Friday, December 25, 2009

For This is All My Hope

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

"Since, therefore, all rejoice, I too desire to rejoice! I too wish to share the choral dance, to celebrate the festival! But I take my part, not plucking the harp nor with the music of the pipes nor holding a torch, but holding in my arms the cradle of Christ! For this is all my hope! This is my life! This is my salvation! This is my pipe, my harp! And bearing it I come, and having from its power received the gift of speech, I too, with the angels and shepherds, sing: Glory to God in the Highest! and on earth peace to men of good will!" - St. John Chrysostom

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

St. Leo on Nativity and the Christian

"Although, therefore, that infancy, which the majesty of God’s Son did not disdain, reached mature manhood by the growth of years and, when the triumph of His passion and resurrection was completed, all the actions of humility which were undertaken for us ceased, yet today’s festival renews for us the holy childhood of Jesus born of the Virgin Mary: and in adoring the birth of our Savior, we find we are celebrating the commencement of our own life. For the birth of Christ is the source of life for Christian folk, and the birthday of the Head is the birthday of the body. Although every individual that is called has his own order, and all the sons of the Church are separated from one another by intervals of time, yet as the entire body of the faithful being born in the font of baptism is crucified with Christ in His passion, raised again in His resurrection, and placed at the Father’s right hand in His ascension, so with Him are they born in this nativity."

Getting ready

One of the things I try to do with my kids, and I am nt very good at it, is to prepare them for the services. It is really easy for them to go though the services and think they are all the same. One has to pay attention to hear what is going on. So I was really happy when I found this. I'm using it to help the boys get ready to hear what is different about the Nativity services. Maybe it will be useful to you, too.


Christmas hymns in the Orthodox Church
by Alexander A. Bogolepov

The observance of a special period of preparation before the Feast of the Nativity of Christ has long been an established part of Christian practice. In the Orthodox Church this period is made up of the Christmas Fast and the special days of preparation before Christmas itself, with the week of the Holy Forefathers and the week of the Holy Fathers. The Church services for these days of preparation commemorate the patriarchs, the prophets and all who had lived by faith in the Saviour who was to come and had prophesied about Him long before His coming. The hymns for the Feast of the Nativity are full of the original joyful excitement at the thought of God's appearance on earth. The Christmas canon1 begins with a joyous declaration, gradually swelling in volume, of the Saviour's birth:

"Christ is born! Glorify Him!
Christ descends from the heavens, welcome Him!
Christ is now on earth, O be jubilant!
Sing to the Lord, the whole earth,
And sing praises to Him with joy, O ye people,
For He has been exalted!" (1)

In her Christmas hymns, as in her other hymnody, the Orthodox Church does not limit her vision to earthly happenings alone. In these hymns she contemplates the events of Christ's life on earth from a dual perspective. Beyond the birth of a child in the poverty of a squalid cave, beyond the laying of the infant in a manger instead of a child's crib, beyond His poor mother's anxiety and alarm over His fate, supermundane events emerge -- events which are outside this world's natural order:

"Today doth Bethlehem receive Him
Who sitteth with the Father for ever". (2)

This was not the first birth of the One "who lay in a manger." First He was begotten of His Father "before all ages" as God; moreover He was begotten of the Father alone, without His Mother. In Bethlehem He was born as men are born, but in contrast to all the sons of earth He was born of His Mother alone, without an earthly father. Having proclaimed "Christ is born!" in the 1st Song of the Christmas canon, the Church next calls upon the faithful to praise

"...the Son who was born of the Father
Before all ages, and in this latter day
Was made incarnate of the Virgin
Without seed; Christ our God". (3)

In the last Song of the Christmas canon the feeling of the human mind's powerlessness to comprehend this union of Divine majesty and human insignificance, this glorious mystery, is expressed even more brilliantly and eloquently.

A dark cave had replaced the resplendent heavens; the earthly Virgin had taken the place of the Cherubim as the "throne" of the Lord of Glory; a little manger had become the receptacle of the omnipresent God Who could never be contained in space:

"I behold a strange but very glorious mystery:
Heaven -- the cave;
The throne of the Cherubim -- the Virgin.
The manger -- the receptacle in which Christ our God,
Whom nothing can contain, is lying". (4)

But nowhere does the attitude of reverence before this incomprehensible union of things heavenly and earthly find a more forceful expression than in the Kontakion for Christmas written by the greatest Greek hymn-writer, St. Romanos Melodus. Every word in it is full of meaning and one brilliant image follows another:

"Today the Virgin brings forth the Supersubstantial One
And the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable One".

Mary gave birth but remained a virgin, and gave existence to the One who is above all that exists in the world. And in the cave the earth provided a sanctuary for the One whom, as a general rule, men may not even approach. Next, the second part of this kontakion gives us two pictures of events which unfolded simultaneously and harmoniously on earth and in heaven. In heaven the angels glorify God in unison with the shepherds on earth, and the Wise Men move across the earth according to the direction taken by the heavenly star. The meaning of all this is that the Child whose life on earth was as yet only a few hours old is at the same time God, who existed before time itself and yet was born now for our salvation:

"For for our sakes, God, Who is before all the ages, is born a little Child". (5)

What does the coming to earth of the Son of God really mean? Above all it means that people are illumined, that spiritual light is bestowed upon them. This idea is continually being put forward in the Christmas hymnody of the Orthodox Church. The Troparion for the Christmas Feast explains the basic meaning of the Feast, there is this direct statement:

"Thy Nativity, O Christ our God,
Has illumined the world like the Light of Wisdom".

God enlightens each of us in the way that is most accessible and understandable to the particular person. And when He wished to enlighten the Wise Men, whose custom it was to observe the stars and their movements, He sent them an unusual star which guided them to the Christ.

"... They who worshipped the stars were through a star,
Taught to worship Thee, the Sun of Righteousness,
And to know Thee, the Day-Spring from on high".

The star of Bethlehem gave the Wise Men an opportunity to see the rise of the Sun of Righteousness. But the light of Christ's righteousness is not an earthly light. Its motion was not from out of the earth towards the firmament of heaven, but from above downwards. Shining high above the earth, it descended thereon from the heights of heaven and illumined the world with Divine light. It was the Day-Spring from on high. And all who have sat in spiritual darkness and waited for the true light have, like the Wise Men, come to know this extraordinary Day-Spring of the Sun of Righteousness.

"Our Saviour hath visited us from on high...
And we who were plunged in darkness and shadows
Have found the truth,
For the Lord hath been born of the Virgin". (6)

The Church addresses this prayer of praise and thanksgiving to the Infant born in Bethlehem:

"Glory and praise to the One born on earth Who hath divinized earthly human nature." (7)

The gifts of grace in the Holy Mysteries which strengthen enfeebled humanity, cure men, and regenerate them to a Godlike life, were imparted by Christ in the final, culminating days of His earthly mission and are linked to His death on the cross and Resurrection. But these last things were prepared for by Christ's entire earthly life from Bethlehem to Golgotha. The Coming of Christ was the beginning of the salvation of mankind. And the Orthodox Church sings of Christ's Nativity as the morning of men's salvation, as the dawn after a long and anxious night -- the dawn with which the new, shining day in the life of the human race has already started.

The triumphal hymn of the Feast of Christmas is the "Gloria" sung by the angels to the Shepherds, to herald the coming of the Messiah.

"Glory in the Highest to God, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men" (Luke 2:14).

It is just as characteristic of Christmas as the hymn "Christ is Risen from the dead" is of Pascha (Easter).

According to the text of the second chapter of St. Luke's Gospel the "good tidings" proclaimed by the angels was not a repetition from the heavens of things that were well-known before. The innumerable heavenly host which appeared suddenly in the wake of the Angel who had stood before the shepherds of Bethlehem confirmed his "tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people." (Luke2:10). They also sang of the new, marvelous act of God's goodwill, His sending the Saviour to this earth. This was the meaning of their good news: "Glory to God in the Highest; salvation had come to a sinful earth with the birth of the Christ Child, the loving-kindness of God had descended upon men."

