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.
Someone called "Tulipgirl" commented on a post over at Violent Monkee saying in effect that those converting to Orthodoxy ought to first go and live for a year in an "orthodox" country. Well, I asked for clarification (because I'm really not sure I fully understand the implication and do not wish to assume) but I did offer this: "Soooo....the american baptist missionaries ought to have their russian converts come and spend some time in america before converting?"
Like America is a beaming example of how protestantism can evolve a devoted christian culture?
And then it suddenly struck me...you know what? THERE ARE NO RUSSIAN, GREEK, SERBIAN, SYRIAN, MACEDONIAN, or ___________ (insert traditionally Orthodox country name here) MISSIONARIES COMING TO AMERICA AND TRYING TO CONVERT PROTESTANTS! NOT A SINGLE ONE!
Now think about that for a minute. It is sad on two levels.
Still waiting and hoping for clarification from "Tulipgirl."
There are many facets to our salvation...one is expressed in the utter defeat of death and the devil. There is patristic support for the notion that God "tricked" the devil via His incarnation and death. Holy Saturday expresses this so wonderfully and I recall when I first attended this wonderful service as it being one of those powerful AHA moments . For me, it demonstrated the fullness we Orthodox tout, and was certainly something that was lacking in my theological "know-how."
Today Hades lets out a groan: "Would that I had not received the son of Mary: for when He came upon me He dissolved my power; He shattered the gates of bronze; the souls I had held captive, as God He raised up." Glory, Lord, to Your Cross and Your Resurrection.
Today Hades lets out a groan: "My sovereignty is destroyed. I received Him as a mortal, one among the dead; but this One I am powerless to contain; instead with Him I lose all I had governed. I had held the dead for ages, but behold, He resurrects all." Glory, Lord, to Your Cross and Your Resurrection.
Today Hades lets out a groan: "My might is swallowed up: the shepherd was crucified but raised up Adam. All I ruled over I have lost; all I was able in my power to consume, I have disgorged. The crucified One has emptied the graves. The sway of death is no more." Glory, Lord, to Your Cross and Your Resurrection.
Oh man...I am not ashamed to admit that in reading these I get all emotionally wound up! The hairs on my neck stand up and I get teary eyed...just like the old pentecostal that I am! No No No...I'm not a pentecostal anymore, I am a Resurrectional!
In short whisperous bursts, several mini-conversations were had in which was asked the “hush-hush” evangelically based question: “Was Grandma saved?”
You see she was a Roman Catholic and so this naturally begged the question in the protestant mind: Did she know and believe the right things to get into heaven? Hmmm…this line of questioning and ultimately the affirming that most people felt she did have these sorts of theological issues sorted out properly in order to have a “saving personal relationship with Jesus Christ” were a bit disturbing to me. Do we really think that what Grandma thought would make the difference between eternal damnation and bliss?
I feel, given my present theological condition, that we ought not to sit about and pontificate on her salvation, but rather to pray for her. But the whole issue leads me to ask: What must we do to inherit eternal life? Jesus was asked this several times, right? Not once did He answer simply and directly. “Believe in me as Lord and savior.” Rather He was always a bit cryptic or sideways in His reply…but not for the individual who asked the question, because to that person the answer cut right to the heart.
It seems that we who were raised in the protestant mindset preach (or preached as the case may be) that what we must do, is believe a certain number of things, the most important of which is that we can do nothing to inherit eternal life. I don’t buy it…it seems to my puny and under-educated Orthodox mind that salvation has much more to do with WHO we are and not what we think. (As a side, you might read the wonderful and lengthy series that John has been posting.) I mean, seriously, do we really believe (or did we believe) that salvation is akin to answering the questions right and obtaining a driver’s license?
I suppose each of us must ask the question (What must we do to inherit eternal life?) of Jesus individually in a sense. So that His reply may cut directly into our hearts…and not so much into our minds. Who we are and not what we believe, I think, is the realm where the mystery of salvation is revealed.
Seraphim, who is rumored to be starting a blog, directed my attention to this cool website. If you have a question about Orthodox Christianity, you may submit it here and a trained seminarian will respond.
