Wednesday, September 22, 2010

"Toward the Endless Day"

Very occasionally, I have the leisure to browse in libraries. Yesterday, while seaching for something, I had the serendipity to find Toward the Endless Day: The Life of Elisabeth Behr-Sigel. This biography of Behr-Sigel, written by Olga Lossky in 2007 and freshly translated into English, recounts the life of this intriguing theological witness to the 20th century.

I know very little about Madame Behr-Sigel and her theological vision, however my curiousity was piqued to discover that in the mid 1920's she became close friends with a young fellow student at the University of Strassbourg.

He later confided to her in a letter:
"Even with the faithful friendships of the Blanchot brothers and the relationships that one has at the Sorbonne, I sometimes feel very much alone. It's not a physical solitude nor, still less, an intellectual solitude - it's quite simply that, like a little child, I miss my mother. This sentiment of the depth and supreme value of the concrete, of the material and physical and palpably concrete, seems to me, more and more, to be the truth itself."

The pen-pal? None other than Emmanuel Levinas.

I think this biography will be a good read.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Pochaiv Mother of God and "Little Gidding"

{Click on the image for a larger view}

The past week I have felt out of time. I have been travelling - Ottawa, Montreal, and home again. The picture above was taken last night. People were lined up for hours just to get into the church. These lines from Little Gidding will have to do for now:

If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere. Never and always.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Prologue from Ochrid for August 28th

HOMILY by St. Nikolai Velomirovic

About the forms of the Messiah

"And we saw that He had no form nor comeliness" (Isaiah 53:2).

This, the prophet speaks about Christ the Lord as a man: "He had no form nor comeliness!" How is it that He Who gave form to every created thing and who created the beautiful angels of heaven and all the beauty of the universe, that He did not have form and comeliness [beauty]? Brethren, this need not confuse you. He was able to appear in the manner in which He willed. But he did not want to appear in angelic beauty as He did not want to appear in royal power and in the luxury of the wealthy. He who enters a house of sorrow does not dress in the most beautiful clothes, neither does a doctor dress in his best clothes when he visits the gravely ill. But the Lord entered a house of sorrow and into a hospital. The body is the garment of the soul. He dressed in a simple garment to impress us, not by His dress but rather by the power of the spirit. We do not know exactly what His appearance was. According to tradition, His face was swarthy and His hair was of a chestnut color. When King Abgar sent Ananias his artist to paint the face of the Lord, he was not able to draw even a line on the cloth for, it is said that, Christ's face shown with an unusual light.

After all, even if Christ had clothed Himself in the most beautiful body, such a body as only He is able to fashion, what would that physical beauty of His be in comparison to the immortal beauty of His Divinity? The greatest earthly beauty is merely only a shadow of the heavenly beauty. The Prophet Daniel was a young and handsome man but when an angel of God stood before him, he himself said:

"…there remained no strength in me: for my comeliness turned in me into corruption" (Daniel 10:8). What is the face of man from earth in comparison to the likeness of an immortal angel of God? As darkness in comparison to the light! Of course, even the prophet looking at Christ the Immortal King in the flesh of man and comparing His earthly likeness with His Immortal likeness, had to cry out: "He had no form nor comeliness."
O Gentle and All-gentle Lord, Who for our sake was clothed in our miserable physical garment to serve us and not to frighten us, to You be glory and thanks, to You be glory and thanks. To You be glory and thanks always. Amen.

From The Prologue from Ochrid, entry for August 28th

Friday, July 31, 2009

New Monastery Complex proposed for St. Tikhon's

I suppose that much could be said about the proposed plans St. Tikhon's Monastery has to develop a new monastery complex to replace its current digs. My general take on church-related building projects is: "unless the Lord builds the house, its labourers labour in vain." All I can say for now is that these drawings (by architect Andrew Gould) are the stuff of my childhood dreams. These are incredibly beautiful and inspiring designs.... now for prayerful souls to live between these walls.

Click on each image for a larger view.

