Archive for March, 2010

The Last Week Is So Hard

March 30, 2010

Well, it’s Tuesday of Holy Week, and only 6 days to Pascha.  Are you like me and trying to switch your brain from visions of meat and eggs to the joy and peace of the Resurrection?  

Yesterday afternoon I went to my all-time favorite country meat market to get the requisite Pascha sausage.   I’m born and bred Texas Deutsch, so that doesn’t mean kielbassa.  I had to get my sausage fix at Penshorn’s in Marion (217 W. San Antonio Street, aka FM 78), about 20 miles from San Antonio, close to my Mom’s house.  It’s an old-fashioned meat market, still hand-cutting everything and the makers of, I swear, the best local German sausage you’ll ever eat in your life.   The market’s future was in jeopardy in 2008 when a fire destroyed the original building.  They’ve re-opened with a new, larger market and are better than ever.  Penshorn’s makes the two traditional types – a dry beef sausage (garlic or regular, often made in the winter with venison), and a garlicky, peppery beef ring that’s sort of akin to a bratwurst, and unique to the German Hill Country of Texas. 

Do you know what your car smells like with 16 lbs of smoky, garlicky, German sausage on a warm day?  After 45 days of Great Lent, do you know what kinds of thoughts were going through my head with 16lbs of German sausage sitting on the seat beside me?   I’m telling ya, the devil was riding in that car and he didn’t have a pitchfork; he had a bottle of brown mustard and a pot of sauerkraut.

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The Bridegroom Cometh at Midnight

March 29, 2010

Today is the first full day of Holy Week, the finish race of our lenten marathon.  Beginning Sunday night, Orthodox churches started Holy Week  with an evening service called Bridegroom Matins (don’t ask me why a Matins service is served in the evening).  The service is based upon the parable of the ten virgins who went out to meet the bridegroom with their lamps.  Only five were ready with sufficient oil in for the sudden appearance of the bridegroom, Christ.  The other five were messing around with unlit lamps – unready souls –  scrambling at the last minute to find oil to fuel their light.   Matthew 25:13.

You could say that today then is the “namesday” of this blog – Cometh at Midnight.  When I started writing an Orthodox blog more than a year and a half ago, the first thing I noticed about other blogs was that they all had catchy names.   I spent more time trying to come up with a name then it took to write the first post.  I have no idea why the words of the Bridegroom Matins tropar came to my mind, “Behold, the Bridegroom cometh at midnight…”, but it fairly summed up the way I felt as an Orthodox Christian. 

We are all servants of the Lord but it’s the attitude and the way we spend our lives that distinguishes us from each other.   Some spend their lives living as if Christ will return at any minute – in prayer, repentance, and charity.  Others take a ‘tomorrow will do just fine’ attitude.  Life is to be lived now, with as much fun as you can cram into it.   Can you imagine their surprise when the Bridegroom returns?  But for many of us, our lives aren’t so clear-cut between readiness for our Lord’s return and a life of spiritual neglect.   We have days of intensity and attunement to our faith; when we feel like Christ is right their beside us.  Other days, the worries of living, the pursuit of our own hobbies, interests, and passions, the busyness of our lives just takes over everything.

I must make a confession now that is contrary to what you’d think about someone who spends so much time writing about faith, religion, and Orthodoxy.  Who is fascinated with the religions of the world as they relate to the Orthodox faith, and who loves to tell everyone how much I love the Orthodox Church.  My confession?      I am not a good Orthodox Christian. 

What is a ‘good’ Orthodox Christian?  Have I murdered anyone?  Well, not physically, but didn’t Christ say we can commit murder in our hearts with a single thought?   Have I gone to church and communed regularly?  Yes, but did I prepare to receive Communion properly?  Do I pray the morning and evening prayers?  Do I read the Bible daily?  Do I practice charity?  Did I fast properly during Lent?   No.  

It’s Holy Week and I have to admit to myself and to the piddling few readers of this blog, that I’m one of the servants who frittered away Great Lent and am now faced with the fact that the Bridegroom is coming and I am that servant with the unlit lamp.  I have spent more time thinking about my Orthodox faith then deeply practicing it.

