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.
We converts worship the ground that monks and nuns walk on - sometimes to the point that we think our lives ought to look exactly like theirs. True to some extent I suppose, but I find that when I decided to be a hermit (whether in my prayer corner or in front of the computer) my kids really do not like it all that much. Or when I insist on complete silence during our meals except for my oldest daughter reading the philokalia, the meal usually breaks down into chaos and disgruntledness. The one time I became a stylite for a month my kids laughed and pointed fingers, inviting the neighbors to come watch. I generally try and say the Jesus Prayer while changing diapers, but find that my gagging frequently interupts the complex breathing patterns needed to obtain a vision of the uncreated light. The idea of doing the midnight office with all the kids collapsed into utter disaster when my wife faced restless children the next day and I faced (with sleepy eyes) dangerous viruses in the lab. How do those monks do it!
Ok, ok, enough. All this to say that last night I told some friends that I think I could be a monk easier than I could be a father. Half seriously. I believe that to be a good father, that I have to sacrifice as much as the monastics do: we have to sacrifice self. Well, I don't do a very good job of it...but I am trying.
The monks say their thousands of Jesus Prayers, while I will try and maintain a smile while I laboriously and continuously pick up thousands of disgarded sticky and ant-ridden Otter Pop wrappers.
Maybe the monks should consider a pilgrimage to my house? Salvation happens here (I hope) as much as it happens in the monastary, no? If not...what are we doing here at home?
(Off camera: "Honey, please don't buy any Otter Pops at Costco today!")
While small, one chapter in the book Touching Heaven is devoted to work and is entitled "Salvation and Sweat." Ahhh, how the evangelical radar begins to call out the "Sola Fide" Air National Guard at the first sign of this "boogie."
While this chapter is focused primarily on the importance and benefit of "work" (obviously physical, but less obviously the labor of the heart), I found myself ALSO pondering why my evangelical hairs stand up on end at the sound of the chapter's title.
I guess, in a sense, I do believe in "salvation by works", but with the footnote that we understand that our works are worthless and unable to save us without the love, compassion, mercy, and grace of the "lover of Mankind." I suppose if you see salvation as simply an offended God needing to forgive you, then salvation solely by grace without any effort on your part (besides faith of course - which if we are honest can become itself labroious)makes perfect sense. But if salvation is more akin to "healing", what then?
How many doctors have watched helplessly as patients have literally killed themselves by not following their prescribed course of treatment? Ever see a freshly repaired dog rip out his own stitches? (Ahhh...the grace and mercy of God in the form of a cone worn around the neck!) Salvation, without my effort, is somewhat like asking God to help me lose weight while eating a huge bowl of ice cream.
The mandate given to us BEFORE the Fall, was to tend and keep. The very next time we see the Hebrew word for "keep" being used is when the profoundly stupid and sad question is asked: "Am I my brother's keeper?"
Yes, of course you are. And you are your own keeper too. Tend and Keep - God will do the growing.
I just heard a story on NPR about a successful heart transplant and about how the recipient went on to win a gold medal at the "Transplant Games." At one point the story goes into the details of the emotional struggles that surviving transplant recipients frequent have and one part in particular really touched me. The recipient often grieves for the person who had to lose their life in order for the recipient to live, and in this case, the recipient felt like the spirit of her donor could hear her and so she began to speak to her; thanking her. She felt a connection.
I think humans have a natural (in the truest theological sense of the word) inclination toward feeling an unbroken connectedness with people who have died. In other words, we feel as though they are still with us, present and yet not present. How often do we hear of widows or widowers say that they talk to their "dearly departed"? It is like the "ghost" feelings of a leg amputated long ago.
A non-Orthodox friend once confided with me that he believed he understood the Orthodox practice of invoking the Saints because after his mother died he had a very profound sense that she was watching him and was listening to him. He related the feeling to me with teary eyed conviction, and a heartfelt nod when I told him there is no such thing as a "dead" Christian.
We are connected to our loved ones by our blood and our personal affections, and we are connected to the Saints by the Body and Blood of Christ Himself, and their affections for His Church.
So says the 9/11 commission. The phrase is suitable for prominence on many a newspaper this morning. But, there is no scoop here. They are right, we are not safe, we never have been and we never will be.
Shhhh...and it has nothing to do with terrorists. Because if they don't cause you to die, someone or something else will. Safety is not a right, it is an illusion.
