Diocesan News

Spiritually Provocative and Clinically Informed Conversations in Sacramento

Group20 40 Thermos 11March 3, 2016

Spiritually provocative. Clinically informed. Fr. Vasilios Thermos' visit to the Sacramento "Synaxis" of young adults and Orthodox Christian Fellowship at California State University, Sacramento proved to be a unique and illuminating experience for all who attended.

His insights into the fields of theology and psychology, with a strong undercurrent in psychoanalytic thought, served as the evening's subject matter, backed by decades of clinical research and prayerful consideration.

From the vantage point of our post-millennial culture, Fr. Vasilios' juxtaposition between the fields of psychology and theology could be rendered as a re-articulation of the severance and epistemological disconnect between the ancient "psyche" (spirit) and God of modernity. This cleft, or split, is nothing more than the symptom of a genealogical trauma, a suffocation and resuscitation of the symbolic Father by the great Nietzchean experiment and its failure to transform or subvert the dominant discourses of For Fr. Vasilios, the historical surrogation of "modern" man and his evolution into a "post-modern" being was doubly implicated by technology and the false reassurance that modernity was (or is) supposedly an unfinished project.

Bishop Maxim and Fr. Vasileios Thermos Visit. St. Herman Monastery and St. Xenia Skete

08 featureOn Thursday, March 3, 2015, His Grace Bishop Maxim visited the St. Herman of Alaska Monastery in Platina, California, and St. Xenia Skete in nearby Wildwood, together with an honored guest, Protopresbyter Vasileios Thermos of Athens, Greece. This is Fr. Vasileios’ second pilgrimage to the St. Herman Monastery, his first being two years ago, with his presbytera.

Fr. Vasileios is a priest of the Church of Greece. Together with his priestly ministry in Athens, he is a practicing psychiatrist, and is Professor of Pastoral Theology and Psychology at the University Ecclesiastical Academy in Athens. The author of many books and articles, he has offered programs and retreats in Greece, the United States, Albania, and Cyprus.

On Thursday morning His Grace and Fr. Vasileios were greeted at the monastery gate by the monks, the nuns of St. Xenia Skete, and pilgrims. The Liturgy began at nine o’clock, celebrated by Bishop Maxim, along with Protopresbyter Vasileios, Abbot Damascene, and Hieromonk Paisius. After the Liturgy, Vladika spoke of his gratitude to the brotherhood and to Fr. Vasileios, and of his joy at being at once again celebrating with the monks and nuns the Divine Liturgy. The Liturgy, he said, is the focal point of our existence; in it we experience the whole life of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Soon thereafter, His Grace and Fr. Vasileios went to the grave of Hieromonk Seraphim, and were shown the newly finished Resurrection shrine, and works-in-progress: the library/reading room, archontariki (reception room), and adjoining kitchenette.

The meal in the trapeza followed, after which Fr. Damascene thanked His Grace and Fr. Vasileios for blessing the monastery with their visit, and providing everyone present with spiritual inspiration and nourishment on the eve of the Great Fast.

Fr. Vasileios then gave an edifying talk on the complementarity of asceticism and the Eucharist. “In asceticism,” he said, “we declare that we are ill, and that we have come to the hospital, which is the Church. In the Eucharist, we foretaste that we have become citizens of the City to come, of the eschata. In our asceticism, we confess our vulnerability; and in the Eucharist, we experience that we are children of God.”

After the talk, Fr. Vasileios answered many questions from the monks, nuns, and pilgrims on a wide range of subjects—mostly concerning the spiritual life, illnesses of the soul, and the struggle with thoughts. Fr. Vasileios’ answers exhibited both practical knowledge and warm compassion, borne of his many years of caring for souls.

Bishop Maxim and Fr. Vasileios, along with the hieromonks of St. Herman Monastery, then went to visit St. Xenia Skete. After Abbess Dorothea gave a tour of the Skete to Fr. Vasileios, everyone sat down to tea, where Fr. Vasileios offered more soul-profiting words. His Grace and Fr. Vasileios concluded the gathering by singing, in the original Greek, the Lenten hymn, “Open to Me the Doors of Repentance,” in anticipation of the coming Fast. This hymn, Vladika said, has been described as encapsulating the greatest glory of Byzantium.

