Saturday, February 28, 2009


Here is a corner of the afghan I just finished knitting in lieu of buying those Snuggies. (The Snuggies, etc., however, arrived after all, four weeks after Christmas.)

The color is actually deeper than in the picture; it's burgundy in some lights, and what I call "Chinese Red" in other light.

The outer border is, of course, crocheted. Inner border is an oblique, open basket weave. Main body of the blanket is a straight up-and-down, closed basket weave.

It's about 4.5 feet wide and 5.5 feet long.

I'm giving it to Ero. This saint, this darling woman, was recently diagnosed with liver cancer, inoperable, and the other day I noticed she needs a pretty blanket.

Friday, February 27, 2009


What's the difference between saying God is an Essence shared among three Persons or God is a communion of Three Persons, each possessing the same Essence, whole and entire?

Why does it really matter which we say? Is there anything more to this than the old chicken and egg quandary? Is there more to it than a linguistic habit? (Yes, yes, and oh, yes!)

And why should we care anyway about an issue apparently so arcane?


If I tell you God is One Essence with a mysterious Threeness about it such that three Persons have it, I have issued you an invitation to think, because the very first issue is, what in the dickens is an essence? We don’t even know what’s the essence of a rock or a tree or a cloud or a human being, let alone a Divine Being. It’s not that the Divine Essence is necessarily an abstraction in itself, but it is in effect. It corresponds to nothing we know in the concrete world; it is, for us, a mental construct only, and a content-free one, at that. The challenge is to figure out what it means, if anything; and truth will be defined by how closely our concepts correspond to the object of our thought (which, however, is immeasurable, intangible). Theology will be a struggle to discern the correct concepts, an exercise in reason.

If I tell you God is Persons, well, we have models of Personhood all around us, in ourselves and in other human beings. If I tell you God is a communion of love among these Persons, we have a model of that, too, in human marriage. If I tell you the love among these Persons results in the creation of the Universe, we have a concrete model of that, too, in childbirth and human families. If I tell you God is a communion of three Persons, I have issued you an invitation to communion, because the very first issue is the realization that I am outside that communion. The challenge will be how to be a part of it. To know God will be defined as how intimately you enter into this blessed Communion; Truth will mean the degree in which your life participates in God’s. Theology will be a struggle to live the Divine Life, an exercise in articulating it.

What Christos Yannaras wrote of another distinction, that between God’s Essence and God’s Uncreated Energies, also applies here; The difference in emphasis

represents two fundamentally different visions of truth. This does not mean simply two different theoretical views or interpretations, but two diametrically opposite ways of life, with concrete spiritual, historical, and cultural consequences.

Update on Twiggy

Twiggy is the adult squirrel I took in yesterday just as she had begun having babies.

It's just disaster all around.

This morning I finally lifted Twiggy out of her box and had a look to see what was going on.

The first thing to report is, there are no babies. Which means the poor mother was so distressed she ate them all. No wonder she hasn't eaten anything else.

The next thing is, she is wounded. Probably not by a cat, or she'd have died long since, cat saliva being highly toxic to small mammals (and birds). She has a large but superificial wound on her back. She has a worse wound on her belly. There's an area the size of a quarter where there is no skin at all and the fat layer is exposed. Best guess: a dog did this.

I've washed her wounds with disinfectant, made her drink some antibiotic syrup, and force fed her some water. But even if that wound can heal, which I doubt, it's no good; her back legs no longer work.

Now I have to persuade Ed, her human friend, to let me euthanize her. He is distraught.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

It's Almost Always a Mistake

When will I learn not to take in adult wild animals?

But the man was so distressed. "I've known this squirrel all her life," he told me. "Five and a half years, and I knew her mother before her. In fact, her mother brought her up to me and introduced us as soon as the baby could get out of the nest."

This man has squirrel boxes hung on his trees. He knows every squirrel in his yard, individually, and they know him. He has names for each of them. He sets out food for them every day.

And now Twiggy was doing poorly. "She can hardly walk. She's getting weaker and weaker."

So after much discussion over a two-day period, I finally invited him to bring her here. "Just bring the whole box," I told him, "after you tape something over the entrance to seal it."


We opened the box, very slowly, very carefully, to find a pink glob under her tail, a very, very newborn male.

The mother jumped out of the box and tried to escape out the kitchen door, which was closed, however. How we managed to catch her so easily I'm not sure, probably because she was still in labor (?) -- but in any case, catch her we did, at the expense of a bite to my thumb. (It's not severe, as I was wearning gloves, obviously inadequate ones.)

Now I've set the box inside a cage, hung a water bottle on the cage, put a bowl of food in there, and covered the whole with a crib sheet, to give the mother some privacy while the rest of her babies arrive.

I've reunited mother and baby, because the baby can't survive without at least some colostrum from her. And I'm hoping we haven't freaked her out enough to cause her to kill (and eat?) him and the other newborns as they emerge. And I'm hoping she herself won't die, as the nice man so fears.

There probably wasn't a thing wrong with her, she was just in the advanced stages of pregnancy. But I wouldn't know; I didn't examine her and am not going to, until tomorrow morning. I'm leaving her in peace meanwhile. I'm trying hard to resist the temptation to check on her every hour or so. Whatever happens will just have to happen. Some things you can't fix, and you stand a good chance of making them worse if you try.

New resolve: never take in an adult wild creature of any kind! Not even a bird with a broken wing. Ninety percent of them, once you've set the wing and it has healed, still can't fly again anyway. And you can't decide, "Okay, so I'll just keep it all its life," because the stress of being in captivity kills them within a few weeks.

No more adults, Anastasia, NO MORE ADULTS!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Bowing and Kissing

The Orthodox do plenty of bowing in church. There are, I think, three different times during the Divine Liturgy when the priest bows before the people, and the people bow back. We also bow to persons we pass. We bow whenever the priest censes us, as the appropriate posture for receiving God's blessing. We bow before one another when asking forgiveness. We bow before icons to greet the saint depicted, and/or to humble ourselves before the saint or the event depicted.

We do a lot of kissing, too. We kiss one another. We kiss the book of the Gospels, we kiss the cross, we kiss the chalice, we kiss the priest's hand, we kiss icons.

If bowing or kissing meant worshipping, we'd be polytheists for sure, and some very strange gods we'd have, too!

5th Photo Meme

The game here, which I picked up from Deb, is to show us the fifth photo in your fifth photo folder. YOU are tagged!

This is my Great-Great-Great Grandmother, May McLeod McKenzie, shown with an abbreviated genealogical chart. (Those are my parents, David and Barbara, listed at the bottom of the chart.) Click if you wish to enlarge.

P.S.) I have her Bible. It's in Gaelic. Recently, I had a conservator mend and treat it and make it a special acid-free box.

A Wonderful Time to Visit an Orthodox Church

This coming Sunday is one of my very favorites of the year. It is Forgiveness Sunday, whereon each person present, beginning with the priest, asks each other person to forgive him for any and all offenses, known or unknown, voluntary or involuntary. The service is just stunning in its beauty.

It's a Vespers Service, so find out when your nearest Orthodox Church is doing it, because some do it on Sunday evening, and some do it after the regular services on Sunday morning. (If the Orthodox church nearest you doesn't do this Vespers at all, please ask them from me why not!)

Tip: wear comfortable shoes and clothing that will allow you to bend a lot. You'll at least be bowing before each other person present, if not doing a full prostration.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Very, Very Cool!

"I'm going through all the drawers," my husband announced yesterday afternoon.

Alarm bells in my head. Is there anything there I'd rather he not see? Well, yes, there's that half bag of cat-food in the bottom drawer of one bureau. Anything else? Well, yeah, basically everything else.

"What for?" I asked.

"To find our passports."

I sighed, guilt sweeping over me. Both of our passports had been missing for -- well, how long is the question. They and the two sets of keys to our apartment in Greece. I had put them on the very special shelf I use to collect things I want to take to Greece next trip; I had taken pride in keeping them safely in my custody these past three or four years. But now I couldn't find them anywhere. And replacing them -- what a headache, and no small expanse, either.

"They're just not here," I told him. "I've searched every shelf, every drawer, ten times over."

"Well, I haven't."

