Oh Eve, my mother, my daughter,
life-giving Eve,
Do not be ashamed, do not grieve. 
The former things have passed away,
Our God has brought us to a New Day. 
See, I am with Child,
Through whom all will be reconciled.
O Eve! My Sister, my friend,
We will rejoice together 
Forever
Life without end. 
(Sr. Columba Guar, Sisters of Mississippi Abbey)
Mari’s full name, Marieve, is a French-Canadian combination of Mary and Eve. At her baptism, Fr. Cypreon Hutcheon commented on the combination being quite profound- the mother of all the living, who walked away from God through succumbing to temptation, and the Theotokos, the Mother of God, who accepted God’s plan as her own, and was therefore transformed into the prototype of life. One of the best gifts our family has ever received was an icon, which was given to Mari while we lived in Tucson. It is an icon of Eve, with a serpent around her foot, touching the pregnant stomach of the Theotokos. It was written for us by a parishioner, and still adorns Mari’s desk; as it turns out, the original prototype was painted by a nun at a Trappistine abbey near Dubuque.
Eve and Mary
The icon implies that there is a chance to start over, and a chance to be renewed. The Advent Paraklesis, designed to be a service of healing ad preparation for the Nativity feast, features the following ode:
Let the creation now cast off all things old,
beholding Thee the Creator made a child.
For through thy birth thou dost shape all things afresh,
making them new once more
and leading them back again to their first beauty.
(Advent Paraklesis, Ode 4)
Christ’s birth was a new life being brought into the world. And with pregnancy, as well as birth, there is struggle. Pain. Limitations. Frustrations. But the Nativity reminds us that in that struggle, there is joy, and there is a new opportunity to become something better than we were before, and impossible without God’s guidance.
In reflecting on the feast day of St. Nicholas, the example of his life shows someone who was working to be better through God’s guidance. Fr. Thomas Hopko, in his book The Winter Pascha, has this to say about St. Nicholas, the Wonderworker of Myra:
The Messiah has come so that human can live lives which are, strictly speaking, humanly impossible. He has come so that people can really be good. One of the greatest and most beloved examples among believers that this is true is the holy bishop of Myra about whom almost nothing else is known, or needs to be known, except that he was good. For this reason alone, he remains, even in his secularized form, the very spirit of Christmas. 
(Fr. Thomas Hopko, “The Feast of St. Nicholas,” from The Winter Pascha)
There are, of course, lots of stories about St. Nicholas, including the famous heretic-punching incident. But as Fr. Hopko writes, the focus on such stories eclipses the reality that St. Nicholas was simply a good man, who gave much, prayed more, and never stopped being gracious or compassionate. Eve, in her mistakes, did not show grace or compassion, but instead found a way to focus on herself. Mary accepted God’s grace and love as something to embrace, and was made anew.
We often think about new things during Christmas. New gifts. New toys. New Christmas outfits. But what about a new us? What about a newly transformed self that is not focused on the material, but is instead simply good? Usually, the transformation comes in the form of post-New Year gym discounts, frequently unkept resolutions, and personal vows to not eat or drink so much. But this is a transformation that brings us back to our core- the core we abandoned long ago- and builds bridges between old and new. That is why we attend Paraklesis services, or give food boxes to at-risk families, or even raise money to help other people. These are things that are good. And as the Vespers feast suggests, these are things that build wonder for Orthodox people, over a millennium later.
O holy father,
The fruit of your good deeds has enlightened and
     delighted the hearts of the faithful.
Who cannot wonder at your measureless patience
     and humility?
At your graciousness to the poor?
At your compassion for the afflicted?
O Bishop Nicholas,
You have divinely taught all things well,
And now wearing your unfading crown, you intercede
     for our souls.
(Vespers of the feast of St. Nicholas)
A blessed feast day to all the Nic(k)s, Nicos/Nikos, Nikolais and Nicholases. By the intercessions of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker of Myra, and of all thy saints, have mercy on and save us.
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Leading Back to Beauty: A St. Nicholas Day Reflection

3 Moments with St. Catherine: Autumn Feasts, an Icon Request, and an Early Birth

Saint Catherine was born in Alexandria, the daughter of Cinstus or Cestus. A virgin with great beauty and wisdom, she was famous for her wealth, noble origin, and education. By her remarkable knowledge, she conquered the passionate and untamed soul of Emperor Maximin. By the strength of her discourses, she reduced to silence rhetors who wished to dispute with her. She obtained the crown of martyrdom about the year 305.

