July 9/22 2013
I am full of joy for Mykael and Anastasia (Gloria), who were crowned (married) yesterday (Sunday afternoon, after having received communion). I am profoundly disappointed that I could not be the celebrant, because of my Shingles outbreak and probability that I was contagious with the Chicken Pox virus (and Myke has never had Chicken Pox!). Thank God that Fr Gregory was available to serve the liturgy and the wedding. His kindness made all of this possible, and allowed me to keep my promise to Myke that he would be wed on this date, no matter what.
Certainly, our God works in mysterious ways. I baptized Myke many years ago, and catechized Anastasia and baptized her recently. She has been an apt and willing pupil, and I believe that she is fully into the process of having Orthodoxy completely in her heart (as we all should be!). I wanted to see this thing through to the end (which of course, as all our Sacraments are, is really another beginning), but God had other plans for me and my little flock.
Truly, in my absence, our little parish stepped up to the plate for this wedding. Fr Nicholas catechized them over many sessions regarding Orthodox marriage, and I sat in a few times and learned some things! Deborah as usual devotedly worked on flowers for the wedding. Reader David and Gabrielle were the witnesses and sponsors (the so -called "best man" and "maid of honor"). Fr Gregory willingly served when I could not. Jenny and Natalie sang in the choir, a long day. Many provided food. I am thrilled that it all came together, and despite some of my health challenges, "All things work(ed) to the good".
By the way, I did my part as best I could. I say the following in the hope of setting an example.
I did not eat or drink Sunday until after Liturgy would have likely been over (at noon). I also was very aware of the time, and prayed continuously to the best of my meager abilities, from 10am till noon. I tried to observe the resurrection, even though I was at home. You should do the same thing also, if you are home for an honorable reason (or, I suppose, a bad reason too) on a Sunday morning. We are all part of the church, and because our church is Catholic, the whole church is present with us when we liturgize. I joined myself to that great assembly by praying during the liturgy. I prayed simply - just the Jesus prayer, with a rope for one person and then another, or for my whole flock, or even for the whole world, and of course, several times for the bridal couple.
My health is improving. I saw my ophthalmologist today regarding my left eye, which has been affected by the Shingles outbreak (it affected my Trigeminal nerve on the left side, which enervates the eyes). All my sores are crusted over now, and I was certified as non-infectious today. This will allow me to serve again, and also get back to work. My first episode of Shingles was relatively mild by Shingles standards. I have had some manageable pain, and itchiness, but mostly, my concern has been blurry vision in my left eye. My eye is almost back to normal. It may be weeks or months before everything is as it was. but I should not be limited in what I can do (depending, of course on me not being an idiot). I even was able to work out today, and it felt real good!
My short illnesses have been very instructive to me. It is good to really feel one's mortality. I do not particularly like this lesson, even though I often seek to have it, because my soul needs to be reminded. It is pretty easy to seek a lesson theoretically, but quite another to experience it in actual life. My illnesses started with pneumonia, which to my foolish mind seemed to be a Non Sequitur - how can a healthy guy like me, who does so much stuff get sick with pneumonia? This does not fit with my image of myself, which my heart knows is an unrealistic image, but my vanity fights against it. In theory, I know that I am a weak and insignificant sinner, and can do nothing without Christ.
I preach about human weakness and mortality all the time (since, as I have told my flock many times, my homilies are those of a sinner trying to help other sinners not to sin - they are from the heart and according to my own experience, and are basically autobiographical in spirit), and cultivate this feeling with the prayer and reading I do. I will continue to preach about this, because if we do not fully acknowledge our weaknesses, we will not fully reach out to God for help with them.
Theory is not practice however. I do not like to ask for help. I do not like to be unable to do something because my body will not let me. I do not like to actually feel weak, even though I readily admit that I am weak! These are not good things about my character - they are passions. In theory, it is easy to acknowledge these faults, but when reality shows me unmistakably that I am weak and need help, the lesson is truly learned. Humble pie is good for the soul.
Many people have told me that "stress" must have caused my illnesses. A pastor's life is filled with stress because, even if he is a sinner, as long as he is trying and praying for his flock, he feels the sadness and weakness and failures of many. I do not believe that any of this "stress" causes illness. It seems to me that self-reliance and lack of faith, when combined with "stress" can cause illness. I think by God's providence, my body was pleased to give me a strident lesson. Although I did not feel particularly "stressed", my body told me otherwise. I think if I prayed much more than I worried, there would be no debilitating stress.
During my illness, I have slept much more than usual, and allowed myself to waken naturally, instead of getting up early every day. I have read a lot of Scripture, and prayed a lot of the prayer (the Jesus prayer), and it seems to me that there is more clarity in my mind now. It is good to know that we are weak, and without Christ we can do nothing, and it is better to feel this viscerally, with one's entire heart. This feeling, if it was "100%", would ALWAYS lead us to deep prayer to God, and as our spirit worked, our body would rest. I am not sure what my percentage is, but, thank God, it is a little higher now, than it was a scant 2 weeks before, when I could basically physically do anything I wanted to do.
My prayer for my flock is that you learn to depend on God completely, and not trust yourself in any way, and in so doing, to begin to be fully perfected in the Lord. This is a difficult thing to learn; let's learn together.
If you are not reading the Scripture daily, with expectation, you will never master this lesson.
If you are not praying regularly, and especially with attention and quiet, you will never master this lesson.
If you are no subjugating your body by fasting, you will never learn this lesson.
If the services are basically optional to you and attendance at them gets "bumped" for almost any reason, you will never learn this lesson.
Perhaps, for most of us, if we are not shown graphic evidence through sickness or the events of life that we are weak and have no control over anything (except whether of not we turn to God for help in all things), we will never master this lesson.
Many years to the newly crowned Mykael and Anastasia!
Priest Seraphim Holland 2013 St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas
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 God being my helper, I will NEVER serve a wedding on that "sacred" wedding night for Americans and American Orthodox who do not know their faith, which is Saturday night. It is ridiculous for the couple to eschew the Vigil service, placing all emphasis on the worldly matters of "getting ready for the wedding", and then to skip the celebration of the Resurrection and the partaking of the Eucharist the following morning. This is a terrible trade of earthly things instead of heavenly things. This is a terrible way to ask God to bless a union, which is NOT primarily sexual, but is an image of the love of the church. The purpose of marriage is so that two people can become one, and mutually labor for the salvation of their souls. Sleeping in on Sunday, after a night of carnal relations, which would be blessed if they did not substitute for preparation for the Holy Mysteries, is not a good beginning.
 Romans 8:28 And we know that to them that love God all things work together unto good: to such as, according to his purpose, are called to be saints.