Monday, December 6, 2010

Forest Dormitory

Posted: 6 December 2010; Updated: 6 April 2011

Forest Lodge Dormitory

In this personal "Odyssey" I have been concerned with understanding and integrating the Russian Orthodox tradition of my Ukraine-born, Orthodox-baptised father as well as the Mormon tradition of my Arizona-born mother into which I was born and reared. I  have been seeking to integrate and transcend both traditions. This often conflicting process has evoked dreams, the latest of which came on December 1, 2010.  I believe it sums up my recent experience with the Orthodox clergy.

As the reader must know by now and reviewing earlier posts, I value dreams to tell us all (at least me) our deeper personal truth beyond waking identity. Posted below is the Dec. 1 dream, which I interviewed on December 5, 2010, using both my CREEI dream work process and the Integral Deep Listening (IDL) technique developed by psychotherapist friend Dr. Joseph Dillard of Berlin.

After doing the 5 December IDL interview on my own, I sent it to Dr. Dillard to which he replied the next day:

Thanks for your dream. Yes, I think you've nailed it - seems to be about the receptivity or lack thereof within the religious community that you are communicating with. It seems to me that you would probably get a better reception among the Unitarians or from local members of Mensa, for example, than from the religious community, which is largely a non-thinking subsidiary of whatever mythology they have committed to.

Date of IDL interview:  5 December 2010

What are three fundamental life issues that you are dealing with now in your life?
1. Getting Los Alamos Deep Democracy Open Forum, Inc. successfully operational.
2. Developing deep and meaningful relationships with family, friends and community.
3. Retiring from school bus driving

Tell me a dream you remember... 
1 Dec 10 (0200?)
Have appt to see Father John H. at 10:00. I go to the bldg where appt is. (large wooden barracks-like structure in a forest.)   I go to room where he is, but since am about 15 minutes early I sit down outside of it to wait for 10:00.  But then I hear Fr. John H. call from inside the room to come on in anyway, before the assigned time. I open the door and see Fr. John H. sitting up on a very large bed (maybe ten feet wide) with many other men, all of whom are sleeping. Room looks like a posh dormitory. Huge beds (2 or 3) full of men in each (don't see any women). Hieromonk John A. is also there asleep in the same bed as Fr. John H. But he is further away on the other side of the bed. (There are several other sleeping men in between, Fr. John H on the left and Hieromonk John A on the right.) Fr. John H seems to be the only man awake. Everyone is in night clothes.

CREEI score: +++?+-//+++/+++  Anticipatory-motivational  [Click here for CREEI assumptions and questions.]
Why do you think that you had this life experience?
Am in process of developing deeply meaningful relationships with the local St. Dimitri Orthodox parish and its clerical leadership, which are priests Fr. John H and Hieromonk John A. This is the fourth dream I've had relative to my experience with St. Dimitri parish. The first came on April 15, 2009, the night after the first parish council meeting at the local Orthodox skete near Lake Abiqu, where I'd been assigned to the music committee. The second came on October 10, 2009, the Friday before meeting with the parish council, which came on the heels of a traumatic internet financial scam experience that threatened Fr. John H. and a surprising reaction from my granddaughter in England relative to this event, whom I had asked for help, since the scam had originated in England. This was a week or so following a highly successful musical workshop and seminar at St. Dimitri directed by celebrated Orthodox professor-emeritus of music David Drillock. The third dream came the night before my first deep conversation with Hieromonk John A a few months ago.

If it were playing at a theater, what name would be on the marquee?
Forest Dormitory

These are the characters in the experience…
Forest, large wooden building, corridor, large dormitory room, 3 or 4 large comfortable beds, sleeping men, Fr. John H, Hieromonk John A.

If a character had something especially important to tell you, which would it be?
Dormitory bedroom

(Character,) would you please tell me what you look like and what you are doing?
I am a large room filled with several very large, well cushioned and comfortable beds. There are many men asleep on these beds. I am very solidly built with comfortable and safe surroundings and equipment for these sleeping men.

What do you like most about yourself in this experience? What are your strengths?
I am comfortable, quiet and safe. Those who come to me feel protected and accepted just as they are.

What do you dislike most about yourself? Do you have weaknesses? What?
Nothing to dislike. No weaknesses.

If you could change this experience in any way you wanted, would you? If so, how would you change it?

If that experience were to continue, what would happen next?
Eugene and Fr. John H would have a frank, deep conversation about the meaning a purpose of this room, the sleeping men, the building and the forest setting.

(Character,) if you could be anywhere you wanted to be and take any form you desired, would you change? If so, how?

(You are in this person’s dream or life experience, correct? He/she created you, right?)
Yes and yes.

(Character), what aspect of this person do you represent or most closely personify?
I represent Eugene's image and experience of the American Russian Orthodox priesthood.

If you could live this person’s waking life for him/her, how would you live it differently?

If you could live this person’s waking life for him/her today, would you handle his/her three life issues differently? If so, how?

What three life issues would you focus on if you were in charge of his/her life?
No different

How would you score yourself 0-10, in confidence, compassion, wisdom, acceptance, peace of mind, and witnessing? And why?
Confidence: 10. I know what and why I am.
Compassion: 10. I care about the comfort and security of the men I have been created to serve and protect.
Wisdom: 10. I know the needs of the men I am giving protection and support to.
Acceptance: 10. I accept all these men just as they are and just as the situation presents itself.
Peace of Mind: 10. I am in the most peaceful of settings.
Witnessing: 10. I see the big picture--what has been and what is occurring--and am not involved in any way with whatever drama might occur between these men now or at any time.

