All posts by Caleb Shoemaker

Married to one, father of four; SAHD homeschooling dad. I have been teaching for five years in a classical school ​and am looking to launch an Orthodox Classical school within three years. I am currently working on my first book about connecting parish life and home life to be published by Ancient Faith Press. I blog about books, teaching, lesson planning, curriculum, writing, and passing on the faith between generations. I am available to speak about classical education and the connection between home and parish.

Marley’s Ghost

The ghost of Jacob Marley visits Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843); Illustration by Arthur Rackham (1915)

It’ that time of year, when the world turns its mind toward trees and candelabra; driedels and tinsel; manger scenes and Maccabees. The Holidays and all the trappings from toys and latkes to church and family. It’s a busy time and the prevailing cultural mood is that if everything in your life isn’t going exactly how you’d like, then you are doomed to wander through the whole year having “lost the holiday spirit”. Woe betide those who walk past the Salvation Army Santa with his bell or fail to greet their neighbor with appropriately festive greetings. All of this in the name of “keeping the spirit” or “keeping Christ in Christmas” or…whatever.

Recently, though, we have been on the receiving end of a darker holiday message. In recent weeks, our own Jamey Bennet has had to break the law in order to follow the Gospel calling to feed the homeless in Fort Lauderdale. A good friend of LOTW had his house robbed and ransacked and what little they did have, was taken from them in the course of an afternoon. Even our own government has been exposed for its cruel and inhuman acts towards our fellow-man. Here at the rolling of the year, we are drawn to the question: Am I my brother’s keeper?

It was in this dark world that I was reading A Christmas Carol to my daughters. This has become a tradition in our house: First The Best Christmas Pageant Ever , then A Christmas Carol. We have just reached Marley’s Ghost and his admonishment of Scrooge in light of his own sufferings.

“At this time of the rolling year,” the spectre said, “I suffer most. Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode? Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me?”

Having lost the ability to interfere for good in human misery, Marley must watch it–blown about on the winds–and weep for his unfeeling past. Keeping his eyes to the ground and only on the nearest crisis of income and expenses, he lost the time granted him to reach out a tender hand with love and goodwill towards those he saw in need.

What are we to do? How are we to see the world in such desperate need, to feel ourselves at a loss for time and resources, and make a real change? What great work can we accomplish in the name of Jesus Christ for the life of the world and the saving of the race?

I was moved by the story from our friend: in the midst of his suffering he kept saying, “I am thankful”. Thankful for his family, his safety, his house, his friends, his work, everything that remained to him. It is so easy at these times to turn inwards, focus on our own needs, and to wait for someone else to work to change the life of someone else. But that wasn’t the end of the story. Where Marley kept his eyes to the ground and ignored human misery, this dear friend looked up and was guided by the star to the nearest manger and able to change the life of someone else he saw in need.

Dickens, through Marley, presents a very simple anthropology: “It is required of every man,” the Ghost returned, “that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow-men, and travel far and wide; and, if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world—oh, woe is me!—and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!” We are called to see each person, every hurting soul, every joyful laughter and tune our hearts to join that dance. Failure to do that is failure to be a Human. In every person, we are called to see the imago dei and turn in reverence to that image and raise it up in the name of Christ–no matter who or what they may be or how they may offend us. True iconodulism is not limited to the reverence of sacred images on wood and stone, but most truly directed at the living icons who wander in and out of our lives.

Merry Christmas!

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Caleb (Edward) Shoemaker is a teacher of Latin and Bible in Upstate New York. He has a degree in Biblical Languages from Gordon-Conwell Theological Institute in South Hamilton, Massachusetts. He is kept busy raising four beautiful children with his wife Amelia. Check out their Etsy shop Embroidered Ameilia specializing in Pascha blanket patterns for the American Orthodox.

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Putting Christian men in their place

During past reflections on Psalm 1 and other topics, I notice the use of masculine imagery and masculine pronouns. I am not opposed to this as such, but I often wonder if men–even Orthodox Christian men–see the preponderance of male and masculine imagery as a place of special privilege within the Kingdom of God and the Orthodox Church.

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The accusation is often laid against the Church that she is an archaic boys club; that the system and hierarchy in place preclude all female involvement outside of the potluck dinner, the meditation garden, and the choir; that the feminine is looked down upon while the masculine and macho are celebrated to an extreme degree. (All one has to do is look to the iteration of Fight Church to see the extreme spectrum of this broken worldview.) Rightly so, I fear. We Christians too often use the Bible as a weapon–not against sin, but against each other. We Orthodox use the Holy Canons of our church as cannons to be used in the offensive against perceived threats. In this, I fear, we have lost not only our proper view of women but a sacred view of men.

