Only 3 days until Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1) premiers this Friday, November 19th. Here’s how mixed up and neglected our spiritual lives get - I’ve been more excited about the movie than I am about the approach of the Feast of the Nativity. Would I go stand in line for hours to attend Divine Liturgy? I’d like to think so but I don’t know if I’d be so happy about it.
Yes it has. I didn’t know anyone read this blog until a parishioner and friend asked me this morning before Divine Liturgy when I was going to post again. So at least one person noticed my long absence. No excuse for not blogging – I just didn’t feel like it, so there.
Well, what shall I talk about? Hmmm, Metropolitan Philip seems like too easy a target (but it sure is tempting). How about some religious news of the weird – is or isn’t Naomi Campbell going to become Orthodox after she gets hitched in the Temple of Luxor? Guess if you’ve got money you can get married any darn place you like.
Locally I was interested in the report of the Russian Church Outside of Russia accepting the Western-rite practicing parishes of the Holy Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church of America . Never heard of ‘em before this, which is surprising since their entire Texas presence is found in my home town of San Antonio not 5 miles from my front door. It appears to be a small house church in a nondescript neighborhood on the northeast side of town. I haven’t driven by yet, but did do the modern equivalent with a Google street view (forget the Germans and their privacy issues, I love this feature).
In the big scheme of things, I don’t think this will change the course of Orthodoxy in America since all ten parishes of this group couldn’t possibly contain more than 1000 souls. But hey, the soul of 1 or 1000 doesn’t matter to the Lord. The angels rejoice when just one person is saved, and we should too. Prayer for these folks is needed – they are coming out of the strange land of non-canonical Orthodoxy, bringing whatever baggage that might entail. Making a switch like this can’t be easy or done overnight. I’m reminded though that several of our strongest parish families came out of a local Old Catholic church many years ago. We’re not talking huge numbers either but what a benefit their witness has been for our Church and Orthodoxy as a whole.
Surprise! I am alive, but I’ve been playing hookey from regular blogging here since Pascha. That’s not to say I haven’t been busy, but I’m a little obsessive about my interests. Orthodox blogging has taken a backseat to my birding, birdwatching, blogging about birds, feeding birds and planning field trips to see more birds.
My other great passion is reading and I’ve had the pleasure of immersing myself in books for the last 6 months or so. I tend towards classics, natural history, hard sci-fi and anything food or food culture, but I’ve also recently gotten hooked on Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. In the past few weeks I’ve finished To Kill a Mockingbird, The Remains of the Day, Julia Child’s My Life in France, Cooking for Kings: The Life of Antonin Carême, the First Celebrity Chef, Robinson Crusoe, and I’m slowly slogging my way through Don Quixote (though why it takes 900 pages to convey idiocy and self-delusion is beyond me; I have a feeling the deep metaphysical meaning of the story is going to be completely lost on me.)
Surprisingly, of all these books, the one that has been the most overtly Christian, I’d even say Orthodox in its message of human sinfulness, spiritual awakening, and redemption through a monastic or hermit-like isolation, is Robinson Crusoe. It’s an early 18th century Protestant Christian morality story through and through, but why should we look at these kinds of literary works as peculiar to their time with no modern message. If any age needed some lessons in morality mixed with a good dose of Christianity, it’s our present 21st century. Is a work with this strong a Christian message still taught in high schools? Daily Bible study, fasting, prayer, scripture quotations, all things alien and forbidden in public schools. I’m sure it’d be a much more PC curricula if Crusoe explored his frustrated sexual longings in this book, rather than his thankfulness to God for isolating him from those temptations. (If you need a more substantial literary reason for including this book on a list of required reading for kids, consider that it is first truly English novel, setting the stage for all subsequent English literature.)
Could there be any kind of literature more appropriate for teenagers to read than the account of someone lost and alone, and trying to understand their place in the world? After suffering a nearly fatal illness that finally shakes his conscience free, Crusoe has a sincere conversion of heart, and begins a life of repentance and spritual revelation.
…reading the Scripture, I came to these Words, He is exalted a Prince and a Saviour, to give Repentance and to give Remission”. I threw down the Book, and with my Heart as well as my Hands lifted up to Heaven, in a kind of Extasy (sic) of Joy, I cry’d out aloud, ‘Jesus, thou Son of David, Jesus, thou exalted Prince and Saviour, give me Repentance’!
