Thursday, December 11, 2003

This is, to a certain degree, a work of fiction. It is a work of fiction, not because it isn't true, but because I'm not dead yet. But, it is a letter, written to be read by my daughter after my death. (You get the idea.)

Well, my daughter doesn't browse the web yet. Well, actually she does sometimes, but she can't really read so much yet, and I doubt if she would stumble upon this place.

So, would one of you mind? Before my funeral, or, heck, after it is okay, someone please read this letter to my daughter. Okay... now I'm going to say some things here. In fact, I think I'm going to say everything I ever learned in life... You may agree with some of the things I say, and you may disagree with others. But who cares! I'm writing this to her, not you! :)

A Letter to My Daughter

My dear, sweet child, if you are reading this, it could be that I am gone, that I have left this earth, in hope of a better place. I wish I could do something to ease your sorrow. I wish I could be with you through all your growing years - all those hopes and all those fears. But circumstances were beyond my control. I did not leave you because I wanted it. No, on the contrary it greatly saddens me to know that I have left you like this. That you will now have to confront loneliness and sorrow such as no one should ever have to know.

I apologize. Not only that I have gone, but that I did so little for you when I was there. I hope that you will latch onto me, and keep me in your heart forever - for it is there that I long to be, and there that I shall always be with my whole heart, and every ounce of my love. I hope also that this letter shall comfort you, bring you guidance and truth, that I would have striven to give you myself if I could have stayed with you.

Now I tell you what I must.

I have lived my life with a constant sense of immortality. I never once feared death; for I did not believe death could ever come for me. Part of this was my religious faith, but another part of it was the plain and simple stupidity of my youth. I was not immortal. I was susceptible to death, and I wished I had lived my life mindful of this fact. Never letting it slow me down, but always letting it guide me with caution.

But, when I started into my thirties, I began to have a terrible sense that I might leave this world before I had accomplished all that I should. I still did not fear death. No, death would come for me whenever it wished, and there was nothing I could do about that. But the fact that I would leave something undone - something I should have accomplished, incomplete. That was a great cause for concern: the fact that I might have a story in my heart left untold, one that the world needed but would never hear. So I began to have that anguish that I might be forced to leave this world, without having accomplished what I should. I reminded myself often of the parable of the talents - that a rich man gave his servants certain talents and went to a far off land. I decided that if I kept my gifts to myself, I would be like the man who buried his talents in the earth. When his master returned, he was displeased with him: why did you not at least give it to the bank to gain interest?

And so, I began to live my life in a certain, newfound "fear" of death. It was not death itself that I feared, but the incompleteness of having not done anything with my gifts.

But now, my dear, that fear has been driven out by one far greater; one far more noble and far more gripping. How did this happen? I was given a child. You, my child. My new fear is that I would leave this world without having give you all that I should, without having taught you all that I knew about this life, and without being able to be there for you, to help you along life's path.

Well, that is why I am writing to you. To tell you everything I know that may be of some help to you. To tell you all that I've learned that can help you see your way down life's path.

The first things I must speak of are beauty, courage, and hope.

Beauty is a great power in this world. It is a power you possess and a power that is everywhere around you. Unfortunately, power is often abused, and the abuse of this great power of beauty is more commonplace, perhaps, than all others.

Why do I speak to you first of beauty, rather than faith in God, and love for Him and others? You shall find as I write, that they are related. Truly all things are related, but some things more than others. God is beauty, because God is love. God is infinite beauty, because God is infinite power. God is beauty, because He is the creator of all things beautiful.

Let there be no mistake. God created nothing that is not beautiful, nothing that does not bear the stamp of His perfection. That which is not beautiful, is ugly by virtue of it's deviation from the idyllic prototype which was created by God. That which is not beautiful has come about because of one thing, and one thing only: sin. Man, in exercising his free choice against the Creator, brought about the condition of sin. And sin, by virtue of its existence, brings about the illusion of evil. Evil does not truly exist, except as the absence of good. So, nothing is evil by nature, and therefore all things that give the appearance of evil are truly to be pitied rather than scorned, ridiculed or abused. This is why we do not repay unkindness with unkindness. This is why we do not repay abuse with abuse, nor violence with violence.

We repay all things with peace and forgiveness, and thus each in our own small way bring about the ultimate restoration of True Beauty - a state of existence in which there is no place for ugliness and sin.

So, let me speak to you of beauty and the abuse of this power in the world. You are a beautiful young girl, and some day I believe you will be a beautiful young woman. Beauty, as I have said, is a great power in this world, and that is why I will say: women are more powerful than men in this world. The world with its man-centered social structures, and its emphasis on strength and physical endurance, often appears to only allow the men to become powerful at the expense of the woman. But you can always be sure that behind every successful man, there was a woman.

The strength of beauty, on the other hand, lies in the fact that a beautiful woman with a clever disposition can get a man to do anything she wants him to do. This is a very dangerous power that a woman can hold, and you being both clever and beautiful must be aware of it: so that you can master this power before it masters you. (Think of the ring, and poor Frodo.)

I truly believe that eventually in the course of our world's history, women will come to power politically and even militarily because of this great power they hold over men. When the souls of women are unleashed and they begin to realize their power, we shall see abuses in this world on a far greater scale than anything we have seen before. But it is important to become aware of the power, and to learn to use it properly, rather than abusing it.

The proper use of beauty as a power, of course, comes in the beautification of the world. A beautiful woman should shine like a light in the world: a light of poise and self confidence; a light of goodness and kindness to others; a light that shines outwardly and not inwardly.

The abuse of the power of beauty comes about like this: First there is conceit. The light turns inward rather than outward. A young woman who believes herself to be beautiful begins to think that she is more beautiful than others. But this is a great deception, for the greater beauty is she that considers all beautiful. For even if some unlucky girl is gifted with an un-lovely countenance, she still possesses an inner beauty, and that inner beauty, if she will recognize it, shines more loudly than the outer beauty. How then to solve the puzzle: be beautiful both outwardly and inwardly. Do not spend all your time before the mirror, but do spend some of it there, please. And spend a healthy amount of time before the mirror of your soul - lifting up your hear to God in prayer, and remembering always those less fortunate than you. There are girls, young women and old that have mastered this technique, and it is well worth the mastery. There is nothing more beautiful in all of God's creation than a woman with beauty of both body and soul, with a nobility of purpose that transcends the beauty of the flesh, and yet with the prettiness of flesh that makes a soul smile from ear to ear.

Such a beauty is a very powerful beauty, and all the more powerful than the abusive types of beauty because it remains within the realm of God's beauty and not outside it. Beauty that is contrary to God rapidly becomes ugliness, even if it is still praised by those in society who do not love Him.

The next level to which one may descend after conceit is the beginning of the abuse of the power of beauty. Here a woman uses her beauty to gain mastery over others. She may use her beauty to enslave men, but that is not truly her doing... men are already slaves to their lust, and she has simply found a way to take advantage of that. Keep away from conceit, and you will never fall prey to this abuse of power. Keep yourself forever mindful of others - their humanity, their beauty, their needs, hopes and dreams, and you will never fall prey to this abuse of power. Be mindful of the fact that as you walk through life, you are only a heartbeat away from death, and that which is beautiful can become quickly worn and soiled. Walk through life with a gentle smile that is loving and caring to others. Let your eyes speak joy to the soul, and dance like diamonds in the night, but never let them take advantage of others.

We speak of this virtue in the Church as virginity, but unfortunately in our modern age the term has been relegated to the realm of the strictly biological. You will learn about such things in the proper day and time, and I have no intention to discuss them now. But keep in mind this: virginity is a virtue of the soul. It is the power of "singleness of mind" - of the heart's intention to please God with singleness of purpose. It matters not whether you some day give your heart over to a husband, nor whether you give your heart over to God alone, but let your purpose be to please God, and you shall never lose this virtue. This virtue is the very apex of Divine Beauty. This is one of the reasons why we so often sing praises to the Theotokos. In fact, we are speaking of this very virtue when we say "ever blessed and most pure..."

That is enough about beauty.

Next I have spoken of courage. Courage is the nobility of the soul that drives you forward through every circumstance without fear of either loss or failure. Courage is a very important gift that you have, all the more important because, while you have been blessed with your mother's beauty, you have been blessed with your father's courage. Your father, I am sorry to say, did not possess beauty, and your mother did not possess courage. So, let me say this once and for all: do not let your mother's timidity dissuade you from your own possession of courage.

Courage is not conceit, nor is it any lack of humility, nor is it a vice of any sort. But rather it is a gift and a blessing. Whatever you decide to do in life, day by day, moment by moment, there are only two steps you must take: (a) you decide, and (b) you do it. It is very important to do it once you have decided. There are times when a decision is important, and you should wait over night before acting in haste. There are times when you should take a short break before sending that email, or dropping that envelope in the mail box. Your decision may be "no" - and that's okay too. But if your decision is "yes" then do it. Do not hesitate, do not falter, do not lack courage.

