Thursday, June 28, 2007

In case you missed it...

All the fuss about words.

For me, words are judged by two criteria: beauty and precision.

Most of us know that there are certain words and combinations of words which are extremely (almost ineffably) beautiful to the ear. For instance, my favorite word is silver; I find most tree names lovely as well: ash, poplar, beech, brich, elm. This is not because of something in their meaning, although I like silver and most trees quite a bit, but simply for the pleasant sound that they make when spoken or read. Like Lord Peter Wimsey, I find it very easy to be drunk on words, just the sounds of them. If, as is proposed, language is reduced to the lowest common denominator, all beauty is ruthlessly stripped from it. No more Shakespeare, no more John Donne, no more King James Version, no more Dylan Thomas, or Gerard Manley Hopkins, or Tolkien (perhaps especially him because of his love of the archaic) or even e.e. cummings. Even if their works were "translated" into a more "acceptable" form they would not--could not--survive because they would not remain themselves.

This is partly because the precision of them would be gone. Take, for instance, the last line of Manley Hopkins' "The Windhover":

and gash gold-vermilion.

Nothing terribly difficult about that--gash, perhaps--except for vermillion. That's simple enough to fix. Vermillion is just a sort of red. So, stick red in and there you are:
and gash gold-red.

Or there you aren't. Because, aside from completely and utterly destroying the rhyme and meter, the precision of the sentence is lost. Red is a broad word--it is quite likely that someone reading the amended sentence would think of a glorious rich, dark red; a very lovely color to be sure, but not the intense orange red that is vermillion and so not the right word. To reduce language to the lowest common denominator is to lose the ability to communicate accurately.

Words matter. Theologically speaking, the changing of one word or part of a word can very easily mean the difference between right belief and heresy. Thus, it is the difference in 'Theotokos' and 'Christotokos' which separates the position of the true church from the Nestorians. King Solomon, all those thousands of years ago, knew that words have power for "a word fitly [my emphasis] spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver." We cannot take lightly any attempt to wrest them from us.

The Deputy Headmistress brought up a comment which posited a sort of conspiracy theory. I agree with her that it is probably overstating the case, but this sort of idea about language is indicative of a mindset which is deeply disturbing; one which desires, consciously or unconsciously, a dumbing down of the general populace and a lack of independent thinking.

Just because I'm feeling protective of my words, here's the full text of "The Windhover." Hey, they'd even have to change the title of that one! It's full of lovely words.

I caught this morning morning's minion, king-
dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on a swing,
As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,--the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!
No wonder of it: sheer plod makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.

~Gerard Manley Hopkins

Monday, June 25, 2007

A hidden glory

Summer evening. The sun has set and the air is chilly. City sounds are around us: banging car doors, voices calling, traffic passing. We have listened to the Academy perform folk music for some time. Then we begin to sing, all of us together, Paschal* hymns. "Christ is Risen" in Japanese, in Yupik, in Georgian (the country, not the state).

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tomb bestowing life.
And finally, the triumphal hymn to the Theotokos: "The Angel Cried."

The angel cried to the lady full of grace: Rejoice, rejoice O pure Virgin! Again I say rejoice! Your Son is risen from His three days in the tomb. With Himself He has raised all the dead. Rejoice, rejoice, O ye people.

Shine, shine, shine O New Jerusalem! The glory of the Lord has shone on you. Exult, now exult and be glad O Zion. Be radiant, O pure Theotokos, in the Resurrection, the Resurrection of your Son.
And in that moment, as we together celebrate the glorious Resurrection here, in this city, in this time, we know that we are brothers and sisters in Christ. We sit in the backyard of the church united in fellowship while the world goes by around us. This is real. This is life.

*Pascha is the Orthodox term for Easter, deriving from the Hebrew word for Passover.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Dan Pettigrew's Romance

I wrote this for a writing contest at's forum. It ended up winning second place (yay!). The theme was romance. You can guess what most people's entries were like. Here's mine.

