Saturday, April 22, 2006

Paschal Voodoo: Piety or Idolatry?

Thursday night we celebrated the service of the twelve gospels. Being the head chanter at my church, I have to say that this service is the most beautiful (from a hymnographic point of view), although also the most strenuous.

However, as usual, certain "traditions," that we have as Greeks, really make me wonder whether we truly understand the great and Holy Mystery of Pascha, or whether we have missed the point altogether. For example, when people begin hanging their crosses on the large liturgical cross used in the procession on Holy Thursday, in order that they may obtain a "special" blessing, I think we've gone off the proverbial deep end. Furthermore, it's not only crosses, but also scarves, trinkets, and even underwear and socks! Such things have no place on the cross of Christ! And yet not only do we see such things, but even worse, we allow and tolerate them.

Now, some may think that this particular issue is not one to get upset about. Most of our people think that this is a nice tradition that does no harm to the general believers, however, let us look at the source of the tradition. The cross, like all icons, is a symbol that reminds us of the original cross that bore Christ, just like an icon of a saint reminds us of Christ who the saint attempted to emulate. The symbol itself has no power except that of invoking our belief. This is why we do not worship icons, we venerate them.

If we follow this logic, than we can understand that all crosses are the same symbol of the prototype. No one cross is holier than the other and even those icons and crosses that perform miracles, are chosen by God and work signs at particular times for particular reasons. It is not because they are inherently holy in themselves. However, we see on Holy Thursday the utter idiocy of people taking their own crosses and hanging them on another cross because they feel that that cross is somehow holier than theirs'. What we are seeing here is a comparison of holiness between two objects which symbolize the same thing. People believe that because the liturgical cross is kept in the altar, it is somehow special and "holier" than other crosses.

Now stop me if I'm wrong, but wasn't this kind of thinking the reason for iconoclasm? Isn't this so-called harmless "tradition" really a form of idolatry? We are literally believing in some kind of Cross "Mojo" that will make everything ok if we touch it. The cross of Christ has become, for many, the magical Orthodox talisman. And what makes it worse, is that the priests do nothing to stop this behaviour. Even when this mentality extends to the candles that are burying on the cross, which people wait for all night just to receive a piece, and of which the priests do nothing about. By not dealing with the issue, we help perpetuate it. Silence, in many instances, is equivalent to consent. But it seems that no one is up to the task.

Most of us are content in viewing many of the traditions in our church as a type of magic or voodoo. The Eucharist is one of the main examples of this, where people see it as a special gift that we receive after we have done a certain amount of prescribed actions to justify the taking of it. It is not seen as an expression of who we are as the people of God because such an understanding requires everyone of us to accept that we must change our whole outlook on life; that we must live Orthodoxy every day, not just on Sundays; that we must love our neighbor and give to the poor; that we must pray and actually take time to learn our faith. Yes, such an understanding is much harder to accept and much more unpopular to the status quo. And so, what do we do? We fall back on what is easiest; Magic. We keep it simple: I do A so I can be entitled to B. That's it! However, that usually breeds idolatry and fanaticism; two of the most prominent occurrences within our church.

I guess I'm just tired of our people lying to themselves about who they are and what they believe, while the clergy are content to simply pacify the people for their own convenience.

No comments: