Archive for December, 2009

Orthodox New Year’s Resolutions

December 30, 2009

 New Year’s Day is almost here; the start of a new calendar year and a time when we all seem to give in to the cultural imperative to renew and remake ourselves.   Are you planning on losing 5 lbs?  Taking up an exercise program?  Stop (a) smoking (b) overeating or (c) overspending?  Why do we devote so much time and effort to reach our life goals, worthwhile as they may be, and fail to put the same effort into our “eternal” life goals?   By all means lose those 5 lbs, but while you’re at it, adopt some spiritual resolutions and give them the effort that our Lord and Savior asks of us – willingly, joyfully and with the assurance that this is what truly renews our lives.

  1. Attend Vespers and/or Divine Liturgy for all major Feasts.
  2. Attend Saturday night Vespers.
  3. Read the appointed scripture readings for each day.
  4. Say your morning and evening prayers faithfully.
  5. Commit to bringing your children to church school every Sunday.
  6. Pray the Hours during the day.
  7. Practice regular tithing.
  8. Pray the Jesus Prayer daily.
  9. Memorize one scripture verse a day.
  10. Phone or send a card to a parishioner you haven’t seen in a while and let them know you miss them and ask how they’re doing.
  11.  Talk to, not at, a young person in your parish.  Befriend them; learn about their interests, their life, their goals.
  12. Make a special intention to pray for the spiritual lives of our young parishioners.
  13. Volunteer for church activities; your time is a gift to God.
  14. Learn the lives of some less well-known saints.
  15. Make a point of greeting every visitor and new comer to your parish – answer their questions, invite them to coffee hour,  make them feel at home.
  16. Say a kind word to everyone you meet.
  17. Commit yourself to arriving at church before the beginning of the Divine Liturgy.
  18. Practice secret and spontaneous acts of charity.
  19. Be an evangelist; bring a friend to church, talk openly about your faith, be a witness to the truth of Orthodoxy.
  20. Pray, pray and pray some more.
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The Holy Innocents

December 28, 2009

December 29th marks the date on the Orthodox calendar (New) for the remembrance of the infant boys murdered by King Herod in Bethlehem.  The accounts say there were 14,000, though I doubt there were 14,000 people in the whole town.  Whatever the true number – 140 or 14,000 – the calculated murder of children made such a deep impression on the Gospel writer of Matthew, as well as the 1st century Jewish historian Josephus, that it is remembered as a horrific event even two thousand years later.  

If you are  too shocked by this incident and blame it on the Romans’ less advanced culture and obviously flawed morals, remember the one million babies who die in this country each year from abortion.   These aren’t babies murdered at the hands of a political despot, but at the request of their own mothers and accommodated by a greed-driven abortion industry and the rabid ideals of pro-abortion supporters.  Who will write stories about the millions of murdered innocents of the 21st century?

Turkey Reacts to Patriarch Bartholomew

December 21, 2009

Well, here’s no surprise – Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu doesn’t like what Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has to say about the persecution of Christians in Turkey and their taking up of the Cross.   He “graciously” allowed His Holiness  an opening for apology and back pedaling when he said

We regard the use of the crucifixion simile as extremely unfortunate…. I would like to see this as an undesired slip of the tongue.

If you watched the achingly sad interview you’ll know that every word Patriarch Bartholomew used was carefully and thoughtfully chosen for just the message it conveyed – a passive-aggressive and unreasonable government that unfairly singles out the remnants of a conquered ethnic group that just won’t go away fast enough.  One thing that so affected me about the interview was the poignancy of Patriarch Bartholomew, the leader of the last remaining Byzantine Greeks, trying to preserve the faith in what was once their own country, oppressed by the muslim descendents of what were once faithful Orthodox Christians.  It’s the same feeling you get with the Copts – how galling that they are a minority in their own country, under persecution by those who, centuries before, were once Copts themselves.

