Archive for May, 2009

Circle the Wagons, Pilgrims

May 30, 2009

If you were awake during American history class, you might remember the story of the pioneers who travelled by covered wagon to western America. Being a difficult and dangerous journey, the pioneers would gather at places like St. Louis to form long wagon trains. They felt that there would be greater safety in numbers and they were right. As they traveled west, they encountered many natural obstacles and they were able to help each other. Often they would circle their wagons to experience community, to share food and water, and to dance and sing around the fire to drive away the loneliness and fear. But the thing they feared most was an attack by Native Americans.When attacked, the wagons would circle up to form a defensive barrier and the pioneers would shoot from behind their wagons. Usually, this tactic was successful and the wagon train could move on to the promise of distant lands.

It’s been the same for the Church. For 2,000 years, we have traveled together through hostile country picking up new pioneers as we went along. We have gathered together to experience community, to share our food and water, and to sing and worship to drive away the loneliness and fear. When attacked, we too have circled our wagons and the biggest circle was called an “ecumenical council.”

You see it is our Orthodox nature to circle up. This is why we have Synods and Diocesan Councils and Ecumenical Councils.The First Ecumenical Council faced a fierce enemy in Arius and many pioneers lost their way. Other enemies would come and again the Church would circle its wagons. Each time, thank God, the Church was victorious.

Sadly, when we personally face opposition, the last thing we do is to circle up with other Orthodox Christians. Usually we run off in a snit to hide and lick our wounds. Maybe it’s just the modern culture in us, a culture that has isolated us in our houses and automobiles and work places. It is a culture that has murdered hospitality as a way of life. We are Daniel Boone crying out for elbow room and the hope to live untroubled in a cabin by ourselves.The problem is, when the enemy attacks, we are all alone.

It’s interesting to me that given the state of things today, the recession, the broken economy and empty stock portfolios, I don’t hear the Orthodox even talk about the possibility of circling up, of working together and sharing resources. The spirit of self-sufficiency continues to rule, and not the spirit of community.

There may be a reason why we are reluctant to circle up. I’ve heard it said that when attacked, the Orthodox circle up, but then instead of shooting at the enemy, they turn and shoot at each other. You find that this happens in local churches sometimes. The church is facing some problem or point of controversy, and the members start shooting at each other. They seem to forget that the true enemy is not the member who opposes them, but that the fight is “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6.12)

In modern times, circling up has also become a serious problem.Some Orthodox people have circled up to leave out other Orthodox pioneers. They call them enemies and heretics and then start shooting at them. It is as if they believe that they are a big circle, an Ecumenical Council, who can decide who is in and who is out. It is very sad indeed. The thing is that like all wagon trains, we have a Wagon Master. He is very skilled because he knows the way of our enemies and knows the way to the Far Lands. He will tell us when it s time to have another big circle (an ecumenical council). No matter what the other little wagon circles say, an ecumenical council they are not.

Even so, let’s not give up circling the wagons but let it be for protection and not for exclusion. Let us seek out and welcome other pioneers into our circle. We face fierce enemies today who are very skilled in warfare. We cannot do it alone and we will have no protection if we travel alone in our little spiritual wagon.

The going ahead may be very difficult. If it is, and even if isn’t, let’s circle the wagons, pilgrims!

Furniture Mover

May 9, 2009

During the Sundays after Pascha, we hear about the ways people respond to the Resurrection. On Thomas Sunday, we found that some respond with doubt. In the Myrrh-bearing women, some respond by becoming servants to the Body of Christ. Today, we will find that another response is to become furniture movers.

This is the way St. Bede sees it the story of the healing of the paralytic. Thirty eight years is a long time to suffer from paralysis. Bede finds the number 38 to of interest. It is two less than perfection. How did he get that idea? Well, multiply 10 (for the Ten Commandments) by 4 (for the Four Gospels), and you get the number 40, a number  which represents the full number of virtues. We are behind by two/ What do we lack?

To find healing, we must move the furniture.

First, the Lord said “Rise!” Simply, there’s not going to be any healing if we continue to roll about in our beds. I know the bed is comfortable. We become use to it and in many ways the bed has become a part of our personality. Yet, if there is to be healing, we must throw off the covers and place our feet on the floor and stand up. Can we do it? Yes, if we have faith in the power of the Lord’s command. After all, didn’t His command still the winds and calm the seas?