Jesus often said: "your faith has made you whole." You see the power of faith? Once you decide to embark upon a course of action, do it with your whole heart. Even if you end up being wrong, you will be glad in the end that you did it whole heartedly. There is nothing worse on this earth, nor more to be pitied, than an indecisive person: someone who never accomplishes anything in life, because they are afraid to. It is more important to accomplish something than it is what you accomplish. It is better to not do something at all if you are not going to do it whole heartedly.

Of course, it helps if you make the right choice. You want to do the right thing. Let love and forgiveness be your first guide and faithfulness to God be your second. It is always possible to do the wrong thing out of mere faithfulness to God, but without love. It is equally always possible to do the wrong thing out of mere love, but without faithfulness to God. However, the wrong that you do without love will be a far greater evil than the wrong that you do forgetting your faithfulness to God. God is love, and if your love is true, then you have not forsaken your faithfulness to God, even if you cannot support what you have done by dogma and apologetics. And yet since God is love, it is impossible to be faithful to him in an unloving manner.

My daughter, you must learn to understand that far more people have been murdered and destroyed in the name of God throughout the history of this world, than from any other cause. Nations wage war against their foes because they believe their own idea of God is superior to that of others. But let me say this: no one who has ever killed for the glory of God, and not later repented, shall enter His kingdom. God is a God of love, and not a God of retribution. Vengeance upon an enemy belongs to Him and Him alone, and we believe that His forgiveness is boundless. The moment we wield the sword of vengeance in our own hands to slay others, we have departed from Him. We no longer know Him and are no longer known by Him. I suggest a reading of the Epistles of The Holy Apostle John to better understand this.

The danger of misunderstanding this is great, because in our world, people like to fling around the concepts of Divine Truth, Divine Justine, and Divine Retribution, more than any other concepts as justification for their savage acts toward others. And I tell you they are wholly unjustified.

Let your mind be filled with Peace, and love for others, and you shall never depart from Him and He shall never depart from you. Forgive others, and God will forgive you. So much greater shall be your reward if you live a life of sin, and yet forgive all others, than if you live a life of perfection, and constantly criticize and harshly judge others. We say it in the Lord's Prayer daily: "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." This prayer that we say multiple times daily truly teaches us that God will not forgive us unless we forgive others. And Jesus said in the Gospel: "whatever judgment you dish out to others will be dished out to you." There are many you see all around you in the Church and out in the world who harshly judge others. I would not want to be in their shoes for anything.

One of the silliest and stupidest bumper stickers you see now says this: "Mean People Suck". The bumper sticker really reveals the depths of depravity of our humanity in this modern age. Somehow we think that by being mean to "mean people" we are not like them. But on the contrary, if we are mean to them, then we are exactly like them! What is disappointing is that the level of intelligence in our world has dropped so low that people can see those bumper stickers all day long, and not realize this. I think taping a sign to your own back that says: "kick me" is less stupid than that bumper sticker.

That leads me right into the antithesis of this virtue, for as you see, it is possible to abuse courage. The abuse of courage is when you have courage without love, and courage without the consideration of your humanity.

That is enough about courage.

Lastly, I said I would begin with "hope." Hope is a very noble virtue and closely tied to courage. I do not speak of faith, or religious belief, or courage, but hope. Hope is the lack of hopelessness. It is having something to live for, and something that drives you to get up and greet each new day. There are so many, many people living without hope in this world that I really think I must speak of it. Hope is the belief that through love, and patience, and understanding, you can in some small way help bring about a better tomorrow.

The opposite of hope is despair. And the abuse of hope is arrogance.

You should have no reason to despair, because you have Christ Jesus living within you. And yet I know that this world may yet bring a person to despair. We have every reason to believe from our reading of scriptures that hardships and difficulties will come to Christians, even persecutions by those who do not believe. I have been fortunate so far in my life to never have to face such things, but you may not be so fortunate.

Why go on hoping and believing in the face of drastic opposition? Because it is the right thing, and you know it is the right thing deep down in your heart, and you know that if you turn away from it, you will be most miserable. So, it is important to keep your hope in Him, even in adversity. God will some day melt away the sorrows of this earth, and you will be able to sigh. But if you turn away from Him you will find yourself most miserable.

The most difficult kind of hopelessness a person may have to face is ennui. It is an inexplicable hopelessness not tied to any circumstances (or perhaps even tied to a circumstance, such as the loss of a loved one.) Guard yourself from despair. Know in your heart that God loves you, that you father and your mother love you - even if circumstances prevent each of them from expressing that love to you right then and there. Have patience, and you will see. Eventually you will see again that you are loved, and you will look at the glow of the moon, or a frosty mountainside or the quiet shimmer of a lake, and you will remember that all is well, and beauty (the stamp of God's image) is everywhere to be found.

And as I said, the abuse of hope is arrogance. Arrogance is to hope what "good pride" is to "bad pride." Pride can simple be a feeling of satisfaction in what work one has accomplished. That is a "good pride" and synonymous with "hope." But a "bad pride" is arrogance - the feeling of superiority to others. Do not think of yourself more highly than you should. Even if you accomplish some great things (and I hope you do) remember that you are mortal, that you are human, that you can make mistakes some time, and fall. It only takes a crack in the sidewalk to bring you to your face on the ground. Remember that, wherever you are at in life. And remember: the higher you climb, the further you can fall.

I hope to write more. I hope to speak more. I hope to spend my whole life with you, watching you grow up and loving you. But right now I am tired and must sleep.

Love always,

Interesting BBC article on prayer...

BBC NEWS | Magazine | The new weapon in crimefighting... prayer

The thinkg I find most interesting is their scientific approach to studying the affect of prayer. They divided patents at a hospital into two groups. One group had Christians, Jews, Muslims and Buddhists praying for them, and the other did not. Unfortunately the recover rate was the same among each group.

It must have been caused by having the Jews, Buddhists and Muslims praying alongside the Christians.

Now, there would be a scientific experiment! Have each faith praying for something (let's say: fire come down from heaven) and then another group not praying at all (we could put all the athiests in that group).... Let's see what would happen.


Saturday, November 22, 2003

There was a very interesting and exciting archaeological find in Jerusalem recently.

I suggest you read all about it.

It seems they may have found the tomb of Zecharias (father of John the Baptist), Simeon ("Righteous Simeon" who blessed the baby Jesus), and James the Brother of Jesus (that's "Brother of God" to you, boy.)

They may have found the tomb of these three, or they may not.

They HAVE found, however, an inscription chilsled into the wall of the tomb from (they estimate) the 4th centrury, which quotes Luke 4:25.

It is particularly interesting to scholars of New Testament manuscripts because it is apparenently a very specific version of Luke that was floating around about that time.

But it is especially interesting to us, because they may have found the tomb of our dear Friend James' Holy and Righteous Patron, the Brother of God.


Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Original Sin and Traffic Patterns

I have been thinking a lot lately about what makes good things good, and bad things bad. Then along I come and go do something stupid that makes a little light or two go on inside my head.

A few weeks ago I was driving to work in a traffic jam. All the cars headed a certain direction (my direction) down this two lane road were backed up bumper to bumper for several blocks. I could see a street coming up ahead on the right hand side. I was about two cars away from that street, when suddenly in my rear view mirror I see a guy with this souped-up, bright yellow with all the extras SUV honking his horn and flashing his lights at people. I'm thinking: "What is wrong with this nut! Doesn't he see we have nowhere to go forward? Doesn't he realize we are all backed up in traffic. No reason to be blaring on the horn.

I look in my rear view mirror and I see that he is trying to pull around someone on the right hand side several cars back. What a nut, I think. But, I also get angry. I get angry that people like this nut drive in the bicycle lane, to try and pass cars so they can turn right at the next street and not wait in traffic. I can see that's clearly what he intends to do, and I hate it when people do that sort of thing. I ride a bicycle once in a while, not very often, but years ago I rode all the time and I figure nuts like that have no right to do such things.

So, in order to assist the world in law-abiding citizenship, I pull as far to the right as I can without crossing the line into the bicycle lane. I think to myself, there is no way this nut is going to drive past me.

I look in my mirror again, and he is driving up onto the sidewalk. Now he is passing several cars down the sidewalk. Now he is passing me, and I start yelling at him: every profanity I can think of. Or course, he can't hear me. Our windows are all up because it's cold and raining outside. But I feel I must have my say, and I shake my fist at the futility of my empty words (almost giving him the birdie.)

Really, people like that aught not to be allowed on the road.

