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CWSMetropolitan Tikhon with Orthodox participants at CWS annual members’ meeting.

In a reflection delivered at the annual Members’ Meeting of Church World Service [CWS] at Saint James Episcopal Cathedral here in late October, His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon spoke of Orthodox Christianity’s monastic tradition and its relationship to the Church’s outreach to the hungry, the poor and the displaced.

Accompanying him was His Grace, Bishop Paul of Chicago and the Midwest. Also present were representatives of the Orthodox Church in America, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, the Coptic Church, and several non-Orthodox Christian traditions.

CWS was established in 1946, in the aftermath of the Second World War, as the relief, development and refugee assistance arm of the National Council of Churches of Christ, with a mission to feed the hungry and help those in need. In the late 1940s and 1950s, CWS was instrumental in the resettlement of countless Orthodox Christian refugees in the US, especially those from central and eastern Europe. The Orthodox Church in America, as Metropolitan Tikhon noted in his reflection, has been a CWS partner since 1950.

Highlights of Metropolitan Tikhon’s reflection appear below.

The Face of Christ:  A Missiological Reflection by Metropolitan Tikhon
Church World Service Member Meeting
Chicago, Illinois
October 28, 2016

What a joy it is to be with you this morning for the Annual Members Meeting of Church World Service and to gather in this wonderful place of prayer. We live in such a fast-paced, complex, confused and confusing world that it is very refreshing when we have the opportunity to be in church, to quiet our thoughts and to rediscover that all human hearts were created to be in communion with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and that it is especially through prayer that we can most directly hear Him and reach that deep place of the heart to truly be with Him.  And so I greet you with our traditional Orthodox greeting, “Christ is in our midst!” and its response, “He is and ever shall be.”

I was humbled when I received a letter from your President and CEO, Father John McCullough, with a request to offer this year’s missiological reflection. I had earlier met Father John when he came, along with Father Johncy Itty, to meet with me and the Officers of our Church at the Chancery of the Orthodox Church in America.  We gladly received from them a word about the important work that it being accomplished by Church World Service in the challenging mission of overcoming world hunger, of combatting poverty, and of addressing the increasingly urgent issues of global displacement.  We also shared some ways in which our Church has, in the past—and might more effectively in the future—cooperate with CWS in fulfilling our common goals.

The Orthodox Church in America has been a partner with CWS since 1950—not quite the fullness of your 70 years of exemplary service—but throughout those years, CWS has been instrumental in helping the Orthodox in many ways, such as the resettlement of Orthodox Christian war refugees and providing the model and inspiration for some of our sister Orthodox organization, including International Orthodox Christian Charities, which accomplishes much work in terms of global disaster relief and aid; the Orthodox Christian Mission Center; and the Fellowship of Orthodox Christians United to Serve, which recently has established a strong footprint in North American cities as a means of addressing homelessness, poverty and hunger.

We also are pleased to have some good representation from the Orthodox Church in America today, particularly His Grace, Bishop Paul of Chicago and the Diocese of the Midwest. Our Church’s connection with CWS has more recently been strengthened through the active personal participation of Protopresbyter Leonid Kishkovsky, our Director of External Affairs and Interchurch Relations, and Mrs. Arlene Kallaur, who also is with us today. Arlene, in particular, has not only faithfully attended CWS annual meetings, but has served on the Board of Directors of CWS. She continually offers her talents and service throughout the year in promoting the work of CWS and encouraging our parishes to participate in Crop Walk events and other CWS activities, such as the preparation of “Gift of the Heart” hygiene kits. Though this, our clergy and faithful have been drawn to employ their talents and to partner with CWS in doing the work that you do so well.

Doers of the Word

Like many of us here, I come from a family of refugees and immigrants. My father came to these shores from France to attend graduate school in Boston, where he met my mother. My mother’s family immigrated to this country in 1638, sailing from Ipswich, England to Hingham, Massachusetts on the good ship “Diligent.” My great-grandmother kept a family history and related many of her own personal stories from her days at the Dorchester Parsonage, at which the family custom was, at every meal, to have each member of the family recite a verse from the Scriptures. She relates the following story.

