Despair is a temptation when life loses its purpose and the threat of an untimely death threatens to shorten that purposeless existence. As the worldwide coronavirus continues to rage with the possible hope for medical relief still months away, it is difficult to find cause to give thanks. Yet the lives of the saints show us how to find joy under all circumstances and the saint we remember this year on the feast of American Thanksgiving especially teaches how to give glory to God for all things.
Saint John Chrysostom the Golden-mouthed Archbishop of Constantinople (347-407) not only lived a life of thanksgiving, he is the principle author of the Divine Liturgy, the means by which the Church communes the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, the medicine of immortality and the mystical union of humanity with God. The Liturgy is also called the Eucharist from the Greek verb eucharisto which literally means “to give thanks” or to say thank you. When the church celebrates the Liturgy, She is thanking God, returning the gift received to the Giver of all good things in an eternal circle of reciprocal thanks.
We did it! We survived Holy Week, Pascha, and Bright Week mostly from our at home services and through live-stream on TV. The joy of the Resurrection and the growing warmth of spring naturally turns us outward, desiring to share the good news with others. But the continued COVID-19 quarantine still places limits on that desire.
A place in western Massachusetts that was bought by one of our parish deacons and his wife and transformed into a farm, retreat center, and sometime summer camp is now a fully-fledged, full-service spiritual oasis, St. John the Baptist Orthodox Christian Monastery. Our family visits the two monastic fathers who dwell here for a day trip that allows us to fulfill our desire to evangelize while obeying the strict rule of the government not to gather in groups larger than ten (7 + 2= 9).
And who is the God who will deliver you out of my hands?
— Pharaoh, King of Egypt to Moses the Great, Patriarch, Prophet & God-seer
The taunt of this particular Egyptian ruler rings down through the centuries and is rehearsed every Great and Holy Saturday during one of the 13 readings from the Old Testament. But it is more than a taunt or even an honest query: It is the prayer of every person in the grip of some power beyond their making or control.
“How do you, Father Herman, manage to live alone in the forest, don’t you get bored?” He answered, “No, I’m not alone there! There is God, and God is everywhere! There are holy angels! How can one be bored with them? With whom is it more pleasant and better to converse, angels or people? Angels, of course.”
In this forth week of our at-home Coronavirus quarantine, we struggle as a family with where to go and what to do. Our travelogue has been quickly and suddenly restricted to our immediate vicinity, and we labor at how to overcome feelings of isolation and boredom. The saints in heaven and especially the monastic hermits like St. Herman of Alaska can teach us what to do with our boredom, and it does not involve surfing to the next binge-worthy series or reaching for our favorite comfort food. It involves a rediscovery of our blessed habitation, that home which Father Herman called, “the blessed place which will render my soul’s salvation.”
Every year around this time I encourage those of you in my world wide readership that have never been to an Orthodox Church or visited an Orthodox worship service to GO. This year we have the especial privilege and blessing to not have much on our schedule as most are quarantined. I hereby encourage you then to live stream the Holy Week services in very own living room!
Starting today and continuing throughout next week until Pascha (Orthodox Easter) and beyond will be served throughout the world the most sublimely beautiful and divinely inspired worship you have ever seen, heard, felt, smelled or touched, except this year the feeling, smelling and touching will be left to only a few (those few who are left to serve what is being live streamed).
He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count ’em up: what then? The happiness he gives, is quite as great as if it had cost a fortune.
— Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
Our yearly visits to friends during the 12 days of Old Style Christmas always bring us to the apartment of some dear parishioners whom our children have nicknamed stari babushka and dedushka (older grandma and grandpa). They are both emigres from Russia and at least one is nearing his last days on this earth. In our society that tends to exile the elderly and idolize youth, it is easy to forget such precious people who live in subsidized senior housing and hardly possess enough resources to exist. Yet, as St. Paul says, “Out of their deep poverty wells up rich generosity.”
I was asked to play Santa Claus today for our Parish School but not the legendary one that poses for pictures at shopping malls and lives at the North Pole. I was asked to play the real one that lived and reposed in the 4th century, worked and continues to work wonders, and is loved the world over as Saint Nicholas of Myra in Lycia. Trying to live like a Saint is hard enough; imagine trying to play one live. The task was daunting but there is a way to study for the part.
Thursday, November 28, 2019 American Thanksgiving First Day of the Nativity Fast Commencement of Advent in the Orthodox Church
By an uncommon occurrence, the beginning of our Orthodox Advent Fast this year coincides with the 4th Thursday of November, otherwise known in America as Thanksgiving. I have blogged before about my annoyance at reducing this great holiday to its chief dish. This year we received an opportunity to practice giving thanks without the turkey, and you know, I think we all felt quite a bit lighter.
Every year at this time, when most children are deciding what costume to wear for a feast that toys with evil, our family gathers for the more serious fun of a Harvest Festival. It is a fitting tribute to our God the creator as we the sub-creators bring the intelligent fruit of our labours together. The students of Saint Herman of Alaska Christian School for over 2 decades of its existence have every year gathered for this festival at the end of October closed to the 28th, the feast day of the Mother of God, “She Who Ripens the Grain”.
Festivities begin with several recitations from the different classes. Poems are declaimed, stories are portrayed, and all people remember to thank the God who gives us life. Headmaster Father Patrick Tishel spoke of how the Mother of God ripened the figurative grain of the Lord Jesus in her womb. Similarly, we offer back to the Lord of life the fruits of our minds and hands. Continue reading →
I love how the character of Christ is portrayed in the 2016 film Risen. In the movie, a Roman tribune is assigned by Pilate to investigate the alleged theft of the body of one late Hebrew rabbi who claimed to be the Messiah. This same tribune had witnessed Christ’s crucifixion himself, so he knew his man. But upon his first encounter of the risen Lord, he was taken aback. This mighty Roman tribune who had commanded legions of soldiers and put down entire insurrections against Caesar was terrified not so much by Jesus’ resurrectional power, but by the way in which it was manifest: an uncanny sober levity and a peculiar nonchalance. He was smirking like one who had pulled off the most enormous con game ever played. Continue reading →