John turned me on to this comic strip called Pearls before Swine, and I must say it is hilarious. The artist is apparently Greek and one wonders if in some of the comics you can't see some Orthodoxy poking through. Either way, I laughed my big butt off at these:
As many of my readers might feel now, I used to feel that building a church atop the tomb of Christ and lathering it over with gold and silver was just wrong. Some have felt it so wrong that they seemed fueled by that feeling to prove that it is in fact not the tomb of Christ...whatever. I used to lament that the "medieval catholics" had so adorned this holy place thereby stripping it of its simple and pristine beauty. I guess I was not at all out of line with my protestant sensibilities which yearned for simple whitewashed church walls. But, I have seen things from the "other" side now and in so doing have learned anumber of things, not this least of which is that it was NOT the "medieval catholics" who built this church!
I suppose we share this trait (at least somewhat) with our Em. Church friends who tend to want to meet at home...and though I have not fully sought discernment of their reasoning for this, I can say this much: We decorate our homes, we decorate our churches.
I think we humans have a natural propensity and yearning to decorate. I'd go as far as to say that to suppress this under some sort of religious presuppositions is absurd. I mean look at the elaborate decore commanded by God in the building of the Temple! Consider, for a moment, the pictures which are found throughout our hallway (and probably yours as well): they are testimonies to our lives, each one telling a story and reliving a precious moment in time. And we do not simply attach these pictures to the walls with duct tape (though I might have in my bachelor days), rather we decore them with frames or varied intricacy and then we stage them in some aesthetic manner. Such things are important to us, we give them care and attention. Heck, the very fact that we keep pictures at all says something about us, doesn't it?
I recall my youngest daughter used to use this terminology when asking that we take a picture of her: "Take a picture about me." There's something deep in there.
Anyway, when I look upon this tomb of our Lord today, I no longer see a waste of time and resources, rather I see an expression of love that has been poured out by many generations upon such a thing that is so profoundly important to us that it naturaly calls out in us the need to decorate. Such care and attention directs us (like the pictures on our walls) to the testimony of what happened in that tomb - the greatest thing EVER to happen.
I've mentioned before how portions of The Great Divorce bothered me prior to learning the theology of eastern Christianity, but this event really flooded me with memories last night.
I have been reading The Chronicles of Narnia to my eldest daughter over the past year or so, and presently we are dancing our way through The Silver Chair. Having just crossed past the chapter when the green witch/queen through magic was trying to dissuade our heros from their belief in the "overworld" I was stirred back to the time as a relatively new evangelical christian when I first read this and was delighted by the scene and the analogies that naturally followed from it. Still was last night too.
But then, in the very next chapter, the newly freed and victorious Prince Rilian notices that his shield bearing the image of Aslan had been restored to newness and he commends his fellow victors to kiss the image and prepare for battle during their escape from the underworld. I vividly recall thinking years ago when I first read this: "What the hell kind of silly superstitious idolatry is Lewis espousing here!"
However, reading this last night, it all seemed very much like home to me. Images being restored and venerated are apart of my everyday life and the obviousness of this scene was not lost on my 7 year old daughter who said almost in a whisper: "Icon of Aslan."
Can't believe it is Zacchaeus Sunday already...recognizing that Pascha comes earlier this year it still seems like last year just blew by!
Anyway, many times I have laid in bed with one of my sleepless kids, and found myself marveling at the effort they were exerting in trying to stay awake – to NOT miss one second of life. They demonstrate a thorough inability to remain still: a constant need to be twitching, talking, or bouncing. As sleep would begin to overcome, it seems that EVERYONE of my kids have learned that an appendage (legs are particularly effective) suddenly being thrust straight up into the air at a 90 degree angle to the bed – and keeping it there – will fend off the dastardly sleep fiend.
I’ve also noticed that they have strong fears of darkness and shadows. Evil, in their little minds, lurks everywhere in the shadows and they seem to need to be ever vigilant to avoid it. I giggle behind their backs, reassure them and tuck them back into bed where they can begin their pre-slumber calisthenics. Then I return to my own fears about being able to pay the bills while wishing I could escape life by going to sleep.
This weekend it suddenly occurred to me: maybe the kids have it right and I am all-wrong? Maybe life ought to be too exciting and beautiful to miss and maybe the real things to be afraid of lurk everywhere around us in the shadows…and not in the checkbook? Running to Daddy for protection seems like a great idea…go ahead and giggle, just make sure to tuck me in. Damn checkbook never balances anyway…did something just move in the closet?
As I flew out to Ohio a few weeks ago I sat next to my sister. I was reading The Ancestral Sin while she chose a somewhat lighter read in the form of People magazine (or some clone thereof).
Try as I might, my eyes keep leaving the deep theology of my pages for the brilliant colors of her magazine. My mind tried to focus: "The western church had centered it's sotierology on the fact that Demi Moore is apparently shopping for lingerie in Hollywood."
