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Ray pitched the job to Kenny and I in the depths of a Michigan January early in Richard Nixon’s second administration. Ray’s older brother Otis was going through a nasty divorce, and he needed someone to drive his Mercedes 280SL from Oxnard, California to Tillamook, Oregon. Ray wanted some company, but most of all, he wanted somebody to drive his Opel Kadette while he drove the Mercedes. Ray, Kenny, and I were an oddly assorted trio. Ray was a clean-cut, buttoned-down sort, studying finance at a state university way before finance was cool. He kept his hair short and his face clean-shaven. Kenny was a transplant from eastern Kentucky, a long-haired “hillbilly” with a gentle, dreamy side, and a very talented guitar player. I was a hippie’s hippie, and I worked with both of them in a chemical dye factory that was on strike.
We drove out to Oxnard, California in Ray’s Opel, where we picked up the court papers that let us take possession of Otis’ Mercedes convertible. Under the suspicious eye of Otis’ soon-to-be ex-wife, we headed north to Oregon. It took us more than a week, since we were in no hurry to return to Michigan only to hang around waiting for the strike to end. There were the usual intoxicants involved, but in retrospect that isn’t what I remember most about the trip. We decided to take California Highway 1 up the coast, camping along the way. The scenery was spectacular, The weather remained flawless even as we moved north of San Francisco into the Redwood country and up into Oregon.
Most of all, I remember the people we encountered on the way. We picked up hitch-hikers. Our unusual cars and Kenny’s guitar opened a lot of doors for us that ordinarily would have remained closed even in those freewheeling days. If I had kept a notebook, I would have had enough to populate a Dickens novel with picaresque characters. There was Selene, the Indian hooker we picked up in Ventura and whose Gujarati pimp, who turned out to be a really capital fellow, showed up to collect her in San Luis Obispo. There was Mike the reluctant Mafia guy, who said he really wanted to run a car lot like his father in Lompoc. There was Jack, the hitch-hiking preacher, who delivered a hair-raising exegesis of the book of Revelation around the campfire the one night he spent with us, and who was impressed with all the old-timey gospel songs Kenny knew on his guitar.
There was the dark-haired, dark-eyed, guitar-bodied Maria Altagracia Mendoza, as beautiful and as emotionally fragile as Lucia di Lammermoor and nearly as self-destructive, along with her Brillo-haired handler/lover/therapist Rosemary. Maria Altagracia claimed to be a direct descendant of a Spanish count who had been given land grants in the area, and she demanded to be called “Countess”. Rosemary never claimed to be anything except a San Francisco Giants fan, but it was amazing how well she kept the “Countess” on an even keel.
There was Davie, and Pete his Native American “blood brother”, who we picked up between Santa Rosa and Sebastopol. Davie was hitchhiking in to buy a carton of cigarettes and ended up going with us all the way up to Redding. We hung around Coos Bay for a weekend while Kenny tried to convince Rachel to come with us. We were just outside of Newport when we found out Rachel wasn’t 19 as she claimed, but 14. It was a chance for Ray to find out what his brother’s Mercedes was capable of as he drove the 100 miles back to Rachel’s house and still pulled into his brother’s driveway only a half an hour after we did.
I decided to fly back to Michigan from Portland, and Ray and Kenny drove back in the Kadette. It was a sad feeling, as all of us knew we would never probably be together again, and certainly not as happy as we had been. It was true. Three months later, I had a come-to-Jesus moment and ended up in a Central Florida Bible college. Ray finished his degree in finance, married, and I lost track of him. I ran into Kenny late in the decade at his older sister’s wedding. He had had a “come-to-Jesus” moment of his own, and it made mine seem mundane by comparison.
“I was on the beach in Maine, walking my sister’s dog’, he explained. ‘It was January, just like when we went to California with Ray, remember? Something happened though. I had been reading Pascal’s Pensées, and thinking about what he meant about the Fire, when suddenly the heavens opened. My sister’s dog escaped from the leash and went running down the beach as fast as he could.” Kenny curved his hand for emphasis. “The curve of the dog’s back was like, perfection, you know? And I saw the fire, Pascal’s fire, coming down from heaven, except that it was inside everything; me, the dog, the waves, the clouds, the other people on the beach, everything.”
