Archive for the Orthodox Clergy and Information Category

Merry Christmas to All and to All A Goodnight…The Final Smoke Ring.

Posted in Arabian bakhour, bahkhoor, bakhoor, Christian incense, Cold War, desert bakhoor incense, Desert culture, Ethiopia, Incense, Life and Lifestyles, Orthodox Christianity, Orthodox Clergy and Information, perfume, Perfume Reviews, religion with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 24, 2009 by blackincense

BPI and more specifically, Columbina, would like to wish all of her many friends, both in the world, and those who are not of it, a very Merry Christmas.  This blog has been closed for a while, but I wanted to end it on a positive note, at the close of this season.  It’s been a joyous ride, and I continue to blog about many other interests, life experiences, and art over at Tales From the Golden Ghetto.

But all good things must come to an end, and Smoke Rings has finally “dissipated”.

I am truly grateful to the following people who taught me how to blog, how to be a better writer, and frankly, how to be a better person.  Many of them are shy, and therefore, I will only use links to their blogs to name them. As I’ve said before, this isn’t some annoying, self absorbed “good-bye” or anything.  (First, I’d like to thank God for this award….LOL)

But I want to say to these lovely people:  All of you made 2009 bearable, and a wonderful journey of learning from mistakes, learning from suffering and learning about myself.  All of you helped to give me my greatest gift for Christmas:  my identity.  Through exploring so many subjects, topics and discussions with you, I finally came “home” in my heart and found out who I really am.  I will always be grateful to you and my hands will always find a way to help you, my lips a way to pray for you, my heart a way to love you, my head a way to bless you, my feet a way to direct you.

Kyrie Eleison, a voice of truth and beauty in the wilds of Montreal — a true sister on the Way.

Juvenaly, “Misha” Martinka of Theophany Designs – my beloved webmaster and friend, Mesa, Arizona

Uncle Clem – the distinguished, dignified, and truly humble Professor of Theology in Asheville, NC

Breaking Babylon — the son I never had.

The Desert Seeker —fellow TCK/global nomad, and truly humble teacher of many things arcane and Orthodox.

Sergius-Bob –wherever he may be, may he be blessed and know he always has a home.

Orthodox Monk — we’ve never met, but someday, God willing.  You helped me to learn how to quit being a victim, stand up for myself, for others and for the Faith, when necessary.  I’ll still be “stalking” you in cyber space, learning from your excellent example.

Justinian:  you defended me when I needed it, and you encouraged me when I was truly despairing.  You also taught me to stop using fragmented sentences and to be more precise!  LOL

Iconblogographer — Matthew Garrett:  inspiration, and gentleness.  As well as battling cosmic evil as Batman, you are da man.

I close this blog permanently, and with great gratitude to all of you and these words from Tolkien’s , “The Hobbit”, the ultimate TCK poem.

Roads Go Ever On — (c) JRR Tolkien

Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains of the moon.
Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known.
The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.
The Road goes ever on and on
Out from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
Let others follow it who can!
Let them a journey new begin,
But I at last with weary feet
Will turn towards the lighted inn,
My evening-rest and sleep to meet.

(C) Ted Naismith

Leaving the Shire by Artist (c) Ted Naismith


We Can Neither Confirm Nor Deny The Existence of this Blog

Posted in Orthodox Christianity, Orthodox Clergy and Information, religion with tags , , , , , , on October 22, 2008 by blackincense

There comes a time, when it’s okay to write about your parents. For me, it might as well be today.  The truth about my father, has been coming in short sentences, one word lines, and other hints for years.  Now I will attempt to “bare all” for the conspiracy tabloids just in case the “truth” remains hidden in a Templar cave somewhere.  Here it is:

  • I have no idea who killed JFK.  I don’t know who was on the grassy knoll, and I don’t know if Oswald was one of the three stooges.  I do know, from general knowledge, that Marilyn Monroe was a woman of rather loose association and that she had suffered from depression and “poor judgement”.  What else can I say?
  • I don’t know if UFO’s are extra-terrestrial.  I suspect, through my limited theological reading, that they are deceptions of the Evil One, but I have no proof of their existence and I have searched my father’s dresser extensively and come up with zip.
  • I do not know if the CIA actually found any success in the MK Ultra (mind control) program.  But if they had, I wouldn’t have ended up this way.  At all.

Outside of badly phrased humour, I do not know how to describe my father.  So I will stick to what I do know:

He was born in 1933 and was raised during the Great Depression.  In 1955, he enlisted in the American Army.  In 1958 he was recruited by the CIA to attend the newly formed Russian Language School at Monterey, California.  Within a year, he was an “operative” behind the Iron Curtain and active in the “eastern bloc” recruiting double agents and “running agents” throughout the Soviet state and satellite countries.

In 1961, he reattended the Russian Language school, to further refine his language skills and studied Russian with Gleb Podmoshansky who later became Fr. Herman of the Platina “Brotherhood” fame.  Under Gleb’s tutoring, he mastered “fine” Russian and was able to pass as a privileged “Party member”.  By 1965, he had moved his base of operations to Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) and was busy infiltrating the GRU.  In between GRU and KGB meetings, he had time to father my brother who was (thankfully for the UN red-tape department) born in “West” Germany.

I was born in the States, in 1966, and my father immediately took off for parts unknown until three months later, when he contacted my mother to let her know that she should pack up the apartment because they were moving to Bucharesti, Romania.  In Romania, my “nanny”, a KGB agent hired through the American Embassy was assigned to me, and she promptly took me to the “Black Cathedral” in Bucharesti, to have me bless by an Orthodox priest. After all, my parents were godless, American heretics and I was defenseless.

Actually, my mother was a God-fearing, Bible-Thumping Lutheran, but that didn’t matter to the local GRU/KGB.  it was very important that my mother be allowed to access the Church in Romania.  As a result, she was able to meet with a local priest, and some of the local surviving monks in the Suceava region.  At all costs, this crazy American lady with her wierd ideas about the American Bible, must be allowed to report back to the west, that “religion” was “encouraged” by the Iron Curtain.

When the  Priest came to bless the family of a suicide, my mother was there to greet him, and she , as expected, reported back to all her American friends, that Orthodox people were indeed compassionate.  Likewise, when the abbot of a Suceava monastery was suspended from his post, my mother in her Lutheran wisdom, saw through to the heart of the matter, and reported back to her American friends that he wasn’t really a priest, as originally thought, but was ejected by the Church.  And, also, when my nanny’s mother “died” and the local priest in Timisoara said she was murdered by the Securitate, my mother believed him, and reported that back also.

It was all a avery complicated business growing up in my house.  My brother and I were never certain if we would have rooms to come home to, after school, or if we would be “escorted by helicopter” out of any given country.

There are so many memories, and so many stories, I cannot tell them all here.  But I was thinking the other day:  At what point does a person realize they are Orthodox?

We are taught , in the Church, that a person becomes a Christian at their Orthodox baptism, or chrismation, and this is very true, both literally and theologically.

But it is also true, that we begin our journey toward Orthodoxy before we are even born; before we take our first breath.  The sum total of our life, the experiences we have had, the things we have suffered, all serve to bring us, eventually, and however it happens, to the One Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church.

My father, an atheist, made sure, through his work and his life, my own salvation.  May the Lord have mercy upon him!

“Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his loved ones.”

On the Bitterness of Having What You Don’t Want.

Posted in Orthodox Christianity, Orthodox Clergy and Information with tags , , , , , , on October 21, 2008 by blackincense

A long time ago, I had a conversation with a friend that I have never, ever forgotten.  Her name is delightfully, “Penny”.  Penny is rich, gloriously rich with money of her own, a fabulous home, a Mustang convertible, and a fleet of other cars.  She might as well have them all named for the days of the week. ‘Monday’, ‘Tuesday’, ‘Wednesday’…I love going to visit her because her house is like a museum: every thing in it has a history, a story behind it, and I love to hear her talk.  She talks a great deal, Penny does, about nothing, and yet about EVERYTHING that was ever important to humankind.  She is brilliant, and yet she doesn’t realize that she is so.  She’s intelligent, but she thinks she’s a “dumb blonde”.  She’s worldy, but she has this ‘otherworldy’ air about her, that speaks to the very heart of a person.  She is so fabulously rich, yet she makes chocolate chip cookies every afternoon, for her evening dessert.  She does it, she says, because she wishes to be “young again”, and to remember always the innocence of her youth.

And yet Penny is one of the most humble, simple hearted, most dedicated Christians I know.  She is not Orthodox, but is firmly “Church of Ireland” and whenever she talks,  the Gospel shines through.

On that long ago Sunday, we were sitting in her “garden”, an actual “botanical” garden if you know what I mean, complete with bronze statues, strategically placed benches, and sculptured hedges.  Even the bushes are trimmed into pieces of fine art.  Who knew that Michaelangelo’s “David” would end up re-done in a rhododendron?  Penny’s garden gives new meaning to the phrase “going green”.

Penny lives in Ireland.  Not just anywhere in Ireland, but in a real castle that is dated to the 13 th century.  She opens her home to visitors, because “times are difficult” and “all this is just window dressing, don’t you know?”

