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.
Orthodox hymns and prayers love to do it, and tonight was probably one of the most blatant and recurring examples: Judas vs. the Harlot. Here's an excerpt:
As the sinful woman was bringing her offering of myrrh, The disciple was scheming with lawless men She rejoiced in pouring out her precious gift; he hurried to sell the priceless one. She recognized the Master, but Judas parted from Him. She was set free, but Judas was enslaved to the enemy. How terrible his avarice! How great her repentance! O Savior, who suffered for our sake, Grant us also repentence, and save us.
The song goes on for several pages following the same swinging pattern: back and forth, comparing and contrasting the harlot and Judas. And the last couple of lines that I quoted also speak to another recurring theme: putting ourselves into the story and exhorting ourselves to recognize ourselves in the bad example and to seek the better example. If you think about some of the more common Orthodox prayers (i.e. pre-communion) you see this methodology is quite common.
But it isn't new. The Gospel reading from tonight showed us the reasoning for this paritcular comparison, and the sequence of the two depicted events never really struck me until tonight.
St. Matthew 26 And when Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, a woman came to Him having an alabaster flask of very costly fragrant oil, and she poured it on His head as He sat at the table. But when His disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, "Why this waste? For this fragrant oil might have been sold for much and given to the poor."
But when Jesus was aware of it, He said to them, "Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a good work for Me. For you have the poor with you always, but Me you do not have always. For in pouring this fragrant oil on My body, she did it for My burial. Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her."
Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, "What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him to you?" And they counted out to him thirty pieces of silver. So from that time he sought opportunity to betray Him.
When I was a big Ron Sider/social gospel kinda guy I might have said something similar to what the disciples said in regards to the perceived "waste" of money. I mean you expect a sage like Ghandi to say something along the lines of "No, my dear, sell that and give the money to the poor if you wish to honor me." But of course, Ghandi was not the incarnate God.
It blows me away that RIGHT after dealing with the issue of wasted money, repentence, and his own death, Judas suddenly seeks to betray Jesus for money. Anyone else notice the sort of speed bump we jolted over in the scene change here? While many folks have tried to create sympathy for Judas: to try and understand HIS point of view on why he did what he did...we Orthodox are rather encouraged to flee becoming Judas and rather become the harlot, understanding that our lips are more unclean and more stained than her whose mouth says in the song:
Loose my debt as I have loosed my hair. Love the woman, who though justly hated, loves You... Look at me who am engulfed in sin, in despair because of my evil deeds. But in Your goodness do not despise me. Grant me forgiveness of my evil deed, O Lord and save me... O Son of the Virgin, though I am a prostitute, do not cast me aside. O Joy of the angels, do not despise my tears. As You did not reject me as a sinner. Accept me now as a penitent, in Your great mercy.
The Journey continues...Last Supper tomorrow and then on firday we will answer in tears the old hymnal question: WERE YOU THERE?
Our epistle reading from last Sunday was one of my favorites because as a pentecostal holiness kinda guy (whenb I first became a Christian) I really did have a hard time with some of the restrictions placed upon me. Such as the strange notion that “stuff” had to be explicitly Christian in order to be enjoyed (e.g. movies, music, coffeemakers…ok, well maybe not coffeemakers…but then again WHY NOT! Why support heathen coffeemaker manufacturers!!!!)
Movies. I love movies. And while I will occassionally delve into the realm of stupidity in regards to films, generally I want a movie that will inspire me in someway…even subtle ways. One of my abosulte favorite films is the Rob Reiner film “Parenthood” in which we (and a disheartened “Gil”: Steve Martin) are reminded by the hilarious and somewhat senile grandmother that the parenting life is both frightening and joyous: exhilirating – like a rollercoaster ride and therefore far more preferable to the predictability of the merry-go-round. What a joy that film is! Or the scene in “The Mission” when Robert DeNiro’s slave trading character experiences redemption at the hands of those native peoples whose family he’d sold into slavery – glorious!
And it has always seemed to me that if we look around us, whether it be towards art (movies, music, pictures, etc) or just everyday rollercoasting family life we can find examples of what St. Paul was exhorting the Phillipian Church about:
Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy--meditate on these things.
