A Practicing Christian

unalaskaMy father was an auto mechanic. He learned the trade by working on cars (airplanes before that in the war). He liked his work and would come home in the evenings with stories of things he had diagnosed and fixed. I thought he was amazing. Stanley Hauerwas tells similar stories about his own father who was a brick mason. A brick mason learns his trade by working with another mason until he has gained the skills required of a master mason. This method of learning is probably as old as humankind. We learn by doing. The learning we gain, however, is more than mere problem-solving. A mason comes to think like a mason. He knows where a wall should start and avoids missteps and false lines of work. A true mechanic knows his machines and their logic. My grandfather was also a mechanic. He could diagnose many things in an engine just by listening to it (even in his last years when he was blind). All of these behaviors and learnings belong to the realm of “practices.” They are the things we do that make us what we are.

Hauerwas famously writes about certain practices that create virtue. We do not become virtuous people simply by willing virtue. St. Paul describes this process:

…we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. (Rom 5:3-4)

Christianity should be seen not just as a set of beliefs, but as a set of practices. The simple act of generosity is essential. Vigils and fastings are mentioned by St. Paul himself and remain part of the normative practice of classical Christianity. The forgiveness of enemies and regular, even continual repentance is required. And these things are more than mental concepts – they have a manner of being practiced.

Christ Himself did not give the Scriptures of the New Testament to the Church. They were written over the course of roughly 50 years, the first writings only appearing some 15 years or so after the resurrection. But Christ left an essential practice among the last acts of His ministry: the Holy Eucharist. This liturgical act was a constant practice of the Church’s life before a single line of the New Testament was written. It not only commemorated Christ’s death and resurrection – it explained them. This new feast defined Christ’s death and Resurrection as a Paschal feast. From there, the interpretation of the Old Testament could begin correctly. The Eucharist is the anchor of all Christian teaching and the New Testament is the first commentary on the Divine Liturgy.

Without such traditional practices, Christianity begins to change. The non-eucharistic character of contemporary Christianity not only violates Christ’s own commandment, but neglects the single most foundational practice that we have. 

There are other practices as well. In Orthodoxy, the whole of doctrine is expressed in practice. The Great Councils of the Church were not bureaucratic decisions, official opinions on doctrine to be written and codified and consulted as needed. Every Conciliar decision was equally a decision about how we pray and every doctrine finds its expression in the mature Liturgy of the Church.

Doctrines as fundamental to the faith as the Holy Trinity are often neglected with a modernist “just Jesus” patois taking its place. These things happen not because of ill-will or rebelliousness. They are the natural outcome of a Christianity shed of its practices. As I noted in my previous article, even the Marian Feasts are essential to a right-understanding of doctrine. The Incarnation cannot be fully taught or appropriated without them.

But these things are under attack even within Orthodoxy. None of the practices themselves are criticized. They are simply neglected. I hear from time to time of a major feast being ignored in a parish. Doubtless a priest is thinking to himself, “Why should I bother to celebrate the feast if nobody is coming?” And too few come because many Orthodox have adopted the practices of cultural Protestantism. 

This, too, is not rebelliousness or ill-will. It is the shape of our culture. Our neighborhoods, and infrastructure are architectural monuments to a secularized culture. There is no need to think of living near the Church if you only need to commute once (or twice) a week. Schools, parks, shopping – all of these “conveniences” are considered first – the Church often exists as an inconvenient afterthought.

There has recently been discussion of the so-called Benedict Option, an incubation of the Christian community with a view to the long run. The Benedict Option will not likely be a suburban project. Suburban life embodies a set of practices designed to secularize and marginalize the traditional faith.

In the classical Christian village (once upon a time), the day began with prayers. You could hear the bells of the Church ring. A person’s daily cycle mirrored the Church’s daily cycle. The calendar of the Church marked and blessed the passing of the year. These things were completely integral. Today’s left-overs such as blessing grapes at Transfiguration, or honey on August 1st, are merely shadows of a village way of life that has passed. They are good memories, even though they feel alien to our suburbs.

