December 9, 2011

A Call for [God-] Manliness

St. George and Martyrdom Scenes

I recently had a moment of etymological enlightenment about the word “virtue.” Double checking the Online Etymology Dictionary, I learned that the Latin origin of the word translates to “moral strength, manliness, valor, excellence, worth (vir- is man).” The Oxford English Dictionary says that virtue is "the power or operative influence inherent in a supernatural or divine being." Not leaving out my ethnic heritage’s two-cents, the equivalent Greek word for manliness or valor is “ανδρεία” (andria). The first virtuous people who come to mind are many Saints who attested to their faith by living a life of virtue in their thoughts, words, and deeds. As a result, they invited the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in them and in their bodies and performed miracles. Both men and women displayed manly valor and bravery during suffering and martyrdom—they literally imitated Christ to the end.

Saint Katherine
Great Martyr
Since we Orthodox Christians are of the mind to live out our theology rather than to simply discuss it in an arm chair (or just write about it in a blog for fun), I am officially putting out a call for a REVOLUTION to DO something—to bring back this manliness in ourselves, in our Church, and in our culture. Further, this should be a type of God-Manliness, following the example of Christ. The goal of this revolution is to begin a transformation of human fallen nature into that which is more Christ-like.

So let us begin by focusing on an aspect of our lives that seems to concern most Orthodox young people. It is a matter that directly relates to our salvation—that of relationship, specifically that of the marriage relationship, which literally brings us together into a special and holy community...

In all seriousness, there are some major problems we are facing in our post-modern, twisted and over-sexualized times. It pains me to see our youth engaging in pre-marital sexual behaviors that are hurting them physically and spiritually. Here is a previous post of my own that suggests that preserving one’s sexual purity is to be done in the name of and love for God, not simply for following rules and moral obligations. A very well-written and astute observation on how necessary it is for young people to preserve their sexual purity is to be found here at the Holy Protection Hummus and Pizza Parlor blog. The author (Mike A.) makes the profound point that maintaining one’s purity by practicing abstinence is a witness to Christ. He also makes a call for our Church youth ministries to more directly address this concern and to help our young people get thorough the temptations of the world.

Saint Demetrios
Patron of Youth

It is not totally the fault of our beloved youth for engaging in promiscuity. This happens when temptations posed by the evil one are victorious over young people who are not guarded by the full armor of Christ. Now, is it not the responsibility of parents, youth directors, and the Church to equip them with that armor? Here is where my cohorts and I, the so-called “young adults” can begin the revolution by being examples to the teens and college kids.

Shout out to the 25 to 40-something crowd, LISTEN UP... We ourselves are actually prone to a more subtle and not outwardly immoral problem like promiscuity and fornication, but instead, we are experiencing a rapid loss of valor, courage, manliness, if you will, among men and women alike, in our relationships...leading almost always to a lack thereof... Perhaps our youth need to see an improvement in us, their "hip" young adult role models. If they saw our bravery and especially our JOY when we decide to enter into the arena of marriage with our focus on Christ, then maybe they too would guard their hearts and bodies in preparation for their turn to come....a nice thought, isn't it?

Recently among my acquaintances, I have known of several independent stories of relationships that had / still have solid potential for Christ-centered marriages because both parties are seeking to live a life in Christ. However, they either have failed or never began in the first place--usually, because one party ran away out of fear. My question is why? Why are we so afraid of entering into matrimony, a path on which two people work together to get one another to Paradise? The short answer is succumbing to the wiles of the evil one because of our weaknesses.  Of course it is a challenging journey that takes much work, but laboring to love our neighbors (the equally yoked spouse and children) in the name of Christ, makes us more like Him, more God-manly. Instead of desiring this supreme form of love (agape), we choose a life of singularity that has the dangerously high probability that we will fall to the loweset form of love, that which is self-centered pride. Read this short story of Dostevsky's, Notes from the Underground, the main character is one who finds himself caught between choosing these two roads, and sorry to give it away a bit, but the end shows his unhappy decision...
“Saints Timothy and Maura” Henryk Siemiradzki

Saints Timothy and Maura,
Married Saints and Martyrs for Christ
I will refrain from gender-bashing, because everyone has inherited the fallen nature of our first parents—such as the passivity and cowardice of Adam and the disobedience and rebellion of Eve. Let us instead be rebellious against this fallen nature which is so well-promoted by our modern secular world whose air we breathe and life we share. Saint Paul gives us instructions for this holy rebellion by defining the roles of a husband and wife in the Epistle to the Ephesians 5:20-33, which is read during the Orthodox Marriage sacrament.

