Thursday, November 29, 2012

Bobcat in Surgery

Our bobcat is now recovering from surgery to repair his broken leg. The procedure reportedly went well. Time will tell if the leg will be usable, adequately or at all.

Photos here.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Updates on Bobcat

It's a juvenile male bobcat, found in Powhatan County by a local veterinarian who was out horseback riding.

The break, as you see, is severe, and may not be fixable. His fate remains in question. (No, I'm almost certain he will not be euthanized. He will become an educational animal if no better situation can be found for him.)

Photographs courtesy of Chris Linardos.

Bobcat Getting Professional Care at
Wildlife Center of Virginia

Should the Church of England Have Women Bishops? (Or Women Priests?)

I don't know.

It would do further damage to ecumenical relations, but those could hardly be worse than they already are.

The Anglicans I've met have a different view of sacraments from ours, so our reason for not ordaining women or consecrating them bishops may not apply within the Anglican context. If being a priest in the C of E is just a matter of managing a parish and preaching, there's no reason a woman can't do it. If being a bishop is just a matter of managing a diocese, there's no reason a woman can't do that, either.

If the issue is clinging to Holy Scripture, well, Anglicans have no particular, universally accepted standard for interpreting Scripture, no agreed-upon hermeneutic, so forget that.

If clinging to Tradition no longer means anything more than doing things a certain way because that's the way they've always been done, why? What's wrong with change, and isn't the refusal to change rather narrow-minded and stultifying?

If sexism is the real reason opponents don't want female bishops, well, sexism does need to be squelched. (I only say, "if".)

If the only thing at stake really is power, more's the pity, but in that case, why shouldn't women have an equal share of it?

Public relations ought not to be a consideration for Christians; how Christians arrange their internal affairs is emphatically not the business of unbelievers. And yet, this is the established church of England, established in fact to serve the state, so the wishes of the rest of the establishment are always a factor. There's always the possibility of being disestablished. Hence, the Archbishop of Canterbury says things like, "Whatever the motivations for voting yesterday, whatever the theological principle on which people acted and spoke, the fact remains that a great deal of this discussion is not intelligible to our wider society - worse than that, it seems that we are willfully blind to some of the trends and priorities in that wider society," and "We have, to put it very bluntly, a lot of explaining to do." (Becket, Becket, where are you when you're needed?)

It's really none of society's business and none of mine either. I don't know. I've no dog in this race.  Even if I thought I knew what the C of E should do, it would be presumptuous to offer an opinion, but I really do not know. Better just to pray for them in this difficult time.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Look Who Just Arrived for Rehab!

We volunteer wildlife rehabbers, though, are not licensed to care for a bobcat, so it's on its way to the Wildlife Center of Virginia in Waynesboro to receive professional care.

P.S.)  I'm not the one who took it in from the rescuer; I wish I had been, but since I wasn't, I don't yet have details to share with you.

So why Don’t You (Orthodox) Ordain Women?

Within the Anglican Communion, there are two groups that pretty much oppose the ordination of women and the consecration of women as bishops. They are the Anglo-Catholics, who say this does not accord with Tradition, and the more evangelical wing, who say it does not accord with Scripture. So why do we Orthodox not ordain women? Is it for the Anglo-Catholic reason? Not really, although they are of course right. Is it for the evangelical reason? Not really, although yes, they too are right.

In Orthodox Christianity, there are many functions of a priest that a woman could do as well as a man and perhaps better. But one function, a principle one, is something she cannot do at all, and that is to serve, for liturgical purposes, as the icon of Christ. In our worship services, the priest ministers side-by-side with Christ, making visible to the congregation what Christ is doing invisibly. I suppose it’s a little like a sign-language interpreter standing alongside the news anchor for the benefit of the deaf. In Holy Communion, for example, it is Christ Who is feeding His people with His own Being but the priest distributes the Body and Blood. In Holy Baptism, only Christ can wash away your sins and incorporate you into His Body but the priest immerses you three times. In Confession, Christ Who forgives and absolves, but the priest prays over the penitent. And so on. The priest’s function is not to represent Christ as though He were absent, nor yet to “channel” Christ, but nevertheless, definitely to portray Him, to show forth visually the invisible Mystery.

And for whatever reason, whether we like it or not, the Word of God came into the world in male flesh. (We do not know why, but no, we do not blasphemously imagine this was male chauvinism in God, nor even a nod to it from Him to humor the sin.) The Lord did not appear on earth as a female, nor as androgynous, nor as a hermaphrodite, but as a man. It takes a man to iconize him.

But, but, but – you object – isn’t it much more important how a person’s soul looks than how his body does? Of course it is. But the fact that Thing One is much more important doesn’t make Thing Two unimportant. For liturgical purposes, a male is needed to be the living icon of Christ, just as in your parish Christmas pageant, a female is needed to portray the Virgin Mary.

And that’s it. There are other reasons, such as keeping to Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition, but this is the basic reason, the reason it's in Scripture and Tradition in the first place. It has nothing to do with superior and inferior status; but with different functions, different service, carried out by people who are all equals. It has nothing to do with who gets to lead, because it is clearly understood that Christ is always the Leader. It has nothing to do with power, because the Church operates not by command and control, but by Love. It has nothing to do with male chauvinism. In fact, I can testify that I have encountered far, far less male chauvinism inside the Orthodox Church than outside it and I’m actually not sure whether I’ve ever experienced it within the Church. I don’t mean there’s no such thing as an Orthodox Christian who is sexist; there’s bound to be; but I do mean sexism is an unOrthodox and unchristian thing. Orthodox Christianity provides neither encouragement nor haven nor pretext for it. After all, the person we revere and venerate the next most, after Jesus Christ, is His Mother.

Some posts on related issues from this blog you may like to check out are one on the priesthood in Orthodoxy and another on authority.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

(On Women Bishops) Dear Anglicans,

The Church of England has just defeated, by a very narrow vote, a proposal to allow women to become bishops. The measure needed two-thirds of the vote in each of the houses: the House of Bishops, the House of Clergy, and the House of Laity. It passed the first two, but lacked 6 votes (or five, according to one source) in the House of Laity. Now my friends in England are too, too outraged. They hope the State will impose fairness on a body which cannot seem to achieve it on her own. They feel stunned, they feel almost physically sick, they are ashamed, they say, to be laypeople in the Church of England.

Now all of this I can understand, but ladies (and gentlemen) of the UK, take a deep breath.

The first thing we all need to remember is that it is virtually certain you will have women bishops in the not-so-distant future, just as Episcopalians here in the U.S. have. You’ve waited 2,000 years; what’s five more? I doubt it will take even that long, but whatever the duration, it gives you time to pause and look at the whole complex of issues from a different perspective, so it’s a blessing in disguise, if one lets it be.

Ask yourselves, with all brutal honesty and seriousness, what do you want to be bishops for? I mean, what do you want to be bishops for? And to this question there’s really only one Christian answer, isn’t there? “To love and serve the Christian people.” But of course you can already do this! You can comfort the bereaved, visit the sick and imprisoned, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, counsel the perplexed, instruct the ignorant, proclaim the Gospel, etc., etc., etc. You do not need to be a bishop to do these things; you don’t even need to be a priest .Why let hot tears of indignation distract you from the work at hand? Just do it. Exercise whatever gifts God has already given you.