I sighed and said, "Okay, if that's how you really want to spend your Sunday afternoon." And then I sat back and waited. I knew what was coming. Something to the effect of, "It's no wonder you can't find things..." Some of the drawers are very neat, but others, well, um, no.

Then I thought, "He doesn't know about the shelf where I keep all the stuff for Greece. He won't look there. I'll do it." Not that I hadn't looked before, but at least I wouldn't be sitting around letting him do all the work. Anyway, it was time to check out what was there, be sure I really wanted to take it all, see what else should be added.

As predicted, Demetrios never did find the passports or the keys. However, in addition to the half-gone bag of cat kibble, he did find his good pair of glasses and a box of checkbooks for my account, which I very much needed.

The keys? The passports? I found those. They were right where they belonged, on that shelf full of stuff to take to Greece. But they are small things, and they were under larger things, and ... well, they're found, at long last. Hooray! I even found a third set of keys I'd long forgotten we had. And my drawers are, well, somewhat tidier.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


If you look up "righteousness of God" in an online concordance, you'll find some 10 or 12 verses that specifically contrast righteousness to the Law (of Moses) - a thoroughly scandalous idea for Jews! - and link righteousness to faith.

And it was ever thus. Faith is not some substitute for righteousness that God mercifully accepts in lieu of law-keeping because we have failed at that. No, faith is and always was the true righteousness, the "righteousness of God." St. Paul, in Romans 9, tells us specifically that the Jews fell from righteousness precisely by seeking it by following the Law. Because "they sought it not by faith," they failed to attain to "the righteousness of God" -- and failed even to attain to the righteousness of the Law, besides. (Notice, that in telling us this, St. Paul is in effect debunking any theory that the Jewish failure was something mysteriously fore-ordained by the inscrutable will of God! God foreknew it, but never caused it and certainly never willed it.)

So is following the Law not a good thing to do? That's not the point. The Law is good and holy, but Christ has now sent the Holy Spirit. If you have been Chrismated, sealed with the Holy Spirit, and if you are attentive to Him and obey His promptings in your heart (always under the supervision of your spiritual father or mother, of course), you have little or no need for any law. The Holy Spirit will lead your steps aright. He will never lead you into sin. The Law was for following before the Day of Pentecost. But we now follow the Spirit.

Following the Law cannot save you.

Why not? Because you can never keep it perfectly? That too, but the matter goes deeper than that. The problem with the Law as savior is that there is no Life in it. It's only a legal, verbal icon of Life, of Truth, of Righteousness, of Christ. It's an example of typology. This means that even if you could keep the Law perfectly, it is powerless to save you. "If there had been a law given which could have given life, indeed righteousness should have been by the law," says St. Paul. But there is no such law. The Law cannot raise you from the dead. Only Christ can. One must rely upon Him rather than upon law-keeping. In other words, you must have faith.

Faith always was the true righteousness. Abraham believed God, and God counted it to him for righteousness - because it was righteousness.

Quinn David Little

Born 2-21-2009 @6:08pm, Pacific Time
7lbs3oz. 19inches tall

He's my fourth grand nephew, and we're all so pleased his middle name is David, after my father!

Friday, February 20, 2009

My Grandnephew Arrives Today

Grace's baby, due supposedly on February 10, still hasn't made his appearance, or at least hadn't last I heard. (For a laugh, check out Grace's baby ticker here.) As my sister Wendy (his grandmother) wrote, "If he doesn't cooperate, Friday is the day they will change his mind." That's today. Somtime today, little Quinn Little will arrive. Happy birthday, Quinn! Congratulations, Grace and Aaron! Send photos!

And happy belated birthday to you, Wendy! Too bad he didn't come on your birthday Wednesday. But so what? It's no doubt for the best.

It means that by the end of today, Wendy and I will be tied in the Grandmother Stakes, at four apiece.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

More Little Items of Syntax ..

...we may as well clear up once and for all...

1.) The difference between "loan" and "lend" is really very simple. "Loan" is a noun.

This bank issued bad loans.
I have paid off the loan.
Do you need a mortgage loan? (Good luck!)

"Lend" is a verb.

Please lend me a fiver.
Lend to others, expecting nothing in return. Unless you are a bank.
I have lent him my car during his visit.

"Loan" is never a verb. Do not say, "She loaned me her hat." She lent you her hat.

2.) The difference between "inauguration" and "inaugural" is again that they are different parts of speech. "Inauguration" is a noun, while "inaugural" is an adjective.

Do not say, "I attended President Obama's inaugural" or, "Order your plate today, commemorating the historic inaugural!" You attended his inauguration; the plate commemorates the inauguration.

At the inauguration, you heard the president's inaugural speech. Then afterward, you went to an inaugural ball.

Hint: if it's the last word of a sentence or clause, the word you want is "inauguration."

Romans 9 Expounded by St. John Chrysostom

Recently, I re-read St. John Chrysostom’s homily on the Epistle to the Romans, Chapter 9, and it left me stunned. What depth of spirituality he shows, in St. Paul and in himself! What virtuosity of intellect! This is truly a spiritual and intellectual tour de force. I have to share it with you.

However, it’s very long. St. John does this on purpose, as he explains at the end, in order not “to break off the continuity of the context, and so spoil the clearness of the statements.” Not breaking the train of thought seems very wise, so I shall likewise try to sketch out for you some of St. John's main points in a single post, which will still be very long. In doing so, I’m leaving out more than half of the gems in this sermon and re-arranging some of them a bit. There is *no way* this outline can do justice to the homily or to St. Paul, but I hope it may whet your appetite to read the entire homily.

St. Paul’s topic in this chapter is to deal with the scandal surrounding the fact that the Chosen People, the Jews, had rejected Christ, while the Gentiles, spiritual nobodies, had embraced Him. This is the subject, this is the context.

I'm putting St. John's words in italics, while my own few notes are in brackets and indented.

Homily XVI

Ver. 1, 2, 3. “I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost. That I have a great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren's sake, my kinsmen according to the flesh.”

He means, if it were possible to be separated from the company about Christ, and to be made an alien, not from the love of Him (that be far from him; for even all this he was doing through love), but from all that enjoyment and glory, I would accept that lot, provided my Master were not to be blasphemed, that He might not have to hear some saying, that it has been all for stage-effect; He promises to one, and gives to another. He was sprung from one race, He saved another. It was to the forefathers of the Jews that He made the promises, and yet He has deserted their descendants, and put men, who never at any time knew Him, into their good things. They labored in the practice of the Law, and reading the Prophets, while men who have come but yesterday from heathen altars and images have been set up above them. What foresight is there in all this?

Ver. 4, 5. “To whom pertains the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the Law, and the service of God, and the promises; whose are the father’s, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, Who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.”

… all were talking and accusing God, that after being counted worthy of the name of sons, and receiving the Law, and knowing Him beyond all men, and enjoying such great glory, and serving him beyond the whole world, and receiving the promises, and being from fathers who were His friends, and what was the greatest thing of all, having been forefathers of Christ Himself … they are now cast out and disgraced; and in their place are introduced men who had never known Him, of the Gentiles. Now since they said all this, and blasphemed God, Paul hearing it, and being cut to the heart, and vexed for God’s glory’s sake, wished that he were accursed, had it been possible, so that they might be saved, and this blasphemy be put a stop to, and God might not seem to have deceived the offspring of those to whom He promised the gifts.

Ver. 6, 7. “Not as though the word of God had taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, that are of Israel: neither, because they are Abraham's seed, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. ”

That they may not say (he means) that the promise of God has fallen to the ground, and He has disappointed us of that He vouched to us, and this word has not issued in deed, I could wish to be accursed.

Now when you come to know of what kind the seed of Abraham is, you will see that the promise is given to his seed, and know that the word has not fallen to the ground. Of what kind, pray, is the seed then? It is no saying of mine, he means, but the Old Testament itself explains itself by saying as follows, “In Isaac shall thy seed be called.” (Gen. xxi. 12.) What is, “In Isaac?” Explain.

[Before St. John explains, we need to recall the story of Isaac’s birth. His mother, Sarah, had been barren all her life, and was decades past menopause, when God promised she would bear Abraham a son. In other words, it was a miraculous conception and birth.]

