Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Memory of Hope

For no reason of which I am consciously aware, this evening an old memory came back to me, a snatch of melody I couldn't identify for a while, and then suddenly, there it was: "Whispering Hope."

Soft as the voice of an angel
Breathing a lesson unheard,
Hope with a gentle persuasion
Whispers her comforting word:

Wait till the darkness is over,
Wait till the tempest is done,
Hope for the sunshine tomorrow,
After the showers are gone.


Whispering hope, O how welcome thy voice,
Making my heart in its sorrow rejoice.

My dad used to play it on the piano; so did I, although not nearly as well. Here is someone playing in on the organ, perhaps a bit fast (or perhaps not), but at least it's not the hokey rendition you usually find. I hope you will enjoy it.

How Not to Conduct Catholic-Orthodox Dialogue

Dear Catholics,

The very first pre-requisite for dialogue with Orthodox Christians is to accept that the differences between us are at root theological. Yes, theological. And they are genuine, authentic, theological differences, and they are grave. You need to take that seriously if we are to get anywhere in dialogue.

It is neither accurate nor charitable to tell us the separation between us is because we Orthodox Christians are simply unforgiving, as in this remark:

I will never quite grasp the animus of the Orthodox attitude towards the Catholic Church. I know that many (and in fact most) regard Western Christianity as unorthodox, but I rather suspect that this is an historical grievance looking for a doctrinal excuse.
At least such a dismissive remark does acknowledge that there are grievances -- conveniently relegating them to history, however, and ignoring the current and continuing grievances.

But historically, we made the doctrinal issues clear three hundred years before the first significant grievance, the sacking of Constantinople in 1204 by Catholic Crusaders.

Nor does it further the cause of Christian unity to tell us our differences are merely products of our proud imagination. Do not, for example, say this:

My contention would be that the Orthodox are simply creating doctrinal errors that don’t exist. On any of the issues you cite … the “difference” comes about because of exaggerated Orthodox insistence that there must be a fundamental difference. We, on the other hand, see that the Eastern and Western theologies are compatible rather than contradictory. Because the doctrines that the East denies are not those which the West teaches, but those which they imagine we teach.
Who has created anything?  Our doctrine is the same as it has ever been, from centuries before the split.  You are the ones who believe in "doctrinal development".

But if you think Catholic and Orthodox teachings all mean the same thing, then say it the Orthodox way and put an end to the controversy.  If you mean the same thing by the filioque as we mean without it, then say the Creed without it; as it's all the same, you've nothing to lose and much to gain.  You could have done this a thousand years ago and ended or prevented all these centuries of bitter controversy, but you haven't and that tells us there is some meaning in the filioque more important to Catholics than union with the Orthodox.  In other words, there's a real difference, a substantial one.

It would also be prudent, as well as more charitable, not to tell us the corollary to this insult, which is that we are ignorant:

the disagreements have arisen as a result of linguistic and cultural isolation rather than authentic disagreement on the heart of the faith.
Upon what basis does this opinion rest? 

And please, do not tell us you know and understand the Orthodox Christian faith better than the Orthodox do:

...the Protestant rejections really do amount to a disagreement, because they reject them in the context of a shared Western Church view ... Thus the Protestants really DO reject these doctrines, but we Catholics see these very doctrines as implicit within the Orthodox Faith as well as our own.
Take the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, for example.  It is not implicit in the Orthodox Faith; instead, it is predicated upon the Catholic doctrine of Original Sin, which is not the same as the Orthodox doctrine of the Ancestral Sin.  (The former has guilt and accountability for it being inherited by all of Adam's descendants.)  In fact, the Immaculate Conception, far from being implicit in our Faith, actually undermines it, for Orthodox Christianity teaches that Christ healed fallen human nature by assuming it.  By assuming fallen human nature - inherited from whom?  from His mother - and uniting it to the Divine Nature, thereby purifying, sanctifying , re-creating that fallen human nature, without any compromise to the Divine.

I found all four of these dismissive insults on one blog, by one author, in regard to one post.  But I have also found them in virtually every discussion with Catholics. 

Unfortunately, the reality is that the gap between us is theological.  It is not the result of animus or imagination or ignorance or misunderstanding.  It is theological and very real.  And it is both deep and wide. Facing this gap, acknowledging it for what it is, will be the first step toward bridging it.

But if all you are going to do is cast aspersions, well, don't expect not to create "animus"..

Sunday, November 28, 2010

They're Deer Mice

...and they're adorable. They're charcoal gray (not brown) on top, with white bellies and feet. Well, okay, the bellies and feet are pink right now because there's no fur there, but there soon will be. Thee mousies are about the size of the top joint of my index finger, tiny, warm, fuzzy things.

They've had 8 feedings so far; they seem to get hungry about every 3 hours. How can I tell? They aren't interested in feeding much before then.

They have learned to associate my warm hand with their meals, and now instead of scrambling to get away fom my hand, they scamper right into it.

They also no longer need force-feeding, which is a relief, because you have to judge how much to give them. But now they lap up tiny droplets from the end of the syringe, all by themselves, and quit when they're full, which is after only a few drops, less than .1 cc.

You can see the milk in their tummies as a slightly bulging white area.

Their other ends are all functioning well, too. Meaning the formula is agreeing with them. All is normal.

And I'm thrilled. I've missed having animals. I've especially missed having hand-fed animals around.

And it gives me something special to do while I recover from this very miserable cold. (I went to church this morning, but was extremely glad to arrive back home and go to bed.) I've set up a tray table beside the bed, covered with a couple of baby blankets and the heating pad, set on "Low". On top of the heating pad sit two tiny "cages", really just those little boxes sold for children to collect insects in. They are good because they're small enough the mice don't get lost and they are fully enclosed so they don't escape.

The mice are transferred, one at a time as each one is fed, from one box to the other, so I can keep track. These "cages" are coverd with another baby blanket to keep out drafts and keep in the warmth from the heating pad.

Also on the table: a syringe full of formula tipped with the smallest nipple you ever saw, rubber-banded to an ice pack; a small thermos of very hot water in which to warm the syringe at feeding time; a bottle of hand sanitizer. The Kleenex box doesn't fit on the table and is right beside my pillow. The waste basket is right under the tray table.

So it's a nice set-up. I only have to get up every 3rd feeding, for clean syringes and fresh formula. I sleep (if I can) when the babies do.

The Reading Appointed for the Day

Any priest or minister who wonders how to make it relevant to the lives of his flock is assuming it isn't already. Come on! This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the glad tidings of great joy!

If it isn't already inherently relevant, nothing you can do can make it so. If it is, you don't need to do anything except preach it correctly.

And if it isn't already relevant, you'll be preaching it for the wrong reason; viz., to attract followers for God. He, however, isn't interested in just attracting followers as a good in itself. He wants to transfigure people, heal and save them, make them joyful and peaceful, and holy and glorious.

If that isn't relevant to everybody, what is?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Three Blind Mice

That is what has been brought to me tonight, the first residents of my wild baby nursery since our return from Greece. They came all the way from the little town of Disputanta (pronounced, I learned, "Dis-pyu-TAN-na") where a man and his wife were hauling out Christmas decorations from an outdoor storage shed and found these babies nesting amid the garlands. They are so tiny I can't yet tell their sexes for sure, although I think we have two boys and a girl. They do have a little fur, but their eyes are still sealed shut.

They've had two feedings so far, the first on half-strength formula, the second on three-quarters strength. Next feeding will be full-strength; I hope their digestive systems can handle it. They only drink a few drops at a time and that fills them up.

So far, so good. As they were brought to me within three hours of their being found, they are in good shape, not at all dehydrated. They're strong, wiggly, and already afraid of being held.

Mice are among Demetrios' favorite animals, and I like rehabbing them because they're all grown up in four weeks or so.

But if they live, I suppose I may overwinter these. Let's hope.

Friday, November 26, 2010

A Memory of Long Ago and a Hope for Now

(All names changed)

“You’ve adopted a baby!” I exclaimed joyfully when Felicity and Sam showed up in church with a boy in arms, about a year old.

“No,” said Felicity. “This is an abandoned baby.”

“What on earth…?

Sam, a Catholic ex-priest who was now the administrator of a teen center, said one of the teenagers who frequented the center had brought him this baby last night. She had been babysitting him, she said, and his mother never came back, and the girl didn’t know what to do. So Sam had taken the baby from her.

