Friday, December 24, 2010
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Kursk Root Icon, 13th century
One of the many beauties to come from Russia is the Kursk Root Icon. This wonderworking icon originates in the 13th century near the Tuskora River in Kursk and over the centuries has become one of the most beloved, drawing millions of pilgrims. From the time a hunter found the icon lying face down along the riverbank in 1295, to the present day, many miracles have surrounded this wonderworking icon. You can read a more detailed account here.
Our cathedral is very fortunate to be hosting this icon today. I’m praying the weather remains calm so that we can attend the Akathist to the Theotokos and hear the presentation of the history.
Map highlighting Kursk Oblast in Russia
Along a related path to all lovely things Russian, check out The Russian Shop, located near Chicago, IL. When we make our trek to the Windy City, visiting this little treasure is a must. And, something I recently learned: the image below is the Romanov family coat of arms, created by combining St. George slaying the dragon (an ancient symbol of Russia) along with the double headed eagle of the Byzantine Empire. The two heads represent the Tsar’s dual sovereignty, both political and religious.
Romanov family crest, 15th century
Sunday, December 19, 2010
Friday, December 17, 2010
Thursday, December 16, 2010
The result is this little hardback book titled simply, “Angels” containing nearly 200 pages of biblically based information regarding the organization and function of angels, also part of God’s created world.
“For He will give His angels charge concerning you, To guard you in all your ways.” Psalm 91:11
Holy Scripture makes some 300 references to angels, how they are sent as messengers of God, ministering spirits, guardian angels, protectors and warriors. I’d venture to say that most Christians believe they have a guardian angel watching over them, as per Jesus’ words in St. Matthew 18: “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.”
This time of year we may think of the messenger angel who appeared to the shepherds in the fields to announce the birth of the Saviour found in St. Luke 2:
“For behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”
The appearance of angels must be so dazzling, so mighty a presence as to invoke fear among witnesses, as they often first say, “Fear not!” before delivering their message from God.
We see so dimly on this earth. And yet, there are thousands of stories of angels intervening in the lives of mankind, from the recorded accounts in Scripture on down to our present age. Hebrews 1 tells us that angels are ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation. Do you think they know us by name? Do you believe they watch over our lives, granting comfort or protection or giving encouraging thoughts to us?
I think so.
One of my favorite accounts of a ministering angel comes from Corrie Ten Boom who wrote of a remarkable experience during the horror of the Nazi Ravensbruck prison camp. She writes:
“Together we entered the terrifying building. At a table were women who took away all our possessions. Everyone had to undress completely and then go to a room where her hair was checked.
I asked a woman who was busy checking the possessions of the new arrivals if I might use the toilet. She pointed to a door, and I discovered that the convenience was nothing more than a hole in the shower room floor. Betsie [her sister] stayed close beside me all the time. Suddenly I had an inspiration, “Quick, take off your woolen underwear”, I whispered to her. I rolled it up with mine and laid the bundle in a corner with my little Bible. The spot was alive with cockroaches, but I didn’t worry about that. I felt wonderfully relieved and happy. “The Lord is busy answering our prayers, Betsie,” I whispered. “We shall not have to make the sacrifice of all our clothes.”
We hurried back to the row of women waiting to be undressed. A little later, after we had our showers and put on our shirts and shabby dresses, I hid the roll of underwear and my Bible under my dress. It did bulge out obviously through my dress; but I prayed, “Lord, cause now Thine angels to surround me; and let them not be transparent today, for the guards must not see me.” I felt perfectly at ease. Calmly I passed the guards. Everyone was checked, from the front, the sides, the back. Not a bulge escaped the eyes of the guard. The woman just in front of me had hidden a woolen vest under her dress; it was taken from her. They let me pass, for they did not see me. Betsie, right behind me, was searched.
But outside awaited another danger. On each side of the door were women who looked everyone over for a second time. They felt over the body of each one who passed. I knew they would not see me, for the angels were still surrounding me. I was not even surprised when they passed me by; but within me rose the jubilant cry, “O Lord, if Thou dost so answer prayer, I can face even Ravensbruck unafraid.” - Corrie Ten Boom
This angel is actually our tree-topper. But our Christmas tree is too tall for her this year and so she's watching over the living room from the mantle.
