The Crowded Church

When I think about images of the Church, I often think about the scenes in the Gospel where there is a crowd around Jesus.  These are the people following Him.  But that crowd is a very mixed group for in it are not only disciples but women, political zealots, nationalists, the sick, sinners, the insane, the possessed, the curious, the deformed, the blind, the hopeless and the hopeful, doubters, rebels, the irreligious, the establishment as well as the enemies of Christ.  Just think about two passages in the early part of Mark’s Gospel – Mark 1:23-34 and Mark 2:1-17.

It is the Sabbath Day in the first passage.  Jesus and his disciples have entered a synagogue.  And there in the synagogue is a demon possessed man.  Apparently, synagogues allowed even demoniacs to enter the community, to hear the scripture lessons, to pray and to seek rest from their affliction {that is something parish communities should think about, especially when we feel justified in judging the synagogues in Jesus day!}.  Jesus came to seek and save the lost, the possessed, the sinner.  He wants to be in their presence and wants them to come into His presence.  The man screams: Have you come to destroy us?   But Jesus is there on a peace mission.  He is not there to destroy sinners or the demon possessed.  Rather, He is there to save them.  Jesus commands the demon to be silent.  ‘You don’t know what you are talking about.  I am God but I am not here to destroy life or cast anyone into hell.’ The thief may come to kill and destroy, but Jesus claims, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).   Jesus does not seek a crowd of perfectly well behaved and obedient followers.  He would not be able to accomplish His mission or God’s will if that is all who came to Him.  Really, the righteous, well behaved and those who are healthy don’t even really need Him at all.

Jesus then heals Peter’s mother-in-law at the home of Peter and Andrew.  “That evening,” according to Mark’s Gospel, “at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered together about the door.”   Again, we see a crowd coming to Jesus, not fleeing from him, of people who are variously sick, wretched, needy, insane, maimed, demon possessed.  Jesus ministers to them.  This is His crowd, the Church.  It is not just respectable people or believers, the moral and the pious, priests and monks.

Jesus then travels to Capernaum, to His home.  Again, a crowd assembles where he is.   Four men are desperate to get help for their friend.  Jesus forgives the paralytic’s sins.   But then, look, who is sitting with Jesus?  The scribes! “Now some of the scribes were sitting there…”    Jesus’ rivals and enemies are sitting next to Jesus and criticize Him in His own home for healing someone.  It is the scribes who seem to have the seats of honor in Jesus own home.  They don’t even have to crowd into the room – they get to sit next to Jesus.   Imagine a parish letting the enemies of Christ and the critics of Christianity sit in the front pews, closest to the altar.  That’s what Jesus did!

Jesus then goes to the house of Levi, a hated tax collector.  Mark says: “And as he sat at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were sitting with Jesus and his disciples; for there were many who followed him.”   Table fellowship with sinners!  Jesus doesn’t condemn them and kick them out, rather He sits down with them at table and eats with them.  This of course gets disapproving comments from the scribes, those opponents of Jesus.  If Jesus invited sinners to His table today or sat with sinners at their table, who would be raising their voice in disapproval today?   Probably the same kinds of people as the scribes.  Why in the world would Jesus eat with sinners when there are decent people, upright, godly who would rather sit with Him?  Yet that is what Jesus did.

And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.’

The crowd, the church – if it is following Christ – has sinners in it.  In fact, the church should be inviting them in and having table fellowship with them, as Christ did, for these are the very people He seeks and calls.  These are the very people who need to be forgiven and given the spiritual nourishment to be able to follow Christ.

If the Church saw itself as the crowd which followed Christ, it would be a crowded Church.  It’s not the righteous who need Christ, nor did He come to seek and save them.  If churches are losing membership, perhaps they are hanging out with the wrong crowd.


Do you see the man in the moon?

