Sunday, July 22, 2012

Saint Mary Magdalene, Equal to the Apostles

Mary Magdalene was one of the myrrh-bearing women and "equal to the apostles."

She was born in the town of Magdala along the shore of Lake Gennesaret and was from the tribe of Issachar. She was tormented by seven evil spirits from which the Lord Jesus freed her and made her whole. She was a faithful follower and servant of the Lord during His earthly life. Mary Magdalene stood beneath the Cross on Golgotha and grieved bitterly and mourned with the All-Holy Birth-giver of God. After the death of the Lord she visited His sepulchre three times. When the Lord resurrected she saw Him on two occasions: once alone and the other time with the other myrrh-bearing women. She traveled to Rome and appeared before Tiberias Caesar and presenting him with a red colored egg, greeted him with the words: "Christ is Risen!" At the same time, she accused Pilate before Caesar for his unjust condemnation of the Lord Jesus. Caesar accepted her accusation and transferred Pilate from Jerusalem to Gaul where, this unjust judge, in disfavor with the emperor, died of a dread disease. After that, Mary Magdalene returned from Rome to Ephesus to St. John the Theologian whom she assisted in the work of preaching the Gospel. With great love toward the resurrected Lord, and with great zeal, she proclaimed the Holy Gospel to the world as a true apostle of Christ. She died peacefully in Ephesus and, according to tradition, was buried in the same cave in which seven youths were miraculously put to sleep for hundreds of years and, after that, were brought to life and then died (August 4). The relics of St. Mary Magdalene were later transferred to Constantinople. There is a Russian Orthodox convent dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene near the Garden of Gethsemane.


Troparion (Tone 1)
In keeping His commandments and laws, O holy Mary Magdalene,
You followed Christ, who for our sake was born of a virgin,
And in celebrating your most holy memory today,
We receive forgiveness of sins by your prayers!
Kontakion (Tone 4)
When God, who is transcendent in essence,
Came with flesh into the world, O Myrrhbearer,
He received you as a true disciple, for you turned all your love toward Him;
Henceforth you would yourself work many healings.
Now that you have passed into heaven, never cease to intercede for the world!
Kontakion (Tone 3)
Standing before the Cross of the Savior,
Suffering with the Mother of the Lord,
The most glorious Mary Magdalene offered praise with tears.
She cried out: What is this strange wonder?
He who holds the whole creation in His hand chooses to suffer:
Glory, O Lord to Your power!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Locally grown, locally raised, natural food

I have, of late, taken a bit more of an interest in nutrition than in recent past.  I used to work out religiously, and I used to eat cleaner than I have the last couple of years.  In part, I started running, and so I ramped up the carb intake a bit.  That was fine as long as I was training hard doing martial arts and cardio kickboxing, but when I stopped doing that (and stopped burning in excess of 3,000 calories a week from doing that), the pounds started creeping back on.  I went from a "fighting weight" of around 170 to a high of over 200, with my usual weight hovering between 190 and 195.  My wife and I decided both of us wanted to do something about our new middle age padding, and so we began researching nutrition and exercise.

Like a lot of my friends, we are currently eating Primal, what some folks colloquially call "the caveman diet."  This is not, as some people assume, Atkins with a twist.  It is a lower carb diet, but unlike Atkins, you can eat potatoes in moderation, and particularly sweet potatoes.  You can eat fruits in moderation.  No one is saying "don't eat carrots or other sweet vegetables."  With Primal living, it is the type of carb that matters, not the fact that you are eating carbs.  So we have cut out grains, the sole exception being a VERY moderated portion of rice on occasion, and any type of refined sugars.  We allow ourselves up to 1 large potato a day, and we eat fruit in moderation, which we define as "not at every meal, but okay for breakfast or snacks."  Like Atkins, this is a high fat diet, but we strive to eat what everyone agrees are the "healthier" fats such as fish, avocado, olive oil, nuts, etc.  But we do not worry about eating saturated fat on occasion, and we cook with butter as well as olive oil in lieu of using vegetable oil.

