30 November 2013

Advent Soup & Frybread

For Orthodox of both eastern and western rites, the period leading up to Christmas is a time of abstaining from animal products.  Fish may be ok, shellfish too, but meat, dairy and eggs are right out.  So we find other things to do.  These two recipes have become mainstays for me this season, already: and I'm surprised I never thought of them before.  Both allow for a lot of variation and so I've added notes to each.  Salad goes nicely with them.

Ramen Miso
We will start with the soup.  You see the ramen packs above, that's what we want - but throw out the flavour packets. It's all salt and some other crap.  It's totally pointless: what we want is the noodles.

Bring two or three cups of water to a boil.  To this add some miso paste: follow the instructions on the package, mine says 1 tbl per cup of water.  Then add one extra serving - so for two cups of water, I add 3 tbls of miso.  YMMV.  Then add the noodles and simmer until tender. Salt and pepper for taste.

That's it.  Miso soup with ramen.

It's also very boring.  So:  try adding diced up tofu, seitan, or tempe.  This can be flavoured anyway you want.  Try adding veggies!  I've found that a bag of frozen mixed veggies works just fine here. As does leftover Chinese food diced up. Stir fry something or add it raw and simmer until done. Greens are good, bok choi rocks. Last night I had it with box choi and mushooms.  This works really well for two servings: one for supper and one to take to the office.

Frybread
This one is a little more complex but very tasty.

Combine 2/3 Cup self-rising flour with 1/2 tbl of NRG Egg Replacer powder. Whisk the dry ingredients together and stir in about 2/3 cup of water.  You want a very stiff dough and, depending on the flour and the weather, you may not need all of it, but you don't want it runny: a well mixed cookie dough is about right.

Heat up a couple of tbls of olive oil or canola oil in a deep frying pan for which you have a lid.  You're going to want about 3 inches above the bread - so pick wisely and do so before you have hot oil!

Place the dough in the oil and spread it out a little. It should start frying instantly. Add the cover and then get a couple of tbls of water.  Carefully spritz the water around the bread and cover instantly. DANGER Water and Hot Oil is a volatile mix.  Be very careful.  What you are doing is setting of a mixed cooking method of steam and fry.

In about three or four minutes the bread will rise up be easy to flip over with a turner.  Cover again and cook until done (another 3 or 4 mins).

DANGER there is still hot oil here...

Slice, spread some vegan butter spread on top and nom away.

Variations that I've tried so far this year: instead of water I added almond-based "winter nog" and some sugar got a wonderful fried dessert product.  I've mixed the bread with 1/3 cup self-rising flour and 1/3 cup self-rising cornmeal and had fried corn bread!  Instead of water I've added veggie broth - very savoury bread!  I've also made it with mushroom broth. One failure though: I tried it with cranberry sauce. Just don't do it.

O Clavis - 4th Advent Meditation

 Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel, qui aperis, et nemo claudit, claudis, et nemo aperuit: veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
 Key of David, and sceptre of the house of Israel, you open, and no one shuts, you shut, and no one opens: come, and lead the prisoner from jail, seated in darkness and in the shadow of death.

Every day, riding to and from work in North Carolina, I'd pass a Baptist church. The reader board carried some version of, "If you died tonight, where would you wake up?" One that sticks in my memory every year at this time said, one one side, "Grandma got run over by a reindeer." And the other side said, "Yes, but where will she spend eternity?" It's a macabre question, don't you think? "Are you saved?" is short hand for "If you died tonight, do you know where you'd spend eternity?" God only cares about your soul when your dead.

Jesus, however, seems to have a different take in the scriptures. He restores people, not just bodily, but also socially: he touches lepers, an act that makes him ritually "unclean" in his person; he eats with sinners, more "uncleanness". Jesus heals gentiles and Jews, complimenting the faith of the former, condemning the lack of thanksgiving in the latter, but never "unhealing" anyone. When Jesus "only" heals someone of bleeding, paralysis or even death, he is restoring them to communion with their friends and neighbors who imagine such illness to be a judgement from God. Take a look at the Ger'asene Demoniac (in Luke 8:26ff). Jesus casts "Legion" out of the man, and the family find him "sitting clothed and in his right mind". The man wants to go with Jesus, but Jesus says no, "Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you" (Luke 8:39). Go restore communion, which, by the way, is going with Jesus.