Let all of us who love to honor the martyrs
form a great choir in praise of the most wise Catherine,
for she preached Christ and trampled the serpent,
despising the knowledge of the orators!
     –Kontakion to St. Catherine of Alexandria
Scene 1: Kirkwood Hall, Indiana University, 2005.
In my Estonian language class, we are learning holidays, and talked about two major autumn holidays: Mardipäev (St. Martin’s Day) and Kadripäev (St. Catherine’s Day).
Kadripaev

E nags Eesti (E as in Estonia), my college textbook for Estonian class

The two holidays, according to an article on autumn holidays in Estonia, go as follows:
On Martinmas children were led by a mardi-father, dressed in dark clothing and made plenty of noise by playing instruments or banging pots. Their arrival to houses was meant to bring harvest luck. The procession was followed by a village party where goose was served for good luck. On St. Catherine’s Day children were led by a kadri-mother and wore light coloured women’s clothing. Kama, porridge, beans and peas were eaten along with homemade beer on this day. Kadri, a common female name in Esotnia, is also the guardian spirit of cattle, thus the holiday was meant to bring luck to cows and sheep through the winter.
Both are still widely celebrated in Central and Eastern Europe, but Kadripäev has a lot of staying power in Estonia, as well as the Francophone world, where St. Catherine is frequently summoned for those seeking a spouse.
I am drawn to the name Kadri for a child, and continue to think of it for several years. My grandmother’s middle name was Catherine, but this particular adaptation of it was always, to me, an interesting and neat name. (Amusingly enough, someone I know in Estonia with the actual name Kadri asks me “Why? Of all names, Kadri? How would you say it in the U.S.?)
Ultimately, we give our daughters different names. But the name isn’t gone forever.
Scene 2: Our home (Brendan House), Cedar Rapids, 2017.
My daughter Mari has yet to be properly treated for narcolepsy and is deeply in the middle of her struggle.
But she finds joy in things that blow our mind. One of our favorite things to get in the mail is the Ancient Faith publishing catalog. For everyone in the house, this is like getting the Sears Wish Book; it gets well-loved and filled with highlighter circles. It’s joyful to see the kids so eager to ask for books (and occasionally other things) from the catalog.
In between waves of sleepiness and frustration, Mari asked Jen and I, “Daddy, can I please have an icon of St. Catherine?” She had noticed an icon for sale in the catalog, and circled it, along with Egle-Ekaterine Potamitis’ book about St. Catherine.
We are surprised, since she had never mentioned St. Catherine before that point, but we are intrigued by her sudden interest in St. Catherine, and make sure that she was able to have the icon and book for Christmas.
It finds a home on her bedroom desk, tucked between a mini-American Girl doll/icon shelf, and a unicorn. (Because my daughter is 7.)
St. Catherine Mari desk

Mari’s favorite icon of St. Catherine

Scene 3: Thanksgiving Weekend, Cedar Rapids/Iowa City, 2018.
We spend the Thanksgiving holiday with our friends Jason and Stacy, who have been expecting a baby boy this winter, and who asked us to be their son’s godparents. We make jokes about the baby being born early, like on New Year’s Day, rather than his original date of January 8. We also joke about Stacy being further along than the doctors say.
Well, we are sort of right.
While getting ready to go visit some local stores on Small Business Saturday, we get a text message from Jason, saying that Stacy’s water broke, and that she would likely be having a baby in the next few days. After finding impromptu childcare, we get down to the children’s hospital to check in on everyone and being on standby while their family arrives. Eventually, we head back home after a couple of hours of hospital sitting and preemie clothes shopping. Literally, an hour after we come home, baby Theo is born, 6 weeks early, over 5 pounds and 19 inches long. He’s taken to the NICU, and had to use a CPAP to breathe fully.
Theo NICU 2

