A church without a priest

The first parish to which I was assigned was a newly formed one in Atlanta, Georgia. At that time there was a relatively small group of people. The task before this small group was one that requires a considerable amount of faith before embarking; while the task of their young priest was of convincing, “selling” (to use business terms), this dream to those who lacked the aforementioned faith. Perhaps it was this lack of faith that led to a constant shortage in funds or maybe it was a combination of different things. Whatever the case, we very frequently found ourselves in that case.

But it was the faith, not to mention dedication, hard work and commitment, of a few (which is the case, sadly enough, of most communities) that somehow gave us the strength to survive those first years. I remember one of the many sunny days in Atlanta when the members of the church board began arriving, one by one, to the office of a parishioner, Marjorie, who served as secretary that year and so the meetings were held in her office. As we casually entered her spacious conference room, filled with the bright, late afternoon sunlight, we found her father sitting at the table. He smiled as we walked in, pretending not to notice our surprised looks at meeting him there. The meeting began with a prayer and after the first items of the agenda Marjorie’s father suddenly and rather calmly announced the reason for his attendance. The parish’s financial problems were obvious enough, he noted, things were tough, but the fact of the matter was that you can’t have a church without a priest. He carried on about the church he grew up in, to the stories (which I had heard times before) of how his grandfather opened his doors and let the church use his basement until they could buy their own property. He spoke to the board members and pointed his finger at me to make his point more clear, That’s your church.

This introduction of his led him to his rather outrageous proposal to solve our financial problems: each month that our expenses outweighed our income he would cover the difference. The plan, I’ll admit, made me feel probably the most uncomfortable. After all, the majority of the church’s expenses were directed at me. Yet, he again pointed that finger at me and repeated his claim that the priest is the church.

Marjorie’s father’s name was Charles Mancini and just as his tale of his grandfather’s hospitality to the young church in Aliquippa seemed like it was ages ago (too long ago to be relevant) that meeting in Atlanta, which was only a few years ago, now seems to me as if it had been much longer ago. We have moved since from Atlanta but we stay in regular touch with Marjorie. She called early this morning to tell us that her father had passed away.

As outrageous as it might have sounded, Charles ended up carrying out his promise. I don’t know how much he ended up paying but I do know that Atlanta still has a church, a growing one at that. In fact, I don’t know how much faith Charles had – he was, after all, the first to admit that his church attendance could easily be categorized as poor. Actually, now that I think of it, whenever he’d tell me the story of his grandfather Eli Gvoich, or of Fr. Tomich whom he remembered from his childhood just as when he spoke to us that afternoon, I don’t think he talked to us about something he believed in, I think he was trying to tell us that this was something he sincerely loved. He loved his grandfather and his heritage and family and the priests he had growing up as much as he loved his wife and daughters – as much as a man can love anything I suppose. I think, in the end, it’s our love for things and the outrageous things we’re willing to do to show how much we love them that ultimately define our faith.

May his memory be eternal.

Behold! – a poem

Every once in awhile inspiration just hits you. Lana Balach was inspired by the season with this beautiful poem:

 

Behold!

When all the world will pause

       and feel

the faint but clear echo

       flickering

            in the heartbeat

                   of the stars

the Light that embraces

            all of nature

                   and humanity

 

Behold!

The very essence

        of our lives

              announces

     The glory

             in the birth

                  of Christ our King.

For in the Peace

       sometimes forgotten

             She bore Love

                   only to be reborn

                         in the pulse of each

                               salvific breath

 

Behold!

For all will hear

        Oh Holy Night

    And in following The

               guiding Light

     The wise will see

              the rejoicing ring

                      encircling

                           the universe’s universe

 

Behold!

In the stillness of the presence of

            God’s divinity

       All of life itself will

                      bow

                           in unison

                                  on bended knee

                       For the triumphant call to

                                            Birth eternally!