You want to know the kicker about all this?  God still loves me even when I ignore him, even when I procrastinate in my spiritual life.  Holy Week is a fresh start, and as the old tent preachers say, ‘the time has come to get yourself right with the Lord’.   The Bridegroom tropar is a warning, but it also tells us what we have to do to get right with the Lord.  This is our spiritual awakening at the midnight hour – “…rouse yourself, crying:  Holy, holy, holy art Thou, O our God.” 

Behold, the Bridegroom cometh at midnight, and blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching:  and again, unworthy is the servant whom He shall find heedless.  Beware, therefore, O my soul, do not be weighed down with sleep, lest you be given up to death and lest you be shut out of the Kingdom.  But rouse yourself crying:  Holy, holy, holy, art Thou, O our God.  Through the Theotokos, have mercy on us.

 

Coming at you in 3-D

March 24, 2010

Now if this doesn’t return the Catholic priesthood to its dignity and higher calling, I just don’t know what will.   Yes, that IS a Catholic priest in 3-D glasses “appealing” to young people with a faith message that’s more vivid than the usual boring ‘ol religious programming on CatholicTV (yes, the news writer actually used the word ‘vivid’ in an article to describe 3-D TV programming!).   Maybe I’ll be proven wrong, but I’m not convinced 3-D isn’t just in another one of its fad cycles.   All I can say is that if 3-D programming were suggested for Orthodox Church media, I’d be asking why my tithes were being wasted on the kind of gimmicky hocum that makes American religion such a laugh sometimes. 

(The only useful religious application I can see for 3-D technology is filming some poor, unwitting sinner getting ‘slain in the spirit’ by a TV evangelist and falling over on the floor – that should look good filmed in 3-D from a particular angle – kind of like a pine tree getting chopped down.)

An Unusual Visitor

March 17, 2010

There’s no reason for this post, I just thought it was really interesting.  This kind of conflict is becoming an increasingly common problem in the Northeast.  It’s good to have a resurgence in wildlife, but humans just haven’t left them much room to find food and shelter.

The Spirituality of Church Architecture

March 12, 2010

The citizens of Victoria, Texas, are sure getting a lesson in Orthodoxy these past few weeks as the news articles and media coverage continue for the newly constructed All Saints Orthodox Mission.  As a follow-up to his sermon preached during the dedication service on March 6th, the Very Rev. Fr. Dimitri has an article published today in the Victoria Advocate  outlining the spirituality of Orthodox church architecture.

Fr. Dimitri’s article focuses, as it should, on the spirituality of Orthodox Church architecture.  But I can see another secondary effect of a traditionally constructed Orthodox Church – it’s evangelization potential. 

I’ve been thinking recently about the many advantages with starting a mission in a smaller community.  Victoria has about 65,000 residents (about 115,000 in the greater county area); it’s the county seat and the nexus for shopping, medical care and college education in a 3 or 4 county area.  It has only one major newspaper that reaches a multi-county area.   Evangelization and advertising efforts are concentrated and not so drowned out by competing media and “every other game in town”.    All Saints’ new church, built in a distinctively eastern style has become a source of discussion and interest.  Everyone entering Victoria from Highway 87 sees the three-bar cross on a large domed roof and knows it’s a church with something different.   If that’s enough to draw the curious visitor inside, thanks be to God.  If they stay long enough to experience the Word of God preached and the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, Glory!

Spring at last?

March 11, 2010

I am so glad this wet, cold, miserable winter is coming to an end.   South Texas was blessed to finally have a drought busting end to 2 years of the most intense drought in a century, however, it is not possible for us to live on less than 300 days of sunshine a year.  We get awfully cranky and depressed if it’s not sunny and 70 degrees in January.

