Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Open Letter to Ukrainian Orthodox priest and bishop



 Posted: 3 November 2015
Updated: 6 Nov 15

Eugene Kovalenko singing at Bethlehem Lutheran Church
Last year about this time I didn't think I had a year left because of a health condition that was getting worse. Couldn't eat or swallow or even speak without slurring, let alone sing. But then late last spring, a correct diagnosis by a risk-taking young physician found an appropriate prescription that allowed me to eat, speak and even sing again.


Thus, it is ironic that I was recently welcome to sing a great Old Slavonic chant in the local Lutheran Church, but denied communion in the Orthodox Church.

Below is an exchange between the local Orthodox priest and me about this surprising development. In this exchange I refer to a poem written 26 years earlier about the visit of two devout Russian Orthodox young women from Soviet Moscow, who joined me in taking communion together at a conservative Mormon church in Long Beach, California, in which I was then a member. Here is that poem, which is followed by the letter exchange:

Russian Easter

“Is it permitted?”
Ask our two Moscow guests
On a Long Beach bench
As sacred emblems pass our way
“We are not members
Of your church.”

“Yes,” I whisper,
“All are Christians
And believers here.”

Then we three as one
With tear-stained smiles
And Slavic souls communing
Took thus the broken loaf

And through the Ancient date
A Mystery rose to fuse
The Awful Fission.


Long Beach 
30 Apr 89 


On Thursday, Oct 29, 2015 at 5:32 PM, Eugene Kovalenko <enkovalenko@gmail.com> wrote:
Dear Theophan+,
It was a jubilant time on Saturday and Sunday! Congratulations for having a record number of people in attendance.
I am writing to address a surprise issue, which occurred during communion this past Sunday during Bishop Daniel’s wonderful visit. The surprise was this: When I approached the chalice on Sunday, Bishop Daniel denied me communion, while saying that I needed to have gone to confession earlier. I did not then and do not now believe I needed to confess anything to anybody in order to take communion with fellow believers. Father John and I have discussed this issue several times over the years we have known each other since early 2007. Where, oh where, did the Orthodox ecclesiastics (or any organized Christian religion with closed communion) ever get the idea that Christian believers and partakers of communion were required to have recently gone to confession?
Attached are three items for your information. The poem, Russian Easter, sums up the other two items and addresses the subject of this email. You needn’t bother with the other two symposium papers unless you want to know and understand the back story of the poem, which is told specifically in The Values Crisis paper. The poem also addresses the spiritual challenge of our unique community, the birthplace of the Bomb.
I know you and Bishop Daniel are sincere and honest believers, but the idea of a required confession before taking communion is simply wrong to me. It is also a dangerous idea because it gives clergy of any stripe the mistaken belief that he has the “right” to intervene or take control of the spiritual life of another believer. It is a dominating attitude. Isn’t it simply an ecclesiastical power trip, which has little to do with the gospel of love taught by Jesus? It seems to me to be an insidious form of idolatry.
To be clear, my conversion to Orthodoxy in 2008 came as the result of reading about the lives of two devout and courageous Russian Orthodox priests, who had endured the Soviet gulags. Neither of these two priests were then affiliated with a parish, albeit they had been ordained by the Orthodox institution to serve the physical needs and spiritual lives of others. Neither of these two priests required the kind of confession you and Bp. Daniel have specified. And yet their lives in the gulags made powerful, historic changes in a spectrum of other lives captured in horrendous circumstances.
The kind of confession that moved me deeply and that spontaneously occurred in the life of Fr. Arseny in the gulags was new to me. And it was this kind of confession that I experienced when interacting with Fr. John Hennies that motivated me to apply for membership in the OCA, whereas I had vowed never to join another organized religion after being excommunicated twice by ecclesiastics in the religion of my birth. That experience with Fr. John won my heart, which none of the Orthodox (or any other organized religion) rules, procedures and traditional trappings could ever do.
In the name of Him who loves us without condition, I am your brother,
Eugene (Arseny-Pavel) Kovalenko

On Friday, October 30, Theophan Mackey replied


Eugene,

Stories of the lives of saintly priests in the gulags are surely inspirational, but they are not necessarily sound theological treatises. Even if confession was not explicitly explained in these narratives, I would assure you that confession has always been an important part of the Orthodox Christian life.

Connection with the Church, historical, apostolic, orthodox, is necessary for the Orthodox Christian life. It is not the church of Father John, or my church, for that matter. It is Christ’s Church, the Orthodox Church. Attendance at services is crucial for both community with other members and to receive Holy Communion.

Until this weekend you had not attended a Divine Liturgy in the ten months that I have served here. I informed the Bishop of this fact and he supports my decision. In essence, you have removed yourself from this community, and if that is to be remedied, confession and regular attendance are necessary.