Ah, but there’s more to it that this, isn’t there? God has given some of you, you tell me, gifts of leadership, which the Church of England isn’t letting you fully use. In effect, you’re telling me your church has been at odds with God from the beginning. And after 2,000 years, you are trying to correct that.

Among the Orthodox Christians here in Richmond, among the Greek ones at least, our spiritual leader is an elderly woman named Adamantia. She’s the one people go to when they need personal advice, when they are wrestling with a church teaching or a spiritual issue such as forgiving others or dealing with bereavement. You already know the Orthodox do not ordain women, so obviously Adamantia holds no church office. So how did she get to be so influential? Is she rich? Is she beautiful? Is she highly educated? Is she the sort who just naturally takes command? No, no, no, and no. Her one and only qualification is that she is Christ with skin on. In her flesh, one readily sees Christ moving and breathing and acting. In her, you encounter His own compassion, kindness, love, humility, wisdom. And that qualification is the greatest, the highest, the all-sufficient. That is what makes this woman our spiritual leader.

Adamantia doesn’t get to be center stage in worship, but she does get to do far more important things. Like praying. And the highest function of all that we mere mortals can perform within the Divine Liturgy, namely to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, she gets to do right along with the rest of us, ordained or lay. (Yes, consecrating the bread and wine may possibly be an even "higher" function, but the priest doesn’t do that; the Holy Spirit does.)

In this same way, you, too, can exercise whatever gifts of leadership God has given you. But being a genuine Christian leader is much harder than merely being made a priest or a bishop; it involves being re-fashioned into Christ. You really don’t want to take the cheap way out, do you?

But I fear all this is still missing your point. There appears to be yet more involved with this highly-charged issue. And it has to do with fairness and rights and equality, and even with how the wider society will regard the Church of England if she is so backward in these things. Is that it, or part of it?

The issue of the wider society is obviously a pressing one, given the hemorrhaging of membership you’ve been experiencing. You desperately need to attract new members. But do be careful! Satan is very subtle, and here is just where he sets his traps for you. There are at least two of them.

One is, you must never be motivated by your church’s needs. God will provide for His Church. God will “grow” His Church. (And if He does not, then one must seriously question whether this church really is His or whether He is deliberately letting her die.) Christians are to leave God’s job to God and let themselves be motivated always and only by love — love unmixed with other motivations, ideally.

The second trap is the temptation to conform to the values of this world. That’s actually the opposite of the Church’s mission to help the wider society conform more nearly to Christ.

What’s worse, and I’m not sure I know yet how to explain why this is so, this temptation to adopt the values of the pagan society around you is, in a terrible irony, the very thing killing the C of E. I stand by distressed to see the C of E committing ecclesiastical suicide and not perceiving that suicide’s exactly what it is.

So to tie the issue of women bishops to the opinions of the secular society is a mistake. Our only legitimate concern is what Christ thinks of the Church, not what anyone else does. Whether Christ calls women to be priests and bishops is a legitimate question, but whether society approves is not.

Rights? But the priesthood and episcopate are Christ’s! Christ chooses whom He will. Nobody, but nobody, male or female, has any “right” to it. That you believe Christ chooses women as well as men to be priests and bishops I accept, but let us dispense with the language of “rights” when it comes to the things of Christ’s.

Equality? Every woman knows in her heart she is equal to men. (Admit it, ladies, most of us even harbor the suspicion that we are more than the equals of men.) We know it already; we do not need to be priests or bishops to know we are their equals. We need not whine if they do not bless us by their affirmation of it, for St. Paul does. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

With equality I think we probably come to the heart of the matter. It means equality of rank, doesn’t it? And equality of power. And I think that in non-Orthodox circles, these two go together. I mean, there are higher and lower ranks and rank confers power. Bishops have the highest power in the C of E, and women are going after their fair share of it. And within any secular organization, this would be indisputably right and proper. But what does Christ teach? From Matthew 20:

20 Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Him with her sons, kneeling down and asking something from Him.
21 And He said to her, “What do you wish?”
She said to Him, “Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom.”
You know the rest of the story. Their mistake was not so much in supposing Christ’s kingdom would be secular (that, too) as in power-seeking.

25 But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. 26 Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. 27 And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
So seeking after such vanities as power, rank, status, and prestige is a thoroughly unchristian pursuit. We Orthodox do not think anyone at all should ever aspire to be a bishop; it is a hard form of servitude and it is dangerous to ones spiritual well-being. When we encounter a priest or bishop who shows any interest in rank or power, we laugh him to shame. We do not hear in him our Shepherd’s voice; we do not respond. We tolerate him and we show respect to his office, but he personally is going to be scorned and the subject of innumerable jokes. I even know of one priest in Greece whose parishioners contemptuously call him “John Boy”, in English.

If in the Church of England leadership is equated with being a priest or bishop, and if leadership means being the boss, and if priesthood and episcopacy are matters of rank and power, then you have a secular instead of a Christian system; and that is a much bigger problem than simply what a woman’s place in it ought to be. Frankly, the sons and daughters of the Reformation ought to have repudiated these notions centuries ago. But better late than never; do it now.

And when you do, and when it becomes very clear that church office truly does mean being a servant to the servants of God, well, I wonder how many feminists will aspire to servanthood, or how many women will aspire to be first, knowing that the first shall be last?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The End of "Religion"

Comments on the previous post’s negative use of the word “religion,” seem to suggest the need to say more. The use of “religion” as a name for something negative associated with belief in God is not new with me, nor within Orthodoxy. It has been a significant part of the most serious levels of discussion for the better part of the 20th century. Another word would have done just as well, perhaps, but another word was not chosen. “Religion” has thus become ambiguous.

In the American movement associated with recovery from addictions, “religion” is almost always used in a negative manner, even though its very programs are deeply involved with a spiritual way of living. Some people in the US describe themselves as “SBNR,” “spiritual but not religious.” They do so with some humor, but with a very serious intent. When a video in which a Christian says that he “hates religion but loves Jesus” goes viral, something deep within a culture’s consciousness has been touched, whether the words were well chosen or not.

As I’ve noted, Fr. Alexander Schmemann very famously made use of the term “religion,” to describe a very negative, even neurotic set of behaviors involved with the belief and worship of God. He was not alone. Other leading figures in Orthodoxy had used the word in the same manner. Fr. John Romanides wrote about the “disease of religion.” Christos Yannaras uses the term in much the same way.

Read the rest (and leave your comments) on Fr. Stephen's wonderful blog, here.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Grandmas Are Allowed/Supposed to Brag

Kelly on her 11th Birthday

Kelly as a Flapper for Halloween

The Boys in the Halloween Costumes, no Idea

What they Are. 

I'm pretty sure that's Connor on the left and Ryan on the right.

Connor This Summer With the Biggest Fish He Ever Caught

in His Whole, Entire Life

Note Left by Kelly in Her Parents' Room.  She is Such an Angel! 

Jackson's Official "2nd Birthday" Photo

Jackson and Sydney in Their Halloween Costumes.

I told Sydney hers was a flop because a witch is supposed to be ugly

but she is beautiful even with a green face and a wart on her nose!

