Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Women Rock. And Don't Let Anyone Try To Convince You Otherwise.

Last November (2010) I dedicated the month to "Women Who Rock".  I wrote about a few women from various periods of history.  There was the smokin', drinkin' nun who rescued children from the Nazi's, Mother Maria Skobtsova, in the 20th century and then there was the 4th century beauty queen turned fearless witness for Christianity St. Katherine.  I also wrote about a famous American woman, who had TWELVE children, but still managed to get various degrees, serve as an advisor to several US presidents, and was an engineer, Lillian Moller Gilbreth.

They rocked. All women rock. If you are a woman and are reading this, you rock. And don't let anyone try to convince you otherwise. 

In October, I want to present my case as to what I think true feminist is or should be, and she's no shrinking violet.  However, a real feminist to me is not a woman trying to be like a man.  Let the men do their own thing.  There is a difference between men and women, and it's okay.   My husband is physically stronger than I, and I don't care that I have to go to him to open a jar of pickles.  I don't feel inferior to him because there are things that he can do that I can't.  I know some women have a huge problem with Orthodox Christianity and Roman Catholicism because women are not permitted to hold the office of priest. Quite honestly, I don't have a problem with that.  I have never viewed it as anti-woman or some sort conspiracy to keep women down.  As a matter of fact, the most honored human being in the Orthodox Christian and Roman Catholic Church is A WOMAN!!!!  And, the Virgin Mary was no push-over for sure.  Without the Virgin Mary's un-coerced consent (the Archangel Gabriel did not threaten her to agree to carry a child while being unwed), there is no Messiah entering into the world, hence no crucifixion, no resurrection, and ultimately no salvation.  The fact that women cannot be priests is so minuscule of a matter when you realize that there would be no priesthood in the Church at all if had not been for a woman agreeing to a take on such an enormous responsibility. (Here's the story in case you are unfamiliar with the details. Luke 1:26-56) 

Again, these won't be male-bashing posts.  I am married to a man and I have a son. Obviously, I don't hate men.  And I do believe that men are more "useful" than just for opening the lids of jars. (I chose the word "useful" as a joke.  In reality I find it to be a disgusting word when applied to human beings.)   It is just that I am also the mother of two girls, so it is very important to me to expose the falsities of how American culture portrays women to them and what the reality of the situation is.  I am very very close to banning television in my home for this very reason.   When our culture preaches that the entertainer Madonna opened so many doors for women in regards to expressing their sexuality, I have to honestly counter that by saying (and truly believing!) that she set us back into slavery.  She is a businesswoman, a self-proclaimed "Material Girl", nothing more, nothing less.   Sex sells and she took advantage of that.  From an American capitalist point of view, you could say "Bravo Madonna! Well done! You can now afford to buy and do whatever you like! American dream accomplished!" But from where I sit and observe, women, now more than ever, believe their self worth is based on how much men desire them and they can "get" through manipulation of that desire, a truly heinous and potentially deadly lie.      

See you all in October.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Death, post 5, Death and Mercy

This is the last post on death for the time being.  I have not been exhaustive on the topic by any stretch of the imagination.  As I mentioned in the first few posts there are many different facets to the topic, and I ended up approaching death by explaining what it means as an Orthodox Christian to be "dead to the world" and to live one's life with the end in mind, and the remembrance of death is the vital means to this end.  I gave both the ordinary example of my simple grandfather who lived as a layman (a carpenter by trade) and the extraordinary example of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco.

Some people may make the argument that living your life with the end in mind is depressing and robs you of everyday joy.  An atheist that does not believe in an afterlife or a Christian that believes that they are already "saved" and hence somehow will avoid judgment may say this I suppose.  But to those of us that believe that our actions (or inactions) actually have eternal consequences, remembering that our lives can end at any given moment (google September 11, 2001 for details) should keep us in check.  Living a self-examined life and continually confessing and changing those areas that fall short of what God asks from us is really the only way to prepare ourselves for the inevitable judgment.  However, the more and more we tie ourselves up with unnecessary cares of this world, the more and more impossible this becomes.  Being dead to the world doesn't mean ignoring all other people and focusing on yourself.  It is forgetting about your own needs, and focusing on the needs of other people.  And what do people need?  The obvious answer is, they need our love, and they need it unconditionally, regardless of whether they believe in our religious or political ideas.  And, I think, that the most important aspect of this love, is mercy and not judgment. 

Fr. Gabriel Cooke of blessed memory once relayed the following story to us one Sunday.  I think this really underscores the Orthodox Christian world view.

Fr. Gabriel had been invited to a pan-Christian event of the greater Phoenix metro area.  Leaders of various Christian denominations gathered together for a general discussion of ideas and the topic of what was to be hoped for at the Last Judgment came up.  One pastor stood up and proclaimed "Justice!  I want justice to be done!"  This announcement brought up great applause and agreement.  After a minute or two, things settled down and Fr. Gabriel stood up and replied "Justice?  Really?  My hope is in mercy.  I will need mercy from God, because it will be in His mercy that I will be saved."  No grand applause for this comment.
Realizing that we are all in need of mercy levels the playing field.  It deflates the ego and self-righteousness dissipates.  However if we occupy ourselves with judging others, with obtaining more and more stuff, or with zombifying our souls with entertainment, there is no time in our self-absorbed lives to give thought to another person. It's a very hard thing and life long struggle to be sure, but this being "dead to the world" is the only way.

