Does Orthodoxy Matter? A Case Study

orthodoxy1

 

And here’s the challenging question …

In the absence of an Orthodox church nearby would you be prepared to pray at home rather than pray with the heterodox?

 

Father Seraphim Rose holding an icon of the Holy Trinityblessed seraphim.jpg

Orthodoxy means “true glory” or “true faith.”  We Orthodox think very highly of the word.  Or do we?  When it comes down to it, does Orthodoxy actually matter all that much to us (as it should)?  Orthodox Christians in the west find themselves living among many different Christianities and it can sometimes be tempting to think that notwithstanding some of the more obvious differences, (icons, the Theotokos, fasting, worship, for example), all these Christian traditions share much the same faith as us.  If you are of this opinion, then I am sorry to have to disappoint you, but it just isn’t true at all.  How so?

I am going to consider this issue by looking at a case study which reveals the damage that heresy can do in our personal lives, our relationships and even to the society and world that we live in.  It is a fictional story, but quite typical.

John and Mary go to an Evangelical Anglican Church.  John is Orthodox (Greek tradition).  Mary is Anglican.  This is her second marriage, being a young widow with one teenage son (Ian, 15) still living at home. She now has two children with John, daughters, aged 5 and 7.  John would prefer to go to his local Greek Church but his wife is a committed Anglican, and their children, although baptised in the Orthodox Church (with the exception of Ian), prefer the “lively worship songs”, as they put it, which are included in the church’s family service.  Ian is very involved in the local youth group and is thinking eventually of becoming an Anglican minister.  Does Orthodoxy then matter to John?  Well, yes, but only in a remote nostalgic sort of way.  It is some years now since he has attended Divine Liturgy, the last time was at Pascha in 2008.  His stepson, Ian, will have nothing to do with what he considers to be the “stuffy incomprehensible worship” at his stepdad’s church which he has visited once, just after his stepfather’s marriage.

Ten years later ….

Neither John nor Mary now regularly attend the Anglican Church.  John still hasn’t been back to the Orthodox Church since Pascha 2008 and Mary doesn’t like the new Vicar who is a woman.  Mary is quite a conservative evangelical believer who maintains that a woman should not be in a place of authority within the Church over men.  (This is the evangelical doctrine of the”headship of the male.”)  Her two daughters, now 15 and 17 still attend on their own and are very active in the youth group.  Ian, who shares his mother’s conservative outlook, has also left the church, disagreeing with what he believes to be the Anglican Church’s tolerance of homosexual partnerships.  He has started attending a very conservative Baptist church that teaches pure Calvinism, in particular, the doctrines known as TULIP (from the first letter of each doctrine), namely:-

Total Depravity – As a result of Adam’s fall, all humanity, is dead in sins and therefore damned.  Humanity’s nature is corrupt and utterly incapable of godliness.

Unconditional Election – Because man is dead in sin, he is unable to initiate a response to God; therefore, from eternity God elected certain people to salvation and others to damnation. Election and predestination are unconditional; they are not based on man’s response because man is unable to respond to God, nor does he want to.

Limited Atonement – Because God determined that certain people should be saved as a result of His unconditional election, He determined that Christ should die for the elect alone. All whom God has elected, and for whom Christ died, will be saved but the rest will be damned to hell for all eternity; again as determined by God’s sovereign will.

Irresistible Grace – Those whom God elected He draws to Himself through irresistible grace. God makes man willing to come to Him. When God calls, man responds.  Man cannot choose to love God by his own choice and freedom.

Perseverance of the Saints – The precise people God has elected and drawn to Himself through the Holy Spirit will persevere in faith to the end. None whom God has elected will ever be lost; they are eternally secure even though they may sin grievously after election.

Although Ian is a pious and committed believer these doctrines trouble him.  He begins to doubt that he is one of the elect, chosen by God for salvation.  His sinful life (he occasionally resorts to prostitutes) troubles him greatly but his church tells him that he is unable to make any right choice and save himself.  Ian enters a very dark period of depression, made much worse by the impact of these heresies on his mental health.  His fragile relationship with his atheist girlfriend disintegrates.  He seeks medical help for a latent depression which has now become the full blown clinical variety.

Five years further on, the two daughters are now at the same university, one just about to graduate but they have been unable to find an evangelical church they like nearby, so they have stopped attending church on the grounds that they believe in Christ and are saved, so what’s the point?  Back home John and Mary now lead thoroughly secular lives.  John sometimes thinks wistfully of his childhood back in Cyprus when he used to attend church with his Nana but this seems to him a very distant idealised time now.  He hopes, nonetheless, that his wife or children will respect his wish for an Orthodox funeral if he dies first.

