Saturday, April 30, 2005

Israel Revisited in a Tomb

Wonderful Holy Saturday service--four-year anniversary of my chrismation--didn't seem as long as last year's, though. Some things that struck me, though:
  • Our church building, being (for the moment) small and having one window only, is very much like a tomb. Add this to the already-present Presence of our Lord in the Tomb, and you have a wonderful reality of the faithful, already buried through baptism, now mystically sealed within the Tomb with their Lord. (We Orthodox believe that, in the Divine Services, we are actually, mystically brought to the moment, the place where the Holy events in our Lord's life happened...our services and hymns, one can see, are always written in the present..."Today the Lord comes, etc.")
  • As we stood over the Body of our Lord (Who is with us via an icon woven into a cloth which is then draped over a "tomb"), we read fifteen readings from the Old Testament, a wonderful catechism spanning from the Creation of the World (God rested on both this and that Holy Saturday) to many of the typologies of Christ within the Old Testament to the many foreshadowings of the Resurrection from the dead, of which Christ would be the Firstfruits.The list of readings for Holy Saturday can be found in these footnotes, after the number 1.
I wish all my Orthodox brothers and sisters who read this a very blessed rest of Holy Saturday and a glorious Pascha! May the risen Christ rise also in our hearts through faith! Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!

Stupid Weather...

Unbelievable...the weather is gorgeous for all of Holy Week, and now, in Texas, in almost-May, Pascha night--when we process around the (for-now-mercifully-small) church building thrice--is going to be FORTY-FIVE DEGREES. Not fair.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Passion Gospels

Tonight was the twelve readings from the passion narratives in the gospels. Aside from the fact that this is a very personal service for me--my patron, St. Peter, and his insistance of his (soon-to-be-easily-shattered) fidelity are mentioned in some of the readings and several hymns--the one, central idea that worked its way into my heart tonight and left me literally slack-jawed in wonder at one point was this:

"That's GOD on that cross."


More than 1,000 creatures have puffed up and popped
The Associated Press
Updated: 12:43 p.m. ET April 27, 2005

BERLIN - More than 1,000 toads have puffed up and exploded in a Hamburg pond in recent weeks, and scientists still have no explanation for what's causing the combustion, an official said Wednesday.

Both the pond's water and body parts of the toads have been tested, but scientists have been unable to find a bacteria or virus that would cause the toads to swell up and pop, said Janne Kloepper, of the Hamburg-based Institute for Hygiene and the Environment.

"It's absolutely strange," she said. "We have a really unique story here in Hamburg. This phenomenon really doesn't seem to have appeared anywhere before."

The toads at a pond in the upscale neighborhood of Altona have been blowing up since the beginning of the month, filling up like balloons until their stomachs suddenly burst.

"It looks like a scene from a science-fiction movie," Werner Schmolnik, the head of a local environment group, told the Hamburger Abendblatt daily. "The bloated animals suffer for several minutes before they finally die."

Biologists have come up with several theories, but Kloepper said that most have been ruled out.

The pond's water quality is no better or worse than other bodies of water in Hamburg, the toads did not appear to have a disease, and a laboratory in Berlin has ruled out the possibility that it is a fungus that made its way from South America, she said.

She said that tests will continue. In the meantime, city residents have been warned to stay away from the pond.

© 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Some Good Discussion on

Some really great comments were made on concerning the archaeological evidence and history of icons in Christianity. Read "Strelet's" comment here.

Also read very well-read and fair comments (read: not straw men arguments!) concerning the differences between the Orthodox view of the Atonement and the western idea of Satisfaction--"Irish Hermit's" comments are here and here, while "Augustine's" (who is also the Perennial Rambler) comments are here and here.

All the comments are pretty close together; you could just scroll down and read them all, one almost right after the other. However, for your convenience, Yours Truly has provided the individual posts. I'm nice like that. And I like to use the hyperlink in one post...a new record!

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Awful News...

...was just now posting the pictures of the church construction when I got a call saying that a friend we are very close to has just miscarried. We found out just last Sunday that she was expecting...this is awful. My whole mind is reeling right now, as something I have prayed against for myself for seven, almost eight months has struck one we love. To know that you are holding a small, developing life within you and then to have it pass--in this case, there doesn't seem to be a reason why, making it all the worse--I can't truly understand it, being a man...but to think of what the father must be feeling, much less the mother...this says all I can't right now:
O Sovereign Master, Lord our God, Who was born of the all-pure Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary, and as an infant was laid in a manger: do You Yourself, according to Your great mercy, have regard for this Your servant who has miscarried that which was conceived in her. Heal her suffering, granting to her, O Loving Lord, health and strength of body and soul. Guard her with a shining Angel from every assault of sickness and weakness and all inward torment. You who accept the innocence of infancy in Your Kingdom, comfort the mind of Your servant and bring her peace. Amen.

Construction Continues...

Drove past our church's property on Sunday and saw this:

Behold! The (useable!) driveway and All-Purpose Building framework as seen from the front!

This is the framework from the side; the part in the center and the right will be the nave and sanctuary, respectively, until we build an actual temple.

