Archive for January, 2009

Holy Rocking

January 26, 2009

I’m not too fond of drum or percussion solos, but this is some heavenly jamming.  It’s hypnotic.

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Thank You Troy Polamalu!

January 20, 2009

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Thank you for making Orthodoxy cool.   For showing my sports-crazy 9 year old son that a professional football player can be a devout Orthodox Christian who isn’t afraid to talk about his faith  and to make the sign of the Cross in public.  Thank you for your example of good sportsmanship and hard work; your devotion to family and a clear-mindedness about the value of eternal things  over material possessions.

I’ll admit it, but football isn’t one of my favorite sports.  Maybe having spent my entire life in the state of Texas makes one either love football or not.   It’s not for lack of exposure though.   Back in the day, my high school (Judson HS)  won the state championship several times.   As a geek,  I was of course president of the “spirit club”.  Yeah, that meant myself and other fellow geeks and nerds worked the concession stand every Friday night and made the big, decorated paper goalpost banners.  Then I sealed this ambivalent footballness with my induction into the maroon and white cult of  Texas A & M; a university that could not be more historically and intricately linked with football.  However, it was at A & M that I most clearly understood and appreciated  the Pavlovian reward for fan devotion and team spirit.  Football games that by tradition require men to kiss their dates after every Aggie touchdown are ok in my book.   

So, what am I going to do now that my 9 year old thinks football is the greatest sport since the gladiatorial games?  If he’s got someone like Troy Polamalu as a role model, I’m gonna say…. GO STEELERS!

(And Mr. Polamalu – if you ever feel the need to get out of the cold Yankee north country, I know a very nice Orthodox parish in San Antonio that would love to have you come for a visit!)

For a very personal interview with Troy Polamalu, discussing his faith and family life, click here.

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January 17 Saint Anthony the Great and Saint Anthony de Padua

January 17, 2009

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The City of San Antonio is a very Roman Catholic city – starting with the first naming of our city in honor of Saint Anthony de Padua  on June 13, 1691. On the Saint’s feastday,  Spanish explorers and missionaries had stumbled across a native American settlement on the banks of a beautiful river, deciding to name the spot after this great 13th century saint of Padua, Italy.   Since then Saint Anthony has become the namesake and benefactor of the seventh largest city in the US, a great basketball team and at least 3 pages of yellow pages businesses.   I’m sure this humble and pious saint would be so proud (insert eye roll here).

When my Orthodox parish was founded 30 years ago this September, we kept up the patronage of Saint Anthony, but had to look to a pre-schism Orthodox saint and naturally Saint Anthony the Great was an easy choice.  

Saint Anthony the Great and Saint Anthony of Padua, while separated by centuries, culture and continent, both left all they had to unreservedly and totally commit themselves to following the Gospel. 

In their words they were even of the same love for God and his Kingdom and knew what struggles and fruits could come from the ascetic life:

Attribute to God every good that you have received. If you take credit for something that does not belong to you, you will be guilty of theft.    Saint Anthony de Padua

I saw the snares that the enemy spreads out over the world and I said groaning, “What can get through from such snares?” Then I heard a voice saying to me, “Humility”.    Saint Anthony the Great

 Last night we gathered at 7 p.m. for a pan-Orthodox celebration of Great Vespers and had a little socializing in the Fellowship Hall.  (A very disappointing turnout I have to say – maybe all our missing parishioners were honoring Saint Anthony de Padua by staying home to watch his basketball team play.)  Divine Liturgy will start at 9 a.m. this morning, and we’ll top off the weekend with a luncheon after Liturgy tomorrow.   

For 30 years Saint Anthony has been our protector and benefactor in the spiritual life and God willing, he will continue for 30 more.  

Troparion of Saint Anthony

Imitating the zealous Elijah in behavior 
and following the Baptist on the straight path.
You became an inhabitant of the desert,
O Father Anthony and by your prayers you made secure the whole world!    Therefore, intercede with Christ our
God that our souls may be saved.

