Saturday, December 20, 2008

(A Brief Synopsis) What I have been given in the Church*:

The Protection and Shelter of the Saints. I was at a friend’s birthday party a while back and asked to see this friend’s icons. His icon of the Theotokos looked out so tenderly. The Mother of God is a deep Mother and I felt reassured of the protection for this friend.

The Mother of God, Virgin of Vladimir Icon

While at St. Herman’s in Langley, when I looked at the iconostasis, St. Herman always looked worried for me, like a Father worried for over his child. I know St. Herman loves me and many others and is a Father and Grandfather figure to them.

St. Herman - I got this Icon last year at the Monastery.

St. Nicholas prays for me. When I desperately needed money in school I received news of a bursary on St. Nicholas day. I was chrismated in his church; I have been moved to tears praying for beloved ones in my life who are in distress and cried out to St. Nicholas to save them.

Spiritual Fathers and Mothers. My spiritual father is the spiritual father to the child within me. I am reminded of Kathleen Norris’s book title, little girls in church when I think of how I have experienced church, especially at the evening services when there are fewer people. Monasteries are very important and have kept the spiritual life of the Church alive for centuries.

Beauty. Most of the Protestant churches I went to were so barren of any beauty. The Orthodox church has beauty in the liturgy, in the Icons, in the prayers. Poetry, song, ritual – spanning centuries and many cultures.

Truth. The Orthodox Church has not deviated from the worship of the Holy Trinity. We worship the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and offer the liturgy to God in the Holy Trinity.

The Holy Trinity, Rublev Icon

Today pluralism, pantheism, “tolerance”, inclusively, Eastern Meditation, are what is cool, hip and very trendy. Not all trends are bad, and there are reasons for what is culturally important. There are things that people feel they are lacking and need. However, if the true needs of a person’s heart are not met by Christ in the Holy Trinity, then they are not fully met.

Love. I do not find the promotion of “tolerance” loving. Saying, we will tolerate you is not loving. I believe that God is love. Love has boundaries; love is a Father not letting a child be burned by fire, love is a Mother not allowing a preteen daughter to harm herself by inappropriate behaviour or relationships. Love does not tolerate all things; it bears all things and hopes all things. Bearing and tolerating are different.

I have been blessed with a spiritual Father who gives me clear boundaries and does not give his blessing for me to destroy myself by sin. He loves me, is patient with me, understands me very well, but he loves me too much to let me “get away with things”. That said, my experience of the Church is not controlling but always given the freedom and option of obedience and repentance. What I do with the need for repentance is up to me.

The sacraments. Including baptism and chrismation, the Eucharist, confession – they save, heal and give hope. Not full or immediate healing necessarily but they can transform and save.

In the church I am able to grieve and pray for the dead. I can ask Saints in the Holy Spirit to give my love to those I miss who have died. When I was a protestant I felt the connection was severed instead of the living and the departed both worshiping in church; in the liturgy we join heaven’s worship.

In the Church I found the merging of one’s body and one’s soul. The dualism that exists in many protestant churches is not in the Orthodox Church. We kiss icons, priest’s hands, drink Holy Water, kneel, prostrate, stand; the body is part of worship here.

Christ has become visible, has become man. Christ is the first icon. Orthodoxy has a holistic understanding of the person that predates our current medical preference towards holistic treatment. Our soul is in our body; a human is not a body and soul as completely separate entities, as if they are oil and water held in by our skin. The final resurrection includes our bodies. Christ is shown in the Gospel in His glorified human body; nail prints and wounds visible.

Reverence towards the body is shown also at death – the body of our loved ones can stay in church – when we have the Panihida (requiem) we reverence the one we love who has died. We give a final kiss to them. We kiss the Cross and Gospel book near by to them.

The understanding and reverence of the body is based Orthodoxy’s understanding of Christ incarnate. My spiritual father has taught us that Christ is what a human was created to be. To excuse someone’s failures by saying “she or he is only human” is a misunderstanding of what a human is to be.

Fatherhood and Motherhood. Christ has given His Mother to us. St. George is a beloved hero and protector. I am a woman. I am more than happy to be protected. This does not devalue me or imply weakness; it does mean I can breathe easier. Men can learn to be men by praying (i.e. asking for prayers) of saints like St. George. And I do not mean they can learn to be rude or overbearing but true men. And I am free to be a woman and be strong in this. St. Mary Magdalene is called Equal-to-the-Apostles for centuries! The Theotokos more honoured than the cherubim, for She bore the Saviour of the World. The understanding of what it means to be human, and what it is to be a woman or a man can be restored by the Church and was never lost in the church. Here I do not mean to gloss over problems, questions current or historically based. I studied feminism and literary criticism for some years. What I have been given in the Church answers these questions centuries before postmodernism and still applies. The Desert Father’s understanding of human struggle and weakness is often more astute in their observations of the human soul.

