Boneless Chicken Orthodoxy


Those who know me will not find it surprising that I like the humor of Gary Larson, the artist of the series, The Far Side.

One cartoon that always stuck with me was “The Boneless Chicken Ranch.” In the cartoon you see chickens laying everywhere: over railings, in the road, unable to walk or stand erect because they are boneless.The idea is that since we can get boneless chicken at the grocery store, there must be a farm or ranch where they raise boneless chickens.

What would our physical life be without a skeletal system? For our muscles to work, they need to be attached to our bones. Without bones, we could not stand erect, walk or do work, and without a jawbone we wouldn’t be able to eat or talk.

Spiritual life must have a skeleton as well, a framework upon which we can hang our piety. People find many different things upon which they build their faith, but for the Orthodox, there is only one thing that works for us – the liturgical cycle of the Church year. The liturgical calendar and its cycle of services is designed to give us a framework, a context, for a life in Christ. After all, the word “Orthodox” means “right praise” or “right worship”, and so liturgy lies at the very heart of our life as Orthodox Christians.

The Orthodox take the Incarnation “absolutely seriously.” By that, I mean that every event in the life of our Lord, from his birth to his baptism to his death and resurrection, is studied and celebrated with vigils and liturgies. No aspect or event in the life of our Lord is insignificant. The vigils and liturgies not only celebrate, they also teach and instruct about His life. The services are filled with information that helps us to understand the meaning of these events. Therefore, this cycle of celebration and the understanding that it gives us becomes the skeleton, the framework for our life in Christ.

Now it might be too much to ask that we take a couple hours of vacation time to attend weekday liturgies (God forbid), but at the very least, every one of us should be at the vigils for major feast days. How much of a commitment is this? There are 12-14 major feasts and most of them fall on weekends. Even if you figured an average of 3 hours a service, this is only 36-42 hours, maybe a little more, and this is out of 8,760 hours in an entire year! I guess the question is, if we are non-attendees, how do we claim the name of Orthodox?

A boneless chicken looks like a chicken, clucks like a chicken and even tastes like a chicken, but it cannot stand or walk erect. And a Orthodox Christian without a framework for piety is a boneless Christian: we look Orthodox and cluck like Orthodox Christians, but we cannot stand erect, and there is no real strength in us. As St. Paul said, we have the form of godliness, but not the power of it.

I fear for our children, the future generation of Orthodox Christians. When we exempt them, and ourselves, from attending the major feast days, we doom them to a “boneless” Orthodoxy, a faith that will not serve them well or help them with the struggles that lay ahead of them. Yet, so often, children are absent feast after feast while they pursue sports, the arts, other interests, or just sit at home to watch TV or play Nintendo.

Sometimes folks tell me that they don’t attend because, after all, they worked all week, and they stayed home to have some quality family time. Quality family time? Well, pardon me, but what family time could be of any higher quality than being together in Church, especially on a major feast day? And when you ask how they spent their quality time, the activities are often fairly lame and hardly of any quality.

May I plead for a bare minimum -regular attendance at all of the major feast days? Attendance at Pascha and Nativity is a good thing. These services are the “backbone” of our life of piety. Yet, can you stand and walk with only a backbone?

I am a priest, but I am also a brother and friend. When I see the church empty on a major feast day vigil, it makes me sad, not for myself, but for my brothers and sisters who again have missed the chance to build their skeleton of vital piety. Later, when they tell me how weak they are, and how hard the struggle is, I understand why.

While occasionally we have to miss church, some Orthodox adopt a  “lifestyle of non-attendance.” They become “boneless chicken” Orthodox Christians. We find it hard to stand erect and while we can talk the talk, we cannot walk the walk. When the time of testing comes, and it certainly will come, we find that we are not able to stand.

My friends, we can change this. God has given us everything that we need for a life in Christ. Its up to us to make ourselves available to the Grace given to us in Church. Each of us must realize how important this is, not just for local Church, but for our own salvation and that of our children.

Let’s not be boneless Orthodox Christians in a boneless Orthodox Church

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