From Murder to Mercy

IMG_5512Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.

Epistle of Apostle James Chapter 5

The senseless murder of innocents has often in history followed godless greed and unholy desire for personal gain. Midway through the 20th century experiment of atheist communism in Russia, Joseph Stalin felt the need to purify the system and find new sources of blame for his failing policies. Finding no blame in himself, he and his minions sought secretly and indiscriminately to purge undesired members of society in numbers before unimagined. Continue reading

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The North Pole is a City

BON-7December 6/19, St. Nicholas
Archbishop of Myra in Lycia, the Wonderworker
Whose Relics Lie Principally in Bari, Italy
And Whose Legendary Brother Santa Claus Lives in the North Pole

It was unthinkable. Several years ago, we were celebrating the annual feast of St. Nicholas, and our priest confessed that there was not a single person in our parish whom we could wish a happy name’s day. My wife, who was pregnant at the time, turned to me and we decided then and there to start a trend that is all too common in other Orthodox and Eastern European Churches. Now, including my son, there are at least two boys named Nicholas in our parish. We are now more like the Greek family in My Big Fat Greek Wedding with every other person named Nick, Nikko, Nikki, or Nikolaki. Continue reading

Saints Alive: Living Links to Ancient Truths

October 26/ November 8- Holy and Glorious Great-martyr Demetrius the Myrrh-gusher of Thessalonica (306)

On this day when we remember the Great-martyr Demetrius of Thessaloniki, I offer this re-post of a reflection I composed the summer of 2011 when I was fortunate enough to visit the city of the saint and venerate his relics along with the rest of the senior class of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. A full copy of all of my reflections from that summer can be found here. Continue reading

A New Catholic Saint

Had the distinct pleasure to attend most of the American Chesterton Society’s National Convention at which I was the concluding speaker this final Saturday afternoon before evening Mass and the concluding banquet. It was a whirlwind of a convention covering the theme Education, Economics, and Everything Else. It was my first G. K. Chesterton Convention, and I hope that I can make many more to come in the future. I have been so long a devoted fan that it feels good finally to connect with my fellow devotees. Continue reading

Hospital Waiting Rooms

What Marilyn says here about hospital waiting rooms is capital pastoral theology. I have often had the same thoughts about riding the bus, except the stories are a little less desperate. Witnessing souls at the crossroads of their lives… Reminds me of one of my best beloved quotes:

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. … Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.

—C.S. Lewis “The Weight of Glory”

Marilyn R. Gardner

Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?” – Henry David Thoreau

Everyone should have to go into a hospital waiting room once a week and just sit – just sit and observe. I believe the results of such an experiment would be extraordinary.

Because it’s in the hospital waiting room where outward beauty is revealed for what it is and inward beauty shines.

It’s in the hospital waiting room where we are among those walking wounded. Those who bear their scars with nobility. It’s in hospital waiting rooms that you don’t try to hide tears; where you can’t hide anger or disappointment and where shock is just a part of the day’s story.

It’s in hospital waiting rooms where you realize that you share a lot more with fellow humans than you choose to admit. Where you realize that…

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Family Reunions in the Kingdom of Heaven

In America, we like to start and end our events “on time”, and whenever things don’t strictly correspond to the clock, guests and hosts alike can get pretty disturbed. In Russia and especially here in Sochi, we follow a different kind of clock and feast in a very different  way.

Today is Sunday, the day of the Lord’s resurrection, which is by default always a feast day. After going to morning Liturgy, we return to our aunt’s home to a table laden with delights befitting the day, but as I posted earlier the point is not the delicious food, but the company gathered, which for Sochi allows the largest amount of family not only to gather for a single meal but to live for a while in close proximity to one another.

Continue reading

Toasting the Company of the Saints

Icon of All Saints

Thursday, June 22/July 5, 2012 HM Eusebius

We arrived yesterday evening on the 4th of July at Domodedova Airport to the other great “land of the free and home of the brave”, this thousand-year-plus old home of saints and those aspiring to be so, Mother Russia. I have decided to launch this blog instead of merely emailing our travel reflections. It worked last summer to post my trip to Greece and Turkey as a series of emails and then finally compile them into one Pilgrimage Memory Book, available here. But email is limited in the sense that the text and pictures cannot live close enough to one another, and so much of what I write is illustrated in particular photographs. God has gifted our family so greatly with these summer trips to Russia (this is my forth, and our family’s fifth); it would be selfish to keep all of these blessings to ourselves.

