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Out of the Depths I Cry Unto Thee

June 14, 2012by Fr. Basil Biberdorf

At every vespers service we sing “Out of the depths have I cried unto Thee, O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice.” In the wake of the death we have witnessed recently, particularly the monster of a tornado last month in Moore, Oklahoma, words like these become the unutterable cry of the heart. It was an EF5 tornado, the strongest category with 200+ mph winds, and estimated at over one mile wide, which destroyed two elementary schools at dismissal time and wiped entire neighborhoods off the map. Parents and rescuers were left to search for children, other loved ones, and pets in the rubble, working against time, power outages, and road closures to save those whom they could. At the end of the confusion and chaos, the final death toll stood at 24, including 9 children.

What kind of God lets this happen? We could ask the same thing about the EF5 tornado that struck Moore previously in 1999, killing 40, or the EF5 that struck Joplin, Missouri, in May 2011, killing 162. Indeed, we ask the same thing about all manner of disasters of any origin. How can God allow this? Why doesn’t God do something?

The mystery for us is that God has done something. Fr. Thomas Hopko summarizes: “John Chrysostom has a sermon where people say, ‘Why doesn’t God do something?’ And he says, ‘What do you want Him to do?’ And then he went through this whole litany of everything that God does: He creates the world, we fall. He sends the prophets, He gives the Law. He gives the Commandments. Finally, he sends His own Son. Ultimately, he is crucified. What more is there? So when Jesus, hanging on the Cross, says, “It is fulfilled (tetelestai in Greek, sometimes translated, “It is finished”), it doesn’t simply mean it’s the end of the story. It means that it’s the total accomplishment of everything. Everything now is done. Nothing more can be done.”

The whole world—not just humanity, but the entire created order—was corrupted because of us. Before the Fall, there was no sin, and there was no death. Before the Fall, the destruction we witness from these disasters could not even be contemplated, for, without death, there is no true disaster. In the Fall, not only man is corrupted, but all of creation. “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned,” as St. Paul puts it in Romans 5:12. And, lest we condemn Adam, we must acknowledge that each of us would have sinned in the same way, insisting on our way rather than God’s, and the same destruction would be the result.

God has done something. He ascended the Cross. He partook of the death He did not create, suffering it as one for whom nothing could be more alien. He, too, cried out, “Why have You forsaken me?” with the groaning and anguish that went far deeper than ours could. He, too, cried from the depths. Life Himself entered into death in order to wage war against it, in order to liberate us from it.

Where is God in all of this? On the Cross, His arms open wide in the embrace of His beloved. Those who have reposed have entered into a death that is not permanent because of this embrace. “For as in Adam, all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22).

Editor’s Note: Fr. Basil wishes to acknowledge Chad Bird, who wrote an article that inspired this one. Fr. Thomas Hopko’s talk, “Word of the Cross” can be accessed here

Chapel of the Holy Spirit: “Building” Consensus

by Fr. Basil Biberdorf

Photo credit: Elmer Aemmer, Kodiak Alaska Military History

An Orthodox church built in 1872 on Alaska’s Woody Island is currently inspiring Chapel members. The church utilizes the same simple rectangular footprint the Chapel is exploring but features a soaring roofline that draws attention upward.

Our chapel continues to work toward a plan for a building that is within our financial limits of what we could accomplish during coffee hour discussions, we decided to move to a building committee format. The committee, which is open to all Holy Trinity members, meets roughly weekly (usually Thursdays at the Chapel), for about two hours at a time. The goal has been to determine our needs in areas such as narthex layout, building aesthetic (including roofline), and altar size.

At our first meeting, to get a real sense of the size of our proposed narthex, we broke out the masking tape. Using that tape, we taped off a full-size floor plan in the Smith family’s garage. Within that we could see how large everything would be. Things (like bathrooms) that seemed too big or small on paper, looked reasonable when laid out on the garage floor. We could imagine a hallway lined with coat hooks on one side and a greeting table (to hold a guest book, candles, etc.) on the other. There was even room for our kitchen-in-a-closet, which could hold a sink, refrigerator, microwave, and coffee service, all hidden behind bi-fold doors.