Baby Theo, born on the feast weekend of St. Catherine

On Sunday morning, doing some reading before church, Mari had her eyes glued to the book of St. Catherine, which she reads further on the way to church. She tells us all the facts about her as we approached the parking lot. “Daddy, did you know St. Catherine was so beautiful, and had suitors from Rome?” Etc. I keep wondering to myself, I wonder why she loves St. Catherine so much. After all, her patron saint is St. Maria of Paris, whose story she also loves. We go to services, come home, and don’t think much more about it.
This afternoon, I sit and talk to a friend, who’s grown up Jewish, about St. Catherine and the traditions around her feast day. She’s a saint for single women in the Catholic part of the world, and also for textile artisans.
As I’m reading, I notice something on the OCA page about St. Catherine. The second to last line goes as follows:
“Saint Catherine is called upon for relief and assistance during a difficult childbirth.”
Scene 4: Writing Spot, Cedar Rapids, 2018.
It’s hard to not pay attention in moments like this. Last night, we prayed prayers at the hospital for Theo, such as the prayer for a women in childbirth, and the Akathist of the Mother of God, Nurturer of Children. But we didn’t think to pray to St. Catherine.
But, in that moment, it seems like St. Catherine knew that our friends needed their help. And suddenly, a class from 13 years ago links with a youthful fascination with a saint, and then links to the birth of our first godchild.
In this moment, I wonder, how do these things connect? And then this text emerges in my searching:
It is believed that Saint Catherine was martyred in her late teens or early twenties. As a young person, she dedicated her life to learning about Christ and using that knowledge to bring her, and others, closer to Him. How many of us can truly say that we understand our pure Faith, and that, if necessary, we could share the Light of Christ and explain the foundations of our Faith with others? They say knowledge is power—but so often we are swimming against the tide in a time where having faith without knowledge is the norm. Saints of the Church are uniquely special—they were real people, with real struggles and joys, who willingly chose to direct their lives toward Christ. Saint Catherine is no exception. Life circumstances aside, we all have things we can define in our lives as blessings. Saint Catherine was indeed blessed—as the daughter of an Alexandrian governor she was wealthy, beautiful, and highly intelligent. However, as it goes with blessings, when they are given, we are entrusted to not abuse or neglect them. Saint Catherine did neither.
The phrase “Life circumstances aside, all have things that we can define in our lives as blessings” seems more fitting than anything. As a young man impulsively taking Estonian classes at age 20, St. Catherine started to make her presence known. In the midst of my daughter’s struggle with narcolepsy, St. Catherine made more of her presence known. And in the midst of the struggle of those around us, St. Catherine made even more of her presence known.
The saints are praying for us, whether or not we ask them to.
But it never seems to hurt to ask them to do so.

 

A View of a Wilderness: A Review of Angela Doll Carlson’s The Wilderness Journal

The Philokalia– a collection of Orthodox spiritual texts written between the fourth and fifteenth centuries- is known for its influence, its wisdom, and its difficulty. It is the type of text that people advise to only read under the guidance of clergy, and not to read until one is prepared to think big.
WildernessJournal
In Angela Doll Carlson‘s latest book, The Wilderness Journal: 365 Days with the Philokalia, she takes on the readings of the Philokalia, not only under a guide, but with the guidance of several others, each of whom writes an introduction to one of six featured spiritual fathers. Well-known writers and bloggers in the Orthodox world, such as Molly Maddex Sabourin and Summer Kinard, play a role in introducing the fathers to the reader.
Owning the joint context of living in the church year and season, combined with being what she refers to as being “a middle-aged American women living in the twenty-first century,” Carlson’s goal is to not only inspire others to read the Philokalia, but also show others her personal experience of reading it. According to Carlson, “This is a view of my own wilderness, words from words, in dialogue with the text itself.”
Each page of The Wilderness Journal has a theme, an excerpt from the Philokalia, and reflecting writing on the subject that is- true to the title of the book- like Carlson’s personal journal, shared with the world. In response to a quote from St. Diadochos of Photiki, Carlson gives the following reflection:
How long have I been thinking that to seek humility means to tear myself down? Make myself less than whoever stands before me? It’s not about some deficiency in me; it’s about knowing where I began, in the soil, from the earth. It’s about remembering my mortality even as I feel assurance in the eternity that lies ahead. We anchor to this earth in body, we anchor to God in spirit, and that’s a tension that either holds us upright or tears us apart.
 
