Archive for July, 2009

Proud Mary

July 22, 2009


Today, July 22nd, marks the Feast day of probably the most misrepresented and misunderstood of biblical figures, Mary Magdalene.  Orthodox Christians know her as Saint Mary Magdalene, Apostle to the Apostles, Equal to the Apostles and Holy Myrrhbearer of our Lord.  The world ‘knows’  her as the sinful woman, a prostitute, and God forgive us, the wife of Jesus and the mother of his children, a feminist heroine, even a New Age semi-divine goddess. 

It makes me cringe to have to type such blasphemous words – which did not have the same effect on Dan Brown when he put The Da Vinci Code to paper.  Awful writer that he was, he can’t take credit for originality.  It took a heretical Greek at the turn of the 20th century, Nikos Kazantzakis, to begin the modern literary ‘tradition’ of Mary Madgalene as girlfriend; others elaborated this into wife and grieving widow, in such classics of poor scholarship and outlandish fiction as  The Jesus Scroll, Holy Blood, Holy GrailThe Woman with the Alabaster Jar, and Mary Magdalene: Christianity’s Hidden Goddess.

Renaissance, possibly Leonardo Da Vinci's, interpretation of Mary Magdalene

Renaissance, possibly Leonardo Da Vinci's, interpretation of Mary Magdalene

It is likely that sixth century Pope Gregory the Dialogist began the confusion of Mary Magdalene with the sinful woman described in the Gospel of Luke (Chapter 7); however, this has never been the interpretation of the Orthodox Church.  Below is the life of Saint Mary Magdalene in a manner that is more fitting for the honor and veneration she is due.

Biography of Saint Mary Magdalene

Little is known of the early life of Mary other than the place of her birth which was in the area of Lake Genesareth (Galilee), between the cities of Capharnum and Tiberius, in a small city called Magdala (from which her name “Magdalene” comes from).   The small village of Mejhdel stands on the site today.    In the Bible we read that she was afflicted with an incurable possession by seven devils (Luke 8:2).  This was allowed by God’s Providence so that in curing her the Lord Jesus Christ could show the power and glory of God the Father.  In gratitude she dedicated her whole life to her Saviour Jesus Christ and became one of his most devoted disciples.

Particularly remarkable was the determination and unusual courage which Mary Magdalene showed toward her Saviour. At the time of His greatest suffering, while He hung on the Cross and when even His apostles had abandoned Him, Mary Magdalene stood at the foot of the Cross together with the Mother of God and the Lord’s beloved disciple, John.  They mourned andwept, but even in their weeping they comforted the Saviour with their undying love and the knowledge that He had not been utterly forsaken.  That night, Mary Magdalene came with Joseph of Arimathea and Nikodemos and took the Body of the Lord down from the Cross and laid it in a new tomb.  Together with the other women disciples, she returned home to prepare myrrh and other ointments with which to anoint the precious Body of Christ, according to the Jewish custom. Very early in the morning on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the sepulchre carrying the myrrh.  It is for this reason the Church calls her “Myrrh-bearer”.   Coming close she saw that the large stone placed at the entrance of the tomb had been rolled away.  She thought perhaps someone had already come and taken the Body to another place.  Hurrying back to Jerusalem she told the apostles Peter and John: “They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, ‘andwe know not where they have laid Him.” Together with them she went again to the tomb and stood there weeping.  When they had left she stooped down and looked into the sepulchre.  There she saw two angels who asked why she was crying. She told them and then,turning around, she saw Jesus, but in her grief she did not recognize Him, thinking He was the gardener. It was only then He said her name: “Mary!” that she recognized Him as her beloved Lord. Not believing her own ears, she cried out with joy, “Master!  Then following His instructions, she ran quickly to announce the good news to the disciples: “Christ is risen!” (Because she was the first, sent by the Lord Himself, to proclaim the Resurrection, the Church also calls her “Equal-to-the–Apostles”.

Even after Christ’s Ascension into heaven, Mary Magdalen continued to preach the good news of Christ’s glorious Resurrection, not only in Jerusalem, but in other countries.    Tradition relates that in Italy Mary Magdalene visited Emperor Tiberias (14-37 A.D.) and proclaimed to him Christ’s Resurrection. 

During a dinner with the emperor Tiberius, Mary Magdalene was speaking about Christ’s Resurrection.  Tiberius scoffed at her, saying that a man could rise from the dead no more than the egg in her hand could turn red.  Immediately, the egg turned red.  Because of this, icons of Mary Magdalene sometimes depict her holding a red egg, and have given rise to the tradition of exchanging red paschal eggs.

Mary Magdalene continued her preaching in Italy and in the city of Rome itself.   It is likely the Apostle Paul has her in mindin his Epistle to the Romans (16: 6), where together with other ascetics of evangelic preaching he mentions Mary (Mariam), who as he expresses “has bestowed much labor on us.”   She served the Church in its means of subsistence and its difficulties, being exposed to dangers, andsharing with the Apostles the labors of preaching.   According to Church Tradition she remained in Rome until the arrival of the Apostle Paul, and for two more years following his departure from Rome after the first court judgment upon him.  From Rome, the elderly St Mary Magdalene moved to Ephesus where the holy Apostle John unceasingly labored.  There the saint finished her earthly life andwas buried.   Her holy relics were transferred in the ninth century to Constantinople, and placed in the monastery Church of St Lazarus. In the era of the Crusader campaigns they were transferred to Italy and placed at Rome under the altar of the Lateran Cathedral. Part of the relics of Mary Magdalene are said to be in Provage, France near Marseilles, where over them at the foot of a steep mountain a splendid church is built in her honor.

(source OrthodoxWiki, and websites of the Orthodox Church in America website and ROCA)


Amish Romance is Hot!

July 18, 2009

Wholesome = Good


Lustful = Bad










 Well, not hot like…you know…, but if you’re writing Christian fiction it seems to be a sure ticket to big sales.    Since the first Amish novels came out 10 plus years ago with Beverly Lewis’s publication of The Shunning, this uniquely Christian genre has seen nothing but growth, even in a down book market. 

As far as romance novels go, you’re likely to get more sparks by rubbing two Amish quilts together.  The novels feature chaste love, family values and biblical virtue with a decidedly Protestant mind frame.   The appeal for readers living in the hectic, pressured, modern life is the chance to escape  into a traditional, self-reliant, setting with strong family values.  These novels aren’t working out a character’s sexual identity, marital infidelities or teenage sexting and binge drinking.   I get that, I totally do; and if I can’t live the agrarian life, reading about it is the next best thing.  As an Orthodox Christian it would be fabulous to have the same literary options available to me; to read well-written (I emphasize ‘well written’) novels about the lives of Orthodox Christians.

Converts to Orthodoxy have a gut love for tradition and changelessness, and often fall head-over-heels with the romanticized, traditional lifestyle of historically Orthodox cultures.  There are all too many well-meaning Orthodox converts who believe that to live the Gospel means to live it as 18th century Russian or Greek peasants.  These are the Barsanuphias Smiths and Anastasia Jones’ of our generation.  It’s a beautiful deception; it’s not reality.  That said, I don’t see anything wrong with using the imagination in a safe Orthodox Christian themed romance novel.   It’s got to be better than the ‘porn by any other name’  mainstream romance novels out there.

I  see two basic themes for our new Orthodox Christian romance novels:

(1)  Serf Fiction – Happy peasants, working in the fields each day, singing cheerful peasant songs in the warm sun.  Of course they stop to pray the Hours whenever they hear the parish church bells ring.  At the end of a long, but fulfilling day, they go home to their quaint little cottage, and have some family time.   The peasant’s teenage daughter, beautiful but pious, has been carrying a secret love for the landowning noble’s equally handsome, pious son.   After many trials, their love overcomes all and they marry.  The couple become reknowned for their charity and both become monastics in their old age. 

(2)  Convert Fiction – Here’s a story that proves long-suffering love triumphs over ignorance and heresy.  Beautiful and faithful Protestant or evangelical girl (her father is of course a hell-fire and brimstone preaching minister) falls in love with a handsome, strong Orthodox boy from a large, ethnically inclined family.  The beautiful girl must overcome the cruel, unbibilical objections and vindictive meddling of her family to wed her true love and find salvation in the One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.   The sequel deals with the birth of the first grandchild and the baby’s baptism into the Faith.  You think this is melodramatic twaddle?  Unfortunately, it happens more than you’d like to think.   

Hello Conciliar Press or Light & Life Publishing.  If you’d like to get me a book deal, I’d happily become the Beverly Lewis of Orthodox Christian fiction.   I look good in a scarf, I’m an Orthodox traditionalist, I’m well-versed in the tribulations of a convert life, and I can appreciate a good love story.  It’s a guaranteed bestseller because there’s nothing women find sexier than a Godly man with strong faith and a strong character (even better if he’s wearing black………seminarian cassocks of course).

Orthodoxy in Unlikely Places

July 9, 2009


So as I posted earlier, I was on vacation the end of June and early July in New Mexico and West Texas.  At some point we stopped in the historic little town of Fort Davis, Texas, on our way down to Big Bend National Park.   We spent a wonderful night at our usual stay, the Indian Lodge in Davis Mountains State Park. 

Wherever I travel I always make a review of the phone book and local newspaper  to see what kinds of churches, particularly Orthodox, are found in the area.  Since I’d been to the Big Bend area many times, I didn’t even pay it that much mind since I thought I knew what was to be found out here.   In the way of Orthodoxy that means flat nothing between San Angelo and El Paso.   So you can imagine my total, utter shock when I opened the Jeff Davis County Mountain Register and saw the name Saint Jonah the Wonderworker Orthodox Church in the church listings on page 3.  

To give you an idea how unlikely it is that anyone in the OCA Missions Office ever thought about Big Bend as an area of future church planting, some statistics please.  Fort Davis and Valentine are the only two towns to be found in the whole 2265 square miles of Jeff Davis County, with a total population of 2207.   Thirty miles from Fort Davis is Brewster County and the location of St. Jonah Orthodox Mission in Alpine, Texas.   Only 8866 people reside in Brewster County’s 6193 square miles, most in the town of Alpine (population 5786).  And yet, in two counties where the average population density is less than 1 person per square mile, an Orthodox mission has been planted and a part-time priest assigned.   Glory be to God!

Michael Jackson’s Memorial

July 7, 2009


Can I open my eyes now? 

What an exploitative  freak show that was!    His poor kids were manipulated throughout their whole lives and it looks like that was just the beginning.  And to think I adored Michael Jackson and the Jackson Five when I was 12.   It was even apparent at that age that Michael Jackson was destined for greater (and regretably, lesser things).  My whole room was covered in posters of Donny Osmond, Michael Jackson, David Cassidy.  I bought every issue of Tiger Beat and answered every quiz and contest.  “Could You Be Michael’s Secret Love?”  “Are You the Key to Unlock Donny’s Heart”.   I even drug my poor, suffering mother to see the Jackson Five (and the Partridge Family and the Osmonds) perform at the Hemisfair Arena in the mid 70’s.  

How stupid and embarrassing my pre-teen adolation seems when I think about it now.  But, hey, after seeing the gag fest in LA today, I’m not feeling quite so stupid anymore.  

Some Thoughts on Metropolitan Jonah’s Address to the ACNA

July 6, 2009


 Since I was out of internet access for a good portion of the last 10 days, I’m catching up on a lot of news and videos (unfortunately, not far enough out of touch to avoid the 24/7 Michael Jackson death watch).   I just got finished watching the presentation of Metropolitan Jonah  (click on the scrolling photo of Met. Jonah) at the inauguration of the Anglican Church in North America in Bedford, Texas, between June 22nd and June 25th.

