Diocesan News

Historic Meeting in Jackson at St. Sava Mission

jackson retreat 2017On Saturday, March 11, 2017, a historic meeting took place at the St. Sava Mission. Bishop Maxim of the Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Western America, together with a member of his Episcopal Council and local clergy, met with Stan Grgich, current President of St. Sava Mission Foundation and members of the Foundation’s Board of Directors.  His Grace scheduled this meeting specifically to provide the entire Foundation Board the opportunity to discuss issues important to them and for His Grace to learn more about the goals and objectives of the St. Sava Mission Foundation.

The group of ten met for nearly two hours in a thoughtful and cordial atmosphere. After a round of self-introductions, SSMF board members, a discussion took place. Bishop Maxim recently explored the Mission Foundation’s website to learn more about the organization. He noted, in particular, that the first purpose of the organization is “To preserve and promote the educational, charitable, cultural institutions of the people of Serbian heritage in the Western USA.” Furthermore, the first goal and objective listed on the site is to “provide facilities for a summer camp for children and youth."His Grace agreed with and stressed the importance of the Foundation Board members focusing on these goals and objectives and for cooperation with the Western American Diocese to preserve and enhance the St. Sava Mission buildings, grounds, facilities and equipment. He was elated to learn that a group of Foundation members had raised the funds needed to build a gate at the property entrance and intersection of Camp Road and Mission Boulevard. Fabrication of the gate had already begun and is expected to be installed prior to this year’s camp season.

Mrs. Tina Milinovich and Mr. Beau Gillman discussed with His Grace the importance of the week of summer camp that begins immediately after their annual 4th of July celebration in Jackson to the Foundation. They noted that many of the SSMF members expressed a desire to return to the practice of the first thirty years of camping in Jackson, when camp would begin in conjunction with the 4th of July. Their constituents especially missed the convenience of being able to come as a family to the celebration on the 4th and then leave their children for a week or two of summer camp.

His Grace, in turn, asked specific questions regarding the programs and content of the “Culture Camp” week. The Culture Camp administrators discussed that this year they were introducing into their program: (i) Church etiquette, (ii) lessons on Slava celebrations, and (iii) basic Serbian customs surrounding weddings, baptisms, etc. Their goal is to help bring people back to Orthodoxy.  His Grace learned that last year there were two vespers services offered during this week, and that two matins services were to be added this year. His Grace also asked that Serbian Orthodox Christian values be woven into each Serbian culture learning activity. Our Bishop reflected that not having a specific class in religion could be offset by explaining our Orthodox faith in the context of Serbian culture, as was planned for the Culture Camp week.

The SSMF representatives also update His Grace on the status of their membership and 70 members, and that of those members attending, most have previously never attended any other camp. The SSMF also has families attending the camp that are not Orthodox and/or are families that have drifted away from the original Serbian Orthodox community in Jackson, CA. However, they have seen families coming back to both the camp and St. Sava Jackson parish, providing an opportunity for all to re-engage them. Finally, Fr. Steve reported that twenty of the children attending Culture Camp last year also participated in the Diocesan Church Camp.

Our Bishop also directed Luka Erceg, member of the Diocesan Administrative Board, to prepare such legal documentation as necessary to ensure that the Diocesan interests in the St. Sava Mission Property could not be sold. This measure was specifically provided to the SSMF members so they would be assured that the Diocese neither desires nor intends to sell the property and looks towards a long-term relationship.

All those present pledged to work in cooperation to improve the facility further. His Grace thanked everyone for taking the time to come to Jackson to meet with him and for the expression of new-found mutual understanding.

 

Sunday of Orthodoxy Pan-Orthodox Vespers in Los Angeles

 

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The Canonical Orthodox Hierarchs on the west coast, His Eminence, Archbishop Benjamin, Archbishop of San Francisco and the West, Orthodox Chruch in American (OCA); His Grace Bishop Maxim, Bishop of the Western American Diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church in North and South America;  and His Grace Bishop Apostolos, Bishop of Medeia, Auxiliary Bishop of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco, together with clergy and the faithful from all jurisdictions, celebrated the Pan-Orthodox Sunday of Orthodoxy Vesper Service on Sunday, March 5th, 2017 at the Holy Virgin Mary OCA Cathedral in Los Angeles, California. 