In all these things - illness, demonic possession, death - Jesus restores the communion of persons. We are in bondage, kept in isolation cells: locked each within our own self, unable to engage in communion. And, in a real sense, that lack of communion is death. This is the jail from which Jesus calls us and while, yes, I believe the Warden in this universal prison is Satan, he needs no minions as screws: we each do his bidding daily, denying communion, one with the other, in so many acts; creating division, one from the other, in so many confrontations. Any human who creates an "us" and a "them" has done Satan's work for him, locking not just a few but all of us in yet another cell. Eventually any issue grows from "good students" and "bad policeman with pepper spray" into supporters of one side over the other and - especially in today's media-rich environment - everyone in the world is asked to take sides. I can create a new prison just by posting on Facebook or Twitter. Jesus wants to take humanity out of our us-and-them problems. This is not a life-after-death issue, but a here and now issue. It is a life and death issue now. Every us-and-them is a little death undergone by all of humanity.

Truth of the matter is, however, that we like things this way. That's what Faith is: letting God describe reality and living there, not making it up yourself.  One of my favourite writer/philosophers, the late Robert Anton Wilson, speaks of "reality tunnels": constructs created in the human brain by religion, politics, science, etc. His end goal seems to be to liberate humanity from all such constructs.  Even the ones created by language, sex, and other things that can't be erased.  For all that I can disagree with R.A.W.'s end point, his starting point is very Christian: our human reality tunnels keep us from seeing the real reality: God's.  Blessedly, unlike R.A.W. Christians have a deity who claims to have described (and created) this real reality for us, with a purpose.  Now... of course, that's only another tunnel in R.A.W.'s worldview.  But in today's verse, other tunnels are the jails from which we need to be liberated.  We sit in darkness as long as we let culture or our perceptions of political issues keep us from communion in God's reality.

Locked off from such communion, we die in this world, now.  Not later: not eternity. But now.

29 November 2013

Daily Office 30 Nov-7 Dec AD 2013

The Daily Offices for Morning and Evening Prayer in the Rite of St Tikhon. The readings are as assigned by the Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate supplemented with other devotional material.

25 November 2013

O Radix - 3rd Advent Meditaiton

 Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.

Root of Jesse, who stand as a sign for the people, kings stand silent in your presence, whom the nations will worship: come to set us free, put it off no longer.


It is tempting to read this as some sort of political rallying cry, but the O Antiphons come from a time when kings were already Christian and - like the laity at Mass - they all did, indeed, stand silent before the Lord.  But what, then is the meaning? Sticking with my reading of "living the faith", to put it simply, let us read "kings" to be "the passions".

Orthodoxy has a complicated set of teachings about "the passions".  It doesn't mean "I have a passion for art" or "violin is my passion".  It means something that runs us: an addiction; although we may not think of pride or boredom as addictions.  In Orthodoxy these things function exactly the same way that drugs or alcohol can function at a 12 step meeting.  This is why, their secularism aside, 12 Step programs sound so very Christian: one's addiction is not just a habit to kick, it has become controlling in one's life.  It has become king.

I can think of quite a few kings in our modern world, sex comes to mind, of course, but there are many other kings as well: pride, vainglory, anger, arrogance, that special sense of injury that arises when one is forced to relate to someone that is perceived as "lesser than".

Jesus, before whom the kings stand in silence - if only that were True in one's own life as in the hymn.

Who are the kings of your life? Mindful that the question I'm living with this Advent is how would I live if I could convince myself that all this were actually true... what parts of my life would stand silent before Jesus?  How?

The answer is in the text, but we have to go deeper into Orthodox personal psychology first: as I understand it (from confession and from listening to great speakers like Mtr Kallistos) the Passions combine to create a false self.  Engaging in them kills the soul while, at the same time, creates this false soul.  Sex may be a broken part of one's life, but it doesn't "kill" the way murder or anger does.  What it does do is prevents one from being the person God intended.  That's not to say that God didn't "make me gay", I don't know the answer to how one gets to be gay.  But it does say that, perhaps, in Christian humility, a Gay person might find that his or her choices for sexual expression that don't add up to the ideal set forth in Holy Tradition are causing more harm than good - no matter how "natural" they are.  The sense that they are doing something "good" in the world is a false sense according to Orthodoxy.  These actions feed something that is not really the person's soul: in fact they are killing it and, most likely, killing others a little bit at a time. In Orthodoxy, this false-self needs to be killed off, the "slavery to my own reasonings" as it is called is what kills me.  The answer to how is in the text...

Jesus is the Root of Jesse, but he is also the root of my being.  As the Scripture says, I am crucified with Christ and yet I live: yet not I but Christ who liveth in me. And the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God.  And, again, this mortal must put on immortality. And also, all who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  It's not enough to say, "I am a Christian."  One must, in fact, become Christ: kill off the false self, and let real life - Christ, the life of the world - rise from the divine root though one's being and shine out into the world.

