Mat. Valerie Zahirsky: Fr. Josiah Trenham is a native southern Californian. He’s been married to Catherine Christie for 27 years and has 10 children, was ordained to the holy priesthood in 1993, and received a Ph.D. in theology from the University of Durham in England in 2004. He’s served as pastor of St. Andrew Orthodox Church in Riverside, California, since 1998. He’s the founder and director of Patristic Nectar Publications, a company dedicated to nourishing the spiritually thirsty with the sweet teachings of the holy Fathers in quality audio recordings of downloadable patristic works as well as lectures and homilies. His own homilies are listened to by many people all over the globe on The Arena podcast on Ancient Faith Radio.
He serves as an instructor in and on the board of advisors of Sts. Cyril and Athanasius Orthodox Institute in San Francisco. He’s an adjunct professor of theology at St. Katherine College in Encinitas, California, from 2010 to the present day, and was an adjunct professor of history at the California Baptist University from 2003 to 2010. Books and articles by Father have been published extensively, and he conducts numerous parish, diocesan, and clergy retreats each year throughout the United States and Canada. Since 2004, he has served on the mayor environmental committee of the city of Riverside, California, and he’s also served as a member of the secretariat of the Assembly of Orthodox Bishops in the U.S. since its inception in May 2010. Fr. Josiah Trenham. [Applause]
Fr. Josiah Trenham: God be with us. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen. Gerry said in the last talk that he had the hardest slot—after lunch on the last day—but this is the hardest hardest spot. [Laughter] After lunch and the really last session.
Mat. Valerie Zahirsky: We all have coffee IVs, so it’s okay.
Fr. Josiah: Good. I was looking for my Starbucks IV, too. [Laughter] We’ll make do with this. I have a few handouts before we get going. What’s coming around by way of a handout is a packet, a catechism packet, that we use in our parish, and it has a lot of neat little things in it that I’m going to refer to. My A/V master, Fr. Christopher, is gone, and therefore it’s not going to be projected on the screen, but you’ll have it projected on your table in front of your face.
I’m very humbled to be here, and I want to make some apologies just up front for the kind of grandiose title of this workshop: “How to Make Your Parish a Catechetical Powerhouse!” [Laughter] Sounds really great! I knew it would be attractive, even though I’m completely embarrassed by the title. And remember, too, we’re talking about Orthodox, okay. [Laughter] When you have a very—I always tell people—when you have a very tiny pond, a little minnow is a big fish. That’s how it works. We Orthodox—God love us—we stink! [Laughter] We stink in catechesis and outreach, and some of my heroes with regards to real catechism are people like the Fathers of the catechetical school of Alexandria, which was started in the second century and went on for hundreds of years and educated tens of thousands of Christians all across the Roman Empire, and the heads of this catechetical school were successive saints.
St. John Chrysostom, the great archbishop of Constantinople who reposed in 477, when he was exiled in 403 by a really bad emperor who betrayed him terribly, which was very sad—one of the things that he did just before exiling Chrysostom is let his military guard attack Archbishop John on Great and Holy Saturday, just as the catechumens were about to be baptized. And we have notes from contemporary ecclesiastical historians about how many catechumens fled, and some of them had blood on their white baptismal garments, etc. Guess how many he was baptizing that particular Great Saturday in 403. Three thousand.
Audience: Three thousand?
Fr. Josiah: Three thousand. It was another Pentecost. Pentecost was three thousand, and this was how vital the outreach of the Church and the catechetical process of the Church… And by the way, I should just mention: that was the culmination of a three-year period of catechesis, which was traditional in the first four centuries of the Church, as we were coming alive in the midst of a pagan milieu. That’s how long it took. It was a serious process of conversion, and we have throughout much of history been really, really good at it. But today we stink. We smell really bad.
There were more Orthodox in this country in 1920 than there are now. Let me repeat that. There were more Orthodox Christians in America in 1920 than there are now. Yes. Try to prove me wrong. I’d welcome it.
C1: I’m not a powerhouse. I can’t do that. [Laughter]
Fr. Josiah: Well spoken! That’s an extremely sad statistic, and one that we should all kind of hang our heads [at]. Our retention rates, due to our lack of serious catechesis, are horrific. These are all public, and if anyone wants to know about them, you can find them in numerous studies, some done by the Orthodox, by our own researchers, like Alexei Krindatch, who is a researcher employed by the Assembly of Orthodox Bishops, who has a website called orthodoxreality.org, or you can go and find out lots of facts and statistics about our Church; also, other research groups who are not Orthodox and just pollsters, etc. We have horrific retention rates, especially when our children leave the confines of their family home and their parishes and go to Satan’s catechetical school—excuse me, to public university [Laughter]—and they, the majority—majority—leave us. They walk away from their faith; they walk away from the Church.
This is tragic, and perhaps the most tragic thing is that, as a whole, we really aren’t very concerned about it. We’ve known these numbers for a long time. You would think that this would be the number-one thing that we’re talking about in all of our conventions, in all of our public gatherings. If you had ten kids like I do, and you knew six of them were going to walk away from you as soon as they went to college, you might decide nothing else in your life was as important as fixing that. That is a hemorrhage of gigantic proportions.
We, in fact, still don’t have a common catechism in this country. This is one of the sorrowful realities of being so sinfully divided into jurisdictions as we are. I like to point out, every time I mention that word, that that is not an Orthodox word. You can look into the dictionary of the holy Fathers, into any patrology, and you’ll look for the word in vain. There is no such thing as jurisdictions. We are not living according to Orthodox norms, and the consequences are extremely sorrowful. We don’t have a common catechism. We don’t even have a common translation of the Nicene Creed or a common Bible. We must attend to our own house. How much more sorrow do we need before we fix this?
I’m saying all of that just to provide deep motivation for elevating to a very high place the role of catechesis, aggressive catechesis, as absolutely essential for the future of the Church. There’s a very famous Roman Catholic catechist from the middle part of this last century whom I admire very much. Granted, he’s a Latin; I’m not suggesting that he’s Orthodox, but he was an incredible Latin, an incredible archbishop. Some of you might even be old enough to remember seeing him on television: Archbishop Fulton Sheen. Archbishop Fulton Sheen was the number-one TV—TV—personality in 1955. More people watched him on television than anyone else, and all he did was stand at a blackboard with his little funny biretta on, drawing diagrams and explaining theology.
He was an accomplished theologian and communicator, and to be a good catechist you have to be both. You have to know the truth and you have to be able also to know people and your culture so that you can communicate the truth in the language that they understand, and he did an incredible job. He himself catechized, on average—he had a serious program, and he didn’t even have all the media and digital tools we had—ten thousand people a year. That’s how many people he brought from non-Catholicism, through catechism, into baptism into the Catholic Church. Every year. One man. A really incredible person.
He doesn’t have many followers today, and the Catholic Church is hemorrhaging, perhaps even worse than we are, but there are a few… There is a very talented Roman Catholic bishop named Robert Barron, who runs a catechetical ministry called “Word on Fire.” He was a priest in Chicago and a professor of theology at the Mundelein Seminary there in Chicago. He just recently was consecrated a bishop and is an assistant bishop now in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese in Los Angeles, which is just by my house and where I’m from, which is the largest Catholic Archdiocese in America and probably the least-catechized of all Catholic dioceses. They were for 35 years governed by a horrendous man named Cardinal Roger Mahony, who is a criminal and should be in jail. How he actually kept himself out of jail I don’t know.
It’s amazing that this incredible contemporary Roman Catholic catechist who uses all of the tools that we have available… He has a videography staff, he publishes fantastic videos twice a week that are watched on his YouTube channel and elsewhere by tens of thousands of people. I’m recommending him for a model for us to look to of what we can do in our own Orthodox sphere. We really need to jump in. So here’s my thoughts about how to do that.
I would like to give you some steps in order to turn a parish into, at least in our little world, a powerhouse. I’m addressing these comments to the pastor as the chief catechist, but teachers and the teaching ministry in every local parish of course extends past the pastor; it doesn’t go around him in any way, but his pastoral responsibility before Christ he shares with many, many who are accomplished catechists in the parish. That’s the best-case scenario. Number one, in order to have a catechetical powerhouse, the pastor must catechize himself. He must be resolved, before everything else, to be a learner, a disciple of Christ himself, so that all his teaching and all his catechism is an expression of something that he’s processed himself, and therefore it shares a personal, hypostatic enthusiasm. It’s something that he himself has applied to his life, and therefore he can share it authentically, and therefore it doesn’t come across like rational ideas. This is not that; this is lived experience with God, and that’s where it has to begin.
Remember that the fundamental word in the New Testament for a Christian is mathētēs; it means “pupil, student.” And the Church is just that. The Church is a school full of students; we have one Master, one ultimate Teacher, Christ our Savior, but we are his students, and inasmuch as we hopefully will never stop being Christians, this means we will never stop being students. If we are ever not learning, at that moment we are not being Christians. We are not living like Christians, because Christians learn throughout their entire life. St. Gregory of Nyssa says even further than that. He says, “Christians remain as pupils”—each of us is going to be a mathētēs—“for eternity.” There is no depth to God, so eternity will be… he describes it as a circle that points out into a cone that never has an ending. As we penetrate into the depths of God and understand him more and more, it will never end, forever. We will be learning and going from glory to glory without end. Try to figure that out. [Laughter] That’s something. That’s a future worth investing in and worth obtaining. So the pastor must start by catechizing himself, and this goes for all teachers. This is the only way for it to be authentic.
Now, St. Paul gives us some qualifications in his pastoral epistles. This is 1 Timothy and Titus that I’d like to refer to. In 1 Timothy 3 and in Titus 1, St. Paul lays down standards for qualifications for ordination, for the deacon, priest, and bishop. Now, most of those standards—and I like, when I speak to seminarian students, to emphasize this—that most of the emphasis that Paul places is upon character and holiness, not academics, not degrees, not intellect. His emphasis is about being a quality person, being a man of reputation, inside and outside the Church, a man of honesty, a man who’s not addicted to wine, a man who’s not fond of money. Those vices are impediments to ordination. He does, however, have an emphasis also upon the intellect. He requires even the deacon to be able to hold to the faith with a clear conscience. He has to be able to… You can’t hold to what you don’t know. Clergy are expected to have acquired a comprehension of the Christian faith and to have lived according to it so that their consciences are clean. This is a prerequisite for ordination to the clergy.
The most famous patristic text on the priesthood—there are many great works written by Fathers, but the most famous, the most read, the most published and translated into multiple languages—is the famous work by St. John Chrysostom, six books that he wrote, On the Priesthood. It’s in English; St. Vladimir’s publishes a very nice translation of it. In this treatise, St. John Chrysostom… This is now taking the Church from the apostolic period into the thriving growth of the fourth and early fifth century in the Roman empire.
St. John Chrysostom dedicates two full books—two of six: that’s one-third of his entire treatise—to the intellectual development of priests and to preaching. This is how important he thinks preaching is. This is how important he thinks study is. He says in this text that one of the great causes—in fact, in this text, he says the greatest cause, although elsewhere he also says that and he says something else, so at least in his top—of trouble in the Church are the ordination of priests and bishops who are not qualified to be priests and bishops. Number one cause of trouble in the Church is cheesy ordinations. Forgive me, that’s my Californian paraphrase. [Laughter] Cheesy ordinations.
