Favorite Views of 2013

We have arrived at the last day of 2013 having completed one more orbit of the sun.   It is looking more familiar each time I come back to this place in the solar system.  This is a good thing since as you get older, you tend to forget some things and it is harder to remember new things.

The sun looks pretty much the same at sunrise and at sunset – it’s pretty had to tell the time by looking at a photo of the sun on the horizon.  That’s probably because we are the ones spinning around it.  The sun isn’t rising or setting at all.  It just moves through infinite space as our planet spins on its axis while orbiting the sun.  Time and space are related – a year is the distance it takes for earth to make one orbit of the sun: to travel about 585 million miles.   That’s a long way to go to get back to where you started.

It is amazing what one thinks about when it gets so late in the year.

Looking back at 2013, there are many things for which I am thankful to God and which brought joy to my heart.  Among them are Dan and Ilona’s wedding:

Both Seth and Julie graduated from Sinclair College.

We said good-bye to my faithful walking companion, Esko who died in the fall.  We welcomed Sox into the family.


I traveled down the California coast in June…

San Francisco at sunrise (above) and the Golden Gate Bridge (below).

Venice Beach in the LA area (below).

I saw with my own eyes where Angels walk on earth.

And I made it to the East coast as well.

Boston (above) and New York City (below).

A view of Manhattan (below) from the Rockefeller Center.

I was able to see the natural beauty with which God has blessed both America and the entire world.  I was able to be on both the West and East coasts with son, John.

Yosemite (above) to Caesar Creek Lake (below).

The George Washington Bridge in NY (below).

Caesar Creek wetlands (below).

Sometimes, we just have to enjoy the beauty, grace and peace which we encounter in this world.

You can find a set of my favorite 2013 photos at 2013 Favorites.  We bid farewell to the old year and look forward to what might gladden our hearts in the New.

See also my photoblog Natural Beauty 2013.  You can see a list of all of my photoblogs with links to them at  My PhotoBlogs.

Have a blessed 2014.  May the next 585 million miles be blessed by God as well.

Christmas 2013 (PDF)

I have collected all the blogs I posted this year during the Nativity Fast and through the celebration of the Christmas Feast into one PDF.   These are blogs related to themes of Christmas, the incarnation, the Nativity of Christ and how we Christians can live the Feast daily.  For us Christmas is not merely a historical event of 2000 years ago, nor a one day celebration of giving presents to one another.  Christmas is lived daily in our hearts and homes whenever we are united to Christ or when we bear witness to Him or when we incarnate Him in any situation.

You can find this collection of blogs at  Christmas 2013 (PDF).

You can find a complete list of all the blog series I have made into PDFs with links to them at Fr. Ted’s PDFs.

Christmas: What Does it Matter?

Christmases come and Christmases go.  Walking down the street 2 days after Christmas several houses already have their live trees in the trash heap.  Christmas past, or passed.  Does it matter?  The year winds down just like all the others before it.   Has anything changed?

“Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things have continued as they were from the beginning of creation.”  ( 2 Peter 3:4)

 St. Peter thought only scoffers would ask that question, but perhaps he couldn’t imagine a time would come when even some Christians would feel that way.  Christ is born.  Merry Christmas.  Happy Holidays. Season’s Greetings.

If Christmas is mostly or only pleasantries, pastries and presents, or family, fun and fruitcake, it will eventually pass into memory, maybe even attaining a level of nostalgia.  We look forward to it and are often just as glad when it is over!

In the Orthodox Church, on the Sunday after Christmas we encounter some hymns which sum up what we Christians have experienced  … or should have if we were paying attention to the Holy Days.   What Christmas really changes are eternal things, they are the things that really matter about Christmas.  What has Christmas, the birth of the Messiah, changed?  Here is a synopsis of the theological importance for each of us of the Nativity of Christ.

Come, let us greatly rejoice in the Lord,

as we sing of this present mystery:

the wall which divided God from man has been destroyed;

the flaming sword withdraws from Eden’s gate;

the Cherubim withdraw from the Tree of Life;

and I, who had been cast out through my disobedience,

now feast on the delights of Paradise:

for today the Father’s perfect Image,

marked with the stamp of His eternity,

has taken the form of a servant.

Without undergoing change He is born from an unwedded mother;

He was true God, and He remains the same,

but through His love for mankind,

He has become what He never was: true man.

