Friday, July 30, 2010

Learning to Live in England, Part 25: The Weather Here chilly, and at night, it's downright cold!  Many days are at least partly rainy, and almost all days are cloudy.   I always wear a cardigan outside; sometimes Demetrios, who is more sensitive to cold, wears a heavy sweater.  Even when it is bright and warm (barely) there is always a cool breeze, sometimes a downright cold breeze!

We had gorgeous weather in June, though, and I've kept on (since the very first day of that month until now) thinking of that poem by James Russell Lowell.  It's one of my favorites and one of my mother's favorites, from whom I learned it.  Enjoy!

And what is so rare as a day in June?
Then, if ever, come perfect days;
Then Heaven tries earth if it be in tune,
And over it softly her warm ear lays;

Whether we look, or whether we listen,
We hear life murmur, or see it glisten;
Every clod feels a stir of might,
An instinct within it that reaches and towers,

And, groping blindly above it for light,
Climbs to a soul in grass and flowers;
The flush of life may well be seen
Thrilling back over hills and valleys;

The cowslip startles in meadows green,
The buttercup catches the sun in its chalice,
And there's never a leaf nor a blade too mean
To be some happy creature's palace;

The little bird sits at his door in the sun,
Atilt like a blossom among the leaves,
And lets his illumined being o'errun
With the deluge of summer it receives;

His mate feels the eggs beneath her wings,
And the heart in her dumb breast flutters and sings;
He sings to the wide world, and she to her nest,
In the nice ear of Nature which song is the best?

Now is the high-tide of the year,
And whatever of life hath ebbed away
Comes flooding back with a ripply cheer,
Into every bare inlet and creek and bay;

Now the heart is so full that a drop overfills it,
We are happy now because God wills it;
No matter how barren the past may have been,
'Tis enough for us now that the leaves are green;

We sit in the warm shade and feel right well
How the sap creeps up and the blossoms swell;
We may shut our eyes but we cannot help knowing
That skies are clear and grass is growing;

The breeze comes whispering in our ear,
That dandelions are blossoming near,
That maize has sprouted, that streams are flowing,
That the river is bluer than the sky,

That the robin is plastering his house hard by;
And if the breeze kept the good news back,
For our couriers we should not lack;
We could guess it all by yon heifer's lowing,

And hark! How clear bold chanticleer,
Warmed with the new wine of the year,
Tells all in his lusty crowing!

Joy comes, grief goes, we know not how;
Everything is happy now,
Everything is upward striving;
'Tis as easy now for the heart to be true
As for grass to be green or skies to be blue,

'Tis for the natural way of living:
Who knows whither the clouds have fled?
In the unscarred heaven they leave not wake,
And the eyes forget the tears they have shed,

The heart forgets its sorrow and ache;
The soul partakes the season's youth,
And the sulphurous rifts of passion and woe
Lie deep 'neath a silence pure and smooth,
Like burnt-out craters healed with snow.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Learning to Live in England, Part 21

Sunday, 25 July

Today after church, Elias organized 8 of us to go out for coffee after church. There was Zisis, the young man studying shipping administration, and Artemis and Chrysostomos, a young engaged couple, John (Ioannis), who ran a news agency in Liverpool before retiring, and another Elias, a cardiac surgeon with startling, bluegreen eyes. We had a lovely time getting acquainted with those who were new to us, and furthering our acquaintance with the ones we had already met. We all got along famously.

When everyone else had left except us and John, we were still hungry, so John showed us where the Greek restaurant is, just diagonally opposite the ruined St. Luke's Church. (The impressive thing about St. Luke's is that the entire outside of it, except window glass, is intact. It's simply missing the inside.)  The restaurant is called Zorba's, naturally.  Pictures of Anthony Quinn in that role on the walls.

So the three of us shared a huge dinner meant for two, very tasty and more than enough for all three. We had intended to spend the afternoon at the Tate Gallery (Yes, I know, when you think Tate you think of London, but there's a branch in Liverpool as well.) but the afternoon slipped away in animated conversation instead, with John as well as with the proprietor, who is Demetrios also, but prefers to be called Leonidas. The discussion ranged from John's sad life story to whether St. Constantine the Great was Greek or Roman to something I didn't understand about Turkey. Most of the conversation was in English, but it was the Greek I didn't always follow.

It's been a hard nut to crack, but I think we've done it! Or rather, Elias has done it for us. There's a way to go yet; we are by no means entirely 'in', but I imagine word will spread now that we don't bite.

Communion in the Church: What is It?

The other night at dinner with David and Julia, as we were discussing the difficulties Demetrios and I have been having making friends at the church in Liverpool, Julia observed that public worship is supposed to be all about communion, "and if one isn't in communion with the rest of the people, it all falls apart,doesn't it? One may as well stay home to worship!"

My unspoken, instant reaction was, "I'm not out of communion; they are!" which attitude, of course, immediately knocked me right out of communion.

That's when it dawned upon me what a great spiritual opportunity lies before me. Here is a perfect chance to learn that all-important virtue of being non-judgmental, for starters. I could also stop being as self-conscious as I have been here, paying attention to how I appear in others' eyes. I could return my attention to God, for example! I could pray more instead of noticing what Presbytera does, or anyone else, and on and on and on. Oh, yes, there is much spiritual profit to be had here, for the price of time and effort.

But Julia's astute comment started me thinking, because what she said, while perfectly true in her context (I suppose), is not entirely true in an Orthodox context. Everybody including Julia knows that 'communion', as used in church, means something deeper than happy socializing; yet if there is no social intercourse, what's to make us think anything deeper exists? If there is some sort, any sort, of spiritual communion, shouldn't it be showing up at the social level as well, filtering down to that level, as it were?

I remembered the words of Christ: "Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I, in the midst of them." Two or three? Well, yes, we have that many and perhaps many more; how could I count them, who aspire to cease judging my fellow man?

And for those two or three, or two or three dozen, or however many there are, their communion is with Christ, and through and in Him, with one another. And this is true even if they live in different places or in different centuries, and whether or not they have even met each other. It's true in spite of their sins and weaknesses, among which lack of friendliness is only one, and not necessarily the worst.