Ver. 8. “That is, they which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise, these are counted for the seed.”

In interpreting, he [St. Paul] does not say, “they which are the children of the flesh, these are not “the children of Abraham,” but, “the children of God:” so blending the former things with the present, and showing that even Isaac was not merely Abraham’s son. And what he means is something of this sort: as many as have been born as Isaac was, they are sons of God, and of the seed of Abraham. And this is why he said, “in Isaac shall your seed be called.” That one may learn that they who are born after the fashion of Isaac, these are in the truest sense Abraham’s children. In what way was Isaac born then? Not according to the law of nature, not according to the power of the flesh, but according to the power of the promise. What is meant then by the power of “the promise?”

Ver. 9. “At this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son.”

This promise then and word of God it was that fashioned Isaac, and begat him. For what if a womb was its instrument and the belly of a woman? Since it was not the power of the belly, but the might of the promise that begat the child. Thus are we also gendered by the words of God. Since in the pool of water it is the words of God which generate and fashion us. For it is by being baptized into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost that we are gendered. And this birth is not of nature, but of the promise of God. (John iii. 3; Eph. v. 26; James i. 18; 1 Pet. iii. 21.)

[First conclusion: the true sons of Abraham are his spiritual sons, not simply his fleshly ones. Abraham had numerous sons. He had Ishmael, the father of the Arabs, by Hagar, his wife’s slave, and several other sons by another wife, Keturah. Yet Isaac was the chosen one. He was the true spiritual son. Isaac, by his wife, Rebecca, fathered twin sons, Jacob (a.k.a., Israel) and Esau, father of a Gentile tribe called the Edomites.]

But if the Jews were to say, that the words, “In Isaac shall thy seed be called,” mean this, that those born of Isaac should be reckoned to him for a seed, then the Edomites too, and all those people, ought to be denominated his sons, since their forefather Esau was a son of his. But now so far are they from being called sons, that they are the greatest possible aliens. You see then that it is not the children of the flesh that are the children of God, but that even in nature itself the generation by means of baptism from above was sketched out beforehand. And if you tell me of the womb, I in return have to tell you of the water. But as in this case all is of the Spirit, so in the other all was of promise.

[Now we turn to two thorny questions raised by the Gentiles having found God, while the Jews did not. The first question is, are the Gentiles somehow supposed to be more worthy than the Jews? Aren’t we all equally unworthy? Yes. (Rom. iii. 23.) “But the new thing is, that when all were unworthy, the Gentiles were saved alone.”

So if it wasn’t on account of some being more worthy than others, we come to the second theological problem, “how come some to be saved, and some to perish?”]

It is because all were not minded to come to Him, since for His part all were saved, for all were called. However, he does not set this down yet awhile, but meets it from an advantageous position … it is by raising other difficulties that he meets the questions raised. Hence he takes no pains to solve the examples which he has brought before us. For he was not answerable for them. But from them he makes his own subject throughout clearer. Why do you feel surprised, he means, that some of the Jews were saved, and some not saved at this time? Why of old, in the patriarch’s times, one may see this happening. For why was Isaac only called the seed, and yet he [Abraham] was the father of Ishmael also, and of several others.

Ver. 10. “And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac.”

[If St. Paul’s opponents say Isaac was chosen instead of Ishmael because “he (Ishmael) was of a mother that was a slave,” St. John replies:]

Let this son be set aside on his mother’s account. What are we to say of those sprung from Keturah? Were they not free, and from a mother that was free? How came they not to be honored with the same preference as Isaac? And why do I speak of these? for Rebecca was even Isaac’s only wife, and bearing two children she bore them both to Isaac; still those so born, though of the same father, and the same mother, and the fruit of the same labor, being both of one father and one mother, and twins besides, yet did not enjoy the same lot. And yet here you have no mother’s slavery to account for it, as in Ishmael’s case, nor can you say that one was begotten of this womb and the other of a different one, as in the case of Keturah and Sarah, since in this case they had the same hour in common to them for their birth. This was why Paul then, in order to give a clearer example, says that this happened not in Isaac’s case only, “but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac.”

Ver. 11–13. “For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calls, it was said unto her, the elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.”

What was the cause then why one was loved and the other hated? why was it that one served, the other was served? It was because one was wicked, and the other good. And yet the children being not yet born, one was honored and the other condemned. For when they were not as yet born, God said, “the elder shall serve the younger.” With what intent then did God say this? Because He does not wait, as man does, to see from the issue of their acts the good and him who is not so, but even before these He knows which is the wicked and which not such.

And this took place in the Israelites’ case also, in a still more wonderful way. Why, he says, do I speak of Esau and of Jacob, of whom one was wicked and the other good? For in the Israelites’ case, the sin belonged to all, since they all worshipped the calf. Yet notwithstanding some had mercy shown them, and others had not.

Ver. 15. “For I will have mercy, He says, on whom I will have mercy, and I will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.” (Ex. xxxiii. 19.)

This one may see also in the case of those who are punished, for what would you say of Pharaoh who was punished, and had to pay so heavy a penalty? You say he was hardened and disobedient. Was he then alone such, and not even one person else? How came he then to be so severely punished? Why even in the case of the Jews did he call that a people which was no people, or again, why not count all worthy of equal honor? “For if they be” (it says) “as the sand of the sea, yet shall a remnant be saved.” (Is. x. 22.) And why is it to be only a remnant? You see what difficulty he has filled the subject with. And with great propriety. For when you have power to throw your adversary into perplexity, do not at once bring forward the answer … Now tell me, O Jew, that has so many perplexing questions, and are unable to answer any of them, how you come to annoy us on account of the call of the Gentiles?

I, however, have a good reason to give you why the Gentiles were justified and ye were cast out. And what is the reason? It is that they are of faith, you are of the works of the Law. And it is owing to this obstinacy of yours that you have in every way been given up. For, “they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.” (Rom. x. 3.) The clearing up then of the whole passage, to give the whole sense summarily, is here brought out by that blessed person …what the blessed Paul aimed at was, to show by all that he said that God only knows who are worthy, and no man whatever knows, even if he seem to know ever so well, but that in this sentence of his there are sundry aberrations. For He that knows the secrets of the hearts, He only knows for a certainty who deserve a crown, and who punishment and vengeance. Hence it is that many of those, by men esteemed good, He convicts and punishes, and those suspected to be bad He crowns, after showing it not to be so; thus forming his sentence not after the judgment of us slaves, but after his own keen and uncorrupt decision, and not waiting for the issue of actions to look at the wicked and him who is not so from these.

You see how this happens not in Abraham’s case only, but also in that of his son himself, and how it is faith and virtue in all cases that is conspicuous, and gives the real relationship its character. For hence we learn that it is not only from the manner of birth, but owing to their being worthy of the father’s virtue, that the children are called children of him. For if it were only owing to the manner of the birth, then ought Esau to have enjoyed the same as Jacob did. For he also was from a womb as good as dead, and his mother was barren. Yet this was not the only thing required, but the character too, which fact contributes no common amount of practical instruction for us. And he does not say that one is good and another bad, and so the former was honored; lest this kind of argument should be wielded against him, “What, are those of the Gentiles good men rather than those of the circumcision?” For even supposing the truth of the matter was so, still he does not state it yet, as that would have seemed to be vexatious. But it is upon God’s knowledge that he has cast the whole, and this no one would venture to gainsay, though he were ever so frantic. And he shows that noble birth after the flesh is of no avail, but we must seek for virtue of soul, which even before the works of it God knows of. For “the children,” he says, “being not yet born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, it was said unto her that the elder shall serve the younger:” for this was a sign of foreknowledge, that they were chosen from the very birth. That the election made according to foreknowledge, might be manifestly of God, from the first day He at once saw and proclaimed which was good and which not. Do not then tell me that you have read the Law (he means) and the Prophets, and have been a servant for such a long time. For He that knows how to assay the soul, knows which is worthy of being saved. Yield then to the incomprehensibleness of the election. For it is He alone Who knows how to crown aright.

Ver. 14. “What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.”

Ver. 15. For he says to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.”

