Monday, December 29, 2008

Back to Work

I awoke on Christmas Eve morning with a sinking feeling...

In preparing all of the bulletins for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the Sunday after Christmas earlier in the week, it occurred to me as I woke up that morning that there was one hole I didn't remember filling. I remembered that on one of the drafts, there was no Agnus Dei listed during communion, and when I prepared the draft, I typed a quick note in that spot to the Cantor. The note said something like, "Hey! Whatcha gonna do about Agnus Dei? Lemme know."

I remembered writing the note on the draft, but I didn't remember replacing my note with the text that was supposed to go in that spot. Suddenly, I found myself being less bummed that I had to go to work on Christmas Eve morning, and instead I was sort of grateful I had to go. One of those bulletins needed fixing. Sure enough, when I got to work that day, I found my note to the Cantor, right there in all of the printed and folded and stuffed bulletins for the Sunday after Christmas. Oy.

I was glad for the opportunity to catch it and fix it, Christmas Eve or not.

So after a little time off when I got to work this morning, I started making a list of tasks I've got coming up this week and next. I realized as I looked at the calendar that I have 7 worship bulletins and 1 hymn festival program to prepare over the next two weeks: The Name of Jesus (1/1), Christmas 2, an Ordination bulletin for Sunday afternoon, Epiphany (1/6), a Morning Prayer and an Evening Prayer bulletin for next week's Conference on Liturgy, the Hymn Festival program for the Conference, and Baptism of Our Lord. (Feels a little like Holy Week!)

This week and next - no notes to anyone in the text of the bulletins!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Memory Eternal

With much sadness, we said goodbye today to the Archpriest Mileta Simonovic, friend of our parish and friend of our family (and father of my godmother).

Fr. Mileta died last Sunday morning after a brief illness. He will be missed by all who knew him.

From his obit:
He served Jesus Christ and His Church with a profound faith and with the utmost love and respect. His belief in the Resurrection was sure and unwavering; a great source of joy, which he shared with his family and all those with whom he came in contact.

May his memory be eternal!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christ is Born!


Having seen this very description and explanation of the icon of the Nativity several years ago, I was happy to see it again today at the blog of Fr. John Fenton, and thank him for publishing it, so that I could share it here also.

What is the meaning of the icon of the Lord’s Nativity?
In this icon, the whole Gospel message of the incarnation of our Savior from the Virgin Mary is depicted, along with details added from the Holy Tradition. In many Nativity icons there are a multitude of details, in others less. In the diagram above, taken from a drawing for an icon, we can identify at least nine major elements.

The focus of the icon, of course, is on the birth of our Lord from His most pure virgin mother Mary (1). The Blessed Virgin is shown larger than any of the other figures, reclining on a mat or blankets, and looking not at her new-born Son, but rather with love and compassion towards her spouse, St. Joseph the Betrothed (8), and seeing his affliction and bewilderment over this most strange and divine birth. He is shown in the left bottom corner, conversing with Satan (7), disguised as an elderly, hunchback shepherd. The posture of St Joseph is one of doubt and inner trouble, for he wondered if it might be possible that the conception and birth were not by some secret human union. How blessed he was to serve the Mother of God and her divine Son, in spite of these thoughts and temptations, and to protect her from the evil gossip of the people who could not yet possibly understand so great a mystery. Tradition relates that Joseph was an elderly widower, thus having white hair and beard.

Our Lord is shown in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, “for there was no room for them in the inn” (cf. Luke 2). The back-drop for the manger is a dark cave (3), which immediately reminds us of the cave in which our Lord was buried 33 years later, wrapped in a shroud. In the cave are an ox and ass, details not mentioned by the Gospels, but which are an invariable feature of every icon of the Nativity. The scene is included to show the fulfillment of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “the ox knows his Owner, and the ass his Master’s crib, but Israel does not know Me, and the people has not regarded Me” (Isaiah 1:3).

Above this central composition, in the very center of the icon is the wondrous star (2) coming from heaven, which led the Magi (6) to the place where our Savior lay. Tradition speaks of the Magi being representative of all mankind: one being young (beardless), one being middle-aged (in the center of the group, and one being elderly (closest to the cave). The star reminds us of the heavenly orb we see on icons of the Theophany, or Pentecost, wherever divine intervention is indicated.

The cow (animals) and star illustrate that all creation rejoices at the birth of the Messiah: the lowly and the great, the earthly and the heavenly.The holy angels (4) are seen both glorifying God and bringing the good tidings of the Lord’s birth to the shepherds (5) who look in awe at the angles. The fact that Jewish shepherds and heathen magi were among the first to worship our Lord shows us the universality of this great event, meant for the salvation of all mankind.

The final detail of this icon, the scene of the washing of the Lord (9) is an element that has caused some controversy over the ages. In some churches of the holy monasteries of Mount Athos, the scene in the frescoes has been deliberately obliterated and replaced with bushes or shepherds. There was a prevailing opinion that this scene was degrading to Christ, who had no need of washing, being born in a miraculous manner from a pure virgin. But we retain this image on our icons, being part of the holy tradition passed on to us; truly it does not degrade the Lord, but magnifies Him, as is evident in the prayer that is appointed to be read at the time of Baptism for the midwife of a child: (from the Old-rite Potrebnik, 2nd Prayer for the midwife) “O Master, Lord our God… Who didst lie in a manger and didst bless the midwife Salome who came to believe in an honorable virginity…” (According to Tradition, Salome was a daughter of St Joseph by his previous marriage.) Who, more effectively than a midwife, could testify to the divine and virginal birth? Therefore we do well to understand the importance of this blessed scene.

Finally, as we look at the icon as one united composition, we can only be filled with joy, not only because of the bright colors and the festive activity depicted thereon, but for the joyous news of our salvation so clearly proclaimed by it. In it, all creation rejoices at the birth of our Lord: the heavens (a star and angels); the earth (the mountains, plants and animals), and especially mankind, represented most perfectly in the figure of the new Eve, the most pure Mother of God.

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!
Wishing all a peaceful and blessed feast.

Monday, December 22, 2008

My Favorite Ornament

The Christmas Nail

"It is to be hung on a sturdy branch, a branch near the trunk, a branch that will hold such a spike without being noticed by well-wishers dropping by to admire one's tinseled tree.

The location of the nail is known only to the home that hangs it. It is understood only by the heart that knows its significance.

It is hung with the thought: The Christmas tree but foreshadows the Christ tree which only He could decorate for us, with nails such as this."

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Pre-Christmas Snowstorm

We're having a good winter snowstorm in the Twin Cities today. It started this morning and it's rumored that it won't wind down until tomorrow at around suppertime. Being stuck in the house means that we're able to get a few items crossed off our pre-Christmas to-do list:

Last night we got our Christmas tree up and decorated - finally.

Today we worked on holiday baking. So far we've managed to crank out rosettes, krumkake, lefse, lebkuchen, and carmel puffcorn. Would have been nice to make some fruitcake, too, but we didn't have the right supplies on hand -- and we're not going out to get them! Sis and a couple of friends joined us for lefse and krumkake making this morning, and they were able to take some goodies home for their own enjoyment and entertaining, too.

It's my week to bake prosphora for church. Taking a baking tip from a more experienced baker at church, I baked late last night (her thought being that if it doesn't come out well on Friday night, she still has Saturday to take a second run at it). Mine seemed to turn out OK last night, but the trick will be getting it to church. Normally, bakers are to have it at church by Saturday Vespers - but we're not driving across town in this weather for Vespers tonight. Our priest said that he'll stop by after Vespers this evening and pick it up - unless it's even worse by then, in which case he'll stop early in the morning instead (the bread is needed during liturgy preparation long before people get to church).