And he says in his treatise that he would no longer… that holiness is an absolute requirement, but it’s not sufficient to become a clergyman. You need, besides holiness, you need intellectual acumen, you need the willingness… And he doesn’t talk in this whole section on preaching and intellect, he never once talks about technique. Is Fr. Sergius in here? I just saw Fr. Sergius, professor of homiletics, outside, and I would have loved to have talked with him about that, since he is a professor of preaching. St. John Chrysostom, the greatest preacher in the history of the Church, dedicates one-third of his most famous treatise to preaching and never once mentions technique. That should tell us something. It’s not about technique; it’s about absolute immersion. It’s about the spirit of Ezra, whose personal life is described in Ezra 7:10. It says that he was dedicated to study the law of the Lord, to practice its precepts, and to teach its statutes in Israel. That is the heart of any clergyman, according to St. John Chrysostom.
We have to have the greatest concern to be studiers, as a matter of our own salvation. We study first for ourselves, to catechize ourselves, to know God, to draw near to God ourselves. Then we put it into practice, and then we teach. And this should apply to all of us. Our teaching is as effective as our people witness its truth in our life. If they sense a discord between what we’re saying and what we’re doing, they’re going to turn their ears right off. They’re not going to pay any attention to us at all.
If the Church has developed… Intellect has become… and by that, especially, St. John Chrysostom emphasizes the hard work. He isn’t saying you have to be somehow especially gifted to be… only brilliant people can become priests. That’s not what he’s saying. What he’s saying is you have to be resolved to the life of the mind, to develop the life of the mind, and to immerse yourself in the truth of God. This is his emphasis. He talks in his treatise about being willing to be tired, and I should milk this out. Catechists have to be willing to exercise their muscles and to get weary and sore and to persevere. And by muscles, I primarily mean these. You have to be willing.
And remember, this is an age that doesn’t read any more. We don’t read any more. And it’s impossible to be a catechist if you’re not a reader. Absolutely impossible. You have to be willing to read and have your eyes get tired and be okay with that. And you should be very wise. You should read, and when you’re done, when you’ve read 50 minutes, take a break. Go outside, let your eyes see something long-distance. You’ll preserve your eyes, and you’ll also have a chance to remember what you’re reading. You’ll re-position your thoughts, and then you can sit down and continue. St. John Chrysostom thought that that was an absolute necessity, that we build catechists—priests especially—build their study muscles. We have very short attention spans. Very short attention spans cannot be tolerated by catechists and teachers in the Church. No, no. We have to build muscles. We have to work hard.
Now, I hate jogging. I hate jogging. I don’t know why, but I’ve always hated jogging, since I played sports my whole life, but not jogging. One time my basketball coach punished me. I can’t remember exactly what I did—but I did many things to that fine man, whom I’m still in contact with; I love him! [Laughter]—but he put up with me, and one time he punished me, he said… He made us play a sport when basketball season wasn’t in. We always had to be doing something else—tennis, baseball, whatever. One year, he said, “You’re running cross-country.” Aww! It was torture, absolute torture.
I grew up in Pasadena, and my school is very near the Rose Bowl. So every day after school during cross-country, we had to go run around the Rose Bowl. Who runs around the Rose Bowl? Nuts! Absolutely nuts. So what I did, being a little crafty, is I was running, kind of with the pack, and just as we were approaching the Rose Bowl, I kind of drifted to the back, and then hopped in the bushes. And they went around the Bowl, and when they passed me back, I jumped out of the bushes and continued on my way. [Laughter] I did get caught. I did eventually get caught, and it was a very humbling experience in the races, which were three miles. Getting beat by women. [Laughter] I was fifteen. That was not supposed to happen, right? I was a titan! “I don’t need to run!”—supposedly. Well, it was very humbling.
And I learned, if you don’t use the muscles, you don’t build the muscles. People who use them, the people on my team, they seemed to be okay with the pain. They ran, they got used to the pain, and they just pushed through it. I’m suggesting that the same is true for us with regards to study. We can get used to the pain, bear it out of love for those that we’re teaching, because what separates great preachers, great catechists, from those who aren’t is the investment. It’s the investment. It’s the willingness to really work hard and to catechize ourselves.
St. Paul, in his pastoral letters, describes the first degree of the priesthood, which is the tonsuring of a reader. He places this emphasis on hard work and about diligence right at the beginning. Listen to this. This is how precious it is to read the Scriptures and even have them and touch them. This is 1 Timothy 4:13-16. He’s speaking to his spiritual son, Timothy.
Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and to teaching. Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you which was bestowed upon you with prophetic utterance with the laying-on of hands by the priests. Take pains with these things.
Let me repeat that: “Take pains with these things”: the public reading of Scripture and study.
Take pains with these things. Be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching. Persevere in these things.
There it is.
Persevere in these things, for as you do this, you will ensure salvation, both for yourself and for those who hear you.
That’s an incredible text. We should be so absorbed, we teachers, should be so absorbed in teaching ourselves that our progress is obvious to all, and we should do it knowing our salvation is involved in this. This is the way that we ensure our salvation and the salvation of those who listen to us. The consequence, the opposite, is that we ruin people’s salvation.
I remember one time one of my sons, coming home from church, and telling me what he learned in Sunday school. I think he was at the time in sixth grade. And he came home and he told me, “Pops, guess what I learned in Sunday school today! I learned that God the Father created his Son, Jesus.” I said, “Oh, really? Can you tell me a little bit more about that?” [Laughter] And he said, “Oh, yeah,” and he explained it a little more. “It’s like this…” Anyway—full-blown Arianism. In my Sunday school class! So I did what pastors have to do. It’s not the best part of the job, I can tell you, and that was call the Sunday school teacher. “Hello, dear. How are you today? Can I ask you something? He’s probably misunderstanding what you’re saying, but could you tell me exactly what you were saying about the relationship between the Father and the Son today?” “Oh, yes, yes, yes.” Anyway… “You know, sweetheart, that’s called Arianism.” That will destroy the soul of anyone who believes it. Heresy saves no one; the truth only saves people. That’s called “not working hard enough to understand.” That was a rationalistic, unexamined thought. Unintentional, but destructive nonetheless.
St. Paul continues about this emphasis upon hard work to catechize ourselves in the very next chapter of that same text—this is 1 Timothy—and he goes on and he says:
The priests who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says: You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing, and the laborer is worthy of his wages.
So when St. Paul says that priests who rule well, and especially those priests who rule well and dedicate themselves to the hard work of preaching and teaching, are worthy of double honor, do you know what he means? He doesn’t mean that you bow twice when you see them. [Laughter] It means you pay him twice. “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” You know, some of our lack of catechesis is because our priests are not paid correctly, and they simply have no time to invest themselves in study and prayer, because they’re actually working secular jobs. I’m in the Antiochian Archdiocese, and thankfully that’s not very common in our Archdiocese, but it has been one of the revelations that I’ve seen as I’ve participated on the Secretariat of the Assembly of Bishops and have been more exposed to kind of universal Orthodoxy in America. How many of our priests are working priests and have to have outside jobs? And this really kills our catechesis. We need to make sure especially that those who are willing to work hard and feed us are well paid for, so that they’re free to do that. There’s all sorts of temptations for priests besides the hard work of it, first of all. Who loves hard work? We have to reconcile with the fact that this is hard work, just off the cuff. But there are a lot of temptations, as a priest, not to study, because of needs.
I remember when I became… when I was first ordained, about 22 years ago, I guess now, the bishop [who] ordained me told me this very beautiful piece of advice that I kiss his hand for to this day. He said: When you go into your office, the first few hours you don’t answer your phone. You don’t even answer a knock on your door, unless it’s an emergency. You have a means—the secretary knows she can get through if it’s an emergency, or if someone was taken to the hospital; that’s a different story. But, he said, you do that, and you study, because if you don’t do that, you’re going to have nothing to feed your people. You’re not going to have anything to give them. We know what fast food’s like. There’s a parallel with fast-food teaching. It’s not homemade. We’re not in it. Our mother’s food saves us; we know that. It can completely change a bad day into a good day, and it’s the same with teaching, public teaching. We have to make the time to do the hard work, and there’s lots of things that distract the clergy.
This same bishop also told me—this was on the day I was ordained—he said: You are ordained to be a priest. Refuse to do what non-priests can do in the parish. Think about what he was saying to me. He was saying: Don’t clean. (He’s not saying don’t clean up after yourself.) Don’t clean. Don’t make all the phone calls that other people could make that aren’t pastoral. Don’t allow yourself to be swamped by administration. Plenty of people have administrative gifts in the parish. We just need to activate them, and they won’t get activated if we priests allow ourselves to be distracted from our primary calling, which is prayer and the ministry of the word.
And I take that language right out of Acts 6. Remember the first big controversy in the early Church, just after the Pentecost? The first big controversy is a controversy about the distribution of alms to widows. Two ethnic groups are in conflict in the Church, one claiming that the other was not receiving as much alms and care for the widows as the opposing group. This was brought to the apostles. The apostles solved the problem, but they didn’t solve the problem by jumping in and feeding the widows themselves. They solved the problem by making deacons, those beautiful seven deacons, and they said this: It’s not right for us to serve tables. We must dedicate ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word. This is Acts 6.
They made a wise decision. They oversaw, which priests do. They have to rule well, they have to oversee charity, they have to oversee the administration of the Church. That doesn’t mean they have to be swallowed up by it or lose their primary calling, which is to stand at that altar every day and pray for their people, while the people are serving God and the world. Pray for them every day, pray the services, do only what a priest can do, administer the holy mysteries, and submerge themselves into the sacred teaching, into the apostolic teaching, so that they can pass on the life-giving truth to their people. For priests, and in a derivative way I would also say, for catechists, this kind of approach to teaching is the measure of our love for Jesus—bottom line.
Let me explain what I mean by that. When Jesus was raised from the dead, he appeared on the beach. Remember, this is recorded in John 21. He appeared on the beach to Peter. He appeared to Peter, because he wanted to heal Peter from his horrible guilt for having denied the Lord three times. So Jesus appears to him, and he asks Peter: “Peter, do you love me?” And Peter says, “Lord, you know I love you,” three times to make up for the three denials. But, for our purposes, what’s of great interest is that Jesus taught Peter as an apostle and the foremost of apostles, he taught Peter how to measure his love for Christ. He said, “If you love me, feed my lambs. Tend my sheep.”
This is the measure of any bishop’s and any priest’s love for Christ. This is how we’re going to answer on the day of Judgment, we who are priests and bishops. The Lord is going to measure our devotion to him by our devotion to feeding the flock, and he didn’t mean physical food, although that’s part of our ministry to oversee—charity—for sure. He meant spiritual food, the food that Jesus asked us to really be concerned with. “Man doesn’t live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
So that’s number one. We must catechize ourselves. We must become absolutely dedicated to this in order for our parish to respond.