God, he means, said that “the elder shall serve the younger,” before the travail. What then? “Is God unrighteous?” By no means. Now listen to what follows also. For in that case the virtue or the vice, might be the decisive thing. But here [in the story to which St. Paul alludes] there was one sin on which all the Jews joined, that of the molten calf, and still some were punished, and some were not punished. And this is why He says, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” (Ex. xxxiii. 19: observe context.) For it is not yours to know, O Moses, he means, which are deserving of My love toward man, but leave this to Me. But if Moses had no right to know, much less have we. And this is why he did not barely quote the passage, but also called to our minds to whom it was said.

Ver. 16, 17. “So then it is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy .For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.”

As then in the one case, he means, some were saved and some were punished, so here also. This man was reserved for this very purpose. And then he again urges the objection.

Ver. 18, 19. “Therefore He has mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardens. You will say then unto me, Why does he then find fault? For who has resisted His will?”

See what pains he takes to embarrass the subject in every way. And the answer he does not produce forthwith, it being a useful thing not to do so, but he first stops the disputant’s mouth, saying as follows,

Ver. 20. “Nay but, O man, who are you that replies against God?”

This he does to take down the objector’s unseasonable inquisitiveness, and excessive curiosity, and to put a check upon it, and teach him to know what God is, and what man, and how incomprehensible His foreknowledge is, and how far above our reason, and how obedience to Him in all points is binding ... And he does not say, it is impossible to answer questions of this kind, but that it is presumptuous to raise them. For our business is to obey what God does, not to be curious even if we do not know the reason of them. Wherefore he said, “Who are you that replies against God?” You see how very light he makes of him, how he bears down his swelling spirit!

Ver. 20, 2l. “Shall the thing formed say to Him that formed it, Why have You made me thus? Has not the potter (Read Jer. xviii. 1–10) power, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor?”

Here it is not to do away with free-will that he says this, but to show, up to what point we ought to obey God. For in respect of calling God to account, we ought to be as little disposed to it as the clay is. For we ought to abstain not from gainsaying or questioning only, but even from speaking or thinking of it at all, and to become like that lifeless matter, which follows the potter’s hands, and lets itself be drawn about anywhere he may please. And this is the only point he applied the illustration to, not, that is, to any enunciation of the rule of life, but to the complete obedience and silence enforced upon us.

And this we ought to observe in all cases, that we are not to take the illustrations quite entire, but after selecting the good of them, and that for which they were introduced, to let the rest alone. As, for instance, when he says, “He couched, he lay down as a lion;” (Numb. xxiv. 9) let us take the indomitable and fearful part, not the brutality, nor any other of the things belonging to a lion. ... So also here must we single out the clay, the potter, and the vessels. And when he does go on to say, “Has not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor?” do not suppose that this is said by Paul as an account of the creation, nor as implying a necessity over the will, but to illustrate the sovereignty and difference of dispensations; for if we do not take it in this way, various incongruities will follow, for if here he were speaking about the will, and those who are good and those not so, He will be Himself the Maker of these, and man will be free from all responsibility. And at this rate, Paul will also be shown to be at variance with himself, as he always bestows chief honor upon free choice. There is nothing else then which he here wishes to do, save to persuade the hearer to yield entirely to God, and at no time to call Him to account for anything whatever… as I said before, one must take this illustration to have one bearing only, which is that one should not contravene God, but yield to His incomprehensible Wisdom ... And then he introduces his answer. Now what is the answer?

Ver. 22, 23, 24. “What if God, willing to show His wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had before prepared unto glory, even us, whom He has chosen, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles.”

What he means is somewhat as follows. Pharaoh was a vessel of wrath, that is, a man who by his own hard-heartedness had kindled the wrath of God. For after enjoying much long-suffering, he became no better, but remained unimproved. Wherefore he calls him not only “a vessel of wrath,” but also one “fitted for destruction.” That is, fully fitted indeed, but by his own proper self. For neither had God left out any of the things likely to recover him, nor did he [Pharaoh] leave out any of those that would ruin him, and put him beyond any forgiveness. Yet still, though God knew this, “He endured him with much long-suffering,” being willing to bring him to repentance. For had He not willed this, then He would not have been thus long-suffering. But as he [Pharaoh] would not use the long-suffering in order to repentance, but fully fitted himself for wrath, He used him for the correction of others, through the punishment inflicted upon him making them better, and in this way setting forth His power. For that it is not God’s wish that His power be so made known, but in another way, by His benefits, namely, and kindnesses, he had shown above in all possible ways. But after that He had shown long-suffering, that He might lead to repentance, but he did not repent, He suffered him a long time, that He might display at once His goodness and His power, even if that man were not minded to gain anything from this great long-suffering. As then by punishing this man, who continued incorrigible, He showed His power, so by having pitied those who had done many sins but repented, He manifested His love toward man.

But it does not say, love towards man, but glory, to show that this [his love] is especially God’s glory, and for this He was above all things earnest. But in saying, “which He had before prepared unto glory,” he does not mean that all is God’s doing. Since if this were so, there were nothing to hinder all men from being saved. But he is setting forth again His foreknowledge, and doing away with the difference between the Jews and the Gentiles ... For it was not in the case of the Jews only that some men perished, and some were saved, but with the Gentiles also this was the case … As then Pharaoh became a vessel of wrath by his own lawlessness, so did these become vessels of mercy by their own readiness to obey. For though the more part is of God, still they also have contributed themselves some little. Whence he does not say either, vessels of well-doing, or vessels of boldness, but “vessels of mercy,” to show that the whole is of God. For the phrase, “it is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs,” even if it comes in the course of the objection, still, were it said by Paul, would create no difficulty. Because when he says, “it is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs,” he does not deprive us of free-will, but shows that all is not one’s own, for that it requires grace from above. For it is binding on us to will, and also to run: but to confide not in our own labors, but in the love of God toward man. And this he has expressed elsewhere. “Yet not I, but the grace which was with me.” (1 Cor. xv. 10.)

... Whence then are some vessels of wrath, and some of mercy? Of their own free choice. God, however, being very good, shows the same kindness to both. For it was not those in a state of salvation only to whom He showed mercy, but also Pharaoh, as far as His part went. For of the same long-suffering, both they and he had the advantage. And if he was not saved, it was quite owing to his own will: since, as for what concerns God, he had as much done for him as they who were saved.

Ver. 25. “I will call them My people, which were not My people; and her beloved, which was not beloved.”

Here to prevent their saying, that you are deceiving us here with specious reasoning, he calls Hosea to witness, who cries and says, “I will call them My people, who were not My people.” (Hos. ii. 23.) Who then are the not-people? Plainly, the Gentiles. And who the not-beloved? The same again. However, he says, that they shall become at once people, and beloved, and sons of God.

Ver. 26. “For even they shall be called,” he says, “the children of the living God.”

Having then done with Hosea, he does not content himself with him only, but also brings Isaiah in after him. sounding in harmony with him.

Ver. 27. “For Isaiah,” he says, “cries concerning Israel.”

That is, speaks out boldly, and uses no dissimulation. Why then lay a charge against us, when they [the prophets] before declared the same thing with more than trumpet’s loudness? And what does Isaiah cry? “Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved.” (Is. x. 22.)

Do you see that he too does not say that all are to be saved, but that those that are worthy shall? For I regard not the multitude, he means, but those only do I save that yield themselves worthy of it. And he does not mention the “sand of the sea” without a reason, but to remind them of the ancient promise whereof they had made themselves unworthy. Why then are you troubled, as though the promise had failed, when all the Prophets show that it is not all that are to be saved? Then he mentions the mode of the salvation also. Observe the accuracy of the Prophet, and the judgment of the Apostle, what a testimony he has cited, how exceedingly apposite! For it not only shows us that those to be saved are some and not all, but also adds the way they are to be saved. How then are they to be saved, and how will God count them worthy of the benefit?

Ver. 28. “He will finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness,” he says, “because a short work will the Lord make upon the earth.” (Ib. 23, LXX.)

What he means then is something of this sort. There is no need of fetching a circuit, and of trouble, and the vexation of the works of the Law, for the salvation is by a very short way. For such is faith, it holds salvation in a few short words. “For if you shall confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in your heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved.” (Rom. x. 9.) Now you see what this, “the Lord shall make a short word (LXX. lit.) upon earth,” is. And what is indeed wonderful is, that this short word carries with it not salvation only, but also righteousness.

