Sunday, November 4, 2012

At the Home of Demetrios and Maria

A Cranky Post Because We're Both Worn Out

“When are we leaving for Demetrios and Maria’s house?” I asked Demetrios.

“Pretty soon; you need to hurry and get ready.”

“How soon?” in alarm.

"Pretty soon!”

“Please tell me how long I’ve got!”

“Well, we’re to be downstairs by seven.”

“Okay, well, it’s twenty minutes to six right now.”

“Oh, I forgot we haven’t changed the clocks.” (We never do because this way, they’ll be right when, God willing, we return the following September.)

Six o’clock came and went. Seven came and went. At seven-twenty, I said, “Maybe you’d better phone Vasilis to make sure there’s been no misunderstanding.”

“I’ll wait a bit. Maybe it was eight o’clock.”

I picked up my knitting. My fingers flew; my needles flashed. (Or they would have, except they’re acrylic.)

Greeks have their own way of relating to time.

I hadn’t finished a row when Mena called. Her son, Vasilis, was on the way.

“Mena isn’t coming?” I asked.

“She’s vomiting today, some virus, so Vasilis is driving us.”

Mena is sick and Demetrios never even told me? He’s very, very tired. He’s not himself. Maybe he’s even coming down with the same bug as Mena. I'm pretty sure I am.

Vasilis? Is he invited to dinner? He’s, like, the wrong generation. Oh, well, I told myself, just try to be a detached observer, wait and see what happens. They must have it all worked out somehow. Let the others worry about it. It ought to be interesting. I hope Vasilis does stay for the meal.

We gathered our things (a small gift for each couple) and made our way down the elevator and out the front door just as Vasilis arrived.

We took a familiar route. Demetrios and Maria must live close to Manolis and Vasilea, I said to myself. And then we turned onto the very street.

“I thought we were going to Demetrios and Maria?” I asked.

“We are. But Manolis and Vasilea don’t know the way, so we’re driving them.”

Oh. Okay.

Turns out Ioannis and his wife Mena were already on the scene when we arrived, so THEY drove Manolis and Vasilea. (Are you still with me? Never mind.) We followed.

Away out in the country is the farm where Demetrios and Maria live. You walk into the front door, through the dining room, past the kitchen, and into the living room. Most of the floors are done up in a highly textured, shiny tile with flowers and curlicues in colors ranging from creams through tans and brown with touches of olive green. (The kitchen floor has brick-sized tiles in shades of olive green.) There is a fireplace in the far left corner of the living room, Greek-style, which means the chimney tapers as it climbs toward the ceiling. Beside that, the traditional settee of stuccoed brick, topped with a cushion to sit on and pillows for your back. Down either side of the room are various sofas, love seats, easy chairs, and small tables. In the middle, two coffee tables and two ottomans. (Is ”ottoman” a dirty word around here?)

After a little while of chatting, Manolis said, “Let’s begin.” So we all stood up and prayed. Then we sat back down. We didn’t go into any dining room.

That’s when I realized that this was not to be a dinner party. This was to be another in our series of theological discussions. So that explained why Demetrios had eaten a heavy snack just before coming here! And why Vasilis was here; he participates in all these discussions.

I need to ask more questions even if Demetrios is exhausted and prefers companionable silence. Otherwise I get quite confused. (Or I could keep track of the dates, keep a calendar or something so I’d know when these every-other Thursday meetings were going to be. Speaking of relating to time…)

The topic was marriage. I wasn’t prepared, but then apparently neither was anyone else, for the topic seemed to be decided only then and there. The text was that pesky chapter in Ephesians. You know the one I mean, the one that’s read at weddings, about how marriage is a great mystery, and the mystery is Christ and the Church. And wives are to submit to their husbands (that’s the difficult part) and men are to love their wives as Christ loves the Church and gave Himself for her, the other difficult part.

Mostly the men spoke. The women kept quiet. When asked my opinion, I said, “When you husbands love us ‘as Christ loves the Church’, then we wives find it very easy to submit to you.”

That drew laughter all around. Someone (a man, of course, who shall not be named) added, “But otherwise, don’t expect it?” Bingo! Okay, laugh, but seriously, the submission bit only works well within the Christian context of which St. Paul was writing, doesn't it? Within the context of Christ’s self-sacrificial love. Otherwise, it will become difficult in exact proportion to the husband’s bossiness. It can even become dysfunctional, as when a husband demands his wife’s collaboration in something illegal and/or immoral.

St. Peter (I Peter 5:5) writes, “All of you be subject one to another.” All of you. Because that is what love does; that is what Christ did.

Later, Vasilea gave a little speech on Christian freedom within marriage, which pleased me. And then both Manolis and Demetrios (somewhat reinvigorated, temporarily) gave their own little speeches echoing hers and adding new insights to it, which pleased me even more.

I used to think and say that in a way we’re all married to each other. I thought of saying that tonight, but saw, for the first time clearly, how wrong that is (and how misguided was my motivation in former days when I used to say it). What is true is that there is available to everyone a relationship with each other that is more intimate than marriage. All of these friends experience this. But this very thing is what Christian marriage — or, for that matter, the monastic life — is intended to foster! For married people, marriage is the seedbed of it, as for monks and nuns the monastery is. That is the primary purpose of marriage: to bring us all, starting with our spouses, into that supernatural communion with one another in Christ. It indeed transcends marriage, yet without nullifying the fact that every marriage is a unique relationship, with unique personalities, history, and challenges, and with definitely-private-not-communal facets,. It’s emphatically not that we are all married to each other. The better way of saying it would be that each of our marriages is a center of love overflowing to those around. In the case of married people, it’s not individual love, but the couple’s love — for they have become one — that flows out to mingle with the love of others and — and what? And the Great Mystery. Language fails.

There was some discussion of Jewish marriage, as in the Old Testament. Manolis said their marriage was not the Mystery that Christian marriage is. I observed, though, and Ioannis the theologian supported me, that it had a different and wonderful Mystery of its own; its primary goal was (and they think still is), ultimately to bring forth Messiah. Manolis said but the Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Yes, of a pure Jewish maiden, which is why the prophet St. Symeon called Him, “a light to enlighten the nations and the glory of Thy people, Israel” and why we call her the crown or flower of creation.

Refreshments were two kinds of cake and as I’d had no supper, I ate both.

Manolis said, “When Anastasia and Demetrios depart for America, it will leave us with a black hole.” It will certainly leave a black hole in our hearts, too! So even though these discussions are scheduled for every two weeks, we all agreed to meet one more time before we fly back to Richmond.

GREEK WORD OF THE DAY: sunbathing, heliotherapía. I just think that’s pretty cool.

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