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.
I realize that we remain in the Paschal season, but I am sure we all are experiencing to differing degrees a sort of post-paschal-back-to-normalcy blues, no? And so the question arose in my mind: Now what?
"Oh, well," we might answer, "we finish out the Paschal season and prepare for Pentecost and then...etc etc."
Yes, yes...but what do we do with that Paschal joy that so enlivens us? That great news! The glories of this Sacred Pascha, which "has been revealed to us?" The Feast of Feast by which we have asked to be "illumined!" In the Paschal Canon we are exhorted: "Let us embrace each other. Let us call 'brothers' even those who hate us, And forgive all by the Resurrection..." and surely this is NOT just for the Paschal season! It's for the Paschal ERA.
We may perhaps pause and consider the first Passover, the precursor of our Great Passover. The Israelites might have stayed in their state of slavery, had they so chosen, but Pharaoh himself gave the advice that I'd like to consider now for myself today in this, the 2nd and less Bright Week: "Go, serve the LORD as you have said!"
After Passover, they got up off their butts and LEFT Egypt. For us, it's not too much of a theological stretch to imagine that it is the grave itself we must opt to leave after our Passover. But too often, I think we (meaning I) prefer to rot in our (my) box rather than really do anything that requires effort for the sake of the joy we (I) now claim as our (my) own. Heck, I act like the Israelites who'd later lament and complain when they see Pharaoh's chariots approaching, except I'm not even sure I would have got up and gone with them to begin with!
Get up and GO! That's what we do post-Pascha. Passover is the BEGINNING, not the end of Christian Life. The wilderness still awaits us, with all of it's trials and sufferings and temptations. And, when we come to the water barrier in front of us while a "pursuing tyrant" is hot on our tail, we must have Paschal courage: "Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will accomplish for you today!"
This LIFE...this JOY...this FEAST of FEASTS, should motivate me to MOVE! To share it! There are a billion different ways to do so.
Ummm...seriously...I thought we didn't want to encourage an entitlement society anymore? Is having a bit of pride and subsequent guilt about taking welfare necessarily a bad thing?
1. With regard to those people who are letting pride get in the way of taking other people's money via the government, are they starving? Are their children starving? If not maybe they really don't need food stamps? Seriously, if they are managing by whatever means without using money that was forcefully taken from strangers (taxes) should we be encouraging them to do otherwise?
2. If we eliminate all notions of self-respect, pride, self-sufficiency, and additionally some embarrassment from having to collect food stamps, what motivation remains to hit the streets and try to find a job...any job?
I really believe that trying to foster an environment in which people feel entitled to government (other people's) money is a huge mistake in the long run. It's good to help people, but it's also good for people who are helped to have a profound sense of appreciation and humility.
One thing that struck me was the number of Roman Catholics who left their church because of "dissatisfaction with Catholic teachings on abortion and homosexuality." The report says 60% of those who left Catholicism cited this as the reason. That pretty astonishing to me.
In general though I find the whole survey to be revealing of numerous things.
First I note a complete and easy disconnect from the faith into which we were born. We rather take this for granted don't we? That children will at least go through a period of rebellion against the "faith of their fathers" as it were? But why must this be so? I at least have some vague notion that other cultures do not necessarily suffer this, do they? Maybe?
Multiple changes in religious affiliation reminds me of the fast food and one trillion channel satellite TV generation that we live amidst today. Truly the "me" generation which has to no small degree given birth to much of the po-mo church movement. "What works for me" is the mantra of popular religious belief today. There's precious little sense of commitment, perseverance, endurance, permanence, or tradition in people today.
"it's an indictment of organized Christianity."
I don't think so at all. Have you seen DIS-organized Christianity? Yep...that's what you see in the midst of people wandering about to and fro looking for the right sized shoe. For you see, the American religious "marketplace" looks like the shoe isle at Walmart after the employees have been on strike for a few months. The floor is littered and people are meandering about like zombies (hmmm) trying to find the other matching half of a cheap pair of bitchin' looking leather sandles. This is far more an indictment of our culture than anything else and the fact that the article is written in such a way as if to give advice to religious institutions is extremely telling.
