Back in two weeks!
Here's a map of Ormskirk, Lancashire, the little town of which we hope, by the end of this week, to be part-time residents. We are going there to complete the very long process of purchasing a flat.
You can enlarge the map enough to see individual cars and even people. Or if you have greater interest, click on the link below to see a larger map, then a tab appears at the top of the larger map, called "More." Clicking that allows you to display a few photos of the place. (Some of them appear as very tiny squres. Mouse over them until you get the pointing forefinger icon, then click.) Or if you choose to view it in Google Earth, you can see all sorts of other stuff, such as where restaurants, pubs, and certain stores are.
I've been studying the map to try to get my bearings a little before we arrive there tomorrow morning. Fun!
Oh, yes - the marker in Southport shows where our hotel is (because that is where our solicitors are); the others in surrounding areas outside of Ormskirk are Orthodox churches.
View Ormskirk, Lancahsire, England in a larger map
Monday, September 28, 2009
Back in two weeks!
Posted by Anastasia Theodoridis at 5:31 AM
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Today is the Jewish High Holy Day of Atonement. It begins at sunset. They have a well-loved hymn sung on this day, the Kol Nidre, which means "All Vows." It's a prayer for release from any vows made to God and left unfulfilled. Sometimes, especially since World War II, it has come to refer especially to baptismal vows made under duress. I think the hymn is quite beautiful, and except for a certain plaintive quality some say is characteristic of Jewish music, it reminds me some of Russian Orthodox chant. Go here to hear a very good recording of it.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
...what ought to be done with an old Bible?
It's falling apart and I can't even find all the pages. It's the NIV, for which I never had any use anyway. It's not quite an antique, but getting there, and looking it. It has no sentimental value, didn't belong to, say, any grandparent.
What's a reverent way to dispose of an old, unwanted Bible?
Posted by Anastasia Theodoridis at 7:19 PM
Friday, September 25, 2009
Root Canal. For anyone who has never had a root canal, and/or, like me, never knew what one was, I can report that it is a very deep filling, and that, provided you have a good endodontist, you won't feel a thing. In fact, the procedure was so long, and the doctor and his assistant so full of pleasant chatter in which I couldn't participate, that I soon became bored and nearly fell asleep while they were working on me! It never did hurt afterward, either, although the doctor predicted it would. I never had to take so much as an aspirin.
Hint: whenever a dentist numbs your mouth, ask for the version of the drug that does not contain epinephrin ("eh-peh-NEH-frin") Epinephrin is another name for adrenalin. Adrenalin, as you know, is what your body pumps out when you're scared. It gives you that churning stomach feeling, and gives me the jitters. You'll be a lot more relaxed, a lot calmer, without it. Only thing is, the numbing lasts a somewhat shorter time without epinephrin. This was no problem for me; it lasted until well after the very long procedure was finished. I've had it done twice before, too, with no problem.
Purchase of flat in England. Things have changed a lot in the 30 years since Demetrios opened his bank account in the UK. Today, we are living in the age of counter-terrorism. Therefore, when you transfer large amounts of money (as in, enough to buy that flat) from your US bank to a UK bank and then want to transfer it again, as for for example to the sellers of the property, the first thing bankers today think of is - money laundering! We have literally spent since the 9th of July trying to arrange these transfers, and have not succeeded. The funds are in the UK bank, but they aren't going to release them to our solicitors until we get there in person. This may delay the completion of the deal for a day or two. Big-time frustration, and we can't even take it out by changing banks. Our solicitors strongly caution us against doing that, as it may be difficult to find another bank that would even accept us, as foreigners. At least Barclay's knows us. Knows us very, very well.
Travel Plans. Leaving Monday afternoon, arriving at Barclay's Bank Tuesday by around noon, appointment with solicitors at 1 p.m. I bought a few autumn clothes yesterday, none of them black. I'm having fun packing and planning. You move into a furnished place and you think it's ready to live in, but not so. Amazing how many things you still need, from toilet paper to wastebaskets to clocks, broom, cleaning rags, clothes hangers... the list goes on and I'm enjoying compiling it.
Communications. I will take our laptop, but it won't fit the electrical outlets and I don't know whether we'll manage, this trip, both to get an adaptor and figure out how to get Internet connection. So I'm not sure whether I'll be posting anything, or e-mailing anything. And we're still not sure how we want to handle the telephone issue, either.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
This concert review was written by Kenneth Langbell and first appeared in the English-language version of the Bangkok Post under the title "Wild Night at the Erawan" on 27 May 1967.
The recital, last evening in the chamber music room of the Erawan Hotel by U.S. Pianist Myron Kropp, the first appearance of Mr. Kropp in Bangkok, can only be described by this reviewer and those who witnessed Mr. Kropp's performance as one of the most interesting experiences in a very long time.
A hush fell over the room as Mr. Kropp appeared from the right of the stage, attired in black formal evening-wear with a small white poppy in his lapel. With sparse, sandy hair, a sallow complexion and a deceptively frail looking frame, the man who has repopularized Johann Sebastian Bach approached the Baldwin Concert Grand, bowed to the audience and placed himself upon the stool.
It might be appropriate to insert at this juncture that many pianists, including Mr. Kropp, prefer a bench, maintaining that on a screw-type stool, they sometimes find themselves turning sideways during a particularly expressive strain. There was a slight delay, in fact, as Mr Kropp left the stage briefly, apparently in search of a bench, but returned when informed that there was none.
As I have mentioned on several other occasions, the Baldwin Concert Grand, while basically a fine instrument, needs constant attention, particularly in a climate such as Bangkok. This is even more true when the instrument is as old as the one provided in the chamber music room of the Erawan Hotel. In this humidity, the felts which separate the white keys from the black tend to swell, causing an occasional key to stick, which apparently was the case last evening with the D in the second octave.
During the "raging storm" section of the D-Minor Toccata and Fugue, Mr. Kropp must be complimented for putting up with the awkward D. However, by the time the "storm" was past and he had gotten into the Prelude and Fugue in D Major, in which the second octave D plays a major role, Mr. Kropp's patience was wearing thin.
Some who attended the performance later questioned whether the awkward key justified some of the language which was heard coming from the stage during softer passages of the fugue. However, one member of the audience, who had sent his children out of the room by the midway point of the fugue, had a valid point when he commented over the music and extemporaneous remarks of Mr. Kropp that the workman who had greased the stool might have done better to use some of the grease on the second octave D. Indeed, Mr. Kropp's stool had more than enough grease and during one passage in which the music and lyrics were both particularly violent, Mr. Kropp was turned completely around. Whereas before his remarks had been aimed largely at the piano and were therefore somewhat muted, to his surprise and that of those in the chamber music room he found himself addressing himself directly to the audience.
But such things do happen, and the person who began to laugh deserves to be severely reprimanded for this undignified behavior. Unfortunately, laughter is contagious, and by the time it had subsided and the audience had regained its composure Mr. Kropp appeared somewhat shaken. Nevertheless, he swiveled himself back into position facing the piano and, leaving the D Major Fugue unfinished, commenced on the Fantasia and Fugue in G Minor. Why the concert grand piano's G key in the third octave chose that particular time to begin sticking I hesitate to guess. However, it is certainly safe to say that Mr. Kropp himself did nothing to help matters when he began using his feet to kick the lower portion of the piano instead of operating the pedals as is generally done.
Possibly it was this jarring or the un-Bach-like hammering to which the sticking keyboard was being subjected. Something caused the right front leg of the piano to buckle slightly inward, leaving the entire instrument listing at approximately a 35-degree angle from that which is normal. A gasp went up from the audience, for if the piano had actually fallen several of Mr. Kropp's toes if not both his feet, would surely have been broken.
It was with a sigh of relief therefore, that the audience saw Mr. Kropp slowly rise from his stool and leave the stage. A few men in the back of the room began clapping and when Mr. Kropp reappeared a moment later it seemed he was responding to the ovation. Apparently, however, he had left to get a red-handled fire ax which was hung back stage in case of fire, for that was what was in his hand.
My first reaction at seeing Mr. Kropp begin to chop at the left leg of the grand piano was that he was attempting to make it tilt at the same angle as the right leg and thereby correct the list. However, when the weakened legs finally collapsed altogether with a great crash and Mr. Kropp continued to chop, it became obvious to all that he had no intention of going on with the concert. The ushers, who had heard the snapping of piano wires and splintering of sounding board from the dining room, came rushing in and, with the help of the hotel manager, two Indian watchmen and a passing police corporal, finally succeeded in disarming Mr. Kropp and dragging him off the stage.
I have laughed over this piece for many years and am disappointed to learn it's tongue-in-cheek. According to snopes, this story never happened. Should've known that as soon as I read that Myron Kropp was "the man who has repopularized Johann Sebastian Bach." !
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Richmond really is a small town. Really.
So last Friday I go to the dentist (a Greek lady) for the regular 6-month checkup/cleaning, and the hygienist asks if everything is alright and I say, "Yes, fine. Well, there is a small cyst or something on my lower right gum, but it's not as big as it was..."