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 11:07 AM [+] +++
This is an intriguing little book about one man's journey to Orthodoxy. I thoroughly enjoy his writing style and he offers all sorts of insightfull gems. I offer a couple here that I found this morning.
I had known the god who exists only in the vacuous universe between the page and the mind. Many were the moments when I was afraid of the silence in a room or the whisper in my soul, and nervously reached for a book about the God who might be trying to confront me, precisely so that I could avoid confronting Him. Yes, illumination comes at the hands of those who not only know about God, but truly know Him, and share Him with us in a book. But something happens to impair our openness when we reach for a book not as a doorway into deeper understanding, but as a distraction. Our soul takes a subtle wrong turn, and we wind up still looking over some hill or across some field at the place where we really need to be.
Most of my Christian life has been spent seeking to learn more about God, than in actually trying to meet Him.
In another part of the book , the author laments the utter ignorance he had from his protestant upbringing in regards to the wisdom of the monastics, he writes:
Why had these treasures been discarded and forgotten? Have the monks and nuns gone there to escape the world, or to confront it in themselves?
Again...how much time have I spent trying to confront the world in me as compared to the time I often WASTED in trying to confront the world outside me? The Church keeps driving me inward...inward....inward. Violence, ala Matthew 11:12.
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 10:14 AM [+] +++
Thursday, July 22, 2004
Gambling Your Life
One day, the village rich man was sitting down and trying to figure out how to make more money. Then someone came in to tell him the very sad story of how a not-so-rich person had died and his surviving wife and family were no longer going to be able to pay the rich man the money he had loaned them to build their shack. Of course he ordered their eviction and suddenly came up with a brilliant idea.
He called it “death insurance” until his lawyer and PR guy suggested “life insurance” (while being less technically accurate) would sell better. He would approach relatively young people, determine their risk of dying, and then charge them accordingly a monthly fee with the promise that if they died he would provide the survivors with enough money to prevent ugly things like “eviction”, “starvation”, “prostitution” etc from happening. The rich man was VERY excited because EVERYONE would see the importance – yes even the NECCESITY – of “life insurance” and as long as he hired the village statistical wise man he would be able to turn his idea into a very profitable business. And he did.
One of the rich man’s salespersons paid me a visit yesterday and presented to me a whole host of numbers – having accurately determine what the liklihood is that I or my wife might die in the next 10-15 years. He smiled and laughed and talked like he was my best friend as we together read phrases like: “in the event of James’ Death” or “in the event of Susan’s death” and “in cases of suicide” coupled with “in the event of accidental death and dismemberment.” As the numbers and “payout” talk spun through my head, I could not escape the image of being at a Las Vegas Black Jack table reading the house rules. We all know that the games are designed in favor of the house (I mean, jeez, imagine their electricity bills alone!) and in the game I was about to engage in…well you get the point.
And so we begin to ante up and send off a hefty (for us) chunk of change every month to prevent those nasty things that happen after someone dies. In Vegas they justify the loss of money with the term “entertainment”, and the rich man’s salesperson said besically the same thing, calling it instead “security.” One must try and keep that in mind, while knowing that the money will vanish into the rich man’s pockets, unless… unless my lucky number comes up and I hit the jackpot! Of course, winning the “Life Insurance” game is…um…not really all that entertaining.
I suppose, from the Orthodox perspective, it is good to be reminded of death – but do I really have tp pay someone for it? Furthermore, while I do like abit of gambling – I can’t help but feel like I am doing so with the devil when it comes to “life insurance.” Also, it seems if we REALLY had a Christian culture that we would not have such a thing, and instead we’d do that whole “taking care of widows and orphans” thing.
In a way, “life Insurance” is like Microsoft – kinda hard to live without them (ahem…except with “life insurance” it’s kinda hard to die without them). Where is the Linux alternative though? Oh, I know…just get a billion dollar dividend from your company’s stock – no problem. Sigh…alas infectious disease research in a non-profit group simply doesn’t answer.
No doubt you have heard about the interesting post Fr. John had in regards to an "Atheist Invocation" at the Tampa City Council meeting. Of even more interesting note is the fact that the Atheist in question found his way to Fr. John's blog and posted a brief comment. You can read the article about the pending invocation HERE.
