We all know it, but it's like watching the Twin Towers burn and crash on September 11: we can't quite believe it, no matter how many times we see it. Every person, no matter how young, no matter how beautiful, no matter how happy, no matter how important or special or holy or prosperous, every last one of us bears an invisible, and short, expiration date.
Christ, it seems to me, alone rescues that fact from making everything in life - and life iteself - meaningless. More than that, He and He alone transfigures death into new Life, into hope and consolation for us, and ultimately into joy.
Sunday, December 30, 2007
Saturday, December 29, 2007
Sydney, thrilled to have found candy in her stocking.
The whole gathering, photographed by me. Front: Jeff (son-in-law), Sydney, Mom. Back: Demetrios, Erin, Wendy, Mike (our brother)
Bliss: Sydney with her Grandma
My other grandchildren, who weren't able to be with us: Kelly and the Twins. No, I can't tell which is which in these photos, especially with their new, "big boy" haircuts. I believe the one in the red plaid shirt is Connor; the other, Ryan.
Fr. Stephen hits the nail on the head again!
Our human problem is much deeper than anything forensic, and it cannot be cured by behaving well.
Check it out.
Wendy flew back to California today. My poor sister had to say goodbye both to Dad and to Barbara without knowing ...
She is taking it with enormous grace and dignity. Her motto, from 1 Thessalonians 5:18, is, "In every thing, give thanks."
Oh, I already wrote that in a previous post, didn't I?
Well, it's worth saying again. In every thing, give thanks.
Friday, December 28, 2007
Now I find out that while we were in Greece, some decisions were made about my Dad. In short, “they”, whoever that may be, are just going to let him die. All his heart medications have been discontinued, including his Coumadin, a blood thinner. Without that, he is subject to a blood clot at any moment, which could go to his heart or brain or lungs and kill him instantly. His pacemaker, which used to be monitored once a month to be sure it was working correctly, is no longer being monitored at all.
I don’t know. I’m exhausted and grieving and at this point I don’t even know the rights from the wrongs of it. He is too far gone to be in any emotional distress; likewise he isn’t in any physical discomfort. It doesn’t seem right just to give up on him. On the other hand, he is doesn’t know where he is or what is happening, so there doesn’t seem to be much reason not to let nature take her course.
Not that any of this is up to me. It’s up to “them”, with Mom’s consent.
Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy!
Thursday, December 27, 2007
We had a merry Christmas. With Dad’s dementia so far progressed, and with my sister Barbara in extremis, we had expected it to be bittersweet, but in fact it was a happy time, a time when for a while we put our troubles aside and rejoiced very much as usual.
Mom came, and my brother and other sister, and my daughter, with her husband and little Sydney Elizabeth, who, if you ask her, will tell you she is two and a half.
Flashback: I am squatting on my heels to get down to the eye level of the newest tike in the toddler’s Sunday School room. “Welcome,” I say. “What is your name?”
“Well, Johnny, we’re very glad you’re here. And how old are you?”
“I’m three and a half, except at the airport. At the airport, I’m under two.”
I had worked hard to make Christmas as merry as possible in the circumstances, getting the house clean and decorated, planning a menu and shopping and cooking; and when everyone arrived, we had cheerful carols playing and the smell of apple pie in the air, and the pumpkin pie newly put in the oven.
On the spur of the moment, we invited our next-door neighbors, Frances and Dickie, to join our feast after church on Christmas Eve. That made it even more special.
Dickie hasn’t been able to work since his heart surgery this fall, so money is tight for them this year. Yet they brought us a $40 gift certificate to a restaurant. We will take them along when we eat there.
When the meal was done, we all piled into two cars and drove around our neighborhood to see the Christmas lights. They are always quite spectacular, because every street is lined with luminaries, thousands of them in all, and the lake is always strung with lights all the way around it, that reflect in the water.
Dickie, in the lead car, also took us to another neighborhood where the lights were even fancier.
I think my favorite memory from this year will be opening the gifts under the tree on Christmas morning. Halfway through, little Sydney disappeared with one of hers, and when we called her and her father said, “Come open some more presents!” she called back, from upstairs, “No. NO MORE PRESENTS!”
There’s a lesson there somewhere.
Barbara also had a merry Christmas. Her husband and daughters came to her hospital room and opened their presents there. We tried to give Madison (11) and Elizabeth (7) extra things this year, and they were delighted with everything. Daniel had cooked the Christmas meal and had brought it along.
The girls had both made cards for their mother. Madison’s read, “Together OR apart, I am always with you and thinking about you.” (When asked, she clarified that “apart” meant even when her mother was in the hospital instead of at home.)
Lizzie had drawn a swan (standing up, not swimming!) with musical notes coming from her open mouth, and had written, “You are like a swan in my heart, singing to me.”
My sister Wendy, the one visiting from California, came back to Mom’s place in Springfield on Christmas afternoon; Mom and I followed the day after, so we can visit Barbara every day. She’s an hour away in Baltimore.
Demetrios is coming tomorrow.
And since Christmas lasts twelve days, I think it isn’t too late to wish all of you a merry Christmas, as well!
Anybody know a cure for a mirror whose reflection grows worse and worse every time I look into it?
Sunday, December 23, 2007
Here are the words to a very beloved hymn, Jesus the Very thought of Thee:
Jesus, the very thought of Thee
With sweetness fills the breast;
But sweeter far Thy face to see,
And in Thy presence rest.
O hope of every contrite heart,
O joy of all the meek,
To those who fall, how kind Thou art!
How good to those who seek!
But what to those who find? Ah, this
Nor tongue nor pen can show;
The love of Jesus, what it is,
None but His loved ones know.
O Jesus, King most wonderful
Thou Conqueror renowned,
Thou sweetness most ineffable
In Whom all joys are found!
O Jesus, light of all below,
Thou fount of living fire,
Surpassing all the joys we know,
And all we can desire.
Celestial Sweetness unalloyed,
Who eat Thee hunger still;
Who drink of Thee still feel a void
Which only Thou canst fill.
Did you catch the motive here? It is stated in the first couplet: to feel sweetness, and that feeling is explicitly carnal; it “fills the breast.” In the second couplet of verse 1, we are projecting carnal gratification into heaven. Is it not carnal to seek pleasure? and still carnal to look for that pleasure to be intensified in heaven? (Seventy-two virgins instead of only the 4 a Muslim is allowed on earth?) And to seek and find more bliss in Jesus than in earthly things is still using religion to serve the carnal self.
In verse 3, we have a bit of exclusivity intruding itself. Everyone is among “His loved ones.” The only ones who do not know what the love of Jesus is are those who do not love Him back.
And what’s going on in that last verse? Jesus said quite the opposite to the Samaritan woman He met at Jacob’s well. "Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life." (See the whole story in John 4.)
Only carnal pleasure can never be enough for us and leave a "void" we seek to fill by more of the same.
Note the very similar carnality and error in another hymn, Jesu Joy, by the same author (Bernard of Clairvaux).
* * * *
Jesus, Thou Joy of loving hearts,
Thou Fount of life, Thou Light of men,
From the best bliss that earth imparts,
We turn unfilled to Thee again.
Thy truth unchanged hath ever stood;
Thou savest those that on Thee call;
To them that seek Thee Thou art good,
To them that find Thee all in all.
We taste Thee, O Thou living Bread,
And long to feast upon Thee still;
We drink of Thee, the Fountainhead,
And thirst our souls from Thee to fill.
Our restless spirits yearn for Thee,
Wherever our changeful lot is cast;
Glad when Thy gracious smile we see,
Blessed when our faith can hold Thee fast.
O Jesus, ever with us stay,
Make all our moments calm and bright;
Chase the dark night of sin away,
Shed over the world Thy holy light.
We want to feel "calm" and "bright", and we want the security of Jesus with us, an anchor in this changeful world. In short, we want comfort.
