An unworthy Deacon, named for the brother of God: James, striving to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" within the Tradition (paradosis) of the Eastern Orthodox Faith. It is a strange and marvelous journey, and I am accompanied by the fourfold fruit of my fecundity. My wife, the Matushka or Diaconissa Sophia, is my beloved partner in the pursuit of Theosis, and she ranks me in every way.
If you ask: "The filter is not running, why don't you use it?"
I will answer...oh indeed I will answer.
If you ask: "Do you spend half your life trying to get the filter pump working again because the liliputians of the home are unable to resist the fun involved in making the "waterfall" stop by pulling the black wire from the wall within mere minutes of the time that you are actually and finally able to get the suction sucking again?"
I will answer...oh indeed I will answer.
Asceticism...the monks on Athos should have aquariums and children.
Sunday morning...our patronal feastday. I happened to be outside with my son toward the end of the service (he was weary and ready for the FEAST) and I was trying to keep him somewhat subdued while still paying partial attention to the happenings inside. (It was a warm day and so the Narthex doors were propped open as well as the Nave doors...from the parking lot one could see all the way into the Altar itself. Anyway, as I parented Nicholas (as feebly as I am able to) I watched a threesome of newcomers slip out the backdoor and as they did I overheard their hushed conversation as they passed me by:
"I was not comfortable here," the young man said.
"No, neither was I," the older woman replied.
Oh no! I felt really bad to hear this and wanted to run over and welcome them...perhaps help them to understand what we were doing inside the building they'd just left. My son horded my attention at the moment and so I was unable to greet them and they rather stealthily wisked past me to their car. I wanted to fix this problem...they just don't understand, that's all.
As they drove away, my mind was churning. What could we do to not let this sort of thing happen? I suppose we could change things to make people feel more comfortable...maybe a Harley parade? Some more showiness or flash? Fr. James could lose the vestments and perhaps try a business suit...or maybe even just some khakis and a polo? Well, it was hot...how about shorts and a T-Shirt? Perhaps it wasn't the environment at all that made them uncomfortable? Well, I suppose we could tone down the theology...not be so dogmatic maybe? Of course, maybe we weren't dogmatic enough? Sigh....
Mom always told me that you can't please everyone.
And since this is the case, I guess we need variety. Denominations. God knows, it is profoundly important that people "feel comfortable."
I really hated to hear these folks say what they did...it kinda hurt, as if they were talking negatively about a loved one. But, truly, who of us present day converts did not (or would not) have said the same thing when or if we had entered an Orthodox Church before we were ready? Maybe they'll come back...being uncomfortable is a normal feeling when standing at the precipice of something GRAND.
Invading my mailbox, ringing my doorbell, or calling me on the phone is in my mind (yes, sinful as it is) an open invitation to criticism.
Remember the Mega-Church with the "under new management" banner? Well, imagine my suprise to find in my mailbox (addressed to "Resident") an invitation to attend their "Celebrate Freedom" services next weekend! What an amazing coincidence! A truly beautiful mass mailer post card: full color, the American flag prominantly displayed, a group of bikers on Harleys (?), and a familiar red head with his adorable wife.
Wow, I had no idea that it was Casey Treat's Church...as it turns out, ole Casey has been busy since I last heard him back in my Northwest College AG days. Apparently he has spawned his own little denomination! (two churches! Hey don't laugh, every denomination started out this way!) Of course, he'd deny starting a new denomination...every new denomination today must by default claim not to be one. "We're different!"
His web page has a cute vertically scrolling banner in which he asks: "Are you born again?" Well, how could I resist! I must know....am I born again?!?!?!
Now, if I made it to step 7 (Hallelujah! I'm on my way to heaven, woo hoo!)...why should I bother with step 9? Casey offers no explanation...save a Bible verse which just simply implies that it was done in the New Testament. What good is baptism if I'm already redeemed, saved, washed, "on the way to heaven" and "born again"? Ahhh....that beloved term "born again" which is said once in all the New Testament and henceforth so heartily clung to by the evangelical world...but when Jesus explained to Nicodemus what he meant, did He really say: "Being saved or born again is receiving Jesus as your Lord (Master), committing yourself to follow His Word (the Bible), and believing that God raised Jesus from the dead"? Because I always thought He said: "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. " Hmmmmm....
I think Casey has the order mixed up...perhaps step 9 should come before step 7? Oh...I better stop...not enough sleep last night and so I think I have the monday morning grumpies.