It is interesting that we are discovering that our suburbanized American lifestyle is among the most wasteful and polluting ways of living ever devised on the planet. In time, such extravagance will fail. In the meantime, we need to remember (and recover) as much of our humanity as possible. For Christians, who alone remember the fullness of humanity in Christ, this means remembering and recovering as much of the practice of the faith as possible. Doubtless, there are practical decisions families can make. Is it possible that being a Christian might cost you a lifestyle?

56 comments:

  1. I don’t know how you do it, Father Stephen! Posting fresh, robust, and varying contemplations as often as you do on this blog. I get to sit back and just enjoy the fruits of your labor 🙂

  2. “Suburban life embodies a set of practices designed to secularize and marginalize the traditional faith.”

    Would you elaborate as to specifically which practices and how they are designed to marginalize our faith?

  3. Beautiful as always, Father!

    As for Robert’s question, I can think of two things that immediately spring to mind.

    1. I’ve just read The Way of a Pilgrim. One of the most striking things about this – and really any pre-industrial, pre-automobile story of a wanderer who is consistently received with great hospitality – is how utterly unconcerned people seem to the worries that would plague any one of us faced with housing an unkempt stranger who just showed up at our doorstep one day. What’s wrong with him? What does he want out of me? Is he a druggie? Is he going to kill or rape us? Why does he smell like that? How do I get rid of him? … What Nabal did to David is the norm among us.

    2. The seeds of what David Wong describes in this article can be easily found in the underlying assumptions of the suburban home – the big yard, the freestanding house, the need to drive everywhere, the strict rules about land use and decorations, “castle” laws – they’re all about isolating the occupant and doing everything possible to minimize the need to suffer the presence of one’s fellow man.

  4. Robert,
    First, suburban life isolates and atomizes community. It’s primary focus is on its inhabitants as consumers. Church becomes a commuter event. Places where people naturally encounter each other and interact are generally missing. It is actually a very unnatural way to live. It could use an entire article.

  5. Robert,
    I was in a lecture some years ago, where now escapes my memory. The topic though was on architectural spaces that are actually welcoming to certain normal human behaviors. I love restaurants with outdoor seating. In nearby Knoxville, their Market Square development in downtown has lots of restaurants with outdoor seating. Many days and nights it’s pleasant. There is a great mix of people, interacting in various ways. There are also an increasing number of loft apartments so that residency is returning to the city. I know this is going on elsewhere – though it’s very gentrified (I could not afford one of the apartments there).

    But most places seem to have been built to deliberately make such natural interactions rare or impossible. It’s not true. It wasn’t deliberate. But it was accidental because all of the practices that were considered of value were covered in the suburban model. A false consciousness created modern America. It is probably the ugliest settlement of human beings in the 1st world. It’s my land, but when we sing about the beauty of America, it’s not the suburbs we have in mind.

    Of course, these days, it may not matter any more. Everyone is looking at their phones anyway.

  6. Having lived in another country for several years, and lived in small towns and enjoyed the comraderie of neighbors, returning to the states always reminded me of living in a cemetery. Residents drive in their driveways, garage door opens, car enters, door shuts. I realize that the neighborhoods were of different economic strata and that has something to do with it, but it is too bad we have sacrificed that neighborliness for so much privacy.

  7. On a recent trip to Austin, Texas I was inspired by a group of homeless who I witnessed sharing EVERYTHING with each other for days on end. I was reminded of the first Christians who lived, virtually, the same way. May the last Christians be as generous & loving as the first!

  8. Fr Stephen,

    I understand what you are saying, I too like drinking a libation on a terrace overlooking a plaza, but I am not so sure commuting and consumption is what secularizes and marginalizes. It’s the person commuting and consuming that is doing the secularizing and marginalizing. But that person is at the plaza as well. He’s everywhere I go.

  9. I would like to become Orthodox, but where I live there is no parish using a language that I understand (all churches near by are connected to a specific nationality). Also they use the old calendars, so even though I live in a country where all major christian feasts are public holidays, I could not celebrate them on that day. I really would like to gives these days back their original meaning in our family rhythm. I feels to me that the skeleton of what you are describing above is still present in this country and I could fill it with life again – except I couldn’t if I would be an Orthodox because the days don’t match.
    I have been christian on paper whole my life, I don’t need that (Lutheran). I really want to be a practicing Christian. Now I’m thinking that from a very practical point of view for me in this time and space the best way to do that is to become Roman Catholic. It feels to me it is either that or continue to being vaguely spiritual and letting my children continue growing up as “nones”. I would like to ask you what do you think of this.

