Going Home – A Personal Journey

geo12p20I do not know enough languages to gauge how universal is the concept of “home.” It has very strong connotations in English – and is particularly strong in its usage within the Southern United States. I suspect much of this is rooted in family and place – and requires a fairly stable culture. The culture in which I grew up was reasonably stable – though I experienced major upheavals in my surrounding world around the age of 10. I was young enough to remember what had come before and old enough to nurture a hunger to return.

Some have spoken of this “homesickness” as a universal hunger – a memory reaching back to our loss of Paradise. I know that many speak of their coming to the Church as a “coming home.” It is certainly the case that Christ is our true home and that to return to Christ is the answer to the heart’s true hunger.

I have come “home” this weekend (and for the first part of the coming week). I am in Dallas, the city of my Bishop. It was here that I was ordained Deacon and here that I have always looked during my years as an Orthodox Christian. Though my time in Dallas has always meant time in a hotel and a rented car – and often time without my family – it is still home. The very sight of my Bishop (who is now retired) is a coming home for my heart – to be in the rest that I find in his welcome and the assurance within the proximity of his unshakable faith.

I arrived in Dallas a day or so early – in order to rest, to pray and to visit at leisure. Starting Monday, I am in meetings of various sorts with other priests and laity and with the Metropolitan of the OCA, the acting bishop for my diocese. On Wednesday, the Mid-Feast of Pentecost, I will concelebrate with a number of other priests and the entire Synod of Bishops of the OCA in a liturgy at the cathedral in which we will honor my retired bishop, Vladyka Dmitri.

Thus, what writing I do this week will be between meetings – though being here without my family means that when I am not in a meeting I will have much time on my hands – and a chance to write.

It is hard to explain to others, sometimes, that my experience of the Church and its hierarchy has not been the experience of an institution but of persons. Institutions are distortions are what should be personal and relational. There is nothing inherently institutional about belonging to something that involves millions of people. It’s just that our fallen experience of such things is usually only in a distorted form. When the Church ceases to be personal and becomes institutional, something has gone wrong.

I know of people who have an unspoken pleasure in institutional existence. What is unspoken is the freedom that institutional existence gives to some to indulge a critical spirit. Institutions are perceived as impersonal – which leaves others free to say and do what they will and consider their actions “impersonal.” If anyone has ever held a position of authority then you will likely know what it is to be seen only as your “role” and not as a person. I have endured things through the years associated with such positions that are among the most painful experiences I have ever known. As a sinner, I know that I have offered more than my share of such impersonal animosity as well. 

The answer to such problems is not the “reform” of institutions, but the redemption of relationships. It is necessary for power and authority to be redeemed and placed under the headship of Christ. Democracy is not a synonym for conciliarity – though some mistakenly think so. Conciliarity is, in its highest form, the embodiment of personhood in all of our relations.

It is this embodiment of personhood that is the true hunger of the human heart. Christ fulfills and raises us to the level of personhood in our redemption. Vladimir Lossky described the work of the Holy Spirit as primarily one of establishing us as persons in the true and proper sense of the word. To be a person is to know and to be known – and to know and be known in the Truth. It is to love and be loved and to know love in the Truth. 

My journey into the Orthodox Church included a relationship with Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas for four years prior to my actual conversion. We discussed that eventuality only in our first conversation. For the years following I simply found myself treated as a son who had already returned home. My conversion was only a fulfillment of something that had been taken as an accomplished reality by the man who would be my bishop. It is no wonder that I love him as I do. 

The retirement of Archbishop Dmitri is a vast change in the life of Orthodoxy in the South. For 30 years he has been a dominant force for Orthodoxy and its proclamation in this region and a figure who defined Orthodoxy as a profound practice of hospitality. Together with the Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America, I will celebrate a ministry which has extended the “home” of Orthodoxy to thousands of people who once had no knowledge of the Orthodox faith. And he has done this by creating a home rather than destroying another. 

May God grant us all to find the heart’s true home.

12 Responses to “Going Home – A Personal Journey”

  1. fatherstephen Says:

    Photo: St. Seraphim Cathedral in Dallas

  2. Mrs. Mutton Says:

    As I read your remarks about your now-retired Bishop, I thought of the “two and a half” Bishops I know personally (two Bishops and an Archimandrite), and how startling it is to me that if I were to encounter any of them on the street, I could greet them and have a conversation with them — not something that would *ever* be possible for me in my Catholic days. Now, if only we could convince certain Westerners that the priesthood/bishopric is not a position of “power,” maybe we could put all this silly talk about women “priests” to rest for good and all.

  3. rwp Says:

    Well father, if you’re curious, “home” is one of a cluster of related concepts that are particularly Germanic (which is why Spanish, for example, has no word that really corresponds to “home”).

