21 December 2014

O Virgo - 8th Advent Meditation

O Virgo virginum, quomodo fiet istud?
Quia nec primam similem visa es nec habere sequentem.
Filiae Ierusalem, quid me admiramini? Divinum est mysterium hoc quod cernitis.

O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be?
For neither before was any like thee, nor shall there be after.
Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me? That which ye behold is a divine mystery.

So, what are you expecting for Christmas? Toys are probably too "young" for many of my readers. Some will have kids of their own and will be handing out toys, but some will be childless or alone. Some will be with family or friends, and some will be alone. I was alone last Christmas for much of the day after Church and it seems as though I will be alone the same this year, but all day instead. For the parts I was not alone, I was at a rather dysfunctional gathering that had nothing really to do with the holiday except it was so scheduled.

But it was Christmas day nonetheless and it will be so this year as well.

A coworkers laments that he hasn't yet caught the Christmas spirit. My first thought was, uncharitably, "of course not, you don't go to Church". But seriously folks: what is this "Christmas Spirit" of which you speak? I think I know. On the wonderful "Mannheim Steamroller" Christmas album, the last track is Silent Night. Right at the end, the fully produced instrumental recording morphs into a toy piano playing a one-key at a time, "Tink, tink-tink, tink. Tink, tink-tink, tink." There is a sound like a wind outside and carried on the wind - just as the child stops on the piano, one can hear the sound of sleigh-bells off in the distance. If one has imaged the child tinking out the note on the piano, one can see the child stop and get a look of wonder on her face as she hears the sleigh-bells.  That used to (heck, still does) make me mist up.  It's so sentimentally Christmas.

I get the same feeling watching George Bailey run through town calling "Merry Christmas" to all the things, and at the end of How the Grinch Stole Christmas as "the Grinch's small heart grew three sizes that day".  It also happens in Miracle on 34th St watching the Macy's Parade and, for that matter, it happens when ever I see the finale of the Macy's Parade.

That sentimental schmaltz is, I want to suggest, the Christmas spirit most people are talking about: a combination of hopeful memories and dashed hopes built around what could have been and what should be the content of MY HOLIDAY DAMN IT I WANT IT NOW.

And it's why most of us end the holidays feeling slightly disappointed and betrayed.  What I don't understand is why we keep doing it.  And what you are probably wondering is what it might have to do with the Latin verse at the top of the page.

The daughters of Jerusalem sing O Virgo virginum, quomodo fiet istud? Quia nec primam similem visa es nec habere sequentem. "O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be? For neither before was any like thee, nor shall there be after." They get all hung up on how awesome the Holy Virgin is and we do that do, a lot. Advent and Christmas are times for devotion to Mary to excel. Nothing wrong with that as long as we allow her - as she does in this verse - to say "Don't look at me, look at my son." Quid me admiramini? Divinum est mysterium hoc quod cernitis, "Why marvel ye at me? That which ye behold is a divine mystery." Rejecting what is even hers by right she says "Look at my Son: my only crown."

We spend a lot of time looking for The Christmas Spirit but never looking for Christ.  Either he's old hat or else he reminds us of some bad stuff, or he's just a fairytale we don't want to bother with.  But the rest of it is just schmaltz - a Yiddish word meaning chicken fat, and it has 115 calories per tablespoon and it's about as healthy as the stuff we do to "Christmas" in the name of the "spirit".  So back to my original story line: how can you get the Christmas Spirit?  By going to Christmas...

Or you can settle for schmaltz.

No Christ, no Christmas.

That's how it is.

16 December 2014

O Emmanuel - the 7th Advent Meditation.

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, expectatio gentium, et Salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.

O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the one awaited by the gentiles, and their Saviour: come to save us, Lord our God.

A reading from the works of St Cyril of Alexandria

In earlier days a life of moral excellence was a road difficult of access to nearly everyone and evangelical behaviour a path untrodden. All minds were ruled by worldly and earthbound desires and were swept away by the inordinate impulses of the flesh. But when God became man – or was made flesh, as the Scripture says – he abolished sin in the flesh: he overthrew the principalities and powers and the world rulers of this universe. He made our path to godliness into a level road on which travelling is easy, where nothing is too steep or too high, and nothing lies down in a hollow: a road smoothed out into a plain. All the devious tracks have been straightened.

