A photographer can make an ordinary scene extraordinary, because they have an eye trained to see beauty. The beauty of Orthodoxy can be seen in the seemingly disconnected pieces of arts and culture. Some people consider the Harry Potter series to be inconsistent with Christianity because of their themes of witchcraft and violence, but in my opinion, the books happen to be very Orthodox in nature.
The main premise of the book is the classic archetype of good versus evil. However, J.K. Rowling is genius in her analysis and understanding of where ultimate good and ultimate evil come from. Harry is the symbol of ultimate good whereas his counterpart, Voldemort (or He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named for the more squeamish) symbolizes and commits acts of ultimate evil.
The two are inextricably linked but fundamentally opposed. This imagery parallels the imagery of passions. Human passions and virtues are two sides of the same coin. For example, the passion of pride and the virtue of humility both involve the perception of the self, one being a twisted over-inflation rooted in self-love and the other being a deep, truthful self-knowledge based in love of others respectively. Harry and Voldemort are both inextricably linked and even spiritually linked, but they fundamentally differ in one aspect: LOVE.
Harry Potter was able to love, and that was the source of his goodness. Voldemort was physically incapable of love and that inspired his evil. There’s the Orthodoxy, the basis of all good is Love, and in turn, God!
Harry Potter is born into a life of sacrificial love and is magically protected for years by the sheer power that his mother’s sacrifice provided for him. She commits the ultimate sacrifice and in that, surrounds Harry in her love and protects him from harm. Think of the power in Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection. His sacrifical love destroys even death itself. There is a God-given power in self-sacrifice that literarily manifests itself into a powerful force in a magical dimension.
Voldermort on the other hand, turns to dark magic in a desperate and contorted attempt at self-preservation. He splits his soul seven times and in the process, loses his humanity in his hubris. Voldemort loses his personhood because he engulfs himself in sin and is unable to love.
Harry had guidance and care from a more experienced and wise wizard, Albus Dumbledore. Dumbledore guided Harry in his pursuit of conquest against Voldemort and his associates. Dumbledore is like Harry’s spiritual father, guiding him and helping him minimize foreseeable obstacles. However, Dumbledore is not perfect, because he too, is human.
Harry finds familial love with his best friends, Ron and Hermoine. They never leave his side, are not afraid to tell him the truth, and fully support him in his endeavor. Harry loves them and fights hard for them against all odds.
Harry is victorious in his battle against evil because of one thing: his self sacrifice. In love, Harry voluntarily gives up his life for the lives of others, and in that, actually receives new life. In the story, he literally comes back from the dead from his self-sacrifice and that allows him to defeat Voldemort. Love is what the story boils down to, and we can use the story to better understand the power of love in an anecdotal way. But let’s turn back to The Book, the Bible, and its knowledge about love:
And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. – John 4:16
Understanding that God has infinite love for us, and living it are two different things. How can we really live in God? It all starts with habits. The church fathers prescribe three things to help us develop a spiritual life and allow the Holy spirit come into our souls. Those three things are: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. When we pray we talk to God, and we build our relationship. When we fast we work on our commitment to God and our spiritual strength. And when we give out alms, we participate in God’s love by sharing it with other people. These are the starting suggestion for living in love and living in God. Living in love begins when we begin to see God in our relationships with other people. Harry Potter was good at understanding the sacrificial love that his friends and family exemplified. Harry, despite all odds, growing up in an awful household still finds the strength to live in love, and that becomes his source of strength.
Harry Potter wasn’t perfect. He was able to love and be loved and despite his weaknesses he was strong. For us, God is our source of strength and when we love, we are strengthened by His mercy. I challenge you to see how in our world, goodness comes from love and evil comes from the lack of it. If someone committing an act of violence truly loved the other person, would they dare touch a finger to the other person?
The next time you find yourself in a fight against evil, there is no need to fear, because if you are focused on Christ’s love, He will grant you the strength to defeat it! Live in love, and God will live in you.
“Glory to Thee for the prayers offered by a trembling soul.”
(Ikos 4, the Akathist of Thanksgiving)
As I sat down to work on this post, I realized that my laptop cord is juuuuuuust barely too short for me to sit in my favorite spot in the corner of the couch while it’s plugged in. So, as I type, I’m perched a smidgen in from the corner, right at the point where two cushions meet. (I realize that most of you are thinking, “Kiara, on what planet does this relate to that quote you put up there?” Hang on—we’ll get there.)