So she calls in the doctor and it's an abscess. So we take an x-ray. It shows some bone loss right there. The dentist refers me to an endodontist (another Greek) for a root canal. Here's his phone number, call him. Oh, and take these pills meanwhile.
That's Friday afternoon.
First thing Monday morning, Dr. So-and-so's receptionist calls to make the appointment. "Have you been here before?" she asks. "Because your name is familiar."
"No, I haven't, but my husband has." (And my husband has high praise for this endodontist.)
"Well, but it's your first name that's familiar..." says the receptionist.
I said I'm terriby busy right now...
"I know," says she. "You're getting ready to go to England."
!?!?!? I've never even heard of this person, and she knows all about me, even which insurance I have.
"So can it wait until I get back?" I ask.
I can hear the doctor in the background saying, "Nooooo. She needs treatment now." He has already had a look at my x-ray.
Okay. So I'm going in tomorrow for a root canal. What's that? Why do I need it? Don't know. Will find out. But it's kinda nice to see this whole network of folks looking out for you.
It's that way with the drycleaner, too. She sees me, greets me, takes my soiled stuff or brings me my cleaned stuff, and writes my name without asking. She also knows not to ask, "Will next Tuesday be okay?" because she already knows it will be. She knows I'll tell her if there's any rush. (I see less of her nowadays because I've tried in recent years not to buy anything that needs drycleaning.)
And it's that way with some doctors, too. Once I overheard the gynecologist and his new nurse talking in the hallway outside the treatment room where I was waiting. The nurse said, "Apparently this patient has been coming here for a while now..."
"Oh, yes, I've been seeing her FOREVER."
I couldn't resist; I called out, "I'm not THAT OLD!" and in he came with a smile.
Since 1991, that's how long he's been seeing me. Come to think of it, that is a while...
The hostesses at several restaurants also know us by name and will say things like, "We've missed you lately. Have you been in Greece?"
There's something very sweet about not being just an anonymous customer. That's typical in Greece, but not so much in lots of other places. I like it. A lot.
I didn't write the first paragraph. It was provided and the challenge was to construct a short story using it as the opening.
It arrived in the morning mail - a small, unimpressive-looking package wrapped in brown paper and tied with a double strand of twine. There was nothing to distinguish it from thousands of packages passing through postmen's hands. But it was different - very different.
This tiny parcel was special because it was the only one Corporal Jeffrey Morgan had received in all his ten long months in Germany. And it was doubly special because it was from Margaret.
Margaret was one of his Sunday School pupils, one of the ones who made the ninth-grade class interesting. She was pretty and innocent and a stubborn adherent of the old-time religion. Naïve, yes, very. But she was a challenge to him, as he hoped he was to her; he was laboring to introduce her, gradually, to more enlightened thought.
She, meanwhile, was trying to convert him. Some Sundays, she even met him after church to carry on their debate. He would take her to lunch - it felt good to take out an American girl, even if she was only a ninth-grader - and they'd talk.
"I used to believe in God," Jeff had admitted when they had last met. "Then I became an atheist. And now I am firmly persuaded the most intelligent position is agnosticism."
After she had wondered aloud why an agnostic would want to be a Sunday School teacher, she had brightened. "It's no wonder you don't believe," she said. "You've never experienced God. What you need is to experience Him firsthand."
At that point the argument had bogged down - how did one convince her that whatever she thought she had experienced was not God? - and the conversation had drifted to other things. Like his court-martial the next week. He told her he had mislaid a rifle. That wasn't the real reason for the court-martial, of course; that was a fib. He didn't even know why he had mentioned it to her at all. Perhaps he had needed someone to tell it to. At any rate, she had listened sympathetically.
That was two weeks ago. He hadn't seen or heard from her sincem except in Sunday School - until the arrival of this little parcel. He glanced at it now, then leaned back on his cot to examine it. Taped to the back, as big as the package itself, was a small envelope, labeled, "OPEN THIS FIRST!" He did so and scanned the note inside:
He frowned, puzzled. Yes, he had promised to come to church this Sunday night... He shrugged, sat up, and laid the parcel in his footlocker until then.Dear Mr. Morgan,
Please bring this package with you to evening service the Sunday after the court-marital. (You promised.) Do NOT open until then!
On Sunday night, he slipped into the back pew of the Army chapel just in time for the first hymn and looked around for Margaret. She wasn't hard to spot; a hanging lamp, shining directly down upon her smooth, blonde hair, made her seem the brightest object in the room. She was with her girlfriends, Cassie and Heather, and Heather's parents, Colonel and Mrs. Evanshrope. Colonel Evanshrope was Jeffrey's commanding officer and his wife was the Sunday School Superintendent. Nervously, Jeff patted the little package in his jacket pocket and sat down to endure the service and wait for Margaret.
As soon as it was over, she came hurrying down the aisle to meet him. She was flushed and smiling and visibly trembling. "Hello, Mr. Morgan."
"Hi, Margaret." He reached for his jacket poicket. "I - uh - seem to have received a present from you. Am I allowed to open it now?"
She nodded. "In the chaplain's office. He won't be there, so he said we could use it."
"Okay," he said. He followed her into the green-carpeted, book-lined office and seated himself in a red overstuffed chair opposite the one she took. "Now?"
He slid off the twine, tore open the brown wrapping, and lifted the lid of the flat little box. Inside it was - a piece of paper! Glancing up at her, he unfolded it and read:
November 3. This is to certify that as of this date, Margaret Barnett and Cassie Donovan have begun daily prayer for Cpl. Jeffrey Morgan for the whole 10 days before his court-martial. Since we haven't been able to prove to Mr. Morgan that God exists and loves him, we are asking God Himself to prove it, by giving him a break at his court-martial. What kind of a break we don't know. We are praying the jury will suspend his sentence or find him not guilty or something.
So that Mr. Morgan will know we really did pray for him before the court-martial, and did not just say so afterwards, we are putting this note in the mail today, for him to see, whether anything happens or not.
It was signed by both girls and "witnessed" by two other girls from the Sunday School class, including Heather Evanshrope.
He could feel his eyes filling up as he lowered the document and gazed over at Margaret with a dumb smile. Finally, he whispered, "It was called off. Canceled."
"I know. One of your buddies told me at prayer meeting." She was radiant. "But nobody seems to know why."
"No reason was given. Just suddenly at the last minute, the charge was dropped."
"Then it's even better than we had hoped! Now, Jeff, now! Now God has proved His love for you." In her mind, there could be no doubt this is what had happened. "Now you can believe and be saved!"
He shook his head, slowly, to prevent a tear from flying off. "You did this for me, and - Margaret, I'm not worth it. I've done so many wretched things in my life..."
"That's why you need Jesus. He has made it possible for you to receive forgiveness. If only you let it be. Give Him your life, Jeff. He will heal it. He will give you peace. He will give you joy."
"And you did all this - this praying, so I could be the recipient of such joy and peace?" He was still shaking his head.
She nodded. "I want that more than anything. So does Jesus. He's standing outside the door of your heart right now, Jeff. Waiting for you to let Him come in and take charge."
It all sounded like a fairy tale to him; it had no bearing on real life. Life just wasn't that simple. She was so naïve. And yet - he envied her. Her faith, her vision, her serenity...
"Margaret," he sighed, "I won't argue with you tonight. What you have is beautiful, and I wouldn't for all the world try to destroy it. But I feel I just cannot accept it, either, without prostituting my intellect."
She looked puzzled and hurt. "Not even now that you've experienced God's love firsthand?"
"What overwhelms me, Margaret, is not God's love..."
That remark, he saw, was lost on her. If it were not God's love, then she had failed to bestow upon him what she considered her most precious gift. That was all she perceived, and sorrow, genuine sorrow, was moving over her face. Oh, God, oh, God, he thought - it was an epithet, not an invocation - and he buried his face in his hands.
He heard Margaret slide off her chair and kneel on the green carpet before him. Her purse clicked open, and he felt her lay a tissue on his knee. He picked it up. She was crying, too, quietly.
Oh God, he thought again. The absurdists, the dadaists, the nihilists, they were all wrong. Life did have meaning. Yes, it might all end in the grave and have been for nothing - he was beginning to doubt that too - but meanwhile, for right now, life meant something. It meant Margaret loved him. And for right now, that was enough.
Monday, September 21, 2009
This afternoon, as I sat in the cardiologists' waiting room, awaiting my 6-months check-up, I picked up a local magazine. I suppose it must have been a complimentary copy, because when I had flipped three pages, I saw this ad, featuring guess who? Our cardiologist.
So I scanned it for you.
Dr. Kapadia (born here but his family is from India) is a hero to us. He saved Demetrios' life the time Demetrios had what I still call his "heart attack." A heart attack, by definition, causes damage to the heart, and Dr. Kapadia caught this one before that happened, so technically it's not a heart attack my husband had; it's a prevented one.
I went into the emergency room the same day with severe chest pains. There was nothing wrong with me at the time; it was just sympathy pains, psychological. The atrial fibrillation wasn't discovered until some time afterwards, but anyway, that's how Dr. Kapadia became my cardiologist as well.
