Wednesday, April 30, 2008

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This is a slightly larger than life-sized picture of a second infant mouse I took in today, lying in my hand. No name yet. We can't even be sure of the sex yet. I say it's a girl; Chris thinks it may be a boy.

"That thing up there is just the umbilical stump," I said, peering at it under 10x magnification.

"I was looking more at what might be the swelling down below where testicles might some day be," said Chris.

Nope.

Well, we shall see, perhaps. If it lives.

So far, it's doing very well, but will need very labor-intensive care for two or three days, as in feeding every hour and a half round the clock, except that at night, I will stretch it to 2.5 hours. It's warmed, hydrated, feisty, and drinks very well from the teensiest little rubber hose you ever saw, about the thickness of a broomstraw, three or four drops per meal. Then, if you tickle its bottom with the corner of a tissue, it demonstrates that all its plumbing (girl plumbing!) is in good working order.

Is a baby mouse worth all this effort? Don't know. God knows. What I know is, I'm keen for the challenge of keeping it alive if humanly possible! (Many animals that find their way into rehab come to us because, unbeknownst to us at the time, their mothers have rejected them. Mother animals somehow just know when a baby isn't viable, and do not waste their precious resources - time, milk, and effort - on it.)

For more photos of some of our recent intake babies, check out the ARK website.

Must run. Have to set up a nebulizer so this baby won't dry up from its box being set atop a heating pad.

P.S.) Demetrios ended up having to buy a new car today. Well, new to us. It's a 2005 Impala with 56,000 miles on it. Very comfy, drives well, and we got it an excellent price from a Greek friend who owns the dealership.

UPDATE: Nope, mousie didn't make it. Probably a good thing, as I really don't know how I could have spared the sleep...


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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Update, or "Today was A Bit Better."

1.) My cold seems noticeably less severe today.

2.) The rain stopped at last.

3.) After only two more visits to the store, all the curtain rods are installed. In theory, we only have to go back to the store ONCE more, because they didn't have enough curtain rings in stock when Demetrios went before.

4.) The problem with Demetrios' car has been diagnosed, after it refused to start at all and was towed to the dealer this afternoon. Needs a new fuel pump. Parts and labor, over $1,200.00. It can probably be repaired by tomorrow afternoon, in time for Demetrios to drive it to his medical conference, which begins Thursday in Washington, D.C.

5.) Today was release day for the Squirrels, Mozart and Beethoven. They both hung around their cage for an hour or so after I opened the door. Then Mozart departed. Beethoven is spending the night back in the cage, with the door re-closed for his protection. Tomorrow morning I'll open it again. If Beethoven leaves tomorrow, I'll be down to 4 Gray Squirrels (weaned), 2 Raccoons, and 1 Mouse.

5.) Both Raccoons have learned how to suck out of a baby bottle (the kind human babies use.) They let you know when they are hungry by screaming loudly. They want feeding about every 5 hours.

6.) Tiki the Mouse, now confirmed as female, crawls eagerly onto my warmed finger when I put it near her, having already learned it means feeding. She gobbles down her formula from a bunny nipple, long and very thin. She also lets you know when she is full, by turning her head away. Or you could look at her belly and see how much milk is in it, since her skin is so thin and her belly doesn't yet have its fur. She wants feeding about every 2.5 hours. Round the clock. (Too bad for her; she goes longer at night, because I feed her at midnight, 3:30 a.m., and 7 a.m. only. I'm sorry, but there are priorities in life, and getting up twice in the night for a mouse isn't one of them.)

Here's a photo of somebody else's baby mouse. It looks just like Tiki, but Tiki is only 1/2 to 3/4 that size, eyes still closed, and looks to be in much better shape, all sleek and smooth. Whereas the baby mouse in the photo is squinting, in reality, the eyes are round and somewhat bulging, when open. (My digital camera is in Greece!!)

7.) The work on our new sunroom is all but finished, now that the curtain rods are up. All that needs doing now is painting trim and cleaning up the new tile floor. I will miss Charles and Tracey, the man-and-wife team doing the work. She is an exotic, dark beauty with a kind, sweet disposition. He looks very, very much like Paul Newman. They are honest, straightforward, responsible, hard-working, and they never charge enough. We always end up paying them more than they charged because we feel bad otherwise.

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Skunk Kitties

So I promised I'd tell you about the three skunk kittens I brought home 4 years ago. Debbie had passed them on to me, and I named them Winken, Blinken, and Nod. Winken was mostly white, with black trim. Blinken was mostly black, with white trim. Nod was a normal looking skunk, black with white stripes. They were about the size of eight-week-old kittens, but fluffier, and adorable. I set them up on our screened back porch.

They didn't know me and were afraid of me, which is never an auspicious thing when you have to put their bowl of formula in their cage three times a day. I tried to slip it in while they were sleeping, and that sometimes worked. But many times they would stand up and growl at me. Then they'd begin stamping their feet, tails raised.

Now a skunk will give you fair warning, but if you fail to heed it when it raises its tail and stamps its feet, the next thing is, it will whirl around and zap you.

Demetrios, observing their fear, complained. "I do not think you have taken my feelings properly into account," he said on the fourth day.

"Tell me your feelings, my Sweet," replied I.

"Whether or not you care about the good opinions of our neighbors, I do. If these skunks should spray, we are going to be persona non grata around here. This thought distresses me all the more on account of what excellent neighbors we are blessed to have. It's just not worth taking the risk."

I thought for a moment, a very brief moment, and said, "You are absolutely right. I have indeed been thoughtless and even though I feel very confident that I know what I'm doing, it still isn't worth the risk."

So I called up Debbie, who said sure, she'd gladly take them back. Demetrios left for work and I packed up Winken, Blinken, and Nod into a cat carrier, snatching each one while it slept, and being very careful to keep its tail tucked down between its hind legs, which is what you must always do when handling skunks. (Just so you know.)

Success!

I put the cat carrier on a tea table and turned around to get something else I needed to take with us.

The skunks, all excited to be in a new container, stood up, all three of them, pressing their paws against one side of the cat carrier, which promptly tipped over and fell to the floor. Panicked, three skunklets let go their stink bombs.

Fortunately, most of the spray was contained within the cat carrier. Fortunately, baby skunks have smaller scent sacs than their parents, and fortunately, the stink is not as strong as an adult skunk's. All those fortunate factors put together did not seem to help very much!

I threw away the cat carrier and the soaked baby blankets therein, wrapping everythig first in multiple layers of plastic bags. I bathed the kits (carefully! tails down!) and transferred them to another carrier and took them to Debbie. It took me the whole rest of the day to get the odor out of my porch and house. It took about a dozen times of spraying the whole house with odor killer, of which I had to buy two cans.

Fortunately, only one neighbor noticed anything, Frances, and she said it was only for a short while and it wasn't very strong from where she was. "I wasn't sure, but I told Dickie one of Anastasia's skunks must've sprayed," she said.

I haven't done any skunks since. You can't keep 'em outdoors because some passing cat or dog will provoke them to spray. You can't keep 'em indoors because they're so stinky even when they haven't sprayed. You need an outbuilding or screened porch and five or ten acres surrounding your house for your neighbors' sakes.

Winken and Blinken and Nod, I'm glad to report, were successfully raised on Debbie's 5 acres, and were released when grown.


This means, "Go away! NOW!"


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Another Mystery Animal


Susan had a good day yesterday when she picked up this creature from the vet. Nobody there knew what it was. Do you?

No, it isn't a squirrel, although it resembles one.

At first, Susan thought it was an otter, but you'll notice, as she soon did, the feet aren't webbed.

We wondered for a while if it were a muskrat, but look at that tail.

Finally, with the aid of the white chin, we realized...


...that it is...


Well, I'll give you a hint:


... one is worthless,


................two could be rather valuable,


........................and several breeding pairs could have you living high.

It's a mink!

Susan is thrilled.

She'll be a little less so when that baby is a bit older and develops its characteristic odor. You see, it's a member of the Mustelid family, which includes martins, weasels, ferrets, and, of course, skunks.

Oh, well. It's still worth being thrilled over!

Tomorrow I'll tell you about the three skunk kittens I had three or four years ago.

Right now, bed, because Tiki the mouse is going to want a feeding around 3 a.m.

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Monday, April 28, 2008

A Very Bad Day

At the risk of sounding like Eeyore, don't bother wishing me a happy birthday, because it is too late; it has already been a Very Bad Day.

It actually started Saturday, when I awoke feeling so miserable, and continued Saturday night when Demetrios had to go back to the store for the second or third time, trying to get the new curtain rods and brackets and sheers just right. (You wouldn't think that would be so incredibly complicated, but yes, I know from experience, it can be!)

