Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry New Calendar Christmas

In the Orthodox world, there are two calendars in use: "Old Calendar" and "New Calendar". New Calendar folks have adjusted the Church calendar by 13 days to bring it line with the secular, or Western calendar. Old Calendar folks have not ... in some cases this resistance has taken the form of a sectarian ideology and in others this resistance is a relatively painless adherence to tradition. The net result is that Old Calendar folk celebrate the Nativity of Christ on January 7th (although they still call it December 25th) and New Calendar folk celebrate Christ's birth on December 25th.

Our parish is one of those that does not celebrate Nativity tomorrow. [Happily, we are Old Calendar without being Old Calendrist.]

However, I can still take joy in the celebration of those who commemorate Christ's birth tomorrow: to my large Orthodox family out there, to my Catholic friends like Les, to my currently blog-less Protestant friends, and to those who celebrate a holiday they do not understand, I wish you a blessed, peaceful, and joyous feast on the morrow.

Merry Christmas, friends. Christ is born.

- V.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

And now, for something completely different

Have you ever thought that maybe, just maybe, your parents' generation is far weirder than it has any reason for being?

Have you ever suspected that perhaps your parents were damaged in some way? That their peculiarities stem from some deep-seated trauma, that their psyches were wounded by a terrible event?

I think I found that event, that trauma. It explains everything unexplainable about the generation that came before. And it is truly, wondrously bizarre.

For your viewing pleasure, One Got Fat, a 15 minute video on bicycle safety.

And don't say I didn't warn you.

- V.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Huckabee Shamelessness

Today I saw an ad by Mike Huckabee.

"Are you about wore [sic] out of all the television commercials you've been seeing? Mostly about politics. I don't blame you. At this time of year sometimes it's nice to pull aside from all of that and just remember that what really matters is a celebration of the birth of Christ, and being with our family and our friends. I hope that you and your family will have a magnificent Christmas season, and on behalf of all of us, God bless and Merry Christmas.

"I'm Mike Huckabee and I approve this message."

Subtitles:
www.mikehuckabee.com

Paid for by Huckabee for President, Inc.
Approved by Mike Huckabee

...

I don't know that it is necessary to point out the blatant hypocrisy in this political ad, but for those who need the guided tour, this is a shameless appeal to the Christian vote. Mike Huckabee in one sympathetic breath criticizes the rest of the presidential candidates for their political commercials, and then proceeds to emphasize that Christmas is about Christ, a statement that warms the heart of any Christian. However, and this is the important part, Huckabee would not be saying any of this if it were not for the fact that he is running for president. This message does not come from him out of the goodness of his heart but out of his presidential campaign, paid for by his campaign organization, and underscored throughout by a reference to his campaign website.

I'm sorry, but this is scandalous.

And I afraid that the Christian community will be as suckered by this cynical ploy as Huckabee thinks they will.

-V.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

On Vaccination

Recently vaccination came up in our dialogue. Not surprising, this, as we are the proud parents of little B. It was bound to come up, either as simple acquiescence to the norm, or as a rebellion against that norm.

In the course of our dialogue, I with E. and we with various medical professionals, it became clear to us that we had doubts about vaccination. I believe I have expressed those doubts once before. However, it is not in the nature of the medical trade to heed vague doubts - they challenged us, and that rigorously.

Being somewhat thoughtful people, we realized that neither our nebulous fears nor their impassioned defense was sufficient to carry the day. Emotion is never a good basis for decision-making. I returned to the Internet and began to research vaccines assiduously.

My methodology was simple. I looked up the product monographs for various vaccines, and then I looked up each chemical and biological ingredient that went into the making of these vaccines. Some were clear toxins, and dangerous ones (formalin, for example). Others were simply disquieting ingredients (bovine serum is my favourite).

For some people, what I found is enough to warrant not vaccinating their children. For others, vaccinations are tried and true, and worries over toxins mere paranoia. The purpose of this post is not to debate toxins nor to address concerns over disorders such as autism. What I want to address is the creepy part, the sick-making part, that which is both Twilight Zone and the twisting corruption of Mordor.

In several vaccines the [attenuated] virus that is needed to trigger the body's immune system has been propagated in "human diploid cell lines." Further research indicates that the cell lines in question are "WI-38" and "MRC5." Are you baffled by this double-speak? I was. I looked further.

WI-38 and MRC5 refer to two aborted fetuses - babies - whose cells have been used since the 60's and the 70's, respectively, to propagate viruses for our antiviral vaccination programme. Central to this programme are the dTap and MMR vaccines, vaccines that save children from travesties such as polio and rubella... vaccines that make use of these "human diploid cell lines."

Let me make this clearer. With few exceptions, when we save our children from polio or rubella through vaccination, we are profiting from the death of two murdered children. What price health if it is purchased in the blood of innocents?

I still shake with the horror of that initial finding, just a couple months ago. I still boil with anger, with outrage. I still cross myself, crying for our Lord's mercy.

There are ethical alternatives out there, but they are not easily available to Canadians or Americans. However, if you want your child vaccinated, I cannot think how else as a Christian you can do so.

And if you are wondering what WI-38 and MRC5 mean, they are the final indignity heaped on a human person, the replacement of name for a code. Wistar Institute fetal sample no. 38 refers to an unnamed girl presumably aborted in 1961 (source 1 and 2). Medical Research Council strain no. 5 refers to an unnamed boy presumably aborted in 1966 (source 1 and 2). See also this source.

The marvel to me is that I have never heard this before. I have lived all my life in pro-life circles. My grandfather was the secretary of a prominent pro-life organization. And yet no one knows. Is it just that we don't care? Are we hypocritical, publicly decrying the holocaust of the millions of unborn while privately benefiting from the destruction of two of these unborn? Are we just ignorant? Lazy in our research? What is the matter?

The research is easily available. I'm not making this stuff up ... look it up for yourself. And yet no one knows. It was news to our hospital paediatrician, to the pharmacist she asked to persuade us, to our referring paediatrician. It was news to our priest.

I add my voice to the others that are speaking out, that the walls of silence can be breached and the pro-life community can act against this monstrosity.

- V.

[I discovered, while gathering my links to show sources, that Scrivener has addressed this issue already, and done so with considerable eloquence. His post is here.]

Why I Do Not Support Mike Huckabee

Or, a rambling critique of the Christian Right's marriage to neo-conservative Republicans.

A friend of mine recently invited me to join him in voicing support for Mike Huckabee. I didn't ask why he supported Huckabee, but I have a shrewd suspicion. Either a) he supports Huckabee on the grounds that Huckabee's Christianity will make him a moral president, in which case I point him to Ron Paul, a rigorously scrupulous politician with an unblemished voting record, or b) he supports Huckabee because he thinks that Huckabee will bring about change in America. Usually the key issue here is abortion, and the noble Christian desire to repeal Roe vs. Wade.

The problem is that while ending abortion is a truly great aim, something akin to stopping the Nazi slaughterhouses at Auschwitz and elsewhere, Americans live in a secular democracy. By secular, I mean that the United States of America is not a Christian country - Christendom is dead, even if Christ isn't (no thanks to the deicidal tendencies of Nietzsche et al.). By democracy, I mean that the U. S. A. is not ruled by a minority, and if it is, this must be corrected or else lose the democracy.

Why are these points a problem? Because in order for Christian principles (such as opposition to all forms of infanticide) to be instituted on a nation-wide scale, the will of the majority will have to be contravened. In essence, a minority (Christians) would rule.

There is no way around this. The Christian must realize that he has three and only three options. First, prayer for change. Second, peaceful opposition and protest (similar to the protests of King and Gandhi). Third, opposition through violence - whether violence against persons, violence against property, or violence against the will of the majority.

Back to Huckabee.

Huckabee is a neo-conservative (1 & 2). Neo-conservatives are happy with a minority ruling the country - themselves. Neo-conservatives (whether Republican like Giuliani or Huckabee or Democrat like Clinton) are the last people we want in power if we wish to preserve our freedoms. Freedoms of assembly, of speech, of religion.

[Tangent. Once upon a time in Germany the German peoples were afraid. They feared Communists and they feared for their economic security. So they gave up their freedoms to instate a minority group (the National Socialist party) that promised them security. They got Hitler and WWII.

The consequences of minority rule are not always so extreme, but they can be. And once the pattern of minority rule is established, it is not easily overturned or relinquished.]

What frightens me is the blind devotion of the Christian Right to neo-conservativism. What frightens me is how eagerly Christians pursue a minority rule, thinking that it will serve their own ends, forgetting that minority rule promises only one thing - the end to the Will of the People.

