Will You Stand? – an Orthodox Response to COVID-19, Part 3

As months go by, I’ve often wondered what else I could possibly say about our current predicament. The world has turned into a madhouse where many ask why I’m not mad. The lockdown is over, but the aftermath is worse. Masks are a must and social distancing is the norm. Small businesses are being torn apart by this ‘pandemic,’ as well as friends and families. And churches, sadly, are still suffering these worldly regulations – with many still believing there’s nothing wrong with it.

            The battle is not over. It’ll probably be with us for longer. But our main responsibility is to be aware that there is a battle. None of the worldly mandates being implemented in our parishes is normal. None of it is right. It destroys our dogmas and it mocks our God. It devalues the holiness and sanctity of the Church. Many articles have come out from various priests attempting to defend these new rules. Some try to argue that since the Eucharist can get moldy, this proves it can be contaminated. This lack of faith baffles me. The Eucharist has already been sanctified through our weekly Liturgy and made holy! Is not then the mold also holy? What gives? This has never been questioned before; so, why now?

            I’ve wanted to dissect these articles and expose the lies. But I’m seeing more and more that people have purposely closed their ears. They don’t want to hear the truth. They are bothered that Orthodox Christians like myself are being what they’d call ‘fatalistic.’ They ask why we don’t just listen to the bishops? It’s much less controversial than getting our hands dirty in Church tradition and theology, right? Well, guess what? Jesus was and is controversial. Do you think that when He came here as a man that He did everything the world wanted Him to do? Do you think He came to confirm what the world already knew and approved of? Jesus disturbed the norm and it made people angry! He told people to love their enemies instead of seeking revenge. Do you think they all took this message well? Many wanted a violent Messiah who would seize and conquer in a brilliant show of physical strength. Alas, Jesus came as a peacemaker. He came to teach us what we needed to hear – the truth. But many did not want to hear it. Not even the Pharisees, who were supposed to be the high and revered holy men.

            Seeing that even Jesus was given flack for speaking the truth then, I’m not surprised that Jesus is still being slapped in the face now. Too many Orthodox Christians – including, yes, many bishops and priests – are only expressing a lack of faith and vigor for the truth of Christ in the face of this virus. I know these are hard words to take. But all the arguments of ‘obedience and humility’ can only go so far. And honestly, I’ve grown weary of hearing them. Because again, it’s not obedience; it’s acquiescence. In fact, obedience on its own is not truly a virtue. Look at what Fr. Alexander Schmemann says about obedience in regards to marriage (it’s still applicable to this discussion):

This response is total obedience in love; not obedience and love, but the wholeness of the one as the totality of the other. Obedience, taken in itself, is not a ‘virtue’; it is blind submission and there is no light in blindness. Only love for God, the absolute object of all love, frees obedience from blindness and makes it the joyful acceptance of that alone which is worthy of being accepted….True obedience is thus true love for God, the true response of Creation to its Creator. Humanity is fully humanity when it is this response to God, when it becomes the movement of total self-giving and obedience to Him.

Obedience on its own does little. It’s blind and has nothing to guide it. And that, I would argue, is what’s happening now, both in the world and in the Church. People blindly obey the CDC. They blindly follow the WHO. They blindly accept the rules put down by the bishops, who blindly accept the rules of the world. Did Christ call us to love the world? No. Did He call us to submit to the world? No. Then what is it we are called to? To love and obey Christ. The two go hand in hand. We can obey Christ only when we love Him. Only love makes our obedience to Christ alive and real. If this is the case, what does our obedience to the world say? It says we lack love for Christ and would prefer to trust ourselves. And that’s a sorrowful state to be in. So, is it not possible that our acquiescence to these new church mandates is just obedience without love for Christ? Would Christ want us to cover His image-bearers with masks? Would He want us to neglect communing because we’d be breaking social distancing rules?

I may be a broken record; but at least I’m consistent. Because, brothers and sisters, we cannot be silent about this. Though I have not written on this blog for some months, I’ve been fighting every day. I don’t believe this will be over any time soon. This pandemic was never meant to be a temporary event, but a means to change our society as we know it. It’s a political ploy that’s deceived many to the point of living in constant fear. If the world can be so easily swayed, we need to protect the Orthodox Church even more! We are witnessing the world trying to shimmy its way into our sanctuaries and in many ways, it already has. Yet it’s not too late to cut off the head of the serpent. And we need to do so while we still can. Refuse to follow the ‘new norm’ and stand up for Christ! Obey Him first, love Him above all else, and all will become clear. He will help us to see past this facade of fake peace. Will you stand for Christ? Or will you let the world trample and abuse you for its own gain? 

A Facebook Farewell

Social mediums always carry a message; and Facebook especially does.

            This has been a decision I’ve thought over for years. And now, it’s being realized. I’ll be shutting down my Facebook page for good. There are many reasons I wish to depart from this platform. But my biggest wish is that I could’ve seen the detrimental effects of this medium sooner…

Let me start by putting into perspective a popular phrase you’ve probably heard: the medium is the message. This is a quote from author Marshall McLuhan in his book “Understanding Media; the Extensions of Man.” The original text goes as follows:

In a culture like ours, long accustomed to splitting and dividing all things as a means of control, it is sometimes a bit of a shock to be reminded that, in operational and practical fact, the medium is the message. This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium – that is, of any extension of ourselves – result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology.

In an article by Mark Federman, called “What is the Meaning of The Medium is the Message?” he breaks down what McLuhan meant by medium and by message. The medium is any extension of ourselves. A simple example would be holding a hammer in your hand. The hammer is the new medium we use to make our work less difficult and more thorough. Car wheels would be the extension of our feet, a faster means to get to each destination. None of these extensions are necessarily bad. But McLuhan was not concerned with what was obvious in the mediums, but what was underneath: the message. And the message, we will find, is not as perceivable. Federman explains it thus:

Note that it is not the content or use of the innovation, but the change in inter-personal dynamics that the innovation brings with it. Thus, the message of theatrical production is not the musical or the play being produced, but perhaps the change in tourism that the production may encourage. In the case of a specific theatrical production, its message may be a change in attitude or action on the part of the audience that results from the medium of the play itself, which is quite distinct from the medium of theatrical production in general. Similarly, the message of a newscast are not the news stories themselves, but a change in the public attitude towards crime, or the creation of a climate of fear. A McLuhan message always tells us to look beyond the obvious and seek the non-obvious changes or effects that are enabled, enhanced, accelerated or extended by the new thing.