(Character,) if you scored tens in all six of these qualities, would you be different? If so, how?
I am that.

How would this person’s life be different if he/she naturally scored high in all six of these qualities all the time?
He is close to this condition. His life would not be much different, if at all.

In what life situations would it be most beneficial for this person to imagine that he/she is you and act as you would?
When he is in conversation with the Orthodox community in general, he would do well to keep me in mind as a safe place to be.

Why do you think that you are in this life experience (or dream)?
To make Eugene aware of his true relationship with Orthodoxy and its ecclesiastical order.

(Dreamer,) what have you heard yourself say? (Read them over)
I am in a situation with the local Orthodox parish where I am experiencing the leadership tradition and looking to engage it in deeper dialogue. Only one member is awake and interested enough to meet with me.

If this experience were a wake-up call from your soul, what do you think it would be saying to you?
Look at the Orthodox situation objectively and let it be as it is. Engage Fr. John H to the extent that he is interested in meeting with you. Perhaps you and he can awaken some of the other sleeping men if and when they are ready.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Bishop Basil at Holy Trinity

Posted: 15 November 2010.  

Bishop Basil
On October 30 I attended the Holy Trinity Orthodox Church in Santa Fe to hear Antioch Bishop Basil speak, not knowing what to expect other than he is highly thought of by Fr. John Hennies and Hiermonk John Anderson of our local OCA St. Dimitri parish. Bishop Basil is a member of the Orthodox Episcopal Assembly, which has governance responsibility for all aspects of the Orthodox Church in North America. I had come to the meeting at the invitation of Hiermonk John, who sat at the main table at the church forum. 

And I came under the impression that the governing state of affairs in the international Orthodox Church was in a state of chaos. I left with the very opposite opinion. Rarely have I heard anyone speak so clearly and precisely about ecclesiastical matters of any kind from any ecclesiastical persuasion. During the question and answer part of his presentation I raised my hand to make a comment and ask a question: "It seems to me that I'm hearing you say that the Orthodox Church overall is governed by an 'organic' spiritual process. Is this what you are saying?" Bishop Basil surprised me by saying "Yes! That is the word: 'organic'."  Rather than the top down process like the church I grew up in, here was the opposite: bottom up!  

I left the church inspired and excited, with a new confidence in the overall Orthodox institution.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Ukrainian Orthodox struggle

Week in Review: Russian patriarch visit sparks protests in Ukraine
A handful of nationalist Ukrainian protestors were arrested on July 26 after being prohibited from staging a protest against the visit to Ukraine of Patriarch Kirill, leader of the Russian Orthodox Church.

July 31, 2010
Week in Review: Russian patriarch visit sparks protests in Ukraine
Yesterday at 22:52 | Mark Rachkevych
Freedom of assembly took another blow in Ukraine as a court banned protests against the visit to Ukraine by Patriarch Kirill, leader of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Demonstrations went ahead anyway on July 26 in Kyiv as Ukrainian nationalists protested against the pastor‘s week-long visit to Ukraine, which ended on July 28.

Ukrainian police detained eight activists during the protest.

Chanting “Down with the Moscow pope!“ and “Long live Ukraine!,“ dozens of activists gathered at one of Kyiv’s central squares as Patriarch Kirill visited the Saint Sophia Cathedral.

Relations between Russia and western neighbor Ukraine have improved since the Moscow-friendly Viktor Yanukovych was elected president in February. But anti-Russian sentiment remains strong in some parts of the country.

Moreover, many citizens feel the new Ukrainian leader has tilted the country too close to Russia’s orbit of influence, while waging a Putin-style crack down on democratic and media freedoms.

Many Ukrainians refuse to recognize Russia‘s authority over Orthodox Christianity, a dominant religion in both countries, and accuse Moscow of blocking an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church from gaining international acceptance.

The Orthodox Church in Ukraine has been divided since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 into two patriarchates, with some bishops declaring themselves independent of Moscow.

Russia‘s top clergy have prevented the world-wide Orthodox hierarchy from recognizing an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kyiv Patriarchate) headed by Patriarch Filaret, which claims to have 14 million believers in Ukraine.


On August 30, 2010, Eugene Kovalenko (aka Arseny Pavel) said...

This conflict is shameful! Surely the Orthodox tradition in Ukraine and elsewhere can exemplify spiritual transformation and growth, rather than ecclesiastical combat!  My Ukrainian-born father once said that in the days before the Revolution when the Orthodox Church held the impotent Tsarist government by it's throat, if two Russians met together to discuss politics they would represent 5 political parties! ;)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Commentary on "Letter to Eugene England"

Event: 1 February 1966
Updated: November 2, 2006

Letter to Eugene England

Gene: re-entry?
Closing scenes
The work’s begun.
Wanting everything to know;
Knowing too much to tell.
Listening inside
For what will one day
Come outside.

Wanting to tell,
To share,
To offer.

Refused with smiles
And frowns:
Endured by those
Whose words claim knowing.