About a week and a half later I am at a corner. It is a stupid corner designed by traffic engineers that were either drunk, or in a hurry to make it to the bathroom when they signed the dotted line for all the dimensions. What is particularly annoying about this intersection is that you come to a T, and you must turn either left or right. The problem is that "left" is the way that I am always going when I come to that intersection, and "right" is the way that 98% of the other people are going. And I have to wait sometimes for 20 minutes at this intersection merely because the traffic engineers did not make it two lanes wide.

And they are idiots too. They could have made it two lanes wide going our direction. There's plenty enough space between the buildings. There might even be enough paved street already sitting there, but the street is all marked out in yellow and white lines, and it is only one lane wide going our direction, and people park along both sides.

If they had made it two lanes wide, we people turning left would not have to wait 20 minutes for all the people turning right.


But I have a confession to make.

Usually, after about the first ten minutes of waiting, I get close enough to the stop light that I can SEE the end in sight. And the exciting thing about THE END is that right up there... right at the stop light itself. The road going our direction still is not marked out into two lanes, but it IS wide enough at last for the left-turning cars (few though they be) and the right-turning cars to sit side by side for a moment before they turn. And then I do it... The road is clear and nobody is coming the other direction... so I cross over the double yellow lines onto the wrong side of the road, pass about three cars, slide easily into the now-empty left turning lane, and am on my way. It is quick and dirty (and no doubt highly illegal) but it saves me 10 minutes on my sometimes hour-and-a-half drive to work.

Well, last time I did this, I took my little risk a little sooner than ordinary. Passed about 4 or 5 cars going down the wrong side of the road, and my thoughts for some reason went back to that guy that I hated so much who was driving down the sidewalk.

Lord have mercy on me a sinner.

This is the heart of the truths we hold about humanity: that we are all sinners. No man can look at another in anger or fear and see anything but himself mirrored there.

And as I thought about this... as I drove the rest of the way to work that day... I began to have a clearer picture of the Orthodox conception of "Original Sin". You see, we Orthodox DO believe in Original Sin. It is not the total depravity of the Calvinists (who actually adopted this from Anselm of Canterbury and Thomas Equinas' jurridical sense of redemption). It is not some disease of sin contracted by all believers. No, infact, we believe so little in any such sense of Original Sin that we Orthodox do not even stomach the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Imaculate Conception. (There is no need for a miracle to have removed the Theotokos' Original Sin in order for her to give birth to a sinless child.)

But we do, in fact, believe in Original Sin. The sins of Adam and Eve are passed along to us, down through the epochs of history. But not in our genetic code, not in some sort of disease of the soul, not even through the onslaught of demons. No, it is passed down through history by the traffic engineers, who sit far removed from traffic, exhaust, and any sense of reality, and design the way our streets, freeways, stoplights, etc. all interact with one another to make the experience of the driver as hellish as possible.

Now, you may think I'm joking, but I'm absolutely serious. The Orthodox understanding of Original Sin is that we have difficulties and trials that influence us constantly toward making bad choices, choices that satisfy some inner sense of gratification, but are not the least bit Christian. And these difficulties are passed along to us through history by the consequences of other people's poor decisions in the same vein, all the way back to Adam and Eve (with the Traffic Engineers standing at the center.)


Thursday, October 16, 2003

Art, Politics and History

Tonight I had the opportunity to enjoy a film that is both entertaining and fascinating in many ways. It was the great Russian classic Alexander Nevsky by Sergei Eisenstein, music by Prokofiev. Of course Prokofiev's music is classic, and some of my favorite stuff. He wrote at least three film scores that I know of (all for Eisenstein?) several operas, and the great ballet music still used today for Cinderella, and Romeo and Juliet. (Also numerous symphonies - my favorite being his Symphony in C, and his masterful violin concertos.) I often think that if I could make a movie, I would use music by Prokofiev. But I digress.

It is always interesting watching these old classics. They did pretty well without all the modern conventions, equipment, technology, etc. that we have today. The acting of Nikolai Cherkasov is superb. But there was one thing that really bugged me: the Soviet Propaganda Machine. It is difficult, no, impossible to ignore two things:

1) This film had the explicit intention of rallying the Russian people behind their state as they entered WW2 - the theme of standing up for their homeland against the German invaders is highly pronounced. Not to mention, they even have many of the soldiers accompanying the teutonic Knights wearing what appear to be your standard WW2 German helmets.

2) They had to change history, and delete all reference to Christianity on the good guys side. (Of course they made it obvious that the "bad guys side" was the Pope, a Cardinal, a Grand Inquisitor, and a bunch of Roman Catholic monks.

You have probably guess that the thing that disappointed me the most about the movie was number 2.

Let me briefly recap the historical events:
Alexander Nevsky conquers the Teutonic Knights as they attempt to invade Russia in the year 1242. A great battle takes place on the frozen lake Chudskoe. The Russians win. The Teutonic Knights are routed, and many of those who flee run across thin ice, the lake cracks open and they drown.

Now there is no question, historically, that the great glory of this battle and it's importance in history from 1242 until 1914 or so when the Soveits came to power and rewrote their own history, was the fact that the Orthodox had defeated Roman Catholic invaders who were coming to Russia intent on "taking back" the Church from the heretics (the Orthodox) and properly subjugating it to the Pope.

Those who were fighting alongside Alexander (he's "Saint Alexander" to us, folks...) were doing so for two reasons: (a) to save their homeland, and (b) to save the Church. The victory was not only seen as a great triumph of glory for "Rus" but it was viewed by one and all as a miracle from God. Alexander takes a place among the faithful Christians the way that King David (also a saint to us) did in the Old Testament. It is a shame that when Cherkasov (Alexander) cries out: "Slava Rus" (Glory to Rus!) at the end of the film, he cannot follow that up with the obvious: "Slava Bogu" (Glory to God!) which, undoubtedly, the real St. Alexander most certainly had done.

It is unfortunate, even heartbreaking, that in such an excellent film, the Soviet authorities kept Eisenstein from accurately portraying history. Oh, there are churches everywhere in the background in the film, but not a single mention of their faith. Not a single line in the script. Not a single Orthodox priest or monk. (Unlike Andrei Tarkovsky's great film about Andre Rublev many years later.)

Well, I just had to vent my frustration about that. This film could have been a much more of a masterpiece if it had accurately portrayed history. The acting was great, the music is sublime, the fimlation is spectacular, but the script has been all cut to pieces by those nasty Soviet censors.

Enough said...

I highly recommend seeing this movie anyway. And I highly recommend you read the true history of St. Alexander. Here's a good web site that will tell you about it: Life of St. Alexander Nevsky.



Monday, September 22, 2003

In my search today on the topic of sophiology, I came across this marvelous sermon by Fr. Sergius Bulgakov. It is interesting that James inspired my search tonight, and the sermon I found is a fitting echo. We just celebrated The Exaltation of the Cross a little over a week ago (perhaps they are celebrating it right now in Russia?) and James had a couple of thought provoking articles about it all on his blog.

Anyway, I requote Fr. Bulgakov's sermon here, in it's entirety. It is long, but such a sermon as this should be quoted again and again, like the Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom.


The Power of the Cross:

From a sermon preached by Fr. Bulgakov
at the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross
14 September, 1924

Today the Lord's Cross is raised before all the world; today 'the Cross is raised and the world hallowed', and the faithful are called to worship the thrice blessed Tree on which Christ was crucified. We pray to the tree of the Cross, and we pray to the holy life-bearing Cross itself, we invoke it, we call to it: 'Thou art my mighty defence, tri-partite Cross of Christ, hallow me with thy power that I in faith and love may worship thee and glorify thee.' 'Rejoice, life-bearing Cross, unhindered victory of godliness, the door of Paradise, the confirmation of the faithful, the defence of the Church...impregnable armour, bane of devils...bestowing mercy upon the world.' 'O Cross of Christ, thou hope of Christians, teacher of those in error, haven of the storm-tossed, victory in battle, pillar of the universe, physician of the sick, resurrection of the dead, have mercy upon us.' 'Those who rely upon thee, O thrice blessed and life-giving Cross, rejoice together with the heavenly hosts.' 'Invincible, unfathomable and divine power of the life-giving and honorable Cross, do not forsake us sinners.' 'O glorious and life-giving Cross of the Lord, help us together with our Holy Lady the Mother of God and all the saints, world without end. Amen.'

But however much we may revere the actual precious and life-bearing Cross of the Lord, surely we are not tree worshippers who pray to a tree as to a living being, as to an intelligible essence? Is it to a tree, even if it be thrice-blessed, that we pray, or to the divine power and mystery of the Cross manifested to us in that tree? Worship of Christ's Cross is indeed inseparable for us from the worship of of the Cross abiding in heaven, a divine and unfathomable power. The earthly Cross leads our minds to the contemplation of its archetype the heavenly Cross, as indivisibly united to it as the divine and the human nature are indivisibly but without confusion united in Christ. The heavenly Cross of the Lord shone forth on earth in the tree of the Cross, the instrument of our salvation.

