For many months, our parish has been engaged in securing the services of an iconographer and working to develop a plan for the decoration of the church, and through research, prayer and visiting other parishes, we have come along a course of discovery about our faith, our church and each other. Unlike so many of the committees we’ve endured over the years… Continue Reading
The more time I spend in this church, the more I understand how tremendously I underestimated her wonders. This is not saying that I came into her with anything less than the best expectations you as you would expect at any marriage, but only that my expectations were far too modest. Continue reading…
The following just seemed a fitting follow-on, if not a complement to my last piece:
“The Church of Christ is alive and free. In her we move and live through Christ, Who is her Head, and have full freedom, because we learn the Truth and the Truth makes us free (cf. John 8:32).
You are in Christ’s Church whenever… Continue Reading
They say, “If the shoe fits, wear it”, and so as it comes to anti-Catholicism, there may be a large number of variations, but the truth is that while some seem to slip into these shoes, it’s the odd fit we notice, or the shoe squeaks, and on the whole… it’s just as they say, “ain’t fittin’”.
Three thoughts: First…. Continue Reading
Life comes to us more unpredictably like the weather than we suspect – no matter how carefully we script it. And so, asked to prepare a toast for my son’s wedding for all and on behalf of all… though perhaps not in so many words, I scripted something for a wedding where the couple.. as my daughter put it (more or less): “If you could set all the specs into a wife machine… like they had such a thing… she is exactly the girl the machine would spit out. And since she’s here and real, you have to wonder that maybe there is such a thing… dunno. Anyway… all those things about my brother that bother me about him? They don’t bother her… fact is, she seems to love them.” More than that…
To be second born… it’s something I know as the second of two. I’ve worked and lived with the first born and their sense of rule (and rules), their sense of “getting it”, their sense of entitlement. More power to them… truth be told in our hearts, we know we all want the same in our unrepented lives – for it’s there we all feel our ways toward claiming our rights as first born. After all, we are each unique and there will never be a repetition… and we each sense this in ourselves as well. But second born… it’s a birth into a society not of one, but one of many… and perhaps a little less singularity is or should be refreshingly somewhat more humble. Face it… our friends are already there… they may not know us, or like us, or even accept us as more than usurpers, rivals and “competition”, but it’s ours to turn that greeting into a welcome, into friendship, and love.
Through the course of Lent and especially through Holy Week, we’ve heard the stories of Christ’s first born, and we gentiles are the second born. According to the Fathers, we’re the foals of an ass… which explains a lot if you know what I mean. And maybe if the first born were stiff necked, this self-appellation is somehow more acceptable to those with whom we were meant to be kin. Yeah… they get the attribution… and it fits. Only we seemed to have failed at rising to demonstrate lives that might dispell their distrust. Perhaps they measured our shoes right at the first after all. And no question now that our family’s going on near two thousand years, we’ve sort of blown our opportunity for a fresh start, and real invitation. So what do we do now… other than fast, pray, give alms… and do the work we’re given.
And so it’s this we do… for days, seasons and years. Perhaps it might fashion us as a people… who become not just another close crowd, but truly an open people of God worthy of restoring the comity in this family. But mostly for now …we seem to struggle just where we are. Maybe that’s the era… these last days where we claim a humble out rather than think more widely… and if our hearts are truly as hard as some say, perhaps that’s not so bad. And yet so long as we’re open to grafting in more wannabes like ourselves our false divisions focusing more on our starts than our work… maybe we’ll make progress in spite of ourselves. For if “cradle”, “revert” and “convert” (even Christian, Jew, etc) were descriptions that mattered, then maybe our Gospels might have had more to say about Jesus’s youth. Yeah… they actually do say something, but they don’t stop there as if birth is the be-all and end-all. For the truth is that for every St. Basil born into a pious family… for every two there may be an “in” and an “out”, or more harshly, for every Cain an Abel.
The burden of birth… as somehow explaining all does violence to God’s love shown over and over in the changes wrought in the Prodigal, the Harlot, the Tax Collector and the Thief and so many others… and violence as well to his astonishment and commending of the faith of the Centurion, the Samaritan and so many others. And yet this joy and reality of the second born cannot erase the joy of the love in one’s first born… and those of no relation at all who drop in and stay in our hearts – those much further and wider from the center of the circles in our lives and who nevertheless express their kinship with us and become our brothers and sisters in Christ. Consider that for all our handwringing over our fallen churches and vacated faith, God is working great wonders farther beyond… in the mission fields of China, Africa and more. Let us lift our gaze from the navel of our own misfortunes and celebrate our bretheren’s with a welcome that offers our friendship in hopes of renewing our own spirits. And look more closely to see the miracles God works here… in spite of our blindness to that which He chooses over our often misguided preferences.
