Thursday, March 6, 2014

And it appears the Pope isn't the Only One...

...wanting changes in Cathoic sexual teaching.

The headline is misleading.  The German bishop isn't defying Rome.  

Pope Francis: Church could support civil unions

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Excerpt from an article from CNN, here.

(CNN) - Pope Francis reaffirmed the Catholic Church's opposition to gay marriage on Wednesday, but suggested in a newspaper interview that it could support some types of civil unions.

The Pope reiterated the church's longstanding teaching that "marriage is between a man and a woman." However, he said, "We have to look at different cases and evaluate them in their variety."

States, for instance, justify civil unions as a way to provide economic security to cohabitating couples, the Pope said in a wide-ranging interview published Wednesday in Corriere della Seraan Italian daily. State-sanctioned unions are thus driven by the need to ensure rights like access to health care, Francis added.

A number of Catholic bishops have supported civil unions for same-sex couples, including Pope Francis when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 2010, according to reports in National Catholic Reporter and The New York Times.

Behind closed doors, pope supported civil unions in Argentina, activist says

But Wednesday's comments are "the first time a Pope has indicated even tentative acceptance of civil unions," according to Catholic News Service.

Later on Wednesday, a Vatican spokesman sought to clarify the Pope's remarks.

"The Pope did not choose to enter into debates about the delicate matter of gay civil unions," said the Rev. Thomas Rosica, a consultant to the Vatican press office.

"In his response to the interviewer, he emphasized the natural characteristic of marriage between one man and one woman, and on the other hand, he also spoke about the obligation of the state to fulfill its responsibilities towards its citizens."

"We should not try to read more into the Pope’s words than what has been stated in very general terms," Rosica added.

Pope Francis, who marks his first year in office on March 13, has sought to set a more tolerant tone for his 1 billion-member church and suggested that a broad range of topics are at least open for discussion.

In January, the Pope recalled a little girl in Buenos Aires who told her teacher that she was sad because "my mother's girlfriend doesn't like me."

"The situation in which we live now provides us with new challenges which sometimes are difficult for us to understand," the Pope told leaders of religious orders, adding that the church "must be careful not to administer a vaccine against faith to them."

The Vatican later denied that those comments signaled an opening toward same-sex unions.

Last June, Francis famously refused to judge gay priests in comments that ricocheted around the world. He has also said that the church should not "interfere"in the spiritual lives of gays and lesbians.

Pope Francis' greatest hits of 2013

Support of same-sex unions of any type is fiercely contested by many Catholic church leaders.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Romancing the Bottle

Yup, I've been hitting the bottle lately, which is another way of saying, my mild interest in glass bottles appears suddenly to have blossomed into a full-fledged love affair.

It all began when Greece forced everyone in Athens and Thessaloniki to convert to natural gas for heating and hot water.  This necessitated two rows of copper pipes to be installed a few inches above my  kitchen cabinets in Thessaloniki.  Some years earlier, diggging through the kitchen cabinets, I had found an antique milk bottle, which I had saved and stuck up there on top of the cabinets, and this gave me the idea of hiding the ugly pipes with more bottles.  So I began bringing home colorful ones, or ones with pretty shapes, and in a couple of years, I had to begin weeding out the less attracttive to make room for the more attractive.  

So a week ago, I went to the Goodwill store to see what I could find there, and sure enough, I found this glass bottle for $2.25.

Demetrios said he didn't like it, and especially didn't like it when I read him the curious phrase embossed on the bottom:  “FEDERAL LAW FORBIDS SALE OR RE-USE OF THIS BOTTLE”.  We were evidently breaking the law, he said.  It's a deccanter!  It's made precisely to be used over and over.  So what was this all about?

So I poked around the internet and found out this label was required on all U.S. liquor bottles after Prohibition ended.  It was meant to keep moonshiners from using them.  The law was in force between 1935 and 1964.

WOW, I thought.  My bottle is at least 50 years old; who knew?  I wonder if I can date it any more accurately?  So I re-examind the bottom of the bottle andd found this mark.

Any chance this meant anything to somebody out there?  Oh, yes!  I was astonished to learn that there are people who dedicate their lives to the subject of old glass, and tomes have been written just on the sub-topic of manufacturers' marks.  I began appreciating my bottle consderably  more.  

So this is a mark used by the Thatcher Glass Manufacturing Company beginning in 1944.  Together with the federal inscription, that narrrowed my bottle's date to the 20 years between 1944 and 1964.

Armed with this information, I went to ebay to see whether I could discover anything about my bottle's value, and found this.

It's the exact same bottle, except that mine, without the stopper, is worth approximately nothing. (And it isn't actually cut glass, but machine-molded.)

I couldn't find the right stopper for sale, would have been a miracle if I could have, but I bought this one anyway, just for the looks; not being the original, it won't add any value.

I think it will look as if it belonged to the decanter.

All in all, I thought, very satisfactory.  

But then I began wondering about some of the other decorated bottles I have picked up for pennies.  So far, I've found that three of them are worth about $30 each.  Still trying to unearth more info about them, just for the interest.

My copper pipes have long since been enclosed in sheetrock, but the bottles?  I'm hooked!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

A Lesbian Activist's Comments on Homosexuality

A must-read!  Read and copy for your friends.  Camille Paglia, in her various writings, challenges everyone, and this has to be a good thing.

I found this article at  What I love about Camille is that she tells the truth as she sees it.  

by Joseph Berger, M.D.

Camille Paglia identifies herself as a lesbian and a pagan. She must be one of the most attention-craving, histrionic activists to burst upon the public in recent years. But she also writes brilliantly, scorching those of whom she disapproves with a rare wit, literacy, and use of language.

