Monday, January 25, 2010

A Good Start to the Week

On Saturday night we went to Confession and Vespers. On Sunday morning we went to Liturgy. Basil Wenceslas was very well behaved (Thank you, Lord.) and we were all able to be in the services from start to finish without interruption. I don't know what it was, but something said by the prist during his sermon struck Basil as funny and he just kept lauging at him. Several times after the service he said, "Wasn't he funny, Dad? He said funny things." Unfortunately, during the liturgy I began to have an occular migraine. It didn't bother me too much during the service, it merely made things I was trying to look at seem all shimmery and hard to see. But after the service a headache started that pretty much knocked me out all afternoon.

About 4 o'clock I was able to get up and be productive. Athanasia had already begun cooking the lamb shanks (recipe below), so I got started on the carrots (recipe below). While we cooking Anselm Samuel was working on spelling, and Basil was playing with Devon, my 20 year old son.

During dinner we talked about getting ready for Lent. We talked about the wise and foolish virgins. (Interestingly, both St. Leo the Great and Blessed Theophylact teach that the oil in those lamps was alms. The failure of the 5 foolish virgins was to delay doing good when they had the opportunity.) We talked about the Publican and the Pharisee and how God isn't impressed by fasting, how Satan is a much better faster than we can ever be. We talked about the upcoming Forgiveness Vespers, and how we will all prostrate and ask forgiveness of everyone else in the parish. At this point Devon began to look a little bit confused. He had never heard the word prostrate and thought we were saying prostate! It was very funny. Basil demonstrated a prostration for his older brother.

Today there have been many activities. Anselm had chess class. Athanasia had a dentist appointment. A plumber came and had to cut the ceiling out of a kitchen in one of the apartments. The bathroom upstairs had a major leak that could only be accessed from underneath. I have a fan on the exposed beams and joists right now. On Thursday I'll bring in someone to do sheet rock and painting.

Tonight is 2-for-1 night at the pizza parlour around the corner. After that there is a little school work for Anselm. Then we'll all practice our ukes.

Balsamic Glazed Carrots
1/2 cup butter
2 1/2 pounds peeled and chopped carrots
6 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar

1. Melt butter in pan over medium heat.
2. Sautee carrots for 5 minutes.
3. Add balsamic vinegar and sugar.
4. Stir so all carrots are coated.
5. Cover and cook for 7 minutes.
6. Uncover, stir, pour into serving bowl.

Braised Lamb Shanks

6 lamb shanks (trim off the excess fat)
salt and pepper
1 large yellow onion, maybe two.
5 cloves of garlic
1 bottle hearty red wine
1 pound dry egg noodles

1. Brown the lamb shanks in a large skillet over high heat, as they brown add the salt and pepper.
2. Pour yourself a glass of wine.
3. When shanks are browned reduce heat to medium. Add onions and garlic. Stir everything up so the onions and garlic are in the bottom of the pan. Keep stirring by moving the shanks around in the pan (it isn't perfect but that's okay). Do this until the onions are golden. Add 1/2 of the remaining wine to the pan.
4.When it starts to boil reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until lamb is tender enough to fall off the bone. This will take at least three hours maybe 4.
5. After two hours pour yourself another big glass of wine. Pour remainder of bottle into the pan.
6. When the shanks are fully cooked remove them from the pan. Remove all meat from bones. Keep meat warm.
7. Raise heat under skillet to medium and reduce liquid, scraping the bottleof the skillet to get all the yummy stuff into the liquid.
8. Once the juices are a nice thick sauce return the meat to the pan and give it a good stirring so the bigger pieces are broken up.
9. Cook the egg noodles according to directions.
10. Serve the yummy meaty sauce over the egg noodles.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Late night TV Talk Show moment

I think the first time I heard of the Orthodox Church was when Adrian Zmed (Grease II) was being interviewed on the Arsenio Hall Show. Not much was said about it, all I remember was a joke about married priests. Our brother Adrian's father has fallen asleep in Lord.

Posted 01/14

CHICAGO, IL [OCA] -- Archpriest George Zmed, 93, retired pastor of Holy Nativity Romanian Orthodox Church here, fell asleep in the Lord on Tuesday, January 12, 2010.