Come, O faithful, let us cry to Him:

“O God, born of the Virgin, have mercy on us!”

Wow!  That is Christmas.  It’s not in the cookies, trees, decorations, gifts, gatherings or meals, though any of those might be ways of celebrating what has been accomplished for us by Christ being born.

Today heaven and earth are united, for Christ is born.

Today God has come to earth, and man ascends to heaven.

Today God, Who by nature cannot be seen,

is seen in the flesh for our sake.

Let us glorify Him, crying:

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace!

Your coming has brought peace to us.

Glory to You, O our Savior!”

 Christmas celebrations come and go.  They involve family traditions as well as new recipes and surprise presents.  But only when we think about the theology of Christmas, of the incarnation and that the infant Christ is our salvation can we marvel at God’s love and plan for us.

“For ask now concerning the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether any great thing like this has happened, or anything like it has been heard.”  (Deuteronomy 4:32)

Putting On Christ in His Humility

“Did you see how the Master comes down to us? Did you see His infinite kindness? He made no burdensome or oppressive demands on us. Nor did he say: Learn from me, because I have worked miracles, because I have raised the dead, because I have shown forth wondrous deeds, things which belong to His power alone. But what did He say? Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart, and will find rest for your souls. Do you see what a boon and advantage this yoke is? Therefore, he who had deserved to come under this yoke, he who has been able to learn from the Master to be meek and humble of heart, shall obtain complete rest for his soul. For this is the summary of our salvation. He who has acquired this virtue, although still entangled in the flesh, will be able to vie with immaterial powers and to be free from any connection with his present life. For he who imitates the Master’s meekness will not lose his temper nor be roused against his neighbor. Even if someone shall strike him, he will say:  If I have spoken ill, bear witness to the evil; but if well, why do you strike me? If anyone call out and say that he is possessed by an evil spirit, he answers: I have not a devil, and none of the charges brought forward against him will be able to hurt him. Such a man will scorn all the glory of the present life; nothing of the visible world will win him over to itself, for from now on he will see things through different eyes. The man who is humble of heart will never be able to envy his neighbor’s possessions. He will not steal, nor will he commit fraud; he will not yearn for wealth, but, while showing great compassion for his kindred, he will forsake the wealth he does have. Such a man will not undermine another’s marriage. Since he has come under the yoke of Christ and has learned to be meek and humble of heart, he will follow in the steps of the Master and manifest every virtue in every way.”

(St. John Chrysostom,  Ancient Christian Writers: Baptismal Instructions, pp. 34-35)

Christ: The Treasure House of God

TreasurehouseIn one poem from the Syrian Christian tradition, the Magi having arrived to see the newborn king, speak to Mary about the richness she has brought into the world by giving birth to the incarnate Son of God.

“MAGI: Your son is the great treasure-house

containing wealth sufficient to make all rich.

Other kings’ treasure-stores may be reduced to poverty,

but His will never run out or need to be rationed.”

(Anonymous dialogue poem in Treasure-house of  Mysteries: Explorations of the Sacred Text Through Poetry in the Syriac Tradition, pg. 170)

The Incarnation: For the Salvation of the World

Jean Daniélou comments that for St. Gregory of Nyssa (d. 384AD) “… the Incarnation and the Atonement would appear to be identical. The Incarnation is the union of the Word not merely with human nature as such but with fallen nature, the sarx. Now the state of fallen nature is chiefly characterized by death.  Thus

Christ did not suffer death because He had been born; rather, it was because of death that He chose to be born. Eternal Life had no need of life, but He entered our bodily existence in order to restore us from death to life. Our entire nature had to be recalled from death; hence He stretched forth His hand, as it were, to the dead body, and came to see the place where we had fallen. Indeed He came so close to death as to touch mortality itself, that He might make of our own nature, in His body, a principle of resurrection.

Thus the Incarnation-Atonement is the union of the Word with man in a state of death to bring about man’s resurrection. Christ’s resurrection is indeed ‘a principle of resurrection’ for all humanity:

Just as death was transmitted to all men by a single act, so too, by the action of one Man the  principle of resurrection is extended to all humanity.”

From Glory to Glory: Texts from Gregory of Nyssa’s Mystical Writings, pp. 16-17)

Reconciled to God

The Lord Jesus taught: “You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”   (Matthew 5:21-24)

When Jesus was asked to define “who is my neighbor?”, he responded by offering the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), concluding with the words:

Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”

He said, “The one who showed mercy on him.”

And Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” (10:36-37)

Jesus changes the question around: the neighbor is not someone else whom I define, but rather the one to whom I prove myself to be neighbor.  It falls on me to show myself to be neighbor, it is not dependent on the other to prove  himself to be neighbor.

To Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:21-24 with which this blog began, one might also ask, “But who is my brother?”  Who is that brother or sister whom I should not be angry with or if I remember he or she is angry with me I should try to reconcile?

Love, which Jesus commanded His disciples to practice, is not something that can be measured or quantified, nor can it be taught through exacting rules.  St. Maximos the Confessor (d. 662AD) takes the Matthew 5:21-24 teaching of Christ and says it is a teaching to help each of us not to fall away from God’s love.

“If you wish not to fall away from the love of God, do not let your brother go to bed feeling irritated with you, and do not go to bed yourself feeling irritated with him. Reconcile yourself with your brother, and then come to Christ with a clear conscience and offer Him your gift of love in earnest prayer (cf. Matt.5:24).” (The Philokalia: Volume Two, pg. 58)

St. Maximos’ teaching is very important within the context of a Christian community, a monastery for example.  If we live in close proximity to our fellow Christians and have to deal with them every day outside of church services, we come to realize how difficult Christ’s Gospel commandments are . . . and how important they are to follow to maintain community concord and unity.  As Christians, we can only hold to the love of God to the same extent that we are willing to work on our love for brother and sister and neighbor, and to the extent that we make unity and peace within our community a priority for ourselves and for the good of everyone else.

Christmas: The Ancient of Days Becomes an Infant

As I looked, thrones were placed and one that was ancient of days took his seat; his raiment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and came forth from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened. . . . I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.  (Daniel 7:9-14)

The Prophecy of Daniel involving the Ancient of Days was most often interpreted, especially in the Christian West, to be Daniel’s vision  of the Father and the Son meeting together, which no doubt then contributed to paintings of God the Father as an old man.  Sebastian Brock notes that the Syrians followed a similar interpretation of the Father and Son in Daniel’s prophecy, but the Greek text implied a different interpretation.

“…The Ancient of Days is distinct from the ‘Son of Man’, mentioned earlier in the verse. Accordingly Ephrem and other early Syriac writers take the Ancient of Days as referring to the Father. In the Old Greek translation of Daniel, however, the ‘Son of Man’ is described as being ‘like (or: as) the Ancient of Days’, thus allowing for the latter to become a title referring to Christ, rather than to the Father.”    (TREASURE HOUSE OF MYSTERIES: Explorations of the Sacred Text Through Poetry in the Syriac Tradition, pg. 167)

Identifying the Ancient of Days with Christ is thus an interpretation of the text we find in the Greek fathers and in some Orthodox iconography following the Greek tradition.   Vassilios Papavassiliou in his booklet on the Nativity Lent in the Orthodox tradition says:

“It is this astonishing paradox that the Orthodox Church repeatedly compels us to contemplate, a paradox that was beautifully expressed by St. John Chrysostom:

‘What shall I say! And how shall I describe this Birth to you? For this wonder fills me with astonishment. The Ancient of days has become an infant.

He Who sits upon the sublime and heavenly Throne, now lies in a manger. And He Who cannot be touched, now lies subject to the hands of men.’”   (Meditations for Advent: Preparing for Christ’s Birth, Kindle Loc. 538-42)

Christmas 2013

Dear Readers and Fellow Christian Sojourners,

Christ is born!   Glorify Him!

On the night of Jesus’ birth, the angels sang praise to God and wished peace to all on earth.  I hope that each of you may experience that peace with which God favored us on that evening His son was born of the Virgin Theotokos.  May God always grace you with the sense of His presence in your lives and wherever you may be on earth.  That would be to truly to live the spirit of Christmas.

In the Akathist service, “GLORY TO GOD FOR ALL THINGS”, we sing:

How filled with sweetness are those whose thoughts dwell on You: how life-giving Your holy Word. To speak with You is more soothing than anointing with oil, sweeter than the honeycomb.  To pray to You lifts the spirit, refreshes the soul.  Where You are not, there is only emptiness; hearts are smitten with sadness; nature, and life itself, becomes sorrowful. Where You are, the soul is filled with abundance, and its song resounds like a torrent of life: Alleluia!