Number two: A pastor should lay a proper foundation to support catechesis in the parish. I’ve moved from his personal foundation and derivatively to all catechists to, now, the parish foundation. How do you lay a foundation so that you can build a really big catechetical house in each church? Well, first, we should articulate very strongly the position that instruction and catechesis in the parish is a part of the central mission of the Church. It in fact flows from the Great Commission, when our Savior, just before he ascended to the Mount of Olives and took humanity through the atmospheric heavens and put it at the right hand of God where it is now, ruling the world, just before that happened, he told his disciples
Go into all the world and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And lo, I am with you even unto the end of the age.
The Great Commission involved not just the preaching of the Gospel and baptism making people Christians; a second portion: once they are Christians, once they’ve been incorporated in Christ in the Church, then we are to spend our lives teaching them everything that he has commanded us, until the end of the age. Catechism is at the very heart of the Church. This is Gospel work, basic work, and as such the Church is a school. She is much more than a school, but she is not less than a school. Every Christian is in school. You know, when I first came to my parish and I started what I thought was a reasonable catechetical program, an adult education program, what I’ll tell you about in a little bit, I called the St. John Chrysostom Catechetical School, for the first five years, I gave quizzes and tests. Anyway, a lot of my parishioners didn’t like that. “What? Are we in school? Why are you giving us tests? Are you going to give us Fs?” I said, “No. I don’t know. Should I give you Fs? I want you to take this seriously.” That was what I was communicating to them. Now, I have to confess, I gave up after five years and I’ve been there 18, and I’m still teaching the school just like I was before, but I don’t give quizzes and tests any more.
The reason I did that was because the best pedagogue I’ve had in my whole life was an Old Testament professor in seminary, in Orlando, Florida, who, no matter who many, even when the class was this big, which is about the size of our Old Testament class, in a three-hour seminar, he would not allow any single person in the class not to answer a question. He engaged personally, especially if he saw you nodding off. Then you’re dead. [Laughter] “You back there! What’s the answer to that question?” That’s how it was, and he kept us on our toes. He kept us serious about the class, and he showed his seriousness by expecting a lot out of us.
Brothers and sisters, whether we want quizzes or tests administered by our priests, you do know that you’ve got a great big final exam coming up. Yeah, you do. We don’t like to think about it sometimes, but I’m telling you: We have a major serious final exam, and we’d better be prepared for it. The way to be prepared for it now is taking lots of final exams, regularly, ourselves. This is the way that we do it. We have to articulate this vision, that we are all students in the Church of Christ, which is his school. That’s number one: Articulate that vision clearly.
The second is to build your catechetical house on a bed of prayer. Build it on a bed of prayer. Let me explain what I mean by that. Right off the cuff, I would say there is a portion of the Divine Liturgy which is in every single priest’s prayer book, that many of our parishes simply ignore. It’s called the Litany of the Catechumens, and it follows, in the wisdom of the Church, right after the readings of the sacred Scripture and the preaching. The epistle and gospel are read, then they’re explained in the homily, and then those who are the new students of the Church, the catechumens, get prayed for and then they get dismissed, because they’re not prepared yet to be there with the holy mysteries. Some churches don’t pray the Litany of the Catechumens because they say, “We don’t have catechumens.” That’s sad enough. Not to have catechumens is sad enough, but remember: the prayer of the Litany of Catechumens is not just for your catechumens or lack thereof; it’s for the Church’s catechumens, and if you don’t have catechumens, certainly many churches throughout the world do. We’re praying for the catechumens everywhere in that beautiful litany. And maybe if you start praying that litany, everybody in your church will start saying, “What’s a catechumen? How do we get some of those?” And maybe start praying for them, right? And they might start growing up.
C2: I have a quick statement to make. Could you remind me? One of my friends’ sons, they were driving home from the church, and they had been at a lot of liturgies; it was Pascha-time. He said, out of the back seat, “You know, Mom, what did that catechumen family do that Father asked them to leave early?” [Laughter] That was like the greatest line, isn’t it?
Fr. Josiah: That’s absolutely great. I hope the priest made something up. “They looked at me wrong!” [Laughter] “Those mean people.”
C2: What a great question, though!
Fr. Josiah: Absolutely! But, you know, the presence of the catechumens in that prayer… I’ll tell you, one of the happiest moments that I have, when we have a hierarchical Liturgy, is at that moment… We’ve had on average… We’ve catechized and received about 350 people in our parish in the last 18 years. On average, I guess that’s 20 a year. Sometimes more, sometimes less. But to have them come up… I have them come up just to the foot of the soleas, so they don’t come up onto the soleas which is the place where people receive sacraments, so it’s not their place. But the bishop when he’s there will walk out and stand just on the edge. So there they are, 20 of them, looking at him, and he prays for them and he blesses them and then he dismisses them, and he dismisses them—I don’t do this, but he does this every time—he asks them to come and personally take a blessing. He holds the cross for every single one of them. And then they leave with a catechist. I’ll tell you about that program in a second.
But it has a tremendous influence upon the mentality of everybody in the Church. When you’re seeing such a significant reaction going on between your hierarch, or if he’s not there, the priest—one of the priests will say it, the prayer—and you see these people up there, you remember what we’re here for. We’re here, yes, to worship the Holy Trinity, number one, and also to fulfill the mission of Christ, to carry his cause, to bring people out of darkness into the kingdom of light, to connect them to the God of love and to wash away all that stuff that God doesn’t want them to have on them, all their sins, and get it off. This is a tremendous way to further that mission in the Church, simply visually to see the catechumens being prayed for and interacted with. So this is the first way I would suggest laying a foundation of prayer, even if you don’t have catechumens in your particular parish.
I would also say that this should be a matter of our personal prayer, that we should be people who are—especially we who are teachers—who want to help people to be Christians and to be formed as Christians. We could have a portion of our own kanona, a portion of our own rule praying for those that we know and maybe those that we haven’t yet met that the Lord could help us connect to them and bring them to the Church.
One of the ways that we’ve encouraged prayer like this in our flock in my parish is that in the Apostles’ Fast… What is the Apostles’ Fast about? Most of us know what the Lent is about and about the Nativity Fast—we’re preparing for the two greatest miracles of the earth: the Incarnation and the Resurrection. But what about the Apostles’ Fast? The Apostles’ Fast is all about the work of the Church, the apostolic Church, carrying the message of the apostles, being sent as ambassadors by God to the world to reconcile the whole world to him.
One of the ways that we’ve encouraged that mentality is we have a short prayer—it only takes about a minute to say. We call it our prayer for missions and outreach, and it’s a beautiful prayer for domestic and international missions, in which we pray—the first half of the prayer is just remembering all the saving acts that Christ has done for us to save us, what we’re so thankful for, and then we turn our attention to asking the Lord’s blessing upon our neighbors and community and those who yet have not heard this message and responded to this message. I asked everyone to take it home and put it in their prayer corner and to read it every day of the Apostles’ Fast before they eat.
The reason that we’re fasting… You do know that the reason that we fast is so that we can pray, right? We eat less, we spend less time cooking and less time eating so that we can have more time; we can’t say to God, “Oh, I don’t have more time to pray.” Stop eating, go to your icons, and pray. And here’s something you can pray. It’s a very beautiful, simple prayer, and it has caused flowers to grow in my parishes, as far as having hearts for people. If you want—I tried to get it into your packet, but I forgot about it. [Sighs from the audience] I emailed my secretary, and she sent it to me, so I have it now on an email attachment, so if you want to ask for it, just send an email to the email address that’s on your handout and I’ll send it to you, that prayer. So we should lay a foundation of prayer.
We should also educate ourselves about the traditional process of catechesis. I mentioned to you already that one of the consequences of not being united in this Church, in America, our churches in America, is that we waste… Everything’s a waste. Twelve times on top of each other. Twelve communications departments; twelve websites that we pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for. Some of those areas, like education, we try to combine, but it’s really hard to do, because when you combine you can’t not do your own jurisdictional stuff. So you have to do your jurisdictional stuff and the combined stuff. It’s very, very difficult. So we don’t have a catechism yet, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have a very beautiful, well-formed history of catechesis. And that’s what you have in front of you in this little packet, and I’d like to just show it to you. If you just open up your packet and flip past the table of contents to page one, this just shows you that… It’s a basic introduction to what’s coming that we give to catechumens and inquirers at our Church. Page two is a summary of the 16 lectures that I give to catechumens every year. This is during the Great Fast before Christmas and the Great Fast before Pascha. These are the only times that I teach the catechumens. They’re one-hour lectures before Great Vespers, because I encourage them to come to Great Vespers. Our principle is lex orandi, lex credendi, right? The law of prayer is the rule of faith. The best way to understand Orthodoxy is not lectures and books; it’s coming to the services, faithfully, a lot, and listening, really paying attention to them. This is where our great theology is manifested. So I try to connect my catechetical classes with a prayer service so that they’ll go from one to the other. They’re very basic. You see the Advent lectures: the true God; the human beings sin; Jesus Christ, his person and work; repentance and faith; the Holy Spirit; and the Church. And then the Lenten series are all lectures on the mysteries and what they are. This is not the only catechism that they’ll receive. This is just the only catechism they’re going to receive from me, and I’ll tell you what the lay catechetical team does in a second.
Now, if you flip to page three, this is a published catechumen’s “requirement list” is what I call it, and these show the books that I would like the catechumens to read. They’re simple books. You’ll notice that I put On the Priesthood from which I was quoting earlier. The reason I do this is because where I live, southern California, is the capital in the world of non-denominational Christianity, mega-church non-denominational Christianity. One of the biggest paradigm-shifts that a mega-church, non-denominational Christian makes when they become Orthodox, from which everything else flows, is to actually believe in bishops and priests. When they believe in bishops and priests, everything else follows: sacraments follow, responsibility in the Church follows, membership follows.
All those things follow from this, and this is a massive shift, because in my world—mega-church non-denominational Christianity—pastors in that context are Bible teachers. They don’t know anybody. Most of their parish they’ve never even shook hands with, and that’s just not our life. That isn’t a way that we Orthodox can countenance to live, so I have them read that book. And you see all the books there—I’m sure you know most of them—these are all short books. None of them are long, because we are very illiterate as a culture, and illiteracy is just going off the scales. Frankly, most of my people, catechumens who are coming in—they can’t read. And if they read a few pages, they’re tired. All the things I was telling you earlier, I tell them, too: “You’ve got to work through that.” They like to watch things, so we are trying to build up video content, but these are simple books like the Way of the Ascetics. I’m sure many of you use that text in your own work. It’s such a beautiful summary in, like, 90 pages, of the entire spiritual disciplines of the Church.
And then below that are forms and documentation. These include—and I had copies, beginning on page 15, you’ll see copies of each of these forms—the personal information form, which is simply getting all the facts that we need about that person, and just so you know, every person that gets run through our system and becomes a catechumen gets a background check. I don’t know if you know that nice, relatively inexpensive Instant Checkmate. I use Instant Checkmate on everybody, not just Sunday school teachers. I want to find out how many felons are coming into my church, and—wow—would you be surprised. But that’s okay. Actually, it’s wonderful! Felons are welcome, but it’s important to know who your people are, and a lot of it’s public record. Hi, Deacon.
