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Archive for the ‘Church Life’ Category

Yesterday’s NaBloPoMo prompt was, “Write about one object you see at this exact moment.”  I had a whole, really nice essay written about the view from my office window – then went to publish it, and somehow lost the whole thing.  Meanwhile, on another blog, I found this marvellous disquisition on one of the central facets of my faith:  the icon.  What follows is copied from the blog, Glory to God for All Things, by Father Stephen Freeman.  I recommend it most heartily.

The Scripture tells us that the “pure in heart shall see God.” I have always assumed that this describes a present event and not a promise about a distant life after death. We do not see God now, because our hearts are not pure. In the same manner, we do not see the reality of the world – because our hearts are darkened. I am increasingly convinced that the “literal” world that we see is distorted by our own self-deception. It is not a problem with creation itself – but the distortions of our own falsely created existence. 

What do you see when you see the world and how do you see it? I have written much about the secular character of our culture and its “literal” view of the world. The world is what you see and nothing more. Significant events take their significance from their own relation to other literal events. Much that passes for Christian theology or “thought” belongs to this world-view today. Thus those who concern themselves with “prophetic” events are constantly working to make a connection between the words of Scripture and the “literal” events of today’s news. The coming of Christ is seen by them as an event that will fit within the headlines of the paper – and even fantasize about the difficulties presented to mainstream media when the event of a “literal rapture” occurs, and a significant portion of the population goes missing. It is a way to see the world – not significantly different than how any non-believer sees the world – and – I would suggest – deadly dull and wrong.

There are other ways to see the world. The “other way” with which I am most familiar is the world as icon. Of painted icons we say they are “windows to heaven.” Though no more than wood and paint, faithful believers find them to be something which points to something yet more – they both point to and make present here.

The house in which I live has a marvelous feature. The living room – dining room (more or less one large room together) has one entire wall as floor-to-ceiling windows. In addition, the living room is cantilevered so that parts of two additional walls consist of windows as well. The effect is that the main living space of my home constantly includes the outdoors. In the Autumn the room is suffused with golden light from the leaves of the many trees that overlook the rear of our house. In the Spring and Summer, the room takes on a radiance from the many trees and flowers. Even in winter as the room looks out over the naked wood of trees and offers views of neighboring streets and houses – the room remains transformed.

To say that something is a window is to recognize both its “literal” presence as well as its “iconic” function. It provides both wall to enclose and yet reaches out to include. The world, I believe, when properly seen, does the same. There are occasional views of certain aspects of the world that make the most hardened, literal heart pause and recognize that something transcendent, or something which certainly hints at the transcendent has come into view.

I well understand that there are people who do not believe in God. Oftentimes when they tell me about the God they don’t believe in, I have to say that I don’t believe in that God either. But I do not understand people who live in our world and do not wonder whether there is a God – whether the beauty that refuses to disappear, despite our best efforts – is not reflective of some greater Beauty that refuses to utterly hide Himself.

My children (now adult) laugh at me for once having scolded them about “fairy circles.” We were walking in the woods in Durham, N.C. My oldest girl was 8, her sister between 5 and 6. We came on a clearing with a beautiful circle of mushrooms. “It’s a fairy circle!” I exclaimed. Despite late night readings of Tolkien and Lewis, both of them laughed at me and said, “Papa!” in their most disapproving, skeptical voices. My scolding was that they did not at least pause to wonder.

I do not believe in fairy circles, nor did I expect my children to. But I do wonder (and I still pray that my children do and often). I wonder because I believe the world to be iconic – a window that reveals more than a first glimpse. It reveals a beauty and a vastness that stretches beyond the literal. The patriarch Jacob once fell asleep. He dreamed of a ladder reaching up to heaven and saw angels going up and down the ladder. His response was iconic: “Surely the Lord is in this place and I knew it not! How dreadful is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!”

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Who in your world is made of sugar and spice and everything nice?”

Not very many people, that’s for sure.  Most people I know are made of lemonade:  tart enough to make your mouth pucker, but not too tart to keep around.  And very refreshing, as lemonade is supposed to be.  My own dearly beloved sister, who would have been a candidate for Sugar and Spice thirty years ago, has ripened into…let’s see…”gourmet lemonade,” and I love her all the more for it.

I don’t generally like overly sweet people, anyway, especially not the women with soft, little-girl voices and an attitude of, “I don’t need sugar in my coffee ’cause I’m sweet enough.”  Barf.  People like that are usually so sweet to your face because they’re busy sharpening their knives behind your back.