So, did Orthodoxy matter to John?  Well yes, particularly earlier on, but for most of his adult life only in a nominal sort of way.  He had certainly not been catechised in his youth and his grasp of the faith, therefore, had always been somewhat tenuous.  Did Anglican evangelicalism then strike him as being similar to Orthodoxy?  Well yes, mostly.  He only saw differences in the worship style which often set his teeth on edge.  Let’s face it.  He attended the evangelical Anglican Church for the sake of his wife and family.  When they stopped going, so did he.  There is only one God after all and this was just a different way of being a Christian, it seemed to him.  He did lament his stepson’s involvement in the Calvinist church because he could see how its refusal of human freedom and choice, its dark doctrines of divine election to salvation or damnation, did not feel right to him, but he couldn’t really say why. 

Did Mary his wife ever consider Orthodoxy when the lady Vicar arrived?  Well, no, why should she?  Her husband rarely spoke of his childhood faith and she concluded that it could not have meant much to him in that case, so why should she consider it?  John and Mary now spend a conventional Sunday together as most couples do in their street, getting up late, going to the gym occasionally, shopping at B&Q, taking a drive into the countryside; just the usual and normal things everyone does nowadays.  Both still consider themselves as Christians, but obviously not of the fanatical sort whom they blame, quite rightly, for destroying Ian’s piece of mind.  As for the two girls, well they eventually graduated and now have families of their own.  Churchgoing, however, has become completely alien to all their families with the rest.

So, does Orthodox Christianity matter to you?
Does it matter enough for you to find out about it in more depth?
Does it matter enough for you to practice it as faithfully as you can, notwithstanding the distractions of modern life?
Does it matter enough for you to stay loyal to this faith no matter what challenges are presented to it by both family life and society as a whole?

And here’s the challenging question …

In the absence of an Orthodox church nearby would you be prepared to pray at home rather than pray with the heterodox?

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The Mystery of Tomorrow

A dear sister in Christ, a nun in a Greek monastery, recommended Mother Gavrilia’s book to me a month ago, to study again, and draw inspiration and courage and faith in my poor, little missionary endeavours, by that Missionary and Unmercenary Giant. I am so grateful for this Holy Mother and her book. I have had it for many years and read it many times. Each time it goes deeper, deeper. I am reading this again after many years of traveling and the book was packed away. She always, through the message of the Holy Spirit-alive in her, has a word or two about my/your struggles. Especially now. I feel her so close to my side. Mother Gavrilia is such a role model in her fearlessness, her humility and obedience to God’s Will, her dedication to the service of all mankind, her Faith! May we have her blessing!

 

A poem in the book touched my heart so deeply: 

 

THOU HAST made me known to friends

whom I knew not.

Thou hast given me seats in homes not my own.

 

Thou hast brought the distant near

and made a brother of the stranger.

I am uneasy at heart

when I have to leave my accustomed shelter;

I forget that there abides the old in the new,

and that there also thou abidest.

 

Through birth and death,

in this world or in others,

wherever thou leadest me, it is thou the same,

the one companion of my endless life,

who ever linkest my heart

with bonds of joy to the unfamiliar.

 

When one knows thee,

then alien there is none,

then no door is shut.

 

Oh, grant me my prayer

that I may never lose the bliss

of the touch of the one

in the play of the many.

 

 [R. Tagore, Gitanjali, LXIII]

This poem, dated March 24, 1964, exactly ten years after she was “reborn”, was found among her papers. On the top of that page, she made the sign of the Cross

ic xc ni ka

and added:

24-3-1954

Athens-Israel-Cyprus-Lebanon-Jordan-Syria-Iraq-Iran-Pakistan-INDIA

24-3-1964

Jordan-Greece-Turkey-France-Switzerland-USA-France-Belgium-Danemark-Sweden-Germany-Greece-Lebanon-INDIA

 

Arvo Pärt – And then came the evening and the morning (1990)

 

 Mother gavrilia orthodox pilgrim missionary

“God is Love” … and Mother Gavrilia‘s entire life, which was a hymn to the Lord, became thanks to Him, a burnt offering, a holocaust to His Love.

 

mother-gavrilia orthodox pilgrim missionary

 

“Only one thing do I know that I have always, and it is not pride, nor fantasy, but that which I have day and night, wherever I find myself–three things: first, Faith; second, Faith; third, Faith. That’s all! Nothing else can I say to you. It has directed all my life.”

 

 

Jaws of Eternity

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Heartbreaking Paintings and Poems from Communist Prisons in Romania — II

DAYS

by

Radu Gyr

Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday, Monday

Neutral days without form,

Like a great fog

Over the landscape

Good morning, prison cell!

