Category Archives: history

Dirt, milk, communion.

“The Armenian writer Teotig tells a story about the genocide of the Armenians during World War I. Father Ashod Avedian was a priest of  village near the city of Ezeroum in eastern Turkey. During the deportations, 4,000 Armenian men of that village were separated from their families and driven on a forced march into desolate regions. On their march to death, when food supplies had given out, Father Ashod instructed the men to pray in unison, ‘Lord have mercy,’ then led them in taking the ‘cursed’ soil and swallowing it as communion. The ancient Armenian catechism called the Teaching of St. Gregory says that ‘this dry earth is our habitation, and all assistance and nourishment for our lives [comes] from it and grows on it, and food for our growth, like milk from a mother, comes to us from it.’

“Teotig’s story is a reminder that we belong to the earth and that our redemption includes the earth from which we and all the creatures have come, by which we are sustained, and through which God continues to act for our salvation. If water is the blood of creation, then earth is its flesh and air is its breath, and all things are purified by the fiery love of God.

“For the earth to bring forth fruit there must be water and air and light and heat of the sun. Every gardener knows this, and so recognizes that the right combination of these elements lies beyond the control of science or contrivance. That is the wisdom and agony of gardening.”

–Vigen Guroian, in Inheriting Paradise: Meditations on Gardening

Floods I have known.

Three days ago.

More than one of my readers has asked if I live near the potential flooding from the Oroville Dam spillway failure here in Northern California. [Update: Here is a place you can see videos of the scary action] I do not. But when I was a babe-in-arms my family lived in the county just south, and I started this post thinking I would paste in a photo — which I can’t find after all — of my mother cradling her swaddled first child as she stands in front of our house in water up to her hips.

It wasn’t the last time my poor parents had to deal with floodwaters and babies at the same time, living as they did in farmland fed by various rivers that had not yet been dammed or hedged out with levees. I’m thankful to say that as an adult, the floods I have known have not caused any personal property damage or even much inconvenience.

May the Lord have mercy!

Through Athanasius wisdom shone.

athanasius_frescoAthanasius of Alexandria has been highly regarded throughout Christian history, East and West. Today is one of his feast days In the Orthodox Church. I first heard of Athanasius when I was a Protestant, because his treatise On the Incarnation was recommended to me many times. I finally read it a few years ago at Christmastime, and found it very encouraging. I notice lots of discussion of Athanasius still going on in the blogosphere in this century.

Athanasius was born about 297 and was present as a deacon at the Council of Nicea in 325. It was he who suggested the word “consubstantial” (homoousion) to describe Christ’s relationship to the Father, in opposition to the Arians who believed Christ to be a creature. The word was immediately adopted and became an important point of sound doctrine from then on.

When Bishop Alexander of Alexandria died, Athanasius reluctantly consented to take the bishopric, and he remained bishop for 43 years, though he spent a total of 17 of those years in exile at the command of four different emperors, and was many times forced to leave the city under threats to his life. These incidents led to the phrase “Athanasius contra mundum” or “Athanasius against the world.”

I don’t need to repeat what I have written before, or tell you things about St. Athanasius that you can easily discover online, but I wanted to remember this important saint here. Here is are some excerpts from St. Nicolai in his Prologue for today:

Only for a while before his death did he live peacefully, as a good shepherd among his good flock, who truly loved him. Few are the saints who were so mercilessly slandered and so criminally persecuted as was St. Athanasius. His great soul patiently endured all for the love of Christ and, in the end, emerged victorious from this entire terrible and long-lasting struggle.

For counsel, for comfort and for moral support, Athanasius often visited St. Anthony the Great, whom he respected as his spiritual father. A man who formulated the greatest truth, Athanasius had much to suffer for that truth–until the Lord gave him repose in His kingdom as His faithful servant, in the year 373 A.D.

Through Athanasius, wisdom shone,
And the truth of God enlightened men.
The people recognized that wisdom is not bitter,
But, to all who drink it to the bottom, it is sweet;
To all who suffer for it, it is dear.