But a genuinely sweet person is like a refreshing breeze on a day in May, with just a hint of lily of the valley to make you wish this day would never end.  I only know one woman like that, and she’s a member of my church.  If I were just starting out as an Orthodox Christian, this is the woman I’d ask to be my godmother; her grasp on how to live a truly Orthodox life is that good.

She is not a Church Lady in any sense of the word, not one of those Dana Carvey caricatures.  Her whole manner is gentle, and when she smiles, the smile lights up her eyes, too.  When she stands in church, you can see that her whole attention is focused on the service, but she doesn’t have one of those phony pious expressions on her face; she’s really absorbed in what’s going on around her.  Her voice is soft, but pleasantly low, and only from the fine lines around her eyes can you tell that she has seen some hard times in life – and risen above them, by the help of God.

In her “day job,” she’s a nurse at an assisted-living facility.  I once said something to her about the difficulty of her job, and her face crinkled in a genuine smile:  “Oh, it’s not nearly as bad as it would be in a nursing home.  People in assisted living are still able to help physically with their care, so it’s really just making sure they have the medicines they need, and the rest is just companionship.”  Unfortunately for me, she’s only about ten years younger than I am (though she looks much younger than that, she has a grown daughter); if she were as young as she looks, so help me Hannah, I’d wangle my way into assisted living just for the pleasure of this woman’s company.

And the best thing of all about her is that she doesn’t read my blog, so I can talk about her without embarrassing her.  I am so glad I know her.  She reminds me not to dismiss sweet people out of hand.

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On Tuesday I attended a funeral.  In fact, the deceased was nobody I knew,  but when the priest sent out a parish-wide memo concerning this funeral, as a member of my church’s choir I felt I ought to show up – who knew how many other choir members would be there?  And this wasn’t just about a few feel-good hymns, either; in the Orthodox Church, we sing everything.  The priest sings his prayers, and the responses are sung back.

As it turned out, it was a good thing I went, since only two other singers showed up, one another choir member, and the other a young woman who can’t be in the choir right now because she has young children to keep track of.  (I look forward to her return in five or so years.)  As it also turned out, our presence was not necessary; family members who could sing were present, and requested to sing the responses.  And they did a wonderful job of it, too.

After the funeral, while everyone else walked over to the cemetery for the committal, I asked  my young friend if she would join me for lunch.  Between her children and my commute (50 miles, one way), we almost never get a chance for a  good, sit-down chat, and I wanted to grab the opportunity.  Apparently, so did she.  We met up at a watering hole not too far from church, ordered seafood, and dug in, both to our meals and to our chat.

She’s a lively little party, and I always enjoy talking to her.  As the conversation often does with young mothers, hers turned to her children, and to her son’s fear of receiving Communion, which had baffled her:  Orthodox children receive Communion from the time they are forty days old, and in this parish, at least, frequent Communion is the norm.  So why would a child suddenly become screaming-terrified of what had been a weekly occurrence?  And all she could get out of him was, “I’m scared.”

The priest was laid back about it.  “They all do it, at one time or another,” he told her.  “Give him time, he’ll get over it.”  (With five kids of his own, he should know.)  But she was sufficiently perturbed about her son’s fear to post her question to an online community for Orthodox mothers, and the response she received from one mother in particular has burned itself into my brain:  “Maybe he sees It for what It is,” wrote this mother of six.

She had me flummoxed, that’s for sure.  “What do you mean, what It is?” I asked my young friend, and she quoted from her online conversation:

“A Bowl of Fire.  A chalice full of flame.”

* * * * *

In the Orthodox Church, we take nothing for granted.  People who think we are indulging in Empty Ritual should talk to any of the older ladies of the parish, the ones who have time to answer, the ones who have lived this all their lives.  They can tell you the reason for everything we do (as can the priest), and it’s always theologically sound.  One of our common practices is to say pre-Communion prayers.  Yes, they were written by someone else; they express not just the personal feelings of the author, but the very depths of theology, of the essence of mankind’s relationship with his Creator.  We read them to school our own minds in the proper approach to God and to His mysteries, in particular, the Mystery of Communion.  And one of these prayers begins:

If thou desirest, O man, to eat the Body of the Master, approach with fear, lest thou be burnt; for It is fire. 

