DoctorWhen I was 19 I, along with two others, was promoted to the illustrious position of shift manager at the local Hy-Vee food stores. We got a fancy title for what was basically middle management, kind of like stock boys but with salary. Two of us were constantly worried about our performance; making sure things were stocked, organizing pallets in the back, while the other did a lot of showy stuff, parading himself around the upper managers in order to make himself look wonderful and making attempts to set himself above the rest of us. But what he did was alienate himself; he turned the store manager against him in his showmanship. He was so busy promoting himself and basking in his accomplishments that he failed to be aware of his other deficiencies.

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In Orthodoxy there will always be a balance of both universal and local customs, usually some kind of variation or addition to the already-established tradition in place. Some parishes only use one variation of kolyva for their memorial services. Some churches will process either with only children or the entire church for the Triumph of Orthodoxy. In these examples churches are keeping in line with the tradition handed down to us, and also personalizing it. This year we held our Vasilopita cutting service on the first Sunday of the January, and I know I cut it differently than the parish has in the past. I want to explain how the service has been taught to me but first,

What is the Vasilopita service anyway?

We cut the special ‘pita’ in honor of St. Basil, bishop of Caesarea, who is an incredible champion of our Faith and was a powerhouse philanthropist while he was alive. He contributed greatly to monasticism, actively tried to rehabilitate thieves and prostitutes, and gave unceasingly to the poor. He created so much activity through his philanthropy and outreach, that the actual city of Caesarea moved and grew around his compound. We’re praying for good health and blessings in this life for the upcoming year.

So, we call our special pita Vasilopita, or Basil Bread, though it sounds funny in English. It can be a sweet bread like our artoklasia, or a spiced cake. There are a couple of stories about how we got to putting a coin in our bread, but a very plausible one is that St. Basil would put money into loaves of bread, and then give that bread to the poor, so as to not embarrass someone by giving the alms. Pretty beautiful, I think.

So, Cutting the Vasilopita

When doing Vasilopita, whether in the Church or the home, the cuts always go in this order:

  1. Christ (The reason why we’re doing any of this.)
  2. The Theotokos (In honor of Christ’s mother, who brought Salvation into the world.)
  3. St. Basil (The reason we have this particular service.)
  4. The poor (To honor St. Basil’s mission, and also our own duty as Christians.)

From here, in the Church setting, it begins to vary a little, though it generally starts at the ruling hierarch and moves down to the clergy positions, and into the ministries of the Church. Some parishes will also cut special slices for the oldest and youngest person in the parish, the longest married couple, the person who cooks so much for the parish he or she seems to have a chain attached to their ankle and the Church kitchen. It can get pretty fun! So for our event, after the first four, we went on to cut a piece for His Eminence Savas, one for the Archons (because we had Archons visiting with us), our chanter, our νεωκόρος, George, then the parish council, Philoptochos, Sunday school, and AHEPA. Then, everyone gets a slice! So, everyone still gets a special blessing through being present at the service and eating the blessed bread.

It’s been about four months since I published anything, and the last thing wasn’t even all that earth shattering. (Note: I did smash my tests, and again in December.) I wrote some sermons that I was going to put up but I haven’t gotten around to it, and now I may not. We’re waaaay past the Lukan account of Jesus healing the demonic, so it seems confusing. But there is so much to write about, so it’ll come up in time.

The unfortunate part of this is I have to write a junky post just to get my mind back into writing something for other people to see. So, I mean, you may not even bother reading.

So what’s been going on? Well, a lot for a new priest, though nothing most people would find edifying. (And for my parishioners, this is all old news!) We’re running a lot of services. I’m learning a lot, hanging out with my parishioners, hearing a lot of stories from local folk. I’m still lifting every week and bopping around the city, letting confused folks at the Wal-Mart “sneak” cell phone pictures of me. We’re going to keep bees this summer. Basically, I’m trying to experience some present tense. I have a solid core of brother priests to mentor me.

Since last I wrote we had an incredible bake sale and dinner at the Church in November which was a lot of fun. I met a ton of city folk and was able to give some Church tours / eat a ton of delicious baked goods. I told the ladies that I learned a great deal about Greek baking preparing for this sale. I don’t fear making baklava!

My first Christmas Liturgy went very well. Beautiful, really, being among my parish family. So did my first Vasilopeta cutting.

Last week I opened the State Senate in prayer, which was really awesome!