 

                                       Lana Joy Balach

How To Avoid Cancer

THE TIMES
(London, England)
December 6, 2007

A foolproof anti-cancer diet… with just one or two drawbacks

If you want to avoid cancer, live like a monk. That is the inescapable conclusion from research into one of the world’s most renowned monastic communities. The austere regime of the 1,500 monks on Mount Athos, in northern Greece, begins with an hour’s pre-dawn prayers and is designed to protect their souls. Their low-stress existence and simple diet (no meat, occasional fish, home-grown vegetables and fruit) may, however, also protect them from more worldly troubles.

The monks, who inhabit a peninsula from which women are banned, enjoy astonishingly low rates of cancer. Since 1994, the monks have been regularly tested, and only 11 have developed prostate cancer, a rate less than one quarter of the international average. In one study, their rate of lung and bladder cancer was found to be zero. Haris Aidonopoulos, a urologist at the University of Thessaloniki, said that the monks’ diet, which calls on them to avoid olive oil, dairy products and wine on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, helped to explain the statistics. “What seems to be the key is a diet that alternates between olive oil and nonolive oil days, and plenty of plant proteins,” he said. “It’s not only what we call the Mediterranean diet, but also eating the old-fashioned way.”  Read more

Can you find 30 books of the Bible in the puzzle

Here’s an old puzzle I found that was new to me from http://www.positivethoughts.com/30books.htm. See if you can solve it.

There are 30 books of the Bible in this paragraph. Can you find them? This is a most remarkable puzzle. It was found by a gentleman in an airplane seat pocket on a flight from Los Angeles to Honolulu. Keeping him occupied for hours. He enjoyed it so much he passed it on to some friends. One friend from Illinois worked on this while fishing from his john boat. Another friend studied it while playing his banjo. Elaine Taylor, a columnist friend was so intrigued by it she mentioned it in her weekly newspaper column. Another friend judges the job of solving this puzzle so involving, she brews a cup of tea to help her nerves. There will be some names that are really easy to spot. That’s a fact. Some people, however, will soon find themselves in a jam, especially since the book names are not necessarily capitalized. Truthfully, from answers we get, we are forced to admit it usually takes a minister or scholar to see some of them at the worst. Research has shown that something in our genes is responsible for the difficulty we have in seeing the book in this paragraph. During a recent fund raising event, which featured this puzzle, the Alpha Delta Phi lemonade booth set a new sales record. The local paper, The Chronicle, surveyed over 200 patrons who reported that this puzzle was one of the most difficult they had ever seen. As Daniel Humana humbly puts it, the books are all right there in plain view hidden from sight. Those able to find all of them will hear lamentations from those who have to be shown. One revelation that may help is that books like Timothy and Samuel may occur without their numbers. Also, keep in mind that punctuation and spacers in the middle are normal. A chipper attitude will help you compete really well against those who claim to know the answers. Remember there is no need for a mad exodus, there really are 30 books of the Bible lurking somewhere in the paragraph waiting to be found.

Nature is Light

The following is an excerpt from an article by Bishop Athanasius Yevtich entitled “O Gentle Light” featured in his book Christ: The Alpha and Omega in which he gives an exegetical look at this hymn we sing at every Vesper service in the Orthodox Church:

“…the beginning of the hymn [O Gladsome Light] proceeds from nature, from the physical light of the early evening, which showed that the first Christians were observant, and that they beheld the beauty of the visible nature around them – for nature, like mankind, is the work of God the Creator. Such a view was shared by the Hebrews in the Bible and was also shared by the ancient Greeks.

The first Christians experienced nature as a poem – the creation of the Living and True God (as Bishop Njegosh stated: “God is occupied with creative poetry”). Thus, Christians have always seen in nature, as well as through nature, God the Creator of nature, Who is the greatest Poet, and hence they have glorified Him for all the splendors of nature. Of course, they glorified God for light in particular, which has always been and still is to this day one of the most attractive mysteries of our visible world. After all, nature is ultimately light. It was seen as such by the early Christians, and after them by the Orthodox hesychasts; and it is viewed similarly by modern science.