Monday, November 19, 2012

We're Still YOUNG! We Really Are

Just because we've passed our 60th birthdays (and then some) does not mean we're old.  No, not at all.  Far from it!  It only means our bodies no longer co-operate with our youthfulness.  But our hearts and souls and feelings and self-awareness, which is to say all of us that counts the most, is still no more than thirty-something and often much younger.

Thing is, "We are still young" does not mean young as young people today are.  We are still young as young people were fifty years ago.  That (together with different bodies) explains the difference between us and the other young people, those who have not yet reached their 40th birthdays.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Our Last Days in Greece

Having been too tired until now to share with you our doings during our last few days in Greece, I now try to summarize...

Mena gave us a farewell party on Thursday night, and she cooked some splendiferous dishes, which I forbear to describe as we are now into the Christmas Fast...So we had one last chance to see a lot of the friends.  It didn't ger emotional at the end because we never really feel ourselves apart.  It was just joyous.

Friday remains a blur; I only remember going out with Stelios and Anastasia, who live only a block from us, but whom we hadn't seen until then because of being so busy.  (This trip to Greece really was, overall, more of an ordeal than fun.)  We had coffee and dessert at their favorite sweets shop near where we all live.  They are fine people, delightful people, kind and loving people, who agree out loud with everything you say.  One of their sons got married in September and we would have been invited to the wedding had they known we were here... The other son has just set up his medical practice.    So all is well in their lives (if we ignore the political situation for the nonce).

Saturday night Matushka Constantina came, with her husband, who is now Father Deacon John, and her brother, who is now Father Deacon Matthew, and his wife, Matushka Catherine.  (Matushka is "Little Mother,' which is what a clergyman's wife is called in the Russian Orthodox Church.)  These are four Canadians (from New Brunswick) who are not only all related, but all best friends.  They all travelled their road to Orthodox Christianity together, starting as philosophy students, moving through Anglicanism, and finally coming to holy Orthodoxy.  They have been studying in Thessaloniki for some years now, each taking a master's degree in theology, while Fr. John is working on his doctorate.  (Their first year was devoted just to learning Greek; then came theology courses.) 

What can I say?  They are all wonderful.  They listened kindly as Demetrios described to them the book he's writing.  He doesn't have many people he feels he can share it with, so that was a big gift to him.  We then talked spiritual matters, which was a blessing to both of us.

Catherine and Fr. Matthew  are going to stay in Thessaloniki through the winter while he finishes up his dissertation.  After that, they aren't sure what.  Constantina and Fr. John are going soon to Newfoundland, to minister to a community of Orthodox Christians who as yet don't even have a church.  The community is certainly blessed, to be going to have them!

We broke up perhaps later than we ought to have, given that it was a Saturday night, but Demetrios and I, at least, weren't sorry.

Sunday after church, Demetrios said, "Leonidas and Ianna want us to come over..."

"NO!"  I said.  "We haven't even begun to pack and we have to leave the house at two o'clock in the morning to get to the airport.  No way!"

"Only for a little while," said he, patiently.  Yeah, right.  Little whiles, among Greeks, tend to stretch out into whole afternoons and then some.

"Because they're invited to Tatiana's [one of their daughters] for the midday meal."

OH, okay.  That would put a narrow time limit on it, and I would like to see them again...  So to their flat we went.

And it's a very, very good thing we did, because before very long, Ianna said, "Have you reconfirmed your flight?"

"Not yet," I said.  "I keep forgetting."

"I think you should," said Ianna, "because yesterday I heard from a taxi driver that the flights to Zurich have been discontinued." 

OOPS.  Yes, we were scheduled to fly SwissAir to Zurich, and USAirways from Zurich to Philly, and thence to Richmond. 

We wouldn't even have known how to begin, had not Leonidas and Ianna and Mena been there.  As it was, it took most of the afternoon to find out that yes, that flight had been discontinued some time ago, and to make alternative arrangements.  At no extra charge to us; that was the good part.

The bad part was, the alternative arrangements involved leaving our house by ten p.m. that night, which meant we weren't going to get the little sleep we had counted on. 

We hurried home to pack and were still re-arranging suitcases when Mena arrived to drive us to the airport, where there were very tearful farewells.

"Useless Airways" wasn't so bad this time.  It helped that this time we were aware they close the boarding gate ten mintues before the scheduled departure.  My only criticisms are that the lavatories were absolutely appalling, the cabin was too cold and the "blankets" no thicker than a flannel sheet.  However, as it wasn't a full flight, we managed to wrap three of them around poor, shivering Demetrios and two around me.   Oh, and the food disagreed with both of us and there wasn't enough of it.

By the time we got to Philadelphia, Demetrios could hardly walk from grogginess and a more than moderate case of nausea. (Mine had gone away.)  By the time we got back to Richmond, we'd been awake 40 hours straight.

A very long sleep helped enormously; we woke up feeling tired but well and we managed to get a full day's work done, per the checklist I published. 

We are still tired, but we do seem to have more or less fallen right into the appropriate sleep pattern for this time zone.  Those 40 hours without sleep must have completely discombobulated our biological clocks, because they are not protesting at the 7-hour time difference.

I've now gotten back from a marvelous couple of days in North Carolina with the children and grandchildren; but that's another post and I don't know when I'll have the time to write it.

OH - and I've just ordered Constantina's newly published  book for myself for Christmas, as well as Fr. Andrew Damick's book, Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Mamma and the Postman, 02

My aged Greek mother-in-law was worrying one cloudy day how to get her lawn chair inside before the rain should begin.  When the mailman arrived, she thought she saw her chance.  Pointing to the lawn chair, folded and leaning on the fence, she asked him in Greek to bring it to her. 

He couldn't understand; he shrugged and smiled and started to leave.  He had gotten as far as the fence when Mamma cried, "No, no, no!"  And then in a flurry of Greek, she explained again that he should bring her the chair that was leaning on the fence.  Again she pointed to it.

Again he could not understand what she wanted, and turned to depart.  Again, as he reached the fence, she called him back, this time with more desperation in her voice, pointing toward where the chair was leaning.

Finally, the letter carrier thought he had deciphered the crazy old woman's wishes and to humor her, vaulted over the fence instead of walking around it.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Mamma and the Postman, 01

My Greek mother-in-law, who lived in America for several years, spoke only a few words of English:  Thank you, good morning, good-bye, please.  One broiling August day, she was struggling to open a can of soda with its still unfamiliar pop-tab.  Just as she was giving up, help arrived in the form of the mailman.  Mamma hurried to the front door and handed him the soda, asking him in Greek to open it for her and adding, "Please."

The letter carrier popped the top, took a long swig, said a big, "Thank you!" and departed with a wave, can in hand.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Valuable Lesson

There appears to be a controversy going on about some children having crushing loads of homework, and hearing about it made me remember the most crushing assignment I ever had.

I was a freshman at Meredith College in Raleigh, taking Religion 101, Intro to the Old Testament.  The assignment involved reading a chapter or two from Genesis together with multiple commentaries and taking notes on the same, in effect coming up with our own commentary.