So, I don't support Huckabee. I think it is great that a [seemingly] practicing Christian is running for president. And were I a neo-conservative, I would probably hope he won the nomination. But I am not a neo-conservative. I am just the guy on the cliff watching the lemmings with the WWJD bracelets carefully and systematically dismantle their freedoms in the name of Christ.

-V.

[Edit: Strictly speaking, the U.S. is a republic, not a democracy. The "rule of the people" through elected delegates is tempered by a charter or constitution. However, my point stands that a government is dangerous when it no longer reflects or heeds the values of the populace. In the case of the U.S., a return to representation of the majority from the current neo-conservative hijacking of American governance is accomplished not through an appeal to democratic principles but by a return to a constitution that limits government, the Constitution of the United States.]

Ron Paul

Resuming this blog ...

Let us start with Ron Paul, as is only appropriate, given the day.

Today is December 16, the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, a day on which supporters of presidential hopeful Ron Paul plan to raise record sums in a single 24-hour period.

By record sums, I mean in excess of the 4.2 million they raised on November 5. I mean in excess of the 5 million Paul thinks he may get. I mean they hope to raise serious money, money that will make the world sit up and take notice. Perhaps 10 million. That would do it.

As of 1:12 EST, the Ron Paul campaign passed the 12 million mark that they had desired to reach this quarter. Wouldn't it be wonderful if they hit 22 million?

I hope.

I've mentioned Paul before. Once, I believe.

I've neglected to say much more, on two counts.
A) The topic did not seem sublime enough [see previous post]. I have rejected this reasoning.
B) I'm not American.

It was seeing videos on YouTube, videos made by various Europeans in support of Ron Paul, that I realized that I do have a voice. What I think, and what the rest of the world thinks does matter. The reality is that the United States of America is an empire, and its fingers are in everyone's pie. The reality is that the president of the U.S. wields enormous power for good or ill - perhaps more power than any other human on the planet (depending on whether you believe Bilderberg conspiracy theories or no). The reality is that a warmongering president can bring about profound evil, pain, suffering upon this world. The reality is that I and many others are afraid of what Bush will do next. Preemptive nuclear war on Iran? Maybe not, but the rhetoric was there a mere two weeks ago, to do just that.

The reality is that when you are the biggest boy in the school, self-restraint is the ultimate virtue. What difference is there, in the end, between a bully and a big boy that decides to police the disputes of others? Not much.

Ron Paul is not only the best candidate for America ... he is the best candidate for the world. Not to rule the world, but as an antidote to and a relief from a trigger-happy regime, and as inspiration as to what true liberty means: less tax, less government, less bureaucracy, less oversight and control.

...

Enough for now.

In the meantime, I offer this snippet - the pro-Paulite perspective of an American Orthodox.

-V.

Jotted

I've been thinking a lot about what to write.

A lot of ideas, some mundane, others thought-provoking, none sublime. And I know that I would prefer to be the man that speaks with the ineffably melodious tongue of the angels and with the clarion cry of the prophet ... alas, despite the name of this blog, I am not modeled after St. John.

Too introspective, this. Too unwilling to fail. Desiring perfection, I achieve nothing.

...

I think I can only write what I believe, and hope that someone is interested.

- V.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Reflections from Sunday

Last Sunday we took B. to Church for the first time. Very exciting.

Father talked about the woman with the issue of blood, and in the course of his homily he touched on how in the case of this woman it was not enough that she was healed, but that she confessed aloud that she had been healed.

Sometimes it is enough that God knows and we know what God has done through His mercy. But other times it seems He asks that we acknowledge, confess Him.

And so, inevitably, I got to thinking how we have brushed the hem of His garment and so experienced His power and His mercy. And how it just doesn't seem enough that we know and He know that He has been good to us.

Thanks be to God for what He has done. Slava Bohu.

...

And as I looked around me I saw so many wonderful people. Mr. and Mrs. P., who brought us some home cooked meals; G. G., who visited us and B. several times in the hospital; Mrs. K., who prayed for us constantly; Mrs. O., who gave us beautiful baby clothing for our boy ... I could on. But every face was the face of a friend. Every hand was the hand of Christ. And I realized that these people, this parish, have been Christ to us.

And I am overwhelmed.

How can you thank someone for being the hands, feet, lips, and heart of Christ? There aren't words.

- V.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Logismoi, continued

Orthodox do not start with the Fall. This is very important. It means that the black-red-white-yellow-green evangelism tools of my youth are worth nothing to explain the Gospel that we live. [Black is supposed to represent sin, depravity, the post-lapsarian state, and is used as a visual hook to show how man is evil and apart from God. Not an Orthodox approach.] It means that angry God is an insufficient prod; while fear and guilt are excellent motivators, they do not seem to be God's modus operandi.

Instead, Orthodox focus on the Creation. All eight days, for the day of the Resurrection, the day in which we live, is the eighth day of Creation. And it is good.

Christ's death and resurrection take care of the Fall and its problems, but His incarnation does not require the Fall. [I don't know if there are speculative Orthodox out there or no, but I would be interested to know if they think that Christ would have died and risen again had there been no Fall ... ?]

The Gospel is an invitation to share in a divine story. It is, as it was once called, possibly by Tolkien, True Myth. It is the Platonic reality to which all other myth and story are but shadows, and only succeed as story insofar as they reflect the true myth that God has been telling us since the dawn of Creation. "And God said ...."

I think, and this is probably in large part due my Protestant upbringing, that I am susceptible to the juridical approach to Christianity.
  • I mustn't make God mad...
  • Oh, can't sin in that way - it will annoy Him.
  • I can't confess because I don't feel guilty enough.
  • I'm due for hellfire now, I tell you ...
The focus falls on doing what is right because it is right and good and God is right and good, and if I don't do it, I will be bad and I will be punished. I become an ass, led by the carrot of a sterile Paradise and followed by the switches of present guilt and the threat of eternal punishment.

Instead, the metaphors in Scripture are of journeys. We are wayfarers and sojourners, athletes running a race, disciples following Him.

So too Liturgy and the Church year teach us that Christian life is movement, and we speak of salvation over time and the "Christian walk". All these things point to the fact that we are being called, relentlessly, constantly, lovingly, "Walk with me. Follow me. Take my yoke and come."

He wants us to journey with Him, out of love, compassion for us. And He showed He means it by coming here to live with us as Christ Jesus, to be with us, suffer with us, love us.

...

It is strange. All these words feel so familiar, so like unto things I have been taught and things I have said myself once upon a time. But they feel new upon my tongue. New and different and beautiful, not jaded, time-worn, or kitsch.

And I don't really understand it, either. It is not as if the past three months were spent in penitence and prayer. I can't claim to be terribly spiritual, then or now. Or strong. All I see is the world a little brighter, old truths made new. All I see is God walking with me, even though I'm not the best of company. ... Perhaps the only difference is that I see it.

- V.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Logismoi

Today I was talking with a friend of mine. Brother C. is a married Anglican Franciscan monk under and in the Celtic monastic tradition - the tensions implicit in the previous statement are beyond my ability to fully understand or resolve - whom I have found to be thoughtful, deep, and the instigator of further thought.

The problem with Puritans, he said, is that they start with the Fall.

A simple statement, but it got me thinking.

Orthodox do not start with the Fall, but with Eden. We start with Paradise. And then, acknowledging the Fall, we move on to Resurrection, a Resurrection that is the climax to the crisis of the Cross. The two, interwoven, interlinked, entwined, paired. And in our temples, two icons paired: Crucifixion and Resurrection.

What we show at the front of our temples is not a moment, a gory, Passionate moment where Christ writhes endlessly under Roman torture, but a story, centred at a cross and a tomb (both empty), but also beginning in Incarnation and ending in Apocalypse, the story of Christ Jesus Emmanuel, God with us.

And it struck me forcibly that the lure of the Gospel is the invitation to share. Share in His suffering, share in His resurrection ... share in His baptism, His body, His blood. Share in the story.

I have recently walked through a very desolate place. There wasn't a lot of singing or dancing, or even praying, for that matter. Perhaps we - E. & I - were walking through a grave, walking through the shadow of Hades. I don't know. But God was present, all the time. He didn't say much, He didn't promise much, but it seems to me that He suffered with us, He shared with us in our desert place.

Theodicy: Suffering - evil - is a problem if the Cross is the cure to the Fall, if all Christ does is pay our dues to God. Because then why do we suffer? If our suffering is a consequence of the Fall and our sins, and Christ has paid these [and our forefathers'] sins off, suffering as a Christian feels like nothing more than vindictive malevolence.

