Monday, November 30, 2009

And Thou Shalt Not be Zapped*

From the Holy Prophet Zechariah (9:9-17)

9 "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your King is coming to you;

And wonder of wonders, thou shalt not be zapped.*

He is just and having salvation,
Lowly and riding on a donkey,
A colt, the foal of a donkey.

And thou shalt not be zapped, even thou thou deservest it, and it saith right here "He is just." To the contrary, ye shall have peace.*

10 I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
And the horse from Jerusalem;
The battle bow shall be cut off.
He shall speak peace to the nations;
His dominion shall be 'from sea to sea,
And from the River to the ends of the earth.'

And thou shalt not be zapped. Thou shalt be rescued.*

11 "As for you also,
Because of the blood of your covenant,
I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.
12 Return to the stronghold,
You prisoners of hope.
Even today I declare
That I will restore double to you.

And thou shalt not be zapped.* In fact, whatever woes your iniquity hath brought upon you, I will make it all good, twice over! But thine enemies shall indeed be zapped. (The Christian, of course, interprets these as spiritual enemies: demons, temptations, and the like.)

13 For I have bent Judah, My bow,
Fitted the bow with Ephraim,
And raised up your sons, O Zion,
Against your sons, O Greece,
And made you like the sword of a mighty man."
14 Then the Lord will be seen over them,
And His arrow will go forth like lightning.
The Lord God will blow the trumpet,
And go with whirlwinds from the south.
15 The Lord of hosts will defend them;
They shall devour and subdue with slingstones.
They shall drink and roar as if with wine;
They shall be filled with blood like basins,
Like the corners of the altar.

And thou shalt not be zapped. Instead, thou shalt be saved.*

16 The Lord their God will save them in that day,
As the flock of His people.

And thou shalt not be zapped. Instead, thou shalt rejoice.*

For they shall be like the jewels of a crown,
Lifted like a banner over His land--
17 For how great is its goodness
And how great its beauty!
Grain shall make the young men thrive,
And new wine the young women.

* However, if thou repentest not, thou shalt not be UNzapped, either. 

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Yes, We Can Prepare Our Hearts for Grace - and are Called To Do It

That's What Advent Is All About.

Did you catch this, from Isaiah 40?

3 The voice of one that crieth in the wilderness:
"Prepare ye the way of the Lord;
Make straight in the desert
A highway for our God."

The desert is our hearts. We can clean up our moral act. We can pray and fast and read Scripture and other spiritual readings. We can strive to forgive and to love and to hope when hope seems all but lost. We can do valiant battle with temptation. We can examine our conscience and try our best to repent; that is, to change course.

We may not win these struggles; it matters little. Our faith is not in our struggles. (Our struggles ARE our faith.)  What matters far more than winning is the struggle itself. That's what shows us our shortcomings, empties our pride, teaches us many other lessons, and prepares us for Grace, when He comes to us. "For by grace are ye saved, through faith..."  (Ephesians 2:8)  Through faith. If our relationship to God matters enough to us to call forth our poor effort, then He will accomplish the rest: 

4 Every valley shall be exalted
And every mountain and hill brought low;
The crooked places shall be made straight
And the rough places smooth.

Or if it doesn't matter that much to us, then for as long as that is true, there is obviously no way to have the intimate, intensely loving relationship with Him, which we call salvation.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Pass Them On; Everybody Needs Them!

Sara (Chocolatesa) posted this, and I loved it, so am passing it on.

ARK (Area Rehabbers Klub) is setting up a free gift-wrapping station at our local Barnes and Noble, hoping for some donations. We'll be displaying some of our educational animals. Maybe I can talk my fellow volunteers into offering free hugs, as well!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

News Items That Make Me Think

There have been two striking tidbits of news on radio and television in the past 2 days, that I thought I should share.

One is that Rom Houben, a man in Belgium, has "awakened" after supposedly having been in a coma 23 years.  Twenty-three years!  That outdoes Rip van Winkle. 

But there's a twist:  it turns out he was fully conscious the whole time.  He could see perfectly well and he heard every word anybody said to him.  He simply couldn't respond.  He had been in a terrible automobile accident and...

Doctors at the time diagnosed Mr Houben as being in a persistent vegetative state after running eye, verbal and motor tests and finding him unresponsive.

The diagnosis remained unchallenged until 2006 when neurologist Steven Laureys conducted hi-tech scans and found Mr Houben's brain was functioning normally.

Using a specially-adapted computer to type messages, Mr Houben has been able to describe the ordeal he endured for more than two decades.

"I cried out, but no-one heard me," he said, "I will never forget the day they discovered me - it was my second birth."
It turns out that about ONE THIRD of patients diagnosed with "persistent vegetative state" are misdiagnosed.  I think that's stunning in its implications.

* * *

The other fascinating news I heard this morning is that some ants have "pedometers" in their brains.  They can count, although not the way you and I do.

How Do Ants Get Home? Most ants get around by leaving smell trails on the forest floor that show other ants how to get home or to food. They squeeze the glands that cover their bodies; those glands release a scent, and the scents in combination create trails the other ants can follow.

That works in the forest, but it doesn't work in a desert. Deserts are sandy and when the wind blows, smells scatter.

So how do desert ants find their way home?

It's already known that ants use celestial clues to establish the general direction home, but how do they know exactly the number of steps to take that will lead them right to the entrance of their nest?

Wolf and Whittlinger trained a bunch of ants to walk across a patch of desert to some food. When the ants began eating, the scientists trapped them and divided them into three groups. They left the first group alone. With the second group, they used superglue to attach pre-cut pig bristles to each of their six legs, essentially putting them on stilts.

The third group had their legs cut off just below the "knees," making each of their six legs shorter.

After the meal and the makeover, the ants were released and all of them headed home to the nest while the scientists watched to see what would happen.

The regular ants walked right to the nest and went inside.

The ants on stilts walked right past the nest, stopped and looked around for their home.

The ants on stumps fell short of the nest, stopped and seemed to be searching for their home.

It turns out that all the ants had walked the same number of steps, but because their gaits had been changed (the stilty ants, like Monty Python creatures, walked with giant steps; the stumpy ants walked in baby steps) they went exactly the distances you'd predict if their brains counted the number of steps out to the food and then reversed direction and counted the same number of steps back. In other words, all the ants counted the same number of steps back!

Ant on "Stilts" Compared With Normal Ant

The ants on "stilts" were tested further, and in time, learned to adjust their "counting" and find their way back to their nest.

Now I don't know about you, but I have a very, very hard time believing this ability is the result of a series of chance mutations. I should think almost anyone would find it easier to believe in God.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Kelly Goes to a Miley Cyrus Concert

...dressed in her Hannah Montana costume, as were her friends and some of their mothers.

That's Kelly and Katherine, Right

Kelly (Shocking Pink) & Friends, Pre-concert Party

At the Concert

Kelly to Katherine:  "Mom, what can I ever do to thank you?"

Monday, November 23, 2009

And Now, the Offer of Pardon

"For she [Jerusalem] has received from the Lord's hand
Double for all her iniquities."

Did you catch that, in Isaiah 40? The evil that has befallen Jerusalem is already double the evils she had committed. Here's a whole city full of sinners, and God somehow adds up every sin each of them had committed, and the corresponding punishment is still measurable, not infinite.

Not infinite.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Thanksgiving Hints for Husbands

Not that it's necessarily your role to help your wife as she struggles to get ready for Thanksgiving, to get the house spit-spot for all your guests and organize all that cooking. You may have an 80-hours-a-week job yourself. But if you are able to pitch in, and feel so inclined, what's the best way you can help?