At the creation of the world the seed of trees for the Cross was planted in it--the cedar, the oak, the cypress; on the day when the earth was bidden to bring forth every kind of plant, the trees for the Cross sprang up. But the Cross made of wood is the symbol of the Eternal Cross, the revelation of the mystery of the Cross. The sign of the Cross is written upon the world as a whole, for in the words of the Church anthem, it is the 'four pointed power' binding together the 'four corners of the world' as 'height, breadth, and depth'. It is written too in the image of man with his arms outstretched: Moses and Joshua praying with their arms uplifted prefigured the Crucified. The form of the body calls forth, as it were, the tree of the Cross, for it is itself a Cross, the centre of which is the heart. In the image of the Cross the Creator inscribed His own image in the world and in man, for according to the testimony of the Church, the Cross is the divine image printed upon the world. What does the sign mean? It proclaims God's love, and in the first place God's love for His creation. The world is created by the power of the Cross, for God's love for the creation is sacrificial. The world is saved by the Cross, by sacrificial love; it is blessed by the Cross and overshadowed by its power. But the mystery of the Cross, is even more profound, for it wondrously the image of the Tri-Personal God, of the Trinity in unity. The Church teaches that it is the symbol of the unfathomable Trinity, the three-membered Cross bearing the tri-personal image of the Trinity. The Cross is the revelation of the Holy Trinity, and the power of the Cross is a divine power. When we call in prayer upon the incomprehensible, invincible, and divine power of the precious life-giving Cross, we pray to the Source of life, the Trinity in unity, one and divine in life and substance. The Cross is God Himself in His revelation to the world, God's power and glory.

God is love and the Cross is the symbol of divine love. Love is sacrificial. the power and flame, the very nature of love is the Cross, and there is no love apart from it. The Cross is the sacrificial essence of love, since love is a sacrifice, self-surrender, self-abnegation, voluntary self renunciation for the sake of the beloved. Without sacrifice there can be no acceptance, no meeting, no life in and for another; there is no bliss in love except in sacrificial self-surrender which is rewarded by responsive fulfilment. The Cross is the exchange of love, indeed love itself is exchange. There is no other path for love and for its wisdom but the path of the Cross. The Holy Trinity is the Eternal Cross as the sacrificial exchange of Three, the single life born of voluntary surrender, of a threefold self-surrender, of being dissolved in the divine ocean of sacrificial love. The tri-partite Cross is the symbol of the Holy Trinity. How is this true? In the Cross three lines meet and intersect; they approach one another from different points but as they intersect they become one in the heart of the Cross, at their meeting point. Similarly in the Holy Trinity the divine life of the Tri-unity is an eternal meeting, exchange of self-surrender and of self-discovery in the two other Hypostases. No limits can be set on love or sacrifice. Renouncing oneself in order to live again in the other--such is the bliss of love. He who loves another loves the Cross as well, since love is sacrificial. Love itself, God, in the Eternal Cross surrenders Himself for the sake of His love. The three points in which the lines of the Tri-cross end are images of the Three Divine Self-subsistent Hypostases, and the point of their intersection is the co-inherence of the Three, the Trinity in unity in sacrificial exchange.

The bliss of divine love is the sacrificial bliss of the Cross, and its power is a sacrificial power. If the world is created by love, it is created by no other power than the power of the Cross. God who is love creates it by taking up the Cross in order to reveal His love for the creature. The Almighty Creator leaves room in the world for the creature's freedom, thus as it were humbling Himself, limiting His almightiness, emptying Himself for the benefit of the creature. The world is created through the Cross of God's love for the creature. But in creating the world through the Cross, God in His eternal counsel determines to save it, also through the Cross, from itself, from perishing in its creatureliness. God so loved the world that from all eternity He gave His only begotten Son to be sacrificed on the Cross to save the world and call it to eternal life through the death of the Cross and Resurrection. God seeks in the creature a friend, another self, with whom He can share the bliss of love, to whom He can impart the divine life, and in His boundless love for the creature He does not stop at sacrifice, but sacrifices Himself for the sake of the creature. The boundlessness of the divine sacrifice for the sake of the world and its salvation passes all understanding. The Son humbles Himself to become man, taking upon Him the form of a servant and becoming obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross. The Father does not spare His beloved, His only-begotten Son, but gives Him to be crucified; the Holy Spirit accepts descent into the fallen and hardened world and rests upon the Anointed, Christ, dwells in His Mother, and sanctifies the Church. It is the sacrifice not of the Son alone, but of the consubstantial and indivisible Trinity as a whole. The Son alone was incarnate and suffered on the Cross, but in Him was manifested the sacrificial love of the Holy Trinity--of the Father who sends Him, and of the Holy Spirit who rests upon Him and upon His sorrowing Mother. The Cross was prepared in the world by God for God and was therefore prefigured in the Old Testament by many symbols and images. And the Cross appeared to the world as the salutary tree, as victory over the world; hence the sign of the Cross will victoriously appear in heaven at the second glorious coming of the Son of God, and in the heaven of heavens there ever shines the Holy Cross, the vision of which was vouchsafed to St. Andrew.

Demons tremble at the blessed sign of the Cross. The Cross is to them a consuming fire. Why do they tremble at this fore of love? Because they hate love, because they are darkened by selfishness and cannot abide the path of the Cross; they are united in their legions by the power of common hatred and not love. The cheering and comforting fire is to them an unendurable flame.

The Cross is the figurative inscription of God's Name, working miracles and manifesting powers, like the name of God revealed to Moses. The Cross is the symbol of the Holy Trinity, the sacred sign of God who is in love, burning up enmity, malice, and hatred.

This heavenly Cross has been revealed to us men in the Cross of Christ, in the blessed tree the image of which we worship and kiss with awe. We are signed with it as soldiers of Christ, we wear it on the breast and carry it in our hearts. A Christian is essentially a Cross-bearer. The sweetest Name of Jesus is said to have been inscribed on the heart of St. Ignatius of Antioch, the God-bearer; and similarly the heart of a Christian holds the Cross of the Lord which has pierced it once and for all and set it aglow. A Christian lives in God, and, in so far as he enters into the love of Christ, shares both in the burden and in the sweetness of His Cross. To worship the Cross and to glory in it is for him not an external commandment, but an inner behest: 'Whosoever will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his Cross, and follow Me.' we can only worship the Cross to the extent to which we share in it. He who is afraid of the Cross and in his inmost heart rejects it worships it falsely and deceives his own conscience. This is why today's feast is both sweet and terrible, and the Church accompanies its celebration with a strict fast. The Cross shines in the sinful darkness of our heart, illumining it and at the same time exposing it. Our sinful, self-loving nature fears it and resists it. Why deceive ourselves? The natural man is afraid of the Cross. And yet we must overcome this fear; we must bring forth the tree of the Cross in our hearts, lift it up, and worship it. We must lay on our shoulders, too, as did Simon, the Cyrenian passer-by, the burden of Christ's Cross. Everyone must take up his Cross and never leave it, and, raising the Cross in his own soul, help to raise it in the world.

The Saviour's command to bear one's Cross is not a harsh infliction of pain, but God's great mercy towards man. It is a sign of God's love for man, of great respect for him. God wants His highest creation to participate in His Cross, in His joy and bliss. It was vouchsafed to Adam while still blissfully ignorant of good and evil to taste the sweetness of the Cross through obeying the divine command not to eat of the fruit of tree of knowledge. The tree of life and the tree of knowledge grew together in the garden of Eden. That was the paradisal sign of the Cross: renouncing his own will and doing the will of the heavenly Father, man was crucified on the tree which became for him the tree of life, full of eternal bliss. But through the whispering of the wily serpent, Adam and Eve rejected the Cross; they came down from it having willfully disobeyed. And the tree became deadly for them and gave them knowledge of good and evil, which entailed exile from paradise. But the New Adam, the Lord, the Son of man and only-begotten Son of God, ascended the Cross which the first Adam had forsaken; He was lifted up on the Cross so as to draw all men unto Him, for there is no way except that of the Cross to the sweetness of paradise. The ancient serpent tries to get Him too, saying to the Crucified through the mouth of his servants: 'Come down from the Cross!' But the new temptation was rejected, and the tree of knowledge became once more the tree of life, a life-bearing garden, and those who taste its fruit partake of immortality. In every man so long as he lives there lives the seed of the old Adam; he hears the unceasing whisper seconded by his natural frailty and infirmity: 'Come down from the Cross, don't torture yourself.' The world wars against the Cross, is driven to fury by the preaching of the gospel; love of the world is hatred of the Cross. But love of God is also love of the Lord's Cross, for our hard, rebellious heart can only love it if it be pierced by the Cross. Sweet are thy wounds to my heart, O most sweet Jesus, and it knows of no greater sweetness!

