That Which is Bread

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? – Isaiah

Month: December, 2011

2011 in review

WordPress prepared this nice year-end summary of my blog activity, for which I thank them:

 

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 3,700 times in 2011. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 3 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

“Right-believing Kings” (and Queens)

Elizabeth Regina

In my last post, I linked to a reminiscence of St. John Maximovitch of Shanghai and San Francisco. One paragraph in that talk mentioned St John’s committed monarchism and loyalty to the Russian royal family. It went on to say:

Vladika was firmly opposed to substituting the prayer for right-believing kings with the words “Orthodox Christians”. Specifically, in the troparion, “Save, O Lord, Thy people,” he insisted on the words, “victory to right-believing kings.”

Monarchism isn’t the most popular point of view in modern times, and I won’t get into its merits here. But I was reminded of the words about “right-believing kings” when I came across a report of Queen Elizabeth’s 2011 Christmas address to the British people. (The King or Queen has been delivering a radio or television Christmas address since 1932, when King George V gave the first (written by Rudyard Kipling!)

Much of the address is fairly standard Christmas-greetings stuff, but the closing is, to my mind, a powerful reflection on the religious meaning of “this great Christian festival.”

For many, this Christmas will not be easy. With our armed forces deployed around the world, thousands of service families face Christmas without their loved ones at home.

The bereaved and the lonely will find it especially hard. And, as we all know, the world is going through difficult times. All this will affect our celebration of this great Christian festival.

Finding hope in adversity is one of the themes of Christmas. Jesus was born into a world full of fear. The angels came to frightened shepherds with hope in their voices: ‘Fear not’, they urged, ‘we bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

‘For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Saviour who is Christ the Lord.’

Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves – from our recklessness or our greed.

God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general, important though they are, but a Saviour, with the power to forgive.

Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian faith. It can heal broken families, it can restore friendships and it can reconcile divided communities. It is in forgiveness that we feel the power of God’s love.

In the last verse of this beautiful carol, O Little Town Of Bethlehem, there’s a prayer:

O Holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us we pray.
Cast out our sin
And enter in.
Be born in us today.

It is my prayer that on this Christmas day we might all find room in our lives for the message of the angels and for the love of God through Christ our Lord.

I wish you all a very happy Christmas.”

In a secular democracy like ours, the President isn’t meant to be a stand-in for the missing Monarch, and there’s no real reason that we should expect him to deliver such an open defense of the Faith. Great Britain is on the whole a much more secularized society than ours in the United States, so perhaps many who listened to the message found it inappropriate or even incomprehensible. But the Queen’s message made me wonder — not for the first time — whether a nation can be called Christian without a Christian ruler. With secularism written into the Constitution (as it is, though some like to deny it), there seems little chance of this happening soon.

Remembering St. John Maximovitch

St John of Shanghai and San Francisco

Thanks to Fr. John Whiteford’s blog, I came across some 1991 reminiscences of St. John Maximovitch by Bishop Peter (Loukianoff), who served with him in San Francisco. The whole thing is worth reading by those with an interest in this great Saint, whose relics now bless our country by their presence. Bishop Peter states strongly that many of Vladika’s eccentricities have been overstated, at the expense of his sobriety, humility and care for his episcopal responsibilities.

A few tidbits follow.

 Vladika had supper before midnight, after which he would go to his room to rest. He ate everything from one plate, with one soup spoon, always holding his prayer rope and reciting the Jesus Prayer. Sometimes he used chopsticks…

From the day of his monastic tonsure, Vladika slept in a sitting position. As a result he had swollen legs and it was painful for him to wear proper shoes, so he wore sandals. At home, in his cell, or when he served at St. Tikhon’s he often went barefoot — not for the sake of foolishness-for-Christ, but because it was easier on his feet.

Abbess Theodora, the late superior of Lesna Convent in France, told how once when Vladika was visiting the convent one of his legs gave him great pain, and she called a doctor, who prescribed rest in bed. Vladika thanked her for her solicitude but refused to lie in bed; nothing could persuade him. “Then,” related Matushka, “I myself don’t know how I was so bold, but I said to him bluntly, ‘Vladika, as the abbess of this convent, by the power given me by God, I order you to lie down.’” Vladika looked with surprise at the abbess, and went and lay down. The next morning, however, he was in church for Matins, and that was the end of the “course of treatment”.

I will cherish the image of St John eating his late-night supper with a prayer rope in one hand and chopsticks in the other.

Holy Father John, pray for us!