“Well, what are YOU going to do?” I asked Sam and Felicity.

They didn’t know.

“Do you have the stuff you’ll need, like bottles and diapers?”

They didn’t; they only had one bottle and a bit of formula and one pack of diapers.

I said, “We have everything for a child that age. He looks the same age as our Mark. Why don’t we take him home while you figure out what to do next?”

So we did.

The baby was half white and half Indian, as the Native Americans called themselves back then. He had green eyes.

The poor child also had long, ragged fingernails and toenails and was dirty all over. I gave him a warm bath, clipped his nails, put ointment on his severe diaper rash, put him in clean clothes, fed him a nice supper, and rocked him to sleep. He woke several times during the night, crying. I rocked him and sang to him for an hour or so at a time, wondering how he must feel without his mom. Lonely? Terrified? Heartbroken?

During playtime, I would sit him on a big rug, next to Mark, in the nursery, and the boy hadn’t a clue what to do. He didn’t know how to play, didn’t know what to do with any of the baby toys. He just sat there and looked around.

He was a good boy, very compliant, in fact rather passive, a bit clingy, as was only to be expected. But he was clearly suffering from neglect. Severe neglect. He also had a runny nose and runny eyes.

I called my son’s pediatrician and made an appointment for the child.

Three days went by and I hadn’t heard from Felicity and Sam, so that evening I decided I’d better call them. What progress had been made toward locating the mother? Well, none. They hadn’t really had time to think about it much. All they knew was, his mother’s first name was Alma and she worked at the Franklin Bar.

I called the Franklin Bar and asked to speak with Alma. She was off tonight, they told me. I explained that this was an emergency, and could I please have her home number? They gave it to me; I called it and reached Alma’s mother. “She’s spending the night with a girlfriend,” the mother told me.

“Well, I’m someone who has her baby, and I want to speak to her about him,” I said. “Could you give me the number where she is?”

She did and I called and finally found myself talking to the mother of the baby. I wasn’t particularly eager to return the boy to a mother who had abandoned him and had been neglecting him before that. It wasn't even clear whether she wanted him. I said, “Alma, I have your baby." (I didn't want to tell her my name.) "Do you want him back?”

“Yes,” she said, simply.

“Well, then, meet me tomorrow morning at ten o’clock in the lobby of General Hospital” (where the pediatrician’s office was) “and we’ll work it out.”

She agreed.

Somewhbere in all this, I also called Social Services and said I had an abandoned baby and I didn’t know what to do.

“You mean left in a basket on your doorstep?” the startled receptionist asked.

“No, not like that.” And I explained.

Turns out Alma had a social worker already; I’ve forgotten how I found that out. However, she was away on her honeymoon. But another social worker got on the phone with me. I told her the situation, including my reluctance to give the baby back, and she said she’d meet us in the doctor’s office and see what should be done.

Ten o’clock the next morning, I stood in the hospital’s main lobby, baby in arms, and a stocky young Native American woman came up to me and stuffed a few hundred dollars into my hand.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“The payment,” she whispered.


After everything had been sorted out, it turned out the mother had not abandoned her baby. She had come back home to find baby and sitter gone. The teenager had come to the same conclusion as I, that this child did not belong with this mother, and had taken the situation into her own hands. She confessed to having abducted the baby.

Alma had not gone to the police, because she was afraid to, with her police record. But she had mistaken my telephone call for a ransom demand. After we had hung up, she had scraped together the several hundred dollars.

The baby had been kidnapped and technically, I was an accessory to the crime!

The pediatrician and the social worker both agreed with my assessment (and the babysitter’s) that this child was being severely neglected. The only way to get him away from the mother, they said, was to hospitalize him for a while. So they did, and during that time, the mother was required to attend a couple of weeks of parenting classes.

I assume they gave her back the baby after that, but I don’t know because the doctor visit ended my involvement.

No, I didn’t get into any legal trouble.

Oh, and the baby turned out to be exactly the same age as Mark, with only a 12-hour difference. Mark is 42 now, which means that child is also 42, probably a father himself. I hope things worked out well for him. And his mother. I hope they are both happy. I pray for them now and then, when I think of it, especially every year on Mark's birthday.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

In Every Thing, Give Thanks

Please, please read this, from Fr. Stephen.  It will MAKE your Thanksgiving.  It also hits the nail on the head about how hard it is for us Westerners really to believe, deep down, in every circumstance, that GOD IS GOOD.  Utterly, perfectly, absolutely, infinitely good.

h/t:  Chocolatesa at Kyrie Eleison (See my sidebar)

Pure Gift

Non-Orthodox people who theologize usually only have two ideas in mind of how good works could relate to salvation. One is what they were taught by Roman Catholicism: that good works cause or result in salvation. Knowing this to be wrong, Protestants turn this teaching on its head and say no, it’s salvation that causes good works and good works are the manifestation of it.

(Herein is a common Protestant error, assuming that Catholic teaching can be corrected by inverting or reversing it, not realizing that alough the conclusions are opposites, there is a faulty premise common to both.  If the pope says, "Go this way along the road," you can't correct him by saying, "No, go the other way along the road" if what's really needed is to be on a different road.)

So along come the Orthodox and they don't follow that road in either direction.  They say good works are indeed necessary for salvation and are not a mere demonstration of it; but on the other hand, good works do not earn or merit salvation, either – and the heterodox are left scratching their heads. What on earth could that mean?

It means salvation does not work as a merit system.  We don't go down that road, or up it, either.  Salvation is the absolutely free gift of God, which neither can nor needs to be merited, period. Salvation does not have to be merited by anyone whomsoever because God is already willing, able, and prepared to give it to anybody. It cannot be earned, by anyone who ever lived, because Love is not extorted or cajoled or evoked from God, or it isn't true love. Salvation cannot literally be purchased, as by suffering or dying, even if the One who suffers and dies is Jesus Christ, because salvation was never for sale.  It is pure gift from the magnanimous heart of God. To suppose somebody Somebody must do something to get God to save us is to insult His tender kindness and limitless generosity.

I’m reminded of once when my daughter was very young and we were making Valentines for her to give to each child in her class.

“But I don’t want to give one to so-and-so!” she protested. “It will mean I think he’s a nice boy and he isn’t!”

So I explained that what the Valentine would really show was not that he was a nice boy, but that she was a nice girl, giving a card to everyone, so nobody’s feelings would be hurt, no matter whether they were nice children or not. She was a nice girl; that was the point.

When people say salvation must be merited, it becomes imperative immediately to add: “but not by you!” Only by Jesus Christ.  Lest any man should boast, you know.

To explain why only Jesus Christ merits your salvation, you have to mess up the authentic doctrine of the Atonement, painting God as Not At All Nice, Someone who must be repaid or persuaded or dealt with, so He will grant us salvation, because otherwise He either can't or won't. You in effect portray Him as Someone Who is looking out for His own interests at the expense of ours, as Someone Whose justice consists of punishing sin when the truth is, His justice means healing it.  God's Justice does not require simply to be “paid” for sin, as if that were possible, but to be RID of it.  Divine Justice is not to balance some mythological ledger, but to set things right.

To explain why salvation, though it indeed must be merited, cannot be merited by you, you have to mess up both your Christian anthropology and your whole theology of good works. You cannot allow that mankind can really do good (because good would be meritorious, obliging God to save); and that skews Christian anthropology. You cannot allow that mankind needs to do good to be saved (because that again would mean we could merit our own salvation); and this distorts the theology of good works. You get told such things as that good works flow easily and naturally from the regenerate person, perhaps without his even being aware of it, when everyone, every single one, who has ever tried to follow Christ all the way, every moment of every day, knows that is very far from the truth.

But if salvation is not a merit system period, if God just gives it outright and not as part of any deal, then the Atonement has another meaning in which God really is Very Nice Indeed, to put it far too mildly. He's too nice by far, for people who would rather see their fellow man fry in hell.  (Here is an interesting post on that subject by Anthony Iovine, a Lutheran minister, who observes that this is the wrong attitude for a Christian.)  If salvation is not a merit system period, then Christian anthropology will not be afraid to admit mankind has a free will and can indeed do some good things. And when it comes to good works, we need not worry whether they are meritorious or not, as that is irrelevant; salvation doesn't work that way. We need not deny the need for good works, as that need does not imply earning our salvation.