My concern must only be with my own sins and weaknesses, and whether I am and remain one of that number.

I need your prayers.  Thank you.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Learning to Live in England, Part 20

So what have we been doing since the last report, which ended a week ago Sunday? Well, this and that. Monday (not yesterday, but a week before that) I went to the knitting group at the [Anglican] church. Nice ladies there, three of them named Joan, two Jeans, and Joyce. Plus Ann, the curate.

Tuesday I was very adventurous and had my hair cut here in Ormskirk. Thirty-six pounds! I thought that practically extortionate, and for that price I didn't get one of the senior stylists, either, but a sweet young thing named Lisa, probably newly out of cosmetology school. I told her exactly how I wanted it and she proceeded to cut it exactly as she had understood. Which was not at all what I'd had in mind. Well, Mark (my son) likes to observe that the difference between a good haircut and a bad one is two weeks. Not that it is a bad haircut, mind you, just a new one for me, unaccustomed, very short on the sides and in the back.

To my surprise, Demetrios loves it! (He spent all this time working on his project.)

Thursday, David and Julia came to Ormskirk to pick up their new car, a black Vauxhall; and as the dealership is near us, they came and got us afterwards and we went out to eat. We went to The Peacock, a Chinese establishment right here in Ormskirk, and Demetrios and I were very surprised at what a good restaurant it is. It not only has a gracious decor, but the food is plentiful and delicious, too. And as almost always in any Chinese eatery, the service was excellent. We all shared a 'Banquet for Four,' several courses, all yummy.

Saturday, the plan was to have a barbecue at their house, but the nasty weather caused us to change plan and eat indoors. David prepared us some marvelous lamb and steak and pork sausages, with potatoes and veggies. We had another batch of my failed cheesecake ('lemon bars') for dessert, only this time it was something halfway between lemon bars and cheesecake, still very tasty, though.

Then after dinner we watched a DVD, the popular musical, Mamma Mia. Demetrios and I had enver seen it. It was fun to watch, but I cannot recommend it. It's based upon a mammoth inconsistency; it's an unabashed celebration of the very behavior (promiscuity) that has caused the central characters so much pain all their lives!

During the discussion over dinner, I finally understood where David is coming from, religiously. I mean, I knew it, fuzzily before, but now, clearly. It's not that he rejects God, not at all! Nor does he reject Christ. 'But religion...' Yes, religion is the problem. Religion, in whose name such atrocities have been committed. The religion of fear and guilt. He said yes, that's what he meant, and I said,from the bottom of my heart, 'If that's what you're rejecting, I salute you!' David sees through that nonsense and worse than nonsense; Julia, too.  And they aren't going to pretend otherwise. Hooray, hooray, hooray!!!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

On Joy - and Ritual

In this time and place where nearly everyone is questioning the value of ritual, and nearly everyone who has been brought up religious has been brought up in a religion of fear and guilt, I thought this quote from Fr. Alexander Schmemann a wonderful antidote.

The Liturgy is, before everything else, the joyous gathering of those who are to meet the risen Lord and to enter with him in the bridal chamber. And it is this joy of expectation and this expectation of joy that are expressed in singing and ritual, in vestments and in censing, in that whole ‘beauty’ of the Liturgy which has so often been denounced as unnecessary and even sinful. Unnecessary it is indeed, for we are beyond the categories of the ‘necessary’. Beauty is never ‘necessary’, ‘functional’ or ‘useful’. And when, expecting someone whom we love, we put a beautiful tablecloth on the table and decorate it with candles and flowers; we do all this not out of necessity, but out of love. And the Church is love, expectation and joy. It is heaven on earth, according to our Orthodox tradition; it is the joy of recovered childhood, that free, unconditioned and disinterested joy which alone is capable of transforming the world. In our adult, serious piety we ask for definitions and justifications, and they are rooted in fear – fear of corruption, deviation, 'pagan influences’, whatnot. But ‘he that feareth is not made perfect in love’ (I Jn. 4:18). As long as Christians will love the Kingdom of God, and not only discuss it, they will ‘represent’ it and signify it, in art and beauty. And the celebrant of the sacrament of joy will appear in a beautiful chasuble, because he is vested in the glory of the Kingdom, because evening the form of a man God appears in glory. In the Eucharist we are standing in the presence of Christ, and like Moses before God, we are to be covered with his glory.

(Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Learning to Live in England, Part 19

The Ascot has been run, Wimbledon has been played, the World Cup is over, and that seems to be how summer is measured around here.

Weather-wise, summer appears to have happened in June. July has been rainy, but still we have enough clear days to get out and enjoy things, and some days are even bright and sunny. There is always a fairly stiff breeze blowing. While the Atlantic Seaboard states suffer under sweltering heat and humidity, we wear sweaters when we go outdoors. We leave our windows open at night if the weather is mild enough, but about half the time I get up and close them as it's too cold. Yes, it's COLD, not chilly, at night. I am going to find and buy that old English stand-by, a hot water bottle, to take to bed at night to warm my feet.

For the school children, 'summer' begins now; they only finished their term last week.

Although we have been getting out and doing things, I thought I'd relate all that later, and for now, just tell you how life ordinarily is, when we are at home.

Well, then, we get up in the mornings at 8:30, give or take half an hour; in other words, whenever we jolly well feel like it. Breakfast is usually continental, tea or coffee and toast. We bought a box of porridge, but have yet to open it. Bacon and eggs we usually have for some other meal than breakfast.

We sit at the table and eat our breakfast and watch a little television, a morning news/talk show, similar to Today or Good Morning America. By 9:30 or 10:00, the TV has been turned off, and Demetrios starts work. That's to say, work on his book. He studies various books he brought with him and takes notes, and Saturday he said: "I've hesitated three days to tell you this, but I finally feel ready to begin the actual writing." HOORAY! The hesitation is because he has made two or three false starts in the past two or three years, only to realize he was missing a piece of the puzzle, without which he could not proceed.

While he works, I clean house, then read or knit until it's time to cook.

