Remembering the Past and Experiencing the Future: A Reflection on the Platinum Anniversary of the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese of the USA
At every Divine Liturgy, we are invited ....in the fear of God and with faith and love to receive the Most-Pure Body and Precious Blood of our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ.
When we partake of the Eucharist, we are united in a very real way with the entire church, past, present and future. At that moment, we experience the reality that we are members of one body, the Body of Christ. We are filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude and thankfulness to Almighty God for allowing us, although unworthy, to be united with Him in such a powerful way. We experience, even if for only the briefest of moments, the radiance of the Kingdom of Heaven as we take part in the Eternal or Cosmic Liturgy.
As Orthodox Christians we are able to transcend time and place through our participation in the Divine Liturgy. We are able to step outside of time and experience what the Fathers of the Church have described as the Eternal Now.
When we immerse ourselves in the life of the Church and order our lives around the Church Calendar, we become contemporaries with the saving events in the life of Our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ and the saints of the Church. Each year we journey through the cycle of the Church year in order to enter into the reality of the events commemorated. We remember these events in the present. There is a technical word in the Greek for the word "remembrance"- anamnesis. This word implies much more than recalling an event from the past. It is a remembrance that brings the event into the present. It is a participation in the event in the present. Many of the hymns for each feast and service begin with the word "Today..." This is the sanctification of the present day in order for us to participate in the reality of what we are commemorating. This is seen in our Divine Liturgy where we thank God for:
...all that has been done for us: the Cross, the Tomb, the Resurrection on the Third day, the Ascension into Heaven, the sitting at the right hand, the second and glorious coming (Anaphora Prayer - Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom).
Therefore, as Orthodox Christians, when we gather as the Church in worship and prayer, we are able to remember or relive the past and at the same time experience that which is to come, the Glorious Second Coming of Christ and the never-ending day of the Kingdom.
In 2008, we commemorated the seventieth anniversary of the consecration to the episcopacy of our first diocesan Bishop, His Eminence, Metropolitan Orestes, of thrice- blessed memory, and the canonical establishment of our diocese by the Great Church of Christ, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. These events are indeed worthy of celebration, as they mark the grafting on the tree of Orthodoxy in America, the living faith and piety of our ancestors in the faith of Carpatho-Rus. They are indeed worth of remembrance.
During the Platinum Jubilee Year, His Eminence, Metropolitan Nicholas called upon each and every one of us to remember the past, to labor during the present for the building up of the Church and to pray for the future of the diocese. The celebration of our Jubilee, as was directed by Metropolitan Nicholas, was in a real sense a spiritual anamnesis, that is, a three-fold celebration of the past, present and future.
As a priest of the New England Deanery of our Diocese, I am acutely aware of the early history of our diocese. I have the honor and privilege of ministering to many who still remember His Eminence, Metropolitan Orestes as being their Bishop and Pastor, who baptized, married and buried many of their family members. Each time I stand by the mercy of God at the altar, I can feel the presence of His Eminence, Metropolitan Orestes and my predecessor, Protopresbyter Joseph Mihaly who served before me in our parish. For many years they concelebrated the divine services and sang together, in beautiful harmony, the hymns of the Church. Their love of the Liturgy and our Plain Chant is indeed a legacy that is worthy of celebration and remembrance. This memory of the past is dear to the hearts of my faithful parishioners and goes beyond the realm of nostalgia. It is remembered by them at each divine service as they, by the Grace of God, endeavor to worship in spirit and in truth.
Over the past seventy years, much has changed in the world and in our Diocese. While starting out as a diocese that served the needs of the Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants arriving prior to the onset of World War II, the makeup of our diocese has become more ethnically and racially diverse. We have been blessed with the establishment of new mission parishes and a substantial growth in converts to the faith. With the Falling Asleep in the Lord of His Eminence, Metropolitan Orestes, Almighty God has continued to bless us with visionary shepherds in the persons of His Grace Bishop John, of Blessed Memory, and His Eminence Metropolitan Nicholas. These worthy laborers have, by the Grace of God, furthered the legacy of our founding fathers and mothers, firmly establishing new apostolates and pastoral initiatives. Through their labors and by the passage of time, the peace of God which passes all understanding now permeates our diocese.
Having celebrated our Platinum Jubilee, it is important that we remember the future by acting now to build up our diocese, for the Glory of God. It is true that we face some real challenges in our present day that interfere with the preaching of the Gospel of Christ and the growth of the Church. We face some formidable roadblocks that are exacerbated by the breakdown in the family, the increasingly fast pace of life caused by advances in technology and communication, and the secularization and globalization of the world. While at times these challenges may seem insurmountable, we need only recall the challenges our diocese faced in the past and overcame due to the providence of Almighty God and our willingness to place our trust in His Mercy.
As clergy and faithful of the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese, we must continue to emulate the faith, piety and zeal of our founding fathers and mothers. It is true that times have changed, and the manner in which we apply our faith to our contemporary situation by necessity differs from the past. It is imperative, however, that we move forward with the same duch or spirit of our diocesan founders, that of...loving the Lord our God with our whole heart, whole soul and our entire mind and our neighbor as ourselves.(Luke 10:27). Over the years, this love of God and His Holy Church has been expressed in its fullest in our joyful celebration of the divine services and most especially the Divine Liturgy, as we sing with one voice our beloved Plain Chant melodies. It bodes well for the future of our diocese that our diocesan youth of today have developed a great love for the singing of our Plain Chant. One need only visit Camp Nazareth during our diocesan camping sessions or the annual pilgrimage to witness firsthand the piety and fervor of our youth singing the hymns of their ancestors in the faith.
Having completed our Jubilee celebration, let us truly give thanks to the Lord for all of His many blessings of the past, the present and those yet to come, by fully living the Faith that has been handed down to us. Let us, above all else, participate in the Cosmic Liturgy, by being prepared to partake of the Body and Blood of Christ at every Divine Liturgy. May we, as members of this God-saved diocese, truly remember the past, labor now for the glory of God and, in so doing, experience the joy of the never-ending day of the Kingdom. Amen.
Very Rev. Protopresbyter Peter Paproski