But there is more: The glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all flesh will see the salvation of God, because the Lord has spoken. The prophet says that the glory will be revealed, but how will this be done? Christ is the only Son of the Father and the Word of God, subsisting as God and born of the Father in a way no words can explain in the sublimity of the Godhead, far above all heavenly rulers, authorities, thrones, and dominations and every title that can be given in this world or the next. He is the Lord of glory, and we have come to recognize his glory even though formerly we did not know it, because by becoming a man like us he revealed himself in his incarnation. He was revealed who is equal in power to God the Father, equal to him in action and equal in glory; he was revealed who upholds the universe by his mighty word, accomplishes miracles with ease, rebukes inanimate creation, raises the dead, and achieves without effort all the rest of his wonderful works.

Thus the glory of the Lord has been revealed, and all flesh has beheld with wonder the salvation of God; that is, the saving act of the Father who sent his Son from heaven to be our saviour and redeemer. For since the law brought nothing to perfection and since the sacrifices that were only types had no power to cleanse us from sins, we were made perfect in Christ, freed from every stain and honoured by the gift of the Spirit who makes us by adoption sons of God. And in the intention of the One who saves, the grace given in Christ will extend to all flesh; that is, to the whole human race.

St Cyril of Alexandria, Is. 3,4 (PG 70, 802-803), from Word in Season 1

09 December 2014

O Rex - the 6th Advent Meditation

O Rex Gentium,et desideratus earum,lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti.

O King of the Nations, and the one they desired, keystone, who makes both peoples one, come and save mankind, whom you shaped from the mud.

For our verse today, I want to reach back in to the dark recesses of Internet history... well: 2005.  Philip Turner did a great essay over at First Things commenting on what's wrong with ECUSA. It was nearly prophetic because it's what's wrong with just about every liberal, mainline denomination now, 9 years later.  There are even creepy corners of Orthodoxy where this seems to be the message:
The Episcopal sermon, at its most fulsome, begins with a statement to the effect that the incarnation is to be understood as merely a manifestation of divine love. From this starting point, several conclusions are drawn. The first is that God is love pure and simple. Thus, one is to see in Christ’s death no judgment upon the human condition. Rather, one is to see an affirmation of creation and the persons we are. The life and death of Jesus reveal the fact that God accepts and affirms us.  
From this revelation, we can draw a further conclusion: God wants us to love one another, and such love requires of us both acceptance and affirmation of the other. From this point we can derive yet another: Accepting love requires a form of justice that is inclusive of all people, particularly those who in some way have been marginalized by oppressive social practice. The mission of the Church is, therefore, to see that those who have been rejected are included”for justice as inclusion defines public policy. The result is a practical equivalence between the Gospel of the Kingdom of God and a particular form of social justice.
I am thinking of this tonight in response to the verse for two reasons: the current round of protests and reading Eve Tushnet's Gay and Catholic.  (I just blogged a two-part reflection on that work, here and here.)  How often we come close to making a practical equivalence between the Gospel of the Kingdom of God and a particular form of social justice.  Mind you, that particular form varies: there are some that want a libertarian world with no poor people.  There are some who want a socialist world where there are no poor people.  There are some that want a world with no differences between the races and there are some that want only one race.  There are some who want their political party to be in charge of everything and there are some that want their country to be in charge of everything. There are even some who image there are no countries at all.

Today's verse, however, offers us a different idea:


Will Campbell once got called out by liberal, Yankee church folks for preaching the Gospel to the KKK.  His response was to remind us that God doesn't allow us the luxury of having enemies.  Orthodoxy says the same thing. It sounds like the "Gospel of Inclusion" doesn't it?  It sounds like all we need to stop doing is pushing people out. Heresies are always just a mite off: the tinge of Hell in our human lies. Campbell wasn't saying you should let in the racists: he was saying racists can be saved.  Of course, they won't be racists anymore... Yet in Will's story, it was the church folks who were further away from the Kingdom.