So here's a fundamentalist girl (for I was then in my Baptist phase) coming into contact for the first time, and very unexpectedly, with modern Liberal Protestant theological thought.  Almost every sentence I read knocked me off balance.  There was no way to get through it all and I was probably halfway finished with the assignment when I gave up.  The professor  never collected homework anyway, so it wouldn't matter.  I vented my frustration by scrawling across the bottom of the last page, in large letters, "How in the world does Dr. MacLean expect us to finish all this when for every 5 minutes of reading, I have to STOP AND THINK for fifteen?"

Of course the next class was the one time Dr. MacLean did collect homework.  I handed mine in with alternating deep shame and defiance.

My work came back two days later with an A+++ written at the top and a smile across Dr. Mac's face.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Abou Ben Adhem

By Leigh Hunt 1784–1859
Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An angel writing in a book of gold:—
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the presence in the room he said,
"What writest thou?"—The vision raised its head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord,
Answered, "The names of those who love the Lord."
"And is mine one?" said Abou. "Nay, not so,"
Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerly still; and said, "I pray thee, then,
Write me as one that loves his fellow men."

         The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blest,
And lo! Ben Adhem's name led all the rest.

Not perhaps theologically precise, but not so far wrong, either, as to be controversial, I think.

Arrival Checklist

Not bad for the first day (yesterday).

We're working on the spiders!  Upstairs is clear of them, now for downstairs.

Monday, November 12, 2012

On Holiday

We’re heading for Richmond, where life is so deliciously boring. Richmond, where there are no medical projects for poor, frazzled Demetrios, only the book to write, more or less at leisure; Richmond, where the absence of Kostas will not be so keenly felt; Richmond, which escaped the Hurricane’s wrath; Richmond, where life isn’t as hard for most people as it is for most people here, and where the people are nowhere near any boiling point even if they ought to be. Peaceful, sedate Richmond. Ahhhh.

Time to get back for Jackson’s second birthday on the 14th and Kelly’s eleventh birthday on the 16th. Time to hurry back and vacuum up all the spiders that will have taken over our house and do some grocery shopping and otherwise prepare to host Thanksgiving for my mother and brother, for Barbara’s husband and daughters, for whoever else we can persuade to come.

I don’t know how soon I can update this blog, but if it should be a longish time, let that not be cause for anyone to worry.

America, here we come; let the vacation begin!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Various Updates

Finally, a Bathroom Door

"Our new bathroom door will be here tomorrow," said Demetrios, with a huge smile.

"Maybe," said I, thinking of how Greeks relate to time.

The door store called and the man said it would be the next day instead.  "He's coming at 8:00 in the morning," said Demetrios.


Well, he came at 10:15 today, and by noon or new objet d'art was installed.  Hooray!  It's lovely, with its little pane of highly textured, multi-colored glass.

Ah...  Now we have to get used to having a door again and remember to close it...  :-)

Okay, So That Idea Won't Work...

No, the doctors in Greece aren't going to go on strike anytime soon.  The reason is, the leaders of the various medical organizations are all govenment appointees. 

You have to admire how the people who plotted this looting of Greece (and all Europe) planned it all so carefully, overlooking nothing. 

Yes, looting is the name of the game.  Put the super-rich in charge of every asset and resource.  What's going on in Europe (not only in Greece) is the biggest transfer of wealth in history. It would make the Conquistadors envious. I rather think that says it all. 

But, a detail or two...

About half the shops in our neighborhood stand empty, having gone out of business.  Some have re-opened, bought up by guess whom?  A large multi-national corporation called Carrefour, owned by a French Jewish family, which by now must have a hundred mini-grocery stores here in Thessaloniki.

Three years ago, the Greek national debt was 50 billion Euros. Now it's around 350 billion, despite all the bailout money. ????? Where did all that bailout money go? It's nearly 400 billion, so far. The more Greece gets bailed out, the more indebted she becomes.

And the same in Portugal, Spain, Italy, Ireland, and for that matter, all of Europe.  Yes, the biggest transfer of wealth in history.  To the already super-rich, from everybody else.

Enron.  Remember Enron?  In which the company's executives, not giving a hoot about the company, looted it and then let it collapse and stockholders lost and employees were done out of pensions?  Same thing is going on in Europe.  Milk it for all it's worth, tell everybody all will be well until it call comes crashing down.  Same thing as Enron, but writ very large.

...and Neither Will This Idea Work

Our Zoe Constantinopoulou isn't impressing much of anyone except Demetrios.  The general opinion is, she has a very large mouth, she's pushing herself forward for her own, personal gain, and she will not help Greece one iota. 

Which is what I've been saying, but I can still hope I'm wrong.

Those Demonstrations in Athens

Did you see the crowds a couple of nights ago throwing Molotov cocktails at the Parliament building in Athens?  Not to get excited; they were government supporters, paid to do this.  How do we know?  They were observed, afterward, re-boarding the police buses that apparently had brought them to the scene in the first place.  Hence, the rather lethargic crowd, lobbing an occastional Molotov in the general direction of the Parliament, but not really near it, the police putting on a mild show of force, and the night session of Parliament proceeding calmly. 

The idea is, if the people see someone showing anger and rioting, the people won't feel they have to do it themselves.  They vent their hostility vicariously.  Everything has been thought of.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

A Place to Call Home

Apart from rain when we first arrived and rain over the St. Demetrios weekend, the weather here has been sunny and warm. We’ve left all our sliding glass doors open (four of them leading to the wrap-around balcony) and have slept under a sheet. But lately we only open the doors and windows in the middle of the day. We turn on the radiators in the evenings and we sleep under a blanket. Some of the trees are turning brown; leaves are falling, betraying the nearness of winter. If we are to be cooped up by uninviting weather, at least it ought to be in a bigger house. Yes, it’s getting to be that time, time to depart. For home? Well, for Richmond.

When I was growing up in an Army family, it was exciting, adventurous, to move every year or two or three, to see new places and make new friends and sometimes re-encounter old ones. I loved it.

My grandmother used to tell the story of how, one day when I was six, she took me to Macy’s in New York City. Dad had just received orders to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and we children were staying with Grandma and Grandpa while our parents went house-hunting there. It was to be the first house we’d ever owned; before, we had always either rented or lived on post.

At Macy’s, Grandma took some lingerie into the fitting room and told me to sit right there on the floor and play with Alice and not move until she came back. So my doll and I were obediently and happily at play while Grandma took her time trying on girdles. After quite a while, some woman approached and the conversation, recounted afterward to Grandma, went something like this:

“Little girl, where’s your mother?”

“She’s in Oklahoma.”

“Oklahoma! Then where’s your father?”

“He’s in Oklahoma, too.”

(Nobody thought to ask about my Grandma, or I could have told them she was right here in the fitting room.)

“Your parents are in Oklahoma and have left you here?”


“Is Oklahoma where you’re from?”


“Well, then, where do you live?”


“Where’s your house?”

“I don’t have a house.”

“What, no home?”

By now, several other people had gathered around, I too engrossed with Alice or too young to perceive that they were all horrified. They were trying to figure out what to do with the poor little, abandoned, homeless child.

Grandma (who could have been the prototype of Hyacinth in “Keeping Up Appearances”) came back from the fitting room to find the little crowd moved almost to tears by what they took to be my bravery; I was trying to explain (still matter-of-factly, as I still did not perceive their distress), “We do have a home, we just don’t have a house to put it in.”

