I’ve Got Rhythm!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Let’s review a bit of American history (don’t worry, it will be painless). In the past, American men and women went into the wilderness to start new communities. There were Shakers and the Oneida community, the Mormons, the Bruderhofs, the Ephrata communities, and one might even include the various Amish and Mennonite groups. The original Pilgrims came to the New World in hopes of establishing a new community. This isn’t just a past phenomenon. In recent years, we saw the establishment of communes, some secular and some religious. Some of them were benign, but some ended in tragedy (David Koresh and Jim Jones).

Actually, the desire for community has been with us since the beginning of human history. In our hearts, we hold to a hope that a new lifestyle might restore a bit of paradise and give life more meaning and purpose. Certainly, when you read the writings of St. Paul, you find him working, struggling, pleading and praying for community. To him, it was the Body of Christ in the world and he told us that we should never forsake it. What did a Christian community look like in those days?

In the last chapter of 1 Corinthians, St. Paul refers to Priscilla and Aquila. From both historical and archaeological studies, it is clear that Priscilla came from a wealthy Roman family. Her estate was on the “posh side” of Rome. Within the walls of her estate, she nurtured a house church and it was more than just a place to meet. Apparently Christians, of all ages and rank, lived in Priscilla’s compound. Archaeologists have unearthed graves that show the people from all the ranks of Roman society were buried there. It seems that people would sleep and eat there. During the day they would go out to do their work, but would return for the evening meal and worship. Now, that’s what I call a community.

From St. Paul’s writings, the theme of unity prevails as the essence of community. There was oneness of heart, and this meant that above all, love was the ground, the context, and the environment of Christian community. If love was present, then the next aspect of community followed naturally: unity of mind. Not only did they believe the same Creed, but they shared a common vision of what should happen next. With unity of heart and mind, the last thing followed easily – unity of activity, or the sharing of a common life.

I must admit that for most of my life, I have searched for community. Locally, I have seen community in action. The year I graduated from high school, 1969, Hurricane Camille hit our part of Virginia. Across the mountain, the people of Nelson County were swept away by walls of water and mud. They say that it rained 26 inches of water that night. The next morning, we many of us heard the news, we joined with the rescue squads and went over to try and find survivors. Many of us did what we could for as long as we could, but eventually, we had to return to work. The people who stayed were the Mennonites. It wasn’t a matter of desire; it was a matter of lifestyle. The Mennonite lifestyle gave many of them the freedom to stay and help.

One would think that the Orthodox Church would be the place where community would be a given. Sadly, this is not the case, at least not in the fullest sense. There are aspects of community, of course, but I believe that the lack of community has been the source of much grief among Orthodox Christians. Many times in the past, church members talked to me about their loneliness and sense of isolation, yet many of them were the most faithful workers and attendees. How is this possible?

Allow me acquaint you with a couple of terms that are used about monasteries. The words are “coenobitic” and “idiorhythmic.” The word “coenobitic” comes from the ancient Greek word “koinóbios” which means “a life in common, living together.” Later it comes to refer to monks living together and sharing a common life. (A side note: this seems to be an origin of the name Kenobi…as is Obi Wan Kenobi). The word “idiorhythmic” means that there is not a shared rhythm of life- everyone has their own rhythm. So a hermit or solitary would live an idiorhythmic life.

So far, it has been my experience that most Orthodox churches, at least in this country, are idiorhymic. Again, there are aspects of a common life: the Liturgy, trapeza, festivals, studies, etc. Yet, after these events, we return to own rhythm and on a daily basis, share little with the other members of our Church. We pattern our life after the demands of work, family, sport and cultural events, recreation, etc. Oh, we got rhythm, but it’s the rhythm of the world.