The problem with the Gospel of Inclusion (that was being preached, you can be certain, by the liberal Yankee folks) is that it forgets there are rules.  Love everyone means everyone.  Forgive everyone means everyone.  Sin no more means no more sin. Sadly there is also a Gospel of Exclusion that remembers that last rule, but forgets that we are all sinners or, as Campbell put it, "We’re all bastards but God loves us anyway." We are always in danger of confusing our politics with the Kingdom. Jews wanted a Messiah who would free them form Rome. They missed the boat. We want a Messiah that will free us from the Police and CIA torture.  Jesus, however, wants to reach the hearts of the Inclusion folks as much as the Exclusion folks. He wants to save the Muslims, the CIA, the Police, President Obama, and you.

I'm not a person of color: I'm as white a male as you're going to find.  I don't equate gay issues with racism, but it is the only "minority" status I have, so let me go with it for a moment.  There are some folks who act as if the only sin left is "The Gay".  Trust me, there's nothing that makes me want to beat up my fellow Christians so much as hearing someone who functions that way.  Listening to a conservative Orthodox priest who supports phyletism get bent out of shape because he things another jurisdiction is being a little to easy on the gays really makes me want to call him a liar. In public.  In front of the heathen.

Instead, I have to remember that God is saving him too, and certainly before me.  The Gospel isn't saying "let in the gays" but rather that we can be saved.  But probably none of us without the prayers of Will Campbell.  If you want to read more about him there's this wonderful obit at First Things.

God's in the process of making us all one in Christ.  I don't override free will when I say that: choices can take us further away from God, as well as closer to God.  But that is God's purpose and God's function in this first Advent.  And he tarries the judgement, his second Advent, to make it so.

08 December 2014

Gay and Catholic - A Reflection - 2nd

Before meditating on Eve's topic of friendship, a brief excursus on vocation: one is tempted to say "we don't do this in Orthodoxy" but that line is to fake. Generally, though, there isn't much discussion of a "Call" to the priesthood, a vocational idea unheard of in the saints. Thus there is no parallel lay idea of "well what's my calling?" Eve's reflections on vocation - while not using Orthodox language - are very helpful.  As she described her work in a pregnancy center with other women and how this was her vocation, I felt very much as if I'd found a soul-sister walking a parallel path to my own, once described as "Tech Support as a Spiritual Path."

We are all called to work out our salvation in fear and trembling.  For most of the history of the church for most of the people that means as laity. For my salvation, however, God has used people like Father Joseph to help me work out my salvation and his in a relationship. It is in relationship that our salvation is made to happen. The Church's relationship is hierarchical, structured. It is one of authority and love. Like a marriage.

When Layman X is working out his salvation it may gradually dawn on him - as St John Bosco (Roman Catholic) once said - ordination is absolutely necessary for him to work out his salvation. That's not the idea of "vocation" that I hear usually in today's discussions and it's not the idea that I hear in Eve's book. It is, however, despite John Bosco being RC, the idea in Orthodoxy. (I first heard this line in 1984 or 85, so forgive me if I have the attribution wrong! Was it the Cure D'Ars?) When a community is together working out their salvation they come to the realization that you are the right priest for them. This happened to some saints, chased all over town by the parish demanding their ordination. You might say that's a call! But it's a rare thing. It's a near-fantasy for someone who wants to have their ego gratified by having the Church "Call" them to the priesthood. My first realization that I wasn't called at all was a phone call from a priest saying "I don't think you're called to the priesthood, but I'd love to serve a liturgy with you as a deacon."  As I felt my ego deflate the escaping noxious smell made me realize this had all been some ego game.  I had never been  "Called" and I wasn't using this to work out my salvation.

So, for Orthodoxy (generally), we all know our vocation: working out our salvation in fear and trembling. We do have various tools and the selection of those tools falls to you and your Spiritual Father or Mother. The hypostatic freedom of the laity means you have a lot of power in that relationship: it's not one of "obedience" like it would be if you were a monastic although some converts (clergy and laity) act like it is.

Much of the book is about Eve finding a vocation, a second reason this book is not about "Gay and Orthodox" is we don't have vocations as such.  God is not "calling me" to have spent 25 years as a Customer Service agent of one sort or another, but rather, after being in Customer Service for that long, has it helped me get saved? Are your choices furthering your salvation?

It is this same approach that would be used for Orthodox who wanted to explore Eve's friendship model.

