Sunday, September 28, 2008

Don't Smile!

A couple of weeks ago, I had to go through quite a number of family photos (and I still have some 25 albums of my father's to haul out and scan, so they can be shared with the whole family). As I was going through several boxes of pictures, I came across several I'd like to share, starting with these, taken on a trip to England.

It was the spring of 1989, and a co-worker of mine at USAir had a daughter in the same graduating class as my daughter. Since we could all fly for free, Sylvia and I decided to take her Sondra and my Erin to London and Paris for a graduation present. (That was the first of several trips Sylvia and I have taken together, and we'e still friends! And still planning to go to Greece together, hopefully in the Spring.)

This first picture is of Erin. And that's Kensington Palace, where, at that time, Diana, the Princess of Wales, lived, with Prince Charles. There was no security in sight. Erin didn't really go over the fence. But she did walk through a gate right up to a side door and knocked, much to my horror. Thank heaven there was no response.

We took a side trip to Windsor Castle. The girls got tired of posing with the Royal Guards there. I mean, it's weird, standing next to them while they totally ignore you. You feel like an intruder or something when they don't even blink to acknowledge your presence. Sondra and Erin would only stand in their general vicinity, as in this picture.

When we wanted them to stand directly beside one of the guards, the girls rebelled. They flat out refused.

"Just go stand there for two seconds while I snap a picture," Sylvia insisted.

"MO-om!" wailed Sondra.

"Get up there!" Sylvia commanded.

They did, but Sondra groaned, "Why do mothers always have to be so embarrassing?"

"Quit worrying about that and just smile. He understands; he has a mother of his own!"

And that's how we got this priceless picture of the Royal Guardsman cracking up.

Once Again...

...with just one example, this time, for simplicity's sake.

I'm going to take another stab at that very difficult task of showing something of the difference between spiritual and emotional (or spiritual and sensory, or spiritual and anything else). Here is an image I posted a couple of days ago in a not very successful attempt.

Do you see anything wrong with this image?

I don't. Okay, you may criticize its sentimentality. I'll grant you that. But it's also well executed, has nice, warm colors, rich textures. There is nothing cheap, tawdry, ugly, decadent, or otherwise bad about it. In fact, it's rather charming, don't you think?

The thing about this picture, and this isn't a complaint, just an observation, is the response it elicits from the viewer. That response isn't necessarily evil. It just isn't spiritual. It's sensory and emotional instead. Let's take a somewhat closer look...
As in many non-Orthodox depictions (wherein aloofness is apparently confused with modesty) the Virgin isn't meeting your gaze. At first glance, she appears to be, but she's actually looking over your head to the heavens. You thus see a beautiful but rather remote Virgin; and you think, How lovely.

You see a very handsome, cuddly, sweet Baby. Awww, how precious!

And that's pretty much what this picture conveys, that an plus appreciation of the colors and textures and composition.

Now compare it with this icon.

How very different is the effect!

What accounts for the difference? For starters, here, the sentimentality and sensuality have been removed; there are no roses, romantic or scenic backdrops, white veils, or bare bottoms. The skin hasn't the tactile appeal of the first image. There is no cute baby fat. Look at the difference in Mary's hands in each image. There is still curly hair on the Baby, but it doesn't look like anything you'd be tempted to run your hand through. The physical beauty of the two in the icon is something you pretty much have to imagine. It is only suggested.

St. Mary, here, is not the beautiful-but-unattainable Virgin so much as the Mother. She meets your gaze; she engages you. She is not just someone whose purity you admire (and/or mildly regret, if you're a man); she is someone you can revere. And talk to.

The Child is a miniature adult, already displaying His spiritual maturity. He is not Someone you might have an urge to squeeze. He is someone you can worship.

There is cognitive, theological meaning in the Theotokos presenting her Child to us and in the Child's right hand, blessing us; but this image is also conducive to spiritual (as distinct from cognitive) insight. You might, for example, inwardly acknowledge the Mother of God as your true Mother, too, and relate to her accordingly. Or you might look at her eyes and see the cross she bore, not only from the death of her Son, but also from having been thought a whore by most people all her adult life. You see what she bore, but you also see the serenity, the radiance, the meekness, with which she bears her sorrow; you detect the joy underneath the trials. You see, in short, that the Holy Spirit has worked Christ's life not only in her womb, but in her living; you can see in her the words of St. Paul, fully realized: "I live, yet no longer I, but Christ lives in me..." You see who you are aiming to become. You renew your commitment to strive for christification.

This image, in short, evokes gratitude and love and prayer. It encourages and reinforces us in the Christian Life. It reaches us at a deeper level than the merely sensory, or merely cognitive, or merely sentimental or merely emotional. That is why it is appropriate for use in church, while the other is not.

They are both nice-looking images; they ostensibly have the same subject matter and there's nothing to censure in either one. But the first is treated in a thoroughly secular fashion; the second, spiritually. The one is for your viewing pleasure (entertainment), while the other is for your spiritual edification.

Friday, September 26, 2008


Not unlike Michelle Obama, I've been a lifelong critic of my country.

In college, I was active in the civil rights movement. Racism was a blot on an otherwise nearly-perfect country, I thought. So yes, I went to those rallies and sang "We Shall Overcome" and marched against the Klan in Raleigh, North Carolina. I even used to go out with a black engineering student named Clarence. We were just friends, but we went out together whenever we wanted to be sure of getting seats. All we had to do in Raleigh was walk into the theater or concert hall holding hands and right away a number of people would get up and leave.

I was active in the anti-war movement in the Vietnam era. My dad would go to his job at the Pentagon to help run the war, and I'd join protest marches. A war fought for trumped-up reasons (President Johnson had lied to us) was un-American, to me.

So I was surprised when I went to Hawaii once and Mom and I went to the Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor and I got all teary-eyed. Some years later, I had the chance to go there again. This time, I resolved not to be such a wimp. But I couldn’t help myself; unaccountably, I cried more than I had before.

The same thing happened when I visited the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia; much to my surprise, I just bawled. What was this?

Yesterday, I understood what it was and is. I was having tea with my friend Vada and we were discussing the current financial crisis. I said I hoped it would be resolved, but I’d rather let it all come crashing down than to suffer the loss of our liberty, than have a “solution” that would overthrow the Constitution. She said there was no way to overthrow the Constitution. Well, legally there isn’t, but you can undermine it, subvert it, work around it until it becomes meaningless. As Senator Barry Goldwater once warned, it’s just a piece of paper unless people respect it.

“Liberty is what our fathers fought and died for!” I exclaimed, astonished at such platitudinous preachiness. “Liberty is what our soldiers right now are fighting for, or at least they think they are. It isn’t something we should just let slip away! No, I’d rather be impoverished than a slave. I’d rather – well, Patrick Henry was right!”

WHAT? "Give me liberty or give me DEATH"? Come on! Better to stay alive, even in a tyranny, than to lose your life, right? But as I sat there sipping my tea (tea, taxes, Boston), wondering what was this blather coming out of my mouth, I realized I meant it. The signers of the Declaration of Independence committed “our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor” to the cause and they were right. I understood, in a flash, that it is idealism, apparently it’s actually patriotism, (patriotism! who knew?) that makes it possible to be a lifelong critic of your country.

The American Dream – not the shallow avarice that passes for it today, but the original dream, the dream of our Founding Fathers – is very much worth the sacrifice of my life, should that ever be required. Liberty really is to die for. To my ongoing shock, I stand squarely with that radical, young Virginian, that hothead, that firebrand, Patrick Henry, who gave his famous speech right here in Richmond.