  4. fatherstephen Says:

    I thought it was largely germanic as a word. In Russian and a number of other languages, the word that corresponds to home is related to the word of house. Very understandable. The germanic word probably came from such a root as well. In the South, if we didn’t have the word, we would have had to create one.🙂

  5. David Bryan Says:

    A note from a Spanish teacher:

    which is why Spanish, for example, has no word that really corresponds to “home”

    I must disagree w/RWF (aka Right Wing Prof?) here. The Spanish word hogar means both home — not in the sense of casa (the physical edifice known as “house”) — and fireplace hearth, which gives it the same warmth with which many a southerner will identify — “defending home and hearth,” “our altars and firesides,” etc.

  6. Karen Says:

    “I know of people who have an unspoken pleasure in institutional existence. What is unspoken is the freedom that institutional existence gives to some to indulge a critical spirit….

    “The answer to such problems is not the ‘reform’ of institutions, but the redemption of relationships.”

    Dear Father, bless! Amen. Good thoughts to ponder.

    David, my husband’s family has a tradition of annual summer tent camping in state parks. One of its most pleasurable aspects is sitting around the camp fire at night eating dinner together and then relaxing and talking after the kids have been tucked in their sleeping bags. It strikes me that this was likely the key gathering place for family groups for millennia, long before permanent homesteads or the first villages were ever built, the hub of family life even for nomadic peoples. It’s perhaps not surprising then that “hearth” has the meaning (likely in many languages) of “home,” rather than house. Even in English we have the expression “hearth and home.”

  7. Mary Says:

    Father Stephen,

    I look forward to seeing you, and perhaps meeting you at Vespers and Divine Liturgy. I hope to be in the choir.

  8. davidperi Says:

    Many people have found “home” at http://www.valamo.fi I have just come back from a 2 week stay doing volunteer work at this monestary. These people want to get away from their hectic pace of life and find a place of peace, quiet, good food and bed, and to met new people in this community-atmosphere feeling place. You get free room and board for the 1 or 2 stay for your voluntary work. I hope this doesn´t sound like a commerical…but this “home” feeling works over here.

  9. Daniel Says:

    hey! I’ve been in the cathedral there. In seminary I lived close enough to ride my bike over there. That’s cool.

  10. Pseudo-Polymath » Blog Archive » Monday Highlights Says:

    […] Going home and some related reflections. […]

  11. Karen Says:

    Dear Father, bless! Further to my comment to you from yesterday above, I read the address below (see link). Here are some extracts pertinent to the subject. They are addressed specifically to those preparing for the priesthood, but apply equally to all of us who are members of the Body of Christ. Sorry to take up so much space in one comment, but I thought this such a good exhortation and worth repeating as an expansion of some of your thoughts above:

    “Humble obedience is a necessary part of the priesthood, because it is a sign of our love for God when we abandon ourselves to His care through obedience. True obedience is the greatest tool for spiritual development, as it is an active confirmation of our trust in God. Saint Peter says: ‘Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble’ (1 Peter 5:5). Most of us practice carnal obedience, in that we obey those we already agree with. . . .

    “If you are loving and humble, this ought to extend to your relationship with your bishop. Loving and obeying your bishop is not synonymous with always agreeing with him, and the same is true of your parish community and you. Just as you want the people to listen to you and obey, so you must heed your bishop and remember that he is the father and the Archpastor.

    “Disobedience is, first and foremost the byproduct not only in one’s own lack of faith in God, but actual fear for one’s selfish desire for singular salvation. By this, I mean that delusion which convinces one’s self that his salvation does not involve his brother. We know from our Holy Tradition that salvation is a work of the Church, which means that I am not saved, but rather that we are being saved. My salvation, my very relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ, is intimately connected with my fellow believers.

    “The heretic thinks his salvation is a matter of his own purity apart from others, and so he rebels when he thinks that his bishop’s mistakes will somehow drag him down. What he fails to see is that his tolerance of others’ mistakes is an ascetical work that will save him. It is a cross to be borne, one that leads to humble exultation.

    “The Neo-Donatism that has come to characterize our modern history has gelled from a faulty understanding of salvation, and a very distinct lack of love. It is like a sinking ship: the loving person remains to help others either to safely escape from the ship or keep it afloat, while the selfish person shoves others aside as he dives into a life-raft to save himself alone.

    “The rebellious man denies his cross because he fears being wrong more than he fears abandoning his fellows. For those of you preparing for ministry, I ask you to remain faithful to your bishop and your brethren. If your bishop commits sin, remember your own sins and beseech God on his behalf for the same mercy you would hope for yourself. I tell you, it will be easier for you to beg for mercy if you yourself have been merciful.

    “If you find yourself judging your bishop or your brother clergy, what can you do? The only thing that works is genuine repentance for your own sins and mindfulness of your own sinfulness. Never allow the evidence of your fallenness to depart from your mind. This way, you will always remember God’s love for you and His mercy. You will excel in gratitude, and obedience will come easily.”

    http://www.pravmir.com/article_607.html

  12. That Which Does Not Exist « Nothing Hypothetical Says:

    […] impression of the profession that an inquirer decides another career path would be better and an Orthodox Priest reflects on how perceptions of an organization (say the visible hierachy of the Church) gives a […]

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