About an hour a day, on average, keeps this flat spotless. It takes as many as 3 days, however, to do two loads of wash. That's because we have no dryer, just a drying rack, and when it's wet outside, it takes one load a day and a half to dry.

What have I been reading? Murder mysteries, of course! I've sampled the Agatha Raisin series by M. C. Beaton, but I don't much like the main character. I've tried Nora Roberts and the story was good but the characters lack values and there was the supposedly mandatory 'pink porn'. I've read two books by Anne Perry, A Christmas Visitor and A Christmas Guest, and these are the only ones I can recommend, and very highly, at that! The characters all have character and there is nothing horribly graphic, and the author has some rather deep insights as well, on What Life is Really All About. I'm also reading The Greeks, by a Professor Kitto, whom Demetrios once met, many years ago. It's an account of the country and the character of the ancient Greeks. It's highly enjoyable reading, erudite, insightful, and very witty. I've loved every page.

My knitting consists of a blue and white throw I'm making for us to snuggle under evenings, and for when I become bored with knitting that, a very girly pink baby blanket.  The latter is what I take with me to my two knitting groups.  On Mondays, there is a knitting group at the church ('the church' being the Ormskirk Parish Church, Anglican) and they do charity knitting, specifically, tiny baby things for the preemies at the hospital, blankets and 'jumpers' (onesies?) and caps and booties and things to make for dead babies, as well, to make them look pretty for their mothers.  The other knitting group is at the yarn shop on Tuesdays, and I take the same baby blanket with me there, as it uses yarn bought from this shop.  The throw is of yarn I bought elsewhere, and it occurred to me that it might be unseemly to use it at the yarn shop. 

Television here is far better than in the States.  I've already mentioned how much more information you can receive here, but there's also better entertainment.  There are funny, heartwarming comedies such as The Darling Buds of May; there is a show called Time Team in which archaeologists dig up various interesting sites; there are detective shows without all the gore and gruesomeness of programs like CSI (which is also shown here). There are nature shows, differing from most American ones in that they do not consist simply of showing one animal killing another, and they do not concentrate on scary creature such as spiders, snakes, and sharks. They show how animals carry on their courtship, build their nests, care for their young, grow up, interact, what their habits and peculiarities are, and a million other things. Television here is actually watching! (Not all of it, of course; there's plenty of junk, but more good stuff than we're used to.)

We have our main meal in the middle of the day. I can report that the Spicy Parsnip Soup is very good, tastes like a curry. Demetrios doesn't like it. He also doesn't like the Carrot and Coriander Soup, but I do. And I've found a dessert to die for. It's just called Bailey's. It's double cream mixed liberally with Bailey's Irish Cream. You eat it with a spoon. Heavenly!

I haven't so far been able to find any Graham Crackers. Which means no Graham Cracker crusts for various homemade desserts. Bummer.

After lunch, it's naptime. Demetrios takes a long nap and I take a short one or none at all. Afternoons are when I mostly go out, to the library to use their computers or return or check out books; to Burscough Street to poke around the little shops there; to the grocery store because without a car, I can only buy at any one time as much as I can carry home.

I especially like the charity shops, secondhand shops that benefit various charities. That's where you can buy very pretty little things for pennies. I found a gorgeous crystal set of four sherry glasses for £3.50; I've also bought a cut-glass jam pot and a salt and pepper.

Not long ago, I also found a van Gogh print for £6. I had it re-framed for a very reasonable price, about a third of what I would pay in Richmond, and it now hangs in the master bedroom. It's one of his paintings of irises, and it brings me to tears sometimes not only because it's so beautiful but also because that was the view from his window in the asylum. Inside the asylum, he was miserable, but outside, he still found beauty and painted it.

We have tea with a small snack around 4:00.

A light supper is around 6:00 or 6:30, followed sometimes by an evening walk, if we haven't gotten out before and weather permitting. Then we talk or read or watch television some more and then we take our pills and go to bed whenever we feel like it.

Well, I don't know if this sounds good to you, but we enjoy every minute thoroughly. And we're doing it all in England (!) and that's the best part. Well, the second best. We're doing it together, that's the very best part. I look into Demetrios' face and see a happy man. And he often expresses his happiness; this in contrast to when I first met him, when he was desperately miserable. I asked him whether he feels more at home in England or in Greece, and he said that was difficult to decide.

Glory to God!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Learning to Live in England, Part 18

Sunday, 18 July

It's been a wonderful day.

We set out in the rain, which wasn't an auspicious start, for the train station to catch a train to Liverpool. We had started late, but made it, barely, in time for the departure.

Most of our train ride was occupied by two children who got on a couple of stops after ours, sat opposite us with their mum, and immediately began conversing with us. They were Tyler, 5, and Emma, 3, and we couldn't understand a word they said, not a single word! Eventually I understood one word from Tyler: pirate! He was trying to tell me he was a pirate. (There's some big pirate event going on in Liverpool today.) So, pretending fright, I immediately pulled my jacket over his face. He said, 'Noo, noo, I'm only pretendin'!', which I understood about the third time he said it. So I looked out again and smiled sheepishly.

The children continued to talk and we smiled and nodded and said, 'Yes' a few times, hoping that was an appropriate response, as we still could not understand anything.

We asked them their names, and their mother told us. Her speech was clear to us, unlike theirs.

We also spent some time looking for triangles, which Emma had just learned about.

It was all perfectly delightful.

The Divine Liturgy at St. Nicholas, I noticed this time, is actually run by an older woman I (correctly) took to be the Presbytera. She takes the bread and cakes and other food offerings into the altar and places them on the Table of Preparation. She hands Father Iakovos his censer when he needs it, and takes it from his hand when he is finished with it, and generally keeps him on track.  She organizes both the Small and Great Entrances, beckoning men from the congregation and handing them Cross, candles, banners, and so forth to carry. She holds the red napkin under your chin during Holy Communion.

There is precious little time left over from these duties for keeping the women informed and organized, but about every 10 minutes or so, she does emerge from the altar for a few moments to do this as best she can. After Communion, which this morning I received, I heard her whisper my name to one of the ladies, who passed it on.

