Volume 1 Number 3

May 1, 2010

Volume 1, Number 3 of Wonder


Faith and Doubt


What do I believe?

A question from the Youth Department

Doubt and the Monastic Journey

By Monk Kilian

In Holy Week

A poem by Boris Pasternak

“O Blessed Doubt”

By Hierodeacon Philip

Gethsemane’s Garden

A poem by Boris Pasternak

The Engineering Nun and the God of the Vending Machine

By Mr. William Kopcha

For more information about the authors and contributors, please go here.

What do I Belive?

May 1, 2010

Below is the text of the Nicene Creed, our symbol of faith. It the most direct and plain statement about what we believe as Orthodox Christians. If you have questions about its content or doubts, feel free to email tocmed@hotmail.com for answers, or post them in the comment section below. OCA Media Coordinator and Managing Editor of The Orthodox Church, Father John Matusiak will respond personally to your questions.

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth and of all things visible and invisible.

And in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages. Light of light; true God of true God; begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by Whom all things were made; Who for us men and for our salvation came down from Heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man. And He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried. And the third day He arose again, according to the Scriptures, and ascended into Heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead; Whose Kingdom shall have no end.

And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father; Who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified; Who spoke by the prophets.

In one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Doubt and the Monastic Journey

May 1, 2010

By Monk Kilian

Within the Tradition of our Church, monastic tonsure is considered a sacrament, a holy mystery, and thus forms for the monk or nun a liminal event in life. Many sources consider tonsure to the schema a “second Baptism,” and having been recently tonsured myself as a stavrophore monk, I can vouch for the aptness of this description. Tonsure is the beginning of another life: all sins are washed away, the old man is laid aside, and a new person is born with a new name, given by the abbot or abbess and taken by the newly-enrolled soldier of Christ in love and obedience. Like any mystery in the Church, tonsure itself and life as a fully professed monk is hard to put into words; I must admit I was a bit daunted by the task of speaking of doubt and tonsure simply because it defies expression on many levels. As with baptism or marriage, you cannot fully know what to expect on the other side of the font or the next day after the wedding. At these thresholds of our life in the Church, we have to leap out in faith, trusting that God is leading us along His path.

I had been a monastic for five years before my tonsure, and when I first entered the monastery, I was chomping at the bit to be tonsured into the schema. I had no clue about the hard work, both physical and spiritual, that monastic life would lay on me in order to peel away at least some of the passionate crust around my heart in order to begin to see who I really was, and who God wanted me to be. Yet this process, as necessary as it may be, is also very frightening. Over the past few years, I’ve had to confront my own weaknesses in a very matter-of-fact way. I’ve had to humble myself (or be humbled, as it were) and deny myself: my way of thinking, my desires for my life, my understandings of where life was going. In preparing for crossing the threshold of monastic tonsure, I was faced with a huge battle centering on belief and doubt. To the reader, it will hardly sound surprising that the evil one is far from thrilled to hear that a man or woman wishes to profess monastic vows. If we imagine the whole body of the Church as an army of the faithful here on earth regarding the spiritual life, monks and nuns are like the elite special-ops teams. We stand on the front lines of the battle for the world, and the enemy sends the fiercest attacks against us. This onslaught I too had to face in the weeks before my tonsure.

The candidate prostrates himself before the Metropolitan

So many thoughts and questions barraged me, even thoughts against the basis of my faith, which hadn’t happened in a long time. Does God really exist? How do you know He answers your prayers? Don’t you want to have sex and a family? Will you really be satisfied as a monk? You’re such a sinner, how could you even dare to think you’re worthy of the schema? Why don’t you just do what you like doing? You’re good at academics, why throw a career away?

Not pleasant at all, that swarm of thoughts. The Fathers teach us simply to disregard these suggestions (in Greek, logismoi), saying that the second we start listening to them, we start becoming entangled in the snare, and the harder it is to escape. For myself, I’ll simply say that after weeks of this kind of attack, I was at the bottom of the barrel spiritually speaking. I was faced with a seemingly huge choice.

On the one hand, I had monastic vows before me. This meant a life of ascesis, of constant struggle to overcome my passions by God’s grace, of being rejected and scorned by the world, and often misunderstood even within the bosom of the Church. It meant being alone (this is the monos part in monastikos) and not having an exclusive partner to walk along life’s path with me. On the other hand, I had a life pleasing to the world and one leading away from life within the Church. This was a life that was easy, one according to my passions, one that could give me success and approval by many in society.

