Christmas is coming, and your humble parish bookstore has some ideas for gifts for St. Nicholas Day, stocking stuffers, and Christmas gifts. Consider for your children one of the small ornaments, or a coloring book featuring saints. There are some books for young people. There is a new supply of lampadas and other items for home altars.
Consider gifts of service books such as the ‘Festal Menaion’, the ‘Lenten Triodion’, the ‘Triodion Supplement’, or the ‘Book of Akathists’. Also there are Orthodox Daily Prayer Books. More expensive gift books would be the ‘Meaning of Icons’, or ‘Isaiah Through The Ages’, a book of commentaries gathered on the Prophet Isaiah, and an astronomical explanation of the star of Bethlehem.
There are also special Christmas books and CDs and Pocket planners are in. There is a Valaam Book of Days with space to write in your own yearly commemorations, and, there is a selection of icons in the room next to the book store.
There are beeswax candles from St. John of San Francisco Monastery, soaps, lotions and crèmes from the nuns at St. John the Forerunner monastery in Goldendale, icon bracelets, suncatchers, magnets, towels for baptisms, and crosses including some new ones.
There are of course Christmas cards, and service booklets as well. Come take a look!
Susan Noel Reynolds - Shopkeep
"I bring nothing to the table!"
These are the words of our sometime-comedian great-nephew, who bills himself as the 'tattooed boy next door'. His words came to my mind as I read Ecclesiastes 2:24-25:
"There is nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink and that his soul should enjoy good in his labor. This also I saw was from the hand of God. For who will eat or who will drink without Him?"
Our 'natural man' easily loses sight of this Truth, and thinks, 'Well I go to work every day, and I get my paycheck, and I buy my food and drink."
Elder Porphyrios, in the book Wounded By Love, says about this,
"Man is a mystery. We carry within us an age-old inheritance, . . .all the good and precious experience if the prophets, the saints, the martyrs, the apostles, and above all of our Lord Jesus Christ; but we also carry within us the inheritance if the evil that exists in the world from Adam until the present. That is why we must die to our ancestral humanity and enrobe ourselves in the new humanity. . . .(But) without Christ it is impossible to correct ourselves. "Without me, you can do nothing." I bring nothing to the table. Not a body, not a mind, not a soul, not a job or any other means of procuring food and drink, much less the heavenly life. The totality of all and everything comes from the hand of God. For who will live or think or work or pray without Him."
The Elder continues:
"God has placed a power in man's soul. But it is up to him how he channels it - for good or evil."
He goes on to liken it to a garden faucet with two channels - one that runs to a beautiful garden of flowers, and fruits; and one that runs to a garden patch that the weeds have invaded. Our choice is which channel will we will use.
"Channel the water, that is, all the strength of your soul, to the flowers and you will enjoy their beauty, their fragrance and their freshness.As for our passions and the evil that confronts us, he counsels us to ignore it. "Look towards Christ and he will save you. . . .If evil approaches from one direction, then calmly turn in the opposite direction . . . and pray 'Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.' He knows how and in what way to have mercy on you. . . .Turn to Christ. Love Him simply and humbly, without any demand, and He Himself will free you. Turn towards Christ, and He will come immediately. His grace will act at once."
Susan Noel - Shopkeep
Three new books from St. Vladimir's Seminary Press landed in my mailbox recently, and here is the perfect opportunity to introduce them!
First is Light on the Mountain, translated by Brian E. Daley, S.J. Although the translator is a Roman Catholic professor of theology at Notre Dame, the original texts he translates are all from Greek and Byzantine sources. Included are John Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria, Andrew of Crete, John of Damascus, and Gregory Palamas. In explaining the rationale for his selection of texts, he says,
"The Gospel episode of Jesus' Transfiguration, set in the narrative context of the whole story of the discovery of Jesus' identity, of his death and resurrection, and of his role for faith as eschatological Savior, is a prism through which light of many theological colors has passed. What I have tried to offer here is a panorama of the event by the classical authors of the Greek theological tradition . . ."
Before each selection, he gives a short biography of the writer in which he also describes the theological background of his writings.
