Reflections by Brother Luke
We recently celebrated the Feast of Pentecost, which brings the Paschal season to a close. Connected with that feast is the celebration of the Holy Trinity, since Pentecost marks the coming of the Holy Spirit and sometimes is referred to as the birthday of the church. Since the Trinity is the centerpiece of both of these feasts, the liturgical texts and scriptural readings for the octave (8 day) celebration highlight this theme, and both the Pentecost and Trinity icons will be prominently displayed in the church. From Genesis 18:1-8 we read about the Lord appearing to Abraham at the Oak of Mamre. This text is often pointed to as the source for the Trinity icon, which shows three figures around a table with the head of the calf in the center on the serving dish. Of note is the care taken in preparing to receive these visitors.
In 2002, we had to prepare for an important visitor as well. Our Church had recently elected a new Metropolitan as head of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA). Since New Skete is a Stavropegial Institution, which means we are administratively located under (the cross of) the Metropolitan of our church, this meant that we had a new bishop to report to. Metropolitan Herman, formerly Archbishop for Eastern Pennsylvania and Abbot of St. Tikhon’s Monastery, was now our immediate superior in the church administration, and he had never visited New Skete. We did have one connection. Brother John had known Metropolitan Herman from his youth because their families knew each other in Pittsburgh. But other than that, the relationship between New Skete and Metropolitan Herman was tabula rasa. We wanted to be sure as best we could that we began writing on this clean slate in as positive a way as possible.
We discussed this upcoming meeting in Synaxis and decided to write a document for the Metropolitan describing our community’s life and history. To do this we organized ourselves into several working groups to write the report. The topics included New Skete’s mission, values, monasticism, liturgy, and work. Each topic was addressed by a separate group, and throughout this process we were to keep in mind that we wanted to convey to our bishop our charism, the values we cherish and the manner in which they are lived in our communal life. Each drafting group worked on its own section, and the Synaxis reviewed the entire final document.
Over the previous months we had been engaged in very serious and intense discussions about all these issues, with a variety of viewpoints emerging on many of them. When we came together to review this final compilation, we were surprised to see that we had produced a document that we could all agree to without major changes. We surprised ourselves. We also surprised the Metropolitan. He and the chancellor joined us in our classroom for the presentation. A member of each group rose to give the presentation for each section of the report. And at the end we gave him a bound copy of all the texts. He was astonished but also pleased. For us, one of the most memorable moments was when we discussed the nature of the relationship between our communities and the Metropolitan, and he asked us how we would describe it. We gave him a copy of our Typicon and referred him to the passage that dealt with this issue, and he was completely satisfied with what it said.
Up to that moment, we had been on a bumpy road in our relations with the central church over a number of issues. However, this open discussion and our honest representation of our community’s life and vision, together with Metropolitan Herman’s pastoral concern for us and his willingness to engage with us, put these issues to rest. The preparation for this meeting was the key. Holding the meeting in an atmosphere of respect and openness was also critical. Indeed, the image of the Trinity is unmistakable in all this. Just as Abraham prepared for his visitors and showed them respect, the Trinity itself is an image of mutual respect and love. It is good that each year the church gives us this feast to remind us of this lesson.