My life is a roiling mass of transition right now. Three months of pregnancy and the ever-encroaching beginning of parental reality have knocked my world around just a bit. The steady and ever-more positive advance through doctoral work is now somewhat up for grabs as the needs of our forthcoming child rearrange all our priorities. Then there’s my relentless schedule of study, teaching prep, work, classes, teaching intro classes, the long, endless hours on public transportation, sleep-deprived nights, and trying to find adequate time to give quantity attention to my wife. And within these last days the anxieties about my brother-in-law’s health, the drepressing realities he faces, even if the surgeries are successful and he survives them, about Anna’s and the baby’s travel safety, and their own emotional health over the coming days.
Life can wig you out pretty good, let me tell you.
Still and all, I hauled my worried self down to the bus stop and headed off to vespers at All Saints Orthodox Church. The silence and calm deliberation which filled the church building was restorative.
Before the service began, one of the parishioners went forward for confession. Archpriest Patrick, busily chanting psalms in quiet Latin, took note, and silently met the person before an altar to one side of the sanctuary, behind which was a cross with a large, life-like icon of the crucified Christ. After some murmured prayers, the two huddled next to one another, heads bowed, as though minutely inspecting something of the most extreme importance. After some moments, Fr Patrick placed his stole over the head and shoulders of the penitent, made the sign of the cross and gave his blessing. The parishioner returned to his seat, and Fr Patrick returned to his chanting of the psalms.
The service proper began with “Blessed is our God always, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.” And in slow, deliberate chant and recitation, we made our way through the prayers and psalms to the benediction. From the cadences of “Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labour until the evening” to the much-repeated petitions of “Lord have mercy.” From the Vesper psalms’ cry of “Lord, I have cried unto thee,hear me. . . . Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense” to the exultant chant “Let creation rejoice, let the heavens cheer, let the nations clap their hands for joy, for Christ our Savior to the Cross hath nailed our sins; and having slain death and rasied up Adam, the progenitor of mankind, hat granted us life; for He loveth mankind.” From the opening call of “O come let us worship and fall down before the Very Christ, our King and our God” to the closing solemn prayer of Simeon, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word.” And making our way, as if by stages, I found with my fellow pilgrims that which I most needed: “Christ who is always now and ever unto ages of ages.”
How different is this world in which I found myself so clearly anchored this evening. And how often I forget it. The lection for this evening’s Scripture was from Judges 2:14ff. Fr Patrick observed: There is no such thing as a neutral culture. Every culture has a religion, every religion a culture. The Israelites were not enticed after the demonic gods of Canaan by the child sacrifices. Rather, by stages, they were enticed by a culture in which sex and sexuality suffused everything. Asherah poles, after all, were little more than statues of large phalluses. And in a culture in which sex is omnipresent, so, too, will be one of the consequences of sex: pregnancy. And in Canaan, those many children were sacrificed and killed to appease the gods of sex and power the Canaanites followed.
How carefully I must walk in my world. This chaotic life can give me ample opportunity to be inattentive to my pathway, to be enticed by the godless culture around me, and to be blind to the humanity that suffers under its weight. Their only hope, and mine, is him who calls us all to the narrow way, the ladder of ascent, by which in faith, energized by God’s uncreated grace, we are transfigured on the mountain with him and in him.
O Lord Jesus Christ, our God, through the intercessions of thine immaculate Mother, of blessed Joseph, the righteous Benedict, father of monks, the priest martyr Eleutherius, the holy John Climacus, the bishop and martyr Onesimus, and of all thy saints, have mercy on us, bring healing to Delane, and spread your unwavering protection over Anna. Amen.