Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Letter October 23, 2016

“We may study as much as we will, but we shall still not come to know the Lord unless we live according to His commandments, for the Lord is not made known through learning but by the Holy Spirit.”
– St. Silouan the Athonite

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

The other day, I was following, then driving alongside a car marked “STUDENT DRIVER.” This proclamation, or perhaps warning was prominently placed on the back and both sides of the car. I am not sure whether this sign is placed there to caution other drivers, or to put us on our best behavior, as to not introduce bad road habits to the nervous driver behind the wheel of his or her mobile, teaching laboratory.

This young person was driving very slowly and very deliberately. I caught myself counting the seconds between his signal, and the actual lane change. He looked both directions before entering into the intersection with a clear and obvious green light. He did not go a hair over the speed limit and stopped at the next yellow light. I impatiently thought to myself, “I don’t remember driving that slow. “C’mon. Move!”

Isn’t that a shame on my part?

Why should years of driving erode my attention to detail, commitment to caution and unhurried movement? To be sure, human nature contributes to the differing behaviors of those who possess a license to operate a vehicle, and those who are still in the process of obtaining one. Sad, right?

Traffic laws are the same for all people who use the roads. There are not two sets of rules: strict guidelines for new drivers and diluted, casual suggestions for experienced drivers. This is not the case at all. So why are there two sets of rules in my mind? Shouldn’t I observe the strict letter of every law just as the new driver?

Bright red stop signs are not invitations to slow down and proceed. Rather, they are commands to do what is plainly and clearly stated: stop. Something my kids are continually reminding me as I drive in our neighborhood. The information that the new motorist receives before beginning to drive, is the same information I must recall, process and put into use today and every day.

But becoming a bit lax in that which is common, comfortable or familiar is not limited to our driving habits. Often times, we can also take our spiritual lives for granted. We begin to cut corners in our prayers, fasting, readings and church attendance so slowly, that we don’t even realize what we are doing. The knowledge we gained in Sunday School, sitting around our grandmother’s table, or listening to the sermons of our childhood are relegated to distant memories, rather than active contributions to the well-being of our souls. Therefore, I thoroughly enjoy people who are active learners in matters of faith. Especially those who are new to Orthodoxy; approaching every detail like a student driver mastering the art of parallel parking.

Just this evening, we began our fall session of Orthodox Spirituality Classes. The class was filled with cradle Orthodox Christians, who have been exposed to our church for their entire lives; and people who have only, recently been introduced to the tenants, practices, traditions and teachings of the world’s most ancient, Christian Confession.

Just like driving, there are things to learn before we “hit the road” of practicing our faith. Where are the boundaries? What are safe practices? How fast should we move? And in in what direction?!? The Faithful who take the time to learn good habits from the beginning, and who develop the strength and maturity to maintain them, are those who will share in the Kingdom. Of course, let’s also celebrate those who have been raised in the Faith, but who are aware that it’s good to refresh, renew and re-acquaint.

Please pray for the students of our Spirituality Class. Pray that the information they receive will help them acquire the blessedness of the saints, and that they will always hold dear, even years from now, the enthusiasm and fervor they now feel. While the Gospel is new to them today, let it breathe new life into them tomorrow. And also, pray for yourselves, that you may approach the Altar, the Chalice, and your personal place of devotion with the same commitment and conviction.

Keep, always in your hearts, the words of St. Silouan, reminding us that no matter how much we study, no matter how much information we receive or how many books we read, it is the Holy spirit that keeps us in the presence of the Lord. It is one thing to read about God. It is yet another to experience Him. Those who study the Faith for the first time are simultaneously accomplishing both. Let us be led by their example. Even if it is a bit more deliberate than we are accustomed to moving. Because that’s a good thing!

With Love in Christ,
Fr. Anthony