Friday, July 24, 2009

From The Journals of Fr. Alexander Schmemann:

Tuesday, March 1, 1977

I am reading Henri Bremond with enormous interest. I am always interested in people like Bremond, Loisy, and Laberthonniere, who lived through doctrinal crises. I am interested in the personal, internal aspect of their religious dramas. I feel somehow, mutatis mutandis, related to them – totally belonging to the church. This is obvious to me like the air we breathe, like life itself, but at the same time completely free inside the church. I am endlessly distressed by the enslavement to something or somebody that I see happening all around, distressed by the idolatry, so often so triumphant in the church. A rebellion against the church, always cheap, is equally wrong, as well as mutiny, or spiritual sectarianism with its false pathos, unctuous sweetness, self-satisfaction, narrow vision. I can say in all conscience that the church has always been for me higher than anything, without any doubt an unseen, unquestionable – not authority – but Light. Everything lives in that Light; everything is that Light! The church in its essence, in its light, must not narrow but widen, not submit but liberate. This is the essence of the church, this Light is our life.

Church people – how should I say it – do not like to be faithful to the Church. They want the Church to be faithful to them, to fulfill their needs, so that those who love the essence of the Church are bound to suffer from the Church. In the life of “modernists” (and later Teilhard de Chardin) what is interesting is not their “leaving.” To leave is to betray, it is dull, it is spiritual “vulgarity”; whereas loyalty is a cross, it is victory. One suffers from misunderstanding, solitude, feeling walled off. The victory comes from a gradually growing clear evidence inside one that this is Christianity. That is why the books about these people, dead long ago and now forgotten, disturb me so much. “Then all the disciples forsook him and fled” (Matthew 26:56). I think that every man who believes in Christ must go through that; it is the test of his testimony.

March. Although one walks to church in the early morning in the intense cold, the light of the sun, the color of the sky, the lightness of air are – Spring!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Bells are not a musical instrument but

“‘…an icon of the voice of God.’ A Russian bell, he said, must sound rich, deep, sonorous, and clear, for how can the voice of God be otherwise? It must be loud, because God is omnipotent. Above all, Russian bells must never be tuned to either a major or minor chord. ‘The voice of a bell is understood as just that,’ he said. ‘Not a note, not a chord, but a voice.’”
See here for the full story

Thursday, April 16, 2009

"When in my childhood I called upon
You consciously for the first time,
You heard my prayer;
You filled my heart with the blessing of peace.
At that moment I knew Your goodness,
knew how blessed are those who turn to You.
I started to call upon You,
night and day, and even now,
I call upon Your Name.
Glory to You, satisfying my desires with good things.
Glory to You, watching over me day and night.
Glory to You, curing affliction and emptiness with the healing flow of time.
Glory to You, no loss is irreparable in You; Giver of Eternal Life to all.
Glory to You, making immortal all that is lofty and good.
Glory to You, promising us the longed for meeting with our loved ones who have died.
Glory to You, O God, from age to age."

- Ikos 9, from the Akathist "Glory to God For All Things"

Friday, March 20, 2009

A quote from St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco

Click on image for larger view.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Metropolitan Anthony on the Beginning of Lent

Metropolitan ANTHONY (Bloom) of Sourozh
Sunday of Orthodoxy
16 March 1997

In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

We are keeping today, as every year at the end of the first week of Lent, the Feast of the Triumph of Orthodoxy. And every year we must give thought to what is meant, not only as a historical event, but also in our personal lives. First of all we must remember that the Triumph of Orthodoxy is not the Triumph of the Orthodox over other people. It is the Triumph of the Truth Divine in the hearts of those who belong to the Orthodox Church and who proclaim the Truth revealed by God in its integrity and directness.

Today we must thank God with all our hearts that He has revealed Himself to us, that He has dispelled darkness in the minds and hearts of thousands and thousands of people, that He who is the Truth has shared the knowledge of the perfect Truth Divine with us.

The occasion of this feast was the recognition of the legitimacy of venerating icons. By doing this we proclaim that God - invisible, ineffable, the God whom we cannot comprehend, has truly become man, that God has taken flesh, that He has lived in our midst full of humility, of simplicity, but of glory also. And proclaiming this we venerate the icons not as idols, but as a declaration of the Truth of the Incarnation.

By doing this we must not forget that it is not the icons of wood and of paint, but God who reveals Himself in the world. Each of us, all men, were created in the image of God. We are all living icons, and this lays upon us a great responsibility because an icon may be defaced, an icon may be turned into a caricature and into a blasphemy. And we must think of ourselves and ask ourselves: are we worthy, are we capable of being called "icons", images of God? A western writer has said that meeting a Christian, those who surround him should see him as a vision, a revelation of something they have never perceived before, that the difference between a non-Christian and a Christian is as great, as radical, as striking, as the difference there is between a statue and a living person. A statue may be beautiful, but it is made of stone or of wood, and it is dead. A human being may not at first appear as possessed of such a beauty, but those who meet him should be able, as those who venerate an icon - blessed, consecrated by the Church - should see in him the shining of the presence of the Holy Spirit, see God revealing Himself in the humble form of a human being.