Well, other than volunteering to do some of it yourself the very best way is: take the kids out to the park, to the zoo, to lunch, to a movie, or for a visit to Grandma.

The second best thing you can do: run errands. Have prescriptions refilled, take the clothes to the dry cleaner and/or pick them up therefrom, take the dog to the groomer, put gas in her car.

Close runners up: Rake the leaves, sweep the porch.

And here are some wrong things to do the last 10 days before Thanksgiving.

Bad: grocery shopping, unless your wife asks you to. If she does, do not deviate from her list unless you call her and ask first. She may already have bought 6 of those things without your knowing it. She may not have room in the fridge, freezer, or pantry (even if there was room two days ago). Etc. Do not assume you know; check first!

Worse: start a do-it-yourself home improvement project.

Worst: start a home improvement project that isn't do-it-yourself and thus involves a whole crew of workmen tramping in and out of the house.

Face it, now just is not the ideal time to remodel the kitchen or wallpaper the dining room.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

What Happens When the Lord Comes?

or, Shalt Thou be Zapped?

Here is what happens when the Lord comes, as spoken by the holy Prophet, Isaiah (40:1-5).

"Comfort ye, comfort ye My people!"
Says your God.

2 "Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her,
That her warfare is ended,

That her iniquity is pardoned;
For she has received from the Lord's hand
Double for all her sins."

The Lord has already allowed Jerusalem's own folly to bring more than enough chastisement and misery upon her (double what she deserves) and there's no need for the Lord to inflict any more.

3 The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
"Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make straight in the desert
A highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be exalted
And every mountain and hill brought low;
The crooked places shall be made straight
And the rough places smooth;

5 The glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
And all flesh shall see it together;
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken it."

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Please Excuse Me Now While I Go Scream

If you ever get a chance to deal with Barclay's Bank (in the U.K.), don't. Not that you need this warning; the Bank itself will prevent your being able to do business with it.

All we want is a checking account. That's it. A checking account, so we can pay bills in England, in sterling. Nothing complicated, right?

Well, we've been trying since July to accomplish it. We called Barclay's twice a day for weeks, or according to them, multiple times a day. (Not the branch where our old account was or is, because they do not appear to have a telephone number; or if they do, it's a big secret.) After months of this, we gave up and went over there in October, to oversee it all in person. We filled out a mountain of paperwork, provided two picture IDs each, signed all sorts of things. Back in the States after that, we've called them a dozen more times. None of this has gotten the job done. Every time we think we've finally resolved every issue, it turns out we haven't. Not only do new issues arise, but it turns out the old ones are still unsettled as well. The nightmare just won't stop.

So our current status is, we have a brand new account, but only I have access to it because they say Demetrios' paperwork is incomplete. And despite our explicit, written instructions, the funds from our old account (the one we have no access to from this side of the pond) haven't been transferred into the new. So, because we didn't know that, the new account is overdrawn. We still don't have checkbooks, nor have we yet received the paperwork for Demetrios to fill out AGAIN. The overdraft notice? THAT has arrived.

The only reason we haven't dumped Barclay's is that our solicitors strongly advised us not to, saying it would be even more difficult at a new bank, where they don't know us. Well, they know us VERY, very well at Barclay's! And I'm sure they'd be as pleased to be rid of us as we would to be rid of them. We WILL figure out how to accomplish that! Eventually.

Culture Clash

* In Greece, it is the housewife's job to carry out the trash. It won't occur to your husband to do it, unless you ask him to.

* Greeks of my generation, at least, improvise their lives. They make it all up as they go along. The obvious corollary is, they don't plan ahead except perhaps when it's absolutely necessary. The less obvious corollary is, they assume your plans will be as fluid as theirs. Well, actually, they don't expect you to make any plans, but if you do, they will have a hard time understanding if your plans can't be scrapped on short notice.

* The Greek community in Richmond, years and years ago, organized a Dance Group that meets in the church gymnasium once a week. The participants, mostly young people, have learned dances from every region in Greece and every island, I suppose, by now. And this is a wonderful thing, yes? Of course. It helps keep their culture alive, and it's a ton of fun besides. Not to mention it brings Greek young people together with Greeks of similar age and opposite sex, always desirable.

The problem comes when the church has dances (or more accurately, one of the organizations has one that takes place at the church). Then all these relatively obscure dances are played, which nobody knows how to do except members of the Dance Group. Everybody else is in effect cut out and becomes a spectator most of the evening.

* One such dance is being held this coming Saturday, just as we've entered the Nativity fast.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


My first litter of foster kittens arrived today. There are four of them, 4 weeks old, all female. One is all black and the others, all gray tabbies.

My assignment is to "socialize" the kittens, meaning, give them a lot of love and attention and get them used to being pets. Right now, they're afraid whenever I pick them up. We want them to purr every time a prospective owner picks them up.

Oh, yes, I can do that! What did my friend Angie call it? "Snuggle therapy."

And I am requested to name them. I don't know why, but the Richmond Animal League insists. Okay, the black one is Miss Fortune. The tabby twins will be Aurora and Ariel, and the tabby runt, Tinkerbell. Those were Sydney's recommendations (my four-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter).

Ah.....! My house is no longer catless.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Misconceptions about the Orthodox and the Filioque

Over at Ad Orientem the issue of filioque is being discussed some more, and the Catholic blog post that sparked it has even lengthier discussion.

There is a good deal of confusion showing up in these discussions. This post will attempt to clarify certain points about the Orthodox position.

First, let’s be clear that the issues are theological. Someone wrote that the Orthodox bishops felt slighted when the filioque was added to the Creed, and felt snubbed, as if their opinions didn’t matter. Many times (although I didn’t see it in these particular discussions) Catholics imply that the real (or at least main) issue between us has to do with forgiving past wrongs, which we supposedly have yet to do. No. None of this is about bruised episcopal egos or our alleged unforgiving attitude. The authority issue is a genuine difference in ecclesiology, and a foundational difference, at that. It’s huge. But it’s theological, not emotional.

Next, there appears to be a sort of tentative offer on the table, in which, if the Orthodox will become Catholic, they will not be required to recite the Creed with the filioque. It’s a nice gesture, but that’s all it is, a gesture, a gimmick. Eastern Catholics, I’m told, do not have to recite the filioque and never did, but they do still have to believe in it, and that’s exactly what the Orthodox cannot do. For us, it is flat out heresy. Therefore, simply not reciting it would not suffice. Even if we were also dispensed from having to believe in it, we would still be in communion with those who did recite and believe it. Even if they, too, should cease reciting it, yet still believe it, we could still not be in communion with them. The filioque has to be renounced.

Someone said s/he thought the Orthodox objection pertained only to the Divine Essence. But, said the writer, this isn’t so. We all agree the Divine Essence comes from the Father alone, but the Catholic teaching of filioque has to do with the Hypostases (Divine Persons).

The fact is, this distinction doesn't help, doesn't address any of what concerns us. We Orthodox still object even if you say it’s the Hypostasis of the Holy Spirit that proceeds from the Father and the Son, and not the Essence.

The distinction we do gladly make is between the Holy Spirit as He eternally is in Himself and His being sent to the world. Clearly He is sent to us by the Son; Jesus plainly says this several times. But this distinction pertains to His mission in the created order, not to His eternal being, which is independent of creation.

Another opinion in the discussion was that clearly, the way we distinguish between the Hypostasis of the Son and the Hypostasis of the Holy Spirit is by the alleged fact that the Son has His Hypostasis from the Father alone, while the Holy Spirit has His from the Father and the Son. But this is not the Orthodox distinction. For us, what distinguishes the Son from the Holy Spirit is each one’s unique relationship to the Father: the Son is eternally begotten of the Father, while the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father. Each comes form the Father, but each in a very different manner.