Both Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition discuss with great reverence the good creation of God in creating Man male and female. Both, we are told, were created in His image; both were created for each other; and together they become a living icon of both the Trinitarian relationship and the mystical union between Christ and His Church. Our hymnography uses masculine language to describe women and feminine adjectives to describe men, and none of this is considered wrong nor obscene nor emasculation, nor chauvinistic. Yet we are confronted time and again by men and women whose misunderstanding of their God ordained roles leads them to lash out, belittle, and degrade others based on sex and gender. Increasingly, we buy into the Uni-sex heresy which denies the difference between sexes so much as to make them interchangeable! Both of these responses do undue violence to the Body and call evil what God calls good.

We have so misunderstood and misinterpreted the roles of women in the Church that the roles of men are often miscast as the oppressor or the do-anything-you-want frat brothers of Holy Orthodoxy. Instead of casting the priesthood and holy orders in the light of special significance and limited occupancy, some men see it as their right to pass through the Doors of the iconostasis simply because they are male. Others are quick to point out that “women can’t do that” without taking into consideration that those same forbidden areas are forbidden to the majority of men in the church as well. It is time, as Jodie said, for both Men and Women to be in their proper place.

What does this discussion of Orthodox Anthropology, sexism, and sex roles mean to you, your parish, your church experience?

Page Divider for Author Bios

Caleb (Edward) Shoemaker is a teacher of Latin and Bible in Upstate New York. He has a degree in Biblical Languages from Gordon-Conwell Theological Institute in South Hamilton, Massachusetts. He is kept busy raising four beautiful children with his wife Amelia. Check out their Etsy shop Embroidered Ameilia specializing in Pascha blanket patterns for the American Orthodox.

A fruitful vine: Wedding prayers part 2

Remember, O Lord our God, Your servant and Your handmaiden, and bless them. Give to them fruit of the womb, fair children, concord of soul and body…

If you’ve never given pause to the sheer amount of references to sex and children in the Orthodox wedding, this post will provide no statistical references or word counts. Rather, I want to ponder the preponderance of sexual references made throughout the celebration of the sacrament. In front of God, your family, your priest, and your sponsors, bride and bridegroom are encouraged to embrace the marriage bed and to add their names to the prolific breeders of Christian history.

It’s not a surprise to many of us that the ideal in Orthodoxy is the Monastic life. It’s compared to the life of angels, it’s the life our Savior, His Forerunner, many of the Apostles and great saints of our history chose to follow in search of Salvation. St. Paul is clear, though, that only slightly below the celibate life is the life of chaste marriage–a word and concept far too often ignored and misunderstood in modern culture and misapplied in Christian circles.

Chastity is not synonymous with celibacy. Chastity is related to purity and used often in the refining of precious metals. When the impurities have been finally done away with and the pure metal shines, it is called “chaste”. When our time of refinement is over, we will be presented chaste and undefiled before the Father as a pure and spotless holy bride. Within marriage, Chastity and sexuality go hand-in-hand with godliness and purity.

The prayer of the Orthodox wedding again and again is that the couple will be blessed with chastity in their marriage–that they will be able to maintain a pure and holy wedding bed which produces godly offspring as a blessing from the Lord. Chastity, then, is more than just avoiding sex from time-to-time (as we are instructed to do), but is about avoiding all sins which would corrupt the icon of the Trinity that marriage is described as throughout the New Testament. There is nothing so holy as a pure marriage bed, and nothing so defiled as a corrupted marriage bed. Within the confines of our Orthodox understanding of marriage and sex is this standard everywhere upheld: the marriage bed is honorable and undefiled; but the converse would imply that a defiled marriage bed is dishonorable and a place not of sanctity but of sin and corruption.

Our Lord tells us in the Gospels that bad trees produce bad fruit, and that good fruit is not picked from briers. Our marriages–and all that they entail–are the same way. Our piety and devotion, our sanctity and love will produce (Lord willing) children who grow in their devotion and love for the Lord and become His saints. Our bitterness, anger, fornication, and lust will also impact these children of our marriage bed; and it is this bitter fruit that we pray against when we ask during the marriage ceremony that the bed be chaste and undefiled and that we be blessed as a fruitful vine.

May God so richly bless our marriages that we seek purity and devotion, love and submission to one another and to Him. In this blessing we will become a fertile and well-tended garden for their salvation to be planted, watered, and grow.

