The 2nd day of the retreat of the Western American Diocese began with the Lenten Hours, typica and vespers starting at 8:00 am.
After the Divine Services, the bishops and priests of our diocese listened to the lecture entitled “Homosexuality: Pastoral Challenges and Responses.” The talk was divided into two sections, the first being devoted to the historical background of this phenomenon stretching from antiquity, then addressing the Church’s position on the issue based on Sacred Scripture, the Canons and the voice of the Holy Fathers, and finally reviewing the socio-political environment today in our country. After a break, the second section the lecture continued by addressing homosexuality from a scientific standpoint, medically and psychologically, asking the questions is homosexuality innate, immutable and normal, and does its “orientation” equal “identity.” The lecture concluded with a focus on pastoral work in this area and a projection into the future.
Soon after the lecture, time was devoted to discussion. Among other topics two come to mind. 1) The participants addressed pastoral means for the healing of addictions, and of passions in general. And, 2) a remark was made that today there is tremendous pressure from certain circles in society that demand every person be “sexual,” without question everyone must express sexuality. It was noted that adopting this position would leave no room in Orthodox Christian life for such beauteous virtues as virginity and chastity (abstinence).
In general, the pastoral retreats of the Western American Diocese devote many hours to participation in the Divine Services, to the daily liturgical cycle of the Church, especially during Great Lent, this special season of repentance, the reconciliation with God of our souls and bodies, that latter being a Temple of the Holy Spirit. Prayer nourishes the soul and gives it a holy formation through contact with the Spirit of our God. The Lenten Hours are read from the book called the Horologian and the Psalms of David are inserted as well. The Vespers, Matins and Great Compline utilize such books as the Lenten Triodion, the Menean, and the Psalter as well.
Аll the psalms and prayers that are read and chanted have origins from different eras of the past, yet they have not lost their significance for the people of today. The prayers are an universal offering a freshness and consolation for contemporary man. For example, during the pastoral retreat, on Tuesday March 10 (Feb 25), we chanted the Divine Service to Saint Tarasius of Constantinople. We read the following from the canon to him: “With the power of thy words didst thou denounce the disease of the ungodly, and with the bonds of divine love didst thou bind thy flock; and thou preservest it unharmed through hope and faith” (V Ode of the Canon). And again: “Going without food, with abstinence thou didst nourish thy soul, possessing the bread of pure prayer, divine doctrine and exalted humility” (ibid.).
From the Lenten Triodion we heard: “Raised upon the Cross, O Master, through the Wood Thou hast quenched the flame of sin; suffering death by Thine own choice, Thou hast slain the enemy. Therefore I entreat Thee: put to death the desires of my flesh and bring to life my miserable heart, cleansing me from all defilement through the Fast that kills (corrects – ed.) the passions, for Thou art merciful” (Wednesday in the Third Week, Mattins, First Sessional Hymn).
The Psalter is rich with exalted thoughts that fit any occasion, from moments when we are sad or when we are joyous, when are anxious or when we are looking for a way to give thanks to God. A peculiar gift of the Psalms is that we can read one and the same Psalm many times during the course of our life, and yet despite any familiarity something new can leap out, some new inspiration that among other things can console or bring wonder at God’s Providence: “Unjust witnesses rose up against me; things I know not they asked me. They repaid me with evil things for good, and barrenness for my soul. But as for me, when they troubled me, I put on sackcloth. And I humbled my soul with fasting, and my prayer shall return to my bosom” (Psalm 34: 13-16). The very next Psalm reads like this: “The transgressor, that he may sin, saith to himself, that there is no fear of God before his eyes. For he hath wrought craftiness before Him, lest he should find his iniquity and hate it. The words of his mouth are iniquity and deceit, he hath not willed to understand how to do good. Iniquity hath he devised upon his bed, he hath set himself in every way that is not good, and evil hath he not abhorred” (Psalm 35: 1-4)... The Psalm then moves to something for those who keep God’s Commandments: “Let the sons of men hope in the shelter of Thy wings. They shall be drunken with the fatness of the Thy house, and of the torrent of Thy delight shalt Thou make them to drink. For in Thee is the fountain of life, in Thy light shall we see light. O continue Thy mercy unto them that know Thee” (8-11).
We see that mankind is truly divided by our Lord Jesus Christ and His Life-Creating Cross. There are those who accept Him, His Divine Teaching and Cross and those who do not. The Church prays during Great Lent: “In the midst of two thieves, Thy Cross was found to be a balance of justice; for the one was borne down to hades by the weight of his blasphemy; the other was raised up from his sins to the knowledge of theology. O Christ God, glory be to Thee” (Kontakion of the 9th Hour).
Despite the many pastoral difficulties and sorrows in the life of a shepherd, the Grace of God, the Holy Scriptures, Divine Services and fellowship in prayer with colleagues bring great consolation.
More information about Day 1 here.