A weekend full of work was offset with the celebration of Father Roger’s 50th birthday, a pleasant event. The Cuban political science professor attended, providing an earful of conversation. Her impassioned promptings guided to the Archbishop of Philadelphia Charles J. Chaput OFM. She is insistent upon her college students taking interest in his latest book ‘Strangers in a Strange Land’. Regarding my fascination with Native Americans, I was delighted when she informed me the esteemed religious is a proud American Indian, a member of the Potawatomi tribe. Native Americans know full well what it is to have one’s spiritual life crushed. Everything coalesces into the difficulties of embracing the religious life in a devastating world, entwining within my current captivation with Andrei Tarkovsky and Russian film making. Life presents charm when last week I met an amiable Russian couple operating an international deli close to my home. I have passed by the deli often, yet never took notice until tending to business across the street. Exploring the deli/cafe, I came across an elderly man and woman filled with life and conversation. They insisted I try several dishes, selling me on their Russian smoked salmon, an amazing oily raw chunk of meaty fish delicately presented. The amount of natural fish oil oozing from the salmon makes for interesting eating. I feel like a bear eating the delicacy, chewing on the skin and savoring the fat. They also had me try a buckwheat breakfast dish that has established itself as an early morning favorite. The couple sells commissioned artwork in their modest business. Observing the paintings, I stopped at a huge childish image of a man in a red forest taking aim with his bow and arrow at a bear confronting him. I exclaimed, ‘I like this one’. The man became excited telling me his son painted this at the age of thirteen, although now as an adult he put aside his paint brushes to become a medical doctor. The man pulled me by the hand, telling me he had to show me how Russians party. He led me to his next-door establishment, a quaint series of wooden rooms with the center of the rooms being a sauna. More of his son’s huge paintings from his early teens decorated. He preceded to tell me how saunas were a traditional way Russians socialized. They would come together for hours for relaxation and cleansing—he rents the sauna to groups for four hour blocks. Prepared Russian food is served, vodka is drank, with a billiards table for fun as music plays, while men and women go in and out of the sauna, also utilizing the two massage rooms. Inside the sauna, moist birch and oak branches are used to fan bodies, supporting the cleansing process. I chuckled and asked if the vodka aided in the detoxing. He just smiled and said it is the Russian way. The discovery of the Russian couple—people of faith, Tarkovsky, and a Youtube video provider Gregory Decapolite I have been investigating, all illuminate the difficulty of devoutly remaining a person of faith under a totalitarian repressive government. It makes me wonder about all the untold stories of individuals preserving in the Russian Eastern Orthodox faith during the dark days of the Soviet Union. I posted a lengthy video by Gregory Decapolite at the end of this post highlighting a fascinating story of inspiring Russian nuns challenging their communist oppressors—the orthodox chants backdropping the videos is precious alone.
Opening to Archbishop Charles Chaput’s ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’
We, the ordinary people of the streets, believe with all our might that this street, this world, where God has placed us, is our place of holiness.
CHRISTIANS HAVE MANY GOOD REASONS FOR HOPE. Optimism is another matter. Optimism assumes that, sooner or later, things will naturally turn out for the better. Hope has no such illusions.
Some men who experience neither spiritual devotion, nor desire to reform their lives, nor zeal for God’s glory nevertheless wish to enter religious life. And why? Because they hope that religious life will give them some particular advantage which they prize: perhaps physical rest or leisure for reading and study. In some cases, they want to be fed and clothed and cared for in sickness and old age. Sometimes the motive is vainglory — the wish to be admired, to acquire a reputation for virtue, to live in a better situation and on a higher plane than they can reach as laymen. But such desires must be discouraged. A candidate showing such dispositions must be reminded of the Sage’s remark: “My son, if you enter God’s service prepare your soul, not for delights, honor, or rank, but for temptation. ” We must point out to such a one, as Saint Benedict directs, all the hard and difficult things through which anybody who desires to follow Christ must pass. Such warnings will induce these aspirants either to refrain from entering religious life, or to rectify their intention.
The Lord did the same when a certain man promised to follow Him everywhere. Jesus answered him: “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air nests; but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head.” It is as if He had said to that man: “You say that you follow me, but perhaps you are hoping for an easier life or seeking fame and a high position in the world. Know that you will be disappointed.” Know that Jesus Christ provides for His followers not ease but trouble; not honor but contempt, insults, dishonor, calumny; not rank, but utter subjection. In God’s service even rank itself means service and subjection. If anyone seeks to enter religion to be served rather than to serve, to relax rather than to become wearied, he should be told outright: “Depart, my brother, depart. You think you will find rest in religious life? You will find anxiety. You expect to be praised, taken for good and holy? You will be blamed and insulted; more often than not even your good deeds will be repaid with scorn. You seek high rank? I tell you that to enter religious life means to enter into constant servitude, perpetual subjection. quoted by Dom Jean Leclercq in ‘God Alone with God’