Kyrie, eleison!

(Credit: Larry Smith/EPA)

Loving Others - Note to Self

If it's true (and it is!) that you love God no more than you love the person you love the least, then you love Him very little. You have a long, long way to go. The new commandment isn't just to love others; it's to love them "as I have loved you."

Church Sign

Lord Jesus Christ,
help me to be
more like You
and less like me!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Off to the Beach

This morning I heard something about a tropical storm possibly getting ready to form some 250 miles south of Wilmington, NC, so that may change my plans, but as of now, I'm still planning to depart early this afternoon for Kitty Hawk, returning on Monday.

And no computer access meanwhile. Just sand and sun (?) and surf and seafood. And two tiny squirrels I'm obliged to bring along. And naps --ahhhh!! -- and knitting.

UPDATE: Scratch that. It's raining at the beach and the rain is expected through Sunday... we'll wait for the next stretch of sunny weather! Too bad. Just as finally, after months of not feeling up to it, I was beginning to look forward to it. Oh, well, probably my mood will have brightened even a little more by time we do get to the beach. I still rather prefer moping around my own house!

Financial Crisis

Seven hundred Billion dollars the Secretary of the Treasury asked for, and wanted it within 24 hours, with no accountability, no oversight, and immunity from courts. Just give it to me because this is an emergency, and ask no questions.

Let's see. Um...centralized control of the economy by the government without any accountability to anyone ... isn't that the Communist way? What about the American way?

(And by the way, hasn't the Republican Party always stood for smaller government? And yet the federal government has grown more in the last 8 years than ever before in our history.)

AND, by the way, many financial analysts apparently are far from convinced that this big power shift plan will actually resolve the crisis or do any good.

No one man should ever be given that kind of power in this country, especially an unelected person. For myself, I'd rather suffer come what may, risk the whole rotten economy, than risk the Constitution. That's what patriotism is, willingness to stand for freedom even in the face of high cost and suffering. And I think any member of Congress who votes for anything even close to what Secretary Paulson originally asked unmasks himself as no patriot at all, and we ought to boot out every single proponent of such a totalitarian scheme. Every last one of them, of either party, as soon as s/he next stands for re-election. Even our favorites, because then they will have shown themselves no friends of freedom.

I'm hoping that won't happen, though. I'm hoping there will be (1) meaningful, effectual, bipartisan oversight; (2) no windfalls for CEOs who ran their companies into the ground by their greed; (3) some mechanism whereby the taxpayer stands some chance of getting back some of what has been and is about to be stolen from him, and (4) some help for the little people who are the victims of this disaster, the people whose houses have been/are being foreclosed, who are being laid off, etc. Why help just the big-wigs who are the biggest campaign donors?

We all ought to become involved in our local politics, get THAT cleaned up. If we did, then honesty and integrity would trickle UPward to state politics and eventually to Washington. It's the only way I can see to save this Republic. Let honest folk start to participate in it, instead of leaving that to greedy, corrupt, ambitious power-grabbers.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Don't Try to Goozle God's Gizzards

To my attention recently came an expression I had never heard before: thank you for loving us when we had no claim upon you. I found this deeply touching. And it really struck me, because of course, if someone does something for me because I have a claim on him, that isn’t really love, is it? It’s obligation. Love is something we give in freedom; it is an expression of our innermost spirit.

And it has gotten me thinking about the way God loves us: without our having any claim upon His love, “while we were yet sinners.” Some people tell us, in effect, that Jesus Christ established such a claim on our behalf; but to say this not only grossly underestimates God’s love for us, but also tragically misunderstands what love even is. Love is a gift. And giving it is any true lover’s greatest joy. We rob him of that joy as soon as we think to demand or earn or buy his gift. We insult God's magnanimity if we suppose His love to be something we (or Christ for us) need secure. God doesn’t need to be pinned to the ground and made to cry uncle. He doesn't need to be compelled or manoeuvered or outflanked so as to love us. There is no such thing as needing to find a way that will either force or allow God to love us. And we should not need there to be any sort of contract with God before we can trust His Love.

God has no other agenda with respect to us than to love and save and glorify us. The very idea is absurd; for if love is free and unconditional and sacrificial self-giving, then any other agenda by definition would have to be self-serving. There just is not a whiff of self-serving about our all-good, man-loving God. There simply is not anything else whatsoever that God has to juggle with His Love. He is pure, undiluted, unmixed, full-strength Love. And nothing else.

Amazingly enough, to love us was always what He both wanted to do, and always, unfailingly, did. If you haven’t done so already, check out Matthew Gallatin’s latest two podcasts on how even those superficially appalling Old Testament stories of violence and death are properly to be interpreted as God’s love at work. It's a question most of us have wondered about. The podcast before those latest two presents us a similar way of interpreting some of God's tough words (as distinct from acts) in the Old Testament.

See what a righteous and holy and glorious God we have, Who invariably deals with every one of His creatures with infinite, pro-active, mightiest, tenderest love!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Worship in Spirit and in Truth: Art vs. Icons

One of the principles of Orthodox icons is the same as the one I have been suggesting regarding hymns. That is, it is not supposed to appeal to the emotions, but to the spirit. It is not supposed to appeal to the senses, but through the senses, to the spirit.

In Orthodox iconography, we try to extract the sensuous elements. We do not, for example, show delicate, glowing, sexy skin or soft, radiant hair or voluptuous curves. (Some of our icons do show one or the other of these, but they still somehow don't end up being realistic enough to be sensuous.) Instead, we seek to depict the deified human soul - and body, of course.

We do not depict a person’s emotional state so much his spiritual state. We don’t show saints with their eyeballs rolled up to the sky in an ecstasy of emotion ...

...much less being emotionally ravished.

(You sort of feel embarrassed, don't you, to look at this? Like you're some sort of a voyeur.)

This is Francis of Assisi, swooning in the arms of an angel. (A half-naked androgynous angel?)

Although Christ came in the flesh and saved us in the flesh, we don’t show Baby Jesus’ bare bottom. Not that we are that prudish, but the point of an icon is to elicit our reverence and worship, not to make us say, "Awww, how cute!"

We don’t even show Him as a cute little Baby at all, but as a miniature adult, to portray His already-adult spiritual condition.

See the difference?

As my priest once said, if you ever saw a pair like this on the street, you'd run! These images are deliberately not realistic. They are written that way precisely to exclude worldly elements such as some of the above-mentioned. The image is not meant as a decoration or as eye candy or as a skillful composition. It is meant to help you enter into the spiritual realm.

We do not dwell on the more gruesome (that is to say, fleshly) aspects of the Crucifixion, because the spiritual facts are what interest us, Christ's triumph over the devil even as He was dying, and His transcendence of suffering, and his divinity, despite what being crucified looked like.

Orthodox icons do not appeal to our sexuality, either. (Not that there's anything wrong with human sexuality, just that to appeal to it instead of to the human spirit is perverse, while to try to reach the human spirit through a sexual appeal won't work.) Orthodox icons do not depict Jesus as effeminate; and whether you are gay or straight, Jesus is not your heavenly boyfriend.

St. John the Baptist wasn't a homosexual, either, although da Vinci, who (obviously!) painted this, almost certainly was.

