Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A Little Sincerity, A Little Hilarity...

Was going to put something inspiring (rolls eyes at self) re: the Ascension of Christ, the commemoration of which begins (for us Orthodox) at sundown tomorrow, but Seraphim at Ancient Church has beaten me to it here, and said it better than I think I could have. Bravo. (On a side note, I thoroughly enjoy the fact that Pentecost--which is ten days later and is the commemoration of the coming of the Holy Spirit to found the Church--is also the day my family comes home!)

He also links to this right beneath his ascension post. It. Is. The. Funniest. Thing. I've. Read. In. Weeks.

We Remember

Thank you.

Monday, May 29, 2006


I was blessed to be asked to sing in the choir for the uniting in holy matrimony of Steve Hall and Luda Chuba (now Hall), two members of our church here in Ft. Worth who met during their teen years, fell in love and are now man and wife. God grant them many years!

I am going to Wal-Mart to drop off the pics of the wedding immediately after publishing this post, so in a couple of days there should be a "wedding walk-thru" post akin to the chrismation one several posts down, but what I can describe to you now is the absolute joy that is a Ukranian wedding reception.

Seriously. Ukranian. Wedding. Receptions. Rock.

Or polka, I should say. We got there after the ceremony and at first went through the buffet, sat, talked about how gorgeous Luda looked, how dated some of the late-70s/early 80s music was (I still contend that when I was born, good music died), etc. But when they started playing polka music, I had to get out on the dance, um, aisle between the rows of tables. As I am currently sans wifey and daughter, Hope's godmother Lindsey graciously agreed to stand in. T'was a bit awkward dancing in a cassock, but there you have it. Also polka-ed w/the bride; now that was a fun thing to see...a twirling mass of black, white, black, white, black, white. I did, however, dreadfully missed not being able to dance with Audra; I also missed not being able to scoop up my little Anza and take her for a whirl out on the floor. She giggles like crazy when we dance together. All in all, though, good times, good booze, good food, and...hopak! (NOTE: the pics and video clips are not from the reception, but they're a good representation.)

Now, seriously (I say that a lot), I tend to enjoy things like art, music, dance, and many of these things evoke emotions of various kinds, but the sheer celebration that was conveyed on the faces of these people when they danced the official national dance of the Ukraine was the most fun I've experienced in recent memory, and all I was doing was just clapping and yelling "HEY!" in time with the music while other people danced! What an amazing way to show your joy for what has just occurred in the lives of these two young Christians!

The party went on until about midnight, and on the way out to the car, I was stopped by a couple--friends of Steve and Luda--who had seen me in my since-shed cassock during the wedding and the first part of the reception (hey, dancing works up a sweat, especially in a heavy cassock!), and asked me about the Orthodox Church. They were both disaffected Christians from other confessions whose specific issues with their former confessions were really non-issues in Orthodoxy, much to their pleasant surprise. What followed was about a 45 minute Q and A time about the faith, ending with their asking when Vespers would be this week. God works. Lord, have mercy, and many, many blessed years for the newly-united servants of God Steven and Ludmila Hall!

Sunday, May 28, 2006

They Made It...

Audra and Hope made it to KY safe and sound, but tired...due to a delay from the arriving flight, they didn't leave 'till 5:30, then had to fly in a holding pattern for an hour or two (lovely, I'm sure, with a baby) due to a storm over St. Louis. Said storm turned what was to be a 2.5 hr. layover into a mad dash to the other end of O'Hare, because when they finally landed in Chicago her connecting flight to Louisville (pronounced 'LOO-uh-vuhl,' as my wife was quick to inform me while we were dating) was boarding. Yeah. So they made it OK, and were too tired to think about calling, so they woke me up this morning to let me know they'd arrived. God be praised.

My uncle Jeff got through the transplant OK, and Nancy seems to be receiving the kidney well, but due to shortness of breath and possible heart problems (?!) Jeff is going to be in the ICU for a few more days. Thanks for prayers so far. Continue, please.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Prayers asked...

For my uncle, Jeff, who's to be a kidney donor here in a couple of hours for a sick friend of the family, Nancy. Prayers the surgery goes well, w/out complications afterwards...