The framework from "Cross Hill"; the part that will serve for the time being as the sanctuary is facing us.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Last is First; First is Last

One of my favorite services tonight: Holy Wednesday Bridegroom Matins, where the repentant harlot who anoints Christ's feet is contrasted with Judas. She who was furthest away from divine Love is brought close, and he who walked with the Master became the ultimate tool of the Evil One. Señor, ten piedad de nosotros...Lord, have mercy on us...
The harlot approached thee, O Lover of mankind, pouring out on thy feet costly perfume mixed with tears; and at thy command she was redeemed from the stench of her sins. But the ungrateful disciple, though he was touched by thy grace, rejected it and defiled himself with mire, selling thee for love of money. O Christ, glory to thy tender mercy.

O Merciful One, to thee the harlot cried out wailing; she wiped ardently thy pure feet with her hair, deeply sighing: O my God Cast me not from thee and despise me not, but receive me in repentance and save me, for thou alone art the lover of mankind.

Deceitful Judas, in his love for money, contrived a deceptive plan to betray thee, O Lord, Treasury of life. Given to strong drink, he ran to the Jews and said to the transgressors of the law: "What will you give me, if I betray him to you to be crucified?"

The prodigal woman suddenly appeared chaste, despising the works of shameful sin, and the lust of the body, reflecting upon her great disgrace, and the condemnation of punishment, that harlots and prodigals will endure. Of them I am the first and I am dismayed, but foolishly I persist in my evil habits. But the woman who was a prostitute, filled with fear, and ran crying to the redeemer: O Lover of mankind and merciful one, deliver me from the mire of my deeds.

O Christ, the woman poured precious perfume upon thy royal, divine and awesome head. She touched thy pure feet with her impure hands and cried aloud: “O all works of the Lord, praise the Lord and exalt him to all ages”

O blind and implacable avarice! How have you forgotten what Christ taught you, that the soul is more valuable than the world! For in despair, O betrayer, you have hanged thyself. O Christ our God, sapre our souls and save us.

The prostitute blended precious perfume with tears. She poured it upon thy most pure feet as she kissed them, and thou at once hast proclaimed her righteous. Grant us forgiveness, O Savior, who suffered for us; and save us.

O misery of Judas! When he saw the harlot kissing thy feet, he was deceitfully thinking of how he would betray thee with a kiss. She loosed the braids of her hair, but he was full of rage, bearing in place of perfume the stench of evil; for envy does not know how to care for its own good. O misery of Judas! From this deliver our souls, O God.

As the sinful woman was offering myrrh, the disciple was making terms with the transgressors of the Law. She rejoiced in pouring out what was precious, but he attempted to sell him who is priceless. She acknowledged the Lord, but he separated himself from the Master. She was set free, but Judas became the slave of the enemy. How terrible is the indolence! How great is the repentance! Grant me this also, O Savior who suffered for us, and save us.

Today Christ comes to the house of the Pharisee, and a sinful woman approaches him, falling down at his feet and crying out: “Look at me, I am plunged into sin, I am filled with despair because of my sins, yet I am not rejected by thy goodness.” O Lord, Grant me forgiveness of sins and save me.

The prostitute spread out her hair before thee, O Master, while Judas spread out his hands to the transgressors of the Law; she to receive forgiveness, he to receive the silver. Wherefore, we cry aloud to thee who wast sold and hast set us free: O Lord, glory to thee.

An evil-smelling and muddy woman approached thee shedding tears at thy feet, O Savior, and foretelling thy Passion. “O Master, how can I look straight at thee? Yet thou thyself didst come to save the prostitute. I am dead: As thou hast raised Lazarus after four days from the tomb, raise me from the depths of death. Accept me, O Lord, wretched as I am, and save me.

O Lord, the woman who had fallen into many sins perceived thy divinity and received the rank of the ointment-bearing women; and with mourning she brought myrrh to thee before thy burial. She said: “Woe is me, for I am surrounded with a gloomy and moonless night, full of lustful passion. Accept the fountains of my tears, for thou gatherest into clouds the water of the sea. Incline to the groaning of my heart, for in thine inexpressible self-abasement thou hast bowed the heavens. I will kiss thy most pure feet and wipe them with the locks of my hair, those feet whose sound Eve heard at dusk in Paradise, and hid herself in fear. Who can search out the multitude of my sins and the depth of thy judgments, O Savior of my soul? In thy boundless mercy despise me not, thy handmaid."

Caesar's and God's

Bridegroom Matins last night. Lots of things to think about, not the least of which was the wonderful troparion which we will sing tonight as well:
Behold the Bridegroom comes at midnight,
And blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching,
And again unworthy is the servant whom He shall find heedless.
Beware, therefore, O my soul, do not be weighed down with sleep,
Lest you be given up to death and lest you be shut out of the Kingdom.
But rouse yourself crying: Holy, Holy, Holy, art Thou, O our God!
Through the Theotokos have mercy on us!
But what really struck me was the gospel reading from Matt. 22, specifically the Pharisees' disciples' question in verses 17-21:
17. "Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?"
18. But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, "Why do you test Me, you hypocrites?
19. "Show Me the tax money." So they brought Him a denarius.
20. And He said to them, "Whose image and inscription is this?"
21. They said to Him, "Caesar's." And He said to them, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."
I'm probably really slow to several of you who read this--some huge Church Father has probably already commented on this ad nauseum--but I was blown away by the idea that you give that which carries an image and inscription to him (or Him) whose image and inscription they are. So the money, which bore the image and inscription of Caesar, was rightfully to go to Caesar. But we--who are made in the image of God and bear His name--are to be given to God. He is our rightful owner.

I can hear you know...DUH, right?! Funny how you hear the same verse your whole life--I just looked at it as a divine command regarding your money, to pay your taxes and tithe--and then, all of a sudden, bam.

