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.

    Monday, August 6, 2012

    Saturday Divine Liturgy in Hattiesburg: An After-Action Report (AAR)

    This past Saturday, August 4, we were fortunate to have 31 people join us for Divine Liturgy.  This group included three new regulars and the return of the Alford family, now five strong after a year in Serbia (there is no evidence to support that each time they visit Serbia they return with more children).

    It was the feastday of the Seven Holy Sleeping Youths, who were persecuted under the Roman Emperor Decius and were miraculously preserved alive, but sleeping, in a cave for 200 years, and reemerged during the reign of Theodosius II.  Their emergence from the cave wherein they had been immured alive dealt a great blow to the heretics in the area of Ephesus, who had denied the general bodily resurrection of the dead, which precedes the Great and Final Judgment.  After their appearance and a brief questioning by the local governor and the local bishop, the youths returned to their cave.  Theodosius II, while shortly thereafter passing through Ephesus, spoke with the youths, and then they went to sleep in their cave, awaiting the general resurrection of the dead.

    Here Fr. Benedict Crawford begins the vesting prayers.  He is dressed in his cassock.  Fortunately for our worship, the chapel faces East, which is the symbolic orientation of Jerusalem, where Christ was crucified, buried, rose from the dead, and wherefrom he ascended into Heaven.  Orthodox churches are liturgically oriented with the altar at the East of the building.

    A visually stunning picture of the small stained-glass window at the front of the church illumined by the mid-morning sun.

    Here Fr. Benedict has just completed the public portion of the vesting prayers, after which he would repair behind the iconostasis, or icon screen, which symbolically references the curtain in the Temple, behind which only those priests consecrated to serve in a particular year could go.  Note to self: discuss the nature of the mystical priesthood of the Orthodox Church.  Further note to self: get a better understanding of the mystical nature of priesthood first.

    Here Fr. Benedict has finished putting on his white sticharion, which is different than the sticharion worn by the altar servers, subdeacons, and deacons.  The two analogia, or icon stands, have purple covers, indicating that the church is in a fasting period.  In this case, we are in the heart of the Dormition fast, which is the two-week fast immediately preceding the feast day that commemorates the falling asleep of the Virgin Mary.  Catholics refer to this feast day as "Assumption," due to the Roman belief that the Virgin Mary was assumed bodily into heaven instead of passing away.  The Holy Tradition of the Orthodox Church teaches us that the Virgin Mary passed away into sleep while surrounded by the Apostles, and her soul passed directly into Heaven.  Then the Theotokos was resurrected in the body on the third day after her repose.

    Here the north end of the altar table is set up for proskomide, which is the service for the preparation of the Host for communion.  The five loaves will be cut and divided while a series of prayers is said.  Each portion of the bread that is cut has a symbolic, commemorative significance.  The knife that is used to cut the prosphora is called the spear, after the spear that pierced Christ's side.  The chalice is the heavy ornate bronze cup from which we commune.  The Orthodox practice a full, closed communion, meaning that the bread and wine are mixed when consecrated, and taken together, and that you have to be an Orthodox Christian in good standing to commune.  The brass raised plate next to the chalice is the paten, which holds the prosphora until the consecration, when the Host is placed in the chalice.  The two cruets hold water and wine, which are commingled in the chalice during proskomide.  The blue altar cloths are placed over the paten and the chalice later.

    Here Fr. Benedict begins the prayers of the proskomide.  Blue vestments are customary for the feasts of the Theotokos, and during the Dormition fast.  Fr. Benedict is wearing what is commonly referred to as Athonite or Russian vestments, with a high back that rests on his shoulders.

    Here the Host is ready, at the conclusion of the proskomide service.  The large triangle to the left of the Host symbolizes the Virgin Mary; the nine small triangles to the right of the host symbolize, from left top going down the rows, the following: 1) St. John the Baptist, the Forerunner, the Prophet of the New Testament; 2) the Old Testament prophets and all holy prophets; 3) the Holy Apostles; 4) the holy hierarchs of God; 5) the holy martyrs of God; 6) the holy and venerable fathers and mothers (ascetic saints); 7) the holy unmercenaries (healers); 8) the forebears of God Joachim and Anna and the saints Equal-to-the-Apostles; 9)  the saint whose liturgy is celebrated that day (either St. John Chrysostom or St. Basil the Great).  The rows below the Host symbolize the living and the dead, according to the list Fr. Benedict had at the table with him.