In Middle School and High School friendships were the end all and be all of my life.  Ditto in the Fraternity in College.  Because of my fraternity experience, I recognized Eve's discussion of "Vowed" friendships as creating these familial bond ("In Vinculis" or "In the bonds" is how we sign fraternal communications). That's a vowed kinship that holds, in the common law tradition, a more valid claim on one's life than even blood.  A legal relationship by verbal ro written contract made a "real" relationship more than hearts or spirits.  An adopted child is, in some real, legal ways, more my child in common law than a child born in my marriage.  A choice is made and affirmed in law.  It is the same as or even stronger than marriage.

After college, I had housemates - six of us in Astoria, 10 or so in Asheville until I shared an apartment with Todd, 14 in Buffalo, 3 - 8 of us here in SF, until I moved into my own apartment.  Now, if I want social life I have to leave the flat and go to the Church, the Office or, maybe, the Elks' Lodge.  There are volunteer options through work and the parish (and the Elks) but my circle of friends as such is a lot smaller now than it used to be.  Eve's book called me to fix that: to take actions that would send me out into the world in socially and spiritually salvific ways.

Any relationship must be approached as "Salvific or Not".  I read recently a response to Eve's book that questioned her about her willingness to enter into close personal friendships - even committed ones - with non-Christians. I thought I saw a link to that article on Eve's Twitter feed and maybe I was wrong - I've lost that article. But it took her to task for suggesting that a friendship with a non-believer could be a valuable as one with a believer.  Asking, again, the question about working out my salvation, I will note: there are some relationships within the Church that are salvific.  And some that are not.  There are some relationships outside of the Church that are salvific.  And there are some that are not.  One good thing at least: a non-believer will not join me in an engrossed gossip session about Church politics.

Eve confronts some issues that I recognize. The fear of  being so lonely that on is in danger of "being eaten by our cats" is one that made my day.  There are other, more serious dangers, though: the desire to be first, the desire to be exclusive, the temptation to get sexually involved, and the urge to make this friendship as much like a marriage as possible.  These are things I've done, getting jealous of straight male friends falling in love, getting married, etc.  See the earlier reflection about the imbalances caused by this particular weakness. There are too many TV shows and melodramas about same-sex attracted men and women who get married in their heads to their boss or their best friends and then go on murderous rampages.  For what it's worth, I've known a straight girl who ruined an entire office having a fake relationship with her boss.  I'm sure it was news to him.

Eve's advice in these situations is invaluable and very Orthodox: yes, you will. So buck up and don't do it again. We are human beings and we are prone to failure.  Can you be saved?  Yes. This failure of a friendship, right here, is what God has given you to use for that. We sin. Our very sins, through confession and forgiveness, become the rungs of our personal Ladder of Divine Ascent.  In Orthodoxy even our Death is part of God's toolkit for our salvation.  But how will we use it, that's the question we have to ask.

Eve doesn't address what do to with a few sorts and conditions of people: the ex who doesn't understand, the other party that wants to get into your pants (even deeply in love). Internet porn. She does address anonymous sex, but, truth be told, while I hate bringing sex to confession it is more embarrassing to admit that I don't hate confessing my anger, my judgementalism, my snobbishness. There are lots of books that address that sort of stuff, of course, but there are huge amounts of time when that's way more important to my life than my perceived or imagined (lack of) sex life.  It is good to note, however, that Eve's advice works here too: yes, you will. So buck up and don't do it again. We are human beings and we are prone to failure.

I'm not sure but I don't think Eve address the reactions of her gay friends. Do they feel judged? Do they still exist as friends?

In today's vernacular we are inclined to ask about a religious or political community "Are they Gay Friendly?"  We ask that as if everyone knows instantly what we really mean.  We don't draw lines though. We're looking for a nice religious (or political) commitment that won't prevent me from doing what I've been doing. The liberal church that does gay marriages but balks at the member who has a different "Partner" every couple of weeks or live-in "Friend" every six months or so will be branded as "not gay friendly." The meaning is, "Can I be a member of that community and do whatever the heck I want?"  Orthodoxy, like Catholicism is not Gay friendly in that meaning. There are persons who are members of the Orthodox Church who are attracted to members of their own sex.  There are members of the Orthodox Church who are attracted to members of the Opposite Sex.  There are members of the Orthodox Church who are attracted to members of both sexes.  But: if you want to use sexual expression as a tool in working out your salvation, you may only do it that (in the Orthodox Church) within the confines of a sacramental marriage. So, no: you cannot do whatever the heck you want.

