Monday, May 22, 2006

The Hard Work of Communion

This past weekend I attended at Divine Liturgy at a parish where 95% of the service was in English. It was a welcomed change.

But, as I've said before, if you mistake my recent struggles with an ethno-centric Orthodoxy as based on language only, you'd be mistaken.

My greatest struggles are internal. How does one deal spiritually and emotionally with feelings of alienation and disconnection? What is it like to live as a "foreigner" or "stranger" in the midst of a place that was supposed to be "home."

Believe it or not, I have no illusions of asking those around me to change the way they have always done things to make me feel more comfortable. Hey, I'm arrogant, but not THAT arrogant.

No, in fact I am coming to see this sense of being a "stranger" or "foreigner" as a spiritual gift. It is another way for my own spiritual journey to enter more deeply into the sufferings of Christ. After all "He came unto His own and His own did not receive Him." He was a "stranger" and "foreigner" in His own world.

So, how does this sense of being a "stranger" help me in my own struggle to enter into being Christ-like?

First, being the "stranger" calls me to humility and repentance. As much as I insist that my struggle is for authentic evangelism to the general population around us, I must confess that some (perhaps most) of my dis-ease stems from my own desire for comfort and the familiar. This self-centered attitude MUST die within me if I am ever to know "sober joy." As a stranger, I am invited to confront my own spiritual poverty and repent.

Second, being a "stranger" calls me to identify with other "strangers." Now in my own sense of being a Stranger I can relate to others who feel alienated and cut off. Now my desire for evangelism can be purified from the shame inducing tirades of accusation against others to an authentic compassion for others that transforms me. As a stranger, I can now reach out to other strangers and invite them to know true "philanthropia."

Finally, being a "stranger" calls me to Christ Himself. Jesus knows what it is like to be rejected by His own. He knows what it is like to look out over the city of Jerusalem and lamenting that He would have gathered them unto Himself, but they "would not." As a stranger, I am now invited to join another Stranger and learn to do the hard work of communion.

Being a stranger in a place I thought was home is hard. The fact is that Orthodoxy is my home, but I am now entering deeper into the grief of my own conversion and naming this as grief. But that's what we humans were created to do. God brought all the animals to Adam to see what Adam would name them, and we too, are called to name the poverty, pain, woundedness, of our own souls so that, in naming them, we can overcome them with the love of Jesus Christ.

I am embracing (with tears) my own sense of being a stranger in a place I thought was home, and in doing so, I am learning about my own weaknesses and wounds, and, by God's grace, I am confronting my further need for repentance and healing.

It is "good" to be a stranger. It's just not pleasant.

3 comments:

Proserpine said...

This is for those simply beautiful are above and beneath.

So, the question is how can converts survive long term in an ethnocentric parish?

Very good posts. Thank you for them much. America. Its interesting how I am nearly at the same items these days reading the Journals of Fr. Alexander Shmeman where rises these so essential questions for the Church and those you touch are among them. But I think you know this book of course.

An effort to open the holy doors to the converts brought up without Orthodox tradition and culture and having so much misunderstanding in Orthodoxy is fruitless outside of the eschatological realization of the faith. And another moment that is VERY important is that of the LITURGY, the sense of the Christianity, as he traced through the sources and his own experience had been gradually moved aside by the Church itself within the history. Through the mystery of Eucharist the Church should have had to make the opposite ends meet, to get the support for Her Life in secular world with all the things appeared on the stage within the history – but instead of nourishment from Heaven, instead of Heavenly Bread and Wine, instead of Body and Blood – the parishioners drink the waters of forgetfulness of the most centered. And ethno-confessional groups is so strange phenomena in Christianity (but this really exists, I can only imagine, but yes) where if it is life in Christ then ‘neither Greek not Jewish’. But the point is the Church by life somehow outside of Christ…How to survive? In full participation, in complete delivery themselves to the Cup during the anaphora, in the real life of that which is SERVICE in the Liturgy – in order to get this gifts from God – blessed love between brothers and sisters – as without Him, in any case, we are not able to create anything. So I think some light might be found in this 'problem' in the diving with all parts of the body into the Eucharist.

So, how does this sense of being a "stranger" help me in my own struggle to enter into being Christ-like?

I let myself note that Christ was not a 'stranger' to the world - (how God can be the stranger to what He created by Himself? - impossible - and the God is not intellegenzia measuring things under own ideas - God knows the world and His knowing is not the experience of the stranger in that sense we put into this term - even giving so inspired like you did), to its troubles and hopes, but He was as the stranger to the religion (sorry but Al. Shmeman again) with its permanent dissatisfaction in all, with its permanent desire to settle things the most comfortable way in its own design. And so we have the present world (not all of course but that one I think we are discussing here now) designed under the worst religious form and in the opposite we have the secular world which is, though its paradoxically but it is true, which is more close to Christ. As it is of life, and death, of changes and lilies, of Greek and Jewish but not Plato’s ‘ideas’ of all alive things. Namely these things of world should be resurrected.

