Toyota stuff…

I’m always a little suspicious when a government that owns a car company (GM) also regulates the car companies with which it competes. Truth be told there’s a reason the government had to buy GM and prop up Chrysler (twice) while Toyota win awards. Of course, if Congress is holding hearings on the topic it must be because of the deep public need and not because of the cameras. Smile. The game continues.

The greater truth, though, in all of this is that nothing is perfect and the expectation of perfection will always bang its head against the wall of reality. It is not possible to produce millions of cars and expect each and everyone of them to be made without flaw. We may think, in our culture of entitlement, that we have a right to a perfect world all the way from the highest level of government to the car in our garage but frankly we gave up that right in Eden and we’re just going to have to live with it for now. Cars with bad gas pedals are just one way the whole creation, as St. Paul says, is groaning in its unnatural state.

This is a lesson worth learning not because we need to be passive in the face of human brokenness but rather to give us true insight about the world we live in and each other. It’s all flawed at the primal level and it colors everything. If you understand that you can understand why we Orthodox say “Lord have mercy” so many times. We need to and if we somehow found a way to do it perpetually we would still not begin to cover the reasons why.

We’re all angels with dirty faces. We’re all people designed for so much more constantly coming to terms with everything less that is inside of us. The promise is that one day we will shine with eternal light but for now even the best of us seem to wander in shadows. In a thousand ways we mourn the loss of Eden. We become frustrated with the invisible hand that keeps us somewhere less then heaven. We fear the end of our breath. Each day is just enough a mixture of glory and annoyances to remind us of what could have been.

Still, the Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has never overpowered it.

Prayer of St. Polycarp of Smyrna…

And when the funeral pile was ready, Polycarp, laying aside all his garments, and loosing his girdle, sought also to take off his sandals, a thing he was not accustomed to do, inasmuch as every one of the faithful was always eager who should first touch his skin. For, on account of his holy life, he was, even before his martyrdom, adorned with every kind of good. Immediately then they surrounded him with those substances which had been prepared for the funeral pile. But when they were about also to fix him with nails, he said, “Leave me as I am; for He that giveth me strength to endure the fire, will also enable me, without your securing me by nails, to remain without moving in the pile.”

They did not nail him then, but simply bound him. And he, placing his hands behind him, and being bound like a distinguished ram [taken] out of a great flock for sacrifice, and prepared to be an acceptable burnt-offering unto God, looked up to heaven, and said, “O Lord God Almighty, the Father of thy beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the knowledge of Thee, the God of angels and powers, and of every creature, and of the whole race of the righteous who live before thee, I give Thee thanks that Thou hast counted me worthy of this day and this hour, that I should have a part in the number of Thy martyrs, in the cup of thy Christ, to the resurrection of eternal life, both of soul and body, through the incorruption [imparted] by the Holy Ghost. Among whom may I be accepted this day before Thee as a fat and acceptable sacrifice, according as Thou, the ever-truthful God, hast foreordained, hast revealed beforehand to me, and now hast fulfilled. Wherefore also I praise Thee for all things, I bless Thee, I glorify Thee, along with the everlasting and heavenly Jesus Christ, Thy beloved Son, with whom, to Thee, and the Holy Ghost, be glory both now and to all coming ages. Amen.”

Prayer of St. Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, at the time of his martyrdom, c. AD 156
Encyclical Epistle of the Church at Smyrna, On the Martyrdom of St. Polycarp, 13-14

St. Polycarp of Smyrna, commemorated 23 February

From “Word from the Desert”. Link provided on this blog.

Ash Wednesday…

The service was larger then most, 30 – 40 older people gathered in the Community Room of the assisted living where I work. Ash Wednesday, for the west the beginning of Lent.

The homily was quite good, a retired Lutheran pastor spoke of mortality and life as a gift from God. The service was traditional in the 1979 BCP sense of the word. Because I had the best eyes and the chaplain was off duty the reading fell to me.

Near the close of the service ashes were imposed and the people were reminded that they were from dust and to dust they would return. Somber words, and yet words that believers understand in their hopeful fullness. Then there was the sting.

I know the rules. I understand the rules. I support the rules. Yet there was a part of me that envied the ease in which the retired Lutheran pastor moved from person to person imposing ashes and serving the people gathered, because of their physical limitations, in this time and this place. I felt the closeness of a group of people seeking to begin Lent in faith and the distance between us, a distance forged in history and theology, sometimes for good cause and sometimes out of pure politics. Christians and yet apart, “No ashes for me, I’m Orthodox”.

I know the rules. I understand them. I support them. Yet it sometimes still stings to be so close and yet so far, to be in the same room with the centuries between us. Perhaps for the first time, though, I personally understand the words “For the holy Churches of God and the union of them all, let us pray to the Lord”

Lord have mercy.

Wisdom…

In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The weeks that have preceded Forgiveness Sunday are weeks during which, in the form of stories that actually took place or of parables, we are presented with the basic sins, the basic brokenness of ours.