The currently most fashionable canard also made its predictable appearance: that the Latin really doesn’t mean “from the Father and the Son” but “from the Father through the Son.” I have never studied Latin, but one who has tells me such a translation would torture that language. Whether it would or wouldn’t matters little, though, because either way, it’s still not the Orthodox teaching. Yes, I know some Orthodox theologians have used that phrase, but that’s not what the Creed says, which outranks their opinions. It isn’t official Orthodox teaching, at least not as filioquists understand it.

The corollary to this canard is, due to linguistic differences, the Latin creed with the filioque means the same thing as the Greek creed without it. There’s no real difference, it’s all just semantics. Okay, dear Catholics, just drop it, then, if it makes no real difference to you. Strike the word. That would be a gigantic step forward for you and for our ecumenical relations.

But it does matter. The filioque issue isn’t mere semantics and it isn’t mere abstruse, nit-picking cogitations on a rarified abstraction. It matters because it shapes the respective ways we relate to the Holy Spirit, what we understand His role to be, and that in turn means everything, absolutely everything – to both sides.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Foster Care

Here is a dove in rehab (where, and by whom, I do not know). The note that came with these pictures says she is unreleasable, being one-legged. The rehabber who keeps her took in 5 bunnies, two of which almost immediately died. Then the dove, remarkably, decided to foster the remaining three.

Here are photos of her doing her mothering thing

I'm told the bunnies thrived! That makes the dove a better rehabber than I am. I can only keep 'em alive (most of the time) if I get them AFTER their eyes open.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Deep Breakfast

It was in a touristy little head shop in Bar Harbor, Maine, I first heard this music, and I knew I had to have it. I went breathlessly up the counter to ask whether by any chance it might possibly be for sale. Of course it was. I was too naïve to realize that's why the manager had been playing it. Somehow I also had never heard of New Age Music, although I had been a New Ager for 10 years by then.

I don't even like New Age music, never did, but this is different. I've played this again very recently and I still love it. It's upbeat (with the possible exception of "Your Feeling Shoulders"), it's meditative, it has actual musical substance instead of just banal "soothing sounds" and - fair warning - parts of it are, um, perfect music by which to gaze into your husband's eyes by candlelight. Track Two even incorporates actual calls of the Humpback Whale; how fun is that?

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do! Click here.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

In the Next Room

During my afternoon nap, I dreamed our niece Lizzie was visiting us and needed parental permission to do something (I can't remember what, stay longer, I think). So she phoned home and I was quite surprised to hear Barbara's voice on the other end of the line. I couln't quite identify why it should be a surprise, but it was. I took the phone from Elizabeth and spoke to Barbara, inviting her to come visit us, too.

I knew she wouldn't come, but again I wasn't aware of why she wouldn't. I thought it was just a matter of persuasion. "It's been such a long time," I said, "and you haven't seen our new porch... if you aren't feeling very well, we will come pick you up."

Then I felt warm breath and the brush of lips on my cheek as Demetrios woke me up. "I'm going for a drive," he said. "Would you like to come?"

Yes, I would, of course. In a moment. Let me clear my head first... and that's when I remembered Barbara reposed the better part of two years ago now. The grain of truth in the dream is that if you dial Daniel's cell phone even today and he doesn't answer, Barbara's voice still tells you to leave a message, etc.

I remembered a series of talks by Bishop Kallistos (Ware) Barbara and I attended together several years ago (at Deb's church), in which he told us the dead are not absolutely separated from the rest of us; the communion in Christ is still there. It's as though they were just in the next room.

The thing is, the door is closed.

But only for a short time. In church last Sunday I was surprised to see the name of a certain kid as the reader of the Epistle. "He can't read yet!" I thought to myself. "He's hardly more than a babe in arms! Can he even walk?" Then I looked over to where his father always stands and he was there, but not at all as young as he used to be when he held that little tyke; and I realized that had been about 15 years ago! Yes, it's only a short time the door to the next room stays closed.

May your memory be eternal, Barbara! I love you.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Anita's Tea

For the past three days, a nor’easter has been converging, directly over us, with the surprisingly strong remnants of Hurricane Ida, and Richmonders have been hibernating. To say it has been a raging storm, or that the rains were torrential, would be an exaggeration, but not a huge one. The Appomattox River had already flooded as of yesterday morning, and the James was expected to today. And in the gloom and the cold, the wet and the wind, people just haven’t felt like going out. We even postponed our weekly dinner last night with Nick and Sharyn and George and Maria and Daphne and Dino.

It was a perfect afternoon for curling up on the couch, and that’s what I did, with a cup of hot tea and my knitting and the television remote nearby. I was happily ensconced, counting my stitches, when the telephone rang. Anita’s number came up on the Caller ID.

“Oh, no!” I moaned. “I forgot!”

“Come,” she said. “Just get in your car and come!”

Her friend Marianne was visiting from the Eastern Shore (Maryland) and Anita was giving a tea in her honor, as she has done before when Marianne visits. She puts on very good teas, too! So I said, “I’m on my way!” then rushed around 10 minutes, drying and combing my hair with one hand and putting on makeup with the other. (Yes!)

Julia was there, the woman whose husband Robert wrote that book I commented upon in 6 posts back in August (and early September). Becky was there, a retired lawyer, and of course Marianne, and our very dear friend Vada.

My place at the table was waiting, loaded up with a cucumber sandwich, banana bread with some marvelous topping Anita whipped up, and a slice of apple pie.

We were trading stories about animals and travel and other funny experiences, and laughing and feeling cozy, and sipping tea followed by sherry, when Vada startled us all by saying, “I’ve read a biography of Mohammed. He was a killer, you know. If you didn’t believe his way, he’d just kill you.”

There was silence around the table as the ladies contemplated their own religious traditions. Finally, Anita laughed and said, “Not unlike some other people in history!”

“Yes, look what Christians have done,” said someone.

That reminded Vada of another thing that has been bothering her. She said, “Here’s what I’ve really been wondering about Christianity. Now I believe Jesus rose, but not in the way most people think. I say He never really died. And there’s no such thing as a body that goes through walls or appears and disappears. God does not violate the laws of nature. But here’s my question: if there were such a body, which the disciples saw for 40 days – where did it go? Because I mean we don’t see Jesus around any more. So where is He? Where did He go?” and it was clear you weren’t going to get anywhere with her by saying something like, “A cloud came and carried Him away into the stratosphere.” No, you were going to have to tell her what that meant.

“Well, we don’t have to understand absolutely everything to believe,” said Anita. “Human beings are never going to know everything about God!”

“It’s taking a leap of faith,” added Becky.

“Sometimes, we just have to accept things,” said Julia.

“But that’s unintelligent and immature!” said Vada, to everybody.

Another long silence. Then it was pointed out to her, kindly, politely, that religion is something very personal, very intimate, and one had therefore to be very careful in discussing it, or better yet, not discuss it at all, lest somebody’s feelings be hurt. (Nobody’s were, in this case.) Somebody else mentioned, in so many words, that prejudice is also a kind of intellectual defect.

"Well, then, for me, it’s unintelligent and immature,” said Vada.

“There you go,” said Marianne. “For you.” The others agreed. You’re entitled to your opinion as long as you allow us to be entitled to ours without calling us unintelligent and immature.

I felt bad, because they’ve all had to choose between faith and reason, or to strike whatever compromise they could live with between the two. And there was no way I could think of, quickly enough, to say, “But it doesn’t have to be that way!” because the ladies were determined to change the subject as soon as possible. After two or three false starts, they finally succeeded. And everybody had a wonderful time.

I still don’t know how to answer Vada about where Jesus is now, in a way that will be meaningful to her.

