Archive for the ‘Saints’ Category

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?

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? 


September 9, 2009

This icon clearly depicts the advanced age of Saint Joachim and Anna at the time of Mary's childhood. According to Holy Tradition, Saint Joachim was 60 and Saint Anna was 59 when Mary was born; both died ten years after her birth.

Everyone seems to be obsessed with the numerical oddity, some would say auspiciousness, of today’s date.   Weddings, lottery tickets sales, and lucky births are all being blessed with the smiling face of fortune today.

I hope you haven’t gotten caught up in this superstitious nonsense, and may I suggest an alternative blessing for this date?  Orthodox Christians observe September 9th as the feast of the parents of Mary, the Most Holy Theotokos, the Mother of God, falling naturally the day after the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos (8th).   Since becoming a mother I’ve always had a special devotion to Saint Anna and I believe through her intercessions that I have been blessed.   It was to Saint Anna that I prayed through two difficult pregnancies and I continue to ask for her help whenever I have a special concern with my children.   Random sequences of numbers just can’t give you that kind of peace!

Most Holy Ancestress of Christ, pray for us!

Anna rejoices, released from her barrenness,
and nurses her most pure child.
She calls all people to glorify Him
Who gave the Virgin Mother to mankind from her womb.

                                                                  Kontakion Tone 2

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)


Saint Mary of Egypt

April 5, 2009


This past week on April 1st (new calendar) Saint Mary of Egypt reposed more than 1500 years ago in the desert of Palestine.  She led such an inspiring life that she is celebrated with her own Lenten Sunday today.  Most Orthodox Christians know the basics of how such a great sinner became one of the Church’s most inspiring ascetics. 

A prostitute from a young age, she had no scruples about hopping aboard a ship carrying pilgrims from Alexandria to Jerusalem in approximately 475 AD, and “working”  her way across the Mediterranean.   The pilgrims were on their way to attend the Feast of the Exaltation of the Precious Cross, and on the day of the Feast, Mary found herself drawn to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Wood of the True Cross, but she was not permitted to enter the door with the other pilgrims.  Held back by an unseen force she repeatedly tried to enter the door.   In frustration she looked up and saw an icon of the Mother of God and appealed to her for an explanation.  Whether it was the Mother of God’s reply pointing out her sinfulness or a God-inspired revelation, she suddenly became aware of the course of her sinful life and repented on the spot. 

What follows is not your average salvation story – without hesitation she immediately left for the desert to live out her life in contrition and prayer, scavenging off the land, naked and alone for 47 years.   Her skin was blackened from the sun, her clothing rotted off her body and she became skeletal on a diet of three dried loaves of bread she’d bought on the day of her flight into the desert and whatever she could find in the wasteland.  She didn’t see or speak to anyone for 47 years until the priest monk Zosimus took a retreat into the desert during the Great Fast, improbably found her, learned her story and gave her communion and a promise to return the following year.  Saint Zosimus was good to his word and returned during Great Lent in about the year 521, but only to miraculously find her dead body, which he buried with the help of a lion to dig the stony ground.   Wow!   And I think I’m doing good when I fast successfully for one week and make it to confession before mid-Lent.   Do I regret and sincerely ask forgiveness for my sins?  Are my past indiscretions reason for repentance or fond memories of wild oats sown and harvested?

It’s sad and ironic that a depressed, raging alcoholic, one of the 20th century’s defining poets, and the son of a suicidal father, should write a contemplative poem about Saint Mary of Egypt.  John Berryman (1914 – 1972) lived with a lifetime of demons and never found the peace achieved by Saint Mary.  Sad and broken, he committed suicide by jumping off a bridge.

Dream Song 47:  April Fool’s Day or Saint Mary of Egypt

-Thass a funny title, Mr Bones.
-When down she saw her feet, sweet fish, on the threshold,
she considered her fair shoulders
and all them hundreds who have them, all
the more who to her mime thickened & maled
from the supple stage,

and seeing her feet, in a visit, side by side
paused on the sill of The Tomb, she shrank: ‘No.
They are not worthy,
fondled by many’ and rushed from The Crucified
back through her followers out of the city ho
across the suburbs, plucky

to dare my desert in her late daylight
of animals and sands. She fall prone.
Only wind whistled.
And forty-seven years with our caps on,
whom God has not visited.


Nostalgic Weekend

December 15, 2008

There are some days that make you all too aware that you are alive in the present, and others that remind you constantly that everything you know about life is shaped by the experiences of your past.  My weekend was kind of like that. 

For one, I connected with my dead grandmother through the mystical seance of baking.  My Oma, dead now for close to 20 years, was a great baker.   Homemade bread with butter and honey can make me feel like I’m 8 years old again, standing in her mint green, sunny, farmhouse kitchen.   At Christmas I have resurrected a couple of her recipes, most importantly her molasses cookies and Ranger cookies.   No one ever got the correct or true recipe for the molasses cookies, but I think I’ve done a fair job of re-creation.  The Ranger Cookies I have heretically updated with the addition of chocolate chips and my kids love ’em that way.  One recipe, though, I had never been brave enough to try because of its alleged difficulty and the vagueness of her directions – the faded, handwritten directions for Leb Cookies. 

