Tag Archives: Advent

Athanasius – the heart sings

I must have read C.S. Lewis’s introduction to St. Athanasius’s On the Incarnation twice before in an attempt on the whole book, without getting much beyond it, but on this third try I have kept going. It seemed a fitting little paperback to read during Advent.

In the introduction we have an instance of Lewis’s exhorting us to read more of the Old Books, like this one from the 4th century, though we are timid: “The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator.”

And Lewis also writes here about devotional vs. doctrinal works, On the Incarnation being one of the latter, that he finds the doctrinal books often “more helpful in devotion” than the expressly devotional ones. I can relate to his description of people who “find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.”

Actually I don’t know about the pipe in the teeth, but I always have a pencil in my hand as I lie in bed with my book of theology or literature or whatever. And I marked some passages from St. Athanasius to share in this season when we focus on God With Us.

You must understand why it is that the Word of the Father, so great and so high, has been made manifest in bodily form. He has not assumed a body as proper to his own nature, far from it, for as the Word He is without body. He has been manifested in a human body for this reason only, out of the love and goodness of His Father, for the salvation of us men. We will begin, then, with the creation of the world and with God its Maker, for the first fact that you must grasp is this: the renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word Who made it in the beginning. There is thus no inconsistency between creation and salvation; for the One Father has employed the same Agent for both works, effecting the salvation of the world through the same Word Who made it in the beginning.

St. Nicholas most simply put

The feast of St. Nicholas begins with a vigil service this evening and continues with liturgy in the morning. Happy Feast Day! I read the following in The Winter Pascha by Thomas Hopko:

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.

A Beloved American Saint

It seems fitting that we commemorate St. Herman of Alaska on this date, when winter is making itself felt. I’ve written before here and here about Father Herman, how he spurned the cold, befriended the animals, and interceded between the Aleuts and the powerful people who would exploit them.

His is a good example in the Advent season, of how to keep our hearts and activities focused on the Kingdom of God in the face of distractions. And if we have a church service to attend where we can share in the Life of Christ together with Saint Herman and all the Cloud of Witnesses, we are very blessed!

I just learned (and am adding this paragraph to my original post) that today is also the anniversary of the repose of Father Alexander Schmemann, another shining star in our church family. This note about both men leads to further inspiration from and about Fr. Alexander, who rests firmly in the tradition of Saint Herman. I’m ever so thankful to have this coinciding of the celebration of two of my favorites.

Wait until after this date – Christmas

Tolkien’s Northern Lights

One of our children has a birthday on Pearl Harbor Day, which is today. So as not to take away from the specialness of that child’s celebrations, in the past we didn’t get into the swing of Christmas until the 8th, and even St. Nicholas Day passed without any notice, because in that era even I wasn’t cued in to feast days.

Now I’m thankful for that habit of delaying, which makes it easier to practice my present Orthodox unwillingness to jump ahead too much. And every day, every week in the church calendar holds a rich and festive remembrance of a person of faith or an event in our salvation history, so that the Waiting for Christmas period is full of bright days that make the time pass quickly. St. Nicholas, for example. But that holy man was at the center of much childlike fun yesterday, and we are moving on already!

Following our family traditions, then, Mr. Glad and I give ourselves permission to get and decorate a tree as early as tomorrow. Still I drag my feet, so as to nudge the bulk of merrymaking toward the Twelve Days of Christmas, the old-fashioned time to rejoice and feast. Our son-in-law fondly remembers Christmas in Ireland when for two weeks after Christmas many people were on vacation, and shops were closed. So much for the cash-register noise.

As we decorate the house, there are a dozen childlike joys to partake of, often involving memories of Christmases of 20 or even 50 years ago. And some of those are bittersweet, as memories can be. When Gus the Cat was still alive he made us laugh, the way he stalked the tree lights. This picture is a little bit sad for me, because we don’t have him anymore.

I like the tradition of keeping back the Baby Jesus from the crèche until Christmas Day; the manger waits empty until then. But in my Nativity set, the baby is glued to the manger, so He is forced to “arrive” way early. At least, these Santas are alone and in this photo they are sort of in the dark so far. Their situation changes when the Light of the World comes to earth.

Some of the participants in Pom Pom‘s Childlike Christmas party have written about their own memories of Christmas when they were children. Though it didn’t occur to my philosophical mind at first, it seems obvious now that what each of us retains with fondness of our own most distant Christmases Past will influence the definition of childlike for us.

Waiting for Christmas – GJ on the right.

The black-and-white photo below shows a glimpse of Christmas as it was for me before I can remember, and it was taken at my grandma’s house in Berkeley, where we never gathered for Christmas the years that I can remember.

The important thing is that the picture is connected to my maternal grandma, and without fail we knew that Christmas had arrived when my grandma and grandpa’s car announced their coming by the crunching of the driveway gravel, and the trunk was opened to reveal its overfull load of wrapped presents, pies and sweet rolls. My siblings and I helped carry all the gifts from that bottomless hole into the house, and we piled them under the tree, from which they spread outward like an extravagant wave across the living room rug.

The pies and breakfast goodies were set out on the service porch where the temperature was cool enough to keep them for a day or two; after Christmas Eve dinner a slice of pie would always be set on the hearth so that Santa could have a snack that night when he stopped by.

My grandma and I are not in this photo.

The photo shows my mother at right, holding a doll that I imagine was given to me that year, when I was only two. I like seeing that my grandpa, my cousins and my spinster aunt were there with us. And my grandma’s beautiful furniture that I loved!

Now about the colorful picture at the top of this page: I have an edition (Houghton Mifflin, 1999) of the collected illustrated letters that J.R.R. Tolkien wrote to his children from Father Christmas, and I’d like to tell about them even though I haven’t even read them all myself yet, much less to any children or grandchildren.

For over 20 years the Tolkien children received letters from Father Nicholas Christmas, often near to Christmas Day, but sometimes as early as October 31st. For all the ice and snow pictured, the drawings give the impression of a very cozy group at the North Pole, including Polar Bear and other helpers.

illustration including Polar Bear

This year, several of my grandchildren will be around in advance of Christmas Day and for a full week ! so perhaps we can read a few together. Or perhaps not, as I already have a long mental list of all the lovely things I can do with the children whom I haven’t had with me at Christmas for so many years.

Some of the pretty stamps

I’m looking forward to an abundance of time to “waste” just being together for the Blessed Feast of the Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This year I don’t have to have a long-distance Christmas relationship such as Father Nicholas Christmas had with the Tolkien children. But I bet I am just as busy as he before The Event as I scurry with my ribbons and lists around my cozy winter house.