Tuesday, November 30, 2010

St. Nikolai of Zicha

H/T to Fr. Stephen Freeman.

Saint Nikolai (Velimirovic) of Zicha (also called Saint Nikolai of Ochrid) was a great twentieth century confessor of the Orthodox faith.

His life spanned both World Wars and included a time in America, part of which was spent as the Rector of St. Tikhon’s seminary in Pennsylvania. What was most striking about him was the recognition by others around him from a fairly early stage in his life, that this was no ordinary man. At numerous points in his life people who were no strangers to political power or wealth, described him as the most extraordinary man of their acquaintance. He was compared to the prophets of the Old Testament. In one case he was considered the equal of an army. Kings sought his advice, which was not noted for political brilliance but for goodness. His was the voice of God to many in his generation, including those who seemed to have the “power” of God in their ability to make life and death decisions.

In a famous prayer from his Prayers by the Lake, he wrote:

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Enemies have driven me into your embrace more than friends have.

Friends have bound me to earth, enemies have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world.

Enemies have made me a stranger in worldly realms and an extraneous inhabitant of the world. Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an unhunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by enemies, found the safest sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath your tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

They, rather than I, have confessed my sins before the world.

They have punished me, whenever I have hesitated to punish myself.

They have tormented me, whenever I have tried to flee torments.

They have scolded me, whenever I have flattered myself.

They have spat upon me, whenever I have filled myself with arrogance.

Bless my enemies, O Lord, Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Whenever I have made myself wise, they have called me foolish.

Whenever I have made myself mighty, they have mocked me as though I were a dwarf.

Whenever I have wanted to lead people, they have shoved me into the background.

Whenever I have rushed to enrich myself, they have prevented me with an iron hand.

Whenever I thought that I would sleep peacefully, they have wakened me from sleep.

Whenever I have tried to build a home for a long and tranquil life, they have demolished it and driven me out.

Truly, enemies have cut me loose from the world and have stretched out my hands to the hem of your garment.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Bless them and multiply them; multiply them and make them even more bitter against me:

so that my fleeing to You may have no return;

so that all hope in men may be scattered like cobwebs;

so that absolute serenity may begin to reign in my soul;

so that my heart may become the grave of my two evil twins, arrogance and anger;

so that I might amass all my treasure in heaven;

ah, so that I may for once be freed from self-deception, which has entangled me in the dreadful web of illusory life.

Enemies have taught me to know what hardly anyone knows, that a person has no enemies in the world except himself.

One hates his enemies only when he fails to realize that they are not enemies, but cruel friends.

It is truly difficult for me to say who has done me more good and who has done me more evil in the world: friends or enemies.

Therefore bless, O Lord, both my friends and enemies.

A slave curses enemies, for he does not understand. But a son blesses them, for he understands.

For a son knows that his enemies cannot touch his life.

Therefore he freely steps among them and prays to God for them.

St. Nikolai was imprisoned in Dachau by the Nazis and persecuted by the communists after their rise to power in post-war Serbia. Thus he finished his years in America, a saint who had not sought out our company, but was nonetheless a gift to us of a kind God.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Shepherd The Flock (1 Peter 5:1-5)

1 The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: 2 Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; 3 nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; 4 and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.

It is the responsibility of clergy to prepare their flock for times of trial and hardship, so it is them that St. Peter now addresses in this final portion of his epistle.  Specifically, he addresses the “elders” (presbyteroi), a term of leadership used synonymously in the first century with episkopoi (“bishops”).

Note that St. Peter identifies himself with the elders among his hearers in three ways, calling himself a “fellow elder,” a fellow “witness of the sufferings of Christ,” and “also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed.” FF: “In this threefold description of himself, Peter places himself in solidarity with his fellow leaders, encouraging them by his personal example as well as by precept. (We note here the great humility of the apostle, who is content to style himself simply as a fellow elder like them, and does not stress his status as leader of the Twelve.)” (102).

During times of persecution, Church leaders tended to suffer the worst.  The temptation for them to renounce their leadership responsibilities and even the entire faith, was great.  In light of this, St. Peter challenges them to stand firm in their responsibility to shepherd the flock.  Part of this calling as shepherds is “serving as overseers” (Gk. episkopeo, the verbal form of episkopos).  This “shepherding” refers to “the elders’ role ministry of spiritual oversight and pastoral supervision, of watching over the souls of those committed to them” (FF, 102).