And I passed the six-month check-up with high marks, thank you very much. There have been no "episodes" since Dr. Kapadia did the cardioversion.
It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon, bearing no hint of trouble, when Natalia stepped inside the tiny church, dragging her vacuum cleaner behind her. She stood in the rear, blinking while her eyes adjusted to the dim interior, lit only by the late sunshine filtering through very small windows. She was a short, rather stocky woman in her mid-forties, with light brown-and-gray hair and a square jaw. Her mild blue eyes were set in a broad, kind face. The face bespoke hardship in her life, but it also showed laughter lines. For Natalia had known plenty of trouble – she had survived labor camps in Siberia and Germany – but that was long ago, and none of it had obliterated her optimistic spirit. And she had known love. While her marriage had not been all she had hoped, yet it had not been unbearable, either, as so many were. She had taken comfort in her two grown children – and in Father Gabriel.
As President of the women’s sisterhood, she had become Father’s close collaborator. He consulted her often; sometimes when he telephoned, they talked for as long as an hour. Of course, he called everybody in the Sisterhood and always said many flattering things. But she knew she was the main one. Yes, it was she who looked after him, she in whom he confided, she who took him a supper now and then, or some of her fancy baked goods. She kept him carefully informed of everything pertaining to each of the parishioners. She filled many of the functions of a Matushka, for although Father had served St. Vladimir’s for over a year now, his wife had not yet joined him. Natalia revered Father; she was his eyes and ears and chief advocate, and she felt greatly honored thus to serve him. She dreaded his upcoming transfer to a parish out of state.
It was strange, she thought, when her eyes had adjusted, how different the church seemed Saturdays compared to Sundays. Instead of dozens of lit tapers, only burned-down stubs stood in the sand trays before the icons. No burning incense wafted its clouds through the room, although everything was steeped in its odor: the Victorian sofa and chairs on the left side, the velvet tablecloth embroidered with the Russian cross on the right, the heavy hangings, the oriental rug. Most of all, there were none of the parishioners, none of the twenty or so people who stood and prayed here all morning on Sundays.
She had arrived early; Abigail was not yet here. Natalia found an electrical outlet and began vacuuming the oriental rug. (Thank God, she thought, this was a Russian church and not an American one, which would have had pews to vacuum around and under.) She had just finished when the door opened and Abigail’s tall figure appeared in a flood of light. Natalia wiped her forehead with her arm and went forward to greet her. “So nice to see you,” she said, kissing Abigail on both cheeks. “And so good of you to come help me clean.”
Abigail, flushed with pleasure, squeezed Natalia’s outstretched hand, her big dark eyes shining. “So good of you to let me come. It’s a great comfort to me, since I cannot be here on Sundays.”
Natalia nodded, not at all sure she understood such a sentiment. But then she never had quite understood Abigail. “The American lady,” as she was called – somewhat incongruously, for they were all Americans now – had simply appeared in church one Sunday last Spring, and had come nearly every Sunday since.
“Who is she?” the parishioners had wondered. And Father Gabriel had replied, “She is one who loves our music, loves our Liturgy, loves our language, and loves us.”
“But she isn’t Russian?”
“No." That was unfortunate.
"In her heart she is Orthodox.” And looking around him, Father Gabriel had added pointedly, “Perhaps more than some of us.”
That had silenced the tongues, and St. Vladimir’s, with characteristic warm-heartedness and simplicity, had taken Abigail to its bosom. She obviously knew something about holy Orthodoxy, for she knew what to do during the Divine Liturgy. She appeared devout and had even learned quite a bit of Church Slavonic. Yet she had never spoken of converting. How was one to explain a person like that? What did an American want with a Russian church anyway? Yet no more questions had been asked – until the day two months ago when she had gone away as suddenly and mysteriously as she had appeared.
Aloud, Natalia said, “Nobody knows why you left us. Not even Father Gabriel can explain it.” She watched Abigail closely.
“I decided to go to church with my family from now on, Natalia.”
Natalia remembered what old Mr. Belov had said: “Ah, yes, her family. No, I tell you it is more. This is because of our priest.”
Natalia knew Father Gabriel could be brusque, but she couldn’t imagine him offending anybody that much, least of all the American. The other parishioners had questioned Mr. Belov, demanding to know what he meant, but he only made the Sign of the Cross and would say nothing more.
She stared at Abigail a moment and said, “So it was whispered. But then Mr. Belov, he said no, that was not the reason, that it was something more.” She scrutinized Abigail’s face for some telltale sign.
“It was a very difficult decision for me, Natalia.” Abigail’s great brown eyes grew misty.
A non-answer, thought Natalia. “Well,” she said, “I understand that. I don’t blame you. Especially since your children are still so young. How old are they?”
“Seven and ten.”
“Ah, yes. Perhaps you have made the right choice, after all, for both parents to go to the same church with the children…”
Abigail moved toward the closet in the rear corner of the church and took out an apron, which she tied about her slender waist to protect her dress. Natalia wondered if the American lady never wore slacks? Then from her purse she drew a kerchief and tied it, Russian style, over her thick, dark hair. Natalia wondered how long those tresses were, when unpinned from the nape of Abigail’s neck.
“Where shall I begin?” Abigail asked.
“I was just getting ready to polish the icons.”
Abigail nodded and reached into the closet for paper towels and spray glass cleaner. The small room was crammed with icons, dozens of them adorning every wall and the iconostas, the partition separating the altar from the nave. Every week, the lipstick marks had to be removed from them; as Natalia pointed out, “Nobody wants to kiss an icon that is full of lipstick.”
Natalia and Abigail worked together in silence for a few minutes, polishing icons on opposite sides of the room.
“How is everybody at St. Vladimir’s?” Abigail inquired, returning an icon from the side table to the wall and taking down another.
“Oh, everybody is just fine. Mrs. Kutznetzov, she is feeling much better. Everybody else the same – except Father Gabriel. Oh, Abigail, he looks awful. Awful! Something terrible has happened to him, I think.”
“He’s still recovering from his surgery.”
A memory sprang to Natalia’s mind of his hospital stay, for both she and Abigail had nursed him through it. He had been just coming out of the anesthesia and was still groggy when he had looked up, caught sight of Abigail, and said, “Ah, there she is! Angel! The apple of my eye.” And he had promptly fallen asleep again. Natalia had been surprised at her jealousy when Father had said that, even though she knew such jealousy was foolish; it had only been the medicine talking.
Aloud, Natalia said, “No, no, Abigail! Well, the surgery, too, but that’s not what I mean. It’s his eyes, Abigail, and his face. Mostly that dark, terrible look in his eyes.” Then, as an afterthought, with which she was very pleased, she added, “Have you not noticed?”
“I have not seen Batushka these past two months.”
“No, really? Ah, I remember now; it only started just about the time you left. But you have spoken to him, yes? Have you not heard it in his voice, how all the life has gone?”
“I haven’t spoken to him, either.”
Not spoken to Batushka either, she who had sat by his sickbed day and night only a few short weeks ago? She who had run to fetch extra blankets when he lay shivering, and had spooned hot soup into his mouth, and guarded his sleep from meddlesome nurses and read him his prayers? Not even spoken to him in two months? Natalia was astonished. But all she said was, “Well, it frightens me. You will see what I mean when he gets here.”
She saw Abigail stiffen.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Abigail, I know you asked me to keep your coming here a secret, but Father is coming to putty the front window, and it does have to be done or the rain gets in, and since it was only Batushka, well, I hoped you wouldn’t mind. He will not tell anyone.”
Abigail had laid down her paper towels. A wave of guilt rippled through Natalia. Abigail had emphasized that nobody should be told of her visit. Natalia had respected that wish (until yesterday, at least), although she could see no point in it. Why make such a secret of something as ordinary as dusting and sweeping? In any case, Natalia had not been minded to miss a chance of Father Gabriel’s company. Therefore, when he had proposed coming to repair the window today, she had said nothing to dissuade him.
She watched Abigail apprehensively, and was much relieved when the American lady turned to her, smiling, and said, “Oh, well, since it is only Batushka, as you say…” and began rubbing the icon again.
Natalia sighed and unfolded a newly-laundered length of lace-edged, white linen and draped it carefully around the icon of St. Nicolai.
“Natalia,” Abigail’s voice sang out, “did you know I’ll be moving away soon?”
“Oh, no! No, I didn’t know that. You are moving, what for?”
“My husband and I have decided to go back to our home town. We like it very much here, of course, but even better there. So we’ll be moving two weeks from now, and I’m afraid I won’t be able to help you any more on Saturdays.”
“Well, that’s alright. Somebody else will help me. My married daughter sometimes does. Your husband, he has a better job there?”
“Actually, none, so far. But he has a couple of good prospects.”
Privately, Natalia could not understand leaving one job before having found another. But aloud, she only said, sincerely, “I shall miss you very much, Abigail.”
