Sunday, January 29, 2012

Zacchaeus Sunday Reflections

This morning we heard the account of a man who:

1) Made restitution for his many sins,
2) Received forgiveness,
3) Was given the honor of hosting Jesus in his home, and
4) Saw the very face of his Lord and Savior.

But the thing is, in Luke 19:1-10 those things happen in reverse order! And the progression was a surprise every step of the way.

When Zacchaeus climbed that sycamore, he did not imagine that he would later offer half his belongings to the poor and offer restitution to anyone he had wronged. When he climbed that tree, he did not do so expecting that it would result in Jesus dining in his home. He did so simply to see Jesus. And he hadn't really planned any further than that.

We hear people say that we need to invite God into our hearts. That's all fine and good, but Jesus in this story doesn't wait for an invitation. He invites himself! And that shows us the spiritual dimension of this tale. No matter how meager our attempt to draw near to God, he will respond in surprising ways to invite himself deeper into our lives than we could have imagined.

When Jesus invites himself to the house of Zacchaeus, he has, in fact, forgiven him already. And that's what causes the scandal to the others. But Zacchaeus responds to this offer of new life by going well beyond the requirements of the Mosaic Law and gives away half his belongings and offers to make four-fold restitution to anyone he has wronged. And again, that's how it is with God. We are forgiven first and our penitential response is to joyfully make amends. We don't deserve forgiveness in the first place. All we can do is respond in gratitude, as Zacchaeus shows us.

Here is the original tree Zacchaeus climbed in Jericho, which we visited this summer. Out of its roots have grown other nearby trees which still live today.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Where to Take an Old Believer Priest Out to Lunch after Theophany?

That's not exactly a question one asks themselves every day. I mean, for starters, you can only ask it once a year (well, twice, kind of). And maybe you know about Old Believers, but do you actually even know an Old Believer Priest?

So we're talking about a Perfect Storm of coincidences before one could be in that situation. And when I woke up this morning, I had no idea that I would be face-to-face with the quandary in just a few hours.

Okay, here's how the pieces begin to fall together. I was chrismated Orthodox at an OCA parish in Columbia, MD in 2003. I knew intellectually about the use of the unrevised and astronomically lagging Julian Calendar by various Slavic Orthodox. But, de gustibus...

But after I met my wife, I became a member of the parish nearest to where she lived, under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Moscow. Now, my wife is Romanian, a Revised Julian Calendar country. But it's a charming parish, and the pastor is a dear man with a heart of gold.

We attend New Calendar observances, mainly Christmas at a nearby OCA parish. But I tend to observe other feasts with the Russians.

I took a day off work today, mainly because I needed a mental health day. But since it is also Theophany on the Old Calendar, I attended Liturgy this morning.

Now, as a curious point of ecclesiastical history, some Old Believers joined ROCOR in the 1980's, when ROCOR was not in union with anyone else but Serbia. Attending our parish even before the reunion was the wife of one of these Old Believer priests who joined ROCOR. Her husband was always off serving parishes in New York, but her home was near us. It was a beautiful moment to see her finally go to communion after the reunion took place. And a while after that her husband, in his eighties, retired from active parish ministry and began coming and serving alongside our Pastor at Liturgy.

He's a very short man, maybe 5' 5", thin as a rail, bald on his head, but a long white beard and mustache.

And so, Matushka had to leave early for a doctor's appointment and asked me if I could take her husband home after Liturgy. I mean, what can you say to that? Of course, I will Matushka. I knew it would be a quiet ride home because Father Ilie speaks very little English.

I usually go through Liturgy in a sort of timeless fugue. The words wash over me as I sing them and I feel myself joined to the Cloud of Witnesses of two millennia that have also prayed those prayers. Only when Liturgy was done did I remember that a part of my mental health day was also going to be a Paleo Cheat Day at McDonalds.

And I now had a problem. The place I was going to eat was more or less on my home. But if I took Father Ilie home first, it's quite a ways back again to that restaurant. And then I realized, the real solution is to invite him to join me.

In fact, after Liturgy, he was about to eat quite a few cookies with his cup of coffee and I asked him if he would like us to stop for something to eat on our way home. He must understand English reasonably well, because he readily agreed, grabbed his coat, and off we went.

As we drove, he began to sing the Troparion for Theophany in Old Church Slavonic. And it just suddenly seemed wrong to take him to McDonalds. I mean, this is a big Feast of the Church. And this man has served God's Holy Orthodox Church with his entire life. He deserves something a step up from fast food.

But now we've really opened the controversy. Where to Take an Old Believer Priest Out to Lunch after Theophany? I also kind of wanted to get a few things done today. So I didn't really want to go to a sit down restaurant where we might end up spending as much as an hour or longer. So I was weighing various options. Chili's? Longhorn? A diner?

We were going in the direction of a number of restaurants when Father Ilie solved the problem for me. He said, Chinese Restaurant, there, I, Matushka been couple times.

Would you like to go there, Father?


I hadn't even thought of taking him there. It never occurred to me that a ninety year old Russian priest might like General Tso's Chicken.

And so we arrive and we walk in. And then, picture this scene, Father Ilie, wearing a black cassock, a silver pectoral cross, a vest coat that looks like it's straight from a film adaptation of War and Peace, he walks into the lobby of the Chinese Restaurant, and he suddenly produces a plastic bottle full of the water just blessed at the Liturgy, he takes the cap off and he starts spraying the water all around, singing the Troparion of the Day, in Slavonic, of course.

The hostess, who has likely never seen such a thing, is looking at him dumbfounded. He puts the bottle away and says, "I bless restaurant."

That you do, Father Ilie. That you do.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Author Lynette Smith

The latest Orthodox writer in Melinda Johnson's Orthodox Writers, Readers, and Artists Series is Lynette Smith, who turned a very long journey of Christian faith and just as long a time as an aspiring writer, into a recent and exciting published book.

Voyage: A Quest for God Within Orthodox Christian Tradition is a theological memoir of a journey--a struggle to "share complete and unreserved communion with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."

Any writer who has "the bug" knows the agony of opening the rejection letter (I'm old enough to have done this all hard copy, with paper wounds coming in envelopes).

Lynette Smith tells the story in her post of coping with the depression that can set in and keeping life with God in perspective.
Blessings to you, as you continue the Voyage and share your writing with a world hungry for ultimate Truth.