Thursday, September 30, 2010

More Stuff I'm Learning, Thanks to Rabbi Izaak M.

I continue to read this book with astonishment. It presents things so clearly, and in a way I had never seen them before. No doubt you have, but somehow… well, I’ll try to explain as I go along.

So, back to Genesis, Chapter 3. Adam and Eve have fallen for the serpent’s trick. God says to the serpent (v.15):  And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.

“Interesting He says it of the woman’s seed,” said Demetrios.

“Yeah, well, as we’re all descended from both, He might just as well have said it of Ad—“


NO. My hands flew to my face and I gasped. No. Her offspring, and precisely NOT Adam’s! The Messiah was to have no earthly father.

I’ve long realized this was a messianic prophecy, but it never occurred to me that it is also, specifically, an allusion to the Virgin Birth, right from the beginning, right in Genesis.

Never mind I’m accustomed to people referring to Mary as the Second Eve, the Leftover Liberal Protestant in me always supposed that expression to be an invention of the Fathers – to express a correct insight, yes, but their invention, nevertheless. No! Not! It’s straight from this verse.

Again, the Leftover Fundamentalist Protestant in me left me unable properly to appreciate Genesis 11:10: “And in that day, from the root of Jesse an ensign shall be established, unto which the nations [the Gentiles] shall run.”

Run? I always thought (or mis-remembered) it as “shall turn to it.” Well, the verb in the Septuagint is difficult to translate. It’s not exactly “run”, but it’s more than “come”. Some versions say, “the nations shall rally to it”.

What jumped out at me this time was the sheer joy of this verse. The LFP in me always used to suppose it meant, now God is going to raise up a Standard for the whole world, not just for the Jews; and now everybody had jolly well better rally around it, or else!

But no, there’s nothing like that here. It’s just pure light and joy. When people see God’s Banner, they will flock to it, eagerly, with delight, practically racing toward it.

Oh, yes, p.s. – the Standard will come “from the root of Jesse”, King David’s father. That used to be the important part of the verse for me. Messiah would be of the royal line.

There are so many other prophecies to the effect that Messiah will be sent for all, not just for Jews, and that Gentiles will receive Him, and/or that Jews, by and large, will not. One of the most familiar, from Isaiah 9:2, is “The people that walked in darkness (that’s Gentiles) have seen a great light; upon them that dwell in the land of the shadow of death has the light shined.”

Isaiah 53:3 He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were [our] faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Isaiah 8:14: And he shall be for a sanctuary; But a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense to both the houses of Israel, As a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

Also, there are other prophecies in which it is quite clear that Messiah is not to be a human being only, but also God.

Isaiah 9:7:  Of the increase of his reign and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it and to establish it, with judgment and with justice from henceforth even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.  Messiah’s kingdom is to be everlasting.

And another familiar one, Micah 5:25. I used to think the important part of this verse was the reference to Bethlehem, and perhaps that is so; but for me, this time, what stood out is the divinity claimed for the Messiah:   And you, Bethlehem Ephrata, although you are small among the thousands of Judah, out of you will come forth to Me a man to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old (or, from the beginning) and from everlasting.

For me, is the most amazing revelation of all, coming from all these prophecies (and more!) combined. The LLP in me used to assume a wrong thing about the prophets. My assumption (and our assumptions are so hard to see, aren’t they!) was that the prophets did not necessarily know whereof they spoke. They said cryptic things that Christians (justifiably, of course) applied to Christ. They said things that could later be seen to have double meanings, and perhaps they were not aware of the meaning Christians would find in their sayings. When I became Orthodox, I added to this assumption that the prophets were speaking by the Holy Spirit, of course, so the meanings hidden within their oracles were indeed MEANT to be there. But I still supposed the prophets themselves seldom if ever knew how right they were!

That’s just balderdash. The more I read the prophets, the more clearly I can see, they knew exactly what they were saying and exactly what it meant. When Jesus said, “Abraham saw My day and rejoiced in it,” He meant that quite literally.

There is just no way Isaiah, for example, could not know what he was saying when he predicted Messiah would be God Himself; it’s simply too outrageous a thing to say unwittingly. There’s no way Abraham saw God as three and this was not the Holy Trinity!

No, the prophets saw clearly and spoke clearly, to help us all recognize the Expected One (yet so unexpected, because who could ever have imagined?) when He should appear. I stand amazed, mind-boggled. Glory to God!

There’s so much more, but this is a long enough post already. I’ll share more soon!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Postscript on the Holy Cross of Christ

An even bigger chunk of the Holy Cross has come to Thessaloniki from Mt. Athos. I don’t know if we’ll get a chance to venerate it. We will try. Now I understand why nobody was excited when I talked about the piece that came to our church recently. As Mena said, “Pieces of the Cross are everywhere.”

Who's training whom?

I promised to update you on my dove-training project. It has worked very well indeed, although not as expected. My plan was:

I would approach the doves
Whenever I liked
and give a certain call on my dog whistle
and the doves would come
and their reward would be food.
 What has happened instead?

Two Collared Doves now come to our balcony
whenever they like (several times a day)
and they give a certain call, “Ku-KUUUU-ku!”
and I come
and my reward is to feed them.
So who’s the bird–brain? Not they!

It reminds me of the time years ago when Demetrios told me, “This is ridiculous! You’re actually in a competition of wits with a rabbit!  And the rabbit is winning!” Yup, rabbits are not hare—brained, either.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Sunday, 26 September

Demetrios is with Costas and Mena at their country home in the village of Nea Syllata. Yes, of course I was invited as well, but I still feel so weak I just didn’t even want to walk to the bus stop. So I told DH to go by himself and spend the night if he pleases.

And I have been, gratefully, indulging in low-energy, solitary pursuits, such as writing and knitting and reading and napping. Minimal housework. Maybe I’ll feel stronger tomorrow.

Demetrios has been calling often. He says Mena and Costas have fixed up their house in Syllata and it looks much better now. Well, yes, their daughter finally graduated from university; that’s why. They can afford stuff now. Demetrios says they have tiled all the once bare, concrete floors and painted the once bare, concrete walls and have installed a whole new bathroom. I can hardly wait to see it, but it’ll be at least a couple of weekends from now, because next weekend, we are going to meet David and Julia in Corfu.

* * *
The feral cats drive me crazy because there are so many pregnant ones and so many tiny kittens and I can’t do a single thing for them. I can’t take any home. I can’t take in a pregnant one even temporarily, because I tried that once and the poor thing was so distressed I had to release her. I don’t have the money this year to have any spayed or neutered, as in the past. Most of them don’t even need me to feed them, as other people are already doing it.

* * *
A politician, Mr. Pangalos, was interviewed on Greek television about the wretched state of the Greek economy. After a while, he said, “Stop asking me so many questions about this. We all know where the money has gone. We all ate it together! So why do we have to keep talking about it? You asked for government jobs, we gave you government jobs, and together, we ate all that money.”

A commentator later said yes, that’s true, but the politicians had the lion’s share of the feast; the rest of the people got comparatively very little.

There’s even a joke circulating now about this remark. A man dressed in shabby clothes and worn-out shoes is interviewed by a tax agent.

“So do I understand correctly?” asked the tax man. “You have 22 apartments?”


“And five cars?”

“That’s right.”

“But, well, sir, excuse me, but you look very poor!”

“So I am, but I used to eat with Mr. Pangalos!”

* * *
The weather has been perfect. Since we came, it has rained only twice, I think, both times at night. Otherwise, the sky is cloudless, the sun bright, and the temperature perfect.

An Evening With Friends

Vasilea and Manolis invited us to dinner last week, together with 6 others of our and their close friends. 

We bought some flowers to take to Vasilea, and as we were standing on our corner, waiting for Mena and Kostas to come pick us up, a woman passed by.  “Ah, beautiful!” she said, lifting an arm into the air.  “Joy to her who receives them!”  I thought that was so sweet!!!  Demetrios says she didn’t make it up, it’s a common saying.  But, he said, the woman really did expect us to pass on her good wishes, so we did.

Besides Mena and Kostas, the other Mena, quiet and demure, was there with her husband, Ioannis the theologian.  The other Ioannis was there, too, the lawyer and cantor (who, never disappointing us, twice in the course of the meal broke into hymns).  His wife has the same name, but in feminine form, Ioanna.  She has copper-blonde hair, dark-rimmed glasses, and a loud voice, which she finds very useful in animated conversation such as we always have.

Maria was there, too, Vasileas’ and Manolis’ daughter who is conductor of a world-class choir.  She lives in the top storey of a large house Manolis built on his property.  (Her brother and his wife occupy the ground floor.) 

I found Maria working in the kitchen.  Whhen I offered to help, she said, in her perfect English, “Oh, no.  Mother has everything done.  But as I have a guest as well, I’m trying to get our food ready.”

“Your guest is at your house and you’re here?”

“He’s fixing my computer.  That comes first.  We fix the computer and then have dinner.”

Aha.  Method.

Manolis’ and Vasilea’s son Stephanos was there, too.  He is spastic and cannot speak. But he pointed to Demetrios and to me and let it be known he had not forgotten us.  We got big hugs from him.

He was all excited because the moon was almost full.  He always admires the moon very much. 

He eats separately from guests. 