Feel-good-ism is the subject of almost every stanza of both hymns, and feel-good-ism is not spiritual, but downright carnal.
"Carnal" has to do with (a) gratifying our passions and (b) focusing upon our earthly needs instead of, or even at the expense of, our spiritual well-being.
(a) Gratifying our passions means especially anything that feeds the central one, pride. It takes countless forms, catering to our lusts for feeling good, for feeling I am okay, for feeling I am a notch or two above you. (I am serving the “King most wonderful … Conqueror renowned.” I am one of those chosen who know about Jesus’ love.)
(b) Earthly needs are things like good weather, for which the Orthodox pray daily, or good health. There is nothing wrong or unspiritual about praying for our singing abou our fleshly needs. But notice where the focus is in the prime example, the Lord's Prayer. What comes first? God and His agenda. "Hallowed be Thy Name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done." Only then do we get to a very basic, earthly need of ours: "Give us this day our daily bread" and then we move on to pray for some spiritual needs: "And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." Then we go right back to praising God in His own right, for Himself: "For Thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory, unto ages of ages, Amen." The focus is not upon my earthly needs; much less is this prayer *exclusively* about those. And it contains nothing at all of the passions, no "how wonderful I feel" or "how terrific to be among the chosen", no sentimentality, not a single warm fuzzy at all.
Yes, there are emotional elements in our relationship with Christ and emotions by definition always have a physical component. But it's worth noting what the emotional content consists of in a spiritual person: ardent love -- for God in Himself. If we love God, sure, it will affect our whole being, not excluding emotions and body. The problem is if those warm fuzzies become our focus instead of God Himself, if they distract us from Him; then, in the guise of loving Him, we are really loving and worshipping ourselves and our own pleasure. Singing about the "consolations" (or worse yet, cultivating them), betokens not holiness, but fleshliness. And almost every line of these two hymns, while purporting to be about Jesus, actually emphasizes the warm fuzzies. Please re-read the words and see if there is not a subtle shift away from loving Christ and toward how pleasing and beneficial it is to me to love Him.
We are to worship God with body and soul, mind and heart and strength. Thus, with our bodies we make the Sign of the Cross, we genuflect or bow, we prostrate ourselves. Note carefully, though, the role of the body here is not to receive pleasures, but to worship God. In the body we receive the Holy Communion (or any other sacrament) but the object of this is not to please the body or even please our minds and emotions, but to please God, viz., to worship Him, and to be made holy and whole -- so as to please Him more.
Yes, without question, there IS blessedness in salvation, but of what does it consist? Not of being filled with pleasurable feelings, but to be continually emptying myself, as God does, pouring out myself and my love, to Him and to my fellow man.
Fr. John Romanides has a wonderful chapter related to this in his book, The Ancestral Sin, which I highly recommend to everybody. Here is an excerpt:
"Be ye therefore perfect as your Father Who is in heaven is perfect" does not mean that man must become perfect as the self-loving, self-contented God of philosophy and of certain Scholastics of the West, but perfect as the God...Who is free of all necessity and selfishness. The destiny of man, as imagined by Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Ritschl, and others of the West, is self-centered eudaemonia attained by supposedly identifying the mind with the reality in the essence of God. This is supposed to cause a cessation of all movement of the mind and will toward any other person or thing since there is nothing more desirable for the human intellect than the divine essence... Such theories of eudaemonia simply project and elevate to a divine level the force that rules in the world, the force of necessity and self-interest called "fate" by the ancients. But man was not made for the purpose of finding satisfaction of the supposedly natural, self-centered longings within himself and, thus, of becoming unmoved and dispassionate. On the contrary, he was specifically made so he can love God and his fellow man with the same love that God as for the world. Love that arises out of self-interest is alien to the nature of God just as it is alien to the original destiny of man. (p. 106)
Further along, Fr. John adds:
Man was not made to be self-seeking and drawn by the supreme One so that, once he has been joined with it, man would cease to desire anything. If in fact the destiny of the soul is to incline toward the highest good and to find self-contentment in it, what kind of relationship can the soul have with secondary beings it if should ever achieve its goal? If the soul becomes totally satisfied by its union with the One, how can it also be inclined toward other beings like itself, or even lower beings, and maintain a relationship of love with them also? (pp. 112-113)
Can you match the German expressions on the left with their English equivalents on the right? Yes, you can, if you sound it out!
1.) Das Hasardspiel........................___ X-rays
2.) Der Dudelsack..........................___ Hay fever
3.) Die Sternschnuppe....................___ Game of chance
4.) Die Tankstelle..........................___ Shooting star
5.) Die Röntgenstrahlen................___ Gas station
6.) Der Stecker.............................___ Electric plug
7.) Das Fingerspitzengefühl..........___ Sorcerer
8.) Der Panzerschrank..................___ go crazy
9.) Das Hufeisen...........................___ Old Glory
10.) Der Hexenmeister...................___ hangover
11.) Die Heuschnuppe....................___ suspenders
12.) überschnappen......................___ bagpipes
13.) Der Sockenhalter...................___ Brussels sprouts
14.) Der Tutnichtgut....................___ horseshoe
15.) Der Schnellimbiss..................___ goosebumps
16.) Die Steckdose........................___ sure instinct
17.) Der Katzenjammer................___ soap bubbles
18.) Der Rosenkohl......................___ snack
19.) Die Seifeblase.......................___ ne’er-do-well
20.) Das Sternenbanner..............___ electrical outlet
21.) Die Gänsehaut......................___ the safe
From Mark 9:
27 When Jesus departed from there, two blind men followed Him, crying out and saying, "Son of David, have mercy on us!"
28 And when He had come into the house, the blind men came to Him. And Jesus said to them, "Do you believe that I am able to do this?"
They said to Him, "Yes, Lord."
29 Then He touched their eyes, saying, "According to your faith let it be to you." 30 And their eyes were opened.
You are not required to believe God WILL do this or that wondrous work in order for Him to perform it. You just have to believe He is able. For me, that's very easy.
If one had to believe that every request absolutely WOULD get a "Yes" answer, then Jesus, when He prayed in the Garden, would not have added, "But Thy will, not mine, be done."
That, for me, is sometimes less easy.
But at least I now more clearly realize there need be no guilt-tripping if God, in His infinite love and wisdom, should say, "No."
Thursday, December 20, 2007
One must always hope, says Demetrios.
“Well, I do hope, but not much,” said I, “for fear of being disappointed later.”
“No, no, cast out fear, because fear is from the devil, and hope bravely! Ask God for a miracle! Tell Him what you want!”
“God already knows what I want,” said I, sobbing.
“By that rationale, we would never pray for anything. No, you still have to tell Him.”
“I know you and others already have been asking Him for a miracle, and we don’t see one so far. And who knows why He grants some people miracles and not others?”
“But remember, Jesus taught us to persist in prayer. Never stop!”
About that, he’s right.
Today, when Wendy and I told our sister Barbara, “We are praying for a miracle,” her reply was, “And we’re getting miracles, one piece at a time.”
She has gotten over her staph infection, even without the benefit of a functioning immune system. Today the antibiotics were discontinued. We still have to wear gowns and gloves to enter her room, and now masks, but that is to protect her – from flu, now that the season has officially begun.
Some small bit of feeling has returned to both her hands, as well.
Barbara says she no longer feels like she is “in the pit of despair.”
Mom has been home from the hospital two days now and seems fine. She is on precautions (a.k.a. aspirin) against further strokes.
This afternoon when we walked over to Dad’s building to visit him, he greeted me by name. He hasn’t been able to say anybody’s name but Mom’s for months. Later on, he even asked where Mike was (my brother).
