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.
My girls, particulalry my eldest - Kelsey, are fascinated by babies and specifically much ado has been made over the birth and northwest visitation of Aaron and Sara's son, affectionately known in these parts as "Baby Basil"
As is so often the case, three year olds get lost amidst the confusing name designations of 7 year olds and so poor little Nicholas is forever identifying THIS burly gentleman as "Baby Basil." Rather comical when one thinks that this "Baby Basil"'s beard is probably bigger than the real "Baby Basil!"
Perhaps I should steer my young lad toward "Baby Visili" in order to better differentiate.
It seems that 2004 is intent upon being know to our family and others we know as a year of death. But, is this not so of every year, even if it does not ravage those in our immediate sphere of emotional and literal proximity
We learned last Tuesday that my wife’s brother died suddenly and unexpectedly of a heart attack. He was 38. So once again death is on my mind…probably a healthy thing, really.
(Stepping up onto soapbox) Damn death! The “circle of life” crap, espoused by some, is just that: crap. As much as I enjoyed the movie “The Lion King”, if I hear that song belted out again and that absurd little bit of natural life-death philosophy preached by Mufasa (sp?) I shall have to scream. Yes, there is a circle of life, but it is broken by death you dorks! Life and death, it seems are mutually exclusive…at least until all is restored by Christ.
When I die, I need to be fixed…not joyously content that I mysteriously live on in my kids or in the animal that might have devoured me. Such an idea reduces personhood to molecular biology and I have this strange feeling that I transcend those things that I manipulate in this lab. Is the whole, greater than the sum of it’s parts? If so, then I think this MEANS something…something grand…something wonderful…something holy, I dare say.
Sometimes kids do the darndest things. As my wife and I were gathering our troops for the forced march home, Basil informed me that my daughter Kelsey was in the church and that upon being told by him that she ought not to be playing in the church she responded: "I'm not playing, I'm praying."
Naturally, I did not believe that prayer could be her motivation (jeez, what a pompous jerk I am!) and so I moved into the narthex and was somewhat horrified to think that Basil might have meant she was in the NAVE!!!! I peeked into the Nave by way of the glass window in the "cry room" and was amazed to see my 7 year old standing alone and at attention a few feet back from the Theotokos on the Iconstasis.
I walked in and could hear her indistinctly murmuring to herself and so I quietly approached her.
"What are you doing, hun?" I whipsered.
"What are you praying?" I inquired.
"Ummm...I'm am just singing Christ is Risen one more time," she said matter-of-factly.
"Are you almost done?" I asked, perhaps a abit too anxious to get home.
"Okay, well, we will just wait for when you are done."
I walked out, shaking my head in amazement. As I turned to cross myself before leaving I could not help but get that warm fuzzy parental feeling as I saw her standing there alone...an amazing image - wish I had had a camera.
Later, upon arriving at home, she set to work on a project of writing and coloring a very elaborately decorated poster of the "Prayers before a Meal", which I imagine will find a home somewhere near the dinning table. And as if this were not enough, just before bedtime she took it upon herself to begin drawing an Icon of the Theotokos - a copy of which I will post here shortly.
I do not know what inspired this surge of spiritual activities, but I cannot help but be gratified with the belief that all of the labor (which I all too often selfishly lament) of dragging my kids to long services and instituing strange eating guidlines and prayer times might actually be having a noticeable effect. Glory to God for all things!
Time for me to follow my daughters example and start letting these things have more of an effect on ME!. Imagine how such a thing as THAT would affect my children?
Throwing caution to the wind, I continue to babble - hoping not to not show love to those girls/women (or men...let's be totally fair and open minded now!) who choose to dress like Britney and Christina.
An interesting little news piece, which as a father of two girls, I found interesting. However, the editor of "17" magazine may be (did I say "may be" - trying to be wholly ecumenical here!) missing the point of modesty by saying that modesty is coming full force because The '50s sexy-librarian look is in.
Frankly, I've always been rather fond of the librarian-look. Maybe I should get my wife to try shopping at Nordstrom's hip new "modesty" section this fall!