I particularly love the beginning of the passage (v.20-21): giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God. This is a call to thanksgiving to God in all things (both joys and sorrows of life), and a call to humility. If these things are mentioned first, they must be important coaching pointers to get us pumped and ready to go...

Saints Joachim and Anna,
Iconof the Conception of the Theotokos

The rest of the passage explains HOW each person is to rebel against the fallen nature of the respective genders. Men are called to be like Christ--to die (kill the ego), as Christ did for His Church. Women are called to be respectful and obedient (more ego killing), as the Church is to Christ. In theory, this sounds nice and we intellectually know it is for our salvation. But it is definitely scary to face our fallenness and most assuredly difficult to transform it continually for a lifetime. It's no wonder that we run for the hills if this reality hits us when we are not ready to face ourselves and to realize that we must change. Wait, CHANGE? Is that an Orthodox word?? It is when it is translated from metanoia (repentance)...

So, let us begin the revolution! The sacrament of Confession is the best weapon for all of us to begin to get familiar with or to re-familiarize ourselves with it—especially if it is done regularly, with a priest who knows us well, with whom we are completely open, removing the trash of sin from the soul. This regular cleansing regimen will allow room in our hearts for Christ to dwell therein.

The sure way to become more like Christ, to become more God-manly, is to get to know Him better and to invite Him into our lives, into our hearts and minds. This happens through daily reading of the Scriptures, regular participation in the sacramental life of the Church, seeking the help of a spiritual father, and talking to Christ unceasingly through prayer. Focusing on our personal relationship with Christ first will armor us with virtue and manliness so that we are prepared to enter into the intimate community of marriage. A loving relationship founded on Christ, regardless of all temptations and challenging situations that scare us away, is one that will never die. It is a golden opportunity where one can truly follow the two simple commandments of loving God with all our being and loving our neighbor.

Are you now game for joining the revolution? Let's do it team!  Please share your strategies!

October 17, 2011

Saint Catherine's Vision

For this post, I'd like to take the opportunity to offer a quick book review on volume 1 of the Encountering Women of Faith  series, written by Saint Catherine's Vision, a group of Orthodox women who are educated scholars and seminary graduates.  By their individual lives and this collective work, these admirable women elegantly demonstrate good stewardship and thanksgiving of the educational gifts and talents with which God has graced them.  

In Enountering Women of Faith, Volume 1, we are given the stories of eight female saints revered by the Orthodox Christian Church in a beautifully intimate style reflecting each saint's personal impact and influence on the respective author:  Susana the Righteous and Susana of Palestine, Elizabeth the New Martyr, Melania the Younger, Deaconess Olympias, Xenia of Petersburg, Mary Magdalene, and Catherine the Great.  Each account is not only personal, but it highlights virtues and ministries that are relevant to women today and can be practically applied in a manner that truly glorifies God.  Such examples include philanthropy, voluntary kenosis, sacrificial love within marriage, maternal love for children, unwavering witness of faith in Jesus Christ at times of great stress, education in the context of growth in Christ, and roles in service to the Church, among other gems found deep within the texts.  I personally enjoyed this work because it made these female saints alive for meOf course, the stories presented the strengths and accomplishments of these saints by the work of the grace of God in them, but also, their human weaknesses were seen--this is what made them more real and more human to me.  Often, we tend to focus on the victories and the final perfection of our Saints and less on their daily martyrdoms of battling their own weaknesses and passions, which comprise the majority of their human lives.  We see here that these saints were truly real women who dealt with tragic circumstances throughout their lives, and with whom both men and women can identify.  And thankfully, we see in their examples that in their patience, they won their souls, as our Lord has admonished us all to do likewise (Luke 21:19). 

I highly recommend this book for learning more about these saints and applying their examples to our own daily lives.  Each chapter also has focus questions at the end that are wonderful for a discussion and study about the lives of these saints with teenagers and college students, as well as in parish groups.  For further information, the stories are also well-cited with original references.  I am waiting for my copy of the second volume to arrive, and will post another review soon.  Also be on the look out for volumes 3 and 4 in the future!  Please see the website of Saint Catherine's Vision for more information.

August 5, 2011

Revolutionary Writing Updates

Please forgive the extreme "quiet" of this blog in the last few months....the author has been busy trying to enact what is usually put in writing here, with God's grace of course.

Here are two recent articles I have written.  Please check out these superb blogsites, managed and authored by pious young Orthodox people who daily invite Christ into their lives.  Thank God for the good things we can do with technology.
(Wonder, the official blog of the Department of Youth, Young Adult, and Campus Ministries of the Orthodox Church in America)
(Holy Protection Hummus and Pizza Parlor, by some really awsome chefs!)

