It Is Good to Be Here May 18, 2020

 Father Stephen Freeman

A few days ago, after hearing a very distressing bit of social news, I found myself saying, “I don’t want to be here anymore.” It was a voice of despair and sadness. The occasion had been a public altercation in which a stranger spat at a woman. It was the sort of thing that belongs among the lowest of human actions. But it happened.

My topic is my own reaction. I found my mind tossed about, looking for comfort or escape. At the end of the day, I shared my thoughts with my wife and said aloud, “I don’t want to be here anymore.” I was taken aback by my own words. The goodness of creation had disappeared in a dark act of senseless anger.

My distress was also a cry for something better, to be free of the darkness. The truth is that the darkness was slowly drawing me down. Our social strain is manifesting itself in many ways, many of them revealing the profound disease that underlies our culture. And this is nothing new.

In 532 A.D., in Constantinople, over the course of a week, large parts of the city were destroyed by rioting and fires (including an earlier Church of Hagia Sophia). This was in the early years of Justinian the Great’s reign. To read the story of this event is to enter a part of Byzantine culture often overlooked or ignored (particularly by the Orthodox). The city had deep divisions between two semi-political sports-factions, the Blues and the Greens. Sports riots were quite common. The factions also had connections to various nobles and senators with designs on the empire. Justinian was at a low point in popularity.

The riots began in the Hippodrome, following the 22nd chariot race of the day. The palace was placed under siege, and the rioters set fires. Justinian thought to flee, but his wife, Theodora, talked him out of it and encouraged him to fight it out. I think Justinian was at a point of, “I don’t want to be here anymore.”

With a bit of intrigue and a massive show of brute force, Justinian brought the city under control. The massacre that ended the riots is said to have resulted in over 30,000 deaths. Later that same year, construction began on the present Church of Hagia Sophia. Five years later, with its completion, as well as numerous other projects, Justinian had transformed the city towards the glory that would make it renowned throughout the world.

This story could be matched repeatedly by various chapters in the history of the faith. Both Justinian and Theodora are saints of the Church. Justinian began as a peasant from the Balkans, Theodora as an actress and a prostitute. The riots of Constantinople (and elsewhere) were, as often as not, engendered by theological disputes as well as by politics and chariot races. The full account of Christian history is messy and marked as much by darkness as by light.

Nevertheless, “the Light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it.” During the period of time of the Nika riots, Mary of Egypt was newly reposed; Benedict of Nursia was writing his Rule; Isaac of Syria was composing his hymns; Brendan the Navigator was crossing the Atlantic; Romanus the Melodist was composing his Akathist hymn; Sabbas the Sanctified was founding the monastery of the Lavra outside of Jerusalem; Columba of Iona was evangelizing Scotland, and, doubtless, thousands of other unknown souls sustained the universe with their prayers.

Our time is no different. The glories of Byzantium contained disgusting seasons of hatred, lust, and destruction. The darkness of our time contains the brightness of good souls whose deeds are known only to God and whose prayers keep modernity at bay and secretly fight the hidden Mystery of Iniquity. Despair comes when we look at the dark and forget the light.

This is the great battle that rages in our day. It is precisely the same battle that raged in the time of Justinian (one and the same battle). Whatever might seem of importance is but a shadow cast by the darkness. Then, it was  Blues versus Greens; now, it is Reds versus Blues. Their champions are forgotten as are their causes. Our champions will be swept away into the dustbin of history along with their urgencies. Justinian is not remembered for the riots but for a Church. And even so, many do not recall his name. Some do not know the Church. But Holy Wisdom, in whose honor the Church is named, continues to frame and sustain the universe, sweeping away the meaningless dust of the darkness while building on the foundation of light.

It is good to be here.

Four years after the completion of Hagia Sophia, a plague struck Constantinople and the Eastern Empire (believed to be Bubonic Plague), killing nearly half the population. The Byzantine Empire never truly recovered.