As long as we are not capable of being such a vision to those who surround us, we fail in our duty, we do not proclaim the Triumph of Orthodoxy through our life, we give a lie to what we proclaim. And therefore each of us, and all of us collectively, bear every responsibility for the fact that the world meeting Christians by the million is not converted by the vision of God's presence in their midst, carried indeed in earthen vessels, but glorious, saintly, transfiguring the world.

What is true about us, simply, personally, is as true about our churches. Our churches were called by Christ as a family, a community of Christians to be a body of people who are united with one another by total love, by sacrificial love, a love that is God's love to us. The Church was called, and is still called, to be a body of people whose characteristic is to be the incarnate love of God. Alas, in all our churches what we see is not the miracle of love divine.

From the very beginning, alas, the Church was built according to the images of the State - hierarchical, strict, formal. In this we have failed - to be truly what the early, first community of Christians were. Tertullian writing in defence of the Christians said to the Emperor of Rome: "When people meet us they are arrested and say: 'How these people love one another!'" We are not collectively a body of people about whom one could say this. And we must learn to recreate what God has willed for us, what has once existed: to recreate communities, churches, parishes, dioceses, patriarchates, the whole church, in such a way that the whole of life, the reality of life should be that of love. Alas, we have not learned this yet.

And so, when we keep the feast of the Triumph of Orthodoxy we must remember that God has conquered, that we are proclaiming the truth, God's own Truth, Himself incarnate and revealed, and there is a great responsibility for all of us collectively and singly in this world, that we must not give the lie to what we proclaim by the way in which we live. A western theologian has said that we may proclaim the whole truth of Orthodoxy and at the same time deface it, give it the lie by the way in which we live, showing with our life that all these were words, but not reality. We must repent of this, we must change, we must become such that people meeting us should see God's truth, God's light, God's love in us individually and collectively. As long as we have not done this we have not taken part in the Triumph of Orthodoxy. God has triumphed, but He has put us in charge of making his triumph the triumph of life for the whole world.

Therefore, let us learn to live according to the Gospel which is the Truth and the Life, not only individually but collectively, and build societies of Christians that are a revelation of it, so that the world looking at us may say: "Let us re-shape our institutions, re-shape our relationships, renew all that has gone or remains old and become a new society in which the Law of God, the Life of God can prosper and triumph. Amen.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts: A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

This is a re-post of an entry from February, 2007.

As I have my face to the ground during this Lenten service, the thought crosses my mind, just as you can vaguely hear the priest’s footsteps as he carries the holy gifts: “how beautiful are the feet of him who brings Good News.”
At my first Pre-Sanctified Liturgy, at St. Peter the Aleut, ten years ago this year, I wondered, "how long can I last without peeking?" It's probably only 30 seconds or something, but it seems like a long time. As we were talking about it last week, Krista admitted she always used to peak. Very cute. Even this reminds me that the Apostles were those who had "seen with their eyes." (1 John 1.1) As the Lord said to Thomas, "Blessed are those who have not seen, and have yet believed" (John 20.29).
It is somehow in the singing of the Psalms of Ascent at the Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts that I remember who I am. Each year reminds me that I am a member of the sojourning people of God, at search for our Promised Land in God. I grew to love these Psalms first through Eugene Peterson's fine book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.
I don’t know if it is the same melody in all places, but it is that melody which strangely welcomes me to the Lenten pilgrimage in earnest. We are “going up” in the same way Israel's pilgrims ascended up to Jerusalem for the great festivals of salvation. But, even more, “God is the Lord and has revealed Himself.” We are members of his very Body. The fact that our liturgical journey in this particular Liturgy brings us up to partake of the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ reveals that He is the ‘end’ of all our searching.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Zealous for Truth

"Someone who has actually tasted truth is not contentious for truth. Someone who is considered by people to be zealous for truth has not yet learnt what truth is really like; once he has truly learnt it, he will cease from zealousness on its behalf."

