Category Archives: church

The electrician learns of his special day.

Today the cousins and brothers who are the electricians on my project brought a fourth young man who was introduced as Nico. After they had all been working upstairs and I had been cleaning downstairs all morning, I began to wonder if any of them knew that today was St. Nicholas Day.

Then it occurred to me that “Nico” is probably short for “Nicholas,” so I ran up and waited nearby while he finished installing a fixture in the new hallway, and asked him if he was named for St. Nicholas. He said Nicholas was indeed his “real name,” and I said, “Today is your day! It’s St. Nicholas Day.” He had no idea, poor boy. But now he knows; I told him St. Nicholas is probably praying for him today.

Until that little conversation I hadn’t thought of putting anything pertinent on my blog, but it made me want to take advantage of the calendar to honor St. Nicholas again. I am giving you (for the third time!) a quote from Fr. Thomas Hopko below, in my post re-published from last year. Those of you who have had enough of that might like to go instead to this blog post from on how the memory of St. Nicholas can help us resist the spirit of the age and the “talk about our having ‘the best Christmas ever!’ It is as if Christmas is a rush that brings us perfect happiness.” It is here: “Saint Nicholas and the Meaning of Christmas.”

St. Nicholas is one of the “favoritest” saints in the Orthodox Church. I have read about him many times and don’t usually remember much. I didn’t grow up hearing about him as the real historical not-Santa-Claus person that he is, or knowing that there was such a thing as St. Nicholas Day, and since I became Orthodox I haven’t succeeded in implanting him in my heart in any satisfying way.

But we both live by and in the love of Christ, so he must be in my heart in spite of my neglect. I will pass on to you (again) what blessed me some years ago, from The Winter Pascha:

“The extraordinary thing about the image of St. Nicholas in the Church is that he is not known for anything extraordinary. He was not a theologian and never wrote a word, yet he is famous in the memory of believers as a zealot for orthodoxy, allegedly accosting the heretic Arius at the first ecumenical council in Nicaea for denying the divinity of God’s son.

“He was not an ascetic and did no outstanding feats of fasting and vigils, yet he is praised for his possession of the “fruit of the Holy Spirit…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23). He was not a mystic in our present meaning of the term but he lived daily with the Lord and was godly in all his words and deeds. He was not a prophet in the technical sense, yet he proclaimed the Word of God, exposed the sins of the wicked, defended the rights of the oppressed and afflicted, and battled against every form of injustice with supernatural compassion and mercy.

“In a word, he was a good pastor, father, and bishop to his flock, known especially for his love and care for the poor. Most simply put, he was a divinely good person.”

-Fr. Thomas Hopko

A happy hodgepodge.

Today was Goldfinch Day in the garden. It could be they were celebrating the rain; I know I am, for several reasons, not least that it’s warmer when it’s raining, and right now I have so many open spaces in my ceiling upstairs, it’s quite drafty when the wind blows through the attic. We had a very cold night and two or three suddenly wintry days.

A male goldfinch announced their event to me when I was standing near the sliding glass door: he flew right up to the glass and hovered, went away, came back two times looking at me. You say he was seeing his reflection? Well, whatever he thought he was doing, he did draw my attention to the dozens of goldfinches feasting, at the feeders and on the ground. I guess when they heard I was catering their convention, everyone wanted to come. I also stayed around so long I was almost late for church. I was trying to be the photographer, but they make it difficult by being so shy. And the rain that made their yellow brighter to my eyes only dulled the scene as a whole, and they look gray against the wisteria leaves.

It took me ages to get dressed for church; I was trying to find the boots I bought last winter, which were stored away “somewhere,” many moons ago when I was so certain that the remodeling project would be complete before another winter came along. I finally found them, and then other parts of my outfit. I am temporarily between dressing tables and have been just wearing the same earrings every day.

Granny Marigold asked how it’s going, the remodeling. A huge thing is that the floors are scheduled to go in a week from tomorrow. That means an incredible number of tasks need to be wrapped up in the next five days, if it’s all to be in the right sequence. My plumber doesn’t see how it can happen. He told me that gently when he was here this evening planning his part of the job; I was really glad he stopped by when he happened to be in the neighborhood. It seems he doesn’t use email anymore, and I’ve been writing him urgent emails. I’ve known him for almost 30 years, since he was in high school; we talked about his parents and his children before he left. He lives with his father and his son, and all three are named James.

