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Category: Intercession of the Saints

I’m not dead yet

by Andrea Elizabeth

While I’m impressed with the Saint stories of their miraculous healings and the inability of their torturers to kill them the first or second time, I think I’d rather just get it over with. I guess it’s a better witness of the grace in their lives being stronger than evil powers, but in our culture of justice and revenge, it seems an incomplete victory. The heavenly kingdom must be different.

Christmas Spirit

by Andrea Elizabeth

I have heard it implied that Protestants know how to do Christmas and Orthodox know how to do Easter. It seems generous to announce such a draw among other-times competitors, in a manner of speaking.

There are polemics against Protestant celebrations of Christmas, such as when a few years ago a number of churches canceled their Sunday services because they wanted to have a family Christmas at home. Others have pointed out doctrinal errors or at least vagueness in Protestant explanations of the Incarnation, and critiques of Protestant Christmas carols. One could also say that the reason Christmas is such a big deal in the west is because of Charles Dickens and 20th Century decadence and commercialism (see A Charlie Brown Christmas).

All of the above critiques do not completely dispel the unique feeling of Christmas spirit that seems unique in the west. I cannot speak authoritatively on any contrast of spirit in the east, but I have heard Cradle Orthodox say that Christmas was not that different from other Feast Days during the year. It is however proceeded by a fasting period second only to Great Lent in which a spirit of sobriety is encouraged. We are to sympathize more with Christ’s experience of entering into our world of self-made suffering than carelessly abandoning ourselves to the joy of our salvation.

My 40 year habit of excitedly anticipating Christmas and getting caught up in the spirit of it all still comes over me somewhat still. In thinking more about when I feel “into it”, it probably is related to the neighborhood Christmas lights, Christmas programming on TV, advertisements for Nutcracker productions, and shopping for loved ones with piped-in Christmas music, all better accompanied by fake snow. As a child, much of it also was also due to suspense about the contents of my Christmas presents. I remember such excited Christmas Eve stomach jitters while all snuggled in bed, listening to “White Christmas” on my little radio.

But if there hadn’t been such a big deal about presents and snow, with only long-abstained-from meat and candlelight Christmas carols, would there have been such anticipation for Christmas? Having grown up on it, I don’t know. The latter is pretty much what Orthodox have at Pascha/Easter. Special songs sung at extra services, Good News proclamations and lots of candles and flowers. Since the Easter Bunny doesn’t compare to Santa Claus, I can say that Easter celebrations alone didn’t seem as momentously year defining as Orthodox Pascha and Protestant Christmas do.

I’ll also candidly admit that besides a few moments of excitement, Pascha celebrations haven’t been as naturally wonderfilling either. I think this is partly due to my individual history with having a still-born. The good news of the Resurrection is of course a source of hope and thankfulness for me, but the reunion with Isaac doesn’t occur on that day, just the promise of it, God willing that I go to be where he is. Also, Christ’s violent death and all of the rejection of mankind towards their Creator is more dis-heartening than the angel choir, the shepherds and the wise men. Herod didn’t slaughter the Innocents until two years later.

I am still somewhat new to Orthodox Nativity, but I have greatly appreciated the hymnography that dispassionately proclaims the significance and method of Christ’s birth. It gives me a sense of rightness, but it doesn’t exactly fill me with the “Christmas spirit”. I have a theory (besides the probability that it is because I didn’t grow up on it). I think it’s about the big deal over the gifts. Traditionally, gifts were associated with St. Nicholas’ Feast Day on Dec. 6. I believe the Reformers thought that St. Nicholas was getting more glory than Christ’s birth was, so they did away with that and gifts are given on Christmas instead, though Orthodox still have modest gifts in stockings on St. Nicholas day to commemorate his giving money to poor families. I grew up believing that St. Nick didn’t have anything to do with Christmas at all, that he was just a made-up cartoon, and that presents were somehow associated with the Wise Men’s gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. I know I’m still not that accustomed to petitioning or even praising the deeds of Saints, or doing acts of charity on their behalf, but here’s another idea. What if the generous gift-giving that goes on at Christmas is more about recognizing the image of God in our children and loved ones, and like the wise men, we bear gifts to lay in front of them as unto Christ.

I’ve heard some Jewish comedians talk about how lame Hanuka gifts are compared to Christmas gifts, but maybe they have a point. You can tell that as children they did not feel as esteemed as their Christian friends were. What if at Christmas, the Protestants are unbeknowingly venerating their children in Orthodox fashion? What if God is pleased with this and rains down grace in the form of Christmas spirit throughout the land, and what if it really is coming down from St. Nicholas’ sleigh, through his intercessions?

Homer’s gods walk among the people

by Andrea Elizabeth

Then surely the Argives would have returned after a fashion that was not fated. But Hera said to Athene, “Alas, daughter of aegis-bearing Zeus, unweariable, shall the Argives fly home to their own land over the broad sea, and leave Priam and the Trojans the glory of still keeping Helen, for whose sake so many of the Achaeans have died at Troy, far from their homes? Go about at once amont the host, and speak fairly to them, man by man, that they draw not their ships into the sea.”

Athene was not slack to do her bidding. Down she darted from the topmost summits of Olympus, and in a moment she was at the ships of the Achaeans. There she found Odysseus, peer of Zeus in counsel, standing alone. He had not as yet laid a hand upon his ship, for he was grieved and sorry; so she went close up to him and said, “Odysseus, nobel son of Laertes, are you going to fling yourselves into your ships, and be off home to your own land in this way? Will you leave Priam and the Trojans the glory of still keeping Helen, for whose sake so many of the Achaeans have died at Troy, far from their homes? Go about at once among the host, and speak fairly to them, man by man, that they draw not their ships into the sea.”

Odysseus knew the voice as that of the goddess: he flung his cloak from him and set off to run. His servant Eurybates, a man of Ithaca, who waited on him, took charge of the cloak, whereon Odysseus went straight up to Agamemnon and received from him his ancestral, imperishable staff. With this he went about among the ships of the Achaeans. (p.25,26)

[…] Then Odysseus rose, scepter in hand, and Athene in the likeness of a herald bade the people be still, that those who were far off might hear him and consider his council. He therefore witrh all sincerity and good will addressed them thus: (p.28)

I am strangely comforted when the gods come down and hold converse with the humans in this story. Or when the gods are discussing the humans up on Mt. Olympus. It is nice that they are intimately involved. Fate is mentioned above, but it is not in a fatalistic, deterministic way. People still have a choice and must be motivated to carry it out. The gods’ part, and the god-like human’s, is to convince.

Fr. Seraphim Rose on the Intercession of the Saints

by Andrea Elizabeth

“I warned him about going astray spiritually, and told him a little about us and Archbishop John, and told him to go to Vladika John’s Sepulchre and to ask his help to find the right way. He said: “Why should I ask someone else when I can talk to God?” I replied: “Because he’s closer to God than you are and can help you.” I invited him to visit us and gave him the last two Orthodox Words I had: on Andreyev, and the 1978 Pilgrimage. He thanked me and left.” (Father Seraphim Rose, His Life and Works, p. 870)