Friday, February 26, 2010

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The First and Second Finding of the Head of St. John the Forerunner

Some days I get on the wrong track. I try to keep a daily remembrance of the Saints commemorations for each day. Sometimes my brain just does not take on what day it is, and I begin celebrating a saint's day early or a day late or think that I have missed a favorite saint's feast day. Weird the way my head can't take in things sometimes. I have to admit that I had a lot of ideas circling yesterday.

At any rate yesterday was the commemoration of the First and Second Finding of the Head of St. John the Forerunner. I thought I had missed it the day before and here it was yesterday. It seemed like the icon of St. John was giving me a curious look...(which it seems to me sometimes icons do). It was kind of a sad look, like "what is going on?!".

I found a reproduction of an icon a few years ago that is very powerful and one that has moved me greatly many times. This is an intriguing history as well. Here is the story:

After the Beheading of The Holy Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist John (August 29), his body was buried by disciples in the Samarian city of Sebaste, and his venerable head was hidden by Herodias in an unclean place. St. Joanna (June 27), the wife of King Herod's steward Chuza (Luke 8:3), secretly took the holy head and placed it into a vessel and buried it on the Mount of Olives on one of Herod's properties.

After many years, this property passed into the possession of a government official who became a monk with the name of Innocent. He built a church and a cell there. When they started to dig the foundation, the vessel with the venerable head of John the Baptist was uncovered. Innocent recognized its great holiness from the signs of grace emanating from it. Thus occurred the First Finding of the Head. Innocent preserved it with great piety, but fearful that the holy relic might be abused by unbelievers, before his own death he again hid it in that same place, where it was found. Upon his death the church fell into ruin and was destroyed.

During the days of St. Constantine the Great (May 21) , when Christianity began to flourish, the holy Forerunner appeared twice to two monks journeying to Jerusalem on pilgrimage to the holy places, and he revealed the location of his venerable head.

The monks uncovered the holy relic and, placing it into a sack of camel-hair, they proceeded homewards. Along the way they encountered and unnamed potter and give him the precious burden to carry. Not knowing what he was carrying, the potter continued on his way. But the holy Forerunner appeared to him and ordered him to flee from the careless and lazy monks, with what he held in his hands. The potter concealed himself from the monks and at home he preserved the venerable head with reverence. Before his death he place it in a water jug and gave it to his sister.

From that time the venerable head was successively preserved by devout Christians, until

the priest Eustathius (infected with the Arian heresy) came into possession of it. He beguiled a multitude of the infirm who had been healed by the holy head, ascribing their cures to the fact that it was in the possession of an arian. When his blasphemy was uncovered, he was compelled to flee. After he buried the holy relic in a cave, near Emesa, the heretic intended to return later and use it for disseminating falsehood. God, however, did not permit this. Pious monks settled in the cave, and then a monastery arose at this place in the year 452. St. John the Baptist appeared to Archimandrite Marcellus of this monastery and indicated where his head was hidden. This became celebrated as the Second Finding. The holy relic was transferred to Emesa, and later to Constantinople. (From the OCA site, Feasts and Saints)

And here is the reproduction of the icon that I find so moving. Even though a day late...may St. John bless us all!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Children's Book Illustration and writing

I have created a facebook page that I plan to use as a venue for Children's Book illustration and writing. I have had several requests for information on this so if you are interested...go here.
Claire Brandenburg, Facebook...

You can see my books on my web page and places to purchase them on the links page.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Fast

I have been doing some reading lately that has, as so often happens a similar message but authors that are not related and from different times and places.
The message of both articles/books being that Christ came to earth and left as a legacy what... ? Not the Bible, but the Church.

The Church began at the death of Christ with passage of the teachings that Christ left to the disciples and of course with the teachings of Paul. It continued along with the growth of that teaching through martyrdoms, monasticism and word of mouth and the Bible, that record of the memory of God's relationship with His people, the Jews, and a recording of the memory of relationships with Christ the Messiah.

At the great schism it broke in two... 1054....with the one path leading on as it always had been and the other path renamed and re-theologized to become the Roman church. After that there were other breakings and re-theologizings until the "Christian Religion" came diluted into many teachings into this Century.

If one retraces that One Church and the practices that make up the ancient Church, one finds the Orthodox Christian Church; and it is found now in its motion in the prelude of Christ's continuing departure in Great and all Holy Lent.

The Fast.

What does the Fast do? It leads us away from the earthly physical beauty of the world into a closet, so to speak. A closet that should hang empty of things. It seems to me that I can fill that closet up again with the trappings of the world or I can not only leave it empty, but expand it in space and time and silence in willingness to have it be Jesus Christ's. The expansion happens through Confession and Sacrifice, and a putting away of the garments of the ego.