Why the cool guys riding Harleys on the postcard? Apparently at the "Celebrate Freedom" service they will include an indoor Harley parade which "you will not want to miss!" Unless of course you'd rather not die of carbon monoxide poisoning! A strange sort of incense I guess.
”I swear, Alyosha,” he cried, sounding furious at himself, “and you are free to believe me or not, but it is as true as God is Holy and Christ is our Lord, I swear that though I just laughed at her noble feelings, I know she’s a million times better than I am, infinitely superior to me…”
-The Brothers Karamazov
The Brothers provides frequent opportunity for pausing and pondering much…even born of a single line such as this which I read again last night while waiting for a little post-Vespers rendezvous at Redhook. It made me think about how much better many people are than me…and it also made me think about how rarely I have such thoughts.
I won’t take the entire blame though, for thinking so highly of myself. I mean, seriously, our whole culture seems to hinge on the idea that people are created equal…but more than that: they also remain so throughout life. Pride may be the culprit…how often have we been faced by the horrific event of being the target of finger pointing that we know to be spot on and rather than admitting such we instead find warts on the hand of the finger doing the pointing?
Everyone would like to believe that everyone else is really no different than himself or herself. We all would like to believe that we all share the same failings and do so generally to the same degree…OR that if we have different failings they are of such variants and degrees that eventually they balance out each individuals’ moral accounts as compared to one another. So, we are all pretty much equal and that affords us the ability to feel okay about ourselves…and if you are okay where you are: why move? And really, if everyone is pretty much the same, where ya gonna move to? I mean, really, your not going to become different from the rest of us…come on now, sit down and relax.
The same is true when we here today look back in time. I’ve been accused (indeed the Orthodox Church herself too) of thinking too highly of our father and mother saints of the past. I hear it time and time again:
“It’s great that you remember them…but really they are no different than you or I…they struggled and they failed: just like you or I struggle and fail. People are people.”
How best to answer this…..hmmmm…how about this: BULLSHIT!
No…too harsh. Sorry…how about: I’m not too sure about that? (The addition of a question mark may also be of assistance here…in my experience the little inflection and rise in pitch and the end of the sentence would likely be more effective than the exclamation following the male cow manure statement.)
Some people are better than others…I’m utterly convinced of it. Equality is found in the fact that we can all better ourselves to the same degree, but we can worsen ourselves to many different degrees.
There is somewhere to move to. There is someplace to go. Some people are ahead of us, and though I find it hard to believe in my case, some people are behind us.
Move 'em on, head 'em up
Head 'em up, move 'em on
Move 'em on, head 'em up
Count 'em out, ride 'em in,
Ride 'em in, count 'em out,
Count 'em out, ride 'em in
Keep movin', movin', movin'
Though they're disapprovin'
Keep them dogies movin'
Don't try to understand 'em
Just rope, throw, and brand 'em
Soon we'll be living high and wide.
My hearts calculatin'
My true love will be waitin',
Be waitin' at the end of my ride
RAWHIDE Indeed. I think this might work well in Byzantine tone 1.
I am heading up a little project for teens this summer through our Parish in which we will be examining the question: "Who is Jesus?"
Basically I will be presenting to the kids the vast spectrum of opinions and answers to this question that exist in the world and we will critique such opinions. What I need help with is in finding more examples of these opinions - particularly in the form of movies, documentaries, websites, etc...
The main gist of what I want the kids to learn is really quite simple:
1. Recognize and critique the vast opinions outside the Church.
2. Who does the Church say Jesus is?
3. Realize the trustworthiness of the Church to be the authority in answering the question of who Jesus is.
So, any other resources anyone can point me toward? What group is using Jesus as their poster child these days? Where can I see more examples of an unbalanced potrayal of Christ?
Please feel free to email me privately at the "contact" link above...thanks in advance!
Securing a pocket door framing kit at a more distant than usual nightmare home improvement warehouse store, I noticed an evangelical mega-church right accross the street. A huge banner bore the glad tidings:
Welcome! New Leadership! New Message! New Church!
Wow! How exciting!
I shall bring to our Parish council an idea for our own banner:
Old Leadership! Old Message! Old Church!