Dog tricks

Can a dog teach us anything? Loki my rescue dog is roughly a year and a month old. He and his stepsister came into our lives out of a moment of weakness. So new puppies are great right, RIGHT, well Loki, the subject here has been a blessing in disguise. At first, he was precious and well behaved, did well at lessons. Something happened. My sweet new pup had become reactive, a term unknown to me until the dog trainer explained, scared of everything. Now the dog I had hoped would be my walking partner would need special therapy (Don) just kidding. So, we all come upon unexpected trials in life. A reactive dog, COVID 19, untimely death. But God tells us to persevere, every day is new. It is said, dogs live in the moment, so enjoy each moment that you have. Loki, like all of us, is a work in progress, but he is full of unconditional love, love for his master.

You care for people and animals alike, O LORD. How precious is your unfailing love, O God! PSALM 36:6-7

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. JAMES 1:2-3,

 “The dog is the most faithful of animals and would be much esteemed were it not so common. Our Lord God has made his greatest gifts the commonest.” I think God has given us a model of walking, breathing grace in these amazing creatures. Martin Luther


“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”2 Timothy 1:7
Sing No longer slaves,

“Courage is the power of the mind to overcome fear”.
Martin Luther King Jr.

“By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the Lord one turns away from evil.”Proverbs 16:6
When the coronavirus warnings started trumpeting one of my fellow deputies observed, why so much fear in the headlines. Yes, it seems the news media will always turn up the anxious level when events like coronavirus occur. So, I read a bit about fear, I learned there are at least two kinds of it. First there is the kind of fear Scrooge had for the ghost of Christmas yet to come. The unrepentant Ebenezer feared death. The sort of fear a prisoner or a sick person might have, a fear of the unknown.
The second kind of fear is described by protestant reformer Martin Luther who wrote, “There is a form of fear when a respectful child fears their parents, not because of possible punishment but because they don’t want to disappoint or let down the family. The fear of the lord is what Luther was focusing on. So we develop a Holy fear that will shape our thoughts, make us bold in love, and give us power over the unknown. In this time and always, we need to trust God with the confidence a child has toward a loving father.
Blessings, Pastor Roger Hovis

Today’s Prayer:
Lord, I do love You and I desire to surrender to You everything in my life that keeps me from loving You with my whole heart. Give me a holy fear so that I may draw closer to You and learn to love others as You love them. Jesus, I trust in You. Amen.

Lent 2020

GREETING AND SONG – Brother Darren



Announcements  Brother Darren

Opening prayer – Psalm 32, Pastor Roger Psalm 32

from David

Count yourself lucky, how happy you must be— you get a fresh start, your slate’s wiped clean. 2 Count yourself lucky— GOD holds nothing against you and you’re holding nothing back from him. 3 When I kept it all inside, my bones turned to powder, my words became daylong groans. 4 The pressure never let up; all the juices of my life dried up. 5 Then I let it all out; I said, “I’ll make a clean breast of my failures to GOD .” Suddenly the pressure was gone— my guilt dissolved, my sin disappeared. 6 These things add up. Every one of us needs to pray; when all hell breaks loose and the dam bursts we’ll be on high ground, untouched. 7 GOD ’s my island hideaway, keeps danger far from the shore, throws garlands of hosannas around my neck. 8 Let me give you some good advice; I’m looking you in the eye and giving it to you straight: 9 “Don’t be ornery like a horse or mule that needs bit and bridle to stay on course.” 10 God-defiers are always in trouble; GOD -Affirmers find themselves loved every time they turn around.11 Celebrate GOD . Sing together everyone – All you honest hearts, sing for joy!

Play Ball! Ethics in a Postmodern World

A Potter's View

The World Series in Baseball begins October 22. I love baseball, especially college play. The NCAA limits the number of scholarship players to 11.7 so there’s about 23 out of a total of 35 who are playing because they simply love the game. It’s one of the purest sports left on the athletic landscape. The College World Series in Omaha is a treat that should be on everyone’s bucket list. I’ve been 6 times. Once driving straight-through by myself, once with Cindy, and four times with our youngest son, Caleb. It’s great!

As I think about our postmodern culture wars there are two statements that come to me from my experience with baseball, from my own playing and managing days, as well as from enjoying the game from the seats: “Remember what’s fair and what’s foul;” and “Always think about what you’re going to do if the ball comes to…

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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!