Holy Martyr Milica

Our little baby Milica turned six months yesterday, the 29th.

In the meantime, I found this picture of a fresco in the Serbian church in Sydney, Australia of another Milica, a new martyr who suffered during the NATO aggression over Serbia in 1999. Unfortunately I don’t know her story or how she ended up on the wall of the church down under. Our church remembered the victims of that military “campaign” a few days ago, on the twelve year anniversary of its start date March 24, 1999 (it went on for 78 days).

May the Lord grant eternal memory to all those who fell during those days.

Girl Would Rather Die than Deny Faith

I found this story on a Serbian site this evening and after a google search came to this English translation posted here. Is it a true story?

Russian Girl Refuses to Deny Faith

Alina Milan (Elena by baptism) died on the 14th of March, 2011 [in Israel]. Alina was a fifth year student at Moscow State University’s Law School. This event might have passed unnoticed had it not been for certain details.

Alina Milan was 23 years old. Three years ago she was diagnosed with alveolar hydatid liver disease*: the sprouting of parasites in the hepatic vein and all the veins of the liver (she required an immediate liver transplant, which in Russia is not performed).

In October of last year, with the help of charitable funding, Alina was admitted to The Tel-Aviv Sourasky Medical Center in Israel. Before her departure, doctors informed Alina’s mother that Alina had at best two weeks left to live…

While Alina had been preparing for her departure to Israel, her mother and she were faced with a very serious decision. They were given the opportunity to become Israeli citizens, in which case the medical treatment would be free of charge. To gain citizenship it was simply necessary to fill out an application form, by where in one blank it asked for “religious confession”. According to state laws it is only possible for Jews and atheists to gain Israeli citizenship.** Alina refused point-blank to fill out the application form. “I will not take off my Cross, I will not deny Christ, it’s not worth it”.

Despite the strong support of of Alina’s friends and fellow students of the Moscow State University Law School, the necessary sum for the transplant was not met in time (the transplant costs around 300,000 dollars).

Now we can only pray for her, however, a person who has abandoned life rather than abandoning the faith, is more likely to intercede on behalf of us, sinners, before the Lord.

*A parasitic disease caused by the larval stage of a microscopic tapeworm Echinococcus multilocularis.

**There exists the possiblity to acquire Israeli citizenship by naturalization: “Adults may acquire Israeli citizenship through naturalization. To be eligible for naturalization, a person must have resided in Israel for three years out of the previous five years. In addition, the applicant must have a right to reside in Israel on a permanent basis. All naturalization requests are, however, at the discretion of the Minister of the Interior” (Wikipedia: Israeli Nationality).

God’s vindication

Ever watch a movie with frustration as the main character is about to go to the cellar where, unbeknownst to him, the killer is lurking? We sometimes have the same irritating feeling  reading about David fleeing the jealousy of Saul. Perhaps the most frustrating part of it is knowing that David could have killed him – twice! – and didn’t. He explains, “I will not put my hand against my lord, for he is the Lord’s anointed” (1 Kingdoms 24:11). So passionate was he on this point that we read at the beginning of the second book of Kingdoms how he slayed the Amalekite who claimed to have killed the wounded Saul (at Saul’s own request, mind you!).

Whether his not killing the inept king when he had the chance was a smart move on David’s part or just plain dumb (as some might be of the opinion) that doesn’t seem to be the point. Rather, we are given the image of a true ruler who is, above all, virtuous. Moreover, according to David, it wasn’t so much Saul’s conduct which was in question but the sacred office of king, God’s anointed one, which he held. The Orthodox Study Bible has the following notation:

“Saul had become a tyrannical leader obsessed with killing the man of God David. Saul had threatened to kill his own son and has massacred over 300 priests. Despite Saul’s sin, David still honored him as the Lord’s anointed and spared him. A lesson hard to lean: throughout the history of the Church, there have been ungoldly leaders, but true saints have taken up David’s example, refusing to come against God’s anointed. Instead they trusted God to vindicate them” (p. 345).

