Pascha

Christ is Risen!

This is well worth a read, from Fr. Stephen Freeman.

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Holy Week

We are so thankful to be immersed in Holy Week, as we participate in the passion of our Lord Christ. The fig tree has been cursed (and woe to my unfruitful heart), the temple has been cleansed (and woe to my covetousness and hypocrisy), and tonight the disputations with the Lord (and woe to my wrangling out of the simple and formidable gospel).  And we eagerly look forward to the resurrection – when our parish will gather at 11pm for readings and vigil, and most folks will probably go home between 2am and 3am, full of joy (and food).

It’s only the second Holy Week I have experienced, and I can only be thankful and hopeful for many more. It is too bad that Roman Easter drifts from the Orthodox, but the upshot, I guess, is that this year any western inquirer doesn’t have to choose between celebrations – rejoice twice! Christ is Risen!

Tempted by Hell

The Angelic Powers were at Thy tomb;
the guards became as dead men.
Mary stood by Thy grave,
seeking Thy most pure body.
Thou didst capture hell not being tempted by it.
Thou didst come to the Virgin, granting life.
O Lord, Who didst rise from the dead, glory to Thee.

-Resurrection Troparion, Tone 6, 2nd Sunday of Great Lent

This troparion struck me by its assertion that Christ was not tempted by hell. Preposterous, right? As though the author of life could be tempted by hell?

But then I apprehended it. When we sulkily reject the good to continue in the comfortable bad, we are tempted by hell – by wanting the world, if just for a moment, to be a place of unrestrained passion, lust, pride, and egoism. Wanting the world to be hell, just for the sake of our fleeting pleasure. And Christ did not forget his temptation, no doubt. Recall that the devil left him “until an opportune time”. All the kingdoms of the world and their glory were offered him by Satan.

And that is the geography of hell.

Recall when the prophet spoke of the shades being roused up to meet the king of Babylon when he descends to Sheol. Et tu, Babylon? All your glory has become as ours – laid in the dust. All these same kings of the earth in their dusty glory saw Christ descend, and saw him choose to ascend, leading hosts of captives in his train. The Son of God – who had just been forsaken by God – chose not to dwell on the offense of the cross, not to sorrow for himself (“weep rather for yourselves, if this is done in the greenwood, what of the dry?”), not to hold equality with God as a thing to be grasped, but to suffer the deepest of shame. And to return in triumph, bearing spoil for his Father.

Perhaps Lucifer thought that Jesus, like him, would forever rage at the indignity of expulsion from heaven. That the crushed Son might rage harder than the fallen angel. But the Son ever submitted to the will of the Father – something the fallen angel never did. And so the Son was not tempted by hell, but captured it, and brought life to the world.

…Glory to thy resurrection, O Christ! Glory to the Kingdom! Glory to thy dispensation, O only lover of Mankind!

-From Resurrectional Troparion,  Tone 1

(As a side note, it is glorious that the resurrectional troparia are sung at liturgy during lent – for the liturgy proper belongs to the resurrection, not to the period of fasting and waiting, and liturgies are not accounted part of lent at all. We do not fast only in mourning for sin, but also to prepare for the feast of the resurrection.)

In Christ, who is Risen indeed!

MJM

 

Moving Hearths

I think we’re buying a new house.

This is a poignant move, as we love our house in Tempe, and we have so many people to thank for all their help with it.

My father, God rest his soul, helped so much, and it is a sort of legacy to him. My last memories of him are working on the living room floor, leveling the deck before laying the flooring. We went out to dinner with him that Saturday evening. He died very early that Monday morning. I can’t look at our floor, our level cabinets and counters, and many other things, without seeing his handiwork (often as not, marred by my own less experienced hands later).

Our dear friends, the Roes, painted and textured and worked innumerable hours beside us as we made our home here. It saddens me that I have not been able to work beside them in their Texas house. Perhaps I now understand my brother’s laments to this effect from many years ago, when his college-aged little bro spent time helping him on projects around the Indianola house. We can only ever give where we are right now. But we always get to give where we are right now, somehow, to someone. And we don’t count the cost.

Friends from Calvin church, notably John and Chris, also gave so generously to help us move into a very pleasant house. And there are many more that I probably ought to mention. Evi was born in the house.

Nevertheless, our family of seven (plus our dear friends and housemates, numbering four going on five) are filling up the 1600 square feet here. I look back and realize that we bought the house with one child ex-utero, one in-utero, and one adoption in process. That was a different time for our family. It was a joyful time, yes, but also a less-full time.

Since then, we have been further filled. We have sorrowed in many ways. We have rejoiced in many ways. We are wearied in many ways. I feel at times estranged from myself (as I suspect that my ten-years-ago or even five-years-ago self would think me now a bit odd), but also know more than ever before that Christ is the only rock and foundation of reality. Indeed, the world as we encounter it daily is estranged in many ways from its true self, which is hidden (like mine) with Christ in God.

This is aufgehoben. The swallowing up of the old good things by the new good things. I love orange blossoms – their fragrance is incomparable. But I also love oranges. The new house has lots of orange trees.

The kids are excited. They are also sad. It is good to see them joy and sorrow. I hope they will learn it better, and younger, than their father. And Lent is coming, where the greatest sorrow and joy are lived again in the Passion, Burial, and glorious Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Christ is Risen! May He bless our new home for His service.

Stoking coals

This essay by Scott Atran at Aeon was very interesting. I commend it, though I also question its theory of available options (since it seems limited, secular).

