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.
While everyone else outside were busily preparing themselves for communion, I was trying to keep my clumsiness from destroying the temple. It was a last minute decision because of overall poor timing, that the remaining charcoal in the censer would not be sufficient for the final censing of the remaining Gifts, and so while they were going through their final preparation for the faithful and the young gentlemen were preparing the antidoron and wine, I lit a round of charcoal and was just about to place it in the censer when it fell from the grip of my tongs and rolled across the floor and down underneath the altar servers' table.
Now, you have to visualize how we've put together our temple. Our temporary home being a business park, we have none the less managed a wonderful job (mostly done by our Reader and Priest) in creating a heavenly environment. The floor around our altar and ambo is made of wood and supported by pallets. But the footing of the young gentlemen's table sits on the concrete floor as opposed to the wooden floor above the pallets, and thus leaves a handy little hole where my wayward burning disc of charcoal managed to roll.
As I looked under the table it was nowhere to be found...but I could feel the heat coming from it. Yes, unimaginably, it had managed to roll INTO the inner regions of the pallet directly beneath me. I knew it could not have gone far, but the positioning was such that I could not see it. Unsuccessful in blindly grasping for it, and worrying that I would push it further into the nether regions of our floor, I began to panic a little.
I knew it was resting on wood and was surrounded by wood...nice and DRY wood at that. I had visions of ripping up the flooring and/or running to get the fire extinguisher (would that douse a burning coal???). At what point does one decide that the likelihood of burning the place down outweighs the interruption of such a solemn and sacred moment? Finally the young gentlemen noticed my dilemma and began to lend a hand. They helped hold up the floor length table cloth and move the baptismal font (which rested under the table) such that I was able to bend my head down far enough to see the coal. It glowed a bright orange in the wooden darkness and I could feel the heat on my face. Yikes!
I reached the tongs into the small space, praying that I would grab it and hold onto it as opposed to pushing it deeper into the confines of the floor. Thankfully I got it out and placed it into the censer. But I still worried about the amount of time it spent on the wood and so I dumped some water in the vicinity and informed one of the young gentlemen that while we were distributing the Gifts if they were to see or smell any smoke (wood smoke that is) that they were to come and tell me.
Thankfully that didn't happen. Whew! So, let that be a lesson to me.
I was introduced to the Front Porch Republic by the Priest formally known as FDR. I have found myself particularly following the contributions made by John Willson who is the former professor of history at Hillsdale College (you may know it as the conservative college that accepts no federal money).
Anyway, Prof. Willson writes some great stuff...some I agree with and some I don't. But I when I read it, I knew I had to share this one article entitled "It's the Family, Stupid" from last year.
His primary proposition is simply that the very greatest thing we could do for this republic is NOT protesting, or making political contributions, voting or even (believe it or not) arguing politics online. But instead, the greatest thing we could do for our country is to nurture, love, and take care of our families.
I personally believe the we as fathers have a very particular, critical and sacred role to play in this organization called the family. We must maintain it's importance. I was particularly convicted on this point:
...if we neglect or dishonor or treat badly or disrespect our parents and wives and children, or fail to love them except with sentimental emotional ejaculations (“O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom!) our neighborhoods and kingdoms will come apart.
We look to much to government to be glue of our social fabric, as one adamantly opposed to this notion and who believes very strongly in family and local communities first, I need to live up to my values and see that doing so is far more beneficial to the future of family and community than what I do in the absurd political realm. For we will raise up sons and daughters who will share and live our values, as opposed to those espoused by the fickle world around them.
Well now HERE'S a little experiment that hits close to home. While I know for a fact that I can go a day and NOT check my email or FB or blogs...a couple of days or more may be tough. I KNOW I waste far too much time with media (internet, movies, tv shows, video games etc), but in looking at the coming generation, well, I really worry for them.
When after ONE day, one of the participants can say: Honestly, this experience was probably the single worst experience I have ever had. Seriously? My goodness what a pampered breed we are offering forth to the real world. Too much time in the virtual world I guess...how on earth will these pansies ever handle REAL tragedy??? My guess is, amidst - let's say - a flood of lava approaching their house they will text the "Whitehouse.gov" and ask for a helicopter maybe? Or get online to seek advice from FEMA?
I sometimes get odd looks with regard to the extent to which my wife and I police my kids' media time. Some no doubt think us cruel or maybe brand us luddites (hypocritical ones that is), or think we cripple our kids electronic future by denying them a Facebook account (seriously!?!)...but my thinking is that the REAL world is never going away, whereas the virtual one will die in one way or another. Much of my parenting is geared toward steering my kids away from being ME. I fail on many fronts, but not on this ONE point.
Withdrawal symptoms...wow...not a good sign people.
What will we do if the power ever goes out? How much confidence do we really have that the future will be ever be "connected" and "wired"?
I am once again reminded of "The Machine Stops" by E.M. Forster. Is it becoming less and less difficult to imagine this vision from 1909 coming true? A time when we are all connected to one another through "the Machine" and it provides for all our needs?