The door opened, the bright sunlight stabbing the sanctuary, and Father Gabriel stepped in, carrying his tool kit. He was an imposing figure, tall and robust. (Actually, Natalia thought he could probably afford to lose ten pounds or so.) His hair and beard were very black, unusually black for a man his age, only very slightly laced with silver. His eyebrows were bushy, and looking into the eyes beneath them, Natalia saw the now familiar black thunderclouds. It pained her; she had been accustomed to those eyes exuding tenderness. He was dressed in a clerical shirt with a silver pectoral cross, and wore shabby pants and even shabbier shoes.
“Ah, Batushka!” cried Natalia, feeling the warm glow that always swelled in her in his presence. “Come in, Father.” She stepped forward and held out her crossed hands to receive his blessing. He traced the Sign of the Cross on her right palm and uttered the prayer. She gave his hand the secretly-more-than-ritual kiss. Then she said, “I have a helper today, Father. Look who is here. It’s Abigail!”
Batushka seemed taken aback. He stared at Abigail and said, “How beautiful you look! That is, it’s very nice to see you, Abbie.”
“Likewise,” said the American lady, smiling. She held out her crossed hands for the blessing, which he gave.
“I came to putty the front window,” said Father Gabriel. “I didn’t know – such an unexpected pleasure. How good of you to help us in this way.”
“My consolation, Father.”
“Yes, yes. I see… Well, better get to work. We want to be finished with everything before Vespers at four o’clock.” He walked to the front window, put down his tool chest, got a stepping stool from the closet, and set to work.
Natalia kept up a gay chatter as they worked. Not that she felt gay at all, for Batushka looked very ill. It was not the walking death look she had described to Abigail, thanks be to God; it was more like a volcano about to erupt. No, she did not feel at ease. But she kept talking. For neither of her companions seemed much inclined to speak, and she was not one who could tolerate awkward silences.
“Abigail is moving away, Father. In two weeks.”
“Oh?” He didn’t turn around, but kept puttying. Natalia had the curious feeling this was not news to him. She waited. Finally, he asked, “Where will you go, Abbie?”
“Back to our hometown,” was her quiet reply.
There’s a rather evasive answer, thought Natalia. What was going on? She decided to probe a little. “You will write us, won’t you?”
“I’m not much of a letter writer, Natalia. But even if I do not write, I shall think of you all every day of my life, every single day. And the friendship will always be there. Forever.”
There was another long silence while Natalia searched for something with which to fill it.
“Father is also moving,” she said finally. “At the end of the month.” She watched Abigail carefully, but the American lady only continued to polish an icon, rather too fiercely, perhaps. “He is being re-assigned,” Natalia continued. “We are all very upset.”
Father Gabriel still did not turn from his work. “Actually, there’s news about that, which I will announce tomorrow. I’m not going. The Bishop wants me to stay here, after all.”
“Ah! Wonderful! I suppose the other parish couldn’t support you? Well, I’m so happy for us. We dreaded your leaving us, Father.”
“And I didn’t want to go. Too little time here to accomplish much.”
“Oh, no, Father! You have accomplished a great deal!”
“The words of kindness, Natalia.” He fell silent again, and Natalia, for once, could think of nothing to say, for sheer joy.
Presently, Abigail spoke up. “The prayer book you lent me, Father, I’ve left it on your desk.”
There was a pause before he said, “That’s the one you learned the Church Slavonic out of, isn’t it?”
“That and the CD of the Divine Liturgy you had Mr. and Mrs. Verevkin buy me, yes.”
“And you use it when you pray?”
“I’ve used it every day, Father.”
“Well, it is an extra. I would be honored if you would keep it, since you have such good use for it.”
She bowed her head. “The honor is mine. Thank you, Father.”
In a few moments, Abigail spoke again. “Father?”
“Oh, they’re fine, thank you.”
“Matushka?” Her voice was barely above a whisper.
“She will come for Easter?”
“No. She’s very busy, unfortunately.”
That wasn’t why Matushka was not coming, Natalia knew. Hadn’t she, Natalia, made a special point of having Father and his wife for dinner when Matushka had come for Christmas? Hadn’t she observed that there was no love between them? The Christmas visit had clearly been a disaster.
Batushka hesitated a moment, then asked, “And your family, Abbie?”
“Very well, thank you.”
“And your dear husband?”
“Happy as can be.”
He stopped and stared at the window for a long moment; then, with a sigh, resumed his puttying. “Well, I am grateful. And – and how is Abbie herself? Have you – been happy?”
With his back to Abigail, Batushka could not see the pain Natalia saw sweep over Abigail’s face before she answered, slowly: “What can I say? God has been good to me.” Yet another non-answer.
Natalia was beginning to perspire. She swung open a window and breathed the fresh air. The cherry trees were in bloom; the birds were already nesting in them. Children were playing in the park across the street. She thought, “How right everything is out there, and how mysteriously wrong everything is in here!”
Abigail had finished her icons, and was removing the candle stubs from the sand trays. “Do we have anything to scrape off wax with?” she asked.
Wordlessly, Father Gabriel stepped down from his stool and withdrew a pocketknife from his hip pocket.
“Oh, yes,” said Abigail, “that will do nicely. Thank you.”
She held out her hand. Batushka laid the unopened knife in it and closed her fingers around it, his black eyes boring into hers.
Natalia was alarmed at his unsteady gait as he returned to his window.
Abigail opened the knife and began scraping the wax from the big copper candle plate. It took her only a few minutes. She closed the knife and took it up to Father Gabriel. “Your pocketknife, sir. I thank you most kindly.” Her voice was teasing and cheerful, as though she had not even noticed the terrible something in his eyes and face, but she had, Natalia knew, because there were tears in Abigail's eyes as she turned away. Natalie watched her take a dollar from her pocket and put it in the offering box and light a candle. She went to the rear of the church and knelt before the icon of the Resurrection.
It was nearly four o’clock, time for Vespers. Batushka put away his stepping stool and went behind the iconostas to vest. Natalia got out the broom and dustpan and swept up the paint chips he had left behind.
Abigail arose, leaving her candle before the icon. She disappeared out the side door for a moment, into Father’s office, and returned, prayer book in hand. She took off her kerchief and hung her apron in the closet. “I must go” she said to Natalia. “Time to cook supper for a hungry family.” She smiled, but wanly.
Father Gabriel emerged from behind the altar, robed in shining purple and gold brocade. His eyes were dull, his face pale. He took the American lady’s hands and smiled. “You made my people very happy by your presence with us. Thank you.”
“Our people,” she replied, through tears.
He nodded and said, softly, “Our people.”
She turned to go. Father went back behind the iconostas and Natalia walked with Abigail to the door.
“Well,” she said to the American, “I will pray God goes with you always.”
“Thank you. I will pray the same for you.”
They hugged and kissed each other; then Abigail opened the door and was gone.
Natalia was just putting away her broom and dustpan when she heard it – a thud and a moan from the altar. Her heart froze. She dropped the dustpan and tiptoed up to the icon screen. She couldn’t see him. “Father?”
“Abbie? Come quickly, Abbie, quickly.”
Natalia hesitated; women were not allowed behind the iconostas. Then fear overcame reverence, and she stepped into the forbidden space.
Father Gabriel was lying on the floor behind the altar.
“Father! Have you tripped?” She already knew he had not.
She rushed to the back of the church where she had laid her purse, fumbled in it for her cell phone and fairly screamed at the 911 operator to send an ambulance. Then she flew back to the altar area.
He was still calling, weakly, “Abbie. Abbie.”
“It is Natalia, Father. Abigail has gone.”
He stared up at her, bewildered, incredulous. Finally, he murmured, “That cannot be. No, no...”
Natalia stood glued to the floor, horrified. She stared at the priest. Suddenly it all fit. She felt weak as one realization after another rained down upon her. She had inadvertently re-united two people who had not wished to see one another again – or, rather, had greatly wished but had planned not to. This whole afternoon, with its studied casualness and forced cheer, had been a charade, an act improvised, clumsily, for her benefit. She wondered what scenes might have been enacted, what tears have flowed, what words have been exchanged, but for her presence. Or had all that already happened sometime before? Mr. Belov had been right; the American’s absence from St. Vladimir’s had been because of Batushka. Not only that, she was moving out of town precisely so Batushka would not have to, so his bishop would let him stay and St. Vladimir’s would be spared its priest. (Dear God! Did the Bishop also know of this? But obviously he did.)
Stunned, Natalia sank to her knees beside the priest. Tears stung her eyes, tears of self-reproach. How foolish she had been, to entertain such feelings toward him, who all along had loved Abigail! And look where loving him had gotten poor Abbie: bereft of her beloved St. Vladimir’s, moving out of town without even leaving an address, no job for her husband, and only a prayer book, a CD, and tears to show for it. And what better outcome could ever have been expected? None, none. Natalia might not have been to the university, and she might not be the world’s greatest genius, but a fool she would not be, at least not any longer. There is no swifter or surer quencher of passion than the realization that the other person's is directed elsewhere, and Natalia felt it all drain away. This man on the floor before her was no longer a secret love, nor yet a spiritual father to her, but a human being, and one in need.