Humility, perhaps, is what is needed to keep us together in that tension.
The Wilderness Journal is the type of book that, although it can be read as one narrative, should be taken a small bit at a time- not unlike the Philokalia itself. Carlson invites the reader to follow suit and create their own reflections on the quote, thus not only demonstrating the importance of the process of writing, but also inviting the reader to dive in and create their very own wilderness journal.
One does not have to be in the desert; as Carlson states in the introduction, “The wilderness is here, whether the landscape resembles desert, mountains, or rain forest, small town, subdivision, or sprawling city.”

Akathists, Gratitude Lists, and a Plywood Floor: A Decade of Orthodox Life

I was born a weak, defenseless child, but Thine angel spread his wings over my cradle to defend me. From birth until now Thy love has illumined my path, and has wondrously guided me towards the light of eternity; from birth until now the generous gifts of Thy providence have been marvelously showered upon me. I give Thee thanks, with all who have come to know Thee, who call upon Thy name. 

Glory to Thee for calling me into being.
Glory to Thee, showing me the beauty of the universe.
Glory to Thee, spreading out before me heaven and earth.
Like the pages in a book of eternal wisdom
Glory to Thee for Thine eternity in this fleeting world.
Glory to Thee for Thy mercies, seen and unseen.
Glory to Thee through every sigh of my sorrow.
Glory to Thee for every step of my life’s journey.
For every moment of glory
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age.

(Ikos 1 of The Akathist Hymn: “Glory to God for All Things”)

This was part of tonight’s Akathist service at our parish. This specific akathist was written in a Soviet labor camp, and was discovered in 1940 in the possession of the reposed servant Protopresbyter Gregory Petrov. It was the first time that I had been able to attend an Akathist service that used this text, and the above excerpt struck a chord because this week marks a decade since I first entered the Orthodox church as an inquirer. On November 18, 2008, I sat on an unfinished plywood floor listening to Fr. Alexander Atty (+2014) tell the members of a new Orthodox mission, and their invited friends, about the faith.

I had no idea what was about to happen.
As I’ve said before, he asked me if I was coming back. In front of everyone.
And now I am feeling very thankful for the strength to answer yes. Fr. Atty’s question forced me to make a decision: either continue to wade through a spiritual swamp of my own creation, or get serious about a faith and stick with it.

Everlasting King, Thy will for our salvation is full of power. Thy right arm controls the whole course of human life. We give Thee thanks for all Thy mercies, seen and unseen. For eternal life, for the heavenly Joys of the Kingdom which is to be. Grant mercy to us who sing Thy praise, both now and in the time to come. Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age.

(Kontakion 1 of The Akathist Hymn: “Glory to God for All Things”)

Things happened rapidly. Within a couple of weeks, I attended my first Divine Liturgies, read Met. Kallistos Ware’s The Orthodox Church, took a trip to Nashville to buy icons and a prayer book at Alektor Cafe, and discovered Ancient Faith Radio. Within a month, I met a recent WKU grad with similar interests to me, above to move to Bloomington to attend graduate school. Dan–now Fr. Daniel Greeson–became my godfather, and later one of my wedding sponsors.