Ver 29. “And as Isaiah said before, Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we had been as Sodom, and had been made like unto Gomorrha.” (Is. i. 9.)

Here again he shows another thing, that not even those few were saved from their own resources. For they too would have perished, and met with Sodom’s fate, that is, they would have had to undergo utter destruction (for they of Sodom were also destroyed root and branch, and left not even the slightest remnant of themselves,) and they too, he means, would have been like these, unless God had used much kindness to them, and had saved them by faith.

Ver. 30, 31. “What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith. But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness.”

Here at last is the clearest answer … he does not speak [first] of faith either, and the righteousness ensuing thereon, but shows that before the faith even, on their own ground they [the Jews] were worsted and condemned. For you, O Jew, he says, have not found even the righteousness which was by the Law. For you have transgressed it, and become liable to the curse. But these that came not through the Law, but by another road, have found a greater righteousness than this, that, namely, which is of faith. … Having then thrust his hearer into perplexity, he proceeds to give a concise answer, and tells him the cause of all that is said. When then is the cause?

Ver. 32. “Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the Law.”

This is the clearest answer in the passage, which if he had said immediately upon starting, he would not have gained so easy a hearing. But since it is after many perplexities, and preparations, and demonstrations that he sets it down, and after using countless preparatory steps, he has at last made it more intelligible, and also more easily admitted. For this he says is the cause of their destruction: “Because it was not by faith, but as it were by the works of the Law,” that they wished to be justified. And he does not say, “by works,” but, “as it were by the works of the Law,” to show that they had not even this righteousness. “For they stumbled at that stumbling-stone;”

Ver. 33. “As it is written, Behold I lay in Zion a stumbling-stone, and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed.”

You see again how it is from faith that the boldness comes, and the gift is universal; since it is not of the Jews only that this is said, but also of the whole human race. For every one, he would say, whether Jew, or Grecian, or Scythian, or Thracian, or whatsoever else he may be, will, if he believes, enjoy the privilege of great boldness.

[Summary: All have sinned. But God counts as worthy to be saved by Him those who seek Him in good faith, by faith, not those who arrogantly think to put God under obligation. (More technically, there is *no way* to save those who lack faith, for that is a contradiction in terms.) And this has been the case all along, from the very beginning.]

P.S.) Matthew Gallatin is currently doing a series on Romans 9, which I believe is also worth your time.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

More on Abortion

The arguments in favor of abortion are so duplicitous. Well, okay, not all of them are. Some of them spring from genuine, if misguided, compassion for the pregnant woman. But the arguments I'm specifically thinking of are the one about a woman's rights, and the one about how the fetus is not really a human being yet, supposedly. Gimma a break!

Abortion isn't just about a woman's body. Yes, the baby is developing within her body, but it isn't her body (usually) being destroyed; it's someone else's! How does anybody have that "right"?

Yes, women have a choice; in fact, they have lots of choices. But those choices are made before the pregnancy begins. There is no right to choose once the baby is conceived.

But is that creature inside the mother really a baby, really a human being? When do we become fully human? The Orthodox answer is that we become fully human when we fully resemble Jesus Christ, for He is our measure of true personhood. That means none of us is fully human yet.

But we still aren't supposed to kill one another.

About Abortion

I had to share this outstanding little speech from a twelve-year-old, which I got from Byzantine Dixie, who in turn got it from Carolina Cannonball. Thank you, ladies. Please take the 5 minutes to watch this. It's so important, and so well said!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

"Preventing Foreclosures"

That is one of the slogans painted on a huge bus I passed on the Interstate today, on my way home from a visit to my mom. "Hope for Homeowners" was another. Intrigued, I came home and typed in the website address also painted on the bus. If you think you may be in danger of foreclosure anytime soon, act now. Check out this site, find one of their counselors. It's a FREE service.

Pinkie Squirrels Report

The three pinkie squirrels I took in on Wednesday night are all thriving. They are now, at about 9 days old, more gray than pink. "Graylings," we call them. If you look very carefully, with your glasses on, in strong light, you can see tiny whiskers beginning to grow, but so far they are very short.

The once perfectly smooth skin over their eyeballs has now developed a faint horizontal line, which is gradually becoming an indentation. Later, it will become the eye slit, dividing the upper from the lower eyelids.

The babies' ears are also shut for now. That's to say, just as there are no openings over the eyes, so there are no holes in the ears. They have ear flaps, of course, but no openings to the inside, no ear holes. Those will develop later.

They are eating well and can be fed less often now. They are down to 6 feedings a day; that's every four hours, and yes, that's around the clock. The smallest baby takes about six-tenths of a cc; the largest, a full cc; the middle-sized one, something in between.

Their box contains a very soft cloth sold in auto parts stores for cleaning a car. (But their cloth has never been used for anything but baby creatures like themselves.) The box sits half on and half off a heating pad, allowing the babies to move to the warmer or cooler side as they please. They always prefer the warmer side, though.

Right now, they're snoozing as usual, and I'm off to the grocery store so I can be back before their next feeding and not even have to rush. Ahhh!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Wrong Side of the Parable

Few things are as disconcerting as to find yourself identifying with the wrong character in one of the Parables. You know, when you realize the person Jesus is blasting, that's you.

Today it was the Prodigal Son. I've already written about that, but here's an excerpt:

The story of the Prodigal Son used to make me quite angry on behalf of the elder brother. Not that I faulted the father for killing the fatted calf, but to do that after never even having offered the “good son” so much as a kid to make merry with his friends! I thought the elder brother had an excellent point.

Demetrios, of course, set me straight on all that. He reminded me that the older son is the type of the Pharisee, outwardly good but with a rotten attitude. Instead
of focusing upon external things like partying with his friends, he should have been enjoying his father’s love.

“No, that’s not the point!” I said, hotly. “It’s that the outward things do also matter! They betoken the inward. How come his father, who supposedly loved him so much, never even gave him a kid? Maybe he can deal with that, but then the fatted calf gets killed for his no-good younger brother; that’s too, too much! What is he supposed to think of that?”

“He is supposed to trust his father’s love. He could have had a kid or even the fatted calf any time he wanted; he had only to ask. But being outwardly focused, he wasn’t tuned in to that love. Neither did he love his father. You cannot love someone you do not trust. Had he loved his father, he would have gladly shared his father’s joy.”


Last Sunday it was the Tax Collector (Publican) and the Pharisee, from Luke 18:

10 Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men--extortionists, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.' 13 And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!' 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

So most of my life I have identified with that Pharisee. (And if it were otherwise, I'm sure that upon hearing the Parable, I'd sigh a sigh of relief and think, "Thank God I'm not like that Pharisee!") Like the members of that super-strict sect, I was living by the book. My personal code of morality was high and I took care to live accordingly. I didn’t find it difficult to do. And that being the case, I began to wonder why other people seemed to find it impossible. I never got drunk, so why should he? I didn’t sleep around, so why did she? I was poor, but I paid my taxes, so why didn’t rich people like senators and nominees for high office? I had no problem dressing modestly, so why must this other person dress like a slut?

These questions occurred to me with ever-increasing frequency, and I found my self becoming more and more annoyed with more and more people, and then, one day, I realized I was just like the Pharisee in the Parable. Now of course the whole point of the Parable was, do not be like that Pharisee. I knew that. But what I couldn’t see was any way out of this trap. I really WAS behaving better than most people! Much better. And it wasn’t as if I supposed this was any of my own doing; I knew the thanks belonged to God. But then, so did the Pharisee.

I asked everybody I knew if they could tell me how to get out of this predicament, because being so irritated by so many people was gradually but thoroughly destroying my peace. Nobody could tell me how to overcome this problem. Except one Russian Orthodox priest I had recently met. “Do you know the way out of this?” I asked him.

“Oh, yes, I do indeed,” he replied, his eyes twinkling.

Events, however, intervened in such a way that I never learned the secret from him. (I was still 10 years away from becoming Orthodox.)

