Monday, September 8, 2014

Letter to a Troubled Parishioner

If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? 1 John 4:20

Grace unities. The enemy divides. Active prayer, spiritual life both at home and in church, and the Church Sacraments unite us to God.
However, without us realising, the devil fools us through our passions. We start to dislike one another, become divided, run away from each other…and separate ourselves from God…

fr-andrew-kencis.jpgThe following is a letter written [many years ago]to a person who had difficulties with his parish priest and stopped attending services. Then he contacted another priest in a different city. The letter attempts to provide a deeper insight to this common occurrence, hopefully providing an “understanding” that will teach us to endure a little more.
To be able to see beyond our neighbour’s petty faults, and deeper into our own souls, which the Church is trying to purify, is something to which we must all strive.
Fr Andrew Kencis

Dear *****
May God bless you and your family!

I must explain to you my delay in replying. First off, just after Nativity my back “gave out” and I spent an entire week literally in bed! Then I came down with that incredible flu and spent another week in bed. But these were just the side issues. The main reason for the delay was something of much more importance.
Your letter upset me greatly; saddened is more the appropriate word. And I had intended to write several times but could not bring myself to put the words to paper, for fear of not being able to word my letter properly in a way that would be entreating and spiritually beneficial to you (this is the only concern that a priest must have: the spiritual benefit of those whom God has sent to a priest to minister to.)
But the time has come to write….
You wrote that you have great respect for our Metropolitan and you credit your still being “an Orthodox believer” to him, although you do not attend your “local Church.” I have to remind you of some quotes from our Church Fathers:

“where there is the Bishop there is the Church”
and
“He who does not have the Church for its Mother does not have God for his Father.”
And from Saint Paul,
“Do not turn away from the gathering of the brethren”.

You have to realize this fact that not attending your local church is separating you from the Church. The church is the only place where we can receive the Sacraments of Christ that were giving to us by Him to heal, to strengthen, to comfort. In the prayers that we are supposed to say before coming to Holy Communion we read:

“… I approach Thee, O Christ God, … as one trusting in Thine ineffable goodness, and that I may not by much abstaining from Thy communion become the prey of the spiritual wolf…”
And in another place
“…that Thou mayest remain, as Thou hast said, with me, a thrice-wretched one, lest the deceiver finding me without Thy grace, craftily seize me, and having beguiled me, draw me away from Thy deifying words….”

Bearing this in mind, you can see how important is not only our attending services but our direct participation in them, in other words, actively praying and receiving communion. This must be our only purpose for attending services: to receive the benefits that God has giving to us for working out our salvation.
devil2.pngOur common enemy the devil (who people frequently forget) loves to “hide” behind people using personal weaknesses and prejudices (even the Priest’s) to stir things up! He continually provokes and pushes us to division. Examples of this are so numerous from the lives of Saints and from our own experience! Yes, there will be troubles; how can there not be! Saint Cyril of Alexandria writes

” you say that you are a sinner, then do not be amazed that you sin! How can one being sick not show signs of his illness!”

I would add, how can your brother in Christ who is also “sick” not show signs of his illness? This is where the Church tells us to

“bear one another’s burdens for the sake of Christ”; “correct such a one in the spirit of meekness considering yourself lest you also be tempted!”

and many other admonitions. It tells us this in order that we would not be perplexed at

“the fiery trial that comes upon us,” (from the Epistle of Saint Peter).

You had problems with Father ***** and stopped attending your spiritual home. Then because you are a believer and truly grieve over this separation, you contacted me for another lifeline (so to speak) to your home, because you felt that you could trust me, and have a certain positive opinion about me. But I can give you the names and phone numbers of people in **** who trust and have a high opinion of Fr. ***** and despise me! Let me try to explain the reason for this…
When we stand in the church we stand before God. We all know this. But what some of us forget is that we stand immersed in His Divine Presence. This “Grace” illumines us, purifies us, comforts us; also it gently encourages us to leave off certain things, in the depths of our hearts, which, although we do not even realize or want to give up, are contrary to pious living. This starts an “unseen” pressure in a person. Saint Paul writes in one of his epistles

“I see a war in my members”.

This occurs on a very subtle level, but the results are not subtle! What happens is that we start to feel uncomfortable with certain sermons or phrases (they even “burn” us!) and then the evil one seeing our reluctance starts to encourage us to blame someone else for this discomfort, when actually it is from inside of ourselves. Then we are ready for any excuse to lash out at the one we believe is causing the pain, when in fact it is from within ourselves.
Please hear me! My parish has suffered immensely because some people would not acknowledge this! I have been called so many names and had so many lies said about me that even my relationships with the other clergy have suffered, (but not the Metropolitan because he understands this trick of the evil one). Granted, I made a lot of my own problems because of my personality. But if you look at my parish now you will see that it is filled with those who saw beyond my faults and know that they come to Church not because of me or anyone in the parish. They come only for the healing, life-giving benefits that can only be given in the Church. I urge you to come back for this reason only and no other.
I just found out “sideways” that Bishop *** is coming for the Unction Service, the “healing service”, sometime during March. In Unction our sins known and unknown are forgiven, if we only approach with even a little remorse in our hearts. We as parents are ready to do this for our children; how much more is God! Try to talk with the Bishop.
prosphoras.jpgNext, I have to address your request for prosphora. I did cut you one each Sunday since I received your letter, but could not bring myself to mail it. Again because of the reasons mentioned above.
You must understand a prosphora is blessed on the altar of God; only baptized Orthodox Christians may eat of it. Also, those who pull away from the church have no right to eat of them. Also, you wrote, “Do you still have access to them?” I am a priest! How could I not! A priest controls who gets them and who does not, as they are something sacramental and only he has the right to distribute them initially.
Enclosed you will find a Prosphora.
Also, please find enclosed a book that I sincerely hope you will read. Also pray before you read it, to let its words soften your heart.
I wrote this letter very boldly; but I had no other choice, you cannot survive outside of your spiritual home. The question of attending the other “so-called” jurisdictions for a member of the Russian Church Abroad is totally out of the question. The reasons are of a matter of the faith, not “politics” or any other such nonsense. When these reasons are explained then it is plain to all that it is not out of pride, but out of fear of turning away from our God!
sydney-st-john-of-kronstaedta.jpgI ask for your forgiveness in my delay in writing you. I will continue to help in anyway I can, if you want me to. Please realize my only concern is your and your family’s salvation and peace of heart.

With Love in Christ,
Priest Andrew Kencis

Here is a quote from my latest schedule of services:

Up till now you have not learned to love your neighbour. You answer men’s dislike towards you by dislike on your part. But do the contrary; answer other’s dislike by heartfelt goodwill and love; the more dislike you see towards you, the more you should love. Dislike is a malady, and a sick person should be more pitied, should be shown greater care and greater love, exactly because he is ill. Do you know that the bodiless enemy uses his craftiness against all, infects all with the poison of his hatred? And you too, are not exempt from his craftiness. Do not serve him, then with the spirit of enmity, but serve the God of love with the utmost zeal. Remember that God the Word died for your brethren.
Taken from: “My Life in Christ” the diary of Saint John of Kronstadt.

Article used by permission of the author.
St. Vladimir’s Russian Orthodox Church in Edmonton, Alberta

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