Monday, December 24, 2012

Unforgivable unposting

I've drafted a few posts, and I haven't finished them to my satisfaction, so they are not up.  We have made it through the Nativity fast (the fast of St. Philip) and are at the eve of the second most important day in the liturgical year.

Tonight, I will be joining my church family in McComb at the All-Night Vigil of Christmas.  This service combines Great Compline (the final service of the liturgical day) with Matins and the First Hour.  All of the liturgical observances of Christmas Eve parallel those of Great and Holy Friday, and it is the day of the Nativity Fast that most relates to its Lenten analogue.

Tonight, the music will contain some of the greatest hymns of the Church.  Aside from the Nativity Troparion,  introduced in this service, we will sing "God is with us," an antiphonal hymn celebrating the imminent arrival of Christ in the Incarnation. The words of the hymn come from the eighth and ninth chapters of the prophecy of Isaiah, and recount the promise of the Messiah to come to Israel.

Matins begins directly at the end of Great Compline, which concludes with the Troparion of Nativity.  Matins begins with the choir singing "Glory to God in the Highest," which has deep significance liturgically, as this is among the preparatory prayers uttered by the priest before the Divine Liturgy begins, and also recalls the greeting of the angels to the shepherds at the Nativity.  Perhaps my favorite portion of the entire Matins is the Song of Ascent, followed by the Prokeimenon of the Nativity.

The Canon of the Nativity follows.  In the Canon, which is composed of eight odes (it is a historical curiosity that the second Ode is omitted), we hear the story of the Incarnation from the Old Testament story of creation (Ode 1), through the expulsion from Eden (Ode 3), to the founding of the Tribes of Israel from Jacob (Ode 4), to the Roman dominion over Judea (Ode 5), to the parallel stories of the Prophet Jonah and Christ (Ode 6), to the shepherds being greeted by the angels (Ode 7), to the story of the three youths and the pain of the Babylonian exile (Ode 8), and finally the wise men reaching the cave wherein Christ was born (Ode 9).

Following the Canon, Matins concludes with the singing of the Praises of the Lord, and the Great Doxology. The Doxology is the great catechetical hymn of the church regarding salvation and redemption; it is the counterpart to the Creed, which contains in it the fundamentals of the Orthodox faith.  The Doxology instructs us to pray constantly and seek forgiveness from God, and itself concludes with the Trisagion Hymn.

May God bless you all, and may we greet each other tomorrow on the day of the Nativity with the words of festal praise: "Christ is born; Glorify Him!"

Friday, November 9, 2012

Resumption of blogging

I suspended my blogging during the election season, because I was in such turmoil over the election.  Now that it is over, and I have hopefully not alienated too many people, I will resume blogging at my schedule of two to three times a week, and I will begin with continuing the story of my return to the Church, hopefully on Sunday.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

My Journey to Orthodoxy, part 1.

My journey to Orthodoxy is not normally considered a journey.  I was born into an Orthodox family, and I was baptized about 40 days after my birth, and I grew up as an altar server, and singing in the church choir, and in general receiving a first-class youth of instruction in practical Orthodoxy.  I learned how to be a reader, and I learned chanting in the Greek, Antiochian, and Russian styles.

But in college, as is often typical, I fell away from the Church.  I stopped going to Liturgy regularly, and I was only an occasional churchgoer.  I attended church regularly when I was at home with my parents, but I had never been someone who didn't have a job in church.  I had never known how to worship without something to do.

And so for a long time I was C and E (Christmas and Easter).  And when I moved to Jackson, Mississippi, after law school, I began attending Holy Trinity and St. John the Theologian Greek Orthodox Church.  In contrast to the stereotype of old Greek parishes, I found a welcoming community struggling through the change from being a city church with a city congregation to being a city church with a suburban congregation.   Eventually, the church had to move away from its historic location on West Capitol Street to its new home in Ridgeland, and I pray God that they are doing well there.

After I moved to Hattiesburg, I again lapsed.

Forgive me, but I will continue later.  It's time to listen to two sociopaths lie to the country again.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Vespers, an appreciation

Fr. Lawrence gives a concise explanation of the historical importance of vespers.  I have been privileged over the years to serve vespers at our mission in Hattiesburg.  This week we have Divine Liturgy on Saturday, and Vespers Friday night.  I look forward to vespers, especially now that we have more regular attendees.

Vespers is the reminder of the Old Testament services in the temple.  It provides us a vital link to the Holy Fathers of the Old Testament, and in particular to the Jewish priesthood.  All Orthodox Christians are put into the priesthood now, and symbolically and mystically serve God in our collective worship.  As St. Basil's anaphora prayer says, "He procured us for Himself as a chosen people, a royal priesthood and a holy nation."  

The Vespers service is a reminder of the closed priesthood of blood and descent of the Old Testament, and mystically calls us to service in the royal priesthood of Christ, who is High Priest forever, in the words of the entrance prayer from the Christmas liturgy:  "Out of the womb before the morning star have I begotten Thee. The Lord has sworn, and will not change His mind: "Thou art a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek."

Vespers begins the liturgical day, and announces to us the story of the saint we commemorate throughout the day.  It is educational and pedagogical, and an excellent preparation for the coming liturgy.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

OFFICIAL WIFE: In Response to What do I get out of church?

I always ask Alex to look at my posts before I make them public. I want to be honest, but I don't want to offend anyone too badly. He knows people, in general. This is an area of expertise he has-- and he knows the specific audience. He tells me who reads.

He wanted me to review his most recent post because he mentioned me.

"But I have to mow the lawn EVERY WEEK." This is a really good analogy.

"My wife asks me every Sunday upon my return from church how it was." What he doesn't talk about is what I say on Fridays, "Was Jesus there?" It takes two. Oh, how well aware am I of this, as a person who does not attend church. I know he's sad when no one else shows up. He's struggled but conquered and rarely cancels anymore. His entry, "I am the Choir," really resonates with my current experience and my history.

I just wanted you to know that I ask, not just, "How was church?" but also, on Fridays, "Was Jesus there?" It's a big deal for both of us. I am aware that I am staying quite comfortably at home.

What do I get out of church?

This is an interesting question that has been knocking around the empty space inside my skull for a long time. My wife asks me every Sunday upon my return from church how it was.  Thankfully the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is pretty reliable, and so I can typically explain how I enjoyed Fr. Benedict's usually excellent and useful sermons.