We were singing Christmas carols again, with the Alzheimer’s patients, and most of the time he couldn’t remember most of the words, but for one brief verse of one carol, he was actually singing harmony. He used to sing bass in his church’s choir.
Two nights ago, in my dreams, I was sitting in a green mountain meadow when Barbara appeared on the scene. I stared at her, incredulously.
“You can walk!” I gasped.
She smiled and said, “And I can run! Watch this!” She began running and I began running after her, over the hill, which gave sight to an incredible Alpine vista. We ran and ran, waving our arms and dancing like Julie Andrews in the opening scenes of The Sound of Music. Then I awoke and an inaudible voice in my brain said, “Not yet. It’s too soon.”
Mom says it was wishful thinking. Demetrios says I mustn’t think it is ever too soon for a miracle. Mom may be right. Demetrios is wrong. Sometimes it is too soon. Jesus didn’t raise Lazarus until he had been dead long enough to erase any doubt.
If God miraculously cured you of typhoid the first time you coughed, you would never know what a great deed had been done for you.
Makes a person wonder how many things like that God has done, without our ever having any clue.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Frederica Matthewes-Green writes:
I initially disliked Orthodox worship, because I was used to an approach that aimed at inspiration and uplift—in short, aimed at me. The relentless focus on God alone seemed “hard.” After a few months, though, I discovered that I had a deep-seated hunger for that objective God-focus, though I’d never suspected it before. A female visitor to a Vespers service that was only occasionally in English told me that she didn’t understand much that went on, “But I know one thing: this is so not about me.”
Frederica Matthewes-Green, Men and Church
That’s right. Worship of God is so not about us. For example...
Worship is so not about how we prefer to dress for church. It is about honoring God, Who is worth dressing up for! (But does God really care about outward things? Yes, because they reflect and express the heart.)
Worship is so not about what sort of music we prefer, organ or guitar and drums. It is about what music is appropriate for honoring God. It is music for Him, not for us. That means the right kind of music should be prayerful and sober and not cater to us; viz., to our flesh. And it should come from us. God wants to hear our voices! They are all beautiful voices to Him Who created them.
Worship is so not about inspiring, uplifting, or moving us or giving us the strength to carry on with our dysfunctional lives. It is about repenting from our own, broken lives, turning away from ourselves and toward God, renouncing our lives to receive God’s Life instead, His righteous and eternal Life.
The Christian religion is so not about “happiness”. It is about self-sacrificing love, a.k.a. holiness, which is difficult and often painful.
Monday, December 17, 2007
And especially for Debbi Dillon, my sister's godmother. What a task, what a ministry, she has taken on, and how fabulously she is carrying it out!
(I already have a wonderful godmother, but is it allowed to have two?)
There are two pairs of cardinals outside my window, sitting in the holly tree, the first I've seen in months. Greece doesn't have cardinals.
Greece doesn't have squirrels, either, like the ones playing on my lawn, or chipmunks, except in cages to be sold as "pets". (I have raised and rehabbed enough chipmunks to be able to tell you, they would make terrible pets!)
My sister Wendy has a "life verse": In every thing, give thanks. (I Thess. 5:18) She's right.
Or rather, St. Paul is.
In every thing, give thanks.
Why? Because those who know God know that He, Who loves us better than we can love ourselves and Whose wisdom is fathomless, knows what He is doing. And it is always, always for the best.
We just have to find how to make the best of it.
But we don't wait until then to give thanks.
So Dad's in the nursing home, can hardly walk, and doesn't know his children's names.
My sister, Barbara, is in the hospital battling something called leptomeningeal carcinomatosis, which means cancer wrapped around the sheath of the nervous system. There are masses in her head, at mid-spine, and in the lumbar region. She cannot walk and her right hand is numb. Her left hand is half numb. Her bowel doesn't work as well as it needs to. She has difficulty swallowing and says her tongue doesn't work very well. (Mess with a person's spinal cord and so many things go wrong!) She takes morphine 3 times a day for pain. She has a dangerous staphylococcus infection in her bladder -- and of course no immune system, due to radiation -- so we have to wear gowns and gloves to enter her room. Further, anything that comes into her room (such as a book) isn't allowed to come back out again. Her two girls, ages 7 and 11, haven't been allowed to visit her on account of the contagion. Thank heaven, when there's no immune system, we still have antibiotics.
Mom woke up in the middle of Saturday night feeling numb all up and down her left side. She and my other sister, Wendy, who has flown in from California, went to visit Barbara in the hospital, and while they were there, Mom mentioned that the tingling and numbness on her left side hadn't gone away.
WHAT? My niece and her husband insisted she go downstairs to the Emergency Room. The end of the long story is, it appears she has had a minor stroke. Obviously it must not be very debilitating, because she can walk and talk and do all the things she normally has done. The issue is to prevent more strokes.
Too bad she can't share a room with Barbara. At least they're in the same hospital.
Our family celebration this Christmas is going to be, shall we say, interesting! Nevertheless, in some fashion or another, celebrate we shall. Christ is born to put everything, in the end, to rights. He who died and rose again is born to be our Example, Guide, Companion, Rock and yes, our Heaven meanwhile, while we are still racing toward the finish line.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
You arrive at church just as the service is beginning, or maybe you even arrive a bit late. There are no more seats. In America, that would mean you stand throughout the service. In Greece, nobody stands very long because everyone who has seats shares them.
You accompany your loved one from the ER to his newly-assigned hospital room. It’s a double room, and you subconsciously feel bad, because another family is in the room, and they want to talk with their loved one, while you want to talk with yours, and each group will be something of a nuisance to the other, intruding upon a private situation, and you have to remind yourself you have as much right to be here as they have, so if they don’t like it, too bad.
It isn’t that way in Greece. There, you arrive in the double hospital room and the other family is glad to see you, glad for the company. They introduce themselves and inquire about you and your circumstances, and instead of two separate conversations, it’s all one big one, everyone included.
You stand in line in a Greek shop but there is no jealous guarding of ones place. Instead, someone ahead of you suggests you go first, because you are carrying packages and she isn’t.
It has made me realize something of the extent to which I have been victimized by the rampant individualism so characteristic of my culture. Somehow it ends up putting us into competition with one another instead of cooperation. Somehow it trains us to approach others as rivals, whether for the same seats or the same hospital space or an advantageous place in the line or on the bus. It renders our stance toward others as basically hostile. You are going to take what you want/need at my expense, unless I beat you to it, taking it for myself at your expense.
No wonder people in our culture don’t want to live near each other, as is natural for human beings. Instead, people dream of moving out onto 3 acres (minimum) where they can have “privacy” and not be “bothered” by any neighbors.
It reminds me of that old story about the people in hell, who were sitting at a sumptuous banquet but starving to death, because their forearms had grown so long the people couldn’t get their forks anywhere near their mouths. The people in heaven had similar forearms, but they were all sharing in the feast by feeding each other.
Saturday, December 15, 2007
Several years ago on Christmas Eve, as soon as the Divine Liturgy had concluded and the choir (as it does every year) began singing Western Christmas carols, I turned to my husband and winced. "Why is it," I asked, "that although I love those carols, I do NOT want to hear them in church?"
"Because most of them do not belong in church," he replied.
Take Silent Night, for example, he said, because it was the carol being sung at that moment. It caters to the flesh, not to the spirit. It is theologically nearly empty. "It's fluff," he said. "It isn't a prayer; it's basically nothing but a mood piece."
Several days ago, in jest, I remarked to him that I still had not forgiven him for absolutely ruining Silent Night for me! Because I had immediately realized the truth of what he had said.
Yesterday, when we visited my father in his nursing home, all the Alzheimer's patients were sitting in a room singing Christmas carols, led by a young man with a guitar. My father knew most of the words. If he couldn't immediately summon to mind a phrase, the first words of it would prompt him and he could take it from there. If we sang, for example, "He rules..." Dad could join in on, "the world with truth and grace." Most of the other patients, though, didn't know most of the words.