The extraordinary and wondrous Birth from a Pure Virgin is one of the fundamental themes of Christmas hymnody; at the same time the Mother of God, whom the Orthodox Church venerates with such pious devotion, is given in this hymnody a special place of honour. A number of examples from sacred history are used in these hymns in order to glorify Her perpetual virginity, Her conception by the Holy Spirit and Her "supermundane act of giving birth to God." The most important of these are the prophet Jonah's sojourn in the belly of the sea-monster and the Babylonian fiery furnace." The fiery furnace of Babylon did not burn the young men, who were covered with its flames, likewise:

"The fire of the Godhead scorched not the Virgin,
When He entered into Her womb". (8)

Despite the birth Mary was preserved a virgin like the Burning Bush on Mt. Sinai which could not be consumed but remained green in the flames. (9) The Church sings praises to Mary alike for Her virginity and Her touching maternal love. Her tenderness as a mother toward Her wondrous Infant Child, whom as Her son She held in Her arms at Her breast, but before whom She bowed in worship as before "the Son of the Highest," is expressed in the following lullaby which Church hymnody assigns to the lips of the Lady Most Pure, calling upon us men "to magnify Her without ceasing":

"O my child, child of sweetness,
How is it that I hold Thee, Almighty?
And how that I feed Thee,
Who givest bread to all men?
How is it that I swaddle Thee,
Who with the clouds encompasseth the whole earth". (10)

She who "knew not a man" and yet gave birth to the Incorporeal God is for the Orthodox Church at once mother and virgin.

"Magnify, O my soul, the Virgin Most Pure,
The God-Bearer, who is more honourable
And more glorious than the heavenly hosts". (11)

The best and holiest of earthly creatures, exalted above the angels, the God-Bearer is the pride of this earth, a fitting gift from mankind to the Creator and Saviour:

"What shall we present unto Thee, O Christ,
For Thy coming to earth for us men?
Each of Thy creatures brings Thee a thank-offering:
The angels -- singing; the heavens -- a star;
The Wise Men -- treasures; the shepherds devotion;
The earth -- a cave; the desert -- a manger;
But we offer Thee the Virgin-Mother. O Eternal God, have mercy upon us". (12)

In rendering "maternal-virginal glory" to Mary Full-of-Grace the Church venerates Mary because, through Her unspotted purity, She was made worthy to bring the Saviour into this world and Herself became the door of salvation and deliverance from the curse of sin which had weighed upon men:

"Magnify, O my soul, Her who hath delivered us from the curse". (13)

Paradise is now once again opened to us. If sin entered the world through Eve, it is also through the New Eve (the Mother of our God) that victory over sin has come into the world.

The Church likewise summons us:

"Let us glorify in song the true God-Bearer
Through who sinners have been reconciled with God". (14)

The Mother of God represents the point at which the Godhead came into direct contact with Old Testament humanity. She is in this respect the living symbol of all the triumphant joy of Christmas, which is the celebration of God's reestablished union with men. God, who had driven our forefathers out of Paradise, had set them far apart from Himself. Now, with the birth of Christ, He has again come to men, just as He once came to them in Paradise. It has become possible again for men to be in communion with God. The barrier between,Heaven and earth has fallen and so we sing along with Adam and Eve:

"The wall of partition is destroyed,
The flaming sword is dropped,
The Cherubim withdraw from the Tree of Life,
And I partake of the fruits of Paradise,
Whence, for my disobedience, I was driven forth". (15)

The underlying feeling of the Christmas Feast is one of peace. This is a result of the reconciliation and new unity between heaven and earth:

"Heaven and earth now are united through Christ's Birth!
Now is God come down to earth
And man arisen to the heaven". (16)

This unity is the source of general exultation -- a note which resounds vigorously in the Christmas hymnody:

"Today Christ is born in Bethlehem of the Virgin.
Today He who is without a beginning begins,
And the Word is made flesh.
The powers of Heaven rejoice,
The earth and her people are jubilant;
The Wise Men bring gifts to the Lord,
The shepherds marvel at the One who is born;
And we sing without ceasing:
"Glory to God in the Highest, And on earth peace, (God's) good will toward men". (17)

There is one solitary note, however, which breaks into these hymns of general rejoicing like a forewarning of future lamentations. The Wise Men -- according to the Christmas Eve stichera -- came toworship the Incarnate God and devotedly offered Him their gifts -- gold, because He is the King of ages; frankincense, because He is the God of all men; but then they also brought Him myrrh, with which the Jews were accustomed to anoint their dead, because He was to "lie three days in death."

The heart of the Mother of God must have been seized by a premonition of that which awaited the innocent Child who was sleeping peacefully in the manger. This minor note of sadness is drowned, however, in the general chorus of exultation. Heaven and earth rejoice together and this does not mean simply that the angels' singing harmonises with that of the shepherds. The Church does not even view so-called "inanimate nature" as indifferent to the higher world. The Creator has willed the existence of a special link between them. At an earlier time man's sinfulness had brought general disorder into nature, but now all nature leaps for joy, rejoicing at the overcoming of this sin:

"Today the whole creation rejoices and is jubilant,
For Christ is born of the Virgin". (18)

In the Christmas hymnody the Star is not merely the voice which made known to the world the Saviour's appearance. It is also a sign, a symbol of this appearance, just as the Cross is the symbol of victory over the forces of darkness. Then, too, the Star is a symbol of Christ Himself, "the Star which rose from Jacob". (19)

For more than 19 centuries Christ has been shining down upon mankind as a guiding star, not as a myth or mirage, but as the living God, who has been on earth and spoken with men. There have been many subsequent attempts to obscure the pure silver light of the Star of Bethlehem in human consciousness. But the centuries of the Christian era have not passed by in vain. And if the Christmas hymns continue to resound each year in churches scattered all over the world and to be sung as they were sung many hundreds of years ago by the grandfathers and forbears of the present generation, this means that the light shed by the Christmas Star is deeply rooted in human hearts and shines on in them undimmed.

from Orthodox Hymns of Christmas, Holy Week and Easter,
published by the Russian Orthodox Theological Fund Inc

1. Christmas Canon, 1st Song, Irmos
2. Christmas Matins, stichera after the Gospel
3. Christmas Canon, 3rd Song, Irmos
4. Christmas Canon, 9th Song, Irmos
5. Kontakion
6. Christmas Matins, Protagogion
7. Christmas Matins, Sedalen
8. Christmas Canon, 8th song, Irmos
9. 2nd Christmas Canon, 1st song, Troparion
10. Pre-Christmas,, 9th song, Troparion
11. Christmas Canon, 9th song, verse
12. Stichera by Patriarch Anatolios on "O Lord, I have cried unto Thee"
13. Christmas Canon, 9th Song, verse
14. Christmas Canon, 5th Song, Troparion
15. Stichera by Patriarch Hermanos on "O Lord, I have cried unto Thee"
16. Stichera on the Litiya
17. Stichera before the great Doxology
18. Christmas Canon, 9th song, verse
19. Christmas Canon, 6th song, Troparion

Monday, December 14, 2009

Advent Activities

Life sure has been busy around here. I think it was Thursday night or maybe Friday night Devon, Anselm and I wen to see the Nutcracker. And then on Saturday Athanasia, Anselm, Basil, and I made salt dough Christmas Tree ornaments.

Sunday evening we made the sausage for Christmas morning. (We eat it after Divine Liturgy. Our parish has Liturgy in the morning instead of the middle of the night. I've experienced both and like it in the morning more. It's just so much easier than hauling the kids to church for a Great Vespers at 11 followed by Matins and Divine Liturgy sometime after Midnight. I can understand wanting to do it at Midnight, and if I didn't have kids I'd be totally into it.)

Well, yesterday was Sunday of the Forefathers, St. Herman's Day, St. Lucy's Day (if my last child had been a girl we were going to name her Lucy and have her do that whole candles on the head thing), and several other Saint's days. Because I was the only one on my family not sick, and had to deal with a flood I only popped into church long enough to light some candles for my sick family and then ran to the hardware store to buy hoses and a pump.

On Saturday night I read a childrens book about St. Herman of Alaska to the boys (It is one of the books on the Advent/Christmas shelf.) and we talked about St.Herman for a while. Even though he is sometimes called the first American Saint, that is not the case. There were some American martyrs before St. Herman was glorified. One thing that the boys were really curious about was the heavy iron cross St. Herman wore. Unfortunately, I do not know anything about it. I've seen it in icons, but I would like to know more. Why did he wear it? I've never seen other monks wear anything like that. Was it a penance? How heavy was it? How did he prevent pressure sores from developing on his shoulders and chest?

On Sunday evening, after a supper of salmon (last fish day before Nativity), rice, and green beans we read the Epistle and the Gospel for the day and talked about it. It was a pleasant. Then Athanasia left the house to do homework at her office and the boys and I made the Christmas Sausage.

The recipe is kind of ill-defined, but goessomething like this.