Furthermore, today St. Macrina the younger via St. Gregory of Nyssa says in regards to the purification of the soul: …the soul becomes godlike when it has put off all the varied impulses of its nature, and when it has passed beyond desire it has entered into that towards which it was previosuly being raised by desire, it no longer gives any place in itself either to hope or to memory. It has what it was hoping for, and it drives out memory from its mind in its occupation with the enjoyment of good things. Thus it imitates the superior life, being conformed to the properties of the divine nature, so that nothing else is left to it but the disposition of love, as it becomes attached in its nature to the beautiful…
For the Life of the superior nature is love, since the beautiful is in every respect lovable for those who know it, and the Divine knows Itself. But knowledge becomes love, because that which is known is beautiful by nature. Insolent satiety does not touch the truly beautiful. Since satiety does not cut off the attachment of love to the beautiful, the divine life will always operate through love, the divine life which is beautiful by nature and from its nature is lovingly disposed towards the beautiful. There is no limit to the operation of love, since the beautiful has no limit, so that love might cease with the limit of the beautiful. The beautiful is limited only by its opposite. But whatever by its nature cannot admit anything worse will proceed towards the limitless and unbounded good.
Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.
Those familiar with the Orthodox services of Holy Saturday and Pascha will recognize much in this, the 4th century account of those raised from their graves on that day.
Confession, it has been said, is akin to a second baptism: a baptism in tears. This weekend I was priviledged to see regular baptisms and, for all intents and purposes, a baptism in tears as well. How wonderful it was to see the holy chrism being mingled with tears – tears that expressed the virtually inexpressable joy of at last fulfilling the yearning one has had for too long to enter into the Orthodox Church.
I can remember that yearning in my own heart, and it was a joy to me to be able to share that with the people received on Lazarus Saturday. Recalling my own process of inquiring, I watched two other groups enter the Church before I was able to and I longed to say the words that they were saying, and every Sunday and feastday was a day of nearly sinful envy as I stood back and watched everyone else go to the chalice. What a glorious day when you get to spit on the devil and embrace the Church, and to say when asked if you wish to join yourself to the Church: “I desire it with all my heart!”
To be able to say “I am an Orthodox Christian” was something I truly yearned for…and it is something to be celebrated. Let us wait for the day after to remember that it is also a fearful and precarious thing to say.
Well Lent is ending, and Holy Week beginning. Am I ready?
Seraphim has a fantastic post over and Now and Ever in which he writes about the importance of an "untamed" Church. Oddly enough, (and hopefully Seraphim will not take offense, recognizing that anything said or written to me must in fact - lamentfully - be filtered through me) it made me think about "The Dog Whisperer."
Cesar Millan is a professional dog behaviorist who rehabilitates troubled dogs...but if you watch a few episodes you quickly learn that he is actually doing more to train the owners than the dog, because 9 out of 10 times the dog's problems are traced to the fact that the owners are not fulfilling their roles as "alpha males" in the pack.
Thus the dogs are left in a completely unnatural environment in which they either become the "alpha males" themselves and/or delve into some of the most bizzarre compulsive and destructive behavior that you can imagine. Because dogs make their families their packs and because families do not generally behave like dog packs it is critical that a calm and confident leadership be developed by the people in the home so that the dog isn't forced to try and lead what is to them a foreign and insane environment. It literally drives them to doggy despair to not be in a subserviant role within the context of human environments.
The happiest and most balanced dogs are those whose subserviant role is most clearly defined in the home. Dogs that are catered to or treated like a child inevitably become problem dogs, despite the oweners very best intentions of being loving to the dog and providing for their needs. But you see, they are misinterpreting the dog's needs.
And I think we often do the same to ourselves in terms of our religious environments. We misinterpret our needs and then seek to have them catered to. I have heard Cesar say to dog owners: "Your dog does not need recognition right now, he/she needs to be led." And I ask: are we all that different from dogs? (though I don't think I smell all that bad when I get wet.)
It is amazing to watch Cesar begin to work with these dogs, because often within a matter of minutes you can literally see the most troublesome dogs have their problems melt away before your eyes as they submit to Cesar's calm and confident leadership. Usually it happens within the simple context of a stroll down the sidewalk.
Well, here comes Holy Week and I am ready for my walk Lord. Lead me. The Church is calm and confident.
If you know me personally then you know that I am, by all accounts, a dork. Maybe I could be called the Lab Clown...you know the type from your own lab experiences in school: the guy who tried to light his farts with a BUNsen burner, or the guy who thought seriously about trying to sell purified powdered caffeine (an experiment we did on tea) as a cocaine alternative.
The building that our lab resides in decided to have an earthquake drill, which to me makes as much sense as having car accident drills. As the staff were prepared with innumerable email warnings and more and more of my requests to play an injured person (I was pushing for massive head wounds accompanied by arterial bleeding) were left unanswered, it became apparent that we were actually going to have to interrupt our work and climb under a lab bench for a few moments.
And as the drill began it became quickly apparent to me that I really had no place to hide since all my coworkers had taken the uncluttered knee spaces already. And so logically, I picked up a large and tall lab chair, held it aloft over my head and began running back and forth screaming like a girl: "I'm going to die! I'm going to die!"