I can’t really give any perspective on this article, but taken at face value it’s a sad reflection on the state of Orthodoxy in Russia. The effects of communism and secularism seem harder to overcome then merely opening lots of churches and adding more priests. This news article may also have shaken the view of many Orthodox Americans (converts primarily) who tend to romanticize the mother countries of Orthodoxy and believe they hold a more pure, more vibrant expression of the faith then America. When you hear the words “Holy Russia” come out of someone’s mouth, you can bet it’s a zealous convert (and before anyone gets in a huff, I was a zealous convert once too!)
What these religious romantics don’t see from 4,000 miles away, is that Russia, Greece, Serbia, aren’t filled with godly peasants saying the Jesus Prayer while they work the fields. They love the idea of virtuous, saintly poverty, but it’s a snapshot of history long gone, or maybe never entirely true. In either case, these happy Orthodox peasants are now 21st century peoples with all the same problems, temptations and failures that Americans think are exclusively theirs.
I’m going to look at this article hopefully, not as some kind of doom and gloom prediction of where the Russian Church is headed. At least someone is saying “hey, we’ve got a problem that needs fixing”. I truly believe Russia is, at it’s very heart, a deeply, organically Orthodox country. That flame just need some proper fanning, some careful tending. In the meantime, American Orthodoxy can’t forget its own problems – let’s get on with our business and let the Russians do what they need to do to reclaim the title of “Holy Russia”.
This news story is almost as good as a Lucha Libre fight, except there’s more credibility in Lucha Libre and the costumes are better. In what can only pass for bizarro religion in America, the Fort Worth police are trying to figure out who threw the first punch in an altercation between some pushy Jehovah’s Witnesses and a hothead “priest” of the non-canonical, small potatoes Mexican National Catholic Church.
Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!
I’m a little slow on this, but I’m passing along the Paschal message of his Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah. The excesses of the Feast of Feasts got to me yesterday on Bright Monday. Too much rich food, too little sleep, too much busyness and activity. It’s been my usual practice to take this day off work and recuperate, but I couldn’t do it this year, and was really feeling lousy. In a way, I’m relieved the day of Pascha has come and gone. It’s a hard Feast to really connect with because of the busyness that accompanies it. The extras that attach to Pascha – the Pascha basket, the parish picnic, the baking, the cooking, the clothes to buy for the kids, the rushing and fussing – they seem to overwhelm the Feast and my simple enjoyment of it. It’s the same problem we have with the Nativity. How do you just stop the frenzy? Going to the services and not participating in any activities seems a bit extreme. There must be a balance somewhere, but after 19 years I still haven’t found it. Nor have I found a way to indulge my food cravings in moderation. Before the holy water has dried off the blessed Pascha baskets, I’m diving two-fisted into a pyramid-shaped Pascha and a side dish of sausage and eggs, washed down with wine.
Enjoy and meditate on the Paschal message of Metropolitan Jonah. He seems to have been writing it specifically for me and my festal gluttony. (Is it really possible to fall into sin so soon after the end of the Paschal Liturgy?)
Having passed the course of the Fast, let us feast soberly, giving thanks to God. Let our feasting never obscure the Feast of Grace, the experience of the Presence of Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord, in our midst, the Host of our Feast.
Christ’s Resurrection indeed does allow us to transcend the vanity of everyday life so that we may see the true majesty of God’s love, which for the good of the human person condescended even unto the Cross and death. It is therefore important for us to realize that by his Resurrection the Lord renews human nature by granting fortification of the inner strength of every Christian in his ministry to the Church, country, society, family, and neighbour.
His Holiness Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and all Rus, issued his Paschal sermon yesterday, and its message, addressed to the Orthodox faithful in a country thousands of mile away, could have easily been given to Americans living under the same pressures and stresses of modern life. You only have to read the newspaper or watch the news today and you’ll get an endless display of the vanity of life.
Well, it’s Tuesday of Holy Week, and only 6 days to Pascha. Are you like me and trying to switch your brain from visions of meat and eggs to the joy and peace of the Resurrection?
Yesterday afternoon I went to my all-time favorite country meat market to get the requisite Pascha sausage. I’m born and bred Texas Deutsch, so that doesn’t mean kielbassa. I had to get my sausage fix at Penshorn’s in Marion (217 W. San Antonio Street, aka FM 78), about 20 miles from San Antonio, close to my Mom’s house. It’s an old-fashioned meat market, still hand-cutting everything and the makers of, I swear, the best local German sausage you’ll ever eat in your life. The market’s future was in jeopardy in 2008 when a fire destroyed the original building. They’ve re-opened with a new, larger market and are better than ever. Penshorn’s makes the two traditional types – a dry beef sausage (garlic or regular, often made in the winter with venison), and a garlicky, peppery beef ring that’s sort of akin to a bratwurst, and unique to the German Hill Country of Texas.
