Monday, July 28, 2008

Worth the Wait

I picked (and promptly ate) my first tomato from the garden the other day. Seems like I have waited forever for it!

I start to get hungry for summer tomatoes in the fall of the previous year - just after I have taken the old plants out. I just can't get enough of them.

With the great advances society has made in recent years, one would think that we could find a way to replicate the taste of summer tomatoes in the hot-house varieties we are forced to eat all winter and spring.

So to celebrate the ripening and harvest of my first summer tomato, I'll share this wonderful and easy recipe. It's one of our favorite things to make with fresh summer tomatoes.

Fresh Salsa (a recipe from DearHusband's brother)
2 ripe tomatoes, chopped into ¼ “ dice
¼ c. finely chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, chopped
¼ c. cilantro, chopped
1 t. chopped jalapeno pepper (or more)
2 t. lemon juice
Salt, to taste

Saturday, July 26, 2008

"He Spent His Whole Life Preparing for this Day"

That's what she said.

Was she a wife talking about her husband on the day he won the Tour de France?

Was she a mother, talking about her son as he was about to begin his debut performance at Carnegie Hall?

Actually, she was a daughter talking about her father at his funeral.

Now I am not generally much of an appreciator of the comments or shared memories of family and friends of the deceased which are made during a funeral service. There are alot of reasons I don't care much for it, some of which are theological, some practical, and yet other reasons are nothing but a matter of personal preference.

But that being said, I attended the funeral of a man from our church a couple of weeks ago, a brother in Christ who was a faithful member of our parish community. His wife died only a few short months ago. Near the end of the service, his children were invited forward to speak and I sat back and sighed and prepared to start counting the little mosaic tiles on the iconostasis. But his daughter's first statement brought me back to attention.

"He spent his whole life preparing for this day," she said.

How profound those few words are. How much they say about what our earthly life is to be ... a preparation for our death. And how different this is from what the world says our life is to be (something measurable at the end by our accomplishments, by how much wealth and stuff we have accumulated, by how well our name is known, by the "legacy" we have left).

I have thought about this statement of hers a hundred times since that day. It's the most significant comment from a loved one I have ever heard at a funeral.

I hope I never forget it.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Memory Eternal

I mention here with sadness the passing of Ruth Manz, who died this past Tuesday. Ruth is the wife of noted Lutheran church musician, Dr. Paul Manz.

As a former Lutheran church musician, I was honored (and thrilled!) to have met the Manzs in November of 2002, when I started working in my current job at the church he had served for some 37 years as its first Cantor, and at which he is now Cantor Emeritus. Through my work I have been privileged to see and visit with both of the Manzs from time to time.

This wonderful piece, "E'en So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come," is arguably Dr. Manz's most beloved choral composition...but it's a lesser known fact that Ruth Manz actually arranged the text for it.

Here's an interesting and charming article written about the anthem and how it came to be written, and which gives readers a little glimpse of this gracious woman of faith. (The boy in the story, John, is now a pastor at the church from which Ruth will be buried on Sunday).

May her memory be eternal.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

"We Know Where the Church Is ..."

"... but we do not know where the Church is not."

When I was a Lutheran, if there was one "party line" I hated hearing from the Orthodox, this was it.

And now that I'm Orthodox, I don't like it any better.

I spent much of the day yesterday checking in at a discussion going on here, summarized by an Orthodox blogger here. And this post serves to answer as best I can Anastasia's question to me in the comments of Reader Christopher's post.

I don't know quite what to say about all of it, except that I am sympathetic to Pr. Beane's confusion and frustration about the whole issue. "According to you Orthodox", he's basically asking, "are we Church or aren't we?" It's a reasonable question, especially when coming from a Lutheran pastor who seems to have great respect for Orthodoxy.

When I was a Lutheran, the answer, "we don't know" was simply not sufficient for me, either and I was truly offended by it, as it seems other Lutherans are. (Anastasia, this is what I understand - his frustration and the vagueness of such a response and what it might imply). It seemed to me then somehow arrogant and somehow provocative ... not to mention waffly. And really, for many years this very phrase was somewhat of a stumbling block for me.

So what to say? How to respond when posed with the question, "Are Christians who are not Orthodox Church or are they not?" I have taken my tip from the words of my priest in a recent sermon, which I posted some time ago.

"... the Word of God (and we talk about the Holy Spirit this way – it’s everywhere present and fills all things) does not belong to the Church or the confines of the Church. God's will, his intention for human beings, is poured out on the whole of creation. Therefore, we as Orthodox communicants, if we see it anywhere and do not recognize it for what it is then we have desecrated the Word of God." (emphasis mine)

All I'm saying is that in certain non-Orthodox Christian churches and in certain non-Orthodox Christians I can see it.

"We know where the Church is, but we do not know where the Church is not." However truthful this might be, I know from experience that these words can be hurtful (even if not ill-intended). And so I don't use this phrase - ever - when talking to Christians who are not Orthodox about their "status" as Church. In fact, I try not to address this topic at all.

