Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Nine Biblical Canticles (Odes)

I. What are the biblical canticles (odes)?
II. The fifth biblical canticle as an example 
III. The link hymns (irmoi) of the fifth biblical canticle


I. What are the biblical canticles (odes)?

A body of Old Testament texts almost as important in Orthodox Christian worship as the Psalter are the nine biblical odes or canticles. These are sung at matins (orthros). The first 8 are from the Old Testament; the only one from the New Testament is the 9th, which actually consists of two canticles from Luke 2. 

1. The (First) Song of Moses (Exodus 15:1-19)

2. The (Second) Song of Moses (Deuteronomy 32:1-43)[1]
3. The Prayer of Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1-10)
4. The Prayer of Habakkuk (Habakkuk 3:1-19)
5. The Prayer of Isaiah (Isaiah 26:9-20)
6. The Prayer of Jonah (Jonah 2:2-9)
7. The Prayer of the Three Holy Children (Daniel 3:26-56)
8. The Song of the Three Holy Children (Daniel 3:57-88)
9. The Song of the Theotokos (the Magnificat, Luke 1:46-55); the Song of Zacharias (the Benedictus, Luke 1:68-79)

Originally, these 9 odes were chanted in their entirety every day, with a short refrain inserted between each verse. Later, the refrains were replaced by short hymns (called "troparia"). At each of the 9 odes, the first of these short hymns is a special one called a "link" (in Greek, "irmos", also spelled "heirmos"; plural "irmoi") which is based on the theme of the biblical canticle and therefore serves as a link to it.

Later, the verses of the biblical canticles themselves were dropped, being read only on the weekdays of great lent.* They were replaced by short refrains which preceded each of the composed troparia. The irmos still provides a link to the original canticle. 

Unlike the other biblical canticles, the first of the two New Testament canticles, the Magnificat, was not dropped. It is chanted almost every day of the year, being replaced by other hymns on certain special days: the great feasts and their leave-takings, in Bright Week, on the Sundays and leavetaking of Pascha, and at the feast of Midpentecost.

Each of the 9 odes has 14 of the troparia (each preceded by a refrain) and may close with another irmos called the "katavasia" (which is sometimes the same as the irmos sung at the beginning of that canticle). The 9 biblical canticles, irmoi, refrains, troparia, and katavasias together comprise a large body of hymnography called the "canon," which fills the middle of matins. The canon is different almost every day, as there are different canons for different seasons, tones, and feasts. These are found in the different service books. The biblical canticles, of course, are always the same.

On Sundays and major feasts, there is a katavasia (sometimes two) after every ode; on lesser days, a katavasia is sung only after odes 3,6,8, & 9. The small litany is sung after odes 3, 6, and 9. Often special hymns are inserted after odes 3 and 6; these are the kontakion (pl. kontakia), ikos, and sessional hymns (a.k.a. kathisma hymns or sedalen). 

An inspection of the canon in various service books of the Church shows that canticle 2 and its associated troparia appear only during great lent. This is because of the severe nature of the second biblical ode.

*Though usually omitted outside of lent, the biblical canticles are still technically prescribed throughout the year except at Pascha and Bright Week according to the church typicon, and form part of the rule of prayer in some monasteries.


II. The fifth biblical canticle as an example 

The Prayer of Isaiah (Isa. 26:9-20). This is the fifth of the nine biblical odes or canticles used in the Orthodox Church. The Alleluia verses sung at the beginning of matins (orthros) on the weekdays of Great Lent (in place of "God is the Lord") are also taken from this prayer.

"My spirit rises early in the morning to you, O God, for your commands are light upon the earth. Learn righteousness, you who dwell on the earth. The ungodly man ceases; he will not learn righteousness on the earth; he will not do the truth; let the ungodly man be taken away, that he may not see the glory of the Lord. O Lord, your arm is exalted, but they did not know it. But when they know it, they shall be ashamed, for jealousy will seize an untaught people; and now fire will devour the adversaries. O Lord our God, grant us peace, for you render everything to us. O Lord our God, possess us; O Lord, we know no other besides you; we name your name. The dead will not see life; neither will physicians raise them. Therefore, you brought evils upon them and destroyed them and took away every male of theirs. Bring more evils on them, O Lord, on the glorious of the earth. O Lord, I remembered you in my hard circumstances. Your chastening to us was a small affliction. As a woman with child is in pain and cries out in her pangs, when she draws near the time of her delivery, so we became your beloved because of the fear of you, O Lord. We have been with child, we have been in pain, and we have given birth. We brought forth the spirit of your salvation on the earth. But the inhabitants of the world shall fall. The dead shall rise up; and those in the tombs shall arise. Those in the earth shall be glad, for your dew is a healing for them, but the land of the ungodly shall come to an end. Come, my people, enter your closets and shut your door; hide yourself for a short while, until the anger of the Lord is past." (from the Orthodox Study Bible)

The above is the Septuagint version, which is the one used in the Orthodox Christian worship.


III. The link hymns (irmoi) of the fifth biblical canticle

As an example of the way the link-hymns (irmoi) connect with, and remind us of, the themes of the biblical canticles (which are usually omitted), here are many of the irmoi written for the fifth canticle -- the prayer of Isaiah, whose text is provided above. The irmoi are short hymns, prayers typically inspired by the text of the biblical ode, reflective of its themes and ideas, and linking to them. In essence, they are short meditations on the text of the biblical canticle. Specifically, in the fifth canticle and the irmoi written for it, the salient theme is that of light, including the day and the dawn; but other themes and words harking back to the canticle are found as well.

The fifth canticle and its irmoi are used here as an example to show the order and spiritual richness of our worship. Similarly, for each of the nine odes there are irmoi written, that reflect its themes. Ode One typically relates thematically to Israel's escape from Egyptian bondage and the crossing of the Red Sea. Ode Six, like Jonah's prayer, typically speaks of the deep, the depths, the abyss, and rising, escaping from them. The experiences of Israel and of Jonah are projected to a larger canvas of human experience in which we have escaped from evil and the devil through the sea (baptism), yet often still seem to be drowning in sins. The other odes as well have their respective special themes.

Here, then, are the irmoi for Canticle (Ode) Five, in all eight of the tones: 

Tone 1

O Christ, who enlightened the ends of the world with the brightness of your presence, and who cleansed and made them bright and joyful by your Cross, enlighten with the light of the knowledge of God the hearts of those who praise you in the Orthodox manner.

As you are God of peace and Father of mercies, you have sent to us your Angel of great counsel who bestows peace. So are we guided towards the light of the knowledge of God, and rising early out of the night we glorify you, O lover of man.

Grant us your peace, O Son of God, for beside you we know no other God. Your name do we name, for you are God of the living and the dead.

Shine your everlasting light in the hearts of those who hymn you with faith, granting us the peace that passes understanding, O Christ, so that, running from the night of ignorance towards the dawn of your commandments, we may glorify you, O lover of man.

With your radiant and everlasting light, illumine us who rise early at dawn for the judgments of your commandments, O Master, lover of man, Christ our God.

Rising early out of the night we hymn you, O Christ, who with the Father are unoriginate, and the Savior of our souls. Bestow peace upon the world, O lover of man.

Tone 2

Illumination of those lying in darkness, the salvation of the despairing, O Christ my Savior, I rise early to you, O King of peace. Enlighten me with your radiance, for I know no other God than you.

You became a mediator between God and man, O Christ our God. For through you, O Master, out of the night of ignorance, we have access to your Father, the source of Light.

The sun that was foreseen as a coal by Isaiah, has from a virginal womb dawned upon those gone astray in darkness, bestowing the radiance of the knowledge of God.

O Lord, bestower of the light and author of the ages, guide us in the light of your commandments, for we know no other God than you.

Having scattered the mist from my soul, O my Savior, enlighten me with the light of your commandments, as you alone are the King of peace.

Tone 3

When Isaiah saw, in figure, God upon an uplifted throne, escorted by angels of glory, he cried: Woe is me! For I have seen beforehand, incarnate, God of the light that knows no evening, and Lord of peace.

To you I rise early at dawn, O Maker of all, and peace that passes all understanding. For your commandments are a light: in them guide me.

On earth you who are invisible, were seen; and of your own will you who are infinite lived among mortals. So rising early to you at dawn, we praise you in hymns, O lover of man.

Your light that knows no evening, O Christ God, shine unto my lowly soul, and guide me in the fear of you; for light are your commandments.

Rising early at dawn we praise you, O Word, only begotten Son of God; grant us your peace, and have mercy on us who sing your praises and faithfully worship you.

Tone 4

The whole world was amazed at your divine glory, for you, a Virgin who had not known wedlock, conceived in your womb the God who is over all, and brought forth a timeless Son, who grants salvation to all those singing your praises.

You have come, my Lord, a light into the world, a holy light which turns from the darkness of ignorance those who in faith sing your praises.

Now shall I arise, said God through the Prophets. Now shall I be glorified; now shall I be exalted. Having taken on myself from the Virgin him who was fallen, I will also elevate him to the wondrous light of my deity.

Bring to light for me the daylight of your precepts, O Lord, for my spirit rises early to you at dawn and praises you. For you, O Christ, are my God, and to you I have fled for refuge, O King of peace.

