Wednesday, December 30, 2020

A Missing Generation in Orthodox America - Concluding Thoughts


That last post didn't complete my story.  I didn't suddenly become holy or righteous or perfect or so happy or whatever people assume happens next.  What did happen was healing.  And I can't really explain how it happened or give you a timetable, but with my return to the Church and intentional and conscious participation in the Church's mysteries, I am healing, I am being saved.  That is salvation.    

As an aside, I haven't received any psychological counseling (which there is nothing wrong with by the way).  I don't take medications, I don't do drugs nor do I drink regularly (except for an occasional glass or two of wine).  I'm not exceedingly wealthy without financial cares.  I say this so that you can understand that there isn't any other explanation for this transformation of the damaged young woman that I once was.  The insane crippling anxiety diminished considerably after my first honest confession. It was and remains a mystery. And while it is unexplainable, I know nothing to be truer. As God as my witness, I'm not lying about this.  He was there, He knows.  And the most astonishing part about this was that I did not expect it to happen.  I didn't walk into that Church knowing that this would be the result.  But it was.  I could breathe. It was God's Grace and it was physically and emotionally perceptible to me. Intangible but tangible at the same time.  It was a gift that I didn't expect much less deserve and it taught me volumes about the love of God.  And as I continue to live within the bosom of the Church, the healing continues. It's not over by any stretch.  

And so my dear readers, if you are estranged from the Church, be a stranger no more. If you are considering entering Orthodoxy from another tradition, you too can be a partaker of this Inexhaustible Cup.  Taste and see that the Lord is good. I was the prodigal daughter and He didn't turn me away.  Instead He waited for me to come home and ran to embrace me.  I swear to you, I'm not making this up and He waits for you too.  Jesus Christ is the Truth and the Truth will set you free.  He did for me.  



Monday, December 28, 2020

A Missing Generation in Orthodox Christian America - The Return


I am a quiet person by nature.  I don't like to speak up in large groups and, for a variety of reasons, I am apprehensive to ask for assistance.  I know some it has to do with the fear of being rejected, and some of it has to do with the fear of being mocked for even asking the question and, truth be told, some of it has to do with flat out pride, as in "I don't need anyone's help".  As I've aged I have made some progress in this area, Glory to God. So for me to reach out to a priest I don't know other than through a person that I happened to randomly meet was a HUGE deal. 

I'll have you know dear reader that I did not immediately call Fr. Gabriel.  The encounter at the lab was in late October of 2002 and I didn't reach out to him until January of 2003.  My anxiety and fear of what he would say to me held me back.  I was terrified of priests.  Growing up, the two priests that I had the most interaction with had been very strict and at least in my recollection as a child, were not forgiving or understanding people.  Whether in reality this was true, I can't tell you for sure, however those were my perceptions.  I hold no ill will towards either of them at all, and as an adult I can understand why they were the way they were.  I pray for both of them daily and I think we oftentimes forget that the clergy are human beings.  They aren't perfect, and especially when you add the additional responsibility of being married with children, I can't even begin to imagine the burdens that they must carry. 

So, it took me about 3 months to muster up the courage to call Fr. Gabriel and set up an appointment to talk with him, but I did it. 

Fr. Gabriel was a small man with a kind presence. He was an unmarried priest-monk without any airs of superiority who simply sat and listened. Not wanting to freak the guy out, I was extremely hesitant to tell him much about my past other that the basics of where I was from, my marital status etc., nothing too personal at all.  I explained that although I had been raised Orthodox, other than what I've learned from reading a few books, I didn't understand much. Fr. Gabriel simply sat and listened and nodded while I spoke.  Finally, when I was done, he began to speak.  He told me how good it was that I came to see him and that the things that I told him were very common to many people my age. He gave me a prayer book to borrow until I bought my own and he told me to come back and we could talk some more. No judging, no condescension, no lecture. 

You'd think after this first meeting that I would have immediately started going to services, but I didn't.  It wasn't until I had spoken to Fr. Gabriel once or twice more that I finally mustered up the courage to go. I really did not want to talk to other people at the church.  I wanted to be left alone to figure some things out and I didn't want to have to explain to other people why I hadn't been going to church for all of those years.  My first conscious and deliberate return date to the Church was February 23, 2003.  Unbeknownst to me at the time, that was also the Sunday of the Prodigal Son. And, about one month later, I found out that I was pregnant with my second child, right around the time of the Feast of the Annunciation.  

