Tuesday, August 31, 2010


a.k.a. Just Shut Up!

At least, this is what I consider the genuine message to be in this popular bumper sticker. You believe what you want to believe and I’ll believe what I want to believe and everybody’s Truth is subjective. Right? Just leave me alone. Live and Let Live. I won’t tell you to stop working magic and you won’t tell me to stop burning incense before my icons. And in this way, all shall be well.

Only it isn’t.

In this shallow manufactured Utopia, there is an inherent intellectual laziness; one sees borders on the surface, but the labyrinth of decrepit structures supporting this philosophy frequently washes away with the tides -- for if honesty prevails, one must acknowledge the collision between their Truth and their neighbor’s Truth. ie, I don’t mind that my neighbors are cannibals, after all, they live at the other end of the village.

With this article half-written in mind, how timely, I thought, as I stood in worship on Sunday. Bishop THOMAS was with us this day and I am thankful for it. He has a manner of speaking that really drives a point home; no fluff, no pretensions, just Truth -- succinctly. This past Sunday we remembered John the Baptist and the words of our Lord regarding this holy man: “Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist...” (St. Matthew 11:11) John was afraid of none, save God.

As Bishop THOMAS spoke, John the Baptist’s life came clearly to mind. I could envision what this rugged man might have looked like, living as an ascetic in the wilds of the Judean forest, wearing camel’s hair garments and eating locusts and wild honey. (St. Matthew 3) John was the greatest prophet and fearless in proclaiming Truth, as evidenced by his bold language, calling the Pharisees and Sadducees a “brood of vipers” and pressing them toward repentance for their sins.

Icon of John the Baptist

What a stark contrast John the Baptist presents to the notion of “coexist”, as our culture defines it. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, John was also known as the “forerunner” as he was born to pave the way for Christ, declaring Him worthy of our worship and identifying Christ as the true Lamb of God. I admire John’s fearlessness in the face of persecution. When he could have done the politically correct thing and stayed silent when the King entered into an adulterous relationship with his brother’s wife, Herodias, John the Baptist called it WRONG. He openly criticized what the King was doing and found himself in prison because of it.

Truth abrades those who love sin and Herodias was no exception. She hated John the Baptist for speaking this Truth, hated him so much that when the opportunity arose, she arranged for his beheading, thus marking John as a martyr for his faith. He lived rather to please God than men. God bless John the Baptist.

Fast forward two-thousand years. Our culture is shouting, Coexist!, Live and Let Live! while crossing fingers behind backs that our neighbor’s Truth will not mean our death. Subjective truth collides head-on against God’s prophet, John the Baptist who said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”

Painting of John the Baptist living in the wilderness by Geertgen Tot Sint Jans (15th century)

If we care anything at all about our neighbor, we will continue to proclaim - with great love - that there is only one God and it is His Truth that defines everything. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (St. John 14:6)

--an exclusive statement made for the benefit of all.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

St. Aidan; Remembering a Celtic Saint

St. Aidan of Lindisfarne

In just a few days, on August 31st, we’ll be celebrating St. Aidan’s day. He is a Celtic saint of particular interest to me, as his actions remind me of my patron, St. Brigid. Aidan was known for his generosity and the gentle way in which he shared Christ with the inhabitants at Lindisfarne during the 7th century. St. Aidan, by his example, makes me aware of and ashamed of my own faults, such as a short temper and harsh words. I look to St. Aidan as one who truly loved people and the wildness of his surroundings, as his time spent in solitude by the seashore indicates.

Lindisfarne Castle

Lindisfarne, aka, Holy Island, is a tidal island off the north-east coast of England and a sacred place to celtic saints. It was the Irish monk, Aidan who built the first monastery there which later produced the stunning illuminated Lindisfarne Gospels. A much more accomplished task however, was the way in which Aidan shared Christ with the pagan people who were harshly described as stubborn and unreachable by his predecessor, Corman. Aidan's way was gentle, as nourishing babes with spiritual milk to introduce them to the glory of Jesus Christ.