She had no time to think of herself or her own feelings. She had seen death as a child in Siberia and in the German camps. She knew its look. She sank to the floor, on her knees.
“Batushka,” she said, as gently as she could, “You are married, and Abigail is married.”
“Father, you must repent, and quickly!”
“Repent. How many times? How many times may I repent?”
“’Seventy times seven,’ Father.”
He grimaced. “I have used them all up.”
“A thousand times a thousand, then!” She was choking.
“A thousand thousand times I have already begged forgiveness for whatever hurt or harm has been done. But – what, repent of love, Natalia? I will not; I cannot.”
Natalia was sobbing. She let the torrent of her tears cascade from her cheeks onto his purple-and-gold brocaded chest. “But Father, there are different ways to love. Good ways and bad ways. There is love, and there is passion…”
He shook his head, very slightly, and spoke in little gasps. “I love all of her with all of me. I never knew how to separate spirit, mind, and body. Sometimes, I wonder if anybody does. Do you? All I know is, for the first time, I love. The first time, Natalia. Shall I repent of that?”
“Oh, I don’t know, Father! Her voice was reduced to a squeak. “I’m all confused, so confused! Her tear-drenched head sank to his chest. He reached up and patted her wet cheek.
"Me, too. But do you - know something, Tasha? God understands.” He paused. “Yes. Yes, God – understands.”
His hand fell from her cheek; his chest under her stopped heaving. She sat up. His unseeing eyes gazed at her. She closed them. The wailing of sirens outside drew nearer. She folded his hands over his chest. Then she staggered to her feet, still weeping, to go and open the door.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
My father is a mild, genial man, who by careful organization, planning, and orderly habits, manages to avoid most of life's annoyances. When misfortune does strike, though, he is apt to be cross.
On this particular Saturday, Mother was in bed with the flu. My sister and I were running the household, and were feeling quite smug because nothing disastrous had happened in three days. I had done the week's grocery shopping all my myself, and Sharon had served up a fine series of dinners. Even our brother, Matt, had caught the spirit, and mowed the lawn and trapped sixteen of the field mice that were a plague that year. (They were imprisoned in a window well until he figured out a humane way to dispose of them.) If anything, the household was functioning more smoothly than usual.
Until I ran the washing machine and forgot to unplug the tub into which it emptied.
Our utility room was never meant for laundry anway. Adjoining the den in the basement, it had been built as a storage room (and was still bursting with cartons and cartons full of books, clothes, and old photo albums). There was no floor drain in that room.
The water in the utility room must have been two inches deep. My father groaned as we all stood around looking at it. "Gad! Laura, you couldn't have made a worse mess if you'd tried."
"I know," I mumbled. "I'm sorry."
"Sorry doesn't help. This is absolutely the worst kind of thing in the world to clean up."
I stood silently, blinking away tears.
"Do you know what it takes to clean this up?"
I nodded, for this had happened several times before, but Dad went on talking. "First, you have to move every single thing in the room. Every last boxfull. Then you have to soak up the water with towels; that's the only way. Towel by towel until your hands are sore from wringing them. Gad, was a tedious process!"
"Well," said Matt, "let's get started moving these cartons."
"Can't do that. They've got books in 'em. Have to take everything out, item by item. Look at those soggy bottoms. Ruined. Every last thing in this room, ruined."
"I'm sorry," I repeated in a tearful squeak.
"Room hasn't even had a chance to dry out since the last time your mother did this." He sighed heavily. "Well, let's get at it." He walked across the den to the couch, the carpet squishing with every step, and sat down to roll up his pants cuffs. "May as well take off my shoes and socks. Wouldn't want them ruined, too. Brand new socks."
Then he stood up, waded into the utility room, and began hauling things out, amid much more panting and puffing than was necessary.
"Whew, it's hot in here," he muttered presently, wiping his forehead on his sleeve. With that, he slogged through the water towards the window. Matt yelped at him, but it was too late. The window was open, and the mice, all sixteen of them, were scurrying down the cinderblock wall like Niagara Falls.
Dad groaned. "That's all we need. A hundred mice. All over the house. Chewing up everything in sight. Reproducing like mad. Dying in between the walls where you can't get them, until the whole place smells to high heaven. It'll take months to catch them all. Months."
There was nothing we could do just then, however, so we went back to work for more than an hour, unloading cartons, moving the furniture in the den, rolling up the soaking rug. "Well, I guess we can start getting the water up now," Dad sighed. "If we can find any old towels. They're probably all worn out from combat duty."
They weren't worn out, but they were in use - by Sharon's skunk. Sharon had bathed her that morning (in the laundry tub, which is how it came to be plugged in the first place), and the skunk had slunk off behind the stairs where the torn and worn towels were kept, and had settled down on them to dry off. Rose was in a foul, snappish mood, and when Dad tried to move her, she nipped him.
We used the good towels, after all.
By supper time, when it was all over, it seemed pretty funny to everyone except Dad. Every time our eyes met, we kids had to hold our breath. It was impossible to keep sober faces, though, and one by one, we were banished to our rooms. Every time one of us left, stumbling over himself and free at last to howl, the more hilarious it got. Before long, Dad was left alone at the table, glowering.
We were confined to our rooms for the rest of the evening, with only enough time out to do the supper dishes. Another time, we might have grumbled over this tyranny; tonight we were too busy hee-hawing. And anyway, our revenge wasn't long in coming.
Dad sat down to calm himself with soothing music, and as the record dropped onto the turntable and the arm moved over, there was a tinkling sound. The stylus, along with the whole cartridge and a dozen microscopic parts, had fallen out of the arm, and been spun by the turntable in all directions. And there was a deep shag carpet on that floor.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
To a Stillborn Baby
You didn't get to meet
Your father and mother
Before you left us.
In the certainty
That your heavenly Father
Allow your death
To come between you and Him.
Against infinite growth,
Or against perfection,
We are all of us babes.
And creation itself,
What is that
But a dream in its infancy?
Seeing only in blurs,
Out of control
of its own functions,
Dependent upon God
To nurse it to maturity
And without hope,
If death is to stunt its growth.
And yet -
This infant world,
This newborn race,
Is our Father's pride and joy.
Little one, He will
And all the universe
To keep growing, flourishing,
Until our personhood
Reaches full bloom,
Untill our relationship with Him
His anger will rage against evil
until it is no more.
"He will wipe away the tears
from every face."
Someday, we'll be with you
in a better way than this.
Into an already-glorious universe.
Welcome to Life,
Welcome to humanity,
Welcome, child of us all,
Into the arms,
into the heart,
Of the Father of us all.
Posted by Anastasia Theodoridis at 4:44 AM
Friday, September 18, 2009
A Litany of Thanksgiving
When counting my blessings, I'm told, Be sure
To thank God for things that didn't occur.
For all the broken bones I never had in a sling,
For all the bees that didn't sting,
For a few sour notes I didn't sing,
Thank You, Lord.
For not shattering my windows with sonic booms,
Or letting my guests look in the back bedrooms,
For nightmares I didn't have, so they weren't scary,
For all the bums I didn't marry,
For crimes at which I wasn't caught,
'Cause I didn't do them - thanks a lot.
For all the Judases who never betrayed me,
For a thousand skunks that never sprayed me,
For all the skunks I never even met; this may sound silly,
But I'm glad I didn't mistake one for my pet skunk, Lily.
That is, if I had one, which isn't the case,
Thanks to Your ineffable Grace.
For nosebleeds that aren't now bleeding,
For elephants not stampeding,
Or in my garden feeding,
Thank You, Lord.
For subways I never got stuck under
For deaths I didn't die by lightning and thunder,
For Vikings who aren't here to pillage and plunder,
Even for an avoided blooper or blunder,
Thank You, Lord.
That I'm not a circus star falling off my trapeze
without benefit of rayon nets,
Or an enemy pilot bailing out over a parade
of troops shouldering bayonets,
or landing on a church spire,
and the church below it is on fire,
Thank You, Lord.
That I haven't divorced and remarried, only to discover
my divorce was no good and I'm into bigamy;
For all those times I didn't safari into Africa
and get cooked by some pygamy,
For every catastrophe, every disaster
That didn't happen, thank You, Master.
From tomato blight to mange to gout,
For every plight we've done without,
For these and the rest of an infinite list
Of countless things that don't exist,
May Your Name be praised.
But Lord, I confess, I prefer by far
To thank You for things that really are
Than to sit around and go half mad
Inventing things incredibly bad,
For which, since they aren't,
I'm supposed to be glad!
Posted by Anastasia Theodoridis at 4:29 AM
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Today we booked our flights. We are going to England on September 28 and coming back here October 12. During that time, God willing, we will complete the purchase of the flat in Ormskirk, Lancashire. That event is set for September 30.
And then we will spend the rest of the time getting it set up and equipped, with things like dishes and towels. And we will spend some time, too, searching for old friends of Demetrios' who may still live there, or nearby.