Finally, after much prayer and some wintry solitude in the cold north of Alaska (another story for another blog entry, perhaps), God filled me with such clarity regarding monastic life, and I hastened with joy to petition for vows, which my spiritual father accepted gladly. But while the doubts about tonsure in general had been conquered, doubts about that life in a specific way still lingered. What will my life be like after tonsure? What name will I be given? Seeing as I’m currently a student, I thought of how this might impact my relationships and affairs with classmates and the administration.

The Candidate is presented to the Metropolitan for Monastic Tonsure

The day of my tonsure arrived, and even then, inclement weather forced the bishop to be delayed and the tonsure was moved to the next day. Many people came to me with sympathy, but I was laughing. God in His humor was showing me how utterly lacking in control I was, and how utterly provident and omnipotent He was. Tonsure would take place on His schedule and to His glory.

It’s been nearly a month now since my vows, and life is so beautiful, so pregnant with meaning in ways I cannot put into words. As one of my brother monastics said to me, you can speak much of the life of a professed monk, but you’ll never know it until you take that leap of faith into that life of obedience. I think now that I needed to experience this doubt so that I could then turn not to worldly wisdom, but faith, and make that leap into the Father’s embrace in my vows.

In Holy Week

May 1, 2010

A Poem By Boris Pasternak

All the world’s still wrapped in gloom.
At such an early hour
How many stars – no man can know,
And each like daylight is aglow,
And could it choose, then all the globe
Might well have slept all Easter through
To the chant of psalm and prayer.

Still all the world is wrapped in gloom.
An age must pass till early dawn.
Eternally the square has lain,
Outstretched to the crossing of the roads.
Before the light and warmth return
Must pass a whole millennium.

The earth lies there, exposed, laid bare,
Bereft of its attire
For swinging bells in empty air
In echo to the choir.

And from Maundy Thursday through
Till Holy Saturday
Water eddies swirl and scoop
And etch the banks away.

The woodland too is stripped and bare,
And now, during Christ’s Passion,
Like solemn worshippers at prayer,
The pine trees pay attention.

And in a lesser space, in town,
As at a public meeting,
The naked trees all stand and strain
To peer through churchyard railings.

Their gaze is stricken with dismay.
There’s reason for such terror –
As gardens flood and fencing breaks
And all the earth’s foundations quake,
A God is being buried.

Then light gleams within the altar gates,
Black scarves and candles are held ready,
And tear-stained faces look about,
To welcome the procession.
And as they carry forth the Shroud,
Two birches at the entrance
Are forced to yield and bow them out.

They all process around the church,
Then back along the pavement,
Bringing spring and springtime talk
From open road onto the porch,
With a heady vernal air
And breath of communion wafers.

March throws a scattering of snow
To the cripples on the portico,
As if somebody brought forth
A reliquary and disposed of
All down to the final thread.

The singing lasts until the dawn.
And now that every tear is spent,
The Apostles and the Psalms
Exit and depart, now calm,
Through lamp-lit emptiness.

At midnight man and beast fall dumb
On hearing springtime’s revelation:
Once weather clears, then just as soon
Can death itself be overcome
By the power of Resurrection.

This poem is a new translation by Christopher Barnes taken from the Toronto Slavic Quarterly

“O Blessed Doubt”

May 1, 2010

By Hierodeacon Philip

“Since you behold my side and the wounds of the nails, why do you not believe in my Resurrection?” said the Lord, risen from the tomb, as he ineffably showed himself to the Apostles. And Thomas Didymus was convinced and cried to the Creator: “My God and my Lord!”

—Matins of Thomas Sunday, Third Sessional Hymn, Tone One

“Why do you not believe in my Resurrection?” In the nearly two millennia since the day of Christ’s glorious Resurrection from the dead, many people have walked the earth to whom our Savior could address these words. Let us leave aside unanswerable questions about others who do not believe, and get to the point: are you one of those people? If our Lord said to you, “Why do you not believe in my Resurrection?” what would be your answer? And if you do believe, how would you answer if He asked you, “Why do you believe in my Resurrection?” These are far from unimportant questions.

