Reading the bulletin in Church this morning, I noticed that next Sunday is already Zacchaeus Sunday, the signal that Great Lent is soon upon us. How did that happen? The way the liturgical year works, we fast, then we feast, then almost immediately we fast again. There is almost no “normal time.” Probably the single most important thing to me in my life as a Christian is going to Church. Whether it’s a fast (struggling to stand there and pay attention) or a feast (joyous, peaceful, balm for my soul), hearing the words of God and receiving the Eucharist is what makes everything else in life – every single other thing – bearable and even, mostly, good. When I can’t go to Church, well, let’s just say that crankiness is inevitably around the corner. To go to Church is like breathing.
I can think of only two negative experiences I have ever had in Church. I will tell you about one of them, but first I’ll share a little about myself. For better or worse, I always make things too complicated. My husband will tell you that I am not an “analyzer,” I’m a “synthesizer,” by which I think he means that I far prefer to connect everything all up together – all my experiences, thoughts, emotions, people, things, places, everything. While other people are great at focusing in on one thing – and are great at getting things done! – my mind is scattered all over the place trying to pull everything together. So one Holy Week, I was so happy to be in Church every day, because I know that only there I can find genuine holiness and beauty. But this time, there were too many words. You know how it is during Holy Week. You barely finish one service, and you are on to the next one, and every service has hymn after hymn after glorious (or, in the case of Holy Week, gloriously heart-wrenching) hymn. So many words, teaching me, exhorting me, drawing my heart one way and another, putting all the images and experiences and words of the disciples and the people of Jerusalem, Judas, and the Lord himself, in front of me to contemplate. It was too much. I simply could not make it all fit. While God knows, and the wisdom of the Church knows how it all synthesizes together, this was utterly beyond me.
At the time I thought this was such a negative thing, but as another Lent comes upon us, I am actually looking forward to it, services and multitudes of words and all. It will be a time to fast – to give up my “need” to put every last puzzle piece in place, to make everything fit. Giving up my need will then lead to the feast of joy that is Pascha, when the whole of creation, down to the darkest corners of the pit of Hades, will see Who it is that is victoriously in charge.
Recently I have learned that it is not we who inherit the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit inherits us. We are grafted in, we are nourished and cultivated by God to bear fruit unto eternal life. It’s His work on us – in us – accustoming us to bear His Spirit as He takes us into Himself. The work of Christ in His Holy Passion and Resurrection from the dead can be no other than the work of the Son of God made man, ascending the Cross, descending to Hades to recover the lost sheep, and then ascending into heaven to bring His creation to the Father. It’s strictly unfathomable, and yet it’s all given to us when we go to Church.
Tracy Gustilo (SVOTS ’13) is an “itinerant” seminarian (she attends St Vladimir’s one semester per year). During the rest of the time she makes her home in Kansas City with husband Nick and four children, where she attends Holy Trinity Orthodox Church.