Most importantly, it allowed us to see how much space remained for people to gather in the narthex. The narthex plays a vital role in several services, being the place where lityas, baptisms, chrismations, and betrothals are served. It’s also a place for the faithful to enter the church and prepare, however briefly, for worship. It is where the first-time visitor can take a moment to look around, adjusting to unfamiliar surroundings before going in further. However, in the plans under discussion, it will also serve a secondary (but still important) purpose as our Chapel’s hall. Thus, after services, we will gather there for fellowship and meals, and at other times for classes, meetings, and the like. We want to have enough space for people to be in the narthex for all of these different uses, and ensure that the secondary functions—food and fellowship—do not distract from its primary ones.

Then there’s the matter of church aesthetic. From the very beginning, we have desired a church building that looks like it “belongs” in our community, but with enough distinctiveness to be immediately recognizable as Orthodox. We sifted through numerous photos of historical churches, particularly those in the New World that would fit our criteria. The most popular one so far features a nave with high walls and a hip roof, crowned with a square cupola and three-bar cross, with gabled narthex and altar, as used in a church (now torn down) in Woody Island, Alaska, and similar to the Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Church in Kenai, Alaska, a National Historic Landmark since 1970. Right now, we are still waiting for drawings to visualize what we’re thinking, but these churches reveal our inspiration.

As always your prayers and financial support for the Chapel are coveted.

Proposed Bylaw Changes Increase Chapel Representation; Look to Future

Notice of Annual Meeting:

The Parish Council has called a Special Meeting of all the members of Holy Trinity Orthodox Church to be held Sunday, March 24 at 12:30 p.m. Parishioners in good standing who were registered with the parish as members at the end of the previous calendar year and who have fulfilled their Lenten obligations of Confession and Communion may and should attend.

Parish Council has called for a vote on proposed changes to the bylaws that govern Holy Trinity at a special meeting of all its members. The assembly will take place following the Divine Liturgy and children’s icon procession on Sunday, March 24.

In addition to codifying practices that have become standard practice over the past several years, the bylaw amendments primarily pertain to the governance and eventual transfer of parochial missions, including the Chapel of the Holy Spirit. The additional section under Article VI (Parish Organizations) anticipate a time when the Chapel will “attain sufficient development and financial security to warrant its becoming a free-standing” church community. It will grant its faithful the authority to petition the Archdiocesan bishop for reception as a mission or parish on the affirmative vote of 80% of its particular membership and two-thirds of the general Parish membership.

In the meantime the new bylaws, if accepted by a two-thirds majority on March 24, will also grant the Chapel official representation “with voice and vote” on the Parish Council effective November 2013.

The Parish Council will see additional structural changes should the bylaws be amended. Under the new provisions, members at the annual meeting may expand (or eventually reduce) the number of officers who serve on the Parish Council with a supermajority vote of quorum (the redefinition of which is also under consideration), so long as there are at least six on the Council at all times.

A summary page of all the bylaw changes are available here. The current and proposed bylaws presented in parallel form are now available to download (hardcopies will be made available in the Narthex). There will also be an open hearing on the bylaw amendments at the March Parish Council meeting on Wednesday, March 13 at 7 p.m.

Chapel of the Holy Spirit: Meeting Those We Aim to Serve

by Fr. Basil Biberdorf

The Chapel of the Holy Spirit is planning a family fun night on Sunday, March 10, from 5-7 p.m. at the Middlecreek Area Community Center (MACC) in Beaver Springs. During the two-hour event, we will have access to one of the basketball courts, plus the game room and other facilities. The event is open not only to the Chapel and the broader Snyder County community, but also to the families at Holy Trinity in State College.