* * *

Demetrios reminds me that there's really nothing you can SAY; there's only something one can invite another person to DO. And that's try to follow all the commandments; for example, try to forgive your enemies and refrain from judging anybody. Then tell God you're sorry when you fail to do these things and ask Him for His help in doing them going forward.

Anyone who attempts this will come face to face with two incontrovertible realities: the magnitude of his own evil and the infinitely greater magnitude of God's love and mercy.

That's the only way. "Christ is hidden in His commandments," as the Fathers teach us.

What makes the conflict between reason and faith possible is when faith is something else, when faith ceases to become the way you live and is reduced to a set of pious concepts. These can then be pitted against opposing concepts. Then and only then, a person has to choose between or among concepts. And "faith" is going to lose out a certain percentage of the time, and in the case of denominations with self-contradictory concepts, nearly all of the time among thinking people.

But live the Orthodox Christian life and you'll know firsthand why each thing is done, why each facet of it is necessary. You will experience for yourself how each factor contributes to the ultimate goal. You may not be able to articulate it, but you'll know. You may not be able to explain, for example, how Holy Commuion is tied up with forgiveness of sins, but you'll have encountered, in real life, the fact that it is. The more you live the authentic Christian life, the more you will know - in a way beyond words and beyond controversy.

On the Sanctification of Material Things

God’s purpose is not merely to sanctify our souls, but all of our being, body and soul (Romans 8:23). Not only that, but He is sanctifying His whole creation (Romans 8:22). This is one reason Jesus was baptized in the River Jordan: to sanctify its waters. And you know, of course, what happens to those waters. They evaporate, become clouds, are blown to somewhere else, condense eventually, and fall as rain in a new place, where the process begins all over again, until those waters, sanctified by His own body having been in their midst, end up watering the whole planet.

Perhaps people who are hung up on the guilt aspect of sin overlook the sanctification of material things, since stars or flowers or streams bear no guilt. It’s true, guilt they do not bear, so what does sanctification mean for them? It means material things, too, are filled with the Spirit of God, and with His power, and operate strictly and only according to His purpose, being unavailable to the devil and free from his grasp.

And that’s where relics of the saints come in. The very bodies of these people were already made holy. That is, they already were filled with the Holy Spirit and His goodness and His power. Of course the Holy Spirit indwells every Christian, but in the exceptionally mature ones we call saints, He has been given free rein and free reign. In the saints, the Christian body is at the disposal of the Holy Spirit in a manner approaching perfection, fully open to His promptings. It becomes His own body. So much so that sometimes the power in that body even spreads to the clothes. No, wait, really. This is not some pagan notion. It is thoroughly Christian. It is recorded as fact in Scripture. The woman with the flow of blood was cured when she merely touched the hem of Jesus' garment. St. Paul's clothes, like His Lord's, (for they were His Lord's) also were filled with God's miraculous power. “And God worked special miracles by the hands of Paul: So that from his body were brought to the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them.” (Acts 19:11-12).

St. Peter was so holy (conformed to Christ) that even his shadow was a vessel of the glory of the Lord: “…they brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid [them] on beds and couches, that at the least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them. There came also a crowd [out] of the cities round about to Jerusalem, bringing sick folks, and them which were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed every one (Acts 5:15-16).

So if you are a person who criticizes the Orthodox for venerating (not worshipping) holy relics, what I want to know is, why? Ought we not venerate God’s glory wherever, and in whatever, it is found?

Or to ask it another way (as I’ve done before), supposing you had one of St. Paul’s hankies by which God cured diseases, or one of his aprons by which He drove demons away? Assuming you knew it was authentic, and not some Roman forgery, you wouldn't, say, bury it, would you, really? Wouldn’t you display it? If you were sick, wouldn't you, kneeling before it, pray God to use it to cure you, too? Don't you think those people did the same, to whom St. Paul sent those relics around? You don't imagine, do you, really, truly, that they treated the healing handkerchiefs and aprons casually or irreverently?

And please don't tell me if you had Jesus' garment you wouldn't now and then kiss the hem of it, (or the glass covering over it) or at least long to, even if you felt too unworthy actually to do it.

No, let us never take a disdainful, faithless attitude toward even the material things in which God's miraculous love is poured out to us.


P.S. Come to think of it, we have yet another New Testament example of how a person's sanctity can "spread" even to his clothing, and that is the Transfiguration (Matthew 17, Mar, 9, Luke 9) in which Jesus' clothes became "dazzling", "white as the light", "shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them."

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Her Big Fat Greek Wedding

Artemis married Immanuel ("Manolis") on Saturday, and it was a glittering affair! Yes, it was a lot like My Big Fat Greek Wedding, except the groom was Greek and the bridesmaids were wearing very tasteful gowns of rose-colored satin.

Every pew was adorned with a brass pole, from which dangled a globe of red roses mixed with other flowers, white, purple, and green. And atop each brass pole was a hurricane lamp lit by a real candle.

The program handed out in the narthex was 10 pages long, including a listing of the entire wedding party, a page of thanks to parents and friends, and a page all about the wedding dress, which had been her mother’s. When Maria was married, the dress (as shown in a photo) had long sleeves and a high neck, but such-and-such a designer had remodeled it into a strapless gown for Artemis.

Artemis was a beautiful bride. Perhaps all brides are beautiful, or at least most brides are, but Artemis was more so, much more so, than most. She has dancing, dark eyes set in pale skin, and her luxuriant, dark tresses were pinned up, making a sort of thick cap, set with sparkling rhinestones. Or maybe they were diamonds. Her bouquet of red roses was set with them, too. (Afterward, she didn’t throw the same bouquet she had carried, but a smaller version of it, without the sparkly whatevers.)

I never realized how handsome George is, her father (never mind we get together with George and Maria every week) until I saw them walking up the aisle and saw how Artemis looks just like him!

At the reception, the hors-d’oeuvres were lamb chops and prime rib, spanikopeta and cheese pies, fruits and canapés and mushrooms stuffed with crabmeat and an array of other goodies, plus any kind of drink you wanted.

And that was BEFORE they ushered us into the ballroom, where each of about 30 tables was decorated with a couple dozen roses with other flowers and candles. And each place was set with 4 forks and two knives and multiple glasses, because it was a four-course meal. Prawns, salad, entrée of filet mignon and salmon each in its own sauce with vegetables, then an assortment of desserts, including a wonderful wedding cake and Greek pastries.

Although I always somehow manage to think of myself as someone who fits in at such posh parties, when the reality occasionally happens, I feel out of place and soon start wishing it were all over and I were at home. In this case, though, Maria and George had been careful to seat us with people we know and are close to (in varying degrees) and that mitigated the bad feeling. Besides which, nobody else seemed to share it. So I put it aside and in addition to the already-mentioned food, here’s what I enjoyed most, in no particular order:

The company, especially Sharyn, Chrysoula, and Aleka, who were at our same table. (I’ll probably never forget the first time I met Aleka (Alexandra) and her husband told me proudly she was a Lesbian. It took me a long moment to catch on that she’s from the Island of Lesbos.)

Demetrios’ enjoyment of our friend Nick. “I love watching the expressions that cross Nick’s face when he’s talking,” Demetrios told me. “Look!” So we watched for a while, and were well rewarded. Nick is a passionate fellow (in a good sense) and it shows in all he does.

The sight of beautiful Artemis and handsome Immanuel and their young joy

Maria and George coming down the aisle at the end of the ceremony, Maria all in gold with a graceful belt around her pelvis and its buckle sparkling at her groin. She was so happy she glowed, and the congregation burst into spontaneous applause. (No, Demetrios and I did not clap.) She walked down that aisle nodding and smiling and taking little bows. I had tears in my eyes for her happiness.