            So, how does this relate to social mediums? Though we can’t necessarily ‘hold’ an internet medium, its effects can still be felt. It’s still an extension from prior ones, like letters, emails, messengers, and etcetera. Facebook is a further one; but it’s not just a medium where we can keep in touch with friends and share our life and likes. That’s the obvious intent; but the groundwork of Facebook is far more controlling. It has its own agenda; and we’ve never seen it more clearly than when COVID-19 began.

            On April 16th, an interesting article written by Jessica Bursztynsky came out on the CNBC website. The title was called, “Facebook will start warning people who ‘like’ or react to fake coronavirus news.” In this piece, we learn that Facebook will start rolling out warnings to Facebook users if they commented on ‘harmful’ COVID-19 posts that Facebook deemed to be ‘misinformation.’ Surprisingly, it was not this part of the article that stunned me. It was this:

            After the WHO declared Covid-19 a global health emergency in January, Facebook started removing misinformation about the outbreak from its platforms. The company said Thursday that it’s removed hundreds of thousands of pieces of misinformation that could lead to physical harm, such as inaccurate content that says physical distancing is ineffective or drinking bleach cures the virus.

            “We want to connect people who may have interacted with harmful misinformation about the virus with the truth from authoritative sources in case they see or hear these claims again off of Facebook,” Rosen said.

            Let me list off some red flags here:

  1. Facebook started removing ‘misinformation’ in January. How did they know what was considered valid information then when nobody knew what the virus really was? According to the WHO, January was when the theory of the virus being spread by human-to-human transmission was introduced. But it wasn’t solid information to begin with! So, again, how could Facebook know what to classify as misinformation when everything at that stage was so unstable? This should give us reason to pause and question.
  2. If Facebook has removed hundreds of thousands of ‘misinformation’ from its site, how does that give us the right to think for ourselves? It’s as if I woke up in George Orwell’s “1984” and the Thought Police were after me. We don’t need Facebook to monitor what we choose to look at. If we live in such a knowledgeable age, then they shouldn’t deny us our rights to research the issue for ourselves. We should be allowed to create a dialogue and compare ideas with one another.
  3. ‘Inaccurate content’ might actually be accurate in certain circumstances. I wouldn’t recommend drinking bleach, of course (a rather interesting example for them to choose). But what if, through our own experiences, we noticed that social distancing wasn’t effective or that it was a bullshit idea from the start? I find it rather amusing that the WHO outline of COVID-19 is just as confused as everyone else. Quoted from their website: “This statement is updated on an ongoing basis, in response to evolving events and common media queries.” Why does it need to be changed so consistently? Either you get the story right or you get it wrong. But instead of the WHO owning up to their errors, they refer to their errors as ‘evolving events.’ I’m sorry, but I’m not buying it. If Facebook is censoring ‘misinformation’ based off of an organization that can’t get their story correct, this means it’s not about our protection. It’s about control. It’s a forced narrative that leaves anyone with doubt or questions labeled as a conspiracy theorist.

I can’t convince anyone of anything. I learned that a long time ago. But that doesn’t mean I can’t speak the truth. And once I saw the underground manipulation, the message, of Facebook, I couldn’t look back. I finally understood what McLuhan was trying to tell us back in 1964. So, if I’m awake now, I want to help awaken others, if I can. We are being silenced and censored by social media and it’s time to accept this reality. Popular programs like London Real have been censored viciously for having interviews that didn’t support the WHO’s agenda. I’ve seen multiple links on COVID-19 deleted by Facebook within minutes of the link being shared. We’ve got to stop putting our heads in the sand and willfully ignoring the problem. This is real! I’m not messing around; and neither should you.

 Does this mean no one can use Facebook for the better? No. I tried that route before myself. Does this mean you should delete your Facebook account? No. That’s your decision to make. But I can promise you that there will be far more benefits letting it go than being constantly force-fed Facebook’s manipulative jargon. A lot of the negativity you feel in life is probably linked to Facebook. So, even if you don’t believe they’re twisting the corona story, you can at least be free from the debates and the fighting. You can begin to have some peace in your life.

So, the choice is yours. As for me, I’m saying farewell to Facebook. And good riddance.

To Obey or To Acquiesce: an Orthodox Response to COVID-19, Part 2

Christ is Risen!

            My last post, regarding my Orthodox response to our current COVID-19 pandemic, turned out to be a success. And when I say success, I mean it brought a lot of more-or-less negative replies. But the responses, I found, were all along the same line of thought. They were important points to consider; and so here, I will attempt to address them.

            One of the main concerns was the need to be humble and obedient towards the bishops. Another concern that I pinpointed was for us to not fall into pride by making claims that something was heresy. In fact, the strongest objection to my post was my choice in the word ‘heresy.’ I sympathized with their concerns; for indeed, I’ve thought about these things myself. I hope to ensure everyone that I did not come up with my words on a whim. I did consider seriously what I was saying. Brothers and sisters, I speak my beliefs as genuine concerns. I must act out my conviction as an Orthodox Christian. If it turns out that I’m wrong in the end, I’ll gladly apologize; but I will not regret being watchful and wary. For indeed, “Do not trust in rulers and in the sons of men, in whom there is no salvation.” (Psalm 145:3) Do we not sing those very words every Liturgy?

Let’s start by tackling the most controversial part of my post: the use of the word ‘heresy.’ I’m sensing a strong reluctance from others of using this word. It might appear too strong or too harsh (and, when I spoke of heresy before, I can see how that would come across as prideful; so, please forgive me if I misled any in thinking I believed I was better than everyone else). But it’s not necessarily about harshness as much as correction. Let’s look at the definition for the word ‘heresy’:

  • opinion or doctrine at variance with the orthodox or accepted doctrine, especially of a church or religious system.