It was pouring rain. And he, of course, is still walking with a cane, one of those canes with a tripod at the bottom of it. So of course that's when his car conked out. He couldn't do a thing except sit there in traffic. Twenty minutes later two very nice young men put the temporary tire on for him. (No, he doesn't know how.)

Today the man who was to put up the curtain rods pointed out the problems with what Demetrios had bought. Back to the store yet again, except this time, what he needed wasn't in stock at the nearby store, so he went to South Park Mall, half an hour away. In the pouring rain, again. He was gone more than two hours, because it's all very complicated.

The results were mixed. On the one hand, I didn't get to visit Chris for the afternoon, as I had planned, because Demetrios had the only driveable car. The curtain rod situation is still not sorted out, either. But on the other hand, Demetrios did get out of that mall before the tornado struck it! It's the very same spot in the very same mall another tornado hit some, what 10 or 15 years ago? Just about the time my niece, Tisho was passing by. (Tisho, can you remember when that was?)

Meanwhile Chris called me to say could I pick up a baby raccoon that had been left in a dog crate by its rescuer in a neighborhood very near mine. So I took Demetrios' car, which I wasn't supposed to drive, and drove it and found the raccoon. He was stone cold, but alive, in a dog crate with no door to protect this poor baby from any passing cat or dog. Eyes still closed.

Demetrios returned from the mall, and we decided that while the raccoon was warming up on the heating pad (You can't feed an animal until it's warm.) was a good time to take his car to Pep Boys to have a new tire put on.

On the way there, his car conked out. Fortunately, I was right behind him in my car. I nudged up to his rear fender, very gently I thought, and pushed him the rest of the way to Pep Boys, about half a mile. Now my front licence tag looks like I have been in a wreck. It will need hammering out.

Home again to receive another call from Chris, who said, "The vet called me up because someone had brought him a tiny, furry thing and nobody knew what it was. So I've gone out there to get it and it's just a ____ mouse! Eyes still closed, not yet fully furred."

"Aww..."

"So I knew you like mice..."

"They're Demetrios' favorite creature."

"Well, I have it for you, and it sucks, I mean really sucks!"

"How wonderful! I never heard of a mouse doing that. I usually have to dribble the formula onto their tongues."

"Most of 'em won't, but this one just latches right on to that nipple and goes for it!"

"I'm coming right over!"

"Oh, and would you call this number and arrange to pick up the 3-week-old squirrel this lady has and bring it to me?"

So I gathered up my new 'coon, to show her, and Lucky, the flying squirrel, because Kim is going to pick it up from her, and off I went.

Well, it took me a long time to find the lady with the squirrel, far out of my way, and I got lost. But eventually I got it, apologizing profusely to the lady, who had been waiting a long time for me, in her car, in the rain. I was near tears.

I arrived at Chris' house around 6:00. We weighed her four raccoons and put the smallest of them, a girl, in with mine. She weighs 340 grams; he weighs 288. No matter; they seem to have accepted each other very well as foster litter mates. I've named them Rebel and Reba, just because the names seemed appropriate for Southern raccoons.

The mouse's name is Tiki, short for Pontiki, which is modern Greek for "mouse". Her length, not counting the tail, is comparable to the diameter of a penny. Her tail is narrower than kite string. I am not yet even sure if she's really a girl. I think she is, but next time I feed her I shall have to get out a magnifying glass to be sure.

The curtain rod situation is such as requires yet another trip to the store, hopefully the last one. But we ran out of time tonight, as I didn't return from Chris' house until 7:00. So that remains for tommorrow.

So we just went out to dinner, and that was the best part of the day. Demetrios had steak and I had prime rib. Not that I could taste anything. I brought half my meal home in a box.

On the way home, his car, which by then we had picked up from Pep Boys, conked out again, a hundred yards from home. Luckily, though, this time it restarted after several tries.

We heard on the news that another tornado has hit Suffolk, killing at least one, injuring more than 200, and making many, many people homeless.

See? That's a very bad day, not so much for me as for all those folks!

And for me, this is by no means the worst birthday I've ever had, either. Four years ago, it was worse, when I woke up to an empty house, and only an hour later found Demetrios' note saying he had driven himself to the emergency room. He couldn't stop coughing, so he pulled out his stethoscope and listened to his own heart, and the way it sounded is what made him decide he needed help right away. (And sure enough, it would turn out he needed a quadruple arterial bypass.)

The rest of his note scared me to death. It was one of those Always Remember I Love You With All My Heart notes.

So for me, from my own, selfish, individual point of view, this was a MUCH better birthday than that!

Just not for the people in Suffolk...

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A Cathechumen's First Expeience of the Anastasis

I always love hearing the impressions and experiences of someone who goes to the Anastasis for the first time. Check out the Anonymous Blogger's here.

Leave this catechumen some helpful comments if you feel led to do it.

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Disappointment

Scratchy throat, stuffy sinuses, streaming nose, laryngitis, sneezing, aching. That's what I woke up to Saturday morning, and I've been in bed most of the time since. I missed the Anastasis. I'd had it in my head that it would be very healing for me, after the recent loss of my sister. Not that I know how or what, but so I supposed...

This afternoon I did haul myself out for three hours to attend a big feast to which we had been invited. Mostly because I knew Demetrios would be disappointed if I didn't. We tanked up on lamb roasted whole on the spit, plus Cypriot sausages, homemade, plus a dozen other Greek delicacies, not counting desserts. We met some very nice friends and relatives of our host and hostess I would otherwise have enjoyed a lot more than I was able to today.

Then, home again for a hot soak in the tub and crawling back into bed, feeling weak all over.

My soul rejoices in God my Savior, but you'd never know it. Neither would my body.

And there's no way I could write you anything interesting, much less theological, about Pascha. So all I can say is, have a blessed Bright Week and paschal season.

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Friday, April 25, 2008

Why People Need a Pope or a Paper Pope

In the late Middle Ages, we are told, Western man began seeing himself as an individual; that is, as a separate entity from God, from nature, from society, and from family. This phenomenon, historians say, was accentuated by the Reformation and has become sharper still until and into our own day. (1)

Eric Fromm, whose book I am reading (2), observes that individuation is a double-edged sword. Its positive side is that it gives us freedom we didn’t have when we still thought of ourselves as all one with God, nature, and each other. Now that I understand myself as my own, separate person, I can do whatever I wish, go wherever I wish, undertake any way to earn my livelihood, be whoever I can be and wish to be. The negative side of “realizing” ourselves as separate individuals is that it makes us lonely, insecure, and doubtful. It tends to make us hostile, as well. Now that I know myself as an individual, it’s me against the world, and the world is a lot bigger and more powerful than I am, hence, intimidating. Other people, instead of being part of me, are also individuals, looking out for their own well-being first, and possibly at my expense. Moreover, the well-defined place each person used to have in the world is gone; and with it vanishes not only my security, but my meaning. If it is up to me to find my own place and my own meaning, then who am I? What is my meaning, my purpose in life? When meaning disappears, doubt fills the vacuum.

There is only one workable, successful way to make the loneliness, the fear, and hostility, and the doubt of individualism disappear, says Fromm, and that is to re-integrate successfully and meaningfully with the rest of the world. (Ah, but how?)

Otherwise the loneliness, fear and insecurity, hostility, and doubt will never go away. A person will always feel isolated, because of course, he indeed is. He will always feel fearful, because we are each so small and weak compared with the whole world. He will always feel hostile, because of perceiving others as rivals and potential threats: you are the person who is taking the seat I wanted; who is blocking my way, whose job I want, who is making demands of me, who is delaying me, who is dating the person I love. A separate individual, whose place in society is not dictated to him, will always doubt what his place is, what his meaning is, and by extension, what anything means. He will always crave certainty. These cravings, which will plague a person all his life, can only be pushed out of sight for a while to relieve his suffering. In other words, we can quench our consciousness of the loneliness, insecurity, hostility and doubt resulting from our being separate individuals. Unconsciously, though, all these will still be there. In fact, our attempts to squelch them will backfire. As Fromm puts it (and this needs to be read rather slowly):

Just as a child can never return to the mother’s womb physically, so it can never reverse, psychically, the process of individuation. Attempts to do so [if one has not successfully and meaningfully re-integrated with the larger world] necessarily assume the character of submission, in which the basic contradiction between the authority and the child who submits to it is never eliminated. Consciously the child may feel secure and satisfied, but unconsciously it realizes that the price it pays is giving up strength and integrity of its self. Thus the result of submission is the very opposite of what it was to be: submission increases the child’s insecurity and at the same time creates hostility and rebelliousness, which is the more frightening since it is directed against the very persons on whom the child has remained – or become – dependent.

So, then, one (misguided) solution to the problems raised by rampant individualism, or even just by being a separate individual, is to submit to a strong, clear, specific, necessarily external authority. The degree to which one submits to this authority is the degree to which one will feel united with it or him or Him, making the loneliness seem go away – at least at the conscious level, and for a while. This authority, too, will tell you what your meaning is, where your place in life is, giving you a sense of security and certainty, again only at the conscious level, and only temporarily. After a while, you will find you need to renew your attempts toward submission, and then again, and yet again, trying each time to do it more thoroughly, to stave off these doubts, these fears, this loneliness. Meanwhile the unconscious hostility toward the authority mounts. In a religious context, this hostility usually takes the form of righteous indignation.

You also rely upon that external authority to make the doubt go away by providing absolute certainty. The problem is, the doubt will not go away, because this doubt is not the kind

which is rooted in the freedom of thinking and which dares to question established views. It [is]… doubt which springs from the isolation and powerlessness of an individual whose attitude toward the world is one of anxiety… This irrational doubt can never be cured by rational answers; it can only disappear if the individual becomes an integral part of a meaningful world. If this does not happen…the doubt can only be silenced, driven underground, so to speak, and this can be done by some formula which promises absolute certainty.

What strikes me when I read this is how sad all this is, and how very different from the world of Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy does precisely what Fromm prescribes to deal with these problems, but in ways beyond what he could ever have dreamed. This is because Orthodox Christianity, while affirming both the one and the many, unity and multiplicity, transcends them both.

Immediately before His passion and death, Jesus prayed:

I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one... (John 17:20-13)

Christ incorporates us into Himself. Using marriage as an analogy, St. Paul writes:

Husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:28-32)

Because Christ invisibly but truly incorporates us into Himself, “we, [being] many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. (Romans 12:5; see also Ephesians 4:25)

This means we do not each lead his own, separate life. Instead, we all live one and the same Life, namely, Christ’s, which He shares with us. “My” life is being lived in your skin, and “your” life is being lived in my skin, for we are both living one and the same divine Life. “I live, yet no longer I, but Christ lives in me…”

Now you are no longer a potential rival or threat, but a beloved part of myself, as I am a beloved part of yourself. Now you are not the person I shove past to get out of the burning building; you are the one with whom I stand side by side to help others get out. Now you are not the one whose job I want; you are a cherished part of myself, for whom I am content to work until you shall move on, and then we shall see whether God thinks it good for me to succeed to your former position. Now you and I are closer to one another than to our own families in the flesh (unless they are also living this Life). That is why, when Jesus’ family came looking for Him, He said, "Who is My mother, or My brothers?" And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, "Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother." (Mark 3:33-35, Matthew 12:46-50, Luke 8:19-21)

Orthodox Christianity recognizes each person as unique and unrepeatable. Our unity does not swallow us up into an undifferentiated mass. But the Christian faith does not recognize any separateness between us. We are not separate beings, not individuals in that sense. Instead, we are persons, and a person is defined, or rather, characterized, in relationship to other persons. Made in the Image of God, every one of us shares in a single, common being, just as the Three Persons of the Christian God share one, single Being, and thus are One God. (Okay, that needs some technical nuancing, which, if it interests you, is in this footnote. 3)

While an individual is defined by his boundaries, by where he stops and starts, by his separateness from other individuals, the undefinable person is established by his connections with others. A human person is one who gives himself to (loves) others, and who in turn is loved by others. This same love both unites us with the others and, at the very same time, distinguishes us from them, by making us each distinct centers of love. (It's a little like being an airline hub: the more flights come in and out of you, the more of a hub you are.) The more you love and are loved, the more established you are as a unique human person – and, simultaneously, the more you are one with all others, in the bond of love.

And for us, this is no mere doctrine, but a way of life. St. Paul gives an example showing how unity and multiplicity are each preserved yet transcended in the Christian lifestyle: “And if one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and each particular parts [of it].” (I Corinthians 12:26-27) This is the way we learn to live as Orthodox Christians. (For those of us coming from a Western, individualistic culture, it takes a while!)

Living this Life in the Church (and I'm sorry, but in its fullness, this Life is only to be found in the Orthodox Church) is the cure for the individualism that makes us so lonely, that pits us against the world and against each other. This is the remedy for the individualism that plants doubt in us and makes us crave absolute certainty and renders us unable to trust the true, inner Authority, the Holy Spirit who lives in the Church and leads her not only through means but also directly, in Person, through each of our hearts and through our collective heart. This is, in ways beyond what Erich Fromm could ever have imagined, the re-integration of the individual into a meaningful world that heals the human psyche.


_______________________

(1) Obviously, individuation began with Adam, the moment he rebelled against God and then blamed Eve. But we are speaking of it as a psycho-sociological, cultural phenomenon.

(2) Erich Fromm, Fear of Freedom (Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1960). Erich Fromm was an Orthodox Jew who in his later years rejected Judaism in favor of secular humanism. He also writes from a Western perspective. These are good reasons for an Orthodox Christian reader to take him with several grains of salt. Nevertheless, as a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst with a background in philosophy and sociology, he is a commentator with a good deal of expertise. The book’s alternate title is Escape from Freedom.

(3) The common Being, or Essence, in God, is held in toto by all Three Divine Persons. That’s another way of saying each of the Three is fully God in His own right. The analogous thing cannot be said of human beings, however. It takes all of us to constitute humanity. Our common being is, as it were, parceled out among us. While each of the Divine Persons possesses the fullness of Divinity, each of us humans has only a share in humanity.

Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?

Yes.

Yes, we were. Spiritually, which means really, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we were there.

And those who stood at the historical event 2,000 years ago have no advantage over us, for we, too, have been made eyewitnesses and participants of that terrible scene, of that awesome passion.

We were there.

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Peaceable Kingdom?

My internet friend George sent me these, with this note: "Stuart Brown describes Norbert Rosing's striking images of a wild polar bear coming upon tethered sled dogs in the wilds of Canada's Hudson Bay."


The photographer thought he was going to see the end of these dogs, but...














The polar bear came back every day for a week to play with his new friends.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Get thee to the Church!

Here's an open invitation to all non-Orthodox readers and friends. If what you like is "Christ-centered, Cross-focused" stuff, tonight is your big chance to get that as you never have before, any time, anywhere. Tonight, in Orthodox churches, every passage from every Gospel is read that deals with Christ's passion and death. These readings are interspersed with prayers and hymns. In other words, it's a bit like an Anglican service of "Lessons and Carols," except concerning the end instead of the beginning of His earthly life. And we aren't going to be immersing ourselves in Scripture just for one measley hour, either.

Wear sturdy shoes. We respectuflly stand during the reading of the Gospel, and tonight, there are going to be twelve such readings. They are arranged (far as I can tell) from longest to shortest.

Then tomorrow night comes my favorite service of the year. Sorry, that probably makes me a heretic. I do recognize that the Pascha service, the Anastasis, is the most important, but I love the Friday night service the very best of them all. If you want a Holy and Great Friday service that uplifts instead of depressing you, that is centered around the theme of Christ's "harrowing of Hades," come participate in the awesome readings and hymns and prayers. Come join us as we offer God the Encomia (wrongly translated, "Lamentations"). It's unlike anything else in this world.

Be sure to pick up a candle in the narthex before going into the sanctuary.

Then come by 11:30 (latest) Saturday night for what Westerners would call the Easter Vigil, and we call the Anastasis, the Resurrection services, overflowing with light and joy, and again, unlike anything else. Not to be missed. If you can't come to any other service, try to get to this one!

Don't plan on getting home any time soon after any of these, especially the Anastasis. In fact, if you're over about 40, try to get a nap Saturday afternoon! Church won't end much before 2 a.m., probably later. If the parish you attend has a communal feast afterwards in the parish hall, YES, you are most definitely invited! You'll have such a wonderful time that you will finally crawl into bed just about the time the sun is thinking about getting up.

Okay, if you can't do that, because it would mean missing your own church later that morning, then at least come for the first hour; that is, from about 11:30 until about 12:30. It will be well worth being somewhat tired afterward!

P.S.) On Saturday night, you can greet people by saying, "Christ is risen!" They will reply, "He is risen indeed!" If you go to a Greek church, say "Christos anesti!" (Krree-STOS ah-NES-ti). If you go to a church where the services are in Old Slavonic, it's "Christos voskryesi!" (Kree-STOS vohs-krree-YES-ee). Or if someone says any of these to you, just reply, in English, "He is risen indeed!"

Tonight and tomorrow night, an appropriate greeting in Greek is, "Kalo Pascha!" (Kah-LOW PAS-cha!), meaning "Good Easter [to you]!"

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Shh!





Do you know what these are?

Not Red Fox. Those have white tips on their tails.

Not Gray Fox. Red Fox kits are very gray.

Not foxes at all; foxes have sharper noses.

Here's a hint. We aren't supposed to be rehabbing them. Every county in the Commonwealth of Virginia has a bounty on 'em.

Scroll down...


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I can't tell you which of us has these, either...


...


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COYOTES!

Awww… They’re probably going to the Wildlife Center of Virginia, eventually. That’s because once they get bigger, it will be impossible for us to catch them for purposes of releasing them.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The "Hymn of Cassiani"

The highlight of tonight's Bridegroom Matins will be this hymn, written by a prolific Byzantine hymnographer, the nun Cassiani. The speaker is the sinful woman who comes to Jesus and weeps all over His feet and wipes them dry with her hair and anoints them with spikenard.

The melody the Greeks use is extremely beautiful. Well, one near and dear person tells me it isn't; it's very worldly. But to this convert, who doesn't know anything anyway, it's as lovely, and as heart-wrenching, as the words:

Sensing your divinity Lord,
a woman of many sins,
takes it upon herself
to become a myrrh bearer
and in deep mourning
brings before you fragrant oil
in anticipation of your burial; crying:
"Woe to me! What night falls on me,
what dark and moonless madness
of wild desire, this lust for sin.
Take my spring of tears
You who gathers the waters of the oceans into clouds
bend to me, to the sighing of my heart,
You who bend the heavens
in your ineffable self-emptying.
I will wash your immaculate feet with kisses
and wipe them dry with the locks of my hair;
those very feet whose sound Eve heard
at the dusk in Paradise and hid herself in terror.
Who shall count the multitude of my sins
or the depth of your judgment,
Saviour of my soul?
Do not ignore your handmaiden,
You whose mercy is endless."

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Authority: a Stray Thought

There are some people who at gut level just cannot accept the kind of inward authority the Orthodox Church experiences. I don't know if it's some sort of insecurity or what. They perceive it as subjective or vague and they can't handle that, and perhaps they can't handle the freedom involved, either; I'm not sure. They have this anxious need to be able to point to a flesh-and-blood person and say, "Tell me what to believe! Tell me what to do!" or to point to written words and say, "See? It's right here!" It's nailed down, cut and dried, tangible. Some people need that. Or think they do. They seem unable to trust the Holy Spirit unless He is working in external ways.

Keep them in your prayers, and while we're at it, let us pray for ourselves: "Lord, I believe; help Thou my unbelief!"

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Authority: Addendum

The voice of the people, the wrath of God.

That is a Greek proverb. (The verb "is" is understood: The voice of the people is the wrath of God). The Orthodox people know how to get rid of an unacceptable priest, bishop, or patriarch. There is no set method, as this is not a normal or usual occurrence. There is no protocol for it, but we find ways.

Fifteen or twenty years or so ago, in Athens, there was a bishop rumored to be a homosexual. Crowds gathered in front of his episcopal residence and simply chanted, "Unworthy, unworthy!" day and night until he departed. In 1996, a new Greek archbishop was enthroned in North America who was unable to command the following of the people. My own impression was that he was a good bishop; but rightly or wrongly, he was pushed out and replaced by the current Greek Archbishop, Demetrios, who is most likely a saint.

There are many ways to exert pressure. We use them only in extreme cases. We tolerate much.

One thing we do not tolerate in our clergy at all, however, is causing scandal among the faithful. If a priest or hierarch does this (for example, by preaching heresy or by sexual misconduct), he's out of office almost as fast as you can blink. The mere fact of his causing scandal, regardless of his actual deeds, is enough to make him unsuitable. We do not judge his heart; we continue to love and forgive him; but that does not mean allowing him to continue in office. There are very high standards for Christ's priesthood and it is not for us to dilute them. It is not as though anybody had a right to be a priest. Christ, through His Church, calls whom He pleases.

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Christ the Bridegroom

This evening was the first of the three Bridegroom Services that will be held this week, the remaining two being Monday and Tuesday nights. The icon of Christ the Bridegroom is brought out on this night, to remain in the front of the chancel for several days, for the faithful to venerate. It looks like this.



Or, like this.



A propos of previous posts about "bridal mysticism", especially this one, here is an icon bearing the same title by a Catholic monk.



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A Blog Worth Reading Regularly

Check out Michelle Melania and her blog, Akathistos. She has some Orthodox treasures, including simple yet profound advice from holy people, beautiful prayers, tips, and assorted other little gems for helping us further our living of the Christian life.

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Squirrel Update

For anyone who may have been following the progress of these orphans in rehab...


Archie, the oldest of my 8 squirrels, is quite grown up now and ready for release. I moved her cage outdoors about 10 days ago. She has a “nest” hanging from the roof of her cage, consisting of two flannel pillowcases, one inside the other, with flannel baby blankets in between. So she stayed nice and warm even when the night temperatures dipped last week into the mid-thirties. There is a plastic sheet draped over the cage, hanging three-quarters of the way down, so she is also protected from the rain.

Friday, I opened the door to the cage and left it open. Archie immediately ventured out, sniffed around a few minutes, then decided the cage was the most comfortable place to be. Later in the day, she made three more forays into the Big World and one attempt to climb my leg (ouch!), but by nightfall she was snuggled back in her nest, so I closed the door for the night.

Yesterday, Saturday, she explored the neighbor’s yard, walked along the top of a fence, and attempted to climb her first tree. She got about 12 feet up before deciding that was a bit scary, and she came back down. She took her after-lunch nap back in her cage, then went out some more in the afternoon, before returning again in the evening. Again I closed the door (to protect her from cats, dogs, raccoons, etc.) and she spent the night there.

Good thing she’s back, too, because today is solid rain, and in her cage, she is warm and dry and snug.

I have a policy against releasing animals in my own yard, but am making the exception because that’s virtually where Archie came from in the first place (well, a tree six houses down is where she was born).

Mozart and Beethoven have also been outside about 10 days, mostly just to get accustomed to being there, and to make space in my rehab room for the other occupants. And to reduce the squirrel odor in that room! They are taking formula twice a day from bowls and are otherwise weaned. They are eating every kind of solid and will be ready for release in another couple of weeks, as soon as they are able to crack open a walnut by themselves. (That’s the final release criterion.)

Puer and Puella, together with their foster sisters, Isadore and Isabel, have been transferred from the cat carrier where they lived before their eyes opened to a wire cage. Yesterday, they, too, began taking their formula from bowls. It’s comical, and very messy, the first few times they try this, as they run through the bowls and get the milky stuff all over themselves. They require baths afterwards. I just hold them under the faucet, the water being lukewarm, and then towel them off with a receiving blanket, then put them back in their nest to snuggle together and dry off and keep warm. As of this morning, they no longer needed a bath after mealtime.

Hooray! It means I no longer have any babies that need hand-feeding! (That’ll have to be rectified soon!) Maybe the scratches on the backs of my hands will get a chance to heal. They don’t scratch on purpose, but their claws are very sharp.

Lucky, the Flying Squirrel, is ready to go. The trouble is, neither of us is in any rush! He’s in a cage I now realize he could have gotten out of any time he wanted to. But what for? He has a warm hanging nest, plenty of food and water, privacy (for I keep a baby blanket draped over his cage) and a safe feeling. He obviously sees no point (so far!) in escaping.

I’ve stopped handling him, so he should get over his tameness very soon.

Flying squirrels need to be released where other flying squirrels live, since they all nest together in the winter. Linda has a colony on her property (several acres) so next time I’m out her way (no hurry!) I’ll have to take him and let her do the release. That’ll be by next week. I should probably put him on a reducing diet between now and then... or he may be too chubby to glide among the trees. (I plead guilty to spoiling him!)

Amber, when she was interviewed by the television and newspaper reporters, kept getting questions about how she felt releasing all those cedar waxwings. They were trying to get her to say it was so difficult, it broke her heart, but for the good of the birds, etc., etc. They didn’t understand! When release day comes, a rehabber is anything but broken-hearted. As Amber told them, “For a rehabber, there’s nothing better than this. It’s what I’m here for.” She was being gentle with them, not wishing to disillusion them. She meant, “If you only know how much work this has been, day and night, and how much expense, you would know how relieved and grateful I am they’re gone!” That’s how it is. One doesn’t regret it. One goes on to the next injured or orphaned creature(s).

I need to wait until after Bright Week to do that, so I can go visit my children and grandchildren in North Carolina then. What with Barbara's illness and Demetrios having been in a cast, I haven't been able to do that since we got back from Greece in December.