He continued explaining his vision. “I knew then that God loved us all, in Christ, in a way that I could never put into words. There was a warmth in my chest that made me sweat, even though the wind was cold. I couldn’t stop crying, or smiling. One man walked up to me and said he had never seen anybody who looked as happy as I did, but i couldn’t put into words what I wanted to say to him. ‘I love you’ I finally told him, and I think it kind of freaked him out.”
“It was like when you and Ray and me went out to California to help his brother with his divorce. That was a really happy time for me, man, for all of us. I know we didn’t know the Lord then, but it was a real special time we had together. This was like all that, but melted down and pressed together into a single afternoon, into a single point. Here’s the thing, Mule, the whole Universe is like that.”
I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t admit I was jealous of Kenny and his mystical experience, although I’m glad he shared it with me as far as he could. Kenny has dropped completely out off the map. He doesn’t have a social media presence, and his sister says he was accepted into an arts and design school in the late 90s, but never showed up for classes.
It is Holy Week. Lent is over. Any self-deception I still harbor about self-improvement through asceticism and renunciation is over. “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.”. Jeremiah 8.20.
Today in my church a young family brought their children for baptism, and the parents were chrismated into the Church. It was a joyous occasion. They brought a lot of family and friends with them, most of whom had never entered an Orthodox church before. The effort expended resembled a small military campaign. The family’s oldest child was old enough to require the “moonshiners’ baptistry”, so the lesser clergy had to trundle it out from the storage shed, rinse it out, and set it up in the center of the sanctuary. Then it needed to be filled with water, and not cold water either. The Orthodox Church does not make provision for the flesh, but it is also not needlessly cruel to small children. A warming coil was found, and the water was tepid when the time came for the baptisms.
The children being baptized were an active lot, even more so than most small children. My wife and I had babysat these particular children before, so we were expecting a spectacle. We were not disappointed. The difficulty was getting all the children in the same spot. They were excited about the number of aunts, uncles, and cousins in attendance, so one or another of them would slip away while Father was herding the others towards the font. By the time the prodigal was corralled and brought into the fold, another would have escaped. This continued until it was no longer cute, then the relatives intervened and the service was allowed to continue.
The baptismal service in the Orthodox Church resembles a great deal the services for Great and Holy Theophany. I can see now why Orthodoxy is so much “all of one piece”, so that you can’t change one part without doing damage to the whole tapestry, and also why you need to pay attention to what is going on in the services. Orthodoxy is not an ideology extracted from a text, it is wet, or sweet like incense, or sharp,like the pain in your knees after too many prostrations, and it takes time to make the connections.
One by one, the children were guided up the stairs by Father. The look on the oldest child’s face was priceless. She was old enough (about six) to realize that something very important was happening. Of course, the children all enjoyed being the center of attention, but the eldest, a girl, was perceptive enough to realize it wasn’t all about her. Her eyes darted back and forth between the icon of Christ and the water, and maybe I am reading something into a six year old girl’s actions, but it appeared to me as if she understood the connection.
The third child, also a girl, was the wiggliest and complained the loudest. I don’t think she was quite three. Father dunked her three times in rapid succession, and she let out a yowl that rattled the rafters. The last child was much easier. God has had mercy on these particular parents, and has blessed them with a relatively tranquil child after the other three little dynamos. Then came the chrismations, the presenting of crosses and icons, and the procession of the boys behind the iconostasis for their churching.
I tried not to think of the countless people for whom that would be an offense and an outrage, that the boys should be paraded behind the iconostasis and their sisters excluded.
After the baptism service came the Divine Liturgy for Lazarus Saturday. On the day before Palm Sunday, the Orthdox Church celebrates the raising of Lazarus from the dead. As Father explained it, it is first of all a glimmer of hope to start us on a very difficult road; the road past the Cross to the Tomb during Holy Week. Lazarus was a particular man. He had a family; two sisters who loved him deeply and mourned him bitterly. His resurrection is an earnest of our own, even though he had to die again eventually.
I didn’t know that he became a bishop in Cyprus later.