Here's a quote from St. Innocent of Alaska, another Orthodox saint of North America.  I highly recommend his biography, St. Innocent, Apostle to America, it reads like a page turning adventure novel. The courage, the determination and above all, the love St. Innocent had for God and His children is almost beyond belief.  Anyhow, St. Innocent said the following: 

To deny oneself means to give up one's bad habits; to root out of the heart all that ties us to the world; not to cherish bad thoughts and desires; to suppress every evil thought; to avoid occasions of sin; not to desire or to do anything out of self-love, but to do everything out of love for God. To deny oneself, according to St. Paul means "to be dead to sin. . . but alive to God."
or from Jesus Christ Himself in Matthew 25:31-46:
31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ (emphasis mine)

41 “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: 42 for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; 43 I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’

44 “Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Death, post 4, Life of the Living Dead

Pretty cool title if I do say so myself.

So this next post is about the saints. Now before anyone gets their proverbial undies in a bunch, let me say one thing.  We are all called to be saints. A saint is someone who is "sanctified" or "holy".  One who is holy is someone who is separated from the ordinary.  Like the sabbath day is a holy day to be separated from the other six, so is a holy person. However, there are human beings who have lived such Christ-like, humble and loving lives that they stand out more than the rest of us "saints".  The saints that are officially recognized by the Church are those whose lives you should look to and emulate.  They made it to the end of their lives, dying to the old Adam, and living like the new Adam, Jesus Christ.  The Orthodox Church bestows them with the title "St. So-and-So".   We have feast days and icons to remember these amazing men, women and children, and their continual intercessions are before the throne of God. (Revelation 5:7-9).     

Now it goes without saying, that there are tens of millions of others who qualify for this honor, however they lived and died without anyone really knowing about them.  My own grandfather was eulogized as "a saint walking among us".  He lived humbly and quietly. He glorified God at all times not only with his mouth, but more importantly with his actions.  He did not spend his life in vain pursuit of money or glory, but kept his eye on the end.  Will there ever be a "St. John of Syracuse" with an icon painted of him?  Probably not.  However, there is no doubt that he lived the life Christ asked him to and that he rests in Paradise.  I remember the day of his death each year because it marks the successful end of a life lived in love and truth, and the day he entered into the life he had been working towards.  My grandfather did not leave me money, real estate or any other item that is deemed as important or having value by this passing and corrupt world.   He left me his example of his life, one lived within the bosom of the Orthodox Christian church, fed by her sacraments and the understanding of the Scriptures as passed down from the other saints through the 2000 years of the Church's life.

Anyhow..back to death. The saints are death-conscious individuals.  They put off the old man, and day by day they become more and more like Christ, fulfilling their "death" in baptism.  And as this happens, the natural result (although people call it supernatural because it is so different from the reality of our present distorted world)  is that they too are able to heal people of sickness, avert disasters and the like.  The following is just a very minuscule example from the modern day life of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco, who passed into eternal life in 1966. 
The miracle-working power and clairvoyance of Saint John were well known in Shanghai. Once, during Bright Week, Saint John came to the Jewish hospital to visit the Orthodox [Christian] patients there. Passing through one ward, he stopped in front of a screen, concealing the bed upon which an elderly Jewish woman lay dying. Her family members were awaiting her death nearby. The Saint raised a cross above the screen and loudly proclaimed: Christ is Risen! upon which the dying woman regained consciousness and asked for water. The Saint approached the nurse and said, the patient wants to drink. The medical staff was stunned by the change which had taken place in one who only moments earlier was dying. Soon the woman recovered and was discharged from the hospital. Such incidents were numerous.
It so happened that Saint John was urgently called to administer Holy Communion to a dying man in the hospital. Having taken the Holy Gifts, the Saint headed there with another clergyman. When they arrived they saw a young man, about 20 years of age, playing on a harmonica. He had already recovered and was to leave the hospital shortly. The Saint called him over saying, I want to give you Holy Communion right now. The young man immediately came up to him, confessed, and received Holy Communion. The amazed clergyman asked Saint John why he did not go to the one dying, but detained himself with an obviously healthy young man. The Saint answered simply, He will die tonight, but the other, who is seriously ill, will live yet many years. That is precisely what came to pass. The Lord manifested similar miracles in Europe and America through His Saint.
This is not unusual.  Just the result of a person who lives in deep humility and with great love for God and every human being. Here's more on St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco.  I also recommend the book Blessed John the Wonderworker, published by St. Herman Press.  A quick google will give you tons of information as well.   To this very day, St. John still prays for those of us still struggling in this life.  The miracles are countless and true. Prayer services are done every Saturday at his tomb where you can have your name and/or the name(s) of those needing God's help read. [click here to do so].  The testimonies to his intercession before God are everywhere by all different kinds of people.  Here is a short podcast (about 20 minutes or so) of one such encounter from the Illumined Heart.
Well, that was a long post.  I think I'll do one more post on death and then head on into mercy.  I leave you today with these parting words that were spoken about St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco. I think it really sums up what I have been trying to say.

In these frightening days of general apostasy from God, the Lord has not abandoned his people and has sent them a great intercessor. Standing before the throne of God is a courageous defender of the Church of Christ; a struggler and ascetic according to the tradition of the stylites who took upon themselves the strictest form of self-mortification and, at times, taking upon themselves foolishness for Christ's sake, which exceeds the wisdom of this world; a good and loving pastor who laid down his life for his sheep; a teacher and nurturer of Orthodox youth; a miracle-worker and unmercenary healer; an apostle and missionary; a deep theologian; a beholder of mysteries and a hierarch of universal significance, who unwaveringly followed that which he had promised before God and men in his testimony read during his election to the episcopacy: What greater benefit can one bring to one's neighbor, other than to prepare him for eternal life…