Alas,not sure if we Orthodox are very big on banners,excpet maybe for our ethnic fesitvals. Regardless...funny change of perspective for someone in our culture to view "old" as something much more valuable than "new." Hmmm...I also helped today in moving a very old piece of furniture and its heftiness and quality was quite evident...a stark contrast to most "new" furniture built today which seems to exist only to serve a most temporal rift in fashion culture. Churches aren't all that different I guess.
I'll take the one that is hard to move and will support all the baggage I'm carrying, thank you very much.
I used to preach, and I reckoned I was pretty darned good at it. From where I sit now, though, I cringe at the whole affair. I literally, sincerely, and painfully regret much of the hot air I blew into the atmosphere of that little youth group chapel in Chino, California. I did not know God...still don't now that I think about it...but I spoke as if He and I were great chums and that through my words God would convict the sinners in the crowd to "get right with God." There had to be a response, there simply had to be! A hymn or chorus of some great emotional worth would always crown my call for repentence or rededication...and my judgement came in the form of people sitting motionless, raising their hands, or moving forward to the psuedo-altar.
I was reminded of all of this when last night I happened to catch the end of a special segment on ABC's Nightline which followed three competitors in what is called, amazingly enough, the National Evangelistic Preaching Competition. Is further commentary really needed?
It was a radical shift that took place duirng the reformation which propelled emphasis from the Altar to the Pulpit. I can recall reading about some of the turmoil in the Anglican Reformation in which on week the Altar would be tossed out of the Church and then the very next Sunday it would have been brought back in as popular theological favor allowed...I'm not sure the Anglicans have ever gotten past this indecisiveness. Let us be clear though, we Orthodox have had our fair share of "good" preachers, Saint John Chyrsostom of course being the prime example. I've heard that he could go on for hours; I assume this assumption - ummm...yeah - is based on the length of his recorded sermons we have today...apparently tapes and CD's are available on his website, operators are standing by.
With fear of God, with faith and love, draw near.
and so is made the Orthodox Altar call. But to respond for the first time will take months, maybe even years! Thenceforth we are invited to join in each week...sermon or not. Our sinner's prayer:
I believe, O Lord, and I confess, that thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, who didst come into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first. And I believe that this is thine own immaculate Body, and that this is thine own precious Blood. Wherefore, I pray thee, have mercy on me, and pardon my trespasses, voluntary and involuntary, in word, or in deed, in knowledge and in ignorance, and make me worthy without condemnation to partake of thine immaculate Mysteries unto forgiveness of sins and unto life eternal.
Of thy mystical supper, O Son of God, accept me today as a communicant, for I will not speak of thy mystery to thine enemies, neither will I give thee a kiss as did Judas, but like the thief will I confess thee, remember me, O Lord, in thy kingdom. Not unto judgment nor unto condemnation be my partaking of thy holy Mysteries, O Lord, but unto healing of soul and body.
Well, here I am…obviously back again, both at my blog and my work. I apparently have time to spare here in the lab doing things wholly unrelated to infectious diseases….save for the nasty little infected burn I have on the tip of my index finger which I was rewarded with while “sweating” copper plumbing line. Four days of intense home repair and remodeling and I am nowhere near being done…it is hard work but has made me realize how much leisure time I normally have. Time utterly wasted – usually. They say that the devil will always find work for idle hands and I’d have to say that there is some truth to this. Ah well…
But leisure time is rarely spent doing nothing, rather we usually must find some means of feeding our restless minds. Media (of some sort) usually plays a major role in our leisure time activities: can you imagine making an hour-long drive without a radio? How about a 10 minute drive? It seems our minds are starved for stimulation! Something to soothe the savage beast within us.
Yesterday as I lay in bed preparing to fall asleep I noticed that there was no peace in my mind, no quietness, no rest…instead it seemed to rage with random and variable thoughts of such a magnitude so as to make any music video director profoundly jealous.
The fathers often analogize our state of mind to that of a flame and advise us to keep our vigil lamps lit in a manner so as to not burn out and yet not be fanning about wildly. Metropolitan ANTHONY Bloom calls this state: Relaxed vigilance.
Something to ponder tonight during commercial breaks?
...salvation signifies much more than an external alteration in our juridical status, and likewise much more than an "imitation of Christ" through our moral conduct. Salvation is nothing less than an all-embracing transformation of our humanness. To be saved is to share with all the fullness of human nature in the power, joy and glory of God. It is to affirm with entire and uncompromising realism, "His life is mine."
My old understanding of soteriology was like dirty rags...filthy, sinful, evil, demonic, and flat our wrong.