My word-choice, it would seem, made people believe I was being hateful towards our bishops. But as we can see from the definition, this isn’t the case. It has nothing to do with hate. It has to do with being attentive and using discernment. If something goes against the Tradition and teachings of Christ and His Church (aka an opinion or doctrine in variance with our doctrine), is it not heresy then? So, if a bishop is telling us to do something against our own doctrine, is it still heresy? Well…yes. I feel sad that I even have to answer that question. We should all know this. Even Christ told us the elect could be deceived:

For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonder to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. – Matthew 24:24

If the elect can be deceived, then this means we need to be more watchful and discerning. In fact, discernment is named the most important virtue. Humility is still a key one – but humility without discernment does not bring much fruit. Consider this advice from one of the Desert Fathers:

An old man was asked, ‘How can I find God?’ He said, ‘In fasting, in watching, in labors, in devotion, and, above all, in discernment. I tell you, many have injured their bodies without discernment and have gone away from us having achieved nothing. Our mouths smell bad through fasting, we know the scriptures by heart, we recite all the Psalms of David, but we have not that which God seeks; charity and humility.

We can’t just obey everything someone tells us solely based on their title. The bishops are not popes. If we had to follow the bishop without question, the equality we preach in the Orthodox Church would be a lie. We could not see ourselves as the united and equal Body of Christ. No one is holier over the other. I am certainly no more holy than any of my brothers and sisters. And this reflective state includes the bishops as well.

Why is it that a great majority of churches are supposed to be closed, but abortion clinics are open? I’m sorry, brothers and sisters, but if this will not open your eyes, I don’t know what else to tell you. We cannot close our churches over a virus. We cannot deny ourselves the Eucharist because of a virus. To do so is, as I stated in my prior post, heresy. Besides, who are we more obedient to? Christ or the bishop? Again, I’m not trying to disrespect our bishops when I say this. But when I see everyone trying to justify the bishop as being higher than them, I have to question where our loyalties really lie. I have to question whether they are actually acting out obedience or acquiescence.

I know this is a hard pill to swallow. It’s easy to go into cognitive dissonance because we want to believe the bishops have our best interests. And I’m sure that they do care for us. But this doesn’t mean that they are immune to deception. This has been referenced to so many times through history that we shouldn’t be surprised if it happens today. St. John Chrysostom even told us this truth in a rather eerie description:

The road to hell is paved with the skulls of erring priests, with bishops as their signposts.

Our bishops, therefore, have an even greater need to be discerning. For if they lead their own flock astray, how they will explain their directives to Christ when they finally see Him?

I pray for our bishops. Though I’ve not met too many of them in my own time, I still feel a deep love for them. I want to trust them and obey them. Truly, I do. But right now, I believe they’ve been misguided, whether purposely or unconsciously (or both). And I believe I must speak up. Might I dare to ask the question to you, my brothers and sisters…are we obeying the bishops’ decisions of church closures because it’s unproblematic? What I mean by that is it’s easier to acquiesce than to obey. Using the word ‘obedience’ as I’ve seen recently is a tad flippant, like it’s a reason to ignore the issue rather than address it with discernment. We should only obey when we know it’s the correct thing to do, even when it’s hard. Think about how people approached the Desert Fathers to ask for a word. Guess what? Not all of them left being in agreement with the Fathers. Some of their words wouldn’t be what they wanted to hear. But it’s what they needed to hear. Wasn’t this what Jesus experienced in His time too? There were plenty of people who walked away from Him because of what He said. Even people who were dedicated to Him! Think of what happened when Jesus spoke the truth about the Eucharist in John 6:

Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.

We see that not long after this proclamation, many of His followers left:

Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, “This is a hard saying; who can understand it.”…From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.

Brothers and sisters, my fear is that we’re not taking our faith as seriously as we should be. During a pandemic, we should be flocking in droves to the Church. We should be eager to partake of the life of Christ that is presented to us in the chalice. For if Christ said we have no life apart from the Eucharist, our lives in lockdown is nothing but death (perhaps that will be the next word I get ridiculed for; who knows). The evil one conveniently has us cornered with this pandemic; but we don’t have to stay there. Our love of Christ should make us get up and return to the Church, no matter what the circumstances are or what might be ordered of us. Our obedience to Christ should outweigh our fearful response to the world and, as the times seem to present, our obedience to the bishops.

 Everything I’ve written here is only scratching the surface of the problem. Realistically, my blog posts should be written as a twenty page college essay. Yet I hope to give my readers time to digest the content presented by writing in segments. Even then, I know many will still disagree with my words. Alas, I know my attempts to persuade any is a far shot.  I would ask, however, that you try to be mindful of my words. Mull them over. That’s all I know I can ask. The rest is up to you.

Improper Protocol – an Orthodox Response to COVID-19

Christ is Risen!

            I must apologize for my prolonged silence. It has been hard to write these days, especially with what’s been happening the past two months. By now, I’m sure everyone knows about the coronavirus, more commonly known as COVID-19. From what we’ve been told, it’s like the flu – only more intense. While some survive, others die. In order to curb this virus from spreading, the CDC has advised everyone to quarantine themselves, wear masks, and to practice social distancing. We barely got through March before these actions took effect. While grocery stores and gas stations remained open, other businesses were up for debate based on how ‘essential’ they were. It’s now the end of April; and there’s still hesitation to reopen anything. COVID-19 is still deemed dangerous enough that, at this time, we’re told to keep these practices going.

            This is a trying time for all; but thankfully, our lives are not just ours alone. We belong to the Lord, who loves us and protects us always. So, concerning this pandemic and the fear it flashes before our eyes, I will here reiterate what I’m sure you’ve heard, but perhaps haven’t heeded. And I pray that you, now, will be attentive.

This past Lent was nothing short of stressful. But spiritual attacks are not uncommon during Lent. So, we ought to be able to see what’s truly taking place with COVID-19. Whether you believe the virus is deadly or nonexistent, you cannot accept this lockdown without seeing the implications for what it will do (and has already done). The evil one delights in dividing us. He especially encourages us to stay home and not go to Church. I understand that we can pray in our homes and that we are united as a Body in that way as well. But physical separation from the Church is wrong, brothers and sisters. Therefore, we cannot accept this action without being troubled in spirit.