I'm going to pick a fight with those who ascribe to the civic religion. Perhaps, if I am lucky, no such folk read this blog. The NEW Seattle Public Library is having their GRAND OPENING this weekend! Yeeeeehaw! A HUGE celebration is planned and it all begins on saturday SUNDAY morning at 10:30am!
Since when are libraries open on sunday? And was there a small brave voice on the planning commission that said: "don't some people go to church on sunday?" One can almost hear the laughter! I've often heard the statistic that claims that Washington is the most unchurched state in the union...and so in the words of the immortal Gus Portokalos: "a-there you go!"
The thought resounded in my head enroute to work today...for some reason, our Lady has been on my mind lately - I suppose in part because she is an archetype to a character who will play a pivotal role in a little story I am piecing together...wait a minute, "pivotal" - THAT'S IT!!
Mary is as integral to the world's salvation, as you are to your own.
I suppose a hardcore calvinist would decry such a thing, believing, as I suppose they do, that we are not at all integral to our salvation. But, if I (or shall I rather write: the Church) may be so blunt to say: they are wrong.
Ahem...well coming from the satirical folks at "Ship of Fools" I would have thought that the Church of Fools was a joke - and perhaps it is, but it claims to be sponsored by the Methodist Church and seems to have a real live Methodist bishop who heads up the services and delivers real sermons at specified times - LIVE!
I guess it is an attempt to model that sort of "Sims" based online games/communities or something, but despite my misgivings it was kinda fun to play with. I could only get in as anonymous, but none-the-less was able to cross myself (THE WRONG WAY! hehehe), give a pentecostal shout n' wiggle, and take a look at the most untraditional "icons."
I suppose that during the service you could - upon the prompting of the bishop - run to the kitchen and get a slice of wonder bread and juice to be consecrated for communion.
You realize, of course, that there is a Lion in our little village? No, true, you cannot see him, he only comes out of hiding late at night – to hunt, but oh you can see his victims. How many have we buried? I cannot count.
The Lion has always been with us, ever since the first of our people settled here, and it will no doubt continue to haunt us. There are times when I wander through the village and seeing the day to day activities going on: a young man and woman in courtship, a couple arguing over cleaning duties, a man and merchant haggle over pennies in the price of a walking stick, and a woman dutifully cooks little meat patties to be sold, I am forced to label the whole affair of life as insanity. Have these people forgotten the Lion? Do they not know that this very night he will likely seek his prey once again? How can we live with this harbinger of doom perpetually hanging over our heads like a sword dangling from a frayed line of string?
I have watched the people shudder at the sight of mangled, half eaten corpses being carted off to the cemetery on the other side of the hill – hidden from the frivolity of life in the village. So many, look away – not just from the bodies – but also from the thought of the Lion…out of sight out of mind, I suppose. But their feigned ignorance avails them nothing when the Lion feeds on them and sends their remains in the very direction they have spent a lifetime turning away from.
Others, a few others, have taken up arms with the intention of slaying the beast and they have spent many a late evening watching and waiting. Some have returned with elaborate stories of near success and narrow escape to which the villagers ascribe a good deal of hope. Many others of these hunters have never returned from their nighttime searching and are in fact now “resting” on the other side of the hill.
I have met some villagers who spend much of their time devising ways of avoiding the Lion. The have evolved elaborate rules and practices which are intended to stave off the beast and delay what we have come to believe as inevitable. They boast much of how long they have avoided the Lion, but the boasting never lasts long and we cannot hear them now on the other side of the hill.
But I witnessed a very strange happening last evening. When I heard a ruckus outside late at night, I sprung from my bed and through a small crack in the shades of my window I saw a young boy alone outside – for reasons unknown to me - and he was standing face to face with the drooling and snarling Lion. Truly the sight terrified me as I held my breath, and while initially mesmerized by the strength and power of the huge lion, something else caught my eyes and gave me pause. The young boy stood motionless and faced the beast – there was no hint of fear in his eyes no apparent intention to try and flee. And the Lion, somewhat taken aback by this curiosity, hesitated. I heard the boy then speak:
“You know, as I well as I Lion, that though you roar and rage, you are in truth toothless and clawless. For I know Him who returned from the other side of the hill, whom you devoured, and I rest peacefully in the hope and sureness of His victory over you. You may consume me now, but it will all come to naught – just as it came to naught for Him. You are destroyed and He will cast your carcass away and then retrieve me whole from the other side of the hill.”