Yeah. Bridegroom Matins. Good times.

Pascha Baskets!

I'm such a guy when it comes to food...cold pizza and kool-aid at 7 AM? Sure thing. An egg roll, clam chowder, baked beans and chips and guac for dinner? No prob. So this year, in like fashion, my pascha basket will consist of...tequila...and cheese. What a meal, right? They are, however, the two things I've missed the most this Lent. Went overboard on the tequila (somewhat to A's dismay)...Sauza Tres Generaciones Añejo is definitely NOT the least expensive brand out there...but it, being my fave, is the best way I know to toast the Resurrection.

That, and cheese. Ah, the power of cheese, indeed. Had to reign myself in (good thing, too, considering my tequila splurge) and just go for pepper jack, cheddar and colby-jack...the standards, the cheap stuff. Wanted to get the more exotic brie, the swiss, the goudas...all of which cost at least 10 bucks/small wheel...but maybe next year.

Sunday, April 24, 2005


Hey, as long as the Dixie outweighs the Yankee, I'm happy... C'mon...I know that I (and apparently "pete," whose blog I just found) can't be the only linguistic geeks out there...give 'er a try!

Your Linguistic Profile:

60% General American English

25% Dixie

10% Yankee

5% Midwestern

0% Upper Midwestern

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Epidurals and Epiphanies

Spent the day in childbirth preparation classes; Audra compared it to doing a "trial run" on a course you know you'll have to run a marathon on soon. The process was outlined well with videos (which took us every--and I mean every, with actual, volunteer examples--step of the way), and breathing and relaxation techniques, along with clues for the "coaches" (read: scared $#!+less husbands) concerning what NOT to do or say when the Blessed Event comes around (as in, "Do not say, 'Relax!' or 'Breathe!' if you value any of your vital organs."). Finished with a tour of the hospital's labor/delivery and post-partum rooms, so we'll know when to expect the onslaught of family members afterwards. I fully expect, once my family is done with Hope E., to see my daughter sometime around her high school graduation.

Left that and went to choir practice at church for...Pascha music practice! Is it really that time already?! I mean my goodness! This Lent has flown! It seems like forever ago that I was as Holy Archangels (though that, no doubt, is partially due to the otherworldliness that such a place exudes), yet it does NOT seem like tomorrow is really going to be "Palm Sunday," or, as we like to call it, "The Triumphal Entry of Our Lord Into Jerusalem." More of a mouthful, yeah, but a much better description.

Vespers tonight with hymns from Lazarus Sat. and the final proclamation of our common destiny, one final cry that death truly shall have NO ultimate dominion, and our Lord then turns to go to His Cross and Tomb and Glorious Rising. Was talking tonight with a fellow parishoner outside church about how, in my life as an Evangelical, we certainly celebrated the fact that Christ is risen, we certainly appreciated the glorious victory over the Devil that it stood for, but in all honesty, we really didn't know what to do with it. We knew about the Cross, though! We sure could tell you about the payment the Son made to the Father in His own Blood and how that Sacrifice covered all our sins, but as for the was all more of an inevitable, natural consequence of the Cross, rather than the point that all things, even the Cross, was leading up was more like, "Well it just wouldn't do for God to stay dead; of course He had to rise!" We never really heard about death being an actual, personified enemy, much less the "final" or "ultimate" one (1 Cor. 15:26). Christ, in our minds, was more concerned with the remission of sins committed against the Father's honor; the trampling down of death by death and bestowing life on those in the tombs was always more of an afterthought (I should point out that never did I actually hear anyone badmouthing or discounting the Resurrection; it was just something that, though obviously significant in Scripture, didn't seem to play a very prominent role in our overall view of what Christ came down here to do). So we never really heard many sermons (if any at all) about the Final Resurrection of the Dead; in our minds, we would have been happy enough to just be "absent from the body but present with the Lord," never to see or know our bodies again.

So--all that having been said--this first day of Holy Week has me already thinking of the Resurrection of our Lord, our Pascha, our Deliverance from the Ultimate Forgetting, from all things--Lazarus' prefiguring of the common destiny of all men, the Servant King's Entry in all its humble glory, the Bridegroom's being crowned with thorns, the High Priest's offering of Himself as Lamb, the Harrowing of Hell, the Annihilating of our Annihilation--all things point to the great revelation of His three-day Passion and glorious--glorious!--Resurrection.
We worship Thy Passion, O Christ.
We worship Thy Passion, O Christ.
We worship Thy Passion, O Christ.
Show us also Thy Resurrection!

Friday, April 22, 2005

Thursdays with +DMITRI

Met yesterday afternoon with His Eminence, Archbishop DMITRI over the issue of baptism I'd been talking about a little while ago: Why was the Church accepting single immersion through chrismation only and not through baptism, as triple immersion was the norm for the Church?

We went through the life of the NT Church--issues such as Apollos, who knew about Jesus accurately but only knew the Baptism of John (Acts 18:25), yet who was not re-baptised upon entry into the apostolic community of the Church. And of those in Samaria in Acts 8 whom St. Phillip baptized "simply...into the name of the Lord Jesus." A bit odd, as Christ had clearly commanded baptism in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19). Yet these in Samaria were not re-baptized according to the latter formula.