And so Christ’s mystical body… whether in the Eucharist or the Resurrection… is light and sweet, unrecognizable and challengingly incomprehensible. And yet in this challenge, the greatest seems to be whether we will elect to allow a few things to clarify in our communication to ourselves and those about us. For indeed there is little that we say or think we understand in looking back, and yet when we express our love in Christ, in His people, we find things simpler. And maybe this is enough: to love and glorify God… His people and His Creation… all that which we have been given in this Garden… and to see it so. Maybe now after all this prep… we can lift ourselves to the liturgy after the liturgy… this true work of the people. And so after these Forty plus days of worship in the first, let us attend …to it.
Christ is Risen!
Earlier this year, I finally doubled up on a Sunday and made my way over to attend the pan Orthodox Vespers for the Sunday of Orthodoxy. As the Washington DC area has been blessed to have a large number of parishes, the effect of the service generated an authentic vision of the Triumph of Orthodoxy with a Metropolitan and 30-plus priests from five jurisdictions. More than that, for the first time I had the experience of our worship as not a people of God, but in fact as God’s suffering people. As Orthodox faithful, we can go off in uncreative ways here… seeing ourselves alone as God’s suffering people. But what I mean to refer to is not just ourselves, our Orthodox selves in particular as the faithful people of God, but the Orthodox as icons of all believers, and our service as an re-enactment of a restoration of the faith and worship of all people. Maybe that’s an odd thing to think …just because we’ve run through this and a ceremony which walks a restoration of church “art” into the houses of worship as though it were a civil right march, but maybe not either.
Ours is a land and a time where all of us have fallen from True Faith. Some of us are on the road or have been on the road to recovery for some time, others of us are stuck in a rut and struggling to get back on the pavement, and of course there’s a third group of us still tooling happily along a wrong way “as if”. We do all three… all of us. Yes… even those Episcopalians everyone seems to enjoy making so much fun of and feel superior to…. yes, even they want in some corner to be a people of God… and if they capture that third way better, we’re remiss if we think they capture it alone. They don’t. We’re there, too. Everyone of us. And so if we really do allow ourselves to see each of these groups separately and unconnected to the struggles of the other – unconnected from our own struggles, we miss much in the Christian life. Our Christian life in that case becomes a life a part rather than a Christianity that renews and restores all people. and is a part of all of us. It’s a “handy” small Christ we can put in our pocket and take where we want, but it’s not the Christ of the book of Acts that converted thousands on Pentecost…. let alone Peter and the Apostles.
So if icons are truly a window into heaven, and for this modern guy… yeah… increasingly I see that… then the Triumph of Orthodoxy may itself be a window into the heaven wherein the church – our church – becomes an icon on earth for all people. And then maybe we’re actually getting somewhere. The truth is that all God’s people are no longer in our churches… whether these churches are Orthodox or something else, and if there is a unique gift in Orthodox spirituality, it is the challenge to see ourselves in this, to see and experience this falling away as part of our story, to see the Prodigal worshippers as ourselves, to see our Church as wayward in its time – time and again, and to yet see the Triumph of Orthodoxy as a broader renewal and restoration of the icons as our story as well, as the restoration of ourselves and our worship, too. This too can happen, and it does because it has: Both the Fall and the Restoration. And that given a chance, given open hearts where the head and the ego (the same!) can for at least a moment take a back seat and we can “let the Church be the Church” as was intended… we can have that again. And at least let it be our prayer that God make it so.
And if we look at it this way, it doesn’t seem that hard nor does it even seem corny, goofy or all the other sorts of old foggy stuff we normally associate with our society of creative anachronism. Rather, in a dysfunctional world, the story of a group of people divided unreasonably against themselves gathering to re-enact and “model” if you will a point in time when their forebears sucked it up, picked up an image of a glorified saint and marched off to worship in ways that said, “Yeah we’re done with all the mock worship, the faux christian life, the humanity lite and ready for the real thing”….and now, we’re ready to crucify ourselves bit by painful bit in love of one another… yeah, that’s a message we could give.