    Fr. Benedict here has moved the paten and chalice to the side altar table, usually called the proskomide table.  The altar table has on it the Gospel, which rests atop the folded up antimension, or altar cloth, which may be carried and used anywhere for a eucharistic service.  The antimension has sewn into it relics of a saint, and has been consecrated by a bishop and blessed for eucharistic services.  Next to the Gospel and antimension are the communion cloth, upon which sits the spoon and the spear, and above which sit the blessing cross.  Our blessing cross is a travel blessing cross from Russia.  Most Orthodox blessing crosses are quite large.  Ours is small, simply because we are a small mission and don't have our own space.

    Here Fr. Benedict preaches a sermon on the miracle of the feeding of the multitudes with the seven loaves and a few fishes.  In the life of the Church and in the Gospels, this is the second such feeding which is read about in the Church.  Fr. Benedict told us that we should be astounded by this, and particularly because the Apostles were astounded by this, and this was the second time in Christ's ministry that he had done this.  The Apostles should have remembered.  And so should we, and we should marvel at it.

    The Alfords, back where they should be (with us in the mission).  Note the large vascular surgeon in the background.  Please note that although we are sitting, this is only during the sermon.  We worship on our feet, or on our knees.

    These photos were taken by me, on my camera phone.  The quality of the photos are a direct reflection of my quality as a photographer.

    Sunday, August 5, 2012

    OW VEGAN: Appotomax Court House Cornbread

    Even in our global age, I'm pleased to see that regional variations on common dishes such as chili, side salad, pizza, and potato salad can still cause conversations to break out into fisticuffs. Although chili seems to have the greatest emotional hold of these, I have more personal experience with cornbread because I married a Damn Yankee. Bless his mother, but I think she raised him on Jiffy mix. He is quite insistent that cornbread... well... is cake, but that's not his word for it.

    A little history: Back when the Indians were still very different from the settlers, the country's preference insofar as corn went was divided into three regions. The Mexicali area took to blue corn. Yankees liked yellow corn, and Southerners preferred white corn. I'm not sure about the West, but Northerners sweetened their cornbread with a variety of ingredients such as honey, molasses, and sugar. Southerners preferred to flavor cornbread with drippings, usually bacon, or lard. In addition, I believe, although this is just a woman's intuition, that Southerners used cornmeal and Northerners used cornflour.

    It is generally accepted that the Appotomax Court House is the town in which the Civil War was ended. So I offer you, proud-to-be-born-American Southerners and d-- our blessed brethren of the North, Appotomax Court House Cornbread, which I believe to be a marriage of cultures.

    DISCLAIMER: I've only been on Earth since sometime in the 20th century, and I made a B in 10th grade World History. History doesn't interest me much. Everything foregoing is entirely 100% made up. Hope you enjoyed it. Don't use any of this information on your history exam.  

    • ~2t vegetable shortening (I tared my food scale on an empty 9" cake round and applied liberal shortening with the result of 11g, which is just shy of 2t.)
    • 1c. yellow corn meal
    • 1/4c whole wheat flour
    • 4t sugar substitute (I used sucralose which you may recognize in the brand Splenda.)
    • 1/2t salt
    • 1/3c. boiling water
    • 3/4c. milk substitute (The nutrition is calculated with almond milk.)
    • 4t vegetable oil (20g)
    Pre-heat your oven to 400F. Grease up your pan. Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl. Pour in the boiling water. I don't know why this is important, but just exercise a little trust. Someone with a science background will explain it soon. In fact, just try to think of an explanation for a few minutes at this point. Do a little dance. Make a little love. Get down tonight! Ok, you've prolly done enough now.
    Add the rest of the wet ingredients. Whisk. Pour into pan. Bake about thirty minutes. Cornbread is l-a-z-y.

    Serving Size: 1/8 sized slice                                     8 servings per recipe
    105cal | 4.4fat | 15.4carb | 1.8protein | 1.6fiber | 265sodium

    This is good in a square black iron skillet. My mom ate cornbread cut into a rectangle, then sliced horizontally and covered in mayo. (See future Almond Mayo recipe from Alex.) I plan to make what I know of as "dressin'" from all but a few slices of this and send it to church with cranberry sauce next Sunday. It is actually necessary and desired that cornbread in that recipe be stale.