Tired inside
But wiser out.
Streams of words
Are turning into trickles
While glances take more place
And I become a serpent
With slits for eyes
To those once close.

But were they close in heart?
I think it no,
Else they would not have
Seized the Sign:
Usurped my place.

Where is the Red Man
That I should sing?
Why Columbia in dream?

She is my friend
But fears my love;
But why?
Because she fears her own?

Next in time
Are those of Rodina.
Then to Judah
And last the princely line.
Who knows these mysteries
And destinies
With certainty?
Who really knows
The face of God
Or unseen world?

Friend, I seek you truly.
Are you inside
And tired with me?
But what is my wish?
To serve right now.
But be specific:
Get to work
And win that place and time
To build for new emerging age.

Songs will rend the air
While hearts unite
To leap ahead
Of desolation coming.

And we will walk to Zion
Through its ruins. 

Santa Monica 
1 Feb 66 
(Op. 16)

Commentary on Letter to Eugene England. [A response to England family's request for my contribution to their 2006 memorial project about their father, one of my closest friends.]

Dear Rebecca. This is the last item in my mind for adding to your “Remembering Eugene England” project. It is now more than 40 years since I wrote this “poem” as a letter to your dad. I don’t now recall if I ever sent it to him, in which case you would have it somewhere.

The time was January 1966. Dialogue: A Journal for Mormon Thought was in utero, and I was living in a Santa Monica garage of a new found friend whom I’d recently met at Big Sur Hot Springs (eventually Esalen Institute). My new friend’s name was Russell Pratt, a descendant of one of the Pratt brothers Parley or Orson, but not LDS. We hit it off as kindred souls at that mystical place in a northern California coastal forest. Only a few weeks earlier I had quit the Church after having become homeless, family-less, jobless, reputation-less and almost friendless. [See my 2006 SL Sunstone Symposium paper Annealing and Healing].

I say “almost friendless” because your dad never faltered as my friend, as his letters to me, now in your hands, reveal. He was a beacon of light and I wrote this “letter-poem” after having just met Clifford Cummings, a member of the Pasadena stake presidency. I don’t recall how or why we met, but Cliff’s attitude reminded me of Gene’s. I dimly recall that we met as fellow scientists at a company called Electro-Optical, a spin off from Cal Tech or JPL. I was looking for a job and he was an executive for that company. I don’t recall how I became aware of his being LDS, but he urged me to reconsider my decision to quit the Church. I began to do just that.

Hence the first line in the poem: “Gene: re-entry?” I wanted to report my thinking to Gene, but became confused whether I could communicate meaningfully with him—or whether he would believe me.  He would often appear in my dreams, which accounts for the line “Friend, I seek you truly. Are you inside and tired with me?” Although he was my contemporary, he was also my mentor—and disciplinarian father.

So, here is my letter trying to tell him something of what had been happening in my life since we last talked on the phone the previous August and he expressed concern for what I was telling him regarding what had been happening to me that summer. He was primarily concerned with my “pride”. This “letter” therefore is addressing Gene’s concern--trying to say something substantive, but guarded and using provocative images: “… I become a serpent with slits for eyes to those once close…”

Most of this letter is trying to say something about what I was seeing within myself in those days, whether as a visionary or a crackpot. Hard to tell, isn’t it?

“Next in time are those of Rodina...” clearly refers to a long-time search for my Slavic roots [“Rodina” is Russian for homeland], which was completed in 1995 when my brother found our dad’s long lost family in his old home town of Melitopol, Ukraine. This discovery completed that search. The next year I spent 3 weeks in Ukraine getting personally acquainted with all those relatives, and we have been in contact ever since.

“Then to Judah and last the princely line.”  The time sequence is out of whack here. I don’t know about the “Judah” part, but the “princely line” refers to a revelatory experience I’d had the previous July 25, which began my confrontation with Church authority, which is why I’d called your dad one late night that previous August. That revelatory experience was a mind-blowing surprise response to my prayer to know what lay behind the then policy of the Church regarding the Negro. Because of what had been happening to me the previous few weeks, it never occurred to me that the Lord would not answer my question. In the document that came out of me that early July morning, the word “priesthood” is never mentioned.

“But what is my wish?”  What was my most earnest desire then? “To serve…”
Obviously I was not a very effective servant in the outer world. Your dad was the example to me of the kind of service I valued most.

“…build for new emerging age”.  I’d like to think that Dialogue is a significant cornerstone of this “emerging age” and that the uniting of hearts is exemplified in your Eugene England Memorial activities. Gene was an effective worker in the exterior society, while I had been relegated to the inner world and shadow of our common culture.

“And we will walk to Zion through its ruins…”  God only knows what this means! Stuff is still pending after 9/11 and who knows what or where this “Zion” is? Perhaps it is still somewhere in our cultural shadow--our Zarahemla?!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

New monks from the Monastery

Event: Sunday 18 July 2010
Updated: 23 July 2010

Hiermonk John Anderson celebrated the Divine Liturgy on Sunday.

In attendance were Monks Silouan and Sebastian from the Monastery of the Holy Archangel Michael in nearby Cañones. Both monks came from the Monastery in California, which was founded by Metropolitan Jonah. Fr. Silouan is acting Superior of the monastery at present. His companion Monk Sebastian will be returning to California later this summer.