St. Peter also urges the elders to make sure their motives for leading are pure.  They are to do so willingly and eagerly, not reluctantly or under compulsion.  They should not serve as a means to getting rich (“for dishonest gain”).  And they should most certainly not try to be “lords over those entrusted to you.”  Christian leaders are to “serve as examples” in humility by being servants to those whom God has placed in their care.  This teaching is merely an echo of what Peter heard directly from the Lord, samples of which we read in passages like John 13:3-7 and Matt. 20:24-26.

As motivation for serving with the right motivation, St. Peter concludes this mini-address to elders by reminding them that they will be greatly rewarded for their labors on the day when Christ returns.  FF comments eloquently on this passage: “Let them spend themselves for their brethren now, laboring in humility.  They will receive their wages soon enough.  Crowns of flowers or garlands of leaves are given to victors at the games or to honored citizens.  But unlike these crowns, the crown of glory Christ gives is unfading, like his Kingdom…It is this reward that He will give to the faithful stewards of His flock.  It is Christ, not the children of men, whom the shepherds are truly serving” (103).

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann: Final words

Father Alexander Schmemann celebrated the divine liturgy for the last time on Thanksgiving Day. This was particularly appropriate since Father Alexander had devoted his whole life to teaching, writing and preaching about the Eucharist; for the word eucharist in Greek means thanksgiving. At the conclusion of the liturgy, Father Alexander took from his pocket a short written sermon, in the form of a prayer, which he proceeded to read. This was a strange occurrence since Father never wrote his liturgical homilies, but delivered them extemporaneously. These were his words, which proved to be the last ever spoken by him from the ambo in Church.

Fr. Alexander preaching on November 22, 1983
Thank You, O Lord!

Everyone capable of thanksgiving is capable of salvation and eternal joy.

Thank You, O Lord, for having accepted this Eucharist, which we offered to the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and which filled our hearts with the joy, peace and righteousness of the Holy Spirit.

Thank You, O Lord, for having revealed Yourself unto us and given us the foretaste of Your Kingdom.

Thank You, O Lord, for having united us to one another in serving You and Your Holy Church.

Thank You, O Lord, for having helped us to overcome all difficulties, tensions, passions, temptations and restored peace, mutual love and joy in sharing the communion of the Holy Spirit.

Thank You, O Lord, for the sufferings You bestowed upon us, for they are purifying us from selfishness and reminding us of the "one thing needed;" Your eternal Kingdom.

Thank You, O Lord, for having given us this country where we are free to Worship You.

Thank You, O Lord, for this school, where the name of God is proclaimed.

Thank You, O Lord, for our families: husbands, wives and, especially, children who teach us how to celebrate Your holy Name in joy, movement and holy noise.

Thank You, O Lord, for everyone and everything.

Great are You, O Lord, and marvelous are Your deeds, and no word is sufficient to celebrate Your miracles.

Lord, it is good to be here! Amen.

The Orthodox Church, Vol. 20, No. 2, February 1984, p. 1:1

Friday, November 26, 2010

Rejoice That You Partake of Christ's Sufferings (1 Peter 4:12-19)

"Do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial..."  1 Peter 4:12

12 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. 14 If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.

17 For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 Now

“ If the righteous one is scarcely saved,
Where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?”

19 Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.

Here, St. Peter starts a new section of his epistle, again addressing his audience tenderly as “Beloved.” He begins by warning them not to be surprised that they are undergoing persecution. For Christians, neither persecution nor suffering in general is a “strange thing.” Jesus warned the disciples that they and all who believe after them would suffer persecution. St. Paul wrote the Philippians that “…it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him but to suffer for him” (Phil. 1:29, see also 2:21). The inevitability of trials, hardships, suffering, and persecution is a constant theme throughout Scripture. Christians cannot prevent trials from coming into their lives, but should instead be mentally prepared for them, so that their reaction will be to God’s glory.

Indeed, not only should Christians be prepared for trials, but they should also rejoice when they do come. This is another theme that runs throughout the NT writings; when trials come, we must not despair, but rather rejoice in our trials, since they can purify us and drive us nearer to God. And they can make us more like Christ, as St. James write in his epistle: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (1:2). St. Paul teaches the same; for example, in Romans 5:3-4, he writes, … but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

Another reason for rejoicing in trials, a reason that Peter states explicitly in verse 13 is that when Christ returns, those who have suffered and yet remained loyal to Christ will be rewarded. That reward will result in rejoicing. As FF writes, “That final rejoicing therefore should be allowed to spill over into this age, so that they now rejoice in their sufferings that will lead to their final reward. To groan over their sufferings now will lead to disappointment on the Last Day” (99).

