Thursday, July 22, 2021

Green Tomato Chutney

Outside, the tomato plants are suffering in the Louisiana summer. Leaves hang droopy and the flowers have quit turning into fruit at a time when other parts of the country are probably pulling in quite a harvest. I look at them with a little dismay, but not much. Actually, I smile, knowing from experience that they often come back once the heat dies down.

Last fall, my three cherry tomato plants woke up in October and started producing again, masses and masses of tiny yellow flowers everywhere. They had been so prolific that I had started making ripe tomato salads again in November!

The first week of December, we had our first warning of frost, with temperatures expected to dip down to 27 degrees. Usually, this merely means carrying in the begonias and basil for an overnight stay, but this year was not usual. With the frost approaching I counted hundreds of green tomatoes and wondered if I could save them somehow.

Auntie Leila’s Green Tomato Chutney recipe from her blog “Like Mother, Like Daughter” popped into my mind. Without delay I printed the recipe, noted which ingredients I had and which I needed, ran to Wal-mart for some more canning jars and vinegar, and enlisted my 8 year old to help me pick all those little tomatoes. For wages, I allowed him to pitch fast balls from the split or rotten tomatoes. Perhaps there was more baseball than harvesting going on, but I would have struggled to finish without him, squatting up and down, up and down in the sun.

The harvest yielded about 18 cups of fruit, sitting happily on the kitchen counter and looking more like a crop of green grapes. The slightest smile smirked my lips as I washed my hands. My eyebrows lifted in satisfaction as I scanned over the recipe one last time. Turning off the kitchen light, I glanced once more at my beautiful harvest, left them on the counter next to the recipe, and went to sleep assuming that I could knock out the chutney in the morning. Na├»ve optimism: that’s my personality. 

I didn’t consider the reality of washing all those cute little ovals. Cute, yes. Efficient to maneuver, no. All those slippery little green tomatoes had to be held in place on the cutting board by someone’s hands. All that fruit had to be quartered by a knife sticky with juice in someone’s sticky hands. Stretching my fingers, I looked at the oven clock and frowned. It was the time I thought I’d be finished, but instead I was just getting the ingredients into the pot.

The pot proved to be a perfect incarnation of my stubbornness. I was about half way down the list of ingredients… honey, brown sugar, red pepper flakes, apples… when I realized that the ingredients were taking up more than half of my yellow enamel dutch oven. The only bigger pot that I own - my big stock pot - was already simmering a bath of glass canning jars. The jars needed to be recently sanitized to prevent spoiling and also needed to be hot coming out of the water in order to receive the hot chutney, less the shocking change in temperature cause any cracking. So I couldn’t use the stock pot to also cook the chutney. With a sigh and a glance at the clock, I determined not to split the recipe in half and cook two batches, doubling the remaining time. 

Part of my personality is that I don’t require 98% certainty that something will work before I try it. I don’t even require 75% certainty. I may look like an average homeschooling teacher on the outside, but on the inside I’m hanging loose with the most chilled out Hawaiians. If there’s a 25% chance it might work, I say, let’s go for it! 

So, I kept piling the ingredients into the yellow dutch oven, repeating in my head, they will cook down… they will cook down. Finally, with a slightly mounded hill of ingredients that only barely rose above the top of the pot, I added the spices and turned on the burner. Reaching back to the counter I grabbed the recipe to see how hot and how long, considering that other people, less adventurous people, might have looked at this information before turning on the flame. The recipe said to get it up to a boil and then turn it down to simmer. I sighed, staring at the bulging mound of raw ingredients. No way could I bring that up to boil until after it had cooked down a little. I turned the flame down to low, and exhaled a deep huff as I noted the digital numbers on the oven clock and set the timer for thirty minutes. 

Two hours later the mixture, never having actually boiled or simmered, had settled below the yellow rim of my dutch oven, at least a good ¼ inch from the top. I nodded my head in victory, for this was progress, but since I had to leave for work, I turned it down even lower and asked my daughter to keep an eye on it. When I came home three hours later, the chutney mixture was closer to ½ an inch below the top. Now, this type of situation is where my bravery thrives. I would not walk into a haunted house, nor would I ride a roller coaster, but with the steely determination of Beowulf, I approached the stove.

“My heart is firm,

My hands calm: I need no hot

Words. Wait for me close by, my friends.”

Then Beowulf rose, still brave, still strong,

And with his shield at his side, and a mail shirt on his breast, 

Strode calmly, confidently, toward the tower, under

The rocky cliffs: no coward could have walked there!

Despite the narrow margin of success in not bubbling my mixture up over the pot, I turned up the flame to high. If I didn’t get this chutney boiling and reduced quickly, I would be up until midnight. I don’t know about Beowulf, but I am worthless the next day if I stay up until midnight in the middle of the week.

Finally, after being washed, chopped up, soaked in a hot tub, and then boiled down in spices, those cheerful little green ovals turned into a dark rich orange relish. The satisfaction of pouring the thick fragrant mixture into the cans was only topped by the satisfaction of hearing the metal tops pop when I removed the cans from the water bath. The pop means the seal worked and the chutney would stay preserved until opened. The recipe says that this chutney adds zing if you have found that you made a bland meal. Auntie Leila’s family passed it around with a ham dinner, which brought just the right little touch of spirit to the meal.

The whole process, from vines to canning jars, brought just a little touch of Spirit to my thoughts. 

As I picked the tomatoes, saving them from frozen death, I wondered how God plucks me from similar situations. I’m sure I often resent such a harvest, having no clue why God, in his infinite knowledge, is saving me from my comfortable situation. 

As I swished the little green tomatoes around in the sink, the words of Psalm 50 reminded me, “wash me, O Lord, and I will be clean.” 

As I sliced through the tiny tomatoes with my serrated knife, I considered how we little humans often need a painful surgery, cut open for the enlargement of our hearts. One of the prayers in the Canon of St. Paraskevi reads, “wound my soul with a longing for God.” 

It’s all well and fine for me to know, standing in my kitchen, that the cutting and boiling down will eventually transform those tomatoes from something sour into a special delight. However, it is much harder to submit when God works the process of transformation in my life. This prayer from the same canon reminds me that I am not alone in the boiling sea of life.

The transformation of the afflicted and the relief of those in sickness art thou in truth, O Virgin Theotokos; save thy people and thy flock, thou who art the peace of the embattled and who art the calm of the storm-driven, then only protectress of those who believe. 

After the storm of kitchen activity was over around 10:30 that night, I examined the finished jars of dark, jewel-colored chutney, ready to bring zing and spirit to future meals. Now, as I think back on that massive but successful undertaking, I pray that when I am in danger of dying, and God plucks me from my seemingly comfortable surroundings to save me and transform me, I would not fight against Him. I pray I can walk bravely like Beowulf into the unknown future. I hope I can remember that my own efforts don’t have even a 25% chance of success. However, God can make me into something filled with the Spirit. Something even with a little zing!  

Saturday, May 23, 2020

St. Monica

Ever wondered about the life of St. Monica? Fr. John Whiteford not only does a nice job sharing her life but also encourages us how to model our lives after hers.

Happy listening here. (it's about 20 minutes)

St. Monica of Africa Icon - beautiful!

Monday, April 27, 2020

Calling All Makers: A Garden of Beautiful Free Resources

Pansies violets flowers Stock Photos, Royalty Free Pansies violets ...

I live on a street with a fair number of retired couples who like to garden. These faithful tenders have spent time planting, weeding, pruning, and watering; consequently, purple petunias, yellow pansies, and pink roses greet me when I walk around my neighborhood.

Unexpectedly, I'm also encountering a springtime of arts on my computer screen, with beautiful and free material blossoming from well-nurtured places!

With my home full of makers (artists, poets, sword-fighters, and writers) I have particularly appreciated these talks about our role as creators.  Perhaps you will find one to nourish your soul or inspire your own art!

Heidi White gives a humble and inspiring talk: "Finding our Place in the Larger Story" from the Redeeming our Imagination conference for artists. After I watched it, I decided to share it with my children, and my teens appreciated it too. Afterwards one said, "I just got inspired on how to start my next science fiction!" and the other admitted, "I feel like I need to put more effort into my drawings." My littlest guy (8 yo) spent most of the talk wiggling around on the floor, so maybe he is a little young to appreciate it, but he did note the references to patterns that repeat across stories, and shared a connection between Zaine in his Lego Ninjago book and Martin the warrior mouse from the Redwall book Legends of Luke. 

