Saturday, January 28, 2012

Stand Fast and Watch

Stand fast on spiritual watch, because you don’t know when the Lord will call you to Himself. In your earthly life be ready at any moment to give Him an account. Beware that the enemy does not catch you in his nets, that he not deceive you causing you to fall into temptation. Daily examine your conscience; try the purity of your thoughts, your intentions.

There was a king who had a wicked son. Having no hope that he would change for the better, the father condemned the son to death. He gave him a month to prepare.

The month went by, and the father summoned the son. To his surprise he saw that the young man was noticeably changed: his face was thin and drawn, and his whole body looked as if it had suffered.

“How is it that such a transformation has come over you, my son?” the father asked.

“My father and my lord,” replied the son, “how could I not change when each passing day brought me closer to death?”

“Good, my son,” remarked the king. “Since you have evidently come to your senses, I shall pardon you. However, you must maintain this vigilant disposition of soul for the rest of your life.”

“Father,” replied the son, “that’s impossible. How can I withstand the countless seductions and temptations?”

Then the king ordered that a vessel be brought, full of oil, and he told his son:

“Take this vessel and carry it along all the streets of the city. Following you will be two soldiers with sharp swords. If you spill so much as a single drop they will cut off your head.”

The son obeyed. With light, careful steps, he walked along all the streets, the soldiers accompanying him, and he did not spill a drop.

When he returned to the castle, the father asked,

“My son, what did you see as you were walking through the city?”

“I saw nothing.”

“What do you mean, ‘nothing’?” said the king.

“Today is a holiday; you must have seen the booths with all kinds of trinkets, many carriages, people animals…”

“I didn’t notice any of that,” said the son. “All my attention was focussed on the oil in the vessel. I was afraid to spill a drop and thereby lose my life.”

“Quite right, my son,” said the king. “Keep this lesson in mind for the rest of you life. Be as vigilant over your soul as you were today over the oil in the vessel. Turn your thoughts away from what will soon pass away, and keep them focused on what is eternal. You will be followed not by armed soldiers but by death to which we are brought closer by every day. Be very careful to guard your soul from all ruinous temptations.”

The son obeyed his father, and lived happily.

Watch, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong. (I Cor. 16:13).

The Apostle gives Christians this important counsel to bring their attention to the danger of this world, to summon them to frequent examination of their hearts, because without this one can easily bring to ruin the purity and ardor of one’s faith and unnoticeably cross over to the side of evil and faithlessness.

Just as a basic concern is to be careful of anything that might be harmful to our physical health, so our spiritual concern should watch out for anything that might harm our spiritual life and the work of faith and salvation. Therefore, carefully and attentively assess your inner impulses: are they from God or from the spirit of evil? Beware of temptations from this world and from worldly people; beware of hidden inner temptations which come from the spirit of indifference and carelessness in prayer, from the waning of Christian love.

If we turn our attention to our mind, we notice a torrent of successive thoughts and ideas. This torrent is uninterrupted; it is racing everywhere and at all times: at home, in church, at work, when we read, when we converse. It is usually called thinking, writes Bishop Theophan the Recluse, but in fact it is a disturbance of the mind, a scattering, a lack of concentration and attention. The same happens with the heart. Have you ever observed the life of the heart? Try it even for a short time and see what you find.

Something unpleasant happens, and you get irritated; some misfortune occurs, and you pity yourself; you see someone whom you dislike, and animosity wells up within you; you meet one of your equals who has now outdistanced you on the social scale, and you begin to envy him; you think of your talents and capabilities, and you begin to grow proud… All this is rottenness: vainglory, carnal desire, gluttony, laziness, malice-one on top of the other, they destroy the heart.

And all of this can pass through the heart in a matter of minutes. For this reason one ascetic, who was extremely attentive to himself, was quite right in saying that

“man’s heart is filled with poisonous serpents. Only the hearts of saints are free from these serpents, the passions.”

But such freedom is attained only through a long and difficult process of self-knowledge, working on oneself and being vigilant towards one’s inner life, i.e., the soul.