Well, I know one secret about that now: the common thread running through all of this is self-righteousness. And sometimes, to bring us to our senses, God allows us to fall into some really huge blooper, some sin big enough - and maybe also public enough! - to embarrass us forever after. It may perhaps be the only cure for some of us.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Putting On: Why do I DO That?

or, Machinations of an Immature Mind

I have forgotten my glasses, and knitting without them makes me see double after awhile. So I sit there knitting with my eyes closed. It isn’t difficult at all; knitting is tactile anyway, and the pattern is simple knit-and-purl.

After a few moments, a woman crosses the waiting room and sits beside me. “That’s a beautiful scarf you’re knitting,” she says.

“Why, thank you.”

“Um, I notice, well, that you – knit with your eyes closed. It’s really astonishing what people can do who – can’t see.”

“Oh, I can see,” I say. It’s only after the words are out I realize my blunder, because now what excuse do I have for knitting with my eyes closed? Showing off? I forgot my glasses and knitting without them makes me cross-eyed? That’s the truth, but it sounds so lame. “I have my sight, God be thanked," I say, "but it’s just – well, I’m not quite used to it yet, and sometimes it’s just easier to do things the way I always did before.”

Oh! That’s wonderful! How long have you been able to see?”

“Oh, it’s going on a year now,” I lie. “But you know, it takes some getting used to. I mean, when I first recovered from the operation, I could see everything, but I didn’t know what anything was. I could look at a triangle, for example, but I had to feel it first to recognize it as a triangle. Just because I knew what it felt like didn’t mean I knew what it looked like. And the same with everything else. Soft, for instance. I couldn’t tell a thing was soft just by looking at it. Still can’t, always.”

“Yes, that makes sense. I remember the man in the Bible who was born blind, and when he got his sight and people asked him what he saw, he said, men like trees, walking around.”

“That’s it. It takes a while to correlate sight and touch. Sight and sound, too. Once…”

Okay, so this didn’t really happen. It was a 15-second figment of my imagination while I was knitting at home with my eyes momentarily shut. But a few years ago, I would have put this one into action! It’s called amusing yourself at someone else’s expense. You rationalize it by saying it isn’t really at anyone else’s expense, because what harm have you done him? Unless of course you are stupid enough to ‘fess up afterward, like the time at the end of the evening when you admitted you hadn’t grown up in the circus after all, had never tamed a single lion. (Your dad hadn’t trained seals, either, and your mom, far from walking tightropes, was scared of heights.) Or the time you showed up at the fraternity party in a borrowed mink, with coats-of-arms sewn onto your white gloves (white gloves at a frat party!), talking in a phony accent, and had yourself introduced around as “Duchess Karolina Theodora vom Hausen Mecklenburg”, and that guy broke off his engagement to date you and tracked you down and uncovered your true identity. But you’ve learned your lesson by now; you would never be dumb enough to confess the lie again, nor ever give out enough information to let yourself be tracked down. You do that and people do get their feelings hurt. But you don't do that now. So where’s the problem? (It doesn’t occur to you that you’ve mentally demoted the person to the status of a toy.)

I inherit it! That’s my excuse. I’m reminded of a time we visited our grandparents’ house. The man next door came to get advice from Mom, because we had owned our poodle a long time, and he had only had his a few months. He was very worried about her. “She never barks,” he said. “She seems okay otherwise, but she just never, ever barks, and we don’t understand. Do you have any idea what’s wrong?”

“Well, Martin,” said Mother, looking very serious, “how old was Fou-fou when you brought her home?”

“Seven weeks.”

“Then that’s the problem. You took her away from her mother too early. You see, that period right in between 8 and 10 weeks, that’s when the mother dog teaches her puppies how to bark. And your puppy missed that crucial time. So I doubt she will ever bark. If I were you, though, I wouldn't worry about it.”

He departed, thanking Mom profusely, and about half an hour later, Grandma called to her from another room. “Barbara, what on earth did you tell Martin Harris?”

“I told him he adopted his puppy before she had learned to bark.”

“Well, you’d better get over here and have a look out the window.”

So Mom went and looked. And there was Mr. Harris in his yard, on all fours, facing his dog and barking at her!

You see? I inherited it. These things just sort of slip out of our mouths before we quite know it and and then we're in the soup.

Lord, have mercy!

P.S. The fraternity brother did get back with his betrothed, and married her.

Happy Valentine's Day

...and may your Valentine not forget it.

Is St. Valentine an Orthodox saint, I wondered? Turns out he is, sort of. We celebrate more than one St. Valentine, on more than one date. Most Orthodox (like me) never heard of him.

I brought this up yesterday while telling my husband I'd just as soon forget Valentine's Day. "Getting a teddy bear means nothing to me," I said, "and I don't need any sappy card to know you love me deeply. You already bring me chocolate all the time anyway, and why pay double for some in a heart-shaped box? As for nighties, I'd prefer to choose -- "

"Flowers are nice, though," he said.

"Flowers are nice, yes."

"Two lovers like us really should celebrate the day somehow. I'll tell you what. Let's go out for dinner."

"No way to get any reservations now."

"No, we'll go Sunday night."

Now that suits me very well! I know the company will be good, and I know there will be google-eyes over the table, and that look, when he looks deep into my eyes and smiles at me, is my sunshine, my joy.

(I took this more than 20 years ago, when his hair was not yet white...)

Friday, February 13, 2009


My neighbor sent me these photos. They seem to be making the rounds. I have no idea who took them, but thought I should share them for your enjoyment. Apparently this sweet (and beautiful) dachshund bitch adopted a piglet named "Pink." As usual, you can click on any photo to enlarge it some.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A Political Thought for Lincoln's Birthday

A government willing to torture anybody -- terrorists, illegal combatants, whomever -- is perfectly willing to torture YOU. And will, the day it thinks it can get away with it and can gain some advantage from doing so.

To think otherwise is pure folly.

Not I!

Another person sharing my same name has come to my attention.

There are at least 4 of us that I know of. One lives in Thessaloniki, of all places, where we also live part of the time! Another is an elderly widow who lives in Charlottesville, Virginia. I discovered her because she goes to one of the same doctors I do, and our medical records became mixed up at one point, which made life interesting for both of us...

Life IS interesting!

(No, my husband is not closely related to any of these. We know that because his family name originally was something like Hatzipapageorgoudis. His great-grandfather wisely changed it to Theodoridis, back when you could change your name simply by, well, by changing it. "Hatzipapageorgoudis" means "son of Father George, the Hadj, a hadj being, for Muslims, someone who has made the pilgrimage to Mecca, but for the Orthodox, someone who has been to Jerusalem. You add the prefix to your name once you arrive back home.)

More Pinkies

(Click to enlarge)
Here are two of Holly's pinkie squirrels, same age as mine. Hers are bruised from falling out of their tree, and wrinkled up from dehydration; mine have smooth skin and no bruises.

But the things to notice here are the white nose and claws on the lefthand boy. Even at this age, claws and noses in squirrels are black.

So we think this is going to be a very unusual white squirrel. His mother is, who was seen just after the nest fell.

We have 13 pinkie squirrels in rehab right now. Holly has 4, Angela has 6, and I have 3.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


This evening, my first three wild babies of the season arrived: three female Gray Squirrels, about 48 hours old, umbilical scabs still attached. They are fat and healthy, had been nursing quite recently, aren't dehydrated. They haven't fallen out of any tree, as have most of the squirrels that come to us; they were found in an attic fan. I suppose these babies were lucky it didn't come on during their brief stay there.

The now full-grown squirrels (2 Gray Squirrels and 4 Flying Squirrels) from last year who wintered over with me are still here, too, to be released hopefully next month.

It feels good to be back to the hand-feeding.

Reflection on What Sin Is

(I Chronicles 28:2-3) Then King David rose to his feet and said, "Hear me, my brethren and my people: I had it in my heart to build a house of rest for the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and for the footstool of our God, and had made preparations to build it. But God said to me, 'You shall not build a house for My name, because you have been a man of war and have shed blood.'”

Here is David, the greatest king Israel ever had, the ancestor of Christ, the protector of Israel who expanded his kingdom into an empire, the mighty warlord, of whom his people used to sing, while they danced, “Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands”. (1 Samuel 18:7, 21:11, 29:5) Here is a “man after God’s own heart” (cf. I Samuel 13:1 4, Acts 13:22), yet God forbids him to fulfill his yearning to build God a temple.

