Sunday, December 28, 2008

Namesday

In honor of the King and Prophet David (my patron saint who is commemorated tomorrow), I've posted a link to the akathist to him HERE.

From the Akathist:

With hymns and psalms let us honor the holy King David, who of all the sons of Israel was chosen by God to reign over His elect, and, through his seed, gave rise in the flesh to the Messiah, our Lord, God and Savior, Jesus Christ; and let us say unto him: As thou wast delivered from hades by our Redeemer at His glorious resurrection, and standest now with boldness before the throne of His divine majesty, teach us to sing to Him a new song, that we may cry unto thee:

Rejoice, O holy king and prophet David, thou ancestor of God and singer of His praises!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Early Greetings

I will, because of the nature of the holidays, not have the time to blog during the coming festive days, so I thought I would simply greet you all early with the traditional greeting of "Christ is born!  Glorify Him!"

It's literally freezing outside, and a hard rain is falling here.  Audra and I prayed the Akathist to the Nativity of Christ tonight (found HERE if you'd like to pray it during the feast); the rain made for a fitting background.  The One Who is as harsh as the cold rain also uses the rain to bring forth life.  The One Who can move the stars from their frozen places can also make them shine with terrible brilliance on a manger and on terrified shepherds.

We sang tonight, and my mind wandered frequently, as it is wont to do.  One of the great mercies of Eastern Orthodox services is their sheer repetitiveness.  This seems to many western minds to be an odd statement, for this aspect of our services can often seem a tedious, unnecessary annoyance at best, and an unbiblical abomination at worst.  Yet I've heard it said that we repeat things 33 times or 100 times because we really only start to pay attention around time number 87 or so.  In true form, tonight the lines
 of the akathist continued to bring me back:
Glory to Thee Who hast united Thyself with us!

Glory to Thee Who Thyself hast saved us!

Glory to Thee Who upon us hast shown forth the abyss of Thy love for mankind!

Glory to Thee Who hast ineffably loved us!

Glory to Thee Who hast sought out the lost sheep!

Glory to Thee Who hast taught us to worship Thee, the Sun of Righteousness!

Glory to Thee Who by Thy nativity hast abolished the delusion of polytheism!

Glory to Thee Who hast delivered us from everlasting death!

Glory to Thee Who has given us a model of humility!

Glory to Thee Who didst impoverish Thyself for our sake!
About two thirds of the way through, we prayed, "Glory to Thee, O delight of our hearts," and I had to stop and wonder..."delight."  The temptation at times is simply to "get through" the service, to fulfill the requirements so that we can say that we've given God what He wanted. 

Keep in mind, however, the fact that these services are sung not solely because a Babe was laid in a cave, but because that Babe would grow up to be laid in yet another cave, one in whom no 
one else would ever have been laid.  We know that the One from the infinite heavens Who was brought from the Virgin's travail to rest in the finite cave in Bethlehem as the Sun of Righteousness is significant because He would take that same flesh--our flesh--and, having travailed on the Cross, would rest (wrapped yet again in swaddling bands) in a cave to bring forth light forevermore.

There are winds that blow around our lives--winds of economics, of marketability, of nations with borderless, faceless ragings--and our lives can seem small, weak, and poor.  We're reminded that a cold rain, or abstinence from significant amounts of protein, or an unforseen delay can remind us of how vulnerable and fickle we are.  At times, we project this on our faith, particularly when what is seen is a cooing, pudgy infant in a dirty horse trough who's being hunted by the most powerful man in the region.  Yet as we pray the following, something changes:
Jesus all-sweet and most compassionate, our Savior, Creator and Master!  Accept this, our meager supplication, thanksgiving and glorification, as Thou didst accept the gifts and worship of the Magi; and preserve us, Thy servants, from all perils.  Grant us the forgiveness of sins, and from everlasting torment deliver those who with faith glorify Thy nativity from the pure Virgin, and who cry out to Thee: Alleluia!
The One Who shines forth light from the Bethlehem cave will shine forth from another in Jerusalem; for this He was born, and for this we were created.  Our God, who was born of the Virgin for our salvation, effected this salvation through His three-day passage through the Arimathean's cave.  If this is true, if He is our Light and our salvation as our youngling Passover, then how can we fear anything else?  Death is vanquished by the Babe who is the Conqueror of all things.  Would that His light be our life.  Would that His life be our delight.

Christ is born.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

On the Nativity of Christ

By Saint Gregory Nazianzen (taken from St. Nicholas Church in Billings, Montana)


(This is often chanted during the pre-Nativity season feastdays; I decided to put it here for some meditation, just in case the bustle of the season was getting to you like it is to me...)


Christ is Born; glorify Him! Christ from heaven, go to meet Him! Christ on earth, be lifted up! Sing to the Lord, all the earth. And that I may join the two in one word: Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad, because of Him who is of heaven and is now on earth. Christ in the flesh, rejoice with trembling and with joy because of your hope. Christ of a virgin. Live as virgins, you mothers, that you may be mothers of Christ. Who does not worship Him who is from the beginning? Who does not glorify Him who is also the end?


Again the darkness is past. Again Light is made....The people that sat in darkness, let them see the Great Light of full knowledge. Old things have passed away. Behold, all things are becoming new. The letter gives way, and the Spirit comes to the fore. The shadows flee away, for the Truth has come upon them. Melchisedec is now fulfilled. He that was without a mother (being begotten from the Father before all ages) now becomes without a father (being born of the Virgin). The laws of nature are upset. The world above must be filled. Christ commands it. Let us not set ourselves against Him.


Clap your hands together, all people. For unto us a Son is born, unto us a Child is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulders (for with the Cross it is raised up), and His name is called The Angel of the Great Counsel of the Father. Let John the Baptist cry aloud: Prepare ye the way of the Lord! And I too will cry aloud with the power of this Day. He who is without flesh has become incarnate. The Son of God becomes the Son of man. Jesus Christ: the same yesterday and today and forever! Let the children of Israel who seeks signs be scandalized. Let the pagans who seek wisdom speak of their folly. Let all the heretics talk till their tongues ache. They shall believe when they see Him ascending up into the heavens. And if not then, when they see Him coming out of the heavens to sit in judgment.


This then is our present festival. It is this that we are celebrating today: the Coming of God to man, that we might go forth, or rather (for this is a more proper expression), that we might go back to God - that putting off the old man, we might put on the New; and that as we died in Adam so we might live in Christ, being born with Christ and crucified with Him and buried with Him and rising with Him!


From Oration #38 delivered in 381 AD on Christmas Day

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Fr. Herman

Today the Church (or, rather, the section thereof on the Revised Julian Calendar) celebrates the repose of our blessed Father Herman of Alaska (LIFE, HYMNS, AKATHIST).

Father Herman was one of the first specifically Orthodox saints I read about in becoming Orthodox, and, coming from a missions background as I was, I loved his example of how one should be, not only as a missionary in a foreign land, but also as a mere Christian in any land. The quote both in the icon to the right and in the banner currently at the top of the blog states why he is both so peaceful and yet so solemn, for it is no small thing to love as he suggests, and few more troublesome things than to see loved ones far from showing that love.

....

I was going to title this post "Reading and Being Read," and still plan to write such a post -- or, rather, finish this one -- with reference to something Father Stephen Freeman has suggested recently, but time constrains me from doing much at the moment. So, for today, happy feastday.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Feastday Greetings and Resources

Greetings on this glorious feastday of one of my favorite saints, Nicholas of Myra in Lycia (life of the saint). He's the patron saint of teachers -- and, yes, as it so happens, about every third profession out there.

