Attending St. Alban's Chatham again - Printable Version
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Attending St. Alban's Chatham again - Mark Fletcher - 03-03-2007 06:54 PM
On the eve of attending St. Alban's Chatham for the second time, I thought I'd record my thoughts for posterity.
Groucho Marx once stated: PLEASE ACCEPT MY RESIGNATION. I DON'T WANT TO BELONG TO ANY CLUB THAT WILL ACCEPT ME AS A MEMBER. To some extent, I sympathise with this view.
I feel deeply confused and conflicted at the moment; as if I am a wish-bone with God pulling on one end and Satan pulling on the other. The experience is somewhat uncomfortable, especially where the two sides join.
I have read His Holiness Pope Shenouda III's words about homosexuals and homosexuality, and feel that from a spiritual perspective he is very probably taking the correct stand. However, from the point of view of someone affected by these issues, it is rather more complicated. How can I love myself if I identify myself with that which is intrinsically evil? To people who are not homosexual, it seems as though people like me are making a lot of fuss about something which is simply sin. The reality of self-identity is rather more complex and painful, whatever ideologues on both sides of the debate would have you believe.
I strongly believe that the Church should not accept practising homosexuals as members under any circumstances. Light is light, and darkness is darkness. His Holiness Pope Shenouda III outlines two stages of repentance: firstly of deed, and secondly of thought. I have not really started along either stretch of this particular path, and I appear at the moment to have little intention of so doing, however much I pray or agonise over it.
I have no intention of deceiving anybody. I am not prepared to lie or utter half-truths in the Sacrament of Absolution. I want to be entirely straight (no irony intended) with God and the Church.
Fortunately, my experience and understanding of the British Orthodox Church is that it is not interested in playing the numbers game or "bums on seats" at any price. It is in the business of helping people discern where God would have them be, and helping them on their pilgrimage.
Although I still feel that God is calling me to be a member of the Church, He did not specify a time-frame! Repentance may be a long process. If it is years before I become a member in all conscience and honesty, then so be it.
I am very grateful for the kindness and generosity of Peter Theodore Farrington and Father Michael Robson in particular, and for their practical and spiritual support. It is certainly more than I ever hoped or expected.
That's all I wanted to write.
- admin - 03-03-2007 07:33 PM
Unfortunately the Club belongs to God and he invites all of us to join!
Indeed He came into the midst of our pain and distress and confusion to invite us to be part of His Club, more than that, His Body, the Church.
And almost His last words to His followers were that they should go into all the world and invite and urge people to come into fellowship with God.
I guess it is necessary for us to always remember that falling into sin is not the end of our journey, unless we choose to remain supine on the floor, overcome by feelings of unworthiness, or even self-loathing.
God does not view us in this way, and when we fall He extends a hand to us to lift us up again.
The one who wants to be an Olympic hurdler must expect to fall many times, but it is by getting up and throwing ourselves at the hurdles again and again that we reach our goal.
Are you aware of your sinfulness, and your lack of worthiness before God? Then that is just how a Christian should live, and certainly it is how all of us in the British Orthodox Church live. But we are not overcome by such feelings because we know the word of God which is that 'my strength is made perfect in weakness'. When we are aware of our weakness, then we are strong. When we think we have succeeded in our own power, then we are just a step away from falling.
You have your own issues to deal with, I have mine, and all the rest of us have our own collection of weakness and sins. But we have begun a journey, which you also can join with us if you choose, indeed you have already begun this journey as we can manifestly see from your membership here.
The question is not whether you are worthy to begin the journey, because none of us are, and none of us are worthy to continue the journey in our own strength. The instant God withdrew His grace all of the world would perish. The question is whether you have faith that God wishes your salvation, in the widest possible sense of your healing from all spiritual sickness and your being filled in an increasing measure with His life.
If you have that faith then you are ready to take the next step, according to your own sense of what is appropriate, and according to the advice of Father Michael and Abba Seraphim. And that might be enrolling as a Catechumen.
How long does a Catechumenate last? Well it does not require us to be perfect, because in such a case every single member of the BOC would still be a catechumen. But it is a time of preparation for the next step, which is membership of the Church through baptism, and this does require a certain level of understanding of the cost of being a Christian, and a certain willingness and desire to put away sin, as God gives us strength.
But that is hardly the end of the journey. Each one of us could point to further steps God has called us to, each require a growth in understanding of the cost of being a Christian, and a certain willingness to deal with another layer of sin and failure.
So we go on as we began.
You should not feel disheartened. God does not expect you to have reached the end of His purpose for you when you are at the beginning. But He does ask of you that you have Faith in Him, and a committment to see things through with His strength.
Will this require being challenged at certain times by the Holy Spirit, by the Scriptures, by Father Michael and other Christians? I am sure it will. But I hope you know the BOC well enough even by now to know that such challenges will be always made with real love and in a concern to help you grow as a person and never to crush and condemn you.
None of us are perfect, least of all myself. But I am on a journey, and you can be on the same journey. What matters is that we begin and that we keep going, even when we fall. The end of our journey is up to God.
I look forward to meeting you tomorrow, and on many other occasions afterwards, and God willing the BOC are here to support your journey as long as you take.