Father George was born in Chicago on April 24, 1916 to Nicolae and Paraschiva [Balan] Zmed, both of Comlosul Mare, Timis, Romania. At the age of five years, he and his family returned to Comlosul Mare, where he lived until returning to the US in November 1952.

He graduated from the Timisoara-Caransebes Theological Academy in 1942, after which he studied for one year at the Law School in Cluj.

He was ordained to the diaconate by His Eminence, Archbishop [later Metropolitan] Vasile [Lazarescu] in Pesac, Banat, Romania, on October 18, 1942, and to the priesthood the following week in Satchinez. He was awarded the right to wear the red sash by Metropolitan Vasile and elevated to the dignity of archpriest by the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America on March 19, 1996.

After his return to the US, he was received into the ranks of the clergy of the Romanian Episcopate in July 1958. He served Chicago's Holy Nativity parish until his retirement in 1983.

Father George served as spiritual advisor to the American-Romanian Orthodox Youth and administrative dean of the Episcopate's Chicago Deanery, contributed to the "SOLIA" newspaper, and participated in numerous other Episcopate actitivities. He was fluent in the Romanian and English languages and is well remembered as a musician with a fine voice, who organize many musical programs for his parish.

Married to the former Persida Golub of Cerneteaz, Romania in Timisoara on October 15, 1942, he and his wife are survived by three sons, Cornel, Walter, and Adrian, a well known actor.

Funeral services will be celebrated at Chicago's Holy Nativity Church on Wednesday evening and Thursday, January 20-21.

May Father George's memory be eternal!

Memory Eternal!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Who is Christianity for?

"The Christian faith isn't a white collar faith. It isn't even a faith for people in blue collars. If anything, it it a faith for people who don't even have shirts." ~ Fr. Patrick Reardon

I've often joked that Orthodox Christianity is Christianity for graduate students. We are an unusually highly educated bunch. We quote obscure writers in our conversations and sing unusual and ancient music in our services. Most of the Orthodox I know speak at least two languages. Most of the Orthodox Christians I know would be classed as white collar. So my question is, if Fr. Patrick is right, have we made a mistake? Why isn't our Church more attractive to the very poor and the uneducated, the dregs of society? What can I do to make the poor and uneducated feel at home in this faith?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


"Thou shalt not slay the child by procuring abortion; nor, again, shalt thou destroy it after it is born. Thou shalt not withdraw thy hand from thy son, or from thy daughter, but from their infancy thou shalt teach them the fear of the Lord." ~Epistle of Barnabas: Chapter XIX

I never took part in an abortion but O, how terribly I failed my two oldest sons. Will the rest of my life spent in prayer be enough to help them?

UPDATE: My aunt Joann used my Aunt Nettie's facebook account to send me this message:

"Aunt Joann your blog re your oldest boys, and didn't know how to send a comment, so I'll do it here. I heard someone say once "you do the best you can until you know better, then you do better". Parenting classes aren't required before we reproduce, so we just have to fly by the seat of our pants until we learn how to do it better. God is a Redeemer, so along with your praying, BELIEVE! Love you"

Traffic Planning

This film was made during a cble car ride up Market Street toward the Ferry Bldg, in the days just before the 1906 earthquake.

Here is the same trip in 2005, but this time on an electric street car. There are no more cable cars on Market Street.

The 1906 film looks like a lot more fun with much more energy, doesn't it? It is too bad planners try to streamline the flow of traffic, as though getting from A to B is the most important thing. The wonderful thing about city life is what happens between those points.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Obama = Carter

The President of the United States has many jobs. But one matters more than all others. He must so terrify any potential attacker that only the insane would dare attack us. Those few who do attack us he must hunt down and kill. Every time. No exceptions. If he does not protect us from foreign aggression or, failing that, destroy the aggressor who is not afraid to harm us, he violates the Social Contract that holds our all civilizations together. We obey governments because they protect us.

I have now read everything that has been made public about the attempted airliner bombing on Christmas. Presented with incontrovertible and unambiguous evidence of a foreign attack the government failed. The President failed.