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Authority, Part III

As we have seen, authority in the Orthodox Church is (1) internal rather than external and (2) not imposed upon us. It is internal because it comes from the Holy Spirit who makes His home in the Church and deep within each Christian. It is not imposed because it wells up from inside us, where the Holy Spirit lives. Therefore, although the Holy Spirit is the Authority, not ourselves, nevertheless, it feels to us as if it came from ourselves, from our own hearts, as indeed, in a sense, it does, given that our hearts are no longer separate from Christ’s.

It is precisely because this Authority is not imposed upon us from without that it is the strongest and surest authority there could possibly be. Because it appears to us as the conviction of our own heart (and is), we do not question it, much less debate it, the way people debate an external authority such as the Bible or the pope. Because it springs up from the depths of our being where the Holy Spirit is, we cannot rebel against it without rebelling against our own selves. (That doesn’t stop us from trying, but at least we do recognize that when we sin, we are tearing our very selves apart!) And because this authority is not imposed upon us, we have it in total freedom.

External authorities, if you will pardon the tautology, cannot rule this way, from the inside of our own hearts. Therefore, those who promote such authorities as the pope or the Bible or any other external thing, rely upon fear and guilt to enforce their authority. Hence, they develop systems of rules and threats, of edicts and "church courts", in short, juridical systems. (That is where the juridical distortions all come from, at root.)

But the Holy Spirit in the Church, ruling sweetly and directly and from within, is the perfection of Authority. He is Authority as it should be, and in truth is.

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Authority, Part II

Of popes, patriarchs, pastors and priests

In Part I, I discussed how, for the Orthodox, the ultimate Authority is the Holy Spirit in the Life of the Church. Before we go further, it will be well to mention a few things that are and are not meant by the Orthodox when we speak of our Life in Christ. Here is an excerpt from a larger essay I once wrote on the subject.

This new and immortal Life in Christ is not merely a definition about which we read in Scripture and then feel happy to apply to ourselves. It isn’t that we come across verses of Scripture that tell us we are a new creation [II Cor. 5:17], having been passed from death into life [I John 3:14], and then say to ourselves, Oh, isn’t that great! I’m a new creation; I must be, because the Bible says so. Far more than an abstract doctrine, it is concrete experience at the core of our being, which the Bible here articulates, confirms, and illumines for us. For me to live is Christ and to die is gain. [Philippians 1:21]

Nor is the new creation, our Life in Christ, a forensic theory … whose purpose is to get us off the hook with respect to sin. It is not as though God were saying, “Now, since you have repented and called upon Me, I am willing to consider you and your sins dead. From now on, lets say you are living a new life.” Instead, with wonder and awe, with tears and trembling, we actually know ourselves as truly "His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus”. [Eph. 2:10] The new life in Christ is a reality quite perceptible to faith. When we read in Ezekiel, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you. I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” [Ez. 36:26], we recognize a description of what Christ is doing in us day by day. The New Life is not de jure, but de facto.

By new life or transformation in Christ, we do not refer merely to a change of lifestyle, the taking on of new attitudes, or the embracing of a new belief system. It includes all that, yet the new life is not simply an overhaul of the old. It exists and is lived upon an altogether different plane. It is not life such as any son of Adam might lead, except transformed by means of having acquired a Christian slant. That is still the life born of flesh. Instead, Life in Christ is an entirely new creation, born of spirit. [John 3:3] Hence, the Apostle Paul can say, ”I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” [Gal. 2:20]

It is a supernatural life, for nature is not capable of producing it.


That life, then, is the matrix of doctrine, the way an oyster is the matrix of a pearl. Doctrine is a description of lived Truth. (“I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.” John 14:6) Christ is the Truth, and the Church is His Body, in which His Life, His Holy Spirit, continues to this day.

Somewhere recently (if it was in your blog, please tell me and accept my apologies for my forgetfulness) I read a wonderful line to the effect that the Church is not an authority; she is simply Truth.

The Church has no means, method, structure, or desire to “bind people’s conscience” to anything, to dictate doctrine. She does have, or at least has had, Ecumenical Councils, to mark out the boundaries of the Christian faith as over against various heresies that have challenged those. These councils dealt with the theology of Christ, of the Holy Spirit, and of the Holy Trinity. Their decrees are at least nominally accepted (if not much studied or understood) by most serious denominations. We Orthodox regard these conciliar decrees as true, period.

A major function of a bishop is to teach these truths. But the Orthodox do not understand the teaching office of a bishop (or even a Council) the same way Roman Catholics do. For us, it is not that God reveals truth more or less exclusively to these men, and the rest of us only receive it through them. Instead, our bishops are teaching us (often in more detail) the same Truth (Christ) which already enlightens Christian hearts because of the same Holy Spirit dwelling there. And the same Truth, we should add, to which the Holy Scriptures also bear witness. It is not the job of an Orthodox bishop to dictate to anybody what he must believe. Rather, he articulates, for us and for the whole world, the faith already in our hearts. He explains it, defends, nourishes, and promotes it. He is never its source, never its arbiter, never “the one” in whom Truth mostly resides. A bishop is supposed to be a living icon of Christ, but never His “Vicar” or viceroy or regent.

A bishop, as under shepherd in the service of the Shepherd, also has spiritual oversight of his diocese, just as a priest has spiritual oversight of his parish. Spiritual oversight means, it is his charge to promote and maintain the spiritual life (life in the Holy Spirit) of his flock.

A bishop can tell a priest, for example, to wear proper vestments for services, not omitting cuffs or stole.

I shall never forget the dismayed look on the face of our former bishop, Silas, or the look on our former priest’s face, when, right after the Bishop had mounted the pulpit to preach, two altar boys appeared pushing a rolling cart with a cake atop it, blazing with candles! I forget if it was the Bishop’s birthday or an anniversary of his enthronement, but I remember very clearly his shrinking back and shouting, “No, no, no!” as the cake came rolling across the solea (chancel).

“But, Your Grace, the Sunday School children…” spluttered the priest.

“No, no, I do not want it! Get it out of the sanctuary! OUT!” the Bishop thundered, pointing toward the exit. And you could almost hear the shocked congregation cheering for their bishop as the cake disappeared.

That’s the sort of authority a bishop rightly exercises, for the sanctuary is, of course, consecrated to God, sacred to Him, and is therefore to be used only for worship, and not for birthday or anniversary celebrations, nor for speech-making on Mothers Day, nor for secular concerts, nor for any other thing than prayer. (For every rule there is a valid exception, but they remain exceptional, and few.)

A priest can, for example, make and enforce a rule that there shall be no other activities in the church premises during Divine Liturgy (no cooking, for example, or committee meetings). That is for the good of the parish’s spiritual life. But he cannot dictate how large the new kitchen shall be in the parish hall; that, not being a spiritual matter, is up to the whole congregation and especially to the parish council. A priest can enforce a “no talking in the sanctuary” rule. He cannot tell the youth group(s) when to hold meetings. A priest can tell you what is appropriate to wear to church. He cannot necessarily decide how often the church grounds need mowing. Mind you, he can indeed make all of these decisions if his parish is willing, but normally it is thought best to relieve the pastor of secular concerns such as these. Further, provided he is a good and humble priest, his opinion will almost always be solicited and respected, whether or not it prevails. If he is a worldly man, or a frivolous sort, or not devout, his opinion will never be sought and nothing he says will be given any weight.

Which leads me to the next point: priesthood does not necessarily involve leadership! Orthodox Christians follow whoever most nearly resembles their Lord, whoever speaks in His Voice. If a clergyman fails in this respect, he will not be followed by most of us, even if he is a patriarch. This means leadership, as distinct from priesthood, is for the most holy among us, including laity, including women. Priests are leaders, like anyone else, only insofar as they are conformed to the Image of the Son.

We also do not have the Roman Catholic idea, perpetuated by certain children of the Reformation, that our clergy stand “in Persona Christi Capitis,” as the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it, in the person of Christ the Head. A priest or bishop does not stand in Christ’s place for the simple reason that it is not vacant! Christ Himself is occupying His place. Furthermore, even supposing Christ’s place were vacant, no one else could ever occupy it!