O Glorious Miracle, the width of the Cross matches the breadth of heaven, since divine grace hallows all. Amen.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Tips for web cam viewing...

On my personal web cams, you are getting a single snap shot for each time you click. So if I'm not there, or the view out my window is fuzzy, click again later.

About the view out my window: if it is all white, that's because the camera/software does an analysis for how much light it needs after you click, and then sends you back the picture. It takes several clicks to "wake up the camera" in the morning, before the picture will be clear. So, no, it is not snowing at my house...


Wednesday, September 10, 2003

World Travler

I spent a little while tonight watching people strole down Broadway at Times Square in New York. That's an exciting thing for me, as I have never been to New York before.

This "watching" didn't have anything to do with September 11th. I was simply looking for someone else who is up as late tonight as myself. It is 2:23 in NYC right now. I can tell because one of the cameras is pointed at the clock.

Now it is far more interesting checking out the scene in Moscow. At least it is daytime there! I get to see beautiful, ancient, and even familiar places. The view changes directions. Constantly. I recognize this. The camera is located somewhere near the Hotel Rossia. Or so I imagine. One moment it is pointed across the Moscow river, and the next up toward Red Square. They are using the phrase Red Square quite liberally when they welcome you to Red Square. It would be quite a walk from here to Lenin's tomb.
Ah, now that's better. Now we are looking at my Cathedral!

Let's see what the weather is like in Paris. Now, this is cool. It's a bit windy today, and I can see it in live, streaming video.

I wonder, now that the "war is over" are there still live webcams in Baghdad? It doesn't look like it. Only an outdated link to what msnbc once had running. I guess we had our moment of glory and aren't interested any more.

It's fascinating how small the world is now. But I have that deep nagging in the back of my mind, are the enemies of peace (enemies of God) going to succeed in making it bigger for us once again? These days you don't even have to be rich to hop on a plane and fly somewhere. And even the poorest of us can hop on the net and get a live snapshot, or even streaming video of people walking down the street in places we never even heard of.

Small, small world. I guess Walt Disney was right. I guess Walt won. Or did he?

Now, this is crazy! These people think Germany is on the coast of North Africa!

Now this is sweet. Live, streaming video from downtown Dublin. I think I'll pour myself a Jamesons just so I can toast to their good health.

And then there is this view out my window, and sometimes me sitting at my desk. Okay, so I admit, I'm not as pretty as the girls laying in the sun at this Italian beach.

Is the world really smaller or is it all an illusion? Is the world any smaller when we can watch militants killing children with their expensive guns live on the evening news?

It is interesting, but is it progress? I thought by now we'd have learned to love each other. I thought by now the wars would be at an end. But, no, everyone has to proove they are stronger. And in the end we all lose.

But at least we can watch it live, on the news or on the webcams.

~ Basil

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Lead me not into temptation; I can find the way myself.
~ a quote from author Rita Mae Brown

I was struck by the humor, and yet truth of these words above, when I got in one of my daily quotes the other day. The thing that struck me the most is that these words went right along with what I was thinking throughout and after the sermon at Church on Sunday.

Namely, the sermon was about not looking to the left or the right, about the fact that as Christians we must concentrate on God and His Kingdom alone, and all else is an unnecessary and unwelcome distraction.

I had to struggle with these concepts, for the most part, because the work of the author and poet is quite the opposite. The work of the author and poet is to take in everything, digest it, and feed it back to the world, perhaps synthesized according to a certain world view.

This brought me back to a certain specific dilemma I often confront (head on, as I confront everything else in this big beautiful world), namely: is it even possible to be an author / poet and still be a Christian. There are many places in life where I have a face-off with this dilemma. For example, many successful authors say that the only way you can become successful is if you put the work of writing far above everything else in life: your family, your friends, your religion… And, from what I have seen, it is mostly true. I face this dilemma daily as I struggle for time to write, fight for time to think about my writing. And yet, on the other hand, I am not willing to completely set aside my family, my Church, and my faith. No, in fact, I go on writing in their midst… I go on working on things in my head, even while the ordinary world happens around me. (From what I’ve heard from successful and not-so-successful authors, this is also a common phenomenon.)

How then do I face the dilemma? What do I ultimately decide: is not God more important than my writing? What about my friends and family?

I find myself always going back to the same point, and then using the same argument to “justify my conclusion.” Namely, I must use the “talent” God has given me, or else I become like the man who buried his one talent in the earth, and then expected his master to be happy when he returned from his journey (remember the parable?). So then how do I justify the ramifications of this? Do I really have to ignore my Church and my Family to serve God properly?

No, I think not. One does not have to set aside his wife, children, friends, faith and family (though he may have once in a while to fight with them for time) in order to be a writer. Here I take my inspiration from the incarnation. Just as Christ, we believe, is fully God and fully man, so must I be fully in this earth and fully in heaven. In order to be the writer I that I feel I must, I must let my mind (and my words) wander into every corner of this earth, all the while never letting it wander too far from the Truth that is within me. That does not mean I have to sin. No, I the contrary, I should become a sanctifying presence wherever I wander. But it does mean I have to get awfully close to the gates of hell, as I go about my journey. It also means I cannot be afraid to get dirty from time to time.

I think my friends and family are starting to understand that I’m a bit eccentric. And so far I haven’t ever had to throw anyone out so that I could work on something. But I sometimes wonder, if my writing starts to become more successful – so successful that I have obligations and deadlines, and yet not quite successful enough that I can quit my day job… then what will I do? Well, I don’t have a plan yet, but as they say at the company where I work whenever we get new contracts, and don’t have enough employees: “it’s a good problem to have.”


Sunday, August 24, 2003

Little Girls Covered with blood...

Maybe it's just me, but I kinda think little girls should have to be taken to the hospital covered with blood and shrapnel only rarely.

It happens far too much.


Monday, August 18, 2003

My pal, James, is posting, piece by piece a rebuttal to the essay of some anonymous person against the Seventh Ecumenical Council.

I have a few thoughts of my own on the matter...

A couple of annoying things in the essay are repeated mention that things like pilgrimages, having vestiments and physical articles of worship, etc. didn't exist until fairly late.

I guess what annoys me about the essay is that it takes for granted that since something wasn't explicitly taught about in the early Chuch Fathers, it didn't exist. That's totally ridiculous. In fact, we can prove how ridiculous that is simply by reading the early Church Fathers for ourselves. Why? Because even though these things were not explicitly preached, they were mentioned from time to time in passing. And the manner in which they were mentioned shows that they were normal, everyday practices of the Church that were so common that it would have been absurd for any of the Early Church Fathers to write explicitly about them. They didn't need explanation because everyone knew. As a general rule, things were not explained explicitly in treaties in the Early Church until heritics arose that disputed them.

So, here are some examples:
* in Eusebius, he refers to some sort of staff or mitre, and some sort of liturgical vestments worn by the Holy Apostle John at Patmos. He mentions that John was widely recognized as a "High Priest" in the Church, pointing to his liturgical vestments as evidence of that. (I forget the date, but well before Constantine came to power.)

* another reference in Eusebius mentions that at one time in the early persecutions, one of the Emperors was ordered for a time to stop the persecutions, and all the Churches property and land that had been confiscated was returned to the Christians. (I don't remember which persecution, but it was fairly early, like between 150 and 200). This implies, indisputably, that the Church owned "things" (and these things are mentioned separately from land.) Obviously they used "things" in their worship.

* in St. Cyprian of Carthage (c. 250), numerous times the practice of receiving communion is described. It is received on a spoon and out of a chalice. And, it is given to the infants.

Pilgrimages: The apostle Paul went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in the book of Acts. Remember that? It was the time that he was saying good bye to everyone, thinking he would be arrested and go to his death... but it didn't happen yet.

Later, there is the very famous early Pilgrimage of Etheria to The Holy Land. I couldn't remember the dates of the Etheria pilgrimage, but I've found it: c. 400.

Anyway, the historical information is all out there if someone with an open mind wishes to read it. Numerous scholars have compiled various treaties on different topics that we find in the Early Church Fathers and those writings are available to be read. Or a person can read the Early Church Fathers for himself.


Friday, August 15, 2003

I don't click on web banners...

But I have to confess.

I clicked on these!


This was the first time I have clicked on a banner in years. They are pretty catchy aren't they?


Actually, the one I clicked on said:

When people think Martha Graham is a cracker...



Thursday, August 14, 2003

Ascetics or Aesthetics
The Orthodox Paradigm of the Path to Holiness

This has always been an interesting issue for me, a personal issue that I struggle with daily.