Good works have a different role to play.  Good works, meaning works of faith, neither cause nor only demonstrate our salvation; they ARE it.  For salvation is not merely a ticket into heaven in the hereafter; salvation is being made holy, as God is holy, so as to be united in bliss with Him, both now and forever.  

The works of faith are our salvation.  They do not earn or cause it.  That, to us, ould be a bit like saying, “My headache causes pain.” Nor do they simply manifest our salvation. That would be like saying, “My headache shows that I have pain.” No, good works, works of faith ARE your salvation, as your headache IS pain.  That is, good works are the shape and form our faith takes, and our salvation. We are saved from being sinners to being set on the right path, and being able (even though in infantile ways, at first) to do works pleasing to God. We are saved from being  faithless, mean, nasty, selfish slaves of passions to being trusting, kind, pure, self-sacrificing, free servants of our Lord. We are being saved from our wretchedness to His blessedness. We are being transfigured into His image. (No, not all in a moment.)  Good works are not all salvation is, but they are a very large part of what salvation is. And that is one sense in which we mean it when we say good works are “necessary for salvation.” It’s a redundancy.

But if salvation is becoming conformed to the image of the Son, then the necessity of good works takes on another sense, as well.  Good works reinforce that transformation.  Good works exercise our spirit and strengthen our faith to do more.  The more good we do, the more like the Son we are.  The more like the Son we are, the more glorious our salvation, not waiting until the hereafter, but beginning here and now. 

Good works merit nothing.  And good works are absolutely necessary.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

I'm Fine, But This Was Scary Stuff

It's something every woman dreads: the notification that the mammogram was not entirely satisfactory and please come back for further investigation. You call up, you make your appointment for the earliest possible time, you wait it out, you pray a lot, you prepare for the worst. You remind yourself that this has happened before, to you, to your sister, to others you know, and it's almost always nothing.  On the other hand, the family history is there...  You remind yourself that if Barbara could do it, so can you, if need be.

The hardest part of the waiting, for me, was all the extra attentiveness from Demetrios. The long, loving looks, the "Let me do that," the wanting to be constantly near. Oh, yes, of course, it's sweet, it's kind, it's wonderful to have such a lovey-dovey husband -- except when you know there's fear behind it.  He's cheerful, but he's scared and you hate that. And he's a doctor.

So the day of the appointment comes, and you go into the x-ray room, and here comes a second shock: they want to re-check BOTH breasts. OMG, has the thing already metastasized? And the x-ray technician says, "Next time, don't wait and do your mammogram the day before you're going away for six months; it give us heart failure."

She takes the pictures and the pain is so bad it gives you your excuse to cry. She goes back to speak to the radiologist. You wait some more, wiping away your tears because the sight of you crying over this is something you are NOT going to inflict upon your husband.  Not yet, anyway.

She comes back. There's no smile, but her words begin with, "The GRRREAT news is..." You still can't smile. She says, "...it's only cysts and we want to see you back here in six months."

Thank You, thank You, thank You!

Kyrie, eleison!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 22, 2010

What is the Church?

The Church, in a word, is Christ. She is His Body; she is Christ in all His fullness (Ephesians 1:23); that is, Christ filled up with all His members. Christians are members of Christ. Only in that secondary and derivative sense can it be said that we are the Church; but to put it that way is still misleading. The Church is not us, but Christ-containing-us, as it were.

Note that the inverse is not true. It doesn’t work to say Christ is the Church, for He is far more than the Church. But the Church is no more – and no less – than the body of Christ, sharing His flesh and His blood (Ephesians 5:30), animated by His Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16).

The whole Church is the Body of Christ. That is, the Church is not some other body from the neck down, while the Head alone is Christ.  No, not merely her Head, but the whole Church is Christ.

Because the whole Church is Christ, and not only part of it is, the clergy are not a separate, privileged class within the Holy Orthodox Church. They do not stand in the place of the invisible Head; He Himself stands in that place.  They do not act in His Person; He acts in His own Person.  Rather, the clergy act jointly with Him, performing the visible counterpart of His invisible ministry.  When we say, "the Church" we are not using the word as a synonym for "the clergy" but we mean the entire Church. No bishop is the "head" of any Orthodox Church but her shepherd and minister. The Head, like the Whole, is Christ and only Christ. The priests and bishops and patriarchs are not infallible; only the whole Church is, in the consensus built over the span of her whole life and not at any given moment or era in her history. The clergy are not the only ones called to proclaim the Gospel. They are not the only ones to whom the Holy Spirit is given. (1 John 2:27) The clergy are not even necessarily our leaders. That is, we follow whoever manifests the life of Christ in his or her own flesh, whoever speaks in His Voice. We hope our clergy are among those, but it isn’t always so. Ordination is thought of more in functional terms than structural. Priesthood is a particular role, not a special status. If it were a status, it would be wrong to withhold that status from, say, women. But it is not; it is a very particular function, and one that needs a man, and a very particular sort of man. (If you want to acquire status among the Orthodox, humble yourself and strive to become more and more like Christ, allowing Him more and more to live His life in your flesh. Succeed in that and we will revere you and follow you, no matter who you are.)

Another biblical metaphor for the Church is the Vine and the branches. (John 15:5) You cannot separate or even rightly distinguish the two. And the destiny of Christians is to be so transfigured into the image of the Son (Romans 8:29-30) that it will be just as problematic to tell where Christ leaves off and we begin, or where we leave off and He begins.

A third biblical metaphor for the Church is marriage, the union between a husband and a wife. The Church, here, is called the Bride of Christ. Many non-Orthodox people misuse this metaphor to make a distinction between Christ and His Church, but the purpose of the metaphor is the opposite: to speak of the union, of becoming one flesh in the sweet bonds of love.

The Church is not, properly speaking, an institution. The Church has her institutions, and they are all human and suffer from the frailties attendant thereupon. Those institutions may even from time to time be found to be corrupt. But they are not the Church. The Church is the body of Christ and as such, is holy and pure. Even when her members sin, she is always the sinned-against, and not the sinner. The Church is Christ.

Because the Church is Christ, we Orthodox do not speak of Christ “gathering” His Church. Christ is not “gathered”. Rather, He gathers us into His Church; that is, into Himself. Christ, in baptism and chrismation (confirmation) simultaneously incorporates us into Himself and seals our own individuality.

Because the Church is Christ, we do not suppose her subservient to the Holy Scriptures. Christ is not subservient to them. Rather, from within her life in, with, and as Christ, the Church produces the writings; by comparing them with her life in, with, and as Christ, she discerns and proclaims which of the writings to regard as canonical and how to interpret them. The Holy Scriptures are more like an instrument in the hands of the Church than a weapon held over her. It is because of her life in, with, and as Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit, that the Church, according to Scripture is “the pillar and foundation of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15) The Church, having been given the mind of Christ (I Corinthians 2:16), is the guarantor of Truth. The Scriptures bear witness to this Truth. By divine intent, even the angels in heaven learn the Truth “by the Church”. (Ephesians 3:10)

If your denomination doesn't experience itself in this way, it may not really be the true Church after all. 

I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Weirdness Happens (An Illustrated Triple Whammy)

So I designed a small baby blanket to use up my leftover yarns, because I really couldn’t have a stash in the tiny flat in Greece; there’s no place to store it.

The plan was simple: start with 4 stitches on 4 needles and knit in rounds until you run out of yarn. That way, even if the blanket is rather small, it will be perfect for a very premature baby.

I alternated one knit round in coral and one purl round in pastel pink. That way the two colors became thoroughly mixed and to the eye looked like one color.  I put in a cream stripe, and that’s where the first bit of weirdness showed up. Was it just me? I laid out the work and asked Demetrios what colors he saw, and he, too, saw bright pink and pale green! An optical illusion. He could hardly believe me when I said there was not a single stitch of green in the whole thing. (And the more you stare at it, the greener it looks.)

The second weirdness showed up because I decided to make a spiral. So picture this. We start out with a simple square.

We shift the corners one stitch to the right as we go, making a pinwheel pattern.

To use up all our yarn, we make stripes, which worked in the round become squares – and voilà.


Apparently pinwheel patterns need to be done without stripes, or else with very narrow, very close ones.

I decided to throw out the entire project. It was a pity, because the blanket was already 17 inches across.  I took if off the needles, laid it flat, and smoothed it out. That’s when one more surprise then showed up. Each edge was shaped like stretched-out, distorted S.


