Thursday, September 25, 2014

I think I'm going to stop celebrating my birthday

It seems that my birthday is full of sorrow and sad memories. These are not the "oh I didn't get any gifts," or "nobody really cares and didn't wish me a happy birthday," kind of saddness. No, this saddness and sorrow run so much deeper.

I guess you could say this all started around my 18th birthday, just a few days over 10 years ago. I was a senior in Highschool when I received word that my maternal grandfather was in the hospital and going to soon pass. My mother got everything ready so we could make the trip down from middle Tennessee to southern Mississippi. I told her I didn't want to go and see my grandfather lying sickly in the hospital; I wanted to remember the strong determined man i had known my whole life, not his empty, hollow shell. We had an argument but I reassured my mother that I would drive down for the funeral.

Later that day my aunt came by and picked me up. My grandfather was technically dead - his brain no longer working and machines keeping him alive - and they wanted the whole family to be present when they pulled his life support. I stood in his hospital room staring into empty eyes as I slowly watched him die.

Two days later I turned 18. Two days later I buried my grandfather.

Friends and family would say, "Happy birthday, sorry about your grandpa," but it was all meaningless to me.

Now, every year on my birthday I remember my grandfather passing away and putting him in the ground.

Fast forward 9 years. That would be 2013. My paternal grandfather passed away just two days after his birthday. His birthday was the day before mine. I dropped everything and made my way down to Miami; the last time I had been down to see my grandparents was in the winter of 2006 after I had married my wonderful wife.

I almost got fired from work because of some miscommunication. As a result I was able to attend my grandfather's memorial service, but not his grave side service. I had wanted to be in uniform and present his flag to my grandmother after military honors had been rendered, but I was busy driving 14 hours back home.

At work I was repeatedly penalized for taking that time off - they never came out and said it, but it was heavily implied - and thus I never got a pay raise nor was I eligible for promotion. My finances also still haven't recovered from taking that time off.

Now it's my birthday yet again. Shortly after arriving to work I received a message that my paternal grandmother is not doing so well. I knew she had been in and out of the hospital as of late. She hasn't been doing well at all since her husband, my grandfather - passed away. The doctors don't know how much longer she has to live, but they do know that she will pass soon. It could be a few weeks, or months (hopefully), but it doesn't look good.

In all honesty I don't think I can celebrate my birthday anymore, instead I will set this day aside to mourn the loss of my loved ones. It is good to mourn the fact that the ones we love are no longer with us. It is escapism to deny yourself a time to mourn and pretend that everything is awesome - a homecoming - because it doesn't and shouldn't make the hurt any less real.

But everything thing is not all gloom and doom in this post. I have obtained a day to mourn, yes, but I still have a day to celebrate. In the Orthodox Church people choose a saint to be their patron. This saint's name becomes their baptismal name and the name they use when receiving the Eucharist. They also usually celebrate their saint's/name day - the day their saint is commemorated - as one would a birthday. In many Orthodox countries the name day is celebrated instead of a birthday.

I propose that from here on out I will only celebrate my name day, setting my birthday aside as a day of remembrance so my loved ones' memories may be eternal.

Now, here is the tricky part... Most people have a chosen a saint that is celebrated on the same day every year. So if their saint is commemorated today then every year they would celebrate on this day. I, however, seem to have been odd. My patron saint, the Prophet King David, does not have a set date of commemoration.

The Church commemorates him together with all the ancestors of Christ on the Sunday of the Forefathers (December 11-17, depending on the day on which the Nativity falls) and also on the first Sunday after the Nativity, along with Joseph the Betrothed and the Apostle James the Just. OrthodoxWiki

So I actually have two days I can celebrate, but I usually choose the first. But as can be seen in the above quote the date can vary; this year it happens to fall on the 14th of December.

From now on I will celebrate only on my name day, leaving my birthday as a day to mourn and remember. If anyone a has trouble remembering when the date is just ask me and I'll let you know.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Euphemia the Great a Martyr

On September 16, we commemorate Euphemia the Great Martyr:


Ninian the Enlightener of Scotland

On September 16, we commemorate Ninian the Enlightener of Scotland:

Saint Ninian was born in Cumberland in Britain around the year 360, about a half century after the Emperor Constantius Chlorus died in the British city of York, and his son Constantine, who was with him when he died, was proclaimed Emperor. Ninian was born of Christian parents of noble lineage, at a time when paganism was still strong in his native land. As a young man he went to Rome, where he spent many years in study and ascetical struggles. At Rome, Saint Ninian was consecrated some time after the death of Pope Damasus in 384, and was sent back to his native island about the end of the fourth century. On his return journey, it is likely that he passed through Tours and met Saint Martin; what is certain is that many churches and cells associated with Saint Ninian, including his own cathedral in Whithorn, were named in honour of Saint Martin. When Saint Ninian returned to Cumberland, he established monasteries that fostered both the life of prayer and missionary labours. By his preaching, his godly life, and his miracles, he ministered to his own countrymen, the Britons, and also converted many of the pagan Picts, who inhabited the northern regions (in today's Scotland). He reposed in peace at his see of Whithorn in Galloway in 432


Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Elevation of the Venerable and Life-Giving Cross

On September 14, we commemorate The Elevation of the Venerable and Life-Giving Cross:

Saint Helen, the mother of Saint Constantine the Great, when she was already advanced in years, undertook, in her great piety, the hardships of a journey to Jerusalem in search of the cross, about the year 325. A temple to Aphrodite had been raised up by the Emperor Hadrian upon Golgotha, to defile and cover with oblivion the place where the saving Passion had been suffered. The venerable Helen had the statue of Aphrodite destroyed, and the earth removed, revealing the Tomb of our Lord, and three crosses. Of these, it was believed that one must be that of our Lord, the other two of the thieves crucified with Him; but Saint Helen was at a loss which one might be the Wood of our salvation. At the inspiration of Saint Macarius, Archbishop of Jerusalem, a lady of Jerusalem, who was already at the point of death from a certain disease, was brought to touch the crosses, and as soon as she came near to the Cross of our Lord, she was made perfectly whole. Consequently, the precious Cross was lifted on high by Archbishop Macarius of Jerusalem; as he stood on the ambo, and when the people beheld it, they cried out, "Lord have mercy." It should be noted that after its discovery, a portion of the venerable Cross was taken to Constantinople as a blessing. The rest was left in Jerusalem in the magnificent church built by Saint Helen, until the year 614. At that time, the Persians plundered Palestine and took the Cross to their own country (see Jan. 22, Saint Anastasius the Persian). Late, in the year 628, Emperor Heraclius set out on a military campaign, retrieved the Cross, and after bringing it to Constantinople, himself escorted it back to Jerusalem, where he restored it to its place.

Rest from labour. A Fast is observed today, whatever day of the week it may be.


Friday, September 12, 2014

The Eucharist: It's Meaning and Place in our Salvation

The earliest title of the main Sunday service of the Christian Church is “the Eucharist”, from the Greek word eucharisteo, meaning, “to give thanks.” As early as about the middle of the second century, Justin the Philosopher (later known as “Justin Martyr”) wrote that the bread and wine which the Christians received sacramentally was “called among us ‘the Eucharist’, of which no one is allowed to partake but the ones who believe that the things which we teach are true” (Apology, chapter 66). The ritual service would also later be called “the Divine Liturgy,” and “the Mass.”

The Lord Jesus commanded His disciples to perform this ritual on the night on which He was betrayed. Before noon the next day, He would be crucified and hanging on a Roman cross, offering Himself as a voluntary sacrifice to take away the sins of the world, and by supper-time, He would be dead. He therefore instituted this ritual as the way of insuring that His sacrifice would be powerfully present and effective among His disciples. By doing so, He transformed what was a simple judicial execution into an enduring sacrifice. The recurring ritual of the Eucharist was the means whereby His disciples could benefit from that sacrifice.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

What to do with Saint Ignatius?

Of all the saints of the Church, Ignatius maybe had the biggest impact in leading me towards Orthodoxy. Saint Ignatius threw several wrenches into my Protestant Evangelical machinery.

After discovering him, I was faced with the question:
What do I do with Ignatius?


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Moses the Prophet and Godseer

On September 4, we commemorate Moses the Prophet & Godseer:


Happy Birthday

Happy Birthday to my most loving wife, with out whom I would be nothing. I still remember the day we first met almost 10 years ago when your hair was up in those round balls that made you look like Chi - Chi from DragonBall, and that white coat which made you my mishmallow.

I love you and am so blessed that I have been graced to see you grow and mature another year with our little family, especially as you pursue your dreams and goals whilst still supporting me. One reason I love you and admire you so much is your strength and determination to never give up - which has led our family out of some dire situations.

As you grow older and wiser I'm just glad that I can say you are my wife.

Happy birthday!

Babylas the Holy Martyr

On September 4, we commemorate Babylas the Holy Martyr:


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Did Jesus Ever Really Exist?

I used to be of the opinion that for really far-out whacky stuff, you couldn’t beat Jerry Springer. You all know Jerry Springer—he was the showman who began a talk show in 1991 which within a few years became something of a voyeuristic freak-show, featuring topics like “Teenage Girls who Marry their Grandfathers,” a kind of real-life version of the Muppets’ song “I Am My Own Grandpa.” It has spawned a host of other talk-shows, all of which feature the same sort of sensationalistic format. For the longest time, I thought that Jerry couldn’t be beat for the unbelievably way-out.
Turns out that we have a new winner: has published an article entitled, “5 reasons to suspect that Jesus never existed,” by Valerie Tarico. None of the stuff is the least bit new; there have always been the theological equivalent of Flat-earthers, or of people who claim to have been probed by big-eyed aliens aboard the mother-ship. But since the internet gives a platform to such people, some kind of response must be offered, lest the credulous among the internet community imagine that the Church has been struck terrified and mute by the 5 reasons offered by Ms. Tarico. Her 5 reasons to suspect that Jesus never existed may be examined one at a time.


