This is the main thing: “Our religion is founded on spiritual experience, seen and heard as surely as any physical fact in this world. Not theory, not philosophy, not human emotions, but experience.” —St. Nikolai Velimirovic I think that, for much of my life writing about eastern / Orthodox Christianity and ancient Christian spiritual disciplines, I have been going about it wrong, based on some inaccurate assumptions I had.
Heh. Reminds me of the time I was asked to lead a retreat for the women of an evangelical church, and they balked at the Jesus Prayer, charging that it was “vain repetition.” (Yes, this was after we’d sung quite a few repetitive praise choruses.)
Over the years we have seen some touching and marvelous things occur at Holy Cross Church. Here are a few of our stories. 1. We’ve had a couple of “angel sightings” by very young children. (Or rather, a couple that children told us about; who knows how many times they see angels, and don’t tell us about it.) On a Sunday in 1999, a family from Texas came to Holy Cross for the Divine Liturgy, accompanied by their 3-year-old girl. Later that day they were at dinner in Deacon Mark & Shmassey (“deacon’s wife”) Ina O’Dell’s home. The little girl was seated between her mother and Ina, and Fr. Gregory was seated across the table from them. Ina says: “I remember her sitting there between me and her mom saying, ‘Mom! Look, he’s the one!’, while pointing to Fr. Gregory. Her mother asked what she meant, and she said ‘He’s the one that was singing with the angels!’ Beth looked at me with raised eyebrows. One of us asked the child whether she had seen angels in church, and she replied ‘Yes,’ but she was clearly more excited to be seeing Father again: ‘and he’s the one that was singing with them!’”
[January 24, 2016] Today is the feast day of St. Xenia of St Petersburg (1732-1803), a beloved saint of relatively recent times. St. Xenia’s husband died after a night of drinking, leaving her a childless widow at 26. Now freed from all earthly attachments, she took on the very challenging spiritual discipline of being a Fool for Christ. She gave away her home and all her possessions, and became a homeless wanderer. Grieving for her husband, who had died without having made his confession, she word only his red-and-green military uniform (when it wore out, she clothed herself in rags of those colors).
This new Russian novel tells the story of a fictitious 15th century saint, a wonderworker and healer. Though secular readers may be inclined to consider his feats “magical realism,” everything in it could be found in the life of one Orthodox saint or another: soul-reading, bilocation, levitation, multiplication of bread, companionship of wild animals, and so on. The book has been greatly admired in literary circles in Russia, and won some significant awards; but its popularity may also stem from the hunger that made Everyday Saints (by Archimandrite Tikhon Shevkunov, 2012), with its stories of modern-day miracles, a bestseller in Russia. There is a hunger for recovering the nation’s historic Christian roots, especially in the lives of its saints, both ancient and contemporary.
[Sinteza magazine, Romania, Summer or Fall 2015] -Which is now the place of Orthodoxy in a world of such a great religious diversity as America? What do Americans generally know about the Orthodox Church? What do they know about Romania? America was founded mostly by Protestants, though some areas were populated by Roman Catholics. But over the years it has become extremely diverse, such that people of every land and every faith are visible in our cities. We are not as free to display Christian symbols, such as a cross or a stone engraved with the Ten Commandments. People of other faiths protest and demand equal time. Recently, a group of Satanists demanded the right to place a statue of Satan next to a stone carved with the Ten Commandments on a public lawn. Atheists also attack the expression of Christian beliefs in public places. While a very large percentage of the country is still Christian, the people in power tend to be atheists and despise Christians (in part because we oppose abortion and same-sex marriage).
[National Review, June 13, 2015] Who are the Orthodox? It’s a question increasingly on Western minds as Eastern Christians suffer tremendous persecution — such that the future existence of Christianity in the region is uncertain. Frederica Mathewes-Green, whose husband is archpriest of Holy Cross Orthodox Church in Linthicum, Md., provides a tour of and primer on the Orthodox Church in her new book, Welcome to the Orthodox Church: An Introduction to Eastern Christianity. She discusses her faith and Christian beliefs and recommends practices that can be of ecumenical benefit. Kathryn Jean Lopez: If you had to tweet out your welcome to Orthodoxy, what would you offer as a definition?
• What draws people to this contemplative and traditional corporate and individual discipline? I think they are looking for an anchor to reality that is outside their own personal experience and their own wisdom. Way back in the 60s churches began talking about being “relevant” and rearranging worship and worship space to attract contemporary people. This makes so much sense on the surface, but it backfires because it treats worshipers like customers and seeks to please them, and the “customers” sense that they are being fed something that has been carefully adjusted to please them. In a restaurant, that’s fine; but in worship you are trying to ground yourself in something bigger and wiser than yourself, and to have the proprietor just keep shoving a mirror in your hands is not helpful. Flattering for a while, but not what you need when you’re searching and yearning for something greater and more stable than yourself.
I was delighted to be asked to write about the “Role of Men,” because I’ve read so many articles by men about the role of women. Such essays always give me the feeling that men consider themselves the standard, and women the variation. (That assumption was evident in an American magazine some years ago, when its cover offered an article titled “Why Women are Different.”)
I had been searching for a spiritual father for some time when someone said, “Why don’t you ask Fr. Gheorghe Calciu? He lives only an hour away.” I was astounded; I had read his “Seven Sermons to Youth” and admired him, but I thought he still lived in Romania. I learned that he was pastor of Holy Cross Church in Alexandria, Virginia, while my church is Holy Cross Church in Baltimore, Maryland (both cities are near Washington, DC). I went to meet him for the first time on March 11, 1999. He was my spiritual father and confessor until his repose on November 21, 2006.