Memory Eternal

This photo came up in my Twitter feed today.  I follow a Twitter account that posts cool pictures from history, and today it posted what is thought to be the last known photo of Bob Marley before he passed away from cancer.  The photo is historically important but also very, very sad.

Marley was a Rastafarian and late in life became a Christian Rasta when he joined the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.  Below is the photo.  The “ras” in Rastafari means “head” in Amharic, an Afro-Semitic language, with the connotation of head as leader or ruler.  Saddam Hussein was called, in Iraqi Arabic, the “ra-ees”, which is from the same root.  Most famously the word appears in the Hebrew Rosh Hashanah.  The Jewish New Year is literally “head of the year”.

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December 26th, 2013 by Fr. Greg

Day 39: Comfort

Today’s topic is meant to be along the lines of comforting others, but I wanted to talk about Christmas traditions that we all have that partake in as comfort for ourselves.  One thing I try to do every year is reread Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.  Tonight is my night to do it – a very easy thing, since it is a novella and goes quickly.  I love the story and it really gets me in the mood for Christmas, as does watching my favorite movie adaptation of it – the version with George C. Scott as Scrooge.

I like to read the tale for what it is.  There are different interpretations out there such as it is a socialist tract or it is Dickens’s attempt to secularize Christmas.  For another take, you can read a defense of Scrooge here.  In any case, reading this book gives me the nice warm feeling I had in my childhood of reading under blankets on the couch in my ‘rents’ house before going to bed during the lead up to Christmas.

You can read about the very interesting origins of how Dickens came up with the name “Ebenezer Scrooge” here.  One sad side effect of the fame of the character is that it pretty much killed the usage of Ebenezer as a first name in the US where the story became popular (although in Africa among Christians the name has some popularity).  Of course, this was a time when lots of people here had more obscure Old Testament names, such as the people in my family named Barzillai that I mentioned last week.  In any case, you can read about Ebenezer – the stone of help – here.

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December 24th, 2013 by Fr. Greg

Day 38: Never

I am not sure where Fr. John is going with this one, although the accompanying art and text point towards inspiration – never give up, never too late, etc.  The focal point of the Orthodox Christmas celebration is the vesperal liturgy of St. Basil which takes place on Christmas Eve.  There is also service on Christmas morning – this is the Church’s custom to provide the most opportunity for the faithful to come to service.  The idea is to come to one or another – whichever you can make.

Vespers is the traditional evening service of the Church, but really “sunset” is the better translation.  Interestingly, the term has come to connote “hope” – think the French espere, to hope, which is from the word.  We normally associate sunrise, not sunset, the onset of darkness, with hope.  This is very appropriate for the birth of Christ.  This cold, lonely birth, in the dark and soon to be under persecution, gives hope to the world.  So, when darkness takes over and all is bleak, never give up or give in.  Christ is there for us and we never have reason to fear.  The Church’s tradition of a vesperal liturgy in its own way drives this home – sunset brings hope, always.

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December 23rd, 2013 by Fr. Greg

Grinch Time

No, Day 37 is not about the Grinch.  Rather, I am going to play Grinch, as I so often do when it comes to food and what we are putting into our bodies.  Today’s topic is the candy cane, a noble Christmas treat with, it seems, religious origins. I think the idea is that we are supposed to blog about that, although Fr. John’s exercise gives us free rein and he definitely encourages original angles.  So…let’s look at commercially available candy canes.  I have chosen Bob’s Candy Canes as a model, since they are easily recognizable and readily available.  You can check them out here.  Ingredients?  Actually, just a few, which is always a good sign – the fewer the better.  That is the good news.  The bad news is corn syrup (not HFCS but still bad) and artificial colors (Red 40 and Red 40 Lake).  When you see artificial colors, run away.  More info here.

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December 23rd, 2013 by Fr. Greg

Day 36: Hats

The most recent blogging topic is hats.  I am going to stay away from blogging about hats in Orthodoxy because there is some controversy, especially in the Orthodox blogosphere, about the status of the kalimauki – the black hat you see some priests wear – as liturgical garb for priests.  So I figured I would talk about a very cool hat from the past.

There is probably no time where a guy wears a hat more than when he is in college.  Rolling out of bed and heading to class, going out, whatever – hats, at least when I was in school, were part of the uniform.  At UVa, there were two very popular hats beyond the usual Virginia ones.  You would often see University of South Carolina hats, largely due to what was thought to be a clever abbreviation of the Gamecocks nickname.  There was another hat that I could not figure out until someone clued me in.  The hat featured the logo below, and I would rarely go a day without seeing someone wearing one.  The hat turned out to be the official cap of the Carolina Mudcats, based in Zebulon (in the Research Triangle of North Carolina).  It turns out the current incarnation of the team is recent – the original Mudcats moved to Pensacola and became the Blue Wahoos.  UVa’s teams are nicknamed the Cavaliers, but no on involved with the school calls them that.  The nickname for the nickname is Wahoos, or ‘hoos.  A wahoo is a fish that supposedly can drink many times its weight, so you can imagine how the nickname developed.  So we have come full circle with college hats…

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December 23rd, 2013 by Fr. Greg

Day 35

Today’s topic in the 40 Days Of Blogging exercise is “strange or little known Christmas traditions from around the world”.  I had seen this in advance and was wondering what to write about.  All I could come up with is the Christmas Pickle, which I had always thought of as one of the few German Christmas traditions that did not make it over here.  According to the wiki article I have been had .  It is funny, though, how things work out.  Today this story fell into my lap and I present it to you as the fulfillment of today’s topic.  You can read about it in the link, but the title should say it all as far as how it qualifies for this assignment: “Swedish Christmas Goat Burned Down for 27th Time”.  And there you have it…

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December 22nd, 2013 by Fr. Greg

Log Cabins

Abraham Lincoln was assassinated…in his own backyard.  In a field in Kentucky in May of 1786.  Did I trip you up?  Said Abraham Lincoln was the grandfather of the president.  Today’s topic is log cabins, and based on Fr. John’s photo there is an association with Orthodox monks in Alaska or other suitable places.  But to me the log cabin legend is forever associated with Lincoln and other presidents who lived in them, and seven were born in them.  The log cabin theme came into play as a way of emphasizing the humble roots of politicians and their connection with the frontier spirit.  Although it has been generations since we have seen a log cabin president, there always seems to be an attempt by candidates to downplay their upscale backgrounds when applicable.  The noblesse oblige sense that people like FDR had is long gone.  Why not own your backstory and use it to your advantage?

In any case, you can read the story of the elder Abraham Lincoln here.  Note that his wife’s name was Bathsheba.  Although I am of mostly Greek and Italian background, I did have an Anglo-Saxon great grandfather and have done the requisite genealogical research that is so easy to do for people of British descent but not at all for Mediterraneans.  It seems that in the 1700s and 1800s Old Testament names were all the rage.  At one point in my lineage there were three straight generations of the firstborn male having the obscure but classic OT name of Barzillai.

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December 22nd, 2013 by Fr. Greg