Monday, September 1, 2014

What Does God Look Like?

A common question people ask a priest goes something like this: “If God is real, why isn’t it obvious to everyone?”

One way I begin to answer such questions is by saying something like this: God is obvious to everyone—as obvious as the air we breathe. But just as we easily take for granted and no longer notice the air we breathe (unless there are some unusual pollutants in the air or we are having trouble breathing), so too we easily ignore the obvious reality of God. The only exception to this tendency to ignore the obvious, is when we intentionally pay attention. When I intentionally pay attention to my breathing, I notice the air. Similarly, unless I work at paying attention to God, I can easily ignore Him.

Many of us, however, would rather that God’s presence be less easy to ignore. Like Isaiah, we want God to tear open the heavens so that no one can deny the reality of the Creator. But this is the very thing God does not want to do. Archimandrite Vasileios says that “He exists as if He did not exist. He intervenes as if He were absent, out of respect for His creature.” God respects His creation so much that He treats the creation as He Himself would be treated: with freedom. God does not come to us in any way that would overwhelm us, that would strip us of freedom and force or coerce us to obey and love him. In fact, once obedience is forced, it ceases to be obedience—not the obedience of relationship, the obedience that a mother wants from her child or a lover expects from his beloved. Forced obedience is mere conformity to outer criteria. God does not want that, for it is no foundation for genuine relationship.


How do We Pray the Psalms?

How do we pray the Psalms? We should surely take our lead from the Holy Fathers of the Early Church and learn from their wisdom. Whilst researching the origins of the Jesus Prayer, I came across some fascinating insights in psalm-commentaries accredited to Fathers of the third, fourth and fifth centuries. These insights and the understanding of the Psalms which they promote, would have been available to the earliest monks and nuns of Egypt, from where the Jesus Prayer is believed to have emerged.

The most important of these insights presented to us by the Holy Fathers is that praying the Psalms involves us with an ongoing conversation with our Lord Jesus Christ. Over and over again, we find the writers of these commentaries interpreting the various verses of the Psalms Christologically – seeing in the Psalm-text a clear reference to Jesus. It is not an exaggeration to say that these Fathers make a habit of identifying the God of the Psalter with the Person of Christ.

St. Athanasios of Alexandria (296-373) regularly finds references to Jesus in such phrases in the Psalms as the “name of God” and the “face of God.” For example, “Let them acknowledge his great name, for it is awesome and holy” in Psalm 98.3 (99.3) he takes to mean the name of “Jesus,” with an implicit reference to Philippians 2.10-11. Again, with regard to Psalm 4.7, “The light of your face was made to shine upon us, O Lord,” he understands face to mean Christ, for, he says, “Christ is the Light of the World.”


The Dark Ages: Who Turned Out the Lights?

Among the literature of those who make it their main business to vilify the Christians, perhaps no concept has served a more useful purpose than the idea of “the Dark Ages.” The Dark Ages, according to this reading of history, were those centuries in which the Church was culturally ascendant, with the inevitable result that civilization sunk into superstition, ignorance, obscurantism, and moral decadence. Here everything that was bad about the world is laid at the Church’s door, especially the decline of Science (with a capital “S”), which apparently had been going great guns until the Church took over.

As evidence of the Church’s war against Science, enlightenment, tolerance, and reason in general, the name of Galileo is usually bandied about, along with the notion that everyone in the Dark Ages thought that the world was flat. It was from this ecclesiastical abyss that Science eventually pulled us all out, saving the world from the Church and restoring civilization. But as we talk about the Dark Ages, it is worth asking how the Roman Empire of the west came to be so dark in the first place? (Of the Roman Empire in the east, usually known as Byzantium, the vilifiers seem to know precious little. Their world is a western world.) In other words, who turned out the lights in the west?


Congratulations! You are being Cremated Today!

My bishop is probably not going to believe this.

Recently, a member of our congregation was very upset. She heard that the new priest was planning to cremate a young couple, right there in church, on the solea, during Great Vespers on the next Saturday night.

“Doesn’t the Orthodox Church forbid cremation?” she asked her friends. No one had ever heard of such a thing. Exciting gossip began to make the rounds during coffee hour.

No wonder she was concerned. This particular young couple was very promising. Charming and intelligent, they had come to us especially looking for an Orthodox church in the area. Although both had been baptized, they were reared without any particular faith; the young man’s parents were atheist, as was the woman’s mother until recently. Now they had decided to become Orthodox Christians, and to be married sacramentally in the Church. They had their whole life ahead of them…until now.