Friday, November 03, 2006

Holy New Martyr Peter, pray for me!

We have a date! Lord willing, I'm to become an official catechumen during the liturgy of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple (Nov 21, but this will be an evening liturgy, Nov 20). We'd looked at another possibility, but this one is a bit later, which will hopefully allow time for the elders at our Evangelical church to come back with their thoughts on our situation. (My wife wants that to happen before I enter the catechumenate.) More importantly, it's in the evening, which will make it easier for her to have a friend come along for moral support. The intention was to do it around the beginning of the Nativity Fast. I like this particular timing because I'll be entering the catechumenate (and in keeping with the metaphor of my blog title, finally entering the temple) on the day that the Theotokos entered the temple in Jerusalem to begin her life of service to God.

Of course, now this means I'll have to work more earnestly on picking a name saint. Five months ago (to the day, actually) I posted about my struggles with picking a saint. I can't say I've gained much clarity since then. One thing that has seemed to come out is that, after trying on the Archangel Michael for several months, I'm not feeling a very intimate connection. On the other hand, I recently observed with particular devotion the feast of Martyr Peter the Aleut, and I continue to find myself drawn in that direction. It's hard to explain fully the connection that I feel. Some of the specifics:

  1. He's relatively obscure. I'm not sure what that does for me, but I like about him that there's really only one story--that of his torture and death.
  2. He's North American born and raised, and martyred in the territory of the continental U. S. No other saint right now fits these criteria. There are only two saints who were martyred on North American soil, and only two saints born in North America (not the same two). I guess, because I don't feel much cultural connection with my own heritage, and I've never been outside North America, it's particularly meaningful to me to have a distinctively American saint.
  3. He's Aleutian. To my knowledge, I don't have a drop of American Indian or Native Alaskan blood in me, but if it's going to be an American-born saint, I like the idea of him being indigenous. I'm saddened by our past (and present) exploitation of the native peoples on this continent, and it somehow seems right to me to venerate an American saint from that group. I have a rather complicated relationship with this country, and this seems like the kind of saint who can help me love my continent at least. He also inspires me to a more intimate connection with the land--even though we come from quite different regions, I'm impressed with the way Christianity took root in this very North American people.
  4. Sort of related to the previous connection, he was martyred by Catholic missionaries. I'll say to start out that this doesn't inspire in me a hatred for Catholics. But it does speak to both the "Western" chauvinism that infused colonial efforts and the tendency in "Western" Christianity to discount the authenticity of the "Eastern" faith. (I'm using quotes here, because in this case the Orthodox are coming from the West and Catholics are coming from the East.) I would say this tendency applies just as much to Protestantism, whatever one might say about whether Protestants would have martyred Peter for refusing to convert. I suspect I'm always going to have to deal with my fellow Euro-Americans questioning the legitimacy of my Orthodox faith, and it will be good to have a saint who understands so intimately that struggle.
  5. Finally, I just like his simple courage and conviction. For the past several years leading up to my discovery of Orthodoxy, I was so uncertain about what I believed. Not only that, I was so intellectual that I could always shroud my uncertainty in an air of academic mystery. I don't know anything about Peter's intellectual life, but his testimony is one of pure, confident faith. There's no indication that he tried to persuade his captors that he was right, or that he gave any momentous speeches. He just responded with the most straightforward and heartfelt answer anyone could muster in such a situation--I am a Christian. He never wavered from that conviction, whatever means they tried to convince him. I can only hope that one day I would respond the same way.
So there it is. I'm not 100% certain of the choice yet, but if I had to pick right now, that's the direction I'd go. And I must say, I'm already feeling a connection, in just the short time I've been praying with him. As for the other element, of picking a Godfather, I'll hopefully have some news on that shortly.

A final thought: Am I going to change the title of my blog? After all, I won't be on the doorstep anymore. Even in the ancient church, a catechumen was allowed inside. But then, he was also sent back out and the doors were closed behind him, before the liturgy of the faithful. So I think it's still a fitting title. I'll be out here on the doorstep often enough, at least for a while yet.


Jim N. said...

Good Lord! After those five points your 'not sure' he's the one? Does he need to appear from the other world and club you?! ;^)

Trevor said...

Hey, that might help :-) But does it surprise you after what I said about lacking courage and conviction? In my defense, I remarked in my earlier post on this topic that part of the problem is there are so many saints out there to pick from. Who's to say I couldn't find just as long a list of worthy qualities in any other? Maybe when I find a Godfather he'll set me straight (which still might involve a clubbing anyway).

Trevor said...

I actually thought of a sixth point, although this could apply to any number of Russian saints as well. I take it as a point of pride that I come from the snowy north. I tend to ridicule those who cannot tolerate cold weather. Any saint who comes from Alaska has to get the tough guy award from me :-)

Jim N. said...

LOL... yeah well. It's often said that the Saint choses the catechumen, so perhaps your putting too much energy into this. Fr. Schmemann used to remark that when people find they are doing something that brings them joy and peace in the Holy Spirit, then that is what they're suppose to be doing. Perhaps the same holds true when contemplating the life of a saint?

Trevor said...

Maybe. I'm pretty dense when it comes to picking up on what people are trying to communicate to me--enough so when they're in this world, let alone in the other. That's why I worry that I'm not going to hear when a saint does pick me. That's also why I figure a clubbing might help.

For some reason, this discussion is reminding me of a fairly sacrilegious Simpsons quote. I can't find it readily online, but it's from the episode where Bart and Homer want to become Catholic (one of my favorites, I might add). The Irish priest is giving his testimony and refers to a vision he had of St. Peter, who said to him, "Sean, ya wanker, repent of your sins, or saw it off."

OK, now I probably just lost what few readers I had. Yes, I'm a Simpsons addict. But if there's any true sign that the Spirit is alive in Orthodoxy, it's that I stopped watching weeknight reruns (two per evening) during the Dormition Fast and haven't started back up since.

Jim N. said...

"Sean, ya wanker, repent of your sins, or saw it off."

Bwah! That is beyond funny...

Trevor said...

Just a quick update (not that anyone will see it here)--my Godfather and my spiritual father have teamed up to convince me that Martyr Peter should be my patron. Unless a different saint really does "appear from the other world and club" me, I'm calling it a done deal.