  10. Hi I’d really like to encourage you to follow up maybe and more Orthodox Diocese churches because orthodoxy really penetrates the deepest. A lot of Orthodox churches use the Gregorian calendar…. a lot of the Catholic churches do English liturgies have you tried the Orthodox Church of America the Antiochian diocese, the Greek Orthodox Diocese has sometimes all English..especially out west. a lot of work for next churches are in outline areas as well. I would definitely pray on this issue and give it to the Lord and let him guide you to the right place.

  11. Robert,
    That is naive – and – secular! 🙂 It is secular in that you think the individual mind is where all the action is. But space itself is sacramental. Either space is conducive to humans living in a right way, or it can be non-conducive. There’s a reason, for example, that Orthodox Churches are built in the way they are – even with their variety. America is the anti-village. It is also anti-human. And it shows. Consumerism is built into our culture. In most towns and cities, you cannot work or live without a car. And that’s the least of it.

  12. MV,
    It’s a difficult situation, to be sure. The calendar issue is not as large as you might think. The Orthodox are rarely in tune with the culture on Easter, even in New Calendar parishes. I was more concerned about this when I converted, but have not seen it as a problem over the years. The culture only gives Christmas and Easter. That’s the tip of an iceberg.

    Ideally, I would say be Orthodox and endure, trusting God to give grace for you and your family. I have a Brother-in-law who converted with his family in a Greek parish (very Greek), and they are thriving. But especially, I think that neither Roman Catholicism or Orthodoxy should be taken as “the best I can do” (meaning lest than the best). The reasons for being Catholic are quite different from being Orthodox, and vice versa.

    It’s hard, I know.

  13. The ugliness of American architecture is one of my old soapboxes. I live in in a condo in the suburbs of DC/northern VA. I commute to church about 20 minutes away. I commute to work about 25 minutes away. I am reminded of part of one of St. Anthony’s sayings: “And in whatever place you live, do not leave quickly.” I met a reader at a wonderful Orthodox parish full of converts in Falls Church who moved to be close by to the church. That’s a great way to live.

  14. “It could use an entire article.” Yes, yes, and yes to this comment that you made Father. I’m sure I’m not alone in sharing that sentiment.

    But, it appears that the comments section of this article are already turning into that discussion. I love this article Father. As one who lives in a suburb, I’ve long felt that something was terribly wrong there but could never put my finger on it. That said, I have friends and family who live in the main city (a top 10 population city in the US) of my area and they decry the suburbs. Yet the reality is, they also live in single family homes, don’t know their neighbors any more than I do, and are 100% dependent upon their cars. So, the only difference between those people and myself is that their houses cost twice as much as mine. You also alluded to the fact that many of these urban areas are simply gentrified, which is code for very overpriced, trendy housing. So here’s where I’m confused. While I feel like I agree with your article, I also feel like the last thing I should do is move my family from our suburb where we all have relationships with people, to a more urban area where our house payment would double, we wouldn’t know anyone, and we’d still be totally dependent upon our cars. I realize I’m missing your main point about space being sacramental, but still, how that plays out practically for me is very confusing.

  15. Father Stephen,

    I’ve read your blog for a couple years and it’s the reasons you’ve laid out here that caused me to leave the Baptist tradition for the Anglican Way. All my life, faith was cerebral at best; ideas to be pondered. Now my faith is reality which is lived and participated in: the mass, the icons, the incense, the readings, the daily prayers, and fasting, all of them shape my very being, not just my head. Thank you for your labors here. The work you do helps poor sinners to know and live in the love of Christ.

  16. Fr Stephen,

    I don’t deny space is sacramental, nor affirm that it is all in our heads.

    If proximity and the pastoral determines our spiritual well-being then we are all up the proverbial creek.