It was at this moment that my boss and her colleague entered the room to check on our "participation status."
Frankly, having been there for 10 years, and having seen some of my past antics (stories of the dark and mysterious scientific superhero "Labman" still linger in the halls), I don't think they expected anything less from me and they probably had counted me as a casualty days before the drill began.
Did anyone get my German Shepherd post? Or did you just think it was a clever story to show a picture of the ugliest dog on the stinking planet. Or perhaps it was understood and deemed not warranting further discussion?
Let me then ask bluntly: What good is Apostolic Succession, if you end up looking like (for example) an Arian (as opposed to a dog aptly named: Yoda.)
"We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one's own ego and one's own desires," said Ratzinger, 78, who has been the Vatican's chief overseer of doctrine since 1981.
"Having a clear faith, based on the creed of the church, is often labeled today as a fundamentalism," he said, making clear that he disagrees with that view.
I know I've mentioned it before but I want to again....I am wholly loving my time spent reading Rade's Notes from Serbia. It is very well written while remaining wonderfully down to earth. I am profoundly jealous of this little "vacation" of his and hope to goodness that he is taking lots of pictures, because I want to see the village, I want to see the Church, I want to see the “Tsarigradski Put”, and I want to see this pear tree...
we sat under the pear tree and drank pear brandy (which had been made from bounty of the tree under which we sat)
Gerhardt und Heidi were AKC registered show champion German Sheperds. Gerhardt had the perfect shoulder height of 24 to 26 inches; and Heidi, 22 to 24 inches. Their length to height proportion were an admirable pair of 10 to 8.5's. Avoiding AKC disqualification, their noses were a rich german chocolate black, their jaws not undershot and none of their 42 teeth absent, their tails decidedly not docked, their coats showing no discoloration and no abundance of white, and their ears uncropped and never hanging. They were the perfect image of the GSD.
But as Heidi gave birth to the fourth puppy of her third litter, this is what came out:
While, DNA tests confirmed - much to the relief of Gerhardt - the proper lineage, clearly something went terribly wrong in the development of this "GSD". Some particularly damaging gamma ray, or some erroneous copying and division in the process of mitosis...but regardless, despite all the proper pedigree, this dog will never be a show winning German Sheperd.
And the moral of the story is this: though the "disqualifications" may be more slight than Heidi's monstrosity, paperwork does not a German Shepherd make.
That's right....here's a Jesus that YOU can control! No worries that He might challenge or surprise you, oh no, He'll do precisely what your denominational whims would have Him do.
Handle Snakes? You bet, with the Backwater Appalachian accesory kit available for $19.99
Speak in Toungues? Sure, he has a USB port with which you can even download your own voice into his memory chip..."Shama-lama-ding-dong" all you want! (USB cord sold seperately $19.99)
Predestination? No problem, with the Unstoppable Fall chip (available Fall of 2006 - $19.99), everytime your child drops Jesus He will say: "Well that was bound to happen."
Sola Scriptura? Of course, with the "Magic 8 Ball" viewing glass on the back of Jesus' head your child can ask Jesus questions, shake the tar out of Him, and then get the same reply everytime: "Why are you asking me, Go read the Bible."
House Churches? Not a problem, just get the Jesus Dream House Church and you can have Jesus sit down with a few friends and talk. Also comes with blue jeans (or shorts for hotter climates) and a guitar, all for $19.99
Imagine the fun your kids will have when they take all of their presuppostions and "play Jesus."
"Toth published numerous polemical tracts, directed mainly at Rome, which have subsequently been compiled by George Soldatow: Alexis Toth—Letters, Articles, Papers, and Sermons, 4 vols. (1978-88); The Writings of St. Alexis Toth (1994); and The Orthodox Church in America and Other Writings by St. Alexis (1996)."
I have had no luck locating any of these...can anyone assist me?
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 11:07 AM [+] +++
A hit with the first pitch!
St, Gregory is lamenting his brother, St. Basil the Great’s death. And more lamenting awaits when he goes to his sister. St. Macrina for commiseration and finds that she too is afflicted with a life threatening ailment of somesort. But St. Macrina rebukes his faithlessness ala 1 Thess 4:13.
St. Gregory tries to defend his aversion toward death:
“…all human exertion is directed toward this one purpose, that we remain in life. This is why we have invented houses for habitation, so that our bodies may not be overcome by their environment through cold or heat. What elese is agriculture but a provision for living? Our concern for life undoubtedly arises from the fear of death. What about the practice of medicine? Why is it honored among men? Isn’t it because it seems somehow by its arts to fight against death? Breastplates, shields, greaves, helmets, defensive weapons, circuit walls, iron gates, fortification ditches, and all this kind of thing – why else are they made, except because of fear of death? So if death is naturally so fearsome, how can we easily obey when we are told the survivor should refrain from grief for the dying?”
