Friday, November 18, 2016

More applicability from Dr. Strange

Conversation from the Marvel Universe or a home where a person has converted to Orthodoxy?

Christine: are you in a cult now?
Dr. Strange: it's not a cult
Christine: that's what people in cults say.

This conundrum has ended many a conversation between Isidora and Mr. Crackles…

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Isidora goes to the movies: Dr. Strange

If you ignore all the New Age theory that serves as a quick explanation for how people can wield powers that are really awesome in 3D because they keep turning cityscapes into something out of M.C. Escher drawings, the actual meaning of Dr. Strange is quite o(O)rthodox.

  • Death is the enemy 
  • But death is good for us: it teaches us that life is meaningful
  • Time is a problem (related to death)
    •  There is a being beyond time 
      • (in this story, it's Evil but the thinking clears a path for that being as Good as per St. Augustine - see below)
    • Evil beings want to trick us and use the promise of eternal life to do so

My understanding of God being beyond time has been enhanced by this recent article in First Things, which presents what Saint Augustine thought on the subject: 
So what was this eternal God doing before he made the world? On Augustine’s reading, there was no such “before.” There was no “then” then. Eternity is the dimension of God’s own life. It has no beginning and no end, no parameters or margins or boundaries outside of God himself.  On the other hand, time was willed and created by God as a reality distinct from himself. In his treatment of the world, Augustine again proves to be original in his thinking. He says not only that time and the world were created by God but that they were at once created together. They were co-created, so to speak, for time is coextensive with the world. This is how Augustine puts it: God created the world not in time but with time. What this means is that time is not some primordial container—an infinite bucket of moments—in which certain events happen. Time is not a receptacle; it is a relationship.

As for Dr. Strange's time loop solution to the problem of the Big Evil, don't try that at home.  

Friday, September 09, 2016

Science and fasting

I was wasting a little time and searching for topics within the scholarly database at one of the universities where I teach, and found some interesting information.

One study, conducted in 2007, found that

Conclusions: The periodic vegetarianism recommended by the Greek Orthodox Church contributes to the favourable profiles of several biomarkers of health among this sample of monks. The fasting rituals described are an important component of the traditional diet of Crete and should be emphasised in nutrition education programmes promoting this Mediterranean eating pattern.

Papadaki, A., Vardavas, C., Hatzis, C., & Kafatos, A. (2008). Calcium, nutrient and food intake of Greek Orthodox Christian monks during a fasting and non-fasting week. Public Health Nutrition, 11(10), 1022-1029.


The Orthodox Christian diet is unique in regularly interchanging from an omnivore to a vegetarian-type diet, and no study to date has focused on the impact of this on Fe status….

Adherence to the Orthodox Christian dietary guidelines does not have a major impact on Fe status and is not associated with a significantly greater degree of Fe deficiency.

Sarri, K. O., Kafatos, A. G., &; Higgins, S. (2005). Is religious fasting related to iron status in Greek Orthodox Christians?. The British Journal Of Nutrition, 94(2), 198-203.

Sounds like the regimen is good for us. Not surprised.

Friday, September 02, 2016

Happy New Year

Forgive this newbie for my Church New Year greetings being a day late.

I had started reading The Year of Grace of the Lord this past  Lent, picking it up and reading it from that point. So I have just now come to its beginning and I wanted to share some of the monk's observations about the significance of the liturgical year. 

In addition to the cycle of feasts that bear directly on our Lord, the liturgical year includes the cycle of feasts of the saints. These two cycles, however, should not be thought of as two strands that run parallel to, or separate from, each other, for the saints are the glorified members of the body of Christ. Their sanctity is but an aspect, a shining ray of the holiness of Christ himself. To celebrate the feast of a saint is to celebrate a special grace that flows from Christ to that saint and so to us: it is to celebrate that aspect of our Lord which is specially evidenced by the saint, it is to enter (for our profit) into the relationship of prayer which unites that saint to Christ. It is still more. In the same way that the feasts of our Lord in a mysterious way renew the events of his life, so the feasts of the saints make their lives, their merits and their deaths mysteriously actual, in as much as they participate in the life, the merits and death of the Lord Jesus. ... The liturgical year has but one and the same object, Jesus Christ; whether we contemplate him directly, or whether we contemplate him through the members of his body.
Good stuff!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Art is revealing

Stepdaughter 1 had to have an emergency appendectomy the night before last, and the hospital nearest where she lives turns out to be St. Elizabeth's in Brighton. Upon walking in, we faced a large crucifix, and a priest was chatting with someone near the reception desk. I am appreciative of the unabashed reference to their faith, and wonder why there are no Orthodox hospitals. I grew up near a Catholic hospital, and used to sit by a little outdoor grotto shine they had near a stream, when I was cutting classes (it was across the street from my junior high). I didn't quite know what to make of the Virgin Mary then, but it was peaceful, and I was sad that it was no longer there, after an expansion. Yes, they did pave paradise and build a parking lot. 

I used to feel some attraction to RC depictions, and have a crucifix picked up in Tijuana, affixed to the birdbath. When I began my conversion to orthodoxy, I thought I'd miss the lack of statues we could put in our yards, but now I realize my perception has changed.

I didn't feel any connection when I looked at those statues in the hospital: they seemed remote, dead. The question I asked when I was 18 and just starting to believe in Jesus--but what does that man up there have to do with me?--was evoked. Orthodox icons seem so much more alive: they answer that question: I am here with you.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Questions and answers on orthodox fasting for someone who has tried it for three, count 'em three, weeks!