In verse 14, we see yet another reason to rejoice in the face of suffering; suffering for Christ brings about a special blessing, “because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (v. 14). FF clarifies this passage thus: “The word rendered rest is the Greek anapauo, used for someone staying and taking his rest (compare its use for the martyrs resting from their labors in Rev. 14:13). The thought here is of the Holy Spirit taking up his abode in a special way in the one who is reviled (compare Stephen’s experience in Acts 6:15). He is called the Spirit of glory and of God because He bestows a special glory on those on whom He rests, filling them with the power of God, giving a foretaste of the final glory of the age to come. Thus they should not fear the reproach of their neighbors, for it will result in a greater fullness of the Spirit” (99-100).

Next, St. Peter reiterates something he had told his audience before: our suffering should be for doing what is right, not for doing what is wrong (see 2:20). It is interesting that in verse 15, St. Peter urges us not just to not be murderers, thieves, evildoers, but also “busybodies.” The Greek word translated “busybody” is alloepiscopos – literally, one who oversees others. Listen to what FF has to say about this: “It seems Peter’s point here is that Christians should not only not be criminals, they must take care not to be annoying either. For it is possible that Christians may suffer reproach from their neighbors, not because of criminal activity, but simply because they are too irritating in their unwanted rebuke of their pagan friends. Politeness and tact are also Christian virtues!” (100).

Instead, we should suffer “as Christians,” that is, like Christ, with conduct and dignity befitting the name. And as we see in verse 16, we should not be ashamed to suffer for Christ, but rather give God glory (as did St. John Chrysostom right before he died; the example of St. Polycarp also comes to mind).

Trials and suffering help prepare the church for the judgment. And note that judgment begins, not with the world, but with God’s own people. From the very inception of the Church, God has been purifying, and continues to work to purify, his Church to prepare it for the Final Judgment. After the Church is purified then, and only then, will the world be judged. As FF writes, “For Peter, this is the significance of the persecution in this age---it is God’s sifting of His People, testing and purifying them, through suffering, the prelude to the final judgment of all.”

The conclusion of all this, the “therefore,” is summed up in verse 19: when we suffer, the thing we need to do is to “commit our souls to Him in doing good,” for no matter what happens to us, we can always rest assured that God is a “faithful creator.”

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Plug for a (Fairly) New Blog

Hi, everyone.  I hope you all have a Happy Thanksgiving.  In the mean time, I wanted to belatedly put in a plug for my friend Karina Delsante's new blog, Desert Deliberations (she lives in Arizona, not God's Country - that is, Texas) .   It looks really good.  You can find it by clicking here.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Love Covers a Multitude of Sins (1 Peter 4:7-11)

Artist's conception of the patriarch Joseph's "coat of many colors"

7 But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers. 8 And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.” 9 Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. 10 As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. 11 If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Because “the end of all things is at hand” (that is, Christ could come back at any moment), St. Peter urges his audience to “be serious and watchful in your prayers.” “Serious” (Gk. sophroneo) can also be translated as “restrained.” It means to be rational, of sound mind, sensible. Christians should not lose their heads in the face of trials and suffering. He also urges them to be “sober” (Gk nepho), which means not just to be free of drunkenness, but also to keep an inner vigilance and balance. The need to keep nepsis (the noun form of nepho) is one of the main themes of the Desert Fathers. And one of the best ways to keep watchful is to be constantly in prayer. Prayer has many benefits, but the one stressed here by St. Peter is the way that prayers can serve as an anchor in times of trial and suffering. Prayer and watchfulness in these times can help keep us from sinning.

Note that when St. Peter says that “the end is near,” he is not necessarily saying that Christ will come back within their lifetimes. In FF’s words, “Peter is not saying that the end will come in a few months or years. He is saying that the end is the next thing on the divine agenda, so that Christians of every age should live in a state of readiness” (96).

