Archive for December 17th, 2006

Orthodoxy in the Postmodern World

December 17, 2006

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It is a very different landscape we inhabit than our parents or grandparents. I am probably closer to my parents, generationally, than I am to my children. Though we share some songs of rock’n’roll, most of their music is lost on me. It’s not as foreign to me as mine was to my parents, but foreign enough. I find myself saying things that sound like my dad talking (it’s scary).

Our religious landscape has changed as well. I posted an article over the weekend in which I made some comments on pagans. Of course, they’re out there and they offered comments. Not unkind, but corrective. I’ve not left the comments on the blog, by choice, it’s not a conversation I choose to have – or at least not here. And I have to make choices about here because that’s my job (here).

But I will say to all of my pagan readers out there – if I offended you unfairly, I am sorry (I don’t know if pagans practice forgiveness). But everyone is due serious conversation and not something else.

As an Orthodox Christian I am in a time of preparation, looking forward to the celebration of Christ’s birth. For us it’s a time of moderate fasting (all celebrations are prepared for in that manner). But like Great Lent, it should be a time for forgiving your enemies (and your friends), not a time for giving offense.

My pagan ancestors inhabited the British Isles (none seem to have come from elsewhere). They embraced the Christian faith in what would have been an Orthodox form (there was no other form in those years 400-600 a.d.). They doubtless were later Roman Catholics when that became the Island’s Creed. Those who made it to America got here as dissident Baptists, Free Churchers of one sort or another. According to one account there were over 50 of them that became ordained ministers in the years 1730-1917 (when that count was made).

So that gives me a context that I will not deny. We’ve come full circle. Back to an Orthodoxy (now with Russian, Greek and Arab flavors, that might have been lacking in early Britain).

But the search, daily, is the same, to be at one with the True and Living God. I seek to bear no ill will to any (and fail). But I won’t quit seeking while I have breath.

May God give us a good Nativity celebration this year, by renewing our faith in His love and our surrender to His grace.

Praying Like a Publican

December 17, 2006

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Sometime back someone said to me, “Whenever I’ve sinned I never feel like praying. I feel unworthy and I just can’t pray.”

The statement sounded correct – I’ve had the same feeling often enough. But I kept thinking about it until the question came to me, “What am I waiting to feel before I pray?”

In the case at hand, I would suppose one would be waiting not to feel like such a sinner. And then I understood.

There is the story in Scripture of two men who went to pray, one a Pharisee and one a Publican (bad tax-collector for Rome) (Luke 18:10-14). We are told that the Pharisee prayed easily, lifting his eyes to heaven, and thanking God that “he was not like other men.”

The publican did not even lift his eyes to heaven but smote his breast and prayed, “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner.” Jesus said it was the publican who “returned home justified” not the Pharisee.

What struck me on reflection, however, was the puzzle of not wanting to pray when I feel guilty of sin. Having sinned, I do not wish to pray, I do not feel worthy of prayer. What am I waiting on?

I think, upon reflection, I’m waiting until I feel righteous, like a Pharisee, so I can pray, without realizing that such prayer is almost useless. Indeed, strangely, I pray, “Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,” with greater ease when I feel like a righteous man than when I feel like a sinner.

And this is part of the disease of religion – for make no mistake – religion is frequently a disease.

Relgious feelings (the Pharisees were masters of them) a deceptive in the extreme. I think I feel like praying, I am in fact feeling “pious.” And it’s a deep tragedy. I am not ready to pray – I’m eaten up with myself as a pious man.

When you feel like a Publican, then y0u can pray like a Publican. Many times people will tell me, “Father, I can’t serve in the altar today, I don’t feel worthy.” No doubt. But you’re in much greater danger when you do feel worthy.

Come in and approach God’s altar knowing you are not worthy and you will find grace and forgiveness.

None of this is to say don’t go to confession. But it’s good for us to say, sometimes, “Father, forgive me, I’ve been so good this week I haven’t felt in the least like a sinner, and this is a great sin and deception.” Now we would be getting somewhere.

To see the truth of ourselves is a very hard thing. And to love God precisely in the truth of ourselves is harder still. But this He wants from us. Pray like a publican. There are so many more times available for prayer if you do. And while you’re there, pray for those who are praying like a pharisee. May God free us from delusion.