Saturday, December 11, 2010
Fr. Andrew recently posted this video via Facebook with the invitation to hear it in English on Christmas Eve in Emmaus. I kind of like the Arabic.
It calls to mind an old doorway... one in which the Ancient Faith entered my heart. Listening to this just now, I recall worshipping at St. George before I knew much of anything about Orthodoxy -- the days in which I was praying that God would not allow me to be seduced by pretty vestments, bold icons and sweet smelling incense. I remember hearing the Arabic chanting, not understanding a single word, and being so moved by it. So connected to the roots of Christianity and feeling secure there. Just how is it that foreign words can move the heart? A mystery of God.
I sometimes hear in Orthodox circles -mostly among converts, but not always- that the service should be entirely in English, since everyone speaks English but only a portion speak Arabic. I disagree. I think we would lose something vital by silencing this ancient language in our worship. It’s good to hear the praise of God in other languages as it reminds our senses that God is God of all, not just English speaking people. Let our ears hear the worship of God and His Incarnation in Arabic and multitudes of other languages this Christmas!
Monday, December 6, 2010
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Never underestimate the power of reading aloud. I don’t believe we outgrow the enjoyment, the wonder and connection with others through storytelling. I am so glad my children still enjoy this and that my husband & I read to each other on occasion, too.
We’ve just finished reading Father Herman, Alaska’s Saint by Frank Alfred Golder with papercut illustrations by Nikki McClure. F.A. Golder, in the early 20th century, provided the first English account of the life of St. Herman (1757 - 1836) and even though this book is rather brief (68 pages), it provides powerful inspiration to the soul to learn of a saint so close to our own time. The papercut illustrations are a unique and expressive compliment to the Life documented within the pages.
Father Herman was born near Moscow, Russia in the mid 18th century and as a young man of 16 years, entered the monastic life at Trinity-St. Sergius Monastery near St. Petersburg. It was here that Fr. Herman claimed to have been miraculously healed of an abscess beneath his chin, after seeing a vision of the Theotokos and praying before her icon during the night.
A few years later, Fr. Herman transferred to Valaam Monastery on Valaam Island in Lake Ladoga, Russia. It is written that he loved the solitude and beauty of Valaam and I particularly enjoyed F.A. Golder’s description of Herman (as taken from his visit to Valaam Monastery in 1914) :
“Fr. Herman’s attractive personality and kindly ways soon made him a favorite with the other monks, so much so that even to this day they speak of him as the holiest among them. They point to a place named after him, Germanova, where he was wont to wander off and prayfor days at a time until the brothers had to go and bring him back. They tell of his religious ardor, of his gentleness, and of his sweet tenor voice, which was like that of an angel. Fr. Herman had the soul of a poet and there was much about the monastery that appealed to his sense of beauty...flowery fields, shady forests, wild birds and snow-clad trees, ice-covered lake, the mighty wind and raging storm..”
While at Valaam Monastery, Fr. Herman was selected by the Holy Synod along with 9 other monks and deacons to be on the first missionary expedition to preach the Gospel to the Alaska natives. They set out from Moscow on January 22, 1794 and after crossing Siberia to Okhotsk, finally arrived on Kodiak Island on September 24, 1794.
The mission was very successful, as the Orthodox missionaries were bringing the light of Christ to the natives and showed much love and respect for these people, the Alutiiqs. They soon found themselves in the role of protector, however, as those bitterly opposed to the mission, chiefly the Russian American Company, were abusive to the native people and sought to drive the missionaries out.
By 1806, the conditions set forth by Baronov’s Russian American Company became so cruel and abusive that all the missionaries were either killed, demoralized or fled to other places....save one.
Fr. Herman remained.
“Trials and tribulations made him only stronger, and he would under no circumstances desert his people and let them slip back into the power of the devil.” F.A. Golder
He did, however, realize that the cause of Christ could be advanced more quickly away from Baranov, and so, he opened a new mission on the uninhabited island of Elovoi (Spruce) which he named New Valaam in memory of his beloved monastery in Russia.
This book is such an engaging read; Part II contains documented miracles attributed to Saint Herman that have kindled my own desire to make a pilgrimage to Spruce Island.