Sometime I just love a new word when I encounter it.  Such is the case for the word: pareidolia.  You may never have heard the word, but you know what it names.  Pareidolia is defined as “the tendency to perceive patterns where there are none.” As kids we saw figures in the clouds passing by.  Of course not everyone can see what we each in pareidolia.  I took a photo of a cloud formation in which I clearly see a large man (a monster?) who seems to be moving toward the left in the photo.  He is leaning into his walk.   His head and face are clear to me, and so too his body rising from the bottom of the photo.  His arms seem more like dark smoke. Is he in pursuit of something?


Pareidolia is the word to describe our ancient ancestors who saw animals in star constellations.  Or those who see faces in random things.  I see a face in the rock formation below.  The mouth is the slight crack, the nose and left eye seem obvious to me.  Many people see things in rock formations and they end up bearing the name of what many people commonly see.


A friend once told me that people like me who wear glasses (and thus with defective eyesight) see these patterns more often than people who see well without the aid of glasses.  Seems possible to me.  They eyes do play tricks at times while the brain tries to figure out what you are looking at.   You end up imposing on things patterns – a distant dog turns out to be a tree stump when you get closer to it.

Not only a rock formation but even its shadow can cause pariedolia.  Pareidolia also is the word used when we hear arbitrary sounds or noises as a voice or something meaningful.


Thanksgiving (2019)

Happy Thanksgiving!

Since this is a great American holiday, here is a poem from a great American Poet, Paul Laurence Dunbar.


The sun hath shed its kindly light,

Our harvesting is gladly o’er

Our fields have felt no killing blight,

Our bins are filled with goodly store.

From pestilence, fire, flood, and sword

We have been spared by thy decree,

And now with humble hearts, O Lord,

We come to pay our thanks to thee.

We feel that had our merits been

The measure of thy gifts to us,

We erring children, born of sin,

Might not now be rejoicing thus.

No deed of ours hath brought us grace;

When thou were nigh our sight was dull,

We hid in trembling from thy face,

But thou, O God, wert merciful.

Thy mighty hand o’er all the land

Hath still been open to bestow

Those blessings which our wants demand

From heaven, whence all blessings flow.

Thou hast, with ever watchful eye,

Looked down on us with holy care,

And from thy storehouse in the sky

Hast scattered plenty everywhere.

Then lift we up our songs of praise To thee,

O Father, good and kind;

To thee we consecrate our days;

Be thine the temple of each mind.

With incense sweet our thanks ascend;

Before thy works our powers pall;

Though we should strive years without end,

We could not thank thee for them all.

(The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar,  Kindle Location 6676-6691)

Thankful or Thanksgiving?


“It is comforting (if not a bit scandalous) that the Bible rarely commands us to be thankful but to give thanks. I don’t know if there is a linguistic reason for that, but it helps to bring thankfulness down to a practical level. Giving thanks is an action rather than a feeling, and actions are often more finite—and easier to muster—than feelings.


I may not be able to be thankful for all of time and eternity, but I can probably manage to give thanks for a second or two for the apple I’m eating or the comfortable chair I’m sitting in. Or I can take a time-out from my frenetic impatience and say thank you to the bagger at the grocery store or the stranger who held the door open for me.


Giving thanks—as opposed to merely being thankful within oneself—is inherently relational: you can only give thanks to or for someone or something else. As soon as we offer thanks for anything or anyone, we reach outside ourselves. We connect ourselves to the blessings God has surrounded us with. In doing so, we lay hold of a new, transfigured way of being-in-the-world   (Nicole Roccas , Time and Despondency: Regaining the Present in Faith and Life, Kindle Location 1743-1751)


The point is that you can be full of thanks for what you have or for what is going on, but do you ever actually give thanks?   Thankfulness can be a feeling within, but thanksgiving is activity directed towards those who made us feel gratitude.  There is a great difference between being internally joyful and pleased, and actually giving thanks to others, or to God.   Thanksgiving both the Feast and the activity is actually offering thanks to the Creator or to someone.  It is turning our thankfulness into action and into our relationship with God and others. It is getting out of the self and moving toward the other. It is the difference between self-love and true love which is always directed toward another.  Thanksgiving isn’t supposed to be the feast of satiation or self-satisfaction, but rather of giving credit and thanks to all of those responsible for everything we enjoy.

