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[The Creation of the Chicken]

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.
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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

A Yearning for Advent Amidst a Billion Speeding UPS Trucks (Part 2)

There is indeed, I sense, a new yearning for Advent in many evangelical circles. I stumbled across the "Internet Monk's" blog (no, he is NOT a real monk) who says he is "on a post-evangelical journey" (being "post" is very hip...as you know), and he has an interesting post about celebrating Advent.

There are some excellent suggestions that we can ALL take note of, but what interests me is that I also see many suggestions that are pointing evangelicals to ancient traditions which they may surprised to learn are alive and well and PRACTICED.

But number 6 is in actuality a sad one: the notion of buffet line traditions kinda makes my stomach churn. I'm sorry but you cannot hop down to your local Orthodox Church to be blessed by the Christmas Vigil and then walk away only to return the following year. It is not supposed to work that way. Such activities are exactly the very thing he warns against: "entertainment."

Our traditions and our practices are not stand alone components that can be pirated and expected to yield the same fruit as intended. If I may say, it is a part of package deal. You do not "audit these courses", you commit to and live them full-time. And when you do, they truly become alive...otherwise, they are no different than the "massive pageants." On the other hand, I would not dissuade anyone from coming and seeing...I would just condemn the attitude that one can make a regular practice out of experimental tradition gleaning. It's a bad idea and is the pinnacle of the all too common spiritual self-diagnosis and prescription.

You'll also note in the comments of that post that someone actually devoted a whole blog to "adevent4evangelicals." I will not over-burden you with further links, but anyone familiar with the Po-Mo blogs and such will recognize a movement toward more traditional Advent practices of some sort. It's quite the fad, really.

Now, one common aspect in evangelical yearning for Advent is a push against materialism in in exchange for social charity as is seen at Advent Conspiracy. This is indeed a very noble endeavor, but it is nothing new we must recall. The Church has ALWAYS prescribed periods such as Advent and Lent to be times that include almsgiving. Why? Well, in part because they are also times of repentance....times NOT to see the rampant materialism around us, but to see the rampant materialism WITHIN us. This is the Orthodox way, and I would say it is the way of our Lord. Do we not see in our Lord the one who will - with great love - pierce our own hearts and souls whenever we come to Him with complaints about others or the world around us?

As I was saying, Advent isn't only about almsgiving and escaping the materialism around us. Buying nothing on "Buy Nothing Day" may plant a seed, but it doesn't nurture the garden of your soul and it certainly doesn't weed it.

A large component in the Advent "package" is Fasting, and as I spent what little time I could afford going through evangelical "resources" for Advent, I could find absolutely nothing about fasting. I often find myself surprising people with the notion that some Christians have (STILL HAVE I should say) regularly scheduled times of prescribed fasting. "Huh," they will say (here in Seattle), "I thought only Muslims did that sort of thing." Gee, people, how is it they know more about Muslim Ramadan that traditional Christian Advent and Lent? Maybe it's a Seattle thing. Anyway, Fasting is very much like weeding the garden and nurturing the good seeds.

And of course, it is a time for intense prayer and participation in additional services. Again, tending the garden.

For myself (and perhaps to you other Orthodox out there), I am reminded of the treasure we have in the traditions and practices of our Holy Church. The wisdom of the ages, handed down to us. Brothers and sisters, that which others are yearning for and actively seeking is laying clearly right before us. Let us make sure we are engaging them fully, for we rob ourselves otherwise. And, in focusing on our traditions, we perhaps won't have time or need to worry about whether the clerk at Walmart is allowed to say "Merry Christmas" or what a mess the UPS trucks are making of our dirt roads.

To those yearning for Advent: taste and see. In the Orthodox Church, that which is good for you during Advent is even better for you year round.

The Church now calls us to meet Christ Who comes from heaven. What can we do in order to meet Him like the Magi, and not like Herod? "Ye that desire life, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking guile. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it." It tends to be hard to do this; we are weak when it comes to everything good. But the Son of God even came for this: in order to strengthen us. Not for naught was He born in Bethlehem, which signifies "house of bread." He feeds us with heavenly food, His flesh. "God, the Lord and Creator of all, as a babe in the flesh, is worshipped in a poor manger, crying out: eat My body and through faith be made steadfast." These words of the divine Babe are directed to us. Let us hearken to His call! Let us follow the Magi; let us hasten with the shepherds! Our churches are now that cave of Bethlehem. Not illusory, but in reality does He, Who is now being born in His most pure flesh, rest in them. Let us worship Him; let us offer as a gift our thoughts and desires; let us confess our sins, and let us taste of His immaculate Body and Blood. Whoever did not do this earlier, let him at least accomplish it now, when the star of Bethlehem is already shining! Our minds will be enlightened and the heart will hear:

"Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, good will among men!"