Manolis and Vasilea have a huge house. Our entire apartment could fit inside their living room.  The room is spacious enough to accommodate a grand piano you hardly notice, plus a model sailing ship taller than I am.  There are six chandeliers and two levels in that room. 

Vasilea always puts out such a feast.  I don’t know how she can do it.  There were mixed vegetables, a cheese and veggie soufflé, meat balls, pork loin, eggplant salad, cheese salad, boiled eggs, tsaziki (plain yogurt with minced cucumber), and three kinds of dessert.  And I’ve no doubt forgotten a dish or two.   

The sexes integrated for once around the table.  I like that, because usually the women sit at one end and talk about their ailments, their grandchildren, and friends they all know but I don’t, while the men sit at the other end of the table and talk – what else? – politics.   This time the conversation was wide-ranging.  It even dwelt for a considerable time upon theological points, such as papismos, protestantismos, and whether the non-Orthodox could be saved. 

“No!” said Vasilea.  “Listen; it’s so simple!  If you don’t have Christ, you don’t have life, because He is life.  If you don’t know truth, you are not saved from falsehood.  If you do not have Christ’s love, then you are not saved from hate, and so on.”

All the others said, “We just do not know.”

I remembered how Joseph the Elder had put it, and Demetrios translated that for me, and it drew general consent:  When God comes to judge, Elder Joseph told his disciples, He will know how a person would have been, had he been Orthodox.

I don’t care for that way of saying it myself, but it settled the argument. 

It certainly does not appear that unbelievers can be saved, and there’s nothing in Scripture that says they can.  Nevertheless, “With God, nothing is impossible.”  Our God works miracles, and there’s no telling what miracles He may work on the Last Day.  Just as He said some within the Church will be pruned away, so we are allowed to hope that some may also be grafted in.  It’s hope, that’s all, but hope in SUCH a God!!!!

Another big topic was the Anti-Christ.  Ioannis the theologian pointed out that throughout history there have been and still are numerous anti-Christs, starting with Roman emperors who styled themselves “King and God.”  The Greek prefix anti means ‘instead of’ (and sometimes ‘against’).  Thus, anyone who sets himself up as being in Christ’s stead or in Christ’s place or in Christ’s person is antichristos.  THE Anti-Christ, the eschatological one, is another matter.  There was much speculation on this topic. 

We broke up around midnight.

Resolve:  although I haven’t the space in my wee house for many people, and my kitchen is tiny, I will have some of these people over from time to time, if only for coffee and dessert!!

Subdeacon Who?

Subdeacon Benjamin Harju, that's who, in a surprise ordination.  (Even Ben apparently didn't know it was going to happen until 24 hours beforehand!)  Check out Emily's blog for photos and details.

God grant you many years, Ben!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Christ and the Holy Trinity in the Old Testament

Margaret, our blog friend in Scotland, who began life in Judaism, has remarked that you cannot remove Christ from Jewish worship. Corroborating that statement is a book Demetrios and I have been reading called, Rabbi Izaak M., by Nikolaou Ambraze, about a rabbi who converted to Orthodox Christianity in the late 19th Century.   Of course, he Fathers told us a similar thing as Margaret, too, that Christ was on every page of the Old Testament.  St. Paul also said it to the Jews in Berea, and they looked to see if they could see in Scripture what St. Paul saw. (Yes, that's what they were doing, not practicing sola scriptura.)

The book is in Greek, but the excerpts Demetrios read to me, translating as he went along, were so interesting that when he had finished the book I picked it up, and to my surprise, I could read it reasonably well. (I may not be able to tell the clerk in the shop what kind of slippers I want, but my theological vocabulary is pretty good. And it appears I haven’t quite forgotten every word of Hebrew, either, although heaven knows I've tried, as that language drove me to despair while I was studying it.) Usually, when I’ve finished a section, of this book, I ask Demetrios to read it to me, just to be sure I’ve gotten it.

Anyway, I think it may be worthwhile to point out some of the Old Testament witness to Christ and to the Holy Trinity that are featured and debated in this book.) Of course you know many or all of these passages and so did I, but somehow, I never got it!  I never appreciated the full force of these passages until now.  Now I can't get over my amazement!

We begin, then, right at the beginning, Genesis 1:1. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Except this translation doesn’t do justice to the Hebrew text. It’s,  In the beginning, the Gods created the heaven and the earth. It’s Elohiym, Gods, plural (a common word for God  in the O.T.). To make it more interesting still, the verb “created” is in the singular.

Skipping ahead in the same chapter, to verse 26: And the Gods said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. Again, the subject is in the plural while the verb is in the singular. (Note also that the Hebrew word for “man” is “adam”, making it not so easy to say whether, in any given text, we ought to render it, “Adam” or “the man”.)

Now the rabbis traditionally have held that when God said, “Let us,” He was addressing the angels, but the book quite easily demolishes that idea. Are not angels servants of God, rather than gods? Does God invite them to help Him create anything? Are angels co-creators? Are we created in the image of angels?

Clearly God was not addressing angels. Whom, then? If we read a corresponding passage from the New Testament, we can answer the question. From John’s Gospel, Chapter 1: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in beginning with God. All things were made by Him, and without Him was nothing made that was made.

So, in Genesis, God creates by speaking. Let there by light, etc. In John, God creates by “the Word,” And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. (v. 14) So Christ is the incarnation of the creative Word, of the "Let there by light.". It was the Holy Trinity conversing among themselves in Genesis. Oh, yes, the Holy Spirit is explicitly in the Genesis account, too: “And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:2)

We move on to Genesis, Chapter 18, where Abraham sees God. “And there appeared to him the Lord on the plain of Mamre, while he was sitting in the doorway of his tent in the heat of the day. And lifting up his eyes, he looked, and behold, three men standing before him. And when he saw them, he ran toward them from the door of his tent and bowed himself to the ground. And said, “My Lord, if I have found favor in Thy sight, please do not pass by Thy servant.”

Okay, so we are told explicitly that who Abraham saw was indeed God. But he saw God as three men, not one. He saw three, but he addressed them as one! He said, “My Lord,” not "My Lords".  He said “Thy” sight and “Thy” servant, “Thy” being the singular.

The rest of the chapter is equally interesting in mixing singulars and plurals, and in again mentioning that these three men were the Lord.

“Abraham rejoiced to see My day,” said Jesus, “He saw it and was glad.” (John 8:56)

Not that we’re anywhere near finished in Genesis yet, but I have limited space here. So for now, let’s consider a verse from the Prophet Isaiah (9:6), very familiar because we’ve heard it sung so often: For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given. Okay, that’s a human baby, right? A child. Born not to angels, not to sheep, but to us humans.

And authority shall be upon his shoulder. That’s right; in the Septuagint, it isn’t “the government” but “authority” – which could be construed as government, but that's not what it says, at least not in the Greek.  (Margaret, the Hebrew word is misrah. Is "authority" a good translation of that?) Yes, the word carries a definite article, but in Greek, nouns nearly always do.  You don’t speak of your friends as George and Nick, for example; you say, “the George” and “the Nick.” And “the authority”. But in English we can just say “authority. 

Continuing with the same passage of Isaiah: And his name shall be called, Miraculous, Councilor, The mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Yes, it’s “Miraculous”. “Wonderful” no longer quite conveys what the text means.

But more surprising than this, His name shall be called “The Mighty God, the everlasting Father.”  Okay, Jews are as strict monotheists as can be found anywhere.  Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is One.  Why would any Jew in his right mind call a human being God? Would that not be blasphemy? The Jews at Jesus’ trial feigned such shock as to tear their clothes even at His being called the Son of God.  But here is Prophet Isaiah saying it very explicity:  this human child to be born is God Almighty!

* * *
You just have to read the Old Testament in the light of the New, don’t you, for it to make sense? Paradoxically (or not), only by Christianizing it do we even render it true to itself.

Perhaps I’ll share more of this fascinating book later, when I’ve read more. It may take a while!

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Many Uses of Garbage

Various collectors of garbage make their rounds here daily. One garbage truck comes anywhere between 1 and 3 A.M. to empty the dumpsters on our corner. (And of course the garbage men shout; that’s a universal given. I always wondered why, but obviously it’s because that’s the only way they can hear each other above the roar of the truck. Whoever first invents a quiet garbage truck will make a fortune.) They seem to come to our corner again in the late morning, so what’s going on? But we’re lucky; other routes have been left unattended lately; we don’t know why.

In between the dumpsters’ twice-daily emptying come other collectors. The Gypsies drive past in pickup trucks looking for anything obvious, such as a chair or small table sitting beside the dumpster.

During the day, Albanians come around with ingenious little trolleys they construct from prams or baby strollers. They remove the body, replacing it with a large, corrugated, cardboard carton, the kind in which perhaps a stove was originally shipped. These they strap onto the fame, with its wheels and handle, using bungee cords. Then they walk through the streets and literally paw through the dumpsters looking for anything useable or saleable. (So if we are disposing of anything anybody might use, such as old clothing, we put it in a plastic bag or two and place it carefully on the top of the heap.) Today I saw one Albanian woman who actually had a bathtub in her cart!

(How can you tell they’re Albanians? Their clothes, hairdos and complexions are different. The women often have a single, long braid hanging down their backs. Their heads are often covered with a bright kerchief tied in the back. Their clothes are even brighter and more colorful than American clothes, whereas Greeks wear more muted tones. Albanians’ skirts are about ankle-length and often do not in any way coordinate with their blouses.)