George dancing solo. That particular dance had begun with just the groom, alone, doing fancy moves while George showered him with money. He had come armed with about $200 in singles, half of which he made flutter down upon the band, the other half he tossed into the air, in small handfuls, above the groom’s head. Then the groom grabbed the best man and he danced for a while, then he grabbed the father of the bride and George danced alone. It was his joy that was so infectious, so filled my heart. Plus, he's very light and graceful on his feet.

Joining a couple of Greek dances ourselves. I always think that’s tremendous fun.

Watching Kitsa dance. Kitsa has lost a lot of weight and in place of her formerly long, wild, frizzy hairdo, she now has a very glamorous one that looks straight out of Hollywood, and she looks so young that maybe she’s even had a facelift. She was wearing a dress consisting of a body-fitting, dark gray leather skirt up to the bodice and a top of gauzy fabric, featuring splotches of turquoise, purple, silver and gold. Real silver and gold. Very exotic. Her dancing was exotic, too. She was having a wonderful time.

Reminiscing with another Maria. We recalled that we have been attending weddings and baptisms and New Year’s parties together for some 25 years now. For various such occasions, she used to come down to North Carolina, where I lived and where she has family, with the result that I’ve actually known her longer than I’ve known Demetrios. We used to stand next to each other in choir, too. (But I truly can’t sing any more, as I explained to her.)

Demetrios and I still left early, which is to say at 11:00, and I know that for those who stayed, that’s about when the real fun started. (Never leave a Greek party before it's over, because the best fun invariably happens after half to two thirds of the people, including the non-Greeks, have left.) Too bad; our ears needed some relief and we needed to get our sleep.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans Day/Armistice Day - a Side Note

This morning we heard on the radio that Britain's Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, sent a letter of condolence to the mother of one serviceman killed in combat, and it contained 25 spelling errors. The mother called the intended tribute an insult.

What is more disturbing than the thought of the Prime Minister of the U.K. being functionally illiterate? The thought that apparently, his staff is, too. Or else... what?



But good heavens, if Mr. Brown really did have this dysfunction, surely, surely, he would realize it and have his staff covering it for him. Or else the staff would have realized it and would have developed some protocol to protect the Prime Minister from embarrassing himself.

Unless the staff were too intimidated?

Or did the staff despise him and purposely let him hang out in the wind?

Okay, surely the Prime Minister didn't personally write that letter at all, right? Much more likely one of his staff did, even though it went out above his name.

Yes, some staffer dictated the letter and the typist listening to the tape didn't know how to spell and then whoever dictated it failed to proof-read it.

No, wait, there would have been a form letter, needing changes only to the date, the addressee, the name of the deceased.

Okay, it was a new secretary who didn't yet know of the existence of the form letter, so when told to send one to so-and-so, she composed one from scratch. (Nobody knew she couldn't write English, because she'd had her boyfriend fill out the employment application.) And the reason his or her boss didn't proof it is, everybody is accustomed to perfection at 10 Downing Street.

Sigh. Whichever way you imagine it, it sounds so implausible. And I don't know about you, but to me, this is shaking-the-foundations material. Literacy is one of the foundations of civilization and this is the office of the Prime Minister of the U.K. we're talking about! This really bothers me.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Guest Editorial from Andrea

This was too long for the combox, so with Andrea's permission, I'm publishing it as a blog post. She originally sent this as a private e-mail, but it seemed too worthwhile to keep to myself.

Hi Anastasia

A few posts ago you asked where the idea of Penal Substitutionary Atonement comes from. I can't really answer that from a Biblical point of view, at least not a Biblical point of view that I can support any more. I have a hard time trying to figure out how to support things from an Evangelical belief side anymore, I just can't get my head there like I used to.

You may remember that I grew up Baptist. And for part of that time, until I was 12 or so, Independent, Fundemental, Bible-Believing Baptist. (yes, to some out there it does make a difference!) Most of my family members are still members of Evangelical churches who firmly believe in Pen-Sub. So I've been reading each post, thinking about my family and trying to think how they would respond as well as where their doctrine comes from.

I think...that I should say that I feel I grew up and out of Evangelical tradition. That is to say, as I got older, and my thought processess started to develop more into more logical and rational thought, Evangelical Doctrine just wasn't something I could hold onto. Pen-Sub, Sola Scriptura, No hope for anyone not just like us...just didn't fit with what I read in the Bible and what I could logically bring out of it. I can remember taking my concerns to a pastor when I was in high school. He told me I had to let go of my rational mind and just believe.

And I think that is part of the answer to how so many well meaning Christians can easily believe in the Pen-Sub theory of Antonement. Many of the churches that espouse this theory also put forth an emphisis on feelings over thought. And Pen-Sub "feels" right.

As an education major in college, I read an article where a study was done taking old fairy tales and fables (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, The Three Little Pigs, The Boy who Cried Wolf among others) and rewrote the endings so that the "bad guy" didn't get hurt/killed or that the negative consequence was removed. The stories were changed enough that kids wouldn't immediately recognize them (places, names etc were changed). Overwelmingly (more than 90% of kids) those who heard the stories....said the stories didn't end right. They asked why the bad guy wasn't punished, why he/she got away with what they did. They wanted the story to end in Justice.

I think this same thought has crept into Evangelical thought. Maybe because so many older pastors/preachers didn't go to Seminaries, they had to find what felt right to them and their flocks. And most people need a feeling of justice, that right will win and evil will lose. And so Pen-Sub became the belief.

I know that for many in Evangelical churches (my mom, my aunts and uncles, cousins included), the logical look at faith that comes on your blog would be hard or impossible for them to understand. Most wouldn't even try. They would just read that you are Greek Orthodox and assume that therefore you are lost and needing salvation. Those that would read, would do so assuming (and sometimes finding) that you would bash their beliefs to support your own. They would assume an Us vs. Them mentality even if you didn't mean for there to be one. A few may try to understand, but even most of those would tell you eventually that the heretical ways you are believing must mean you are not truly a Christian. I know because I have been told all of the above.

I know I didn't provide a lot of answers there, but you have to understand that due to Sola Scriptura, there isn't a place to go to say "See--this is what Evangelicals believe" There are entirely libraries devoted to doctrine, but no Authority to back it up.

On the other hand however...I think for some (like my mom) who could never fully understand the doctrine or teachings of a more traditional church (Orthodox, Roman Catholic, even Anglican), maybe Pen-Sub and other Evangelical doctrines can be what she " For now we(she) see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." 1st Corinthians 13:12. Verse 11 speaks of " 11When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things." I think for some, like my mom, she will not be able to put away childish things until she sees face to face. Sometimes...that hurts. :(

Ok...I'm going to end this now. Use or reply to any or all of it.


Empty Nursery Syndrome

This is the time of year when wildlife rehabilitators like me stare longingly at our empty animal nurseries. So I was eager to help a couple of weeks ago when someone telephoned me to say she had a tiny baby squirrel, eyes still sealed shut, who'd been caught by a cat.

One of our volunteer transporters agreed to go to the woman's house to retrieve the squirrel and bring it to me. Once she had it in her car, she called me to report that it was close to death already.

"How big is it?" I asked.

"Very tiny," she said, with a sort of smirk in her voice.

"How tiny?" I asked, suspiciously.

"So tiny its umbilical stump is still attached. So tiny it's actually a mouse!"

Once in a while we get a baby mouse this time of year, but that's it. If we're lucky, it'll be a Deer Mouse. This one, a common house mouse, quickly died.

So today I volunteered with the Richmond Animal League to hand-feed newborn kittens and puppies. I hope they'll need my help and sooner rather than later.