Q1 Father, I’m just curious. There really doesn’t seem to be a book on history in your required reading. Is there one that you require?
Fr. Josiah: No. [Laughter] No. I’ll tell you…
Q2: What was the question?
Fr. Josiah: There wasn’t… The question is: How come there isn’t a book on Church history in the required readings? And I said, no, that there isn’t, actually. However, when I explain to you the work of the lay catechists, you’ll find out how that hole gets plugged. It just doesn’t get plugged by me or in book form. Most of the reason is because The Orthodox Church, by Bishop Kallistos, which is not on here, I don’t think—did I put it on here even?
C3: Suggested reading.
Fr. Josiah: No, that’s The Orthodox Way is suggested reading. But this is the most popular book in our bookstore, and half of it is a kind of a history of the Church, so we use that a lot. Metropolitan Kallistos has come to our parish before, extremely popular person to have, to bring people to the Church, too. Super. And he’s super interested in it, thank God. So we’ll plug that hole in a bit.
The forms, the personal information form I’m just mentioning to you that it’s important to know in our current way who the folks are, and you can find out all sorts of stuff from public record that is good to know. This is also especially important when they’re trying to acquire sponsors. Sponsors are responsible for vetting the character of those that they’re sponsoring. A godparent isn’t just someone who at the last minute shows up at the baptismal font and stands in. A sponsor is much more than that, and I’ll explain. We talk with them a lot about obtaining a sponsor, and the sponsor becomes very interested in this information.
Q3: What is the age of your group? When you said they’re not very… they’re not able to read, what is your average age group that you’re…?
Fr. Josiah: There’s no average age group. My oldest catechumen was 88, and she actually went through catechism and died at 95. She’s my oldest convert at 88. And then we have plenty of catechumens who went through the process while pregnant. I would say in general… Of course, there’s some people who are professionals, some people who are educated, but I don’t know if it’s unique to where I am—I doubt it. In my public library—I’ve homeschooled, [with] my wife, all of my kids since they were born, and we always use the public library, like, multiple times a week. One time I was walking upstairs to the kids’ section with my kids. I like to go up there because I have to pick out and hide all the homosexual and lesbian and books that are flooding—this is kids’ library upstairs; it’s horrible. Anyway. They always find new places in the library after I see them. Anyway. [Laughter] You didn’t get that on recording. [Laughter]
I was walking upstairs with my kids, and there were these huge posters that they had put up, everywhere, and they were people holding books. It was great; it was glorious. They were holding these big books, and all the posters said, four little letters: “Read.” R-e-a-d. The irony is that every person on the poster was a TV personality. They brought the enemy to mock us! [Laughter] Television has killed, absolutely killed reading. The best thing that you can do if you want to educate your kids is get rid of it, just throw it away, bomb it, throw rocks at it, do something. But to bring the TV personalities that are killing literacy and to put them on… It was horrible. It was horrible, but that’s where we are. That’s where we are today.
Q4: Do they know that you’re background-checking them?
Fr. Josiah: Yes, I tell them all. And that gives some some chance to warn me, which is nice. But background checks are not the important thing. The important thing is the present, and remember what St. Paul said to the Corinthians after that very powerful verse in 1 Corinthians 6:9, where he says, “Don’t be deceived. Neither idolaters nor homosexuals nor murderers nor fornicators nor masturbators will inherit the kingdom of God.” Then he says, the very next verse, “And such were some of you, but you were washed.” It’s a powerful text. The Church is a place of therapeutic healing, and all that’s required is will. Your background cannot disqualify you from the love of God. In fact, he loves taking really messed up lives and making them the most radiant lights in the world as a testimony to his greatness. This is what St. Paul, the murderer, said about his own life, that he was chosen, even though he was the chief of sinners, so that everyone would know that Christ came to die for sinners. He was a trophy of God’s grace.
So we get personal information form, we get a patron saint form. This is to help the catechumens identify a patron saint. A lot of them come with Christian names which is a super-big blessing. If they come to us with Christian names, I encourage them to keep their name. If their name’s John and they just didn’t know anything about St. John, I say, “Look, please. Your parents gave you that name. Let’s not add trouble to trouble. Keep that name.” And sometimes they say… Sometimes they’ll read the biography of St. Nektarios. Next thing you know, they want to be Nektarios. I’m like: “Look, I’m not saying you can’t be Nektarios. If you want to be baptized Nektarios, that’s fine, but here’s the deal. You’re going to be Nektarios. You change it legally, you put it on your license, and that’s who you are: Nektarios.” This two-name thing is ridiculous. It is ridiculous. “I’m Charles-Nektarios.” No, you’re not Charles-Nektarios. You’re baptized. There’s one name in the book, one Christian name the priest is supposed to say in baptism or chrismation. Not Charles-Nektarios.
So I encourage people: Respect God’s providence, his invisible providence in your life. If you have a Christian name, fine. If you’re Frank Zappa’s daughter and your name is Moon Unit, we’ve got to do some work, okay? We’ve got to do some work here. We’ll find someone. And this is what this form is for. And even if your name is John, how many St. Johns do we have, like a thousand? So you’ve got to find which one is it, which one is it?
Q5: This is out of the box a little bit.
Fr. Josiah: Oh, this is way outside of the box, brother. [Laughter]
Q5: Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a few new names? Why not a Saint Moon Unit or whatever it is?
Fr. Josiah: You know what? That’s how new names get added. So, for instance, we have now a saint named Olga. This is the famous Slavic Olga. Well, she wasn’t Olga; she was Helen. When she was glorified as a saint, we added her name, Olga, to the list.
Q5: Oh, they work it backwards.
Fr. Josiah: Yeah. There’s lots of examples like that.
Fr. Josiah: So Moon Unit’s good. No problem.
Fr. Josiah: Yeah, but she has to become a saint, though! [Laughter] That will help you!
There’s also a form in here called the renunciation and affirmations form. Now, this is a very important form. On this form… Let me actually make you look at it, if you don’t mind. This is over on page 19 and 20. Remember that renunciations and affirmations are part of the conversion process on the day of conversion. The catechumen is encouraged to study seriously the aspects of his or her previous confession—if they come from a previous religion: if they’re Jews or Muslims or Catholics or Protestants or whatever they are—and to find the aspects in their previous confession that are absolutely Orthodox, that are true, that they must not renounce, they must affirm. They’re bringing something beautiful and making it even more beautiful in the proper context of the Church.
This is an important thing to do. I mean, if someone’s an Evangelical, they may bring tons of new virtues to the Church. They have a New Testament they love, has 27 books. Now, they don’t know, and I love telling them, that those 27 books were put together by Orthodox bishops, wearing vestments, serving Liturgy, using incense… [Laughter] And I love to ask them: “Is the first book of your New Testament Matthew?” And they say, “Of course.” I say, “Well, can you tell me where in the inspired text it says, ‘Hi, I’m Matthew’? Does it say that anywhere in that book?” No, in fact it’s an anonymous text, given its authorial ascription by our Church as part of oral Tradition. So any New Testament that has Matthew is confessing to the authority of the oral Tradition of the Orthodox Church. Just so you know. It’s called “borrowed capital without giving due credit,” but we’re happy for them to borrow our capital! [Laughter] We want them to borrow our capital.
So the point is, when they’re coming, of course, they have to identify heresies that they need to renounce, and some helps are on the next two pages. Here are about 20 or so common heresies, at least in my area. These are the ones that I find a lot, and this helps them identify what these heresies are, and heresy is not to be played with. St. Paul calls heresies “the doctrines of demons.” They destroy souls, and how many heresies do you have to believe to be a heretic?
Fr. Josiah: One. One. So heresies need to be renounced, not to be played with for sure. But, in order to stave off convert-fever—and this is a very common disease: it’s that we find a church, we walk into her halls, we’re overwhelmed with beauty, we say to ourselves, “I can’t believe I’ve lived all these years without her,” and then we turn on our parents and we turn on our friends and we start sticking knives in people. Totally wrong. What we should do is be balanced, and that’s the purpose of this form. Be thankful. Instead of looking at all the bad, be thankful for all the good that you were given. Be thankful that you had a Bible; be thankful that you had Christian parents. If they taught you how to pray, be thankful for that.
This is the best thing to do, and this is the sign of really becoming Orthodox, because Orthodoxy is not about exchanging one set of intellectual propositions for another. No! Orthodoxy is about an organic, authentic union with God that changes your life and that leaves you a humble, authentic person, not a judge. That’s Satan’s catechism. Christ didn’t come to judge the world but to save it. Every time we choose to judge, we are aligning ourselves with the evil one and doing his work and furthering his kingdom and not helping our Savior’s Gospel cause of washing people of their sins. This helps people to be balanced so that they’re thankful for the good things for which they can tell their parents. And they can tell their parents or their wife, “The reason I’m becoming Orthodox is because all the good things you taught me have naturally led me to the Orthodox Church.” That’s the attitude to have.
There’s also a “living the Orthodox faith” form. I used to call this the prayer rule form, but my secretary thought it was better named “living the Orthodox faith” form. In fact, she changed it without even telling me. [Laughter] She sent it here with this new title, which I’m so happy I invented. [Laughter] Anyway: “living the Orthodox faith” form, and this helps them, the catechumens, establish a prayer rule and how to learn that there are certain things that we do as a basic spiritual discipline that are more essential to us than anything else, meaning that we would no more not do our prayer rules than we would get up and not brush our teeth in the morning. As a matter of fact, I encourage them, because very few people [who] come into the Church have this discipline that serious, I tell them, “Look. Make it very doable, and make sure that you do not brush your teeth until you’ve done it. You have no blessing from me to put a toothbrush in your mouth until you’ve said your prayers. Say your prayers, then you’re free to brush your teeth.” [Laughter] I wonder how many people have actually gone to work with lettuce—like I just did—with lettuce in their mouth… [Laughter]
Anyway, these are some of the forms. I also include here a pledge form. Anyone who’s going to be baptized or chrismated will not be baptized or chrismated until they have a pledge form turned into the church. This is a very important thing to teach them right up front, that stewardship is not negotiable in our Church. We don’t tell them how much to give, but we do tell them to make a decision prayerfully and to turn in that list.
So this is a way that we can help them take the catechetical process seriously. And, brothers and sisters, if you take it seriously, this seriously, you’re setting the bar for them. Remember, none of them have gone through this before. They don’t know. They might find out. They don’t know that they could go to half of our churches and become Orthodox in three months, after sitting down with the priest once or twice, have no roots built, and end up being part of that terrible retention rate of converts in our churches. With churches like that, the vast majority of converts go away. If you don’t give them the opportunity to go through a serious catechism, they won’t grow roots. And if you don’t have roots, you can’t become a great tree and make beautiful fruits. You have to be patient.
Remember that traditional catechism, the first four centuries of the Church—three years. Three years is how long the holy Fathers thought it took to change your worldview from one deeply immersed in paganism and idolatry to one that was Christian. For us, I don’t see how anyone can successfully make a reasonable transition to the Church in less than one year. Our late Antiochian Metropolitan Philip presented that to us as a standard, one year of catechesis—and that’s not inquiry. That’s post-inquiry. Then catechesis, then reception. Yes, Deacon?