Here is the floor plan of the changes in my upstairs. Three new rooms are being created from one very large room that had never had much done with it. Maybe because the original builders saw that they didn’t have enough support to bear any more walls; one unfortunate time drain has been the addition of great beams to floor and ceiling of the room, what the contractor kindly calls “deferred maintenance.”

My master bedroom, bath and closet are at the bottom of the drawing. The new walls are shaded dark. The door has been cut that will open my bedroom to the sewing room, and all the framing is done. A few pictures from the last year, in chronological order:

First, after removing the “popcorn” ceiling, and when they began to add support in the ceiling for the new walls:

The first of my two new windows framed:

How it used to look between my closet and bathroom (although not quite that crooked):

How it looks now:

They have put up plastic film in that new doorway temporarily, but it doesn’t keep out the cold. I’m so glad I thought to hang the sheet on a spring rod, because it’s always warmer on this side when it’s pulled closed.

Below, an example of the extra support that has been added to that end of the room, where the weight of the roof was not resting on enough beams that went straight to the foundation. When the team was looking at the situation and brainstorming what to do, one contractor who works for my contractor said to me, “You’re learning how not to build a house.”

No one worked all these four days of the Thanksgiving weekend. On Thanksgiving I did two things I’d never done before on that day: First I went to Liturgy, which was quite lovely, and I took my new friend Kay who I’ll tell you more about sometime. Afterward, we went shopping at my favorite market that has a vast deli section, to buy a few things to take to the feast we were attending, at the little monastery in town 🙂 I’d never had Thanksgiving at a monastery before, either.

Maybe twenty-five people were there. They are on the old calendar, so they had just begun their fast. Unlike many Orthodox, they do not bend the rules, so we had no turkey, and I didn’t miss it. We had various sorts of fish, and so many many different dishes that people had brought, or the nuns had made. One of my favorite things was the beautiful salad I had bought at the market. It was crunchy and pretty and everyone loved it: Mango and Jicama salad, those two ingredients cut in long matchsticks, with Chinese cabbage and cilantro and strips of sweet red pepper. It was lightly dressed with lemon juice and olive oil.

Before we came home the nuns gave us boxes and bags of pineapple guavas from their hedge and trees; as we went to our car we saw just how prodigious a crop they have. Theirs are certainly situated better than mine, none of which ripened this year.

I didn’t go to the Christmas bazaar that was at my church on Saturday, but there were a few things left that we could buy today during the agape meal, like this origami garland that I hung as soon as I got home.

After selling items at a discount for a while, they eventually were giving stuff away, at which point I accepted edible goodies, which I have put away for Christmas. Who knows if I’ll find time and concentration to make my own cookies this year.

 

I had many things to carry to my car, and it was raining, so I dug the napkin bag out of the trash to carry stuff in.

How was that for a hodgepodge post? I guess it’s only fitting that I publish at least one that reflects the scattered and nearly chaotic style of my life right now. As soon as those floors go in I will be sharing that bright news immediately!

We have needed just such a drink.

…the grace of the Spirit takes possession of the quiet soul, and gives it a taste of the unspeakable good things to come, which no passionate and negligent eye has seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of such a man (cf. I Cor. 2:9). This taste is the earnest of these good things, and the heart which accepts these pledges becomes spiritual and receives assurance of its salvation.   -St. Gregory Palamas

Today we commemorate St. Gregory Palamas. Frequently I am so scattered that I forget to look at any calendar: my wall calendars or my everyday planning calendar or the church calendar. But today I did, so I noticed. Last year I attended the most enriching retreat during which we were taught much about the spiritual life, understanding and practices that are our inheritance from St. Gregory, but I never managed to process it in a way that I could share here.

Nor could I look it up in my notes, because of not being able to find them in the remodeling upheaval. So I read what St. Nicolai has to say about him in his Prologue. Here is a bit of it:

St. Gregory Palamas learned much through heavenly revelations. After he had spent three years in stillness in a cell of the Great Lavra, it was necessary for him to go out among men and benefit them with his accumulated knowledge and experience. God revealed this necessity to him through an extraordinary vision: One day, as though in a light sleep, Gregory saw himself holding a vessel in his hand full to overflowing with milk. Gradually, the milk turned into wine which likewise spilled over the rim, and drenched his hands and garments.