The photo above was taken last weekend in a country cemetery near Smiley, Texas, on Highway 87.  I was returning from the dedication at All Saints Orthodox Mission in Victoria and even on a cloudy day, the intense color made me do a quick u-turn, and bounce through a cow pasture to get to this beautiful spot.  As I got out of the car a Great Horned Owl flew out of an old tree in the cemetery.  In a few weeks these Drummond Phlox are going to give way to a mass of Bluebonnets and Winecups that are growing up behind them. 

Drummond Phlox or Annual Phlox (Phlox drummondii)

All Saints Orthodox Mission, Victoria, Texas

March 11, 2010

I’m posting some photos and video below of last Saturday’s road trip  to All Saints Orthodox Mission in Victoria, Texas.  

I was not prepared for how obvious and visible the new church was from the highway.  I was looking for the big water tower – a handy landmark when you’re  trying to find the church – but it was the starkly white and unusually shaped (for Victoria) church building that got my attention.   You just can’t miss it as you drive into town on Hwy. 87.  As I posted last time, Victoria has never had an Orthodox church.  It has a large percentage of Roman Catholic churches, but mainline Protestant and non-denominational are equally present.  There’s even been a Muslim mosque for several years, but never an Orthodox church.  Corpus Christi, 50 miles away, had the closest Orthodox church.

Can you spot the small water tower near the church?  This was about 10:30 a.m. as folks started to gather outside.  By the time the service started I’d guesstimate there were close to 75 or 80 people there, including several Protestant clergy and a photographer from the Catholic Diocese of Victoria.

The Very Rev. Fr. Dimitri Cozby, pastor of All Saints, and our own, the Very Rev. Fr. Leo Poore, begin the service of Thyroxenia or opening of the doors.  (And check out those doors – gorgeous!  An All Saints parishioner pointed out to me that the metal scroll work on the doors perfectly matched the filligrees on the 7-branched candlestick on the altar.  Not intentional but a beautiful coincidence.)

Now, I don’t think many people have ever seen this service performed so none of us knew what to expect, but the symbology of what is being done ties perfectly into the purpose of the service – the opening of the doors of a new church.  Up to this point the reading of Psalm 83, “How beloved are Thy dwellings, O Lord”, the litanies, the Epistle reading from Hebrews 3:1-4, “For every house is constructed by someone, but God has constructed all things.”, and the Gospel of Matthew 16:13-18, “…thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”,  pointed above all else to the founding of God’s Holy Church, both temporal and spiritual.  The climax of the service outside the church and the literal opening of the doors comes after another litany specifically for the raising of a new temple.  The priest then repeats three times a literal knocking at the door:

Lift up your gates, O ye princes; and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors, that the King of Glory may come in.

Stationed inside the church is a parishioner reading a response to the priest:

Who is this King of Glory?

And again the priest knocks:

The Lord storng and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle.  Lift up your gates, O ye princes; and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors, that the King of Glory may come in.

And the final response from inside the church:

Who is this King of Glory?

The priest’s final statement:

The Lord of Hosts, He is the King of Glory.

Below is a clip of Fr. Dimitri at this point in the service.  It was a pretty windy day and you can barely hear the exchange described above.

After entering the temple, Fr. Dimitri blessed the interior with holy water.   Now I’m sorry I didn’t get more pictures, but the interior is something else.  The nave is semi-circular with side areas that will be perfect for adding more space on crowded days.  The doors separating the narthex and nave are huge glass double doors, that when combined with all the clear  windows in the church and the windows around the dome, make the church feel almost like it’s outdoors.  The floors are stained concrete and the altar area is floored with the most satiny smooth exotic hardwood.  All I can say is the finished effect is simply beautiful.  Once the iconostas is in place and the iconography on the walls and dome, then this will be an example of the very best in “modern” Orthodox church architecture.

Altar area sans iconostas

Fr. Dimitri’s sermon at the conclusion of the service was particularly good.  He’s a very scholarly priest and I’ve never heard one of his sermons that didn’t expand my understanding of the Church.  All Saints is blessed to have him.  (You’re gonna to have to bear with me on the video – how was I supposed to know that if you hold the camera sideways the video would turn out sideways too!  Fr. Dimitri usually doesn’t preach in this position, but I think he’d be the first to say that his perspective on things is usually just a bit “off  kilter”.  That’s our life as Christians – off kilter from the world.   So turn the volume up, close your eyes and everything will be alright.)