One thing I’m particularly blessed by is my daughter Adeline. Our chanter has been out sick and when I put out a call for people to help, she was the only person who said she’d try. Except for a couple parts, she’s really on point, and it takes me into Heaven when I hear her voice coming through the royal gate. It’s a rich, rich, blessing both as her priest and her father. It’s pretty infectious, really, as now Katherine and, to some degree, Beatrice, are chanting around the house.

And, that’s about it, really. I’m going to actually start writing more, because I have a lot of things I want to talk about that go beyond the time I get on Sundays.

 

jpegSince late mid-August I’ve been training for Strongman to try and get back into shape after a rigorous period of sedentary seminarian-ing. I’m overweight again, I had to go back onto insulin. Getting back into shape is a big priority for my family and my church. But I never really planned to do this in particular, but I was searching for a strength program and bumped into this site called Lift Big Eat Big, saw the work they’re doing, and thought that this was something I could stick with! I also noticed they do consulting, but they’re in Seattle, so what’s a guy to do? They have online programming! I pay the owner a monthly fee for programming, and I send him my lift records and videos for spot-checking (though I’m about 2 weeks behind on sending them), and he then sends me another week of lifts to follow. Rinse and repeat. It’s the first program I’ve stuck to for this long, and it doesn’t feel like a chore; I really enjoy going into the gym to see what I can do. And, maybe best of all, it’s not cardio.

What I’m saying is, it’s pretty awesome.

I was incredibly surprised to both deadlift and squat 405# two weeks ago! But one thing I don’t really know are what my true 1-rep-maxes are, or what my PRs (personal records) are. This ends this week because this week is testing week!

I’m going to set my PRs for six lifts (overhead push press, bench press, squat, box squat, dead lift and overhead strict press). It’s going to be an incredible time, and I’m full of anticipation at what I might accomplish. But I’m really excited that I’ll have a better idea of where a lot of my weaknesses are so I can work on correcting them.

This change was wrought by the right hand of the Most High! (c. Josh Cole)

As some of you know I was recently ordained to the diaconate then priesthood, and installed over the course of four days. It was a busy and beautiful time, one that I wasn’t fully able to process for several days after we moved into our house here in Chas. Part of the ordination in the Orthodox Church is a declaration from the ordinand, giving a bit of history on how he reached this point, showing a sincere understanding of the Task At Hand, and also giving thanks to God for the people in his life who have shaped him to be the man he is at that time. Since we had to time everything so quickly we weren’t able to have many of our loved ones present with us, and so they didn’t get to hear me say before my God, my Metropolitan, and the Church how much they changed my life leading up to the point of ordination. Well, loves, four months to the day, here’s to you; you’re an amazing bunch of God-kept people!

Note: Because I use some Greek words that may be unfamiliar I will use [editor’s brackets] and links if needed.Continue reading

“What, do you think you’re more Orthodox if you wear it? Do you think it’s somehow more holy? Oooo so holy! Wear the collar!”

This is representative of an idea that many recent or current seminarians  have heard when the subject of wearing the anteri versus Roman collar as an Orthodox priest in America*. And it’s a valid concern for us, to worry if we’re screwing something up with our clerical wear. Heck, before I was ordained I was fairly sure I planned to wear a collar, but I ultimately decided to wear an anteri instead. It’s come up in several conversations since I moved down to Charleston that I wear my Anteri (or, fancy black dress as some of the citizens say!) as my daily dress, and not the more ubiquitous clerical shirt. I know this has come up (non-negatively) when talking to some of my parishioners, and the general consensus is that I may be one of the first in the parish’s history to wear one. Well, why do I wear it anyway?Continue reading

It seems like since I’ve come to Charleston I’ve had so many amazing conversations with people about their experiences, or something they read, or something I preached on, that I always feel like there could be some follow up.  But honestly, I just have a ton of incredible people in my Parish that have already taught me quite a bit. I also enjoy writing about what’s going on in my life and the lives of my family.  Also, I just like to write.

Expect some of the following things on this blog:

  • Posts pertaining to the life or happenings at St. John Greek Orthodox Church
  • Posts pertaining to practical Orthodoxy. (Orthopeeps: I’m no Ochlophobist, Fr. Damick, or Fr. Freeman!)
  • Posts pertaining to my family – probably heavy on my adorable children.
  • Posts about my general life interests which is currently baking, gaming, listening to and collecting music, and training for Strongman (and to stay healthy!).
  • Some cute animal gifs. I love them, without shame or apology.

I’ve got a few ideas in the queue, but I’m not going to be hasty.

Dear ones, courage.