Send down to us, Lord, your enlightenment, freeing us from the murk of errors, and granting, O Good Jesus, your peace that comes from heaven.

The ungodly will not see your glory, O Christ, Only-begotten radiance of the glory of the father's deity; but as for us, rising early from the night, we sing your praises, O lover of man.

O Light which dawned forth and illumined the morning and revealed the day: glory to you, O Jesus, Son of God, lover of man, glory to you.

Tone 5 (Plagal of Tone 1)

O Christ, who clothes yourself in light as in a garment, to you I rise early and to you I cry aloud: Illumine my darkened soul, as you alone are compassionate.

Rising early we cry to you, O Lord: Save us, for you are our God; beside you, we know none other.

From the night my spirit rises early to you, O true light, Christ my God, who shines your face on me. 

Take pity on my wretched soul, which fights by night with the darkness of the passions, and shine on me, O spiritual Sun, your rays, which shine by day, that your light may cut through the night.

Tone 6 (Plagal of Tone 2)

With your divine light, enlighten, I ask you, the souls of those who in love rise early to you, that they may know you, O Word of God, as the truly good God who recalls us from the darkness of sins.

When your theophany, O Christ, came to pass in sympathy for us, Isaiah, seeing the light without evening, rose early out of the night and cried: The dead shall arise, and those in the tombs shall be raised, and all those born on earth shall greatly rejoice.

O Light dawning to the world, O Christ, enlighten the heart of me, who cry to you out of the night, and save me.

Enlighten me as I rise early out of the night, I pray, O lover of man, and guide me in your commandments, and teach me, O Savior, to do your will.

Early in the morning I rise to you who out of compassion, without change, emptied yourself for the fallen one, and bowed down even to the point of sufferings, without passion, O Word of God. Grant me peace, O lover of man.

Tone 7 (Grave tone)

Night is without light for the faithless, O Christ, but there is enlightenment for the faithful in the delight of your divine words. Therefore I rise early to you, and I sing in praise of your divinity.

O Lord my God, rising early from the night I entreat you: grant me remission of my transgressions, and guide my paths to the light of your commandments, I pray.

We who rise early to glorify and praise you, O Word, unceasingly hymn the image of your Cross, which you gave us as a weapon for our help. 

I rise early to you, the Creator of all, the most excellent peace surpassing mind. Therefore your commandments are a Light; guide my paths in them.

Dispersing the night of the passions, kindle the light of my intelligence, O Creator of all, who drove the primordial darkness out of the abyss, and  illumined the world with the first-created light.

My spirit rises early to you, O God. Therefore you are a light, and your commandments have become  healing for your faithful servants, O lover of man.

Tone 8 (Plagal of Tone 4)

Why have you cast me away from your face, O never-setting light? And why has this alien darkness covered me, poor wretch? But turn me back and direct my paths, to the light of your commandments, I pray.

Illumine us with your commandments, O Lord, and with your uplifted arm grant us your peace, O lover of man.

Rising early, we cry to you, O Lord: Save us, for you are our God, and beside you, we know no other.

Dispel the melancholia of my soul, O lifegiver Christ our God, who expelled from the abyss the  primordial darkness; and give me, O Word, the light of your commandments, that rising early at the dawn I may glorify you.

Out of the night of ignorance enlighten me, with the dawning of thy love for man, O Christ who enlighten all the world with thy knowledge divine.

My spirit rises early to you, O God, for a light are the commandments of your coming. With them, therefore, illumine our mind, O Master, and guide us in the way of eternal life.

From the night of ignorance I am always wandering on the pathways that destroys the soul. Guide me, O Lord, with the light of your wisdom, and direct me in the path of your commandments.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Love of the New Man Christ Whom We Have Put On

To love oneself is not selfish or even wrong, provided we love the new man Christ whom we have put on, and not our sinful old man Adam, whom we have crucified. "You have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him ... Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering ..." (Coloss. 3:9,10,12).

Our new self is Christ: he is unselfish, he is loving towards God and man. To hate Christ - our Savior whom we have put on - would be wrong. Rather, Jesus Christ is he "whom not having seen, you love" (1 Peter 1:7-8). As for our "old man" Adam, him we have crucified ("our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with" - Romans 6:6) and must crucify ("put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry" - Coloss. 3:5). This is what Christ means when he says "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate ... his own life also, he cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:26). He is speaking here of the old self, the old man, the one who was buried with Christ in baptism. This is why the Holy Fathers say that self-love a fundamental sin -- they are referring to the love of the sinful old man, with its passions and desires.

Fulfilling Christ's commandment, we hate our old man, whom we have crucified and who no longer lives, if we live in Christ, if we are alive in Christ. As St Paul writes: "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal. 2:20). And we love our new man Christ, through whom we are united with the Father and the Spirit and have obtained peace with God, having put to death our old man who was at enmity with God; and in whom we have peace and unity also with one another and are members of one another. We love our new man Christ, willingly and lovingly putting him on, and we do not struggle against him, but we have rest, saying:

"Return to your rest, O my soul, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you. For you [O God] have delivered my soul from death [for the old man is dead, the new man Christ lives], my eyes from tears, and my feet from falling. I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living ... What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits toward me? I will take up the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows to the Lord now in the presence of all His people ... O Lord, truly I am your servant; I am your servant, the son of your handmaiden; you have loosed my bonds [freed me from the old man]. I will offer to You the sacrifice of thanksgiving, And will call upon the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows to the Lord now in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the Lord’s house, in the midst of you, O Jerusalem" (from Psalms 114 and 115 in the Septuagint bible; 116 in other bibles).

The healthy Christian is at peace with his new self, the sinless Christ whom has put on. This new self he loves. But he continues to struggle against sin, and the old man that sins. There is an ongoing struggle: we hate and we must put to death our sinful old man - nailing him to the Cross. Yet that old man is not our true self, for "it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me ..." There is a struggle in our members between the old man and our new man, but only the new man is our true self. St Paul speaks of the struggle: "For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do ... But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me ... For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I do not will to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I do not will to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me" (from Rom 7:14-19). Thus the sinful "old man" whom we must put to death, is not our true self, but one to whom we have died, in order that our new man may live in Christ. The old man must die, that the new man may life.

For "... unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life" (John 12:24-25). The life we must hate is the old man, whose life is the life of this world, that is, the life of the fallen and sinful world with its pride; this "old man" is not our true self. At the same time, Christ gave his own flesh, his own life, for the life of the world (John 6:51) - yes, the very same world - in order that it might live: yet not in sinfulness, but cleansed, renewed, redeemed, and restored to God: the new "life of the world" that lives in Christ. 

St John of Kronstadt contrasts the proper love of self (love of the new man) with the improper love of self (love of the old man). First, love of the sinful old man: "The root of every evil is a self-loving heart, or self pity, self-sparing; it is from self-love, or excessive and unlawful love for oneself that all the vices proceed: coldness, insensibility, hard-heartedness towards God and our neighbor, wicked impatience and irritability, hatred, envy, avarice, despondency, pride, unbelief, gluttony, the love of money, vanity, slothfulness, hypocrisy." Second, the righteous love of the self, which is the love of the new man: "Love your neighbor as yourself; for by loving your neighbor you love yourself, while by hating your neighbor ... you hate your own soul before all else." These words presuppose that we are one with our neighbor, which is only true insofar as we are speaking of Christ into whom we have both been baptized, whom we have both put on, and in whom we are one.

Again, he explains that the improper love of self is only the love of the old, sinful man, not the love of the new man: "Whoever will save his life shall lose it. That is, whosoever wishes to save his old carnal, sinful man, shall lose his life: for the true life consists in crucifying and mortifying the old man, together with his deeds, and putting on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him. Without the mortification of the old, carnal man, there is no true life or eternal blessedness" (Spiritual Counsels of Father John of Kronstadt, 1989, p. 111, 187, 158.)

In the same way, the Philokalia teaches that self-love is the "origin and mother of evil" (St Maximus the Confessor, First Century of Various Texts, 33). This evil self-love is the love of the sinful, carnal old man. But the same self-love, when purified, because the true self-love, that is, the love of our true self, the new man, Christ whom we have put on. This self-love draw us towards God: "[T]hrough desire - through a passion of self-love which has been purified - we should be drawn in longing to the one God ..." (ibid, 32).

Friday, March 2, 2012

Employment-Based Medical Insurance and Ethical Concerns

A member of the US Congress proposed a law (now defeated) that any employer should have the right to refuse to pay for any kind of health benefit for moral reasons. It was argued, accurately, that this in effect would have given bosses power to decide whether their female employees get contraceptives.

As Orthodox Christians, we should oppose the use of abortifacient contraceptives. That said, it occurs to me that no health coverage paid for by an employer for any procedure, treatment, or medicine, is really being paid with the employer's money. Rather, it is being paid by the employee, since it is a benefit they receive for their employment and work. Isn't this true? Looked at this way, shouldn't this entire controversy have been avoided from the start? It is not the employer who pays, it is the employee who pays. In the same way, when the employer pays part of the employee's wages into Social Security and Medicare, we do not say that the employer is paying that. Rather, the employee is, since he or she earned it by their labor.