Macrophysics and microphysics point everything to light and reduce everything to light, just as the first words of the Bible say: ‘And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good.’ Gen. 1:3-4”

A Crime Against God and Humanity

The following letter to the editor was written by a parishioner of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the greater Pittsburgh area:

Dear Editor,

The article in today’s Sunday paper on Kosovo seeking recognition as a new country has to be very confusing to your readers. Although the majority of the Albanian Muslims presently living there are demanding independence and garnering support of presidential candidate Hilary Clinton, 40% of them came into Serbia’s most holy ground of Kosovo as easily as illegal Mexicans cross USA borders each night in San Diego and El Paso.

Serbia is Kosovo and Kosovo is Serbia. That is not a grammatical mistake. Serbia’s entire history and culture of freedom and liberty for the last 600 years revolves around Kosovo just as American history and culture revolve around the Liberty Bell, Boston Tea Party, the Alamo, Statue of Liberty, etc. So illegally declaring “independence” and stealing 15% of Serbian land is much more than the depository of mineral wealth found there.

Most of your older readers know that the Serbs were America’s staunchest allies during WWI and WWII. At the time we sent uranium-filled cluster bombs raining down on Serbian civilians, the headlines were all about a presidential impeachment.

Since then, under the “protection” of NATO troops, hundreds of Serbian Orthodox monasteries, churches, monuments and cemeteries have been destroyed or burned to the ground in an effort to eradicate the history of this historic heartland of the Serbs. Thousands of Serbs have been forced to flee while hundreds of others have lost their lives protecting their families as their homes are burned to the ground. A well-respected elementary/junior high teacher named Miromir Savic from the village of Cernica recorded in his diary the day-by-day kidnappings, cattle stealing, barn burnings, grenade explosions, senseless killings, criminal harassment, etc. before he himself lost his life to the Albanian Muslims.

A former NATO officer wrote in the Visitor’s book at the Patriarchate of Pec (Kosovo) on August 8, 2006: “Sufferings of Christians here is unbearable and unacceptable. We are committing here in Kosovo a crime against God and humanity.”

The Scourge of Love

In an interview for the New York Times Magazine on Sunday, December 2, 2007 author Ian McEwan talked about his 2001 novel Atonement which is set to hit the movie screens this coming weekend. In short, the book is about a girl who tells a lie as a child which affects her older sister and she can never atone for it. Of course there’s much more but that’s the story in a nut shell. Quite frankly, though McEwan is a great writer, the book was just a tad on the boring side. Had it not been for a three hour plane flight I don’t think I ever would have finished it.

When the interviewer made the point that “the impulse to atone is a religious one, and yet you are a self-declared atheist” McEwan replied: “Yes, I am an atheist…. Atheists have as much conscience, possibly more, than people with deep religious conviction, and they still have the same problem of how they reconcile themselves to a bad deed in the past. It’s a little easier if you’ve got a god to forgive you.”

At first I was instinctively a little offended at the remark until I realized that he is right – it is much easier! Later, I stumbled upon a post on another blog, a quote from St. Isaac the Syrian that put things into perspective:

“I also maintain that those who are punished in gehenna are scourged by the scourge of love. Nay, what is so bitter and vehement as the torment of love? I mean that those who have become conscious that they have sinned against love suffer greater torment from this than from any fear of punishment. For the sorrow caused in the heart by sin against love is more poignant than any torment. It would be improper for a man to think that sinners in gehenna are deprived of the love of God. Love…is given to all. But the power of love works in two ways: it torments sinners…but it becomes a source of joy for those who have observed its duties. Thus I say that this is the torment of gehenna: bitter regret.”

There are those tragic people out there who lead miserable lives despite the fact they have loving people around them. It’s not an issue of having someone as much as it is whether or not we are going to accept the love that is given us. Sometimes, for whatever prideful reason, the latter is much more difficult, if not impossible, to do.

Actually, McEwan is right on both accounts, atheists do have a conscience and struggle with similar, ethical problems just as Christians do. God is long suffering and loving and patient and when – and if – they ever surrender themselves to His love and accept His embrace they will realize what they actually already know – it is a little easier and certainly far more rewarding.