– St. Isaac the Syrian

My friend, and my son Basil's Godfather , wrote this essay entitled "Zealous for Truth."
At the outset of Lent - at the outset of anything - it is easy to be consumed with zeal, of one kind or another. But zeal, in an of itself, can often be a sort of spiritual adolescence. As a person who experienced a fairly zealous adolescence, complete with Keith Green's No Compromise and Bible studies every night of the week, I can relate.
As David Goa says:
"For St. Isaac, zeal for truth is itself a symptom of a spiritual disease. Or, perhaps, it is a condition that tends to develop at a certain stage in the spiritual life and is itself simply a marker of that stage. It is the spiritual equivalent of adolescence where the young try out all sorts of ideas and actions with the conviction that no one else has ever had these thoughts or feelings and they are exploring them for the first time. How can it be that no one else has ever seen just how important and ultimate these thoughts and feelings are?

Adolescence is not a disease, of course, although some parents may be inclined to treat it that way. Rather it is part of the process of maturation. Similarly, when a spiritual father or mother sees the “zealousness for truth” spoken of by St. Isaac, they recognize a stage in the spiritual development of the person. But just as with adolescence, if the condition persists, spiritual growth is arrested. One is stuck in the adolescent stage of the spiritual life."
I think that we Christians who do not integrate our zeal into the wholeness of our being and personhood - that wholeness being in Christ (Colossians 3.4) - then we remain, in a sense, stuck continually in the first week of Lent. We are stuck in the endless prostrations of Forgiveness Sunday and the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete. If, however, we can move beyond adolescence, to harness and sanctify our zeal, then we can begin to truly await the Bridegroom, and partake of the everlasting Paschal banquet.

Monday, March 02, 2009

"The Lenten Spring Has Come"

Many people are fasting from various electronic media practices, such as blogging, for Lent. I, on the other hand, am returning to it. For some time, Constantly Reading Four Quartets has existed in a state of benign neglect, like some forlorn neighbourhood, furtively visited.

Over the period of Great Lent, I hope to write more here again. There is a returning aspect to the Lenten season. Father Alexander Schmemman, in his Journals describes Holy Week in this way, that it is like a flowing river, to which the Church annually returns us. His words remind me of a text from the prophesy of Hosea:

"Come, let us return to the LORD;
for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us;
he has struck down, and he will bind us up.
After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will raise us up,
that we may live before him.
Let us know, let us press on to know the LORD;
his appearing is as sure as the dawn;
he will come to us like the showers,
like the spring rains that water the earth."

- Hosea 6.1-3

This photo of His Beatitude, Metropolitan JONAH, was taken at the time of his consecration to the Episcopacy. I think it perfectly sums up the love that abides in Christ's Church. This image seems to me like an icon of the Good Shepherd. Metropolitan JONAH has some potent words for us all as we begin this season of repentance.

May God help us all, in practical and concrete ways, to strive for "whole-mindedness" and love. Forgive me, my brothers and sisters.

Friday, February 27, 2009

A Prayer by the Lake

Stories are long, too long;
the moral is short - one word.
You are that word, O Word of God.
You are the moral of all stories.
What the stars write across the heaven, the grass whispers on earth.
What the water gurgles in the sea, fire rumbles beneath the sea.
What an angel says with his eyes, the imam shouts from his minaret.
What the past has said and fled, the present is saying and fleeing.
There is one essence for all things; there is one moral for all stories.
Things are tales of heaven. You are the meaning of all tales.
Stories are your length and breadth. You are the brevity of all stories.
You are a nugget of gold in a knoll of stone.
When I say your name, I have said everything and more than everything;
Oh my love, have mercy on me!
Oh my Might and Truth, have mercy on me!

Poem 13, "Prayers by the Lake," Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich

Thursday, November 27, 2008

American Thanksgiving

See here for a Thanksgiving reflection. And why not here too for good measure.

Friday, March 07, 2008


A portable art gallery not big enough to require a building but not small enough to be written on a grain of rice.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Christmas presence

{Click on the images for a larger view}

Icon pin of St Xenia of St. Petersburg, by the hand of Abigail Maria Fernandes, 2007.

In the early hours of Christmas morning, while we were still in Church after the Nativity Vigil and Liturgy, we received a beautiful Christmas care package from my sister. It was carried over the mountains by a friend.

In the care package, atop the other gifts, was a holy image I had commissioned, serendipitously arriving in time to be Krista's Christmas present. We had the image blessed and Krista wore the pin on Theophany.