Enraged by these words, the Lion pounced upon the boy and promptly ate him.
“No one in his senses doubts that a snake is dead when he sees it trampled underfoot, especially when he knows how savage it used to be; nor, if he sees boys making fun of a lion, does he doubt that the brute is either dead or completely bereft of strength. These things can be seen with our own eyes, and it is the same with the conquest of death. Doubt no longer, then, when you see death mocked and scorned by those who believe in Christ, that by Christ death was destroyed, and the corruption that goes with it resolved and brought to end.”
Some Pentecostals, with insight into their own immense 100 year history, have proclaimed this to be the "most powerful wave of God in the Christian Church."
Yes, barking, laughing, and developing Tourette syndrome is indeed the most powerful wave of God in history. There is so much wrong with this, I don't even know where to begin. Where does the blame lie?
Tying a rope around the Bible and tossing it overboard to use it as an anchor...while the evangelical boat continues right on down the river into the next wave of insanity. Good luck Hank (aka "Bible Answer Man"), I do not envy the labors you face.
Click the "All Things Considered Audio link here to listen.
Thanks (I think) to Jared for sharing this with me :)
Evangelical Sainthood and the American Prime Directive
A couple of Sundays ago I was pleased to meet a new inquirer at our Parish who, coincidently enough, attends the same evangelical college that I (and at least two others in our Parish also) attended. Mind you, stepping into Orthodoxy from this denomination is about as close to changing one's religion as one can get without really technically doing so - though I suppose argument could be made that one is in fact actually changing their religion! (See, now I babble!) Anyway, I applaud this person for their courage, because I KNOW that they must be facing a good deal of "attention" from friends, classmates, and perhaps family who thus far "don't get it!"
Anyway, as is typical for those of us "coming out" of the evangelical movement, this person has brought up to me the issues surrounding the Theotokos and (somewhat by default) our understanding of the Saints. Something they said to me really stuck out and got me thinking (the exact wording escapes me but it was in essence: we are really not used to giving much honor to other people.
Sad, but true. I suppose it is part of our "enlightened" mindset that is ingrained with: "all men are created equal", which we too often extrapolate to imply: "and they stay that way too!" But really, I don't think all men are created equal - at least not in the fullest sense of the word. We all bear different burdens and gifts since being formed in the womb I believe. But I am getting way off track here. Anyway, the problem I see is that we tend to take this political statement and apply it to our entire existence, such that no matter what we do, or others might do, we believe that no one is "better" than me!
And so we have a tendency to "level the playing field" and we askew honoring people. Well, let me just be blunt here: I know a host of people who are frankly better human beings than I am. They love more, and hate less. They pray more and talk less. They speak kindly and well of everyone and most everything as opposed to being negative, bitter, and full of spite. Dang-it, they are just more in touch with what being a Christian is all about than I am. The United States Constitution or any size dose of enlightenment philosophy doesn't change this fact...only I (me, myself, and I) can. Does God love them more than me? Don't be asinine!
But, in my recent thinking, I am beginning to see that perhaps the evangelicals really do know how to honor people in a way not ALL that different than we Orthodox. We used to toss a particular term around and place it upon the heads (like halos) of people we thought REALLY do/did a bang up job of Christian living: "Godly"
Now think about what that word REALLY implies! "God-Like", no? If I am "beastly" am I not being "beast-like"? Geez, one would almost think they were affirming our understanding of Theosis! So, where is the REAL difference, the REAL stumblick block? Of course, while we (in our ev-days) might honor such people - sometimes to a very great extent - (I can remember us saying some pretty lofty and laud full things about particularly "godly" folks) we would tend to back away from physically expressing that honor. We would be very quick to isolate ourselves from any notion that such people might be "better" than we are - retreating to that safe and illusory haven where everyone sins just as much as we do!
"And thousands were added to the faith that day" stuff...how did that happen? Does that still occur today? I know there is a prominent and well reasoned concern today with the "genuine", but how is one to make sense of these passages?
