Friday, November 30, 2007

A Moment's Thought Ruins so Much!

Demetrios and I were sitting together in our little sitting room, he, updating his address book and I, glancing through various blogs, when I heard familiar choral strains over the radio.

“Oh, that’s Panis Angelicus,” I said, turning the volume knob up.

“How’d they come up with that?” asked Demetrios, not glancing up from his work.

“’Bread of angels’. It’s a Catholic term for Holy Communion.”

“How’d they come up with that?”

There was a long moment while he looked up at me, eyebrows raised, and I stared back at him. And then it hit. This Bread was never given to angels!

Nope, not. No Body of Christ for the bodiless hosts. No blood for the forgiveness of sins for the sinless. No fountain of immortality for the already immortal ones.

So what IS up with that?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Christmas Memories

Emily, at The Children of God, has tagged me to share three Christmas memories. Okay…

The Black Doll

We were very poor, and the blonde, blue-eyed doll cost $12.00, which for us, in 1974, was a lot to spend on a four-year-old. So we bought her the brown-skinned, black-haired version of the same doll, for half the price. It would broaden our daughter’s awareness.

That was the same Christmas my parents, in addition to inviting the whole family as usual, had invited the Brooks family. Their daughter had committed suicide earlier that year, and we didn’t want Col. and Mrs. Brooks to be alone for Christmas.

“Why did you have to go and buy a black doll just because the Brookses are coming?” asked my Mother. “What are they going to think?”

“I bought the doll before I knew they were coming!” I protested. “It has nothing to do with them! I promise, it’s just coincidence!”

So on Christmas morning, we all waited with some apprehension as Erin opened her gift (Col. and Mrs. Brooks having been forewarned). She looked at her new doll. Then she looked up at Mrs. Brooks, then down to the doll again, then up at Mrs. Brooks again. Finally she stood up, walked over to Mrs. Brooks, and held out her gift.

“If you want to play with my new dollie, you can,” said Erin. “She’s just about your size.”

A Soldier’s Memoirs

The family was gathered around the table, the Christmas meal was finished, and we were waiting for dessert, when Dad brought out his World War II diary, and, standing at the head of the table, began reading from it.

25 December, 1944, Ardennes, France. It was what would become known in history as the Battle of the Bulge, a terrible but decisive battle. Dad wasn’t supposed to keep a diary, for security reasons, but he did, anyway. Now he began reading to us the musings of a lonely and no doubt scared young officer, camped out in the cold, far from home.

“And that was 50 years ago today,” he concluded. “And now, here I am, surrounded by my children and grandchildren, in a warm and happy home, and I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I feel…” and then he couldn’t speak any more, and neither could we.

It was a while before dessert was brought out.

Russian Christmas

Christmas was past, but Demetrios and I had not had time to take down the decorations or the tree, because his mother was in the hospital. It was feared she would die; Christos had come from Greece.

I had been sitting with her in her hospital room that Monday when Christos came in and said, “Go take a break. Maybe get yourself something to eat.”

So I went to the cafeteria downstairs, and there saw a tall, bald man, two or three scraps of long beard hanging from his cheeks, crutches propped against the table, sitting with a small, dark, young woman.

I knew who they were, because they had been introduced in church the day before. They were Fr. Vladimir, come all the way from Russia for hip surgery, and his daughter, Daria, who was accompanying him because she spoke English and he didn’t.

So I took my tray to their table, introduced myself, and was invited to join them. It was pleasant, but before long, Daria excused herself. “I must go find a taxi,” she said, “to take us to my father’s orthopedist.”

“Who’s his orthopedist?” I asked, idly.

She told me, and I said, “But that’s my mother-in-law’s orthopedist! Come in my car! I know how to get there!”

Fr. Vladimir’s surgery was the next day, so when it was Christos’ turn to sit with Mama, I went and sat with Daria in the surgical waiting room.

A couple of days later, I went to Fr. Vladimir’s room. Daria had gone to do some errand. I had brought some photographs of my baptism and chrismation, which I began showing him. He recognized what they were, but didn’t know what to say. Finally, he blurted out his frustration in a prayer, which “for some reason” came out, “Ach, Gott, helfe mir!”

Whereupon God did just that. “Sie sprechen Deutsch?” I asked, startled. "You speak German?"


Now we could communicate verbally!

That night, I said to Demetrios, “You ought to stop by these people’s room when you’re through visiting your mother. They are people you will want to know.”

He did, and he came home quite upset. “The man doesn’t even have a bathrobe!” he exclaimed. “They had him walking up and down the corridor half naked in his hospital gown, a priest!” He pulled some cash out of his pocket, handed it to me and said, “If you aren’t too tired, would you please go to Penney’s and buy him the best robe you can find? Look for one just like mine.”

A few days later, Mama was ready to be discharged from the hospital. Christos went back to Greece. She asked if she could come live with Demetrios and me again, just for a little while until she recovered, and she promised to behave. So home she came, and I divided my days between caring for her and chauffeuring Fr. Vladimir and Daria to doctors. By then, they had been given a tiny guest house to live in, on the hospital campus.

“Do you know what happened to my father?” Dasha (her nickname) asked me. I didn’t, so she told me. Her father had for many years been a lay assistant to Fr. Alexander Men. The famous name meant nothing to me at the time, but she gave me to understand that Fr. Alexander had been martyred recently, axed in the head. Whereupon her father had asked to be ordained to serve that church. He had been officiating at a funeral, and was being driven back from the cemetery, when gunmen ambushed the car and shot and killed the driver. The car had gone careening down the street in Moscow, driverless, until it had hit a tree, and her father’s hip had been smashed. He had lain in the hospital for months and nobody was able to do anything for him. Now they were in America, another long story, and had some hope of his eventually getting well.

It was January 6 when I said to Demetrios, “You know, we still have our Christmas tree up, and it’s Russian Christmas. Why don’t we invite Fr. Vladimir and Dasha, and we’ll have Christmas here?”

He thought that was a splendid idea. “Yes, it must be terrible to be poor and sick and alone on Christmas! We even have some Russian Christmas music, haven’t we?”

So we picked them up that afternoon at the hospital and took them to our nearest shopping mall. Demetrios bought Fr. Vladimir a suit and a belt and some shoes. (“He hasn’t worn a suit since his wedding,” said Dasha, “and that was rented.”) Dasha we invited to pick out a skirt and sweater. She had a hard time finding any clothes that said, “Made in America,” but finally we found a lovely outfit.

Then we went home and dressed up (Demetrios tying Fr. Vladimir’s new tie for him), put on the Russian carols, and had a fabulous meal. I don’t even remember what we ate. We needed four languages among the five of us: Greek, Russian, English, and German, but we all managed very well. We read the first chapter of the Gospel of John in all four.

But what we all remember most is the joy, the stories, the tears, and the miraculous, mysterious Love, so strong, so palpable, so overwhelming, that we all realized it as the fulfillment of the promise: “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I, in the midst of them.”

It had been a very warm December until that day, when it turned bitter cold. Just before dinner, it had begun to snow. After dinner, Fr. Vladimir took a chair and sat out on the porch to be in the cold and to watch the snow fall, because, he said, it reminded him of home.

In fact, it snowed so much our guests were obliged to spend the night. We didn’t yet know it, but that was the Blizzard of ’96. It was four days before our streets were plowed out. By that time, none of us wanted to part. Dasha and Fr. Vladimir stayed with us 13 miraculous days, until the day they had to go back to Russia.

Fr. Vladimir’s hair and beard never grew back, but his hip healed, and his male parishioners shaved their own heads and beards to welcome him home. Dasha and her husband, Fr. Vichislav, had a baby within a year, and I went to Russia to become Timofei’s godmother.

Oh, and my niece, Madison, was born during that blizzard, a snow plow preceding the ambulance which brought her mother to the hospital.

I tag Christopher and Elizabeth.


In this very short epistle, we have St. Paul asking Philemon to do the unthinkable: to receive back, with kindness and full forgiveness, Onesimos, his runaway slave, who has meanwhile become a fellow Christian. Three times in a mere 25 verses, St. Paul identifies himself with Onesimos by calling himself “a prisoner” of Jesus Christ. He hints that, just as he is returning Onesimos to Philemon, Philemon ought to return him to St. Paul. In v. 6 he points out that doing the right thing will benefit Philemon, as well. And at the end, the best part for Philemon (or worst part, if he does not intend to comply): “Prepare a guest room for me.” !

But before I say what I think is the coolest thing about this story, here’s the entire, short but beautiful, charming letter:

* * *

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our beloved friend and fellow laborer, 2 to the beloved Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:
3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Philemon's Love and Faith

4 I thank my God, making mention of you always in my prayers, 5 hearing of your love and faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints, 6 that the communion of your faith may be exercised unto full knowledge of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus. 7 For we have great joy and consolation in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you, brother.

The Plea for Onesimus

8 Therefore, though I might be very bold in Christ to command you what is fitting, 9 yet for love's sake I rather appeal to you--being such a one as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ-- 10 I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains, 11 who once was unprofitable to you, but now is profitable to you and to me.

12 I am sending him back. You therefore receive him, that is, my own heart, 13 whom I wished to keep with me, that on your behalf he might minister to me in my chains for the gospel. 14 But without your consent I wanted to do nothing, that your good deed might not be by compulsion, as it were, but voluntary.

15 For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever, 16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave--a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

Philemon's Obedience Encouraged

17 If then you count me as a partner, receive him as you would me. 18 But if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account. 19 I, Paul, am writing with my own hand. I will repay--not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self besides. 20 Yes, brother, let me have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in the Lord.

21 Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. 22 But, meanwhile, also prepare a guest room for me, for I trust that through your prayers I shall be granted to you.


23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, 24 as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow laborers.

25 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.

* * *

Okay, here’s the really interesting part of the story: we don’t know how it ends! We have to supply the ending ourselves, unless anybody knows of any tradition about this.

So I choose to believe Philemon did accept Onesimos with kindness and forgiveness, and perhaps even sent him back to serve St. Paul in prison. This is sheer speculation, but I think there is some bit of evidence to support this hypothesis; namely, that this private letter became public. Would Philemon have shared it with anybody else if he had decided to go against the Apostle’s wishes? Hardly! I think he showed it to everybody. I think he said, “Let me read you this, from the great Paul! This has made me weep, this has made me dance! Glory to God!”

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Visit to the Kommoterio

That’s “ko-mo-TEE-ree-o”, hairdresser.

Mena has a cold today, so she didn’t want to take me. Instead, she told Demetrios where it was and he went with me. We arrived right around 10:00.

Soula and Demetra were there, together with their cousin, Petros, and Soula's husband, Christos. I was just kissing Demetrios goodbye when they all, from within, called out, “No, stay a while!” He did not feel inclined to do so, but after much urging, came in.

Apparently, you do not just come in and get to work straightaway. No, you have a little civilized coffee first, some conversation, some koulouri (“koo-LOO-ree”) which is something like a large, soft pretzel coated with sesame seeds (not to be confused with the sweet cookie called koulouraki).

Conversations with Demetrios usually turn medical fairly soon, and nobody seems to feel much delicacy about discussing his or her (usually his) ailments, either. As a result, I’m learning how to say any number of embarrassing things, like “large intestine”, “colonoscopy”, “pee in a bottle” – and I could probably pass a test in both internal and external male anatomy in Greek. The trouble with this kind of vocabulary is, it isn't particularly useful to me. I mean, I might often need to ask someone to call me a taxi, but when will I ever ask, "What color is your urine?"

Eventually, Demetra raised her eyebrows at Soula, who nodded, and Demetra put on her smock and took me to the back room to be shampooed, while the others continued their conversation.

Next came the question of how to do my hair, everyone present being consulted. Demetra, having correctly understood my poor Greek, said I would like it just like hers and Soula’s. (They both have the same hairdo.) Soula said no, hair that short wouldn’t look good on someone as tall as I. More discussions, negotiations, and she proceeded, I know not why, very carefully to cut it shorter than hers or Demetra’s!

I remembered my son’s question: What’s the difference between a good haircut and a bad one? Answer (to be given with a shrug): two weeks. Okay, make it three or four for a woman. It’ll be fine for Christmas, in any case! So I relaxed and let Soula do her thing.

A gypsy came by, begging. Nobody gave her anything. Soula said there is a whole family of them; a different family member comes by every day for about 8 days, then they go elsewhere for three months, then they come back and start all over again.

A man came by selling lottery tickets. He read to Demetra this week’s results; nothing for her. “But three times out of four you get something,” he pointed out. “Not bad.” She gave him her weekly five Euros. Once, years ago, she won 3,000 Euros, she said.

The ticket man briefly joined the conversation and Demetrios asked him to say, if he didn’t mind, how much he earned from selling lottery tickets.

“Eleven percent of whatever I sell,” was the answer.

“And is that enough to feed your family?”

“Oh, yes,” said the lottery man. “I usually make around 1,500 Euros a month. Some months you can make 10 times that.” (December is one of those months, as buying a lottery ticket “for luck in the New Year” is a custom here.)

The perm rods were put in and the fluid, instead of being squirted on from a plastic bottle, was applied by means of a rag wrapped around the end of a comb. Then came the plastic cap. Five minutes more of waiting, during which another cousin of Soula’s and Demetra’s dropped by, a woman.

Then, to the back room for the rinsing (5 minutes) and neutralizing (15 minutes.) The neutralizer was sponged on.

Christos called on our cell phone and Demetrios wondered how much longer we would be here. An hour and twenty minutes was the answer. (It was by then 12:40.) But if Demetrios wanted to leave, fine, because once I was done, they were going to close up shop and they would be glad to drive me home. (They live on the same block we do.) So Demetrios departed to go to a coffee shop with Christos.

Soula put tiny rollers in my hair and sat me under the dryer. I spent the time leafing through a Greek fashion magazine. European fashion is as ugly as American, or at least almost. See-through skirts and slacks are in style, worn with very fancy, ruffly, lacy, sequined thongs.

Half an hour under the dryer, then the styling. Soula used a blow-dryer and a round, metal brush to enlarge my curls. Using small rollers and then stretching the curls this way, she said, would make the curls “stronger.”

It actually looks good, except for being too short. The style is just as I had hoped. By Christmas it will be perfect.

The final touch, as always, is to add the lak. I decided that must be short for “lacqueur.” Spritz, spritz, spritz, spritz, spritz, spritz, spritz, spritz, spritz, spritz…the puffs of spray just kept coming. I’m sure I will not have to style it for a week.

When I asked how much I owed, Soula looked surprised, but after a moment said, “Fifty-five Euros.” Now I have looked at prices elsewhere, and I had expected to pay about ninety. I gave her sixty. I had been the only customer all day.

Then they rolled down the shades, put up the “Closed” sign, locked the door.

On the way to the car, the proprietress of a neighboring shop stepped out of her door and called out, "Is that Anna Maria?"

"No," said Soula, "a friend."

"Anna Maria; she's Anna Maria!" cried the woman, and blew me a kiss. I smiled back at her, having no idea what she meant, other than to flatter me somehow. (That would be the thing to do when a customer leaves your friend's beauty salon, yes?)

Christos and Soula drove me home. We parted with kisses and hugs and their wishes of Kalo taxidi, bon voyage, because we are going back to the States so soon, so very soon.

Demetrios says Anna Maria is the Queen. Greece no longer has a monarchy, but there is still a royal family.

I always knew I was born to be a queen. It's just hard to convince most people!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Religious Liberty and the Pope

This is from the section on “Religious Liberty” from The Catechism of the Catholic Church. You need to read slowly and with great care, as the CCC is notorious for slippery language. Very often, what sounds quite good at first blush sounds very different upon analysis. The numbers are paragraph references. I’ve boldfaced some phrases for emphasis.

2108 The right to religious liberty is neither a moral license to adhere to error, nor a supposed right to error, but rather a natural right of the human person to civil liberty, i.e., immunity, within just limits, from external constraint in religious matters by political authorities. This natural right ought to be acknowledged in the juridical order of society in such a way that it constitutes a civil right.

The moral right to be Catholic is presupposed, but there IS no moral right to adhere to error. Therefore, for you to be Lutheran or Presbyterian or Orthodox instead of Catholic is not a moral right but a limited, civil right. The importance of this phrasing is that what you are immune from is constraint by political authorities (nothing yet said about ecclesiastical ones), within just limits. (Keep reading for more on those limits.) The practical effect is to protect only Catholics from infringements upon their religious liberty.

2109 The right to religious liberty can of itself be neither unlimited nor limited only by a "public order" conceived in a positivist or naturalist manner.

The naturalists and the positivists denied the authority of the Church in public affairs. Thus, what this sentence says is, your right to be non-Catholic is definitely limited, but not by civil authorities apart from the directives of the Church. In other words, only Rome can make these decisions.

The "due limits" which are inherent in it must be determined for each social situation by political prudence, according to the requirements of the common good, and ratified by the civil authority in accordance with "legal principles which are in conformity with the objective moral order.

Let's consider the above in small chunks now:

The "due limits" which are inherent in it [religious liberty] must be determined for each social situation by political prudence,

Rome "must" determine the limits of religious freedom "for each social situation” on the basis of "political prudence". Political, not spiritual! (Politically prudent for whom? Not for course for the one whose religious liberty is being limited! )

according to the requirements of the common good,

The highest common good – ask any devout Catholic! – is always that everybody should be Catholic or at least live in a Catholic society.

and ratified by the civil authority

The role of the civil authorities in limiting your religious liberty is not to make the decisions about it, but to ratify the decisions made by the ecclesiastical authority, Rome. This they “must” do, the "must" from the beginning of the paragraph being still in effect.

in accordance with "legal principles which are in conformity with the
objective moral order."

The “objective moral order” is what the pope says it is, he being the supreme and infallible teacher of faith and morals. The civil authorities must enact laws whose principles conform to his teaching.

Summary and Bottom Line:

You have no moral right to cling to error; hence, you have no moral right to religious liberty unless you are Catholic. You do have a limited civil right. The pope claims the sole authority (and duty) to be the one who limits your civil right to religious freedom, and to impose his moral ideas upon you, according to what he determines best furthers the common interest and what to him seems politically prudent in any given situation. The civil authorities must ratify the pope’s decisions, using laws they have enacted according to his teaching.

Is that scary or what? God bless the Reformers, who removed so much of the pope’s secular power! They were amazingly courageous men!

The Catholics to whom I pointed this out on one discussion forum were furious and said this was not only a twisting, but a torturing of the text. But really, how can we read it any other way? Go ahead, try; I give it to you again, in whole this time, for your convenience so you don’t even have to scroll back through this post. I’ve even removed my emphases, so you can read it exactly as written:

2108 The right to religious liberty is neither a moral license to
adhere to error, nor a supposed right to error, but rather a
natural right of the human person to civil liberty, i.e., immunity,
within just limits, from external constraint in religious matters by
political authorities. This natural right ought to be acknowledged
in the juridical order of society in such a way that it constitutes a
civil right.

2109 The right to religious liberty can of itself be neither unlimited
nor limited only by a "public order" conceived in a positivist or
naturalist manner. The "due limits" which are inherent in it
must be determined for each social situation by political prudence,
according to the requirements of the common good, and ratified by
the civil authority in accordance with "legal principles which are in
conformity with the objective moral order."

(It STILL sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Until you stop to scrutinize it and realize what is really being said.)

Monday, November 26, 2007

Our Doings

I’ve been too busy writing my book to keep up my blog as well as I might…anyway, here’s the latest.

Sunday morning I woke up dizzy. Not dizzy as in lightheaded. There was no danger of passing out. But dizzy as in the room wouldn’t stop moving. In other words, it was the inner-ear kind of dizziness rather than the low blood pressure kind. (No, I had not had anything to drink the night before!) It lasted all morning, but by holding onto Demetrios, I managed to get to church, albeit late, and to make it through the (rest of the) service. Then it went away.

In the afternoon we were invited to dinner with the petheres ("PETH-er-es) of Elpida. Elpida is Mena’s and Kostas’ daughter. She is engaged to Panteleimon, and his parents are her petheres, parents-in-law. They are already considered that, even though the marriage has not taken place. (Here, being engaged is in many ways -- too many, actually -- considered virtually the equivalent of being married.)

Panteleimon lives on the diagonally opposite corner of the block we live on. He and his brother Nick and his sister Natassa live in one apartment; their parents and their aunt live together in another apartment directly below. We gathered in Panteleimon’s apartment, which I took special care to observe, on account of his being an interior decorator.

It was a very bright, corner room, with big windows on two sides. Three of the four walls were painted charcoal grey, with the merest hint of blue. Charcoal gray! Now that’s creative. I had never seen that before. In this room, it worked to soften the bright light. On one wall was an original work of art by Panteleimon himself. It was a large canvas filled with rectangles in white, pearl gray, and shiny gold, all with texture. I didn’t like it; it just looked messy to me.

An oval table meant to seat 8 was in the middle of the room, with 11 chairs around it. That worked fine, no problem.

The meal was another real feast. I counted the dishes (just for you!) and there were 12, not counting the bread. Oh, but only five of them were entrees, Elpida protested. The rest were “just salates.” Salads count, too, I said. The entrees included some delicious fish fillets, herbed and baked, two different dishes featuring shrimp so big I was not sure at first they were shrimp, beans somewhat like limas in a thick tomato sauce, and, yes, some kind of red meat that looked like chuck roast. Half of it was gone, too, by the end of the meal, although I did not notice who ate it. For dessert, there was baked quince, baked apple, and Mena’s “oven-hot, caramel-flavored Jello,” as I call her halvah.

I learned from these ladies the suggested proportion of quince to sugar. For every 2kilos of quince, a kilo and a half of sugar, 1.5 cups each of water and sherry or cognac, plus cinnamon and cloves. YUM. I love the stuff. The apples baked in the same pan, same recipe, were just as good, though.

Mena bakes her quince on low heat (100 - 150 C) for three hours.

After the meal, it was like the interlude between acts of a play, when the stagehands rush out onto the stage and re-arrange it all, and by the second act it is a completely different scene. The dishes and tablecloth disappeared, the table leaves were removed and lowered into a shallow storage box built right into the table. The table was carried to a corner of the room and the easy chairs were moved from that corner into the main part of the room. The extra chairs were put in the kitchen. Out came the coffee table from its niche under a low shelf of the syntheto (wall unit), and there you have it, a dining room transformed into a living room. I learned something. Flexibility is one key to the use of small spaces. That and clever storage.

(So we are going to try to be clever and when our new sofa arrives, we are going to use our futon for seating in the kitchen instead of some of the chairs. That way, we can put the table to one side and sleep a third guest here.)

Panteleimon’s mother is a hairdresser. Mena and I are going to go to her on Wednesday. I badly need a cut and perm. Since Soula does her hair just the way I want mine done, and hers looks very good, I have a certain degree of confidence mine will turn out well.

We were invited to Mena’s and Kostas’ in the evening. Ioannis, the lawyer was coming at 7:30 , and I did want to see him. We came home to catch some badly needed sleep first, however, saying we would come around 9:00. Well, I didn’t wake up until 10:15, and Demetrios had of course gone without me. Just as well; I couldn’t have made it.

“Did Ioannis tease Mena?” I asked when Demetrios got home, at almost midnight.

“No, not tonight.”

“Did he sing?”

“Heh-heh. Well, yes, he backed up every point of his arguments with snatches of Psalms, and snippets of Byzantine chant…”

As always! I am sorry to have missed that.

Tomorrow morning, Ianna and I are going Christmas shopping together, downtown.

Hints from Helen:

Never buy more than four days of food at a time. That will last you a week. Or if it does not, you can always get more, and get it fresh.

Never buy a whole kilo of fresh spinach just because it only costs one Euro.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Please, Please Read This!

It's a post called, "My Boy is a Burning Bush," by a single dad. You won't know whether to laugh or cry, but it will make your day, or maybe your week! And if it doesn't get you in the mood for Christmas, nothing will. It's a true miracle, and not the everyday sort of miracle, either.

Hat tip to Byzantinedixie, with much thanks!

Are these Doves Crazy or are We?


Starting about two weeks ago, we noticed our pair of doves acting more than usually affectionate. They were preening each other and cooing at each other. Then about a week ago, we thought we saw them, more than once, mating. Of course there is room for error here, but mating is rather hard to misinterpret, isn’t it, except in cats? Now the doves are showing up with straws and stems of weeds in their beaks. These they have to drop in order to eat, and that surely seems to upset them! They drop their straw, eat a couple of bites, pick up the straw again, drop it again, eat a couple more bites…and they’re still doing all this lovey-dovey stuff.

Are these birds mixed up? Do they think it’s Spring? My paranoid imagination even wonders whether their now-abundant food supply is misleading them, but surely not! Surely birds judge seasons by the temperature, the length of the days, and the angle of the Sun, yes?

So what is going on here? Do doves, perhaps, build their nests early? Here's some info I found on the Collared Dove:

Breeding Data

Breeding Starts: March

# of Clutches: 2-5

# of Eggs: 2

Incubation (days): 14-16

Fledge (days): 18-21

Friday, November 23, 2007

Highly Recommended!

Matthew Gallatin, teacher of philosophy, former Evangelical, and author of the book, Thirsting for God in the Land of Shallow Wells, has an excellent podcast program entitled, "Pilgrims from Paradise." Among these is a 12-part series entitled,"Imputed Righteousness" here, that I wish everybody would take a little time to listen to. Each podcast is short, remarkably clear, and I promise it will give everyone much food for thought. I'm going to listen to them a second time. I am even, with Matthew's gracious permission, going to quote him in my book, since there is no way I could ever say better what he says about the relationship of faith, grace, righteousness, and God's promises.

I have not read the book, but I'm told it's good, too!

A Surprise Thanksgiving and a Thanksgiving Surprise

It was sometime in the afternoon yesterday when Mena called and spoke with Demetrios, and when I wondered aloud what was new with her, he said, “Nothing. She’s just wondering what time to pick us up.”

“Pick us up?”

“Pick us up!”

“Pick us up for what?”

“To take us to Manolis’ and Vasilea’s house, of course.”

“My dear, this is the first I’ve heard anything about going to Manolis and Vasilea!”

Long silence. “Really?”


“Well, we’re leaving here at 7:30 with Mena and Kostas in their car.”

There is no such holiday as Thanksgiving here in Greece. It was just another Thursday. I even forgot to wish a happy Thanksgiving to the two American theology students I met in the morning. (And they forgot to wish me a happy Thanksgiving, as well!) I don’t think they even have turkey here, unless perhaps frozen. But there is no way any American ate any better than we did on Thanksgiving evening, never mind it’s the Christmas fast! Vasilea served a fish soup first, what you might call “Cream of Cod”, with lemon, and it was delicious. Then, two more kinds of mild, sweet fish, no heads, no tails, no fins, no scales, no tentacles, filleted, breaded, seasoned, and baked, delicious. Plus soupies (sou-PEE-es), something I don’t know the English for, but it does have tentacles; it’s related to squid. Plus a platter of shrimp. They did have heads and tails, but I know how to remove those and they somehow don’t bother me. Then cole slaw, potato salad, beet salad, skordia (skorth-YA, a garlic paste), macaroni, fresh Greek bread, tarama (tah-rah-MA, Greek caviar), garnished with olives. For dessert there was Vasilea’s famous baked quince, Mena’s oven-warm Jello, I call it, but she says it’s halvah. It’s nothing like the halvah we buy in stores, which is not gelatinous at all. Plus Greek pastries, and later Vasilea brought out slices of apples and bananas.

Ioannis, the theologian not the lawyer, joined us with his wife, the other Mena. They were a bit late as they had attended this evening’s session of the 4-day conference on St. John Chrysostom at the University.

I finally learned how Vasilea makes her marvelous baked quince. In case you are interested, here is the “recipe,” such as it is: Put about a quarter to half inch of sugar in the bottom of a baking pan. Quarter and core the quince. (It has stringy, hard stuff in the middle, such as pears have.) Lay it on the sugar, skin side up. Pour over it equal parts red wine and water. Vasilea uses a cup each, in her largest baking pan. Sprinkle with cinnamon and a wee bit of clove. Sprinkle the whole with more sugar. How much sugar, in all, depends upon whether you want the juice to thicken into syrup, and how thick you want the syrup to be. It will in any case take much more sugar than you suppose. (Vasilea makes a thin syrup, but says you need about 2 pounds for thick. That’s for a very large baking pan that holds, I’d guess, 7 pounds of quince.)

After the dessert, Manolis led us all in the hymn to St. Demetrios, then one to St. Gregory Palamas, also of Thessaloniki, then to St. Paul, who evangelized this city and to whom we therefore owe a special debt of gratitude and love, and then some more I could not identify. (Thessaloniki has adorned the Church with some 16 saints, I think, of whom the best known are Sts. Demetrios, Gregory Palamas, Cosmas and Damian “The Unmercenaries”, meaning physicians who did not charge for their work, and Cyril and Methodios, who evangelized Russia.)

Manolis and Demetrios sang tenor, Ioannis took the baritone part, and Kostas the bass; they sounded wonderful!

It is such a joy to hear Kostas singing again! He always used to sing, but this was the first time I have heard him sing since we got here in September. This was his first evening out of the house, too. We told him, for the first time, what the doctors had said, that they didn’t understand why he was still alive, that it as only by the grace of God. So he has, and we have, much to celebrate and be thankful for.

After the half dozen troparia we adjourned to the living room, where a fire was blazing. Manolis added some more wood and we began singing Christmas carols. First, the old songs they had learned in Zoe, which are not church music, but do have religious lyrics. We sang something to the tune of the German carol, Süßer die Glocken nie Klingen. Then Ioannis suddenly broke out into, “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” in English, so as many of us as knew the words sang that. (I got as far as the first four phrases and my mind blanked out. Couldn’t even remember the next words of my favorite Christmas carol! Ioannis did, though: “Joyful all ye nations rise…”) Then, the church hymns proper, the ones that have been sung for nearly a couple of thousand years.

Then more talking, the women, about daily life, the men (and I!) about theology.

Then more singing, then story-telling. One of the favorites is about the time the boys (as our husbands then were and still feel themselves to be) accompanied a certain Fr. Anthimos to visit an old lady, who served them sweets. Fr. Anthimos’ piece, as they boys could see, but too late to warn the far-sighted priest, contained a cockroach. They could hear the crunch as the old man bit into it. Fr. Anthimos put it down, and in his high-pitched, quavering voice, said to the woman, "Forgive me; it appears to me your candy has crystallized.”

Midnight came; Thursday turned to Friday, and Vasilea disappeared into the kitchen, to emerge a few moments later with a box of chocolates, which she passed around, singing a little ditty to Manolis. “It’s his birthday!” she explained.

“I tell you very sincerely,” said Manolis, in English, “I had entirely forgotten it until this moment.”

So we all sang him, “Happy Birthday”, in English. (Did you know that is the most frequently sung song in the whole world? I learned that from some stupid game show once.)

More laughter, more singing, more stories.

Manolis has a very good way of bringing his parties to a close. He has us sing, Phos hilaron, “O Gladsome Light,” and somehow, by the time that quiet hymn is over, everybody knows it is time to go. One no longer feels like laughing or joking or talking or singing. You just sort of automatically get your coat and and hug and kiss everybody and pile into your cars and go home.

We got home early by Greek standards; it was only 1:40. We went to bed feeling it had been Thanksgiving after all. I’m not even going to tell you what time we got up today.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Digging up the Dead and Defending a Doctoral Dissertaion

Demetrios went off with Stelios early this morning to exhume the bones of Stelios’ aunt. That’s how it works in Greece. Cemetery space is limited, so your unembalmed body, in a wooden coffin, is buried for three years or so. Then the bones are dug up to make space for another body. The bones are cleaned and put in a box; the box is put in a special building made for the purpose, with the deceased’s name and usually a photograph on the outside. You can keep the bones buried longer if you choose, but it costs several times as much as simply storing the bones does.

In this case, the bones weren’t going to be kept. A priest came, Demetrios says, and they prayed the memorial service, and then the bones, put into a large pillowcase, were dropped down into a large, underground storage place.

Afterward, Demetrios and Stelios went to the deceased woman’s daughter’s house, where they were treated to a light meal.

I had other, better plans! Christopher Orr e-mailed me last night to let me know his friend Herman was going to defend his dissertation at the University this morning and the session was open to the public. Subject: C. S. Lewis and the Fathers. YES! Never mind I might not be able to understand much of the proceedings because they would be in Greek. Or I might, since my theological vocabulary is better than my general. In any case, I would get to meet someone who was (a) Christopher’s friend, (b) an American, and (c) a theology student besides. And of course going to the Theologiki Scholi made this wannabe feel like Bre’r Rabbit being thrown into the briar patch. (Yes, I know, that’s pathetic. I’m a shop rat!)

Although the time and place had apparently been changed several times, Herman wrote that it looked like the session would take place at 11:30 sharp. I hopped on the bus at 10:45 for the fifteen-minute ride and arrived in plenty of time. You know, just in case Greek time might not apply to the University.


I met a very nice American man named John, a theology student, there to attend the same session, and we waited together a while, out in the corridor. Then we went downstairs to see if we could find any faculty. We found the entire faculty in a conference room and closed the door quickly.

“They’re still quarreling,” John said.

“Not quarreling,” said a Greek theology student, with a sparkle in his eye, “debating.” Okay, debating.

One time, the Greek man said, a friend of his was supposed to defend his dissertation at 10:00 and had to wait until 5:00.

It seems the faculty does not go by schedules (although schedules there are) but improvises, same as everyone else here. Ah, yes, now I realize, that’s what it is: Greeks believe in improvising their lives! That’s why Demetrios seldom knows what he is going to do until he does it. It takes a lot of getting used to for obsessive-compulsive types like me.

We went back upstairs. Christopher's friend Herman showed up and I got to meet him, too — thank you, Christopher! — and we waited another while. Then Herman decided to go do something else. (But what if the faculty should arrive to begin the session and you're not here? I wondered.That didn't seem to bother Herman. He must be more used to Greek ways than I am.)

John and I waited and passed the time in pleasant conversation. Then he said he might as well get a few errands run, so he left.

Demetrios and I both arrived home at about the same time (1:30) to compare notes on our morning’s adventures, and whether the defense of the dissertation has happened yet I don’t know! Because after what seemed another hour, I also left. There was no sign of Herman, or of John, or of any faculty member, and the door to the room was still locked.


Christopher, it was well worth it to meet these two people, to see the School of Theology from the inside, and even just to practice getting around this city all by myself. I had a ball!


Leonidas called yesterday morning, and I heard Demetrios making plans with him to go and “visit Mohammed.”

“Visit Mohammed?” I asked, when he had hung up.

“Kostas. I suppose because he is so imposing in appearance. Leonidas is going to come here in a few minutes and we’ll go together.”

“Is Ianna coming, too?”

“Just Leonidas. Ianna wants him out of the house.”

“Oh, I see. All wives feel that way sometimes, you know.”

“They do?”


“Well!” Then after a moment to digest this startling news, “This is the first time you have ever admitted that to me!”

Everybody needs some alone time, dear. And we prefer to do our housework when you aren’t here, too.

So Mena had the boys all morning and most of the afternoon.

Demetrios says the difference in Kostas, even since we last saw him Saturday night, is remarkable. Hooray and hallelujah!

Last night we decided to attend a concert. We had tried, Saturday night, see a children’s theater production, mostly because the play had been written by Manolis’ and Vasilea’s daughter, Sophia. When we got there, however, we couldn’t see a single seat left, and there were children still searching for seats, so we left and went to visit Kostas and Mena instead. Mena told us it was the same play I had seen last year, so in that sense I hadn’t missed much. Her class at the university in Florina had put it on as their final exam in children's theater, and Mena had invited me.

Last night we had better luck with the mandolinata, mandolin concert, held in the same place. We arrived twenty minutes early (which is to say, at 8:40 p.m.) and got the last two seats, up in the balcony, next to the side wall. Worse seats I’ve never sat in. They were hard and so near the floor our knees were pointing toward the ceiling. There was no foot room, either. The concert was so much fun, though, it more than made up for our horrible seats!

The ensemble consisted of probably 10 mandolins, plus one bass, one flute, and four guitars. They made a very nice sound! There were vocal soloists, too, an indifferent tenor, a good mezzo-soprano, and a weird sounding soprano. Oh, well…

They played a variety of things, Vivaldi’s Mandolin Concerto, some French and Italian songs, ten variations on Mein Hut, Er Hat Drei Ecken, much to my delight, as that’s a song I learned as a teenager in Germany. The mezzo-soprano and the tenor did a hilarious number whose words consisted of “Meow” sung and/or screeched in several dozen different ways.

But what really made the evening fun was the second half, when the ensemble began playing pop songs, especially Greek ones. Gradually I began imagining the people around me were humming along, sort of stealthily, under their breath. By the time we got to La Paloma, I was certain of it: everybody, uninvited, was singing along! Before the end of the evening they were all singing at the top of their voices, including Demetrios. On the last song, the maestro began conducting the audience as well as the ensemble, making motions to the audience when we should clap to the music, when we should sing, when to stop clapping, etc.

Only in Greece.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Uncle Panagiotis and the Psychic

Demetrios’ Great Uncle Panagiotis, while he was in America, once went to a psychic, a large, black woman, who, promising to tell him the future, went into a trance.

“What do you see?” he asked.

“I see a woman.”

“Tell me about her.”

So the psychic described the woman in great detail.

“Now what do you see?” asked Uncle Panagiotis, after a while.

“I see a man.”

“Describe him.”

So she did, in great detail.

“Now what do you see?” asked Uncle Panagiotis, after another while.

“I see a baby.”

“What about the baby?”

“I don’t know. I can’t see it very clearly.”

“Well, then,” said Uncle Panagiotis, “how much do I owe you?”

So she told him and he paid her.

Then he said, “Now let me tell you what you have done. I was visualizing my mother, and you described her very accurately. Then I was visualizing my father, and you described him very accurately. Then I was visualizing my brother who died at birth. I never knew him, so I couldn’t picture him very well at all, and neither could you. In short, you have done nothing but read my mind; you cannot see the future at all!” She agreed and he left.

(Wait, wait a sec, Uncle Panagiotis! She could “only” read your mind?)

Another Snippet on Faith

(I’m trying to organize my thoughts to write the section of my book on faith, works, righteousness, and grace.)

Everybody has some kind of faith. Faith is whatever you base your life upon, and everybody bases his life upon something. Even one who believes life is meaningless lives according to that faith.

To acquire Christian faith is to shift your life off of whatever had been its foundation (usually I, me, myself, and mine) onto a new foundation, Christ. Christian faith, then, is more than belief, more than belief plus trust, more even than belief plus trust plus good works. It involves all of those, but Christian faith, most profoundly, is a new identity out of which you operate.

And it isn’t good for anything unless it really is your “operating system.” An operating system that does not operate is – what? It’s nothing at all. Or it’s at best an hypothesis, a mental construct, an abstraction, something imaginary.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

On Faith and Works (Another Stray Thought)

He also spoke this parable: "A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, 'Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?' But he answered and said to him, 'Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.'" (Luke 13:6-9)

Good works are not the “fruit of faith”! Fasting, vigils, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting of the sick and imprisoned, etc., are the works of faith. They are the digging and fertilizing – and pruning and aerating and cultivating.

The Fruit is Christ. That is why St. Paul wrote to the Galatians (who misunderstood and were trying to earn their way to heaven) that he was like a mother in labor with them all over again “until Christ be formed in you.” (Galatians 4:19)

And you have to do that digging and fertilizing and cultivating of your soul so the seed of the Word planted there (Matthew 13) may sprout and mature and bring forth the fruit, Christ. This does not happen magically! You must work at it, just as you must at marriage (even a good marriage). Or, to switch metaphors, you have to invest the money (the grace, the Holy Spirit) you’ve been given. (Matthew 25:14-30) If not, the Word in you will remain barren; that is, your soul will not be Christ-bearing. If you are afraid to do these things (for fear, perhaps, that this is “works salvation”), you will end up like the servant in the parable who was afraid to invest the money entrusted to him and was called slothful; “even what he has shall be taken away.”

Saint Symeon the New Theologian says that it is not what man does which counts in eternal life but what he is, whether he is like Jesus Christ our Lord, or whether he is different and unlike Him. He says, "In the future life the Christian is not examined if he has renounced the whole world for Christ's love, or if he has distributed his riches to the poor or if he fasted or kept vigil or prayed, or if he wept and lamented for his sins, or if he has done any other good in this life, but he is examined attentively if he has any similitude with Christ, as a son does with his father."

(I took that from Ch. XV of The River of Fire. The author, Dr. Alexandre Kalomiros, gives no citation for this quote.)


“Do you know that we are thinking of your house for Christmas?” wrote my mother in her latest e-mail.

NO, I didn’t know! Stay in better touch, will you please, dear family? You read my blog, so you feel you are in touch, but you forget, it doesn’t feel that way to me.

“Can you be ready in two weeks?”

Well, it’s three weeks and YES, we can be ready. Demetrios says he very much hopes everyone will come and spend the night. Counting sofas, we can sleep 9 before having to resort to sleeping bags for kids and/or rented rollaway beds.

NOW, for the first time, I feel enthusiastic about coming back to the States! Three weeks from yesterday, I think it is, we leave. Then just over three more weeks until Christmas – can it be???

Uncle Panagiotis and the End of the World

Demetrios’ Great Uncle Panagiotis was a journalist. (That’s “Pahn–ah-YO-tees”.) He came to America sometime around 1920 and worked on the staff of the Greek-American newspaper, The National Herald. He stayed in America several years before returning to Greece.

Once, Uncle Panagiotis attended a service of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In those days, they were expecting the end of the world in six months. The preacher was talking about how money would become worthless and would be lying in the streets like trash, when Uncle Panagiotis stood up and said, “You don’t believe a word of this!”

There were gasps and protests, but Uncle Panagiotis stood his ground. “No, not one of you here believes this,” he said, “and I can prove it to you.”


“How much are you paid per month?” he asked the preacher.

The preacher told him.

“Fine,” said Uncle Panagiotis. “I will pay your salary for the next six months so you can quit your secular job and devote yourself to preaching the end of the world to as many people as possible, to prepare them.”

Silence, while people weighed the pros and cons of the preacher giving up a good job.

“But if the end of the world doesn’t happen by the end of the six months,” Uncle Panagiotis continued, “then each member of the congregation will owe me $2 per month for the rest of my life.”

No, no, that was too much. No deal!

“But you’ve just said money will become worthless,” Uncle Panagiotis replied. “Well, then, make it one dollar a month from each of you for the rest of my life.”

They didn’t want to do that, either.

“You see?” said Uncle Panagiotis, with a shrug. “It's as I said. You don’t really believe the end of the world is coming.” And out he walked.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Steven Robinson's Blog!

Some of you may know Steven Robinson as co-host of the "Our Life in Christ" radio show, now a part of Ancient Faith Radio. I know him from about seven years of togetherness in "ev-or", a dialogue group for Evangelicals and Orthodox, not very active lately. We have also had a personal correspondence from time to time, and he is one of my favorite people! His blog is called Pithless Thoughts (see blog lists at left); have fun exploring it!


Anne ("Weekend Fisher"), over at "Heart, Mind, Soul, and Strength", has raised a series of interesting questions about faith and righteousness and salvation, some of them embodying some interesting assumptions. (She gives some interesting answers, too.)

Check this out: "We do not, then, merit the attainment of eternal life as if it were ... an obligation of God's to us based on our works, that he must award eternal life simply to satisfy justice."

No disagreement with Anne's conclusion. It's the assumption behind it that raises the eybrows and makes the conclusion moot. Let's examine that a bit. There's a Bible verse somewhere that has to do with this. Let's see... oh, yes. Romans 4:4. "Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt." But does this mean God would really be obliged to save us, if we were righteous, to satisfy justice?

Answer One (which, as we shall probably see by time we get to Answer Two, really doesn't have much to do with it, yet needs to be said): No. God's sovereignty is such that He is not obliged to do anything, including being just or good. He is never obliged, and nothing whatsoever can put Him under obligation. Whatever He does, He does in absolute, radical freedom, because it is His will, and for no other reason.

Oh, but isn't God just by nature? And since He cannot act against His own nature, doesn't that oblige Him?

Counter-question: who determines God's nature? If anything or anyone other than God Himself, then yes, God is obliged, but He is also no longer God. Whoever made Him to be who He is, that is God. Or if God (unlike any of His creatures) determines His own nature, then He is whoever He is because He freely wills to be that, and freely wills to act accordingly. There is no question of obligation. Or, third possibility, if God's nature, in a manner surpassing our experience or understanding, is not determined at all, then again, God is totally free to do exactly as He pleases.

Doesn't God obligate Himself by making promises? No. He made the promises because they express what was already His will do to (or not do). He made them in perfect freedom and He keeps them in perfect freedom. (That, for a variety of reasons, paradoxically doesn't mean He could choose to break them, either.)

I have this nagging feeling that people who wish to find some theological way to obligate God (and I do NOT mean Weekend Fisher!) really must not have much faith in Him.

Answer Two (the real deal): If God has made a person righteous, has He not already, by definition, saved him? If anyone is righteous, it is by communion in Christ (and hence, participation in His righteousness). Communion in Christ! I mean, come on! What else did anyone think he wanted? That's heaven already, right there. Isn't it?

Stray Thought

Salvation is having the rift between you and the Best Beloved healed. Yes, in that process you escape the eternal consequences of sin; but that is hardly the point! The love, the blissful, blessed love to which you are summoned, that is the point! That you are allowed to live not only with but in Him, and He in you, that is the joy! That you are made righteous is not a means to some other end; it IS the end, the goal, because it is communion with Him, Who alone is righteous.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

It Was Bound to Happen (Sooner or Later)


This morning we hurried off to our nearest church to get there in time. Hurrying is always a mistake, but we didn’t know it yet, so off we trotted, happily.

In church I noticed two things I hadn’t before. The first was at the Small Entrance, when everybody began singing a hymn that somehow seemed familiar, and after a moment, I realized it was the Christmas hymn: “Your birth, O Christ…” How odd, I thought, to begin singing that so early! But then, what do I know? There is so much of which I’m ignorant.

I must not have had enough sleep last night or something. It took half an hour before it dawned on me: this is the Church of the Holy Nativity! Hence they sing that hymn at every Divine Liturgy, year 'round. Duh.

The next thing was another, by now familiar hymn: the one to St. Demetrios! What? His feast was three weeks ago! Surely we aren’t still singing that!

Yes, we are. This is his city. In Thessaloniki, it, too, is sung at every Liturgy. Somehow I never caught on to that before.

There were about 1500 people crammed into that church, but we didn’t have any trouble finding each other afterward this time, thank goodness. This wasn’t a day when we each needed a cell phone and each needed a key, although of course one would have been nice. So, still ignorant of our mistake, we walked the few blocks to one of our favorite bougatsa places, where they also serve spinach pie, more appropriate for the fast. The weather is beautiful; it rained all night and cleared out the skies, and the sun was shining on us, with now and then a cat wandering by, the occasional leaf spiraling down from a tree, and there we sat, chatting happily, still unaware of the Impending Doom.

Okay, well, that’s an exaggeration. We’re still alive and well and no harm done, after all.

It began so innocently, when we got ready to leave the little corner eatery. “Where’s your key?” asked Demetrios.

“At home. Where’s yours?”

“You didn’t bring yours?”

“No, because I thought you had brought yours.”

“Well, I didn’t.”

“Are you sure?”

“I am. Are you?”

“I am.”

We just sat there, dumbstruck, staring at each other for a long moment, and then suddenly the ridiculousness of it all hit me so hard I began laughing uncontrollably. Then Demetrios started in. I suppose it took us five minutes to sober up.

Now what?

“Is Christos perhaps coming today? He could bring his key.”

“He’s sick in bed with a virus today. Do you suppose we’ll have to go to Katerini [an hour’s train ride away], and get it from him?”

Upon further consideration, we decided to go home, ring Thomai’s buzzer (our downstairs neighbor), hope she was home, and then, from her house, decide what to do next. Maybe she would have some advice. Maybe she knew a locksmith.

Thomai opened her door with loud laughter, wrapped her arms around us, and brought us into her living room, where two of her girlfriends were already sitting, Demetra and Soultana. Next thing we knew, there were little plates in our laps with baked quince and some of the chocolate I had brought Thomai yesterday.

No, she said, even a locksmith probably wouldn’t be able to pick the locks in this building. They are special security locks, Soultana explained, whatever that means. (We use one of those old fashioned skeleton keys you hardly ever see in America anymore.) Even if he could open the door, Demetra added, he would likely damage the lock in the process.

The thing to do, they said, was to call Christos, have him put his keys in an envelope and write our names on the envelope, take it down to the bus station, and have the next bus bring it here. It would only cost a Euro or two. Then Christos should call us and tell us what time the bus would arrive. We could take a taxi to the bus terminal and back, and voila!

Christos, however, said he felt better today and he would come. Thank you, Christos! So all we had to do was enjoy Thomai and company for the next hour or so. That was easy!

Demetra and Soultana were full of questions for Demetrios. Were there many Protestants in America? There are quite a few in Katerini. What are Protestants protesting? Are they the same as the papistes? [That's three syllables, accented on the second.] Why is their Pascha on a different day from ours? Why are there two calendars, and which is the more accurate, the Julian or the Gregorian? I really had to admire them, knowing how to make the most out of the opportunity of being with an educated man.

Thomai reiterated what she had told us last year, that Demetrios and his friends were always so pious she had for years and years assumed they were all Protestants. Today she said actually she had supposed them to be Jehovah’s Witnesses! It wasn’t until my mother-in-law’s funeral, when all the friends attended and did the chanting that she realized they were Orthodox after all! So we laughed a lot over that.

Zisis arrived, Thomai’s husband, and he, too, got a good laugh out of our predicament, and then people began swapping stories about the times they had locked themselves out.

It seemed too short a time before Christos rang the bell, and we hurried off with him, lest he give his virus to any of the company.

Back home, we each grabbed a key. Demetrios affixed his to his belt, although losing it was never the problem, and I zipped mine into its special pocket in my purse.

Then, off to Mena’s and Kostas’ for Sunday dinner, in Christos’ car (after having phoned Mena to be sure it was okay to bring him along).

One good thing about living in an Orthodox country (and/or having Orthodox friends) is, you know what to feed each other. Everybody understands what may and may not be eaten on any given day.

The thing Elpida (their daughter) complained of was, it’s been fish every day all week.

My rule is just close your eyes and eat it. It will taste good. It always does. Don’t ask too many questions. Today I didn’t have to. I could see what it was: boiled squid with macaroni. French fries and coleslaw on the side. A second course of barbouri (I think that's the word) a small, local fish, very popular, baked in the oven (I think), crispy and quite good. Just don’t look, as it comes compete with head and tail. It really was all delicious. We had clementines, a.k.a. Mandarins, for dessert.

We were discussing that play, Waiting for Godot, and Christos said, “Godot comes when a person accepts his life as it is and decides to be happy with it. Otherwise, Godot will never come.” Christos smiled a lot during the meal, which was nice to see, although later his pained look returned. He is often in pain from an ulcer. I said it was the worst play I had ever seen – in fact, Demetrios and our friend Vada and I had walked out at intermission – but it was also the one that made the biggest impression on me of any play. (I read the second half of it later; it is very little different from the first act, so I was doubly glad to have given it a miss!) Elpida was trying to remember who had written it, when Kostas’ deep voice, like a tolling bell, said, “Samuel Beckett.” It was so startling to hear the English name, spoken perfectly!

Now they’ve all gone off to the clinic, to see why Kostas’ thigh is swelling up again. Demetrios says he is almost certain it’s just drainage, and that the hole for the drainage was simply stitched up prematurely. Still, one wants to be sure that’s all it is, and not take any chances. I came home, courtesy of Christos, to write this and to take a nap.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Don't Miss It!

If you haven't seen Fr. Stephen's post, "A Faith Worth Believing", catch it here.

You'll be glad you did.

Check out the comments, too.

Friday, November 16, 2007

You Do Not Want to Know

A Peanuts cartoon that once made a big impression on me showed Lucy, face cupped in hands, elbows resting on a window sill, looking out at the world.

Charlie Brown asks, "What are you thinking about?"

"I'm wondering what the best day of my life will be like," says Lucy.

Charlie Brown thinks for a while and then says, "What if you've already had it?"

That sort of fits with a dream I had last night in which I was getting phone messages from the future. Friends were calling me to offer condolences on the death of my husband, for example, while he was still standing right there in front of me, healthy as could be. Others were calling me just to keep in touch, and they'd say things like, "I hear your grandson got a new job," when to me, my grandsons were still only three years old. Someone else said, "It's a shame about so-and-so going into a nursing home," when I still knew her as middle aged. Stuff like that, mostly not thrilling.

My father, who was sitting there, alert and aware as anyone else, asked me who were all these calls from. I told him from the future, and I added, "You do not want to know the future."

"I do!" said he, with a smile.

"No, no. You do not."

After I woke up, I wondered what if Dad had known, 20 years ago, that by today he wouldn't even know our names.

Truly, we do not want to know. Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof. Those saints to whom God has given that gift surely bear it as a terrible burden, and God certainly does not give it to gratify curiosity, but that he who has it may use it to help others.

Tourists, at Last (Sort of)

After a day of rain and gloom, today shone bright, dry, and warm, so we at long last decided to do something touristy, namely to go see the Laographico Mouseio Makedonias, Cultural Museum of Macedonia.

As usual, we hadn’t walked three blocks before we ran into Old Friends, Stelios and Anastasia, who live very near us. They were just getting outside for a walk. So Anastasia linked arms with me and we chatted, and our husbands chatted, until we got to where our ways parted. They were going to walk along the waterfront.

That, of course, is the place to walk, because besides being beautiful, the promenade there is very wide and open, whereas everywhere else in town is an obstacle course. The reason is that when this city was massively revamped, in the 'Sixties, nobody dreamed Greece would one day be so prosperous that more than a few families could afford cars – much less could they foresee every family owning two! The result is, nobody made provisions for parking. There are no parking garages, parking lots, etc. Cars park wherever they can, and double park, and park partway on the sidewalk if necessary, and between them and the dumpsters (nobody saw those coming, either; they populate every other corner) and the illegal sidewalk cafes, there’s no good place to walk around here. Heading toward the sea is the thing to do if exercise is what you want.

We had just parted from Anastasia and Stelios when we looked up to see – another Old Friend. Nikos was in medical school with Demetrios. They were also together in Zoe, a para-ecclesiastical movement, and they sang together in the Zoe choir. Nikos went to Germany to continue his studies, and Demetrios met him again there, in Stuttgart, when he (Demetrios) was in the U.S. Air Force, stationed at the military hospital there. Nikos is an oncologist and a surgeon. Before he retired, he was head of the Cancer Institute here. He speaks English and German, so we were all able to have a nice conversation.

We had almost made it to the Museum, when we crossed the street and a man we were passing suddenly stopped, staring and staring at Demetrios. I glanced up at Demetrios to see that he was staring back. There was a long moment of silence while the two stood looking at each other. Finally, the man said, “I know you…”

“And I know you, too…” said Demetrios.

It only took them only a few moments to realize they had been in high school together. The man’s name was George.

Please tell me, how do these people recognize each other after fifty years?? They were only kids; now they’re senior citizens.

They hadn’t been particularly close or anything, so a few words sufficed and we finally reached our goal.

The museum is well worth the visit. It has a whole floor of traditional costumes, not only from Macedonia, but from all over Greece. It has another floor full of 19th and early 2oth Century technologies. There are two 20-minute videos, each with English subtitles, and the guides also speak English.

The basement was full of children’s drawings of what they had seen at the Museum, and it was delightful.

The whole place had once been a private home, a mansion, owned by a Jewish family. We live, as a matter of fact, in what used to be a Jewish neighborhood. That was before Word War II. What happened to them is similar to what happened to Jews all over Europe. During the German occupation, they were made to move into the center fo the city (with the connivance of the rabbi, according to rumor) and to wear the yellow star. Then they were carried away by rail, and mostly never seen or heard from again.

There's a synagogue near our house, with a Jewish school. Both school and synagogue are behind a tall, iron fence topped with barbed wire. There are concrete-filled barrels in front and behind the property, to keep car bombs at bay. There are two security checkpoints in front of the synagogue.

The Museum, in Demetrios' student days, housed a military school. Young men lived there who were studying to be doctors; the Army would pay all your expenses, food, clothing, housing, etc., and you would owe the Army 15 years of service afterward. Demetrios applied, but (fortunately!) was rejected. He had top marks in school, but the students who were accepted were those who had the right connections. (Demetrios' mother, who couldn't afford to keep supporting him, was so furious when he was rejected, she wrote a letter to Queen Frederika about it!)

Demetrios bought some postcards showing costumes, and then we headed home by a different route – which, however, had been taken over today by an outdoor market. I love these markets! As the prices of vegetables were half of what we usually pay, we bought as many as we could carry: tomatoes, bananas, chestnuts, romaine, green beans, eggplants, clementines (in season and very sweet just now), and fresh spinach, among other goodies. We’re all set for the fast, now, for a while. My tiny refrigerator, about 4 feet high, is crammed full.

After dropping off our purchases at the house, we went to a nearby eatery for a very late lunch. I had just finished eating when I noticed a short, very thin, grizzled and stooped man heading in our direction. He had a grimace that suddenly was – familiar! Christos. I waved; he spotted us and sat down with us. Unable to reach us all day by phone, he had been heading to the Bambolina, a coffee house where he and Demetrios often meet for coffee, hoping to find Demetrios there. That’s where they are now. I came back to put my new fruits and veggies in order and start cooking some of them.

The doves know when we get home. Don’t ask me how they know; they just do. They come right away to be fed.

They also know which room you’re in, and they come to whichever part of the balcony looks into that room, and they sit there on the railing cocking their heads at you as if to ask, “Where’s our food?” Who has whom trained?

Nowadays an intrepid house sparrow often comes with them. The male dove, performing his duty assiduously, usually drives it away, but sometimes the sparrow sneaks in unnoticed and gets a share of the spoils.

Demetrios is particularly fond of the sparrows. He wonders how such a tiny brain as a sparrow’s manages to contain all the information the bird needs. “He knows how to build his nest, how to rear his young, how to fly and how to land, and he knows what to eat and where to find it. How does he know which foods are good for him? Yet he does! Such a miracle, a bird is!”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, KELLY, my sweetie! You are growing up so fast!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

True and False Contrition

From St. Nicholas Cabasilas, The Life in Christ:

There are two kinds of grief for transgressions, one which restores those who are afflicted by it, and one which brings ruin on them. Of both there are clear witnesses, the blessed Peter in the former case, the wretched Judas in the latter. The grief of the one preserved his purpose and commended him, after he wept bitterly to Christ no less than before he had sinned, whereas Judas’s grief led him to the noose. When the blood was being shed which cleansed the whole world and all were being set free, he went off in bonds in despair of his own cleansing!

Since we know them beforehand let us welcome the former grief but flee from the latter. So we must look at the characteristics of both, how the former benefits us and the latter does us harm.

…When we have formed high opinions of ourselves we see them refuted by the acts whereby we have offended against our duty; we are pained and mourn, and sore remorse oppresses the heart as though life were not worth living for those who have fallen into such great evils. From this grief it is necessary to desist. It is clearly the mother of death, as is also excessive self-esteem.

The former kind of grief [the kind St. Peter had] derives from affection towards our Master. It makes us clearly to know our Benefactor and the things for which we are indebted to Him. Of the things for which we are His debtors we have not repaid even one; on the contrary, we have requited Him with evil.

Therefore, just as pride is an evil, so the pain which comes to our souls from the latter grief is an evil. On the other hand, the love of Christ is altogether worthy of praise. Nothing is more blessed to those who are will-disposed than to suffer pain by reason of the darts which come from that love…

An aside:

That next-to-last paragraph makes an interesting point, doesn’t it, if one is a believer in penal substitutionary atonement? Namely, why is it thought that our debt to the Father must of absolute necessity be paid off, but not our debt to the Son?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

My Grandchildren

Can't resist, have to brag. Here are my grandchildren at Halloween.

This is Kelly Anne, who is going to have her birthday the day after tomorrow.

These are her brothers, Ryan and Connor, who were three on October 1, with their teacher (I suppose). Not sure, in this photo, which is which! But I think Connor is on the right.

Here there are all together, Kelly as Alice in Wonderland. This time I'm sure it's Connor on the right, Ryan on the left.

This is their cousin, Sydney Elizabeth, age 2.

And here she is, cheering on the Vikings. And one more of my youngest...

Tell me how adorable they all are!

Pen Sub Again

Someone I never heard of, Greg Boyd, pastor of an evangelical mega church, posted these questions, which I stumbled upon just now, about Penal Substitutionary Atonement. They summarize my thinking rather well, except for the last paragraph, possibly. I'd have to sit down with him to see what he means by it before I was sure I agreed with that.

* Does God really need to appease his wrath with a blood sacrifice in order to forgive us? If so, does this mean that the law of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is the ultimate description of God’s character? And if this is true, what are we to make of Jesus’ teaching that this law is surpassed by the law of love? Not only this, but what are we to make of all the instances in the Bible where God forgives people without demanding a sacrifice (e.g. the prodigal son)?

* If God’s holiness requires that sacrifice be made before he can fellowship with sinners, how did Jesus manage to hang out with sinners without a sacrifice, since he is as fully divine and as holy as God the Father?

* If Jesus’ death allows God the Father to accept us, wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that Jesus reconciles God to us than it is to say Jesus reconciles us to God? Yet the New Testament claims the latter and never the former (e.g. 2 Cor. 5:18-20). In fact, if God loves sinners and yet can’t accept sinners without a sacrifice, wouldn’t it be even more accurate to say that God reconciles God to himself than to say he reconciles us to God? But this is clearly an odd and unbiblical way of speaking.

* How are we to understand one member of the Trinity (the Father) being wrathful toward another member (the Son) of the Trinity, when they are, along with the Holy Spirit, one and the same God? Can God be truly angry with – and punish – God?

* If God needs someone to “pay the price” for sin, does God ever really forgive anyone? Think about it. If you owe me a hundred dollars and I hold you to it unless someone or other pays me the owed sum, did I really forgive your debt? It seems not, especially since the very concept of forgiveness is about releasing a debt -- not collecting it from someone else.

* Are sin and guilt the sorts of things that can be literally transferred from one party to another? Related to this, how are we to conceive of the Father being angry towards Jesus and justly punishing him when he of course knew Jesus never did nothing wrong?

* If the just punishment for sin is eternal hell, how does Jesus’ several hours of suffering and his short time in the grave pay for it?

* If the main thing Jesus came to do was appease the Father’s wrath by being slain by him for our sin, couldn’t this have been accomplished (say) when Jesus was a one-year-old- as easily as when he was thirty-three years old? Was Jesus’ life, teachings, healings and deliverance ministry merely a prelude to the one really important thing he did – namely, die? It doesn’t seem to me that the Gospels divide up and prioritize the aspects of Jesus’ life in this way. (I maintain that everything Jesus did was about one thing – overcoming evil with love. And therefore everything about Jesus was centered on atonement --- making us one with God.)

* Not to be offensive, but if its true that God’s wrath must be appeased by a sacrificing his own Son – or if not that, sacrificing all other humans in eternal hell – then don’t we have to conclude that those pagans who have throughout history sacrificed their children to appease the gods’ wrath had the right intuition, even if they expressed it in the wrong way?

* What is the intrinsic connection between what Jesus did on the cross and how we actually live? The Penal Substitution view makes it seem like the real issue in need of resolution is a legal matter in the heavenly realms between God’s holy wrath and sin. Christ’s death changes how God sees us, but this theory says nothing about how Christ’s death changes us. This is particularly concerning to me because every study done on the subject has demonstrated that for the majority of Americans who believe in Jesus, their belief makes little or no impact on their life. I wonder if the dominance of this legal-transaction view of the atonement might be partly responsible for this tragic state of affairs.

To me, these are all serious problems with the Penal Substitutionary view. I do not deny that Jesus died as our substitute or even that it was God’s will to “crush and bruise” Jesus (Isa 53:10). But we don’t need to imagine the Father vented his wrath against sin on Jesus to make sense of these facts. One can (and I think should) rather see this as the Father offering up his Son to the principalities and powers to be bruised and crushed in our place, for this unsurpassable expression of self-sacrificial love is what was needed to destroy the devil and his works and to thus set humans free, reconciling them to the Father. (For more on this, see my essays in P. Eddy and J. Bielby, eds. The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views [Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2006].

To me, one of the major faults of pen-sub is that it assumes God's wrath is something that needs to be reconciled with God's love. In fact, Christ was excercising God's wrath on the Cross, wrath against sin, death, and the devil.

A Reminiscence

Demetrios has gone to Katerini to visit his brother. Two friends of his are going to be there, who want to ask Demetrios some questions about a friend of theirs who is suffering from depression. I elected to stay home. In the first place, the conversation will be in Greek, but also, I think the proceedings need some privacy. (You never know, for example, who the “friend” may turn out to be.)

That leaves me Home Alone for a good 8-10 hours, I estimate. That’s good! Everybody needs some alone time. There’s plenty to do. That wind storm the other night blew all sorts of dust into our house! And the writing bug has bitten me, so I’m working hard on my book. And should I get tired of that, Demetrios took me to a yarn shop he discovered yesterday right here in our own neighborhood, and I picked out two different kinds of yarn. Of course, like any True Knitter, I have my knitting bag with me, complete with everything any knitter could reasonably need. So I look forward to creating something lovely, don’t yet know what.

Last time we were here, it was I who went without Demetrios to Katerini with these two friends. They are very nice. Chara is from right here, this very neighborhood. Paul is Greek, but born and raised in Cairo, Egypt. He later lived in America for many years, 30, I think, and when he retired, he came here – for the first time! He knew and can tell you stories about all sorts of famous people, like Aristotle Onasis, La Jackie, Maria Callas.

They want to take us to Egypt one day. They love it there and they say the Egyptians like the Greeks. (They do not like Americans, though!) Well, maybe. Maybe they’ll make plans with Demetrios today, for all I know.

The time I visited them, we all took a bus back to Thessaloniki together that evening, arriving about 9:15. Then, at the main terminal, they hurried me onto the bus to get back to my neighborhood. That was when one of my favorite adventures in Greece took place, which I here reprint from the journal I kept at the time. The entry is dated 01 June, 2006.

It wasn’t until after the bus had gotten underway a moment later that I thought I’d really better check what number it was. I knew I needed a 3, 33, or 39. (Thank goodness I had learned all the Greek numbers over the winter; before then I could only count to twenty!)

There was a young blonde damsel sitting across from me, with spiky hair and gothic makeup. I said, “Excuse me; what number is this bus?”

“Trianta-ena,” she said with a smile, and then, in English, “Thirty-one.”

“Ohhh, I’ve made a mistake.”

“Where are you going?” in Greek again, very sweetly, eager to be helpful.

“Hippocratio,” I replied, the name of a hospital in our neighborhood – and the name of the corresponding bus stop. (Yes, the genitive form of Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, as in the Hippocratic Oath; isn’t that fun?)

“This bus will be good, then,” she replied.

Well, okay, but I had never taken a 31 before and didn’t know where it might stop. (Afterward I discovered it would have been perfect.) In fact, I had never had to get around town by myself before at all, so I sat watching nervously. Yes, okay, we were on the Egnatia, as we should be…we were passing all the elegant shops I had seen before…

Then the bus stopped, not even at a regular stop, and the driver said, “All out.”

I looked quizzically at the spiky-haired blonde, who said, in Greek, “The road is closed.”

Sure enough, there was a big ribbon across the main road of Thessaloniki, and blue police lights swirling. And as I climbed down onto the pavement, a roar met my ears, thousands and thousands of men shouting, chanting. I thought every motorcyclist in Thessaloniki under the age of 40 must be there, and quite a few over 40, too, many with girlfriends. There were not hundreds, but tens of thousands of motorcycles, with hundreds more automobiles, and all blinking their lights, leaning on their horns, and gunning their motors.

Flares were lit; there was smoke everywhere. Horns were honking; flags were waving, unfamiliar flags. In the intersection was a monument of some sort, and two men atop the statue were leading the crowd in shouting slogans and singing songs. A car sitting with an open sunroof had a bass drum mounted on its roof; a man was standing up through the sunroof beating it vigorously, keeping time for the chant. Other men along the route were functioning as more cheerleaders and traffic directors.

I didn’t know whether to be frightened or not. This was obviously some sort of extremely passionate protest; on the other hand, the guys looked peaceable; in fact I thought they were rather enjoying themselves. Several of them were taking pictures with their cell phone cameras.

Everything else had come to a standstill. Store owners and employees were standing outside their shops watching the commotion. You couldn’t do anything else, couldn’t go anywhere. You couldn’t even cross any street. Not only the Egnatia, but several cross streets were blocked off for blocks and blocks. More motorcycles were coming from everywhere to join the throng, traveling along sidewalks if necessary.

I thought about telephoning Demetrios; there was even a phone booth nearby; but on second thought I wouldn’t be able to hear him, or he me. Nothing to do but stand there and enjoy the show. How to get home would have to be worried about later!

I stopped and shouted to a young couple, “Excuse me. I am a foreigner. What is this?”

“You speak English?” asked the girl, shouting back.

When I nodded over the din, she yelled, “It is a problem with our football team.”

Then I looked at the flags more carefully. They said, PAOK, the name of the local soccer team. It is in some financial trouble and is scheduled to close down or be sold or something, much to the outrage of its fans. This was a gigantic pep rally! These were the team’s fight songs!

After a while, I managed to wiggle my way behind two teenaged girls who were determined to cross the street. Eventually, they did, darting in and out recklessly between motorcycles, and I was right behind them.

Once out of the major part of the congestion, I thought, well, we usually catch buses on the road nearest the sea, so heading toward the sea seems the reasonable thing to do. I walked a bit and found myself between the YMCA and the sports arena. Two policemen had cordoned off that intersection, as well. I went up to them to ask where to catch my bus, but they ignored me and kept talking into their walkie-talkies.

There were no cabs in sight; obviously they were giving this event wide berth!

I spotted a number 39 bus, my bus, headed in the wrong direction and unable to move. So I motioned to the driver, who slid open his window, and I asked him where to catch a 39 to Hippocratio. Pointing down a cross street, he said, “Go right down there, to the first stop.”

So I did, arriving just in time to catch the right bus!

The only seat left on it was facing backward, so sitting there wasn’t very smart. I almost missed the stop, only realizing at the last moment we had arrived!

It was 10:45 when I walked in the front door, and Demetrios and Christos were on the phone, worrying about my absence.

“Turn on the television,” I said, “and you’ll see why.”

Demetrios asked, when I had told him all about it, “Did you ever see anything like that in the States?”

I said, only the protests against the Vietnam War and never before that or since.

I went to bed enormously pleased with all the day’s adventures, especially with having met Chara and Paul, and having gotten home all by myself in adverse circumstances. Not bad, for someone whose sense of direction is totally dysfunctional.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A pre-Christmas Meditation

I’ve been pondering the staggering mystery of the Incarnation. The Uncontainable One is contained in the Virgin’s womb. He who existed from all eternity with no mother is born into time with no father. He who is higher than the heavens is laid in the lowly manger. The Maker of Man, “without change” Himself becomes Man. The formless One takes on flesh, not merely for a time, but permanently, for He also “ascended into heaven and sat at the right hand of the Father” not only in His divinity, but also in His full humanity.

Most people, I think, do not actually believe it any more. Yet surely the Incarnation is the foundational doctrine of the Christian religion, the keystone, the bedrock.

Because what if this Jesus was/is not God? Then:

His teachings become debatable.
His commandments become optional.
His miracles become problematical.
He could not conquer death, but would be subject to it the same as everybody else.
He had no power to send the Holy Spirit.

Without the Holy Spirit:

We are left with our unenlightened consciences to exemplify the saying, “There is a way which seemeth good unto a man, but the end thereof is destruction.”
Without the life of the Holy Spirit, we cannot truly live, because He is our life.
Apart from that divine Life, the entire Christian enterprise becomes vapid, and people are right to say, “Yes, that’s all very nice, but so what?”
Without the power of the Holy Spirit, we cannot be sanctified.
Unless the Spirit Himself prays in us, we are not the adopted children of God.
Unless the Holy Spirit descends upon the waters of baptism, they are inefficacious. We must be baptized “bywater and the Spirit.”
The same applies to the bread and the wine of Holy Communion. Without the Holy Spirit, they are mere bread and wine.

Most of all, if Jesus was not God in the flesh, then God did not love us enough, after all, to become one of us.

In the other hand, if Jesus was not truly man, then:

He could not have conquered sin the same way it conquered us: through the flesh.
He could not sanctify human nature by uniting His Divine Nature with it.
He could not have glorified our humanity is His resurrection, nor have deified it by His ascension.
He could not have died, much less have conquered death by dying.
He did not have real flesh and blood to share with us.
He could not be our perfect High Priest – or Judge or Advocate.
Most of all, God did not love us enough to become one of us.

And so on and so forth. If we do not believe that this Christmas Child was truly the Logos (Articulate Intellect) of God, who “was in the beginning with God and…was God,” then we really should give up calling ourselves Christians, because the whole religion unravels. In fact, it seems to me this is precisely what we see having happened in so many denominations all around us.

Truly, the faith St. Peter professed, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” is the rock upon which the Church is built.