Seeing the Kingdom of God

‘Now there was one of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night, and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God because no one can perform the signs which you accomplish unless God is with him.
 Jesus answered him, “Amen, amen, I tell you; unless one is born anew, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.”’ – John 3:1-3

For many months, our parish has been engaged in securing the services of an iconographer and working to develop a plan for the decoration of the church, and through research, prayer and visiting other parishes, we have come along a course of discovery about our faith, our church and each other. Unlike so many of the committees we’ve endured over the years, the nature of this project and the engagement folks have brought to it has created a bond and deepened our experience for the better. And among the many remarkable good things of this experience is a spirit we might pray would abide between us going forward.

At the start, each of us had our separate expectations, desires and preferences. But by proceeding slowly to lay a foundation for understanding the Church’s expectations first, and aligning our thoughts within her traditions and teachings, we accustomed ourselves to proceeding with care, consideration and patience.  Pushing from one area to the next, we took few votes, and made fewer statements; and so spent quite some time just trying to figure where we were, what was settled, and what remained.

One of the wonders to emerge from this obscurity lay in how it lifted our likes and dislikes from our shoulders as we peered ever deeper, straining to see into the thickening the fog.  Somehow we continued moving inexorably forward, crawling from one subject to another; discussing each next topic without fully ending the last, blending a consensus on the prior that guided discussion of the latter. And like navigation by dead-reckoning, we often revisited our “known” waypoints more than once.

So as objectively terrible as it might seem to run a committee in this fashion, and as much we did in fact lose a few along the way, building our knowledge, experience, and relationships to a point where our trust and confidence in each other and what we’re about so that we could rise to the occasion is a painstaking process with no real short-cuts. We’ve learned about icons, our theology and traditions, but more than that, we’ve seen how the Spirit can move and lead our people with love and care, and letting each find their way to focus more on the group and less on ourselves. As a result, we accomplished more together than we might have. And this bodes well for the promise that what has transpired so far in our small group may bear fruit more abundantly.

And we can run that in so many ways if you want to indulge in some navel gazing about “Orthodoxy” or about living our baptisms and all that, but let’s say simply that when we find ourselves in these committees or even just a street or cocktail party somewhere, sometimes we do well to remember our “armor of light” and rely on this to shield us as we consider our discussions, hear the ideas of others and even the heated words they may have chosen… and look past all of that. And if we can for a moment admire the way this person has trusted us with the care of their thoughts, done us the courtesy of expecting a judgment of their ideas rather than their person, then we perhaps we can admire their desire to move us towards some “better” collective understanding. And even if we think we see things differently for now, we might see them differently later.

Even the best processes can break down when it comes to making decisions; but in our case, that hasn’t happened so far. Yet I think this preparation means that were this to happen, we’d be as equally prepared to do nothing and call it “good” as find ourselves lucky enough to escape that trap and succeed. It’s often as good to know when to stop as when to continue; and admit maybe we were meant to pursue other low (or lower) hanging fruit. And that’s enough.

To our benefit and the Glory of God, we seem blessed to continue moving forward in our case, so it seemed worth a pause to consider what went right… as if that were possible. And maybe I’ve missed it and grabbed the wrong thing, but if I could harness it and replicate it elsewhere, I’d choose to harness the spirit with which we generally treated each other – not as self-congratulation – which it begins to sound like, but as a marvel of what God makes possible in those moments when our intentions are well-ordered – even along the unseen ways we’ve come. And if it’s gratitude for these ways – however briefly we may experience them – that we see amongst ourselves, then surely it’s the sort we see in each other at our liturgies as well. And it’s this more than all the rest that keeps me coming back… as a sideways glimpse towards a vision of the Kingdom.

Christ’s Beatitudes tell us the “pure heart” will see the Kingdom, and follow immediately with speaking of peacemakers… because we’ll need them… if we dare to utter much of this vision in words – lest our “purified” hearts be darkened, or we darken another’s. And so in saying more than should be said already, let me close considering the iconographer’s prayer… for the Creator has made us icons of His image, yet in the crafting of the lives we place before God, or what we see in that which God places before our eyes… we write these great works, these gifts to all so often without the prayers we need. Let us see and write their beauty as God intends, and become what He wills.