2 pork butt roasts chopped into 1" to 2" cubes. (Do not remove the fat!!!)
Zest of four large oranges
Juice of one orange
A couple of hand fulls of sea salt or kosher salt. (No iodized)
1 finely chopped fennel bulb
A healthy sprinkling of dried thyme (maybe a table spoon or 2?)
Same amount of dried fennel seed
A goodly number (10-15) of peeled and minced garlic cloves.
Sausage casings

1. Rinse all the salt off the the casings, running water over the outsides and through the insides of the casings. Set them aside on a paper towel or a paper plate until you need them.

2. Mix all non-casing ingredients together in a large bowl until all spices and herbs are evenly distributed through the pork.

3. Run the pork through the grinder. It is now sausage and can be cooked like this. But we like it in casings so we take the blade out of the grinder, ad the stuffing attachment, and stuff some sausages. Also, at this point you need to fry about a tablespoon of the sausage and taste it to make sure it is good before you go through the work of stuffing. Make any adjustments before stuffing because you can't after the sausage is stuffed.

4. Slide a whole casing over the stuffing tube. (This goes better it you rub some vegetable oil on the tube first.)

5. Tie a knot in the end of the casing and begin stuffing.

6. As one person cranks and feeds the machine another person has to monitor the sausage and twist the links. I always start with two twists away from me, then the next link gets two twists toward me. This way each link is separated from every other link by 4 twists. Any more than that is just showing off.

7. Then, when you reach the end of the casing, tie it off.

Repeat steps 4-7 until all sausage is cased.

The boys had a great time making the sausage. Here are my sons Devon, Anselm, and Basil posing with some of their finished product.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Happy Happy Joy Joy!!!

My oldest living son just moved in with me. He's 20 and is only here because the company he worked for lost a lot of clients so they downsized and he ran out of money. But I am so thankful that he is here. I have hardly seen him since he was 2. I am very happy.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Saturday Soundtrack: An Advent Song

I was wondering how I was going to fit the Saturday Soundtrack and Advent together, and I am happy to announce that I have done it. Soon and Very Soon by Andre Crouch belongs to Advent because it is about anticipating the arrival of Jesus, specifically his second coming, which is the main emphasis of Advent in the West.

In the 1960's the senior class of the Christian high school where my mother taught wanted to have Andre Crouch perform at a party but they didn't have enough money to pay Andre's fee. My mother wrote to him and offered what little money the students had. He came, brought his whole band, performed, and then refused any payment at all.

I remember seeing this album cover when I wasa boy. I can't remember hearing this song for the first time. It must have belonged to one of my siblings, who are all older than I am.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Holy Prophet Habakkuk

Today we have another of the Holy Prophets to commemorate. I think many of us don't even think of him except on Pascha when we hear (Paschal Canon, Ode 4, Eirmos) the thrilling news that he is standing vigil with us to testify to the Resurrection. But here just 22 days from the Feast of the Nativity of Jesus we are supposed to commemorate him. Why? Three reasons:

He prophecied the coming Jesus with these words:
יצאת לישע עמך לישע את-משיחך
"You went out to save your people, to save (with) your Anointed."
(You should read Eric Jobe on this verse.)

Also Habakkuk's book's theme of theodicy, and God using evil invading empires (e.g. the Babylonians & Chaldeans) to work His indomitable will on the earth is in a complementary key to what would happen 600 years later. As we will hear during the Feast of Nativity, "When Agustus ruled the world" God, as unlikely as it seems to the natural eye, used the might of Rome as a tool to get a pregnant woman and her betrothed from Galilee to Bethlehem.

Finally, after talking about the total foolishness of worshiping idols in Chapter 2, the Holy Prophet says "God is in his temple, let the earth keep silent". This was expanded in the Liturgy of St. James...

Let all mortal flesh keep silent, and with fear and trembling stand. Ponder nothing earthly-minded, Let all mortal flesh keep silent, and with fear and trembling stand. Ponder nothing earthly-minded, for the King of kings and Lord of lords advances to be slain and given as food to the faithful. Before him go the choirs of Angels, with every rule and authority, the many-eyed Cherubim and the six-winged Seraphim, veiling their sight and crying out the hymn: Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.

Interestingly, an early 19th Century English translation of this hymn has found its way into many Protestant hymnals, where it is usually classified as an Advent Hymn because of the line about the Lord advancing toward us, and is popular with choirs more than it is with congregations.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Reading to the boys

A big part of the life of my family is reading. When we were newlyweds we read the Gospel of Matthew, the Lord of the Rings, and all the then published Harry Potter books aloud to each other. We don't read to each other very often anymore, but we do read aloud to the boys and have since they were too young to understand language. I'll never forget the time, when Anselm Samuel was still a tiny baby, when we read to him A.A. Milne's Pooh stories. Athanasia and I wept at the end of it. (It is an interesting fact that the best children books are really for adults.) Our shelves are stuffed with books. But there is a part of our collection that is only read between the November 15 and January 5 of each year. Tonight from that special shelf I read (sang, really) The Friendly Beasts: An old English Christmas Carol by Tomie de Paola, and two selections from Richard Scarry's The Animals' Merry Christmas, which is a collection of poems.

The Holy Prophet Nahum

You know how the Holy Prophet Jeremiah is called "The Weeping Prophet?" Well, I've often thought Nahum should be called "The Angry Prophet of Doom." His little book is full of predictions of calamity. And, to bad for Nineveh and the Assyrians, those prophecies of destruction were fulfilled.

But today, just 23 days from the Feast of the Nativity of Jesus, the Church Fathers put this huge downer of a Prophet on the calendar. Why? Well, he has to go somewhere, doesn't he? After, St. Paul commanded us to give honor to whom honor is due. So we must honor Prophet Nahum sometime during the year. But I think there is more to it than the Fathers pulling a date out of a hat and assigning it to this Prophet. I think the Holy Prophet Nahum being commemorated during Advent is no accident of chance. Rather, it is because the Word of the Lord Nahum received bears directly on the the Incarnation and the ministry of Jesus. At the beginning of a long list of horrible pronouncements against Nineveh are these words:

Behold upon the mountains the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace! O Judah, keep thy solemn feasts, perform thy vows: for the wicked shall no more pass through thee; he is utterly cut off. (Nahum 1:15)

So, in a few weeks when we mourn again with the mothers of Bethlehem, or when we only a few days ago were aghast at the martyrdom of St. Daniil of Moscow we continue on. We can keep our vows, and we can keep the solemn feasts - Nativity, Theophany, Annunciation, Pascha and the others - because even in the face of death The Gospel has been preached. The good news has been spoken by the Prince of Peace, and though we might die, that death is gain. Death is cut off as surely as the line of the kings of Assyria, as surely as Goliath's head.

The same event Nahum saw was revealed to another prophet who tells us a little bit more than did Nahum. We shall not just keep the solemn feasts solemnly. They shall be kept with happiness! The Holy Prophet Isaiah wrote:

How lovely on the mountains Are the feet of him who brings good news, Who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, Who announces salvation, And says to Zion, "Your God reigns!" (Isaiah 52:7)

It is not just solemnity, but happiness. It is not just the defeat of the enemy, but the victory of God. It is not just the ability to keep vows, it is salvation! That is what the Prophets saw. Well, not Nahum. He didn't have a vision as complete as Isaiah's. But he knew good was coming. Hundreds of years before Jesus was born he saw Jesus preaching on the mountain sides of Judah. He didn't hear the whole message but he knew it was good. And he waited for it. And that is why he is commemorated during Advent.


I didn't really like the vasilopita (That's Greek for Basil's bread) I made on last St. Basil the Great's day (Also known as the 8th day of Christmas/Feast of the Circumcision of Christ). In a month I'll be making this recipe given to me by Matuskha Angela Alesandroni. It looks really good.

1/2 c water
3/5 tsp cinnamon
1/2 c. aniseeds
3/4 tsp fresh grate orange peel... See More
2 bay leaves
1/2 c milk
3/4 c sugar
1/2 tsp. salr
3/4 c butter, softened
1/2 c warm water (110 degrees)
2 T sugar
2pkgs. yeast
3 eggs. lightly beaten
sesame seeds
whole blanched almonds, walnut halves and/or maraschinos for top

Heat 1/2 c water to boiling. Add cinnamon, aniseeds, orange peel and bay leaves. Remove from heat and steep.

Scald milk. Add 3/4 c sugar, the salt, and 3/4 c butter. Cool.
Pour warm water into bowl. Stir in 2T sugar and years. Let stand until frothy ( perhaps 10 mins)

Pour milk/butter mixture into yeast mixture. Add lightly beaten eggs and mix well. Stir in spice liquid, removing bay leaves. stir in 3 c flour, alittle at a time and beat until smooth. Add only as much flour as needed to make a smooth, nonsticky dough.