Here you can see the scale of the icon pin compared with a penny:

We are blessed to have this icon of this strange, holy women whose story and prayers have meant so much to our family.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Winter in the North Country - Wishing I had some Boots of Spanish Leather

This morning as I drove to pick up Krista from her night shift I had on the cd Putumayo Presents American Folk (2005). Though I've heard it countless times before, Nancy Griffith's version of Dylan's "Boots of Spanish Leather stood out to me.
I think of this song as one of Dylan's 'eternal' ballads, because even though it was written in 1963, it could have been written a hundred years earlier.
The lyrics are a dialogue between two lovers, separated by distance and perspective. The one keeps offering the 'things' of this world, whereas all that is really wanted is the presence of the Beloved:
No, there's nothin' you can send me, my own true love,
There's nothin' I wish to be ownin'.
Just carry yourself back to me unspoiled,
From across that lonesome ocean.
Presence is that most essential of realities. I have been recently wading through Walter Ong's The Presence of the Word, but listening to "Boots of Spanish Leather" in the snowy Edmonton darkness this morning finally made it click.
I stayed up late last night, reorganizing bookshelves, and rose early this morning - but I have not felt as awake for some time. I slept while Krista worked through the night. She will sleep as I work through the day, but, as T.S. Eliot indicated, in love there is no distance. I know that full well this morning. I am blessed beyond deserving.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Friesen Family Band

If you like faith-based roots music rising out of the "family band" tradition, you absolutely must check out the sensational Friesen Family Band. This jaw-droppingly talented collective of seven family members - a Mom, Dad and five kids ages infant through 13 - played here in Edmonton last Friday night. Krista and I caught their show at the Lendrum Mennonite Brethren Church and were blown away. Almost all of the songs are original compositions by Chris Friesen. Some are traditional, including a beautiful setting of Gerard Manley Hopkins' "God's Grandeur." The musicianship and vocal ability of these children is pretty astounding.

As well, we are proud to call the Friesens both friends (as we've known them a while) and neighbours - since they only live a few blocks away!

Check em' out. And enjoy.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Sacred Time, Camp, and St. Arseny

I grew up going to Summer Camp. Every year. Days and nights at camp were the fulcrom of the year, and initiated me from my earliest days into the mystery of sacred time. Though I didn't grow up with a highly articulated notion of the liturgical seasons, they were still there, lurking under the weight of a decade of sleeping bags, bug spray, and match-stick crafts. From age zero to five, my family spent summers at Silver Lake Wesleyan Camp in Ontario. All six of us slept in tents for two months. I took my first steps there, in a cottage belonging to our friends. From five until seventeen, the Nazarenes rented Camp Charis near Chilliwack, British Columbia. Most of the pivotal moments of my youth were there.

I think this year marks the fourth annual St. Arseny Camp in the Deanery of British Columbia. I am absolutely amazed by the growth of this tremendous ministry to the young people there in BC. You have to see these pictures to believe it! The dedicated volunteer staff of this camp should be given accolades of thanks. A new generation has the opportunity to encounter the beauty and goodness of God amidst trees, lakes, and rivers.

This Camp, we should remember, is fittingly dedicated to our own St. Arseny of Canada, Archbishop of Winnipeg from 1926-1945. Though he has not been formally canonized by the Church, we here in Canada know how well Christ shone in him. He was even shot (in the "leg") while serving the Divine Liturgy! But he continued to serve, and because of his eloquence, became known as the "Canadian Chrysostom." So, for those of you who don't know him, please meet St. Arseny, and remember his Camp if you would.

Fr. John serving the Proskomedia for the kids to see the Gifts being prepared and the special prayers said.

Glory to God for All Things!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Like gold, refined by fire...

Anyone who truly knows me, knows that I am a serious and committed whistler. This has gotten me in trouble on various occasions - namely at Church, and when I worked briefly for a firm of highly superstitious Lithuanian lawyers.

When Krista and I were getting to know each other, over a Lenten season, she was curious to find out what this one particular tune was that I was often whistling. My good friend Sandra can attest that it'd been my constant, unconscious refrain for years. The tune is none other than the first verse of the song "Refiner's Fire," by my fellow British Columbian, Brian Doerksen. Some of you will be familiar with this song, and some will not; Some will love it for various reasons, and others will perhaps disdain it. I love it.

The song uses the Biblical metaphor of testing and purifying precious metals to speak of the softening and cleansing of the heart, mind, and spirit.

A man who knows much more about metal than I has written some beautiful words about words. I offer his words, while I wait for my own to return...

