A Church on a Hill

After prayerful consideration, the members of Saint Athanasius Orthodox Church agreed to pursue purchasing property in Jessamine County. We plan to buy at least 7 acres of a large hill that is about 5 miles southeast of Nicholasville near Chrisman Mill Vineyards. I put together a page with lots of pictures of the hill if you want to look at it.

When I first heard about the property I was somewhat skeptical. I guess I always thought our church would move to somewhere in the city near a major road when we were large enough. I never pictured going to church out in the country on small roads. The idea of a church within walking distance of our homes has also been a dream of many of us and this seemed a step away from that.

Under the appropriate direction of our mission council, we spent the Fast of the Apostles in prayer about the land. I drove past the hill several times and had the chance to stand on top of it near the cemetery and watch the sun set. I began to get excited — I could see a church there.

So many different things changed my mind about the hill that it’s hard to identify all of them. I had been looking at pictures of Orthodox churches in Alaska and noticing that while some of them were not much to look at on the outside, they were all obviously Orthodox and many had cemeteries next to them. The Saint Alexander Nevsky Chapel is a typical picture. Father David explained that prayers take on a whole new dimension when you have a cemetery. Father Theodore mentioned that it’s a russian tradition to build churches on hills.

The hill itself is beautiful and deceptively large. Walking around on it, I got a strange sense of it being a special place. The current owner says he treats it like holy ground—God’s land. It certainly makes an impression on you. After being shown the land, someone from the UK school of architecture commented to Father David “if you’re going to travel to church, it should be to a spirtual place” and that visiting the hill had been that, even without a church there.

I think what really sold me was the realization that it wasn’t really far from Nicholasville, only 5 or 10 minutes. I used to drive all the way into Lexington to go to church; I’m sure I can drive a few miles into the country.

An Iconographer? Me?

 Over a year ago I heard about the Six Days of Creation Icon Writing Workshop presented by St. Andrew Orthodox Church and considered attending. Due to my seeking the opinion of others and general procrastination and because the workshop quickly filled up, I was not able to participate last year. I was able to attend the public lecture series last year and I still contemplate them. Thankfully, St. Andrew is hosting the Icon Writing Workshop again this year and I signed up and was accepted.

It’s with quickly beating heart and trembling hands that I realize the day is upon us. Registration and the first evening session is today and during this next week I’ll be working on an icon. As I contemplate the idea of conveying the holy saints I realize my unworthiness. I’ve never painted an icon; this will be my first. I hope to use the artistic skills God has given to me for his glory.

I did a quick sketch of Saint Paul during the fast of Saints Peter and Paul earlier this year., The sketch reassured me that I can still draw. I have much to learn. I include it here not because it is particularly worthwhile—it isn’t. It is also unfinished as an icon as it is lacking label text. I thought I’d put it up anyway so we can see my starting point.

Today after common meal at church, Father David read a prayer for me and blessed me and my hands. It is very humbling. I ask for your prayers.

A Prayer for Blessing an Ikon Painter

Lord Jesus Christ our God, remaining uncircumscribed in Your divine nature, You deigned to be circumscribed in recent times when, for the salvation of mankind, You were ineffably incarnated by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Theotokos, Mary.

When You impressed the imprint of Your immaculate visage on the holy towel, and through it healed the disease of Abgar the Governor, You enlightened him to recognize You as our true God.

Through Your Holy Spirit, You granted Your godly apostle and evangelist Luke the understanding he needed to portray the form of Your most unblemished mother as she carried You in her embrace when You were a child, and she said “May the grace of Him Who was born through me be with these images.”

So now, Master, God of All, enlighten and grant understanding Yourself to the soul and heart and mind of Your servant Timothy and direct his hands to blamelessly and excellently portray visible likenesses of You and of Your most immaculate mother and of all Your saints, to Your glory and the splendor and beauty of Your holy churches, for the forgiveness of sins of those who worship in them, and who devoutly kiss these images, referring honor to their prototypes.