In my last post, I see that I was toying with the idea of separate spiritualities for men and women. I am certain now that this does not obtain. The existence of men and women saints bears this out, as does the means of their sanctification, which is identical for men and women. I am also certain that there is a place before God where men and women are identical, this is a place spoken of by Paul when he wrote in Galatians that in Christ the distinctions between humans disappear. Nevertheless, I don’t think this place is accessible to most of us most of the time. It is a very holy place, and I don’t think modern Egalitarian Christians are coming from this place when they scold Traditionalist Christians for “oppressing women”.
Protestants don’t as a rule pursue a personal relationship with the Mother of God, and I think this is a big problem for them. It kind of neuters them. It forces relationships between the sexes into an abstract realm of “personhood” rather than manhood and womanhood. Following Fr. Stephen Freeman, if we look to Christ to see perfect humanity revealed, then we look to His mother to see perfect femininity revealed, to see the woman qua woman brought to perfection. It is interesting that the primordial man-woman relationship in Christianity is the mother-son relationship; that between Our Lord and His mother, rather than God allowing Ærself/Ærselves to incarnate as a pair of Divine Siblings like Apollo and Artemis, or as a pair of divine spouses such as Rama and Sita/Osiris and Isis. The power dynamics between a mother and a son are subtle, and I think they are closer to what Paul hints at when he enjoins “mutual submission” than anything attainable by spouses or siblings.
Since this is my own blog, I’ll say what I please. I don’t care for “persons”, and androgynes make me uneasy. There is a full frontal assault in anything that reminds us of our contingency and interrupts our project of self-creation and self-definition. I remember reading on a Christian feminist site that feminism was necessary because without it women would be “dependent on men”, as if that were a bad thing. My life is dependent on a legion of people who have been proxied away from me and hidden from sight; the immigrant women who package my poultry, the man at the wastewater plant who separates me from my excrement, the priest who serves me the Mysteries. The assault on sexual essentialism is to me an assault on the givenness of sex and sexual differences.
I think there is a quote attributed to Margaret Atwood that says “Men are afraid women will laugh at them; women are afraid men will kill them.” Now, that is a pretty big difference. I remember the first time I wandered into a site dedicated to Christian feminism and began to “share” my views. The women invoked violent abuse almost immediately. Some of the women had to excuse themselves, saying that my opinions were “triggering” memories of abuse. Now, I was raised Old School, and was forbidden to raise a hand against a woman in anger. I was taught that it was unmanly, and I still believe that to be true.
A lot of the feminist rhetoric I read centers on the propensity of men towards violence. Like Tommy in Rudyard Kipling’s poem, masculine violence is excoriated until it is necessary. In the emerging monocultural managerial globalist Utopia, violence is outsourced. It is the monopoly of the managing class. Now, soap and antibiotics may have produced a world where most of us survive childhood, and fertilizer may have made it possible for most of us to eat without eliminating our neighbors, but none of us can be certain how long these conditions will obtain. It may not be advisable to breed out or propagandize out male violence just yet. If there is a Biblical character that I think of as being a masculine man, it is the Blessed Forerunner and Baptist John, of whom it is said that there is none greater “born of woman”. I do not think it is a coincidence that he appears at the left hand of the icon of Christ in every Orthodox church on the planet, with Our Lord’s mother on the right hand. In the Forerunner I see male violence redeemed, deified. The Kingdom of Heaven continues to suffer violence and the violent, like John, take it by force.
For the Monday after Pentecost, commonly known as The Day of the Holy Spirit in the Calendar of the Eastern Church
O Heavenly King, the Most Gracious Comforter and Spirit of Truth, even before the ages do You proceed from the Father and rest forever in the Son! O inexhaustible source; of the endowments of Godliness Who divides them unto whom-so-ever You will; for thereby have we unworthy ones also been sanctified, as they were signed upon us on the day of our baptism! Take regard then for the prayer of Your servants, come to us, dwell among us, and cleanse our souls; that we may be made ready as dwelling-places of the Most Holy Trinity!
