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.


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.


Monday, December 8, 2008

Another Great Recipe for Advent

Pasta e Fagioli - quick and delicious!

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!)

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.