Thursday, August 09, 2007

the light still shines...

Thanks for your patience... more to come soon.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

There's been a lot going on lately...

I usually resist as much as possible the easy road of simply responding "I'm busy" to most questions of how things are these days. But it is appropriate. I've taken on various additional responsibilities in my professional work, am continuing on with various duties in the Church, and Krista and I have had lots of company lately - which, for us, is quite honestly a joy. My lovely wife has had plenty on her plate as well! So it is good in the midst of these seasons of many things, to "unbusy my heart" and celebrate the important things. Our cup runneth over!

Last week we joined with our Church across Canada in celebrating with Archbishop SERAPHIM the 20th anniversary of his consecration to the Episcopate. Krista has known our gracious Bishop since she was five, and remembers fondly throwing flowers as he entered the Church for his first visits to Holy Resurrection in Saskatoon. I've known His Eminence only since '99 or so, but it is always a blessing to be with him, and to share in his immense capacity for the joy of the Resurrection and eternal life. The weekend as totally exhausting (in a good way), and we had Gabe Friesen and his Dad (Protodeacon Wilhelm) with us to share in the love.

His Grace Bishop BENJAMIN, Gabe, and Protodeacon Wilhelm

So hear's to 'unbusyness of heart' in times of many tasks and duties!

Friday, June 08, 2007

Congraduations Krista!

I just have to give congratulations to my esteemed collaborator in life, my brilliant and beautiful wife Krista, on receiving her Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree yesterday from the University of ALberta. It was a truly inspiring Convocation ceremony, and Krista's Baba was able to come from Saskatoon to share in the celebrations. Many years to you, my Love!

Check out a few more memories here.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Author of "Purity & Danger" Dies...

Rest in Peace, Mary Douglas.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

three years, five months, and nine days ago...

Thanks, Victoria for passing on this photo. Look how young Jesse looks! Fr. Dennis looks a little different too!


On the Coast of Paradise

For the past ten days, Krista and I have been meandering. We went to BC, for my parents' 40th Anniversary, and then out to Victoria for the wedding of our close friends Mira and Matthew. It is a 12 hour drive, and every time I am amazed by the topography and the verdant green of the Fraser Valley. To me, it is what it means to be returning home. I drink in that green, so distinct from the beige prairies of Alberta.

We were honoured to serve as sponsors for the Bride and Groom, a deep and humbling task in the Orthodox Church, which entails not only holding the candles at their Crowning, but undertaking spiritually for their marriage from that day forever. They are really authentic people, and we got to share this immensely holy, harrowing week with them.

As part of our preparation, Matthew and I made a brief overnight trip to the Hermitage of the Holy Transfiguration on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia. Founded by Father Gregory Papazian in Quebec in 1977, this community was relocated to the Sunshine Coast around 2000. This hermitage truly belongs to another realm, that of the eternal kingdom, and yet is entirely rooted in this world, in the Creation, the arena of the Incarnation. I won't attempt to capture anything that the monks told me there, because (as you can probably understand) they don't really like to have their words pasted all over the internet. I will say simply that we had many free and full conversations, and meeting Fr. Gregory, Fr. Deacon Samuel, and Brother Moses, was a like a sort of reunion for me. (Not in any sort of strange or mystical way, but simply in the warm, unassuming, and down-to-earth way they showed their hospitality). Matthew D. had been there several times before and was well known to the monks. But very quickly, I discovered that we knew so many people in common that meeting them felt like meeting family.

So I will simply show some pictures and share some of my experience of being there on their 'Mount Tabor.' Click on any image for a larger view.

The hermitage is located on the Sunshine Coast of BC, accessible only by ferry from the Vancouver area. We drove country roads for about ten minutes to reach the access path to the skete. The land was donated by an Orthodox couple, for whom the monks spent nearly a year constructing this beautiful home.

Below their benefactor's house is the hermitage itself, built of squared logs with dovetail joinery. In the foreground you can see the outdoor bread oven and the fence of the monastery garden. The entry porch on the left leads into the front hall and directly into the chapel.

Here are the monks themselves, from left to right: Fr. Deacon ("just call me 'brother') Samuel, Brother Moses (I understand according to his monastic vows he would normally also be called "father," but prefers "brother" too, and the Father of the house, Igumen Gregory, a monk of the Great Schema. I think this picture well captures their good humour.

