Sunday, March 13, 2011

Charity case (also: Calvin Coolidge)

"No one could describe the Word of the Father;
but when He took flesh from you, O Theotokos, He accepted to be described,
and restored the fallen image to its former beauty.
We confess and proclaim our salvation in word and images."
-Kontakion of the Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy

Today the Orthodox Church celebrates the victory of the iconodules over the iconoclasts at the Seventh Ecumenical Council in 787 AD!

One of the very fun things about this feast is the procession of icons. Different churches and parishes do it at different times-- at St Andrew's in Dix Hills, NY, today, it was done after the Divine Liturgy-- but basically members of the clergy and the parish hold icons and process about-- many simply walk the perimeter of the church building itself, though we walked outside the church today, which was made all the more beautiful by the bright morning and mild weather.

Great Vespers before the Sunday of Orthodoxy at St Alexis of Wilkes-Barre, 2007.
(Using this photo because Father Michael of Holy Transfiguration is in it [on the left]!)
Since I'm rarely in New York, this is only the second time I've been to St Andrew's. Still, I went to high school with the priest's children, and his son recognized me and asked if I wanted to hold an icon in the procession! I said no, of course, in what I'd like to think is humility but is really mostly just awkwardness.

After the procession and the veneration of the Cross, I walked out to the parking lot where my father was waiting in the car to drive us back home (he's been to a Divine Liturgy before, but isn't a religious man and doesn't really enjoy the standing). Just as we were pulling out of the parking lot a woman runs up to the car and knocks on the window.

"Hi! Hey. Father John told me to come talk to you. Have you been here before?"

She eventually gets me out of the car and walks me back into the church. I leave a bit heavier than when I entered:

I am ridiculously blessed. A priest literally sent a woman running after me to make sure he and his parish could do whatever they could to assist my conversion and make me feel welcome. He's since emailed me as well! I haven't read through all of the literature yet, but thus far I'm really enjoying this interview with Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh (with whom I share a surname, bizarrely enough) on prayer:
"If we try to ignore life, and pray imagining that we are attempting to be contemplatives, it cannot work. Our concerns will carry us away from prayer. But if we realize that the whole of life is a situation in which God has placed us to bring our faith where there is no faith, to bring hope where there is no hope, to bring light--even if it is a very dim light, a spark--where there is only darkness or twilight, to be salt to prevent corruption, to bring a flicker of love where there is lovelessness, then there is no evil or distracting situation into which we cannot enter in a prayerful way."
The entire interview, conducted by AGAIN in 1989 (the year of my birth!), is well worth reading in full-- I had difficulty choosing what to excerpt! Available here for less than the price of a cup of coffee.

On a vaguely related note, I was watching C-SPAN3 this morning, as I am wont to do, and saw David Pietrusza (author of Silent Cal's Almanack: The Homespun Wit and Wisdom of Vermont's Calvin Coolidge) discussing that very President at a symposium hosted by the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation. Unfortunately the whole video isn't available on the C-SPAN website-- hopefully it will be soon, I enjoyed it quite a bit-- but a bit that particularly stuck out to me involves one of Coolidge's intellectual startsi, as it were: Charles Garman, his philosophy professor at Amherst College. From Coolidge's own autobiography:
"It always seemed to me that all our other studies were in the nature of preparation for the course in philosophy. The head of the department was Charles E. Garman, who was one of the most remarkable men with whom I ever came in contact...Beginning in the spring of the junior year, his course extended through four terms. The first part was devoted to psychology, in order to find out the capacity and the limits of the human mind…We were not only learning about the human mind but learning how to use it, learning how to think...The human mind has the power to weigh evidence, to distinguish between right and wrong and to know the truth. I should call this the central theme of his philosophy…We looked upon Garman as a man who walked with God. His course was a demonstration of the existence of a personal God, of our power to know Him…The conclusions which followed from this position were logical and inescapable. It sets man off in a separate kingdom from all other creatures in the universe, and makes him a true son of God and a partaker of the Divine nature...He believed in the Bible and constantly quoted it to illustrate his position…To Garman was given a power which took his class up into a high mountain of spiritual life and left them alone with God…What he revealed to us of the nature of God and man will stand. Against it ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail.’"
Garman was, of course, an Orthodox Christian.


  1. I'm so glad to hear about this (particularly that the priest want to be available to you via email!) Might you be in NY this summer? Could you pursue chrismation there?

    If not, this should give you a little more confidence to approach the New Haven parish.

  2. When the woman had me sign the guest book, she asked me for my address so they could mail me their bulletin from time to time-- I'd already told her I don't live in NY (true) but didn't feel like explaining that I'm homeless, so I gave my old PO Box instead of a real address and felt really guilty. But at least they have my email!

    Also, you are a very strange bird; may He bless you for it.