Catholics and inheritors of their idea do not suppose Christ is absent from their worship. But the difference is, the Orthodox do not believe He is present only in and through the clergy! He is present directly, in Person; we encounter Him firsthand. The priest or bishop does not stand in Christ’s place or serve in His stead. Rather, Christ serves in His own place, and the priest or bishop serves alongside Him. Christ invisibly performs the “real” things, while the priest performs their visible counterparts. The priest blesses the bread and wine and prays over them, but only Christ – not the priest! – can transform them into His Body and Blood. The priest makes the sign over the baptismal waters, but only Christ sends His Holy Spirit to sanctify them, so that they are efficacious for washing more than our bodies. The priest prays for our forgiveness, or in some jurisdictions, pronounces it, but Christ Himself does the actual forgiving. Christ and His priests, then, work together, co-ministering to us, the Great High Priest and the little priests, the True Shepherd and the under shepherds. In summary, our access to Christ is not only through the clergy! We also have direct access to Him, nobody between Him and us.

Finally, there is the question of obedience. And the first thing to note here is that every Christian is supposed to submit to every other Christian! But beyond that, we have St. Paul’s reason for obeying the clergy, namely, that it is good for us. “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that [is] unprofitable for you.” (Hebrews 13:17. The Orthodox believe St. Paul authored this Epistle.) For they watch for your souls. We do not have to obey anybody who has some other agenda, who is not watching out for our souls. Obedience to our clergy is never absolute. Christian freedom, provided it is used in a Christian manner, is. We enjoy the “glorious liberty of the children of God." (Romans 8:21)

P.S. From the above, it is probably obvious, but should still be pointed out, that priesthood is not, for us, a status thing. It is a function within the Church rather than a status. And, as a deacon once mentioned to me, it isn't even the highest function. During Divine Liturgy, the highest, most important, function is to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord.

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That Thorny Issue of Authority, Part 1

Authority does not seem such a thorny issue within various religious traditions. Within Protestant denominations, the highest authority is supposed to be Scripture (although in practice, it is whatever any given group uses to interpret Holy Scripture, e.g., The Westminster Confession, The Book of Concord, etc.) Within Catholicism, the highest authority is the pope.

It’s between and among these groups the authority issue becomes so troublesome. It is the chief difference between them.

Within Orthodoxy, as within Catholicism or Protestantism, authority is likewise not an issue. It's only an issue in ecumenical discussions.

Outside of Orthodoxy, our view of authority is scandalous to all alike. For us, the ultimate, supreme Authority is “the Holy Spirit in the Church.” Everybody agrees with this as far is it goes. But everybody else also wants to take it farther. For everyone else, there’s always an “and” or a “but”. But the Holy Spirit exercises that authority ”through _____ .” Your choices for filling in the blank are several, including but not limited to: “the pope”, “the Bible alone,” “Word and Sacrament”, “the local congregation,” or even “Joseph Smith and the prophets after him.” Everybody seems to want an external, material, “objective” ultimate authority.

The Orthodox, however, insist that the Holy Spirit (who is neither “subjective” nor “objective”) works with His Church not only through Scripture, sacraments, hierarchy, and innumerable other means, but also directly, in Person. He speaks to the Church corporately and to each member personally. In Holy Chrismation, He comes to dwell deep inside each Christian, in the most profound part of his being. And from there, He, Himself, sometimes through “means” but very often im-mediate-ly (without means) prompts, leads, warns, guides, pricks the heart, enlightens, teaches, sanctifies.

Outside of Orthodoxy, attempts at such an approach have both seemed and proved to be disastrous. It is too individualistic, we are told. It is a recipe for division, we are told, because each person is going to think his own opinion has been inspired by the Holy Spirit, and then what? When the Holy Spirit is alleged to have inspired all sorts of contradictory things, how will you show any of them right or wrong? How will you know your doctrine really is authentically inspired by the Holy Spirit? Haven’t you replaced one pope with millions of little popes?

Yes, I have to concede that outside of Orthodoxy all this appears to be true. Inside Orthodoxy, the reality is quite different.

The first and fundamental difference is that in Orthodoxy, doctrine is not something abstract, theoretical, academic. It is the verbalization of what’s happening “on the ground,” of concrete experience of her living Lord. Or, it is the putting into words of revelation in history, if within “history” we include us, today. Or, putting it yet a third way, doctrine is a direct outgrowth of our Life together in Christ, Who IS our Life. The more deeply one lives that life, the more quickly truth and falsehood become apparent: whatever nurtures our life in Him, whatever deepens and purifies it, is true; and whatever weakens or undermines that relationship with Him, or leads us away from Him rather than toward Him, is false. One perceives or senses these things readily, after he has lived the Christian Life for a while. Even those with no theological education, provided their hearts are with Christ, catch the whiff of error’s stench from miles away, while the sweetness of truth makes the heart leap, brings liberation and newness and growth and repentance and gratitude and peace and joy. (“Growth” and “repentance,” by the way, are virtually synonymous, since to grow into the new requires jettisoning the old.) So because it is our common life in Christ, life lived by the Holy Spirit, that produces doctrine, that spiritual Life is a common norm.

The second normative factor is deep respect for two facts about the Holy Spirit and revelation that should be obvious to every Christian. First, the Holy Spirit is not inconsistent; He does not reveal different, contradictory things to different people. Second, His ultimate, definitive revelation is Jesus Christ Himself. The Holy Spirit, although He may tell us many new things, such as to go here or stay away from there, repent of this and do that, is not going to reveal any new doctrine. Therefore, what He shows as Truth to me, if it is authentic, must accord with what He shows as Truth to all the other Orthodox everywhere, and has always revealed throughout the history of the Church. It will be deeply rooted in Holy Scripture. It will have been taught by the Fathers of the Church. It will reflect the prayers, the hymns, the worship of the Church. If not, it’s a fluke, an artifact of my imagination, a mistake. Orthodoxy accepts as Truth only what the Holy Spirit has revealed consistently, everywhere and all the time, and yes, especially as recorded in Holy Scripture.

In Part 2, I will try to describe the role of the hierarchy in all this, and what authority it does and does not have.

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Children and God

LOOKING BACK

The Sunday School teacher was describing how Lot's wife looked back and turned into a pillar of salt, when little Jason interrupted. "My Mommy looked back while she was driving," he announced, "and she turned into a telephone pole!"

GOOD SAMARITAN

A Sunday school teacher was telling her class the story of the Good Samaritan. She described the situation in vivid detail so her students would catch the drama. Then, she asked the class, "If you saw a person lying on the roadside, all wounded and bleeding, what would you do?"

A little girl broke the silence. "Throw up."

HIGHER POWER

A Sunday school teacher said to her children, "We have been learning about kings and queens in Bible times. But there is a higher power. Can anybody tell me what it is?"

One child blurted out, "Aces!"

UNTIMELY ANSWERED PRAYER

During the minister's prayer, one Sunday, there was a loud whistle from one of the back pews. Gary's mother was horrified. She pinched him into silence and, after church, asked, " Gary, whatever made you do such a thing ?"

Gary answered, soberly, "I asked God to teach me to whistle, and He just then did!"

TIME TO PRAY

A pastor asked a little boy if he said his prayers every night.

"Yes, sir," the boy replied.

“And do you always say them in the morning, too?" the pastor asked.

"No, sir," the boy replied. "I ain't scared in the daytime."

AND ALL GIRLS

Kelli, 3, and her brother, Cody, would say their nightly prayers together. As most children do, they had to bless every family member, every friend, and every animal (current and past). For several weeks, after they had finished the nightly prayer, Kelli would say, "And all girls." As this soon became part of her nightly routine, to include this at the end, her mother's curiosity got the best of her and she asked, "Kelli, why do you always add the part about all girls?"

"Because we always finish our prayers by saying 'All Men!'”

THEY NEED OUR HELP

Teaching the kindergarten class at our Sunday School, I told the children God had created the whole world, the sky, the Sun, the Moon, the birds, the flowers...

A little girl on the front row took her thumb out of her mouth at said, "At our house, we have to plant seeds and water 'em!"

LUNCHTIME

When my niece, Madison, was four years old, she and I went for a late-morning walk in the woods.

"I hear you can tell the difference between conifers and deciduous trees," I said.

"Yes. Conifers bear pinecones. That tree right over there is a conifer."

"How about this one?"

"It's a conifer, too."

"And this?"

"Deciduous. It loses its leaves in the winter. And did you know God made it?"

"Yes, I know. He made conifers, too."

"He made everything!" she informed me. Than, after a moment's thought, she added, "Except peanut butter jelly sandwiches. Those, we have to make ourselves!"

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Monica's Blog

Here's another Orthodox motherhood blog! This one's by Monica. When you check it out, you will also be put in touch with yet more Orthodox moms. Share ideas on raising solidly Orthodox Christian kids. Share recipes, esp. Lenten, and share new friends.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

New Blog Discoveries

For you Orthodox moms, here are two delightful blogs by Sevvi. Adventures of an Orthodox Mom has wonderful prayers, projects for children, recipes for Lenten foods so delicious you will never know you are fasting, and much more.