...and though I offered a little unworthy answer, the wannabe desert father (who in fact IS a desert father) offers an unintentional answer that can be found HERE
Yes, truly there are days when I wonder if I shall survive my children's youth. Such as when I survey the wonder of the kitchen table and floor after dinner when said youth have retired to the playroom. Oh how I miss the hover-like capabilities of my lost Beagle.
A recent post by the Blue Canopied Sara, in which she laments a new chrsitian magazine for teens modeled (pun intended) after the immensely popular fashion magazines of today, really got me thinking. Being one who is teaching a high school class at church and trying desperately to discern what "youth ministry" looks like in an Orthodox setting, I ask the following somewhat rhetorical question:
Should we dress Christianity up such that it seems cool to kids...or should we attempt to steer kids in a direction in which what is cool is judged by a new or transformed set of principles?
I think it is the latter, especially in the Orthodox setting - imagine how you might sell asceticism to a teenager whose totally into fashion mags and watching "Dawson's Creek"?
You might try drawing them in with a video like this!
Or perhaps a hip new TV series worthy of UPN telling the story of 17 year old hunk "Orthodox" John who learns how cool other kids think he is at school for not eating meat or dairy half of the year! And he gets the girl by wowing her with his perfectly executed full prostrations during Lent!
Or better yet, you could put together an Orthodox version of the magazines Sara mentioned, can you imagine the cover splashed with bold lettering promising exciting articles like :
How to get wax out of your clothes!
What to do about that awesome Pizza Party planned on Holy Friday!
See the Uncreated Light in 30 days!
All of which can be overlaid upon a huge glossy color picture of Blessed Macary
Well, I have my doubts that our Dawson's Creek-watching teen is going to show much interest...probably no more than a 30 something home improvement guy like me would be interested in subscribing to a "Home Living" magazine which featured the caption: "You too can live like a monk!".
Orthodoxy is a tough sell...it will not let you candy coat it or try and dress it up to appeal. Rather it seems to me that it insists on standing on its own merits and the beauty found therein cannot be seen by the untransformed mind (or eye, or nous, or whatever you want to call it). I believe Orthodoxy will appeal to people (and teens) who have begun to see the utter shallowness and emptiness of the consumer world around them. In that sense, perhaps the movie of the skulls might actually do some good.
The icon above is of St. Sisoes – an abbot, desert father, and disciple of St. Anthony the Great, the icon is sometimes accompanied by this inscription, setting the scene:
"Sisoes, great among the ascetics, stood before the tomb of Alexander, Emperor of the Greeks, who at one time had shone with glory; and horrified by the inexorable passing of time and the vanity of this transient world, "Lo!" he cried aloud, "beholding thee, O Grave, I fear the Judgment of God and I weep, for the common destiny of all mankind come to mind!... O Death, who can escape thee?"
I have experienced my first Orthodox funeral, and I must admit that I am still reeling from it all. I have been to plenty of funerals, but none have in a sense made the body of the departed a sermon in and of itself. Fr. Thomas lies vested in the plainest pine casket I have ever seen, fully open and placed blatantly in the center of the Church. He holds in his hands, upon his chest, the Gospel Book (which had JUST been purchased for the mission they were starting) and intertwined in his right hand is a blessing cross. Per tradition for priests, his face is covered entirely with the Aer, which is a decorated cloth used to cover the Holy Gifts during Liturgy. No attempts are made to sanitize death, he has neither been embalmed or made-up, and the centrality of his presence and the utter lack of décor on the casket speak volumes: death stands naked and vicious before us.
The hymns, both at the Pannikhida (on Friday evening) and the Funeral service proper on Sunday evening, say so much that I cannot begin to recollect it all. Much ado is made of the strangeness of the scene that we are witnessing: the Image of God is here lying dead before us – how can it be? Sometimes the lyrics become the voice of the departed himself, comforting, exhorting, and even warning us.