What are those garments? How are we to be re-created? Certainly not totally through our own mechanizations, but through this mystical season within the Church. Our actions can not really change who and what we are, but Jesus Christ can.

I underline mystical...something that happens in time and space through our efforts, in a certain direction, but not by our effort alone, but by an amazing miracle that takes place through Grace and our willingness to abandon our current self for one that God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit re-create in us. Imagine....who did God create you to be before this world and your ego got hold of you? I cannot even conceive of that. But God can and does. The mystery awaits in the emptied closet.

The Fast is at hand.

The Church and its Body, the Saints will pray for us on our journey forward.

The Cross is at hand.

Friday, February 5, 2010

An interesting comment on Fasting

I think you can guess the question. But maybe I should clarify just in case; this pertains to the Orthodox Christian practice of eating shellfish during a fast. I thought it fit right in with my thought process at the moment and with the upcoming Lenten Season as well. This was written in 2007 by "Herman".
I think that this is a great answer.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Traditionally, in earlier days, shellfish was not the delicacy it is considered today. Shellfish were considered trash, something to eat if nothing else was available. Also, there is no discernible blood. Blood is believed to be what stirs the passions. Based on this, shellfish was not prohibited. But it doesn't take much to figure out that a fancy expensive lobster dinner, while "legal" in a literal sense, violates the "spirit" of the Holy Fast. Meals should be small and simple. Money that would have been spent on meat is given in alms for the poor. "Trash" shellfish in coastal societies would be relatively cheap and often eaten by the poor, but not in our society so much today unless you live on the coast and go clamming or crabbing for yourself!Fasting is spiritual exercise. Like any kind of exercise, we must find out what we are capable of. There is as much or more danger in overdoing as there is in under doing. In determining an appropriate fasting regime for yourself, it is always a good idea to check with your priest, just like when we ask a coach at the gym for advice before we start pressing 400 lb. free weights. Not enough effort and we do not see the results we desire and become discouraged. Too much effort and we "burn out" or perhaps even hurt ourselves. The key is to not get too focused on the "rules" and to do what you can, always striving to do a little better next time. Push yourself, but recognize your limits.Wishing you a blessed and spiritually profitable Lenten Spring and a blessed and joyous Holy Pascha!Your servant,Herman

In Response

I realize that my thought of the Feast means that I give permission for my body, (the obsessive creature that it is), to have most every thing to eat that it wants. This defeats the path of the Fast.

The Fast focuses on limiting the body so as to benefit the soul. The development of the soul is the purpose of life. Making it conscious of God through Jesus Christ and ultimately by God's Grace and by my own direction, repentance, etc., and becoming One with God. This is a never ending and challenging process. One that only the saints have achieved;but being humanly possible through their example, a path that might be obtainable. The supreme desire being closeness and relationship with Jesus Christ and my desire for the Kingdom.

One does that by limiting the body's desires. The body is like a spoiled and demanding child. It is up to me to guide it and allow it the things it has, rather than letting it run out of control.
So in the Fast one guides it, directs it and allows it things under the rule of the Church. It is easier for me because I can say, these are the options. Without having that "rule", it is most difficult.

So I need to think about a rule for Feasting. I do better with guidelines. What is a good way for my body to behave that will help my soul grow? I think of the 'Wedding in Cana', where the Mother of God asked Jesus to make water into wine as the wine had run out. He made better wine for the guests that the host had provided. So He wants the Feast to be the best. Wine alone doesn't make a Feast. His Presence does.

In the story of the 'Prodigal Son', the father prepares the fatted calf for his wayward son. The best! But there would have been no Feast for that son if he had not returned and begged his father to forgive him and be joined with and in the company of his father.

Hmmm...this calls to mind the 'golden calf' that was erected by the Jews on their way to the promised land.

The Feast has the true focus of the Presence of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
This requires yet more prayer and thought.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

February 3, 2010???

Wait a minute! I thought it was January at least, not already the Leavetaking of the Presentation at the Temple. But reality is setting in now that I think about it. Lent is on the way and Pascha is down the road.

I enjoy Lent a lot. In fact often I think that it would be good to eat fasting food all of the time, a leaner more watchful way to live. The hard thing is the feasting. I always get out of control. There ought to be a way to think about feasting that would be just as watchful as fasting.

Perhaps limiting amounts of feasting foods would be a way to do that. Perhaps being more thankful for such amazing abundance and variety would also be part of that plan rather than easily getting used to it. As a random thought I think rich foods kind of kill or numb ones taste buds. Fat sparkles on the tongue and it wants just more in quantity. Surely the feasting has to do with celebration, joy in the goodness of good times, people that one loves and of course, God who is the greatest feast.

Maybe there is someone out there that can tell me something that will really hit my heart about feasting. Hello?