“Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are healthy, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are unhealthy, your body also is full of darkness.” Luke 11:34
Yesterday, June the 29th 2017, on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul a new bishop was installed as the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Eparch of St. Nicholas in Chicago. The monk Benedict (Aleksijchuk) became the fifth bishop to head this 55-year old diocese. It was truly an amazing and wondrous event. A member of the Monastic community of St. Theodore Studite, our new bishop walked, talked, and smiled with the divine energies which he and his monastic brothers attain through their monastic observance.
This monk is a bishop. I find this reality pleasing to my soul. Many view priests and bishops (and pastors) as purveyors of a clericalism that engenders rule and not service. Mansions, limousines, exclusivity, excessive spending are what many see. Such images are not congruent with our understanding of the life and ministry of Jesus.
Pope Francis has renewed the critique of anti-clericalism by affirming a simple lifestyle. No mansions, limousines, no expensive robes, but rather a life of spiritual engagement which begins with a divine love that emanates from his eyes. Such is the gaze of a bishop. In this case a Jesuit and a Pope.
Much has been written in the literature of developmental psychology on the topic of the mother’s and even the father’s loving connection with their infant child. It is the loving gaze, a healthy mirroring, that facilitates the nurturance of social skills and healthy functioning. Without citing myriads of supportive literature (the constrictions of time), anecdotal evidence indicates that the lack of the eyes that gaze lovingly into the child’s eyes becomes the foundation for sociopathy and psychopathy. The eyes which should reflect love and peace, become the eyes of hate and fear.
Bishop Benedict’s eyes are the eyes of a monk who knows and understands. His eyes gaze with a loving gaze and his spiritual children are responding with joy and happiness. In turn, we will learn to gaze at the visible and invisible worlds with the same compassionate stance.
The world we live in is flooded by the images of hate, violence, racism, and every other form of isms. We are blinded and overwhelmed by discourses that divide, isolate, demean and colonize our souls with slogans and propaganda. The politics of territory, of gates, of walls, and of demonizing the “others” summarizes the sinfulness of the world which the monastic has left behind. Left behind not with the intent of running away, but of developing spiritual practices which transform.
The beginnings of a spiritual renaissance are palpable. The monk and bishop, Bishop Benedict, will experience the cities and deserts, mountains, lakes, and rivers in a way that will strengthen his, and our, mystical vision of being-in-the-world. The Eparchy of St. Nicholas is expansive, a vast geographic territory. The Bishop’s eyes will behold the physical beauty of the land and of the Pacific Ocean. All the better for nurturing a mystical vision for a planet ravaged by greed and overdevelopment.
This contemplative horizon will open the gates to our souls and firmly impress a burning love for God’s infinite beauty; a spiritual aesthetic that replaces society’s growing numbness. This is not only inspiring, it is liberating.
Yes, yes, Bishops are administrators and builders, in charge of budgets and deficits. But, we truly own nothing, our needs should be minimal (so my sister reminds me), and our focus should be on de-cluttering our minds and our space. The Church as we vision it is beyond time, space, building and space. Nonetheless, designated temples of sacred space need love and affirmation in the forms of tending to repair.
Let us not forget, that our church buildings and parish centers reflect the need to repair and reconstruct our souls. Bishop Benedict’s loving gaze is an invitation for us to learn to look at everything with different eyes.
By the way, welcome to Virtualborscht, a blog for deeper thinking, reading, writing, and the authorship of a new text in a post-Maidan, post-Umbrella Revolution, post-Arab Spring world.
I have finished writing my dissertation: “Shattered Images, Broken Lives: Social Dreaming in Healing Ukraine’s Historical Trauma.” The next step is one more critical review by the committee, professional proofreading, and the defense. Just in time to engage all of us in a theological discourse on Bishop Benedict, the monk who sees us with God’s loving eyes.