But if the Gospel is an invitation to join in a divine story, then suffering is revealed as a condition of the world that Christ has walked through and continues to walk through with us, the better to share, the better to unite, the better simply to become friends.

V.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Home at Last

Well, we are home.

After three interminable months, B. has been pronounced "cured" and we are home.

Praise God, we are home.


...

For those who wondered, I ran out of words, ran out of beauty, ran out of poetry. This happened roughly about the same time that our son had his third episode of NEC.

Sometimes all that one can do is wait in silence.

In any case, we are back.

Expect posts to follow, as parenting allows.

V.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Views from a Hospital


I haven't much to add, today.

But I have been reminded that people are looking for updates on our boy.

There is substantial confusion, it seems. There is no uniformity of opinion as to why B. has got this rare disease. NEC afflicts 3-5% of premature babies, and the majority of those are 28 weeks gestation or younger. B. may be premature, but he was born at 34 gestation. And he has got it not once but twice. The best guess that our doctors have is that our boy has a severe milk allergy - unfortunately, this is not easily testable or provable.

So we are in a holding pattern, waiting for the end of the antibiotics, rejoicing that he (and his X-rays) are looking better, waiting for the scary part: reintroducing food. We are praying that this time his bowels will be able to handle it, and that "NEC" will fade from our vocabulary.



On Fatherhood

Today I was asked, again, what it felt like to be a father. I fumbled through an adequate answer, as I have each time before. Wonderful. Amazing. Defining. As good as I imagined, and better.

Here is what I should have said:

My dear interlocutor, fatherhood is the best of me. When I am apart from my son, I am shallowed, hollowed, and incomplete. My son is the centre of my small universe, and in his cot is where my heart lies; my home is his hospital room.

Dear friend, in fatherhood my love is not weakened or divided but trebled and quadrupled, beyond the paltry limits of how I thought I could love. The wreck that these difficult times should have made me has been filled up to overflowing with the grace of God, making me better than I am. I am a father, but not fully a father yet, and God is making me the father I could never be.

But, O inquisitor, at the same time this fatherhood is analogous to a child's experience of a petting zoo. He meets, greets, and pets the zoo's puppy, and goes home. Then after begging his parents to return, he goes back to the zoo, where he spends the day with 'his' puppy under the watchful eye of the zoo's proprietor. His family are on the rides or eating cotton candy, but he lives for that small dog. Sometimes the people running the zoo are impatient with him because he is underfoot constantly - sometimes they grant him more liberties because they know how he handles the pup. But no matter how much he feels like he 'owns' the dog, that small child will never be the owner until his parents break down and pay the exorbitant amount for which the zoo asks.

And in my case, I am still waiting for my Father to break down and give me that for which I so ardently yearn.

- V.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

August 11th Moments

It was a beautiful day today, and I had a chance to look out over a sunlit panorama of a sylvan city, seeing it from a new vantage point with fresh eyes.

Today I noticed that even the lunch ladies at this Children's Hospital are gentle. Nurses, doctors, and specialists all betray signs of humanity, and it is so refreshing. No one has told us to go home or opined that we could take 'a day off'. Our opinions and our observations are heard, and respected.

The halls are covered with beautiful artwork.

There is a children's library.

I was able to read Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin while rocking my son in a well-made glider, we two resting skin-to-skin.

While our boy is sick, looks sick, we feel confident everything possible is being done to heal our son as fast as possible.

... Moments of divine grace.

- V.

Theodicy

the·od·i·cy [thee-od-uh-see]
–noun, plural -cies.
a vindication of the divine attributes, particularly holiness and justice, in establishing or allowing the existence of physical and moral evil.
[Origin: 1790–1800; THEO + Gk dík(é) justice + -y, modeled on F théodicée, a coinage of Leibniz]
-------

I was told that theodicy dealt with the problem of evil: ie., why do bad things happen to good people?

Why do bad things happen to the innocent?

Murder, infanticide, abortion I can understand - God must allow the free will of the evil man as well as the good, and the will to choose both good and evil. But why does He allow His little ones to suffer pain where free will is not involved? What have they done? They can't understand it, rationalize it, numb it with drugs or dissociation ... why must they suffer the pain of illness?

And why must I hear the heart-cracking wails of my infant son? The nurses do not find his veins with just one try; an IV today took 50 minutes of trying, and crying.

B. starts crying now if his legs or arms are grabbed - he anticipates the needles and the blood-work that will come.

Update

We have been transferred to the local Children's Hospital, into the NICU there. B. is showing signs of a recurrence of NEC.

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.

- V.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Minor Malaise

Last night I dreamt that it was a little over a year from now... and E. was giving birth to twins.

I would leave B. in his cot on one floor of the hospital to provide labour support to E. on another.

---

Thinking about it in the daylight, I wondered at how deep into my unconscious has sunk my despair over B.'s interminable stay. For I despair of ever getting him home. I wonder if they will continue to experiment with his diet until he is old enough to eat steaks, and asks for them in polite Queen's English.

It isn't anything major that has precipitated this malaise... just mind-numbing fatigue coupled with a couple unpleasant facts: that B. appears to be rejecting his new formula, that his hemoglobin continues to drop with no transfusion scheduled, that he has lost 7 ounces in the past three days, and that he has been over three weeks in hospital with no end in sight.

I shouldn't complain. God has been so gracious to us. So merciful.

But I am griping. A little. We do want our boy home.

- V.

Friday, August 3, 2007

This blog is rated...



Who knew?

- V.

Update on the Boy

So, 'tis Friday.

First, B.'s X-ray showed nothing but what they expected to see ... gas, and no signs of the NEC. Second, the run of antibiotics finished today. Third, my boy started back on feedings (small amounts increased by even smaller increments), but on an "elemental predigested formula" as opposed to Similac, which the hospital here gives all preemies.

I've never been so delighted to see a child eat... and the suction power, the gusto!

It is a joy to have reached this point in B.'s hospital stay, and I thank God for His mercy.

- V.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Some Ochlophobic Wisdom

I had a chance to look at a couple blogs yesterday, and to my delight the Ochlophobist has produced a masterful apologia along the lines of my much shorter "I believe".

He covers the following themes in a decade of sophic pearls:
1. Rest. True Sabbaticals...
2. Quiet. I should have covered this in my article.
3. Environmental privacy. A practical solution to environmental issues - the simple Golden Rule.
4. Agriculture. I detect traces of Wendell Berry here, as well as my beloved locavore.
5. The value of money. I heard Ron Paul speak thusly.
6. Usury. Bravo! One of the few things from the Old Testament that Protestants have decided to ignore completely, usury needs to be crushed within Christian circles at a minimum.
7. End aesthetic violence. "Signs, signs, everywhere signs..."
8. Education investment. This needs a response. Suffice it to say that while I enjoy the concept, I would take issue with the implementation thereof.
9. Truth in product speech.
10. Roads.
Enjoy!

- V.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Blessed One

B. has hijacked this blog. Rightly so, for there is nothing so important in our life than the health and welfare of our son.

I get overwhelmed sometimes by the support E & I are experiencing in these troubled times. And even more so when I think of all the people who have been praying for our boy.

Both E & I have gone through life with a certain feeling of disconnect from other people. We are not of the madding crowd, and sometimes that independence has left us lonelier than we might otherwise be. Suffice it to say, there is nothing that we have done to deserve this mass outpouring of love and prayer.

But our boy, our benedictus, is truly blessed ... daily lifted up to God by hundreds of voices, wafted to the throne room on the incense of prayer.

Thank you, my friends. For you are all my friends now. And my brothers and my sisters.

Update

I know that monks pray for the world without needing information on the world around them. The rest of us, however, like to know what's going on with the people and the situations for which we pray. Here's a quick update.

As of a couple days ago, the head paediatrician was not worried about the NEC. Apparently, X-rays show the bowels as being clear; a diagnosis of "cured" will wait until the 10-day run of antibiotics is completed this Friday, and one last X-ray is taken. That's the amazing, wonderful news, already announced in this space.

B. is gaining weight at a ferocious pace - 2 to 3 ounces a day. We are not sure whether to praise God, though, or to pray. It depends on whether the weight gain is a miraculous but legitimate weight gain or simple and undesirable fluid retention from his intravenous catheter line.