After the service, she was nowhere to be seen, and neither was the priest.

Zisis greeted me at the coffee table, the young man we met last week, whom Elias had taken home the same time he drove us home.  We had a nice chat. He is 29 years old and getting his doctorate in shipping management. He says the world of shipping (we're talking actual ships is a tight-knit circle, hard to break into, but he has a strategy mapped out. As he is bright, good-looking, and personable, I think he will succeed. He's also a good dresser, sporting a natty and vaguely nautical-looking navy blue blazer, double-breasted, with white buttons.

We also chatted with Philippos, another cantor, who had been away the past two weeks. He is also very young, perhaps 30-something, but very well versed in Byzantine chant, and with a nice voice. Very likeable fellow.

We didn't stay long, as Elias, the head cantor, had invited us to a party at his home in Newburgh, to celebrate his daughter's graduation from university. So after a short time socializing (He socializes with everyone.) he took us, together with Zisis, in his car.

I never know how to described meeting people such as we met today, the type you feel as free and easy with as if you had known them all your life. And so many of them! Elias' wife is Eleni, slim and pretty with very large, brown eyes wearing a faintly mournful expression, and she is very kind and you feel as if she were your sister. Her sister in the flesh is Kyriakoula, a lively and funny person, who can keep you entertained singlehandedly. The graduate, in whose honor the party was being given, was Maria, very sweet, very open, very personable. Her younger sister is Stella, who looks like Sophia Loren, except she is only an up-and-coming second-year college student. Stella has an English boyfriend, Stuart, blonde with blue eyes, poised and friendly. Stella and Stuart were quite nervous, as his parents were due at the party a bit later, and this was the first time his parents were going to meet hers. Stella and Stuart, you see, hope to marry. And yes, Stuart is very willing to become Orthodox, which we discussed for a while, the other Orthodox and I stressing that he should only become Orthodox when he has seen it for the Truth. 

Stella took me apart and said, 'Will you help when Stuart's parents come come?'

'Certainly,' I said. 'What is it you want me to do?'

'Just talk to them.'

I looked at her a long moment and finally said, 'Is this something like My Big Fat Greek Wedding?'

'Yes,' she said, 'Exactly like that!'

I did spend about half an hour chatting with them, and they, too, are very nice people, Julie and Trevor.  They're going to take their holiday, 10 days from now, in Cuba, so Cuba occupied much of our discussion.  Demetrios of course spent time with them, as well.  So did numerous people, including the hostess, Eleni, and even Elias came round a time or two and made himself genial, and offered them drinks.  Yup, just as in the movie.

Their son Thomas fitted right in with the Greek boys of similar age, and off they all went together.

I met Sarah, a Muslim from Kashmir, and her daughters, Maria (with the stress upon the first syllable) and Amida, 10.  When I asked Amida what her name meant, she said, 'It means "Happy" and my mother's name is a Hebrew word that means "Princess."'  Sarah was telling me about conditions in Kashmir, which she compared with conditions in Gaza, with curfews and an Indian 'occupation army' and so forth.  Of course there are two sides to that story, but what struck me (as it often does in my travels) was how ignorant we Americans are of so many things going on outside our own borders.  It's as if our press were all conspiring to keep us ignorant.  If it weren't for the Internet, we'd never know anything about the rest of the world.  Here, we have access to all sorts of news, from CNN and BBC to Aljazireh and a channel called Russia Today.  We check them all out.

We met George and his wife Beatriz, a pretty woman with shoulder-length, wavy hair from Brazil.  We met Kostas and his English wife, Jill.  They have a house on his island in Greece, and they lived there for 4 years, so Jill learned fluent Greek.  They finally decided they had to come to England, but they vacation back in their Greek house.  She is a teacher, and we had a long talk on what is wrong with education today.

Another teacher was there, too, who had been our graduate's first-grade teacher, and has been a family friend ever since.  So it was a special day for her, too.

Sotirios, Elias and Eleni's 16-year-old son, is also poised and personable and friendly.  He told me, 'Your accent is so COOL!'  And of course having a teenager find anything about me 'cool' is insanely flattering. 

And those are just some of the people I met.  Demetrios met several more, but he was mostly off with the men and I was in the kitchen with the women.  (Yes, the Greek way.)  People did not all arrive at once, but in dribbles, from time to time, and left the same way, so I suppose there were about 50 or perhaps 60 people in all.  'We have to live this way,' said Elias.  'This is what life is all about, to love one another, and that means to love being together!'

The food was delicious, plentiful, and varied.  There were barbecued ribs and there was chicken and pastitsio and various salads and an artichoke casserole and several other dishes I can't even remember.  There were two cakes, one of which of course said, 'Contratulations, Maria!'

It was 8:30 by time we took up Elias' offer to drive us home whenever we liked.  We had been at the party since right after church, and we only left when we did because we were exhausted, and so happy we felt like crying.

It was only 10 minutes from Elias' door to ours.  That's nice to know.  He says we should get together later in the week for coffee.  He studies mornings and works afternoons, but he can afford to take off part of a morning now and then.

Back in our own little flat, Demetrios poured us each a sherry, which we sipped in front of the TV.  Then by 9:00 we were in bed.  I was so tired I forgot to take my pills and even forgot my earplugs, yet slept soundly and with deep gratitude until morning.

These are the kind of people who can be true and life-long friends, and seem very willing to be (Elias says they had kind things to say about us, too) - and so many of them!  How blessed we feel!  And more and more, we begin to feel at home.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Learning to Live in England, Part 17

Saturday 17 July

We spent today in Chester with David and Julia and their younger son, Nick, who lives there.

Chester is a city established by the Romans, who originally intended it to be the capital city, before they eventually chose Londinium instead.

First we went to the Mill Hotel, where we had lunch on their narrow boat in the Shropshire Union Canal. You make reservations beforehand, and then check in at the hotel dining room at noon. You order from the menu, board the boat, which is all outfitted as a dining room with 12 tables, and sit at your assigned table.