Sis had errands to run after our baking session and a show to attend this evening, so today we are puppy sitting (ideally) until after the show, when she plans to come back and pick the puppy up. But I'm just guessing that we will be hosting a sleepover ...

I also came up with a simple Christmas letter to go out with cards, got some laundry done, and even managed to tidy up a bit.

DearHusband has a lovely pot of soup on the stove and some bread in the oven for supper, and it looks like we will sort of hunker down here for the night - should give me a bit of time to work on Christmas cards.

Then all we have to do is the Christmas shopping. But we have good lists and can hopefully take care of that on Monday evening, leaving us Tuesday to wrap. Who knows? Shopping at the last moment might even lead us to find some great bargains.

Whew!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Vortex

I get this same sensation every year about this time - like I'm on the outside edge of the great Holiday vortex, and there's little I can do to keep from getting sucked in, spinning faster and faster until December 26.

Priorities for this weekend (not in order of importance): Haircuts for me and YoungerSon, purchase and decorate a Christmas tree, get someone to snap a family photo for Christmas cards (then write the Christmas epistle and get the cards in the mail), bake bread for church, make lefse and krumkake, choir rehearsal and Vespers and church, get a couple of new tires on the front of my car, laundry, and Christmas shopping Sunday afternoon (we haven't even started!).

Next week it will be work (which is plenty busy just now, though I'm in much better shape there than I am at home as far as preparations for Christmas are concerned!), wrapping gifts, church, and the trek to southwest MN and back on Christmas Day (I'm really hoping for better weather this year!).

I am beginning to think that the Old Calendarists are on to something. To celebrate Christmas thirteen days after the rest of the world would certainly afford any American Christian a few days to actually contemplate the meaning of the feast.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Bad Icons

I will use my last post as a fairly lame transition to a fine re-post by my favorite blogger.

Bad Icons
By Father Stephen Freeman

"And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit." (2 Corinthians 3:18).

It is a teaching of the Fathers concerning the holy icons that we do not truly “see” them if we have no reverence for that which they depict. Icons are “windows into heaven,” but not in a manner that objectifies heaven. Thus even icons that some may consider badly painted reveal the very depths of heaven if they are viewed by a saint.

By the same token, even badly marred images of Christ in other human beings can reveal the depth of the love of God if seen by the eyes of a saint.

And so the mystery of the holy icons seems to work from both sides. For the viewer, the icon is a window to heaven (if the viewer is indeed looking for heaven). And for those who are not looking for heaven, icons, including their human forms, become opaque, and we see only the reflection of our sinful self.

I like good icons, and would gladly fill my Church with them. But I want to become the kind of viewer who could see heaven if it were shown me (else even good icons become a waste) - and I’d like to be the kind of icon in which someone could see heaven if they were looking (else I become a scandal to the name Christian).

What seems inescapable to me is that there be icons. If you outlaw them in the Church, they will still occupy the Church in the persons of the congregation. We cannot say, “Only read the Scripture, do not look at me as an icon.” Nobody gets that kind of free ride as a Christian. You’re an icon whether you like it or not. And there will be other images as well - either well done reflecting heaven itself - or poorly reflecting everything other than heaven. But there will be icons.

God give us grace to rightly honor the windows to heaven He has opened for us, and to be a window to heaven for all who see us.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Who Would YOU Say He Is?

Each week as I prepare the Sunday bulletin at the church where I work, I have to select an image or graphic for the cover. I try to choose an image which is related to the Gospel text for the day, but some weeks this is easier than other weeks.

To assist me in this task, I have several CD-ROM disks full of images - some even arranged according to the appropriate Sunday. Sadly the publishing house of the church for which I work has published 3 such series of images for every Sunday use, and the images have become worse with each edition (their latest series is stick people - stick people! I simply refuse to use images which depict Jesus Christ or the saints or anyone else as stick people.) Anyway, I most often use art from a very nice Roman Catholic resource I also have there.

So for Lutherans, this week's Gospel lesson is the testimony of John the Baptist - where everyone's asking John, "Who are you?" and after all their guessing, John describes himself as the "voice of one crying in the wilderness." You all know the story...

The Catholic resource I regularly use did not have an image for this particular lesson - which was sort of strange (it's not like it's some kind of obscure reading that no one's ever heard of or something). Sadly, I had to opt to use an image from one of the other resources.

So here's the cover of this Sunday's bulletin. Who would YOU say that he is?



Looking at him here, I would not guess the Messiah, or Elijah, or the prophet.

Here's who I would have guessed he is:



He is not the light -

but he has come to bear witness to the freshness of the vegetables canned at the factory in LeSuer, MN.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

No Fugitive Chickens

I finally called our local City Hall to find out whether our city ordinances allow us to keep a couple of chickens. Turns out it's fine (as long as there isn't a problem with noise or smell).


So we wait until spring - and then have my brother-in-law pick up a couple of babies for us, and drive down to pick them up. These months in between will give us time to prepare appropriate accomodations.

Yay!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Another Great Recipe for Advent

Pasta e Fagioli - quick and delicious!

Ingredients:
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can (16-ounce size) Italian plum tomatoes, drained, chopped
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried basil, crumbled
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
1 can (15-ounce size) cannellini beans (white kidney beans), rinsed, drained
Salt and pepper
8 ounces elbow macaroni, freshly cooked (we used rotini, it's just prettier!)

Directions:
Heat 3 tablespoons oil in heavy large skillet over medium heat.
Add garlic and saute until brown, about 2 minutes.
Stir in tomatoes and cook 5 minutes.
Add parsley, basil and oregano and simmer until tomatoes soften, stirring occasionally and breaking up tomatoes with back of spoon, about 15 minutes.
Add beans and cook until heated through, about 5 minutes.
Season with salt and pepper.
Place pasta in bowl.
Toss with remaining 1 tablespoon oil.
Pour sauce over and toss thoroughly.

(on a non-fasting day, top with freshly grated parmesan cheese)

Recipe courtesy of CDKitchen

Seeking Christ

A good - and for me, timely - reflection on community from Fr. Ted Bobosh:


Seeking Christ: The Parish as Crowd

"Every parish gathering is a time for people to come to be near Christ. As in the Gospels, people came to Christ for all kinds of reasons - some to hear Him, some to see Him, some to oppose Him, some to touch Him, some to be healed, some to be fed, some to trap Him or trick Him, some to be His disciples, some out of curiosity, and some out of animosity, some in hope, some in despair, some to debate Him, some to stop Him, some to be comforted by Him, some to learn from Him, some to be praised by Him, some just to touch the hem of His garment and some to be glorified by Him. Whatever the reason, they came and crowded around Christ - friend, foe, follower. And He allowed it. He didn’t chase away the curious or the hostile, the needy or the greedy, the hungry or those full of themselves. And just as the bishop notes in Leskov’s novel On the Edge of the World, some really do just want to touch the hem of His garment and not become His disciples or his ambassadors. He welcomes them all blessing some, bantering with others, shepherding and being lamb, teacher and foil, giver of light and lightening rod.

Such is my image of what any parish is. People come for Christ, but the reasons they come are as varied as those in the crowds who followed Jesus 2000 years ago. Some come because of faith, and some because of doubt, some want to be His disciples, and some just want their needs met, some are very serious and devout while others are casual and careless, some are legalistic while others are lazy, some are righteous and others are repentant, some are true believers and others truly do not know what to believe. That is what a living parish community is like. People’s faith grows and changes and wanes and strengthens because that faith is alive and involves a living relationship with God and with others. They all come for Christ, and it is not our job to protect Christ from the crowd, nor to chase away those who come to Him for reasons different from our own, nor to send them away when we are tired of them (Jesus didn’t approve of any such behaviors from his inner circle of original disciples).