But the question remains, what do I get out of church?  Well, I get to worship with other Orthodox Christians; I get to sing very loudly some of the finest melodies that I know; I get to partake of the precious body and blood of Our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ.  That is what I get.

The followup comes like this, however: how did it make you feel?

And this is a question that I don't know how to answer.  And the fact that I can't answer the question leads me to an intuition I have had for a very long time that my friend Preston Salisbury identified on the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.  What does it mean to worship God?

In the Orthodox world, it is work.  Worshipping God is our daily job.  This is a labor of love, but like all labors of love it is work.

I have a quip I like to throw out to people who have asked me if I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  I like to tell them that I have a professional relationship with Jesus Christ.  My relationship with Christ is a vocation; it is a career.  And right now, that career consists of prayer, and fasting, and going to Church every week.

It does not consist of ecstatic visions of angels.  It does not consist of feeling warm fuzzies when I complete the Prayer of the Hours during the Sixth Hour.  I don't experience rapturous joy at taking Communion.  In the Orthodox Church, we are welcomed to communion with this prayer: "With fear of God, with faith and love, draw near."*  Fundamentally, just like at my saecular job, church is not about what I get out of it.  It is about what I put into it.

Going to church is like mowing the lawn, in a sense.  It is in the Orthodox view necessary for the proper maintenance of the human being.  I go to church to worship God and partake in the Eucharist.  I do not go to church to feel aglow with happy thoughts.  When I am at church, I am at my work.  Mowing the lawn of the soul, if you will.  Once the lawn is mowed, I am ready to edge the lawn, and clean up the crepe myrtles, and cut back the azaleas, and maybe even plant that garden.  But I have to mow the lawn EVERY WEEK.

Does this mean that going to church is a chore?  Well, it can be.  Some days it's hot in church.  Some days, there are only you and the priest's family and the choir director in church.  Some days, everyone in church has a cold, or a sinus infection.  Some days, there's a memorial service after church and you really want to get back to Hattiesburg.  But that is part of the job of being a Christian.  In the immortal words of the narrator of The Big Lebowski, "Some days you eat the bear, and some days the bear eats you."

The saints did not come to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit by accident.  We read how in the monasteries they worked, and suffered, and fasted, and prayed.  We read how they were tempted by demons, and how they fell victim to the seven grievous sins, and repented, and were healed.  In the Brothers Karamazov, Elder Zosima, an undoubtedly saintly and pious man, dies and his body, in the utter defiance of the conventional wisdom and hope of the townspeople, rots foully, instead of being preserved incorrupt.  The world is a harsh and terrifying place for the holy; how much more so for us?  Through it all, however, they worked at being Christian.  They did not wonder what they were getting out of it.  They concerned themselves with what they were putting into it.

The work of the church is the work of the church.  And we are all called to it.  Just because it is sometimes unpleasant doesn't make it any less necessary.

* Both in ROCOR and at St. Tikhon's Seminary, there is no love.**

**This is inside baseball.  But then, this is a blog about being an Orthodox Christian in Mississippi married to a Protestant whose theology is best summed up by Oliver Cromwell.***  So this whole thing is inside baseball.

***I am not kidding about the Oliver Cromwell thing.  She thinks he may have been a little soft when it came to his approach to eliminating bear-baiting.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Universal Exaltation of the Holy and Life Giving Cross

Tomorrow marks one of the most solemn feasts of the liturgical year.  The Universal Exaltation of the Holy and Life Giving Cross commemorates several occasions illustrating the prominence of the Cross in the faith.  The OCA website precis on the feast describes the power of the Cross, demonstrating even that pagans and heretics recognized its sovereign healing power.

Heraclius was the elucidator of the heretical doctrine of Monothelitism.  More importantly, he made Greek the official language of the Eastern Roman Empire.  Finally and most importantly, in his campaign against the Persians, he recovered the True Cross which they had seized.  This return of the Cross to Jerusalem and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is one of the occasions commemorated tomorrow.

Additionally, the feast commemorates the discovery of the True Cross by St. Helena, the mother of St. Constantine the Great.  Because of her discovery of the Cross, St. Helena is regarded as Equal-to-the-Apostles by the Church.

The Cross is a symbol of the ultimate power of God, and the redeeming love of Christ for the world.  For that reason, the Church has ordained a strict fast for tomorrow.

Tomorrow during the Liturgy, instead of the Typical antiphons, the Trisagion hymn, and the ordinary communion hymn, we will sing the following hymns (texts from the OCA website):

The First Antiphon

God, my God, attend to me!  Why have You forsaken me?  (Ps.21/22:1)

                  Refrain: Through the prayers of the Theotokos, O Savior, save us!

Why are You so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
                        (Ps 21/22:1b)

                  Refrain:  Through the prayers of the Theotokos, O Savior, save us!

O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer; and by night, but find no
rest. (Ps 21/22:2)

                  Refrain: Through the prayers of the Theotokos, O Savior, save us!

You dwell in the sanctuary, the praise of Israel. (Ps 21/22:3))

                  Refrain: Through the prayers of the Theotokos, O Savior, save us!

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever,
and unto ages of ages. Amen.

                  Refrain: Through the prayers of the Theotokos, O Savior, save us!

                                                The Second Antiphon

O God, why have You cast us off forever? (Ps 73/74:1)

                  Refrain:   O Son of God, crucified in the flesh, save us who sing to You: Alleluia!

Remember Your congregation, which You have purchased of old! (Ps 73/74:2)

                  Refrain:  O Son of God, crucified in the flesh, save us who sing to You: Alleluia!

Remember Mount Zion, where You have dwelt! (Ps 73/74:2b)

                  Refrain:  O Son of God, crucified in the flesh, save us who sing to You: Alleluia!

God is our King before the ages; He has worked salvation in the midst of the earth.  (Ps 73/74:12)

                  Refrain: O Son of God, crucified in the flesh, save us who sing to You: Alleluia!

The Third Antiphon

The Lord reigns, let the people tremble! (Ps 98/99:1)

            Tone 1           Troparion of the Feast    

O Lord, save Your people
and bless Your inheritance!
Grant victories to the Orthodox Christians
over their adversaries;
and by virtue of Your Cross,//
preserve Your habitation!

