ORTHODOX THEOLOGICAL EDUCATION AND PARISH LIFE
Whenever we turn to the subject of Orthodox theological education and parish life we must agree that it is always timely, and today especially, it is the particular concern of the three great confessions of Christianity. Roman Catholics and Protestants alike seek a new kind of theology, which, they believe, will give an answer to the problems of the world. Whereas the Orthodox Church, emerging from a long period of inactivity, is beginning to reveal itself in a new perspective and is trying to define afresh its relations with the world.
But what is theology and what is its nature? Today, more than ever, we need to answer this question as clearly as possible. We also ought to explain what theology is not.
'Theology' must be confused neither with religious faith nor with academic theology. Of course, religious faith cannot be complete or clear without some measure of understanding of the realities of the faith on the part of the believer, nor without some approximation by the believers to the influences and spiritual challenges of their environment. But this is not theology for both presuppose conscious and systematic effort. Nor must theology be considered synonymous with academic theology which can be indifferent to the real content of the faith or even be atheistic. It is impossible for academic theology to be worldly of its mission without scholarship, which by the use of commonly accepted methods throws historical, psychological, moral and social light on the subject being interpreted. This manifold analysis of religious statements through theological discourse is the indispensable link between the ways of thinking, the problems and the needs of each age. Therefore, theological scholarship is indispensable; but, be that as it may, it is not the same as theology, for the latter has divine revelations as its starting point and as its guide, not only formally, but also essentially. The combination of the two factors of faith and theological study constitutes theology proper.
In general terms, the work of theology is exegetic: in essence it is nothing else but the development and interpretation of the original Kerygma, the theoretical expression of the Church's central reality about redemption in Christ. Therefore, we must say that theology's principal characteristics are twofold: first, the interpretation and elucidation of the faith and secondly the protection of the faith to every age — in the language which that age understands — and the defense of the faith against the attacks of the world. Both of these are impossible for theological scholarship without the element of 'faith'. To do its work, theology presupposes both, the existence of religious faith on the one hand, and of a scholarly theological science on the other. But one might immediately say that this is the work of Dogmatics or Apologetics. However, this is not so. Of course, dogmatic and apologetic theology are theologies of excellence, when Dogmatics is no longer confined to interpreting the Christian faith of past ages or when dogma is not only presented in the categories of the first six centuries, but also according to our way of thinking and when Apologetics is not used as a defense against shadow enemies or based on the naivety of others.
Having made these remarks about theology in general, we now need to consider a serious problem of contemporary Orthodox theology, to wit, the problem of the relationship between school theology and liturgy, a problem first recognized by the late Fr. Alexander Schmemann in the 1970s. Fr. Schmemann stressed that theology and liturgy in the Orthodox Church were in deep crisis which was mainly provoked by the rupture produced between theology and liturgy in the post-patristic period. The authentic and healthy relationship that exists (according to the Fathers) between Christian theology and the liturgy as an experience sui generis of the Church was destroyed chiefly by western scholastic theology. Under its influence this relationship was also compromised in the Orthodox Church with serious consequences for the life of the Church in general.
Now, let us examine the constituent elements of this crisis of relations between Orthodox theology and liturgy, according to Fr. Schmemann's analysis and how it is manifested today. Whatever its 'key' or orientation may be, — said Fr. Schmemann — Orthodox theology seems to be deeply alienated from the Church, its life and needs. Although it is taught in official church schools, its influence on students disappears often on the day of graduation. It is understood as an intellectual game, ignored completely by the people of God, clergy and laity alike. Today in our church professional theologians are a kind of 'lumpen proletariat' and, what is even more tragic, they seem to be happy with this situation. Theology is no more a consciousness or awareness of the Church, its reflection about itself and its problems. It has ceased to be pastoral and fails to give to the people of God the knowledge of Him which is the true content of eternal life. It is a theology alienated from the Church and a Church alienated from the theology: this is the first dimension of the crisis today.
Concerning liturgical crisis Fr. Schmemann describes it in the following terms: nominalism, minimalism, and lack of influence on the actual life of Christians. Liturgical nominalism implies that the forms and rites, initially expressing the existential spiritual experience of the Church frequently remain mere forms, deprived of content, because of the want of such experience in the liturgical and practical life of the Church and of Christians today. Minimalism is an assortment and abstract reduction in the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church consistent with the criteria, which have nothing to do with the lex orandi of the Church. The first feature of this crisis is the increasing nominalism of liturgical life and practice. Despite a seeming conservatism and even archaism, it is difficult to understand this practice as the expression of a genuine lex orandi of the Church. Whole and essential layers of liturgical tradition, whilst being faithfully preserved in the liturgical books, gradually disappear from the practice, or are symbolically preserved and transformed so that it is no longer possible to recognize them. In the Eucharist and Sacraments, liturgical cycles and celebrations of feasts, rites of benediction and sanctification of life, we find everywhere the same scenario: only some elements are retained, while others are rejected. The selection, however, of what is to be retained is not based on the lex orandi, but on considerations utterly foreign to them.