 

Saint Anthony de Padua by Il Guercino

Saint Anthony de Padua by Il Guercino

Good From Sadness

January 14, 2009

On December 12, 2008, the grandson/nephew of one of our large extended parish families passed away from a rare, but always fatal degenerative neurological disease called Krabbe’s Disease.  Greyson was a beautiful 10-month old who gave his family a lifetime of  smiles and joy to remember him by.

The ironic fact about Greyson’s illness is that if it had been detected sooner, he could have received treatment to extend his life and ease his symptoms.  Particularly with ongoing research that shows cord-blood transplants given before symptoms appear might have had the greatest potential to give him several more years of life.    Krabbe’s Disease appears in about 1 in 100,000 children (in Arab populations it is more prevalent at 1 in 6,000).  Texas currently screens for 27 disorders, ranging from Tyrosinemia Type I (1 in 100,000), Sickle Cell Disease (1 in 2,500) to Homocystinuria (1 in 350,000).   I realize it’s impossible to screen for everything, but Krabbe’s is not on the list for state-mandated screening.  I don’t know the process for getting a disease listed, but in my mind if it is something that could have given Greyson and so many other children a  little more time to be with their families, what is the stumbling block?  If you say the words “money” and “cost-benefit”, that’s going to ring very hollow for grieving parents who would pay anything for just another day with their children. In fact, I believe if you were to ask expectant parents whether they wanted to have this additional testing or not, you wouldn’t find one parent who’d say, “nah, I’m sure everything’s fine – we’ve weighed the odds and it just isn’t worth it”. 

New parents think everything is wrong with their babies.  Every sneeze or fever, every rash, produces panic.   They obsess over every developmental milestone that isn’t achieved to the day.  And thank God, most of the time it’s worry for nothing, but what if you are that 1 in 100,000 parent?  Think it won’t happen to your child?  Well, that one child is someone’s baby and they are hurting and frustrated and questioning what more they could have done.    That is why Universal Newborn Screening is needed now.

Greyson’s parents, Bill and Nicole, and his extended family have been an example of what joyful Christian mourning  can be.  There is no joy in the death of a child, but we have a loving God who has given us the gift of eternal life that can turn grief into joy and hope.   And the really amazing thing about humans is that we most often find a way to make some good come out of such a tragic situation.  I don’t think this is just an evolutionary, psychological coping mechanism, but a real reflection of what it means to be created in the image and likeness of God.   We have been gifted with the best qualities of God – his mercy, love, altruism, charity, empathy –  and like our Lord and Saviour, we can and do choose to use them even during the most difficult times.  

If you want to understand the true emotional cost of Krabbe’s Disease and what mandatory newborn screening could have prevented, I encourage everyone to visit Nicole Morris’ beautiful blog at Grey’s Gift or you can look her up at her new page on Facebook.   Nicole is pushing for Universal Newborn Screening and would like something good to come from this tragedy.

How can you help?  A benefit lunch and silent auction are planned for this weekend, Saturday, January 17th from 11 am to 1 pm  at the New Braunfels Church of Christ, 1665 South Business 35, to help defray Greyson’s medical and funeral expenses, and to support medical research for Krabbe’s Disease.  A memorial fund has been set up at Bank of America and direct donations can be made at any branch nationwide to:  Greyson W. Morris Memorial Fund

And most importantly, contact your state representatives, and your Congressional representatives.  Click here  for examples of letters you can send, and while you’re writing them, take a look at beautiful Baby Greyson – this isn’t  just about a disease, it’s about someone’s child.

Update:  The Herald Zeitung paper in New Braunfels ran a very nice story on January 15th about Greyson and the benefit.   The benefit was a great success by the way – a sizeable fund was raised from the silent auction, but more importantly, there are thousands of people who now know about Krabbe’s Disease.

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What a Great 9 Years It’s Been!

January 10, 2009

Nine years ago today I was laying in a hospital bed scared, excited, and apprehensive about the imminent birth of my first child.   I know everyone says this, but I just can’t believe the time has gone this fast.  I can still picture so clearly in my mind the events, the sounds, even my feelings, and every year I tell him the story about how he was born, how much he weighed (11 lbs 11 oz – yes, he was enormous and yes, I did have to have a c-section), what his old nursery looked like (even though he hardly slept in it – we quickly adopted the family bed), the little song I made up that rhymes with his name and used to sing to him as we sat and rocked and nursed.    I still call him “sweet baby”, even though he gets really annoyed at being called a baby.  “Mom, I’m in third grade!” he’ll protest.  Then I have to pull a well-used phrase from the Standard Book of Mothering One Liners,  ‘But you’ll always be my baby’. 