David, therefore, shows us the power of virtue, that God’s will be done (and not ours) and furthermore, that it be done in God’s time (and not ours). For certainly life is filled with moments when the most logical thing to do is not always the best choice, or even, dare I say, ethical. Or, as St. Ambrose says:

“What a virtuous action that was, when David wished rather to spare the king his enemy, though he could have injured him! How useful, too, it was, for it helped him when he succeeded to the throne. For all learned to be faithful to their king and not to seize the kingdom but to fear and reverence him. Thus what is virtuous was preferred to what was useful, and then usefulness followed on what was virtuous.” (St. Ambrose, Duties of the Clergy)

Going to church for the wrong reasons

As I continue my Bible readings during Lent (week four is already upon us!) I come to the four books of Kingdoms and the account of the birth of Samuel. This narrative brought me to one of my favorite of Fr. Patrick Reardon’s Pastoral Ponderings which I found here. 1 Kingdoms 1:1-28:

It would be a comfort to think that all those who go up to the house of the Lord are led there by the Holy Spirit. It would also be an illusion. Even if experience did not testify that people sometimes attend worship with the most deplorable attitudes and for the worst possible reasons, Holy Scripture itself would caution us to realism on the point.

An early example, I suppose, is Peninnah, Elkanah’s “other wife,” who used the annual pilgrimage to Shiloh as an opportunity to render life miserable for barren Hannah. This latter she provoked severely, says the Sacred Text, “to make her miserable.” The provocation was not unintentional, we are assured, nor did it happen only once: “So it was, year by year, when she went up to the house of the Lord, that she provoked her; therefore she wept and did not eat” (1 Samuel 1:6-7). It is easy to picture Peninnah looking forward to that annual pilgrimage with the family; it was perhaps her favorite time of the year, providing her the forum for feeling superior and spreading discouragement.

Now, as it happened, the God who brings good out of evil caused everything to work out well for Hannah, and the story soon turns into an account of grace and divine visitation. Still, there was a serious pastoral problem at Shiloh, and I suspect more than one worshipper at the time wished the priest Eli, pointing to Peninnah, would suggest to Elkanah, “When your family comes next year, brother, why not leave Miss Picklepuss at home?” Perhaps his failure to do so should be counted among Eli’s several pastoral shortcomings.

Oh that Peninnah was history’s last recorded example of a surly, mean spirited individual using the time of divine worship as the occasion to make someone else feel wretched and forlorn.

Not so, however. Another is the Gospel story of “the ruler of the synagogue,” a singularly unattractive, grumpy person who objected to Jesus’ healing of a crippled woman on the Sabbath. In the midst of the spontaneous praise of God that ensued upon that gracious deed, this particular bellyacher felt it his duty to sound a warning to the congregation about liturgical proprieties: “There are six days on which men ought to work,” he declared, “therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day” (Luke 13:14). Quick to pass judgment on others and blinded by his own vicious, miserly spirit, this religious leader was unable to recognize the divine presence and the outpouring of grace.

Devoid of mercy, we notice, he was also without courage. Consequently, instead of confronting Jesus directly, this coward had recourse to what had always worked for him in the past—he harangued the congregation about the woman herself!

It is often said—and it is said, I think, more often than is true—that churches are full of hypocrites. Here was one occasion, however, when the Lord really did use that noun to describe someone in the place of worship. Unlike Eli, who failed to give a proper pastoral admonition to Elkanah, Jesus turned His not amused attention to this so-called ruler of the synagogue: “Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it?”

The Lord’s indignation in this setting, which was scarcely untypical of Him (cf. Mark 3:5), suggests that a pastor’s patience in these circumstances should not be unlimited. Peninnah and the ruler of the synagogue behaved like wolves, not like sheep. They needed to be treated like wolves. The Lord gives here an example of the proper pastoral response to situations in which an individual apparently comes to church for the purpose of making other people in church miserable. Such folk need either to repent or stay home.

