example. They could have done that and remained orthodox at heart, going on
      to many good deeds. For some reason, however, they preferred to give up
      their lives so that generations to come would have an example of how to
      cherish this Orthodox Faith. Our faith is interwoven with traditions and
      customs, like a beautiful design. When one takes something out, it loses
      its completeness. And yet, if we look back over time, we will notice that
      instead of preserving Orthodoxy, we keep adjusting it to the times.

      In the time of St. John Chrysostom, the saint was concerned that people
      came to church, but did not take part in Holy Communion. Through the
      centuries, however, people grew used to this, and now they consider it odd
      if someone goes to Holy Communion very often. As the years went by, people
      started breaking the fast on Wednesdays and Fridays and other prescribed
      fasts. Later it became too much for them to attend services in the evening,
      so in many parishes they are omitted entirely. Later some decided that it
      was too hard to stand through the one service they did attend, so they have
      the pews. Sometimes people are ashamed to cross themselves in public, so
      they avoid it. In some parishes they have even changed the calendar, and
      who knows what other changes the times will demand. Future generations
      coming into a modern Orthodox church will well wonder what the difference
      is between the Orthodox Church and the Western churches, and why bother
      going to the Orthodox Church if it is like the one next door.

      We must be very careful. Do we want to be Orthodox in name only, or
      Orthodox in faith? Calling oneself Eastern Orthodox and feeling Orthodox
      within cannot be separated from being Orthodox in our actions as well. Our
      faith is many things, but it is above all a light illuminating all aspects
      of our life. It is both a miracle and the most natural thing in the world.
      The earth's ephemera will always flit past to catch our fancy, but it can
      only underscore the eternity of our faith. We can love the life Christ
      redeemed through His Resurrection, and we can love the life to come still
      more. As long as we are soul and body, creatures of both matter and spirit,
      we need to fulfill Orthodoxy's instructions on both. Let us rejoice in our
      unity within the Eastern Church, try to unite form and spirit, and "commit
      ourselves and one another and all our lives unto Christ, our God." Amen.

      taken from Orthodox America
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