Rescue him from every diabolical assault as he makes progress in Your commandments, through the intercessions of Your most immaculate mother, of the holy and illustrious evangelist Luke, and of all Your saints. Amen.

Our Mission on the Radio

In the previous post I was going to mention that our mission was featured in this week’s Come Receive the Light radio broadcast. It’s the episode that features Dr. Aristeides Papadakis discussing his book on the Papacy. The radio program is not carried by any stations in the local area so I frequently listen to the archived programs online. If you have RealPlayer, you can listen to the program. The interview with Father David about our mission is near the start of the program.

Orthodox Missions

As part of St. Athanasius Orthodox Church, a mission parish in Kentucky, I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a missionary. Planting a church is hard and rewarding work. The challenges of limited resources help make us extremely thankful for unexpected gifts. I marvel at the way other Orthodox parishes have supported and encouraged us.

Missionary work is not new to Orthodoxy, although historical circumstances have seemed to limit it in this part of the world. The more I learn about the Orthodox mission work in Alaska, the more I am amazed by the deep respect demonstrated for the Alaskan people. I hope that as part a mission in Kentucky we are also acting out this love and respect. I pray that we can communicate the Gospel well.

I believe we have been uniquely prepared for this mission work. Before we were received in the Orthodox Church in America, we were a mission church in the Evangelical Orthodox Church. In the EOC, we talked about and tried to live as an “Intentional Orthodox Eucharistic Community.” We have pondered and examined every one of those words and the combination of them as we together strive to love God more. (See Reader Gideon’s comments, for example.) When we were received in the OCA, we started talking about and acting on the idea that “those that join us are given to us by God for our salvation.” God knows what we need even when we do not. I believe these two ideas work together.

As we look at buying land (more on that in the future), it is good for us to consider what it means to be planting a church. The Antiochian Orthodox Church in the UK and Ireland has a terrific article called Planting New Parishes – How to Do It. Good words to read. Be sure to read the diversion about St. Nicholas of Japan and Orthodox Christian Mission, especially if you have never heard the wonderful story of this saint. Of course, if you want to really study Orthodox mission practice, you should get the book Eastern Orthodox Mission Theology Today by James J. Stamoolis.

At one point I believe we were a bit afraid to be treading on the toes of the other Orthodox parishes in Lexington. I believe it was Basil that expressed that we shouldn’t fear that since we are working on a parish in Nicholasville, Kentucky. It is that our vision was too small. Why wouldn’t we want an Orthodox parish in every city and community?

I hope we practice the Orthodox Approach to Mission and continue in our praying and seeking God and manifesting the Body of Christ. Lord have mercy.

Browser Wars II: Take back the Web

Are the browser wars back? With Microsoft Internet Explorer commanding an estimated 95% share of the browsers used on the web, many proclaimed the Browser War over. A recent article in the Guardian suggests that the past month’s one percent dip in Internet Explorer’s market share may mean the browser wars are back:

The tiniest shift, history shows us, can signal the greatest change. News last weekend that Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE) web browser had lost a single percentage point of market share might not sound all that significant today, but it could well mean the browser wars are back on. One percent is all it takes…

This week, we find that Microsoft’s share has, for the first time, dropped. Ever so slightly, from 95.73% to 94.73%. “It’s the first time we’ve seen a sustained trend downward for them,” says Geoff Johnston, an analyst with WebSideStory, which produced these results. “We have a trend. It’s been about a month, and every day we have a steady incremental change.”

For years now I’ve been telling you about Mozilla and Mozilla Firefox, two terrific and completely free web browsers from the Mozilla Foundation. It’s good to see that the world is finally catching on that we don’t need to put up with the pop-ups and security holes of IE.