I do realized that (apart from the two Orthodox icons) these images are not even meant to be icons, but can you sense how worldly they are? What I'm trying to say is not that the things of the body are wrong or bad. We do all sorts of good and necessary physical things all the time; we eat, drink, procreate, go to the bathroom, bathe, get our exercise, have medical check-ups, and brush our teeth. Those are all good things. But they are all meant to be serve our spirit, and hence to be brought into subjection to our spirit, and our spirit to the Holy Spirit. Otherwise, yes, fleshly things become ugly, even if they delight the tongue or eye or ear or emotions. Rather, they are NOT ugly in themselves, but in our misuse of them, to serve our egos instead of our spirit.

True worship is first and foremost spiritual. Then all the rest falls into its proper place. Then the emotions we experience are of the right sort; otherwise we are just getting high on them. Carnal things are not bad; God, after all, created them! But living according to them, seeing the world through a fleshly lens, interpreting Christianity in a worldly way, that indeed is all wrong. St. Paul warns us that if we live by the flesh, we will die by the flesh.

P.S.) Here are a couple of other things the like of which you don't find in Orthodox iconography.

The holy, heavenly bodiless hosts

"St. Dominic Presiding over the Burning of Heretics"

Monday, September 22, 2008

On Worship in Spirit and in Truth

My earlier post on the hymn, "Crown Him with Many Crowns" elicited a question from my sister, Wendy, which in turn has stimulated further thinking on the subject from me.

It's especially urgent for us Westerners, raised in a culture that no longer even recognizes the human spirit, much less encourages spiritual development, to learn what we weren't taught, namely, how to distinguish the spirit from the emotions. Being unversed in the cultivation of the spirit within us, we tend to mistake our emotional life for spiritual life. But there's a big and extremely important difference.

One way to spot the difference between “emotional” and “spiritual” is to take some emotion-inducing song and re-write it. Take all the phrases that sound good but have little or no meaning, such as “Shine, Jesus, shine!” and re-write them to say what they mean, in prose. Or just delete them if no actual content, no real meaning, can be found. And then take whatever is left and say the new words rather than singing them. For example, if we take the first verse of “Crown Him with Many Crowns”, and if Pastor Weedon is correct that it is an exhortation for all of us to acknowledge Christ’s kingship, then we could capture this meaning by simply saying this well-known little prayer (a Christianized version of Psalm 95:6):

O come, let us worship God our King.
O come, let us worship and fall down before Christ our King and our God.
O come, let us worship and fall down before Christ Himself, our King and our God.

Here, we are bowing down instead of crowning. There’s no stately tune. Our anthem isn’t drowning out anybody else’s. There is no sensory arousal, no hoopla. The feelings derive from the spiritual experience of prostrating ones heart before his King and God, rather than from carnal things such as romantic or majestic imagery, or rhythm, or catchy tune or soaring melody. And of course, it’s a very different sort of feeling, prostrating and emptying ourselves before God, from the emotion we get out of imagining ourselves crowning Him.

Or here’s another example of simply and humbly acknowledging the King:

O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who are everywhere and fill all things; Treasury of Blessings, and Giver of Life - come and reside in us, and cleanse us from every impurity, and save our souls, O Good One.

Wonderful feelings there, if prayed with the whole heart, with attention! But it’s a sober prayer, devoid of bodily stimuli. No hype. It doesn't give you any urge to hold hands or start swaying. Your toes don't start tapping. Your chest doesn’t swell. Your spirit should, though, if you contemplate the meanings of those words! Those feelings are your spirit’s self-expression, rather than responses of your body/brain to external stimuli.

The trouble with the latter, with songs (or any other elements of worship) whose appeal is to emotions, is that these bypass anything truly spiritual. In this example, I can get rather a nice kick out of the imaginary (unbiblical) grand coronation scene, with myself crowning Christ - that part is really cool! - but to acknowledge Him King, well, isn't that to acknowledge myself the humble and unprofitable servant? "Crown Him with many Crowns" rather too conveniently skips over that uncool part. But that's precisely the spiritual point! That's an example of what I mean when I say if we lead with our emotions, we're just having fun instead of doing anything actually spiritual, such as renewing our unglamorous resolve to serve Him in our daily lives. Bodily things (especially emotional ones) are gigantic distractions. They distract us so thoroughly precisely because they are so highly enjoyable, while spiritual things - to pray, to repent, to forgive and love, to hope, to serve, to struggle against temptation, and so forth, are difficult. On the other hand, if we lead with the spirit, then appropriate feelings will follow and we shall be worshipping with our whole selves, body, mind, heart, and spirit. But spirit first.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Questions About Praying to Saints

Are the saints even conscious, or are they asleep? What's to make us think they know anything about what is happening on Earth?

From our point of view, they appear to be asleep; hence St. Paul speaks of those who are “asleep in Christ.” But only their bodies are “asleep,” awaiting the day of glorification and reunion with their souls. But even without their bodies, the reposed Christians are very much alive, and certainly aware of what is happening with us here below. Scripture in at least two places bears witness to this Christian teaching. In the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, the Rich Man, having died, calls out to Father Abraham, out of concern for his living brothers. In Revelation we are told the saints cry out from under the altar of God, asking how long before justice is done on Earth.

Knowing your hopes and your thoughts and your heart, and being able to “hear” countless people all at once, aren’t those all divine, not human, attributes?

They are indeed divine. But God glorifies and deifies His saints. That is, He makes them like Himself. “I have said, ye are gods.” (Psalm 82:6) Even during their lives on Earth, many saints have exercised divine gifts such as clairvoyance, physical healing, bilocation, and others. How much more do they exercise those now, freed from the limitations of time, of space, and of mortality? The reason the saints can do these god-like things is that they are completely filled with the Holy Spirit. He is the one Spirit animating the one Body of Christ, of which Christians are all cells. Christ, Body and Soul, is common to us all. He makes us to live the very Life, the divine Life, of the Holy Trinity.

Shouldn't we go directly to God instead of to the saints?

We should most definitely go straight to God, and do that first of all, and do that most of all. However, the outpouring of Love that circulates within the Body of Christ and within the Holy Trinity is such that God wills to save us through one another. This is why St. Paul can speak of himself saving people, or of wives saving their husbands. So we commune in many ways with the saints, including verbally.

What we say to them seems to fall into three categories. One is, we extol their heroic and wondrous deeds. We praise Christ's Life as He lived it in their bodies. It's another way of praising Christ Himself, and we sell Him short if we fail to recognize His glory in His saints. Each saint is like a prism refracting the Divine Light, each in its own, unrepeatable and uniquely praiseworthy way.

Secondly, we ask the saints for their intercessions, the same as we ask any other Christian to pray for and with us.

Thirdly, we sometimes ask them to exercise, on our behalf, specific ministries God has given them. Perhaps they were known to exercise a certain ministry during their earthly sojourns. Or perhaps experience down through the centuries has given us to understand that they have a particular ministry now. My Patroness, for example, Great-Martyr Anastasia, was known during her lifetime (and still is) as the "Releaser from Poisons." She knew recipes for antidotes. She knew how to compound various medicines. If you accidentally swallow the wrong sort of mushroom, she's the one whose special care you seek, after that of God Himself. Or, more properly put, if we pray to God after having ingested poison, it's likely His response (whether we know it or not) may be to send St. Anastasia to care for you.

Doesn't prayer to saints take away from the glory that is due to God alone?

No, it does not. At least it does not in Orthodox spirituality. The saints are God's glory, or at least little manifestations of it. What has He done more glorious than making rational creatures with free will, delivering them from sin and death, bestowing immortality upon them, and turning them into christified - which means deified - beings like Himself? To fail to recognize God's glory in His saints is indeed a monumental failure! (And to pray to saints without this recognition, that is, to suppose the glory is only their own, as if they were separate from Christ, would indeed be very wrong! It is to this sort of thing, I rather think, the Reformers were objecting, and rightly so.)

