Thursday, March 10, 2011

Getting To The Basics

When I was a child in grade school,one of the hardest subjects for me to learn was Math.
No matter how hard I tried,or what teacher I had,I just had the most difficult time figuring it out.
It all seemed such a waste of my time and energy,so in disgust I just tuned it out.
To this day I am not even sure how I passed into higher classes being my grades were so dismal.
When I got into college I needed to take a course in Calculus,in order to get my Associates Degree.At the time I could not even imagine how I was going to pass that course,since basic math had been 12 years of struggle.
But wanting a degree was more important to me then one single course.
So after several weeks of disgust,it became clear to me that if I wanted to,not only learn this course but pass it,I was going to have to do something radical,on my own,like start from chapter one and remain in that chapter until it all made sense to me,then move on to the next chapter.
The key here was get the basics down and the rest,I believed would follow.
To my great surprise,in less then a one week period I had not only gotten to the point where I was able to catch up with the class but also understood what I was doing.
I passed this class with an A average,which at the beginning of the semester seemed an impossibility.
Some time later,while at a party,a friend and I were talking about Math and I told him my story,to which he replied the reason,he felt,I had not done well in grammar school wasn't because I was a stupid child,it was because the teachers who knew Mathematics had higher degrees and in many cases probably found it difficult to start at step one,with novices,who had zero concept of what was being taught to them.
I have been a convert to the Orthodox Faith for about 6 years now.
In that time I have read multiple books by people like Alexander Schmemann and Bishop Kallistos Ware.
Very well educated,highly respected men in not only their day but also at present.
I must confess,that sometimes when reading these books,which are very spiritual and considered basic books,for their level,I can not help but feel I am back in grammar school Math class trying to figure out what exactly it is I'm reading and why I don't always get or retain the information,very well.
One of the issues with people who are well educated is they forget most people are not,at least not in religious matter or historical understandings of why the church does and says what it does.
What they consider basic is very high level to the non monastic or religiously uneducated world,we the common people.
Last night,after Presanctified Liturgy,I asked myself "What exactly are all these Psalms about and why am I listening to them? How does this pertain to me sitting in this pew?"
Well like most things in life God always seems to find an answer for me and I found it in the form of a DOXA Quarterly Review I had received several days prior, from an Orthodox Church in New Mexico,which explained the Odes of Ascent used in the beginning of most Presanctified Liturgies.
According to the Author,whose name I can not seem to find on the article,he says that during the time of the Apostles and Jesus,Pilgrims would make the trek to Jerusalem to worship in the Temple.They would joyfully,sing the 15 Odes of Ascent Psalms 119 to 133.As they made the climb up to the Temple Mount.
The Psalms told of ancient Israeli's past struggles,Jerusalem and the Temple,God's presence in the Temple and our prayers ,also the home,children and the families.
(The Psalm 132 dealt with the solemnly moving of the Ark from Kiriath-Jearim to Jerusalem.)
In other words these pilgrims made a joyous procession up the Mount singing about the Temple,their God,their Arc of the Covenant,their prayers and their families.
Believe it or not,these people who may have spent days,weeks or even months walking to Jerusalem,were happy to climb a mount,not a hill mind you but a mountain,to go to Temple to praise God....imagine that...
Not only were they happy they were joyous and singing..on their way to Service...My how times have changed.
This pamphlet gave me more information,in basic easy to understand language,then I have probably gotten from most formal books on the subject,which tend to talk more about the spiritual parts then the physical historical parts.
This is not a ditch to those who are educated in the religious ways,but sometimes I think if the real basic reasons of why something is done and how it ties into what Jesus,the Apostles and the pilgrims of that time period understood and practiced,Maybe people would feel less confused when getting ready to pick up more advanced studies by religious intellects.
To me,people who attend services should know what all these prayers and rituals mean.
Yes they are beautiful and spiritual,they have to be or I would not have converted over to such a wonderful faith.
Maybe we need to spend some time connecting the dots of the Old and New Testament and why it is important in our study of our faith.
Maybe we too could see what it feels like to joyfully attend Liturgy,like the Pilgrims did in the time of Jesus.

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