Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Poetry…Just Because

May 14, 2009



I’ve loved this poem by Richard Garcia since I first read it in the Best American Poetry anthology of 2005 – it’s never going to jive with Orthodox Christianity’s theology or traditional biblical scholarship, but it’s a thought provoker.

Not many people know it but Adam and Eve had a dog.
Its name was Kelev Reeshon, which means, first dog.
Some scholars say it had green fur and ate only plants
and grasses, and that is why some dogs still like to eat grass.
Others say it was hairless like the Chihuahua. Some
say it was male, some female, or that it was androgynous
like the angels or the present-day hyena. Rabbi Peretz,
a medieval cabalist in Barcelona, thought it was a black
dog and that it could see the angels which were everywhere
in the garden, although Adam and Eve could not see them.
He writes in his book of mystical dream meditations,
The Sefer Halom, that Kelev tried to help Adam and Eve
see the angels by pointing at them with its nose, aligning
its tail in a straight line with its back and raising one paw.
But Adam and Eve thought Kelev was pointing at the birds.
All scholars agree that it had a white tip on its tail,
and that it was a small dog. Sometimes you see
paintings of Eve standing next to a tree holding an apple.
The misinterpretation of this iconography gave birth
to the legend of the forbidden fruit and the fall from grace.
Actually, it was not an apple, but Kelev’s ball and Eve
was about to throw it. One day, although there were no
days or nights as we know them, she threw the ball
right out of the garden. Kelev ran after it and did not return.
Adam and Eve missed their dog, but were afraid to leave
the garden. It was misty and dark outside the garden.
They could hear Kelev barking, always farther
and farther away, its bark echoing as if there were two dogs barking.
Finally, they could stand it no longer, and they gathered
Kelev’s bed of large leaves and exited the garden.
They were holding the leaves in front of their bodies.
Although they could not see it, an angel followed,
trying to light up the way with a flaming sword,
And the earth was without form outside the garden.
Everything was gray and without shape or outline
because nothing outside the garden had a name. Slowly,
they advanced toward the sound of barking,
holding each other, holding their dog’s bed against their bodies.
Eventually they made out something small and white,
swinging from side to side; it seemed to be leading them
through the mist into a world that was becoming more visible.
Now there were trees, and beneath their feet, there was a path.

Passion Play in San Antonio

April 10, 2009


A blessed Holy Friday to all my non-Orthodox friends.   In San Antonio, Holy Friday is relived in the most beautiful and meaningful tradition with the annual Passion Play.  For 250 years San Fernando Cathedral has been staging the Passion Play, taking over the streets of downtown San Antonio with the Holy Friday remembrance of our Lord’s death. 

Since I’ve been working downtown for close on 20 years (more than half of that right next door to the Cathedral), I’ve seen it quite a few times.  It is powerful, visceral, and tearfully emotional.  When you’re in that  crowd, walking along with the weeping women, the Roman soldiers whipping and yelling at the staggering and tired thieves and our Lord, you’d swear it was Jerusalem 33 AD.   Never mind that you’re standing in front of traffic lights, businesses, cops controlling the crowds of tourists and faithful.  The feeling of reality makes you flinch when the whips strike bare skin or pretend nails are driven into Christ’s wrists with the striking of hammer blows.  You’re walking the streets of Jerusalem and standing at the foot of the Cross with the Virgin Mary.

Since early this morning, the Play’s participants have been gathering behind the Cathedral, preparing for the event.  When I was in a different building I could look out my window and watch people in suits going to work, walking down the sidewalks with guys dressed in Roman soldier outfits, carrying oversized spears and fake swords, the women dressed in tunics and cloaks.   Totally odd, but in a town like San Antonio nothing like that seems so out of the ordinary. 

The Play starts locally at 10 am when the trial of Jesus is held in Milam Park about 4 blocks from the Cathedral.  Then the Cross is carried through the streets of downtown to Main Plaza, where the crucifixion takes place.  About noon, Christ cries out “It is finished” in Spanish and  the Cathedral bells begin to ring.  It sends shivers down your spine to hear.   

Tune in to watch the Passion Play live  on  local TV station WOAI, beginning at 11:00am Central.  If you can’t get the live feed, here is a link to the 2007 Play (scroll to the bottom right).  I’ll post pictures of today’s Play when I get them downloaded tonight. 

Peace and blessings to all as we enter the time of our Lord’s life-giving death and glorious Resurrection. 

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.


Conficker a Con Job?

April 1, 2009


Well, last night I finished updating my anti-virus program and downloading a patch with 15 minutes to spare before the midnight activation of the Conficker worm.  I didn’t find it on my two computers at home, but what do I know about computers.  Call me ignorant, but I know as much about computers as I know about cars – gas, oil, press pedal, go fast.  So when someone on a news website says ‘imminent disaster…go here and download this patch, go there and update your virus software’, and like sheep I do it, we all do it. 

