Wednesday, September 19, 2012

OFFICIAL WIFE: In Response to What do I get out of church?

I always ask Alex to look at my posts before I make them public. I want to be honest, but I don't want to offend anyone too badly. He knows people, in general. This is an area of expertise he has-- and he knows the specific audience. He tells me who reads.

He wanted me to review his most recent post because he mentioned me.

"But I have to mow the lawn EVERY WEEK." This is a really good analogy.

"My wife asks me every Sunday upon my return from church how it was." What he doesn't talk about is what I say on Fridays, "Was Jesus there?" It takes two. Oh, how well aware am I of this, as a person who does not attend church. I know he's sad when no one else shows up. He's struggled but conquered and rarely cancels anymore. His entry, "I am the Choir," really resonates with my current experience and my history.

I just wanted you to know that I ask, not just, "How was church?" but also, on Fridays, "Was Jesus there?" It's a big deal for both of us. I am aware that I am staying quite comfortably at home.

What do I get out of church?

This is an interesting question that has been knocking around the empty space inside my skull for a long time. My wife asks me every Sunday upon my return from church how it was.  Thankfully the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is pretty reliable, and so I can typically explain how I enjoyed Fr. Benedict's usually excellent and useful sermons.

But the question remains, what do I get out of church?  Well, I get to worship with other Orthodox Christians; I get to sing very loudly some of the finest melodies that I know; I get to partake of the precious body and blood of Our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ.  That is what I get.

The followup comes like this, however: how did it make you feel?

And this is a question that I don't know how to answer.  And the fact that I can't answer the question leads me to an intuition I have had for a very long time that my friend Preston Salisbury identified on the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.  What does it mean to worship God?

In the Orthodox world, it is work.  Worshipping God is our daily job.  This is a labor of love, but like all labors of love it is work.

I have a quip I like to throw out to people who have asked me if I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  I like to tell them that I have a professional relationship with Jesus Christ.  My relationship with Christ is a vocation; it is a career.  And right now, that career consists of prayer, and fasting, and going to Church every week.

It does not consist of ecstatic visions of angels.  It does not consist of feeling warm fuzzies when I complete the Prayer of the Hours during the Sixth Hour.  I don't experience rapturous joy at taking Communion.  In the Orthodox Church, we are welcomed to communion with this prayer: "With fear of God, with faith and love, draw near."*  Fundamentally, just like at my saecular job, church is not about what I get out of it.  It is about what I put into it.

Going to church is like mowing the lawn, in a sense.  It is in the Orthodox view necessary for the proper maintenance of the human being.  I go to church to worship God and partake in the Eucharist.  I do not go to church to feel aglow with happy thoughts.  When I am at church, I am at my work.  Mowing the lawn of the soul, if you will.  Once the lawn is mowed, I am ready to edge the lawn, and clean up the crepe myrtles, and cut back the azaleas, and maybe even plant that garden.  But I have to mow the lawn EVERY WEEK.

Does this mean that going to church is a chore?  Well, it can be.  Some days it's hot in church.  Some days, there are only you and the priest's family and the choir director in church.  Some days, everyone in church has a cold, or a sinus infection.  Some days, there's a memorial service after church and you really want to get back to Hattiesburg.  But that is part of the job of being a Christian.  In the immortal words of the narrator of The Big Lebowski, "Some days you eat the bear, and some days the bear eats you."

The saints did not come to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit by accident.  We read how in the monasteries they worked, and suffered, and fasted, and prayed.  We read how they were tempted by demons, and how they fell victim to the seven grievous sins, and repented, and were healed.  In the Brothers Karamazov, Elder Zosima, an undoubtedly saintly and pious man, dies and his body, in the utter defiance of the conventional wisdom and hope of the townspeople, rots foully, instead of being preserved incorrupt.  The world is a harsh and terrifying place for the holy; how much more so for us?  Through it all, however, they worked at being Christian.  They did not wonder what they were getting out of it.  They concerned themselves with what they were putting into it.

The work of the church is the work of the church.  And we are all called to it.  Just because it is sometimes unpleasant doesn't make it any less necessary.

* Both in ROCOR and at St. Tikhon's Seminary, there is no love.**

**This is inside baseball.  But then, this is a blog about being an Orthodox Christian in Mississippi married to a Protestant whose theology is best summed up by Oliver Cromwell.***  So this whole thing is inside baseball.

***I am not kidding about the Oliver Cromwell thing.  She thinks he may have been a little soft when it came to his approach to eliminating bear-baiting.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Universal Exaltation of the Holy and Life Giving Cross

Tomorrow marks one of the most solemn feasts of the liturgical year.  The Universal Exaltation of the Holy and Life Giving Cross commemorates several occasions illustrating the prominence of the Cross in the faith.  The OCA website precis on the feast describes the power of the Cross, demonstrating even that pagans and heretics recognized its sovereign healing power.

Heraclius was the elucidator of the heretical doctrine of Monothelitism.  More importantly, he made Greek the official language of the Eastern Roman Empire.  Finally and most importantly, in his campaign against the Persians, he recovered the True Cross which they had seized.  This return of the Cross to Jerusalem and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is one of the occasions commemorated tomorrow.

Additionally, the feast commemorates the discovery of the True Cross by St. Helena, the mother of St. Constantine the Great.  Because of her discovery of the Cross, St. Helena is regarded as Equal-to-the-Apostles by the Church.

The Cross is a symbol of the ultimate power of God, and the redeeming love of Christ for the world.  For that reason, the Church has ordained a strict fast for tomorrow.

Tomorrow during the Liturgy, instead of the Typical antiphons, the Trisagion hymn, and the ordinary communion hymn, we will sing the following hymns (texts from the OCA website):

The First Antiphon

God, my God, attend to me!  Why have You forsaken me?  (Ps.21/22:1)

                  Refrain: Through the prayers of the Theotokos, O Savior, save us!

