Greetings from the ever-sparser apartment in Crestwood.
Craigslist has been claiming one piece of furniture after another so as to make room in the POD for the move. Boxes take their places; all the while we're helping dear friends from the last three years load up their belongings as well. Good-byes, together with sober glances that confirm that, yeah, we're all getting ready to jump off into God-knows-what. Prayer for someone becomes a lot more concrete when you're getting ready to walk the same road yourself.
I helped one fellow into his moving van in the rain, and we remembered it was raining when we got here. The front hall outside our room was flooding; he and I had to go outside to dig a ditch to divert the accumulating rain. Welcome to St. Vlad's.
We're leaving as priests, me and most of the guys I'm closest to. I think that has to do more with age than with office--the ordained are already married, and on the whole older by seven to ten years than the single folks, and we just run in different circles, have different priorities. It's strange, since in seminary you can't swing a stick without snagging a cassock, your office doesn't stand out hardly at all (Random Spanish trivia: Just like corporate bosses are known as "the suits," clergy in Latin America were known as "Las Sotanas"--"The Cassocks."). But a few things...
I was ordained March 18th, as the last time I posted here attests. Priests are ordained right after the Great Entrance in the Orthodox Church, and we stop, holding the aer (communion veil) over our heads in front of the center icon podium. I did not do this, though I had seen plenty of other seminarians stand there--maybe I didn't stop because no one actually said "stop there," but when I kept going, Fr. John Behr turned and said, "Go and stand before the Cross" (in the center icon podium). I don't know what it is about Americans and British NOT understanding things said straight to their face, but I would have sworn he said, "Go and sing 'Before Thy Cross.'" What, right now?! I'm thinking. Another priest said, in American, "Go stand on the other side of the Cross." Ah. Right. Snafu ended.
So I'm there, aer that usually goes over communion over my head, looking at the crucified Christ. And so here's where I'd expect to think, "I'm going to be crucified like Jesus, horribly mistreated, martyred," or somesuch. What actually came up was, in general, I am Jesus' man. Exclusively. Not in a Petrine, "Lord, I am willing to die with you" kind of bravado, but just that I'm marked for that sort of "scandal of particularity" that you read about, that confession of Jesus of Nazareth, specifically and explicitly. And this was followed by, And my job is to help other see that they're Jesus', too. How that plays out for them.
Then there's the preparation of communion. I'd heard some new priests gush over how amazing it was to pick up the Eucharist with your hands, take communion that way, etc. Well, we all used to do it that way centuries ago, but whatever--that's not what struck me. What struck me was watching a priest--any priest, didn't matter--take the Lamb that we confess to be Christ Himself, and manipulate, turn, cut, and gouge it deeply. I get angry and feel violated when somebody points a finger in my face or steals my daughter's bike (this happened earlier in the semester); here's God allowing guys who are all too human to handle Him and slice Him into pieces. That's divine stillness for you.
And the sinfulness of the priest--which doesn't affect the sacrament itself, thank God--does bring up another issue: The care taken in the altar (one hopes) towards the materials of the Eucharist, the liturgical instruments, the gestures, etc., reflect an understanding that it really is only in response to the faithfulness of Christ to the petition of the assembly. I've often said that, the longer I'm Orthodox, the more I'm convinced that, if our liturgical actions somehow force God's meritorious favor towards us, He must be ridiculously easy to impress. Communion is serious business because Christ said He would be there. We have no guarantee or ability to prove that, but we seek to express our belief in His presence through solemn acts of worship and praise.
My wife pulled me to the side today and said, "Here's what I've learned in seminary: A priest needs to say simple things, over and over again, so the people get it."
I have visited our parish in Miami and served in Spanish, seeing how things are laid out, seeing what needs to be done, prepared, etc. Our small, SVS mission group departs day after tomorrow--or, tomorrow, seeing that it's past midnight--for a week at the Guatemala orphanage. We'll serve Pentecost there, of course in Spanish. Your prayers are always coveted and welcome.