Another post will be coming soon to continue the Quiet Revolution....  :) 

January 12, 2011

Glory to God for ALL Things

Since September, God has returned me to my beloved state of Virginia for a new job, to the town where I spent my graduate school years at UVA. The autumn season in this area has always been my favorite one, with the crisp blue skies, changing colors of the trees, and a sense of anticipation. Interesting how there is so much beauty amidst so much death...these leaves are dying. But they die for a higher cause--to conserve the trees' energy during the winter in anticipation for new life to bloom in the coming spring. God speaks wisdom to us through the beauty and elegance of His Creation....
During the autumn season, I had the blessing to go on a hike at Crabtree Falls with a group of lovely young women, good friends of mine from the Orthodox Christian Fellowship from the Mid-Atlantic Region. The schedule included the hike upwards to the top of the waterfalls, followed by lunch and chanting an Akathist Hymn entitled "Glory to God for All Things". This beautiful service of glory, thanksgiving and praise to God was composed by a priest just before his death in a prison camp in Russia in 1940. In it, you sense the priest's courage and total hope in God during his darkest hour of imminent death, and you cannot help but be inspired. Before our hike, our group was to meet at the campgrounds at 11 am. Arriving promptly at our destination, my car's group learned that our friends coming from both the North and the Southwest were going to be late. But, we didn't realize just how late they would come. Thankfully, they managed to arrive even after some potentially life-threatening obstacles in their way--one group nearly missing a head-on collision on one of the mountain roads. During the waiting period, my heart was pounding in worry because our cell phones had lost signal and there was no way to contact our friends. We decided to simply pray until they arrived. They finally made it, thanks be to God, and we went on a most wonderful, fun-filled, and spiritually nourishing outdoor adventure. It was yet another experience for me where I learned that upon embarking on an endeavor that is sure to benefit one's soul, there will be obstacles and even attacks from the evil one at an attempt to thwart growth in Christ. But resisting these attacks and achieving victory is quite possible by hoping in Him.
This phenomenon is cited repeatedly in the Scriptures: "My son, when you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trials. Be sincere of heart and steadfast, undisturbed in time of adversity. Cling to him, forsake him not; thus will your future be great. Accept whatever befalls you, in crushing misfortune be patient; For in fire is gold tested, and worthy men in the crucible of humiliation. Trust God and he will help you; make straight your ways and hope in him." ~Wisdom of Sirach 2 This passage instructs us on HOW to act in the face of challenging situations in life. In the midst of suffering, we are to cling to God, to always hope that He will take care of us and that later, we will experience something better, just like the trees enduring the winter to experience the new life coming in the spring. As there is beauty of the autumn leaves, there is beauty in gold that has been purified by fire, and likewise, beauty in the faces and bodies of the Saints who suffered for Christ (see the beauty in the icons of Saint Marina and Saint George). Our modern culture tells us that misfortunes and difficult situations are to be avoided and that there is no benefit in them. Even Christians are tempted to walk away from situations that pose a challenge to them, rationalizing that "it is not the will of God for me to do this, it is too hard and too scary."
Below is a motivating quote from a very beloved and great prophet, Isaiah:
"Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." ~Isaiah 40
This past year has presented me with the blessed opportunity to experience some difficult and painful trials that have allowed me to come just a bit closer to our Lord. The emotional upsets gave me much sadness, and I have definitely felt like a tired and weary youth, as Isaiah says. But, at the same time, by experiencing a bit of suffering, we are getting a taste of Christ's suffering, and that of His Saints. After all, if we dare to go by the name of "Christian", how can we not expect to experience what Christ Himself experienced? This way of life is a sacred one and we cannot take it lightly. The challenges and sufferings are permitted so that we may use them in making wise decisions for courses of action that will lead us closer to God. In my own recent trials, I felt like I was asked to choose between Christ's way or another way. Christ's way is clearly harder, but the only one that will help our souls. And as Isaiah says at the end of the quote, if we hope in the Lord, our strength will be renewed and we will soar like the eagles and run without growing faint! What a great coach this prophet is!

I also came across the following appropriate and encouraging saying by Saint Theodora of Alexandria (January 12, 5th Century): "Just as trees require winter and snow in order to bear fruit, so trials and temptations are needed for our life."
As winter is still among us now, with snow still on the ground, let us remember that spring is around the corner. In anticipation of the renewal of nature in the season of spring, let us continue to maintain patience, peace, and strong hope during our trials until we experience the sweet joy of the soon-to-come Feast of feasts, the Resurrection, in both this life and in eternity!