One would think it surprising that there might be any similarity between Ms. Paglia's perspectives, and those of many NARTH members on such a bitterly contentious issue as homosexuality.

But an essay on homosexuality by Ms. Paglia in her latest book, Vamps and Tramps* provides remarkable support from a most unexpected quarter for many of the views that some of us have held, and often expressed, for many years.

I would like to note a few of the many comments made by Ms. Paglia, with which I believe serious students of homosexuality will agree. Readers will also pick up a small flavor of Ms. Paglia's colorful use of language.
(The comments that follow the quotations, in italics, are my own.)

"For the past decade, the situation has been out of control: responsible scholarship is impossible when rational discourse is being policed by storm troopers, in this case gay activists, who have the absolutism of all fanatics in claiming sole access to the truth."
(Most of us who have written or spoken publicly will have had this experience.)

"In the Eighties and early Nineties, displaced anxiety over the horror of AIDS turned gay activists into rampaging nihilists and monomaniacs, who dishonestly blamed the disease on the government...AIDS did not appear out of nowhere. It was a direct result of the sexual revolution, which my generation unleashed with the best of intentions, but whose worst effects were to be suffered primarily by gay men. In the West, despite much propaganda to the contrary. AIDS is a gay disease and will remain one for the foreseeable future." 
(Ms. Paglia is scientifically correct.)

"I believe that the shocking toll of AIDS on gay men in the West was partly due to their Seventies delusions that a world without women was possible. All-male energies, unbalanced and ravenous, literally tore the body apart."

"No eroticism can be complete that denies the power of the female principle..." 
(This is an interpretation, not a scientific statement, but it is one that makes sense.)

"The gay activist establishment has been stupid and narrow in the way it has conducted its civil rights campaign... There is no gay leader remotely near the stature of Martin Luther King, because black activism has drawn on the profound spiritual traditions of the church, to which gay political rhetoric is childishly hostile. Shrilly self-interested and doctrinaire, gay activism is completely lacking in philosophical perspective. Its sorrow became the only sorrow, its disease the only disease." 
(Let me offer a local example. The morning after a major piece of legislation that would have accepted same-sex adoption and same-sex marriages in Ontario in 1994 was rejected - despite a bitter public and political fight - a gay activist publicly demanded that the legislature suspend all other activity until it passed this legislation which a large majority had just rejected.)

"Homosexuality is not 'normal.' On the contrary, it is a challenge to the norm; therein rests its eternally revolutionary character Queer theorists - that wizened crew of flimflamming free-loaders - have tried to take the post structuralist tack of claiming that there is no norm, since everything is relative and contingent. This is the kind of silly bind that word-obsessed people get into when they are deaf, dumb, and blind to the outside world. Nature exists, whether academics like it or not. And in nature, procreation is the single, relentless rule. That is the norm. Our sexual bodies were designed for reproduction. Penis fits vagina; no fancy linguistic game-playing can change that biologic fact." 
(Prominent examples of "post structuralists" who do try to deny reality, would include the pro-life psychiatric writer Terry Stein, and English professor Jonathan Goldberg.)

"Given the intense hormonal surge of puberty, the total absence of adult heterosexual desire is neither normal nor natural. "
(How true, and again Ms. Paglia confirms what we as therapists have been noting for some time. But it must be realized that there is no doubt that the propaganda has had an effect on the general public, who seem to be increasingly accepting of these notions.)

"I was the only openly gay person at the Yale Graduate School (1968-1972), a candor that was professionally costly. That anyone with my aggressive and scandalous history could be called 'homophobic,' as has repeatedly been done, shows just how insanely Stalinist gay activism has become." 
(Ms. Paglia can say things that we physicians, psychologists and scientists cannot say without coming under attack for offending our colleagues, or being accused of demonstrating bias and prejudice.)

"The 10 percent figure, servilely repeated by the media, was pure propaganda, and it made me, as a scholar, despise gay activists for their unscrupulous disregard for the truth. Their fibs and fabrications continue, now about the still-fragmentary evidence for a genetic link to homosexuality and for homosexual behavior among animals." 
(Again, Ms. Paglia echoes what we have known scientifically for some years, but none of us have dared express our views publicly in this matter)

"I used to feel that the old psychoanalytic model was inadequate in describing the origins of homosexuality as, essentially, arrested development. But it was true that all my gay male friends had powerful, dominating mothers in the prototypical style."

"ACT-UP won substantial practical victories in its mobilizations against the political and medical establishment, but its most crazed extremists also did enormous damage to the public image of gay men that will take a generation to undo. Flashed across the nation's television screens were contorted male faces, raging, ranting, bawling like infants - 'Me, me, me!'"

Total attention and an instant cure were demanded, even though science had failed to find a cure for any virus, even the common cold.. .Meanwhile, more women were dying yearly from breast cancer than had succumbed to AIDS in America over a decade. In April 1991, a monsoon hit Bangladesh and killed 125,000 people over one weekend - exactly the number of American AIDS casualties to that point. I angrily asked a friend, 'Where is the quilt for those who died in Bangladesh?' ACT-UP was selfishly selective in what it got angry about..."

"...ACT-UP's hysteria made me reconsider those vilified therapists and ministers who think change of homosexual orientation is possible and whose meetings are constantly disrupted by gay agitators. Is gay identity so fragile that it cannot bear the thought that some people may not wish to be gay. Sexuality is highly fluid, and reversals are theoretically possible. However, habit is refractory...a phenomenon obvious in the struggle with obesity, smoking, alcoholism, or drug addiction... Helping gays learn how to function heterosexually, if they so wish, is a perfectly worthy aim. We should be honest enough to consider whether homosexuality may not indeed be a pausing at the prepubescent stage when children anxiously band together by gender." 
(A very reasonable and sober view of both the extremist attacks that are made on those of us who believe that therapy has something to offer some patients who may wish it, and of the difficulties and resistances, conscious and unconscious, of many homosexuals.)