The MACC usually closes at 5 p.m. on Sunday, so by extending the closing time by two hours, we are increasing access to a hub facility in our mission field. We want to encourage families to spend time together “on us”. There will be no fundraisers or captive-audience evangelism. Rather, we only want the opportunity to meet more of the people we aim to serve, to see them as children of God, and to make clear that our young Orthodox community desires to be fully a part of our neighborhood.

What can really help make the event a success is for some of the families from State College to join us in our service. A good turnout from the hosts is essential to the success of an event like this one, so
there are lots of people for our guests to meet and share in the fun.

In order to have a temple to bring those guests to, the Chapel is continuing work on a building design, with the intent to have our plan ready for broader approval by the end of this month. While specifics are still being hammered out, current proposals under discussion all offer a total of between 1,200 and 1,400 square feet of space—divided between narthex, nave, and altar—with options for expan-sion when the need arises. We are carefully weigh-ing our storage needs in view of the expected uses, making as much use of the space as we possibly can.

As always, the Chapel of the Holy Spirit needs your prayers for our efforts to build and to evangelize in Snyder County. Please consider adding the following to your prayer list: for the Chapel faithful, for our progress on the building project, for our proclamation in Snyder and Union counties, and for Conestoga Wood Specialties in their ongoing stand for life.

If you want to support our building project financially, you are invited to do that, too. Just mark your contribution “CHS—Building Fund” when you place it in the offering basket. Thank you.

When Conscience Calls Us to Act

by Fr. Basil Biberdorf

The Chapel of the Holy Spirit was part of a combined delegation of Orthodox Christians from Central Pennsylvania to participate in last month's March for Life.

The Chapel of the Holy Spirit was part of a larger delegation of Orthodox Christians that travelled to Washington DC from Central Pennsylvania to participate in the March for Life.

A challenge arising from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. “Obamacare”) is the determination from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that private companies are obligated to provide all contraceptives described by the Act. These include contraceptives that act, or have the potential to act, as abortifacients (i.e., they cause abortions). Some of these companies with leaders guided by Christian beliefs have responded with legal action. The most prominent of these is Hobby Lobby, a chain of arts and craft stores, but closer to home the law has also been challenged by Conestoga Wood Specialties based in East Earl, Pennsylvania.

Conestoga is of particular interest to the Chapel of the Holy Spirit because one of the two plants they operate in Snyder County is in Beavertown across the street from our Chapel’s lot. Conestoga’s corporate leaders are part of a Mennonite group that rejects abortifacient birth control and have chosen to omit such coverage for their employees as a matter of conscience. In early December, Conestoga announced their intent to oppose the HHS mandate and initiated legal action, hoping to avoid $95,000 per day in penalties. After an initial injunction, the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia ruled against Conestoga in January. Conestoga is appealing the decision.

What does this mean for us? For starters, as Orthodox Christians, it is not necessary for us to affirm Mennonite teaching in order to stand with opponents of this mandate on the basis of conscience. The mandate to pay for abortion-causing drugs is giving offense to the corporate leaders of Conestoga Wood Specialties just as it should to every Orthodox Christian, business owner or not. Indeed, even the priests who paid Judas for his betrayal knew that claiming Judas was the one who actually committed the act would not absolve them of their complicity (cf. Matthew 27:6).  It is impossible for us as Christians to believe that the only guilty ones are those who use the deadly drugs, and not also those who, under compulsion of the law, paid for them for that specific purpose.

What can we do? I have sent a letter on behalf of the Chapel of the Holy Spirit to Andrew Hahn, the president of Conestoga Wood Specialties, expressing our support for their decision to hold to their conscience and a willingness to help as we can. The Chapel now has a regular litany petition for those enterprises and individuals pursuing civil disobedience for the sake of upholding the sanctity of life, which is consistent with historic Christian practice. The early Christians, when ordered to sacrifice to the emperor as though he were a god, professed their loyalty to the empire but refused to worship any but the True God. Many became martyrs for their disobedience, but it was far better to disobey man than to disobey God. As Christ says, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!” (Luke 12:4-5).