Q1: Father, do you have resources on the traditional three-year catechism program in the Church?
Fr. Josiah: Yes, I do. There’s lots of tremendous… There’ve been lots of dissertations in the last 20 years published by major presses like Oxford University Press that describe traditional Byzantine catechesis, where you can actually… and I’m going to show you some right now. I’m going to show you some charts that come from these texts.
If you flip over to page 5, you’re going to see—this is all under our theme of laying a proper foundation to support catechesis in the parish. I’m all assuming you’re all on fire personally, you’re catechizing yourself, and now we’re talking about how to lay the foundation, how to understand what should we do if we have an enthusiastic catechumen who says, “Make me Orthodox!” This is what we should do. This article, “Starting Down the Royal Path: How to Become an Orthodox Christian,” is simply an overview of the process that we have traditionally done. So this is Byzantine catechesis in summary. It starts with the enrollment, the Litany of the Catechumens which you see there on page five and six with an explanation, the place of the catechumen in the narthex—this is page seven.
The importance of catechumens is reflected even in our sacred art of architecture. All traditional churches are built in three sections: a narthex, a nave, and a holy place. The holy place is for the clergy, and the nave is for the people, and the narthex isn’t just a place of transition that we know it to be, where we come in, we light our candles, we venerate the icons, we make our personal prayers—it is that. Once you leave the narthex, you’re done with your personal prayers; you know that. You make your personal prayers in the narthex, you light your candles however you do it, and then when you go into the nave, it’s not my this and my that, it’s Our Father… It’s community. We’re doing a liturgical prayer as the family of God, before him, before the Holy Trinity.
The narthex has another role, and that is: it is the place par excellence of the catechumens. This is where catechumens are meant to stand. This is where they’re meant to be. Because they haven’t yet been united to Christ and had the honor of being inducted into the nave as their normal place of standing. I’m not suggesting that you have to smack them with a stick if they cross the line; that’s not what I’m saying, but it’s their proper place. The narthex is their proper place, and it’s a witness to their movement. What they’re doing geographically as they move from being catechumens to Orthodox Christians is they’re moving spatially into the heart of the Church. Ultimately they’ll end up on the soleas where the Holy Gifts are brought from the altar to them, and they’ll become one with Christ God himself there. So I talk with them about that, and that also helps our people who are Orthodox to value the evangelistic witness of the narthex. We should have narthexes, and if we buy churches that weren’t designed Orthodox, we should try to make a narthex somehow.
I also explain to them, if you see on page seven, I help them to understand their movement to become Orthodox as the movement from courtship to engagement to marriage. This is how the Church has typically understood this. Baptism is entering into the bridal chamber. Baptism is a union and a spiritual marriage between Christ and that soul. Catechism is the period of engagement. Courtship or dating is the period of inquiry, and I’m trying to make very clear boundaries between these so that you can understand what’s supposed to be happening. When a person first comes to church. Let’s say they’re invited by a friend. They come, they’re interested… Sometimes first dates go bad and they never see you again, but sometimes first dates go good, and they’re like: “I don’t fully understand this, but I’d like to come back.” And they come back, and they start reading and they start talking to your people, and you know the whole thorough connections they start to make.
Eventually, they’re going to start saying this to themselves, just like a young man or a woman will when they’re dating. “Could I do this? Could I make a life with this family? Could I take that name?” You can’t get engaged until you ask those questions, you pose and ask those questions. And you can’t pose and ask those questions until you have some time to get to know the people. My parish is like… It’s probably one of the top five easiest churches in America to become Orthodox, simply by the fact that half of the parish has become Orthodox! So they see catechumens, they see themselves, five years ago or ten years ago or a year ago or whatever. It’s super easy. It’s super easy to do, but that’s not the case everywhere. That’s not the case everywhere, and sometimes they get very… People, they come, they feel great, and they come to see me in two weeks: “I want to be Orthodox” or “I need to become a catechumen!” I always tell them, “Hey, take it easy. Sit down. Do you know anything about us? Have you read a book?” So I tell the inquirers, I don’t even want to talk about it until they’ve read at least one book. “Read one book, and don’t come back to me until you’ve read a book.”
It’s maybe a little counter-intuitive for a priest to be putting them off, but believe me, it’s not. It’s not a mistake; it’s a wise thing to do, and they recognize then we’re not just about getting cheap numbers. We just don’t want them in; we want them really to get this. We want them to get this. So I tell them, “Look, one book.” And then I tell them, “Two months. Faithfully worship with us for two months, check us out, talk to a lot of people, look in our closets.” Who gets married to someone, they don’t look in their closets? [Laughter] I mean, I’m doing background checks; they should be doing background checks on me! “I’m going to confess my sins to you? Who the heck are you?” [Laughter] I mean, if I was a layperson, if I was a non-Orthodox coming in, and I was going to end up making my confession to this priest, I want to know who he is, right? Isn’t that just basic common sense? I think so. So I tell them, “Two months and one book. After two months and one book, then we can have our meeting to discuss if we’re going to get engaged, because you might know enough.”
You’re never going to know everything. I know less about Orthodoxy today than when I first became Orthodox. That is an absolute fact, meaning that I have spent 20-something years doing nothing but studying holy Orthodoxy, which has led me to recognize that I don’t know anything, and there is so much… I feel like I have gone into this massive castle, I went through this door, and as soon as I opened this door, I saw this massive treasure chest and gold pieces there, falling out. So I ran over there and I start counting everything. I got down to the last piece, and I pulled it out and I dropped it on the ground and I looked, and there was another door! And I opened that door, and I went in that door, and there’s another chest! Bigger than the last one, and I’m taking that out… I haven’t stopped going through doors. I’m getting, now—I’m never going to stop going through doors and discovering treasure chests, because there’s no depths to the wisdom and the treasure of God. There is no depth.
But you have to know something. You have to know something. Two months and a book is enough. Then they get enrolled. So they say, “Father, I want to become a catechumen.” I say, “Look, I have to ask you two questions: Do you recognize this is not a denominational switch?” That’s very important where I come from. I don’t know about where you are all from, but there’s a thousand denominations in my county of two-and-a-half million people—a thousand. This is not just another… You’re not becoming Orthodox because you like the smell of our incense. That is not what this is about. This is going from a Protestant denomination to the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. You will be Orthodox for the rest of your life and for eternity. That’s what I need to hear from them, that they know what they’re saying.
If they can say that, then I’ll ask them a second question, and I would say, “Is there any obstacle that you think right now could divert you from becoming Orthodox?” And if they say yes, then I say, “Let’s address that before I enroll you as a catechumen.” That way we don’t have to break any engagements. “Let’s talk about it.” If it’s a single person, I’ll ask about their family: Is anyone going to excommunicate you? Are your parents going to throw you out? Maybe, if they’re married, then I’ll ask the husband or the wife, whoever is the person who wants to become Orthodox—forgive me, in my context it’s almost always the men. They’re the ones who get stung by Orthodoxy first. Usually the women are more relational; they have deeper relationships in their previous community which they don’t want to break, and they’re not so happy that their men are doing this.
I’ll give you one example. I had this wonderful guy when I first came to the parish who wanted to be Orthodox, and he was ready. He was ready from the outside, and I said, “Well, what about your wife?” He goes: “She’s just not into this.” I said, “Well, could you be patient for one year? Could you be patient for one year? And let’s pray and give it some time. And let that year be a year of your own spiritual growth so that you love her more than you’ve ever loved her before, and she recognizes the presence of that increased love is the fruit of the Church in your life.” So we tried it for one year, and at the end of one year—he was very good, he was very patient—he said, “She still doesn’t want to become Orthodox.” And I said, “Ohh. Well, is she being mean? I mean, what is it?” He goes: “No, no, no. She’s my loving, normal wife, but she just doesn’t feel comfortable.” I said, “Well, could you do this another year?” And he looked at me like—[sigh] I said, “I’m not telling you.” I told him at that time; I said, “Look, if you really are insistent, I’ll consider it.” I would never say, “If you’re insistent, I’ll do it.” That’s a bad pastoral precedent.
Anyway, I told him, “If you’re insistent, I’ll really consider doing this.” And he said, “Let me think about it.” He thought about it. We gave it another year. I told him at the end of the second year, when he told me the same story, “You know, my thought is, if you’re patient and if she’s not with a chip on her shoulder against Orthodoxy”—if she had, I would have just gone ahead and received him, but that wasn’t what it was—“if it’s just a matter of you needing to love her more and be patient, I’ll bet you anything she’ll end up joining you, she’ll end up becoming Orthodox, and end up being a way better Orthodox than you!” What do you know? Eight years. Eight years, and exactly what I foretold happened. [Laughter] She is now Sunday school teacher, assistant choir director. Oh, she’s incredible. She has herself—she’s so loving, she’s converted tons of people just because she latches onto them and kisses them. She won’t let any visitor leave without getting her lips on their face. [Laughter] This is how it works, and it’s not fake; it’s just natural. It’s just how it is.
This is how it works. Courtship, engagement, and marriage. When you take someone from being an inquirer to being a catechumen, what’s happening then is once they are enrolled, then they’re not the question, “Am I becoming Orthodox?” any more. Now they’re getting ready to be Orthodox. Now their whole focus is on preparing for the wedding, which is the day of holy baptism. How do you enroll them? Well, the Church uses a prayer for enrolling. It’s on page eight. This beautiful prayer you might be familiar with even if you haven’t heard it read in Church to make someone a catechumen. I do enroll our catechumens in the Liturgy, after the sermon, just before I pray for the catechumens. So if we’re making a new one, I have that person come, I read this prayer, and then they join the class which is standing right there. They just fall into the line, and then they leave with the lay catechetical team and get instruction.
But this prayer you might know more reasonably is the prayer for naming a child on the eighth day after an Orthodox mother has given birth. We have a process of naming. Not all priests do it on the eighth day. Some priests read the prayer on the day of the birth in the hospital, etc., but this is reflective—it’s in our prayer books, our priests’ prayer books, because naming is a very important act. It’s something a priest does, standing for Christ, to give a new child a Christian identity. This is why we only use Christian names, because that person, from his earliest days, has a call to be a saint. And you can’t love all the saints equally, just like you can’t know each other, even in this room, you can’t all be great friends, regardless of what Facebook says. [Laughter] You’re going to have a couple friends in your life, and one of those friends should be your patron saint. You should be able to know that person’s name and that feast day, and you go to church on that feast day, and you tell people about that saint. That’s how we learn about the saints, is that we tell each other about our own saints. This is how the common knowledge of the Church grows.
This is the prayer that we use, in fact, for making an inquirer a catechumen. In essence, when we pray this on the eighth day for a child, we’re making the child a catechumen, and the child’s going to have its catechism completed around the 40th day or thereafter, after the churching and the baptism.