Page Divider for Author Bios

Caleb (Edward) Shoemaker is a teacher of Latin and Bible in Upstate New York. He has a degree in Biblical Languages from Gordon-Conwell Theological Institute in South Hamilton, Massachusetts. He is kept busy raising four beautiful children with his wife Amelia. Check out their Etsy shop Embroidered Ameilia specializing in Pascha blanket patterns for the American Orthodox.

Psalm 1: Blessed is the Man

“Oh the happinesses of the man (the one, the person) who never walks in the council of the ungodly, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor remain standing in the dwelling place of the scornful.”

The Book of Psalms contains the poetic description of a life spent in the service of YHWH and obedience to His commandments. The Righteous One is compared to the Fool–who says in his heart there is no God–because the Righteous man seeks to obey the Lord and His commandments. In the Psalms, the Righteous Man becomes a Righteous King and is almost always presented to the people as David (the chosen, anointed Messiah). In the world of the New Testament and the reign of Christ, we see that these Davidic pictures are all foreshadowing the Incarnation and divine reign of THE Messiah who is not just the adopted Son of God that the Israelite kings were but is truly God himself and His divine, pre-eternal Son.

Through a series of longer “study” posts and shorter “discussion” posts, we’ll be engaging the imagery and theology of Psalm 1 and hopefully encourage and instruct one another as we go.

Psalm 1 contains the entirety of the theological instruction of the Psalter. In six short verses we are introduced to the two characters (the righteous one and the fool), the Law of God, the Covenant Blessings, and the two ways: life and death. Each of these themes is repeated throughout the Psalter, and it’s important to recognize that the author of Psalm 1 has created a perfect prologue to the proceeding passages. It’s also important to note, that these images have been adopted and presented to us by the Church in relation to Christ and that He (David’s heir and divine Son of God) is the fulfillment of these Psalmic images.

 

Psalm 1 begins as above: “Oh the blessedness (literally the happinesses) of the man who NEVER walks, stands, or abides with the ungodly. It’s a fabulous bit of Hebrew poetry built upon the actions of walking, standing, and dwelling–think Exodus imagery here–in relation to the person who is going about life’s way. The righteous man who wants covenant blessing must NEVER (the prohibition in Hebrew has this connotation) walk on the way of death; NEVER stand in the council of the ungodly; and NEVER “abide as though to live” among the unrighteous. His delight (hephetz), rather, is in the Torah of YHWH, and it is on His law that he (the righteous man) chews. In contrast to the one who sits around the table with the ungodly, the man who receives covenant blessing sits and eats at the table of Torah and becomes like a tree planted by living water which grows, flourishes, and produces fruit. The wicked, on the contrary, receive the covenant curses and wither and are lost on the wind like chaff.

For the original audience of the Psalms, this image was a very visceral. They had spent generations dwelling among the ungodly in slavery and their decision to stop walking in God’s way and to stand listening to the ungodly led to their forty year wilderness wandering. Before finally entering the Promised Land they had taken time to rehearse the blessings and curses of the Law as they looked across the flowing Jordan river (next to which they would be planted). Every year they would listen to the words of the Exodus as they celebrated Passover. Every year they would read the Torah in its entirety, starting in Genesis and ending with the words of Promise as they crossed the Jordan into Canaan. Every day they were given the opportunity to examine their lives before Torah and to place themselves on the Path of the Righteous or the Way of the Ungodly.

Before moving forward, consider these two images: the way of life and the way of death. The Righteous one is happy and blessed on the way of God’s commandments and the Ungodly is forgotten as quickly as chaff. How do these two ways present themselves through the Old Testament Scripture and the Gospels/Epistles?

Wedding prayers part 1: Account them Worthy

http://apracticalwedding.com/

As the bride and groom move inwards towards the table in front of the iconostasis, they are preparing to be crowned. Often these crowns are interpreted as martyr’s crowns, foreshadowing  a life of sacrifice and death for the other as we are called to in the Epistle to the Ephesians and elsewhere in the New Testament. An area which is so often overlooked in most descriptions of Orthodox marriage that I’ve heard is that these crowns represent the small kingdom being established under the rule of Christ here in this newly formed family. The husband, a generative king whose strong labor and leadership will produce strong healthy offspring and a prosperous kingdom. The wife, a glorious queen who is adorned in fine jewels and receives the gifts bestowed upon her and increases the fruitfulness of the house. The crowns do symbolize martyrdom and death, but they also symbolize glory and prosperity, life and children. In this post I want to focus on the wedding prayers in the Orthodox wedding service as they pertain to sacrifice and care.