Next is a book by Daniel Hinshaw, an Orthodox layman and Professor of Surgery who teaches Palliative Care at the University of Michigan, and has his own practice as well. It is entitled Suffering and the Nature of Healing, and explores the 'unique perspective of traditional Christianity, which is largely being lost by health care.' Part 1 is titled, 'The Human Dilemma', and concerns the essential question of suffering and the relief and meaning in that suffering. He approaches this from various standpoints, and at one point makes a fascinating correlation between programmed cellular death which is always taking place within us, and agape, or self-giving love. In Part 2 he delves into 'The Therapeutic Encounter', dealing with the patient and his pain, and the healer and his skills and methods. He looks at both the physical and social elements of the pain of the patient, and the vastly different approaches to the healing by the doctors. Part 3 is quizzically titled 'Healing in Death'. He states that 'spirituality in western hospice and palliative care in recent years has been increasingly defined in secular terms that effectively dissociate it from major faith traditions.' He then proceeds to focus on the traditional Christian perspective, quoting early Church Fathers. In leafing through this book, I found myself thinking over and over that his approach is not what I expected to find, and that what I did find was really interesting.
In a completely different vein is The Garments of Salvation: Orthodox Christian Liturgical Vesture, written by Khouria Krista West, an ecclesiastical tailor. This book gives the origins, history, and theological meaning of Liturgical vestments. It is 'engaging history that traces the civil lineaments of what finally became sacred vestments; it is systematic theology true to holy tradition, teaching you can touch; it is evangelical in that it proclaims the faith in fabrics. This engaging book would be of interest to anyone who 'loves the beauty of Thy house.'
Come in and check out these new offerings!
Susan Noel - Shopkeep
Of the feasts of the Church, the Dormition of the Theotokos is perhaps the one filled most filled with tenderness. In the icon of the feast, Christ looks lovingly on her earthly body, and holds in His arms her infant soul, which has just been born into heaven. The resonance between this image and that of the Theotokos holding the infant Jesus at the Nativity is filled with sweetness and light. In his book, The Repose of Our Most Holy and Glorious Lady the Theotokos, Minas Charitos has Him saying to her,
"Arise, come my beloved, My fair one, My dove. (Song 2:10). . . Arise and come to My Kingdom, for thou art the Queen of all. Arise and come unto me, my fair dove,for thou art escorted by My angelic hosts. Gird thyself with the glorious and gold-embroidered royal garment of thy virtues. Adorn thyself with the luminous glory of thy divine blessedness. Arise, come My beloved, My fair one, My dove, yea come. (Song 2:13)"
Around her stand the adoring but bereft Apostles, and in them the Church. Jacob of Serug describes it thus:
Heaven was full of the sweet music of the angels,
but the depths were troubled, together with the disciples who were filled with grief.
The church on high and that below cried out with one hymn
for neither those above nor those below could suffice to tell of her.
Of the Church, St. Silouan says: "And though the life of the Mother of God is hidden, as it were in holy silence, our Lord allows our Orthodox Church to know that she embraces the whole world in this love of hers . . .Verily she is our advocate before God, and alone the sound of her name rejoices the soul. But all heaven and earth, too, rejoice in her love." Jacob of Serug beautifully describes it thus:
All living creatures made a joyful noise of praise in their places;
all the earth was stirred by their shouts of joy.
New sounds were heard from all the birds;
which were chanting in ranks according to their nature.
All trees with their fruits were sprinkled with dew,
the sweet fragrance of their gladness.
All the flowers which were beautiful in their variety,
sent forth perfume like sweet spices sending forth fragrance.
The heavens and the mountains and all plains which were adorned,
broke forth in praise when the virginal body was laid in the grave.
May our great love for her melt into tears.
Susan Noel - Shopkeep
One of the verses on 'Lord I call' for the Kneeling Prayers Vespers proclaims,
'A sound came like the of a rushing mighty wind;
It filled all the house where they were sitting,
and they all began to proclaim strange words, strange doctrines,
strange teachings of the Holy Trinity.'
All these 'strangenesses' struck me. I realized in a new way that this moment of the creation of the Church was the very moment that our very existence became 'not of this world'. Before that, existence according to the Law was very much of this world, with seemingly every movement of life being subject to it. Now, every movement of life is subject to the movement of the Holy Spirit, which 'blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.' (John 3:7-8). The apostles were not only speaking in the 'foreign tongues' of this world, so that everyone understood them in his own language. They were speaking in the 'foreign tongue' of the Kingdom of Heaven, and beginning the process of teaching it to the Church, so that we could become citizens of that Kingdom.