During the night, more discreetly, Greek poor people also rummage through the dumpsters.

Lastly, whenever humans aren’t there, the cats prowl the dumpsters, scrounging food scraps.

It’s re-cycling, Greek style. It works pretty well, on the whole.

A Partial Retraction

A few days ago I wrote a post extolling the charms of living at close quarters with other people. Well, what I wrote is true, but provided you have an adventurous spirit and adopt the right attitude. When you’re in a bad mood, as you’re apt to be when sick (like us these last 3 days) it all looks rather different.

Sometimes even if you’re in a good mood, it becomes a bit much. Case in point: The Drunken Duck, the bar next door to us, especially rowdy when its large-screen TV is showing a soccer/football game.

End of rant. Thanks for lending me an ear eye.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Catholicity in Worship

There is such a thing as catholic worship, nothing to do with popery, but meaning worship suitable to be offered to God by all people, in every part of the world, in every age.

How can that be? Well, it’s for two reasons. The first is that God, to Whom the worship is offered, is unchanging, always and ever the same. If it was pleasing to Him a century ago or a thousand years ago, it is still pleasing now. If it pleases Him when offered in Antioch, it still pleases him when offered in Brazil or the North Pole.

The second reason worship can be catholic is that human nature hasn’t changed either, since the Fall. Our souls are all the same, everywhere and at all times. And it’s from that level true worship is offered to God.

We do indeed use sensory things to assist us, and each plays its own role. But if we think we need to adapt to various (corrupt!) cultures, or keep up with modern trends, or make church more “fun”, or manipulate people’s emotions, then we are only playing around at the surface. That’s fun, yes, sometimes even thrilling, but only for a while. In the end, those serious about God and yearning for the depths will find “contemporary worship” no better than their other used to be. Because it isn’t being done by the human spirit, only the body, together with its mind and/or emotions. (Yes, mind and emotions still belong to what St. Paul terms “the flesh”, the natural self, not the spirit.)

But in our culture (or lack thereof), people have forgotten, if they ever knew, what that means, or how to reach the level of our spirit. They assume emotions are about as deep as we can get.

The things of the spirit indeed do have emotional concomitants, but that is overflow, side effect, not the whole show. And the emotional effect is something entirely natural and spontaneous, proceeding from deep within, not needing to be artificially hyped up from outside of us by a praise band or an organ or choir or oratorical devices or anything else. And the emotional accompaniment is not something we wish to heed much, either, as to do so and spoils it all. Worship is meant to be offered from a level deeper (or higher, pick your metaphor) than emotions.

Not that I advocate the various denominations going back to their traditions. Today, the rapid shrinkage of most denominations is eloquent testimony to the fact that whatever they used to do didn’t really engage people’s spirit. What most people say is, it didn’t work for me. Not that worship should be addressed to them, but they’re saying it was meaningless. They couldn’t relate to it. Imagine! Worshipping the God of all the Universe(s), boring, meaningless!!?? Of course that can only signify it wasn’t true worship in the first place, for true worship is the very opposite of boring or meaningless; it involves the sum of everything important there ever was, the ultimate meaning of absolutely everything. Whatever you do from your spirit is brimful of importance and significance.

I don’t know how to explain what the human spirit is, for those who seldom or never have known it. All I know is, it’s in you. “The Kingdom of God is in you.”

But if you come to an Orthodox church long enough (assuming it’s a well-functioning, healthy parish and your heart is open), you will begin to become aware of your spirit, your deeper self. You will hear music which, although it may not tickle the ears, aims at and reaches all the way into your spirit. You will see icons that do the same thing. They are not attempts to please your eye, but to reach your soul. You will hear prayers and hear doctrine that your soul will receive with joy and tears (once you get over being bewildered!), Your heart will know them to speak truth, and your soul will leap at them, as John the Baptist , still in the womb yet with his spirit discerning the presence of the Lord, also leapt. And gradually, you will become more and more aware of your spirit as you learn to exercise it; and although you still won’t have words for it, you will begin to know what that ineffable depth in you is – and what catholic worship is, offered not primarily in body, mind or emotion (though it involves them all), but “in spirit and in truth”.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Life in Greece, Part 13

Signs and Portents

When I was tired of crochet, having spent some hours doing it, I walked out onto our balcony, and there in the night sky was a sight wondrous to behold. I’d never seen anything like it before, or anything more beautiful. It looked like a tight cluster of maybe a dozen stars, closer to each other even than the Pleiades, and brighter, a twinkling cloud of little lights. It looked, actually, like a just-exploded, still tiny, shimmering firework, frozen in the sky.

I had no idea what it was. It was too small to be the moon, even a crescent moon, with something partly obscuring it. I never heard of a comet looking like that. It couldn’t be a UFO because it wasn’t flying; it was just staying where it was. It was not the sort of thing one associates with the End of the World. A supernova? No; it wouldn’t look like this. So what could it be? What could it mean? Every suggestion that came to my mind was ridiculous.

I suppose I stood there five full minutes, absorbed in silent wonder, before I noticed another, similar object, higher up in the sky. And then a third one.

And then I knew what this sign meant. It meant that for hours of close work, I need proper glasses! But not seeing clearly does have its advantages, and tonight’s vision was one of them.

Crochet – in Greece? You’ve Got to be Kidding!

And WHY, you ask, when I’m here in Greece, where there are umpteen thousand things to see and do, am I spending hours and hours doing, of all things, crochet? I could do that back in Richmond, for heaven’s sake!

It’s because of a very nasty chest cold that has left me voiceless and sleepless and energy-less. Demetrios has since caught it, too.

The good part is, it has deprived us both of appetites. Not that lack of appetite ever stopped me eating, but at the moment there’s nothing in the house unhealthy enough to be tempting. So I’m only eating because I know I should.

The other good part about having no appetite is, I don’t feel like cooking anyway – or going out to eat, either. Or shopping for groceries.

We’re just staying in bed as much as we can, separate beds, too, so when one can’t sleep the other can.

I seem to be recovering, slowly. Demetrios’ cold is about 24 hours behind mine, so he should begin to feel noticeably better by tomorrow.

Christos (my brother-in-law) had it a couple of days before we did and he’s fine now.

Memory: I can remember when Demetrios became sick for the very first time in his life. Feeling bad was astonishing for him! He couldn’t stop expressing his amazement. It has got to have been healthy for him, though, to experience illness from the other side of the stethoscope.

Magic Square (Crochet)

Barbara, my sister, is the one who taught me to crochet and gave me my first pattern book for Christmas one year. But the Magic Square was taught to me by my mother’s cousin Coralynn. I have recently remembered how to do it, and with delight pass it on to you.

The Magic Square, worked in yarn, not thread, and is very easy to make. It is good for small rugs (mats, really), potholders, trivets, and assorted other items, some of which I’ll mention in a moment. Although you crochet it flat, it comes out in double thickness and turns into a square all by itself, which is where the magic comes in. The pattern on one side comes out perpendicular to the pattern on the other side. Whatever you do always comes out symmetrical, too.

To see how it works, you can crochet a very small sample or you can use a square piece of paper. Draw a couple of stripes on it, just for fun. Fold the paper in half, forming a rectangle (not a triangle). Tape each of the two ends shut. Now unfold the paper and try laying the fold flat on a table. You automatically make a double square, in which the fold stretches from one corner to the other and the opening, on the other side, is perpendicular to it. Notice how the stripes on either side are also at right angles to one another.


With a crochet hook two sizes larger than you plan to use for the Magic Square, chain, loosely, as many stitches as you like. The chain will become the distance from corner to corner of the square.

Work 1 crochet stitch into each chain until the end of the chain; then continue, working 1 stitch into the each loop on the other side the chain until you have completed a full round. You don’t need any turning stitches.

You can begin the next row in the usual way, but I prefer to just keep going around and around in a spiral; because otherwise you must keep careful count of the stitches to be sure you make the same number in each round.

Continue working in this way until the full square is formed.

Sew the opening shut with a darning needle or crochet it using all slip stitches. If it’s a potholder, you may like to add a loop at the corner for hanging it.

Tuck in and trim the tails.

That’s it! Very simple.

Variations and Hints:

If you fold the work along the chain stitches, it becomes a pocket or pouch instead of a Magic Square. This is fine if you prefer a rectangular piece, but to see and use it square, keep the work as flat as you can and it will automatically fold itself the other way.

You don’t want holes in a potholder!! Use a crochet hook about 2 sizes smaller than you normally would for your particular yarn, to achieve a tight fabric. For the same reason, you don’t want much patterning; a plain stitch works best. Rely upon the yarn itself to add interest. You can use two or more colors or (much easier) self-striping yarn.

Thick yarn is advisable for potholders and rugs. Cotton yarn works well for potholders.

As you work, you may notice that the shape begins to resemble a footie. You can make a slipper of it with some very simple tailoring, thus: About 3 rounds before you think the sides of the slipper will be tall enough, you must begin to reduce the number of stitches around the toe end. Simply skip every other stitch for a round, at the toe only. Try it on and determine whether any further reductions are needed in the next round(s). For my size, I usually have to decrease about 10 stitches. I also make double stitches in the next two rounds (toe area only), putting 6 in one row and 4 in the next. This makes the slipper cover more of the top of the foot.