If you flip over to page nine, here I describe kind of the contours, how it works, the role of exorcisms, because this is part of the process. Also, if you look on page ten, I note the role of the sponsor, and I should just mention to you that the 53rd canon of the Sixth Ecumenical Council forbids marriage of sponsors to the children that they sponsor in baptism. Just like we have marriage requirements with regards to the laws of consanguinity, common blood, we also have laws of marriage with regards to spiritual relationships. This is why you can’t marry koumbara. I mean, it’s just not possible. A godfather can’t marry his goddaughter, and she can’t marry other of his own godchildren. So he might have a godson that he sponsored five years ago, and he’s sponsoring a nice godchild this year: those two cannot marry. It’s not possible, any more than… I’m saying this because marriage law is so unheard of in America.
In the same canon, the Church says that the bond that is established between a sponsor and a candidate who is being baptized is deeper than blood. This means that if you’re a godfather or a godmother, that you have a family relationship with the person that you’ve sponsored, based upon spiritual realities, which means that you pray for that person, you keep them in your heart, you don’t allow distance to grow from you any more than you would with your own biological children. You judge your relationship to them based upon the same standards that you would on your own relationship to your biological children.
Q6: If this comes up for… I work in the church; I work for Father, and I do the paperwork for the baptisms and stuff, and sometimes they’ll ask questions about the sponsor. The thing that I see the most is that it’s always, “Well, it’s going to be my brother. It’s going to be my uncle. It’s going to be my sisters, my brother.” We have a little sheet that we give them to kind of, you know… You’re already family. That person is already supposed to be praying for you, already supposed to be an example for you. Think about someone else to build the family bigger. But no one says that, so it’s always: “It’s my sister. It’s my brother.” And they don’t go any further to build that family of faith larger. How do you…? Do you speak…?
Fr. Josiah: Let me repeat your statement so that everybody could hear. Our sister works with her priest in the parish office and registers baptisms, etc., and finds that, in her experience, many people who are coming to baptism or are bring their children to baptism want sponsors to be relatives, blood relatives, which is very, very common for our people, very common. And it is permitted, so we can’t actually look at them and say it’s forbidden. But, it works against the very purpose of having sponsors. By the way, this doesn’t just apply to baptism; it applies to marriages, too. The idea is that relationships that are established like that, in spirit, enhance the bonds that we have with people, so it increases our connectivity to other people in love and family, and it makes the whole process of making it through this wilderness much better chances. So what to do? I would simply tell them exactly what I just said, and try to press them and say, “You know, this is not really the idea.” If they insist, then I wouldn’t make a big deal about it. I’d just…
Q6: Because I say it, and then I feel kind of funny about it, like I’m pushing, but I just feel like: “Listen to this. It’s not me. Listen to this and think about that, because that person already loves your baby and is an example. Get somebody else.”
Fr. Josiah: Yes, exactly. Amen.
Now, to end this part about the initiatory process, I want you to look on page 14. I give you a bubble chart here, and, Dn. Nicholas, this comes, this idea comes from a text by a man named Stuhlman: S-t-u[-h]-l-m-a-n, I believe is his last name, and it’s [a Gorgias] Press publication on Byzantine catechesis. This is a basic summary, from the period of inquiry for the seeker to enrollment, the catechumenate. I’m adding some things like the minimum one year kind of stuff. That’s me; that’s not Tradition. Tradition is longer, actually. But then again they weren’t converting primarily non-Orthodox Western Christians or Jews; they were converting Greek pagans with a deep history that took a long time to peel off.
Then candidacy. Let me mention what candidacy is. Let’s say you have a class of 20 catechumens, but half of them have been enrolled six months ago. The other half have gone through a full year of catechesis and are prepared to be received. The Church asks the priests, in the middle of Lent, to divide the catechumen class between those who are catechumens simply and those who are catechumens “preparing for illumination.” And the way that this is expressed liturgically is in the Presanctified Liturgy on Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Great Lent: there are two catechumen litanies, one for the general catechumens, and then they’re dismissed, and those who are preparing for illumination on Great and Holy Saturday get special prayers to help them in the last few weeks. This is only four weeks away, four weeks away from their baptismal date on Great and Holy Saturday.
That candidacy period, certain things have to happen before that. The priest has to meet with the sponsor, and the sponsor has to say to the priest this. The sponsor has to say to the priest, “I believe in this person. They know the Creed.” So the person, the candidate, will recite the Creed to the sponsor; that’s traditionally what’s done, because the sponsor has to say, “This guy’s Orthodox! He believes our faith,” and the way that we know that is that they recite the Creed, before they recite it in the actual service of reception. He also has to be able to say, “I know his family. I know his business. He’s not going to bring scandal upon the Church.” And let me press that, because this is unusual today.
In traditional catechesis in the Church, the bishops issue letters—they’re actually encoded, they’re codified in the canonical law of the Church—forbidding Orthodox Christians from having certain jobs. Yes. We desperately need an update from our bishops about this, because jobs are exploding all over our secularized West that are absolutely immoral. Our physicians are being asked to become murderers. Our nurses who are getting trained in school, in many schools, are being asked to do immoral things and to become competent in killing babies in the womb. This is not possible for us. That is not a practice that Orthodox Christian nurses can go through. Bioethical research. Where I live there are major businesses that do nothing except artificial insemination, storing of women’s eggs in freezers, of zygotes. I mean, we don’t do this. We don’t do this. We cannot work for companies that do it. So this is an area that the sponsor is responsible to communicate to the priest that this person has a legitimate vocation, [that] he or she is doing something that is consistent and in harmony with the Orthodox life.
I’ll give you a very practical way that this hit me as a catechist. I had to convince a young woman that making nude videos of herself and selling them on the internet had to stop. That was her job. That was her job. That’s how she lived, and she is not alone. If you know anything about the explosion of pornography, there are many, many young women who are doing this, thinking, sadly, that when they’re done with it, they’re done with it. And then they find out when they’re done with it, there is no end to it. They can never get them off. Those who manipulated them often into doing it offer them a pittance to get through college, which is usually what’s happening. These are girls who are facing big bills at college, and they find out… They change their life, they recognize that this was stupid, and it haunts them the rest of their lives.
I don’t know if you saw, there was a very big—I can’t remember her name, but a person that you would know—I think she’s a movie star of some sort, who was getting married this year, was going to get married, and her husband, her fiancé discovered her on the internet and ended their relationship, just weeks before they were supposed to get married. And then she wrote a big article about encouraging girls not to get sucked into this, because, while they might have a change of heart and end it, the producers never will. They’ll never take them down, and they’ll be haunted the rest of their lives. This is just one example, and there are hundreds of examples of jobs that we need to help catechumens move from one to another, from an illegitimate vocation to something that is reasonable, lawful in God’s sight.
So candidacy requires those things. And then there are the final preparations of Holy Week, which is the participation in the Holy Week services of the catechumens. On Great and Holy Friday they’ll be exorcised, they’ll make their renunciations and affirmations, and they’ll be prepared to be baptized or chrismated on Great and Holy Saturday. Great and Holy Saturday morning is the one time in the year that baptisms take place in the Liturgy, or at least can. Most of our bishops have given approval for being able to do baptism right smack in the Liturgy on Great and Holy Saturday. So when the priest comes out of the altar at the Little Entrance, instead of going on the solea and back into the altar, he goes to the baptismal font, and the readings for baptism are started. He does the anointings, the baptisms, the chrismations, the clothing, the tonsuring, and then the procession continues. Once that’s complete, the procession continues, and those who are newly clothed come and stand in the church, and at the time of holy Communion, they’re the first ones to receive the sacrament for the first time in their lives.
Then the post-baptismal rite, which takes place in Bright Week traditionally, it’s only after Bright Week, at the conclusion of Bright Week, that those who were baptized and anointed and clothed would be washed clean and unclothed. In our tradition today, we wash them, we take the chrism off them at the end of the baptismal service itself on Great Saturday, although they would wear their robes for Pascha and for St. Thomas Sunday also.
And then, traditionally, as I mentioned, Great and Holy Saturday is the day par excellence for baptisms, but the holy Fathers in the canons of the Church provide three alternatives. This is following the orthros of holy Pentecost, holy Theophany, or St. Lazarus Saturday. Those are the other normal times for bringing catechism to a conclusion. That’s just a little chart.
Give me two more minutes, I’ll finish, and then you can ask me whatever you want to ask me.
We’re still on point two, which is laying a proper foundation to supporting catechesis, articulating a vision in the Great Commission, laying a foundation of prayer, educating ourselves about the traditional process of catechesis, which is what we’ve just been doing. I would just mention a couple other easy things: Build an Orthodox adult baptismal font. Build an Orthodox baptismal font. Take the encouragement of the great St. Makarios of Corinth—this is the great late 18th century, early 19th century saint who in his diocese was famous for building hundreds of adult fonts everywhere he went. In Greece, parishes that just had children’s fonts, like a lot of our churches do—you can’t get adults into there, so what are you saying? What are you saying? You’re saying that the baptism of adults is not a big part of your ministry. But even if it isn’t and you want it to be, build one and they’ll come, right? That’s what they say. “Build it and they’ll come.” Build the adult baptismal font, and let your people say, “What’s that for, Father?” “It’s for your friends! [Laughter] It’s for your friends: Go get them and bring them to me, and I’ll baptize them.”
Q7: What if you’ve got a horse trough?
Fr. Josiah: A horse trough is… You do what you’ve got to do.
Q7: Put a box into it, around it.
Fr. Josiah: Yeah. I used to use one, too. But now I have the most magnificent Italian marble baptismal font made in the St. Andrew cross, and in one of the arms is a font, a small font for infants, and in the middle is a font for adults where they can walk down. I can stand on the same spot, baptize infants and baptize adults without even getting wet. Absolutely no problem. Build yourself an adult font.
Establish a parish bookstore that serves your catechetical needs. I’ve heard this in a lot of the small groups that we’ve had here. Make sure that your bookstore is equipped especially with those books that you’re telling the catechumens that they have to use.
Equip and mobilize your laity. This is something that really has brought our parish catechism program to new heights, and that is that I now have a team of ten lay people, men and women, who are educated. They know their faith. That doesn’t mean that they have degrees, but they’ve been Orthodox for a long enough time, they’ve been engaged in the Christian education of the parish, and now they have at least areas of the Orthodox faith that they’re very competent about. For instance, one teaches on the Twelve Great Feasts. One teaches a series, Dn. Nicholas, of successive historical epochs. One teaches the teachings of the seven Ecumenical Councils. One teaches how to bake prosphora. One teaches about how to build an icon corner and demonstrates the use of prayer books. One talks about how to cook lenten meals in Lent. It goes on every single Sunday, 45 out of the 52 Sundays. The other seven I don’t want anyone to have to miss, including the lay catechist. Who wants to miss Pascha? That’s impossible. It’s impossible.
So 45 of the 52, what will happen, whoever is on the list—if there’s ten, that means only one in ten Sunday Liturgies do you have to miss the second half of the Liturgy and miss the Eucharist. We usually have at least one other Liturgy during the week, and they can get it if they really need it. So one of them will come and stand with the group, with the 20 or so that are being prayed for. After they’re prayed for, they leave with that person. They go to the parish hall, and they have a 30-minute catechism. Besides receiving all sorts of great instruction from the lives of these catechists, they meet ten people. They have instant relationships. They have a half-hour to talk, questions and answers. It’s much less threatening than sitting and listening to me give a lecture. They’re sitting around a table building relationships. Mobilize your laity, and use a lay catechetical team.