Turn onto floured board and knead 15-20 mins until smooth and elastic. Place in a greased bowl, brush top with melted butter. Cover lightly and allow to rise in a draft free, but warm place until doubled - perhaps 2 hours.

Punch down, knead again briefly about 5 mins. Remove an orange sized piece from dough and form rest into one large round loaf. Insert coin. Place loaf on a lightly greased sheet or silpat covered baking sheet.

Divide reserved dough and form into numbers of the new year or a cross. set on bread pressing gently.

cover lightly and let bread rise again for about 1 1/2 hrs. or until almost doubled in bulk.

When risen.brush loaf with beaten egg and sprinkle w/sesame seeds. Decorate with almonds, walnuts or cherries, if you like. Bake at 350 for 45-60 mins. done when golden bronw and bottom sounds hollow when tapped.

For a more pronounced anise flavor, add 1 T ouzo when you add the spice liquid to the dough.

Monday, November 30, 2009

St. Andrew's Day

Among the many saints commemorated during Advent is St. Andrew. He beckons us with the words, "We have found the Messiah" And we follow him to Christmas. There are on this day some unusual things that happen. First, we also get to eat fish. Some parishes, including mine, bless tartans on St. Andrew's day. I guess it's because he is the protector and intercessor for Scotland. I think we should consider blessing golf clubs and wingtip shoes, too, on this day.

According Eusebius, Origin said St. Andrew preached in Asia, Scythia, around the Black Sea, and as far up the Volga River as Kiev. He established the Church in Byzantium and installed Staychus there as the first bishop of that little city. Today that bishopric is the Patriarchate of Constantinople. St. Andrew was crucified.

A hymn of praise by St. Nicolai Velimirovic

St. Andrew by the Spirit enlightened,
And the First-called Apostle of Christ,
Proclaimed the Lord day after day,
And baptized people with the Cross.
Like a gardener in his own garden,
Through village and town he walked,
And skillfully grafted wild trees,
Watering them with Living Water,
Until he came to the end of his days,
And saw the Cross awaiting him.
Joyful andrew said to the Cross:
"Greetings,O Cross! God sanctified thee,
Christ Sanctified thee with His body.
O Cross, be though my resting place.
From the dust of the earth, take me;
To God the highest, raise me up,
And let Christ take me from the-
The very Christ Who, because of me was crucified on thee."
Disciple of the holy Baptist,
and apostle of Christ the Savior
O Andrew, first-called star,
By your prayers, help us.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sometimes Holy Martyrs Leave Widows

On Thursday, November 19, 2009 35 year old Fr Daniel Sisoev, a very active and straightforward missionary priest in Moscow, defeated the ancient enemy when he was gunned down by a masked gunman inside the St. Thomas Church. Below is a statement his wife issued. Still with us on earth are Fr. Daniel's widow and three daughters.

Holy Virgin Cathedral in San Francisco is taking up a collection for the family of God's newest Saint.

If you would like to help out, please send a check (payable to Holy Virgin Cathedral and earmarked: FOR FR DANIEL's FAMILY) to this address:

Rev. Peter Perekrestov
475 26th Avenue, #2
San Francisco, CA 94121

A letter from the Martyr's widow, Matushka Julia Sysoieva follows:

Dear brothers and sisters, thank you for your support and prayers. This is the pain which cannot be expressed in words. This is the pain experienced by those who stood at the Cross of the Saviour. This is the joy which cannot be expressed in words, this is the joy experienced by those who came to the empty Tomb.

O death, where is thy sting?

Fr Daniel had already foreseen his death several years before it happened. He had always wanted to be worthy of a martyr's crown. Those who shot him wanted, as usual, to spit in the face of the Church, as once before they spat in the face of Christ. They have not achieved their goal, because it is impossible to spit in the face of the Church. Fr Daniel went up to his Golgotha in the very church which he had built, the church to which he gave up all his time and all his strength. They killed him like the prophet of old 'between the temple and the altar' and he was indeed found worthy of a martyr's calling. He died for Christ, Whom he served with all his strength.

Very often he would say to me that he was frightened of not having enough time, time to do everything. He was in a hurry. Sometimes, as a human-being he exaggerated, he got things wrong, he tripped up and made mistakes, but he made no mistake about the main thing, his life was entirely dedicated to HIM.

I did not understand why he was in a hurry. The last three years he was busy serving, never taking days off or taking holidays. I moaned, just now and again I wanted simple happiness, that my husband and my children's father would be with my children and me. But another path had been prepared for him.

He used to say that they would kill him. I would ask him who would look after us. Me and the three children. He would answer that he would put us in safe hands. I'll give you to the Mother of God. She'll take care of you'.

These words were forgotten too soon. He told us which vestments to bury him in. Then I joked that there was no need to speak about that, we still did not know who would bury who. He said that I would bury him. Once our conversation turned to funerals, I don't remember the details but I did say that I had never been to a priest's funeral. And he answered that it did not matter because I would be at his funeral.

Now I remember many words which have gained a meaning. Now my doubts have dissolved, the misunderstandings have gone.

We did not say goodbye in this life, we did not ask each other forgiveness, we did not embrace one another. It was just another day: in the morning he went to the liturgy and I did not see him again. Why didn't I go to the church that day to meet him? I had thought of it, but I decided I had better get the evening meal ready and put the children to bed. It was because of the children that I did not go there. There was a hand that did not let me go.

But the evening before I had gone to the church and met him. I had felt as if dark clouds were gathering over us. And in the last few days I had tried to spend more time with him. Over the last week I had thought only about death and about life after death. I couldn't get my head around either the first or the second. That day my head was spinning with the words: 'Death is standing right behind you'. The last week everything was so hard, as if a huge load had been emptied out on top of me. I am not broken. He is supporting me, I feel as if he is standing by me. Then we said so many affectionate words, which we had never said to each other in our whole life before. Only now do I understand how much we loved each other.

The memorial service for the forty days of Fr Daniel takes place on the eve of his namesday and the patronal feast of the future church, 29 December, and 30 December is the feast of the holy prophet Daniel. According to the prophecy of an elder, the church would be built but Fr Daniel would not serve in it. The second part of the prophecy has already been fulfilled.

Matushka Julia Sysoieva

/Translated by Fr. Andrew Phillips/

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Vegetable Soup

This recipe isn't as useful during Lent or Dormition Fast since almost all of the days of those fasts are oil-free, but this is a handy recipe for Advent, when there are many oil days.

4 tablesspoons olive oil
3 chopped leeks
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 baby bear pumpkin, peeled and chopped to bite-size
4 Chantenay carrots, sliced to 1/8" to 1/14"
1 small/medium jicama, diced
2 russet potatoes, diced
kosher salt
2 quarts vegetable broth
black pepper

Heat oil over medium heat in soup pot. When hot add garlic and leeks and a picnch of salt. Cook till they start to sweat. Add all other solid ingredients, stir constantly for 5 minutes. Add all vegetable stock, put heat to high, bring to boil, reduce heat to simmer. Add salt to taste. Simmer for 30 minutes. Pepper to taste.

St. Catherine's Day

One of the days of Orthodox Advent is St Catherine's Day. (You can read about her here.)
Though her feast day is not one of the Great Feasts it is of major importance and she is celebrated around the world. She is of special importance to women, who sometimes have parties where they pledge to study rhetoric and elocution during the coming year. Athanasia says as soon as we are both through with school and we have a larger house (ha ha ha) she is going to have such a party. Lamb's Wool is the traditional beverage.

Next crown the bowl full
With gentle lamb's wool
Add sugar, nutmeg and ginger,
With store of ale too;
And thus ye must do
To make a wassail a swinger
-Robert Herrick

I have an authentic medieval English recipe for lambswool butit contains cream and is, therefore, not suitable for Orthodox to drink during Advent. But here is a modern recipe by a somewhat famous bartender by the name of Nick Strangeway which is fast friendly.

1 bottle of Hix IPA or light ale or bitter

For the sugar syrup

200g granulated sugar
200ml water
4 allspice berries
The peelings from the grated root ginger, below
8 cloves
2cm of a cinnamon stick

For the apple purée

500g bramley apples, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
A good pinch of grated nutmeg
tbsp finely grated root ginger
120g Demerara sugar

First, make the sugar syrup. Put all of the ingredients in a saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes; remove from the heat and cool. Then place all the ingredients for the apple purée in a thick-bottomed saucepan and cook on a low heat with a lid on for 6-7 minutes, stirring every so often until the apples have disintegrated. Remove from the heat; blend in a food processor until smooth.

To serve, strain the syrup through a fine-meshed sieve, gently heat the beer and whisk in the syrup and apple purée to taste; serve in a pewter or silver tankard.

