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happy easter

March 31, 2013

I went to St. George Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church this morning with an Orthodox friend of mine, which was an interesting experience. Although Orthodox Easter (based on the Julian calendar vs. the Gregorian calendar) isn’t until May 5th this year, it was a nice to way to spend the day, especially since today’s the feast day of Gregory Palamas, whose approach to prayer was more contemplative and reminds me, at least superficially, of Buddhist meditation, and whose story first led me years ago to become interested in aspects of Orthodox Christianity, seeing in it an extension of the ancient Greek mystery religions mixed with a bit of Eastern mysticism.

The church itself is beautiful, in many ways simpler and more intimate than others I’ve visited, emitting a friendly and welcoming atmosphere, yet still fully capable of giving rise to feelings of reverence and solemnity. I really like Eastern Orthodox churches, not only because of their beautiful iconography, but because of some of the symbolism underlying them as well. Some of them (like the one depicting Jesus’ descent into Hades, for example) are quite philosophically complex, and I find them intriguing to contemplate, not unlike Christian koans in a way. The concept of theosis is also appealing to me, i.e., the idea of trying to emulate the life of Jesus, and genuinely putting into practice his teachings on forgiveness, generosity, renunciation, and unconditional love in order to become more god-like, to become one with the best aspects of our humanity and share a deep sense of communion with one another.

Of course, there are certainly many Christian ideals and theological aspects that I don’t like and will probably never agree with; but I respect Christianity and the Christian community for what it is or potentially could be to people. It’s a guiding light in times of darkness, and a source of comfort and a place of refuge in difficult ones. It’s a journey towards wholeness for those who feel incomplete. It’s a celebration of life and happiness in a world filled with sadness and death. It’s a philosophy, a riddle, a vehicle for gnosis. And deep down, it can be characterized by one simple commandment, which Jesus gave to his Apostles at the Last Supper: love one another.

It’s hard not to appreciate this commandment and the spirit it was given, or the people who sincerely endeavor to follow it. It speaks to the salvific power of love, and reflects the idea that there’s something special, something divine, in our interactions with other people—an idea that’s mirrored in Bible passages such as, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love,” and echoed by Church Fathers like Augustine of Hippo: “Once for all, then, a short precept is given you: Love, and do what you will: whether you hold your peace, through love hold your peace; whether you cry out, through love cry out; whether you correct, through love correct; whether you spare, through love do you spare: let the root of love be within, of this root can nothing spring but what is good.”

Happy Easter/second week of Lent, everyone.

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