Updated: Saturday, 17 April 2010
On Sunday, 14 March, Fr. John gave one of his marvelously passionate, extemporaneous sermons. This time the story was as reported in Mark 9:17 where the father of a son possessed appealed to Jesus as a last resort. The father had previously appealed to the chief disciples, who were powerless to help. Fr. John was careful to point out how honest this father was and how Jesus honored his honesty by healing his son. The man acknowledged his weak faith but asked Jesus to forgive his unbelief. This Jesus did and then healed his son. Fr. John emphasized the direct contact with Jesus and the powerlessness of his disciples..
After the sermon, the Eucharist was served by young Hieromonk John from the nearby monastery. When he invited all Orthodox Christians to come to the chalice, he added that they must come in fasting and prayer, having recently confessed in the Orthodox way. This surprised me and I was unable to approach the chalice. But, I was able to receive the elements from our Fr. John Hennies as he served the remnants to all others in attendance, Orthodox and non-Orthodox.
Remembering having recently read Garry Wills book "What Jesus Meant", especially Chapter Four, "Against Religion", I felt suddenly released to come to the Last Supper just as I was, without precondition. I felt able to sit at Christ's table as friend and brother, needing no clergyman to announce preconditions for supping with the Master. A question was answered, which I'd pondered for years: when did celebrating the the Last Supper morph into something controlled or conditioned by ecclesiastics? Hiermonk's well-intended, innocently and possibly thoughtlessly spoken words answered my question. I no longer needed to accept his or any other clergyman's presumed authority in receiving the Eucharist.
What is the kind of religion Jesus opposed? Any religion that is proud of its virtue, like the boastful Pharisee. Any that is self-righteous, quick to judge and condemn, ready to impose burdens rather than share or lift them. Any that exalts its own officers, proud of its trappings, building expensive monuments to itself. Any that neglects the poor and cultivates the rich, any that scorns outcasts and flatters the rulers of this world. If that sounds like just about every form of religion we know, then we can see how far off from religion Jesus stood.
What Jesus Meant
by Garry Wills
Penguin Books (2006)
Chapter 4: Against Religion (last paragraph)
I felt my Orthodox Odyssey end as it had begun and felt a new, uncertain but hopeful path open up before me. I also recalled my poem Russian Easter, written in 1989, which may have been when my Odyssey started in a surprising way. Click here for poem; here for commentary.
Father John was concerned that I was leaving the Orthodox Church. Not at all, I quickly assured him--at least not voluntarily! ;-)