Then St. Peter echoes a theme that is found throughout the NT, the need to “above all else have fervent love for one another.” Note that he says “fervent love,” not just any love. Fervent love is more than a feeling or emotion; it is an active love that expresses itself in deeds. One of these deeds is forgiveness. As the apostle says, “Love covers a multitude of sins.” If we truly love others, we will be willing to forgive them, no matter what they might do to us.

Another way of showing fervent love to others is by showing hospitality without grumbling. FF sheds light on the historical context behind this command, saying “Christians in that day were dependent on mutual hospitality when they traveled. In a time when inns were questionable and expensive, most believers opted to stay with other believers. Some would take advantage of this, causing grumbling and complaining. But such abuses of hospitality must not cause them to close their doors. They must maintain hospitality to Christian strangers without murmuring” (97). And so should we!

A third way Christians are to show love is through exercising their spiritual gifts (Gk. charismata), which were given to them by God to glorify God, build up the Church, and serve one another. These gifts do not really belong to us; we are only stewards of them and are expected to use them and to do so wisely. And our gifts are varied and manifold (Gk. poikilos). Interestingly, this Greek word is the same word used in the Septuagint version of Genesis 37:3 to describe Joseph’s coat of many colors. “God’s grace is thus varied as the spectrum is varied, for He gives different gifts to each one, according to his will” (FF, 97).

Finally, St. Peter elaborates on the nature of the gifts themselves, dividing them into gifts of speaking and gifts of serving. Speaking gifts would include prophecy, teaching, exhorting, or counseling (as in Rom. 12:6-8), while serving would include things like healing, giving, showing mercy (as in Rom. 12:8 and 1 Cor. 12:9). But whatever gift God has given us, we are to use it above all else to glorify God.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Gospel Was Preached to the Dead (1 Peter 4:3-6)

Icon of the Harrowing of Hell

3 For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles—when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries. 4 In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you. 5 They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.

And St. Peter’s readers need not miss their previous lifestyles, for as he (in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek manner) reminds them, they have spent plenty of time in doing the will of the Gentiles (pagans), including being involved with “lewdness, lusts, drunknenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries.” But they should be prepared to take some flack over making a break from their sinful lifestyles, as the apostle points out in verse 4: “they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you.”

But as St. Peter has already pointed out (see 3:9), there is no need for us to retaliate against those who speak evil of us, for as he points out in verse 5, “they will give an account to Him who is read to judge the living and the dead.” It is for God, not us, to avenge wrongs done against his people. One day, all those who blaspheme and persecute others will have to give an account for their conduct to God.

St. Peter closes this section with an interesting statement, saying that “the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.” He had already referred to this event once in 3:19, where he calls the dead “the spirits in prison.” But here he uses a different Greek word to describe Christ’s activity. In the previous chapter, he had used kerysso, which refers to any heralded proclamation. But here, he uses euaggelizo, which is a technical term used in the New Testament for preaching the Gospel of Christ.

Fr. Lawrence Farley (hereafter “FF”) sees this preaching of the good news not as Christ giving a second chance to people who had not believed in and lived for God, but rather as more of a completion of their knowledge of God—the “rest of the story” (so to speak). Listen to his commentary on verse 6:

“When Christ descended to the land of the dead after His own death, He proclaimed the Gospel to them all, so that all who had pleased god by their righteous lives might go with Him to the Father…Those of the dead who have lived righteously find the proclamation that Christ has triumphed is indeed good news brought to them, for they are to be rescued from the sentence of death and one day rise to immortal life. The thought here is not of the dead being given a chance to respond to the Gospel and to choose whether or not they will accept it. Rather the thought is of those already saved by their God-oriented lives (see Rom. 2:7) welcoming the good news that rescue is at hand” (95).

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

He Who Has Suffered in the Flesh Has Ceased From Sin (1 Peter 4:1-2)

1 Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.

In verse 18 of chapter 3, St. Peter had begun a discussion about Christ’s suffering but had then quickly gone into side discussions about Christ’s descent into Hades and Baptism. Now, he returns to the theme of Christ’s suffering, expanding the discussion by urging his readers to follow Christ’s example in the way he dealt with his suffering.

First, he urges them that since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind. This means that they should think as Christ did about obedience and suffering, that is, to be convinced that it is better to do right and suffer for it than to do wrong (see 3:17-18). And suffering has a redemptive quality, for, as St. Peter says, “he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.”