S.D. Smith, author of our beloved Green Ember series, shares this talk: "Tolkien Can't Write Like Me" from the same conference. I haven't listened yet, but the title reminds me of his Q&A from the Hope*Writers workshop that I listened to a few weeks ago. Like Heidi, he emphasizes the need for humility and writing as a servant, out of love for the readers, as opposed to writing to be awesome. I look forward to watching this later.

The next two talks are from Dn. Nicholas Kotar, author of the epic fantasy Raven Son series. My older teen and I really liked this series that has been described as "Lord of the Rings meets 1984." Ha! The first talk is a zoom meeting sponsored by St. Raphael School and Ancient Faith Ministries. You can register join this meeting on May 4: "Don't Just Look for Good Culture: Go Make It!" His talk at the Doxamoot last year (which I heard on Amon Sul) motivated me to write a short story, and I am curious to see what he will share about Russian writer and philosopher Ivan Ilyin in this talk. The other interview with Dn. Nicholas Kotar looks like it will share many of the same ideas: "The Vocation of the Sub-creator" from the podcast Good Guys Wear Black.

These are the opportunities that have just sprung up this past week, but beautiful art is everywhere.

Have you tried the first opera in Wagner's Ring Series that inspired the "one ring to rule them all?" The Met Opera has a free one week trial. Das Reingold is mostly family-friendly and offers amazing set design and beautiful music. The children immediately picked up on the Lord of the Rings connections. I had never seen an opera before - what a great introduction for a Tolkien fan! I do recommend reading a summary of the scenes before watching. Operas are long! Depending on the ages of your audience, it might take you several days to watch one.

The entertaining and enlightening The Literary Life Podcast recently discussed Reading in a Time of Crisis and offers a free Handbook for Morning Time as well as an intriguing upcoming line-up of plays, novels, essays, etc.

On May 1, you can watch a ballet of Shakespeare's The Tempest on the Royal Opera House facebook page. You'll need to check to see what time 7:00 pm BST is for you! I highly recommend the free Shakespeare online course from Hillsdale College, with one of my favorite instructors, Stephen Smith, discussing Hamlet and The Tempest.

For older viewers, The Royal National Theatre is making both version of Frankenstein available for one week on youtube, April 30- May 6. Having the two actors playing Frankenstein and the monster switching roles on different nights really highlights the question: who is the real monster? Radio Read Along offers a well-done a free audio read-aloud.

Finally, I'll end with a tie-in back to Heidi White's talk. She mentions the role Anne of Green Gables played in her formation as a child. Hosts Heidi, David, and Tim discuss this novel on the Close Reads Podcast.

I know that I haven't even touched the surface of what is available. Perhaps our little tour of this spring's online art garden will inspire you to find and share other opportunities!

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Holy Week 2020 Quarantine Activities

In addition to praying and streaming church services, you might like to consider some of these options:

 scripture readings
 crafts/coloring pages for the young or young at heart
 memory verses
 links to listen to hymns

Although I got the idea from here, I arranged it for Orthodox Christian homes using our Church’s Scripture readings and hymns, with the help of the following sources: ;   ~Shamassy Monica Olsen

TOPIC: The Entrance of the Lord into Jerusalem
READING: Mark 11:1-11 (Entrance w/ palms) and in the evening at Bridegroom Matins Matthew 21:18-22
(cursing of the fig tree – good explanation of this here)
CRAFT: construction paper palm leaves

MEMORY VERSE: "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" Mark 11:9
HYMN: Troparion of Saturday of St. Lazarus, Orthros. Tone 1
O Christ God, when Thou didst raise Lazarus from the dead, before Thy Passion, thou didst confirm the universal resurrection. Wherefore, we, like babes, carry the insignia of triumph and victory, and cry to Thee, O vanquisher of death, Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he that cometh in the Name of the Lord (You should hear this one Sunday morning and can listen here)

TOPIC: Bridegroom Matins – Parable of the Ten Virgins
READING: Matthew 25:1-13 (Parable of the Ten Virgins) and Matthew 25:14-30 (Parable of the Talents)
CRAFT: Coloring page of Christ the Bridegroom; Glue 5 yellow birthday candles onto oil vessels in the Coloring Page of Parable of the Ten Virgins
MEMORY VERSE: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.”
HYMNS: Troparion “Behold, the Bridegroom cometh in the middle of the night, and blessed is that servant whom He shall find watching; and again unworthy is he whom He shall find heedless. Beware, therefore, O my soul, lest thou be overcome with sleep, lest thou be given up to death, and be shut out from the Kingdom. But rouse thyself and cry: Holy, Holy, Holy art Thou, O God, through the Mother of God, have mercy on us.”
Listen to Father Apostolos Hill