The “squares”, still not aligned with one another, were actually the same shape as the edge, the curves becoming more and more pronounced as the project grew larger.

EPILOGUE:  I actually salvaged this one!  I added more stripes, so instead of looking like mistakes, they formed a progression.  Instead of trying to correct the curves of the edges, I exaggerated them, pinning out the finished blanket and steaming the curves permanently into place.  No way to fix the weird color illusion, but that's kind of fun, I decided.

The Finished Result.  Not Great, But Not Too Bad
 My neighbor took this for you because I don't know how to use a digital camera!  She uploaded it, too, and e-mailed it.  As both sides are alike, I accidentally laid it backside up, so the spiral is going in the other direction, but never mind.  Click if you care to enlarge.  Lean back from your computer a bit if you want to see the "green" effect more clearly.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Why He Wept

You simply must read s-p's  post, here, and that's all I'm going to say about it.

More Kid Quips

My granddaughter, Sydney, is learning to read in kindergarten.  She has been taught to sound out words.  She has a set of flash cards her parents hold up for her to read.  The words are very simple ones.  When her mother held up the card that read BUT, Sydney began sounding it out:  "B, U, T -- beauty!"

* * *

Also a few days ago, Sydney said, "I know how to spell knee."

This surpised her mother, since knee was not among her spelling words so far. 

"You do?" she asked.

"Sure.  N-E-Y."

That was a very good guess, said her mother, but it's not how knee is spelled.

"Yes, it is!" the little girl protested.  "Syd-NEY!"

Friday, November 19, 2010

To Be or Not To Be on Facebook

Deb has a new post on why she has quit Facebook.  It's very worth reading and so are the comments.

My brother-in-law recently got himself and his two young daughters off FB; he said too many posts were raising too many questions in his household.

I'm very inclined to do the same.  I despise Facebook.  I seldom post anything there, and seldom check it.

Of the posts I receive, perhaps 1 in 10 is worth reading.  I love you, dear friends and relatives, but that doesn't mean I want to read about every time you burp. It means tell me something significant happening in your life, in your mind, in your heart.  Very few people ever do; perhaps Facebook isn't the right medium for it.  (Surely people don't  really live such dreary, banal lives!  Do they?) 

I do not have time for those fantasy games.  And unless you are sick in bed or unemployed or something else is wrong, you don't either.  Life is full of so many better things! 

In short, Facebook is a tool for which most people haven't figured out any more than an exquisitely vapid use, at best, and an evil use quite often. 

But -- it's on FB that pictures of my children and grandchildren are posted.  It's also an easy way to stay in touch with people, marginally at least.   So I'm thinking about it.  Maybe I'll de-friend all but my immediate family and as for the others, if we really want to stay in touch, we will, in other ways. 

Thank you, Deb. 

P.S.)  Never been on Twitter.  I wonder, is it even worse?

Packaging Jesus

The problem, when trying to re-package Jesus, or even package Him at all, is to find some sort of wrapping that is more enticing, more attractive, more beautiful, more delightful, more glorious than Himself.

If you can, then you are "selling" the wrong Jesus.

If you can't, then it is better to leave Him unpackaged, as any packaging will appear (and be!) tawdry  in comparison.

Fair are the meadows, fairer still the woodlands,
Robed in the blooming garb of spring;
Jesus is fairer, Jesus is purer,
Who makes the woeful heart to sing.

Fair is the sunshine, Fairer still the moonlight,
And all the twinkling starry host;
Jesus shines brighter, Jesus shines purer
Than all the angels heaven can boast.

--from "Fairest Lord Jesus", a hymn Protestants used to sing

UPDATE/CLARIFICATION:  I love this hymn!  Well, most of it.  I quote it not as an example of trying to package Jesus, but in contradistinction to that.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Belatedly but Safely Back in Richmond

We arrived here at 2:10 this morning after a very long journey in which amost everything else that could go wrong did.

Hint: Do not stay in a Travelodge Hotel. That is, unless every other hotel is already overbooked because half the people staying in them didn't intend to but had to because the fog caused their planes to arrive so late.

Thank you: to Andrew Kerr, for driving two foreign strangers to the Travelodge after the shuttle bus service had ended for the night. We shall never forget your kindness.

Hint: Do not fly USAir. (We ignored the advice of a friend on this matter and now regret it.)

Hint: It would be really good if everywhere you went your carry-on bag didn't have to contain 19 medical books plus a laptop computer.

Complaint: London's Heathrow Airport only informs you of your gate number 20 minutes before the scheduled departure time. Departure time, not boarding time. Then you have 20 minutes to find that gate and walk a mile or more (no exaggeration!) to get there, towing carry-ons.

Hint: If you do fly USAir, be aware that their policy nowadays is that every plane shall push off 10 minutes earlier than the scheduled departure time. Of course, that's only for your connecting flight. Your original one is more likely to be 3 hours late.

Hint: Your gate number is actually printed on your boarding pass. Of course, it's only the planned (as distinct from the actual) gate number, so if you go there in time to board, you may find yourself further than ever from wherever your plane really is boarding.

Hint: Phildelphia's airport also has mile-long distances (yes, really) between concourses. Take the electric shuttle cart. It isn't only for the aged and the infirm, and it's free. Tip the driver anyway because she will probably be the only person at the airport who is going to treat you with a kind and cheerful attitude.

Hint: Major road work on interstate highways is usually done late at night and into the wee hours of the morning, causing lane closings and hour-long traffic jams.

Thank you: to my brother-in-law, Daniel, for picking us up at the Baltimore Airport, later than planned. Also for keeping our car all summer. And returning it to us cleaner (and with more gas) than we left it.

Hint: A hot bath will (temporarily) soothe leg muscles that have been running several miles and arm and neck muscles sore from getting carry-ons (with 19 medical books and laptop computer) in and out of overhead bins.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Counting Down

Our days here are rapidly dwindling, as are the hours I’ve purchased at the internet café. We’ll be back in Richmond late Monday. Meanwhile, the usual round of farewells is going to keep us very busy – and tired. I don’t know when I can post anything again; possibly not until we are back in the U.S.

I miss my family, especially the children, so much it hurts, and I will be very glad to be within visiting range of them again!!

Friday, November 12, 2010

How Should Church Decisions be Made?

How about by casting lots?  There are 21 verses in the KJV in which this is done.  In Leviticus 16:8, it is commanded by God Himself.  Lots are to be cast to choose which of two goats shall be slaughtered and burned upon the altar, and which shall be the scapegoat, sent out alive into the wilderness, symbolically bearing away Israel's sins.  In Acts 1:26, Matthias is chosen as an apostle by lot.

So there's plenty of biblical precedent, or warrant, or whatever, for making decisions this way, including very important ones.

Or how about by dreams?  St. Peter had one that convinced him Gentiles should be accepted into the Church.  (Acts 10, 11).  St. Joseph had one that caused him to flee to Egypt with Mary and the newborn Jesus.    Joel 2:28 says, "And it shall come to pass afterward, [that] I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions," and this verse is quoted in Acts 2:17, in St. Peter's sermon.  There are dozens of places in the Bible in which God appears to people in dreams:  Pharoah, Nebudchadnezzar, Jacob...

Just food for thought when issues of "authority" arise.

A Visit to Halkidiki

Saturday, 06 November

It’s not really that there’s so much going on I have no time for blogging; it’s that I’ve spent my spare time finishing a baby blanket because I find I don’t like coming back a year later and having to finish up some old project before beginning a new one. So now I have a pair of blankets, alike except in minor details, to donate to the hospital for preemie twins, in gratitude for the excellent care my twin grandsons received when they came a month early. Been meaning to do this for six years!

It’s been a low-key week for me, although Demetrios has been somewhat busier meeting friends he had not yet caught up with on account of being so busy writing, plus doing his usual round of doctoring. Usually at least two or three people seek his advice while he’s here. So one of Leonidas’ 76 quadrillion relatives has a bad leg and one of our friends has high anxiety resulting in high blood pressure and another, to my distress, is under the care of a homeopath, which would be okay except when it means rejecting standard medical care that seems obviously indicated. What complicates the situation is that this homeopath is also a priest, so now it becomes not only a medical matter but also a religious one. Trusting the medical advice of a homeopath has become a test and/or an article of faith.