I pray he puts it off no longer.

23 November 2013

The Nanny State

Last week San Francisco turned out for a good deed: the cheering-up of a fatally ill child in response to a request from the Make-a-Wish foundation. The wish? To be Batman for a day. Everyone from cheering crowds on the street to Police and the US Department of Justice, the Mayor and the President, all got involved. The payback for every politician outweighs the backlash: it was the Make-a-Wish version of kissing babies. The cost to the city: police overtime, cleanup, the mayor and most city officials as well as quite a few federal and state using their tax-payer-paid time to do public charity.  The effectiveness: one kid made happy.

While thousands of kids go hungry, homeless and without proper medical treatment, one middle class white kid was made very happy.  On TV no less.

And we all feel good.

I was thinking about that as news rolled in about the failure of the Obama Care Process: the State-mandated abortion issues, the robing of healthcare from those that already have it in the name of making sure that everyone have equal coverage while, all-in-all, only forcing all of us to pay insurance companies (rather than for health care), ie crony-capitalism.  We all hear stories, over and over again, of a few poor people here and there that can suddenly afford to get Junior on a Kidney Machine or to let Mamma finally get her tubes tied.

And we're supposed to all feel good.

Meanwhile food is poisoned and served to us by the Chinese in the name of international trade, all forms pornography (except the sexual) are served to us in the name of art by television.  Sexual pornography is relegated to the movies.  We pay for that too.

This helps us feel good.

And it is revealed to us - as we knew all along - that the gov't is spying and documenting our every move - except for those being spied on by Google.  And we pay for that too.

Oddly enough, we willingly pay for all of this - all of it - with either our taxes or our shopping or our freely-turned-over personal data; most often with all three.

And today it was announced that JP Morgan Chase would be "punished" by the Federal Gov't by being forced to spend money on practices in which it was already engaged: ie, making wise economic decisions viz home mortgages, that would thus, in the long run, make more money. Sounds like punishment to me.

The Roman Gov't used to use "bread and circuses" to keep the mob quite.  It cost quite a lot of money, but the rich were willing to use their taxes in such a way.  In our day, the gov't has cut back on the bread part, giving us far more circuses in exchange, but making the poor pay for it directly.

Yup...

We're all totally stupid.

Daily Office - 23 - 30 Nov AD 2013

The Daily Offices for Morning and Evening Prayer in the Rite of St Tikhon. The readings are as assigned by the Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate supplemented with other devotional material.

  1. St Clement PM (St Felicitas, VM) - MP - EP - Martyrology
  2. Sunday Next before Advent / Last Pentecost (St Chrysogonus M) - MP - EP - Martyrology
  3. St Catherine of Alexandria VM - MP - EP - Martyrology
  4. Feria (St Peter of Alexandria BM) - MP - EP - Martyrology
  5. Feria - MP - EP - Martyrology
  6. Feria - MP - EP - Martyrology
  7. The Vigil of St Andrew (St Saturninus BM) - MP - EP - Martyrology
  8. St Andrew, Apostle - MP - EP - Martyrology

20 November 2013

O Adonai - Second Advent Meditation

 Adonai, et Dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.

 Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.

There was this chorus we used to sing in Youth Group.

Praise the Lord.
Halle-loo
I don't care what the devil's gonna do
The Word in Faith
is my sword and shield
Jesus is Lord of the way I feel.

The key phrase, apart from the obvious late-70s psychobable, is the line "the Word in faith". There was this gnostic-magical movement in Evangelicalism back in those days that basically said if you can say a verse out of the Bible (ie the "Word of God") with enough faith, it's gonna happen that way. "Say it and claim it", "Believe it and see it"... it was a predictable development from the idolatry that creates the Bible, itself, as the "WORD OF GOD". It used this written word as a spell book, a chance to speak, in my own mouth, the very words that God spoke and so claiming, to myself, the power of God in the speaking of those words.  It sounds kinda legit, certainly, in that the last line uses the very words of the Church's first creed: "Jesus is Lord." Yet it fails to use those words to say or mean the same thing. Like all gnosticism, it's the very words the Church uses, turned upside down by some other reading.

We consider today, however, an antiphon that uses those words correctly in the mouth of the Church's singers. Jesus is Lord is a two part claim: In Greek, κυριος kyrios, lord, is a title of Caesar. In Hebrew, Adonai is a title of God.  Saying Jesus is Lord is saying - all visible evidence aside - that Jesus is in charge of everything.  This backwoods Jewish carpenter is at once the spiritual creator of the Kosmos and the political ruler of the world.