What if the law requires that medical insurance include payment for voluntary suicide? Christianity does not permit this. Christians should oppose it, and work for it to be illegal. But if the law allows it, and mandates that employees have medical insurance that covers it, the employers are not responsible for it. And it would not be their money -- it would be the employee's money, i.e. a "benefit" that he or she "earned" by working for the employer.

Some people will elect to do praiseworthy things with their medical insurance -- for example, donate a kidney to save someone's life. Others will do foolish things -- like breast augmentation. Some will want to do what others regard as wrong. For instance, some have a medical need for blood transfusions that the religion of the Jehovah's Witnesses does not permit. On that belief we Orthodox Christians would disagree with the Jehovah's Witnesses. On the other hand, we would agree with the Roman Catholics that abortifacient contraceptives are wrong, while again disagreeing with their view that all contraception is wrong. Also, abortifacient contraceptives are sometimes prescribed as medicine to women with some conditions.

It would be chaotic and senseless if, in all these cases, the employer held the power to decide what procedures, what medical care (or what he may, rightly or wrongly, regard as medical abuse) he would permit to be dispensed to his employee. But in fact there is no reason for him to hold such power, since in each case, it is not his money that pays for the procedure; it is the employee's money that he or she earned on the job. Thus the employer's conscience is not, or ought not to be, troubled by the employee's decision as to how to use (spend) his own benefit that he earned.

In general, medical insurance is praiseworthy, paying for treatments that heal and preserve life. This good should not be lost because some persons, by their choice, decide to do what Christians would consider to be misuse or abuse of the skills of medical practitioners.

Some persons kill their family members to collect insurance. To oppose mandated medical insurance because some would misuse it would be like banning the sale of life insurance, car insurance, fire insurance, or boat insurance because some people misuse these services in order engage in insurance fraud.

It appears that some of those who are opposed to universal medical coverage are using what appear as moral ambiguities to derail such coverage. But there is no ambiguity: employment-based medical insurance is purchased by the employee (or by the employees collectively), being paid for by their labor; it is a benefit of their employment, earned by them on the job. It is not something paid for by the employer.

Americans hold different views about which procedures are permissible and which are not. Among Americans, Orthodox Christians hold the opinions taught by our Church. But regardless of what procedures the law allows, the treatments or procedures are not purchased by the employer, but by those he employs. For this reason, it would make sense to allow the individual employee to opt out of being provided those components of insurance coverage that he or she may deem objectionable. This would, in fact, result in a system not unlike what some conservative voices are calling for: a system in which each employee purchases his own medical insurance.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Humility and Right Faith (Orthodoxy)

One of my favorite quotes from the saints of our Church is from the Ladder of Divine Ascent. It says, "Expecting to find humility in a heretic, is like expecting snow to burst into flame." It's very, very true. I think it does not speak of those heretics who are genuinely seeking truth, but of those who are confirmed in their erroneous belief and are not seeking the truth. I am not citing it in order to judge, criticize, or condemn, but to highlight a spiritual truth about the relationship between humility and theological truth.

Humility is not listed among the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23) but much is said about it in the Ladder and in the Philokalia. Several things about it can be learned from the New Testament:

(a) Jesus highly values it, saying "whoever exalts himself [lifts himself up] will be humbled [brought low], and he who humbles himself will be exalted";

(b) Humility is the opposite of pride, which was the beginning of all evil - for it was what caused the devil to fall from heaven. when he sought to exalt himself (a perfect example of what Christ said, just quoted);

(c) The content of humility includes self-denial (the opposite of pride, which the exaltation of self) and choosing the will of God over one's own will - for Christ said, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself ... and follow Me. ..."

(d) Jesus Christ followed the most excellent way of humility when he washed the feet of the disciples, and when he accepted the Cross, rejecting his own will and obeying the Father's will - perfectly expressed in his prayer, "O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will."

(e) The devil's pride was the beginning of evil, and led to his expulsion from heaven, and man's expulsion from Paradise. But Christ's humility on the Cross led to the destruction of evil, and restored man to Paradise.

(f) St. Paul refers to Christ's humility, saying "He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross." This humility of Christ - of God - is awesome when one considers that being God himself, he accepted to be crucified.

(g) As St. John of the Ladder notes in the step on humility, this virtue is divine and resists definition.

(h) God is the best teacher of humility, but even God cannot humble someone who refuses to be humbled. For Christ's words quoted above in (c) - "let him deny himself" - can also be translated "he must deny himself." God can arrange things to help the process, but a person must humble himself.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Rejoicing in someone's death?

In the Old Testament, in the book of Proverbs, one reads: ".. the destruction of the ungodly is speedy, and causes joy" (11:3).

But in the New Testament one finds this about Jesus: "... they entered a village of the Samaritans ... But they did not receive him ... And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, 'Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?' But he turned and rebuked them, and said, 'You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them' " (Luke 9:52-55).

Note the words: "... the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” If Christ's purpose is to save lives and not destroy them; if he restrains the disciples from desiring and praying for the deaths of others, and rebukes them for wanting to do so, and if he suggests that in doing so they are acting under the influence of a spirit that is not good, then how can Christians rejoice in the death of anyone?

I can understand it when I hear of unbelievers rejoicing at the news that someone has been executed or has been sentenced to death, but I cannot understand it when I read that someone who is is called a Christian is filled with joy at such news. To rejoice in the death of someone is not far removed from reviling them, or being angry at them -- things forbidden by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount. The Scriptures say that God himself takes no pleasure in the death of any human being: "‘As I live,’ says the Lord GOD, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live" (Ezek. 33:11).

The difference between Proverbs and Matthew cited above is yet another case of a difference between the ethics of the Old Testament and the ethics of the New Testament.

More such differences can be seen in the New Testament passage giving Jesus's teaching on treatment of one's enemies, in Matthew chapter 5. They are noted by our Lord Jesus himself, who is the Lawgiver of the both covenants, the Old and the New: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. ... “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect."

Our Lord specifically intensifies the Old Testament ethic against violence and vengeance. Whereas the Old Testament had placed a limit on vengeance, permitting only equal retribution ("eye for eye, tooth for tooth") and nothing more -- Jesus forbids all vengeance, and goes much further, reaching instead toward his own words in Leviticus: "Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD" (19:18). And, we know from the parable of the Good Samaritan that our "neighbor" is anyone, any stranger. Thus he requires that we forgive from our heart those who trespass against us, and love our enemies -- not only those of our own nation or fellow Christians.

(Unfortunately, most modern versions of the New Testament omit part of the text of Matt. 5:44 quoted above. Where the text should read "love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you," they say only, "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you," omitting the other words of Jesus. The full text of the verse was included in all Bibles until around 1885, and it is still included in the text used by the Orthodox Christian Church. Other instances where most modern versions of the New Testament omit important material are John 5:3-4 and Matt. 18:11.)

A important related issue concerns the words in the Ten Commandments, which are quoted by Jesus in the above passage from the Sermon on the Mount: "You shall not kill." Many modern versions change this to read: "You shall do no murder," while presuming that the difference between the English words "kill" and "murder" reflects a difference in meaning in the Biblical text. But a book-length study on this question shows that in fact the text should read "You shall not kill." (See "You shall not kill" or "You shall not murder"? The assault on a Biblical text, by Wilma Ann Bailey. Collegeville, Minn.: The Liturgical Press, 2005).

Some will ask if I mean to say that military and police activities, intended to protect from evil and stop killers, are inherently wrong. The answer is that in the main, the passages in Matthew 5 do not address the situation of soldiers or police taking a life in order to protect the lives of others. They address the situation of how to deal with those who threaten our own life. To kill in in defense of one's own life is not justifiable, but is sinful, in the Orthodox Christian understanding; the argument that one has killed in self-defense is a valid legal defense in the courtroom, but not before the Judgment seat of God. On the other hand, to kill in war is, in the Church's understanding, a sin needing to be repented of, like all sins: it violates the commandment "You shall not kill." But it is viewed as far less serious than cold-blooded murder, and the penance is incomparably less. Even so, to rejoice in the death of a criminal or of an adversary in a wartime setting, goes against our purpose as Christians, which is to preserve life.

The ethics of the New Testament - the ethics of Jesus - are not some hopelessly idealistic theory of conduct, but are obligatory for Christians. To set aside the commandments of Christ, to disregard them, to break them, is to display lack of love for the one who gave them. "If you love me, keep my commandments." "He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.”

Less authoritative, but no less true, are the words of the poet John Donne: "No man is an island, entire of itself ... Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee ..." These are words clearly informed by the Christian milieu in which their author lived. Absent Christianity, there would be no reason to grieve at the death of someone to whom one is not personally attached in any way.

U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower was the Supreme Commander of Allied forces in Europe during World War II. In his memoir Crusade in Europe, he avoids referring to "the enemy," but instead speaks of "the other fellow" - thereby keeping the humanity of his adversary
before his mind at all times. Christ stands on the same ground when he commands us to "love your enemies": the word translated as "enemy" means one who is "hostile" or "hated" - but we are to love them. How could it be otherwise, since every human being is made "in the image of God, and after his likeness" (Gen. 1:26) and is enlightened by "the true light that enlightens every man who comes into the world" (John 1:9).