Tomorrow looks to be busy. The modest scene to the right is what the good bishop left our two girls, complete with gold foil-wrapped chocolate coins in shoes and half-eaten carrots for the burro. He has, God be praised, successfully filled the "Santa" position in our three year-old's mind, as she has told us no less than half a dozen times in the last 72 hours that we must "hurry up and go to sleep so Saint Nicholas will come." Following the morning festivities, we will, Lord willing, be in liturgy tomorrow morning for the feastday, followed by church school for the parish kids (where I hear the good bishop himself will be making a personal appearance). I will be helping the 10-12 year-olds put together a banner of sorts of St. Nicholas' life, but wanted to draw any interested parties' attention to this interactive painting from the St. Nicholas Center website. By clicking on the various scenes surrounding the saint you can read with your children about some of the many miracles this beloves saint performed in the name of and for the glory of our Lord.
Sprazdnikom!
Troparion - Tone 4

In truth you were revealed to your flock as a rule of faith,
an image of humility and a teacher of abstinence;
your humility exalted you;
your poverty enriched you.
Hierarch Father Nicholas,
entreat Christ our God
that our souls may be saved.

Kontakion - Tone 3

You revealed yourself, O saint, in Myra as a priest,
For you fulfilled the Gospel of Christ
By giving up your soul for your people,
And saving the innocent from death.
Therefore you are blessed as one become wise in the grace of God.


Monday, December 01, 2008

A Deeper Level of Thanksgiving

This post follows the holiday due to my being out of town during the holiday but is nonetheless very timely. Fr. Thomas Hopko's most recent podcast with the same title of this post is a beautiful summation of life in Christ. We are to live life as "eucharistic, doxological beings," in the words of Fr. Alexander Schmemann--beings who give thanks and glory to God--and departure from this is what deforms men into demonic entities who quarrel over their "rights."

From St. Paul, also quoted in the podcast and one of my favorite passages in all of Scripture:
"But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him." (Epistle to the Colossians, iii, 14-17)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Only in Orthodox Cyberspace...

...would this avatar be made. Interesting timing, too, given the post below this one. I saw this as some guy's avatar on a forum I frequent, with the caption, "Change we can believe in" written underneath.

Just...wow.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Too Much Orthodoxy, Too Little Christ

From Fr. Gregory Jensen:

"We run into problems when we forget that our calling, our vocation given to us in baptism, is to proclaim Christ and Him crucified--we are all of us apostles and evangelists of the Good News and not of Orthodoxy as such."

...

"Kerygma and Dogma are not opposed, as St Basil the Great reminds us--but neither are they the same thing."


From his excellent post praising our new Metropolitan and exhorting us to remember ourselves at the same time, HERE.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Two Down, One to Go....

Those of you who have kept up with this blog for several years remember Hope's pronunciation of "Holy Spirit" when Kate was just born; prayer was in the name of the "Fahduur, Shun, an' Hody Britches."

Her little sister has taken it upon herself to take creative license with the second Member of the Trinity. She picked up the Trisagion prayer nicely during morning/evening prayers; she would sing "Ho-nee My-nee" when "Holy Mighty" starts up. Being a young toddler, however, that pronunciation is subject to variation; now whenever she sees His icon she reaches for it and calls Him, "Holy Moly."

Yeah.

Fahduur, Holy Moly, and the Hody Britches. The Hody Fahduurs must be rollin' in their graves...

Friday, November 21, 2008

Entry


Today marks not only the Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple, but also the ninth anniversary of the first Divine Liturgy I ever attended. This being the Friday before Thanksgiving Break, I'm unable to take off today to go to Church, but I wish all of you a happy Feastday. Ὑπεραγία Θεοτόκε Σῶσον Ἡμᾶς!

Troparion - Tone 4

Today is the Prelude of the Goodwill of God;
Of the preaching of the salvation of mankind.
The Virgin appears in the Temple of God
In anticipation proclaiming Christ to all.
Let us rejoice and sing to her:
Rejoice, O fulfillment of the Creator's dispensation!

Kontakion - Tone 4

The most pure Temple of the Savior;
the precious Chamber and Virgin;
the sacred Treasure of the glory of God,
is presented today to the house of the Lord.
She brings with her the grace of the Spirit,
therefore, the angels of God praise her:
"Truly this woman is the abode of heaven."

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Many Years to...Metropolitan JONAH of All America and Canada!

All I can say is...wow. Looks like Vladyka will have to find another auxiliary, 'cause the recently-consecrated one is now the presiding bishop of his synod...

Many years to our newly-elected Metropolitan! Axios!

http://www.oca.org/news/1693

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Trav'lin' Mercies

I'd appreciate any and all prayers for me, as I will be out of town beginning Thursday morning. Lord willing, I will be back Saturday, early evening. Will miss wife and babygirls much; prayer for (and to) steadfast guardian angels for them and for me, as well.

Thank you.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Many Years to Bishop JONAH of Fort Worth!

My wife, two daughters, and I were blessed to attend the consecration of Archiman-drite Jonah to the episcopacy of the Orthodox Church in America yesterday morning. We are doubly blessed in this, for his see will be our parish in Fort Worth. Here to the right we see the laying on of hands by four other bishops. Along with his consecration, we witnessed the ordinations of a priest and a deacon, the blessing of a subdeacon, and the tonsuring of a reader. When the reader was tonsured yesterday, I cringed as I was reminded of how short of my calling I fall daily. Lord, have mercy. Many years to all God's newly-appointed servants. Αχιοι, αχιοι, αχιοι!

The word αχιοι is Greek for "[they are] wor-thy" ("αχιος" being shouted for only one person), as the candidate, who has arisen from among the assembly, is deemed worthy of his office by the λαος, or the people at large, as well as the πρεσυτεροι, or the ordained leaders of the λαος. We always bear in mind, however, that they are seen as worthy only because the Holy Spirit has been seen in the life of the man to be "that which completes that which is lacking." Following the three-hour long service there was a lot of great, Texas-style BBQ (brisket, chicken legs, sweet tea, mac and cheese and tater salad...yessir...), and the atmosphere was one of a family reunion. Folks who hadn't seen each other since seminary days, priests and former parishioners (who had moved for various reasons) were seen embracing and catching up, and, perhaps most touching, a priest whose daughter is now a matushka was able to thank in person the bishop his son-in-law serves under for his much-appreciated pastoral care. The day seemed to highlight much of what is good about the Faith.

Vladyka DMITRI is still the Archbishop of Dallas and the South. Bishop JONAH is actually the Abp's auxiliary bishop, but since every bishop, auxiliary or not, has to have a see somewhere, he was given the next largest city adjacent to Dallas -- namely, Fort Worth. Following this, it was good to hear at Vespers last night and at Divine Liturgy this morning, "For his Eminence DMITRI...and for his Grace our Bishop JONAH..." We're the only church where that's said, because he's only really bishop of our parish.

May God grant both of our widely-beloved and respected overseers and vladykas (our "masters," seen in the old sense as literally, "teachers") many blessed years!

(Pictures from OCA website. For a short article on Orthodox clergy ranks, see HERE, and for an explanation of vestments, see HERE.)

Saturday, October 25, 2008

End of a Drought?

Hopefully.

Last year, more or less around this time of year, I took an intentional hiatus from the blog. Such was not the case this year. Mostly it just...got away from me. That and, truth be told, I needed to develop more of a habit of doing other things first, which is good. So the time away hasn't been all bad. Still, I've missed it, unlike during my time away last year. Doubt that anyone lost any sleep over my absence, but I apologize for so abruptly bowing out without warning nonetheless...

I'll put the Psalm underneath this so the "Reading Order" stays convenient for the two of you out there who so kindly have kept me clinging to (no doubt) the bottom of your RSS feeds...

Let's see...Kate is walking. More of a cross between stomping and Johnny Depp, Capt. Jack Sparrow sauntering. Saying Mommy, Papi, Hopey and various other sundry family names, plus familiar household words. Baby signs, once again, have proven invaluable. Potty training has begun, and there was great rejoicing.