You can decorate the slipper with a crocheted flower or beads or use your imagination. You could even work one row in double or triple crochet and run a narrow ribbon through the holes thus made, tying a pretty bow in front.

Unless you are making a very large Magic Square, you will also begin to notice, as you work it, how it resembles a hand puppet or finger puppet. Even if you are new to crochet, you will be able to see, very readily, how to make it into one. When you’ve nearly finished your rounds, reducing the number of stitches somewhat (at both ends, this time) may make it easier to keep the puppet on your hand.

How About Peter?

From St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, Chapter 16:

I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea, 2 that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also.
3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, 4 who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. 5 Likewise greet the church that is in their house.
Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia to Christ. 6 Greet Mary, who labored much for us. 7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my countrymen and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.
8 Greet Amplias, my beloved in the Lord. 9 Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and Stachys, my beloved. 10 Greet Apelles, approved in Christ. Greet those who are of the household of Aristobulus. 11 Greet Herodion, my countryman. Greet those who are of the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord.
12 Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, who have labored in the Lord. Greet the beloved Persis, who labored much in the Lord. 13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine. 14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren who are with them. 15 Greet Philologus and Julia, Ne^rmeus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them.
16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. The churches of Christ greet you.
And not Peter?

From I Corinthians 3

And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; 3 for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? 4 For when one says, "I am of Paul," and another, "I am of Apollos," are you not carnal? 
5 Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. 7 So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. 8 Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor.
9 For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, you are God's building. 10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. 11 For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos? And who is Peter, that we should say, "I am of Peter"??

From the Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 10:

24 And the following day they entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them, and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 As Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. 26 But Peter lifted him up, saying, "Stand up; I myself am also a man."

So why do people bow down and kiss the shoe or hand of St. Peter's alleged successors?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Early Christians Worshipped in Catacombs

To focus on trying to make the Church grow is like searching for happiness: it backfires. The more you try, the less it happens.

To be truly happy, you have to focus not upon yourself, not upon your happiness, but upon others. The more you focus upon loving others and promoting their well-being, the more joy you will have.

Likewise, to “grow the Church”, the Church has to focus not upon that, but upon being faithful to Christ. To focus on “church growth”, isn’t that another, subtle form of the age-old trap of serving the institution instead of the Lord? And the more you try, the less success you will have, because that is perhaps the biggest thing that drives people away in the first place.

Corollary: People *ultimately*, deep down, don’t want their denominations to bow to cultural trends, either, in attempt to “grow the Church”. The secular culture around us is, in the first place, corrupt; and in the second place, exactly what serious-minded people are trying to get away from! They need to be shown an alternative, a better way.

No doubt it’s very frightening, the thought of becoming financially unable to sustain ones institution, of having to surrender precious and historic church buildings, of becoming entirely insignificant to the world around us. But it’s a mistake to panic. We must just concentrate on how to be uncompromisingly faithful to Christ. If we do increase our fidelity to Christ and our understanding of what that means, and if we remain resolute and unbending in this, and provided we are indeed preaching the Gospel and not error (for only the authentic Gospel fulfills the human heart), the Holy Sprit will add to our numbers. It’s His job. Let us trust Him.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Orthograph Idea

This is for you, s-p! I’d love to see a graph (unless you’ve already done it and I missed it) showing the ratio between the number of worshippers in attendance, especially bishops, and the length of time it takes a cantor to sing “Amen”.

(NOTE: Steven Paul Robinson’s Orthographs may be the best Orthodox satire going. No, he isn’t satirizing Christ’s Church or the holy Faith; it’s worse than that; he’s poking fun at US! And it’s a sharp needle he uses, too. Also, on a more serious note, check out s-p’s outstanding Orthodox podcasts here.)

Dreaming of Barbara

We were lying on beach towels on the warm sand, Barbara and I. The surf was rolling gently in. Her arm was around my neck and we were laughing and talking in a sisterly way about some magazine we were looking at together.

And then I remembered she was dead.

“Oh, please, please don’t fade away this time!” I said. “I am so very much enjoying this illusion!”

But of course, as soon as I recognized it as illusion, my mind could no longer sustain it, and she disappeared, leaving me alone on the beach. I never did recognize the beach as illusion.

* * *

Barbara was above me, floating near the ceiling. I said, “What does it feel like? I mean, do you feel dead, as in DEAD dead?” I never noticed the absurdity of the question.

“Oh, no,” she replied. “Not at all. It’s not like annihilation. It’s more like sleeping, but we are still aware of God and of ourselves. And sometimes we wake up, like now. (It isn’t all illusion.)”

“And what do you do when you wake up?”

“We see what God has done.”

“Aren’t you supposed to be standing with the angel choirs or feasting at the heavenly wedding banquet or something?”

“We’re waiting for all of YOU!” She smiled and lifted her eyebrow in that characteristic expression of hers that meant, “You see?” or, in this case, “How could we be so discourteous as to begin before all the guests have arrived?”

It was that expression that made me cry, the expression she had from babyhood, and the crying that woke me up.

P.S.) Orthodox Christians don’t derive our theology from dreams. St. Peter once did, but he was a great saint and the circumstances were extraordinary.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Living in Greece, Part 12

Tuesday, 14 September
Feast of the Elevation of the Precious Cross

Today commemorates the finding of the Holy Cross of Jesus by St. Helena, mother of Emperor St. Constantine the Great. As you know, when he was preparing to go to battle to claim the whole of the Roman Empire, a vision of the Cross appeared in the sky and was seen not only by him, but by his men and many others. He had the cross emblazoned on his soldiers’ tunics and went into battle under the banner of the Cross, and won.

When he had been established as Emperor, he commissioned his Christian mother to go to Jerusalem to find the True Cross.

The place where Jesus had been crucified was known, because an earlier Roman ruler had built a temple there to Venus. So St. Helena directed the hill excavated.

Three crosses were found, but nobody knew which one had been Christ’s. An ingenious test (in my opinion) was devised, in which each cross touched to a moribund woman. When the True Cross touched her, she immediately rose from her deathbed, perfectly well.

St. Helena had the Cross brought to the Patriarch. Then, as throngs of people watched, the Patriarch lifted (elevated) the cross up high, for everyone to see. You can imagine the joy, the tears, and probably the shouts (if Jerusalemites then were anything like Greeks then and now). That day has been a feast of the Eastern Churches every year since. (Okay, not quite. The feast was establihed 15 years later.)

There just aren’t any words to tell you what a blessing it was to celebrate the feast of the Cross in the presence of the actual Holy Cross.

Before Thy Cross, O Lord, we bow down
And we glorify Thy third-day Resurrection.

I didn’t try to count how many times we sang this, but it was enough to give many people sore hips tomorrow from all the prostrations.

I didn’t even mind the crowds so much. Well, I stood by an open door; that’s why. I also spent time in the balcony, where, by reading the names on the nearest icons, I discovered a Saint Coralia. I’m going to have to look into that further. Apparently she was one of the Forty Virgin Martyrs.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Living in Greece, Part 11

Monday, 13 September
On Christ’s Death and Resurrection

Today was our chance. We arrived at the church half an hour later than planned, but still while the matins were just underway, and there were very few people there. The queue was short, only half a dozen people. (Yes, a queue! I take it back; Greeks DO know how to line up! They just don’t do it very often.)

This fragment of the Cross is mounted in an icon, done in mostly gold paint, showing St. Helena, who has just found and identified the True Cross, and the then Patriarch of Jerusalem holding the Cross on high for all the people to see. The Cross itself, in each dimension, is approximately the size of the hand cross a priest uses to bless us at the end of the Divine Liturgy. Its center is some 8 inches tall and its arms are perhaps seven inches across. Each beam is about a half inch wide and a quarter inch deep.

Of course the icon is under glass, and the whole is mounted in an elaborate silver frame.

I was able to take the aisle seat in the front row, where I could see the Holy Cross the whole time, even as people were kissing it and prostrating themselves before it. (No, they aren’t worshipping the Cross itself, but bowing before the miracle that happened there, when God in the flesh poured out His love upon the whole world.)

All sorts of people came, men and women, old and young, mothers with babes in arms, mothers with children wearing backpacks in readiness for school, people who could hardly walk, and – for me the most touching of all – a man suffering some sort of psychosis. He looked unwashed and was wearing ragged clothing; the back of his tee shirt read, in big Greek letters, “Fool”. He stood in front of the Cross, spread out his arms, and prayed long and aloud, with many sighs and the frequent, “Alas!” It made me think of the publican in the Parable. This man may have been crazy, but he was no fool.

After the Divine Liturgy, we walked down to Queen Olga Boulevard for some breakfast at a little outdoor eatery there. Then on to the Monday market, several blocks away, and thence home, where I quite soon fell asleep until it was time to prepare a late lunch.

It has occurred to me to wonder what if Christ had died a peaceful death one night in His sleep? It would have been disastrous for us! Well, no, His conquering of death would still be our great joy, BUT…

But we would not be able to say that God loves us enough to have shared even our worst suffering. Yes, He died, we’d say, but He didn’t condescend to die the way some of us have to, horribly.

We wouldn’t be able to say, “Whatever dread path I may ever have to walk, He has walked it before me.”

We would not be able to add, “…and that’s how I know I shall find Him there at the end of it.”