Yesterday one of my dreams came true when Pelagia and George took us to their house in Halkidiki for the day. Their house is near the southern tip of the Cassandra Peninsula, the westernmost of the three “fingers” of Halkidiki that juts out into the sea. (The easternmost finger is Mt. Athos.) It’s in a picturesque town called Kardia (yes, ”Heart” just south of the better known and charming tourist town of Hanioti. So we drove to Kardia, meeting Kostas and Mena at the house.

Map of Greece with Halkidiki in Yellow

Cassandra Peninsula

It’s a big house, but divided into two smallish apartments, completely separate from each other, one downstairs and the other upstairs. Downstairs, as you walk in the front door, is a small reception room with a bathroom off it, full of cleaning fluids, mops, brooms, buckets, basins. Then to your right, a living room with fireplace, and further right, a dining room. There is a kitchen for one person at a time, which is all they need in a vacation home where they do a minimum of food preparation.

Upstairs are a living room, bathroom, and two bedrooms, one with a double bed, one with 3 single beds. No kitchen has as yet been installed.

I don’t know how to describe it any further; it was, in fact, rather nondescript. It doesn’t look like your idea of a vacation home by the sea.

We walked a few blocks down to the sea, for Pelagia and George don’t live in the touristy part of town, which in summer is jammed full of thousands of people, and where the noise never stops until the wee hours of the morning and the traffic is bumper to bumper. They live in a quieter area, where actual residents live.

The sea was clear as glass, many shades of blue: turquoise, azure, cyan, indigo, navy, cobalt. And there’s so much of it! From the tops of hills, driving down, you can see such vast expanses of shining water!

Mena has pain when walking, so once we came to the beach, we didn’t walk far, only about a quarter mile to a taverna, where we had our one and only meal of the day – but what a meal it was! Six different kinds of seafood, three salads, fried potatoes, fresh. Plus dessert on the house, cake, ice cream, and baked quince, which tastes a lot like baked apple but more fragrant.

Then we walked slowly back toward the house, through quaint little streets, where many of the shops and eateries are closed for the winter. “What do the people here do in the winter?” I asked.

“They sit around playing cards!” said Pelagia. They make more than enough money in the tourist season to keep them all year long.

“Anastasia!” I heard Demetrios calling. “Come here! Look at this!”

I took me a moment to spot the thing that had caused him such excitement. It was a calico kitten asleep atop an old canvas bag that had been thrown into a dumpster.

The kitty was snoozing and showed no sign of awareness of my approach. So I reached out a hand and petted it, very softly, on the rump.

To my surprise, the kitty didn’t startle and then jump down and run away. Instead, she mewed and asked for more petting. I think she must have smelled seafood on my fingers. (Yes, of course I used a fork, but you know how it is; there are bones to remove from your mouth.)

She was pretty and friendly and scrawny and Demetrios was completely taken with her. We would have adopted her, had it been at all possible. But it just isn’t. Last year we had to find new homes for the cats we already had.

We intended to start home by 5:00, long enough before dusk to be able to see some more sights along the way, but we didn’t actually get underway until 5:30. It was still light enough to see a lot of the pretty scenery, pine trees, palm trees, Mediterranean houses, hills, bays, and the next peninsula over.

It was dark when we came to a little church Pelagia and George wanted us to see, but fortunately, the church was open and an old man, apparently the caretaker, we sitting in the narthex.

So I’m willing to believe a lot, but the story that goes with this church and its special icon seems to me a little too pat, a little too predictable and a little too much like the way popular imagination would have it be. (Matter of fact, quite a few stories like this share these characteristics, it seems to me.) Anyway, the story is that a man walking toward his home one evening saw a bright light out in the sea. As he walked along, he looked at the light from time to time, wondering what it was, and it seemed to be moving in toward land, and finally it seemed to have reached the beach. He pointed it out to the other villagers when he arrived home, and they all watched it until late at night.

In the morning, they went down to the beach to see if they could see what had happened. And there they found a large, flat stone (about 4 feet high and two and a half feet wide) with an image of the Theotokos painted on it.. They wondered what they ought to do, discussed it at length, and then hauled the stone up the hillside a little, further away from the waves. Next morning the stone had moved back to where the people had found it. They moved it away, back up the hill a bit. And (as you can already predict if you’re familiar with very many of these stories) this kept happening several times, until the villagers concluded this was where the Theotokos wanted her icon to be. They thought they should build a church there to house it.

They asked the Turkish authorities for permission, but were turned down. The Turkish ruler and his assistant came to see the rock with the icon and ridiculed it and began stomping upon it to show their contempt.

Mistreating an icon is always a bad idea, as you also know from multiple other icon stories. The Turks’ feet got stuck in the stone as if it were dough and they couldn’t get out. Finally (you could predict this, too) they asked the Christians to pray for them to become unstuck, and promised to be baptized, together with their families, if God should release them from this stone. So the Christians prayed and God freed the Turks and they were baptized and gave permission to build the church you can still see today.

The icon is still there, too, or at least the stone is. There are a few traces of paint remaining, but you cannot see any picture. Normally, that is. Sometimes it re-appears for a few days at a time. There’s a photograph on display that purports to show this.

Sometimes the icon weeps, too. It wept in 1940 just before the Greeks were invaded by Italy. It wept again in 1974 when the Turks invaded Cyprus. Most recently, it wept in 1993, during the events in the former Yugoslavia (Bosnia).

And you can still see in this stone, clearly and with absolutely no room for doubt, two deep human footprints, each toe distinct.

What I think is, the rock was obviously thick mud at some primordial time when someone stepped in it. Then, over eons, the mud became petrified and one day this stone showed up on the beach. And the villagers considered it a marvel, which in its own way it definitely is. So they painted an icon on it (the remnants of which look very much like the remnants of the frescoes on the church walls) and the rest of the story is embroidery — except perhaps the weeping.

“A stone that big doesn’t wash up on a wave,” says Demetrios. So maybe the tide brought it in. I don’t know!

Demetrios bought an icon from the church to give to Stelios and Anastasia when we see them tomorrow.

At least, reading this story (on an enormous plaque on the wall), I did learn the answer to one question I’ve had for a long time: how is it that Greeks, mainland Greeks anyway, having so much gorgeous shoreline, didn’t usually build their houses along it? Most of the waterfront real estate is only now being developed. Most villages, except fishing villages, are built away from the sea. They don’t take advantage of the gorgeous views. Why not? The answer, obvious but only in retrospect, is a single word: pirates.

We came home exhausted and it was only 8:00. We were ready for bed, but made ourselves stay up a couple of hours before we crashed.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Election Day, etc.

In the early afternoon we had lunch with Stelios and Anastasia. Stelios is one of Demetrios’ Old Friends from their university days, and they also happen to be near neighbors. So they walked toward our flat and we walked toward theirs, met somewhere in between, and walked together to a nearby taverna.

We wanted to be the hosts, but they said no, because this was in lieu of their son’s wedding feast, which we couldn’t attend because we were in America at the time. So we said we’ll all come back to our house afterward for dessert, but Anastasia said no, because she had already made us a special dessert.

Anastasia and Stelios are such special people, so good-hearted, so warm.

They have a knack of what psychologists call “Active Listening;” saying back to you what you just said so you know they understood. They also have a most congenial way of agreeing with whatever you say.

“…so it was all rather unfortunate,” you say.

“Very unfortunate!” they say, in unison.

“And we didn’t know what to say,” you continue.

“No, of course you didn’t,” they say.

“The book unites psychology with neurology and anatomy and anthropology…” you say.

“Ah, a synthesis of so many things,” they say.

“the first chapter was so difficult to write.”

“Very difficult! Certainly. It’s a deep subject.”

“But the rest,” you say, “should be easier.”

“Easier, of course. Once you have a good beginning, the rest follows.”

We had a good time and a good meal, the usual taverna fare, cooked over charcoal. Then we went to their house. We gave them the icon Demetrios bought at the church last night. They have virtually the same one on their wall already, but this one is fancier.

Their apartment has an open plan; the living room, family room, dining room and kitchen are all one space. The living room is divided from the family room by back-to-back sofas. The dining room is defined by an oriental rug in earth tones, but bright. The kitchen is big enough to include a breakfast table (making two tables, because the dining room has another. There are bedrooms off a hallway, but I haven’t seen them so cannot describe them. All the furniture has a walnut finish; even the refrigerator is housed in a walnut cabinet, and so is the dishwasher. The radiators, too, have walnut-colored grilles over them, on the top of which are set family photographs. There is a lot of furniture, as compared with our flat, which is sparsely furnished; and I notice the plethora of furniture makes the place look more like a home. (Of course, their space is greater than ours, so more fits in it.)