Pascha is never far from the heart of the service…indeed one can see how Holy Friday services are very much like an Orthodox funeral. If they do not share the very same words in some places, they almost certainly carry the same connotations – specifically I am reminded of the burial hymns of Christ in which we lament: how can we bury our God? And here, in Father Thomas, we are mystified at burying God’s image. As we buried Christ, we bury Fr. Thomas and as we behold Christ’s glorious resurrection we look also for Father Thomas’ – and as the rite refuses to let us forget: our own as well.
Truly all things are vanity.
Life is but a shadow and a dream.
For as scripture has said,
In vain does everyone born on earth trouble himself.
Even if we should gain the world,
Yet we shall all dwell in the grave,
Where kings and beggars are laid side by side.
Therefore, give rest to the departed, O Christ our God.
Since you are the Lover of mankind.
On Sunday morning, Father Paul from Homer Alaska spoke to us about Father Thomas and about death and about life. He directed us to the icon of St. Sisoes and encouraged us to be ever mindful of death – and to recognize how futile so much of what we pursue in life really is. From the “Sayings of the Desert Fathers”, he also offered us this little reminder which I have heard from Father Thomas on at least two occasions:
It was said of Abba Sisoes that when he was at the point of death, while the Fathers were sitting beside him, his face shone like the sun. He said to them, "Look, Abba Anthony is coming." A little later he said, "Look, the choir of prophets is coming." Again his countenance shone with brightness and he said, "Look, the choir of apostles is coming." His countenance increased in brightness and lo, he spoke with someone. Then the old men asked him, "With whom are you speaking, Father?" He said, "Look, the angels are coming to fetch me, and I am begging them to let me do a little penance." The old man said to him, "You have no need to do penance, Father." But the old man said to them, "Truly, I do not think I have even made a beginning yet."
The grave is the grand question and exclamation marks of life. It seeks both an answer and our dutiful attention. It is the “incarnation” (if you will) of all that is amiss in the world and it is ultimately that which Christ came to free us from. The Orthodox funeral is probably the most profound rite I have ever witnessed and it shall at once haunt and comfort me for some time to come – no doubt its intent.
The first time I met Father Thomas was probably about 3 and a half years ago and I can recall being “wowed” by his appearance. I cannot recollect clearly, but I suspect I might have thought he was a monastic, but irregardless there was no mistaking his long white hair and beard and his black cassock as being tell-tale signs of a very traditional looking Orthodox clergyman.
Last night after the funeral (much more to say on that later) a good friend and I both agreed that on a surface level Father Thomas sometimes seemed unapproachable – as my friend put it: I was afraid I might soil him. This of course had much less to do with Father Thomas and much more to do with us, for while I agreed that I could not help but feel intimidated while speaking to him, by the time you reached the second or third sentence you realized that behind this ascetic and holy-looking man there truly was a holy man. Holy, because he put you at quick ease with his mild and gentle mannerisms, his rich sense of humor, and his deep grasp of spirituality.
I lament that I did not have more time to get to know him better; to learn more from him. For nearly every conversation I had with him I would walk away with a golden nugget of wisdom to contemplate. And so it is not surprising that seeing him last night in his casket, that he should have left me with one last nugget of such immensity that I seriously doubt I can carry it.
Father Thomas would never let me get away with saying that something, which was unnatural, was natural. Even when he knew that I knew, he simply would not let the phrase escape my lips without comment – and I find that it has affected me in such a way that I am more consciously aware of the fact that just because everyone does something or perceives something, does not make it “normal” or “natural.” In fact I can recall one time I referenced a miracle on Mount Athos as being something that doesn’t “normally” happen and he very lovingly rebuked me (such that even now it makes me smile). Miracles, the Uncreated Light, and all those sorts of “non-everyday” events are perfectly normal and what we experience and call normal is in fact abnormal – albeit more common.
Father Thomas lying in his casket last night was the ultimate expression of abnormality and I shall post shortly on the funeral rite itself, which hammered this thought home. But I could almost hear Father Thomas speaking to me last night, reminding me that “This is not normal, James.”
Jesus is the first fruits of normalcy, as revealed in Pascha.
May Father Thomas’ memory be eternal…we will miss him. Please keep him, his family, and our Parish in your prayers. As I write, my wife and many others are preparing to take Father Thomas back to the monastery he loved so very much, one last time, where he will be laid to rest.