One of our friends, a Presbyterian minister, told Father about his little boy who had been teasing for a watch. He was told that he was too young for one and that he must stop talking about it, so the subject was dropped. Came Sunday morning and the good little boy had his verse all ready: “And what I say unto you I say unto all: watch!”  I share this little story because it is always good for us to be reminded of that watchfulness our Lord asked of His disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane—and of how difficult it sometimes is for us to remain close to our Lord.

It is humbling for me to stand before so many of my colleagues who have observed this watchfulness and attentiveness to our Lord Jesus Christ, have taken to heart the commandments, and have truly become “doers of the Word,” as the Holy Apostle James reminds us his epistle [1:22-25]: “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass. For he beholdeth himself and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed” [James 1:22-25].

We can see the importance of repentance in this passage, and repentance in the Orthodox Christian understanding speaks of a deep change, a transformation, a transfiguration of the person. The Apostle James characterizes those who are merely “hearers of the Word” as those who behold their natural face in a glass and then go on, without changing their ways.  But he characterizes the “doers of the Word” as those who continue in the perfect law of liberty—that is, those who live their lives in conformity to Christ, the perfect giver of that law of liberty, and have been changed in a profound way.

If we follow the imagery of the Apostle James, we could say that the difference between the “hearers” and the “doers” of the Word is like the difference between a naturalistic portrait of a saint and an icon of a saint, such as those that adorn our Orthodox churches. In a naturalistic portrait, the person depicted often seems lifeless. In fact, we are normally amazed and impressed when a portrait appears life-like. In an icon, on the other hand, there is a certain sense of movement and of life because an icon reflects the movement of repentance in a saint, the movement which turns a vessel of clay into a living fountain that reveals the glory of God.  This is our Orthodox understanding of sanctification—something that first takes place in the heart and later revealed in our actions, in our words and on our faces. The face is very important, isn’t it?

The Face of Christ

We live in a world that is very diverse and complex, often very ugly and frightening. It is not my intention to mention anything specifically about the global tragedies that are erupting not only in the Middle East and Africa, but in many other places of the world. Neither is it my intention to mention anything about the current presidential election in our own country. However, I did want to share with you a brief sentence that, to my mind, summarizes all of these things. It is a phrase from an advertisement in support the right to carry a gun. The person speaking gave many arguments in support of this, but it was when he said the following that I was greatly saddened. “I carry a gun because there are two types of creatures on this planet – predators and prey.”

I come to you today after attending, for several days, a gathering of the superiors of the monastic communities of the Orthodox Church in America at the Monastery of the Holy Transfiguration in Ellwood City, Pennsylvania, at which we had an eclectic group of monks and nuns. Some are from Alaska, the place where the Orthodox Church first took root on this continent. Others were from the hills of Pennsylvania, where immigrants from eastern Europe settled in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Some make candles or paint icons, while others teach in our seminaries, and still others raise German Shepherds and make cheesecakes. But all of them represent a bouquet of flowers, varied in their appearance and fragrance, yet each striving to become an image of Christ.

I was once told a story by a nun from one of our Orthodox monasteries in England, which was founded and guided by a venerable and wise man, Father Sophrony. She related to me how, at the conclusion of the solemn service at which she had taken her vows and had been clothed in the angelic habit, Father Sophrony called her into his office to offer her a word. Now, if you are familiar with the habit of our Orthodox nuns, you will know that it similar to what our Orthodox monks wear, very similar to what I am wearing today. But there is one difference between the habit of the monk and the habit of the nun, and that is that the head of the women is covered so that only the face is shown. So Father Sophrony called this nun into his office, he said to her, “Now you are a real human being because only your face is shown, and that face is the face of Christ.”  So it is not only important for us to always seek the face of Christ, but also to become like Christ ourselves, to change our own heart so that our very face reflects His glory….

The Church’s Mission

Saint Tikhon served as bishop in America from 1898 until 1907. He later became Patriarch of Moscow during the Russian Revolution, and he died as a confessor for the faith in 1925. He was a tireless missionary at a time of explosive immigration from Eastern Europe. At the same time. he was aware of and engaged with the surrounding American culture. He also understood how the Orthodox Church was viewed on the American religious scene. Many acknowledged its faithfulness to ancient Christian teaching. Yet, as Saint Tikhon himself observed in a sermon delivered at San Francisco’s Holy Trinity Cathedral in 1899, there were many who felt that “the Orthodox Church has become introverted, secluding itself from everything else, coming to a standstill at the freezing point; that life has come to a halt in it; that indeed it has become a lifeless church. At the least, some say, it does not possess the most important sign of vitality—namely, the spirit of missionary activity.”