Many years later, when Grandma and Grandpa sold their house in New Jersey and moved to Florida, I realized their house had been the closest thing I’d ever had to a home, had been our permanent address, the place to which we always came back. My siblings and I (and our cousins) all missed it terribly. From then on, I longed for a place to put down roots, a place to call home.

Eventually God granted me to have Richmond for my home. I felt very blessed. Then Demetrios inherited this little flat in Thessaloniki from his mother and we began living here part of every year. I was twice blessed. Then Demetrios finally fulfilled the dream of his youth to return to Ormskirk, England, and we began living there part of the year as well. Despite my initial reservations, I soon began to feel at home in Ormskirk, too. (In fact, that flat is my favorite dwelling.) Thrice blessed, countless times blessed.

Now that our remaining days in Greece can be counted on our fingers and we say we’re getting ready to “go home”, I perceive this ironic truth: once again I no longer know where home is. You tell me home is where the heart is? My heart is all over the map.

Nowhere and yet everywhere is truly a place to call home.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

At Long Last

Very predictably, our doorless bathroom has been the subject of many jokes for weeks now.

We have been able to arrange quite easily to be in another room when one of us needs privacy, but that’s only visual privacy. In close quarters, it’s the assorted noises that embarrass one, isn’t it? A bathroom door allows you to persuade yourself that maybe everything you are doing isn’t being heard, or at least not distinctly.

Well, the new door is to arrive tomorrow and we are very grateful. We’ll have a few days to enjoy it before we leave.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

How to Drive Out Physicians (or ?)

You may or may not rememer than in early October I wrote a post about how a major newspaper here in Greece announced that now the state would target doctors and lawyers, to drive them out of business.

Well, Demetrios had a long talk with a doctor and now we've found out one way it's done. New laws have been passed, so now the national healthcare system is only paying doctors 7 Euros for each patient visit. Furthermore, each doctor is limited to 200 patients per month. (That's 2 per hour if you work a five-hour day.) That means a doctor's monthly income is now 1,400 Euros, max, or about $2,000. Out of that, s/he has to pay for the office: rent, out-of-sight taxes, out-of-sight insurance, water, electricity, telephone -- and presumably a receptionist's salary.  (I'm assuming, without knowing, that nurses get paid separately by the system, not by the doctor.)

Hospital physicians make a smidgeon more.

You can also work night up to 5 nights call and thereby earn a total of up to 300 Euros more, per month.

Altogether then, we're talking annual income of $25,000 to $30,000 - minus overhead

Of course this arrangement also presents the physicians the golden opportunity that arises from having nothing to lose. Until the new laws were passed, most of them were making good money, sometimes even excessive money, so most of them probably have reasonably deep pockets. This implies that should they collectively decide to try to save Greece, all they'd have to do (hopefully together with the nurses) is tell the government something like, "As of next Monday, we quit (except for true emergencies) and we will not come back until you ______________" fill in the blank with some demand(s) beneficial to the entire public so they will back the strike.

It ought not to take long, I should think. All it should take is a bit of pluck, aka courage.

Do You (Orthodox) Recognize Our (Protestant or Catholic) Sacraments?

The short answer is no, but it doesn’t mean we simply refuse to acknowledge your rites as sacraments, as if we were being narrow, stubborn or prideful. It means we literally cannot recognize them, as in, we look at them and know not what we are seeing.

In our experience, for example, the Holy Communion is truly the Body and Blood of Christ. If you don’t believe it is, then what do you mean when you call it a “sacrament”? If you do believe it, well, you aren’t in communion with us, so if we both have the true sacrament, what can that mean? There’s such a thing as divided union? Christ is divided?

By “Holy Baptism”, we mean triple immersion in sanctified water of a person of any age in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, performed within the one, undivided Church, whereby that person is cleansed from his sins, his life is dedicated to God, and he becomes truly grafted into Christ, flesh of His flesh, bone of His bone (= born again). If that’s what Holy Baptism is, how much of it can you or we recognize in what you do?

In Holy Matrimony, Christ marries the couple and that’s what makes it a sacrament. If your denomination’s teaching is otherwise, namely that the man and woman marry each other or that the minister marries them, where’s the sacrament in that?

What do you mean when you say ‘sacrament’? Do you even know what you mean? Neither do we.

If you do know what you mean, it must be different from what we mean, because what we mean is the very thing we can’t find (recognize) in your rites. This doesn’t necessarily by itself signify you do not have the genuine Mysteries; it means if you do, God knows it, but hasn’t revealed it to us, to whom they’re quite literally unrecognizable.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Hope for Greece?

Demetrios has a new hero, or heroine, rather. Her name is Zoë Konstantinopoulou and she’s a Member of Parliament from the Syriza Party. She’s on a committee ostensibly looking into financial corruption in government. (Crooks always like to investigate themselves, don’t they?) And Demetrios watches her almost every weeknight on the Greek counterpart to C-SPAN, grilling one thug after another, chopping them up into small bits and grinding them into the dust. “If they thought Harry Truman gave ‘em hell, she gives ‘em hell a hundred times more,” says Demetrios. “She’s Margaret Thatcher, times ten!”

She has her facts all organized and documented. She has her questions carefully prepared. She must have been some kind of prosecutor once, Demetrios thinks. She’s brilliant. She skillfully, methodically, and ruthlessly exposes, in detail, how the whole rotten system works and who does what and where the money goes and how they cover it up. Demetrios laughs out loud to see the men she interrogates being shown to be ridiculous and worse, spluttering and protesting, often having no answer, turning red from fury. They lash out at her, they are rude and crude, they call for the chairman to stop her. They threaten to unseat him if he won’t, but he can’t. The gavel bangs, she is told to cease and desist, but she goes right on, her voice louder and more persistent than theirs, saying we have to take the time required to do this investigation properly. She is told she is rude and she replies, “Your accusation doesn’t bother me. I was brought up to have good manners. It’s yours that need looking after.” All this, on live television. She is unflappable and, so far, unstoppable.

She gets away with it because in any showdown not only would her own Syriza Party support her, but also the Golden Dawn Party, the Communist Party (which always supports any dissent), and the rats deserting the sinking ships of the other parties. That’s the whole spectrum, from far left to far right and everything in between.

Maybe one day, says Demetrios hopefully, she will be Greece’s new leader.

“Very entertaining,” I tell him, “but her party, for all its talk of change, change, change, makes it quite clear they have no plans to do anything differently, either. So what’s the point? It’s all talk.”

“Maybe she will start a new party, or maybe she’ll become the leader of Syriza and maybe under her leadership it will make the necessary changes, after all. I don’t know, but I can hope.”

Nobody watching her for a single evening can still harbor any illusions about what is going on. That’s the importance of what she’s doing. Anybody who still wasn’t awake before listening to her has got to be now, anyone watching her who was awake but not very well informed has got to be now, and even I concede that to be awake and well informed are two very valuable assets to the people. Well done, Zoë!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

At the Home of Demetrios and Maria

A Cranky Post Because We're Both Worn Out

“When are we leaving for Demetrios and Maria’s house?” I asked Demetrios.