It was really hard...and in a bathroom break conversation I just had with my illustrious godson we agreed that if I were more purified and illumined I would not have been so drawn to those splashes of passionate colors like a fish to a lure, or a deer caught in headlights. It was an eerie experience to see how I was being sucked in - almost like the One Ring!
I envision me being Homer Simpson saying : "Mmmmm...pretty famous people doing everyday things....fascinating...." I can't wait to see if they get any pics of Catheryn Zeta-Jones picking up the regurgitated remains of her new baby's diapers after having been eaten by the family dog! Now THERE's excitement for ya!
...and if this post doesn't land some interesting search hits, I don't know what will.
As is the Orthodox custom, the period of time following Theophany (aka Epiphany) is often spent by the Parish priest roaming about his flock's homes showering them (along with the inhabitants) with Holy Water. The house blessing is a time our whole family looks forward to and since this is our first one since moving to Bothell we got the "full meal deal." We began the day at our dear friends' house and then proceeded to about five other homes (splashing and blessing along the way) until at last a grand Orthodox convoy arrived at out home. How funny it seemed to see father James meandering out of his car on the road in front of my house attired in his cassock and stole.
The whole crowd packed into my humble little home, while my family centered ourselves with father at our Icon corner. The prayers began as usual, but them continued by my reading a psalm (cannot recall which). As the crowd burst out into the Russian tone of the Theophany Troparion we began to march through the house while our eldest Kelsey was the "keep of the holy water bowl." Father James told her he would follow her and she merrily led the way. Splish Splash the house was taking a bath!
Then upon our return the Icon corner, father said a few more prayers as he annoited the four walls of the house. I grimaced - but remained silent - when he made the sign of the cross with the oil upon a section of a wall I knew I would be eventually removing, but later confessed that I would save that portion of the drywall and perhaps frame it and hang it on the new wall (grin).
Why bless houses...heck I'm not sure I understand the whole theory behind it, it's what we do...we consecrate things. All I know at this point is that there is some very base satisfaction I feel in knowing that it has been done. And besides the walls stopped bleeding and the loud voices screaming "GET OUT!" have stopped.
As the rest of the Orthodox world catches up and celebrates Christmas and Theophany, some amazing news photos spring up and I love seeing them. Here is the link...there's more than one page so make sure you see it all! One of my favorites is shown above and as a side note: whooduh thunk, Orthodoxy in Cuba?!?!?!?
The death of my Grandmother has inspired renewed interest in the mysterious eastern European past of my ancestors. Hailing from what we believe to be modern day Slovakia, my Great Grandmother and Grandfather Anna (Oleksa) and John Sisak immigrated to the United States sometime in the late 19th or VERY early 20th century. As it turns out, they were Uniates (Greek Catholic or Byzantine Rite Catholic etc.), which colors them more ethnically as Rusyns rather than Slovak who would have more likely been regular Western Rite Roman Catholic.
For those who don’t know, Uniates were folks who used to be Orthodox but in the 16-17th centuries were brought under the auspices of Rome with the agreement that they could keep their Orthodox liturgies and traditions. Without a doubt politics inspired much of this transition.
As the political situation changed and Papal decrees began to be handed down which seemed to be trying to “Latinize” the Uniates, there was a good deal of friction both in the old countries as well as with the diaspora here in America. (Enforcing a celibate clergy was understandably a tough one for these my forebearers to accept.) In 1938, many of these Slavic peoples returned fully to the faith of their fathers here in American and began what is known today as the Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese of which at least some of my relatives are still apart of in Pennsylvania. (My Great Aunt Margaret actually remembers this happening!)
It may be infantile and insignificant to some, but to me it is an amazing thing. I should have been cradle Orthodox! Alas this venerable faith skipped a generation, and thereby labels me a prodigal son in a way I had not fully known. It may be silly, but I feel a certain extra joy in my discovering and embracing of Orthodoxy - the commonly heard “Welcome Home” offered to the newly illumined now has much deeper meaning to me. Last Sunday as I stood quietly listened to the chanting during Matins, I felt a very strong and paradoxical sense of both insignificance and significance in my being Orthodox…as if I were a pawn in the movements God ordained to bring about my family’s return to its religious heritage…the faith of our fathers. One wonders if my Orthodox ancestors were not praying fervently for such a thing to happen?
Holy Saints Cyril and Methodios, teachers of the Slavs, Pray for us!