You see for many, a study such as this is a useful tool. It's as if the Pew Research group just did a free "focus group" for churches. NOW....AT LAST...WE have a better idea of how to market and package our salvific product! Have you veer been to a product focus group? I've done them for Microsoft many times and they are great fun. You get to blab and blab your incredibly important opinion about video games and the people there diligently take notes. And then you get a nice little prize...because, after all, your opinion is SO important.
But here's a newsflash: You opinions about religion aren't important. Religion isn't the newest XBOX game for you to "consume." We are warned in our pre-communion prayers to be extremely careful because that which you are about to consume is FIRE!
No, the indictment here is that we think religion is a product. Churches are businesses. And they are largely interchangeable - whatever fits *MY* needs.
How we managed this attitude is the bigger question. I've not the time to ponder this at the moment...but will. For now I just wanted to get this little incoherent rant out the proverbial door.
As a side...even MY religious opinions don't matter! Shocking, but true.
...just recovering from Pascha. It was a busy busy week of preparation and of celebration. Each year seems more glorious than the next. I have no words to express my thanks and joy for being a part of not only the world community of Orthodoxy, but more particularly my wonderful local expression of it. The Feast of feasts indeed!
Given the time and season, I've not taken time to proofread...please forgive the unusual quantity of errors that no doubt exist here...but some thoughts on the time of the year I've pieced together over the last few days
Christmas is bigger than Easter in this neck of the woods. While it’s not unusual or terribly unexpected to see most businesses closed on Christmas Day, not so for western Easter. I did notice a few stores closed, but all three of the major grocery stores here in Poulsbo kept their normal hours last Sunday. Also, during the Christmas season, at least one major radio station in this, the greater Seattle area, switches to all holiday music starting the day after Thanksgiving, which is something that can hardly be imagined possible for Easter. Think about all the “secular” and “seasonal” songs we have for Christmas such as “Jingle Bells” and “Frosty the Snow Man” and yet we have no secular equivalents for the Spring born Easter. What about this winter holiday makes it so much more appealing to our celebratory senses?
This actually calls to mind a different gripe of mine: what on earth is intended by offering someone “Season’s Greetings!” And why isn’t it applicable at pretty much ANY day of the year? Easter has no such equivalent. I wonder if prime time TV still bothers to play some of those traditional Easter specials for kids? I know Rudolph and the Peanut’s Christmas special still gets airtime – now alongside the Shrek special. As far as I know, Shrek doesn’t celebrate Easter.
Okay, back to the task at hand: What is it about Christmas that wins the “American Idol” contest over and above Easter? In talking with some people about this, some have suggested that Easter is a little too somber. Indeed, the birth of a baby coupled with “Peace on Earth and goodwill toward men” is one thing, but the brutal beating and crucifixion of a man even if coupled with His “rising from the dead” (remember “zombies”) is just too much and speaks too personally to people. In essence then, Christmas is easier on the conscience. Others suggested that the gift-giving emphasis of Christmas and the natural marketing and consumerism that would then feed upon one another like gluttonous cannibalistic swine and thereby rendering the holiday morbidly obese – far too big to miss!
Several years ago I can recall being shocked that there was a news article reporting on the fact that there was presented to many churches a “dilemma” because Christmas happened to fall on a Sunday. According to it, there was a good deal of debate about what to do and not a few churches opted to forgo Sunday services in favor of the more traditional means of celebrating Christmas. Well, logically this “dilemma” ought to repeat itself every 7 years, but I strangely have no recollection (actually not surprising) of it happening in the past while I attended churches that might have debated the issue. But, in my particular context now, it would be unthinkable not to gather to share the common cup. More than that: it would be unthinkable not to gather together as the Church on Christmas morning no matter which day of the week it happens to fall upon! Many of us converts to Orthodoxy can probably still recall our personal dilemmas of breaking the tradition of sitting about sleepily in our pj’s drinking coffee while the kids bathe in the furious and insatiable green and red aura of materialism around the Christmas tree.