Much less, “…and that’s one way I know He will be and is with me every step of the way, His Presence transfiguring even the most gruesome and hideous circumstances into a foretaste of heaven.”

Christ’s resurrection is not simply the Father’s stamp of approval for the suffering He underwent on the Cross. Nor is it simply a postscript to the supposed “real story” (His suffering) that makes it come out right in the end. Nor yet is it, as I once imagined, just a personal victory for Him, as in, hooray for You; You triumphed and we are very happy for You (and so proud to be followers of such a glorious King)! No, His resurrection is a victory on our behalf! It’s our death He kills by His own death.

How does that work? We don’t know! It is a mystery too great to grasp. But by resorting to poetic language we may perhaps get some sort of cognitive angle on it. Soooo…

Just because this will make it easier, imagine death as a place instead of a condition, a place of darkness and despair and destruction, where everybody eventually ends up. Into this realm, which we call Hades, comes Christ. (In straightforward language, He dies.) And into this gloom He brings His Light, lighting up the darkness. And into this miserable place He brings Love, turning the despair to Joy. And into this destruction He brings indestructible, divine Life. Now this once wretched place is overflowing with light and love and life and joy – rendering it no longer Hades at all, as we had known it, but a forecourt of heaven. That, in poetic terms, is how Christ, by dying, tramples death underfoot.

(Back to straight language for a moment) Death, like every evil, is ultimately weak, having no substance. As darkness is nothing in its own right, but only the absence of light, and as cold is nothing in its own right, but only the absence of heat, so death is nothing in its own right, either, but simply the absence of Life. Christ supplies the missing Life, as He also supplies every other missing Good – curing every corresponding evil. And I want to say He supplies every Good in infinite measure, but I think that’s an oxymoron. Anyway, as ignorance is cured by knowledge, as foolishness is remedied by wisdom, as darkness disappears in the presence of light, so death is annihilated in the Presence of infinite, everlasting, divine Life. Death simply disappeared the day the Immortal One met it.

I am not a poetic person; much the opposite. Most poetic language makes no sense at all to me. But this is (mostly) the imagery the Church uses. So I hope this language, although poetic, makes some sort of sense to you. If not, I can sympathize, but forgive me, I cannot do better.

Someone else can, though, guaranteed. Never stop searching.

Friday, September 17, 2010

How Husbands and Wives Drive Each Other Crazy

“Honey, don’t forget to clean up the sink when you’ve finished brushing your teeth.” What she meant was, “Wipe up the sink” but she failed to say exactly what she meant.

“Clean up the sink?"

“Yes, clean up the sink." What’s with the incredulous tone, she wonders? Is it too much for me to ask him to leave the sink clean after brushing his teeth instead of leaving it for me to wipe away his hardened-on glob of toothpaste tomorrow?

“Why?” Didn't she just scrub and disinfect the sink this morning? So why does she want it done again, and just as they are about to go out for the evening?

“Because, well, your spitting technique has been lousy of late,” she says.

“Clean it with what?” He doesn’t even know where she keeps the Clorox or Windex or Lysol or whatever she uses to clean sinks.

“Well, you could use a baby wipe,” says she, wondering what’s wrong with him that he has to be told what to use to wipe away his spit.

“A baby wipe?”

She bites her tongue and doesn’t say, “You do know what a baby wipe is, don’t you?” Instead, she says, “Or a tissue if you prefer.”

“A tissue?” To scrub and disinfect a sink? Has she gone completely crazy?

Why, she wonders, is he repeating everything I say? As if he were totally incompetent! “Or use your finger,” she says, “I don’t care.”

He is left bewildered. All he can say is, “Well, I suppose I could…”

You jolly well can, she thinks. How hard can it be?

No way to understand a woman, he thinks. Just humor her. Use the tissue she herself suggested. If she wanted a better job, she could at least have brought him the scrub brush.

“Thank you!” she says, with exasperation, thinking it was like pulling hens’ teeth to get him to do such a simple little thing.

Hint from Helen:

When you have finished brushing your teeth, turn on the tap and spit directly into the running water as it swirls down the drain, washing everything nicely away. Although Correct Spitting Technique is something you should have learned from early childhood, it is not absolutely imperative. If you haven’t yet mastered it, a perfectly acceptable alternative is to wipe up the sink afterward. Either way, you avoid leaving your nasty glob of used toothpaste in the sink for someone else to remove (after it has hardened).

Living in Greece, Part 10

Sunday, 12 September
The Holy Cross of Christ Arrives in Thessaloniki

Last year, we were blessed to be able to venerate a piece of the Cross that had been brought to the village of Petrokerassa from Mount Athos. This year, it’s a much better known piece of it. This is the one from Jerusalem, from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This is the portion of the Holy Cross people come from all corners of the earth to see.

And it came to our very own obscure little neighborhood church. I don’t know why it didn’t come to the Metropolitan Church of St. Gregory Palamas or to the ancient and prestigious basilica of St. Sophia or the Church of St. Demetrios, Thessaloniki’s patron saint, or the Church of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, 5 blocks nearer the sea. But it came here.

And I went with our downstairs neighbor, Thomai, to meet it as it arrived by sea. It came to, of all places, the yacht club, which just happens to be approximately the nearest point of the sea to both our church and our house – about six rather short blocks.

The Cross was scheduled to arrive at 6:00 p.m. Thomai and I were there by 5:30, in an attempt to find an advantageous place from which to watch, which we did, more or less. There must have been 2 or 3 thousand people there. (But I discovered that my fear of crowds doesn’t apply outdoors.)

There was a Navy color guard there, and an Army band, and numerous police officers.

A Coast Guard cutter appeared, bringing the Cross, or rather, the piece of it, but that’s not how we speak of it; one piece, pragmatically, is the same as the entire. And as the Coast Guard cutter approached, about a dozen tiny sailboats darted around it (perfect sailing weather with a stiff breeze) and these small craft released – well something like smoke bombs, I suppose. Each boat laid down a trail of flame-colored smoke that made the air appear to be on fire.

The youth from the yacht club lined either side of the route the Cross would take, as far as the street, each one holding a 15-foot oar, crossed at the top with the oar opposite, to make arches, the way swords are crossed at military weddings. They made a pretty sight, as each oar was painted white and two shades of blue.

The Holy Cross was brought off the boat. A row of men along the dock lighted enormous sparklers. We sang “Save, O Lord, You people and bless Your inheritance. Give victory to our kings over barbarians, and by Thy Cross, protect Your politeuma”, Your way of life. Then, after another hymn, the band struck up, the parish banner moved toward the Cross, and our procession began. We bowed and crossed ourselves as the Cross passed us, through the arches of crossed oars. (Not everybody did; some of the yacht club members, who from their tables actually had the best views, kept sipping their cocktails all the while.)

The procession to the church took half an hour, stopping here and there for more prayers and hymns. People watched from their balconies, some reverently with lighted candles, some with cameras, others in tee shirts just watching from vague interest. Major streets were blocked for up to 15 minutes each, and some side streets as well.

“Oh, look!” Thomai cried at one point. “Zisis has come!” Her husband hadn’t planned to attend. So we hurried and caught up with him.

The bells of the church began tolling wildly, joyously as we drew near. We began pouring into the church, and that’s where I parted company with Thomai and her cousin, whom we had meanwhile encountered in the crowd. They actually found good seats, near the front, but I fled to the balcony.

The balcony is a Muslim influence left over from when Greece was under the Turkish yoke, a place for women to sit apart from the men. Nowadays women aren’t restricted to the balcony. I’d never been up there before, but I found it spacious and much less crowded than downstairs, with upholstered pews, and I took a center seat so I could see what went on.

We sang some more hymns, then the Doxology.

What happened next was so very predictable I kicked myself that I hadn’t seen it coming, couldn’t have imagined it would happen in the presence of the Cross of Christ. Here were a dozen or so priests and a huge captive audience. The clergy couldn’t resist speechifying. You know the sort of thing. Welcome to this momentous occasion, we thank our bishop and Fathers So-and-so; we are honored to have among us this dignitary and that one; what a glorous day this is for our city; now I am privileged to introduce to you the next speaker, who... etc., etc., etc.

That’s when I left. According to the schedule, there was to be another service or two, but there was no sign of anything more about to happen. I didn’t venerate the Cross because there were still a couple of thousand thronging people seeking to do that, all squashed together, all vying for position. (Nobody so far has taught Greeks the concept of the queue.) It was going to take a couple of hours for my turn to come, hours of standing, sweating, feeling suffocated.

Outside, I found Bishop Anthimos, having ducked out of the church, finishing up a quick press conference and vendors selling candles and incense. (If you think you can’t stand the smell of incense, you should realize that it comes in scores of different scents.)

And where was Demetrios all this time, you ask? He spent part of the time having coffee with his brother as he does every day, and then came to the church just after the Cross had arrived.

On my way home, I decided to stop at a confectionary and buy myself a pastry. You see, that’s the problem I have with food – ALL food is comfort food! But sweets, above all. Here was a chance to grab a little of it, and no need to tell Demetrios, either, right? :-) So I popped into the zacharoplasteia and there he was, my own sweet! “Oh, imagine that!” he said. “I came here to buy a pastry just for you!” I refrained from saying I had come to buy one for him.