So there we were, in our formal dresses (because Penny enjoys “dressing for tea”) and having our tea and biscuits in the garden, a veritable paradise, and Penny was saying quite conversationally, as if people everywhere had such lofty and deep thoughts:

“…well, you know, then I thought myself:  If I had a nice husband, then I would really be happy...but then  I got a nice husband, but as time went on he wasn’t as nice to me as I got older,  and then I thought to myself, ‘well, okay, if i had perfect children, then i would really be happy.  But I wasn’t, even though I did have wonderful children.  They really are a comfort you know, when you think you haven’t done anything worthwhile, you can look at them, and say “well, it wasn’t all so bad!”

And so then I thought, ‘Well, if i just had a nice house, you know then i would really be happy...”

But that didn’t work out so well, because then I had to clean the thing, you know…so then i thought, ‘Well, if i only had a good maid, and a staff of servants, then i would really be happy...”

So then, I decided to hire all these people and now I never get a moment’s peace, and now I think, “Well, if I could just get rid of all this stuff, then I would really be happy!”

Wisdom!  Let us attend!

How well, I understand, now, after all this time, what she was trying to tell me.  But it only really just hit me today.  And so I post it here, so that I don’t forget it.

Penny gave her life to others.  She eventually sold all her possessions and gave it all to the poor, as our Lord commanded.  She is “judged” by many to be an “eccentric”.  But to me, she was the Irish version of a fool-for-Christ.  She lived well; she gave even more.  She enjoyed life; she made sure others less fortunate were able to enjoy it too.  When the economy went into “over drive” in Ireland and everyone was busy making money, she opened her “home” to orphans and to abused women.  She created an entire “shelter” for those same abused women on her estate, who later spit on her grave.  All for the love of Christ.

Dear and glorious Penny…you are a true sister and guardian.  No one else wanted to tell me the truth about myself, all those years ago, but you found a way to explain it.  Although I did not understand until today, I give thanks to you for what you said so faithfully.  I give thanks that I had the privilege of knowing you.

Memory Eternal.

Lismore "house".  Penny's home whenever I want to "run" there.

Penny's own "home" whenever I had the courage to run there. Truly, it was fortress fortified from "within".

Book Review: The Father and the Son by Matt Murray

Posted in Orthodox Clergy and Information, religion with tags , , , , , , , , on October 17, 2008 by blackincense

This book survived my failure as a book store owner.  It is the very last book I own, that was part of the original inventory.  And I have just finished reading it for the first time.

In putting it down, I am humbled, I am haunted, I am shaken to the very core, that someone outside the Church is capable of writing so profoundly, about what goes on within it, and within the heart and mind of a person who is contemplating (much less accomplishing) monasticism.  This book will haunt me to the end of my days in a wonderfully and fearfully, created way.  Written by a Wall Street Journalist, about his father, who suddenly decides one day to become a monk, this book is an honest, no-holds barred, no gloves allowed look, at the way in which God often enters people’s lives:  suddenly, abruptly, and with no apology.  He is the Creator after all.

This book is a memoir, a fond remembrance of a boy for his beloved father, who left worldly life to become a monk.  In the Roman Catholic tradition.  For us Orthodox, our immediate reaction is “Oh.  How theologically incomplete.”

And that is an incomplete analysis of one man’s journey of faith, as entangled as that  is, and can be, without all the trappings of theology.  Our theological differences aside:  this is the story of a man’s journey toward the Truth, which is not just an idea, or an abstract concept.  Our Lord said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life”.  Our Lord, as theologically confounding as He is, is a Person!  A Person who cares bottomlessly for human beings.  This is an unforgettable book; a profound and heart wrenching story of one man’s pain, and another man’s joy.  It is about loss, grief, hope, joy, all the things that make human life worth living.

For the Orthodox and Roman Catholic alike, I invite you to “lay aside all earthly cares” and enter in to a family that is torn apart, and healed,  by Hope.

If you read nothing else this year, I hope you will read this.  Leave the theological wrangling at the door where it belongs with our bishops.

“Hold Fast to the Truth You Have Been Given…”

Posted in Orthodox Clergy and Information, religion with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 17, 2008 by blackincense

In Renaissance times, it was not unusual for sailors, and especially pirates,  to have that exact phrase, “Hold Fast” tattooed on their hands.  Surprise!  I have no idea what the word(s) for it in the “original Greek” are, (don’t you love people who can say that and know what they are talking about?  I really do admire such people!)  Never mind asking me what it is in Russian or Serbian.  But here it is in olde Englysh:  (smile!)