Serve 4 small cups

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Church and Bowling

This morning we went to St. Nicholas Church in Saratoga. I am astounded by how much Fr. Basil can pack into a five minute homily. The Gospel for this day seemed especially appropriate as we approach the holiday shopping season: The rich man who tore down his barns to build bigger barns. Reminds me that I need to decide where to send my little bit of alms. Sometimes I wish I was very rich so I could give away more money. Then I remember that, compared to most people who have ever lived and are living now, I am very rich. And then I beg for mercy. Will my three coats and a sweater testify against me on the day of judgment?

Tonight, Athanasia, Anselm Samuel, Basil Wenceslas, and I went bowling to help Anselm earn his Cub Scout Bowling Belt Loop. Anselm's first roll of the ball resulted in a strike. In fact, he won the game! I came in 2nd, Basil 3rd, Athanasia, who was afraid of sliding down the lane (you know they oil them) came in last. It was a lot of fun.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple

A friend of mine was appalled one time when I declined to attend his Christmas party because it was happening during Advent. He just could not understand why I wanted to keep Advent, which to him was meaningless and dreary. I was new to Orthodoxy and wasn't really able to explain. If he ever asks again, I'll give him answer that includes a lot of what is below.

During the fasts of the Church year are the placement of some of the Great Feasts. Its nice since it lets us escape rice and beans for a day and have fish (No meat or dairy though). The Great Feast that happens during Advent is The Entrance (or Presentation) of the Theotokos into the Temple on November 21. Thus this Feast is part of Advent.

This feast is not one of the earliest feasts of the Church, however, there is evidence that it was being celebrated in the 4th Century. We can learn a lot about the feast from the Icon. (There is an Icon for each of the Great Feasts) The major figures in this Icon are Mary “the first and only woman to enter the Holy of Holies(1) ”, her parents Ss. Joachim and Anna, and her kinsman the priest St. Zacharias. Like all of the Feasts and their Icons, this Feast and Icon are not just commemorations of historical(2) events. This Feast is instruction in the way of holiness. In the Icon we see the role of parents and the Church in the formation of young souls. Mary did not enter the Temple alone(3), but was with her family and the priest. The point of this is that sanctification occurs in the natural community of the family and in the spiritual community of the church. We also see that the way to sanctification is gradual. There are fifteen steps. There are three chambers. The point of this is that sanctification does not happen alone and it doesn't happen in an instant. We must progress from the courtyard (active life) to the Holy (natural contemplation), then from the Holy to the Holy of Holies (the spiritual life).

There are three Old Testament readings during the Vigil (on the night of Nov. 20) for this Feast which climax with a revelation of the Theotokos as the Temple of God:

A. Exodus 40:1-5, 9-10, 16, 34-35 which refer to the outfitting of the Tabernacle
B. I Kings 7:51; 8:1, 3-7, 9-11 which refers to the dedication of Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem
C. Ezekiel 43:27-44:4, which talks about the temple gate but has traditionally been interpreted by Christians as a prophecy of Mary's virginity.

So why all of this? Because, in some way I do not understand unless it is that all three are the dwelling place of God it is that the Temple, the Church, Mary are all thrown together into the same bag. They all explain each each other and reveal something very important about God and salvation.

The two main hymns make this connection more clear:

Today Anna bequeaths joy to all instead of sorrow by bringing forth her fruit, the only ever-Virgin.
In fulfillment of her vow,
today with joy she brings to the temple of the Lord
the true temple and pure Mother of God the Word. (Troparion, 4th Tone)

Today the universe is filled with joy
at the glorious feast of the Mother of God, and cries out:
"She is the heavenly heavenly tabernacle." (Kontokian, 4th Tone)

Later, during the Divine Liturgy (on the morning of Nov. 21) for the Feast we will hear the the first few verses of the 9th chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews read:

Then verily the first covenant had also ordinances of divine service, and a worldly sanctuary. For there was a tabernacle made; the first, wherein was the candlestick, and the table, and the shewbread; which is called the sanctuary. And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of all; Which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron's rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant; And over it the cherubims of glory shadowing the mercyseat; of which we cannot now speak particularly. Now when these things were thus ordained, the priests went always into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the service of God. But into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and [for] the errors of the people.

What is going on here? We see light, and sacrifice, bread, and a veil, God's provision for his hungry people, his Law, life coming from lifelessness, angels guarding the mercyseat, which is God's throne. And the picture is becoming more clear.

Then, all of a sudden, so we don't get carried away and step over the line like the Jews of old who seemed to worship the temple and not God who lived in the Temple (Jer. 7:1-7), the Deacon proclaims the Gospel:

Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus' feet, and heard his word.But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her. (Luke 10:38-42)
And it came to pass, as he spake these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice, and said unto him, Blessed [is] the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked. But he said, Yea rather, blessed [are] they that hear the word of God, and keep it. (Luke 11:27-28)

And here we see that it isn't just the Tabernacle, or the Temple, or Mary, where God dwells. Rather, everyone who lays aside the cares of this world and hears and keeps the Words of Jesus is blessed. The hearers/keepers are the dwelling place of God. They are the Temple. And though the book is never read liturgically in the Orthodox Church, we see this explicitly in Revelation 21, where the Church is called the New Jerusalem and God dwells with human beings for ever.

You can read much more about this feast, including a a sermon by St. Gregory Palamas here.

So, this is part of what Advent is about. How can I not love it?

(1) Quenot, Michael, The Icon: Window on the Kingdom (Crestwood. New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1996), Page 51
(2) Two famous and very influential American priests, Fr. Thomas Hopko and Blessed Seraphim (Rose) are in disagreement concerning the historicity of this event. Nevertheless, they both see the feast as a very important revelation concerning the attainment of holiness.
(3) My pastor and friend Archpriest Victor Sokolov used to say "the only thing a person does alone is go to Hell."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Basil's Prayer

Basil Wenceslas and Anselm Samuel are playing checkers. Suddenly Basil jumped up, ran to the Icon corner, crossed himself and said,

"Jesus, protect me. Protect my Mom and Dad and all the people who protect me, and all the people you love, and all the things you made. You protect because you are good. Amen."

He has now returned to the checkers game.

Pickled Peppers

Anselm Samuel and I made this today.
My fingers, mouth, and nose are on fire.
I didn't let Anselm touch the peppers. He's doing okay.

2 qts. Jalapeno peppers
2 cup white vinegar
2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon pickling salt
4 cloves garlic

Slice peppers or leave them whole. (To prevent bursting, cut two small slits in whole peppers.) Pack peppers tightly into clean, hot jars.

Combine vinegar and water; heat to a simmer. Do not boil. Pour hot vinegar over peppers, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Add pickling salt and and a clove of garlic to each jar then seal.

Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

My New FavoriteWebsite

That's My Home has recipes for everything! Anselm Samuel and I are making Christmas presents.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


My mother never made fruitcake. Instead she made fruitcake cookies. They were amazing good. I wish I had the recipe but I don't. So, I thought to myself, why not make an actual fruitcake? I know. I know. Fruitcakes have been ridiculed and feared for over a century. But I want to try it. So, I'm reviewing recipes and, I hope, shall have something good to report back here during the 12 days.

Why do we fast when everyone else is having fun?

Fr. John Matusiak answered:

We fast before the Great Feast of the Nativity in order to prepare ourselves for the celebration of Our Lord's birth. As in the case of Great Lent, the Nativity Fast is one of preparation, during which we focus on the coming of the Savior by fasting, prayer, and almsgiving.

By fasting, we "shift our focus" from ourselves to others, spending less time worrying about what to eat, when to eat, how much to eat, and so on in order to use our time in increased prayer and caring for the poor. We learn through fasting that we can gain control over things which we sometimes allow to control us -- and for many people, food is a controlling factor. [We live in the only society in which an entire TV network is devoted to food!] While fasting from food, however, we are also challenged to fast from sin, from gossip, from jealousy, from anger, and from those other things which, while well within our control, we all too often allow to control us.

Just as we would refrain from eating a lot before going to an expensive restaurant for dinner -- if we "ruin our appetite" we will enjoy the restaurant less -- so too we fast before the Nativity in order to more fully feast and celebrate on the Nativity itself.

During the Nativity Fast, we are called upon to refrain from meat, dairy, fish, wine, and olive oil. At the same time, we are challenged, within this framework, to fast to the best of our ability, and to do so consistently. If we must modify the extent to which we fast within this framework, it is of course possible, but in every instance our fasting should be consistent and regular, for Christ does not see fasting as an option, but as a "must." In Matthew Christ says, "WHEN you fast, do not be like the hypocrites," not "IF you fast" or "IF YOU CHOOSE to fast."