Folio from the Lindisfarne Gospels

Aidan had been invited to Lindisfarne by King Oswald, a christian convert, who sought to bring the true Light to a darkened land. The relationship shared between the two men is one worthy of our attention, as they worked hand in hand, earnestly serving the people they ruled. The King frequently served as an interpreter on their christian missions and it was Aidan’s generosity that inspired the King to do likewise.

In one famous tale, during the Feast at Easter, there was a large crowd of beggars gathered outside the King’s quarters at Bamburgh. Before the King and Bishop Aidan even began to feast, news of the crowd reached their ears. Without hesitating, the King gave to the beggars not only the food from his table, but the silver dishes as well. Bishop Aidan was so touched by this unselfish act, that he prayed the King’s arm, which had distributed such gifts, would never decay. This proved true. Although King Oswald was killed on the battlefield, his arm was saved and remained incorrupt for 9 centuries.

The Venerable Bede, who did not always agree with Aidan, nevertheless, had this to say of his character:

“He neither sought nor loved anything of this world, but delighted in distributing immediately to the poor whatever was given him by kings or rich men. He traversed both town and country on foot, never on horseback, unless compelled by some urgent necessity. Wherever on his way he saw any, either rich or poor, he invited them, if pagans, to embrace the mystery of the faith; or if they were believers, he sought to strengthen them in their faith and stir them up by words and actions to alms and good works."

Bishop Aidan remained on the Holy Island for 16 years and in the Year of our Lord 651, took ill in Bamburgh and died on the last day of August. At the moment of his death, it is said that Cuthbert, who was later to become another saint of the church, was tending his flock of sheep on the Lammermuir Hills. Cuthbert claims he saw a vision of angels escorting Aidan's soul heavenward.

Holy St. Aidan, intercede to Christ our God, that I may emulate your gentleness and care for others!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Lily of the Mohawks

Upon her death, on April 17, 1680 (Holy Wednesday), Fr. Pierre Cholenec states in his journal:

“Then, her face had suddenly changed, which appeared so smiling and devout that everyone was extremely astonished – her face that had transfigured gradually in less than a quarter of an hour, because of smallpox that it left her face scarred from the age of four, which her infirmities and mortification had contributed to ruin her even more. Catherine’s face was so scarred from smallpox and before her death that she took a darken complexion. Then, her face had suddenly transfigured about a quarter of an hour after her death and became in a moment so beautiful, smiling and white. Her face assumed an appearance of a rosy colour that she never had and her features were not the same. Her face appeared more beautiful than when she had been living. I will admit openly of the first thought that came to me that Catherine might have entered into Heaven at that moment.”

*emphasis mine

Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680), also known as Lily of the Mohawks, was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1980. I discovered her story last summer through unrelated reading about Native American spirituality and find that she comes to mind frequently when I contemplate the nature of love and sacrifice. She was the daughter of a captive Algonquin Christian and a non-Christian Mohawk father. The young Native American came to know Christ through her mother and Jesuit missionaries; her life testifies an enduring devotion to Christ.

Kateri suffered much persecution from her people upon her conversion and baptism, but even so, she said she often meditated upon the “dignity of baptism” -- such a beautiful thought.

Her feast day is celebrated in America on July 14th, in Canada on April 17th.

Incidentally, it was in 2008 that I made another related connection: Frederica Mathewes-Green’s podcast, interviewing an Orthodox convert sharing insight on how closely Native American spirituality is with Orthodoxy:

Listen to the Podcast

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Common Made Holy: thoughts on Zechariah 14

I'm going green today.... recycling a past post, that is.

Reading Fr. Andrew's sermon, prompted this, as it reminds me of an awakening I first experienced through the celtic saints: that the handprint of God is to be found in all things. The ancient celtic women said prayers as they lit fires, milked the cows and weaved the cloth. It is this awareness of God with us, before us, behind us, above us, encompassing us -that is another treasure of the ancient faith.

I published the following entry in 2005 on a christian message forum, with regard to the common made holy. This was written prior to my coming home to Orthodoxy. Thank you, Fr. Andrew, for your excellent words and reminding me of how intimate our relationship with God truly is.