Taken at surface value, this statement presents a problem, for many people throughout history have suffered much but have continued to sin much. The overall teaching of Scripture is that no one is without sin. So St. Peter cannot be saying that anyone who has undergone physical suffering becomes sinless. Nor can he be saying that physical suffering somehow purifies and strengthens people. To be sure, suffering does have this effect on some, but it causes others to become rebellious toward God and embittered.

So what does St. Peter mean? Sometimes the biblical writers use the word “sin” to refer not to individual sinful actions, but to an ongoing pattern of sin. In his first epistle, St. John uses the word “sin” in this way 5 times. One example is 1 John 5:18: “Whoever is born of God does not sin.” Of course, St. John is not saying that someone who is born of God (or born again) will never sin again. Rather, he means that someone who is born of God will not continue in a sinful lifestyle. For him, in St. Paul’s words, “Sin shall no longer be your master” (Rom. 6:14). So Peter is not saying that anyone who has endured physical suffering has now stopped sinning, but rather that a Christian (remember he is writing to Christians) who has endured suffering for doing what is right has proven himself to not be living in an ongoing pattern of sin. This idea is confirmed by the next verse, in which Peter defines “ceasing from sin” as “no longer living…for the lust of men, but for the will of God.”

Thus, what St. Peter is saying could be paraphrased as “whoever has suffered for doing right, and has still gone on obeying God in spite of the suffering involved, has made a clear break from sin.” Following through with a decision to obey God even when it will mean physical suffering has a morally strengthening effect on our lives: it commits us more firmly than ever before to a pattern of action where obedience is even more important than our desire to avoid pain.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Beth's Blog

If you think this blog is great, I know another one you'll like. It's called Story Corner and it's by my daughter, Beth. She writes fabulous stories and puts them on her blog. The series right now is called "Darrin, A Turtle." This is full of short stories and they are great. She holds contests and haves fun. You always can have fun reading it as well, at least, I do! To get to it from your home page type in, bethsstorycorner.blogspot.com

All My Daughter, Beth, Wants For Christmas

Crayola Ultimate Art Supplies Kit: Blue - Crayola - Toys "R" Us
Art Kit
Hello Kitty: Big City Dreams for Nintendo DS - Atari - Toys "R" Us
Hello Kitty D.S. Game
Hello Kitty 50th Anniversary Satchel Bag - Fashion Accessory Bazaar - Toys "R" Us
50th Anniversary Bag (Free Online With Purchase of $30 or more)


Friday, November 12, 2010

American Born Serbian Saint - St. Varnava

There is a great article that provides details on the life of St. Varnava, a Serbian Saint who was born in Indiana. He was a vocal opponent of the communists, and suffered because of that opposition.

Please read more here.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Katie Wilcoxson Update

Greeting from Dar es Salaam, Africa!

Beginning of September

It has been almost three months since my arrival to Africa. It is
nothing like I had expected as many things are in our lives. The top
five on my list are:
--How intense the sun is! There is a wonderful
breeze everyday, but the sun's intensity is astonishing.
--Being loved by some and thanked many times by
--The mosquitos in Africa fly really slow, so they
are easy to kill. However, the mosquitos are also stealth with their
--How it is very easy to buy everything one needs
for daily living on the bus (dala dala) while sitting in traffic in
--I thought their would be more of a variety in
the food choices in the city. I can't believe how many "pub like" food
establishments there are in Tanzania.

While I have been in Dar es Salaam, I have had many opportunities to
learn about the culture of the Tanzanians. Once a week we went on
culture outings: to the Tanzanian national museum, a tribal museum,
and went shopping in a district called Kariokoo. I brought tennis
racket, cutting board, congas (wraps that have many uses), tupperware,
postal stamps, and internet usage cards.

One weekend I was able to talk with a Maasai man, who lives at the
Salvation Army (where we have our Swahili lessons), and asked him if
he could show us the famous "Maasai jumping dance” (Adumu). So he set
it up and got some of his friends! We squashed 5 people into a taxi
and headed off to a remote area with no paved roads. Surprisingly Dar
es Salaam has mostly paved roads. We bumped, screamed (mainly me),
and laughed our way to where the Maasai men were preparing to adumu
(dance). Our group of wazugu (foreigners) for the first time we were
not the center of attention. What I and you may not realize is that
the Maasai people are just much as a spectacle as Americans/
foreigners. So we (Maasai and wazugu) came together to celebrate
Maasai dancing, but unintentionally celebrated our likenesses. We
watched and cheered for 3 hours until they needed a soda break. I
found out later that many in the Maasai tribe are Christian (mainly
Catholic). Warriors are the only members of the Maasai community to
wear long hair, and spend a great deal of time styling the hair. It is
dressed with animal fat and ocher, and parted across the top of the
head at ear level