This blog is named after the communal hearth of a Greek polis, the place that kept the home fire burning for everyone, linking each home in the city together – after all, every fire came from it. It was a kind of sacrament, an action that linked the souls of the citizens. And the purpose of the blog is largely to explore those themes in our families – what links us? What is community? How can we contribute to it, enjoy it without destroying it, and pass it on to our children? Is it something distinct from “us and our children” – part of the target of the gospel, which also includes “all those who are afar off”.

Atran’s article follows along with a good bit of my trauma reading, which is in many ways occupied with “community” – how can the traumatized re-enter community? How can communities accept them in healthy ways? When the traumatized form trauma-selected communities, are these healthy? (I was passed by a “AZ COMBAT VETS” motorcycle gang/group member on my way home from the hospital this morning, and it made me wonder about this. Too, the closely-knit “special-needs-family” community has both good and bad things…)

This piece was very much worth reading, too, as it uniquely weaves together battlefield trauma, just war, and the Liturgy…

Following the above, the Church figures very high in my thinking about community. The idea of trauma as a “dark liturgy” in the Emmaus piece is very intriguing – a fully-embodied experience with a lie/evil at its core. That seems to be a pretty all-encompassing definition of trauma. And it points to the only healthy solution – true liturgy – true communion – comes only in the offering-up on behalf of all and for all. And if we wish to be like Christ, to take his Cross up and follow him, we also must be willing to lay down our life for our friends.

This all seems nice until we, with the lawyer, receive the answer to the question “and who is my friend?”.

In the piercing words of St Silouan, “My brother is my life.”

So let us stir one another up to love and good works, stoking the coals of love into flame.

In Christ,

Mark

Thanksgiving

Below is the last homily ever given by Fr. Alexander Schmemann, on Thanksgiving Day 1983, two weeks before his repose. Cited from OCA.org

Everyone capable of thanksgiving is capable of salvation and eternal joy.

Thank You, O Lord, for having accepted this Eucharist, which we offered to the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and which filled our hearts with the joy, peace and righteousness of the Holy Spirit.

Thank You, O Lord, for having revealed Yourself unto us and given us the foretaste of Your Kingdom.

Thank You, O Lord, for having united us to one another in serving You and Your Holy Church.

Thank You, O Lord, for having helped us to overcome all difficulties, tensions, passions, temptations and restored peace, mutual love and joy in sharing the communion of the Holy Spirit.

Thank You, O Lord, for the sufferings You bestowed upon us, for they are purifying us from selfishness and reminding us of the “one thing needed;” Your eternal Kingdom.

Thank You, O Lord, for having given us this country where we are free to worship You.

Thank You, O Lord, for this school, where the name of God is proclaimed.

Thank You, O Lord, for our families: husbands, wives and, especially, children who teach us how to celebrate Your holy Name in joy, movement and holy noise.

Thank You, O Lord, for everyone and everything.

Great are You, O Lord, and marvelous are Your deeds, and no word is sufficient to celebrate Your miracles.

Lord, it is good to be here! Amen.

~~

I am very thankful that our church celebrates a Thanksgiving Day liturgy. It seems fitting, since, after all, eucharist means thanksgiving.

A belated Happy Thanksgiving to you, dear reader.

MJM

The Res Publica

I will bear the shame of admitting before my co-authors and readers that I have never read Plato’s Republic. But I am correcting that defect now.  I’m presently in part seven, book six, 505-506,  where Socrates is discussing the knowledge of the good, and it strikes me how he so often carefully distinguishes between reality and appearance, noting that many are satisfied with appearance only, but the philosopher must pursue the reality, the true form of the good.

And then I thought about the sacraments. In the Liturgy, the priest holds up the bread and wine , making a cross with his arms, and declares: “On behalf of all, and for all.”

The sacraments are a true res publica, a public matter of the people of God. They unite the church as a Body even as they unite the individual to Christ. They are chief means of grace, available in God’s house (though not every individual partakes of every sacrament, this is not seen as a problem in Orthodoxy – the one body has many members of varying function, and on some more honor is bestowed). And again I think of the demand for the reality – the true truth, not simply the appearance of the truth.

The Docetists were a Gnostic group ca. the 2nd and 3rd centuries, denying the physical reality of Christ’s advent, life, death, resurrection, ascension, etc., affirming only that Jesus had appeared to do these things (dokein, appear or seem to be). As an aside, the Koran (Sura 4:157-158) affirms a docetist view of the crucifixion, which is interesting, especially as there is a beautiful troparion explicitly countering this, (Resurrection, Tone 5):

Let us the faithful, praise and worship the Word Who is co-unorignate with the Father and the Spirit, and Who was born of the Virgin for our salvation; for He was pleased to ascend the Cross in the flesh, to endure death, and to raise the dead by His glorious Resurrection.

But to the point here, the public matter of the sacrament of the Eucharist is explicitly real in the Church. It is not an appearance of Christ, for that would be docetism. When Jesus Christ visits his worshipping people, He Himself – the Person Jesus, who is the true and perfect Human with a glorious and mysterious physical body and immaculate soul – is there. The Bridegroom comes, not a phantom or specter or dream, not even a token or symbol of the Bridegroom (though those are by no means insignificant – and it may be noted that Calvin’s view of the Lord’s Supper is reasonably close to an Orthodox view of icons – a window into heavenly reality through a token or symbol although not the reality itself, or at any rate, a reality apprehended spiritually through material means), but Christ Himself comes to His bride, visits her, feasts her, encourages her to persevere until the end and after she has suffered a little while, join Him in glory.

This is the true good, which the philosopher must seek. It is the “truly just man” described in part one, book two, 361-362, who endures scorn, mocking, and crucifixion, all to show that the dikaios is truly happier than the adikaios. That justice/righteousness is to be chosen at all costs. This is the person of Jesus Christ. And He calls all to join Him at table.

In Christ,

MJM