Anyway, Mr. Harvey (the invoker) is a member of an Atheist organization, which to me is an intriguing thing. If you think organized religion is a bad thing, consider the organized religion of Atheism. I understand where these folks are coming from (as I am a former Atheist): they see religion as a darkness that is in need of enlightenment...quite literally it is Atheist evangelism (as spelled out in article 4 of their purpose statement). It is a fascinating thing though, to read their choice of language which is so rich with moral imperatives - none of which it seems to me can be logically founded upon Atheism.
We have Bible-thumping Angry Christians and we have "Origin of Species"-thumping angry Atheists. Closely related species, just different colors.
I support Mr. Harvey's "right" to say whatever he likes before the Tampa City Council. Having read the "parameters" that the counicl insists upon in regards to their official "invocations", I also support and encourage the utilization of the right that Orthodox clergy have to decline invitations to "pray" there. After all, is it even possible to offer an Orthodox Prayer without invoking the Holy Trinity?
Kudos to the "Atheists of Florida" for offering those of us who are "the product of unfounded dogmas", sympathy and understanding. I suppose I'll take sympathy (even condescending) anytime I can get it. Maybe that sympathy would inspire donations to pay for my PhD and through such education perhaps rid me of my "unfounded dogmas"?
While I do not consider myself a potential candidate for MENSA, I am none-the-less a person of reasonable intelligence, at least on par with the general understanding of evolutionary scientists who rank human intelligence as being that which afforded us the ability to succesfully dominate the earth. And I am of course a Manly-Man sort of man who owns a boat, loves fishing, drinks beer, enjoys scotch, occassionally smokes a cigar, sweats in a Manly-Man fashion, requires 2XL T-Shirts and couldn't give a crap if they were purchased at Abercrouchy and Bitch, and adores using power tools in even the most absurdly unneccesary situations.
So, imagine my suprise when a distinct Girly-man scream escaped my mouth as the whirling plastic strings attached to my 40cc Gas Powered Trimmer began to eat away at the naked flesh of my ankle yesterday.
Well here is the story if you feel the need to read it, but the gist of the report is summed up with the following interpretation: America is becoming less of a Protestant nation.
One of the big problems with ANY survey (like any data or any passage of scripture) is that they require interpretation at all. And religious surveys are even worse, because let's face it, religious people love to avoid answering questions directly. Looking at some of the "facts" in the study:
The number of people claiming "no religion" went up 5%.
Scenerio: "Oh, no way man...I'm not religious, I have a personal relationship with Jesus." Ding Ding Ding Ding, check the box marked "no religion!"
The number of people claiming to be protestant will dip below 50% by mid decade
Scenerio: "Oh no way man...I'm not a protestant, I despise organized religion, I go to ______________ Christian Church where we simply preach the bible and salvation by grace." Ding ding ding ding, check the box marked "christian" and skip the "protestant" box.
It seems to me that this study says a whole lot of nothing and that the survey takers really do not undertsand the intricacies of the study...perhaps I am wrong, because I could not find an example of the survey - but I do know for a fact that there are many people who reject any notion of being called a protestant, and yet sure talk and believe alot like a protestant.
Never fear, Protestant America, you are still Protestant - you just dress differently and are confusing the survey takers. On a more interesting note, religious minorities (like me) grew from 3% to 7%! Yeah! Let's hear it for us Orthodox, Muslims, Eastern Religion adherents, and Native American Religion adherents. I guess we were all under "other."
If I had my choice, I think a balance of converts and cradle would be ideal in a Parish. My Parish has virtually no cradles (except kids and young adults who were born in ours or another all-convert parish) and I think we suffer for that lack of "old" blood.
Then again, there are no doubt a number of "old" blood parishes that could use a tranfusion of convert Zeal. But that Zeal untempered by some maturity can get a little “crazy” if I may use the term – no matter how good a Parish priest may be in providing guidance. A problem that frequently comes up for the average convert is that many of them (us) are VERY highly read and when they finally do enter the Church some come virtually carrying a copy of “The Rudder” under their arms and a whole host of presuppositions about Orthodoxy.