Heterosexual love,. is in sync with cosmic forces. Not everyone has the stomach for daily war with nature." 
(Again Ms. Paglia expresses truths that therapists have known for many years, but that have been denied by the extremists.)

"Men who shrink from penetration of the female body are paralyzed by justifiable apprehension, since they are returning to our uncanny site of origin It is not male hatred of women but male fear of women that is the great universal." 
(Correct, Ms. Paglia.)

"The sexual segregation of gay bars following Stonewall was bad for everyone. The men slid into orgiastic narcissism, and the women entombed themselves in a gigantic burrow, the clogged honeypot of lesbian feminism... Now that twenty-five years have passed, it's time to admit that lesbian feminism has produced only the ghettoization and miniaturization of women...Women never grow from the moment they enter the lesbian world. Hence one is deafened in bars by the juvenile whooping and hollering of packs of lesbians greeting each other like screeching teens arriving at a slumber party...When women withdraw from men, as has been done on a massive scale in lesbian feminism, we have a cultural disaster on our hands. In such a situation, men are divided from themselves and women simply fail to mature. Lesbian feminists, for all their ideals of sisterhood and solidarity, can treat each other with a fickleness, parasitic exploitativeness, and vicious spite that have to be seen to be believed."

"Lesbians are mournful sentimentalists, dragging around ancient family baggage... A once-lesbian friend, now married, declared to me that lesbians suffer from 'buried rage, with a desperate need for consolation.' I see a persistent pattern among white middle-class lesbians: they often have a decorous, passive-aggressive mother, who uses her daughter as a proxy to act out her secret ambivalence toward men, in the person of the never directly confronted husband."

"Today, when a freshman has an affair with another girl all the campus social-welfare machinery pushes her toward declaring herself gay and accepting and 'celebrating' it. This is a serious mistake... It is absurd to say that one, two, or more homosexual liaisons make you 'gay' - as if lavender ink ran in your veins. Young women are often attracted to each other during a transitional period when they are breaking away from their parents, expanding their world-views, and developing their personalities. To identify these fruitful Sapphic idylls with a permanent condition of homosexuality is madness, and the campus counselors who encourage such premature conclusions should be condemned and banished. They are preying, for their own ideological purposes, on young people at their most vulnerable." 
(For many years some of us have been preaching precisely this message, which also applies virtually identically to what happens with young men.)

"If a gay man wants to marry and sire children, why should he be harassed by gay activists accusing him of 'self-hatred'? He is more mature than they are, for he knows that woman's power cannot be ignored. If counseling can allow a gay man to respond sexually to women, it should be encouraged and applauded, not strafed by gay artillery fire of reverse moralism.

"I want to cry out to these girls: Stop! Think! Continue to love women, but resolve your problems with men. If you expect achieve, learn how to live in the real world. Men must be confronted, fairly and honestly. And for heaven's sake, don't fall down the rabbit hole of the lesbian scene." 
(Same applies to young men.)

"The hypocrisy of lesbian feminist politics is clear in the increasing use among lesbians. .of sex toys and esoteric sex practices...what bothers me is that the lesbian dildo craze stub-bornly avoids acknowledging its anatomy-as-destiny implications. Why stop at dildos? If penetration excites, and if receptive female genitalia are so suited to friction by penis-shaped objects, why not go on to real penises? Dildos, used for thousands of years around the world, have always been understood as temporary stop-gap measures, in the absence of men... Any woman, gay or straight, who cannot respond to penises or who finds them hideous or laughable has been traumatized by some early experience. She is neither complete as a woman nor healthy as a person. We can no longer allow, without protest, obsessives and neurotics to preach a mutilated brand of feminism to trusting young women...Lesbians who use dildos but shun penises must start admitting that they operate sexually not just for women but against men." 
(Once again it is refreshing to read Ms. Paglia use words that we professionals have been virtually forbidden to use.)

"Visiting the elite schools on my lecture jaunts I am struck by how the most militantly gay, Foucault-addled male students look like orphans, with 12-year-old Huck Finn clothing styles and haunted, starved eyes. My friend Robert Caserio says, 'Queer theory isolates them from reality.' This is one reason why gay studies in its current separatist form, must be opposed."

"It is ridiculous to assert that gay men are interested only in other gay men and would never ogle straight men in barracks showers. When I heard this on TV I burst out laughing. Anyone who belongs to a health club knows better. Sexual tension and appraisal are constants, above all among gay men, who never stop cruising everything in sight. Seduction of straight studs is a highly erotic motif in gay porn."

"Is homosexuality a permanent solution to the problem of the nuclear family? Do we want the sexes forever divorced, in a state of permanent alienation? Lesbianism is increasing, since anxious unmasculine men have little to offer. Male homosexuality is increasing, because masculinity is in crisis... Current gay cant insists that homosexuality is 'not a choice,' ... but there is an element of choice in all behavior, sexual or otherwise. It takes an effort to deal with the opposite sex; it's safer with your own kind. The issue is one of challenge versus comfort." 
(I think most NARTH members would agree with every word.)

"We should be aware of the potentially pernicious intermingling of gay activism with science, which produces more propaganda than truth. Gay scientists must be scientists first, gays second."
(See the criticisms that I and many others have made of such events as the publication of on article by Bailey and Pillard on the Op- Ed page of the New York Times on the same day that their research paper was published, or the similarly grotesquely disproportionate publicity sought by, and given to, LeVay and Hamer.)

