A good fight

“Some people fight to get back what they’ve lost. I fight because I don’t know how to do anything else.” — Lt. Kara “Starbuck” Thrace in season two of (the new) Battlestar Galactica.

As a kid, I used to rip the branches off our neighbor’s mock orange trees to make bows and arrows. Younger branches for the arrows (they grew remarkably straight and flew pretty well) and mid-age branches for the bows (green enough to be flexible and thick enough to be strong). The neighbor hated me (I get that now as a home owner) but my sisters and the neighbor kids had access to functioning weapons as long as I hadn’t lost my pocket knives. (Strange, strange girl I was) We also used old broomsticks and walking sticks as quarter-staffs and wailed away at each other on the front lawn. I really don’t know why CPS was never called. It’d be easy to put some of that, and how I am now, on what was going on inside the house, but some of it is just that my poor mother had three daughters who refused to play with dolls or sit still. Instead we hooked the dog up to the wagon and made her pull us down the street. We wouldn’t stay off the muddy river banks and we shot arrows at each other from the cover of the bushes in front of our house.

I’m not naive. I know some of this conflict- and rough-and-tumble orientation is some of what helped me get through and keeps me going. Some of it, though, is just fun. And as I’ve grown older, that love of fighting and a deep appreciation for scrappy characters has not waned — Starbuck, Katniss, Lisbeth, Veronica… My greatest respect, though, remains for my sisters who are always willing to stand alongside and throw down.

I’ve had no problem seeing life here as a war, externally and internally. (I’m going back to the why-I-am-Orthodox discussion again here) I know I’m broken. I know I’m not the person I’m supposed to be. I know I’m not the person I’m going to be. I know that I too often give in and give up to the pull of this place, this culture that swamps the moral boats and/or tries to obliterate the image of God carved into our souls.

Modern American Christianity/Evangelical Protestantism never gave me the right tools with which to fight. I would read the Epistles of St. Paul and his war imagery, his descriptions of contests and I would wait for someone to tell me how I was to wage war as a good soldier of the King. But all I had at my disposal were endless praise and worship tunes, happy thoughts and crossed fingers.

It never worked for me. Orthodoxy gives me actual weapons, sturdier ones than mock orange tree branches, and ways to train to wage the fight. The part of me that loves those fictional characters, the deepest part of my humanness that wants to be brave and strong when the time comes, that part is daily fed and nurtured by the life of the Church. My priest offers me concrete orders and direction. The lives of the saints surround me, showing me how and offering me hope. I fast. I read. I kneel. I stand. I cross myself. I pray. I bow.

I fight.

Last night at church, we celebrated the Feast of St. Demetrius, a Roman soldier martyred for Christ. His icon depicts him in battle dress, holding a sword and leaning on a shield.

My own patron, St. Eunice, has her day later this week. She also died a martyr, along with her family, after refusing to back down and recant. My sister’s patron, St. Maria Skobtsova or St. Maria of Paris, was a converted atheist, born to privilege who became mayor, a wife and then later a nun. She refused to live in a convent, instead living in the city, where she had fled to escape the Bolsheviks, and hosting theological discussions and debates in her home. The church contemplated excommunicating her, she was so bad at following the rules. Then, when the Nazis came, she and a priest began providing Jews with fake baptismal certificates to save their lives. She died in a concentration camp, taking the place of someone who was to enter the gas chamber that day.

Feisty people, these.

We’re going to need their examples in the days ahead, I believe. I retain no optimism about the future health of our democracy and our safety as human beings. We’re already being eaten alive by the greed and selfishness that our culture has packaged as “appropriate interaction for human beings.” We may not be willing to release our dreams of iPads and comfortable retirements until it is much too late. The barbarians have already crashed the gate.

So I will try to ready myself, waging wars against my own passions and my own ghosts, making myself able to carry on the way I should when I have to. I will try to be a better example for those around me, and live a life worthy of the calling I have received.

I have to. This is my duty.

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Thoughts from the “Golden Mouth”

Is every ruler elected by God to the throne he occupies? Is every emperor, king, and prince chosen by rule? If so, is every law and decree promulgated by a ruler to be regarded as good, and thus obeyed without question? The answer to all these questions is, no. God has ordained that every society should have rulers, whose task it is to maintain order, so that people may live in peace. God allows rulers to employ soldiers, whose task it is to capture and imprison those who violate social order. Thus God will bless and guide any ruler and any soldier who acts according to these principles. But many rulers abuse their authority by amassing huge wealth for themselves at the expense of their people, by unjustly punishing those who dare to speak against their evil, and by making unjust wars against neighbors. Such rulers have not been elected by God, but rather have usurped the position which a righteous ruler should occupy. And if their laws are wrong, we should not obey them. The supreme authority is all matters is not the law of the land, but the law of God; and if one conflicts with the other, we must obey God’s law.

And another:

For Christians above all men are forbidden to correct the stumblings of sinners by force…it is necessary to make a man better not by force but by persuasion. We neither have authority granted us by law to restrain sinners, nor, if it were, should we know how to use it, since God gives the crown to those who are kept from evil, not by force, but by choice.

— St. John Chrysostom

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.