You can also use your agape meal. I would say in my parish this is one of the great successes of our catechism approach is that nobody—most people do not leave after Liturgy is over. They go next door. We have a full lunch. We have a whole team of people who rotate bringing meals to feed 300 people. That’s about how many go to the hall. So maybe I lose 100 who go home right away, and I’m not happy. I always make fun of them. I say, “Well, you’re really helping us…” Anyway. Sometimes you have to leave, but if you don’t have to leave, you shouldn’t leave. These are your brothers and sisters. Who runs into their family home, eats with their mom and dad and doesn’t stay around and say, “Hey, Pops, what’s happening?” We’re family. We’re family, and using the agape meal is really big.
Maybe have a visitor table. I’ll tell you, when I became Orthodox, my mother who had raised me as a good Presbyterian boy cried her eyeballs out. [Audience groans sympathetically] She heard me renounce my heresies, and she whispered to my sister, “What heresies?” [Laughter] Anyway, I was so scared. I was so scared to talk to her. I didn’t want to… As a matter of fact—shame on me—I didn’t have the faith even to pray for her conversion. I prayed for my mom every day—I always have—but I just prayed for peace. “O God, let’s just have peace. Just let her be at peace about me becoming Orthodox.”
Well, my kids didn’t have my lack of faith, so after I had been Orthodox about ten years—this happened 15 years ago—my mom moved in with me. She’s in her mid-80s now. And when she moved in with me, I was a little nervous. I was a little nervous, like: How is this going to go? Even though I had renovated my garage—I had a two-car garage; I turned it into an apartment for her so that she wasn’t in the house in the house, which could have been really frightening… [Laughter] She had her own space, but I was still concerned about how Presbyterianism and Orthodoxy was going to work on the same property. [Laughter] Yeah, and I have a big exterior chapel dedicated to St. Catherine of Alexandria, right in between the garage and my house. [Laughter] I was protected. [Laughter]
So I find a local Presbyterian church. The first Sunday she’s at my house, Saturday night is coming, and I tell my mom, “I’ve found the church for you. It’s down the street. I got you a ride.” And she looks at me and she goes: “I beg your pardon!” I said, “I got you a ride to your Presbyterian church down the street.” She goes: “I’m becoming Orthodox.” [Laughter] Wow, Mom! So she did! She became Orthodox. Not only did she become Orthodox, she has led at least for five years our visitor outreach team. Even though she’s in her mid-80s and she has neuropathy and she has to walk with a walker, she walks… She sets up a table on the plaza in front of the church with visitor forms and greets by name every visitor that she doesn’t recognize, every person that comes in there that she doesn’t know. Then she gives their name to her “visitor team,” and they look for these people at the coffee hour. Someone on that team finds them, walks them over—if they agree—walks them over to the hall, brings food to them, and then talks with them for the hour of coffee hour or whatever.
You never know. You never know what God’s going to do.
Q8: Did you make her wait two months? [Laughter]
Fr. Josiah: What’s that? I sure did. [Laughter] I sure did. I made her go through all the hoops, all the hoops. I told her, “Mom, you don’t want people to think badly about you, like I was giving you the easy things.” That’s what I told her. Oh my gosh.
Well, there’s a lot more I could say. Let me just end with this. Once the catechetical process is complete, we have a new member of the family, and it’s important then to make sure that they’re folded into the continual life of the Church. One of the things at the back of your packet is a list of ministries that we pass out to the catechumens so that they can identify… We ask them formally to circle the ones they want to be involved with, at least one, so that they know that they’re now expected to join the team and to continue their process of learning, etc. We have a Wednesday night, what we call “family night.” It starts with the paraklesis to the Theotokos, which is always at six. That’s done about 6:45, I bless the food, people walk next door, they get their meal, I’m over there by seven. I teach a lecture at seven o’clock; I always finish exactly at eight o’clock, maybe a minute before, maybe a minute after, so that they know I’m not going to blab forever. It’s one hour. I teach usually to them in quarters, and this is our St. John Chrysostom Catechetical School, and it’s designed for the catechesis of the entire parish, and even for visitors. We have plenty of people who aren’t even belonging to the church who come. On average we have 100 people at that on Wednesday night. They get a nice meal, they get some fellowship afterwards because it’s over at eight o’clock. If the young people want to stay around till nine or go to the coffee house, they do.
I’ve tried to use the internet to collect spiritually rich materials, and I want to just conclude by saying a word about this company that I started five years ago called Patristic Nectar Publications. I’m passing out a handout to you that has a copy of the home page, which tells you just kind of the content of what it is. It has the Philokalia [which] is in process of being completely recorded on audiobooks. This is a collection of our most sacred spiritual texts from the fourth to the fifteenth century. It has a catechism link, very apropos for our discussion, where you’ll find not just the 16 lectures that I give, but a lot of other catechetical resources. It has a lectures and homilies link, where you can find not just the Sunday homily, but you can also find just about every lecture series that I’ve done in our family nights in the last five or six years.
It has an interview link where you can find video interviews on important religious subjects. I interviewed the Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco, who is kind of the leading defender of marriage against the LGBT movement, in his office. I interviewed a wonderful gay Christian Anglican theologian named Wesley Hill, who wrote a beautiful book called Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality about how to be faithful to Christ even if you have a homosexual disposition. It’s one of the interviews I am most thankful for and I know has helped people a lot.
And then it has a free downloads section. It has a patristics audio section, which are audio recordings of patristic works. And a sacred music section, which has things like Bishop Basil teaching how to sing the eight tones. Anyway, he recorded those for me years ago in his bathroom. [Laughter] But they’re precious! They’re absolutely precious. The entire vespers, the entire orthros.
So what I’m handing out to you is not just a description; it’s also a gift certificate for $10, which you can get a lot of those things… you can get at least one of those for free. I wish I could give them completely free, but I actually have to pay a lot of money to the people who know how to do this kind of stuff. But you can use that and get anything that you want.
I’ll stop there, and open it to questions if we have time. Do we have any time? It’s 5:20. We have time? What time are we supposed to be done? Oh, great. Well, then.
Q9: Do you do instructional Liturgy? How so?
Fr. Josiah: I don’t do an instructional Liturgy. What we do is, I have a series, actually, that’s on PNP that’s a ten-lecture series explaining the Liturgy, the movements of the Divine Liturgy and what they mean. So people who are interested in that can go there for something that’s in-depth, and then one of the roles of the lay catechetical team is to… Our choir director actually does two series on the meaning of the Liturgy. For two Sundays she gets an assistant director who runs the choir, and she teaches that catechism herself.
Q9: What are your thoughts on it being done? Like, what I do is I have the table like this and we go into the fellowship hall.
Fr. Josiah: Oh, so you mean outside of the Liturgy, so this is… Oh, yes. One of our priests, one of our retired priests in my parish, does that for the prothesis service, so he sets up a table and he shows how the proskomede service is done. He actually vests…
Q9: Right. Same thing.
Fr. Josiah: And he does everything.
Q9: One priest walks through it and I do the talking.
Fr. Josiah: I think that’s great. I think that’s hands-on learning. Fantastic.
Q10: So you may have said this and maybe I didn’t catch it, but there were out of all those people that you… that have the catechumens, to become Orthodox over the years. You said 300 over 18 years, or whatever it was. They’re pretty much most of them still Orthodox?
Fr. Josiah: What I’m about to tell you is heartbreaking, and remember this, this number, this statistic of what I’m about to tell you, is a statistic of catechumens who go through that, and I’m not a pushover. One of the things, if I had more time, I would have said—it was actually in my notes—is at the end, never be pushed around. Never let a catechumen push you around. As a matter of fact, pushy catechumens, they get longer catechesis. They need to learn to be humble and follow the Church. If they can’t endure a catechism, they’re going to leave you for sure. So even people who have gone through that program, 12% are gone in five years, and I mean gone from Orthodoxy, not from my parish. 12%. That’s with the catechism like that. Can you imagine what the percentage is—and I actually have some tentative numbers—for parishes that don’t have serious catechetical programs? It’s outrageous.
Q11: Following up on that, what about people who go through catechesis and they are coming to church very frequently, and then don’t leave Orthodoxy per se but then they kind of drop out when it comes… Once a month to Liturgy and stuff like that? How would you kind of stop that?
Fr. Josiah: I don’t include that in my 12%, which means the number is even worse, because there are some who do that. You remember, at catechism, you have a carrot, a huge carrot, in front of them, that they’re not going to get unless they cooperate with you. Unfortunately, there are some who have a character issue, and once they have it, then they lose their devotion. What can you say? You pray for them. And people… Stability is something that we see in Jesus’ life. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He’s the only one who is. I tell all my own parishioners about myself. I could be up and down and left and right, several times a day, so acquiring stability is… This is why stability is one of the monastic vows. It’s a tremendous development of mature Christians, and I’m hoping to be stable by the time I die. I’m hoping. Yes?
Q12: What do you do with those who don’t… [Inaudible]
Fr. Josiah: I’m glad you’re asking that. You’re saying after they’re received? Oh, I know that. We have a catechumen coordinator. I didn’t mention this; I should have mentioned this. Her name is, in fact, on the front of the handout that you just got. She keeps a record of attendance to tell me.
Q13: Do you do that for everybody, or just the catechumens?
Fr. Josiah: No, no, no. Just the catechumens. I would love to do it for everybody. [Laughter] But I just don’t have the resources yet, brother. No.
Q12: What do you do about your…?
Fr. Josiah: Oh, I don’t let them in until they show that they’re faithful to liturgy.
Q12: I’m talking about your… [Inaudible]
Fr. Josiah: Oh, my regular people? I don’t do anything.
Q12: You just let it be… [Inaudible]
Fr. Josiah: It is. I preach about it, and if I saw them, I’d ask if there was an issue or a problem. You know, we’re a great mix in the Church. Sometimes we’re hot, sometimes we’re cold. Please, brother.
Q14: So, with the catechumens that leave at the portion of the Liturgy… How about the people who are non-Orthodox? Do you ask them to leave as well?
Fr. Josiah: That should be done, according to the principles of how we use our worship space, but in order to that… Well, first you would need really talented, sensitive ushers, which… I have a lot of great ushers, great people, but they are not anywhere near good enough to pull that off. So we just let them be. We just let them be, and it doesn’t usually go on for very long, because they’re either one-time visitors, or then they’re visitors who want to become instructed, and one of the first things they learn is that if they’re not Orthodox they should stay in the narthex.
Q15: I am a nurse and I understand where you come from, a nursing job today. It certainly has changed. But I have advised younger nurses or who were maybe looking at going into OB, and she wanted an area to really think about that, because they could possibly get involved in abortions without even knowing it or not even realizing it. So how do you handle that?