Why? “Because you have been a man of war and have shed blood.” The shedding of blood disqualified him (as it still to this day disqualifies Orthodox men from service at God’s altar as priests). Never mind it had been the Lord Himself who had delivered all King David’s enemies into his hand; never mind he was a great hero precisely for that reason. It wasn’t that he had transgressed the Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill”. For that, he could find plenty of legal and moral justification. But that still higher ideal to which the Commandment pointed, the ideal of peace, of non-violence, of loving your neighbor, and even your enemy, as yourself, was what David had so publicly and so flagrantly fallen short of, that for him to build God’s temple would not have been appropriate.

And this, for the Christian, is the very meaning of sin: to “fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) – with or without legal justification for it.

I once had three ducklings in a pen in my front yard. That lasted only a couple of days before a Red Tailed Hawk swooped down. I saw him beforehand, high overhead, and rushed the ten feet to the enclosure to protect my ducklings, but was too late. Before I even got there, the hawk was soaring over the treetops with one of the ducklings. I spent the rest of the morning adding a top to the enclosure, and then, when the hawk returned, I dared him to try to get one of my ducklings. He stood outside the wire. The remaining two ducklings said, “Mama!” and rushed toward him. Inserting his talons through the chicken wire, he grabbed one. No, he couldn’t get it out. I had prevented that. He failed and flew away, frustrated. So what? The duckling was still dead! And it’s something like that with falling short of the glory of God. I may be newly forgiven and absolved, my conscience now clear; but I’m still standing far, far from my goal, from my God-appointed destiny of being conformed to the image of the Son. I’m still so short of glory. And falling short of glory, of God's glory, that's what sin is.

UPDATE: The Anonymous God Blogger has an interesting post on what repentance is. It wasn't, of course, intended as a companion piece to this one, but IMO, they go together very well.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Sure Path to Disunity

Yesterday, I posted an entry about submitting to one another as the path to unity. A commentator, Mike, wrote to wonder why other Christians don’t do the same thing. Here, I'm only going to write about the case of Protestants, because they, especially, are so notoriously divided.

Well, because – as far as I can see – they cannot. Because the question is, submit to what, or to whom? And, within the context of the Reformation, there doesn’t seem to be any practical answer.

Submit to the Truth, as found in Scripture? Ah, but that’s begging the question, isn’t it, the question being, what is Truth? Contrary to one theory, Scripture does not always interpret itself, although it sometimes does. Nor is Holy Scripture always perfectly clear, as the five hundred years of divisions over it since the Reformation abundantly testify, and Scripture also testifies. (2 Peter 3:16)

It isn’t exactly Sola Scriptura itself that is the source of disunity; it’s another doctrine implicit within it, namely individualism. This is because in practice, Sola Scriptura (no matter which of two or three forms it takes) leaves each private individual as his own final judge and interpreter of both Scripture and church. Thus, in case people disagree on what Scripture means — or even what is really in it – there is no arbiter between the disagreeing parties.

Submit to the consensus of some larger Protestant body, then? It stands to reason that such a hypothetical body, composed of the most respected representatives from many denominations, might be less liable to error than might each individual or each denomination. But before Protestants could submit to this, they would have to have a very high level of confidence that the consensus of the body will be the Truth; otherwise, they would be submitting to tyranny at best, falsehood and tyranny, at worst. Integrity, after all, forbids submitting to falsehood, forbids acting or professing against ones conscience. That’s why they threw off the Pope.

Submit to the teachings of pastors or theologians? They have studied in seminary, haven't they? They seem wise and faithful, don't they? But submit to which ones, since they have different beliefs, even within the same denomination?

Submit to what great saints tell us? But usually, Protestants assume even saints are going by their own opinion only, with the possible exception (depending upon the denomination) of the Apostles. And then, with the Apostles, we’re back to how to interpret the Bible.

Submit to Tradition? They either reject it or, to the extent they accept it, they first cherry-pick, sanitize, and adapt it, formulate agreeable interpretations of it, all ostensibly to accord with Holy Scripture, but in practical terms this means according to what suits my doctrine, what appeals to me, what I think best. In the end, Holy Tradition will be only a caricature of itself, reduced, like everything else, to somebody's private opinion.

It's a cunning trap. I have to admire the neatness of it. All it takes to fall in is to suppose each man is his own arbiter of truth, faith, Church, and Scripture – and the door to unity slams shut. Yet to avoid being your own (fallible!) pope, by definition you have to have something to which or someone to whom each person can submit his varying opinions, solitary revelations, conflicting interpretations, questions, disagreements and private judgment. Searching for that within Protestantism, I am stymied. I marvel that these separated denominations can’t seem to see that this individualism, promulgated chiefly via Sola Scriptura, was guaranteed, from the beginning, to cause fractures and to keep causing them endlessly. What a poison pill individualism is!

Is there any way out? I hope so. Can I come up with any recommendations? No. It seems that to get out of the dilemma would require the oft-mentioned "seismic paradigm shift", akin to the earthquake that released St. Paul from prison.

"First of all you must know this, that no prophecy of scripture is of private interpretation." (2 Peter 1:20) [No, that Greek word for "interpretation" does not, alternatively, mean "origin". It means resolution.]

Vada's Afghan

Our dear friend Vada was still a newlywed when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, plunging the United States into World War II and changing her life forever. She and Sloan, her husband of less than a year, were both pre-med students. But after Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the Navy and went off to war; he was there to witness the famous flag-planting on Iwo Jima. Vada worked with the military producing propaganda films. Neither of them ever became physicians.

Anyway, it was then, so the story goes, that, to fill the lonely hours, Vada decided to learn crochet. Somebody taught her a few basic stitches. She found a pattern in a magazine, a patchwork of snowflakes on a blue background, and made all the large patches and a couple dozen of the small ones.

But then the baby came, and the unfinished afghan was consigned to the back of a closet.

Eventually the war ended and more babies followed, and the patches and the yarn still stayed in a succession of closets.

The babies grew up and had children and grandchildren of their own. Sloan died in his late eighties.

And about 3 years ago, Vada came upon her unfinished throw. But by then she had long since forgotten whatever she used to know about crochet. So I said I'd finish it for her, and she brought me the 60-year-old squares, the 60-year-old yarn, the 60-year old magazine article with pattern and instructions, even the same crochet hook she had used.

I'm ashamed to say all these have lain in my closet these three years, worked on only sporadically. Crocheting scores more of those small squares is tedious; weaving in all the yarn ends is even more so; and the fact that it's somebody else's work only makes the boredom more acute.

But I'm enormously pleased to announce that, this morning, I at last finished the brand-new yet already-antique afghan. With some of the left-over yarn, I even put a lacy, white border around it, thinking, "How I love crochet! My hook flashes in and out - not as fast as Barbara's used to, but still quickly - and from my hands falls lace!"

Well, that's the story, and it's a pretty good one, I thought, which is why I've shared it with you.

Too bad that when I scanned in the picture for you, a page from the magazine, and clicked on it to enlarge it, I realized that either I had misunderstood, or else Vada has misremembered. The afghan is only 30 years old, not 60.

Oh, well. For Vada, I'm still very glad to have finished it. Now I'm going to go buy a small pillow with which to stuff the matching pillow cover.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Path to Unity

The Orthodox way of doing things is to submit to one another in the fear of God. (Eph. 5:21). Or, again, "All of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble." (I Peter 5:5) An Orthodox Christian does not assume he can know anything by his own effort alone, or is competent to interpret the Scriptures by himself or worthy to judge anything. He consults his brothers and sisters, especially those in whom the Life of Christ is most manifest, the saints, including (via their writings) those who have gone to their rest.

If an Orthodox Christian has trouble accepting anything, he assumes not that the teaching, but that his sin-clouded reason is at fault. He keeps searching for enlightenment. He knows from experience that God will show him the answer in due course, and the answer will satisfy his whole being, spirit, soul, mind and heart. He knows the answer will bring peace, release, joy, and an infusion of new life. He knows he will come to understand where he had gone wrong, and why. He keeps praying, reading the Scriptures and other writings, and keeps asking those who are holier than himself until this happens.