Somebody requested The Drummer Boy, and the patients liked that a lot. Some who couldn't sing could tap it out with their hands and others would put in some extra "Ba-rum-pum-pum-pums" here and there.
Then we came to Silent Night and it was as if a small miracle happened. Virtually everybody knew it. People who hadn't been able to sing a single note of any other carol awoke from their stupor and we all joined together to sing this one.
Then it was over, and the Alzheimer's patients slid back into their own, dim, shrunken worlds.
But for me, singing with tears in my eyes, Silent Night had forever been rehabilitated.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Due to the very serious condition of my sister, Barbara, it will probably be at least several days before I get back to blogging.
Please keep praying for her and for us, her family. We have been very blessed, in that almost none of us has ever faced anything like this before. Kyrie, eleison!
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
(See post entitled, "From My Niece's Blog)
To Whichever Deity it May Concern:
I seem to have more than my fair share of serious illness in my family lately. I'm sure it must be difficult to keep track of, what with all the plague, famine, and disease worldwide; however, I am confident that since I have now brought this error to your attention, the problem will be corrected immediately and I will receive a full and complete refund.
* * *
Grace was referring to her aunt, my sister Barbara, who is battling cancer, and to her grandfather, my father, who has severe dementia from Parkinson's or Alzheimer's or something. So I sent her this.
* * *
CUSTOMER SERVICE FORM
Account Number : ___________________
Estimated refund due: ______________
How the refund was calculated: __________________________________________________________
If using “fair share” method, state the basis upon which “fair” was determined: __________________________________________________________
Complete and attach Form A, Inventory of Sins, placing a checkmark beside any you have ever committed, and Form B, Survey of Good Works, checking only those motivated by pure, unalloyed altruism.
Count the number of family members in most recent four generations (yours, your parents’, your grandparents’, and your children’s generations, including first cousins, first cousins once removed, and second cousins).
Number living: __________
Number deceased: ________
Number relatively healthy: _____
Number relatively unwell: ______
Complete and attach Form C, placing a checkmark beside each calamity your family has suffered under each category listed, including Famine, Plague, Malnutrition, War, and Other. Do not include Self-inflicted Calamities such as Drug or Alcohol Addiction.
Name of person(s) to whom refund is due:
NOTE: Management cannot be responsible for the actions of disgruntled former employees. Management shall, however, take such counter-measures as it shall, in its sole discretion, deem advisable.
* * *
Gosh, I hope someone can help Barbara fill out all that paperwork!
Our flight, billed as an 8-hour trip, took almost 12.
We took the most circuitous route possible, traveling up the west coast of Europe, crossing the Channel, going northwest diagonally across England and Scotland, across Ireland, skirting the south of Iceland and Greenland, then all the way down the east coast of Canada. We basically made a big arc around the ocean, flying as little as possible over the open water. Just above Boston, we turned due east, then flew a jagged path south of New York and landed from that direction. (Why not just fly southeast to begin with? In fact, why fly so far west that you have to go back east again?) About the only way they could have made the trip longer would have been to have flown from Athens in the opposite direction, across Asia.
It was Olympic Airways, and the seats are not nearly as crowded as on some other airlines, and the food, being Greek, is good, although there wasn’t enough of it for such a long flight.
The passengers were mostly Greek, so the flight had its own flavor. Upon liftoff, half the passengers crossed themselves. After dinner at midday, all the shades were pulled down (and leaving them down was enforced by the crew) and everybody took a siesta. At touchdown, there was long and loud applause, and then people crossed themselves again.
After siesta, Demetrios and I went to the back of the plane, where the rear galley is, where there is room to stand and stretch. We had been there about 15 minutes, grateful to be giving our sore bottoms a rest and our legs a stretch, when a tall, grey-haired monk joined us and began speaking – in a Southern accent. He is from West Virginia. It was fun to meet him.
Then Archimandrite Maximos joined us, saying, “I thought I heard English being spoken.” (Ah, yes, one of the joys of returning is hearing conversations in English!) He is from New York.
As I returned to my seat, a Greek woman sitting across the aisle asked me, in Greek, “What is that on your skirt?”
“I don’t know,” I said.
“You’ve sat in some butter or something. Ah, krima! It’s a crime.” And out came her handkerchief as she began daubing away at it, joined in a moment by another Greek woman behind me.
When they had worked on it assiduouosly two or three minutes, I said, “Thank you, thank you very much.”
“Oh, it’s nothing, my golden girl!” (I think that’s just a kind thing they say to one another and is no reference to hair color.) And she continued her work.
American women are of course kind as well, but where will you ever see them show kindness in such a way? I am going to miss that.
Shh – the suit is washable!
We got home by about 9:15 last night, which was 4:15 a.m. Greek time, and got to bed by around 10:30, having spent the interim time petting our kitties, admiring the renovations we had done immediately before our departure (but hadn’t had time to appreciate) and the construction that had taken place in our absence. (!) What used to be a screened porch is now a Florida room, and it looks great, and somehow much bigger than it used to.
Much to do today. We took our next-door neighbors, Frances and Dickie, a present from Greece and inquired about Dickie. He is looking better than he did before his by-pass surgery, but he still can’t lift anything heavy, which bothers him.
We borrowed their telephone to call the phone company and get our phone and Internet access off of “vacation” status. Called the car insurance people to get our cars out of “storage” status and the Division of Motor Vehicles to get our cars’ license plates reactivated. (The insurance company charges only $8 a month while a car is “in storage,” but that status requires that the license plates be de-activated for the duration.) So then we could drive.
We went out for breakfast, as there wasn’t a bit of anything to eat in the house, shopped for groceries, called Mom, and now it’s time to for a late-afternoon nap before we call Barbara.
Now Demetrios is saying if we could make up our minds today and get a carpet ordered for our upstairs, perhaps it could be put in before our Christmas guests arrive. That would be great, as our old one, some 30 years old, is disgraceful. But of all times to add a big project like that! We must be crazy.
Note to Self: Book an incoming flight into JFK Airport if you must, but only if New York is your final destination. Never, ever, book a flight out of JFK, for any reason.
Sunday, December 9, 2007
The Septuagint is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures made by Jewish scholars, and was the standard Jewish Bible until the advent of Christianity. It is the version known to and quoted by Christ and the apostles. In the Greek, it is therefore the most authoritative translation of the Old Testament. And its idea of what the Hebrew means is rather different from what the King James scholars thought, especially in verses 10 and 11. Here's an English rendering of this beautiful prophecy.
* * *
O Lord, who has believed our report? and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2 We brought a report as of a child before him; he is as a root in a thirsty land: he has no form nor comeliness; and we saw him, but he had no form nor beauty. 3 But his form was ignoble, and inferior to that of the children of men; he was a man in suffering, and acquainted with the bearing of sickness, for his face is turned from us: he was dishonoured, and not esteemed.
4 He bears our sins, and is pained for us: yet we accounted him to be in trouble, and in suffering, and in affliction. 5 But he was wounded on account of our sins, and was bruised because of our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and by his bruises we were healed. 6 All we as sheep have gone astray; every one has gone astray in his way; and the Lord gave him up for our sins. 7 And he, because of his affliction, opens not his mouth: he was led as a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is dumb, so he opens not his mouth. 8 In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken away from the earth: because of the iniquities of my people he was led to death. 9 And I will give the wicked for his burial, and the rich for his death; for he practised no iniquity, nor craft with his mouth.
10 The Lord also is pleased to purge him from his stroke. If ye give an offering for sin, your soul shall see a long-lived seed: 11 the Lord also is pleased to take away from the travail of his soul, to shew him light, and to form him with understanding; to justify the just one who serves many well; and he shall bear their sins. 12 Therefore he shall inherit many, and he shall divide the spoils of the mighty; because his soul was delivered to death: and he was numbered among the transgressors; and he bore the sins of many, and was delivered because of their iniquities.