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity” (Psalm 133: 1).

On this day in 2008, the Hierarchs on the West Coast began a new tradition of celebrating Sunday of Orhtodoxy together. Orthodox fatifhul from all jurisdictions on the west coast gather each year on this day for the glorious and wonderful celebration of the "Triumph of Orthodxy" - the ninth century decision by the 7th Ecumenical Council to restore the holy icons in the Church.

This year the commemorative festivites were held in the Greater Los Angeles area at the Holy Virgin Mary OCA Catheral. The Vesper Service began at 5pm followed by the special Sunday of Orthodoxy proclamation and procession of holy icons. 

After the Service, hierarchs, clergy and guests gathered in the parish hall for refreshments, fellowship, and a special concert of Orthodox Christian Music sung by the Pan Orthodox Young Adult Choir (POYAC) and the Camerata Rus Orthodox Choir. 

“We venerate Thy most Pure image, O Good One, and ask forgiveness of our transgressions, O Christ our God.Of Thy good Will Thou wast pleased to ascend the Cross in the flesh, and deliver Thy creatures from bondage to the enemy.Therefore with thankfulness we cry aloud to Thee, Thou hast filled all things with joy, O our Savior.For Thou came to save the world.”  

 

Sunday of Orthodoxy in Alhambra 2017

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On Sunday of Orthodoxy, the first Sunday of Great Lent, we commemorate the "Triumph of Orthodoxy", the "restoration" of icons in the church and their use in Orthodox worship. 
This year in the Saint Steven's Serbian Orthodox Cathedral in Alhambra, California, on Sunday, March 5, 2017,  His Grace Bishop Maxim, together with the parish clergy and parishioners, celebrated the Hierarchical Diving Liturgy followed by the special Sunday of Orthodoxy commemorated service with the proclamation and processsion with holy icons.

“We venerate Thy most Pure image, O Good One, and ask forgiveness of our transgressions, O Christ our God.Of Thy good Will Thou wast pleased to ascend the Cross in the flesh, and deliver Thy creatures from bondage to the enemy.Therefore with thankfulness we cry aloud to Thee, Thou hast filled all things with joy, O our Savior.For Thou came to save the world.” 

 

STS. SEBASTIAN & MARDARIJE ORTHODOX INSTITUTE III - DAY THREE

Day: One | Two | Three


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HOW CAN PSYCHOLOGICAL KNOWLEDGE ASSIST IN SPIRITUAL LIFE?

Day Three of the Sts. Sebastian and Mardarije Orthodox Institute

Following Orthros and a continental breakfast on Thursday morning, on the feast day of the Holy and Righteous Simeon the God-receiver Anna, the final plenary session began, entitled: How Can Psychologic Knowledge Assist in Spiritual Life?

Fr. Vasileios spoke of the many misunderstandings that feed the controversy between psychology and theology. Distinctions, however, should be made so that we know to differentiate between issues, mental disorders and problems that can be addressed by a priest and those which require professional psychologists. Interestingly enough, according to some studies patients tend to first go to the minister. Mental disorder are of the mental functions such as our thoughts, feelings and desires. When they are disturbed we have disorders. These disorders have been emphasized by modernity and is one reason people seek fiction in order to cultivate their emotional world, to reflect on their own inner space.

Psychology, in other words, is the fundamental language today just as philosophy was in the first centuries after Christ. While the two have their own respective vocabularies we need to strive to capture the relationship between the two worlds, discovering why there are so many tensions between the two. In fact, we find much psychology in the Patrisitic writings beginning with the Holy Apostle Paul who writes about anger, St. Basil and St. John Chrysostom who write on pedagogical principles, St. John of Sinah on narcissism and so on. Psychology studies the laws of human beings after the fall because no one functions outside of these laws and therefore they apply to all of us. A progress in spiritual life lessens the power of psychological laws. For instance, anger issues can be addressed pastorally and result in one not only not having struggling with anger but loving one's enemies.