According to Fr. Schmemann, the liturgy remained the home, the sancta sanctonun of the Church; it is the principal, if not the sole occupation of the Church. However deeper study manifests here also a very serious extremity which cannot be solved with unduly quick and superficial liturgical reforms, although many are in favor of them.
However, of greater severity — Fr.Schmemann continues — is the fact that the liturgy, whilst being central among the activities of the Church has practically lost its links with the other aspects of Church life. It stopped to inform, to mould and to guide the ecclesial consciousness and consciousness and the world-view of the Christian community. One can be profoundly attached to the ancient and colorful rites of Byzantium and Russia, to see in them precious relics of the past, to be conservative in liturgical questions and at the same time to be unable to see in them within the entirety of the Leitorgia of the Church a vision of life embracing everything, a power allowing to judge, to inform and to transform the totality of the existence, a philosophy of life shaping and challenging all our ideas, actions and attitudes. As in the case of theology, one can mention also an alienation of the liturgy from life — the life of the Church and individual Christians. The liturgy is limited by the temple, but outside this sacred place it has no influence or power. All other church activities — be it on a parochial or even diocesan level, are based more and more on merely secular presuppositions and reasons, as well as different philosophies of life adopted by declared Christians. The liturgy is neither explained nor understood as having something to do with the 'life' as being a 'type' of this new life which is to challenge and renew 'the old life' in and around us. A liturgical pietism, supported by sentimental and pseudo-symbolical liturgical rites, lends in fact to a growing secularism, spreading out everywhere. In the understanding of the faithful the liturgy became first of all something sacred per se, thus making the real life which begins outside the sacred doors to look even more 'profane'.
This double crisis of theology and liturgy set out above, is presented as a contradiction between the foundations and the life which should be grounded on these foundations. The life of the Church — according to Fr. Schmemann — was always rooted in the lex credenti, the rule of faith, theology in the deepest sense of the word; and also in the lex orandi, the rule of the prayer, the leitourgia, which always makes the Church what it really is, the Body of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit. Today, nevertheless, an alarming estrangement of the 'real' Church from its two foundations of life is being rapidly manifested.
In order to remedy this condition, two things are necessary: a liturgical criticism of theology and a theological criticism of the liturgy. This means that theology should become liturgical, not in the sense that liturgy shall be the only 'object' of studies, but in the sense that the ultimate criterion in the faith of the Church as it is manifested and communicated in the liturgy, is this vision of catholic (global) experience, which is lacking in theology because of its alienation from the liturgy.
Indeed, under the spell of western post-patristic theology Orthodox theological schools accepted, most frequently without any serious criticism, the western manner of organization of theological education as autonomous disciplines, leading to an atomization of theology.
If, in the Roman Catholic Church, this atomization is mastered through the principle of a hierarchical magisterium, understood as an external authority for theology, in the Orthodox Church this atomization can be subdued only when theology is rooted in the leitourgia of the Church, which is a global vision of its lived faith. Thus, theology is always an invitation to taste and see, a proclamation and a pledge, carried out in communion, a vision of life. Scriptural exegesis, and historical analysis and doctrinal studies ultimately join in the celebration and prepare it: it is an act of witnessing the mystery and of participating in it, in this 'epiphany' of life, of light and of knowledge without this all words remain inevitably "human- all-too-human".
But all of this assumes a conversion not only of theological methods, but also of the theologian himself, who after adopting the prestige of the discipline and intellectual integrity, and after adopting that humility which characterizes any rational and genuine endeavor, should learn how to enter the arena of the Church. He must rediscover the most ancient language of the Church, the language of the leitourgia. He must become not only a student of the faith of the Church, but first of all its witness.
Having mentioned in passing the global experience of the liturgy, we ought to dwell further on the' globalization of Orthodox theological education. Globalization is the Church's universal mission to evangelize the world. It involves to a large degree ecumenical co-operation between the various manifestations of the Church throughout the world, dialogue and co-operation between Christianity and other religions and solidarity with the poor and oppressed in their struggle for justice. Several positive steps have been taken so far and their furtherance is hoped to contribute much more in the future. They include:
a) Missionary movement: certain countries with few priests have been provided with priests from countries abroad which have more. This fosters a globalization of Orthodox theological education — countries like the United States, Greece, Finland, and others have provided missionaries for African countries.
b) Ecumenical movement: This has been the off spring of the missionary enterprise. There have been many missionary conferences and organizations in order to discuss how far the Orthodox Church has gone in seeking unity among the world's Churches and this has helped the other Churches, and the Orthodox in particular, to be aware of the other's distinctiveness.
c) Another way that the globalization of Orthodox theological education has been achieved is through the study of world religions and the development of academic and theological inter-faith dialogue. World religions here means a recognition of other faith not simply as the local circumstances faced by missionaries but as traditions with a global sweep and power. It is only when the Orthodox Church begins to study and understand the teachings of other religions that she will be able to globalize her education.
d) Another point concerning the globalization of Orthodox theological education is the struggle of Christians against racial and economic injustice, political oppression and discrimination. In such a struggle, Christians find themselves in solidarity with others across religious and ideological boundaries. This would help more people to engage with religion; a good example is the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya.
e) Radio programs: through the radio, Orthodox theological education can reach almost all comers of the world.