Good night, prison bars!

I’d smash you as a mastiff in his fangs

I’d rend you with my teeth, O Cell!

I stand in Time terribly naked

With my soul planted in liquid eternity,

Like an atoll in an ocean

Beaten by torrid winds…

Dungeon, dungeon, mad fortress,

How my hate would set fire to you!

Life, life outside,

How dare you dance in my dreams like a puppet!

Tuesday,Wednesday,Friday – what day is it?

the week is a dead amassment;

My months pass through no calendar,

My island is on no map.

Monday, Wednesday, Thursday – The devil take you!

Stinking days – Stagnant days,

Here in the jaws of eternity

Who shall count your dark hundreds?

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HUNGRY

by

Nichifor Crainic

 

If ever I was a cluster of grapes,

today I am residue left by the press.

Into the fathomless hunger in me

pour some drop of juice.

I feel how my body is melting away,

a soup of amaranth would warm it.

If touched by a blade of grass

in a flash I’d be green.

At least let my phantom arm

pick an apple from a tree.

It will fill my mouth with aroma

and I would truly live.

In the country of sheep folds and bread

I dream of mushroom soup.

Let me shelter with the dogs

near the heaven of a bowl of terci.*

On the depth of my hunger

blind deserts open up.

When the last spoonful is eaten

I drop over my bowl and spoon.

O God, You Who

out of two fishes and five loaves

made mountains of food

and satisfied thousands of poor

Repeat the miracle, O Good One,

and satisfy thousands of mouths.

Listen also to my prayer,

Give me the basket of crumbs.

* terci – a thin gruel often given to dogs


pitesti prison 1

JESUS IN THE NIGHT

by

Radu Gyr

This night Jesus entered my cell.

O how sad, how tall was Christ!

The moon followed Him into my cell

And made Him taller, sadder still.

He sat by me upon my mat;

“Put your hand upon my wounds.”

On His ankle there were scars from sores and rust

As if He too had worn chains once…

His hands were like lilies upon a grave,

His eyes as deep as forests;

His garments whitened by the moon,

Silvering in His hands old wounds.

Sighing, He stretched His weary bones

Upon my lousy mat;

In His sleep He shone forth, but the heavy bars

Lengthened upon Him like rods.

I rose from beneath my gray blanket.

“Lord, from whence come you? Out of which eternity?”

Jesus put His finger to His lips

And signed me to be still.

My cell seemed like a mountain peak;

Rats and roaches swarmed around;

I felt my head fall heavy upon my hand

And I slept, a thousand years…

When I awoke from my heavy trance

The straw smelled of roses;

I was in my cell and there was moonlight

But Jesus was nowhere.

“Where are you, Lord?” I cried between the bars.

Across the moon came drifts of mist…

I touched myself, and found upon my palms

The sign of His nails.


pitesti_prison 2

VISIT 

by

Radu Gyr

The exhausted wind froze

like a bow on a cracked violin.

Last night an angel knocked in my door,

his voice weak, his tread tired.

I don’t know if he came from heaven

or some earthly cross

but he looked at me with wounded eyes,

trembling with cold when I welcomed him.

In his eyes of strange god

it was as if some grave illness battled

and he gazed at me with blood-filled eyes

and all that night he wept upon my breast.

In the morning I found him no more.

vestiges of red footprints faded from my door.

Far away in the sky on a cracked violin

the wind fell like a broken bow.

*

Pitesti Prison — Gulag

Pitesti_prison_yard

Pitesti_prison_plaque

Poems from Communist Prisons by Mother Alexandra

Foreword

Within this booklet are a few poems originally written in Romanian, chosen from a large collection, POEZII DIN INCHISORI, edited by Zahu Pana, published by CUVANTUL ROMANESC, 1982

They were written or rather composed by political prisoners who had no paper on which to write. They were memorized by those who survived, and finally spirited out to the free West. Remarkable in that they are true poetry of the soul, they express various emotions of those unjustly imprisoned by the Communist Party, for the crime of independent thought. None of these poets were criminals. They were philosophers, theologians (lay or clergy), generals, intellectuals of all sorts, factory workmen and tillers of the soil. Women and even children shared the same fate.

Source: https://orthodoxyinottawa.wordpress.com/poems-from-communist-prisons/

And http://www.romanianstudies.org/content/2012/11/poetry-in-translation-cxlvi-sergiu-mandinescu-1926-1964-romania-prison-warder-suflet-de-calau

Traced Through Mud

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Heartbreaking Paintings and Poems from Communist Prisons in Romania — I

*

Prison Warder

by

Sergiu MANDINESCU

A muffled night

a bottomless abyss

a peacock’s cry

that never goes amiss.