As it turned out, Brother Samuel knew Krista's family from back in Saskatoon. He took a Ukrainian course with Krista's mom, and was encouraged in his vocation by a specific sermon of Fr. Phillip's. As well, Krista had met Brother Moses several years back, just before he decided to become a monk. Br. Samuel, from what I gather, runs the candle factory, and Br. Moses is a gifted iconographer and wood carver. Matthew and I brought several boxes of used beeswax candle stubs from St. Herman's in Edmonton, which the monks will recycle into new candles. (They made the originals too).

We arrived about 5:30pm on Wednesday evening, and Fr. Gregory invited us to sit down and relax for a while. Here you can see Tristan the cat, Matthew, and Fr. Gregory.

Another angle of the main sitting area. The interior of the hermitage is coated with a simple whitewash. Everything is very clean and simple. There is a slight fragrance of herbs. The night was bright and warm, with a refreshing breeze.
Br. Moses prepared supper while we visited. Actually, in this picture he's saying "oh, if you're going to take my picture I better pretend to be cooking."

After a while, we moved around the corner into the small chapel for Vespers, which began with the percussive call of the simandron and the bells. Matthew and I joined in the singing. It was ever-familiar Obikhod chant, led by Deacon Samuel's clear tenor voice. But somehow it sounded fresh. Beautiful. Then this amazing event. At the end of Vespers, while still singing, bread was brought out from the altar area, and was carried to the dining table - all carefully laden with our evening meal (their one main meal of the day). This act connecting the worship of the temple to the sustenance around the table struck me as being totally organic and deeply Christian. Our meal was a delicious soup, served with qinoa, the monastery bread, and some zesty feta. So good. We talked amiably over dinner, and many stories were shared. The monks asked me about my life and I shared my story. We drank some herbal tea, and soon, it was time for evening prayers, concluding with the beautiful setting of "Rejoice, O Unwedded Bride." Fr. Gregory anointed us, and we were bidden "a peaceful night."

It was 8:30pm. Deacon Samuel had given me his upstairs room for the night. I asked him what the schedule would be. He said that he would sound the simandron at 2am, which was usually the beginning of the quiet hours of prayer in the rooms. At four, he would sound it again for Matins. I took a few pictures, and tucked into the small bed which was prepared for me.

Brother Samuel's prayer corner at two-ish in the morning.

I came across this photo of Saint Olga of Alaska upstairs on the bookshelf.

Matins ended around 5:15am, and Fr. Gregory showed me around a little bit, including his cell, where he spends the first week of each month in quiet. The monks made Matthew and I some delicious porridge with butter and brown sugar, and we also drank some cocoa, which they drink bitter, but insisted upon sweetening for us. The conversation was inspiring, and very helpful to both Matthew and I. We boarded the 8:15am ferry back to Horseshoe Bay. Of course, this only skims the surface. Brother Moses had assured me that "this ain't Mt. Athos," and that I should feel free to bring Krista to visit next time. I am looking forward to it.

Friday, April 27, 2007

The Birth of Ambrose

The college I arrived at as an arrogant 17 year old, and later taught at, has changed its name. I could not be more pleased about the change, and its connection to 'the Great Tradition.' Many years to Ambrose University College!

From the press release:

"Ambrose University College is named after Ambrose of Milan, a fourth-century Christian who was called in 374 A.D. from a successful career as a governor to become head of the Christian church in Milan, Italy. Ambrose left his mark as a hymn writer, preacher, pastor, and an educator; he is best known for leading Augustine to faith and for his strong defense of orthodox Christology.

Ambrose stands as one of the great Christians of his generation who made an outstanding contribution to church and society. In adopting his name for our university college we underscore our commitment to prepare students for service and leadership in church and society in keeping with our historic Christian faith."

And here's a good one from the man himself:

"When we speak of wisdom, we are speaking about Christ. When we speak about virtue, we are speaking about Christ. When we speak about justice, we are speaking about Christ. When we are speaking about truth and life and redemption, we are speaking about Christ."

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Christ is Risen!

(Click on the image for a larger view)

Thursday, April 05, 2007

A Little Something from "Four Quartets"

{I took this photo at our church on the Sunday of the Cross, a few weeks ago}

The Fourth Part of "East Coker"


The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer's art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart.

Our only health is the disease
If we obey the dying nurse
Whose constant care is not to please
But to remind of our, and Adam's curse,
And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse.

The whole earth is our hospital
Endowed by the ruined millionaire,
Wherein, if we do well, we shall
Die of the absolute paternal care
That will not leave us, but prevents us everywhere.