So this day and in this Triumph of Orthodoxy it seemed to me that we were meant to be fashioned not just as an icon of a day long ago, but of a day yet to come. I felt as though we really were one people… a people of Orthodoxy in whose image worship was restored even as the icons themselves were restored to the church. And this worship wasn’t ours alone as though made up out of our heads, but fit into a pattern not made by human hands, fit into a mold of glorified humanity, or better, humanity glorified in the gilded image of divine beauty… as the Divine project would have it in making man was at last completed with the last words of Christ’s Passion in John’s Gospel, “It is finished”. And yes, there is more gold brocade in the living icon of this moment, more clergy and less lay folks than might be fitting, but we’ve had five plus years of a united, pan Orthodox clergy association… and how many years for our pan orthodox lay activities? Mmmmm. Right. Okay. Got it. So maybe it takes a long time to climb out of the catacombs? Yep. But if we let our anti-clericalism continue to be the excuse for not making the effort ourselves, then in the immortal words of John Wooten, we are preparing to fail by failing to prepare ourselves. And if we do not come together as a church of one faith in Orthodoxy, as one true American people chosen and allowing ourselves to become Orthodox, how can we possibly expect anyone to consider that we take the Savior at His word, that we should all become one? And hence our orthodoxy becomes not a faith for all people but for us alone… fitting for those seeking shelter in the catacombs, but not for those who’d chance a battle with Babylon to lift their souls to the heavens.
No one could describe the Word of the Father; but when He took flesh from you, O Theotokos, He accepted to be described, and restored the fallen image to our former state by uniting it to divine beauty. We confess and proclaim our salvation in words and images.
As we begin the Great Fast, the temptation to wonder the point of it all, “Can we do this?”and as it unfolds even “Can we keep doing this?” FWIW, I find my enthusiasm is always high until that first plate of Lentils and rice looks back at me from the placemat… and then my ardor cools. But none of this is about diet, or achievement, or anything other than bending our will away from serving ourselves – quite literally in this case, and more toward love and serving others. For by this small step of fasting (and all the disciplines the Church gives us) and the series of small steps that each year’s Great Fast brings and even each day that we manage within it – it’s by all of this that we begin to awaken to making a less conscious, more natural bending towards behavior more becoming in our Way. The point is to find Christ less in the momentous singular acts of giving, and more in the everyday moments God places before us… as in, “It ain’t much, but if you’ve got a moment, would you take a look at this and give it a shot?” Fact is, He’s done the big stuff. The idea that He’s saving something really important “just for us” to do down-the-road and we can just skate by for the time being… waiting for that big day… seems a bit of a presumption. Even we know we’d fail at that. And more to the point, the follow-0n that we’ll just say, “Hey…. I tried. That’s enough, isn’t it?” Well, I’m just not so sure. Did we do our job… the one we were REALLY asked to do, or the one we chose for ourselves a tad beyond our skill level… ’cause it looked cool and all? Grabbing the headlines is one thing. Having them read the way we’d like often nothing but a fantasy. As the Great Basketball Coach once said that “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” Do the little stuff. See it as important. We fail here, too, but our chances with time… lot’s of time… years and even a lifetime… is that, yes, with training… and this IS our training, we can do this. And if we can do this, we can take on much more. But ordering our lives this way and the tasks we set ourselves to is important… even if we can’t (always) see it that way.
One day Zosimos was talking about humility. There was a certain sophist present who, hearing what he said, wanted to enquire more deeply into it and he said, “Tell me how you can reckon yourself a sinner. Do you not see that you are a holy man? Do you not see that you have already acquired virtue? Do you not see that you are fulfilling the Commandments? How can it be that doing all these things you still reckon yourself a sinner?”
The old gentleman did not quite know how to answer, and he said, “I do not know how to explain it to you, but it is quite true.” The sophist then brushed this aside and repeated his request to know how this could be true. But the old gentleman still could not find a way of explaining it and began to say with his usual holy simplicity, “Do not try and confuse me. I tell you this is exactly how I feel.”
Since I saw the old gentleman hesitating to reply, I said to him, “Is this not rather like sophistics or medicine? When a man is studying it carefully and is practising it little by little, by doing the work he acquires the state of mind proper to a sophist or a doctor, and he is unable to say and does not know how to explain how little by little he was led into that state of mind, for the soul absorbed it imperceptibly. The same sort of thing is found as regards humility; the work of fulfilling the Commandments generates a state of humility and the process cannot be explained in words.”
When he heard this Abbot Zosimos was glad and embraced me and said, “You have found the answer; it is as you say.” The sophist, hearing this, had his difficulty laid to rest and accepted the explanation. For the elders used to say that by doing certain things we intend [to cultivate] humility; when the state of true humility is generated [in the soul], no one can find an adequate description of it. – Dorotheos of Gaza, “Discourses and Sayings”, “On Humility” pp. 99 – 100
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