Now the attacker is in the custody of the U.S. government. But instead of holding our enemy and trying him as an unlawful combatant in wartime, he is being treated like a civilian criminal in peacetime. He has been read his Miranda rights. Our enemy will be using a court-appointed and taxpayer-funded lawyer. Now every attacker knows that if they are captured alive they will receive the protection of the very laws they were trying to destroy. The President has indicated that our attackers do not need to fear us. They know the President is not going to kill them. This is the President's second failure. The President imperils the nation.

Has he been busy with health care reform, the economy, banking legislation, saving the auto industry? It doesn't matter. He sets the agenda, and the the first item on the Presidents agenda is supposed to be the physical security of the United States. It is his most important job and he failed. It is time for him to go. If he does not resign let the the people reject him in 2012.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Isn't it Amazing?

"For while all things were in quiet silence, and that night was in the midst of her swift course, Thine Almighty Word leaped down from heaven out of thy royal throne, as a fierce man of war into the midst of a land of destruction." (Wisdom of Solomon 18: 14-15)

Monday, January 04, 2010

The only thing I hate about the Orthodox Church

I just read this article about several Orthodox parishes in north Philadelphia that are dying. The reason they are dying is that they are failing to do what Ss. Cyril and Methodius did in the Balkan peninsula, what Ss. Herman and Innocent did in Alaska, what St. Paul did in the Roman Empire. Those famous missionaries preached the Gospel to the people so that the people could hear it. They didn't just put out the welcome mat (though it seems some of the parishes in this article don't even do that) they went out and found people to convert. St. Paul actually walked right into synagogues and said "Hey! Have you heard about Jesus? He's the Christ and he came to give you eternal life." They evangelized because they loved. I have one question. Where's the love?

So, from the other side of the country I have some advice for the bishops and priests Jesus put in charge of those parishes.

1. Do the services in English. This is a no-brainer.
2. Stop inviting people to church. (Some of you aren't even doing that.) The article says several times that people in the neighborhood do not want a religion or to join a church.
3. Offer people what they want as long as you can do it and remain true to the Gospel. They want 'spirituality' and meaning and some kind of higher purpose. So help them find it. Just don't cram the whole Orthodox tradition down their throats yet because, well, they aren't Orthodox yet.
4. Introduce them to Jesus in a form that is familiar to them: The classroom and the self-help industry.

A four part program built around the Jesus Prayer and executed by lay people (because clergy can be scary) to reach their neighbors.

Put a 5" x 7" flyer up on every bulletin board within 8 blocks of the church. The flyer should say something like this:

"Personal Transformation
and Global Change
Ancient Eastern Mysticism

Informal Class starting Saturday 9 a.m.

Basement of Ss. Sascha and Vascha church at the corner of...
Just show up."

Session 1
Have everyone sit in a circle on the floor and and give their names and ask them what they want to change about themselves. When everyone has done this say something like "Good. This is all stuff we can work on. Change is never be easy, and results are not instantaneous, but we'll work on it together."

Now there are several things they will need to be taught:

a. How to make the sign of the cross and say "Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost." (explain this as like stepping through a mystical door where interaction between them and the Holy can take place.)

b. How to bow.

c. How to prostrate.

Do not explain any of this. It isn't important that they believe or even understand anything at this point. If they ask, just say "Right now, all I can tell you is this is this is how your body will interact with the Holy. Later, as you progress, I'll be able to tell you more."

You might think that they will object to this, but they probably won't. These are people who spend money to be put in uncomfortable positions by yogis, whacked on the head by Zen masters, and tortured by pilates instructors. They know instinctively that their bodies need this.

Then teach them the Jesus Prayer:

"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."

They might react to the idea of Jesus. If they do, simply say, "this is what we have seen that works, but if you don't believe it, that's okay for now. Just saying the words is useful." They might react to the idea of being a sinner. Say "think of a sinner not as being a bad person, but as a person who has room to improve. That's why we are here, to improve." They might think they have no need of mercy. Say "What mercy is is love given by one person to a second person, even when the second person needs improvement. What we are saying here is 'please, love me even though I am not perfect' but we are saying it in the ancient way, the way we have seen work for thousands of years."

