Good Shoes

 

patriarch

It was noticed that Patriarch Pavle has nice shoes: light, comfortable, shiny leather…

“Yes,” he smiled. “They’re comfortable, I can go on long walks…”

“Where did you buy them?”

“Ah, buy them…”, he said with a wave of his hand to signify that the conversation was over.

But behind these shoes is a little strange tale: the shoes, in fact, were once women’s boots; patriarch found them, thrown out, near his sister’s house. He took a good, thorough look at them, and saw that they were old and well kept. After a few days, in his little workshop, he made himself nice shoes.

Lord, I have loved the beauty of Thine house…

When watching the cases of child abductions which have been reported with some frequency in recent times particularly on the 24 hour news channels one is given the impression that this sort of thing never happened before; that it’s some new phenomenon. I think the only new thing about it is that in our age we actually have a channel on TV that only shows news – all day, every day – and perhaps, at times, they tend to over-dramatize things. One becomes especially suspicious when there is so much talk about a chip that will soon be implanted in humans. Once we’ve been fed all these stories of child abductions and the other dangers in the world today it makes one more naïve in thinking that perhaps implanting an electronic tracking device into our bodies is not such a bad idea.

I’m hardly implying that child abduction is not a serious matter or, for that matter, that it doesn’t pose a threat. It’s very dangerous and parents need to be constantly alert, watching over the children God has bestowed to them. But can you image being the parent of Jesus and losing Him? In St. Luke’s gospel we read how “…His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover…and when they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it” (Luke 2:41). Joseph and the Virgin Mary returned frantically to Jerusalem to look for the Boy Jesus and finally found him…three days later! We can only imagine their state of mind during the search.

Interestingly enough the Bible doesn’t say anything about their worries or anxiety during the search but only tells us afterwards, “…when they saw Him, they were amazed…”. They were amazed because they found Him in the Temple “sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions”.

We’re expected to keep good care of our children not by locking them up from the world but rather showing them that, even though there are many dangers out there, the safest of all places is in the church, the securest is in the hands of God. As a child even the little Prince Rastko ran away from home. His parents were worried, they didn’t know what to do. But when they discovered that he was, in fact, in the safest place of all, on the holy mount Athos, they too were “amazed”. Actually, little Rastko’s flight to the holy monastery, where he became Sava, started a trend for Serbian rulers after him. His father fled the throne and took the name Symeon, just as Stephan the First-Crowned became Simon, Radoslav after him became Jovan, Dragutin became Teoktist and so on.

The old adage tells us that in order to love someone we need to set them free. The same applies to our children who are little now but tomorrow will chose their own paths. Ours is to instill God’s love in them so that one day when we look out into the bizarre and frightening developments of world history, the strange and dubious achievements of the science of the future, we too will search for our children in all of this and will be “amazed” to find them sitting in the safest place of all, the church!

The Happiest Gift of All

Christmas, probably more than any other of the feasts, is for the family. We see this not only in the icon in which the Christ-Child is lying in the manger, swaddled in the love and protection of His family but also in the popular association that Christmas has with presents, which are almost always and in every case most enjoyable when we exchange them with our family.

The exchanging of gifts in the Serbian Christmas tradition, however, differs slightly from the commonly known custom of waking early on Christmas morn to the frantic unwrapping of presents. In fact, it has nothing to do with the actual day of the Nativity but is rather spread out over the course of three weeks – the three Sundays before the feast, known as Children’s day, Mother’s day and Father’s day. These days are observed with the tying of children, for instance, on children’s day so that they might “buy” their freedom from their parents by giving them gifts. Similarly, on mother’s day mom is tied up just as dad is tied up on father’s day, all of whom can easily be freed of their bonds through the bestowing of their gifts.

The reason this came to mind this evening is because I was out earlier today buying some presents, getting ready for my own captivity – or more correctly – buying my escape. I took the scenic route home, the country roads that wind up and down the Pennsylvanian hills which take me through the peaceful Amish community. There was a group of Amish children sledding down a small hill near their modest looking schoolhouse. They seemed so happy and excited in their recreation. For a fleeting moment I couldn’t help but feel sorry for them. There they were excited about a little hill; they play with simple, wooden toys; all of their games and toys are so primitive. They’re missing out on the real excitement – the amusement parks, roller coasters, video games…!

But then I thought of the excitement in their faces sledding down that hill, the same hill they probably go sledding down each winter. I don’t think kids can go summer after summer on the same roller coaster. They seek not only variety but they crave more scarier, more thrilling ones, particularly the ones with names like “Demon”, “Demon Drop”, “Mind Eraser”, “Python”… This goes not only for roller coaster rides but video games, movies – everything is more, more, more. The desire is insatiable. Maybe, in the end, when the Amish look into our world and see how our children live, perhaps it’s them that feel sorry for us.

Certainly I’m not implying I want to be Amish. Not in the least. But it is always nice to take that scenic road, through Amish country, to see them content in their simplicity. I believe we can be just as content and happy as they are without having to give up the modern world and its conveniences.

Maybe when the children tie me up on Sunday I won’t rush to my freedom. Maybe I’ll let them suffer a little before giving them their gifts. I’m sure I won’t last long before giving in but at least for those few moments I’ll be able to get my gift, the happiest gift of all – seeing the excitement and joy in their faces.

The Crazy Night

The photograph below was taken in the early evening hours of the last night of 2007. It was a calm, sunny but cold winter day in Hermitage. After taking the picture I went to pick up some groceries, read a little more of Auchincloss’ The Rector of Justin and dozed off, hoping that the nap would energize me to welcome the New Year with the boys (the girls were already silently sleeping). My nap, however, ended up lasting to after midnight. Popadija had dozed off as well leaving the boys alone in their excitement. This morning the calmness has gone and a thin layer of snow covers the ground blown by the boisterous, frigid winter wind.

Even though for us on the old calendar the “new year” doesn’t come until January 14th, I should admit that after 14 days its novelty has already begun to wear off. Recently, the patriarchate website posted something about the new year celebration in Serbia which is widely advertised as the “crazy night”, noting that the celebration of the calendar new year became common only after WWII; an attempt by the then communist regime to belittle, distract and ultimately erase any significance of the feast of the Nativity that Orthodox Serbs were preparing themselves for through fasting.

It’s a momentous event, bidding farewell to one year and welcoming in another. Although the old calendarists do it twice, I still end up sleeping through the first and celebrating the second only out of custom. There’s nothing crazy about it, nothing driving me to make a list of resolutions especially since every morning we pray during morning prayers, “Having awakened me from sleep, Lord, enlighten my mind and heart. Open my lips to praise You… Holy, holy, holy are You, O God”.

This is the only resolution worth making and the only one we’d be crazy not to keep. May every day of this year be a little “new year” for us, motivating us to re-dedicate ourselves to God every morning, every day and every moment of our lives. Amen.