    The cake stand I got from my Magical Loot Dropping Ortho-Lady who is moving.
      Here's a straight on photo of the artwork. Her grandmother was a painter, just like my grandparents painted (mother's side) ceramics and (father's side) woodwork, and Alex's family has a landscape and portait painter in the grandmotherly direction, although you might need to insert a grand or two.

    Then here, you can see the inscription, "Painted by Leila C. Greer 7-21-1984 To Berta love Mother." In case a certain Dr. by the name of Lares is out there, "Yes, she put a period after 'Mother'".

    Who's who in the Orthodox Church; a preamble

    Inspired by Official Wife Tina's question about the difference between a priest, an abbot, and a bishop, we enclose within the confines of this post some definitions of the categories of persons within the Orthodox Church.  Please note: some of these designations are official, while others are apocryphal or otherwise deuterocanonical.  Also: there are no female clergy in the Orthodox Church.  If this offends you, you should probably stop reading now.

    Visitor: I have been told that megachurches no longer call visitors 'visitors.'  Someone who has been to an Orthodox church once; alternatively, a wandering Orthodox Christian on vacation who found your church in the phone book.

    Inquirer: Someone, non-Orthodox, who has been to the same Orthodox church twice and has said, "Now this is interesting."

    Catechumen: An inquirer who is officially interested in becoming part of the Orthodox Church and has begun the process of entry into the fullness of the faith.

    Cradle: Born into an Orthodox family and baptized shortly after forty days of age.

    Convert: An envelope.  Alternatively, a visitor who became an inquirer, then a catechumen, and was received into the Church.

    Hyperdox: He's more Orthodox than you.

    Parishoner: An Orthodox Christian who lives within an hour's drive of the church and can be relied upon to make his way to church four times a year.

    Member: An Orthodox Christian who lives within an hour's drive of the church and comes to church enough times each year to feel guilty enough to tithe and thus is entitled to vote for the parish council, but is smart enough to stay off the council.

    Parish Council Member:  A member who got voted onto the Parish Council.  Also, a sucker.

    Altar server: Men who assist the priest and deacon in the altar.  They wear a robe called the sticharion.

    Monk: A celibate Orthodox Christian who serves the church in a life of prayer and seclusion from the world, whether alone (heremetical) or in a monastery (coenobitical).  Female monks are called nuns.

    Reader: The guy who chants in the church.  Technically, a reader should be tonsured by the bishop.  If your church belongs to a diocese that has a bishop and you are a male church member, you will have to work very hard to avoid being tonsured.  If your reader is hyperdox, he will wear his cassock to and from church even when he is visiting a parish.

    Subdeacon: The lowest of the minor orders of the clergy.  Subdeacons serve in the altar, and can be distinguished from altar servers by the stole worn crossed over their shoulders, worn over the sticharion.

    Deacons: Following Pentecost, the Apostles designated assistants to minister to the needs of the people.  The first deacon was the first martyr, St. Stephen.  In liturgical services, the deacon helps the priest lead the parish in the public prayers, and also censes the church while the priest recites the private and mystical eucharistic prayers.  Deacons wear the sticharion, the stole, and epimaniki (cuffs).

    Protodeacon: The deacon who travels with the bishop.  Usually, the bishop travels with a Protodeacon and at least one subdeacon; the protodeacon knows the hierarchical liturgy and its prayers backwards and forwards, and he advises the parish priest on the liturgical practices of the bishop.  He has a booming voice and imperious manner.

    Priest: The priest is the member of the clergy most Orthodox Christians can recognize immediately.  He's the guy wearing the long black dress outside of church with a pectoral cross, and the one dressed like a priest in the church.  He is overworked, underpaid, and if he's married and in the OCA, he's required to have five children.  If your priest is a monk, he is called a hieromonk.

    Archpriest: The archpriest is a priest who has done enough time (I mean, who has performed sufficient faithful service) to get a fancy hat he can wear in church.  George Constanza wanted to become Orthodox because of the hats.  If your archpriest is a monk, he is called an archimandrite.

    Bishop:  If a monk is unfortunate enough to be highly respected by his peers, to show competence in administration, leadership, and dealing with people outside of the monastery, he will eventually become a bishop.  Some monks really want to be bishops.  This may be the singular disqualification for being a bishop: if you want the job, you're probably the wrong man for it.