TOPIC: Forgiveness of the Sinful Woman Anoints Jesus’ Feet
READING: Luke 7:36-49
CRAFT: Printed coloring page of Woman Anointing Jesus
Printed “Perfume for Jesus” jar - Either color it or glue colored paper to the jar
MEMORY VERSE: "Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much.”
HYMN: Hymn of Kassiani

O Lord God, the woman who had fallen into many sins, having perceived Thy divinity received the rank of ointment- bearer, offering Thee spices before Thy burial wailing and crying: "Woe is me, for the love of adultery and sin hath given me a dark and lightless night; accept the fountains of my tears O Thou Who drawest the waters of the sea by the clouds incline Thou to the sigh of my heart O Thou Who didst bend the heavens by Thine inapprehensible condescension; I will kiss Thy pure feet and I will wipe them with my tresses. I will kiss Thy feet Whose tread when it fell on the ears of Eve in Paradise dismayed her so that she did hide herself because of fear. Who then shall examine the multitude of my sin and the depth of Thy judgment? Wherefore, O my Saviour and the Deliverer of my soul turn not away from Thy handmaiden O Thou of boundless mercy."

TOPIC: Holy Unction
READING: James 5:14-16
CRAFT: Trace child’s hand (optional also cut out face shape); use paint brush dipped in oil, paint, or water to paint crosses on the hands where we would be anointed for Holy Unction.
MEMORY VERSE: Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
HYMN: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for each other.”

TOPIC: Mystical Supper
READING: Matthew 26:26-28 (Mystical Supper) and John 13:2-13 (Washing of Feet) and Matthew 26:36-46 (Garden of Gethsemane) and Matthew 26:47-56 (Judas’ Betrayal)
CRAFT: Print and cut out a chalice. Little ones might like to break saltine crackers into pieces and glue in chalice. You could also glue coins onto brown construction paper bag.
MEMORY VERSE: "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me, yet not my will, but yours be done." Luke 22:42
HYMN: Troparion of the Mystical Supper
Receive me today, O Son of God,
as a partaker of Your Mystical Supper:
for I will not betray Your Mysteries to Your enemies
or give You a kiss as did Judas,
but as the thief I confess You:
Remember me, O Lord, in Your Kingdom

TOPIC: The Cross, Christ’s Death and Burial
READING: Matthew 27:32-44 (Crucifixion) and Matthew 27:45-56 (His Death) and Matthew 27:57-61 (His Burial)
CRAFT: print a color a cross; vinegar on a cotton swab (smell/taste it); flowers for the tomb
MEMORY VERSE: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." Luke 23:34
HYMN: 15th Antiphon, Plagal of the Second Tone “Today is suspended on a tree He who suspended the land upon the water.” Listen

TOPIC: Victory over Hades
READING: Mark 15:42-47 and Luke 23:50-56
CRAFT: Arrange & glue bay leaves and rose petals on a page. (like what the priest throws in the air during the Liturgy Saturday morning). See ideas below if you want to assemble your Pascha Basket today.
MEMORY VERSE: "(Christ) gave Himself as a ransom to death in which we were held captive, sold under sin. Descending into Hades through the Cross ... He loosed the bonds of death" (Liturgy of St. Basil).
HYMN: "Arise, O God, and judge Thou the earth: for Thou shall take all heathen to Thine inheritance". Listen

Other optional hymn for older children, 9th Ode from Canon (a conversation between our Lord Jesus and His Holy Mother, getting close to Pascha with all that talk of rising!):

"Weep not for me, O Mother, beholding in the sepulcher the Son whom thou hast conceived without seed in thy womb. For I shall rise and shall be glorified, and as God I shall exalt in everlasting glory those who magnify thee with faith and love."

"O Son without beginning, in ways surpassing nature was I blessed at Thy strange birth, for I was spared all travail. But now beholding Thee, my God, a lifeless corpse, I am pierced by the sword of bitter sorrow. But arise, that I may be magnified."

