“Laurus” book review

This new Russian novel tells the story of a fictitious 15th century saint, a wonderworker and healer. Though secular readers may be inclined to consider his feats “magical realism,” everything in it could be found in the life of one Orthodox saint or another: soul-reading, bilocation, levitation, multiplication of bread, companionship of wild animals, and so on. The book has been greatly admired in literary circles in Russia, and won some significant awards; but its popularity may also stem from the hunger that made Everyday Saints (by Archimandrite Tikhon Shevkunov, 2012), with its stories of modern-day miracles, a bestseller in Russia. There is a hunger for recovering the nation’s historic Christian roots, especially in the lives of its saints, both ancient and contemporary.

St. Marina

July 17 is the feast of the valiant St. Marina, who was martyred in the 3rd century. Over the years she has kept intersecting with my life—those odd synchronicities that make you wonder if there’s something going on that you don’t know what to do with. —In 1981 my husband and I (and kids) moved to Woodbridge, VA, where he had been called as the rector of St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church. Funny thing about that name. The woman who donated the money to found the church, half a century ago, asked that it be named for the patron saint of her school, St. Margaret. But by mistake the committee dedicated it to St. Margaret of Antioch, a.k.a. St Marina, and not St. Margaret of Scotland, whom the school had been named for.

Remembrance of Death

Here’s something I use, to keep the certainty of death in mind. Feel the bones in your wrist. Those are your bones, part of your skeleton. If an archaeologist found your remains a thousand years from now, that’s what they would find. Not some other theoretical bones, but your own bones, the ones inside your wrist right now.

How to Read the Philokalia

The Philokalia is a 5-volume (4 in English, so far) compilation of writings from the 4th to the 14th century on “Prayer of the Heart,” the process of uniting the personality and bringing it into communion with God. It’s a difficult work to approach, and several people have come up with suggestions on how to get started—what works to read in what order. Here’s a list I made, by compiling that advice.

A Guide to Orthodox Baptism and Chrismation

The Rites of Baptism and Chrismation   Why are we facing the back of the church? If you have been invited to attend a friend’s Baptism, you would expect to come into the church and face toward the altar. But the preliminary parts of an Orthodox Baptism take place at the back of the church (or in some cases, in the church’s entry hall, called a narthex). This is because, in the early centuries, Baptisms were performed outside the church; the new members of the congregation literally “entered” the church. Now the first part of the ceremony takes place at the back of the worship space, and then the baptismal party moves to the center of the room for the Baptism itself. Finally, they come to the front of the church for the Chrismation, the anointing service that completes church membership, and represents the bestowing of the Holy Spirit (it’s analogous to Confirmation in Western churches.)

Orthodoxy in America

[Sinteza magazine, Romania, Summer or Fall 2015] -Which is now the place of Orthodoxy in a world of such a great religious diversity as America? What do Americans generally know about the Orthodox Church? What do they know about Romania? America was founded mostly by Protestants, though some areas were populated by Roman Catholics. But over the years it has become extremely diverse, such that people of every land and every faith are visible in our cities. We are not as free to display Christian symbols, such as a cross or a stone engraved with the Ten Commandments. People of other faiths protest and demand equal time. Recently, a group of Satanists demanded the right to place a statue of Satan next to a stone carved with the Ten Commandments on a public lawn. Atheists also attack the expression of Christian beliefs in public places. While a very large percentage of the country is still Christian, the  people in power tend to be atheists and despise Christians (in part because we oppose abortion and same-sex marriage).

Inside Out

“Inside Out,” the latest animated film from Pixar Studios, is really two movies. One is for kids, and the other is for adults—or, more precisely, parents. But it’s not like other kiddie cartoons that throw in pop culture references and borderline-dirty jokes. This time it’s different. The kid-level movie is about a girl named Riley, 11 years old, who has just moved to San Francisco from Minnesota. She had to leave behind all her friends, her hockey team, every place that had been dear to her. Now she’s living in an old house that’s dingy and gray, and the neighborhood pizza parlor specializes in broccoli.

Orthodoxy and Catholicism

Godwin Delali Adadzie: Who is Frederica Mathewes-Green? FMG: I am evidence of God’s mercy. I am the wife of an Orthodox priest and mother of three grown children, grandmother of 13. I write books, mostly about the Orthodox Church. As a Catholic, your video “What Do You Mean, ‘Pray to the Saints?’” impressed me. Can you please restate some of the points again? I explained that the Saints are the “great cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews 12. Because they are alive in Christ, and praying right now, we can ask them to pray for us. This does not replace praying to God directly; it is no different from asking our friends and family alive on this Earth to pray for us, and still praying to God.

The Orthodox Way of Knowing God

[National Review, June 13, 2015] Who are the Orthodox? It’s a question increasingly on Western minds as Eastern Christians suffer tremendous persecution — such that the future existence of Christianity in the region is uncertain. Frederica Mathewes-Green, whose husband is archpriest of Holy Cross Orthodox Church in Linthicum, Md., provides a tour of and primer on the Orthodox Church in her new book, Welcome to the Orthodox Church: An Introduction to Eastern Christianity. She discusses her faith and Christian beliefs and recommends practices that can be of ecumenical benefit. Kathryn Jean Lopez: If you had to tweet out your welcome to Orthodoxy, what would you offer as a definition?

“Teach Us to Pray”

•  What draws people to this contemplative and traditional corporate and individual discipline? I think they are looking for an anchor to reality that is outside their own personal experience and their own wisdom. Way back in the 60s churches began talking about being “relevant” and rearranging worship and worship space to attract contemporary people. This makes so much sense on the surface, but it backfires because it treats worshipers like customers and seeks to please them, and the “customers” sense that they are being fed something that has been carefully adjusted to please them. In a restaurant, that’s fine; but in worship you are trying to ground yourself in something bigger and wiser than yourself, and to have the proprietor just keep shoving a mirror in your hands is not helpful. Flattering for a while, but not what you need when you’re searching and yearning for something greater and more stable than yourself.