Friday, December 5, 2008

What the church's sacred ordering (i.e., hierarchy) is really for

If you want something refreshing for today, see Rocco's post on the new Metropolitan Archbishop of the Orthodox Church in America, Jonah and the Wow: An Orthodox Shocker. I cannot remember when I have been more impressed by a pastoral statement by a Christian hierarch, who, among other things, said: "Hierarchy is only about responsibility, it’s not all of this imperial nonsense". I like very much the distinction he makes between forgiving and excusing, which are not even close to being identical. When we forgive, we make a conscious and often very difficult choice. Eis polla eti, despota to Metropolitan Jonah! I pray that even in his responsibilities as metropolitian, he will remain a simple and wise monk, vitally connected to Christ in prayer. I want explore the distinction Metropolitan Jonah introduces.

When we forgive, we acknowledge the wrong, we call out the evil, which we are to resist in ourselves and combat in the world. So, we choose to forgive, we choose to return good for evil in imitation of our Lord, whose disciples we claim to be. This is why, when it comes to actions that wound us deeply, forgiveness is a process, it is making the choice, not just once, but whenever the wound bleeds, to be reconciled instead of remaining estranged. You know what? It hurts and it is hard, which is why we need God's grace, especially the grace we receive in the sacrament of penance. Metropolitan Jonah gives a direct take on the attitude that leads to forgiveness, "My reaction is destroying me and I need to stop it. If I value Jesus Christ and the Gospel and communion with God, I need to stop it and move on." To quote the late Keith Green, the Lord will "take care of the rest". Do you trust the Lord? Letting go of an old grievance is the best way I can think of to make room for the Lord's coming.

By his passion and death, the Lord did not excuse our sins, he paid for them at the cost of his humanity and his divinity. He didn't just die for us, he descended into hell for us- I'll stay with Balthasar contra Pitstick. So, here is one of those hard questions to which I alluded in my previous post today; it is a necessary question: "In your struggle against sin" have you "resisted to the point of shedding blood?" (Heb. 12:4)

It's odd that this should come to my attention on the day that Patriarch Alexi II of Moscow died. I am also reading what is rapidly turning out to be the best theological commentary on a book of Scripture I have ever read. The book is by Philip Cary and is part of the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible series, the same series in which Stanley Hauerwas comments on Matthew, it is simply Jonah, read it! Here is Cary commenting on Jonah 1:14, when Jonah is about to be thrown off the ship headed to Tarshish: "Jonah, alone and miserable, cowering under the wrath of God and waiting to die, has begun to fulfill his calling as a prophet" (pg 68).

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