I've been cleaning out my attic for several days now, and have at least two more days of work to do. One of the reasons it goes so slowly is all the memories stored there. Today I found an ancient plastic storage box containing all sorts of things I wrote way back when...
These four were meant to be read together.
Or, "If you Can't Lick 'Em, Join 'Em")
The branches are bare,
The snow is late.
It's half-past time
To lock myself
Within my lair
And get some sleep,
And lose some weight,
and wait, and wait.
If you live 'til Spring
And you want to sing,
And you're feeling fair,
And you're feeling fine,
And you can spare
A little wine,
Wake me up -
I'll have a cup.
The universe is static.
People don't improve.
Like dust in some old attic,
They're settled in their groove.
And history doesn't move,
Isn't going anyplace,
Who once was bad
Is still a cad.
There's no such thing as grace.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,
You end where you egan.
God will love you if you trust;
If you don't, you never can.
You'll not become a better man.
Evolution? 'Tis the devil's lie.
You don't progress
You stay the same until you die.
Posted by Anastasia Theodoridis at 5:51 AM
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
In the narthex, she saw a small boy in front of the candle stand, looking wistful. Annie could tell he was longing to buy a candle; apparently, though, he didn't have the money. So she approached him, held out a dollar, and said, "Would you please buy a candle with this and say a prayer for me?" The "prayer for me" part was simply to disguise the charity; Annie isn't very religious, and I have heard her express a particular dislike of Catholicism.
The boy nodded gravely as he accepted the dollar, and asked, "What is your name?" One prays for a person by name, of course, whenever possible.
"I'm Anne," she said.
Annie says the boy's face turned to wonder, to awe, to astonishment and joy. It made her uncomfortable, so she quickly left. Only then did it it dawn on her what had happend. She hurried back again to find the boy, but he had gone.
Well, all this happened many years ago. The boy must be a man now, and perhaps he still tells his children about the time he was sad and penniless and couldn't buy a candle, and St. Anne de Beaupré appeared to him and answered his prayer.
Posted by Anastasia Theodoridis at 5:34 AM
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Whether to accept the Reformation's "solas" depends upon what each "sola" is intended to exclude.
Sola Scriptura? Yes, if it meant any doctrine that contradicts Scripture should be discarded. But no, because it actually means all Christian doctrine is derived from the Bible (which is exactly backwards) and/or that the bare text is enough to interpret the Scriptures, and/or that the Bible can be read in a vacuum, "unnormed." That is simply impossible.
Sola Fide? It again depends upon what is meant to be excluded. St. Paul, as the great Apostle to the Gentiles, repeatedly hammered home that one doesn't need the Law of Moses for salvation; instead, it's all about faith and always was, before, during, and after the period of the Old Covenant. So yes, if Sola Fide is used in the Pauline sense: we do not have to be Jews first and then Christians. We do not have to be bar-mitzvah or bas-mitzvah (son or daughter of the commandments). And again yes, if Sola Fide means you cannot buy or earn or bribe your way into heaven. But a big "no" to Sola Fide if it means to exclude the works of faith. Those are the works that reinforce faith in us, strengthen and build it, and help us mature in Christ, that test and exercise us in the faith. It is the works we do in faith, then, that determine, so to speak, the depth or the scope of our salvation. Put another way, the relationship we have with Christ when we die is the relationship with which we enter heaven, and it can be very weak or very strong or somewhere in between. That's what it means to say we are rewarded according to our works.
Solus Christus? Yes, if it means, "Christ and not Brahman," or "Christ and not Moloch," or the like. Christ has nothing to learn from any prophet or imaginary deity or demon. Whatever truth Buddha had, Christ had and expressed better. But if Sola Christus means I sit there passive as a bump on a log, no. The Christian life cannot be lived passively.
Sola gratia? Ditto the above. Yes, it is only by the grace of God we can be saved. But no, if it means to deny that we accept Grace by an act of free choice, another gift of Grace.
Soli deo gratia? Well, sure... but then again, Christ said, in prayer, "The glory which Thou hast given Me, I have given them." So I don't know how one reconciles these. So once more, it all depends on exactly what's meant.
Monday, September 14, 2009
-c has a post on her blog, Transposzing, that I simply must share with you. It's about September 11th and it's a wake up call. Also, I have to tell you that I firmly believe every horrible word of it is the truth. And Truth, blessed Truth, however awful and hard to accept, is what sets us free.
Here is an excerpt; please go read the whole.
Today is the anniversary of a series of horrible events. It marks the eighth anniversary of the deaths (and injuries) of thousands in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC. The victims of the crashes should be remembered -- and as the Orthodox say, may their memories be eternal.
But those were not the only victims of that horrifying day. Truth was a casualty that day: Need I mention "weapons of mass destruction" or the "connection" between Al-Qaeda and Sadam Hussein or the political manipulation of threat code-colors or the denunciation of non-existent "death panels"? And how about "liberal" commitment: How many supposed liberals and non-violent Christians found themselves shouting for the bombing of Afghanistan, because "they" (who? "they!") bombed us first. (Scott Simon, of NPR fame and infamy, opened my eyes with his threatened-masculinity tirade in the Wall Street Journal, saying, in essence, "What? We should just take it? Of course not. We have to kill in return -- and it doesn't matter whom.")
And democracy in this country may have suffered a mortal wound: As Ben Franklin wisely noted, "The man who trades freedom for security does not deserve nor will he ever receive either." Nevertheless, in our USAmerican eagerness to forget the past, we stifled dissent -- calling it "treason" and "anti-American" -- even as we institutionalized racial profiling, denied basic human rights with policies of rendition and Guantanamoization, suspended basic First Amendment guarantees (for citizens, mind you) with the notorious and ironically titled "Patriot Act."
Continue reading here.
Lord, have mercy!
The wonderful Blog called, "Under the Dome" has a terrific post today about the fear of God, about what that phrase means and doesn't mean. It means two quite distinct things, as explained in this quote from St. Maximos:
“Fear of God is of two kinds. The first is generated in us by the threat of punishment. It is through such fear that we develop in due order self-control, patience, hope in God and dispassion; and it is from dispassion that love comes. The second kind of fear is linked with love and constantly produces reverence in the soul, so that it does not grow indifferent to God because of the intimate communion of its love. “The first kind of fear is expelled by perfect love when the soul has acquired this and is no longer afraid of punishment (cf I John 4:18). The second kind, as we have alrady said, is always found united with perfect love. The first kind of fear is referred to in the following tow verses: “Out of fear of the Lord men shun evil” (Prov. 16:6), and “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Ps. 111:10). The second kind is mentioned in the following verses: “Fear of the Lord is pure, and endures forever” (Ps. 19:9 LXX), and “Those who fear the Lord will not want for anything” (Ps. 34:10 LXX). ” St. Maximus the Confessor.
I hope this whets your appetite to go and read the entire post.
Posted by Anastasia Theodoridis at 12:34 PM
September 14, 2009
The Universal Exaltation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross
To the Most Reverend Hierarchs, the Reverend Priests and Deacons, the Monks and Nuns, the Presidents and Members of the Parish Councils of the Greek Orthodox Communities, the Distinguished Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Day, Afternoon, and Church Schools, the Philoptochos Sisterhoods, the Youth, the Hellenic Organizations, and the entire Greek Orthodox Family in America
Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I greet you in the love of our Lord Jesus Christ on the Feast of the Universal Exaltation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross, a major Feast of our Holy Orthodox Church which we commemorate each year on September 14. In Her wisdom, our Holy Orthodox Church designates a specific passage from the Holy Gospel to be read during the Divine Liturgy celebrated on this day. The reading, according to the Gospel of John (19:6-30), is a dramatic narrative of Christ's judgment before Pontius Pilate, and His crucifixion, suffering and death on the Cross. The Church also prescribes this day as a strict fast.
The combining of this Gospel passage with the religious discipline of fasting is an intentional one by the Church, for it has the effect of inviting the worshipper to revisit central themes from the liturgical period of Great and Holy Lent. On this Feast, the Church reinforces these themes, focusing on the role of repentance and prayer in the Christian life and on the Cross as a constant reminder of the source of our strength, power, salvation, and life.
It is in this context that we may appreciate our liturgical act today of raising the symbol of the Cross with our hands and with our hearts. In doing this, we remember that the Cross is much more than a symbol of our faith. Indeed, it is a sign that proclaims the ultimate victory of Jesus Christ over death the establishing of His redemptive work and perfect love which He demonstrated fully and completely on the Cross.
This Feast of the Universal Exaltation of the Holy Cross, and the themes which it reinforces through the liturgical actions we express, the Gospel reading to which we listen, and the strict fast to which we adhere, direct our lives in the Way of the Cross. This is the way of sacrifice, as we take up our cross daily and deny selfish interests (Luke 9:23). It is the path of service to others in humility, not of earthly glory and treasure (Mark 10:21). It is the journey from death to eternal life, as we emulate the One who turned an instrument of shame into an emblem of victory.