“What aspect of death seems to you most grievous in itself?” asked my teacher [St. Macrina]. “The habits of ignorant people are not sufficient reason for your aversion.”
What intrigues me the most is that we see a sort of sweeping not-quite condemnation of two very popular and often perceived as contradicting things in our fearful culture today as mentioned by St. Gregory: humanitarian aid (shelter, food, and medical aid), and military defense.
I overheard on the radio both a catholic and an evangelical complaining about NBC’s new miniseries (I think it’s a miniseries) about the “end of days” which is NBC’s interpretation of St. John’s Revelation. Hey I figure they can probably do as good a job as any of the thousands of Christians who “have it all figured out.”
The Catholic was complaining about the portrayal of a nun as a lead character who is “buying into all of the non-catholic dogmas” regarding eschatology. The evangelical was complaining about two things: that catholics always get Hollywood’s religious spotlight and (not surprisingly) that NBC’s interpretation is “all wrong.” His first point was interesting, and true because you never see evangelicals battling demons in movies!
Why does Hollywood always seem to go to the Catholics when it comes to such movies. I wonder if part of it isn’t because the vestments, prayers, and traditions etc add to an air of authenticity? Maybe it gives a certain “seriousness” to a film that desperately needs it? Who knows.
The evangelical’s second complaint was typical. As someone who used to follow the likes of Hal Lindsey and his “Late Great Planet Earth” nonsense, it was a great relief to become Orthodox and see an utterly different take on St. John Revelation. And so watching the show last night, I had a sort of shoulder shrugging attitude. YES, I watched it and I freely admit to doing so. I simply cannot resist any chance to see Hollywood engage religion because it usually bounces between Schwarzenagian big special effects stupidity or in the more independent genre a sort of fluffy everyone is equally right lovefest. It’s the rubberneck in me…waiting anxiously for the trainwreck, or at least the Kenmore Air floatplane to sweep over a kayaker in Lake Union.
But for all it’s stupidity, I enjoyed the show last night. Yes, I enjoyed it. And here is why: the show has Jesus returning as a little baby and where does He see fit to make his appearance? What cultural and religious environment does He choose to be kept safe in? The ORTHODOX of course! Yes, that’s right! While the Roman Catholic’s are scouring the world trying to find Jesus, the Orthodox are standing in line (like communion) to venerate Him on Patmos. Jesus is with the Orthodox! I laughed out loud.
Come on guys! Victory dance in the endzone! And they say NBC has it all wrong...tosh! :)
An American Saint I'd not heard of before Over a year ago, Fr. Michael Oleksa and I were emailing one another back and forth about our mutual "Oleksa/Olexa" heritage. And I was just rereading some of our emails I noticed that he had mentioned a Saint Alexis Toth of Wilkes Barr and Minneapolis and it occurred to me that in my fury of ancestoral research I never looked up more information on him.
St. Alexis, like my family, lived in Slovakia and was a "Greek Catholic" (aka Uniate, aka Eastern Rite Catholic). He was sent to Minneapolis to do missionary work at a local Uniate Parish (which would become St. Mary's Cathedral) and was greeted by a fair amount of hostility when he presented himself to the North American Roman Catholic Hierarchs.
To make a long story short, he would end up leading 360 Parishoners from St. Mary Church with him back to Holy Orthodoxy and in 1892 they would be received officially (get this) into the Russian Orthodox Diocese of Alaska and the Aleutians. Later he worked to bring 17 other slavic uniate parishes back into the Orthodox Church and would start some 15-20 other new parishes. In the years that followed his passing, many other Slavic Uniates would "come home" including some of my family...and in a much more round about way, me.
He was canonized in 1994 by the OCA and his relics are open for veneration at St. Tikhon's Seminary in South Canaan, Pennsylvania. His feastday is not until May 7th, but today I am precelebrating:
Troparion - Tone 4
O righteous Father Alexis, Our heavenly intercessor and teacher, Divine adornment of the Church of Christ! Entreat the Master of All To strengthen the Orthodox Faith in America, To grant peace to the world And to our souls, great mercy!
Kontakion - Tone 5
Let us, the faithful, praise the Priest Alexis, A bright beacon of Orthodoxy in America, A model of patience and humility, A worthy shepherd of the Flock of Christ. He called back the sheep who had been led astray And brought them by his preaching To the Heavenly Kingdom!
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 11:19 AM [+] +++
We deal with CAP here all the time, but luckily since we do not test for influenza viruses we do not believe that we received this particular sample...though one of our sister labs might have. I have read several accounts of the news story and am really dumbfounded as to how this could have happened - though it is clearly a mistake that took place at Meridian or even perhaps further upstream.
