Candlewax and Hedgehogs-groundhog day -Fr S Freeman

Candlewax and Hedgehogs—a peculiar way to entitle an article, I’ll admit. But both have their associations with the second day of February. The first is more important so we’ll begin there. The second day of February is one of the 12 great feasts, and is also celebrated by Christians in the West. The feast is the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, described in the second chapter of St. Luke’s gospel.

There we are told that the Christ child was brought by his mother into the temple in fulfillment of the law, 40 days after his birth (February 2 is 40 days after December 25). The Old Testament Law commanded that “every male that openeth the womb (the first born child) shall be holy to the Lord.” Thus the child was brought to the Temple in Jerusalem and an offering made on His behalf in thanksgiving to God for his birth.

The Most Holy Mother of God certainly kept this teaching of the Law. We are told that she brought her child to the Temple to make offering (and to receive her purification—another required rite of the Temple). There she was met by two people, one a woman, another a man, and both of them prophets. The woman, Anna the Prophetess, spoke to her concerning her child. The aged prophet Symeon, saw the mother and Child and exclaimed in words we repeat at every Vespers:

Lord now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace. For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people. To be a Light to enlighten the nations and to be the glory of Thy people Israel.

This prophecy of St. Symeon has as its key phrase the description that Christ would be a “light to enlighten the gentiles.” It is the emphasis on light that brings these words each evening to the service of Vespers, when we give thanks to God for the Light He has given us. It is also for this reason that candles are blessed on this holy day. The candles of the Church (and especially those to be taken home and used by the faithful) are blessed on this day, because they remind us that Christ is the “light of the world.”

The associations of this feast with light is also where the hedgehogs come in. Christian cultures have usually never let the feasts of the Church stay within the Church itself, but have exported them to the house and farm. So it was that in Europe (particularly Germany) there arose a folk custom that on the Feast of the Presentation (also called “Candlemas” because candles were blessed on that day) that if a hedgehog [badgers in some areas] should come out of his burrow and see the light (and thus his shadow) he would return to his burrow because winter would last six more weeks.

German immigrants brought this folk custom to America in the 1800’s. There being no hedgehogs in North America, the groundhog was drafted to take its place. Thus the secular calendar in America celebrates “Groundhog Day.” But only the faithful Christian knows and understands the secret of the Light that shines on February 2nd. Not the light of the sun, frightening a furry creature back into his hole, but the Light of Christ, which frightens all the evil powers that would do us harm.

For an interesting theological meditation on Groundhog Day, I suggest you rent and view the movie by that title. Bill Murray finds redemption as he lives his way through a near eternity of Groundhog Days. But I will spare you.

Three dogs

By Brother Luke

            It’s Christmas afternoon. Matins and Divine Liturgy are in the past. The community meal is in the future. Right now, before early evening chores in the puppy kennel, I have some time to exhale!  The dogs and I have been out for a walk, but now I want to rest in my chair and maybe read, with the soft sounds of Christmas carols and songs in the background.  As I settle in, the dogs have to work out their own plan for the siesta. What? Siesta! No chance! Well, maybe a chance for Kahn.  He usually comes over to me for a good long petting session; it seems we need to assure each other that we are still around! Once done, then he will settle down for a bit on his therapeutic dog bed. But before long he ambles over to the door and lies down near the crack at the bottom of the door to get a bit of the breeze coming in. After all, my window faces south, and we get the afternoon winter sun right through the windows. The room does heat up. 

            Meanwhile, Fuller and Iris are playing their games with the Nylabone toys. Even in my small room there is still space for the ubiquitous keep-away game, even if only in short spurts. I hear the growls as one pup tries to steal the bone from the other. But before long Fuller will begin his special game with me. It is the indoor version of kick a stick, so he can chase it and bring it to me (maybe). In this indoor version, he brings one of the Nylabones, well chewed and dripping with saliva, and drops it on the old phone stand I have next to the chair for my books. If I don’t respond, then he picks it up and drops it right on me. Maybe on my legs. If it sticks and I don’t toss it, then he picks it up and keeps dropping it closer and closer to my face. Each time he drops it, he stands back, sits down, and stares at me with his tongue just ever so slightly hanging down out of his mouth.  If my eyes are closed, then of course it is to no immediate effect, but in my mind’s eye I know what is going on, since I have seen it so many times before. Often I will toss the bone, hoping it will land on a dog bed and not bang up against the wall, the heat register, or the side of the armoire, or the desk, disturbing the silence in the cloister (about which I will later hear). Sometimes when I toss the bone, Iris will get into the act and steal it from Fuller. Then he looks around, at first puzzled, unsure what has become of HIS bone. But of course, in the world of dog play, who really possesses anything?  Isn’t it all up for grabs? 