I was prompted by my buddy James' post of today on his somewhat tongue and cheek struggle for theoria (vision of God). After a rhetorical attempt at theoria simply by saying his morning and evening prayers regularly (amidst a torrent of dirty diapers, dirty dishes, lack of shampoo and other such morning trivialities) James finally admits: "Now, if by Sunday it has not happened, then I shall resort to reliance upon THIS:" wherein he pictures a fine bottle of whiskey.

There is more than a laugh here for us. There is something, I think, important beneath the surface. Namely: In the Orthodox Church we always have before us a dichotomy between ascetics or aesthetics.

You see this everywhere. On the one hand we are encouraged to fast for four major periods each year, plus Wednesdays and Fridays, plus several other one day fasts. And yet on the other hand we are encouraged to Feast:

Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast. The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously. The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away. Enjoy ye all the feast of faith: receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness.
(From the Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom)

There is the ascetic practice of lifestyle: to live simply and harmoniously, loving God, man and nature. And yet there is the opposite side of the coin, the one which left the emissaries sent out from Russia in 987 to proclaim: "we knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth."

Then we went to Greece, and the Greeks led us to where they worship their God, and we knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth. For on earth there is no such splendor or such beauty, and we are at a loss how to describe it. We only know that God dwells there among men. {The Russian Primary Chronicle}

The most frustrating thing, I think, about this dichotomy is the fact that both sides of the coin can lead to extremes.

Excessive fasting can lead at least three dangers that come to mind right off the bat:
1. A critical and/or judgemental attitude toward those who do not fast as seriously as yourself. This is the sin of Pride.
2. A weakening of the body that can cause one to fall into sin, due to lack of alertness, focus, energy... For example when excessive fasting can lead one to a sudden rebellion of gluttony.
3. A form of blindness in which the faster thinks himself spiritually superior to others. In this case, a person fasts so much that they begin to become delirious: see visions, hear voices, etc. Even if those voices / visions (which are downright hallucinations, with nothing from God about them) do not lead the excessive faster to physical or spiritual harm directly, they can certainly lead again to the sin of Pride. In a certain respect, this is the sin of drunkenness - since a person has caused himself to enter an unnatural hallucinatory state.

On the other hand, what is often the more obvious to us, is that excessive feasting can equally lead us to sin in several ways:
1. The sin of gluttony - not only filling the belly, but filling the mind with lurid and unholy thoughts.
2. The sin of pride - when we consider ourselves in a certain manner, better than others, because we have given ourselves greater liberty.
3. The sin of drunkenness - need I say more about our fine bourbons, and choice beers and wines?

What is truly remarkable about taking either fasting or feasting to extremes, is that in both cases you end up with exactly the same three sins. (There are probably more than three, but this is the three that seemed most obvious to me.)

So then, do we attain to visions of God through ascetics or aesthetics?

This is something I have always struggled with. I happen to be more on the side of loving aesthetics, rather than ascetics, but an excessive love of either leads to sin. Yet on the other hand, I often find myself around those who seem to rather love ascetics too much to be healthy, whole and active Orthodox Christians. If I become the obvious glutton to them, they work all the harder to subdue their carnal natures with excessive (even illicit) fasting.

What the Orthodox Church is teaching us by these two sides of the coin, I believe, is not a bi-polar personality state, but a sense of balance. God in his Divine and Infinite Wisdom knows that we need both feasting and fasting, and that excess of either can and does lead us into sin. This is why the Church has prescribed for us so many fast and (don't forget!) so many feasts!

So, let me digress into a discussion on hallucinations (and visions of God). There are many aspects of theoria which are poorly understood. For one thing, no Orthodox Christian is never supposed to seek a vision of God. The Saints (Gregory Palamas as the ascetic and Nicholas Cabasilas as the aesthetic) fought valiantly for the truth that the Energies of the Uncreated God are an aspect of His Divine Nature, precisely so that we wouldn't destroy the full implications of the incarnation. We CAN see God. We CAN because God became man.

That doesn't mean, however, that we should seek visions of God, either by fasting so much that we begin to have natural hallucinations due to the weakness of the body, nor by drinking so much we begin to have hallucinations due to the over excitement of the body. We should seek God Himself, His Love, His Peace, His Wisdom, His Divine Presence. We should seek God above and before and in all things. It is as a consequence of many years of struggle to See Him (not as a visual image conjured up from various natural excesses of our bodies) that we can and do begin to See Him. But in my own opinion if you cannot see Him, as Blake implies, "in a grain of sand", or as so many other poets, in a flower, a sunset, a cool walk on the beach, then you are not yet beginning to see Him. We must learn to see Him in the smiles of children, the cries of our babies, and the homeless man wandering the street (and stinking to high heaven of the gutters and ally ways) before we can begin to See Him As He is.

~ Basil ~

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Have you seen Google today? :)

It's totally cool. They've got a silhouette of Alfred Hitchcock with a seagul on his head for the second O. If you hover over the logo it says happy birthday to Alfred Hitchcock.

This is really propitious, because I happen to have three Hitchcock films checked out from netflix right now, and one of them is Birds!

By the way, for those of you who don't know. Hitchcock had a cameo appearance in each of his films. One of my favorite pasttimes is finding the Hitchcock cameo in each film when I watch it (hopefully without resorting to places like these!)


Tuesday, August 12, 2003

The Smartest People

I ran across this quote today:

"Instead of giving money to found colleges to promote learning, why don't they pass a constitutional amendment prohibiting anybody from learning anything? If it works as good as the Prohibition one did, why, in five years we would have the smartest race of people on earth."- Will Rogers

It reminded me of the cultural attitudes and level of learning in Russia. As we all know, Russia had a ton of stuff prohibited durring the Soviet years. Most literature was "underground" - what they call Samizdadt. Authors who could not support the Soviet message printed things themselves, and they were distributed by hand, photocopied, hand copied, and distributed by the millions all throughout their country. The "best selling authors" of all the soviet years were the ones that distributed their work illegally and underground. Of course, they didn't make any money for their efforts, but they did make a name for themselves, and that carried them through once everything became legal.

It is also interesting to note the spiritual blossiming in Russia after the collapse of communism. Now that Orthodox Christianity is no longer under the iron thumb of the state, it is flourishing.

There is nothing like freedom to supress us!


Tuesday, July 22, 2003


a thought for the day...

I discovered this morning, this fascinating little essay on Coffee by Honore de Balzac:
(translated from the French by Robert Onopa).

For those who don't know Balzac was a French Author of middle 1800s, know for his more saucy dishes as opposed to his contemporary Maupassant who was far more Dicken's-like.

The Pleasures and Pains of Coffee

Coffee is a great power in my life; I have observed its effects on an epic scale...

Coffee affects the diaphragm and the plexus of the stomach, from which it reaches the brain by barely perceptible radiations that escape complete analysis; that aside, we may surmise that our primary nervous flux conducts an electricity emitted by coffee when we drink it. Coffee's power changes over time. Rossini has personally experienced some of these effects as, of course, have I. "Coffee," Rossini told me, "is an affair of fifteen or twenty days; just the right amount of time, fortunately, to write an opera." This is true. But the length of time during which one can enjoy the benefits of coffee can be extended.
For a while - for a week or two at most - you can obtain the right amount of stimulation with one, then two cups of coffee brewed from beans that have been crushed with gradually increasing force and infused with hot water.
For another week, by decreasing the amount of water used, by pulverizing the coffee even more finely, and by infusing the grounds with cold water, you can continue to obtain the same cerebral power.
When you have produced the finest grind with the least water possible, you double the dose by drinking two cups at a time; particularly vigorous constitutions can tolerate three cups. In this manner one can continue working for several more days.

I suggest you read the whole little essay (1 page or so) at:
It is quite entertaining.


Friday, July 18, 2003

The Art of Writing

The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe
- Gustave Flaubert

I ran across the above as one of my "quotes for the day" and I find it has a strong ring of truth.

I would venture to say it is probably the same with all the arts. When you work at expressing yourself you discover what you believe. And, I believe, when you are a Christian, and live for the experience of God's love, then when you participate in the creative act you are constantly discovering God.

After all, we believe He is "everywhere and fills all things." Then, as a Christian, you should be able to learn to see God everywhere: even in the darkest of places, for even there the absense of His Glory proclaims his presence.

Thus for the artist who is also a Christian, more than discovering what you believe as you write, you are also discovering the point at which your belief system intersects with the Ultimate Truth. And as a creator of fiction, you discover as you write the ways in which God interacts with the world that you hadn't even dreamed of. You discover other people's perception of the Divine (or lack thereof) and it enhances your own appreciation of the work and wonder of God.


Tuesday, July 15, 2003

The Eternal Order of the Onion

For those who haven't discovered it, my fictional blog "Dream Dreamer" is now underway. Check it out here! Today's topic: The Eternal Order of the Onion.



An obvious saying

I get these quotes of the day, and you have to guess who said them. Often they are very obvious, and you don't even have to have known in advance who said them.