CAP is supposed to be testing our competency!?!?!
But do not be terribly surprised, similar mistakes on a smaller scale happen like this on an irregularly frequent basis. Once our lab mistakeningly received a sample that was suspected of containing a Biosaftey Level 4 pathogen (think Ebola or Marburg, and the movie "Outbreak") that should have been sent to the CDC. That was about as scared as I ever wanted to be at work.
But, this is were the people of my profession shine. Hopefully, if eveyone who handled this erroneous sample dealt with it using all standard and universal precautions, nothing will happen. But as the incident itself suggests...no one is perfect. How many plane crashes are due to "pilot error"?
I am often asked about the theology of such pathogens - strange though it may seem. Certainly disease did not exist prior to the fall, could these little "critters" (viruses are not technically alive...they are more akin to biological machinery) have served some purpose before the fall? I suspect not. Rather I think that in our fallen world, sin itself has created an environment in which organism such as these can mutate, evolve, and perhaps even come into being.
Like all of the worlds problems, we are NOT by our own effort going to be able to "save the world" from poverty, hunger, or disease. Rather I look at my job as being akin to merely trying to keep the water level in the hold under control so the boat will float, until the REAL ship's carpenter can have a look at things when we get into dry dock.
Sometimes I like to think that "work" being done in monasteries, in our homes at our altars, and even in our hearts everyday are doing something not too dissimilar.
While I had learned that St. Macrina was given a good deal of credit for the conversion and inspiration of both St. Basil and St. Gregory, I had not realized that St. Gregory's work "On the Soul and the Resuurection" was written by him as a dialogue between himself and his sister - and that furthermore it is his sister who plays the role of the wise christian teacher, while St. Gregory humbles himself into the position of playing "devil's advocate" or mopre nicely put: St. Macrina's student. In the introduction, the paralleles between this work and Plato's Phaedo and Symposium are well noted. Catharine Roth, author of the forward, reminds us that in Symposium "Socrates becomes the not-so-apt pupil of the wise woman teacher Diotima. Gregory similarly makes himself the pupil of his older sister, putting the stubborn and foolish questions into his own mouth."
I remind myself that this book was written in the 4th century. A time when I do not think we can say that women had anything remotely similar to what we moderners call "equal rights"...and yet who is the teacher here? (Of course Plato wrote much earlier, but since he was not an ancient Christian we needn't expect him to be sexist.) What was it that C.S. Lewis called our prejudice against things not modern, you know that notion that we are so much more enlightened than those who lived in the past.(Add in Christianity - as opposed to paganism - and you get an even greater zeal for modernity.)
The introduction has had me salivating, and I am just now delving into the dialogue intself. I'll keep you posted.
Keeping the Gregory's, Basil's and Macrina's straight
Presently reading some of the works of St. Gregory of Nyssa. If you're like me (God help you), then you sometimes get all these different saints with the same names mixed up.So, in an introduction I think I got it all straightened out.
St. Macrina the elder was St. Gregory of Nyssa's grandmother. St. Emmelia, St. Macrina the elders daughter gave birth to St. Macrina the younger and she was of course St. Gregory's sister. (In fact, of 10 siblings, 5 would be numbered as saints!). St. Basil the Great was also one of Gregory of Nyssa's brothers and while attending the equivalent of university in Athens, Basil would meet and befriend St. Gregory the theologian (aka "of Nazianzus").
St. Gregory of Nyssa apparently was married (which I didn't know) and was also made bishop of Nyssa (I have found conflicting info as to whether or not he was still married while a bishop or if his wife died prior to his becoming a hierarch). And he wrote an account of his sister's life, which may be read here. He apprently attributes both his and his brother St. Basil's devotion to Christ and His church to his sister St. Macrina the younger.
What an amazing family! Lots more may be found about them...do a little digging, it is fascinating.
I guess, I am sort of a Great Godparent now, twice even!
Jared (will he ever update it?) and his wife Leanna delivered a baby girl a little over a week ago and now I come to learn that Chance (will he ever update it?) and his wife have just this morning found themselves also to be parents of a new baby girl!
On saturday I am out working on my remodel - pretending to be blissfully ignorant of the fact that I am decidedly NOT a carpenter. As I hammer, drill, and measure (often incorrectly), I am listening to the local Classical Music radio station.
Suddenly, with my hammer poised to strike an improperly placed nail, I hear "religious-speak" on the radio. To my immense surprise it is a commerical for the "Anglican" church that sounds very much like the typical evangelical mega-church appeal. But it was so vague in much of what it said, that I was never quite sure if it was a "continuing Anglican" group or the Episcopal's trying on a new name (by the way, the ECUSA website has a very nice Icon on it...curiously the first icons I ever bought were from an Episcopal bookstore, which they got from St. Isaac of Syria Skete. Why do I hear episcopalian voices in my head saying: "See we can have cool icons too...please don't leave?")
