I have a new little art post up on Burnside called “A Time to Tear Down,” as part of the “A Time to…” series.
Happy birthday to Dimitris Mitropoulos! Born in Athens, the Greek composer began conducing the New York Philharmonic in 1949. He was raised Greek Orthodox and is remembered as being devout. From everything I’ve heard and read — I first heard about Mitropoulos through David Amram, who tells lots of stories about him in his books and remembers him fondly — Mitropoulos sounds like quite a character! To make music more accessible to the masses and reach a younger audience, Mitropoulos did a week of shows at the Roxy, a movie theatre in Times Square.
Burnside Writers Collective published my article “St. John’s Leads the Nation in Civil Rights,” about the civil rights history of the Church of the Presidents. The article includes information on Barack Obama’s inauguration and Martin Luther King Day.
Saint Marie-Bernarde Soubirous was born on this day in 1844 in Lourdes, France. She saw a vision of Mother Mary, who spoke to her in Gascon, which is now an endangered language. The visions inspired the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes in Lowell that Jack Kerouac writes about. You can read about this famous landmark, where Bob Dylan, Jackie O., and Allen Ginsberg also visited in my Church Hopping column on Burnside Writers Collective.
This past year, we’ve seen the power of water when Hurricane Sandy hit, devastating homes, businesses, and even lives. And yet water remains critical to our existence:
- About 57% of our body weight is water.
- Approximately 88% of 1.8 million deaths a year is attributed to unsafe water supplies and sanitation and hygiene issues. Most of these deaths are in children.
- Water covers about 70% of our planet.
- Africans spend 40 billion hours just walking to get water every year. It is usually women and children who have the responsibility of fetching water, and this arduous task keeps them away from school.
Water is a dichotomy of life and death.
I once saw a priest in Brooklyn throw a cross into the muddy waters of the Hudson. It was a frigid January day, yet a bunch of boys jumped into the river to save the cross.
What would possess a priest to throw a cross into the river?
Theophany; or, as most westerners call it, Epiphany.
The word “Theophany” comes from the Greek “τα Θεοφάνια,” which means “appearance of God,” and January 6 is the feast day that commemorates the incarnation of Jesus. It celebrates His birth and baptism.
When St. John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the Jordan River, the heavens opened up and the Holy Spirit descended like a dove. God spoke from the heavens, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17, NIV). It marked one of the very few times that all three characters of the Trinity—Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and God—revealed themselves at the same time to man.
Jesus’ baptism marks His first step toward Crucifixion, according to Orthodox theology.
And so, on January 6, Orthodox priests throughout the world throw crosses, symbolic of Jesus’ crucifixion, into bodies of water, symbolic of His baptism. This is called the Blessing of the Waters. Volunteers jump into the water to retrieve the cross. The priest, according to tradition, prays a blessing on the person who gets to the cross first and brings it back to him.
Here’s the Troparion (tone 4) from the Eve and Afterfeast hymn, which has some powerful imagery:
The River Jordan receded of old by the mantle of Elisha when Elijah ascended into heaven; and the water was separated to this side and that, the wet element turning into a dry path for Him, being truly a symbol of Baptism, by which we cross the path of transient age. Christ appeared in the Jordan to sanctify its waters.
I’ve often heard the phrase “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans” intended as casual advice but come across as bitter warning. Even though it’s usually said as an off-hand, humorous quip, it seems like it usually comes along with underlying resentment. The not-so-innocent adage implies that God laughs at our goals and our ability to achieve them.
You can read the rest of my article here.
I’m tempted to write a satire called Christian New Year’s Resolutions. It would go something like this:
- Pray without ceasing. Ever.
- Don’t watch secular television.
- Become a physically fit Proverbs 31 woman.
- Read the bible every day and nothing besides it.
- Go to church every Sunday.
Is there such a thing as Christian New Year’s Resolutions?
You can read the rest of my article here.
Have you ever noticed that Greek families all seem to be named after the same relative? It’s customary in Greek culture to name the firstborn boy after his papou, the father’s father, and the firstborn girl after her yiayia, the father’s mother. Subsequent children are named after the mother’s side of the family.
According to the Greek Orthodox faith, though, children are supposed to be named after the saint whose feast day they are born on.
A child born on December 27 would be named after Saint Stephen. Stephen was one of the first deacons of the Church. However, after a vicious argument, he was accused of blasphemy and sentenced to death by stoning. Standing up for himself and his beliefs, he said that those Church leaders were the very people who persecuted the prophets. He is now recognized as a martyr.
The name “Stephen” comes from the Greek word “stephanos,” which translates to “crowned.”
My birthday is not December 27 nor was my yiayia’s name Stephania, so my name is a bit of a break from the Greek culture. I’m actually named after my father’s stepfather. And yes, family reunions can get a bit confusing, with my cousin Stefanos and I both responding to “Stef.”
Today I’ll be celebrating my name with my family!
How did you get your name? Do you celebrate your name day?