I’m glad I have these memories because as time passes your child becomes what you see in front of you – an adult in the making.   The round, undefined baby face is angular, with eyes that squint and size things up; the smell of clean diapers and baby lotion is replaced with that grubby boy smell of dirt and sports; and the smiling, cooing, happy baby has morphed into a pre-pubescent just discovering what it means to “have an attitude”.  The physical reminders of your long-ago baby – a lock of hair, an inked footprint, the umbilical stump that now looks like a dried porcini mushroom and will never be flat enough to put in a scrap book – these relics are so rare that memories can feel almost real.   I’m glad I have so many good ones. 

Thank you God for giving me two such beautiful blessings.  Forgive me for failing to be the mother that I should be and for all the ways I have not lived up to this sacred and honorable duty.  Happy 9th birthday, Sweet Baby!

Part 2 – Illumined Heart Interview with Metropolitan Jonah

January 8, 2009

I’ve been meaning to post Part 2 of Kevin Allen’s Illumined Heart  interview  for days now, but getting slammed at work wasn’t part of my post-New Year’s plan.  I wanted to ease into the routine after a pretty slow Christmas work schedule, not spend the last few days running like a hamster on a wheel.  Now that I’ve been back at work I have just today replayed this interview at least 6 times, and each time I hear something new and exciting.

In particular, it’s so encouraging to hear Metropolitan Jonah talk about the important position the OCA’s Metropolitan holds as the head of the autocephalous American Orthodox church.  For so long it seems the OCA has been insular and suffering from a lack of self-esteem and self-confidence.   The Church of Serbia, the Church of Finland, the Church of Poland, for example, are autocephalous or self-governing churches.   How are we any different?  Yet, I just don’t see the OCA confidently embracing itself as The Orthodox Church in or ‘of’ America.  If the OCA wants to see the growth of American Orthodoxy and unification of Orthodox jurisdictions in this country we need to act like leaders.   

It’s a given that unification wasn’t going to happen under the last two Metropolitans.  The will, the desire  just wasn’t there, and now that we know about the  financial mess, the credibility certainly wasn’t there either.  We were in “the desert…” as Metropolitan Jonah calls it.  I was shocked when Metropolitan Jonah said unification would be easy.  He jokingly states that with enough funds American Orthodox could achieve unity in one week if we just let loose the attorneys on the administrative details.   Seriously, he has no doubts about the feasibility of unity; it is just a matter of stoking the desire while setting aside pride and self-interest.

I say GIVE HIM A WEEK!  Give him all the time and whatever it takes to achieve this.  I want to be part of a united, strong witness for Orthodoxy in America.  It’s time we suck up our pride, our petty jurisdictionalism, the provincialism and culture club mentality and really be “The Orthodox Church of America”.  I am tired of explaining to my friends, family and acquaintances why there is no difference between Greek, Serbian, Syrian, Russian, ad nauseum, Orthodox Churches, much less how we are similar or different from Roman Catholics.

This is the clear and strong vision of Metropolitan Jonah.  This is what we all have to work towards – laity and clergy.  Who can’t be standing 100% behind him when he says

“I believe that our church is set at a crossroads…we have definitively left behind the old way of doing things.. and have embarked upon  a very new road, of really taking up the challenge of being  the fullness of the presence of the  Orthodox Catholic  Church in this country and the ministry at the cross that that entails.   The challenge to bring together, to come together with all the other Orthodox communities in this country, so that together we can create a new incarnation, as it were, of the Orthodox church in America, which embraces all Orthodox Christians in this country, so that we can reach out to and evangelize this country in new and creative ways which we may not have even thought of yet, so that we can challenge our society to live a life in accordance with the will of God, in accordance with the scriptures, in accordance with Christian ethics.  Not by being judgmental and critical of individuals, but rather of showing them in compassion that there’s a better way to live.  Orthodoxy is not just about what you believe, and it’s certainly not just about what you do in church.  Orthodoxy is about how we live.  It’s about how we treat one another.  How we forgive one another, how we’re transformed by the grace of the Holy Spirit, how we let go of resentment, and bitterness, and anger, and vengeance, and desire for retribution and all of these things which defile our souls so that we can grow into the fullness of personhood that God intended for us.  This is my vision.”