There are a couple other minor complications. 1. His hemoglobin is low, and will continue to "drift" as his iron intake is non-existent at this time. By the middle of next week we will know whether a transfusion is necessary. 2. The antibiotics he was/is on are known to cause permanent hearing loss. The dosage was low enough the doctors aren't worried, but a hearing test has been scheduled regardless. 3. There is the small matter of reintroducing food to his system. Because no-one knows why he got NEC in the first place, suspicions are rampant about unknown allergens irritating his bowels. Much caution will be employed in the reintroduction to food - we pray for wisdom and discernment.

- V.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Slava Bohu

So much has happened in so few hours.

Over the past couple days E and I have been assured by family, friends, and near strangers that they were/are praying for our little boy. We have been overwhelmed by the support and love from so many, and we found ourselves shored up when we were most fragile.

The 24th was the single most frightening day of my life, and I know that I shed more tears in those horrific hours of waking than I have in the ten years (or more) preceding it. B.'s condition was serious, very serious, and it was treated aggressively. And the medical staff pulled no punches - they let us know, up front, the risks before us.

That was then.

At this time we have seen a series of X-rays showing a disease in remission, in marked remission - the pediatrician was "surprised at the speed" with which things began to turn. We have seen the removal of an IV, a UV, and an OG tube (less tubes protruding from our boy). Finally, he told us this afternoon that he did not expect the disease to flare back up. All that remains to B.'s stay, apparently, are the bowel rest, the antibiotics, and the slow reintroduction to food. In short, the crisis has passed, and God's name is glorified. On our lips, in our hearts, and on the lips and hearts of our friends.

So now, with hope and at peace, we can rest, confident that the journey ahead of us, though long (2-4 weeks more in hospital), will be a relatively straightforward one.

We thank, from the bottom of our hearts, all those who have prayed.
We celebrate those Saints by whose intercessions we know B. is being healed: his patron Saint, John Maximovitch, Seraphim Sarovsky, and the Holy Theotokos.
And most of all, and before all, we praise and worship the gracious God who loves mankind, whose eye is on the sparrow, who gathers the lambs in His arms.

Slava Bohu!

-V.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Lord Have Mercy

Our little B. has taken a bit of a down turn in his health.

Yesterday at about three o'clock he was diagnosed with necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC). Treatment will include complete bowel rest, 7-10 days of antibiotics, all nutrition provided intravenously for over 10 days, and considerable care given in reintroducing foods back into his system. Treatment may include surgery, an ostomy, etc., if he does not get better with the former. We should know within 48 hours in which direction the disease will turn.

I can't do much for my boy, except pray. And post this so that others may know, and pray also.

Lord have mercy upon our son.
St. B., patron of our baby, pray for him.
+

-V.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Surprise!

To my complete and lasting surprise, my son decided to grace us with his presence six weeks early.

Introducing B., born July 17th. May God grant him many years.

- V.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Friendship - A Few Thoughts

Today I was visited by Markos, the brother of my soul, with whom I haven't spent quality time since about 1999. I feel refreshed and renewed - I feel like he brings something of Christ with him whenever I see him, and that is always welcome.

His visit, and my joy in his presence, has given me pause to think on the nature of friendship. Friendship is a mysterious thing. There is something mystical, divine, about the bonds that unite friends. For me, the only true test of friendship is if after a long hiatus it is resumable in a heartbeat. That no time passes for true friends, and yet, at the same time, this is a counter-intuitive phenomenon, as it resists the tidal pull of entropy. There is something sacramental in the friendship that exists outside of time.

I don't have many such friends (although infinitely more than I deserve), but I value each and every one of them.

Christian Friendship

But such friendships are heightened, I find, by common interests, common worldviews, common hopes and dreams, by a common faith and a common brotherhood in Christ. That these friendships are made sweeter to the taste when their heart centres around Christ and His riches: His truth, beauty, love. When they do not tear down but build up ... when they are iron sharpening iron.

I know that in my own marriage, a marriage that was founded in friendship, I feel like we are most One when we are building one another up and nurturing each other and encouraging one another in our Christian walk... when we push each other deeper into Orthodoxy and surround each other with love, light, peace, and beauty. But when I get self-involved or distracted, or - heaven help me - if I tear down my wife, voluntarily or involuntarily, the union is lost and the friendship is hollowed and shallowed.

Chrysostomite Friendship

One story that moved me the first time I read it concerned St. John Chrysostom and his friends. Not being allowed to become monks, they lived together in their city and encouraged each other and motivated one another to greater zeal, greater devotion. A classic case of iron sharpening iron.

I believe the Orthodox Church needs more Chrysostomite fellowships and friendships, the more so that we live in a godless, postChristian society. We fight a constant rearguard action against an insidious, overwhelming enemy; it is as if we were to struggle against the very air we breathe. The task seems nigh impossible. Here is where friends can make all the difference. By dictating the subjects we discuss, by creating an atmosphere that can be counter-culturally absorbed in Christ, friendships create bubbles of pure oxygen that resist the body-polluting and soul-staining taint of the world about us.

This is, perhaps, one of the greatest gifts of Protestantism to the world - the concept of the "small group", or soma, where small bodies of the faithful gather to talk, study ... to hone one another, to build one another in Christ, and not to destroy. The soma has been popularized by Protestants, but I want to reemphasize that it has a rich foundation in Orthodoxy. This is something we can do without becoming any less Orthodox.

- V.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Baby-watching

So we are going in for another episode of baby-watching on Tuesday.

The good doc would like to see an ultrasound of the wee one (gender still unknown), so it appears that we will be able to check out our squirmy stork delivery in utero once more before the big day (scheduled for anywhere from three to eight weeks from today).

Fingers crossed, and all that. Which leads me to wonder - is it Orthodox to cross one's fingers?

And we just might a) find out the gender this time, and b) get another fuzzy picture for our collection of fuzzy pictures. So this is exciting.

We have decided, however, not to share the baby's gender at this time, so apologies to that one person out there who can't sleep for not knowing. You'll have to obsess over something else.

- V.

On America & American Politics

As a non-American, I have no real right to speak on the internal problems of America, but because I am a neighbour to America and I am related to Americans, I am going to speak anyway.

The joys of blogging. Those who should be silent, aren't.

I remember following the primaries leading to the election in 2000, closely watching what was happening state-by-state both in 2000 and in 2004, and I remember two dominant impressions. 1) That Dubya was bad news (I wanted McCain), and 2) that no matter how bad the Republicans were, the Democrats were worse. Better the devil you know, etc.

[Sadly, I feel that G. W. has amply fulfilled my darkest forebodings, and the Democrats are doing their level best to fill me with even more horror than usual. Eight years of a Clinton in the Oval Office are, oh, about eight years too many.]

I approached American politics from the point of view of the civilized barbarian, comfortable in his wattle-and-daub mansion, anxiously watching the antics of the Roman Empire, waiting for the proverbial sword of Damocles to fall... knowing that Rome is the big bully on the block, and just hoping it doesn't notice me.

I never felt that America was a good place, and the patriotism of its citizens was, at best, the triumphant bloodlust of the Roman citizen bleating about how powerful and noble Rome was for conquering other nations. Why would I admire the U.S.? I think of brave Custer, the bloody and unnecessary Civil War, the horrific decimation of the Indian nations... I think of Hollywood and the culture of entertainment. Who could take pride in these?

But ...

Then I had a conversion moment.

Sure, I have met some nice Americans, and been in some lovely locales... but it wasn't until hearing Ron Paul speak on the Republic and the Constitution that I found myself infected with affection, admiration, even love for the States. It had never struck me before this that the United States of America was, at heart, a union of States, not a dictatorship. That the Constitution upholds the power of the State and minimizes (historically) the powers of the President. That the Republic was about the little guy, the farmer, the artisan, the craftsman, the average Joe. That the Republic was about setting up a system that enshrined local government and refuted autocratic structures like that of the monarchy the revolutionaries had fled. That the Republic was about an ideal, a hope... it was about freedom. Freedom from oppression, freedom from onerous taxation... freedom for which men were willing to die.

And like that, I realized that the Republic was beautiful - that what I hated was the Empire that the Republic was becoming, the Empire that the founding fathers sought to prevent.

So now I am back to watching politics. And the lineup seems a choice between the unknown, the bad, the worse, the terrible, and Armageddon... and Ron Paul. I hope he gets in, partly because the others represent all that I dislike about the road in which America has been travelling, partly because I can see little difference in their views, but mostly because Paul makes me want to be an American.