One of my greatest pleasures since Pascha has been reading the hymns of Matins and Vespers from the Pentecostarion. It contains all the days from Pascha through the Sunday of All Saints. Through this reading I gained a greater experience of the life of the Church in this period. The Paschal joy was sustained all through the Leave-Taking, so that I was a little sad to leave it behind. But then came the joy of the Ascension and a deeper understanding that it was at this particular moment that our human nature was taken up into heaven. And now comes the Monday within the Feast of Pentecost, with this magnificent hymn:
'The fountain of the Spirit has come down upon men in rivers of flame, enlightening the Apostles as a spiritual dew. It became a cloud bearing fire for them, a flame of radiance and refreshment. In them, grace was given to us through fire and water. Behold the Light of the Paraclete, making the world radiant!'
Flame as dew. Opposites united. Truly a different order of being.
Susan Noel - Shopkeep
Pericles once said ' . . . the whole earth is the sepulchre of famous men, not that in which their mortal bones are laid, but in the minds of men; and their story is not graven only on stone over their native earth, but lives on far away, without visible symbol, woven into the stuff of other men's lives.' That started me thinking about the lives of Christ Jesus, Mary the Theotokos, and all the Saints whose works and lives we read and absorb into our souls. They are woven into our lives in different ways, in different combinations, with different emphases, and so become part of each person's uniqueness. When we read and respond to these lives, we take in and respond to aspects of their lives, thus adding to the warp and weft of the fabric of our own lives. I think that describes how I feel while I'm running around the neighborhood each eve of St. Nicholas Day with small offerings for each child to find in their shoes the next morning. It's more an entering into the love of St. Nicholas, than something that begins with me.
With this in mind, I am re-reading The Life of the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, compiled and written by Holy Apostles Convent. It opens with a quote from St. Ambrose of Milan: 'Mary's life, is a rule of life for all.' The book uses both Scripture and apocryphal sources, and very carefully explains the origins of these sources and the acknowledgement by the Church Fathers of these sources in their writings and hymnography. The book takes us from the shame felt by the Theotokos' parents Joachim and Anna due to their childlessness, all the way through her Assumption into heaven, to her ceaseless intercession for us. The book is a treasure house of traditions concerning her, and in many places explains the background of these traditions, allowing us to understand them in a fuller, deeper way. There are abundant quotations from the writings of the Fathers, with footnotes aplenty and extensive list of sources.
One of the most helpful things the book does is to take seemingly confusing Gospel accounts of the same events, and bring them into a coherent whole. An example of this is the accounts of the morning of the Resurrection, when the myrrhbearers went back to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus. The way it puts these events into sequence gives an insight into the anguish and confusion His followers must have been experiencing. It then gives these events in conjunction with the hymns written over time that the Church sings to commemorate the events. The result is a deeper entering into the liturgical life of the Church, which in turn penetrates the depths of our souls.
Let us hope and pray that the life of the Theotokos may in some way be woven into our own.
Susan Noel - Shopkeep
With Earth Day this past week, I was thinking of the difference between the Orthodox view of creation vs. that of environmentalists. As much as I appreciate the efforts of all those who are consciously trying to reverse the damage wrought by humanity on the planet, they look on the care of the the world as an end in itself, as if it is possible to eventually make an ideal world, if only everyone would act in such a way that would safeguard every aspect of our environment. This kind of thinking has been termed 'chiliasm' by the Church Fathers. So, although the outward actions of Orthodox Christians and environmentalists may appear to be the same, the motivation behind these actions is radically different. Our 'ideal world' will only be realised by Christ's coming and making all things new.
The best exposition I have ever read of the Orthodox view of the care of the world is found in a booklet called Ecology and Monasticism written by Archimandrite Vasileios, the abbot of Iveron Monastery on Mount Athos. He writes: 'If by chance a person supposes that he loves the creation and, instead of worshiping God, worships creation, he dishonors the creation. . . . Creation seeks neither worship nor contempt from us; Creation seeks but one thing - for us to be truly human. And this is not a matter of 'returning to nature', but of returning to a life lived according to our God-given nature. And to live according to our nature is to become gods by grace. It is then that we shall honor God, worship Him, love our brethren and perceive that we are of one substance with them. At the same time we shall perceive that all creation is fashioned by God and that we are ordained to be the lords of it. This will be actualized when we become the servants and slaves of creation.'