As any Christian knows, fire is all over the Bible.  Malachi speaks of a “refiner’s fire,” the Three Youths in the Book of Daniel experienced the fire meant to kill them as refreshing dew, and if you look it up in any good concordance, you can find an entire page of references to fire, both as a destroying agent and as a purifying agent.  In Orthodoxy, too, there is a particular miracle that takes place at Easter, the Holy Fire.  People who have been present for this miracle note that it is possible to put one’s hand into the flame, and it will not be burned; rather, it is a life-changing experience.  (Note that this miracle only takes place on Orthodox Easter, or Pascha, which falls, this year, on April 15, a week after everybody else’s.  Next year it takes place a month after everybody else’s.)

So no, this is not a Fire that would burn you if you consumed It, but It would, and does, burn away impurities of thought or action; It burns away sin.  Those of us who have been communing for decades understand this prayer in this sense when we read it, and when we approach the Chalice, we see only the mingled bread and wine, though we understand that through the action of the Holy Spirit, what is present is the actual Body and Blood of Christ, of which He spoke at the Last Supper.

But very small children see things differently.  Very small children have a purity that our Lord told us to emulate.  What if this very small boy, with the pure eyes of a child, did see Fire?  He would have no way of understanding that it’s not the same kind of fire that’s on his mother’s kitchen stove.  And he would be terrified to take this into his mouth.

Well, whatever it was about, it’s over, and he now communes regularly and happily.  I, on the other hand, will never see Communion in the same way again.

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I think I’ve already written before about my weird youngest brother.  He’s weird not because there’s anything wrong with his view of life, but because he comes up with words like “distructions” to cover both “directions” and “instructions.”  On my most creative day, my brain doesn’t work like that.  I wish I knew how he did it.

I mention him at this point because about fifteen or twenty years ago, he underwent some kind of religious conversion – my mother, best described as a “born-again Catholic,” was very happy about it, I remember that – and would sit at his favorite bar, nursing a soft drink and periodically shouting, “Repent, ye sinners!”  It says much for the character of New Yorkers that they didn’t toss him out on his ear.  On the other hand, he was sitting at his favorite bar, and the habitués were probably used to however it is his brain works, and just took him with a grain of salt.  More likely, with a barrel of salt.

My Christian readers will know by now that this is the season of Lent, the season of repentance.  Any non-Christian readers I have are probably rolling their eyes right about now – hang with me, it gets weirder – and any fundamentalist Christian readers are probably itching, right about now, to tell me to invite Jesus into my heart and my repenting days are over.  My Orthodox readers are doubtless holding their breath, hoping I don’t step in it.  I hope so, too; but I don’t think so.

A couple of weeks ago, the priest of my parish preached a sermon on the subject of repentance.  Now, for you cranks who are about to wig out on the general cluelessness of priests when it comes to modern life  – Orthodox priests are married, with children.  Nobody with a spouse and children remains clueless for long.  And the gist of his sermon was the impossibility of sinlessness for anyone human.

Sin is, like, so not cool.  So irrelevant.  Right?  I mean, mention “sin” and the immediate response of the world at large is going to be a variation on Dana Carvey’s Church Lady:  “Well, who do you thin is responsible?  Satan?”  “Rearrange the letters of ‘Santa.’  Could it be…Satan?”  And everybody cracks up because we all know a variation on this dear “lady” and “her” obsession with Sin and Wrongdoing.  (Dana Carvey is a guy.)

That was the point of Father’s sermon.  Sin isn’t necessarily wrong-doing.  That’s a construct of the Roman Church, and all the Protestant churches that split off from it.  Sin is a lack of contact with God, period.  Repentance is a turning towards God, yet again.

No, really, think about it.  What’s “wrong” with thinking about having to do your taxes?  At this time of year, all Americans are focused, to a greater or lesser extent, on this necessity; for all I know, so is most of the developed world.  Either we did ’em and are looking forward to a sizeable refund; or we did ’em and are cranky about the balance we had to make up; or we haven’t done ’em and are trying to find the time to put together all the documentation to get ’em done (into which last category yours truly falls).  Taxes are a necessary evil, and we all have to get the dratted things done.

But while we are thinking about our taxes…we aren’t really focused on God, now are we?  Our thoughts are occupied with anything but God.  Which puts us into a state of separation from Him.  Which, according to Orthodox theology, is a state of sin.  Not a state of being Bad, Evil, Get-Ready-to-Be-Zapped-by-Lightning-You-Damned-No-Goodnik; just, we’re not thinking about God.

And repentance is a state of thinking about God, talking to Him, being in communion with Him.  Period.  (Please, no semantics about Him/Her.  God is a spirit, and spirits are sexless.  However, understanding the limits of human intelligence, God chose to reveal Himself, in every instance, in a masculine form, so that we could have a grammatical frame of reference.  Referring to God in the masculine gender simply respects His preference in His revelation of Himself, and come on – don’t we also desire our preferences to be respected?  So have a little courtesy here.)