However, there are several problems facing the globalization of Orthodox theological education. The principal ones are:
iii) Interpretation of the teachings of Orthodox theology to people of other denominations;
iv) Human relations and co-operation between priests and lay people;
v) Catechism by lay people;
vi) Language, and especially liturgical translations into local languages. But, since our topic is 'Orthodox Theological Education and Parish Life', we ought to define what a parish is. A parish is the smallest unit of Christians within the Church under the pastoral care of a priest. It may also mean or refer to a local Christian community or even a local Church. Here we shall use the word 'parish' to refer to a local Church. The first historical reference to the term 'parish' (enoria) comes from a letter of St. Gregory of Nyssa (4th century A.D.) to Flavian: 'And somebody having made known that he lived near the parish of the hills...'(P.G.46,1001A). In this text a distinction is made between the terms 'parish' and 'church' the latter being identified with the term 'diocese'. St. Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis in Cyprus uses the term 'parish' to mean a small area where Christians were living: 'he lived in the parish of Eleftheroupolis in Jerusalem, near Hebron'(P.G.41,677C). What we call a parish nowadays was in New Testament times expressed by 'Church', the division of the one local Church under a Bishop into 'parishes' under presbyters is a much later phenomena. Most theologians agree that the Church developed in two stages, namely, as an organization and as a body of believers. As an organization, it held beliefs, celebrated the sacraments, and was run by leaders. This organizational level has Jesus as its basis.
As a human community the Church is centered on Jesus of Nazareth, the one who lived and died and was raised from the dead. Because Jesus is a divine figure, then it is right to say that His Church is of divine origin. Its formation was God's initiative. The people who constituted the Church were called by God, The term 'Church' derives its meaning from Hebrew, Greek and Latin words.
The Church as community came into being out of a common interest. People sought to associate themselves with others who shared the same interests. Eventually they set up institutions or organizations to realize their goals. All this was based on the person of Jesus.
Jesus' teachings drew people and aroused their interest in Him. They were enriched by their experience of the person, life and fate of Jesus of Nazareth and their spirits were magnified by His Spirit. Also, Jesus', teachings and deeds drew people together, seeking one another's company and associating themselves with one another especially at times of prayer. Moreover, those who were interested in Jesus availed of whatever structures or institutions would help them understand Him better. If Jesus had not instituted a community, it would quite literally have founded itself.
With the knowledge that both the Church and the parish are constituted by the people, this has many important applications. There are four important elements that play a vital role in the life of a parish.
First, the knowledge about Jesus revealed in the teachings of the parish. There are various sources, such as the New Testament the symbolic teaching in the Divine Liturgy and the dogmas and doctrines held by Church.
Secondly, within the parish we have the so-called 'participants'. These are the real lights of the parish, provided they participate wholly in the eternal salvation of mankind through radiating God-given virtues, which enable them to be good Christians. All parish members, including the priest, should strive to follow Jesus.
Thirdly, we, as members of a parish or of the Christian community in general, have been commissioned to serve the parish in any capacity, even if we have not received the sacrament of Holy Orders. This brings us to the proper understanding of the role of the laity in the parish.
The fourth point to note is that people should view a parish as their family or community of which they are members. Certain problems in the parish may arise, but that does not deprive anyone of being an equal and full member of his/her parish.
The sacrament of Holy Orders has occasionally been misunderstood by many Christians in the Church. This is because the other sacraments, namely, Baptism, Chrismation, Confession and the Eucharist seem to have overshadowed it. But it, should not be forgotten that without the sacrament of Holy Orders, it would be virtually impossible for the other sacraments to be received. Without the Bishops, Priests and Deacons no church can function.
Baptism, as entry into the Church, is the first of all the sacraments. It is the first stage of a person's initiation into the Church, and this official entry into the Church is its first aim and effect. It is also a sacrament of remission of sins. Though the sacrament can be administered, in extreme circumstances, of course, by any Christian, the most appropriate person to administer it is a Bishop or a priest.
It is rather difficult to distinguish between the significance and the effects of baptism and Chrismation, since even in the early Church they were administered together. Nonetheless, the sacrament of Chrismation emphasizes especially the bestowing of the Holy Spirit on the initiate.
Membership in the Church means full participation in the Eucharist offered on behalf of all. The Eucharist is not just a simple meal, it is a family table for those who belong to the community of Christians, the Church or parish. This participation in the Holy Eucharist is symbolic of sharing family life with its common concerns. Participation in the holy sacraments being companionship in parish life and partners in the tasks therein.
The parish ought to he a body that serves the community. It has been a common misconception that only those ordained have this task. We must realize however that the task of service is the one that brings into partnership the clergy and the laity.