I had the pleasure to inquire about Fr. Silouan's spiritual journey into Orthodoxy. He had first found a Hindu path, which led him to the Eastern Rite Catholic Church. He finally came to Orthodoxy when he serendipitously met Fr. Jonah in Southern California, who invited him to his monastery in Northern California. It was an immediate recognition for Fr. Silouan and he knew he had finally found what he had been looking for. Little did he know at the time that his new mentor would soon rise to become the metropolitan!

Sunday, July 4, 2010


Posted: Sunday, 4 July 2010
Updated: 14 July 2010

While talking to brother Dimitri in the church study after Sunday's Reader Liturgy on the Fourth of July, I received a phone call that took my breath away! Of all the calls least expected but most dearly hoped and prayed for, it was from my heretofore estranged son, Michael! He called me to announce the birth of his first child, a son.

I had much to repent of during this call, all of which went unspoken. Such words seemed out of place as I heard my son's voice and his wonderful disclosure. Most of all it was the sensitive, thoughtful manner in which he honored his father by the phone call before sending out the general announcement to family and friends. This was most healing for me.

Bless you, Michael. And bless you, Michael's dear wife Maris and my newest, most welcome grandson!

3 Ne 22:1

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Last Station

Posted: July 2, 2010
Updated:  July 4, 2010
Leo Tolstoy in his last years

This past week while browsing in the local Film Festival video store and coffee shop, I came across an important film released last year in 2009 that I had not even heard of. How could I have missed it, when none other than luminaries Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer star in it!? Plummer plays the role of Leo Tolstoy in his last years in the early 1900s and Mirren plays Tolstoy's jealous and troubled wife Sofia.

See here for film details.

The reason why this film is important to me in this Orthodox blog series is that it was to the Tolstoy Foundation that my father applied in the 1930s for help in finding his relatives in Ukraine, after coming to this country in 1922 as a war refugee from the Russian Revolution. Somewhere in our family archives, either in the records kept by my brother Virgil or my daughter Katya, there should be correspondence between Dad and this foundation. As I mentioned elsewhere about Dad's concern, he eventually realized that his inquiry may have compromised the safety of his relatives during those terrible years and worried about this misstep for decades. (See here for Dad's and my last conversation about this concern.)

This then brings up the question of what all this has to do with the Orthodox Church and my part in it. For the same reasons that Tolstoy rejected Russian Orthodoxy back in the late 1800s, but without the profound understanding of Tolstoy, Dad rejected it in his teenage years during and after the Russian Revolution. The Russian Orthodox Church was corrupt and oppressive in those days and thoughtful Russians like Tolstoy and his followers were in reaction to it, convinced that the teachings of Jesus had been co-opted by the institution. This is, of course, an old story, which might be applied to any institutionalized "Christian" church these days, whatever legitimacy they claim by tradition or revelation.

As far as the world-wide Orthodox institutional church is concerned these days, there continues to be a hierarchical struggle for power, as evidenced by the recent conference of bishops in New York. Fortunately there are now a few courageous voices who are well enough positioned to challenge arbitrary or ambitious ecclesiastical decisions. For example, when Metropolitan Jonah (of the Orthodox Church in America) was specifically NOT invited to participate in this conclave of Orthodox bishops by the Constantinople Patriarch, who claims traditional ecumenical authority for all Orthodoxy, the bishop from Boston, who had organizational responsibilities for the conference, specifically DID invite Jonah to attend in his rank as a fellow bishop, but to take his seat at the lowest ecclesiastical rung. This Jonah did without resistance, complaint or resentment, which set an example equal to that taught by Jesus and which won the approval of the rest of those gathered. Although this was a "small step for man", it was a HUGE step for the international institutional church of any denomination!

I wonder what Tolstoy, or my father for that matter, would have thought about this remarkable development.

There are other issues in the institutional church, especially the OCA, one of which involves the laity who are often ignored, dismissed or marginalized by ecclesiastics these days. I look forward to the day when the OCA installs an office to respond to any parishioner who petitions the hierarchy for any reason. At present, such petitions are more often ignored. An exception to this is the Q&A section on the OCA website, which is generally responsive and is a good precedent.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Conversing with Jean-Pierre

Posted: 3 June 2010

Our brother, Dr. Jean-Pierre Julien, a visiting professor of physics at the Los Alamos National Laboratory from France, spent two Sundays with us at St. Dimitri's, which he considers his home parish. Later in the week we had the pleasure of getting better acquainted at the local Film Festival coffee shop. We discussed physics, religion, the up-coming Los Alamos Open Forum and personal development. His lap top was a handy resource.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Celebrating the Day of Pentecost at St. Dimitri

Posted: 23 May 2010
Updated:  29 May 2010

At St. Dimitri Sunday morning (May 23), Fr. John Hennies, now in his new role as occasional visiting priest, gave a stirring sermon about the meaning and power of the Holy Spirit suddenly coming upon and changing believers gathered from many countries over 2000 years ago. "The Holy Spirit comes and goes where It wills", Fr. John reiterated, "and is not bound by the limitations of man-made religious institutions." Continuing this theme he declared that this same influence continues to this day with "All of us here today are called by the Holy Spirit to our own unique ministry."