Also, Audra and Hope will be flying out to KY tomorrow evening, and returning the evening of the 10th. So prayers for safe travel there. Thanks.

TGIF...and TGFOT...

Last day of school!!! So, obviously, THIS Friday is particularly great for me.

Another TGIF moment today, though: it just occurred me this morning how, traditionally in the Eastern Orthodox Church, the readings of the psalms for Friday morning are Ps. 134-150 (tha't's 135-->the end in western Bibles). Read through it today; apparently there's plenty of other reasons to "praise ye the LORD" besides it just being Friday (Who knew?). Nice meditation.

The TGFOT is "Thank God for our toddler." Yes, gentle readers, our little Hope Elizabeth is walking...taking more and more steps in a row each day (we think she's up to 11 in a row now), and she has the battle scars to prove it. Any parent of a toddler knows that any toddler doing the, um, toddling will, at any given moment and (of course!) in the worst possible way, fall at lightning speed to the ground upon losing his/her balance (seriously: how did any of us have the guts to keep trying 'till we got this walking thing down?!). Anza did this yesterday, and went, nose first, onto her toybox. Yes, we had little nosebleed. She was a trooper, though; t'weren't nothin' a nice, cold popsicle and Mama's arms and kisses couldn't fix (I know, I know, WAY too mushy this early in the morning, but whaddyagonnado?).

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Pushing on Dark Walls

I can't remember the exact quote--it had something to do with soldiers (or fighters of some sort) in a traditionally Orthodox country and who (as we all tend to do) wanted to bring faith into this us-vs.-them secular conflict to bolster the fight--and a monastic in the country said, "These people will do anything to preserve their faith...except fast and pray."

The terror of actual encounter is much less palatable than talking theology/internet forums/blogging/online teaching podcasts/intellectual exercises/military, flag-waving causes-tied-to-faith.

The great darkness where God lives is before us. Entering is something we must do, else we're seen as false and half-hearted disciples, yet this direct, sober, person-to-Person experience of God threatens to (and will, in a sense) destroy us, and so many of us flee, myself included (and especially). Pursuit for no other reason than (yet with no guarantee of) finding God is our motive. Lord, have mercy.

Memory Eternal...

This is late, I know, but for all who don't keep up with him, Jarolslav Pelikan, a former Lutheran theologian turned Orthodox whose history of the Christian Church is unparalleled in its depth and objectivity, passed away ten days ago. May his memory be eternal.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

An Unexpected Honor...

You know, you never really are sure who reads your blog, and then you read things like what's on this page on the Our Life in Christ page from someone in Pennsylvania...

I came across one of your most recent radio shows that was linked from the Oh Taste And See blog site.

Humbling to know that my meager ramblings are being read. God bless.

The Newly Illumined Joshua Alexander

Pictures to come...the little guy was baptized this past Sunday. Good to be godparents again. God grant him many years...

Saturday, May 13, 2006

More Funny Stuff...

...from The Onion Dome's Orthodox Bumper Sticker contest a while back. Some of my favs:
  • My Church wrote your Bible.
  • Horn Broken, Listen for Anathema
  • Orthodoxy — Ancestors you can’t remember are part of our Church
  • Wisdom! Let us attend… to the road!
  • Have you kised your Mother’s Icon today?
  • Your Mother Church — keeping the “Ma” in “dogma.”
  • Orthodoxy: If It Aint’ Broke.…
  • Honk if you know what this means: IC XC NIKA
  • Being Saved
  • Universality, Antiquity, Consent
  • 51% Atkins-Friendly
  • Not so Close! I may need to do prostrations.
  • The Orthodox Church: Not Only Standing for the Truth, But Never Sitting Down Either
  • I (heart) Theotokos
  • Fish Sticks have NO BACKBONE!
  • Orthodoxy: Kickin’ it old school since 33 A.D.
  • I’d rather be censing.
  • Eat my antidoron.

Stuff That Annoys Me

OK, so I'm pretty sure this was a George Carlin thing (sure sounds like him), but I can relate...

People who point at their wrist while asking for the time. I know where my watch is buddy, where the heck is yours? Do I point at my crotch when I ask where the bathroom is?