    That said, I do prefer living right next to the temple and to work. I should have become a village priest I suppose 🙂

  17. Robert,
    I’m working on an article on this. Since space is sacramental – a badly shaped space (shall we say) makes well-shaped spirituality very difficult, and, to an extent, tends to make it more two-storey, because you have to keep more things in your head. Our heads need help. It’s why the Church has sacraments, calendars, etc. The village in America is almost non-existent. Here, it is more a question of how do I find ways to make space better and more conducive. Proximity is an obvious place to start.

  18. That is good Father, thank you.

    I am quite weary of the latent romanticism that usually underwrites this topic. Not that you are, don’t get me wrong.

  19. It is not just urban vs rural or suburban. It is a matter of a loss of the sense of the sacred, the loss of the value of human work even if it is not “efficient” , the loss of extended family and the simple lack of Christians or even other folks who value what is intrinsically human: community, work, tradition (the handing down all of the things necessary for the continuity of life, family and culture even in the midst of poverty.)

    The sense of the scared and how the created world is interpenetrated by scared life is necessary to participation in a euchristic life.

    Without that the utilitarian, the material, the individual tends to claim one’s soul.

    The tendency is to try to build a community without the common personal transformation required to give life to such community. It cannot be found attempting to recreate the past. The organic pre-industrial life is no more. It cannot be found in any formula such as the Benedictine option. It cannot be a romantic project.

    It is not that we need to move closer to the parish building but rather that we strive for holiness where and with whom we are.

    My home parish survived and thrived on decades of circuit riding priests before we had one dedicated to us. Now we are a cathedral with two full-time priests, two deacons, a small monastery within walking distance of the parish and a school.

    Still most of the parishioners live 20 minutes or more away. Some travel an hour or more.

    It costs a great deal for housing in the neighborhoods surrounding the parish temple. Even living there a car would be required to get to and from work. Closest grocery store is over a mile away, etc.

    If the world does indeed become less and less hospitable to we Christians, getting “to church” may become increasingly difficult.

    Give thanks to God for all things, seek union with our Lord in worship of the Holy Trinity. Embrace hardship, suffering and loss when it occurs. Find good work and work well at the work you find. Expect nothing. Give to those you encounter who are in need.

    Love your neighbors and your enemies as God loves us.

    In doing so we can begin to recover a bit of the sacred and establish a living foundation for the sacramental practice that will heal us and our land.

  20. One specific example of the power of the shape of space: years ago my mother and her sister put together a high level dance symposium in which all levels of expertise and experience participated. One invited pro was a very young dancer with exceptional talent. He had never been outside New York City. His dance as a result used space vertically. He was astounded by the plains of Kansas and the vast horizontal space. He took it in and it completely changed the way he moved and choreographed.

    Orthodox sacred space has to have a shape and form that includes the created dimensions physically and spiritually as well as being open to the Incarnational and the eschatlogical.

    Icons are essential to properly defining the form and function. Beauty is essential. The sense of the infinite even if the temple itself is small in size.

    Using space in one’s own home needs to be considered in the same way.

  21. That is good Michael, thank you.

    “He was astounded by the plains of Kansas and the vast horizontal space. He took it in and it completely changed the way he moved and choreographed.”

    And so plains, trains and automobiles were invented. And the rest is history.

  22. Lina,
    After being away for almost 30 years I moved back to my home state of Texas where other family members still live. Not sure what to do next I took a guest room in my sister’s house in a lovely gated community. The houses here are essentially the same floor plan but re-figured in such a way as to make each look different from its neighbor. The varied landscaping on each lot also contributes to the appearance of individuality. The residents are well-off and mostly retired.
    Shortly after I moved in my sister and her husband left for a 10 day cruise and I house sat. Each day I would go out onto the front porch and sit, enjoying the charm of the winding streets, pleasant homes and lovely landscaping. At the end of the first day I realized that aside from service or delivery vehicles, I very rarely saw someone who I thought might be a resident. This went on day after day. One morning 3 different garage doors opened, the automobiles and their drivers backed out and departed. An hour or so later each of them returned, remotely opened their garage doors, drove in, then closed them again. Otherwise I saw no activity.
    On the fifth day a young man (38?) came walking by and greeted me as though I was the first human he had seen in some time. We chatted and I learned that every house was in fact occupied; that the little activity I had seen was residents making their weekly trip to the market. Otherwise nothing. I asked him what everyone was doing just sitting inside their homes. He said “They’re waiting to die”.
    He and his wife had lived in the community for 3 months but couldn’t take it. They put their house on the market and, without waiting for it to sell, moved away. My sister and her husband are preparing to do the same.
    I go back maybe once a month now to visit my sister but nothing has changed. This lovely, charming neighborhood of homes, all lived in by people waiting to die.