So, in our efforts to learn how to care for Creation, we are not leaving out our fellow humans, which can sometimes be done in environmentalist worldviews, and cause hatred and enmity of those who are careless or destructive with our planet. It teaches us in an environmental context what Christ told us about those who would be leaders of men: they must be the servant of those whom they lead. In the same way, our actions as lords of creation are motivated by the love of God, who in His great goodness created such beauty for us to dwell in.
In Port Townsend, an Orthodox book club is reading Greening the Orthodox Parish, by Frederick Krueger. It is a very good sourcebook, giving quotes from the Fathers about our care of creation, an overview of the environmental problems that need to be dealt with, and things we can do to improve our care of the earth. Although I would rather see this type of thing growing out of the inner life of the individual, rather than being an 'organized program', the book is still a valuable reference for both the spiritual basis and external works which we can develop in ourselves in order to further love and serve God in His creation.
Susan Noel - Shopkeep
As we prepared to go into Lent on Forgiveness Sunday, we saw Adam sitting forlorn outside the gates of Paradise, sorrowfully realizing what he had lost. We heard him begging the meadow, trees and flowers that God planted to "let your leaves, like eyes shed tears on my behalf". Here he was, and Eve with him, sitting among the thorns - their life now filled with cares and sorrows instead of the light and innocence of Paradise.
The book, The Lament of Eve, by Johanna Manley, is specifically written for Orthodox Christian reading during Great Lent. It is in three sections, the first being the Biblical story of Eve with commentaries from the Church Fathers. The second section is a prose poetry Lament, composed by the author, and in the tradition of St. Ephraim the Syrian's Hymns on Paradise, which Fr. John quoted in his sermon that day. The third section is an Epilogue in three parts. The first section is a letter to a nun with 102 short Lessons in Divine and Christian Love. The second section is The Song of Eve and Her Descendants, based on the nine Scriptural Odes. The third is guidance on how to live a God-fearing life, based on Psalm 118. Quite a lot packed into a slim volume of 150 pages!
The Lament in the voice of Eve is addressed to Adam, and to all who would come after her, and retells her story, from her life in Paradise through her disastrous choice to eat of the tree, and her life outside Paradise. She says "We ate, Adam and I, of the Tree of Knowledge, losing our virginal innocence by following our appetites. We had let evil set up an illusory reality within our souls, distinct from the unchanging reality of God. The temple of our souls could not contain them both." She concludes with this:
"Forgive me, children, I preach these things.
...they come from my memory and my daily weeping over our great loss of God's Grace. .
...My soul mourns for that Edenic closeness we once had. Restore us all, O Lord."
May this be our prayer as well as we mourn over our own sinfulness, and long for the eternal Life in Paradise.
Susan Noel - Shopkeep
The other day at school I commented to someone, 'At least this job provides us lots of opportunities for adaptability!' Needless to say, it was one of those days where nothing went according to schedule or plan. Fortunately I had decided to re-read 'The Ascetic of Love' about Mother Gavrilia during my lunch breaks. I was reminded yet again about being totally open to the will of God as it is expressed in our daily lives. She truly lived that, even when she needed to wait a very long time for things to develop in order for her to follow what she understood was God's will for her. Her life was long and filled with loving service to all sorts and conditions of people. She followed her path to many countries and to many circumstances that even some of her friends were concerned about. But the result of all was the showing forth of God's love and care for His people everywhere.
And so it happened with this month's bookstore report. With not much of a clue what to write about, my mailbox yielded unexpected fruits. Yesterday came the first issue in my new subscription to 'The Orthodox Word', a periodical published by St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood. Part of the reason for this publication is to provide access to Orthodox materials previously unpublished in English. The first article is a life of the New Martyr Alexei, Fool-for-Christ's-Sake, compiled in 1996, but only now translated into English. Also in this issue are St. John Chrysostom's 'On the Betrayal of Judas', and a homily 'On the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ' by St. Philaret, Archbishop of Chernigov. Subscriptions to this periodical may be ordered on St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood's website.
Today came 3 new books published by St. Vladimir's. Two are books in a genre close to my heart: spiritual poetry. 'Poems on Scripture' by St. Gregory the Theologian, another favorite of mine. The jacket notes indicate that "The heart of the collection is a group of poems that distill the central teachings of the four Gospels . . .", as well as other poems which witness to "Gregory's personalizing approach to meeting Christ in scripture." The second poetical volume is titled 'Treasure-house of Mysteries: Explorations of the sacred text through poetry in the Syriac tradition.'