            Perhaps you’re thinking about what will happen if you go against what’s being told by governors and the CDC. Trust me, when this pandemic began, I was pondering the same questions. What is the right thing to do? The media emphasizes that if we don’t follow protocol, we’ll be responsible for someone’s death. If this is the case, why not make me feel guilty of giving someone the regular flu, which kills countless individuals every year? Why not make me feel guilty for every automobile-related death and for all the aborted babies? It only took about a week for me to see that all this ‘it’s on you’ mentality was the least of my troubles. The biggest one I had to face was the deception set up by the evil one: social distancing, hiding in our homes, covering our faces. All of this is his way to take us away from Christ and from the Eucharist. This is what should concern us.     

Saint Gregory Palamas, in Homily Forty-Two, says “Subjects, you ought only to obey your rulers in matters which do not deprive you of our promised hope of the kingdom of heaven.” With this in mind, I made up my own mind to mind the matters of the Church during this crisis. So, what struck me hardest was when I heard about the Orthodox Churches closing. And, if they were not closing, they were taking extreme ‘sanitary’ measures. We were being told to refrain from kissing icons or the cross. If we were taking communion, we needed separate spoons so we didn’t infect others. We had to wear masks. We had to deny the elders entry into the church. We had to stand 6 feet apart from each other.

I only have one word to say to these so-called precautions: heresy.

Brothers and sisters, I cannot even begin to describe the absolute horror in my heart at these restrictions! A virus should NEVER separate us from the Church! It should not prevent us from coming together as the Body and to partake of the Body and Blood of Christ, our real medicine. Can you not see how absurd this is? We are letting the evil one work his way and claiming we are trying to be safe! Christ keeps us safe, not social distancing! Christ heals us, not the CDC! Christ protects us, not the government! Wake up! This is not the time to hunker down. This is the time to stand up. How many times did Jesus command us to not be afraid? We shouldn’t even fear death! How dare we make the assumption that the Eucharist can be contaminated! How dare we say what has been blessed in the church is dangerous for us! Even more ludicrous, telling our elderly parishioners they’re not allowed to come to church at all! Would Jesus deny any of His Body and Blood? Would He deny any to come to His house to pray and be anointed? Please, brothers and sisters, open your eyes! What is our faith if we can’t be brave in this? Would Jesus wear a mask around you if you were sick? Would He avoid holding you in His arms when you don’t feel good? If we are called to be like Christ, I’m sorry to say that right now, we’re doing a horrible job of it.

            Please forgive me, a sinner. Who am I to persuade any? Who am I to try and correct when I can’t correct myself? Yet, I mourn. I grieve. And I must beg and I must plead that we no longer be blinded by the world. Yes, respect your bishops; yet I’d encourage you to write to your bishops about this issue. We shouldn’t remain silent about this. And please, do not let COVID-19 rule you and put you in fear of something we’ve never been able to control in the first place – death. We will all die someday. Perhaps it will be from this virus. If so, it is the Lord’s will. If we survive, that will also be according to our Lord’s will. His life is ours and ours is His. If this is so, we have no reason to avoid attending Church. We have no reason to be wearing masks, no reason for social distancing, really no reason at all to have any fear. We must see the deception and push past it. We must stand, even when others do not understand. If we believe God can heal us, let us not be locked in our homes. Let us not separate ourselves from the Church, the only hospital that will truly help us.

            May the Lord have mercy on us all!

A Busybody’s Call to Lent

Lent has begun, along with our new sense of purpose. This will be my second time celebrating Lent in the Orthodox Church (and this time, as a baptized and chrismated Orthodox Christian). I can sense my Lenten experience will be different this time. One reason is because I’m currently between jobs. It’s not a situation I’m proud of, nor one that I desire. But I recognized the chaotic management of my latter job and realized I couldn’t abide my time in a collapsing environment. Especially one that was affecting my health; physically, mentally, and spiritually. So, now, I’m staring into the unknown. It most likely will challenge my prayers and participation in the Lenten services.

            This dilemma of mine, however, has made me ponder the concept of being busy; particularly of being a busybody. The idea first popped into my head when I read 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12:

            But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us, for we were not disorderly among you; nor did we eat anyone’s bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, not because we do not have authority, but to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us.

            For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies. Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread.

            It makes sense, right? The command to work in order to eat. But then there’s the last part: …some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies. In today’s age, our chosen careers are put on a golden platter and served to us as if we won the Olympics. This is our trophy. Our whole lives are bent on our jobs. Sadly, this attitude has turned us into busybodies, with little else to do but work, and work, and work. Granted, our economy makes this lifestyle hard to get out of. Most can’t live without working more than 40 hours or getting two jobs. But it’s not so much on the people as much as it is on a society that’s economy can’t catch up. There are other countries that don’t require people to work 40 hours in the week, yet they can still manage to support themselves. Take Denmark for example. They work lesser hours and feel more satisfied. In Alex Gray’s article in the World Economic Forum, Denmark has the best work-life balance. Here’s why, he points out an interesting statistic:

            Only 2% of employees regularly work very long hours, which isn’t much when you compare it with the OECD average of 13%. Instead, they spend around two-thirds of their day (16 hours) eating, sleeping, and indulging in leisurely pursuits.

            It’s not just the workers: Danes rank above average in an intimidatingly long list of areas: environmental quality, civic engagement, education, skills, jobs, earnings, well-being, personal security and social connections.

            That last area, social support networks, is key: 96% of people report having friends or relatives they can count on in times of trouble, compared with the 88% across other OECD countries.

            Imagine being able to have more legitimate connections with others! But if we look more closely, there is a familiar and linked issue: the disintegration of the nuclear family. In Lynn Wardle’s article Disintegration of the Nuclear Family Threatens America’s Survival, she reviews an important point made in Dr. Allan C. Carlson’s book, The Natural Family Where It Belongs: New Agrarian Essays:

            …the contemporary disintegration of the nuclear family in America – due primarily to nonmarital cohabitation, childbearing out of wedlock, and the termination of close to one-half of all marriages by divorce – has profound implication not only for the health and happiness of the members of such families, but for all of society and for the stability, efficacy and survival of our form of representative, democratic government.  The failure to responsibly form, respect and maintain marital families is not just a private tragedy, it is a public calamity that portends a developing social and political disaster.