Makeshift Altar

Nine months later, I was chrismated by Fr. Atty, taking the name Padraic. I am still learning why I chose St. Patrick as my saint. I’ve at least figured out that it has to do with finding love and hope in a place of deep struggle and trauma. And being loving to those who have wronged you, or led you astray.
In a decade of Orthodoxy, I have been given a lot of opportunities to meet people, visit new places, and experience things I’d never imagined being a part of. Whether in visiting other parishes, reading about unfamiliar saints, becoming a godfather, or being blessed with new service opportunities (like camp counseling, teaching Sunday school and altar serving), there has always been something new to explore and experience.
It didn’t take long to realize that the faith is not easy. It’s a challenge, and one that’s challenging every single day of life. I’ve had a lot of highs, and a lot of lows, as part of the Church. But unlike the past, I’ve learned to see the struggle as normal, and not simply something to eradicate. Gradually, even in the midst of struggle, it’s become easier to be thankful for the opportunity to see more than what is in front of us.
To be thankful for what is, rather than what is not.
Tonight, at the Akathist, we gave thanks for the night, and the opportunity to think about that which we are grateful for. Michael Hyatt, in his recent podcast called “The Gratitude Advantage,” talks about the process of thinking of three things at the end of each day that one is grateful for. It plays a large role in improving well-being, and allows us to center on that which we have, rather than what we do not.
Akathists seem to be the ultimate gratitude list. 13 Ikos prayers and Kontakions- some of which are repeated, even!- are only a part of the picture of joy, gratitude and thankfulness.
Somewhere, one wishes they could put the line “Glory to Thee, for the incredible gift of an Akathist.”

When the sun is setting, when quietness falls like the peace of eternal sleep, and the silence of the spent day reigns, then in the splendour of its declining rays, filtering through the clouds, I see Thy dwelling-place: fiery and purple, gold and blue, they speak prophet-like of the ineffable beauty of Thy presence, and call to us in their majesty. We turn to the Father.

Glory to Thee at the hushed hour of nightfall.
Glory to Thee, covering the earth with peace.
Glory to Thee for the last ray of the sun as it sets.
Glory to Thee for sleep’s repose that restores us.
Glory to Thee for Thy goodness even in the time of darkness.
When all the world is hidden from our eyes.
Glory to Thee for the prayers offered by a trembling soul.
Glory to Thee for the pledge of our reawakening.
On that glorious last day, that day which has no evening,
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age.

(Ikos 4 of The Akathist Hymn: “Glory to God for All Things”)

Traveling While Orthodox, Part 2: Carrying-On Our Faith Life

As I was writing the last piece, I remembered that, when I frequently flew Air Canada during my four years living in Newfoundland, I always looked forward to the section of the En Route magazine that showed what people brought with them in their carry-on bags. The things that the interviewees brought with them ranged from cameras to lavender oil to pashminas, with the idea of making travel comfortable, personal, and enjoyable.

When I packed for my trip to Buffalo, I thought intently about what I would bring in terms of a makeshift icon altar, as I was only bringing a carry-on bag and was limited by space, weight, and liquidity (no more than 3.5 ounces, after all). The question arose: what do other people bring with them? How do they maintain a prayer rule while traveling, and what do they do to turn their space into a little church (just like home)? What I learned was that everyone’s was different.

Orthodox Carry-On

From top left, going clockwise:

  1. The Way of the Ascetics is an example of a small book that I will often bring with me on the trip, in case I would like to read something without worrying about battery life or wi-fi. Small books like the Popular Patristics series from SVS Press are good due to their size; for me, The Way of the Ascetics was one of the first books I read as an Orthodox, and one that I have read several times, so it’s a comfortable read that doesn’t get old. Having such a comfortable read brings a sense of consistency to often unpredictable trips.
  2. A pen. Self-explanatory.
  3. A battery candle. They have a decent shelf life, come in multi-packs, and are easy to get through security.
  4. Folding icons. These, or small icons, fit nicely in the pocket of a messenger bag, or the inside of a coast.
  5. Tea bags. I like having my own tea on the trip; you can often get water for free at the airport, and it’s a reminder to drink tea, say the Jesus prayer, and handle it.
  6. Small prayer book. I’ve had at least two of these since becoming Orthodox, and they’re great for road trips.
  7. A journal. The one in the photo was given to me by my in-laws, who have found different ones for me over the years. I use this one for writing diary entries, and also printing and taping Orthodox quotes and images to remind me of how to act.
  8. Kindle. I have a basic Kindle that I see multiple-ebooks on, including the Orthodox Study Bible. It’s also useful to have the Kindle app if you have a smartphone.
  9. (Surrounding everything else) Headphones. I keep sacred music on my phone as takeoff and flying music; my particular favorite is Sacred Georgian Hymns. Additionally, the Ancient Faith Radio app is terrific for downloading podcasts.