60 Minutes also posted a couple of extra videos that further highlight the de-Christianization of Turkey and the land of Palestine.   These two clips reinforce the sadness and thorough way in which Islam has supplanted the Christian faith in the Holy Land and Turkey.  It is not the “truth” of Islam at work, but the Great Deceiver working through the tide of history, conquest and persecution. (By the way, Dr. Maria C. Khoury, seen in the interview in Taybeh, Palestine, is a popular author of children’s books and a tireless supporter of the last remaining Orthodox Christians in the Holy Land.  Pray for her and for the Christians of Taybeh.)  

For an earlier post, click here to go to Patriarch Bartholomew on 60 Minutes

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on 60 Minutes

December 18, 2009

This Sunday, December 20th at 7 p.m. EST / 6 p.m. CST, His Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew will be interviewed on 60 Minutes about the Church and the difficulties it faces in Turkey.   The short trailer   surprised me and I hope it reflects the tone of the whole segment.  I’ve never heard His Holiness speak so directly about the oppression the Church endures.   Patriarch Bartholomew, aside from being a religious leader, is a well-versed politician.  His politically sensitive words always seem chosen to keep him balanced between drawn knives.  This interview is sure to raise someone’s blood pressure.

While I’m at odds with the Patriarch’s moves to control the American diaspora and his media-fueled elevation to the role of Orthodox “pope”, I still respect him as an Orthodox Patriarch and can certainly understand where he’s coming from on this issue.  This is a fight for the very survival of the Christian faith in one of its oldest communities, and fighting these days is about media presence.

I hope this news story will do some small part to expose the true nature of the Turkish government even while it scrambles to put its best face on for the EU admission process.  What I think is obvious is that the Turkish government and the country’s rising Muslim fanaticism will finish off the Turkish Christian minority in the 21st century if something drastic is not done soon. 

If you’re thinking this is overreaction, how about a plot by Turkish naval personnel to kill a target list of approximately 939 non-muslims and to bomb homes and places of worship.  Or  the Syriac Orthodox priest ordered under threat of death by muslim extremists  to tear down his church’s bell tower as reparation for the Swiss minaret ban.  I’ve got a limit here or I could give you a hundred more examples of threats, attacks, vandalism, and discrimination directed against Christians in Turkey.    

So by all means, European Union, admit Turkey and see what you get.  

Christmas in San Antonio 2009

December 16, 2009

Well, it’s time for my annual San Antonio Christmas buñuelo report.   No one ever seems to show up at an office in this town with a holiday fruit basket.  Our office is always  the fortunate recipient of this ‘food of goodwill and good business’ tradition.  So far this year we’ve had tamales, pecans 3 ways (sugared, salted and chocolate), and trashcan sized tins of cookies, but the best is the buñuelos.  Light-as-air dough fried in copious amounts of lard until browned to the color of a Padre Island suntan, then sprinkled all over with a handful of granulated sugar and cinnamon, which adheres to the hot and greasy buñuelo like a cotton shirt to a sweaty body.   Really, they are that good.

Did you know buñuelos are most likely a Sephardic Jewish tradition?  There had to be a religious connection in there somewhere.  Did I mention I’m feeling really ill now?  Can you be hospitalized for a sugar overdose? 

Another Crazy Award for the Gosselins

December 15, 2009

Wow!  I so wish I could write like Joan Walsh at Salon.  (Flip  through the link to Entry #10 “Nuts Plus Eight”)

If you just can’t get enough vicarious melodrama on Jon and Kate Gosselin and their eight exploited children, Joan Walsh will make you feel appropriately guilty for feeding the reality TV sickness in this country.  And if watching the Gosselins implode wasn’t fun enough already, reading Ms. Walsh’s gut-shot poetry is pure literary bliss.

If you’d like to follow along and see who else makes Salon’s 2009 Crazy list or vote on the rankings, click here.    Ain’t America great!