Indeed, is anything more important? Can we not easily look around upon the mass of suffering humanity inhabiting this globe and see the kingdom of Death? We see people addicted and enslaved to passions which, for a brief moment, help them forget the inevitability of death, passions which yield less and less pleasure the longer they are practiced. We also see people who have discovered the bankruptcy of the passions but, turning away from them, turn not to God but to despair—one of the darkest passions—and even to a longing for death. We see some dying from starvation while others stuff themselves to obesity. And in abortion we see the great holocaust offering at the altar of sex, where passionate pleasure for the strong means violent death for the weak. So Death is everywhere. But where is the Resurrection?

The Myrrhbearing women coming to the tomb

For if Christ is risen, if He in His person has overcome death, has reversed it, trampled it down, annihilated it, then the great spectral shadow of death looming over our whole race must take on an utterly, inconceivably different meaning. Death is no longer King but is shown to be dying. Its hold over us is only as strong as we allow it to be. Yes, we will all die (except those of us still alive when Christ returns in glory), but now that means that we will be “united to Christ in a death like his,” so that we may rise with him when He comes again (cf. Romans 6:5).

And this in turn has huge implications for our day-to-day pattern of living. If death is not the end, but “the beginning of another life which eternal” (Canon of Pascha, Ode 7), then the two responses to death mentioned above—drowning oneself in pleasure or drowning oneself in despair—simply won’t work. If death is not the end, then we can turn neither to fleeting pleasures nor to death itself as the remedy for our plight. We can turn only to Christ, knowing full well that this means turning to the cross that He will inevitably hold out to us, so that we may die with Him and live with Him.

All this and more is involved in our answer to the question, “Do you believe in my Resurrection?” Whether your is answer is “yes,” or “no,” you must be prepared to explain yourself. And you cannot afford to get this wrong.

“Not in vain did Thomas doubt thy Rising, O Christ: not in vain did he argue about it, but he went in eager haste to reveal it as an indisputable fact to all the nations. Therefore, having come to believe through incredulity, he taught all men to say: Thou art the Lord!” (Matins of Thomas Sunday, Canon, Ode 7)

Thomas's Blessed Doubt

An indisputable fact? For Thomas, yes. But for you and me? Have we had the opportunity to scrutinize Christ’s nail wounds to verify that this living Man is indeed the same one who was executed by crucifixion? No. Yet to us Christ offers these words of consolation: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (John 20:29).

If we are in the camp of such blessed believers, we are in very good company. We place ourselves with Saint John the Theologian, who believed immediately upon seeing the empty tomb (where others thought only of a theft), even before knowing the Scriptures that said that Christ would rise (John 20:9). And we place ourselves with the Mother of God, who, the Church tells us, believed when the Archangel Gabriel greeted her, “Rejoice! And again, I say, Rejoice: your Son is risen from his three days in the tomb!” Not only that, we place ourselves in the company of countless thousands and,after the 20th century, millions of martyrs who have chosen to shed their own blood, even in prolonged torture, rather than to deny a fact which they never saw and which everyone knows is impossible.

Blessed indeed are those who belong to this company of believers! But what of those who doubt? They are blessed too if their doubt is like that of Thomas; a doubt which leads them to God, and not away from Him; a doubt which involves God and does not ignore Him; a doubt which is open to belief. Ask God, and you might be abundantly rewarded – and surprised – by what He shows you. You will probably not have the uniquely physical experience granted to Thomas, but something uniquely yours, and just as convincing, will be revealed, if you really want it and are patient.

In fact, however, we do share something of Thomas’s unique experience, and more so. His hand entered the wounds on Christ’s risen Body, but that entire risen Body enters our mouths at Holy Communion and, with His life-giving Blood, passes throughout our entire mortal bodies purifying and renewing them. Yet here also, faith is required, and faith that is made strong through a life worthy of what we believe.

Thomas had another unique experience which gave us yet another proof of the Resurrection. By God’s Providence he was not present at the death of the Mother of God—all the other Apostles were miraculously gathered together for this event. He arrived three days later and asked that her tomb might be opened for him to venerate that holy and pure Body which for nine blessed months had been the dwelling-place of God. When they opened the tomb it was empty, for our Lady the Theotokos had risen and joined her Son—soul and body—in the Kingdom. She receives the gift of Resurrection that is in store for every single human being that has ever lived. Do you believe that you also will rise?