Be careful. Watch out for your soul! Turn your thoughts away from what will soon pass away and turn them towards what is eternal. Here you will find the happiness that your soul seeks, that your heart thirsts for.

(Translated from Pravoslavnaya Rus) and taken from

ORTHODOX AMERICA, Vol. XIV, No. 2-3, September-October, 1993

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Octopodes and Pocketses

I didn't know that the plural of octopus is neither octopi nor octopuses, but rather, octopods or octopodes. It doesn't much matter because this is indeed a story of just one octopus, a baby one.

On Orthodox Christmas Eve, I asked my daughter, Rose, and her young man, David, to take the children home from church after the morning liturgy. Instead of going home, David took them all out to eat so they could go Christmas shopping before the evening vigil. Since this was the final day of the Christmas fast, they went to an Eastern Buffet. One of the items on the buffet was baby octopus, which of course delighted the children--especially the crocodile hunter himself.

Max put a few on his plate. After eating one leg he decided it was less appealing in his mouth than on his plate.

During their shopping trip David overheard the Marko whispering intensely to his brother, "Put it back in your pocket!" Max put "it" back, but David was suspicious, thinking the boys were shoplifting.

"Max, what have you got in your pocket?"
"Max what's in your pocket? Take it out."

Out came the octopus to the amusement of everyone around.

"Max, put it back in your pocket."

However, a few hours later, at Christmas Eve vigil, David recalled that the octopus was probably still in Max's pocket.

Orthodox canons restrict any blood in the altar; neither are dead animals allowed. Despite this dead animal not being bloody, but lightly seasoned and probably linty, it was still a dead animal.

"Max do you still have that octopus in your pocket?"
"You need to get rid of it. Throw it in the men's bathroom trash."

So like a good little altar boy, he got rid of it.

Later on in the evening, as David shared the tale with Josh. Josh said he had seen it in the trashcan and had thought to himself, "Hm. That's either a very fleshy spider--or an octopus."

Although this made me laugh when Margaret retold the story to me this morning, my lingering thought was something my husband often says: "however bizarre some of the Orthodox canonical regulations seem, they are written for a spiritual or practical reason, and probably had a particular historical event guiding their origin."

Christmas Letter 2011

OK. I give up. It's not going to happen. I put together my Christmas letter thinking I would be able to send it out at least by Orthodox Christmas. But I put off too many things that when I should have done it, other events (including the passing of one our beloved friend and one of our church founders, Dusan) delayed its printing. So I will publish it here in hopes I can direct some of my family to the Blog to receive our belated-belated Christmas greetings.

Christmas Greetings from

the Mancusos!

It must seem strange getting a Christmas card in January, right?

In our church Christ’s birth is celebrated on January 7. As a family we have been giving out presents on December 25 and going to church for Christmas on January 7. This year our family decided to follow the tradition of our Orthodox church when celebrating Christmas. If you Google “Julian Calendar” and “Gregorian Calendar,” all of this will be clear. As for us, this means I get 13 extra days to order presents online, get discounted goodies, and write Christmas letters!

This is going to be a long Christmas letter because we have had a year like we haven’t had in a long time. Our oldest daughter, Rose, left for college in August, and we’ve been adjusting ever since. Because she has been my unpaid babysitter for nearly a decade, we have had to learn how to do simple things as a group. It has required a little re-training and re-adjusting. In her absence, the house acquired a simple rhythm and peaceful chaos. But, since Rose is only 90 minutes away at Coker College in Hartsville, SC, we get to return to our normal mega-chaos every now and then.

Rose is doing very well in school. She received almost a full scholarship to college and is studying music-education, which is a double-major. She was the only freshman accepted into the chamber choir. Since she has been home-schooled almost all her life, our biggest fear was her adjusting to a normal academic setting. Despite some misadventures her first semester, she is now thriving both socially and academically without us—which is more a relief than you can imagine.

Ella is likewise loving school. She is breezing through her math and history programs, reading anything and everything within her reach. One of her birthday presents was a book-light. For Ella it was being given a brand-new privilege: reading at night. She is singing soprano in our church choir and is excelling in her piano lessons.