    Archbishop: A bishop who has done enough time to be assigned to a troublesome administrative post in the Church.

    Metropolitan:  In the ancient church, the Metropolitan was a bishop assigned to important cities to administer the local churches, and to inform the local faithful of the decisions of the Church on doctrine and administration.  In the OCA and ROCOR, the Metropolitan is the head of the church.

    Patriarch: The branches of the Orthodox Church are headed by a Patriarch.  Patriarchs are bishops who are put in charge by other bishops who don't want to be in charge.

    Synod: All of the bishops in your branch of the Orthodox Church.  Questions of doctrine, church direction, and anything that no single bishop wants to be responsible for is the responsibility of the synod.  May be Holy or unholy, depending on your opinion.

    Documenting religious minorities in Turkey

    At long last we will hear the fruits of On Being's trip to Turkey.  A conversation with a Dominican friar and the Metropolitan of Bursa highlight the problems faced by Turkey's Christian minorities.  The future of the Ecumenical Patriarch in the Phanar is always in jeopardy.

    60 Minutes had an excellent overview of the strange Babylonian captivity of the EP: Patriarch Bartholomew describes his life in the Phanar.  I would recommend that those of you who have not had the opportunity to view this, to do so.

    60 Minutes also did an excellent piece on the Holy Mountain: Mt. Athos part 1 and Mt. Athos part 2.  Of particular interest is the monk describing the Jesus prayer and its use and purpose in the monastic life.  There's certainly a great contrast between the position of the monks on Mt. Athos and the Phanar.

    Saturday, August 4, 2012

    OFFICIAL WIFE: The Ortho Diet

    In the beginning, one of the day-to-day struggles of being married to an Orthodox Christian was the diet. You see, they're kinda vegan-- but only on certain days, and on those days, they're not "really" vegan. Even the shade of the shade of vegan changes. In fact, it is so freakin' complicated, the Orthodox church has to publish a color-coded calendar with specific notes just so people know what's okay to eat or not okay to eat. Fine. You don't buy it? I have proof:

    I did the math. Orthos require some kind of special diet over 51% of the year. Why not just make 2012 100% vegan and 2013 an American free for all? We could switch off years! But, no. That would kill the revenue stream the calendars create. (Yeah, I'm onto you... Can't pull one over on me, babe.)

    But even that's not hard enough. Even if the loving and supportive cook knows her audience and consults said special magical color-coded calendar, she may find that her husband would like cheddar flavored air-popped popcorn in his snacks bag even if it's a no-cheese day. The argument goes, "Orthodox Christians don't have to abide by calendar rules if they're traveling. We'll be in the car when I eat it, so we're traveling." You can bet that didn't pass the smell test so I pressed. He further explained that it wasn't just that we were IN a car or even IN a car that was MOVING, but we were going to stay at his parents... so we were "traveling."

    This man has wreaked havoc on my life as a home chef. If we're gonna do this thing, we're gonna do it right-- even if I have to make you. This kept coming up so I did what I am sure women the world over do. I made sure it came up when a priest was around. mwahahahah! Surely God didn't show me a network of educated rational peaceful bearded dudes that my husband will listen to and not expect me to take advantage of it. It's a gift. :)

    I'm proud to say we did discover the true intentions of "The Traveling Rule" are to allow Orthos to be good guests of and friends with non-Orthos. If you are around non-Ortho people, and say, your hostess puts scalloped potatoes, green bean casserole, and hamburger steaks with gravy on the table, by-golley you eat it with a smile and thank you ma'am-- no matter what the special magical color-coded calendar says.

    Conversely, if you're around other Orthodox Christians, some of whom do not follow the magical special color-coded calendar or have an even more crazy partial calendar lifestyle, or you're with friends who know about the magical special color-coded calendar, you follow the calendar. For example, if Alex goes to a cookout at his best friend's house, he should bring a box of Boca. I say a box only because it's nice to share, and I like to think we influence the world to be healthier. Actually, his best friend would probably have Boca for Alex, just 'cause that's how they roll, yo. They love each other.