May God grant you that sweetness of thoughts dwelling on God, and may He give you the awareness of His Holy presence.  And if you experience that sad emptiness at any time, may it lead you to seek God with all your soul, heart, mind and strength.

Thank you all for your prayers, kindnesses, criticisms, support and patience.  Your presence and participation in the parish have been a blessing to us all.

Fr. Ted

In the Akathist to the Theotokos we sing the following words which are another lovely image of Christ who is both lamb of God and shepherd to God’s sheep:

“The shepherds heard the angels carolling Christ’s incarnation and running like sheep to their Shepherd, they beheld him as an innocent lamb, that had been pastured in Mary’s womb and they sang praises to her…”   ( Prayer Book – In Accordance with the Tradition of the Eastern Orthodox , Kindle Loc. 2398-99)

Adam, Christ and All of Humanity

CreationAdamEveThere are many wonderful and brilliant metaphors, analogies, and illustrations which the Patristic writers use to compare and contrast Christ to the first Adam and Mary the Theotokos to Eve the mother of all humans.  In Genesis 2, God creates Adam from the virginal soil of the earth without seed or sexual reproduction.   So too Christ is planted in the virginal womb without human seed and recreates Adam, restoring humanity to its proper place and path in the world.  Michel Quenot writes:

“Unlike the first Adam, who was created from the earth and not from a mother, the new Adam comes from the ‘All Pure’ Virgin Mary who is elevated to the honor of first creature. Born from the earth, Adam lost his integrity; born from heaven and a sanctified earth, that is from the Father and the purest woman of the human race, Christ is the incarnation of humanity in its most perfect expression.

 In Christ, we were all contained: in Him, the collective human person returns to life. That is why we call Him the New Adam: sharing the common nature of all men, He enriches is, leading it to blessings and glory, as the first Adam had led it to shame and corruption (St. Cyril of Alexandria‘On John’).

Exiled from his true homeland, which is life in God, man wallowed in slavery and deception, imprisoned in time and condemned to die. Today, the Word become flesh brings him back to truth, freedom and to eternity. Christ, the image of the Father (Jn. 14:9), is henceforth also the image of man, withing whom He restores the purity of nature ‘in the image of God.’

 The Lord gave us a sign as deep as Sheol and as high as heaven (Is 7:14, 11), though man did not dare hope for such a gift. How could he have expected a virgin to give birth to a son, to see in this Son ‘God is with us,’ who would go down into the depths to seek out the lost sheep, the creature  he had fashioned, and then arise to offer to His father the ‘man’ who had thus been recovered (St.  Iranaeus of Lyon, Adv. Haer. III, 19)

The icons of Christmas and Pascha speak to and complement one another. Are there not, in both of them, a struggle between light and darkness, a tomb, myrrh and linen cloths?   The ascending and descending movements present in the icon of the Descent into Hell appear here as well, as God becomes man who, in turn, rises up toward Him.

The glory of man is realized through the ‘kenosis’ of God, who loves him to a degree that surpasses our understanding. The newborn child, laid on the tomb or sacrificial altar, opens for us the ‘passage’ to the Winter Pascha. Every attack on humanity now also personally affects Christ, who became incarnate in our history and bore our flesh.

Syrian war

The New Adam, therefore, can only be counted among those who are oppressed and persecuted. ‘To put on Christ’ means to share the purpose of the poor, of those who suffer in their humanity, even if they do not share our faith. Having come to save not only the just but all mankind, Christ leaves the ninety-nine sheep to see the one that is lost.”    (The Resurrection and the Icon, pp.132-133)

In the Middle East, the land of Christ’s own birth, Christians are suffering persecution as well as from the on-going civil war in Syria.  Learn what you can do to support our Syrian brother and sister Christians at http://www.iocc.org/news/9-10-13_syria.aspx.

Prayer provided courtesy of Orthodox Peace Fellowship
Prayer for Peace
Almighty God and Creator, You are the Father of all people on the earth. Guide, I pray, all the nations and their leaders in the ways of justice and peace. Protect us from the evils of injustice, prejudice, exploitation, conflict and war. Help us to put away mistrust, bitterness and hatred. Teach us to cease the storing and using of implements of war. Lead us to find peace, respect and freedom. Unite us in the making and sharing of tools of peace against ignorance, poverty, disease and oppression. Grant that we may grow in harmony and friendship as brothers and sisters created in Your image, to Your honor and praise. Amen.