“O Divine Lord of all that exists, You have illumined the Apostle and Evangelist Luke with Your Most Holy Spirit, thereby enabling him to represent the most Holy Mother, the one who held You in her arms and said: ‘the Grace of Him Who has been born of me is spread throughout the world.’
Enlighten and direct our souls, our hearts and our spirits. Guide the hands of your unworthy servant, so that we may worthily and perfectly portray your icon, that of Your Holy Mother and of all the saints, for the glory and adornment of Your Holy Church. Forgive our sins and the sins of those who will venerate these icons, and who, standing devoutly before them, give homage those they represent. Protect them from all evil and instruct them with good counsel. This we ask through the prayers of the Most Holy Theotokos, the Apostle Luke, and all the saints, now and ever and unto ages of ages.”
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Beauty and the People of God

The more time I spend in this church, the more I understand how tremendously I underestimated her wonders. This is not saying that I came into her with anything less than the best expectations you as you would expect at any marriage, but only that my expectations were far too modest. The wonders have been far greater than I could ever have known or anticipated. If anyone had tried to describe them – and no doubt someone did somewhere, I would have probably been turned off… as if the speaker were in fact no more than a “foamer” (train nut term for slobbering, fanatic freak), and nothing and no one could be that good .  After all, there’s a reason modesty is a virtue, and the best virtues often withheld and hidden until the intentions and commitments are more clearly made one to another, and can be safely shared.

Were (and are) there warts? Certainly. Plentyfold. But the important thing is to not let these get in the way of a developing, nurturing relationship. And as what remains to me of this life is likely far less than what has already run, the time for a commitment to the people in a place here and there – least of all my church – has come to mean something more than it might have. My commitment is of course to the people I know in my parish as I’ve found them, but more than that, to the saints who have walked through her doors through the centuries everywhere and left their legacy for me to find, their prayers with which to pray, their hymns to sing and harmonize, and their Spirit… to humble me as no other has allowed.

And so in some respects, love makes you feel like a kid again. And old kid perhaps with stiff knees and body parts that don’t work so good. Worn and in need of tweak, a kick and some extra fuel to get started in the mornings, but the day is still long and the old windbag ain’t dead yet. Nah, it’s the inside that thrills to the challenge, the demands, the change and being taught and formed in ways that are always new.  And it’s this that perhaps makes a difference: Where do we allow ourselves to be humbled and taught? By what and by whom? If not God, then whom? If not by His people and their commitment to love one another, then by what values? But more than that… what spirit will we nurture and protect so that others might in turn one day, coming after us, know that history isn’t written on paper but lives in traditions kept by men and women like those of us who struggle with ourselves along a Way to becoming a people of God?

There are other choices. We can choose not to. Some would even say we never made this choice. That it was in the genes like some defective programming (that’s usually what the implication is), or some “gift” (if they’re feeling generous to us), or some brainwashing ( if they’re not)  that allows us to do what they cannot or will not. Surely they’re right about one thing: It’s not by our own power alone, but by the prayers of others, the saints, our blessed and most glorious Lady Theotokos, and Christ Himself. And if that’s all a delusion, then at least it is a wonderful, beautiful and glorious delusion of great joy… and I’m happy to be a fool and all that comes with it rather than one that sneers and sees the foibles of others as somehow indicative of lesser beings. My God smiles at our foibles, weeps at our disappointments, tears his heart out when we stray, welcomes us back when we climb back on board, and most of all, lifts us with His love… not by ourselves and alone, but with all and for all. Why and how could we not lay down even just a part of our lives for such a one as would do this – all of this – just for us?

