Sunday, January 30, 2011

Because It's My Blog...

...and one's blog is about oneself, here's what I've done recently...

From time to time I've gone with a singing group here at SVS and sung responses to services, helped put on concerts, etc. We went to Harrisburg, then to York, PA the weekend before classes started and sang the Vespers responses in the former parish (Christ the Savior, OCA) and the Divine Liturgy responses in the latter, followed by a concert (St. John Chrysostom, AOANA). The concert was recorded on YouTube (LINK) and pictures are on the SVS website (LINK).

Also, I was asked to write a little reflection-type blurb on Theophany for the "Seminarians Speak" section of the SVS website. (LINK)

I am on the preaching schedule for my Exegesis for Preaching class, during which I'll be preaching in front of my classmates, once on a gospel reading, another time on an epistle. As if that weren't intimidating enough, as a new curveball for those in my year, we've also been put on the chapel preaching schedule as second-year students (instead of beginning this in the last year, which I believe has been the custom) I get to preach in front of the whole freaking seminary muuuuch sooner than I expected. Joy. Your prayers are coveted.

Finally, I went to the March for Life, as I posted below. That...has been interesting. More later.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Little Ones

Our seminary community was rocked recently with the tragic, very late-term death of the unborn child of our dear friends, Adam and Trish. Please say prayers for them; the newly-reposed saint is Evelyn Martha. They have a young son, named Luke. I have seen two other infants' funerals. Just when I think the caskets can't get any smaller...

Several of us went with them from St. Vladimir's to St. Tikhon's in South Canaan, PA, where the fathers at the monastery were so kind as to provide us with a burial plot for Evelyn on such short notice. St. Vladimir's, for its part, covered all of the family's funeral expenses. Seminarian families are keeping them fed; this is the Body of Christ in the midst of tragedy. Please keep us all in your prayers.

I will be leaving in about a half and hour to get on the bus for Washington D.C. to participate in my second March for Life. This is made difficult because of Kate's getting sick over the past day and a half or so. Please also say prayers for her, and for my poor wife who is left (by her knucklehead husband) to deal with such things. She wouldn't hear of my staying home because of it, to her credit (and to cover my own rear, I guess). I don't expect domestic policy to be rocked in this country; I've been told by some that it's a bit of "Martha, Martha," in an age where other things could (and should) be done. Mostly, I look forward to going again to pray as we walk. Pray for travelling mercies as we from SVS go with our brothers from STS to pray for the unborn.

I was blessed to read Col. 3.12-16 in church yesterday. This is one of my favorite passages of Scripture. Not be be overly dramatic, but should God will I not return from this outing, I feel there's precious little I could add to that as some "last words." I did, however, kiss and make the sign of the cross over my wife and three girls as they slept. Legacies are made of simple things, for better or for worse, like laughter, (which Laura's doing a lot of, recently) and sharing mango with red pepper (Hope's new favorite snack, courtesy of Papi).

Should I return, though, the oath of reading such things in the congregation of the faithful and sealing it with the fruit of our common thanksgiving will stay with me and over me. Would that I be bound together with others through love as tendons bind bones.

Friday, January 07, 2011


Yesterday Orthodox Christians on the Revised Julian Calendar celebrated the baptism of Christ in the Jordan river; today those on the Old Julian Calendar celebrate the Nativity of Christ in the flesh. Blessed Feasts to all!

The hymnography of Theophany is thought-provoking, as are all the hymns of the Church; several hymns make mention of the absurdity of John the Baptist, a mere creature, baptizing the Creator of the Universe in a baptism of repentance. How can the lamp baptize the Light? John asks. More to the point, why would the One Who dwells in unapproachable Light and is immaculately pure need to submit Himself to a rite designed for purification and repentance? Even more to the point, why would He demand that those who would follow Him undergo a similar rite? We know that those who are baptized into Christ are baptized into His death (Rom. 6.3); such a rite is no mere "expression" but a participation in the very death of Christ. So why would Christ undergo a rite--and one that actually was a mere expression of repentance--when He Himself was to suffer the very death and burial in which we would participate? Is His baptism meant to be a focal point for our baptism?

Father Stephen Freeman points out that no where in the Law is Christ's baptism demanded, yet the reason in the text of Matthew is that such a baptism is necessary to "fulfill all righteousness." Having passed through the whole of the Law's demands, he thus submits Himself to the one who is the greatest of the prophets and bears witness to the fact that this one--the one commemorated in the Church the day after Theophany--is the harbinger of a new existence, which is inaugurated by the baptized One.

Such an existence, however, is not effected by His baptism, nor even by His Incarnation. As Fr. Stephen points out, the character of Christ's baptism is very much like the character of His resurrection, and this is important to the matter at hand. St. Paul mentions that, when Christ was raised from the dead after emptying Himself on the Cross, He was given the name above every name and revealed as Lord. St. Cyril of Alexandria makes much of the fact that the very reason why Christ is called ο Χριστος, "The Anointed One," is because He has been anointed by the Father by the Holy Spirit, both in the rivers of the Jordan and in the Resurrection from the dead (Acts. 10.38, 40, 42). What makes our contemplation of Christ in the Jordan so, well, epiphanic is that this One on Whom the Spirit descended and remained is the One Who has ever been thus anointed since before the foundation of the world, for He has been slain since before any of what we see existed (Rev. 13.8). This is definitely something that clashes on our postmodern ears, which are used to linear, cause-and-effect arguments. But the manifestation of the Ever-Crucified One in the rivers of the Jordan means quite a bit to us, if we let it.