Hope, I swear, has a redneck streak in 'er. Cleaning up one afternoon in our open-concept kitchen, I hear a phrase (which I had not taught my daughter) that will send chills up and down the spine of any southern father "in the know," a phrase you hope never to hear from your progeny:

"Hey, y'all, watch this!"

(Good things seldom follow this phrase, and, with the passage of the years and attaining of drinking age (14-16 years in some southern locales), it becomes "Y'all hold mah beer an' watchiss." Famous. Last. Redneck. Words. But I digress.)

I look up to see Hope standing on her rocking chair, which she has moved next to our recliner. Through the opening in our open-concept kitchen, I peer helplessly from the kitchen into the living room only to see my child -- at this point in sloooooow moooootiooooonnn -- jump and flip (flip!!) onto the recliner. Stunt was, of course, followed by a thrilled grin and cackle, both from her and from onlooking little sister.

Audra is working evenings at one of the places that makes ochlophobes everywhere recoil in disgust...yes, I'm speaking of the Seattle-based leviathan known affectionately by some as "Fourbucks." Reason? Benefits. Good ones, for much less a month than my school district. Offered to employees working a mere 20 hours a week. Which means I can stop shelling out hundreds of bucks a month for little coverage.

Good to be back.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Psalms of David -- Psalm 36

Do not be envious of those who do evil...for like grass they shal be dried up quickly...Hope in the Lord, and work goodness; Dwell in the land, and you
shall be nurtured by its riches.
Do not be envious of him who prospers in his way...Cease from wrath and forsake anger; Do not be envious so as to do evil; Because evildoers will be destroyed, But those who wait on the Lord, theses shall in herit the earth.
Better the little with the just man than the great riches of sinners...The Lord knows the ways of the blameless, and their inheritance shall be forever.

But the sinners shall perish, And the enemies of the Lord altogether...like smoke they shall vanish away. The sinner borrows but will not repay; However the righteous man is compassionate, and gives.

He will not abandon His holy ones; They shall be kept forever. But the lawless shall be banished, and the seed of the ungodly shall be utterly destroyed.
Wait on the Lord, and keep His way, and He shall exalt you to inherit the earth; you shall see the sinners when they are utterly destroed. I saw the ungodly greatly exalted and lifting hiself up like the cedars of Lebanon; and I passed by, and behold, he was not ...
Keep innocence, and behold uprightness, for this is the remnant for the peaceful man.
And He shall deliver [the righteous] from sinners, and save them, because they hope in Him.

It is a rare man -- a saint, really -- who is able to reach out with the hand of the heart and grasp (and keep hold of) the intangible truth, the reality, of the Prophet's wisdom letter song here. A saint's ear has been tuned to zero in on the faint, true voice that will not lower her standards (nor, maddeningly, raise her voice so that you can understand her more clearly over the world's din). This is a voice that says, quietly, calmly, and consistently, "You need only to trust in the Lord." All may fall apart by your view, and virtue, fasting, liturgy and prayer in general during those times may be insultingly boring and apparently futile, as the mobs tend to be so loud you can't think and so busily successful that you can't be content, but we're asked to believe that the key to shining, eternal peace is quiet, lowly, humble obedience, leading, finally, to a Cross.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Help Perry

Perry Robinson of Energetic Procession is in a very bad way financially, having lost his teaching position and being unable to find work to provide for himself, his wife, and their three daughters. If you are able to help him, either through a charitable donation or any information regarding work in the St. Louis area, please contact him at acolyte4236 AT sbcglobal dot net.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Happy Feastday


Troparion - Tone 4

Your Nativity, O Virgin,
Has proclaimed joy to the whole universe!
The Sun of Righteousness, Christ our God,
Has shone from You, O Theotokos!
By annulling the curse,
He bestowed a blessing.
By destroying death,
He has granted us eternal Life.

Kontakion - Tone 4

By Your Nativity, O Most Pure Virgin,
Joachim and Anna are freed from barrenness;
Adam and Eve, from the corruption of death.
And we, your people, freed from the guilt of sin,
Celebrate and sing to you:
The barren woman gives birth to the Theotokos,
The nourisher of our life!

My apologies for the silence as of late; I pray all Christians had a blessed Lord's Day and that all Orthodox have a blessed feastday tomorrow.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Memphis II

A trip to Memphis wouldn't be complete without a ride on a riverboat down the Mighty Mississip'. Truth be told, we plan to come back to Memphis not only to see the ever-hospitable Och and his family again, but also because we in no way exhausted our itinerary, even with said boat ride. The rides were narrated by a charming, middle-aged black man whose southern drawl very much flavored all the points he mentioned during our hour-and-a-half tour. John Fogerty was right: "...I never saw the good side of the city / Till I hitched a ride on a Riverboat Queen." While Memphis had several colorful aspects to it, I'm a sucker for anything out on the water, so I have to say that this trumped even the Gibson factory...

The wheels on the boats are powered by anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 horsepower, so we moved at a pretty steady clip. We learned about the Sultana while on this particular trip. Our guide asked us who knew about the Titanic. When we all raised our hands, he asked us who had heard of the Sultana, the ship whose demise was the gravest maritime disaster in U. S. history. Of course, none of us had heard of this tragedy, this due in large part to the fact that, on April 27, 1865, the country was still recovering from the end of the War Between the States as well as the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Consequently, a war-weary populace had by and large stopped reading newspapers that promised little more than continual body counts, so this major disaster went largely unnoticed, save in Memphis, since the Sultana's boiler exploded just off her coast. The details of the incident shed an even sadder light on the whole ordeal, as the 376-passenger boat was carrying almost 2,500 passengers at the time! The overload was due to the fact that, in those days following the War, boats were paid by the passenger, in large part because they were bringing back Union P.O.W.s from Confederate prison camps. The captain noticed that one boiler was damaged, but rather than replace the boiler (a three-day job), he opted for a patch-up job on the existing boiler, hence the resulting explosion. Most of the passengers (about 1,800) perished either from burns from the explosion, exposure or hypothermia in the water, or from drowning. Quite sad that such a tragedy went and still goes largely unnoticed.

The steamboats were docked by cobblestone "walkways" -- put in quotes because, due to the steep incline, one was hard-pressed to walk down with any degree of ease. They had to be driven across carefully, as well, as they would wreak havoc on tires if driven across too quickly. The cobblestones used to serve as weight in boats that would cross the Atlantic before picking up any cargo; once the ship came in, the cobblestones were dropped off and cotton was loaded up. The cobblestones were then reused to make said walkway.

And now, for the "postcard" shot. Of course, being the flag buff and states aficionado that I am, I tried to get the best shot of the Memphis skyline alongside the Tennessee state flag which flew from the mast of the boat. Y'all can use it if you like. Our guide also pointed out the flags above the Mud Island attraction that heralded all of the countries that had ever laid claim to Memphis; as this was a three-deck boat, our guide was on the second deck, and I was entertaining our daughters down on the first, I could only listen as the guide kept waiting...and waiting...for folks to identify the flags. "Yes, that's Tennessee...United States, yes...No, that's not Australia, that's England..." (Great Britain, actually. Sheesh.) I yelled helplessly at the ceiling: "France! Spain! Confederate!" I must confess to being stumped by the flag to the far right; if y'all can take a look HERE and tell me what flag that is, I'd be much obliged. Our guide probably named it, but as I was busy running after toddlers, I must have missed it.

This post and lintel is a monument of when the city of Memphis actually lost its charter as a city due to severe population decline from Yellow Fever. Not sure why this was chosen for that; perhaps a reference to the plagues of Egypt and the passing over of doors? Our guide did not say. The outbreak of 1878 led to the bankruptcy of the city of Memphis, as 5,000 of its citizens were claimed by the fever which was spread by the then-unknown means of mosquitos. The U.S. Census Bureau reported a total population drop from 40,226 people in 1870 to just 33,592 in 1880. The city didn't regain its charter until 1893.