For us, as Orthodox Christians, the Way of the Cross should be our calling and our life-long commitment. For some among the people of God, this path of sacrifice and service has also become a sacred vocation in the Holy Priesthood. Our seminary in Brookline, Massachusetts, is most appropriately named Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, and thus celebrates its Feast on this most blessed day. This Feast speaks with powerful relevance to the sacred mission of our Seminary in training the future Priests of our Archdiocese. It is the development of the priestly conscience, consistent with the arduous yet extraordinarily fulfilling path of the Way of the Cross, which is the task undertaken by all those who are preparing themselves for the Holy Priesthood during their years of study at our Holy Cross Seminary.
In elaborating upon the significance of today's Feast, and in describing the virtues which are essential to priestly formation, it is only appropriate at this time that we work as a community of believers, the Church, to support our beloved Seminary. This support is expressed in one way through financial contributions that we are invited to make on this day. It is also expressed through our act of encouraging more and more young men in our parishes to consider the Holy Priesthood as a meaningful and blessed manner of life in our modern world. Our encouragement and support for those who are contemplating the Holy Priesthood must also be joined by our prayers for all those who are currently studying at Holy Cross, and for others who may respond to Christ's sacred call and dedicate their lives to the Way of the Cross as Priests of His Holy Church. In our own lives, we know the redemptive and saving power of the Cross. How many more lives will be led to an abundant life through our support of worthy candidates for the Holy Priesthood and our Seminary? How many souls will be lifted up unto salvation through the ministry of those who are called, trained and sent to share the Gospel of love and life?
It is my fervent prayer on this beautiful Feast of our Holy Orthodox Church, that the strength, grace, and perfect peace of the Lord Jesus Christ, through the power of His Precious and Life-Giving Cross, may be with all of us, as we remember His love for us and dedicate our whole lives to follow the Way of the Cross unto eternal life.
With paternal love in Christ,
Archbishop of America
Now treat yourself to Fr. Stephen's post about this Feast/Fast Day.
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Here are all my grandchildren, four of the most wonderful children in the whole world world! Do please click each photo to enlarge. (Sorry, it's Grandmotheritis.)
Saturday, September 12, 2009
The sound of sirens awakened me at 6:50 in the morning. Was it just ordinary police or fire sirens, or -
"Have they attacked Richmond?" I wondered. Ridiculous thought! Or was it? I lay there for a few moments wondering. Was it even plausible? Yes, it was. After all the unbelievable things that had happened yesterday, anything was possible today. There had been all kinds of speculation yesterday about Richmond as a target, because of the Federal Reserve Bank here.
This was the first morning I could ever remember in my whole life when I had absolutely no idea what the day might hold. I could form no expectation at all of what today would be like.
Somebody began banging on my front door. I glanced at the clock. Still not even 7:00. Now I knew something was the matter. Maybe we were being told to evacuate or something.
Grabbing my robe, I flew down the stairs, tying it around me, and threw open the front door - to find three men who had come to install new carpeting!
I had forgotten all about it and somehow, it seemed totally bizarre that such an ordinary, mundane thing as that should happen on the Day After, that life should go on.
Later, I settled down in front of the television to await news of all those survivors, hundreds of survivors, they were surely going to find in that burning rubble.
Posted by Anastasia Theodoridis at 5:26 AM
Friday, September 11, 2009
Once upon a time, there was a 5-pound toy poodle named McLeod ("Cloud") who lived with us and was very much beloved. As he was so small, he would get cold outdoors in the winters, even though I kept his coat very long (and well-brushed). I knitted him SEVEN different sweaters.
Now, in cleaning out my attic, I've come across these sweaters. I have no use for them but cannot bear to throw them away.
If you know a very small dog who needs some dashing winter sweaters lovingly hand-knitted, please let me know. All I need is a mailing address.
Inspired by Andrea, who is cleaning up her blog, I'm cleaning out my attic. And the first thing I came across was a box of old love letters. Now I've been through these before, with a sharp pair of scissors, but his time, I'm sitting by the shredder.
I've kept some of them way too long, and some of them are going to be shredded this very day. Like the one that begins, "Now you shall read the grateful outpourings of an ecstatic heart..." or "Thank you for your letter, coming like water to one thirsting in a desert. I have read and re-read your letter with many tears, and with more tears I write you this..."
Most of the letters I'm keeping, but some of 'em just have to go! Really, truly, I am not going to risk dying unexpectedly and having my children come upon this "goo", to use Andrea's word.
It's amusing and so strange, how new love thinks itself so high and holy and sacred (and it IS!) yet how much of it, in retrospect, is simply driven by hormones, and how easily one can confuse the one for the other. No need to put that on display for posterity.
Demetrios had gone to Charlottesville for a week of continuing education in forensic psychiatry. I had determined to take three days of that week off from housework while he was gone. I wouldn't cook, I wouldn't even get dressed. I'd just goof off.
My plan was set back a day because Daphne's father (and Ero's husband), Matthew, hadn't quite finished painting our downstairs. He finished up around mid-day on Monday.
Monday evening, I went to KFC and bought a whole bucket of extra-crispy chicken, with a pint each of three different sides. I hadn't eaten KFC in years and I had a craving for it. This would be my suppers and maybe lunches for the rest of the week.
Next day, a gorgeous day, I began my planned hibernation by sleeping in until 8:30 in the morning. I got up and prepared myself tea and orange juice and toast, same as every morning. Then I thought I'd just watch television while eating breakfast. We never watched TV in the morning, but today I would.
I tuned to CNN just as the first plane hit one of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.
It took about an hour for my hibernation to end. Nobody, that day, wanted to be alone. I curled and brushed my hair and got dressed and went next door.
Michaux opened her front door and I said, "What are you doing?"
"Just playing on the computer," she said.
"Well, you need to turn off the computer and turn on your television!"
Our jaws dropped open when the red headline came up on the screen: "America Under Attack!" We turned and stared at each other, open-mouthed.
We kept watching until we were weak from hunger. "I have just the thing!" I said, and we hurried over to my house to warm up the KFC on paper plates in the microwave, then back to her house to continue watching. (She wanted to be near her phone, as she had a sister in New York City.)
Once, Michaux looked over at me, quite suddenly, and said, "What's today's date?"
"September 21st, 2001."
"We'll never forget it, will we?"
We kept watching until her children came home, one by one, each on a different school bus. I don't remember what the oldest said, except that he didn't know what had happened. The middle boy said, "Mom, soccer practice is cancelled tonight."
"Do you know why?" asked Michaux.
Then little Laura came home, and her mother explained to her. Laura had two questions:
"Are they going to attack Richmond?"
"No, dear, I don't think so."
"Where's New York from here? Is it far, far away?"
* * *
Demetrios phoned that evening, and addition to everything else, he was worried about his brain. "My love, today I have realized there is something wrong with it," he said.
"What seems to be wrong with your brain, my sweet?"
"Well, I don't know. But I have watched those videos of the Twin Towers over and over again, and no matter how many times I watch them, my mind still refuses to believe what it sees."
* * *
Mom was approaching the commissary at Fort Myer, adjacent to the Pentagon, when she heard on the radio that the Pentagon had been hit. "They'll never let me in the gate today," she decided. She crossed the bridge over the Potomac and then turned around to come home.
* * *
Dad was getting his excercise by walking the whole way around Lake Accotink, where he met a crazy woman who told him some deluded tale about the Word Trade Center having collapsed. He got away from her as quickly as courtesy permitted.
* * *
One of Sylvia's daughters was in a business meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina, in the basement of some office building. The meeting began at 8:00 and went until noon, when the participants decided to eat lunch together at a favorite restaurant.
They found it closed.
That's when they paid attention to another oddity: the city streets were deserted. At noon. On a Tuesday.
They began to have apprehensive feelings. They looked at one another and wondered, has the whole world changed, or something, while we were gone?
Posted by Anastasia Theodoridis at 10:20 AM
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Windmill in Old Amsterdam
Right, Said Fred
Posted by Anastasia Theodoridis at 12:06 PM
The Laughing Policeman
Busy Bee Song
(Note how at 1:30, there's a biblical phrase thrown in.)
Banana Boat Song (Day-O)
Teddy Bears' Picnic (Original Recording)
There are still several more I'm eager to post. I hope your children will enjoy these! (And/or that you will.)
Posted by Anastasia Theodoridis at 11:59 AM
Monday, September 7, 2009
Here's the wonderful article that appeared last week in The Richmond Times-Dispatch, featuring my good friend and fellow wildlife rehabilitator, Chris. There are some errors in it
*Daisy, pictured with Chris, is obviously not a Beagle, but a Basset Hound.
*Chris's son's name is Matthew, not Michael.
*The Great Blue Heron used its beak, not its talons, to destroy Chris' right eye. At least that's how I remember it...
If you click on the image, it will become full-screen and you'll be able to read the article and see the photos very easily.
Sunday, September 6, 2009
It was nearly midnight. I had finished feeding the kittens and the squirrels. I had washed up their dishes, leaving the squirrels, in their wire cage on the front porch, struggling to figure out how to get back into their nest basket. I dried my hands, put the kittens back in their box and closed its door, then went out to help whichever squirrels still hadn't managed to find their way back into the nest.