There she sits, pretty as a picture, sewing at something or other, and here I sit, with my tongue all stuck to the roof of my mouth, not knowing how to say what needs to be said pretty, the way I reckon every woman should hear it so as to know that the man she’s hearing it from means it. Somehow I just can’t say it. The words came easy enough earlier, when I was alone, but the sight of her put them clean out of my mind. Don’t reckon any of ‘em were as pretty as what I thought then anyway. Dang it, I’ve got to say something. Anything. “The weather we’re having sure is good.” Dan, Dan, that’s purely the stupidest remark you’ve ever made. She’ll think you don’t know your own mind. Oh, if only I wasn’t such a clumsy oaf—wish I were one of them fellows who writes the poems they print in the newspaper. Seems like then I wouldn’t have a lick of trouble at all. What’s she sewing? Oh, a quilt. Looks mighty nice. Reckon I couldn’t make one of them things even if I’d all the time and patience in the world.

Now you look here Dan Pettigrew. What’s to be ashamed of? You’re a fine, upstanding man. You’ve a farm that’s been farmed by your family as far back as anyone can remember. You work hard and you can sing just as well as the next man. You haven’t got the best education and you haven’t got bushels of money, but you ain’t poor. There ain’t anything in all that a young woman could rightfully stick her nose up at, but somehow I know in my bones she won’t say yes. S’pose I could come back later. Maybe take her out for a buggy drive. It’ll be a fine night. Maybe if it were dark and I didn’t have to look at her at all I could say it all. If the moon were up there a-shining and the birds were a-singing, surely I wouldn’t be so shy and all. But then I’d look silly sitting here all this time as if I’d nothing better to do than chat about nothing.

And anyhow, it ain’t as if she was some city girl all dandified up and looking down her nose at us. Why, I’ve always known her. I helped her father with his haying when I was ten. I threw mud in her face once when we got mad and had an argument. Must a been a dandy of an argument. Can’t rightly remember now what it was about. “Do you remember when I threw mud at you once when we was young? What was that argument about anyway?” I don’t recollect ever trying to drown kittens, but women is supposed to have better memories about those sorts of things. “I wouldn’t drown them now, that’s for certain. I’ve got five cats to home, and they multiply often. Oh, I leave the kittens round with folks I know will give ‘em a good home. Well, I hope I’d have changed. That were a long time ago.”

Now she’s getting up. Reckon I’ve stayed too long and made a nuisance of myself. Oh, she’s giving me some pie. “Mighty good pie. Strawberry rhubarb always was my favorite. No, one slice will do me up mighty fine. Thank you kindly.” I wonder how often she would make pies. This really is the best pie I ever have tasted. And the glass of milk washes it down real nice. Better ask how her ma’s doing. The old lady’s held up real well considering that stroke she had. Bit poorly? That’s a real shame. I’ll go up and see her before I go. Drat. I shouldn’t have said that about going. Now she’ll think I’m raring to go and shoo me out the door before I get it out. Better say it now. Can’t hurt none.

“I know this is a bit sudden…I’ve always held you in the highest regard…well yes, and your pies…But I ain’t a-asking you for your pies. Well, I would be mightily happy if you would wed with me, that’s all. I suppose I do love you. I know this ain’t the most romantic of proposals…You mean you will? Really you will? Sarah Jane, I am the happiest man alive, I reckon. Well I surely am glad you’re happy too—I’ll try to make you happy all our days. Yes, I will kiss you, if you don’t mind.”

A whirl of gaiety

We've been quite busy around here.

Wednesday night Fr. Adrian from St. Herman's Monastery in Platina, CA came to our church to deliver a lecture on the Georgian Saints. It was quite fascinating. I had grown up knowing about St. Nina and also by extension Queen Nana and King Mirian but the history of Georgian Orthodoxy goes far beyond them.

Thursday night St. Innocent's Academy from Kodiak, Alaska came through on their trip throughout the U.S. We gave them dinner and they sang for us. Then the students and young adults from the church danced. It was a lot of fun and I didn't get home until very late. I saw a few old friends which was lovely.