It’s been a busy few days, getting ready to come home: packing, cleaning, and the round of farewells.
Our new furniture came on Wednesday and we’re pleased with our splashy new sofa, which boldly proclaims, “Vacation!” and our new syntheto (wall unit) that houses the TV, plus glassware, plus other items, including my tiny canister vacuum cleaner, which previously had no home. This little flat, which to begin with was quite dingy, shabby and make-do, is beginning to look quite pretty and cozy. It has a lot of potential.
We shall miss our friends, our little flat here, our doves, Greek food, the sea, the general ambiance, the good weather and so much else. We shall rejoice (in the midst of pain) to see our family and friends in the U.S., and our two cats, and our newly-renovated house there.
My sister Barbara is still in the hospital, getting radiation treatments. We haven’t heard yet what the decision is on chemo. Once she is discharged, she will probably spend some time in a physical therapy facility (aka nursing home, where she will be the youngest patient by about 25 years) to try to walk again.
As soon as we get home and are reasonably recovered from jet lag, we shall visit my parents and sister.
It may be two or three days before I post again.
...who is (tentatively) an atheist.
* * *
To Whichever Deity it May Concern:
I seem to have more than my fair share of serious illness in my family lately. I'm sure it must be difficult to keep track of, what with all the plague, famine, and disease worldwide; however, I am confident that since I have now brought this error to your attention, the problem will be corrected immediately and I will receive a full and complete refund.
Full blog is here together with her mother's apt comment. (Her mother is my sister Wendy.)
I'm working on a comment of my own...and would love to hear yours, provided it is very loving and not too preachy.
Friday, December 7, 2007
Fr. Stephen has an article about why people become Orthodox. Many readers responded, telling briefly why they, too, had become Orthodox.
These are not ”conversion stories” but just reasons. Check them out if you are curious, if you wonder, as a certain relative of mine once did, "What drug they're on."
I'm not going to inflict my conversion story upon anybody, either. But I can summarize my main reasons under three headings.
1.) I had arrived at the point at which it was Orthodoxy or nothing. I had studied (heterodox) theology in college and by the time I had completed couple of semesters of graduate studies, I had grown osick of it. I had wandered all over the Protestant map, never finding any home, and had ended up in the New Age, an Episcohindubuddhapalian.
2.) The first time I ever attended an Orthodox Divine Liturgy, it was miraculous for me. The first miracle was that although the service was in Old Slavonic, I understood it all. No, I didn’t understand the actual words (except, “Iesus Christos”, “alleluia”, and “amen”). But I understood what they all meant. I understood what all the prayers were saying and I knew at every moment what we were doing and why. The second miracle was that I had fallen in love. My heart was deliriously joyful, but my head was reeling. My head said, “I’ve stumbled upon a fossil! This church hasn’t updated her theology since the Seventh Ecumenical Council! I've fallen into a time warp; I have found an actual, living dinosaur!” I knew I could never become Orthodox; my head must overrule my heart. I went home and cried for two weeks. An album of Orthodox music the priest had given me I listened to so many times, night and day, that my family bought me headphones so they would no longer have to hear it.
3.) I discovered the "True Church" does exist after all. It happened years later, when someone began reading stories of the desert fathers and sharing them with me. The straw that broke the camel’s back was a story about St. Makarios. It seems there was a rumor among the monks in his area that one of the brothers was keeping a woman in his cave. A committee of monks formed to go visit this brother and see if the rumor were true.
The monk in question, standing at the door of his cave, saw this self-appointed vice squad approaching from afar. Quickly, he overturned his wash pot and hid the woman under it.
When the delegation arrived, St. Makarios, pleading tiredness, asked to be allowed to sit upon the overturned wash pot while the others searched the cell for signs of a woman. When the search was unsuccessfully concluded, St. Makarios bade the other monks go on home without him; we would rest a while longer. They departed, and St. Makarios, standing up to leave, said to the sinful monk, “Be very careful, my brother.” The monk burst into tears and fell at St. Markarios’ feet in repentance.
My first reaction was to be scandalized. A saint had allowed a fellow monk to get away with a sin, and a very serious one at that! But then my second reaction was, “What tender mercy! How he spared that poor woman from humiliation!” Of course, he had spared the monk equal or greater humiliation. He also spared all the other monks the scandal. That was true love! And my third reaction was to realize that had my heart truly been loving, I would never have been scandalized in the first place; I would have recognized at once that love is the true fulfillment of God’s law.
Then in a flash, I realized that Orthodoxy was the only religion of true love. Other religions might think God is loving, but they also supposed God had another, darker, side, inescapably and irreducibly unloving once you stripped away the highly euphemistic language.
Orthodoxy is the only faith that has a whole, vast Tradition that teaches you how to love, that puts you through the paces of striving to love, that challenges you to look at things from Love’s point of view – and “God is Love.” Only Orthodoxy has “all this stuff,” as I said at the time, aloud, referring to the fathers and all the rest of the unsullied, Holy Tradition. Then I added, “This really is the True Church!” I said it several times, out loud, amazed at the words. This was the church I had been seeking since I was eleven years old, but had long since come to suppose was surely some naïve, childhood dream. Tears filled my eyes as I said, again aloud, “I have to become Orthodox as soon as possible!”
In short, I became Orthodox because I fell in love with the Church, because I recognized her as Christ’s Church, and because I was spiritually desperate.
Why did you? Or why haven't you?
Thursday, December 6, 2007
My sister, Barbara, is hospitalized now, cancer having been found within her spinal cord. It's inoperable. The doctors will treat it with radiation and perhaps with chemotherapy. This is the 4th metastasis. Yesterday, while waiting for the news, I distracted myself with this perhaps silly bit of research. You can probably tell what a rotten mood I was in. "Pray until the peace comes," I'm told. I know. I'm getting there. But not yet.
The two images with the words, “Proudly Entered the Catholic Church…” that I posted earlier prompted someone I know to comment that “Catholics promote pride.” Oh, really? Is that true? It made me wonder, so I Googled the words, “Proud to be Catholic”. Then I did a similar search substituting the word, “Orthodox,” then, “Baptist,” then, “Lutheran”, then, “Presbyterian”.
What I found among Orthodox, Baptists, and Lutherans was a few, isolated, misguided individuals proclaiming their pride in being whatever they were, plus some sales sites selling “Orthodox” or “Lutheran” or “Baptist” items, such as tee shirts. These appealed to pride as a sales tactic. I found a couple of colleges claiming to be proud of their religious heritage. Most of these claims, though, one doesn’t take any more seriously than sales tactics, if the example of my alma mater is typical: Wake Forest University, trumpeting its pride in its Baptist heritage, actually cut ties with the Baptists some 20 or so years ago.
I found sites like that for Catholics, too. But then I found more, such as this one, which is actually a parish effort, instead of some individual thing, started by parishioners of Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Middletown, PA., to help their church raise funds for a new building project...
We Are Proud 2B Catholic
2/6/2005 - 12:00 AM PST
Where else can you find anything from the original “Catholic T Shirt” to a black and white crossed ribbon type “Pray For Our Priests” car magnet? Besides showing Catholic Pride with the items they have to offer, they say, “We hope our youth will follow our lead as Proud Catholics of the future.”
And this one, with materials for teaching children to be proud of being Catholic, marketing these materials to Catholic Schools.
Our economical pack gives you three new educational tools to help promote religious pride. Pack includes 25 each of our Proud To Be Catholic Educational Activities Book, Bookmark and Pencil. A great money-saving value for every classroom! 75 Items in all. For ages K-3.
But guess what else I found? “Proud 2B Catholic” is a whole, organized movement!
