Raking Leaves

This is a photo of Vaia helping Grandsire Christakos (or Papou, as he prefers) rake some leaves.  I should point out that this was taken shortly after Papou’s forehead walked into a low-lying branch.  Thankfully, everyone emerged from this relatively unscathed, and all had a splendid time.

 Go to post page

November 23rd, 2010 by Fr. Greg

Having Children In Orthodoxy

Fr. Peter has an excellent post up on the Orthodox view of contraception.  This idea for writing this came from the recent news reports about the Catholic Church and contraception.  Fr. Peter does a good job of outlining the broad Orthodox view on the subject and he helpfully points out that there are possibly different views in different Orthodox jurisdictions, since in our collegial (as opposed to hierarchical) tradition there is no one voice that speaks authoritatively on these matters.  My discernment of our Church’s position on contraception is that it can be used but at some point a couple should try to have children, which is the goal of an Orthodox marriage per the words of the service itself.  This is why, incidentally, when older people become “companions” they do not need to have a marriage service, although some do and we willingly accommodate them.

That being said, while it is incumbent on a married couple in the Orthodox Church to attempt to have children, it is not always possible, for various reasons.  It can, in fact, be very difficult or impossible to conceive or carry a child to term in some cases.  This is why pressure from a couple’s parents who are anxiously pushing the grandchild button can be very destructive.  This phenomenon is not uncommon in Greek culture.  The stress from this can cause all kinds of mental and physical problems in couples and certainly affects the whole conception process.  While the Church blesses marriages for, among several reasons, the continuance of the human race, we as the body of the Church must be loving, patient, supportive and understanding of all our married friends, regardless of their parental status.

Around Mothers Day I always quote my own mother – “Every woman is a mother.”  You can extend this to “Every man is a father.”  We all have family, whether we are married, celibate, have kids, don’t have kids, whatever.  And in Orthodoxy – both at our Cathedral and in the Church as a whole – we are one big family.  What a blessing.

 Go to post page

November 23rd, 2010 by Fr. Greg

The Ornaments Have Arrived!

Prez and Jody A. have recently spearheaded a project to have ornaments of the Cathedral made to be sold as a Philoptochos fundraiser.  (At our recent Parish Council Prep. Seminar Fr. Bob Archon made the remark that Protestant churches don’t have fundraisers because they don’t need them – very interesting from a stewardship perspective) If you were at church Sunday you probably saw the table where reservations were being taken (in the same room as the Daughters bake sale and the Sunday School Giving Tree to benefit disadvantaged students, and right next to the room where elections were taking place and coffee hour – it was that kind of Sunday).  Over 1/4 of the first run of 200 ornaments has been reserved, so be sure to get yours this Sunday before they are all sold out.  It is a great keepsake and makes a great gift, and the proceeds benefit the various philanthropic endeavors of the Philoptochos.  Both of our original home parishes – Nashua and Lawrence/Andover – have ornaments made in this fashion, and it is nice that the Cathedral one as well.  Each comes in a cool folder with a certificate:

 Go to post page

November 22nd, 2010 by Fr. Greg

Today’s Sermon: Is The Church Sexist?

I am going to do something I have never done before: post my sermon from today’s service.  I don’t write down or record my homilies, so this is kind of a recreation of my remarks.

We celebrated the feast of the Entrance of the Virgin Mary today, and this coming Thursday is the feast of St. Katherine.  Our church is one that holds female saints in high regard, with the Virgin Mary held above all.  That being said…is the Church sexist?  I recently had a conversation on this topic with a friend, and I think a lot of us may, passively at least, think this.  There are definitely chauvinistic elements to Greek and Eastern Mediterranean culture, but that stuff comes from our time under the Ottomans rather than anything intrinsic to Christianity.  Orthodox Christianity promotes the equality of all, but there are two major practices of our church that, especially in the context of 21st century American political culture, can make it seem like the Church discriminates against women.

The first big thing is the all-male priesthood.  The Church is not, in this sense, an equal opportunity employer, but this is not what she is all about.  If we look at the origins of male priesthood it all starts to make sense.  Back in the day in Judaism, from which our priesthood has its origins, the priest was not the youth director, he didn’t go to clergy police academy and all that other stuff.  He had one job: he conducted the sacrifice in the temple.  Today’s epistle reading from Hebrews talks about this.  He was essentially an ordained butcher, and this was a messy job.   Culturally at the time this duty fell to males and our Church all these millennia later continues the tradition with the priest celebrating the bloodless sacrifice of the eucharist.  Another reason the early church did not have female priests was the association of such a position with the pagan cults of the Roman Empire.  These were not the mild new age pagan groups we have today but the often violent and frenzied cults discussed in The Golden Bough.

The second practice in our Church that can give the impression of sexism is the epistle reading during the wedding ceremony from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.  This is the infamous “Wives, be subject to your husbands.”  (I believe this is the point in the ceremony where the bride steps on the groom’s foot?).  Like with the male priesthood, this passage can on the surface make it look like women are second-class citizens in Orthodoxy.  But there is more to the chapter and verse.  In the early church, when this line was read, people either didn’t register it or thought, “well, of course wives be subject to your husbands – that is how things are.”  But the passage goes on to urge husbands to love their wives.  This was a revolutionary idea; relationships back then were _not_ equal partnerships of love and respect.  Christianity is revolutionary in this; and I daresay today this idea is still revolutionary.