He then illustrated how the Holy Spirit manifested in his Episcopal parish decades ago when he served in South Dakota. A small blond girl foster child once came to his parish brought by her Indian mother and became a disruptive presence. She would make obtrusive sounds at inappropriate times during the sermon, which would irritate the congregation and embarrass the mother. When the mother expressed her dismay about the child's behavior to the priest and offered to stay away from then on, Fr. John expressly declared that by no means should the child be deprived of experiencing their church community. "All are welcome here", he exclaimed, "and the child is an important part of our community."

These are Fr. John's gifts, I thought to myself and then expressed later to him--the gifts of SEEING and ACCEPTANCE!

In subsequent years this foster child blossomed into a gifted teacher on the Lakota Indian reservation, where her students have won tribal and state awards for their creativity. To see the spiritual essence of another is a gift of the spirit, which Fr. John and his now mature former Lakota parishioner so beautifully exemplify.

I, too, have been richly blessed by these gifts, which originally inspired this very blog tree. And it continues. At the moment of celebrating the Eucharist this morning as I approached the Chalice, Fr. John quietly and with a smile addressed me by my Orthodox name and added what he has been saying in recent weeks: "Arseny Pavel, Singer of Israel, receive the body of Christ." It floods me with pleasure and gratitude every time I reflect on that event and those words.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mothers Day at St. Dimitri

Posted: Sunday, 9 May 2010
Updated: Thursday, 20 May 2010

Fr. John came as visiting priest to celebrate the Liturgy on Mothers Day. His sermon addressed the implications of the Gospel of John, chapter 9 in the OCA designated scripture for the day, regarding Jesus healing the man born blind on the Sabbath. The conflict between Jesus and the ecclesiastical leaders bound by tradition and legalism is a constant theme throughout the Gospels. Spirit versus Letter of the Law: what an absurd conflict!!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

May Day! May Day! (1965 dream remembered)

Posted: May Day 2010
Updated: 23 May 2010

On May Day 1965, 45 years ago, I awoke from a dream that put my life into upheaval trying to understand it. See the dream here and its analysis here.

Dreams continue to be of increasing importance to me.

When I first began remembering my dreams in summer 1962, I was in graduate school at the University of Utah, working as a summer graduate research assistant at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California. I was also a member of the U of Utah LDS stake mission presidency.  I did not know what to do with this new experience. Having grown up Mormon, I was taught that dreams were important. But now that I had begun to have them, there was no one available who could help me, despite claims of Mormon leaders that they and the Church were guided by divine revelation.

By May Day 1965 I had graduated from the university and was working in San Diego as a research scientist studying nuclear fuels for atomic power reactors. I was also in an intense correspondence with a former Mormon leader, who had been excommunicated from the Church three years earlier and whom I was trying to help recover from that trauma. See here for details. This struggle to help my friend led to surprising life twists and turns, just as he had predicted in his letter May 5, 1965.

That was then.

Leaping ahead to my experience with Orthodoxy, there are two recent dreams that belong to this current narrative. The first came the night after our first parish council meeting in fall 2008. The second came the week end after Professor David Drillock's visit in September 2009.

To be continued....

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Dean's Visit

Posted: 23 April 2010

It was a strange time with a surprisingly large congregation, compared to last week. All undoubtedly came to meet the new dean and get a preview of how the parish will fare after Fr. John's departure. Dean Fr. Seraphim Hish (sp?) celebrated the Liturgy and met with the Parish Council following the fellowshipping period. Although I had resigned my council post shortly after Fr. John's announcement, as did Barbara weeks before that, Dimitri, as council president, invited us both to attend.

Of primary importance, we got a hint of the care and deliberation the Diocese leadership is giving our little mission.

The Liturgical singing was again troubling and I became quiet midway for the remainder of the service. Often the Dean would speak or sing so softly that we could not hear him. There was clearly a message in this.

We learned that Fr. Seraphim is a convert (we already knew this), but what we did not know was that he is married with a large young family: five children aged ten, eight, six, four and two. Wow! We also learned that he has Masters Degree in physics, which bodes well for our particular parish. Furthermore, he has been given primary responsibility for our mission until a new priest is found and the mission becomes a stable parish.

I was pleased by his questions and suggestions and felt that the parish is in good, firm hands. Whether we will continue to meet in the present building was not clear to me, but it seems that we have a solid enough membership that the community will continue, wherever we meet. George Peters and Eleni Fredlund are the new council members, along with Dimitri Medrick and Elizabeth Bezzerides.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Bright Saturday 2010

Posted: Sunday, April 11, 2010
Updated: 16 April

Birgitta and I came together to hear and experience Fr. John's last sermon as the priest of St. Dimitri's. I had agreed to sing the Epistle at his request. (It turned out that the scripture was from the book of Acts, rather than from a letter by St. Paul, which made a difference for me). I had intended to be silent during the Liturgy as I had previously expressed via email to Fr. John, unless prompted otherwise.