This is Orthodox, but that is not. Orthodox do this, but they do not do that. The service is done this way, but not that way. For some it can be a rude awakening to discover (frequently by visiting another – even local – parish) that the Church is not all that organized and monolithic. One common example is our Parish’s habit of touching the priest’s garments as they parade through the people during the Great Entrance – I was rather surprised to learn a year or so ago that this is actually a rather unusual practice and (if memory serves – as it frequently does not) is a hold over from the EOC days. But so what? We know for a fact that the Great Entrance and the little entrance were radically different when the words of the liturgy were first penned and so we must be atuned to this fact. Perhaps in a few hundred years all parishes will do the Entrance like us….or…the practice will simply shrivel up and die and we’ll be left with having to deal with other things – like our salvation. Oh dear, I have found a tangent. My point in this paragraph was to say that converts (me included) all too frequently think they have Orthodoxy all figured out and that we know what is and isn’t Orthodox.
But as I sit back and type this, I am thinking that there is one thing that “old” blood might be able to remind us: that Orthodoxy is not something we hold, but rather it is something that holds us. And that being the case, we ought also to remember that Orthodoxy is ALIVE and that trying to become Greek, Arabic, or Russian simply will not do. We are American Orthodox and like those cultures that have had this faith for much longer than we have, we ought to be able to give ourselves the chance and the time to allow this religion to permeate our lives and thereby it will naturally begin to flower and produce fruit in and of itself. I believe that somewhere out there, there is going to be an authentic and uniquely American expression of the Orthodox faith – though likely none of us will ever see its maturity. Regardless, we would gain much from having both converts and old world cradles tilling the soil together.
For the time, we need (or certainly I need) to relax, sit back, and be wholly willing to admit that I do not know neccesarily what is and isn’t Orthodox and nor do I know what is neccesarily the “official” or “authentic” liturgical practice. Zeal can be a good thing, but it is my experience both within and without the Orthodox faith that untempered Zeal avails nothing and can paralyze.
Somebody found Paradosis via this google search. So I though I might indulge the seeker with a couple of options:
"I promise to loathe your body and never to touch you."
"I promise to loathe your body, count it for nothing, and therefore violate it at every opportunity...and since my body is equally loathesome, I promise to allow it to violate and be violated by everyone."
The two classic historic extremes that found their way naturally into Christianity when gnosticism reared its ugly head. Hope that helps our seeker, if they find their way back - perhaps if they'd like to hear the real "secret" teachings of Jesus they might try their local Orthodox Church.
I know I've said it before, but it never ceases to interest me that the Orthodox Wedding service has NO vows at all.
Holy Saint Irenaios, hammer of the gnostics, pray unto God for us.
The Monastic Home S.F.has an interesting post which tends to focus on the interrelation and comparability of monastic life and seminary life. I don't think anyone could argue that the "goal" of ther monastic, priestly, and layperson's life is the same - the difference is how we move toward that goal.
I myself am more intrigued by the parish/home life and the monastery. We frequently hear about how marriage and vows of celibacy are different roads to the same destination and surely this is true. BUT, should we expect the scenery and terrain of these roads to be identical.
I am sometimes leary of homes or parishes that sometimes try and mimic monastic life too cloesely. When is it too close? I dunno...I guess when it just seems overly odd (hehehe)? One might argue that you can look to the old countries and see how closely parish life models that of the monastic life, but in that regard I am clueless.
I think convert parishes are distinctly vulnerable to "going over the top" and I suspect that we have seen that happen in a couple of cases where Bishops have opted to come down hard on particular parishes. I have a post brewing about convert parishes and the particular problems they tend to face.
It just seems that certain methods and means of seeking salvation do not match well with other styles of life and that mixing the two might be an erroneous apporach. My home is not a monastery, and lucky for the monks and nuns, their monasteries and services are generally devoid of screaming children.
Perhaps someone with a bit more Orthodox experience might shed more light on these thoughts I am having...any cradles out there?
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 10:11 AM [+] +++
What is the Story of selfishness in my life? Part 1
It is an intriguing question. One that I lately find myself often pondering while I meander my way through said selfish life. It is not a question I myself opted to pose to myself and I do not wish my blog to become some sort of venue for my own public self-psychological analysis…well on second thought, it may actually be too late to avoid that. None-the-less, it is a question assigned to me and I have little doubt that it fits right into my life as an Orthodox Christian in pursuit of restoration.
I have often touted the virtues of Orthodoxy and how it so often hammers upon us to quit looking outward and to focus on looking inward. Human “nature” (please note the quotes), wars against this constantly and I certainly see it in myself and therefore, consequently, I see it in others within Orthodoxy. It is a subtle thing really, judgement that skillfully masks itself as piety.