I will say that although the immediate results are impressive -- I am down nearly 7 pounds in right at 2 weeks -- I am not entirely sold on the Primal living philosophy.  The exercise program is fine for most people, concentrating as it does on 4 core movements for strength training (pullup, pushup, squat, plank), low intensity cardio such as long walks, hiking, etc., and weekly sprints.  Obviously, something like Crossfit or HIT or cardio kickboxing is much better for elite fitness.  But while I do believe we eat way too many grains in this country as well, I'm not really sold on the idea that grains are poison and to be avoided at all costs.  We still take communion, and we still eat the blessed bread after communion, every Sunday.  And I'm sure as time goes on, once we're out of the "lets get in shape" phase and into the maintenance phase, we'll introduce very limited grains back into our diets on rare occasion.  However, one thing about Primal living that I am absolutely sold on is eating food.

That sounds ridiculous at first blush.  Most people say "well, I eat food."  But when I say "food," I don't mean box-packaged, processed, chemical laden garbage that lines our grocery store aisles.  I mean REAL food.  We have been sold a bill of goods in this country about how red meat and saturated fat, and even fat in general, are "bad" for you.  This ignores not only common sense, which indicates that our forefathers lived just fine on animal fat for millennia without issue, but also a growing body of scientific literature indicating that fat, per se, is not the problem.  If you look at when our obesity epidemic started, it was right about the time I turned age 10.  I remember eating vegetables and fruits out of my maternal grandfather's garden growing up, and real meats and sausages that my paternal grandfather raised and slaughtered himself, and fresh fish that we caught out of the lake ourselves.  Chickens were smaller, but still basically a chicken.  Beef was darker and uglier, but still basically beef.  With the exception of SPAM and bologna, even our cheap food was for the most part decent food like canned tuna or salmon.

Now, chickens and beef are both chemical and hormone laced cocktails.  Fish is farm raised rather than wild caught.  And "foods" that used to be pulled off the vine or stalk are now boxed with preservatives and chemicals galore.  Not only are the foods themselves not really "food" anymore, but eating produce grown across the world out of season means we lose the healthy variety of eating food grown locally in season.  I can now eat strawberries year round.  But what is done to the strawberries to make them keep so far out of season?  Add to that the fact that so much of our diet comes from a box or a bag, and is grain-laden, processed crap, and it is no wonder more than one-third of adults and nearly twenty percent of children in our country are obese.  Read labels sometime and look at how much corn and grain are in foods that aren't supposed to have corn and grain.  Even healthier alternatives like Moe's Southwest Grill, which offers grass fed beef and farm raised poultry, still use soy marinade and wheat or glutens in much of their offerings.  Not to mention the rice content of a simple burrito and the effect that has on insulin production.  While I am not at all on the no carb bandwagon -- my favorite breakfast and midnight snack is still berries in Greek yogurt with a teaspoon of honey -- the types of carbs we eat in this country are literally killing us.  Put simply, we don't eat food anymore.  We eat food plus chemicals, hormones and additives.

Today, we went to the Marietta farmer's market and purchased some fresh green beans, avocado, whole organic Greek yogurt, fresh peaches and 6 pounds of grass fed beef.  Interestingly, the beef looks a lot like processed venison.  Because it is a lot like processed venison.  The cow it came from ate natural plants and, after slaughter, was processed by a local processing facility that also caters to deer hunters.  There is no ammonia laden pink slime to "pretty it up," and there is no effort to make it look like other than what it is.  It is 100%, grass fed, organically raised beef.

What does this have to do with Orthodox Christian living?  Quite a lot, actually.  Something Orthodox Christian living stresses heavily is simplicity.  Living less complicated lives, so that we can concentrate more on living the Christian life in prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  Stephanie and I have discussed growing a garden one day.  We would love to be in a position to not only supplement our diets with whole, real foods, but to have our dietary needs completely met by such foods.  That is easier to do in our society that in recent past, but doing so often comes with a price -- instead of living simply, we go to the Whole Foods market and live out a 21st century, bourgeoisie version of so-called "simple" living.  That's not what I'm talking about.  We would actually like to grow some of our own food, and where we cannot, support local farmers who grow it for us.  In doing so, we recapture a sense of community that is lost in our current, supermarket and shopping mall, global economy driven society.  The food I bought today, I bought from my neighbors.  People who live near me.  This is not only healthy for the body, but it's healthy for the soul as well.  If I decide to go to Wal Mart or Kroger to buy the same food next week, then my neighbor may suffer as a result.  And if we manage to grow our future garden and have an overabundance of yield, we can do as our friend Daniel from Church did this past week and share with our friends and neighbors.