Closing time and the little girl who never had a home cooked meal
Like an old crusty man, I like to sometimes sit outside under the night sky (usually grey) with my pipe and a drink and ponder how much the world has changed over my lengthy years on this planet. Cell phones, CD’s, DVD’s, touch-tone phones, etc etc. I wish I had more grey in my beard in order to make the image more pristine…anyway, just this weekend one change came into my mind that I’d never thought of before: the hours of your local grocery store.
A grocery store that keeps its doors open 24 hours a day is a really new innovation, I recall hours of 10am to 6pm being quite normative and they’d also usually be closed on Sundays too. Of course, this begs the question of why we today need 24 hour grocery stores when our parents didn’t? Keep in mind, it is expensive for a store to stay open this long and the decision to do so must have been fueled by demand. Why the demand?
Now I imagine in many other countries and cultures we really do not see this demand like we do here in America…I suspect because we have become such a fast-paced culture: always busy doing things and when we are not busy doing things we are busy being entertained by some form of media. Both parents in the typical family home are “forced” to work in order to maintain a normative “standard of living” and if that standard precludes the hiring of a maid or nanny, then we MUST have longer store hours. We have developed a culture of convenience, desperately seeking more time to be free to be entertained – which never seems to happen. Store hours reflect this shift.
I just heard, from a friend of mine, the story of a little girl she knows who has never had a real home cooked meal. Thanksgiving Day was spent skiing in the local mountains, Christmas was spent in Hawaii with Christmas Day dinner being served at some fancy restaurant, daily breakfasts were hurried along (busy busy busy) with pre-packaged energy bars, and dinners were scattered between the various family members’ arrival times and the frozen meals waiting for entrance into the microwave. The little girl was apparently amazed in spending the night at my friends house to see the family all sit down to dinner and to actually have time to have a real breakfast at the table in the morning – it was not just a “treat”, it was utterly foreign to her. Funny (sad really) that the very idea of a family sitting down to meal together is looked upon comically today!
Let me be bold and frank. While I was in a seeker-friendly church down in California, it seemed all they were about was making yuppies feel good about being “Christian” yuppies. Not one iota of challenge to REALLY and RADICALLY alter their lives. And indeed we tend to want to approach evangelism with this notion of meeting people where they are, in other words: How can we fit Christianity into this person’s busy schedule? Or How can we mesh Christianity with this person’s worldview? At what point - and I assume that we all agree that there is SOME point - do we draw the line and say that the person and their worldview must fit into Christianity’s schedule and it’s worldview?
I do not think that the aforementioned little girl’s family lifestyle would work well at all in the context of Orthodoxy. How could such a family find the time to attend Liturgy? How could they take time out for the intensity of Holy Week service or the 12 great feast days? Family Prayers? Confession? You see my point…I really think that to fully embrace Orthodoxy, these folks would HAVE to change their lifestyle, they would have to slow down. And this is the kind of religion that I want to have, one that I submit to instead of the other way around. Millions have gone before me in the Church and they have (we believe) handed down to us a way of life.
And this is what I mean when I mention where context ought to lie. I, me, myself…we are not the final arbiters of truth. If the Church is what she claims to be, then she is the arbiter of truth. Naturally, this begs the question: What is the Church? Regardless, at some point culture must answer to someone, just like I do.
So I’ve spent the better part of this morning in contemplation of this topic and the numerous comments made on the post from yesterday. No doubt many an important laboratory experiment will fail because of this…but what’s really important in life??? I am beginning to wonder more and more if I should not get out of science and pursue some sort of career in which I can ponder religious, historical, and social issues on a full-time basis. Can you see me holding a sign on a street corner: “Will ponder for food.”
Anyway, some thoughts on specific comments, especially in regards to being “Incarnational.” I am not sure that it is fair or correct to derive so much accessory information from the incarnation of our Lord, keeping in mind that He united Himself to us so that we might unite ourselves to Him (partakers of the Divine Nature). To infer that this action also carries with it the notion that we must embrace the culture in which we live, I think, may be a stretch.
St. Paul’s words about “becoming all to all” must also have some context (and I mean that in a sense greater than the verse before and after) and so I am not convinced that he was saying here that the Church should be wholly free form and ready to change radically per the whims of pop culture.
The concept of our modern (or post-modern if you prefer) culture being a missionary field does not fall on deaf ears here…indeed we must engage and converse with it...but we must also convert it and transfigure it, no?