The Lord reigns, let the people tremble! He sits enthroned upon the Cherubim; let the earth quake! (Ps 98/99:1)

                  Troparion of the Feast

The Lord is great in Zion; He is exalted over all the people. (Ps 98/99:2)

                  Troparion of the Feast

Bow down in worship to the Lord in His holy court! (Ps 98/99:9)

                  Troparion of the Feast

(Instead of the Trisagion)

Before Your Cross, we bow down in worship, O Master,
and Your holy Resurrection, we glorify.

Communion Hymn

The light of Your countenance has shone on us, O Lord. (Ps 4/5:6)
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Nativity of the Theotokos

Imagine my embarrassment last night at Vespers when I realized that Saturday was the Nativity of the Theotokos.  I had forgotten completely about it, so focused was I on the Elevation of the Holy Cross on September 14.

So we went through our normal Daily Vespers routine at 6 pm, and this morning I awoke at 6 am to make the drive to Christ the Saviour in McComb.  I took some video that may not have turned out too poorly.

The Nativity of the Theotokos is one of several important feasts of the Church we have in September.  Indiction is the beginning of the Church year, and occupies an interesting position in the Church calendar; it is treated as a feast of the Theotokos, coming as it does in the gap between her Dormition and her birth.  Father Benedict's sermon today was about the importance of the Theotokos in the plan of salvation.

Salvation is not a solitary practice in the Orthodox Church.  We are all struggling along that road together.  But salvation is not merely a process for man; it is a plan of God's.  The Theotokos, child of two elderly, pious Judeans of David's line, was selected out of time to bear Christ for the salvation of all men.  Holy Tradition tells us that the Archangel Gabriel spoke to both Joachim and Anna separately, telling them that God would answer their prayers for a child, and that that child would be dedicated to the Temple.

From about the age of four years, the Virgin Mary lived her life daily in the Temple, serving the Lord along with other children so dedicated.  Today we commemorated her birth, and the reification of God's plan for man's salvation.

Troparion of the Feast, in Tone 4

Thy nativity, O Virgin,
has proclaimed joy to the whole universe!
The Sun of righteousness, Christ our God,
has shone from thee, O Theotokos.
By annulling the curse,
He bestowed a blessing.
By destroying death, He has granted us eternal life.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

I hereby accept all blame for anything that goes wrong in my marriage.

I hereby accept all blame for anything that goes wrong in my marriage.

OFFICIAL WIFE: Isaac (curse word included)

We survived. We overreacted, over prepared. We-- and I mean that in a very large multi-state way-- are damaged goods. The positive effect is we got bit once, so we know to put on gloves.

I am very glad that the issue of the media's omission of Mississippi during this and Katrina has come up. I was afraid to mention it, but there are so many others who think the same thing. Katrina hit Hattiesburg-- and hundreds of miles around. In fact, Katrina hit Hattiesburg straight on, not New Orleans. New Orleans flooded. I was here in Hattiesburg for the eye, but that little dot with wings that the weathermen show is only the center of a very very big storm. I urge you to cross-reference with radar. So much more land is affected.

New Orleans is a major city where lots of fun may be had. New Orleans is our Las Vegas. Still, a human is a human. The focus on NO was wrong. The news workers should strive to give accurate reports including all relevant happenings. To them I say, "You're not making reality TV. There's a difference. Have pride." As a consequence of the public opinion that resulted from their reports, many grants are only available to the three counties of Mississippi on the coast. I work with a charity that repairs houses for those in our area who cannot make repairs themselves-- disaster, age, accessibility mods and otherwise. I started this job right after Katrina when we did a lot of roof work, and the consensus by grant givers is that our area was not affected by Katrina. WE WERE HIT BY THE FUCKIN' EYE.

Everyone- right now-- stop watching the news. Never watch it again. Talk to actual people, please. Entertainment news is such an awful thing.

Back to present day... Flooding, not winds, is the biggest cause of damage for Isaac. McComb, where Alex's church is, was actually evacked well after the storm due to flooding. I have no reports. My church contacts are in Hattiesburg and Jackson. I urge you to rely on personal contacts for information rather than the media.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Surviving Isaac

We survived Hurricane Isaac, with nary a casualty but the burglary of our cars.

There was a spate of vandalism and robbery during the storm, and in Hattiesburg one murder.

But mercifully the city was spared the viciousness of the storm.  For once, we were as a community prepared and working together.  Already the city is back to normal, and we seem to have once again been spared the worst.

Tomorrow is Indiction, the beginning of the liturgical year.  In Hattiesburg, we will be serving Divine Liturgy at the Holy Cross Mission, located in the chapel behind Sacred Heart Catholic Church.  We are so blessed to have the kind assistance of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Biloxi and Fr. Ken Ramon-Landry and the parish of Sacred Heart.  Without their assistance, it would not be possible to engage in our small but growing ministry.

Two weeks from today is the feast of the Holy Cross.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Battening down the hatches

In Ye Olde Lande Masse, we have fully hurricanized the Dacha.  Brew Skete contains all of the things we don't want becoming projectiles.  I have made the pre-storm insurance video, and we have over 20 gallons of drinking water laid in, as well as 40 gallons of flush/wash water.  The animals are all prepped, I purchased a rechargeable halogen light, and all things are prepared.

Now is the time for prayer and fasting.

We were scheduled to have divine liturgy this Saturday at the Mission, but that remains an open question.  Luckily I baked a double batch of prosphora last time, so we will be prepared, even without power.

Today, however, is a day of remembrance for many Orthodox Christians in America.  It is the anniversary of the falling asleep of Archbishop Dimitri, a titanic evangelist and missionizer, founder of the Diocese of the South in the OCA, and beloved pastor of a flock spanning 15 states.  May his memory be eternal!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

You've missed divine liturgy on a Sunday; now what?

A difficult question for the Orthodox Christian.  Luckily for us, there is an answer.  Prayer.

I did not make it to church this morning due to an upset stomach and a splitting headache (caused by overindulgence yesterday).  So I read the Psalms (not the entire Psalter).  The Psalms are a great tool for prayer; the fathers tell us that the entirety of Christianity can be found in the Psalms.

I have noticed that everyone has a favorite Psalm.  My favorite is Psalm 144. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

OFFICIAL WIFE: Matushka, Deconstructed

First off, I've not seen, nor heard, nor smelled (name that movie!) a matushka in years. Second of all, I'm an English major. Third, I've just read this entire blog. (It wouldn't be fair not to mention this blog.) Finally, PK-- guilty as charged.