It’s Lent, and during Lent, we focus on repentance; that is, on greater contact with God, talking to Him more, considering His desires more, putting more effort into our relationship with Him.   And part of that effort to refocus is the infamous Giving Up, as in, “What are you Giving Up for Lent?”  Chocolate?  Candy?  Booze?  Orthodox Christians observe a modified fast – that is, we eat, but we confine ourselves to a vegan diet.  No meat, no dairy.  That knocks out Giving Up your favorite treat.

Giving up…um…television?  That’s a little closer to the mark.  But what are you going to fill in the time with?  Janet Evanovich novels?  Dishing with the Girls, shredding reputations left and right?  Reading is good, but good reading is better:   The Bible is always a winner, but there are many, many other spiritual books to occupy your thoughts with.

Or – you could fill in the time with talking to God.  About what?  Most of us are so accustomed to the notion that prayer is asking God to do something for us, that we forget it has other components, like thanking Him.  One of the obligations of a really pious Jew is to find 600 things to thank God for every day.  Six hundred!!  Maybe you could start with six?  And build it from there.

This is repentance, not, “I’m such a bad, bad person, and I promise I’ll be good if You…”  You start by recognizing that not only have you sinned, but you also continue to sin – how many times in the past 24 hours did you really think about God? – and then you turn your thoughts and words back to Him.  And you accept that you will never be able to think about Him as much as we’re supposed to, which is all the time; it’s simply not possible.  And that’s OK, in the sense that when we feel like complete failures, we also realize:  of course we’re complete failures.  If we weren’t, we wouldn’t need a Messiah.

I can’t wait to lay this on my brother.  It’ll knock him right off his bar stool.  😉

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By the waters of Babylon, there we sat and we wept when we remembered Sion.

Upon the willows in the midst thereof did we hang our instruments.

For there, they that had taken us captive asked us for words of song.

And they that had led us away asked us for a hymn, saying:  Sing us one of the songs of Sion.

But how shall we sing the song of the Lord in a strange land?

–Psalm 136, LXX/137, Masoretic

In liturgical churches, today is one of the preparatory Sundays of Lent.  For most of those with which readers will be familiar, Ash Wednesday is this coming Wednesday; some traditions, such as Catholic and some Lutherans, will have ashes rubbed on their foreheads while the priest or minister says, “Remember, man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  In my own tradition, Eastern Orthodox, it’s a little different.  We won’t begin “Great Lent,” as we call it to distinguish it from other fasting periods, for another two weeks.  But we do have three Sundays of preparation for Lent, and today is the second of those three.  Russian Orthodox churches will have sung the Psalm above during Matins.

It’s one of my favorites because it describes pretty much my whole life:  singing, in a strange land.  I’ve been singing for over sixty years now, first as a tot and then as a child who just loved music.  My first “formal” setting for singing was the Glee Club of the high school I attended, and after that, I sang in a variety of church choirs (and two secular choirs, when living in Germany).  And always…feeling like a stranger, literally or figuratively.

Singing in Greek, when I attended Greek Orthodox churches:  It doesn’t get much more foreign than that.  The words, the alphabet, the music itself, are so very foreign to the Western ear!  Greek music uses quarter tones – if yout ry to sing do, re, mi while “sliding” up the scale, you will hit a variety of pitches in between do and re, between re and mi, and so on.  Those are not only quarter tones, but also micro-tones.  I’m told there are about sixteen of them.  Greek music doesn’t use them all, but I’m sure it’s not for want of trying.

Singing in German, when living in Germany:  I didn’t speak German before I moved there.  Don’t have any German blood in my veins.  But, married to someone whose mother is German and who spoke German, it was a given that we were going to experience the full culture to the best of our ability, and in retrospect, it was a good decision.  The richness of German musical tradition does have to be experienced to be fully appreciated.  There is, of course, the classical-music aspect, but there are also folk songs that are simply charming in the way they touch on every aspect of daily life.  We know too little in the United States about the folk-music traditions of our European ancestors, and we are the poorer for it.

Singing in a Catholic choir should never have felt foreign.  I grew up in the Catholic tradition.  But it was the pre-Vatican-II tradition, with Masses by the classical composers, Palestrina, Mozart, Fauré, among many, many others.  By the time I was out of high school and singing in choirs, though, all of that was passé, and we were singing music best described as “liturgical folk songs.”  Not that they were real folk songs.  They were songs composed in what their composers fondly imagined to be folk style.  For a lover of classical music like me, this was sheer torture, and I think I never felt more like a stranger than when I was trying to make Catholic choirs work for me.