Then after I was finished marvelling at the commercial, the next piece of music being played had a very familiar refrain that I could not quite place until about three quarters of the way through it: it was the Paschal Troparion! I kept listening to make sure and indeed it had to be, I was able to sing right along. It was lovely....and witha friend on the phone I predicted that it must have been a Russian composer and as I listened for the announcement: sure enough Korsakov's Russian Easter Festival Overture.
Then the Anglican commercial returned, and I smiled as I returned to my amazing carpentry skills.
It has a 23 foot wingspan and real honest to goodness jet turbine engines. I'm sorry but if you don't think this is cool and say in your heart of hearts "I want one", you must be a girly man or something.
...a priest of the Episcopal Church, who - unbeknownst to me - was well on his way toward becoming Orthodox, married my wife and I. And you know, I can still remember to this day the first time I saw my wife.
I was leading worship at a youth function for Chino 1st Assembly of God on a wednesday evening - as was our custom. Imagine me strumming and singing: "As the deer panteth for the water...." when suddenly this beautiful blonde girl walked into the service (late) and I must confess that God instantaneously began receiving a great deal less of my attention that evening. As I stumbled through the rest of the "worship time" I just kept thinking to myself: "Boy I hope that is Wes' cousin who he said would be coming to visit from Minnesota."
For you see, Wes was probably my closest friend and I knew that whether this girl liked it or not, if she was indeed his cousin she'd be spending time with me. Sometimes I am amazed that she still is.
We live in world that strives to the lengths of absurdity to avoid blaming itself for its problems. Everyone points the finger at someone else, foolishly believing in most cases that if someone else (whether that be an individual or a nation or whatever) would just leave them alone that all of their problems would be solved. Imagine the paradise that would naturally evolve in the Middle East if America and Israel would just go away? Or the wonders and growth of Russian Orthodoxy if the Catholics and Protestants would just stop proselytizing? Or the unfathomable economic strength of America if we’d stop outsourcing jobs and allowing illegal aliens through our borders? Or how succesful I’d be if that jerk of a coworker would stop sabotaging my efforts? Or how great my kids would be if the public schools were better?
I have lamented much here at Paradosis regarding my concerns about our society and culture and how it’s slow moral deterioration may poison my children. Oh how we seek for society to fix our ills; for the “village” (i.e. our government) to heal our wounds - as if in some way we could legislate ourselves into paradise. It’s funny how both the left and the right see our culture and our society as slipping into moral crisis...the left says we are ignoring the poor and the right says we are ignoring a host of other sins. And they bicker and argue and they bicker and argue and they bicker and argue. Do we really think a solution will come from within those contexts? As I lament the course of our society, do I really think that I could reverse the trends...but more importantly, even if I did, would it make a difference to my kids? Nope, and here’s why:
I would still be their Daddy. No one is going to screw my kids up more than my sinful self. I realized last night how much I have been missing the big point. John Kerry, George Bush, Terri Schaivo, the Pope, homosexual marriage, the Nous vs. the Mind etc etc are all little more than curiostiy shop displays in my mind right now. (Sorry to say so.) The worse things happening to my kids right now eminate from my own sinfulness: my impatience, my anger, my selfishness.
I worry about my kids because I don’t pray enough…not only for them, but for myself as well. I do not stand beside them enough, I do not play with them enough, I do not try and BE like them enough, I do not cherish them enough, and I do not love them enough. I have spent far too much time worrying about less important matters like politics, when the most important thing in the world I have been neglecting: the salvation of my children. The rooting of Holiness in them. What a change THAT would make in the world…all the humanitarian efforts in the world would pale in comparison.
I am a parent. Four lives sit at my feet and are looking for an example and guidance from me. God help them, and God help me. I know many of you parents out there have your shit together far better than I do and so this post may be meaningless to you…but for me, man I have really been blowing it. Parenthood is THE most important thing I will ever engage myself in and EVERYTHING (READ IT AGAIN: EVERYTHING) must take a backseat to this task I have been charged with. It is said that one of the things that makes the priesthood so burdensome and fearsome is that as a father-confessor you will stand in judgement beside your spiritual children. If that is true, I suspect it is even more true of biological fathers.
So, why should I be worrying so much about the world outside my house when I have not done everything I can to make the world INSIDE my house holy and peaceful?