I hope to arise early tomorrow and be among the first to get to church, and then maybe my turn will come to see and to bow before the instrument of our salvation. The Cross will be here for 8 days.

Do I really, you ask, believe this is the True Cross? Yes, I do. It’s attested to by countless miracles, as it always has been, from the time St. Helena excavated it, the mother of St. Constantine, the Emperor.

But even if it weren’t the True Cross it would still function exactly same, would make no pragmatic difference at all. Except for those miracles, of course, no small exception.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Living in Greece, Part 09

Sunday, 12 September
Church as it Ought to Be

Today has been, for us, the best day of all in Greece – so far! The first reason is that we went back to St. Anthony’s Church, about which I will tell you in this post; the second reason is that a piece of the Holy Cross of Christ came to our very own neighborhood church today, about which I will tell you in the next post.

We went to St. Anthony’s Church half an hour earlier than last Sunday, so I was able to find a seat in the very front, where I couldn’t see the crowds and therefore was not bothered by them.

I don’t even know how to begin telling you how wonderful it was. The priest, Fr. Theodore Zisis, is a true shepherd to his people, kind, wise, and above all, holy. He is also a professor in the School of Theology at the University here. (How I wish I could take some of his courses!)

The people are reverent and earnest about their faith. When Fr. Theodore summoned a man from the congregation to go to the cantors’ stand and help sing, the man not only rose immediately to obey, but also, on his way, stopped to kiss the priest’s hand and receive his blessing.

One little toddler, scarcely a year old and barely walking, when she came up for communion, gave the iconostasis a big kiss. She wasn’t tall enough to reach the icons; her kiss landed smack on a painting of a vase of flowers. But she already had the right idea, in general.

Even these people’s complaints and disputes make you smile; during a meeting after church, a very simple woman stood up, in some distress, to complain that she had wanted to pay for one of the frescoes about to be painted on the church walls, but somebody had beaten her to it, and the icon is to depict one of her own favorite saints! So how often do you hear people complaining because they didn’t get to pay for something? The priest very kindly explained how wonderful it was that others shared her devotion to this saint and were willing to underwrite her favorite icon. He himself was delighted when someone signed up before he could to finance the icon of his wife’s saint (the saint after whom his wife is named).

The first remarkable thing about the sermon is what happened just before it. I saw a man take what looked to me like a cell phone and touch it to the icon of Christ, twice, then lay it before Christ’s icon, on a narrow ledge projecting out from the icon screen. Then I saw five other people do the same. These weren’t cell phones, or at least they weren’t merely cell phones, but recording devices. People want to preserve Fr. Theodore’s sermons. And well worth preserving this one was, too!

The sermon was on Joy. The heart of the Christian life is Joy. The pleasures of this world are transient, disappointing, ultimately unfulfilling; Love is the only genuine Joy and Love is another name for Christ. (And for His Father! Yes, God the Father is just like God the Son, who, after all, came to reveal the Father. “Who has seen Me has seen the Father.”)

And the heart of Joy, said Fr. Theodore, is that death has been vanquished. (“How so?” asked a woman during the meeting after church. “We still see everybody die.” So Fr. Theodore explained the difference between bodily death, when our spirit separates from the body, leaving it to decay, and spiritual death, when our spirit separates from God, leaving it to decay. He explained how what we see is only the former, only of the body, and not of the rest of us; and even that is temporary, until the general resurrection. But those who love God will never experience separation from Him, Who is Life, never even have any taste anything more than bodily death.)

Before Christ, said the priest, people lived all their lives in fear of death and without knowing true love, but only natural love, no different from what animals (some animals!) have for their young. Their love is only an emotion. If you are outside of Christ, then for you, virtually the same conditions prevail as in the “Pro-christos,” the era before Christ. But if you are in Christ, you partake of His Immortal Life, the Life of sacrificial Love.

I thought about non-Christians, as for example our dear Muslim friends in Richmond. They are good people, kind people, and yes, true friends to us. But in conversations with them, Demetrios has found out that forgiveness is to them ridiculous. “If someone offends me,” one of them told him scornfully, “that’s his problem!” She’s only going to be your friend, that is, as long as you don’t seriously mess up. Loving ones enemies is equally foreign to them, a thing they cannot see as good or wise. Nor is humility part of their religion.

I’m sorry, but each of these is an absolutely indispensible prerequisite for Love. For spiritual love, anyway, for the Love Christ has made known and kindles in our hearts. Outside of Christ there does not exist this Love, this Joy. For He IS Love, just as He IS Life.

It reminds me of a sad little joke. Two old men are lying next to each other in a hospital ward. One says to the other, “Well, have you understood anything?”

After a moment, the other replies, “No, not really.”

Says the first, “Me neither.”

I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall;
I really don’t know life at all.

- Joan Collins.

Of course not, because that’s a false spectrum. Life isn’t about winning or losing, or being up or being down. It’s about Love, which alone brings Joy, and not incidentally, also reveals the meaning – deep and beautiful meaning, too! – of every single thing in this life. It’s about Joy, because our chief enemy, death, no longer exists. There is no separation from God, no separation from immortal Life, no separation from Love, even for His enemies (who may wish there were). And if there’s no death, then (assuming we don’t reject Life), nothing can really harm us in more than our bodies.

After I had taken Communion, I entirely forgot to take a piece of the antidoron, the blessed (but non-sacramental) bread, with which we beak our fast after Communion. A woman noticed this and brought me a piece, or rather, a whole, huge slice. How kind is that!

Near the end of the Divine Liturgy, as the priest is blessing us, the Orthodox sing, “Preserve, O Lord, him [the priest] who blesses and sanctifies us, unto many years!” Usually this song is a formality, or little more. The cantor sings it. Not at St. Anthony’s! The whole congregation sang it, loudly, with great fervor.

When church was over, I was in such a rush to get OUT of there, away from the crush of people, that I also forgot to stop and kiss that miraculous icon I wrote about a few days ago; I walked right by it. OUCH!

We saw Konstantina out in the courtyard. She had just returned from two months in her own country, Canada. The little girl who had kissed the painted vase of flowers was with her; her name is Makrina. Another little girl was there, too; I think she’s the daughter of Maria and Fr. Moses, who (if memory serves, as it may not) are Americans. Anyway, I asked the child, in English, what her name was and she said, “Katerina. In English, Katherine.”

When Demetrios asked Konstantina what was going on in the parish hall, she said, “The lesson.” Ah! Fr. Theodore teaches his people after church. So we went in, I with some trepidation on account of the packed people. A woman carrying a flat box of cheese pies handed me the last one and a man behind us, seeing this, put his own cheese pie in Demetrios’ hands. When Demetrios demurred, the man said, gruffly, “Take it, take it!”

“Women on this side, men here,” another woman told us. The opposite sides one takes in Church; I don’t know why.

I managed again to find a seat at the very front. Front seats are usually the last to be taken, aren’t they? So I wasn’t too very bothered by the press of people. Somebody poured me a glass of water, and two others nodded and smiled at me.

Eventually, there was a stir and everybody stood up as Fr. Theodore entered. He walked straight up to a raised platform in the front, where his chair was, and a table in front of it. On the table, a silver tray had been laid, with a white linen cloth, a cup of coffee, a glass of water, a paper napkin, a cheese pie, a slice of pound cake, and a candy. Isn’t that sweet?

He didn’t touch any of it.

Again he spoke of Joy and of victory over death. I understood enough to be brought to tears, as before during his sermon.

Then he caught us up on some of the scandals going on in the Church, not sex scandals, but liturgical abuses, because, he said, we must be prepared for a very big spiritual battle. He didn’t balk at naming names, either. These are some bishops and some priests to follow and with whom to join forces; and these are the people doing all sorts of unorthodox things.

Then we sang the hymns commemorating St. Anthony, after whom this parish is named, and St. Demetrios, because this city is entrusted to his care (meaning God’s care, through the ongoing ministry of His Saint) and everybody here always sings the hymn of St. Demetrios. And then we departed, blessed to have been a part of this healthy, very alive, parish. Now here is what a Christian Church is supposed to be! We hope to be back every Sunday we are here.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Living in Greece Part 08

Friday, 10 September

It seems to me Americans do not appreciate the pleasant, even delightful side of living at close quarters with other people. I suppose our attitude is a legacy of the frontier days, when people moved west to escape laws and taxes and noise and interference. In the wilderness there was no government; people were allowed to do exactly as they pleased. And ever since then, I’m hypothesizing, Americans have thought of being alone as a form of freedom. If you have 10 acres in the middle of nowhere, you do not have to consult your neighbor about building a fence or cutting down a tree. And the nearer your neighbors are, the more you have to accommodate them, as for instance here in our building, where by mutual consent, we keep quiet every day from 2 – 5 p.m. because that is nap time.

But people who think solitary means free are missing so much, namely, each other! It’s the people who are the life of a place, and sharing their lives is most of the charm of any place.

In this building, Thomai and Zisis know if we are in residence, because they are directly below and can hear our footsteps. (I don’t know why, as we’ve never head anything from above us.) And we know when they’re home because Thomai has a loud voice. If spouses quarrel, we hear it all; if a wife storms out, we see it from our balcony. And we know when she is back home by the fact that her laundry has been taken off the line. And sometimes when spouses people are amorous, we hear that, too, as last year when I thought our neighbor was having a heart attack and only realized she wasn’t about 30 seconds before I was going to knock on her door.