The starter (appetizer) course is brought and off you sail, down the canal. You return to the hotel in time for the first course to be cleared away and the main course and desserts to be brought aboard. Then off you sail in the other direction, up the canal. You pass through several locks, which is interesting. You pass a stone tower in which lead shot used to be manufactured for use in the Napoleonic wars. Molten lead was poured through a sieve at the top, separating it into globs. The globs fell down, forming themselves into 'perfect spheres' before landing in a vat of water at the bottom. We also passed some morehens, with tiny, new-hatched babies swimming along the edge of the canal.

Two hours after we had begun, we tied up back at the hotel and disembarked.  Next on David's agenda was Chester Cathedral.  (He must have pricked up his ears when he heard me once wish to ride a narrow boat, and to see Chester Cathedral!)

On our way there, we walked along a stretch of the top of the ancient city walls; that was fun, too.  (Everything is fun in a new place with beloved people!)

The Cathedral began in  1092  as a Benedictine abbey, centered on the existing shrine of St. Werburgh, a nun renouned for her miracles of healing.    (That shrine had undergone some restoration in 1057 by, of all people, Lady Godiva.)   The Abbey became an Anglican cathedral in 1541.

You can still see the Chapter Room, where the monks assembled daily to hear the reading of one chapter from St. Benedict's rule.  Tehre is also a courtroom, called the Bishop's Consistory  Court, where eccelesiastical cases were heard.  It's a large room containing a very ancient, large, square, wooden table surrounded by wooden beches.  At the center rear of the table is the bishop's throne.  The overall effect is highly intimidating!

Here are some pictures of it, courtesy of Wikipedia.  For more photos and info, go here.

We were standing in the North Transept when a uniformed official asked us to step aside as the choir would shortly be coming that way.  So we waited, and in a few minutes, in came the choir and sang a psalm in Latin, right there in the Transept, before entering the Nave for Evensong.  We didn't stay for Evensong, though.

Instead, we sat on a couple of benches in this garden, back in the corner to the left of the tree, and I wondered aloud if each person would share two or three adjectives that for him most described his overall impression of the Cathedral.  Demetrios said 'majestic' and Nick said 'impressive.'  Julia said it was impressive but didn't make her feel any closer to God.  David said the combination of the architecture, the choir, the organ, all together gave him a certain feeling he described as the hairs of his neck standing up, a feeling of awe and reverence, I suppose; but David is sophisticated enough to question whether a physical sensation has anything to do with the spiritual realm.

I agreed the Cathedral was both majestic and impressive, but my main reaction was, 'Creepy.'  I've just begun, more and more, to dislike non-Orthodox places of worship.  I appreciated the wooden carving, very intricate and it must have taken ages, and the stone carving and all the tremendous love and dedication and work that went into the constructing of the Cathedral, but it seemed to me a monument to the God of Fear. 

A detective novel I'm currently reading, set in England, has one character commenting that people are less religious than they used to be, and another replies, 'Perhaps people are less frightened of God these days.'  So I asked our English friends whether they thought religion here was driven largely by fear, and they all three heartily agreed that it was.  Whether fear of God or fear of parents, though, wasn't perfectly clear to me.  Fear, at any rate; they grew up with, 'You WILL go to church!' with the 'or else' implied.

After a while, we got up and walked back to the car through downtown Chester, with its Tudor storefronts.  They aren't allowed to change appearance, so even the more modern buildings look Tudor, if only superficially.  There are more black-and-white, half-timbered buildings here than even in Frankfurt!

We dropped Nick back at his flat, which was not ready for visitors today, and that was just as well, as it was late and we were ready for home.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Learning to Live in England, Part 16

Friday, 16 July

Yesterday, Thursday, we ate lunch at the Swan Inn, together with David and Julia. They have been out of town for a while, visiting friends and family. It was good to see them again, and of course the meals were all very good. 

We were going to go to Rufford Old Hall, a nearby manor house, afterward, but found it closed due to a wedding being held there.  As it was already rather late in the afternoon, and we were tired from the afternoon and evening and night before, we were quite happy to call it a day, and hope to get back to Rufford Old Hall some other day.

Tonight Julia and David brought us to Rainford to hear a concert by the Rainford Band and the Ecumenical Ladies' Choir. It was held on a farm, inside a large corrugated building that may be a barn but is big enough to be a hangar.

The Rainford Band is quite good. They have entered national competitions and have come in second more than once. In fact, we won't be able to hear them in Rainford any more, as after this they are entering the big leagues, going on a more prominent circuit.

The Ladies' Choir was also good, although we didn't give a hoot whether they or the band was any good at all. They sang and played with all their hearts, and that is what mattered to us.

The band also did some clowning around, and the music director told a couple jokes as well.

The last set consisted of songs usually sung on the last night of the Proms.  The conductor said, 'Let's pretend we mean it as we sing these,' so that is exactly what we did.  I have always thought it sounded like great fun to sing these in an enthusiastic crowd, and here, at last, was my chance.  But we all did have to pretend, to varying degrees, because the lyrics don't bear much scrutiny.
We sang Land of Hope and Glory, known to Americans as Pomp and Circumstance, that music always played when graduates, from kindergarten to university, march in. 

Land of Hope and Glory, Mother of the Free,
How shall we extol thee, who are born of thee?
Wider still, and wider, shall thy bounds be set;
God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet!
God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet!

Now that bit about 'Mother of the Free' obviously sounds weird in American ears, and probably in the ears of other former colonists, but especially in ours, as we are used to thinking of America as the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.

And then we come to Wider still, and wider, shall thy bounds be set and we begin to wonder how much territory do they want? And how much might?  Just pretend and sing your heart out and have fun.  It's no worse than some patriotic American lyrics:

O beautiful for Pilgrim feet,
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wildnerness.

I once heard that sung in a room full of mostly Native Americans.  Oops.

We sang Jerusalem, too. No, it's not Jerusalem, My Happy Home, nor yet Jerusalem, Jerusalem. No, this -are you ready?- this is an English Jerusalem. Yes.

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the holy lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?