Memphis I

The family and I were away in Memphis for the weekend; the following are some pictures of the Gibson guitar factory here. It's the "baby" of the three that are here in the US. The tour guide -- a large man with a lisp, a pony tail of frizzy hair, a scruffy beard, and Jerry Garcia glasses (pictured here to the right) had a dry wit that you'd have to strain to catch normally, never mind all the sawing and machine noises going on all around us. The wood for the guitars is brought in from all over the world and is kept in this humidified warehouse setting.

Hundreds of gallons of water have to be used up daily to keep the wood from drying out. The table here to your left is where many of the telltale curved fronts and backs of Gibson guitars (think B. B. King's "Lucille" for this town's signature example of such) are clamped down for shaping.

It was good to see that the vast majority of the entire process of crafting Gibson guitars was still just that: a handcraft, and obviously so. The factory employs around fifty craftsmen who cut, shape, sand, fit, and finish the wood themselves; the machine to your right was one of the few (perhaps even the only) automated steps in the process of making the guitars. This machine is what carves the mirror-image "F" shapes (think the Stradivarius violin, after which the Gibson was originally patterned) and other holes into the bodies of the guitars.

Sadly, this has led to the mass production of items bearing names of unrepeatable local legends. This holds true as well, I hate to say, for the local restaurant on Beale Street which bears the name of the man in question and which, in my opinion, is something of a "Disneyland of the Blues," to make use of a phrase of Memphis' own Ochlophobist (whom I had the pleasure of meeting and with whom we worshipped just yesterday at his parish church).

Once the wood has been curved and carved, it is glued together and bound with canvas rope, after which it is hung to dry for about two days (seen here to your right). One of the things I didn't know was that the large, wooden block that goes through the middle of electric guitars is what leads to long, middle or short sustain, depending on the density of the wood; King's Lucille is something like maple, if I remember our Garcia Guide correctly, so her medium sustain is the resulting tone.

The next part was, I believe, the part that most impressed me. While most of the craftsmanship was being done all around us, the men were very much at a distance (understandable, as we wouldn't want to disturb them). These two pictures, however, were taken of men who were behind glass in an enclosed area, hand painting guitar after guitar with airbrushes (the ever-popular "sunburst" design -- yellow with dark border color -- is what you see to your left), followed by lacquer finishes.

The guitars were hanging up just between us and the men, who worked mere feet from where we were. That they were able to maintain concentration while all of us gawked and took pictures like the no-doubt annoying tourists we were is admirable.

These buffers administer coats of wax and other sealants onto the guitars; the wax/sealants are actually absorbed into the buffers and so the spinning wheel is itself the means of final polishing.




At the end of the tour, we were led to several tables of men who were stringing and tuning the guitars -- oh, and did I mention shredding? Yes, this was, no doubt, the best part of the tour, musically speaking. A guitarist, once finished with stringing and tuning a finished guitar, puts it through a "rigorous testing" (translation: he wails on it for about ten minutes. I tell ya', it's a tough job, but...). Once he's satisfied that the guitar lives up to the Gibson name, he signs off on it and the guitar is set to ship out.

There are, of course, guitars that fail to make the grade; these guitars are put into boxes, stacked one on top of another in a dumpster and incinerated. Amazingly, only about five percent of all guitars that go through this process wind up being incinerated; quite a testimony to the accuracy of their craftsmanship.

And here, of course, is the guitar shop outside the factory where my brother-in-law and I sat and played some of these incredible guitars. Time well spent, to be sure.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Psalms of David - Psalm 35

"The transgressor, that he may sin, saith to himself, that there is no fear of God before his eyes. For he hath wrought craftiness before Him, lest he should find his iniquity and hate it. The words of his mouth are iniquity and deceit, he hath not willed to understand how to do good. Iniquity hath he devised upon his bed, he hath set himself in every way that is not good, and evil hath he not abhorred."
and then...

"O Lord, Thy mercy is in heaven, and Thy truth reacheth unto the clouds. Thy righteousness is as the mountains of God, Thy judgements are a great abyss."

Fr. Patrick points out that St. Paul, when he quotes this psalm in Romans 3:18, states "that human sinfulness is more profoundly rooted in the substance of our moral composition" than we are comfortable with admitting. Indeed, Fr. Patrick continues, "we are all rebels against God. The contrast in Romans 3 is not between human evil and human goodness, but between human evil and divine mercy."

It's been said in quite a few Orthodox pamphlets, books, and websites (and is becoming something of a "pop Orthodoxy" cliche) that (to paraphrase), "Our God is not an angry, vengeful God who takes out his bloodthirst on His Son and, thus satiated, can tolerate us just enough to let us into heaven. Rather, ours is a God who is always love, and our experience of eternity is contingent upon our experience of that love, which comes from His presence." This is true, though this is not strictly (or, in many cases, at all) an accurate depiction when dealing with all the different western Christian confessions to which we Orthodox seem obsessed with comparing ourselves (instead of, say, simply declaring what we are and what we ourselves believe, regardless of other confessions' stances...but I digress). More importantly, said charicature is in danger of streamlining and watering down our own view of God.

In the psalm we find that man's depravity is laid out starkly and as inexcusably guilty of rebellion against God due to our own race's being bound up in mortality and the frantic, futile struggle to stave off the same. Thus, it is the gospel that must and does intervene, for we see that He comes from heaven, the clouds, the mountain, to speak and to lift. Our God is one who comes to seek and save the lost...yet he will also come to seek and destroy the wicked.
One aspect of our Orthodox soteriology that is often downplayed or (even more often) left out completely is that the divine parousia of our Lord will be the moment where His divine presence will separate the wheat from the tares in a sort of, "Ready-or-not-here-I-come" moment which will (God knows) be torment for many in this world. The iniquity, deceit, evil, and craftiness of all will be laid bare without warning, and God will reveal Himself to us, knowing full well that said unveiling will be unbearable to most.

It is for this reason that we have the four gospels. We have the lives of transfigured saints. The Christian life is one which holds out in one hand the reality of God's soon-impending judgement, His presence which will bring either everlasting destruction or times of refreshing in a sort of Narnian relativism that separates all of mankind. Yet in the other hand we see that this God who is not safe is yet most definitely good and loves mankind; we thus have this life to repent, to read the gospel, to embody His commandments and incarnate them, that we can, at the end, meet the Ruler of All not only as terrifying, unyielding, holy righteousness, but also as serene, steadfast, holy goodness. His hand is raised in blessing towards us, yet His gospel call is never separate from Him.

He will bring us to the Father. We have this life to determine whether we will sing like stones would because of this, or beg that the same fall on us.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Checkin' In With Family, Trinity, and Japanese Guys Who Rock My Socks off in Australia

...in that order.

Things have been quite busy around here as of late; a trip to the Woodlands to visit Fr. Basil and Matushka Dea for the Fourth, planning and celebrating the girls' first and third birthday (a mutual party, if you please -- one's enough when they're a week and a half apart!) and general summer school mahem have made for precious little time to blog. The girls are growing like weeds, with the scene to the right, thanks be to God, still being the order of the day.


I've mentioned several times in the past the way in which the Church defines the Trinity as "Father, from Whom the Son is eternally begotten and the Spirit eternally proceeds." While this is very precise and Orthodox, it oftentimes fails to speak to folks -- eastern and western alike -- due to its use of "three Persons / one God" and the ever-present question (from inquirers) of whether we serve one God or three.

Three podcasts as of late have done a very good job of dealing with how the view of the Trinity can be reconciled quite easily with semetic views of God (the Father), the Word which God always has with Him, yet which is not the same as the Father (the Son), and the Spirit, or living Breath of God, by Whom God's Word is spoken (the Holy Spirit).

The Orthodox Christian Network released this podcast by Fr. John Behr, dean of St. Vladimir's.

