Hellos and Goodbyes

Do we meet people by accident? Is it fate? I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. Certainly the people around us influence us (for good or bad, and often a bit of both). What is it that impacts us and why? Is it our choice? Or chance?

Early on in my journey into Orthodox Christianity I heard the phrase “Intentional Orthodox Eucharisitic Community” and began to contemplate what it meant to live out those words singularly and collectively. I was prepared for this at some level by the experience of living in a dorm at Asbury College and by the incredible guys that have become my lifelong friends and family. I didn’t choose them to live on that particular floor of that specific dorm with me, but it has been my good fortune that we were thrown together. And yet… it wasn’t the mere proximity but something beyond. We made repeated choices to get to know each other, to be honest with each other, and to grow as friends.

It can be so joyous to make new friends.

Even prior to my college experience I had a yearning for a place where people shared Christian love and fellowship. In my high school years, our church experienced the loss of a wonderful pastor. At the time, it didn’t seem a big deal to me, after all I was leaving for college relatively soon, and how much did it really matter anyway? That the new pastor was relatively younger and seemed to be less attached to (or rooted in) the traditions of the church proved to be divisive and many families left the church, including, eventually, my family. It was strange to come home and see the old families at a sort of church reunion, except that the families were coming together from all over town. In a real sense, these were my family as well and they had been divided.

I’ve since heard some other good phrases from various Orthodox folk. “I don’t know what it means, but it means.” Father Stephen Freeman shared with us the idea that “those that come to us have been given to us for our salvation.”

Next week we will welcome a new priest and family and lose a priest and family and I feel a little better prepared to say Goodbye (God be with you!) and Hello.

Reading the Bible

The Come Receive the Light radio broadcast for January 7, 2006 featured Father Thomas Hopko speaking about how to include Bible reading in your day. Father Thomas is a wonderful speaker and he gave many good suggestions: read the scriptures regularly, keep the readings short so it can be done, don’t read when you’re likely to be tired. He also discussed the merits of various translations and the differences between reading and studying the word. I highly recommend you listen to the broadcast (Real) (or listen to the MP3).

I especially enjoyed his retelling of a story from the desert fathers:

Our topic today is not so much Bible study, it’s Bible reading, what was called in the old roman church — the old early Orthodox church in the latin version — lectio divina. That’s where you just read it to read it. You spend five, ten minutes with it a day and you just read it.

There’s a story in the desert fathers, how one fellow would be listening — they weren’t reading in those days because they didn’t all have books — but he was listening every day to the reading of the Scripture in the gathering of the brothers (in the synaxis).

So he comes to the old guy one day and he says to him, “I’m leavin’. This is a waste of time.”

And the old guy says, “Why?”

He said, “Because I can’t remember anything. I go in there and I hear this and the minute I go out and I can’t remember anything.”

The old man says to him “Well I tell you, before you leave, do something, okay? Do this: Get two buckets and put them by the door of your cell. Every day at the prayer of the hours you go to the spring and you fill up one of the buckets with water and then you pour the water out. But every day the same bucket. You fill it up and you pour it out.”

So the guy says, “Okay.”

So after a year the old man comes back and he said, “Did you do what I told you?”

The guy says, “Yes.”

He said, “Well, let’s look at the buckets.” So the buckets are sitting there and he says, “What’s in them?”

He says, “Nothing. They’re both empty.”

Then the old man says, “Why is one of them very clean and very nice and the other one is just filled with spiders and cobwebs and dust and dirt?”

The young guy says, “Well obviously, father, the clean one is the one that I filled up and poured out the water every day.”

The old man said, “There’s your answer: they’re both empty.”

In other words, the word of God has to pass through us and cleanse us. But sometimes we may not retain it. And John Climacus said the same thing, he said “The remembrance of the word of God is not done by the brain, it’s done by the behavior.”

So I think we need just to read it — just expose ourselves to it. And I would even say to people if you don’t understand something, let it go. Just let it go. Cling to the part that you do understand. And of course if you’re reading gospels and not maybe letter to the Romans or some Old Testament book might be tough, but the psalms and the gospels they are pretty straight forward … and we’re familiar with them. But we just need to keep repeating and repeating.

Embracing America’s Christmas Culture

As Orthodox Christians begin the days of fasting in preparation for the Christmas, a time sometimes called Winter Lent, the culture in America seems to go into overdrive with crazy feasting and partying. Why is it that McDonald’s has to bring back the McRib this time of year!? Every time I turn around it seems there’s another thanksgiving meal and Christmas party.

I’ve tried to look at this hustle and bustle and ever-present Christmas decorations as a welcome reminder of the season. While the chaotic lights and light up snowmen are missing the reason for the season, they do bring a smile to my face. It’s especially pleasing to hear the delight in the voice of my children when they see Christmas lights as we drive around town. Truly, we should practice our fast with a joyful heart. Perhaps these lights can remind us to be of good cheer as we ponder and prepare for the birth of Christ.

As I stopped by the grocery store the other night I heard the jingling of a bell — a welcome sound reminder of Christmas. The Salvation Army bell ringer reminded me without saying a word that I should be giving alms while I fast. As I reflected on it afterward I remembered that the bell ringers start almost the same time as the fast, usually the week before Thanksgiving. What a good time for the up front reminder that there are those in need. The bell’s sound got me thinking that Orthodox churches often use bells to call us to prayer. When I hear bells this time of year, I’ll be reminded to pray and give alms.