For those of you who may not know, Rade, my Serbian Orthodox friend is no longer located in "Edmonds, Washington" as his blog page proclaims, but rather now is calling Serbia home - at least for the summer. And while we miss him (the League of Ordinary Gentlemen won't be the same without him!), he is keeping us updated quite regularly about his doings in the "old country." For anyone interested in reading more about the ins and outs of Orthodoxy (and life in general) in Serbia you can visit his home away from home blog here:
On a website that distributes THIS Serbian Plum Brandy, they offer the following Serbian toast: “Three times you take a sip, each in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost and look! You are sound and fit! God Bless You with a hundred year long toast.”
...that has not already been said about the death of the Pope? It was not until after I returned that I heard that he had indeed passed (something I anticipated would happen while I was "away from the world" as it were.)
I grieve with my catholic friends, and pray for our unity.
Beginning Friday afternoon until late Sunday evening I did not read a single newspaper, surf one single webpage, hear one wavelength of radio, or see a single particle or wave of light from a television. And I didn't miss any of it.
It was almost like going to a three day long liturgy and walking out asking: "I wonder what happened in the world while I was away?"
Ah yes that elusive question asked by far too many these days. But a good question none-the-less, and this weekend the point was AGAIN (yes I know we’ve all heard it) that the Church is a hospital. But this time, the speaker added: “not a massage parlor.”
Now this struck me as interesting because it got me thinking about how a not-yet Orthodox friend of mine complained about Orthodox services being in dire need of change. More flare! (Like a waiter’s shirt at a TGIF resteraunt I suppose?) Something to make Orthodox services more appealing. Curiously, few people WANT to be in a hospital, but virtually no one would turn down a massage.
But you know when you do want to be in a hospital? When you come to realize how sick you really are. Massages make you feel great…but they don’t do much for healing serious diseases. I have been considering the hospital analogy even further and it seems to me that the Catechumenate is more akin to a hospital (in the ancient Church it was usually a 3-year period of indoctrination and preparation!) and then once you enter into the Church it becomes more like a rehabilitation center. The critical care is passed and now its time to start working toward full healing.
When I weighed about 140lbs more than I do now (yes, I know, hard to believe given how big I am now!), I had severe problems with an old back injury. Some 15 years ago or so I severely herniated four discs in my lower back and since I did not have health insurance at the time I received little or no care for the injury. (Looking back I did have options but I think pride prevented me from investigating them). But sometime later I had a relapse that was so bad that I landed in the hospital and then once I was stabalized I ended up in a rehab wing.
Rehab is a better analogy for the Church because it requires effort on the part of the patient. Example: Physical therapy sucked. I hated the Physical therapist because so much of what she made me do was terribly painful – even though I was drugged with powerful medicines including methadone. I agonized each time I sat up in bed, but then later that was okay. I agonized each time I stood to my feet, but then later that was okay. I agonized each time I took a step, but then later that was okay….and on and on it went, slowly but surely I was getting better.
A massage parlor would not have helped me. And so to my friend looking for flare: no, I have enough flare in my everday life. I do not need the services to change, anymore that I needed that damn physical therapist to rub and massage me. I needed her to hurt me (in a way), I needed her to encourage me to struggle, to help me to come to the point where I wanted to stretch and strive, to push to envelope of what I felt like I needed. And even on days when I could see no progress and was tempted to despair, she kept badgering me to work. In a sense, to change myself and not the service.
Furthermore, nobody likes to go on a diet. If left to my own sense of need, attraction, and desire I’d likely eat nothing but deep-fried chimichangas. And I’d die doing so. McDonald’s is a far more successful franchise than McVegans. Think about it.
I'm a bit under the weather today, so I'll need to be brief for the moment...so some highlights:
Meeting Rdr Nectarios and hearing all sort of neat stories about "old" (wink) Christian musicians I grew up with and at least one of their exposures to Orthodox through him.
Meeting long time internet contact and reader of Paradosis, Scott (Hi Scott and Annette!)
Hearing Father Joseph laud going to Liturgy at 4am by saying it allows you to enter into the Kingdom "before the world starts going crazy." (I really pondered that...and was encouraged by the fact that as I laid down last night to sleep, that the sisters would be up praying for the crazy world long before I joined it.)
A personal account of the Holy Fire at the Holy Sepulchre.
Should the Church be a hospital or a massage parlor? (I'm gonna blog on this one later)
Innumerable Elders of Athos and Saint stories from the speaker who was able to rattle them off like the life of a party can jokes.
Having a cold that forced me to talk much less than I'd normally would have. A blessing to many I am sure.
Hearing a half dozens personal stories of "how I found the Orthodox Church." So much similarity, but always with a slightly different twist...encouraging.
We are not responsible for thoughts that initially assualt us...and we need to learn to swat them away with all the attentiveness that we might give to a gnat landing on our nose.
