Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire, and Other News

Demetrios is in the 3rd day of a cold, so we have both been staying away from Kostas. I don't have it (so far) but we want to be very cautious. We are staying clear of Christos, too, who already has emphysema.

Kostas, meanwhile, is doing very well -- finally! Yesterday all his various tubes were removed. He is walking normally and is projected to be discharged in 2 or 3 more days.

We went downtown a few evenings ago, just for fun. I wanted to look in a craft store that sells mosaic tiles. I have designed a mosaic I want to make. We found the store, but...first, the tiles turned out to be cubes, not tiles, of glass. Second, the gold (on one surface only of each cube) is real gold. Making the price horrendous -- up to 200 Euros a kilo, and I would need probably 8 to 10 kilos for this oversized project, a small wall. I am going to check out ceramic tiles.

We bought chestnuts. In winter, but starting now, vendors downtown roast them over small charcoal fires they light in a metal box designed for the purose and sell the chestnuts hot. Demetrios likes them just as well boiled; I like them better that way. So we bought some uncooked chestnuts, too.

Hint from Helen: Do not encourage visits from doves on laundry day. Do hang the laundry in such a way as to minimize horizontal surface area. Bring the laundry in as soon as it is dry.

Hint from Helen: The young lady next door is not having a heart attack and does not need or want your help.

Free Will in Conversion, Part IV

God does not save you because He is pleased with you. Pleasing God is good, but it is not what saves you any more than displeasing Him is what damns you.

God does not even save you because He is legally although not existentially pleased with you. He does not save you because He is pleased with the Christ He sees when He looks at you or because He is in some way pretending to be pleased with you or because He is somehow shielding His eyes from all that is displeasing in you or because He is morally obligated “for Christ’s sake” to save you. We don’t have to go through all those theological explanations, contortions, and shenanigans to come up with how we can be (regarded as) sufficiently pleasing to God for Him to save us. Why not? Because that isn’t why He saves us in the first place. God does not save you because He is pleased with you! He was already good and gracious toward you all along, whether you pleased Him or not.

God saves you purely because He wants to. He wants to purely because He loves you. He loves you purely and only because He freely chooses to love you, and everybody else, with an infinite love. Period. Hold that thought. It’s the same thing as saying salvation is not a merit system.

Once we understand that salvation is not a merit system, we shall have no trouble in asserting that yes, a pagan who has never heard of Christ can indeed please God. He can do this by desiring the good, insofar as he may understand that good, and by attempting to do that good, as well. He can even succeed to some extent in doing the good, too. I’m not the one saying this; St. Paul is, in Romans 1. Our hypothetical pagan can potentially rack up some merit!

Bear in mind that the merit no more buys him salvation than Monopoly money does. We do not even need to point out (although it is true) that the good is highly imperfect, or that he will indubitably rack up some demerits as well, or that the merit is not enough to save the man. And why do we not need to point out these things? Because even if the merit were infinite, that is not why God saves anybody! Much less do we need to resort to calling good evil by saying his righteousness is only apparent, but in reality is “filthy rags”. This only applies to someone who, having heard Christ rightly preached, has outright rejected Him. In such a person, his “good” works amount to hypocrisy; but in the person who has not rejected the true Christ, his good works are really, truly, in some degree, good! Which still does not obligate God to save him. God cannot be obligated at all, by anything whatsoever, nor needs to be, since He already, without any inducement, wishes to save both the good and the wicked.

When anybody is saved (put into intimate, eternal communion with God) it is simply and only because God wants to save him, because He loves him, because He freely chooses to love Him. God in Christ has already accomplished all things necessary for our salvation; the one remaining thing is our consent. To save us apart from our consent is a contradiction in terms, a flat impossibility. There is no “salvation“ that does not also save our will, rendering us free as Christ is free, so that we freely participate in God’s own life. Our will is an essential component of our very humanity, let alone of becoming participants in divinity. There is no such thing as a love we can offer God that was extorted from us. That’s another oxymoron.

Our ultimate destiny depends upon God’s love, which, however, is a given, and upon our giving our free consent to it at some point. God’s love alone is the cause of our salvation; our free, genuine, and active consent, enabled by Him, and with all this consent implies, is only the condition, the thing that gives His saving work the go-ahead, makes it possible.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Free Will in Conversion, Part III

Can a person choose Christ?

If so, who can do so?

First, let’s clear away from our radar screen the old canard about, “What of those who have never heard of Christ?” If they have never heard of Him, then the question of whether they can choose Him is, if not an absurdity, at least moot. It is outside the scope of what I’d like to discuss here.

Next, let’s establish what things are under consideration, about which the question of choice arises. Most of the things concerning our salvation are not included in this category; that is, they are already accomplished by God without any input from us. For example, God created you without your consent. You were born without your consent. Christ healed and restored your messed-up human nature by uniting it in one, single Person to His divine nature – without your asking for it. He taught and cured and preached without your having chosen it. He shed upon the world His forgiveness together with His blood, without consulting you. He made human nature stronger than death, by taking it through death and emerging with it triumphant on the other side, so that with Him you might do the same – without your having any say in the matter. He poured out the Holy Spirit upon the world without your asking for it, and established His Church for you, to be the focal point of His continuing presence in the world, and perhaps He has even baptized you, all without your contributing anything at all. He will separate you from your sins, by means of death, whether you want it or not, whether you consider that deliverance or deprivation. He will raise you from the grave whether you want it or not, and it is not in your own power either to rise or to return to death. He will one day enlighten you with His Truth whether you like it or not, whether you find that Truth horrifying or beautiful.

In these things, we have no choice. They are not part of our question about whether we can “choose Christ.” As St. Nicholas Cabasilas says (see fuller quote here):

God indeed wills all good things for all men and imparts to all alike of all His own gifts, both those which benefit the will and those which restore nature. On our part we all receive the gifts of God which pertain to nature even though we do not desire them, since we cannot escape them. So He does good to those who are unwilling and compels them lovingly. Whenever we wish to shake off His kindness we are unable to do so.

But such things as whether to love God, trust Christ, let our lives be directed by the Holy Spirit, and repent, these things are those around which the debate centers: can man choose these?

Before trying to answer that, let us consider what “choose” means. Are we asking whether he who hears the Gospel rightly preached has the power to desire Christ? How about the power to believe in and trust Him? How about the power actually to do something about it, like love God, repent of sins?

I think we are asking all three. In Orthodoxy, the answers, in a nutshell, are:

Every man can desire the good. (Otherwise, we have major theological problems and contradictions; see upcoming post.) A man can even desire more of the good than has fully been revealed to him, as the prophets did, who could only comparatively dimly foresee what has been fulfilled for us, and as Christians do, who for now only see some of the ultimate realities in the mirror, dimly. It’s called hope.

Every man can believe as much as has been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit.

Every man can put into practice (very imperfectly!) as much as has been revealed to him. St. Paul says the Gentiles do, who having no Law of Moses, still have God’s principles written on their hearts, viz., built in. When they do the things of God, they do it “by nature,” says St. Paul. Everybody can do this much.

St. John says (John 1:12) “ many as received Him, to them He gave the power to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.” Some people would have us believe it the other way around: “those to whom He gave the power to become the children of God, they received Him and believed in His name.” But this is backwards; this is the reverse of what St. John says.

Does that mean we can desire Christ, believe and trust Him, repent and turn to Him, on our own? I don’t even know what that question means. Was any man ever really “on his own”? Is breathing something a person can do on his own, or is it by the gift of God? Can anyone even stay alive by his own power, absent the grace of God? The point is, the grace of God is never absent! He never withdraws His Grace, who makes His sun to shine upon the just and the unjust alike, and the blessing of His rain to fall upon the evil and the good alike, who keeps us all in existence every moment. (To say God never withdraws His grace is not to say God blesses our evil plans and projects! It just means He still always offers us the real possibility of change, of newness, of repentance and forgiveness.)

Wherever and whenever Christ is revealed to anybody, it is always, by definition, the Holy Spirit revealing Him. It was specifically the Holy Spirit who revealed Christ at His baptism and at His transfiguration and at Pentecost. “…I make known to you,” says St. Paul, “that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit. (I Corinthians 12:3) A person cannot believe what is not revealed to him, and Christ is only and always revealed by the Holy Spirit.

Jesus said, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him.” (John 6:44a) He also pointed out that without Him, we can do nothing. (John 15:5)

So we say that Christ is revealed by the Holy Spirit, the Father is drawing a person toward Christ, Christ is lending His support to strengthen the person's weak and compromised will, and God has given that person the ability to say yes (or no) to the incipient faith trying to bloom in him. Just now, we need not quarrel too much over *when* God gave that gift, whether on the spot as some say or whether by having preserved the ability in man all along, as the Orthodox say; the main point is, by the time any person is confronted with the choice, he is genuinely able, by grace and never apart from it, to receive the divinely-created faith, love, and hope. God does grant him to be able to repent. There is no one, none, from whom He withholds this grace. If anyone rejects God, it is most assuredly not because God failed to enable him to repent.

Moreover, this choice is a genuine act of ours. Although God is indeed working in us to produce the “yes,” He is not making the choice for us or overriding our will. His gift is greater than that. His gift is that we are truly able to say yes, not apart from Him (for that would be a contradiction in terms, an oxymoron), but nevertheless as our own act, of our own will.

Anything less than this is not salvation! Why not? Because it would render us automatons. It would fail to conform us to the image of the Son (Romans 8:29) who does have free will. It would fail even to restore us to Adam’s pristine state.

Is a “yes” decision the cause of my salvation? Certainly not! There is no way I can cause my salvation. God saves me because He wants to, because He loves me, period. But faith, if I embrace it, is the means through which His grace can work in me. “By grace through faith are you saved, and that, not of yourselves…” (see Ephesians 2:8-10)

Bear in mind, too, that this decision does not carry with it any credit. There is no room for boasting. Salvation is not a merit system. But even if it were, well, here is an illustration I like to use. Suppose I jump off the Brooklyn Bridge. The rescue squad arrives and someone swims out to tie me to a life vest and haul me to shore. Suppose he drowns in the process, but does succeed in saving me. Is there really any fear I’ll get some smidgeon of credit for merely letting him? I’m the one who had forfeited my life and the life of my rescuer too!

No, it is not a question of my deserving anything, least of all, salvation. It is simply the case that everybody gets what he most truly, most profoundly, in his heart of hearts, wants. If what we love and want most is Christ, fine; it will work because that’s what God also wants for us. God wants to give us Christ, and with and in Him everything true, good, beautiful, joyous, real, and worthwhile. If we do not want Christ, there is no way to force us to love Him (short of making us into automatons, which would entirely defeat the purpose). And if we persist until our rejection of Christ hardens to become irreversible, we shall find ourselves forever alienated from everything true, good, beautiful., etc., in short, estranged from everything that makes being alive better than never having been born.

Lord, I believe; help Thou my unbelief! Kyrie, eleison!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Free Will in Conversion, Part II

“The line between good and evil runs through the human heart.” So far, I have not found the primary source for these words, but they are attributed to Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

This is an important point in Christian anthropology and one with important social, cultural, and political implications. The line between good and evil does not run between you and me or between us and them. It runs straight (or crookedly!) through each of us. There is no saint here and sinner there; rather, each of us is some of both. Lutherans have something akin to what I am getting at in their doctrine of simul justus et peccator, at once just(ified) and sinner.

There is no “natural man” over there (somebody else) and “spiritual man” here; both “men” are conditions and degrees of being. Thus, St. Paul tells his flock at Corinth, who are baptized Christians, washed in the laver of regeneration, that they have not yet become spiritual men. (I Corinthians 3:1-3)

When he says of the natural man that he “does not receive the things of the Spirit of God,” he is speaking of the natural part of each of us, and not of separate human beings. Furthermore, St. Paul explains why this is so, and it does not have to do with man’s will, but with his darkened intellect. The natural man does not receive the things of God “for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14)

There is no person over there who has one set of desires, which are always only sinful, and another person here (I, of course!) who has another set of desires which are holy.

On the one hand, even the Gentiles have some spiritual light “because what may be known of God is manifest among them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, namely His eternal power and Godhead.” (Romans 1:19-20) It is not the case that they know nothing of God, but rather, they “exchanged the truth of God for the lie” (v. 25) and “they did not like to retain God in their knowledge” (v. 28). St. John further tells us that the Logos (articulate intellect) of God was “the light that enlightens every man coming into the world.” (John 1)

Furthermore, the Gentiles know something of the will of God and are even able, in some degree, to do it. “For when the Gentiles,” says St. Paul, “which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and [their] thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another.” (Romans 2:14-15) Yes, they can obey the law of God. Yes, they do it by nature. It is written on their hearts, by grace. “But they only obey very imperfectly,” you say? So what? Christians do the same.

For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God--through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin. (Romans 7:15-25)

St. Paul is describing the fallen man within each of us. Here we see man having two sets of desires. The one is the desire of the flesh, residing literally in our bodies. Our bodies demand food, drink, sex, sleep, warmth, clothing, shelter, security, various pleasures, comforts, satisfactions and thrills. Meanwhile, the “inner man” delights in the law of God, namely love, which demands that we give all of ourselves to God and each other instead of to our own bodies, seeking always the welfare of others above our own. The “I” wants to serve God, but is in “captivity” to the desires of the flesh. Sin usurps the self, and sin (“no longer I”) disobeys.

St. Paul makes the same point in Galatians 5:17: “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” Note, you want to do these things, he says, even though the desires of the flesh seek to defeat you. You are both flesh and spirit, and as Jesus said, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41)

Each of us has two sets of desires, between which he chooses. You can willingly set your mind on the flesh (Romans 8:7) or you can try (at least) not to. Your will is part of who you are as a human being, and is not the exclusive property of that condition called “the spiritual man.” Therefore, when a person is “dead in sins,” it means he is operating according to the dictates of the flesh, rather than in accordance with the Spirit – but that is not at all the same as to say his free will has disappeared. And I mean a genuinely free will, able to desire good or evil. To call anything else a free will is dishonest word games.

Please note carefully that I have not yet said a man can “choose Christ” at all, much less that he can do it on his own, apart from the grace of God. So far, I am only asserting that every man is genuinely able to desire such good as he knows, is able to strive after that good, and is able, with a high degree of imperfection, to perform it. There aren’t some people who can do this (believers) and others who cannot at all (unbelievers). There are, instead, only people whose free will is impaired by sin, and no people in whom free will is entirely ruined or absent.

There are various other reasons for asserting that a person cannot “choose Christ”. These I’ll discuss in another post. For now, all I want to say is, lack of ability to desire either good or bad is not one of them.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Update on Kostas

This evening, we visited Kostas in the hospital. He is MUCH better! He is no longer being sedated, and is much more like himself.

He told us that at one point, he thought he had died. He said he felt an enormous shock go through his whole body and concluded his body had died, although he could still think.

Most likely what he felt was the electroshock administered to get his heart started again once the valve had been replaced.

Anyway, by now he knows he is alive, and by now it appears he will stay alive for the time being. He and Mena are still planning to come back to America with us next October, and I reminded him we are going to hold them to that plan.

He was happy and humorous, but grew tired after a short while, so we left.

We are extremely grateful for all your prayers. I must confess I forgot to tell him about them tonight, but I promise to remember tomorrow.

Ochi Day & Protection of the Holy Theotokos

Friday was the great feast of St. Demetrios; yesterday was the feast of St. Nestor. Today is the anniversary of Greece’s entry into World War II, in 1940, when Italy invaded after Greece had refused to surrender in advance. “Ochi!” they told the Italians, “No!”

The people on that day poured out into the streets, singing, “Ti Hypermacho Stratego,” To Thee, the Super-Mighty General, the general being the Theotokos. The people were thus immediately placing themselves under the protection of the Holy Theotokos. (More on this below; keep reading!)

The Italians could not conquer the Greeks, either; Hitler had to send in German reinforcements, who took Greece in April, 1941.

Demetrios had a desire to “Go see Fr. Zisis,” so we took a cab “to the Church of Sts. Constantine and Helen.”

When we arrived there, it wasn’t the right church. It was a large, new, modern church. The one we were looking for was small and old.

Demetrios stopped to inquire of a sweet-faced old lady who was about to enter the church. “Do you mean the Church of St. Anthony?” she asked, finally.

Oh, yes, that was its name. Demetrios knew it was close by, but did the woman know exactly where? She smiled and said, “Come,” and despite our protests, took us there. She stayed there, too, for the services, saying, “Why not?”

Afterward we both felt sure she must have been very glad she did. It was wonderful! There is a Byzantine choir, and the startling thing about it is that the singers were all so young! Not one of them was as old as 40, and some were in their twenties. They knew what they were doing too. They knew even the obscure hymns of the day and they knew the proper style of singing, not like so many we hear these days who slaughter the hymns.

All I knew about Fr. Zisis was that he is a stern critic of Roman Catholicism. Demetrios tells me he is also a professor in the theology department at the university here. He was so vocal in his criticism of Archbishop Christodoulos’ reception of the pope that Christodoulos wanted to remove Fr. Zisis from preaching. He couldn’t do it, because the Church in this northern part of Greece is directly under the Ecumenical Patriarch, not under the Archbishop.

Anyway, Fr. Zisis is the kind of priest we all wish and pray for, and it was pure joy to be a part of his congregation, especially on this occasion.

Now as I’ve mentioned before, the Orthodox have a pious belief (not a dogma) that God has assigned to the Theotokos the task of protecting the Christian people. Fr. Zisis told the story behind the feast. It commemorates a time when St. Andreas of Constantinople and his disciple, St. Epiphanios (later the Patriarch), were conducting services, and they both saw the Theotokos enter the church, with angels dressed in white preceding her and following her. She walked all the way up to the altar and knelt there, in the aisle, and prayed with the people for the duration of the service. Then she entered the altar and in a graceful movement, spread out her mantle in a gesture of protection. St. Andreas asked her how long would she protect the city (Constantinople) and she said for as long as the Christians remained faithful.

When the Christians had become, well, what we today call “Byzantine”, her protection departed from the city, Fr. Zisis said, and there came the chastisement of the Turkish yoke. But when virtue and fidelity returned, so did the protection of the Theotokos.

During World War Two, many soldiers on many occasions saw the Theotokos spreading her mantle over them. These were not only individuals who saw her, but whole groups of men at a time. It was a regular occurrence. And that is why the feast of the Protection of the Holy Theotokos, which used to be celebrated on October 1, has now been moved to today.

In 1943, Fr. Zisis said, when the Germans were occupying Thessaloniki, they were hunting down five resistance fighters. They were hot on the trail when the five ducked into this very church. That was when Fr. Parthenios was the priest here, whom some of the older parishioners might remember. Fr. Parthenios had hidden resistance fighters before, so they knew they could count on his help.

“Hide behind this icon,” Fr. Parthenios told them. And Fr. Zisis pointed to it, on a stand near the cantors, decorated today with flowers and candles. This icon is about two feet wide and three feet high, I estimate, a big icon, but not nearly big enough to hide five people, even five children, let alone adult men. Nevertheless, the desperate men "hid" there. It was in the days before the church had electricity, so that perhaps might help.

The German soldiers arrived at the church and ordered Fr. Parthenios to light all the candles, which he did. Then they searched the whole church with flashlights, thoroughly. Guess what? Yes, you’ve guessed it. They never found those five fugitives, although one their flashlights shone straight in the face of one of them.

Afterward, this icon was found wet all over and weeping more tears. It had never wept before; it never has since.

And the silver plating you see on the icon today, said Fr. Zisis, was paid for by Fr. Parthenios and a lady in the parish who could afford it, and one of those five resistance fighters.

We were overjoyed to be able to kiss this icon. We sang Ti Hypermacho with extra emotion: Hail, O Unmarried Bride! (It sounds far better in Greek, in which “unmarried” and “bride” are two forms of the same word.)

Then, on to the parade. The Communists have been waging a rather strong campaign against the parade this year. There are graffiti that say things like, “Sabotage the Parade!” and Communist commentators on the television have been speaking against it. We thought that was another good reason for us to attend.

It’s a military parade, and you must remember that all of Greece is about the same size as Virginia. Her military might is nothing. You get the feeling of the Mouse that Roared. (That’s the delightful novel/Peter Sellers movie in which the miniscule Duchy of Grand Fenwick, nearly broke, decides to get money by going to war with America, losing, and getting grants from the Americans to rebuild. They accidentally win the war by wandering into the lab of a wacky scientist in New York City who has just completed the Q bomb, the most devastating weapon the world has ever known, and taking possession of it. Of course, winning the war with America, with never a shot fired, is not what was intended and is highly inconvenient for all concerned…)

But then, just as you are thinking of the Mouse that roared, you remember that Greece has indeed roared from time to time in history, from ancient days up to our own times. She has acquitted herself well in war, has a record one can indeed be proud of – and then we have to factor in the Theotokos!

So quick, buy two little flags from one of the vendors, find a good spot at the curb, unfold camping stool, wave your flag enthusiastically!

At the head of the parade, as always, the veterans of the revolutionary war against Turkey. (This part of Greece was only liberated from Turkey in the early 1900s.) That these come first is traditional, goes without saying. The actual fighters are dead now, but as each of them died, his children took his place in the parade, and then his grandchildren. These descendants of the reistance fighters still get the biggest ovations of all. Wave your flag like mad.

Then, the Red Cross, nurses in white dresses, white gloves, navy cloaks lined with red, and nurses’ caps with veils hanging down from them.

Then come representative groups from all over Greece, from every region and from the islands, each group wearing its local costume, very colorful. The biggest cheers always go to the fierce Cretans. It took Germany 8 weeks to take Crete, as compared with two weeks to take France. The Cretans, out of ammunition, stood in the open fields and bayoneted the German parachutists as they came floating down. I got a bit of a laugh out of the Lesbians, meaning the inhabitants of the island of Lesbos.

Next came student groups from various schools, each marching under its own banner. Then, “the orphans.” Each orphan carried a Greek flag and looked very proud. They get big applause. Then, the scouts, starting with the Cub Scouts and Brownies.

Next, the Coast Guard. They come towing Sea-doos behind them, or wearing diving outfits, or pulling their small boats on trailers.

Then, the Maries, shouting a slogan, which roughly translated might be: “St. Sophia, St. Sophia! We shall come to you, St. Sophia!” They mean the St. Sophia, the church in Constantinople! That drew loud applause, as well.

Then came numerous antique (World War II) jeeps and other vehicles, followed by the MPs (Military Police) on motorcycles.

Then, the armored divisions, with tanks and humvees roaring down the street. At the height of the thundering was of course when the formations of jets came screaming overhead and one of the warships in the harbor behind us fired the 21-gun salute.

All these groups were, of course, interspersed with bands, with prancing drum majors, batons thrown into the air and twirled, people singing the patriotic songs as the bands passed. Actually, due to current events, all the bands seemed to play the same song, Macedonia.

Macedonia, the world-renowned,
the home of Great Alexander!

Next, the artillery, with rockets, then the Signal Corps with radars and Corps of Engineers with bulldozers and cranes, followed by a couple of MASH units. But here, when we speak of a “Mobile Army Surgical Hospital,” we mean something like a very large RV but fitted out as on O.R.

Meanwhile, helicopters in formation flew over, Chinooks and Blackhawks, I think.

Next came the Air Force, followed (according to no logical scheme I could see) by the police of Thessaloniki, and our city firefighters. These all had their blue or red lights flashing and ALL their sirens going.

Then, the Infantry. A woman in front of us kept shouting, “Bravo, boys, bravo!” and once she added, “I would be so proud to be your mother!” A lone female soldier passed and the woman yelled, “Go, my big Doll!” (There were numerous female soldiers, but this one happened to be in an otherwise all-male unit, at least for parade purposes.)

Next came the Naval officers, the sailors, and then the Seals, in diving attire and don’t even ask me how you march in flippers.

Then the Special Forces and people in uniforms nobody seemed to know what they were. (Woooo!) And then it was over.

The waterfront there is like an open city park; we walked first out to the sea to admire the warships, strung with flags and banners from bow to stern (and lights they turn on at night). There were kiddie rides, boat shaped swings two tots could sit in, facing each other, and little cars that went around in a circle, like a carousel but without horses. Vendors were selling cotton candy and other treats. There were horse-drawn carriages you could ride in.

After pausing a long while to watch the faces of the children on the rides, we walked to the restaurant that on Sunday afternoons serves charcoal-roasted lamb. They were out of it by time we arrived, but we still enjoyed charcoal-roasted chicken and beef.

Then we walked home. I can’t believe we walked so far! It’s nice to know we can.

On the way we spotted a statue labeled, King George A', which means "the First". Demetrios said when the Greeks were looking around for a king, they asked Prince George of Denmark to come rule over them. He was a good king, too. But as he was walking past this spot, a psychotic man stabbed him to death.

Someone had laid a fresh bouquet of flowers at the base of the statue.

We came home and finished the last of the Bailey’s Irish Cream we had bought for the party the other night.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s nap time.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

A Wonderful St. Demtrios Feast

Hint from Helen: When your husband tells you that for his name day, “We’ll just invite Mena and Christos, and maybe Phideas will also come,” be aware that this delusion is a result of his having lived too long away from Greece. In Greece, your friends visit you on your name day, period, no invitation needed.

Despite our traumatic morning (see previous post) upon which I do not even wish to elaborate, and despite the fact that I had cooked a meal for six when it ought to have been for 16, the evening was smashing. It’s a good thing we live across the street from a very good taverna; Christos and Demetrios ducked out and came back 15 minutes later with shopping bags full of food: octopus, mussels, squid, beet salad, eggplant salad, vegetable dishes, to supplement my lamb, roasted potatoes, salad, and Greek green beans. And various visitors brought desserts to supplement our one cake and 8 Greek pastries. Mena brought profiterole, something like chocolate pudding with whipped cream and cherries on the top, remembering it’s a favorite of mine.

Ioannis, the theologian, came with his Mena and brought a book of spiritual counsel of Fr. Paisios, our local saint-to-be, in English, which was thoughtful. Ioannis recognized another guest, Stelios, a high school classmate of Demetrios’, because they had worked together at the bank for many years. Stelios’ wife, Anastasia, brought me a small, silver icon of Mother and Child. Zisis, our downstairs neighbor and Thomai’s husband, recognized George (Pelagia’s husband) because they had taught together in the same school for many years. So even the people we didn’t think knew each other all turned out to be very good friends, and that is what made the evening so wonderful: the great love circulating among all, the joy of seeing one another and of being all together.

Manolis came, the lawyer, who by the way spearheaded a blood drive on Kostas’ behalf at the bar association. His wife, Vasilea, was sick in bed with a stomach virus. I missed her sorely, as she is one of the people I admire most in this world.

Rena and Theodosius, who were going to take us to Florina and Kastoria this weekend, assured us we will still go once Kostas is a bit better. I used to think Rena (short for Irena) was the most beautiful woman in Greece. That was before I had met her daughter, Katerina. Can’t take my eyes off her, or her handsome husband, or their baby boy, with the most startlingly blue eyes, huge eyes, you ever saw. I told Rena, “Now I understand that you are the second most beautiful woman in Greece.”

Today I puttered around, cleaning up gradually, and in the late afternoon we went to a kafenion for coffee (hot chocolate for me), and from there to the hospital to visit Kostas. Kostas was moved this morning out of intensive care, at last, into a regular room. He is still pretty well sedated, but he smiled when he saw us, and told the nurse who was spoon-feeding him puree, “I have to go now; I have a special mission in Washington. Bush is waiting for me.”

The nurse probably thought he was having delusions, but it was a joke. Demetrios is always teasing Kostas, “If you’ll come visit us in America, I’ll get you a date with Condaleeza.”

Demetrios told him his surgery had gone very well, and he would be much better in a few days.

We didn’t stay long.

Enough Said

Hint from Helen: If you are claustrophobic, do not attend the home church of any given saint on that saint’s feast. By “home church” I mean the church he founded or served or that was built on the site of his or her martyrdom or that houses most of his or her relics. You may suppose it impossible to feel claustrophobic in a church the length of two football fields but you would be very mistaken indeed.

Hint from Helen: If you are going to be a stickler for purity of worship, and are unwilling to make highly unorthodox concessions to the size of the crowd, the packed conditions, and the fact that to do things properly might take a little longer, do not attend the home church of any given saint on that saint’s feast.

Hint from Helen: When attending a crowded church service, wherein one half of the church is for men and the other half, for women, agree upon a specific spot where you will rejoin your spouse afterwards, and a specific point in the proceedings after which you will meet.

Hint from Helen: When attending a crowded church service, wherein one half is for men and the other half, for women, each of you should carry a cell phone. Of course that will not help unless you each know the other’s number. You could also have programmed it into your cell phone, if you knew how. That will only help if you also know how to access it.

Hint from Helen: Failing all the above, at least be sure each of you has on his/her person (1) a key to the house and (2) enough money for a taxi. (It will also help if you know what to say, in Greek, to the taxi driver.)

The Great Martyr and Myrrh-Streaming Demetrios


Saint Demetrios is known in the Holy Orthodox Church as the "MYRRH-STREAMING" (Myrovletes). Saint Demetrios of Thessalonike, Greece is one of the very few Saints from whose relics, by the grace of God, there has flowed a fragrant and healing myrrh. Among other great myrrh-bearers are St. Nicholas, St. Symeon of Serbia, and St. Nilus of Mt. Athos, whose relics, unlike St. Demetrios, are preserved to this day.

Demetrios was a native of the city of Thessalonike, the city founded by Alexander the Great, who named it for a sister very dear to him. In the tradition of the great thinkers of ancient Greece, Demetrios honed his keen oratorical power in the public forum, where the debates of the great minds of the day drew the spirited Christians as much as the gladiatorial games attracted the pagans. As the second leading city of the empire, Thessalonike had a reputation for providing the brightest intellectuals on the public platform and the most fearsome gladiators in the arena, strange bedfellows, indeed, and oddly enough, in both of which the power of Demetrios was to find expression.

Demetrios was in the military service as well as a devout Christian, but when it came to the attention of the Emperor Maximianus, who had come for an annual exhibition of gladiatorial prowess in the arena, this dual role met with royal displeasure. For his part in the Christian cause, Demetrios was stripped of his military rank and cast into prison to await an uncertain fate. It was at this point that the friendship of Nestor came to light. At great personal risk Nestor visited his friend regularly and sought to intercede in his behalf, a move which availed him little but the aroused suspicions of those who surrounded the emperor. This provided the setting for one of the finest displays of the power of God through the friendship of two gallant Christians.

It seems that one of the favorites of the emperor was a giant named Lyaeus, a seven-foot brute who destroyed every hapless gladiator he ever faced, and for whom the pagans sought an opponent who at least had the courage to walk up to Lyaeus and give a good account himself before succumbing to the inevitable.

It was during one of his visits that Nestor heard from Demetrios that the power of the Lord could be transmitted through him to any man and make him invincible against any foe in the arena. The youthful Nestor, with the spirit of the true believer welling within him, agreed to hurl a challenge at the best of the gladiators with a declaration that the power of God would, thanks to his friend Demetrios, prevail against all comers. Buoyed by the assurance of Demetrios, he stepped into the arena and shouted his defiance in the name of the Lord.

The pagan crowd, thinking this some practical joke, roared with laughter, but when Nestor strode to the royal box where Maximinus had looked on with amusement and heard the young man invoke the name of Demetrios and the awesome power of God, his smile turned to a snarl and the audience joined him in derision, whereupon the scowling Lyaeus was brought into the pit. The crowd settled back to witness the anticipated cat and mouse match, which the giant would conclude when it pleased him. But they were brought to their feet in disbelief when the supposed victim withstood the withering attack of the undefeated gladiator, and, in due course, turned the tables and soundly defeated the greatest of the gladiators. Nestor scorned the thumbs down signal of the mob who now screamed for death, and the young Christian walked away from his prostrate foe.

Then Maximinus became beside himself with rage, and learning that Nestor was a Christian and that Saint Demetrios had blessed him, he ordered the soldiers to have them put to death.

The soldiers then went to the bath and lanced Saint Demetrios with their spears, and thus he received the eternal crown on the 26th of October, 296 A.D., at the age of thirty-six. It is written that when he saw the soldiers thrusting their spears at him, he raised high his arm and they lanced him in the side, so that he might be deemed worthy to receive the lancing which Christ received in His side, and there ran blood and water from the wound. Nestor was beheaded with his own sword the next day. (Holy Martyr Nestor of Thessalonica is commemorated in the holy Orthodox Church on the 27th of October.)

Troparion (Tone 3)

O victorious Demetrios, you were a protection for the world and an invincible soldier of Christ. You inspired Nestor to humble Lyaios. Intercede with Christ our God to save us.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Free Will in Conversion, Part I

(Full disclosure: I am getting ready to write a short section on this topic in the book I'm working on, as part of the last chapter. This is not necessarily anything like the text of that section, however. There, I will not directly be dealing with any views but Orthodox ones.)

An important question, for many people, is whether man can in any way cooperate in his own salvation.

Part of how we answer that question will of course depend upon what salvation is. For example, does it include what the non-Orthodox call “sanctification”? Is it a merit system?

For the Orthodox, yes, it includes roughly what others mean by “sanctification” and no, salvation is not a merit system. That means merit is not what saves us and demerits are not what condemn us. Thus salvation neither can be nor needs to be merited at all. Not only we ourselves cannot and need not merit it, but even Christ cannot and need not earn or merit it for us, either, for salvation is pure gift. We would consider it a slur upon God’s magnanimity to suppose otherwise.

Even if the right exercise of free will were meritorious, so what? Merit does not save us. We are saved by union with God in Christ. Rather, union with Christ does not get us into heaven; it already is heaven, for Christ Himself is our heaven. Union with Christ is not a means to an end (His merits getting us to that end); for anybody who loves Christ, union with Him already is the goal. And union with Christ is not by merit, but by grace through faith.

Similarly, demerits are not what condemn us. Separation from God condemns us – or rather, separation from Him does not send us to hell but already is hell, for in Him is everything good and true and beautiful – and we are separated from God because we walk away from Him, not because of our failure to collect merits (although, having rejected God, we do fail in that, too).

That’s why the Orthodox don’t worry whether the right exercise of our free will might imply we had done something meritorious. In the first place, to use our free will rightly is what we were made for, the same way a fish was made to swim or a bird to fly; and we get no more "merit" for doing what we were made for than they do. Secondly, even if we did gain some merit by making the right choice, what would the merit be FOR? It has no more use than Monopoly money; it's strictly for playing games.

Those, and only those, who implicitly assume salvation is about merit will feel the need to avoid assigning us any, in order to give God all the glory. They are right that we have none. But then they go on seeking to avoid assigning us any merit by denying that we are able to cooperate in our salvation in any way. They tell us fallen man’s “free will” is able only to choose evil, meaning it is not actually free at all. The natural man can only resist God, and actively does so.

From an Orthodox point of view, this teaching appropriates several rather egregious misunderstandings of Scripture, but that subject is for another post, as are about four or five serious theological objections to it. For now, I’d just like to point out that except in Calvinism, this doctrine of free will does not seem to accomplish what it sets out to do.

How, in this model, is anyone saved? Well, as I understand it (If I’m mistaken, somebody please correct me!), when people hear the Gospel rightly preached, the Holy Spirit, working through the Gospel, overrides the resistance of some of them – it isn’t clear to me which ones or why not all of them – and bestows upon them the ability to receive the gift of faith and to choose Christ. In Calvinism, this grace once given is irresistible, but in other traditions such as Lutheranism, one can – take note! – one can either accept or reject it. And upon that choice depends ones salvation. In other words, man had something to do with his own salvation after all. That’s why, besides being objectionable upon several serious grounds (stay tuned) this doctrine, from an outsider's perspecive, appears simply pointless.

Your thoughts?

Cautiously Optimistic


Thank you again for all your prayers for Kostas. Please do not stop yet. He seems to be making progress, but very slowly. So slowly, it's cause for a bit of concern. His age may have something to do with it, as well as his diabetes, as well as the length of the operation; we don't know. We are still very much hoping for a FULL recovery.

The surgery was Monday; it was last night (Wednesday) or this morning (it's not clear which) when he was finally taken off the ventilator. He still doesn't talk much and seems rather out of it. Whether that is from medication or not we don't know.

Tuesday he was asleep during his (very brief) visiting hours, so remained unaware of any visitors. Yesterday he laughed when he saw Demetrios. When Mena appeared, he was so overcome with emotion that tears formed in his eyes. Of course that gave an opening to Demetrios, who with that impish look of his, said, "Now tell me, Mena, how do you explain this? He laughs when he sees me, but when he sees you, he cries!

She just smiled.

The holiday weekend approaches. Greek flags are sprouting up all around the city; this morning we put out ours, the one Christos bought us two years ago. I suppose we shall go to the Church of St. Demetrios tomorrow. (See above photo and click on link for more info.) Other than that, our only plan is to have Mena and Christos here for an evening meal of lamb, oven-roasted potatoes, Greek-style green beans, salad, dessert. We are inviting Christos' son Phideas, too, if we wants to come and doesn't have any conflicting plans. It's his name day, too, as his middle name is Demetrios.

Last night, on our way home, we encountered the Cat Man again, a person we had met on a previous trip to Greece. He tends to all the cats in his neighborhood. He knows them by name and they come when he calls them. We wanted particularly to inquire about a certain cat we had met before.

Flashback: we are walking home from church when we encounter several cats on the sidewalk. We stop to admire them, when a man's voice from behind us calls out, "Come Phyrer!" and a black-and-white tomcat obeys. Demetrios, hearing the name, bursts out laughing.

"What's so funny?" I ask.

"The name!"


"Look at him!" Okay...he's a tuxedo cat, black with white paws, white tipped tail, black moustache. Small, box-like moustache. Then it clicks. Not Phyrer, but Führer!

We asked where Führer is. Is he still alive?

He is, the man told us, "And he's around here somewhere. You'll see him sooner or later."

Turns out the man is a doctor, an anesthesiologist, retired.

We spent half an hour hearing stories about the amusing habits of about nine different cats who were approaching us, smelling the food he had in his hand.

Ho obviously loves his cats. I don't know why he doesn't have them sterlized. It only costs 20 Euros for a male, 30 for a female. He himself told me two years ago that every November, a British volunteer group comes here and "fixes" as many cats as it can find, at no charge.

I'm going to try to get in touch with them this year, and get out there with my cat trap! That, after all, is what it's for.

Military jets screaming overhead yesterday and this morning. I suppose they are practicing for the parade Sunday, when they will make several passes over the parade route, to the ecstatic cheering of the crowd.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Heroism on the Job

Kostas' surgeon gave a full report to our friend Tasos, the cardiologist, and it turns out the problems he faced during this surgery were fearsome.

First problem was that the surgeon who did the by-pass operation 10 years ago had done an incomplete job. He had not bothered to sew back together the pericardium, which is the sac encasing the heart. (Now THAT is what you call a clear case of willful malpractice!) The result was that the coronary arteries, unprotected by this membrane, had become stuck to Kostas' sternum (breastbone).

If any of you have loved ones who have undergone open heart surgery, you know that access to the heart is through the breastbone. It gets sawn apart. So the first problem in this case was, how to cut through the bone without instantly killing the patient. The surgeon cut in a complex, jigsaw fashion, very slowly, with exceeding care to avoid the stuck-on arteries.

The next problem was that the valve was in such terrible condition that there was no way to inject the drug into it that would stop the heart. Yes, the heart has to be stopped from beating when you are doing delicate things to it, and you have to be hooked up to a machine that pumps your blood instead. So the surgeon, on the spot, invented a different way to do it! He actually injected the drug into a vein, which carried it to the lungs, and from there it traveled to the heart.

The third problem was that because of the unrepaired (and now irreparable) pericardium and the arteries all stuck to the breastbone, that machine that pumps the blood while the heart is paralyzed could not be hooked up to the coronary arteries. Again the surgeon invented a new way. He hooked it up to the incision in the groin, the one left from the angiogram, from which Kostas had bled so much before.

And then afterward, of course, that incision had to be repaired.

The surgeon never mentioned to Mena what a terrible job the previous surgeon had done. Which means that in addition to being brilliant, dedicated, and brave, he is a gentleman. One feels in great awe of him.

I can't help wondering how HE feels tonight, who has done the impossible. It must be so gratifying, to think he saved a life against such terrible odds. I hope he has celebrated well and is now getting his well-deserved rest.

How does one thank a person like that?

It leaves me in tears.

Glory, Glory, Glory!

Kostas is fine.

It was a very long operation, so long I managed to do a Sudoku puzzle labeled, "evil" -- the other ratings being "easy, medium, and hard". It began at 10:15 this morning. First news we had was at 2:30, when we were told all was going very well. Period. Next news came at 4:30; we were told it had taken all that time just to GET TO the heart, and now the valve replacement would begin. The surgeon emerged, all smiles, at 6:15. He said it had gone better than expected.

We left Mena at around 7:30; she was still waiting to be allowed a glimpse of him.

Demetrios and I celebrated with a nice dinner and a glass of wine at a little restaurant near our house.

Glory to God for all things! Glory to God for life and, yes, for death, if we are Christians, and for surgeons and for good friends and for all your prayers. Please keep praying now, for a good recovery.

More good news: Lizzie wants to become Orthodox!

She's my niece, Barbara's 7-year-old daughter.

More later; we're exhausted now.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Kindred Spirits

Yesterday I stopped by a different fruit and vegetable vendor, not the one we usually patronize. As I entered the store, an elderly man was going out, his cupped-together hands holding a large pile of cat food.

Inside the store, paying for my purchases, I commented on this to the proprietor. "My papa," he said.

The old man walked back in. The proprietor mentioned my interest. I pulled the ever-present baggie full of cat food out of my purse to show him. That baggie becomes empty a lot less often this trip, as I see a lot fewer cats here than I used to and the ones I do see seem well enough fed. Perhaps nature has balanced the population.

The old man and the old woman (I) just smiled at each other and nodded, with that perfect understanding only cat lovers can share.


Thanks to everyone for your prayers. Kostas is on a roller-coaster ride. Yesterday he lost so much blood from the incision in his groin (where they insert the probe) that he fainted and had to be given blood and other fluids. It’s another miracle that didn’t kill him. Because of that, it was touch and go for a while whether the surgery could proceed as early as Monday, but now we are told it is indeed planned for Monday morning. That’s great. Not a day to lose.

My next-door neighbor in Richmond, Dickie, has had a rough recovery, too, from his quadruple bypass. His sugar level shot up and his temperature with it and he refused to go to the hospital. God has been good to him, though, and sugar and temp are both normal now.

This morning we went to a church right next to the hospital where Kostas is. It’s a new church, still bare, ugly, poured concrete on the outside, but beautiful inside.

“Do you remember when we gave some money to build this church?” asked Demetrios. No, I don’t remember; not sure I ever knew.

“Yes,” said he. “Barbara Kypreos offered to match all donations but she only had to give less than a thousand dollars in the end. It was a rather stingy contribution from our parish, I thought. Anyway, it was for this.”

Well, that was rather nice to find out. Doubly nice was that this church is, in itself, a statement! It is actually a double church. The lower level is the Church of St. Mark of Ephesus. You remember him from the infamous robber Council of Florence; he was the Orthodox bishop who alone stood firm against the false union with Rome. The upper level is the Church of none other than St. Photios, he who battled the filioque.

We are in the Demetria, the days leading up to the Feast of Great Martyr Demetrios (October 26). He is one of numerous saints this city has given to the Church, and he is the city’s patron. His feast is therefore a huge celebration here. Lectures and concerts are being given in the Saint’s honor, and symposia and the like. (We haven’t made it to any of them!) There were fireworks over the city a few nights ago, and they were the loveliest I’ve ever seen, more imaginative than most, fancier.

All the dignitaries in Greece will attend services at the Church of St. Demetrios on Friday, where his relics are. They used to exude so much sweet-smelling myrrh that it ran out of the church, down the hill, and into the sea, about half a mile away in those days (more, now). At some point (I don’t remember the history very well) the relics were stolen by Catholics. Recently, they were returned, no longer exuding any myrrh.

Speeches will be made and telecast, all the shops will be closed, flags will fly. The flags will be doing double duty, as Sunday is another holiday, Ochi Day. It’s the annual celebration of the day in 1940 when the Italians told the Greek ambassador they were going to invade unless Greece surrendered before dawn. The simple reply was, “Ochi!”, NO! There will be a big military parade and we will all wave our little flags and buy doughnuts from passing vendors.

We’re hoping to have yet another cause for celebration by then: a Kostas on the mend!

Saturday, October 20, 2007


It’s been an awful time. I wanted to tell you about so many things, like how the dove has become an actual nuisance because she comes into the kitchen every chance she gets, so that I can no longer leave the kitchen door open when the weather is warm enough; I wanted to tell you all about my trip Tuesday to a monastery, and that my children turned 39 and 37 on Tuesday and Thursday, respectively. But all those things have been eclipsed by the situation of our dear friend and koumbaros, Kostas.

Demetrios and Kostas decided they would like a second opinion, in fact a third opinion, too, since two of the dearest and closest Old Friends are cardiologists, Tasos (short for Anastasios) and Andreas, who is also a published poet. Tasos was a year ahead of Demetrios in medical school. The university here is free, but books aren’t, and Demetrios couldn’t afford any books. So Tasos used to let Demetrios use his, when he was finished with them, and it’s due to his kindness my husband acquired an education. (Now we buy him books as often as possible.)

Tasos is a world-class cardiologist, literally, who has been around the world, speaks fluent English, and has treated movie stars, assorted crowned heads of Europe, and other celebrities.

So to take Kostas to him was clearly the thing to do. Tasos did many, thorough tests and checks. On Thursday night, Demetrios was to pick up the results from Tasos’ office and bring them to Kostas. (As I’ve mentioned, doctors here work late.) Andreas also came and the three had a long discussion at a nearly kafenion, coffee shop.

It’s very serious. It’s so serious the two cardiologists told Demetrios they don’t know why Kostas hasn’t died; it is only the grace of God keeping him alive. They couldn’t believe Kostas’ regular doctor had not told him of it; a simple cardiogram should have caught the problem; even just listening to the heart with a stethoscope should have told a lot of the story. There was no time to waste, not a day, not an hour.

They tried repeatedly to reach Kostas by phone, but Mena was talking the whole time. She was preparing for a kolonoskopia the next morning, and anyone who has had one of those knows what that means. She was in bed, bored, and amusing herself by chatting with her girlfriends.

Demetrios came home and we spent until nearly midnight until we finally got through. They must be ready for an angiogram first thing tomorrow (Friday), if it could be arranged. Surgery, ideally, the next day. They agreed, without having to be told how very bad it is. Demetrios called Tasos, who said he would call back in the morning to tell us how soon the angiogram could be done. (He is semi-retired, and doesn’t do them any more, himself.)

We got to bed around 1:00, too worried to sleep before then.

The telephone awakened us a 9:10. Tasos said get Kostas over to the hospital as soon as possible. Kostas said he would be ready. Mena was having her colonoscopy. No time to eat breakfast, no time to brush teeth (which fortunately I had done last thing before getting in bed), no time for Demetrios to shave, no time for me to put on makeup. Yank the clothes on, don’t forget to take house key, dash to the corner, hail a cab. We were with Kostas before 10:00 and at the hospital fifteen minutes later.

It’s a private hospital, as opposed to state-owned and operated. The people there were so efficient (yet so kind and reassuring in manner) it almost hurt to watch, rushing us from one station to another. First stop, the station where they do cardiograms. Next stop, office of the doctor who would do the angiogram. Brief medical history, list of medications, don’t tell the lady all about each one, just how much you take and when, show doctor the cardiogram, ultrasound pictures and Tasos’ report (which Kostas still hasn’t seen). Third stop, chest x-ray.

A man in the waiting room asked if he could look at the book I was holding in my lap. It was what Demetrios had brought to read, entitled, The Road of Life. The man devoured the first few pages, so when we got called to move on, Demetrios gave it to him.

Then on to the hospital room, shared with a very nice man who turns out to have nothing seriously wrong with him and will go home later this day.

Mena arrived at that point, driven by Pelagia and George, who are koumbaroi of hers, godparents of two of their children. They are wonderful people, gentle and kind. Pelagia has short, red hair with gray roots and a highly misleading, perpetual frown.

Demetrios dashed downstairs and in a snack bar the size of a walk-in closet found us some food and water. It wasn’t suitable food for a Friday – ham and cheese, lettuce and tomatoes, on a hoagie bun, but we didn’t care at that point.

The men sat around cracking jokes with Kostas until they were all having silly fits; Pelagia and I tried to comfort Mena. I thought she looked awful, until I later caught sight of myself in the mirrored wall of an elevator; I looked much worse. Face a wreck and something was making my eyes look all slanty.

(Flashback: German school, sharing a double desk and bench with Pui Wah Yung, a refugee from “Red China”. She was a big admirer of blonde hair and blue eyes. “You’d be so beautiful,” she used to say, “if only your eyes would slant.” And she’d take her fingertips and lift the outer corners of my eyes to see the effect. Well, Pui Wah, they do and I’m not! Your slanted eyes are beautiful because God made the rest of your face to harmonize with them. Mine, together with my sharp nose, make me look like a vixen!)

The angiogram was done and Kostas began shaking violently. No doctor in sight. Allergic reaction to the dye. Nurses running in and out of the room, Demetrios telling them what to do. Injection of cortisone. The shaking stopped. Thank you, God, for not letting the stress kill Kostas.

By now it was 3:30; Pelagia and George went home. The rest of us had just settled down, just begun to say how glad we were it was over, when they came to take Kostas away for another angiogram! Mena had a fit. I had to take her aside and plead with her not to argue with or yell at Kostas (for agreeing to the procedure); he must have calm, he must have peace. The second round was necessary because the surgeon who is to do the open heart operation had requested a clearer view of some places.

This time, precautions were taken against Kostas’ allergy, and he did fine.

To the surgeon’s office, to consult with him. Bad news. The new imagery reveals that Kostas’ anatomy is such that getting access to the heart (without rupturing an artery, I assume is what’s meant) will be very difficult. Estimated chance of death during the operation: 10 percent. In surgery, Demetrios says, that’s considered very high. Estimated chance of death within 6 months if there is no operation, 100%. And six months is highly optimistic.

“We will not discuss this in front of Kostas,” said Mena, firmly. Obviously not.

There are numerous other tests to be done in preparation for the surgery, so it probably will not take place until the middle of next week. Kostas will stay in the hospital meanwhile. I was unfortunately right in my instinct to want to wrap him up in cotton gauze and put him on a shelf somewhere, under glass…a hospital bed is the closest feasible thing to that!

Their daughter, Elpida, arrived at 7:00, followed shortly thereafter by her fiancé, Panteleimon, tall, slight man with a very deep voice and short dark hair, somewhat spiky on top. He’s an interior decorator.

We left Kostas tired but in excellent spirits, as always. There is something about that man, I don’t know what, that can only be described by the word, “magnificent”. Il Magnifico ought to be his nickname. He reminds me yet again of a lion. I suppose he reminds me of the Lion of Judah.

We took Mena to supper at the Seraikon, our favorite eatery, a couple of blocks from where we live. It’s home-style food that you choose from behind a glass counter, mostly casseroles. It’s quick and cheap and convenient, so we eat there often. Christos met us there.

“Some tourist you’ve been,” said Mena. “You’ve mostly seen hospitals!” Yup. All other plans on hold, including a trip to Florina and Castoria, and another to one of the southern fingers of the Halkidiki peninsula where George and Pelagia have a house they want us to visit.

“At least you should show a tourist different hospitals,” I replied, “instead of always the same one!” (Kostas had prostate surgery last time we were here.)

Then home and to bed early, as we were exhausted. Prayers for Kostas, turn out the light, toss and turn. I slept very little and had bad dreams.

The doctors say we’re seeing a miracle, in that God is keeping Kostas alive. So I can’t help thinking, and hoping, this must mean He intends to continue doing so for the time being.

But we’re at that age when we are going to start burying our friends, or they us.

Today is rainy and windy and dark and the dove wants in. Nope. I’m cooking kokkinisto, and I’d never forgive myself if the dove flew up to the hot stove, as a couple of days ago she flew up to the sink.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

You're It!

Okay, I tag Fr. John Fenton, Deb, Christopher Orr, and Pr. Randy Asburry. If you've been tagged before, you have to think of seven MORE things to say. Unless, of course, you aren't a reader of this blog, in which case I suppose you'll never know you were tagged.


Ow! I don't even know how to do this game...but dear William Weedon has tagged me, and apparently I am supposed to share seven true things about myself. As if anybody wanted to know...

Okay, okay.

1.) I grew up in an Army family; we traveled a lot. When we were stationed in Germany, my parents (and I) made the excellent decision to send me to a German school instead of the American. I went there two years and would not trade the experience. I had to take religion, too. The two established, state churches were the Katolische and the Evangelishe. I chose to take instruction in the latter, which meant Lutheran catechism, once a week.

2.) Six months or so ago, a social worker from hospice came to my father’s room in the retirement home to interview him and Mom and me. After a review of our family history and everybody’s feelings about it, the social worker said, “It sounds to me like the theme running through all this is gratitude.” Dad said, “That’s exactly right,” and Mom and I nodded tearfully. That’s true. There have been hard times and good times, heartbreaks and rejoicing, but the overall result, when we look back, is gratitude.

3.) Demetrios and I sold a property recently. He wants to use the money to buy a place to live in England or Scotland. I’m thinking an adorable, thatched-roof, stone cottage on some windswept moor, as if we could begin to afford that. He’s thinking (more realistically!) a tiny flat in a city like Liverpool or Glasgow. He likes city life, with lots of people all around. Liverpool or Glasgow sounds dreary to me, but he says I will love the way of life there, and okay, I can definitely appreciate the advantages of a northern climate from about mid-June to mid-August when Greece is an oven.

4.) I have two dreams. One is to live somewhere like Hawaii or Puerto Rico, where I can snorkel over a coral reef year-round, never see snow, and never have to wear a muffler or gloves or a winter coat. That’s the secular, carnal self dreaming that. Another side of me dreams of living in Russia, cold winter and all, and working, for minimal pay, at the orphanage I visited there, and having access to all those church services in Old Slavonic, with Russian music! And sharing the sweet communion of friendship with my “family” there, my godson and his parents (and brand new sister), and his grandparents. As between Hawaii and Russia, Greece seems a pretty good compromise! There’s an orphanage within walking distance of here (the one from which Mena was adopted!) and if we do end up spending most of every year here, I shall check that out.

5.) Demetrios is not the reason I became Orthodox. In fact, I met him in an Orthodox church I had already been attending for more than 3 years (without any intention of becoming Orthodox). I became Orthodox when I saw what a wealth of “stuff” (Tradition) Orthodoxy had that nobody else did. Not just, love your enemy, but HOW to go about loving your enemy. Not just forgive your brother, but HOW to accomplish that. St. Dorotheos of Gaza (I think it is) has a 26-step program for forgiving somebody! And it’s so cool because it’s so true. For example, one stage is when you no longer speak evil of a person, but you take a certain delight in it if someone else speaks evil of him! A sure sign you aren’t there yet. All this “stuff”, spiritual how-to, biblical commentary, etc., etc., I realized, was true teaching, and nobody else seemed to make much use of it. So I knew this was the True Church, years after I had given up supposing such a thing could exist.

6.) When I was a lonely ten-year-old (with a brother and sister 13 months apart who may as well have been twins), I prayed every night for a baby sister, to be my own. About a year later, she was born. Mom said it was going to be a boy and she would name him Christopher Robin, but I said it would be a girl and it was, named Barbara. She has cancer. It started five years ago in her breast. A year ago, on September 18, a metastasis was removed from her brain. This past April 18, one was partially removed from her spine. Then two spots appeared on her liver. She is cancer-free now, and hopefully forever. She became Orthodox last December 4, the feast of St. Barbara. Deb is her godmother; she’s the sister of Cindi (Mrs. William) Weedon.

7.) I’ve spoken twice to my guardian angel, over the telephone, I mean. I thought I was talking to a black policewoman who called herself, “Officer Childs.” She even spelled it for me, at my request. She gave me the information I so desperately needed. She told me how to go about verifying the information, and I later did, and it checked out in every detail, and it saved my family from disaster. She made me promise to call her back “at this same number when your nightmare is over, and tell me how it came out.” I did, but nobody at that number, or any number of any law enforcement agency in town, had ever heard of any “Officer Childs.” The only female officers in “Tel-Com” (Telephone Communications, which she had told me was her department) were Jones and Evans, both Caucasian. A private detective I knew vowed to find her for me, free of charge, but after a lot of investigation, all he could say was what the Greek priest also said, “It’s got to have been your guardian angel.” Indeed. Come to think of it, I wasn’t Orthodox then, either. I was an Episcohindubuddhapalian.

Now I'm supposed to tag someone else. Later! I've just been interruped. Friends want us to come for dinner.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


The first time I came to Greece, two years ago, I was scared silly to hear the sustained roar of many male voices rising from the streets, everywhere around. Especially from “The Drunken Duck,” also from the taverna, also from teenagers outside them. I assumed it was a riot. No, it was the sound of rejoicing; it meant Greece had scored!

Whoever explained that to me looked at me as though I were the weirdest creature on earth, not to know all about soccer! And I remember going to a taverna with Demetrios and Christos and choosing a seat where we could not see the taverna’s TV, and the proprietor marveling. Finally, he thought he had it figured out: “The lady does not care for football?” he inquired.

Well, none of us does, particularly.

But tonight was different. Tonight Greece was playing Turkey, for one thing. For another, the outcome of this game would determine whether Greece would be a finalist for the European championship.

YES! Greece, 1, Turkey, 0.

I hate suspense; the last 4 minutes of the game were the worst four minutes of my day!

Cooking Lessons

I went to Nikoletta’s grocery store last Friday. When she saw me hesitating over whether to buy some eggplant, she said, “You can make a very nice meal from these and it is good for fasting, too. I will tell you how.”

Taking an eggplant and a sharp knife, she made the motions as if cutting. “First, you cut off the stem. Then you peel strips away from the skin, making stripes. Then you cut the eggplants in half, lengthwise, but without cutting all the way through.

“Pour some olive oil in a baking pan, put in diced tomatoes, a little garlic, chopped onions, and a lot of parsely. Season it with salt and pepper. Do you like mint? You can put some of that in if you like. Lay the eggplant on top and put it into the oven until it is soft. Then you take it out of the oven, scoop all the things into the eggplant," demonstrating with a large spoon. "Lay some round tomato slices on the top, to keep everything moist, and cook some more until it is brown.

“It’s called imam, because when we were under the Turkish yoke, an imam used to like it very much. You know what is an imam?"

"Yes, like a priest, but -- "



"This is a very Greek, classic recipe.”

So I bought the eggplant and cooked the imam (without mint) and promised to let her know how it turned out. (It was tasty!)

Nikoletta and I were very pleased to be able to communicate that well, too!

Tuesday I had a hankering for stuffed cabbage leaves. So Demetrios and I, on our way back from coffee and a treat at a local café, stopped by Vasiliki’s vegetable store and asked for cabbage. Demetrios mentioned why we wanted it. Kyria Vasiliki looked me over, narrowly. Time for her enormous kindness to kick in; did the Amerkanidi even know how to cook stuffed cabbage leaves?

“This is how my Mama does it,” she said, taking a sharp knife and demonstrating, the same way Nikoletta had cone. “First you cut out the middle, where the stem was, going around and around, but not too deep, only partway.”

I nodded. “I do it the same way.”

Mama, who was looking on, nodded approvingly. Vasiliki pared away a couple of leaves that weren't perfect.

“Then,” she continued, “you put the cabbage in the pot and boil it.”

“Until the leaves become soft,” I put in.

“Exactly. And then – are you going to buy some ground beef?”


“You brown it a little first. Onions?”

I pointed to the ones I had picked out and laid on her counter.

“Good. You do this, chop, chop, chop. And tomatoes? Ah, you have them. Well, then, a little salt and pepper... you put a big spoonful of the mixture on the softened cabbage leaf and roll it up, put it in the baking pan with olive oil, bake in the oven until it is brown on top.”

I thanked her warmly for the lesson, and she was so pleased she gave me a hug and then, picking up a bunch of bananas, broke two off and stuck them in my bag as a gift.

The stuffed cabbage was good, too.

It's people like Nikoletta and Vasiliki that make Greece so wonderful.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

For the Birds


The dove that kept wandering into my kitchen last week came back and brought her mate with her. They are now, as hoped, regular visitors, coming to our balcony three or four times a day to check for food.

The male is much more afraid of us than she is. He often seems to try to herd her away from us, literally chasing her in the opposite direction, as if to say, “What are you thinking?” He is bigger than she is, and I can tell them apart even more easily than by size, because he walks with hunched up shoulders and, in flight, shows gaps in his tail, where a couple of feathers are missing.

“How do you know the first one is a she and the other the he?” asked Demetrios.

“I don’t. I just decided.”

“No way to tell?”

“Not that I know of, without anesthetizing the bird.”

“Just affinity, then?”

No comment.

“Well, I say the first one is a he. On the same basis.”

Okay. But yesterday a third dove tried to join this pair, and the one I call HE chased it away, immediately and decisively. That seems to me to reinforce my own idea of who is who.

A sparrow or two has tried to join the feast on our balcony, as well. No way.

Here’s part of what I read about our Collared Doves:

The scientific name, Streptopeleia decaocto, literally means a collar (streptos) dove (peleia). In Greek mythology, Decaocto was an overworked, underpaid servant girl. The gods heard her prayers for help and changed her into a dove so she could escape her misery. The dove’s call still echoes the mournful cries of her former life.

This dove is larger bodied than the Mourning Dove, and has a distinctly different call, sounding like koo-KOOO, koo with the accent on the second beat.

“What’s that big bird over there with that long tail sitting on the television antenna?” asked Demetrios one evening as we sat on our balcony watching the twilight fall.

I couldn’t tell from that distance. But then it flew, and the wedge-shaped tail on that big, black body told the story: a Raven! A quick check of our bird book confirmed it; there are no other candidates in this area.

Even more thrilling, we watched as half a dozen of them came to roost in one of the trees our balcony overlooks; in fact, in the second nearest tree. They spend every night there. I don’t know where they go in the daytime; one never sees them around. I get up too late to see them leave their roost.

The other birds in our neighborhood, this time of year, are Pigeons, Magpies, Crows (a different kind from the ones in America; this crow has a black and grey body), and in the Spring, Scissor-tailed Swallows. They nest here, but winter in Africa. There are no gulls, even though we are only 6 short blocks from the sea, but the taverna (café) across the street is named, “The Cry of the Gull.” And across the street from that, in the building next to ours, is “The Drunken Duck,” well-named. Demetrios is praying it will close, because it generates a lot of noise some nights, into the wee hours.

As dusk falls, you can also see what you might easily mistake for birds, but their erratic flight pattern tells you they are bats. I don't know their species.

Weekend in the Country (Part II)


The men left for church a few minutes before 8:00. I woke up at 8:00 when I heard the matins bells ring. I keep thinking of that song, whenever I hear the matins bells:

Frere Jacques, Frere Jacques,
Dormez-vous? Dormez vous?
Sonne la matina, sonne la matina,
Ding, ding dong. Ding, ding, dong.

I arrived halfway through matins, having left Mena still sleeping. (The church is only a few hundred meters from the house.)

And what should I hear as I enter? Demetrios’ sweet tenor chanting a hymn. Then the clear baritone of Ioannis the Lawyer (as we call him to distinguish him from our other friend, Ioannis the Theologian.) And then, the rich bass of Kostas. All three of them were up front, at the cantors' station.

I was horrified. I suppose that since I heard the news about his heart valve, what I want to do is wrap Kostas in cotton and gauze and stick him on some shelf somewhere where he will be safe until his surgery! I waited until Demetrios had finished the hymn and one of the others was singing the next, and then I approached from behind and whispered to him. “Should Kostas be singing?”

Demetrios said it would be alright. Fine; he’s the doctor; and he did a stint of cardiology, too, once upon a time. I still wanted to run home, wake Mena, and say, “Your husband is SINGING!” but instead I sat there and tried to pay attention to the prayers. Mena came half an hour later, and I could tell from the darts in her eyes she was as horrified as I was—and, after a few long moments of doubt, as willing to trust Demetrios’ judgment. Kostas always sings; can’t really take that away from him now.

After church we were accosted by another Old Friend. It was another high school buddy of Demetrios’, named Kostas. They had seen each other at the reunion, and now here they were together again. Wondrous, miraculous! “I hadn’t seen Demetrios in fifty years!” said the Old Friend. “Fifty years! And now, here he is, right in my own village!”

Ioannis wanted to take us for bougatsa. We got in his car and drove back to Kallikrateia, to a place he knew. He is Mena’s and Kostas’ koumbaros, having stood up for them at their wedding. They, in turn, are our koumbaroi, having stood up for us at ours. “That,” says Ioannis, “Makes you and me parakoumbaroi!”

“Ah,” he said, wiping his brow with a handkerchief. “How tired I am! As Talliadoros says, God rest the bones of the man who first invented lying down!” Talliadoros is the last name of his teacher, the great Charilaos Talliadoros. He is the most revered Psaltis (cantor) in all of Macedonia, probably in all of Greece. The Patriarch (of Constantinople) designated him Psaltis of the Patriarchate and gave him a special hat he wears in church. Demetrios says his voice is one of those that, like Pavarotti’s, only comes around every thousand years or so. (Is there an oxymoron in there somewhere?) Demetrios and I go frequently to St. Sophia, where he sings, just because he is there.

Ioannis, his student, loves Byzantine music intensely, and knows it thoroughly. His conversation is always laced with snippets of hymns or verses from Scripture (usually the same thing). Virtually anything you say will remind him of some Scripture.

Arriving at the bougatsa place Ioannis knew, we found no parking spaces, but one car occupying two spaces.

“Animal!” muttered Mena (who as I’ve told you, is on a short fuse just now).

"...animals both small and great,” chanted Ioannis. (Psalm 103:25, Septuagint) It makes Mena so mad!

If you want to make Demetrios laugh and Mena scold, the best way is to do what Ioannis did, like that troublemaker Eris, leaving the golden apple among the goddesses, inscribed, “To the Most Beautiful.”

“Now what would you say?” asked Ioannis. “Who are better drivers, men or women?”

“Women!” said Mena.

“I rather think men are,” replied Ioannis.

“You make a mistake,” retorted Mena, looking to me for support.

“A great mistake,” I added. I don’t really think the question is even valid, much less do I have any opinion as to the answer, but one had to get into the spirit of this game.

The debate raged the whole time, everybody saying the most outrageous things, except Demetrios, who was too choked up with laughter to say anything. You cannot out-argue Ioannis, however; he has too many years’ experience in the courtroom.

We walked back to the car, stopping to buy some fresh vegetables out of the back of farmers’ pick-ups on the way.

A car was parked right in the highway. “What in the world is he thinking?” growled Mena. “Blocking traffic like that. Fool!”

“Bound to be a woman,” said Ioannis, provoking yet another avalanche of words.

When we had arrived back at Kostas’ and Mena’s house, Ioannis looked over at me and said, “Now what do you say? Did you not get driven home in exemplary fashion? Do you know any driver better than I?”

I had to say it: “The best driver in the whole world is Mena.” It’s true, too. She’s the best one I have ever known, hands down, no equal. She can drive through a crowded city street at 40 miles per hour (In Thessaloniki that is nothing short of miraculous), and she does it with enormous alertness and care, honking and/or flashing her lights as she approaches every intersection, maneuvering deftly around obstacles. With her you never feel, as you do with other drivers, that the way to maintain your composure during the ride is to close your eyes and pray.

“Mena!” exclaimed Ioannis. “Mena, the best driver? Ah..well, you will forgive me then for having teased her...” I didn’t have to forgive him; I had understood his strategy from the first: Mena, the whole time, had forgotten all about her knotted-up stomach! She had gobbled her bougatsa.

“But I have information,” said Ioannis, as we hugged goodbye, “that the ‘best driver in the world’ has wrecked three cars! I, by contrast, have wrecked none.” And waving his hand, he got back in his car and drove away, amid more indignant scolding from his koumbara. Such lies!

It wasn’t until we were back in the house Mena smiled and said, “Kalo paidi,” he’s a good kid. In spite of being such a male chauvinist, she meant.

We had Mena’s delicious version of Wiener schnitzel for Sunday dinner, around 3:00, with stuffed peppers and Greek salad. Then we took our naps and were home again by 8:30. Monday was to be a busy day, full of medical appointments for Kostas.

Weekend in the Country (Part 1)


View Larger Map.

Mena is extremely worried about Kostas. Her nerves are raw, her stomach is all knotted up so that she has trouble eating very much, and she is on a short fuse, naturally.

In spite of that, she has been functioning as our Social Director, and an expert one, too. Who else could persuade us to keep such un-American hours? We have been leaving our house for hers each evening at around 9 p.m., meeting friends there, and going out together until sometime after midnight. Then we catch the bus home and get to bed around 1 a.m. And in Greece, that’s what old fogeys do! The younger set hardly ever begins before 10 p.m., and their partying hardly ever ends before 2:00 a.m. at the earliest.

Saturday, we went with Mena and Kostas to their summer home in the village of Nea Syllata. We stopped on the way to have a lunch of bougatsa at Kallikrateia (see map and click on appropriate place marker).

Kallikrateia was having some sort of holiday. There were flags out and there were races and other events taking place, including some kiddie carnival rides.

It was also market day; we had a lot of fun browsing among the shops. We also enjoyed our bougatsa, at a table overlooking the water. The sea was deepest blue, dappled with gold. Demetrios and I walked out along the pier (see placemark). The water was clear all the way to the bottom; I could see every rock, seaweed, and sea urchin.

And, of course, who should we meet wandering through the market but an Old Friend of Demetrios! It was Maria, to be exact, who lives across the street from us and chats with us from her balcony, the one Demetrios has known since she was a grade school girl. She and her husband, Kostas, have a summer house in Kallikrateia. They hope we will come there one day with them.

Then, on to Nea Syllata (which isn’t marked on the map, probably too small to mention) and their traditional style house, designed and built by none other than Christos.

It’s unfinished. Mena and Kostas took out a loan to finish it, but then he had his bypass surgery, some ten years ago, and he and Mena elected to spend the money coming to America to see us. There was some fear that Kostas might die, I think, and he wanted to see his old friend once more first. Now they can't afford to finish the house while their daughter is still studying in Paris.

As a result, there is no plaster on the wall and there are very few tiles on the floor. Everything is concrete. As you walk in the front door, the kitchen is on your left, living room on your right. Ahead is one bedroom; behind the living room is another, and behind the kitchen is a bathroom.

Along the far wall of the living room is an enormous table of such dark wood it must be ebony or something, having very fat, curving legs ending in claw feet, with elaborately carved chairs. In the corner is a fireplace with the traditional Greek chimney. It’s inside the house, and it narrows as it climbs toward the ceiling. There are chairs and a futon and a television. There is an assortment of rugs on the floor, ranging from one that looks like Art Deco to one that looks vaguely Navaho and a third that looks like needlepoint roses, distinctly Greek. There is also a tapestry on the wall above the dining table, white background with red roses and green leaves.

The guest bedroom has twin beds set up as one king bed; there’s also a child’s bed, a wardrobe, and a chest for blankets. There’s little room for anything else but a coat stand.

The windows are all mullioned, with real, wood mullions. The shutters are of dark wood, and they, too, are real; they are closed at night for privacy and opened in the day. The only curtains are lace.

One end of the bathroom is a shower. There is no stall, no curtain, just a spigot, faucets, and a hand-held shower head. The water goes wherever it will; makes no difference because everything is waterproof, and flows down a drain, toward which the entire floor slightly slopes.

There is a flag-stone deck outside the kitchen door, with wooden balustrades. They call it a balkoni, as it is slightly off the ground. That is where most of the living is done in the summer.

After our naps, Mena made us crepes for supper.

At eleven o’clock (yes, that’s 11 p.m.) we got in the car and drove 10 or 15 minutes to visit Elias and Myrta in Nea Moudania (see map). Elias is, of course, a high school friend of Demetrios’. They are the ones who live in that gorgeous triplex I so wanted to buy the end unit of. It has been sold to someone else by now. The house sits in a gorgeous, exotic garden with palm trees and other tropical plants. There is an olive grove behind it and a private chapel on the property. The view out the front windows is of the sea, and on clear days, of Mount Olympus!

A large dog greeted us and I fell in love. I usually don’t like big dogs, but this one was so unusual. Almost as big as a German Shepherd, he had curly, wiry hair like a terrier, and a tightly curled moustache all around his nose. He wouldn’t let us pet him, but he jumped all over the place with glee at seeing us.

“We’ve been quarreling,” said Elias, mournfully, as we entered the house.

“Over his smoking,” added Myrta.

Well, should the arrival of good friends interrupt such a great quarrel? Of course not. We all continued it. Of course Elias ought to quit. No, psychotherapy probably wouldn’t be necessary. Demetrios held forth on the virtues of the nicotine patch. And of course halfway through all this, Myrta lit up her own cigarette.

That sort of ended the discussion, that and the arrival of the next-door neighbor, Nellie. The conversation turned to the dog who had greeted us. Everything had been tried, everything had failed. They had tried to shoo the dog away; he wouldn’t go. They had tried frightening him away; he was brave. They had tried to trap him; he was too clever to be caught. They had tried to poison him; he had vomited it up. They had tried twice more to poison him, but he had learned his lesson the first time and wouldn’t touch the stuff. Imagine how my admiration of the creature grew as I listened to all this! I’d adopt him in a heartbeat if I could! But by now he is established there, and although they wouldn’t say so, I know they have been feeding him, because I had noticed his bowl as we were walking from the car to the front door.

We left shortly after midnight, our excuse for leaving at such an unheard-of hour being that we were going to church in the morning.

Good News and Bad

Our next door neighbor in Richmond had another heart episode, as a result of which he has had triple bypass surgery. The good part of that is, he will feel much better than he used to, once he recovers.

The very last thing I said to him when I bade him goodbye in September was, “Don’t go having another heart attack on us, now, like you did last time we went to Greece! I don’t want to be hearing anything about you in the hospital.” But as he told me, from his hospital bed, “Looks like I don’t listen to nothin.’”

Please pray for Dickie, for his full recovery.

He and I lived through a scary time together, one afternoon about three years ago…

It started as a strange sound. The cat, in my lap, lifted her head and looked toward the ceiling. So did I. It sounded like a helicopter much too near the house.

Then the house began to shake. Kitty jumped down, I jumped up. I was sure a helicopter had crash-landed on our roof, and the rotary blade, still going around, was smacking the house repeatedly.

Then, as kitty and I both reached the stairs, to go see what the by now deafening racket was, the house moved more, this time from the foundation. I knew no helicopter could do that. I ran outside, and there was Dickie, standing in his front yard.

“Dickie,” I yelled, over the awesome rumbling, “Is this an earthquake?”

“Well, yeah, I reckon!” he shouted back. “Don’t know what else it could be.”

So we stood there together until it was over. His wife, Frances, was inside tending to the daycare children she keeps.

And that’s what it was, too, a little 6.4 quake centered in Powhatan, 20 miles to the west. I don’t think it did any damage to speak of.

(Running outside, we learned later, was the wrong thing to do! In case of an earthquake, you are supposed to stand in the doorway of your house. That way you can run inside or out, depending upon what develops. Meanwhile the frame of the door offers some protection.)

Dickie and Frances are the salt of the earth, God’s own people, who would do anything in the world for you. Dickie even tried, from his hospital bed, to update us on the ongoing construction project converting our deck to a sun room. He had even spoken to the carpenters for us. We told him we would discuss all that much later...

Mena’s news is good. Her swollen, painful foot is simply the result of a fall, and there is no blood clot. She is recovering.

Her husband’s news, though, is bad. A valve in his heart is nearly closed and requires fairly prompt surgery, not as in tomorrow, but as in before the end of the month.

The other bad news concerns a niece of Ianna’s. Ianna mentioned her strange symptoms to Demetrios, who invited her to have her niece telephone him. After he had hung up, he said, dejectedly, “She has multiple sclerosis, almost certainly.”

He didn’t tell her. Neither has her own neurologist. (Demetrios, besides being a psychiatrist, is also a neurologist.) “I told her I agree with him that she should have more tests. But I already know they will confirm it.”

I don't know her name. But all of these people could use your prayers.