As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve been praying an Akathist to the Mother of God, Nurturer of Children. I was unfamiliar with akathists until Fr. David talked about this one with me and we prayed it together. The original akathist, the Akathist Hymn to the Theotokos was composed by St. Roman the Melodist, in Constantinople, before his repose in 556. Akathist, from the word “akathistos”, literally means “not sitting” and it is normally prayed standing. Akathists are composed of alternating long and short stanzas. Each short stanza is called a kontakion and each long stanza is called an ikos. The format has become popular and many different akathists have been composed, including those to Christ, the cross, saints, and the one I mentioned to the Theotokos, nurturer of children.

The prayers in this akathist ask the Theotokos to raise our children. I was speaking with sockmonk about this hymn the other day. He expressed what I’ve also been feeling: that in praying this akathist he feels like he is building a relationship with the Theotokos.

This is wonderful set of prayers for those that have children or godchildren. I know that too often I don’t pray for them like I should. It’s helpful to have these prayers so we can contemplate both what we want for them and for ourselves.

I was stopped short by Ikos 5 of the akathist that prays the beatitude for my children:

Raise my children to be poor in spirit, that they May inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.
Raise my children to weep, that they may be comforted.
Raise my children to be meek, that they may inherit the earth.
Raise my children to hunger and thirst after righteousness, that they may be filled.
Raise my children to be merciful, that they may obtain mercy.
Raise my children to be pure in heart, that they may see God.
Raise my children to be peacemakers, that they may be called the sons of God.
Raise my children (names), O Lady, to be made worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven and make them heirs of eternal blessings.

So often it becomes obvious whether I really believe something when I’m trying to teach it to my children. As a father, I had to ask myself whether I really wanted my children to weep (or mourn). For that matter, do I really want the rest for them? Yes, I do. Lord, have mercy.

O Mary, Mother of God, save us!

One struggle Protestants have when looking at Orthodoxy is with how the church views the saints and most particularly the Virgin Mary. Most Protestants have a category for hearing stories about those that have lived the Christian faith well and have clearly loved God. Missionaries, prominent evangelists, and church leaders and founders are often highly regarded in this way. We can be encouraged by reading stories about these wonderful godly men and women. But when the Orthodox start talking about praying with the saints, praying to the saints, or asking Mary to save us, all sorts of alarms go off and it gets uncomfortable quickly.

I got to the point where I was convinced of the truth of Orthodoxy and knew that there was an pretty important point here, but at the same time, I knew that I just didn’t get it and wasn’t sure I liked it. I could understand saying that the saints pray with us. If I believe that they are alive in Christ then that’s not such a hard thing to believe. But pray to them? Ask them to save us? And why especially prayers to Mary?

Two things have helped me to appreciate this a little better: I’ve recently read Becoming Orthodox: A Journey to the Ancient Christian Faith by Fr. Peter Gillquist and I’ve been frequently praying an Akathist to the Mother of God, Nurturer of Children. I honestly can’t say which has helped more. I should point out that my struggle with praying to the saints was not because I thought Orthodox Christians worship Mary or the saints. It’s very clear that worship is reserved for God alone. We venerate and honor the saints (and each other).

We honor Mary as the prototype Christian. Mary is called Theotokos, or God-bearer, because she held in her womb that which the entire universe cannot contain — for the nine months she carried Christ inside her in his humanity, he was at the same time fully God. We honor her not just for giving birth to Christ, but for her yes to God. The Orthodox believe that Mary had a choice and continually turned toward God. As Christians we also want Christ to be born in us and to turn toward him, so we recognize her as a model of how we should be.

We honor Mary as our mother. As Eve was the mother of the human race, so Mary is the mother of the new race. Mary gave birth to and raised Christ, the Son of God. Through Christ’s death and resurrection, Mary becomes the mother of all who would be saved. Jesus, on the cross, saw his mother and said “Woman, behold your son!” and then to Saint John, “Behold your mother!” (John 19:26,27). We are also called the sons of God and called to be like Christ (1 John 3:1-3).