I would add to this that as long as our busybody mentality remains, families will have a harder time holding together. In losing ourselves to the workforce of America, we lose a lot of social connections that are important to the human race. Work has replaced many families, as well as a lot of the exceptions we’ve made that are against the Christian faith. My fear, with these two combined, is that we’re not only losing our connections as human beings, but also losing our connection to the True Church. Community is key. A church cannot exist and thrive without its laity. The Orthodox Church, thank the Lord, is still the home for this. It supports social networking in physical form (aka, we’re not connected just by social media) and it supports the nuclear family and the traditions of true marriage. It’s all centered in communion. What has sadly happened is that we’ve become addicted to work, addicted to our jobs. Addicted, more so, to being busybodies. This isolates us. Despite what must be done in order to afford what we need, we cannot give up being present for others because we are ‘too busy.’

This is what I hope that, through the Lenten season, we can change. Obviously, the social support network the Danes have works because they have the spare time to make it so. For ourselves, we’ll have to put in the extra effort to pull it off. One thing that really bothered me about my past job was how I felt I had no time to get anything else done. I didn’t even have time to look after my own health. Was the work I was doing really worth abandoning my well-being and the well-being of others? It paid the bills, sure; but it took away any love and support I could give elsewhere, both to friends and family.

            I hope to change this attitude. I pray the Lord will provide me with work that will help get me by. But I also pray I may dedicate more time to those who need it. That I won’t be consumed by being so busy I can’t do what’s right. And I especially don’t want to be so busy that I can’t attend any services for Lent. For indeed, we shouldn’t have any excuse in that area.

May the Lord grant everyone a beautiful, repentant Lent, followed by a glorious Pascha! And take the time to be there for people, however they need. Don’t become the American ideal of a busybody.

Deceptive Endeavors

The presidential elections will soon be upon us and I’m tempted to call it quits. My care for the country hasn’t diminished, but my faith in the government has. I don’t believe change is possible by the standards we’ve set and the beliefs we now support.  And any candidate – unless they care about what’s actually good – will not succeed in bringing us back to a moral and unified standing.

Perhaps I sound like a careless American, but let me share a story with you. In 2016, I was aiming for independence (if you get my drift). For years, I’d been Republican, but mostly because that’s what my family valued. In my last years of college, however, I began to wonder who was really right. Republicans? Democrats? Who was more truthful? To my disappointment, when I went to register as Independent, I was told I wouldn’t be able to vote in the primaries if I did (as I was intending to). I could in the presidential election, but not for this. So, I was expected to choose a side in order to vote? What nonsense. Talk about being cornered, with my own ‘right’ revoked.

            Turns out the 2016 election wasn’t worth the hassle anyway. It felt like voting for the lesser of two evils. So, what was the point? What did my vote count for? Rare good amongst piles of worthless endeavors? I realized I wanted nothing more than to disassociate myself from politics completely. The system felt rigged and I didn’t believe my voice made any difference. The media would play up their part while the politicians lied to get into office. It’s not changed, and it’s unlikely to.

            My resolve to stay away from politics has only increased. After my conversion to Orthodoxy, I felt a strong sense that only one ‘political’ standing worked: the monarchy under Jesus Christ. All others were moot. Sure, I’ll give my due respect to earthly kings, but not my full devotion. Especially since the government works as a two-pole system: Republican vs. Democrat. Us vs. Them. This mentality is so implanted in our politics that it’s a wonder they’re still functioning. Ironic this is the case, since they’re the ones claiming to fight for unity. Well, sorry to break any hearts, but true unity only exists in the True Church. Only Christ stands for equality. We have only been presented with a falsity of it in our world.

According to St. Ignatius, Let not then anyone deceive you, as indeed you are not deceived, inasmuch as you are wholly devoted to God. If Christianity is such a controversial point now in politics, we are surely being deceived by the White House. The apparent push to eliminate Christianity from the government is, by far, their greatest mistake. And we can see why in Wisdom of Solomon 6:2-8:

Give ear, you that rule over multitudes, and take pride in yourself over a multitude of nations. For power was given to you from the Lord, and your lordship from the Most High, who will make a careful search of your works and examine closely your plans. Because as servants of His kingdom, you did not judge rightly; neither did you keep His law, nor did you walk according to the plan of God; He shall come upon you terribly and quickly, because sever judgement falls on those who govern. For the least is pardoned in mercy, but the powerful shall be strongly examined. For the Master of all will not shrink back from anyone’s presence, nor respect greatness; because He Himself made both small and great, and cares for all alike. But a strict inquiry is imminent for the mighty.

Those in the government have no appreciation for where their authority comes from or that they’re under Heavenly authority to begin with. Any president can proclaim Christianity: but I have yet to see one that truly practices it (and I’m speaking mainly from the Christian Tradition of the Orthodox Church). Most of the time, Christianity is only used to be sworn in office or to gather a following. It’s all deception, to lead us into trusting corrupt men. Granted, they would not be there unless the Lord willed it. But what they decide to do with it is another question. Even if what they are doing looks like it’s ‘for the people,’ it doesn’t make it right. St. Barsanuphius the Great once said:

No one ever accomplishes good by means of evil, because they are themselves conquered by the evil. On the contrary, evil is corrected by good.

            This is what bothered me so much in 2016. To choose between Trump and Clinton felt wrong. I’m sure either could’ve accomplished a few good things. But most of the time, presidents use evil to try and create good. When all we see is the decent outcome, it’s tempting to think it was good all along. Don’t be deceived! For indeed, we are living in a time of whole-hearted deception, where lies run rampant to appease those in power. What it boils down to is that anywhere we see two poles, two opposing entities, it can never work. There will certainly be the illusion of it, the deception that we commonly call ‘propaganda.’ But nothing can come of it. There is no unity in division. So, unless the Republicans and Democrats decide to work as one and take hold of the virtues of the True Church again, I won’t be found dabbling in their pre-planned demise.