Leb Cookies are not to be confused with Lebkuchen.  Lebkuchen is a traditional German honey spice cookie.  Leb Cookies, as far as I know, are a German cookie confined to the Texas Hill Country and are made with pecans.   You will find almost no references to them in local German cook books and even fewer people make them.  I’d be willing to bet that my attempt this weekend was one of only one hundred for a fifty mile radius.   Basically, they are a mixture of butter, shortening, sugar and pecans, cooked till they caramelize slightly, then a heaping seven cups of flour and leavening mixed in while the syrup is still warm, and then stirred until you think your arm is going to fall off.  The warm dough is spread in a big pan, cooled overnight, then sliced thin and baked.  Let me just say,  my family and I will be eating more than 9 dozen of my only marginally successful attempts to recreate this tricky recipe.  But the real success of the recipe was that I thought my Oma would be so pleased that someone remembered her and the happy memories made in her kitchen. 

My second, but more important nostalgic event, was on Saturday, December 13th – the Feast of Saint Herman of Alaska – the first canonized American saint of the Orthodox Church in America.   And, it was 16 years ago to the day that I was chrismated Orthodox.  I can still remember it so vividly.  It was exciting, awkward, overwhelming and underwhelming all at the same time.  I am just glad I was received by chrismation and not baptism.  I felt strange enough standing barefooted in church; a baptism in the Holy Horse Trough (literally, but it looks nicer with a white skirt around it) would have been totally strange. (And cold.  No matter how many buckets of water they heat up on the stove, the water coming from the outside tap in December is cold.)   If the details of my memory seem a little mundane, the whole significance of what I did 16 years ago isn’t lost on me.   I can never go to church on St. Herman’s Feast without tearing up because I am so happy and grateful to God for bringing me into his Holy Church.  Becoming an Orthodox Christian remains the single most important thing I’ve ever done in my life.   

Like most important things in life, it all boils down to the significance of one single event, and everything I’ve done since has been affected by that decision.  That decision has become the nostalgic nexus of my life and has put my nostalgia for cookies, traditions, family memories into a bigger perspective.

Don’t Queerify My Saints!

October 7, 2008

Today is the Feast of the Saints Sergius and Bacchus, 3rd century Roman soldier saints, good buddies in the faith while alive, and supporters of each other through trials and martyrdom.  Or as some would have you believe, very, very good buddies.   In case you haven’t read some agenda driven tripe or seen a “History” Channel mocumentary, Saints Sergius and Bacchus are the poster boys for persecuted homosexuals dying for their forbidden love.  Their Christian faith was in there somewhere to, but it’s their secret marriage and outting that gets all the attention.   If you don’t believe me, try a search using the terms “Sergius Bacchus Same Sex Marriage”.  There is more than one gay church using the saints’ lives as fuel for their religious version of Brokeback Mountain.

Some of the scholarly interpretations of the life of these two saints come from their life story wherein they are reported to have been stripped of their military insignia, dressed in women’s clothing and paraded through the streets.  Others find proof in their depiction on icons as standing close together.  (If that were all it took to label someone as homosexual, start with Saints Peter and Paul, and a whole bunch of others, many of whom never even met but were co-defenders of the Orthodox faith.)   For an excellent refutation, read an old but still relevant article by scholar Robin Darling Young who puts this and a lot of other nonsense to rest. 

From the website of the Orthodox Church in America you can also read the honorable and edifying story of these two saints, whose bond was as brothers in the faith, and whose love for each other was based on the love God has for all of us:

The Martyrs Sergius and Bacchus in Syria were appointed to high positions in the army by the emperor Maximian (284-305), who did not know that they were Christians. Envious people informed Maximian that his two trusted counsellors did not honor the pagan gods. This was considered to be a crime against the state.The emperor, wanting to convince himself of the truth of the accusation, ordered Sergius and Bacchus to offer sacrifice to the idols, but they replied that they honored the One God and worshiped only Him.
Maximian commanded that the martyrs be stripped of the insignia of military rank (their belts, gold pendants, and rings), and then dressed them in feminine clothing. They were led through the city with iron chains around their necks, and the people mocked them. Then he summoned Sergius and Bacchus to him again and in a friendly manner advised them not to be swayed by Christian fables, but to return to the Roman gods. The saints refuted the emperor’s words, and demonstrated the folly of worshiping the pagan gods.
The emperor commanded that they be sent to the governor of the eastern part of Syria, Antiochus, a fierce hater of Christians. Antiochus had received his position with the help of Sergius and Bacchus. “My fathers and benefactors!” he said. “Have pity on yourselves, and also on me. I do not want to condemn my benefactors to cruel tortures.” The holy martyrs replied, “For us life is Christ, and to die is gain.” The enraged Antiochus ordered Bacchus to be mercilessly beaten, and the holy martyr surrendered his soul to the Lord. They shod Sergius with iron sandals with nails in their soles and sent him to another city, where he was beheaded with the sword.
Sorry, but I want my saints back.  You can’t use them for your agenda with a catchy slogan, “see, even the saints are ‘doing’ it”.   My Saints Sergius and Bacchus are in heaven interceding for Christians and the historic, ancient Christian faith.  I don’t picture them standing before the throne of God making petitions on behalf of people who want to steamroll gay rights and same-sex marriage over the traditional family and morality.