So it is that in reading Abbott Tryphon’s remarks from his blog, “The Morning Offering” and the piece from October 13th, “Heavenly Worship Must Enter into the Heart” caused me to smile:

Every time we Orthodox stand in worship, we must take in the words of the service, and make them our own. Merely observing the service is not worship, as we must enter into Divine Worship with our heart, and give attention to the Word of God that permeates the whole of the services. We must breath in the Word of God, and let the action of the Word take root in our heart. The Word of God is a Living Word, imparting God’s grace. 

The Word, as heard in the readings of the Epistle and the Gospel, and prayed in the liturgical texts, is meant to transform us, as God is making us His holy people. This regeneration takes place when the Word has entered our heart.

Abbot Nazarius of Valaam, taught that we must strive as well as we can “to enter deeply with the heart into the church reading and singing and to imprint these on the tablets of the heart”. This is why it is so important for our spiritual progress to drive out distracting thoughts that confront us, while in worship.

 

Voices Above and Beyond

My chrismation in a Western Rite parish began a journey toward beauty that ultimately took me beyond those walls. While many are led by their eyes, for my part, the strangeness of it all lead me in time by the ears… eventually to renew my love for the sounds of worship where hymnody – both as prayer and scripture, were balanced in motion, time and space to still the otherness within, and open my heart. And so I found myself beyond the comfort of my post-Anglican Western Rite in the midst of strangely beautiful OCA hymns… and the traditions of a parish led by a whole host of talented choir masters, arrangers and singers.

Bear in mind, surely many an opening of the heart begins as mine has (and no doubt resistantly remains no more than this!)… as an ever so small crevice, allowing no more than a faint breath of the outside to worm its way in. And as in a sheltered winter’s parlor where we seek relief by a fire only to find this creeping chill air just enough to overcome a welcoming warmth, so too in today’s more common air chilled corpuscles we find much the reverse! Rather we might just find enough warmth from the summer air seeping in that slit in the seal to thaw a touch of our ever elusive nouses… if only it were true!

There’s something in the hymns we sing – especially the slavic hymnody – that lifts the heart, expand the chest, fills the lungs and move the whole with the Spirit… and through these songs seems to deepen our experience of prayer. Prayer is so much more than words, than thoughts.. and a motion of our whole person towards God and His own… that in this motion – however it moves us in His service, but yes it moves us beyond ourselves – we might become persons of God and a common people.

Letting our inner joy breathe

Abbott Tryphon writes compellingly of the vow made at his monastery to visit the outside world only with clear intention to share their love of Christ by wearing it in an outward smile. I treasure this thought.

I remember as a young man working the phones on a municipal bond desk, it was my job as a middle man to call on behalf the brokers up to the bond dealers as a “coordinator” and find “the terms”, prices or whatever. To my good fortune, the woman on the other end of the phone, Brenda, had the most musical voice that chimed and smiled through the wire. One day, I told her how much I enjoyed hearing her voice, her greeting, and how much it meant to me… and made my day. For no matter how hot and bothered the folks were at my end, her voice was a moment’s relief… and how grateful for that I was then and remain to this day. Those were dreary days, but the smile in her voice… thirty plus years later, remains a bright spot I never tire of sharing with others. And I still remember her and those moments as a treasure.

There are so many points in our liturgy that give great joy. Sometimes, I think we need to be unafraid to let that show on our faces, to let the children who look on us for reassurance know that we treasure these moments of worship in our lives, that they give us great joy, that honoring all our loved ones as we do, our families and friends both here and departed, the saints, our beloved Theotokos whose nativity we celebrate this day, together with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit… and how grateful we are for their witness, their love, and the honor of sharing in their lives and love – if this doesn’t bring music to our hearts and a smile to our faces, surely we’re missing the sound of the choirs in heaven! Let our joy be full, and our lives we share more and more abundant.