Vladyka also spoke of the patristic history of admission through baptism of those with varying types of baptisms--differences in both form and doctrine--who were admitted though economia, or an allowance. I mean, really, I thought as I drove up to the Cathedral, they allowed Arians--who didn't even think that Christ was GOD, much LESS believe in the Holy Trinity into which they were being baptized--to be received by chrismation. Apparently it's not a hard and fast practice.

That's not to say that, were it up to me, I wouldn't do things differently--I still have somewhat of a preference for seeing form correspond a bit more to method of acceptance--but there were two things Vladyka said that put my mind more at ease.
  1. He affirmed, in no uncertain terms, that a so-called "sacrament" performed outside the Church is just that: so-called. The Church declares that there are no sacraments outside the bounds of the Orthodox Church. If God wants to do something through a person's Roman Catholic or Southern Baptist baptism, that is up to Him. As far as we in the Church know, this is the place to receive the sacraments of God and we should treat it as such; all other rituals are empty "form[s] of godliness" which are "given the power thereof" at chrismation (2 Tim. 3:5). Would that this message were preached more forcefully in catechism!
  2. The first point having been put in place by the Church, diverse manners of implementing this doctrine have existed throughout the life of the Church, with certain manners being used in certain situations, others in others, etc. The important thing, ultimately, is to trust the synod of bishops (and, ultimately, the Church at large) who have determined that, in our current situation, with the current heresies at large that we have to deal with, enough of the form of baptism--that done in water in the name of the Holy Trinity--can be seen to justify an energizing by the Spirit. This has been done by a synod of bishops who are recognized by 99.9% of the Orthodox in this world as being genuinely Orthodox, and, while it may be different than what other synods choose to do, the integrity of the Church is still preserved as being the only ark of salvation, the only place for the fullness of the faith.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Is that all that’s required to teach?

From an editorial I read years ago and just saw again today:
Let me see if I have this right.

You want me to go into that room with all those kids, and fill their every waking moment with a love for learning. Not only that, but I am also to instill a sense of pride in their ethnicity, modify disruptive behavior and observe the for signs of abuse.

I am to fight the war on drugs and sexually transmitted diseases, check their backpacks for guns and knives and raise their self-esteem. I am to teach them patriotism, good citizenship, sportsmanship and fair play; how to balance a checkbook and how to apply for a job.

I am to check their heads for lice, maintain a safe environment, recognize signs of potential antisocial behavior, offer advice, write letters of recommendation for student employment and scholarships, encourage respect for the cultural diversity of others and, oh yes, teach, always making sure I give the girls in my class fifty percent of my attention.

I am required by my contract to work on my own time (summers and evenings) and at my own expense toward additional certification and a master’s degree, to sponsor the cheerleaders or the sophomore class (my choice); and after school, I am to attend committee and faculty meetings, and participate in staff development training to maintain my current certification and employment status.

I am to be a paragon of virtue, such that my very presence will awe my students into being obedient and respectful of authority. I am to do all of this with just a piece of chalk, a bulletin board and a few books (some of which I may have to purchase myself). And for doing this, I am to be paid a starting salary that, in some states, qualifies my family for food stamps.

Is that all?

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Divine Humility, Cont.

Some points made in my continuing debate with my friend that go along with the Schmemman quote from before regarding the humility--which is not poverty or lacking in anything but rather the refraining from parading one's gloriousness out of a desire to be praised by others--that is a characteristic of the Holy Trinity:
  • It was inevitable that God's creatures be less than He, as He can't make anything greater than Himself, and the only thing equal to the Father is either begotten of or proceeds from Him, so anything created *must* be subservient to Him, must obey Him, must praise Him as being greater than they. How else could it be? Yet it was not merely so man could praise Him that He created them. Love was the main reason. Communion was the main reason. That communion is fully realized when we acknowledge our place and God's...which, inevitably, brings us to a place of praise and worship of God, but again, not done because God needs some ego if He were doing it for His own peace of mind or because He needed to prove anything.
  • The image of Christ as humble servant, not as coming King (though He is also this) was what was called "the image of the invisible God."
  • By "humble" I mean a God who is complete in and of Himself, needing nothing from any man, not even praise. This humble God Who is complete thus orients His relationship with His Creation around service to the fallen creatures and eternal love with the redeemed, not around a desire to be praised that supercedes the creatures' salvation and love. The rocks themselves cry out to Him, not becuase he demands it, but because they knew their Redeemer was coming! Hosanna! (Oh, save!) They were tired of groaning out for redemption and knew (better than humans do, I think) that their Savior was there. It was because they knew God was acting on behalf of *them,* not *Himself*.
  • He is worthy of all praise, yet He (as far as I've seen, anyways) has never commanded us to praise Him. Yet we must praise Him, since we move back into our natural, healthy state of being by praising Him. We are made whole from the praise that gives Him nothing He had not before. Even our praise to Him is something He, being ever-giving and ever-complete in and of Himself, uses, not for His own press, but for our benefit alone.
  • The heavens, the earth, the throne room, etc., weren't created for the "sole purpose of praising Him." It's not a one-way thing where He just sits on the throne, taking it all in. He gives back, and this reciprocity, this LOVE is why we were created.
  • God does what He does, taking into no account the reactions of man. He does, however, concern Himself with whether or not man remembers the One who created him--not because His ego is hurt, but because He knows that man can never truly be man without God...and THIS is why He calls us to see Him in all His glory...otherwise we could never be human. And He cannot *help* but be glorious; it's just Who He is. Christ was in every way God, yet "thought it not robbery to be equal with God"--in other words, He didn't flaunt it! His miracles were for the good of *people*--even those that seemed to just be "signs"! The fig tree withered, not so He could impress folks with His godly power, but so they'd snap back into their rightful, natural place in the hierarchy.
  • The lowly form of the First Coming of Christ adds to God's glorious humility. The very fact that He was on the earth in a body yet never departed from the Father is glorious! To me, the "HOW it happened" is WHY it's glorious! It's glorious BECAUSE it's humble! It's beautiful BECAUSE it's complete, in and of itself, needing nothing, and acting solely out of concern for the other. Even His Second and Glorious Coming can be seen as humble, for it is not out of a desire for praise that He comes as a mighty King, but as He Who will liberate His Bride...again, not for His own "PR," but for our good He acts.
  • God does not need (though he has used) a thundering voice to make Himself known; He is in the still, small voice just as much as in the thunderous voice (which, by the way, not everyone heard...if God were proud (read: insecure), don't you think He would have made sure they all heard?)
  • Once He has come as King, He will never once TELL us to praise Him. In the eternal Kingdom we'll all finally "get it" and rest in the peace that submission brings. We'll be back where we belong, and will do nothing but grow in worshipful love. But what is more, He will continue to glorify us! Should we perhaps beware, then, lest our glorification make us "proud" or not "humble"? Humility, then, does not necessarily equal lack or error or shame, or anything of the kind, just like glory does not equal arrogance, attention-grabbing or anything like it.
  • The two loves--that among the members of the Trinity with each other and that of the Trinity for mankind--are not the same, for each member of the Holy Trinity loves and is loved perfectly, the Godhead thus existing as an eternal icon of community, of solidarity, of love among persons (as opposed to a lone monad, which cannot love Itself) and, as such, is complete in this Love. This love is eternal, is complete, is what we are all called to. Yet we cannot participate in this as we are. So does He (let's say, the Father) love us *more* than the Son and HS? No. Does He love us *differently* than He does Them? Yes, for WE are in need of saving; the other two Members of the Godhead have no such relationship of need with the Father. The Trinity's relationship within Itself is perfect and complete, in no need of any other affirmation or acknowledgement. But the relationship between God and man is still being healed, and as we were created to love God, all that God is doing proactively is for our benefit, as His Triune Love will always be eternal rest.

Habent Papam

Was getting ready to go to lunch today when I happened to see the homepage for MSN proclaim that Ratzinger had been elected Pope and had taken the name Benedict XVI. On the one hand, this bodes well for traditionalist Catholics, as they now have a hardliner traditionalist at the helm who, from closed communion to sexual abstinence to the separation of clergy and layman, seems to be a stone wall against a growing tide of liberalism and innovation. On the other hand, this bodes poorly for us Orthodox, as the man is very set in the heresy of the communion's claim that the Pope is the universal head of the Church, so further gestures towards reunion are unlikely to get anywhere under his pontificate.

And on the other hand, this bodes maddeningly for us Americans, as now we will have to hear ad nauseum about how "this pope will have to deal with the issues facing the Church," such as women's ordination, homosexual lifestyle, abortion, the ever-present sex scandal...and I say, let the man do it. Statements such as the following give me hope that we need not kow tow to novel sexual or moral standards, regardless of what America or Europe may say:

“Having a clear faith, based on the creed of the church, is often labeled today as a fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, which is letting oneself be tossed and ’swept along by every wind of teaching,’ looks like the only attitude acceptable to today’s standards. We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires."

Sounds like he'll follow in JP2's footsteps regardless of the pressure. I just wish I didn't have to hear everyone harp about it, always annoyed, all the time.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

The center of the land (we've got 3 acres, approx.) where we're building our new church and all-purpose building. The current project is the all-purpose building and the driveway (which is most of the staked-off brown area there in front). After these are finished, we will build the permanent Temple, Lord willing, with the A-P building serving as a temporary temple in its main area in the meantime.

The cross (seen in the first picture) we erected on top of the hill in the back of the property. Nice location, too, as when folks drive by it really "pops" against the sky. Hopefully it'll survive the 40 mph winds we're supposed to get from a storm later this week. By the power of Thy Cross, preserve Thine estate, O Lord...

The foundation for the Temporary Chapel/All-Purpose Building as seen from "Cross Hill."

The Rest of the 3 acres as seen from "Cross Hill." Thanks be to God!

A Prayer for Missions

Got this in a mail-out from the OCMC -- the Orthodox Christian Mission Center -- thought it a good thing to add to our prayer life here at home, seeing as how both A and I come from mission-minded upbringings and hope someday in the future to act on them ourselves, Lord willing:

God of truth and love: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, hear our prayer for those who do not know You.

That they may come to a saving knowledge of the truth, and that Your Name may be praised among all peoples of the world.

Sustain, inspire, and enlighten Your servants who bring them the Gospel. Bring fresh vigor to wavering faith; sustain our faith when it is still fragile.

Continually renew missionary zeal in ourselves and in the Church, and raise up new missionaries who will follow You to the ends of the world.

Make us winesses to Your goodness--full of love, full of strength, and full of faith--for Your glory and the salvation of the entire world.

Through the prayers of St. Paul, St. Photini, Ss. Cyril and Methodios, St. Kosmas Aitolos, St. Innocent of Alaska, St. Nicholas of Japan, and all the missionary saints, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Mad Mamas and the Line of Fire

So this week was interesting at school...on Tuesday I had to pull one of my students off of another (she had pinned the other student on the ground, and their arms were locked on each others hair and shoulders, so I grabbed her by the shoulders, pulled her back and held her off). Not the smartest thing, I know, but it wound up ending the fight, sooo...