"Midway through the AIDS epidemic, the media, having ignored homosexuality or treated it in a lurid manner, did a quick flip-flop under activist pressure and now continues its policy of unthinking cant by parroting the gay establishment party line on every occasion. Gay activists have earned a reputation as conspirators and casuists, because of their amoral tactics of deceit, defamation, intimidation, and extortion...The gay activist obsession with condom distribution (as if condoms were 100 percent effective) is a displacement of anxiety from the real horror of AIDS." 
(Considering that Ms. Paglia herself could be called a gay activist because of her fervent espousal of homosexuality as being good and desirable, this is a remarkable, very forceful criticism of some of the serious problems created by gay activism.)
The above were some of Ms. Paglia's own words. They form a devastating critique of the writings, pronouncements, and behavior of many who identify themselves as homosexual and gay activist. They accurately reflect many of the observations and conclusions of serious scientists and mental-health professionals who question much of the inaccurate and untruthful propaganda that has been distributed by gay activists and the media in recent years.

Only too often such propaganda has found its way into academic journals, suggesting that the processes of evaluation and safe-guards that are applied toward most scholarly submissions do not seem to be applied in the same way to contributions from gay activists. Often the impression has been given that poor quality work that happens to be pro-homosexual is accepted for publication by journals whose usual standards would have led to the rejection of the piece - had it not propagated a pro-homosexual position.

Ms. Paglia reminds us that within homosexual circles there still exist some critics with clear minds, capable of rational thought, and the ability to express such critical thought clearly, coherently, and entertainingly.


* Camille Paglia. Vamps and Tramps. Vintage Books, New York, 1994.

Joseph Berger, M.D., is fellow of the Canadian Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, a Diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, and a Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. He has served as an Examiner for the American Board of Psychiatry for twenty years.

August 26, 1996.
From the National Association of Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) Bulletin, Vol. IV, Number Two, August 1996. 16542 Ventura Blvd., Suite 416, Encino, CA 91436.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

What Kind of a Weird Miracle is This Supposed to Be?

That's what I asked myself when I first saw this video.  It shows the River Jordan reversing the direction of its flow when it is blessed during a Theophany service.  First you see it flowing to the left, then at the end, you see wooden crosses floating toward the right.  Apparently, this happens every year at Theophany.  Cool to look at, but so what?  One rather wishes, if there is to be a miracle, that it would have some sort of meaning, not just a strange effect.

So I decided to research it, and found out it is full of deep and multilayered meaning.  I will try to condense it into as short a space as I can.

Theophany? you ask.  Theophany?  I never heard of Theophany.  It's what you may know as Epiphany, a feast that comes directly after the Twelve Days of Christmas, which is to say, the 6th of January.  In the West, this feast is mainly about the Magi arriving to worship the infant Christ, but in Orthodox Christianity, the emphasis is upon Jesus' baptism in the River Jordan.

The Feast has two main themes.  The first is that this is the occasion when the Holy Trinity was first clearly revealed, when the Holy Spirt descended like a dove and the voice of the Father was heard saying, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."  The second theme is water, because we don't believe Jesus was purified but the reverse.  He sanctified the waters of the Jordan, and with them, all the waters of the world.

So on this day, we bless the waters again, in commemoration of the Baptism of Christ.  We bless the holy water that will be used all year, and we bless rivers and lakes and oceans, praying over them and throwing crosses into them, which brave boys compete to retrieve from the January water.  It is the blessing of the Jordan being shown in this video, along with the releasing of a dove.  (Actually, we do two blessings, the Little Blessing the day before Theophany, and the Great Blessing of the Waters on the day itself.  This is the day before.)

But the water flowing backwards, what's with that?

Well, it all begins with creation, but we can skip ahead to Moses, about 3500 years ago.  You probably know the story, from Exodus 14, of how Moses led the Israelite slaves out of captivity in Egypt, and how the king of Egypt pursued him with his army and his chariots.  It's an exciting story, a must-read.  Anyway, when the situation looked most dire, "Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the LORD drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided..."  The Children of Israel passed through the sea on dry land, the water forming walls on either side of them.  Those walls, of course, collapsed when the Egyptian army came in pursuit, drowning them all.  But the point here is, the waters were driven back.

St, Paul teaches an added meaning to this story.  He says it foreshadowed Holy Baptism (and that later bits of the story foreshadow Holy Communion).  From I Corinthians 10:

1 Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, 2 all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. 

Rock, what Rock?  The Apostle is referring to another Moses story.  The children of Israel are now wandering around in the desert and they have no water. They turn against Moses with their usual complaints.  Were there not enough graves in Egypt that you brought us here? and, It would have been better to remain slaves in Egypt than to die out here of thirst, and so on.  "Then Moses lifted his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their animals drank."  Num 20:11

But the Exodus story is not the only instance of waters being driven back.  Something very like it happens again for Joshua, when he leads Israel across the Jordan, preceded by the Ark of the Covenant,  From Joshua 3:

14 So it was, when the people set out from their camp to cross over the Jordan, with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, 15 and as those who bore the ark came to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests who bore the ark dipped in the edge of the water (for the Jordan overflows all its banks during the whole time of harvest), 16 that the waters which came down from upstream stood still, and rose in a heap very far away at Adam, the city that is beside Zaretan. So the waters that went down into the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, failed, and were cut off; and the people crossed over opposite Jericho. 17 Then the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan; and all Israel crossed over on dry ground, until all the people had crossed completely over the Jordan.