This was the time when we should have examined ourselves deeply, deeply; stood before God, at times with horror at what we have accepted to be, at times with pain at what has become of us in the consequence of the life which was ours.

And now we have come to a point which is called Lent. Lent is an Old English word derived from the German that means spring, the beginning of life. Lent is no longer the time allotted to us for repentance. It is the time which, having repented week after week, we should be able together to move along a path that will lead us, through the examples of saints, first to Calvary with Christ and see there what the consequences are of our own sinfulness; because as we read in the life of one saint, in response to a priest who was begging Christ to punish the evil-doers, the Lord appeared to him and said, ‘Never ask Me for that. If there was only one sinner in the world I would become man again, and again die upon the cross for him or her to be saved.’

When we will stand together at the foot of the cross on Great Thursday night or by the tomb of Christ on Great Friday, we must realize that this has happened because of each of us — not for the totality of mankind taken wholesale, but because of each of us. Christ died for each of us. And we must at that moment bring to Him ourselves in such a way as to show Him that for us, His death upon the cross was not in vain. And then move towards the Resurrection to rise with Him, to rise in exultation, to rise in gratitude, but to rise also renewed, a new creature — not perfect yet, because we have years during which we will have to follow the same path step by step, again and again, until we reach our full maturity and can enter into God’s Kingdom.

Today we will ask forgiveness from one another. This is totally unrealistic if we imagine that we can approach each of those who have hurt us, wounded us, at times destroyed our lives, and say, ‘Let us agree that the horror that you have brought into my life does not exist. I forgive you. Go in peace.’

We are not mature enough for this. The martyrs were capable of this; we are not. But a thing which we can do, which each of us can do, is to say, ‘Because you are so loved of God, so loved by Christ, that He became man, lived, taught and died for you, and not only for me, I accept you as you are. Indeed, I would be so happy if you were different, if you were not a cross on my shoulders, a wound in my heart, a terror in my life, a humiliation. But there is still time ahead of us, and for the moment I accept you as you are and I shall carry you, this acceptance, on my shoulders. As St Paul says, ‘Carry one another’s burdens, because it is the way in which you will have fulfilled the law of Christ.’

And carrying the burden upon our shoulders means primarily to accept my neighbour as he is, hoping that things will change, praying for him or for her that the grace of God should transform, transfigure this person — but also me, because what judge am I of another’s sins while I am a sinner, while I am a temptation, a wound in the life of so many others?

So let us make this attempt. When we come to one another and say, ‘Forgive me’ it will not mean, if you answer ‘Yes I do’ that nothing that was wrong between us is annihilated, exists no more. But it means ‘I accept you as you are, sinful, a wound in my flesh, a wound in my heart, a problem in my life — but I accept you and I will carry this acceptance, and you, throughout life, and pray for God’s blessing to be on you and pray for God to heal both of us, that I should become such that I do not lead you into temptation, be the cause of your own fall.

Let us therefore pray together during this service, bring to God true repentance of what we are and what we have been, but also bring one another to God.  Moving towards Calvary, moving towards the resurrection has been compared by one of the ancient writers to travellers who board the same ship. They will never arrive safe if there are quarrels between them, if they are not at one. Let us be at one, with Christ who is at the rudder, with Christ who has given His life for each of us, however difficult we are for one another. And when we say, ‘Yes, I forgive,’ it means, ‘I accept you as you are with whatever consequences to me. I accept you, and give my life as an offering for yours.’ Amen.

Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

There are times…

when on watching the news a part of me wants to jump out of my skin and say “There’s an answer, it’s not what you think it is but it’s real. Stop tinkering with machines that cannot be fixed, with gears too rusted to move. It’s not about changing the laws so much as it is about changing your hearts. Everything in the world should be telling you, screaming at you even, that you have to find something higher, something better, something more human and more real. There’s a teacher, an enlightener, a hope, a savior, and he’s not far away. Find him and you will find what is needed and you will discover that he has been looking for you before you ever thought about it.”

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us!

The snow has come…

and everything has slowed to its pace. Whatever plans were made. Whatever things were supposed to happen. It all has been rearranged. We think we are in control. We think we are above the world. We believe our machines can triumph over all and the sheer force of our will always prevail. Ah, but the snow, it comes and all is changed. The snow falls and we become less then the gods we believe ourselves to be. We come back to earth. We become humans again, fragile, on a schedule not our own, needing each other and humbled by the earth from which we were made.

Such it is with snow, and us, and the reality of things.

Some wisdom…

If we move out of our self, whom do we encounter? asks Bishop Theophan. He supplies the answer at once: We meet God and our neighbour. It is for this very reason that denying oneself is a stipulation, and the chief one, for the person who seeks salvation in Christ: only so can the centre of our being be moved from self to Christ, who is both God and our neighbour.

Byzantine Texas