I encourage each of you to join with the Chapel in praying for our neighbor, Conestoga Wood Specialties, particularly its leaders and its employees, that they would prevail in their fight to uphold the sanctity of life. We can please God, or we can please men, in this instance, and we know where our desire should be.

 

What Christ’s Church is Really About

by Fr. Basil Biberdorf

Every time that we gather as church, we celebrate the Divine Liturgy, the Holy Eucharist, it’s always essentially the same… [St. John Chrysostom elaborates] ‘no Liturgy is less holy or more holy than any other.’

Fr. Thomas Hopko began his homily at the recent extraordinary All-American Council with these words. In the context of our worship life in Beavertown, they ring particularly true.

Our vision of “Church” is often conditioned on what can, at best, be described as the “trappings” of church. We like thinking of “Church” in terms of our buildings: the icons, the iconostasis, the smell of the incense, the tables and stands, and even the location and purpose of the parish hall. We also like thinking of the kinds of music we sing, and the way we sing it. We often have opinions about which groups a proper parish needs: choir, altar guild, church school, etc. We consider our fasts, and the way people should dress when coming to services. We look forward to holy suppers, home blessings, Paschal baskets, and the like. But, as I said, these things are all trappings of the Faith. They express and reflect our belief, but do not, in themselves, constitute the Faith. If they do for us, we have it all wrong.

All of which brings us to Fr. Thomas’s words. We gather in order to celebrate the Divine Liturgy, which exists for us to join our thanksgiving (eucharistia) to the Body and Blood of Christ in His Eucharist. Everything we do at Church is in preparation for that: for the acquisition of the One who is Himself Life. Since God does not change, and His holiness does not increase or decrease, there is no way to say that one Liturgy is more or less holy than any other. Christ’s gifts to us are as unchanging as He is. They come to us in our holiness and our unholiness, in our dignity and in our abasement.

This is vitally important for our Chapel. We cannot look to our lack of building and say, “We’re not really Church yet,” as though our “churchhood” is dependent on a structure. The Church is built on Christ, the Son of the Living God (Matthew 16:18), not upon bricks or timbers. The foundation of our chapel is the same as that of any parish church, any monastery, and any cathedral anywhere: Christ Himself, who redeems the world, feeding and sanctifying those who believe in Him with His own precious Body and Blood.

Nope. We are Christ’s Church, and we have the blessing of sojourning as our earliest brethren did, praying and gathering in a home, giving witness to our God to those whom we encounter, giving of ourselves to those in spiritual and material need, studying the Scriptures, caring for each other, both in and out of the Church. We have the same opportunities to live and pray as Christians as the faithful in a large parish do. Indeed, we even have the opportunity to become targets of ridicule and ostracism by seeking to be in Christ’s Church.

These facts must dominate our thoughts especially in seasons like this one. It’s easy to become distracted by all the Christmas “stuff” (both in and out of the Church) and, in the case of the Chapel, distracted by our pursuit of a building that enables us to do even more. Regardless of those things, we are Church because we possess Christ and He possesses us. No liturgy is less holy or more holy than any other. May this reflection shape us in these holy weeks, and guide our efforts as we continue building in Snyder County.

A Great Deal and Nothing at All

Fr. Basil Biberdorf at the 2012 Selinsgrove Market Street Festival.

Fr. Basil Biberdorf at the 2012 Selinsgrove Market Street Festival. The Chapel of the Holy Spirit has handed out free water to festival-goers each year since 2009.

by Fr. Basil Biberdorf

If you have been wondering what is going on at the Chapel, the answer is simple: a great deal, and nothing at all. By “nothing at all” I mean nothing out of the ordinary. Our community continues to gather for worship and prayer, for group study (current topic: the prayers before Holy Communion), for choir rehearsal, for community events, for the support of our faithful and community who need a hand, and, as always, hosting the best coffee hour in central Pennsylvania.