And it happens again for the Prophet Elisha just after Prophet Elijah, his mentor, has died.  Here is a doubly interesting tale from 2 Kings 2:

11 Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.
12 And Elisha saw it, and he cried out, “My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and its horsemen!” So he saw him no more. And he took hold of his own clothes and tore them into two pieces. 13 He also took up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood by the bank of the Jordan. 14 Then he took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, and said, “Where is the LORD God of Elijah?” And when he also had struck the water, it was divided this way and that; and Elisha crossed over.
15 Now when the sons of the prophets who were from Jericho saw him, they said, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.” And they came to meet him, and bowed to the ground before him.
. . .
19 Then the men of the city said to Elisha, “Please notice, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord sees; but the water is bad, and the ground barren.”
20 And he said, “Bring me a new bowl, and put salt in it.” So they brought it to him. 21 Then he went out to the source of the water, and cast in the salt there, and said, “Thus says the LORD: ‘I have healed this water; from it there shall be no more death or barrenness.’ ” 22 So the water remains healed to this day, according to the word of Elisha which he spoke.

All of these stories the Church takes as types of Christ, as foreshadowings.  Jesus is the ultimate meaning of the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elisha).  We especially take Psalm 114 as a Messianic  prophecy:

1 When Israel went out of Egypt,
​​The house of Jacob from a people of strange language,
2 ​​Judah became His sanctuary,
​​And Israel His dominion.
​3 ​​The sea saw it and fled;
​​Jordan turned back.
4 ​​The mountains skipped like rams,
​​The little hills like lambs.
5 ​​What ails you, O sea, that you fled?
​​O Jordan, that you turned back?
6 ​​O mountains, that you skipped like rams?
​​O little hills, like lambs?
​7 ​​Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord,
​​At the presence of the God of Jacob,
8 ​​Who turned the rock into a pool of water,
​​The flint into a fountain of waters.

Elisha purified the water, Jesus sanctified it.  As the waters parted or were driven backward by Moses, Joshua, and Elisha, so we believe they were at the baptism of Christ, in fulfillment of the Psalm, and of the other events as well.  In New Testament usage, to "fulfill" means to give something its full or ultimate meaning.  So the backward flowing of the Jordan since Christ not only hearkens back to the Old Testament events, but points us forward as well, as explained in this article by Tenny Thomas in the Indian Orthodox Herald:  

On this day the River Jordan changes its course, and starts flowing backwards, underlying exactly this concept. The river Jordan, with its two traditional streams Jor and Dan represents also our lives, lives that flow from the first parents, Adam and Eve. From them the life of mankind started flowing toward the Dead Sea of sin and perdition, as Jordan River does. But when the Master entered the river, the Jordan started flowing backwards, in the same way as our lives turn toward our true godly origins when Christ enters into our lives.
The events on the banks of Jordan uncovers the deep meanings of the Sacrament of Baptism in Christian practice. The mystical presence of Christ is present at our baptism. When we enter into the baptismal font Christ is also there with us turning around the course of our lives from a life spent in sin and worldly things into a life in virtue, and heavenly glory.
As Gregory of Nazianzen says, “Christ is illumined, let us shine forth with Him. Christ is baptized, let us descend with Him that we may also ascend with Him.” God reveals His Son in the silence of our soul. Communion with God requires our active participation. Our will must be conformed to God’s will.
May we experience Theophany within ourselves, and see the Lord all around us. May our lives be freed from the cares of this world that the Lord might reveal Himself to us more and more.
To God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is due all glory, honor, and worship now and always, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Icon of the Baptism of Christ.  Here we see four fishes at Jesus' feet.  Two are swimming one way and two, the other way.  The other creatures represent the Jordan (left) and the sea (right).  Pretty cool to think this reversal of the Jordan's flow still happens every year.

Becky's Miracle

When you first see Becky, wearing jeans and a sweatshirt in church with hiking shoes, and sporting a butch haircut, your first reaction is bound to be, "Lesbian."  Either that or she lost all her hair from chemotherapy and is just now growing it back.

In fact, she's a faithful Orthodox Christian, and whether she is battling the other I don't really know.  What I do know is, she's a walking, living miracle.    At the coffee hour, she was saying something about how wonderful it was to be walking perfectly well, without even a cane, after so many years in a wheelchair.  "Was it cancer?" I asked.

"No, it was PLS," she said, "primary lateral sclerosis."

"Never heard of it."

"It's much like ALS," she said, "Lou Gehrig's disease."

"A progressive disease, I think," I said.

She nodded.

I was confused.  "But - but there isn't any cure for it, is there?"

She shrugged, grinning broadly.  "Supposedly.  But here I am!"

We didn't have enough time to talk, but in broad outline, she came down with the disease when she was in middle school, and she looks to be a  thirty-something now.  She spent many years in a  wheelchair and then one day, she felt herself so  much better than in  the course of "about three  minutes",  she found she could walk.  "And I wasn't Orthodox then,  either," she said, adding that this was what had brought  her to the Church.

When  I met her, a year ago, she was hobbling about  on crutches,  but now she walks better than I do.  And she stands through the whole service, a fitting tribute to Him Who made her able to stand.

There is no sign in her body, she says, of the PLS.  It's just gone.

All this she related to me in the presence of Amanda, who can only walk a few steps at a time, with a crutch.  If that doesn't beg the question, I din't know what does:  why some and not others?  The answer, well, we don't really know, but we do know God gives to each of us what will best help us spiritually.

Recently, I was talking to on old man (86) who asked me if I had ever seen a miracle, adding that he never had.  Yes, oh, yes!  Miracles abound.  Even if we, in our ingratitude, don't count each opening flower or each tiny bird, wonders are everywhere.  I think it's five people I've now met who have had miraculous cures.  (And 2 of those are not Orthodox.)