If I’m meant to live out my American rights (whatever that means), surely my decision to independence apart from politicians is understandable. Perhaps this is the first step to striving for unity. If we reject the two-pole attitude in politics, maybe – just maybe – our politicians will wake up. The independent party is frowned upon because we don’t want to take a side. But guess what, folks? That’s exactly what we should be doing. I can’t guarantee this will bring us into unity (for indeed, unity apart from God is not unity at all), but we have to be the example. If we just follow the norm now, nothing will ever change. So, stand up for what’s right. Be like Treebeard from the Lord of the Rings, who is on no one’s side, because nobody is on his side (little orc).

Fiction vs. Fictitious Reality

“Artists use lies to tell the truth.”     – V for Vendetta

            Art is usually regarded as less important than engineering or doctorates. But the arts have an ability unique to their field. While the sciences tend to concern themselves with the truth of their work or the lies required to make it work, the arts use truth and lies to portray truth. And this is why we find ourselves, as consumers of art, so moved by it.

But I’m not here to merely talk on how writers write. Unfortunately, I’m delving into something not so simple. As of late, I’ve noticed how a lot of fiction speaks more truth than our own reality. In fact, I’d say they’re revealing how our reality may be more fictitious than fiction itself. I wouldn’t doubt many of you have sensed this as well. So, it’s about time we brought it to light.

I recently finished a book called Perelandra, by C.S. Lewis. It’s the second in his Space Trilogy. Something about Perelandra hit home for me. I’m sure we’re all aware of his Christian themes. So, it’s no surprise it shows itself in this series (though it’s far more organic and natural than a lot of Christian fiction). In the first book, Out of the Silent Planet, we witness Elwin Ransom travel to Mars (or Malacandra) against his will; but in the end, he is changed by it. By book two, he’s traveling to Perelandra (Venus) on a purposeful mission. He must defeat something there…but he’s not told what or who or even why. He then comes to witness a real-life scenario like the Garden of Eden. Only this time, Ransom tries to fight for the woman. He must stand up against a fellow college student of his, a scientist named Weston, who has been possessed by another being.

            This book is obviously a work of fiction. Yet it has the power to use its fictitious visage to portray something gone amiss in our own world. One moment comes to mind for me. It is where the Un-man (as Ransom comes to call the creature inhabiting Weston’s body) tries to convince the Green Lady of Venus that she doesn’t need her King – much less does she need any man in her life. Here is an example of this argument, from what Ransom hears:

            What emerged from the stories was rather an image than an idea – the picture of the tall, slender form, unbowed though the world’s weight rested upon its shoulders, stepping forth fearless and friendless into the dark to do for other what those others forbade it to do yet needed to have done. And all the time, as a sort of background to these goddess shapes, the speaker was building up a picture of the other sex. No word was directly spoken on the subject: but one felt them there as a huge, dim multitude of creatures pitifully childish and complacently arrogant; timid, meticulous, unoriginating; sluggish and ox-like, rooted to the earth almost in their indolence, prepared to try nothing, to risk nothing, to make no exertion, and capable of being raised into full life only by the unthanked and rebellious virtue of their females. It was very well done. Ransom, who had little of the pride of sex, found himself for a few moments all but believing it.

            What Lewis says here can apply to our current circumstances. Think about it…today, there are cries from all women for equality amongst men. While understandable, there’s also a lot about it that doesn’t quite sit right. Some feminist groups try to dismiss any need for men at all. Women can get it done. Women can do what men do. But what has happened to our ‘respect’ for the sexes? For women to feel they mean anything, now they must reject man and become man? Most of it is to prove a point, but some of it is a genuine belief. This belief is the warped, fictitious reality that Lewis is trying to show us. The Un-Man is trying to convince the Green Lady to be something other than what she was, to disregard her King as incompetent, and to disobey the great Maleldil for no reason other than to rebel. It’s about centering herself on herself, purely motivated by vanity, needing no one; especially not men. But what does this do to her unique feminine traits? The traits that, try as men may, they can’t truly attain for themselves? And vice versa? Indeed, it’s not that any sex is less than the other. Only that we’ve sacrificed our own individuality because of being told we were not enough.

            Switching mediums, I’d like to take note of another moment in art that speaks out strongly. It’s in the 2001 film Moulin Rouge, directed by Baz Luhrmann. It may look like I’m going a complete °180 on this, but hear me out. For those unfamiliar with the story, the Moulin Rouge is an 1899 Paris cabaret, or nightclub. A writer named Christian runs into a prostitute, Satine, there. To no surprise, a romance buds between them. But she has been promised to a Duke by the owner of the Moulin Rouge. So, despite her love for Christian, she is expected to still play her part. During the transformation to make the cabaret into a theater, the Duke gains more control by being an investor in the play being rehearsed. The Duke wants Satine all to himself. This makes it difficult for the two lovers. But for Satine, the difficulty is of a different kind. She becomes aware of her true circumstances and tries to run away with Christian. When she is confronted by the Moulin Rouge manager, Harold, she delivers one of the best lines of the film:

            I don’t need you anymore! All my life, you made me believe I was only worth what someone would pay for me! But Christian loves me. He loves me, Harold. He loves me! And that is worth everything.

            I won’t assume that the message I found was what the director wanted. But here is the truth I observed and I hope many caught onto: prostitution is wrong and degrading to the people involved. Once Satine got a taste of real love, how could she go back to her old life? What did it do for her anyway? Pay the bills? Give her a home? But in the end, it only valued her for what money she could bring in. Her humanity meant nothing. It’s a heartbreaking scene and we see just how hard it is to escape that environment once planted in it. Yes, this movie is fictional. But see what it reveals about the here and now? Prostitution is a major problem and runs rampant everywhere we go. Women have so much sacred value; money and sex should not dictate that.

            Just from these two stories alone, it makes one wonder what’s really happening outside our door. What has been normalized that shouldn’t be? What’s taking place that’s purposely being hidden from us? If there’s anything I’ve learned through the years, it’s that one cannot trust everything they hear. Just because it’s said does not make it valid. Just because it’s said by someone with a high status doesn’t make it true. We must be able to tell the difference. If fiction can speak so clearly, we must ask ourselves why our society cannot. We’re dealing with a grammar diagram that’s a lot bigger than it looks. Fiction reaches into those branches and helps us to see what isn’t easily seen.

