Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Uniting in Prayer Across Borders: H.H. Bishop Rutherford I Marks the Start of Great Lent

H.H. Bishop Rutherford I gives the
solemn blessing at the end of
the Divine Liturgy
By M. Derosiers

ROME-RUTHENIA 14 February 2024 (NRom)

Today His Holiness Bishop Rutherford I of Rome-Ruthenia joined together with the United Roman-Ruthenian Church around the world and led the Divine Liturgy for Ash Wednesday. This day not only marked the start of Great Lent but also this year, according to the liturgical calendar, coincided with the Feast of St. Valentine, Priest & Martyr and the Feast of Saints Kirill and Methodius, Teachers of the Slavs. The divine liturgy resonated across borders as the United Roman-Ruthenian Church in different corners of the world observed this holy occasion. This ancient tradition serves as a reminder that life is fleeting, and it urges believers to turn away from sin and embrace a path of righteousness.

Ash Wednesday holds great significance for Christians worldwide, as it inaugurates a period of reflection, repentance, and spiritual growth leading up to Pascha (Easter). It serves as a reminder to embrace humility and seek forgiveness for past transgressions. The fact that feast of St. Valentine coincides with Ash Wednesday this year also reminds the faithful that love is at the core of their faith. It encourages them to extend kindness and affection towards others during this lenten season.

Furthermore, the remembrance of Saints Kirill and Methodius underscores the rich cultural heritage and shared history within the community United Roman-Ruthenian Church. These saints played a pivotal role in spreading Christianity among the Slavic people through their translation work and missionary efforts and are venerated throughout Christendom. 

This liturgy marking the beginning of Great Lent was an opportunity for fellow believers around the world to unite spiritually in prayer and reflection, inspiring them to acts of charity. May this season be an opportunity for personal growth and spiritual renewal as we seek reconciliation with God and one another.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

The Enduring Legacy of St. Aftimios Ofiesh: True Orthodoxy's Beacon

 By I. Butakov

St. Archbishop Aftimios Ofiesh
Official Icon in the United Roman-Ruthenian Church

St. Aftimios Ofiesh is a name that resonates with controversy and reverence in the annals of Orthodox Christianity. As the successor to St. Raphael of Brooklyn, St. Aftimios was poised to continue a legacy of faith and dedication within the Syrian-Russian Orthodox community in North America and stands as one of the most intriguing figures in Orthodox history. However, his tenure as an Orthodox patriarch was marked by significant challenges and disputes that have led many to malign his contributions to this day, largely due to misunderstandings and self-righteous resistance from other Orthodox leaders. Despite these controversies, an examination of his life and actions reveals a steadfast commitment to authentic Orthodoxy and true Christian spirit.

Orthodox Spirit Amidst Adversity

Despite facing significant opposition, St. Aftimios remained steadfast in his commitment to authentic Orthodoxy and the true Christian spirit. His dedication was evident in his pastoral care, theological contributions, and efforts to establish a united Orthodox Church that transcended ethnic and national divisions. 

The backlash against St. Aftimios was swift and severe, coming not only from within his own jurisdiction but also from other Orthodox Churches globally. Critics accused him of abandoning traditional Orthodoxy for personal gain and innovation for its own sake—charges that were both unfair and unfounded. Despite these accusations, those who closely studied his works would find a man deeply committed to the core principles of Orthodoxy; love, unity, and faithfulness to Christ’s teachings above cultural or nationalistic divisions and above jurisdictional snobbery.

Discrimination against a Married Archbishop

St. Aftimios also faced discrimination due to his marital status as an archbishop. However, it is important to understand that his marriage was not inconsistent with Orthodox Christianity but rather a matter of jurisdictional discipline. While doctrine represents core theological beliefs that are unchangeable, discipline refers to rules and practices that can vary across jurisdictions. In some Orthodox jurisdictions, celibacy is required for bishops and some priests, while others permit or even encourage marriage among clergy members. St. Aftimios's decision to marry falls within the latter category, making it a matter of jurisdictional discipline rather than a doctrinal violation.

St. Aftimios and his wife, Mariam

Despite facing prejudice and criticism additionally for his marriage, St. Aftimios remained steadfast in his beliefs and practices. He firmly believed that marriage did not diminish his commitment to the Orthodox faith or compromise his spiritual authority as an archbishop. Indeed, he felt it enhanced it, and he promoted and authorized a married episcopate.  This courageous stance challenged artificial norms and forced people to question their assumptions about married clergy.

St. Aftimios's refusal to conform to discriminatory expectations demonstrates his commitment to authenticity and staying true to both his personal convictions and Orthodox tradition. His actions remind us that the true essence of the Orthodox faith lies in love, compassion, and understanding in the example of Christ.

The Legacy Lives On

The impact of St. Aftimios’s work is still felt today across several jurisdictions that hold apostolic succession from him. These communities continue to embody his vision of a unified Orthodoxy—free from ethnic barriers and open to all believers. Among the most prominent of these is the United Roman-Ruthenian Church, embracing its Orthodox and Catholic heritage; preserving its own ethnic heritage while breaking down barriers and being open to everyone in the spirit of Christ. 

A Misunderstood Shepherd

While many contemporary Orthodox leaders still view St. Aftimios with skepticism, perhaps out of jealousy or jurisdictional power games to which even the Church has never been immune, it is essential to recognize his pioneering role in shaping traditional Orthodoxy in the modern era. His actions were not those of division but rather attempts at reshaping the church to be more inclusive in the example of Christ. And, it is crucial to recognize the positive impact he has had on modern Orthodoxy—especially in North America.

Several jurisdictions descended from St. Aftimios bear testament to his lasting influence on the landscape of global Orthodoxy. These communities embody his vision for an authentically inclusive Church, transcending barriers, and remaining faithful to traditional doctrines. The ancient apostolic succession emanating from St. Aftimios is an unbroken chain that not only validates his own ecclesiastical authority, but also underscores the authenticity of his successors' faith and practices.

Reevaluating A Legacy

In spite of being maligned by some contemporaries and successors alike, St. Aftimios's authentic approach to Orthodoxy continues to inspire many believers across different jurisdictions worldwide. His life reminds us that genuine spiritual leadership often requires making difficult decisions that might not be fully understood or appreciated by one’s peers or even by generations immediately following them.

In reevaluating the legacy of St. Aftimios, it becomes clear that his contributions cannot be dismissed merely as controversial decisions made during tumultuous times. He was much more than a controversial figure; he was a divinely-inspired visionary who sought to bring genuine unity and spiritual depth to the Orthodox Church. His work should be seen as courageous steps towards realizing a vision of an orthodox Church truly universal (and indeed Catholic in its most true sense) in its embrace yet steadfast in its adherence to ancient truths—a mission undoubtedly relevant today as it was during his lifetime.  Despite opposition, his legacy, the very legacy preserved by the United Roman-Ruthenian Church, continues to inspire those who value true orthodoxy and Christian fellowship.