Margaret is likewise taking piano lessons and seems to be vocally and musically inclined like her sisters. Even though she sometimes struggles academically, she makes up for it all with her wit and good humor. A couple months ago she decided to dig a catfish pond in our woods. The hole is now six feet deep and eight feet wide. We haven’t yet figured out how we will ever keep water in the pond (or keep the catfish alive, named Vladimir and Gabriel), but we’re having fun all the same.

Max and Mark are consummate boys. During baseball season they are outside dreaming of baseball and tumbling all over each other with a baseball before school hours. During football season they are outside calling plays and tumbling all over each other with a football before school hours. After school they tumble and roll with whatever sports imagery they need. This is a new kind of academic beast for me. My daily goal is just to hold them down long enough so they can learn to read, to do math and chores.

This year we have travelled and vacationed more than ever. Margaret and Rose travelled to Ohio to attend the 90th birthday party of my Great-Aunt Margaret in July. They returned with historical tales and genealogical inquisitiveness.In September our family took our first long vacation in over 10 years to a beach house in Myrtle Beach. Despite nearly losing my youngest son in the ocean during a rip-tide, we enjoyed our time immensely, going to an aquarium, a water park, an historic plantation, and a pirate dinner-theater. The last day we went to the beach at sunrise and saw thousands of fish silhouetted in the waves and jumping out of the water. Ella and Max actually saw a shark make one of those nature-channel jumps by the pier. The whole experience was more than magical and truly relaxing (except for the rip-tide incident, obviously).

In November the youngest four and I took a road-trip through North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio. We met up with my sister and my parents in Lexington, KY to visit some of the horse racing sites in the area.

At Thanksgiving, a few days later, my brother and his family, my sister and her two kids, and I with the youngest four stayed in the historic Hadley/Harvey home in Wilmington, Ohio. We partook of the traditionally magnificent Hadley-Farm Thanksgiving Feast with homemade pies, caramels and more sides than one could ever imagine (there was also turkey). My cousin Christine and her husband opened up the 200+ year old museum-house so we could “camp” there for three days. The children played football in the front yard and spent hours looking at the mammoth tusks, arrowheads, deer-heads, and innumerable other artifacts contained in the house and barn. We heard intriguing family history that culminated in a tour of the Quaker church and cemetery in which many of my ancestors are buried.

We took an Eastern route home, making a spontaneous visit with my cousin David and his family on the way. The children enjoyed playing lava-monster and parachuting with their long-distance cousins. On our way home we drove the loopy and hilly roads of Southern Ohio on our way to visit an Orthodox monastery in West Virginia. There we visited with friends, petted goats, saw soap- incense- and candle-making rooms, and walked over the mountains in the rain. The boys went through five pairs of pants within 3 hours because of rain and mud puddles.

In early December Fr Mark and I went to Miami, Florida for a clergy conference. I hadn’t planned to attend, but a parishioner donated his flyer miles so I could go. Coincidentally, it happened that the day we left was our 20th anniversary. Even though we were supposed to leave on separate flights, my flight was so ridiculously delayed that the airline allowed me to reschedule with Fr Mark. Even though we were supposed to be separate, we ended up riding together on this historic flight side-by-side.

In Miami we were given a tour of the city on an open-air double-decker bus—and yes, we were on top. We then took an airboat tour of the Everglades, including an exotic animal exhibit, culminating in an alligator handling—yikes!

The next day, during a church service, Fr Mark was made archpriest. This is a huge honor for him and our little parish. Usually it is given to priests after fifteen years; Fr Mark was made archpriest after eleven. I’m not sure if I can express how proud I am of him, but I will take this opportunity to say so. It is well deserved and hard-won, Glory to God.

I am still painting, working to beautify the new church we acquired last year in December. It is an honor beyond words to be able to be able to do so.

Yes, this was a long Christmas letter. I apologize for it’s length, even though I won’t say it was tardy!

May Our Lord Jesus Christ bless you and keep you and grant you peace and joy in the New Year!

With love from,
The Mancuso Family