We all should come to the parish gathering with that same attitude - be it like Zacchaeus, or the woman with the flow of blood, or the disciples, or the Pharisees, or the scribes, or the Gaderene townspeople, or the blind, or like Herod, or the hungry, or the sick, or those wanting to help a friend. The crowds may jostle for position or sit down and wait to be fed or cause Christ to get into a boat to get out of reach. Do not fear their tears, their diseases, their anger, or their judgments, their questions, their righteousness or their sins. Marvel at why so many are attracted to Crucified Lord, the humble savior, the rejected healer.


“Jesus is the truth. In Him is all truth. … The Savior gives no direct answer, either affirmative or negative, to (the Baptist) John’s disciples who questioned Him about His mission. He tells them to report to John what they have seen. … We must keep on perpetually seeking Jesus. ‘Seek, and you shall find’ (Matt 7:7). Yes. But also: because you have found, you will seek further. We shall cease to look for Jesus only at the end of time. The discovery of Jesus will not exhaust our search for Him as long as we have not obtained the final vision. St. Augustine says it:… let us search after Him who has been found. … The question which Jesus asked the soldiers who came to arrest Him - ‘Whom do you seek?’ - recalls the question asked of the first two disciples: “What do you seek?’ (John 1:38) The expression, ‘all seek for You’(Mark 1:37), addressed one day to Jesus by the disciples, does not cease to be current. Some seek Jesus in order to join Him, others in order to render Him powerless. If only these two groups were distinctly separate! Alas! In our condition of sinful men we belong intermittently to one or the other group.” (Fr. Lev Gillet, JESUS: A DIALOGUE WITH THE SAVIOUR)

True enough. But Christ did not order His disciples to send away the hungry nor the hateful. He did tell us all to seek and promised we would see great things."

Saturday, December 6, 2008

St Nicholas the Wonderworker and Archbishop of Myra

Saint Nicholas, the Wonderworker, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia is famed as a great saint pleasing unto God. He was born in the city of Patara in the region of Lycia (on the south coast of the Asia Minor peninsula), and was the only son of pious parents Theophanes and Nonna, who had vowed to dedicate him to God. As the fruit of the prayer of his childless parents, the infant Nicholas from the very day of his birth revealed to people the light of his future glory as a wonderworker. His mother, Nonna, after giving birth was immediately healed from illness.

From his childhood Nicholas thrived on the study of Divine Scripture; by day he would not leave church, and by night he prayed and read books, making himself a worthy dwelling place for the Holy Spirit. Bishop Nicholas of Patara rejoiced at the spiritual success and deep piety of his nephew. He ordained him a reader, and then elevated Nicholas to the priesthood, making him his assistant and entrusting him to instruct the flock. In serving the Lord the youth was fervent of spirit, and in his proficiency with questions of faith he was like an Elder, who aroused the wonder and deep respect of believers.

Constantly at work and vivacious in unceasing prayer, the priest Nicholas displayed great kind-heartedness towards the flock, and towards the afflicted who came to him for help, and he distributed all his inheritance to the poor. There was a certain formerly rich inhabitant of Patara, whom St Nicholas saved from great sin. The man had three grown daughters, and in desparation he planned to sell their bodies so they would have money for food. The saint, learning of the man's poverty and of his wicked intention, secretly visited him one night and threw a sack of gold through the window. With the money the man arranged an honorable marriage for his daughter. St Nicholas also provided gold for the other daughters, thereby saving the family from falling into spiritual destruction.

In bestowing charity, St Nicholas always strove to do this secretly and to conceal his good deeds. The Bishop of Patara decided to go on pilgrimage to the holy places at Jerusalem, and entrusted the guidance of his flock to St Nicholas, who fulfilled this obedience carefully and with love. When the bishop returned, Nicholas asked his blessing for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Along the way the saint predicted a storm would arise and threaten the ship. St Nicholas saw the devil get on the ship, intending to sink it and kill all the passengers. At the entreaty of the despairing pilgrims, he calmed the waves of the sea by his prayers. Through his prayer a certain sailor of the ship, who had fallen from the mast and was mortally injured was also restored to health.

When he reached the ancient city of Jerusalem and came to Golgotha, St Nicholas gave thanks to the Savior. He went to all the holy places, worshiping at each one. One night on Mount Sion, the closed doors of the church opened by themselves for the great pilgrim. Going round the holy places connected with the earthly service of the Son of God, St Nicholas decided to withdraw into the desert, but he was stopped by a divine voice urging him to return to his native country. He returned to Lycia, and yearning for a life of quietude, the saint entered into the brotherhood of a monastery named Holy Sion, which had been founded by his uncle. But the Lord again indicated another path for him, "Nicholas, this is not the vineyard where you shall bear fruit for Me. Return to the world, and glorify My Name there." So he left Patara and went to Myra in Lycia.

Upon the death of Archbishop John, Nicholas was chosen as Bishop of Myra after one of the bishops of the Council said that a new archbishop should be revealed by God, not chosen by men. One of the elder bishops had a vision of a radiant Man, Who told him that the one who came to the church that night and was first to enter should be made archbishop. He would be named Nicholas. The bishop went to the church at night to await Nicholas. The saint, always the first to arrive at church, was stopped by the bishop. "What is your name, child?" he asked. God's chosen one replied, "My name is Nicholas, Master, and I am your servant." After his consecration as archbishop, St Nicholas remained a great ascetic, appearing to his flock as an image of gentleness, kindness and love for people. This was particularly precious for the Lycian Church during the persecution of Christians under the emperor Diocletian (284-305). Bishop Nicholas, locked up in prison together with other Christians for refusing to worship idols, sustained them and exhorted them to endure the fetters, punishment and torture. The Lord preserved him unharmed. Upon the accession of St Constantine (May 21) as emperor, St Nicholas was restored to his flock, which joyfully received their guide and intercessor.

In the year 325 St Nicholas was a participant in the First Ecumenical Council. This Council proclaimed the Nicean Symbol of Faith, and he stood up against the heretic Arius with the likes of Sts Sylvester the Bishop of Rome (January 2), Alexander of Alexandria (May 29), Spyridon of Trimythontos (December 12) and other Fathers of the Council. St Nicholas, fired with zeal for the Lord, assailed the heretic Arius with his words, and also struck him upon the face. For this reason, he was deprived of the emblems of his episcopal rank and placed under guard. But several of the holy Fathers had the same vision, seeing the Lord Himself and the Mother of God returning to him the Gospel and omophorion. The Fathers of the Council agreed that the audacity of the saint was pleasing to God, and restored the saint to the office of bishop. Having returned to his own diocese, the saint brought it peace and blessings, sowing the word of Truth, uprooting heresy, nourishing his flock with sound doctrine, and also providing food for their bodies.

Having reached old age, St Nicholas peacefully fell asleep in the Lord. His venerable relics were preserved incorrupt in the local cathedral church and flowed with curative myrrh, from which many received healing. In the year 1087, his relics were transferred to the Italian city of Bari, where they rest even now (See May 9). The name of the great saint of God, the hierarch and wonderworker Nicholas, a speedy helper and suppliant for all hastening to him, is famed in every corner of the earth, in many lands and among many peoples. In Russia there are a multitude of cathedrals, monasteries and churches consecrated in his name. There is, perhaps, not a single city without a church dedicated to him.

It is impossible to list all the grace-filled icons of St Nicholas, or to enumerate all his miracles. St Nicholas is the patron of travelers, and we pray to him for deliverance from floods, poverty, or any misfortunes. He has promised to help those who remember his parents, Theophanes and Nonna. St Nicholas is also commemorated on May 9 (The transfer of his relics) and on July 29 (his nativity).