An Atheist’s Christmas

December 14, 2009

Man, are these some angry, aggressive, bitter, unhappy people.   I can never understand why people who vehemently deny God, care so much about the religious beliefs of others, or feel so besieged by the observance of Christmas.  (I tend to think it’s that little voice in their heads whispering “What if it’s true, what if it’s true?” }

I too get sick of the endless piped-in Christmas music at the grocery store, the frenzy of money-fueled Christmas commercialism, the marathon of pointless “holiday” specials on TV,  but that’s only because I WANT a more religiously focused, low stress, meaningful Christmas – not a Christ-less Christmas.  Atheists just quit yer bitchin’ and develop a thicker skin. 

My Seventeen Year Journey with Saint Herman of Alaska

December 12, 2009

 

The last week and a half  has been particularly difficult – illness, financial strain, job problems, holiday overload – and there have been days when I just didn’t give a crap about anything.   It’s not too hard to understand why the sin of anger is a big part of my confessions.  But it was this evening when the fog of sickness had started to lift that I realized I had something to be happy and joyful about. 

December 13th is the feastday of possibly the most beloved of American Orthodox Saints – Venerable Herman of Alaska.  A monk whose simple life has had the most profound impact on American Orthodoxy.  I count myself blessed that seventeen years ago on his feastday I was  received into the Holy Orthodox Church through chrismation.  It was and remains still, the most important day of my life.  I was reborn into a new life in the Orthodox faith and Saint Herman has been one of those saints I have felt closest to. 

Some people might say that one day of  total spiritual devotion and happiness would be enough to satisfy them a lifetime.  That’s how many Orthodox converts remember the date of their baptism or chrismation.  It is that one special day that seems to be a fulfillment of long, difficult journeys and sacrifices to achieve truth and salvation.  In His mercy, God has blessed me with 6205 days since my chrismation, but I never fail to remember how miserably I have squandered all that time.  I have so often let the problems and stress of this world interfere with my spiritual life and left so many areas of sin untouched and unchanged.  I can only hope that through the prayers of Saint Herman I can complete my life in the same spirit of peace that he had.  

If you would like to learn more about the life and miracles of Saint Herman click here.

O blessed Father Herman of Alaska,
North star of Christ’s holy Church,
The light of your holy life and great deeds
Guides those who follow the Orthodox way.
Together we lift high the Holy Cross
You planted firmly in America.
Let all behold and glorify Jesus Christ,
Singing his holy Resurrection.

Saint Nicholas

December 7, 2009

I know it’s a day late but I just had to post about the strange legend I learned about Saint Nicholas, whose feast day was celebrated on December 6th.   A church friend told me that Saint Nicholas is famous for raising three children from the dead who’d been pickled in brine by a murderous butcher, with the intent of later selling them as ham.   I mean really, I’ve heard of brining turkeys for Thanksgiving, but children!   Aren’t they tender enough already?

Sorry, couldn’t help that one.   Besides, everyone knows children are better as a  dessert course, all that sugar and spice…

Brined children raised from the dead.  This fantastic medieval legend, like so many others, tests our faith and the credibility of all miracles.  The hagiographic accounts of miraculous healings, appearances, and prophecies could fill a library.  By the rationalistic, scientific standards of our modern mind we tend to dismiss or outright scorn these accounts, thinking of those who fervently believed in this evidence of the Divine, as superstitious hicks.  But do we give the originators and believers of these miracles enough credit?  They had such a superabundance of simple faith and belief that it was natural and entirely plausible for them to embellish, invent, or translate into their own time the  stories of the wonder-working and the fantastic, while so-called Christians of the 21st century will bend themselves into knots asserting a belief  in Bigfoot, 9/11 conspiracy theories, and Mayan calendar end-of-the-world scenarios.   It’s funny that some of these same people find it hard to believe in the Creation, the Trinity, and Christ’s bodily Resurrection.   So let me ask again, who’s stories are more implausible?