The role of theology is to reveal the begining and the eschata, in other words, to give meaning to our lives. Theology respects science but places the priority on spirituality. It does not deal with how I function in a corrupted nature but why I exist, which psychology does not deal with.  On the other hand, science and psychology can help us cope with depression and anxiety for instance. Without psychological intervention these two very disorders would otherwise cause us to sin. Also, psychology promotes a healthier relationship with God when we examine and are faced with our responsibility which leads to honesty and humility and ultimately to love.

We have to avoid not recognizing psychologic laws but we also can't overemphasize these very laws. The truth about beings is ontology. For the Orthodox the real truth about beings is the ontological one but because we have mental functions (thoughts, feelings, desires) we perceive the world psychologically. The psychological element is the projection of the ontological element, it's how we perceive it. The capacity to love, for instance, is an ontological element. An extreme example would be St. Mary's capacity to love which was distorted. Later, when it was healed,  this enormous feeling for love was geared towards God and as a result we see her extreme ascetism, real ascetism which cannnot exist without love.

While Fr. Vasileios advocates the use of psychology it can be misused as it is in some parts of the Christian world, particularly in the West, where it ultimately ceases being a theology that leads to sanctification. This opposite extreme is fundamentalism which refuses to have any dialogue with the world or science.  He concluded that pastoring without psychology is blind just as therapy without thelogy is unfilled.

Dr. Stevan Harris a psychologist and parishioner of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos parish in Orange County served as moderator and led the discussion that followed. 

 

 

 

STS. SEBASTIAN & MARDARIJE ORTHODOX INSTITUTE III - DAY TWO

Day: One | Two | Three


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The second full day of the Sts. Sebastian and Mardarije Orthodox Institute began early in the morning Wednesday, February 15, 2017, the feast day of the Meeting of the Lord, with the Holy Hierarchical Divine Liturgy officiated by His Grace Bishop Irinej of Eastern America and His Grace Bishop Maxim of Western America, the host hierarch and the concelebration of a number of diocesan and visiting clergy. In his homily following the liturgy Bishop Irinej spoke of the gift of the encounter with Christ that we are given in the Holy Liturgy, mirroring the encounter of St. Symeon with Christ celebrated in the Feast. It is because of this encounter which we have now in the liturgy that we have the hope –even a foretaste – of that great and final encounter with Christ at His second and glorious coming.

After breakfast, the second plenery session of the Institute began with a focus on the phychosomatic health of the clergy and their families in North America and Europe. Supporting his lecture with information gathered among clergy of the Church of Greece and the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Fr. Vasilios delineated three primary areas of stress on modern clergy. The focus areas included external pressures arising the the particular nature of the priesthood, internal issues arising from the personality and psychological makeup of the priest and his family members as well as the interelational issues of the priest with parishioners, fellow clergy members and his family.

According to the reference studies utilized by Fr. Vasilios, clergy represent a high risk group for psychosomatic illnesses and can be compared to physicians, nurses and teachers in terms of higher probablities of burnout and mental of physical breakdowns. He further elaborated on specific stress areas which can range from internal conflict arising from an inability of the clergy to cope with the great extremes of information and emotions he can be privy to within the course of single day, to personality issues resulting from subtle forms of narcicism, to breakdown of essential relationships within family or parish.

Following the session, a lengthy Q & A session dealt with a wide range of questions. Many of the questions focused on the diffuculties arising in the field of interparish relationships. Having served as a parish priest for 30 years, Fr. Vasileios indicated that the importance of finding a balance between extreme reactions was crucial in alleviating many of the more common stress reactions in clergy. The issue of what makes for a healthy priest and clergy family was also a key theme. Fr. Vasilios reminded that participants that this question is directly related to the overall health of the local Church. If there are healthy young men and women within the Church the likelihood of healthy clergy is much higher. His Grace Bishop Irinej spoke about the practice within the Serbian Church of –by neccessity –placing newly ordained priests within parishes and having them play the role of confessor immediately. Fr. Vasilios then spoke at length about the potential downfalls of such a situation. Being forced to deal so explicitely and so early with parishioners issues can lead to an underdeveloped personality within the priest –a sort of false or public „person“ can develop which hinders the actuall spiritual and human development within the priest.