Jesus Christ

Christ is depicted with his right hand raised in blessing. In his left hand, the Gospel Book. His nimbus bears within it a Cross and the Greek letters for the words for "He Who Is." His cloak is blue, to symbolize His humanity which he put on in His Incarnation, and His tunic is red, to represent His divinity - that He always was in eternity.
Text source

Here's an icon painted by an impulsive painter.

Wanting to paint an icon of Christ, I scoured the internet and various books to find the right prototype. Of course there were literally thousands out there. I found one which I thought would be the perfect prototype, printed it, painted it, and now I cannot find the source.

It seems that the icons of Christ the Lifegiver, Christ the Lightgiver, and Christ the Teacher are all very similar. In fact, as I looked to see just which of these my prototype actually is, I found that all three icons, based upon the Pantocrator icon, share the same characteristics: right hand raised in blessing, nimbus with the symbolic Greek letters for "He Who Is," the red and blue garments. I suspected the difference was in whether the Gospel Book in his hand was open or closed. Yet this was not the case, either, as I found images of icons of all three with both open and closed books.

As I looked online for the title of this particular icon, I noticed that someone else had the same question - how does one tell the difference? The answer on the site I visited was that the icon always says which it is, Lightgiver, Lifegiver, Teacher. Looking again at my prototype, I noticed that it simply says "ICXC," - Jesus Christ.

This icon, along with the icons of St. Thomas and St. Peter the Aleut, will be blessed tomorrow morning at church.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Baking Church Bread (Again)

So one of the things I'd hoped to accomplish over this long weekend was to complete my assignment from the little prosphora-baking class a couple of weeks ago. That assignment was a 2-parter: to do this on my own (outside the watchful eye of the prosphora-matron of our church and her daugher who are our parish's resident experts), and also to try and get a decent looking seal on the bread.

In the middle of my Sunday afternoon nap, I awoke and realized that I hadn't yet done this, and that I probably wouldn't have time again until next weekend (if then, as weekends sometimes get away from us) so I got up and got to work.

The mixing was as easy at home as it seemed to be at the little tutorial, thanks to the dough hook on our mixer. The machine did the most laborious of the work, the kneading. Rolling out the loaves was a snap - the only challenge being to get pieces of the same size together.

We had a resin prosphora seal which has belonged to DearHusband since some year BC (before -C) and then last weekend a fellow-class participant gave me an extra wooden one that she had - we'd heard that wooden ones were best. The pattern on the seals is slightly different, but I decided that since the recipe makes 4 loaves, I'd stamp 2 loaves using each of the seals to see which one turned out better.

The loaves seem to have turned out OK! They're still hot, and I'm leaving them to cool now. But the imprints seemed to turn out about equally well on all of the loaves - and more importantly, the image is pretty clear on all of them. I just wasn't planting the seal deep enough the first time, I guess. ElderSon is the only member of the family who gets an up-close look at the prosphora each week, and it seemed to pass muster with him.

I found a great website with some helpful hints about baking church bread. I loved the following from his introduction:

A word to the beginner...
Baking is an art. That means, just because you followed the recipe doesn't mean the bread always comes out the way you intended. Just like singing or painting icons, it takes some practice and still there will be mistakes. Go easy on yourself as you learn. Don't pour holy water in the dough or make long prayers in front of your first loaf, since you will more than likely be feeding it to the birds or wishing you could put jam on it as you eat your mistakes. You are not in the 5th century, so you don't bake bread daily. If you do bake every day, then your prosphora probably comes out pretty reliable. For those of us in this century, it takes years to acquire the skill...and still we have problems. After all, yeast is a living creature. Most of all, enjoy learning! It is the Christian calling to grow in the life with God, and so try to grow as a baker and continue developing your skills all your life. Learn from your mistakes, glorify God for your successes and never cease to relish the feel of well-kneaded dough!


So, my class assignment is finished, except we will have to eat one of the loaves for supper tonight. (They might look OK, but who knows? They might be completely raw inside or something!) So tonight for supper - salmon, cauliflower and practice prosphora.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Apostle Andrew, the First-Called


Let us praise Andrew,
the herald of God,
the namesake of courage,
the first-called of the Savior's disciples
and the brother of Peter.
As he once called to his brother,
he now cries out to us:
"Come, for we have found the One
whom the world desires!"

The Rite Thing

A response to Steve, from a conversation begun here. (I know that for the occasional visitor to this blog this post is sort of coming out of left field. Forgive! But as I contemplated this response, I realized that my own blog is a more appropriate forum for my thoughts as they are personal in nature.)

Steve writes:

"... Are we really so parochial that one can't or ought not, when shown the fidelity and integrity of a doctrine from another denomination, incorporate that doctrine into ones own tradition so long as it isn't in fundamental disagreement with ones received doctrine?"

This is a rhetorical question upon which I'd like to comment:

Yes, of course one can. But speaking only for myself, I eventually wanted to incorporate more and more all the time - so much that it just made more sense to stop asking "how can I incorporate this tradition/doctrine to enhance my own faith life," but to ask instead, "why am I not a part of this faith tradition - what's holding me back?" When the answer to that question seemed to be not doctrinal but sentimental sorts of things which pointed to what I want, prefer, like, and am accustomed to and comfortable with, for me, those were just not justifiable reasons to remain (that doesn't mean they aren't perfectly justifiable reasons for someone else to remain - but it wasn't enough for me.)

Over time I had developed a sort of dual-personality in my church life. I was happy enough in my Lutheran parish and very comfortable, but I grew to want - and need - things from it that it simply couldn't deliver. I was not being fair to myself or to my parish.

I didn't leave the Lutheran Church to worship a different God. I became Orthodox to worship the same God I had always known in a fuller way, and to reclaim for myself those things of the church which are my birthright as a Christian; things the Lutheran Church had abandoned long ago in the name of sola scriptura. I found such things to be important and necessary for me as I feebly work out my salvation here on earth. (Now there's some words which made me squirmy as a Lutheran!!). I left because I had come to find more agreement doctrinally with the Orthodox than I had with the church in which I was raised (the faith which baptized and nourished me for half a lifetime, for which I will always be grateful).

It took a bunch of years for me to realize that I had become, in fact, a closeted Orthodox Christian - and that all that was keeping me from being Orthodox was my own pride, stubbornness, emotional attachments, and fear (and to know me is to know that I have plenty of each!). But remaining in the closet was killing me, spiritually.

So yes, one can incorporate such helpful things into one's personal journey and faith life. But when these things are not also incorporated by the Church, it sort of separates one from the church body, no? I eventually realized that I had become a dismembered part of the Lutheran body - and so I left it to find wholeness (and for a myriad of other reasons). It wasn't an easy thing to do, but it is, as I told Dwight in a private email, the most important and honest thing I've ever done.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Practical Pet Possibility

OK, last spring I mentioned in this forum that I thought it might be sort of neat to have a couple of chickens to supply and support my Lenten pysanky habit.

Then this past summer, when DearHusband and the boys were visiting his mom in southwest MN, he learned that his brother is keeping some chickens (to supply his really-fresh-egg-eating habit.) These chickens are being kept in the garage on the QT - for some reason this little town has an ordinance against residents keeping chickens. During that visit, DearHusband visited his brother's house and got a look at his chickens - 4 Buff Orpingtons (he also snagged a dozen eggs to bring home and found them in every way to be better than the old grocery store eggs).

So when he returned from his visit home last summer, DearHusband waxed eloquent about his brother's chickens - how quiet and sweet they were, and how lucky his brother is to have fresh eggs so close at hand.

