by Richard Barrett
Recently, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America’s Metropolis of Chicago announced the ten areas of strategic focus they had developed during a three-day retreat. His Eminence Nathanael, Metropolitan of Chicago, said that these areas represent “who we are and what we stand for as Orthodox Christians[.]” Number nine on the list was “Worship Engagement and Accessibility.” This appeared to grow directly out of at least one weakness called out in the published SWOT analysis: “Unsatisfactory church experience (welcoming and liturgical).” This announcement echoed the concerns raised in Alexei Krindatch’s report, “Orthodox Christian Churches in 21st Century America: a Parish Life Study,” released in January of this year by the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops. According to Krindatch, attendance at Sunday services declined overall between 2010-2015, and in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and the Antiochian Archdiocese in particular, regularly participating members have become less engaged in the lives of their parishes.Issues of language, comprehension, and participation are oft-cited barriers to engagement; the service is in a language that the people do not understand, following an order with multiple moving parts that the people cannot track, which gives the people nothing to do. As a result they do not see that they have a reason to be there.
This perceived state of affairs is in marked contrast to the commonplace that from the Eastern Orthodox Church perspective, the primary act of the Christian is to worship God. Continue reading
by Mark Arey
For many years now, the word “hierarch” has become a catch-all when referring to bishops with differing titles (e.g. Archbishop, Metropolitan, Auxiliary Bishop). Many of us have had that moment of discomfort when we address a “hierarch” and get their salutation or title wrong! The reactions can range from neutral indifference to a hurtful scolding. “Hierarch” has become a safe alternative, especially when in doubt. But it would be a mistake to leave “hierarch” as a mere synonym for any member of the Episcopacy.
All bishops, regardless of their titles, jurisdictions, antiquity, are hierarchs, or at least are called to function as hierarchs. As bishops, they ἐπισκοπεύειν, they “oversee” (literally) their flocks, hopefully in imitation of our Great Chief Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ. In all the Divine Services the bishops preside, and in the Divine Liturgy—the central and chief liturgy of the Church—they preside in the full complement of the signs of their episcopal dignity. The omophorion—the episcopal stole that represents the lost sheep carried home (Luke 15: 4-6). The crown—a late accretion but a referent of the Kingship of Christ. The sakkos—a vestment of the Byzantine Emperor shared first with the Ecumenical Patriarch and then with all bishops to honor their position. The staff—a wonderful mash-up of the Ascelpian staff and the brass snake that Moses raised in the desert (Numbers 21:9)—both symbols of healing. The dikērotríkēra—the set of candles in two (δίκηρον) and three (τρίκηρον) with which bishops bless the faithful. And there are others as well, some shared with presbyters and deacons. These vestments are not worn or used outside the celebration of the Sacred Services. Although these signs belong to the bishop, their symbolic value goes much deeper. Continue Reading…