Yes, O Most Gracious One! Be not reviled at our impurities and wounds of sin, but cleanse them with the total healing of Your chrismation. Enlighten our minds that we can comprehend both the vanity of the world, and of those which are in the world; vitalize our consciousness, that in never being silent it will advise us to work at eliminating those things which demote us; direct and renew our heart, that it will no longer be a source of evil thoughts and unfit desires; and, extinguish the flames of our passions with Your dew-bearing breath, that the blessed image of the Divine will not be darkened within us.
Drive away from us the spirit of boastfulness, of melancholy, of ambition and of vain talk; endow us with a spirit of love and patience, a spirit of meekness and of humble wisdom, a spirit of purity and of righteousness; that then, our feeble hearts having been set aright, we may progress along the path of Your holy commandments without laziness:
So then, having toppled every sin and worked in total righteousness, we may be accounted an end that is peaceful and without shame; to enter into the heavenly Jerusalem, and to worship You together with the Father and the Son, as the Trinity That is One in Essence and Indivisible, unto the ages of ages.
Translated by Subdeacon David Fritz of Wilkes-Barre, PA. May his memory be eternal.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent for Western Christians. Eastern Christians have been celebrating Lent since Monday, known as Clean Monday.
My head is a little dizzy, but my body feels strangely light and responsive. It is a good time to pray:
O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despondency, lust for power and idle talk.
But grant unto me, Thy servant, a spirit of chastity (integrity), humility, patience and love.
Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see mine own faults and not to judge my brother. For blessed art Thou unto the ages. Amen.
May it be so with us.
The Consistory men came at dawn
to strip the churches bare
to gather all the idols
they said were lurking there
Took they first the Mother
With her beloved Child
And chopped her into kindling wood.
My father said they smiled.
“This is not He!” The father cried
The new one that they sent
“These painted dolls! These wooden sticks!”
Into the fire they went.
There went my patron Anthony
Who fought against the Snake
Dark-eyed Lucy, gentle Claire
And Martin in their wake
Fierce wolves of God, they gnawed the church
Down to her very bone
Even the body on the rood
They did not leave alone
When all was gone that I had loved
They saw me standing by
Very small and very scared
and very soon to cry.
The father stroked my tousled hair
And held aloft a Book
He fixed me with his icy gaze
It was no pleasant look
“Child”, he said, “From this you’ll learn”
“The ways of God above”
“And how he proffers saving faith”
“With His electing love”
I don’t want his nasty Book
But to run and jump and play
And to feel the wind upon my cheek
The cool of night, the warmth of day
He says that this is evil
I must learn to mortify
All that sin that in me dwells
Or surely I will die.
And so I grew from girl to maid
and cut myself away
and feared lest all this useless beauty
should cause my soul to stray
But as I listened to his book
I heard the ancient strain
The palm trees laden with their dates
The flowers after rain.
The eagle in his heaven
The tree beside the brook
The conies in their stoney place
All this was in the Book
“This is also Me” I heard Him say
The voice within the Book
Omnia quia sunt lumina sunt
But you have to learn to look.
The voice was that of a strong young man in his early thirties, with an accent I couldn’t place, but the face was that of the Crypt Keeper. He had neither hair nor eyebrows. Eyes and mouth were pulled from their customary positions by leathery, inflexible bands of scar tissue. This scar tissue was ancient, almost as old as the young man himself. Indeed, on every place where the young man’s body was visible scar tissue wound across in great cords and cables.
The young man was telling his story. He was the son of a Nazarene pastor who lived with his family in a village south of Juba in the south of the Sudan. As happened frequently in that part of the world, raiders from the North set upon the village. These men butchered his parents, his brother and his sister before his eyes then, almost as an afterthought, threw him into a fire to perish. He was maybe six years old.
He was pulled from the fire by a woman from his village and washed off in a nearby stream. He credited this with saving his life. Along with other survivors of the raid, this woman made her way to a UN refugee camp across the Sudanese border in Uganda, where she deposited him in a camp hospital. Somehow, his plight caught the attention of someone who had resources and the authority to use them, and he was flown to a hospital in Dubai, then to Europe, and finally to the United States, where he had been adopted by a couple in Minnesota.