Well, today on our visit to DearHusband's hometown for Thanksgiving, I took my brother-in-law aside and asked him about his chickens (because, of course, my mother-in-law has no knowledge of these fugitives), and he told me to hop in the car and he would take me to see them for myself. Because his invitation came precisely at the beginning of the great washing of Thanksgiving dinner dishes, I accepted his offer.

Well, I must admit that I could see why DearHusband took an instant liking to these girls - they were sweet, indeed - affectionate, even , with my brother in law. There were 4 fresh eggs waiting for him when we arrived! They were quiet and beautiful. He told me all about how to take care of them and also about what good pets they actually are, too.

So now I think I might want a couple of chickens. Not a whole coopful or anything, just a couple - maybe 3.

I'm not sure what our own city ordinances allow in terms of chickens. I do know of a couple of urban chicken farmers in Minneapolis. But we are actually in a suburb of St. Paul, so I'm thinking I have to check with the city to see what the rules are. So I'm going to call tomorrow and see.

Just for good measure, DearHusband encouraged me to call from my cell phone and not the land line (City Hall's only 2 blocks away) ...

Listening and Hearing

I'll get a bunch of listening time today as the Transposzing family journeys to southwest MN to celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends there.

I'm hoping that it will be a good opportunity to listen to The Path to Prayer, the much-raved-about podcast series presented by the OCA's new Metropolitan, +Jonah.

DearHusband graciously downloaded this 5-part series to my MP3 player, and I have listened to the first of the five parts. In fact, I've listened to that first part three times. And the truth is I could listen to that first part about 3 more times and still hear things I missed (such is the way of life for this distracted Christian). This first part speaks so directly to many things in my life at the moment - and at all moments, really.

If the other 4 parts are anything like the first part, I will have edifying and very helpful listening material for the next year.

May God grant me ears to hear.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Fasting Time Favorite

One thing I look forward to during fasting times is our regular visit to Que Viet on Saturdays after Vespers.

Their hot & spicy mock duck is awesome - almost too much of a treat to eat during the fast.
(But we eat alot of it during those times!)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Happy Feast!



"Truly this woman is the abode of heaven."

From the Kontakion for for Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Weekend in Review

Friday - Our 15th wedding anniversary, and a perfect reminder to me that I am the luckiest woman in the world. We went out for a lovely dinner together with ElderSon (YoungerSon was playing at a friend's house that evening) - a nice way to celebrate the day.

Saturday morning - With much sadness, the Transposzing family said goodbye to our sweet old cat, Bob. Bob had been failing noticeably in the last couple of months, and then dramatically in the last few days. Our sister in law - a veterinarian - graciously made a housecall on Saturday and ended his suffering in the comfort of his home. He was the last of our original family of 5 felines (when we got married, DearHusband had 3 cats and I had 2). For the first time in our lives together, our family is down to 1 cat and 1 litterbox. He was a fixture in our family. We miss him.

Saturday morning/afternoon - I was delighted to participate in a little baking seminar. The prosphora-matron of our parish and her daughter hosted a tutorial session for those who wanted to learn to bake church bread. So a few of us gathered for an educational and fun afternoon of baking. We prepared 2 batches of bread, one kneaded by hand and the other utilizing the kneading dough-hook of a Kitchen-aid mixer (OK, I'm glad that we have one of these! Mixing food with my hands has always been a bit weird for me. I can do it, but I am averse to being up to my wrists in dough - I just don't like stuff on my hands. My mom always warned me that this quirkiness would render me useless as a bread baker). Anyway, the prosphora seemed to turn out fine, but I gotta work on the imprint a bit (the imprint on mine completely disappeared during rising and baking. Guess I have to push the stamp in a little deeper).

During the rising and baking, we enjoyed a delicious lunch together, which was a fun opportunity to get to know each other a little better. After baking, we sent one batch of 4 loaves to church for Sunday's liturgy, and we divvied up the other batch of 4 loaves among the participants, with the instructions to take it home and eat it (most of our loaf was gone before Vespers that afternoon!). My assignment from the class: go home and try again to get a decent imprint on the loaves, and when I get that down, call the prosphora-matron and get a spot in the baking rotation. Okay, then.

Sunday - Having just received notification that our cookbook proof was on it's way, I spent Sunday afternoon and evening madly printing out all of the original recipes I'd received for the book by email, and assembling them with the hard copy recipes that I'd been handed, in order that the proofing crew can compare the original submissions and the cookbook proof to be sure that all is in order before the book is printed. (Other committee members used coffee hour after iturgy to do some quick recruiting of a proofing crew, but we discovered when the proof was delivered yesterday that it was only a proof of the cover - so the heat's off that crew for about a week, it seems. But still, I'm very happy that I got it all done on Sunday anyway).

Monday - a return to my regular schedule, which I welcomed.

I am a hopeless creature of habit and routine.

Monday, November 17, 2008

4 AM: It's the New 5 AM

The whole Daylight Savings Time thing always screws me up.

I'm usually an early riser, anyway. I always set the coffee to start brewing at 5 AM and most mornings end up manually turning in on shortly before then.

So out goes daylight savings time and now I'm up at 4. It'll be months before my internal clock gets used to it.

I gotta start staying up later.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Book Meme: Round Two

Emily has tagged me in what for me is the second round of the Book Meme.

Results from Round One can be found here.

So once again, here are the rules:

Pick up the closest book to me and:

1. turn to page 123
2. count the first five sentences
3. post the following three sentences

From Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Called by God by Elizabeth Raum (borrowed from a friend)

"His resistance work required him to travel through Europe trying to convince church officials to support the Resistance fighters in their plot to overthrow Hitler. Dietrich's success depended on his ability to convince church leaders of the truth of his claims. These church officals, in turn, would try to convince the political leaders of their countries that the German Resistance was at work and in need of assistance."

I couldn't think of 5 who hadn't been tagged when I played the first time last January - I am having even less luck now.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Many Years



... to the OCA's new Metropolitan, +JONAH.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

To Everything There Is A Season

Except that these days we seem to have a bit of confusion over exactly what the season is.

Eager to make sure that we have enough time to have ALL of our figgy pudding and to eat it, too, it seems that Christmas in America is now upon us. How did that happen? Christmas carol jingles on the radio, Christmas gift and toy catalogues with the morning paper, and Facebook - with it's ideosynchratic weirdness - has friends doling out virtual Christmas gifts and virtual Christmas trees and virtual Christmas ornaments to one another in grand gestures of holiday generosity. And this has been going on for at least a couple of weeks! The celebration of the feast is apparently upon us. So much for letting "every heart prepare him room."

Sheesh.

Dickens' Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (from "A Christmas Carol") might just have been on to something.

And just when I thought it was safe to turn the television back on.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

When Your Kid Wants to Paint an Icon

What do you tell him?

I wasn't sure.

I'm in a sort of practice period iconographically-speaking. I'm between classes at the moment, wanting to paint, to improve technique and to - well - get better at it. And so I've been spending some time painting icons. YoungerSon, who has always been rather artistic, has lurked about alot while I'm painting, asking all sorts of questions. Some time ago, he asked if he could paint one, too. I initially hemmed and hawed a bit and tried to put him off, uncertain just how all that works for kids (I'm still trying to figure out how all that works for grownups!)

So, not getting a clear answer from me, he plowed ahead and began to search for a prototype (he'd already picked the saint he wanted to paint). So I figured it was time to either give him the go ahead or put the kibosh on it for the time being. I sent an email to my priest, and explained that YoungerSon has been nagging me to paint an icon, and I asked him if it was OK for me to share what I know and allow him a chance to try it here at home with me, until an appropriate class comes up for him.

