Sunday, March 16, 2008

7. Be an ordinary person, one of the human race.

A Blessed Sunday of Orthodoxy to you all! I just had to share this note from the Emily files before moving on to the Maxim for the day:

Despite attending about a dozen Sunday of Orthodoxy services in my lifetime, I didn't understand the connection between "Orthodoxy Sunday" and the resolution of the iconoclastic controversy until hearing the Synaxarion reading this morning. "Orthodox" doesn't just refer to our denomination; it means "straight doctrine," or "correct teaching." So we are celebrating the triumph of correct teaching over heresy. Wow! I was even more teary-eyed than usual as we read: "This is the faith of the fathers; this is the faith of the Orthodox; this is the faith that established the universe." Something about all of those voices shouting those words in unison is so moving.

In Fr. Tom's podcast on his Maxims, he says that to refuse to be ordinary is to be prideful: "Don't ever say, 'I thank you, God, that I am not like other people!' Try to be as much like others as you can. Be ordinary." He also he quotes Chekhov, who wrote, "Everything outside the ordinary is from the devil."

This is especially hard living in a country and an age that values uniqueness and individuality above all else. To be "ordinary" here and now is to be completely useless. I remember the first time I watched "American Beauty," a heartbreakingly true portrait of life in our fallen world: one of the main characters, a beautiful but horribly insecure teenager, is reduced to tears when another character calls her "ordinary." Later, she is vindicated when another character reassures her, "You couldn't be ordinary if you tried."

Why are we so afraid of being ordinary?


Debbie said...

When I think of this maxim, I realize how much we feel compelled to lean either toward the side of being extraordinary or subordinary. To be ordinary is seemingly a fate worse than nonexistence.

But wasn't Christ ordinary? Didn't he, God, embrace the plainness of our existence? The nuts and bolts of daily life? If He did not, then what and who do we worship? And what difference does it make, if it doesn't reach us in our daily existence?

I think I picked up a mentality of "us vs them" as I was growing up. My Calvinistic home seemed to feed my anxiety about whether I was one of "the elect," or not. And there was a good bit of judgment, and not enough grace, to govern every bit of behavior.

I only realized this recently, as I noticed how difficult it was to refrain from overt pride or self-condemnation, which is an insidious form of pride. I've found that the last phrase of St. Ephrem's prayer keeps us in the middle of this road, when we plead that God would "grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brother."

jocelyn said...

I have a tough time being ordinary because our culture celebrates the extraordinary: the rich, super-talented, athletic, beautiful, famous, what have you.

Not very many ordinary people are celebrated for how ordinary they are. In my life it's a form of jealousy, to be frightened of being ordinary, or seek to try to be more of something than someone else.

I try so hard (too hard) to separate myself from others that sometimes I do find myself placing myself above other people, which is the exact opposite of what we're taught to do.

The Forty Maxims

  • 1. Be always with Christ and trust God in everything.
  • 2. Pray, fast and do acts of mercy.
  • 3. Read the Scriptures regularly.
  • 4. Read good books, a little at a time.
  • 5. Practice silence, inner and outer.
  • 6. Cultivate communion with the saints.
  • 7. Be an ordinary person, one of the human race.
  • 8. Live a day, even a part of a day, at a time.
  • 9. Be honest, first of all with yourself.
  • 10. Be faithful in little things.
  • 11. Do your work, then forget it.
  • 12. Do the most difficult and painful things first.
  • 13. Face reality.
  • 14. Be grateful.
  • 15. Be cheerful.
  • 16. Be simple, hidden, quiet and small.
  • 17. Never bring unnecessary attention to yourself.
  • 18. Listen when people talk to you.
  • 19. Be awake and attentive, fully present where you are.
  • 20. Think and talk about things no more than necessary.
  • 21. Speak simply, clearly, firmly, directly.
  • 22. Flee imagination, fantasy, analysis.
  • 23. Flee carnal things at their first appearance.
  • 24. Don’t complain, grumble, murmur or whine.
  • 25. Don’t seek or expect pity or praise.
  • 26. Don’t compare yourself with anyone.
  • 27. Don’t judge anyone for anything.
  • 28. Don’t try to convince anyone of anything.
  • 29. Don’t defend or justify yourself.
  • 30. Be defined and bound by God, not people.
  • 31. Accept criticism gracefully and test it carefully.
  • 32. Give advice only when asked or when it is your duty.
  • 33. Be strict with yourself.
  • 34. Be merciful with yourself and others.
  • 35. Do nothing for people that they can do for themselves.
  • 36. Have a healthy, wholesome hobby.
  • 37. Have no expectations except to be fiercely tempted to your last breath.
  • 38. Endure the trial of yourself and your faults serenely, under God’s mercy.
  • 39. When you fall, get up immediately and start over.
  • 40. Get help when you need it, without fear or shame.