    Did I mention that there's also a specified group of people who are excepted from following the calendar, and it's very similar to the group who can sit at church? --pregnant, nursing, old, and sick

    Another exception is Thanksgiving which is smack dab in the second-longest fast of the year, the [Nativity or Advent fast](Alex's edit. I got it wrong. "baby Lent"). Even though everyone in his family is Ortho, or at least knows most everyone else is Ortho, we eat "American-style." The explanation for this is that he's part of the Orthodox Church of America, and y'know, Thanksgiving is right up there with the Fourth of July for us Americans. My immediate response to this was, "Why are Fridays EVER non-drinking days? Drinking on Friday is an American tradition!" Alex just laughed, but if anyone out there wants to weigh in, I'd be glad to hear your thoughts.

    The special magical color-coded calendar helps us be organized and in compliance. It's a tool. Daily reliance on this, helped along by a pestering wife who doesn't know what she's talking about, can lead to a bit too strict a take on The Ortho Diet, however. Another brief diet-related incident comes to mind where a priest lept to my rescue robes-a-flying. Alex and the priest were at the table, and I was preparing food in the kitchen. I had cut something non-calendar-safe (don't remember what) and was about to cut something calendar-safe for Alex.

    Alex leapt out of his chair and said, "You can't do that! Tina, you just used that knife for," insert whatever the food was. It was like the fourth time during that priest's visit that Alex had.. corrected would be a nice way of phrasing it, corrected me, and I kinda cringed. I was somewhere between crying and yelling, leaning towards crying. From where he sat the priest said, "Hey! We're not Jews. We're Orthodox Christians." *automatic smile flash* Hey, I'm only human. So is Alex. So is the priest.

    If you think this post has nothing to do with fasting as a tool in your spiritual development, you are correct. I'm not a rube. I am a Christian. The topic is deliberately omitted. I'm sure you'll get enough of that talk from Alex, anyway. This is about husbands and wives adapting their expectations, lives, behaviors, and dinners to support each other and grow as a couple. Ladies, if you think you've got it worse, just remember that I don't post things I can't laugh about, yet. I do plan on posting lotsa recipes so that the next poor girl who falls in love with an Orthodox man will have it a little easier. Who knows, I might start a support group: My Husband is Ortho... But I'm Not (Anonymous). I'm sure I could make millions off a twelve step program... *tilt head right*

    If you would like your very own special magical color-coded calendar... (Remember the revenue stream I mentioned earlier? Proceeds go to a school to train Ortho-priests.) There's more than just dietary guidelines to it, too. Feast, fast, and saint days are all listed with a brief blurb in the free space, and the back of each page has a full color icon.

    [EDIT 8/16/12 Beginning 7:57 PM CST I totally forgot to explain the "kinda vegan" aspect. Orthos can eat meat. They can eat invertebrates-- mostly seafood (e.g. shrimp, crab,  scallops, crawfish, slugs). This seems to unfairly favor the rich and those who live on the coast. I've never heard a good explanation.]

    The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom

    We had a truly inspiring turnout this morning at the Mission.  We actually filled the chapel.

    Fr. Benedict was kind enough to allow me to photograph the paten and the prosphora at several different stages of the Proskomide.  I will be posting those photographs tomorrow, with a partial explanation.

    It was quite gratifying to have so many people helping the choir.  The sound filled the room, and even overpowered what my grandmother would have referred to as "the whole zoo."  That's actually a Russian idiom.  Out of thirty-one people, we had eleven children.

    No comment, other than to say that the child I think of as Chewbacca (because of his enormous lung capacity and voice) actually told another kid to be quiet during the reading of the Gospel.  It was really quite amazing and touching.

    Friday, August 3, 2012

    I am the Choir

    Being part of a mission church can be very wearing when you feel like the only person who knows what's going on.  This is the hardest part of Holy Cross: the unjust resentment that I feel from time to time regarding the responsibilities of the mission.  In truth, we have a small, dedicated team who each do their part, the most important of which is showing up for divine services.  The primary mission of Holy Cross Orthodox Mission Church is to help each of us reach theosis.

    Theosis is the ultimate goal of the Christian life.  Oneness with God is the ultimate goal of the salvific process, but the process of salvation is not an individual process.  It is one that we engage in as a community.  St. Paul St. Augustine says, "What I am for you frightens me, but what I am with you comforts me.  For you I am a bishop, but with you I am a Christian."  St. Augustine, Sermon 340 (On the anniversary of his ordination).  This is the true feeling that taking even a small leadership role in the church engenders.