- V.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Excuses, excuses

It has been a while since I last entered the blogosphere, and really, what have I to offer by way of explanation? Just some excuses. I could cite a rapidly culminating pregnancy, a strenuous move, a spot of ill health and the ongoing search for a new job, but these are, in the final analysis, excuses.

And excuses don't make for good reading. (Hopefully the good reading will follow.)

My apologies to such readership as I may have had for sharing nothing but silence this past while.

- V.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

I believe

I believe.

I believe that government should be minimal, not maximal, that the less invasive it is, the better. I believe that it is the role of the government to protect its citizenry from enemies without (terrorists, invasions) and enemies within (murderers, rapists, pedophiles, psychopaths), using lethal measures if necessary. I think bureaucracies are dangerous.

I think that a nation is strongest when it abides by certain basic moral principles (the 10 commandments is a good start). I think that the basic building block of society is the family, which, at its best and most complete form centres around a husband and wife and their children. Financially, I think that society as a whole is best served when families are one-income, not two, and socially, when one parent stays home.

I strongly suspect that the root of almost all modern alliances and axes, wars and rumours of wars, boil down to two things: population shift (demographics) and the struggle for oil.

I am pro-baby, anti-abortion, and pro-breastfeeding, with serious reservations about the majority of caesareans and other natal medical interventions (epidurals, narcotics, inductions, etc.). I question the standard orthodoxy of vaccinations.

I believe that usury is wrong, that allowing multi-national corporations into a country is irresponsible, if not dangerous, to everyone from the small business owner to the nation that admits them. I am against globalization and I think the concept of a locavore a great one.

I want my food natural, without preservatives, without pasteurization, without pesticides. I think genetically-modified foods are an abomination.

I believe pollution to be a great wrong, whether we are talking air pollution, sea pollution, the proliferation of land fills, or the ubiquitous but humble plastic bag (1, 2). I believe humans are stewards of Creation, not masters, and that we are sowing dangerous seeds the poisoned fruit of which we may never fully know. That said, I am no believer in global warming (1, 2) as it is promulgated in the media, although I do believe in the existence of climate change.

I think that it is the right - perhaps the duty - of the citizenry to bear arms, although I think the selling of semi-automatics (let alone fully automatics) to be irresponsible.

I think that public schools do our children a great disservice, that the best pedagogy is found in the classical academy, and that home-schooling is a fantastic second choice.

I believe in freedom of speech, subject to the bounds of common decency.

And lastly, I think this will be a controversial post, and I wouldn't mind if it brought some dialogue to Vox clamanti.

- V.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Mask of Bureaucracy

I've been thinking about faces and masks.

It is a truism that goes without saying that the masked man will commit greater crimes than if he weren't masked, because anonymity protects him. Bandits, anarchists, bank robbers - masked, faceless, made bold by their hidden identities.

In former times, and in New Orleans, masquerades became a license for licentiousness and drunken revelry, and a masqued ball was synonymous with sexual impropriety ... no good girl went to one of those.

In even earlier times, and in remote parts of the planet, native tribesmen and our barbaric ancestors understood - knew intuitively - that putting on a mask made the wearer one with that symbolized, usually a god of kind. Not surprisingly, the wearer was not considered responsible for what he did while masked.

Berserks, from bear-sarks [skins], were warriors who put on the skin of the bear and became one with the bear essence. Their madness in battle, their bloodlust came out of the wearing of the skin. Came from their loss of self in a union with something demonic.

Babies, I am learning, naturally, instinctively focus on faces. One of the first things that my baby will do will be to seek out Mommy's face, to seek out mine. They know something that we have forgotten, that identity is in the face. Is it any wonder that so many children are terrified by clowns?

All of which comes out of various experiences E & I have had with bureaucracy. Not just the government, but hospitals as well ... wherever offices, office legislations, and officialisms make decisions once left to people to make ... wherever a person is hidden, made anonymous, by their office. "Well, I can't take responsibility for that - it is outside my control," etc. How many times have I seen various officials, emboldened and made cruel by the "facelessness" of bureaucracy, refuse to show even the commonest of common courtesies, let alone mercy?

Bureaucracy, one of the worst inventions of the modern age, is today's equivalent of the bandit's mask. Anything can be done in the name of "doing one's duty" - as long as one hides behind the mask of officialdom.

Some cases we have experienced/ run into:
  • An American young lady was in a head-on with a semi. She survived, but had a cracked pelvis among other problems. Her doctor wanted her to stay in the hospital 2 more days, but because her insurance only covered 3 days of a hospital stay, the hospital discharged her prematurely.
  • An American vet has had chronic health problems for the past number of years. The doctor booked an electrocardiogram, but because he had had one a few months previously, the hospital decided that he didn't need another one, and cancelled it.
  • An American young lady is visiting her Canadian boyfriend. It is customary to permit a visitor from the States up to six months - she declares one. The customs agent decides that she is a risk (maybe she will look for a job), and orders her to leave the country within a month - however, if she had said a week (while intending to stay a month or more), she probably wouldn't have run into the same problems.
  • A Canadian young man is bussing down to visit his American girlfriend. Because he is not wealthy and is wearing flip-flips (they say as much), the border guards threaten to refuse him entry to the country. He is going to visit a girlfriend, and is staying with her priest - money is not a necessity, but because they have rules about crossing the border with X dollars, they verbally abuse him and threaten him with non-entry.
  • A visitor to Canada has to have a medical procedure (an ultrasound). She can have the easy, less expensive one or the more complicated, more expensive (but diagnostically more accurate) one. She asks for the more expensive one, knowing that if the first doesn't work out, she will have to get the second anyway. She is informed that it is against policy to give the second first - she is required to go for the less sure one first. So she does, and because nothing shows, she has to get the second as well. Because she is not covered, and is paying out of pocket, this is a large financial sacrifice.
There have been many other cases we have encountered, in one form or another. However, these stand out in our minds, of idiocy triumphing over common sense, of principle over people, of policy over principle, of the barbaric savagery of the faceless bureaucrat over the humanity of those who still have faces.

- V.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Sower

Inspired by the poetry of both Lifespark and Fr. Tobias, I went browsing through some of my own, humbler, fare... where I found this poem, written November 14, 2005. It was written in response to a homily given by my priest and spiritual father on the Parable of the Sower.

The Sower

The Great Sower was sowing the seed of His Word
On the path and the pasture for He was astute:
For He knew, though four types of men's hearts had Him heard,
Only one of the four would bear spiritual fruit.

The first man, his poor heart was a pathway to sin,
And so though he had heard, his hard heart was too soured -
He rejected the Word, and pride trampled it in
And both he and all hope were by Satan devoured.

But the second excitedly welcomed his God...
As he grew in the Church he was putting down roots,
But some crises, like rocks, would make shallow his sod,
So he withered away ere he bore any fruits.

The third man also turned to his God when he heard
And he grew like a weed until swallowed by tares,
Which, un-rooted, soon choked out the growth of the third
By the thorns of his passions, his wealth, and his cares.

And the last also grew from the Sower's good seeds,
But desiring some fruit, from the others he learned:
And by tilling his heart and up-rooting the weeds
He was gathered to God when the others were burned.

So too we must determine the gardens we grow:
To be open to Christ we must soften our hearts,
We must dig them out deep lest we die from our woe,
And keep pulling up tares, 'til our fruit season starts.

- V.

Seek, and ye shall find

Shortly after my last post on Orthopraxy, I found a site that actually wrote on the topic.

Orthodox Info has a reputation for offering a conservative, traditionalist mindset on all things Orthodox - some would go so far as to say too conservative, too traditionalist. Some would find their anti-ecumenical stance schismatic ... I know that while [over the years] I have enjoyed reading some of the articles on Orthodox Info, I have avoided spending too much time there as I worried about becoming extreme in my beliefs or my behaviours, about drifting into the wild and woolly frontiers of the monastery-going, parish-hopping, Bartholomew-bashing, holier-than-thou Superschismatics. I've known a few, and while some are genuinely nice people, many display nothing more than emotional and relational fragility, with all the erratic and irrational actions that that would entail.

All the same, if mainstream North American Orthodoxy does not bother to teach its children how to live the tenets, doctrines, and dogmas that they do teach, one must go to those who will bother. Muhammad must go to the mountain if the mountain will not come to Muhammad. And so I resolved to go digging on Orthodox Info's website for something of what I sought, figuring that if anyone would care about the old-time traditions, those behind this site would.

Ironically, I didn't have to search far at all.