What is this matushka? Let's first investigate some of the sassy responses:
  • Those nesting Russian dolls? Phonetically close.
  • A Russian grandma? No, and we have it from our grandma that this is a derogatory term, loosely equated to "hag." And she's actually been to Russia even lived in Russia; don't you wish your grandma could say that??? She's just one awesome lady, but I thought I'd throw that out there. Baba does sound like it'd be easy for a baby to say... ... ...? [Alex's edit: Babushka is the full word. I knew that.]
  • My tush... something. Ok, that kinda fell flat.
First of all, if you're more of a reader and less of a talker and say it kinda like the nesting Russian dolls, you'd say it muhTOOSHka, and everyone in the room will look at you. It will be totally awkward. AWKward. So say it MAHtooshka. AWKward. MAHtooshka.

What is this matushka word?

In Baptist people's terms, it's the preacher's wife.

--and now we get to talk about how wonderful this is and how much we love language!

The Russian is Матушка, and I'm told it means 'little mother'. Although, I appreciate that we actually recognize the wife as a counterpart of her husband (Oh, we can't spoil it, yet.) why do we have to rely on the Russian transliteration? Why not, "Little Mother" Jenkins?--but that may be my latent lingophobia.... or any number of things. I'll only say we don't call her husband papa but rather priest or father.

Because this lady has her own title, her own position, we recognize that she actually has a job to do! Oh, ladies, how low have we gone that I'm excited about a woman having her own word? She has a title! --with MULTIPLE syllables! This says she actually does something. Her life--and let's not dismiss, her appearance-- is under more scrutiny than the other women. Right or wrong or just tiring and inconvenient more is expected-- be it more food at a potluck or more frequent attendance at church. This happens to wives of people in leadership positions (e.g. the First Lady) whether they want it or no, but not everyone gets a word.

Oh, to have a name. A title. ^_^ You can see that, right? My name in lights! AND CAPS

My mother was a mere accessory to my father, the Baptist preacher. There came a time when she'd had it with the expectation that the preacher's family would always bring three times the food to a potluck as anyone else. I believe the eureka moment for her was when she said, "If you eat food, you should bring food." Over the next two years, I made about six thousand (five dozen at a time) chocolate chip cookies. Hey, I had a title (PK). I had a job: Make cookies until people didn't want the preacher's family to bring ANYTHING! --and I was a cute little girl. What monster would say something to me???

Now we get to the thing you know. Yes, you know something. Go on! Get up and shake ya booty! *does happy dance* YAY! We know something!

If you elevate the priest to father, you must elevate the priest's wife to mother, because they are one. This is the thing you know. Now, go out into the world and apply it to all the people! WAIT! First, a lesson in etiquette.

Okay, now how to use these vocabulary words. If you are introducing the couple, say, "This is Priest Bob Jenkins and Matushka Amy," and of course reciprocate with the other parties. You might add what church they're associated with and, if you're in a different town, the town, too. If only the wife is there, you'd say, "Matushka Amy Jenkins." If you're speaking with them, you'd say, "Priest Bob, I have a sandwich for you," or "Matushka, I have a sandwich for you," (Matushka Amy if you're at a matushka convention which are quite impromptu) or "Father, I have a sandwich for you," or "I have a sandwich for you." Or, my personal favorite, just hold up a sandwich and look inquiring. Talking is overrated. Talk less. Life is simpler that way. The only requirement is that you actually have said sandwich, and you're willing to part with it. --and some awareness of the calendar is appreciated. If you offer something that can't be eaten for religious reasons, it's about two steps down from offering someone whose lactose intolerant something with milk, and one step down from a vegan finding out that you used chicken bouillon in something you cooked for them. Acceptable, but a faux pas, nonetheless, for those trusted to be in the know. If you're not expected to be in the know, you get brownie points. The Joy of Cooking, which is an excellent middle-of-the-road guideline on these things, reads:
"Unless you know your guests' food preferences well, avoid daunting animal parts or overly spicy foods; inquire discreetly about food allergies or vegetarian tendencies if you think that's appropriate." (11, under the heading "About the Menu")


A Girl Who Grew up as a PK, A Woman who Married into the O's

Rombauer, Irma S., Rombauer Becker, Marian, Becker, Ethan. "Entertaining." Joy of Cooking. New York: Scribner, 1997. Cookbook.

PS: Everything this lady said, and I'd go ten miles further on the green hair. Let's have a MAHtushka (Remember, AWKward?) with green hair. I had black toe nails for probably a decade and (when I felt I could get away with it) black nails to detract from the stereotype that the color of your nail polish reflects the quality of your person. My motivation was my family's negative reaction to a cousin. I had a better track record than her, but it had nothing to do with nail polish. I liked her. She was kind to me. I was even less eloquent as an eleven year old, but my dad stopped worrying after only two or three conversations. Who knows if he understood then, but I think it chipped away at his stereotyping a bit.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

OFFICIAL WIFE: Blog Status Update

I will tell you many things in this post.

#1 The most popular post so far is Saturday Divine Liturgy in Hattiesburg: An After-Action Report (AAR) (and if you're reading this, and haven't read that post, I hope you'll add to that number).

#2  I have eight posts in draft status. Alex just up and posts. I draft *and re-draft and re-draft (return to asterisk). Well, Alex has one in draft status. Some of my drafts will never see light.

#3 The next OFFICIAL WIFE post-- if all goes according to plan-- will be the reconstructed "Matushka, Deconstructed," in which we shall get all feministy on you-- and I may talk about cookies.

#4 I have now defeated three dragons, and I know where a fourth is. While Alex is at church, I shall confront this dragon.

#5 I am contractually obligated to shout, "BISHOP OF ROME!" every time Alex mentions the pope, which is often.

#6 I'm makin' this for church this week.

Friday, August 17, 2012

What has happened in Moscow today

Pussy Riot is sentenced, and the New York Times reports it thus.  Now, it is obvious that the Orthodox Church is not perfect, and I agree with Fr. Victor Potapov that the Church should expend its effort in making their sentences more lenient and more focused on their moral rehabilitation.  Fr. Victor suggests an appropriate and Christian response to this vile occurrence.  As I am sitting in my office, the Diane Rehm show international hour is covering this as a suppression of dissent in Russia, and part of a worrying trend there in the Putinization of Russia.

What baffles me is that people are surprised or shocked by this.  Russia's government has had an extensive history in meddling with the Orthodox Church, from before Peter the Great ruled.  Peter the Great single-handedly subsumed the Church to the state, creating the ruling synod of the church following the death of Patriarch Adrian in 1700.  Peter the Great's church reforms and their effects discussed in Wikipedia.  In many ways, the Russian Orthodox Church has never recovered from Peter the Great.

