What was it like for the Good Thief, after Jesus died? He was left alone on his cross in terrible pain, and the one he put all his hopes in was gone, unmistakably dead. Jesus had not come into his kingdom after all. No matter how bleak your faith has become at times, it can’t have been worse than that. I expect we all love the Good Thief. His name is not certain; Russians call him St. Rakh, and to the Copts (and in the West) he is St. Dimas.
In the first three days of Holy Week, Orthodox Christians have a series of three Matins services called “Bridegroom Matins.” We sing:I behold Thy bridal chamber richly adorned, O my Savior,But I have no wedding garment to worthily enter.Make radiant the garment of my soul,O Giver of Light, and save me.
In this session we’ll be hearing a lot about persecution, and I was asked to lead off by talking about repentance—which might sound irrelevant. Don’t we have enough to worry about already? But the connection is this. If our faith is going to be increasingly mocked and rejected, it will negatively affect our ability to speak in the public square. What we say will be distorted or ridiculed. Communication will be difficult. So we’ll need to put more emphasis on connecting one to one, person to person. Not just learning how to talk cleverly about our faith, but actually living it in ways that other people can see. The early Christians did this during the Roman persecution; they lived in ways different from their neighbors, and the church grew. Like them, we’re going to need to let the light of Christ within us shine out.
This past Sunday was “Sunday of Orthodoxy,” as the first Sunday in Lent is always named. It celebrates the “Triumph of Orthodoxy” over iconoclasm, and the restoration of icons to their proper place in liturgical and devotional use. As St. John of Damascus explained, we honor icons, just as we show honor to the emperor, or to an aged parent. We don’t worship them. Worship is for God alone. We don’t worship our beloved favorite bible, but we handle it respectfully, and even with affection. The same with icons; they are portraits of people we love. As with a photo of a beloved grandmother, we handle icons with affection and respect.
Here’s how I got my new car. On Nov 23 I was coming home in my 2008 black Prius, my husband Fr Gregory driving, and while we were waiting to turn left an SUV ran right into the back of us. Her insurance company told us it was a total loss (the frame was bent) and they’d be sending us a check. I went and looked my old Prius up on Blue Book and it was worth much less than I had hoped. Well, I hadn’t really thought about it.
Last night was the beginning of Lent for Eastern Orthodox Christians. We are far behind the West this year. The reason is that the date of Pascha / Easter depends on the date of the vernal equinox (first day of Spring) and also the phases of the moon, and some years we have the same Easter, and some years (like this year) we are as much as 5 weeks off. On the Sunday evening that Lent begins, we have a vespers service. Afterward we have the Rite of Forgiveness. The members of the congregation line up, face to face, and ask for each other’s forgiveness, and give it. I found a few photos from around the web to show what this might look like.
During Lent we make more prostrations. That’s a process that begins by making the sign of the Cross, then bowing down, resting your knees on the floor and then touching your forehead to the floor. I’ve collected, below, some photos of people making prostrations from around the internet.
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.
Some of Joel and Ethan Coen’s comedies are pretty near perfect (see O Brother, Where Art Thou?), and some are a bag of mis-matched shoes (don’t see Burn After Reading or Intolerable Cruelty). The latest effort, Hail, Caesar!, just might be the best of all. The film depicts a single, hectic day in the life of Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), “Head of Physical Production” at Capitol Picture Studios, back in the booming 1950’s. It’s Eddie’s job, when DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johannson), a twice-divorced ingénue, turns up pregnant, to create a plan for her to “go away for a rest,” and come back having “adopted” her own baby. When Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes), director of high-toned romances, can’t get the sentence “Would that it were so simple” out of cowboy-actor Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich), it’s Eddie’s job to listen, nod, and calm him down.
On February 18, 1952, a brutal nor’easter raged off the coast of Cape Cod. The Ft. Mercer, A T2 oil tanker 500 feet long, severely battered by wind and waves, broke in two. The Coast Guard in Boston and Nantucket were called out to rescue the men trapped on board, twenty miles from shore. With 60 foot seas and 80 mph wind, the mission looked insane. One of the men staying behind, Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class Bernie Webber, recalled thinking, “My God, do they really think a lifeboat and its crew could actually make it that far out to sea in this storm, and find the broken ship amid the blinding snow and raging seas, with only a compass to guide them? If the crew of the lifeboat didn’t freeze to death first, how would they be able to get the men off the storm-tossed sections of the broken tanker?”