Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Back to the future

Or at least the present. It's been a busy two weeks. We started the adult education program at church and that has been a bit of a challenge. Next week my wife and I are presenting on the Orthodox understanding of marriage. It feels a little strange, only having been married about eight months, but there are two things to keep in mind.

First, we are not supposed to talk as experts, but as people walking the same path towards Christ. It is not different, in a way, from giving presentations on any theological topic: as seminarians we may know more 'theology' than the average parishioner, but we most often lack the life experience that most parishioners have. All we can do is give them the theology and given them examples from the little experience that we do have of how we made tried to live the theology we know. Which brings me to the second thing to remember. We have only been married a bit over eight months, but it has been a journey of over five years to get here and it had plenty of difficult moments along the way. By the grace of God, we made it through them all.

One final thought. I just noticed that I said "celebrate the start of Lent." A Freudian slip, if I ever saw one :)

Monday, March 14, 2005

Lent: Beginnings Part II

Yesterday we celebrated the beginning of Lent. I have been looking forward to this Lent for quite a while. Last night we began the fast with Forgiveness Vespers. This was my first full-blown Forgiveness Vespers - Great Vespers plus the actual forgiveness part: we lined up around the church and went around, making a small metanoia and asking forgiveness of everyone. The tradition has monastic roots, but, especially in today's world I can see the benefits of holding the service in every parish.

Emotionalism, as I understand it, is not really part of Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy always appeals to the entire human being - mind, body, soul; rational aspect and emotional aspect together in one integrated whole. Still, sometimes one part is felt more than the other. As I went around the church yesterday, with tears in my eyes as I asked forgiveness of Fr. Gerasimos and Fr. Elias at the front of the line that was forming around the church, I could not have wished for a better beginning to Lent. Magda was right behind me and as I finished going along the circle and found my spot, she came in front of me and we were both crying. It has been a difficult journey at times for both of us to get here - absolutely wonderful, but not without its hard times. So, bowing in front of one another at the beginning of the journey to Pascha, we were crying, but we were happy looking at the road ahead. It was perhaps the first time that I felt I understood the term 'joyful sorrow' and I thank God for it. May all our journeys to the Lord's Resurrection be blessed.

Lent also provided us with good news. We have a new adult education program at the parish. The survey went out, we received a significant number of responses the same day and we were able to draft a curriculum for the five Sundays of Lent. May our Lord enlighten and direct us and may He bear fruit through us a hundredfold.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Spring break

This weeks is spring break, even though it looks more like Christmas break around here. We had another snow storm on Tuesday night, so everything is nice and icy.

One of the interesting parts about breaks is that you never know how many students are going to be around. So I can wake up for one of our customary 6:30 services only to be called upon to chant for Matins and Liturgy. Now there's a nice surprise to start the day (I love chanting).

The basketball seasons are both over. The team I helped coach lost in the final by two points yesterday. They played hard and had a couple of chances to win or send the game to overtime, but it wasn't to be. It was interesting to note how much the game meant. A couple of our players were quite upset at losing and trying to find blame for the loss. I wanted to talk about it afterwards - to see what their thoughts were, but most left quite quickly, so I only got to talk briefly with two of them. I wish I had more time - it's rare that the chance arises to get a glimpse into their thoughts and yesterday was perhaps the best one. Unfortunately the season's over, so I'll have to see if I can talk to some of them on Sundays after Liturgy.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Semester thus far and other thoughts

A brief evaluation of the classes so far.

New Testament Greek. I enjoy Greek and I keep learning new things. I wish I could build up the vocabulary a little faster. It's fun to try and translate as much as possible out of the service book when hymns are chanted in Greek.

Church History. As with most history it's interesting. However, I am somewhat familiar with most of what we are discussing. Five and a half years at Notre Dame gave me plenty of reasons to read bits and pieces of history. Enjoyable, nonetheless.

Dogmatics. I've always been fascinated by it, so I have done a bit of reading on my own - a little from St. Gregory the Theologian, St. John of Damascus, Staniloae. It's still fascinating :) The cool thing about the course is that we are exploring dogmatics through patristic texts. Thus, in discussing apophaticism we read Dionysios the Areopagite and in discussing the Trinity we read St. Gregory of Nyssa.

Parenthesis. Since apophatic theology seems to be a peculiar characteristic of Orthodox theology, Magda suggested that I add a link. If you are not interested in reading a Dogmatics lecture, here is a brief description. Apophatic theology is the way that the Orthodox acknowledge that, by His very nature of being uncreated, transcendent, etc. God cannot be fully comprehended by human beings. We can describe some of His characteristics as we understand them (He is good, merciful, love) but God in His nature is beyond all such description. As Fr. Clapsis said in class: "To prevent mental concepts from become idols, we must continually begin our reflection of who God is, by saying what He is not." Thus, He is not good in the sense that He is beyond our understanding of 'good,' but He is good in that we perceive Him as such from His interactions with us. End parenthesis.

New Testament. Quite an intensive course and very broad by its nature. The scholastic part of it is fairly dry, though parts of it are interesting. Thankfully there is more to the course than that (see lecture of February 18 for example - over on the class notes website).

Liturgics. This is the course that, so far, I find the most fascinating. The main reason is that the readings have touched on just about every facet of theology that I can think of. Most interesting I have found the theology/ecclesiology that derive from the liturgy itself and the sacraments. From Schmemann's approach to liturgy to the symbolical understanding of worship, to the historical development of the rite - there are so many nuances to grasp.

Finally, I'm glad there's a break coming. My brain has short-circuited too many times this week. Latest incident was last night - two seconds left in the basketball game, score is tied and we have one free-throw left. Niko had made the first two and I stepped out of the lane because I had one quick thought, without remembering that I was not allowed to step out - something I had very well known. He did not get to take the third free throw and we lost in double overtime. I guess starting the day at 6am with Liturgy and having a test in the middle of the day didn't help either. Still, grumble.