With this in mind, something bigger stands to be discussed. Most of this morning, I was thinking of the Divine Liturgy which is obviously the big example of how set in our ways (some might rather say stagnant and irrelevant) we Orthodox are. While obviously undergoing some changes, it has, for the most part, remained the same for over 1000 years (maybe more?). Why no rock bands, variation, audio-visual shows or any of the other cool things other communities are doing to attract the religiously dispossessed? Don’t we wish to be seeker friendly? Aren’t we afraid we alienate unbelievers with our worship?
Consider this: In the ancient Church, unbelievers were not allowed at the Liturgy. Even catechumens were dismissed before the Holy Mystery of the Eucharist took place and were forbidden to witness it. (As many of you know, the words of dismissal often remain in some Orthodox Churches and most monasteries still maintain the practice of “kickin ‘em out.”) The point is this: there is a fundamentally different understanding of what is taking place on Sunday (or whatever day you may choose to break bread) mornings between the Orthodox Church and the Em Church. The Divine Liturgy is not intended to be an outreach or in any direct way an evangelistic event. (Though it certainly has functioned “accidentally” in such a capacity)
This is an odd thing for us former evangelicals who came to believe that every single service must have that aspect inbred in it…a call to make a decision for Christ was essential in the evangelical minds I was associated with. But the Divine Liturgy is for the Church, the faithful, the believers – to literally feed on and worship Christ. Much has been said on blogs and newsgroups about what Orthodox evangelism should be like and no doubt there are many opinions on this matter…but The Divine Liturgy does claim that as one of its “intents.” In my mind Orthodox evangelism takes place primarily in everyday living as I strive to live the Orthodox way of life from day to day (and it is in THIS realm that I believe St. Paul’s words on becoming all for all are most applicable).
In this same vein of thinking, the Divine Liturgy is not intended to entertain or “work” for us, rather it is intended to shape us…Clifton has some interesting points on this.
We're a group of church planters / leaders seeking to discover what church might mean within the context of our emerging generation...
Ok, let me just throw this bone out there and see if anyone gnaws on it (I know you will):
Maybe we should be a group seeking to discover what the emerging generation might mean within the context of the Church? Think about it for a minute before your knee jerks.
Why is the context (defined as "The circumstances in which an event occurs; a setting.") by default considered to be the "emerging generation" and not the Church? In a sense, don't we by default subjugate our understanding of the Church to our understanding of our generation (i.e. culture) - thereby assuming that the Church needs reinterpretation but our generation (i.e. culture) does not?
Now I understand given our western experience with the Reformation that we feel it perfectly natural to be ever changing and evolving our concept of the "church", but what if that ought not to be the case? Are there inherent dangers in doing that? Of course some would argue that there are inherent dangers in stagnation...and I would agree, but qualifying that stagnation is a complex judgement and not neccesarily synonymous with not changing, or slow changing.
What if "the context" is in fact the Church...and the emerging generation ought to be considering how it might be reinterpretted in order to have meaning. Well, you say, then people will reject the Church and ignore it and it will become irrelevant to them; a stumbling block and a folly.
Money, money, money, money.....me me me me me my me more money
a bit of ranting and possible cussing to follow
Channel surfing for a brief period of time last night landed me on some religious channel featuring none other than Kenneth Copeland. Now, even as an evangelical I did not like the horseshit that this guy was shoveling and as I sat and listened to him last night I really felt ill. Oh how he and his kin have perverted the gospel....ONLY IN AMERICA!!! Jesus died to "trample down debt by debt." Like I said, I have always disliked the health and wealth gospel, but since being exposed to the Orthodox life for as long as I have (not that long really), it seemed all the more foreign, evil, deceptive, and sick to me. Maybe....just maybe God wants us to get out of debt by desiring less????? Naw.
Then this morning I scrolled through to a Christian radio show which featured a local pastor hollaring and shouting, much to the joy of his congregation who greeted his words with the typical cheers: "Yes Lord! Thank You Jesus! or Amen!" In time I realized that he was preaching from the beatitudes and sadly his emphasis was wholly on the term "blessed." In the end it was to him and his excited audience all about how God was going to make us feel good and fullfilled = "blessed." This is the message of the beatitudes??????
Yesterday on the same radio station I heard some pastor trying to explain pantheism and he was claiming that the nation of India could be one of the wealthiest nations in the world but that their pantheism kept them in poverty by insisting that they not harm animals. Thank God America is a Christian nation so that we are allowed to kill animals and thus be unfathomably wealthy...after all that's what it is all about: me and money.