Can't get this out of a can.

A friend's wife sent me this recipe. I'll be trying it out during Christmas.

Matt here's one. It's just a soup, but it is different than what most AMericans eat. It is with pears, beans and bacon (or you could substitute prosciutto). You can also add potatoes. Could the beans in some water, add some broth, the bacon, add some potaotes. Make sure it is all cokked, and toward the end, add in some cut up pears. We have this probably once every 3 months or so. Karin says this is from northern Germany.

Maybe Soon She Will Be Glorified

Mother Olga (I had never heard of her until a few minutes ago) of Alaska was a midwife who is being considered for Glorification (that's what we call it when the orthodox Church recognizes a new Saint). You can read about her here.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Advent Thus Far

We don't start off with a lot of big hoopla. Taking our cue from the liturgical practice of the Church, we ease into Advent which is variously called Nativity Fast, Winter Lent, St. Philip's Fast, or Nativity Lent.

This particular day, the second day of Advent, is the Feast of the Apostle and Evangelist Matthew, who is my heavenly patron and intercessor. We celebrated by his feast by eating salmon and singing the Troparion and Kontakion of the feast. Around the table I lead the boys in a discussion of St. Matthew's life. (Anselm Samuel was surprised Jesus chose such a wicked man to be one of his Apostles.)

I asked Anselm to tell me what happened in the Garden of Eden. He told us about Adam and Eve getting kicked out and why, but he didn't remember what God said to the serpent. So we opened the Bible to Genesis 3:14-15

So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,
“Cursed are you above all the livestock
and all the wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
and you will eat dust
all the days of your life.
And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.”

We talked about what this meant, how it was a promise that Mary would have a baby and that baby would defeat Satan. We talked about how for thousands of years people waited for that promise to be kept. And we talked about how Advent is a time when we remember all those people who waited, and how God loved us even when we were His enemies, and how He promised to heal our souls, and how with these few words God set in motion a plan to save us. And that is what Advent is about, waiting and watching as the plan is unfolded before our eyes.

An Advent Hmyn

Composed in Latin by St. Ambrose of Milan (340-397).
Translated into English by J.M. Neal in 1862.

Come, Thou Redemer of the Earth

Come, thou Redeemer of the earth,
and manifest thy virgin birth:
let every age adoring fall;
such birth befits the God of all.

Begotten of no human will,
but of the Spirit, thou art still
the Word of God in flesh arrayed,
the promised fruit to man displayed.

The virgin womb that burden gained
with virgin honor all unstained;
the banners there of virtue glow;
God in his temple dwells below.

Forth from his chamber goeth he,
that royal home of purity,
a giant in twofold substance one,
rejoicing now his course to run.

From God the Father he proceeds,
to God the Father back he speeds;
his course he runs to death and hell,
returning on God's throne to dwell.

O equal to thy Father, thou!
Gird on thy fleshly mantle now;
the weakness of our mortal state
with deathless might invigorate.

Thy cradle here shall glitter bright,
and darkness breathe a newer light,
where endless faith shall shine serene,
and twilight never intervene.

All laud to God the Father be,
all praise, eternal Son, to thee;
all glory, as is ever meet,
to God the Holy Paraclete.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

I just came accross this on another blog.

I just read what follows at Mystagogy.

In a village of Romania there was no priest and the residents often went to the Patriarch with the problem in order to fill the empty spot. However the Patriarch did not have the means of satisfying the demand. The villagers often went to the Patriarch, but he would say the same thing, that he did not have a priest to send to the village.

Meanwhile people died unread (no funeral service), others had relationships and children without marriage vows, and the children and adults alike were unbaptized.

Then one day, outside of the church, a car stopped and out stepped a priest. The village was astonished and yelled out that a priest had come.

The villagers went to the church to greet him and asked him, "How did you come to the village after our Patriarch had said that he doesn't have a priest to send us?"

The priest answered, "Isn't this what you wanted? Did you not want a priest? Here I am."

All the villagers were glad in the presence of the new priest.

The priest began immediately working. He went to all the graves and read the funeral service. He baptized and married everyone in the village and administered Holy Communion.

One day he invited all the villagers to church and told them, "I will leave now, my mission is done."

The villagers were confused and asked, "Now that you came, you are leaving?"

However the priest did not listen to the villagers and proceeded with his decision.

When the villagers realized that their wasn't anything they could do, they thanked him for his offering.

After a few days, the villagers went to the Patriarch and they thanked him for sending them a priest and to let him know that they would appreciate it if he could send them another priest soon, but the Patriarch didn't know anything.

He said to them, "I didn't send a priest because I don't have one, however let me check with the chancellor to see if he had sent a priest to you to serve your needs."

He phoned the chancellor, but he too didn't send anyone.

The Patriarch inquired, "What did this priest do in your parish?"

The villagers answered, "He married us, baptized us, performed funerals for our parents, he did what any other priest would have performed for us."

Then the Patriarch asked, "Well, didn't he gave you any papers or log the Mysteries.

"Of course," said the villagers, "he gave us papers and he wrote them in the church's books."

"Then did anyone see what he wrote? And with what name he signed?"

"All the documents were written in Romanian and we are not well educated and the signature he signed in a language we have not seen before."

The Patriarch requested they go bring the books in order to see who was this clergyman.

When they returned with the book the Patriarch remained speechless. He couldn't believe his eyes.

Indeed all the documents were written in Romanian while his name was written in Greek with the name of his signature,

Nektarios, Bishop of Pentapolis

Feast of St. Matthew

Today, 15 November is the first day of the Nativity Fast, which is often called Advent. It is a fast during which the Orthodox prepare for the Feast of the Nativity of Jesus.

Beginning at sundown today (or the start of Vespers if you were able to get to the service tonight) today and running until Sundown (or the start of Vespers on the 16th) is the Feast of the Apostle and Evangelist Matthew, my heavenly patron and intercessor. In honor of the day, tonight at supper my wife gave me an Icon of the Synaxis of the Saints who have Shown Forth in America. Depicted in the Icon are all of the American Saints standing together, around the edge of the Icon are smaller Icons depicting partsof the Saint's lives. It is very beautiful and has been placed in the Icon Corner.

Anselm Samuel had a fever of 100 so he stayed home with Athanasia, but Basil and I went for a walk after supper. Every day when the sunsetshe says,"Can we go fora night time walk?" He loves them. I don't know why. So most nights, as we did tonight, we go for a walk through our neighborhood in the dark.

Everyone is in bed now but me. It cold out. I think I'll mull some cider and finish this paper I am writing for school.

Catholic match doesn't know what a Catholic church interior looks like?

I clicked on Drudge Report a couple of seconds ago and saw this ad at the top of the page. It is for a Roman Catholic match making company. But look at the picture. Does this look like any Catholic church you've been in? I suppose it could be eastern rite Roman Catholic, but it doesn't even look like those interiors, which, according to my extremely limited knowledge, have a kind of modernist sensibility to them. I zoomed in on the two crosses on the right side to get a good look at the angle of the bottom cross-bar but I can't make it out: One looks diagonaland the other looks horizontal. So, does any one know if this is this picture is the interior of Orthodox or Catholic building?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Grapevine: Saturday Soundtrack

Everyone knows Marvin Gaye is most closely associated with this song but this older version by Gladys Knight and the Pipps is so much better. And here is a confession, when I was a kid I used to pretend I was a Pip. I do the steps, the spins, and the "ooo ooos". I still think being a Pip would be really cool. Just imagine the business card.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

A Sermon, Cranberrry Bread, and Getting Ready for Christmas

Today Anselm Samuel paid attention to the sermon. I think it might have been the first time ever. In addition to being the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost this morning was also the Synaxis of the the Archangel Michael and the other bodiless powers. So, instead of just the Sunday Gospel reading we also had a Gospel for the Synaxis, which in the wisdom of the Church Fathers who arranged the lectionary, has nothing to do with any of the Archangels, unless, as the priest pointed out, you know the back-story. The sermon was over in 5 minutes but explained who the 70 were and what their job was, explained the rebuke Jesus gave to the 70 (it was very funny), and told the story of Lucifer's rebellion, the war in Heaven, and the casting down of Satan by Holy Michael. When the sermon was over and the priest was walking back to the Altar Anselm said, "That was good. That was the best sermon ever." It was pretty good.