What is occurring in Russia is wholly foreign to the American experience.  I'm a first-generation America, whose parents each entered the US at the age of 7.  My entire experience of Orthodoxy has been in America (barring a few services in Scotland in 1996-7).  It's at times like these that I am convinced that the Russian Revolution is the best thing that ever happened to my family, because we ended up in America, where we are free to live a Christian life, uncoerced by the state to a false orthodoxy.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


Blogger ate my post on matushkas and the one on meeting a priest who turned out to be a bishop and... Well, needless to say, I'll rewrite it. I only edited that one fifty-seven times, though, so it won't be word for word.

Actually, Alex probably deleted the matushka one because it's feministy, and we can't have that in this house. Uhn-uh. He says, "Make me a sandwich," and I make him a sandwich-- after consulting the calendar of course.

So, let's all be sad.

: (               <- See my sad face?



*sits in a sackcloth on a pile of ashes*

Ok, enough of that mess. HAVE A KITTY!

/obligatory kitty post

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Eve of the Feast of the Dormition

Today is the final day of the Dormition Fast under the New Calendar (Julian, Revised).  It has been ridiculously trying this year.  During the several fasts of the year (Nativity/Advent, Great Lent, The Apostles' Fast, the Dormition Fast) I make a special effort to go to Confession, as well as additional services during the week.  The fasting periods always concentrate my mind on the church calendar; five years ago, it led my then-fiancee Tina (now Official Wife Tina, or OW Tina for short) to calculate the percentage of fasting days on the calendar.  In a year with a long Apostles' Fast, up to 52% of the days on the calendar are fasting days.  I spend more time each year fasting than I do sleeping.

Of course, the recompense for the fast is the Feasts of the Church.  Even, when as tomorrow, the feast falls on a fasting day, it is joyful.  But the Dormition Feast is bittersweet; it marks the last feast of the Church year (which begins on Indiction, the first of September), and it also marks that moment that the Theotokos's service to God on this Earth has ended, in the way that all of our lives must end.

The Troparion of the Feast (Tone 1):

In giving birth you preserved your virginity!
In falling asleep you did not forsake the world, O Theotokos!
You were translated to life, O Mother of Life,
And by your prayers you deliver our souls from death!

The troparion is the short hymn that delivers the theme of the day to the congregation.  It is a reminder of the purpose of that particular divine service's commemoration, and the liturgical significance of the day.  In this case, we are reminded of the ever-virginity of the Theotokos, and her translation to heaven while she still maintains the protection of her loving care over the world.

The Kontakion of the Feast (Tone 2):

Neither the tomb, nor death could hold the Theotokos,
Who is constant in prayer and our firm hope in her intercessions.
For being the Mother of Life, She was translated to life
By the One Who dwelt in her virginal womb.

The kontakion as we sing it today is typically a portion of the canon to the saint.  It is a form of Byzantine poetry adopted to liturgical service by St. Romanos the Melodist.  Originally, the first letter of each line formed an acrostic, a conceit which does not cross translation, and which was abandoned by Sts. Cyril and Methodius when they created the Slavonic orthography and written language.  Generally the verse chosen for the liturgy from the Canon contains either a trenchant example from the earthly life of the saint, or a particularly intense dogmatic point.  In this case, we are reminded that the prayers of the Theotokos sustain us in her union with God, and that even she who bore Christ and thus is most honored among humankind required the mercy of God to enjoy eternal life with God.  Above all, we are called to venerate her mercy in prayer towards us, for her prayers inure to the good will of the Master, Christ the Lord.

Most Holy Theotokos, save us!

Monday, August 13, 2012

OW VEGAN: Almond Mayo

Before you scroll down, I went a little overboard on the significant digits. If that's going to be an issue, turn back now...

I've already shared Hot Wing Almonds, and I'll tell you right now we prefer almond milk to soy milk. Almonds run around $11 for three pounds of whole, raw, shelled almonds at Sam's Club. You can also buy Silk brand almond milk three half gallon cartons at a time for $7.98 at Sam's Club. However, a cheaper milk alternative is WestSoy soy milk at Dollar Tree in a quart carton. Six soy milk cartons versus the almond milk box you save $1.98. Almond milk has marginally fewer calories, but there are wins and losses nutritionally. Comparing WestSoy Plain Lowfat Soy Milk to Silk Pure Almond Original: Calories 70/60, Fat2.5/2.5, Carb6/8, Pro5/1, Fiber0.5/1, Sodium95/150. I'm sure you will make your decision based on the flavor, price, and nutrition needs of your household, and I don't give a fig if you land in the opposite camp.

So we're kinda an almond household, which is good. Alex is not a big nut and bean guy. In fact, don't even mention beans to him. We have a deal that he should try each kind of bean once every ten years. I'm surprised I got that, and it took a lot of nagging. He says beans taste like dirt. When we were dating, he was known for making hummus with a really strong garlic flavor, but he wouldn't taste test it. I had to taste it. (I'd never had hummus before.) Then he'd gleefully point out, after being complimented on his dish, that he didn't even eat the thing he made! Alex's one bean is garbanzo beans. We'll get to that.

So, to recap: The dietary calendar, the dietary calendar exceptions, almost no beans, picky on nuts, he's lactose intolerant, he's not a tofu fan, he's a Damn Yankee (don't get me started on North/South food culture issues), (Well, I have to say... I haven't had mulligan in years, but that's all the pity I'm allowing!), doesn't like tomato sauce but loves tomatoes (oh, spaghetti... wherefore art thou?), and we're both overweight... Yeah, it's not him being Ortho that makes him hard to cook for, but being Ortho adds this sorta hopscotch guessing game element. I think I've almost learned it, but it took so much longer than it should have and was more confusing than it should have been. Perhaps, I shall write a blog. --or maybe not a WHOLE blog because that would be risky. I'll just stay right here beside my husband. ;)

Now, let's not make it sound all one-sided! Alex would be perfectly happy to slice up some potatoes for 'bake fries' and make himself a mixing bowl salad. Every. Single. Night. I'm the one that wants to try all sorts of different things.