My family also picked strawberries and made two batches of strawberry jam, in addition to organizing the meal for the Academy. So we've been on the move!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Notes and observations

I have been reading too many old British novels. Those of you who have known me and my reading habits for some time may say, “And when are you not?” True. But I don’t normally go around using “one” as a pronoun. As in, “One wishes one could wallop him, but one knows one can’t.”

This being my mind, I started wondering what the immortal “Hairbrush” song from VeggieTales would sound like if one were to use “one” instead of my:
Where is one’s hairbrush?
Where is one’s hairbrush?
Where oh where oh where oh where oh where oh where
Is one’s hairbrush?

Earlier today I had an ant run up my arm. It was very tickly.

I plan to start a quilt. This is exciting because I have not quilted before. That is, I’ve attempted it, but I was far too ambitious. The current project is much more likely to succeed.

My brother needs books to read. Boy books for a twelve-year-old. I’d estimate that his reading ability is about average for that age, maybe a little less. He likes the Hardy Boys series, but we’d like him to read something a little less formulaic.

Why is it that I generally feel happier on a sunny day than on a grey one? Although, if there is any sort of wind or storm or if it is a particular kind of grey day, I’m happy as well.

My sister has left me for a whole week. I am desolate. She’s in California, attending the Young Women’s Conference. So I wander, disconsolate and alone, a lodge in a garden of cucumbers. (I’m double-quoting there.)

The blackberries in the back yard are blooming. I am mildly excited, but blackberries are considered weeds or as good as around here. They certainly are plentiful.

I baked bread today. I really love baking bread, especially kneading it. There’s something very restful about it. Besides, you get to eat your handiwork when you’re done and that’s always pleasant.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Friday Poetry

Tell me not that I am too late! Actually, I know I'm not. It's still Friday. On to the poetry.

My favorite e.e. cummings poem.

who are you,little i
(five or six years old)
peering from some high
window;at the gold
of November sunset
(and feeling:that if day
has to become night
this is a beautiful way)

And the roundup is here.

Social Injustice: Part 2

Part 1 here.

In my last post I talked mostly about the problems I had with the tactics the group on campus used. This post will focus mostly on the problems I had with their message. First, they assumed that everyone had to feel just as concerned over the issues they presented as they were. Second, they called themselves one thing but represented another. The third issue is a bit more complicated and so I will explain it when I get there.

Not everyone is the same. We all know this. We’ve had it drummed into our heads in both the secular and Christian worlds for decades. Some of us have had it drummed into our heads for as long as we’ve been alive. There is a lot of truth in the sentiment, although perhaps not in its usual application. Still, the fact remains, I will be passionate about issues in Kosovo, my friend about issues in Africa. I will passionate about feminism, or the response against it, my neighbor about racism. I cannot and should not be equally passionate about every social injustice out there. I deplore them, or most of them, but I will not care as much about some of them as others. That’s the way I am. The group on campus wanted everyone to care equally and if we did not, we were bad people. I personally refuse to be guilted into pretending a certain amount of concern for something when I really don’t care that certain amount.

While the group said that they were concerned with “social justice/injustice” (since they think we don’t have any), the only concerns they really brought forth were racism and sexism. My roommate pointed out that if they were really concerned with social justice they could have talked about poverty, hunger, and medical care. They did not. While the group tried to paint themselves as altruistic do-gooders several students ended up feeling that they were really addressing personal grievances; i.e., they were not really all that concerned with others.

As I already mentioned, the third issue is a bit more complex. It really stems, not from the group itself, but from one of its supporters. During a discussion about the recent events in my English class a young man said, “Well, we can’t ever really know what it’s like to have people tease you because you’re different. We can’t ever really know what it’s like to walk by people and hear them whisper and wonder if they’re whispering about you.” I looked around the room and saw people nodding their heads. Inside myself I thought, “I can.”