Ancient Faith Radio released this podcast by Fr. Thomas Hopko, dean emeritus of St. Vladimir's, and this pocast wherein Kevin Allen interviews Fr. Ted Pulcini.

And, finally...



...this guy ROCKS.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Hebrews 12:1

Fr. Stephen Freeman's most recent post (HERE) got me thinking about the epistle reading from yesterday’s liturgy. One part that stuck out to me was at the beginning of Hebrews 12 where we said to be “surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” Christ is surrounded by the cloud on Mount Tabor, and we read in the Old Testament of when the cloud of God’s glory descended upon the temple. The cloud of witnesses who have gone on — what other cloud could they be said to inhabit but this cloud of glory which is the presence of God? How could we say that we enter the presence of the Living God and not also enter the presence of those who are with Him, and who, therefore, are always with us in this one “storey”?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Baptism Pics, and St. David of Wales

For pictures of John's baptism mentioned in the last post, click HERE. Unfortunately, our camera battery died halfway through (not the first time that happened-- you'd think we'd have learned by now!), so Amanda's (now the newly-illumined handmaiden of God Deborah's) chrismation photos were taken by our Matushka and will be emailed to us soon, Lord willing. God has granted us two new siblings in the Lord; may He grant them both many, many years!

The icon to the right is of the David whose name I almost took when I was tonsured a Reader (my being welsh -- among other things -- and whatnot). I was reminded of this by a site run by an iconographer in the UK (found HERE, with a hat tip to Owen). St. David is commemorated on March 1, and his bio as follows is taken from OrthodoxWiki.org.

St. David, pray for us to Christ our God, that we might "be steadfast...and do the little things."

Much of our information on the early history of Saint David comes from two sources: the 11th/12th century hagiography Buchedd Dewi (Life of David) of Rhigyfarch and the 12th-century writings of Giraldus Cambrensis (Gerald of Wales). David was a descendant of the royal house of Cunedda. Rhigyfarch wrote that David was the son of Sanctus Rex Ceredigionis, where Sanctus has been interpreted as a proper name and its owner honoured by Welsh Christians as Saint Sant. The Latin phrase itself translates as "a holy king of Ceredigion." The king of Ceredigion in the 510s was Gwyddno Garanhir, according to regional tradition. His title Garanhir ("crane legs"), certainly indicated spiritual accomplishment to the Druids who bestowed it. If the son of King Gwyddno, David was a grandson of King Ceredig, and a nephew of King Maelgwn of Gwynedd, and a brother of Elphin the successor to the Kingdom of Ceredigion and the foster-father and first patron of the bard Taliesin. Little is known of his mother, Non (honoured by Welsh Christians as Saint Non), though she is said to have been the daughter of a local chieftain - some versions of the meeting of Sant (or Gwyddno) and Non state that Sant forced himself upon Non.

David was born on a stormy night at or near Capel Non (Non's chapel) within a short walk of the present day city of Saint David's. The ruins of the medieval chapel are visible near the site, and a nearby well is still a site of pilgrimage. He was baptised by the Irish monk St. Elvis, and educated at the monastery of Hen Fynyw. After ordination, David was taught by the elderly monk Paulinus, whose blindness the young David healed by making the sign of the cross over the monk's eyelids.

He became renowned as a teacher and preacher, founding monasteries in Britain and Brittany (on the west coast of modern France), in a period when neighbouring tribal regions (that were to be united as England three hundred years later) were still mostly pagan. He rose to a bishopric, and presided over two synods, as well as going on pilgrimages to Jerusalem where he was anointed as a bishop by the patriarch.

St. David's Cathedral now stands on the site of the monastery he founded in southwest Pembrokeshire; in early medieval Britain this part of Wales was located near several important Celtic sea routes, and was not nearly as remote as it might seem today. A shrine to Saint David, containing his bones, the bones of his spiritual father Saint Justinian of Ramsey Island, and possibly those of Saint Caradoc, is located within the cathedral.

The Monastic Rule of David prescribed that monks had to pull the plow themselves without draught animals; to drink only water; to eat only bread with salt and herbs; and to spend the evenings in prayer, reading and writing. No personal possessions were allowed: to say "my book" was an offence. He taught his followers to fast, especially refraining from eating meat or imbibing alcohol. His symbol, also the symbol of Wales, is the leek.

The best-known miracle associated with St. David is said to have taken place on an occasion when he was preaching in the middle of a large crowd. When those at the back complained that they could not see or hear him, the ground on which he stood is reputed to have risen up to form a small hill so that everyone had a good view. The village which is said to stand on the spot today is known as Llanddewi Brefi. A more mundane version of this story is that he simply recommended that the synod participants move to the hilltop.

One of Rhigyfarch's aims in the Buchedd Dewi was that his document could establish some independence for the Welsh church, which was risking losing its independence following the Norman invasion of England in 1066. It is significant that David is said to have denounced Pelagianism during the incident before the ground rose beneath him. Giraldus Cambrensis, the nephew of a Bishop of St. David's similarly hoped to demonstrate the ancient independence of the see as the archbishopric of an independent Welsh church; he was himself nominated for the position of Bishop of St. David's on at least three occasions, but was turned down by Henry II initially and the Archbishop of Canterbury subsequently after the accession of John.

William of Malmesbury recorded that David visited Glastonbury intending to dedicate the abbey there, as well as to donate a travelling altar including a great sapphire. He had a vision there of Jesus Christ who said that "the church had been dedicated long ago by Himself in honour of His Mother, and it was not seemly that it should be re-dedicated by human hands." So David instead commissioned an extension to be built to the abbey, east of the Old Church. (The dimensions of this extension given by William were archaeologically verified in 1921.) One manuscript indicates that a sapphire altar was among the items King Henry VIII confiscated from the abbey at its dissolution a thousand years later. There are unverifiable indications that the sapphire may now be among the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom.

His last words, according to the Buchedd Dewi, were: "Be steadfast, brothers, and do the little things." "

Friday, June 13, 2008

Prayers...

...we will, Lord willing, be baptizing the catechumen John tomorrow before Great Vespers for Pentecost; this will be followed the following morning by both his and his wife Mandy's chrismation before the feastday liturgy. My wife Audra and I have been blessed with the honor of being their sponsors in this beautiful event, so pray for us, as well, if you would.

May God grant His servants many blessed years in His Vineyard.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Christ is Ascended! He Has Gone Up with a Shout!

"The body of the Lord is not a spirit, but it is spiritual, that is, it has no part in any coarseness, and is governed by the spirit. For the body which we have now is animate [psychikon], governed by the soul and made alive by natural and animate attributes and faculties. But the body after the resurrection Paul calls spiritual, that is, made alive and governed by the divine spirit, and not by the soul, transformed in an ineffable and spiritual manner into incorruption and preserved incorruptible."

"By eating a piece of broiled fish, He indicates that He has consumed with the fire of his divinity our human nature which had been swimming in the salty sea of this life, and He has scorched away all the damp slime our nature had taken on as it sank into the depths and was battered by the waves. Thus He made our nature food fit for God, fashioning that which before was defiled into sweet food of which God can commune.... Another meaning, namely, active virtue which, aided by the coals of the asceticism of the desert and of the hesychast life, removes everything that is moist and fat. And the honeycomb suggests knowledge and divine vision, for the words of God are sweet. There is also another kind of comb, one full of wasps, which leave no honey. This signifies the wisdom of the pagan Greeks. But the honeycomb suggests the sweetness of divine wisdom[, left by Christ]. For Christ is like the bee, which is small in size (for the Word is concise and weak in worldly power...). Yet is beloved by both kings and commoners, who apply the product of its toils for their health and healing."