But that’s not all. In the past year, the Chapel faithful have sought to determine what’s important to them, as preparation for using the half-acre lot we purchased last year. At the most basic level, four core values were identified: Worship, Discipleship (the cultivation of the Orthodox faith among ourselves), Community (being involved and interested in the people and institutions in our area), and Witness (sharing our faith and exhibiting Christian love to those in need).

In support of those values, the Chapel has desired to do several things: offer more educational opportunities, particularly for inquirers and children; expand our service schedule; and expand our “reach” where we are. Currently, we worship in a home, and give thanks to God that we have it available to us. There are, nonetheless, some limitations that accompany the arrangement. We can’t hold very many people, and they’re spread across two or three rooms. We lack space for traditional fixtures such as an iconostasis, multiple icon stands, to say nothing of a narthex. We set up and tear down for each service, putting our Holy Table in the basement and the sacred vessels, antimens, Gospel book, and the like in a plastic box.

Our choir has recently added additional rehearsals to the schedule, to improve our worship even further, meeting in a member’s home. Choir materials must be packed, transported, and unpacked for each gathering. Our Sunday evening classes are similar. We want to do more, but there are logistical challenges in meeting at different locations and communicating these details to those who have an interest in coming.

It is becoming clear that we need to take additional steps to continue our support for our core values. In spring we began exploring possible floor plans for a church building that would meet our needs, and, having reached agreement on an “ideal” design, have considered what we might be able to afford. Those estimates range from approximately $140,000 to $185,000 total, with $700-1,000 per month in debt service, and a $30,000 to $37,000 down payment. Again, those were estimates according to hypothetical scenarios we developed. We have since spoken with a couple of builders, with one of them proposing construction that would cost between $153,000 (church and narthex alone) and $203,000 (church with parish hall).

This is all very preliminary, in that we have not yet determined what we think God is calling us to do. Nonetheless, our picture is becoming clearer week-by-week. We know that whatever we pursue will require funds. We know that we will need to seek additional contributions from other faithful Christians in addition to our own in order to realize this vision. That request will come, eventually. But, for now, I’ll close by asking for your support of the Chapel’s work in prayer above all. Pray that our minds be clear and mindful of God’s commands (particularly Matt. 28:19-20), and pray that those in our community would hear the message of Christ through our efforts. In the meantime, we’ll continue to worship, pray, and study. All are invited to join us.

Orthodoxy and Politics

by Fr. Basil Biberdorf

Our American political season is reaching a fever pitch in this final month before election day. We can expect to be bombarded with robo-calls and television advertisements, each candidate vilifying the other and attempting to make gold from the base metal of his own career in an attempt to sway our votes. We will not be able to avoid hearing of the daily ebbs, flows, and floods of the campaign.

What perhaps makes this more difficult for us is the desire of many candidates to present their positions as uniquely Christian. America has a long history of organizations arising to defend particular positions as “Christian” in matters of slavery, alcohol, arms control, tax policy, sexual behavior, and free speech, to name just a few. Consider some of the groups focused on these causes: the Moral Majority, the Christian Left, Focus on the Family, the Manhattan Declaration, and the Evangelical Climate Initiative.

From an Orthodox perspective, some make their cases better than others, articulating points in agreement with Christian belief and our moral tradition. Nonetheless, the reality we face is that the political realm operates according to the rules of a fallen world. It is a world where scarcity prevails and not everyone can have everything, where one wins and another loses, where motives are impure, and where the worst aspects of the fallen human nature —preeminently greed, lust for power, and pride—corrupt the best intentions of many candidates.