Mother Theresa said that a smile is a gift of joy we can bring to others, it’s a gift that Christ would have offered and might now offer through us – if we are unafraid to let it shine. It takes some courage though. So many of us find we’re expected to maintain a certain seriousness, a certain “look” as though we don’t take this lightly. But of course we don’t… not ourselves. Yet what is it we come to see if not the eternal joy of heaven? Fairly, few understand the sweetness we find in our sufferings, our failures, and the pain these bring us for what we have done… but without these, how else would we have come to know the grace of repentance, forgiveness and renewal? Can we not smile at our absurdity? The foolishness of treasuring our tears, of loving a broken heart, of worshipping a broken God who alone loves a broken man so completely we can’t even comprehend much less describe… can this not at least in some measure yield a smile?

We shouldn’t hesitate to break the prayer for ourselves to lift our gaze, to brighten our countenance a moment, and smile first from our eyes but then through every pore, so that if anyone looks our way, surely they’ll think either we’re fools, or we’re having such joy in the presence of God that perhaps they, too, might reflect this light back to us… and so a thousand faces might shine. A smile is a prayer for another offered without words, without thought, and all in an instant – and understood by all. If it must, perhaps we might at least let it mask our fears and hurts… and choose instead to spare our brothers and sisters, that we might bear rather than burden one another.

Ezekiel’s Calling…

Ol’ buddy Zeke paints a great vision of a people of God lost and led astray… if not devoured by their own shepherds in his 34th chapter. And seems to me this is so much more than a historical account as it just literally lays out for us a challenge as a people, a challenge that begins with the Song of Simeon:

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace : according to thy word. For mine eyes have seen : thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared : before the face of all people; …a light to enlighten the Gentiles : and the glory of thy people Israel.

Of course, Simeon sings this in a great prayer of thanksgiving, but fairly, if it’s right that in being called “Christians” we’re really to be taken as “little christs”, then aren’t we supposed to be the light (or at least let the light of Christ shine through our lives) that illumines the Gentiles? And as I’m not much at this, I read Ezekiel’s condemnation of the priesthood as stern words aimed not just there… but at all of us who would be a people of God. Thus, though in context addressed to the historic people as a “wail and woe is me” for a wayward Israel, or a “woe to the misguided Levite priesthood” as so clearly laid out, for those of us who would be a royal priesthood, and particularly to ourselves as Orthodox Christians, our shepherds (clergy and leaders) and all the people of (even) our New Israel … we seem equally at risk of falling into the dangers of the abyss Ezekiel proclaims.

“O shepherds of Israel who feed themselves, should not the shepherds feed the sheep? Behold, you drink the milk and clothe yourselves with the wool. You slay the fatlings, but do not feed My sheep. You have not strengthened the weak, and the sick you have  not revived. The broken you have not bandaged, and the misled you have not brought back. The lost you have not sought, and the strong you have not prepared for labor. So My sheep were scattered, because there were no shepherds. So they became food for all the wild animals of the field. My sheep were scattered in all the mountains and in every high hill. They were scattered over the face of the earth, and there was no one to seek them or to bring them back.

Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord. “As I live,” says the Lord and Master, “because My sheep became as plunder, and as food for all the wild animals of the plain, because there were no shepherds with them, nor did My shepherds search for them, but fed themselves and not My flock” – because of this O shepherds, thus says the Lord and Master: “Behold, I am against the shepherds and shall require My sheep at their hands. I shall turn them away so they may not shepherd My sheep. The shepherds will not feed them anymore, for I shall deliver My sheep from their mouth; and they shall no longer be as food for them.”

For thus says the Lord: “Behold, I shall search for My sheep and care for them. As a shepherd seeks his flock on a day when there is darkness, and when a cloud separates the sheep, thus I will drive them from every place where they were scattered in the day of cloud and darkness. And I shall bring them out from the Gentiles, gather them from the countries, and bring them into their land. I shall feed them on the mountains of Israel, in the valleys, and in all the inhabited places of the land, I shall feed them in good pasture on the high mountain of Israel, and their folds will be there. They will lie down, and there they shall rest in good luxury, and feed in rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I shall feed My sheep and refresh them; and they will know that I am the Lord,” thus says the Lord and Master. “I shall seek the lost, bring back the misled, bind up the broken, strengthen the fallen, protect the strong, and feed them with judgment.”