What does it mean when someone who isn't even a church-goer is given a miracle?  Of course it means God is forgiving and loving and accepting that person.  Jesus pointed out that healing and forgiveness are interchangeable:  "Which is easier to say, 'Your sins are forgiven' or 'Rise up and walk?'"  Because God wouldn't heal you if He were mad at you.

Next Sunday, I intend to ask Becky if she will let me video her telling her story for no more than five minutes.  If she says yes, I'll post the video so you can have the firsthand account.

I'll also ask her what she might do with her now wide-open future.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Some Major Differences In Catholic and Orthodox Doctrine

Last night, in our ecumenical discussion group, I once again heard a Catholic say that after all, we have no significant theological differences.  Many Catholics, if not most, seem to have been taught this.  It is false, and I thought it useful to show, very briefly, why.  So here are just a few of the major differences.

We deny the papal claim to supremacy, except in an honorary sense.  (Our patriarchs are in no sense intended to be rival popes, nor to be thought of in that way.)   You Catholics wouldn't consider that an insignificant difference, would you? 

We deny the papal claim to infallibility.  And these two denials are not mere isolated objections.  As if they were not major enough in themselves, they reflect a whole different ecclesiology (doctrine of the Church).  We differ on what the Church is and how she operates, how she is governed, and the role she plays in our lives.   Is this a small difference?

We object to the doctrine of the Filioque.  Usually this seems to people abstruse, arcane, and nit-picking, yet its consequences are concrete, profound, and far-reaching.  The Filioque is built upon a whole different triadology (doctrine of the Holy Trinity) from the Orthodox one.  This means we have two different understandings of who God is, no small matter in itself, but which in turn results in two different, in some points conflicting, kinds of devotional life.  The Filioque also has, from the Orthodox point of view, wrong ecclesiological implications.

"Palamism", to use the wildly inaccurate Catholic pejorative term, also divides us.  What St. Gregory Palamas was defending so vigorously, bottom line, was the fact that the Christian can and does have direct, personal experience of God, a point denied by scholasticism. Obviously this is not a trivial issue, but it is only one of the implications of what St. Gregory fought for.  I once made a list of reasons it was important, and as I recall, there were 13 items on it.

I hope this is enough to show you that whole systems are at variance and at stake in our Catholic-Orthodox dialogue.  But there is much, much more.  This morning I picked up the Catechism of the Catholic Church and five times opened it to a random page, and five times found there some divergence from Orthodox teaching.  The CCC is flat-out wrong when it states, "With the Orthodox Churches, this communion [with the Catholics] is so profound "that it lacks little to attain the fullness that would permit a common celebration of the Lord's Eucharist." (838)

It is far from true and what really bugs me (and other Orthodox Christians, you can be sure) is that, not lacking in sophisticated, informed, and intelligent scholars, Rome has got to know it is false.  How are we supposed to have any real dialogue in the face of that?

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

"Temporal" is Another Word for "Secular"

Recently, the Catholics in our dialogue group proposed to the Orthodox that we needed to unite in order the better to fight the threats of Islam and -get this - secularism.

Aside from that not being a proper basis for union, and aside from our belief that to preserve His Church is the Holy Spirit's job, well, I was dumbfounded. What can I say that won't be offensive?  Dear Catholics, can't you see the glaring contradiction here?

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Now for my Violin, If you Please

Ahhhh, a six-week piece of sleuthing finished.  Fair damsel saved, albeit with a bruised heart (but that was going to happen no matter what), crook exposed, lies documented, criminal charges pending.  Victims unlikely ever to see their money again, but neither will they be losing any more.  Case over, at least as far as any involvement of mine.

Most satisfactory.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A Different Place

Walking into church Sunday, I was more than usually aware of entering a different world, or at least a different dimension.  Not that it is separate from the wider world; far from it.  It is, mystically, the very heart of it, creation's inner sanctum.  

But it's different.  Everything is different:  the architecture of an Orthodox church, the sights, the sounds, the "smells and bells".  The icons do not look like real people and aren't meant to; they are stylized.  (They attempt to depict glorified souls as well as bodies.)  The music is composed to appeal to your inner spirit, not to your ears, though if sung well, it may do that, too. The air is sweet with incense.  People are dressed modestly.  People move about reverently but freely, kissing, kissing, kissing.  They kiss each other, Bibles, icons... and it seems everybody is always bowing to everybody else.  Including the priest, who bows to the people three separate times during the service.  

In this place, values are different.  Money, fame, status, and prestige do not reign; indeed, they count for nothing.  In this place, candles, oil, water, wine, bread, all mean something different.  Everything means something different, and all is transformed.  In this place, people's beliefs are different.  They may seem to those outside the Church like elaborate fables: a God Who came among us as a true man, without compromising His divinity, Who permanently transfigured death into a new form of life.  Sunday, chills ran up and down me as I recited the Creed, those foolish-sounding, ancient words of wisdom.  In this place, both explicable and inexplicable miracles abound.  Physical and spiritual blindness, lameness, deafness are healed, with equal mystery.  In this place, the damage life has inflicted upon our emotions and intellects and character is gradually undone.  

And all this difference can be summarized in one word:  Love.  That is, unconditional, self-sacrificing love, Love that gives without asking anything in return.  It's all because we have encountered this Love in the flesh, and it has overwhelmed us, and made us long to love, and struggle to love, with that same love that has lifted us up.  And when we fail to love infinitely, perfectly, we sorrow, but to the extent we do participate in this Love, our joy know no bounds; in fact, we come to know deeply that there is no other true Joy.

