April 14, 2009
In the middle of the morning, while Demetrios was brushing his teeth, I suddenly asked him, “What’s the date today?’ because I had a feeling it was probably April 14th.
“The fourteenth,” he said through the toothpaste.
“Then happy anniversary!”
He looked as surprised as I was and said, “Happy anniversary, Precious!”
Yup, we’ve been married 18 years today. We can’t celebrate, of course, as it’s Holy Week, but we are rejoicing anyway. More than one person and more than one demon have tried to the utmost to split us apart, but none has succeeded so far and I trust, never shall.
Last night Demetrios wanted to go to Mena’s and Kostas’ church, St. Eleutherios. (St. Freedom!) It occurred to me to ask, “Do you know, I mean really, really know, where it is?”
“All I can tell you is, it’s near the bus stop where we get off when we visit Mena and Kostas. You remember the name of the stop is St. Eleutherios.”
I said I was too tired, and the evening was too raw, and the hour was too late, to go traipsing around town in search of a church that might take half an hour to find (given our track record) and then we’d miss a good chunk of the service. He, however, had his mind set on going there, while I had mine equally resolved not to. So we agreed to disagree, perhaps not entirely amicably, and he went off to where he wanted to go, and I went to the church nearest me.
They have a beautiful icon of Christ the Bridegroom. It’s life size, and it’s a cut-out, so it really gives you sense of being in His presence.
Glancing at the wall nearest me, I saw the icon of St. Anastasia, and then, right next to her, St. Barbara. Of course, that made me all teary-eyed. I had dreamt of Barbara the night before. She had been on a long journey to – well, it wasn’t clear in the dream where – and I brought her home to stay with us.
I was struck , during the service, by what might seem to some of the non-Orthodox as paradoxes. Take these prayers, for example:
Having realized, O my soul, the hour of reckoning, and having feared the cutting down of the fig tree, work therefore most diligently O wretched soul, with the talent which has been given thee; watch and pray: ‘Grant that we remain not outside the Bridal Chamber of Christ.’
Why are you heedless, O my miserable soul? Why do you inopportunely imagine vain cares? Why do you occupy yourself with that which passes away? The last hour is at hand, and we shall shortly be parted from earthly things. Therefore, making the most of the time, rouse yourself and cry: ‘I have sinned against Thee, my Savior. Strike me not as the unfruitful fig tree, but as the merciful Christ, have compassion on me, for I cry out in fear. ‘Grant that we remain not outside the Bridal chamber of Christ.’
Note the emphasis upon what I must do. Now contrast that with this:
Since I, O Christ the Bridegroom, have permitted my soul to slumber in indolence, I do not possess a torch aflame with virtue, and like the Foolish Virgins, I meditate when it is the time for work. Close not Thine heart of compassion against me, O master, but bring me in with the Wise Virgins to Thy bridal hall, where there is the song of those who feast and unceasingly cry: ‘O Lord, glory to Thee!’
This twin emphasis is present throughout all the Bridegroom Services (Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday nights of Holy Week): we must rouse ourselves, we must repent, which is to say, change course, renounce our sins, and strive to do better – or else! Yet in the end, knowing we have failed and will continue to fail, it is upon Christ’s measureless mercy we must rely.
Near the end of the service, I spotted my downstairs neighbor, Thomai, so afterward we walked home together.
She bade me come see her soon, so this morning, as soon as I was up and dressed, I made two cups of tea and took them downstairs. Unfortunately, I missed her by only a few minutes, according to Zisis, her husband and our Venerable Leader (president of our building), who answered the door— in a three-piece suit.
Demetrios went out with Christos, thinking I’d be with Thomai most of the morning. Since that didn’t work out for me, I came back upstairs and spent the time playing Happy Housewife. I cooked the midday meal, cleaned up the kitchen, and made the bed. The house is now both tidy and clean. I’ve even had the joy of doing my first couple of loads of laundry. I love hanging it out on the clotheslines the other side of our balcony. It feels like some kind of continuity with all the women who have been doing that since this city was founded by Alexander the Great. That’s four thousand years of laundry being hung out to dry in the sun! I especially love gathering in the dry items from the line; that feels like gathering in treasure or something.
After I’d cooked, Demetrios came home but didn’t want any lunch. Okay, it will be for tomorrow. We took naps and after that, I said I’d go to the Internet Café. He said he’d go have a cup of coffee with Stelios, one of his old friends from high school. So he left and I was about to leave when Thomai appeared at my door.
She made inquiries after my family, my mother, my children, my grandchildren, then after Christos, and then after his children. And then she told me something very important for me to hear. She said my mother-in-law had virtually raised Vicki herself, Vicki being our niece, Christos’ daughter, who lives and works in Italy. She catalogued all the things Vicki’s grandma had done for her, told with what loving care she had treated Vicki, and how much Vicki loved her in return. This quite astonished me, who until yesterday had never heard, much less believed, a single good thing about my mother-in-law.
Thomai has also been a severe critic of Christos’ for many years, longer than I have known him, even. But she, seconding Demetrios’ opinion, says he is a changed man, and has been extremely nice to her in the past couple of years. Coming from Thomai, that’s really something!
After Thomai left, I wandered down to the Internet Café, with the previous parts of this journal on a CD, but the machines there don’t have drives for a CD, so no luck. I bought 2 floppy diskettes from Nektarios for one Euro, and will try again tomorrow. Meanwhile, I was pleased to see that the main clientele of the Internet Café has changed; whereas it used to consist mostly of men in their twenties and thirties, now it consists mostly of boys in their sub-teens, happily, if loudly, conversing as they play their computer games.
What Thomai said about Christos must be true, because he came with us to church tonight. We went to Agia Sophia, a Byzantine church downtown. It’s some 1500 years old and still in use. The magnificent Charilaos Taliadoros was the principal cantor, he of the voice that, according to Demetrios, only comes along about once in a century, if that. So rich, so resonant, and the man is 82 years old. The Patriarch of Constantinople made Charilaos Protopsaltis (First Cantor) of the Patriarchate. He outdid himself tonight with the extremely beautiful Hymn of Kassiani, which unfortunately is only to be heard once a year, on Holy Tuesday evening.
Afterwards, we treated Christos to supper at “The Cry of the Seagull,” the taverna across the street from where we live. Then, home by about eleven o’clock, which for us is extremely good.
Saturday, April 18, 2009
April 14, 2009