a prayer

A Prayer

This photo was taken by my friend, Michael Robinson, while he was visiting Russia on his honeymoon last year. This is the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Theotokos in the Kremlin. The calligraphy (a nice word, derived from the Greek for ‘beautiful writing’, although I don’t know if I can go that far!) was done by me last Sunday before Vespers of the Triumph of Orthodoxy. We celebrated at our Cathedral of the Assumption of the Theotokos here in Denver — it was a beautiful pan-Orthodox service, we had fifteen priests and three deacons, Fr. Apostolos Hill presiding. The inside of Denver’s cathedral is a huge dome covered with hundreds of icons, a perfect place for the occasion!

lack of acceptance

I’ve been really struggling to pray in the mornings. I’ve been in to talk with both of my priests recently, and with one I talked a great deal about prayer. With both I talked a great deal, about a great many things — all somehow related, yet in ways that didn’t seem to fully connect for me at the time. Finally, a couple of weeks ago in my reading, I came across the following passage:

Just as the desert was a commitment to a counter-cultural way of life, so too prayer is the realization that what matters most is not success or the achievement or the productivity encouraged by society. Prayer is acceptance of frailty and failure — first within ourselves, and then to the world around us. When we are able to accept our brokenness, without any pretense and without any pretexts, then we are able to embrace the brokenness of others, valuing everyone else without exception. Prayer is learning to live, without expecting to see results; it is learning to love, without hoping to see return; it is learning to be, without demanding to have.

– “In the Heart of the Desert”, John Chryssavgis, pg. 98

Everything they said has started to make sense. I’ve always realized that I was broken, but I don’t accept it hardly at all. I want to try to “be perfect as the Father in heaven is perfect”. The problem with the former sentence is the “I”. I can’t do it, because, of course, I’m broken. He will have to do the perfecting, the fixing, the healing. Acceptance of frailty and failure — this is a tall order for this man…

I’m thankful for the many examples of this in the church. The one closest to my mind right at this moment is the saint whose blessed memory we celebrated today, Saint Nektarios the Wonderworker, Bishop of Pentapolis. After reading his life (just over a year ago), I fell in love with this beautiful saint who is so humble, and is a modern example of how to live this out (it has been 86 years now since his falling asleep). We had a beautiful liturgy this morning and it was especially poignant to sing of his memory at Orthros with his life in my mind. While I highly recommend reading his life (Saint Nektarios: The Saint of our Century by Soitos Chondropoulos), you can also find out a great deal about him from this online mini biography.

I pray that someday I’m able to learn even a little of this kind of humility.

One of those coincidences, that’s not really a coincidence

Because I don’t believe in coincidences, after all.

The other night, John and I were watching The Emperor’s Club which is one of my favorite movies. It makes me wish I had learned Greek better, and Latin, and reminds me of (at least) one reason I chose to homeschool. Plus, there are cool soundbites from learned Classical philosophers. The one that struck me the other night, though, was Heraclitus: “A man’s character is his destiny.”

Heraclitus is my favorite pre-Socratic philosopher. Much of what he wrote survived only in fragments, and indeed his sayings are numbered such. It’s astonishing to me that these things have survived at all. (Side note: I recently finished A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books by Nicholas Basbanes, about the history of collecting books. Fascinating. I recommend it.)

Okay. So, in this movie there is a character who is a total moral failure. His teacher finally realizes that it’s not surprise that the student is so, after all, a man’s character is his destiny. You might say, a leopard can’t change his spots. Or I’ve heard Maya Angelou say, if someone shows you who they are, believe them. It’s pretty much all the same thing, only Heraclitus is more eloquent.

I started to wonder, though, is that really true? Is our character our destiny? And then it came back to me, something I’d read on Bonovox not too long ago, where he quoted St. John Chrysostom: that the only thing we can take with us to the great hereafter are the virtues we have acquired while we were on earth. Insofar as we have acquired mercy or patience or love, that is what we will take with us. (Forgive my awful paraphrase). So! Do you see it? Those virtues are indeed our character, and they are indeed our destiny.

