Monday, March 29, 2010

Bridegroom Bellies

Tonight, Hope attended her first Bridegroom Matins. She fell asleep for about the last quarter of it, poor thing.

She is getting to the age where she questions why we go to church. Why we go to Church a lot. Why we go to church...and other family members don't. Or why they go to different kinds of churches.

And she's a typical kid. Church is long. Church is boring (except when, like last Sunday, she went in procession around Three Hierarchs' Chapel with her palm branch). So cool.

Oh, she's smart. Smart enough to know that Mommy and Papi think church is way important, so she's not going to say too much against church. And she does love communion; she's always disappointed if we go to church and there's not going to be communion (Kate is more of a coffee hour junkie at the moment, incidentally).

So we walked, just she and I, down the hill and around the creek to the seminary chapel. Kids have a marvelous way of helping you cut through the crap. "What's 'Bridegroom'?" she asks.

"Well," I answer in Spanish, "a novio is the boy that a girl gets married to. And, um, does the girl go back and live with her mommy and papi after getting married, or does she live with her husband?"

"Her husband!" she says with a smile. The very thought of its being otherwise is silly, as she has seen Mommy and Papi's wedding album and knows about these things as only a 4 ("and a half!") year-old can.

"Right. Well, Jesus is our novio, and we were in our boxes"--this is how we refer to coffins, as she knows about death--"but He loves us so much that He comes down to our boxes after He goes to the Cross, and He does that to bring us back up to His home."

"¿El cielo?"

"Sí, mami."

"Why did He go to the Cross?"

"Because of us."

"Why did we put Him on the Cross?"

"Well, our sins keep us in our boxes."

"So, He has to come and limpiar el mugre of us?"

"That's right."

No response after that. It's these kind of things that keep parents up. I know that there's no guarantee on a tit-for-tat, "Your kids will stay faithful as long as you do" arrangement with God. But something basic, something foundational, for her to hold on to, for her to grapple with an elementary context of faith and thus come to grips with the One who trampled down death by death for her, for us...this is what I hope for.

Another no-responder (though I swear she'll bring this stuff up a month, six months, a year from now): She looked up at Fr. John Behr, decked out in black vestments with the gospel book perched in front of him on the head of a deacon and, while he read a diatribe against the Pharisees that would make any seminarian cringe, she turned and asked me:

"Papi, how do they [the clergy] know God?"

I said the only thing I knew to say: "De la Biblia y de la Comunión, Mami, igual que todos nosotros."

Through the opening of the Scriptures, and the breaking of the Bread.

The Jordanville Prayerbook says that, when making the sign of the Cross, we "touch the brow, the belly, and the right and left shoulders, and make a slight bow." One of the first things I noticed about Orthodox praxis was the markedly different way in which Eastern Rite Christians made the sign of the Cross. Not only was it "backwards" in terms of the shoulders, but the tendency of Roman Catholics to touch the chest was different from the usually larger Cross the Orthodox made on themselves. That we are to crucify our bellies is a huge part of who we are (or should be) as Orthodox Christians.

Metropolitan Jonah came to SVS for the Feast of the Annunciation and, in his homily, spoke of how the Mother of God had believed the word of the Lord and, because of that, the Word was made flesh. We are all called, being members of the Church that is to be the Virgin--giving herself to no one but Her Bridegroom--and the Mother--the spiritual nourisher and the place of our birth into the Kingdom of God--to hear the Word of God by which all men live and, in seeing it as being the chief upholder of our life, break ourselves of our reflexive addiction to creature comforts, approval ratings, midnight fridge raids or anything else--and thus prepare a manger in our souls for the Word of God who comes to be formed and born in us.

Yet we know that we are "not worthy nor sufficient that [God] shouldst enter under [our roofs] into the habitation of [our souls], for [they are] all deserted and in ruins and...not a fitting place" for the divine One Who has come through hearing to lay His head. The faith has been planted, the confession made, the kerygma believed. It is in the community of like-confessing brethren that the fruit of that labor of faith comes to pass. As Fr. Alexander Schmemann said (and here I paraphrase because my copy of his journals is in a dark room with a sleeping pregnant woman and I dare not tread to get it), in the early Church, Christ was brought to be mystically present in the Eucharist because He was really present in the midst of the people's common, confessed faith; nowadays Christ is thought to be present because of what the Eucharist is, all by itself. We hear and we receive. We act on what we hear and we rejoice, for at the end of it, we can taste and see that the Lord is good.

So really, I pray that the word spoken to Mary and rejoiced over by Elizabeth makes its way into my little Elizabeth's ears and heart, so that, when she comes to the Cup, she is ever more partaking of that which confirms, and is confirmed by, the preaching which fills her soul and body more than bread alone could ever fill her belly.


Mimi said...

What a wonderful post, you are a good dad.

Ian Climacus said...

I echo Mimi; what a joy and delight to read. Thank you for sharing.

Tracey said...

Hopie is a very smart little girl and very quizzative!!! Then again, she has always been this way! You and Audra have done an amazing job of raising her and Kate!!!