And did the countenance divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among those dark Satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold,
Bring me my arrows of desire,
Bring me my spears o'clouds unfold,
Bring me my chariot of fire!

I will not cease from mental fight
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
'Til we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land,

'Til we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.

And finally, of course, Rule Britnania, sung twice:

When Britain first, at Heaven's command

Arose from out the azure main;
This was the charter of the land,
And guardian angels sang this strain:
"Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves:
"Britons never, never, never shall be slaves!"

Apparently the choice is between being slaves or ruling, i,e., making everyone else slaves. 

The flip side of empire, of course, is brutality.  That's why Gandhi's tactics were so effective; he correctly reckoned that the British were not brutal enough to do what he was going to make them have to do to keep India.  Lessons there for Brits and Americans alike. 

Never mind; we stood up and waved our English flags and Union Jacks and sang lustily and with huge smiles, pretending (with the English, who were also pretending) to mean it.

We had an absolutely glorious time and went home thoroughly happy and thoroughly worn out!

P.S.)  Demetrios would probably like me to add a point he is always making:  that patriotism, as distinguished from both chauvinism and imperialism, is a virtue.  One should love his country.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Learning to Live in England, Part 15

Tuesday, 13 June

Today Claudia came over, the woman from whom we bought this flat, with her husband, David.

Claudia is the dear who either left or bought for us virtually everything necessary to set up housekeeping in this flat, including: a Hoover, an iron and ironing board, 4 mugs on a mug tree, a dish drainboard, bath towels, various toiletries and cleaning products, pretty pictures on the wall and a clock, a radio/cd player with excellent sound, bedding, silk flowers, crochet doilies, a glass scupture, and more. We were overwhelmed with her kindness and eager to know her better; and for her part, she seemed eager to have us meet her husband, David. So almost as soon as we acquired a telephone, we invited them to tea, but she had jury duty, so today was the first day she could come.

We set the time for three o'clock, and I prepared cucumber sandwiches, tomato sandwiches, egg mayo sandwiches, scones with jam and cream, toasted buttered crumpets, and an apple crumble made from scratch at the last moment. And this time, finally, everything turned out beautifully.

David turns out to be as delightful as Claudia. He has a Ph.D. in pathology, and his specialty is the effect of high altitude upon the human body. he is co-author of a book entitled High Altitude Medicine. So of course he and Demetrios had much to discuss, and Claudia, too; she is a retired researcher in hematology, specializing in blood transfusions. She was also very much involved in the big breakthroughs in treating the Rh factor. If you've ever been pregnant, you probably know about that. If your blood type is negative and your husband's is positive, you need a prophylactic to prevent complications. Claudia was involved in the development of the treatment you need.

David, who is from Liverpool, is also a big history buff, and told us many fascinating things about this area, such as that most of it sits upon reclaimed land. That is, once upon a time it was all marshland. Then some Dutch engineers came in and drained it and built dykes, as of course the Dutch well know how to do. Our own town, Ormskirk, is an exception; we're built upon sandstone. House on a rock, and all that...

Seven-thirty came and went and we were nowhere ready to end our tea, and we were had already missed our usual Tuesday night discussion group over at Stuart's house. So Demetrios suggested we walk over to the Five Ways restaurant for supper. However, by time we got there, sometime after 8:00, it had already closed from lack of custom, although its usual closing time isn't until 9:30. We walked a bit further to the Hayfield Inn, a pub, but with the same result.

So we went back home and luckily we had some stuff in the refrigerator for supper. I put a brie in the oven and made some toast squares upon which we spread chicken liver pate. The for dessert we had the other half of the apple crumble.

What time do you suppose they left? Well, it was nearly midnight! We were extremely pleased they were enjoying us enough to stay that long, and we certainly were enjoying them equally.

We shall be very sorry when and if they really do move to Wiltshire, as they are more or less planning to do.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Things I'm Discovering in/about England

There are all sorts of foods here that are new to me/us that we are having a good time sampling.  For example, there are several brands of canned soups (in contrast to Greece, wehre we've found none so far), and there are flavors you don't readily find in the U.S.:  Spicy Parsnips, Carrot and Coriander, Oxtail, for example.  There is also a variety of local sausages with mild spices and herbs added, all of them, so far, delicious.  Cheese here is inexpensive.  Other dairy products abound:  clotted cream, double cream (double-thick), custard.  YUM!  Cadbury's makes chocolate in a jar that has the consistency of peanut butter.  I just eat a spoonful of it for dessert.  There are several kinds of pate available too, such as Duck Orange, but Chicken Liver Parfait is still the best we've found thus far. 

If you ask for 'lemonade' you will be served Sprite.  If it's a non-carbonated drink you want, made with lemons and sugar, you ask for lemon squash. 

There are linguistic things I'm learning, too.  For example, in the Scouse dialect, the short u is pronounced like the oo in look or book.  Thus, bus doesn't rhyme with pus, but with pussBut rhymes not with putt but with put.  Also, the Brits don't so often speak of solving a problem as of sorting it (and, less frequently, of sorting it out).  'Right, then, it's all sorted.'

There is a peculiar, strong wind around here that Demetrios says is frequent, but I only heard last night, that moans and wails around the chimneys.  It's just one factor, along with Victorian architecture and misty evenings, that makes it easy to believe in ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties and things that go bump in the night.  (Did you know that is actually a bad translation/corruption of one of St. Basil's prayers?  Lord, Lord, who has delivered us from every arrow that flies by day, deliver us from anything that lurks about in darkness. )

Before crossing streets, you have to look both ways backwards.  That is, we keep forgetting that the traffic is not coming from the direction we expect. 

The lime scale that builds up in the bottom of the tea kettle is easily removed by swishing some vinegar around in the teapot with a brush or Scotch Brite pad.  Rinse well. 

When we go for groceries, we walk back home through Coronation Park, and we stop on a certain bench for 5 minutes and we watch the ducks and swans.  ('The swans watch ME!' Demetrios says, in correction.)  Most swans in the UK belong to the Queen.  If you end up in a fight with one, as Demetrios nearly did, you end up in combat with one of Her Majesty's birds...!