Even the Glee Club:  High school is either the best time of your life, or the worst.  For me it was the absolute worst.  The nuns were different from the Dominicans I had grown up with; the girls were from all over the Diocese, all from different parish cultures; the subject matter was of absolutely no interest whatsoever.  (It was an Academic curriculum.  In grade school, I had been encouraged to pursue an Academic curriculum.  In retrospect, I should have gone to a commercial school and taken a Business curriculum, but there’s no way to know that when you’re thirteen.)  The only thing high school had going for it was Glee Club – and I didn’t even pass the audition the first time I sang for it. (I’m sure the sprained ankle didn’t help.)  The second time was the charm, and for the last two years of high school, Glee Club was the highlight of the week.

I learned so much about proper singing in Glee Club:  How to open your mouth wide, how to make a sound chamber out of it, how to pronounce words so that they could be understood by an audience – singing diction feels ridiculous, but if you sing the way you speak, you swallow half the sound – correct posture to open up the lungs, breathing from the diaphragm to increase your breath capacity, things that were reiterated in every subsequent choir I sang with.  My overall high-school education was worth very little; Glee Club taught me everything I’ve ever really used in life.  But it was probably the strangest of all the strange lands I’ve sung in.

The Psalm “By the waters of Babylon” is, at its root, a song of exiles, a song written for people who are in a place utterly foreign to them, with strange customs and a strange language, and a way of life so strange that the people who have been taken captive can’t even sing when requested to do so by their captors.  I wonder how many of us feel that way at different times in our lives, looking around and saying, “I absolutely do not belong here, and I have no idea how to get where I do belong.”  I’ve felt that way for most of my life.

Except when I’m in a Russian Orthodox church.  Many Russian churches do use English in their Liturgies, but many others still use Church Slavonic (best described as “Church Russian”).  If you’re in a parish that uses Church Slavonic, the music will be written in the Russian language, an alphabet derived from Greek.  It will not in any way resemble Byzantine chant, but it’s also different from the music common to Western churches, even from the classical music that used to be such a common experience in the Catholic Church.  It’s…mystical.  It makes you think, “This must be what heaven sounds like.”

And when I sing it – I’m no longer in a strange land.  I’m home.

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The quote for the day from my Franklin Planner is from Samuel Johnson:  “He that labors in any great or laudable undertaking has his fatigues first supported by hope, and afterwards rewarded by joy.”

For an Orthodox Christian, the divide between this life and eternity isn’t all that great.  Of course we can’t see them (though I sometimes wonder about those who are about to make that final journey, since they almost always seem to see people who have been dead for some time), but they are never far from our thoughts, and sometimes you can almost sense their presence.  That feeling is strongest for me whenever I attend a Liturgy; I have been at Liturgies where the only two people visible were the priest and me, and the church has felt packed to the gills.

Be that as it may, a person’s presence is most keenly felt in the days immediately following death.  You’re more aware of them at that time than at any other; even people you never knew personally, if they are close to someone you do know, hover at the edge of your brain.  This is currently the case for me with the father of a member of my parish, a man who was the very first priest of that parish and who is consequently known and loved by a great many members of it.

The other day, his daughter posted a note on Facebook asking for volunteers to read the Book of Psalms for her father.  This is a uniquely Orthodox custom, described in this way in the Orthodox Coverdale Psalter published by Holy Trinity Monastery (I think):  In the Orthodox Church, there exists the pious custom of reading the Psalter for one who has died.  The Psalms are read continuously, except during those times when a Memorial is being served, from the Rite Following the Departure  of  the  Soul  from  the  Body  until  the  burial  of the reposed, and in his memory after that.  This reading serves as prayer to the Lord for the reposed, comforts those grieving for the deceased, and directs their prayers for him to God.  Any pious lay person may read the Psalter for the reposed, and those who do so perform a good work.

I had not known that the Psalter continued to be read after burial, but having learned of the custom, I wanted to do this for my friend and her mother.  So I wrote for details.  Turns out there were several volunteers, and their efforts were coordinated by another member of the parish, whose family is something of a legend in Orthodox circles.  He organized a roster of the ten volunteers so that each of us would read one section of the Book of Psalms a day, and if possible, skip ahead ten sections and read that one, as well:  Thus, I began with Kathisma 8 (Psalms 55-63) last night, picked up with Kathisma 9 (Psalms 64-69) this morning, and hope to get into Kathisma 19 (Psalms 134-142) tonight.