Far from claiming that Jesus could fix everything (which is what the words of that song say), it was saying this is the way things are. That's the faith of the Church: not that Jesus is going to fix everything and make us rich, but rather that us, here and now, is who God wants to save and that everything, here and now, is the tools God Jesus gave us to be saved.

And it is to that point on Faith that I'm struggling tonight.

One of the hangovers in my head/heart from my Gnostic Protestant childhood and my Gnostic Newage adulthood is the idea that my heart, my "inner voice" could be the voice of God. Thus, follow me, in some way, if I'm feeling it, it must be sourced in God's work. If I sit quietly long enough and listen to what my heart is tilling me, I'll hear God. Protestantism enshrines this in the idea that "me and the Bible" are enough.  In our increasingly secular world, the Bible gets left out, of course. Follow your bliss" says Joseph Campbell. "Do what you love and the money will follow" says the New Age movement. The early 20th Century (Old Age?) writer, Aleister Crowley spoke of this divine inner voice as a "Thou" (with the initial capital) in "Do what Thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law." Modern secularists say the same thing without the implication that you're a "Thou" because, of course, there is no Thou.

The Church says that inner voice is the very thing that's broken.  It's the one thing we can't trust: the way I feel is the one thing Jesus is not Lord of.  The voices inside are there to pull me away from what God wants, the things I feel are not trusted.  Ironically, I still feel a tug of this anti-theology when I read the prayers of the Church.  When we ask God to save us from "vain thoughts and evil imaginations" my inner voice says, "Well the priest prayed it and God said he would give it to us, and so, these thoughts must be protected, holy thoughts."  Of course, we say these prayers exactly because the demons put such thoughts in our head.

We prepare to celebrate tonight the Presentation of the Holy Theotokos in the Temple of Jerusalem. The symbolism is strong: as the presence of God in Christ among us means the end of the temple ritual system, Mary - the Birth-giver of God - replaces the Temple, itself. She becomes the New Temple in which we worship and the sign of Fruitful Virginity is over our altars. In the Church, her womb, are we all born again to life in Christ.

But only by faith, by resting in God and letting God in Christ be Adonai.  Give up your inner voices, your inner light, your addiction to tour own reasoning.   Turn to the giver of the law and with his mighty arm he will save you. If I were living my life not "in the Word in Faith" but rather in the Faith of the Church, if I lived as if the burning bush - and not my heart - was Jesus speaking, what would I change?

There are things you can not change, of course, but there are things you can: things for which you are responsible, things for which you make choices. If God speaks from the burning bush and gives the law and leaves the Temple and comes forth from the Virgin and enters my life through Communion: what is my response? How do I live the Lordship of Christ?

16 November 2013

Daily Readings week of 20 Trinity

The Daily Offices for Morning and Evening Prayer in the Rite of St Tikhon. The readings are as assigned by the Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate supplemented with other devotional material.

15 November 2013

O Sapientia - First Advent Meditation

A blessed Advent! For my friends in the Western Ecclesial traditions, a little explanation: our Eastern Pre-Nativity Fast starts today. Advent is, of course, a Western Name, but we call it the Advent Fast here in America's mostly-convert communities. Yes it is a bit longer than Western Advent, but for what it's worth your fast used to be this long as well - and it was a fast, like (or close to) the fast of Lent. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Gawain is treated to a sumptuous feast by his host who, in response to the compliments, reminds his guest, "It is a fast."

This is the first of my seven Advent Meditations for this year.  It's an annual practice, and it helps the Pre-Christmas focus. The meditations, as always, take a starting place the Great O Antiphons that are recited on the nights leading up to Christmas in the monasteries of the West.


Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem fortiter, suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

Wisdom, who proceeds from the mouth of the Most High, reaching out mightily from end to end, and sweetly arranging all things: come to teach us the way of prudence.

I'm a bit flumoxed, I confess, as to what the topic is.  So I'll stick with what's on my heart: faith.

Faith does not mean simply to verbally or mentally assert that some words are true, but rather, placing all contrary social pressure and fear aside, to act as if those words are true. James 2:26, etc. Many parents tell the kids they believe in Santa, but they go out and buy presents anyway. Woe betide the mother who believes in Santa so much that she sleeps without shopping in December.  It dawns on me that most of the time my faith is rather more like that: I'm happy say the Creed, but I make sure to back up my choices with some extra shopping.

If "prudence" means, in part, thrift and conservation, I'm doubling my efforts, as it were, doing one thing and saying another.  My Faith is misapplied.

How would I live if what I said I believed was what I really believed?

Who would I treat differently?
Who would I watch over?
Who would I avoid?
What would I do in the world?
What would I buy?
What would I eat?
How would I act?