The visit of Bishop Maxim and Fr. Vasileios left joy in the hearts of all, together with practical wisdom with which to grow in the life in Christ. The brothers and sisters were grateful as always to their Vladika for his archpastoral care, and to Fr. Vasileios for sharing his rich experience, and for his friendship.

—Abbot Damascene


Sts. Sebastian and Mardarije Institute - Day Four

orthodox institute 2016 4 featureSan Diego, CA - The fourth and final day of the Sts. Sebastian and Mardarije Institute began with the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. Officiating at the liturgy was His Grace Bishop Maxim with the concelebration of diocesan clergy along with visiting clergy from the Eastern, Midwestern and Canadian dioceses. 

Promptly after breakfast the seventh session, entitled "Becoming like the Saints" and moderated by Fr. Nicholas Ceko. Fr. Maximos continued reading and commenting on The Ambiguum. Copies of the text were handed out for the Institute participants could follow the reading. The morning session ended with discussion. 

Lunch and an hour break followed. The afternoon session began promptly with session VIII: God Incarnate of the Virtues, moderated by Deacon Marko Bojovic. In his opening remarks in his Tuesday morning talk, Fr. Maximos introduced everyone to the texts and very complex writing style of St. Maximos the Confessor.  And throughout the course of the three full days of sessions of the Instittute Fr. Maximos consistently read and commented on various selections from the writings of St. Maximos the Confessor. He expertly and insightfully commented on the holy father's writings, citing and comparing writings and sayings from other patristic fathers. Fr. Maximos' impressive command of the writings of St. Maximos the Confessor was demonstrated on numerous occasions when, during the discussion and in responce to a given question, he would quickly find the answer in the corresponding page and paragraph in the Ambiguum. 

Vespers, on the eve of St. Simeon the Myrrh-flowing, was served at the end of the afternoon sessions. Dinner was served in the tented area followed by a cheese reception and Tvrdos wine tasting. Afterwards, Fr. Maximos delivered his final talk in the main hall, his keynote address, "St. Maximos the Confessor: Guide to Orthodoxy". The title of his talk, he noted, he took from the Apolytikion of St. Maximos. Among other things, he spoke in great detail on the life of St. Maximos. Furthermore, from his life Fr. Maximos took the many sufferings of the Holy Confessor to reflect on.

At the conclusion of the keynote address Bishop Maxim called upon Fr. Dobrivoje Milunovic, president of the Clergy Brotherhood of North and South America. On behalf of the brotherhood Fr. Dobrivoje expressed his both his gratitude and great joy at being able to take part in this year's Institute and to listen to such and excellent and gifted speaker.  In his closing remarks, Bishop Maxim echoed the sentiments of Fr. Dobrivoje noting that in the talks we heard over the past few days we listened to a speaker knowledgable in a wide range of subjects as references were made to medicine, science, archeology, philology, philosophy, the arts, iconography, technology, etc.

The Institute concluded with the presentation of certificates.


Sts. Sebastian and Mardarije Institute - Day Three

day three orthinst featureSan Diego, CA - Following Orthros on the third day of the Sts. Sebastian and Mardarije Institute the fourth session, entitled "The Stages of the Spiritual Life", began with an introductory word from the moderator Monk Siluan. Fr. Maximos spent the majority of the morning session reading from selected texts of St. Maximos' writings, more specifically, selections from his Questions to Thalassios. This was followed by questions and answers resulting in a lively discussion. More discussion continued after a short break which began with a word of clarification by Fr. Maximos on the passions in light of the teachings and writings of St. Maximos the Confessor.

After lunch and an hour break the afternoon talks began with Session V: Contemplation of Nature moderated by His Grace Bishop Maxim.  Session VI: Contemplation of Scripture followed. During both sessions Fr. Maximos read and discussed in detail selections from St. Maximos' Ambiguum 10 which deals with contemplation. Fr. Maximos' comments on the text provoked questions and discussion that lasted until the late afternoon.

