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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No saint

Happy back-to-eating meat, everybody! Oh, you were still eating meat? My bad. Happy Feast Day of Sts. Peter and Paul to me!! I had fried chicken for supper.

So tomorrow (tonight liturgically) marks the end of the Apostles’ Fast and the celebration of the lives of the best evangelists (especially for my Protestant friends)–Peter and Paul.

St. Peter always gives me hope. Fr. Andrew again reminded me of why — here’s this obnoxious, occasionally whiny, finger-pointing, temper-losing and Christ-denying dude who becomes a saint. Not just a saint, but one of the big first ones, one who planted churches, wrote Scripture and whatnot.

Today, Fr. Stephen wrote about the saints among us, these people who make the world, the workplace, the home, the Church, better because of their presence. These people who speak no ill of others, who love well, laugh often and generally uplift.

Like St. Nicholas of Zicha, (and South Canaan, PA) who wrote “Enemies have driven me into your embrace more than friends have.”

That ain’t me.

My best hope for sainthood is probably what Flannery O’Connor said: “She could never be a saint, but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick.”

Maybe, though, if I keep working out my salvation, keep confessing to Fr. Andrew about how certain people drive me crazy and make me mad and how I let my thoughts become actions and become attitudes, maybe one day after all this. I know I draw my sword too quickly, cutting off ears of those nearby. I know I deny that which I hold dear. I gossip. I malign. I’m just generally a jackass. (or something else, if you like)

Maybe someday, even if not here.

Feastday of St. Patrick, Bishop of Armagh and Enlightener of Ireland

Or: How a Saint I knew nothing about helped bring me to the Church.

When I first visited an Orthodox Church, St. John Chrysostom Antiochian on Putnam Street, I slipped quietly into the back and sat on the right side, very last row.

The walls of the church were covered with icons (shocking, I know) and the one directly next to my right shoulder was a very sweet looking St. Patrick, holding his shamrock and appearing to be the wisest, kindest, person I’d seen. All I knew of St. Patrick was that 1-we never called him “Saint” Patrick and 2-it was just an excuse for Americans of Scot/Irish lineage to get lit and dye the rivers green. Somewhere in my wandering I stumbled across more respectful treatments of him, but I knew not much.

So there he was watching me while I watched the church. And every Sunday for months, when I slipped in the back, he was like a friend in the pew. I knew about the prayers to the saints in an intellectual way as my journey continued, but I felt, in a very real way, this ancient soul was watching over me, praying for me and loving me from beyond the veil.

As the time of my entrance to the Church grew closer and these intellectual understandings started to move deeper to my heart, I went with our women’s group to a monastery for a Lenten retreat. The nuns put me in a little room with an icon over each twin bed. Guess who was over mine…St. Patrick. Same icon even, same beautiful look on his face…now watching over me while I slept. I left that monastery with a copy of that icon from the gift shop (depicted below).

For a few personal reasons, I did not choose St. Patrick as my patron. But in a way he is/was. I believe, I know, that he saw me that day in the church. I know that when I finally mustered up enough courage to try it and mumbled a prayer to him, asking for his intercession, he did it. I know he helped bring me here.

So tonight, I will lift a glass of Smithwick’s or maybe a pour of Jameson’s and I will thank St. Patrick, Enlightener of Ireland and this girl. Thanks, old friend.

Oh, Holy St. Patrick, equal to the Apostles, we ask you to intercede before Christ our God for the enlightenment of this place, filled with your people now for many years. Ask Him in His great love to continue to work in our hearts to draw us deeper into the fullness of His truth and the glorious life in His kingdom.

Apolytikion:

O Holy Hierarch, equal of the Apostles, Saint Patrick, wonderworker and enlightener of Ireland: Intercede with the merciful God that He grant unto our souls forgiveness of offences.


Kontakion:

The Master revealed thee as a skillful fisher of men; and casting forth nets of Gospel preaching, thou drewest up the heathen to piety. Those who were the children of idolatrous darkness thou didst render sons of day through holy Baptism. O Patrick, intercede for us who honour thy memory.

From The Lorica of St. Patrick:

I arise today/Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity/Through belief in the threeness/Through confession of the Oneness
Towards the creator.

I arise today/Through the strength of Christ with his baptism,
Through the strength of his crucifixion with his burial,/Through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension/Through the strength of his decent for the Judgment of doom.

I arise today/Through the strength of the love of Cherubim
In obedience to the Angels,/In the service of the Archangels,
In hope of resurrection to meet with reward,/In prayers of patriarchs,
In predictions of prophets,/In preaching of Apostles,/In faiths of confessors,
In innocence of Holy Virgins,/In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today/Through the strength of heaven:/Light of sun
Brilliance of moon/Splendor of fire/Speed of lightning/Swiftness of wind
Depth of sea/Stability of earth/Firmness of rock.

I arise today/Through God’s strength to pilot me:/God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me/God’s eye to look before me,/God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,/God’s hand to guard me,/God’s way to lie before me,/God’s host to secure me/against snares of devils/against temptations of vices/against inclinations of nature/against everyone who shall wish me ill,
afar and anear,/alone and in a crowd.

I summon today all these powers between me and these evils/
Against every cruel and merciless power that may oppose my body and my soul,/Against incantations of false prophets,/Against black laws of heathenry,
Against false laws of heretics,/Against craft of idolatry,/Against spells of women and smiths and wizards,/Against every knowledge that endangers man’s body and soul.

Christ to protect me today/against poison, against burning,/against drowning, against wounding,/so that there may come abundance of reward.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,/Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,/Christ on my right, Christ on my left
Christ where I lie, Christ where I sit, Christ where I arise
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today/Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Thrones,/Through confession of the Oneness
Towards the Creator.

Salvation is of the Lord./Salvation is of the Lord./Salvation is of Christ/May thy Salvation, O Lord, be ever with us.