Sevvi also has a blog devoted to one of my hobbies, knitting. Check out her clever, beautiful, and sometimes adorable children's knits at the Yarn Diva's Bag. She even tells how she did it. IOW, here are free patterns!

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Sydney's Dolls

At my sister Barbara's memorial service, my youngest grandchild, my sweet little Sydney Elizabeth, just under three years old, wandered over to me and wanted to be picked up. I held her, and after a while, sat down with her in my lap, where she was a great comfort to me through nearly the whole service.

At the funeral home before the service, and at her cousin Tisho's house afterward, she played with Barbara's daughters, Madison (12) and Elizabeth (7).

Now Sydney informs her mother that the two dolls she carries around everywhere, which up to now had been simply, "my babies," suddenly have names: they are "Maddy" and "Lizzie" and she is their mommy.

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Unbelievable Old Fogeys

"Oh, my goodness!" Demetrios yelped when the five o'clock news came on. "I'm so sorry, my love, I forgot!"

"Forgot what?" I asked, mildly alarmed.

"You mean you've forgotten, too?"

"Forgotten what?"

"It's our wedding anniversary today!"

We just looked at each other for a long moment -- and then burst out laughing.

Seventeen years, through good and bad times, of true, deep, and abiding love.

(Take that, ye devils and ye doubters!)

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Master Your Flesh

The 40th Day memorial service for Barbara, which we had yesterday, was harder to bear than her funeral. (Apparently this is a common experience, I’ve discovered by comparing notes with others.) At the funeral, one is still in shock. Forty days later, it has all sunk in.

It either didn’t help or else helped a lot (depending upon whether it’s your flesh or your spirit you’re listening to) that today was also the Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt. That sunburned, weathered, emaciated, unkempt, naked, clairvoyant, prematurely old woman is probably my favorite saint and she was a favorite of Barbara’s, too. I began weeping the moment I kissed her dear icon.

Mother Mary of Egypt was a prostitute. One day, from curiosity, she went on tour to Jerusalem, paying for her passage by offering herself to the sailors. When she tried to enter the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, she found she could not. She tried several times, but each time, something prevented her from entering. Catching sight of an icon of the Theotokos, she heard the Mother of God tell her that if she would cross to the far side of the Jordan, she would find glorious rest there. The next day she departed for the desert, where she lived the rest of her life in repentance and in mind-boggling, heart-wrenching austerity. Read her entire, wonderful story here.


Our Holy Mother Mary receiving Communion from St. Zosimas, whose cloak she wears.

Her awesome austerity reminded me of that of St. Symeon the Stylite. His austerity was so severe as to be scandalous in his own time no less than it is today. Due to his reputation for great wisdom, compassion, and holiness, he always had a great many visitors. He built a small tower, just big enough for one person, to give himself some physical distance from them. Later he built an even taller tower, as the crowds, by the thousands every day, came seeking his advice, asking him to settle quarrels, hungering for his preaching, having their sicknesses healed by his prayers. That tower was basically an elevated, rimmed platform, where he lived the rest of his life, never coming down. (You have to ponder that awhile before all the implications sink in.) He was exposed to sun, wind, rain, and snow. Worms lived in the sores of his body, and fell to the ground as he moved, and were regarded by the pilgrims below as precious pearls, which they gathered up. (By some accounts, they actually did turn into pearls.) By the time the Saint died, he had lived atop that tower, or "pillar", for 30 years.



Were these saints fanatics? No. They simply did what they found they needed to do in order to master their flesh.

By “flesh,” Christian parlance does not refer simply to the body, but to all that happens to us physically, materially, and to all the ways in which we respond to those with our “fleshly mind,” which is to say merely animal mind.

Now our flesh makes certain demands upon us. It wants food, drink, warmth, shelter, clothing, sex, assorted other pleasures, health, convenience, comfort, and the list goes on and on.

The Christian vocation is to follow the Lord Jesus Who, ignoring bodily suffering, willed to donate His all to us, even to die in the flesh for us. To live the Christian life is to rise above our mere bodily, animal existence, not to let ourselves remain slaves to it, but make it serve us as it was created to do, to struggle to master it, to walk in the freedom of the human spirit. If we do not do this, we shall remain forever alien to God, Who is Spirit. If we do not do this, we shall remain forever alienated from our own spirit, created in God's Image. If we live fleshly lives, we will die when our flesh does. We must come out from the flesh. We simply must.

Saints Mary and Symeon both were only doing what they found, in their cases, to be necessary for subjugating their bodies. Some saints are able to master their flesh without quite such harsh austerity. Perhaps you and I will be among those latter.

I wouldn’t care to bet on it, though. More likely, without ascetical endeavor comparable to theirs, we’ll end up a lot less spiritual, less holy, less free, less loving, less wise, less intimate with Christ, and less gifted than they were.

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

Therefore, brethren, we are debtors--not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, "Abba, Father." The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs--heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. (Romans 8:1-17)


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Spirituality in a Nutshell: Cast Out Fear

(Another Sermon to Myself)

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear: because fear has torment. He who fears is not made perfect in love. (I John 4:18)

You are a Christian. That means that, at least in principle, you have given away to God, and to his creation, all that you are and do and have. Now s/he who has already given everything away has nothing more to lose! And s/he who has nothing to lose, has nothing to fear. Nothing!

If you would simply learn that you really, truly, have absolutely nothing to lose no matter what, no matter how people treat you, no matter if you are late or are delayed, no matter if you are hungry or cold (for your body, too, you once consecrated to God, at your baptism, and it’s His to do with as He pleases, to feed it or not, to clothe it or not, to keep it alive or not) – if you would simply learn this, you would be free to love fully, unconditionally, holding nothing back since it is no longer yours anyway. If you would simply remember, in every situation, that you have nothing more to lose than you already supposedly offered to God when you became a Christian, and if you would stop trying to reclaim it, you could and would become a saint.

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Spirituality in a Nutshell: Stop Complaining

(Sermon to Myself)

Today we had the 40th Day memorial service for Barbara. As I pondered how well she took her suffering, how she bore each new horror that befell her with inner calm, and never complained, it suddenly occurred to me that can’t think of when I have ever not complained – and my little tests are no more than dandelion fluff compared with hers!

What does it mean to protest, to complain, to strike back, when things don’t go my way? It means I am not content with what God has sent to me, or at least has allowed to come to me. It means I fail to exercise the faith which says it is all for my own good, to help me grow. It means I turn up my nose at the Doctor’s medicine. It means I am proud enough to think this is not fair, not as it should be, or even that I was somehow entitled to better.

But, self, if you could simply follow your little sister’s example and stop complaining! Stop complaining both inwardly and outwardly, then what? It wouldn’t mean you just wink at evil. Barbara fought against her cancer as hard as any human being could. One must continue to fight evil, but must begin with the evil within. If whenever you are insulted, mistreated, whenever someone demands too much of you, when you are cheated or lied to or inconvenienced, if you could simply stop complaining, and say to yourself, “This is no more than I deserve for my sins,” and if you could truly appreciate that this is no mere rhetorical device but the sober truth, if you could do the opposite, namely, bless those who curse you and pray for those who despitefully use you – ah, then, in the course of learning that, you would have conquered your baser (“fleshly”) self and have freed your spirit. In other words, if you simply stopped complaining, you could and would become a saint.

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Amazing Rescue of Nearly 200 Horses

This video has been around for a while. Never mind; if it doesn't bring you close to tears, you'd better go to the Heart Doctor for a spiritual check-up!

Here were between 100 and 200 horses, caught in a flood, stranded on a tiny island.



Some 18 had already died from exhaustion, exposure, and drowning. Four brave young women had the idea to ride out to the island and see if the horses would follow their own horses and swim to safety. And they did. But would they all make it safely?



It reminds me of what God in Christ did for us. At great peril and cost to Himself, Christ came to where we were, in hell, to lead all the captives out of there and lead us to the land of the living and reclaim us for His own. Watch and be amazed. Watch and be inspired. Watch and weep for joy! Be sure to have your speakers on!

Check out this video: Horse Rescue Netherlands





P.S. And while you're at it, check out this video of an elephant painting a self-portrait (really!) Hat tips to Pastors Randy Asburry and Larry Beane.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Remember this Picture?



You almost certainly do if you ever attended a Protestant Sunday School. Now go read one catechumen's realization of how and why it is heretical.

Ditto this other Protestant favorite.



And this classic one has always turned me off, ("always," meaning long before I became Orthodox) because Jesus here is so effeminate!



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Rejoice with us!