The next day we visited a different parish, instead of the Saint
Paraskevi Cathedral, The Dormition of the Theotokos in the Mbezi beach
region of Dar es Salaam. The church was located on the top of a
hill. The nave was no bigger than two dinning room tables placed side
by side. The church was packed. Not counting the five of us, the
faithful (including children) numbered twenty. The music we witnessed
was from the angels. Everyone joined in singing the hymns and the
service reminded me of the churches my OCMC short-team visited in
2002. I was part of a team of fourteen. We stayed in a small village
Kazsikazi. We joined the people of Kazsikazi in building All Saints
Orthodox Church. Everyone even the small children of the village
helped with bring the empty bags of dirt to us to refill. We were
given the task of digging out the area for the narthex. All Saints
Greek Orthodox Church in Pittsburgh, PA, sponsored the building of the
church in the village of Kazsikazi. We travelled with HE Jeryemos
(then he His Grace) to multiple parishes around the Bukoba Archdiocese
(now know as the Mwanza Archdiocese). The singing of the little
children, men, women: I could hear their gusto, passion, and love.

17 September 2010
His Eminence Dimitrios arrived from Greece. He wanted to take us out
for lunch. To spend this time with His Eminence (H.E.) and my team
before James left for Mwanza was very important to me, even though I
was feeling sick. As the day went on I became more and more ill. I
just thought "it's a virus, it will pass." I had felt this way once
before since I have been here in Dar es Salaam and I was fine the next
day after giving my stomach a rest and staying hydrated. I thought:
"I am an ER, I can treat a stomach virus." My sick feeling got so bad
that I had to excuse myself from the lunch because the smell of the
food was too much for my temperamental stomach. On our way home, H.E.
was driving, the car ran out of diesel and we had to wait for someone
from the Cathedral to help us get home. At this time I was actually
feeling a little better. We then made our way to the Cathedral where
H.E.'s stays while he is in Dar es Salaam. Again my symptoms were
becoming worse and I requested that I lay down while we waited for a
taxi to take us home. I got into the taxi and we made our way back to
the hostel. The last road to our hostel is a VERY VERY bumpy one. I
usually love the experience of bumping around in the car, but this
time was it totally different. I had never felt this much pain, thank
God, so the tears came out in liters. At one point, I had to quickly
ask that the car be stopped so that I could take a break from the
bumpy road. This caused quite a traffic jam, as I was told later by
my friends. I was able to, with the help of the taxi driver and
Michael, my missionary teammate in Tanzania, to get back in the car
and finish our trip back to our hostel. I made my way up the stairs
to my room. I got in my pajamas and laid down in bed. Not much later
I went to the restroom and after felt a little better. Felice, my
missionary teammate, came back into my room and we talked about the
days' events. Our debriefing didn't last very long due to her voice
leaving her. Felice reminded me she was just a phone call away if I
decided I needed to go to the hospital at anytime. It wasn't even two
hours, after I went to the restroom a second time, before I realized
the pain started to increase in my stomach. So I got myself ready for
a trip to the hospital and walked to Felice's room. I woke her up and
we made our way to the hostel's reception area. The taxi arrived and
we started the (seemed like a cross country trip) to Aga Khan
hospital, which was recommended by the hostels staff. While we waited
I noticed my stomach pain had moved. At the beginning of our trip to
the hospital the driver stopped to get diesel. After filling up the
car, the pain continually increased in intensity. The drive started
to become overwhelmingly painful. It felt like we were only driving
over rocks and not a road. On arrival to the hospital, I crawled into
the ER and was able to go straight back to a bed. I cried in agony
and worked with the doctors and let them do what they needed to do to
find out why I was having this pain. The pain never ceased even with
the pain medicine I was given. Throughout the tests, I frantically
tried to call the team, Michael, His Eminences Jeronymos and
Dimitrios. Many of the phone numbers I did not have so I continued to
call whomever I could reach. I spoke with Michael and he started the
phone chain to notify the missions department at OCMC, and the local
clergy (Fr. Peter and Fr. Frumentios). I was all alone because in
Tanzania the friend/family member's job is to pay for each item that
has been ordered by the doctor (doctor's order), take the blood to the
lab, and get the results. Felice was playing many many roles that
night and she showed peace through it all. It was incredible how much
she advocated, consoled, and had such peace about the whole ordeal.
Radiological and blood tests were done and it was discovered that I
had appendicitis. I was numb. The started crying and became
terrified that I was going to have to have surgery in Tanzania. I
told the surgeon that I needed to speak with my parents and friends in
the states. I then spoke with my parents and told them what was going
on. Since Felice was being my lab and bill payer, I felt very alone. I
told them, I am so scared over and over. Then my dad interrupted said,
"Katie you are not alone. You are never never never alone never
ever. You have Christ Jesus, His mother, Saint Catherine, Saint
Aidan, Saint Ann, Saint Brendan, Saint Elisabeth, the Archangel
Michael, Saint James, Saint Dimitrios, Saint Jeronymos, Saint
Innocent, Saint Nicholas of Japan, Saint Basil, Saint John the
Forerunner, Saint Elisabeth the New, Saint David, and all of the
saints in heaven. My dad prayed with all my mom, Felice, me. Christ
Jesus, His mother and all of the saint in heaven were there with us in
Aga Khan hospital that night. My father asked me soon after that, "Do
you feel like you need to come home?" I immediately said "no," my
father, mom, and I all agreed.