 

The parish catered a wonderful meal by a local Greek restaurant (sorry I just can’t remember the name of the business).  Despite the wind and the cool tempertures it turned out to be a perfect day.  God is blessing this mission in so many ways and I pray for their success in this life and the next.

Orthodox Road Trippin’

March 6, 2010

T-minus 6 hours 45 minutes and I’ll be blasting off for a day trip down to Victoria, Texas, to visit All Saints Orthodox Mission.   It’s an OCA mission that’s managed to put down deeper roots in 4 short years then many parishes accomplish in 10.  In the last year they’ve built a brand new Orthodox-style church in a growing area of town, and planted 100 olive trees and pastured a flock of 150 sheep on their 90 acre church property.  That is absolutely amazing, and I’m not just talking  about the sheep.  (Clarification – the church itself owns 17 acres of the 90 acre property; the remainder is owned by a parishioner.)

Tomorrow’s trip is a parish lenten retreat for members of St. Anthony’s to join our brothers and sisters as they celebrate the  official entry into their new church, called the “opening of the doors”  or Thyranexia.  It is a blessing and prayer service, kind of a dedication service.  And of course we’ll have a lenten lunch afterwards.  Nothing is really “official”  in the Orthodox Church unless it’s finalized with a pot luck and lots of coffee.  All Saint’s priest, the Very Rev. Fr. Dimitri Cozby, was actually the priest who received me into the Orthodox Church almost 20 years ago.  He was St. Anthony’s longest serving priest for more than 20 years, then left and started this mission.  You couldn’t ask for a more wonderful and godly priest to serve a new mission. 

I’m also going to combine pleasure with pleasure.  The rest of the group isn’t as crazy as I am to leave at 5:45 am, but I’m going to be doing a little bird watching before the service starts at 11:00 am.  Victoria has got some great birding spots and it’s also going to be kind of nice to just visit around town.  My in-laws lived in Victoria for more than 25 years until they retired and moved to Corpus Christi a few years ago.   I think this is only the 2nd time I’ve been back since they left.  I tried to get my kids to go with me, even bribing them with a trip to The Texas Zoo (yes, Victoria even has a really great little zoo), but they just couldn’t be talked into it.

I’ll post more when I get back.  In the meantime, check out some of the great coverage the Victoria Advocate newspaper has been giving All Saints with this video and news article.

Porn for Bibles

March 4, 2010

Here’s another fine example of the best the angry atheists have to offer.

The Atheist Agenda student group at one of San Antonio’s local institutes of “higher learning”, the University of Texas at San Antonio, is sponsoring a “Porn for Porn” campaign this week.   Their point?  The Bible (or any religious text) is of less value than hard-core porn because it portrays violence, torture and leads to war.  Oh, I get it.  The Bible is bad because the social mores of a small nation of people living 2,000 to 4,000 years ago were so much more misogynistic and violent then the multi-billion dollar modern porn industry which exploits women and children in the most vile and debasing manner, exposing them to infectious disease, rape, violence and humiliation.  That’s progress that is.   I think I’ll stick with the “primitive” revelation of a loving God, who even cares to the point of death for young people like those at UTSA who’d just as soon spit in his face then accept Him.

(One thing that I think is rather insightful is the Express News’ use of the word “stunt” in the title of the news article.”

Orthorobics – Fitness in 50 Days

March 3, 2010
presanct

A quiet moment during Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts last night

I originally posted this on March 19, 2009 after a Pre-Sanctified Liturgy that seemed particularly strenuous.  Tonight I just got home from a 2010 Pre-sanctified Liturgy.  My joints are one year older and really feeling it.  There is something so right though about worship that requires hard physical effort.  The psychological effects of prostrating yourself before God reminds you how humbling it is to be in His presence.  

