Archive for February 7th, 2007

Uniting with Christ

February 7, 2007


Last Sunday (which was truly busy), I had the joy of five Baptisms to begin the day. Orthodox Baptism not only has a lot of prayer, but it seems, that with each additional candidate another level of chaos is reached. It is simply a joyful action and practicalities involved in immersion (and the changing of clothes, etc.) invariably slow things down and ratchet up the chaos – but a joyful chaos.

I was once again struck by the straight-forward question of the Baptismal service, “Do you unite yourself to Christ?” Repeated three times and then asked in the perfect tense another three times. You begin to get the idea that the prayers of the Church think that uniting yourself with Christ is a fundamental issue. And of course it is.

I have become convinced over the years, both from Scripture, and reflection, and just trying to live the life of a Christian, that union with Christ is pretty much everything. I long ago ceased to have much understanding of prayer other than as union with Christ. It can’t be that I’m informing God of anything, much less convincing Him to do something He didn’t want to do. But I can easily understand that I unite myself with Him when I pray no matter what I am pray for.

The Church’s written prayers are a great help in teaching me to pray “in union with Christ.” Although I know something of prayer that is not in union with Him. I know of being angry with God or frustrated at the world or any number of complaining things I’ve hurled at God through the years. Not that such prayer has a great deal of value other than its sheer honesty. It has to be better than lying to God.

Lent will be upon us soon enough – with much prayer – and longer services – and more services. But there I have the sense of union with Christ, particularly in His sufferings. Not that prostrations and the like can count for much suffering. But the whole of Lent, the humility of fasting and asking people to forgive me, and the frequent use of the Prayer of St. Ephrem have a tendency to draw you into the sufferings of Christ.

I think there is a particular opportunity for us to unite ourselves with Christ in His sufferings that is not available to us in any other way I can recall. The Way of Christ is, as Fr. Sophrony would have said, “downward.” No life is lived without some element of suffering, some more physical than others, some more mental than others. But no life is exempt.

In Detroit last week I bought an icon of the Christ the Bridegroom for the parish (we had been using my family’s Bridegroom icon for the past 9 years – and I thought it was time for the Church to have its own). Thus I have had the Bridegroom icon with me in the altar during the services of the past week or so. The icon is, for me, the great signal of Holy Week, and the intensification of our union with the sufferings of Christ (liturgically).

“Behold, the Bridegroom comes at midnight,

and blessed is that servant whom He shall find watching,

but unworthy is he whom He shall find heedless.

Beware, therefore, O my soul, lest you be weighed down with sleep,

lest you be given up to death, and be shut out from the kingdom.

But rouse yourself and cry:

Holy, Holy, Holy art Thou, O God, through the Theotokos have mercy on us!”

And all of it uniting ourselves to Christ. What other possible thought should the approach of the Bridegroom to His Bride bring to mind? Do you unite yourself to Christ?

So What’s Wrong with Us?

February 7, 2007


I’m sitting in the Jacksonville airport with a couple of hours of free-time, and a kind airport that actually has free wi-fi. Some airports, such as Detroit (as I learned last week) charge you to use wi-fi. Ouch!

I’ve been thinking some as drove around northern Florida today (definitely not Detroit or Tennessee) on the general topic of “what is wrong with us?” I was using as my starting point the death and resurrection of Christ. For it is Christ who is the answer and thus also Christ who reveals to us the nature of the problem. Whatever is wrong with us, Christ is what it looks like to be right.

I have written on the loneliness of modern man, and think of that as one of the modern manifestations of our disease. We can always think of the universal themes of corruption and death.

But today I was thinking more about modern man. Even though we are fallen and do not get things right, our instincts are still rooted in the logos of our nature. Even our wrong choices often reflect right choices if only we knew. I suspect that as globalization continues (this is a real hot topic in Europe, btw) we will react by becoming more tribal and nationalistic. People are not created to belong to everything and nothing, but to Someone in a very specific way.

Thus young people, in the little global communities of our high schools (they are really fascinating places to visit) strive mightily to create a place to belong. Sometimes they literally have to nail themselves to an identity, driving spikes through their bodies to create an identity.

Last year I was invited to speak in my youngest daughters’ Civics class. They were having “mock court” and the subject was separation of church and state. I argued in favor of a free for all. Let everyone speak, including the pagans and satanists. I do not fear the comparison of Christianity to anything. So the debate went on.

After class (I was wearing my cassock as usual) a ninth grade girl shyly approached me and said, “I think you’re cool.” That’s just about the highest compliment I’ve had in the last few years. But the hunger is so deep among our nation’s young.

But what is wrong with us? The same thing that has always been wrong with us. We have separated ourselves from the only source of life – and particularly life in its fullness. All we see today are modern manifestations (and post modern manifestations) of the one human illness.

What we must do above all, is not condemn the world – Christ did not come into the world to condemn the world – but we must be sure to be light to the world. I know, and must know in my heart, that everyone I meet is hungry for what Christ has done. They may not know it yet. They may yet be preferring the darkness to the Light. But the universe (as created through Christ) is on my side.

The enemy may do all he can to confuse and confound, but I stand on the side of victory in Christ. We should have this assurance in ourselves – not as a sense of superiority – but in a sense of service. I am a servant of everyone I meet, and I have what it is he truly needs.

It is our daily journey to enter more fully into the truth that is given to us in Christ that we may more truly be servants of the answer that the world hungers for.

Airports are interesting places. They are the crossroads of the world.

Last summer, waiting in Gatway airport in London, I was wearing my cassock (again as usual) when a woman approached me at our gate. “Father Stephen!” she greeted me and asked my blessing. Turns out she was a Bulgarian parishioner of the Church where my parents attended in South Carolina. She recognized me.

But my son, James, was overwhelmed. “Everybody knows you! We’re not even in America!” The truth was much smaller than he thought, the odds much closer that I should meet someone at the gate for a plane bound to Atlanta. But the impression remained. The world is hungry for this truth. May God give us grace to state and preach this truth in terms that the world can hear. May they all be drawn to the union of His cross.

Glory to God for all things!