If you ask an Orthodox writer or speaker, "can gays be saved?"  The answer is yes but not really because there are no class of persons in God's language. There are persons. So then if you ask "Can that lesbian, over there be saved?"  The answer is "mind your own business".  Ask rather, "Can I be saved?"  The answer is always yes.  But that's not the important question:  "What must I do to be saved?" is the only question worth asking. Who are you? You don't need to search out a special vocation, just look around your life. Your identity is not an individual act but rather a social creation of a communion of persons. Where do you stop and "others" begin? These are the people, these are the things, these are the choices God has given you - all of you - to get saved.

I read Eve Tushnet's Gay and Catholic: Accepting My Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith to explore the commonalities in our faith and living out those faiths.  By way of shorthand  I might explain, well, "I'm not Catholic and I'm not gay either."  I'm a sinner in the Orthodox Church. Such technicalities aside, though: I find Eve's reflection to be very helpful in sparking my own parallel reflections.  If I were to write such a book about being the sinner I am within the Orthodox church I might draw on many of the same sort of experiences and friendships used for the same sort of healing. While I wouldn't use the same sort of languages, I would be moving to the same ends. Our struggle to live our faith in a world increasingly unfriendly to that process of salvation. In my head Fr Joseph's Defeating Sin (I have not yet read Fire from Ashes which arrived from Amazon with the current volume) and Fr Meletios' Steps of Transformation address some of the same sort of material, they are more general. Gay and Catholic is well written for persons dealing with a specific sort of temptation. It's not about the theology or the teachings of the faith which are taken as a given, but rather about how to be faithful.  That it is written by someone who also is living the same sort of ascetic struggle (podvig, jihad) makes it very valuable for me.

07 December 2014

Gay and Catholic: A Reflection - 1st

When he saw I was reading Eve Tushnet's Gay and Catholic: Accepting My Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith a friend commented, "I can't understand why you're reading that: you're Orthodox." Of course he said that without fully understanding the differences or similarities between the two Churches: and in the area of "Teh Gay" they are very similar indeed. While Orthodoxy doesn't say we are "intrinsically disordered"  (or even use the same sort of legalistic language) our Church is quite clear
Homosexuality is to be approached as the result of humanity’s rebellion against God, and so against its own nature and well-being. It is not to be taken as a way of living and acting for men and women made in God’s image and likeness... Those instructed and counseled in Orthodox Christian doctrine and ascetical life who still want to justify their behavior may not participate in the Church’s sacramental mysteries, since to do so would not help, but harm them.
OCA Encyclical on Marriage, Family, Sexuality, and the Sanctity of Life
So I read Gay and Catholic because I live in the same world as Eve: a same-sex attracted person living in a community that asks celibacy of all members not living within the bonds of Sacramental Marriage (between one man and one woman).  The Orthodox Church's primary argument is for salvation - is this thing salvific, ie, will it lead to the salvation of this person here.  While that may sound way more liberal than the legal language of disorder, the Church's teaching is clear: giving in to same-sex attraction as with all temptation is a result of a breakdown in the image of God.  Please note: this is not a commentary on Same-Sex Attraction, per se. Being so tempted is not a sin. We are all sinners.  The same encyclical letter cited above counsels Same-Sex Attracted people to "...seek assistance in discovering the specific causes of their homosexual orientation, and to work toward overcoming its harmful effects in their lives." Notice we're not urged to "get fixed" or "become straight" but rather to overcome the harmful effects. It is in seeking that, that I read this book.

Eve's linking of her experience as a Lesbian with her Alcoholism was joy to read.  Not that one caused the other, but rather that she saw the parallels.  Her healing process on one topic parallels the other. This was something I learned working in a  rehab clinic in North Carolina. The OCA document as well, seems to agree, saying, "People with homosexual tendencies are to be helped to admit these feelings to themselves and to others who will not reject or harm them." It's like the first step of a twelve step process.  You have to admit there's an issue to fix before you can work on it. Eve see's coming out of the closet - being public with her same-sex attraction - as an important step.  But it is at this point (which was about 2/5 of the way through the book) that something began to change in my reading.  I'm not sure if it was there for Eve or just me.