The chill ascends from feet to knees,
The fever sings in mental wires.
If to be warmed, then I must freeze
And quake in frigid purgatorial fires
Of which the flame is roses, and the smoke is briars.

The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood—
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.

- T.S. Eliot

Also, here's another poem for Holy Week, this one by Boris Pasternak:

He had renounced with no hostility
as if returning property on loan
his works of wonder and his might
and now,like us,was mortal.
Nights distance seemed the brink
of annihilation of nonexistence
the universe's span was void of life
the garden only a ground of being...
Seest thou, the passing of ages is like a parable
and in its passing it may burst to flame
In the name then of its awesome majesty
I shall in voluntary suffering descend into my grave
I shall descend into my grave.
And on the third day rise again
And even as barges float down a river
So shall the centuries,trailing live a caravan,
come for judgement,
out of the dark, to me.

- Boris Pasternak


Thursday, March 15, 2007

Escarpment Blues

Escarpment Blues
If they blow a hole in my backyard
Everyone is gonna run away
The creeks won’t flow to the Great Lake below
Will the water in the wells still be ok?

We’ll need to build some new apartments
And I know we’re gonna have to fix the roads
But if we blow a hole in the escarpment
The wild ones won’t have anywhere to go

If they blow a hole in the backbone
The one that runs cross the muscles of the land
We might get a load of stone for the road
But I don’t know how much longer we can stand

We’ll keep driving on the Blind Line
If we don’t know where we want to go
Even knowledge that’s sound can get watered down
Truth can get sucked out the car window

We’re two-thirds water
What do we really need?
But sun, showers, soil and seed
We’re two-thirds water
The aquifers provide
Deep down in the rock
There’s a pearl inside

If they blow a hole in the backbone
The one that runs across the muscles of the land
We might get a load of stone for the road
But I don’t know how much longer we can stand
- Sarah Harmer.


Monday, March 12, 2007

Thanks where thanks are due...

I thank the Ochlophobist for his stalwart defence of the fruits of our Cistercian brethren's labours.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Jesus Camp

About a month ago, Krista and I happened to be watching late night TV (something we very rarely do), and came across George Stromboulopoulos' The Hour, one of the most worthwhile programs on the good ole' CBC.The main feature of this particular episode was the documentary film Jesus Camp, and the film's Directors were George's guests.

I have to say that I am still processing many of the questions and issues raised by this fascinating film. Originally the documentary was geared more towards understanding the spirituality of children in this particular Charismatic stream of U.S. Christianity (characterized by Pastor Becky Fischer's "Jesus Camps.) Then, as filming progressed, the significant political themes came more and more into the forefront.

After reflecting on it, I don't think I would recommend Jesus Camp to anyone with major baggage or axes to grind about their Evangelical upbringing. For those, I suspect the film would only stir up very painful emotions. For others (and I include myself in this lot) who have any kind of positive regard or appreciation for the Pentecostal tradition, and the relationship of religion to public life, I would wholewheartedly suggest that you see this film. It follows Pastor Becky's ministry, as well as the lives of three children: Levi, Rachel, and Tori - all who attend Jesus Camp. These kids are bright, serious, articulate, and 100% committed to following Christ according to the teachings they have learned. One of the main emphases of these types of camps is intensive teaching/preaching geared towards young children, and their full involvement in the life and ministry of the Church.

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the film relates to the highly emotional nature of Pentecostalism/Charismatic Christianity. There are many scenes of children weeping, speaking in tongues, and experiencing various spiritual phenomena typical to the Charismatic movement. For various viewers (both secular and non-Charismatic Christian), this type of thing may be disturbing. I have to admit that while I was aware of this kind of thing going on, and come from an Evangelical background myself, it was still at times shocking to see. There was one charming scene where a tiny girl (maybe three or four) brings around a Kleenex box for one particulary moved young boy wracked with sobs. I'll admit I have a deep respect for the seriousness and focus of these "true believers." On the other hand, I am somewhat suspicious that this can easily degrade into the basest form of spiritual manipulation. One of my former colleagues at the Nazarene University College told me one time that he thought Pentecostalism had only a 'theology of speaking,' and no 'theology of listening' or quiet.

So perhaps what we might need is a new St. Gregory Palamas to rise up in our day, to remind us that perhaps true Christianity has more to do sometimes with listening than with speaking.