Bless (+) this marriage and grant unto these Your servants (Name) and(Name) a peaceful life, length of days, chastity, love for one another in a bond of peace, offspring long‑lived, fair fame by reason of their children, and a crown of glory that does not fade away.

This proclamation comes after a long list of married saints from the Old Testament and turns the direction of the litany from sexual prosperity to spiritual prosperity. Note how they are blessed with a peaceful life, chastity, love for each other, and a crown of glory which will not fade. In the midst of prosperity and children the newly married are called to remember that the vocation of marriage is not about self aggrandizement but about self sacrifice, fasting, feasting, and an eternal reward which will never fade.

And now, O Master, Lord our God, send down Your heavenly Grace upon these Your servants,(Name) and (Name), and grant unto this woman to be in all things subject unto the man, and to this Your servant to be at the head of the woman that they live according to Your Will.

It’s not uncommon to see people flinch during this portion of the litany as ideas of submission and humility are not highly praised in contemporary society, but did you note how the blessing is that the wife will learn to die to herself–sacrificing her own wishes and desires for her husband–and that the husband will do likewise for his wife? and to this Your servant to be at the head of the woman that they may live according to You Will. Central to the roles of husband and wife in the Bible are their mutual submission and sacrifice of themselves daily to Christ as He submitted His will to the Father. Here the woman sacrifices herself to her husband and he to the Father so that together they may experience length of days and blessing.

 

The Priest, taking up the Crowns, crowns first the Bridegroom, saying:

The servant of God (Name) is crowned for the servant of God, (Name),in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.(Thrice)

And he crowns the Bride, saying:

The servant of God (Name) is crowned for the servant of God (Name),in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.(Thrice)

The Priest takes the Crown of the Groom in his right hand, and the Crown of the Bride in his left, and places them on their heads while he intones:

O Lord, our God, crown them with glory and honor.

After these and other prayers to be considered lately are recited by the priest, the couple are crowned for each other. No longer are they in submission to their fathers and mothers–now they must submit to one another and guide the other in submission to Christ. The role of a King and Queen–to see the prosperity of the kingdom and the production of offspring–is not for the faint of heart or the cowardly. To walk in newness of life is not a quiet, pastoral wonderland but a battlefield, a fiery furnace, the belly of a great fish–and it is to this life the new couple have been assigned.

So what is the point of this discussion? I want to begin our exploration of marriage and all of its corresponding elements as a crucible for saints–not just godly children, but godly husband and wife who fulfill their marriage roles and create a small Kingdom in their homes; who establish and consecrate a holy temple dedicated to God within the walls of their houses. Marriage is not the lesser path to holiness, but a glorious one! May we find courage to sacrifice and to care for our Kingdoms, and may we see Paradise together around our tables.

Be magnified, O Bridegroom…

Greek-Wedding-CrownsVery few people get to hear the prayers recited over the bride and bridegroom at an Orthodox wedding. Often the choir is finishing the dance of Isaiah as the bride and groom kneel before the priest and he recites a very short prayer at the removal of their crowns. I was privileged to stand up with my compadres at their marriage last year and I got to hear a lot of those quiet priestly prayers up close and they brought me to tears. Below are the prayers on the Greek Archdiocese website:

  • Be magnified, O Bridegroom, as Abraham, and blessed as Isaac, and increased as was Jacob. Go your way in peace, performing in righteousness the commandments of God.
  • And you, O Bride, be magnified as was Sarah, and rejoiced as was Rebecca, and increased as Rachel, being glad in your husband, keeping the paths of the Law, for so God is well pleased

These prayers clearly lay out what the Church thinks of marriage. Marriage is holy and honorable and sexuality and children are part of the arrangement. Why, then are so few of our known saints married? Why are the marrieds either celibate or remembered for their time as monastics rather than husbands and wives? How does a Christian husband take on the calling of family life and achieve salvation for himself and his children when so many of our examples are celibates and monastics?

In subsequent posts, I would like to explore this thesis: That marriage–in all its fullness– is a vocation conducive to theosis and sanctity. I want to begin with the Orthodox wedding prayers, then explore pertinent biblical passages, and finally make the connection between married asceticism and monastic asceticism and what we can learn from each role as we move towards our salvation. These posts will be geared towards Christian husbands, but I believe that the teachings of the Church and the Scriptures are applicable to men and women living the married state.

Look at those prayers again and see the challenge set before the bride and groom: Arise and be magnificent! Take on the role of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, Rachel, Zacharias, Elizabeth, Joachim, Anna. Be holy together, keep to the path together, and bring salvation to your home.