"By mine own will the earth covers me, O Mother, but the gatekeepers of hell tremble as they see me, clothed in the bloodstained garment of vengeance: for on the Cross as God have I struck down mine enemies, and I shall rise again and magnify thee."

"Let the creation rejoice exceedingly, let all those born on earth be glad: for hell, the enemy, has been despoiled. Ye women, come to meet me with sweet spices: for I am delivering Adam and Eve with all their offspring, and on the third day I shall rise again."

TOPIC: Resurrection of Christ!
READING: Luke 24:1-12
CRAFT: Dye red eggs; make Resurrection Cookies; assemble your Family Pascha Basket:

What goes into a Pascha basket? Nichola T. Kraus has written an informative article about what goes in their baskets, and what each thing symbolizes. This explanation from "Children of the Church" posted by St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Texas reminds us that, "...each of the foods in the Pascha basket have rich meaning, as does everything in Orthodoxy. Glory to God!" If you would like to print something with pictures to use in teaching your children, you might like this one that the kids might color.

Pysanki eggs  & also Ukrainian coloring possibilities

MEMORY VERSE: "He is not here; he has risen!" Luke 24:6
HYMN: Pascha Troparion - Listen to many different languages

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Lazarus Saturday

As the Church secretary, I type up our parish's weekly Sunday bulletin. When I started on next week and got to Lazarus Saturday, I started weeping.

Coronavirus Quarantine.

Our parish usually has a beautiful Divine Liturgy, followed by a huge Pancake Breakfast together. I just received an email from my dear friend who makes all the pancakes - with the Lenten Pancake recipe for me to email to the other families in our parish. She wanted to make sure everyone could enjoy pancakes even if we couldn't all be together to eat them!

Elizabeth's Lenten Pancakes

1 cup flour
3 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
3 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp flax meal
3 Tbsp water
3 Tbsp oil
1 cup almond milk

Makes 8-10 pancakes

photo from

Our family usually makes Lazarakia in the afternoon. Very traditional recipes for these Lazarus-shaped buns abound.
But my family enjoys this easier version that I shared this past January at the St. Emmelia South Conference.

Even if you don't have little children at home, I encourage you to give these a try. The adults in my workshop had quite a good time making them. Not one completed Lazarakia looked like another, and they were all great!

EASY LAZARAKIA - adapted from Fabulessly Frugal

refrigerated crescent roll dough for the mummy wrap
chocolate chips for the eyes
peanut butter, jam, or hazelnut spread
bananas, cut in half the length of the banana

Halloween banana mummies
photo from Fabulessly Frugal
Step 1 - pinch 2 triangles into 1 larger rectangle.
Step 2 - cut the sides like shown above
Step 3 - spread a little peanut butter and top with a slice of banada
Step 4 - wrap to look like a mummy
Step 5 - add chocolate chip eyes & bake according to package directions

Now, if only I had the sheet music to practice Rejoice O Bethany! At least we can listen to it.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

St. Emmelia South - Festal Food Traditions Workshop


Image result for maslenitsa
Cheesefare week - Maslenitsa

Tradition of the Vasilopitaorthodoxmom Sylvia's Recipe (The yia yia at our parish makes a huge pan, placing at least 20 coins in it so lots and lots of folks can get a coin.) This include includes a recipe, but if that one doesn't suit you, there are plenty of variations! When you serve it, Sylvia explains how to cut the pieces. We can eat those special pieces, they are just "in honor of".

Saint Fanourios

What to include in a Pascha Basket


Lenten Lunch Ideas (includes hummus & other spreads)
Millions of Meal Ideas

Fasting Menus

Image result for lenten icon orthodox

Image result for feast of ss peter and paul orthodox icon

Dormition Archives - Stephen Morris, author
Dormition Fast 

Nativity Fast and Another One

Koliva (Children's Workshop)

Koliva (Memorial Wheat)    

Monday, November 11, 2019

Advent Fast Menu

Need a little inspiration for the kitchen?

Here's a 2019 Advent Fast Calendar. Many of the items are linked to recipes. Let me know if you need any help with the other dishes.

If you've never made homemade pizza, Auntie Leila will make you feel like you can't screw up. 
I take her method (don't measure!) and add a can of beer to replace some of the water. It does take a while to rise, but the actual hands on time is not that long. Something about hot homemade crust makes the fasting toppings more special (bearable....).