Great panthers watching in the night

and tigers ready for the pounce,

the pythons flawlessly advance

a path so trite.

The shadow’s silence so profound

fills to the brim the darkest mind –

a jungle full of beasts of any kind,

but human soul is nowhere to be found!

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Glory

by

Radu Budisteanu

Blessed be suffering

which brings man out of a flat groove –

swift sling hurled at a Goliath,

tree in which knowledge is born.

Blessed be suffering.

Without it, good earth would be clay,

the heart would not catch the murmur of a tear

and sin would not know what contrition is.

Blessed be suffering.

If there were not death, would there be love?

Value is given to all by separation,

fruit in the hidden furrow of the passing rays.

Blessed be suffering,

its breast a resting place, a caress upon the brow,

the strong altar screen of the sense let it be,

archway through which alone desire passes.

Blessed be suffering

fruit of the hidden furrow of a passing ray

soul with large embracing arms

like an all enveloping mantle.


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Unwritten Letters

by

Radu Gyr

Our life often lies hidden

in a humble corner of paradise,

in letters which were never sent us

by a hand that never wrote them.

We know not what we’d have the pages say,

what unwritten love song

but the hand which does not write us,

at all times we hold in a dream.

And the phrases that do not come,

in memory’s eye become ever dearer

and that hand which gave me light

as blossom upon my heart I hold.

And thus through the door crack,

we watch with unquenchable longing

for letters that were never sent

by a hand that did not write them.


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Birthday wishes

by

Radu Gyr

For your birthday

I don’t know what

To bring you as a gift.

Bruised upon my bones

My skin only do I have.

Since I have pulled in harness,

Since I have sighed in yoke,

All that was plenteous

Has melted away as snow.

The owls hoot,

the darkness deepens;

The nails on my hands

Grow long for retribution…

grow you,too,

My timid voice,

Grow as a djinn,

Grow as a great bird;

Gather in your flight

And bring to the assailant

The crying of orphans,

The suffocating voice of mothers

Drowned in tears, the mourning of the homeless.

Hate of the whole country

Rise up, now!

Master your curses,

Doom this day!

Curse it with fire and brimstone

For the savage beast

That is bore,

Over the horizon to rise

And with his horns

The world to overthrow.

O my mild voice,

Grow strong, little by little,

As a spring grows

In volume, increasing,

As down the mountains it falls.

Become a sickle;upon his brown

Bludgeon the beast!

O my voice, grow! From the forest swell

Out of the felled woods,

Out of the deserted villages,

Out of the dried-up oil-wells,

Grow out of golden grain

That is taken over the foreign roads,

Grow out of the ruins,

Sound from the depths of prison dungeons,

There where rots in chains

All that stands firm in the land

And is about to die…

Out of gaunt and livid beings

Arise, open eagle’s wings;

Soar over the foe –

Dirty bloodsuckers!

Fly over frontiers

Which have not yet been stolen,

Pass cities and villages

Where in the dead of night

Whispered Christian prayers

Can still be heard

Cross as best you can

The endless steppes

And the sad waters;

Over forests and towns

Look for and follow paths

Traced through mud.

Go far!

Fly as the genii in the legends

Until you come to

Imperial courts

Without royal faces,

Barbaric monasteries

Without altars,

Without God.

Rise, O myvoice,

Lift yourself

Upon wings of fire

In heavenly heat,

And fall back as a tunderbolt!

Blast the citadel

of the beast’s den!

Seed of his seed destroy!

In the land and in eternity,

A word of execration

Let his name be!

Let perish in the mold

All which he stole!

His dust and ashes

Let the earth swallow!

May my unbounded hate

Burn up Satan,

Ana’s* brother!

Thunder blast him!

In scum putrify him!

O heaven,

On his birthday,

Satan’s birthday –

Ana’s* brother –

What offering have you

Sent him, John Doe?

*Ana – Ana Pauker , born in Romania, lived in Russia , an intimate friend of Stalin, an all-powerful one in Romania until the postumous fall of Stalin.

 


Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.

Lords_Prayer_Religious

A favourite scene by an all-time favourite film-maker of spiritual quest: The Sacrifice (Offret) by A.Tarkovsky 1986 – PRAYER: The Lord’s Prayer. The scene poignantly illustrates the power of faith and self-sacrifice.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f4z8Y-NpW1c

The Sacrifice, Tarkovsky’s swan song, tells in esoteric terms of Christian iconography, masterly mise-en-scène, and astounding use of sound composition, of a literary critic, once an actor (Josephson), who promises to give up everything ‘that connects him with the world’ in a bid to save it from the impending nuclear holocaust he hears announced on television.