My eye caught a movement in the shrubs, and when I turned to look, two dark eyes disappeared into the shadows.
Now I was mad. "Come out of there!" I said, trying to shout, but not all that loudly, as it was midnight.
So out waddled a very large, fat raccoon.
S/he didn't want to go far, not while six warm, furry meals were beckoning. S/he ambled slowly over to the tree and waited there.
Raccoons are more dangerous than cats or foxes, because of their manual dexterity. They can open nearly anything when they have a strong enough motive. Fortunately, this one hadn't yet gotten beyond the looking stage.
The squirrels were frozen in place from terror. I picked up each one, examined it thoroughly for scratches (none found!), bundled them all up, and took them inside for the night.
NOW WHAT? That raccoon will be back.
I suppose I'll have to move the cage into the back yard and be sure to keep it well covered with a sheet and a tarp.
DECISION: I am NOT wintering these guys over! If they cannot be released before the trees lose their leaves, then somebody else will have to take them.
UPDATE: Miracle! Their mommy returned from her vacation, and came, and picked up not only the two kittens, but also all 8 of the squirrels! It was my (mis)understanding that she could not take the squirrels back, but she did. My wild animal nursery is now blissfully empty, and I intend to keep it so for a while.
Earlier this week, I read a couple of complaints about the Orthodox, to the effect that we reinterpret Old Testament. This, charge the critics, is very troubling.
I daresay it is. But I do rejoice that they recognize an important fact: we do not interpret the Old Testament the way the ancient Israelites did, or for that matter, the way Jews today do. St. Paul says as much.
Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech-- unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face ... But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. (2 Corinthians 3:12-16)To explain this further, I'm reprinting a slightly redacted version of a post that originally appeared here in January.
* * *
Old Testament Interpretation (Like Everything Else in Christianity) Begins and Ends With Jesus Christ.
In the Church’s view, the whole of Israelite history, as contained in the Old Testament, is about Jesus Christ. The relationship of the Old Testament to the New is one of promise to fulfillment, and of type to anti-type. Put another way, we interpret the Old Testament neither in the same way the ancient Israelites did, because we are looking at it with hindsight; nor in the way Jews do today, for everything in it takes on new, fuller, and sometimes rather different meaning in the light of Christ.
… the Hebrew Scriptures are also to be understood and interpreted in relation to Jesus Christ, who is both their source and their fulfillment. He is their source because he is the Logos, the eternal Word of God, who serves both as the agent of creation and as the ultimate content or referent of the prophetic oracles. And he is the fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures because at the deepest level of meaning they point forward to him and to his saving work. Christ, therefore, provides the true key to the inner meaning of the Law and the Prophets. Accordingly, Christ himself is our “hermeneutic principle” or principle of interpretation, in that it is he who reveals the true sense of all inspired Scripture. (Breck, John, Scripture in Tradition: The Bible and its Interpretation in the Orthodox Church (Crestwood, New York, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2001) pp. 9-10
Every passage of the Old Testament as well as the New bears direct or indirect witness to the person and work of Jesus Christ, who is Truth itself in incarnate form. ”I am the Way, the Truth and the Life,” he declares, Jn. 14:6). (ibid., p. 33)
The Fathers insist that the God with whom all the Old Testament figures deal is God the Son. It was God the Son who walked with Adam and Eve, God the Son who appeared to Moses in the burning bush, God the Son who instructed Noah to build his ark.
The Early Church was not particularly interested in the historicity of the Old Testament. The early Fathers didn’t necessarily deny it, but what interested them was always what the Old Testament had to say about Jesus. They looked for Him and found Him throughout.
The Old Testament is to be interpreted according to Christ, and not vice-versa! Christ Himself urged us to do this, saying in a parable, nobody patches an old garment with a new piece of cloth, because the patch will shrink and the rip will be made worse. Old clothes must be patched with old fabric. Similarly, nobody puts new wine into old wineskins, or the wineskin will burst and the wine will be lost; but new wine must be put into new wineskins, to preserve both. (Matthew 9:17, Mark 2:22, Luke 5:37-38) Christ is the New Wine; He transfigures the Old Testament. We must not interpret Him by it, or we shall lose both the wine and the wineskin, the true meaning of the Old and the New Testaments. Rather, we must interpret the Old Testament by Him, “bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)
Christ Himself began the process of showing us better ways to understand the Old Testament, bringing out what was implicit there all along but unclear or hidden. The Fifth Chapter of Matthew contains several examples of this. Perhaps the most startling example of His "re-interpretation" of the Scriptures came when Jesus preached against divorce:
They said to Him, "Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?" He said to them, "Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so...” (Matthew 19:7-8)In other words, God spoke to ancient Israel with great and gracious condescension, in His decrees making generous allowances for His people’s spiritual weakness and immaturity. He allowed divorce because of Israel's hard hearts, and someone has pointed out that God didn't even forbid polygamy! In the Old Testament (even sometimes in the New) things were written in over-simplified words and somewhat crude concepts and imagery to make it understandable to people. Meat is for adults; infants cannot digest it and need milk instead. The Old Testament is spiritual milk. The meat must await the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Another way Jesus interpreted the Old Testament in a way nobody else would have been able to until then is contained in John 8:56 (one of His claims to divinity): “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw [it], and was glad.”
Jesus also appropriated the title “Son of Man,” giving new meaning to that figure in the book of Daniel, Chapter 7.
After His resurrection, as He was walking with two of His followers on their way to Emmaus, Jesus continued the process of interpreting the Old Testament for them. Here is His response when they spoke to Him (whom they did not yet recognize) of their distress that Jesus had been crucified.
"O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?" And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself.St. Paul also found new, Christian meaning in the Old Testament. For example, in I Corinthians 10, he says the Israelites, by passing through the sea, “were baptized unto Moses.” (10:3) Then, speaking about the rock in the desert which Moses struck with his stick and it gushed forth water for the thirsty Israelites, St. Paul says, “That rock was Christ.” (10:4) In verse 6, he adds, “Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted.” They happened, that is, more for our sakes even than for the sakes of the ancient Israelites. St. Paul is much more concerned with the function of these events as examples today than as history; in fact, the part he mentions in verse 3 about the rock following Israel isn't history at all, but pure legend. As a practical matter, whether it was history or not wasn't relevant; our edification today was what counted, and still counts.
In Galatians 4:21-31, St. Paul calls the story of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar an allegory (v. 24), which allegory he expounds.
Most of the Epistle to the Hebrews is devoted to interpreting Old Testament worship in terms of shadows and patterns of “things to come”, especially in chapters 9 and 10. Moreover, it is in the name of spiritual maturity that St. Paul urges his Jewish readers to adopt this typological understanding of the old Testament. (Hebrews 5:12- 6:2)
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.In fact, what the "noble Bereans" did, to whom St. Paul preached, was exactly this: they searched the Scriptures (the Old Testament) to see whether they could see in the Scriptures the newly-announced meanings St. Paul was preaching. The meanings were different from what these devout people had been used to.
Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.
Some Fathers of the church, notably St. Gregory of Nyssa, bid us make heavy use of allegory in interpreting the Old Testament. St. Gregory does just that in his most famous work, The Life of Moses, in which he brings out allegorical and spiritual meaning and application from every incident in Moses’ Life.
Other Fathers agree that Christians ought to value the stories in the Old Testament more for their spiritual than their historical or literal meanings. “Very often many things are said by the Holy Scriptures and in it many names are used not in a literal sense... those who have a mind understand this.” (Saint Isaac the Syrian, Homily 83.)
So Christians from the beginning have followed Christ and St. Paul in telling the old story in a new way, in a way that begins and ends with Jesus Christ. They have set aside parts of it (such as ritual laws) as no longer relevant to Christians (Galatians 4:10); they have found new meanings in other parts of it
Even those who criticize the Orthodox for doing this do it themselves, although not in a sufficiently thoroughgoing way. For example, virtually all Christians see Psalm 22 as an astonishingly detailed prophecy of the Crucifixion. But before Jesus was crucified, there was no way to interpret that Psalm in that way. Similarly, in Isaiah 7:14, Christians see a prophecy concerning the birth of Christ: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” But before Christ came, the prophecy only meant that God would destroy King Ahaz’ enemies within the time it would take for a maiden to marry, conceive, give birth to a son, and teach him the difference between right and wrong. Christians have always "reinterpreted" the Old Testament. That is, they have understood things that were always there, but only revealed in the Light of Christ. Outside of Orthodoxy, however this procedure is the exception, unfortunately. More often, it's the wrong way around: the Old Testament is used as the framework within which to understand Christ.
If we fail to allow the revelation in Christ quite frankly to re-work the pre-Christian understanding of the Old Testament, to let Christ be the Light of the World, by Whom and in Whom all else is properly understood, our reading of both Testaments will be very seriously misguided and the correct doctrine of salvation will be in jeopardy.
Now please go and read Fr. Stephen's far better (and shorter!) post for some different points on the same subject.