Map highlighting Kodiak Island and surrounding islands. Spruce Island is located to the east of Kodiak and south of Afognak Island.
In 1970, Herman became the first saint to be glorified concurrently by the Orthodox Church in America and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. He is affectionately known as the Wonderworker of Alaska and America’s first Saint and remembered by the Church on August 9 and December 13.
*Icon may be found at Come and See Icons
Friday, November 26, 2010
Last week we had to say good-bye to a dear pal, a member of our family, ...a loyal dog.
Jasper had been with us 15 years and the older I become, the more I marvel at the swiftness of time. I remember clearly bringing him home from the animal shelter that chilly spring morning in 1995. His small puppy feet rested securely in my lap on the drive back to our new house. My husband & I wondered if there might be something wrong with the little fellow, as he seemed so docile and serious, the last of the litter to find a home.
Our doubts were quickly erased when he stepped foot in the family room, as he pranced around under the watchful eye of our cat, Irish. He brought us so much joy & unconditional love. This unlimited love is one of the greatest blessings from heaven. Equally, the lessons of devotion, loyalty and companionship have not been lost on our family over the years.
Jasper welcomed both of our children into the world, providing a warm hello when they arrived home from the hospital as newborns and without resentment, shared his long- solo spotlight with each of them.
He served faithfully as a certified therapy dog, visiting an area nursing home from 1999 to 2002 and was particularly fond of “Emma” who would invite him onto her bed and stroke his head as he laid comfortably beside her. In these precious moments, it was easy to see one of the many ways in which God extends his grace and mercy to humans through His gift of animals.
Thank you, Japser, for the wonderful memories...and thank you, dear God, for the dream given to me last night -- the one where I saw Jasper in his youth, playing & running outdoors...and looking back towards us with smiling eyes to make sure we were following.
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Down in the marshes
Of quickening sand where
Circumstance and storm clouds brood,
A foul gale gripped mind and soul.
Turbulent waters shrieked a chorus of chaos
And reeling, I saw the abyss.
A flash of thought, an angel above
Beckoned both mind and heart
To ask for the grace and employ the defense
That liberates light from dark-
And there it was! from the quickening sands
Crystal clear notes above the melee, leading
to inexplicable light.
The path of peace, the unexplainable rest
...wonder of wonders,
began in the heart of the mire.
I walked on the path and looked all around,
Amazed at the place I was given-
Hearing the waters seemed sweet to me now,
And the chasm was nothing to fear.
Monday, November 8, 2010
They are a strong-willed people, not giving up when the stock market crashed, thus leaving a quarter of our nation unemployed. Those who could, found menial jobs that required a tenth of the skills they possessed, but took them without complaint. It meant bread on the table. And they were thankful for it. They persevered, often at great cost to those held most dear. Families were separated in order to search for work and boys swiftly became men, working wherever they could to feed young brothers & sisters. Theirs is the motto, "Waste not, want not."
They are a resilient people, those who survived the Great Depression and went on to fight in World War II.
The women enjoyed raising their families, finding great satisfaction in making a house a home, cooking - the kind of meals that took most of the day - and making due while the men were at war. And not just getting by, that is, keeping the children clothed and fed, but helping in the war effort by working long hours in factories to maintain a supply of heavy equipment and ammunition. And yes, they were most likely underpaid compared with their male counterparts, but this didn’t deter them from a role they felt necessary to help America win the war.
They are a patriotic people, possibly the most American loving generation we’ve seen since the mid 18th century. They know the value of a dollar, good tilled earth and honest work. And they love America because they have ingrained on their hearts the blood sacrificed for it in the World Wars, never losing the vision of this great nation given to us by our forefathers. This is the generation that knows what the US Constitution actually says, flies the US flag proudly and cries when the National Anthem is played. This generation gave us boys who would lie about their age in order to enlist, their desire so great to see the world and have a chance to defend the country they loved. These men & women understand what love and sacrifice is because they lived it. They didn’t have the comforts and distractions we have today, they are a people of mettle.