Every time I hear him speak I’m amazed at his natural and powerful speaking presence.  Sorry Rick Warren, but when I compared your message with Metropolitan Jonah’s, it became apparent that one was speaking with the a spiritual and intellectual mind rooted in the Gospel and the tradition of the Church; the other in cliched phrases and platitudes.  Words, no matter how cleverly presented mean nothing if there isn’t substance to support them.  

As far as the subject of the speech – the unification of the Orthodox Church with the “orthodox” Anglican Church – I’d have to say I’m one of those skeptics who looks at this proposal as maybe a little too visionary and ripe for a big let down in the end.  

My life as a former Protestant and my continuing observations of mainstream Protestantism just doesn’t give me much hope that a greater portion of these denominations won’t eventually fall into liberalism, compromise, and further inter-division.   Secularism and humanism are attacking Christian denominations from both the inside and the outside, weakening, polarizing and splitting what “orthodoxy” they still retain.  I would really like to believe that the ACNA will be different. 

Despite my misgivings, it was heartening to hear the loud and enthusiastic applause supporting the pro-life stance of the Orthodox Church and the ACNA.   But did you hear the crickets chirping when Met. Jonah firmly stated the impossibility of women’s ordination?   It’s solely my soapbox opinion, but I believe that the issue of women priests will be the ultimate stumbling block for this unification process.   Even more so than same-sex gender issues, even more than sacramental or theological questions.  The mad-eyed feminist genie has been let out of the bottle and won’t be easily or willingly stuffed back in.   Which of the proud, smiling, women celebrants at the ACNA inauguration is going to voluntarily laicize themselves for the greater good of unification?   Julia Duin of the The Washington Times commented a few days ago on the quandary ACNA is in with this issue.  I just don’t see how ACNA is going to keep up this schizophrenic liberalism on women priests while standing in the traditional camp on others.  It still sounds like the doctrinal picking and choosing which Metropolitan Jonah said cannot exist for a true orthodox Christianity.

In the end, who knows where this will lead.   Metropolitan Jonah may not know either, but he’s acted with the kind of boldness and promise that characterized his elevation to the episcopacy just a few months ago, and which has renewed the vision of the Orthodox Church in America.   Let us all pray for  Metroplitan Jonah and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in this bold process, and that all will come with a sincere desire to put the Church first for the glory of God.

Everyone’s Having A Happy 4th of July (except for this guy!)

July 4, 2009

american_flagA very happy 4th of July to everyone!  Hope y’all are all proudly displaying your American flags, the privilege of which seems to be in some doubt in the Little Babylon on the River.  You may know it as the city of Austin, Texas.  Read the story and then explain to me what gives the idiot property managers at this apartment complex the right to dictate to this man what he can and can’t put up on the walls of his own apartment?  What if that was a large cross or religious tapestry or banner visible from the parking lot?   I can understand they’re just trying to maintain a nice looking property, but isn’t this going a bit far?  And anyone who says “then why can’t you fly a Confederate flag?” is just goading.   


Hell and the Family Road Trip

July 4, 2009


You know how all those Renaissance and Baroque paintings depict Hell as, well, Hell?  Demons, brimstone, torture, eternal pain?   I now actually think the Chevy Chase comedy Family Vacation comes a lot closer to the true depiction of hell.  I just got into town a few hours ago from a trip to southern New Mexico and Big Bend National Park.   I’m finding it hard to compare which I enjoyed more – four days with my bickering kids and grouchy husband or the five days in a mountain home with the aforementioned and my various in-laws. 

Well, it’s 1:45 a.m. and I have 400 miles of travel to sleep off.  I’ll wait to tell you about the 7 year old who sliced his finger open with a pocket knife in the backseat of the SUV, the dead, stinking skunk in my backyard, and the 65 mph collision we narrowly (I mean narrowly!) had with a sheep rancher today on a lonely, back country Texas road.