(For anyone who is interested in this unique structure, here’s a link that goes into it more fully:  http://orthodoxinfo.com/praxis/typicon_psalms.aspx)

Because these groups of Psalms are interspersed with prayers specifically for the deceased, it takes a bit of time and effort to get through the whole thing, but not a great block of time; maybe half an hour to 45 minutes.  For me, the hard part last night was that I got the notice so late that I had a hard time staying awake to finish the task!  And because my husband is now home full time, finding a quiet space to work on this will be a challenge, too.

But, “He that labors in any great or laudable undertaking has his fatigues first supported by hope, and afterwards rewarded by joy.”  This is both a great and a laudable undertaking, first, in that it provides comfort to Father Laurence’s family, and second, in that it “picks up where he left off,” so to speak, in continuing the prayer that was such an integral part of his life, while his soul “makes the adjustment” from one world to the next.  I feel so honored to be able to do it.  I hope that I may complete it worthily.

One final note:  Often, when writing about people who have passed on, I write, “May their memory be eternal!”  Only recently did I learn the reason behind this phrase:  At the final Judgement, some people actually will find themselves in hell, those people who were not interested in God while in this life or who actively militated against Him – they are there, in other words, by their own choice.  For those who are welcomed into heaven, the realization that someone they had known and loved was not also there, would make them sad, and there can be no sadness in heaven; so they will not even remember the existence of those who are not there.  I can think of nothing more horrible, or sadder, than a mother who forgets her children, for example, or a husband who forgets the wife with whom he shared his whole life.

So, Memory Eternal, dear Father Laurence, and if my prayers are of any help to you, remember me also, when my own time comes.

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Today is the Feast of the Epiphany on the Gregorian calendar, that day when (in Western Christendom) the Magi showed up at the manger where the Savior of the Nations was born.  They brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and worshipped Him for reasons they probably did not fully understand themselves.

It is also the last of the Twelve Days of Christmas.  Nowadays, we have all become so accustomed to celebrating Christmas for thirty days before the event, that you can actually see Christmas trees on the side of the road on Christmas Day.  This is painful to one who remembers when the tree went up on Christmas Eve, and didn’t come down until Epiphany.

By the way, has anybody else noticed this expression lately, “having an epiphany?”  It’s supposed to mean — I think — having a revelation of some kind, with undertones of reproach, as in, “You sit there until you have an epiphany.”

Why that particular word?  Has Christianity become so irrelevant that the secular world feels free to borrow its words for purely secular purposes?  It’s the same with “icon.”  How many people think of icons as religious images, and how many think of them as those little things on your computer that you click on to get you where you want to go?

“Epiphany” does indeed mean a revelation, but has always been used in the sense of the revelation of the divinity of Christ to the rest of the world.  In Western Christendom, as noted above, it’s the Feast of the Three Kings, those wise men “who came from the East, following a star to the place where it led them, and they worshipped Him” — the intent being to show that the Savior of the Nations had been “revealed” to those who were not of the Jewish race, the Chosen People of God.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, this is the Feast of the Baptism of Christ, when Christ came to the Jordan to be baptized by His cousin, John.  John, who immediately recognizes that the Man before him is the one Person who has no need of baptism, has to be persuaded to perform it; but eventually, he lets himself be persuaded, and the Mystery of the Trinity is immediately revealed.  Again, a revelation.

But if I needed a secular revelation, I wouldn’t refer to it as an “epiphany.”  Or…actually…nowadays, since the word “epiphany” has been so spectacularly co-opted, I might just begin referring to the Feast as the Theophany of Christ, the revelation specifically of God.  And let the secular world deal with that one.

Meanwhile, I am off to celebrate Theophany among the Greeks.  Tomorrow, I will be off to celebrate the Nativity of Christ among the Russians, since the Russian ecclesiastical calendar is thirteen days behind the “civil” (Gregorian) calendar.  This is not as schizophrenic as it would seem:  This is New England, and God alone knows what the weather will be doing fourteen days from now.  I’m gonna celebrate Theophany where I can, when I can.  And if I can celebrate it fourteen days from today, I’ll do that, too.

Ours is the only family in New Hampshire that gets 24 days of Christmas:  twelve from December 25 to January 6, and twelve from January 7 to January 19.  It’s a feast worth celebrating twice.  Or, actually, 365 days a year.

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