Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Dormition Fast and the HHS Mandate

Today, August 1, the celebration of the Procession of the Cross, begins our two week fast to celebrate the falling asleep of the Temple of God:  Mary, the Theotokos and ever-virgin.  In these two weeks, Orthodox Christians are expected to increase their prayers, their tithes while removing meat and dairy from their diets so that when the feast comes, we may embrace it with joy and the fulness may replace our imposed emptiness.

Today is also a very dark day for religious freedom in this country.  Today is the day the HHS Mandate that all employers who provide health insurance, including religious institutions, must provide birth control, sterilization drugs and services as well as abortifacients to its women employees free of charge, regardless of whether the women want/need such services and regardless of whether that violates the religious institution's conscience.  Churches will be exempted, but hospitals and other charities, specifically those affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church will be expected and forced to comply.

I could go into a long post and rehash what most of us already know about how this does trample religious liberty, that nothing like this can be found ANYWHERE in the history of jurisprudence in this country and that the progressives show their true colors where they believe the state is the supreme arbiter of everything and that religion, particularly traditional religion, is a threat to that supremacy.  But I won't.

And the reason that I won't is because, as Christians, we have failed to really make our faith important both in our family life and in our public life.  Yes, this mandate is still wrong and the people who favor it are wrong to impose it on those who disagree (these are the same people who want to impose their beliefs on Chik-Fil-A because its owner won't endorse same-sex marriage, but that's OK to do).  I am not suggesting that we trot around time trumpeting our fasting and alms giving.  I seem to remember Jesus rallying against those very things back in His day.  But, it seems, many of us only take our faith and its practice seriously only when something like this assault comes around.

Dormition fast has been around for a long time and it has been practiced in this country ever since Russian missions established the first Orthodox churches here in the late 18th century.  Orthodox Christians continue to make up a very very small fraction of the Christian population of the United States, but in efforts to not make ourselves too different from the Protestants and Catholics around us, our praxis has been pushed aside.  Yes, we may believe all of what our faith teaches, but as St. James says, a faith without works is a dead faith.

I know I have very few readers, but I would like to issue this challenge for this Dormition Fast to any Orthodox Chrisitan:  Show that your faith matters to you!  Go to one of the Paraklesis services during these two weeks, go to the Liturgy on Transfiguration, go to Dormition Liturgy. If your parish doesn't offer those services, make the extra effort to pray at home and with your family.  If you are able, fast.  If you can't do it for two weeks, then do it for what time you can.  If you have some leftover change, give it to a charity.  At the same time, don't trumpet it about.  Don't post on facebook that you gave $10 to the local homeless shelter!  Pray in silence.  And don't just do it for this Dormition Fast.  Do it for the Nativity Fast, do it for Great Lent. Do this ALL YEAR ROUND!  And, be joyful in it.

My point is that perhaps if we actually showed that our faith mattered in the practice of it, perhaps such things like this HHS Mandate might never have come into being.  We have become schismatics in our faith--acknowledging and believing on the one hand, but failing to practice it on the other.  If we hold such a cavalier and unserious attitude towards something that was enshrined into the first amendment of the Bill of Rights, namely the free exercise of religion, then perhaps we deserve to allow the state to dictate to us in these matters.

As disheartened as we may be, let us cry out with joy, this our Orthodox Battle Hymn:

Σῶσον Κύριε τὸν λαόν σου καὶ εὐλόγησον τὴν κληρονομίαν σου, νίκας τοῖς Βασιλεῦσι κατὰ βαρβάρων δωρούμενος καὶ τὸ σὸν φυλάττων διὰ τοῦ Σταυροῦ σου πολίτευμα.

Oh Lord, save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance, granting to Thy Sovereigns victory over the barbarians and by Thy Cross preserving Thine Estate.--Apolytikion for August 1, The Processiono f the Cross, Tone 1

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