Falling Asleep of the Mother of God

Gethsemane’s Garden

May 1, 2010

A poem by Boris Pasternak

Impassive shimmering of distant stars
Illumined the dim turning in the road.
The highway led around the Mount of Olives,
And down below the brook of Kidron flowed.

Cut short by half, the meadowland tailed off.
And there beyond it stretched the Milky Way,
And also straining to escape aloft
Were olive bushes, silvery and gray.

Beyond the meadow lay a garden plot.
And leaving His disciples by the wall.
He said, “My soul is sorrowful unto death.
Wait ye here, and watch with me a while.”

Now, without a struggle, He renounced –
Like so many borrowed things, dispensable –
Omnipotence and every work of wonder.
Now He was mortal, like the rest of us.

Night’s farthest reaches appeared like a realm
Of nothingness and void, annihilation.
Banished was the universe’s vastness;
Gethsemane remained the only habitation.

He gazed into the fathomless abyss –
Emptiness with neither source nor ending –
And sweating drops of blood, He prayed to the Father
That from this deathly cup He be exempted.

Then, taming His mortal agony by prayer,
He left the garden. There, among the roadside
Feather-grasses, the disciples lay,
Sprawled upon the ground and deeply drowsing.

And He aroused them saying, “The Lord ordained
That in my time you live – and yet you slumber.
For the Son of Man the hour has struck.
Into sinners’ hands He must surrender.”

Scarce had He spoken, suddenly appeared
A horde of slaves, a crowd of vagrants, glint
Of swords and torches, Judas at their head,
A treacherous kiss shaped ready on his lips.

Peter with his sword sought to repel them,
Smiting off one murderer’s ear. “Cold steel,”
The Master said, “can never solve a dispute.
Put up thy sword. Return it to its sheath.

“Were it His will, could not the Father send
A host of winged legions to my aid?
Not a hair upon my head would suffer.
My foes would all be scattered without trace.

“But in the Book of Life a page has turned,
More sacred and more precious than all else.
That which is written must now be accomplished.
Amen. So let it therefore come to pass.

“The progress of the ages, like a parable,
In mid course may suddenly take flame,
And faced by that dread grandeur, I’m prepared
To suffer and descend into the grave.

“And from the grave on the third day I’ll rise.
Then, like a fleet of barges down the stream,
The centuries will float forth from the night
And make their way before my judgment seat.”

This poem is a new translation by Christopher Barnes and is taken from the  Toronto Slavic Quarterly

The Engineering Nun and the God of the Vending Machine

May 1, 2010

By Mr. William Kopcha

When a friend called and asked me to write an article on the roles of faith and doubt in life (and specifically, in my life), I thought it would be a cake-walk. The path of life is obscure; in the words of my father, “The only certainties are death and taxes.” We’re supposed to have faith anyway. We don’t. Done.

Then I sat down to write. Funny, but it turns out that the more I thought about it, the less straight-forward the issue seemed. Faith, doubt, and obscurity are obviously interconnected . I, of all people, should know about that. After all, I have been teetering precariously on the precipice dividing the youthful bliss of college and what the middle-aged take some sick glee in referring to as “the real world,” for two years in the academic purgatory known as “grad school.” And let’s face it – for a large segment of the population, it is assumed that you will go to college. You may have had friends that didn’t continue on to higher education, friends that your parents talk about in hushed whispers to your other friends’ parents on the phone like they have some terrible disease ,but for the most part (and doubly for suburbia), you were funneled into this from your first day of kindergarten. And when all you’ve spent your whole life in school, having every imaginable option of how to spend your time can be both exciting and, if we’re honest with ourselves, intimidating.

St. George "Karaiskaki" Monastery near Karditsa, Greece

Naturally, I sought some guidance on how to tackle this situation from a source that I trusted like no other on this planet, the Church. I had the good fortune to find myself spending my last semester of my senior year in Greece, which aside from being amazing  was part “last hurrah,” part denial of the future, and part existential nirvana. I visited the Twelve Apostles Monastery in the city of Karditsa on the recommendation of a friend who had been there on a Real Break trip with the OCF. While there, I began to talk about my future with an American nun. This nun, it turns out, had received tonsure after retiring from her career as an electronics engineer in basically the same field as a professor that I had been working for back home. We talked about how the field was blossoming, hurdles that people are spending a lot of time and money to try and overcome, job security, etc. Taking this as a sign from God, I immediately contacted this professor and begged him to take me on as a grad student in our university’s PhD program the following fall.

