If Christian culture is to be renewed, habits are more vital than revivals, rituals more edifying than spiritual highs, the creed more penetrating than theological insight, and the celebration of saints’ days more uplifting than the observance of Mother’s Day. There is great wisdom in the maligned phrase ex opere operato, the effect is in the doing. Intention is like a reed blowing in the wind. It is the doing that counts, and if we do something for God, in the doing God does something for us.
I could have accepted this as true before I became a more faithful participant in the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church, but having seen how the liturgy and the sacraments have worked and are working to change me without my being fully aware of it, I can testify to the truth of this from experience. Here’s what a big deal this is to me: if a wealthy patron offered me a big salary and a lovely house to move to my beloved France to live and raise my family, I would turn him down, because what I am given by my little country parish is priceless. It is far more than church; it is a culture, absorbed into one’s bones by the liturgy, the Psalms, the ancient hymns, the incense, the repetition.
Archive for the Meditative Category
What struck me, first, was that they have long catechesis — one or two years. They’ve even got a chart (see the last page here).
Second, they use lay Catechists, and actually dismiss Catechumens for instruction before the Liturgy of the Faithful. (Of course, they’re a big parish — perhaps too big for Priests to catechize everybody.)
Third, they emphasize that Holy Orthodoxy is the end of the line. The Catechumen is not just joining St. Andrew Parish, but is joining Orthodox Christianity. If work takes them off to a burg where the only Orthodox Church is, say, Greek, and liturgizes in Greek, and people ask stuff like “Why are you here? You’re not Greek” — tough luck: that’s your parish now, buddy. You don’t go hankering for English at the Assemblies of God or something. (Even then, St. Andrew loses 10% within 5 years, which is less than Orthodox “recidivism” nationwide.)
Fourth, converts need the Church, not vice-versa. They don’t pander to converts. The sponsors actually vouch for the readiness of the candidate.
So: was I ready? Am I “all in”? If I spend more time at that beloved vacation spot where the Church is ethnic and they don’t sing very well, will I be faithful, or will I walk out – again, I’m sorry to say – because I’m “not enjoying it” and the weather is so beautiful?
As Father Gregory reminds me, our late Metropolitan sometimes said “Never underestimate the need for catechizing the baptized.”
Although I am a mere Reader, I’m going to make bold to post and briefly connect a reading and a devotional on it.
It caught my attention that the cleansing of Naaman’s leprosy by bathing in the Jordan River is appointed as one of many readings for the Vespers of Theophany. Apart from the Jordan, what has this story to do with the Lord’s baptism?
I assumed that it was another of the many ways in which the Church reads the Old Testament typologically:
Typology is an approach to the interpretation of the Scriptures found in the New Testament itself, and in the writings of the Church Fathers, which sees certain people and events in the Old Testament (Types) as foreshadowing things fulfilled in the New Testament (Antitypes).
(OrthodoxWiki) I actually began to read the Old Testament typologically when I was yet a Protestant, as I moved from generic Evangelical to somewhat more historic Calvinism. Evangelicals tend to read – and boast of reading – the Bible “literally.” But with sensationalist eschatology as the issue driving me from Evangelicalism, I began to see that the New Testament did not read Old Testament prophecy literally very often. Again and again, we read of some event in our Lord’s life as “fulfilling” “what is written” in ways that are quite un-literal.
So it is with the Church’s reading of the Naaman/leprosy episode, read as a type of Baptism:
Saint Irenaeus connects the Baptismal Mystery with the cleansing of Naaman the leper as follows: “It was not for nothing that Naaman of old, when suffering from leprosy, was purified upon his being baptized, but it served as an indication to us. For as we are lepers in sin, we are made clean by means of the sacred water and the invocation of the Lord from our old transgressions….”
The cleansing of Naaman points to the mystical nature of Holy Baptism but also warns against excessive, rational defenses or explanations of the Church’s initiatory rites. Certain well-meaning analysts observe that there are numerous instances in which those who were baptized as infants apostatize as adults from the Christian Faith, and so they condemn the practice of infant Baptism. These critics assert that initiation into Christ should be reserved for those who fully understand the commitments they are making. Thus, they say, candidates for the rite should reach the age of discretion. But does anyone really understand what God accomplishes?
(Dynamis devotional for January 13. Dynamis this year appears to be reflecting on each of the Vespers readings, over a period following Theophany proper.)
I like the connotation of the word “Mystery” as the Church uses it to describe what the Western Church tends to call “Sacraments” (or in some Protestant churches, “ordinances“). Does anyone really understand what God accomplishes?
There’s more to the devotional, which is well worth reading. I commend it as a possible addition to your Prayer Rule.
In response to “standard, monergistic, anti-ecclesial, sentimentalist Evangelical” silliness (the twist being the it was delivered in a YouTube rap/rant), Fr. Andrew Steven Damick posted an irenic point-by-point response.
It was is if he had proposed to abolish Social Security – the famous “third rail of politics.” 19,000+ people viewed the blog, and many of them intended to use the comboxes to shout down Fr. Andrew or convert him (back) to a preference for cotton candy when he’s glimpsed the King’s Great Banquet. Mindful of the proverb about dogs returning to vomit, he declined.
I can’t help but view his Tuesday blog as a further response of sorts.