            So, the next time you hear someone say art is pointless, remember what art can do.  Remember that art is a reflection of the human struggle. If that be the case, then we are truly warriors. We must use fiction to fight a fictitious world that is more concerned with manipulation and control than compassion. So, in the words of Rage Against the Machine, “we gotta take the power back!”

Poetry of the Passerby, Part 2

It’s time for a new poetry dosage by Yours Truly. If I may say so (and I’m sure this is relatable enough), sometimes blogging takes a lot out of me. I love the topics I delve into. But sometimes, my ideas need more room for rumination and editing. I want to give the best content I can manage. In the meantime, take a glance over some poems I’ve clipped at over the month. Keep your eyes peeled for content that will be heading your way this February! I’m hoping to get minds thinking and hearts stirring.

Grave Name

Blasting pace, every waking space

Beside the yellow lines, where I tend to never drive.

Can’t catch me now, only my hand

Reaching through the open window

And lifting my curse to tombs,

To fenced-in asylums of cement.

It’s a case of grave intent, while my

Laughter rolls over made-up squalls.

There in a blink, then gone.

I roll up the barrier as I pass,

Pull chapstick from unstitched pockets,

Apply an ample dose, and continue fake

Fondness to say I’m not afraid of

The tomb with my name on it.

The Skies Behind

Maybe, ever slowly,

These scales can be skinned off my eyes.

It hurts to repair, yet hurts more never to see

What’s around me…

I thought the sky was blue,

But it’s bird egg azure, sherbet cotton candy wisped over its fold.

A sunset gold against an emerald ocean.

Foaming coal clouds, heavenly mountains.

Tear your veil, that you may see the skies behind.

It may be rouge at first, but the Light clears it up.

Language No Longer Soothes

Clear inquiries in feathered letters on wrinkled paper,

Supposing words had any depth, any recognition besides the

Cursive slide and curved encasement.

If language is the barrier, my common tongue will

Cease to satisfy, even with an education supposing I know how

To tell you, to say to you, to remark

On the marks you’ve etched in your skin, beneath

Skull lines, hidden in a shirt too big or too small to know

Who you really are these days.

I love you. I’m sorry that you don’t.

Metanoia in A Silent Voice

Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate storytelling through the medium of anime. I have my foreign film class to thank for that, as well as friends who’ve had similar tastes. I recently re-watched an anime close to my heart, called A Silent Voice or The Shape of Voice by director Naoko Yamada. The film is based on the manga series by Reiko Yoshida. I originally found the film one lax, summer afternoon in 2017. The film is still phenomenal. Realistically, I don’t have the words to describe the beauty of it. Yet here I am, about to attempt to. Since I’m sure every possible review of A Silent Voice has been done, I’ll be talking about it from a more Orthodox perspective. Specifically, I’ll breakdown how metanoia is a key theme, and how sainthood is portrayed through this.

Metanoia comes from the Greek word μετάνοια. This translates to, “a transformative change of heart; especially: a spiritual conversion.” Another way to look at metanoia is as repentance. It’s more than a mere apology. Apologizing for a wrong is one thing; to actually do something about it is another. On first watch, we’d most likely see A Silent Voice as expressing the struggles of growing up. While this is true, we cannot grow without metanoia. If we try, it’s only an outward mask.

So, how does metanoia come into play here? First, let me give an overview of the film: the story is centered in Japan, where we meet Ishida Shoya and Nishimiya Shouko. Nishimiya is a transfer student to Ishida’s school as a young girl. When Ishida learns she’s deaf, he bullies her relentlessly. The bullying gets so bad that Nishimiya’s mother transfers her another time. Ishida’s bullying costs him his closest friends and he is bullied in return. As teenagers, Ishida and Nishimiya bump into each other again. They attempt to create a friendship from the broken fragments left over. But the question is if they can.

The changes we see in both Ishida and Nishimiya are not instantaneous. We especially see this in Ishida’s character. His journey depicts the struggles of being an ex-bully (if that’s a thing), which results in depression, isolation, and suicidal thoughts. Early on in the film, Ishida makes plans to kill himself. He sells all his belongings, packages the money earned for his mother, and has his calendar end in April. By the time he tries to die, something stops him. We’re not given a direct answer why, but he decides to head back home. The next morning, he becomes painfully aware that his mother knew his intentions all along and watches as she cries and wails in grief. He prostrates himself and promises he won’t try to commit suicide ever again.

But Ishida’s transformation hasn’t quite settled in yet. Metanoia is but a foggy figure at this point. When he bumps into Nishimiya again, he tries to befriend her. He even learns sign language in order to speak with her. This road, however, is difficult. She’s skeptical, just as others are. But eventually, it seems their friendship is moving forward.

What I love about this story the most is how it deals with redemption. It could’ve let Ishida be forgiven by his efforts alone. But eventually, he realizes this isn’t enough. He’s missed the biggest change, his own metanoia. This transformation surfaces when he saves Nishimiya from committing suicide by jumping off her balcony. As he holds onto her wrist, trying not to let her go, he makes a promise in his mind:

God, give me just one more ounce of strength. I won’t escape from the challenges in life. Starting tomorrow, I’ll look at everyone’s face. I’ll listen to everyone’s voice. I’ll do everything properly from now on…

He falls after managing to pull her back up. He survives, but with bruises to bear. Nishimiya is beyond grief at how her actions could’ve cost Ishida his life. But one night, they both meet at one of their favorite locations to feed fish. The apology Ishida gives to Nishimiya is so important to their overall journey. It goes something like this:

I am sorry. I never really apologized for what I did in the past. In addition, what I did after we met again. So many things I did. Perhaps, I interpret you to suit my interest.

This is the moment of metanoia. This is a real change of heart. It’s not that everything else was wrong; being her friend, helping her, and attempting to heal old wounds. The problem was that he never actually apologized for his past abuse. He was trying to fix the surface, but not the core. He wanted her to fit in the mold he made to smooth things over. Only after his fall did he understand the value of both their lives. From there on, both he and Nishimiya make sure to apologize to everyone they had hurt by their actions or inactions. They each took hold of metanoia in their hearts.