You see, I was teased all through middle school. I was nerdy, not pretty, and I wore skirts every day. It was a recipe for disaster. In some ways it gave me a toughness in the face of adversity and derision. For that I am very grateful. In other ways it left me scarred. I have indeed walked by people and heard them whispering and wondered if they were whispering about me, wondered if they were saying, “Oh what a strange girl.”

The social justice campaigners might think that all the teasing came about because I was a girl. After all, that’s really the only minority I’m a part of. I’m white and I’m Christian. The world should be handed to me on a silver platter, right?

Well, not really. I’m white, but my family has never had much money. I’m not bewailing the fact. In some ways I’m glad of it. It’s kept us from a lot of temptations because we simply couldn’t afford them. I’m Christian, but that has never been a guarantee of safety. In fact, the more Christian you are, the less likely it is to be so. It is because I am Christian that I wore skirts every day and so it is partly because I am Christian that I was teased. I do not fit into any of the boxes that the social justice people have prepared and labeled, therefore it is quite impossible that I should ever have experienced any of the behaviors they are trying to eradicate.

They’re wrong. Somehow I doubt they’ll learn otherwise because those of us with stories to tell are all too often afraid to smash the nice labeled boxes. People tend to get angry when you smash their boxes. I did not speak up in class and share my side of the story. Part of this was cowardice. Part of it was also that the flow of the discussion had moved on and it didn’t seem like the right time. Part of it was that I was so dumbfounded by the statement that my brain hadn’t begun to function again.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Social Injustice: Part 1

And after that, one of the most political posts I've ever written.

During the last year at my college a group of students decided to form a group to protest what they called “social injustices” on our campus. These essentially boiled down to racism and sexism. The main protest was a organized walk-out on classes. (Organized is debatable here since the e-mail announcing the walk-out was sent to the student body at midnight the night before.) Due to the early lack of turnout (perhaps, at least in part, due to the lack of organization?) the leaders decided to enter classrooms and verbally ask students already in class to leave. They came into my first class, demanded to be heard, stayed beyond the time given them by the professor and several of them refused to leave when asked. Fortunately, some who were more level-headed took control and they did leave. As it so happened, we were preparing for a test and the disruption was extremely unwelcome.

Naturally there was a great deal of discussion about this event among the student body. Interestingly, most of it was fairly negative. Even those, like myself, who would normally support the goals of the group were turned off by their approach. Many people felt that their entering classrooms and disrupting the classes went beyond the pale.

So what went wrong? Several things. First, there was no organization whatsoever. As far as I could tell, the whole thing was completely last minute. I only received the e-mail that morning and honestly, I laughed. If you’re trying to rouse college students you’ve got to think ahead a little more.

Second, their approach, both in actions and verbally, created an “us/them” situation. If you were really concerned about those issues you would walk out with us. If you stayed you obviously were condoning the issues they were so heroically fighting against. They especially alienated professors, both because of their entry into and disruption of classes and because they were downright rude. They turned the professors into enemies when they did not have to be. They tried to guilt people into joining them. And finally, they had a complete lack of respect and knowledge of the situation. For an example, look at the class I was in. We were preparing for an important test and we needed the review. The group that came in did not know this and did not ask. The professor gave them three minutes to give their speech. They took five. She said later that she was torn between wanting to give them a fair hearing and knowing that they were interrupting something important. After three minutes none of us had gotten up to join them. In fact, most of us were sending death-glares at them.

Because of all of these issues many people that might otherwise have joined the group didn’t. We stayed seated, not because we condoned racism and sexism, but because we did not want to identify ourselves with the group—not the individual people, but the tactics.

Part 2 tomorrow

Further ruminations, on a different subject

This has been a very lit-y blog for the past two weeks. I suppose in a way that’s because I don’t have anything else to say. I know that sounds odd because, after all, there are such interesting and wonderful and dreadful things going on in the world. I could be talking about those, couldn’t I?