Monday, April 18, 2011

Palm Sunday in Larsen Bay

Spent the past weekend in Larsen Bay, AK, pop. 50 -- an idyllic spot with awesome beauty. I was there in August '09 (see Larsen Bay photos). Then, it was green -- this time it was brown, but the mountains that ring the village and its beautiful bays were snowy this time from about 400-500 ft. and up. They seemed to say "climb me" -- you can walk up them. The village sits at the intersection of Larsen and Uyak Bays.

I was in Larsen for a funeral. That was beautiful too. In many Alaskan villages, a funeral is done as it used to be done everywhere. The departed one is laid out in his home by the family; there is no funeral home. When I arrived on Friday, we did a service in the home of the newly-departed Peter. On Saturday, we went to the house again, began with a brief service there, then brought the body to the church for the funeral. Burial followed in the small church cemetary, which is all that stands between the church and the bay. Simple wooden crosses, painted white, mark the graves; there are no stones. Cemetery stones are expensive, and there would be added expense of transporting them by air to a village.

After services Saturday evening for the eve of Palm Sunday, I walked in the cemetary and looked out over the blue bays to the mountains beyond them. In the setting sun at about half past nine, the snowy mountains beyond the bays were pink and yellow. Soon, in summer, the churchyard will be adorned with purple fireweed.

The next morning, we had services for Palm Sunday. In the negative tide, some went gathering clams, tasty udoks (sea urchins), and octopus. On Sunday evening we started the Holy Week prayers. There were just two people in church, besides myself, but it was beautiful. The sun was still high and light was streaming in.

On Monday we returned in a float-plane. They are slower, allowing plenty of time to view the snow-blanketed mountains and the valleys as we flew over them. The scenery was spectacular as we floated just a few hundred feet above the peaks. At Larsen Bay, we waded into the water to reach the plane -- the tide was so low they could not use the usual float-plane berth. We landed in Kodiak at the float-plane base by Near Island, just a short distance from the seminary.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Reclaiming the Constitution

Every patriotic American concerned about the Constitution should read this article by Garrett Epps, a law professor and former Washington Post reporter. The article is excerpted from his forthcoming book. Interestingly, he cites Jaroslav Pelikan - one of the leading Orthodox theologians of our time - as saying that the origins of the constitutional debate taking place in America today are to be found in early Protestant theology.

Today's ideologues, Epps writes, argue that "virtually all of modern American life and government is unconstitutional. Social Security, the Federal Reserve, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, hate crime laws—all flatly violate God's law. State governments are not required to observe the Bill of Rights; the First Amendment establishes 'The Religion of America,' which is 'nondenominational' Christianity." This and similar thinking he calls "poisonous rubbish" and "mythology and lies" - and then he backs up his assertions with analysis of the document.

At the present time, efforts are being made to cut federal programs - everything from Head Start (by 22% of budget) to the National Weather Service (30% or $126 million). Such cuts are proposed ostensibly in order to achieve budget reduction - but the ideological underpinnings are the kind of thinking identified in Epps's article. The short-sightedness of such cuts is obvious. Consider the mega-billions it could cost our country if the Weather Service is unable to properly warn us of severe weather. As for Head Start, CNBC tells us in this report that cutting it is "bad for working families and worse for children. Kids who attended Head Start do better than their non-Head Start peers when they enter elementary school. One study found that in California, the state gained $9 in benefits for every $1 it invested in Head Start. And there are long-term gains in lower arrest and high school dropout rates once Head Start kids hit their teenage years."

Here is the section where Pelikan is quoted: "This notion—that there is somehow a fixed, binding, single intent hidden in a each phrase of the Constitution—confuses the Constitution with the Bible. The idea of a single, literal, intended meaning of a biblical text gained primacy during the Reformation. The religious historian Jaroslav Pelikan sees in early Protestant theology the origins of American constitutional discourse. Luther and the other Reformers believed that 'Scripture had to be not interpreted but delivered from interpretations to speak for itself.' What mattered to Luther was 'the original intent and sensus literalis [literal meaning]' of the words of the Bible."

Pelikan is not speaking of the authors of the Constitution - the American Founding Fathers - as being influenced by Protestant theology. Rather, he is speaking of today's ideologues

Just as we Orthodox Christians understand that we are to understand the Bible in the manner in which it was interpreted and explained by the holy Church Fathers, who breathed the same spirit and lived the kind of life that the holy authors of Scriptures themselves lived - so too should the United States Constitution be interpreted in a holistic way, and not in a piecemeal fashion that fails to consider the overall intent of its authors.

Epps is a serious patriot who perceives, in the current assaults on the Constitution, a threat to America's well-being, and thus is aroused to the defense of the true sense of this founding and constitutive document of our land. From the text of the Constitution itself, he shows that it provides for a strong central government, equipped with all the powers needed to govern this land for the benefit of its citizens. He refutes the novel theory that only those powers specifically named in the document are permitted to the government.

As Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska has noted, the Constitution only mentions an Army and a Navy. Does this mean, she asks, that we cannot have an Air Force?

We need the countless services provided by the Federal Government, and as the article shows, the American Founding Fathers - who obviously could not see into the future - nevertheless did their best to anticipate new needs that might arise in the governance of the country, and to provide for meeting those needs. The authors of the Constitution, as Epps shows, intended to give us an able and empowered government, neither a weak confederation nor a tyranny, but a democracy for a unified nation.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Duty to Pray for the Head of State and for All Mankind

In the tradition of the Orthodox Church, the two preeminent holy Apostles are Saints Peter and Paul. The teaching of these apostles is that Christians should submit to the rule of the civil authorities and obey their laws; in addition, prayer should be offered for heads of state, regardless of their religion, and for all mankind.

St. Peter wrote, "Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good" (2 Pet. 2:13-14). From this it is clear that Orthodox Christians should obey the civil laws -- except, obviously, when they conflict with the commandments or ethical teachings of Christ himself. Apart from that circumstance, for an Orthodox Christian to disobey law of the land, or to hold it in contempt, is unacceptable in view of the demands of our faith.

St. Peter's words are completely consistent with the command of our Lord Jesus to "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's" (Matt. 22:21). This command of the Lord to fulfill one's civic duty applies in a special way to those living in a democracy or democratic republic, that is, any society in which the citizens are charged with the duty of electing their political leaders. Based on these words of Christ, Orthodox Christians living in societies that have that kind of political arrangement are obliged to fulfill those duties diligently and responsibly, so that good and righteous political leaders will be chosen.

The other preeminent holy apostle, Paul, urged submission to, and prayers on behalf of, kings and civil authorities, and he did not limit this instruction to the condition that the rulers are believers. St. Paul wrote, "Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior ..." (1 Tim 2:1-3).

Significantly, when St. Paul wrote those words, the Roman head of state, the Emperor, was not a Christian, and in fact the state religion of the time and place held that he was to be worshipped as a god. Despite this, St. Paul orders prayers on the emperor's behalf. From this, it is clear that the responsibility of Orthodox Christians to pray for the head of state is not conditional upon the ruler's being an Orthodox Christian or even a Christian of any kind. To the contrary, the holy Apostle clearly taught that regardless of the particular religion (if any) espoused by the head of state, prayers of every kind are to be made on his behalf.

The same passage also makes clear that it is proper, permissible, and obligatory for Orthodox Christians to pray not only for other Orthodox Christians, but for all mankind.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Environmental destruction, corporate wrongdoing, and individual sins

As Christians we know there is always grief, suffering, and death in a fallen world. But these realities are not to be considered normal - they remain abnormal and something we should work against, by trying to make the world a better place. This includes the caring for the animal and plant world, over which humans were given dominion - not to destroy, but to exercise mercy and good stewardship. The BP oil spill should cause us to really rethink how we, as human beings and as Christians, are using or abusing the world's resources and natural goodness. For God created the world and saw that it was "very good" (Genesis 1:31). In the Orthodox Christian understanding, even after the fall, the natural world remained "very good," despite the entrance of death, disease, and disasters; for these elements are not regarded as intrinsic to the world's nature, but incidental to it.

The disaster raises the question: can we destroy entire oceans and bring an end to human life as we know it? Certainly it is a theoretical possibility (we depend on the oceans for oxygen and food; half of the photosynthesis that takes place in the world is the work of oceanic phytoplankton). God has promised to preserve his people, but that does not mean that large-scale destruction of the earth's health, beauty, and resources will not or cannot take place.

In fact this has already begun to happen. Carbon dioxide and mercury poisoning, and poisoning from other dangerous toxins, are a threat to the oceans. Mercury has poisoned many freshwater lakes: it is concentrated in the tissues of fish, and there are already restrictive advisories published as to how much or how often children or pregnant women should consume certain kinds of fish.

In seeking where to place the blame, can we speak of corporate sin, the sin of a body of people? Yes - any group, such as a nation or a legal corporation, can break the laws of God, which is sin. But God will not judge corporations or even nations on Judgment Day, but individuals. All corporate sin begins with individual sin and consists of collective individual sin, and will be assessed that way at the final judgment. That is, God will not assess the guilt of corporate bodies, groups, or nations at that judgment, but the guilt of individuals. But in the present life he does judge nations, as for example when he judged ancient Israel by allowing it to be conquered by other peoples and lands. Such judgments were chastisements whose purpose was to correct Israel's misdeeds; thus they were a manifestation of God's mercy in a particular way. The present disaster may indeed be both a judgment and a warning to those countries that are misusing the earth's resources, most prominently by the burning of fossil fuels but also by other forms of pollution. In this sense, the disaster may be a mercy.