I’m caught somewhere between cozy-comfy and actually kind of uncomfortable. This is where my stubbornness gets the best of me because I refuse to scoot off of the cushion meeting point, just on principle. It’s dumb, I know, and I’m reminded of how frequently we feel this way. Not necessarily this specific situation (because honestly most people aren’t as absurd as I am), but how many times have you found yourself feeling two wildly different, even opposing, things at the same time? It’s more common than we’d like to admit, frankly.
And this is where Orthodoxy comes in. Our faith not only acknowledges but embraces the fact that we are all a bit (or a lot) of a living, walking paradox. Take our funerals: even as we mourn, we gleefully anticipate the departed’s eventual resurrection in Christ. There is room both for overwhelming sorrow and pain alongside breathlessly anticipatory hope. Take confession: it’s expressly designed to both acknowledge our pain and our wrong, as well as affirm our beauty and goodness as a child of Light. There is room for us to be both hurt and healed.
Even our God embodies two complete and contradictory truths because He is both fully God and fully man! If anyone understands being a paradox, it’s DEFINITELY Him.
Meet yourself where you are: it’s okay to feel annoyed by fasting, even as you’re excited for what the fast brings! In a perfect world, would we all love fasting and serve God flawlessly, without reservation and with our whole selves? You bet your bottom lip we would! Do we live in that world? Not even close.
Now, none of this is to say that we can slack off, or write off mediocre effort as, “Oh it’s okay, I’m just meeting myself where I am; Kiara said it’s fine.” Nice try my dudes, but that’s not how this works either. The point of this is not to give you justification to not give your all; it’s to remind you that perpetually beating yourself up and making yourself feel guilty because you haven’t had a perfect fast or didn’t go to church this week or whatever won’t solve anything. Repent, go to confession if at all possible, pick yourself up, and try again. Acknowledge the paradox: you have failed, but you are undefeated.
Now, to return to that quote, “Glory to Thee for the prayers offered by a trembling soul.” When I read that (as I sat on my simultaneously comfy and uncomfy perch), all of this came flooding into my brain. I realize that’s a pretty big leap. Just roll with it.
Think of the times that we tremble. We tremble when we’re afraid, when we’re cold. We tremble when we’re so moved and joyful that it seems our body can’t contain it and we’re just going to vibrate away like a hummingbird flitting to nectar. We tremble when we’re nervous, and we tremble when we’re about to receive something we’ve anticipated for what feels like an eternity.
Within that one word, there are paradoxical multitudes. As there are paradoxical multitudes within us, and as there are paradoxical multitudes—both literal and figurative—within Orthodoxy. We are not alone in our contradictory truths. Look at the season we’re in; we’re fasting and preparing for the birth of Christ even as we feast and celebrate the innumerable joys in our lives.
By the time this post goes up, Thanksgiving will have just happened. And so, remember the delights for which you are thankful. And remember the delights for which you sorrow. Bring these seemingly competing truths and emotions together into one, and I have a feeling you’ll find a truth deeper than either side alone. Let yourself tremble in the face of your joy, let yourself tremble in the face of your struggle.
Glory to God for the prayers offered by a trembling soul.
Kiara (her Arabic-speaking friends like to call her cucumber, because apparently a khiara is a cucumber in Arabic—who knew?) Stewart is a first-year grad student at George Washington University. When she’s not reading endless art therapy texts or busy making art, Kiara likes to spend her free time reading, hiking, and hanging out with the Amish.
“Are you religious?” my friend asks me from across the table at a popular vegan diner in Berkeley. They saw me do the sign of the cross before my faux-chicken cutlet sandwich. I answer timidly, “I mean, yeah, I guess.” This isn’t the first time I have been asked this question and this isn’t the first time I didn’t know the proper response.
Quite honestly, I’m unaware of what “being religious” means in modern day society. I ask them to clarify. They say, “Well, you know, do you believe in God and stuff?”
As I scramble to find the right answer to this question, I always feel a bit embarrassed, thinking: Oh I was caught! They must know I belong to a group of people who participate in the transubstantial act of communion every Sunday and probably think I’m super weird for doing it. Sometimes I even feel ashamed. Now that I have “admitted” that I am a Christian, what will they think of me?