If, as our Antiphon says, God's wisdom ordereth all things, then this thing, here, in front of me, now... is a gift form God.  I think it might be interesting to ask the question as each situation arises, not WWDJ, but rather WWJHMD? What would Jesus have me do?  How do I best work out my salvation in this situation with these people at this time?

How can we make it through Advent as if, at the end, God will meet us?

14 November 2013

Thoughts on Advent in the Orthodox Western Rite



Monday (11 Nov) was Martinmas for westerners on the Gregorian Calendar, for Old Calendar folks it falls on Saturday 24 November. In times past, in Northern Europe, the next day (12 November) was the beginning of the Advent Fast. I did a little research on Advent because, as a pious Orthodox Convert, I assumed our 40-day long fast was the "normal" one that the "heretical" west has trimmed and, finally, destroyed. So, believe it or not, I was looking for Sunday propers for the "six or seven Sundays of Advent" as would have existed in the "orthodox" west before the Carolingian Religion took over the Roman church... I was asking the wrong questions, of course.

Byzantine Time



This is not a post about culturally and ethnically Orthodox folks who never seem to get to Church before the sermon.

As an Orthodox Convert exposed to other Orthodox Converts and our peculiar brand of stress-inducing hyper-piety I've often heard a discussion of "Midnight to Midnight vrs Sunset to Sunset".    The argument being that from Genesis on the Bible "clearly" starts the day at Sunset, and that the liturgy "clearly" starts a feast day with Vespers and that Saturday night "Clearly" is the beginning of Sunday and that the "Fathers clearly" marked time from Sunset to Sunset.  Therefore we should not mark our days from some artificially created "midnight" but rather from Vespers to Vespers (at least) if not from actual Sunset to Sunset.

This means fasting from Thursday night at Sunset until Friday night at Sunset.  It also means we can go out at Midnight.  Curiously, it never seems to mean the pre-communion fast starts at 6PM the night before, and so Saturday's party goes from Friday Sunset until midnight between Saturday and Sunday.

But all that aside, the argument has me, today, looking at Liturgical Time.

East and West both have the same liturgical tradition in this respect: any feast day starts with a Vespers and continues through with a Eucharistic commemoration the following day.  The West the tradition evolved to "extending" the feast by adding a Second Vespers that - rather like the day-and-a-half long Saturday above, makes a feast go just a little bit longer than a "normal" day.

In the Book of Common Prayer this tradition reverses: a "basic" day is Morning and then Evening Prayer. In many ways this makes sense in an essentially parochial  environment (and what was initially a very anti-monastic environment).  The common folks get the "today is today" matter-of-factness of it all and I suspect that simplicity was a crucial issue in this decision.  But also the experience of the day, at least in the west, is that "today" does not include part of last evening before bed.

The BCP tradition therefore became one where a  feast day means Morning Prayer, (Possible) Eucharist, Evening Prayer.  After a while the BCP tradition gave certain feast days "Eve of" readings.   Thus instead of Second Vespers of the Latin Rite it becomes the First Vespers that were the "extra added part" of the feast day in English Usage.  In the Orthodox Western Rite it is this way in the Rite of St Tikhon.  In the Rite of St Gregory it is the older, Latin way.

As I am editing the office for daily use, this awareness of time strikes me as very important: it is the sanctification of time that is the point of the daily hours, be that just family prayers in the AM and PM or the seven/eight-fold office of traditional monasticism (East or West) or the Western Rite's offices of Morning and Evening prayer.  Certainly the idea of a day starting and ending at midnight, consisting of Morning and then Evening, is an innovation no more recent than the 15th century.  But even so it is no where near as recent as some major changes in the Eastern liturgy. (The Pascha service we serve prior to the Divine Liturgy today evolved in the 19th century!)  But all the services are about the eucharistic sanctification of time, the inclusion of our daily motions of living, moving and being into the Divine eternal present that is gathered around the Altar of Communion.

To do this we must be aware of the time.  No mater how we count the days, we must count them.

The daily hours make us aware of the passage of time, of the daily flow that comes either in the stasis and prayer of a monastery or else the daily ebb and flow of a working or farming life with stops in Morning and Evening, even the four-fold division of modern hours (Morning, Noon, Evening, Bedtime).  Each phase is taken, blessed, and broken in offering before God so that it may become a vehicle of grace for us.

08 November 2013

Daily Readings, Week of 19 Trinity



The Daily offices for Morning and Evening Prayer in the Rite of St Tikhon, as assigned by the Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate together with other devotional material. For other material, see the Book of Common Prayer as published by Lancelot Andrewes Press.