A Kingdom of Men and Women Priests

When I was a parish priest I would be asked from time to time if I thought the Orthodox Church would ever have women priests.

My initial reaction was always the same – ever is a long time, and I don’t really know what is in store in the forever.  But I didn’t think it would happen in the Orthodox Church in my life time.

But saying that there aren’t women priests in the Orthodox Church has to be qualified.  All who are baptized into Christ share in the holy and royal priesthood of all believers according to St. Peter, the head of the Apostles:

Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious; and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and he who believes in him will not be put to shame.” To you therefore who believe, he is precious, but for those who do not believe, “The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner,” and “A stone that will make men stumble, a rock that will make them fall”; for they stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were no people but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:4-10)

Peter speaks to the collective “you” (in the plural), the people of God, all the members of the Church, both male and female: “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people…”   Of special note, this is not just a New Testament idea.  St Peter is quoting Exodus 19:6, from the Septuagint, the Word of God in which God is speaking to the “house of Jacob” and “the children of Israel” – not just to the men, but to all the people of God. “... you shall be for me a people special above all nations.  For all the earth is mine.  And you shall be for me a royal priesthood and a holy nation” (NETS).  St Peter, the chosen head of the Apostles not only believes all of God’s people, both men and women, are to be priests, but that this is the vocation God has chosen for us.  When we are God’s people, we all are priests.  In this sense, yes, there are women priests since there are women believers, women disciples, women saints, women martyrs.  St Peter does not limit this priesthood to males only.  He never discusses an ordained priesthood, so I don’t know what he thought about an ordained priesthood that all believers do not share.  The only priest described in the New Covenant is Jesus Christ.  He is not a priest like the Levitical priests, but a special priest in the order of Melchizedek.

There is another fact that has to be taken into account in Scriptures.  In the book of Revelation, which is notoriously difficult to interpret, there is further claim that all believers – which would include women – are priests.  We encounter the idea first in Revelation 1:5-6.  Here St John claims that Jesus Christ has made us a kingdom and also made us all priests:

and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the first-born of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. (emphases not in original text)

This is not something claimed for males only – it is for “us”, all believers, to be priests in God’s kingdom.  All those loved by Christ and saved by Christ are made priests.  The word “made’ as in created as God did in Genesis 1.  God creates us as priests in the new age to come.  This is part of His making all things new rather than making all new things (Revelation 21:1-5).   This connection between God’s kingdom and our being priests is repeated twice more in Revelation.  In Revelation 5:8-10 (emphases not in original text), we read:

And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints; and they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy art thou to take the scroll and to open its seals, for thou wast slain and by thy blood didst ransom men for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and hast made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on earth.

Again, it is Christ, the Lamb, who makes us a kingdom and priests to God.  All believers participate in this priesthood.  More intriguing is that St John says that believers of this kingdom, the priests, shall reign on earth.  This would be all believers, male and female as priests sharing in Christ’s reign on earth because Christ recreates us as priests – not just some of us, not just males, but both men and women.  [As an aside, I wonder if part of the reason iconographers often only portray males in icons of the Kingdom is that they knew we are all priests in the Kingom, but didn’t know how to portray that as they felt reluctant to have women priests in icons and so show only males in the Kingdom?  If they do include women they don’t portray them as priests, but why?, since that is what Revelation makes of all believers in the Kingdom.]

In Revelation 20:6 we read yet another claim, which again surely implies all believers, not just males.

Blessed and holy is he who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and they shall reign with him a thousand years.

ALL who share in the first resurrection are priests of God and of Christ.  Since Orthodoxy certainly believes both men and women can share in the first resurrection, then Orthodoxy does believe men and women are to be priests of God and of Christ in the promised Kingdom.

So, will women ever be priests in Orthodoxy?  The answer has to be “yes, women  will be priests” – in the Kingdom, in heaven, though St. John suggests also on earth.  So might it ever be on earth as it is in heaven?  God knows.

