Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Awed by the Beauty

I found this link to a panoramic view of Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, NY. I think more churches should have things like this to inspire the laborers at mission-churches like ours.

I think I'm going to put up more links when I find them.

Here's the link to the main page. The Cathedral Entrance and Cathedral Interior are magnificent. The iconography in the Refectory and Baptistry is quite beautiful, as well as that found inside the crypts.

Monday, March 23, 2009

All of Creation Rejoices in Thee

All of creation rejoices in thee,
O Full of Grace!
The assembly of angels and the race of man
O Sanctified Temple and Spiritual Paradise
The Glory of Virgins!
From whom God was incarnate and became a child,
Our God before the ages.
He made thy body into a throne
And thy womb he made more spacious than the heavens!
All of creation rejoices in thee,
O Full of Grace,
Glory to Thee!

This is a 6'x4' icon I painted on rolled canvas for our church. I put this slide show together for a friend of mine who wanted to see the process of icon-painting, and how the image emerges as it is "painted with light." This isn't the traditional egg-tempera/gessoed-panel process. I'm going to stay with acrylics till I retire. I don't trust myself or my kids around the pigments, several of which could kill us if they spilled.

The icon is called the "Virgin of the Sign." It is based upon the prophecy of Isaiah: "Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; behold a virgin shall conceive in the womb, and shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Emmanuel' (Is.vii,14). The image of the Mother of God with the Child Emmanuel in her bosom is this very Sign announced by the prophet and revealed to the world in its consummation. It is from this that the icon derives its name. The Sign is an image of the Divine Incarnation, of the revelation of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the manifestation of the Son of God through His human nature received from the mother of God...One can say that as, according to the words of St Basil the Great, "the word of truth...in the economy of the Spirit...is so brief and concise that little means much." (Ouspensky, Leonid. The Meaning of Icons. SVS Press. P.77)

The hymn, "All of Creation Rejoices in Thee," is sung during Lent, and I hummed it to myself as I painted. The song in the background is from a CD given to me without a title, so I don't know who did the music.

I'm also turning off comments.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Of Mountains and Memories

What earthly sweetness remains unmixed with grief? What glory stands immutable on the earth? All things are but feeble shadows, all things are most deluding dreams, yet one moment only, and death shall supplant them all. But in the light of Thy countenance, O Christ, and in the sweetness of Thy beauty, give rest to him whom Thou hast chosen, for as much as Thou lovest mankind.

Yesterday I spent all day driving to, in, and returning from the Atlanta area for the funeral of my dear friend, the priest, Fr Damian. I knew that the service was going to be an emotional one for me, because ever since hearing of his cancer-diagnosis I often cried intermittently, wishing I had the nerve to call him, wishing I had one more chance to see him, and wishing I had said something to him the last time I saw him, to express how grateful I was to be counted among his friends.

We went to a panikhida service at St Mary's in Atlanta, and then to the burial which took place in Resaca at the monastery he founded and spent so many years. Someone mentioned that they didn't realize there was a second cemetery on the hill above the larger, main one. Another person said the monks called it "the Launching Pad" because it was so oddly flat in the monastery's mountainous setting.

It was difficult to feel so sad in a place that had brought me such happiness and joyful memories.

The daffodils were blooming along with miscellaneous bulby plants in various places on the grounds of hardwood forest and English ivy. Azaleas were threatening to blossom, and little blooms of periwinkle were peeking out from underneath the dead autumn leaves.
It is in this place I have witnessed some of the most inspiring and humorous stories I have ever heard.

C.S. Lewis, in one of his recorded lectures, quotes
somebody (when I listen to it again I'll amend this post), saying "I would rather go to hell with the knights and the ladies, than to heaven with the priests and the monks." If that person knew the joy it was to be with priests, monks, and everyone who lived their lives loving the same Person they do, who spent their lives both succeeding and failing at their love of that One Person, then they might appreciate the conversations, the humor, and, yes, the fun it was to be in their presence.