Zechariah 14:20,21 “In that day there will be inscribed on the bells of the horses, “HOLY TO THE LORD.” And the cooking pots in the Lord’s house will be like the bowls before the altar. Every cooking pot in Jerusalem and in Judah will be holy to the Lord of hosts; and all who sacrifice will come and take of them and boil in them. And there will no longer be a Canaanite in the house of the Lord of hosts in that day.” The common made holy. Matthew Henry has this to say about these verses from Zechariah:
The name and character of holiness shall not be so confined as formerly. Holiness to the Lord had been written only upon the high priest’s forehead, but now it shall not be so appropriated. All Christians shall be living temples, and spiritual priests, dedicated to the honor of God and employed in his service.
There shall be a more plentiful effusion of the Spirit of holiness and sanctification after Christ’s ascension than ever before. There shall be holiness introduced into common things. The furniture of their horses shall be consecrated to God. …Travelers shall have it upon their bridles, with which they guide their horses, to guide themselves by this rule. …the common drinking cups they used shall be like the bowls before the altar, that were used either to receive the blood of the sacrifices or to present the wine and oil for the drink-offerings. The vessels which they used for their own tables shall be used to the glory of God…
The common made holy… The root of the words translated “holy” and “holiness” is qadas. The verb means “to be consecrated”, “to be dedicated”. Anything that is “holy” is set apart. It is removed from the realm of the common and moved to the sphere of the sacred.

It is important to note that in the Old Testament, holiness is expressed in strict separation, —the clean was to be separated from what was unclean. The New Testament however, the coming of our Saviour Jesus Christ brought a new emphasis and understanding to what is holy. Did Jesus call us to live in strict separation from the sinful world? “I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world” St. Paul (1 Corinthians 5:9-10)

Holiness now is not to be rigorously distinct from common life, but woven throughout our lives in every aspect.

but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.” St. Peter (1 Peter 1:15, 16) Moral purity is NOT separate, NOT distinct from what is “common” or “secular” we are called to live HOLY lives within the world in every regard.

For St. Peter goes on to say: “But you are a CHOSEN RACE, a royal PRIESTHOOD, a HOLY NATION, a PEOPLE FOR GOD’S OWN POSSESION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY.

Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behaviour excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.”

The separation is in our moral purity —abstain from fleshy lusts which wage war against the soul…., NOT in what we commonly refer to as ‘secular society’. For wherever the Christian IS, that is where his holiness should be evident. Secular society is a myth, a whispering falsehood of Satan at worst.

©2005 ALT

Monday, August 9, 2010

And the winner is....

Congratulations, Arsenios!
You'll be receiving the beautiful production, from the Little Mountain, by the monks at
Holy Cross Monastery.

Thanks to all of you who entered!

Thursday, August 5, 2010


William Ernest Henley (1849 - 1903)

This Victorian poem, by English poet, William Ernest Henley, has remained on my mind today after watching the film, “Invictus” with Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon last night.

It’s one I’ve not heard until yesterday and find it hauntingly beautiful:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Invictus, means “unconquered” in Latin. These evocative words found their way into the heart and mind of Nelson Mandela during his many years in prison and provided a much needed sense of inspiration and hope.

I find it encouraging to a weary soul, yet the lines, “Beyond this place of wrath and tears / Looms but the Horror of the shade” revealing of a tarnished hope. Still, it's that mark of the Divine in the human spirit -that unfathomable resilience- that intrigues me so!

Monday, August 2, 2010

DVD Giveaway!

This week, I’ll be giving away a DVD, from the Little Mountain: Reflections on Orthodox Christian Monasticism, (English version) a documentary produced by the monks at Holy Cross Monastery. The short, 32 minute work takes you through a year at the monastery, giving you a glimpse into monastic life -- not to mention the gorgeous changing seasons in West Virginia.

I’ve written about the documentary previously, as I was gifted a copy soon after it was produced in 2008. It’s with great pleasure that I can share this with you. I’ve watched it many times in the last few years and always find it refreshing for the soul.

You can read more about it, as well as other reviews at the Holy Cross website:

Hermitage of the Holy Cross

Watch the trailor here:

Just leave a comment or email me at heartjoys2002(at)yahoo(dot)com to enter your name in the drawing, to be held on Monday, August 9, 2010. Contest limited to residents of USA.

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