The 'unity of believers' is the expression I may use in order to bring out the element of partnership in the Church's ministry. The Church cannot function without this unity. Everyone is called to be a partner in the Church's ministry only through unity, that is, when the Church is functioning as one body.
The Church is the body of Christ, it is a community of people who wish to imitate and follow Jesus, their Saviour. In I Corinthians, St. Paul uses the imagery of the Church as the body of Christ, functioning as a human body, because the Church is made up of many members, each one having a different function to perform. But this image brings or refers to an intimate living union, which Paul saw as existing between the Church and its head, the risen Christ.
Since Jesus stood in the world as the One Who serves, it follows that the Church being the community which is centred around Him, must be seen to be a serving community, one committed to performing a service.
Indubitably the clergy have their own special role in carrying out the Church's ministry, but in the long run, it is also the duty as well as the responsibility of all members who have received the sacraments of baptism, Chrismation, Confession and the Eucharist to involve themselves.
The mission of Christ is summed up in the Galilean ministry as related by St. Matthew the Evangelist. He says that Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in the synagogues, preaching the Good News of the Kingdom and healing every disease and sickness among the people (Mt. 4:23). Based on this, it would be right to say that Jesus came to bestow the Kingdom of the Father on earth so that the wounded, the neglected and the despised would recover their human dignity. That dignity was lost, when, as a result of sin, man became alienated from God. So, by restoring the relationship between man and God, Jesus restored men to the dignity that was theirs prior to the fall.
Since the earthly ministry of Jesus focused on the sinful and even on the outcasts, His whole life was spent associating with such people. That was not because He condoned sin, it was rather as a result of compassion, of a need to know the suffering of others, of a desire to solve their problems that He had to associate with them. This compassion was expressed in His work of healing, of forgiveness, of sharing meals with those broken and hurt. In this way His ministry became an invitation to enter in faith into a companionship with God, an offer of salvation imparted by God.
The Kingdom that Jesus served was a Kingdom of situation rather than of territory. It was the situation in which God not evil, reigned. This is why Jesus always declared that He was doing the will of Him who sent Him. The Kingdom or situation for which Jesus worked and which He served was actually one in which the human community in its fullest reality existed that is the Church, the parish. It was one of real companionship, companionship among people together with God.
Through the sacrament of baptism all members of the Church are called to service. Moreover, the Church being the body of Christ has an obligation to be at the service of the reign of God in the world. This ministry should extend far outside the Church building and the liturgy into all areas of life which affect the community.
The ministry of the Church extends beyond proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom. It should imitate Jesus as the Servant presenting the face of compassion and confronting all issues affecting the manner of life in a parish. The Church needs a diversity of gifts and talents and a whole community of people using these gifts together as partners in the service of the Kingdom. We should have members who deal with the sick and the aged and who visit those in prison. Some who work with the young and make them grow in the faith. Some to be involved with married couples, etc. When people use their gifts in these ways the local Church will really be the body of Christ in today's world.
There is a need for gifts and talents in the Church to be cultivated, recognized and also timed, since some of them change according to age: the gifts that a young person brings to the community will most likely be different from those of a retired person, What is important is that each one sees Baptism, as a call to service in the Kingdom of God, that each one understands what that Kingdom means and that by each God uses in its service whatever gifts have been bestowed upon one by God.
The parish Liturgy has to be related to and be in continuity with the life of the parish. When celebrated, it is in other words futhering the reign of God in that place. The Liturgy is the summit of Church life, it is the celebration of life in the Church; without it parish life will be boring. The liturgical life of the Church should be a source of experience and theological witness. In the words of St. Irenaeus of Lyon, 'Our doctrine confirms the Eucharist which in its turn confirms our doctrine. In the Eucharistic Liturgy the Church manifests itself as the eucharistic consciousness of the entire cosmos.
When using the example of a parish in ancient Corinth, we do not actually borrow its plan for organizing contemporary parish life. Rather, the life of that Church captures for us something from the atmosphere and the spirit which pervaded it, and in this way inspires us in our vision for the parish today. The spirit in the Corinthian parish was very much that of a ministering community and a community of ministers. Yet it was engulfed in trivial issues concerning ranks and the gills of the Holy Spirit. St. Paul had to be firm and clarify the situation by using symbolic images, like that of the body. Four points are brought out very clearly by St. Paul.
The first deals with the diversity of functions, Paul makes it clear that the well-being and effectiveness of the Church in a place like Corinth depends on many people performing many different functions in a coordinated way (I Cor. 12:4-28).
The second is mutual respect which the official leaders of the Church must practice. Because the Church is a body it would be wrong for some members to disregard the others as insignificant.
The third deals with self-regard. Despite the fact that some members, for example the priests, have important functions to perform, still they cannot be whole in everything. (I.Cor. 12:17).
Finally the fourth concerns irresponsibility or opting out of responsibility. (I Cor. 12: 15 -16).
The oneness of the body is guaranteed in its fractions through the diversity of its organs — this is Paul's model for life in the Church of Corinth, and indeed in any parish. Paul focuses mainly on service rather than rank and on action rather than office in the community. But when Paul was concerned with these issues he had in mind that fellowship through the liturgy was a way of life in the community.