We are not infrequently told by the heterodox that God is jealous of His glory. It isn't so. Yes, I know, in the Old Testament He speaks as if it were so; He says He is a jealous God and will not have His glory given to another. (Isaiah 42:8, which refers to "graven images.") We have to realize that God was here speaking the same way you speak to a three-year-old when you tell her Mommy has a baby in her tummy. You don't literally mean in her stomach, but you wait to explain more accurately, until the child's understanding has grown to be able to grasp what a uterus is. In the same way, God was speaking then to spiritual toddlers to keep them from worshipping statues (or rocks, or trees, or calves). But in the fulness of time, when mankind is a bit more mature spiritually, when the Christ comes, what does He say? Praying to His Father, Jesus says, "the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one:" (John 17:22) To go to the saints is another way to go to Christ, for they are the actual, true parts of His glorified Body, in what St. Paul calls a "great mystery". (Ephesians 5:32) Indeed, the Church is the fulness of Christ, "the fulness of Him that fills all in all." (Ephesians 1:23) Christ is not "full" without all His members, His saints. To praise the saints, to ask for their prayers, and to ask for their specific ministries, all these are ways of recognizing and practicing the fulness of Christ and of His glory.

Is there any biblical precedent for conversing with reposed saints? Sure. It's what Jesus Christ Himself did upon Mt. Tabor. He was found speaking with Moses and Elijah. If He can, then so can His members, in Him, with Him, through Him.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Beautiful Flower Girl

Here are some photos of my granddaughter, Sydney (3) at her uncle's wedding last Friday. (I should explain that this uncle is her father's brother, while the funeral on Sunday was of her mother's grandfather.)

"Praying" to Saints

Probably "praying" isn't a good word for the Orthodox practice. It is technically correct, for to "pray" means simply to "ask," or plead. It does not necessarily even have any religious meaning at all. Yet in this culture, it has become synonymous with "worship," and that, of course, conveys entirely the wrong message. We do not worship saints.

Christopher Orr has compiled a list of Scriptural and patrisitic quotations, which he says is not exhaustive, to illustrate that the practice is very ancient.

I am hoping to write a little "FAQ" piece on prayer to the saints in the next couple of days (although right now I must take advantage of this weather, which, being neither too hot nor too cool, is perfect for cleaning out my attic). Meanwhile, I found a list, on the Internet, of some of the hymns we sing to saints, said hymns comprising by far the bulk of what we ever say to a given saint. From that list, I pulled the first few saints who might be of special interest, either because they are American saints, or because they were from Thessaloniki, or whatever. I list hymns to each one here, just to show everybody how harmless they are. Truly!

St. Raphael of Brooklyn

Troparion (Tone 3) Rejoice, O Father Raphael, Adornment of the Holy Church! You are champion of the true Faith, seeker of the lost, consolation of the oppressed, father to orphans, and friend of the poor, peacemaker and good shepherd, joy of all the Orthodox, son of Antioch, boast of America: Intercede with Christ God for us and for all who honor you.

Kontakion (Tone 3) Today the memory of blessed Raphael has shone on us; for having received Christ's call, he faithfully took up his cross and followed Him becoming a fisher of men. Let us cry aloud to him saying: Rejoice O Father Raphael!

St. Mark of Ephesus

Troparion (Tone 4) By your profession of faith, O all-praised Mark the Church has found you to be a zealot for truth. You fought for the teaching of the Fathers; you cast down the darkness of boastful pride. Intercede with Christ God to grant forgiveness to those who honor you!

Kontakion (Tone 3) Clothed with invincible armor, O blessed one, you cast down rebellious pride, you served as the instrument of the Comforter, and shone forth as the champion of Orthodoxy. Therefore we cry to you: "Rejoice, Mark, the boast of the Orthodox!"

St. Innocent of Alaska

Troparion (Tone 4) O Holy Father Innocent, in obedience to the will of God, you accepted dangers and tribulations, bringing many peoples to the knowledge of truth. You showed us the way. Now by your prayers help lead us into the Kingdom of Heaven.

Troparion (Tone 2) You evangelized the northern people of America and Asia,
proclaiming the Gospel of Christ to the natives in their own tongues. O holy hierarch Father Innocent, Enlightener of Alaska and all America, whose ways were ordered by the Lord, pray to Him for the salvation of our souls in His Heavenly Kingdom!

St. Gregory Palamas

Troparion (Tone 8) [1] O light of Orthodoxy, teacher of the Church, its confirmation, O ideal of monks and invincible champion of theologians, O wonder working Gregory, glory of Thessalonica and preacher of grace, always intercede before the Lord that our souls may be saved.

Kontakion (Tone 8) [2] Holy and divine instrument of wisdom, joyful trumpet of theology, together we sing your praises, O God-inspired Gregory. Since you now stand before the Original Mind, guide our minds to Him, O Father, so that we may sing to you: "Rejoice, preacher of grace."

St. Polycarp

Troparion (Tone 4) By sharing in the ways of the Apostles, you became a successor to their throne. Through the practice of virtue, you found the way to divine contemplation, O inspired one of God; by teaching the word of truth without error, you defended the Faith, even to the shedding of your blood. Hieromartyr Polycarp, entreat Christ God to save our souls.

Kontakion (Tone 1) Through virtues, you offered spiritual fruit to the Lord, therefore, you were glorified as a worthy hierarch, wise Polycarp. Today, we who have been enlightened by your words extol in song your praiseworthy memory,
thereby giving glory to the Lord.

St. Alexis (Toth) of Wilkes-Barre

Troparion (Tone 4) O righteous Father Alexis, our heavenly intercessor and teacher, divine adornment of the Church of Christ! Entreat the Master of All to strengthen the Orthodox Faith in America, to grant peace to the world; and to our souls, great mercy!

Kontakion (Tone 5) Let us, the faithful, praise the Priest Alexis, a bright beacon of Orthodoxy in America, a model of patience and humility, a worthy shepherd of the Flock of Christ. He called back the sheep who had been led astray and brought them by his preaching to the Heavenly Kingdom!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Larry, the Cat Man

This week alone, I’ve euthanized three cat attack victims, warm, furry babies who wanted to live. It breaks my heart. All I can tell myself is it’s better to die in a warm, soft place from laughing gas than in a cat’s jaws.

For cats that come near my bird feeder, I have a Super Soaker. That’s a high-powered, high-volume squirt gun. It’s loaded with a mild ammonia solution, and the cats in my neighborhood have learned the hard way where the borders of my property are, and to steer clear.

Whenever I survey the damage outdoor cats have done (killing an estimated four million birds per day in this country alone), my thoughts naturally turn to Larry, the Cat Man.

He lives near Winston-Salem, North Carolina. And last I heard, he had forty cats and counting. When he takes his cats to the vet, the staff there, at his request and prior to his appointment, removes temptation; they take down all posters on the office bulletin boards advertising cats in need of homes.

These are all indoor cats, too! And they have their own, special condo. Larry is happily married (yes, really!) but his wife is allergic to cats. She therefore lives in one condominium and the cats live in another. Larry pretty much lives with the cats. His wife understands that cats are his passion and his life. She loves them, too, although from a distance, and knows the names and histories of each one. Well...that is, she isn't always immediately aware of new arrivals...

The cats’ house is spic and span. Larry cleans every litter box every day and keeps the place immaculate. And of course, it’s all cat-friendly, with cat perches and shelves and so forth. There is even a music room, containing a grand piano and a guitar. Larry plays and sings to his cats every day. Especially the shy ones. He keeps them in that room, separated from the others, until they are better socialized.