Unfortunately, Christianity in the United States does not necessarily have the best reputation among the average American citizen, as extremism floats to the top of media coverage, and a stereotype or stigma is born. If I say that I’m “religious”, I could be immediately pigeon-holed into a certain kind of person, who believes a certain set of things and expresses those beliefs in a certain sort of way.
Why is it that people so easily lump all Christians into one type of extremist being, one that passes judgment on other groups of people that are not associated with its ideologies? As an Orthodox Christian, this troubles me. We are suppose to show that we are Christians by our love, yet people assume that’s the last thing that we do. Are we not called to demonstrate this love?
And “stuff”? Do I believe in “God and stuff“? If by “stuff” you mean I wear my cross around my neck and my komboskini around my wrist in an effort to stay centered on Christ, then yes I am “religious.” But do I pray ceaselessly like the monks on Mount Athos? Do I read my Bible every night? Am I able to attend OCF and Liturgy every week? No, I am not able to be as consistent as I want, but I do try. I think we all do, and that’s what matters.
The next time someone asks if I am religious, my answer will be “Yes, I try.” Because that is really what it comes down to; you make the conscious effort to believe in something that you know transcends fear, hate, and the evil that attempts to exist within Christianity itself. You love, and that is something we all are called to do.
Claire is a sophomore at UC Berkeley studying Theater and Performance Studies and English. She currently attends Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in San Francisco. Her favorite Saint is Saint Pelagia the actress and when not in church or the theater, she likes to spend her time exploring San Francisco, reading plays, and eating sushi.
A wonderfully wise woman gave me some advice: “Please consider when you write/speak/think about Orthodoxy: are you writing/saying/thinking “the faith” “Orthodoxy” “the Church” when you should be writing/saying/thinking “Jesus Christ.”
OCF sponsors October as Orthodox Awareness Month and during this time, we encourage college students, spiritual advisors, lay advisors, and the like to spread the word about Orthodoxy and OCF. Change your profile picture on Facebook to the OCF logo! Participate in our #ShareAThon and flood your newsfeed with Orthodox related articles, videos, podcasts, and pictures! Take the Come & See Challenge to win points and prizes for your chapter while bringing others to the Church! Speak at your church on College Student Sunday (Oct. 2) to inform your parish about the work of OCF!
OAM is a wonderful opportunity to bring attention to the Orthodox Church to a lot of people who might never have heard of it. I encourage each of you to take this to month to do so. But it’s important to remember that OAM isn’t just about celebrating and spreading awareness of Orthodoxy. It’s about bringing people to know Jesus Christ and His Church. Yeah, it’s cool to tell people about all the crazy awesome saints we have or to explain how icons are windows to heaven or to blast beautiful Byzantine chant and bellow the ison from the bottom of your lungs, but ask yourself – am I bringing people to the nuances of Orthodoxy or am I bringing people to a life devoted to Jesus Christ?
Nathanael tells Philip, “Come and see.”
The theme for OCF this year is Come & See, which fits perfectly into the theme of OAM. This means that during October, we are doubly responsible for spreading Orthodoxy! Make a true effort this month to share the good news of Jesus Christ to the people in your life. Let it come to them through the way you live your life – by going to church, fasting, praying, loving your neighbor. Take time to talk with them about the teachings of Christ and his Church. Show them the way, the life, and the truth that they then may experience through the beauty of Orthodoxy.
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. 1 Peter 2:9
All right, it’s time to brag. Being born an Orthodox Christian of Greek descent has put me in contact with countless entertaining people. Being Orthodox led to my involvement in OCF, which then led to my being surrounded by clergy; it’s really not unlike that scene in Toy Story with the aliens and the claw machine except I’m not as talented as Tom Hanks and none of the priests I’ve met worship the most bogus arcade concept in all of existence.
In my neck of the woods, being Greek means being surrounded by countless loud, hilarious, loud, outspoken, loud people. I love my family to death, however they all definitely have their opinions, and are always more than eager to share them with me. After a few of my aunts and uncles learned that I spend a lot of time at school doing work for the Church they decided to share this pearl of wisdom with me:
“Be careful that you don’t become a priest!”
Unfortunately, when someone has seen enough church politics, they often become disillusioned with church leadership, and since many of our priests often have the final say on whatever happens in a church, I can see why so many discourage me from joining the priesthood. However, some of my more adamantly opinionated family members may be a little disappointed; I’m already part of the priesthood. In fact, so are they—and some of them didn’t even have to take a single church history class.