Then, say : "We are ready to move onto the next step. I will light the incense and cense the Icon (there should be an icon of Jesus in the room but no others at this point) and then I'll cense you because you are images of God, too. Then once that is done it will be time for you to put what you've learned into practice."

Then, make the sign of the cross and do a prostration.
Then, cense the icon and the students.
Then, put the censor down and lead them in the forty slowly chanted repetitions of the Jesus Prayer, with a Cross and a bow after each one.

When that is done, invite them to to sit down and drink coffee or mineral water with you you. But don't pressure them to stay and chat. Just make it casual "Well that's the lesson for this week. If you're thirsty and tired after all that bowing and chanting, help yourself to a chair and the san pelegrino and Coffee." And let them know when the next class is. Say something like, "next time we'll build on this, but until then, try to say this prayer several times each day. In time we will see the transformations."

If someone has questions about Orthodoxy don't answer them. Remember, none of these people came to class to to join a church. They are not catechumens. They came to class to find the tools to change their lives. Instead say, "you know, you came here with some specific things about yourself you want to change. I don't you to get short circuited by jumping off into a lot of stuff that at this point would be more of a distraction to you. Let's keep working on that transformation you came here for."

After this first session what will have been accomplished:
1. you will have the names of a few people in your neighborhood to pray for.
2. they will have made a new friend (you).
3. they will have just asked Jesus to come to their aid.
4. they will have seen that the Church gave to them without asking anything in return.
5. they will have been taught how to pray as Orthodox Christians.
6. They will have put themselves under the power of the Cross

Session #2: Before starting praying ask everyone how their week is going. They might or might not have seen any improvement. No matter what they say affirm their efforts. Introduce "O Heavenly King" as the opening prayer for all classes, and hand out prayer ropes for the students to use during the week.

Session #3: Introduce the Icon of Mary holding Jesus and explain that the transformation the students are seeking is really just a way for the Divine to be born into the world through them, and as that occurs they will gain more and more control over the things in their life they want to change, and simultaneously improve the world. Again, it is not important for them to actually believe in Jesus or Mary at this point so don't press them. Every time they see the icons, every time they pray the prayers another copy of them is made in their brains. Eventually, they will believe and begin the struggle for transformation in earnest. But these sessions are not even baby steps. They are a baby trying to lift his head and look around for the first time. And as you pray for them you protect them from demons and help them see Jesus more clearly.

Session #4: For three sessions the students have been very "me" focused. This session is not me focused. It is about giving thanks. Tell them "One of the biggest obstacles to personal transformation is not seeing the good other people bring into our lives. In this session we will thank ever member of the class for something specific. I'll start." Then do it. Once everyone has gone do the Jesus prayer and end with sitting around drinking coffee and mineral water just like all the other sessions. Assign homework: "Every day thank one person for something specific and end the day with this prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, thank you."

During this week call all of the members of the group on the phone and let them know you think they are ready to move on to the next level, and explain that they can keep coming to the Saturday morning group but that you'd like them to meet with a priest to talk about going deeper. By this time they shouldn't be afraid of icons, praying, incense, receiving "spritual" instruction, the name of Jesus, giving thanks, asking for mercy, or being part of a group. That is, they will be acclimated enough to the Orthodox Church to become catechumens and begin walking down the path toward baptism.

Friday, January 01, 2010

What I do with the ham bone

After Christmas Dinner one often finds himself in possession of a large ham bone. Here is what we do with it in my house.

Ham and Lentil Soup

1 leftover smoked ham bone
1 pound of lentils
3 cups sliced mushrooms
3 chopped yellow onions
2 sliced carrots
2 sliced celery sticks
1 bay leaf
3 cups beef broth (I use "Better than Bullion")
1 cinnamon stick
2 quarts water

Put all ingredients in a big pot, bring to boil, reduce heat to simmer, cook until lentils are soft.
Eat with crusty french bread with fresh butter, and a robust red wine.
Very good for lunch on a cold winter day.