Please let me know if you have a great meal idea!


My daughter's godparents introduced us to this easy, kid-friendly, fasting staple. Everyone likes this dish because the ingredients are served on the table like a salad bar: make it how you like it!

What makes this awesome? Caramelized onions!


Tostada shells  
refried beans (canned or homemade)
caramelized onions (like for m'jeddrah - dark and yummy!)
diced tomatoes

Optional Sides:
Cilantro Mexican Coleslaw (substitute vegan ingredients - it works!)
Cilantro Soy Cream (like spicy flavored sour cream)

Monday, September 23, 2019

Catechism - Age of Triumph

Our Catechism for the Age of the Patriarchs (Antiquity) worked so well last year in helping us to remember the important stuff, that we are doing it again! If you want to learn more about using this teaching method, see samples, and understand how to write your own, I highly recommend this book by Joshua Gibbs. Certainly, much of the catechism below came straight from him! We simply read it every school day aloud together, the four of us: 16 yo, 12 yo, 7 yo, and me.

Catechism for the Age of Triumph (Middle Ages)

 Gentlemen, what are you?       
I am a king, for I rule myself.
Ladies, what are you?
            I am a queen, for I rule myself.
What does it mean to rule yourself?
I am free to do good. I am not the slave of my desires. St. Basil interprets the power to rule given to man in terms of taming the beasts, birds etc as well as in terms of the rule over passions and thoughts. He describes anger, greed, hypocrisy, lust, and other passions, as beasts and asks the question: “Have you truly become ruler of beasts if you rule those outside but leave those within ungoverned? You become like God through kindness, through endurance of evil, through communion, through love for another and love for the brethren, being a hater of evil, dominating the passions of sin - that to you may belong the rule.”
Who has made you kings and queens?
“Those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by Him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, the we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (From St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans, chapter 8)
What keeps you from being kings and queens?
The vices: pride, avarice, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, sloth, being a slave to the passions.
What does it mean to be human?
                The virtues include Faith, Hope, Love, Obedience, Wisdom, Justice, Courage, and Temperance, which is Modesty, Self-control, Chastity, Humility
 Why should we seek virtue?
St. James asks, “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe – and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ And he was called the friend of God.
Dante teaches that righteousness is wanting what is good, not merely knowing what goodness is; if a knowledge of goodness is not married to a desire for righteousness, mere knowledge profits a man nothing.
St Cyril of Alexandria says, “The Lord of all therefore requires us to be thoroughly constant in our exertions after virtue, and to fix our desires upon the better and holy life, setting ourselves free from the distractions of the world… that we may serve Him continually, and with undivided affections.
How can I know if I am gaining virtues?
                Fr. Seraphim Rose writes in Christ the Eternal Tao,

The man of the highest virtue
Is like water which dwells in lowly places
In his dwelling he is like the earth, below everyone.
His heart is immeasurable.

What did Boethius teach about the good life?
No man is rich who shakes and groans, convinced that he need more (26). No man is so completely happy that something somewhere does not clash with his condition (30). Remember, too, that all the most happy men are over-sensitive. They have never experienced adversity and so unless everything obeys their slightest whim, they are prostrated by every minor upset. So nothing is miserable except when you think it so, and vice versa, all luck is good luck to the man who bears it with equanimity (31). The more varied your possession, the more help you need to protect them, and the old saying is proved correct, he who hath much wants much (35). Decide to lead a life of pleasure, and there will be no one who will not reject you with scorn as the slave of that most worthless and brittle master, the human body (60).

What does Dante’ teach about wasting our lives away in petty amusements?

Put off this sloth, for shame!
Sitting on feather-pillows, lying reclined
Beneath the blanket is no way to fame-
Fame = character

Fame, without which man’s life wastes out of mind,
Leaving on earth no more memorial
Than foam in water or smoke upon the wind.

How does Beowulf approach his rule?
“I feel no shame, with shield and sword
And armor, against this monster: when he comes to me
I mean to stand, not run from his shooting 
Flames, stand till fate decides
Which of us wins. My heart is firm,
My hands calm: I need no hot
Words. Wait for me close by, my friends.”