Today's quote was:

"It's about time law enforcement got as organized as organized crime."
- Rudolph Giuliani

I was wondering what RG was doing these days, and discovered that NYC has an archive of all their mayors (here's RGs). He is apparently writing books on leadership.

I'm going to write a book on non sequitur thought processes some day. I'm going to have to - being an expert in that category.

What does this have to do with anything? I really don't know.


Monday, July 14, 2003

Unholy Dreams

I've had one of those dreams again...

(This is a work of fiction... an absurdity... nightmare...)

Or is it a lovely iridescent chimera?

I was inspired my my absurd poem of earlier today to embark on a journey that I knew was inevitable, but was afraid to start. Mind you, I love to write things that seem absurd. They seem absurd until you get beneath the surface and decipher what it is all about.

I began this blog here as a work of fiction. It is staged as a Dream Blog. I noted that numerous people at blogger have what they call "Dream Blogs" and they log all of their dreams.

Well, I shall be logging all of my dreams in a dream blog also. Only, it's fiction. There will be a story that arises out of the characters that present themselves in my dream blog. I cannot say that it will seem to be a coherent story. But I hope it will be somewhat captivating. I hope it will be meaningful. And, although it has all the makings of a journey through hell, I hope that it will point toward heaven.

For those of you who know me here, never mind the author's name. I try on different author's names like clothing. I protect myself against theft of intellectual property by making sure that I own those names as a business. My writing business doesn't make much money, but it does makes some (that is, I do have published works under a variety of nomes de guerre.) But the point for me right now isn't making money, it is saying something. My head is full of this stuff and I have to find an outlet for it. So here is a new, experimental approach: a fictitious blog. I'm not doing anything completely new. Stephen King has done similar things.

Well, here is one that I am sharing with you my friends. Proceed at your own risk.

~ Basil ~

A Found Poem

by Basil Bug

(Okay, I didn't really write this poem, I found it, right?)

(Isn't that what found poetry is?)

Okay, I lied. This is partially found and partially written. It is written, rather the way a bird makes a nest.

Blessings and Creeds, A Menagerie

I held up the knife,
"slave to my wife"
the Welts pic post
funny Johnny Cochran sayings
with interesting words
right into my twilight.

Then they sing the
Lutheran hosptial creed
(who are the Welts any way?)
(and how can we unravel their
Protestant appreciation of theosis?)

He enters and bows
takes his gnostic wedding vows
St Ephraim blessing sex?
No this is a bad dream.

Go back, I say, go back to Thy monastery
Enter into the abode of darkness and flee from
the romanian girls singing the Philokalia on MTV

serbian bikers
anatoilan hitch hikers,

"THE ANCHOR HOLDS" and "sheet"
I say... and rather abstain from sweet-meats
I say...
As st. raphael patron saint of prayers for unrequited love
begins his latest hit song

The poet laughts, sings aloud the sayings
funny & prophetic
of a wandering traveler throug the vast void
of infospace, searches,
searches, searches for
Sick Comments And Bumper Sticker Sayings
so that he can take more delight in
free demonic bitmaps


Friday, July 11, 2003

I ran across this today:

If I knew God, I would be God.

- Medieval Jewish proverb

It reminds me of the Orthodox Theology of Theosis. Clearly the intent of the Jewish proverb is to point out how distant we are from God. Little do they know...


Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Some thoughts on Gnostic Dualism...

It is interesting that I ran across this little quote today from the Quran:

The life of this world is merely a sport; it is only an adle pastime. The true life is the life to come—if you only knew it.

-Qur'an, Al-'Ankabut, Surah 29:63-64

It reminds me of some of the conceptions in the movie, the Matrix.

However, in The Matrix, you transcend the rudimentary Gnostic Dualism, because Neo goes inside one of the Sentinals and destroys it from within. In a word, Neo goes inside the Matrix and is able to begin systematically destroying it from within. (Thinking of the Matrix as a "web of sin" in the Christian conception.)

Never mind The Matrix. That might be a little to far fetched for some and it is confusing enough in its own rite.

Let's take the work of Christ for example in the incarnation. The incarnation is all about God showing us that True Life (as they call it in the Quran) is happening both in this world and in the world to come. So you cannot take the Muslim position: let the world go to Hell so long as we save everyone's soul (or worse still: kill the body to save the persons's soul). On the contrary, life in this world is real life, because we transorm that life into something REAL through Christ.


Tuesday, July 01, 2003

A thought for the day...

When you have only two pennies left in the world, buy a loaf of bread with one, and a lily with the other. -Chinese proverb

But I think I would change that a little...

An Orthodox Proverb
When you have only three pennies left in the world, buy a loaf of bread with one, a lily with the second, and give the third to the poor.

Monday, June 30, 2003


It is interesting after our discussion of this past week mostly over on James' blog paradosis on humility, that the sermon on Sunday was about the same thing (or at least part of it was... the part I remember...)

The starting premise was: "God is love"
and of course, I cannot disagree.

But a next step from that was: "God is humble".

I had never thought of God as humble before. Certainly, the Son, I have considered often in his "extreme humility" , but I had never thought of the Father and the Holy Spirit as humble before.

Fr. James (our rector) pointed out to us that Christianity is unique in that regards. Certainly even other religions that do have a personal God, do not believe He is humble.

So it got me to thinking about humilty and how I defined it in my comments on James F's blog.

Specifically, I was thinking that being able to forgive others is the beginning of humility, and being able to consider that you have nothing to forgiven them, is the end of humility.

Now I wonder. Certainly that is not how I would conceive of God even in the depths of His love for me? Do I not believe that some day He will hold me accountable? Therefore, must He not be keeping account of my sins?

Well, how can we consider all of this? If God is the Judge, then is it the duty of the Judge to keep account of people's sins? Certainly not. The duty of the Judge is to hear a case that is presented against someone, and then to Judge fairly. Then who is my accuser? Satan comes to mind (his name meaning: "accuser.")

So, perhaps thinking of God in his Humility, and God as the awesome and powerful Supreme Judge of the Universe works out something like this:

Some day I go to stand (or fall on my face) before the presence of God.

Satan comes to accuse me.

What defense do I have for myself, and by what standard shall I be Judged?

If God is my Judge, then God shall judge me by His own standard: namely Himself, and His own Supreme Humility. And how does He do that? By only holding against me all that I hold against my brother.

So, the bottom line is what I had always thought it would be (even though I've now gotten there via a different route)... namely, if I cannot forgive my brother (and all mankind is my brother), then God will hold me to that very standard that I hold my brother. By whatever standard we have judged, we will be judged.


Friday, June 27, 2003

Thought for the day... on Abstraction

I love this stuff. I think this is why I love being a writer.

from "Object-Oriented Modeling and Design"
by Rumbaugh, Blaha, Premerlani, Eddy, and Lorensen

"Abstraction is the selective examination of certain aspects of a problem. The goal of abstraction is to isolated thos aspects that are important for some purpose and suppress those aspects that are unimportant. Abstraction must always be for some purpose, because the purpose determines what is and is not important. Many different abstractions of the same thing are possible, depending on the purpose for which tye are made.

"All abstractions are incomplete and inaccurate. Reality is a seamless web. Anything we say about it, any description of it, is an abridgement. All human words and language are abstractions -- incomplete descriptions of the real world. This does not destroy their usefulness. The purpose of an abstraction is to limit the universe so we can do things."


~ Basil

Thursday, June 26, 2003

Dostoyevsky, Humility, and about everyone being the same!

This post is based on my comments to James' blog "People are People" which you can read here

I was motived to stop and think based on James' blog and on some of the comments to it. (If you already read the comments you may have read most of this post.)

Fr. Seraphim says:
"there is a way in which lowering oneself can become almost a caricature of humility"


It is something that really annoys me.

In certain circles I see this caricature of humility exhalted and I just gag on it. For example, in my thinking, a humble person when they talk (or preach) about fasting, for example, talk or preach the way the saints do: "So, you don't want to eat food! You are no better off than the Devil himself who doesn't eat food." Those I come to respect for their humility are the ones that don't concentrate on the nitty-gritty details of fasting, for example, but on the broader issues: you fast so that you can give to the poor (the food that you aren't eating) {I paraphrase St. John Chrysostom here} - or, you fast so that you can learn humility... etc. Never mind telling me what not to eat.

Or, another way of putting it: it is the road to fasting (the reason why you are) that is more important than the fact that you are avoiding certain foods (but I'm an existentialist at heart, so it all logically follows.)

I use "talk of fasting" here as my example for humility. But try to abstract that: The humble person doesn't draw attention to their humility, because a truly humble person doesn't know they are humble. They inadvertently become humble by doing the right thing... thinking the right thing.

I disagree with the premise by James: "Everyone would like to believe that everyone else is really no different than himself or herself."
because I've always wanted to be unique.