Here is its main site. Notice, in the descriptive paragraph I copied from it, that this Proud 2B Catholic Movement is endorsed by a cardinal, no less.
We're excited you're here, and we hope to see you at an upcoming Proud 2B Catholic event.
In 2007, Proud 2B Catholic events took place in Long Island-NY, Kennebunk-ME, Framingham-MA, Sulphur-LA, Toronto-CAN, Attleboro-MA and Houston-TX. 2008 will bring new annual and monthly events! See Sean Cardinal O'Malley's endorsement of P2BC.
An archbishop also endorses the Proud 2B Catholic movement here:
A gathering where youth are proud to be Catholic
In God's Good Time
By Archbishop John C. Nienstedt
"Two, four, six, eight,
What's the faith we celebrate,
Catholic, Catholic, Catholic!"
This was the kind of mantra one could hear at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio, as 22,000 Catholic youth joined in the 2007 National Cath¬olic Youth Conference from Nov. 8 to 10.
This was my third NCYC, and I have become a strong supporter of the experience.
This movement has “festivals” annually. Here’s the site about this year’s festival, with the theme PROUD 2B FAITHFUL. Well, not proud, just unashamed. Except that the difference is nowhere elucidated.
Second Annual PROUD 2B CATHOLIC FESTIVAL
Published on 11/10/2007
Start: 10/13/2007 - 12:00
End: 10/13/2007 - 22:00
WHAT: A celebration of our Faith. Not that we are proud, but that we are not ashamed. A time for worship, for learning and for networking.
This year's theme: PROUD 2B FAITHFUL”
And here is a parish-level endorsement of the same movement, together with some syncretism and some very interesting wording.
We're heading out to the Proud 2B Catholic festival in Sulphur, Louisiana this Saturday. It should be a great time of music, praise, adoration and fellowship. If anyone is from the South and may be interested in attending, please let us know. We have a few extra tickets. These festivals remind me of St. Paul's words, "I became all things to all people...". True, for many Catholics this is about as untraditional as Catholicism can get, but then again, by whose standard do we measure?
In fact, there's a whole religious order called Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette that sponsors Catholic pride. (It isn't clear to me whether this order sponsors the whole "Proud 2B Catholic" Movement, or only its website.)
The Presbyterians, in my opinion, had the best take on the matter. Here, you can get tee shirts with the slogan, "(Sinfully) Proud to be Presbyterian" (!) and here, implicitly recognizing pride as a sin, the PC(USA) substitutes the word, “Enthusiastic.”
The "I'm Enthusiastic about the PC(USA)!" Movement was initiated by Tyler Ward in response to the Christ's call through the Holy Spirit. At the April, 2004 meeting of the National Presbyterian Youth Ministry Council … he proposed the Movement to the Council saying, "Great ministry is going on in the PC(USA)... Sure, there is controversy in the church, and it needs to be addressed, but we shouldn't loose sight of the great work of the PC(USA). There are lots of positive ministries…" The Council endorsed the Movement with joy.
I don't know. "Proud" just has a better ring to it, don't you think? Tell people you are proud to be whatever you are and they think, "Sure." But "enthusiastic" sounds contrived. If you go around proclaiming yourself "enthusiastic" about your religion, it makes people wonder whether, as in the above paragraph, there may be reasons not to be enthusiastic prompting you to declare you are.
As a matter of fact, the Proud 2B Catholic Movement, from what I can gather, is largely a reacton to the scandal of priests raping boys -- and sometimes girls. Hence the emphasis on "Pray for Our Priests." (Yes, do that, but don't forget to pray for their victims, too.)
Sometimes, shame is simply the only proper thing to show. All of our institutions give us plenty of grounds for that.
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
I just don't feel like posting anything today. My mother writes that she doesn't think Dad even remembers, this year, what Christmas is. And my sister, Barbara, is in so much pain in her legs, and so weak, she can't walk and her husband has to carry her. She has a neurology appointment today and I'm anxiously awaiting further news of that. Your prayers requested and very much appreciated.
However, here are some other sites you may like to check out.
To see many beautiful and/or picturesque photographs of Thessaloniki, where we are, go here. You'll need to go to the archives to see most of the photos.
If you are a catechumen or a new convert, Christopher Orr has some great advice to help you avoid the most common traps into which we tend to fall. They're humorous, too! (At least I think they are.)
And if you are looking for some good reading for when the miserable weather starts closing you in your house, Deb has a pre-vetted list.
Finally, if you need a little humor today, as I do, the Onion Dome can provide it. This months's selections are not as good as some in the archives, so check those out, too. No, this site is not satirizing holy Orthodoxy! It's satirizing us, the Orthodox, and we need it. So enjoy and do not be scandalized. My personal favorites are the columns of the fictitious Fr. Vasiliy.
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
It was a day of farewells, the first of at least three such days this week. Pelagia and George had us over to dinner, along with Mena and Kostas (looking radiantly healthy). It was a delicious meal with many dishes, all fasting-compliant. All one had to do was eat appropriate portions, which was not easy. And of course the company was outstanding. Such loving, kind, good people! How quickly, once we had met, we all became so very close! We will miss them.
We arrived home just after five in the afternoon (Yes, dinner is always at midday.) and rested until six. Then, back to the surprised florist for the second time today, because you always try to bring flowers to your hostess, and on to Anastasia and Stelios, who live just two blocks away. They had invited us for “coffee” which turned out to be tea in the English style, capped off by my favorite, baked quince.
It is a lot of fun to talk with Anastasia and Stelios, for many reasons, first because they are so dear, but also because they form something like a Greek chorus as you tell a story. It’s a little like being in a black church where the congregation utters encouraging words to the preacher. Anastasia and Stelios will say things like, “Oh, you were in London! Beautiful city! Yes – “You stayed a whole week! How nice for you!” – “Your friend, Thomas, yes, the one we met…” Or if what you say is sad, they will say something like, “How difficult for you! So frightening. Yes, yes…”
When they tell stories, we tend just to listen and to smile and glow inside. Here’s the one they told us tonight.
A man in Stelios’ village had a daughter who had something in her eye that kept growing. The man took his daughter to a specialist in Kavala, who told her, “We’re going to have to operate tomorrow, my child.” So she was hospitalized to await the surgery early the next morning.
During the night, the father had a dream in which the Theotokos appeared to him. She told him to go back to his village, ask a certain man to donate a certain corner of his property, and to build a church there. “And your daughter shall be well.”
When the man awoke, he was in some confusion, because of course the Orthodox do not put much stock in dreams, ordinarily. (Although of course we recognize that some dreams are of divine origin, such as that of St. Joseph, directing him to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt.)
But then the man saw his daughter’s eye, and the large growth was gone, and the eye looked almost normal. By time the surgeon came, the eye was normal. The doctor pronounced it a miracle and cancelled the surgery.
The man and his daughter went back to Stelios’ village, went to the man who owned the property he had dreamed about, and asked for it. The property owner immediately said, “Of course,” and turned over that corner of land. Today a church stands there.
There was some question what sort of Theotokos icon to put in that church, but the iconographer, a monk, had a dream of how he should paint it, and he did. It shows her holding a handkerchief, with which to wipe away the tears of the world.
Anastasia told me she was once privileged to carry that icon in a procession.
She sent us home with a laminated paper print of it – and a jar of her baked quince.
This image was posted at "Transposzing," see new addition to my blogroll, at left.
Intrigued, I poked around a bit on the Internet and found a second one here.
I wrote a comment there, asking the same questions "Transposzing" asked: "Proudly? How can anyone enter a church proudly?"
That was before I realized the author has suspended the blog until next summer. So there probably will be no answer, but if there is, I'll let you know!
Meanwhile, I have to agree, it's actually a "huge problem".