Why are You so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
                        (Ps 21/22:1b)

                  Refrain:  Through the prayers of the Theotokos, O Savior, save us!

O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer; and by night, but find no
rest. (Ps 21/22:2)

                  Refrain: Through the prayers of the Theotokos, O Savior, save us!

You dwell in the sanctuary, the praise of Israel. (Ps 21/22:3))

                  Refrain: Through the prayers of the Theotokos, O Savior, save us!

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

                  Refrain: Through the prayers of the Theotokos, O Savior, save us!

                                                The Second Antiphon

O God, why have You cast us off forever? (Ps 73/74:1)

                  Refrain:   O Son of God, crucified in the flesh, save us who sing to You: Alleluia!

Remember Your congregation, which You have purchased of old! (Ps 73/74:2)

                  Refrain:  O Son of God, crucified in the flesh, save us who sing to You: Alleluia!

Remember Mount Zion, where You have dwelt! (Ps 73/74:2b)

                  Refrain:  O Son of God, crucified in the flesh, save us who sing to You: Alleluia!

God is our King before the ages; He has worked salvation in the midst of the earth.  (Ps 73/74:12)

                  Refrain: O Son of God, crucified in the flesh, save us who sing to You: Alleluia!

The Third Antiphon

The Lord reigns, let the people tremble! (Ps 98/99:1)

            Tone 1           Troparion of the Feast    

O Lord, save Your people
and bless Your inheritance!
Grant victories to the Orthodox Christians
over their adversaries;
and by virtue of Your Cross,//
preserve Your habitation!

The Lord reigns, let the people tremble! He sits enthroned upon the Cherubim; let the earth quake! (Ps 98/99:1)

                  Troparion of the Feast

The Lord is great in Zion; He is exalted over all the people. (Ps 98/99:2)

                  Troparion of the Feast

Bow down in worship to the Lord in His holy court! (Ps 98/99:9)

                  Troparion of the Feast

(Instead of the Trisagion)

Before Your Cross, we bow down in worship, O Master,
and Your holy Resurrection, we glorify.

Communion Hymn

The light of Your countenance has shone on us, O Lord. (Ps 4/5:6)
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Nativity of the Theotokos

Imagine my embarrassment last night at Vespers when I realized that Saturday was the Nativity of the Theotokos.  I had forgotten completely about it, so focused was I on the Elevation of the Holy Cross on September 14.

So we went through our normal Daily Vespers routine at 6 pm, and this morning I awoke at 6 am to make the drive to Christ the Saviour in McComb.  I took some video that may not have turned out too poorly.

The Nativity of the Theotokos is one of several important feasts of the Church we have in September.  Indiction is the beginning of the Church year, and occupies an interesting position in the Church calendar; it is treated as a feast of the Theotokos, coming as it does in the gap between her Dormition and her birth.  Father Benedict's sermon today was about the importance of the Theotokos in the plan of salvation.

Salvation is not a solitary practice in the Orthodox Church.  We are all struggling along that road together.  But salvation is not merely a process for man; it is a plan of God's.  The Theotokos, child of two elderly, pious Judeans of David's line, was selected out of time to bear Christ for the salvation of all men.  Holy Tradition tells us that the Archangel Gabriel spoke to both Joachim and Anna separately, telling them that God would answer their prayers for a child, and that that child would be dedicated to the Temple.

From about the age of four years, the Virgin Mary lived her life daily in the Temple, serving the Lord along with other children so dedicated.  Today we commemorated her birth, and the reification of God's plan for man's salvation.

Troparion of the Feast, in Tone 4

Thy nativity, O Virgin,
has proclaimed joy to the whole universe!
The Sun of righteousness, Christ our God,
has shone from thee, O Theotokos.
By annulling the curse,
He bestowed a blessing.
By destroying death, He has granted us eternal life.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

I hereby accept all blame for anything that goes wrong in my marriage.

I hereby accept all blame for anything that goes wrong in my marriage.

OFFICIAL WIFE: Isaac (curse word included)

We survived. We overreacted, over prepared. We-- and I mean that in a very large multi-state way-- are damaged goods. The positive effect is we got bit once, so we know to put on gloves.

I am very glad that the issue of the media's omission of Mississippi during this and Katrina has come up. I was afraid to mention it, but there are so many others who think the same thing. Katrina hit Hattiesburg-- and hundreds of miles around. In fact, Katrina hit Hattiesburg straight on, not New Orleans. New Orleans flooded. I was here in Hattiesburg for the eye, but that little dot with wings that the weathermen show is only the center of a very very big storm. I urge you to cross-reference with radar. So much more land is affected.

New Orleans is a major city where lots of fun may be had. New Orleans is our Las Vegas. Still, a human is a human. The focus on NO was wrong. The news workers should strive to give accurate reports including all relevant happenings. To them I say, "You're not making reality TV. There's a difference. Have pride." As a consequence of the public opinion that resulted from their reports, many grants are only available to the three counties of Mississippi on the coast. I work with a charity that repairs houses for those in our area who cannot make repairs themselves-- disaster, age, accessibility mods and otherwise. I started this job right after Katrina when we did a lot of roof work, and the consensus by grant givers is that our area was not affected by Katrina. WE WERE HIT BY THE FUCKIN' EYE.

Everyone- right now-- stop watching the news. Never watch it again. Talk to actual people, please. Entertainment news is such an awful thing.

Back to present day... Flooding, not winds, is the biggest cause of damage for Isaac. McComb, where Alex's church is, was actually evacked well after the storm due to flooding. I have no reports. My church contacts are in Hattiesburg and Jackson. I urge you to rely on personal contacts for information rather than the media.