One of my frat brothers posted a photo of himself being led out to “the block” on the first day of the pledge line on Facebook. I am not sure who took the photo of me the same day. But, I put this up on my page as well.
Back then, to pledge a Greek-letter organization was a journey. The big brothers would place all sorts of challenges and obstacles before us as test to see if we had the mettle to strive for our goal. The aim was to complete the 4 to 6 week pledge process, participate in the rituals, and become brothers of the fraternity. I am very glad that I “crossed the burning sands” to become a brother of Alpha Phi Alpha, the first African-American college fraternity. So, what does my pledging Alpha have to do with the journey that I am on now? My desire to become an Orthodox Christian (which will not happen this or next year) does come complete with some burning sands of its own. Among these is maintaining a fast that no good Baptist would even think about observing.
To us of the Calvinist line, the Virgin Mary’s significance is pretty much spent after she gives birth to Jesus. We may mention that Christ told John to take her into his home as his mother at the crucifixion. Other than that, we see where the 12 -year-old Son of God had to be about His Father’s business in Jerusalem rather than keep up with His earthly parents. We also see where any elder woman who does His Father’s will is His mother. So, for us to voluntarily surrender eating meat, dairy, fish with bones (save the feast of the Holy Transfiguration on Aug 6th), and marital sexual relations for two weeks in her honor is a very tall order. To make a special effort to improve our prayer lives, scripture reading, and love for others in remembrance of this woman instead of her Son seems to shift the focus of our devotion to someone other than God. Besides, black and white Baptist churches in my part of the world begin holding Homecoming and Revival Services where we feast on spirit-filled preaching, anointed singing, and plenty of good food.
What we ignore is that in John taking Mary as his mother is that the ageing faithful are to be cared for as directive of Christ. Frederica Matthews-Green brings up an interesting point in her podcast on the Dormition Fast. We don’t mind taking care of a helpless infant as much because the baby will grow and be able to take care of it’s self. Taking care of an elderly person who becomes more and more helpless is a far greater challenge as they will eventually die. Death is our common destiny. The love of Christ extends as a baby to his youthful mother. It also extends as a dying man to a mother who will also die. Thus, this season is to remind us to have tender love for one another as we are all on a journey that leads us to the end of this life. By following the Light that gives Life to all, our journey will lead to eternal life with Him.
In the frat, we learned the organizations history, “steps,” and traditions through repetition and enduring hardships. Those critics on the outside ridiculed us saying that we shouldn’t have to go through all that just to wear “some letters.” Sometimes the lessons of Christian living are best learned by enduring some sort of challenge or obstacle that reminds us to rely on God and his mercy rather than our own understanding and will. There is no doubt in my mind that Mary was greatly loved by the first Christians. Her loss was mourned, and then celebrated as the Mother of God (In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God – John 1:1) was accepted into heaven. Thus, the ancient church fathers and mothers began the practice of fasting and ending the fast with a great feast in her honor. I see the purpose and wisdom in this observance and voluntarily embrace it.