21 December 2007

Diversion: Christmas Meme

I'm not normally into memes, but DonVA (of Ramblings of a Single Dad) tagged me, and in the interest of holiday cheer, I'll play along. Incidentally, though, this often too-cool for its own good heart of mine was warmed considerably by his revent post. I highly reccomend reading his entry for the Christmas meme...particularly if you need reassurance that there are some great people still around in the world.

As for Christmas memories...

Well, I don't have anything that remotely compares to Don's, but what I do have are certain feelings about Christmas that were informed from early memories. When was a very young, Christmas Eve was a whirlwind; I remember that breathless anticipation, and the equally breathless exhaustion, of making both sets of grandparents' houses, as well as both my mom and my dad's grandmothes' houses, on the same night. These were 12 hours of gifts, foods, and fun times. We'd start for lunch at my mom's parents' house, and have sandwiches and deli chips (a tradition that is still upheld on Christmas Eve, although now that some of us are Orthodox, and still in the Fast, there is soy cheese and Light n' Life bologna on some of the trays), and we'd exchange gifts there. Then we'd all load up and go to my grandmother's mother's house, where my mom's family had their major get-together (her first cousins--all 7 of them, and their families), where we had the big, celebratory feasting dinner, followed by more gifts. Then, our family ducked out early to hit the tail-end of the big, celebratory feasting dinner at my dad's mother's mother's house, where, of course, we were obliged to eat again, so as not to hurt any feelings. Then, after the gift exhange there (the highlight being the year that all the kids under 16 were given LazerTag guns and target vests!), we went to my dad's parents to exchange gifts with them, and my aunts and uncles (none of whom had any children of their own until very recently). Afterward, we'd go home, where after putting us (my siblings and me) to bed, often well after midnight, my parents would begin setting out Santa gifts, assembling things as necessary. In retrospect, there were many Christmas Days where mom and dad hadn't slept in close to two days--God love them!

Christmas, as you can guess, has always been a time of excess for me; although, thinking about it, excess doesn't seem like quite the right word. Perhaps largess might more appropriately describe the feeling. I suppose I was a spoiled child, although I don't recall ever expecting gifts; I've always been prone to magical thinking, so I suppose I just took gifts given to me with the understanding that all people, everywhere, gave liberally and fully. I realize now, as an adult, that this was, likely, not always the spirit wherein my gifts were given...but the simple wonder of childhood is that you can believe the best in people, judging their actions to come from better impulses than they may have had. Oh, Blessed! How much we have to unlearn as cold, jaded adults! How much do I wish that I could again see the world as I did as a child...a place of vast and substantial love, filling in all the cracks between us.

This is the important lesson of Christmas, I think, and one that is particularly meaningful to me, especially now that this isn't the rhythm of life for the celebration of the holiday. Since mom's grandmother's death (may her memory be eternal), we now get together with her family two weeks before Christmas itself; since dad's grandmother's death (may her memory be eternal), we no longer speak or have contact with any of his aunts, uncles, or cousins (bad family blood ensued). We still go to my mom's mother's on Christmas Eve for lunch, but now mom and I (and this year, dad also!) go to Church for Royal Matins that evening. Our Christmas meal and gift-exchange at dad's parents' house is never at a fixed date, but is decided by common consensus at the Thanksgiving meal; this year, we're going to be there for a late lunch on Sunday, after mom, dad, and I leave Liturgy.

The world seems a smaller place, now that I know that the magic wasn't really magic at all, but just my perceptions of the world. But in the proportion that my own little princedom has decreased, so has the larger world increased. Now, while I miss, on occasion, my misty-eyed, child-like wonder at Christmastide, I contemplate the truly cosmic implications of the fact that God has become Man, and he did this so that I could become like him. Truly, he has taught this man who worshipped the stars to adore him, the Sun of Righteousness.

I suppose all that is left to be said is:

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!


