Moses And Goldschläger

This evening I had the pleasure of speaking at First Church Marlborough (who are celebrating their 350th (!) anniversary) on the topic of the theology of food.  I spent about half the talk going over uses of food in the Bible – a topic for another post – and then spoke about fasting practices in the Orthodox Church.  Today is, for us, the second day of Lent while our Western friends will have Holy Week next week – it is one of those years.  In going over food (and drink) in the Bible, I came across a point I had long forgotten.  In Exodus 32, the Israelites have fashioned an idol to worship – the Golden Calf.  Moses, in his anger over this, has the idol pulverized and makes the Israelites drink water mixed with the powder.  While I have not seen this anywhere, I figure this must be the origin of Goldschläger, a Swiss schnapps that has tiny flakes of gold in it.   The name of the liqueur – “gold-beaters” – refers to those who pound gold into thin leafs.  There is an urban myth that the gold cuts your digestive apparatuses and the alcohol goes straight into the blood stream.  I remember, though, a story from 20-odd years ago of someone who drank it regularly and ended up with a problem of too much gold in his bloodstream – internet searches have proved fruitless on this one.  In any case, if you have a friend drinking Goldschläger, you have an opportunity to talk about Biblical events.

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March 15th, 2016 by Fr. Greg

Way Down South

There is an interesting dichotomy in Orthodoxy that would have been impossible to predict in the earliest days of the Church. With the spread of Christianity to lands in the southern hemisphere that were largely unknown at the time of Christ, we have feasts that we associate with spring – Easter – and winter – Christmas – celebrated at the same time in places like Australia where Easter takes place in late fall and Christmas in summer. Although seasons in the southern hemisphere are completely opposite our own, when you are near Antarctica, it is always cold and winterly. The southernmost Orthodox church in the world, and one of the southernmost churches period, is Trinity Church on King George Island about 75 miles off the coast of Antarctica. It was founded to service the local Russian research station, but it also has a missionary purpose and is staffed full-time by a priest who is also a hieromonk. The church has received converts and even conducts some services in Spanish for Latin American visitors. The priest is known to bless the local penguin population during Epiphany services. Weddings have been performed there, and new converts are baptized in the Southern Ocean, a very chilly and wintry proposition indeed.

King George Island, where the above-mentioned church is located, was named by the British after King George III, regnant during the Revolutionary War and thus the king who lost the 13 colonies. Argentina, which lays claim to this British Island, names it after the 25th of May, which is Argentine Independence Day. Chile also claims the island but merely calls it by the Spanish translation of the British name. The Russians, who do not claim it, call it Vaterloo – Waterloo. It has historically been known as Waterloo Island. I can find no reason why, but I suspect the fact that Waterloo, the battle where the Brits defeated Napoleon and the French, has become known as a synonym for the end, is the reason – the island is literally at the end of the earth. Waterloo comes from a Flemish -the Dutch language of Flanders – word meaning “wet forest clearing” – you can easily see the word water there. More interesting than the etymology of Waterloo is the role it played in Winston Churchill wreaking havoc from beyond the grave. Churchill stipulated in his will that his funeral would be held at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Traditionally, a British Prime Minister would be buried out of Westminster Abbey. Also, St. Paul’s was not Churchill’s parish. So why did he decide to have his funeral there? He knew that dignitaries from other countries would attend his funeral, and in fact at that point in history it was the biggest state funeral of all time. Churchill appreciated the friendly rivalry Britain had with France and knew French representatives would be at his funeral. By having it at St. Paul’s he knew the funeral procession would pass by Waterloo Station, and that the French in attendance would be forced to be reminded of their humiliating defeat at the hands of Britain.

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November 30th, 2015 by Fr. Greg

Veterans Day

I like Veterans Day, which we are celebrating today.  It is a great holiday – it honors a worthy cause, the veterans (like my dad, uncle, and and papou [grandfather]) who have served our country in the armed forces.  It also has not been commercialized – in fact, quite the opposite; many business have special deals or free items for vets on this day.  Finally, the holiday does not move.  This is a big deal – if it was one of those that if it were moved to a Monday it would likely have a different meaning.  Memorial Day is great, and we do the cemetery thing and all of that, but it is basically a long weekend.

Despite all of this, the first thing I think of when Veterans Day rolls around is the song Penny Lane by the Beatles.  The song was a double-A side along with Strawberry Fields Forever, and this disc is often considered one of if not the best psychedelic singles ever (another great contender is Eight Miles High b/w Why by the Byrds).  Both Beatles tunes are about the atmosphere of their childhoods and include radical musical and lyrical experimentation.  Paul wrote Penny Lane, and the lyrics are very contradictory.  The song takes place in the summer under blue skies, but it is also raining.  There is a girl selling poppies from a tray.  This is a practice that takes place on Remembrance Day, the British equivalent of our holiday, both of which originally commemorated the end of the Great War (WWI), in which my grandfather mentioned above fought.  So in the song, it is summer and Veterans Day at the same time, with rain and sunny skies.  The psychedelic imagery is sealed by the great line “though she feels as if she’s in a play, she is anyway”.  Give it a listen.

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November 11th, 2015 by Fr. Greg

I Am Providence

One of my first internet adventures (probably around 1993) was to find and print out a picture of H. P. Lovecraft’s grave in Providence.  The printout is long gone, but I can still picture the graininess and remember how long it took to print.  Now I live 45 minutes away from his burial spot and am long overdue for a visit (and really a pilgrimage to various HPL sites).


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December 20th, 2014 by Fr. Greg

Day 30: Ancestors

Today we are charged with blogging about an ancestor.  A quick story: My great-grandmother was at a a wedding in the village in Greece back in the day (way back – close to a 100 years ago) and she was holding a child in her arms.  After the wedding everyone fired gunshots into the air – picture modern celebrations in the Near East and you will understand.  Unbelievable, one bullet came down from the sky at terminal velocity and hit her, instantly killing her.  Apparently this incident spurred a change in the law in Greece outlawing the practice of shooting to celebrate, but in the wild times of the day it never took.  Memory eternal…

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December 20th, 2014 by Fr. Greg

Day 24: Light

The province of Nuristan – land of light – in Afghanistan used to be known as Kafiristan – land of unbelievers – before the inhabitants were (forcibly) converted to Islam in 1895.  They formerly practiced a Vedic religion – basically a precursor of Hinduism.  The Nuristanis were among the last holdouts practicing an ancient religion in a place surrounded by Islam.  The Kalash of Pakistan are still holding out and practice a similar religion.  There are theories that they are descended from Alexander’s soldiers but genetic investigation says the Kalash are purely Indo-Iranian with no Greek admixture.

A great, fun, easy to read book about Nuristan is A Short Walk In The Hindu Kush by Eric Newby – check it out here.

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December 11th, 2014 by Fr. Greg

God Bless The Ottoman Empire



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November 22nd, 2014 by Fr. Greg