Ten hours later, it looks like the news about Conflicker  wasn’t as bad as it could have been.   The Internet and our whole human civilization have been saved for another day of on-line porn, cheap commercialism, spam and social networking.  And blogging.


Archbishop Dmitri Announces His Retirement

March 22, 2009


The faithful of the Diocese of the South of the Orthodox Church in America were shocked today by Archbishop Dmitri Royster’s announcement of his resignation from the active episcopate effective March 31st. 

Vladyka Dmitri has been the only Archbishop many of us have known in the Diocese of the South and we could never have had a more godly example of Christian leadership and pastoral care.   I remember many visits he made to my parish over the last 17 years and what impressed me so many times was the care he took to make every moment of his short visits an opportunity for teaching the faithful.    I won’t also forget his look of sheer enjoyment when we celebrated special events with a mariachi serenade; if there is ever someone who could be described as having a ‘twinkle in their eye’, Vladyka Dmitri always fit the description.

What a shocking day but not unexpected.  The demands of serving in the episcopacy without a break for forty years would wear anyone out.  God grant you peace and serenity in your well-deserved retirement Vladyka.  We can only hope that you’ll have time to keep writing and instructing us in the Orthodox faith.

Godly Co-Dependence

February 27, 2009

I had one of those teary-eyed parenting moments yesterday evening.  My 7 year old was at baseball practice and I stayed home to make dinner.  I was fixing a potato and onion frittata (gotta use up all those pre-Lent eggs you know) when I realized I didn’t have any good bread in the house.  Looking at my sweats and Birkenstocks I realized I didn’t want to be seen in any store and was just too lazy and tired to change for a quick trip.  That’s when I remembered I had the next best thing to a hired servant in the house – a 9 year old.  It did occur to me that this would be a good lesson in independence, but that wasn’t my first thought – it actually ran along the lines of “the boy, the boy, yeah, the boy could do it”.  And he was excited about the idea – either by the prospect of doing something truly grownup or keeping the change from my $10.

So we quickly drove down to La Madeleine  about a half-mile from the house.  I parked within view of the front door and gave him his instructions.  He jumped out of the car and I waited.  He came back five minutes later with my change and said he had to go back in because the baguettes weren’t out of the oven yet.  So off he went.  After another 5 minutes I stepped just outside the car to get a better view of him through the window as he patiently sat by the front counter.   He wasn’t messing  with anything, he wasn’t goofing around, and actually, was acting like a real customer.  I started to tear up thinking about how much he’s growing up and said a quick prayer thanking God for such a good son and asking him to guide him into adulthood.

It’s a funny thing about the life of a Christian.  We spend our early years under the care of our parents, growing  in independence (free will) and self-sufficiency, only to find that once we become adults our temporal and spiritual lives are as rooted in dependency as an infant.   It can be a real shock for some young adults when they discover this truth.  They’ve grown up believing what all of us well-meaning parents (at least American parents) fill our kids with – on ideas of individuality, independence  and self-sufficiency – only to learn we’re all inexorably linked to everyone and everything around us. 

Here’s a not too funny and all too true observation.   How many overprotective mothers does it take to change a grown son’s light bulb?  Only one – because a mother is all a son will ever need.

Shall I tell you the difference between healthy independence and the  38 year old single man living at home with his anime collection and part-time job at GameStop?  It’s the godly parent who instills in their child the belief that they are personally accountable to God for the conduct of their lives, and that accountability is a godly co-dependence. 

Then shalt thou understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God.  Proverbs 2:5

Omnipotent as he is, God doesn’t need anything we can give him; not our piety, not our sacrifices, not our spiritual efforts, not even our worship.  God is above everything, yet intimately involved and interested in every aspect of our lives, and he willingly accepts our love, worship, and adoration.   We grow in our free will love of Him and our independence is actually the strongest expression of dependence on God.

I believe that I’ve tried to accept that my sons could have a career in most anything when they grow up and that I would be ok with that, as long as they were hard-working and honest (and college graduates – ok sorry).   Christian parents want the best for their children and we aren’t immune to praying for the same materialistic things  – health, happiness, good grades, good jobs, a homerun or touchdown.   But a Christian above all prays for their child’s spiritual life and their continued faith and dependence on God.  

When I sent my son into that bakery I was just trying to save myself a little time and effort, but I didn’t realize that in some small way I was helping him become a godly man who, I pray, will one day realize his greatest worth is to be a  faithful Christian.  Dependent on God, but dependent because of his own free will.

O God, our heavenly Father, who lovest mankind and art most merciful and compassionate, have mercy upon thy servant ___ for whom I humbly pray thee, and commend to thy gracious care and protection.  Be thou, O God, their guide and guardian in all their endeavors, lead them in the path of thy truth and draw them nearer to the, that they may lead a godly and righteous life in thy love and fear; doing thy will in all things.  Give them grace that they may be temperate, industrious, diligent, devout and charitable.  Defend them against the assaults of the enemy, and grant them wisdom and strength to resist all temptation and corruption of this life; and direct them in the way of salvation, through the merits of thy Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ, and the intercessions of his Holy Mother and thy blessed saints.  Amen. 