Incidentally, I'm tagging Karen, Katie, Petra, and Jacob.

13 December 2007

Taste and See

When I was in college, the main criticism leveled at Christianity (and let's keep in mind, we're talking Western Christianity here; I doubt many of my professors could even have named the Orthodox Church, much less given you some idea of its beliefs) was that it had done violence to the body. In other words, postmodernity has picked up on the strain of neo-gnosticism that seeks to drive a wedge between the body and the immaterial mind and/or spirit that runs right through the heart of Western Christendom these days. Sadly, most think, as I myself once did, that this swill is what Christianity is, and therefore it is rejected.

When I was floundering about in Western mysticism (I'll need to talk about that more at a later date), I dismissed such people; after all, if they weren't looking for the Transcendent Divine Will, and actually were concerned for the body! then they clearly were not on the same spiritual plane that I was--and therefore, not worth my time. Well, this is insanely arrogant, but that's what I thought.

Notice, though, that I believed, essentially, the same thing they did. The body and the spirit are separated; and, while postmoderns want to toss out the mind and/or spirit (we're not sure which we're talking about) in favor of the body only--and, Orthodox Christians take note, when a postmodern talks about "reclaiming the body" they mean giving in wholesale to the passions of the flesh--I had taken the opposite approach and disregarded the body in favor of the mind/spirit. What Orthodoxy taught me, however, is that this is the same error, just a different expression.

The beauty of Orthodox theology is wrapped up in a simple phrase that you'll often hear Orthodox people say to those who inquire about the Church: Come and See. This is a variation of the theme of Psalm 33 (LXX), that says "Taste and see that the Lord is good; his praise shall continually be in my mouth." Come and see--taste and see. We tell people that the best way to experience God is to taste him. This sensual remark is totally out of place in Western Christianity, where it would at best be seen as a metaphor. In the East, we literally mean that the best way to get to know God is to eat him, which we have the opportunity to do at every divine liturgy.

The Lord is good, because he came to save our bodies as well as our souls. He came to restore material creation to the beauty that God intended for it, not to annihilate it in favor of some "pure" disincarnate reality. The Transcendent God has become incarnate; God has a physical, material body in the person of Jesus Christ. The unknowable God has willing chosen to partake in our nature, so that our humanity might be deified! How does this not excite you? How can this self-revelation of God fail to incite you to want to tell everyone: Come! Taste, touch, smell, see, and hear the Word of God made flesh for our sake!

This understanding of who God is, and how we come to know him, is Orthodoxy's cure for the dangerous disease of modernity (and her child, postmodernity).

+Pax vobiscum

10 December 2007

The Value of Simplicity

I've said before that, as a new convert to Orthodoxy, the first six months or so, I was 'drunk off the incense.' There is a heady richness to Orthodoxy that, as a beer snob, I can compare to the first time I had "real beer" after thinking that beer was Budweiser (or other mass produced American swill). I grew up thinking that American Swill (tm) was what beer was, in much the same way that I grew up thinking the evangelical protestantism is was Christianity was. There is a direct analogy here. Genuine oatmeal stout::American Swill as Orthodoxy::evangelical protestantism.

This 'heady richness' in Orthodoxy makes for some interesting times for those not acquainted with it, at least at first. Like a man who had been starved for the first 22 year of his life, I came to the Orthodox banquet (to change metaphors mid-post; my apologies) and saw dishes of types and varieties that I never so much as dreamed of existing, much less ever thought would be spread out in front of me for the trying. So, being prone to gluttony (God forgive me!), instead of doing what you ought to do in such situations and just focusing on the two of three dishes nearest to you, I decided to take a spoon to all of them at once. (Incidentally, I did this also during my first Bright Week; I went as overboard with the feasting as I did with the fasting, and ended up putting my intestines into shock and spent an overnight in the hospital. Good convert lessons, these are.)