The prompting came in a surprise gesture from Elizabeth. During the service I sat down most of the time rather than stand because of an ailing knee, when it came to my turn to sing the "Epistle". So, as I was holding the binder of music unsteadily in my hands, rather than having it rest on the music stand as normal, Elizabeth quietly brought the music stand over to where I sat and lowered it to my eye level. This immediately reduced my discomfort and fumbling. Then, after I sang the "Epistle" in comfort and she began singing the regular Liturgical music, her voice was surprisingly and unusually soft and gentle and I could easily hear Fr. John's sweet tenor coming from behind the Iconostasis--just the two of them singing. As their duet continued, soon I could not stay silent--I mean I could not NOT sing and began adding my bass voice to what was becoming a much needed harmony. Birgitta then joined in with her marvelous alto voice and the beauty of quartet blending of our hearts and voices again filled the temple, a sound we had not heard since Maestro Drillock's visit to us last September. It was a gift of the Spirit and we all rejoiced in beautiful Orthodox Liturgical music once again.

What will now happen after Fr. John's departure is anybody's guess. I understand that Fr. Seraphim, the dean from the Diocese of the South based in Dallas, will be serving and celebrating the Liturgy. But I do not know or how to relate to him. I understand further that he is young and ambitious and originally from Los Alamos with a degree in physics, which raises caution flags for me. How all this will play out is a mystery in my mind and heart and I can only hope the Spirit will again be present with new surprises.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Approching Bright Saturday 20010

Original Post: Friday, April 9, 2010

As we approach "Bright Saturday" (the Saturday after Pascha or Easter, which includes Sunday morning), St. Dimitri's priest Fr. John Hennies and I had a few final email exchanges relative to his final Sunday service before retiring:

On Wednesday, 7 April, at 7:12 P.M. Eugene wrote:
Dear Fr. John,
When you are up to it, let’s get together and discuss M. Scott Peck’s description of “Militant Ignorance” as applied to St. Dimitri’s and the demise of beautiful liturgical singing.

On Thursday, 8 April, at 7:53 A.M. Fr. John wrote:
Dear Zhenya - CHRIST IS RISEN! I don't think there is something that can be called the "demise of beautiful liturgical singing", but I think beautiful liturgical singing has been raped!!!! Once someone has been raped they do not experience a "demise", but they must be coaxed back into recognition of the fact that God has created them to be beautiful, and violation does not mean they have lost all beauty. It means they have been raped! So I hold out hope for St Dimitri's and the return of beautiful singing.
What I need most from you at the moment is to have you chant the Epistle on my last Sunday, which is this Sunday, and that you give me enough space to move into my new life. After this Sunday I need not to think about St Dimitri so much as I need to ruminate on my new life and my new freedom. so please give me space to do that. When we next meet it will be a joyful time to return to the free-flowing thoughts which we have so often shared.
P.S. Arrogance will not diminish my hold on hope for the future

On Thursday, 8 April, 8:31 A.M. Eugene replied:
Dear Fr. John,
Well said, my friend!
I will be happy to chant the Epistle on your last Sunday at St Dimitri’s, but I doubt I’ll be able to sing the Liturgy. I intend to be silent unless the Spirit prompts otherwise. You will know if and when that happens.
Take all the space you need before our next meeting or communication. As you observed when we met at the café last Friday, we have come to a fork in the road of our common journey and are now moving in different directions. I feel my life’s work is only just beginning its final, integrating phase.
Much love,

On Thursday, 8 April at 11: 29 A.M. Fr. John wrote:

On Thursday, 8 April at 12:58 P.M. Eugene wrote:
And, of course, you will pay close attention to your dreams for clues to that new direction, yes? 

Friday, March 26, 2010

Commentary on poem Russian Easter

Posted: 26 March 2010
Updated: 17 April 2010

In March1990 I presented a paper called The Values Crisis to the Fourth Annual Sunstone Symposium West in Pasadena, California. It was a continuation of a paper presented in Concord [California] a year earlier, which contained an account of recent personal and professional experiences in the arena of Soviet-American trade [obviously before the fall of the USSR]. It also suggested ways how we Christians, with our unique Mormon traditions, could respond to the extraordinary changes taking place in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. However, during the intervening year so many changes had occurred in Eastern Europe and elsewhere that I wondered where to begin. Having revised the paper at least ten times since agreeing to present it, I decided to take a long perspective first at my own values crisis [including marital issues] and then that of my birth [Mormon] culture.

A call from Moscow
In early April 1989, my [then] wife and I received a telephone call from Marina in Moscow. Marina was the young woman who had been our tour guide the previous January on our visit to Russia and Siberia. She had just received permission to leave the Soviet Union for the first time and wanted to stay a few days with us on her first trip to America. Marina came with her best friend, Lena. Our home in Long Beach was their first stop outside their own country. We learned that both young women were members of the Russian Orthodox Church. They had scheduled to be in our home during Russian Easter (April 30). As many of you may know, Easter, for Russians, is their most important holy day. So, to help them celebrate such a special day, we went to the closest Russian Orthodox Church for services. This occurred at midnight on Easter morning.

Russian Easter in Long Beach Third Ward [Mormon Church]
Later on that same Russian Easter Sunday, out of interest and curiosity, both Marina and Lena came with my family and me to experience a typical Mormon sacrament meeting. As the bread tray was being passed along to those sitting on that hard wood pew in Long Beach Third Ward, Marina (on my right) leaned over to me and whispered, “Is it permitted? We are not members of your church.” She was clearly absorbed in the service and hanging on every word. Without thinking, I replied spontaneously, “Of course, we are all Christians and believers here.” With that explanation, the three of us took the bread together.