Well, yes. I could. But this blog was never meant to be political. It has, on occasion, become so. Those few occasions (are there even more than one?) come less out of a sense of political obligation than out of a sense of who I am. That sounds terribly narcissistic, but it’s true.

I don’t want to imply that I am apolitical. Not at all. I care very deeply about a great many political issues. But my politics are such that almost no one ever agrees with me fully. And because this is a public blog and anyone can read it I do not feel comfortable sharing some of the more controversial parts of my politics. Perhaps this is cowardice on my part, but so far I cannot take that next step.

I have a few other reasons for not talking about current events, but they are entirely personal and so I won’t share them.

Back to my lack of verbosity. I truly admire people like the Deputy Headmistress over at the Common Room, people who are able to write a great deal, fluently, on almost every possible subject. But I am not one of them. Writing is a hard process for me and a long one. When I first started blogging (over a year ago now) I felt guilty about that. I felt like I ought to be able to write a post every day and have it be great. I felt guilty that (as far as I could tell) only a few people ever read my blog; if that was true it must be uninteresting, which would mean I’m a terrible blogger.

It’s taken me a year to start (with little tiny baby steps) to break out of that pattern of thinking. I am not the Deputy Headmistress (we knew this already, didn’t we?). I am not any of the talented and prolific bloggers out there. I can’t think up snappy titles to save my life. Many of my thoughts remain entirely private. On some level that’s not a good thing and I should work at it. On another level, that’s who I am. Some days I can’t think of anything to blog about. And that’s all right too.

I’m beginning to have some more ideas about what to write about. We will see how many of them actually come to pass. Hopefully some of them will, but I can’t guarantee it.

To those out there who have put up with my fits and starts, thank you. Sometimes I have thought about stopping completely, but then I think of the few I know who do read this occasionally and I’ve decided that as long as I know even one person reads this even occasionally I’ll keep going.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Posts to read

This is a round up of posts that I have read in about the last month or so and think should be shared. (Krista, if you read this, I promise I did not steal this idea from you. We're just posting at the same time.)

Fr. Joseph Honeycutt who quoted Bishop Basil on why we should be at church when the service starts.

Anna from Pleasant View Schoolhouse on Homeschooling Heresies.

The Journey series on YLCF, which begins here.

Ruth's post on Freedom from Fear.

Krista's post, "Echoes." I'd read this one before, but it still gave me shivers up and down my spine.

Benedict Seraphim always has something interesting to share. His post on his chrismation is marvellous.

And last of all, something funny: the LOLAusten series at AustenBlog. It starts here and continues here, here, here, and here. (Some make much more sense if you read AustenBlog regularly.)

Dandelion Wine: A Review

Dandelion Wine
by Ray Bradbury

Young writers are often told to “write what you know,” a phrase usually taken to mean that said young writer should focus on the events of their own life in looking for inspiration. In a way, Dandelion Wine is a book produced out of that impulse. It is obviously mostly autobiographical, even without the clear proof of Bradbury’s introduction. It is the story of the summer of 1928 in Green Town, Illinois. Although the story is ostensibly from Douglas Spaulding’s point of view as a twelve-year old boy, the narrator is much older and many of the events of the story are told from the point of view of older characters. There is sometimes a sort of irony in the difference between their observations and the “discoveries” of Douglas and his brother Tom which follow those observations. Because Douglas is not the sole narrator this is really not a book for children. It is a book for those who remember being a child.

Bradbury is a master of the short story form and in many ways this book is really a collection of short stories about various citizens of Green Town in summer 1928, all of them held together by the framework of Douglas. The stories move in chronological order, often with interlocking plots and characters. Miss Roberta and Miss Fern are frequently seen, as are Douglas and Tom’s grandparents. This interlocking gives a sense of life in this small town, where people’s lives do not occur separately, but are interwoven.