    Those of us who are called to these roles are called to confront our fears to aid in the process of salvation, rather than to become stumbling blocks for our fellow Christians.  This is why St. Paul tells us that we must serve in accordance with our gifts, for if we do not, then we get in the way of each other.  Resentment, regret, and frustration are all symptoms of the spiritual disease of despair.  We must have hope, and worship together in hope, and together buoy each other with our hope, that we may achieve salvation.

    Divine Liturgy tomorrow

    I picked up two music stands today from Mississippi Music, Inc., of Hattiesburg, on 39th Avenue.  As always, the service was excellent, and the experience delightful.

    I have been trying to build folding wooden analogia for church to display our small collection of icons, but unfortunately, I've lacked both motivation and a plan..  When we finally have a space that can accommodate it, I will be donating a number of my icons to the mission.  Until then, however, we will be prominently displaying our icons on these music stands, which also stand in as our iconostasis.

    On the Friday before our divine liturgies, we set up the chapel by moving the pews around and cleaning the church.  It only takes about fifteen minutes; in the spirit of deconstruction, it's easier to push the pews against the walls than to put them back together in their appointed order.  Especially with people standing around and jibber-jabbering in the nave.

    I do so much look forward to our Divine Liturgies in Hattiesburg.  For one thing, it means I don't have to spend over two hours in the car just to go to church.  Additionally, it is always a blessing to see our community in Hattiesburg worshiping together.

    Thursday, August 2, 2012

    The Prosphora Baking Experience Vol. 1

    I started baking prosphora this afternoon at about 5:30 pm, a double batch (a single batch being five loaves).  I brought down the trusty KitchenAid with the brand new dough hook (don't ask, but when it says handwash only, it means it).  I prepped all my ingredients (450 g flour, 315 g water, 22 g yeast, 7 g sea salt), then I recited this prayer:

    PRAYER BEFORE MAKING THE PROSPHORA: Almighty God, our Help and Refuge, Fountain of Wisdom and Tower of Strength, who knows that I can do nothing without Your guidance and help; assist me, I pray Thee, and direct me to divine wisdom and power, that I may prepare this prosphora, faithfully and diligently, according to Thy will, so that it may be profitable to myself and others, and to the glory of Thy Holy Name. For thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen. 

    Copyright 2012 Official Wife Tina

    I then proofed the yeast, and mixed the salt with the flour.  After about ten minutes, I mixed the water in with the dry mixture, and let the mixer do its business.  I try to recite the Jesus Prayer while I am preparing the dough.  I find that my actions are economical and that I do not become troubled by extraneous things.

    Copyright 2012 Official Wife Tina

    After the dough is thoroughly mixed (eight to ten minutes) I let it rise for an hour.  It rose rapidly and well, due to the kitchen temperature being a balmy 74 degrees Fahrenheit.  While mixing I listened to Nikolai Gedda and the Paris Cathedral Choir.

    Copyright 2012 Official Wife Tina

    I preheated the oven to 350 degrees, then I rolled out the dough, and cut the ten bottom halves of the prosphora.  I dusted the baking sheet with flour, and placed the bottom portions on the sheet.

    Then, I recombined the remaining dough, rolled it out, and cut out the ten tops of the prosphora.  I pierced twelve holes into the bottom portions, signifying the Apostles.  Then I moistened the bottom portions with water, and applied the tops.

    The tops were impressed with the seal, which reads IC XC/NIKA, or Jesus Christ Conquers (in Greek).

    As soon as the seals were impressed upon the prosphora, I placed the baking sheet in the oven, and baked the prosphora for just over 24 minutes.  As you can see, they came out white, not browned.

    Here is the sample prosphora that I feel has the best imprint of the seal.

    Copyright 2012 Official Wife Tina

    After removing the prosphora from the oven and placing them on a cooling rack, I recited the following prayer:

    PRAYER AFTER THE BREAD IS BAKED: O Lord, this bread that I have baked represents each one in my family and in my congregation. I am offering myself to You, my very life, in humble obedience and total commitment to You. I place myself on Your holy altar through this bread to be used by You in any way that You feel will help enlarge Your kingdom. Accept my gift and make me worthy to receive the greater gift that You will give me when You consecrate this bread and give it back to me as Your Precious Body. Amen.

    Once the prosphora cool, five go into a Ziploc bag and in the fridge, and five go into a Ziploc and then the freezer.  And that is how you bake prosphora.

    PS- leftover dough makes a perfectly acceptable boule.  Just saying.