My time in the Worcester Clergy Police Academy, to which I alluded to earlier, opened my eyes to what the police do here, and most calls that police here and I imagine elsewhere deal with are domestic situations.  Two thousand years later couples still are not treating each other with respect.  A relationship does not have to get to the point of calling the police in – we all have arguments and moments where we don’t treat our spouse with love and respect; this exhortation from Paul is as vital today as it was then.  The Church is not sexist; rather, Christianity promotes the revolutionary idea of love and respect between a husband and wife.

 Go to post page

November 21st, 2010 by Fr. Greg

Biblical Literacy

In the previous post I included a poem about the Virgin Mary by Edgar Allan Poe and mentioned that it was the second religiously-themed poem of his that I had blogged about.   I don’t think Poe was in any way an overtly religious man, and his writings certainly do not bespeak of someone focused on purely Christian matters, but Poe definitely had a solid knowledge of the Bible – I am sure he knew the good book inside and out, in fact, as did most writers and indeed the average person of his time  (I should also point out that Poe spend a brief period of time attending the alma mater).

Obviously, the situation is different these days – the average person’s biblical literacy is, from what I have seen, somewhere between vague and appalling.  My interest here is to focus on Orthodox Christians because, and let’s face it, many of us, especially those of us who grew up in the Church, are not very well versed in biblical matters.  This is pretty sad because a) the Bible is foundational to our faith, and Orthodoxy is a scriptural religion, b) the Bible is incredibly edifying, and c) we lose credibility when talking with evangelical protestants or whomever if we don’t know our scripture.  A quick story, with names changed to protect the not-so-innocent 🙂 : When Rapheala was born and we told people her name, we got a great reaction and many questions on its origins.  This was a nice opportunity to talk about the Archangel Raphael and the Book of Tobit.  A friend expressed interest in reading the story – nice – so I handed her the good book.  She told me I would have to find the reference for her and I responded ” No way.  You are an Orthodox Christian.  I expect you to know the Bible inside and out.”  And she did indeed find the story and read it.  The good news – so to speak – here is that curing biblical illiteracy is easy.  Pick up the book and read.  Carve out an extra ten minutes a day – believe me, it is possible, and read it prayerfully.  Jump around  and just familiarize yourself with characters and stories.  As you become familiar with things you can start making connections.  The Bible is ultimately easy to understand but it is nice to have some guidance, whether from a church Bible study or helpful texts like Fr. Tarazi’s works.

 Go to post page

November 20th, 2010 by Fr. Greg

A Hymn

I am thoroughly enjoying the 40 Days of Blogging project but I am afraid today’s post will have to wait for the evening.  I am with the girls today and trying to blog with them running around (or in Raphaela’s case, almost walking) is pretty much impossible.  In the meantime, here is “A Hymn” by Edgar Allan Poe.  This is the second religiously-themed Poe poem I have posted, after Israfel:

At morn–at noon–at twilight dim-
Maria! thou hast heard my hymn!
In joy and woe–in good and ill-
Mother of God, be with me still!
When the hours flew brightly by,
And not a cloud obscured the sky,
My soul, lest it should truant be,
Thy grace did guide to thine and thee;
Now, when storms of Fate o’ercast
Darkly my Present and my Past,
Let my Future radiant shine
With sweet hopes of thee and thine!

 Go to post page

November 19th, 2010 by Fr. Greg

Hospice Thoughts

I am in the process of preparing my remarks for the annual Holy Trinity Hospice memorial commemoration at the end of the month.  Holy Trinity is the only pan-Orthodox nursing home in the world, and the hospice program is expanding to include a residence hospice which will also include rooms and apartments so family members can stay with loved ones.  I have been the speaker each year of the memorial, so it is a (welcome) challenge to come up with new angles on hospice and remembering our departed each year.  The service is always around the same time and takes place in an area of the nursing home that is decorated for Christmas.  So it is an interesting juxtaposition: friends and family in various stages of grieving in the midst of holiday cheer.  The service itself includes the reading of names of hospice patients who departed this life in the past year, and a family member comes up and puts an ornament with the person’s name on a special tree.

Each year after I speak I mentally take notes on how the families act when they perform this ritual, and it seems that most who come to this service find some solemn joy in it.  When we say “May his memory be eternal” in the Orthodox church, it is not just a meaningless phrase.  We have memorial services, whether in church or like this one, for a reason.  The same goes with the Saturday of Souls, baking liturgical bread with a list of names, and all the other things we do.  The Hospice memorial program is an extra-church addition to this, and provides another avenue in the grieving process for families.  We hear much in our society about “closure” when death is discussed, but the focus on closure ignores the grieving process.  I plan to touch on this in my remarks and will post here accordingly as things develop.

 Go to post page

November 18th, 2010 by Fr. Greg