Monday, December 3, 2007
Troparion (Tone 8)
Let us honor holy Barbara, Destroying the snares of the enemy, she escaped from them like a bird with the help of the Cross as a weapon.
Kontakion (Tone 4)
Singing the praises of the Trinity,
you followed God by enduring suffering;
you renounced the multitude of idols,
O holy martyr Barbara.
In your struggles, you were not frightened by the threats of your torturers,
but cried out in a loud voice:
"I worship the Trinity in one Godhead."
It’s the eve of the feast of Holy Great-Martyr Barbara. As she is the patron saint of the artillery, there are fireworks over the city tonight. There is a big celebration in Aristotle Square, the heart of the city. Speeches have been made, the giant, municipal Christmas tree has been lit and so has the Christmas Ship. Entertainers are singing. Searchlights are raking the sky. The crowd is cheering and clapping.
We, meanwhile, are warm and quiet at home, watching it all on TV. We are only going to be here another week from today, and this will be one of our last evenings at home.
Ship? It’s a symbol of Christmas. You can read about it here. I also took this picture from that site.
My father was an artilleryman and my mother’s name is Barbara. When I was growing up, our parents always had St. Barbara’s Day parties and they were pretty wild, but they pale in comparison with this party!
I feel especially like celebrating, because this feast marks the one-year anniversary of my sister Barbara’s entrance into the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. God grant you many years, dear sister, and you, Mom, and all the Barbaras out there!
St. Barbara’s story, elements of which are obviously legendary, is here.
Today Katerina, with little Spyros in tow, took us to an old monastery on the lakeshore. Actually, the monastery has two small chapels. Parts of them are 17th Century, parts are 10th Century, and parts – are you ready for this? – are 6th Century!
The ancient frescoes are all shot up. Turkish bullets have gouged out the eyes of most of the figures, and there are scores or hundreds of other pockmarks from random shots.
My first reaction to them was to think reverence might seem to call for some loving repair and restoration. On the other hand, perhaps they are too ancient to touch. And perhaps the Greek people could do with a reminder of what it was like under the Turks, in these days when they are allowing all sorts of political, economic, and yes, military incursions. (Turkey violates Greek air space daily, with impunity.) Perhaps a compromise could be struck, in which most of the frescoes are repaired, but some of most damaged places left.
The chapels are heated with wood stoves set in the narthex.
They are popular venues, Katerina says, for weddings and baptisms.
Afterward, we went for a scenic drive. Katerina showed us how to drive out onto the peninsula and to the top of the hill occupying the far (eastern) end of it. There is another monastery near the top, and a café at the summit. Obviously, the panoramic view was fabulous; you could see nearly the whole, deep-blue lake and the peculiar shape of the city below, shining in the sun.
Sypros fell asleep in his mother’s lap, so we drove them home and went on alone to an exhibit of very accurate, extremely detailed models of some of the more scenic buildings in Kastoria. The exhibit was closed, however; we only got to see four or five samples of the work in the hotel lobby.
The men went back to Katerina’s for a nap instead. Rena and I went shopping, finding numerous stores along the lakefront open. But of that, I can say very little, Christmas being too close, except that Rena, adding kindness to kindness, bought me a pair of fur-trimmed house slippers.
The last store we went into had a variety of interesting things to look at. As we were looking, somebody said, “Good afternoon,” and we looked up to see the Kindly-faced, Singing Matador!
He recognized us from the night before, and greeted us warmly, even more so when he found out Rena is the sympethera of Norma and Spyros. “And how is the little one?” he inquired, meaning little Spyros.
I told him how much we had enjoyed his singing and dancing last night, and asked if he were also a Psaltis in the church. Yes, indeed, he chanted every Sunday in church. His wife nodded. I told them my husband was also a cantor. And then I blurted out, “He looked at you last night and immediately loved you!”
“What is your husband’s name?”
So the man went to his desk, opened a drawer, pulled out a CD with a picture of himself on the front, and signed it, “Best to Anastasia and Demetrios, Konstantinos Liogas.” Then he took a second one, his wife beaming all the while, and autographed it for Rena and Theodosius. Then he put a third CD on a player under his desk and had us listen to the first song. It was charming! We were thrilled.
When the men and little Spyros had waked up, and Rena and I had finished shopping, and Nikos had finished with the medical presentation and clinic, we all regrouped and went out for a late afternoon dinner. Katerina and Nikos took us to a restaurant atop one of the mountains to the northeast of the city, where we had a spectacular view of the whole, and of the lake. We also had a great dinner, but again I’m ashamed to describe it in detail.
And then, in the deepening dusk, we drove home. We had planned to stop at Berea (in Greek, spelled Beroia and pronounced “VER-ee-ah”) to see the monument that marks the spot where St. Paul preached, but dark had set in and everybody was too tired.
The Jews in Berea, St. Luke records, were nobler than those of Thessaloniki, because instead of rejecting the Gospel and setting the whole city in an uproar, they “searched the Scriptures” to see if St. Paul’s assertion was correct, that the Scriptures, in sign, symbol, and prophecy, spoke of this Jesus on every page.
Another time, we shall make a point of going into Berea instead of just passing it by. St. Paul preached in Thessaloniki, too, so I don’t quite know why I feel this especially keen sense of reverence when near Berea. No doubt once I go there I shall discover why.
We came home all in the warm glow of love, tired but very happy, having spent a beautiful time with dear people, old friends and new.
Sunday, December 2, 2007
View Larger Map
We spent a wonderful weekend in Kastoria (Kah-stor-YA) with Rena and Theodosius and their relatives.
Kastoria is named after the kastor, that flat-tailed, fur-yielding, dam-building mammal that lives here and nowhere else in Greece.
It sits on the edge of, and partly in, Lake Kastoria (see map, clicking two or three times on the plus sign to enlarge as necessary). It occupies the western part of the peninsula you see, and spills over and spreads out on both sides of the peninsula, so it has two different waterfronts, separated at the narrowest point by about a kilometer.
Kastoria used to be one of the riches cities in all of Greece, because it was the center of the fur industry. People got rich trading furs. The furs came from Scandinavia and Russia, but it was here, In Kastoria, that they were fashioned into coats, hats, and myriad other goods for sale.
It seems sad to say all this in the past tense, but in the 1990s, the Chinese came with cameras and videocameras, and asked to learn all about the fur trade, and the furriers laughingly showed them everything they knew. Now the Chinese sell fur items more cheaply than the Kastorians can, so although the city is still a big fur center, with an international fur show every Spring, the population has shrunk and the economy is beginning to shift, painfully, toward tourism.
We arrived around 11:30 and immediately phoned Nikos to let him know we had arrived. Nikos is Rena’s and Theodosios’ son-in-law, and if you want to know what he looks like, well, in face and hair he looks very much looks like this.
He was busy working, but said he would come for us in an hour or so.
We spent the time walking along the northern lakefront on a December day so gorgeous I left my winter jacket in the car. A sweater was enough for me. The sun was glinting off the deep-blue water and shining through the leaves of delicate orange. (I think the trees may be birches, from the white bark.) We passed between the Lake and the little eateries and shops selling fur and leather capes, mittens, gloves, hats, and toys.
Birds and other wildlife are more prolific and varied here than in most other places in Greece, although the bears and wolves have been rounded up into managed wildlife preserves. We spotted a variety of ducks, plus geese and swans, which swam up to us evidently expecting to be fed. Cormorants (which I mistakenly told everyone were condors) were standing on buoys and rocks spreading their wings to dry. There was even a floating birdhouse, with room for eight birds or pairs. Surrounding us and the lake were green-and-brown mountains, shining in the sun.
Our destination was a little outdoor café enclosed, this time of year, with heavy, transparent plastic “walls”, where we could sit and have coffee and be warm and still have a view of the lake and the mountains.