While individuals, and not corporations, will be judged by God at Judgment Day, we human beings can and must, at the level of laws and legislation, judge (i.e., regulate, and where necessary, penalize) corporations for pollution and similar crimes and do what we can to prevent them.

There seems to be a lack of will to do this. We are fouling our own nest and don't want to take the trouble to avoid doing so. We are like the smoker dying of cancer who says, "Don't take my cigarettes away!" Many deny the problem and want to continue to allow pollution. Some politicians have fought hard to allow power plants to continue to pollute with mercury, CO2, and associated poisons and have opposed restricting these. Coal mining companies have removed hundreds or even thousands of mountaintops and are polluting many miles of streams and valleys in order that power plants can continue to burn coal and produce those emissions. The desire for money and riches lies at the root of much of this.

We have until now lacked the will, as a nation, to stop doing these things, to stop destroying our own house. As long as we lack the will to correct this, it will continue.
In that these things are destructive to our very own selves, to our own lives, they are no different from any other type of sin: all sins are self-destructive.

Many continue to deny the problems even though they are staring us in the face. Besides the reality of oil spills and related pollution, there is global warming, melting of glaciers and so on. Corporations (especially the oil industry) have paid millions of dollars to pay for the dissemination of false information about global warming.

All of this begins with individual responsibility or irresponsibility and
individual right and wrong, which, of course, in relation to God is called sin. Environmental problems caused by man seem to begin with greed, with selfishness, with laziness, and with not wanting to do the right thing. Like all sins, these are the antithesis of right ethics and specifically of their opposite corresponding virtues. The latter are enabled and cultivated by a combination of right faith, prayer, and repentance and by everything good at the individual level, all of which diminish and extinguish sins and wrongs. May God help us and have mercy on us.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Visits to Ouzinkie and Port Lions

On Monday, May 24, a group of seminarians unexpectedly visited Ouzinkie, Alaska. Ouzinkie is a village on Spruce Island, the same island that St. Herman lived and reposed on. It was a beautiful day and the first time some of us had seen the attractive village of Ouzinkie at ground level. We had a prayer service in the small church of the Nativity and then a picnic on the beach.

Usually the St. Herman's Seminary community visits Spruce Island and St. Herman's grave once during the spring and has a Divine Liturgy there. Our dean and one seminarian had been at Ouzinkie for Pentecost and they were able to reach Monk's Lagoon today for the Day of the Holy Spirit. But the rest of us, coming from Kodiak, were unable to land safely at the Lagoon today because of the surf. So after some deliberation we went to Ouzinkie instead, which is at the other end of Spruce island. There we did a prayer service with akathist in the church and then had our lunch and headed back. We felt the Holy Spirit arranged things so that we went to Ouzinkie.

We were grateful to Andy and Tatiana Berestoff who provided transportation on their fishing boat. There were 8 adults and 18 children in our group. The waters were somewhat choppy on the way over, but for the return
weather conditions were warmer and sunnier, and the water calmer.

Ouzinkie has a boardwalk from the boat dock to the church that is just a beautiful scenic walk, framed by grassy hillside and shady trees. The church is beautiful!

This came on the heels of a memorable weekend trip to Port Lions. Several of us from the seminary community joined a large group form St. Innocent Academy in making the trip for Pentecost. The Academy provided the singing for the services and also put on meals and performances for the community. After the vespers service with kneeling prayers, we did a prayer for the renovation of the church. We then had lunch during which the Alutiiq Dancers from Port Lions entertained us with their graceful dances. And then we got busy removing everything from the church building in preparation for renovations now going on.

Glory to God!

Monday, March 22, 2010

The fruit of the Spirit is peace

"Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). "Let your moderation be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Phil 4:5-7).

Probably it was the tension over the upcoming healthcare vote that led me to post the above on facebook: the words, though, address every situation, not just the healthcare bill. The fruit of the Spirit is peace. Clearly it is the will of God that we should not be troubled about anything. "Let not your hearts be troubled" was what Jesus said; "Be anxious for nothing" were Paul's words.

But about the disquiet occasioned by the healthcare bill. From what I can discern many were on edge because they thought this bill would somehow take away our freedom. As absurd as it may seem, comparisons were made to Stalinism and Nazi Germany. One big issue seemed to be the new requirement that people purchase health insurance.

But it occurred to me this is nothing new at all: we've been required to buy car insurance for decades (unless you didn't own a car), and no one ever thought anything of that. And families with low income will receive a subsidy to help them buy the insurance.

Unjust? UnAmerican? Unconstitutional? There is, in fact, a strong element of justice about it. Before, if you didn't buy health insurance because you were healthy, and then if you did get sick, everyone else had to carry the burden of paying for your care. And that's one of the main things that made the current system untenable, that messed it up. Now, everyone will have to at least do a little bit to carry their own weight, but graduated according to one's ability to pay.

In many ways this new law will create freedom, not take it away. People will be free to change jobs. You will be free to keep your house if you get sick, and not have to sell it, because now your medical insurance policy can't be dropped by your insurance company.

I think the concerns about abortion were originally reasonable but they were addressed in the Senate version by the segregation of funds. Other protections were added to the law, and at the end Obama agreed to make the executive order that sealed the deal. But even without those protections, I think anyone who really wanted an abortion was already getting one, so the new law would have changed nothing.

With the last minute changes, even Bart Stupak signed on. Yet someone shouted "Baby killer!" at Stupak. In the end it was clear that there was nothing that could have been done to satisfy those who opposed the bill because of abortion, or who were using abortion as a way to kill the bill.

David Gushee noted that "There are two deeply pro-life measures in the bill ... Establishment and funding of programs to support vulnerable pregnant women and thus prevent abortion from the demand side [and] Increase of the adoption tax credit and a provision to make it refundable so that lower income families can access the tax credit."

When you think of the many bad things that are corrected by this law, and how many people it will help, we should rejoice.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

One cannot love the unborn if one does not love the born

"He who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen" (First Letter of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian; 1 John 4:20).

By the same principle, he who does not love the sick born person whom he has seen, cannot love the unborn fetus whom he has not seen. This is clear from what St. John the Apostle has written.

And what does that love consist of? What does love for the sick consist of? It's clear from the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) that it consists not in preaching to them, but in providing care for them. For love is shown "not in words or talk" by "in deed and in truth" (1 John 3:18).

The point is that he who does not believe adequate, quality health care should be provided to all born people, for the preservation of their health and life, will not be taken seriously, and will not be believed, when he professes to be concerned for the welfare and lives of the unborn.

For how can a person sincerely love the unborn whom he has not seen, when he fails to manifest love, concern, and care for the born whom he has seen?

We who want people to listen and to take us seriously when we speak of the sanctity of life and when we express our belief that the lives of the unborn are precious and should be preserved, need to show that we are sincere, by vigorously advocating that full, quality healthcare be available to all people, regardless of their ability to pay. Otherwise our purported concern for the unborn will not have the ring of truth.

And that will have consequences not only for the unborn, but for even more important things: our Christian faith itself will also be mocked as insincere.

If we wish to give people a reason to take our message of Christ and his Cross seriously by showing concern for the lives of the unborn, we are destined to fail, and our message to be rejected, if we do not, at the same time, speak out about the need to preserve the health and lives of the born by providing adequate and quality health care for all, particularly at a time when this issue is being discussed and debated in our society.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Affordable Healthcare for America Act

The Affordable Healthcare for America Act took a big step forward in the US Congress. This appears a "watershed moment" in American history, in that final passage now seems very likely, after further revision.

Gandhi said "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated." He did not say that animals are more important than humans, but only that animal care is a revealing index of national greatness.

While it is hard to fault that statement, surely an even more potent index of a nation's greatness is how well it cares for the health of its human citizenry. Greatness requires goodness, and goodness is not compatible with leaving meany of the nation's sick without adequate care.

The passage of this legislation would save the lives of many and improve the lives of many others. Those who voted for the bill performed an act of moral courage. Its enactment into law would be an act of courage, wisdom, and justice on America's part. The bill embodies the teaching of our Lord in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Without this or similar legislation, we have a system under which the nation, in effect, sees its ailing fellow-citizen lying injured and half-dead by the roadside, yet does not offer help, but "passes by on the other side."

Ironically many of those who opposed the bill helped assure its passage by amending it to further restrict abortion, while many who opposed such restrictions voted to enact them into law, by voting in favor of the bill. The devil often works by dividing; on this feast of St. Michael and the Bodiless Powers, those good angels must have been inspiring many to work together for the cause of goodness.

The act includes provisions to encourage better national health and eating habits and better preventative medicine. If Americans practiced these things, it's likely that the annual national health bill would be drastically reduced, perhaps halved. Reducing alcoholism, smoking, food-related diseases like obesity, diabetes, and often cancer, cutting meat consumption by 50%, eating more fruits and vegetables and adopting an exercise routine could have that result.