I'm also the one that decides how much screen space each side gets...^_^

As in many cases, making it at home is so much cheaper than buying it. Veganaise runs around eight dollars a jar, and the ingredients for this total to just over $1.60-- or in the math world $1.600206633403361, but that's pretty close to $1.60.(I didn't calculate water and soap for washing the dishes, though, and you may have guessed that you are UNpaid in this equation.) Almond mayo can be used in vegan tuna fish salad  or for BLTs. Just use it with the understanding that it's PURE FAT.

    • 1/2c. water (112g) $0 for my sanity
    • 1/2c. almonds, whole, raw (72g) $0.589285714285714
    • 1T dijon mustard $0.0157352941176471
    • 1/2t salt $0.0104325
    • 1T apple cider vinegar (15g) $0.095296875
    • 1T lemon juice (30g) $0.0280875
    • 1T honey (21g) $0.18125
    • 1 1/2c. canola oil (360g) $0.68011875

    Soak the almonds in the water for eight hours. Blend.

    Serving Size: 1T (15g)                                     32 servings per recipe
    105cal | 11fat | 1carb | 0.5protein | 0.3fiber | 37sodium

    If you just feel like gettin' crazy with the cheese whiz, you can roll the vegan tuna fish salad in nori and serve a la sushi.

    Sunday, August 12, 2012

    OFFICIAL WIFE: In Response to "The Hardest Fast"

    My first, off-the-cuff, reaction was "I have a strategy that might work: Stay at home with your wife and andibals. As Official Wife, I promise to cook you tasty fast-safe foods."

    If I linger on this common mood of Alex's, I want to say things like, "Ya big sissy." --but a wife, especially an Official Wife, should be loving and supportive of her husband. However, I'm not perfect-- oh, no not one of us is (name that verse!), and a husband provides a lifetime's worth of comedic material that becomes pretty irresistible when you don't leave the house much so here, for Alex's enjoyment, is *the world's smallest violin playing just for him*.

    I have no idea if complaining about the fast is discouraged for Orthos, but I do so hate.. oh, lawdy, I just... don't say it... "There's nothing to eat..." Ugh. This is said with a look of hopelessness after a silent moment standing in front of the refrigerator with the door open. The church of Tina certainly discourages such comments. Wait, I have to have two folks to be a church? Dang. You can see I've given up on converting Alex. Any takers? The only requirement is that you have to be perfect-- oh, and not care that I'm not.

    [Alex's edit: The Ortho church is in alignment with the to-be-formed Tina church on the complaining.]

    This isn't a problem just for Orthos or even *gasp! There are others?* just for people who choose to follow a special diet, like diabetics or vegans, so I'll share what I've learned works-- so far.

    I have developed pro-active strategies for decreasing the number of times, "There's nothing to eat," is said. The first was taught to me by Alex who learned from his mom. You have a calendar so you know when you won't be able to eat meat/dairy for a stretch. Eat everything up beforehand. You don't have to trash food. Food doesn't go bad. Food that you can't eat isn't there when you can't eat it. Simple.

    The second is arranging the food in the fridge. If you're easily freaked out by order, stop reading here. *tilt head left*
    *stay tilted*

    I used a label maker that Alex got me for Christmas to label the shelves. He promptly decided he wouldn't read them, and we are experiencing an on-going issue of having beer put on the "Eat Me First" shelf.

    In the first picture, below the second shelf, we have the meat/cheese drawer. Having it in the drawer is a way to hide it. Also, we the-other-four-letter-F-word-ed at grocery shopping for this fast because we bought a quart of yogurt the preceding Saturday. Below the meat/cheese drawer, is the "Tina Food" shelf which is short so you can only see what's right up front. Spinach, which Alex doesn't really like, is blocking the yogurt and things I shall not mention. Anything he can't eat, I try to put on this shelf. You see that I lowered the eggs from their usual position. I noticed that Alex bought a pound [Alex's edit: 2lbs] of bacon off-budget this week and that went into the cheese/meat drawer to be eaten, I presume, for breakfast next Thursday. Nice try, Alex, but Official Wife knows her fridge.

    So that's our hiding part of the strategy. The other half is making sure he sees food that he wants to eat. The "Eat Me First" shelf is about eye height for Alex, and I put leftovers and ripe produce there. Pictured are last week's spring mix, leftover rice/Boca Thai thing (That was DELICIOUS!) and a sauce Alex made to put on crackers which are then topped with a cucumber slice. (More to come on that appetizer...)

    The second shelf  "As You Please:" We have mushrooms in the bag, tofu thawing (mostly for me-- just a moment ago, Alex commented, "Stewed tofu, the perfect snack-- No one. Ever. Said," as I was packing some tofu in my lunch.), one Light Country Crock is actually as it appears, but the one in the fore has homemade salsa (tortilla chips in the cabinet). I cram some staples he can't eat (powdered buttermilk)  and some staples he can (active dry yeast is in the sour cream container) in the back. Olives (which he detests) are on top of the yeast, and the yogurt container on the left is full of ketchup. Can you tell we buy a lot in bulk? Nothing tempting, and if this picture were taken from a foot plus higher up, I don't think you'd see the buttermilk, even. (i.e. I don't think he sees it.) Totally not utilized in this photo, but worth a mention, are clear containers. So he doesn't "see" Country Crock, he sees salsa, for example.

    Another tactic I employ is to brown bag his lunches, which I love! My attention over the past several years= Diet/Weight Loss->Bento->Cute Food->Lunches. He loves it when I put notes in his lunches, and I promise you, he eats better with less fuss if I pack him a lunch. I enjoy it. I get to create more than I can eat all on my own. You can bet a lunch post will be coming up.