Itching ears....ITCHING EARS! I guess I should not be suprised. Let me toot Orthodoxy's horn for a moment and say that I find comfort in the discomfort in gives me. Yes, the truth hurts.
I generally despise online quizzes that purport to identify "what LOTR character or 80's TV star or whatever you are" based on personal questions. I hold a particular hatred for the Political Compass one because it seems to me that nearly every single question they ask is in reality an essay question and not an Agree/Disagree sort of thing - I mean really, does anyone besides me every make statements with which I can wholeheartedly say I agree or disagree with? Maybe once in a great while. That test pisses me off almost as much as those questions they ask me when I go to vote...why do I have to make such difficult decisions!!!
None-the-less I couldn't resist a lunchtime exploration of which leader I'd be, thanks to the Einsteinian Laura. I must admit to being pleasantly suprised by the results:
I have not been to any non-Orthodox Church service in probably 3-1/2 years. In that time, the extent to which the Divine Liturgy has permeated me became very apparent at my Granmother's funeral mass. Something stuck out to me like a sore thumb: during the entire liturgy (which of course was about half as long as I was used to) the Trinity was invoked a grand total of one time (that I could remember - which of course was generally easy for me to remember because we Orthodox cross ourselves each time we hear it said)!
Now I'm not a theologian (though I play one on the web) and thus I cannot hasten to guess what significance this might be, but anyone who has ever been to an Orthodox service knows that our corporate words are sprinkled liberally with "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." One is hard pressed to get through a single paragraph without it! To my ears it still sounds odd to invoke the name of Jesus only, which it seems both protestants and catholic generally prefer...though admittedly while I was an evangelical we never invoked the Trinity that I can remember and we were not part of the oneness pentecostals!
I was just listening to Catholic radio on the way into work and heard about a growing movement to push for greater useage of the Tridentine Mass and I wondered if it utilized the invocation of the Holy Trinity more frequently than the current mass...any Catholics out there?
Anyway, I draw no grand conclusions from this (perhaps some of you might?), but I simply found the difference to be rather stark and it was good to get home and hear those familiar Trinitarian words again last Sunday.
I had meant to post this a long time ago but recent events sidetracked me. Pretty.
I like to play a real-time computer strategy game in which you can build something they call "the Kremlin" and when you do you get a free spy to help you in the game. Alas, what shows up when you build it is none other than St. Basil's cathedral (see above). Further evidence of our relatively common ignorance here in America.
As we carried my Grandmother into her Roman Catholic Church, I was very powerfully moved. They laid upon her casket a white garment (a symbol of her baptismal garment and entrance into the Christian life) and sprinkled it with holy water…almost as if she were re-experiencing her baptism that took place so many years ago. We then followed her to the front of the Church and proceeded with the RC Mass, which I was able to follow along with quite easily given my experience with the Episcopal Church.
But I found myself really “losing it” as the beauty and sadness of the moment became clear to me. This church, which I now (and had never before) sat in, was profoundly important to my Grandmother; it was a lifeline to her and she fed at the table here for many years. I began to weep at the thought of this being her opportunity to worship and commune here one last time. How appropriate that we should meet with her and God in this place which so nourished her. Sad, that we cannt now see how that nourishment which St. Ignatios termed "the medicine of immortality" is working to undue the corruption of this world...Pascha is coming though and with it the fullness of that medicine.
Kit, godfather to two of my kids, related to me about his experience with Orthodox funerals and it sounds amazing. While I had done some reading and knew a few things about it, he mentioned that at a funeral held at our church they did a traditional all night vigil the night before the funeral proper in which the body is in the nave (with casket almost always open) while people either chant or read from the psalms throughout the night – which is exactly what we do at the tomb of Christ on Holy Friday night. Beautiful.
Anyone who has ever seen a vampire movie will recall the positioning of the hands of the dead laid in a casket: right arm over top of the left, both laid across the deceased’s chest. The vampire legend originated from eastern (Orthodox) Europe naturally used this positioning of the body and apparently it seemed “cool” or perhaps “spooky” enough to be used by moviemakers. In truth, there is profound beauty in such positioning of the body – for that is the position we adapt as we move toward the chalice of the Holy Eucharist each and every Sunday…unless of course you are carrying a kid! (Thank God for Godparents!)