Selfishness, self-reliance, and individualism (it seems to me) are all pretty much the same thing. Much of “modern” AND POST-modern culture is founded and rooted upon aspects of it. So is sin. Human “nature”, remember? Not even the post-moderners can escape their propensity toward self without grinding their way through the process of Theosis. It’s no good to talk about community and love, and it is no good to wander about giving to the poor and starting programs to “solve” complex sociological problems…unless, UNLESS there is a foundational change in our own nature. Becoming Orthodox (or perhaps it is the other way around) has convinced me that this “transfiguration” is not something that happens “magically” (it is a fine thing to turn this term against those who would so label us who adhere to sacramental theology) in the recitation of some “Sinner’s Prayer.” It is a synergy that is made possible by grace, but none-the-less requires MY participation.
That participation has been sorely lacking in my life. The Church, for the last 2000 years has been prescribing to her adherents that way in which we can enter into that process of restoration. That process where (as I still vividly recall Fr. Jonah Paufhausen saying) our “I” becomes “we.” The way to build community, to feed the poor, to solve complex sociological problems is to till the soil of our hearts – to rid ourselves foundationally of the selfishness that so isolates us from EVERONE – even those who share our home and our genes.<>It begins on our kness, on our face, before the Holy Icons and Relics, amidst and within the Holy Sacraments, and amongst (and with) the people of the Church who together seek to walk the same way laid out for us all. Followers of the prescriptions.
The Story of selfishness in my life, then, is first of all not a new one and it is not one that I alone suffer from. It is as old as the day when someone plucked a particularly dangerous fruit from a particularly dangerous tree in an attempt to “just do it” on their own.
At Last! Free Birth Control! Call to see if YOU qualify for "Take Charge!"
Hmmmmm...well, putting rape aside, when exactly did human beings lose the ability to be in charge of their own sex lives? Are we slaves to sin (as some Christians might believe - I was under the impression that we have been set free?) or to our DNA (as it seems MOST of the world believes - though they might deny it outright for some of the more nefarious implications the presuppostion has.)
Furthermore, AIDS prevention in some African country (Congo?) has had apparently had significant success by promoting abstinence and also faithfullness. Now they are beginning to emphasize condom use more, using the following "buzz phrase": "A, B, C : Abstain, Be Faithful, if you Can't - use a condom."
IF YOU CANNOT...read it again...IF YOU CANNOT ABSTAIN, IF YOU CANNOT BE FAITHFUL!
Oh how wonderful it is to be able to fall back onto those comforting words: I cannot, therefore I am going to get "Take Charge!" I cannot, therefore I am going to use a condom!
I am sure you have all heard of the story of the return of this icon to Russia, but a friend of mine just hooked me up with some of the most extraordinary pictures on the OCA website in documenting the return. Cl;ick the pic below to see them all. Amazing!
The cynic in me is forced to wonder: What sort of events would draw out as many people here in the USA?
After dropping my mother off at her house I was in a hurry to get home. As I bolted round the corner of my truck to find my way to the driver's side I noticed the two young boys/men dressed sharply with nametags approaching me - I tried to ignore them.
"Good evening sir!" one called out, "How are you doing tonight?"
As I opened my door, I obligingly turned to face them and nodded, "I'm okay thanks."
They handed me a card, with a rather lovely picture of Jesus exiting the tomb on one side and a “free video” ploy for converts on the other. I took the card graciously as I climbed into the truck.
“We just wanna give you this free video about Jesus Christ,” one of them smiled.
“Hey! Nice Icon,” I said as I looked at the image.
Nothing…maybe they didn’t hear me.
“I have one too,” I reached over and let lay in the palm of my hand the small Pantocrator, which hangs from my rearview mirror.
They leaned down and looked in.
“Gentlemen,” I said after a dramatic pause, “I’m afraid I don’t have time to chat, but I’d be happy to talk more about Jesus Christ if you would like my email address.”
I could tell that one of them was apprehensive about this and it seemed he would have preferred to just let their video do the talking. The other however (how biblical that they go out by two’s!) was a bit more zealous I guess and immediately took out a pad and pen. I gave them my hotmail account: “Irenaios.”
“Interesting name,” the zealot said.
“He was a second century Christian saint,” I told him.