Three years ago this week I was welcomed into the Orthodox faith. It’s a sort of a happy accident that the date also coincided with my “name day” on September 11th. I’d been fidgeting with the schedule for months, trying to get a date on the books. I was tired of waiting. I hate waiting. I had my nose pressed up against the glass of Orthodoxy for so long, looking in like it was a secret donut shop ready to open to me and grant access to the treats inside.
Again, with the donuts. Sorry. #Notsorry
In the Orthodox faith, we align ourselves with Saints, someone who has gone before us. This saint becomes our patron and so on the day designated according to the church calendar we celebrate their feast day. I chose Theodora of Vasta because as I explain in Nearly Orthodox, she’s kind of a warrior poet type. I like that in a person.
That her feast day and the celebration of my welcoming into the faith is set on September 11th is bittersweet. Here in the U.S. we remember September 11th with grief, with tenderness. Some of us remember with anger, some with forgiveness, but we do remember. The loss, even 14 years later, is still heavy on us as a nation.
Each year since my chrismation I’ve encountered and then embraced this dichotomy – the celebration and the grieving. I’m certain after nearly half a century of life now that the divide between those things will, at times, be paper thin. It is uncomfortable and awkward. It is hurtful in strange and lonely ways, but we walk it anyway.
This is not the first time I’ve walked that divide; it will not be the last time. It occurs to me that perhaps we toggle through like that on all of our days, it’s just in moments like this – big celebrations, big losses – it becomes clearer.
It’s tempting for me to lose myself in the chasm between the joy and grief. I imagine each year I come to this feast day I’ll need to examine this and find that balance because though I love celebration I am more prone to gravitate toward the grief. I don’t know exactly why I lean melancholic, but I do. It’s taken a long time to be able to see that as a gift because it is a gift.
This idea of “gift” sticks to me. My Orthodox name (and that of my patron saint), Theodora, means, “gift of God.” When I’m deep in the waves melancholy and celebration this is what comes to me.
I imagine most of you have seen the animated movie “Inside Out.” I hope so because it’s a remarkable film on a lot of levels, not the least of which is the emphasis on the gift of sadness. We forget about the balance in grief. We forget about the gift that tears bring, even after all this time has passed. Remembrance holds joy and sorrow and anger and forgiveness in strong, soft-palmed hands. We hold this long-term emotional memory deep within us. We embody remembrance.
This is where I’m landing today as I look to the icon of St. Theodora of Vasta, caught between the feast and the mourning. And I remember then the words she is said to have spoken as she lay close to death, “Let my body become a church, my hair a forest of trees, and my blood a spring to water them.” It is in these words that she embodies remembrance here, new life in the midst of loss. Death and life and grief and joy are all cobbled together – and it’s a bridge of sorts, a dwelling place, a gift of God.