Holy Cross had the blessing to host an Inter-Seminary Senior Retreat September 28-29, 2012. The senior class of Holy Cross, St Vladimir’s, St Tikhon’s and Holy Trinity Seminary joined for fellowship, prayer and to hear the address of Father Irenaeus Steenberg. Father Irenaeus is an Archimandrite in the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad currently living in San Francisco, CA. He is the principal of St John of San Francisco Orthodox Academy, the Dean and Founder of the Sts Cyril & Athanasius Institute for Orthodox Studies and a Visiting Professor at Santa Clara University. Fr Irenaeus received his Masters and Doctorate from the University of Oxford and has published dozens of books, book contributions and articles in Church History and Patristics. He has translated several liturgical and Patristic texts and also several books of the Old Testament for the Orthodox Study Bible. In addition to Father Irenaeus’ impressive curriculum vitae, he founded Monachos.net which serves as a resource on Orthodox theology, Patristics and monasticism.
In the first session, Father Ireneaus discussed three categories of sins he has encountered in hearing confessions: fear, the enslavement to false “freedom” and the skepticism that binds the heart to doubt. In discussing fear, he showed how even Adam was afraid of God’s wrath and His mercy in the Garden. Many of us fear the unknown, we fear both solitude and community. We are also afraid to have faith. He said that hate is not the opposite of love, fear is its opposite. It was Peter’s fear of Christ’s crucifixion which caused Christ to call out, “Get behind me Satan!” The priest, indeed all those working with the Church, must show people a way out of their fear. Secondly, he discussed the false vision of freedom in today’s world. Often, we see freedom as the elimination of any barriers to our own will, to be restrained by no one. Father Irenaeus described this as a “crushing slavery” since the most precious thing is our ability to give up our own will. Lastly, he discussed the skepticism which binds the heart to doubt. There is often the temptation to try to prove something, a temptation into which priests often fall. Some things however simply surpass explanation and their mystery must not be reduced to a rational answer. The priest must be there to help others live in the mystery instead of helping to explain it away. The process of overcoming fear is the transformation of a life. For this reason, a priest must not try to answer the fear, but over time help them have a conversion of heart. Father Irenaeus compared this to taking dietary supplements which must not be taken all at once, but little by little for the transformation towards health.
The next morning, Father Irenaeus provided a list of wisdom he has learned from his namesake, St Irenaeus of Lyons. First, one must receive the Christian life. St Irenaeus received the faith from Polycarp who had been a disciple of St John the Evangelist. This is an active relationship, not simply an intellectual act.Father Irenaeus also spoke about love, the paramount example of the Christian life. He then provided some helpful advice to those preparing for the Holy Priesthood. He said it is much more important to be obedient to one’s superiors rather than correct. This builds humility and obedience. Additionally, the priest must not be afraid to speak with the authority of the Fathers. They must preach with this authority to say, “This is the Gospel, this is what God says.” Furthermore, the greatest of truths are the simplest and so are the greatest men. As Christians, we must be like clay and not like rocks so that God might shape us according to His will.
The retreat was a great opportunity for those of us in our last year in our respective seminaries to reflect on our time in school and on the direction in which God is carrying us. Father Irenaeus was an excellent speaker who kept the attention of his hearers and really demonstrated the love of a pastor for his flock. He made sure to get to know some of the seminarians and contextualized his talks with his hearers in mind. This was most certainly a great experience for me as I had the opportunity to spend time with Father Irenaeus in offering the School’s hospitality and get to know, albeit only briefly, those with whom I hope to serve Christ and His Church.
- Sam Williams, Holy Cross Seminarian