The walls are covered with Stelios’ paintings. Two of them are of subjects my father also painted; a mountain called the Vetterhorn and a church by a stream with an onion dome. Stelios, unlike Dad, uses bright colors, and warmer ones. I wish I could commission two paintings from him!

Anastasia served her homemade cherry liqueur. She took a kilo of cherries, washed them, put them in a large jar, added a cup of sugar, a stick of cinnamon, and 10 cloves, closed the jar, and set it out in the sun for a month. The she strained the contents of the jar and added brandy to the mix; I forgot to ask how much, but only a little. Anyway, the result is beautiful!

Her dessert was what the Greeks call a tourta, something like a cake, but not necessarily baked. It had layers of chocolate cookies, chestnuts, cocoa and cream. It weighted about 4 pounds, but only contained 10 milligrams of sugar, on account of Demetrios being diabetic. Somehow, you didn’t miss the sugar one bit!

So we chatted for another hour or so and them came home for a nap. On ur way out the door, though, Anastasia handed us a large, heavy bag, for a gift. It turned out to contain six saucers, 6 demi-tasse cups, and 6 coffee cups. !!!

In the evening we went out atain, this time with Kostas and Mena and Pelagia and George.

It is election day in Greece, for local offices, that is. So this was a get-together with Mena and Kostas and some other friends, Eleni and Anesti, ostensibly to watch election returns. I thought it would be a nightmare, a whole evening devoted to the discussion of Greek and international politics. It turned out to be highly amusing, though, with much shouting and gesticulating, the surest indicators that the Greeks are having a ball. I even added my two cents’ worth from time to time.

We didn’t watch much television and we broke up around midnight.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Other Annoying Thing About Greek Time

...is that you cannot count on it.

You cannot calculate it by projecting from your many years of experience and observation. That would be a misguided attempt to employ scientific method. Don’t do it! Greek time has nothing to do with science. Or any other method.

It’s not that the Greek tells you one thing while intending another; that would be a lie. He’s not intending to deceive you; the thing to recognize is, he isn’t intending anything at all. A Greek totally improvises his life. He will arrive when he arrives and he hopes that may possibly be about the time he tells you – or not, but since you try to pin him down he feels he has to give you some answer and he tosses out a time that seems to him reasonably plausible.

Do not say to yourself anything like, “Well, let me see… my husband and brother-in-law say they will be back for lunch by noon, so about 12:30 I’ll start cooking and it should be ready about the time they come, somewhere along about 1:00 or 1:30.” That’s the very day they will come home at 12:15, starving.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Baby Porcupine

One of our wildlife rehabbers in Richmond sent this photo. Is this adorable or what?

David and Julia Visit Us, Part 2

Sunday, 31 October

Attending Divine Liturgy was just part of it all, part of the Cultural Experience. We took Julia and David to St. Sophia, since it is Byzantine and for all the sightseeing we did yesterday, we didn’t manage to show them a single of one the 14 Byzantine churches here.

We had given them print-outs of the service in English, but still, it has to be difficult when you don’t understand the language. I hope it was at least interesting.

Julia said the sermon had been interesting, “But I had to disagree with the third sentence.” :-)

After church and a light lunch at an eatery just off Aristotle Square, we had time for a little more sightseeing. We showed them the Roman forum and the Church of. St. Demetrios. There was a baptism in progress, so we all got to see the infant immersed three times and named – what else? – Demetrios. A little girl was awaiting her turn to be baptized.

We went down into the crypt, where I had never been before, and it may be the most interesting part of the church. It’s the old bathhouse where St. Demetrios and St. Nestor were imprisoned and then martyred. The crypt also used to house St. Demetrios’ myrrh-streaming remains, although today they are upstairs. There was a stone trough from the space for the coffin to the outside of the church, about 8 inches wide (at least), for the myrrh to flow out. It used to flow all the way to the sea.

Lunch was lamb roasted over charcoal and it was delicious.

After siesta, Mena took us in her car to the kastro (“castle”) at the top of the ridge behind the city. It isn’t exactly a castle; it’s a huge tower, part of the ancient fortifications. If memory serves, the wall was built in Alexander’s time and strengthened in Roman times.

Demetrios, David, Anastasia, and Julia in Front of Castle Door

With Mena

Ancient City Wall With View of Thessaloniki Below

In the little town beyond the wall, there was a feast in progress. Today is the Feast of the Unmercenaries. What a translation! That isn’t even a word in English. I vote we call it, in English, the Volunteers, or the Unpaid, referring to several saints who were physicians and did not charge for their services, especially Sts. Cosmas and Damian.

Anyway, there was a procession underway through the streets of the village, no doubt with an icon of Sts. Cosmas and Damian, led by a marching band, which complicated Mena’s already tricky driving chore.

I assured David that Mena is an expert driver, but he wasn’t worried. “It’s not the same as Corfu, is it?” he asked. “It isn’t like having almighty drop-offs on either side of you just as you run out of road and are trying to figure out where reverse is.”

Then we briefly visited the monastery where Mena’s daughter Elpida was married, and so was Demetrios’ brother Christos, the one where the monks raise peacocks. There’s also a tame cat there, all white with one blue eye and one green. I picked her up and hugged her because it’s so seldom you get to do that here.

Then it was on to Leonidas’ house, where Ianna fed us a pre-supper supper and we sat around talking for an hour or so before going to the taverna owned, I said, “by one of Leonidas’ 78 cousins.”

“Oh, yes, right,” said David.

“Don’t exaggerate,” said Demetrios.

“I’m not!” I protested. “He really does have 78 first cousins!”

Nobody believed me and of course they were right. Leonidas told us he only has 76 first cousins. “But many more,” he said, if we count second cousins.”

“And one of them owns the taverna.”

“No, that’s a niece.”

At Ianna's and Leonidas' House:  Ianna, Julia, Anastasia, Leonidas, Demetrios

At the Taverna.  L-R:  Ianna, Rena, Mena, Julia, Anastasia, Demetrios, Kostas, Theodosios, Leonidas

At the Taverna:  Ianna, Rena, Mena

At the Taverna:  Anastasia, Demetrios, Kostas, Theodosios, Leonidas

The company was most of the people who were at Mena’s yesterday, minus three who live the furthest away.

David told about the time he was being treated for Bell’s Palsy and the treatment involved mild electric shocks to his face. He walked into the room, he said, and the nurse, preparing for the treatment, looked over at the equipment and said, “Oh! New machine, I see.”

Doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, does it? So she fiddled with the dial some, and after a try or two, got it right.

Next visit, another nurse, looking at the equipment, said, “Oh, a new machine!” and David’s heart sank. She, too, got it wrong the first time or two.

Next visit, David found himself alone in the treatment room for a few minutes, and there he noticed his records. So he opened the folder to take a look “and there, on the sheet of paper was written, ‘TIMID.’”

Mena told the joke about Al Capone standing before the Pearly Gates, and St. Peter says, “You know you have to go to hell.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Since you are an Italian American, you can have your choice of the American hell or the Italian hell.”

So Al Capone goes down and takes a look. In the American hell, he sees all kinds of tortures and misery, so goes to inspect the Italian hell. But on his way to the Italian hell, he passes the Greek hell, where he sees people feasting and hears them laughing and singing.

So he tells St. Peter, “If you don’t mind, I would like to go to the Greek hell” and St. Peter obliges.

When he arrives in the Greek hell, he asks the merry-makers what’s going on. “I thought hell was supposed to be a place of torment.”

“Oh,” say the inmates, “It is. But our Greek demons are on strike!”

* * *

Another joke has Obama praying and asking God how long it will be before the American economy recovers.

“About a hundred years,” God replies.

And Obama begins to cry. “I won’t be around by then,” he tells God sorrowfully.

Then Putin prays and asks God how long it will take for the Russian economy to recover.

“A hundred and fifty years,” says God.

And Putin begins to cry. “I won’t be around by then,” he says sorrowfully.

Then the Greek Prime Minister prays and asks God how long before the Greek economy recovers.