New Realization
Shortly after that moment I began to realize that I had just take the sacrament for the first time in a way different than I’d ever taken it before. Now, together with these two eager, enthusiastic and sincere believers, albeit from an old, alien and ailing culture, we took the sacrament as fellow believers! All distinctions between us disappeared. And in some mysteriously new and wonderful way, I experienced that ordinance of eating that broken bread together as something more transcendent than at any time previous. With our Russian friends, I realized that I was more than a member of the Mormon Church!

Universal Community 
With that realization, I began to experience an extraordinary sense of freedom to participate with any other believer in any other worship setting. The setting, itself, became insignificant. The institution became insignificant. It no longer mattered whether it was formal or informal. What became significant was acknowledging membership in a community of believers.

By that simple act of taking bread together distinctions were obliterated, and I realized I had joined a far more fundamental and universal spiritual community. Several days later the deeper irony of that unplanned moment began to dawn on me. As I have said before, up until then I had been preoccupied with and focused on a Mormon Mission to Moscow. I had invested over thirty years of preparation into a completely Mormon-centered enterprise. Now, in one spontaneous moment of providential good humor, I experienced a Moscow Mission to Mormons!

I felt my thirty year preoccupation transform in a moment—in a twinkling of an eye!. In that moment I felt open to whole new universes of good news! In that moment a new understanding of a universal law began to awaken in my consciousness. And it has taken time to begin to apply this new understanding—this subtle but major shift in my personal values—to practical reality.

Russian Easter

“Is it permitted?”
Ask our two Moscow guests
On a Long Beach bench
As sacred emblems pass our way
“We are not members
Of your church.”

“Yes,” I whisper,
“All are Christians
And believers here.”

Then we three as one
With tear-stained smiles
And Slavic souls communing
Took thus the broken loaf
And through the Ancient date
A Mystery rose to fuse
The Awful Fission.

Long Beach
30 Apr 89

Monday, March 15, 2010

Singer of Israel

Original Post: Ides of March 2010
Updated: 17 April 2010

In recent weeks Fr. John has been calling me "The Singer of Israel", because I love to sing the Epistles during the Liturgy prior to the Eucharist. When he first started calling me that as I received the Eucharist, I felt a thrill of recognition and confirmation.

Before first singing those Epistles, which tradition says were written by the Apostle Paul, I used to be a severe critic of Paul, who had been known as Saul of Tarsus. I still have intellectual questions about his letters and experiences, BUT when I sing those Epistles during the Liturgy something remarkable happens. It feels as if--I know this sounds strange--it feels as if Paul's spirit is singing through me!

As I reflected more on my critical questions in light of my current reading of Garry Wills' enlightening book What Paul Meant, it occurred to me that my attitude had been heavily influenced by Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism. Joseph felt in competition with both Paul and Mohammed. Wills' insights are helping me transform my attitudes towards Paul, but I don't know what will happen to my delight in singing his Orthodox-chosen Epistles..

End of Odyssey--but not the journey!

Posted: Monday, 15 March 2010
Updated: Saturday, 17 April 2010

On Sunday, 14 March, Fr. John gave one of his marvelously passionate, extemporaneous sermons. This time the story was as reported in Mark 9:17 where the father of a son possessed appealed to Jesus as a last resort. The father had previously appealed to the chief disciples, who were powerless to help. Fr. John was careful to point out how honest this father was and how Jesus honored his honesty by healing his son. The man acknowledged his weak faith but asked Jesus to forgive his unbelief. This Jesus did and then healed his son. Fr. John emphasized the direct contact with Jesus and the powerlessness of his disciples..

After the sermon, the Eucharist was served by young Hieromonk John from the nearby monastery. When he invited all Orthodox Christians to come to the chalice, he added that they must come in fasting and prayer, having recently confessed in the Orthodox way. This surprised me and I was unable to approach the chalice. But, I was able to receive the elements from our Fr. John Hennies as he served the remnants to all others in attendance, Orthodox and non-Orthodox.

Remembering having recently read Garry Wills book "What Jesus Meant", especially Chapter Four, "Against Religion", I felt suddenly released to come to the Last Supper just as I was, without precondition. I felt able to sit at Christ's table as friend and brother, needing no clergyman to announce preconditions for supping with the Master. A question was answered, which I'd pondered for years: when did celebrating the the Last Supper morph into something controlled or conditioned by ecclesiastics? Hiermonk's well-intended, innocently and possibly thoughtlessly spoken words answered my question. I no longer needed to accept his or any other clergyman's presumed authority in receiving the Eucharist.

What is the kind of religion Jesus opposed? Any religion that is proud of its virtue, like the boastful Pharisee. Any that is self-righteous, quick to judge and condemn, ready to impose burdens rather than share or lift them. Any that exalts its own officers, proud of its trappings, building expensive monuments to itself. Any that neglects the poor and cultivates the rich, any that scorns outcasts and flatters the rulers of this world. If that sounds like just about every form of religion we know, then we can see how far off from religion Jesus stood.

What Jesus Meant
by Garry Wills
Penguin Books (2006)
Chapter 4: Against Religion (last paragraph)

I felt my Orthodox Odyssey end as it had begun and felt a new, uncertain but hopeful path open up before me. I also recalled my poem Russian Easter, written in 1989, which may have been when my Odyssey started in a surprising way. Click here for poem; here for commentary.