Firstly, it means that we are never without One who suffers. Christ our God, paradoxically, is One Who suffers from all eternity--not in the mere manner of "painful" which we are accustomed to hearing, but in the way of changing through participation in another. During one of the house blessings which we had on campus following the liturgy on the Feast (Orthodox Christians customarily have their houses blessed with holy water in the weeks following Theophany), I spoke with a young man contemplating seminary, and we spoke at length about theodicy, the idea that an omnipotent and good God allows suffering. The idea that God is not only no stranger to suffering but also eternally familiar with it is something that can be of immense comfort for us.

This comfort, however, should not be a mere justification of our anger towards God at a fallen world, a mere bit of psychological transference or Schadenfreude at the Creator's getting "a bit of His own medicine." If anything, it is an invitation to suffering that man can, finally, accept, for we are called to drown with Him and understand through this witness of martyrdom (the very word μαρτυς, from whence we get martyr, means witness) that the One who bids us suffer will raise us with Him.

Blessed (after)Feast.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

New Year

A bit of miscellany on this first morning of the New Year:

We have been in and around Kentucky for the past couple of weeks; Lord willing, we'll be back in New York early this coming week. It was a white Christmas in Sturgis, though unlike New York, the snow has the good sense to come down in a quantity of an inch or two--enough to make a few snow angels, throw a few snowballs--and then go away. You could say I'm less than thrilled about returning to the Frozen Apple.

We also visited the Jefferson Davis memorial, which was closed, of course, since it was Christmas Eve. This is the plaque out front. I constantly marvel that Kentucky, a border state in the Civil War, was the birthplace of the presidents of both nations involved in the conflict. On a related note, Audra's relatives in Sturgis gave me Ken Burns' PBS documentary on the Civil War on DVD; it was instantly considered a masterwork on the War and still retains said status. Very much looking forward to once again viewing the very thorough, balanced, poignant take on the War.

Having depleted my supply of Tito's Vodka just before leaving for Kentucky, I took advantage of my time here to replenish the "medicine cabinet," as it were, with some Four Roses bourbon, complete with a couple of tumblers. Seminary is often made bearable, survivable really, when one has good friends over for a shared meal and libations to follow. As this, my favorite bourbon, is mostly unavailable outside its commonwealth of origin, I'm grateful for the chance to have some within reach.

On my way today to pick up said bourbon, I passed St. Brigid Catholic Church in Vine Grove, KY. The communities around here are quite strongly military, being just a stone's throw away from Fort Knox, yet there's still livestock and crop farmers around in this very rural, very blue-collar area. As such, I always like to see historic, traditional Christian churches in areas such as these, and especially those whose builders had the good sense to make a church look like a church (and any overt devotion to the Celtic saints never hurts, of course).

Also out front is the crèche with Christ present; we have recently begun to introduce Nativity traditions such as the empty crèche prior to Nativity and an altered version of the Advent wreath (six red candles with one large white one in the middle to reflect our liturgical colors and preceding Sundays). It was surprising to see such an aware, Catholic community doing those things that are Catholic during Christmastide; it's refreshing and too seldom seen today; kudos also for being active enough in such a small, rural community to be able to run the school shown in the background.

Tonight we stayed up to greet the new year--all except the oft-smiling Laura, that is, who went down mercifully easily tonight. The time with grandparents has been bittersweet; we're not sure if this will be the last Christmas season in Kentucky for us for a good long while. If were are placed as a clergy family following seminary, the holidays are largely booked and travel is often right out (though the girls may all get away from time to time when the wee ones get older).

We spent a wonderful evening playing card games (Uno, and Phase 10). I grew up playing Uno and the rummy game Shanghai with my mother, aunts, and grandmother, and consider the activity to be one of the lost treasures of visitation and company. A classmate of mine from South Dakota speaks of long, winter evenings where snowed-in families were automatically bound together by this pastime. Hope and Kate stayed up the entire time; we were shocked not to find them collapsed in a heap in the back play room before calling them in to watch the ball drop (and watch their perplexed faces at why so many people would pay to stand in a public street, in the cold, surrounded by all that noise and light...yeah, we're anxious to leave NY). The sparklers were, of course, wholly on a whim and just too fun not do do. And, yes, we were all outside without coats. 50 degrees, on New Year's Eve. God bless the South.

Could not pass up the $3.15 mini-bottle of Maker's Mark at the liquor store check out; my father-in-law and I split it at midnight in a toast to the new year. May our Lord, God, and Savior, Jesus Christ continue to be with us all, making the good confession with us as we seek to proclaim His death and resurrection in quiet godliness and dignity (yesterday's reading in 1 Tim., cf. 1 Tim. 2.2). Blessed civil New Year to all.