-St. John Maximovitch

...offered by Dn. fdj, a sinner at 3:27 PM [+]


Dear James,

Always appreciate your writings. What I find so frustrating is how endemic materialism is to our society...it is the fuel of the economy and perhaps the only "religion" that most folks seem to embrace, either actively, or tacitly. Is there any aspect of life that "isn't" exploited for crass commercial reasons nowadays?

If Protestant Christians are searching for more meaning this time of year and find some comfort in the practices of Orthodox Christianity, how is that a bad thing?

Warm regards,

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:55 PM  


Thank you Michael...few and far between take the time to read long posts ;)

>>how is that a bad thing?

Oh it isn't at all...in and of itself, I think. As I said:

"I would not dissuade anyone from coming and seeing...I would just condemn the attitude that one can make a regular practice out of experimental tradition gleaning. It's a bad idea and is the pinnacle of the all too common spiritual self-diagnosis and prescription."

By Blogger fdj, at 4:32 PM  


If I hadn't visited an Othodox church one wednesday night I wouldn't have converted two years later.

It seems to me that if protestants are coming in the door for any reason we should rejoice and welcome them, even if only for one service. Even if only to glean from the corners of our fields.

If they can learn from us how to pray with Holy Icons, how to read the Fathers, how to give to the poor, then we should be happy that they are closer to Orthodoxy than they were before they met us. They belong to us. Let's be like the father not the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son.

By Blogger Matt, at 10:31 AM  


I guess I'm not being clear. I am not in any way, shape , or form saying people shouldn't visit or that they should only visit for specific reasons.

Everyone pay close attention: I'm just saying the idea; the concept; the practice of "experimental tradition gleaning" is a bad idea. It takes these traditions and rips them like saplings out of the soil in which they were intended to grow. I stick by that proposition and did not at all suggest that said proposition be applied in the format taken by the older brother of the Prodigal Son. Actually, I didn't even mention the proposition had any practical application, I don't think. Of course, your analogy breaks down Matt when we consider the Prodigal Son didn't bail after the party...but now I'm just being silly.

Seriously though: What I wrote is rather different than asking visitors to leave or not come at all. I'm not being critical of an individual or a class of individuals, but of a concept.

If the concept leads someone to Orthodoxy, GREAT! But, it doesn't change the "fact" (as I believe it to be) that picking and choosing from various traditions to suit your perceived needs can be a very dangerous game to play especially for those for whom such a practice (and its validity) is a cornerstone of their Christian praxis.

By Blogger fdj, at 1:25 PM  


I for one don't advocate selling my faith in the market place ( seeker type activity ) but I do get excited when I see Protestants come into the Church. Maybe a seed gets planted, but then maybe not. As a former Calvinist I can only say my journey began with baby steps to Jesus.

Robert (Nicholas)

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:17 PM  


Yes, let the come Robert. Let them come expecting a dusty museum and find a vibrant life. Let them come expecting to have an interesting experience in the Christmas season and find a way of life.

But we all know this to be true: The Church is the Ark, at some point one ought to commit to staying aboard. Jumping overboard to regain one's personal piece of driftboard after a visit is ill advised. None-the-less this doesn't mean we stop reeling in those who should like to visit.

By Blogger fdj, at 9:38 AM  


Dear James,

I must confess that I'm still uncomfortable when I attend my local parish. My wife has taken to it like a duck to water (might be because she was raised in the Episcopal church), but many of the practices still seem alien to me. I fear I have been ruined for church by my earlier experiences. Perhaps that will change as we continue to go to church. I still find that my biggest challenge is not what I feel comfortable doing on Sunday morning, but how I interact with my staff, volunteers, and family, and whether, as Scrooge said at the end of "A Christmas Carol," whether the spirit of true Christmas is in my heart at all times.

As far as picking and choosing practices, I agree with the danger of it, although Bishop Ware wrote that we make the traditions of the church alive by engaging them and embracing them individually (I'm paraphrasing this poorly). What I took him to mean is that blindly going through the motions without really understanding the meaning behind the activity really is the stuff of a dusty museum.

Thank you for your perspective and thoughts.

Warm regards,

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:25 PM  


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