I do not know enough languages to gauge how universal is the concept of “home.” It has very strong connotations in English – and is particularly strong in its usage within the Southern United States. I suspect much of this is rooted in family and place – and requires a fairly stable culture. The culture in which I grew up was reasonably stable – though I experienced major upheavals in my surrounding world around the age of 10. I was young enough to remember what had come before and old enough to nurture a hunger to return.
Some have spoken of this “homesickness” as a universal hunger – a memory reaching back to our loss of Paradise. I know that many speak of their coming to the Church as a “coming home.” It is certainly the case that Christ is our true home and that to return to Christ is the answer to the heart’s true hunger.
I have come “home” this weekend (and for the first part of the coming week). I am in Dallas, the city of my Bishop. It was here that I was ordained Deacon and here that I have always looked during my years as an Orthodox Christian. Though my time in Dallas has always meant time in a hotel and a rented car – and often time without my family – it is still home. The very sight of my Bishop (who is now retired) is a coming home for my heart – to be in the rest that I find in his welcome and the assurance within the proximity of his unshakable faith.
I arrived in Dallas a day or so early – in order to rest, to pray and to visit at leisure. Starting Monday, I am in meetings of various sorts with other priests and laity and with the Metropolitan of the OCA, the acting bishop for my diocese. On Wednesday, the Mid-Feast of Pentecost, I will concelebrate with a number of other priests and the entire Synod of Bishops of the OCA in a liturgy at the cathedral in which we will honor my retired bishop, Vladyka Dmitri.
Thus, what writing I do this week will be between meetings – though being here without my family means that when I am not in a meeting I will have much time on my hands – and a chance to write.
It is hard to explain to others, sometimes, that my experience of the Church and its hierarchy has not been the experience of an institution but of persons. Institutions are distortions are what should be personal and relational. There is nothing inherently institutional about belonging to something that involves millions of people. It’s just that our fallen experience of such things is usually only in a distorted form. When the Church ceases to be personal and becomes institutional, something has gone wrong.
I know of people who have an unspoken pleasure in institutional existence. What is unspoken is the freedom that institutional existence gives to some to indulge a critical spirit. Institutions are perceived as impersonal – which leaves others free to say and do what they will and consider their actions “impersonal.” If anyone has ever held a position of authority then you will likely know what it is to be seen only as your “role” and not as a person. I have endured things through the years associated with such positions that are among the most painful experiences I have ever known. As a sinner, I know that I have offered more than my share of such impersonal animosity as well.
The answer to such problems is not the “reform” of institutions, but the redemption of relationships. It is necessary for power and authority to be redeemed and placed under the headship of Christ. Democracy is not a synonym for conciliarity – though some mistakenly think so. Conciliarity is, in its highest form, the embodiment of personhood in all of our relations.
It is this embodiment of personhood that is the true hunger of the human heart. Christ fulfills and raises us to the level of personhood in our redemption. Vladimir Lossky described the work of the Holy Spirit as primarily one of establishing us as persons in the true and proper sense of the word. To be a person is to know and to be known – and to know and be known in the Truth. It is to love and be loved and to know love in the Truth.
My journey into the Orthodox Church included a relationship with Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas for four years prior to my actual conversion. We discussed that eventuality only in our first conversation. For the years following I simply found myself treated as a son who had already returned home. My conversion was only a fulfillment of something that had been taken as an accomplished reality by the man who would be my bishop. It is no wonder that I love him as I do.
The retirement of Archbishop Dmitri is a vast change in the life of Orthodoxy in the South. For 30 years he has been a dominant force for Orthodoxy and its proclamation in this region and a figure who defined Orthodoxy as a profound practice of hospitality. Together with the Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America, I will celebrate a ministry which has extended the “home” of Orthodoxy to thousands of people who once had no knowledge of the Orthodox faith. And he has done this by creating a home rather than destroying another.
May God grant us all to find the heart’s true home.