I don't want to be like anybody else, and I can damn well assure you that nobody else can possibly be like me! (Well, there you see, I'm not humble at all, am I.)

On the other hand, I want to be "different" not "better." I really have no way of knowing if the path I've chosen in life is better than that of somebody else. I suppose "if it works" then it is superior to something that doesn't, right? So, in that case I know I'm not better, because much of what "I am" and "I do" isn't "working." When something does turn out to work, it seems to be pure luck. I thank God every day for how "fortunate" or "lucky" or "blessed" I have been. But that doesn't mean I don't also count my sorrows.

OTOH, I've always thought that the problem in this world was: NOT thinking you are like everyone else. The problem in this world is thinking that you are better than everyone else. That everyone else is scum. That everyone else is an annoying piece of shit that screws everything out there up. It is always somebody else that doesn't stop at red lights, or cuts you off in the traffice, or throws their trash out the window and litters up the whole world.

But the reality of the situation (and what I can learn from life) is that it is NOT always somebody else. It is people like me who think they are better than everyone who end up running red lights, or getting angry in traffic and cutting someone off, or inadvertently letting their trash blow out their windows of their car, because the windows are all down and it's too hot out there. The fact of the matter is that it is ME that I really hate so much. When I say I'd never have a friend like "THAT" I can probably find myself one of THOSE if I look hard enough.

This is where Orthodox Christianity shines the light of Christ in the world. And Dostoyevsky is one of its greatest beacons of that light. Dost pointed out to us that we are all fallen... that it could have been any one of us that slipped up and killed someone... that the sinner is within.


Monday, June 16, 2003

"I always wanted to be somebody, but now I realize I should
have been more specific."

- Lily Tomlin

Friday, June 13, 2003

Taming the Epitaph

In my little search tonight, to discover the authorship of this little poem:

Were I so Tall to Reach the Pole
Or grasp the Ocean with my Span
I must be mesuer'd by my Soul
The Mind's the Standard of the Man.

I have run across numerous interesting things.

Apparently the author of the poem is Isaac Watts. I shall try to eventually find the whole poem somewhere and post it. The poem is most often quoted because it was apparently a favorite poem of John Merrick (photo below) the "Elephant Man".

The most amusing thing I discovered was that I ran across at least two different historical societies where some important figure had the above poem engraved on his gravestone. And, LOL, one of those two historical societies thinks that their tomb stone is the original poem that is so often quoted. But alas, it is only the four most memorable lines in a poem by Isaac Watts.

Regards, and good night!
Beware of Monastic Breweries...

I have always been suspicious of Monastic Breweries. And then tonight I discoverd this:
It really sets my mind at ease to find a nice detailed history of one such place.

To John Merrick:

Tis true my form is something odd,
But blaming me is blaming God;
Could I create myself anew
I would not fail in pleasing you.
If I could reach from pole to pole
Or grasp the ocean with a span,
I would be measured by the soul;
The mind's the standard of the man.
- Author unknown
(is it Shakespeare?)

Friday, May 30, 2003

Here's a very nice article on Orthodox Unity in America, and what St. Vladimir's Seminary has been doing to support it.

article at Belief Net

It is rather funny that I found the article when I was reading the Jewish saying for the day. I wonder if they even know the difference between Orthodox Jews and Orthodox Christians over there at Belief Net.

Also, it's too bad there are so many annoying grammatical errors in the article. Sigh...


Wednesday, May 14, 2003

The Hollow Men
I watched the movie Apocalypse Now last night, and for the first time (blush) became acquainted with the following poem by T.S. Elliot.

My own poetry has been likened (by those select few who follow it) to that of T.S. Elliot, and that always surprised me. But now that I've read this one, I can see why someone would say that.

Here's a fascinating poem that we should all be acquainted with, and a few comments below it by myself.

The hollow men
by T.S. Elliot


We are the hollow men
we are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw.Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rat's feet on broken glass
In our dry cellar
Shape without form, shade without color,
Paralyzed force, gesture without motion;
Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death's other Kingdom
Remember us - if at all - not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.


Eyes I dare not meet in dreams
In death's dream Kingdom
These do not appear
There, the eyes are
Sunlight on a broken column
There, is a tree swinging
And voices are
In the wind's singing
More distant and more solemn
Than a fading star.
Let me be no nearer
In death's dream Kingdom
Let me also wear
Such deliberate disguises
Rat's coat, crowskin, crossed staves
In a field
Behaving as the wind behaves
No nearer -
Not that final meeting
In the twilight Kingdom


This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man's hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star
Is it like this
In death's other Kingdom
Waking alone
At the hour when we are
Trembling with tenderness
Lips that would kiss
Form prayers to broken stone.


The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In the valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost Kingdoms
In this last of meeting places
We grope together
and avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river
Sightless, unless
The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star
Multifoliate rose
Of death's twilight Kingdom
The hope only
Of empty men


Here we go round the prickly pear
Prickly pear prickly pear
Here we go round the prickly pear
At five o'clock in the morning.
Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom
Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
Life is very long
Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom
For thine is
Life is
For Thine is the
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

To that we can add the beautiful-bloody ending of Francis Ford Coppola (I have no doubt he was the author of the final scene in that movie):

the horror!

the horror...


~ basil

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

a little humor...

A little girl was talking to her teacher about whales. The teacher said
it was physically impossible for a whale to swallow a human because, even
though, it was a very large mammal its throat was very small. The
little girl stated that Jonah was swallowed by a whale. Irritated, the
teacher reiterated that a whale could not swallow a human; it was physically

The little girl said, "When I get to heaven I will ask Jonah".

The teacher asked, "What if Jonah went to hell?" The little girl replied,

"Then you ask him".

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Well, it has been a busy two weeks for me. I've been busy fasting, preparing for the great celebration of Holy Week, and then Pascha. Then I've been busy partying and celebrating the Resurrection of Christ.

There shall be other news to follow.

But here I am, back at my blog.

One of the great tragedies of war is the innocent lives lost.

But one of the heartwarming and inspiring aspects is the bravery of those who go against all odds to help a loved one, even a child.

This is a great story of such bravery about a young child with cancer. You should read it:


Monday, March 31, 2003

This just in from BBC news:

Monday, 31 March

2108: Seven Iraqi civilians - all women or children - are killed by US troops firing on their vehicle after it refused to stop at a check point near Najaf.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I think that says about all that can be said.

Come on America, wake up? Why are you supporting this war?


Another Sad Moment in U.S. History

(and the "End of Western Civilization" part III)

Well, this weekend we were all smacked in the face with further proof that freedom of speech is being denied to honest, patriotic Americans, for doing nothing more than speaking the truth:

MSNBC and NBC news have cut relations with one of their finest journalists in the field in Iraq for speaking the truth about what has been happening here. We should all be ashamed now of NBC for shamelessly compromsing themselves by trading away honest journalism for favor with the Bush administration!

"In the interview, Arnett said his Iraqi friends had told him that there was a growing sense of nationalism and resistance to what the United States and Britain were doing."
- and why can't he say that? We all know it is true.

"He said the United States was reappraising the battlefield and delaying the war, maybe for a week, 'and rewriting the war plan. The first war plan has failed because of Iraqi resistance. Now they are trying to write another war plan.' "
- and we all know that is true also. A week ago our military was bragging about how it would be in Bhagdad in just a few days, and now they have been fighting in the defensive, rather than offensive for almost a whole week.

"Arnett said it was clear that there was growing opposition to the war within the United States and a growing challenge to President Bush."
- and again, that's something that is perfectly clear to anyone with an IQ slightly above that of vegetable mold. If Bush doesn't feel challenged at this point, then he's not simply crazy (we know that already) but probably hasn't got more than a couple brain cells to rub together! He is going to go down in infamy in the history of our country as being the one single president, who single-handedly destroyed our country's relations with the rest of the free world, made our own homeland an unsafe place to live (by multiplying our enemies around the world), and cultivated the greatest assault on the free press our country has ever encountered.

It is a sad, sad day to be an American, and it is an even sadder day to be president of this country. So, I'd say, if Bush isn't feeling the pressure from that by now, he's of worse moral character than Hitler, Stalin and the like.

But my personally suspicion is that he is. That he is sweating gumdrops by now, and soiling his underwear several times a day... to think what he has done to our great nation.

But, that's not my main point today. That's not even a big concern at the moment. At the moment, the big thing is that NBC news has canned one of their own for speaking the truth about the war. The strange thing about it is that quite soon after the initial report, NBC backed up their reporter. But several hours later, when the situation had worked its way up through managment, they retracted and canned him.

It is a sad day when our news media becomes a state organ, just like in any old foul fascist country, the kid of place we have always prided ourselves on being so different from. And it is a sad day when our news media hushes up the truth!

What a sad day to be an American.

~ Basil ~