We have had good news today from the orthopedist. Demetrios' foot is making wonderful progress, so we no longer need worry about having surgery on it. In fact, the progress is so good that the cast is off now, and he has been given a "shoe" instead. It has a steel-plated sole, so it distributes his weight evenly over the whole foot, without bending.

He still has to walk leaning on a cane or crutch or his walker, so as not to put full weight on the foot. Not that it's painful; it never has been; but to help it heal faster. He still has to stay off his foot a lot, to pamper it. But he can walk, and that makes a huge difference! He can go more places more often and do more things.

The doctor says it may take 7 more weeks to heal completely (for a grand total of 16) but meanwhile, we are rejoicing in Demetrios' new, relative freedom!

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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Additions to Blogroll

Two blogs I've recently discovered and wish to commend to your attention are Veni, Vidi, Credidi by jamesthethickheaded and Is God Anonymous? by, well, an anonymous blogger.

James has some articles that share the spiritual wisdom of Fr. Zacharias of Essex, England, which particularly recommend. Fr. Zacharias can give a person more spiritual edification in one hour than he might normally receive in a year!

On Is God Anonymous? you will find short, thought-provoking entries along with some beautiful, original artwork and I believe some deeply mystical poems. Also of special note are two recent posts on how to quench the Spirit and avoid intimacy with God.

P.S. The link to my niece's knitting blog has also been repaired. Check it out! She's witty and wise, an excellent writer.

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Clarification or Retraction

Recently I wrote that human beings are not immortal by nature, but only by grace. By nature, I said, they are mortal.

That is actually incorrect, and the mistake is important. It's important because, as I wrote earlier, if death is a natural part of us, then our Creator created death and it's God's fault we die.

On the other hand, if we were created immortal, it's again God's fault we die, since nobody and nothing else could kill immortal creatures.

Yet nobody who truly knows God can assert that death comes from Him! Death is of the devil, of whom Jesus said he "was the murderer from the beginning."

What the Fathers teach us is that mankind was created neither mortal nor immortal, but with the potential to become either; yet he was created for immortality, oriented toward it, specially designed to acquire it. While in the beginning we were not subject to death, neither had we yet (before the first sin) eaten of the Tree of Life.

Another way to state the matter acceptably is that we never had life in our own right, as our own property, but were created in His own image and likeness for receiving it from the Life-Giver, "Who alone has immortality" in Himself.

Sorry to have been misleading.

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Great Bird Release, Part II

Here is another video of the event. Enjoy!




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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Great Bird Release




The release of the Cedar Waxwings, scheduled for yesterday, was put off until today on account of yesterday's unfavorable weather.

Channel 12 (NBC) was there and I will post their video as soon as it's up; meanwhile, here's a video from the Richmond Post Dispatch telling the whole story. Scroll down in the box just right of center listing available videos.

What isn't shown is, we popped the cork on a bottle of the bubbly and toasted the birds and Amber.

Both the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and an ornithologist from Cornell had warned Amber that if she could manage to save 5 of the birds, it would be an outstanding triumph. But 1 was the predicted outcome, they said, and she should be happy if she could pull that off.

Well, two weeks ago, she released 4, and today she released 16 more. The other seven will need a couple of more weeks in rehab.

She also has 3 Great Horned Owl chicks we got to see. They're still downy babies, but huge already. These are somebody else's, but Amber's look just like them.



Me? So far I just have squirrels, but today I relieved Chris of two of her 30. They are two girls the same age as Puer and Puella. I can't take another thing until late May, due to other commitments.

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Monday, April 7, 2008

Modern Atheists Debunked (?)

My Great Aunt Dorothy Jean (who just turned 90 on March 1) a few years ago lent Demetrios a book entitled, An Atheist Manifesto, together with a companion volume, Positive Atheism. Demetrios, fascinated, read them both, and concluded that the objections to religion were specifically to Western Christianity. The things the author was discussing simply did not apply to Orthodox Christianity.

"But," he added, and I agreed, "If I thought God were who these people think He is, who your Great Aunt thinks He is, I'd be an atheist, too!" Well, okay, there's a logical contradiction there, but you get the point. It's a false god to whom these atheists rightly object!

That's why we don't feel we have a dog in this fight. Nevertheless, for anyone interested, First Things has published a review of a book purporting to demolish the logic of several of today's prominent and popular atheists, such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Here is the meat of it.

The Irrational Atheist
Posted by Anthony Sacramone


Just when atheists thought it was safe to enter the public square, a book like this comes along. The Irrational Atheist by Vox Day is not a work of Christian apologetics. It is, instead, a merciless deconstruction of atheist thought—or what passes for thought. That’s the gimmick, if you will, of the book: Day does not accept a single assertion made by any one of the “Unholy Trinity”—Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens—without first pinning it to a sheet of wax as in a seventh-grade science class, dissecting it until there’s nothing left but a case for anti-vivisection legislation.

Day starts off with the charming declarative sentence “I don’t care if you go to hell”—this despite being a Southern Baptist, a group not known for complacency in such matters. But the author wants to make clear that he’s not trying to convert anyone to Christianity, only to ensure that those readers who are susceptible to straw-man arguments, tautologies, clich├ęs, and urban legends understand that the New Atheists—who are on a conversion mission—are not only guilty of all of the aforementioned but also are seemingly incapable of mustering anything stronger by way of Reason in their own cause.

To take just one of many examples, a common trope among atheists is that religion is the No. 1 cause of wars in history. “If religion were an important element of warmaking, one would expect to find a great deal of text commenting upon it,” Day writes. But you don’t. After reading the great war theorists, from Sun Tzu to Von Clausewitz, Day found pages and pages about perseverance, spies, geometry, inspirational music—but virtually nothing about religion.

As for the nature of the wars themselves, talk about specific: Day found 123 wars that could validly be claimed to have religion at their heart—a grand total of 6.98 percent of all wars fought. “It’s also interesting to note that more than half of these religious wars, sixty-six in all, were waged by Islamic nations,” Day offers as an aside.

Of the New Atheists Day examines in The Irrational Atheist, the most irrational, by the author’s lights, is the man who started the atheism bestselling craze, Sam Harris. “Harris is an appallingly incoherent logician. He frequently fails to gather the relevant data required to prove his case, and on several occasions inadvertently presents evidence that demonstrates precisely the opposite of that which he is attempting to prove.” One quick example: Harris asserts that most suicide bombers are Muslims. Yet, “the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who are not Muslims but a Marxist liberation front that committed 168 of the 273 suicide bombings that took place between 1980 and 200, have historically been the leading practitioners of suicide bombing.”

Dawkins doesn’t fare much better in Day’s analytical meat grinder. Day sics the anthropic principle on him, which Dawkins rejects because any God capable of fine-tuning the universe so as to make possible the advent of DNA is at least as improbable as the universe in question, because he would have to be a being of unimaginable complexity. Day offers as a refutation the existence of the mathematician who calculated the “goldilocks values” (the cosmic fine-tuning that the birth of man would require) in the first place, this “despite being less complex than the sum of everyone and everything else in the universe.” Day, who creates computer programs, is well placed to demonstrate how “mass quantities of information can easily be produced from much smaller quantities of information”—as anyone familiar with computer-generated fractals understands.

As for some atheists’ resorting to “multiverse theory” in a desperate attempt to answer the probability problem of a human-compatible Earth, “not only is multiverse theory every bit as unfalsifiable and untestable as the God Hypothesis, it is demonstrably more improbable,” replies Day.

Day then aims his rhetorical guns at Christopher Hitchens. When the latter states that “what can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence,” the former lays out quote after quote of unsupported and “auto-refutable statements” culled from the pages of God Is Not Great. Needless to say, Hitchens is dismissed rather quickly.

Day is kinder to Daniel Dennett, whom he dubs “the pragmatic philosopher.” Despite some of Dennett’s more supercilious comments regarding believers’ intelligence, he, according to Day, is willing to at least “examine” religion in the light of science. Day nevertheless rejects Dennett’s “claims that ‘brights’ have better family values than born-again Christians,” a contention based on George Barna’s flawed 1999 study. The fact that “half of all atheists and agnostics don’t get married” turns such a charge into an “apples and oranges” error. Day cites the more reliable 2001 ARIS study and finds that atheists are “twice as likely to get divorced and have fewer children than any other group in the United States.”


Postscript: Demetrios picked up Hitchens' book one evening at Barnes and Noble and sat down for some 45 minutes perusing it. When he was finished, he expressed disappointment. He had expected some argument worth dealing with, some good intellectual stimulation, and couldn't find any. "I really did not expect a man with such a reputation as an intellectual to turn out to be such a shallow thinker."