And God begins to cry.

* * *

The thing to notice about both these jokes is that they are aimed at Greece and Greeks. They may be funny, but they are part of the “We are the worst, least-organized, most incompetent people anywhere” propaganda. We can’t even get hell right.

In spite of that, we laughed a lot; and with many jokes and stories and sharing of great friendship and love, the night grew late. We sang a few songs, concluding with “Goodbye and Joy,” for David and Julia.

Rena, so very kind, had little gifts for Julia and me as we departed, which turned out to be necklaces, a red one for Julia and black one for me.

We never even remembered it was Hallowe’en.

Monday, 01 November

We had breakfast with David and Julia at their hotel and then saw them off. That is, we put them in a taxi and Demetrios told the driver where to take them. It’s a good day for flying.

Nothing, absolutely nothing here was like the elegance Julia and David are used to. But I have a feeling it was at least interesting, maybe educational. And there’s no doubt the love and friendship lit and warmed all our hearts.

It was a great joy to see them again and now we’re going to miss them a lot!

Friday, November 5, 2010

A House is not Necessarily a Home

My brother-in-law, Christos, has been living quite a drama lately. That can happen, as we all know, when we rent our houses.

Christos put his house in Katerini up for rent because he wanted to live here in Thessaloniki for the time being (that being another story). The rent from his house pays for his rent for his apartment he’s living in, about a mile from us.

The trouble began when the tenants began falling more and more behind on their payments. Things grew considerably worse a couple of weekends ago when his house appeared on the television news, surrounded by police. The police suspected the occupants were drug dealers. Then the worst blow of all came last week when the electric company billed Christos for 2,000 Euros. Billed him, not the occupants? That’s right, because the tenants had told Christos they couldn’t afford the 20 Euro fee to have the account switched to their own names. Christos, desperate for renters but equally unwilling to pay the fee, left the electricity account in his own name. The tenants ran the bill up to 2,000 Euros.

Demetrios went with Christos to the electric company to see what could be done.

“Have them turn off the power today,” I said. “And then go to the gas company and have them cut off the gas today, and have the water cut off today, as well. That’ll encourage them to leave.”

Well, the water somehow doesn’t work that way and there is no gas. The contract for electricity doesn’t expire for two more weeks. All the electric company could do was set up a six-month payment plan.

“Never mind,” I said, “because on second thought, the tenants are already packing their belongings.”

“What makes you think?”

“The police are staking out the house! Their drug-dealing income is cut off. They have to move; they have no choice. Matter of fact, they’ve almost certainly done this before. They know how long it takes before the rent, the electricity, and the police catch up with them; that’s why it’s all so well synchronized. They will disappear in the middle of the night, probably two at a time, before the week is out.”

Sure enough, the husband was arrested in Bulgaria two days later, on Thursday. The wife and children disappeared Sunday.

Supposedly, some relative will come by this week to collect the furniture. Christos, having taken legal advice, is going to move all their furniture to the basement meanwhile and re-take possession of his house, moving out of his apartment here as soon as possible.

There was an anxious 24 hours somewhere in all this when we worried whether the police would seal up the house as a crime scene, but fortunately, they didn’t.

Anyway, the people are gone and Christos, minus two months’ rent, is left with a small legal bill, a large electricity bill, and a basement full of marijuana (and growing lights). We don’t know what will become of these; the police, although they haven’t seized it, have told him not to remove any of it. A pity he can’t give the marijuana plants as payment to the electric company!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

David and Julia's Visit Part 1

Friday, 29 October

Julia and David arrived in the late morning; we watched their jet land, from the restaurant on the top floor of the airport, and rejoiced to see them again.

They’d had hardly any sleep the night before and neither had I. So we made it a very low-key day. We checked them into their hotel, the Queen Olga, and made sure they had the best room there, which was still below their normal standard, but still acceptable for so short a visit. Its main assets are its proximity to us and its view of the sea. (I’ve threatened, next time they come, to check them into the Imaret in Kavala, where the least expensive room, a couple of years ago, was 1500 Euros a night.)

Here are some views from their hotel balcony.

Church of Saints Cyril and Methodios, Who Were From Thessaloniki

Sunset Over the Harbor.  Mt. Olympos in Left Background

Then we had lunch at our favorite nearby eatery, again nothing like their usual standard, but then nothing here is. There must be some restaurant in town as elegant as the Swan Inn near Ormskirk, but if so, we don’t know it yet. Anyway, the food is good, although it wasn’t the moussaka we were hoping for.

Then naptimes, then supper at a taverna, and back to sleep rather early.

Saturday, 30 October

This was sightseeing day. We went downtown and showed Julia and David various Byzantine ruins, plus one small church, plus the university where Demetrios studied medicine.

Pictures courtesy of Julia and David; click to enlarge.  More later.

Triumphal Arch of Galerius
Views of the Roman Forum

The best part of the day was the midday feast at Mena’s house. She had invited most of our closest friends and had spent four days cooking. She did have moussaka, among a dozen or so other dishes.

There were many funny stories. Kostas and Mena and Theodosios and Rena reminisced about their visits to England – and to David and Julia’s house there. Julia brought out a photograph taken at the time; Kostas found a duplicate in one of his albums, plus several other pictures.

There were songs, as always. I’ve mentioned before that Greeks are apt to break into song at any moment, without notice, and today was no exception.

When the Greeks had sung several of their songs, there was a popular demand for David to sing something in English. Being the good sport he is, he obliged with “When You Walk Through a Storm,” in which Demetrios and I accompanied him, with some help from Julia, who prompted us when we forgot the words. Then we sang, “Daisy, Daisy.” David earned a big applause.

It was late afternoon before we all adjourned for siesta.

Then in the evening, we met Julia and David at their hotel for a walk along the waterfront, followed by a snack of bougatsa. Just to introduce them to one of our favorite foods.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Patriotism on Ochi Day

Thursday, 28 October

In the wee hours of this day in 1940, the Italian Foreign Minister summoned the Greek ambassador and said Italy would invade Greece at dawn and Greece should save everyone a lot of bloodshed by surrendering now. The Greek ambassador said “No!” which in Greek is “Ochi!” And the 28th of October has been kept as a Day of Remembrance in Greece ever since.

In Athens and in Thessaloniki, there is a big, annual military parade. I’ve described it in detail before. Not only the military, but other admirable organizations also march in these parades, the Red Cross, the scouts, volunteer firemen and rescue squads. Schools are represented and kids from the orphanage always get special cheers as they, too, display their patriotism

Well, in recent years, politicians on television have been decrying the parade as a waste of money, an exercise in chauvinism, etc. Going to the parade is becoming politically incorrect. We began feeling the pressure to stay away as early as 2007, the last time we were here in October.

So of course we felt it doubly our duty to go first to the church service and then to the parade.

The church wasn’t packed, as it was on Sunday and again on Tuesday, but it was still full.

We caught a cab afterward and told the driver to take us to the White Tower (Thessaloniki’s would-be equivalent of the Eiffel Tower or Big Ben). He did and we got out and – no parade! We asked a nearby policeman, and he said the parade was already starting and we were past the end of the route, way over there, pointing to the Macedonia Palace Hotel.

It was half a mile or more away. We walked. But the point is, this year the parade isn’t being allowed anywhere near the downtown area. It’s right back in our own neighborhood, so close we walked home afterwards.

The route appears to have been considerably shortened, too, although this year I’m sure the marchers were glad of that, as it was raining and so cold Demetrios and I were wearing our winter coats. We had umbrellas, but the marchers did not, and neither did some in the crowd.

The military aspect of the military parade has been greatly diminished. Gone are the navy ships strung with lights, firing their salute from the harbor. Gone are the jets screaming overhead in multiple low passes. Gone are the thundering tanks. There weren’t even many jeeps. There were a few representatives of each branch of the military, but mostly civilians from various parts of Greece parading in their native dress. (I wonder whether the government realizes they are just as important, in their own way. They are part of the Greek identity that is otherwise under such massive attack.)

People applauded as each unit marched by, and cried, “Bravo, bravo!” and small children waved Greek flags. I was the only adult I could see waving one. (Yes, in addition to our big flag we have one for waving in your hand.) I saw my waving flag momentarily catch the eyes of quite a few marchers, too, and I hope it encouraged their patriotism at least a tiny bit.