And in Orthodox Christianity, every dab of paint in the icons, every note of the music, every flicker of candles, every doctrine and every gesture, is in the service of this Love:  to explicate it (insofar as that is possible), to help us grow in it, to guard the authentic experience and true understanding of it, to propagate it.  And that is what makes the church the heart of the world; it is a piece of the world as thecworld ought to be.  And that in turn makes it a little piece of heaven on earth.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Wonderful Reunion

Dinner Monday night with our beloved visitors from Russia, Father Vladimir and Ilya, his son.  Ilya is Kremlin correspondent for Bloomberg news.  Matter of fact, he once took me on a tour of the Kremlin, ah, long ago, when he was still a university student.  Now he is married and the father of two.

In case you are wondering how it is a Russian Orthodox priest has no beard, it's due to the severe injuries he once sustained in an assassination attempt.  He has no hair at all, not even eyelashes.

Fr. Vladimir is currently recovering from a RE-replacement of a hip, shattered at the same time.

     Two very dear friends, together again at last.  

Sunday, November 3, 2013

So Far and So Near

Looking over my life, I clearly, tearfully perceive that no matter how far I have been from God - and that has been pretty far, most of the time, especially when I thought the opposite - there has never, ever, been a moment when He was far from me.  Whatever my soul's condition, He has always been right there, closer than my own breath, my whole life.

Back in Richmond

Traveling on different planes, different airlines, with different routes, we nevertheless both managed to make it back home, safe and sound.

Interesting things happen when you come back after an extended absence.  Especially if you have made the mistake of arriving on a week-end.  We ought to have learned that lesson from our Experience of being stranded in England, but obviously we forgot.  The reason you should never arrive on a weekend is, things like banks and the Department of Motor Vehicles are all closed.

So the first thing you want when you come home after an extended absence is food in the house, isn't it?

Well, around here, to get food, you need a car.

To drive your car (legally) you must re-activate its license tags (registration).  And, in our case, replace Demetrios' driver's license, stolen with his wallet in Athens.

To do these things you must (besides waiting until Monday), reinstate your auto insurance.

To reinstate your auto insurance, you must give the insurance company a ring.

To call up your insurance company, you must have a telephone.

To get your telephone, you must re-start your telephone, television, and Internet service.

To re-start these, you need, well, a telephone.

Forget that!  What you need is some very good neighbors, like our neighbors, Frances and Dickie!  They picked me up from the airport, took me to the grocery store, and would have lent me their phone, but Verizon miraculously followed instructions and had turned our service back on as of the day before we returned.

The next interesting thing happens if you had just re-organized the house shortly before you left.  What is this?  (Oh, yes, bought it the day before I left.)  How did this get here?  Where did that go?

A third issue we ran into was that the doors to two closets had swollen shut from humidity and had been that way for heaven only knows how long.  I couldn't get to my nightgowns, my bathrobe or slippers, to my church clothes (not that we can drive to church anyway), or any clothes appropriate to the season.  I'm wearing summer clothes.  Fortunately, it is warm today.

At long last, with Demetrios using a putty knife in the crack above the door and wielding it as if it had been a crowbar, and with me simultaneously tugging as hard as I could on the door handle, we managed to open the doors.

Almost wish we hadn't.  Not a pretty sight or smell.  Everything in that closet will have to be laundered, dry cleaned, or thrown away.  At least that solves the issue for me of the things I wasn't sure I had the heart to toss out.  I have.  And on Monday, I will go buy some laundry detergent...

It's beautiful here.  The autumn leaves, although past their peak, are still in high color and the days are warm at least during the middle of the day.

Last night, waiting for Demetrios to come home, I sat with my other neighbors on their new back-yard patio, complete with fire pit, in which they had lit a bonfire.  Then I went to Frances and Dickie again, just because I have missed them.

Monday we will go to the Department of Motor Vehicles, bank, supermarket, etc., etc., etc.

And our Russian friends are here in town and await us, which is the best thing of all.  Will write more on that later, but read their wonderful story here in the meanwhile.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Slogging Through a Wonderful St. Demetrios Day

It was a wonderful day, mind.  But it started early, ended late, and wasn't easy in between.

We got up in the deep darkness, arrived in the Church of St. Demetrios still in the deep dark (7:20).  That's the church built over the spot where the Saint was imprisoned and killed, in a Roman bath.  His relics are here.

St. Demetrios is one of several illustrious saints Thessaloniki has given the Church, but in this city, he is the favorite.  St. Gregory Palamas, another famous Thessalonian, called him the sun among the stars.  

I suppose, to explain about the Feast of Saint Demetrios, we have first to say what a saint is, in Orthodox Christianity.  "Saint" means holy person and there is a sense in which we are all made holy in Christ and the term rightly applies to all of us, but that isn't the sense under discussion here. 

Well then, a saint is not just a super-religious person who shows great devotion (Francis of Assisi) or writes beautiful religious poetry (John of the Cross) or renders great service to a religious institution (Ignatius Loyola) or has a towering personality and fabulous intellect (Bernard of Clairvaux) or does heroic deeds (Joan of Arc).  For us, Christ is the yardstick, the measure of holiness.  The criterion is, to what degree do we see Jesus Christ's own Life being lived in and through this person?  How well has he or she succeeded in becoming full of compassion, kindness, humanity, humility, self-sacrificing love?  To what degree is this person Christ-with-skin-on?

And the Orthodox believe such a person, still filled with the Holy Spirit after death, continues whatever ministry God had given him or her in this life.  Thus, the Lord's Mother is still the mother of all God's children.   And Saint Demetrios still, by his prayers, aids his city, Thessaloniki, entrusted to him by God.  To his intercessions is credited the rescue of the City from plague, from the Bulgarians, several times, I think; and it was on his feast  in 1912 Thessaloniki was liberated from the Ottoman Turks.  So his feast day is a national and especially a local holiday.  Christians here meet to praise God for this Saint, to sing songs in the saint's honor, and to commemorate his life and death. 