The priest, as a member of the Christian community, is an equal partner in the ministry of this calling as are other members from the time of their calling, that is Baptism. The priest is the official preacher of the Word of God. He administers the sacraments, officiates at funerals and generally is the one who blesses in the name of the Church. A priest cannot do any of these functions without receiving the sacrament of ordination to this priestly ministry; yet he is sometimes assisted by the deacon, and where we have a shortage of ministers (something we experience often in East Africa), lay people may exercise some of his functions. This does not imply that in this case he fails to be the official leader of the parish; rather, he acts in the capacity of overall official leader and coordinator in the parish.
The priest is above all, the pastor of the local Church. He shepherds the rational flock, being shepherded himself at the same time, by the only true Pastor, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd. Besides which, the sheep that the priest cares for are not his own but Christ's. 'Feed my sheep', said the risen Lord to the apostle Peter. This commandment is the basis of spiritual guidance, which is the process of salvation: purification from passions, illumination by the sanctifying and saving grace of the Holy Spirit and union with God in the uncreated Light of the Heavenly Kingdom (theosis). This work, unique and eternal, requires absolute commitment and continuous care. Hence, St. Paul says that pastors 'watch for our souls, as men who must give an account' (Heb. 13:17).
Accordingly the parish priest exercises the role of spiritual father of the community in the sacrament of Confession. He is given the respect of an elder in the community, the members of which he should endeavor to reconcile with God.
When dealing with the community in which the priest is a leader, his major task is to inspire and coordinate the activities in the parish. He should oversee his parish and aim at maintaining unity within it. He also must have a vision in his service to draw out draw upon and draw together the gifts and talents and leadership qualities in the parish. In this way he will be an equal partner in parish life.
Many challenges will face the priest as a leader in the parish. To start with, there is the participatory style of leadership which involves inviting people, promoting group discussion, listening to various issues and afterwards having to clarify them, identifying a lack of information, reminding the group off its agreed mandate. Consequently, the priest ought to be sincere, respectful and willing not only to teach, but also to learn.
The Divine Liturgy is of paramount importance in the life of the local church, as it contains the mystery of our faith. The celebration of the Eucharist is the supreme ecclesial celebration of the risen Christ and of communion with Him. In the celebration of the Eucharist, the Church becomes par excellence the body of Christ and the experience of the coming Kingdom. Now, the reason the local church needs to express and to celebrate its identity is that more often than not, it is made up various people or families with different preoccupations and concerns. Thus, in order to bring out this most needed identity everyone must be together for an occasion.
Parish members can express their identity as the Church through common projects, the founding of the parish and especially through the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. The Holy Eucharist recalls for us the birth of the Church through its founder, Jesus Christ, and the handing over of Jesus instructions to celebrate the Supper in His remembrance. In this way we are reminded of belonging to the one body with the same interest and therefore of needing to associate with one another. When sharing or celebrating this holy meal, we actually bring about companionship a demonstration of shared life in the service of the Kingdom.
If our faith is to he united, it is desirable for us to understand and to appreciate one another in thought and deed. It is wrong to believe that we are able to anticipate the needs of those unknown to us. Therefore, a serious and intended dialogue is needed among all the faithful to comprehend the oneness in which they partake, yet still recognize and respect the diversity of Orthodoxy.
A very enlightened writer, who participated in preparing 'A Light on Our Path — Pastoral Contribution to the Synod for Africa', says people have their own deeply traditional ways of praying, of speaking to God, of relating to God. All these should enrich their Christian life. Communities have their traditional ways of receiving people into the community, their rites of passage, whether naming, passing to adult status, marriage and family rites. In the trusting atmosphere of a small community, it is possible to reflect on these ways and see which of them or what elements should be incorporated into Christian life. Communities have their own ways of reconciling when there has been offence or conflict. Why not incorporate these ways, full of meaning for people, into their practice of sacramental reconciliation?
For the Word of God is living and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit and of joints and marrow, and it is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12).
Theological education and pastoral life must extend its influence and create an awareness in every community of others around them. There should be a growth of knowledge, a deepening of understanding in other faiths and creeds in order to build a true and graceful co-existence and to exhibit a real love for one another. The story of the Good Samaritan illustrates how a good man loved a stranger, one not of his own, and in so doing he showed his love for God. We have the case of the Church in Africa where there are local African religions and Islam. This is not a precondition for war but for mutual recognition, respect and love in a peaceful coexistence. In a one-to-one examination of our respective creeds, we shall most likely find more in common than things distinctly dissimilar and incompatible.
Through closer ties with others in the world community, strides can be made in resolving conflicts in the world and overcoming the economic and social abysses which separate so many in the depths of hopeless, poverty and indifference to the plight of human suffering, whether in the undeveloped or in developed countries. Many of the ills of mankind come from a lack of determination an ignorance of, and weakness of faith in God, to adhere to the Beatitudes which sum up the suffering of mankind.
'Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who morn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those, who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall he satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the poor in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are those peacemakers, for they shall called sons of God. Blessed are the persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you and say all manner of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for they so persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Mt. 5:3-12).
No separation can be made from the Truth of Christ which is the very basis of theological education and pastoral life. Without a living commitment to the Word, there is no theology and no pastoral life, only a void of eternal nothingness.
The African Perspective
'Then he called his twelve disciples together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases. He sent them to preach the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick. And He said to them 'Take nothing for the journey, neither staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money and do not have two tunics a piece. Whatever house you enter, stay there and from there depart. And wherever they will not receive you of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet against them' (Luke 9:1- 5).
Such was the commandment of our Lord Jesus Christ to His disciples who were inspired by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to be the Apostles of Christ's Way. From that day down to the very day in which we live, Apostolic succession has retained its vitality in Orthodox tradition and faith. Throughout history, keepers of Tradition have helped to record, clarify and organize the faith as we know it today. Theology is the study of God and religion in relationship to mankind. In the case of the Eastern Orthodox Church, theology is more than dogma, rituals, canons, customs it is the living Way of Christ. One cannot reduce Orthodox theology to a sacred science to be protected by the few and kept secret from the many.
'Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lamp stand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven (Mt. 5:15-16).
Yes, Orthodox theology is like a light-reflecting diamond. It has many aspects and many facets, yet it remains the diamond it is. Since Orthodoxy is a living faith, its teaching must be within the existence and context of the, learner, the believer. Orthodox Theology is neither the property, nor the prerogative of the scholar or the academic It is an essential part of the very belief of the faithful, no matter if they be literate or not.
'Having been built on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, and in whom you also being built together for a dwelling place of God in the spirit'(Eph. 2:20-22).
The light of the faith is for all and it must be understood by all, whether clergy a laity.
"That they may be all one, as You, Father, are in me and I in you, that they may also be one in us, that the world may believe You sent me. And the glory which You gave me, I have given them, that they may be one just as we are one. I in them, and You in me, that they may be made perfect in one, and the world may know You have sent me and have loved them as You have loved me."(John 17:21-23).
The subject of this discourse is Orthodox Theological Education and Parish life, with emphasis upon Orthodoxy in East Africa I Vet. 4: 1 0 will he our guideline. "As each one has received a gift, minister to one another as good stewards of the mainfold grace of God."
The essence of theological education world wide must be the same: the imitation of Christ is an eternal, unchangeable truth, pure and clear. However conditions and circumstances are not the same throughout the world. This therefore, presents challenges and opportunities to theological education and from it to parish life in different manners and alternative modes. Central to theological education is the training and preparation for the priesthood.
"You also as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ." (I Pet. 2:5)
In many parts of the world, there is a cosmetic interest in theology. People study to learn about religion, no more, no less. It becomes an academic subject and perhaps satisfies an aesthetic taste. People like this have luxury of learning, yet no commitment to what is acquired by learning.
It is important to examine the kind of institution which should be designed to meet the needs of the Orthodox Church, regardless of its setting. There are many commonalities, the most foundamentat being of course the praxis of Jesus Christ, the ultimate point of reference.
The four points of the Holy Cross together comprise the star of direction: liturgia, martyria, koinonia and diakonia. Whatever else may be included in theological education, these four crucial points must be the center piece from which all else radiates. There exists no Orthodoxy without these truths of the faith. Briefly, liturgia is the public worship of the priest and people. It is to praise God and to celebrate the Holy Eucharist with God and with all the people. It is a critical dimension of the whole praxis of the Orthodox Church.
Martyria is witness both in the sense of the personal action of an individual and communal action. It is an expression of both word and deed.
Koinonia is communion. The ecclesiastical community comes into unity and harmony with the human community. It involves the active participation of all, laity and clergy, and it is a commitment to collective responsibility. Its most valuable tool is dialogue among its members in search of the will of God; an instance of sharing different views and experiences of human interactions.
Diakonia is service. This is not confined to charity as so often it is seen today, where lip service, or nodding condescension towards a 'cause' is paid, but it is rather an experience of real evangelization based on a commitment to imitate Christ, through justice, human liberation and caring.
What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith, but does not have works'? Can such faith save him? If a brother or sister, is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them: 'Depart in peace, be warm and filled but you do not give them the things that are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself if it does not have works, is dead (James 2:14-17).
If the above are the reference points of our faith, then, what kind of people do we seek to prepare for the royal priesthood? What criteria are essential to appropriate selection? Here, again, there is a common tie in the pan-Orthodox world. The qualities sought are the same. The prospective candidate for the seminary and future priesthood must have the following credits:
He must have a living faith, made alive by the Holy Spirit and grounded in Jesus Christ. He must be committed to Christ and convinced to his core that he gives himself, totally and unconditionally to Christ. He must have accepted Christ. This does not mean he is the perfect Christian, because such a Person does not exist, but he must be willing to struggle towards Christian perfection. He must realize that the seminary theological institution is not a stepping stone on a ladder of social advancement or economic security. It is a place of preparation for returning to the world to be a living example of the life of Christ and of becoming the means of manifesting His Light to others. A guideline might be:
'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me, to preach the gospel to the poor, he has sent me to heal the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord' (Luke 4:18-19).
