12 January 2009
the rite of ?ian burial, which is what the handout may better have said, even though it was only a memorial service with ashes.
This weekend past we went to a memorial service for my grandfather at an Episcopal Church in that suburb I so try to avoid.
My grandfather was not a religious man, and did not wish to have a memorial of any sort, but several of my father's relatives had other intentions, and thus we had to suffer a visit to an ECUSA parish. My parents intervened to prevent a funeral mass, as many from my extended family would refuse communion at an ECUSA church (not just the Orthodox, also the continuing Anglicans and the non-denominational Evangelicals).
My grandfather's cremated remains in a tasteful box atop the altar table seemed a perfect fit to the aesthetic of the newish $11,000,000 church, and the parody of actual sacrament that it exuded.
The procession consisted of the priest and a woman in Anglican acolyte garb. The woman held a processional cross, and when she got up to the altar she veered to the right, and then placed the cross behind some speakers, so that it could not be seen.
After the service, my father told me that his brother, who attends this parish, told him that the local ECUSA bishop did not allow the parish to place any crosses in a noticeable location, even within the sanctuary, so as not to offend persons who are offended at the sight of a cross. The sanctuary was one of those late modern architectural monstrosities, with a wall of mostly glass behind the altar, thus I suppose a person outside with binoculars could notice the small processional cross were it placed directly behind the altar. My father spoke of my uncle's phrase with regard to the bishop's command, "we did not have a choice." My father, ever the existentialist, gave me that smile of his and repeated with tongue in cheek, "of course, they did not have a choice." Their choice of a respectable 11 million dollar facility and communion with a bishop who is ashamed of the Cross may seem to them to serve them well in this life.
In the "nave" there were two images, one a Western, early medieval looking icon of the Theotokos which was quite beautiful, and one of St. George, hand written in Byzantine style, framed in gorgeous wood. Between listening to blather from up front and my middler's fussing, I was thinking of ways I might release St. George from his captivity. That these folks think a cross is offensive, but do not think icons of the Theotokos and St. George are offensive reveals a fetishism and delusion that astounds. Other than the two icons, the church was as minimalist as modern day contracepted sex. I did notice one wooden cross, high above, on top of a rafter out of any obvious sight line. I only noticed it when I turned my head in such a position so as to essentially look straight up, and even then it was placed in such an out of the way position, and clearly made to blend into the rafter lines, that a Christian might feel quite awkward about it. Why even bother.
All of the women who participated in the service, which was everyone who participated in the service save the priest and one male reader among the 4 readers, were between 45 and 65 and given to display an androgynous disposition. Short hair (and not feminine short), speech in a manner neither masculine nor feminine, tasteful in a bureaucratic sort of way, and so forth. I was reminded of Neuhaus' law (Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed) and thought that where men at the altar are optional, men at the altar will sooner or later be proscribed. The priest was a man, who had the polished ecclesiocrat motif down pat, and seemed quite comfortable surrounded by women, perhaps in keeping with an apology for his maleness. It seemed to be a place perfectly suited for women who hated women and also for the occasional male who wants to get in on that action under the pretense of hating maleness.
The priest gave a homily. Following the Scripture readings, he spoke of hope in things unseen, and referred to my grandfather's spirit remaining with us in our memories of him and the various sorts of testimonies which remain of his good works. His speech was full of Christian nomenclature, but its precise use was purposefully vague to the point he made clear that he was one of those that I, and I suppose you, dear reader, have had the unfortunate occasion to have conversation with in the past - that antichrist cleric who would tell you that if a belief in the resurrection of the dead is helpful to you, then you should believe it, but who also says that faith is broader than mere assent to this or that doctrine, even the doctrine of the Resurrection of Christ and the resurrection of the dead. For these folks, if faith is the result of nothing more than a particular pattern of neurons shooting off in the brain, that suits them just fine. As far as I am concerned, if that is the case, pass me the jug until I'm quit and toss my ashes to the wind.
I once heard an old Evangelical (an A.W. Tozer sort of clergyman) pastor give an Easter sermon in which he noted that many claiming to be Christians today have a faith in faith instead of a faith in Christ - these believe in spirituality, and in religious etiquette, and psycho-spiritual thematic helps of all sorts, they do not believe in the God-Man Jesus Christ, or in the Holy Trinity. Well, faith in ethereal self-helping überaffirming faith is what we heard, and this priest of the temple of respectability even had the gall to speak a whitewashed version of my grandfather's life, a man the priest had never met. The truth was far more complicated and painful. My grandfather had a bit of money, which can get you a respectable ECUSA service, I suppose, with all the right words. Watching and listening to all this I might have shed a tear were I a man with a heart of flesh, not so much for my grandfather, but for my father, who was the one man there who could fully appreciate the farce and the true indignity of it all.
All mortal things are vanity and exist not after death. Riches endure not, neither doth glory accompany on the way: for when death cometh, all these things vanish utterly.
- from the Damascene's Idiomela, tone 3.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
Hilarious write up by an Orthodox fellow on bad Episcopal (illegit Catholic) liturgy
Here's his blog.