Found Cousins and Founding Fathers

These men were the reason that Philadelphia became a place we visit for historic tours, and their life-size statues made me really glad I had come. However, if it weren’t for the fact that my cousins live here, I wouldn’t have made the trip.


It was less than four years ago that I “found” my Pennsylvania cousins after losing contact with them for most of our lives. They were on the east coast, our family was on the west, and when we were children our parents didn’t have the means to get us all together. When my aunt died, I had the time and money to go to her memorial, and since then her three daughters and I have been getting to know each other.

Grace picked me up at the Philadelphia airport; we had made plans to visit some historic sites, so we did that right away. It was still less than one week since the national election, so our government and constitution and the events of our country’s founding were pertinent to all that was on our minds and hearts.

At the National Constitution Center we sat in a theater-in-the-round for a show called “We, the People,” which had rousing recorded music and multimedia images, but was focused on the live performance of a real human with a pleasant voice dramatizing the story of the Constitution of our nation. It was short enough for the shortest attention span, I think, and went by too fast, but I loved the presence and speech of that woman and was glad that our admission fee was contributing to a quality presentation about something fundamental and important to us all.2016-11-14-12-10-29

My favorite part of this place was the bronze statues. Being able to walk so intimately among them and look in their faces was very affecting. I admire those signers of the Constitution, and others of the Founding Fathers who weren’t there at the time, so much! I know, one isn’t supposed to say things like that without mentioning sins that we moderns judge them for. But I don’t think many of us could hold a candle to their bravery and principles, their intelligence, and the hard work they did to hash out the Constitution. I am supremely grateful to them, and I loved this exhibit for reminding me of that.

I like that they have Benjamin Franklin sitting down; he was over 80 at the time and it is said that “though he did not approve of many aspects of the finished document and was hampered by his age and ill-health, he missed few if any sessions, lent his prestige, soothed passions, and compromised disputes.


Alexander Hamilton’s statue is standing alone, not in conversation with anyone. I would like to read more about the man and find out if there was an artistic reason for that attribution of body language in the placement of him. A day or two after this my cousin Renée played some music from the Broadway musical “Hamilton” for me, and I liked it a lot. If any of my readers has a book about Hamilton that you would recommend, please tell me.

Grace and I went next to Independence Hall, where the Constitution was actually signed, a 250-yr old building whose exterior is largely intact. It was built as the state house for the colony of Pennsylvania, the main part of the building completed in 1748.




The furniture in the Assembly Room where the signers met is mostly not the original pieces — in fact, the interior of the building itself is nearly all reconstructed/restored — except for two items: 1) the inkstand  used to sign the Declaration of Independence, and 2) the chair that George Washington sat in to preside over the Constitutional Convention in 1787.

“At the successful conclusion of the convention, Benjamin Franklin stated that he had looked at the carved sun at the top of the chair many times, but had never known whether it was rising or setting. With agreement on the Constitution, he announced that it was a rising sun, symbolic of the promising future of the United States.” That is why it is called The Rising Sun Chair (picture below).


Benjamin Franklin’s house used to stand a short walk from Independence Hall. Now its site is a historic exhibit; you can look down into a hole and see some of the brick of the original house, which was Franklin’s Philadelphia residence in the last decades of his life, and you can walk among the rooms that are no longer there.

I liked this exhibit, because of the quotes from his letters printed on floor plaques in the various “ghost rooms,” evidence that he was away a lot in those years. His wife had moved into the house in 1765, but he left for England that year and didn’t even see it until ten years later. He wrote lots of instructions about what he wanted done in and to it, though, plans for curtains and dishes and things. He wrote about his friends, and about building his library:



Years ago I had turned down an offer from my husband to visit Philadelphia for a day; I told him I’d rather wait until we could stay three nights in the city, so that we’d have two whole days for touring places like this, and more. But now that I’ve had my brief walk-around, I feel satisfied for the time being. Maybe if I spent more time reading about the people and events who are memorialized here, I’d want to come back for longer. But on this trip I was ready to go home with the cousins, and for the remainder of my stay, to live in the present.