“Pretty soon; you need to hurry and get ready.”

“How soon?” in alarm.

"Pretty soon!”

“Please tell me how long I’ve got!”

“Well, we’re to be downstairs by seven.”

“Okay, well, it’s twenty minutes to six right now.”

“Oh, I forgot we haven’t changed the clocks.” (We never do because this way, they’ll be right when, God willing, we return the following September.)

Six o’clock came and went. Seven came and went. At seven-twenty, I said, “Maybe you’d better phone Vasilis to make sure there’s been no misunderstanding.”

“I’ll wait a bit. Maybe it was eight o’clock.”

I picked up my knitting. My fingers flew; my needles flashed. (Or they would have, except they’re acrylic.)

Greeks have their own way of relating to time.

I hadn’t finished a row when Mena called. Her son, Vasilis, was on the way.

“Mena isn’t coming?” I asked.

“She’s vomiting today, some virus, so Vasilis is driving us.”

Mena is sick and Demetrios never even told me? He’s very, very tired. He’s not himself. Maybe he’s even coming down with the same bug as Mena. I'm pretty sure I am.

Vasilis? Is he invited to dinner? He’s, like, the wrong generation. Oh, well, I told myself, just try to be a detached observer, wait and see what happens. They must have it all worked out somehow. Let the others worry about it. It ought to be interesting. I hope Vasilis does stay for the meal.

We gathered our things (a small gift for each couple) and made our way down the elevator and out the front door just as Vasilis arrived.

We took a familiar route. Demetrios and Maria must live close to Manolis and Vasilea, I said to myself. And then we turned onto the very street.

“I thought we were going to Demetrios and Maria?” I asked.

“We are. But Manolis and Vasilea don’t know the way, so we’re driving them.”

Oh. Okay.

Turns out Ioannis and his wife Mena were already on the scene when we arrived, so THEY drove Manolis and Vasilea. (Are you still with me? Never mind.) We followed.

Away out in the country is the farm where Demetrios and Maria live. You walk into the front door, through the dining room, past the kitchen, and into the living room. Most of the floors are done up in a highly textured, shiny tile with flowers and curlicues in colors ranging from creams through tans and brown with touches of olive green. (The kitchen floor has brick-sized tiles in shades of olive green.) There is a fireplace in the far left corner of the living room, Greek-style, which means the chimney tapers as it climbs toward the ceiling. Beside that, the traditional settee of stuccoed brick, topped with a cushion to sit on and pillows for your back. Down either side of the room are various sofas, love seats, easy chairs, and small tables. In the middle, two coffee tables and two ottomans. (Is ”ottoman” a dirty word around here?)

After a little while of chatting, Manolis said, “Let’s begin.” So we all stood up and prayed. Then we sat back down. We didn’t go into any dining room.

That’s when I realized that this was not to be a dinner party. This was to be another in our series of theological discussions. So that explained why Demetrios had eaten a heavy snack just before coming here! And why Vasilis was here; he participates in all these discussions.

I need to ask more questions even if Demetrios is exhausted and prefers companionable silence. Otherwise I get quite confused. (Or I could keep track of the dates, keep a calendar or something so I’d know when these every-other Thursday meetings were going to be. Speaking of relating to time…)

The topic was marriage. I wasn’t prepared, but then apparently neither was anyone else, for the topic seemed to be decided only then and there. The text was that pesky chapter in Ephesians. You know the one I mean, the one that’s read at weddings, about how marriage is a great mystery, and the mystery is Christ and the Church. And wives are to submit to their husbands (that’s the difficult part) and men are to love their wives as Christ loves the Church and gave Himself for her, the other difficult part.

Mostly the men spoke. The women kept quiet. When asked my opinion, I said, “When you husbands love us ‘as Christ loves the Church’, then we wives find it very easy to submit to you.”

That drew laughter all around. Someone (a man, of course, who shall not be named) added, “But otherwise, don’t expect it?” Bingo! Okay, laugh, but seriously, the submission bit only works well within the Christian context of which St. Paul was writing, doesn't it? Within the context of Christ’s self-sacrificial love. Otherwise, it will become difficult in exact proportion to the husband’s bossiness. It can even become dysfunctional, as when a husband demands his wife’s collaboration in something illegal and/or immoral.

St. Peter (I Peter 5:5) writes, “All of you be subject one to another.” All of you. Because that is what love does; that is what Christ did.

Later, Vasilea gave a little speech on Christian freedom within marriage, which pleased me. And then both Manolis and Demetrios (somewhat reinvigorated, temporarily) gave their own little speeches echoing hers and adding new insights to it, which pleased me even more.

I used to think and say that in a way we’re all married to each other. I thought of saying that tonight, but saw, for the first time clearly, how wrong that is (and how misguided was my motivation in former days when I used to say it). What is true is that there is available to everyone a relationship with each other that is more intimate than marriage. All of these friends experience this. But this very thing is what Christian marriage — or, for that matter, the monastic life — is intended to foster! For married people, marriage is the seedbed of it, as for monks and nuns the monastery is. That is the primary purpose of marriage: to bring us all, starting with our spouses, into that supernatural communion with one another in Christ. It indeed transcends marriage, yet without nullifying the fact that every marriage is a unique relationship, with unique personalities, history, and challenges, and with definitely-private-not-communal facets,. It’s emphatically not that we are all married to each other. The better way of saying it would be that each of our marriages is a center of love overflowing to those around. In the case of married people, it’s not individual love, but the couple’s love — for they have become one — that flows out to mingle with the love of others and — and what? And the Great Mystery. Language fails.

There was some discussion of Jewish marriage, as in the Old Testament. Manolis said their marriage was not the Mystery that Christian marriage is. I observed, though, and Ioannis the theologian supported me, that it had a different and wonderful Mystery of its own; its primary goal was (and they think still is), ultimately to bring forth Messiah. Manolis said but the Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Yes, of a pure Jewish maiden, which is why the prophet St. Symeon called Him, “a light to enlighten the nations and the glory of Thy people, Israel” and why we call her the crown or flower of creation.

Refreshments were two kinds of cake and as I’d had no supper, I ate both.

Manolis said, “When Anastasia and Demetrios depart for America, it will leave us with a black hole.” It will certainly leave a black hole in our hearts, too! So even though these discussions are scheduled for every two weeks, we all agreed to meet one more time before we fly back to Richmond.

GREEK WORD OF THE DAY: sunbathing, heliotherapía. I just think that’s pretty cool.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

More St. Demetrios Celebrating

Every year, we give a St. Demetrios dinner to about 20 of our friends at a taverna owned by one of Leonidas’ sisters. This year, for numerous reasons, it had to be postponed from the actual Feast (Friday) until Tuesday evening.

What could be more wonderful than being with so many dear ones all at the same time? And mostg of them are very dear to one another, too. It really was a preview of the heavenly wedding banquet. I felt swaddled in a silken cocoon of love and never wanted the evening to end. Times like this, I want to stay here in Greece forever; but then I remember the dear ones elsewhere. My heart is already very sore and raw from missing my grandchildren, not to mention the rest of the family.

We had been out of touch for over a year with one Kostas, a urologist, and his wife, Helen, so were very glad to see them again. Kostas used to live right next to Demetrios when they were boys.