And then there was Thursday...Yes, you got it: another fight. This one, however, involved more than twenty people, was racially motivated (black vs. Mexican), and brought in several squad cars and the local news. One of the teachers--a good friend of mine and involved in many of the students' lives--was attempting to break apart three boys who were going at it (yeah; good luck with that, Carla), and wasn't making much progress, as the shoes she was wearing had her sliding all over the asphalt. So she took them off, holding them in her hands while she tried to break up the fight. It was at this point that another student, seeing the footwear in her hands, yelled out, "WATCH OUT! SHE'S GOT A SHOE!!!" Now, bear in mind, they have police officers with guns and tazers coming at them, and still they fight. But a woman comes at them with a gold, sequined sandal, and this is cause for alarm. Not one to let a good lead get past her, Carla then screams out, "THAT'S RIGHT! I'M A MAD MOTHER, AND I'VE GOT A SHOE, AND I'M GONNA SPANK YOU WITH IT!!"

And--I still can't believe it--the Red Sea...parted. Go fig.

I love testing season. You see, there are many kids at our school who, though they may do great work in class, absolutely freeze when four options are put in front of them labeled A, B, C and D. So, in preparation for the upcoming standardized tests the State puts us through in order to determine federal funding, the District has scheduled review sessions beforehand, which have served to do nothing, in many cases, but frustrate the students. So they're frustrated at themselves, it's Spring, they have energy and hormones coursing through them, and then someone makes a comment about someone else's ethnic group and/or significant other,'s on.

Welcome to Spring.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

My lovely wife and quickly growing child. If only she felt this good all nine months...


Vespers last night with Eric, the godson in the picture below whom I've mentioned before. He made it up from Ft. Hood last night--something he normally does on Sunday mornings--and has stayed the night with us.

Having read some recent posts on other Orthodox blogs, I had in mind during the service how very unlike America and its prevailing culture of novelty these services are. One of the things that really struck me in particular was the refusal to "spoon feed" the theology or the worship to you; one must listen attentively to the hymns, one must join one's prayer with the prayer prayed by the choir and the priest, and let that prayer "pray you" until you "become that prayer." Perhaps this little rambling thought only makes sense to me--a kind of "you had to be there" moment--but I really did appreciate the fact that Vespers made me dig in my heels and follow along; I just kept reminding myself as we sang of Christ's resurrection (and how wonderful that singing--meant to be an expression of joy!--fills almost all of our services), of St. John of the Ladder, to "mean it...mean it...mean it..."

In my charismatic days, "meaning it" meant "singing loudly and 'passionately'" about whatever it was. Now it means, "slow down, concentrate, rid your mind of all but this." Grateful for that encounter.

Likewise, another encounter occurred (and I'm grateful that the Orthodox Church is (or should be) a Church of such encounters, where the divine and human constantly meet through all senses) after the service, when we went to venerate the icons. Ah, icons: that lovely stumbling block for so many of us converts coming into the Church. If any of you were like me, I analyzed this one to death before coming to terms with it. Probably drove my priest crazy. But as I approached the icon of Christ to kiss it, one thought came up: This is my God.

Now, earlier in what has yet been a short Orthodox life I would have made myself "be careful" to make a mental distinction between the douleia given the saints and the latreia reserved for God alone, to make a distinction between the image and the prototype, the honor passing to the latter through the former...but it seemed to just...not matter as much. Not that all of those mental pauses weren't used for good reasons, but...hmm. I suppose it's as if I was being told, "You've covered all this. You know what this is. Now dive into the mystery unabashedly and meet Christ. Greet your Lord and do not hesitate."

No, it is not Christ in the sense that it is not, in its essence, a flesh-and-blood God-man. It is an image of He who is. Yet it is, in and of itself, more than just an image. There's a presence there that's not "just anywhere." When an icon is blessed and used as a window to heaven, it ceases to be "just an image." It's a sacrament, a passage as Fr. Alexander Schmemman put it, to that Kingdom which is here, but still coming.

Grateful also for the encounter with that King and His Kingdom...may today bring yet another, ultimate encounter as we taste and see how good the Lord truly is...

Me and my godson Eric.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Computers vs. Cars

All right, maybe this is old for some of you, but I laughed out loud at this this morning...mostly because my computer has been giving me so much trouble as of late...
At a recent computer expo (COMDEX), Bill Gates reportedly compared the computer industry with the auto industry and stated, "If GM had kept up with technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25.00 cars that got 1,000 miles to the gallon."

In response to Bill's comments, General Motors issued a press release stating: If GM had developed technology like Microsoft, we would all be driving cars with the following characteristics:

1. For no reason whatsoever, your car would crash twice a day.

2. Every time they repainted the lines in the road, you would have to buy a new car.

3. Occasionally your car would die on the freeway for no reason. You would have to pull to the side of the road,
close all of the windows, shut off the car, restart it, and reopen the windows before you could continue. For some reason you would simply accept this.

4. Occasionally, executing a maneuver such as a left turn would cause your car to shut down and refuse to restart, in which case you would have to reinstall the engine.

5. Macintosh would make a car that was powered by the sun, was reliable, five times as fast and twice as easy to drive...but would run on only five percent of the roads.

6. The oil, water temperature, and alternator warning lights would all be replaced by a single "This Car Has Performed an Illegal Operation" warning light.