Fr. Josiah: You know, my church is full of doctors and nurses. Both of my older daughters are in nursing school; one’s about to finish, and she’s actually doing her clinicals now. She’s in the hospital now. And the stories that she’s telling me are just making my father’s heart shake. I’m so proud of her, because she’s done fantastic, but… The doctors and the nurses in my parish are engaged for the most part. Unfortunately, I have one or two that have lost their souls, and I mean that: who refer for abortions, etc., and they just were destroyed. They couldn’t… One of them, in particular I’m thinking of, couldn’t look at me any more and basically just disappeared. He just… And I knew it was eating him; I knew what was eating him. If he didn’t do it, he would have lost the insurance coverage that would have paid most of his salary, so these are the kinds of things our professionals are facing.
I have another doctor in my parish who is a pediatric doctor, a woman, and she is now on the ethics board of her hospital, so she gets the ethics phone call consults when they have a situation like this, and she’s had many, many difficult situations where she’s been asked her opinion, “Is it okay to abort this child?” and she’s had to say no and yet be overruled and have it take place in her hospital, even though it’s a Christian hospital, have it be overruled there.
I have another physician who is a wonderful doctor, a man who called me to ask my prayers and to ask… He pretty much knew what he needed to do, but he needed to hear it from me, because that’s what we pastors are for sometimes. We just need to say what everyone knows so that they’re not going at it alone. But he was being forced by a 15-year-old girl to give her the Pill, which Orthodox Christian doctors cannot do. We don’t collaborate in things like that. That is facilitating immorality. It wasn’t a health issue. She went to the doctor because she had her worldly lifestyle that she wanted him to help her with. There are some uses of the Pill which are medicinal, but that’s not what this was.
Anyway, he called me and said, “If I don’t do this, I could get written up. I think she will sue me.” I said, “Probably. You’re right. I’m not questioning your judgment. What would you like to do? Would you like to avoid a lawsuit and feel that you can’t look Christ in the face, or do you want to trust him with your life and let the lawsuit come?” And he said, “I’m going to do the latter.” And he did. And he got sued. And the insurance company paid her off—can you believe that?—and it went to his—he was one of the principals of this very large group—and he was respected for what he did and there were no negative consequences—other than having to go through this whole trial. But that’s the culture we live in, and it’s very important to remember our faith, or else we won’t have any faith. We’ll lose our souls like that. Please.
Q16: In terms of people coming to your church, do most people come because a friend or family member is Orthodox and they want to check it out, or how do you get more to get interested in this catechesis program?
Fr. Josiah: I think there’s three main things that bring people to my church. Number one is exactly what you just said, and that is friends and family of current parishioners. Number two, the church itself is magnificent. It’s magnificent, and it’s right smack in the middle of everything. We’re a hundred yards from the University of California, Riverside. Tens of thousands of cars pass on the road right in front of the church every day. And we have a lot of functions. We have a yearly festival, and we have a lot of other functions. We’re a polling place. We’re constantly bringing the community to our church so that they can touch us, and that’s a second thing. And then the third I would say is I’m very, as a priest… I get my black robe out in public a lot, and that’s very key for the growth of churches.
I think you heard, and I’d like to have it on there just to tell this story that I’ve served on a commission for our mayor for years, for 11 years now. It’s an environmental commission, but what it requires of me is that I’m out in public. I’m out in public talking to people, and they see that the church is interested in the community, and that has brought tons of people to inquire about the church or to ask about the church. Just to be seen. Just to be seen. Forgive me, but this is one of the greatest evangelistic tools known to man. Wear a cassock. And by the way, if you wear a collar—I don’t have any problem with the collars, but nobody looks at a collar and thinks Orthodox. They look at a collar, they think Catholic. So we’re doing evangelism for the Catholics. You wear this, they think… They think either, “What the heck is that?” [Laughter] or sometimes I get: “Father, dig the dress!” [Laughter] “Hey, I appreciate that!” So do I, so do I. Or they say, “Are you Orthodox?” “What is that?” Any other questions, please do.
Q17: You said that [Inaudible] are the stumbling blocks that are most common?
Fr. Josiah: No, that wasn’t me. That was St. John Chrysostom.
Q17: Well, okay then.
Fr. Josiah: We really, for my protection and safety, you need to make sure you have that clear. [Laughter]
Q12: Often we find that icons or the Theotokos [Inaudible] personal experience, would you compare those to what you believe? [Inaudible]
Fr. Josiah: You’re saying, if I understand you right, is the subject of icons and especially the role of the Theotokos important to be explained to the catechumens?
Q12: Yes. [Inaudible]
Fr. Josiah: Oh. I think that’s a very good parallel in your mind, that you’re making, because certainly the role of saints, and chief among them she who is more holy than all the saints, is a huge shock, a huge shock for people. I think explaining it is the initial opening of the door, but unlike other aspects, that’s pretty much where our explanation stops, and the rest is learned by practice, by actually learning to cultivate devotion to the saints, and then to actually pray to them and have an experience of their intercessions is just a different kind of learning altogether.
We do have a session that I give when I give a lecture on the Church, which is one of the eight I give in Advent. The second half of that lecture is the life of the Virgin. So they do get some catechesis about the life of the Virgin, and I recommend them to read the very nice Life of the Theotokos, which is a very thick book published by Holy Apostles Convent. It’s a very thick book, like 400, 500 pages long, with lots of beautiful icons of all her feasts and things. And many of them do read that. Any other questions?
C4: She’s the only one who has Christ’s DNA. I mean, when you go to the scientific things, that’s pretty big. There will never be anyone else.
Fr. Josiah: That’s huge. Bravo.
Q18: Can you speak to issues of euthanasia? What do you run into?
Fr. Josiah: What a sad subject. The question is: What’s happening with euthanasia where I’m from. You’re asking it the week after California just legalized assisted suicide. It just happened. Our “Catholic” governor said, when he signed the law, that if he was dying, he would want to have this as an option. So we are in big trouble. Our state just passed five laws in one year that are more damaging to Christian life than in my entire 50 years of living in California. They passed a law forbidding any insurance company from writing any insurance plan, even to churches, that doesn’t cover abortion as free elective coverage—which is illegal, actually; it’s against federal law, but they did it anyway, because they’re just… you know. Yeah.
They passed a law—get this; this is incredible—they passed a law requiring all pregnancy counseling centers in the state to publish directions to the local abortion mill on their wall. Can you imagine anything more offensive? The whole reason that these pregnancy centers exist is an alternative to abortion, and the state now says, “You must have a full flyer directing them to the nearest place they can get an abortion. On your wall.”
Q19: How could that get passed?
Fr. Josiah: It got passed. And nobody’s going to do it. Nobody’s going to agree. They’re going to take it to court. I know our… We have a big pregnancy center at Riverside.
Q19: The voters voted for that?
Fr. Josiah: No, the legislature.
Q19: The legislature.
Fr. Josiah: Yeah, this is… None of those five were referenda. None of them. No, this is all state legislature. This is not the U.S. Senate. These are California legislature… There’s not a single office held by any conservative religious person in the entire state. Not one. We’re that bad. We’re in big trouble. [Inaudible] Sure. Let me ask… Pose the question, and then give me just a one-minute answer, because I think we’re over. Sorry.
So the question is: Could I speak to the role of priests and politicians, the relationship between priests and politicians? I think Elaine is mentioning that because she saw a talk that I gave at a political conference. I in fact shared the podium with some of the current Republican presidential candidates, Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, and Carly Fiorina, who’s a firecracker. Anyway, it was an interesting experience. When they asked me to do it, I said, “Look. This is going to cost me. Therefore, I want ten minutes alone with Bobby Jindal. I don’t want any money. You give me ten minutes with that good Catholic boy. And I want to talk to him,” because I had heard he was interested in Orthodoxy, which he most definitely is. [Laughter] Anyway. Great guy.
And that talk I entitled “Pastors and Politics,” and I simply pointed out at that talk, which is on YouTube if you want to look at it, just look up “Pastors and Politics” and you can see it… In that talk, I just showed the scriptural union, always, between the regal power and the prophetic power, that where there was a king, there was a prophet. Where there’s power, there has to be the prophetic voice of truth, or power runs off the road, right over your head.
And if pastors don’t speak to politics, meaning not things that are beyond our purview… You’ll never hear me… My parishioners have no idea what I think about taxes, what I think about healthcare, what I think about legitimate political issues, that I do have opinions on, but they’re not opinions rooted in the non-negotiable Orthodox apostolic Tradition, and therefore they’re never going to hear about it from me, because the moment I tell them one of my political opinions, I have just trivialized everything else I’ve said, and they’re going to say, “Oh, that’s just Father’s opinion.” Some try to tell me that now, and I say, “Wrong. Did you hear all the people I just quoted? Scripture and saints.”
Now, the Scriptures and the saints do, however, have lots of political opinions with regards to matters of life, family, immorality, and these things are the very areas that our politicians have lost their minds about today, and they need pastors to stand up and say, “No, you don’t. Impossible.” And if we don’t do it, no one will do it. Other politicians are doing it, and they don’t take them seriously, because the politicians don’t take each other seriously because they know who they are. But pastors used to, in this country even… We have an incredible history of pastoral involvement in the political sphere, to keep the politicians on a moral base. When John Adams was asked if he could list the ten most influential people for the American Revolution, three of the ten he listed were pastors. He said without them, it would not have happened; we could not have happened.
Q20: Father, if you could answer this… I think it’s absolutely essential that it’s stated… But my only fear is that pastors get co-opted, get used.
Fr. Josiah: Sure, that’s a reasonable fear.
Q20: And so, when I see… When I see this stuff, my… Let me tell you, Fr. Luke Veronis put that misquoted something from a Dostoyevsky quote or something like that. He had, like… It was a hot-button issue. I forget what the issue was, but the bottom line was he got 15 to 20 phone calls from the media from all over the country, and they all knew it was a Solzhenitsyn quote. “I could have sworn I read that…” He looked through all the books, and he’s trying to come up with a proper response to all these. By the time he finally found it, it didn’t matter any more. The issue was past. What they had done, instead, of course, was they manipulated his statement on whatever the moral topic was in such a way as to put him into a position that he didn’t want to be in. What he believes, you know, whenever I vote, he says, I have two choices: worse, really, really bad, and really, then, really, really, really bad. And those are my two choices. I mean, he didn’t say it like that; I’m saying it like that, but he does say it’s a choice between the lesser of two evils when anybody votes nowadays. For him and for me, actually, I’ll speak for myself: I’m always afraid of wonderful pastors being co-opted by [Inaudible]
Fr. Josiah: That’s a good fear, and wise pastors should expect that and avoid it. There’s nothing that gets abused more than the Bible, and we don’t stop teaching the truth from the Bible because some people abuse it. We teach the truth faithfully, despite all the manipulations, and it’s the same with what the Bible says about politics. Politicians and media persons can twist it however they want, but we are not free. Priests are not free not to speak the whole counsel of God. That’s our responsibility as watchmen on the wall. This is what Ezekiel the Prophet said. We have to stand and we have to speak to a culture and say: If you do this, you’ll die. And if we don’t speak it, God will require the blood at our hands, not theirs. So despite the possibility of being co-opted, we have to be faithful and wise enough not to get co-opted and still speak the truth. And because we aren’t speaking the truth, the public square is naked of morality, and we’re paying for it badly.
You were all very attentive. Thank you very much for listening. God bless you. [Applause]