There are poems on many subjects by St. Ephraim the Syrian, Jacob of Serugh, and other anonymous poets. There are poems concerning Old Testament and New Testament themes , and about how the scriptures translate to the worship of the Church. The third book is 'On Christian Doctrine and Practice' , eleven homilies on various topics by St. Basil the Great. Seven of these are in English for the first time. Some are on scriptural topics, and some on topics relating to the spiritual life.
Susan Noel Reynolds - Shopkeep
Many times when I read about people living lives filled with Orthodox Christianity, I am struck by the way they seem to inhabit an entirely different order of existence than the one I habitually engage with. I first had this experience when reading Father Arseny. I thought to myself, "He was obviously on this planet, but that is about all the similarity there is. Even 'laws of nature' do not seem to exist in the same way. He lived in a manner totally aware of God's presence filling the concrete world with beauty and goodness, despite outward appearances of bleakness and deprivation.
Fr. John's favorite new book, Everyday Saints and Other Stories, gives me that same awareness. Written in an engaging style by Archimandrite Tikhon (Shevkunov), he tells the stories of people he has known in the Pskov Caves Monastery. Each is a vitally existent person, each with his own strong inner being, but expressing it in widely varying ways. Some are stern, some are mild; but all carry within an abundance of grace. Of one particularly difficult monk, he writes: "Oh! He was a real scrooge! Except that he was a saint." As Archimandrite Tikhon experienced the people he writes of, the book is written in the first person, and begins before he even entered the monastery. As a result, it is full of his reactions to things and people as a worldly young man, then progressively one who is considering the monastery, on up to Archimandrite. His reactions to these people are appropriate to his own stage of progression and so, might be comparable to our own, which makes the stories even more engaging.
Another place I have encountered this sense of other-worldliness is in the biography of Father Seraphim Rose. He had an incredibly penetrating mind, and in his analyses of some of the issues he dealt with, I became aware of that divide between the ordinary and the extra-ordinary. For instance in the debate about creationism vs. scientific theories of evolution, I had thought about it totally on the plane of concrete history. Was carbon dating in error, when creationists conceive of the beginning of the world in thousands, not millions of years? What I then realized in what I was reading, was that the two cannot be compared because they are different orders of existence. The Biblical story of creation tells us what is utterly necessary for us to know in our Christian existence, that is, what is necessary for our salvation and translation to the other-worldly existence to come, which is our hope, and which can sometimes be partially realized even in this lifetime. The concrete history of the world gives us no hope of redemption, only shadows.
Scratching the surface, prodding, exploring.
Susan Noel - Shopkeep
The mailman brought me three new books from Saint Vladimir's Seminary Press I thought I would share. The first is by Fr. Lawrence Farley, a priest just north of us in Langley, B.C. In Feminism and Tradition: Quiet Reflections on Ordination and Communion, he takes on the ideas that have arisen out of the Women's Movement, and explains the position of the Church on the issues that have arisen. He looks at writings of the Fathers, Church history, word usage and translation, as well as other consideration for looking at ideas that have seeped in from this essentially secular movement. He deals with them calmly and orderly, not shrilly, as people often get when debating such emotion-fraught subjects.
The other two books are part of the series "Orthodox Profiles", of which the first was the book about Metropolitan Jonah. The second one, Seven Days on the Roads of France: June 1940, was written by the theologian Vladimir Lossky as the German army was approaching Paris. He set out to join the army, but at each place he was sent on to another, and this writing encompasses his walk and thoughts from place to place. He reflects on the nature of suffering, the relationship of the Church to western civilization, the relationship of Church and state, and the morality of war. After his writings, there are several articles written by other people who knew and loved him. This is one book it is going to be very hard for me to put into the bookstore without reading the whole thing first!
The third book is entitled Anthony Bashir: Metropolitan and Missionary. He was a Syrian Lebanese who immigrated to the United States, and was appointed Metropolitan of the Antiochian Archdiocese in a period of inner struggles it was facing after the time of St. Raphael Hawaweeny. The book tells of his efforts to reunite the factions, and the building up of the Antiochian Archdioces. It gives a sense of his 'complex personality' which led him in the events that occurred in establishing the framework for what exists today.
Give these books a look - they all seem to be very engaging studies of their subjects.
Susan Noel - Shopkeep