I am rapidly losing my point, as I tend to do, so I'm going to cut through here a bit and try to just make it; part of the 'drunk off incense' phenomenon is the sensory overload of Orthodoxy. Orthodox aesthetics appeal to me in great ways. The icons, Russian-style lampadas, deep-stained wooden altars...all of which I incorporated into my first icon wall (at mom and dad's house). I built the altar myself, stained it, mounted a cast iron cross on the front of it, made tons of print icons that I arranged in stacked, Russian style, used rich fabrics for altar cloths, etc. It is a very nice icon corner, if I do say so myself. But, since I've moved to my own place now, and am just getting things together for myself, my new icon corner (which I set up yesterday...it didn't feel like home until I got it up, which again is interesting how quickly icons have become the norm for me) was sort of assembled out of pieces of furniture I had. An old table from mom and dad's, a spare floating shelf from my old room in Lexington, a hanging lamp I bought on clearance from World Market, some candlesticks I bought at a second-hand shop, and just a handful of icons (my Pantocrator-and-Theotokos diptych, the Archangel Gabriel that Eric and April brought be back from Greece, my St. Jusinian that my godparents gave me at my Chrismation, and St. Anthony that I got at the Greek Festival this year), and a small silver-plated crucifix I bought on ebay, and an incense box I bought at a big box retail store, are all that make up the corner at present.

So, last night I did my evening prayers there, hoping to establish it as the place where I'll be doing my prayer rule now; I'll swear to you, I felt what people talk about feeling in their prayer rules for the first time. Although 'feeling' is misleading; I knew Christ was there, the way I encounter him at the Chalice in Divine Liturgy, the way I encounter him at Vespers service when we sing the Evening Prokeimenon. There is an ineffable wonder at this, which cannot truly be conveyed to those who do not know it themselves. These hidden things, these mysteries of the Incarnate God, are found in the simplest expressions of Orthodoxy, as well as in the rich and full ones. You'd think I'd know this, attending a mission that borrows space to meet each week, but sometimes, Christ needs to poke us with a needle to get our attention, because we would hardly notice the sword we expect to stab us.

St. John Chrysostom would be proud, I think, that I'm re-learning the value of simplicity. Learning to integrate simplicity into the practice of living Orthodoxy (which, btw, the indigenous Orthodox don't seem to have much trouble with--the problem is with the overthinking, overzealous converts) is a challenge I'm glad to take up.

+Pax vobiscum

06 December 2007

This is probably very wrong....

... and behavior not befitting a Christian, but I'd really like to celebrate St. Nicholas' feast day by punching an Arian in the face. :)


On the other hand, I'm glad that's a tradition that didn't catch on.

Enjoy the Feast Day everyone!

05 December 2007

It's my (sort-of) Name Day!

Reprinted from OrthodoxWiki (title links to article):

The Holy Hieromartyr Justinian of Ramsey Island, originally from a Breton Celtic family, was the confessor and spiritual father of Saint David of Wales. Ramsey Island was the site of Justinian's hermitage, and lies just off the extreme southwest of Wales, near the city of St Davids. His feast day is celebrated on December 5.

Saint Justinian was martyred by three of his servants who had been possessed by demons. The servants were driven mad and refused to obey their master, who was entreating them to work and not to lead an idle life. The servants then threw him to the ground and cut off his head. The murderers of the saint were struck with leprosy, and recognized that this was God's vengeance on them. They lived by a rock still called "lepers' rock", and after loading their bodies with heavy penances were counted worthy of forgiveness through the prayers of St. Justinian.

St. Justinian's decapitated body rose and took the head in its arms and descended to the sea shore. Walking across the water, it came to the port named after the saint, which is today a lifeboat station, and to the church now dedicated in his name: Llanstinian, near Fishguard. The saint's relics are now contained in a shrine behind the high altar of St. David's Cathedral (St. David's, Wales), along with those of Saint David.

04 December 2007

Thou Hast Deceived Me, O Lord!