Then Beowulf rose, still brave, still strong,
And with his shield at his side, and a mail shirt on his breast, 
Strode calmly, confidently, toward the tower, under
The rocky cliffs: no coward could have walked there!

How can we fight so as to find victory?
                “For we do not wrestle against principalities, against flesh and blood, but against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds. Casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” (Ephesians 6 and 2 Corithians 10) Our weapons also include obedience, the Jesus Prayer, prostrations, and confession.

What is the Medieval timeline:
The Apostolic Era: 33 AD through 90 AD
The Age of early Martyrs: 90 AD through 313 AD
313 AD: Constantine issues the Edict of Milan and legalizes Christianity
325 AD: The Council of Nicaea confirms the dogma of the Trinity and creates the first half of the Nicene Creed.
330 AD:  Constantine founds the new capital of the Roman Empire on the existing site of the ancient Greek city Byzantium: Byzantium was renamed Constantinople and it would become the capital of the Byzantine Empire.

395 AD: The Roman Empire divides in half, with the Eastern Roman Empire based in Constantinople and the Western Roman Empire based in Rome/Ravenna.
381 AD: The 2nd Ecumenical Council in Constantinople condemns Arianism and defends the two natures of Christ: fully Divine and fully Human. It also completes the 2nd half of the Nicene Creed.
431 AD: The 3rd Ecumenical Council in Ephesus rejects Nestorianism and confirms that we should call the Virgin Mary Theotokos - not Christotokos - because she was the bearer of God (not merely a man).
451 AD: The 4th Ecumenical Council in Chalcedon confirms the visible organization of the Church into five sees: Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem - all with Apostolic foundation.
400 - 500 AD: St. Patrick is a missionary in Ireland; while in Italy, Ss. Benedict and Columba found many monasteries and write about how to be rulers of a monastery and how to have a monastic rule. Augustine of Canterbury goes to Kent to convert England. King Clovis of the Franks converts to Christianity.  During the Late Antique period, the pagan, barbarian hordes on the outskirts of the Roman Empire slowly move into Roman space. Though the Western Roman Empire falls, the Eastern Roman Empire continues and is called The Byzantine Empire.
553 AD: The 5th Ecumenical Council (2nd in Constantinople) condemns monophysitism, which falsely claimed Jesus had only one nature.
590 – 1440 AD: The Medieval Era
637 AD: Jerusalem is conquered by Islamic forces.
680-681 AD: The 6th Ecumenical Council (3rd in Constantinople) defeats Monothelitism, which conceded that Christ had two natures, but erroneously taught that he had only one will. This council upheld the teaching of St. Maximus the Confessor, who taught that Christ is to be glorified in his two natures, wills, and energies.
693 AD: The Muslims attack Constantinople and over the next 300 years, the Muslims attack all over the Empire – Africa, Greece, Syria - gaining ground in many lands.
787 AD: The 7th Ecumenical Council (2nd in Nicaea) triumphs over iconoclasm, defends the Incarnation of Christ and restores the proper place of icons in worship.
800 AD: Charlemagne crowned Holy Roman Emperor without the blessing of the Christian Emperor in Byzantium, & for the first time in 300 years there is an Emperor in the East and in the West.
800s AD: In England, Alfred the Great defended England against the Viking invasions, made an agreement with them known as Danelaw, and oversaw the conversion to Christianity of the Viking leader Guthrum. He translated many Church Fathers & much literature - including Boethius - into English.

1054 AD: Schism caused by the Roman Pope against the Eastern Patriarchates of the Church.
1095 AD: The Byzantine Emperor appeals to Urban II at the Council of Piacenza for help against the Turks. The First Crusade is proclaimed at Council of Clermont. The Crusaders are successful, but eventually withdraw from cooperation with the Byzantines.
1204 AD:  The Fourth Crusade turns against the Eastern Church and plunders Constantinople.
1440 AD: Joannes Gutenburg invents the printing press; the Modern Era begins.
1453 AD: Fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans. End of the Byzantine Empire. The French defeat the English in the 100 Years War.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Middle Ages Book Club

reprinted from my article in our Church newsletter...