I was explaining my thoughts to John and he said maybe St. John C was talking about this passage in 1 Corinthians, and he reads me 1 Cor. 3:9-17. That was the epistle reading for Sunday, but I didn’t know it at the time (because I have been a slacker). The funny thing is, neither did he. It was a complete coincidence! Or was it?

Of course not!

project mexico notes

July 29, 2006
I’m sitting after morning prayer and the mists have lifted. I can see the ocean — the grandeur of God. The orphanage is charming, obviously full of Christ’s love. It is a privilege to be here.

The chapel is wonderful. I am so excited — there are relics of St. Innocent and St. Nektarios. St. Nektarios seems to be keeping special watch over me these last several years. I think he has had a huge part in leading me into Orthodoxy. Thank you, blessed Nektarios!

The horses are neighing, the sheep and goats “baa”-ing and life looks like a picture here. But it isn’t a picture. I’m here and in this place, and I am glad. Deep peace is present here. Stillness — I have a small taste of it.

I have been enjoying Fr. L’s dry and wonderful way of humor. I do love him so. I also can see my nouno has quite a way with all the boys. Below me on the hillside are beautiful jeweled dewdrops on spiderwebs.

The humidity and the clouds are high, and it looks to be a nice and cool day for pouring cement.

later…

It stayed cool, cloudy, and humid all day. When we arrived on site, we discovered that we had a bit of an incline to level on a beautiful area in the hills.

At the corner of the next lot, there is an ocean view. We picked and shoveled at the clay, and three hours later had a leveled site — but not without a visitor, a baby tarantula! He was a little fuzzy.

After framing, we had a nice tuna sandwich lunch, and then began the cement work. My nouno and I ran the screed board. After we were about halfway through with the slab, waiting for a delivery of bags of cement, I had an opportunity to go and talk with Laura, for whom we were building the house. Laura Limón León – Laura Lime Lion. Cool name! She is 34 and has an 11yr old son and a ~19 yr old daughter, who has an eight year old daughter. At least the 4 of them will live in the little 11ft x 23ft house we build. Laura is very happy, and has such a joyful smile. She tells me (in Spanish) that she is very excited, that this is ‘un milagro’ – a miracle. She and her son have helped with the digging all morning. We talk for about 20 minutes before the rest of the cement arrives.

Since there is no running water here, earlier this morning a water truck brought water which we keep in large 55 gallon plastic barrels. There is no sewer, no electrical lines. As we drove out today, we passed area where there was electricity, and line that people had thrown over the main line an wired to their houses to get electricity hung like tents from the lines in places. These even ran across the road. Very dangerous live wires, especially for children playing. When it rains, I’m told that a distinct humming can be heard from the lines, sometimes shorts happen, and the power is completely out. India is like this as well in places where powerlines run.

We complete the foundation slab and the bolts for the framing are embedded into the still-wet, but hardening, cement. A long day. I’m spattered with cement flecks from head to foot. It feels good to work.

acolyte

Last weekend was pretty interesting — I am learning to be an acolyte, assisting the priests in the altar. So many details to remember! But it is a very special privilege as well. What was extra-special to me was that in our priest’s stead, serving liturgy last week was Hieromonk Christodoulos from the Monastery of St. George. One of the reasons this was special is that on the path to Orthodoxy, the very first EO liturgy I ever worshipped at was at the monastery, with Father Christodoulos. This was ‘another first’ with him! He is so passionate for Christ! Indeed, his name fits. (Our priest was at our cathedral, where, apparently with short notice, Archbishop Demetrios (hierarch of the GOA) was at liturgy. I hear their service was a bit longer than usual… )

—-

I ask for your prayers, and also for my family. From July 28th through August 3rd, I’ll be going to Project Mexico and St. Innocent Orphanage helping both to build a complete small house and work some at the orphanage. I’m pretty excited about it! The team will be flying into San Diego and driving for a couple hours to the orphanage, which is just south of Tijuana. I’ll also get to find out just how rusty mi Español es. Please pray for our team to serve humbly and lovingly to the needs we are presented with, and that the family will be fine without me being home for the week.