Any reaction to a book will have good and bad spots: I only had a couple of issues with the book, but I think they are major ones. I want to say here, first - before going into the bad - that I loved the rest of the book.  Enjoy the "controversy" but don't miss the rest of the reflection!

I really have a huge problem with saying "I am gay".  I'm not saying I stay in the closet - I'm certainly out in every part of my life where I have any control over it.  But I think the reality is that I "feel" gay: not that I "am" gay.  I know that some groups are always trying to pin homosexuality on genetics which would make it like eye color and even more hardwired than race, but sexuality as we understand it in the first world really is a first world problem. History seems to indicate that people with same-sex attraction got married and were culturally straight all their lives with little or no harm.  It's only today with our focus on individuality and "freedom" (meaning, rather, license) that we allow for and expect people to act on every little feeling they have inside.  I "am" gay because I like sex with guys as I "am" a carnivore because I love bacon.  I can be a vegetarian - but I'd still love bacon.  I can even be an "ethical vegan" opposed to the anthropocentric use, objectification and slaughter of other living creatures - but still admit that the taste of bacon is one that I love.  I "am" gay rather as I love bacon.  It's fun. It's a preference, but it doesn't mean I'm gay in my being.

And there lies the rub, I think:  why I'm not "Gay and Catholic" but rather just the first of sinners and Orthodox.

There is a huge discussion among those who wish to live the Christian life as to what language to use: am I queer?  Am I gay?  Am I homosexual? Am I Same-Sex Attracted?  I agree with Eve that I do, in fact, experience my sexuality as a huge part of my life.  It has, really, driven my choices of friends, my living situations and even my job choices for much of my life.  But: is that the way it's supposed to be?  Or are these choices and other things some of the harmful effects in my life?  Honestly, this is where language of "intrinsic disorder" may come in handy. A Roman Catholic document on ordaining celibate gay men explained that there is some sort sexual malfunction going on that may, in fact, result in social failure as well.  I know that some of my closest and dearest friendships (off line and on) have begun with me saying "Whoa, he's cute."  It's taken me nearly 50 years to learn how to develop friendships with women.  But I don't know - I don't know at all - if this is because I'm sexually attracted to men or because I have spent a huge portion of my life acting on that attraction. I don't know if the same social failures happen for women, but I do know of the reverse stereotypes and, to be honest, Eve's book seemed at moments (to a male reader) to display and even justify some of them.

Eve is supported in her choices by other parts of the internet: many people on my twitter feed are not just "same sex attracted" but are "gay".  Spiritual Friends blog seems to agree here.  I am aware of Roman Catholic clergy who feel that "being" gay offers some specific gifts for ministry. Even the Roman Catholic teaching on same sex attraction, including the "intrinsic disorder" position seems in some readings to indicate some "beingness" to gayness.  (I don't want to get corrections from Theologians on this: I know that the teach of the RCC says that any sex outside of marriage is disordered.)  This is another reason I am not Catholic and yet another place where, legal language aside, Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism agree.  But the quoted document on sexuality says that this is not part of my nature.

Eve and others argue that her gayness has provided blessings in her life. I don't doubt that - I can confirm the same feeling about things in my life - but that is not a quality of goodness: it is rather a quality of God. God will always take what we offer in thanksgiving and return it to us filled with grace.  It doesn't mean that that very thing is not broken.  There are whole websites devoted to how to bake communion bread for the Byzantine liturgy.  These sites advise that no oil should be used, no milk, no lard, no sugar,  nothing other than yeast, flour, and salt. That these pointers have to be made (one site describing even the visible effects of such inclusions) means that some Orthodox baker has at least at times made bread with them.  No worries: the Body and Blood of Christ were communicated in that liturgy.  It just wasn't optimal.  Ditto gay: I'm not worried about God being able to bless me.  It's just not optimal. Something is Broken.  God's strength is made perfect in my weakness, though.