7. The airbag system would ask "Are you sure?" before deploying.

8. Occasionally, for no reason whatsoever, your car would lock you out and refuse to let you in until you
simultaneously lifted the door handle, turned the key and grabbed hold of the radio antenna.

9. Every time a new car was introduced car buyers would have to learn how to drive all over again because none of the controls would operate in the same manner as the old car.

10. You'd have to press the "Start" button to turn the engine off.

Friday, April 08, 2005

It's Come to This

Authorities deny civilian group held border crosser against his will
A Mexican migrant holds the T-shirt of B
Bryan Barton / AFP - Getty Images

TUCSON, Ariz. - Authorities determined Thursday that three volunteers involved in a civilian project to watch the border and report illegal crossers had an illegal immigrant pose for a flippant photograph but did not hold him against his will.

The Mexican man had told sheriff’s deputies he was detained and forced to pose for a picture holding a T-shirt with a mocking slogan. A review of a 15-minute videotape provided by Bryan Barton, one of the three volunteers, showed the T-shirt the man was holding read: “Bryan Barton caught an illegal alien and all I got was this lousy T-shirt.” Barton was wearing an identical shirt.

“The county attorney’s office reviewed all available evidence, that indicates that there was no forcible detention, therefore the case is not substantiated, and no charges are pending,” said Carol Capas, a spokeswoman for the Cochise County Sheriff’s Department.

The sheriff’s department, Mexican Consul Miguel Escobar and the U.S. Border Patrol also agreed the 26-year-old man was not detained, said Capas and Border Patrol spokeswoman Andrea Zortman.

The man, who was not identified, apparently did not initially tell a Border Patrol agent he had been detained, but did so when interviewed later by sheriff’s deputies, Capas said. The man alleged when he tried to get away, the volunteers ran in front of him and would not let him go by.

The volunteers involved in Wednesday’s incident identified themselves as members of the Minuteman Project — a monthlong effort that has people from around the country spread out along a stretch of the Arizona-Mexico border to report undocumented migrants and smugglers.

Law enforcement fears
Law enforcement officials have said they fear the project will lead to vigilante violence. Mexico’s foreign relations department also pledged in the days leading up to the civilian operation to pursue all legal and diplomatic means to stop the volunteers and ensure they do not violate the rights of Mexican citizens.

The volunteers may alert authorities when they see someone cross the border, but are not allowed to detain anyone. The immigrant who complained he was held illegally was later picked up by the Border Patrol, and remains in custody.

Wednesday’s incident was the first reporting any possible detention, though volunteers earlier assisted an immigrant in distress.

“The Minuteman project has created a powder-keg situation with the potential to go beyond harassment and false imprisonment to real violence,” said Eleanor Eisenberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, which has legal observers keeping an eye on Minuteman volunteers.

© 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

While I have been involved in the immigration issue for several years myself--I used to work in a bilingual church office and would help legals (and some illegals) find housing, food, jobs, etc--and while this definitely opened my eyes to the plight that many Mexican citizens face in Mexico (hence their coming here), I can appreciate (though I probably shouldn't) this guy's dark joke. What we're doing here in the States regarding immigration policy with Mexico is deplorable; it's draining us, and it's not doing honest immigrants any favors.

Like I said, I'm for immigration, but done properly--Properly being comprised of two parts:
  1. Tighter borders to keep out illegals--which apparently isn't (and won't) happen to an effective degree, hence the justification for civilian groups like this one to (for now, harmlessly) draw attention to it like this. Then (to continue in my dream world) once borders become heavily guarded and it becomes very difficult (at best) to come over illegally, we need to move to step two:
  2. Easier, more efficient processes for admitting, registering and naturalizing legal immigrants. The complaint that they're draining the economy? Solved, as we tax their (normalized) wages, which contributes to the economy. The fact that they're stealing "our" jobs? Solved, as now there's a lot more to lose for companies to hire naturalized citizens at pennies a day...not the case when you hire a bunch of illegals who can and want to stay below Uncle Sam's radar. Now one person=one person; an immigrant fills only one position instead of a nameless mass taking over positions citizens would normally fill.
This is miles away from where we are now--President Bush several months ago granted what amounts to a pardon to illegals in certain parts of the states, thus encouraging the current mess--illegals get tax-free wages that, though below minimum wage, when doled out en masse to a group of thousands, is an overall drain on the economy. And this is not to mention the untraceable burden it places on the hospitals and public school systems of border states. All the benefits of the USA have been made available to illegals, if only in a sneaky way, while those who attempt to abide by the law and wait for the endless red-tape machine to get their papers through are often waiting--without the ability to work legally--for anywhere from six months to a couple of years.

Fair? Nope. And with no real promise of change from the status quo on the horizon, it's come to groups like Bryan Barton and the Minuteman Project to try and police something civilians shouldn't ever have to mess with in the first place.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Divine Humility

Sparked by a conversation currently in progress with a good friend of mine, an Evangelical Protestant, about whether or not God's "honor" needs to be defended by the Cross, and whether or not God is "humble":

From Fr. Alexander Schmemman's Great Lent, pp. 19-20
But what is humility? The answer to this question may seem a paradoxical one for it is rooted in a strange affirmation: God Himself is humble! Yet to anyone who knows God, who contemplates Him in His creation and in His saving acts, it is evident that humility is truly a divine quality, the very content and the radiance of that glory which, as we sing during the Divine Liturgy, fills heaven and earth. In our human mentality we tend to oppose "glory" and "humility"--the latter being for us the indication of a flaw or deficiency. For us it is our ignorance or incompetence that makes or ought to make us feel humble. It is almost impossible to "put across" to the modern man, fed on publicity, self-affirmation, and endless self-praise, that all that which is genuinely perfect, beautiful and good is at the same time naturally humble; for precisely because of its perfection, it does not need "publicity," external glory, or "showing off" of any kind. God is humble because He is perfect; His humility is His glory and the source of all true beauty, perfection, and goodness, and everyone who approaches God and knows Him immediately partakes of the Divine humility and is beautified by it.