We are almost at the halfway point – I pray you all persevere in good spirits looking towards the joy of our Lord’s Resurrection.

Orthorobics – that’s what my friend and fellow parishioner Jamie A. called it after we climbed back up off the floor for what seemed like the hundreth time during the Liturgy of the Pre Sanctified Gifts last night.  Well, actually four sets of prostrations with the Prayer of St. Ephraim and the entry of the Pre Sanctified Gifts, a couple of kneeling sessions, and various metanias (bows from the waist).   My knees aren’t what they used to be, but there’s nothing like a little orthorobics to keep you fit and awake for a long Lenten service. 

I think the Liturgy of the Pre Sanctified Gifts, more than any other Orthodox service, emphasizes the physicality of worship – the active participation of your body in praising God.  Orthodox worship reflects the heavenly worship which is also active.  The angels and saints are active in their movements as they surround the Throne of God.  Here on Earth in your unresurrected body, the pain in your joints, the stiffness in your back, only reminds you that worship is real hard work. 

My kids complain all the time that Church is boring, their feet hurt and they’re tired from standing so much (mind you, they make a miraculous recovery as soon as they go outside after services to chase their friends for an hour).   I used to worry about their complaining and feared they weren’t connecting with their faith, until I remembered that sometimes all the other grownups, me included,  feel just the same way.  Liturgy is not easy.  It’s not meant to be completely still, passive or comfortable.  Yes, there are quiet, meditative moments, but on the whole, an Orthodox Christian acknowledges and dedicates himself to God and the Church in both his body and soul with physical signs.  And, in my opinion, if something doesn’t hurt by the end of a service, you might want to take it up a notch.

To understand the Orthorobics of the Church more fully, I am excerpting  a great primer on Orthodox worship below, courtesy of an unknown contributor at OrthodoxWiki.  ( http://orthodoxwiki.org/Worship)

Standing –  One distinctive feature of Orthodox worship is that the faithful generally stand at all times during the service. This varies somewhat based on local custom, but historically the people have stood in Church in hopes of maintaining an attentive posture at all times. Sitting is practiced by some at various times in the services and is recommended for those who feel physically unable to stand. Most churches accommodate these individuals with chairs or pews along the sides of the church interior. Some churches have pews or rows of chairs that individuals stand in front of.

Bowing  During services, a bow is often made by the inclining of the head and neck (also called a reverential bow). It is more than a mere nod of the head. A bow at the waist (also known as a deep bow or profound bow) is also practiced with the metania.

Metania Another common gesture is the metaniaMetania(or metany) comes from the word metanoia (Greek μετάνοια). It is performed by first making the Sign of the Cross. Then, one bends from the waist, reaches toward the floor with the right hand open and facing outward, and touches the ground. It is used as the substitute for the prostration when it is normally prescribed, but not permitted by the Canons of the Church. The metania is often used when venerating an icon and when approaching a hierarch or a priest for his blessingWaist reverence (Slavonic: poiasnyi poklon), little reverence Prostration

Full prostration Also simply called prostration, is an act of distributing one’s weight on the knees, feet, and hands, touching the forehead to the floor, staying in the position as long as desired or necessary, then standing up. One usually makes the Sign of the Cross before or after the movement. This physical motion is similar to the Chinese kowtow (“bump head”). Interestingly, the use of the word prostration in this way is different than common english usage, where prostration means to pronate oneself or lay completely flat. The full prostration is sometimes called kneeling. Again, this word usage is different than the english usage of kneel, which means to distribute one’s weight on the knees and feet only.  The prostration is associated with penance, submission, and obeisance.  According to custom and tradition, a prostration is assumed (or not assumed) at different times in the services and church calendar. The twentieth canon of the First Ecumenical Council forbids kneeling on every Sunday and the fifty days between Pascha and Pentecost.

Kneeling –  Kneeling is also practiced by some Orthodox in their services.  The bending of one’s knees is also known as the lesser penance (metanoia mikra). Genuflection, or the bending of the right knee, is practiced in the Roman Catholic Church.