If Larry agrees to adopt one of your cats, he will show up on your doorstep with a briefcase. The briefcase contains 8x10-inch glossy photos of each of his cats to show you, telling you each cat’s story in the bargain. Over and above attending to his presentation, the only thing Larry will ask is that you donate a large bag of cat food once in a while, as in five or six times a year, I suppose.

Larry caught my son by surprise one day, shortly after having accepted his cat. Larry telephoned Mark to ask why he or Katherine hadn’t called. Didn’t they want to know anything about Smokey’s progress? Mark was silent a long moment, brain whirling, before he said, “Please understand; we do of course. But giving up that cat was heart-breaking. It’s just been very difficult for us to talk about.” - an answer with which Larry was well satisfied.

Now Mark has a monthly call to Larry scheduled on his Palm Pilot. My daughter, who also placed a cat with Larry, also calls him regularly.

May God bless the Larrys of this world! Every city ought to have at least half a dozen dedicated souls just like him.

Reasons to Keep Your Cat(s) Indoors

Other assorted parasites
Other diseases
Cat fights
Irate, cat-hating neighbors
Other native wildlife

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Crown Him?

Yesterday, at my father's memorial, we sang what presumably was one of his favorites, that grand and stirring "Crown Him with Many Crowns."

For some years now that hymn has puzzled me. I have two questions:

To what does it refer? (Is there something like a coronation ceremony in the Bible I've missed, or in Church dogma?)

And secondly, to whom is the hymn addressed? Who is going to presume to crown the God-man?

There's another hymn like it, "All Hail the Pow'r of Jesus' Name," that tells us who should "Crown Him Lord of All." First, the exhoration is to "Ye chosen seed of Israel's race, ye ransomed from the fall," and then it's "Sinners whose love can ne'er forget"; then it proceeds from "every kindred, every tribe" through martyrs, and finally, to ourselves. But who of those addressed is going to be found worthy to bestow this crown?

Probably I just have a too-literal mindset and it's all just a hyperbolic way of praising Christ. I just don't much care for imaginary stuff in religion.


The memorial for my father yesterday wasn't as difficult to get through as I had feared. I managed not to cry. The proceedings were dignified and respectful, and most Protestants would have approved of them, I expect. Well, except for the female minister presiding and the gay ex-minister giving the homily in clerical vestments. That would give more conservative Protestants pause, but Dad would have liked everything very much.

There was a light lunch in the church hall afterwards, with a slideshow of pictures of my father from babyhood on up. After that, the family gathered in Mom's apartment for the afternoon.

People were very kind.

It was good to see the various relatives.

The ashes are to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors on November (yes, November) 13th. Presumably Arlington is heavily backlogged due to the two wars we are fighting.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Prayer on a T-shirt

O Lord,
put Your arm around my shoulder
and Your hand over my mouth.

Friday, September 12, 2008


I can't imagine anything more traitorous than to lie ones country into war - war!! Yes, all the reasons we were given for invading Iraq have since proven to be lies.

I didn't believe them at the time, having already, beforehand, read all about the proposal to invade Iraq. It had been developed around the time President Clinton came into office. September 11th was just an excuse to execute the plan that had been proposed years before.

On the whole, the rest of the world knew better, too. But too many Americans, traumatized, bombarded with propaganda (with the news media conniving), and bullied, did believe those lies. And far too many people of various nationalities died as a result, and are still dying.

This probably doesn't fit the rather narrow legal definition of treason, but in a more usual sense, what could possibly be more treasonous? What betrayal of country could possibly be greater than this? And with it, so much horror, so much death, our reputation in the world in tatters, our economy wrecked.

(And since the reasons given us for fighting in Iraq were all lies, what was the real reason it was so important to somebody? What was it all for? Especially at a time when we needed to be going after actual terrorists? Nobody of either party has ever told us why we really went into Iraq. Nobody.)

And Senator McCain made himself the nation's number one cheerleader for this deception, distraction, and, yes, treason. And he knew better. If I did, an ordinary citizen, a housewife, then certainly he did, a senior senator.

I can't vote for him. With or without Governor Palin. Eight years ago, when he really was a maverick, I would have voted for him, was hoping to, had he been nominated. But not now.

Moreover, neither he nor Mrs. Palin strikes me as very much exemplifying "family values," except that in her case, her family has put its pro-life stance into action, for which I honor them. On the other hand, family values include being faithful to one's wife, which Sen. McCain admits to not having been. In fact the current Mrs. McCain is one of several women with whom he had affairs while married to his first wife. Family values also, to me, include a mother spending a LOT of time with her five children, especially a disabled one.

On top of that, I am old enough to remember Sen. McCain's involvement in the infamous Keating affair. He was eventually cleared of actual illegality, but it all smelled very bad.

So, I've been voting since 1968, and for the first time in my life - wait, no, the second time - I'm voting for the Democrat for President.

Senator Obama has been copiously smeared, but none of the really frightening allegations about him has turned out to be true or to have substance or to amount to much. They're scare tactics. Sometimes they are thinly disguised racism. (Racists ought to remember that Senator Obama is only half black, and was raised in a white culture.) I believe him to be a man of good character (rare among politicians) who is competent and intelligent, cultured and well-spoken, who really can reach out to most sorts of people. I do not think he is Messiah or any such thing, and I don't know a single other person who does, either. That's a red herring, an attempt to turn his enormous popularity into a liability. Like anyone else, Sen. Obama has his flaws and everybody knows them, because they have been made much of.

The main qualm I've had about voting for Obama is of course his stance on abortion. However, as Pastor Beane has noted, presidents have never had, nor can have, much influence upon that issue. Even if they do, their political influence is subject to reversal later. It's a mistaken and failed stategy to try to correct abortion through a president. I think the solution is to try to evangelize the people of America, to encourage in them higher values and better morals. The problem has to be solved from the bottom up, one heart at a time, not from the top down. Voting for a pro-life candidate, while good in itself, is a minor and relatively ineffectual action among the many we need to take against abortion; and because it is so minor, it can and should be weighed against other factors. I do not think we ought to let a president or a party get by with horrific things just because they say they're pro-life (and prove in so many ways they are not).

Treason, on the other hand, is something a president can deal directly with, can end, can turn around. Or at least perhaps he can, providing our country isn't yet a crypto-dictatorship, as Fr. Beane also suggests - and he may be right. (Look at the U.K., for example. At the start of the Iraq war, some 80-90% of Brits were firmly against involvment in it, yet their government took them into Iraq anyway. How is that supposed to be democracy at work?) Perhaps it is too late and Obama, too, will be coerced or co-opted into doing someone else's bidding. Perhaps he will turn out to be a big disappointment. I really hesitate to lend my support to anyone these days!

But I still have a little hope. And if the president can't or won't reverse the treason, end the bloodshed honorably, restore America's moral standing in the world, and begin to mend our economy, we aren't going to have to worry about abortion, because we aren't going to have much of a country left to purify of that curse. The terrorists will have won.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


Every September 11th, after I put the American flag in its bracket outside my front door, I watch the videotape I bought of CNN's coverage of that day in 2001.

There are two main differences between watching that day and now. One is that now, watching it unfold, I know exactly what is going to happen next, while the reporters have no idea. The second thing that strikes me so is that this time, those catastrohic events no longer seem surreal.

I watch, I remember, I cry. I cry not only for that day, but even more for all the lives and everything else lost since in the aftermath.