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Vatican's Latest on Women Priests

Yesterday the Vatican made it 'a crime against sacraments' to attempt to ordain a woman.  There is considerable debate here in England on whether this was intended as a warning to the Church of England.

No, not exactly.  It's aimed at putting down rebellion in the Catholic ranks, and it's also bait dangled in the face of disaffected Anglican clergy:  Come to Rome, where we do not do this. 

The document also compared the 'crime against sacraments' to that 'crime against morals', pedophilia.  They are to be regarded as equally egregious.   (See?  We Catholcis have rampant pedophilia, but the rest of you have what is just as bad, so shut your mouths.)

Obviously, the Anglicans aren't the only ones to have had their Sacred Tradition bled away.  So has Rome before, to be making this a legal issue. 

And offending most women in the process by comparing them to pedophiles.

Learning to Live in England, Part 14

Not a great deal to report, although there have been some highlights.  We've mostly just been enjoying being here.  We are never bored!  Our little flat is so darling and so bright that I actually enjoy keeping it sparkling.  It only takes, on average, an hour a day to do the cooking, cleaning, and laundry.

On Friday (July 9) we went into Southport again, that lovely town the brochure calls a Victorian seaside resort, which about sums it up.  We had intended to go to the art festival, but never found it.  Never mind; we had a great time poking around in various shops.  (No, didn't buy anything).  Afterward we went to the Nostalgia Tearoom, where waitresses in black dresses with white ruffled caps and aprons serve a traditional tea, sandwiches and scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream.

Saturday night we attended a play at the Civic Center, in the spirit of trying to support our community.  It was set in Liverpool, making it of double interest to us.  The drama club, it turns out, is in the neighboring town of Skelmersdale; hence, most of the audience (family and friends of the cast and crew, one supposes) were also from Skelmersdale, not from here in Ormskirk.  Nevertheless, the play was better than we had expected it to be, and we are glad we went.

Sunday we went back to St. Nicholas in Liverpool, arriving half an hour before the Divine Liturgy because Demetrios wanted to help sing, and to arrive in time for at least some of Matins.

His voice isn't what it used to be, lacking about half its former power; but it is still as sweet and clear as ever, and yes, it did cause the ladies near me to sit up and take notice.

Elias, the cantor, sent a message to me that he would like me to read a snippet from the fathers just before Communion.  I declined, as it seemed wrong on so many levels.  If there is to be such a reading, it should be done by someone other than a stranger and a foreigner, it seems to me.  And then there's the question of whether it would be controversial for a woman to read.  Last thing I need is to be the focus of controversy.  Lastly, I wasn't sure just when I was to read it.

We went to the coffee hour afterwards.  There was a long table set up in the narthex where a family was serving koliva in honor of the anniversary of some loved one's death.  In Richmond, they serve it in a plastic cup with a spoon.  Here, they hand you a packet in plastic wrap, done up with a slice or two of bread.  Presumably you eat it at home? 

Off the narthex is a function room, where coffee and juice and sandwiches and cake are served.  We went in there and dontated a couple of pounds and helped ourselves.  Elias came up to chat with us.  He said the reason he had wanted that reading was that there is no sermon.  The priest, he says, can't preach.  Well, give him credit for not trying, I say!  If you can't preach, have the humility to recognize that and not inflict your efforts upon the congregation. 

And yes, I found out it is controversial here for a female to read.  A girl of about 12 read the Creed in English, and I mean in the Queen's English, too, not in Scouse.  It was beautifully done, with great reverence and perfect clarity.  But Elias says some people have come to him and said, tell her not to read.  He replies, no, he will tell her to keep reading.  Okay, here's where the weaker brother principle comes in.  Don't eat meat if it offends your brother (or sister) and don't read, either, if it offends them.

So usually, when Demetrios sings somewhere for the first time, there are thank-yous and sometimes even compliments about his beautiful voice, but there weren't any this time.  I'm sure he will keep singing anyway, whenever his voice permits. 

On our way out, we had to squeeze past the priest, who was standing near the door chatting with two women.  So then he had to speak.  Not to me, but at least to Demetrios.  What did he say?  'You didn't tell us you could sing!'  Demetrios smiled and said something about how he had learned as a child.  Then I stuck out my hand, so the priest had to put out his, which I took in mine and then kissed.  Then we departed.

Elias drove us home.  Demetrios, in the back seat with Elias' son Alex and friend Zisis, carried on a conversation with them, while in the front seat, Elias and I compared notes about people we know in the Orthodox world.  Elias wants to take us to northern Wales, where his spiritual father is, Fr. Daniel.  Northern Wales, Elias says, is very beautiful, but the greatest beauty there is Fr. Daniel.  He proposes August 28 for the journey, which is Dormition on the Old Calendar.  We'll try to firm that up next week, to be sure someone else can sing at St. Nicholas that day.

Also, Elias wants to take us to his house, in a village very near Ormskirk, next Sunday after church.  He and his wife are giving a graduation party for their daughter, who is completing high school.  We shall look forward to it and to meeting more Orthodox people.

Elias is the kind of person you're so happy to meet that it brings tears to your eyes.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Another Sunday in Liverpool (Learning to Live in England, Part 13)

At last we made it - and on time, too! - to an Orthodox Divine Liturgy. It felt so good to be back where we belong.

It was virtually all in Greek.

Afterwards, we met the psaltis (cantor), an enthusiastic man about forty-something named Elias. He comes from Thessaloniki. In fact, he grew up in approximately the same neighborhood where we live when we are there.  He is also an avid student of theology, although he does not intend to pursue priesthood. So we had much in common and look forward to pursuing that relationship.

The only other person with whom we conversed was the priest, Fr. Iakovos, an elderly man with a nice smile and a short, snowy beard. He and Demetrios had been talking for two or three minutes already by time I joined them.  Demetrios introduced me and the priest asked, 'Einai dikia mas?' Is she one of our own?

Demetrios said yes, she's Orthodox, but that wasn't what Fr. Iakovos had in mind. No, no, he meant, is she Greek?