On the surface, said Saint Tikhon, these judgments might appear to be true. But then he went on to speak about the humble spirit of Orthodox mission, which contrasts with much of the noisy activism and self-promotion sometimes associated with mission. “The most important fact,” Saint Tikhon continued, “is that the Orthodox Church conducts her missionary work quietly, with humility and reverence, being conscious of the powerlessness of man and the strength of God.”

Monastic Prayer and Charity

Our gathering in Ellwood City, Pennsylvania, held to consider how the monasteries might contribute to the Apostolic work of the Church, was inspiring for me, as the head of our Church. I have spent some time over the past several years praying and thinking about this question: what is the Apostolic work that we must undertake in our own day and age? How do we best fulfill this work The monastics remind us of the importance of being and of prayer.

If I were to offer a missiological prayer in the briefest form, it would be the following from a contemporary Orthodox saint, Silouan of Mount Athos: “I pray Thee, O merciful Lord, for all the peoples of the earth, that they may come to know Thee by the Holy Spirit.” Does this not contain the fullness of all that we hope to do as Christians or as organizations such as CWS?

In our liturgical hymns, Christ is often referred to as the Philanthropos—the “Lover of mankind”—or even as the “Only Lover of mankind.” This title for the Lord is the basis for our word “philanthropy.” I would like to speak about one particular saint who was known for his philanthropy—Saint John the Almsgiver, the Patriarch of Alexandria who lived in the first half of the seventh century. His biographer, Saint Sophronius of Jerusalem, writes that he “received that exceptional and glorious title [of Almsgiver] from his exceeding great goodness, which took Christ for its model.” Saint John was well known for his generosity and his wisdom in discerning the hearts of his flock. The following is but one of many stories that reveals both his generosity as well as his discernment.

One day, a stranger, noticing Patriarch John’s remarkable sympathy, decided to try him, so he put on old clothes and approached him as he was on his way to visit the sick in the hospitals.  “Have mercy upon me for I am a prisoner of war,” he said to the Patriarch, who responded by asking his purse-bearer to give him six gold pieces. The man then went off, changed his clothes, and met John again on another street.  Falling at his feet he said, “Have pity upon me, for I am in want.” The Patriarch again told his purse-bearer to give him six gold pieces. As he went away, the purse-bearer whispered in the Patriarch’s ear, “By your prayers, Master, this same man has had alms from you twice over!” But the Patriarch pretended not to understand. Soon the man came again for the third time to ask for money and the purse-bearer, carrying the gold, nudged the Patriarch to let him know that it was same man.  “Give him twelve gold pieces,” said Patriarch John, “for perchance it is my Christ, and He is making trial of me.”

This is a simple story, but it reveals that his actions went beyond the rational thinking of his purse-bearer, which is perhaps the same type of thinking that we have when we refuse to give alms because we think that the one who is asking will spend the money on drugs or alcohol or cigarettes. It should be something that informs us as we engage in the difficult work of looking into the faces of those who are displaced, those who are hungry, those who are in prison and those who are broken.

Saint Herman of Alaska—one of the original eight missionaries who began their ministry in Kodiak, Alaska in 1794—was an example of this. Concerning Saint Herman, a contemporary ascetic of our own day, Archimandrite Aemilianos of Simonos Petras Monastery, wrote the following.  “[Saint Herman] knew that if he wanted to spread Orthodoxy, and if he wanted himself to become rich, he would have to make himself small. If he wanted to become rich in the good things of God, then he himself would have to become poor. If he wanted to be first in the Kingdom of Heaven, he would be last here below. And thus, precisely for these reasons, he became a missionary and chose as his plan and method of missionary work not programs, not learned arguments nor worldly standards, but instead silence and the desert, silence and prayer. He had learned this from the Apostle Paul who, when Christ called him to go bring the message of the Gospel to the Gentiles, disappeared for almost eleven years in the deserts and in seclusion in order there to absorb the Holy Spirit and so have something to give to people. His prayer was his mightiest weapon. Fellowship with God was its result.”