There is still more to say about this which will be done in one final post later this week.


Saturday, December 26, 2020

A Missing Generation in Orthodox Christian America - Not coincidence, but providence

As I've aged there are a few things that I know to be absolutely true (aside from Orthodoxy, of course).  One of these things pertains to coincidences.  My conclusion is that they don't exist in their popular understanding. I mean, they happen of course, but it's not some random event with no connection to other things.  I can look back on things that were seemingly random but upon deeper consideration, were not at all arbitrary experiences but instead, providence. 

Unfortunately during this time in which I was fumbling my way around to the Church, I suffered two miscarriages, and as a result, blood work had to be done to see if there was something amiss.  So I go to the lab, have a seat and finally, after just a short while, my name is called and I walk back to the little station and nervously wait for the phlebotomist. After a few minutes she arrives and probably by looking at my anxious face, she starts making pleasant small talk.  As she's reaching for my arm to put that stretchy plastic band around it, I immediately notice the three-bar cross hanging around her neck.  For whatever reason I blurt out "Are you Orthodox?" to which she happily affirmed that she was and told me the name of her parish.  I then, again quite boldly, asked her "How's the priest?" This wonderful lady then began to gush about the kindness, sweetness and gentle-ness of the priest-monk who was the pastor of her church.  She finally asked me if I was Orthodox and I answered that I was but I wasn't really going anywhere.  Her reply of course was that I needed to come to her parish and meet the priest, Father Gabriel, who would certainly speak with me and don't worry, he's very approachable. I don't remember exactly what I said next but I think I just nodded and agreed and that was the end of it. 

Or rather, the beginning of it.

Next post, Fr. Gabriel.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

A Missing Generation in Orthodox Christian America - Post 9/11

(Sorry for the delay in posts.  I went back to work as a teacher in July and with the current state of affairs, I was working 12-14 hours/day doing my best to teach virtually. For the time being we are back in person, so things have settled down to the usual 10-11 hours/day affording a little free time).

On a personal level, my husband had known quite a few people who died in the Towers.  Former co-workers, childhood friends and even his Little League coach were among the dead.  I had really only known one of the them well, but the whole event was crushing.  The deaths were sudden and violent and added exponentially to my already anxious disposition.  Was I on God's proverbial death docket? 

If you are old enough to remember those first few months post-9/11, you will recall all sorts of pontificating of why God allowed this to happen, and who exactly does God favor and who God does not favor.  Who does He love and who doesn't He love.  The popular American preachers of the day were loud and clear...believe what I believe about God and you'll be fine and saved.  

For a very small while, I listened attentively to this and gave their ideas some true consideration. It was easy to do. They were all over the television and the Internet. Easy access.  But in my gut, this all seemed forced and inauthentic.  

Their pervading message was everyone who didn't think like them was going to hell.  If you didn't live the perfect life and have perfect thoughts, you were not loved by God.  If you did not tithe, you were not loved by God.  If you did not have material blessings, it was evidence that you were not loved by God. The list went on and on.  There were so many things that restricted God from loving me. Additionally, I would talk to evangelical Christians and there was no depth to them. Their "theology" had so many holes in it, that I was embarrassed for them.  Their pastors were taking advantage of their naiveté and so that all that these people could do was regurgitate what had been fed to them.  I'd try to talk about God and spiritual matters but it would always come back to canned phrases that were not in the least bit sensical.  When I'd ask where the Bible came from, the response was always "from God".  Yes, it was, but there had to be actual people who assembled the book, no? It didn't simply fall from the sky in a published format. I'd either get crickets or they would say the same words again but this time with a hint of disdain, "It came from God."  Okey dokey.  

I don't doubt that some of these folks love Christ with every ounce of their being, but honestly their version of God was one who was demanding, quite fickle and had it out for people like me.  And, apparently a God who didn't want you asking questions. The only good thing that came out of this was that I purchased my first Bible.  I had to see for myself whether these ideas were true or not because if Evangelicals were good at anything, it was quoting the Bible.  But that purchase didn't come until after a "chance" encounter with a phlebotomist who was wearing a three-bar cross.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

A Missing Generation in Orthodox Christian America - Unarmed in the World

I'm really struggling with this post and I'm not quite sure how to proceed except to just say what I know to be true and what I experienced.  