    You, my informed reader, are sure to know the question that follows the statement, "There's nothing to eat," so I'll address it straight-a-way.
    • Mustard Potatoes: Cube potatoes, toss in olive oil, roast, toss in Beaver's Sweet Hot Mustard
    • Southern Vegetable Dinner: mashed potatoes + two/three of the following w/ cornbread/biscuits optional: boiled green beans, corn w/ Country Crock Light and salt pepper, English peas from a can (I do not usually find canned foods affordable. However, English peas aren't grown in these parts. They do grow in these parts-- in the Spring-- they just aren't grown, y'know... the English thing, I guess.), purple hull peas (which Alex doesn't eat), butter beans (which Alex doesn't eat), okra (which Alex doesn't eat) --Can I say Damn Yankee?
    • Leftover Mashed Potatoes: You may need to add some liquid, but basically dump it in a small nonstick skillet and make 'em pancakes. Garnish with ketchup.
    • Vegetable Dinner: Congratulations! You have leveled up. Your options now include: steamed broccoli, full length green beans sauteed with olive oil+onion+red pepper flake, frozen Brussels sprouts warmed through
    • Steak/Bake Fries & Mixing Bowl Salad: Alex would eat this every meal during fasting times if I didn't intervene. I'm not sure if my intervention is positive, but I demand more challenging exercises than chopping potatoes and tomatoes in the kitchen.
    • Roasted Broccoli: Alex isn't a big fan, but if you haven't had roasted broccoli, you should totally try it. As a side note, cauliflower can be roasted and made into "mashed potatoes" for fewer calories and a load less carbs.
    • Tofu Fingers: Kinda on the level with fish sticks. Served with BBQ, honey mustard, and Asian Dressing.
    • Roasted Vegetables: think carrots, parsnips (kinda expensive), brussels sprouts, potatoes, corn on the cob, butternut squash (Carrots are quite affordable. If you have NOT had roasted carrots, I simply must insist. Today.)
    • Vegetable Kebab: mushrooms, bell pepper, onions --This is very low cal. Marinate and grill.

    The lady that's part of the church, but not really-- and I'm quite comfy here

    Saturday, August 11, 2012

    The hardest fast

    The Dormition Fast, together with the Nativity or Advent Fast, are the hardest to observe for many Orthodox Christians.  This is all a matter of timing.  Truth be told, we all experience the Christmas season temptations of office parties, holiday gatherings, and caroling.

    But in the summer, and particularly in Mississippi, we experience the temptations of barbecue, cookouts, and fishing trips.  Not to mention the temptations of beer, whisky, and fried green tomatoes.  It is to be devoutly hoped that we make it to Thursday.  God willing.

    OFFICIAL WIFE: How Did I Not Mention Easter Bread?

    I'm big on pictures. In fact, I have a $250 camera headin' my way that I hope to use on this, but I was about to add a link to the unfinished Easter basket to a previous post when I realized that I'd forgotten to mention Easter bread.

    Every year, Alex's mom sends him what I interpret as, and that "interpret" word is key because we've never spoken of this, some kinda lemony pound cake made in a can. As in, a tomato sauce can or a coffee can. You can still see the rings on the cake. Every single year but this year, that cake has been in the Easter basket and blessed. It's sliced into rings, toasted, and buttered before eaten-- by Alex, at least.

    I would love to know the back story on this cooking in a can thing. My dad, a Baptist preacher, has a story about three generations and a recipe for a roast where the instructions are always passed down to cut the end off. Granddaughter asks Grandma why. Her pan was too small. (He tells it better, but let me out him/them by saying there are entire books of  funny stories with points that are marketed to preachers. There's the biscuit/mine! story that I've heard many times, for example.) I wonder if this is a similar situation. It is definitely traditional, but that shape may not be traditional. The source that I found, as you can see, looks more like a nine inch round.

    For anyone just tuning in, the heritage of this family is Russian. [I should add that his mother has been consulted, but we got an, 'It's always been done this way' kind of answer. Here's a better pic. It's tagged at right. You can see that the first step is to slice off the rounded end. Alex eats it as breakfast, not dessert.]

    What is a spiritual father?

    Orthodox Christians will often speak of their 'spiritual father.'  The concept of a spiritual father is a difficult one to explain outside of the Orthodox Christian context.  Basically, one's spiritual father is his confessor.  If you examine the writings of the desert fathers, the Optina fathers, and other monastics whose advice is sought, the letters they right are in response to requests that would or should normally occur in the course of the mystery of Confession.

    Confession is ubiquitously misunderstood by the faithful and by those outside the fullness of the faith.  We in America are burdened by a severely Hollywood-inflected, legalistic view of confession.  How many of us have seen Hitchcock's classic film I Confess, starring Montgomery Clift as a conflicted Catholic priest who learns in the course of a confession that the penitent had committed a murder.  The confession becomes an overriding burden for the priest, who himself is charged with the very murder.

    The point of that synopsis is that even without someone confessing to their spiritual father that they've committed a murder, the relationship between a spiritual father and his children is fraught with difficulty.  It is not a casual relationship, but one essential to spiritual growth.  Here is one priest's perspective on the difficult nature of spiritual fatherhood.

    Elder Zosima from The Brothers Karamazov is probably the best known fictional spiritual father in literature. According to Dostoevsky, Elder Zosima's story is taken in part from the life of Elder Leonid of Optina Monastery, and his character is based in part on St. Tikhon of Zadonsk.  Throughout the novel, a subplot involves Elder Zosima, and the danger (which he recognizes) of a cult growing up around him.  The circumstances of his death and what happens immediately after provide a shocking counterpoint to the Elder's piety and saintliness throughout the novel.

    I guess the point of this post is that growth in the fullness of the faith requires a healthy relationship with not only the Fathers of the Church, but a spiritual father.  Everyone could use some good advice.  The best place for an Orthodox Christian to get advice about the faith is from their spiritual father.

    Friday, August 10, 2012

    OFFICIAL WIFE: Ortho Culture Meets Tina

    These should be inspiration for some Alex posts:

    Easter baskets (Can be gorgeous. For adults. A tradition I like. I have an infographic on Facebook somewhere…Here it is on the original blog. I feel compelled to mention that Alex forgot to take ours this year.)

    Handling icons (yikes! You can do some serious no-no’s without thinking about it.)
    What icons go where (I don't know; ask Alex.)
    How Orthos interact with icons (I may have to leave the room for that explanation...)

    Blessing the house (Spring Cleaning & Inspection, plus annual dousing of the priest, clad entirely in black, with Ozzy hair, which is white. Oz was a little bit better behaved with First Official Ortho Priest Person, but with our current priest... It is a sight. Oh, and the coffee and food. Priests must gain ten pounds every Spring. They do multiple houses in a day, and every household in the parish must be blessed annually.)
    Praying for dead people (For my own peace, I just keep reminding myself that God is outside time.)
    Blessed water (designated holy water clover plant, cure all potion kept in the back of the liquor cabinet)
    Blessing food, blessed food (See: Easter Basket)

    Kissing a cross/Bible/icon held by a priest in a church in front of everyone

    Wait?  No comment on that one?

    Sorry, I had to leave the room. I'm back now!

    Camp (In-laws, nothing mystical, it's actually-really-literally a camp with swings and stinky children and counselors, etc. They just all happen to be Orthos, and many of them are of Russian descent.)