Fragile, Choking, Small

Lost this the first time due to browser closing...take 2...

Sat outside on my truck tailgate--a truck that will soon be gone, btw, as part of a sweeping plan to eliminate all possible monthly payments before the arrival of li’l H.E. in June—in the rapidly darkening Monday evening, thinking about how vulnerable we are—specifically, how vulnerable my wife is, being seven months with child and all—and, with Audra’s head on my shoulder, found myself dwelling on things that I’d usually rather not dwell on, such as having to forcibly defend Audra if there were a break-in…typical father-to-be stuff, I guess…

I don’t own a handgun or rifle—though I have nothing against those who own such lower-end guns (as much as I want to defend my family, I don’t think I need an AK-47 to do it, but that’s another post)—neither do I know enough martial arts to do myself much good, but you can bet I’ve got “strategic items” placed throughout my house…bat in the bedroom, fireplace poker in the living room, butcher knife in the kitchen…like I said…nice thoughts.

Reminded me of a Rich Mullins lyric:

We are frail, we are fearfully and wonderfully made

Forged in the fires of human passion, choking on the fumes of selfish rage

And with these our hells and our heavens so few inches apart

We must be awfully small, and not as strong as we think we are

Have been talking with a fella my age whose sponsor (it feels so odd to call a guy who’s only a year younger than you your godson!) I am in the Church about Orthodox justification for the use of force; he and I really buy into the idea that there is a justification for it. I personally think Blessed Augustine had a good deal of things—good things—to say about it. His theory of just war, which says that just war must be done:

  • under proper authority. As he put it, "The natural order, which is suited to the peace of moral things, requires that the authority and deliberation for undertaking war be under the control of a leader."
  • with proper cause, from which are excluded "[t]he desire for harming, the cruelty of revenge, the restless and implacable mind, the savageness of revolting, [and] the lust for dominating."
  • with reasonable chance of success.
  • with proportionality. In waging a war, authorities must make sure that the harm caused by their response to aggression does not exceed the harm caused by the aggression itself. Non-combatants must also be shielded from harm. They can never, for any reason whatsoever, be the targets of an attack.

More on an individual basis, though, I see my family as a holy charge given me by the Almighty, and resistance for their sake, done only as a means of defense and not (as far as I could help it—Lord, have mercy) out of vengeance, hatred or fear is justifiable and even expected.

And if, in spite of my best efforts, something tragic happens either to myself or to Audra or our child (God forbid), I—a frail, choking, small man—must hold them with open hands, knowing they were never mine to keep.

Lord, make us all wise, courageous and effective stewards…and thank You for the time and the breath that You have lent us…

One God Can Use

Read Psalm 142 (143 if you don't use the LXX) Monday evening; thought it not only fit in well with Lent, but also was a perfect example of he or she who is open to the Holy Spirit...ah, if only we could pray this perfectly...

1Hear my prayer, O LORD, give ear to my supplications: in thy faithfulness answer me, and in thy righteousness.

2And enter not into judgment with thy servant: for in thy sight shall no man living be justified.

3For the enemy hath persecuted my soul; he hath smitten my life down to the ground; he hath made me to dwell in darkness, as those that have been long dead.

4Therefore is my spirit overwhelmed within me; my heart within me is desolate.

5I remember the days of old; I meditate on all thy works; I muse on the work of thy hands.

6I stretch forth my hands unto thee: my soul thirsteth after thee, as a thirsty land. Selah.

7Hear me speedily, O LORD: my spirit faileth: hide not thy face from me, lest I be like unto them that go down into the pit.

8Cause me to hear thy lovingkindness in the morning; for in thee do I trust: cause me to know the way wherein I should walk; for I lift up my soul unto thee.

9Deliver me, O LORD, from mine enemies: I flee unto thee to hide me.

10Teach me to do thy will; for thou art my God: thy spirit is good; lead me into the land of uprightness.

11Quicken me, O LORD, for thy name's sake: for thy righteousness' sake bring my soul out of trouble.

12And of thy mercy cut off mine enemies, and destroy all them that afflict my soul: for I am thy servant.

Monday, April 04, 2005

On the Passing of Pope John Paul II

He was the only Roman Catholic Pope I've ever known, and--apart from the troubling business of dealing far to intimately with non-Christian faiths--was otherwise an outstanding one. A bastion of conservatism in his communion, he stood firm on issues of life, suffering, the priesthood and goodwill towards those of different opinions (again, at times to a fault) when many others in it were wont to fold.

Que su memoria sea eterna...

And may his embracing of the Lord's call to suffer help us all see the sacrament, the passage into Life that all things--yes, even suffering, which sought to drive us to despair, and death, which sought to annihilate us--have now become because of the Resurrection.

Before Thy Cross we bow down in worship, O Master, and Thy holy Resurrection we glorify.