NaBloPoMo doesn’t have prompts on weekends, leaving them available for “free-writing.” Not a good thing for me, as I usually either blow off posting entirely or go on a world-class Rant. I promise to try to behave myself today, though.
Thanks to NaBloPoMo, I’ve picked up a couple of new readers – temporarily, anyway – so I thought I’d bring up something about my life, and the way I try to live it. I am well into my sixth decade of life, married with two grown children (whom I sometimes refer to as “groan” children – you never stop worrying about your children), one of whom has two sons and one of whom is unmarried. (Yes, the one with the two sons is married. I can’t believe I just wrote that qualifier. Nor can I believe that it should even need to be spelled out. O tempora, O mores….) I am a retired secretary with a degree in accounting, which I acquired too late in life to do anything useful with, and I currently spend my days on housework and “fine-art cross-stitch” – that’s when you find a pattern that reproduces, in symbols, a piece of fine art, and you work it. It’s a little like paint-by-number, only with thread.
And I am an Orthodox Christian. Not an orthodox Christian. There’s a world of difference between the two. If you are an orthodox Christian, you go to church on Sunday, you read your Bible, you do good works. If you are a mainstream orthodox Christian, you do all of that, but you are also heavily active in political causes of the left-wing variety, engaging in protests and voicing support for behaviors that used to be considered highly unChristian. You do this in the name of Inclusiveness, and you sincerely believe that this activity presents a God Who loves all humankind, just as they are.
If you are an Orthodox Christian, you may – or may not – have some kind of ethnic qualifier in front of that, such as Greek or Russian or Romanian. People are always asking me what the difference is, and I tell them, “Language.” Such a thing is only possible in places to which people from Orthodox countries have immigrated. In all cases, the beliefs are exactly the same, and an Orthodox Christian can attend Liturgy in any of them and feel reasonably at home – language can still be a barrier, though.
If you are an Orthodox Christian, you attend church, but not just on Sundays – there is a whole raft of feastdays that fall at various points of the year, and while attendance at Liturgy is not mandatory (as it would be in the Catholic Church), an Orthodox Christian who takes his faith seriously will make an effort to attend at least some of them. Some Orthodox Christians read their Bible, some don’t, feeling that the Bible presented in church on Sundays and feastdays gives them plenty to ponder on during the week. One former Protestant pastor, on becoming Orthodox, counted up the number of Bible verses in an average Sunday service and came up with 104. There’s a lot to think about in 104 verses.
Your good works tend to be of the quiet variety, and almost never involve public protests. You might indulge briefly in a bit of juicy gossip about an “errant” member of the congregation, but will find that the conversation is swiftly, and deftly, turned aside to something much more innocuous; the following Sunday, the priest will probably preach a sermon about the importance of examining one’s own spiritual life.
And this is where Orthodox Christianity gets unorthodox. Nearly everyone who knows anything about Christianity believes that Christianity is a religion of peace, love, and brotherhood. Or they trumpet George Carlin’s famous (and inaccurate) observation that “more wars have been fought in the name of religion than over anything else.” (Examine history. Wars have almost always been fought over territory. Territory equals economic power.) What is true is that the end result of being a Christian should be acquiring a spirit of peace – but that peace is obtained by relentless spiritual warfare, battle with oneself, battle with those aspects of one’s personality that are at odds with the Gospel – or, as one priest once put it, “battle with God.” In this warfare, failure is not only an option, it’s practically a requirement – and failure is a good thing, because it always brings you up against your own shortcomings.
We do tend to try to avoid politics, since worshipping God shouldn’t depend on one’s political leanings. We don’t tell people that God hates them, since hatred is so alien to God’s nature anyway. We do try to live simply, always within our means, so that we have money to give where it’s needed; we do try to treat the environment with responsibility, but without becoming nuisances about it. Some people who become Orthodox see the Church as some kind of Christian-hippie movement, but it isn’t; a lot of business people (shhhh – Republicans, even) are Orthodox Christians, and yes, they do live simply and environmentally responsibly, within their means. Some Orthodox Christians have quite large families; they are frequently upbraided for being a “drain” on the environment, but considering the number of people in this modern world who have chosen not to reproduce at all, it’s a little hard to take that claim seriously.
In short, being an Orthodox Christian is about as counter-cultural as it gets. One lady thought her husband had joined a cult, when he became Orthodox; she subsequently learned enough about the Orthodox Church that she joined him. People do tend to go overboard when they first become Orthodox; it’s a lot like being in love, when the person you love is all you can think about or talk about. A good priest can help you dial it back, so that you settle into being a person whom others can live with – just with an added dimension. An…unexpected…unorthodox dimension.