Led by a Human Touch
Yesterday, our Diocese was blessed to be the host of the opening Divine Liturgy of this year’s meeting of the Assembly of Bishops in the United States (more information on that meeting will be at the end of this post). At the Liturgy at St. Mary’s Basilica in Livonia, several dozen bishops were gathered together from the various Orthodox jurisdictions in our country: our own Antiochian bishops, and the hierarchs of the Greek, Russian, and Ukrainian archdioceses, etc. They will be meeting for the next few days, working on issues common to all of the Orthodox Churches in this country, and hopefully working towards normalizing our situation, eventually bringing all of Orthodox Christians together into one administratively united Church.
As I took the picture in this post, I was again reminded of how unusual it is in today’s world to live in a church governed by hierarchs. As Americans, we are just fine being governed by other people, as long as we can elect them, vote them out of office, and when we feel the need, recall them from office even before their next election date. Of course our pleasure in this process is dependent upon the quality of the candidates offered to us…but I digress.
The idea of placing ourselves in obedience to another human being is becoming increasingly uncomfortable for us. When non-Orthodox Christians hear that our Church is governed by bishops, you can sense their discernible discomfort. Even my fellow pastors from non-Orthodox churches are amazed that I would place my life– the place where my family is going to live, the parish I’m going to serve, even the salary I’m going to receive – into the hands of the another human being, and whom I am committed to serve at his direction.
But there is a reality to this condition that often escapes their understanding, and perhaps even our own. In Orthodox Christianity, of course we believe that God governs His Church. Every church believes that. Of course we have administrative bodies in the church like parish councils, archdiocesan board of trustees, etc. We have the Holy Scriptures, we have the Canons (rules developed at Holy Councils), and we have many authoritative expression: icons, hymns, services, etc. But all of those standards are ultimately applied to us by the Bishop (and by extension, the Priests that serve at his direction). We believe that God governs his church through people. The authority of God comes to us in the Church by a human touch.
Because our clergy represent Christ Himself, they guide us like no set of principles can: with love, and with an eye toward the specific situations in which each of us finds ourselves. This principle has a fancy name: economia. It’s the same Greek root that gives us the word “economy.” It’s “the running of the household.” By the bishop’s guiding hand, led by his knowledge, experience and God-inspired leadership, we are led in our paths as the sheep in His flock. As in the case of sheep, every member of the flock is different. While guidelines are important to follow, our Church provides for an individual application of those guidelines, so that each situation can best be treated: not by a “one-size-fits-all” approach (do those articles of clothing ever REALLY fit?), but by a custom tailored ministry, guided by God’s wisdom but applied by His love.
So let’s pray for our clergy, especially our hierarchs. The crosses they bear are heavy ones, indeed. And let’s be open to God’s guidance from them as His way of guiding each of us in our own particular situations, as if each of us was as unique as the situations we find ourselves in. Because we are.
(For more information on the meetings going on this week, see http://assemblyofbishops.org/news/2016/assembly-detroit-gather)