We hadn’t been there long before Spyros telephoned us. Spyros is Rena’s and Theodosios’ sympetheros; he is the father of their son-in-law, Nikos (think David). Rena told us Spyros, 75, had just been diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s. This is doubly sad because Spyros is such a kind, gentle, meek, (some say holy) man.
He looks like a smaller version of my maternal grandfather, very dapper, with white hair and bushy eyebrows over blue eyes, and he looks (to me) as if he had been born in a three-piece suit. The difference between Spyros and my grandfather is, Spyros has a somewhat self-effacing and melancholy demeanor. He used to be a millionaire fur trader, but he is generous and lent out much of his money and was never able to get it back. Now he is upper middle-class. (My grandfather’s company invented fake fur, so there’s even a parallel there!)
In short, he’s someone you most especially do not want to develop Alzheimer’s.
Spyros joined us after a few minutes, arriving in his dusty, black Mercedes. (He still drives, and very well, too.) After we had had a pleasant refreshment by the lake, he guided us along steep, narrow streets to our hotel, where we deposited our luggage and freshened up before heading over to Katerina’s and Nikos’ house for the midday meal.
Now if Nikos is among the handsomest men in Greece (and Greece is a land full of handsome men), Katerina is, in my, opinion, the fairest of her sex in the whole country. She is very feminine, with fair skin, dark hair, large, brown eyes, high cheekbones, and full lips. Katerina has to be one of the sweetest women around, as well.
And if you take a live version of the David and marry him to the prettiest woman in the land, what sort of a son would you expect them to have? You’d expect their son to look just like little Spyros, that’s what. (This is just a very good-looking family, every one of them on both sides!) When Spyros opens those enormous, bright blue eyes of his (now turning pale green), it’s as though two lanterns had been lit. When he was a baby, people literally used to gasp. Now he’s 25 months, still gorgeous. Those eyelashes must be ¾ of an inch long. His personality is equally charming. He couldn’t say “Anastasia” so he shortened it to “Sia” and gave my cheek a kiss. Demetrios was introduced as “Takis,” his nickname, and little Spyros was excited to find a word very easy for him to pronounce. The result was, every few minutes all afternoon he would call out, “Taki!” Demetrios would say, “Yes, my sweetie!” in English and Spyros delighted in the discovery that he could elicit such a response. (Why is that? I ought to be jealous. Animals and children all take to Demetrios first, before they take to me.)
Katerina and Nikos and Spyros live in a brand-new, three-bedroom flat on the edge of Kastoria. It is light and airy, with modern furnishings, to be replaced, gradually, with more traditional furnishings if I have correctly understood Katerina.
We were joined presently by the elder Spyros, his wife, Naomi and her mother, who is the same age as Spyros.
Naomi lived in Canada until she was 15. They called her Norma there, and it has stuck. Of course she speaks excellent English, and speaks only English to little Spyros. Spyros therefore understands English almost as well as Greek. (Both his parents speak excellent English, too.) In fact, little Spyros’ favorite book is his illustrated, Greek-English dictionary!
Norma was sporting a hairdo I take to be the latest in Greek chic. It is parted, with bangs, brushed down in front. At the nape, the hair is very short, becoming progressively longer is it approaches the top of the ears, where it is rather long. This tapered hair, at the back and sides of the head, is all brushed upward, and spreads out rather like a fan around the head.
I am not even going to describe the dinner, it being the fasting season. But the courses were many and delicious. Katerina and Nikos, being very kind, made Demetrios and me sit at the head and foot of the table.
After dinner, Theodosios and Rena, Demetrios and I went back to our hotel for a much-needed nap. We plunked our weary bones onto the bed at 5:30 and got up and dressed at 8:30. Time for some wining, dining, and dancing! (Yes, I know, I know!)
But Norma, you see, is the president of the Philoptochos (although it goes by a slightly different name here). It is the church women’s organization in support of the poor. And this year, Norma had organized this annual Christmas ball, a charity benefit, of course, and we four were to be her special guests. (I KNOW, I know!)
Well, we were some of her special guests, the least special of her special guests, the others including two Parliament members, the County Commissioner, and the Mayor, to whom she introduced us. There was no priest present, that I saw anyway. There’s a clue there.
Ah, a nice, small supper, I thought to myself, sampling a platter on which had been laid very small servings of several Kastorian specialties. Just right, after Katerina’s feast. I only took one bite of my dinner roll. A waiter came to take my plate away, but he just couldn’t stand it; he lowered my plate again and asked me, “Don’t you want to keep your bread?” So I did. I don’t care what else Greeks serve you, even if it is roast lamb or chateaubriand; the bread is always the entrée. I did not eat any more of it, but I kept it, not to scandalize the man.
I was just taking the last sip of wine and thinking that had been perfect, when the waiter reappeared to set another plate before me! The first, Katerina explained, had only been appetizers!
No way. I took one, small, polite bite out of each item and left the rest. And it was mouth-watering, too, or would have been.
Not counting the company, what I liked second-best about the evening (first best coming up later) was that so much of it was specifically Kastorian.
Several of the women and children wore traditional Kastorian dresses. Did I mention Kastoria was once a very rich little city? Well, the clothing reflects that. The dresses were long and green, with very short jackets to match, everything trimmed with embroidery, the dresses adorned in front with large, gold coins.
The music and the dances were Kastorian, too. Although many of the tunes are known all over Greece, many others are not; they are strictly local, and you cannot hear them anywhere else. I was especially pleased that the children joined the dances and knew the steps. They, of course, were not conscious of continuing a special heritage; to them, these were simply the dances they knew, and they were having fun. The little girls displayed some graceful and fancy footwork, too! We danced the dances we knew and were able to pick up one or two of the local ones besides. One of them was, in effect, a slow version of Hava Nagila. Instead of kicking, you just gracefully lifted your leg, and without hopping on the other leg at the same time.
Then there was Spanish music. An older man stood alone on the dance floor and spread out his arms and began to dance for us. Gradually, he began more and more to imitate a bull. Then another man, having borrowed his wife’s shawl, stepped onto the dance floor and waved it the way a matador waves his cape and the rest of the dance was a mock bullfight! The man with the cape had an especially wonderful face, full of fun, kindly, gentle.
Next thing we knew, he was singing the next song, in a very rich voice, and motioning to the rest of us to sing along, which everybody (except me) did.
Then it was time for the Kalenda, a Christmas carol. This one was a specifically Kastorian Kalenda. Everybody who wanted to sing was given a sheet of paper on which the words had been written, plus a candle. (No need to write the melody; everybody knew that.) The ballroom was darkened and this candle-lit group went from table to table, led by the kindly-faced, singing matador, to serenade each table with a different verse. I did not join the group, because the writing on the song-sheet was in cursive. Little Spyros will probably learn cursive Greek before I do.
Nikos didn’t sit with us for very long. He had organized a special event. He had brought several gynecologists to town who were going to give a presentation the next day on the latest test for cervical cancer and were going to offer to do this procedure for free on any women who would request it after the presentation. This new test is to replace the infamous Pap smear. Before you rejoice, ladies, it is every bit as unpleasant and for the very same reasons. It’s just more accurate.
Anyway, the physicians had arrived in town and were attending the ball, and Nikos had to do his duty as their host, so he sat with them most of the time.
Now I promised to tell you my favorite part of the evening. It was watching the elder Spyros dance. That old man danced with all his heart, all his native dances. He often led the circle, and often elaborated upon the basic steps. As I watched him, I thought of my dad, and wondered how long before Spyros will be in the same condition, unable to remember the steps. So it was especially joyous to watch him so hugely enjoying himself now. It’s not that life is about enjoying ourselves but still, what my heart whispered to him was, dance, dance and sing and pray (and fast – ouch!) and live fully in every way now, while you can. Carpe diem!