Helen was seated in such a way that conversation with others was difficult, so at some point I went to sit beside her and try to converse. Half an hour later, I realized, to my delight and shock, that we’d been gabbing, in Greek, all that time and had had no difficulty understanding one another! It was a heart-to-heart, too. Must’ve been some sort of a miracle.

The astonishing thing I learned from her is the accident her husband, Kostas, sustained a year ago. He fell from his balcony to the ground below — thirty feet! He was in the hospital for a month, and in a convalescent home for more months, several bones shattered. He had to learn all over again to walk. To see him now, you’d never know this horror had happened to him. He says he still has pain now and again.

After dinner, the singing began, mostly quiet songs and hymns, starting with the hymn of St. Demetrios and, at my request, “To Thee, the Champion Leader.” For some unknown reason, it’s mostly the men who sing. Sometimes Vasilea joins them, and Mena, rarely. As always, they sounded very good. I sat there thinking, though, that somehow they didn’t quite sound as good as usual, and wondering why. Something just wasn’t as sweet or rich this time; there was not as much harmonizing. Something was missing. It took several minutes for me to realize, teary-eyed, what was missing: Kostas, supplying the bass.

This was the first time the company had sung together since Kostas died (on July 4), so even though it was subdued singing, that is progress, that is healing, that is very, very good.

Demetrios had asked people not to give him gifts; what he really wanted, he said, was a photograph of each of them. So some people brought photographs. But others still brought gifts: a sweater, a CD, and books.

The books are in English—so we can both read them together, was the explanation. Wasn’t that kind of the givers, to think of me as well?! One is the life of St. Arsenios by our local saint, Fr. Paisios, whom everyone but us knew. I’ve already devoured it. The other is a compilation of questions and answers. The questions are posed by the nuns at a convent near here (where Ioannis’ and Mena’s daughter is), where the spiritual father used to be Fr. Paisios, and the answers are his. There are to be, I think, 12 volumes of these questions and answers. No doubt I’ll be sharing some tidbits soon.

Manolis always knows how (and when) to end an evening: he stands up and begins singing, “O Gladsome Light,” and there’s nothing for the rest of us to do but to stand and sing it with him. (At his house, he takes you to his chapel to do it.) And as you are already on your feet, and as that hymn is a virtual benediction, you just sort of have to go home after it. There’s nothing left but the kisses and the hugs, good-night and see you Thursday.

Thursday? Demetrios and Maria’s house, someone said. ?? How are they going to host a dinner with Maria in her condition? (I’m told it isn’t Alzheimer’s after all; it’s something else.)

The Golden Key

In the past few days, four television reporters have been fired the first time they uttered any word of dissent from government policy. Two of them have been jailed, a third says he expects to be. One has even been indicted.

In the latest incident, some hackers got into the files of the Ministry of Finance and there found a lot of highly incriminating information about numerous high muckety-mucks. These hacked files came to the desk of a TV reporter, a Mr. Spyros something, who Monday announced on his show that he would be making them public. He was arrested on his way home that very evening. As he walked past the Israeli Embassy, someone inside it signaled with a light, and immediately two squads of police appeared and arrested the reporter. He was taken on Tuesday to court, where large crowds gathered to support him.

This government has a neat way of covering themselves: the same day they do something against the law, they pass new legislation legalizing it. You think some new law flat-out contradicts the Constitution? Take it to the courts! No matter to the crooks; the reporters are already in jail. And you’ll find the courts are stuffed with crooked members of the same gang.

What makes it seem so unreal, I think, is that words like “judge” and “President” are virtually synonymous with “justice” in our minds.

The golden key, said to open all doors, can also lock them all tight.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Celebrations, Day Three

Sunday, Ochi Day
And, in Greece, the Feast of the Protection of the all-Holy Theotokos

10:00 “Draconian Measures for the Parade” is the headline on television this morning. Indeed. Police helicopters are circling. Two military jets have also flown over, staying very high today.

11:15 After church (i.e., after the parade was already well underway), we went, with what seemed a larger crowd than ever despite the rain, toward the parade. So many streets were blocked off that you couldn’t get within half a mile of the first half of the parade route. In exasperation, I asked one policeman, “How are we supposed to see the parade?” He smiled and to my delight answered, “Mystikos.” Mystically! And then he offered us directions.

Demetrios said something to him I didn’t understand, to which the cop with a shrug replied, “They have their parade without us.” Not much of an exaggeration, as half the parade route passed by nobody! Then the cop added, “We shall see who will endure longer, they or we.”

“We will!” said Demetrios. “Because we still possess our souls!”

Presumably along the entire parade route, but at least as far as we could see (which on account of the crowds wasn’t far), there were policemen standing four feet apart on both sides of the street, facing the spectators, and in between each of them, a soldier facing the other direction, rifle at the ready. (I’d be surprised if they knew how to use those rifles, but that’s beside the point, isn’t it?)

The crowd was silent this year, except whenever a passing band would play, “Macedonia!” Then they applauded. It’s a favorite martial tune around here.

One elderly man behind us in the crowd was heard to say, “If the President passes by, I won’t be able to applaud him, will I? I’m holding my umbrella!” And the people nearby all turned toward him and smiled. The President, of course, didn’t pass by. He made a speech after the parade. We didn’t stay around to hear it; we left early and went to a nearby eatery for a snack.

12:45 They’re doing it again! The parade has been over for at least half an hour, but again the bomber jets are screaming as low as possible overhead, shaking you to your bones, coming back over and over again, their thunderous sound (gross understatement!) setting off car alarms, making dogs whimper and children cry. Or it may be just one jet, continually circling and swooping down on us again.

We are both living it and simultaneously watching it on the restaurant’s television. The television people, even though they told us last night there would be no fly-by today, seem to have known about this in time enough to televise the name it as soon as it began: It’s called, appropriately enough, “Demonstration Zeus” and it appears to involve only one jet. Various aerial maneuvers are being demonstrated, says an airman narrating the event. The worst one, for us, so far, has been the demonstration of how low the jet can fly — at mach two, twice the speed of sound. It stays low even when not showing off how low it can go, on account of the thick cloud cover, says the man on TV, because otherwise we couldn’t see anything. We can’t see anything anyway, except on the television, because you could only really see it live from the waterfront, where the TV cameras are, and in this neighborhood, the waterfront is blocked to the public.

Yes, there were a few of the same flares dropped today as on Thursday.

4:00 There have been big demonstrations downtown, and from the looks of it, scuffles with the police. We have stayed home for several reasons. One is, we are Americans and it isn’t up to us to meddle in this sort of thing. Not my country, and not even Demetrios’ any more, either. Another is, people’s passions are running so high now that the chance of violence seems great. And a third reason we stayed away is, unless you know who has organized a demonstration, you may unwittingly become the pawn of some group you cannot countenance.

People were carrying signs saying, “Fascism never again!” and “NO to Fascism!” By now it is perfectly clear to perhaps most Greeks that fascism or some form of totalitarianism, on a huge scale, is indeed what they are up against. On the other hand, if the people carrying these signs are communists, well, everybody to them is a fascist apart from themselves. The numerous red flags in the crowd made me suspicious, although they bore no hammer and sickle.

