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September 28, 2011

The picture above is one of the collection of Lord of the Rings paintings done by the Hildebrandt Brothers in the 60’s and 70’s. I’ve always thought this depiction of the Wild Men of the Druidan Forest is on of the best. These men were assumed to be ignorant, savage brutes by the Riders of Rohan, as well as those of Gondor. Their lives had become a thing of fable and legend. Yet the encounter that Kind Theoden had with Ghan-buri-Ghan shows a keen understanding that is far beyond what they are believed to possess. Not only that, but a deep connection with the earth itself. Such was their connection that Ghan-buri-Ghan told Theoden of the change in the wind that would mean victory over the dark cloud of Sauron.
On the 14th of this month (September) was the feast of the Holy Elevation of the Precious And Life-Giving Cross, as all Orthodox Christians well know. I attended Divine Liturgy at a Romanian parish up the street from my house, as it was their parish’s name day. I normally attend services at St Peter the Apostle, as the services are in English, but I enjoy being amongst the people of this little Romanian parish, even if I don’t understand anything other than a few phrases here and there.

On this particular day I had the unique pleasure of speaking to an older Romanian woman who had lived through Communist government, which lasted from 1947-1989. This conversation was also a challenge, as not only was her English rather broken, but I had the distraction of looking after my curious two year-old girl who was also getting tired of being there. She told me about how people had their rich were exploited and indoctrinated and made “one of them” as she put it. She said many of them lived in poverty after the Communists took over. The worst thing for her was how the Communists tried to replace the Church. Many Church buildings were destroyed, clergy and laity alike were jailed, exiled and even killed in many instances. She told me how on Pascha Night and Nativity Night parishioners would come to Church to celebrate, only to be met by buses waiting to load them on board and take them to mandatory communism meetings. “They took us to these meetings so we couldn’t worship Jesus.” This was obvious done with malicious intention on the part of the communists. How wonderful to know that they could not really keep these people from celebrating the Incarnation and Resurrection of Christ. Once the communists lost power, they were once again “free to practice our religion.” as she put it. What they really were was free to do what they had already been doing, even under the thumb of communism: worshipping Christ.

I was amazed at the fact that I was talking to a living example of the Church living under persecution. The words of Christ echoed through my mind as she spoke, “But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” (Matthew 24:13) She, and millions of other Romanians, literally endured until the end of communism in he country.

It also made me think of how arrogantly American Evangelicals went into the “Godless Eastern Bloc” in order to “share the Gospel” with its people. What nobody ever considered was that the Church has not only been there for centuries, but lived under the kind of persecution that our comfortable existence can’t even fathom. The other thing that I began to think about was how those that did know about the Orthodox thought of them. I think it was similar to the way the Wild Men were believed to be; primitive, superstitious, unintelligent and in many other ways inferior to themselves. But what many Evangelicals did/do not understand is that the fulness of the Christian Faith exists in the Orthodox Church. It’s the faith once delivered to the saints.

I found myself both excited and humbled to have the chance to meet someone who had lived through persecution and come out of it still “enduring to the end”. May I and my fellow Christians do as well as she, should we live to see such times come upon us, our land, and our families.

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