    Prayer rope (like a rosary, but there are knots instead of beads)

    Tonsuring (Free haircut! I think my non-Ortho status is helping Alex avoid this.)

    Choir (Jus' a wee bit different than what you might be thinking. The area is designated by a carpet, which, of course, I like because everyone is on the same level with no barriers. There is no instrumental music. It seems to matter how well you sing. The people in choir read music to sing. Of course, there is an opera singer in his choir so it might not be representative.)

    Approaching a priest (Because of my voodoo-hoodoo reactions to getting blessed by or bowing to a person, I shake their hand, but that's not proper etiquette.)

    Drinking in the church hall (Yes, that would be alcka-muh-hall. A priest insisted that I do multiple shots of vodka with him. He then insisted that I eat a lot. I don't think he realized that I grew up in a dry county, and I'd just turned twenty-one.)

    Mass exit then circling the church (in the middle of the service, at night, three times)

    Approved personnel only zone (where the baptistry or storage closet or office would be in a Baptist church, behind the pulpit)

    No one brings a Bible to church (They do reference and even quote scripture, though. And the churchgoers are not only literate, but Alex's church seems to have a higher than average density of highly educated people.)  

    Baptizing babies, godparents, babies named after saints (AKA Wedding: The Sequel)

    Cassocks (black wrap-around "dresses" for priests all the time, for other officials sometimes worn. Yes, I know what you're thinking, and I asked. Not because I am socially awkward. Not because of my strong appreciation for and constant striving toward honesty and openness. No. I did it for you! I didn't want you to be embarrassed by just blurting it out in a room full of people. I asked for you. You're welcome! What're friends for!

    Oh, the answer? They can be worn as clothes or as a jacket.
    --and what else did I say? "Man, that looks hot." Priest-men fashion is black and goes from neck to wrist to ankle. We live in Mississippi. Oh. NEVERMIND.)

    Old Calendar/New Calendar (And you thought it couldn't BE more complicated. That's so cute!)

    Sunday Breakfast (--or not. Not even OJ or coffee or water. [My original words here, along with edits noting new information and the time of that new information are no longer available. I would like to note that I originally was under the impression that water was ok. It's not. Here's Alex's edit: "Total abstinence from midnight until communion"].)
    Coffee Hour (You can eat now!-- but only in accordance with the magical special color-coded calendar. How do these people operate without a pocket edition???)

    Parish Council Meetings (instead of membership meetings... but Alex served on the council, and I can assure you, it sounds just as awful as the membership meetings with which you may be more familiar. Credit where credit is due: Arguments along the lines of, 'Should we purchase a baptistry versus continuing to utilize Brother Ottis's pond,' happened in several churches growing up. Orthos have pretty much gotten that one taken care of.)

    Cradle Orthodox vs. Converts (formerly hotly contested topic, I likened it to a class system, but read THIS. Those priests, they do come in handy. It's great that you always have someone to turn to that actually knows his stuff.)

    Church leaders with formal education on religion, the church, and people (nuff said)

    Hot Tea (Ok. That may be more Russian/Damn Yankee. Sometimes it's hard to distinguish Orthodox and Russian influences.)

    "God Grant You Many Years" (a song, a greeting, a chant-- This phrase just keeps popping up. Put it on a t-shirt and call it the official Ortho slogan. I guess they want you to live a really really really long time.)

    --and, if this is your first time here, let me reiterate:  
    The Special Magical Color-Coded Calendar (a guide to cooking for Orthos)


    Alex's Little Cromwell

    Wednesday, August 8, 2012

    Transfiguration Divine Liturgy

    On August 6, we celebrated the Transfiguration of the Lord, when Jesus Christ was glorified on Mount Tabor and shown forth His Divine, uncreated Light for the witness of the Apostles St. Peter, St. James, and St. John, the sons of Zebedee.

    The icon of the Holy Transfiguration of the Lord, with the Apostles St. Peter, St. James, and St. John at his feet, and Elijah and Moses at his sides.

    This is the patronal feast of Christ the Saviour Orthodox Church in McComb, Mississippi.  The patronal feast is the feast of the saint for which your parish is named.  Normally on your patronal feast day there is a procession with the Holy Cross around the Church.  However, two-thirds of those attending, including Fr. Benedict, were sick with summer colds/sinus infections, so we did not attempt it.

    The Transfiguration of the Lord occurred, according to the tradition of the Church, near the end of Christ's ministry, approximately 40 days before the Crucifixion of the Lord.  John Sanidopoulos explains on his excellent blog Mystagogy the reasons for the Church's modification of the calendar, and the purpose that this feast serves in the life of the Church, as well as the parallelism of the Church calendar structure.  40 days continues to have great significance as a time period for Christians.

    It is customary on the Feast of the Transfiguration to bless the first fruits of the harvest.  In modern America this has ceased to have the great significance, when we can get fresh fruits on any day of the year with relatively little cost.  But traditionally grapes are blessed, because they are usually ripe at this time, and because of the importance of wine in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

    The first fruits of the harvest, right at the Third Hour.

    Alexis Baldwin, son of Shirlee Fager Baldwin, Esq. (close personal friend and colleague of the author), is a seminarian at St. Tikon's Orthodox Seminary, entering his final year.  He has been assigned to intern with Fr. Benedict this summer, and has been with us for the past three weeks.  He has three more weeks with us.  Here he is, reading the Epistle lesson.  Note the lovely black dress- quite slimming.

    Fr. Benedict is wearing white, which is reserved for the feasts of the Lord in the Orthodox Church.  Normally, in non-fasting periods, our priests and the other clergy and altar servers wear gold; on Pascha (Easter), Christmas, the Circumcision of the Lord, and Theophany (Epiphany), our churches are decorated in white, which symbolizes the uncreated Light of God shining forth.

    Fr. Benedict immediately before the reading of the Gospel.

    On the Great Feasts of the Church, it is customary for the parishioners to be anointed with oil that has been blessed for this purpose.  Here at the dismissal, Fr. Benedict is anointing Alexis's youngest, while Subdeacon Jonah, Seamus, and Fr. Benedicts oldest boy Nicholas look on.

    Immediately before the dismissal, Fr. Benedict blessed the first fruits of the harvest.

    There's a lot more fruit on the table by the end of the Liturgy.

    In short, even though we were terribly ill, it was a truly lovely feast, and a blessing to be able to celebrate this feast in peace and freedom.