St. George - I got this icon from my church last year. All during Lent my spiritual father patiently let me have St. George be in the Altar area in a window. I was so comforted to know St. George was in the Altar praying and fighting for me and everyone else from my Church.

Repentance, Humility and Communion with God. This is the hardest to write on, as I am young in the faith! The sacrament of Confession and the life of an Orthodox Christian is based in repentance in order to purify one’s self of the passions (sinful desires, thoughts, and so on). The spiritual life is a life of humility and repentance; not being inwardly hostile towards anyone, not judging. A life of constant prayer and the acquisition of the Holy Spirit are the goals of every Orthodox Christian.

Spiritual growth is evidenced by our increasing understanding of our need for the ever-present mercy of God and the awareness of our own unworthiness and sinfulness. Somehow the concept of sinfulness, in the West, has been linked to the body, as if the body contains the sin. This is a misunderstanding that can be corrected by time and prayer within the Church. I am not wise enough to explain the difference**, only that I sense it. Something to ask my spiritual father about!

Asking one’s spiritual father is part of learning humility. We have the Church and the tradition of the Church to teach us. We do not base our understanding of God or how to live a Christian life based only on our own thoughts, understanding or interpretation of the Scriptures, the world and our personal life. We do not trust ourselves, this side of the grave. This does not mean living in a state of anxiety or intense insecurity. It does have to do with humility before God, knowing how easily we are distracted and lead astray. Fr. Thomas Hopko writes, in his 55 maxims, that we are to expect to be tempted until our last breath.

As I said at the beginning of this section, I am spiritually young. I have not even begun to learn these things! All I have to do is read the section in Galatians about the fruits of the Spirit to realize not only the depth of a Christian who is acquiring the Holy Spirit but how much I need to grow. I am at most a small sapling in need of further water and food from our Holy Church, with a lot of tilling of the stony ground of my heart! As I this to be the truth, I will not write on communion with God other than to say it is the goal of an Orthodox Christian and the Saints show how it can bring life and spiritual consolation beyond anything outside of Christ and His Church.

HOLY WEEK. Living through Christ’s death and resurrection. Being challenged to live everyday in the light of Pasca, of Christ’s resurrection. This is where all ends and begins. As Father Thomas Hopko has talked about – it is all about Mary’s Womb and Christ’s Tomb.

An Icon of the Resurrection of Christ.

The Church gives depth, prayer, beauty, hope; in other words, the Church has brought Christ to me. Christ: the source of all depth, of all beauty, the hope of all prayers, who wept for the death of Lazarus and, soon after, trampled down death by death.

*I have edited and added to this post. A lot of the additions are what I have been taught; here my experience is more in what I have been taught as opposed to what spiritual heights I have attained! I am still young and young in the faith. It is entirely possible that I have misunderstood something, though I have done my best to keep to the teaching as I have received it. Understand this to be a “disclaimer” to this post. The best way to understand what can be given/found in the Orthodox Church is to be in Church (and or monastery) and to search for a good spiritual father or mother.

** This part I am less sure about - or at least how to best explain it - will have to do more research and asking and report back!


elizabeth said...

I could not manage to get the spacing perfect! The Icon of the Theotokos and the Icon of St. Herman would not match up this time.

However, I think this is the most complete essay I have ever written on what I feel I have been given in the church and what I did not have before. However this essay is still imcomplete. I will have to write more another time!

I enjoyed this though, as I love writing and to be able to begin to articulate what I have been given is a wonderful gift...

Would love to hear any thoughts on this longer post...

Mimi said...

You should send this in to the Handmaiden, my friend - what an amazing essay!

elizabeth said...

Thanks Mimi. That is the nicest compliment you could give me. :)

I talked to a friend in church and understand now that I was correct in my understanding of the body as good... St. Gregory Palamas speaks of it...

I will consider your suggestion (every dreaming to be a writer would) but will do some further research... and keep writing...

E Helena E said...

I think this is a wonderful work in progress...(just like you, God's handiwork!)..a very honest, humble account. Much food for thought here. It is worthwhile to be able to articulate one's inheritance of faith and personal experience in this manner. I like the way you've woven the two together.

elizabeth said...

thank you very much E-H! I love this type of writing and really enjoyed writing it! God is merciful. I hope I can do more of this writing... I have really missed it!

Meadowlark Days said...

I appreciate this - being able to pray for my dead and the union of body and soul have been so important to me.

elizabeth said...

K: yes. both are very healing for us. Thank God.

Simply Victoria said...

yes, I agree with Mimi. this is so inspirational, and so well written!

elizabeth said...

thank you very much V! this means a lot to me!