Kyrie, eleison!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Connor is Confused

So my grandsons started soccer a few days ago. Ryan (that's him on the right, I believe) ran around and had fun trying to figure out what to do. Connor (on the left?) found it stressful.

In the first place, as he complained to his mom, nobody would give him the ball! She told him that was the idea; he had to go and get it away from the others. But - but, but he didn't want to. You're suppoed to share!

Furthermore, it upset Connor every time another little tyke would fall. Connor would throw himself on the ground next to him and try to make sure he was okay.

None of this is anything like the values his parents have spent nearly four years now trying to instill in their children.

P.S.) Okay, I give up. I'm just not sure who's who un either of these pictures. I can tell them apart quite easily in person, but not at all in photos. Katherine? Care to leave a comment and help us sort out your boys?

Monday, September 8, 2008


Very early this morning, a tiny Bengal Tiger cub arrived in my wild baby nursery. I was so thrilled! Of course, that was foolish, given that I know not the first thing about raising a tiger cub. Nor does my license permit me to keep exotics like that.

The thrill was also short-lived, because its intensity woke me up!

Such are a wildlife rehabber's dreams. Time to go feed my real babies, now, all squirrels at the moment.

Portrait of the Artist as a Prematurely Old Man

by Ogden Nash

It is common knowledge to every schoolboy and even every Bachelor of Arts,
That all sin is divided into two parts.
One kind of sin is called a sin of commission, and that is very important,
And it is what you are doing when you are doing something you ortant,
And the other kind of sin is just the opposite and is called a sin of omission and is equally bad in the eyes of all right-thinking people, from Billy Sunday to Buddha,
And it consists of not having done something you shuddha.
I might as well give you my opinion of these two kinds of sin as long as, in a way, against each other we are pitting them,
And that is, don't bother your head about sins of commission because however sinful, they must at least be fun or else you wouldn't be committing them.
It is the sin of omission, the second kind of sin,
That lays eggs under your skin.
The way you get really painfully bitten
Is by the insurances you haven't taken out and the checks you haven't added up the stubs of and the appointments you haven't kept and the bills you haven't paid and the letters you haven't written.
Also, about sins of omission there is one particularly painful lack of beauty,
Namely, it isn't as though it had been a riotous red-letter day or night every time you neglected to do your duty;
You didn't get a wicked forbidden thrill
every time you let a policy lapse or forgot to pay a bill;
You didn't slap the lads in the tavern on the back and loudly cry Whee,
Let's all fail to write just one more letter before we go home, and this round of unwritten letters is on me.
No, you never get any fun
Out of the things you haven't done,
But they are the things that I do not like to be amid,
Because the suitable things you didn't do give you a lot more trouble than the unsuitable things you did.
The moral is that it is probably better not to sin at all, but if some kind of sin you must be pursuing,
Well, remember to do it by doing rather than by not doing.

(It's not true, of course, that we get no pleasure out of our sins of omission. We get the carnal pleasure of laziness, of not bothering, of relaxing instead of doing what needs to be done. Speaking for myself, that's a pretty strong motivator!)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Sign of the Cross

Again this morning in church we were positioned directly opposite the icon of the Most Holy Theotokos, and as I made the sign of the Cross, it occurred to me that I was outlining, on my body, the principal instrument by which her Son had been tortured and killed, with her looking on all the while. The Cross was the metaphorical sword that pierced her heart. And yet - miracle! - to make the sign of the Cross in front of her does not offend or insult her or hurt her feelings. Indeed, she no doubt made it on her own body more often than I do, and perhaps still does. For her, as for us, the greatest sorrow has become the greatest treasure and joy.

Lateral Thinking Test

This morning in church, in front of us, were three girls. Their mother, their one and only, actual, biological mother, was on one side of them and their father, their one and only, actual, biological father, was on the other side of them.

They do not look alike. They have different heights, complexions, and hair texture. They were all born at the same time, or at least within moments of each other, to be technical.

They are not triplets.

Why not?

(Tisho, unfair for you to comment here! We all remember your similar experience with Todd. Ditto Tisho's near relatives -- shhh!)

St. Symeon Stylitis

St. Symeon the Stylite (commemorated September 1) is one of my favorite saints. He is absolutely awesome.

To those who do not understand the purposes behind ascetic endeavor he appears a thorough-going kook. Indeed, he did even during his lifetime, the extremity of his asceticism challenging the people of his own day as much as it challenges us.

The purpose of his austerity, however, as with any Christian ascetical practice, is to bring the body into submission to the spirit. If I have no control over my body, there is no way I can meaningfully offer it to God; I may as well offer Him yours! St. Paul wrote that he beat his body, and not like a shadow-boxer, either, meaning he did it for real, he was serious about keeping his body under subjection. (I Corinthians 9:26-27) I think we must bear in mind that some people’s bodies are more stubborn than others. And some passions are just very difficult to defeat in all of us. Very stringent ascetics simply make the (correct!) judgment call that even to bleed is better than to sin. Or to be more blunt, certain temptations are hard to act upon when the body is in pain. Living atop that tower for many years in all weather, especially under the burning sun, St. Symeon offered his body a living holocaust to His Lord.

(In Orthodox spirituality, asceticism has nothing whatsoever to do with punishing oneself, a practice we consider morbid.)

St. Symeon lived in a cell on top of a tower that was anywhere from 30-80 feet high, depending upon which account is most accurate. (The height varied as the Saint from time to time built it higher.) Its purpose was to give him some physical distance from the crowds who came to seek his spiritual counsel, to have him settle their disputes, to receive physical healing from him. They came from as far away as the British Isles. St. Symeon always took time out of his prayer schedule to speak to the crowds, preaching and teaching.

Kings and queens, the Emperor and Empress, patriarchs and abbots, all heeded his teachings, and all were blessed.

This is from the OCA website:

Saint Simeon the Stylite was born in the Cappadocian village of Sisan of Christian parents, Sisotian and Martha. At thirteen years of age he began to tend his father's flock of sheep. He devoted himself attentively and with love to this, his first obedience.

Once, after he heard the Beatitudes in church, he was struck by their profundity. Not trusting to his own immature judgment, he turned therefore with his questions to an experienced Elder. The Elder readily explained to the boy the meaning of what he had heard. The seed fell on good soil, and it strengthened his resolve to serve God.

When Simeon was eighteen, he received monastic tonsure and devoted himself to feats of the strictest abstinence and unceasing prayer. His zeal, beyond the strength of the other monastic brethren, so alarmed the igumen [abbot] that he told Simeon that to either moderate his ascetic deeds or leave the monastery.

St Simeon then withdrew from the monastery and lived in an empty well in the nearby mountains, where he was able to carry out his austere struggles unhindered. After some time, angels appeared in a dream to the igumen, who commanded him to bring back Simeon to the monastery.

The monk, however, did not long remain at the monastery. After a short while he settled into a stony cave, situated not far from the village of Galanissa, and he dwelt there for three years, all the while perfecting himself in monastic feats. Once, he decided to spent the entire forty days of Great Lent without food or drink. With the help of God, the monk endured this strict fast. From that time he abstained from food completely during the entire period of the Great Lent, even from bread and water. For twenty days he prayed while standing, and for twenty days while sitting, so as not to permit the corporeal powers to relax.

A whole crowd of people began to throng to the place of his efforts, wanting to receive healing from sickness and to hear a word of Christian edification. Shunning worldly glory and striving again to find his lost solitude, the monk chose a previously unknown mode of asceticism. He went up a pillar six to eight feet high, and settled upon it in a little cell, devoting himself to intense prayer and fasting.