            Iris is often content just to chew on her Nylabone toy. She can play or not play. It is usually her prerogative anyway.  Or she might come over to me and leap right up onto my lap. I might say NO! but I usually give in first and give her a petting session too. Then I tell her it’s time to get down. Sometimes the two of them, Fuller and Iris, will be next to each other, Iris chewing on a toy or not while Fuller is chewing furiously, with an abandon that makes you think there must be something special hidden inside that he is determined to get out. But no, it’s just the same old bone! 

            Sometimes I fall asleep in that chair and Fuller will drop the bone on me, wait for a bit, but finally give up and leave it there. When I wake up and move, clunk! The bone will fall to the ground, and he’ll rush over to get it. Eyes bright and expectant, thinking the game is going to begin again. And it may, but often when I wake up I realize I am late for whatever comes next: church, kennels, a meal, whatever.  Well, today, it is the kennel, so off I go.

            When the time comes for my journey to go from here over to the other world, I hope Fuller is still around. I would want him to come to my funeral and come up to the open casket and drop that Nylabone in. He’ll then sit expectantly, waiting for me to toss it. Well, like so many other times, I won’t toss it, and he’ll have to move it closer to my face!   But of course, he won’t know that I’ll be watching, as I usually did, and I’ll be tossing it for him from afar… and he’ll get it, only there will be a bit of a delay. But he’ll get it. He always does!

Joy to the world

No More Let Sin and Sorrows Grow
December 27, 2018 By Mark D. Roberts
He has remembered his love
and his faithfulness to Israel;
all the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation of our God.
Psalm 98:3

The third stanza of Isaac Watts’s beloved hymn, “Joy to the World,” reads, “No more let sin and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow, far as the curse is found, far as the curse is found, far as, far as the curse is found.” This verse, unlike the other three, is the least like what we find in Psalm 98, the psalm that provided the theological basis for “Joy to the World.” Given that this hymn was Watts’s singable, Christian version of Psalm 98, we may wonder where he got verse 3.
The answer points, first of all, to Genesis 3. There we find sin and sorrows, thorns infesting the ground, and the curse of both ground and the serpent. The man and woman would live in a world broken by the curse of sin. Because of sin and its curse, their work, whether giving birth or farming, would be painful and difficult. Clearly, Watts had Genesis 3 in mind while writing the third verse of his hymn.
But where does Watts get the idea that the Lord’s blessings would flow in such a way that sorrows would shrink and thorns disappear? Again, we need to look back to Genesis, this time to Genesis 1. There, after God created humanity as male and female, we read, “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.’” God blessed the first humans, in part, by giving them work to do. Sin made their work painful and frustrating. But God does not leave humanity in this sad state, saddled by the curse. Rather, Christ brings the fullness of God’s salvation, forgiving human sin and restoring broken creation. Thus, the salvation of Christ leads to a new flow of God’s blessing “far as the curse is found.” The ground will no longer be cursed, making human work fall short of the blessing God intended it to be. The blessings of Christ’s salvation will indeed flow so as to restore the original blessing of human work.
Though we continue to live in a world tainted by sin, a world of sorrows and thorns, in Christ we begin to experience the life of the future. Yes, our work will still be painful and frustrating. But, through Christ’s grace, we will at times sense that our work is a blessing, a chance for us to partner with God in the good work of tending his creation. Thus, we will join creation in celebrating the coming of our redeeming, restoring Savior.
Something to Think About:

In what ways do you experience the “thorns” that plague human work because of sin?
Are there times when you experience work as a blessing?
In what ways have the blessings of Christ flowed into your life?

Something to Do: Find a copy of “Joy to the World,” all four stanzas. Then, compare this Christmas hymn to the words of Psalm 98. See what you discover through this comparative exercise.

Prayer: Joy to the world! The Lord is come.
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room;
And heav’n and nature sing,
And heav’n and nature sing.
And heav’n and heav’n and nature sing.
Joy to the world, the Savior reigns
Let men their songs employ.
While fields and floods,
Rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat the sounding joy.
No more let sin and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as the curse is found. Amen.