                 (An Orthodox prayer of parents for their children)


Friday the 13th

February 13, 2009


Do you know the name for the fear of Friday the 13th?


Here’s something to make you go wonder just how many of these people are eating away at my tax dollars with their “disability” claims:

According to the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Asheville, North Carolina, an estimated 17 to 21 million people in the United States are affected by a fear of this day. Some people are so paralyzed by fear that they avoid their normal routines in doing business, taking flights or even getting out of bed. “It’s been estimated that $800 or $900 million is lost in business on this day”. (source Wikipedia)

Something more edifying to think about than the stupid conjunction of a day and a number, how about the life of Saint Martinian who is commemorated today:

Saint Martinian went to live in the wilderness at the age of eighteen, not far from the city of Caesarea in Palestine. For twenty-five years, he devoted himself to ascetic deeds and silence, and he was granted the gift of healing illnesses and casting out demons. However, the Enemy of the race of man would not stop bothering the hermit with various temptations.

Once a profligate woman made a wager with some dissolute people that she could seduce St Martinian, the fame of whose virtuous life had spread throughout all the city. She came to him one night pretending that she had lost her way in the storm, and asking for shelter. The saint let her enter, unable to turn her away in such a storm. He went into his room and locked the door. The wicked guest changed into beautiful clothes and began to tempt the ascetic.

When morning came, Saint Martinian came out to send the woman away. Though he was tempted by the woman’s beauty, he was determined not to fall into sin. Lighting a fire, he stepped into it, saying, “You want me to burn with temptation, and want to lead me into the fires of Hell. I will not let you. Instead, I will burn for my virginity and save my soul.”   The woman came to see how evil she was. She repented and asked the saint to guide her onto the way of salvation. He told her to go to Bethlehem, to St Paula (January 26). There she lived as a nun for twelve years in strict asceticism until her blessed end. The woman’s name was Zoe.

St Martinian went to an uninhabited rocky island and lived on it under the open sky for several years, nourished by the provisions brought by a certain sailor from time to time. In return the monk wove baskets for him.

Once a powerful storm wrecked a ship, and a woman named Photina floated on pieces of the wreckage to the island of St Martinian. St Martinian helped her to survive the island. “Remain here,” he told her, “for here is bread and water, and in two months a boat will come.”   Then he jumped into the sea and swam off. Two dolphins carried him to dry land. Thereafter, St Martinian led the life of a wanderer. Later, he came to Athens and fell ill. Sensing the approach of death, he went into church and lay upon the floor. God revealed to the Bishop of Athens who St Martinian was, and the bishop buried his body with honor. This occurred around the year 422.

A Little Water Never Hurt Nuthin’

February 3, 2009


I’m a little late with this, but here’s a link to a local news story that ran in the San Antonio Express News this past Saturday.    Thank you Elaine Ayo and John Davenport at the Express News for a really nice article that concisely presented the spirituality and deep significance of Theophany and blessings to the non-Orthodox world.   San Antonio is really fortunate to have a local newspaper that covers religion news so well. 

A couple of parishioners quietly mentioned to me they thought an article on the blessing of cars might look a little weird to anyone outside the Orthodox faith who hasn’t experienced this before.  Well, it certainly isn’t as majestic, awe-inspiring and mystical as Pascha or the Nativity, but it really grows on you.  This is a good example of Orthodoxy entering into even the most mundane areas of life.   As Americans we tend to like our religiosity confined to Sunday morning between 10 am and noon.   And we certainly aren’t comfortable with religious expression and “rites” that aren’t confined to the four walls of a church (just bow your head and make the sign of the Cross in a crowded restaurant and see how many people give you “that look” – not an entirely hostile look, just the one reserved for religious zealots).

But as our priest, Fr. Leo Poore, pointed out in the article (he’s in the photo above)

There’s nothing that we know of that cannot be renewed, cannot be blessed. It affirms the fact that things are renewed through Christ and we are all called on to be as Adam and Eve before the fall.

I personally love the season of  Theophany, house blessings and car blessings.  It’s such a personal experience to have your priest bring the services of the Church right into your own home.  It reminds me that Orthodoxy is a total life experience in a way that I just can’t get from my own personal piety and practices (not the Church’s fault, just my own lack of faith and poor prayer life).

So why not bless our cars?  We spend hours a week driving around in them – so much of our life is spent in cars these days.   For all intents and purposes you can complete an entire life cycle in a car.  Babies are conceived in them, born in them.  We eat, sleep and work in our cars.  You can propose in one and get married in a drive-thru line.  And God knows enough of us die in them.   How weird can blessing the darned things be?

Holy Rocking

January 26, 2009

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

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.