Bradbury is also a master of prose and nowhere more so than here. Open the book to almost any page and almost any paragraph and you will find a gem waiting for you. There on the first page:

A whole summer ahead to cross off the calendar, day by day. Like the goddess Siva in the travel books, he saw his hands jump everywhere, pluck sour apples, peaches, and midnight plums. He would be clothed in trees and bushes and rivers. he would freeze, gladly, in the hoarfrosted icehouse door. He would bake, happily, with ten thousand chickens, Grandma’s kitchen.

And there are many others scattered throughout the book.

My favorite of all the stories is the time machine. This being Ray Bradbury, you might suppose that this is a time machine in the conventional science fiction sense. But Dandelion Wine is full of surprises. This time machine is no metal contraption. It is an old man, Colonel Freeleigh, who remembers the bison and the Civil War, although he cannot remember which side he fought on. He brings the past to life for the three friends, Charlie, John, and Douglas.

This is a book to revisit in the same way that Bradbury is revisiting the summers of his childhood, a book to savour and to let sink into your pores. It is a book which, like the dandelion wine of the title, you could open in the winter when you need the golden warmth of summer; it is a book which you could open in the summer to taste the flavor of all the summers past.

Highly recommended.

Monday, June 11, 2007


It's interesting to me how much our culture values the idea of "making the world a better place." Of course the concept is a good thing, but should it be the primary goal of our lives? I trow not. Our primary goal is salvation and, for the Orthodox at least, beyond that theosis. Making the world a better place falls naturally into place when your eyes are directed towards heaven. That sounds paradoxical, but it is true. The world is not just the physical universe we inhabit. It is the people we come into contact with one way or another every day. When our sight is on heaven and our hearts are warmed with the love of Christ we will also love our neighbors and by loving them we will make the world a better place. As St. Seraphim of Sarov said, "Save yourself [or acquire the grace of the Holy Spirit, depending on the translation] and thousands around you will be saved." For confirmation of his teaching we need look no further than his own life.

In the cultural idea of "making the world a better place" the emphasis is all on the external. If you give to charity, if you volunteer at a soup kitchen, you are making the world a better place. But is not secret prayer just as important? To the secular idea of a "good person" it is not. To the believing Christian there is nothing more important. The saints of the Orthodox church prayed for everyone. Some were even known to pray for the demons. We may spend our lives doing good deeds for others, but if we focus on ourselves and how good it is of us to do this we lose all grace. Only when our hearts are open to pain of those we are trying to help and when we no longer focus on ourselves but on the person in front of us can we begin to participate in God's energies and gain the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Friday, June 08, 2007

At the Altar: A review

At the Altar
by L.M. Montgomery, edited by Rea Wilmshurst

This is a book for the unabashed romantic and the unabashed Montgomery lover. It contains nineteen short stories by Montgomery, all concerning (you guessed it!) marriage. Some stories are quite humorous; “Them Notorious Pigs,” for example. Most are more typically romantic, although all of them have the undeniable tang that Montgomery imparts to her characters. Even the most predictable stories are seldom boring.

Of course, they are predictable. In a collection focusing on love and weddings that is almost a given. There are no surprises here. Well, perhaps half a one. But if you throw all desire for a spectacular climax to the winds, sit back, and enjoy the journey, the stories are often quite rewarding. The minor characters quite often had me in stitches (Aunt Marcella in “What Aunt Marcella Would Have Called It,” Miss Susan in “By the Rule of Contrary”) and the main characters are usually sympathetic and at least semi-believable.

In my opinion, the absolute worst part of this book is the front cover, which depicts a young girl in a shirtwaist and black skirt standing in an orchard with a gentleman some years her senior behind her. I am not sure what story this is supposed to represent, but it ranks up there with the cover of The Blue Castle and the “Nibbler” cover of Persuasion. The whole thing makes the book look like a second-class romance novel. I would like to hear what L.M. Montgomery would say if she could see it.


Stolen from Katie.

In what time era do you belong?

You are in the Victorian Age. And what a beautiful age it is! You want an age away from the one we live in right now. You want to live in a place where there is beauty and well mannered people. A place where the family and friends are indeed very important. A place filled with fashion. The Vicotrian age is perfect for you, it has all of that plus the added bonus of horse drawn carriages.
Take this quiz!