Fr Schmemann thought the very God-given vocation of every human being is to be a priest.  Logically, that means all males and females. Thus from the beginning God created humans as a race of priests and so intended even women to be priests.  We all fulfill our vocation when we become that holy and royal priesthood which St Peter proclaims.

Sometimes when I would hear the question, “will the Orthodox Church ever ordain women?”, the lesson from scripture that came to my mind was Numbers 11:26-9 in which God comes and takes some of the Spirit which Moses has and gives it to 70 other men.  It is an interesting ordination imagery – for God doesn’t simply give them God’s Spirit, God takes some of the Spirit which Moses has and gives it to the 70 men.  It is a synergistic moment.  Ordination does not belong to God alone.  Rather God is using something in a human (something Moses has) to  increase ministry among His people.  However, then, something unusual happens – two other men not among the 70 also unexpectedly receive the Spirit.  Joshua, one of the recognized leaders of the people is alarmed by this sudden turn of events and worrying that two ‘outliers’ also have the Spirit even though not chosen by Moses, tells Moses about this.  Joshua apparently thinks Moses should be concerned or that this spreading of the spirit beyond what Moses had ordained is somehow a threat to Moses’ authority.  The text says:

Now two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested upon them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” And Joshua the son of Nun, the minister of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, forbid them.” But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put his spirit upon them!” 

Moses’ response to learning that some ‘others’ who are unchosen have been gifted with his spirit is “Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put his spirit upon them!”  Moses feels no need to protect his office or to forbid others from sharing in his ministry or divine calling.  Rather, he wishes all God’s people were prophets and had this spirit.  This is the same Moses to whom God said the people of God are a royal priesthood.  God’s will is that all of us should be priests. This seems to be the vision of Revelation regarding the priesthood.  In the Kingdom of God, finally God’s will is accomplished: all the Lord’s people are to be priests, prophets and kings – to be all that God willed for us from the beginning when God made male and female.  We don’t have to fear the sharing of this calling, ministry, office, divine gift – even among women.


Walk a nature park.

Remember!  You are the guest.

Neighbors are at home.

Manners!  How should I behave when I visit a neighbor’s home?  Learn the house rules.  Be polite, respectful.  I am just visiting.  They live there.  It’s their home.  The park is where my neighbors live – both animals and plants.   I need to be a good neighbor – show them respect.  Respect their property too.  They are the true residents.  They aren’t in my park, I’m in their home.

Not only do we have natural neighbors whose home we visit, we are reminded that everywhere on earth we are God’s guest – as we sing in the Akathist, “Glory to God for All Things” (Ode 2) –

O Lord, how lovely it is to be Your guest.

. . .

All nature murmurs mysteriously, breathing depths of Your tenderness.

Birds and beasts of the forest bear the imprint of Your love.

. . .

We can live very well on your earth. It is a pleasure to be your guest.

When we visit a park, enjoying nature, we are guests in the homes of our animal and plant neighbors.  But, even more importantly we are guests in God’s creation, not the owners of it, but its beneficiaries.  How we treat it is our response to God’s love for us.

O LORD, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.

 (Vespers Psalm of creation 104:24)

The Sabbath Rest

Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And there was a woman who had had a spirit of infirmity for eighteen years; she was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. And when Jesus saw her, he called her and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your infirmity.” And he laid his hands upon her, and immediately she was made straight, and she praised God. But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be healed, and not on the sabbath day.” Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his ass from the manger, and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?” As he said this, all his adversaries were put to shame; and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him.  (Luke 13:10-17)

New Testament scholar N. T. Wright comments on how ‘the Law’ could be misunderstood or misapplied in life.  Torah was not meant to oppose ritualistic law to virtues – compassion, mercy, love.  One however could find oneself in the troubling position of having to choose to help someone (show mercy) on the Sabbath but the very thing you need to do would violate the Law of Sabbath rest, and would be so interpreted by some Jewish leaders.  Mercy should win out in such cases.  This is what Jesus taught – there is no conflict with the Sabbath rest if someone needs your mercy.  Mercy is not opposed to rest for it gives rest to the one in need.  Wright comments:

Within this, a major theme emerges in which the sabbath principle and command find a new focus, though with echoes of the Deuteronomy principle (sabbath as liberation for the slaves). The sabbath becomes the sign of God’s justice and care for the poor, and even for slaves and animals. Thus, in Exodus 23:11, the sabbath is the chance for the poor to rest; this includes slaves and animals too. This principle blossoms, importantly, into a theme which looks quite different to begin with but actually belongs very closely with the sabbath: the Jubilee.   (Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today, Kindle Loc 2108-12)

The Sabbath was given as a day of rest for all including slaves and animals from their labors, troubles, burdens.  This is the principle to which Jesus appeals in the synagogue:  You are supposed to give rest to slaves and animals on the Sabbath, does not this apply to relieving any human in need as well?   In Luke 13:10-17, Jesus is being very specific about one person: does not this woman, a faithful Israelite, deserve rest from her burden on the Sabbath as well?  If my action of mercy gives her rest from her burden on the Sabbath, is not my action righteous?

 “Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your ass may have rest, and the son of your bondmaid, and the alien, may be refreshed.”  (Exodus 23:12)

Healing on the Sabbath thus fulfills the law not violate it according to Jesus.  Note in Luke 13:10-17 the way the ruler of the synagogue words his criticism – he aims it at the woman (“come on those days and be healed) not at Jesus the Healer.  He blames her for violating the Sabbath not Jesus.  He criticizes the one who now has rest, not the one who has given her rest.  Maybe he felt he could not criticize someone who had just performed a healing miracle in the synagogue.  Or maybe it was just a misogynistic comment and had nothing to do with miracles at all.  In any case, Jesus not only heals the woman but defends her as a daughter of Abraham.  She is not just some foolish or troublesome woman, she is part of the chosen ones of God!  The people in the synagogue should be honoring her, not criticizing her.  Jesus will not accept a “good ol’ boy” comment from the synagogue ruler.  He rebukes the patriarchal paternalism of religious leadership.

Furthermore, we can see in Mark 1:23, a demon possessed man is in the synagogue – for all we criticize the Pharisees, we can see that they had sinners in their assemblies.  Even the demon possessed came into the synagogues where Jesus is.  We should think about that in terms of our Sunday Liturgies.  Do we exclude sinners from coming to Christ for healing?  Which assembly is Christ most likely to attend – the one with demoniacs, sinners and the sick, or the one which excludes such people from their assembly?

St. Mark the Ascetic offers an interpretation of the Sabbath commandment which moves away from a literal understanding of it.  For St Mark the six days of work simply means to do works of kindness, charity and mercy – that is the normal labor of Christians in our daily lives.  A Sabbath rest from such work comes when you follow the command of Christ to give all your possessions away to follow Christ.  Only then are you no longer obligated to do works of charity since you now own nothing and have nothing to give away.

The Law figuratively commands men to work for six days and on the seventh to rest (cf. Exod. 20:9-10). The term ‘work’ when applied to the soul signifies acts of kindness and generosity by means of our possessions – that is, through material things. But the soul’s rest and repose is to sell everything and ‘give to the poor’ (Matt. 19:21), as Christ Himself said; so through its lack of possessions it will rest from its work and devote itself to spiritual hope. Such is the rest into which Paul also exhorts us to enter, saying: ‘Let us strive therefore to enter into that rest‘ (Heb. 4:11).   (The Philokalia, Kindle Loc. 3886-94)

Apparently for St Mark it is those of us who aren’t in monasteries who are obliged to fulfill the Gospel commandments to love, give in charity, show mercy, kindness, compassion and care for the poor and needy.  Those who enter the monastic life can rest from those labors as they have given everything away – they can then devote themselves to prayer and fasting.  Those of us committed to the married life and to our families have the additional obligation, responsibility and work of caring for the poor and needy.  It is through acts of charity, almsgiving, mercy, kindness and  generosity that we follow Christ and live as the holy ones of God.