At my ordination I was charged with protecting the most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, and I will be held to account for those whom I have distributed it to at the Last Judgment.

Please see the quotes below for documentation of my decision.

Yours in Christ,

+Theophan

“Our Lord instituted the Sacrament of Holy Penance/Confession when He stated to His disciples: ‘Whosoever sins you remit they are remitted unto them. Whosoever sins you retain, they are retained.’ (John 20:23)”

 –UOC of USA Vital Regulations

“In case any Bishop, or Presbyter, or Deacon, or anyone else on the list of the Clergy, or any layman, without any graver necessity or any particular difficulty compelling him to absent himself from his own church for a very long time, fails to attend church on Sundays for three consecutive weeks, while living in the city, if he be a Cleric, let him be deposed from office; but if he be a layman, let him be removed from Communion.”

Canon 80 of the Quinisext Council of 692:

“3.  Also requiring reconciliation through Penitence and Confession are those who have not partaken of Communion (Can. 9 of the Apostles and Can. 2 of Antioch) or failed to go to Liturgy for three or more Sundays in a row without “grave necessity”, health difficulties or for reason of great distance in travel (Can 80 of the 6th Ecumenical Council).  Once a person knows of this statute he or she is bound to go to Confession and after receiving the absolution and blessing of the priest to partake of Communion as regularly as possible.”


On Sunday, November 1, 2015, I wrote:
Dear brother Theophan,
It is with a deep sense of joy and gratitude that I feel the free-thinking and independent-minded spirit of my Ukraine-born father (who fought as a boy soldier in the Russian Revolution-Civil War of 1917-20 against the oppression of a corrupt, totalitarian-minded Russian Orthodox Church) in this response to your reply to my letter regarding Ukraine-born Bishop Daniel's recent annual visit. With this in mind I feel prompted to copy Vladika, as well as to post it onto my Orthodox Journey blog. This is so that my father's family, who are members of different Christian churches in this country, Ukraine and elsewhere can be informed about my personal spiritual journey.

I'm wondering if you have read the attachments in my email [Mormon Mission to Moscow; The Values Crisis and Russian Easter], at least the poem Russian Easter. It doesn't seem so, because they contained a clear picture of my understanding and commitment to God, communion and the universal spiritual community. Because I had no feedback from you about them, I am taking the liberty to attach them again for those bcc'd in this reply.

And so thank you for the references to–UOC of USA Vital Regulations of which I was unaware. They remind me of the Handbook: Administering the Church, used to guide ecclesiastics of the Mormon Church in which I was reared and from which I was twice excommunicated. My major objection to the Mormon Handbook, albeit that it helps new leaders understand how to administer congregations, is that it makes little or no room for the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

In the religious tradition of my birth there are two strains: 1) "LDS" (Mormon) and 2) "RLDS". RLDS still refers to the legal name of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but they have more recently re-defined themselves as the "Community of Christ" after a deep and painful reassessment of their faith and history. The first institution is conservative, patriarchal and rigid. The second is progressive and evolving rapidly. Currently there is an exponential increase in numbers of young people transitioning out of the first, many of which then move to the second.

I now want to comment specifically on aspects of your reply, which I will add in the color red. I hope you will give them the consideration they deserve from a brother [who is] eager to develop an intimate, Christian loving partnership with you.