20:7 Thou hast deceived me, O Lord, and I have been deceived: thou hast been strong, and has prevailed: I am become a laughing-stock, I am continually mocked every day.

20:8 For I will laugh with my bitter speech, I will call upon rebellion and misery: for the word of the Lord is become a reproach to me and a mockery all my days.

20:9 Then I said, I will by no means name the name of the Lord, and I will no more at all speak in his name. But it was a burning fire flaming in my bones, and I am utterly weakened on all sides, and cannot bear [up].

-Jeremiah 20:7-9

Some days, you just know what Jeremiah felt. When people you care about reject the Word of Truth, and you feel as if you can't bear to talk about it anymore because their hearts are hardened against it; it feels like the Lord is making a mockery of you, not giving you any rest from the arguments, nor making any apparent change in the heart of those with whom you are arguing. And when in my strong willed moments, I decide to clamp my mouth shut and say no more, I feel almost about to burst if I don't express the experience of the living Christ who is our God. What are we to do? We are not martyred for our faith, neither are all of us called to the white martyrdom on monastic life, yet we find ourselves often at a crux--at cross purposes between the desire to be silent when we know that our words will not be filled with the necessary humility, and the desire to shout from the rooftops of the joy and fulfillment we find in the path toward union with the unknowable God, through His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. What are we to do?

Most holy Theotokos, pray to your Son and our God, that we who are distressed in our hearts because of our own lack of wisdom are granted the knowledge to do His will, and that the law of Love that He has written upon our hearts will be made manifest to all those with whom we speak. Let us not presume to instruct, nor to crusade; let us instead be filled with the grace of the all-holy, pure, and life-creating Spirit, yea, even the Spirit of Truth, that we may know when to sow seed upon the ground of another's heart, rather than casting pearls among the swine. +Amen.

Prayer for Jared

+Through the prays of our holy fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, especially of St. Anthony the Great, St. John of Shanghai and San Fransisco, and of the blessed Fr. Seraphim of Platina, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.

+Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, who art everywhere present and fillest all things, Treasury of Blessings and giver of Life, come and abide in us, and cleanse us from every impurity, and save our souls O Good One.

+Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.
+Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.
+Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.

+Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages, Amen.

Our Father, who art in the heavens, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the Evil One.

Lord have mercy
Lord have mercy
Lord have mercy

+Most holy Theotokos, save us!

More honorable than the Cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim, thou who without defilement gave birth to God the Word, True Theotokos, thee do we magnify.

O God of spirits and of all flesh, Who has trampled down Death and overthrown the Devil, and given life unto Thy world, give, we beseech Thee, eternal rest to the soul of Jared Rhea, in a place of brightness, in a place of verdure, in a place of repose, from whence all pain, sorrow, and sighing, have fled away.

Pardon, we beseech Thee, every transgression which may have been committed by him, whether by word or deed or thought. For there is no man who lives and does not commit a sin. Thou only are without sin, Thy righteousness is everlasting, and Thy word is the Truth.

For Thou art the Resurrection, and the Life, and the repose of Thy child, Jared Rhea, O Christ our God, and unto Thee we ascribe glory, together with eternal the +Father, and Thy Most Holy, and Good, and Life-giving +Spirit, both now and ever and unto the ages of ages. +Amen

May our gracious and merciful Lord, who rose from the dead, Christ, our True God, through the intercessions of His Holy Mother and of all the Saints, establish the soul of His departed child, Jared Rhea, in the mansions of the righteous; give him rest in the bosom of Abraham, and number his soul among the just, and have mercy upon us and save us, for as much as Thou art good and love mankind.

Lord have mercy
Lord have mercy
Lord have mercy

+Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, especially of St. Anthony the Great, St. John of Shanghai and San Fransisco, and of blessed Fr. Seraphim of Platina, have mercy on us and save us, for as much as Thou art good and love mankind. Amen.