As St. John Cassian notes:

And fasting, as beneficial and necessary as it may be, is nonetheless a gift that is voluntarily offered, whereas the requirements of the commandment demand that the work of love be carried out. And so I welcome Christ in you and must refresh him.” (The Institutes, pp 132-133)

For St. John Cassian fasting is a voluntary labor, but hospitality is commanded by Christ in the Gospels.  Not everyone can fast but everyone can be merciful.  St Gregory the Great says:

My friends, love hospitality, love the works of mercy. Paul said: Let the love of the brotherhood remain, and do not forget hospitality; it was by this that some have been made acceptable, having entertained angels hospitably; and Peter told us to be hospitable to one another, without complaints; and Truth himself said: I needed hospitality, and you welcomed me. And yet often we feel no inclination to offer the gift of hospitality. But consider, my friends, how great this virtue of hospitality is! Receive Christ at your tables, so that he will receive you at the eternal banquet. Offer hospitality now to Christ the stranger, so that at the judgement you will not be a stranger but he will accept you into his kingdom as one he knows.” (Be Friends of God, pp 62-64)

The Son of God Became the Son of David

St. Irenaeus (d. 202AD) wrote a great deal about salvation and from him we can understand just how theologically minded they were in the early Church.  We also see how early in Christian history he writes for when Irenaeus says “the fathers,” he still means the Jewish Patriarchs of the Old Testament, not the church fathers.  Irenaeus himself is destined to become one of the church fathers quoted frequently by future generations of Orthodox theologians. But in the nascent church when they spoke of the scriptures they might still mean what we today call the Old Testament.

Writing about Jesus, he says:

Thus then He gloriously achieved our redemption, and fulfilled the promise of the fathers, and abolished the old disobedience. The Son of God became Son of David and Son of Abraham; perfecting and summing up this in Himself, that He might make us to possess life. The Word of God was made flesh by the dispensation of the Virgin, to abolish death and make man live. For we were imprisoned by sin, being born in sinfulness and living under death.   But God the Father was very merciful: He sent His creative Word, who in coming to deliver us came to the very place and spot in which we had lost life, and brake the bonds of our fetters.

And His light appeared and made the darkness of the prison disappear, and hallowed our birth and destroyed death, loosing those same fetters in which we were enchained. And He manifested the resurrection, Himself becoming the first-begotten of the dead, and in Himself raising up man that was fallen, lifting him up far above the heaven to the right hand of the glory of the Father: even as God promised.  (The Proof of The Apostolic Preaching, Kindle Loc 616-24)

For St Irenaeus there are two births of Christ.  First He, the timeless and pre-eternal Word of God, is born of the Virgin as Son of David, a human yet God, in the flesh.  Second Jesus becomes the first born of the dead in His resurrection. Christ does this in order to give us a new birth as well.  We too are born in the flesh but also because of the flesh we are mortal and die.  In being united to Christ in baptism we are born again.  Christ thus both redeems our first birth in the flesh and gives us the new birth to eternal life.  Just as Christ has two births and sanctifies them both, so He as our Creator has given us two births, the first into this world and the second into eternal life in the world to come.

Friday, November 22


Whenever November 22 falls on a Friday, my heart is transported to the time of the assassination of President John Kennedy.  I was nine years old in 1963 and due to the events that unfolded always remember that year November 22 fell on a Friday.  I am not a person who has all kinds of vivid memories of childhood, and admit that I don’t remember in detail that day, but I certainly remember the date and the event.  We were sent home from school with the sad knowledge that someone had killed our president.  Because I was nine, I didn’t understand the full implication of what his death meant, but what I didn’t know was that the adults around me were even more uncertain of its meaning because it had a matrix of possible implications to them, many which were dire.

It seemed to me that the adult world stopped and there was a great fear of some unknown impending doom: what is going to happen next?