"He was carried up into heaven. It was written of Elijah that he was carried up as it were into heaven (IV Kings (II Kings) 2:11). For Elijah only seemed as if he were carried up into heaven. But the Savior ascended into heaven itself as the Forerunner of all men, to appear before the face of God together with His holy Flesh, and to reveal His Flesh co-enthroned with the Father. And now our nature in Christ is worshipped by the whole angelic host."

~ Bd. Theophylact on the feastday gospel reading from Luke 24

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Be Thou My Vision

It's been interesting to notice which songs have become bedtime traditions with Hope and, in contrast even now, with Kate. They're quite different. While Hope has heard "Arrorro, mi niña" and an original Spanish lullaby of my own making since the day she was born (give or take a day) along with some Orthodox childrens songs we've learned, Kate and I have, on the few times I've been the one to rock her to sleep for the night, fallen into the tradition of singing all the verses of "Be Thou My Vision" which I can recall by memory. A fellow parishioner who, like me, came from a very similar sort of "bapticostal" background -- right down to the same youth missions organization during the teenage years -- knows this song, at least in part, in its "praise band" version, usually with lone, female singer in front swaying, eyes closed and almost trance-like, as she leads the crowd into a Hollywood sountrack-esque crescendo by the last verse (I, however, was fortunate enough to first hear the Michael Card version on his album, Starkindler, which I like very much and recommend).

Singing it now, though -- especially with the awareness of and need for (if not the active practice of) hesychia and constant remembrance of our Lord -- the verses take on a sober, almost martial tone, without triumphalism, without emotionalism ... yet still deeply moving. If you've clicked on the link already, you'll have heard most of the following verses (and, if you were watching, endured the sappy slideshow the author posted with the song). Nevertheless, here follows what I can remember of this beautiful Irish hymn of the Church:


Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart,
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my Light.

Be Thou my Wisdom and Thou my true Word,
I ever with Thee, and Thou with me, Lord.
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son,
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Be Thou my Battleshield, Sword for the fight,
Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight,
Thou my soul's Shelter, Thou my high Tower;
Raise Thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.

Riches I heed not, nor man's empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always.
Thou and Thou Only first in my heart;
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heav'n's joys, O bright Heaven's Sun.
Heart of mine own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.

Amen. Sleep tight, Kati.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

What Wonderful Daughters

First up, let me show you what served as a distraction for dang near everybody in liturgy this morning. As if this child did not already look a lot like me; now we've got her in glasses. A couple of weeks ago, we noticed she'd been crossing her eyes (or just one, more often than not) when looking at us. The pediatric opthamologist we took her to told us she is extremely far-sighted and that these lenses (which, thanks be to God, she wears very well and for long stretches of time!) would, in undercorrecting the problem, help her still use her eye muscles to focus on things near her, but would not exhaust them to the point of their giving out and causing one eye to turn in. So this picture is just to brag on my beautiful, four-eyed babygirl who wears her new spectacles so well.

The toddler gets bragged on for whole 'nuther (but in my opinion, better) reason.

Tonight we had finished venerating the icons after evening prayers. Mommy had taken little one into her room to feed her and put her down for the night by the time big sis and I left the master bedroom (where la iglesia pequeña -- the little church, as we call our icon corner -- is located) and as we exited into the hall, I told Hope to keep quiet as we went by the room so Kate could go to sleep. As I entered the dining room from the hall, I noticed Hope stopping by Kate's door and raising her hand...in Papi fashion I waved her on, "no doubt" reminding her of something she'd "obviously" forgotten -- that it was "Kati's" bedtime.

Y'all, this is the kind of kid I've been blessed with: Not only did she immediately come when told, but then, with a hurt and disappointed look on her face, told me with a cracking voice and pouting lip, "But...I just wanted to bendecir su puerta!" ("bless her door," in Spanish) Her hand had not been raised to open the door, but to make the sign of the cross over it in order to help her baby sister sleep.

So I, rightly feeling every inch a moron and a sinner (families really are there to help us with our salvation, aren't they?), hugged my now softly sobbing toddler and told her just how proud I was of her and, after I'd asked her forgiveness (which the little saint gave right away), she and I went back to her door and, one right next to the other, we made the sign of the cross over Kate's door -- "En el nombre del Padre, y del Hijo, y del Espíritu Santo. Amen."

May God protect and further grow this thoughtfulness and generosity that resides in my elder daughter's heart, and may Kate's patience and good temperment follow her.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Psalms of David - Psalm 34

"Judge those who harm Me, O Lord" -- appropriate for this Holy Saturday, the Sabbath of Sabbaths.

From Fr. Patrick:

[In the Upper Room] our Lord explicitly appealed to our psalm...to show that this hatred and this persecution by the world are a realization of prophecy: "But this happened that the word might be fulfilled which is written in their law, 'They hated Me without a cause'" (v. 7, also 68:4 and 108:4).

These, then, are psalms in which the praying voice is that of Christ Himself, and, by reason of her sharing in the sufferings of Christ, the Church prays these psalms in His Person.

...

The prayer of Christ here is a battle prayer, for He wages war on the forces of sin, darkness, and destruction: "Let ruin come upon them unawares." ... This is the prayer of Christ doing battle with the forces of sin and death, looking forward to the hour of His victory, when His very body, brought down to the grave, wil rise again in the paschal victory: "And my soul shall be joyful in the Lord; it shall rejoice in His salvation. All my bones shall say, 'Lord, who is like You, delivering the poor from him who is too strong for him.'"

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Psalms of David - Psalm 33

"I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth."

"Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who hopeth in Him."

"Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile."

Movement of the heart is stilled and quieted through repeated meditation on the sacred name of Jesus. The Jesus Prayer -- "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner" -- is treasured as a blessed, honored way to commune in intimate prayer with the One who fills temples with glory yet inhabits a womb in silence, who blazes fire forth from a tomb in Jerusalem every Pascha, yet who speaks with a still, small voice. When this Messiah is invoked and mercy begged for, not only are our lips sanctified, but our efforts are rewarded with a calming of inner impulses towards all surrounding earthly cares. When we are calmed and sufficiently prepared to hear from God (something today's McMegachurch takes not at all into account), then, in His timing, does He visit those who've tilled the ground of their hearts with the beautiful name of Jesus Christ. We do, indeed, taste and see that our Lord is a good Lover of mankind, for He is not merely content to rid us of the cancerous, diseased existence that is the evil and guile mentioned by David above; He must also fill us with His fear, faith, and love that comes only from an expected visit.

At times expected visits are longer in coming than anticipated...the grave, Hades, the silent silencer, evilly stifled all praise that would have come from it. Its yawning mouth wordlessly destroyed and guilefully consumed all who came to it...until a Word came whose words forced the tomb to reverse its flow, to turn back like Jordan and issue forth a man from it. Soon it would no longer be dictated to but would indeed speak forth a Logos -- though even this would be apart from its own accord. Since then the echo of that Word has left a bitter taste in Hades' mouth -- its evil tongue and guileful lips must always remember both Lazarus' being drawn out and the Word's being spoken from the mouth of the grave. That Word, that Name, is He Whom our lips and heart must ever embrace -- woe to us if our lips honor him apart from our hearts! -- so that our silencing by the grave will not be without a final Word.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Psalms of David -- Psalm 32

My sincere apologies for staying away for so long...though perhaps I should qualify that: lenten obligations (the kind that, in streamlining one's life, one finds one should feel more acutely both in periods penitential and festal) have been pressing lately. Just as I am taken aback on this day by the fact that we have but five days remaining in our lenten journey as Orthodox (Lazarus Saturday is the first post-lenten day), so I have been surprised at the fast-approaching end of the school year. Thus, these obligations that have taken priority over this blog are, in fact, ones for which I should not apologize. Nevertheless, it is good to sit and type after so long an absence.

Who is so great a God as our God?

Depends: what would one answering this question see as "greatness"? There are many things that men are proud of in this life, things they attach to themselves as a badge of honor, as a badge of identity. Whether it be political, geographical, racial, philosophical, socioeconomical or other, we humans have a hard time remembering that we have no lasting city, that we wait for our hidden life to be revealed with a shout from Zion.