I have felt the calling to become a missionary in Africa for twenty
years. My parents have been amazingly supportive all of these years.
Through all of the difficulties I have faced and will face during the
last twenty and next two years, it is all for my good of my
salvation. Even though one of my worst fears came true, it has only
affirmed to me that I, can only with Christ Jesus and all of the
saints in heaven, can continue to assist in the mission in East
Africa. This experience will not only help me to be a better nurse,
it will also help me be a better person.

As a registered nurse (RN), I enjoy taking care of people when they
are seriously sick. Many times it is hard to understand why someone
is so upset over to us, as medical professionals, is a simple task/
procedure. Many time we as RNs think someone is over reacting to
their situation (getting an IV, or medication injection). As RN's/
doctors we loose our compassion for peoples' fears. We get too busy
and don't find out the important things that give the whole picture of
a person.

I had been a patient before; in the doctors' offices, I have had a
day surgery before, and had to go to the ER once after having
surgery. This time being the patient opened my eyes to something,
that I sometime forget. We all have a pasts or expectations (which
are sometimes real and sometimes not). I concentrated on what needed
to do to the patient to get them better. I didn't step back enough to
listen to them about their past experiences or pre-expectations about
medicine. I understood everything that was going on, it was just
different. I tried to be an obedient patient, but the medical system
is very different not to mention cultural difference, and language
Everything I had done, I had done to others hundreds of time. I try
to understand and sympathize with my patients about their fears and
emotions that they might have when they receive unexpected news. I
now know I truly did not have a clue about what patient's go through
when they are in the hospital.

End of September and the beginning of October
Ten days after being discharged from the hospital, I left Dar es
Salaam with my fellow missionaries (James Hargrave, Michael Pagedas,
and Felice Stewart) and arrived in Mwanza. Mwanza is where His
Eminence Jeronymos's archdiocese is located. We spent a day or so
with His Eminence and then left for Bukoba, where we will live for the
next two years. We will be working at Resurrection Hospital and assist
in projects His Eminence requests of us. His Eminence departed for
the annual synod meeting just before we left for Bukoba.

End of October

We have now been here for a little over a week. We have continued to
unpack and gradually get settled in our final home for the next two
years. His Eminence is schedule to return from Egypt at the end of
the week. We will ask for his blessing to continue our learning
Kiswahili and gradually help at the hospital. This is a very exciting
time especially for myself. I have been itching to start clinical
work. Even though I will only spend a few hours a week at the
hospital, I am so happy to start to "dip my pinky toe" into medical
care in Tanzania!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

On Growing a Beard - By Clint

Most Orthodox Priests have beards. Different jurisdictions are sometimes discernible by looking at the style of beards, since some priests have untrimmed beards while others have neatly trimmed facial hair. It is fairly common to see smooth faces on some priests, as well. So what is the deal with beards? I did a little online research (which can be dangerous - but fun, too). Here are a few tidbits that I found:

The simple reason why Orthodox priests wear beards is because, as a Nazarene, Our Lord had a beard, as can be seen from any icon. Since the priest is a dispenser of sacramental grace and an icon of Christ, he should physically resemble Our Lord, not only in wearing a robe or cassock (which need not at all be black, contrary to popular myth), but also in being bearded and having the same hairstyle (long hair with a parting down the middle). Taken from here.