    BTW I remember a sociology professor saying that the automobile was the great facilitator of sexual promiscuity and the air-conditioner pretty much eliminated human interaction within neighborhoods.

    Father,
    Another remark of Fr. Hopko’s was that it was the obligation of the priest to offer the services of the church to give the people the opportunity not to come.

  23. Gregory,

    “Another remark of Fr. Hopko’s was that it was the obligation of the priest to offer the services of the church to give the people the opportunity not to come.”

    Thank you for that quote by Fr. Tom. I also remember how he used to say that a lot of these people in the suburban mansions spend most of their time watching pornography in the comfort of those private, secluded, internet-connected homes…. How can church services compete with that?

  24. Not qualified to comment on orthodox practice and theology. Hat tip , on behalf of the auto mech.’s of the world , though.

  25. Agata,
    It is indeed so (re porn-addiction), and there are many such states that can seemingly enchain a person with a force beyond hope of deliverance. However, we must still live in fervent, unwavering and patient hope for the deliverance even of those persons. There is no questions about this being so…
    St Cyprian was as immersed in black magic as one can be – communicating directly with Lucifer – yet was delivered from such shackles through a simple recognition of lucifer’s ultimate powerlessness against some other power (which St Justina’s only Hope showed him). And this power of steadfast hope against all hope is a formidable prayer in itself on behalf of others and of ourselves.
    Our ‘justified’ desperation informs neither man nor God with the power that our hope does. It is admittedly akin to martyrdom to retain such a joyful hope at times – may the Lord please grant this to us all… But a Christian must be a witness to the incapacitating of death (and sin) through his relentless hope in Christ.

  26. Dino,

    Welcome back, we missed you 🙂

    Gregory said that many people in the “lovely, charming neighborhood of homes” are all “sitting waiting to die”, distracting themselves with pornography, politics, possessions, power and prestige, plans (to control from behind the grave!) – Fr. Tom described them as “peepees”.
    It must be true, since our churches are so empty. Why do people so close to death think about it so little? How can we help them, and ourselves not to follow the same path? (other than to pray for them –and ourselves – as fervently as we can?).

    In some of your comments in the past I was struck by these truths about the avoidance of the thoughts on death:

    “There is nothing that anyone can do to make someone else believe if that person does not want to take the “plunge.( ….. ). Concerning the “fear of death” you mentioned, it is not that difficult to sweep that under the carpet, it is surprisingly effective in our culture.”

    Fr. Stephen, in his talk in San Francisco, mentioned a friend who came to him with “ideas” on how to “prolong life”… (with supplements, vitamins, etc). To which Father responded “You are going to die! And then there will be Judgment. What are you doing about that?” [You are sweeping it under the carpet, aren’t you? “Come to Church. Die. It will be OK”….].

    There is nothing we can do to make people believe but let us all pray as sincerely and fervently as we can, for ourselves, and others with all encompassing “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me”.

    Lord, keep us and guide us and make us worthy of rich entrance into your Eternal Kingdom, which is so very near……

  27. Has anyone mentioned sports? League sports for kids are in direct competition with church life and are routinely scheduled on Sunday mornings. As a former suburban hockey mom we had to just say “No!” to Sunday morning games and tournaments. That didn’t make us very popular as you can imagine.

  28. Can’t help but leave this here as an additional example of the suburban lifestyle being inimical to life: the imposition of prideful will at the expense of creation, without any mind to benefitting anyone except to make everyone conform to an aesthetic that is, frankly, iconoclastic in both origin and result.

  29. MV,

    Having read your comment, a few of the details suggest you live in Scandinavia. Is that right? I don’t mean to pry, but my husband and I live there (and became Orthodox there) too. If you would like to get in touch, I could ask our priest (who is a wealth of information on all things Orthodox in Scandinavia) if he knows of anyone you could contact. I did not know what to expect when we started attending services (I do not speak any Slavic languages and it is a Slavic parish) but I found everyone to be welcoming — and more people spoke the local language (including the priest and his wife) than I would have guessed.