In those days at school we had drills in case of a nuclear attack by Russia.  We were told how to cover our heads with our hands as if that would have made any difference should a nuclear missile strike our steel producing city.  There was anxiety about whether with the president’s assassination we were moving to the next missile crisis.  But most of these fears were beyond my protected and naive world in which I was far more fearful of being made fun of by friends or being tagged as I walked home from school by someone who came running up from behind and shouted “no tag backs.”  Because then I would be “It” for the entire evening.

I knew my parents both voted for President Kennedy, and he was somehow an emblem of America – youthful, confident, hopeful, forward looking, intelligent, free and independent.  He was very idealized in the world I grew up in – a wonderful father and husband, beautiful family, WWII hero, working to make a better America for all, rich and famous yet caring for the average family.

Image result for John Kennedy and children photos

There is nothing wrong with young people having heroes – or imagining that a president is the image of what we all hope to be someday.  It would take time – the unfolding of history – for me to learn that he was really a licentious, dissolute prodigal, whose body was diseased.  It took longer to realize he really wasn’t all that effective as a senator or a president.  He came to power because his father was rich and powerful through a system flawed by corruption.  Some of the things he was given credit for – social and racial justice and landing a man on the moon were really much more the accomplishments of his successor.  He was much more image  than substantive in terms of political accomplishment and will not be considered one of the greatest American presidents.   He died in office by an assassin’s bullet which made him an American martyr and larger than life hero, but again that fed the mystique.  We do at times need heroes, statesmen, inspiration.  We also have to be able to recognize the difference between idealization, idolization and reality and come to terms with truth.

On Sunday, November 24, 1963, I asked to be excused from the table of our Sunday  dinner so that I could watch Lee Harvey Oswald being moved from the Dallas jail.  I wanted to see the man who had murdered the president.  I was watching the TV during dinner at a time when our family was not normally glued to the TV.  It was unusual for me to be watching the TV at that hour when Oswald himself was gunned down by Jack Ruby.   New fears like major earthquake after shocks rumbled through the country: what is going to happen next?  And that would continue rippling through the American psyche and history as an endless series of conspiracy theories.  Those have never interested me.

At the time, in my nine year old mind, I wasn’t even sure why Oswald’s death was such a big deal.  Wasn’t he going to get the death penalty anyway?  All the unanswered questions that died with him were not yet on my mind.  And the fears that something larger was afoot in America – a sinister, hidden threat – would cause anxiety in so many corners of the adult world.  I could only observe their uncertainty and feel the sadness, the mourning, the grief.

I did visit Dallas book depository museum in my one trip to that city.   It all seemed more compact than the larger than life images I had of where the assassination happened.  I have also visited the President’s grave in Washington, DC, which seemed so familiar to me from the images I had seen of it.

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Fifty six years later, I feel an emotional sting when I think about the event, even though my knowledge of the man has changed.  And today what really strikes me is how utterly horrified so many were at that time by the the life of one man being cut short by a gun.  Nowadays shootings of children in our schools seem to be a regular part of life these days.  We seem far less horrified today at the murder of our children each month by guns  than we did at the death of a president half a century ago.  Something died in our hearts and minds over the decades and it seems that in America we value and love our guns more than our children.  We seem more concerned about having our guns taken away from us than about having our children taken from us.   At a minimum if we don’t want to sacrifice some of our guns, gun owners should be working hard to figure out how to sacrifice none of our children to guns.  If the price of an unrestricted Second Amendment is that some children must die, is that not too high a price to be paid?

Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple (2019)

A blessed Feast of the Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple!

Hail, from whom alone there springs the unfading Rose;

Hail, for thou hast borne the sweetly-smelling Apple.

Hail, Maiden unwedded, nosegay of the only King and preservation of the world.

Hail, Lady, treasure-house of purity, raising us from our fall;

Hail, Lily whose sweet scent is known to all the faithful;

Hail, fragrant incense and precious oil of myrrh.

(Akathist Hymn to the Most Holy Mother of God from The Lenten Triodion)