The political process itself, in whatever form, is a manifestation of sin in the world. After all, God established the judges to govern ancient Israel, only to see them rejected by his people in favor of kings and princes, with tragic results. “And you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, and the Lord will not hear you in that day” (1 Samuel 8:18; read the entire chapter). Indeed the kings of Israel are divided into good and bad, with the bad far outnumbering the good.

“Thirsty for More?”: Chapel of the Holy Spirit members served 800 bottles of free water to passersby at the Selinsgrove Market Street Festival last month. Each one was labeled with information about the active Beavertown mission.

The Christian encounters this fallen world and must engage it and seek to transform it through the softening of the hearts of men and their return to God. Nonetheless, the Christian must never forget that his own world has little to do with this one. As Christ tells Pilate before his crucifixion: “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). We confuse Christ’s kingdom (of which we are a part) with the world’s at our peril.

In the first place, we risk confusing the message of the Gospel: God became man, submitted to death, and overcame death in order for all men to live. What can the political process do about this? Surely we must remain free to speak openly and pointedly about sin and redemption and we should fight the political battle to do so. We must also seek to end gross injustice and the willful violent loss of human life, as each one bears the image of Christ. Yet the Gospel endures in spite of persecution by the state, just as it endured the first century Jews, the Roman emperors, Islam, and the Communists.

We must also not allow an interest in politics to corrupt our mission. Our aim as Christians is not the transformation of the state into some kind of imagined “Christian realm,” but the salvation of souls by uniting them with Christ and his Church.  While many contemporary denominations attract members by promoting a political bias, Orthodox Christians do not “recruit” on the basis of political affinity, but rather guide men, women, and children to pursue and cling to Christ, receiving the life and love that flows from Him alone. We must not present ourselves as conservative or liberal Christians, but always as authentic Christians.

Authentic Christians cannot transfer their obligations to the state. If it is our obligation to care for our neighbor (“When did we see you hungry…?” Matthew 25:31ff), it does no good to transfer our responsibility to politicians and bureaucrats. It is our calling, not someone else’s, especially if “someone else” isn’t a Christian at all.

Authentic Christians also cannot focus on one issue at the expense of another, as often happens with matters of abortion and war, where a given candidate supports one and deplores the other. Unjustified killing is unjustified killing, after all.

Finally, as authentic Christians, we must be careful not to despise our neighbor on the basis of his political beliefs. While some positions are quite clearly wrong (e.g., abortion), Christ says to “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). Our political discourse often leads us to dehumanizing our opponents, thinking less of them, or considering them stupid. The Gospel ultimately relates to a world restored in Christ rather than one run by politicians. Our Christian calling does not mean we must be politically apathetic, but it limits our expectations, reminding us “put not your trust in princes, in sons of men, in whom there is no salvation” (Psalm 146). For that, we can give thanks.

Chapel of the Holy Spirit Installs Sign on Property

Now Beavertown residents know exactly where the Chapel of the Holy Spirit will eventually build their new church. Motorists driving on North Kern Street will see the Chapel’s large new sign located on the southwest corner of the property purchased earlier this year. The sign, which was installed on December 22, is also visible from Market Street (U.S. Highway 522).

To see pictures of the new sign or learn more about the Chapel, visit their Web site: http://holyspirit-oca.org

 

 

 

First Service Held on New Land

Reader David Smith (right) leads Chapel faithful in a cross procession to the new property. There Fr. Basil (center) blessed the land in a service of thanksgiving.

by Brenda Smith

On Sunday, August 21, the faithful of the Chapel of the Holy Spirit processed from our home where we currently meet to our newly purchased property a block away. It had been a gloomy morning but the skies cleared just in time. We gathered on the land for a service of Thanksgiving led by Father Basil. This was a very special day for us as we gave God thanks for blessing us with this piece of property, which in the future will be the home of the first Orthodox Church in Snyder County. We also give thanks to God for the prayer and support of all of you at Holy Trinity who helped make this a reality for us at the Chapel.