Saturday, May 31, 2008


Orthodox Christians are still awaiting Ascension, since our Easter was later than Western Easter this year. For us, that means (among other things) that we are still singing the Paschal troparion ("Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tomb bestowing life") to begin services, bless meals, etc. We enjoy singing it in various languages: Greek, English, and Slavonic. Alexander informed me today that he has trouble with the one in "Slaphonics." Could there be a market among Orthodox for a "Hooked on Slaphonics" curriculum? I think it just might sell!

Cluster bombs!

An AP report from today’s paper noted that 111 nations formally adopted a treaty that “would outlaw all current designs of cluster munitions and require destruction of stockpiles within eight years.” We all know what cluster bombs are: big bombs containing a number of smaller bombs, which greatly enhances the effectiveness of the intended result. Of course, they also greatly increase the chances that an undetonated bomb will remain long after the cluster was deployed and blow up civilians—farmers, children, innocents of every kind—and who would want that, right?

The story goes on to remark on the leading opponents of the treaty, which include Russia, China, Israel, India and Pakistan. Oh, and our own United States of America. “All defended the overriding military value of cluster bombs, which carpet a battlefield with dozens to hundreds of explosives.” U.S. spokesperson Tom Casey said that “the treaty would not change U.S. policy and that cluster bombs remain ‘absolutely critical and essential’ to U. S. military operations.”

I know, it may seem that the maiming and blowing apart of human beings is unspeakably horrible, but thank God we can be reassured of the “overriding military value.” What are the 111 nations complaining about?

Friday, May 30, 2008

The only escape

Peaceableness toward enemies is an idea that will, of course, continue to be denounced as impractical. It has been too little tried by individuals, much less by nations. It will not readily or easily serve those who are greedy for power. It cannot be effectively used for bad ends. It could not be used as the basis of an empire. It does not afford opportunities for profit. It involves danger to practitioners. It requires sacrifice. And yet it seems to me that it is practical, for it offers the only escape from the logic of retribution. It is the only way by which we can cease to look to war for peace.

- Wendell Berry

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Asceticism and the world

The nerve of all the passions is the passionate state, the longing which connects us to the visible appearances of things which promise us each and give us nothing or very little.

The passionate state, or enslavement to the passions attracts all of our psychic powers toward the exterior. It is the adhesive which glues us to the surface of the exterior world. The problem of asceticism is how can this enslavement to the passions (prospatheia), the substance of the passions, be slain, not how to slay our authentic nature and the world we live in. The challenge is, how can we live in this world as free beings, admiring it and understanding it as a transparent creation of God, without this admiration enslaving us to its purely perceptible and opaque surface, and thus hinder our development as beings oriented toward the infinite spiritual order. How can we use the world, the road toward our goal, without falling and succumbing on it?

- Fr. Dumitru Staniloae

Friday, May 23, 2008

Proof for evolution

The kids were enjoying fish fillets for supper. Alexander (age 7) said, "Hey, I think I got the tail. Sure looks like it." Andrew (age 4), not to be outdone, exclaimed, "I think I got the leg!"

Thursday, May 22, 2008

An ever-greater filling

Our perfection, or our union with God, is . . . not only a goal, but also an unending process. On this road two great steps can be distinguished: first, the moving ahead toward perfection through purification from the passions and the acquiring of the virtues and secondly a life progressively moving ahead in the union with God. At this point, man's work is replaced by God's. Man contributes by opening himself up receptively to an ever-greater filling with the life of God.

-Fr. Dumitru Staniloae, Orthodox Spirituality

Sunday, May 18, 2008

One of my favorite liturgical prayers

Holy God, You dwell among Your saints. You are praised by the Seraphim with the thrice holy hymn and glorified by the Cherubim and worshiped by all the heavenly powers. You have brought all things out of nothing into being. You have created man and woman in Your image and likeness and adorned them with all the gifts of Your grace. You give wisdom and understanding to the supplicant and do not overlook the sinner but have established repentance as the way of salvation. You have enabled us, Your lowly and unworthy servants, to stand at this hour before the glory of Your holy altar and to offer to You due worship and praise. Master, accept the thrice holy hymn also from the lips of us sinners and visit us in Your goodness. Forgive our voluntary and involuntary transgressions, sanctify our souls and bodies, and grant that we may worship and serve You in holiness all the days of our lives, by the intercessions of the holy Theotokos and of all the saints who have pleased You throughout the ages.

-The priest's "silent" prayer before the Trisagion hymn,
Orthodox Divine Liturgy

Thursday, May 15, 2008

No Greater Affliction

If the love commanded of us in the Gospel were natural to us in our fallen state, it would have been unnecessary to bid us 'Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind . . . Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself' [Matt. 22:37-39]. When that love touches the heart, our spirit in Light beholds God, and lives by Him and in Him. He surpasses all human thought. Not a single one of our abstract conceptions is applicable to Him. He - lives. His might is incalculable, His love inscrutable. To dwell with Him is ineffable riches. When I was a painter I never achieved satisfaction because the means at my disposal were impotent to portray the beauty of creation. And now all the words that I can find to express my wonder before God are quite futile.
To be blind is a great deprivation. But there is no greater affliction, no more bitter pain, than not to know God.

- Elder Sophrony, We Shall See Him as He Is

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The good news about the gas prices . . .

. . . is that I have a company truck with a gas card, so I figure every time gas goes up I get an unsolicited, unexpected pay raise. Gives a new meaning to the old term "upwardly mobile."

Baby Gregory Update

My newest son is doing fine. Unlike his father, he only fusses when he is hungry, poopy, or--well, that's about it. He sleeps pretty steady at night, and eats like a pig. In fact, I have decided on a nickname for him. He eats so . . . desperately and noisily I've started calling him Gobble. It just seems to fit. Gregory Gobble, son of my old age, bundle of joy and bodily functions.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Drunk with Hope

Question: Why is hope so sweet, her discipline and her labors so light, and her works so easy for the soul?
Answer: Because hope awakens a natural longing in the soul and gives men this cup to drink, straightway making them drunk. Thenceforth they no longer feel the wearisome toil, but become insensitive to afflictions, and throughout the whole course of their journey they think that they are walking on air, and not treading the path with human footsteps. . . . For this hope so inflames them, as with fire, that on account of their joy they cannot rest from their incessant and headlong course. There comes to pass in them what was spoken by the blessed Jeremiah, "I said, I shall not remember Him nor speak His name. And there was in my heart as it were a flaming fire and it entered into my bones". Such is the recollection of God in the hearts of men who are drunk with hope on his promises.

-St. Isaac the Syrian, quoted in Bishop Hilarion
The Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Don't Know What to do With Myself

Classes are over for the summer. For the first time in a long time, I was able to live a normal Sunday: Orthros and Divine Liturgy, home for a little nap, refilling coffee cup and random reading. (I have a lot of catching up to do.) Time with the family, no papers to write or assignments to complete. It should be a crime to feel such contentment.

I was delighted to read this poem by Jane Hirshfield (her poetry moves me, and this one is exceptionally good)--

The Decision
by Jane Hirshfield

There is a moment before a shape
hardens, a color sets.
Before the fixative or heat of   kiln.
The letter might still be taken
from the mailbox.
The hand held back by the elbow,
the word kept between the larynx pulse
and the amplifying drum-skin of the room’s air.
The thorax of an ant is not as narrow.
The green coat on old copper weighs more.
Yet something slips through it —
looks around,
sets out in the new direction, for other lands.
Not into exile, not into hope. Simply changed.
As a sandy track-rut changes when called a Silk Road:
it cannot be after turned back from.