Today is our anniversary. There is little doubt that I am a lucky man...Grandma will be graciously watching the kids tonight while we head out for dinner and, well, just some time alone doing anything out of the normal (like a nice meal out).
Marriage and family life is the vocation where we(meaning non-monastics) most potently work out our salvation (with fear and trembling)...our relationships with our spouses and our children are (in my experience) pretty fair indicators of my own progress. I fail on MANY fronts, and frankly until I have that whole branch of holiness nailed down I'm going to try and utilize that glaring imperfection as a compass directing me to my own required efforts whenever I am tempted to judge others - which I am so often tempted and easily able to do.
I beseech your prayers on my wife's, our children's, and my own behalf that we may have many more years together filled with even deeper love, commitment, repentance, mutual support, and communion with one another and with our Lord through His Holy Church. Life is, alas, not all figured out in the half-hour time span of a sitcom...therefore we need each others support and prayers. I do will take for granted God's blessings, nor the hard work my wife must engage in to put up with me :)
A few recent Facebook postings from some folks I know has reminded me of something I'd not thought about much lately, and though I'm sure I've blogged about it before I think it bears repeating – if for no other reason than for my own sake and who knows maybe after the past few years I'll have a different perspective. I make no pretensions to suggest I have anything terribly unique or profound to say here, but here it goes anyway.
There is, I think, a very simple reason why in the west Easter as a holiday has in general and in comparison to Christmas, shriveled over time. Now I cannot say precisely when in the west the season of Christmas began to eclipsed Easter, but I do operate under the assumption that at one time (as it is now in Eastern Christendom)this was not the case. I don't think there can be any argument that we, as a nominally Christian society, have pumped steroids into the Winter holy day and largely have watched from a distance as the Spring holy day slowly atrophied. Now please keep in mind I am not making an moral claims about the superiority of traditionally Orthodox cultures - I've no doubt there are huge swaths of people there who really believe that (e.g.) Christos Anesti actually can be translated as "Happy Easter!"
Now, some will no doubt wish to believe that the atrophy in the west happened because Christmas is so much easier to commercialize and I don't fully doubt that that plays a role in the matter, but I suspect it is completely secondary and that something deeper has allowed that to happen to begin with. Could theology play a part?
First, if I were to compare and contrast the FB postings of my Orthodox (admittedly mostly convert) vs. Non-Orthodox friends, it quickly becomes evident that Easter (or as we prefer to call it: Pascha) really was not comparatively that big of a deal to my Non-Orthodox friends...I do not mean that in a negative way, I'm simply comparing the volume of postings that related to Easter/Pascha. And, if you consider the volume of postings related specifically to “Resurrection” then the contrast becomes even more stark. And I would suggest this might reveal the theological difference that leads the west to find celebrating Christmas far more easy than Easter.
Let me give a generic example of the sort of FB post I am talking about: “Happy Easter! Thank you Jesus for dying for us!” This struck me as odd when I read it, but it reminded me that in my past I really didn't know what to do with the Resurrection of Christ. If Christ's work on Friday assuaged the righteous anger and judgment of God, then what did Sunday have to do with it? (“It” being salvation.) So what did the Resurrection mean to me? It's hard for me to remember...I cannot recall ever preaching a sermon that focused on the Resurrection, but there were plenty on the crucifixion, in fact I recall the fad of preaching at length about the horrific medical implications of being crucified. Please keep in mind I am speaking solely of my experience here...but I do wonder if my perception was remotely unusual. I think I saw the Resurrection as simply being an apologetic point, proving that Jesus was God incarnate.
Easter in the west is intimately and perpetually connected to a man being cursed, beaten, and nailed to a cross in order to kill him, and then that being devoid of hell harrowed and death defeated as was necessary for our salvation then it's difficult to get past it being a holiday about death. In contrast, Christmas is about a little baby being born: God with us! What's not to celebrate!?
Of course, salvation isn't just about Friday. As you may recall in Mel Gibson's movie, the minute Jesus dies on the cross, Satan (who had up until that time worked hard to get Him to avoid the cross) screams in apparent agony and defeat. I'm sure that 15 years ago I would not have thought twice about this depiction, but now I'm aware of the Eastern tradition in which Satan sought to kill Him and that death “took a mortal body, and met God...it took earth and met heaven.” In other words, the devil (and death personified) rejoice in Christ's death, but later find they've bitten off more than they can chew. Like a Trojan Horse virus of devastating proportions, the operating system of death and the devil is irrevocably corrupted. Death is trampled down by death and this I think changes the perception of Easter – radically. At least it certainly did for me and for my family. Over the years we have watched Easter/Pascha begin to grow in our lives, becoming bigger and bigger and more and more important to us. In time we've watched it – to some degree – eclipse Christmas in order to take it's proper place as the “Feast of Feasts” and “Holy Day of holy days.”
Without Sunday, Friday has no meaning. In fact, without last Sunday none of this crazy thing we call life has any meaning.