Best wishes and continuing prayers
The Way and the Truth - John Charmley - 03-03-2007 10:55 PM
The Fathers tell us that it is a sign that we are making progress when Satan redoubles his assaults; so perhaps that is something to take into consideration as you struggle with yourself?
Mark, my thoughts and my prayers are with you; your honesty and your integrity do you honour and credit. It is not just homosexual inclinations which the Church requires that we abjure; the concentration on that one theme can seriously distort the wider message, which is that the process of theosis is about becoming more like that image of God in which we were made, which requires us to repent and amend our lives - with His help and Grace, and our own works in Faith.
The Church is a hospital; you find sick people in a hospital; if it is a good one, they start recovering. The Orthodox Church is that hospital, and as you come to it, Satan wants to keep you away from it; remain steadfast. That you know you are a sinner means you are one of us - we are all sinners and we repent - and still sin.
God's love is infinite. The Incarnate Word died upon the Cross for those sins of ours; He did not have to - He did so out of love. We too make a sacrifice out of love - we sacrifice the unworthy parts of ourselves.
Quote:How can I love myself if I identify myself with that which is intrinsically evil?- but He loves you, because you are not intrinsically evil - you are made in His image. This is where ideologues on both sides distort things: no one is identified before God as 'a homosexual', any more than they are as an 'adulterer; or 'liar'. These are sins we commit because of the effects of the Fall upon our human nature. By assuming that nature, He began the healing process.
No one expects us to be perfect before we can become a catechumen, any more than they do before we are received into the Church. I expected my catechumenate to last years, and it was an act of obedience to my spiritual Fathers to accept that the start of Great Lent was the time to enter the Church.
I suppose there was a level at which I not only felt unworthy, but also afraid that I would fail the challenge of Lent. Of course I have failed time and again to keep the full Lenten fast; but in so doing I have learnt a valuable lesson. I try always to keep the fast, I pray, and I discipline myself; I do well, and some days get there, only to fail again. Yet, I have changed how and what I eat, and I have done so despite not fulfilling the letter of the Fast; the humility that imposes upon me is, I realise now, good for me. I fall, I rise, I advance and slip back; but always I call for His help. I see now that Abba Seraphim and Fr. Tony were right to think that the start of Great Lent was the time to be received.
Yes, we sin, but in repentance and struggle and prayer, we find the strength through Him to begin to make the changes; and we must never despair at our slowness and fallibility; there are lessons in that for us.
Go as your heart knows, and pray for strength - as we pray for you, dearest to God Mark.
Repentance - John Charmley - 04-03-2007 08:47 AM
From St. Isaac the Syrian:
Quote:Repentance is given to man as grace after grace, for repentance is a second generation by God. That of which we have received an earnest by baptism, we receive as a gift by repentance. Repentance is the door of mercy, opened to those who seek it. By this door we enter into the mercy of God, and apart from this entrance we shall not find mercy ... Repentance is the second grace.
May we all come to that door.
Thanks - Mark Fletcher - 04-03-2007 03:26 PM
I feel moved by your postings, and am grateful that you responded to my posting in this way. May God bless you both.
What a delight it was to attend Divine Liturgy at Chatham today; to feel the touch of Perfect Peace Profound once again, and the resulting spiritual upliftment.
I was particularly struck by the sincerity of my fellow worshippers, and the deep wisdom and spiritual understanding behind Father Michael's words.
Unfortunately, I left the service before it ended due to rail/bus travel complications. Afterwards, I felt that once again my perceptions had been washed clean. I thank God for being brought into contact with the British Orthodox Church and St. Athanasios and St. Alban's Church Chatham, for it is a real blessing and support to me.
To conclude, on the subject of my original posting, I feel that I have made the right decision. Honesty matters above all things in our dealings with God. If one is not able to repent and has no intention of changing in a particular way, then one must just continue to pray and allow the Holy Spirit to bring one to the Truth. God is of course not deceived by a false confession of faith or repentance. It may take years before I am able in all conscience to accept what the Church teaches and requires of me. But I am willing to wait and let things move at their own pace as it were, trusting God and the interior helps that are given me. Thanks again for your postings, as I am sure they were sincerely meant to be helpful.
- admin - 04-03-2007 04:36 PM
I am glad that you made it to Chatham and were blessed by being there with us. Of course I wished that we could have all chatted afterwards but I completely understand about the travel complications, especially with travel on a Sunday.
I also enjoyed the liturgy today, though I also had to keep an eye on my son Callum, and Don, the Indian lad. But they both like to serve.
I thought that Father's homily was very good today and was encouraged by it, also the scripture readings.
Yes you are quite right. God is not deceived by a false confession, and He will wait as long as it takes, as will all of us, but on the other hand, do not expect to come to some point of perfection before you can move on, because Satan can also deceive us in such a way. It is intent which matters, and commitment to trying our best. God honours our efforts.
But you are also right to understand that there is a need to agree with the Church, at least on the substance. Because if the Church is a spiritual hospital then there is a need to agree with the diagnosis and the treatment.
Of course you know that there are many of us who will be more than willing to discuss with you those things which you find difficult, both online and offline, in this forum and in private emails and letters, and in face to face conversations.
Thank you for making the effort to come to Chatham and St Alban's again. It was a blessing to worship with you.