Even more exciting to me are the extensions available for these browsers. Here are two that I’ve found useful:

Lets you spell check web forms, such as text areas and input fields. This has been desired by Mozilla users for years. (See bug 16409 and bug 23421.) With this extension, the wait is over.
Document Outliner
A shiny new extension that uses the headings in properly marked up web pages to show a document outline in the sidebar. It’s clickable much like the outline in Adobe Acrobat or Microsoft Word. I’ll write about this more as I play with it. In the meantime, all you web developers should join the conversation about HTML heading markup considerations [noticed on Mezzoblue.]

Firefox just keeps getting better and better. Have you switched yet?

Microsoft pays Lindows $20 Million

Microsoft and Lindows have settled their trademark dispute. According to the settlement, and a change that was already in progress due to international lawsuits, Lindows will transition to the name Linspire and cease using the Lindows trademark. Microsoft will pay Lindows $20 million.

Linspire sells “a full-featured operating system … that offers you the power, stability and cost-savings of Linux with the ease of a windows environment,” according to their website. The more companies that are working to enhance the usability of the Linux desktop the better in my book. I’m wishing the best to Linspire with their new name. I hope it does well.

I want to right-click print in Firefox

Do I understand correctly—Mozilla Firefox will have Select All on the context menu, but not Print?

For all the good that the Firefox developers have done to create a better browser, they employ a somewhat haphazard approach to UI design. Whether a feature is in the core browser or only available as an extension seems to be based on the whim of the developers. Matthew Thomas commented on this in a post to the WHATWG mailing list, “Firefox isn’t noticeably innovative in any respect (mere competence is enough for now), so I don’t think that’s really surprising enough to be annoyed about.”

Firefox is generally usable and elegant and that is a tribute to the developers. Their dictatorial command of the UI has benefited the browser. (In other words, their decisions are usually reasonable.) Firefox is easily a better browser when taken as a whole, especially when you consider security issues. However, UI problems make it not as good as competitors in specific areas.

In response to the request for a Print context menu, a developer suggested using Ctrl+P or File->Print to print the page. There are various contexts, such as windows opened by JavaScript without menu bars sometimes used by commerce sites, where File->Print just isn’t available. Ctrl+P is fine if you happen to remember keyboard shortcuts. The real advantage to a Print item in the context menu is that it is discoverable. It’s not hard to find with a right-click and it doesn’t require remembering the keyboard shortcut.

I want Firefox to be a fantastic browser. It’s moving in the right direction. I’ve been using it every day for quite a while and Mozilla before that. Let’s make it even better.

Update: I should have mentioned that this feature is available as the Print extension created by Jeeradej Thaworntaweewong. Thank you, Jeeradej. My point is that it shouldn’t be relegated to an extension, but should be part of the core product.

Get Firefox for your safety

Steven J Vaughan-Nichols recommends Mozilla Firefox in an article for eWeek titled “Internet Explorer Is Too Dangerous to Keep Using”. It’s shocking how frequently IE security holes have been found this year and how large they are. He writes:

This past Friday I started installing Firefox, the browser-only side of Mozilla, on every one of my production Windows machines.

Why? Because Internet Explorer, like Outlook, has finally become, to my mind, a permanent security hole that masquerades as a useful application.

Strong words? Have you really thought about this latest exploit? It could hit every Internet Explorer (IE) browser that merely visited any page served by an infected Microsoft IIS (Internet Information Server).

No anti-virus program would stop it, no firewall would slow it down and no shipping IE security patch would even notice it. Visit the page, get the infection. It was that simple.

And just how bad was this attack? Boys and girls, let me tell you, this was the worst security violation I have ever seen.

In the few days that the sites provided the Trojan horses, hundreds of thousands or millions of users could have had their credit-card, stock-brokerage and bank-account numbers and passwords stolen.

Let me repeat myself: Millions of you may have every bit of your browser-driven online financial security information stolen.

The bottom line is that for all practical purposes for today, open-source browsers, such as Mozilla Firefox, are inherently more secure than Internet Explorer, and I still have half a dozen more workstations to switch over to Firefox. Go ahead, stick with Internet Explorer for everyday use. It’s your funeral.

