Month: December 2011
In honor of the feast of St. Ignatius of Antioch today, I’m reposting links to all the parts of my podcast series, Voice from Antioch: An Ignatian Catechism, which covers major themes in Orthodox Christianity from the writings of the third bishop of Antioch and great hieromartyr of the early Church. Happy feast!
The Southern California [Antiochian Orthodox] Deanery Youth Ministry has written a review of O&H.
Read it here.
December 11, 2011
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
On this day in 1936, exactly seventy-five years ago, His Majesty, Edward the Eighth, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland, and of the British Dominions beyond the Seas, King, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India, abdicated his throne and that big fancy title so that he could marry his mistress, the twice-divorced American socialite Wallis Simpson, who filed for divorce from her second marriage just six and a half weeks before. Worse still, the king had proposed the marriage while Mrs. Simpson was still Mrs. Simpson.
By that point in British history, the king had little actual power, but it was nonetheless considered a constitutional crisis for the monarch, who to this day remains the head of the Church of England, to marry someone who is divorced and whose former spouse still lived, an act then forbidden by that church. Edward could see that the government and the nation would never accept Mrs. Simpson as their queen, and so the king voluntarily gave up his throne. The subsequent succession of his younger brother Albert as King George VI and his own struggles as king has recently been portrayed in the film The King’s Speech.
From the perspective of our own time, the controversy that had occasioned Edward’s abdication must seem rather quaint. Why should the marital choice of a figurehead monarch have provoked a national crisis for the British and, to a lesser extent, for the various realms that remained part of the British Empire? Is this simply the tale of a more backwards, repressed time, when post-Victorian busybodies created scandal where there was no need?
In trying to understand how it is that the marriage of a powerless monarch to a divorcee matters to a nation, I’d like us to consider what is written in the two Scripture readings appointed for today, both from the epistle and the Gospel.
In the Gospel reading for today, we hear the story of a man who offers a banquet and invites all of his friends. And yet, somehow, all of these responses come back full of excuses. And what kind of excuses are they? They are the excuses of day-to-day life. One had to look after his property. Another had to look after his animals. Another had just gotten married. So sorry. Just can’t make it. Too busy.
In the epistle reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Christians of Colossae, he writes about the coming of Christ: “When Christ, Who is our life, appears, then you will also appear with Him in glory.” By this point in salvation history, Paul is of course writing about the Second Coming of Christ, but these words fall on our ears at this time of year, when we are meditating on His First Coming into the world, the advent of the Son of God as the Son of Mary. “When Christ, Who is our life, appears, then you will also appear with Him in glory.”
What can that mean? When Jesus comes, we will appear with Him “in glory”? How can you and I appear in glory? I don’t know about you, but my day-to-day life is not really one in which the word glory is really applicable. Like most of you, I come to work, do my job, run errands, try to help out around the house and raise my kids. I love my life, but it is unlikely that anyone would with any seriousness call it “glorious” without at least a certain measure of hyperbole. The same is probably true for you. So my regular existence is not really one in which I understand what it means to “appear in glory.”
So what is it that ties these three pieces together—our sense of alienation from the abdication crisis of Edward VIII, the banquet guests who all give excuses, and our feeling of unfamiliarity with the glory that St. Paul says is ours at the appearing of Christ? It is that we are in the wrong story.
The uncooperative banquet guests are caught up in their personal stories, and so when the Big Story actually happens in town and the time for the banquet comes, they just can’t be bothered. They have settled for the private narrative of their own lives. They prefer their own little stories to the Big Story.
Likewise, the western world has changed since that December 11th seventy-five years ago, and marriage means something quite different. Marriage is regarded as a private contract and no longer as something involving the wider community. What does it matter if there is a mess of divorces surrounding the king? Just so long as he’s happy, right? Why can’t he just do what he wants? Who cares what anyone else thinks? We don’t understand marriage in the same way now, nor nation, nor culture. We’re in a different story. We’ve privatized it all. It’s all about our own private stories. As a culture, there is no Big Story that we all share, no grand narrative that we all have some stake in.
And thus, for the same reason, we have a difficult time comprehending what Paul is talking about when he says that when Christ appears, we will appear with Him in glory. I think much of this comes down to that one phrase that Paul inserts in his sentence. Let’s hear it again: “When Christ, Who is our life, appears, then you will also appear with Him in glory.” “Christ, Who is our life.”
Even though I am ostensibly a “religious professional,” in so many ways, Christ is really not my life. I find it easy to get caught up in all the tasks that I want to perform, the things I want to get done. I have my own narratives for myself, for my family, for the work that I do. I have projects and hobbies and interests that all frequently become for me what defines me. My life is my job. My life is my interests. My life is my hobbies. My life is my possessions. My life is my ambitions.
But is Christ my life? Much of the time, if I am honest, I have to answer “no.” And so when something from His life is presented to me, when I encounter His glory, it’s just not me. It’s not my life, not my story. I’m tired. I have other things to do. The kids have been bothering me. I’m on vacation that day. I’d like to relax a little. It just doesn’t make sense for me. I’m not into that.
But when it comes time for Him to appear, whether it is in His Second Coming at the end of time, or even here, now, in a couple of weeks at His First Coming, will I appear with Him in glory? And if I don’t, what is the alternative?
So often, we live our lives with alternatives, with our own private stories, and I guess we just sort of assume that they’ll go on forever, that we won’t really have to worry about the Big Story. But, like Edward VIII, like those uncooperative banquet guests, the Big Story always catches up with us. Because of his private proclivities, Edward lost his throne, and his brother, who never wanted it, had to take it. Because of their private concerns, the original guests to the banquet lost their places, and the host began to invite the unlikely, the undesirable. And those who had been welcome were left outside.
If we do not step into that Big Story, if we do not make Christ “our life”—not just our “membership,” but our life—then we, too, will someday be left outside. And we do not know when that day might come. So how do we get in… or get back in? Paul tells us: “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idol worship; for the sake of such things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience; wherein you also once walked, when you lived in these things. But now you also put them all away…” In short, forget those other stories, those tales of what I want, what I think is best, what I feel like doing. Step into the Big Story. Get with the program. There are so many excuses that we offer. It’s time to forget them.
As we are now so near to the great feast of the First Coming of Christ into the world, it is the perfect time to come or to come back to Christ, to make Him my life, to step out of my petty, private little stories and into the Big Story. And then we will truly, as Paul says, “put off the old man with his works; and… put on the new man, who is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of his Creator, where there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bond, or free; but Christ is all, and in all.”
To the Holy Trinity be all glory, honor and worship, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.