I entered college as a naive child and unarmed to face the American college experience.  While I "identified"as an Orthodox Christian, I had very little knowledge as to what that even meant.  Other than a comical encounter with a well-meaning member of Campus Crusade for Christ, and one trip to a local Orthodox Church for Pascha my sophomore year (I showed up late and was there for maybe 15 minutes), that was pretty much it for God in college.    

Without going into the details of my four years, it should suffice to say that I left college deeply wounded.  I made the same choices as many other college kids but for some reason, I seemed to have come up much much worse for the wear than everyone else.  My relationship with my parents was dysfunctional at that point.  My father was trying to make a go of a new business venture and there were so many stressors involved with that.  My mother had her own struggles that interfered with us having a close relationship for many years, so there was no trusting relationship that so many of my other friends seemed to have with their mothers. Nor did I have any older siblings or family members or trusted adults that could help.  I really had not a single person in whom to turn.  My close friends did not understand and their advice was "you shouldn't feel that way." I know they were only trying to be helpful and we all existed on the same plane of maturity, but that common phrase didn't help at all .  Sadly, the end result of all of this was extreme anxiety and feelings of abandonment and isolation.  

I kept trucking along though.  I moved to the big city and got myself busy.  And when I wasn't busy, I depended on music and TV to drown out those incessant thoughts that told me how unworthy of a human being I was. I could not bear silence because those painful memories would rush back to attack. And although I still remained nonreligious, I was in a panicked state that God was now looking for the opportunity to throw me into hell.  Paranoia at its finest.  Thankfully, I was never suicidal although I fully understand how many people could end up in that place. The paralyzing fear of divine judgement from a vengeful and unforgiving deity was so deeply ingrained in me that it wouldn't allow for such thoughts. I did NOT want to die. 

In this distressing spiritual and psychological state, I continued to push onward.  I married and had a child who was brought into the Church because that's what you are supposed to do. I worked full-time until we moved to a place that would allow me to stay at home to raise a family. However, after the initial busyness of the move was over, the thoughts returned and churned over and over and over.  Fear continued to rule my life.  A few months after moving into our new home, I had a difficult and scary miscarriage, and then almost four months later, 9/11. September 11, 2001...the day that forced every human to confront their mortality.  The very thing I had been avoiding for the past ten years.




Friday, July 10, 2020

A Missing Generation in Orthodox Christian America - The "When In Rome" Ideology - Part 2

I have one of my daughters read my posts before I publish them and she has a valid complaint which is that my posts are not very in-depth.  And I agree.  I know I could be much more thorough if this was a podcast but I don't have the resources for that. I could talk for hours on end about Orthodoxy and this topic in particular, but I don't know if any one really cares to listen. To remediate this problem, I will try to put more meat into my posts from here on out.
So back to money.

It is no great revelation that money can be ruinous.  There was a time when I thought winning the Powerball would be the single greatest thing to happen to me.  Now, with half a century of life experience under my belt, I know that winning an enormous amount of money would send me straight to hell.  How do I know that?  Because I notice a change in myself when I have a decent amount  of money in my hands.  It's really bizarre. I become carefree and arrogant and I have to struggle to be vigilant with my behavior. Maybe that's not you, but it is definitely me. Yeah we could kid ourselves and say that we would give it all away or some other rationalization, but the hard truth is, when you have excessive amounts of money, you have no need for Christ. 

With money, supposedly, you can buy your way out of suffering.  Or buy things that will ease the suffering.  And it can be as simple as a buck for a candy bar or as extravagant as a vacation home on a private island.  Doesn't matter, you feel the power with both. And I don't think I'm too far off when I hear people vehemently demanding the redistribution of wealth that it isn't so much about the cash as it is about the power and control that comes with it.  The desire to control the outcomes in our lives is all tied back to money.  Maybe when I'm all done with this series I'll loop back around to suffering and control.  Fun stuff.

Now back to our story...

My father grew up the son of a poor immigrant father.  My grandfather did not speak English very well and had low-level jobs to keep the family afloat.  As most kids would, my father struggled with this.  It's not easy to be poor and ethnic in America and not fit into that WASP stereotype.  And without Christ, it is a constant life of suffering, anger and malcontent. My dad's MO, whether it was a conscious effort or not, was to get out of it.  