They are a generation that champions life. If you’ve never watched a documentary interviewing servicemen who were there when Dachau was liberated and learned of the Auschwitz liberation by the Red Army...do so. It is worth your time to contrast the views of Americans when they became a witness to the Holocaust, verses those of Stalin, who also helped to overthrow the Third Reich. This generation promotes, preserves and values innocent life.
My hat is off to you, men and women of the Greatest Generation. I am thankful that some of you are with us still. May we of younger generations learn from your lives and honor the sacrifices you made by upholding your greatest virtues: strength, resilience, perseverance, courage and love for the United States of America.
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
I have a particular fondness for George MacDonald, the 19th century Scottish author and poet. The strength and wisdom of his words caused renowned author C.S. Lewis to proclaim, "I know hardly any other writer who seems to be closer, or more continually close, to the Spirit of Christ Himself."
Thursday, October 28, 2010
I’ve just read a book of interest by Paul Meyendorff, from the Orthodox Liturgy Series titled, The Anointing of the Sick. The author breathes life into the ancient ritual of laying on of hands and anointing the sick with oil. Most common in days of old, the oil of choice was olive oil, found abundantly in the Mediterranean. And notably, these practices predate Christianity as evidenced by Jewish as well as pagan customs. What makes these sacraments distinctly Christian is “their integration with prayer and thanksgiving, their inclusion in the life of the Church and of each of her members.” - Paul Meyendorff, The Anointing of the Sick, pg.32
I picked up this book from our church library, not on a whim, but because my niece, Izzy, has been anointed in several churches within the past year. She is battling a rare cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma and for those of us in the believing community, laying on of hands and anointing her with oil is an appropriate form of “medicine” for her mind, body and spirit.
This isn’t to say she evades modern medical practices. Izzy is well acquainted with chemotherapy, radiation, MRIs and PET scans....blood tests, immune-boosting shots, surgery and splints. She is familiar with the hum of machines, the beep of monitors and the myriad of distractions the friendly staff uses to divert her attention away from it all.
God does use doctors and modern medicine to heal us, without a doubt. I am thankful for them. It is the spirit, however, that suffers so much in our modern world of life-saving machines and, at times, conveyor-belt care. That essence within us that communes with the Almighty is often neglected when the body is suffering in an extreme way. Medical practices in the United States are advanced in extending the life of the body, in anesthetizing our pain, but true healing involves all three of our components: mind, body and spirit. It is toward this holistic healing that Paul Meyendorff focuses in his excellent book.
Through this reading and with godly counsel, I’ve been encouraged to do my part in the healing process, for all of us, not just clergy alone, bear responsibility in caring for the Body of Christ. A small bottle of holy oil was given to me in order that I, too, could anoint the sick and suffering. The oil is holy because it was consecrated as a prayerful offering, burning in the vigil lamp at the shrine of St. Panteleimon.
Izzy seems to be intrigued, but usually remains quiet during the times she has been anointed and prayed over. It’s a beautiful thing when congregations come together in a unified faith to pray over a child of God ...a sacred moment when the veil between heaven and earth is lifted.
Thank you, dear readers for your prayers for my niece. She continues her journey which began in December 2009. The most recent news is her surgery from a few weeks ago, performed in order to remove what the doctors thought was an ‘abnormal lymph node’, but turned out to be a recurring tumor. This was devastating news for the family, as she has been on a regular protocol of chemo with radiation for nearly a year. Her situation is rare, as this type of cancer is usually conquered after the course of chemo. She has wonderful doctors caring for her and several other specialists have been consulted to formulate a new protocol. She is now receiving a new type of chemo... and amputating her leg is now strongly suggested by several of the specialists. Her parents covet your prayers.
As November is fast approaching, it seems fitting to mention the Holy Wonderworkers and Unmercenary Physicians Cosmas and Damian, whose feast day is celebrated on November 1st. Like St. Panteleimon, they are called “unmercenary” because they received no payment for their services, taking to heart the Lord’s command, “Freely have you received, freely give.” (St. Matthew 10:8) Although their father died when they were quite young, their Christian mother raised them with love of God and by her example they grew to be virtuous men.
Icon of Sts. Cosmas and Damian of Asia Minor
May we all be of such example and by our deeds serve God in healing and edifying the Body of Christ. †