Thanks be to God that Jesus is not our lawyer, He is our Lover and He is our Physician.
'Twas only a matter of time, and though I thought our "scottish" variety would have beat this "royal" one to the punch, I am none-the-less relieved to see that I will feel at home in the Baghdad International Airport. I mean, really, does Iraq have any culture anyway? No harm importing ours.
Better see the world now folks...won't be long before everywhere looks and feels just like ___________ (insert U.S. city name here.)
The infamous word/faith movement along with its closely related health and wealth Gospel has always irritated me. Being a former attendee of the Assemblies of God, I was always disturbed by the fact that both of these heresies frequently found comfortable and welcoming homes in our denomination. Truly, it is only in America that such a demonic theology could have evolved…it is the culminating bastard child of western individualistic philosophy and Christianity having gotten into bed with one another some 500 years ago. You can even see it beginning to rear its ugly head in some of America’s earliest political documents – which as we all know are decidedly Christian documents, right? Let’s face it, you see nothing of this sort of doctrine – nothing remotely close – in the early church. Of course, this might have been because the Christians back then were busy being utilized as torches for night lighting, sown into bags with wild animals, or perhaps being pan-fried. Ahhh…but the luxuries and leisure friendly world we live in today has given us pause to think: Hey, this is God blessing us for our faithfulness!
Or has He abandoned us?
My wife spent this last weekend at the Northwest Deanery Women’s Retreat and had the opportunity to hear Mother Christophora speak. As my wife related her experiences I was pretty deeply moved. Mother Christophora is from the old country (as they say) and so she brings to us Americans a rather broader perspective on our Orthodox faith – and indeed on life in general. One amusing anecdotal incident took place in which the Abbess had to ask for clarification because she’d never heard the term “multi-tasking” before, and upon hearing the definition was further compelled to ask/exclaim: “And do they pay you extra for that?!?”
Anyway, a good portion of what the Mother had to say was in regard to pain and suffering, which of course are not topics that we American’s perceive as being very positive things, but for most of the world they are very much more apart of their everyday existence. As such, it is frequently understood to be the disciplining hand of God.
A story related to the women at the retreat (and now being paraphrased and re-related by yours truly) involved a woman entering a Church and crying profusely in the back of the nave. When a priest sought to inquire what was vexing her (Had someone died? Was the family out of money and had no food? Was a child terribly sick?), the woman denied any of the terrible calamities that might befall us in this life. “Father,” she wept, “it has been three years since we have had any suffering. Three years! No deaths and no illness of any kind, our business is successful and we live in relative comfort. But Father, my family is growing lax and I am afraid that God has abandoned us! I’m afraid my family will perish!”
America is the light on the hilltop…the crescendo that all the world’s symphonies are trying to reach. Has not the Gospel taught us the folly in this? The real light on the hilltop is found in the soul of a humble elderly Bishop who wrote to Mother Christophora saying: “My kidneys are failing, my heart is bad. I’m so thankful that God has not forgotten me.”
When did I become a neat freak? It seems only yesterday that I was a bachelor living with a group of other bachelors in a house that would comfortably accumulate an unfathomable amount of everyday living dirtiness before a “house meeting” (equivalent to a UN Security Council) would be required to remedy the mess. It seems to me that back then I had an amazingly high tolerance for dirtiness and unkemptness. Now, it appears – and my wife will confirm this – that I have NO tolerance for it!
Ahhh…and the kids enter the stage allowing for the REAL action to begin! One of my very earliest posts here on Paradosis made the claim that kid’s love dirt…and who can argue otherwise? Over time they become aware of the “guckiness” of it all, but beyond that my kids seem to be little mess making whirlwinds wandering the house in search of something to put out of its proper place. Mommy and Daddy follow them around dutifully trying to restore some semblance of order…but confounded, we adults find ourselves outnumbered 2:1 in the Ferrenberg home!
It has been miserably hot the last few days here in Washington…I hate it. The oversized inflatable pool is outside and the kids have been making extensive use of it – as well as the muddy water that naturally accumulates in the surrounding yard. In and out of the pool (and the house) the muddy, grass-ridden feet go so as to leave the kitchen floor and the pool water looking quite unseemly. Yet despite the murky appearance of the water, the kids take no notice and continue to readily envelope themselves therein, while Dad cringes at the thought. As if this were not “dirty” enough, the kids also find that the mud around the pool is even more fun and exciting if you touch it with your hands, which affords you the ability to manipulate it and perhaps even send it aloft!