Even if we do nothing more than stay in Moscow, there is so much benefit gained by living for a while in another culture. It forces us out of our comfortable patterns and presses us to rely more readily on help from God as we seek to cope with the adjustment. Crossing that airport checkpoint means crossing into another world in which more than just the language is different. To open, I will try to focus on what is pleasantly different and leave the un-pleasantries to hopefully transform me into a better man.

One pleasant cultural difference in Russia is the ease with which people visit one another. In our first 24 hours, we have been greeted by not less than three unexpected guests on two separate occasions. Of course, each occasion warranted the pulling out of several courses: always first a toast after the prayer to the meeting or whatever the occasion, then soup, then salad, an assortment of nuts, salted fish, potatoes, more soup, more salad; then savory things are withdrawn to make room for the dainties that accompany the tea: crispy, donut-like lee-pyoshki, different kinds of jam, fresh peaches and cherries, and a bowl full of hard candy. It’s no wonder Russians in America are unimpressed by our Thanksgiving holiday. For a guest in Russia, every meal is like a Thanksgiving meal, even the ones offered during a fasting period (the Orthodox Church is now in the middle of the Apostle’s Fast in which the faithful abstain from all meat except fish and all dairy and eggs).

But I digress on food which Russians don’t really discuss much at the table like we Americans. No, the point of the meal is the company gathered, and though the Russians have borrowed the English word (companiye in Russian) to describe the experience, I am convinced they have a much deeper understanding of its meaning. The battery of toasts offered during the course of each meal makes this point plain. The first toast will always be for the reason of gathering: If it is a birthday, congratulations to the person celebrating it; if it is an anniversary, congratulations to the couple celebrating it, etc. If there is nothing special anyone gathered can think of, then the first toast za fstreture (“to the meeting”) offers thanks to God for the providential opportunity of just sitting across the table from one another, face to face, and talking.

What follows during the meal varies, but it is usually based on the course of conversation. For instance, at a birthday, it is natural after congratulating the birthday boy/girl to start talking about the couple whose love brought this little one/big one into the world. So, a follow-up toast will be to the parents and/or grandparents. Toasts following this tend to be for other relatives and friends that have figured prominently in the honored guest’s life, and it is only toward the end of the meal when more abstract, general toasts are made for brotherhood, peace and love. I remember when I first learned enough Russian to offer a meager something of my own at the table. I was tempted to rhapsodize eloquently on one of my favorite philosophical subjects when my wife would inevitably nudge me (or refuse to translate my English ramblings) because my toast was not directed to a person or to the company gathered.

This brings me to our beautiful Orthodox theology, as all good culture engenders good theology. “My neighbor [company] is my salvation,” says many noted, contemporary elders of the Church. We cannot find Jesus Christ completely on our own, in pursuit of some idle curiosity, or once we have found Him, sustain his company without others. Rather, the Lord prays, “Make them one, Father, as you and I are one.” (John 17) As we strive for unity in Him, we also grow closer one to another in a company of sanctity that stretches beyond the present in both directions— past and future. The great apostle Paul reflects on this mystery in a passage we read on the Sunday of All Saints, Hebrews 11:33-12:2, in which we commemorate all the vast company of martyrs, confessors, and every righteous man or woman made perfect in faith. But the conclusion of this amazing commemoration is the most humbling, and it speaks to the future direction of the Lord’s plan of salvation: That as great as this company of saints is, they received not the promise. God having provided some better thing for us [in the present], that they without us should not be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:39, 40)

Really? Something better or greater than being sawn asunder and yet alive? Greater than living through a furnace heated seven times hotter than usual? Greater than all these things performed by men and women of whom the world was not worthy? Yes. The Lord intends that with the example and active intercession of these saints who have gone before, we might do even greater things than these. O Lord, may we immerse ourselves in the lives of the saints, so that we not look in judgment and isolation at the lives of those around us. In their great company, may we not take for granted the neighbor you have given to accompany us in our path of salvation. Unto Thee be glory, forever and ever, AMEN.