We can certainly see a saintly change in Ishida. Yet I would be remiss to not mention the virtuous qualities of Nishimiya. She reminds me a lot of the saints of Orthodoxy. Her love toward those who persecute her is strong, even if it crushes her inside. But this is the calling of Orthodox Christians: to love our enemies. Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica explains this practice well:

It seems that we do not understand one thing: it is not good when we return the love of those who love us, yet hate those who hate us. We are not on the right path if we do this. We are the sons of light and love, the sons of God, his children. As such we must have His qualities and His attributes of love, peace, and kindness towards all.

We might wonder then, if Nishimiya is saint-like, why would she attempt suicide? Because being a saint requires much courage against the temptations of this life. There will certainly be days where we falter, fall, and find ourselves worse than before. But that doesn’t change what must be done. As many times as she was beaten, laughed at, and belittled, she tried not to have hatred in her heart. Even when Ishida was getting bullied, she took time to clean his desk, where other students had written mean messages. Imagine! She was assisting the kid who was bullying her! How many of us would do the same?

Repentance is at the center of our lives. To ignore it is to face failure in everything we do. It’s not easy. Heck, sometimes it looks less than appealing. But as Orthodox Christians, we must strive for it. Imagine if Ishida had never made that apology in the end. Would we, the audience, have been satisfied? Would it have been enough to butter Nishimiya up in hopes she’d forget his past? And imagine how this apology would have settled if Nishimiya didn’t have such an Orthodox love for all? Indeed, true transformation starts from the heart and comes from a genuine yearning for change. I believe this is the reason the ending scene of A Silent Voice is so powerful. We get to see what metanoia physically does to the characters and their surroundings (and this is the one scene that I can’t spoil).

This tiny attempt at showing the redemptive beauty of A Silent Voice certainly falls short. I can only say so much before my words are lost on a winter wind. The only way you’ll truly understand what I’m talking about is by watching the film for yourself. It’s currently on Netflix; but if you’re really ambitious, you can purchase it on Blu-ray and DVD as well. It may not be the movie you watch every day. But you’ll cry, you’ll laugh, and you’ll most certainly change. And that, my friends, is the affect of metanoia in physical form.

Confessional Cure

It’s estimated that by 2030, almost 50% of the population will have a chronic illness. Colds and flus have been on a steady rise for years. Sickness is running rampant among us and defining our everyday lives. Now more than ever, the populace is flocking towards doctors and diets. Yet no matter what we try to eat, weigh, or take, we continue to get sick or stay stagnant. While scientific studies offer some solutions, we’re still left with upset bodies and conflicted minds.

It’s easy to get discouraged when we’re not at our best. I still remember three Christmas’s ago when I caught a stomach bug and was bedridden for almost two weeks. I’d already been struggling with depression and this illness really defined my agony. But around that time, I started noticing the connection between my thoughts and my body, what I believed ultimately affected my health. I read articles and books on the placebo effect, listening to stories of healing in belief alone. In the placebo effect, someone is prescribed a sugar pill that will ‘cure’ an illness. The ill person is unaware that it’s not real medicine; but based on their belief, the pill cures them. So, if you’ve ever heard the mantra you get what you believe, from my research, it’s quite true.  

This begs the question of what potential wehave in our own healing. My belief is that our illnesses stem from a lack of confession and forgiveness. I’m not surprised by our current sickened state. As morals crash, our health fails too. Sickness and suffering are a result of our decisions through time. There’s nothing more deadly than holding a grudge, than encamping unwavering bitterness, even in the face of those apologizing. As long as we hold onto those feelings, our physical health deteriorates. We can see this being hinted at in Wisdom of Sirach 28:1-5:

Forgive a wrong done you by your neighbor; then your sins will be pardoned when you pray. Can a man preserve wrath against his neighbor and still seek healing from the Lord? Can he show no mercy toward a man like himself and still beg God for mercy for himself? If he being flesh keeps his anger continually, who will atone for his sins?

We can’t expect healing if we bear hatred to others – and even, I’d say, to ourselves. Ever wonder why you feel off when you’re fighting with a loved one? Or when you get stressed? How we decide to think and feel is a major factor in our health. If we wish to be well, we must examine our lives and our attitude towards it.

In the Orthodox Church, belief in healing is an important factor. We need look no further than Mark 10:49-52 to see this in play:

So Jesus stood still and commanded him to be called. Then they called the blind man, saying to him, “Be of good cheer. Rise, He is calling you.” And throwing aside his garment, he rose and came to Jesus. So Jesus answered and said to him, “What do you want Me to do for you?” The blindman said to Him, “Rabboni, that I may receive my sight.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus on the road.

Yes, Jesus healed the blind man.; but notice that it was also the blind man’s faith that cured him. I’m not implying we have all the power. We need Christ always; otherwise we’d be more helpless than helpful. But if we’re being purified and deified daily, then we have the capability to physically change the state of our bodies.

But how do we begin this cure? As an Orthodox Christian, our healing starts at the Holy Sacrament of Confession. The Orthodox Church is not just a home, but a hospital. Confession with our spiritual father is so essential that leaving it out will only increase our ailments. In order to heal physically, we need to be healed spiritually. Confession gets us to let go of our hate, our self-centered defiance, and brings us back to our baptism (how appropriate I write this during the week of Holy Theophany!). There’s more to sin than the misconstrued ‘committed a crime’ mentality (a sad theological error in most protestant circles). Sin is missing the mark. And if we let sin go without repentance, we’ll become ill and irritable. To repent is to change one’s mind. And a change of mind can imply a new sense of belief. This belief is the healing fount that we see from the blind man’s story. This is faith. This is trust in the Lord, that He is our healing and He is our redemption. There is no healing, no true health without the forgiveness of sins and the intercessions of our priest, the holy fathers, and all the saints.

I know this is a big statement to stand on. Like counseling gives an extra boost, Orthodox confession offers even more. Christ wants us to be healed in every way. But as long as we hold onto the passions, as long as we keep missing the mark, we cannot truly recover. Our health matters as much to God as it does to us.  Let this year be the one where you take time to regularly confess to your spiritual father. Our healing starts today. Believe in it and you’ll be free.