In addition to better security, Firefox offers a more enjoyable browsing experience. The few times I’ve used IE in the last few months, I’ve been stunned at how may sites have popup windows for advertising. I haven’t seen one in years with Mozilla and Firefox.

Firefox offers Tabbed browsing, which makes it easy to switch between multiple sites and pages. Conveniently, the bottom of the menu for each bookmark folder has the option to “Open in Tabs”. I organized the bookmarks for a number of sites I read each day in a “Daily” folder. Then I just pick Open in Tabs each morning and read through them.

Firefox’s Find as You Type feature lets you just start typing on a page and it will jump to the links with the letters you’ve typed. It’s a quick way to navigate the page. If you type a slash first, it will search all the text on the page.

Go get Firefox. It’s more secure. It’s more enjoyable. And it automatically imports your Internet Explorer favorites and settings so you can switch very easily.

Holocaust survivors hid in caves

National Geographic Adventure magazine features an amazing story about a group of Ukrainian Jews that survived for a year and a half underground. Living in a cave for any length of time is dangerous due to the risk of hypothermia, air and water contamination, malnutrition, and of course getting lost in the dark. It’s surprising how the families handled it and adapted to it. The Ukrainian American Youth Caver Exchange Foundation also has pictures of the cave, called Priest’s Grotto, that was their home for the majority of the time.

Can you imagine living in darkness for almost a year?

They had few candles, so light was limited to three short periods each day. After enough time spent wandering in the dark, they memorized the feel of the cave floor on their bare feet. It was like directions in braille.

All aboard for Kentucky rails-to-trails

Today’s Lexington Herald-Leader had two informative and postive articles about rail-trails in Kentucky. It’s exciting to see people discussing rail-trails and their health benefits.

The first article describes how initial opposition turned into enthusiasm for a rail-trail in Muhlenberg County. I enjoyed hearing Muhlenberg County Judge-Executive Rodney Keith Kirtley, who is quoted in the article, speak at the 2004 Kentucky Rails to Trails Conference. He is a gifted speaker and very optimistic about rail-trails in Kentucky.

From the article:

When Muhlenberg County officials unveiled plans to turn an unused railroad right-of-way into a public walking and biking trail, property owners along the route ran roughshod over the idea.

What a difference a couple of years can make.

The 6-mile trail between Greenville and Central City, which opened in 2002, has become one of the most popular projects the county has ever undertaken, Kirtley said. And, he said, it’s starting to help county residents shed pounds and become more healthy.

Interestingly, Kirtley said, some of the trail’s most vocal critics have become its most ardent supporters.

“The funny thing is that within a month after the trail opened, a lot of the people who had fought it were out there walking,” he said. “The very gentleman who started all the petitions and everything, he bought a bicycle and started riding the trail every day.”

The second article emphasizes the physical fitness problems of rural Kentucky and mentions that rail-trails can provide safe recreation areas:

In many rural counties, finding a place to exercise is a major roadblock.

Many once-quiet country roads are abuzz with traffic today and are too narrow for safe or pleasant walking. Fitness centers outside of town are almost unknown. One of the ironies of the obesity epidemic is that the once-sturdy country farmer — who is more likely today than a generation ago to be overweight, thanks to labor-saving machinery — might have to drive to town to find a place to exercise.

But finding a place in many smaller towns can be tough. Many lack places for indoor exercise or walking, or even commercial programs, such as Weight Watchers. Even when such places or programs are available, many working families might not be able to afford them, officials say.

“For every dollar we spend on ourselves for fitness, we’re paid back threefold in better health,” said Theresa Scott, extension agent in Floyd County, which launches its Get Moving program today. “That’s a good investment, but it can be tough when you’re already making car payments, buying kids’ braces, and all that. One thing we really need is affordable facilities to promote exercise.”

Sounds promising for rail-trails to me.