Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A Different Place

Walking into church Sunday, I was more than usually aware of entering a different world, or at least a different dimension.  Not that it is separate from the wider world; far from it.  It is, mystically, the very heart of it, creation's inner sanctum.  

But it's different.  Everything is different:  the architecture of an Orthodox church, the sights, the sounds, the "smells and bells".  The icons do not look like real people and aren't meant to; they are stylized.  (They attempt to depict glorified souls as well as bodies.)  The music is composed to appeal to your inner spirit, not to your ears, though if sung well, it may do that, too. The air is sweet with incense.  People are dressed modestly.  People move about reverently but freely, kissing, kissing, kissing.  They kiss each other, Bibles, icons... and it seems everybody is always bowing to everybody else.  Including the priest, who bows to the people three separate times during the service.  

In this place, values are different.  Money, fame, status, and prestige do not reign; indeed, they count for nothing.  In this place, candles, oil, water, wine, bread, all mean something different.  Everything means something different, and all is transformed.  In this place, people's beliefs are different.  They may seem to those outside the Church like elaborate fables: a God Who came among us as a true man, without compromising His divinity, Who permanently transfigured death into a new form of life.  Sunday, chills ran up and down me as I recited the Creed, those foolish-sounding, ancient words of wisdom.  In this place, both explicable and inexplicable miracles abound.  Physical and spiritual blindness, lameness, deafness are healed, with equal mystery.  In this place, the damage life has inflicted upon our emotions and intellects and character is gradually undone.  

And all this difference can be summarized in one word:  Love.  That is, unconditional, self-sacrificing love, Love that gives without asking anything in return.  It's all because we have encountered this Love in the flesh, and it has overwhelmed us, and made us long to love, and struggle to love, with that same love that has lifted us up.  And when we fail to love infinitely, perfectly, we sorrow, but to the extent we do participate in this Love, our joy know no bounds; in fact, we come to know deeply that there is no other true Joy.

And in Orthodox Christianity, every dab of paint in the icons, every note of the music, every flicker of candles, every doctrine and every gesture, is in the service of this Love:  to explicate it (insofar as that is possible), to help us grow in it, to guard the authentic experience and true understanding of it, to propagate it.  And that is what makes the church the heart of the world; it is a piece of the world as thecworld ought to be.  And that in turn makes it a little piece of heaven on earth.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Wonderful Reunion

Dinner Monday night with our beloved visitors from Russia, Father Vladimir and Ilya, his son.  Ilya is Kremlin correspondent for Bloomberg news.  Matter of fact, he once took me on a tour of the Kremlin, ah, long ago, when he was still a university student.  Now he is married and the father of two.

In case you are wondering how it is a Russian Orthodox priest has no beard, it's due to the severe injuries he once sustained in an assassination attempt.  He has no hair at all, not even eyelashes.

Fr. Vladimir is currently recovering from a RE-replacement of a hip, shattered at the same time.

     Two very dear friends, together again at last.  

Sunday, November 3, 2013

So Far and So Near

Looking over my life, I clearly, tearfully perceive that no matter how far I have been from God - and that has been pretty far, most of the time, especially when I thought the opposite - there has never, ever, been a moment when He was far from me.  Whatever my soul's condition, He has always been right there, closer than my own breath, my whole life.

Back in Richmond

Traveling on different planes, different airlines, with different routes, we nevertheless both managed to make it back home, safe and sound.

Interesting things happen when you come back after an extended absence.  Especially if you have made the mistake of arriving on a week-end.  We ought to have learned that lesson from our Experience of being stranded in England, but obviously we forgot.  The reason you should never arrive on a weekend is, things like banks and the Department of Motor Vehicles are all closed.

So the first thing you want when you come home after an extended absence is food in the house, isn't it?

Well, around here, to get food, you need a car.

To drive your car (legally) you must re-activate its license tags (registration).  And, in our case, replace Demetrios' driver's license, stolen with his wallet in Athens.

To do these things you must (besides waiting until Monday), reinstate your auto insurance.

To reinstate your auto insurance, you must give the insurance company a ring.

To call up your insurance company, you must have a telephone.

To get your telephone, you must re-start your telephone, television, and Internet service.

To re-start these, you need, well, a telephone.

Forget that!  What you need is some very good neighbors, like our neighbors, Frances and Dickie!  They picked me up from the airport, took me to the grocery store, and would have lent me their phone, but Verizon miraculously followed instructions and had turned our service back on as of the day before we returned.

The next interesting thing happens if you had just re-organized the house shortly before you left.  What is this?  (Oh, yes, bought it the day before I left.)  How did this get here?  Where did that go?

A third issue we ran into was that the doors to two closets had swollen shut from humidity and had been that way for heaven only knows how long.  I couldn't get to my nightgowns, my bathrobe or slippers, to my church clothes (not that we can drive to church anyway), or any clothes appropriate to the season.  I'm wearing summer clothes.  Fortunately, it is warm today.

At long last, with Demetrios using a putty knife in the crack above the door and wielding it as if it had been a crowbar, and with me simultaneously tugging as hard as I could on the door handle, we managed to open the doors.

Almost wish we hadn't.  Not a pretty sight or smell.  Everything in that closet will have to be laundered, dry cleaned, or thrown away.  At least that solves the issue for me of the things I wasn't sure I had the heart to toss out.  I have.  And on Monday, I will go buy some laundry detergent...

It's beautiful here.  The autumn leaves, although past their peak, are still in high color and the days are warm at least during the middle of the day.

Last night, waiting for Demetrios to come home, I sat with my other neighbors on their new back-yard patio, complete with fire pit, in which they had lit a bonfire.  Then I went to Frances and Dickie again, just because I have missed them.

Monday we will go to the Department of Motor Vehicles, bank, supermarket, etc., etc., etc.

And our Russian friends are here in town and await us, which is the best thing of all.  Will write more on that later, but read their wonderful story here in the meanwhile.