It is really not for me to address.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

St. Elizabeth the New Martyr

The future Grand Duchess and New Martyr Elizabeth was born in 1864, the second of seven children. She was the daughter of Ludwig IV, Grand-Duke of Hessen-Darmstadt, and Princess Alice, daughter of Queen Victoria. Since she was half English, Ella, as she was called, often visited Queen Victoria in England, becoming her favourite granddaughter. Here she stayed at Windsor Castle, Osborne House and also at Balmoral in Scotland. There survives an extensive correspondence in English with her beloved grandmother in 'dear England'. Educated in a traditional English way by an English governess, Ella's mother instilled in her a Christian spirit, according to the principle of 'love thy neighbour'. As her earliest biographer, Metropolitan Anastasy, wrote: 'An English imprint undoubtedly lay on all her tastes and habits; the English language was closer to her than her native German'. When Princess Alice tragically died of diptheria in 1878, aged only 35, her last will was that her coffin be draped with the Union Jack.

In 1884, aged nineteen, Elizabeth married the Grand Duke Sergei, the son of Emperor Alexander II of Russia in two ceremonies, one Orthodox, the other Protestant. Deeply in love with her husband, she began to study the Russian people and culture and above all the Orthodox Faith which had moulded them. She long hesitated to join the Orthodox Church, for fear of upsetting her immediate family who were Lutherans. Then after two years of intense study and prayer, of her own free will she finally decided to become an Orthodox Christian by conviction. She was duly received by chrismation into the Orthodox Church on the Saturday before Palm Sunday 1891. In this decision only her grandmother, Queen Victoria, wrote her a letter full of encouragement and support, for which Elizabeth replied thanking her for her goodness and motherly love. Elizabeth described this event in one of her many letters in English, dated 5 January 1891, to the future Emperor Nicholas II. Here she described how she had long 'continued in outward forms to be a Protestant when my soul already belonged to the Orthodox belief'.

Also in 1891 her deeply religious husband was appointed Governor of Moscow by Emperor Alexander III. In 1894 her younger sister, Alexandra, married the future Russian Emperor, Nicholas II, with the ardent encouragement of Elizabeth. The Grand Duchess devoted herself to charitable work, continually caring for the well-being of the Russian Orthodox people, especially during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5. However, on 4 February 1905, while she was leaving her home to do charitable work, she heard a terrible explosion. Hurrying towards where the explosion had come from, she saw a soldier stretching his greatcoat over some of the remains of her husband. He had just been been killed by a terrorist bomb and his body had literally been blown apart.

Profoundly shocked, Elizabeth, now a childless widow, still had the moral strength to visit the arrested assassin of her husband, a certain Kaliayev, in prison. She hoped to soften his heart through her example of forgiveness. The murderer told her that he had on several occasions wanted to kill her husband, but he had not been able to bring himself to touch him because she had been with him. The Grand Duchess gave a book of Gospels and an icon to the man, hoping against hope that he would repent before the end.

The shock of the murder brought about a great change to Elizabeth. She withdrew from social life and adopted a vegetarian diet. The wound in her soul was such that she raised her eyes to look at eternity. Closely following advice from bishops of the Holy Synod of the Russian Church, she devoted her life to the Orthodox way of life. She bought a house and a large piece of land in Moscow and established a community, devoted to St Martha and St Mary, carrying out the tasks of deaconesses, as in the early Orthodox Church. She intended this community to become like the home of St Lazarus, which had so often been visited by Christ. Several women from all classes joined the Grand Duchess to devote their lives to this foundation, tending the sick, helping the poor, taking care of the street children of Moscow. The Grand Duchess also established a rent-free hostel for young women workers and students, a hospital, a clinic, a school for nurses and a soup kitchen.

From what was to become in 1909 'The Convent of Mercy of St Martha and St Mary' the Grand Duchess and her helpers visited the poor, did housework, took care of children, bringing peace and happiness wherever they went. The Grand Duchess took part in all the work done, establishing a beautiful Convent garden, visiting even the poorest and most dangerous parts of Moscow. As she wrote in English to Tsar Nicholas in April 1909: 'I want to work for God and in God for suffering mankind'. She shone with the inner light of the soul at prayer and the crowds adored her. Her life was ascetic, all her personal fortune was devoted to good works and her only travels were pilgrimages to the holy places of Russia.

In 1910 she was made Abbess of the Convent, which then housed 45 sisters. Writing of this in a letter in English addressed to Tsar Nicholas, dated 26 March 1910, in which she warned of Rasputin who in her opinion had clearly fallen into spiritual illusion, she said: 'I am espousing Christ and His cause, I am giving all I can to Him and our neighbours, I am going deeper into our Orthodox Church'.