The young man continued his story. He spoke about growing up with dreams of revenge, of rising to a place of political power that would allow him to authorize the use of nuclear weapons on the men who had murdered his family. He would not only lay them waste, but their whole tribe, and their tribal lands. He tried to reconcile his need with vengeance with the gospel of forgiveness that his foster family preached to them from their Lutheran faith. Surely a just God wouldn’t look on in disapproval as he sought redress for this most horrible of crimes, would He?
Then the young man said something that I will never forget as long as I draw breath. I have already forgotten his name, and the day I heard his testimony in my wife’s church, but I will not forget what he said. “The Muslim raiders, they burnt me on the outside, but I was burning myself on the inside. They scarred my face, but I was scarring my heart. I was doing their work for them.”
At that point, the young man said, Jesus came to him and told him that he must forgive those who had tossed him into the fire so many years ago. Apparently, the Lord had revealed to him the state of the hearts of the raiders who came to his village, and he said that in that burst of understanding he was able to pity them, and pray for them. He was seeking now to return to the Sudan, seek out the men who had killed his family, or their families, and forgive them openly.
I thought he had a very poor plan. If these men decided to finish the job they had obviously left undone twenty-five years ago, what would possibly restrain them, and how could he forgive them then? Nevertheless, I couldn’t help admiring the young man for wanting to commit such a radical act of forgiveness. If what he said was true, and I have no reason to doubt him, the Lord had raised this young man to an enviable level of communion with Himself in His own suffering, but not one I was anxious to share. If the Lord had prayed for His tormentors “Forgive them Father, because they don’t know what they are doing”, then this young man took it to another level, “Father, forgive them although because they know exactly what they are doing, yet they do it gladly”.
I believe that it is a sign of the mediocrity of my spirit that I am not consciously aware of the need to forgive anybody, yet somehow I am seething with a very low level of anger almost constantly. I was gobsmacked by the young man’s confession of his desire to go nuclear on his enemies, because that had been a perennial component of my daydreams as well. I could even have advised him as to how to go about it. Depending on something I have never been able to pin down, I have been at various times in my Walter Mitty-like reveries a fervent commissar in pursuit of kulaks, a Dominican sniffing out Cathars, a Covenanter sergeant cleansing with holy fire every foul root of idolatry and prelature. I’m certain you have read pastor Martin Niemöller’s eloquent poem:
First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the socialists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.
Maybe I am off-base here, and attempting to force the good pastor to address something he never intended to address, but what do you do about the multitudes of people whose most fervent desire is to be one of them, one of clean-up squad who come for everybody else? Did you ever feel that desire, pastor Niemöller? If you did, how did you get rid of it? Is there ever anyone who wants to speak for them? How did you place a desire like that under the heel of Christ? Who did you have to forgive? How did you manage to identify them? Do you stop listening to Fox News and switch on NPR, or vice versa? Was it as easy as that?
Sometimes I think it is an easier thing to forgive a harm done to myself than a harm done to someone I love. My wife often quarrels with women in her church. She seems to be a very polarizing figure, especially for women. Many women (and men) in her church love her, but others cannot abide her presence. To be honest, I don’t much care for the women who don’t like my wife either, and not entirely because they don’t like my wife. I can tell almost from the beginning that if my wife is serving on a ministry or is attending a Bible study with a particular someone that it is not going to end well.
So she quarrels with these women, and at times she is deeply hurt. Rumors are spread about her that are just plain wrong, and often even people I respect and admire fall into them. My wife struggles to forgive these women, and then attempts to move on. I wonder what I am supposed to do. I can always hide in my Greek church (which my wife doesn’t attend because, as you guessed, she has quarreled with some women there and she isn’t that interested in Orthodoxy anyway), but I want to attend my wife’s church with her. It is usually profitable and it makes her very happy. Invariably, I catch some woman or another giving my wife the stink-eye. It grinds me up, and then Hulk wants to smash.
What am I supposed to do? By the outdated code I cling to and live by, I should speak to the woman’s husband and set up a time for the four of us to speak, but my wife shushes me, telling me it won’t do any good. Ordinarily, if you tell people you forgive them when they are convinced that they are in the right and that you should be asking their forgiveness, it does more harm than good. So I bluster along resenting and being resented, adding another layer of redirection to the carapace of my soul, as the sands of my life run through towards that final terrible reckoning.