The Icon “Axion Estin” is here in town through 03 November. (To read the story behind this highly revered icon, see Matushka Constantina’s blog, here. Check out her newly-published book, too, plus more from her of what is going on here in Thessaloniki today.)  Reportedly, today one elderly man, after kissing the miraculous icon, proclaimed, “From today begins Greece’s salvation!” I sure hope he is not just a wishful thinker.

Here, from the short news clips we’ve seen, it appearss that during the parade, several contingents refused to face the reviewing stand as they passed, but looked straight ahead. (Well, they were so far from the dignitaries it hardly mattered, did it?) In Athens, one or more female students marched past the reviewing stand barefoot, to show contempt. Curiously, we haven’t heard how the parades went in other places all over Greece.

7:00 pm Altogether too many sirens tonight of various sorts, but we haven’t heard anything on television, so perhaps it’s just that the hospital nearby is extra busy and we’re jittery. It appears this day has passed peaceably, for which I hope everyone is thankful.

Today the government felt forced to show its hand, and what Thessaloniki saw was a

Celebrations, Day Two

Saturday, 27 October, a Hundredth Anniversary

There was a massive military celebration downtown this morning in honor of the hundredth anniversary (yesterday) of the liberation of Thessaloniki from the Turks. The soldiers, marching, retraced the 1912 route to victory.

I grew up standing by my father’s side when he reviewed his troops, and what I saw on television today wasn’t even as impressive as ROTC cadets. Even any high school marching band can do better. And it’s hard to tell which are less well trained, the men or the horses. One of the horses required two men to control it (more or less), one riding it and the other walking alongside holding the bridle.

In other ways, the event was still grand, though. The first best part of the morning was the raising of the Greek flag over what used to be the government building, followed by the singing of the National Anthem, just as happened in 1912. You could tell the soldiers and sailors and airmen and marines were singing it with all their hearts — noted! — and so were the crowds. The other best thing was when the parade ended up at the Church of St. Minas, which in 1912 was the cathedral church, all the larger churches having been converted to mosques. There, after the Great Doxology, they sang the hymn to St. Demetrios, then the one to the Protectress of Christians with the so-difficult-to-translate title, something like, “To Thee, our Champion Leader”. And then the National Anthem again. All of this, a re-enactment of what took place at this church a hundred years ago yesterday.

There were enormous crowds in all the streets and the proceedings took all morning. Had we known it was going to be such a big deal, we might have gone downtown ourselves. But we didn’t realize and we were still tired, so we only watched it on TV.

There were no fighter jets doing a fly-by; this was a re-enactment and jets would have been an anachronism. The television news says there won’t be jets — or tanks — at the military parade tomorrow, either. We have heard no mention on the news of the unannounced and frightening episode to which we were subjected on Thursday.

Of course it’s great to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the day the City gained her freedom from the Turkish yoke. There’s something hollow about it, though, because the truth is, Turkey could march into Greece any day and take the whole country back in 24 hours. (So why doesn’t she? Ask me and I’ll explain; but to summarize, it’s because there’s no need.)

A quiet dinner at Mena’s in honor of St. Demetrios and my Demetrios was supposed to be the only thing on our calendar for today, but it turned out otherwise.

First thing that happened was, the 4-month-old grandson of our friends Pelagia and George fell from the sofa to the floor while his parents weren’t looking. An alarmed Pelagia immediately phoned Demetrios. Demetrios asked a few questions and then said it sounded like the baby would be fine. He mentioned that we were going to Mena’s house shortly, but promised he would take his mobile phone.

A few minutes later, George rang up to ask could he please take us to see his grandson and afterwards he would drive us to Mena’s. So that’s what we did. The baby was unharmed, no bump, no bruise, and he was even smiling and laughing. Demetrios checked him over, then I held him in my lap 15 minutes. (Two babies in two days!!!) This time I remembered not to ask his name, but I cannot get used to this Greek custom of leaving babies nameless for months and months until they are baptized.

The next thing was, we weren’t the only guests at Mena’s house; her sister-in-law, Eleni, was there from Athens, a favorite person of mine since 1980-something. Mena’s daughters were also there, Liana and Elpida with her husband and two small children. In short, it was not a quiet dinner but a party!

This was the first time I ever really noticed that Liana has her father’s eyes, exactly. When she looks at you, you see Kostas looking at you. It brought sudden tears to my eyes.

And the last thing was, Mena wanted us all to visit Kostas’ grave. So we did, stopping on the way to buy flowers. Mena also re-lit an oil lantern she keeps there and wiped the top of the stone with a sponge. Another friend of hers and ours, yet another Demetrios, has planted flowers and shrubs over the grave, making it into a miniature garden.

I feel quite ambivalent about visiting graves. I’ve never yet visited Arlington National Cemetery where my father’s ashes are buried. The leftover Protestant in me says the person, after all, is not there under the ground; only his body is, or his ashes. The Orthodox in me knows that when God sanctifies a person, that sanctity includes his bodily remains (2 Kings 13:21) and even the clothes of a saint become sanctified (2 Kings 2:14, Matthew 14:36, Acts 19:12). We therefore ought to reverence a saint’s body, in fact, the remains of any Christian. But something in me just does not like visiting cemeteries and lighting candles or burning incense there. Prayers, fine; flowers, okay… I don’t think I myself would be comforted by these sorts of observances, but what do I know? Mena isn’t comforted by them, either, but she hopes against hope that Kostas will be pleased. Or else it’s all she can do about her grief.

Do all these things mean anything to the departed? Well, as a display of love, I suppose they do. Some other part of me observes, however, that the departed are already aware, by the Holy Spirit, that we love them.

I have a feeling I need to be corrected in these matters…

The time changes tonight, so we get an extra hour of sleep before church and then whatever is going to happen, or isn’t going to happen, tomorrow. Tomorrow is Ochi Day, commemorating the day in 1940 when the Italian fascists gave Greece the ultimatum: we invade at dawn unless you surrender now. The Greeks said, OCHI!, NO! The Italians invaded; the Greeks held them back — until the Germans came.

“Ochi Day” is what I call it; the Greeks simply call it the 28th of October, much as we Americans say the Fourth of July.

These days, the OCHI has a new meaning.

Traditionally, there are big parades all over Greece on Ochi Day. This year, we were told on the television, there are to be ten thousand police on duty here in Thessaloniki, before and during the parade, including anti-riot squads. Since when is the Greek government no longer encouraging riots (and any other form of disorder)? Maybe since today, as today there have been riots in Paris, Italy, and Spain. There will also be soldiers guarding the politicians and other dignitaries, who last year were hounded out of the reviewing stand by the people chanting, “Thieves! Traitors! Go away!” This year the spectators will be kept a hundred meters from the reviewing stand. There will also be tall fences. Several main streets (not specified on the TV news) will be closed, although they aren’t on the parade route itself. And in the harbor, boats will be patrolling to make sure no protestors come by sea into the restricted areas.

Have a parade and then don’t let anybody see it. That’s how scared somebody is of the people. Never mind last year’s protests here were peaceable.

My guess is that anybody planning a rebellion might not begin it on so obvious a day as tomorrow.