I'm not the only one to occassionally have bizarre and freakish thoughts during liturgy. (I think I knew this already, but it was nice to see everyone nodding as the speaker noted it)
I was amazed at how young many of the sisters looked. Sister Ephremia told me that she figures about half of them (16 now) are converts...like herself.
The "stand back and let the sisters pass" attitude of the men (we all stood in the back of the bus - ummm I mean nave) further convinced me that we are NOT a "sexist" Church.
A book on Martyred Saint Tsar Lazar of Serbia. (Rade are you going to visit his Relics? Can you get me an little Icon? :) )
Long and profitable (albeit raspy) conversations with my friend and Godfather of two of my kids during the nearly 8 hours of driving.
The importance of earplugs. (Someone needs a C-Pap machine)
Returning home encouraged to be a better Orthodox Christian.
As St. Gregory Palamas "made war against the heretic Barlaam" (so says one ancient account of his life read last Sunday at Matins), while I was a protestant I made my own little war against those who preached the health and wealth gospel. I despised the very notion and in time this would even extend to those non-denominational mega-churches that spewed forth the infomercial-like creed that Jesus' teachings were instruments able to make your life "full"...which was typically portrayed as being shiny and happy (i.e. less materialistic things will be a success: your parenting, your marriage, your relationships with EVERYONE etc). So much of it seemed to revolve around success. You'll notice that these groups NEVER talk about the martyrs. "Who are they?" they would likely wonder. Can you imagine? "And Jesus will make your life POWERFUL! You will experience the joy in the same way that Saint Ignatios of Antioch did when he was devoured by Lions in Rome! Imagine that POWER inserted into your everday relationships: at work or at home...your blood can be spilled all over the place. Furthermore, the joy of being sewn into a sack with ravenous rock badgers is yours to have if you would but put Jesus' teachings into practice..." As so while I sat and listened to their sermons about how Jesus was going to make my life so joyful, so exciting, so full of LIFE...I kept wondering, as I watched all the people leaving in their SUV's: How did original followers of Jesus end up in life (see above hypothetical sermon)? And didn't Jesus talk a lot about persecution and suffering that we could expect to endure for his namesake? So in THAT context, what precisely is meant be "having life more abundantly?" I made it my personal mission to try and "combat" this theology. It eventually became as wearisome as combating a non-literal understanding of the Resurrection in the ECUSA. Holding to "o"rthodox Christianity is NOT the way to "fill the pews."
Maybe the rise of the health and wealth gospel (even if cleverly disguised) drove me to Orthodoxy? A Church where the martyrs are upheld as examples, and where we have a notion of everyday martyrdom. A Church that recognizes that "abundant life" often (perhaps usually) is something not seen with human eyes.
I have spoken at length here about what I perceive to be a coming persecution, and indeed I do not doubt that that will come though perhaps not in my lifetime. Orthodox and "o"rthodox Christians will continue to grow more and more ostracized from society. But, make no mistake about it, we ARE being persecuted now...but in a much more subtle, subversive, and far more dangerous way. THIS persecution leads us to destroy ourselves...often without even knowing it. The Pagan Romans, the Muslim Turks, and Athiestic Communists with their campaigns against the Church pale in comparison.
Consider which is better or more efficient at destruction:
To suffer from lack of food, or to feel that you suffer from a lack of more cable channels?
To be beheaded for refusing to deny Christ, or to behead your own soul for refusing to go and pray instead of clicking on that old familiar link that will take into a realm you ought not to go to.
To watch your family be drowned by pagans, or to watch you family get hooked on any one of the many abundantly available drugs in the public schools and have their spirits slowly drowned?
To not be allowed to go to Church, or to have the option and knowing that there is always next week, sleep in this sunday because the earlier saturday night showing of the movie was sold out and so you had to stay up late to see it?
To be raped by heathen soldiers, or to be so indoctrinated by society (and it's sexual freedoms and infatuations) around you that you end up willingly offering yourself to heathens?
To toss your babies into the Thames river rather than face the waiting persecution in Soviet Russia, or to be persuaded to toss your babies out of your womb rather than face the troubles of parental responsibilities?
I could go on and I am sure you are able to think of a few examples of your own. I guess what I am asking is this: Is it better to face death, or to be taught death? While I, by no means, would welcome outright persecution...one has to admit, that at least under those circumstances you knew where you stood. In this world and specifically in this society, I worry about being able to see the edge of the cliff that we are presently dancing around.
Maybe spending some time with the monastics this weekend will help me personally to see the cliff's edge in my own life...but we as Christians certainly need some powerful radar to discern things in this world and I think precious few of us have it. Thank God for the Church.