Two clicks, in fact. The sidebar "Living an Orthodox Life" and then the drop-down menu ... and presto! I found praxis. First I read an article by Fr. Seraphim Rose. While that was stirring enough, I opened this article (followed by chapters 1, 2, and 3), entitled A Guide to Orthodox Life, by Fr. David and Presbytera Julianna Cownie, and I have been reading it ever since.

Many of the practices are not new to me, but I am astounded by how much is, and I am deeply appreciative that the Cownies have collated all these practices in one place. I don't know where this journey is taking me, but it is exciting, exhilarating, frightening.

For those who have been reading (or checking) this blog regularly or even semi-regularly, my apologies - I haven't had much time to blog. In my spare time I have read and processed and digested, and read some more.

It is entirely within the realm of possibility that I will be sharing my thoughts and my digestions [there's an image to keep you up at night] at some later interval. But for now it is enough to let you know where the search is taking me.

Hristos voskrese!

- V.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Demistifying

A couple days ago I posted that we had an appointment with the government. Well, it went well.

My wife, an American citizen, is now officially a permanent resident (or landed immigrant) of Canada. This means that she is no longer classified a "visitor" ... she can use Canadian health care (such as it is) ... she can leave the country ... she can visit her parents.

This is a joy and a blessing long in the waiting, and until Tuesday, without any guarantee of success.

Tuesday afternoon I came home and collapsed into bed where I slept for 13 hours. It was the release of a pent-up kettle of angst, it was the letting down of a burden of worry, it was the removal of a sliver of stress.

Praise be to God! Slava Bohu! Laus Deo!

- V.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Untitled

It's been a long week.

Something governmental, on which and for which we had been waiting for some nine months or more, has finally arrived. First, the letter, early last week. And on Tuesday, the interview.

We are hoping and praying that all goes well.

And in the meantime, I doubt I will be posting, and I doubt I will sleep much.

- V.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Random strange thought

I got to thinking today...

There is a big difference between a compulsive jerk and a convulsive jerk.

- V.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Orthopraxy, Not Orthodoxy

It turns out that what I am seeking is orthopraxy, not orthodoxy. As a member of the Eastern Orthodox Church, I am confident that that which is taught and that which I believe is orthodox as well as Orthodox.

Orthodoxia: Right belief. Right praise.

What I seek is right practice.

I don't think I am alone in this search. My brother, a Baptist pastor, is devouring books on the holiness movement of the Puritans, on the theologian John Owen ... and this is part of the same need, I think. He wants to be holy, and he wants to know how to get there. We live in a culture where moral absolutes are dead, where the Church (or church) can and will no longer teach us how to live. It wouldn't dare.

This theme is not going to disappear lightly. I have been thinking about this for months, if not years, and I am dissatisfied. [At the end of this post I will offer a solution, but it is a weak one.] I know too many converts who glory in their knowledge and in their Orthodox Christian wisdom, and too few that actually desire to embrace Holy Tradition and live a radically Orthodox life, not merely a Protestant or Catholic one in Orthodox vestments. And I know too many priests who are unwilling to tell people how to live their lives ... too gentle? too pastoral?

Sheep are herded away from danger, away from the wolf and cliff, back into the flock. Even they have an orthopraxis, if you will. Where is the small dog yapping at my heels and nipping my flank to keep me from danger, to show me the right path to walk?

In the weeks since I posted on this theme, I have heard from and I have talked with numerous people.

Les of Whippleshire tells me that I should become the book I seek, the book that teaches this aforementioned orthopraxy. This is well and good, but it hardly serves to help me here and now. Another friend asked me if my discernment wasn't good enough. Well, no. It took Israel from the time of Moses to the time of John Forerunner to prepare itself culturally for the reception of Christ. It took Rome and Greece untold thousands of martyrs for the land to become fruitful enough to embrace Christianity. It took Russia hundreds of years to become fully Orthodox, to establish a working orthopraxy for tsar, boyar, peasant and serf. Can I replicate 3000 years of history in the 50 years or so I have left to live? Can I suffer deep enough, pray powerfully enough, read thoroughly enough, understand myself and God well enough, and yet remain humble enough to gain the wisdom of the Church in one short lifetime? Again, no.

I don't mind becoming the book I seek, but I want the Church to be the hand that writes the pages.

Les, whose thoughts I always appreciate, then takes the issue over to his own blog, where he too wrestles with it. He gives it a uniquely Catholic spin, and points the finger at the unfortunate tragedy of the post-industrialized hyper-technological anti-pastoral rat-race that is modern "civilization". True enough, but tangential. More pertinently, he writes:

But this is the paradox, is it not? We know we are saved by grace yet we find comfort in parameters. Even the “free” Evangelical falls into this practical way of living often without even realizing it. It is natural for us to desire freedom and at the same time we desire authoritative boundaries. The problem with boundaries is that if we don’t set them ourselves, sooner or later we will see them as someone else’s boundaries and begin to chafe against them. In the Protestant world this usually results in a new denomination. Dissension and fragmentation has been raised to an art form, if not a virtue. Yet in practice, the layman defers to an authority, despite the fact that ultimately his theological position is that the Scripture is his only authority.
We need more than an open field. We need to have some parameters. I am not a "free Evangelical" like my brother, but I see him struggling with the same pastoral landscape without a pastor to pastor us.

Les makes the intriguing claim that part of our problem in trying to live rightly is that our culture is post-Christian as well as post-lapsarian. That orthopraxy stumbles upon the scandal of a world that displays banner-like the tattered remnants of Christendom but is militantly and aggressively anti. The problem with this diagnosis is that, accurate as it is (and it is woefully so), the Orthodoxy that I know has no orthopraxy to stumble with. That I struggle to find the border between field and forest, that my co-religionists and I are confused between canine and lupine, between the flank-nipping safety of what is right and the moral confusion of all that is secular and predatory.

We need catechesis.

Happily, I found this, which is part of a larger series by Fr. Jonathan Tobias [thanks, Lifespark, for the reference] - I urge one and all to read the entire series, and this article in its entirety:

[...] In the most important ways, the Christian ethos typified by the Beatitudes is the adult culture into which our youth must be assimilated. That maturational process of spiritual assimilation is precisely the catechetical work of what is known as “youth ministry.” At least, it should be.

But there are other concerns and “folk-ways” that are not addressed explicitly by the Beatitudes, the Apostolic Witness, or the corpus of Holy Tradition. I am thinking here, in particular, of what a common culture really ought to offer – concerns that are as basic as what to wear and what (and how) to eat … how to celebrate feasts and how to observe the fasts … how to celebrate truly happy events and how to mourn at tragedies … how to become an adult, and make the transition from passionate teenage to wise adult. Moreover, a common "adult" culture ought to identify who should lead, and how they ought to be followed.

[...] Our memories (whether accurate or not) of the Byzantine Empire or Tsarist Russia do not contain the DNA by which we can clone an alternative to pop culture. Neither can the monastery be used as a model for such an alternative culture: many well-meaning Christians attempt this, but it is not right. Monastic spirituality is for all of us, but not its typicon. I hate to bring up this disappointing news, and I’m sure there will be some who will take umbrage, if not offense. But the fact remains that these ideas are not “real cultures” – they are romantic ideals, but they do not provide what a culture needs to provide.

And yet, at the very moment I dismiss the ghosts of Great Empire and contravene the appeal of the skete, I immediately hasten to suggest that there is a providential reason why God brought to America the great mass of Orthodox people when He did.

One can argue that after a thousand years of uninterrupted progress, the advance of Western Civilization lurched to a grinding halt in 1914, right before the Great War. [...] It was the time when the adult culture of the West all but disappeared, and wisdom fled into ivory towers, old wives’ tales, and little houses.

It was in this season, in these decades, that God brought to America the Orthodox people who were not only Orthodox, but were people from intact adult cultures – cultures that still knew how to fast and feast, how to mourn together and dance in groups, how to marry and embrace adulthood and old age as a good and not regrettable thing.

I suggest here, in not so many words, that God brought these same people not only to bring Orthodoxy to America, but also to bring their culture.

So for us “youth ministers,” I suggest these things [...]:

  1. We must catechize simply and clearly from doctrine.
  2. We must criticize culture sharply, while encouraging youth to enter adulthood.
  3. We must utilize our own ethnic culture as a Divine gift – even for those of us transplants who are “grafted in” to these ethnicities – which can replace and complete that which is lacking in today’s pop culture. It will have to be an ethnic culture as transmitted primarily in English, for that is the only way in America that an ethnic culture should survive.