After the burial we returned to St Mary's for the "Mercy Meal" at which we ate wonderful food, but also talked and celebrated the life of our dear friend. There were stories of his rapier wit, quoting him (but, alas, my letters don't translate well into his Eastern North Carolina, growly drawl): "I'll flay you with a toothpick," "he could talk the ears off a brass billy-goat" or "all that woman needs is a sword, a shield, and a tin bra"; as well as the final stories of my friend: nurses, orderlies, and non-Orthodox in his last hospital both asking for his blessing and kissing his hand; and the multitude of people who met him once and remembered him for years.

I have posted elsewhere of the honor I felt at being given a necklace which, during his first visit to the Holy Land, he placed on the tomb of the Virgin Mary. I have also received many visits from him over the years as he came through town. He often recalled a story after visiting us of our son, Max (age three or four at the time), accidentally drinking from a glass of Nimiroff hot-pepper vodka which looked oddly like apple juice. He would start the story, "Do you remember Max and the..." and then fade off into chuckles, as we joined him in the tale of Max's horrified and pained face, and then his spinning around in the curtains, before taking a really long nap.

I just can't help but think the world has lost someone as irreplaceable as, perhaps, the inventor of the polio vaccine, although my poor biography is only a tiny image of what this man accomplished in his lifetime.

I recognize myself as a product of my age. But Fr Damian was like a modern-day dinosaur: a creature leftover from a lost era, and one that won't likely be repeated ever again. That he was an Orthodox Christian, a priest and a monk, only adds to the curiosity of his character in such a generation as well as a geography.

I just don't know what to think or feel, except perhaps a profound honor to have briefly witnessed the life and the passing of a mountain of a man, the likes of which this world will never see again.

With thy saints give rest, O our God, where sickness and sorrow are no more, neither sighing but life everlating!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Memory Eternal

It is with great sadness that I learned this morning of the death of one of the founders and benefactors of our parish, the Archimandrite Damian Hart, formerly of Ascension Monastery, who reposed in the Lord at 11:13 PM Pacific Time on the Eve of the Feast of the Triumph of Orthodoxy (and our daughter’s name-day whom he baptized). Fr Damian was instrumental in the formation and the direction of the early members of our church, having baptized, catechized, married, confessed, and offered spiritual direction to many of us.

He was a man of nobility and goodness, and a master of the Southern idiom. Maybe in a few years I will try to gather all of his homemade phrases which made conversation with him so enjoyable and memorable.

Of the Monastery he led in Resaca, Georgia, he often said that it will not be completely built until those who founded it lie in its graves. When one of the other founders, Fr John Harwell, reposed in 2001, he restated this point in the eulogy after funeral service, adding glibly: “one more to go.”

May God bless and have mercy upon His good and faithful servant, and grant him life everlasting.

Dear Father, I will miss you.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Bouncer and the Bobbysoxer

Rose has recently become more social, having found a group of kids she enjoys hanging out with regularly (they call themselves "Team Thundercats"). They're a good set of kids and still have a great deal of innocence in their play and, of course, naivete in their perspective. But, as C.S. Lewis says, a group of friends can be a force for noble behavior, as among soldiers going into battle, or a support for evil behavior, as among the criminal element.

Yesterday, without provocation, she asked me, "Mom, did you have a fake ID when you were in school?"

I asked her what made her ask me this question. She said something about how Papa had said something about having one and she wondered if I had. I said no, but after thinking about it, I remembered that I had one for all of two hours. I was given one by a friend one evening before going out. The ID was of a girl with blonde hair (I have brown), a round face (I have a long face) and blue eyes (I have brown). I pointed out these items out to my friend, and he said that it's usually too dark for the bouncer to see all the details. I naievely agreed and went with my group of friends down to Five Points.

Alas, the bouncer had a flashlight and the jig was up within minutes. The flashlight might not have been an issue if the bouncer hadn't simply also asked my name and address. It was all over at that point: "Sharon? No! Susan Whit-- No! Will--."