I asked some friends to submit ideas of what they brought, and was fortunate to have two submissions. One, from writer and blogger Summer Kinard, had the following description:

45100786_274915273155416_5634360217421479936_n

I like to travel with a diptych icon, a couple of prints of saints (pictured: St. Panteleimon and St. Seraphim Of Sarov), an LED or travel candle, a few books, an Akathist, a crochet hook and little ball of yarn for praying with my hands, a prayer rope or ring, noise canceling headphones, the Orthodox Study Bible for Kindle, and the Daily Readings app. I write longhand manuscripts and take notes on my iPad, but I also carry paper notebooks for the same purposes.

April and Taylor Warren, a couple who attend Holy Trinity Cathedral in San Francisco, sent this photo, along with the following description: “Our icons, prayer book, and prayer ropes. We often use our phones for the Bible searches and prayers as well (with Pray Always app.) We being the prayer book if we can check in a bag.”

45361622_737638446629369_7406147523963781120_n

Now that you’ve seen a few examples, what do you take with you on a trip? What do you bring to make your life more prayerful on the road? If you’d like to share, send a comment, or email me.

Traveling While Orthodox: Balancing Work and Faith Life on the Road

The frenzy of traveling for work is taxing. Being off on one’s schedule makes it hard to maintain a prayer rule, because your brain is going in all directions with all the new things, people and places you’ve seen. When I attend conferences, I’m usually going full-out, putting in 12-13 hours a day for three days’ straight. What that means for me, as well as many other attendees, is that our brains are fairly mushy by Saturday afternoon.
Dome St. Nicholas Grand Rapids

The interior dome of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Fortunately, Saturday afternoon is right before Great Vespers. In the last couple of years, I started visiting Orthodox parishes during my work travels, scheduling conference sessions around local service times. Fortunately, services are not usually during normal conference panels, and are often happening at a time where most people are at dinner, attending various professional mixers, or listening to special lectures. At first I worried about missing something important. However, by scheduling my conference around local services, the travel experience seemed more intentional and focused. I was able to focus better during sessions in the daytime, and I often stayed more motivated because I was excited to have the chance to visit a new parish, or attend services.
There have been other benefits:
The opportunity to meet people. While in San Francisco, I was blessed to have the chance to visit both Holy Virgin Cathedral (the ROCOR cathedral and resting place of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco), as well as Holy Trinity Cathedral (a 150-year old OCA parish that was the former parish of St. Tikhon of Moscow). At Holy Trinity, there is an active group of young adult transplants to the Bay Area, and because of being there with them at Vespers, I am still in touch with some of them. In Sioux City, I met several families, some of whom were connected to families in my home parish, and even learned that their priest was local to my home area.

 

 

 

The opportunity to engage in liturgical life away from home. While in Minneapolis, I attended Vespers at St. Mary’s Cathedral (OCA), and as a result of singing along during Daily Vespers, was invited by their choir director to sing in the choir (which has over 60 people!) during Divine Liturgy. At Holy Trinity in San Francisco, I was not only able to sing with their choir, but was even invited to come up to the bell tower as the young adults of the church rang the century-old Russian bells for Vespers. Parishioners are usually very eager to share their church history with visitors; because St. Mary’s in Minneapolis is a parish with a lot of Slovaks and Rusyns, I was told lots of terrific stories about the parish from people who made it an integral part of their lives.
Choir Loft St. Mary's Minneapolis

View from the Tenor 1 stand at St. Mary’s Cathedral, Minneapolis

The chance to see more of the city in which you’re visiting. Most of the parishes are not in tourist or business-oriented areas. They’re often in residential neighborhoods, and it provides the chance to explore more of the everyday parts of a city. Going to Vespers in Buffalo meant that I got to see a lot of beautiful, historic architecture on my Lyft ride to Vespers. Services at Holy Trinity in San Francisco gave me the chance to have coffee in a Russian cafe that was named after a Dostoyevsky book, and to gather for fresh sushi with newly found friends. These aren’t things to be found in a Lonely Planet guide, yet they’re equally helpful for getting an idea of local life.

 

Finding a parish is quite easy, but here are some tips for visiting elsewhere:

  1) Go to Orthodoxy in America  and type in the city that you’ll be headed to. The website has all of the major jurisdictions, and even has monasteries listed.