My protesting falls on deaf ears. They stop for a time, but inevitably as I return to check on them they are once again engaged in the glories of “dirt.” The vicious cycle is repeated numerous times until at last I see the oldest boy sitting in the mud! Aargh! I am simply flabbergasted: Don’t you guys see how messy you are getting! AND how messy your are getting the pool and the patio and the house (when I am not on guard duty to prevent their unlawful and unclean entrance)! The kids will seemingly dance and roll in the dirt until such a time that they suddenly realize that the dirt has begun to inhibit their activities – and it is then, at last, that the revelation comes to them: “I am dirty.”
Sometimes there are tears that accompany this realization, but always the children come solemnly to Dad with hands, feet, head, or whatever outstretched to display the offending dirt. “I need to get wiped off” seems to be the typical phraseology, and despite my dismay and frustration with the whole ugly process, I always provide the requested service – though often outside with a hose. In my ignorance and anger, I often include an obligatory parental lecture during the rinsing off process, which usually begins: “You know if you’d stay out of the dirt to begin with…”
Yesterday, its seems Gos has reminded me that He could tell me the same thing day in and day out - oh how I love to bath in the muck of my sins! Ironically, my anger and frustration with my kids “dirtiness” is in fact getting me even dirtier. From the mouths of babes…I sometimes wonder who is really doing the teaching and upbringing in my house.
In the beginning was the Bible, and the Bible was with God, and the Bible was God. The Bible was in the beginning with God. All things were made through the Bible, and without the Bible nothing was made that was made. In the Bible was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
In my past, I could have just about affirmed this alteration of St. John's words...or at least I certainly seemed to think in such a way so as to give that impression. The Bible is, afterall, the Word of God...right? It is no coincidence that if you were to ask me today what comes first to mind when I think of the term "Word of God", that it is not the Bible...but rather Jesus Christ Himself.
I can recall glorying in the beauty of the Reformation which brought the Bible off of its Church Builidng pedestals and put it into the hands of the common man...but on second thought, was this such a great idea? Into the hands of David Koresh? Joseph Smith? Name any serial killer? Or, hell,not even the wackos in the world...how many schisms and even death has resulted from this beautiful event of handing the Scriptures to some bloke like me and saying: "Here, interpret it for yourself. Be free!"
Even today I hear friends saying how important it is to use lots of commentaries and other academic/intellectual resources to help us in discerning the Scriptures, but let's be honest here: the "common man" cannot and does not. And do we not set up a sort of academic papacy by seemingly denying that venerable protestant tradition that the average person can sit down with their leather bound NIV and wholly comprehend the plain and clear message therein? I am beginning to think that the Roman Catholic Church may have been right to fear this "common man's" access to the Bible (GASP!), and furthermore that that fear had less to do with loss of power (as the cynics claim) but a prophetic vision that the state of Christendom would become as we see it today: broken, shattered, and unified only in name. But the age was leading us down this path...and there was no stopping it.
I do not believe that God left us a book to govern our Christianity. I mean seriously, think about it: people today on either side of the Gun Debate here in the US cannot come to an agreement on what the 200+ year old Constitution says (or at least how it ought to be interpretted), how can we expect to do so with a 2000 year old document? The funny little Babelfish example below also shows how important the human hand and mind is in translating languages...but we ought to keep in mind the difficulty of translating from one modern language to another is severly compounded when we try to translate an ancient language into a modern one. Such that to say that when we are reading the "Precious Moments" Bible we are reading God's word is really quite scary, isn't it?
Forgive me, friends, I have fallen so far away from whole protestant hermeneutic that I can hardly look upon it with any appreciation at all...no doubt exactly how I would have looked at paradosis - Tradition some 10 years ago. But, I do not wish to give the impression that we Orthodox have a low opinion of Holy Scripture - far from it! We simply have a low opinion of how it is utilized: almost as a handbook that might be entitled: "Christianity for Dummies."
We believe God didn't leave us a book to govern us, but rather a Living Way...a Holy Tradition as safeguarded by the Church (which is the only thing He Himself established.)
I used to think so...hell I took one year of Greek and was made to do my own translation of St. John's first epistle. How much "human-ness" is needed to translate a text?