My request was met with enthusiastic support from our priest, and so we jumped right in. He is learning much from this experience! (So am I!) I worried initially that he would become very frustrated very quickly and just bag it - but he seems to be more persistent in this endeavor than in his other artistic ventures (where when he doesn't like where a drawing is going he simply throws it away and starts over - or not). He is struggling a bit to get his hand and brush to duplicate what he sees in the prototype, but he's sticking with it.

When I initially contacted my priest for a go-ahead, he suggested that I also contact the iconographer who painted most of the iconography in our church, who is a friend of his and a friend of our parish, to see if he had any advice about how to approach iconography with an inquisitive 11-year old.

His response:
"Let him paint, paint, paint. This should be done with joy and enthusiasm. When questions come, answer honestly and clearly.
This advice goes for you and me too, and for all of us children dabbling out our attempts to paint the divine. If a spark is glowing in an 11 year old, don't hinder the Holy Spirit from blowing on it."

Wonderful advice for YoungerSon, and also for me.

Accent? I Don't Have an Accent!

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Inland North
 

You may think you speak "Standard English straight out of the dictionary" but when you step away from the Great Lakes you get asked annoying questions like "Are you from Wisconsin?" or "Are you from Chicago?" Chances are you call carbonated drinks "pop."

Philadelphia
 
The Northeast
 
The Midland
 
The South
 
The West
 
Boston
 
North Central
 
What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz


OK, I do call carbonated beverages "pop."

St. Peter the Aleut

A native of Kodiak Island, Alaska, Tchounagnak, whose Christian name was Peter, worked at the Russian outpost of Ft. Ross in California. When the Spanish colonial government ordered the expulsion of the Russian-American settlers in 1816, Peter was arrested with 13 other Aleuts. Jesuits came to the prison at night to torture them to renounce Orthodoxy and embrace Romanism. They cut off Peter's fingers one joint at a time, then his toes, until they had cut off his hands and feet. He bled to death. Upon hearing this from one of the surviving Aleuts, St. Herman stood before an icon and pronounced, "Holy New Martyr Peter, pray to God for us!" He is portrayed in his baptismal gown. He is holding a Cross to show his martyrdom. His hand is raised to show that it is fully restored in the resurrection!

Text source: Come and See Icons

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Looking for Salvation in All the Wrong Places

If we, as Christians, have placed all of our hope in a political candidate - whether it is the candidate who won the election or the candidate who lost the election, then we probably deserve to have that hope dashed.

Obama isn't going to save us. McCain wouldn't have, either.

This is the blanket comment I would like to leave in all of the comboxes of those who are either ecstatic with the election results or who are abysmally depressed over them.

Outta Whack

hmmm.

Seems I'm sort of under construction here. I'm not sure how my blog layout got all outta whack - but it did. I've been thinking that perhaps it's time for a facelift anyway, as I've been inspired by a couple of my regular reads who have lovely new layouts!

I've changed the template so the material is readable for the time being, and will see if I can come up with something a little more aesthetically pleasing over the next few days ...

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Post-Election Wisdom

From Fr. Stephen Freeman of Glory to God for All Things:

The Death of Religion

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Puppies!

Sis is looking for a canine companion to replace the beloved boxer that she lost several months ago. I'm not sure just how she ended up with these 2 adorable sisters (Australian Shepherd-Lab mix littermates), but she's got them both for a week. Even though she isn't looking for a puppy - and especially not 2 puppies - she's fostering these pups for the next week, sort of being a practice-puppy-parent. She will have the option of keeping one or both of them at the end of the week if it works out.




She brought them over to our house to see if we could discern a preference for one over the other. Indeed we could! DearHusband preferred "Spot" and I preferred "Brownie" (not their real names, of course - because to name them is sort of a commitment, and she isn't willing to make a commitment just yet.)

It was a bit of a frustrating day for the Transposzing family today. ElderSon got "clotheslined" this afternoon while running through the neighbor's yard (he saw the lines that were pulled tightly, but didn't see the sagging line, which caught him under his nose as he ran, knocking him backwards on his bum and sending his eyeglasses flying into the leaves somewhere. We looked and looked and could not find them.

Shortly thereafter, while DearHusband and YoungerSon were taking a friend home from post-church play, they were riding in our van and randomly, one of the huge side windows in the van just shattered. There is no evidence of a hole in the window from a rock or (heaven-forbid!) a BB or bullet of any kind - but every inch of the window is shattered. Weird.

Thankfully, the 1-hour eyeglasses place from which we purchased ElderSon's lost glasses was still open and in their last open hour of the day, made him a new pair of glasses.

Thankfully, YoungerSon had moved out of the seat next to the shattered window and up to the front passenger's seat just moments before the window shattered - so no one was hurt in that strange incident.

Sadly we are out $160 for new glasses plus whatever it will cost us to get the van window replaced.

But thankfully, Sis brought these delightful girls over for a bit this afternoon, which sort of makes these and the other frustrations of the day melt away for a bit. What's better to take your mind off your frustrations than a couple of puppies?

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Apostle Thomas


The grace-filled Apostle and true servant of Christ cried out in repentance: Thou art my Lord and my God.

"Many deride Thomas for his unbelief in the resurrection of Christ, thus we have the expression that someone is a "doubting Thomas". But it was through his honest expression of doubt that we were given a greater proof and knowledge of the reality of the bodily resurrection. Thomas touched the wounds of Christ and exclaimed: "My Lord and my God!" (John 20) After Pentecost, the lot fell on Saint Thomas to preach the Gospel in India. He was dismayed at having to journey so far from home, but Christ comforted him. He founded a Church there and converted many to the faith, ordaining priests and bishops. When the Mother of God reposed, the Apostles were miraculously borne to Jerusalem for her funeral. Once again, God used Thomas' late arrival to reveal precious truth. He arrived after Mary had been laid in her tomb. He went to reverence her body, but when they opened the tomb, it was empty. Christ had taken His Mother to his heavenly home. Two of Thomas' converts were the sisters Tertiana and Mygdonia, who were both wives of Indian princes. They were reviled by their husbands for their faith, who then divorced them. Tertiana's husband, Prince Misdaeus, was so outraged with Saint Thomas for baptizing his wife and his son, Iuzanes, that he sent five soldiers after Thomas. They ran him through with their lances."
Text source

Friday, October 31, 2008

Grumpy Americans

It seems to be a particularly grumpy time in America just now. I know I'm grumpier than usual (and I'm actually a little grumpy to begin with, so this is a particularly bad thing for me) - and really think I could benefit from a five-day media strike. Five days - that oughta do it - until the election is overwith.


I find that I don't have time for much of anything that anyone's got to say at the moment - because it's all about politics and "why my-candidate-of-choice is the righteous candidate and the other candidate is just-plain-evil." As if it's not bad enough that we are bombarded with negative campaign ads by the TV, radio, newspapers and just about every other news source - now even much of the Christian blogosphere has turned from thoughts and writings of God and Church to negative campaigning for their candidate of choice - mostly based on a single issue. (Not all of my reads have succumbed to this, thank God, but a whole bunch of them have).

We might say or think that it's all a bunch of bunk anyway and that we really aren't listening to it - but you know what? We are hearing it whether we are listening to it or not ... and it does affect us. It's evident in the way we go about our daily lives, in the way we think about each other and interact with each other. Negative campaigning is weaving itself in the fabric of pre-election American culture, and it isn't pretty.

It's exhausting and it makes me not want to vote at all.

But of course, that would be un-American.





Thursday, October 30, 2008

When?

Did they stop looking like this?




And start looking like this?





Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Critically Orthodox?

I'm critical (just ask anyone who knows me!) and I'm Orthodox.

But this is not for me.