When people say "Oh you just want to have your cake and eat it too". What good is a cake if you can't eat it? What, should I eat someone else's cake instead?

When people say "It's always in the last place you look". Of course it is. Why in the world would you keep looking after you've found it? Do people do this? Who and where are they?

When people say, while watching a movie "Did you see that?" No, moron, I paid $9.00 to come to the theatre and stare at the frigging ceiling up there. What did you come here for?

When something is "new and improved", which is it? If it's new, then there has never been anything before it. If it's an improvement, then there must have been something before it.

When people say "Life is short." What the...?? Life is the longest friggin' thing anyone ever does!! What? Are they going to do something that's longer?

When you are waiting for the bus and someone ask you "Did the bus come yet?" If the bus came, I would not be standing here, genius!

People who ask "Can I ask you a question?" Didn't really give me a choice there, did ya', buddy?

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Many Years to Xenia!

(DISCLAIMER: This is long; it started as a mere account of this chrismation and rapidly turned into an explanation of the actual sacrament for those unfamiliar with what it is that we crazy Orthodox folk actually do here. Forgive me if things are out of order...we've boxed up some of my files and I can't find the rite of chrismation booklet I kept from my chrismation, so if anyone can remember better than I can how the service goes, let me know).
Last Saturday we gained a new sister in Christ, the newly illumined Julie Xenia, who was chrismated at St. Antony's Orthodox Church in Tulsa, OK. It's always wonderful to witness new brethren and, um, sistren coming into the true faith, as it reminds all Orthodox Christians exactly what we "signed up for," whether we converted later in life or grew up in the faith.

The first pic is one of Audra and Jules at the back of the church w/Fr. George; his lighthearted manner put everyone at ease. It's easy to get nervous and uptight about important events like this, and he does a good job at reminding us not to take ourselves too seriously while taking our faith very seriously.
The prayers of exorcism followed, where Satan is bound and cast out. The catechumen officially and vocally denounces him and unites him/herself to Christ, and the priest prays over her that she would be freed from her former delusion and walk in the ways of truth.
This new day dawning in her heart is shown by the candle you see there, the flame of which is taken from the Holy Altar at the front of the church. Our God has decended from Heaven and spreads the light which is our Life as we respond to Him in faith; this illumination begins the moment we believe...but we ain't done yet!
Now that we have begun our lives in Christ through faith dawning in our hearts, we are led into the Body of Christ, the Church, through the ministers appointed by Christ and His apostles, where we can be taught the Faith as was the Ethiopian eunuch who knew he could not fully understand the Truth without someone to teach him. The soon-to-be Xenia grabbed ahold of Father's stole (which, no kidding, is called "the thing that goes around the neck" in Greek; don't ask me to spell it), and he leads her to the front of the Church, where she is to have the priest's hands laid on her to receive the Holy Spirit.
Xenia then kneels and confesses the Orthodox Faith as it's been practiced and believed by Christians for nearly two thousand years, after which she stands and venerates (that means "honors" for those unfamiliar with the term) the image of Christ on the cross, as well as the Gospel book on the table in front of her. She is then anointed with the holy oil, which is a continuation of the biblical practice of the laying on of hands to receive the Holy Spirit. (Chrismation was practiced almost immediately in the Church, as the apostles were quite quickly unable to personally receive all converts through the laying on of hands, and so distributed oil to priests/bishops which had been blessed by them to administer the filling of the Holy Spirit in their stead. We believe this is witnessed to in the "unction" and "anointing" mentioned in I John 2:20, 27, as well as the seal of the Holy Spirit which St. Paul refers to in 2 Cor.1:21-22.)

The oil is administered on the forehead, eyes, ears, mouth, chest, hands and feet, both as a sign of and at the same time a very real filling of each of the new believer's body parts and senses -- our thoughts, sight, hearing, words, meditations, actions and destinations in life, respectively -- with the always-abiding presence of the Spirit of our God.
She is then led around the table three times (three times around for the Trinity, obviously, and around the cross and Gospel, recognizing them as the new center of her life), while the hymn from Scripture is chanted, "As many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ, alleluia!"