Reports of St Simeon reached the highest church hierarchy and the imperial court. Patriarch Domninos II (441-448) of Antioch visited the monk, celebrated Divine Liturgy on the pillar and communed the ascetic with the Holy Mysteries.

Elders living in the desert heard about St Simeon, who had chosen a new and strange form of ascetic striving. Wanting to test the new ascetic and determine whether his extreme ascetic feats were pleasing to God, they sent messengers to him, who in the name of these desert fathers were to bid St Simeon to come down from the pillar.

In the case of disobedience they were to forcibly drag him to the ground. But if he was willing to submit, they were to leave him on his pillar. St Simeon displayed complete obedience and deep Christian humility. The monks told him to stay where he was, asking God to be his helper.

St Simeon endured many temptations, and he invariably gained the victory over them. He relied not on his own weak powers, but on the Lord Himself, Who always came to help him. The monk gradually increased the height of the pillar on which he stood. His final pillar was 80 feet in height. Around him a double wall was raised, which hindered the unruly crowd of people from coming too close and disturbing his prayerful concentration.

Women, in general, were not permitted beyond the wall. The saint did not make an exception even for his own mother, who after long and unsuccessful searches finally succeeded in finding her lost son. He would not see her, saying, "If we are worthy, we shall see one another in the life to come." St Martha submitted to this, remaining at the foot of the pillar in silence and prayer, where she finally died. St Simeon asked that her coffin be brought to him. He reverently bid farewell to his dead mother, and a joyful smile appeared on her face.

St Simeon spent 80 years in arduous monastic feats, 47 years of which he stood upon the pillar. God granted him to accomplish in such unusual conditions an indeed apostolic service. Many pagans accepted Baptism, struck by the moral staunchness and bodily strength which the Lord bestowed upon His servant.

The first one to learn of the death of the saint was his close disciple Anthony. Concerned that his teacher had not appeared to the people for three days, he went up on the pillar and found the dead body stooped over at prayer. Patriarch Martyrius of Antioch performed the funeral before a huge throng of clergy and people. They buried him near his pillar. At the place of his ascetic deeds, Anthony established a monastery, upon which rested the special blessing of St Simeon.

Apolytikion (First Tone):

You became a pillar of patience and did emulate the Forefathers, O righteous one: Job in his sufferings, Joseph in temptations, and the life of the bodiless [angels] while in the body, O Symeon, our righteous Father, intercede with Christ God that our souls be saved.

Kontakion (Second Tone):

You sought the heights, though parted not from things below;
Your pillar became a chariot of fire for you.
You became thereby a true companion of the angelic host;
and together with them, O Saint, you ceaselessly pray Christ God for us all

What's Left Today of St. Symeon's Tower

Love isn’t Blind, Either

Infatuation is blind. Lust is blind. But true Love is clear-eyed. In fact, Love sees a great deal more, and better, than we can see without it. That's why the saints are sometimes clairvoyant.

True Love does not depend upon anything about the beloved, but expresses the character of the lover. That is what makes it possible for us to love our enemies, to bless those who curse us and pray for those who abuse us. We do not have to pretend our enemies are our friends in order to love them. We do not have to pretend Islam is a religion of peace before we love Muslims. We can give Valentines to children in our class at school who aren't very nice.

Love demonstrates something about the lover, rather than the beloved. That is why God “is kind unto the unthankful and the evil.” (Luke 6:35), and makes the blessings of His rain and His sunshine to fall upon the just and the unjust alike. (Matthew 5:45) That is why Christ died for us while we were yet sinners. (Romans 5:8)

God does not need to blind Himself to our sinfulness in order to love us. He does not need slick legal maneuvering to allow Him to deal with us graciously. He does not pretend we are righteous although we are not; He loves us all infinitely. God the Father does not love us only “for Christ’s sake,” as we so often hear, if that phrase means, “only in view of the Crucifixion.” God does not blind Himself to our true condition. ( Nor would we want Him to, for then how could He help us overcome it?) God loves us, tenderly, infinitely, in whatever condition He finds us. Jesus does not have to be tortured and killed to induce God to be well-disposed to us; He already was, unconditionally, all along.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Tropical Storm Update

So far, so good, more or less. The clouds that two hours ago were zipping along from east to west are now racing from west to east. We must have been inside the rotation. Those winds aloft are impressive, but except for strong gusts, not very impressive here below.

The major damage so far is that while Demetrios was watching, a squirrel nest fell from one of our trees. The mother squirrel came running down the tree and we could hear at least one baby squeaking. We went out in the pouring rain to search for any survivor(s). We could hear the screaming, but could not locate any baby, so perfect is their camouflage - until Demetrios took a step backwards and stepped right on it! And that was the end of that baby, much to Demetrios' distress. (And if you know him, you know how distressed he is. He has actually gone to bed.) But a moment later, we heard another scream, and there was a second baby nearby, cold and drenched. She is now warm and dry and snuggling with the other four I already had. She'll be fine. They're all sort of hugging each other, in one big ball of fur.

No wonder the mother was helpless; her babies were much too big for her to carry. This baby's eyes will be open in a few days.

Mamma squirrel is probably one of the several I released in my yard this past Spring, Puella perhaps. She is still racing up and down the tree trunk, looking for her babies.

Similar scenarios will be repeated a hundred times or so all over Richmond and the wildlife rehabbers will soon be flooded with furry little storm survivors. Chris already has 28 or 30; she comes up with a different number every time she tries to count them. I said I could take a few more on acount of it being an emergency; but I think I will not try to do more than 10 or 12. It takes me an average of 5 to 6 minutes to feed each one. Four times a day. That doesn't count the time laundering their linens, washing their bottles and other dishes, cleaning their cages, mixing their formula.

Cultivating Love

This is the response my friend Angela received when she wrote to Metropolitan Anthony and asked him the question we had both been discussing: how is it our love for Christ is so small, so meagre, so deficient?

Dear Angela,

Ill-health and pressure of work have prevented me from answering your letter sooner; I am sorry for the delay.

What you feel is what everyone who loves God and Christ however little feels. But remember the words of the Psalm read in the service of preparation for Communion: “What reward shall I give unto the Lord for all the benefits that He hath done unto me? I will receive the cup of salvation and call upon the Name of the Lord… son of Thy handmaiden; Thou hast broken my bonds asunder. I will offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving, I will call upon the Name of the Lord.”

The “little sister” of Love is Gratitude, simple, joyful, warm, trustful. Nurse this little sister in your heart – she is love, although not yet the resplendent Burning Bush of Love, which Saints attain to. The greatest joy one can give a Giver is to receive and accept His gifts openheartedly, joyfully, at times even forgotten to say thank you at once, too completely absorbed in the Joy of a love so tender, so perfectly understanding. Be joyfully grateful and you will discover that love unfolds itself in you, because Love is Communion, community of life, with God. Do not try to “surrender all your life to God” or do what is beyond you at present; God does not expect you to be now what He knows you will be later; be who you are whole-heartedly, as a child who knows that she is not expected to be older than her years – were you ever ashamed of playing with dolls while your father read big, dull, compact newspapers, or your mother or older sister or brother a book, a “dull book without pictures or dialogues”, to put it in the words of Alice in Wonderland? Be a free, happy child and grow under God’s care!

May God and the Mother of God be with you always.

Sincerely yours,

Metropolitan of Sourozh

Friday, September 5, 2008


The tropical storm is coming and they say we here in Richmond are likely to lose power. I've scheduled some posts for the next two days, but may be incommunicado for awhile.