There was a time when I might have been curious enough to consider visiting such a place, just to see what was going on. I'm afraid those days are gone.

Maybe this is directed at some other kind of critically orthodox person.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Weekend Traveling

The Transposzing family returned last night from a brief visit to out of town family in SW Minnesota and NW Iowa, traveling the first leg of the journey Saturday afternoon to Sanborn, MN to stay overnight, and leaving there early Sunday morning to be at our niece's Confirmation in NE Iowa by 9 am.

The trip down there was beautiful - rolling prairie hills and almost-harvested fields, the trees were at or just-barely-past peak, so it was great for autumn sight-seeing.

As we neared our Saturday destination, DearHusband pointed out the wind farm at Buffalo Ridge, which was visible on the horizon. It was sort of eerily strange to see the long line of huge turbines on the ridge, spinning and harvesting the renewable resource which is in no short supply in that part of the state - wind. The turbines stood looming next to the trees and the barns and the elevators, looking a bit out of place, yet I thought they were a hopeful sort of a vision. This turbine was right next to the road and it was sort of cool to see one up close.

After the confirmation service in Iowa on Sunday, we had a wonderful lunch and began the journey home. It was very windy, but sunny and beautiful when we left Iowa, but about halfway home we noticed the skies turned that familiar shade of gray - not the sort of gray that the skies turn when it's going to rain, but that very distinct gray it gets when it's going to snow. Shortly thereafter it did snow - and the combination of snow and wind made for that sort of long drive that I dread. But after about an hour of the wind and snow (we saw children sliding in one town!), we drove out of the snow and finished the trip in only a little rain.

I wasn't ready for snow just yet.

I'm still not ready.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Fourth Photo Meme

Nabbed from Mimi!

The instructions: Post the 4th photo from the 4th folder of photos on your computer.

As I explained in the comments on her blog, it was never my intention to post any of the pictures from this folder - except for the little piece of one of these photos which is my blog masthead. My own thoughts in not posting them was originally to preserve the privacy of those in the photo. But it occurs to me that about everyone in this photo is already pictured somewhere else on the web, so why not?

The 4th photo from my 4th folder of photos (taken at my Chrismation with the camera on my sister's cell phone - of all the things to forget that day, we forgot our camera):

Monday, October 20, 2008

Clouds

These are just the coolest clouds I've ever seen.

I took these photos one evening a couple of weeks ago from our deck and driveway. Every direction I turned revealed a different pattern in the sky...and the patterns changed almost as fast as I could turn around. They were all taken from roughly the same spot within about 5 minutes.

They were amazing.



















Mystery Worshipper

A great post today from Fr. Jonathan Tobias on his blog. Second Terrace:


Mystery Worshipper
“To try to keep their flocks, churches are turning to inspectors, who note water stains, dull sermons and poor hospitality.”

This was the grab-line splayed atop a recent Wall Street Journal article about “mystery worshippers.”

The phrase is not so bad by itself. It sounds mystical and refreshingly outright religious. It could be the name of some neo-pagan group which is looking for some institutional endorsement so that its practitioners can get a free parking token at the local hospital. The Wicca leader/shaman/coven-coordinator can wear the same badge that my brother (who is a protestant minister) and I (who am not) wear at AGH Forbes. Why not “mystery worshippers”?

(by the way Ben, you need to pick up your new badge: it’s still hanging in the file close to Ms. Wicca)

But then I read the article, and my hopes are dashed. I would have preferred honest-to-goodness pagans: this kind, which is pagan with all sorts of self-conscious smugness but without the earthy rootin’ tootin’ Eleusinian cachet, is a big bad bore … I mean, boor.

The “mystery shopper” of WSJ fame is a suit-and-tie guy who leans pensively on a pew, with his left arm draped casually over the top lip of the wood, with an inchoate mainline color-swirly pretending to be a stained glass window in the background. For a few thousand bucks, this guy (and other “consultants” like him) will sneak around your church and grade you on your sidewalks, Kleenex, parking-lot greeters, greeters in the “sanctuary” (sic), and the sermon. He is kind of cutesy in that his evaluations are couched in the kindergarten-ese of “yellow light,” “green light” and “red light.”

(please ... what are "parking lot greeters"? the only "parking lot greeters" I've run into are the Gubi/Bethlehemers at my friend's place, who run out at you on Christmas Eve shaking collection-cans for the poor, I suppose, and frankly, that has a lot more to do with Halloween than Nativity Eve)

This particular “shopper” is a former AG minister who charges $1500 plus travel expenses for a site inspection, worship-service (sic) evaluation and detailed report (over 50 pages). He complains about musty odors in the children’s room, the unkemptness of tissue boxes at the end of pews, faded stripes in the parking lot, the length and quality of the sermon, weeds in the churchyard, scary bathrooms and dustbunnies, and the relative charm of the greeting staff (you know, the people who are wearing the “Hi, My Name is Blank” stickers that peel off cleanly only from textiles that flame out in 2 seconds).

The philosophical framework for this program was established by my erstwhile friends in the Church Growth Movement, the Fuller Brush Crusade. These are the peeps who brought us that fundamental bon mot “There’s no such thing as sheep-stealing, only sheep-feeding.” These are the ones who equated recruitment with God’s Will, and who inflicted the idol MBO on churches, and that cocytus, geryonic emblem called “The Mission Statement” upon even the elect.

But what set this program into motion was a recent event. A 2008 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that 44% of American adults have switched their “religious affiliation” (another sic). Ergo, “Church leaders say they’re seeking new ways to assess their services and evaluate everything from the style of music to how comfortable the pews are as they court fickle churchgoers.”

Selah.

Mind you, I’m all for friendliness and welcome. I discourage, in my parish and anywhere else that will listen, the habits of uncivil behavior and the attitudes of tetchiness, clannish strife, and xenophobia. I encourage niceness and forgiveness, and patience with us converts who are still trying to find their way in the Big House of God.

But, mind you, I also encourage devotion. We cense wafts of ascension that carry our prayers, despite their hardship on respiration. We endure long services and a ritual that offends the modern knee. We confess, not anonymously or in a group, because we recognize (contra Oprah) the growing need for shame nowadays, because of that four-letter word called "sin" (which we are not afraid to utter out loud: "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner" -- an anti-consumerist statement if I ever heard one).

I call myself and my friends to repentance because we remember that God is Love, but He is also Terrible. He is Good, but Wild. He is Ineffable, Inconceivable, Invisible, Incomprehensible: there is no room in the commercial church for a wild God Whose Name is above all Names.

Do you really need to spend $1500+ for someone to tell you where your cobwebs are? Can’t your baba’s point them out and your gentlemen kill the spiders with their brooms? Or maybe the ceilings are too high, and you’ve got those hellish mercury lamps, and your meeting space is like a modern contemptible theater whose lines are intentionally diffuse, designed to meld with the audience consciousness so that passions can be aroused all the more efficiently. Maybe the grounds are too large and impregnated with carcinogens so that your old guys can’t mow the lawn and pray while they sweat under the sun? Maybe the children should be in Liturgy instead of being cooped up with their kind while they rehearse the jingles of a sesame street catechesis.

Maybe there are too many hallways if you can’t clean them, too many parking spaces if you can’t paint them, too many people if you cannot know them.

Maybe your building/facility/praise-center/corporate-office is not a real building. Perhaps its design is so inhumane, so unearthly, so offensive to the Created Order that time itself will quickly wear it away. Perhaps your successor will fire Mr. Harrison and the “mystery worshippers,” and put up a Cross instead. Perhaps, even, an iconostasis. The usual megachurch design is one of the reasons why Creation groans: it cannot believe that the children of Adam could inflict upon it such a grievous erection.