Who Pays? A Clarification

Sometimes an advocate of Penal Substitutionary Atonement will try to tell you, or at least will try to leave the impression with you, that paying the debt for our sins, or taking the punishment for them, was a matter of God paying God. God absorbs the cost Himself. I’m not sure why they tend to do this, but it is a good deal less than perfectly candid. There was also a Man involved.

Jesus, besides bearing the whole, entire, complete Divine Nature, also bears whole, entire, complete human nature, which means there was a real, actual MAN involved in the atonement! A innocent man suffered, a man unjustly died. God was not simply extracting His payment from Himself. In fact, as believers in the penal and debt models of atonement know, these theories specifically require it to be a human being who pays or who is punished. It was mankind, after all, who sinned and it is mankind who must pay.

Furthermore, most proponents of Pen-Sub and the debt theory know and understand that God is impassible, cannot suffer, and certainly cannot die. This is another reason the Atonement cannot possibly be a purely intra-God affair. Divine nature doesn’t die. (Neither does human nature. “Natures” don’t die at all; they just BE.) Persons die. Jesus died, bearer of two natures. It's in His manhood Jesus died, and in His divinity He rose again. That's the whole point of God having become flesh: to enable Him, as Man, to enter death, and as God to conquer death on its home turf.

No, God isn’t so bent upon getting His payment that He is even willing to take it from Himself rather than forgive it; or so bent upon punishment that He is willing to punish Himself rather than that nobody should be punished. That would be pathological and nearly everybody knows God isn’t. Even in Pen-Sub, that’s not what He is doing. He is punishing a human being and more than that, He's vicariously punishing all human beings. That’s the teaching, just to be clear.

Monday, November 9, 2009

My Current E-mail Address

Several people have said they couldn't get in touch with me, so my new e-mail address bears repeating:

anastasiatheo001 AT comcast DOT net

That's my first name, first 4 letters of my last name, zero zero one...

Does Forgiveness Cost Anything? (Yes)

Obviously to say forgiveness comes at a price is self-contradictory. (At least that ought to be obvious.) Yet I’ve lately perceived a grain of truth in it.

There’s a calypso song that says:

Love is something if you give it away,
Give it away, give it away,
Love is something if you give it away,
You end up having more!

Forgiveness, true forgiveness, is like that, too. It doesn’t cost you anything but the release of your grudges and flying free of resentment. The only thing you give up is the poison in your soul; and what you gain is infinitely more than your brother or sister.

But God’s forgiveness is unique. It doesn’t involve giving up any grudge or resentment, for He is far above all that sort of sinful passion. He never held a grudge in the first place; He never felt the least twinge of resentment, so He doesn’t have those to give up. Neither is God’s forgiveness any merely a release from debt or punishment; it is far more. In the teaching of the Church, as witnessed by the sacred Scriptures, God’s forgiveness always comes in a very particular form; namely, it comes as the gift of eternal life. Hence, St. Paul writes in Galatians 3:21, “if there had been a law given which could have given life, indeed righteousness should have been by the law.”

As far back as the Old Testament, forgiveness came as the gift of Life (although then the Life was only symbolic). The catch is that the seat of life was believed to be in a person’s or an animal’s blood: “For the life of the flesh [is] in the blood: and I [God] have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your lives: for it [is] the blood [that] makes an atonement for the life.” (Leviticus 17:11) That is the reason animals were sacrificed as sin offerings: their blood symbolized their life, given to the sinner in place of his own life, which he had lost by sin. Forgiveness came in the form of restored life.

In Christ, the symbolism comes true, becomes literal. His blood belongs to One who, besides being Man, is also Almighty God. His blood is that which was crucified and buried and yet rose again. His blood is immortal. The hymn sung when we receive Holy Communion speaks of “the Fountain of Immortality.”

So on the Cross we see God’s forgiveness literally bleeding out of the wounds of His Christ. God’s forgiveness was shed freely upon the whole world, but in the form of blood, and He Whose Blood it was – well, He had to shed it. He also had to die (not merely prick His finger) in His humanity, so that in His Divinity He could plant eternal life right in the heart of the grave.

There was never any transaction in which God was paid off or made whole or He got even, and it’s not that our guilt could not simply be freely forgiven, but forgiveness always comes as the gift of eternal life, and eternal life, this infinite good, came at a tremendous, awful, awesome price.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Even the Dead

Today's Gospel reading (if you're on the new calendar) was very moving for me. It was the story of the raising of Jairus' daughter. Here's the last half of it:

While He was still speaking, someone came from the ruler of the synagogue's house, saying to him, "Your daughter is dead. Do not trouble the Teacher."

But when Jesus heard it, He answered him, saying, "Do not be afraid; only believe, and she will be made well." When He came into the house, He permitted no one to go in except Peter, James, and John, and the father and mother of the girl. Now all wept and mourned for her; but He said, "Do not weep; she is not dead, but sleeping." And they ridiculed Him, knowing that she was dead.

But He put them all outside, took her by the hand and called, saying, "Little girl, arise." Then her spirit returned, and she arose immediately. And He commanded that she be given something to eat. And her parents were astonished, but He charged them to tell no one what had happened. (Luke 6:49-56)

Ah, even the dead can hear Jesus' voice! "Her spirit returned." Lazarus, too, although dead four days, could still hear Jesus' call and respond to it.

And you and I, if we are spiritually dead, or physically, or both, can still hear our Lord when He summons us back to life.

In fact, in the Last Day, everyone who ever lived, like it or not, shall hear that summons. (John 5:29)

Glory to God!

Grandma's Duck Egg

or, Life's Like That

My four-year-old granddaughter, Sydney, called and asked, "What did you do today, Grandma?"

"I wrote a story and it has YOU in it. Would you like to hear it?"

"No," she said, "because I have all kinds of stuff to tell you." here it is; maybe your mommy will read it to you.

“My friend laid a hot water bottle on top of my kitchen counter and set a shoe box on top of that,” said Grandma.

“Then my friend opened the box to show me what was inside, and said, ‘It’s a duck egg, and it’s pipping.’” Just as she said that, a tiny voice from inside the egg said, ‘Pip!’ She pointed to a tiny hole in the egg, from which the rounded tip of a beak was sticking out.”

“What was your friend’s name?” asked Ryan.

“Her name was Dorcas. And she lived…”

“Dorcas! What kind of a name is that? Dorcas!”

“It’s a beautiful Greek name that means antelope or gazelle. A little like Giselle in French.”

“I was Giselle last year for Halloween,” said Kelly.

“Yes, precious, I remember. Anyway, my friend Dorcas lived on a farm in a sun-dappled valley, in a modern log cabin with a mountain stream running beside it, with her husband and several dogs and a cat that used to follow the husband around like a dog, and all kinds of other animals, both wild and domestic.”

Dorcas said, “The mother duck already has thirteen other newly-hatched babies to look after, and she can’t be sitting on this egg any more. Last year when this happened I tried putting an unhatched egg in the henhouse, but the results of that were maybe not the best…”

“What happened?” I asked Dorcas.

“Well, the hen didn’t know the difference between her own eggs and the duck egg, so she sat on them all and they all hatched. But then the duckling kept going down to the stream for a swim, and the mother hen would pitch a conniption fit every time. And whenever it rained, that poor hen would stand in the door of the henhouse and frantically call for her little duckling to come in and he never would – He loved the rain! – so, although it he didn’t mind having a chicken for a mother, and it was kind of fun for us to watch, it was excessively hard on the hen. So I wondered if, this time, you’d like to do the honors.”

“What do I have to do?”

“It’s easy. Just keep the egg warm.”

“How warm?”