How does the sense of stranger – I dare to hope in this His – Look at the lilies – do you see? People often pay attention to some another meaning (do not trouble of the day’s care for themselves etc.) but the first is more beautiful here – look at the world – not the ‘fallen’ world – He with this His request as if asks – stop searching better for yourself, even stop asking forgiveness (you will not ASK it authentically all the same) but look at the lilies – they are future – and what we are searching finally – indeed only future – even next instant, it is my breathing - but is the future, though it is, yes, rooted in now. Look at lilies - here is the world of 'an ideal stranger' -

Maybe in this sense today.

And practically ready to put my sign under each line of your these last articles. So deep they are, and sincere. Thank you.

Proserpine said...

This is for those simply beautiful are above and beneath.

So, the question is how can converts survive long term in an ethnocentric parish?

Very good posts. Thank you for them much. America. Its interesting how I am nearly at the same items these days reading the Journals of Fr. Alexander Shmeman where rises these so essential questions for the Church and those you touch are among them. But I think you know this book of course.

An effort to open the holy doors to the converts brought up without Orthodox tradition and culture and having so much misunderstanding in Orthodoxy is fruitless outside of the eschatological realization of the faith. And another moment that is VERY important is that of the LITURGY, the sense of the Christianity, as he traced through the sources and his own experience had been gradually moved aside by the Church itself within the history. Through the mystery of Eucharist the Church should have had to make the opposite ends meet, to get the support for Her Life in secular world with all the things appeared on the stage within the history – but instead of nourishment from Heaven, instead of Heavenly Bread and Wine, instead of Body and Blood – the parishioners drink the waters of forgetfulness of the most centered. And ethno-confessional groups is so strange phenomena in Christianity (but this really exists, I can only imagine, but yes) where if it is life in Christ then ‘neither Greek not Jewish’. But the point is the Church by life somehow outside of Christ…How to survive? In full participation, in complete delivery themselves to the Cup during the anaphora, in the real life of that which is SERVICE in the Liturgy – in order to get this gifts from God – blessed love between brothers and sisters – as without Him, in any case, we are not able to create anything. So I think some light might be found in this 'problem' in the diving with all parts of the body into the Eucharist.

So, how does this sense of being a "stranger" help me in my own struggle to enter into being Christ-like?

I let myself note that Christ was not a 'stranger' to the world - (how God can be the stranger to what He created by Himself? - impossible - and the God is not intellegenzia measuring things under own ideas - God knows the world and His knowing is not the experience of the stranger in that sense we put into this term - even giving so inspired like you did), to its troubles and hopes, but He was as the stranger to the religion (sorry but Al. Shmeman again) with its permanent dissatisfaction in all, with its permanent desire to settle things the most comfortable way in its own design. And so we have the present world (not all of course but that one I think we are discussing here now) designed under the worst religious form and in the opposite we have the secular world which is, though its paradoxically but it is true, which is more close to Christ. As it is of life, and death, of changes and lilies, of Greek and Jewish but not Plato’s ‘ideas’ of all alive things. Namely these things of world should be resurrected.

How does the sense of stranger – I dare to hope in this His – Look at the lilies – do you see? People often pay attention to some another meaning (do not trouble of the day’s care for themselves etc.) but the first is more beautiful here – look at the world – not the ‘fallen’ world – He with this His request as if asks – stop searching better for yourself, even stop asking forgiveness (you will not ASK it authentically all the same) but look at the lilies – they are future – and what we are searching finally – indeed only future – even next instant, it is my breathing - but is the future, though it is, yes, rooted in now. Look at lilies - here is the world of 'an ideal stranger' -

Maybe in this sense today.

And practically ready to put my sign under each line of your these last articles. So deep they are, and sincere. Thank you.

Barnabas said...

Proserpine,

Thank you for your words. Yes, I know Fr. Alexander's works well. His "Eucharist" and "For the Life of the World" were instrumental in bringing me to Orthodoxy.

I consider him a great benefactor to those of us converts who seek to be healed from religion and brought to the fullness of the faith in Christ.

Again, thank you for your words. They go hand in hand with my own conclusions in my own struggle.

We must find our center in the Eucharist. We must find our peace in the Mystery of faith. While at the same time not falling into the trap of religion and forget to love our neighbors.

I beg your holy prayers.

Barnabas