There are certain considerable drawbacks in planning for serious priestly training, especially in the developing world. Often, the human resources available to the seminary are few and sometimes limited in their range of contribution toward the training of priests. While some teachers may be very well qualified in their own fields, others may not the latter frequently fill gaps, but the effect of their teaching may be more than if they had not taught at all. Sometimes, preparing for the priesthood, the candidates are kept so far removed from real life, that while they can operate within their own little world, they are unsuited for the world of reality. Owing to limitations in their religious training, they are incapable of living and working in the underdeveloped world, either as priests or laymen. There are those who seek the priesthood in order to escape from the world and while in the seminary they may be exemplary candidates, they cannot exist outside.
The desire and vocation to imitate Christ usually begins in the family and more broadly in the childhood environment. If the family takes active and constructive initiatives in the praxis of Orthodoxy, the child will do likewise. If the parish priest is in the truest sense a priest, then this vocation grows and the light begins to shine. The parish priest has an important role to play through encouragement teaching and understanding. Generally though not always the first witness to the suitability of a candidate to the seminary is the parish priest.
Situations and circumstances vary from place to place. Here in Africa, the situation is compounded by many handicaps. Not all African families are Christian, nor even united in the same denomination. In some families each member belongs to a different sect. Parish priests are relatively few in number. They are not able to achieve the closeness necessary to guide and to counsel a young man towards a religious vocation. The youth associations are unevenly distributed and of varying degrees of advancement or development to be any help. So great is the extent of poverty and the lack of employment that the youth are driven by force of survival to seek even their daily bread in the seminary. They lack nurturing in their faith, they are motivated by survival, rather than by belief, to seek nourishment within the confines of the seminary. It is a very complex task to identify the candidate who has a true vocation to the sacred priesthood.
Further complications arise in a patriarchal seminary in a continent as large as Africa, since there is among the candidates a wide variety of languages, ethnic and cultural backgrounds and also different levels of faith. This alone requires new perspectives as one must regard each candidate with a sense of social justice and equality and deal with him not only as a person, but also as a members of an ethnic group. Since many of the candidates come from such varied social, ethnical, political and economic backgrounds, one must examine each one individually and try to see how he can adjust to a fresh and mixed situation or experience which is totally new, without any previous standards to go by "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love (Gal. 5:6).
It is therefore imperative that those involved in the moulding of the priesthood herein Africa must have a deep understanding of the mix of cultural backgrounds, only then can the candidates come to understand that their ethnic identity does not hamper, nor deny their priesthood because Christ's love pervades all. This is not a simple matter, which can easily be dismissed.
"But speaking the truth in love, that we may grow up in all things into Him who is the Head — Christ — from Whom the whole body joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love" (Eph. 4:15-16).
Each candidate or prospective priest is a unique person, unlike any other. He has a name and a face. This is sometimes forgotten or relegated into an obscure comer because the essence and appearance of the priesthood overshadows it.
If someone says, I love God and hates his brother, he is a liar, for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? (I Jn. 4:20).
Ordained and unordained ministries have to be recognized.
"And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labour among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you" (I Thes. 5:12).
It is very important to recognize each person as a unique entity, not a replica. The ordinand's vocation must be nurtured in his period of training and preparation. He must be disciplined and he must learn self-discipline. The discipline must be clearly understood to be effective in moulding the character. Self-discipline must have a purpose which is positive and productive. The spiritual father/guide and his spiritual child must make manifest this teaching vis-a-vis their relationship and their relation as one with God.
"Therefore as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, long suffering, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if anyone has complaint against another, even as Christ forgave you, so you must also do" (Col. 3:12-14).
It is an absolute necessity that spiritual direction be made available in order to encourage prospective seminary candidates and candidates for the priesthood. The spiritual father must have in abundance such qualities as intellectual competence, spiritual and doctrinal foundations, a psychological fitness and a true dedication to Christ. They must be perpetually in motion in the living charity of Christ. Such a spiritual father is better able to understand himself in a mature and believing manner. The Ministry of the Word, the Holy Gospel, is a central part of the priesthood and whilst meaning and understanding are important in order to interpret for the flock what Christ imparts, it is critical that the candidate be able to deliver a sermon in a positive and constructive way, in a context of meaning to the listener who will take up the Word and pass it on to others. Some of the finest sermons on paper turn into a fiasco when delivered because the speaker does not know how to communicate. The technicalities of public speaking cannot be ignored. In the study of Holy Scripture, questioning must be encouraged, not as a weapon of opposition to the teaching, but as a means to clarify true understanding. For example, Psalm 22(23) "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in a green pasture ", if this text is delivered as it is to the people of Greece, where shepherds have been a reality throughout their history, then the text has a meaningful portrayal of what is presented. However, what happens to one who lives on an island in a tropical sea, where no sheep have ever existed. What does it mean to lie in a green pasture to him who lives in the brown desert? A teacher needs to find a way to interpret this beautiful psalm, retaining its vital message, but within the framework of understanding by the one who hears and who is to be nourished.