2) Contact someone at the parish to confirm that services are taking place. A call is usually enough to find out.
3) If you are driving, give yourself plenty of time. If you are car-less for your trip, make it an opportunity (through using Uber, Lyft or public transit) to see the more everyday parts of the place you’re going. One of the most interesting parts of my time in San Francisco was riding the bus to church.
4) When you get there, be there early, introduce yourself, and offer to be of help.
5) Bring cash for candles, or for the parish bookstore.
6) Ask the priest to add your name to the prayer list for safe travels home.
7) Don’t be in a hurry to leave. Talk with people afterwards. Make it an opportunity to be in community with fellow Orthodox, even if you may not see them again.

 

St. Thomas interior Sioux City

St. Thomas Orthodox Church, Sioux City, Iowa.

8) Share the experience with others. My Lyft driver in Buffalo had never seen the church I visited, which led to a discussion about our faith. Conference goers sometimes enjoy seeing photographs of places away from the conference.

9) Keep a list, or a map, of the parishes you’ve visited. It brings a sense of exploration to the process.
What are your tips from your work travels?
If you’ve got experiences to share, please send them my way via comments, or via email.

Rotten Apples and a Flu Virus

Two are better than one
Because they have a good reward for their labor
For if they fall, one will lift up his companion.
But woe to him who is alone when he falls,
For there is not a second one to help him up!
If two lie down together, both stay warm,
But how can one stay warm alone?
If one is added strength, two will stand before him,
And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
Last weekend, Jen and I had a date night while friends of ours had the girls over the dinner. Rather than our usual Indian food and driving around, I randomly suggested two things: (1) trying an Ethiopian restaurant down the road in Coralville; and (2) in order to kick off the fall, going apple picking at one of the well-known orchards. Neither of us had been apple picking in quite a while, and so we headed that way.
When we got to the orchard, it was packed. (Game days equal busy days.) Additionally, the orchard was probably the largest I had ever seen, with a long downhill-then-uphill trek up to the rows of apple trees.
We started looking at the trees, hopeful for something to work out. One tree’s apples are mostly rotting, full of holes, or fermenting on the ground. So we try other trees. Same thing.
This goes on for rows and rows of apples that are supposed to be ripe at the present moment. The two of us are looking at each other with a bewildered look, wondering how such a massive orchard could have such few good apples. Both of us started to think that this could possibly be the worst apple orchard we’d ever been to. Yet, inside, we had this desire to come back with apples that we picked ourselves, and we kept looking.
But something happened to turn things around, and it was when we saw trees full of solid-looking red and green apples on a row called Regent, which were apples that were slated to be ready in a couple of weeks. Jen and I looked at each other and came to the same realization: we don’t need the apples to be ripe now. They can age at home. We can wait. It will be worth it.
Gradually, we start to find apple after apple. Our baskets gradually fill with our finds, eventually totaling 17 pounds worth. It took a lot of branch bending, diving into foliage, and difficult searching to find those apples. As the time creeped closer to closing time at the orchard, we started the walk back together, joyful with our find. We were tired enough that we didn’t make it to Coralville, instead opting for amazing Mexican food closely at a restaurant themed after Frida Kahlo.
A day later, the opposite of a good date night happened.
Jen started having flu symptoms, and I fell victim to them the day after.
Both of us went from amazing date night to being so sick that we had to call in friends to pick up/drop off from school, and were out of commission for two whole days. The two of us tag teamed to do what we could, sleeping as we could and praying we wouldn’t have to be rehydrated in the hospital. Eventually, our symptoms vanished, and we went back to our usual schedule. But it was probably the worst flu I’d ever had in my life.
In those opposite experiences, Jen and I were together.
In the frustrations of barely being able to stand up, we somehow got things lined up for the kids to go to school.
In between rows and rows of what seemed to be endlessly rotting apples, we dove deep.
And even in our acute viral grossness, we were at least together, as a couple, living the struggle as the duo we were meant to be.
Since that happened, I’ve had a stronger sense of peace, knowing that I am surrounded with a strong safety net of people to help us, and that my wife and best friend- even if she’s struggling equally- is alongside me.
That clarity made the flu weirdly worth it.