Whenever you are not Prodigal, you are me, the Older Son.
We, without celebration, without magazine human interest stories photographing our conversion to Orthodoxy, without mnohaja l'ita and coffee socials in our honor and shots of ouzo, oily godmother immersions in baby pools and interviews on podcasts, and even goat-less (not so bad over an open fire, with a whisky tin cup), we are the Older Son.
We bow fastidiously, never pewed. Bearded, maybe, babushka'd. Quiet, we've read our Pomazansky, Florovsky, maybe Lossky ("beware of Ware"). Our St. Herman's Calendar is doggy eared. Our Lenten recipes taste Lenten, not "You can't tell the difference" chocolate cakes or boca-burgers.
Quiet. We fast, but you don't hear about it. We are not offended by your silly V2 casuistries that lift Sundays out of Lenten context, and you wave your fingers cruciform over a nice roast and say, "Behold you are fish." Puffins, after all, never were Lenten: that whole business was just a little crazy. If you want to eat meat in Lent, on Mondays and Tuesdays and Thursdays too, then – like Luther said – sin boldly.
Truth be told, there's no difference between a Lenten chocolate cake and a hot dog.
Quiet. We aren't raging converts who fundamentalize everything, who haven't got rid of their Independent Baptist brains, who go half-nuts for uniformity and curse the old country tongue and want the priest to burn the pews and excommunicate people who just nod their heads when they should prostrate, who whisper in church or, gasp, feed cheerios to their kids.
We are not scary, frustrated and wannabe monastics who think that Rasputin was misrepresented and mistake weirdness for faithfulness.
I'll tell you the simple reason why we didn't hear about the Prodigal's return (WHICH WASN'T THE FIRST TIME!!!!). We were having a little goat-less symposium in Elijah's Cave, and we were depressed. Not mad. Just blue.
We Older Sons are the loneliest people on this world. No one likes us.
Let me tell you why.
On one hand, we naively believe the Church in all she proclaims in her anamnetic chant. We do not evaluate tradition. We are not bothered by the historic difficulties of a little girl entering the Holy of Holies, or of Joseph drinking the waters. We are not irritated by structural inefficiencies and do not put sacraments under spectrographic analyses. We do not impose a new Origenistic theory upon anthropology to revise ordination conventions. We do not import the prejudices of Masoretes, or Tubingen, or Fuller, and we wonder why Orthodox America lurches toward the false question of the National Council of Churches versus the Teabagging Union. We recognize infanticide when we see it, whether on a sonogram, in a microscope, in a Petri dish or in, God, a pail. We recognize sex as curse – any where, that is, anywhere outside of one man/one woman, united in Heaven, where sex becomes a play that ends up with more actors and a wider script of beauty, peace on earth.
The Bible and Tradition – not biblical studies departments or bioethical boards and footnoted casuists and self-reflexive dialecticians whose recursive self-echo chambers are oddly congruent with popular culture, who position themselves to advise hierarchs (because they are PhD's and therefore thusly know better than bearded bishops) and thus follow the mainline protestant sure-fire secret plan of popular success (dripping irony intended) – instead, the Bible and Tradition are entirely sufficient to reflect dogmatically upon, and to make ethical decisions on.
It is the only door, the only way and the Rule of Faith, and Older Sons know from hard knocks that other ways and other doors make one popular, wealthy and damned.
But on the other hand, you cannot get the Fox broadcast up here in Elijah's Cave. The reception is too poor (probably from no antennae or dish). The pro-lifer flag-wavers who email us their Obama curses go mad with our obstreperousness, and their own inevitable nauseating self-awareness. Older Sons are not Marxists, but they are surely just as not Capitalists. We recognize usury (and its product, modern debt slavery) when we see it, and we smell pollution and oppression as sin. The powers and principalities are no longer represented by uncouth tyrants like Stalin and Adolph, Mao and cannibals like Pol Pot and Idiot Amin: they are sophisticated patrons of the modern arts, faceless combines and congeries, publically held and traded, destroyers, like Shiva, of nation states and family farms, sponsors, like the old Caesars, of celebrity prostitution. And besides, we Older Sons know that the jihad is the new Assyria – a historical moment that calls not for the Arms of Cheney so much as for repentance, justice for the poor and creation, salvation for the fetus and embryo, the old and alien.
We wonder, up in the Cave, why Liberals aren't human anymore, why Conservatives aren't humane anymore.
I, the Older Son, have offended Right and Left, and have thus disqualified myself from every single possible committee or position.
I am not angry, which is usually the exegetical (and wrong) assumption made when reading my part in this Parable. I really don't want the Prodigal fried or hung or drawn and quartered. I might have thought about that the first time around, but after a while, you get used to these returns.
I'm just morose about all the Mardi Gras joy and dance routine for this sinner. There is the noise of carnival inside the Hall, and here I am worried, over-scrupulous, that through the week I might have made one mistake and ruined everything. The more I know, the more I know I don't know. And the more I know, for I keep my mind in hell like Silouan has said, the more I know my own sin.
And I drop to the ground and turn dirt into mud with the wine of my eyes, not like Alyosha, who was ecstatic, not me, just blue rain. I fast and pray, and take through my eyes and ears the Word of Tradition and it shines design into my shriveled soul and I live, painfully, again.
And I pray, and the world turns. I am part of the motive power of that rotation, the monks do say, and for once in a while, I think I understand.
Meanwhile, I will not join the Chucky Cheese glorification of the Prodigal, for he does not see what I see in Elijah's Cave, and has not prayed and helped in the fields of the Lord.
I will not join the Mardi Gras, for I know Who the Fatted Calf really is: how dare he take and eat of Him, he who took and ate of swine?
Of course, you know, from the meta-story, that there came a Still Small Voice, Who said, "Son, you are always with Me, and all that is Mine is yours."
The Fatted Calf, yes, the baptismal robe and the ring of sonship, yes …
… and the merriness? I who have worked since the first hour, and he from the eleventh, and we get the same denarius?
… working in the agrarian fields of Heaven?
Is it enough?