This time of Holy Week often has me reflecting on my life in many different ways – some good (prescribed) and some not so good (dangerously self-medicated). But one which is perhaps neither, is contemplating how much my life has changed since adopting (to some degree, returning to) what is to me a new context, but in an of itself quite ancient.
Have I abandoned American traditions in favor of Slavic customs? No, I think not…at least I would not phrase it as such. But, clearly I do do things differently than most Americans – many of whom no doubt think it strange that I take so much time off during Holy Week and that I go to services so much, or that my kids actually have to wait until AFTER a lengthy Church service to open their Christmas gifts. Or that Pascha (Easter) is a HUGE deal to us, very much acting like an anchor or a touch point in our communal lives. Sometimes it is difficult to mesh an Orthodox life with a culture that has enjoyed little or nothing of its influence…but more and more I think American culture is suffering the influence of a mishmash of various religious and non-religious lives and the results of such diversity celebrating seems to be an over-arching agnosticism about it all. Let’s be logical folks, you cannot really believe EVERYTHING! So, one could say that I am simply choosing one tradition amongst many that coexist here – it just so happens that the one I’ve chosen sometimes bumps into others that are more common.
That being said, the customs we keep, varied though they may be to some degree throughout the Orthodox world, are decidedly Christian before they are Russian, Greek, Arabic, Romanian, Ukrainian, Slovak, etc etc. Yes, some of the specifics such as special foods and such are local and regional specific, but the massive emphasis on the “Feast of Feasts” is unmistakably Christian...as we would say: “it is meet and right.”
A final thought about why it might be that Christmas ranks Easter in the west: theology. Lacking the notion of the Blessed Sabbath, which is that astonishing service that links and transitions the brutality of Holy or Good Friday to the glory of Pascha or Easter Sunday. Take that transitions away and build the whole of your salvation into the events of Good Friday and then the Day of resurrection becomes merely a footnote. But if everything in Holy Week points toward the glorious Resurrection and that Resurrection is perceived as not being an exclamation point on an event, but THE event itself, then suddenly our perspective radically changes. “Death is trampled down by death”...and as such suddenly Holy or Good Friday isn't the same anymore. One man being punished for our sins...yes...but there's far more going on. FAR MORE! And it renders this the most wonderful time of the year!
During one of our recent choir practices, a particular phrase appeared in one of the hymns we were practicing that really caught my attention. It had the Prophet Isaiah announcing: "The dead shall arise and they that dwell in the tombs shall be raised up, and all those born on the earth shall rejoice exceedingly." (Matins of Holy Saturday, Irmos of Canticle 5) It occurred to me, after singing it, that popular notions of the dead rising from their tombs typically does not bring to mind any sort of rejoicing, but rather the procurement of firearms, creating barricades, and running for your life away from those who would have an undead need to devour your brains. Now, of course, we all know that zombies are not actually the dead come back to life, but rather the undead (reference any quality zombie flick). But my point remains, that if you but say the words: “the dead shall arise from their tombs” the images most likely to be created involve zombies or perhaps vampires. Either way, it’s a horror story first to the popular mind, not an event for exceeding joy.
I suppose this is another theological arena where Orthodoxy has forced me to examine some of my presuppositions. Besides watching too many B movies, there is something more in our collective conscience that makes us mysteriously and exceedingly apprehensive about dead bodies doing things they normally don’t do (e.g. moving). So what of Resurrection in the Christian sense? In my evangelical experience, the “general” Resurrection was for the most part something about which we rarely talked. Yes, occasionally we would reference it in passing, as long as it was always accompanied by the immediate disclaimer of sorts that emphasized that the resurrected bodies would be “glorified.”
Referencing our Lord’s post resurrection “superpowers” we are happily reminded that we also will be able to walk through walls – sort of like trans-dimensional mystery beings. Of course, I don’t think this is necessarily untrue or erroneous, but in hindsight it just seems as if we were making efforts to deflesh the event; to spiritualize it.