Do you know what your car smells like with 16 lbs of smoky, garlicky, German sausage on a warm day? After 45 days of Great Lent, do you know what kinds of thoughts were going through my head with 16lbs of German sausage sitting on the seat beside me? I’m telling ya, the devil was riding in that car and he didn’t have a pitchfork; he had a bottle of brown mustard and a pot of sauerkraut.
Today is the first full day of Holy Week, the finish race of our lenten marathon. Beginning Sunday night, Orthodox churches started Holy Week with an evening service called Bridegroom Matins (don’t ask me why a Matins service is served in the evening). The service is based upon the parable of the ten virgins who went out to meet the bridegroom with their lamps. Only five were ready with sufficient oil in for the sudden appearance of the bridegroom, Christ. The other five were messing around with unlit lamps – unready souls - scrambling at the last minute to find oil to fuel their light. Matthew 25:13.
You could say that today then is the “namesday” of this blog – Cometh at Midnight. When I started writing an Orthodox blog more than a year and a half ago, the first thing I noticed about other blogs was that they all had catchy names. I spent more time trying to come up with a name then it took to write the first post. I have no idea why the words of the Bridegroom Matins tropar came to my mind, “Behold, the Bridegroom cometh at midnight…”, but it fairly summed up the way I felt as an Orthodox Christian.
We are all servants of the Lord but it’s the attitude and the way we spend our lives that distinguishes us from each other. Some spend their lives living as if Christ will return at any minute – in prayer, repentance, and charity. Others take a ‘tomorrow will do just fine’ attitude. Life is to be lived now, with as much fun as you can cram into it. Can you imagine their surprise when the Bridegroom returns? But for many of us, our lives aren’t so clear-cut between readiness for our Lord’s return and a life of spiritual neglect. We have days of intensity and attunement to our faith; when we feel like Christ is right their beside us. Other days, the worries of living, the pursuit of our own hobbies, interests, and passions, the busyness of our lives just takes over everything.
I must make a confession now that is contrary to what you’d think about someone who spends so much time writing about faith, religion, and Orthodoxy. Who is fascinated with the religions of the world as they relate to the Orthodox faith, and who loves to tell everyone how much I love the Orthodox Church. My confession? I am not a good Orthodox Christian.
What is a ‘good’ Orthodox Christian? Have I murdered anyone? Well, not physically, but didn’t Christ say we can commit murder in our hearts with a single thought? Have I gone to church and communed regularly? Yes, but did I prepare to receive Communion properly? Do I pray the morning and evening prayers? Do I read the Bible daily? Do I practice charity? Did I fast properly during Lent? No.
It’s Holy Week and I have to admit to myself and to the piddling few readers of this blog, that I’m one of the servants who frittered away Great Lent and am now faced with the fact that the Bridegroom is coming and I am that servant with the unlit lamp. I have spent more time thinking about my Orthodox faith then deeply practicing it.
You want to know the kicker about all this? God still loves me even when I ignore him, even when I procrastinate in my spiritual life. Holy Week is a fresh start, and as the old tent preachers say, ’the time has come to get yourself right with the Lord’. The Bridegroom tropar is a warning, but it also tells us what we have to do to get right with the Lord. This is our spiritual awakening at the midnight hour – “…rouse yourself, crying: Holy, holy, holy art Thou, O our God.”
Behold, the Bridegroom cometh at midnight, and blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching: and again, unworthy is the servant whom He shall find heedless. Beware, therefore, O my soul, do not be weighed down with sleep, lest you be given up to death and lest you be shut out of the Kingdom. But rouse yourself crying: Holy, holy, holy, art Thou, O our God. Through the Theotokos, have mercy on us.
Now if this doesn’t return the Catholic priesthood to its dignity and higher calling, I just don’t know what will. Yes, that IS a Catholic priest in 3-D glasses “appealing” to young people with a faith message that’s more vivid than the usual boring ‘ol religious programming on CatholicTV (yes, the news writer actually used the word ‘vivid’ in an article to describe 3-D TV programming!). Maybe I’ll be proven wrong, but I’m not convinced 3-D isn’t just in another one of its fad cycles. All I can say is that if 3-D programming were suggested for Orthodox Church media, I’d be asking why my tithes were being wasted on the kind of gimmicky hocum that makes American religion such a laugh sometimes.
(The only useful religious application I can see for 3-D technology is filming some poor, unwitting sinner getting ‘slain in the spirit’ by a TV evangelist and falling over on the floor – that should look good filmed in 3-D from a particular angle – kind of like a pine tree getting chopped down.)