Therefore I encourage you to remember that Church life and our mission involves two things: Orthodox Christian persons and an Orthodox Christian community, and these two components are inextricably linked. We are all persons, created in the image and striving to be in the likeness, of Christ. But we are only true and authentic persons when we are within a community. If we are not tied to a community, we are alone.

Monastic Witness

Among the saints commemorated today—October 28—on the Orthodox calendar is Saint Arsenios of Cappadocia, who lived from 1848 until 1924. He himself was a refugee, removed from Turkey with his Greek parishioners and compatriots in the 1923-1924 exchange of populations under the Treaty of Lausanne. (Incidentally, he was known for the power of his healing prayers and for helping everyone who came to him, including many Muslim Turks.) Many Greek immigrants in the United States trace their roots to this era, being refugees from Asia Minor. Many other Orthodox Christians in the US also look back to the difficult times their parents and grandparents faced as displaced persons, refugees and immigrants, coming to America after the Bolshevik Revolution, the First and Second World Wars, and most recently the violence devastating the Middle East. They know what it means to be a “stranger in a strange land” [Exodus 2:22].

In 1900, Saint Tikhon, to whom I referred earlier, was preaching at the ordination of a new priest in the San Francisco cathedral. He emphasized that missionary work is rooted in the spiritual life. “Remember that the success of pastoral labors does not depend so much on external activities,” he said. “Rather, it is the result of spiritual struggles and labors…. You will not inspire more good in someone else than you have in yourself’.” Saint Tikhon travelled tirelessly across the US and Canada, gathering the faithful of Orthodox immigrant backgrounds—Russian, Ukrainian, Serbian, Syrian, Bulgarian, Greek and others—and establishing missions. He defended the native Alaskan Orthodox population against the encroachments of Protestant missionaries who were dismissive of their language, culture and Orthodox Christianity in general. He also supported immigrant workers on their rightful claims for living wages and decent working conditions. In the California coal miners’ strike in 1902, many of the strikers were Orthodox Christian immigrants, and he advised them and their fellow parishioners to come together to assist each other. In an open letter he wrote, “The strike is still going on, our parishioners endure everything and become poorer…. But the saddest part of it is that even if an accord is reached… still it will be only temporary…. This means it will again become necessary to resort to a strike, and suffer again, and continue to live in poverty…. Why not establish a special fund specifically for the purpose of helping during strikes…? To start this good undertaking off, I am sending 100 dollars from myself to the Board of [the Mutual Aid Society]. May God grant it will be successful!”

Saint Tikhon knew that the immigrants often faced a hostile reception and had to endure prejudice and discrimination. Ten years after he had left the United States, Russian Orthodox parishioners were still being targeted. During the infamous East Saint Louis race riots of July 1917, the violence against blacks spilled over to immigrants.  A priest reported that a band of those rioting against Russian workers had shot at the church and parish house.  They had broken into the house, beat up the priest, stolen valuables, and having threatened him with murder, threw him out.

Saint Tikhon was equally conscious of Christian divisions. He was especially encouraged at that time by relations with the Episcopal Church. In November 1900, he attended the consecration of a new Episcopal Bishop in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. “It would be unnecessary to say to this honorable gathering how the division of Christians is unpleasant to Christ, yet pleasant to non-Christians—and how much it weakens our strength and our achievements,” Saint Tikhon said. “It is unnecessary to say this since the importance and holiness of the unification in Christ is deeply felt by all of you. And we, brethren, must not only pray for the desired hour when all of us would be one flock with One Pastor, Christ, to come as soon as possible, but we must ourselves make every effort and labor for this holy undertaking.”

Another example of ministry flowing from a transfigured heart is the current Archbishop of Albania, Anastasios, who labors in a country that had suffered one of the world’s worst persecutions under its former communist regime. When Archbishop Anastasios first came into that devastated country, there were only eight priests left, and the the Church had been completely marginalized from participating in any kind of liturgical worship or charitable activity. He came in as a foreigner, being Greek, and initially he was even marginalized by the Church in Albania. It took him many years to gain the population’s trust and acceptance.  But his love and compassion in rebuilding the Church in Albania became a shining light as to what can be done. He concentrated on building churches, schools, monasteries. Even now, Albania’s main monastery in Shen Vlash sponsors an orphanage in which abandoned children are taken in and given a new life. He also has overseen the building of health clinics and camps for refugees. This presents quite a remarkable vision of Christian love in action for all God places before us.