For myself, this means that I look to the Carpatho-Rusin culture as a providential storehouse of wisdom and folkways for my parochial young. For others, that would mean the use of Greek culture, or Russian, or Serbian, or Syrian, or Ukrainian.

[...]

Youth ministry requires an Orthodoxy unashamed, and an embrace of the ways of naši ludi ["our people" --- V].

What Fr. Tobias tells us in one of the omitted portions is that we are all youth, that our culture is youth enshrined, and that this catechesis is necessary for one and all.

A catechesis from doctrine - excellent.

A sharp criticism of our culture - I think our Churches are terribly weak on this point.

A plundering of the storehouse of wisdom and folkways from ethnic culture to replace and complete pop culture - and here I mourn. Here, at the crux, the climax of his post, I realize that I am still without a tutor.

Here is the solution, but it is a weak one (at least for me, as I must needs re-personalize this post). For it requires second- or third-generation Orthodox immigrants who are still practising their culture and their Orthodoxy and it requires access to these people. Where I live, the second generation threw off their Orthodoxy and became Protestant or non-practising and there is no third generation.

[Still to come, Boutique Orthodoxy.]

- V.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

On St. Basil

The Scrivener (Ian Dalrymple) is another blogger who is well-worth the read.

Articulate and erudite, his blog is still waters running deep, eddying slowly far to one side of the hustle, bustle, flow and surge of the streams of Internet thought.

In a short series, Scrivener compiles three stories having to do with that prince among Saints, St. Basil the Great (or St. Basil of Caesarea, for my Roman friends) :

1) Cappadocian Follies
2) Speaking Truth to Power, 4th-Century Style
3) The Art of Snaring Pigeons

I can only hope that you, my gentle reader, enjoy these posts as much as I did.

Further commentary would be superfluous.

- V.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Anti-Rant

I wanted to do a rant. I've been thinking a couple themes over, and I was prepared to write. I had the time, I had the inclination, I wasn't overly fatigued from work.

But then Cho unleashed himself upon Virginia Tech.

There are greater tragedies in this world - I think of the vast numbers that were killed in the tsunami, or of the horrific wars being waged in various parts of the world. Darfur and Baghdad come to mind.

These horrors seem part of the unnatural nature of the world, however; we expect wars and rumours of wars, we expect disasters like fire, flood, and famine.

Cho's actions touch home much more vividly, I think, than war or desolation. They touch home because they are unexpected, too unnatural even for our fallen unnatural world ... because they rip asunder a shroud to unveil a yawning abyss and a malevolent foe, the Enemy of our race, whose alien psychic presence is revealed in one man's demoniacally murderous nihilism.

I refer you to two excellent articles on this theme, by Fr. Jonathan Tobias:
Free Speech a la Glock and Non-conventional psyche

In light of Virginia Tech, modern self-expression gone mad, and a world in which dark angelic powers are newly re-revealed, I need a hiatus from ranting. I need to build something, I need to create something, I need to affirm and reaffirm the good, the beautiful, and the true, I need to rebuke the devil and turn my face towards the hills from whence cometh my help.

- V.


[Edit: Ochlophobist's post on Cho & Virginia Tech is also very good, and well worth the read. -V.]

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Paschal Impressions


Procession

Ringing the bell, long, vigorously. Tired arms, thinking "Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!" with every toll of the bell.

E telling me, excitedly, the baby was moving at "Christ is Risen!" before the front doors.

The lights, burning full and bright. A blaze of Paschal glory.


Matins & Liturgy

People, more people. A surge, steady like time, ticking towards the Holy Eucharist.

"As many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ. Alleluia!"
E telling me that our baby was moving really vigorously during the baptismal hymn - kicking wildly or dancing maybe. "The baby is looking forward to their baptism as much as I am," she says, her eyes aglow, her hands caressing her pregnant belly.

The angel cried to the Lady full of Grace: "Rejoice, rejoice O ye Virgin! Again, I say rejoice! Your Son is risen from His three days in the tomb. With Himself He has raised all the dead. Rejoice, rejoice, O ye people. Shine, shine, shine O New Jerusalem! The Glory of the Lord has shone on you! Exult now and be glad, O Zion! Be radiant, O Pure Theotokos, in the Resurrection, the Resurrection of your Son!"
The joy of the Paschal Theotokion, my favourite hymn of the liturgical year. The bell singing out with us as we proclaim the words "Shine, shine, shine".

Taking comfort in the words of St. John Chrysostom, who urges all who have come to the feast not to fear, whether arriving in the first hour or in the eleventh.

Shouting back the refrain:
Indeed He is risen!
Il est vraiment résuscité!
Voistinnu voskrese!
Alithos anesti!

Indeed, Christ is risen!


Blessing of the Baskets

And then, the meat, the cheese, the alcohol. Father going about, splashing us from his hyssop aspergillum. Spontaneous sharing from the baskets. Tired, happy faces.

A general exodus, and then, a tumble towards bed and sleep.

Joyous Pascha!

- V.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Great and Holy Friday

I've been thinking about Judas Iscariot.

Last night we read the 12 Gospels of the Passion of our Saviour, and, as I have done from time to time, I reflected on which character I would be most like if Now and Then were conflated and Christ were crucified before me.

In the past I have generally ended up wondering whether I would flee immediately (like most the apostles), flee but then follow at a distance (like St. Matthew), follow Christ into the courts of the High Priest but then deny him (like St. Peter), follow Christ right through His Passion (like St. John), or whether I would be the closet believer (like St. Joseph of Arimathea or St. Nicodemus) who showed up and revealed myself as a disciple at the end.

I have never given much thought about the thirteenth person at the Lord's Supper - unless, coming to an awareness as to how my sins were a betrayal and my "devotions" a Judas kiss, I compared myself with he who betrayed Christ to His enemies.

Until I stopped musing over the act of betrayal itself, and I asked myself why Judas betrayed Christ. What I see scares me a little, because it takes Judas from an archetype of evil and a caricature of sinfulness and makes him a simple sinner within the realm of possibility of any one of us: all that is needful is a dominant Passion and a tendency to despair.

Judas, the evangelist tells us, was a thief from the beginning and regularly took money from Jesus and His apostles. His Passion was a love for money.

I can see him now, it dawning on him that Jesus was not the Christ he had been expecting, not the Messiah that would kick the Romans back to Rome and free the Jews from yet another Gentile occupation. I can see Judas, angry, bitter, falling rapidly - easily, how easily - into his dominant Passion, money ... looking for a way to get money, speeding up an "inevitable" confrontation between Christ and His enemies. Getting 30 pieces of silver for a simple introduction, he might think. Or maybe he didn't care - it was money.

Afterwards, he tried to undo what he had done, horrified at the criminality of his action, only to be informed that the deal was closed, the consequences irrevocable, Christ's blood on his hands. And Judas went out, despairing, and despairing he hung himself.

...

I don't know about you, but I struggle with at least one besetting Passion; I know how easily a moment of weakness, unhappiness, rebellion can translate into a moment of triumph for the demons and a moment of bondage to the Passions. Addicted, enslaved, prone to crack along a given faultline of sin, I tumble into the ease and comfort of my native sty.

Then comes the moment of insight, of self-awareness, where the depths of depravity are realized, and the impact I have had on those around me is felt, and I perceive my distance from a Holy God...

... sometimes I despair and sometimes I "repent", my repentance despair in religious clothing, and sometimes - how rarely - I truly repent.

My dominant Passion isn't money, but if Christ were here and I were tempted by my pet sin? Could I guarantee that His presence in the flesh would ensure any better behaviour than now? I doubt it.

Mix in a little despair, and I can see an outcome for me not unlike that of Judas.

And that is a scary thought.

- V.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Baby


We've just digitized the ultrasound image we have of our baby... and the digitized picture looks just as blurry, indistinct, and open to interpretation as the original.

But we are delighted to have a picture, any picture of our beloved baby. Naturally, we would have preferred clarity (and features and distinguishable gender) .

So like proud papas and mamas all over the world, we wanted to show off our baby.

Tricky to figure out what's what, isn't it? Well, we've had more time and much more inclination to decipher it, to bring clarity to the unclear. Here's our take on the blurs:

Now, I'm not too sure whether this is the triumph of sight over ultrasound, resolving a poor resolution... or if this is the triumph of wishful thinking, of fantasy over reality.

Personally, I think our baby looks like E.

- V.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Ochlophobist

I just stumbled across a very intriguing Orthodox blogger who goes by the name of Ochlophobist. The article I read first was this one, called "The Uberfromm, Snuggling Up to the Gates of Hell, Part IV". You may need to scroll down a bit.