Although both of his parents were Orthodox Christians, from what I can gather, it doesn't appear that Orthodoxy was at the heart of their home. They went to services and festivals and I'm pretty sure that my dad went to Sunday school, but I never heard my father talk about God.  So when my dad married my mom and ventured out into the corporate world in the late 60's, he was not guided by God but rather the desire to escape the poverty and social subjugation of his upbringing.  In my formative years so much of what my parents talked and argued about was money.  They went through wild fluctuations of having an abundance and traveling the world to a complete low of almost losing the house. So it comes as no surprise that my father raised me to be a business woman.  My entire upbringing was focused on that endpoint. 

Now, in no way do I want to make my father seem to be the bad guy here.  I adore my father and I miss his love and humor every single day.  He was a good person, loved us dearly and was our biggest cheerleader in life.  Thankfully he did come back to the Church in the last several years of his life, so while I pray for his peaceful rest every day, I have peace in my heart for him. That's another post in itself too.

Now for my mother.

My sweet suffering mother was brought up in simplicity of a pious Orthodox Christian household.  My grandfather was a carpenter and my grandmother, a housewife with an 8th grade education.  Their faith was pure.  I once walked into my grandma's room while she was praying and I felt like I had stepped into a holy scene. It took my breath away. My grandfather would roam the house singing spiritual songs and never ever raised his voice in anger.  They both supported their parish with every talent God gave them. I am undeservedly blessed to have them as my grandparents.    

My mother had no formal education beyond high school other than a certification as a medical secretary.  And although she was raised in this piety of her parents, and had years of Orthodox catechism in Sunday school (I still have her books!), this simplicity did not translate into American culture and was not passed down to us.  My mother was thrown from a quiet existence where it wasn't that important to "know" your faith because it was actually lived to an absolutely insane situation in the suburbs of NYC where this simplicity is viewed as ignorance and avarice is viewed as enlightenment.  So, my mother had to adapt to Rome and do as the Romans do.  There is no room for Orthodox Christianity and money to peacefully co-exist and given our environment, money won. My siblings and I were raised as citizens of America's Rome.  My parents did take us to church, occasionally to Sunday school and we did spend wonderful summers at an Orthodox Christian sleep-away camp.  However, the day to day life, which should have been imbued with Christ, was not.  And as a result, unfortunate things were produced in me.  

The story of me...the next post.  




Tuesday, July 7, 2020

A Missing Generation in Orthodox Christian America - The "When In Rome" Ideology - Part One

Before I start the post, here's something really cool I found about the origin of the saying "When in Rome" from a website called The Italian Notebook:

Ever heard the expression, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”?

Of course you have.

Do you know the expression’s origin? St. Ambrose, way back in 387 A.D.

As the story goes, when St. Augustine arrived in Milan to assume his role as Professor of Rhetoric for the Imperial Court, he observed that the Church did not fast on Saturdays as it did in Rome.

Confused, Agostino consulted with the wiser and older Ambrogio (Ambrose), then the Bishop of Milan, who replied: “When I am at Rome, I fast on Saturday; when I am at Milan I do not. Follow the custom of the Church where you are.”

In 1621, British author Robert Burton, in his classic writing Anatomy of Melancholy, edited St. Ambrose’s remark to read: “When they are at Rome, they do there as they see done.”

Down through the years, Burton’s turn of the St. Ambrose quote was further edited, anonymously, into what is widely repeated today on a daily basis by some traveler, somewhere, trying to adjust to his/her new or temporary surroundings.

So there you go.  My post is based (unknowingly) from an expression from a 4th century Orthodox Christian saint.  Thank you St. Ambrose.

As mentioned in the previous post, ethnicity played a large role in the lack of acceptance into American society. Unlike Irish and Italians who also arrived from Europe at about the same time, we did not have the "numbers" to warrant our own mini societies within American society.  Some parts of Pennsylvania and Ohio may have been an exception to this, but generally speaking, we didn't have the support in numbers.  In my New Jersey hometown, most people were Italian or Irish.  On Thursdays, the day of CCD, (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Roman Catholic catechism) our public school had designated buses to take the kids directly to their church.  If I had to guess, I'd say RC kids were 75-80% of our student population.  

Anyhow, my point being here that we did not have the support of a "like" religious community on a daily basis.  It was (and still is to a certain extent) isolating to be an Orthodox Christian in America.  And the only way to end the isolation was to assimilate into American culture and values.  And I don't mean the "advertised" culture of Judeo-Christian values and the American dream of having everything if you just work hard enough.  No, American culture revolves around one thing at its core and that is money.