Bablefish tranlated my last post into Chinese, and then I translated that back into English - here's what I got:
God blesses USA Starts (my supposition from the " war in terror " we appointment that to 9/11), we look this phrase - and this first song - use. Some Christians are trying using patriotic/religious to be crazy in order to transforms the person and becomes awards the credit becomes this position, USA is, further and is, with should be " the Christian - god " country... possesses our money in it after thinks we trust him. However, I think the majority we realize this expression have compared to Christianity do with the patriotism - or any one kind of religion (preservation for civil) are that questions. Case and spot: When in so Carlow. (Why do I pay attention hmm... me want to know?) The reader board dingy one strip club and beseeches God for his blessing in USA. (Sighs is mad) your supposition God " hears the " reader committee to pray? Possible if this is grocery store reader committee? Perhaps or... is quite good... and has one attracts the person small idiom the church reader committee: The " best vitamin is the Christian is B1. " and what abundant harvest butcher does pray? I think I want to have one prayer abundant harvest butcher too... likely perhaps Ê¥Í½ Ephraim the Lenten prayer? Or possible Jesus to pray? Is what Sao Paulo this by uninterrupted prays meaning? I can recall in me despair seek the correct word in order to truly by obtains the matter fires - during the unusual many fervent public Pentecostal prayer order anything other people therefore I truly haven't heard to pray the basis. Finally, in mine secret heart, I wants truly to look like likely can whip besides some one kick donkey the buttocks spirit person, the high octane, the emotion mixes the prayer. Prays Ê¥Í½ the prayer is the medicine for my morbid state soul. But I digress; The reader committee and the bumper butcher prays not truly is the just elephant like this - prays basic, but rather cares for to say something people who sees them. Hey! Look! One patriotic strip club, we tonight go to there - them support our troop! And they even mention God. About equally rancidly looked like my " provides the " prayer - does not have doubt here even in Paradosis.
So much of what we hold in our hand - as the Bible - is tied to the person(s) who did the translation, that it is almost scary. And we Prots (former or otherwise) bitch and moan about Papal infallibility?
and what abundant harvest butcher does pray? I think I want to have one prayer abundant harvest butcher too hehehe...says it all.
Since the "War on Terror" began (I assume we'd date that to 9/11), we've seen this phrase - and the song - much used. Some Christians are trying to capitalize on the patriotic/religious frenzy in order to convert people and also to give further credence to the claim that America was, is, and should be a "Christian - Godly" country...after all our money says we trust Him.
However, I think most of us realize that the expression has much more to do with patriotism than Christianity – or any religion (save for civil) for that matter. Case and point: While in So. Cal. I noticed (hmm… I wonder why?) the reader board of a dingy little strip club also beseeched God for His blessing on America. (Sigh) Do you suppose God “hears” reader board prayers? Maybe if it was a Grocery Store reader board? Or…better yet…a Church reader board that might also have a catchy little idiom like: “The best vitamin for a Christian is B1.” And what of Bumper Sticker prayers?
I think I should like to have a prayer bumper sticker too…like perhaps the Lenten Prayer of Saint Ephraim? Or maybe just the Jesus Prayer? Is this what St. Paul meant by praying ceaselessly?
I can recall during some fervent public Pentecostal prayer times I would search desperately for just the right words in order to really get things fired up – so much so that I really wasn’t hearing what others were praying at all. Ultimately, in my secret heart, I just wanted to look like the really hip spiritual guy who could whip out some kick ass, high octane, emotion-stirring prayers. Praying the prayers of saints has been medicine for my sick soul. But I digress; reader board and bumper sticker prayers are just like this – not really prayer at all, but rather intended to say something to people who see them.
Hey! Look! A patriotic strip club, let’s go there tonight – they support our troops! And they even mention God. Just about as rancid as the prayers I’ve “offered” – no doubt even here on Paradosis.
I had really expected the weekend to be mainly about marriage, love, commitment, sacrament, union, and – of course – celebration! Truly, it was, but it was also a weekend in which I spent some time getting to know the Mother of God a little better. (And the Protestants in the crowd begin hitting the “BACK” button of their browser with all due speed! hehehe)
Aaron had in his possession a little booklet by Fr. Alexander Schmemann (Memory Eternal!) which was published by Conciliar Press for the St. Athanasius Academy. However, I was unable to find a copy at Conciliar and have instead found a book from the Celebration of Faith series entitled The Virgin Mary from which I believe the booklet was excerpted. It is well worth a read, as is anything by Fr. Schmemann.