Hebrews 10:

23Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;)

What does it mean to “hold fast”?  In plain, every day English  I think it is safe to say that it means, to “batten down the hatches”, “lash down everything that’s not nailed down”, to secure ourselves and our loved ones, firmly in the Church, by hand-cuffing ourselves to the icon stands if necessary, when times of trouble arise.  (Don’t think I won’t do it! )

Those times have come for me. They have finally come.  I won’t bore anyone with the petty details but suffice to say:  My faith is weak, imperfect and thoroughly objectionable on it’s own.  If I died tonight (“Now I lay me down to sleep…”)  I doubt I would be able to sputter an answer to the Lord’s questioning.  My “faith” such as it is, would never survive His scrutiny.

And so I pray, “O, Lord, HELP MY UNBELIEF!”

Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner!

Without him, there is no hope of escaping death.  There is no hope of escaping my condemnation of myself.  There is no hope of escaping my accuser who is far more powerful, and far more intelligent, than I am.  (He probably speaks in the “original Greek.”)

But how exactly do we “hold fast”?  When we come to baptism, no one gives you a manual (except for the elegantly wrapped Orthodox Study Bible which we are told, we cannot understand without an interpreter, which is why we are getting baptized in the first place.)  No one ever really “teaches” anyone how to “hold fast” and no one can really learn it from a book.  It is done by doing.  Even when we don’t feel like it.  When we don’t think we have it in us.  When we think “All is lost!” and we turn to our prayer books, frantically searching for the “right” prayer.

In the end, the final analysis, I can never hope to make it to heaven, if Orthodoxy is all about the cannons of the Church laws, and the sayings of St. So-And-So who has never been translated into English, but is only available in the “original Greek”.

Thank you Lord, for your mercy!  Thank you Lord, for your salvation!  We, the unwashed, hold fast to your Promise!

O, Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner!  Remember me, O Lord, in Thy Kingdom!!!

Here are three crosses.  Which one is yours?  Which one is mine?  I don’t know.

He will have to choose for me.

Catch the Fire….

Posted in Orthodox Clergy and Information, religion with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 11, 2008 by blackincense

I spend a lot time with the desert fathers and mothers, because I see so much in them that I want to be, to acheive, to harness.  I try very hard not to pretend to myself or others, that anything I say either in person, or on the internet, could possibly have any merit on its own.  I am very much aware that in fact, nothing I say has any merit on its own.  I am not a brilliant theologian or even a student of theology and so most of what I say probably has no meaning for anyone but myself anyway.

Having recently been reminded of how disposable I am, through loss of employment, I have found my spirit restless and troubled by thoughts of inferiority, self-abasement, and shame. So it was with a troubled spirit, that  I turned to the Desert Fathers once again, this morning.  This is what I read:

“Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, ‘Abba as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?’ Then the old man, Abba Joseph,  stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, ‘If you like, you can become all aflame.’ ”

I am reminded, that this life is not about employment, production of wealth, goods, or personal acclaim.  It’s not about attracting for oneself, the honors that go with a brilliant education or patting yourself on the back for being from the “school of hard knocks.”

My aim in this life, must be above all else, to become “all aflame”.  There is no other purpose in living, but to unite with God and to become a person with no enemies.  And as in all things, this too is given as a gift of choice.  Abba Joseph did not say “You must…” .  He said, “If you like…”

The God we worship is truly the author of grace.

An Ethiopian Monk rests outside his cell.

An Ethiopian Monk rests outside his cell.

Adventures in Orthodox Fashions

Posted in Orthodox Clergy and Information, religion with tags , , , on October 8, 2008 by blackincense

I have been anxiously awaiting a new prayer rope from a wonderful Skete up north.  I ordered it two weeks ago and it finally came today.  It is  the most glorious thing I have ever seen.  When they said, “fancy”, they weren’t kidding.  I am at once over-joyed and ashamed of myself.

It is so very pretty and yet some part of me says that it shouldn’t be.  My old one fell apart, after 6 years and so I needed a new one.  I did not know what they meant by “fancy”.  Now I know.  I know for a fact that none of those nuns makes or wears any such thing for herself.  And I am ashamed of myself for wearing something more than what they allow themselves.

I intend to keep it and to write them a letter telling them how beautiful it is, and how this glorious work of their hands has blessed me.  But I am completely unworthy to wear it.  So along with my letter, I will place an order for all my friends.  Including an order for a very plain one, like they wear, for myself.  I will save this one, in my prayer box,  to remind me of these beautiful nuns and their glorious witness to the beauty of Christ and His mercy.

Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Prayers by the Lake

Prayers by the Lake