Archpriest Andrew Kencis, Rector of St.Vladimir's Parish. Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
– Mountain View is poised to be a unique experience for all who spend some time here; it's a monastic environment, calm, restful, and peaceful. Everyone has free access to the church, and the grounds. It's the perfect venue for a retreat of this kind.
Youth will often be questioning their faith: "Do I believe? Am I an Orthodox Christian because I believe it, or because my parents are Orthodox?" ":I had no choice but to grow up Orthodox!" It's normal when children become teenagers, especially seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, they start to think: "Well, what do I think, do I really believe in all this? Why do I have to fast? Why do I have to pray? Is it because my parents forced me? Why, why, why?"
– Because they have no choice, they are just growing up?
– Exactly! If you push them, children rebel. These last few days they experienced their faith, away from the usual home environment. They spent every day in a structured but relaxed manner with more than enough time to have any of their questions answered. Remember yesterday, when Fr. Elia was talking about the Holy Icon of Saint Nicholas: he took the Icon out of the case, turning it around, showing everyone. Then he placed it on the table, made a cross with his finger wiping away the myrrh, then, after five, ten minutes, he asked the people assembled: "OK, find the cross, what happened to it?" (It couldn't be seen as the flowing myrrh just filled in that area).
They saw the icon without rush. It was not as usually happens in the parishes: only viewed in the Kivot, only being able to quickly venerate and pray before the icon, being kept moving along because there are so many people in line. Instead they got to see the icon outside of the frame: a piece of plywood with a paper icon print on it -- pouring our fragrant myrrh - That is something that they'll never forget. With their own eyes, they saw a miracle-working icon. In their darkest moments, the memory of seeing the visibly flowing myrrh, with its heavenly fragrance, will once again sustain and strengthen them. It reinforces one's faith: God is real.
– During the talk you gave, I liked how you said to those assembled: "It's important to touch Orthodoxy." - Because we can teach them languages, we can teach them Russian, and they can talk in Russian about the world around them, but it doesn't matter in what language you are saying something, it is more important what you are saying in that language. I watched a video where Fr. Peter Perekrestov from San Francisco is telling how they are running a High School: High school kids, they are speaking Russian, but they are not speaking about holiness, they talk in Russian about the things around them, about iPods and such. It's not easy to teach them to be Orthodox.
– That's what Metropolitan Vitaly said many years ago, at a clergy conference in Atlanta, Georgia: "My priests, teach your children how to pray, and when they are in church, show them how to feel the grace of God in their hearts." A priest must try to get them to realize, especially during the Paschal service, what is this joy that is felt. That's when it's the strongest, especially at Pascha, but it's anytime, there's so much grace that's coming out in the church during the services. So Vladyka said: "Teach them to understand when they feel that in their hearts: the difference between the evil feelings and temptations, how that feels in the heart, how God's grace feels in the heart, let them learn the difference, instruct them so that when they become older, when they are confronted with different ideas about the church or even different groups that call themselves Christian, or any other group, they'll know right away what is artificial, this isn't right, maybe it looks good, their icons are nice and everything is beautiful, but something is rotten, something is not the same, it doesn't feel the same." You can argue that it's subjective: Some people will argue about that.
– I think also, that if they receive Holy Communion, the bad is not going to get inside them, the world around them is touching them, but not getting inside them, because they are different, they don't have the same "frequency", and they don't get resonance with this.
– That's a job the pastor [has], regardless of what age the person is, to teach his flock, himself first of all, just how to come to church and quiet down, how to focus on what's being said and just to experience the services. It is not theater; we do not come to be entertained or to entertain. In the church services (especially the Vigils) we learn how to struggle. True, God's grace provides a shield for us, but we are still responsible for what we allow into our thoughts. Unfortunately, even if we commune regularly we can still fall. Don't ever make that mistake (thinking one's self is immune to temptations!). However, piously receiving our Lord's Body and Blood strengthens our soul, we feed our spiritual powers with our Lord living within us. So yes, evil will have a much harder time attaching to us, or "resonating" as you put it.
So how do we teach this? Well, we all, individually, have a responsibility in this. But first of all to make the church a place of prayer, where we are very careful of our conduct during divine services.
A beautiful truth, in my opinion, that is being overlooked in some churches, is the understanding that the Divine Liturgy is a continuous dialogue between the people and the priest with God, talking back and forth: one continuous, uninterrupted prayer. What happens in many choirs, is this persistent tuning up! We hear: "taa TA taaa," before every hymn, before every "Amen." Just tune up one time, at the beginning, if you really need to. Or rather, instead take your pitch from the deacon, from the priest, there's your tone, use that, the pitch from that priest, and that's where you start singing. ** Otherwise the service itself becomes a distraction! Imagine that! The service itself becomes the distraction: some of the churches I visited in the past, I found it difficult to pray because of the constant break in continuity. The priest finishes reading his "silent prayers" ready for the next part and the timing is wrong because the choir is delayed while tuning up! So to sum up: the Liturgy needs to be a constant, continual prayer to God. Not chopped up. It is hard enough to quiet down our thoughts and enter into a state of prayer.
How many of you tune up when you sing along with a song you hear on the radio? None of you! You hear the song, then adapt your voice (for better or worse) and sing along!
– But sometimes, priests have bad voices.
– Yes, the Russian saying is "a bear stepped on his ear!" Well, then the choir director should direct them, when he (or she) is listening to the priest. One can already figure out more or less where that priest is putting his voice. Even if it's all over the place, you can still find a common ground, so the choir director could start tuning up then, just a little bit, not doing the whole tuning-up bit every time. The point is to keep the service in a continuous flow. That's really all you need to understand, then the prayer is not interrupted, it's one continuous dialogue of the priest and the flock, as one family praying to God. It's very important. This is how prayers are answered, this is how services can elevate everyone, how the prayers enter the heart. Teach your children that this is a dialogue, it's not a theater, it's not entertainment - The reason I bring this up is because otherwise we are simply appealing to the dushevni (of the soul) not the dukhovni (of the spirit), and are to some extent fooling ourselves - well, that's my personal opinion.
– About this place - how do you like this place, and how do you see its future?
I love this place! Years ago, in the 1980's we lived in Mahopac, New York. When Matushka and I would go to Jordanville, we would drive by this place. It was Roman Catholic residence at the time, an old age home. Every time we'd pass by, I'd look at this place and think: "What a beautiful setting! This should be an Orthodox church." I'm not making this up: I thought this should be an Orthodox church. When I heard that we had a church now at Mountain View , I couldn't believe it, because as I mentioned as we drove by, something always attracted me to strongly gaze at the place. At the consecration last year, a few people actually, several people, mentioned the same thing. We talked about it. They all said: "Yes, we went to Jordanville and saw this place, always thinking it would make a beautiful church." And we would think that it never would be so for the simple reason that there already was Jordanville nearby, and why would you make another monastery church here, and that there's not that many people." Looking back one might say that our Lord was telling us, letting us know of the potential future of this place. In closing, everyone needs to realize that this is a beautiful place. It can be a great spiritual center for our church.
Archpriest Andrew Kencis
Mountain View, February 2014.