I’ve mentioned here before that I believe a significant proportion of theists – particularly in the west (?) – are unwittingly Gnostic or Platonic in their beliefs with regard to the body. We hear it all the time in popular references. For instance, who has not attended a funeral where the person is said to now be “free at last”? There’s never any mention of the unnatural state into which the deceased has entered by having soul and body torn asunder, but rather warm thoughts of escaping the “shell” or the “confinement” of the flesh. This is NOT a Christian understanding of death! The real celebratory act of freedom will be when the body is reunited with the soul and is raised in INCORRUPTION on the last day.
I recently read a brief article from Fr. Georges Florovsky entitled “The Gospel of Resurrection” and in it he reminds us of the fleshly nature of our religion. Contrasting the early Christians with the Hellenistic gentiles who saw the body as a form of imprisonment, he notes that at that time we were derisively referred to by some as “philosomaton genos” or a “flesh-loving crew.” I believe much of Christianity has lost the right to the title today, and instead far too many teach us to identify more with Plato than Christ on this point.
Perhaps not so Orthodoxy…at least I think not as I sing these Holy Week hymns in practice: empty tombs abound! And consider that this Saturday we particularly celebrate the rising of Lazarus. Really it has all the makings of a classic “Mummy” horror movie: who cannot but recoil as people remind Jesus (how ironic) that after so many days the body will have begun to stink! Imagine the horror of a wrapped and decomposing body staggering out from the grave! Will the food he would likely need after his four day fast include typical zombie fare? RUN!
Clearly we must escape this mindset. The dead returned to life isn’t a horror story, it is our GREAT HOPE! Prior to Orthodoxy, the full scope of what Jesus does here was lost on me because I really don’t believe that I associated death so intimately within the equation of salvation! Salvation meant having contractual and legal justification before God, and not so much God pulling me up out of my grave. The problem of death was “solved” when God’s righteous wrath was satisfied by Christ’s sacrifice and any notion of God kicking death and the devil’s butt on Holy Saturday was perfectly unknown to me. For me, Jesus’ raising up Lazarus was little more than one of His more impressive miracles – a precursor of His own perhaps, but certainly not of my own.
Anyone can compare and contrast Orthodox traditions to popular modern funeral customs to see again how the Orthodox Church is a “flesh-loving crew.” For the Orthodox, cremation is strictly forbidden except where required by law. Open caskets and a final kiss of the deceased are all apart of the funeral liturgy. In contrast, cremations are growing in popularity, fueled by utilitarianism while more and more people are repulsed by the idea of viewing their deceased relative. “It weirds me out” or “I don’t want to remember them that way” are all offered as reasons. But Orthodoxy wants us to face the bitter reality and sadness of death. But much more than that, as is noted in Florovsky’s essay when he quotes a Russian author speaking of the phrase: “ ‘We must also wait for the Spring of the body’…There are no words which could better render the impression of jubilant serenity, the feeling of rest and unbound peacefulness of the early Christian burial place. Here the body lies, like wheat under the winter shroud, awaiting, anticipating, and foretelling the otherworldly eternal Spring.” Thus we must recall that no matter what state the body eventually finds itself in, we are not done with it. It still retains its image of God, though broken. We honor it; we do not throw it in the garbage or as the environmentalists are now making a big to-do about, we do not recycle it back into the natural world.
Death is something to be conquered and defeated, and this act of salvation is of course accomplished in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Far more than simply a proof of His Divinity (which was my evangelical understanding), to the Orthodox the Resurrection is efficacious in and of itself for our salvation! As we sing on that great and glorious VERY early morning: “We celebrate the death of death!” because Christ is “trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs, bestowing life!”
And so when we hear the odd phrase “Dawn of the Dead” we should perhaps think first of Pascha and not so much of famed zombie movies? Empty graves are not an ominous sign; they are our expectation and our hope as Christians. Indeed a cause for exceeding joy!