Maybe people are shifting listless, like tumbleweeds, from one “affiliation” to another, because no one has the guts to tell them that the Creed is the only Symbol, and the Eucharist is the sole Constitution of Life. The people are wandering the wilderness, looking for manna, but their particular “Moses” cares only about the lay-out of the camp, and how neat are the latrines.

Here I will lodge the most uncharitable thing I’ve written on this phosphorescent page: the reason why more people aren’t Orthodox is because so many other places say that they are just as effective substitutes.

No, they are not. If “mystery worshippers” have the “wisdom” (last sic) sought and paid for by the commercial church, then it is not real wisdom that is bought, and it is not the Church that is doing the seeking.

So, Mr. Harrison, Mystery-Worshipper that you are, it's too bad that you're not a pagan like your title implies, because you'd have been so much more fun. But as a consolation, take this invitation to come to the St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church.

Leave your red lights in your car, and set your clipboard aside. There will be evaluations made, to be sure. But they will be made on you. And not by me or anyone else (that is, of the creaturely sort).

There is an Evaluation, but we call it Judgment. Until that Day, Church is a moment and a place to repent and to pray, to believe and to become.

I am sure the usual discomforts of people and house will bother you: but all these “bothers of the brothers” are only the first calls to leave the world and to escape the Sheol of your "comfort zone."

Only God comforts, but He does so under the Sign of the uncomfortable Cross.

A little difficulty, a little discomfort, a little discipline and hardship helps to start you off, to take up your Cross and follow Him.

(The logo is from a site I used to visit now and again for a laugh - Ship of Fools. The "Mystery Worshipper" is a regular feature of their site.)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Halloween: Finding a Balance

OK, I'm personally not a huge fan of Halloween - never have been, even as a kid. But now as an adult with kids of my own, I'm not at all religiously conflicted about it, as some seem to be. I don't worry that allowing my kids to go trick-or-treating once a year means that we are somehow participating in that which is "of the devil." For my own kids, their participation in Halloween only means participating in that which is "of the candy" - and that's it. At our house, we have never made a big theological issue of Halloween, and our kids have never exhibited any sort of a crisis of faith because they dress up in a costume and go trick-or-treating once a year. They know it's about fun - and not about anything more than that.

For our own simple Halloween traditions, we've encouraged our kids to stay away from macabre costumes, we've tended to stay away from houses that seem just a little too over-the-top in yard decorating, and we limit the amount of candy-collecting time they have (nobody needs to have that much candy around the house). We've mostly stuck to taking them to the homes of neighbors we know.

But whatever the origins of Halloween are - the observance has come a long way from druids and the sacrificing of livestock to appease the evil spirits. To my knowledge - none of that sort of thing goes on in my neighborhood. We have not concentrated on any "evil" aspect of the day (if there even is one anymore). For us it's about fun and candy, and that's pretty much it.

As I said in my previous post, I know some bishops and priests have come down pretty heavily, forbidding those in their jurisdictions and parishes from participating in any way - and of course those whose clergy and hiercharchs have have admonished their flocks not to participate must deal with this themselves - or not. But as for me and my house - our priests and heirarch have said nothing about it that I have heard or that I can find. And I have complete trust that if allowing our kids to go trick-or-treating on Halloween were, in fact, so perilous for our spiritual lives, our priests and bishop would address it publicly - and annually.

Ultimately, though, I think it's a question of balance. While we as Christians are to strive to live lives of faith and holiness, we aren't monastics. Unlike monastics, we have to live in the real world. More importantly, our kids do, too. So instead of forbidding our kids to participate because "it is evil," we tend to take the emphasis off fear and evil, and place it on fun, and let them have some on this day. It's as evil or as innocent as parents choose to make it. We can either make our kids afraid of that which is "of the world" (turning off our lights and locking our doors, refusing to answer with a piece of candy when trick-or-treaters arrive), or we can teach our kids to live in the world as Christians.

Steve Robinson put it very well in his comment on the last post, "we must engage culture instead of sitting in our churches casting stones at it." He's exactly right. I'd even take Steve's comment a little further to also say that we must engage culture instead of running away and hiding from it or pretending that it just doesn't exist.

Now this doesn't mean that there aren't some things to which parents must just say "no," - there are many such things. I'm just not sure Halloween is one of them.

(All that being said, I don't really understand why some parents who are so concerned about keeping Halloween evil out of their homes don't seem to be as concerned about television and computers with internet access, where evil abounds and preys unceasingly on our children. And I don't really understand why those aforementioned clergy and hierarchs choose to make a big deal of what they perceive to be a one-day-of-the-year "evil," while completely ignoring all of the other evils which confront us and our children every day.

But perhaps I can blame my lack of understanding about such things on convert ignorance ...

Anyway, here's another good Halloween option for Orthodox Christians, complete with Orthodox guidelines.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The First of a Couple of Posts About Halloween

I've noticed with a little interest (and virtually no surprise) some recent posts by Orthodox blogger-parents who have decided that their families should not participate in any observance of Halloween because they believe that it is at odds with their faith.

I know that some priests and bishops in some jurisdictions have issued statements about it, and I don't wish to contradict anything they have said on the subject, only to offer my own views as a parent and an Orthodox Christian. So I'll do so over a couple of posts (though it hardly deserves 2 posts, really).

So I thought I'd begin by sharing the following as a possible alternative for those strongly opposed to allowing their children to trick-or-treat. DearHusband forwarded to me this portion of a discussion a couple of years ago, shortly after Halloween. He said it was posted on one of the Orthodox discussion groups he was reading at the time. (I knew it would come in handy some day!)

I've looked around the 'net and can't seem to find any information about where it might have been originally posted, but I think it's interesting enough to post here. It's a description of one Orthodox Christian's approach to how to handle the evening of October 31.

...Every year, on Halloween, I sit on the front porch of my house with a bowl of candy, a box of beeswax candles, and a large icon for the Feast of All Saints.

Every child who comes to the house gets a piece of candy, and may also light a candle and place it before the icon. Very few kids (even the jaded teenagers) turn down the opportunity.

For those who ask, I tell them that the meaning of the word "Halloween" is "the eve of the Feast of All Saints".

If they press me on the point, I tell them that they can think of the true meaning of Halloween as being that, because of Christ, they can dress up like ghosts and goblins and whatnot, because we do not need to fear those things any longer.

I wish I had a few photos of the kids in Satan masks, lighting a candle and placing it before the icon...


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Saint Euphrosynos the Cook



Commemorated September 11

Euphrosynos was raised by devout parents, but given no advanced education. They were quite old when he was born, so they committed him to the care of the monks on Mt. Athos while yet a lad. They died not long after. This was at a time when Mt. Athos was known as quite an intellectual center. Euphrosynos was relegated to the kitchen. He preferred the solitude of a cave for his prayers to the chapel, or scholarly discussions. He grew to be an elder in the community.

One evening, there was a profound theological lecture delivered in the monastery. As one of the elders, Euphrosynos was called upon to comment on it. He had comprehended very little of it and offered few words. He retired in embarrassment to the mountainside. That night the abbot had a dream, in which he saw the most beautiful garden. The only one in this garden was Euphrosynos the Cook. Euphrosynos explained to the abbot that he was seeing the Kingdom of Heaven and he handed him a branch with apples on it. The abbot awoke to find a real branch of apples in his hand. (It was not the season for apples.) He awoke the other monks and sent for Euphrosynos. Euphrosynos acknowledged that that was the branch of apples he had given the abbot. The monks were all amazed and gave Euphrosynos great honor. He simply asked to be excused from the kitchen and the monastery to live out the rest of his days as a hermit in his cave. The abbot excused him. The apples were found to have miraculous healing powers.