 

 

 

STS. SEBASTIAN AND MARDARIJE ORTHODOX INSTITUTE III - DAY ONE

Day: One | Two | Three

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Clergy and faithful filled the St. George Serbian Church in San Diego, the host church of the 3rd Annual Sts. Sebastian and Mardarije Orthodox Institute, for the morning Orthos service on Tuesday, February 14, 2017, the feast day of the Holy Martyr Tryhon of Phrygia. Orthros was served by Hieromonk Fr. Platon (Jovic), a visiting monk from the Diocese of Banja Luka.


His Grace Bishop Maxim of the Western American Diocese welcomed all clergy and laity, many of whom were attending from other dioceses. He welcomed His Grace Bishop Irinej of the Eastern American Diocese who also greeted everyone at the beginning of this multi-day event. V. Rev. Dobrivoje Milunovic, president of the Clergy Brotherhood of the Serbian Orthodox Church, greeted the Instittue on behalf of the Brotherhood. Finally, Fr. Damascene introduced this year's speaker Rev. Fr. Vasileios Thermos, MD, PhD.

Before Fr. Vasileios began his first plenary session he spent a few moments reflecting on his personal connection with Serbia and the Serbian people which began while he was a young student of medicine. He had the opportunity and blessing of meeting Fr. Justin Popovic, of blessed memory, a year before his repose. It was on that occasion that Fr. Justin gifted to him a small Divine Liturgy service book in which he inscribed a small note, a gift which he treasures to this day.

The title of the first session was: Addiction and the person: A Psychological and Theological Approach. Addiction is most commonly associated with dependence on substances like drugs and alcohol, but more broadly it may refer to any behavior that is compulsive and brings adverse consequences to the person and/or to others. In the scientific literature it has been characterized as a disorder of the brain’s reward system. What would be the closest equivalent in Patristic literature to the modern concept of addiction? While this of course is open to discussion, it seems that what we call addiction might be what the Fathers call the last stage in the growth of a passion. In the Patristic schema of the development of a passion, first comes the provocation of the tempting thought, then the conjunction of the thought with the feelings, then the joining or agreement of the will. If one does not pull back at this point, the thought becomes a habit and the mind is constantly preoccupied with the object of the passionate urge. Finally, in the last stage, the person falls into the captivity of the urge. As St. Nilus of Sora wrote in the fourteenth century, this last stage, captivity, “is what the Fathers truly call ‘passion.’” St. Nilus says, “It is when after a long time a certain thought becomes nested within the soul, and, like a habit, becomes a part of a person’s own nature. He has freely allowed it to enter within himself, so now he is continually disturbed by [it]…. Repeatedly a phantasm is presented to the troubled soul, which is willy-nilly attracted to it more than to all other thoughts.”

This Patristic understanding of the final stage of a passion as captivity ties in with some of the key points made by Fr. Vasileios in his article, “If Addiction Is an Answer, Then What Was the Question?” Here, looking at the question of addiction from a theological framework, Fr. Vasileios discusses it within the context of human freedom. First, he points out the paradox of our own times, when we have struggled to achieve such freedom and independence, and at the same time have demonstrated such an amazing willingness to subjugate our internal human freedom to all kinds of addictions, many of them unknown in the past. Secondly, he argues that addictions are rooted in the urge to control, which becomes an obsession, resulting in the person paradoxically having an illusion of control but in reality being enslaved by the addictive behavior. Put another way, the person seeks control while engaging in rewarding stimuli, and has the illusion of being able to cease this engagement. Such an urge for and illusion of control are incompatible with real relationships. As Fr. Vasileios observes, “A real relationship is unpredictable and not subject to control, and this is exactly what the addict wishes to avoid…. A true relationship is synonymous with freedom.”

Framed in this way, the way out of the mire of addiction becomes clear. In Orthodox theology we know that man was created to be in relationship -- in communion -- with God and with other human beings. In Fr. Vasileios’ article on addiction, which I found very helpful, he expands this theme, discussing the problem and its solution, and providing advice for pastoral care. In this talk we look forward to hearing more insights on this topic.


 



St. Sebastian & Mardarije Orthodox Institute III
PSYCHOLOGY IN THE SERVICE OF GOD
Day One:  Addiction and the Person: A Psychological and Theological Approach

 

 

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