(also posted in the Facebook group Progressive Orthodox Christianity)

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Vastness of Alaska

I'm gradually gaining an idea of the vastness of this state from what the students from different parts of Alaska tell me. It's big enough that there is great variation in climate and geography. I've seen or heard of tundra, of rivers, of valleys, of mountains, of glaciers, of floods, of forest.

"Tundra" suggests like a frozen waste, but in the summer, at least, it's a green grassy place that's nice to be in. A student told me how he and his family travelled for two hours to get to the tundra, just to enjoy being in it and having a picnic there. Also, I've tried "tundra tea," made from a grass that grows there, and said to have medicinal qualities.

The distances make travel expensive. For some of the seminarians, a visit home would cost $800 to $1000 for the round trip. For a family of five, that runs up quite a bill.

Each year the Orthodox Diocese of Alaska holds regional conferences, where clergy and laity from an area gather and have workshops dealing with music and other church topics. I'm considering attending the one in the Yukon River area this summer. It will be in either Pilot Station or Marshall, AK. This year, one married student, with his family, and the one single student attending the seminary, were from Pilot, as they call it.

To get there, I would fly from Kodiak to Anchorage by jet or turboprop, then to the hub town of Bethel by the same, and from there to Pilot or Marshall by small plane. Thus it would be a three-leg journey. If I were travelling from the island village of Port Lions, there would be in addition a flight by small plane to get to the hub town of Kodiak, making that a four-leg journey.

Friday, May 29, 2009


Visiting the town dump is part of really getting to know a town. We had to take some stuff to the dump as part of cleaning up for the graduation. Yes, even this lovely town has its dump. It seems to be very well managed. Batteries and hazardous liquids are handled properly. Fridges are bled of their freon safely. What's left is densely composted and used to build a trash hill in a landfill.

The oddest thing is the eagles. There are lots of American bald eagles around Kodiak. A photo in the local paper that showed at least two dozen of them sitting on stacks of crab pots. Sometimes you see a half dozen or more flying near the seminary, and one Sunday as we were leaving church, I saw one perched atop the cross on Holy Resurrection Cathedral, the oldest Orthodox parish in North America.

But the biggest flock I've seen up close is at the dump. And they seem tame. Two of them sat on a fence as we drove by, not 15 feet away, and they didn't even seem to notice us, much less fly away. Further off, sitting on the growing mound of compacted waste, was a mixed flock of 40 or 50 large birds -- eagles along with what I took to be crows and ravens. They are there to scavenge bits of food in the waste, as the city garbage trucks dump their waste here as well. (Yes, Kodiak is a "city"; so too is nearby Port Lions, pop. ca. 250.)

We humans go to great lengths to prepare our food just so. In the animal world, you find an assortment of odd (to us) dietary preferences, ranging from the bottom feeders, to the chimps that imitate us in the way they consume bananas. To each, their preference is the perfect delicacy. There are species that will only eat one thing, like the giant pandas that require bamboo and never tire of it, while pigs and chickens will eat most anything. Mosquitos drink blood, cows eat grass, turtles devour jellyfish. Sharks, tigers, and eagles attack live prey, while some birds eat only seeds. The majestic eagles are not proud: they are happy to scavenge at a dump. All this confirms what we know, that God provides for each.

And while he grants us the gift of good food enjoyed in the company of friends, his saints, with their modest requirements, seem to take a lesson from the beasts: that we need not be picky or proud about what we eat.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Climate of Kodiak and points north

I have to confess that, growing up and living in the lower 48, I was pretty ignorant of Alaska. I thought of it mostly as a big, snowy icebox. Now that I live in Kodiak, I can see that perception was way off base, at least regarding Kodiak but also, to some extent, other areas as well.

Just finished living through my first winter here. My impression is that the temperature stayed in the 20s and 30s almost all winter long. It was milder than many a winter I've spent in PA or CT or OH or IL. Yet more than one person in Kodiak has told me this was the coldest winter in years. The water surrounding the island moderates the temperature and keeps it from dipping very low. Now and then I checked the temperature in interior and more northerly parts of AK (Anchorage, Fairbanks, Bethel, Nome, Barrow, Juneau) via Yahoo weather, and found it was often 20+ degrees colder in those places than here. And in the summer, it is very pleasantly cooler here than in the lower 48. I haven't spent a full summer here, but I know what's it's like to walk through the woods on Spruce Island on gently cool or warm days, or to go picnicking and salmonberry picking in nearby Fort Abercrombie Park.

Then there's the greenness of the place. They speak of Kodiak as "Alaska's emerald isle" and you might think it's boosterism, but I've seen the green hillsides and in summer they do shimmer. Here's this paean from an 1890s visitor: “I feel as if I wanted to go back, to Kodiak. Almost as if I could return there to live. So secluded, so remote, so peaceful; such a mingling of the domestic, the pastoral, the sylvan, with the wild and the rugged; such emerald heights, such flowery vales, such blue arms and recesses of the sea, and such a vast green solitude stretching away to the west, and to the north and to the south. Bewitching Kodiak! The spell of thy summer freshness and placidity is still upon me” (John Burroughs, Alaska: The Harriman Expedition, 1899.)

And I'm told that the largest cabbages anywhere have been grown in AK. How could that be? Ninety degree days with 18+ hours of sunlight. And that there are some fertile areas with many different vegetables farmed, and dairy cattle.

And along with it, the extremely cold and long winter in some areas, to be sure. But not in Kodiak, anyway.

These observations are admittedly from a newbie here. (Alaskan oldtimers who may read this, be patient!)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter 2009

Dear all,

I hope you all had a good Easter. I'm sure you did. I had Palm Sunday this week, in snowy / sunny Port Lions, AK. It's a 12 minute plane ride from Kodiak, flying through the passes between the snowy mountains.

This time was by far the scariest flight yet. Usually when we get up in the air, the pilot looks to the west, and if he can see through the pass, he flies that way - otherwise we fly around Kodiak Island along the coast, a considerably longer route. This time, Jimmy, our young Yup'ik pilot from the Kuskokwim River area, headed the plane through the passes but we ran into a brief snow squall and as the plane twisted and turned around in the valleys, it seemed as though you could reach out and touch the pine trees on the snowy mountains -- which I was quite afraid we might hit. But I guess Jimmy knew what he was doing - these planes have GPS so the pilots have a map right in front of them showing where they are at all times. Probably we didn't get closer than 200 feet, or more, from the mountainsides. Suddenly we emerged from the squall and the mountains, with water below us, and we were flying across the Kizhuyak Bay.

I spent part of Saturday visiting parishioners in their homes. It's easy to do that in a village of 250 people. Port Lions is a very nice village, with great scenic views, but a number of empty houses, because the number of jobs in the town is limited. There are no stores, but there is a post office, a clinic, a library, two schools, a Native building, a firehouse, and a water treatment plant. (I asked, why would PL need a water treatment plant, doesn't it get pure mountain water? And I was told that "beavers pee in it, etc" and that there are certain diseases you could get if the water wasn't purified.)

As you walk around the streets, kids and adults sail past on quads or 4-wheel ATVs, all wearing helmets. It's a convenient way to get around town. Others drive pickup trucks or regular cars.

Port Lions came into being in 1964, when the village of Afognak, AK was wiped out by earthquake, and due to changes in the contour of the land at Afognak, it was deemed unwise to rebuild that town. (Afognak was on Afognak Island, a large island just north of Kodiak Island.) The people migrated to what is now Port Lions. About half the townspeople of PL are Native Americans (Aleuts) who seem to be culturally much the same as other Americans. In many cases I would not have guessed that a person was a Native American (or as they say up here, "Alaskan Native" or simply "Native"). The Alaskan Natives do not have reservations, but have about 85 Native Corporations which own significant amounts of land, engage in businesses, and are, by and large, very successful. A great many of those I have met have Swedish or Russian names. (Most Alaskan Natives have three given names: a "church name" that is the name of an Orthodox saint; an American name, and a Native name. This is hard to master, with so many children around. I try to learn the church name first. I love them the best. Here at the seminary we have a Methodius, a Perpetua, a Procopius -- nicknamed Koby, and an Ishmael).

I listened to some of the people who remembered Afognak talking about their childhood there - and how they played out of doors, amidst and around the trees and houses, and made their own games up - an experience they noted was very different from that of most kids today, who are glued to the internet. On Good Friday in 1964 most of them had just finished having supper and were getting ready to go see the movie "King of Kings" - a movie was a big thing in Afognak - when the earthquake struck - it was the most powerful earthquake in recent North American history and lasted 4 minutes.

Afognak Island sounds like it was (and remains) a paradaisical isle, largely unspoiled land, like Kodiak. Between Afognak Island and Kodiak Island is a water channel called whale passage, because whales use it a lot to get. There is an island called Whale Island right there. They tell me you can often see pods of whales right off Port Lions.

A number of parishioners make their living by hosting tourists who come for hunting, sportfishing, or nature viewing. One of the women was telling me how she loves going out on the boat with her husband when the waters are calm, and just watching the animal and marine life.

Unfortunately, because of the economy, a lot of these people aren't getting much business right now. Hopefully that will improve as the economy picks up.

This weekend I learned that in Alaska the largest cabbages anywhere have been grown. How is this possible? 90-degree summer days combined with 20-21 hours of sun. Carrots, potatoes, and corn are also grown here, and tomatoes are grown in greenhouses, and cattle are raised.