(Most Orthodox in North America admit anyone into the Church who has already been baptized in water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in another Christian confession by chrismation only; this isseen as a way to "fill in that which was lacking" in a non-Orthodox baptism and, thus, make it a true and full baptism, with all the grace God originally intended His creatures to receive upon returning to Him.)
After the initiate finishes the walk around the table, the chrism is washed off, as the priest declares what has already been done -- the newly illumined has been "washed ... sanctified ... justified ... illumined ... by the Spirit of our God."
The rite ends with the priestly blessing and the veneration of the Holy Cross, and is followed by fasting and the Eucharist, which in Xenia's case occurred the following morning at Sunday Divine Liturgy.

We're so thankful that we were blessed to be at this event that had been so long in the making; glory to God for the reception of Julie Xenia into the Church, and may God grant her many years through the prayers of St. Xenia of Petersburg.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

No Dentist Left Behind

by John Taylor © 2002
Used by permission of the author.
Originally titled: "Absolutely No Dentist Left Behind"

My dentist is great! He sends me reminders so I don't forget checkups. He uses the latest techniques based on research. He never hurts me, and I've got all my teeth, so when I ran into him the other day, I was eager to see if he'd heard about the new state program. I knew he'd think it was great.

"Did you hear about the new state program to measure the effectiveness of dentists with their young patients?" I said.

"No," he said. He didn't seem too thrilled. "How will they do that?"

"It's quite simple," I said. "They will just count the number of cavities each patient has at age 10, 14 and 18 and average that to determine a dentist's rating. Dentists will be rated as Excellent, Good, Average, Below Average and Unsatisfactory. That way parents will know which are the best dentists. It will also encourage the less effective dentists to get better," I said. "Poor dentists who don't improve could lose their licenses to practice in South Carolina."

"That's terrible," he said.

"What? That's not a good attitude," I said. "Don't you think we should try to improve children's dental health in this state?"

"Sure I do," he said, "but that's not a fair way to determine who is practicing good dentistry."

"Why not?" I said. "It makes perfect sense to me."

"Well, it's so obvious," he said. "Don't you see that dentists don't all work with the same clientèle; so much depends on things we can't control? For example," he said, "I work in a rural area with a high percentage of patients from deprived homes, while some of my colleagues work in upper-middle class neighborhoods. Many of the parents I work with don't bring their children to see me until there is some kind of
problem and I don't get to do much preventive work. Also," he said, "many of the parents I serve let their kids eat way too much candy from a young age, unlike more educated parents who understand the relationship between sugar and decay. To top it all off," he added, "so many of my clients have well water which is untreated and has no fluoride in it. Do you have any idea how much difference early use of fluoride can make?"

"It sounds like you're making excuses," I said. I couldn't believe my dentist would be so defensive. He does a great job.

"I am not!" he said. "My best patients are as good as anyone's, my work is as good as anyone's, but my average cavity count is going to be higher than a lot of other dentists because I chose to work where I am needed most."

"Don't get touchy," I said.

"Touchy?" he said. His face had turned red, and from the way he was clenching and unclenching his jaws, I was afraid he was going to damage his teeth. "Try furious. In a system like this, I will end up being rated average, below average or worse. My more educated patients who see these ratings may believe this so-called rating actually is a measure of my ability and proficiency as a dentist. They may leave me, and I'll be left with only the most needy patients. And my cavity average score will get even worse. On top of that, how will I attract good dental hygienists and other
excellent dentists to my practice if it is labeled below average?"

"I think you're over-reacting," I said. "'Complaining, excuse making and stonewalling won't improve dental health'...I am quoting that from a leading member of the DOC," I noted.

"What's the DOC?" he said.

"It's the Dental Oversight Committee," I said, "a group made up of mostly lay-persons to make sure dentistry in this state gets improved."

"Spare me," he said. "I can't believe this. Reasonable people won't buy it," he said hopefully.

The program sounded reasonable to me, so I asked, "How else would you measure good dentistry?"

"Come watch me work," he said. "Observe my processes."

"That's too complicated and time consuming," I said. "Cavities are the bottom line, and you can't argue with the bottom line. It's an absolute measure."