I have many, many times seen... that
someone is led from their experiences with
good (and it’s got to be good) imaginative
fiction to an encounter with Christ.
(Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick)

Image result for old books free download image

Some people read old books because they
have grown to cherish them. Others read the
classics because they know they should love
them, but don’t, and want to try. St. John
Chrysostom reminds us that the
“primary goal in the education of children is to
teach, and to give examples, of a virtuous life.”
Many adults are returning to the classics
because they realize that their own childhood
education lacked this primary ingredient of
virtue, and they want to explore more
examples of a virtuous life.

There happen to be a handful of members of
our St. Nicholas family who love literature and
plan to gather together to help each other
learn from great works. We will meet about
every six weeks for a discussion, with optional
weekly meetings to listen to expert lectures or
read aloud from difficult passages. Classical
works of literature, also known as “Great
Books,” are said to be a part of a “Great
Conversation.” The authors talk to each other
over the centuries, they struggle with the big
questions of their time and place, the big
questions of humanity, and they invite us to
understand them and contribute to the
conversation by talking back to them and to
each other.

Do these books replace reading the Lives of
the Saints, the Scriptures, or the Fathers? Of
course not, but God often uses them to
cultivate something in the soil of our soul that
helps us to better understand the more
spiritual writers. Fr. Seraphim Rose often had
his novice monks listen to a symphony or read
Dickens, because he knew those things would
enrich the young men and help them better
receive more direct spiritual teaching. He had
sense enough – as well as personal
experience as a student at UCBerkley - to
realize what a different way of seeing the world
our modern secular culture has engrained in
us through our music, our art, our TV, our
stories. When I taught at Ruston High, I had
many students tell me, “The only thing that I
know I can believe in is what I can see, taste,
touch, smell, or hear. Otherwise, it doesn’t
exist!” They were actually just repeating a
mantra common to our age – material things
are what matter.

The folks in the Middle Ages thought much
differently. They believed that there existed a
spiritual realm, every bit as real and effectual
in their daily lives as the material realm. When
we read their works we are refreshed with a
basic, normal way of seeing the world – a way
that we could easily forget, or at least have
smudged, by our own age that has
purposefully tried to remove all talk of
religious, spiritual truths from the public
square. Even claiming that one Truth exists
could earn disdain. How can we learn virtue
when we swim in a fishbowl of a society that
often calls vice a virtue and looks down on true
virtue? We walk around in it, read it, breath it,
hear it every day.

So we read the old books to remind us of old
truths. St. Basil explains this connection with
reading “profane” writings and understanding

"Into the life eternal the Holy Scriptures lead us,
which teach us through divine words. But so
long as our immaturity forbids our
understanding their deep thought, we exercise
our spiritual perceptions upon profane writings,
which are not altogether different, and in which
we perceive the truth as it were in shadows
and in mirrors. Thus we imitate those who
perform the exercises of military practice, for
they acquire skill in gymnastics and in dancing,
and then in battle reap the reward of their
training. We must needs believe that the
greatest of all battles lies before us, in
preparation for which we must do and suffer all
things to gain power. Consequently we must
be conversant with poets, with historians,
with orators, indeed with all men who may
further our soul’s salvation. Just as dyers
prepare the cloth before they apply the dye, be
it purple or any other color, so indeed must we
also, if we would preserve indelible the idea of
the true virtue, become first initiated in the
pagan lore, then at length give special heed to
the sacred and divine teachings, even as we
first accustom ourselves to the sun’s reflection
in the water, and then become able to turn our
eyes upon the very sun itself. (St. Basil the
Great, Address to Young Men on the Right
Use of Greek Literature, IV, emphasis added)
That is what our little book club is about –
becoming conversant, joining the Great
Conversation, with poets, historians, and all
men who may further our soul’s salvation."

Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick confirms the
value of this endeavor, “All truth is God’s truth,
wherever it is found...Why do we need to limit
our search for God only to ‘official’ Church
sources? He is everywhere. That does not
mean that we accept everything we read
uncritically, but like the bee (as per St. Basil)
we take whatever is good from each flower.”

What flowers will we be exploring this year?

The Consolation of Philosophy


Sir Gawain & the Green Knight

The Inferno


The Tempest

It just so happens that many of these books
explore the question of how to be a good ruler,
and particularly, how to rule oneself. Of
course, that is just one of many themes and
questions we will discuss. Anyone interested in
reading these works (high school & above) is
welcome to join us, either for the whole year,
or just for one book. Be on the lookout for the

final schedule.