I began these comments by mentioning that not all churchgoing seems to be prompted by the Holy Spirit, an impression that opens the possibility of other spirits at work. One hates to consider this possibility, but there is evidence that some individuals are led to congregations for the demonic purpose of doing harm. Very early both the Didache and The Travels of Egeria mention the testing needed to settle that question. When a pastor admits someone into the congregation, we presume he is able to distinguish a sheep from a wolf. Indeed, we very much depend on it.

To Russia, with love

H/T: Theology and Society (here)

More photos and video here

Top Award of Serbian Orthodox Church for Putin; Presented to Russian PM by Patriarch Irinej of SPC

His Holiness Irinej, Patriarch of Serbia, handed Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister of Russia, on the evening of March 23, 2011 in the St. Sava Memorial Cathedral on Vrachar the St. Sava Order of the First Degree, according to the SPC (Serbian Orthodox Church) website. This is the highest award of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

In their conversation, Putin and Patriarch Irinej discussed the construction and finishing works of the Cathedral of St. Sava.

Several Russian Orthodox societies have promised tens of millions of dollars worth of donations for the making of the mosaic for this Cathedral. Russia and Serbia — especially their Orthodox Churches — have shared a very close, supportive, and harmonious relationship for many years.

Five years ago — on the suggestion of Serbian Patriarch Pavle of blessed repose — the Holy Synod of Bishops awarded Putin the highest distinction of the Serbian Orthodox Church for his active love towards the Serbian Orthodox Church and Serbian people, particularly shown in a brave and persistent protection of the faithful people, churches, monasteries in Kosovo and Metohija, as well as the preservation of the integrity of the Republic of Serbia.

This week’s visit of the Russian Prime Minister to Serbia was an opportunity that Serbian Patriarch Irinej personally hand him this highest distinction of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

Expecting the worst

I received a bit of advice from a priest, who is somewhat strict and conservative, and had, in the past, suffered greatly for his ways with little support from his bishop (in fact, his bishop wasn’t at all pleased, nor impressed, with his traditional stance).  As he was doing quite fine in his new parish I wondered what the secret to his new success was. He revealed it to me one day when he simply said, “Don’t expect too much and you won’t be disappointed.”

These words of caution don’t imply solely to a priest-parishioner situation but can be useful to us all in our spiritual lives.

I was asked to direct my readers to the Mystagogy blog where a plug for a new book by Fr. Alexis Trader, Behind Ancient Christian Wisdom and Aaron Beck’s Cognitive Therapy: A Meeting of Minds, was posted a few days ago (here) and continues today on Fr. Jonathan’s Second Terrace blog (here) and will continue per the following schedule:

Post #3 – March 28th:  http://voxstefani.wordpress.com/

Post #4 – March 31st: http://www.bombaxo.com/blog/

I read a little from Fr. Trader’s book (chapter nine is available in PDF on orthodoxinfo.com – click on image for access) and found a technique suggested by the Saints in avoiding situations when we would normally get angry which was similar to my priest friend’s from above. Namely, Fr. Trader writes:

“… Saint John Cassian suggests that those who find themselves becoming impatient or angry should practice imagining that they are hindered, wronged or injured, but respond as the saints would—with perfect humility and gentleness of heart. Saint Nicodemos the Hagiorite likewise recommends that believers prepare themselves before going somewhere or coming into contact with irritating and exasperating people by imagining that others curse them and dishonor them, but that they weather it all with thanksgiving and peace of mind. Saint Theophan the Recluse expands this method to include all the conceivable encounters and imaginable feelings, desires, and reactions that a person might experience. He suggests reflecting on potential attacks at the beginning of the day and mentally planning how to react in a way that is in keeping with the commandments of Christ…”

Check out the links and order the book or suggest it to a friend or library.