Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Bright Week

Classes at SVS are cancelled during this festal week, so Audra, the girls and I have been enjoying the time off. We went to Wave Hill yesterday--a public garden and cultural center--following a Paschal Divine Liturgy, and got to run around on the lawns playing tag and hide-and-go-seek. The girls loved walking around, and what flowers were in bloom at the time made for great conversation.

We had a picnic first thing, and what was immediately apparent (and had been since we had entered the neighborhood in our van) was that a Conservative or Orthodox synagogue was apparently letting out the final Passover service at that time; we had some great conversations with several young, very friendly Jewish families. It always touches me to see people--and usually they are young, very open, friendly types--wearing a yarmulke and a tallit with the knotted tzitzit hanging down. In an age where plastic religion-as-commodity reigns near-supreme as a category of one's life one otherwise ignores (along with the people and practices it entails), these folks were carrying on the very earthy traditions of their forebears, not merely content to eat near one another (coffee hour, anyone?), but to walk dishes over from one table to another (one woman asked "Why did we pack food for ourselves, again?) and to eat off one another's plates.

One of the men heard me speaking with the girls in Spanish and began to speak with me in Spanish as well. He'd been a bilingual elementary school teacher. When he found out what I do at the moment, we got to talking about festal periods. He was quite pleasantly surprised to hear that Orthodox Christians do not normally refer to Easter as "Easter," but rather as Πάσχα, the Greek transliteration of "Passover." Like them, as well, the main festal day is followed by an afterfeast, in our case a week-long lifting of fasting of any sort. He seemed to be unaware that any Christian sect existed that still maintained so much of a Jewish ethos, at least "on the books." Even more surprising, now that I think about it, must have been that the Russian Orthodox Church, of all things, did this. What really floored him was that, after inquiring about the period of Lent (what it was, what it entailed, etc), I showed him how, just as Lent is 50 days prior to Pascha*, the celebration of Pascha extends 50 days forward to Shavuot (שבועות‎), or Pentecost.

A friend of his at the picnic, Avi, a Rabbinical student at JTS, shook my hand and asked about how our Church runs. All over the place, I wanted to say. He was referring to the central bishop of Rome presiding over the Roman Catholics, however, and when I said that each Orthodox congregation is under its local bishop, and that all the bishops meet in council, he was impressed, as this is much like how the rabbis govern synagogues. He asked if all the bishops meet every year. Thoughts of how hard its been even to get Chambesy going flashed through my mind, but I said, no, not unless there's a really major crisis do they get together in council. We paused for a beat, then both got these wry smirks on our faces. "And as you probably know," I said, "oftentimes it's probably just better that they leave each other be." Indeed.

The conversation reminded me of my days looking into Messianic Judaism. There was a time when I was very much interested in all things Hebrewish; I can say that my openness to this sort of thing left me open to Eastern Christianity, though it also alerted me to a very curious thing. When one thinks they have an idea about what they want--"The New Testament Church," "The Pure Community of the Messiah," etc--and they encounter the community which is itself everything which one's idea was attempting to be, the cognitive dissonance which results can be substantial. When I was actually confronted with real Semitic music--Syrio-Byzantine chant--as opposed to charismatic worship choruses in a minor key with a splash of badly-pronounced Hebrew thrown in, I discovered that I truly did not have a taste for it (then, at least). When I saw a Gospel book procession and saw a sacrifice held up on behalf of all and for all at the hands of robed priests done "again and again" instead of wild, ecstatic dancers with ribbons and leotards, well, I knew I was in for more than I'd bargained for. Nevertheless, the rhythm of fast and feast, of authority and liturgy, has rooted me in a place where I can connect more authentically with people of a truly Ancient Faith.

The four of us will be heading out tomorrow morning early to go to the Monastery of the Transfiguration in Ellwood City, PA for a long weekend away. It is always a blessing to "recharge" at a place devoted to rootedness and ascetic prayer, but this will come special to us, firstly because it will be a return visit for Audra--she came with a few women from our parish back in Ft. Worth several years back and experienced an inspiring presence there that has helped her continue to deepen her walk in the faith since then--and it will be an opportunity for this seminarian to enjoy quiet and prayer without having to preoccupy myself with a blessed thing with regard to the services. Your prayers during our journey would be appreciated.

Christ is risen!

*(The Orthodox do not consider Holy Week, the week before Pascha, to be a part of Lent proper, which is a straight-through, 40-day period (including Sundays) prior to the weekend before Holy Week. When the weekend prior to Holy Week and Holy Week itself are added to the period of Lent, it makes for a 50-day fasting period prior to Pascha.)

1 comment:

Ian Climacus said...

Truly He is Risen!

My unworthy prayers for you and our family for the journey and stay at the Monastery of the Transfiguration. And thank you for sharing of your journey and the experiences at the picnic; a joy to read. Thank you.