Second, the Lord said “take up your bed.” St. Bede’s take on this may surprise you. He wrote that to take up your bed means that you are to “lovingly carry your neighbor, by tolerating his weakness.” I leave behind my sins by rising up and now I carry my bed by bearing the burdens of others. Well, this is different, but how else can it be? Would the Lord have me carry the bed of my old sins? If so, then I would continue to be a slave to them. St. Paul reminds us that it is by bearing the burdens of others that I fulfill the Law of Christ. I forget this truth and I believe that I must be a martyr. After all, I carry such a heavy load of my own stuff.

Third, the Lord commands that I am to “walk.” Here, St. Bede tells us that this means to love God. Therefore, walking involves loving God with the heart, mind, soul, and strength. He puts it this way: Walk…”so that you may be worthy to reach the vision of Him. Go forward by making daily strides of good works from virtue to virtue. Do not desert your brother…nor turn aside from the right direction of your path…In everything that you do, see to it that you do not fix your mind upon this world, but that you hurry to see the face of your Redeemer.”

The end result was that the man became well, took up his bed, and went on walking. Well, as always, it’s up to us. We can lie around and hope that someday, all the circumstances of life will line up and the timing will be just right. Then, we’ll get into the water and all will be well. It is a tragic attitude because we can lie on this bed for 38 years hoping to be the lottery winner. This kind of attitude reminds me of a calling card that a protestant minister once showed me. On the front was the all of the important contact information, but on the back was a picture of a man in a casket located at the front of the church. Under the picture were these words, “Well, he always said he’d get to church as soon as he got straightened out!”

We need wait no longer if we will rise, take up our bed, and walk.

Don’t you think it’s time to move some furniture?

The New Atlas

May 2, 2009

He was a Titan who lead a rebellion against the Olympians. In his failure, he was made to hold up the sky on his shoulders. (He is often shown holding up the world, but this is incorrect) This would be his eternal punishment. Once, he almost tricked Hercules into holding up the sky for him, but Hercules saw through his scheme and was able to escape. Poor, heroic Atlas!

Carrying burdens seems to be an inescapable fact of life. Sometimes, the burdens are so heavy it feels like Atlas holding up the sky. I’ve carried heavy loads of wood or stone until my shoulders and arms and legs ached with the effort. I managed this weight because I knew I would soon set it down. The terror of the story of Atlas is the hopelessness of it, knowing that you can never set your burden down. The terror of my life is the feeling that there are some burdens I will never lay down.

Some one once referred to the 20th Century as the “Age of Anxiety.” When you read the history of that time, there was certainly much to be anxious about. I wonder if that tag continues to be applied to the 21st Century? Certainly, these are fearful times. The economy has crashed and our financial security has largely vanished. Now, we hear of impending pandemics and nuclear terrorism, and the level of anxiety is reaching new heights.

I was reading The Missionary Letters of St. Nikolai Velimirovich. In letter 59, he wrote to an American, John Davis, who had a deep fear about the population explosion of the human race. He wrote, “Of course, one who forgets God, takes God’s worries upon himself. And God’s worries are not something that weak human backs can carry.” What an interesting thought– fear makes us forget God, and by forgetfulness, we carry God’s worries. When this happens, we become the New Atlas– we take the sky upon our shoulders. Yet, we are not Titans and our backs cannot carry the load.

The most difficult thing about an emotional, physical, or spiritual burden is when, like Atlas, we have no hope of ever setting it down. Despair only adds to the weight of the load that we carry. It is no wonder that Christ taught us “Do not worry. Tomorrow will take care of itself. Enough for today is the evil thereof.” Even at His birth, the angels said “Fear not!”

The Lord says to all who would be like Atlas, “Come unto me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Cast your cares upon me…Take my yoke upon you, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Christ is the only true Atlas, and in his Cross, He took upon himself the full weight of the world. Weak sinner that I am, I’ve found that its easier to pull the yoke with Christ than to be an heroic Titan carrying the sky on my shoulders.

The heavy stone has been rolled away. Christ is Risen! Hey, Atlas! Lay that burden down!