If he hears God speaking to him in his heart during prayer, he does not assume it is God. He considers that he is unworthy to receive direct revelation from God. Therefore, the "revelation" is more likely to be from the Satan, who can masquerade as an angel of light. Even if it came from God, the Orthodox Christian considers it likely he may have misinterpreted it in his sin-scarred mind. Thus, instead of saying, "Jesus told me…", he runs to his spiritual father, confesses what has happened, and seeks guidance.

In such ways as these, we seek and find consensus not only with our brothers and sisters on earth, but with our departed predecessors in the Faith. This path, the path of humble submission each to the other, has worked for us for two millennia.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Which Way to the Bedroom Bathroom?

or, I Thought I Was Over it, but I'm Not

Do you feel yourself desperate to be
In two different places at once?
Do you feel you'd rather not see
What comes out of your mouth or your bunce?
Do you wish you could take a shower,
For your innards have all turned to mud,
But to stand there you haven't the power?
You, Sir or Madame, have The Crud.

Startling Insight

My husband has several Muslim colleagues at work. One of them, a woman named Shaheen, has been trying for years to convert him (a most amusing idea for anyone who knows Demetrios very well). Another, at lunch yesterday, mentioned how happy everybody had always been whenever they were under Islamic rule. This is the kind of "history" he had been taught - and he is a highly educated man, a physician.

Shocked may be too strong a word, but this man was quite surprised, at least, when Demetrios disabused him of that notion.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

We Base Everything Upon Scripture

I must be feeling cranky today, perhaps because I'm just getting over The Crud (that 24-hour digestive bug), but I've gotta say this, because it, too, is bugging me today.

I don't usually cover my head in church and have no idea why so many priests don't require it any more, and I can't think of any valid excuse for myself, either. It's a practice clearly mandated in Scripture, by the great and glorious St. Paul, no less.

It usually doesn't occur to me. But when it invariably does is when someone tries to tell me his or her denomination goes strictly and only by Scripture, period.

And don't even get me started on all the things not mandated or even implied in Scripture that most of us do anyway, like Sunday School, choir robes, flowers on the altar, candles, kneelers, stained glass windows, pews...

Who do you know who goes strictly by his or her interpretation of Scripture? Some of the Friends, perhaps, or the Amish or Mennonites? Anybody else?

Clearing up a Couple of Points

Recently, I wrote a post about how there is no such thing as being "on our own" or "apart from God," although there is indeed such a thing as "apart fom faith".

Now I'd like to point out two similar straw men that come up fairly regularly.

First Straw Man:

It's true the Orthodox do not exercise "private judgment", but this is not because we are required to kow-tow to the corporate judgment of the Church. Instead, it is because, in the Church, there is no such thing as "private judgment". We can, do, must excersise personal judgment, of course, but it is never anything like private. This is because of the nature of the communion the Holy Spirit gives us in Christ, in the saints and in one another, one Body, one Heart, one Mind, one Love, one Life. His Life is Mine is the English title of one of Archimandrite Sophrony's books; but so is your life mine; and my life also is yours, in the Church. Even a convert's becoming Orthodox is never a private decision. It involves the penitent, his spiritual father, his parish, and the whole Church on earth and in heaven. Above all, it involves the Holy Spirit.

We don't "surrender" our personal judgment to the Church, either. We are allowed humbly, prayerfully, to wrestle with issues all we like, until the Holy Spirit gives us to understand for ourselves, until we no longer need to take anybody else's word for it. We are not expected merely to capitulate.

Second Straw Man:

There is such thing as the Church setting up false doctrine or setting up doctrine "on her own" or of her own initiative. A body doing this has ceased beforehand to be the Church, or else never was. The Church, the Body of Christ, is always animated by the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit. Does this mean you will never hear anything false coming from an Orthodox pulpit, or read anything false in an Orthodox publication? I wish! No; it means falsehoods come from certain people or groups within the Church, but they do not accord with Christian teaching. True Christian doctrine is what has been believed from the beginning.

Is a doctrine true because the Church says it, or does the Church say it because under the guidance of the Holy Spirit she has recognized it to be true? The latter, of course, technically. But in practice, in the true Church, these two turn out to be equivalent.

Monday, February 2, 2009

More on Yesterday's Epistle

29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. (Romans 8:29-30)

There are only three ways I can think of to interpret “whom He foreknew”.

1.) It means nothing.

2.) It means God knew some people, but not others. How could that be, if God is all-knowing?

3.) It means God knew ahead of time who, throughout human history, would want / not reject Him, and predestined these to become like Jesus Christ. (Because of course – here comes a tautology – you can’t be one with Him except insofar as you are made like Him; viz., compatible with Him.)

On Yesterday's Epistle

It’s just hard, for someone raised in the West, especially, to understand very clearly, once for all, that God has no dark side. No dark side. None. “God is love, and he who lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” God isn’t love on the one hand but something else on the other. He is not love but also justice; rather, His justice IS His mighty love in action. He is not love but also holiness, for his love precisely is His holiness. It’s His love, not His fastidiousness, that makes Him all good; it is the God Who is love, before Whom we bow and make solemn processions and stand in awe and cry, “Holy, holy, holy!”. God is love through and through, pure, unadulterated love, period.

Many of us converts to Orthodoxy know this in our heads, yet the image of the angry god persists, to some degree, in our imagination and in our feelings, and yes, it has a deleterious effect upon our ability to relate to Him the way we should. Perhaps it is the image of our own parents that lingers in us, who loved us but still threatened us; perhaps it’s just the feelings inculcated into us when we were young, that take years to dissipate (and only when not stimulated).

To be sure, there are in sacred Scriptures many images of God as vengeance and wrath. These the Church has always taken iconically. They are word pictures, verbal icons, of what will happen to us if we hate God. But icons represent spiritual reality. They show divinized souls rather than camera-accurate bodies. They use inverse perspective to show what our eyes cannot see (three sides of a building, for example). They conflate historical events to make a theological point.

The Scriptural passages about God’s vengeance and wrath are like that. They are spot-on portraits of our souls’ condition if we estrange ourselves from all that is true, lovely, bright, pure, loving, meaningful – all, in short, that makes living worthwhile; for that is what we reject if we reject God. If you do not want God, then physical darkness is an icon of the true darkness you will have chosen. Fire and brimstone (sulphur), prison, earthquakes, pestilence, famine, slaughter, the worm that dies not, these are material icons of the (much worse!) ultimate destruction you yourself gradually wreaked upon your personality, your character, your soul, if you despised Him Who is Love, Life, Truth, Beauty. (I'm not saying some of these didn't happen historically; I am speaking of how the Church interprets and applies them.)

Ours is not a god who is out to get you if you don’t watch out! That's demons you're thinking of. The truth is the opposite; He gives Himself totally to you; and when you come to judgment, the criteria used will not be whether you did this or failed to do that. No, the only real issue will be whether, deep down, you truly want God or not. Nobody who genuinely wants God will be turned away. If you will have Him, He will have you. (And I do not mean anybody will be saved apart from Christ or apart from His Church; but that’s another issue for some other post.)

God really is all that is most dear, most delightful, most beautiful. And He is all these eternally, and nothing contrary to these.

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written:

"For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter."

37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death
nor life,
nor angels
nor principalities
nor powers,
nor things present
nor things to come,
39 nor height
nor depth,
nor any other created thing,
shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(Romans 8:35-39)

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Senior Citizens In the Cardiologist's Waiting Room

(A True Incident That Happened Friday)

Receptionist: How are you today, sir?

Patient: Very, very well. I woke up this morning, my feet hit the floor, the rest of me didn't. That's a very good day!

(General laughter)

Another Patient: Yeah, it's a very good day when we wake up in the morning and we can still walk.

Third Patient: It's a very good day when we wake up in the morning and our plumbing still works correctly.

Fourth Patient: It's a very good day when we wake up in the morning.

Baby Ticker

My niece, Grace, is due to be delivered of a son any day now...

(Baby isn't really rotating at this point, of course. I'll bet Grace feels she's rotating around him, though, every time she walks.)