Tuesday, December 16, 2014


Sometimes it happens that we are drawn into friendly conversation in the month or so before Christmas, and it comes out that we are Orthodox Christians, or at least that we do something different from what most people expect. Then, someone asks, ‘You mean you fast in the weeks before Christmas?’ and we have to admit, ‘Yes, many of us do.’ Someone else, a Roman Catholic, may chime in, ‘Oh, I see. You mean that’s what you do for Advent!’ and then may be taken aback by our response, ‘Well, no, it’s not Advent, not exactly, but it is a season of preparation for the feast of the Nativity.’ We are often met with silence, occasionally by a muttered response as I once was, ‘They always have to be right,’ even though my answer was not spoken in a voice or attitude of condescension. It can feel as though, when one is recognized as being ‘Orthodox,’ a wall of separation suddenly goes up. People have to protect themselves from us. We have a bad reputation, I guess. I’m not sure what for, though I have been accused of trying to force someone to become Orthodox merely by being welcoming and supportive. Another example of, ‘people love those they want to love, and hate those they want to hate.’

Too serious. That’s what I am often accused of being. People want to always see a smile. Well, I must be a wild and rebellious primitive, because I smile when I want to smile, and when I am focused on something important, I can look very serious. And what isn’t important? Well, for me most things in life are important, but there are a few I don’t care a fig about—doing things just for show, and keeping up appearances are two of them. I almost wanted to add, ‘what people think of me’ to the list, but it would only be half the truth. I don’t care what people think of me when it comes to social status, money, fashion, what shoes I wear and what car I drive, whether or not I’m educated ‘with letters after my names’ or not. But I do care about what people think of me as a follower of Christ. I don’t go out of my way to be brusque or idiotic to prove that I am ‘just one of the guys, even though I’m religious’ because, of course, that isn’t true. One, I’m not ‘religious’ from my point of view, and two, I’m not ‘just one of the guys.’ I have a name, and that’s the new name given me by Christ, the one that He writes on a white stone that only I can read (cf Revelation 2:17), and I want to follow after Him in a way that makes people look twice.

The season is upon us. Yes, ‘the season to be jolly’ is the world’s immediate response, and though I don’t agree with them, I do sympathize. Life is hard, very hard, working in Egypt, building granaries and monuments for pharaoh, who cares absolutely nothing for you while mouthing powerless platitudes and pretending to be progressive in your favor. You are living his dream, not your own. He is paying you for your labors, and then taking back more than he gives. Your debt to him grows moment by moment, let alone year by year. He is dumbing you down, and you know it, but there are perks—small or large, it doesn’t matter—that keep you in bondage until you no longer have the strength or the resolve to run away. You don’t even know how to run away, or where you would run to. You have forgotten, in your deep, dark slavery, the sunlit lands of the Most-High. If you even remember His Name, you tell yourself, ‘It was all a dream. Pharaoh’s world is the world, the only world.’ Your work there is valuable. You believe yourself prosperous, and ignore the warning that you are ‘one with the cattle doomed to slaughter’ (Psalm 49). Yes, life is hard, very hard, working in Egypt, but no matter, ‘Tis the season to be jolly,’ though you don’t know why,
‘fa la la la la la la la la…’.

The ancient songs. No, I’m not talking about the centuries’ old hymns of the Orthodox Church, composed in Syriac and Greek, that remain hidden from the world just as the birth of Christ God is hidden. But the songs that were long ago laid as foundations of true joy in the Western lands, composed to celebrate the Savior’s birth, His first and, yes, His second coming. The first in obscurity, the second for all to see, the Master of mankind making Himself their servant, came, comes, and will come into this world called ‘earth.’ Unbury these ancient songs. Sing them again to regain your freedom. This I say to the world, to the Church, and to myself. The world blinded in its bondage hasn’t heard them in many a year and is now nearly deaf to anything except the noise it surrounds itself with, gives itself to, and calls ‘peace.’ But the songs that were sung by our pious and divine ancestors, ‘Joy to the world, the Lord is come, let earth receive her King,’ are still there for us. They have not lost any of their power. That is precisely why they are forbidden in the world of the present Dark Age. They make us remember. Remember a time before pharaoh enslaved us. Remember a time when exodus was possible.

It is wintery, cold and dark in these northern climes. We are heading for the shortest day. Even the earth bears witness to its own fall and rise in the seasonal cycles, and so the Holy Church, who is the one and only Bride of Christ, has let herself be drawn in His footsteps (cf Song of Songs 1:4), as the Lord of All, of the heavens and of the earth, dances His way through time. We approach the ‘holy night’ where not a myth was born, but the Sun of Righteousness in human form (cf Malachi 4:2), who let Himself be called ‘my son’ by man, who is called ‘my Son’ by God, who says, ‘Today I have become your Father. Ask, and I will give you the nations for your heritage, the ends of the earth for your domain’ (Psalm 2). And then, to add insult to injury to the prince of this world, the Divine irony of the Word, ‘With iron scepter you will break them, shatter them like potter’s ware. So now, you kings, learn wisdom, earthly rulers, be warned: Serve Yahweh, fear Him, tremble and kiss His feet, or He will be angry and you will perish, for His anger is very quick to blaze’ (Psalm 2). No idle threat these words, but promise waiting for fulfillment, for when ‘He comes, He comes to judge the earth, to judge the world with justice and the nations with His truth’ (Psalm 96).

‘Happy all who take shelter in Him’ (Psalm 2).

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