Fast forward two years, and I am cutting my PhD program short, leaving with a Master’s Degree, and looking into jobs that have nothing to do with electronics engineering, ranging from pharmaceutical research to teaching high school science to teaching English as a foreign language.

So what happened?

Was God wrong? Not likely. Was I immature to be looking for a divine revelation? Probably, but to counter a question with a question, if we indeed have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, is there any part of our life that is not, in some way or another, an act of divine intervention? Even the sin of the Wise Thief landed him, in the end, in the ultimate position to profess his repentance. Was I really “meant” to be here all this time? Well, who knows, and ultimately – who cares? The experience of my past two years has forced me to face a lot of things, including a severe, prolonged illness in the family, a boss that seemed at times downright emotionally unstable, strained relationships with friends, the imperfections and humanity of previously untouchable role models, and little things like being conscious on a daily basis of being older than and at a very different station in life from those with whom I interacted most on a daily basis. It all sounds very bleak, and at times, frankly, it felt bleak. And that lead to doubt. Sometimes, it lead to a lot of doubt. Doubt in the goodness of God, mainly, doubt about His providence that spilled over into other areas of faith and life, doubt that anyone or anything had “led” me to my current situation and had ever been or ever would be leading me anywhere.

But, oddly enough, and with an uncanny timing possible only for One who is Eternal, something always happened to reveal the roots of my doubt for the abberations that they were: the hand of a friend I thought had wronged me and was unwilling to forgive stretched out with far more self-denial and courage than I ever thought possible. This act revealed my egotism as a source of division and thereby for doubt in the love of God. The compassionate words and sudden openness of a boss who had seemed at best apathetic and in reality had been keeping a close eye on my well-being and development revealed my lack of trust in and openness with others as a source of isolation and thereby for doubt in the power of God to overcome the petty barriers that we as humans set up through our misconceptions. A joke cracked by a family member revealed how foolish worrying about any of this really was, and how I was too wrapped up in myself to recognize God’s efforts to relieve these problems.

A mountaintop chapel dedicated to the Prophet Elias near Karditsa, Greece

“Meant to be” or not, and, what is more, the path that I expected or prayed for when I met that nun in Greece or not, I certainly learned a lot of things that were very, very needful. It seems that the roots of each source of doubt in my life were my own sins, and that each descent into the gloomy depths of doubt ended in the manifestation of one of these sins so that they, along with the doubt they caused, were peeled back layer by layer to yield a core of a stronger, more mature faith that did not depend so heavily on the ebbs and flows of fortune or relate to the “vending machine” model of God that we criticize so heavily in our university’s OCF – insert faith, receive temporal benefits. To go a step further, it is also apparent that the strengthening of faith would not have been possible for me without the introduction of doubt. This is a concept that we are sometimes bombarded with in the academic sense, where we are encouraged to question so that we read more concerning church doctrine or the like. While this is also certainly healthy and beneficial, the paradigm in operation here seemed to be a more experiential rather than cerebral linking of doubt and faith, making them in a very real sense two sides of the same coin rather than opposing forces struggling for dominance.

Insert faith, receive temporal benefits?

With the same uncanny timing, just as this had all become apparent, a saintly elderly woman in our local parish decided to let me in on her life story during coffee hour one day. She was extremely faithful, always optimistic and kind, outspoken, and generally the kind of person that every parish wishes they had more of; I was therefore very surprised when she told me that after having been a faithful Baptist missionary in Africa for many years, she spent a period of 30 years as a disillusioned Deist bordering on atheism before coming to Orthodoxy. Every hero endures a nadir, but unlike the examples you find in lit class, she had this to say of the other side of the valley: “It never changes – you get up, you fall down, you get up again, and you hope you remember a little something each time. I’m still learning.” She’s 93. Disheartening? A little, but more hopeful in that we are never truly forgotten, and that is something to inspire faith that endures the ups and downs of life, no matter how deep they may be. Whatever else the case may be, it seems that we’ve all got our work cut out for us.