    Needless to say, I am very glad we took that first step and ventured into the unknown. 🙂

  30. I wish we had more of a mission mentality so there would and could be more churches spread out into multiple communities. Given the number of years the Orthodox Church has been in America we have such few churches. I live an hour from downtown Houston. The greater Houston area has maybe 15 churches of any and all jurisdictions for a population of close to 6,000,000 people.

  31. Agata,
    What we can do is, as you said:

    pray as sincerely and fervently as we can, for ourselves, and others with all encompassing “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me”

    the measure of whether-or-not-others-are-saved-or-not which actually depends on us and not on them (ie: the part that we could help them with) hangs on our own sanctification, which is very strongly linked to (again)

    praying as sincerely and fervently as we can, for ourselves, and others with all encompassing “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me”

  32. Dear Agata,
    You may have unintentionally conflated my remark about those retired senior citizens sitting in their homes waiting to die with Dino’s remarks about what they’re doing to fill the time. When that young man I encountered in the neighborhood said they were sitting in their homes “waiting to die” I immediately thought of Edgar Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death wherein Prince Prospero (Prosperity) invites his fellow prosperous friends to hang out with him in his fortified fortress (gated community) while the plague (death) consumes the lower classes.
    I can’t back this up with any research or statistics but I’ll go out on a limb and say that if my life experiences at the age of 67 are a reliable indicator I doubt pornography plays much of a role for other old folks looking to fill their time in their waning years. But, I will say that if I were not Orthodox, I don’t know what I would resort to to avoid thinking about death.
    Rod Dreher has posted a new article about a profile written about Stephen Colbert. Like Rod I too was aware that Colbert grew up in a devout RC family but I had no idea of the tragedies he’s experienced and endured and the strength and insights he gained through the example set by his devout mother. I think it touches on some of the points Fr. Stephen has made through out this blog. I recommend it.

    http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/at-every-moment-we-are-volunteers-colbert-tolstoy-dante/

  33. So many things to think on here…

    First, my husband was a non-degreed engineer (mechanic) in the Navy for 22 years and can still diagnose anything by listening. I just think he is one of the smartest men ever. In his current job, he still does trouble-shooting and folks from all over three states call him for his advice. I just admire that kind of person that can look at a mechanical or any issue from all sides, diagnose the problem and implement a workable solution.

    I am newly Orthodox, and in a mission parish that only meets a couple of times a month and rarely for major feasts. Our priest has to drive from 3 hours away and has another full time job, also filling in for other parishes than ours. It is not the easiest scenario. I have often driven to other parishes each an hour and a half away when I was able to. But it is not always possible. I have sometimes wondered if I should just commit to a parish further away that has a full time priest, but I would feel that I was abandoning the ship, so to speak.

    When my husband and I have discussed the possibility of transferring elsewhere for his work, he always looks to see if there are Orthodox churches nearby any possible locations as he knows that would be my first question:)

    I just want to say how much I appreciate you touching on these issues. I have read elsewhere of the Benedict Option, and haven’t been sure how to process it.

    Father, bless.

  34. Hey Father Stephen, it seems that many in fear of being “legalistic” many have neglected the practices / disciplines. We seem to forget that our life of faith is a journey and much of that requires us to endure and persevere through practice.

  35. Fr, I know this is off topic, but someone mentioned your talks in San Francisco. I believe a while back someone indicated those were now on AFR. I’ve looked but can’t seem to find them. Can anyone give me the path to where those can be found on AFR?

  36. “Is it possible that being a Christian might cost you a lifestyle?”

    More pointedly: is it possible that your lifestyle might cost you Christianity?

  37. Father, or anyone else who may have considered this topic:

    I have a question about living, using your talents, and acquiring wealth. For me, there is another paradox rooted in such things, particularly in the consumer society in which we live, as separated persons without real community trying to make things whole. My question has to do with accomplishing and achieving. Presumably, the role of education and the path to a job (which has always been the case in human history to an extent, vocational or otherwise) is a mainstay in our lives. It is a very natural thing to use your talents to become wealthy and take care of family and those around you. Yet, there is always the idea within Christianity that will focus on rejecting the world/wealth/mammon, etc.