Father John was concerned that I was leaving the Orthodox Church. Not at all, I quickly assured him--at least not voluntarily! ;-)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

End of Odyssey--but not the journey!

Event: March 14, 2010
Updated: May 25, 2012

This odyssey came to an end at the chalice on a mid-March Sunday morning in 2010 when a young hieromonk from a near-by monastery served the Eucharist. By that time I had included the Orthodox tradition into my world view. I did not need his theater. My journey continues in

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Plowshares to Swords and back to Plowshares???

Posted: 28 February 2010
Updated: 16 March 2010

On Sunday, 28 February 2010, my wife Birgitta forwarded a surprising contradiction to a scripture that has been at the center of my life's work since graduate school in 1961.

The above image of the smith beating his sword into a plowshare is a Russian artist's conception of Isaiah 2:4, which scriptural reference ["Исa 2:4"] is carved into the base of the Moscow version located in the Tretyakow Gallery near the Kremlin, where I first saw it in September 1973. The UN version, which I hadn't known existed until years later, is identical to the Moscow version except that this scriptural reference does NOT appear on its base in NYC. (I have personally inspected both these figures and their bases for this.) Here is the complete verse in English:

And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

I had always marveled how the sculptor had managed to express himself right under the atheist noses in the militant Soviet Kremlin. But now my wife sends me a quote from Joel, an earlier Hebrew prophet, commanding Israel to do the very opposite. It's confusing. Birgitta reminds me that Joel is talking about spiritual reality and not physical reality. But that doesn't console me. I'm not convinced that most modern, biblically motivated readers of these scriptures won't take them literally as metaphors for endorsing modern warfare.

Birgitta wrote:
Here’s a thoughtful way to consider this scripture that you love.

Weapons of Warfare
TGIF Today God Is First Volume 1 by Os Hillman
Thursday, February 18 2010

"Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears." - Joel 3:10a

In this third chapter of Joel, we hear the prophet describe a time yet to come. It will be a time of great harvest on the earth, and this verse describes the catalyst. A plowshare is an agricultural instrument used to till the soil. At this point in history, it was a tool that spoke of one's vocation. However, the prophet was speaking of a time yet to come. The prophet described the plowshare as an instrument that will be turned into a sword. The sword is often used in the Bible to describe God's Word. The only way a plowshare can be turned into a sword is for it to go through extreme heat, and then the blacksmith must beat that plowshare into shape. Heat and punishment of the metal turns that plowshare into an instrument of battle. God must do this in each of our lives in order for us to be useable as a worthy sword. We are all in a battle - a spiritual battle. Paul describes our battle as one against the principalities of the unseen world. I believe God is going to raise up many in the workplace to use their plowshare as a weapon of righteousness in these last days. That weapon won't be used for destruction, but as a weapon of love. That weapon of love will yield a great harvest in our lifetime. But this is only part of the story.

God is also going to turn our pruning hooks into spears. A pruning hook is used in two ways. First, it is used to prune a tree for greater growth and productivity. It is also used to cut the fruit from taller trees in which one cannot reach the fruit. This fruit from our vocation is going to be cast forth like a spear, but even more as seed planted to bring the harvest of which Joel speaks. Fruit from our work life is often the financial rewards generated. God wants to use our finances and everything else for His purposes. We must use our vocations and the fruit that comes from them as seed to bring the great harvest that God is planning.

How are you using your plowshare and your pruning hook for God's glory today? Ask God to show you how He wants to use your skills, resources, and relationships to prepare for the great harvest He has planned.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Future of St. Dimitri of Rostov Mission

Original post: Sunday 14 February 2010
Updated: Sunday 18 April 2010

The future of meeting in this beautiful place after Fr. John Hennies retires on Bright Saturday up-coming, is uncertain at best. IMHO it will depend on whether we individual parishioners and the ecclesiastical leaders from the Diocese of the South (DOS) in Dallas are able to put our personal and collective egos aside enough to meet truly with Christ in our midst. That has ever been our only hope. The DOS Dean is coming to celebrate the Liturgy on April 18, to conduct OCA business and to assess our situation. God bless him and us!

With this in mind, it is important for me to suggest that the success of our upcoming meetings may depend on our collective willingness to bring our personal and collective dreams to the table. More on this in subsequent posts.

Sunday, 28 February

During this morning's sermon at St. Dimitri, Fr. John spoke about the future of St. Dimitri after his upcoming retirement in a month. He referred to the story in the Gospel of Mark, where Jesus healed a paralytic whose four friends had let him down with ropes on a pallet from the roof of a house packed with visitors who blocked the way to Jesus. This man's faithful friends thought "outside the box!" (of the house!) in their confidence in Jesus. When the man descended from the roof and reached the feet of Jesus, the Master acknowledged the man's faith and said, "Son, your sins are forgiven you." This, of course, infuriated onlooking scribes. But Jesus went further and commanded the man to "Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house." This the man did immediately in the presence of everyone there and to their amazement.

Bringing the sermon's lesson to apply to tiny St. Dimitri's upcoming survival challenge, Fr. John said, "It doesn't make any difference the size of our little parish. When two or three are gathered in God's name, there will He be also." What have we to worry about if we can meet in faith in God's name the same way as the paralytic and his four FAITHFUL friends?

I agree. Our faith will be the determining factor.