After the funeral, my aunt suggested that I keep Grandma's rosary because she figured I'd be the only one to use it in our family. Of course I had to explain that we Orthodox do not say the "Rosary", but that we do have a similar tradition with which I'd be able to make use of it. I don't know for sure that I will ever use it in place of my prayer rope, but I am very happy that she thought to give it to me. I will keep it on our family altar and will perhaps use it to say the Jesus Prayer for her - a practice I'd heard of but never done, but it seems very appropriate to prayer thus for our deceased.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on Grandma
Men's Fellowship this morning brought up briefly the important topic of being childlike. Someone wisely noted that we really cannot easily look to today's children for examples of what Christ meant, lest we Christians wander about complaining about being bored. To this I laughed heartily, but when one of the traits mentioned included "dependence" I began to wonder about how this aspect of childhood is lacking today. Our technocratic society has in many ways rendered adults dependent on the youth who seem to be so catered to by our consumeristic culture (I think of kids teaching parents to use their cell phones, PDA's and computers etc.) . The old are no longer people we are to be dependent on, rather we endure them. While we can clearly see this in the young adults of our society, we also see it in our children who have been seduced by our which culture identifies them as being sooooooo much more important than those of us who will only be buying for a couple more decades.
How can the wisdom of the elderly compete with Nintendo? Of course many churches recognize this and so become Nintendo.
Thanks to all who have dropped into my comment box with well wishes and prayers, I am truly grateful. Still pondering much on death so forgive me if my posts still head in that direction. Alana said well: Pascha is coming! Amen...any "study" or contemplation of death is utterly incomplete without Pascha.
Even those people remotely familiar with Orthodoxy know that we love to kiss. We kiss Icons, Crosses, Relics, Priests' hands, each other, and even our dead. The former is no doubt the biggest cultural rub, though the hands of priests may be a close second.
Presently, one is hard pressed to find a Church that still practices the liturgical “kiss of peace” as an actual kiss. Typically it has devolved into a handshake or if one is really lucky, a hug. Genrally speaking the Orthodox at least try and keep the practice of kissing, though this is becoming harder I think for the cradle ethnic Orthodox and is certainly a struggle for us converts. In my own Parish I have the routine down fairly well and I know exactly who is going to give me a good slobbering and who will not dare to stray within six inches of my hairy cheek (who can blame them?). Friends of the Russian Liturgical persuasion tell me that a triple kiss is in order and it always reminds me of the “look before you cross the street” rule.
We are an emotionally sterile culture, and I feel confident in saying this because I come from a very emotionally sterile family. One is hard pressed to even find the words “I love you” expressed in the home I grew up in…it was kinda assumed I guess. My Dad says it is the northern European Germanic blood we have which makes us thus. I hate it. Raising my own family, I use the phrase liberally – while struggling to let it show in my everyday actions. Anyway, in similar fashion we strive to sterilize death – even to the point that we do not wish to see the deceased one last time. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard people complain about the “ickiness” of viewings. Closed caskets and cremations seem to be the funeral d’jour.
I am going to post soon concerning what I have heard about the Orthodox funeral, but for now I do need to make mention of the prominent role played by the “last kiss” in the service for the departed. Yes, we kiss the body in the casket…we reverence the broken Icon, lamenting, and praying for its eventual restoration.
So when I first stood alone beside my Grandmother in her casket I was scared (like a silly, stupid, watched-way-too-many-movies, American boy afraid of vampires) and I was nervous. Staring death in the face is one thing…kissing it is quite another. I wanted to do it though…I mean, what sort of Orthodox Christian would I be if I did not give the last kiss? With my heart racing and my adrenalin pleading with me to flee, I leaned into the casket and kissed her forehead. I then prayed a few Orthodox prayers for the departed and walked away…relieved. Looking back, I am glad I did this because she was more than just an “automatic” IMAGE of God, she also lived the LIKENESS of God – certainly she was much further along than I.
As most people know, this is the shortest verse in the Bible. It also happens to be one of the most profound, though I’m not sure as many know that. I have already made mention of it in my last post, but I think it deserves a little more attention. Upon hearing of my Grandmother’s death I laid The Ancestral Sin aside and went on quite intentionally to the next book on my reading list which is Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s O Death, where is thy sting?
This little book is actually a series of transcripts of radio broadcasts delivered to Russia by Fr. Schmemann via Radio Liberty. In them, he proclaims that the historic Christian understanding of death is virtually unheard today. Instead we primarily hear two “classic” approaches to understanding death, both of which in one way or another accept death. One of course is the materialist position that denies any existence beyond the grave, and the other more religious (note I use the word “more” here very intentionally) position sees death as a transition to that spiritual realm where there is no more death.