Make A Quiz More Quizzes Grab Code

Thursday, June 07, 2007

St. Nikolai Velimirovitch

Last night my church showed a video on the life of St. Nikolai Velimirovitch. (I posted his life here.) The video, entitled "St. Nikolai the Serb," showed St. Nikolai's life from his birth past his death and canonization. I knew St. Nikolai's life in a general way, but I had not realized what a great preacher he was, nor his involvement with the youth of Serbia. The video was very instructive, but beyond that it warmed my heart, not in the worldly warm-fuzzy way, but in a very real spiritual sense. St. Nikolai, who lived and died in our century, in our country, ought to be an inspiration for all of us Orthodox Christians.

He was a very intelligent and highly educated man. He knew Western thought and philosophy and held two doctorates from Western universities. He appreciated at least some of what he learned. For instance, on the anniversary of Shakespeare's death he gave a wonderful speech which the video excerpted. He was an eloquent and fiery preacher (some have called him the "Serbian Chrysostom."). But his heart and soul, and indeed his mind, were Orthodox.

During World War I the Serbian government sent him abroad to try to raise support for the Serbian army which was almost completely overwhelmed. Everywhere he went crowds came to hear him. He preached in the major cathedrals of Britain. He was there when the Treaty of Versailles, which created the false state of Yugoslavia, was signed and in his sermon he called Britain to repent because they had not asked God's approval on this treaty. He called on them to fall to their knees and ask for forgiveness and as he did so the thousands who were listening obeyed.

All of this was certainly impressive. But no less important was his work in Serbia, building up the churches, establishing groups of youth throughout the country. One person was quoted as saying that the survival of Serbian Orthodoxy during the Communist period was probably due to the youth that St. Nikolai encouraged and strengthened.

He and Patriarch Gavrilo suffered terribly during the German occupation of Serbia in World War II. They were kept under house arrest and then sent to Dachau. After they were freed and the war ended St. Nikolai went to America while Patriarch Gavrilo returned to Serbia. Communism had already begun. For the rest of his life St. Nikolai lived in exile. He taught at St. Tikhon Seminary in Pennsylvania and also at St. Sava Seminary in Illinois. He died at St. Tikhon's in March 1956. He was buried at St. Sava's where he remained until 1991 when his body was finally returned to his homeland.

I was truly touched and inspired by the life of this Godly man. We may not be St. Nikolai, but let us try all the same to emulate him and to carry on his example.

Holy St. Nikolai, pray to God for us!

Links about St. Nikolai:
Prayers by the Lake. Written while he was bishop of Zicha and Ochrid.
Life of St. Nikolai.
Online Prologue from Ochrid.
Prologue in book form.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Theatre Shoes: A Review

Theatre Shoes
by Noel Streatfeild

This book is a direct sequel to Ballet Shoes, although I read it first this time around. It takes place about ten years after Ballet Shoes, in the middle of World War II. Sorrel, Mark, and Holly Forbes are living with their grandfather because their mother is dead and their father is in the Navy and has now gone missing. When their grandfather dies suddenly they are forced to go and live with their mother’s mother in London. She happens to be a famous actress along with the rest of the Warren family. She assumes that the three children will act as well and enters them in Madame Fidolia’s Children’s Academy of Dancing and Stage Training (at this point those who have read Ballet Shoes go “Aha!”). Sorrel worries because she knows that Mark wants to go into the Navy and their grandmother won’t hear of it. All the same, she grows to like Madame Fidolia’s, where she and Mark and Holly are given scholarships by the Fossil sisters.

I like Theatre Shoes a bit better than Ballet Shoes, mostly because the situation is a little less…absurd. None of the Forbes were rescued off of an iceberg. The characters, with the exception of one, are nicely delineated. Sorrel happens to be my favorite, probably because I am also an oldest child and so I relate to her worries. I also particularly like Hannah, the nurse, and Alice, grandmother’s old dresser. (As in, the woman who took care of her costumes, not the chest of drawers.)

