A happy carnivore

I ate meat today. It’s Friday. Happy tummy!

Fort Wayne’s annual Ribfest was today, so I spent way too much money on a fantastic beef brisket and a glass of Fat Tire. And it’s a Friday. For the first time since I’ve been Orthodox, Ribfest fell outside the Apostle’s Fast, a brief, meat-free period in mid-June that gives me pause at cookouts. Because it was the week after Pentacost, there was also no fasting from meat on Wednesday and Friday this week. Gastronomical perfection available to me today. Three cheers for how the calendar worked out this year. Hip-hip-horray!

As I clipped off my I-am-old-enough-and-plan-to-consume-adult-beverages bracelet from the festival, I remembered my old no-drinking, no-movies, no-playing-with-face-card days. And I compared it to my fast-filled word in the Orthodox church. There’s a big hairy-arsed difference.

We fast, I fast, from meat and dairy (when I can) nearly every Wednesday and Friday, about 50 days before Pascha, 40 days before Christmas, about 14 days in August and usually about seven days in June. When you add it up, I’m a vegetarian about half the year. I want to be clear: I like meat. If God didn’t intend us to eat meat, He wouldn’t have put New York strip steaks on cows. Just saying.

I don’t abstain because it earns me points with Jesus or because there is something inherently wrong with meat-eating. I abstain because it is a discipline. It gives me a minute to pause and think about Christ’s betrayal (Wednesdays) or His death (Fridays). It helps me focus on what is important before the big feast days, simplifying my menu and my life.

In my Christian life Before Orthodoxy, way before I even knew of it, we didn’t drink alcohol. We didn’t do a lot of things. We didn’t do these things because they led to other things that were bad (drunkenness, gambling, fun…) But we didn’t replace them with anything. We certainly didn’t get any benefit from such abstinence, that would be “works” coming into our salvation. Can’t have that.

So any indulgence in anything verboten brought nothing but guilt and spiritual navel gazing, at least for me. Is God going to be mad? What if someone sees me? What if it keeps people from being saved?

I do a lot worse things to harm the Kingdom in a thousand different ways throughout the day, other than my consumption of adult beverages. And those are things I should worry about. Refraining from meat, in theory, should cause me to be more aware of those things and put my mind in a more God-centered way.

But on these glorious days, when all is available to me, I feel no guilt. What I feel is a deep gratitude for the gift given me, not just in the wonderful food, but also my salvation. I am still mindful of what happened on a Friday, in part because my normal routine was interrupted.

But I gotta tell you, that brisket was pretty good. So was the sauce.

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The rest of the story

Today, May 22, many of us left behind or whom missed out on the scheduled end of the world yesterday went to church.

Today my church recognized the fifth Sunday of Pascha-The Sunday of the Samaritan woman.

Ever wondered what happened to her? She had a name. Clearly she had had a family. The Gospel said she went back to her village and prepared the way for the Lord, telling people Who was sitting outside at the well.

She had a name too–Photina. St. Photina to my church.  (Svetlana if you’re Slavic.)

And I can tell you what happened to her (at least the website of the Orthodox Church in America can):

During the time of the emperor Nero (54-68), who displayed excessive cruelty against Christians, St Photina lived in Carthage with her younger son Joses and fearlessly preached the Gospel there. Her eldest son Victor fought bravely in the Roman army against barbarians, and was appointed military commander in the city of Attalia (Asia Minor). Later, Nero called him to Italy to arrest and punish Christians. 

Sebastian, an official in Italy, said to St Victor, “I know that you, your mother and your brother, are followers of Christ. As a friend I advise you to submit to the will of the emperor. If you inform on any Christians, you will receive their wealth. I shall write to your mother and brother, asking them not to preach Christ in public. Let them practice their faith in secret.” 

St Victor replied, “I want to be a preacher of Christianity like my mother and brother.” Sebastian said, “O Victor, we all know what woes await you, your mother and brother.” Then Sebastian suddenly felt a sharp pain in his eyes. He was dumbfounded, and his face was somber. 