How we got here and what to do with "here" are all up for grabs and I think (perhaps) Eve and I disagree. But having decided not to stay here, Eve and I agree.  Having opted for submission to the teachings of the Church on human sexuality, how to move forward Eve offers a painfully honest - and joyful - assessment of the life we have chosen to live.

Eve confronts the very few options available for the celibate man or woman in the Church today: where to live, what to do.  While I am with Eve on this, I know there are some of my fellow churchmen who feel there are only two "really Orthodox" options available for a "really Orthodox" person, Marriage or the Monastery. While there is no justification for that from the saints or from history, I do want to point out that for some Orthodox including some clergy, the conversation stops here.  "You're not getting married, then go away."  Convents and Monasteries thus become a place to send all the troublesome folks.  My only comment here is that sending me to a house filled with bearded single men throws a hundred red flags on the play. Sending all  the gays to the same place seems too stereotypical. I have also read at least one Orthodox writer who insists there were never any homosexual men in "really Orthodox" monasteries.  Both extremes seem wrong to me, and the question of monasticism as salvific has to be answered in each individual context.

Eve assumes we're going to live in the world at some point.  She asks questions about our social life, about our jobs, about volunteer work.  She wonders if the "nuclear" families at the parish might open up to include singles.  In Orthodoxy this is a given in some ways: when you ask someone to be a godparent they become a part of your family.  There are even words in Greek and Russian for the relationship.  In Russian tradition there are even words for the relationship between me and the godmother of my godchild as well as his parents.  Kum (male) and Kuma (female) are consanguineous, at least as it was explained to me.  Anyway, godparent/godsiblinghood are ways to expand the family.  In traditional cultures, of course, back in the Orthodox "Homeland", the extended family was a real thing, including not only blood relations but servants and feudal obligations, social contacts and ecclesial commitments.

Here in America, however, we may only have an option for close friendships: and Eve spends a long time discussing these.  This reflection, however, has gone on long enough. I will get to her idas about friendships in part two!

04 December 2014

O Oriens - the 5th Advent Meditation

 Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

 Dawn, splendor of eternal light, and sun of justice, come, and shine on those seated in darkness, and in the shadow of death.

When Jesus said, Ego sum lux mudi, I am the light of the world (St John 8:12). What does that mean? What does it mean when we call him the "Sun of Justice" or when we hymn him, as in the Phos Hilaron, as the "light of the glory of the Father"?

What we mean is that Jesus is the light by which we see.  Not just spiritually, but at all. The Wednesday morning hymn of the Western Office makes this point, drawing the comparison between Christ and the dawn:

When breaks the day, and dawn grows bright,
Christ nearer seems, the Light of Light:
From us, like shades that night-time brings,
Drive forth, O Light, all darksome things. 
Earth’s dusky veil is torn away,
Pierced by the sparkling beams of day:
Our life resumes its hues apace,
Soon as our Day-Star shews his face. 
So thee, O Christ , alone we seek,
With conscience pure and temper meek:
With tears and chants we humbly pray
That thou wouldst guide us through each day. 
For many a shade obscures each sense
Which needs thy beams to purge it thence:
Light of the Morning Star, illume,
Serenely shining, all our gloom.
Many a shade obscures each sense which needs Thy beams... not just the sun's rays but the Son's light: the light of lights.  The sun is only a reflection of God.

This thing is driving me this Advent: God is the first - everything else follows.  If the Sun reminds us of God it is because God is light in his essence: Everything else is created light.  Jesus says "I am the Truth".  Everything in this world that is true is a reflection of Jesus who is, in his person, Truth itself.

The myths we made before the dawn came to us are true because of the Light himself. They are echoes before the fact from the omega point of all time on the Cross. We do not liken God to the King of Beasts and make stories, but rather the King of Beasts is and our stories are felt as truth because God is who he is in his person.

I stood these toys around a Christmas tree on a desk in my office.  Everyone - believers or not - instantly knew what was being said because of the Truth they represent echoes off them.  I don't think God's like an Android figurine (or a porceline one) but rather God is truth and pretty much anything can reflect it, or echo it back.  We see God in a giant mountain or a galaxy or a lover's eyes because God is who God is.

Dawn means something at all because of Christmas.