Another day is half over here at the House of Studies and we’re approaching our final evening session tonight after Vespers and dinner. It really doesn’t feel like I’ve been here for a week already, but that might be because there was a definite break between the wedding and all its festivities and the House of Studies. It’s been wonderful so far, though.
We met in the chapel and pulled our chairs around His Grace, Bishop THOMAS who was to speak to us for the session. My first thought as we all gathered around him was that we were doing exactly the same thing that they did in the early Church. The bishop sat in the middle of the church on a chair and we gathered around him and listened to him speak and teach about a whole slew of topics that are important to the formation of priests and for life in a parish. The best part about listening to Bishop THOMAS speak about all of this stuff is that he knows exactly what he’s talking about and says it in a way that is straightforward and clear. He spent many years as a deacon, a number of years as a priest, and has been a bishop for about, oh, 6 years now. He’s also very approachable and knows what’s going on.
So with all our time with a bishop around it got me thinking about bishops in general and what they mean for us and our lives.
In the Orthodox Church one of the main jobs of the bishop is preaching. You can say what you want about the administrative side of their jobs but one of the most important things a bishop does is preach and teach his people how to work out their salvation and live a life in the Christ. The bishop is there for to communicate to us the grace of God and the love of God. The bishop is mystically acting as Christ himself in the liturgy and should therefore be treated as we would treat Christ himself. With the same love and respect and devotion. Too many people don’t treat their bishop like that.
They complain about them, they gossip about them, they actively work against them, they blog about them (that is perhaps the worst of all). To what end? God has given us bishops so that we might have a shepherd and guide in this life, someone who can communicate the truths of the Faith and bring us closer to God. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, especially anyone on the internet…
Love your bishop, listen to him, live in obedience to him for through obedience we have true freedom. It is easy to rebel, it is easy to be prideful, but it is difficult to be obedient. We all know this, so very well. At least I do, you’re probably better at being humble than I am. I mean, come on, I have a blog, I’m an organist, and a seminarian. It’s like the perfect storm of pridefulness.
We live in a world that teaches that self-reliance is all you need and that you, yourself, are the only person you can rely on. Well, sorry to tell you, but that is dead wrong. God is the only person we can trust to never fail us, ever. We fail all the time! Just think of how often we fall into the same sins over and over again. We must rely on God for all things and trust him in all things. If we do not trust that God will take care of us, like Christ speaks of in the Gospels, we can do nothing. Let me say that again, we can do nothing without God.
So. What do we do about this? How do we trust God? We build a relationship with him. We trust God in the same way as anyone else, we get to know him. We grow to love him and draw closer to him. How can you trust someone you don’t know? It’s silly. And the way to get to know God is through prayer, through the sacraments, through going to church, and, keeping with our earlier theme, through obedience to our bishop. This is how we build a relationship with God.
I’ll end with two things. Fr. Thomas Hopko was told by his mother as he went off to seminary. She said that no matter what, “Go to church, say your prayers, remember God.”
The second is something Bishop THOMAS said at our parish life convention this past summer. “”My Brothers and Sisters in Christ, listen to your priests as they receive the light from their bishop, and the bishop receives the light from his archbishop, and the archbishop receive the light from the patriarchs, and the patriarchs receive the light from the Apostles themselves.”
So I was talking to a friend of mine tonight and he made me realize I left out an important point. I’ll let him say it as he is more eloquent than I.
I think it’s important to remember that, while I’m not saying gossip about bishops is good, they are still people. Humans have free will, and even the fullness of the Holy Ghost doesn’t force you to be a good person. And therefore, there will be circumstances where we need to complain to/about bishops, as in any organization made up of humans. But, that does not contradict anything you’ve written. It’s just a qualifier.
The only thing that I would add to my friend’s comments (and I’m sure he’d agree) is that when those situations arise we must still address the bishop with filial love and respect, fully realizing that we are all fallible human beings.