We know Mary wants our salvation. It is clear that Mary yielded her will to God and therefore desires that we be saved. But can she save us? Can we save others? As Fr. Peter notes, the answer from scripture is a resounding yes.

Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you. (1 Timothy 4:16).

The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. (James 5:15).

We cannot save alone—Christ said “Without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Yet we can participate: “If you abide in Me and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you” (John 15:7). Clearly Mary was a important part of our salvation for she carried and gave birth to our savior.

Obviously this is a partial discussion of the reasons we venerate Mary. I glossed over many of the reasons that were less of a struggle for me: that she was the greatest woman who ever lived, her ever-virginity, that honoring her always reminds us of the incarnation, and that the church has always venerated her as she herself prophesied: “all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:46-48).

It’s interesting to write this on and after the day of the feast of the Protection of the Theotokos. The feast commemorates a miraculous appearance of the Theotokos during which she spread her veil over the people as a sign of protection and a russian fleet set to attack Constantinople was destroyed.

So many standards

Alana posted the old story about how the US standard railroad width of 4 feet 8½ inches is derived from the Roman chariot’s width. It’s a fun story about how government specs live forever. Go read it and then come back for my Paul Harvey impersonation.

While it’s true that the modern standard gauge in the US matches the British gauge, it wasn’t always obvious that that would be the case. For quite a while the 5-foot gauge was popular, especially in the South. In various parts of the country, gauges varied from 2½ all the way up to 6 feet. It wasn’t until the end of the Civil War and the need for the reconstruction of the South that it became obvious that a standard gauge was needed. Even then, although most of the North was using 4′8½″, the need for many railroads in the South to interconnect with the Pennsylvania Railroad led to moving the entirety of the South to the Pennsy standard of 4′9″. It wasn’t until years later that the popularity of the current standard gauge won out. Now you know.

You can read much more about this in the article “The Days They Changed the Gauge” from the August 1966 Ties magazine. The article tells the story of the dramatic change over of an estimated 11,500 miles of track to the 4-foot 9-inch gauge in just two days of May 1886.

As an aside, I find it surprising to myself that this is the first post by Alana that I have commented on. Perhaps I’ll just say that I’m still thinking about her post on ritual and Seraphim’s comments about it. So true.

Kentucky’s abandoned railroad lines

I’m thrilled to announce that there is now a website for the Kentucky Abandoned Railroad Corridor Inventory. Packed with beautiful pictures, clear and accurate maps, and abandoned line descriptions, the site is a joy to read. Especially enjoyable are the highlighted lines. Having driven past some of them, and having enjoyed similar trails in Ohio and Michigan, I can visualize how wonderful they would be converted to bike trails. You can also get the full report in PDF format.

The abandonment inventory is a great tool for rails to trails organizations. Of the roughly 1,200 miles of abandoned lines available in Kentucky, only about 15 miles have been converted for trail use. This means Kentucky ranks 47th in the states in terms of rail-to-trail conversions. Only Delaware, Alaska, and Hawaii have fewer miles. I hope that this inventory will help others see the possibilities and that we will soon be able to celebrate many more rail-trails in Kentucky.

Christ was always on safari doing good

Church historian Dr. Jaroslav Pelikan was recently featured on the National Public Radio (NPR) program “Speaking of Faith” to talk about the publication of his latest work, Credo: Historical and Theological Guide to Creeds and Confessions of Faith in the Christian Tradition. The five-volume collection Creeds and Confessions of Faith in the Christian Tradition, of which Credo serves as the introductory volume is already being hailed as surpassing all other works of its kind. Many expect that it will be considered the standard resource because it supercedes Philip Schaff’s Creeds of Christendom collection first published in 1870.

The christiancreeds.net website for Pelikan’s collection has fascinating information, including sample chapters and creeds. I was tickled by the wording of the featured Masai Creed and at the same time struck that its unique phrases are true. When Christianity is properly inculturated, all other cultures gain and see the truth in a new light.