In Genesis, God establishes His rhythm in Creation. It says, “And the evening and the morning was the first day.” This is odd to us because our day begins in the morning and ends in the evening. God seems to have His day backwards! The Church has tried to maintain the rhythm of God in the way in which it worships. We do this because we know that the rhythm of God’s activity will bring salvation to our lives. So, the Church day begins in the evening at Vespers and ends the following morning with the conclusion of the Liturgy. Being attuned to the rhythm of the world, we are sure that the Church day begins on Sunday morning.

Here is where the battle is waged. The world has its own rhythm, and this rhythm does not lead to holiness or salvation, but to death. The rhythm of the world is very powerful and very subtle and we struggle between the rhythm of the world and the rhythm of the Church. One example would be the services on Saturday night. It’s the same everywhere and no jurisdiction is exempt– to be in church on a Saturday night just doesn’t seem to fit the rhythm of American life, and so the Church is usually almost empty for Vespers or Vigil.

What can we do? Again, St. Paul gives us some clues in the last chapter of 1st Corinthians. First, watch! It is important that we see and understand how the rhythm of the world can takes over life. Then, stand fast. We need to understand unity is a gift of the Spirit, but we must stand fast and not be moved from it. We must stand against the compromise demanded by the rhythm of life. Then, be strong. The struggle against the rhythm of the world is a powerful struggle, and the weak will have great difficulty overcoming it. We need to pray for the strength to fight this battle.

I’m not saying that we need to sell our houses and all move in together, but surely there are ways that each of us could begin to have a better sense of God’s rhythm, a rhythm that we share with the other members of our Church community. It is also vital that we get our children to have rhythm, because once they are attuned to the rhythm of the world, it will be difficult to get them to Church when they get older.

I hope you got rhythm, but I hope it is the right one. It’s up to us really.

5 Responses to “I’ve Got Rhythm!!”

  1. Peter T. Says:

    Excellent post, Father! Glad to see you’re back blogging again. I’ve thought for a long time that we Christians could stand to learn something from traditional Judaism. Orthodox Jews simply cannot travel on the Sabbath. To do so would be for them a sin. Mostly this forces them to live in close-knit communities, because they must be within walking distance of a synagogue. I know there are also cases, especially with converts, where those who live far away will arrive Friday night and spend the Sabbath with another family.

    We don’t seem to have this kind of rigid command, but Sabbath rest is part of our Tradition as well. Perhaps if we learned to take it a bit more seriously (and a practical response to higher gas prices as well), we’d regain some community in the process.

  2. Father Nectarios Says:

    Another awesome article Father. Love the comparisons and the reality. God Bless always.

  3. shinie Says:

    just too good .thank you Rev.

  4. Mary Says:

    Father,bless.
    I found out the hard way that though the folks in my parish are quite friendly and approachable, but it’s out of sight out of mind if you can’t attend. No one calls to check on one another and the elderly who’ve attended all their lives are forgotten once they no longer attend. We lack a a real sense of community; taking care of one another and being there through thick and thin like a family. That means socializing or being a part of one another’s lives outside of church, or at least bumping into one another sometimes.

    I have an Asian Protestant friend who has lived in the US without family for 15 years. She’s been a member of two churches and both times they were/are her family. She socializes with members, hosts game and poetry reading nights, babysits their children, visits the sick and elderly, attends weddings, graduations, cookouts, etc. and they do the same for her and one another. She also attends Bible study and all the services (kncluding weekdays). 15 people of all ages showed up at her dissertion defense! The professors had never seen anything like it.

    One parishioner at her church has cancer, and the entire congregation has provided food, watched him while suffering through chemo and even provided out of state transportation. He did not grow up with these folks, that’s just how they do things at their church. If he had attended the Eastern Churches I’ve attended…

    We’ve got to do a better job of being a real church family. We don’t have to like everybody ,or hang out with everyone individually all the time, but we should have each other’s back.

  5. Mary Says:

    I forgot to mention, that as soon as there is a need, this friend will drop everything and go pray with those who need it. So, her congregation is involved with one another on every level.

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