Elevators And The Sabbath

A few years ago I was at the Jewish Home in Worcester visiting someone and took the stairs at the same time as a young man who turned out to be a devout Jew.  We had a great discussion about riding elevators on the Sabbath – it was an issue he struggled with but ultimately he decided he would ride the elevator if someone else was getting on (his job there had him constantly going up and down to different floors).  I thought of him yesterday when I encountered this sign at Children’s Hospital in Boston – they have embraced the idea of a “Sabbath Elevator”, which in a very small way brings a little comfort to some of the people who work and/or have children who are patients there:

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December 17th, 2011 by Fr. Greg

Return Of Churches

Return of Relics
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Yerazgavors (Shirakavan)

Sourb Prkich (Holy Saviour) Church (9th cent.), photo 1900s to 1910s; The remnants after the acts of explosion and destruction carried out between the 1950s and 1960s, photo by Samvel Karapetian, 07.21.2006.

U.S. House Set to Vote on Return of Churches Resolution (H.Res. 306) on Tues. Dec. 13th

H.Res.306, which was introduced by Reps. Royce (R-CA) and Howard Berman (D-CA), has been scheduled for a vote on December 14th by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) under a special parliamentary procedure known as the Suspension Calendar.

This resolution calls upon Turkey to return stolen Christian churches to the Armenian, Greek, Assyrian and Syriac communities and to end discrimination against surviving Christians.

The text of the resolution that will come before the House will be same as the abridged version adopted 43 to 1 by the House Foreign Affairs Committee on July 20th of this year.

You can watch the House Foreign Affairs Committee passage of the Return of Churches amendment online on the ANCA Vimeo Channel.

Fact Sheets on the “Return of Churches” Resolution

** Why pass H.Res.306 – the “Return of Churches” resolution.
** Myths and Facts: Turkey’s Troubling Record of Restricting Religious Freedom
** Early Christianity in the Lands of Present-Day Turkey
** Setting the Record Straight: A point-by-point rebuttal to the Turkish Embassy’s attack on H.Res.306

Additional resources are provided on the “For Media” and “For Hill Staff” pages.



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December 15th, 2011 by Fr. Greg

End Of An Era

Tonight was the last WPI Blues Jam featuring Liquid Fuel of the semester, and was also the last featuring the current configuration of the band.  Drummer Rob is leaving the area and so we will see how things work out.  Here is the set list from tonight, as best as I can figure out (there were several random jams thrown in – this is an attempt at listing songs that were played):

Born Under A Bad Sign

Yellow Ledbetter

Hoochie Coochie Man

Mustang Sally

Gotta Serve Somebody


Dirty Dishes

The Thrill Is Gone

Willie The Wimp

Run Run Rudolph

Pride & Joy


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December 14th, 2011 by Fr. Greg

Pastor Johnson And A Story Of Integration

I often refer on this blog to certain clergy as mentors, and today I was thinking of a mentor whom I knew only fleetingly but who made a tremendous impression on me in my Virginia days and I think of him from time to time.  I knew him as Pastor Johnson, a preacher who had been a client of the law firm I worked at for many years before my seminary days.  Pastor Johnson (who has been deceased now for some years) was a client of the firm back in the day when blacks and whites lived separately in Charlottesville, and few attorneys would represent blacks.  I remember meeting him and he asked me my interests.  I mentioned theology and said something about how it was not a real science or something like that; he responded “it is the _only _ exact science.” He was diminutive in stature but everything he said was a supreme profundity – I remember another great quote – “I study hermeneutics, the study of that which is not there”, as he put it – a very intriguing definition!

When I told him I was Greek Orthodox, Pastor Johnson told me a fascinating story.  Back in the day a black couple (parishioners of Pastor J.)  had gone to a Greek-owned restaurant for a meal.  The proprietor told them that he was sorry but he couldn’t serve them because he would get in trouble with the law.  As the pastor told it, he emphasized that the restauranteur was nice and apologetic – he was not some demented racist – he just didn’t want to get in trouble.  Pastor Johnson went to visit the Greek priest and told him what had happened.  The priest at the time – I think this was the early to mid sixties – told him to tell the couple to return to the restaurant tomorrow at the same time.  They did, and received service with a smile.  And so integration in Charlottesville, it seems, got its start with a heart-to-heart between two good Christian men, Pastor Johnson and his colleague at the Greek church.