I spent roughly 30 years in some variant of Evangelicalism before I became equivocally Evangelical/Calvinist (it wasn’t clear to me that the two were really compatible because of Evangelicalism’s dominant bad eschatology, Dispensationalism, which Calvinists traditionally rejected, but I still felt kinship with Evangelicals).
20 years later still, I left that all – Evangelicalism and Calvinism – for Orthodoxy, still feeling that millions of Evangelicals just needed to hear Orthodoxy to heed it and embrace it. To me, Orthodoxy felt like the fulfillment of nearly 50 years of errant Christian life, and I assumed that others would feel the same.
Nearly 15 more years has left me doubting that. I’m afraid, for reasons I still haven’t deciphered, that most Evangelicals are content to wallow with the pigs and eat the pigs’ leftovers (conformity to, and slavish imitation of, it, mainstream culture, including the Evangelical rapper’s imitation, no doubt, of some mainstream rapper in style if not in substance).
Father Andrew is ever so much nicer and more thorough that I. I commend to you the video and his 2 (or is it 3?) responses. It may be important to read because this is the kind of spiritual nonsense which dominates North America’s faux-Christian culture, at least in the imaginations of the mainstream press. (I’ve never been “mainstream” Protestant, so I cannot say if it’s sounder, nor do I know whether, although ignored by the press, its totals exceed those of Evangelicals.)
If you are keenly interested, some guy blogging as “Tipsy Teetotaler,” with a writing style suspiciously like my own, but less inhibited, has also commented on this stuff. I’ll leave you to Google him if you like.
1. Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon, the erudite priest in Chicago who visited St. Alexis, noted something I hadn’t: Our Orthodox Divine Liturgy is a 4th Century liturgy.
That much came as no surprise. What did come as a surprise is the consequence of that: standing alone, the Divine Liturgy could lead one to the heresy of monphysitism, because it came before the two natures of Christ were affirmed (as always, in response to the threat of a heresy to the contrary) at the Council of Chalcedon.
Thus, it is not only beneficial, but arguably is necessary for spiritual health, for an Orthodox Christian to participate in Matins and Vespers, which are post-Chalcedonian, and to read the Gospels during the week rather than to rely on Divine Liturgies alone for spiritual formation.
2. This was from Clark Carlton rather than Fr. PHR. Carlton happened to land on Chalcedon as well (Chalcedon marks a rift between what today are called “Eastern Orthodox” and what are called “Oriental Orthodox”).
What the speaker noted is that the rift was not so much a disagreement (how could the folks who would become “Oriental Orthodox” disagree with the modest, apophatic Orthodox view that the two natures of Christ are not to be thought of as confused, changeable, divisible, or separable?) as a refusal of the future Eastern Orthodox to adopt a particular affirmative, cataphatic definition of the two natures rather than a more open-ended definition-by-exclusion.
3. Clark Carlton again audaciously (I thought) sets out to explain the theology of St. Gregory Palamas “in twelve minutes or less.” I hope I’m not deluded, but I thought he did a wonderful job, which I would hesitantly but evocatively (I hope) summarize in SAT terms: essence/transcendence = energies/immanence. (I confess to having had some instruction in the basic affirmation in the West that God is both transcendent and immanent.)
In other words, the theology of St. Gregory is an attempt to maintain that God the Holy Trinity is both transcendant (in His essence) and immanent (in His energies); that the experience of God’s glory is a real experience of God(‘s energies); and that humans can actually become “partakers of the divine nature” (i.e., energies, not essence; see I Peter). A refusal to acknowledge that God’s energies are the immanent presence of God leaves us essentially alone in the universe, theorizing about God, but never experiencing Him. It effectively denies the reality of God’s immanence. It’s the result of doing theology in a classroom rather than in prayer.
I guess I’d been over-complexifying it.
The Dynamis meditation from St. George Cathedral in Witchita this morning struck home with me.
The text was the Gospel for today’s Liturgy, Mark 8:34-9:1, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”
What I find in this undertaking is self-will, my rebellious soul that wants its own way. My inner life is akin to a 2,500 pound Spanish fighting bull, and no one is about to ride such a ‘self’ or to lead it …
My cross is to embrace with the love of the Lord Jesus all whosurround me in life. Most especially my cross is those who ‘wave red flags’ to provoke the ‘fighting bull’ in me. God brings into our lives those who aggravate, irritate and inflame our passions to provide opportunities for suffering love. We do not need to seek in strange places for suffering. He gives them in the accidents of our residence, financial agreements, social contacts, professional relationships, spiritual fellowships and parish life.
The Lord Jesus shapes each cross to develop the commitment of those He loves, so that they will die to their desires and exhibit His will through words and deeds ….
A few added thoughts:
- Who waves red flags at your “raging bull”?
- What would “suffering love” look like with them?
- Will the world scorn us as “enablers” for our “suffering love”?
- Is the world’s scorn itself a red flag?
I’m posting this somewhat belatedly (compared to when it was brought to my attention), but a former member of St. Alexis parish, Dr. Philip Mamalakis, published some suggestions a few years ago on how your family can enjoy the Lenten feast (PDF file).
That’s right. Philip, a professional marriage and family counselor, considers Lent an opportunity to feast on things that strengthen our souls.
Of course, part of the Lenten journey is intensified prayer. Here is a link to another PDF of the Septuagint Psalter, arranged in Kathismas as they are read liturgically. Perhaps you’d like to add a Kathisma of the Psalter to your daily rule of prayer.