So by the time we got through all the police guarding every intersection near the Church, every approach  but one being closed, it was 7:20 and the downstairs was already hopelessly packed.  We headed up to the balcony, two and a half flights of steep stairs, where we found exactly two seats left, from which anything could be seen.  We wanted to be able to see the proceedings.  We had stayed strictly away from this church after our disastrous experience  there on this day in 2007,   when we became lost from each other and never did find each other again until the middle of the afternoon, at home, each meanwhile fearing the other had met with foul play.  But today, the Patriarch of Constantinople was serving the Divine Liturgy, so we came back, sticking to each other like glue.

Matins was already in progress.  At 7:40, the bells began ringing loudly, joyously, signaling the arrival of Patriarch Bartholomew.  We couldn't see him at this point, but he would have arrived in plain monk's garb, and would have been helped, at the back of the church, out of the black robe and into his flowing purple ad gold cloak, cum train.

Attended by a dozen other bishops and several priests, he led us in the Great Doxology, after some initial proceedings, and by just about 9:00, the Patriarchal Divine Liturgy began.  If I tell you that by 10:30, we had only gotten a far as the Lord's Prayer - about, what? two thirds of the way through the service? - you will understand something of what it was like.

Meanwhile, people just kept arriving.  I knew they would, but our seats, providentially, were right beside what you might loosely describe as an architectural feature (something like bleachers having been constructed in the balcony) that kept them at some small distance from us.  That, plus the fact I was able to look all the way up the aisle to the front of the church, kept my claustrophobia manageable.  (The church is at least the length of two football fields, maybe three.)  People just kept coming and coming and I grew more and more restless.  There were easily 700 of us, just on the balcony, thousands more below.  At some point, someone mercifully turned on the air conditioning and then I felt I could breathe.  The late arrivals had not even stopped when the early departures began, people going to receive communion and thence home, as there was no place for them downstairs and they weren't about to tackle those exhausting, crowded stairs a second time.  

There is exactly one stairway to and from the balcony, so it stayed busy the whole time.

At some point, late in the day, the dignitaries began putting in their appearance, filling up the center front of the church, which  had been kept clear for them.  A big chair, gilded, red velvet seat, was set in the center for the President of the Republic.  The Prime Minister, Mr. Samaras, was still in Brussels, where he belongs.  The Foreign Minister stood next to the President, and behind them, on one side, the rest of the ruling elite; on the other side, the top brass of the military.  Guards all up and down the aisle.  We had changed seats by now, finding empty ones nearer the front, so we had a good view, directly above them.

The Patriarch's sermon was wonderful!  The subject - what else? - was the Love of Christ.  Of course he alluded to the story of St. Demetrios, by whose prayers a young Christian named Nestor defeated Emperor Galerius Maximian's favorite giant gladiator, a Vandal named Lyaios.  And the Patriarch told us, Do not be afraid of the contemporary Lyaioses;  St. Demetrios is still praying for you and the same thing will happen again.  Not meaning we should do nothing!  Rather, that in our contest  with the contemporary big guys, we will win.  Of course the "contemporary Lyaioses" were standing right in front of him as he spoke!  Beautiful!   Not sure they got it, likely not.  But it took rather a lot of courage for the Patriarch to say this, the more so, given he lives among hostile Turks and depends so much upon Greece for various kinds of support.

Of course, what the Patriarch said  is exactly what the song of St. Demetrios says, too.  We sang it about five times, I think, in all.  (Instead of the one time it is always sung here.)  People sang it with great fervor and gratitude and hope.  

The world has found you to be a great defender
a champion in times of danger
and a vanquisher of heathens, you bearer of trophies.
As you bolstered the courage of Nestor,
who then humbled the arrogance of Lyaios in battle,
in like manner, holy one, great Martyr Demetrios,
intercede with Christ God for us, that He may grant us His great mercy.

At the end, our local Bishop, Anthimos, had us all sing the national anthem, a paean to Freedom.  We sang that with great enthusiasm, too: "Hail, hail, O Freedom!"

Here  are some Internet photos, mostly of the Lyaioses present, but ignore the ignorant captions.  This was a regular Patriarchal Divine Liturgy, much like the usual Liturgy, with added touches customary when a patriarch is serving it.  it was not some sort of "glorification ceremony," whatever that is thought to mean.   The 14th photo was taken from where we were.

We departed while the Patriarch was still being greeted by the big-wigs, working our way single file through a double police cordon outside and exiting the grounds through an opening that admitted just one person at a time.  It wasn't the Patriarch the were protecting; it was the contemporary Lyaioses.  

It was twelve noon.

We stopped at a little eatery where we had some breakfast pastries.  A marching band came by, playing "Macedonia", a patriotic song.  I was near tears, thinking what a proud but pathetic son;  "Macedonia the renowned, home of Great Alexander."  That's really pathetic, I said to Demetrios, for a little nothing country  to have to go back that far to find someone to be proud of.  He promptly reminded m that this was nonsense, that Greece, right up to modern times, has never lacked for heroes and martyrs, and proceeded to educate me about some of the more recent ones.

We went home and collapsed.  I couldn't tell whether my back or my feet were hurting more.

At night, we hosted eight of our friends for a St. Demetrios dinner at a taverna.  Here are some photos.  We got home at midnight.  Demetrios came home with a new shirt, tie, pullover, and book, and our friends brought a box full of chocolates just for me.  

Phideas, our nephew, Christos' son.  It's his nameday, too, as his middle name is Demetrios.

Ianna, left, and Mena

Pelagia, telling a funny story, and George

Manolis and Vasiea

George and Leonidas

Ioannis, "the Theologian"