Lotus Notes may save the Web

Ray Ozzie, creator of Lotus Notes, writes about how Notes may save the browser from Eolas patent lawsuits. Eolas recently sued Microsoft over the use of plugins in the browser. Notes was doing essentially the same thing years before. Indeed, Ozzie writes that Notes people didn’t see much difference between the Web and what Notes could do:

In 1993 or thereabouts, we saw the emergence of TCP/IP, HTML, HTTP, Mosaic and the Web. From our perspective, all of these were simplistic emulations of a tiny subset of what we’d been doing in Notes for years. TCP/IP instead of Netbeui or IPX/SPX, HTML instead of CD records, HTTP instead of the Notes client/server protocols, httpd instead of a Notes server. And we were many years ahead in other ways: embedded compound objects, security, composition of documents as opposed to just “browsing” them, and a sophisticated development environment. I am quite embarassed to say that we frankly didn’t “get” what was so innovative about this newfangled “Web” thing, given the capabilities of what had already been built.

Blog backlog

I’ve either been too busy or too tired to write recently. (I wonder if anyone noticed.) Taking a break from work was good. Taking a break from blogging is also good, except that now I have many things I want to write about. Stay tuned…

At least I blog more frequently than mpt (What’s up? We miss you, mpt.)

The Rathole Division

For a while now I’ve been trying to determine exactly when the old railroad bed between Wilmore and High Bridge was abandoned. As I noted on the doubling the tracks page of my High Bridge history, I thought it was in 1929. I found a new source that seems to confirm that date.

The article 90 Years to “Daylight” in the August 1963 issue of Ties: the Southern Railway System Magazine is a fascinating look at the history of the section of the Cincinnati, New Orleans & Texas Pacific (CNO&TP) Railway that gained the nickname the “rathole division”:

“That nickname once aptly characterized the middle section of the CNO&TP, where 27 tunnels helped the line traverse 160 miles of rugged mountain country between Wilmore, Ky., and Emory Gap, Tenn., and kept an assortment of civil engineers busy almost from the day the line opened for traffic.

Tunnels were numbered 1 through 27 (running from north to south). They ranged in length from 3,992 feet (tunnel No.2–Kings Mountain) to 189 feet (tunnel No.6). Trains traveled underground for five miles through these 27 tunnels.

Tunnel openings were designed to be approximately 15* feet wide and 20 feet high at the top of the arch. Some of the arches appeared almost round, some resembled flat topped triangles, others were more jagged in appearance. The blasting techniques of the 1870’s left something to be desired.

Trains thundered through the tunnels for almost a decade before the next abandonment about 1930. This was tunnel No.1 and it too was bypassed as a result of installing double track, this time near Wilmore, Ky.…”

There’s also a beautiful cover picture of High Bridge on the April 1948 issue and a two page spread of High Bridge in 1905 in the January-February 1981 issue.

Kentucky Highway Markers

Kentucky has somewhere around 1,750 roadside markers that commemorate various historical events, places, and people throughout Kentucky. Last year I pointed you to Signs of History, a site that is working to get a picture of every marker in Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Unfortunately, the site is incomplete, somewhat inconsistent, and varies widely in quality. As a labor of love worked on by volunteers in their spare time, it’s a nice resource I can appreciate, but I’ve wished for something more polished.

Today I found Roadside History: A Guide to Kentucky Highway Markers, a similar site that apparently lists all the Kentucky signs and is so beautifully indexed and organized that I fully expect it to disappear any day now. It says it’s being funded by a grant and is a site to test the database for the Kentucky Historical Society. The Kentucky Historical Society, which coordinates the Kentucky Historical Highway Marker Program, says “Later this year … a searchable list of historical highway markers will be added to the Kentucky Historical Society website.” I hope that Roadside History is a preview of the “searchable list” they’re talking about.

If only the sites would work together to have a complete database of all the markers as well as pictures of them and the places they mark, it’d be fabulous. I hope they also provide stable links to each of the markers so they can be referenced easily.