I want this too and God-willing, with Metropolitan Jonah’s leadership, his devotion to the Gospel and God’s Holy Church, we are past the days when the Orthodox Church in America could do nothing more than shoot itself in the foot.

 

Theophany of Our Lord and Saviour

January 4, 2009

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 In the cold peak of winter (it’s going to be in the 40’s and 50’s here in South Texas which is about the peak of winter here, so you’ll have to imagine someplace else) the Church celebrates the Theophany – the Baptism of Our Lord and Saviour.  January 6th is the date of Theophany under the New Caledar (Gregorian).    In the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran denominations, this day is more commonly known as Epiphany and is remembered for the visit of the Magi.  Dia del Reyes or the Day of the Three Kings is a big deal around here and other Catholic, Spanish-speaking (or French-speaking) areas.

Whichever calendar you use, as a new convert to Orthodoxy years ago I thought it was a little disjointed for the Church to put the feast of Theophany, an event that didn’t occur in Christ’s life for another 30 years, as the culmination of the twelve days of Christmas.   The visit of the Magi just chronologically seemed to fit, considering we celebrated the Circumcision of Christ on January 1st, the Flight of the Holy Family into Egypt, and the murder of the Holy Innocents.  It just seems to wrap things up so neatly.  It’s not that Orthodoxy doesn’t venerate the Magi, it’s just that the Theophany is the feast that most climaxes Christ’s appearance in the world.  It took me a long time, and it still feels a little odd when Theophany comes along, but I understand the greater meaning the Church was trying to convey.  In the west Christmas has been turned into a big Nativity play while sometimes forgetting the overall cohesiveness of Christ’s incarnation and manifestation to the world.  For that reason, the Church celebrates historical events in their theological context, not only as an historical series of events but events with a common theme.  If you then were trying to group the events of the Incarnation you have to go back nine months then to the Annunciation.   According to OrthodoxWiki

Originally, there was just one Christian feast of the shining forth of God to the world in the human form of Jesus of Nazareth. It included the celebration of Christ’s birth, the adoration of the Wisemen, and all of the childhood events of Christ such as his circumcision and presentation to the temple as well as his baptism by John in the Jordan. There seems to be little doubt that this feast, like Easter and Pentecost, was understood as the fulfillment of a previous Jewish festival, in this case the Feast of Lights.

The most central feature of Theophany involves water.  It is a feast of Jesus’ baptism in water,  the prototype of our Baptism as Christians.  The liturgical music for this date mentions water a million times, the Church performs the Great Blessing of Water, and the faithful immediately drink the blessed water, annoint themselves with it, take home jugs of blessed water to drink throughout the year and pour over their ailing bodies whenever illness strikes.  The priest blesses our homes with this water, even our cars, livestock, places of work.  But one of the oddest of traditions that some people don’t even realize are associated with Theophany, are the ice swims or polar bear jumps.  Maybe people have been doing this for millenia.  First as a post-sauna ritual, then as a stunt.  It’s popularity has spread world-wide and every news crew and newspaper has to run photos of swimsuit-clad or bizarrely decorated, obviously freezing nuts jumping into swimming pools and lakes, oceans and ponds.  However, leave it to the Orthodox Church and in particular, the Russians/Ukrainians to give it an association with one of the great feasts of the Church.  Surely only the promise of spiritual blessings could make a person jump into freezing waters that are doing their best to kill you.  (They don’t have paramedics at these things for dramatic effect you know.)    For a warmer celebration of Theophany I’d prefer the Greek Orthodox Church’s Theophany dive at Tarpon Springs, Florida; but you’ll notice it’s only young men doing the diving.

If you’d really like to read a much more edifying post on the meaning of Theophany than my rambling nonsense, please visit one of my favorite priest bloggers, Fr. Stephen at Glory to God for all Things