    It seems that these are often preached as being mutually exclusive, although they clearly aren’t. Is it just a level of scale, then? Or one of discernment, as to the level one should attain, past which is “greed”?

    I have thought about this a lot lately, and it is quite confusing. The modern world is very task oriented, multi-faceted, less community based, and certainly less simple, however vapid it may be. I see that working to eat, praying and being with your family and community in church is a more natural habitat — but it is at the same time utterly unrealistic for the modern person — yet somehow a lot of people suggest that we can overcome the system.

    Just trying to find my way

  38. Gregory,

    Thank you for the clarification and pointing it out.

    I did conflate your remarks about those poor senior citizens and *I* accused them of doing all these bad things, Dino just offered hope that even such states can be overcome with God’s help and our prayers and hope in Him.

    Your comment and mention of Fr. Tom’s name reminded me of the very rare times Fr. Thomas Hopko spoke on this subject, and so I mixed it all into my comment (and question). I still often wonder what better things these retired senior citizens have to do at home (of course they are not all doing bad things!), when they could instead come to church for a weekday Liturgy for a Feast day (for example)…?

    I know that is very judgmental of me, but considering the extent of the issue (the size of certain parishes, the good health of many of these people) it seems to me to be a reasonable question. At least I want to avoid that “turn of events” for myself when I get to that age (I’m still working full time, so going to church during the week is close to impossible). The article reminded me that it might be a good idea to look for a retirement home (when that time comes) not in a gated community far from church, but in the neighborhood, within a walking distance (or maybe even close to the cemetery, to get used to that ‘location’ 🙂 ).

    That is how our parish started, everybody lived close (including the Saint who severed as our pastor), but then people moved and the area deteriorated….

    I so appreciate the link to this amazing article. It has much meaning for me personally. Thank you. May God help us all.

  39. I remember when I was a kid that the Church wore out shoes and got busy with the old, and the widows and orphans.

    Not so much pleading to go to some place called the church.

    More like showing up, hanging out, fixing things, and good food.

    Even the hobos and freaks showed up. Seemed like just trying to live life, and everyone was invited.

    Kind of like just camping. Probably that stuff does not make sense to modern people. That is more like actually having nothing, and making the best of it. But that was back when the cycles of personal lives and natural cycles were celebrated, and shared. Now, harvest and spring and winter for moderns is just paying money.

  40. I have a question about living, using your talents, and acquiring wealth. For me, there is another paradox rooted in such things, particularly in the consumer society in which we live, as separated persons without real community trying to make things whole. My question has to do with accomplishing and achieving.

    Hello Luke. Just my thoughts on your general question. Forgive me if I have misinterpreted what you are asking!

    “Acquiring wealth” can be a dangerous thing in life; we cannot serve two masters. That doesn’t mean that wealth is sinful in and of itself though. I think the greater chance for moving away from God is in the “acquiring”. We tend to never have enough and, once we learn how to gather, we tend to never stop. So there is danger in that mode of living and some care must be taken to safely navigate it.

    A Christian outlook is not concerned in the acquisition of things (wealth or otherwise) but in the practice (as Father has pointed out so wonderfully) of things that draw us closer to God. So the question needs to change from “what can I do to make a living?” (a question focused on acquisition) to “how do practice what brings life?. The two are not always mutually exclusive and we must be very careful to recognize where they meet and where they part in our lives and opportunities.

    I hope this may help, if only a little. Blessing and Peace to you. Someone please correct me if I have spoken poorly.

  41. Also Alan, using the Ancient Faith app, it’s under “Specials”. Go to “All Specials”, then the 8th one down the list (currently): “Holy Virgin Cathedral, Eighth Annual Lenten Retreat” May 11: Fr. Stephen Freeman. The other one presented that day by Nun Theoktisti was also very helpful.

