Friday, December 31, 2010

A brief note

Felicity and I are indebted to Fr. Joseph Honeycutt's Orthodixie Blog for advertising this conference!  We are really excited to e-ttend.


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christ is born!

I'm not sure I (Peter) mentioned in any previous posts (check to see if I did or not), but my first real experience of Orthodoxy was at Nativity.  My roommate E. was baptized that Sunday morning, and then I spent the rest of the day with he and another recent convert talking about the Church and the feast and what not.  The bishop was there that night, too.  And we did the Liturgy of St. Basil.  I stood for three hours in really uncomfortable shoes for 3 hours.  I was so confused!  So much happened that I had no idea about.  I do remember, however, that I was caught up in the wonder and the beauty of it as I tried to listen to the words of the hymns and internalize what I was listening to.

This year we didn't make it to Christmas liturgy.  We were up in New Hampshire with my family, celebrating to the best of our ability.  It was really wonderful.  We ate, sang songs, opened presents, prayed, laughed, gave lots of hugs and kisses--truly sacramental.  I missed being there for the long night, the party afterwards, the big hymns full of deep theology.  What I received in exchange, though, was something truly wonderful.

I have an incredible family.  We may drive each other crazy, but they are loving, compassionate, giving, and unselfish to a fault.  If I couldn't be at Liturgy, I'm glad I was home with people who love me and who also love Jesus.

As I look at the coming year I have a few goals I'd like to set for myself: keep reading spiritual books, meet once a month with Br. S, and work towards our Chrismation at Nativity next year--maybe.  We are all about following God's plan for our lives.  We don't know where our path will lead us this year, but I do know that I have never felt so sure of where I'm meant to be at any time before.

I have so much to write about: my uncle is dying of cancer, my little girl crosses herself and makes deep prostration, our infant is nearly rolling over, my wife and I are learning to pray together and work through our sins in a way that is forgiving and healing, and so much else.  I don't know what comes next, but I do know that I'm in the right place.  Christ is born!  Glorify Him!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Discipline of Not Fasting

This Nativity has presented us with some interesting challenges.  Among them, keeping our toddler away from the Christmas tree, figuring out how to start the tradition of St. Nicholas and, most importantly (and relevant to this blog post) what it means to be Orthodox during the holiday season.  Like most converts, I think, we assumed that Nativity would mean fasting and going to lots of services.  A few weeks into it, we are coming to understand the less glamorous reality.  Namely, we can't fast and we make it to up to the monastery maybe twice a week.
I know that fasting with two small children, one of them nursing, would be against the teachings of the church, but there's a part of me that still feels like we're missing an important part of "being Orthodox" by not doing it.  This feeling is compounded by the fact that I've been losing weight since my pregnancy, losing too much in fact, and so not only am I not fasting, but doing rather the opposite: lots of full fat dairy products, rich oils, meats, etc.  This is the first year that I've really been aware of the Nativity fast and shown any inclination to join in, and yet I am completely and utterly unable to do so.
Going to services has been difficult as well.  When we first moved here, we thought being only a few miles from the monastery that we'd be going up multiple times a day.  Matins, vespers, vigil, liturgy; they'd have to lock the doors to keep us out; only feet of snow would keep us away.  Perhaps such hopes were the naivete of new converts mixed with that of young parents (a nasty double whammy, that).  Needless to say, we make it up to vespers maybe once a week ("we" usually being Peter getting the toddler out of the house so I can breathe for a while and make dinner).  Services are difficult for us to attend all together.  When one daughter is content, the other one wants to run up the stairs into the altar.  When she's finally contented with crayons or a book, the other declares (louder every week) that she's wet and hungry.  Usually, these disturbances occur during a reading, or the sermon, or (worst of all) during one of the times of silence which follow the sermon and the Eucharist.  We don't feel pressure from the parishioners or the monastics to keep the girls quiet, but it's awfully hard to thoughtfully consider the sermon when trying to calm a screaming baby or wrestle a headstrong toddler.
The further we go in this adventure of ours, however, I'm learning how to use all of these things to grow closer to Christ and becoming more like Him.  I hope in this season of life we can learn these important lessons: that fasting isn't the point, and neither is going to church.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Thoughts on eating

There's one of the stories from the Desert Fathers about a young monk who is given a rule of prayer which he considers too lenient.  His elder gave him only a handful of prostrations per day when he had been doing some inordinate amount like 200.  I really don't remember the full detail of the story.  I do remember the point, though.  He comes back to his elder to report on his prayer rule and how difficult it was to do so few prostrations, how fatigued he was, and how easily distracted he became.  When he asked why it was that so few prostrations were so hard to complete, his elder told him that it was because the devil had made the extra prostrations easy for him.  Powerful stuff.

We've been given instruction not to fast by two different priests.  Our priest in North Carolina told us not to, but to focus on our family, saying prayers, and trying to live in light of the Gospel as we slowly moved into Orthodoxy.  Our priest here has basically given us the same instruction, reminding us that with two small children, a full time job, and the struggle just to make our income match our outgo every month, we don't need to prove how Orthodox we are by having a long prayer rule, plus however many Jesus prayers, plus 42 prostrations,  He was very clear: you need to find the time to meet God in the ordinary.  So during this Nativity Fast, we aren't fasting.

I really hope this posting isn't going against the injunction against boasting or blowing trumpets during fasting that Jesus gave in the Sermon on the Mount.  If it is, please forgive me.  I just find it strange to be eating while others fast.  It's strange, also, to be receiving the charity and gifts that we would like to be giving to others.  We're learning how to be lilies and sparrows, and if you recall, it is the sparrows that our Heavenly Father feeds.  We're trying to be aware of the fact that true fasting, according to Scripture is a broken heart, forgiveness, sorrow for sin, released prisoners, et al.  We're also trying to be aware of the fact that it would be easy for us to fast right now, and our egos would be stroked quite nicely as we modestly turned down hamburgers and turkey dinners due to our religious restriction.

I'm discovering more and more that Orthopraxy is more than two hours of prayer every day, half the year eating vegan, and learning to converse in four different languages about food.  It's really about living life that is being shaped by the Gospel.  Am I living the Nicene Creed?  Do I really believe all of those things?  Am I seeing that I need a physician to heal me from this horrible disease of sin?  If so, isn't that truly Orthodoxy?  Metropolitan Jonah gave a talk several months (if not a year) ago on the Catechumenate in which he said that it's not a time to catch up on 1500 years of Church History.  It's an opportunity to work on making the best first confession you can make.  I'm trying to live in light of that, and following the advice of my priest and the commands of our Lord.  May God break my heart this Nativity Fast with His love for a broken world, and may the compassion that He showed to a sinful people inform my every action and every thought.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

More is coming!

To all our faithful readers and followers, accept this as my apology for not updating in the last week or so. Due to Holiday activity, family, weddings, and what-not writing has been rather low on the priority list.  Oddly enough, playing ridiculous Facebook games has not been that low.  Please forgive us.  More to come in the coming week!  Have a blessed St. Nicholas day!