"That's what I'm afraid my patients and prospective patients will think. This can't be happening," he said despairingly.

"Now, now," I said, "don't despair. The state will help you some."

"How?" he said.

"If you're rated poorly, they'll send a dentist who is rated excellent to help straighten you out," I said brightly.

"You mean," he said, "they will send a dentist with a wealthy clientèle to show me how to work on severe juvenile dental problems with which I have probably had much more experience? Big help."

"There you go again," I said. "You aren't acting professionally at all."

"You don't get it," he said. "Doing this would be like grading schools and teachers on an average score on a test of children's progress without regard to influences outside the school — the home, the community served and stuff like that. Why would they do something so unfair to dentists? No one would ever think of doing that to schools."

I just shook my head sadly, but he had brightened. "I'm going to write my representatives and senator," he said. "I'll use the school analogy — surely they'll see my point."

He walked off with that look of hope mixed with fear and suppressed anger that I see in the mirror so often lately.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

An Excellent Dialogue

For those of you who listen to the Our Life in Christ broadcast (which is one of the links down on the sidebar to the right), check out this most recent addition to the audio archives; it's the guys who usually do the show being interviewed on an Evangelical radio show in the Phoenix area by a fellow who was quite impressive in his ability to engage them in respectful, meaningful dialogue about what the Church claims about herself. It is NOT a debate, mercifully, but rather truly respectful questions from an obviously knowledgeable Evangelical who truly did grasp what Steve and Bill were saying. It's the good part of an hour, so it's long, but worth the time.

Joyous News...

This morning we were blessed with a call from Audra's maid of honor, "Jules" (For Julie Ann), confirming that, yes, this weekend will be the weekend, after a long string of inconveniences and delays, that she'll be chrismated at St. Antony's in Tulsa! She says she's decided to take the name Xenia. Audra's been her sponsor for a while now, so were not ONLY busy prepping the house to show to buyers, but now ALSO prepping to go to Tulsa for the weekend! May God grant her many years!

Cartoon Me

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Sunday Afternoon at Benbrook Lake

This past Thomas Sunday was marked, post-liturgy, by a refreshing and spontaneous decision to chuck all household chores (especially getting ready for an in-city move) in favor of an outing to Benbrook Lake, just to the west of Fort Worth. We packed a picnic, which you see to the right, and enjoyed the giggles of Anza as she tried to be like Momma and Papá and eat our crust and drink our juice like a big girl. We got run off by ants and gnats, however, so we slathered some sunblock on wifey and chiquitita and headed across Benbrook Dam, which overlooked the lake. I had Anza on my back in one of those little backpack thingies, and there was plenty to see, including the ginormous daffodill skeletons there...seriously, those things are ridiculous. Anza really liked talking while we hiked across the dam; we got into a marching rhythm of, "HUH-uh, HUH-uh, HUH-uh" as we went, the sun on our backs and the grass swishing past my legs.

I know there are many folks like St. Francis who are much more in tune with life outside the concrete jungle than this city boy, but I have to say that, for all the power and the glory of God I have seen in His sanctuaries (Ps. 62:2, LXX), there's something about nature that just breathes a prayer back into and out of me with little or no effort on my part and provides a lasting impression of He who clothes lilies and feeds sparrows, He who holds the universe in the palm of His hand. The heavens do declare the glory of God, and the firmament in all its overgrown, chigger-riddled wonder, does show His handiwork...and it's a dang good thing that "Day unto day utters speech / And night unto night reveals knowledge" (Ps. 18:1-2, LXX), 'cause I'm dang sure quick to forget that very glory whose light is meant to illumine me brighter than the very sun that tuckered out the little one...

Also...tonight during evening prayers, Anza was, of course, wanting to be a little clown and honk Momma's nose, start a giggle fight, the usual...when I looked over there, Anza caught my eye, spit out the paci and, as she's been doing for about the past week or so whenever I come in the room, said "¡Papá!" loud and clear, accent on the second "A" and all. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, her first word has to do with me, and it's in Spanish. Couldn't be prouder; looks like I'm doing somethin' right...