Dinner was served after Vespers. As dinner was coming to a close, the host priest Fr. Bratso Krsic called everyone's attention to two guests from the St. Nicholas parish in Indianapolis, Indiana who sang two selections, one a folk song and the other dedicated to St. Mardarije. In the main hall afterwards Fr. Maximos was given a final opportunity to take questions.

Closing the third day of the Institute was a special treat for all the visiting clergy and laity as the Morava vocal ensemble peformed a few numbers.


Sts. Sebastian and Mardarije Institute - Day Two

sts sebastian mardarije institute feature day2San Diego, CA - The first full day of the Institute began on Tuesday, February 23, 2016 with the celebration of Orthros followed by coffee and refreshments. The first session of the Institute followed: Virture and Knowledge in the Theology of St. Maximos the Confessor. In the first session Fr. Maximos introduced the works and the complexity of the writings of St. Maximos the "father of Byzantine theology".  The session continued after a short break with a lively discussion. After lunch and a short break two sessions followed. The first was entitled "A Failed Worldview" was held, led by Fr. Maximos and moderated by Segurd Lefsrud. Afterward Fr. Damascene moderated the session "The Fall and Its Consequence" after which Fr. Gregory Edwards moderated "Reason".  The afternoon sessions  provoked much discussion.

The afternoon sessions lasted straight to the time alotted for Vespers. After the evening service everyone proceeded to the tented area behind the church hall for dinner. The keynote address took place in the hall after dinner. Entitled, "St. Maximos the Confessor: The Search for Truth", Fr. Maximos spoke on man's desire to seek, quoting Aristole "all men by nature desire to know"; it is the calling and impulse of man to search for the meaning of his existence. Archaeological discoveries of paintings on rock walls 40,000 years old, for example, prove that man has always had this yearing for meaning, truth, beauty. It is in man's nature. This, however, has come under attack so that symbols are in the process of being deconstructed since there is no real meaning in them for meaning is in the mind. The idea of beauty, for instance, is in the eye of the beholder. Things that stood as markers for beauty and virtue and good are now arbitrary. Fr. Maximos continued on, pointing out that if man is looking for God it must be true that God is looking for man. Thus, those who assert that life is meaningless are correct. That is, apart from God everything is meaningless. He gave an illustrative example of a porcelain vase. Scientists can examine such a vase and tell us every detail about it based on their research and all of it would be correct. But they could never tell us that this vase was given as a wedding gift. Drawing on this example, Fr. Maximos noted, if we don't see this world as a gift in the framework of our relationship with God then it is meaningless. This, he added, we see in the liturgy where we take the gifts from God and given them back to Him. Additionally, and in light of the liturgy, he spoke of another aspect, that is, when in the liturgy we sing, "We have seen the true light...". Though this might be true, most of us have not made that light our own. In this search for truth man is not limited to a knowledge soley through the reading of books in which one reads of another's experiences. Rather, it involves change, it involves practice. As St. Maximos wrote, "knowledge of fire does not warm the body". This search for truth is not merely cognitive but must, in the first place, be practiced.

After a brief discusssion the first full day of the Institute concluded with the singing of "Dostojno Jest".


Sts. Sebastian and Mardarije Institute Begins in San Diego

 sts sebastian mardarije institute featureSan Diego, CA - The second annual St. Sebastian and St. Mardarije Ecclesial Orthodox Institute began on Monday, February 22, 2016, the leaving-taking of the Meeting of the Lord.  His Grace Bishop Maxim of Western America and St. George Serbian Orthodox Church in San Diego, California are host to this year's event held in cooperation with the Clergy Brotherhood of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Registration in the late afternoon hours, followed by Vespers, marked the beginning of this year's event. At the conclusion of Vespers Bishop Maxim addressed all the clergy and laity in attendance with his warm words of welcome, expressing his joy at seeing not only so many clergy but also lay people who have come out of their great desire to learn more of their Orthodox faith. His Grace expressed his great joy in welcoming this year's speaker Fr. Maximos Constas. Formerly Associate Professor of Theology at Harvard Divinity School Fr. Maximos is currently Senior Research Scholar at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. 

A wine tasting and cheese reception followed dinner.

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