This was originally posted on the old website of the OCA congregation Saint John The Wonderworker in Atlanta, Georgia. When I returned to their website looking for it, it had disappeared. St. John’s has been under a lot of pressure recently, having lost their beloved founding pastor this January. Recently, one of the most prominent lay leaders in that congregation has also been called home. May the memories of Father Jacob Meyers and John Aldrich be eternal and ever-fresh. That congregation, though, has not wavered in its dedication to the threatened and harassed poor of Atlanta. They are actually serving more poor now than they were while Fr. Jacob was with them. I believe this following piece was written by Fr. Jacob. It certainly breathes of his spirit. I wanted to rescue it from the Web Archive before it rotates completely away.
Without the poor we have no hope of heaven.
In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus describes the last judgment when each persons work will be tried by fire. Those that when seeing the poor refused to open their hearts and purses when sent to the left side and dismissed from the presence of God with the words “as you did it not to the least of these you did it not to me.”
Without the poor we have no quick way to lay up treasures in heaven.
He who gives to the poor lends to God. When we put our treasures into the hands of the poor we transfer our goods to heaven. All the gifts given to the poor or those who beg on their behalf are accounted as credit in heaven and since no thieves or moths or rust can diminish the treasure, it is truly secure awaiting our arrival in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Without the poor after we “sell all” that we have, who will we give it to.
Jesus tell the rich young ruler to sell all he has and give to the poor. The Saints from the beginning in preparation for a life in Christ sell all they have or else entrust the distribution of their wealth to a servant as a gift to the poor. Countless Saints and righteous people have taken this step as the first of a life dedicated to God.
Without the poor there is no way to give directly to Christ.
As you have done it to the least of these, you have done it unto me. The hands of the poor are the hands of Christ just as the Church is the body of Christ.
Without the poor we hopelessly deluded by materialism.
The poor by their lives show the rich that God is the source. The poor show the rich that it is possible to live simple uncluttered lives. The poor show the rich that lives without abundance of this worlds good is possible. Our possessions eventually possess us and grow to rule our lives.
Without the poor we have no vision of a simple lifestyle.
As the accumulation of things invades our lives, we forget that real life is found in Christ. The poor give us a view of how little we need to life a calm and peaceful life in godliness and dignity.
Without the poor we cannot learn to be content with what we have.
The household of faith, living true humility, demonstrates being content is key to a true satisfaction. God knows what we really need to live, to ask for more than God provides presumes that God is unaware of our needs or what is best for us.
Without the poor we cannot lend to God.
He who give to the poor lends to God. Saint Nectarios as well as other saints have demonstrated that God repays many times over that money we lend to him by giving to the poor. Saint Nectarios observed many times a hundred fold return on his loans. And further God supplied to Saint Nectarios the money just at the right time in the amount needed.
Without the poor we have no people to thank God for us.
Just as the rich have a responsibility to provide for the poor. The poor have a responsibility to thank God for the rich who provide for their needs. The poor by our continual gifts make mention of us every day.
Without the poor can not learn to be generous.
Only by giving can we learn to be generous and merciful. When we take those first step of generosity we are fearful but we soon learn the joy that comes from giving. Truly Acts 20:35 rightly says “it is more blessed to give than to receive.”
Without the poor we cannot receive from God as we have given.
As you give so it will be given to you pressed down and shaken together. But the first step in giving is find people who can receive our gifts or finding some to deliver out in abstaining from food (that is the beginning) but exercising mercy so we can receive mercy. Consider making the Winter Lent a time to begin to follow the example of Saint Nicholas in giving to the poor.
Without the poor our riches become chains that fasten us to this life and condemn us to poverty hereafter.
The Rich man had everything in this life and Lazarus lacked all things but in the life hereafter the rich man, because he forgot the poor, lives as Lazarus in the life hereafter wishing every for a drop of water.
Without the poor moth, rust and thieves ruin all that we count dear to us.
Where our treasure is there is our heart. If we neglect the poor all that we lay up as treasure will be just a bunch of rot. The Poor do not need our help. We need to help the poor. The poor have God as their Father and GOD supplies all that they need. If you do not cease your thefts from the poor God will provide for them some other way.