Happy Easter to all
Peace, love, and joy

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas 2009/2010

Dear friends,
Christ is born! Glorify Him!

Greetings to all of you at this joyous season of Christ's birth. I hope you've all had, or are having, a blessed and joyful celebration.

I hope all of you are well and have had many blessings during this past year.

It's been a good semester here. Since arriving in Alaska on August 6, I've gotten settled in a bit. I got used to the routine of class preparation. The students and their families are wonderful folks. St. Herman's Seminary has 10 seminarians at present. All but one of them are married and are here with their families, including about 22 children who love being here and are almost always playing around the grounds.

Kodiak is a beautiful place. And so far what people said has about the climate has proven correct: it has seemed milder here than in New England or NE Pennsylvania. The water keeps it relatively warm. Not far to the north, mainland Alaska is typically 20-25 degrees colder. Right now we are in the grip of a cold spell which will stay a while. The temp is predicted to hover around 23 degrees this week. But in Anchorage, about 250 miles to the north, it's hovering at minus -2.

I've visited Port Lions, AK three times now -- every few weeks -- and that's a beautiful place too. It's about 15 miles west of here. You reach it by boat or by plane. The 10 to 12 minute plane ride, when there has been a dusting of snow, is just stunningly beautiful, especially when the weather is perfect and we fly between the mountains, instead of around the island of Kodiak hugging the shore. Most of the time the ride in the small plane is just as smooth as that in a big jet. At Port Lions I've been officiating at services in the parish church. Port Lions was founded in 1964 when the village of Afognak, just north of here, was destroyed by earthquake and tidal waves. I've met some of the people who lived through that earthquake. Interestingly it was at Afognak that villagers saw the pillar of light rising into heaven when St. Herman of Alaska departed this life. That sighting is recorded in the life of St. Herman. St. Herman lived on Spruce Island which lies between Kodiak and Afognak. I've even met some folks whose great-grandparents witnessed that light.

One of the highlights of the fall was three days of lectures by Fr. Michael Oleksa, who talked about the need for cultural sensitivity -- or as he put, the need to discern and enter into some else's "beam of light" and to listen to their "story." Their story is their life and their history. Their beam of light is how they look at things and understand things and do things. Also as part of the lectures, he told many amusing -- or sometimes saddening -- stories, or anecdotes. It was very enlightening. Fr Michael, who teaches at the Univ. of Alaska, has written books on mission theology and on cultural sensitivity. He himself is of Polish background; his wife Xenia is a native Alaskan.

All of the seminarians, by the way, are Alaskan natives. Probably few of them are of full-blooded native; most have some Russian or Swedish blood. To me they seem -- in many ways, at least -- to be culturally much like other Americans living here and there in the 50 states.

During this past semester I took part in a weekly one-hour class on the Yupik language. One Yup'ik word is: Quyana! (it sounds like the 1st 2 letters in KYLE plus the last 4 in DONNA - thus KY-ONNA!! with a strong accent on the middle syllable). It means "Thank you!" An Aleut word you might know is "quyak" (kayak). The main native groups in Alaskan are the Yup'ik, the Aleut, the Alutiiq, the Tlingit, and the Athabascan.

You never know what Jesus is going to ask you to do to serve Him. This fall I was asked to attend basketball games at the local high school and middle school! The reason: the St. Herman's students have a basketball team for recreation purposes and they play against other local teams. I was asked to take turns attending these games along with other priests from the seminary faculty in order to help ensure that the atmosphere stays cool and doesn't get too competitive.

So that's a little bit about what I've been doing up here.

There is actually too much to tell. I could write a book about it, but there isn't time to do that. Yes, I too have my "story" to tell -- as do you also -- and I'm often rememering you, with each of your "stories".

I think of the words of my teacher, Fr. Alexander Schmemann -- "to love is to remember." He connected that with theology -- that in the memory of God all are remembered, with each moment of their lives, and that in that great Calling to Mind, they live, eternally.

While my memory is not so powerful as God's, I want all of you to know that I often remember you, with much love, and I hope you are praying for me and for all who are up here.

Yours in Christ,
Fr Juvenaly

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Aleut Orthodox Priest and Fisherman

November 2008

This is a story I wrote for the St Hermans' Seminary newsletter. It tells you something about Church life here in Alaska, which can be quite different from that in other places.

Alumnus Serves the Parishes of the Prince William Sound

The mission of St. Herman's Seminary is to prepare clergy and church workers to serve the Diocese of Alaska. One alumnus of the seminary now engaged in that service, is Father Alexei Knagin. Fr. Alexei, a member of the Alutiiq tribe, is the first native priest ever to be ordained who came from Kodiak Island, where St. Herman did much of his work, where the seminary in his name is located, and where St. Peter the Aleut was born.

Fr. Alexei's original home was the village of Afognak on Afognak Island, just north of Kodiak. When much of Afognak village was destroyed in the 1964 earthquake, the inhabitants were forced to relocate to Kodiak Island, where they settled at what is now Port Lions. It was from the Nativity of the Theotokos Church there, that Fr. Alexei came to St. Herman's Seminary, seeking to receive the education and training needed to equip him to serve God's people as a priest in Alaska.

As a young priest, Fr. Alexei was assigned to Holy Resurrection Church in Kodiak, while also serving the spiritual needs of the Alutiiq villages on Kodiak. Later he was designated a "missionary priest for the state of Alaska," serving communities in Nikolsky, Atka, Unalaska, King Cove, and Akutan. Then, as now, he also labored at fishing in Alaska's waters, to provide food for his family and supplement his income. To this day, he serves village parishes of Kodiak for three months each summer, while also working at fishing.

Fr. Alexei received a directive from Bishop Nikolai to move from his beloved home parish and to relocate, with his family, to St. Michael the Archangel Church at Cordova, some 270 miles to the northeast. Based there, he also serves parishes at Tatitlek, Valdez, and Chenega. These four localities ring the shores of the Prince William Sound.

Fr. Alexei is at Cordova for most Sundays of the year. He visits the other three communities about once a month. A typical monthly circuit might begin with his departure from Cordova on a Friday or Saturday. He might travel 60 miles to Tatitlek, arriving on Saturday. There he would celebrate Saturday vespers and Sunday Divine Liturgy. A 20-mile boat trek on Sunday would then bring him to Valdez on Sunday afternoon, where he would serve vespers the same evening and liturgy on Monday morning. Fr. Alexei would then make an 80-mile voyage to Chenega, where he would celebrate vespers on Monday evening and Divine Liturgy on Tuesday morning. An 85-mile crossing would then bring him back to Cordova. This schedule would rotate so that from time to time each parish would have Divine Liturgy on Sunday. His exact schedule of visits depends on what feast is to take place, where he is, and the weather.

Each community has its own special conditions, challenges, and progress. At Cordova, a cornerstone was planted recently for a new church of St. Michael to replace the decaying old building. The materials are paid for by the people and corporations. Contractors who are friends Fr. Alexei has made over the years, are doing the excavation and construction free of charge, while the parishioners and Fr. Alexei himself do some of the work.

At Tatitlek, a typical Sunday or even a weekday will see about 30 people attending services. At Valdez 15 to 20 souls meet at the Baptist Church for Vespers and Liturgy. Plans call for building a new church by 2010. At Chenega, some 30 parishioners worship in a brand new church.

In each of these communities, all are appreciative of having a priest, even if only once a month.

In his work, Fr. Alexei stresses the importance of educating the people -- adults first, then children -- about all aspects of our faith. He uses every opportunity to catechize, and works on getting church schools organized. He carries the work of evangelization also to outsiders, speaking to the Protestant clergy at their weekly gathering at Cordova Baptist Church. Finding them receptive, he has taught them about the sign of the Cross and other things.

For his pastoral journeys across the Prince William Sound, Fr. Alexei had a speedboat with a cabin constructed, as the cost of flying would be prohibitive. The boat is equipped like a house-boat, so that when visiting his various villages he can sleep right on board, for convenience.

In good weather his speed is 25-30 knots; in choppy seas this drops to 12-15 knots, doubling his travel time. The waters are cold, and very often storms come up. Should his boat overturn, he would likely lose his life, unless he were to be saved by a miracle. He has adorned his boat with icons of Christ and the Theotokos in the cabin, and around the sides icons of the Alaskan saints are built right into the hull. He prays as his boat plies the waters, carrying him on his mission for Christ.

Our supporters and benefactors donate having in view the goal of helping to educate our future priests. To draw inspiration for the seminary's ongoing work, it's helpful to look at the work of our alumni, and to study the good works of clergy such as Fr. Alexei Knagin and many others, as they serve the people of the diocese as laborer in Christ's vineyard.

(Since writing the above story, I've gotten to know Fr. Alexei a bit better, and his family too. One person spoke of Father's expert knowledge of the sea, calling him "the finest waterman I know." Fr. Alexei also travels by jet, by small propeller plane, by ferry, and by car in his frequent travels around Alaska).

Monday, August 18, 2008

One week in Kodiak

August 18 2008

Things are settling down here as I prepare for the beginning of classes. Yesterday, Sunday, was a wonderful sunny day, but otherwise it has rained every day since the previous Sunday. But it is usually a gentle rain or a mist, not a hard rain. I am told this is typical Kodiak weather. The one sunny day made up for the rest.