These words of the prophet continue with their poetic power until in the 36th chapter where he begins to point towards renewal, a point echoing the 11th chapter where he noted that the land first given to Israel as an inheritance but later defiled is now filled with those who say among themselves, “Keep far away from the Lord. (For) This land was given to us as an inheritance…” Thus is their grip fastened tightly to a material that sifts through their hands, dried and infertile as their hardening hearts. For it was in this spirit of avarice rather than the spirit of the Lord that they forged their kingdoms; making for themselves an idol of nationhood those before them, the hostile nations surrounding their people. They became a people for themselves rather than a holy nation, and unlike the people of David’s inheritance in the spirit of the Living God.

So it seems that what the Lord intended then… is the same and has always been the same: The only inheritance that matters is neither land, nor progeny, nor wealth… though there may be some way in which each of these play a role. Were we to live as though our treasure were in heaven, as though our DNA were spiritual, and our nation a people of one heart; were we to see our eucharist as fortifying real, living people and enabling us to see our fellow sheep and follow our true shepherds; as making visible those among us living by the Spirit, and re-molded by the Lord to a likeness following recognizably after the image implanted within us – then we would be on the path of becoming a people of true inheritance. But all of us fall short of this…

And so the prophet speaks in a way that tells not just of God’s intent for ourselves, but also reveals something we might understand of God… that He is loving, good, and ever seeking to call us back to his fold… and it isn’t His heart that is cold, but our own. Thus, Ezekiel speaks as well of the Lord’s renewing His people in the 36th chapter:

“Then the nations will know that I am the Lord, when I am sanctified among you before their eyes. For I will take you from among the nations, gather you from all the lands, and bring you into your land. I shall sprinkle clean water on you and you will be cleansed from all your uncleanness, and I will also cleanse you from all your idols. I shall give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you. I shall take the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I shall put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My requirements, and you will keep My judgments and do them. You will dwell in the land I gave to your fathers. You will be My people, and I shall be your God. I shall save you from all your uncleanness; and I will call for the grain and multiply it, and bring no famine among the nations. Then you will remember your evil ways and your practices which were not good, and you shall be angry in your own sight for your lawlessness and your abominations. Not for your sake will I do this,” says the Lord and Master. “As it shall become known to you, be ashamed and embarrassed of your ways, O house of Israel.”

Thus says, the Lord: “On the day in which I shall cleanse you from all your lawlessness, I shall also cause you to dwell in the cities, and the uninhabited regions will be rebuilt. The land which was destroyed will be cultivated, because it will no longer be desolate in the sight of all who pass by. Thus they will say, ‘That desolate land has become like a garden of luxury; and the wasted, desolate, and ruined cities are now fortified and inhabited.’ Then the nations yet remaining around you will know that I, the Lord, have rebuilt the ruined cities and planted what was desolate…”

Thus says, the Lord: “For this I shall be sought by the house of Israel, that I might establish and multiply their people like sheep. As holy sheep, as the sheep of Jerusalem in her feasts, thus shall the desert cities be filled with flocks of people. Then they will know that I am the Lord.”

And if this is our calling, then surely Ezekiel calls us to repentance this day as readily as he called the Hebrews in his own. By grace, let us renew our hearts in Him, and by this motion, renew and restore all Creation. Let us hold on to Christ and thereby hold on to who we were meant to be rather than whom we think we are. Let us become the people of inheritance, as we are this day.

You are in Christ’s Church…

The following just seemed a fitting follow-on, surpassing the point my last piece:

“The Church of Christ is alive and free. In her we move and live through Christ, Who is her Head, and have full freedom, because we learn the Truth and the Truth makes us free (cf. John 8:32).

You are in Christ’s Church whenever you uplift someone bent down in sorrow, when you help someone elderly walk more easily, or when you give alms to the poor and visit the sick. You are in Christ’s Church when you cry out, “Lord help me.” You are in Christ’s Church when you are patient and good, when you refuse to get angry with your brother, even if he has wounded your feelings. You are in Christ’s Church when you pray, “Lord, forgive him.” When you work honestly at your job, returning home weary in the evenings but with a smile upon your lips, bringing with you a warm and kind light; when you repay evil with love – you are in Christ’s Church.