It’s life! Genuine life, with all its beauty and all its warts. It’s people, sometimes sublime, sometimes weak. It’s the ultimate reality show, every person’s drama interwoven with every other’s. It’s almost a tribal life; or as Demetrios puts it, it’s as though we were all one, big family in the whole city – and one extended family in the whole country. Everybody belongs to you, and you belong to them. Their problems are your concern, and yours are their concern. Your joys are part of the neighborhood’s fabric. You follow each person’s progress through life with interest and all good hopes and wishes. It’s like following a set of blogs, except you don’t need the blog because you see and hear it all firsthand, happening in the flesh. That’s exactly what Americans don’t like, isn’t it, everybody more ore less knowing everybody else’s business. But why not? We have nothing to hide. Most people have nothing to hide, or if they do, they still can.  How can you say you want to be one with all people, yet don't want to live too near them???

One communal matter in this building is that we must arrange for our elevator to be updated to conform to the standards of the European Union. Oh, it will still be the same size, still only big enough for 3 people, provided they are all good friends, or one person and two suitcases. But it will be computerized. And I hope its appearance will be improved.

There has been some talk, by the proposed contractor, of doing it under the table to avoid taxes. Demetrios’ opinion, though, seems to have prevailed. He said we should all pay our taxes and if the contractor doesn’t want to pay his or report ours, that will be his problem, but he must give us each a receipt to show we paid ours. Thomai agreed, saying you never know, in such a situation, who might tell, and we’d all be in trouble. Her husband, Zisis, seems to be going along with that, our building’s fearless leader.

Well, the only thing he does fear, and very much, is trouble from Christos over this, as over several issues in the past. (Christos owns the flat across from us.) Well, the issues in the past had similar complications, so Christos had a point, didn’t he? As in the days when we had a communal furnace and Christos measured the oil in the tank as soon as it had been delivered and alleged the oil company was delivering less than we were paying for and accused Zisis of taking a kickback. This time, Demetrios has had to tell Zisis repeatedly not to worry, that he would take the responsibility of sorting it all out with Christos.

Today we went to the open-air market held near us on Fridays. Along with the fruits and veggies and fish, I bought a small dog whistle. I plan to use it with doves. There aren’t any doves coming to our balcony this year as they did in the past, sometimes even wandering into our kitchen. We miss them! So I plan to sit in the park below our balcony and whenever I see a dove, I’ll toss it some food, blowing the little pipe a certain way each time. Once the doves have learned to associate the sound with the food, then I will start doing the same thing from the balcony and see if they learn to come there for food when called. I’ll let you know how and if it works.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Living in Greece, Part 07

Thursday, 09 September

At last I feel I have the house in hand. I’ve scrubbed, on hands and knees, both the kitchen and bathroom floors with hydrochloric acid, which whitens the grout.

I’ve laundered most of the lace curtains and they are many shades whiter than when we arrived. Some of them are easy, as the curtain rods can be lowered via pulleys. But in the master bedroom, I have to stand on tip-toe on the top of a stepladder and reach up as high as my arms can go, to insert all the hooks into tiny loops a the top of the curtains. And each curtain has about 25 loops. Never again!

I’ve vacuumed the oriental rug and all the upholstered furniture. Yes, I know, never vacuum an oriental rug. Tough! The days when I would move all the furniture, roll up the rug, haul it outside, drape it over the clothesline, beat it, then carry it back indoors and move all the furniture back – those days are forever gone. Besides, I don’t think this is one of those rugs. It’s almost certainly machine-made.

I’ve even washed my bottle collection. I save or buy bottles that grab my fancy and some that don’t until I decorate them; I put them atop my kitchen cabinets, to hide some copper pipes that run across. I have about 50 bottles, so washing them all was no small chore. (I need about half a dozen more to complete the collection.)

I’ve laid all the crochet lace or embroidered runners and doilies on the tables and set out the vases and other decorations, and the house looks nice.

The only remaining non-routine task is to wash all the windows and doors.

Having done so much work, I could even begin to imagine myself virtuous, if it weren’t for the crankiness amid which it was accomplished! I’m beginning to relax now and have fun. No more crankiness.

Yesterday and the day before, I was listening to some boys playing in the little park, and I had to smile when I heard some of them calling, “Achilles, Achilles!” So Greek boys still play Trojan War, I said to myself, just as Demetrios did and as every generation of Greek boys has done for four thousand years!

That was a misapprehension, however; Achilles turns out to be the boy’s real name! How do I now? I heard his mother calling him home for dinner. (Does he have an Achilles’ Heel? Sure; he has two!)

But one kid the other day really did say, “I’ll be Hercules!”

About 8:30 at night, we met Mena and Kostas at a café, where Pelagia and George later joined us.

Pelagia and George both have quite fierce expressions. They’re both retired teachers and Mena says it’s their schoolteacher demeanor. Anyway, they are by no means fierce, but lively and kind. They invited us to go with them next weekend to their seaside summer home, from which they only returned today. They’ve invited us before, but again, it has never worked out before; perhaps it may this time. The only trip definitely on our schedule is to Corfu, where we are to be reunited, briefly, with David and Julia. It’s a stop on a cruise they are about to take.

The good news us, Mena’s daughter Elpida, who has an 11-month old girl, is expecting again in April. Liana, the elder daughter, has at least graduated from the Sorbonne with a degree in law. She works in her father’s office as an apprentice and is preparing to pass a battery of exams to be admitted to the bar in Greece.

The bad news is, Mena was robbed yesterday. While she was standing in a tightly packed bus, someone with a razor knife cut into the side of her handbag, made a hole more than big enough to insert a hand, and removed her wallet. She never knew anything was amiss until she got off the bus and the remaining contents of her handbag began spilling out. She’d been carrying 160 Euros. And credit cards. So the first thing she did was go to her bank and cancel all those cards.

The rest of the conversation was about politics. We women had very little success turning it to anything else. Almost every time we tried, one of the men thought of a political angle. It must be some sort of disease. But it did occur to me to wish I could have seen Kostas in court, arguing in his deep, resonant voice, with such passion, such almost Italian gestures, such oratorical flare.

I’d like to see his colleague, Iannis, in court, too, because whatever anybody says always reminds him of some Psalm. Once when Mena and I were with him, he was trying to park his car and somebody else took the spot before he could. Mena shouted at the other driver, “You beast! You animal!” And Iannis sang, “There dwell all creatures great and small.”

There was a street brawl tonight just outside our café tonight. It grew from shouting to punching, and we began worrying someone might get hurt. Three police cars came, plus two police motorcycles. The young men involved had fled by then, but before the police had realized that, we watched them put on flak jackets. Oh, my!

The brawlers returned once the police had left. It was nearly midnight by time they had dispersed. We sat in the café another half hour, then walked home with George and Pelagia, who live near us. It was the first time I’ve ever felt just a tad uneasy walking in this city at any hour of day or night.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Living in Greece Part 06

Wednesday, 08 September
Nativity of the Holy Theotokos

Last night Christos took us to see his good friends, Paul and Chara. Chara (pronounced roughly Kah-RRAH) grew up in Christos. Her husband’s real name is Panagiotis, but he lived 30 or 40 years in America, is an American citizen, and in America, acquired the name Paul.

Chara has bright red hair and brown eyes; she is small and very feminine, and I actually mistook one large color photo of her for Katherine Hepburn. She doesn’t resemble Miss Hepburn in person, but in that picture, in profile, hair tucked up inside a wide-brimmed hat, she’s a double for the actress.

Paul was born of a Greek family in Egypt, and grew up there. He was a banker, but was expelled from Egypt when Nasser came to power and nationalized the banks. He came to Greece, but found out that just as in Egypt he had been considered a Greek, so in Greece he was considered an Arab. So he thought the only place he could be whoever he wanted to be was in America.

He managed New York’s Regency Hotel for many, many years; also the Drake, owned by the same people. He rubbed shoulders with many of the rich, famous, and powerful, and he can tell you fascinating stories for hours on end. I keep telling him to write a book, and he says if he ever does, the title will be, It was Fun! He knew Aristotle Onassis and Jackie Kennedy Onassis; he was on very friendly (but not illegal) terms with the Mafia, specifically the Gambino family.

I asked him why Jackie Kenney married Onassis. He said, “The question is why he married her. Why she married him is easy: he gave each of her children ten million dollars and gave her twenty million. The question is why he wanted to marry her, and the answer is,she was a trophy wife. There was more to it, though. He and Robert Kennedy hated each other from the time Robert was Attorney General, because while President Kennedy was still alive, Jackie had had an affair with Onassis. So to marry Robert’s sister-in-law was a slap at him.”

He knew Maria Callas, too, and so many others.

And how did he come to be such friends with the Gambino family? Well, one day he heard an altercation outside his office, accompanied by a lot of obscene language. “So, I go out the door, I see a man about six feet three, and I say to him, ‘Please, step into my office.’ I pour him a little sherry, and I say, ‘You can use that kind of language in your own office or in your home, but please, my customers do not pay such high prices to hear it here.”

The tall man, more than a little surprised, said, “Do you know who I am?”


“My height doesn’t impress you?”

Paul shrugged. “I can jump and punch you.”

At this, the man Paul later knew as Big Ed threw back his head and laughed.

But there was no more swearing in that hotel and Big Ed had elaborate gifts delivered to the hotel for Paul; and Paul treated him very well. Then the Gambino Family began frequenting the hotel, using it for meetings and so forth.

“One day the big man himself came. He says to me, ‘Paul, I want you to introduce me to the maître-d’ as Mr. Smith.’ Well, of course the mâitre has already recognized Mr. Gambino, from seeing his picture so often in the papers. So, I say to the mâitre, ‘I’d like you to meet Mr. Smith’ and the mâitre says, ‘I’m very glad to meet you, Mr. Smith.’ And out comes a hundred dollar bill, into the mâitre’s hands. ‘Thank you, Mr. Smith,’ says the mâitre, and out comes another hundred dollars. ‘So now you know my name,’ says Mr. Gambino, and the mâitre says, ‘Yes, I do, Mr. Smith.’”

Paul has met numerous heads of state, and Patriarch Bartholomew (for whom he has little use) and the Patriarch of Alexandria. In fact, his own spiritual father is going to be installed as chancellor (or something) in Alexandria next month, and Paul and Chara wonder whether we’d come with them for the occasion. We’ve never yet visited them when they didn’t invite us to go to Egypt with them, but it has never worked out. Maybe this time it will; wouldn’t that be a thrill!

With such stories as these we were regaled for several hours, until Christos said he wanted to go home, and I seconded the motion.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Who Are You...

…to Tell Me How to Live My Life?

I’ve been told that in England this question expresses a common attitude of the people toward the Church of England. When I first heard it, I was so startled by the question I didn’t know what to say. I was taken aback because this question does not usually arise among the Orthodox. And this is not because we are more pious than they or more trustful of authority or any such thing as that. It’s that the Orthodox Church does not work that way. Nobody, normally, behaves so preposterously as to try to lord it over us. (And if someone in abnormal cases does try to, we usually laugh him out of court.)

We do indeed have among us people who can tell us how to live our lives. Who are they? They are people in such intimate communion with Christ that they have been transfigured into His image. They are so like Him we want to weep with joy when we meet them. (Emily and Ben Harju have a priest in Indiana who is like that.) They are people in whom Christ’s Incarnation continues, people who have given their minds, hearts, souls and bodies to be His, for Him to live in, and their lives are in fact His own deathless Life. They are “Christ with skin on”. Often they have given up all earthly things, too, not just in principle, as all of us are called to do, but in fact. They may have only the clothes they are wearing and literally nothing else. They are humble and mild as a baby, full of compassion and wisdom and charm. They move you in the depths of your soul.

When anyone who loves Christ encounters such a person, he yearns to be more like him, to attain to the same richness of spirit, the same love, the same faith, the same peace and joy. So it is only natural to ask this person for advice on how we may attempt to become who he or she is, Who Christ is.

The thing is, such people will never tell you how to live your life, never tell you a single thing, unless you ask. This, out of respect for you, as well as the realization that unsought advice, however wise, is usually worthless. In fact, it’s worse than useless; it can be detrimental, because it’s better for you not to know the Way than to be told it and reject it.

Showing up for a sermon is of course a form of asking, but you still aren't going to be told how to live your life. Instead, you will hear general advice and elucidation of the Christin teachings. What you do with it will be left entirely up to you. Nobody tries to "bind your conscience" or control your thought or your behavior.

Thus, a holy person will only guide you insofar as you ask him or her to do it. And even then, s/he will only tell you as much as s/he perceives you are ready to hear and heed. You will be offered one baby step at a time, and if and when you do that well, and if you continue to ask, you will be given further advice, tailored with wisdom and compassion, specifically to you.

Now I’ve told you the ideal, but in practice it is not always easy to find this kind of person. Fortunately, also in practice, I only need for my guidance someone a bit further along the road than I am, and finding that person is never difficult!

That’s how it works among us, and that’s why the question so startled me, and why I do not know any answer to it.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A True Tale On this 9th Anniversary

Anne has quite a September 11 tale on her blog. She describes what happened when she tried to be nice to some Muslims today. Please leave comments there.

“My Kingdom is Not of this World.”

We’ve been reading a book called Byzantium, by Judith Herrin. Especially in her section dealing with the conflicts between Rome and Constantinople, she is a remarkably neutral and understanding (probably Jewish?) third party. She’s even got a surprisingly good grasp of the theological points of controversy. She points out that from Rome’s point of view, reunion of East and West always meant submission to the pope. The issue, for Rome, was how to word this, and other matters of disagreement, in such a way as to come up with a formula acceptable to both sides. Put another way (by me, not by Herrin), it was all a word game.

My first reaction was: It’s exactly the same now, a thousand years later!

A recent example of the same tactic: I remember Pope John Paul II asking non-Catholics to explore and discuss with him what they thought the “Petrine Ministry” should be. I said the first thing is, it should actually be a ministry rather than the ultimate form of control (the very opposite of ministry); and the second thing is, it should be genuinely Petrine; viz., should limit itself to the forms of ministry St. Peter actually exercised, and not the things Rome fantasizes he would have done, given the opportunity. Those suggestions were not very well received. Of course not; they defeated the purpose of the question, didn’t they? Because of course the question, underneath the concilatory words, was, "How can we sugar-coat the pill of submission so you can accept to swallow it?"

And my second thought, reading this chapter, was: it’s what you mean that counts. It’s dishonest to try to mask your meaning with pretty or ambiguous words. See The Catechism of the Catholic Church for a prime example of just such ear-pleasing equivocation, a book that contrives to be so vague and in places even so self-contradictory Catholics can use it to support quite a diversity of positions.

That, of course, is what it’s for, “bringing people together”, conservatives, liberals, rad-trads, everybody able to subscribe to the same words, even though by those words each person may mean something quite different from what his neighbor means. This trick, shared words, passes for unity. Shared meanings don’t seem to matter – except one, the meaning of the papacy. The Catechism does make abundantly clear that Catholic “unity” consists of submission to the pope, "the perpetual and visible source and foundation" of it. (Paragraph 882)  Just submit to him and you can keep your precious diversity; who cares? That’s the beauty of it, unity (so called) in diversity, e pluribus unum and all that.

No, what Herrin describes hasn’t changed in all these centuries.

Do you know any pope of the past thousand years who did not aspire to exercise authority, as by divine right, over the whole world? Yet when Christ was offered dominion over all the kingdoms of the world He rejected the diabolical temptation.

That, I think, should tell you all you need to know.


There’s a lot of talk among certain of the faithful of the Church of England about getting people “excited about God.” I think I know what they mean, although the choice of word is misleading. What they seek is to foster a personal connection between God and the people. They want there to be a genuine relationship instead of people just coming to church because it’s expected, and going through the forms by rote, with nothing deeper than that happening. To correct this, they change the forms instead of trying to recover their content. They may not know what that content is supposed to be, and/or perhaps may not realize that changing the forms does inescapably alter the content as well. That’s okay with me, as I think both do need changing; I just don’t know if it’s really okay with them. The tired old forms don’t have to be empty or tired or tiresome, provided they have the right content.

These folks try to attract people to God by re-orienting what is supposed to be the worship of God toward serving the people, uplifting them, consoling them, entertaining them, and trying to prevent church from seeming weird, outdated, formidable, intimidating. (There’s obviously nothing wrong with serving the people! It’s a way of serving God, after all. It's just a question of where, when, and how to do it.) I can remember when I, too, was trying hard to demonstrate to the world (and perhaps to myself) that we Christians were hip, up-to-date, with the times, appreciative of and receptive to all the modern trends. Christians are cool!

You have to sympathize with these efforts, I think. We must not imagine these people as enemies of God bent on destroying the faith. I can testify that they are quite the opposite. They are trying hard, by whatever means they can find, to rescue their faith, to rehabilitate it before it disappears altogether, which in England really does appears to be more than a remote possibility. That’s what they mean when they say they want to get people “excited about God”.

They mean connected with God. They want people to love God. Excitement, of course, is nothing but sensory stimulation, a hyped-up, outward thing, bodily and emotional. And transient – as I suspect they know, actually. And you need more and more of it to achieve the same effect, and in the end, it wears off no matter how you try to recapture it, and then you are left bored and disappointed and dissatisfied. The whole process usually (in my limited observation) seems to take about 10 to 15 years. Then you begin looking for something deeper, something that more truly meets you at the level inside you where your spirit dwells. Deep calls unto deep.

We don’t really do excitement in the Orthodox Church, do we? Because we are taught to be ever mindful of our sins. Not that we are not deeply conscious of being forgiven, but we are equally conscious of that from which we have been forgiven. We are, in the words of an old Protestant hymn, “sinners whose love can ne’er forget the wormwood and the gall.” Or as Christ said, “Whoever has been forgiven much loves much.”

Yet it isn’t mostly the remembrance of past shame and disgrace; it's mostly the current and anticipated future missing of the mark that keeps us sober. For as the only true joy in life is communion with God in Christ, so the only true sorrow is the degree to which that communion, because of our weakness, is still so imperfect, so immature, so pathetic.

When the sinful woman knew her sins to be forgiven, she came and wept at Jesus’ feet and gave Him her best gifts, the precious ointment (bought with the proceeds of prostitution!) together with her heart and her tears, tears of repentance and thanks and joy, tears of love. And He accepted from her this true worship.