And then, within minutes of Rose asking me about having a fake ID, she asked if she could go with her friends to see a friend of theirs play the piano at a local bar. "...They let kids my age in, but they just stamp their hands. We'll be going with A's & G's older brothers so you don't have anything to worry about."

I pointed out this curious coincidence and she protested that the topics were entirely unrelated--not at all connected--I swear.

I then asked her what would possess her to ask me about a fake ID before asking me if she would be allowed to go to a bar, if they weren't connected. She told me that another friend of hers had told her "Of all of the girls I know, you seem like the one who would have a fake ID."

So for the remainder of the day--as I will the rest of her adolescence--I did my best to point out to her that it is not a good thing to be considered "the girl most likely to have a fake ID."

Lord have mercy.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Orthodox Home Economics

I'm re-posting this from March of last year because I still think it's funny.


We are beginning to think about classes for our next school year. I was talking to Rose today about how Orthodox homeschoolers must have an entirely different approach to their home economics studies than regular folks. It opened up to my mind a thoroughly humorous class description.


PRE-REQUISITES: This is class assumes the student is a married male and baptized Orthodox. Very zealous single male and female Orthodox and catechumens will be admitted but only if they participate volubly in international Orthodox List Servers. Orthodox wives and women with children may audit the class, but absolutely no credit will be given for the work.


Learn how to eat absolutely nothing. Then, around Wednesday, learn how to modify the fast according to the Lenten Triodion. Memorize and learn how to piously use the phrase, “Well, according to the Lenten Triodion I can eat _____ today--no, really, look at page ___.”

Acquire the spirit of fasting. Realize that starvation is pretty good for the waistline.

Talk about how St Basil ate sausage on the steps of the cathedral because he wanted to teach the brethren that they should not fast, and yet devour the auditing students. Need to get some sausage to prove it. Eat sausage.

Shouldn’t have eaten the sausage. Go to confession. Get fake sausage. Discuss whey. Tell auditing students to learn how to make Lenten chocolate chip cookies.

Decide egg substitute could open up endless possibilities for Week Five and Six. Discuss fish with professor: new calendar or old calendar (same recipes can be used for Annunciation—don’t forget the lemon.) New Calendar should avoid Old Calendar students as there could be the 13-day-fish-resentment-issue. Otherwise refer to fish-counselor.

Lenten chocolate chip cookies are no better on the waistline than real ones. Tell auditing students to get Oreos. It’s getting close to Pascha. Start thinking about how you’re going to get the auditing students to cook the leg of lamb.

Reacquire the spirit of fasting. Get discount palms and full-priced fish for Palm Sunday. Tell auditing students to start the Pascha Cheese and go to eighteen different grocery stores to find a leg of lamb that they had during Western Easter, but they don’t have now.

Get a good, long nap before Paschal services. Before doing so, make sure auditing students have the bratwurst, brownies and basket ready before the service. Make sure leg of lamb is still hot by the end of the service (approximately 2 AM--or later depending on the jurisdictional proclivities of the student--refer to counselor).

Prepare for Orthodox Home Economics 102: "Next Lent: Cookin' the Passions"

Monday, March 2, 2009

Hopes and Dreams

Rose's sweet-16 was Friday and Max's 6th birthday was yesterday. It was a good weekend and worked out well with regards to the beginning of Lent and the beginning of the Fast and church and everything. I kissed him goodnight and caressed his face with my hand. I spoke to him sweetly, "Did you have a good birthday, buddy?"

He looked melancholy. I wondered if he was going to complain that we spent all day in church services. "It's just..." He averted his eyes as if he was afraid to tell me something.

"What is it buddy?" I was worried I might have overlooked something or if my stress about other things going on had ruined his day.

"It's just...I wish..." He looked at me, "I just wish...I was...another species."

I couldn't help but smile, but I didn't want to laugh to make him believe I was mocking his one great wish. I was speechless however, especially when he added, "...like a hamster."