The Reluctant Orthodox – Volume 22 “On the Baptism of a Son”

Yesterday we had the joy and privilege of attending our son’s Baptism and Chrismation into the Orthodox Church. Trying to put on paper what the soul and the heart feel is truly ‘soul-writing’ and not something done lightly, but early Friday I wrote to Jonathan and shared it at the gathering following his baptism. I have included it here, for part of my journey as a Reluctant Orthodox has been about family and watching Jonathan go through his own process has been part of mine. Thank you for being a part of this journey.

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Dear Jonathan

Tomorrow in obedience to God’s work in your life you will be baptized, entering into a new phase of your journey of faith.

You were born in Cairo on the banks of the Nile River – a veritable Moses. You came into the chaos of a family of six, taking us to the heavenly seven as well as moving us into a place where we would need a mini van for a long time. You don’t know this, but while I was pregnant with you I was anointed with oil and someone prayed specifically over you. I’ve held to that moment many times through the years. When you were born I knew a love that was infinitely bigger and stronger than my circumstances – you were perfect. And you were so long – a good five inches longer than your sister who had come 3 ½ years prior.

From young I knew you had a sensitivity to God –from when you said you “hated Jesus” while I was shutting the light off and tucking you in to when you feared for your brother Joel’s salvation after he was teasing you mercilessly one day. You are child of my heart and ‘get’ what I am trying to express spiritually before I find words to express it. I think I told you last year that you are the only one of the kids I don’t mind getting up as early as I do in the morning. Somehow we can just sit in silence and our own thoughts and know it’s all good..

And then came the hard years – years where I prayed hard, cried harder, and begged God to “please do something.” There were some gifts within that time — Extension school and Oxford. I thought Oxford was the solution – if you went away you would perhaps find God. And though it was wonderful, and you had people who reflected faith to you, in his sovereignty God brought you back. Though for a short time I think life probably felt bleaker than it had before you left.

But you began coming with us to Holy Resurrection and seemed okay with it.

It was a cold January night and you were alone in the house when you met God in a profound way. When you knelt before those icons, our windows to Heaven, in our room and prayed. It was a conversion of the truest sort. Soon after many began to come into your life and speak truth and you responded. Seraphim, Olenka, Ephraim, Zach, Sophia, Aaron, Michael – too many to name here. You began to meet with Father Patrick and experience the life of the Church.

I well remember you and I marveling over our celebration of Pascha last year. In my then 53 years of life, I had never experienced such a joyous Easter. To have priests burst forth into “Christ is Risen” in five languages every time there was even a hint of sleepy was something we couldn’t stop grinning over.

And tomorrow you are going to be baptized as a witness to your faith, a step of obedience. The changes and light I see in your life are nothing short of miraculous and my only response is to kneel before God in true thanksgiving. You have helped this reluctant Orthodox in more ways than you will ever know.

In the Third Epistle of John, the apostle John writes “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” (3 John 1:4) These are indeed the words that describe what I feel.

I love you more than words can say and close with the word of the Apostle Paul to the church in Ephesus: “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.” Ephesians 3: 20-21 

 Love from your Mom 

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The Reluctant Orthodox – Volume 20 ‘On Forgiveness & Fasting’

Even when I fast I have plenty.

This realization comes to me half way through my first week of Great Lent. When you live in a country that has more to eat during a time of fasting then much of the world does during times of feasting, you know you are a person of privilege.

Great Lent in the Orthodox Church begins with an evening Vespers and Forgiveness Sunday. I first experienced Forgiveness Sunday a year ago. In all my years of faith I have never taken part in a service like this. The principal is simple: before we can embark on the journey of Lent toward the sorrow of the cross, and on to the glory of the resurrection, it is important to reconcile with those who are walking the journey along with us. We cannot move on this path without love and forgiveness, personified in the person of Christ.

This year as I knelt before every man, woman and child in our church to ask their forgiveness and then proclaim the two powerful words “God Forgives” it was harder than last year. This year people knew me better and I knew them. There was more to annoy, more to gossip about, more to forgive, mostly more to be forgiven. This service is hard to describe. The act of bowing in humility, physically posturing yourself in an attitude of repentance is more powerful than words can articulate.

And your legs – oh how your legs hurt! The repetitive bowing is a work out of the soul to be sure, but it is also a work out of the body.

Monday dawned and with it a 6-week discipline of going without any meat or dairy products, essentially a Vegan diet. Along with this, during week days we don’t have olive oil or wine. On weekends this is relaxed and olive oil and wine are both allowed.

It has helped me to read about this. The last thing I want to do is create a legalistic behavior around the grace that is given in abundance so it helps to look at what those in the past have said about this time of fasting.  As I read I find these principles about the fast:

  1. It is to be done in community. This is huge. The fast before Lent was never designed to be a single decision and a single act. That is the westernization of the faith. Instead it was designed to be observed within a community of believers. The paradox of course is that it is also a time where we journey alone. No one else can do this for us. But they can do it with us.
  2. It must be combined with prayer. There is no way this fast can be kept without the communion and communication that prayer allows.
  3. Should not be about the ego but about obedience.
  4. It’s a time of joyful sadness – not gloom.
  5. It in no way implies a rejection of God’s creation. God’s creation is Good. All of it. The Apostle Paul tells us that nothing is unclean in itself. So we’re not to do this in rejection of creation, but rather in preparation of the great celebration of Pascha (Orthodox Easter).

True Fasting is to be converted in heart and will. To return to God. To come home like the prodigal.” From the Lenten Triodion

Above all this is not a time of legalism, but a time of grace. I love the words of Wesley J. Smith in First Things “If we see someone we know to be Orthodox eating a hamburger, it is none of our business. We have our own vegetables to fry.”

I learned a few things about myself during this first week. Things that humble me and cause me to cry out to God. I’m learning that I despise authority. I hate being told what to do. If I’m told I have to do something, even if I want to do it I’ll argue. Is that why I’m so stubborn when I hear the voice of God? I’m also learning that I love to be comfortable. And saying no to food I like, or food I want, being hungry occasionally makes me uncomfortable. Lastly, I’ve learned that I am far weaker than I think I am.

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In the Metropolitan Museum of art there is a sculpture called “The Struggle of the Two Natures in Man”. It sits in a large atrium and shows two men wrestling, one clearly more powerful than the other, as he stands over the other his foot firmly placed on the other man’s arm. This powerful and beautiful sculpture resonates with me at this time. The part of me that loves God and moves forward gladly in obedience wrestling with the part of me that whines for comfort and basks in my own will.

This is the picture I will carry with me during this time of Great Lent, knowing that God reaches out to my wrestling soul, beckoning me with a love beyond understanding. And as he persistently beckons, I slowly come. 

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