Like Ballet Shoes, Theatre Shoes offers a nice glimpse into life at the time the story is set. It is hard to realize sometimes that even in England people suffered deprivations from the war. As it says at one point, even if they had had the money to buy anything, there simply wasn’t anything to be had.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Ballet Shoes: A Review

Ballet Shoes
By Noel Streatfeild

The first in the long list of Streatfeild books, this is the story of Pauline, Petrova, and Posy Fossil. They weren’t born sisters, but after Gum (Great-Uncle-Matthew) collects them in his travels, they became the Fossil sisters. (Fossil because Gum used to collect fossils before he lost his leg and then he collected them instead.)

The bulk of the book deals with the three girls at Madame Fidolia’s Children’s Academy of Dancing and Stage Training. Posy exhibits a remarkable talent for dancing, Pauline for acting, and Petrova….well, Petrova is certainly talented, but her talents lie more in the world of aviation than anything else. Still Garnie, their guardian (Gum’s real great-neice), needs the money so Petrova keeps on dancing.

The book is a simple and sweet story with the three girls and the somewhat unlikely household around them realistically and sympathetically drawn. Gum is away on a long voyage and so he becomes a sort of mythic figure—a shadowy presence that the girls don’t remember but that nonetheless influenced the whole course of their lives.

The book also gives the reader an interesting glimpse into life in London in the years before WWII. The girls are definitely poor and the book does not shy away from portraying their struggles with their lack of means. Almost everything works out in the end, but enough is left unresolved to keep the story from becoming unbelievable or unpalatably sweet. In my opinion, the most unbelievable thing about the story is the way that the three girls are found. But I’m not sure that we aren’t meant to laugh at that part and not entirely believe it.

Highly recommended.

Monday, June 04, 2007

The History of England: A Review

The History of England
By a prejudiced, partial, and ignorant historian (Jane Austen)

Most Janeites know Jane Austen’s biting wit of old. It is certainly present in all of her novels. But if you love Jane Austen and have not read “The History of England,” you are missing one of the most exuberant displays of that wit. This little book, written by a young Jane and dedicated to her sister Cassandra, pokes fun at historians, historical figures, and unreasonable prejudices. The edition I read included both a facsimile copy of the manuscript, complete with Cassandra’s pictures, and the text typed out (since the handwriting is a bit hard to read sometimes).

The “historian” is an ardent advocate for the Stuart family and anyone who is a Stuart or helped a Stuart is entirely innocent of any wrong they might have been accused of. Anyone hurt or opposed a Stuart is instantly vilified. Poor Elizabeth I, who executed Mary, Queen of Scots, has no chance at all. She is “that disgrace to humanity, that pest of society, Elizabeth….the destroyer of all comfort, the deceitful Betrayer of trust reposed in her, & the Murderess of her Cousin.”

A reasonable knowledge of English history from the reigns of Edward IV to Charles I is helpful when reading this, but the main part of the history, from Henry VIII to Elizabeth (that pest of society) should be accessible to everyone. Highly recommended for all ages.

Friday, June 01, 2007


I've had a busy couple of days. I'm looking for work over the summer and finding it a slow and often discouraging process. And then I went to the library yesterday and have been reading every chance I get since then.

Which means that I have reviews to write. I don't know that any of them will be done for tomorrow, but early next week I should have at least three to post. Probably more by then.

I'm looking forward to the weekend because I feel like I need washing. It's hard to explain, but sometimes I just want to go to church. Not for the service, not for the fellowship, but because being in a building where people have prayed for any number of years and praying yourself is the best way of re-aligning yourself to God that I know. The church is not just a building like any other. (Actually, I wrote a poem about that once. I wonder where it is.) In some ineffable way it is home. I think that all must be hard to understand (fully, anyway) unless you're Orthodox.

So I am looking forward to the services this weekend. And I hope to return to you on Monday renewed and refreshed!