In his epistle, St. Peter refers to all of us as being part of “a royal priesthood.” Even for those of us well-versed in Church hierarchy, these words sound slightly daunting. But as daunting as this revelation is, it shouldn’t come as a total surprise. Our understanding of the sacraments is definite proof that we are part of some royal priesthood. During baptisms we sing, “all those who have been baptized in Christ have put on Christ,” and we understand Christ as the Chief Priest of our Church. When we participate in the sacrament of confession, the priest places the epitrachilion over our heads as a sign that his anointing as a priest has passed down to us. (His Grace, Bishop Gregory of Nyssa gives a really nice explanation of how this works here in his College Conference East address). So, this should be crystal clear, right? No concerns? At least everyone who likes wearing black is cool with this whole royal priesthood thing, right?
Well, when I first read this verse, I was still a bit puzzled. After all, if we are a “royal priesthood” why is it necessary for our church to ordain priests and how can we act as priests if we aren’t ordained? To answer this question, let’s consult the authority of all life’s great conundrums—Hollywood. Particularly, the movie Dead Poets Society.
Dead Poets Society is a story about young people with tremendous gifts. The premise of the movie revolves around a boarding school English teacher, Mr. Keating (Robin Williams), who uses unconventional methods to teach his students about free thought and the importance of developing a passion for poetry. The characters’ gift is the ability to use language in a way that gives them a better love of each other and the world around them. If you haven’t seen the movie, the only other thing you really need to know is that it’s full of Walt Whitman, carpe diem, and honestly stellar headpieces.
One of the ways that Keating initially sells the value of poetry to his students is when he tells them that language was invented for the purpose of “wooing women.” This titillating incentive serves as the gateway for Keating’s students to realize the power they possess as linguists and creative minds. They form their secret after-hours poetry club—The Dead Poets Society. They read to each other, they write, and they fall in love with the endless sea of passion and meticulous craftsmanship found in linguistic art.
Now, in the infant moments of the Dead Poets Society, Keating’s students realize the power they have in their new found individualism and love of poetry. However they quickly start to abuse that power by taking part in excessive smoking, drinking, and profanity. When some of the students’ behavior comes to light, Mr. Keating cautions them to tame their new found passion and freedom by being “wise, not stupid.”
There are two really key things to glean from these few paragraphs of cinematic rambling:
- Let Mr. Keating be your model for ordained clergy, and let his students your model for the rest of us—the lay-priesthood. Mr. Keating is trained in the knowledge of literature, and is professionally associated with the institution of learning (school/church). His students have a different association with the school, but they have within them the same power of language as Mr. Keating. They then continue to exercise that power through Mr. Keating’s guidance.
- On occasion, Mr. Keating’s students abuse their power, and when they do, their teacher is responsible for guiding them back to a healthy way of using their gifts. However, the young men’s love for language is no less intense, and their relationships with each other are no less bold and dynamic. The iconic final scene of the movie shows the students’ love of language and each other in action. The film ends with them sharing their innate gifts, which their teacher helped hone.
So what does being a royal priesthood mean outside of the hokey fantasy world that is English class? Let’s briefly turn back to our Church’s liturgical tradition—particularly the Church’s vesting prayers. When the priest puts on the sticharion, his bright tunic, he recites the following:
My soul shall rejoice in the Lord for he has clothed me with a garment of righteousness and has covered me with the robe of gladness. He has crowned me as the bridegroom and has adorned me as a bride with jewels.”
There’s something spectacular about the image of being adorned by Christ as both His bride and bridegroom. I can only imagine the weight of those words and what a priest must feel whenever he recites them. However, the gravity of that imagery should not be lost on the rest of us. We are the Church—Christ’s bride. We are the royal priesthood. We are to take on our own ministries—our own Dead Poets Societies.
As college students, we’re blessed to have the tools for ministering at our disposal. We can host dinners, we can volunteer at soup kitchens, we can tutor, we can start Bible studies, we can join protests, we can organize charity benefits, we can cultivate strong friendships, and I could really keep going on like this. Through the Holy Spirit the possibilities of what we can do are endless, and if we let Him work through us, whether we wake up each morning and put on a cassock or if we put on a graphic t-shirt, crocs, and sweatpants (something which I advise against, by the way), we fulfill our duty as a royal priesthood, and further the process of filling the world with Christ’s “marvelous light.”