From: Theophan Mackey [mailto:fr.theophan.mackey@gmail.com]
Sent: Friday, October 30, 2015 3:08 PM
To: Eugene Kovalenko
Subject: Re: Communion and Confession
Eugene,
Stories of the lives of saintly priests in the gulags are surely inspirational, but they are not necessarily sound theological treatises. Even if confession was not explicitly explained in these narratives, I would assure you that confession has always been an important part of the Orthodox Christian life.
Did you not notice my several-time emphasis on the word "required" in referring to the importance of confession? In my view confession must always be voluntary, never compulsory. Otherwise, it becomes a controlling mechanism on the way to totalitarian behavior, which is simply not the way of Christ's true church, despite whatever the LDS Handbook or the UOC Regulations say. It is a clear example of what Orthodox St. Pavel Florensky refers to as "prelest" in his classic work Iconostasis.
Connection with the Church, historical, apostolic, orthodox, is necessary for the Orthodox Christian life. It is not the church of Father John, or my church, for that matter. It is Christ’s Church, the Orthodox Church. Attendance at services is crucial for both community with other members and to receive Holy Communion.
The church of my upbringing also claims the right of governance to Christ's Church and in fact presumes to be the only authorized religious institution recognized by Jesus Christ on earth. Brother, as the famous song goes regarding biblical claims, "It ain't necessarily so". In my view there is no institution on earth that can legitably make such a claim. (1 Timothy 2:5, KJV)
Until this weekend you had not attended a Divine Liturgy in the ten months that I have served here. I informed the Bishop of this fact and he supports my decision. In essence, you have removed yourself from this community, and if that is to be remedied, confession and regular attendance are necessary.
I'm sorry you did not take the time to reach out to make a personal connection with me as I asked on several occasions. And you seem to think I should not be free to attend any church or congregation in this or any other area, whose communion and fellowship I have been enjoying every Sunday during your current tenure. You may remember I left certain items on your doorstep months ago, hoping we could get better acquainted in private, which you have not acknowledged. I had hoped to tell you more of my own story so that we could develop the kind of trust that I learned to have with Fr. John Hennies in his role as priest for the previous Orthodox parish, which, as you know, was dissolved because of difficulties with higher OCA ecclesiastical leadership.
By the way, I have been informed with no small alarm that you generally forbid anyone interested in becoming a member of UOC St. Job of Pochaiv parish to take communion in any other church!! This prohibition leaves me almost breathless. How can you even begin to believe you have such a right and power?
At my ordination I was charged with protecting the most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, and I will be held to account for those whom I have distributed it to at the Last Judgment.
This is not unlike oaths that LDS ecclesiastics take. They remind me of the behavior of those in the Old Testament who presumed they had a responsibility to steady the Ark of the Covenant. And you know what happened to them! God needs no defense.
The one central, marvelous thing that I learned from Fr. John Hennies during my investigation of the Russian Orthodox tradition of my father, which I accepted under his guidance and inspiring example and have now transcended, is that the primary purpose of any priest is simply to love his people as exemplified by Jesus. Nothing more. Anything else is simply unrighteous dominion for which Jesus criticized the Pharisees in laying unnecessary burdens on their people.
Please see the quotes below for documentation of my decision.
Yours in Christ, (You will forgive me for not believing that you are acting "in Christ" or are in harmony with the Jesus of Nazareth, whose life and example is my role model, despite my own less than perfect example.)
+Theophan
“Our Lord instituted the Sacrament of Holy Penance/Confession when He stated to His disciples: ‘Whosoever sins you remit they are remitted unto them. Whosoever sins you retain, they are retained.’ (John 20:23)”
 –UOC of USA Vital Regulations
“In case any Bishop, or Presbyter, or Deacon, or anyone else on the list of the Clergy, or any layman, without any graver necessity or any particular difficulty compelling him to absent himself from his own church for a very long time, fails to attend church on Sundays for three consecutive weeks, while living in the city, if he be a Cleric, let him be deposed from office; but if he be a layman, let him be removed from Communion.”
Canon 80 of the Quinisext Council of 692:
“3. Also requiring reconciliation through Penitence and Confession are those who have not partaken of Communion (Can. 9 of the Apostles and Can. 2 of Antioch) or failed to go to Liturgy for three or more Sundays in a row without “grave necessity”, health difficulties or for reason of great distance in travel (Can 80 of the 6th Ecumenical Council).  Once a person knows of this statute he or she is bound to go to Confession and after receiving the absolution and blessing of the priest to partake of Communion as regularly as possible.”
Your brother, Eugene (Arseny-Pavel) Kovalenko

On November 1. 2015, 11:03 PM, Joseph Dillard wrote:
Woah. You keep on trying to pry open the minds of authorities who base their power, status and self-esteem on their closed-mindedness. You ask them to choose reason and “love” over belief, power, status and self-esteem. In Arkansas, where I grew up, this was called “pissing into the wind.” A noble pursuit, like jousting with windmills, if one likes to be accompanied by the savory odor of urine.

As far as books of vital regulations go, all of same should be treated with the same degree of adoration and respect as one treats the Boy Scout Handbook. 
  On November 3, 2015, 4:12 AM, Joseph Dillard wrote again to send an article by Jeremy Deaton titled: Exxon, Edelman, And How Shame Can Lead To Action On Climate change. He then states and asks.


Shame as a tool to coerce responsible government and corporate action makes sense to me. What do you think???
I replied later the same day at 8:12 AM:

Now that you bring this to my attention, i.e., public shame for coercive institutions, this was the driver for my recent open letter to the new regulation-driven Orthodox priest and his bishop, don't you think?
To which Joseph replied at  8:33 AM: 
Regarding your letter and shaming the priest and his bishop, as I understand the mechanism of shame, it probably has to come from either sources that the shamed party fears or respects. Unfortunately, I do not think you likely fit into either of those categories for the priest and bishop, which is sad, because I would love to see such narrow-minded bigots effectively shamed.

To be continued...
 




Saturday, January 3, 2015

New priest comes to St. Job Orthodox parish in Los Alamos

Posted: 3 Jan 15
Updated:


The Rev. Theophan Mackey and family