Do you not see, therefore, my young friend, how close the Church of Christ is? You are Peter and God is building His Church upon you. You are the rock of His Church against which no one and nothing can prevail, because you are a  liberated rock – a soul that is fulfilled within His Church and not one condemned to stagnation.

Let us build churches, my friend. Let us build churches from the depths of our hearts ablaze with the light of the Sun of Righteousness, Who is Christ Himself, Who has told us that by faith we are free from sin. Let us build the churches of our faith which no human power can pull down, because the ultimate power of the Church is Christ Himself.”

Feel for your brother at your side, ever present, and never ask, “Who is this man?” Rather say, “He is no stranger; he is my brother. He is the Church of Christ just as I am.”  pp 163 Father George Calciu, “Interviews, Homilies and Talks”

Orthotic Anti-Catholicism (and Not!)

They say, “If the shoe fits, wear it”, and so as it comes to anti-Catholicism, there may be a large number of variations, but the truth is that while some seem to slip into these shoes, it’s the odd fit we notice, or the shoe squeaks, and on the whole… it’s just as they say, “ain’t fittin'”.

Three thoughts: First, we Orthodox are catholic, and whether we like it or not, whatever we say that even in charity detracts from Catholicism also detracts from ourselves. Second, “insiders” often find some measure of discomfort within their Church, and while this is “normal” in terms of representing an aspect within ourselves, it is done in a love that recognizes a burr under the saddle as the seed of our repentance, and somehow from within it stirs a spiritual response that from another source serves merely as distraction. We should not tempt ourselves in this way and become obstacles to another’s spiritual warfare. Thirdly, there is and will always be some measure of disdain for incarnate christianity, some misunderstanding, some dislike, and even outright hostility, but responding in kind and bickering between one and the other of our two churches does nothing to advance the Kingdom and only serves the agenda of witnessing to the sins of our fallen state.

I suppose that any Orthodox christian who is anti-Catholic probably has some more work to do in conversion of their heart and in becoming a person of inheritance in his or her parish than they think. I’d imagine as well that if we’re stuck at this level, we’re still inculcating something of an “ology” of some sort far short of true, loving, prayerful theology of the Church, and our prayer is still in some need somewhere. We are christians after all, and not partisans.  But I have my own warts… and the journey is never over… even here.

Many Popes (certainly the last three) and Roman Catholics have expressed their special love for our own, for our services, our clergy and sacraments and this us a credit they give no other. We should and must! return this warmth. I know of those for whom the Catholic tradition contributed much to their conversion and worship, but I would extend the credit even more broadly, and suppose that in more ways than we suppose, the Orthodox may have freely received more benefits than generally credited as a result of Catholic church’s engagement with the world, her strength, her offerings and equally her sufferings, and more than we imagine, she, too has suffered… and in these, we may have been free riders just as much as the tables may run the other way as well from time to time. By suggesting this, I don’t want to lessen the Orthodox Church’s understanding herself and her own history, but simply to pierce some of the fog that so often settles and pools, and unless we are candid, causes us to miss the obvious. Take for instance that all pretense and bother to the contrary, like it or not, to the rest of the world, the Pope is more often the face of Christianity and a light when it shines brightly as a beacon of unity and breadth that helps or hurts us all in one way or another.

Surely there remain rivalries both here and abroad, now and in the past, and again undoubtedly there will be more. But whatever our history, let us be first to forgive. Let us also remember the pain of our brothers and sisters before our own. Let us seek them out and lift them as well as we endeavor to renew and restore what has for long been dormant in our own church… the spirit of evangelism and engagement. Let us re-imagine each of ourselves from hearts steeped in charity and credit that which is good not in ourselves, but in the other. Let us take the first steps rather than the last, and let us leave off any special pleadings – with history, with our publics, and even with friendly governments as if “intercession by whining” were ever appealing.