On a walk I saw the high school, the middle school, the hospital, a couple of lakes, and the St. Innocent School which is just down the road. Just as I passed the St. Innocent School, the bell was rung for vespers, so I stayed. The school has about 20-25 kids of high school age, most of them from "outside," that is, not from Alaska. I've also been to Wal-mart, Costsavers, and Safeway, which are two miles away. Most things you want to buy here, you get at Wal-Mart. Kodiak has some very nice restaurants, most of them offering locally caught seafood. There are McDonalds and Chinese restaurants and I saw a "Mexican-Hispanic Folk Center." Filipinos comprise about 40% of the population.

On another walk (I try to walk 30 minutes a day but often don't achieve that) just 2 blocks away I saw an old cemetery with maybe 150 graves. It's a small lot but between houses on a residential street. I've learned since that it's a military cemetery from the Fort Kodiak army post. I stepped inside the gate to look around the grassy graveyard. The stones are mostly small ones dating from the period about 1830 through 1908. I also saw a number of wooden crosses, Orthodox and other, some of them falling over. On various stones, I read, "Killed by Indians on Woody Island," "Native of Scotland," "Burned to death," "Native of Perry, Maine," and one stone marked the grave of a civil war veteran who died in 1868.

On Monday afternoon, the eve of the feast of Transfiguration, I remembered there would be a blessing of fruit the next day at the end of the services. I headed to a supermarket-sized convenience store in the nearby downtown area, Alaska Food for Less. I'd been told they in fact offer "food for more" and that Safeway has better buys on food. But in AK a lot of things are costly no matter where you buy them. Alaska Food for Less, I've since learned was until recently called "AC" (Alaska Commercial) and has been in business since the early days of American sovereignty. I selected enough fruit to fill a small basket -- 3 apples, 2 plums, a peach, 2 bananas, 1 orange, 1 apricot. The cost: $9.82 plus $.59 tax, or $10.41. The fruit prices ranged from $2-$4 / lb, with apricots $5/lb. Bananas were the best buy, at $1.28/lb, or about $.40 for a medium sized banana. Salmon berries do grow here -- these berries have the appearance of salmon-colored raspberries. Some people, I've heard, had gone salmonberry picking , and on the feast of Transfiguration some of the baskets brought for blessing contained only this local fruit.

Later I was told that when St. Innocent of Alaska was translating the Scriptures into the Alaskan native languages, there was no word in those languages for fruit, a common biblical word (on the other hand, the same languages have many different words for snow). While few fruits may grow here in Alaska, agriculture is conducted here -- I noticed in the store many packets of vegetable seeds, optimized for Alaska's relatively short growing season.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Arrival in Kodiak

August 11, 2008

First of all, I want to thank everyone for your prayers for our safe trip and that things will go well here. Please continue those.

Now, for some news. It's hard to believe that I have only been in AK for 5 days -- so much has happened since then.

The mountains of AK were beautiful as we flew into Anchorage. The city is surrounded by them and the whole state (the small part I have seen) seems to be full of mountains.

We arrived in Anchorage on August 6 -- the feast of Transfiguration -- but in Alaska, August 6 in church will not be observed until August 19, since the Diocese of AK is on the old calendar. So, up here there are still 2-3 more days before the Dormition Fast begins.

On Aug. 7 we went to St. Innocent's Cathedral in Anchorage. What a beautiful temple! I have seen few, if any, that were the equal of it. I attended a meeting of Metropolitan Herman and Bishop Benjamin Benjamin with the clergy. Bishop Benjamin is the administrator of the diocese and the metropolitan is the locum tenens, or temporary overseer. We had lunch in the parish hall of the cathedral. We then visited St. Tikhon's parish, the "A" Street Orthodox Museum in Anchorage, and the St. Alexis Mission. St. Tikhon's is an attractive new church. St Alexis is a mission parish presently meeting in an attractively furnished storefront in a new shopping mall. It's amazing how a plain new building can be beautified by the presence of a few good icons.

At 6 pm there was an akathist to St Herman at the cathedral, attended by many. The time in Anchorage was a chance to meet some old friends from St Tikhon's, including Fr Christopher Stanton, his matushka Mary Sarah, and their 3 small children, whom I had not met before; also Fr Daniel Andrejuk.

On Friday, the 8th, we flew to Kodiak, an hour's flight. Here I saw Fr Innocent Dresdow and met Fr John Dunlop, the dean of St Herman's Seminary, where I will be teaching. We visited the Alutiiq Museum and I walked around and got acquainted a bit with Kodiak. It is a place of rare beauty. While in Anchorage, one priest from western AK told me he thought Kodiak was the most beautiful place in AK (although he added that there are a lot of beautiful places in AK) and several people confirmed that it is called the "Alaska's Emerald Isle." About half of the island is a national wildlife preserve. Kodiak is the 2nd largest island in the US. The views from most places in the town are stunning. Right beside the town is a very steep hill that rises about 400 feet - perhaps at a 75 degree angle. houses are perched on the hillside; I don't know how they managed to build them. The hill is very green with thick brush, and is dotted with fir trees as well as houses perched on it.

At 6 pm we had a vigil service for the feast St Herman. This was held in Holy Resurrection Cathedral, which is a block from the seminary. This cathedral is the oldest Orthodox parish in North America, although the church building is about the 4th one, earlier ones having been lost one way or another. It was a beautiful vigil service.

The next morning we got on boats and made the 1-hour trip to Spruce Island. The day was beautiful, as were Monk's Lagoon and the island. The island has the beauty of a cathedral -- old growth forests are filled with great moss-covered trees covered. Colorful wildflowers are here and there.

The temperatures are comfortable. People confirmed that in winter Kodiak stays wamer than Pennsylvania or New England (seldom dropping below 20 degrees) while in summer it is cooler (naturally, being so far north). Another side of that nice climate is that it rains here a lot - 95 inches a year, and a lot of days are cloudy. But this weekend it was wonderfully sunny.

We walked about a third of a mile through the forest and came to the chapel built over the place where St. Herman lived. Here the Divine Liturgy was served. Bishop Benjamin served along with Serbian Bishop Maxim. Some nuns and some monks who live on Spruce Island and answer to Bishop Maxim were present, as were many people from the cathedral and seminary and also a group from the St Innocent School in Kodiak, I'm guessing 175 in all. The liturgy was 85-90% English, with the rest being in Yupik, Slavonic, and Serbian, with dabs of Arabic, Greek, and Romanian. We also saw the spring, and the hut where Hieromonk Gerasim (+1969) lived. The native peoples seem so reverent.

The day was just beautiful, the forest so peaceful. The beach has black sand and round, smooth and flat black stones. After liturgy there was a picnic on the beach and under the trees near the beach. The conditions (sun, temperature, etc) were perfect. Then another boat ride back. On the trip back I talked with a man who was originally from Greece, and had been a merchant mariner in the Caribbean, but about 20 years ago, someone invited him to Kodiak and he was so taken with the place he decided to stay there, and he has been there since. His wife (also from Greece) is also there, and she likes Kodiak yet not as much as he does (she misses Greece). For that reason he said they "might leave now" (This reminded me of a story in the Desert Fathers and so I told him the story. It is about a small group of monks living in the desert. Every single day, they get together and talk, and they say, "Tomorrow, we will leave and go away from here." But they never leave!)

While on the boat we watched puffins and saw an eagle and a sea otter. It was comfortably cool. It was about 60 degrees, and the sun was warm. I did not see orca whales or dolphins, but they say they are often there and sometimes swim along with the boats as they go to Spruce Island.

We returned to the church - it's just 3 blocks from the harbor, which is filled with all manner and size of fishing boats - there is a cannery in town which consists of a ship, the Star of Kodiak, that was brought in and permanently docked here to serve in that capacity. At church they had a meal of soup and bread and pies. Then, upstairs in church, we had vespers for the Resurrection.

Sunday morning liturgy was presided by Bishops Benjamin and Maxim. Met. Herman was present all weekend, but did not serve much, because of his sciatica. A bit later, there was a banquet in a nearby church. All the clergy had to stand up and introduce themselves, so I described myself as "the newest resident of Kodiak." This afternoon (Sunday) there will be an akathist before St. Herman's relics at Holy Resurrection Cathedral in Kodiak. For those of you who don't know, St. Herman was a miracle worker during his life and remains so to this day. He also strove to protect the natives from the depredations of the Russian commercials interests who tried to enslave them.

Today His Beatitude, Metropolitan Herman, Bishop Benjamin, Archdeacon Alexei, Peter Ilchik, and Martin Paluch are leaving or have left. I am staying in an apartment at the seminary.

Now, I am faced with preparing for 4 courses - 3 in liturgics and 1 in canon law. I am very apprehensive about that, so I ask everyone to pray for me, that I will do a good job with these courses. In addition, I will be dean of students / chaplain and I will also travel (probably by small plane) once or twice a month to serve at a parish in a place called Port Lions.

That brings me up to date now. Again thank you all for your love and your emails, and please continue your prayers!

In Christ's love
Fr Juvenaly

[The above was a letter sent to friends five days after arrival in Kodiak]