I have since read more of his posts, and I have to say that I am impressed by his erudition, his concision, his poetry. Most of the time.

In this first post, however, I see some circular reasoning. I see someone that uses a term - überfromm - the definition of which he seems at times uncertain. I see someone that has lofty ideals for Orthodoxy that may be out of place with reality.

Let me touch on a few points.

He opens his post with a litany of scandals, heresies, and sundry other immoralities that beset the Church at this time. Most of them would be of no surprise to the informed Orthodox, and perhaps my readers (like myself) can think of one or two other abominations in our temples that he hasn't mentioned. Naturally, it grieves my heart to read them, for they shouldn't be. Never mind that scandals have rocked the Church since the day of Pentecost (as he rightly points out), they are a blot on the virgins' white robes and an ongoing tragedy that should cause us to weep. Sackcloth and ashes would not be misplaced either.

That said, I should like to point out that the jury is out on Elder Ephraim, Ochlophist's "Orthodox fundamental who savors all that is pagan in what might best be called Athonite spirituality"; also that the "heterodoxiarch" Seraphim Rose is greatly beloved, widely esteemed as a fully and radically Orthodox Saint, and that "his" tollhouse soteriology is one that existed within the Church before he wrote about it. Suffice it to say that not all Ochlophobist's scandals are obvious ones.

Ochlophobist also betrays some anti-monastic tendencies and inclinations. I believe "Monasticism in Orthodoxy today is a smoke and mirrors farce" argues my case for me. Part of the problem is that his exposure to monasticism appears to be North American, which is notoriously and sadly shallow. (And Elder Ephraim's version of Athonite monasticism, which monasticism would provide a handy counterpoint to the weaknesses of many N. A. monasteries, is controversial at best.) However, the Old World is flourishing. Romania's Moldavian monasteries offer a second Mt. Athos, and Serbia's travails at the hands of Clinton prompted a massive resurgence of monastic life in that beleaguered country. Doubtless there are other places where monasticism is hale, whole, and holy - North America's frailties are not the world's.

Part, too, of Ochlophobist's anti-monasticism seems to be tied with the turn of the millenium (the last one) tension between a non-monastic spiritually - tied to the laity, married clergy, urban dwellers all, and the bishop and cathedral - and monastic spiritually - tied to a monastic clergy, and the abbot and monastery. He says that this non-monastic spirituality was flourishing, and that it is now gone, swallowed by monastic influences in the centuries following the Ottoman conquest. I have heard this argument before, and in fact, I have heard it posited that there were different liturgies to go with the different spiritualities. Frankly, I can't see how the liturgy of the urban church is somehow more meritorious, more lay-appropriate than the liturgy of the monastery. We are not talking the differences between apples and oranges here, but the differences in the length and number of hymns.

...

But all these extraneous points should not take us on a tangent from his central thesis, as I see it. He believes that Orthodox, for all our mouthing of a holistic faith, do not and can not live such a faith outside of the monastery, and that his ubiquitous überfromm are the post-Ottoman invasion poseurs who think that they are doing so by borrowing some monastic trappings. Let me quote:
The spiritual practices that this girl [whose lifestyle is outlined in the previous paragraph --- V.] engages in are thoroughly Eastern monastic, which means that they are practices developed by and encultured in a climate that represents a rejection of this world. Not only that, but the spiritual literature which buttresses these practices, and which our trendy Orthodox girl reads, is quite clear that the whole point of monks leaving "the world" is to get away from environments such as those which our trendy girl inhabits on a regular basis. We are not talking about a fundamentalist fear of dancing and movies here. We are talking about any engagement with the secular and civic worlds that is beyond the minimally necessary. It is impossible to develop an authentic Orthodox culture as long as the Church is a monastic Church. Thus, when a lay Orthodox (or married priest) engages culture, he does so in a necessarily fragmented manner (here, Roman Catholics have a great advantage over us). He has his totalizing monastic bag of devotional tricks in one corner of his life, and then he has the rest of the world that must be fuddled about in manners which are adopted, stylistically, from other sources. I cannot pinpoint a manner of lay life and say of it -- "every aspect of that Basil's life is recognizably Orthodox" (this can only be said of Orthodox monks) in the manner that I can say that "every aspect of Henry's life is recognizably Catholic" or "every aspect of Ed's life is recognizably confessional Presbyterian." There is a cohesive and comprehensive nature to magisterially faithful Catholic and some confessional Protestant modes of life. These styles are rarely totalizing and fragmented. Instead they are embracing of every aspect of human nature (especially Catholicism). When Henry drinks beer, he does so in a manner that, well, seems Catholic (Catholics have an articulated theology of food and drink, and temperance with regard to them). When he watches movies, he does so in Catholic fashion (Catholics have an articulated theology of the purpose and telos of modern forms of media). When Henry has sex, he does so as a Catholic (his Church teaches him exactly what is and is not permitted within the bounds of marriage, and informs him of the purpose and telos of the sexual act -- ask 10 different Orthodox about sexual matters, i.e. contraception, the relation of sex to fasting, etc., and you will get 15 different answers). There can be recognizable Catholic and confessional Protestant styles of life because they are surrounded by enough definition and boundary to work on a comprehensible art of living. The lay Orthodox on the other hand must always revert back to a monastic style of life which is not really his and which he can never live up to. This distortion is hidden by the abstract (in the art sense of the word) uses of non-definition and active non-clarification. In the Orthodox Church, the whole ethos of the realm of personal holiness (righteousness) and a personal style of living is something like a cross between a Quaker meeting and the French Theatre of the Absurd. On the one hand, I find refreshing the Orthodox aversion to cookie-cutter Christian moralism. On the other hand, humans being the mimetic creatures that they are, the former moralism is often replaced with cookie-cutter ritualism (prayer ropes, beards, etc.), even if this is done on a very limited basis by busy, worldly laymen.
And this is where my interest really picks up. For here I agree with him, or at least, I see the same or a similar problem. A couple posts ago I wrote about it, albeit not as fluidly or fluently. I wanted to know how as a working man I could keep the Fast, how to be fully Orthodox and yet fully functional in my very physical work. Surely the Fast is not just for the intelligentsia, for the urban elite? I intuited a need for a model and a way of life that would allow me to live in a cohesively and comprehensively Orthodox manner, and yet not be outside my reach. I am not in a monastery, and I can't live like I am in one. Live ascetically, perhaps, but I need to know how.

How to integrate asceticism and the world.

I have also expressed a wish for a book entitled Practical Orthodoxy For Converts: How to Live a Life You Weren't Raised In. Again, I did not express myself as well as I could have or should have, but what I wanted was the one thing I have not received - a model of Orthodox living [for the non-monastic]. Is Orthodoxy holistic? Well, then, show me how. I don't want to have to read all of St. John Chrysostom's sermons or Alexander Schmemann's journals to acquire this knowledge. I want to read it in one place, or perhaps one person.

I am a bibliophile by nature. I love books, and I have devoured libraries of them. When I first converted to Orthodoxy, I consumed them by the barrow-load. I could debate Arianism or discuss the sociological tensions that led to Egypt's embracing of Monophysitism.
I still have a half-completed thesis paper on comparative diachronic monasticism kicking about. I also wrote about the unity and cohesion of what I believed, and I reveled in my Orthodoxy and in my wisdom.

Then one day it occurred to me that I knew lots and lots, but couldn't live the Orthodoxy I "knew", didn't know how to. And I still don't.

Now I just need to find someone, or somebook, that does.

- V.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

11:35 pm

Tonight someone pulled a fire alarm. A different someone? The same someone? Almost undoubtedly someone in the same group of someones.

Apparently, the superintendent of my building has had a run-in with the pot smokers that like to lounge about in the stairwells. They didn't like being taken to task, and since have resorted to petty vandalism and public mischief (like the pulling of fire alarms) as a means to exacting revenge.

They have also harassed a gentleman who reported their activities to the authorities.

Canadians have a reputation for tolerance, in general, and tend to turn a blind eye to the usage of marijuana, specifically. Indeed, my own impressions were that pot smokers were easy-going people. Relaxed, laid-back, inoffensive and meek.

My perceptions are changing.

It is not pleasant to enter a building through a drug-laced haze.
It is offensive to encounter the signs of vandalism all about one's home.
It is wrong to pull people - especially children, the elderly, expectant mothers, the disabled - from their sleep.

Tonight someone pulled a fire alarm. It rang for thirty minutes, until the fire department arrived, and restored peace. Peace at last, peace at 11:35 pm.

- V.