  42. Interesting that I read this post right after returning from a 12 Step meeting designed for people who have been affected by alcoholism, and right after pondering (again) “Why doesn’t Church feel like it’s filled with open, welcoming, vulnerable people like this?” A convert to Orthodoxy (20 years), I seemed to experience a “honeymoon” period of about 5 years when by grace (or ego) I wanted to pray, fast, attend services and drive whatever distances were necessary to participate fully. Some parishes do seem more alive–and like a healthy “village”–than others. It is work (practice) to persevere when so much of what I think of as Christian community seems to be missing in many parishes. But who am I to know how it should be? And certainly it’s up to me to do my part whether or not others seem to want/ need “community”. Nowhere in scripture nor the history of the Church are we promised fuzzy feelings. But I do think that even our parish life has been affected by our modern, secular, self-indulgent, privacy-obsessed American culture.

  43. Anonymous, I just attended two 12-Step meetings for people affected by alcoholism this week after a long time away. The reason I left was the rejection I experienced from people who objected to the use of the word “God” instead of “Higher Power” (I wish I were kidding), along with the constant bashing of “organized religion” in the blithe unawareness of the very derivation of the 12 Steps. But my husband, who is not Orthodox and whom I met in the rooms, has the very same comment: why are the church people not like the Al-Anon people in their openness? It is very frustrating to me, and I agree that the openness is not to be found at church in the manner I would wish it to be. In fact when my husband talks about not going to church with me, that is what he cites: 12-step people have more recovery. But I ran into trouble serving two masters. I can translate “serenity” as “living in the awareness of the presence of God”, and try not to be bothered when someone shares yet again about how they didn’t find what they needed at church but found it in the rooms. Then too, the laser-focus on the effects of alcoholism makes for an easier basis for relationships: everyone is in the same boat, and they wouldn’t be there if not for their struggle, whereas at church struggle is not foregrounded although in my view it should be. It is difficult to say this, but it is entirely possible to be badly hurt by people in the program who talk the talk (after all it’s relatively easy to give a great lead and seem very “recovered”) but don’t reflect their love for God in their relationships with other people. Just as it is possible at church.
    In both environments, it’s when the focus goes off God that trouble starts. “Keep the focus on yourself”; on myself and God, I would say.

  44. Point well-taken, Zuleika. The “laser-focus” really does make a difference. And I have occasionally heard similar comments about “church” and use of the word “God”, especially at other meetings. Thanks for reminding me that I’ve been blessed to find this particular meeting–for now, anyway–where I never fail to be impressed by the gentle interest in and respect for one another.
    And your last line sums it up. Thank you.

  45. Luke,

    Learning and using your talents isn’t a bad thing. The point is not the doing but the motivation behind the doing. What is your goal? Often in our secularized culture the point is the make enough wealth that I don’t need God – and THEN build up heavenly brownie points by being nice.

    But instead we are called to serve God. The mistake of the Protestant mindset that is that serving God and actually taking care of our own needs are 2 things which are mutually exclusive. Not so.

    –Find something you like and/or are good at.
    –Get better at it through education and experience.
    –Make a living at it – or do it alongside making a living.

    But all through this process continually turn to God and ask Him to form your life so that you are growing closer to Him. Inevitably He will answer your prayer. More and more you will see how to choose His way over yours – and that many times it has nothing to do with whether or not you will be provided for.

    As you spend time with God, you will slowly transform from thinking about HOW to be like God to simply BEING like God. It’s not a method, but rather a way of life.

  46. Fr Freeman

    You write that the New Testament is the first commentary on the Divine Liturgy. Is there scholarship or an interpretive tradition substantiating and exploring that statement?

    I’d be fascinated to explore that comment in greater depth.

  47. Loryn,
    I was not citing anything within scholarly or interpretative tradition. Rather, it is the simple conclusion of what is historically true. The Divine Liturgy (the Holy Eucharist) precedes the writing of the New Testament. Within the experience of the Church it is recorded that the risen Christ was “made known in the breaking of the bread” (on the Road to Emmaus).

    The Eucharist is the fullness of the life of the Church expressed in this age (that’s certainly within the Tradition of the Church). The NT is commentary. Perhaps look at St Nicholas Cabasalis’ commentary on the Liturgy, or that of St. Maximus the Confessor. More recent treatments, and a much easier read would be Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s The Eucharist and his exquisite For the Life of the World.

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