For three days he lay there blind, without uttering a word. On the fourth day he declared, “The God of the Christians is the only true God.” St Victor asked why Sebastian had suddenly changed his mind. Sebastian replied, “Because Christ is calling me.” Soon he was baptized, and immediately regained his sight. St Sebastian’s servants, after witnessing the miracle, were also baptized. 

Reports of this reached Nero, and he commanded that the Christians be brought to him at Rome. Then the Lord Himself appeared to the confessors and said, “Fear not, for I am with you. Nero, and all who serve him, will be vanquished.” The Lord said to St Victor, “From this day forward, your name will be Photinus, because through you, many will be enlightened and will believe in Me.” The Lord then told the Christians to strengthen and encourage St Sebastian to peresevere until the end. 

All these things, and even future events, were revealed to St Photina. She left Carthage in the company of several Christians and joined the confessors in Rome. 

At Rome the emperor ordered the saints to be brought before him and he asked them whether they truly believed in Christ. All the confessors refused to renounce the Savior. Then the emperor gave orders to smash the martyrs’ finger joints. During the torments, the confessors felt no pain, and their hands remained unharmed. 

Nero ordered that Sts Sebastian, Photinus and Joses be blinded and locked up in prison, and St Photina and her five sisters Anatola, Phota, Photis, Paraskeva and Kyriake were sent to the imperial court under the supervision of Nero’s daughter Domnina. St Photina converted both Domnina and all her servants to Christ. She also converted a sorcerer, who had brought her poisoned food to kill her. 

Three years passed, and Nero sent to the prison for one of his servants, who had been locked up. The messengers reported to him that Sts Sebastian, Photinus and Joses, who had been blinded, had completely recovered, and that people were visiting them to hear their preaching, and indeed the whole prison had been transformed into a bright and fragrant place where God was glorified. 

Nero then gave orders to crucify the saints, and to beat their naked bodies with straps. On the fourth day the emperor sent servants to see whether the martyrs were still alive. But, approaching the place of the tortures, the servants fell blind. An angel of the Lord freed the martyrs from their crosses and healed them. The saints took pity on the blinded servants, and restored their sight by their prayers to the Lord. Those who were healed came to believe in Christ and were soon baptized. 

In an impotent rage Nero gave orders to flay the skin from St Photina and to throw the martyr down a well. Sebastian, Photinus and Joses had their legs cut off, and they were thrown to dogs, and then had their skin flayed off. The sisters of St Photina also suffered terrible torments. Nero gave orders to cut off their breasts and then to flay their skin. An expert in cruelty, the emperor readied the fiercest execution for St Photis: they tied her by the feet to the tops of two bent-over trees. When the ropes were cut the trees sprang upright and tore the martyr apart. The emperor ordered the others beheaded. St Photina was removed from the well and locked up in prison for twenty days. 

After this Nero had her brought to him and asked if she would now relent and offer sacrifice to the idols. St Photina spit in the face of the emperor, and laughing at him, said, “O most impious of the blind, you profligate and stupid man! Do you think me so deluded that I would consent to renounce my Lord Christ and instead offer sacrifice to idols as blind as you?” 

Hearing such words, Nero gave orders to again throw the martyr down the well, where she surrendered her soul to God (ca. 66). 

I love that about my Church…I always wanted to know more about the people mentioned in Scripture. How did their encounter with Christ change them? It had to have, right? I mean isn’t that the point. What became of them?

In case you’re ever curious, that kid Jesus picked up and put on His lap, that was St. Ignatius. He too was martyred, but not before giving us some seriously foundational documents for the Christian faith. Lazarus, well, he became a bishop. So did Zacchaeus, who was also an apostle, preaching the Gospel alongside St. Peter.

Just another reminder that we’re not so alone in this. And we never have been. There are generations full of godly men and women who came before Luther and Calvin and Billy Graham that lived out the Christian life through unimaginably difficult circumstances, without blinking or flinching. But they all started out so similar to us. That should give us hope: God can use anybody. He already has.