In the Convent she learned to practise the Jesus Prayer under strict obedience to the Convent's saintly spiritual father, Fr Mitrophan, of whom she had written in an English letter to Tsar Nicholas in April 1909: 'He is large, nothing of the narrow-minded bigot, all founded on God's boundless love and forgiveness - a true Orthodox priest keeping strictly to our Church'. The role of the Convent became particularly important during the First German War, when there were so many in hospital, so many to comfort.

When the Revolution came in 1917, Abbess Elizabeth continued to live as before, attending church services, nursing the sick, caring for the poor. She turned down the offer of a Swedish Cabinet Minister to leave the country, saying that she wished to share the destiny of her country and its people. At first ignored by the Bolshevik regime, on the third day of Easter 1918 Abbess Elizabeth was ordered to leave for the town of Perm in the Urals. She left together with two nuns, Catherine and Barbara, escorted by Latvian Guards. From here she was moved via Ekaterinburg, where the Imperial Family, including her sister, were held in confinement, to the town of Alapayevsk. She arrived here on 20 May 1918.

Abbess Elizabeth lived in captivity in Alapayevsk until the fateful night of 18 July 1918. It was the feast-day of St Sergius of Radonezh, her husband's namesday. On that night she, Sister Barbara, five members of the Imperial Family and a secretary, were taken to a mine and there martyred, first being blindfolded, beaten and then thrown alive into the mine-shaft. First to be thrown in was Abbess Elizabeth. As they seized her, she prayed, crossed herself and said: 'Lord, forgive them, for they know not what they do'. The murderers then tossed in hand grenades, but hearing the hymn,' O Lord, save Thy people…', they panicked and soon left. It is recorded that two of the murderers became insane shortly after their horrible crime. A peasant eyewitness reported that for hours afterwards he heard Abbess Elizabeth, mortally wounded, singing the Cherubic Hymn, hymns from the funeral service and hymns giving thanks to God and glorifying Him. These hymns continued into the following day.

When in September the White Army liberated Alapayevsk and found the mine, they removed the bodies, including that of Abbess Elizabeth. They found her not at the bottom of the 200-foot deep mine-shaft, but on a ledge about fifty feet down. Only one body had been torn apart by the grenades. On the same ledge near the Grand Duchess' intact body there were two unexploded grenades and on her chest an icon of Christ. This was the icon of the Saviour Not-Made-By-Hands. This had been given to her, probably by the Emperor Alexander III, on the day of her reception into the Orthodox Church on 13 April 1891. (It is now kept in the Russian Orthodox Memorial Church in Brussels). She had been lying next to the Grand Duke John and it was found that she had attempted to dress his wounds before herself expiring.

By order of the White General Admiral Kolchak, the bodies were all removed to the Cathedral in the nearby town of Alapayevsk on 1 November 1918. In 1919, the White Army, then in retreat, took the coffins with the bodies to Siberia and then in 1920 to China. The body of Abbess Elizabeth remained incorrupt. On 3 April that year the coffins were placed in St Seraphim's church in Beijing. However, from here they were removed to Palestine, thanks in part to the efforts of Elizabeth's elder sister, Victoria, Marquess of Milford Haven. On 15/28 January 1921, the relics were solemnly met in Jerusalem by Patriarch Damian, Russian and Greek clergy, members of the British authorities and innumerable Orthodox faithful. Here Abbess Elizabeth was buried in the church of St Mary Magdalene in Gethsemane. In 1888, before ever becoming Orthodox, the Grand Duchess had already expressed the desire to be buried here. This had been at the consecration of that very church, where she had gone with her husband, who was President of the Russian Palestine Society.

'Like a beautiful apparition, she passed through the world, leaving behind her a radiant trail' So wrote Abbess Elizabeth's early biographer, Metropolitan Anastasy. 'Together with the others who suffered for their homeland, she is both the atonement of the former Russia and the foundation of the Russia to come, which will be built on the relics of the holy New Martyrs…Not in vain had the voice of the Russian people proclaimed her to be a saint while she was still alive. As if to reward her for her glorious deeds on earth, and especially for her love of Holy Russia, her martyred remains were destined to rest near the very place of the Sufferings and Resurrection of the Saviour'.

Abbess Elizabeth was canonised by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia in 1981, which canonisation was later recognised by the Church inside Russia when it became free to do so in the 1990's.

Holy New Martyr Elizabeth, pray to God for us!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Variety: The Spice of Life

Several years ago I planted a clematis at the foot of the light pole in our front yard. It did well there, but the flowers were only visible from the street and not from the house. So a couple of years later I purchased another purple clematis and planted it at the back side of the light pole, so that we could see the flowers from the house, too.
Silly me - I thought a purple clematis was a purple clematis and that they'd "match." Well, they don't. The second plant I planted blooms first with huge flowers that are blue-ish purple. When that one's about done blooming the first one I planted begins to bloom - with smaller reddish purple flowers.

They both were splendid this year - at different times and in different shades of purple - but splendid!