Sadly, I am not well, and could not stay any longer. I have been drinking large amounts (even for me) of coffee doing without much sleep for days in order to get all my school assignments completed. Lately I've been shaking, experiencing stomach problems, and once even hallucinated. It was a very strange thing. Anselm, Basil, Athanasia, and I were all sitting in the living room and I saw another boy just stroll through the room. It was startling, but I saw right away he wasn't really there. Anyway, when after the sermon I fell asleep standing during the liturgy. Realizing I was about to become a huge distraction(Headline: Church burns as man falls asleep and spills oil lamps), Anslem and I left (Basil is sick - puke,sniff,cough,puke,sniff,cough- and Athanasia stayed home with him.) just as the clergy were getting ready for the Great Entrance. The drive home was pretty scary, but we made it and I crashed for 3 hours.

I really like this priest. I hope I am not breaking any kind of rules about the silence surrounding confession, but just before he prayed the prayer of absolution he me some spiritual advice, which essentially was "Satan sets traps, you see them and avoid them by prayer. You aren't praying enough." Another thing I like about him is that before he became Orthodox he was Pentecostal, like me. He was one of the Jesus People in the early 1970s.


I read "Cranberry Thanksgiving" to the boys tonight. They enjoyed it, and like I did when my mother read it to me, asked me to make cranberry bread. So, tomorrow, morning, after I clean the laundry room and get the roofers set up (we are re-roofing building 8) we are going to make cranberry bread. Much fun!

This is the recipe in the book, not my wife's famous Cranberry bread recipe.


Sift: 2 cups flour (sifted), 1 cup sugar, 1 and 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp baking soda.

Cut in 1/4 cup butter until mixture is crumbly (I use a mixer to crumble-ize it)

Add 1 beaten egg, 1 tsp grated orange peel and 3/4 cup organge juice and mix until mixture is evenly moist.

Fold in 1 and 1/2 cups light raisins and about a half bag of chopped cranberries per loaf.

Spoon into a greased 9 x 5 x 3 loaf pan bake at 350' for 1 hour and 10 mins or until toothpick in center comes out clean.

Cool out of pan on a wire rack. keep stored in aluminum foil, unless you eat it all before it cools.


A friend of mine has given me a fabulous idea: A candlelight reading of W.H. Auden's For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio. I'm thinking Jan 3 or 4, since the piece is really about the movement from Christmas into ordinary time. Oh! I can hardly wait! Got to get texts (Oh, I do hope it is in the public domain!), settle on a date, and get the invites out to all my friends and family. I haven't done readers theater since the 4th grade. This will be fun.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Saturday Soundtrack: Memories of my Dad

Back in the mid 1970s, when I was6 years old by Dad bought a cabin the mountain up above Sonoroa. We would usually stop in town on the way to the cabin, buy dough-nuts and peanut m&ms, sausauge and eggs for breakfast. He was always building something on the cabin so we would often stop at a hardware store, too. Usually we wouldn't get there till the afternoon. The next morning we would go fishing. Well, he would go fishing. I would take books and read. (I think that always made him a little bit sad, that I didn't like fishing. My older brother, Ken is the one who liked fishing as a kid.) Anyway, one morning, on the way to the lake he sang this song.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Death of Ven.Bede

I am currently writing a paper on the two great historians: St. Bede (c.672-735), the Father of English history, and Bishop Eusebis of Caesarea (c.260 – ante 341), the Father of Church history. I just read this beautiful account of St. Bede's falling asleep and thought you might like to read it, too. (Trivia: Bede means prayer, and is the word from which we get bead.)

Even on the day of his death (the vigil of the Ascension, 735) the saint was still busy dictating a translation of the Gospel of St. John. In the evening the boy Wilbert, who was writing it, said to him: "There is still one sentence, dear master, which is not written down." And when this had been supplied, and the boy had told him it was finished, "Thou hast spoken truth", Bede answered, "it is finished. Take my head in thy hands for it much delights me to sit opposite any holy place where I used to pray, that so sitting I may call upon my Father." And thus upon the floor of his cell singing, "Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost" and the rest, he peacefully breathed his last breath.

Troparion, in Tone VIII

Throughout the dark years of thy times, O Bede, thou didst water the English lands and all the West with outpourings of grace; and like a skilled sower thou didst cast the seed of divine knowledge far and wide over the fields of thy Master, where, springing forth, it hath borne fruit for Him an hundredfold. Wherefore, having thus acquired boldness before Him, O venerable one, pray thou unceasingly that our souls be saved.

Wild Mushroom Lasagne (AKA The $50 Lasagne)

Even though this is the best lasagne I have ever had, because of the expense I don't make this except for company.


For mushroom tomato sauce

2 1/2cups boiling-hot water
1 1/2 cup dried porcini mushrooms
1 cup chopped onion (1 medium)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 (14- to 15-ounce) cans diced tomatoes in juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1/2 teaspoon salt
A about 1/16 teaspoon white sugar

For béchamel sauce

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 3/4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 1/2 cups whole milk, heated
3 garlic cloves, smashed
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

For assembling lasagne

12 long ruffle-edged dried lasagne noodles (not no-boil)
6 ounces finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Make béchamel (I like to make it the day before)
Heat butter in a 2-quart heavy saucepan over moderately low heat until melted, then add flour and cook roux over low heat, whisking, 3 minutes. Add hot milk in a fast stream, whisking vigorously, and whisk in garlic and salt. Bring to a boil, whisking. Reduce heat and simmer, whisking occasionally, 10 minutes, then remove garlic and add pepper.

Make mushroom tomato sauce (I like to make it the day before)
Pour boiling-hot water over porcini in a bowl and let stand until softened, about 20 minutes.Lift out porcini, squeezing excess liquid back into bowl, then rinse to remove any grit. Pour soaking liquid through a sieve lined with a dampened paper towel into another bowl. Chop porcini and add to soaking liquid.

Cook onion in oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 4 to 5 minutes, then stir in tomatoes with juice, sugar, porcini with soaking liquid, and 1 tablespoon basil. Simmer, stirring frequently, until tomatoes have broken down into a chunky sauce, about 25 minutes. Stir in salt and remaining tablespoon basil.

Assemble and bake lasagne
Cook lasagne noodles in a 6- to 8-quart pot of boiling salted water 8 minutes (noodles will not be cooked through), then drain and transfer to a bowl of cold water.

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 425°F.

Spread 1 cup béchamel on bottom of a buttered 13- by 9-inch baking dish, reserving remainder for last layer. Drain 3 lasagne noodles in 1 layer on a kitchen towel and arrange over béchamel in baking dish. Spread pasta in dish evenly with one third of mushroom tomato sauce and sprinkle with 1/3 cup cheese. Repeat layering of pasta, mushroom tomato sauce, and cheese twice, then cover with last 3 lasagne noodles. Spread remaining béchamel on top and sprinkle with remaining 3/4 cup cheese.

Bake, uncovered, until lasagne is bubbling and top is browned, 30 to 35 minutes. Let stand at room temperature at least 20 minutes before cutting.

Cooks notes

Go easy on the sauces for the bottom layer because it is easy to run out before the top layer. After you make this a few times judging how much to put on each layer is easy.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Hallowe'en Report

On the night of the 30th we carved pumpkins (I'd much rather eat them.) and made little ghosts out of Tootsie Pops and little squares of white cloth.

On the morning of the 31st we drove to San Francisco for brunch with some of our friends. (Justin makes a totally amazing fritata.) It was much fun, and I could have stayed at that table with my friends all day but we had plans take the boys, and our friends were taking my goddaughters, to the Hallowe'en Fair at the Randall Museum.

At the Randall the kids played games, saw shows (you need to book The Bubble Lady for your next event. She puts on a very entertaining show.), and made crafts. The boys both painted some kind of Mexican Day of the Dead skull thing, and Basil made a trick-or-treat bag.

After the Hallowe'en fair we got dim sum with Athanasia's cousin, sister and brother-in-law at Tong Kiang out in the Russian neighborhood on Geary Blvd. (I really hate They make very good food. I especially like their steamed pork buns. Usually, when I go there it is in the morning and it is totally packed. This was, I think, the first time I've been there in the afternoon. It was nice not having to wait for a table.

That night was trick or treating. They had a lot of fun. Many people commented on their costumes. At one house Anselm was mesmerized by the very beautiful woman who answered the door in a skin tight (I think it must have been PVC) and very revealing Sexy Police Woman costume. (We might skip that house next year.) At another house, as they approached the door, the thing they thought was a scarecrow screamed and lunged at them! Well, they screamed and ran away from that house as fast as they could. We only went to about 40 houses but the boys had a great time and their bags were heavy with teeth rotting agents. Then we went back to our house where Athanasia turned door duty over to me, helped the boys go through the candy, and watched Its The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown on iTunes with the boys.