“A hundred degrees,” said Dorcas, “and that part is very important. You want to keep it right at a hundred degrees. Do you have a thermometer?”


What I didn’t have was an incubator. Or a heating pad. There was, however, a brand new, electric blanket in my closet. I hauled it out, still in its box, and plugged it in.

“Oh, and keep the egg moist,” said my friend. “You don’t want it to dry out.” She showed me how to wrap a wet paper towel around the egg. We stuck the thermometer next to it and then wrapped the whole assembly in aluminum foil, to preserve the blanket from getting wet. We put it all in between the folds of the electric blanket in the box. Then my friend went home.

“My mommy has a thermometer,” said Sydney, “and she takes my temperature with it when I’m sick. Eee-yew! Do you – “

“Yes, I know, sweetheart. But this thermometer was simply put right beside the egg.”

“But the problem," said Kelly, who was seven years old, "is how high to turn the electric blanket to keep the egg at a hundred degrees?”

“Well, I didn’t know how to do that,” said Grandma. “So after fifteen minutes, I had to check the thermometer. It read 104. I turned down the dial and set a kitchen timer to go off in another 15 minutes. This time, the thermometer said 97. I turned the dial up again, not as far as it had been before, and fifteen minutes later, I checked again.

“But every time I checked, the temperature was either too hot or too cold. The blanket simply would not hold a temperature of a hundred degrees, no matter what I did. After three hours, I resigned myself to having to adjust the dial every 15 minutes.

“We’d been invited to a friend’s house for dinner that night; there was nothing to do but take the blanket with us, in its box, with the egg and the wet paper towel and the thermometer and the foil all inside. Every fifteen minutes I had to excuse myself from the table, open up that blanket, unwrap the egg a little, read the thermometer, wrap up the egg again and put it all back, and readjust the dial.

“Back home again after supper, I realized it wouldn’t do to keep Grandpa awake all night checking on this silly egg…”

“So you slept on the couch,” said Connor.

“How did you know?”

“Because that’s how the story goes! You got a blanket and a clock and you slept on the couch.”

“Yes, that’s what I did. And that clock had a snooze alarm, which means it rang every few minutes. And every time it did, I’d check the egg’s temperature and turn that silly dial up or down a little bit. And this went on all night, until it was nearly morning. And then I picked up the egg to take the thermometer out – and the egg and my heart both broke. Yes, that egg shattered into a thousand pieces. And I was so sad I would have cried if I hadn’t been too tired to cry. Here I’d spent all afternoon, all evening, and all night, trying to take care of this egg, only to break it in the end! I was so upset I couldn’t even bear to look at it. I shoved the whole mess back under the electric blanket in the box and went back to sleep.”

“Oh, no!” Ryan wailed, his face turning cloudy.

“But GRANDMA…” said Kelly, lifting her shoulders and spreading her hands out wide.

“I know, my sweet, I know. I’m getting to that. I was very, very sleepy and if you ever try not sleeping for a whole night, you’ll find out that your brain doesn’t work very well after that. So it wasn’t until the clock rang again (because I’d forgotten to turn off the snooze alarm) that I woke up and thought some more. The first thing I thought was, I should throw the broken egg away so I wouldn’t have to keep seeing it and feeling sad. But then, with a wild hope, I thought, Hey, wait a minute! So the egg broke, but isn’t that what was supposed to happen? Because how could the baby duck come out if the egg didn’t break? So I said to myself, ‘That egg didn’t break, it hatched!’ So, very carefully, I pulled back the top of the electric blanket, and what do you think I saw?”

“A duckie!” said Sydney, clapping her hands.

“That’s right, my darling, a fluffy, soft, yellow duckling. He opened his eyes and raised his head and said, ‘Mama!’”

“No, he didn’t,” said Connor. He said, ‘Quack!’”

“Well, my dear, that’s exactly what it sounded like, but I knew that what it really meant was, ‘Mama!’”

“Did he live happily ever after, Grandma?” Sydney wanted to know.

“Yes,” said Connor, nodding vigorously, “he did. When he was old enough, he went back to his real mother in the sun-dabbled valley, and he swam in the mountain stream by the log cabin and waddled all over the farm and played with his thirteen brothers and sisters, and was very, very happy.”

“Very, very happy all his days,” Grandma said.

“THE END!” said Ryan. “Tell us another story, Grandma!”

The story (for once) is true. What isn't true is that my grandchildren have ever yet heard it.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Missing the Glory

or, Such Irony

There are, hypothetically at least, people who pray to the saints instead of to Christ. (I have never personally known any, but apparently there have been a lot of them in history and presumably there still are.) There are also those who refuse to speak with the saints and tell you they prefer to focus upon Christ instead.

Both sorts of people are depriving themselves greatly on account of the very same error. They forget to consider, or else misunderstand, what is the "mystical union," as it is called in the West, or "deification," as it is termed in the East. In short, there simply is no such thing as saints instead of Christ or Christ instead of His saints. It isn't as though there were saints over here and Christ over there, discreet entities.

"I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me," said St. Paul. This statement is true of every saint. A glorified saint, the kind the Orthodox invoke, is someone in whom the Church has recognized Her Lord, truly living His life in the saint's body. A saint is Christ with skin on. (That's why, in the Orthodox Church, we don't have saints in whom it is difficult to find any resemblance to Christ.)

"For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones." (Ephesians 5:30) The saints are literally, albeit mystically, the Body of Christ, filled with His own Spirit, nourished by His own flesh and blood. He Himself is all their power, all their wisdom, all their glory, all their life, all their meaning.

When someone tells you he focusses upon Christ instead of the saints, that's like saying he's looking at the vine but not the branches. How can you do that? Or he's looking at the lightbulbs but not the crystals, when Christ is the whole chandelier. If a person fails to look at the prisms too, he won't see all the glorious ways in which the Light is refracted. He has not corrected in himself the error of the person who only prays to saints; he is actually repeating it, by making an either/or where there is none. He isn't recognizing the Very One he so fervently longs to see.

The disciples on the road to Emmaus and Mary Magalene at His tomb made a similar mistake when, due to His different appearance, they at first failed to recognize the risen Lord. But then, after a while, they did recognize Him after all. God give us all to do the same.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Let Me Get This Straight

We’re going to pass a health care plan
written by a committee whose head says he doesn’t understand it,
passed by a Congress that hasn’t read it
but exempts themselves from it,
signed by a president that also hasn’t read it,
and who smokes,
with funding administered by a treasury chief
who didn’t pay his taxes,
overseen by a surgeon general who is obese,
and financed by a country that’s broke.

What possibly could go wrong?

Mind you, I'm strongly in favor of health care reform (but not of socialized medicine). The catch is, for it to work, for it even to BE reform, somebody's price-gouging is going to have to stop, and that ain't gonna happen.

P.S.  Not reading a bill is standard procedure in both the House and the Senate; it's not just this bill.  A senator or congressman routinely has no time for such details; his or her staff handles that and then briefs the boss.

h/t: Frances, my next-door neighbor

Thursday, November 5, 2009

What Happens when Unholiness Encounters Holiness?

What happens, do you think, when a faithless person meets God face to face? What Happens when a sinner has a close encounter with God? When a devil-filled person encounters Holiness Himself? When a criminal meets the Judge of All? When a good-for-nothing scroundrel and ingrate meets the Father? When a fool meets the Wisdom from on High?

He gets zapped, you may suppose.

But God's Wisdom and Mercy and Justice are full of surprises. Read on...

What happens when a faithless person meets God face to face?

Faith happens.

Jesus said to him, "If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes."

Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!"

