And then there was St. Barbara the Great Martyr, whose pagan father secluded the beautiful girl from all but those whom he approved to instruct her, who saw the Divine imprint upon Creation and longed to know her Creator. Did she, in gazing from her seclusion, contemplate how the Lord ordered every ray of light and every shadow to fall in precise order through the trees and to cast themselves as the life upon the earth should require? Did she imagine herself stripped of her fetters and wandering the fields He clothed while yet their own garments were a moment more spared the oven? Or did she one fine day love her earthly father and, in professing Christ to his idolatry, ask of him bread and receive a stone and soon thereafter the collapsing walls of the caves it had been hewn from? She added to her father's bathhouse a third window to represent the Holy Trinity and inscribed the Sign of the Cross upon the marble. For this she was questioned and chided, for her faith she was tortured, and for her steadfastness and by a swing of the blade by her fathers own hand she was murdered. The Orthodox Church commemorated St. Barbara two days ago, as it does every year on the 4th of December.
Some of the recent readings in the Orthodox lectionary, most especially because we have just commemorated some monks and hierarchs, and certain readings are prescribed for such occasions, have dealt with the contrast of, on the one hand, relief and healing through communion and the faith of Christ and, on the other, the burdens that we must suffer in this world. There were, for instance, the healing of the blind man near Jericho (Luke 18:35-43) and that of the woman with the twelve years' flow of blood (Mark 5:24-34). Thy faith hath saved thee, the Lord said to the former, and Thy faith hath made thee whole to the latter, and indeed are these two statements really all that different? What is salvation, if not to be rid of the disruption that pervades this life and corrupts what God intended otherwise? In yesterday's Epistle reading, Galatians 5:22-26 and 6:1-2, the Apostle Paul begins with the fruit of the Spirit, a famous list of marvelous benefits—love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance—but he moves immediately to those who suffer spiritual fault, the perils to those who would help them, and the bearing of one another's burdens. In yesterday's Gospel reading, Matthew 11:27-30, the Lord, meek and lowly in heart, promising rest to those who labour and are heavy laden, puts forth the famous offer of his easy yoke and light burden. If, having concluded the day's reading in the lectionary, one were to proceed a bit further in Galatians, by the way, one would see further contrast between the communal bearing of burdens and the cares that the individual shall bear alone: don't think that you're something, for you are nothing, and yet you shall carry your own burden. (All references KJV.)
This is, as you may have surmised from the title, another tidying up and organizing post, but, in making the transitions that I shall announce here, and in going through my days, I have the themes of readings such as those quite prominently on my mind. The woman with the flow of blood or the blind man, for instance: do you reckon that either of them was especially weak in his or her own component of faith prior to the encounter with the Lord? For twelve years did the woman lack something herself that she ought have had, something that failed to liberate her of her physical malady and ritual defilement? Did she not believe enough? Have sufficient conviction of the righteousness and mercy of her Creator? Or could it be, rather—and to paint a more complete icon of such an event—that her faith, as well as the blind man's, is not just the individual's belief in God, which we would call faith in God, but is the faith of God? Do you detect in our discussing this in English a meaningful distinction and understanding of faith denoted by the prepositions? The woman did not heal herself, nor did the man, and yet their faith made them whole, when they encountered Christ, Who is Himself faithful.
Consider also how the Apostle Paul speaks of the fruits of the Spirit and then immediately of burdens. Surely he does not mean to suggest that those whom he warns of their present or future burdens are bereft of the Spirit. Why, one need not turn many pages to find examples of the man himself despairing of his own life or recalling some agonizing afflictions, even ones suffered during his missionary work and his contact with the churches that he writes to. The fruit of the Spirit and the faith that makes us whole are not promises of a cure right now. How many years might any one of us wait for our physical infirmity to depart, our psychic turmoil to end, or our promised reward to arrive? How many saintly lives end still in pain and expectation? The Beatitudes and Woes recorded in Luke were also among this week's readings, if memory serves.
In further drawing the boundaries for Lasseter's Lost Reef and my presence on the World Wide Internet, I have, as you can see both at the top of the page and in the right-hand column, begun Lasseter's Lost Reef Β’. You will remember from the first Housekeeping post that I added a Google+ widget to this journal (see that on the right too) and noted that I sometimes leave commentary in my Google+ profile as well as links to sites I find noteworthy. As the last several of my Google+ comments became rather unusually long for the format, I decided to stake out another place for such writings: that is, for essays that are not as disciplined or focused as what I wish to put here, that are generally easier to write, but that nonetheless may have some substance. I shall still have remarks for Google+, and that and the here-today-gone-today Twitter (where I also periodically perform my stand-up routine) are the places to find most of my links. I suspect that the second Lasseter's Lost Reef will see more frequent updates than this, the first, but I make no promises. My yoke is flighty and the online burden I offer unpredictable. In any case, my first post on Tumblr, a reflection on my baptism and what it means to be Orthodox, can be found here:
I have installed comments on my tumblr, and readers are as welcome to comment there as they are here and on Google+. If you would care to follow any of these three pages by RSS, you can do so quite easily (although, be warned, friends of the here-today-gone-today and "I gotta have Virge's latest now" Internet, the G+ RSS only goes through every two hours, and Tumblr seems to be slower even than that). Those links are:*
Last evening, at the top of the Cleveland Orchestra concert, guest conductor and artist-in-residence Leon Fleisher began by announcing the death of a great man and dedicating the concert to him on behalf of the Orchestra, pianist Jonathan Biss, and himself. The first piece was Felix Mendelssohn's Hebrides overture. Mendelssohn's musical reflection on those Scottish isles could not help but be shaded by the news. No further commentary is required. Have a listen.
* 7 December 2013. I have burned what should be a more timely updated feed for the Tumblr site by Feedburner, and there is already also a Feedburner alternative for this one. So, if you would prefer: