Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Lutheran Icons?

Pastor Rick Stuckwisch wrote this in the Lutheran journal, Gottesdienst, and Pr. Peterson reprinted it over at "Cyberstones". (For non-Lutherans, let me clarify that “the Verba” is Lutheran-speak for Christ’s words, “This is My Body…”, etc. and “This is My Blood…”, etc.)

Besides being charming, this little piece makes me think Lutherans have icons, too; it’s just that theirs are verbal rather than painted. But they still venerate ‘em.

As Father Grobien intoned the Verba, I could hear clearly and distinctly the voice of his youngest daughter, two-year-old Amelia, chanting with him from the congregation: word-for-word, note-for-note, in almost flawless unison. I had not heard her do this previously, but I am told that she commonly does the same thing along with me, when I chant the Verba (as is our practice at every Divine Service).

To hear Amelia's beautiful young voice gloriously lifting up the Words of her Lord along with her pastor, I was poignantly reminded of this further benefit and blessing of chanting those Words. Not only does the intonation of the Verba honor them and elevate them with the peculiar dignity that belongs to them by right above all other Words; it also more deeply implants the Verba in the hearts and minds of the Lord's people, both young and old.

And We Beheld His Glory: Postscript

For the Apostles to say, "We beheld His glory" is not problematic for most people. They either did or thought they did, so that's easy to understand. What gives people pause is when we, today, say the same thing: "We beheld His glory." What? Gimme a break; it's two thousand years later!

And yet, it is true. I don't have any words to explain how this can be. I don't think there are any. Oh, yes, countless books have been written, countless sermons preached, about the sacraments, which, provided all else is properly in place, are our major encounter with Him. But nothing can explain how this can be; that's why in Orthodoxy, we call the sacraments "the mysteries."

But what the Apostles set out to do is to pass down through all generations of us, their very own relationship with the Risen Lord, a relationship transcending time and place, a relationship of joint being, of mutual indwelling accomplished by a supernatural kind of love. (Yes, I call it supernatural when it is infinite, unconditional, and includes even your enemies!) It is a relationship, in short, of communion they seek to share with us. Listen to how St. John the Evangelist describes this objective of the Apostles:

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have communion with us; and truly our communion is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. (I John 1:3)

And a practicing Orthodox Christian (at least) can testify that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the holy Apostles did not fail in this mission. We do, however imperfectly, still participate in that very same relationship, that communion, with one another and with the living Christ, that the Apostles had and still have. In scripture, in the mysteries, in fasting and other ascetical struggle (for the pure in heart shall see God), in prayer, in one another, in countless ways, we still encounter Him. We still behold His glory, day by day.

Hang out for a while in a well-functioning Orthodox parish, with an open mind and an open heart, and try living jointly with them the Christian life they share, and after a while or perhaps quite soon, gradually or suddenly, the Holy Spirit will disclose the risen Lord to you, too. You will find Him still very much here, not as a thought or concept or theology or philosophy or emotion or principle or memory, but as a living Person, the most wonderful human being ever, truly human yet truly God, all-glorious, and by that glory, able to transfigure you and me.

"Seek and ye shall find, knock, and it shall be opened to you."

Let ev'ry heart
prepare Him room.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Points to Ponder

Mary Joy has posted the conversion story of Anjali, a former Hindu in her parish. You can read it there (and see a video of Anjali's recent baptism there, too) so I am not going to reprint the whole thing. But these little snippets especially jumped out at me, partly because I went through a Hindu stage just before I became Orthodox, and partly because they articulate so well some of my own observations. The emphases are mine.

  • An unconscious denial of the power of the Holy Spirit, to either think the Holy Spirit has checked out, is too mysterious to know His workings, or to reduce His workings to only babbling, despite Jesus' promise to send the Holy Spirit who would lead to all truth, these seem like strange beliefs for people who really have faith in Christ and the Bible to believe.

  • At the Orthodox church, it wasn't like a memorial service for someone who had passed on to the next world, it was worship - worship the way Hindus worship, truly believing that God was present, singing to God, not about him, not singing to ourselves, not singing for fellowship, not worshiping his idea, but actually presenting worship as a sacrifice within the presence of God. - and not being casual in his presence, but having a sense of holiness and respect - not because people wanted to be goody-two-shoes, but because if you actually believe that God is present, you'll be alert, rather than coming up with excuses about how God shouldn't care about this or that or the other, but naturally wanting to do your best in the presence of God out of love and respect and acknowledgment of his holiness. I don't know...I guess I felt like, as much as I liked the Protestant church (the minister was great!), I felt they were talking about something, about learning about something, whereas at the Orthodox Church actually had it present.

  • So maybe Hindus do in the dark what Christians do in the light? While fumbling and some wrong perceptions can be experienced,... once you turn the light on, you realize - wait a minute! I thought I knew how this whole room was set up and how everything worked, but in reality, now I see it is different! Some is the same, but now I can go about things the way they were intended. Now, I no longer hold an elephant's trunk thinking it's a snake and once in a while wondering what else there is to it - now the lights are on, and I can see that wow! There is an elephant in the room! Such is the differing result of humans striving for truth in our spiritual darkness, vs. what happens when God himself bringing us the truth with his light.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Seeing is Believing (and Vice-Versa?)

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

Authentic Christianity does not begin with syllogisms seeking to prove the existence of some sort of Divine Being (Whom subsequent chapters will "prove" is the Christian God). Neither does it begin with arguments, inescapably circular, for why Holy Scripture is the ultimate authority, the font, definition, and norm of Truth. (Don't people who think Holy Scripture is this ever wonder why, if this is so, Jesus never wrote a single chapter of Scripture to leave behind when He ascended into Heaven?) Real Christianity is not a philosophy, a science, or a concept.

No, Christianity begins with, And we beheld His glory! It begins with that which we have seen, and heard, and handled - culminating with the Resurrection, but starting on the first Christmas. The Infinite One takes on finite flesh (and makes it infinite); the Formless One takes the form of an infant; the Eternal One manifests Himself in time. And we beheld His glory.

But to behold His glory, to see what is before us, requires that our eyes be open, our inner as well as our outer eyes. That's what Fr. Stephen writes about in this blog post, entitled, "What We Do Not See":

One of the most striking features of the Gospels is the frequent response of the Disciples after the resurrection of Christ: doubt. I have always been sympathetic to the doubts and hesitations that afflicted their lives during the ministry of Christ. The disciples are almost endearing in their inability to grasp what Christ is all about. However, the same inability to grasp things after the resurrection seems to carry with it all kinds of difficulties. What was it about the resurrection that the disciples could not or did not believe? A man dies and is buried. Then he is not buried and is not a walking corpse but manifests an entirely new form of existence. Call it resurrection or what have you - but apparently Christ had mentioned this coming reality more than once before it happened. What was the problem?

The problem seems to go to the very heart of things both then and now. Had the resurrection belonged to the classification of events that everyone can see, measure, study, and reach “scientific” agreement, there would surely have been no trouble. But the resurrection does not belong to some general classification. It is sui generis, its own classification.

There are many who want to speak about the resurrection as if it were a car wreck down at the corner drugstore. Whatever it was (is), it is very much more, even, indeed, something completely different - not like anything else.

And it is here, that the continuing problem of vision is made manifest. Orthodox Christian writers are wont to utter things like, “God will save the world through beauty” (Dostoevsky), or “Icons will save the world” (recently in First Things) all of which makes some people want to run out and complain. But at their heart, such statements are trying to say something about the nature of the resurrection and its action in our world.

The resurrection of Christ is something completely new. It is a manifestation of God unlike anything we have ever known. It is Truth made manifest in the flesh - not the truth to be found in an average living man. I am 55 and I look very unlike what I did at 10. I look decidedly unlike what I will in another 100 years (you probably wouldn’t like to see that). Thus we never see anything in an eternal state. But the resurrection is just that. It does not belong exactly to the classification of “things created,” for it is the “uncreated” before our eyes.

And thus the Church paints the things that pertain to the resurrection (including the saints) in an iconic fashion - not like portraiture or the “truth” that generally lies before our eyes. Icons paint the Truth as it appears to eyes that behold the resurrection. By the same token, the Church does not write about the resurrection in the way we write about other things, for the resurrection is not one of the other things but a thing that is unlike anything else. Thus the Fathers of the Church said that “icons do with color what Scripture does with words.”

And both have something to do with vision. The Gospel tells us: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” I am not pure in heart but I think I may have encountered such a person. At the least I have read stories about such persons and I know that such persons see what I cannot and they see in a manner that as yet I do not.

But this goes to the point of salvation. Salvation is not how to get people like me (or like you) into some place safe from the fires of hell. That is a transportation problem at best, or a legal problem, at worst. The point of salvation is how to change people like me (and you). It is about changing us such that seeing the resurrection becomes possible. In order to see the resurrection and those things that pertain to it - one must somehow participate in the resurrection. The vision that is birthed in our hearts at Holy Baptism is the vision born of the resurrection of Christ. He is the “true light” whom we behold in the Holy Eucharist.

In this sense, God will indeed save the world through Beauty. The problem is that so few if any of us have ever seen Beauty. Had you truly seen Beauty, then you would not disagree with the statement. It’s obvious character would be, well, obvious. That people want to argue with it (or with icons) only means that they do not or cannot see. And neither do I, most of the time.

If I could see as I am meant to see then my eyes would not see enemies nor the like. Not that others might not intend to be my enemies or want evil for me - but there are eyes that see beyond all of that and see the Truth of a person. Had I the eyes to see, love would not be an insurmountable problem but as tangible as the Resurrection itself.

And so we have celebrated the Feast of the Lord’s Nativity. Every heart must prepare Him room. More than that, every heart should beg to see the Beauty, to read the Icon of the Gospel of the Nativity, to see what daily escapes our vision and leaves us blind - leading the blind.

Kyrie, eleison!

Christmas Pictures

I hope you are all having a wonderful celebration of the twelve days of Christmas.

We spent from Christmas Eve through the weekend with children and grandchildren, dividing our time between Erin and her family (Jeff and Sydney) and Mark and his family (Katherine, Kelly, Ryan, and Connor) and we had a wonderful, relaxing time. As Demetrios says, those little children are "a delight all day long!"

Here are a few pictures. As always, you can click to enlarge.

Green Eyes: Sydney with "Fancy Nancy"

Sydney in Her New House

Play-Doh Fun. Demetrios intervenes to show Jeff how an alligator's tail should be formed.

Christmas Pictures II

Watching Television

Gag Gift! Demetrios Models Slippers Made from Poise Pads! (Join two by putting sticky sides together, wrap a third around top, add glitter, glue on decorative buttons or stickers)

Christmas Portrait of my Kendall Grandchildren: (L-R) Ryan, Kelly, Connor

Christmas Pictures III

First Glimpse of Christmas Stockings and Gifts! Ryan, left, and Connor, right

Kelly Received a Webkinz Mouse

This rod, with a bee on the end, rotates. You are supposed to jump over it, but it's more fun chasing it, or, better still, letting it chase you. Don't let the bee sting you!

Grandma Spent Many a Pleasant Hour Building Marble Runs, With Continuous Help From the Twins

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Flying Squirrel


Whee! It's a kite, it's a parachute, it's a - Flying Squirrel! I so enjoy watching my little ones doing their acrobatics at night. (This isn't my picture though; it's a Google image.)

And here is a newspaper report, together some images, of a purple squirrel!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Sloth, Depression, and Christmas

Many a day lately, I think I'd rather just forget everything and go back to bed and stay there all day.

Not wanting to get up is a classic sign of depression. So I make myself get up and do things. But I wonder, does this mean I'm depressed?

Maybe. But here’s the thing: Christmas is so much bigger than I and my so-called problems! He Who created time is now born into time. The Uncontainable One is contained in the Virgin’s womb. The all-good God takes on fallen human nature, and sanctifies it. He visits our planet in person, and it’s the only planet we know of He ever did so visit. And, as Anne says in her beautiful post (Do read the whole thing!), He gives meaning to being human, meaning death had stolen from us; and not just meaning, but beautiful, glorious, new, undreamt-of meaning. "Christ is born; glorify Him!"

(Oh, and I suspect depressed people go to bed and cry and moan and wish they were dead, which is not what I have in mind. I'd turn on my electric blanket and add an extra pillow and sit up and read. I'd let the cats come up to snuggle with me. I'd sip hot chocolate. I might knit, or at least look over pattern books in preparation for knitting. I'd play on my laptop computer. In short, I'd have a wonderful time! It's sloth, not depression, tugging at my skirts. As usual. Kyrie, eleison!)

So, no matter what your external circumstances, a very merry Christmas to you!

Some of our Babies (and Adults)

Here's a video, really a slideshow, Chris ("Lola") made of some of the animals we've been rehabbing, mostly this year. I don't know why she chose the song she did to go with it, but anyway...

As I was watching this, I made a list of the species shown, some several times:

Owls, Flying Squirrels, Turtles, Starlings (? Chris says they're something else), Bobcat (Lynx), Skunks, Groundhogs, Fox, Possums, Coons, Squirrels, Dove, Eagle, Bat, Bunnies, Coyotes (those red puppies), Ducks, Turkey chick, Vultures, Albino fawn, Muskrat

To learn more about our organization, you can click here.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Memory Eternal!

Yesterday in church, Demetrios bought one of those huge candles that burns many days and had it brought to the front of the church. It was in memory of his father, who was executed on the same date, December 21, during the Communist insurgency in Greece immediately after World War II. Here's the story of our 2005 search for the place he was killed, as well as the story of why, taken from my journal.

02 December, Friday, Kavala (biblical Neapolis)

We had breakfast in the hotel dining room, looking out the window over the waterfront, watching the Americans from the cruise ship wandering around.

We had a specific agenda for today: to find The Wall.

There used to be a Zoe camp on a nearby mountaintop. Demetrios attended it the summer he was twelve years old. One day, during free time, he and another boy went exploring a little distance from the campground itself. Not too far from it, they came upon a very thick, stone wall, maybe 100 meters long and 10 meters high. By then, Demetrios lived in Kilkis and only spent some summers in Kavala; but his companion, who lived in Kavala, informed him, “This is where the Communists used to execute people.”

It wasn’t until years later that Demetrios read his father’s death certificate, which said his father had been killed “at the monastery of St. Silas”— in other words, at that wall, which was just up the mountain a bit from the monastery.

We took a taxi as far as the Monastery of St. Silas. It’s where St. Paul and St. Silas are said to have rested on their way to Philippi (and thence to Thessaloniki). Well, I don’t know how anybody would know where the holy ones rested; they were anonymous in Greece at the time. However, it’s certain, given the terrain, they had to rest somewhere. The monastery, about halfway up the mountain, sits at a likely location.

“We used to come from the camp down the mountain to the monastery every Sunday for church,” Demetrios told me.

It’s not so easy today! Now there is a junction of two super highways between the monastery and the face of the mountain and along each road there is a high fence. Nevertheless, we plugged on, darting across this highway and that, and then good luck struck. We found an opening in the fence, and a little dirt road giving access to the mountain. Several cars were parked there.

A man in a sweat suit was just returning to his car, breathing heavily from his jog. We stopped him and asked about the camp and The Wall. He had never heard of either one (wasn’t old enough). He said he came here almost every day, and The Wall didn’t exist.

Well, it’s a big mountain, we said to one another. Maybe he sticks to one area and just hasn’t found it. But if it’s here, we WILL find it! We looked at each other, I in my new black suit, Demetrios also in dressy clothes and in his brand new, elegant overcoat, and we said, Yes! Let’s go! And not on the road, which leads who knows where, but straight up.

So we did. Yes, we two old fogies, out of shape and ill dressed for the occasion, hiked up that mountain. We did it in slightly zigzag fashion, both for ease and the better to spot The Wall. We held onto bushes and picked our way between rocks, peered into little caves and slid on the mud, but we kept going.

Finally, I spotted an opening ahead, with an orange sign that showed a man falling to the ground, face first. I said, “That has to be a marker! It must be near here!” Demetrios sprinted ahead to read the sign and burst out laughing. “The sign says, ‘Do Six Push-ups Here.’ It’s an exercise trail!”

Ah, yes. The man in the sweat suit we had met...this was the same trail we had seen below.

Ignoring that fact, we kept going straight up, until we had reached the top.

“Yes!” said Demetrios, “This is the camp! This flat spot is where it was, and this is the same view. Look over there. You see those two villages? I’m not sure now which one, but one of them is Philippi.”

So we paused to remember what had happened in Philippi (Acts 16:16-34) and I resolved, when I get home, to re-read the Epistle of St. Paul to the Church at Philippi, as well as the two to the Church at Thessaloniki.

“So now that you are oriented,” I said, “which way to The Wall?”

“This way!” So we struck out in what we now knew to be the right direction, on the opposite side of the mountain from the one we had just climbed.

The Wall is no longer there. Trust me, if it had been, we would have found it; we surveyed every meter of that mountain. When we had gone quite a way from the camp, Demetrios said, “It wasn’t this far away. It was right there, about where the exercise trail is.”

And that’s when he had an idea that I feel sure is correct. He pointed out that until the last election, Greece had been under a Socialist government for twenty years. “And they were very sympathetic to the Communists, and kept trying to say what the Communists had done hadn’t been so bad. They re-wrote the history and tried to erase the bad times from the Greek mind. I’d bet they removed The Wall to prevent it becoming a place of pilgrimage.”

He described The Wall, and what the stones had looked like. I stared down at the squared stones lining the walkway. “Stones similar to these?”

“Stones just like these. And have you noticed? There aren’t any others like them on this mountain; they came from elsewhere.”

“Could these be the very same stones?”

They almost certainly are. Sure, that has to be it. Why else would you go to the trouble and expense of edging a mere exercise trail with tons and tons of hand-cut stones? The Socialist government had not only removed The Wall, but had gone one better: they had replaced The Wall with something pleasant, something fun: an exercise trail. The gimmick had worked, too, because nobody we could find in the town could remember any such wall. (We didn’t meet anyone old enough to have known of it firsthand.)

So in a way, we had found The Wall, after all.

We sat there for a while and Demetrios told me the story of his father.

His father, Phideas, had been a post office clerk and a Communist sympathizer because of his opposition to the German Nazi occupiers. After World War II, and during the Greek civil war, the Communists had assigned him to the post office in Kavala. They needed someone there who knew Morse code and how to work the telegraph.

At the Kavala post office, he used to receive by telegraph all the messages from the Communists in the field, including battle plans and troop deployments. However, he had changed his mind by this time; his loyalties now secretly lay with the nationalist government. Thus, after decoding all these messages for the Communists, he would secretly transmit them to the commanding general of the Greek army.

Eventually someone became suspicious of him and conveyed her suspicions to her superiors, so they began watching him very carefully. One day they sent him out into the field to repair a telegraph line, presumably to see what he would do.

What he planned to do was escape. He had notified the general that he was in danger, and the general was sending a warship, the Eagle, to come fetch him.

“He must have been rather important, I should think,” said Demetrios, “for the general to divert a whole warship to come pick up one man.”

I said, “What information could possibly be more important than troop movements and battle plans? That information may very well have been a deciding factor in winning the war!”

At any rate, as his goodbye present to the Communists, instead of repairing the telegraph line, he destroyed it.

Then for some reason nobody knows, he changed his mind and conveyed a message to the general that he was safe after all and the warship needn’t come. He was going to hide out in Kavala and sneak from there to Kilkis or Thessaloniki.

He was wrong. He wasn’t safe. The Communists caught him and imprisoned him. They tortured him for three days and then took him up the mountain to The Wall and shot him.

“And presumably he’s buried right here somewhere, too,” said Demetrios, “because they didn’t have funerals or anything for prisoners. They just dug shallow graves and put the bodies in…”

Phideas was a bit of a loser in some ways; he was a gambler who never managed to get home with anything left of his pay and his marriage was in shambles — but in the end, he did something heroic with his life after all.

He was only thirty when he died.

So we said silent prayers for the man over whose grave we had probably walked, and then headed down the mountain for the monastery, our backsides muddied up from where we had each slipped and fallen on the way down.

By an odd coincidence, my first father-in-law, Irving Kendall, also died on December 21. We buried him on the morning of Christmas Eve of 1974, the church already decorated for the Christmas mass.

God rest both of their souls!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Nature of Things and Our Salvation

by Fr. Stephen Freeman

The nature of things is an important question to ask - or should I say an a priori question. For once we are able to state what is the nature of things then the answers to many questions framed by the nature of things will also begin to be apparent. All of this is another way of saying that questions have a way of determining answers. So what is the nature of things? More specifically, what is the nature of things such that Christians believe humanity needs salvation? (Non-Christians will already feel co-opted but I write as a Christian - can’t be helped).

I want to briefly state several things which seem to me to be of importance about the nature of things in this regard.

1. It is the nature of things that man does not have a legal problem with God. That is to say, the nature of our problem is not forensic. The universe is not a law-court.

2. It is the nature of things that Christ did not come to make bad men good, but to make dead men live. This is to say that the nature of our problem is not moral but existential or ontological. We have a problem that is rooted in the very nature of our existence, not in our behavior. We behave badly because of a prior problem. Good behavior will not correct the problem.

3. It is the nature of things that human beings were created to live through communion with God. We were not created to live as self-sufficient individuals marked largely by our capacity for choice and decision. To restate this: we are creatures of communion, not creatures of consumption.

So much for the nature of things. (I’ll do my best to leave behind the syllogisms and return to my usual form of writing.)

Much of my experience as an American Christian has been an encounter with people who do not see mankind’s problem as existential or ontological - but rather as moral. They have seen that we behave badly and thought that the primary task of the Church (following whatever event was considered “necessary” for salvation) was to help influence people to be “good.” Thus I recall a Sunday School teacher who in my pre-school years (as well as a first-grade teacher who attempted the same) urging me and my classmates to “take the pledge.” That is, that we would agree not to smoke tobacco or drink alcohol before age 21. The assumption seemed to be that if we waited that long then we would likely never begin. In at least one of those cases an actual document was proffered. For the life of me I cannot remember whether I signed or not. The main reason I cannot remember was that the issues involved seemed unimportant to me at the time. Virtually every adult in my life smoked. And I was not generally familiar with many men who did not drink. Thus my teachers were asking me to sign a document saying that I thought my father and my grandfather were not good men. I think I did not sign. If I did, then I lied and broke the pledge at a frightfully early age.

My later experience has proven the weakness of the assumptions held by the teachers of my youth. Smoking wasn’t so much right or wrong as it was addicting and deadly. I smoked for 20 years and give thanks to God for the grace he gave me to quit. I feel stupid as I look back at the actions of those 20 years, but not necessarily “bad.” By the same token, I have known quite a few alcoholics (some of them blood relatives) and have generally found them to be about as moral as anyone else and sometimes moreso. I have also seen the destruction wrought by the abuse of alcohol. But I have seen similar destruction in families who never drank and the continuation of destruction in families where alcohol had been removed. Drinking can have serious consequences, but not drinking is not the same thing as curing the problem.

I had a far more profound experience, indeed a series of experiences, when I was ten years old - experiences that made a much deeper impression and framed the questions that burned in my soul about the nature of things.

The first experience was the murder of an aunt. She was 45 and a darling of the family. Everyone loved her. Her murder was simply a matter of “random” chance - she was in the wrong place at the wrong time or simply in a convenient place for a man who meant to do great harm to someone. No deep mystery, just a brutal death. The same year another aunt died as a result of a multi-year battle with lupus (an auto-immune disease). And to add to these things, my 10th year was also the year of Kennedy’s assassination. Thus when the year was done it seemed to me that death was an important question - even the important question.

It probably says that I was marked by experiences that were unusual for a middle-class white boy in the early 60’s. It also meant that when I later read Dostoevsky in my late teens, I was hooked.

The nature of things is that people die - and not only do they die - but death, already at work in them from the moment of their birth, is the primary issue. The failure of humanity is not to be found or understood in a purely moral context. We are not creatures of choice and decision. How and why we choose is a very complex process that we ourselves do not understand. We can make a “decision” for Jesus only to discover that little has changed. It is also possible to find ourselves caught in a chain of decisions that bring us to the brink of despair without knowing quite how we got there. Though there are clearly problems with our choosing and deciding, the problem is far deeper.

One of the earliest Christian treatments of the human problem, hence the “nature of things,” is to be found in St. Athanasius’ On the Incarnation. He makes it quite clear that the root problem of humanity is to be found in the process of death. Not only are we all slowly moving towards some inevitable demise, the process of death (decay, corruption) is already at work in us. In Athanasius’ imagery, it is as though we are falling back towards our origins in the dust of the earth. “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

And thus it is that when he writes of the work of Christ it is clearly in terms of our deliverance from death (not just deliverance from the consequences of our bodily dissolution and its separation from the soul but the whole process of death itself.)

This is frequently the language of the New Testament as well. St. Paul will write: “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me, and the life that I now live I live by the faith of the son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Or even on a more “moral” note he will caution us to “put to death the deeds of the body.”

The importance of these distinctions (moral versus existential) is in how we treat our present predicament. If the problem is primarily moral then it makes sense to live life in the hortatory mode, constantly urging others to be good, to “take the pledge,” or make good choices. If, on the other hand, our problem is rooted in the very nature of our existence then it is that existence that has to be addressed. And again, the New Testament, as well as the Tradition of the Church, turns our attention in this direction. Having been created for union with God, we will not be able to live in any proper way without that union. Thus our Baptism unites us to the death and resurrection of Christ, making possible a proper existence. Living that proper existence will not be done by merely trying to control our decisions and choices, but by consciously and unconsciously working to maintain our union with God. We are told “greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.” Thus our victory, and the hope of our victory is “Christ within you, the hope of glory.”

And so if we will live in such communion we will struggle to pray, not as a moral duty, but as the very means of our existence. We pray, we fast, we give alms, we confess, we commune, not in order to be better people, but because if we neglect these things we will die. And the death will be slow and marked by the increasing dissolution of who and what we are.

In over 25 years of ministry, I have consistently found this model of understanding to better describe what I encounter and what I live on a day to day basis. In the past ten years of my life as an Orthodox Christian, I have found this account of things not only to continue to describe reality better - but also to be in conformity with the Fathers. It is a strong case for Christian Tradition that it actually describes reality as we experience it better than the more modern accounts developed in the past four hundred years or so. Imagine. People understood life a thousand years ago such that they continue to describe the existential reality of modern man. Some things do not change - except by the grace of God and His infinite mercy.


Now go to Fr. Stephen's blog (link at top of this post) and discover his other wonderful writings!

Please Don't Just Lie There Sleeping in Heavenly Peace!

It strikes me how many Christmas carols emphasize the theme of Baby Jesus Sleeping. We have "What child is this, who, laid to rest/ On Mary's lap is sleeping?" and "The Little Lord Jesus, asleep in the hay" and "Still, still, still, Weil's Kindlein schlafen will", which translates to, "Still, still, still, for the infant wants to sleep". And of course, there's "Sleep in heavenly peace". But what is this?

Tell me: as long as you are imagining yourself going to see the Baby Jesus (which is what happens in these carols), don't you hope, in fact rather desperately hope, that He will wake up while you are there? And smile at you, or reach out to be held by you, or even just see you and let you look into His eyes? Instead of "Sleep, sleep, sleep, my dear baby, sleep!" (the second verse of Still, Still, Still), wouldn't you really rather sing, "Wake, wake, wake, my dearest baby, wake!"?

So I think these carols should be rewritten, something along the lines of this example, the second verse of "Away in a Manger":

The cattle are lowing
The dear Baby wakes
And smiling upon us
A blessing He makes.
I thank Thee, Lord Jesus
For opening Thine eyes
And seeing my face
And hearing my sighs.

Beware of Snuggies!

Have you seen these advertised on television? Those “blankets with arms” to keep you warm on your sofa? Well, I know somebody (besides me!) who would love to have something like that. You can have two, plus two clip-on reading lights, for $20, which they call $19.99, a practice I always think shady. I’ve learned the hard way: I’m going to knit some of these things, not order them by phone!

At first, the automated order-taking process seems straightforward and efficient and easy. The only unpleasant part is learning that the shipping and handling cost will be $8. Or as they put it, $7.99. Okay, you knew there would be some charge for that, so you swallow it. Still, that adds almost 50% to the price, which doesn’t seem right.

Next thing is, before the system confirms the deal, the recorded voice informs you that you can buy two more Snuggies for 20% less than you’ve just paid for the first two. That’s rather annoying. You now feel a bit cheated; why didn’t they offer you the first two at the better price? You say no, and the automated voice tries to change your mind, in effect, begins arguing with you! At the end of this rather long spiel, you patiently say no again.

Now you are informed that for $10 more, you can upgrade to Snuggies that are 50% thicker than the ones you just ordered. Okay, thicker is warmer is better. You say yes.

Next, the voice offers you two Buxton Organizer bags. Oh, I’ve been wanting those anyway; I say yes. Up goes my charge.

The next offer is a booklet of two-for-one dining coupons. I said no to this one, and again got a long argument from the recorded voice! I said no again.

I can’t remember what the next offer was, because I just hung up.

Now I had no idea whether my order had been completed. They had my credit card number, though.

Mutter a not-very-nice word, grab the phone, re-dial. Try to get an agent. The recorded voice gives you a different number for checking the status of your order.

Dial the next number. The machine looks you up by your phone number. It doesn’t know anything about any order from you, but if you need customer service, you can call yet another number.

Dial the customer service number. We appreciate your call, we are experiencing unusually heavy volume… Yeah, yeah, that’s okay, because I can put my phone on speakerphone and get some housework done while waiting for the next available customer service representative. This works for about 5 minutes, after which time, the recording again says something about unusually heavy volume, followed by, “Please hang up and try later.”

I hung up. I didn’t try later. I think I've just been scammed.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Nostalgia and Then Some

This record album was one of my dad's favorites, and one of mine, too. I have no idea what eventually became of it. It wasn't among my parents' things when they moved out of their house. But the sweeping, dancing, soaring music was drenched in romance, and as a teenager, I used to play it over and over again, dreaming "Some Day My Prince Will Come" sorts of dreams.

The album has selections such as Saint-Saens' The Swan, Grieg's Ich Liebe Dich, Mendelssohn's On Wings of Song, and Godard's "Berceuse" from Jocelyn, all wonderfully arranged by the conductor, Carmen Dragon.

But my very favorite, hands down, was always All Through the Night, in what is still the most beautiful arrangement I have ever heard.

Recently, I found Mr. Dragon's daughter, Kathy Henn, and ordered the album from her, on CD. It arrived yesterday and I've been having a wonderful time listening again, re-living a piece of my girlhood, remembering how Dad used to love this album just as I did and do. Of course, I cried a little at the associations now connected to All Through the Night, but that's okay. I've listened to it six times already.

Friday, December 19, 2008

A Partial List of Things Incompatible With Democracy...

...and Inimical to It

  • Empire

  • Militarism

  • Terrorism

  • Off-shore prisons

  • "Extraordinary Renditions" (Sending our prisoners to foreign jails so they can be mistreated in ways illegal here)

  • Torture (Yes, waterboarding is torture!)

  • Government-run economy

  • Domestic spying without court order

  • Weak independence of the judiciary branch

  • Corruption, including bribery, graft, nepotism, cronyism, and patronage, if it involves promoting less competent people over more competent ones

  • Over-taxation

  • Weak or non-existent middle class

  • Under-educated populace

  • Politically unaware or uninvolved populace, asleep at the wheel

Feel free to add things I've overlooked; there are bound to be zillions of them.

Let's Start a Movement!

In these economic hard times, the Christian ethic of taking care of one another becomes, if possible, extra urgent. Immigrant communities, such as Greeks, have always taken care of one another economincally as a matter of course. Your nephew comes over from Greece with nothing, you start him in your restaurant until he either finds another job or learns the restaurant business and establishes his own “place”. The trouble is, a young man comes from Serbia and the Greeks may hardly even be aware of his arrival. Perhaps nobody helps him find work. We all need to do for one another what my hypothetical Greek does for his nephew.

People in your parish are going to start losing jobs now, if they haven’t already. Maybe you will even be one of them. So I have a proposal. Let’s all do our share to help each other find work, and do it through our parishes. What if every working member of your parish were to check with his company, check with others, too, to find out about any job openings, and write them down, and leave the list in the church office? And what if every church member who needs a patio built or some trees chopped down or children watched were to notify the pastor or church secretary? Why not call a plumber or pet-sitter from your own parish instead of out of the yellow pages?

So if you are reading this, and you are a priest or pastor, I hope you will encourage your flock to bring you all the job leads they can unearth, from anywhere. And encourage everybody to come to you when they are looking for work, as well. If you are reading this and are a layperson, please, please, go speak to your pastor and ask him to start this little ministry in your parish. And whoever you are, would you please consider spreading this idea via your own blog?

P.S.) This kind of ministry is especially urgent for the Orthodox to start organizing, seeing how many converts, as well as immigrants, are coming to us jobless. We simply must prepare to help them out. (James 2:15-16)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Thankful Thursday, December 18

If you'd like to participate in Thankful Thursday, just go to the blog called Sting My Heart and add your blog to the list (so other participants can find you). You can grab the logo either here or from that blog.

This week, I am especially thankful

  • For hot drinks when you can’t have caffeine, especially for decaffeinated tea and for spiced apple cider

  • That the Winter Solstice will be here in 3 days, gradually chasing the darkness of winter away.

  • For music

  • For all forms of great art, and for the magnificent human spirit that creates art

  • For my friends abroad, especially in Greece and in Russia

  • For my daily bread – and other necessities

  • For the amazing, jaw-dropping faith and courage I see in some people

  • For the easy life God has mercifully granted me because He knew I couldn’t handle anything more, and for whatever sufferings He has or ever may deem me worthy to bear for Him

  • For this beautiful, beautiful Earth

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Miss Generosity

Today my first-grade granddaughter Kelly received the "Student of the Month" award at her elementary school. Students chosen represent the virtue of the month. December's virtue, which Kelly best represents, is generosity. (She really does exemplify that, too, as well as other virtues. Grandma is SO pleased!)

Kelly with her Dad

Kelly Shows us her Medal

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Now What?

Today I was at an Area Rehabbers Klub fundraising event, where I had ample time to chat with one of my fellow wildlife rehabilitators. She told me this story.

She used to be the administrator of four nursing homes, she told me, two in Virginia and two in North Carolina. One day, she had traveled to one of the nursing homes in North Carolina and had gone out to eat afterwards with some of the nurses. In the restaurant, she noticed a nondescript man sitting in the back of the room. No big deal. Next day, she drove to one of the other nursing homes, in a different town, again ate out with some of the nurses, and again noticed the same man in that restaurant. Okay, so that could, just possibly, be coincidence. But when it happened the third night in the third town, she knew she was being followed.

She didn't have anything to hide, so there was no worry on that score. She did not feel she was in any danger, because she had a pretty good idea who had hired this spy and what the mean-spirited reason for it was. So she sat down for a while to think. I'll tell you later about the clever plan she hatched, but meanwhile, do tell us, what would YOU have done?

More on the Role of Works

The saints tell us we shall be judged by how much we have come to resemble Christ; in fact, how thoroughly we have become united with Him. To what extent is it true of you or of me that “I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me”? To what extent have we fallen short? (To fall short, to miss the mark, is the best definition of sin.) This is what is to be revealed on the Last Day, the degree of our glory or the degree of our degradation. Every single thing we do, say, or think, every choice we make, contributes to the way we are found to be in the Day of Judgment; and how this is so, and exactly what went right or wrong, will also be revealed.

And of course, for the Christian, heaven is Christ and Christ is heaven, so it isn’t that we are rewarded according to how well Christ is formed in us; rather, that IS our reward.

Or did we want something above and beyond, other and better than Christ?!? Like what, for instance?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Neighborhood Christmas Party

I can't keep my eyes off any of my grandchildren, so naturally I know you can't either, and from kindness I share nearly all pictures of them as soon as I get 'em.

Here's Sydney at her neighborhood Christmas party. Santa gave her a toy puppy that drinks and, you guessed it, wets on a newspaper. "And wouldn't you know it?" her mother writes, "Sydney LOVES this thing!"

These pictures enlarge greatly if you click on them, which obviously I recommend doing.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Nobody Even Told her

Check out what happens when you go to this YMCA website, as my daughter, Erin did, to sign up for some program there. She was totally surprised.

Recognize anybody?

Dear Diary

The weekend was such a weird mixture of sadness and fun!

Friday, I went up to Springfield to visit Mom. We had a good time, and either she was having a good day, or else her memory is improving as her stress levels recede. The only disconnect I noticed was that she didn’t realize how old Ruth Duffy’s children must be. (Ruth is her best friend; they’ve known each other since I was 8 years old.) She said they couldn’t have been more than 15 when Tom died. They had to have been approximately three times that.

We had fun and got some business done, too. Fun at the Greenspring secondhand shop, where I actually found and bought a coffee table for our sunroom. The top of it, set into the French Provincial frame, is a 4-and-a-half foot slab of green marble the same color as the sofa in front of which it now sits. It cost me $25.00. Mom bought a couple of trinkets. We also bought several “Hunks of Greenspring” calendars (buy one here), featuring residents of this retirement community posing “nude” (but not really). I met Mr. April, fully clothed of course, at the secondhand shop. I said to him, “I have three photos of you!”

“You can never get enough!” he replied with a smile, and walked on past.

Here's an amusing video about the making of the calendar.

The business Mom and I had was to add my name to her safety deposit box at the bank.

We had a delightful dinner with several other residents and I spent the night.

Saturday, I drove from Mom’s place 15 minutes to St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Annandale, where the funeral of Vada’s brother, James Gear, took place. Vada is feeling very bad about this brother’s death. He was obviously a very fine person, just as she is. Of course, all eulogies make the deceased out a saint, but in this case, you can tell he really was somebody you’d have been a lot better off knowing.

I wanted, emotionally, to sing the hymns, which included, “The Church’s One Foundation”, “A Mighty Fortress”, and “Amazing Grace.” But in an Episcopal parish? Where the original, ancient Christian faith has become all but unrecognizable? No, I couldn’t. It wouldn’t have given the right witness. So I just stood there respectfully.

Vada thought the ministress went on rather too long. (This clergy woman had cried her way through the whole eulogy, too.) Vada says at her own funeral, we are to sing, “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind”, “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee”, and “O Love that Wilt not Let me Go” and keep the talking to five minutes. I trust we shall not have to remember that any time very soon, but she thinks about these things, being 90.

Right after the service and a light lunch in the parish hall, I sped back to Richmond to be home in time for us to join our next-door neighbors for the evening. Every year, they attend the annual dinner at Michie Tavern. That’s pronounced “Mickey” and it’s a colonial inn located at the bottom of the same mountain, the top of which is Thomas Jefferson’s estate, Monticello. It’s basically a large log cabin. You take the tour of the lodgings, where a magician entertains in one room, a tour guide tells stories in another room, and you dance in the ballroom. The dance is led by a caller. It isn’t exactly the Virginia Reel, but it’s a dance from which the Virginia Reel later developed, and it’s lots of fun. Then you eat dinner by candlelight in front of a real, wood-burning fireplace, in a room sporting period Christmas decorations. The servers are in colonial costumes, as are the strolling musicians, singing period music and carols.

Near the end of the meal, suddenly we heard a female trio singing something that didn't fit the time period: "Winter Wonderland." We looked up at this very professional sounding group, and it was guests sitting at the other end of our table. What a treat!

There were six besides us in our party, every one of them good ol’, down-home, salt-of-the-earth types, very real, very dear. We enjoyed it tremendously, even more this time than last time, and hope to do this every year from now on.

This evening I went with Vada to a concert at her church, Third Presbyterian. They have a choir of 33 persons (I counted) and tonight there were also 4 violins, 2 violas, 3 cellos, 1 bass, 1 trumpet and an organ, plus the conductor. And they performed the “Christmas” half of Messiah. I’d have to give them huge credit for audacity, if nothing else! But they also gave a very creditable performance. The talent was somewhat uneven and there were moments when you feared you were about to be embarrassed, but it never quite happened. They actually carried it off rather well! And they sang with all their hearts, which was the best part of all.

The opening words, of course, are, “Comfort ye, comfort ye My people,” and Vada decided then and there to let herself be comforted, and was. There’s something very healing about this time of year.

What struck me most was the repeated phrase, “His yoke is easy and His burden is light.” I remembered what I had written about that in the very first post of this blog:

No matter how things may appear, it is actually easier to live the Christian life (synonymous with carrying your cross) than not to. It is easier to have Christ than to feel abandoned, easier to know where you stand that to be lost and confused, easier to suffer for His sake than for your own greed, ambition and sins, easier to be His “slave" (which is to be free!) than the slave of sin. Even if we do see wicked people seeming to thrive, having it much easier than those they oppress, it is still easier to bear the pain of this world and the blessings of the next than the other way around.

Today I’d add that if you aren’t living Christ at least implicitly, you are giving expression more to your body than to your soul, and at your soul’s expense, and that, because it’s such a built-in conflict of your very being, is so much harder than letting go the outward things, or even smacking them down, and giving your innermost self scope and freedom to live and grow.

So Vada and I both left the concert blessed.

I came home and hung up Christmas stockings on the mantle: mine and Demetrios’, one for each cat, plus my grandparents’ stockings and Dad’s. Mom knitted them (except for the kitty stockings) for every member of the family and they are all variations of this pattern.

Each stocking has its owner's name and year of birth knitted in. Grandpa's says, '95, and it's hard to realize that means 1895.

In more recent years, Barbara knitted the ones for the newest family members, whether in-laws or children. Grace is finishing up one Barbara left not quite finished, for the daughter of her boss.

The Lord's Prayer


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Thankful Thursday, December 11

If you'd like to participate in Thankful Thursday, just go to the blog called Sting My Heart and add your blog to the list (so other participants can read your list). You can grab the logo either here or from that blog.

  • For my husband’s tenderness, encouragement, and ability to be so romantic

  • For warmth on cold days, for central heating, space heaters, and electric blankets or mattress covers

  • For being alive

  • For the chance to be with my children and grandchildren this Christmas

  • For mulled cider, scented candles, pumpkin pie, pine branches, and other fragrances of the season

  • For Christmas carols in shopping malls, on the car radio, and at home

  • For being okay financially, so far, in these hard times

  • For Mom’s collection of her favorite recipes

  • That God comes Himself, in Person, with power and might manifest in weakness, to rescue the pathetic human race

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Not a Full Exposition, Just a Hint

If/when you ever hear an Orthodox Christian speaking of the role works play in salvation, there are three things (at least) you need to understand about what we do and do not mean.

First, we are not speaking of works done “on our own” or “apart from Christ” or apart from faith in Christ. We are speaking precisely of the works of faith. These are responses to the Word, are what we do with the gift of faith. In fact, they are faith in action, faith made visible, faith as it is in the real world (as opposed to imaginary faith, which it is if it exists only in our heads). We're speaking of the works God Himself accomplishes in us, although not without our effort. (They don't just blossom forth from us while we sit around waiting.)

Secondly, the works of faith aren’t the cause of our salvation, either!

  • The cause of our salvation, if we mean the why of it, (Why is a person saved?) is God’s Will alone.

  • The cause of our salvation, if we mean the what of it (What saves a person?) is God’s Grace alone.

But if we mean the how of it (How does Grace save me?), the instrument through which God’s Grace works our salvation is faith. “By grace,” yes, but “through faith.”

Thirdly, when we speak of how active faith serves as the “through which” of salvation, we do not mean it earns us what faithless works cannot, as if salvation were a deal instead of a gift. No, salvation is a gift, a gift, a gift! It’s not for sale or exchange; it’s free. (Even if it weren’t, such pathetic, impure attempts at good works as we manage, even by grace, would never earn us anything.)

Rather, faith that works through love is more like a surgical instrument in the Healer’s hand. The very attempt to allow God to work in us, as us, serves as an antidote to sloth. Insofar as we struggle, we exercise our spiritual muscle, strengthening it for the next time. Insofar as we fail, we learn more clearly of our own pitiable condition, we repent, we cast ourselves more and more upon Him, begging for His mercy and His strength and His Image. Insofar as we succeed, that very success is already a rescue from failure and a building and strengthening in us of the Image of the Son, conformity to which is our destiny (Romans 8:29) and our salvation.

That, grossly oversimplified, is the role the works of faith play in our salvation.

The Boys are Barely Four

Note from Katherine, my dear daughter-in-law:

Hello All!

Okay, anyone who knows Kelly well should really appreciate the attached picture! From the moment they were born, Kelly has always been ( and always will be I suspect), the kind of big sister every brother should have. She not only has fun with her brothers, but acts as a little mother figure as well. She is normally very patient with them and doesn't mind them invading her space. Well, play dates with her girlfriends have become an exception. She has very nicely explained to them that when her friends come over it is "girl" time only. As you can imagine, the boys often want to get in on the fun. So, Kelly posted the attached sign on her door ( she posts many signs and pictures and poems). This one, she said, will only be posted during play dates. What a shame her brothers can't read it!

And here are some recent pictures of them when they went to pick out a Christmas tree.




Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Ignorant of Our Ignorance

I'm re-reading a little book entitled, Four Days in 1865: The Fall of Richmond. It's a collection of letters, diaries, and other firsthand accounts by the people who lived through it. I always find "firsthand" history the most engaging to read. Of course, it's extra interesting to someone like me who actually lives here, because all the places mentioned are familiar; I go there, see those places, all the time.

What really struck me, though, was this truth: How blind we can all be to our own condition!

Here's an excerpt from page 7 of the book. The day is April 2, 1865, a Sunday. Messengers arriving in various downtown churches are bringing the news that General Lee's right flank has given way at Petersburg, and Richmond must be evacuated - today. (Evacuated meant only the government and the military would depart, meaning every able-bodied man. Women and children were left here to face alone whatever fate might befall them.)

At Second Presbyterian Church, the pastor, Dr. Moses D. Hoge, prayed:

With lowly reverence of spirit, and hearts filled with sadness and awe, we come into Thy presence, O God, most high and holy. We come to humble ourselves under Thy mighty hand; to acknowledge that clouds and darkness surround Thee; that we cannot measure the depths of Thy infinite decrees, or fathom the wisdom of Thy inscrutable providences.

Enable us then to feel our helplessness, our ignorance, our frailty. When we cannot explain the reasons of thy dispensations, may we be silent; when we cannot comprehend, may we adore!


In itself, this prayer is unexceptional (except for being so very Presbyterian!) but you have to remember the context. These people had been fighting to preserve slavery. Oh, I know, I promise you, I do know, the whole Cause had been cast in much loftier terms, states' rights and freedom and so forth, but all that meant was a state's "Right to Choose" whether to be a slave-holding state or not. Dress it up in all the high-sounding rhetoric and ideology you please; it still came down to slavery. It was God's opposition to the injustice of slavery these church-goers found so inscrutable.

And that is part of what makes prayers like these so jarring. These people no doubt prayed in utter sincerity, with great devotion and high feeling. They weren't hypocrites, at least not consciously.

And that's what makes it so truly frightening, because you and I could just as easily be in a similar condition right now, never even suspecting it.

Lord, preserve us from this! Kyrie, eleison!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Who'd've Thought It?

Who could have imagined it, who could ever even dream there could be such a thing, who, if we tell of it, will believe us? There is a Joy nothing can take away from us, that remains unaffected by grief, that isn't the opposite of sorrow, but co-exists with it.

So go ahead and mourn all you like. It's okay; the Joy will abide.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

So Many Feast Days, So Much Sadness, Such Joy

If ever the phrase, "bright sorrow" were applicable, it seems now.

So many commemorative days! St. Barbara was the 4th; St. Savvas, the 5th; St. Nicholas yesterday; today is Pearl Harbor Day; tomorrow is the Conception of the Most Holy Theotokos. Church every day, although I haven't been there every day.

I rejoice and grieve especially on the Feast of St. Barbara, for that is the day, two years ago, when my sister Barbara became Orthodox. St. Barbara is also the patroness of the artillery, and my father was an artilleryman.

Today we had the 3-year memorial for George, our dear friend. I remembered his zest for life, especially his dancing. I remembered how he used to exclaim how lucky he was to have Chrysoula for his wife. He was, too; and in the distant past he used to make life extremely difficult for her, but that was all healed and forgiven long before he died.

Of course, I thought of Dad, and of Barbara, during the prayers and felt choked up. My koumbaros (sponsor, in this case best man at our wedding) squeezed my poor arthritic hand with all his might, to comfort me, and it was all I could do not to scream out in pain. Instead, I burst into tears. There was a four-month-old baby girl in front of me, in her infant seat. She is still so small she uses one of those inserts to keep her head in place. Wee Vasiliki stared up at me with such luminous eyes that no sooner had I dried my eyes that I burst into tears again. What could be more heart-wrenchingly beautiful than a small child? And how confused must she have felt, to watch an adult cry!

In the parish hall later, I found Ero sobbing. She never cries. She's so brave and strong. So I was alarmed. I put my arm around her and took her aside. Turns out someone she had been trying to help dish up the refreshments had snapped at her. She forgave the offender and within 15 minutes was back at the other woman's side.

Afterward, we went to a meal given in George's honor at a restaurant owned by his sympatheros (man whose child married one of George's children), Tony. Tony lost his wife a couple of years ago to cancer.

In the car, I told Demetrios I felt ready to die myself.

"Why, precious?"

"Why not, is the question. No particular reason. I just feel very tired of living. It seems such a struggle. Every little thing, a struggle."

And then he said the most perfect thing, that made me realize the nonsense of such a sentiment: "My Love, what do you think would happen to me, if you were gone?"

For him alone, if there were no other reason, I would rather live than die! Only later did it occur to me how presumptuous it is to wish to meet my Maker. It wasn't presumptuous in St. Paul, but then he was better prepared.

At the restuarant, I met Tony's (the owner's) sister. She had lost her husband in September and wanted to tell me all about it.

The food was good, but the company I have no words to describe. We were all sad, but we were sharing the sorrow! And sharing the hope, and sharing the new life our Lord gives us. And sharing some laughter, as well. And watching all George's young grandchildren having fun together at their own table. I could feel myself glowing the whole time. What a wonder, how true joy abides, even through sorrow. True joy is inextinguishable, because true joy is the joy we take in Christ and in one another.

Tiny Vasiliki, she of the luminous eyes, let me hold her, only for a moment before she cried for her daddy, but that moment was enough.

Vada came for tea late in the afternoon. She brought us an oil painting she did many years ago. It's of a scene in Switzerland, a place she and her husband and Demetrios had once visited together. It's painted from a snapshot she had taken then. It's impressionistic in style, with cheery colors, and we shall cherish it both because of its nostalgic value for Demetrios and because Vada painted it. Also, of course, it's an excellent painting, for Vada is very talented.

Vada talked about the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and what a shock it had been, and how she little knew how it would change her whole life... "Do you remember that day?" she asked Demetrios, forgetting he wasn't quite 2 years old at the time.

While she was here, her cell phone rang and she received the news she had been expecting: her favorite younger brother died today. She remembered how, when she was 8 and he was 4, he used to like to crawl into her bed. "He sucked his thumb, and with the other hand, he rubbed his ear. But when he got close to me, he'd get my ear! He sucked his thumb until he went to school, but he stopped that first day of school and never did it again."

Her brother, a chemist, worked at the National Archives and was the man who laminated the originals of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. He also used to check, every night, that these had been placed in their underground vault.

"It won't be long until we're all reunited," I said.

"How do we know?" she asked, always a skeptic.

"Well, if we believe Jesus rose from the dead, then we know because He told us so. He's the only One Who ever came back from the grave to tell us about it."

She nodded.

Vada lost a sister a couple of months ago. We hugged her and offered to let her stay here tonight, or we could come stay at her house, but she declined both offers.

God rest the souls of all the departed, in a place where there is neither pain, nor sorrow, nor sighing, but unending life.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

ARK Christmas Party

The Area Rehabbers Klub held its annual Christmas party this afternoon.

I brought Roscoe, who is used to being held by me, but not used to other people. He was handed 'round and everybody enjoyed holding him. It was a good training session for Roscoe.

I don't have any pictures of Roscoe at the party (so far) but Colleen, the Possum Queen, brought Rosebud, and here are some pictures of Rosebud. She's half the size she ought to be, at her age. (These pictures enlarge, but only slightly, if you click on them.)

Rosebud, Dressed for Christmas

Rosebud was in constant demand, and got to sample at least a dozen different sets of arms and/or laps.


Rosebud, Being Cuddled by Kelly. (I Don't Know the Man.)

But Holly brought us the biggest hit of the afternoon, in a cat carrier with a large heating pad under it. I knew something was odd when I saw her heat a baby bottle in the microwave. What kind of a baby could have been born this time of year? Answer: a five-day-old puppy! Some woman walked out onto her deck Tuesday morning and found a scrawny, not-fully-grown bitch on her deck, cowering in a corner in the rain, surrounded by nine soaked puppies, their umbilical cords still red and raw. She called Animal Control. To make a long story short, the new mother would only nurse two of her puppies. She and those two went to an Animal Control volunteer. All the rest were divided up between another A.C. person and Holly, who was given the three in the worst shape. And of these seven puppies, all had died, except the one we were now looking at. She's a gorgeous color of brown, with white blaze, chin, tummy, and paws.

Holly, Feeding Puppy

Puppy, held by Melinda

Chris has 4 different breeds of hens, each laying different colors of eggs. Our hostess, Julia, had used two dozen or so of those eggshells and had made tiny, wonderful nature scenes inside them, and had decorated them on the outside with braid and sequins, and added hangers to make them into Christmas tree ornaments. She gave each guest one of these.

We had a wonderful time relaxing together, renewing our bonds, meeting new rehabbers , swapping stories, passing around our babies, exchanging gifts, munching on all sorts of goodies. These are some very good people! I'm so grateful to be a part of them.

Merry Christmas, Ya'll!

Nighttime Intruder

At around midnight, Demetrios and I were lying in bed talking when we heard a distinct, very nearby, sound.

"What was THAT?"

"I imagine it was a Flying Squirrel on our roof," I replied. "I used to hear 'em on skittering around on my parents' roof all the time and they sounded just like that."

What happened next happened faster than you can read about it. Demetrios yelped as something feathery brushed across across his shoulder. I sat up to see what the commotion was about. And there, staring up at us, was our very own Roxane. Of all our four Flying Squirrels, she is the one who most loves to be held in your hand.

"What on earth are YOU doing here?" I asked her. She didn't move, just stood there atop the covers, blinking at us, her tail relaxed. It was almost as if she were saying, "Pick me up!" or else "Could you please take me back to where my food and water and siblings are?"

So I did; she didn't try to get away or resist. I put her in the cage. I counted; sure enough, all the rest of the Fliers were there, Hankie doing his usual clockwise run around the perimeter of the cage, Roscoe doing back flips from one wall of the cage to the wall opposite, Pankie drinking water. I added extra food to their bowl, double-checked the door to their cage to make sure it was securely closed, and locked the doors between the sunroom and the kitchen, so if there should be any further escapees, they at least would (I hoped!) be confined to the sunroom.

We speculated how she could have gotten out. She must've sneaked out earlier when I had opened the cage door. Thank heaven, we said, the cats had been closed up in their own room! And thank heaven this had happened while we were still awake and still had the light on. Can you imagine how frightening it would have been to wake up to this in the dark?

But what interested us most was that Roxane apparently wanted to be with us, had heard us talking, and/or could smell us, and had tracked us all the way upstairs and had climbed into our bed. Whether for help or for company, she had sought us out.

We liked that. A lot.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Thankful Thursday Friday

I know, it's supposed to be Thankful Thursday, but yesterday was so busy I didn't get any writing done, to speak of. But I'm still thankful today, and here are a few of the reasons:

  • For laughter, and people who have a sense of humor, and for humorous reading that makes me laugh when times are tough

  • For good doctors and for modern medicine

  • For the chance to enjoy watching the Flying Squirrels perform their three-ring circus every night in their cage in the sunroom

  • For cats and for vacuum cleaners

  • For the gift of time, time in which to live, to love, to grow, to repent

  • For second chances, and third, and fourth...

  • For St. Barbara (yesterday) and St. Nicholas (tomorrow) and all saints

  • For St. Anastasia

  • For computers and the Internet

  • For chocolate

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


Sydney, as Dorothy, Decorating Gingerbread House

Last night, my phone rang and a small voice said, "Dorofy?"

I hastily changed my voice into a higher register and said, "Yes, this is Dorothy from Kansas. Who are you?"


"How old are you, Sydney?"

"I'm three! And I am wearing my Dorofy dress, just like yours. I have all the costumes, and Mommy braided my hair and it has YOUR blue ribbons in it!"

"Sydney, Sydney...oh, I remember you! We had lunch together a couple of weeks ago, and we had our picture taken together!"

"Yeah, that's me! And I can sing all your songs. 'SomeWHERE, over the rainbow...'"

And so the conversation went, for 5 minutes or so. Such fun!

Here's Dorofy, decorating her gingerbread house.

To see another gingerbread project, this time a gingerbread model of an Orthodox Church, check out Harry's blog. Awesome!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Bubble Bath

I have an extra-deep tub I thoroughly enjoy. My usual procedure is to run about 4 inches of pure hot water in it, wait 10 minues so the tub itself is heated from that hot water, and then fill the rest of the tub to whatever temperature seems desirable.

This morning, I had just completed the first step and had gone to shoo the old cat off the bed when she decided there was no way I was going to get rid of her. She's a calico, and Barbara used to tell me calicos come with a lot of cattitude. Narrowing her green eyes, Molly glared at me, then shot straight into the bathroom, over the edge of the tub, and smack into the water.

And of course, straight out again, steaming, covered in bubbles, and lavender-scented.

I'm sorry, Molly; I know cats hate above all things being laughed at; I know the indignity wounds the feline soul, but the priceless look on your face -- okay, okay, I said I'm SORRY! Sorry you, um, landed in hot water ... no, really, I am sorry.

Hint from Helen: Children's bubble bath costs less than half the same amount of bubble bath sold for women. Sometimes you can even find fragrances other than strawberry, banana, or bubble gum. Plus, it's tear-free if you get any in your eyes.

UPDATE: Demetrios says, "Oh, she always does that!"


Molly follows him into his bathroom every morning, he says, and she jumps into the (empty!) bathtub, a safe spot from which to observe the morning rituals.

Monday, December 1, 2008


Atrial Fibrillation. That's my diagnosis. Dad had it, although that isn't what took him. I think Wendy has it, too, though I may be mistaken.

The electrical impulses that prompt the heart to beat are disorganized. Causes poorly understood. One cause might be the thyroid; I gave a blood sample to have that and a couple of other items checked.

First treatment attempt consists of doubling the dose of the pill that slows the heartbeat. Plus, because erratic beats mean inefficient pumping, which means blood tends to pool in the heart, you need a blood thinner in the meanwhile to prevent that pooled blood from forming a clot. Coumadin, just like Dad. Nuisance. The level of it in your blood has to be checked every week, starting this coming Thursday.

Hopefully, though, with this regimen, heartbeat will return to normal. If not, there's a Plan B and a Plan C, but one step at a time.

I should stay away from alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine. No problem, except when it comes to chocolate, of course. Doctor says I can have it in moderation.

Other than chocolate in moderation, the pamphlet says the patient should be able to carry on with a normal life. That's very nice.

Thanks for your prayers!

Some Thanksgiving (Day & Weekend) Photos

(Click on any photo you may wish to enlarge)

Down in North Carolina, Mark and Katherine and their family were playing.

"Rock Band", a Wii Game, Starring Kelly as Lead Guitarist, Trying to Look Tough...

...Ryan as Drummer...

...and Connor as Lead Vocalist!

Meanwhile, at our house...

Jeff, Daniel, Mom

Flying Squirrels Peeping out of Nest Bag

Silly on the Sofa: Sydney, Elizabeth, Madison

Elizabeth Reading to Sydney. Underneath her sweater, Sydney is wearing her "Dorothy" ("Wizard of Oz") dress. The adornment misplaced on the top of the sweater is something she had purloined from her mother's "soupcase."

Sunday, November 30, 2008

More Thoughts (Mine) on Ephesians 2:8-10

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

We need to be careful, with Ephesians 2:8-10, not to try to force it to bear too much theological baggage. As St. John Chrysostom points out (see my first post of today), it isn’t meant to deny the role of free will. It doesn’t mean God decides not to accept any of our works, in order to keep us humble, and decides to accept only faith instead. Rather, it means God accepts us on the basis of our faith precisely because we come to Him bereft of any worthy works. What we once supposed were our good deeds turn out, in the harsh light of reality, to be about as spotless as used menstrual pads. (Isaiah 64:6) They were all done in the service of the beast within.

This passage means nothing we can do ever earns salvation, because it isn’t earnable; it’s a pure gift; it’s free, from God’s own loving Heart. Moreover, we ourselves do not have the power to do the things saving us requires, such as the power to unite divine nature with human nature or to kill death by dying, or to ascend into heaven.

If we try to make more of these verses, if for instance we hang from this passage a theory that we humans cannot contribute one single thing, however slight, to our salvation, not even our free choice to accept the faith God offers us, then the difference between our being saved or not will rest, ultimately, with God. The paradox Lutherans and others offer us won’t hold. According to it, if we are saved, the glory is all God’s, and if we are lost, the fault is all our own. This is true, but (paradoxically!) only if we have free will. Because what fault is it of mine that I willed only evil, if I was born, indeed conceived, unable to will anything else? No, if my salvation depends exclusively upon God, and He has all the power to save, and chooses to save you but not me, then it is His doing that I am lost. And this is so even if God only passively chooses to damn me; that is, does not choose to save me. Either way, my fate is His choice alone. That’s another way of asserting that “Double Predestination” (God chooses to save some and chooses to damn others) and “Single Predestination” (God chooses to save some but not all) are practically and morally identical.

And in that case, you contradict the whole rest of the Christian message about Who God is, and contradict certain other biblical passages as well, such as I Timothy 2:4, which speaks of God our Savior, “Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth,” and Ezekiel 33:11, “Say unto them, [As] I live, says the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” and 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (See also Ezekiel 18:23 and 18:32)

Faith in Christ is something God makes possible for us, but we still either embrace or reject Him. To reject Christ makes it impossible for God to get any further with us. To embrace Christ (in faith) is a work, yes, face it, a work. It isn’t a work that makes us worthy of anything, but faith in Christ does make it possible for Grace to proceed with His transfiguring (saving) work in us. Faith isn't what saves us, Grace is. Faith is not why God saves us, His Love alone is. But faith in Christ is the instrument through which God is able to work in us. In that sense, salvation does indeed depend upon it.

And if you do not wish to affirm some capricious, monster god, there’s no way around this: you have to admit that to go with Christ or to reject Him is ultimately up to us; and that our own rejecting of Him when we could have chosen Him (rejecting Him, as distinct from merely not yet having acquired faith in Him) is what sinks us, and not God’s omitting to do anything whatsoever for the salvation of every single one of us.