I am much more concerned with that second position, because as Fr. Schmemann points out many Christians have adopted just such an approach. Perhaps Platonic in origin, the view emphasizes the immortality of the soul. Many eastern faiths see death either as a natural transition and/or freedom from the confines of the body into or toward something greater, something better, and something higher. Sadly, we often hear Christians make comments that seem to have a definite leaning in this direction. Fr. Schmemann uninhibitedly reminds us that death is not something we reconcile with, it is something we FIGHT against…we are promised that it will be the “last enemy to be destroyed.” (I Cor. 15:26). Fr. Schmemann says: “Christianity is not concerned about coming to terms with death, but rather with the victory over it.” Death is never good – though it may be a mercy – it is always to be lamented.
The fact that Jesus wept at Lazarus’ tomb is not, as I used to think, a sign of his humanity…on the contrary, it is clear evidence that He is the God who we Orthodox frequently call the “Lover of Mankind.”
Shortly after receiving news of my Grandma's repose, I was compelled to put into words my thoughts at that moment. I have edited the tense of the words in order to better correspond to the timing of this post. While we knew that she did not have a whole lot of time left with us, we were none-the-less suprised by the rapidity with which she deteriorated. She was a wonderful woman and in keeping with the Orthodox Tradition here at our family Icon corner we will remember her in prayer for 40 days after her death and then on the anniversary each year after - like we do the Saints of the Church. It is fitting to do so.
May her memory be eternal!
I am a man trained modestly both in science and religion. Some may perceive this as paradoxical, and in contemplating this assumed bipolarity, I have come to believe that generally science tells me what the world is like, while religion tells me what the world should be like. And in the matter of death, which now comes all to close to home, I hear both the voices of science and religion affirming their respective places in my life.
Yes, my Grandmother is dead, science affirms and verifies this…but the Christian religion resolutely affirms that though this IS the case, it SHOULD NOT be the case. I cringe at the concept of a “natural death” for while science and our culture may embrace the term, Christianity rejects its notion outright and so I patently refuse to use the term and will ALWAYS correct any Christian we mistakenly employs it.
Death is terrible, it is profoundly lamentable, and - we are told (though I think we needn’t be) that - it is our enemy. And while science continues to fight this enemy, Christianity already claims victory over it, a victory however that is not yet fully manifested. Thus we endure the death of our loved ones.
Personally, I am reminded of and take great comfort in the story related to us through the Holy Gospels in which Jesus, when confronted with the news of his friend Lazarus’ death, wept. He wept, though He was God…He wept, though He knew in just a few paragraphs time He would bring His friend back from the dead! Amazing. The fact that God weeps over death gives us license to do the same, no? Balance is essential…we celebrate my Grandmother’s wonderful life and yet we mourn it’s unnatural conclusion. Meanwhile, we are reminded of our own mortality and hopefully will leave this situation with resolution to live and to love as Grandma did.
I did not know her as well as I should have…truly I lament over the geographic distance and financial circumstances which resulted in all too infrequent occasions for visiting. None-the-less, I recall a wonderful woman who was deeply kind, giving, hospitable, self-sacrificing, and loving. She was not fabulously wealthy, highly educated, or famous; She wrote no great works of literature nor accomplished any great discoveries in science. She was a simple and ordinary human being and those of us privileged enough to know her, we are her grand opus. She was, is, and ever shall be to me an example of holiness, as I understand the term and my children will ever be told of their grandmother’s extraordinariness. Though the world sees it not.
Adhering to a religious faith which asserts that the “last shall be first” and the “meek shall inherit the earth”, I expect to see great things from Grandma when Christ’s kingdom is fully realized.
Like Christ we may weep now but as that ancient Christian Creed from Nicea reminds us, we “look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” I look forward, with faith, to that time when my boys will get to meet their Great Grandmother and we will all be able to sing, with absolute fullness, that great Paschal hymn:
Christ is Risen from the Dead
Trampling down Death, by Death
And upon those in the tombs, bestowing life.
My Grandmother, Ann, passed away suddenly this last weekend and I have been out east for her funeral and have had no access to the internet. Not home yet, but working on it. While Seattle looks gorgeous in white...her airports and roads function less well in such decor`
I've much to say about my experiences as of late, so stay tuned for a time (shortly) when I am able to express them. And please keep Ann in your prayers, may her memory be eternal.