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


Don said...

Sounds like you're coming along just fine.

Justinian said...

Thanks, Don! Very kind.

The trouble isn't believing now, it's living it. I am striving for consistency; it would be great if I could just get morning and evening prayer done each day. I can see evidence of spiritual struggle here, because never in my life have I owned an alarm clock. I've always been an early riser, but now that I try to get up and do morning prayers, I often oversleep and have to rush to get to work on time. That's the amazing thing about Orthodox practice that most people don't get: spiritual warfare can be as simple as oversleeping.

Have a great day!


Brigitte said...

I can't believe you had to go to the hospital for breaking the fast! oops :)

It is interesting how Orthodoxy seems so complex and stimulating, and yet it is at the same time very simple. I hate to admit it, but since my conversion I have rarely picked up my Bible. (Almost like I took the other extreme.) But when I did read from it the other day, I was amazed at how differently I read it now, and how easily. It reminded me so much of my prayers, Orthodox lingo, and other concepts that I have only recently come to understand. Of course, it reminded me because the Word is the source of all those things!...and people think Orthodox throw the Bible out with the bathwater! Now I am even more intrigued to read the Scriptures. I think I will get a new Bible, though, in order to avoid all the cheesy commentary I wrote on the sides! I bet you know what I'm talking about :)

That would be a funny post: go back through my old Bible and revisit all the exclamations I wrote in it.

Justinian said...

Steve Robinson from Our Life in Christ comments frequently that "Orthodoxy is about all those passages in the Bible that you didn't underline." How true that is. The reason I departed from Christianity as a teen was primarily because I could not longer believe in the validity of the Scriptures. Now, of course, that's just silliness, and I understand so much more know about reading Scripture through the Church, and it makes so much more sense (duh, all things work best when you use them correctly).

I also am in the market for a new bible, and I've got my eye on that leather-bound Orthodox Study Bible with complete Septuagint OT translation. Thinking about it makes me a little giddy. It'll be nice to start fresh, and with something that, although it doesn't have canonical approval, will at least be the Greek scriptures made accessible.

Chocolatesa said...

Lol at the overeating during Bright Week, although it must not have been fun at the time!

I agree about simplicity, I've recently realized how much cleaning out and organizing I have to do in my life, materially and financially, to simplify everything.
As for prayer rule, I have yet to start saying my morning prayers, and I've been baptized for 4 months! I'm horrible about getting up early. My morning routine is get up late, get dressed, brush hair, grab something for lunch, and leave. You'd think that only takes me 5 or 10 minutes, but it's usually 20 or 30. I'm incapable of moving fast in the morning lol.