This post was actually composed quite some time ago: before my Chrismation, but I see I never published it. I decided to do so now.

Oh, and someone on the Glory2God blog mentioned The Communion of Love by Matthew the Poor and I discovered that someone has posted the PDF here:  I plan to read the chapter on fasting! 

Post from probably last fall. 

Having read that "prayer and fasting" is a big part of the Orthodox life, Doc Bubbles always figured that made the whole deal a no-go for her. She may have once done Yom Kippur and been truly and  duly miserable. But it turns out that by fasting they don't actually mean going completely without food. They mean you don't eat certain foods. It's also called "Abstinence. (Gr. Nisteia). A penitential practice consisting of voluntary deprivation of certain foods for religious reasons. In the Orthodox Church, days of abstinence are observed on Wednesdays and Fridays, or during other specific periods, such as the Great Lent (see fasting)"  The "certain foods" are primarily all animal foods, so it's basically being vegan two days a week. Lots of people are vegan around here! So Doc Bubbles has started to try it.

Even though Mr. Crackles is happily chomping on leftover chicken, he is appalled: "I get it: it keeps you going through withdrawal." Hmmm. Actually, Doc Bubbles is surprised that she is not finding the practice all that hard.  Unlike Mr. Crackles, applying the recovery model, she did not lose 50 pounds by making a complete turnaround with her diet. She's always aimed at moderation. Dr. Furhman's "nutritarian" diet, which she had read about and thought made sense, though it seemed impossible. But two days a week: possible. Fasting for health isn't really wrong, since the Orthodox view of salvation seems to be deeply connected to the idea of healing: soul, mostly, but body too.  But the main reason for fasting, according to the OCA is not only to avoid certain foods, but also to avoid the control we allow food to have over us. If we can’t discipline ourselves in terms of what goes into our mouths, we will hardly be in a position to discipline ourselves with regard to what comes out of our mouths." Ah, yes, breaking addiction the old fashioned way… .

Another surprising aspect of this discipline is making Doc Bubbles feel connected to the Church, even when she is alone in her house, with her meat eating cat and husband ("you're going to get sick: not enough protein!"--he's eating twice as much to compensate!). But that will be another post: the Communion of the Saints….

I don't like pain

My stomach was in an uproar last Sunday, during Divine Liturgy. I had been taking various painkillers to try to deal with a problem that was originating in my shoulder and causing numbness in my thumb. (I'm now wearing a neck brace when I type!) I had taken an aspirin for a headache on Saturday night and, even though my stomach had not been empty at the time, the emptiness in the morning (okay, I confess, along with a caffeine pill) was causing searing pain throughout the service. I thought that once I ate I would be fine, but I wasn't. The pain continued throughout the week and I consulted WebMD and Mayo Clinic and realized I had an ulcer. I had some famotidine tables in my medicine cabinet, which happened to be what the sites said could bring healing to an ulcer. (So it should not be such a surprise to me, with my previous experiences with GERD, that I would get an ulcer.) All of this is probably TMI and not really the point. My reason for blogging about this is my realization that so much of my sense of joy in worship is connected to my feeling good in my body. This is why I have such a hard time understanding the saints who mistreat themselves so much: how did they manage? When I feel unwell, I don't feel much like praising. I will admit also I was afraid. What if it was cancer? This shows me how much more I need to pray to strengthen myself for the time that is sure to come when I am tested and I am not granted the great blessings I experience now, in my sense of God's presence.

But I am not giving up fasting! I am giving up painkillers. And taking up  drinking licorice tea with honey. That, along with the medicine, is helping, but I was too weak (and Mr. Crackles was too busy monitoring me) for me to try fasting this morning, so it was the first time since my Chrismation that I have been to the Divine Liturgy and not partaken of communion. I did feel a bit distanced... But fortunately, I was able to enjoy our end of summer picnic and we were blessed with lovely weather!

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Let every tongue confess

It always feels a bit like Pentecost at my church, since it is made up of speakers of Russian and English. Father's first language is Russian and he gives the sermon in both languages (at different times during the service) and the prayers alternate between English and Church Slavonic. On Pascha, the acclamation "Christ is Risen" and response "Indeed He is Risen" was shouted in those languages and some others. At one point during that service, I was next to Nino, the woman whose husband (of five years) had also been chrismated. She was Georgian and turned to me smiling saying, "He said Christ is Risen in my language!" It gave her such joy to hear her native tongue included in the celebration. I felt joy that this truth rings out and through all languages. The multilingualism provides me with a strong sense of the universal truth of the Gospel. (I don't know why Mr. Crackles feels the opposite: hearing words he does not understand makes him feel excluded.)

Of course, after much repetition, I start to know some of the words. And I do try to learn them. Nino went over the pronunciation with of "Voistinu" a couple times, but it went out of my head, and when the song changes over from English to Slavonic I usually just mouth the words, though sometimes, at home, when I am doing something like taking a shower, I can hear the words and say them a bit. They are rolling around in there. 

At the end of each Liturgy, when parishioners come up to venerate the Cross, Father speaks to them in their language: "Happy Feast," or "Christ is Risen" for me, but on this Sunday he said it in Slavonic: "Hristos Voskrese!" I paused, digging in my mind and lo, it came out: "Voistinu voskrese!" He smiled broadly, very pleased: "You knew it!"

I know learning the language is not as important as learning the meanings of the words and Traditions, but I feel like they confirm each other and it is very exciting!