We see that "by the Word of the Lord"--the Son, doing the Father's will, respectively--"the heavens were established. And all the host of them by the breath [Spirit, or πνευματον, is also "breath"] of His mouth." Our Kingdom, which shall be one where all things are created by that "new song," is not and never has been of this world. We cannot look to kings, mighty men, or horses -- nor to "the multitude of an host" that will save neither said kings nor fledgling parishes -- but "our soul waiteth for the LORD: he is our help and our shield." And that God, that shield that makes fire as cool dew of the evening, that Lord whose Kingdom, He tells us, is not of this world, is a scarlet-robed, thorn-crowned, poured-out, crushed, vulnerable, and rejected God.

Theresa of Calcutta said that we are not called to be successful; we are merely called to be faithful. I can think of no more scandalous -- and no more Christian -- a picture than one who, having descended to the lowest degree of failure in the eyes of those who, like dogs, devour their neighbor, nevertheless refuses to devour and, being thus devoured by those in this world who seek their own good, descends (dead and supposedly conquered) into the earth, only now having become a seed fitting to bear the fruit of the Kingdom of another world: that of the Lord, His Word, and His Breath.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Theophylact on the Annunciation

"Because the Lord had once said to Eve, In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children, that sorrow is now removed by the joy which the angel offers to the woman, saying to her, Rejoice, thou who art full of grace. Since Eve had been cursed, now Mary hears herself blessed."

"He who appears as a man is called the Son of the Most High; being of one hypostasis, the human son of the Virgin is in truth the Son of the Most High...here the mouth of Nestorius is sealed. For that man said that the Son of God did not take flesh by dwelling in the womb of the Virgin, but that a mere man was born of Mary, and only later was this man "accompanied" by God. let Nestorius hear, therefore, that that Holy Thing Which is being begotten in the womb is the Son of God. That which was carried in the womb and the son of God are not two separate entities, but one and the same, the Son of the Virgin and the Son of God. See how the angel revealed the Holy Trinity by naming the Holy Spirit, the Power which is the Son, and the Most High which is the Father."

The Psalms of David -- Psalms 30-31

Our Lord's cry of the committment of His Spirit into the hands of His Father--along with the rest of Psalm 30--show us the Passion "from the inside," as Fr. Patrick says. The rejection and mockery of those around Him (vv. 12-14); His becoming sin for us (vv. 10-11); and His saving trust in His God and Father (vv. 6, 15).

Yet there was another whose soul was pierced with a sword, some say of doubt, others of grief, still others of silent suffering. Though her side be not pierced with the spear which would cause the life-giving flow our our baptisms and communions, yet her womb would, unpierced, bring forth the thereafter often-pondered Mystery which hung, trusting, on the Cross. As with her Son, so with her, and so it must be with all of us in that mysterious family: "You shall hide [those who fear You] in the secret of Your presence from the disturbance of men; You will shelter them in Your tabernacle from the contradiction of tongues." The one who was His tabernacle, who gave Him His fleshly tabernacle, is now "tabernacled" (as the Greek puts it in Jn 1) by that same, saving, flesh-and-blood Savior.

Her silence is different here. The Prophet David said, "Because I kept silent, my bones grew old From my groaning all the day long; For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; I became miserable when the thorn pierced me. I made known my sin..." Here, however, was no sin, only the Fruit of grace and faith on Its Tree. This Fruit had been borne in silence (minus the saving "Let it be" which, in echoing the creative logos of the Father, undid Eve's treacherous knot) by the one who was and is most favored, most gracious. Still, the sword does pierce, and the cry of Rejoice! from the angel and from the 31st Psalm must be tempered with Psalm 30's closing words; our Lady must be courageous and let her heart now be strengthened, even she who hopes supremely in the Lord.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Blessed Feast

Back home from Amarillo; the services -- or lack thereof, as my granddaddy wanted it -- were good in the sense that his nieces and nephews (dad's cousins) came in from all over, and it was good to meet some of them for the first time. I was honored to deliver a prayer -- loosely based on our prayer for the departed (which, not surprisingly, includes a petition for those still in this life) and stated in "down home" language. Barely got through it, but it was good to commend both his soul and our lives into God's hands.

The hymns for today--the Forefeast of the Annunciation--and tomorrow's feast:

Forefeast of the Annunciation

Troparian - Tone 4
Today is the prelude of joy for the universe!
Let us anticipate the feast and celebrate with exultation:
Gabriel is on his way to announce the glad tidings to the Virgin;
He is ready to cry out in fear and wonder:
Rejoice, O Full of Grace, the Lord is with You!

Kontakion - Tone 8
You are the beginning of salvation for all of us on earth, Virgin Mother of God.
For the great Archangel Gabriel, God's minister, was sent from heaven to stand before you to bring you joy:
Therefore, we all cry to you: Rejoice, O unwedded Bride.

The Annunciation of our Most Holy Lady, the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary

Troparion - Tone 4
Today is the beginning of our salvation,
The revelation of the eternal mystery!
The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin
As Gabriel announces the coming of Grace.
Together with him let us cry to the Theotokos:
Rejoice, O Full of Grace, The Lord is with You!

Kontakion - Tone 8
O Victorious Leader of Triumphant Hosts!
We, your servants, delivered from evil, sing our grateful thanks to you, O Theotokos!
As you possess invincible might, set us free from every calamity
So that we may sing: Rejoice, O unwedded Bride!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Memory Eternal

UPDATE: My grandfather entered the next life tonight around 8:30.

Interestingly enough, Father had heard wrong somehow and put granddaddy's name on the "departed" side of the list prayed over tonight during Presanctified; when he prayed his name, he was either going right then or may even have gone.

Thank you for your prayers. Please continue to pray for his soul, as well as ours.

************************************

Original Post, Tuesday, March 18, 2008:

I received a call from my father today informing me that my grandfather (his father) Leroy, whose health has been deteriorating for a good long while now, is now in hospice care. His lungs are slowly filling with fluid, he is unconscious, but he is still grimacing in pain. They're therefore giving him morphine and just keeping him comfortable until he reposes.

He isn't a professed follower of Christ that I know of; pray, please, that in these last days of his life (barring a miracle) he would be ministered to by his guardian angel, any and all saints that would come to his aid, and by the Lord Himself.

Most holy Theotokos, pray for my granddaddy.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

55 Maxims from Fr. Thomas Hopko

55 Maxims
(2007)

  1. Be always with Christ and trust God in everything
  2. Pray as you can, not as you think you must
  3. Have a keepable rule of prayer done by discipline
  4. Say the Lord’s Prayer several times each day
  5. Repeat a short prayer when your mind is not occupied
  6. Make some prostrations when you pray
  7. Eat good foods in moderation and fast on fasting days
  8. Practice silence, inner and outer
  9. Sit in silence 20 to 30 minutes each day
  10. Do acts of mercy in secret
  11. Go to liturgical services regularly
  12. Go to confession and holy communion regularly
  13. Do not engage intrusive thoughts and feelings
  14. Reveal all your thoughts and feelings to a trusted person regularly
  15. Read the scriptures regularly
  16. Read good books, a little at a time
  17. Cultivate communion with the saints
  18. Be an ordinary person, one of the human race
  19. Be polite with everyone, first of all family members
  20. Maintain cleanliness and order in your home
  21. Have a healthy, wholesome hobby
  22. Exercise regularly
  23. Live a day, even a part of a day, at a time
  24. Be totally honest, first of all with yourself
  25. Be faithful in little things
  26. Do your work, then forget it
  27. Do the most difficult and painful things first
  28. Face reality
  29. Be grateful
  30. Be cheerful
  31. Be simple, hidden, quiet and small
  32. Never bring attention to yourself
  33. Listen when people talk to you
  34. Be awake and attentive, fully present where you are
  35. Think and talk about things no more than necessary
  36. Speak simply, clearly, firmly, directly
  37. Flee imagination, fantasy, analysis, figuring things out
  38. Flee carnal, sexual things at their first appearance
  39. Don’t complain, grumble, murmur or whine
  40. Don’t seek or expect pity or praise
  41. Don’t compare yourself with anyone
  42. Don’t judge anyone for anything
  43. Don’t try to convince anyone of anything
  44. Don’t defend or justify yourself
  45. Be defined and bound by God, not people
  46. Accept criticism gracefully and test it carefully
  47. Give advice only when asked or when it is your duty
  48. Do nothing for people that they can and should do for themselves
  49. Have a daily schedule of activities, avoiding whim and caprice
  50. Be merciful with yourself and others
  51. Have no expectations except to be fiercely tempted to your last breath
  52. Focus exclusively on God and light, and never on darkness, temptation and sin
  53. Endure the trial of yourself and your faults serenely, under God’s mercy
  54. When you fall, get up immediately and start over
  55. Get help when you need it, without fear or shame