I have written before that we are saved in community.  I am firmly convinced that eating fresh, locally grown and raised food is much more healthy for my body than eating hyper-processed "food" that is shipped all over the world so we can buy it cheaply at the supermarket.  But having considered the theological impact of this lifestyle, I am also firmly convinced it is better for my soul, and the souls of those around me as well.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Holy Unmercenaries

This post was inspired by a conversation with our Khouria yesterday.  After Great Vespers, she mentioned that she had read the lives of Saints Cosmas and Damien of Rome, and how they were wonderworkers who healed the sick and wounded, by the power of Christ.  It occurred to her in reading their lives that the Church has always sought the intercession of such Saints, precisely because if they were able to heal and work wonders in this life, how much more so the next when they are being more fully united to Christ? 

The logic of this is inescapable.  Either we deny their wonderworking on earth, in which case we set ourselves against the very Church we claim to believe in, or we (in my experience, far more frequently) artificially divide that Church among the so-called living and the so-called dead.  So-called in both instances because this life is not, in the Christian understanding, the fullness of Life itself (or, rather, Himself), and the life to come is not, in any sense, "death." 

So it is that on July 1, the Church remembers the Holy Unmercenary Physicians, notably including Saints Cosmas and Damian at Rome.  May they ever intercede for us.

Holy Wonderworking Unmercenary Physicians Cosmas and Damian at Rome
The Holy Martyrs, Wonderworkers and Unmercenary Physicians Cosmas and Damian were born at Rome, brothers by birth, and physicians by profession. They suffered at Rome in the reign of the emperor Carinus (283-284). Brought up by their parents in the rules of piety, they led strict and chaste lives, and they were granted by God the gift of healing the sick. By their generosity and exceptional kindness to all, the brothers converted many to Christ. The brothers told the sick, "It is not by our own power that we treat you, but by the power of Christ, the true God. Believe in Him and be healed." Since they accepted no payment for their treatment of the infirm, the holy brothers were called "unmercenary physicians."

Their life of active service and their great spiritual influence on the people around them led many into the Church, attracting the attention of the Roman authorities. Soldiers were sent after the brothers. Hearing about this, local Christians convinced Sts Cosmas and Damian to hide for a while until they could help them escape. Unable to find the brothers, the soldiers arrested instead other Christians of the area where the saints lived. Sts Cosmas and Damian then came out of hiding and surrendered to the soldiers, asking them to release those who had been arrested because of them.

At Rome, the saints were imprisoned and put on trial. Before the Roman emperor and the judge they openly professed their faith in Christ God, Who had come into the world to save mankind and redeem the world from sin, and they resolutely refused to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods. They said, "We have done evil to no one, we are not involved with the magic or sorcery of which you accuse us. We treat the infirm by the power of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and we take no payment for rendering aid to the sick, because our Lord commanded His disciples, "Freely have you received, freely give" (Mt. 10: 8).

The emperor, however, continued with his demands. Through the prayer of the holy brothers, imbued with the power of grace, God suddenly struck Carinus blind, so that he too might experience the almighty power of the Lord, Who does not forgive blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Mt. 12:31). The people, beholding the miracle, cried out, "Great is the Christian God! There is no other God but Him!" Many of those who believed besought the holy brothers to heal the emperor, and he himself implored the saints, promising to convert to the true God, Christ the Savior, so the saints healed him. After this, Sts Cosmas and Damian were honorably set free, and once again they set about treating the sick.

But what the hatred of the pagans and the ferocity of the Roman authorities could not do, was accomplished by black envy, one of the strongest passions of sinful human nature. An older physician, an instructor, under whom the holy brothers had studied the art of medicine, became envious of their fame. Driven to madness by malice, and overcome by passionate envy, he summoned the two brothers, formerly his most beloved students, proposing that they should all go together in order to gather various medicinal herbs. Going far into the mountains, he murdered them and threw their bodies into a river.

Thus these holy brothers, the Unmercenary Physicians Cosmas and Damian, ended their earthly journey as martyrs. Although they had devoted their lives to the Christian service of their neighbors, and had escaped the Roman sword and prison, they were treacherously murdered by their teacher.

The Lord glorifies those who are pleasing to God. Now, through the prayers of the holy martyrs Cosmas and Damian, God grants healing to all who with faith have recourse to their heavenly intercession.

The Unmercenary Saints Cosmas and Damian of Rome should not be confused with the Unmercenary Saints Cosmas and Damian of Asia Minor (November 1), or the Unmercenary Saints Cosmas and Damian of Arabia (October 17).