Two of the marching bands played, “Macedonia the World-Renowned, the Home of Great Alexander”, which in previous years always made me smile; it seemed so quaint. This time it made me cry; it seemed so important. Because the Greek spirit is the one thing that might yet save this country. The “Greek” government should have staged the biggest parade ever this difficult year, to rally that spirit. But of course that’s exactly what they do not want to do. They’re the very ones the Greek spirit could save the country from.

Our walk home took us right past our favorite bougatsa place, so we went inside where it was warm and dry and sat down to have some. A white cat with grey markings rubbed itself across our legs and asked to be petted. The woman behind the counter told us his name was Kyriakos.

And as we were eating, I remembered that today is also, in Greece, the Feast of the Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos. I remembered all the stories of her miraculous intervention right up to and including World War II and the communist insurrection that followed. So I said we must remember not to look just at appearances. God may yet decide to save Greece somehow.

Demetrios told me Fr. Paisios predicted all this would happen, and also that “some crazy people” would cause the plan (of doing away with Greece) to fail.

Crazy people within the government, or opposing it?” I asked.

“Opposing it. People who will be considered crazy because their strategy will appear to have no chance of success.”

Then, because today I’m feeling less cowardly or more reckless than usual, I said part of me hopes God will grant us a chance to be among those crazies and the grace of recognizing that chance (since it will appear crazy) and grabbing it. Yeah, right. That “part of me” is the melodramatic fantasy to which I am so prone. I keep wanting to be a hero, if only in my own mind, while in reality I can’t even pray or fast properly. Kyrie, eleison!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Patriotism on St. Demetrios Day

Patriotism is not thinking your country is better than all the rest.  (Even if you do think that, that’s not what patriotism is.)  Patriotism is not chauvinism, not elitism, not communistic, not fascistic, not belligerent.  Patriotism is to recognize the greatness of your country and your culture; for every country and culture does indeed have some greatness in it, somewhere.  Patriotism is to value your country’s ideals, traditions, customs and folkways; her literature, music, and art; language and history.  Patriotism is being willing to stand up for all these things, to sacrifice and maybe even to die to preserve them. 

Here in Greece, the language has been debased; formal Greek is no longer taught in the schools because to insist upon speaking correctly is elitism and you should not scorn to speak the slang you learned at your sainted mother’s knee.  One result is, you have a so-called language without any hard and fast rules, whether of spelling or of grammar.  Another result is that most Greeks younger than, say, 45 or 50, cannot read their own literature:  neither Homer nor the philosophers nor the Scriptures nor the Fathers nor much of anything else that predates the mid-20th Century. 

History has been re-written; Greek school children are now learning how jolly it was when the wonderful, wise Turks ruled this land.  (They can’t read the older histories, remember, because those are written in proper Greek.)

Schools have been made ineffectual by putting the students in charge of them, in the name of democracy.  Shouldn’t children have a say in their own learning and in who teaches them, and what subjects they want to learn?  So children sit on the boards tat interview, hire, and fire teachers.  If the children dislike anything or anyone, they simply close down the schools—by occupying the buildings, and this they are allowed to do for as long as they please, even if it be weeks on end. 

The universities are in a similar condition; everything is highly politicized.

Religion is no longer taught in the schools and there are no more school prayers.  The government once tried to tax the Church, but the people made such a stink they couldn’t do it.

The military is all but non-existent, a mere shell.  Even in times of high unemployment, when the government was providing uncounted make-work jobs for its supporters, it wasn’t hiring desperately needed soldiers or sailors or airmen; for that there was no money.  Instead, the military was reduced drastically.  Militarily, Greece is now virtually defenseless.

Greece may as well have no borders, as they are undefended, unpatrolled, uncontrolled in any way.  Whoever pleases may cross freely, with or without documentation, with or without contraband.

Industry?  Greece hardly has any left; it has been exported to other countries.  Globalization.

And of course you’ve heard, because the propagandists make so much of it, that this same government has wrecked the Greek economy.  Greece has no financial strength, either.

A third of the Aegean Sea is to be conceded to the Turks next month, or at least Greece’s oil drilling rights are; and another third or so to the U.S.  That means Turkish ships, including naval vessels, will be routinely sailing Greek waters.  (Why doesn’t Greece drill for her own oil?  Because Turkey has said it will declare war on Greece if that happens and the U.S. is backing Turkey.)

And many people are dispirited and fall for the propaganda that says Greece is a no-good country where nobody ever seems to get anything right.  (Implication:  it might be better to be the protectorate of some more efficient power, NATO, perhaps  Or it might even be better to break up Greece and give some to the Turks, some to Skopje, some to Albania, etc.  This, for the globalization/internationalization folks, would have the added benefit of fracturing those countries as well.)  The only grain of truth in the idea that Greeks can’t do anything right is, the Greek government never gets anything right.  That, of course, isn’t really because they’re stupid  – far from it! – but because they’re corrupt.  Deviating from the right way the better to line your pocket is precisely what corruption IS.  You cannot be corrupt and do things right/well at the same time, by definition.

See?  It’s all a mess, everything ruined, and systematically, too.  The famous Greek singer and songwriter Mikis Theodorakis said, “We are under occupation by an army not wearing uniforms, but Armani.”  I’ll put it more baldly:  paid traitors (no other word for them) in government are dismantling all of the above, dismantling Greece; and the process has reached an advanced stage. 

Now we are being discouraged from flying the Greek flag, if you can believe it.  It is politically incorrect because it implies you think Greeks are better than anybody else, when everyone knows, or ought to, the Greeks are considerably worse.  The only way you could think otherwise is if you are a fascist, like those in Germany who thought they were some sort of Übermensch, supermen.

So we decided, last Saturday morning, it was time to put up our Greek flag in time for the Feast of St. Demetrios on Tuesday and Ochi Day, Thursday.  Ochi Day is rather like Memorial Day in America.  It commemorates the 1945 defeat (defeat, mind you!) of fascist Germany and the earlier defeat of fascist Italy.  It seemed to us that in previous years, flags had appeared around town somewhat earlier.

We have a large flag, and on the corner of our balcony is the holder for it; the flag can therefore be seen from both streets. 

By Saturday evening, there were five more flags visible from our balcony.  By Sunday morning I counted 14.  A few more appeared Monday.

We didn’t go to the Church of St. Demetrios this year, discouraged by our horrible experience there in 2007, when we literally could not find each other afterwards and each thought the other had somehow met a dire fate, until about 2:00 in the afternoon, when we ended up in each other’s arms, both crying.  But I wish now we had gone there, on account of what we hear happened.

About half the city seems to go to that church on the feast of its patron saint.  For all the politicians in Greece, the ones in office and the ones hoping to be; it’s de rigueur  to be seen at St. Demetrios Church on St. Demetrios Day.  The VIPs even come from Athens.

And some friends of ours who were there told us how our bishop did a daring, defiant thing.  After the Divine Liturgy, with the national and local officials all standing up front as is customary, Bishop Anthimos asked everyone to stand.  Okay, so when you’re in church and your bishop asks you to stand, you do it, right?  And when the people had all risen, he said, to the delight of most people, “Let us sing the National Anthem,” and he launched right into it. 


Of course everybody else had to sing with him, didn’t they?  Most people sang it with gusto.  There was, according to our friends, one notable exception.  Guess who did not sing the National Anthem?  The Prime Minister!  He stood there, they told us, and mumbled something and looked uncomfortable.

Meanwhile, all this was being televised. (YES!)

There are two interpretations of his behavior going around, the more charitable of which (or at least the less sinister) is, the Prime Minister doesn’t know the words to the National Anthem. 

Is that believable?   Not to me, it isn’t.

But the Bishop of Thessaloniki actually made all those office-holders sing the National Anthem or else be embarrassed on national TV!

Oh, and I’ve heard something else encouraging about our bishop, too.  Remember the mayoral candidate I wrote of recently, who wants to re-name St. Demetrios Street and make it Kemal Attaturk Street?  Well, this candidate, from the party currently in power (same party as the rime Minister), also said he felt really uncomfortable whenever he saw the Bishop dressed in those strange liturgical garments.  And the Bishop replied, publicly, “As long as I am Bishop of this city, you will never be mayor.” 

He has the influence to back up those words, too.

God grant you many years, Bishop!

(Makes you realize, doesn’t it, that when you’ve got a good bishop, you sing that to him not only for his sake, but for your own!)