Healing happens.
When Jesus saw that the people came running together, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, "Deaf and dumb spirit, I command you, come out of him and enter him no more!" Then the spirit cried out, convulsed him greatly, and came out of him. And he became as one dead, so that many said, "He is dead." But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. (Mark 9:23-27)

What Happens when a sinner has a close encounter with God?

Joy happens.

Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way.

And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, "Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house." So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully. But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, "He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner."

Repentance happens.
Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold."

Salvation happens.
And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost." (Luke 19:2-10)

What happens when a demon-possessed person encounters perfect Holiness?

The demons flee.

And they come to Jesus, and see him that was possessed with the devil, and had the legion, sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid. (Mark 5:15)

What happens when a sinful person sees God?

Purification happens.

So I said: "Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The Lord of hosts."

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth with it, and said:

"Behold, this has touched your lips; Your iniquity is taken away, And your sin purged." (Isaiah 6:5-7)

What happens when a criminal meets the Judge of the World?

Rescue happens.

Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, "Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?" This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear.

Justice happens.
So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, "He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first." And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground.

Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, "Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?"

She said, "No one, Lord."

Salvation happens.
And Jesus said to her, "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more."

Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, "I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life." (John 8:3-12)

What happens when the Master comes to His unworthy servant?

The Master serves His servants.

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. (Phippians 2:5-8)

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.

So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. (John 13:3-5, 12-16)

What happens when a good for nothing wastrel and ingrate comes to his God?

Love happens.

But the father said to his servants, 'Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' And they began to be merry.

Music and dancing happen.
"Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. (Luke 15:22-25)

What happens when a foolish person meets the Lord?

Wisdom happens.

The woman then left her waterpot, and went her way into the city, and saith to the men, Come, see a man, who told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ? (John 4:29-30)

Of course, in reality, none of these just happens. Each is a form of Grace. And all these gifts await us, are ours if we will have them. If not, then yes, we shall be zapped - but not by God.

Open to me, O Gracious One, the doors of repentance!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What Divine Justice Does

Comfort one another, ye fainthearted; be strong, fear not; behold, our God renders judgment, and he will render it; he will come and save us. Say to those who are fearful-hearted, “Be strong, do not fear! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God; He will come and save you.” (Isaiah 35:1-4)

The following material comes from here. The writer is not Orthodox and not everything he says is orthodox, but I thought this excerpt was very good.

Biblically to “bring justice” does not mean to bring punishment, but to bring healing and reconciliation. Justice means to make things right. All through the Prophets justice is associated with caring for others, as something that is not in conflict with mercy, but rather an expression of it. Biblically, justice is God’s saving action at work for all that are oppressed:

“Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17)

“This is what the LORD says: ‘Administer justice every morning; rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed.’ ” (Jeremiah 21:12)

The way that we “administer justice”, the Prophets tell us, is by encouraging and helping the oppressed. In contrast to what the Satisfaction-Doctrine says, God’s justice is not in conflict with his mercy, they are inseparable. True justice can only come though mercy:

“This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Administer true justice: show mercy and compassion to one another.’ ” (Zechariah 7:9)

“Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice.” ( Isaiah 30:18)

If we want to understand the concept of justice as the writers of the Old Testament did, then we must see it as a “setting things right again”. Thus when Christ comes, the way that he brings about justice is through mercy and compassion. Notice how in this next verse Christ does not bring justice with a hammer, but with a tenderness that cares for the broken and the abused.

He frustrates the devices of the crafty,
So that their hands cannot carry out their plans.
He catches the wise in their own craftiness,
And the counsel of the cunning comes quickly upon them.
They meet with darkness in the daytime,
And grope at noontime as in the night.
But He saves the needy from the sword,
From the mouth of the mighty,
And from their hand.
So the poor have hope,
And injustice
shuts her mouth.
(Job 5:12-16)

Divine Justice sets things right. God's Justice makes things as though sin and evil had never happened, only better. It sometimes involves chastisement. It sometimes involves forcibly stopping the hand of the oppressor.

But it never, ever requires retaliation or vindictiveness or getting even or taking revenge. This idea is alien to the Christ we know, has never been the teaching of the Christian Church, and is not biblical. It is a sad way of viewing certain texts carnally; i.e., through the lense of human passions.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Nameday Gift

St. Demetrios

Here is an icon a boy named Gabriel drew for my husband on his nameday last week.  He said he really likes drawing icons, and of course, we are thrilled to have it. 

For God Will Abundantly Pardon

From the Holy Prophet Isaiah 55:1-3,6-9

“Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
hear, that your soul may live;
and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.
“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Grandchildren in their Costumes

As usual, click that you may behold their full beauty!

Sydney as a Cat

Sydney as Dorothy with Toto

Sydney Had Three Costumes in Three Days!  (???)

Another Dorothy, With Kelly, Ryan, Sydney and Connor

Yet Another Dorothy & Toto, Off to See the Wizard

Eee-yew!  Kelly and the Boys Remove a Pumpkin's Innards

Kelly as Hannah Montana

I won't swear to it, but I think that's Ryan on the left and Connor as Batman.

All My Grandchildren (So Far)

Free Forgiveness for the Repentant

From the Holy Prophet Ezekiel 33:10-17

The Lord said to Ezekiel:

“And you, son of man, say to the house of Israel ... As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?

“And you, son of man, say to your people, The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him when he transgresses, and as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall by it when he turns from his wickedness, and the righteous shall not be able to live by his righteousness when he sins. Though I say to the righteous that he shall surely live, yet if he trusts in his righteousness and does injustice, none of his righteous deeds shall be remembered, but in his injustice that he has done he shall die. Again, though I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ yet if he turns from his sin and does what is just and right, if the wicked restores the pledge, gives back what he has taken by robbery, and walks in the statutes of life, not doing injustice, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the sins that he has committed shall be remembered against him. He has done what is just and right; he shall surely live.

“Yet your people say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just,’ when it is their own way that is not just. When the righteous turns from his righteousness and does injustice, he shall die for it. And when the wicked turns from his wickedness and does what is just and right, he shall live by them. Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ O house of Israel, I will judge each of you according to his ways.”

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Chinese Fortune Cookie Today

Good judgment comes from experience.
Experience comes from bad judgment.

Penalty Plays

In my recent post And Vicarious Punishment Is Not Forgiveness, I wrote, “In a penal theory of Atonement, it is specifically US God is punishing in Christ, not the Innocent One Himself. God is not lifting our penalty; He is explicitly inflicting yours and mine upon the only One Who doesn’t deserve it.” I do realize that sounds harsh, but it’s the sober truth. The Penal Substitution Theory of Atonement (as well as the Satisfaction Theory) not only does this, but also actually requires the Victim to be spotless, without sin. Otherwise, so the theory goes, all his suffering and then some would be needed to pay for his own sins and ours would remain unpunished or unpaid for.

To punish an innocent person (or even a not-so-innocent one) in the place of the convicted criminal would never work in any human court of law. Just imagine trying to persuade a court to let a rapist go free and punish someone else instead. Just imagine trying to persuade the victim or her family. Everybody would be outraged at the injustice and the immorality of such a proposal.

It isn’t biblical, either. There is no provision anywhere in the Bible for punishing the innocent. In fact, the opposite: blessings are promised for the righteous. Promised.

There is nowhere in the Law any provision for reckoning someone else guilty and punishing him instead of the actual perpetrator of the capital offense. In fact, to do this is specifically illegal.

The person who sins will die.
The son will not bear the punishment for the father's iniquity,
nor will the father bear the punishment for the son's iniquity;
the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself,
and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself.
(Ezekiel 18:20; see also Deuteronomy 24:16; Jeremiah 31:30)

The idea of shifting instead of lifting the penalty not only does not satisfy the Law, but actually violates it. It isn't biblical. So where is it coming from?