NOTE:

I‘m consolidating blogs. I‘ve copied all the posts on my other blog, Red Dust, to this one, and from now on will just be posting here.

A Pet Peeve

A brave battle

“George Smith died this week, after a battle with cancer.”

Or, often, after a brave battle with cancer.

Sometimes the notice reads, George lost a brave battle with cancer, which seems to be rubbing George’s nose in it a bit.

Why is it that cancer survivors are never described as winning a battle with cancer?

Why do we never speak of someone’s “brave battle” with heart disease, or emphysema, or diabetes? What’s special about cancer? Perhaps we think of cancer, more than of other ailments, as some alien invader rather than a failing part of ourselves?

Does anyone ever not battle cancer, or not battle it bravely? “George Smith died this week, after failing, coward and weakling that he was, to put up a decent fight against cancer.”

When my turn comes to face this gruesome and painful disease, I hope the obituaries will say “[Yours Truly] died this week, after a long, interesting conversation with cancer.”

 

The image is a still from the movie Mysterious Island, by legendary animator Ray Harryhausen.

Keeping the Feast

Eve of Nativity, St Nicholas Orthodox Church, Barton OH

With appreciation and contrition, I read this post from Deacon Charles Joiner’s Orthodox Way of Life blog. It includes this excerpt from a Festal Oration on the Feast of the Nativity, delivered by St Gregory the Theologian (Then Archbishop of Constantinople) around AD 380:

Christ is born, glorify Him! Christ from heaven, go out to meet Him! Sing to the Lord and the whole earth…rejoice with trembling and joy!

So how are we to glorify and meet Him?

Let us keep the Feast, not after the manner of a heathen festival, but after a godly sort; not after the way of the world, but in a fashion above the world; not as our own but as belonging to Him who is ours, or rather as our Master’s; not as of weakness, but as of healing; not as of creation, but of re-creation.

And how shall this be? Let us not decorate our porches, nor organize dances, nor adorn our streets. Let us not feast the eye, nor enchant the ear with music… Let us not toast with fragrant wines, the specialties of cooks,… Let us not strive to outdo each other in intemperance…

We, the object of whose adoration is the Word, if we must in some way have luxury, let us seek it in word, and in the divine Law, and in histories, especially those that are the origin of this feast, so that our luxury may be akin to and not far removed from Him Who has called us together.

St Gregory the Theologian

The Nativity according to the Flesh of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ is preceded, like Great Lent, by a forty-day fasting season. An all-night vigil is prescribed for the eve of the Feast. Parishes don’t normally keep all-night vigils, but the Church’s message is clear: we are to approach the Feast joyfully but with reverence and sobriety, preparing ourselves to commune of our Lord at His Liturgy, which fulfills the season of blessed expectation.

Every year, the American “Christmas” season fills me with a kind of misery and frustration. This extends even to some of “our” customs: the folk traditions of our Orthodox people that surround the holiday. The services, and some of the customs, fill me with joy and gratitude; but at the same time I feel as if the whole world is conspiring to undermine the awesome holiness of the day. Then I feel that I’m being a crabby fundamentalist, judging my Christian brethren rather than attending to my own spiritual life. Then I feel even worse. And so it goes.

Deacon Charles’ post concludes, “Let’s seek ways to celebrate this spiritual event that is not like the heathen feast of pagans, but as is due the God of infinite mercy who now lives in our hearts because of His Becoming man.” It’s a reminder for me, not to complain or to judge, but to seek, in myself and in my family, ways toward a reverently joyful celebration.

A fuller version of St Gregory’s Oration can be found here, where I got the image of St Gregory.
The first image in this post is a photo of services at St Nicholas Orthodox Church, Barton OH, for the Eve of Nativity.

Lost silence

Nothing has changed the nature of man so much as the loss of silence.
—Max Picard

Bottomless Depths

Not long ago I was part of a conversation on how the verses of the Vespers and Matins services are in themselves an effective (maybe the best) Orthodox catechism. I recalled that these services, for all their richness, don’t begin to exhaust even the teaching available in the regular cycle of appointed services: the Oktoechos also provides a canon and other hymns in each of the eight tones for Small Compline and the Midnight Office.

During the conversation I opened the Oktoechos almost at random, and found this hymn from the Midnight Office, which I’d never encountered before.

O pure lady, look down;
Behold our painful wounds and show Thy tender mercy, O  undefiled Theotokos.
Heal the fever of our conscience, refreshing it with Thy compassion;
And cry aloud to Thy servants:
I am with you and there shall be none against you.

— Sessional Hymn, Tone 6, from the Midnight Office for Saturday night