There is a bit more to the history here.  While blacks were discriminated against by whites in Charlottesville back in the day, so were Greeks.  Greeks were not allowed to own property and had other limits put on them – perhaps this commonality also played a part in this drama.  God bless the memory of Pastor Johnson.

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December 13th, 2011 by Fr. Greg

All Things Melchizedek

Sal and I have been exchanging emails on the matter of Melchizedek (you can read an Orthodox homily on him here).  Most of us in the Orthodox world are familiar with the name from one of the Sunday epistle pericopes which ends with the following line from Hebrews: “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek”.  Another discussion from an Orthodox perspective is here.

The question we have been debating is what is the exact nature of the author of Hebrews quoting the line from the Psalm.  Another good article is here.  I need to do more research on the subject, but I will come back to one of my most-used expressions when talking about scripture:   the meaning of the name matters.  It is very important to understanding scriptural stories and characters from Aaron (probably Egyptian in origin as is that of Moses) to Zerubbabel (seed of Babel).  Melchizedek – the “righteous king” – has such a powerful meaning that an argument can be made for translating it rather than leaving it as a proper name.

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December 12th, 2011 by Fr. Greg

The Magi And The Serpent

Below is a short piece I wrote for the Cathedral News (St. Spyridon’s quarterly magazine) last winter.  These articles disappear down the memory hole, so I thought I would repost it – it is entitled “The Redemption of the Serpent”.  It has a Christmas connection, which is appropriate for the season.  More later…

One of the most colorful parts of any nativity scene is the three wise men or magi.  They are usually depicted in colorful robes and bear the traditional gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  Often they will be accompanied by the camels or, more rarely but more correctly, the horses on which they rode.  Interestingly, in their appearance in the gospel of Matthew the wise men are not enumerated; the number three is associated with them due to the three gifts.


As interesting and colorful as the magi appear, what is their purpose in the story?  The key to understanding this is in the origin of the term magi, which is from a Greek root meaning magician or one who engages in augury.  This activity is strictly forbidden in scripture as being blasphemous, but the word magi in the Hellenistic era meant a follower of Zoroastrianism, the ancient Persian religion now extinct in Iran but still followed by the exiled Parsi community.  The magi are, in this sense, the ultimate Gentiles; magi is term like “crowd”, “dogs”, and others that in the New Testament denotes a Gentile who accepts the good news of the gospel just as the chief priests and scribes struggle with it.


There is another shade of meaning to the magi story, and it connects the episode to, of all things, the serpent in the Adam and Eve story.  The serpent famously tempts Eve, which is the beginning of their disobedience to God.  The Church Fathers, following a reference in the Book of Revelation, connect the serpent with Satan, but in the story this identity is never made explicit – it is inferred based on the activity of the serpent as a trickster and divider.  Serpent in Hebrew is naHash, which is from a root related to augury.  Here, the “one who engages in augury” has a very different role than the magi.  In this sense, the placing of the magi in the nativity story represents a redemption of the serpent.  Rather than being tempters or dividers, the magi actively engage in doing God’s will.  The transition from serpent to magi is not as stark as it seems.  In Numbers Moses uses a serpent as a staff of healing; the former agent of deception again becomes an instrument of God’s will.  In the Gospel of John Jesus brings the idea full-circle by comparing the raising of Moses’s brass serpent with the raising up of the Son of Man.


The Bible consistently uses unlikely characters – Nebuchadnezzar, a serpent, Zoroastrians, Roman soldiers – as agents of God’s will.  Those who are outside of the scriptural community are often shown as being more obedient to God than the insiders.  The connection of the serpent with the magi is a representational redemption of the serpent.  As we make the transition between the Christmas season, which ends on February 2, forty days after Christmas, and the Lenten period, we can see in this story a representation of the redemptive power of God’s love and mercy.

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December 10th, 2011 by Fr. Greg


Check out the enthronement (it is not an ordination) of Bishop Savas of Troas as Metropolitan Savas of Pittsburgh here.  His Grace is now His Eminence.  Metropolitan Savas has been a mentor of mine since I first met him at a visit to the seminary.   A tradition we have is to compare whatever books we are reading when we come into contact with each other – if someone that I know is to see him I always give that person a message with the correct information to pass on as well.  Axios indeed!

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December 8th, 2011 by Fr. Greg