The minister of the faith, the priest, should himself be a master of prayer. Praying is not done only in formal worship but also in private. The priest who leads a life of prayer sets an example for those who follow him and leads them to pray, both formally and informally. Prayer is suitable to all times and in all said places. Prayer is within the Liturgy, Vespers, or Matins, but one can pray at any time, for "example while scrubbing a floor, digging in a field, harvesting fruit, or caring for a baby, or the sick. Prayer is the living expression of the Word.
The pastor of the parish must be fully responsible for the care of the flock to which God entrusted him, by the laying on of hands. He must he accountable for both himself and his people.
"Shepherd the flock of God which is among you serving as overseers not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain, but eagerly, not as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not-fade away" (I Pet. 5:2-4).
The believers must be taught their role in this life in Christ, through the Holy Eucharist and the Holy Scripture, but in real terms, not in terms beyond their understanding.
"Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account, let them do so with joy, and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable to you." (Heb. 1 3:17).
The Good Shepherd in the manner of Jesus Christ, is a master of dialogue and respect whether with the greatest in the land, or the very least. He must stand for and defend human dignity. The Good Shepherd must be taught skills of good leadership. The key guideline is Christ's directives through his disciples and apostles. "Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, Beseech you to work worthily of the calling with which you are called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with long suffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one Body and one Spirit, just as you are called in one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, and through all, and in you all. But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift." (Eph. 4:1-7).
These directives in following Christ's way are not meant for, the priest and laity alone. They begin with the very apostles of Christ the hierarchs who must set the tone of spiritual unity and love. They must play an integral, active part in the life of the Church, not something or someone heard from afar, but a very real presence among the clergy and the laity, known to all by the goodness of his being the Good Shepherd.
"Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many." (Mat. 10:28).
In whatever manner a course of action be taken, we must all be aware of the divine hand of Providence which belongs to God and which will always meet the needs of His people and His Church. The hierarchy must be the Light of Christ, such as the lighted candle which announces the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. This leadership must emphasize spiritual modesty, charity in speech and action, filled with patience and self- control like a calm stillness filled with the warm and penetrating glow of the Holy Spirit.
In preparation for the priesthood very careful consideration must be given to a high standard and high quality of instruction in the truths and traditions of the Orthodox faith. This is not rote learning, but a type of learning whereby the learner comes to understand the precepts of the faith in a living way. He must gain the ability to investigate and observe these truths and be able to demonstrate them in the context of human knowledge. There must be sound instruction in the philosophy and theology of Orthodoxy, but taught in such manner that these subjects are made relevant to the circumstances of Africa.
Future priests must live an essentially simple and quiet lifestyle, but with adequate necessities for living. Through simplicity, the imitation of Christ becomes very real, yet the danger always remains that this simple life must not be one of overprotection because the ordained priest will live within the contemporary world and therefore he must be able to withstand the pressures of it and be able to lead the faithful within it. Attention must be paid to present-day realities. One cannot teach of brotherly love without some kind of realization of what is happening in Rwanda and Bosnia. The priest in his quiet world of learning the way of Christ, must learn to become a refuge to the believers in Christ.
"Imploring us with much urgency that we receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministry of the saints. For you know the grace of the Lord in Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, for your sake he became poor, that you through his poverty may become rich." (2 Cor:8-9). It is a common belief, here in Africa and elsewhere in the world, that mission means only financial support and that missionaries from the developed world are the dispensers of wealth. This is erroneous. True, there are many places in the world where missionary activity is performed, sometimes intensively and with great zeal. One cannot contest, or even protest, the good will of the pan-Orthodox community to extend a hand to help to brothers and sisters in great need. Assistance is needed and the needs are very great, but with time and changes, come new emphases and expressions of those needs. The mission centers and the missionaries in the world must assess the needs of those whom they wish to aid. Those who request help must learn to prioritize the manner in which aid is applied. There are many material needs, which as illustrated in the epistle of James, show something right, yet there are spiritual needs which concern both the giver and the receiver.
Though seldom thought of as a need, something very important in the mission field is to help the local church itself to become truly Orthodox and truly a self-sufficient and self-supporting community within its own surroundings. Little need is given to the position of the indigenous church, where advertently or inadvertently its members are led to the belief they are recipients of donations from abroad by right, as if their poverty was visited upon them so that affluent Orthodox abroad many fulfill their obligations of diakonia through them. This is wrong and misdirected thinking. Orthodox from the developed world also have their needs according to the plan of God. Orthodoxy is an unchanged faith given by our Lord of his own free choice through His Crucifixion and Resurrection for all and on behalf of all. This is why in the Divine Liturgy the priests pray, "Divided and distributed is the Lamb of God, who is divided, yet not disunited who is ever eaten, yet never consumed, but sanctifies those who partake thereof."