Gotta go bring in stuff from the yard so it won't become airborne and turn into missiles. Will draw a bucket or two of water, make sure candles and flashlights are nearby, etc.

Main problem is likely to be how to keep baby squirrels warm, but I believe we can solve that one somehow, even if we have to hold them in our laps. I'm all out of those hand-warmers they sell at places like K-Mart, that hunters use, that warm up upon exposure to air. And I don't think the stores have them in yet, this early in the hunting season. Better check, though...

UPDATE: Yes, K-Mart had the handwarmers. The babies will stay snug and warm, come what may.

Love isn't Something Squishy

Fr. Greogry (Jensen) has a provocative commentary on the Parable of the Wicked Servant entitled, "The Limits of Forgiveness".

The question is how to love people wisely, meaning truly instead of just sentimentally. Sometimes true love's course must be to continue to hold someone accountable.

It ought to be obvious, but isn't always, that true love doesn't come at the expense of truth.

The First Time he Said Goodbye

This was taken of Dad and me the night before he left to fight in Korea. The label says it was in August, 1951.

Thursday, September 4, 2008


Okay, so I admit it; every time Emily changes her blog's appearance, I am inspired to do the same. All the more so when Dixie also changes hers. Not that I can aspire to make mine anywhere near as beautiful as theirs, which are so lavish, lush and rich; but it's still time to switch to some Autumn colors.

Another Mistake About Forgiveness

Once when several of us in my family were touring an art gallery, peering through one artist's studio window at some of the most grotesque "art" we had ever seen, my brother-in-law remarked, "There's someone whose mind I don't think I'd care to get to know very well at all." I've always remembered that. There are some people it is best to avoid. (See Proverbs 24:1, Romans 16:17, 1 Corinthians 5:11, I Corinthians 15;33, 2 Timothy 3:5) Jesus loved Pilate as much as ever He loved St. John, but the relationship was very different.

Forgiveness does not always mean seeking to restore a relationship to what it was before. You have to love as much as you did before. No, you have to love much, much better than you did before. But that does not necessarily mean being as close as you were before. Sometimes that not only cannot be done, but should not. There are times when it is far healthier for all concerned to love from some greater or lesser distance.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

That About Sums it Up

Dad, hospitalized for a blood clot about 18 months ago, remarked, "Death isn't an issue; but getting from here to there seems to be one big mess."

Anger Kills

You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.' But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, 'Raca!' shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be in danger of hell fire. (Matthew 5:21-22)

Once, there was a man I just couldn’t stand. Couldn’t avoid him, either, as he was the pastor of the Episcopal parish I attended. I think I was quite angry at him, although I cannot now remember why. I always did, however, take care to be cordial to him, never to speak behind his back, never to betray any of my bitter feelings.

In due course, we somehow managed to become good friends, enough so that one day I confessed to him my former feelings.

“You almost killed me!” was his response.

I was floored. “WHAT?” I thought I had never let on a single thing.

“Oh, yes, you almost killed me!”

Anger directed at persons and murder really are the same thing, even if they do have two ways of existing, inner and outer.

And the saddest thing is that the person anger kills the most quickly, most surely, is the holder of it, not the one at whom he aims his wrath. The true target, the devil’s target, is the angry one.

It is essential and urgent for our own survival as authentic human beings to wage all-out war against our angers and resentments. It is all-important to stop nursing them, to stop even thinking about them, to starve them of attention, to cry out to God to heal us of this lethal condition. Yes, lethal. Jesus’ own teaching.

Anger or resentment excludes us from blessedness; in heaven, there is no room for any hint of either.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


Not only have you not walked a mile in the other person's shoes, you don't even know which shoes he's wearing or how much they hurt. Neither do you know how it is to walk that particular mile in those (or any shoes). The truth is, none of us has any idea what we really would do, were we in the other person's exact same situation.

I used to think (indeed, whole-heartedly and solemnly promised myself, my spouse, and God) I would never, ever, under any circumstances, be divorced.

We just do not know, any of us.

Remember that Amish community's kindness to the parents of whoever it was shot up their children in school? Yes, I recall that aspects of their attitude were indeed open to criticism, but not that aspect. Kindness is always called for. Compassion is always in order. We are without excuse, to whom such infinite kindness has been shown.

More on "Forgiveness"

I'm beginning to think the word, "forgiveness" ought almost to be jettisoned in Western Culture, as carrying too much false and misleading baggage.

There are some things about which you just never can, or ever should, say, "It's okay," or "That's alright," or "It doesn't matter." Every sin, great or small, matters and continues to matter until God shall heal it on the Last Day. The Elder Joseph used to say forgiveness is instant, but the canon (penance) is for life. "My sin is before me always," as King David wrote. You get over the guilt in a moment, but the harm lingers on a very long time, and the sorrow all our lives. Thinking otherwise is part of what makes forgiving others so next-to-impossible for us. We think forgiveness means we are supposed to forget all these abiding realities, overlook what neither can nor should be overlooked.

Instead of "forgiving" others, we in the West probably ought to speak instead of the need to continue loving others no matter what, unconditionally. For Christians, there's never any excuse for unkindness.

Monday, September 1, 2008

David Leland Jones, August 21, 1920 - September 1, 2008

Dad died this afternoon at about 4:40. Demetrios and I had arrived at his bedside half an hour earlier. Mom was also there, and a long-time friend of the family, John. Dad appeared to try to respond, to look at us when told we were there, but was unable.

As it is Labor Day, the dining room where Mom lives wasn't serving an evening meal, so we ended up taking Mom to a restaurant for a late supper. Then, as she expressed no particular need to have us stay, and showed no sign of any such need either, we turned around and came back home.

I can't even begin to tell you how bizarre and surreal all this has been for us.

Judgment According to St. John of Damascus

St. John of Damascus says that when you come to judgment, God will weigh all your deeds in the balance. If your good deeds outweigh your bad deeds, says St. John, you will pass.

(I know; so far, this sounds terrible. But wait; this is St. John of Damascus! He isn't going to be any proponent of earning salvation.)

If your good and bad deeds come out equal, St. John says, then, by God’s love, you will pass.

If your deeds are downright deficient, then, by God’ greater love, you will still pass.

If your deeds are grossly deficient, then, by God’s even greater love, you will still pass.

If there is nothing whatsoever good in you, no real love at all, then you are lost. If you are entirely self-centered, well, as C. S. Lewis would say, you can’t enter heaven still clutching anything of hell.

The (Only) Religion of Love

Love must always be practical, or it isn’t love at all. Love cannot be love if it exists only within your bosom. Like faith, love exists in your deeds and grows the more you exercise it.

That is why I am Orthodox. I realized one day that to learn to love was what I deep-down most wanted, is what every human being, in the deepest core of his being, wants most of all, or at least originally did; for that is how human beings are made. We are all created by Love, for Love. And I realized I knew very little, if anything, about love, and that Orthodox Christianity – alone! – could teach me.

And I stand by that. In every other religion I have ever encountered, God is thought to have a dark side or an “alien work” or something contrary to love, something that tempers his love, qualifies it, serves as a counterweight or an impediment to it or a restraint upon it, or puts conditions upon it. God is said to be most loving indeed, but then atrocious behaviors are ascribed to Him. Orthodox Christianity alone is consistent in upholding, defending, preaching and preserving faith in the God Who is pure love, with no “but” at the end, as in, “Yes, God is love, but – ”.

Perhaps (I only say perhaps) that is why the way some people love, at least at the nitty-gritty level of actual deeds, is indistinguishable from hatred.