In any event, I spent the elongated weekend periodically reading through this little text and found it thoroughly enjoyable and enlightening. It reminded me of a number of things including the very personal (almost private) sense we Orthodox have for our Marian Theology – to understand why we do and believe the things we do and believe in regards to the Theotokos, one really needs to enter into the overall theology and life of the Church. This is why we do not preach Mary, but rather keep her as a blessed theological treasure that flows organically from that which we do preach. Keyed on the Incarnation, Fr. Schmemann argues that it is in the Theotokos that we truly see the balance of Orthodox Christian anthropology, and that her deliberate absence in other Christian traditions inevitably reveals a deeper theological problem than is warranted by a simple shoulder shrug. More than ever, I am learning how the fullness of the Faith must include the veneration of the Theotokos.
But theological argument is not where I wanted to take this post. I instead want to relate my experience with the Theotokos at the crowning ceremony of my dear friends Chance and Cybil. Aaron’s booklet no doubt primed me for the reading of the Gospel at their wedding – for it really hit me then and there.
No one was more adamant about the lack of the Virgin Mother’s importance than I was while I was a protestant. She was simply a lottery winner in my mind, and as I often say nowadays: I ignorantly translated “blessed” as “lucky”. And I felt quite certain that the account of the miracle at the wedding at Cana supported my belief that Mary was of little import. Try taking a look at ALL the different translations given for Jesus’ words to Mary…it is astounding how different they all seem! In my mind, it was clear that Jesus was sternly rebuking the Theotokos for pushing Him into His work before it was time. But, the Theotokos' actions thereafter give us a better clue as to what was really going on...and this is what hit me on the head like the broadside of an Angel's sword.
The term used by Jesus: woman was indeed a term of prestige and honor. Christ would address her similarly while on the cross, and even more interestingly He would use the word for a number of other woman for whom we can assume it had never been offered before. But, more revealing than the title, instead of Mary cowering away from her Son's "stern" rebuke, what does she do?
She orders the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them to do! She expects her Son to act! An astonishing thing to do for someone who'd just been rebuked, don't you think? There is more going on here than meets the eyes and ears of those of us who are forced to stumble through all these translations - ridden with the opinions of those doing the translating. The Theotokos holds an obvious seat of honor at this wedding (ordering servants around) and Jesus certainly affirms that with the title He gives her, and more importantly by the fact that He does act - just as she expected Him to. Is it any wonder that we Orthodox covet the Virgin's prayers on our behalf?
So here I was, nervously standing in front of the crowd - having myself just accidently chanted the entire epistle (having intended to only read it) - and having a my own little revelation about the Theotokos. I looked past the priest as the Gospel was being completed and stared at the grand Icon of the Virgin so often seen behind the altars of Orthodox Churches: More Spacious than the Heavens and I beseeched her prayers for the soon to be married couple standing beside me. And indeed, for all our marriages. In reply, I am sure our Mother would tell us now as she did then:
The deepest thoughts I could muster tonight before going to bed
Having spent my fair shre of time in airports this last week, I had a rather sad epiphany. Since only passengers are allowed at the gates anymore, my daughter was deprived of seeing tearful goodbyes and joyous reunions therein (many of which - some including complete strangers - I have fond memories of), rather she might have seen some hurried and abbreviated versions of such human drama along the curb of the busy airport "drive through." Though it took terrorism to initiate it, I suspect we American's secretly prefer such "fast food" welcomes and farewells. It suits us.
In the old days, my Dad would get pissed off at me and demand repayment when upon opening the developed film envelope would find dozens of pictures of obscure little palm trees, flower pots, rotting fruit on the sidewalk, or that tiny little dot amidst a field of blue that I claimed was a bird. Ahhh...the wonders of technology! Delete, Delete, Delete....
sometimes, this old farm seems like a long lost friend...
Ok, so I don't live on a farm...but I do like John Denver. I went to this guy's wedding, got to sit down spend some fun time with this guy and his lovely family, was blessed to even briefly meet this guy, and was even MORE blessed to have been so graciously welcomed into Aaron and Sara's lovely home. (Neither of whom blog....hmmmm...Aaron?)
There is much I could and need to talk about here, but I lack the time at the moment. Please stay tuned as I settle back into a semi-regular routine. In the meantime I have added comments to some comments made while I was away.