Then a radiant youth appeared and said: “Why would you not give others of this wonderful drink that you are wasting so carelessly, or are you not aware that this is the gift of God’s grace?” To this Gregory replied: “But if there is no one in our time who feels the need for such a drink, to whom shall I give it?” Then the youth said: “Whether there are some or whether there are none thirsty for such a drink, you are obligated to fulfill your debt and not neglect the gift of God.” Gregory interpreted the milk as the common knowledge (of the masses) of moral life and conduct, and the wine as dogmatic teaching.

Also I mused on quotes from him that I found online, such as the one at top. Here are three more that give me courage:

Life of the soul is union with God, as life of the body is union with the soul. As the soul was separated from God and died in consequence of the violation of the commandment, so by obedience to the commandment it is again united to God and is quickened. This is why the Lord says in the Gospels, ‘The words I speak to you are spirit and life’ (John 6:63).

Prayer changes from entreaty to thanksgiving, and meditation on the divine truths of faith fills the heart with a sense of jubilation and unimpeachable hope. This hope is a foretaste of future blessings, of which the soul even now receives direct experience, and so it comes to know in part the surpassing richness of God’s bounty, in accordance with the Psalmist’s words, ‘Taste and know that the Lord is bountiful’ (Psalm 34:8). For He is the jubilation of the righteous, the joy of the upright, the gladness of the humble, and the solace of those who grieve because of Him.

Given that we desire long life, should we not take eternal life into account? If we long for a kingdom which, however enduring, has an end, and glory and joy which, great as they are, will fade, and wealth that will perish with this present life, and we labour for the sake of such things; ought we not to seek the kingdom, glory, joy and riches which, as well as being all-surpassing, are unfading and endless, and ought we not to endure a little constraint in order to inherit it?

-St. Gregory Palamas

Gifts from earth and oven.

I’ve never seen this before, a tomato that looks good enough to eat, but when you cut it open, its seeds are sprouting new tomato plants! This one was grown by my neighbor, one of my favorite orange varieties, and why I didn’t try to eat it sooner I don’t know… I left it on the counter, saving it, I guess, for a special lunch…? But then I stopped really seeing it, until yesterday morning I decided to eat it for breakfast. Whoa! What a surprise.

This morning a friend saw the picture and said, “Plant it inside, quick!” and I realized that that is exactly what I wanted to do, so I dug it out of the trash and planted the whole thing just under the soil.

Neighbor Kim took me on a walk this morning to a house where she wanted to pick persimmons, with permission, the Fuyu variety that I’ve mentioned before.

And yesterday I visited Mr. Greenjeans’ place to see the updated garden and how his trees have been pruned. I gave him some Painted Lady Runner Bean seeds, and when we were looking at his Chaste Tree, he gave me seeds right off it. I didn’t know about this tree, but his has been living in a 5-gallon pot for many years and is perfectly happy. Where I found this picture just now it says they don’t like their roots to stay wet, so that sounds ideal for my garden! I will plant them this month.

He also has a new apple tree, a Winterstein, developed by Luther Burbank. It bears its fruit in December! That’s why it’s still looking fresh and green, though it seems to be a little young yet for fruit-bearing.


In my own garden I have fresh and green ornamental cabbage just planted, bok choy sprouts coming up between the rows of peas, and the Painted Lady bean that will not give up until the frost kills it. Being stripped of all its foliage and ripened fruit (dry bean pods) and cut back nearly to the ground does not take the urge to grow out of this perennial runner bean; it just starts climbing up again. The white flies like the new leaves it is putting out.

Back to yesterday – I was happy to be in the church kitchen and to get my hands in the dough, as another parishioner and I baked Communion bread. I also made these five loaves that are traditionally eaten during the Vigil service we have in the evening the night before any of the Twelve Great Feasts.

We often end up with several sets which we keep in the freezer to have on hand, but this week we spared only enough dough (4 oz. each) for one set of five, because we were focusing on the holy bread for the Eucharist. While we are shaping and baking the dough we do not chat but always try to keep in mind Jesus Christ, Who is the Bread of Life…

…and Who feeds us soul and body by many gifts every day,
which He has blessed the earth to give.
Thank you, our loving Father!