Sunday at home, sorta sick, but not and wondering if I coulda gone to Liturgy…

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Getting the flu is not conducive to a productive work week. The jobs got done though. I have only gotten sick like that a few times in the last 10 years or so, so I’m thankful for that.

The last little gallery of photos, I titled : riding the coattails of my dead father. And I write that out of true gratefulness. My dad was a deeply flawed man, but also a very good man. He was smart enough to move us out of the Rust Belt when the economies there suffered from the collapse of the Steel and Coal Industries. At age 30, he learned a completely new trade. That is really hard to do. He started taking me on job sites when I was about 8 and had me do little things an 8 year old could, but I would mostly play in the dirt with my dump trucks or whatever toys I could bring with me. By the time I was 12 or 13 I was pretty capable of helping out and measuring jobs and learning all of the things that a drywaller would need to do to properly make a living. I hated it. All of my friends would be at the swimming pool and I’d be drywalling. But I had spending money to play paintball and buy baseball cards and they didn’t. I know some of those kids are now more “successful” than me in terms of earnings and maybe some others are not, but what I need and what they need are different and I look back at those mid-90s summer days as necessary formation for feeding & housing my own family today. My dad was giving me something I absolutely needed and I had no idea he was doing so, and maybe he didn’t either. But when I finally had to grow up and stop playing pretend artist/gypsy/vagabond, and shed the downright foolish and incredibly selfish Peter Pan inside of me, I had all the skills to do so. What a gift. What a gift, indeed!


On the topic of formation. Everything we do forms us. I cannot say enough about that concept. It’s the reason we don’t have a TV in our living room. It’s the reason we just don’t watch much TV at all outside of sports (and there’s a good argument to be made to not do that either!). There is very little TV that is worth watching and if the Christian life is about a life of holiness, allowing TV to form our minds is completely counterproductive to our salvation. There’s a common notion today, and even among some Orthodox, that watching programming or movies that are, let’s use the word “unfit” for now, that in doing so and seeing the “redeeming qualities” within them, then it gives validity to watching that programming. I used to think this way myself. I watched all seven of the SAW movies. And I considered it a spiritual exercise, justifying it by dwelling on the passage in which Christ says “fear not what man can do to you, but fear he who can cast you into hell”. There’s a certain logic there, but to consume 14 hours of nothing but pure violence to get there really defeats the purpose because you’ve dehumanized and calloused your conscience in doing so. When we came into the Church, our priest asked me to stop watching horror movies every autumn. I had a really hard time with that at first, but then one day I wanted to watch one and started scanning titles on netflix. The simple sight of the covers of each movie made my stomach turn and I couldn’t bear to watch one. Thank God I still have not; I’m 3 years horror movie sober!

“Finally brothers, whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable; if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things”

–St Paul


I mostly avoid social media because it is agitating and self aggrandizing. And I fall prey to both. But something really did bother me on it this week. An old friend of mine, who i’ve not seen in a few years is a decorative gardener and he happened to have a hammer and a sickle on his tool bench as a he was preparing for his next job. He took a photo of it in the way it is presented in Communist propaganda and made a comment about “great iconography”. And this really burned me because I know him enough to know he’s insinuating that Communism really is a good idea. I suppose an ideology that only murders and tortures those it subjects is a good idea… I suppose an ideology that is responsible for more deaths than Nazism is a good idea. Why the hell is it that Nazism is properly denounced but Communism is somehow seen as noble? They are both awful, murderous ideologies fit to be condemned and rejected by anyone who has a properly working conscience.

I was also thinking a lot about the concept of Islamophobia this week. I never fully bought into the idea that there is such a thing, but I was also willing to defend the idea that it’s possible that there is. I’ve made a full rejection of the idea that that’s possible based on the argumentation of Gad Saad and now also having had that further backed up by hearing the stories of an Egyptian Orthodox Christian who goes to our Church now. He moved his family from Egypt to the States because being a Christian (or anything non-Muslim) in a Muslim majority country is an unbearable existence under this inherently violent religion. He and his wife regularly had stones thrown at them as they walked down the street by Muslim children. There is constant threat of a suicide bomber coming into a Church amongst other things. Those who say “oh but Islam is a peaceful religion” are willfully blind to reality. It is true that a large percentage of Muslims do not get violent, but they are simply not practicing their religion. And thank God for that.

 

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Forgiveness Vespers (Great Lent Begins)

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Our Nave, After Forgiveness Vespers. 2016.

Tonight, Great Lent begins. In Orthodox tradition, it always begins with forgiveness vespers. It is one of the most formative services of the entire Church calendar. During the service, the tone of the calendar shifts. The altar cloth is changed from blue to purple, the lights are halved and the priests change into black vestments ushering us into the Lenten season of repentance. And for 7 weeks, we begin the period of bright-sadness, the march to Great and Holy Pascha, the celebration of the Resurrection. This is our 4th Lenten as Orthodox and every year it is more reflective and by God’s help, more transformative. The joy at Pascha every year is compounded and greater than the years prior combined; it is better than literally anything. It is better than a wedding or a child being born or any comparable, significant life event. It is better than the best meal you’ve ever had or any other pleasurable experience. Nothing even comes close to touching it.

And so we begin, and the priest come forth from the altar and ask our forgiveness of them. And then we come to them and ask their forgiveness of us and a line is formed and every parishioner present asks forgiveness of each other until it is complete. We go out into the cold late-winter’s night and the fast begins: no meat, dairy or alcohol until Pascha. No tv or other entertainments either. Why these severe behaviours? If we do not fast, we cannot deny ourselves as Christ commanded; fasting is the beginning of self-denial. We fast, we pray, we give alms all for the sake of being united to Christ and the more we do these, the more we become one with Him and hope to attain our salvation.

The most wonderful time of the year is here. Let it begin!