Feel Good Sunday: The Advocate, the Guard and the Force of the Horse at Christmas

Straight from the Horse's Heart

Excerpt from the book “Straight from the Horse’s Heart” by R.T. Fitch

“An annual repeat but one of my favorites as there is a whole lot of my own blood, sweat and tears in this tale. 

Again, although written almost a decade ago the words speak to what we still do this day. 

One could call that pathetic but I prefer to call it tenacity as we have morphed and are working in ways and with tools we did not have ten years ago. 

In fact, as we continue to fight for the wild ones, neither the enemy nor advocates are aware that we are pumping information to news outlets from behind the scenes.  Yup, quietly and covertly Wild Horse Freedom Federation is filing FOIAs, writing columns, conducting covert investigations and selectively releasing information to those who will spread the word.  We have matured.

So if you don’t…

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The Christmas When Everybody Was There December 24, 2018 · Fr. Stephen Freeman

The soldiers were scattered across Europe with the loneliness of war. The world was caught up in a total struggle. Women had gone to the factories; children were collecting scrap metal. The “war effort” was universal. In many places, food was rationed. The madhouse of consumption belonged only to the war; everything else could wait. And there was Christmas. Hollywood and Tin Pan Alley were part of the effort as well, cranking out songs that have never gone away. The mood was one of deep sentimentality and hope. “I’ll be home for Christmas,” the radios played, and soldiers wept.

Being born in the early 50’s, I grew up in the cultural aftermath of the Second World War. The adults had not recovered from the experience and continued to remember it actively, even passionately. When rationing ended in Britain in 1954, there were those who felt that something important had been lost. At one point, the Labour Party had argued for indefinite rationing. The commonality of shared suffering, it seemed, was a stronger bond than the commonality of shared prosperity. Interesting that.

No one was nostalgic for the war itself. The fighting, bombing and the certainty of death and injury were gladly left behind. But the common bond of a common effort remained a lively part of a generation’s memory. The stories only ended when they were laid to rest. The nostalgia, I think, was for the commonality, an experience that banished loneliness and gave meaning to even the smallest actions. The prosperity that followed was hollow. For what purpose do we now shop?

Commonality is a fundamental part of life in a healthy world. It is akin to love itself and an extension of self-sacrifice. It is a world in which we receive far more than we give. It is also something that lies at the heart of the classical Christian account of salvation. We are saved within an act of inexhaustible and all-encompassing commonality in the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ. Unless those events are seen through the lens of commonality, they cannot be understood.

St. Paul describes Christ as the “Second Adam.” He does not mean by this that Christ is merely a “do-over,” a second start for humanity. Rather, as an Adam, He is a summary and “re-capitulation” of the whole of humanity. The name “Adam,” in Hebrew, also means “man.” It is the term for our collective humanity as well as the man, Adam. As Second Adam, Christ is the new Man, but also a collective new Man. It is this that is referenced by St. Paul when he says that we should put off the old man and put on the new (Col. 3:9-10).

The Virgin is more than the one who carries the Christ Child in her womb; she is also the source of His humanity. He “took flesh” of the Virgin Mary (σαρκωθέντα ἐκ Πνεύματος Ἁγίου καὶ Μαρίας τῆς παρθένου), the Creed tells us. That “flesh” should not be seen as an isolated reference to biological meat. It is everything that constitutes our humanity: “and was made man” (ἐνανθρωπήσαντα). The reality of our humanity, whether of the First Adam or the Second, is collective.

In the Orthodox tradition, the two Sundays before Christmas are set aside to commemorate the Holy Forefathers, and the Holy Ancestors. It is a recognition that in the flesh of Mary is the flesh of many generations, indeed, the gathering of all flesh. It is a recognition that in the faith of Mary is the faith of the generations that have gone before as well. Christ has come for us, in us, that with us in Him, He might live, die and live again and we as well. This is the true fullness of Christmas.

In this true story of Christmas, everyone comes home. We are all there. We are united together in Christ in the common struggle that is our salvation. This war in which we live is the only true World War, and perhaps greater than that. Its outcome has long ago been determined in Christ but it remains something to be lived and fulfilled in us.

We’ll be home for Christmas. Christ is born. Glorify Him.