St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, A Pan-Orthodox Christian Mission Parish, Murphy, North Carolina

St. Nicholas in the Mountains

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

The Lord dwelleth in the flood, yea, the Lord shall sit as king forever. — Psalm 28 (LXX)

Well, it wasn’t on a par with the great Atlanta flood of several weeks ago, but I left the house this morning to discover that places that I haven’t seen flooded in years and years were, in fact, under water. This included a number of places near the house, including much of the field shown in our header picture, and the pasture where we take the dogs to run. Across the road from the church was more flooding, with annoyed cattle either perched on islands of dry land or, more often, slogging through the water to their barn on higher ground. Fortunately, the corn fields were already harvested. I think Pani took some pictures of all of this, and I’ll try to post them later this evening.

Meanwhile, a little over the Tennessee line in Polk County, where we have at least one member, things were even more spectacular down in the Ocoee Gorge. Just as workers were close to cleaning up one rockslide, a second one engulfed the road. This video is pretty impressive.

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

Yesterday was the Feast Day for St. Nectarios, a wonderful saint of the 20th century. He was one of that astonishing group of modern day saints with which Greece was blessed over the last century. I can think of a half dozen or so, and my memory is famously deficient. I love all of them, at least in part because it is proof that even in our times God sends grace upon the world, and reminds us just how much he loves us, and loves the Orthodox faith.

In any event, we served a moleban to St. Nectarios, both to commemorate the day and because…well, because a moleban to St. Nectarios is never a bad idea. Afterwards, I talked a little bit about the saint, and about the beautiful monastery on Aegina island that he called home.

Today I was fortunate enough to find a few photos:

St. Nectarios

St. Nectarios

the Saint's cell

The saint’s cell

The tomb of St. Nectarios

The tomb of St. Nectarios

New church

The new church being built in honor of the saint on Aegina.

Sunday, November 8th, 2009

Archangels, and a suffering woman, Part 2

The icon of the Archangel Michael stands at the front of the church.  He is strong, very clearly a force to be reckoned with.  Angels are the messengers of God, but that does not make them cute and cuddly.  One has to wonder if they ever get tired of having to open every conversation with the same phrase:  “fear not!”  But that is part of who they are.  They are terrible in the old sense, just as they are awesome in the literal sense.

We saw some of that in our readings at Vespers on Saturday night.  We heard of the angel appearing to Joshua, and of Joshua falling on his face.  We heard of the angel visiting Gideon, announcing that he will be the one to deliver the people of Israel from the Midianites, at a time when he was hiding in order to thresh his grain.  Gideon was not quite so fast on the uptake as Joshua, but after the angel disappeared he, too, was dismayed and frightened.  And no wonder!  I don’t doubt that any of us would be the same way.

But while Angels are mighty and powerful and fearsome, they are creatures with free will, who also make a choice to worship God.  We know this because not all of them made that choice.  Our third reading at Vespers, from the 14th chapter of the Book of Isaiah:

How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!  He who sends for all the nations is crushed to the earth!  For you have said in your heart, “I will ascend into heaven, I will place my throne above the stars of heaven, I will sit on a lofty mountain, on the lofty mountains toward the north.  I will ascend above the clouds, I will be like the Most High.  But now you descend to Hades, to the foundations of the earth.

Lucifer and those who followed him fell, and were cast out.  We heard Jesus tell his disciples, “I saw Satan fall like lightening from heaven”.   Even among the angels, the proud fall.  Lucifer and those with him, who continually saw the face of God  and participated in the eternal worship, lost everything because of pride.

Those angels who remain with the Lord, however, did not fall to pride.  Indeed, what characterizes the angels we celebrate today is humility.  As much as power, as much as might, as much as any of these, the angels we sing of today are humble before the Lord.

Humility before the Living God is what the angels have in common with the woman with the issue of blood.  This is a lesson for us all!  The world tells us to be proud of whatever we wish.  Looks, intellect, success, wealth, achievement — all of these become the basis for pride.  But on this day, the day when we honor the Archangels and angels, when we see a desperate and suffering woman healed — on this day, we learn that it is humility that is essential for our salvation.

Sunday, November 8th, 2009

Archangels, and a suffering woman

Today is the day that we commemorated the Archangel Michael and the other bodiless Powers of Heaven, so at Liturgy this morning we had two Gospel readings.  One concerned the Angels (Luke 10:16-21), while the other was the story of Jairus’ daughter and the woman with the issue of blood (Luke 8:41-56).  When I read them, I was struck by a common thread, an unexpected commonality.  One would not necessarily associate the woman with the issue of blood with the mighty Archangels,  yet…

I have always loved the reading about the unnamed woman.  It is easy to imagine the scene in your mind’s eye.  There is Jesus, together with the disciples, in the middle of a jostling, shouting, thoroughly rambunctious crowd.   Some are there because they want Jesus to help them – whether illness or demonic possession or what have you – while still others are there to see the famous teacher.  There are people there, as well, intent on listening to what Jesus might say, with an eye to taking it back to the Sanhedrin, already looking for an excuse – any excuse – to put the Lord to death.  Finally, like any celebrity sighting, there would have been hordes of the simply curious.  Only the lack of appropriate technology kept the crowd free of paparazzi.

In the midst of all of that, Jesus would have been the center of gravity, the one point on which all attention was focused.  No one would have noticed that pale, shy woman creeping toward the Messiah.  Indeed, had they noticed her she would most likely have been shoved away, scorned by the good people in the crowd.  She was poor, she was desperately ill, and she was on the verge of being without hope.  For twelve years she had suffered from an issue of blood, and her quest for a cure had done nothing but impoverish her.  Even worse, her condition was such as to render her unclean, and unable to even enter the synagogue.  She was a person that decent folk had nothing to do with, and as far as the Law was concerned, God had no use for her either.  It could only have been desperation that drove her to approach Jesus, and to reach out and touch the hem of his garment.

Jesus knew.  He knew that someone had touched him in faith, and in humility.  Someone had not had the courage, like Jairus, to openly ask for a miracle, but had trusted that she would be healed by simple faith.  When Jesus asked Peter who had touched him, however, we can almost imagine Peter rolling his eyes.  Look at all these people.  They have all touched you!

What healed that woman?  What attracted the grace of God, and caused her to be free of the curse which she was under.  It was faith, indeed, but it was more than that.  It was simple humility, humbleness of heart and meekness of soul.

But what does that have to do with angels?