Category Archives: Family Life

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.

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.

My kids understand God better than I do

imageBoth of my children, Seamus and Jonah are speech delayed. Because of this, I have always tried to find simple prayers for Seamus- who can talk- to say. After many tries, we finally accomplished the short and simple, but oh so mighty prayer, ‘Lord have mercy.’ And the smile on that boy’s face, I tell you…

There are times that I get discouraged that my children are delayed: when they are playing at a park with other children, the phrase “I don’t understand you,” gets said often. And Seamus is always asked to repeat himself, even by me and mom. And of course some of the speech issues overlap into other processing issues: sounds, touch, coordination, etc. It always saddens me that if we forget to prepare Seamus for something, he freaks out; like when we go up to get anointed by our priest, or if we switch communion lines. Sometimes simply trying to leave the house results in meltdowns.

But there are times when I forget all about these issues. Times when I revel in the sheer beauty of my children. The simple way they attempt to cross themselves. The way Seamus will prostrate every time because it was Lent when we started teaching him to pray. The way my two year old, Jonah, still smack-kisses the icons, each and every one of them, each and every time! And how proud he is when he sees the icon of the Archangel Gabriel and he pats his chest, telling us and everyone around him that that is his icon, his patron.

But recently, nothing has gotten to me more than a story my four year old told me. Seamus quietly came up to me one night and told me that he was playing with Mary. ‘Who is Mary?’ I asked him, only to have him lead me to his room and show me. There he proceeded to show me the icon of the Theotokos that is at his height. “This is Mary!” he said to me.

The kids' icons
The kids’ icons in their bedroom

He went on to tell me that he and Mary play together often. That she is in his room a lot, and that she has a house she lives in in our house. I’m sure some of this is simple make believe. But I believe very much, that he is interacting with Mary, and the other saints, too. And I believe whole-heartedly that he knows and experiences God in a way that I can only hope to.

“Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” Mat. 19:14

 

Living with Childhood Apraxia of Speech

photo (3)Glory to God for all things!
As some of you may remember, my son has Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS), a neurological disorder that affects his ability to speak. Essentially, the brain has trouble coordinating with the muscles in his mouth to form sounds, much less words. I wrote a little about this back in May (http://tinyurl.com/n577v65

). It was very much rushed and at the time hard for me to write. So this update will be more thought out, less emotional.

We had some inclinations that S. had speech problems when he was two. He made very few sounds; just stuck to the ones he knew: Mama, bye, hi. Those may have been his only words. He grunted a lot, more than a toddler should, I imagine. My wife and I constantly felt like we were failing him; was there something we were doing wrong? Everybody kept telling us that he would come around, that sometimes it just took longer, that their sons didn’t start talking until they were three years old. We even had a Melkite family tell us a story about a young boy who was around at least three different languages in the house, and that he didn’t start talking until he was four. Granted, when he did start talking, it was in full sentences, in the languages to the people who spoke that language. We only speak English in my household, so I knew that was not to be the case. Everybody had great intentions, and really, what do you say to somebody in this situation? God bless them all!

Anyways, my wife started researching S’s speech problems on the internet and eventually came across CAS. Pretty much, a light bulb went off. ‘This is what S has!’ we said to each other. It would take us a while to get S tested through the local school system, and even then, with such limited vocal skills, no formal diagnosis could be given. Rather we were told he had Suspected CAS. Either way, I felt relief, in a sense. At least it wasn’t something we were doing or weren’t doing. With this in hand, we told our families, close friends, and our priest.

Our priest is a wonderful man. He called me soon after he got my email to him and said he wanted to come over to the house and pray for S. A couple of days had gone by before Father came over, and we were given time to acclimate to our situation. When Father did arrive, he said a small healing service for S. and anointed him with oil. Afterwards, Father surprised me; he started asking all sorts of questions. Apparently, he had taken the time to read five articles online that he had found about CAS. Like I said, a wonderful man.

We found a speech therapist that we were seeing for a while and are now currently seeing a wonderful therapist at the local Rite Care Clinic. At times, my wife was taking him to therapy four times a week. S. has gone from being able to say three words at the beginning of the year to saying full sentences and even his name!

If you have taken the time to read the linked post I wrote in May, then you know about my feelings towards St. John Maximovitch and his not wanting to be a bishop due to his own speech impediment. He also is of great importance to my priest and our whole parish. I even informed my wife that I decided Archbishop John is the patron saint for our family. I have been blessed to have been given a small relic of his, and of course I have holy oil from his reliquary. I have also come into possession of a rather beautiful icon of him, painted by hand by a lady from my church. All of these Holy items have a special place in my heart, yes, because they are holy, but also because I have been blessed to have them from the love others.

Now, this has been no cake walk, that is for sure. I am not the most patient man, and I am tested every day because of the CAS. There are still times, almost every day, that I have no idea what S. is saying to me. He can go on and on, but the pronunciation is not there, the words are not there, my patience is not there. Will my son ever be able to talk “normally?” I can honestly say that I do not know. I know from networking CAS groups, that he is not affected to the extent that some children are. Maybe when he is 18, there will be no sign left that he is afflicted with this disorder, but again, I do not know. But, I believe whole heartedly, that without the intercession of Archbishop John, and the prayers offered by my priest, family and friends, along with extensive therapy, S. would still not know how to say his name, or be able to tell my wife and me a story. Or even the best thing of all to ever come out of his mouth, ‘I love you.’

It is the small things like this that have helped me to pray, ‘Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.’ I am sure that this is a common feeling shared by parents of children with disabilities, or illnesses. And as much sadness and tears I experience because of CAS, I can honestly say, that even though I hate it, almost all the time, that I would not ask for it to “just go away.” This is a burden that my family must carry, but it is burden I feel brings us closer to God, and that through Him, ‘I can do all things.’