On missing Holy Week

I’m having a tough time disengaging from my Paschal party and the preceding Holy Week journey.

Even right now, during Bright Week for pity’s sake, I am listening to the Lamentations of Holy Week because I just love it so much. I miss the singing, the reflection, the knowledge of all that seemed lost then was found in Christ’s redemptive work.

I miss the mourning. I miss the soulful singing as we wait and watch. I miss the sadness turning into joy. I miss hearing the birds awake as we left the little parish hall at 4 a.m. Sunday. I miss my brothers and sisters, whom I rarely see but with whom I have shared this great Thing now two years in a row. I miss hearing Subdeacon Eusebius’ voice reading the Scriptures. I miss watching Elena direct the choir with such joy. I miss seeing Fr. Stacey grin from ear to ear as he blesses the parishioners with showers of holy water. I miss singing alongside my sister. I miss the darkness with candlelight peaking through as we leave the church for the procession.

I miss it all. I love it all, what it brings to me, what it does to me and where it takes me. I love that when I leave on Pascha, I feel like a bright, new penny. I love that throughout Bright Week I don’t worry about what I’m eating, then laugh when I notice that I’m not worrying about what I’m eating. I love that all I want to do is be back at Church and NO one at work can make that happen.

But I love that this Sunday, like every Sunday, we will again celebrate the Resurrection, for every Sunday in Orthodoxy is a mini-Pascha. And this week we’ll get to sing “The Angel Cried.” And Fr. Andrew will say “Christ is Risen” in English, Greek, Slavonic and probably Ukrainian. And we will answer him in English, Greek, Slavonic and probably Ukrainian. The Ethiopians will do that thing that they do when they hear “Christ is Risen” that can’t be translated into words. And I will smile because of the universal-ness of God’s love for us because He came for us, died for us, arose for us and saves us in any language.

I miss Holy Week. I miss Pascha. But I love missing it. And I can’t wait for next year.

Christ is risen, everybody! Christ is Risen!!

Feast day of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople

Grace like a flame shining forth from thy mouth has illumined the universe, and disclosed to the world treasures of poverty and shown us the height of humility. And as by thine own words thou teachest us, Father John Chrysostom, so intercede with the Word, Christ our God, to save our souls.St. John Chrysostom

The heavy lifting

Today my church observed the Feast celebrating the Holy Fathers of the Seven Ecumenical Councils. For the Orthodox, this is a big day. It is a day we remember the work done by those who went before us, a day we look back at the foundation of our faith.

On the Orthodox Church in America’s website: In the Ninth Article of the Nicea-Constantinople Symbol of Faith proclaimed by the holy Fathers of the First and Second Ecumenical Councils, we confess our faith in “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.” By virtue of the catholic nature of the Church, an Ecumenical Council is the Church’s supreme authority, and possesses the competence to resolve major questions of church life. An Ecumenical Council is comprised of archpastors and pastors of the Church, and representatives of all the local Churches, from every land of the “oikumene” (i.e. from all the whole inhabited world).

Some highlights of these giant meetings include–Adopting the Nicene Creed to combat the heresy of Arianism and proclaim Christ as “true God of true God”; proclaiming Christ both fully-man and fully-God, divine and human nature in a hypostatic union; and affirmed that Christ had both human and divine wills.

In other words, the Councils are all about Christ–who He is and what He did. And most of these doctrines are now assumed as correct by most Protestant denominations (with the exception, of course, of the oneness Pentecostals).

As Father Paul talked about the councils today, primarily Chalcedon, I thought about the reformation. I thought about the work done by the Holy Fathers and how it laid the foundations for all correct Christian thought. Much of Protestantism has felt, to me, as the rebellious teenager–pushing against those values of the parents (stability, moral absolutes, etc.) that enabled them to have such discussions in the first place. Were those great theological wars not fought in the past, had the bishops not stood against the heresies, all of this now would be a moot point.

Fr. Paul said “Orthodoxy is about who Christ is. Many other churches are about what Christ does for us, but our concern is WHO He is and how we have a relationship with Him.”

Amen.