Sunday, May 8, 2016

A riddling ramble on Thomas Sunday

The Lord’s Day called Antipascha, also known as Thomas Sunday, and this year by the special lateness of Pascha itself, also Mother’s Day. Meanwhile, I just realized that I missed acknowledging Ascension Day—that was May fifth, but only for the ‘Western’ Church, which means everyone except the ‘Eastern Orthodox’ and so I shouldn’t be bothered, but I am. Why? Because there’s only One Church, and so there should only be One Pascha (Easter to most people), and One Ascension Day, One Pentecost, One Christmas, and so on. It’s hard not to feel there’s something wrong with you when you’ve just started Lent and almost everyone you know has just celebrated Easter.

Or, like today, we’ve just concluded Bright Week, the week-long ‘liturgical day’ of Pascha—only we Orthodox have this—and you find out that the feast of Christ’s Ascension, for most people, happened three days ago! I know I wouldn’t feel this way if I lived in an ‘Orthodox’ country like Greece or Russia.

Remember, this is just a ramble, nothing more. I’m just thinking out loud as I continue my eighth-day rest after morning liturgy. I learned several things today ‘at church.’

One of them was the nomenclature of the day—Antipascha. I’ve heard that one before, or read it somewhere. I’ve seen the name made fun of by ‘I can’t remember who,’ but they compared it to antipasto. The notion that ‘anti’ means ‘against’ was corrected for us on the back of the weekly bulletin. ‘Anti’ means ‘instead of.’ Yes, I already knew that, but it also means ‘opposite of’ but not as in ‘against’ but as in ‘facing’ something, almost like a mirror image.

So there’s Pascha and there’s Antipascha, day one of Easter its beginning and day eight of Easter its ending. If memory serves me right, I think the Jewish feast of Passover also lasts eight days, and that wouldn’t surprise me. Like it or not, Christians and Jews, Pascha and Pesach, Easter and Passover, are inseparably connected, and we should be pleased.

But Thomas Sunday, yes, we heard the gospel lesson, but there was no preaching. We heard read to us instead the Paschal encyclical of our American chief hierarch, Metropolitan Joseph, a lovely epistle. I listened, but meanwhile my heart was squirming in my chest and a little indignant that someone wasn’t opening the gospel message to us.

The mention of Mother’s Day was also a brief tack-on.

Now I just remembered why another name for this particular Lord’s day is Low Sunday. ‘Low’ as in attendance in most churches because people are still tuckered out from the long services of Holy Week, and yes, ‘low’ in terms of energy level. I admit, I almost fell back asleep this morning myself, but in my case, only because I am insufferably lazy. My guardian angel got rather blunt and pushy with me, ordering me to hop out of my pajamas and into the shower, then thankfully softened up a bit and let me go to services dressed in my comfortable church clothes—cargo trousers and turtleneck fleece.

Another thing I learned at church today was that apart from all the other Orthodox jurisdictions—we have to say ‘jurisdictions’ and not ‘churches’ if we are to affirm the reality of the Orthodox Church’s unity—the Antiochian Holy Synod decreed back in 1997 that the forty days between Pascha and Ascension are totally fast-free, just as Bright Week is. If I had known this, I’d have joined the Antiochian Church long ago—just kidding!

I actually like to fast, and I am happy that I am a Greek Orthodox in an Antiochian parish, and I will probably keep the Wednesday and Friday fasts as I am used to, but it’s nice to know that if I accidentally forget—bacon and eggs for breakfast is my most frequent blunder—I can claim automatic amnesty from my conscience. Not from God, of course! because He didn’t institute the fasts, the Church did with the authority He gives her. (And I wish the Church would use that authority to let up on some restrictions and tighten up on some others. Oh, well.)

Mother’s Day saw people abandoning the sacred premises after the Divine Liturgy instead of gathering for fellowship in the parish hall. I hoped they were all going off to honor the mothers in their families, some to restaurants, some to banquets at home.

I know that the Mother’s Day and Father’s Day holidays are sort of made-up, but you can’t have too many days dedicated to honoring one’s parents and thanking God for them. Moi, I used to thank my Mom on my birthday for the double whammy of having to birth me and then having to raise me (my Dad helped with the second, of course), and then I used to do the same on Mother’s Day. She’s gone now, and so is my Dad, and now I’m in the hot seat. I’m next, but the odd thing is, I don’t feel any older than when I was a child, and even though they’re both gone, I still see them with a child’s eyes, love them with a child’s heart, and feel dependent on them and thankful for what they’ve done for me (and even to me).

Thank you, Mom, for raising me, and now for watching over me, and thank you too, Dad, because without you, Mom couldn’t have become my Mother.

Life goes on, for me, and for the world. I just read that the Russian Duma (parliament) gave its okay to a measure that would give the Russian government the authority to ask the Turkish government for the return of the Great Church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (Istanbul, also once known as Islambol) to the Orthodox Christians.

I’ve opined on this topic before and unfavorably. My question then and now was and is, ‘What are we going to do with it, if we get it back?’ It’s as if someone we love were kidnapped and held hostage by an implacable enemy, and we asked for the loved one’s head. Sure, they might give us the head by chopping it off and rolling it to us, but the body is still theirs, and it’s dead. A head by itself is not alive, nor is a body without a head. Probably more than half of the Turkish population is descended from Christian Greeks and other Christian peoples. Only when Christ enters the Turkish heart, will Hagia Sophia be returned to us, as it must be.

Of course, first, it would be nice if Christ entered the Christian heart…

But I did also read an amazing story of a dauntless Cretan priest who during the aftermath of the first World War, as a chaplain to the Greek army, entered Hagia Sophia in February, 1919 and celebrated a Divine Liturgy in that part of the Great Church where the altar would have stood. In the presence of a gradually growing crowd of Turkish Muslims (and a few Greeks of the City who wandered in) he sang the liturgy with a few army officers as chanters and servers. Only after the liturgy was ended did the crowd of Turks get riled up and began threatening the priest and the handful of officers as they gathered their things and departed.

The story tells that one husky Turk actually hit the priest with a wooden beam intending to kill him, but the priest ducked and was only injured in the shoulder. A Turkish official showed up and ordered the crowd to leave the Greeks alone and let them go back to their ship. He didn’t want to create another international incident. Things were bad enough.

Things were bad enough! For us, today, this is an understatement. With world politics escalating everywhere you look, it astonishes me that Russia would make such a proposal to the Turkish government. It’s almost as if the world knows that it only has less than a year to redraw national borders and commit atrocities before the next American president takes hold of the reins of power, first in these United States, and then, everywhere else. That is, if the hated one wins the election.

If the harmless one is elected, by some kind of miracle, well, then the last eight years will have been nothing more than a practice run for the makers of Star Wars the Next Generation. Then, we’ll look back at the ‘liberation of Crimea’ as if it were nothing more than Russia taking back what was always theirs, as we see a large part of humanity swept into new political black holes, the results of collapsed red giants (puns intended). Then, my question will be, ‘How much did you have to pay for that church?’

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