This year, we did something different. In addition to handing out candy we gave kids candles to light in front of the Holy Icons. If anyone asked why all I said was, "Tonight is Hallowe'en only because tomorrow is All Saints Day." (Of course, that is only on the Western Calendar. For Orthodox All Saints Day is the Sunday after Pentecost. I'm not opposed to using the Roman Catholic and Protestant holidays for evangelism.)

Most of the kids wanted to light candles. The older kids, especially the teenagers seemed to get serious, even reverent when they lit the candles. One boy, dressed up like the killer in one of those 1980's slasher movies said after lighting his candle "That was cool." They all said "thank you". One grandmother started crying when her grand-daughters (all seemed between 5 and 10) lit candles before the Icons.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Before there was Amy Winehouse: Saturday Soundtrack

Ode to Ronnie Spector

This curve
this upward knowing curve
I once heard in my youth.
I heard it on her mouth.
I know
you won't
believe me,
it sings,
just that curve sings,
like sirens
it sings.
I shivered in those solitudes
when I heard
the voice of
that half-mocking smile.
From the single
speaker on the dashboard:
the petition sings.
The promise sings.
The command sings.

skin of summer camp girls
advancing on awe struck eyes
of summer camp boys
singing Ronnie's song.
Boys scream and
flee certain captivity.

From out of the dark depths
this curve sings.
The goal
not bubblegum,
and beautiful.
It sings and
I turn up the volume
in the big Cadillac,
driving down a white shell
Florida highway.
Between the palmettos,
air sticking to my skin,
under a torrid moon
I hear this curve.
The power of it over me.
I'll be your baby.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Book for Advent

Sometimes I feel kind of bummed that the Orthodox Church does not have a bunch of extra services during Advent like we do during Great Lent. But other times, like now, when I am thinking about all the activities I have planned for my children during Advent I am grateful that we don't have services every day.

Today I have been thinking about all the books we read aloud beginning on November 15. One of them, which we don't actually start until November 30 is the Gospel presented as 24 stories based on the pictures on Benjamin Bear's Advent Calendar.

Benjamin Bear was tucked in his warm bed, but he couldn't fall asleep.
"When will Christmas finally be here?" he asked Mother Bear.
"You have to be patient, Benjamin," said Mother. "But tomorrow you canopen the first door on your Advent Calendar, and we'll begin our journey to Bethlehem."
"How far is it to Bethlehem?" asked Benjamin.
Mother Bear smiled. "24 stories away!"
"And then it's really Christmas?"
Mother nodded and gave Benjamin a big kiss on the nose.
"Good night, now, little one."

The next night we read the story about the picture behind the first door in Benjamin Bear's Advent Calendar. You can read it, too. Here is where you can buy the book.


Two days a week Anselm Samuel is part of a home school enrichment program called Live Oak Academy (they also maintain all the paperwork Caesar requires). The program is housed in a local evangelical mega-church. The other day Anselm and I were walking by their main auditorium and looked in. I asked him, "how is this different from an Orthodox temple?" I expected him to say "It has no icons" or "it has pews" or "there are no crosses" or "they have no candles". Instead, going right to the heart of the matter, he said: "The altar is missing."

One of my mothers complaints about the worship in her denomination was that it was "too me-centered and not God-centered". Here is an article, by a Baptist, that talks about some of the same things.

"The Puritans made the mistake of not being consistent with their view of covenant theology when it came to their ideas concerning worship. As Ray Sutton has written, in every other area of theological concern they held to the hermeneutical principle that “Unless the New Testament changes it, do what the Old Testament commands.” However, when it came to worship, they became dispensationalists and said, basically, “If the New Testament does not command it, we cannot do it.”11 The present-day consequences of this narrowing of the Regulative Principle are asthmatic worship services that only have the one lung of the New Testament to breathe life into its services, rather than the two lungs of Old and New Testaments.

One cannot help but wonder if the typical evangelical fear of “forms”—of rituals, ceremonies, art—is due more to a reaction to all things Roman Catholic than to a desire to obey God. “If the Roman Catholics do it, then it is evil” quite often appears to be the working definition of the Regulative Principle! Do they use art? It must be a sin. Do they utilize ceremony? Ceremonies are evil. Do they light candles? Candles are of the devil." (Read the whole thing here.)


Interestingly, the author of the article, like the Orthodox, sees that worship on Earth is supposed to, at least, emulate worship in Heaven. I wonder how long he will remain a Protestant.

Monday, October 26, 2009


Up until the 1970's the Vice President of the United States (who is also the President of the Senate) had no staff in the Executive branch and usually none in the Congress. Now he has about 40 staff in the Senate and about that number working for him in the Executive branch. I don't see why he needs so many employees, but I kind of understand that he is a high level executive with important things to do (maybe) and he needs help doing them.

Today, the Michelle Obama, who has no official position in the government, who has no official responsibilities, who was not elected, or appointed to anything by anyone, who is merely the president's wife has the following staff:

1. $172,2000 - Sher, Susan (CHIEF OF STAFF)
6. $90,000 - Medina, David S. (DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF TO THE FIRST LADY)
7. $84,000 - Lelyveld, Catherine M. (DIRECTOR AND PRESS SECRETARY TO THE FIRST LADY)
20. $36,000 - Armbruster, Sally M. (STAFF ASSISTANT TO THE SOCIAL SECRETARY)
21. Bookey, Natalie (STAFF ASSISTANT)


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Egg Nog to Kill a Horse!

This has become a Christmas tradition in our house. Usually we make it for the 3rd Day of Christmas, which in the Orthodox Church is also the Feast of St. Stephen.

-12 eggs
-1 pound of confectioners sugar
-4 cups of bourbon
-2 cups of brandy
-2 quarts of heavy whipping cream
- whole nutmeg (fresh)
- ground cinnamon (fresh)

- large bowl (it will have to hold a little more than 1 gallon)
- 2 large mixing bowls
- spoon for stirring
- wire whisk for beating egg whites
- grater

Beat separately until light in color
12 egg yolks (save the whites for later)
Beat in gradually
1 pound of confectioner's sugar
Add very slowly, beating constantly
2 cups of bourbon
This forms the basis of the "nog".

Let mixture stand covered for 1 hour to dispel the "eggy" taste.

Add, beating constantly,
2 cups of bourbon
2 cups of brandy (I prefer Christian Brothers)
2 quarts whipping cream

Refrigerate covered for 3 hours.

Beat until stiff but not dry
8 to 12 egg whites

Fold egg whites lightly into the other ingredients. Serve sprinkled
with fresh grated nutmeg and cinnamon to taste.

Yield is about 1 gallon.

If you think the eggnog will be consumed quickly it is a nice touch to float a block of ice in it. But it melts and will make the nog watery, so only use ice if you have a large party or your friends are heavy drinkers. Watery egg nog is gross.

This is a very rich, high-cholesterol, high-octane eggnog.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Bye Bye Blackbird- Saturday Soundtrack

I've read that when Ray Henderson and Mort Dixon wrote this song in 1926 they were telling the story of a prostitute leaving that sad life and returning home to her mother. In several versions of the song that idea really comes through, but not in the two versions I like the most. The first is by Miles Davis. I don't know when it was recorded but I like it more than his famous 1956 recording. This one is pitched a little higher and has a faster tempo, typical of Davis' later years.

Joe Cocker's version of the song, though famous for the electric guitar solo also has a trumpet connection. In one of those so weird it has to be true stories, Cocker used to own a burlesque theater in Canada with Phil Driscoll.

Here are the original lyrics.

Blackbird, blackbird singing the blues all day
Right outside of my door
Blackbird, blackbird who do you sit and say
There's no sunshine in store

All thru the winter you hung around
Now I begin to feel homeward bound
Blackbird, blackbird gotta be on my way
Where there's sunshine galore

Pack up all my care and woe
Here I go, singing low

Bye bye blackbird

Where somebody waits for me
Sugar's sweet, so is she

Bye bye blackbird

No one here can love and understand me
Oh, what hard luck stories they all hand me
Make my bed and light the light
I'll arrive late tonight

Blackbird, bye bye

Bluebird bluebird calling me far away
I've been longing for you
Bluebird bluebird what do I hear you say
Skies are turning to blue

I'm like a flower that's fading here
Where ev'ry hour is one long tear
Bluebird bluebird this is my lucky day
Now my dreams will come true

Pack up all my care and woe
Here I go, singing low

Bye bye blackbird

Where somebody waits for me
Sugar's sweet, so is she

Bye bye blackbird

No one here can love and understand me
Oh, what hard luck stories they all hand me
Make my bed and light the light
I'll arrive late tonight

Blackbird, bye bye