The Orthodox Way
This weekend was my church's annual Greekfest. The parking lot was blocked off and filled with long gyro lines, carnies, cops, gambling, Greek beer, and bouzouki bands crooning in odd-time signatures. As you walk in or out, you pass by white tents with vendors. Quite the variety this year. Next to the Mike-Tyson-sponsored punching bag station were some nuns from the monastery. I was drawn to pick up a black book with red text and the face of Christ: "The Orthodox Way." $20, written by Bishop Kallistos Ware. It focused on theology instead of the church's history. I later learned it was one of my dad's all-time favorites. Having just heard the news of a terminally ill uncle, religion was on my mind.
So I woke up Sunday morning and parked in my "red" reading chair (Danielle thinks I might be color blind). I gave the opening chapter a shot. I was shocked. Kallistos was using near-identical language to Terence McKenna (a psychedelic explorer, known as the Christopher Columbus of Hyperspace.)
I'd always criticized religion for providing answers instead of questions. Kallistos broke the mold. His ideas around Orthodox Christianity were progressive, sounding out-of-mouth from a psychologist, artist, or naturalist. I used to day dream how old-school Greek religion would be deciphered by a Jung scholar. Was this it? His theology covered:
- Venturing into the unknown
- The numinous, the sublime, the awe of William Blake
- Wandering the depths of an abyss
- Metanoia, doubt, and not clinging to thought-forms or language
- Nature and novelty theory
- Symbols and the unconscious
- Some quotes by St. Dionysius the Areogapite (familiar from a drunk Jack Kerouac mumble)
I'd never associated these ideas with Orthodoxy. I thought they were antithetical. Maybe Kallistos will synthesize the two poles of a paradox. Curious to see where his book goes. I'm hooked. I ended up ranting into Otter for 20 minutes on an idea called "psychedelic Christianity."
As soon as Danielle woke, we dressed up and shuffled over to the diner. Crowded today. No masks. Seated at a small booth, we were presented with infinite coffee refills, toast, and omelets. Our last week has been chaotic. We riffed on some ideas to slow things down in the mornings and nights. I brought up my book on Orthodoxy, and she reminisced on the hells of Catholic school.
As we were leaving, it dawned on me that I'm one post away from hitting 100 published writings thus year. She said she wants to catch up (she doesn't read my writing). I told her it was only 87,000 words (or around 350 pages). Not happening.
While it might seem like a lot, I feel like I've barely started. I'm only 8-9 months into posting on my Notion site. It pales against five insane years of architecture school. I struggled in that first year, but midway through year-two, something clicked. Suddenly, I was an architect. A cohesive visual identity came out of nowhere. It's motivating to keep going when you realize a sudden phase change could ignite at any moment.
Day 2 of Greekfest. Danielle and I were back. We had to give my mother-in-law Pearl the full tour. After calculating our odds of winning a black Porsche from the raffle, we moved swiftly into the gym-hosted Flea Market. On top of circular wooden fold-out tables were pyramids: pyramids of junk-stuff. Ceramics, China, colored vases, typewriters, flashlights, jewelry, blankets, cat toys, and lyres.
I found a box of old religion books. "St. Nicodemos: Modern Orthodox Saints." That one caught my eye. I heard of him from a folk song. I brought it up to the counter and ask how much. The lady smiled, handed me a red bag and said, "whatever you can fit in here, one dollar." All the left-overs were being donated end of day. It was a give-away.
I went back and skimmed through book after book on Greek saints. I imagined these were rare, off-Amazon, out-of-print treasures, once guarded by patrons, now at risk of becoming fireplace fodder. I know for sure I'll never make it through all of these. But I never under-estimate the chance of revelation by opening to a page and reading a random paragraph. Here's the bag:
- St. Nicodemos the Hagiorite
- New Testament & Psalms
- The Akathist Hymn and Small Compline
- The Holy Ancestors of God: Joachim & Anna
- The Paradise of the Holy Fathers (Volume I and II)
- The Sacraments of the Orthodox Church
- The Resurrection
- The Lives of Two Sainted Christian Families
- Paternal Counsels
- The Life of Nicholas of Sion
- A Defense of Monasticism
- Recital of the Most Holy Proussiotissa and Sacred Monastery of Tatarna
On the way out, we brought Pearl down to the Grotto where the miracle occurred in 2013. It was a strange event, and I remember it all going down as it happened. I'm not in a place to write out the full legend right now, but here's the tl;dr:
- Our church's saint is known for "miracles of vision;" (eye symbol's line the church)
- One day, a near-blind man stopped by the church to walk his dog
- He met our priest. The blind-man knew nothing of our church's saint
- After cleansing his eyes with blessed holy water, he suddenly had 20/20 vision
- After getting checked out, tests showed that his optical nerves were still destroyed
- His walking cane and glasses are now in a shrine within the church
You hear of stories like this all through the ages, from before-Christ to the 1800s. But it's different when it unfolds, not just in your own life-time, but in your own community, with people you know involved.
It's interesting to see the fault-lines in how people react to it. The spectrum ranges from converts to skeptics. I find value in straddling both poles: skeptical, but open to the possibility. While either pole gives you an answer, the middle road leaves you with a curiosity to keep learning.
The home-bound traffic was nasty. I mostly ranted on the American Dream, while Pearl speculated on the cause of the stand-stills. We were exhausted after getting back, and got sucked into a Netflix binge. After a wholesome day with family at a Greek festival, we found ourselves in a disturbing Korean drama. Some billionaire had a private island where people competed in life-or-death games to win a fortune. It's like the Hunger Games meets Jeffery Epstein, with Kill-Bill gore, children's games, bright colors, and Teletubby-repetition. Not recommended before bed.