'No,' I said, in English. 'I'm American. But I'm Orthodox.'  I shrugged.  'Does that count? Eimai dikia sas? (Am I one of your own?)' flashing him my biggest smile.

'Well,' he replied, in English and obviously in some minor distress that I had understood him, 'In the case of mixed marriages, since you are married to him, yes, we still consider you one of us.'

'And if I were still Orthodox but not married to a Greek? What then?'

There was a moment of hand-wringing before he said, 'Well, certainly we never turn anyone away...'

So I smiled again, as broadly as I could, and said, 'Thank you! That makes me feel warm and good inside.' Which it did.  I'm in - more or less - should I care to be. 

Nobody else spoke to us.  Well, we didn't go there for social reasons, so we shan't mind.

We walked from the church to Liverpool Cathedral and had a little snack lunch in the cafe there before sitting through most of Evensong because Demetrios likes that service. We couldn't sit through all of it because it lasted until 4:00 and we had to be out of there by 3:30 to find the restaurant where we were to join in the birthday celebration dinner for James, Demetrios' godson.  He turns 29 later this week.

Walk to the ruins of St. Luke's, turn onto Seel street, ask the way. A man pointed to a white stucco building a block or so away and said, that's it. That's the Alma de Cuba Restaurant

The Alma de Cuba is in the a former Catholic Church. Above where the altar once was is still the inscription: Tu Es Petrus, Thou Art Peter. Of course, I thought to myself; what else? Then I remembered it used to be the Church of St. Peter.

There is a long bar now alongside the right side of the nave, with a kitchen behind it and lounge seating across on the left side of the nave. Up the chancel steps is another seating area for bar customers, and the alcove behind where the altar used to be is all mirrored. (What an interesting idea! Mirror behind the altar!)

An upstairs has been constructed, where we sat with David and Julia and James and Kim and the younger son, Nick.

There was live gospel music for the first hour, with renditions of O Happy Day and Swing Low, Sweet Chariot and such making conversation all but impossible. The food was good, though, and after the gospel choir had finished for the day, we were better able to enjoy one another.

David told the story about how he became 'Dr. Bate.' He isn't really a doctor; he's a business man. But way back when, in their youth, he was somewhere in Greece with Demetrios and began conversing with a waitress there, and made the mistake of mentioning that Demetrios was a doctor. The waitress thereupon began to unload on Demetrios her various medical problems. Demetrios listened until his patience ran out, but when she came to her female problems, he told her, 'This is really not my area of expertise. But this man,' glaring at David, 'is the leading gynecologist in Britain.' Then Demetrios stood up and disappeared into the men's room Gents while David listened to all the woman's intimate ailments.

'Well, I do know something about the inside of a woman,' David added, with a smile. Besides, he explained, he found he could never telephone Demetrios at work and get through unless he said he was 'Dr. Bate.' Then he'd get put through instantly. So he has been 'Dr. Bate' ever since.

Nick drove us home afterwards, and we were very tired and grateful to be there.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Learning to Live in England, Part 12

Saturday, June 26

There was a festival in the park today. It was billed as 'Park Praise Fun Day in Coronation Park' and was sponsored by all the local churches. There were dozens of pavillions, most of them totally boring, and there was face-painting for the children. There were puppet shows and Christian bands and speakers.

We went with Julia and David. However, apart from their meeting several old friends and our meeting two new ones, the whole thing was of little interest, and quite preachy, too. Plus, I, for one, can only take 'Christian bands' for so long.

So we took David and Julia home for dinner.

Dinner wasn't all that successful, either. The porkchops were overdone. Potatoes were delish. David doesn't like mushrooms. The lemon bars were wonderful. Except that they were intended to be a cheesecake.

Next time! Next time will be much better.

James and Kim were in our area with another young couple with whom they are very good friends, so they all dropped by for a few minutes, just to say hello, which was very kind of them.

So we did enjoy the company, at any rate.

Sunday, June 27

Another scrub, in search of another Orthodox Church. It was misunderstanding upon misunderstanding. The lady Demetrios had telephoned for directions said take the bus to the Preston station, then take a number 111 bus to the Seven Stars Pub ('Everybody knows it!') and the church was visible from there.

What we didn't realize when we decided to splurge and take a cab instead (thereby arriving more nearly on time, so went the theory), is that the church is not actually in Preston. I could have sworn (in fact, I did swear) the computer had said, 'Holy Apostles Church, Preston' but not so.

The cabbie phoned his dispatcher for directions and typed what was thought to be the correct postal code into his GPS sat system, and the voice on the gadget told us where to turn. When we came to the final 'Turn left!', however, there was no street there. No way to turn left. Nobody we asked knew any Seven Stars Pub, except one old drunk who swore it was not in Preston but in Leyland, which was correct as it turns out, but we didn't believe him.  (Note to self:  Always trust a drunk when it comes to locations of famous pubs.)  The church was in Preston! So around 12:30 we gave up because the cab fare was becoming inordinate, and we wandered around downtown Preston.

Presently, we found a bus marked '111,' so we took it and asked the driver to set us down at the Seven Stars Pub, and he nodded.  At least we would find the church for future reference.

The driver did set us down at the pub. In Leyland. 'OLD ORIGINAL SEVEN STARS PUB', the sign proclaimed. We stood on the corner of it. We walked around it, looking for a church visible from there.

And that's when we discovered the 'Seven Stars Pub' on the corner diagonally across. So we walked over there and looked around.

So make a very long story a bit shorter, the Church of the Holy Apostles is indeed visible from the (non-original) pub, but only if you know what you're looking for. There's no spire or dome and no obvious anything to let you know, from that distance, it's a church. We arrived around 2 p.m. !!!

Once we got over feeling dispirited, angry, and wishing to blame each other, we actually had a good time, back in Preston. Found a little eatery and sat outside enjoying lunch before heading home, where I collapsed onto the bed and cried a while.

Our enemy doesn't seem to mind a bit if we play Anglican, but seems determined to keep us from any Orthodox church!

Demetrios liked Evensong at the Liverpool Cathedral and wants to go back, but to be frank, I went there as a tourist and I've already been there, done that.