Father Tom explains this list of maxims in an excellent podcast for Ancient Faith Radio.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Psalms of David -- Psalm 29

From the OSB:

"Ps 29 speaks of the Resurrection of Christ, who is the End (v. 1), and together with Him, the resurrection of the Church. Man's dilemma is the death and decay of his body in the grave (v. 10) and the dwelling of his soul in Hades (v. 4). As a result, these enemies rejoiced over him (v. 2), and his life was filled with weeping (v. 6), trouble (v. 8), lamentation and sackcloth (v. 12), and sadness (v. 13). But through Christ's resurrection (lifted me up, v. 2), (1) the Church will be healed (v. 3), that is, the body will be raised in beauty and power (v. 8) to immortal life forever (vv. 7, 13) at "the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come" (Creed); (2) the souls of the righteous in Hades were brought out from there at His Resurrection (v. 4); and (3) the Church is filled with praises (vv. 5, 13), thanksgiving (vv. 5, 13), great joy (v. 6), dancing and gladness (v. 12)."
An interesting observation from Fr. Patrick: he translates v. 11 -- ηκουσεν κυριος και ηλεησεν με κυριος εγενηθη βοηθος μου -- using the imperative "Hear, O Lord, and have mercy on me; Lord, be my helper," while the OSB (perhaps taking their cue from the Douay-Rheims) translates it as "The Lord heard and had mercy on me; the Lord became my helper." Regardless, the Lord did hear His Christ and answered Him (Heb. 5:7).

Fr. George -- the priest in Tulsa who received both myself and Audra -- always mentioned v. 10: "What profit is there in my blood, When I go down into decay? Will the dust confess You? Or will it declare Your truth?" Christ's groaning in Gethsemane is heard in these words as the fulfillment of David's longing for freedom from his physical enemies. The answer is a resounding yes: there is profit in the blood of the righteous innocents being poured into the ground; there is redemption for those gone down into decay. The dust will confess Him, not just the rocks. In its quiet submission to apparent destruction and death, the death of a holy one does declare God's truth, simply because it is done in union with the death of the Holy One of God. When God's blood soaks into the ground, life sprouts. When the fruit of life falls from the tree of the Cross and is planted as a seed in the ground, Israel is (re)born therefrom. This is a truth that no cruelty, no intimidation, no princes nor sons of men can overcome; our Lord has heard His Holy One, as well as all the holy ones called by His name, and will answer all those who endured and died with Him, for they shall reign and live with Him.

As Fr. Tom mentioned in quoting an (I believe) athonite monk: Our enemies can do anything they want to -- steal our money, burn our churches, smash our icons, rip up our Bibles, etc -- but they cannot rob us of our death. For God is with us.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Psalms of David -- Psalm 28

"The voice of the LORD..." The word voice in Hebrew, qol, is an onomatopoeic sounding of thunder itself. From the Word creating the worlds to the Word becoming flesh, the voice of the Lord tears through the cedar forest, yet blesses those who are His, those who hear the thundering voice and understand (not all do ~ St. John 12:28-9), with peace from His throne, on which He quietly reigns.

The thunder is, as St. Athanasius also says in On the Incarnation, our Father kneeling down to the level of our toddler eyes and clapping His hands to get our attention. We, distracted and consumed with anything but the still, small voice, are unable to hear Him, often enough, because His still, humble proclamation is drowned out in a sea of our passions. So He, condescending, thunders. Ours is a culture -- a rarity when one considers the scope of religious history -- that not only would have trouble hearing a non-thundering God, but also of hearing a God behind thunder. The qol Adonai, then, has not only to shake us from our distractions to Him, but also to shake us to Him and away from that which originally shakes us, lest we fail to see Creator behind creation.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

An Early "Bowout"

Way back forever ago I started to go over the psalms of my namesake, David, in the Psalter. I dropped it almost just as far back ago.

So I'm going to do two things with this blog for Lent this year, and yes, they're related.

(1) I will, by God's help, be regularly updating the blog with insights from Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon's Christ in the Psalms and/or the Orthodox Study Bible.

(2) I will be shutting off comments, a trick I learned from handmaidleah one Lent, I think it was...previously-made comments will still be there (too many good conversations have been had to get rid of them), they just won't be visible. I spend way too much time reading comments, responding to them, getting sucked into the blogs they link to, etc...hopefully the silence in the absence of conversation will do me good.

Lord, have mercy.

Y'all have a very blessed Lent, and "we'll talk" around the empty tomb of Pascha, Lord willing.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Orthodox Study Bible - Old and New Testament

Ironic (but not surprising for me) that, after calling for a vote for the cover of the Orthodox Study Bible, Old and New Testaments, I promptly took it off, much preferring the hansome burgundy with gold trim you see to your right (click for a closeup). We're glad this came in time for Great Lent, so we can read the Church's lectionary from a translation of the Church's Old Testament.

Things I've noticed so far:

Audra and I (and, heads up church school class, y'all too) will need to re-memorize the books of the Old Testament! Not only are there more, but the order of the Septuagint books is different. Law, Writings, Minor Prophets, Major Prophets, with the deuterocanonicals scattered all throughout, within their respective genres.

The notes remind me of study Bibles I had when I was younger (yes, of course I was a Study Bible Dork even from the start), so those of you expecting or desiring half a page of patristic quotes on every page will be disappointed. The notes I've read, though, seem to teach Orthodox faith and doctrine very clearly, which is crucial to those who are new to the faith or to "re-treads" who grew up nominally Orthodox and, having rediscovered a zeal for the faith, need to see how the Scriptures proclaim the truth of Christ, as well as how that truth is properly proclaimed by the Church. The notes center on Trinity, Incarnation, and Church, which is refreshing. Some may decry the notes as being too simplistic. I agree that so-called "study" notes that do nothing but restate the verse on which they are supposed to elaborate are quite frustrating, but a verse may need only very little emphasis to bring out a small but needed nuance. Sepa Dios. God knows. Point is, don't look to this to replace any patristic commentaries you may own or currently be eyeing.

One considerable omission on the part of the editors was a concordance. My priest mentioned this to me and, sure enough, there isn't one. This would be a wonderful addition to a second edition. Perhaps they're counting on folks to own the OSBNT already, which comes with (what I understand is) the standard NelsonTM concordance.

Also--no chain references, not in a middle column on the page or otherwise! I miss that...

The articles are good, and there are more of them. They are, from what I've seen so far, quite well-done. Very handsome icon prints on the other side of article pages.

The Psalms (finally!) are numbered according to our reckoning.

Often the topical divisions within the chapters will correspond to the beginning and ending of lectionary readings.

On the whole, we're very grateful to have this. May God bless this tool to His glory.

Any other reviews of this new addition would be much appreciated.