The same source goes on to say that:
Sometimes this is not possible, especially if the priest has to do a secular job (and also if the priest's wife objects to long hair and untrimmed beard!)

Beards can be a touchy subject! In fact, it can lead to division, as evidenced by:

...by the 11th Century that it was listed among the reasons for the Anathema pronounced by Cardinal Humbert on July 15, 1054 against Patriarch Michael in Constantinople which precipitated the Western Church's final falling away from the Orthodox Church: "While wearing beards and long hair you [Eastern Orthodox] reject the bond of brotherhood with the Roman clergy, since they shave and cut their hair." Taken from here

According to St. Nicodemus the Hagiorite, beard grooming could lead to excommunication (reminder for non-Orthodox or newly illumined, that contrary to the protestant understanding of excommunication where it means being "kicked out of the church," in Orthodoxy, it means to be barred from receiving communion). In any event, here are St. Nicodemus' words:

Those too incur the excommunication of this Canon, according to Zonaras, who do not put a razor to their head at all, nor cut the hair of their head, but let it grow long enough to reach to the belt like that of women, and those who bleach their hair so as to make it blond or golden, or who twist it up and tie it on spills in order to make it curly; or who put wigs or rats on their head. This excommunication is incurred also by those who shave off their beard in order to make their face smooth and handsome after such treatment, and not to have it curly, or in order to appear at all times like beardless young men; and those who singe the hair of their beard with a redhot tile so as to remove any that is longer than the rest, or more crooked; or who use tweezers to pluck out the superfluous hairs on their face, in order to become tender and appear handsome; or who dye their beard, in order not to appear to be old men.

Really? I am hoping that the rats referred to are the "twisting" type, not the rodents. No doubt, the purpose was to not look handsome - at least not on purpose.

So anyway...


I grew up with a father that did not care for facial hair. He was a product of his times. For him, facial hair equaled a rebellious nature. He grew up in the 50s and 60s and equated beards with unwashed hippies who burned draft cards and caused social unrest. But that was how I was raised. I often wonder what he would think, were he still alive, if he saw that both my little brother (a protestant minister) and I have facial hair. Neither of us currently have a full beard, but still...

And we aren't priests. We just do it because we want to. Well, that and because we might want to put rats in them.

This was me about 5 years ago during a previous bearding - I have grown and shaved it off a couple of time since, but currently have a goatee

OK, I know you are wondering (if you have made it this far and not gotten bored) why I bring this up. Well, if you have been at St. Joseph's over the past few weeks, you know that Fr. James is making a concerted effort to grow his beard out. I have to say that he looks very good with a beard. But like all beard growers, he has to struggle with some of the issues that are peculiar to growing one.

Stuff like: THEY ITCH when you are first growing them out. Sure, there are all kinds of advice that new beard growers are given - like using conditioner on it or lotion or eye of newt or whatever. In my experience, none of them really worked very well. It still itched. The only real thing that worked was time. After awhile the face gets used to the changing topography and it just stops itching. But it can take awhile. I still have to trim around the corner of my mouth regularly or it drives me crazy.

Which leads to another concern - trimming. OK, so you read the part about not trimming it, if one is a priest. But in our current society, most priests do trim their beards. It is much harder to trim than to just shave it off. I find this to be my biggest headache. It takes practice. One day, I almost shaved off the right side of my mustache when I let my mind wander while trimming. Let's just say that was a little awkward.

Finally, something happens to fellows who are growing facial hair for the first time after they hit 40 or so. The hair on top of the head might be as dark as can be, but the chin hairs seem to start fading to gray. Again, if you read above, the priest better not color the hair so as not to appear to be old. That is worse than the rats.

So what is the point? Well, I don't really have one. I just thought the whole beard thing is interesting. Having written and posted this, Fr. James will probably come on to say that the itch won out and he shaved it off. But I hope not, because he really does look good and, except for the gray patches, it is good and dark - no highlights or fake blonde.