Face it… if it were working, the saints, the Theotokos and all the company of heaven would have already answered our ill-offered prayers… so let us leave off those to take up prayers which would join our company in one body. Let us even credit a friendly rivalry as good for the service of the Church and the worship of Christ; and welcome what we may have earlier disdained. Let us be thankful for traditional Popes and their leadership as much as we are for forward thinking Orthodox patriarchs and their love and charity as well, for all these are the stuff which makes for renewal of the Holy Spirit’s love in the broad arms of her Church.

No one should suggest there is a lack of riches within the Catholic Church, as though it had never been Orthodox. But it has been and is Orthodox today just as we have been and are Catholic. And there is still much more that is Orthodox than we suppose… even perhaps more Orthodox in spirit than that which animates many of our own breasts from time to time. More, I’d add that even that which is not or may not be to our liking or the flavor of christianity we prefer and as we think (but don’t know) it is experienced in Catholic churches… we should credit that much of this may nevertheless contributes more vibrantly to the lives of her faithful and breathe more of the Spirit into their lungs – and even exercise more of their bodies in christian living than we may be managing with all our Jesus prayers, our liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, our prostrations, fasting and all our emphasis on beauty, icons and all the rest. The fullness of the Catholic church, her charities, and all is a wonder to admire and give thanks for. Let us do so.

Similarly, I’m not sure what folks complain about… maybe I haven’t shared all the anti-Orthodox history… and I almost never encounter it in person other than on the internet…. and I live in Catholic heaven. But here on the net if not eslewhere, perhaps Roman Catholics might consider that their wonderous catechism records a list of teachings for their benefit – not necessarily for all the rest of us… and sharing what they spot as deficient, schismatic and heretical in what they think they observe of our lives many not be as helpful to Orthodox as they intend. Mind you, I’m not debating their points… just noting the icy reception ain’t what I think was expected. Point is, these recited wonders are listed for your benefit…. and they work there. It’s not working here any better than our “suggestions” going your way do either. Give it a rest and we’ll agree to do the same. Truth is, our real obstacles are much more mundane: Showing up in church, coming in on time, fasting according to the guidelines rather than our own shortcuts, giving alms, going to confession regularly and taking it seriously, saying our prayers and being honest with ourselves, with our priest, and with Christ, and especially serving the poor and those in need. You credit us far too much when you want to argue our theology or ecclesiology!!! Don’t tempt me! Sure… we all love the distraction…. but…

There is much we should look forward to with love: There is a time coming when we will all pray together, worship together and even share the same Eucharist… not likely in my lifetime, but soon as it may be pleasing to God … and that soon may mean in the Kingdom of Heaven…but one day and before the Final Day, it will also be here on earth that we share again. But we should pray for each other here and now, and for all our holy patriarchs, clergy, churches and people.

In the meantime, the sundering of our churches had almost continued to the point of an unbecoming, blasphemous self-contentment. Our complacency isn’t a measure of our virtue or constancy, but a measure of our conceit, our pecuniarity and the poverty of our spirituality. The world sees our separation as refutation of our pretense to love. We must begin our renewal with each other in all earnestness, with our two churches coming together again, and a journey towards each other over the next thousand years that rediscovers how we heal a wounded world in the service of Christ.

Finally, let me close by saying that but for the breath of a moment that never was, I might have become a happy Catholic (lucky you guys!) but my heart instead went hook, line and sinker for another… and it was meant to be …as any marriage of the Spirit surely is. But there was that moment… and if only one German priest and his family visitors who “led” me along through the Sistine Chapel – clearly dialed up by Central Casting! I mean he “looked” the part in every way! – if only he had turned and asked for my conversion right then and there… it’d have happened. But he didn’t… and he was clearly far too sweet to ever dream of trespassing on my charity in that way, and surely too good to ever conform to that stereotype (and I credit him for that),but truth is that I can see credit in the stereotype well these days. But there rest as they say… is my history.