Category Archives: history

His constant star.

The Church of England remembers Lancelot Andrewes today, a good occasion for sharing Malcolm Guite’s love offering of a sonnet: “The Word and the Words.” Father Guite wrote his Doctoral thesis on this man, one of the church’s “greatest preachers and the man whose scholarship and gift for poetic phrasing was so central to the making of the King James Version of the Bible.” On the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, Guite gave a talk on Andrewes, which audio file is on his site.

Father Guite mentions how influential Andrewes was in his own life; I am no expert and could not talk for five minutes on the subject, but in a previous era of my life his book of prayers kept me going.

LANCELOT ANDREWES

Your mind is fixed upon the sacred page,
A candle lights your study through the night,
The choicest wit, the scholar of the age,
Seeking the light in which we see the light.
Grace concentrates in you, your hand is firm,
Tracing the line of truth in all its ways,
Through you the great translation finds its form,
‘And still there are not tongues enough to praise.’
Your day began with uttering his name
And when you close your eyes you rest in him,
His constant star still draws you to your home,
Our chosen stella praedicantium.
You set us with the Magi on the Way
And shine in Christ unto the rising day.

Story of a Transfiguration icon.

Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ

This mosaic dating from the 6th century is in the apse of the great basilica at St. Catherine’s Monastery, Mt. Sinai, built by Emperor Justinian before 565. I found it when I was looking at icons on the internet of Christ’s Transfiguration, which we commemorate today.

I also watched a fascinating video, the Conservation of the Transfiguration Mosaic, featuring an informal and entertaining lecture by an eminent Italian archeologist, conservationist and expert on mosaics, Roberto Nardi. It is informal in that he does not read a paper, but gives the best kind of commentary on the extensive video footage shown. The video is from 2012, so maybe I am one of the last to see it.

He starts with the history of the monastery, which he admits goes back to Moses and the burning bush, on through St. Helen and St. Justinian; the mosaic was installed soon after the church was built. In 1847 a Russian monk named Samuel did a huge amount of restoration work on the mosaic, and in 1957 archeologists sounded an alarm about its deteriorating condition, but it lasted 50 more years to the point where this 5-year project began. By then, 20,000 tiles were missing (though of course monks had saved them in boxfuls), which equaled 4% of the total, and a great number of the remainder were no longer actually attached to the base layer.

I could watch this video over and over, all the tedious detail work so well documented. What they did about the missing tiles (shown as white spots in the picture just above) was the outworking of a series of complex deliberations.  I hope you will check out at least a bit of the video, because I don’t know where to stop, telling you all the things about this long project that impress me. How the conservators came to learn to appreciate the experience and perspective of the monks — the ones who live with the icon and pray with it every day — was a touching part of the story. The pictures I show you are just teasers, blurry because I took them of the video on my desktop computer monitor.

Back in the U.S.A., our parish celebrated the feast with all the important elements intact. If you want to read more content on the feast itself you can find a lot from past years here. I don’t always get to be part of the procession through the church vineyard, and sometimes I have forgotten to bring a basket of fruit, but today I managed both!

The monks celebrating the Divine Liturgy under the icon of the Transfiguration at Mt. Sinai, and the Orthodox parishioners in California — we are all singing this hymn of the feast:

O Lord, we will walk in the light of Thy countenance,
and will exult in Thy Name forever.
(Ps. 88:15)

Icon of the Transfiguration, St. Catherine’s Monastery, Mt. Sinai

St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco

In memory of St. John the Wonderworker I am posting this story of a day of which he was the main part, one day in the last months of my late husband’s life. Today is his feast day and I am not taking part in any communal celebrations, but I wanted to at least share again a bit of his story and mine. I hope you will follow the link to read more about him.

From November 2014:

Our friends Mr. and Mrs. C drove Mr. Glad and me to San Francisco this morning for a visit to Holy Virgin Cathedral, the “Joy of All Who Sorrow.” We were going there for the same reason many people come from all over the world, to pray at the relics of St. John (Maximovitch) of Shanghai and San Francisco.

Strange as it may seem to find those cities sharing a place in the name of this saint, they form an outline of his fascinating and famous life. He was in particular famous to his many adopted children and flock of Orthodox, some of those who had settled in China years before his arrival, after fleeing from the Bolsheviks. In 1949 as the Communists John-of-San-Francisco photo smilewere coming to power there, he helped 5,000 of these expatriates to emigrate, eventually to the United States. Later still he established the cathedral in San Francisco where his incorrupt relics remain.

In the car on the way we told what stories we could remember about St. John. One thing he was famous for was ending up barefoot much of the time because he was always coming across someone who was without any footwear; again and again he would take off his own shoes and give them away.

Fr. John was glorified (recognized as a saint by the Orthodox Church) in 1994, and is often called St. John the Wonderworker. It was a joy to visit this place — my third time — with our friends and to pray together, asking St. John’s prayers as well.

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We were the only ones in the church for quite a while, but as we were leaving we met a few people coming in who were from Romania. The bishop in the group, it turns out, had served the liturgy at the canonization of St. John back in 1994! We were really pleased to meet someone who had such a special connection to the saint, and who was obviously thrilled to be visiting again.

P1110802Afterward we needed lunch, so we followed the advice of the candle desk attendant at the cathedral and ate at a Russian restaurant called The Red Tavern that was also in that Richmond District neighborhood. We were the only people there, too, though from the name we half expected when we went through the door to see a group of Bolsheviks plotting in the back corner.

A young woP1110798man only recently from Ukraine was our waitress and we enjoyed talking to her and eating the wonderful food. I didn’t think that I liked Russian food much, but everything I tasted was superb: dark brown bread scented with caraway, fresh cabbage salad with golden raisins and tomatoes; thinly sliced fried potatoes; and barley-mushroom soup with a complex and rich flavor. We all shared some Polish poppy seed dessert that we could tell had marzipan in the filling. We cut the two pieces into two more and ate them off these pretty dishes that the waitress said were their “dessert plates.”

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The forecast had been for cold and foggy weather in San Francisco today, but the sun was shining on our day and we didn’t even need our sweaters. Also, in our souls, we felt the warmth of Christ and of our friendship.

Malachai 4:2 But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness shall rise with healing in his wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.

holy-virgin-cathedral-1 sf