Transcript of Our Mission on the Radio

As I mentioned earlier, Father David spoke about our mission on the Come Receive the Light Radio program in July. Here’s a transcript of the segment (from 2:36 to 8:36 in the program) that featured Saint Athanasius Orthodox Church:

“The Orthodox church is to us the last hope for Americans who hunger for classical Christianity in all of its power and all of its fullness.”

Announcer: Reverend David Rucker is the priest in charge at a relatively new church planted just outside Lexington, Kentucky in Nicholasville and, as the directions on their website say, only a couple of blocks from the Dairy Queen. [chuckles] Sounds nice to me. Church growth is a primary emphasis for the Orthodox church in the twenty-first century and Father Rucker shared his passion for expanding the church in a phone conversation recently with Emmy.

Host Emmy Louvaris: What was the motivation for planting an Orthodox church in Nicholasville, Kentucky?

Father David: Ah, well, Emmy, first of all we didn’t plan on planting that first OCA parish in Kentucky. The work here was a surprise to us. I think it was the fruit of what God was doing in our own personal lives. We were on a pilgrimage and we found out where we were going and then we stubbornly stuck to it and others seemed to appear almost out of nowhere who decided that they wanted to go there too. The Orthodox church is to us the last hope for Americans who hunger for classical Christianity in all of its power and all of its fullness.

I’m reminded of this every week by those learning the faith in our parish—the catechumens or inquirers who visit our services:

One Sunday a man came up to me after the Sunday morning liturgy and he began to interrogate me in the back of the church in the narthex. He said “How long has the Orthodox church existed?”

I told him that this was the church of the apostles and it went all the back to the book of Acts.

He looked at me sternly and he said “Well, how long has the Orthodox church been in America?”

I said, “Well, the first missionaries came to Alaska in the late 1700s.” And then I began to really get nervous because as a missionary my instincts were kicking in and I thought I knew where he might be going.

And then he asked, “Well, would you please explain to me why this is the first time I have ever had the opportunity to hear what I’ve heard this morning about God. This news about the incarnation, the death, the resurrection, and the ascension, all that God has done to have communion with me.” He said, “I’m over 50 years old. Why hasn’t anyone told me this before?”

[Sighs] I have to say that my answers were pretty lame. And really I, I just, made some excuses that morning and then I went back to my study and I sat for a long time.

You know, this is why we’re planting a mission church. In fact, we’ve just welcomed back our first short term missionary from Romania even though our parish is just two years old as an OCA parish. We’re committed not only to being a mission but to being missionaries—the entire church. And this is the nature of the church. As Archbishop Anastasios likes to say this is the very DNA of what it means to be church.

Emmy: So tell us about your vision for the mission.

Father David: We’re not interested in building a mega church. We like being a local community and even a walking distance church, if possible. And so our vision is not only to plant the mission here just south of Lexington in the heart of the bluegrass, but already on a map in back of my desk we have pinpoints, and we’d like to work with all of the Orthodox churches — the other four orthodox churches, we only have five in the whole state of Kentucky serving nearly 3 million people — our hope is to work with our other churches and to plant new churches in other parts of the state and we have our eyes on those areas.

And then, aside from numerical growth and all of that, which is good and a healthy sign of a healthy and a growing church, we’re really committed to the spiritual formation and serving in the lives of each one of our families and our people. We have wonderful foundation stones here at Saint Athanasius Orthodox church. Of course that’s what it’s about: the priest can’t do anything alone. The priest and the people along with their bishop form the orchestra that plays the music of God. So we have a grand vision here — nothing which could be accomplished in our lifetime, [chuckles] but I don’t guess anything worth doing could ever be accomplished in one lifetime.

Emmy: Well, thank you so much. Thank you for all that great information.

Father David: Yes, Emmy, please pray for our work here in Kentucky. And we ask all of your listeners to, too, for the work, this work. Please visit us, if you can. We’re in the heart of the bluegrass of Kentucky just south of Lexington in Nicholasville. To find out more you can call us at (859) 881-8144 or visit our website at AthanasiusOCA.org. We have a very full schedule of weekly services, and we have guests at every service. All are welcome, especially Orthodox Christians who visit us—they’re a tremendous encouragement to mission work. So plan your vacations and that sort of thing to stop in and encourage a mission in your area.

Announcer: That’s a great recommendation. Again, that was Reverend David Rucker of Saint Athanasius Church in Nicholasville, Kentucky and their website is AthanasiusOCA.org. And the phone number once more is (859) 881-8144.

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.

Orthodox Bumper Stickers

The Onion Dome, a parody/humor site recently held a contest to decide the slogan to use on an Orthodox Bumper Sticker. Here’s some I found amusing:

  • Eastern Orthodox: The only Church with the word “Easter” in its title.
  • You might be orthodox if…
    …you’re 15 and you have Varicose veins!
    …you have rug burns on your forehead for 50 days out of the year.
    …you have the words “consubstantial”, “hypostasis” or “filioque” in your vocabulary.
  • My Church wrote your Bible.
  • Horn Broken, Listen for Anathema
  • You think that’s religious fundamentalism? I’ll show you religious fundamentalism.
  • Orthodoxy — Ancestors you can’t remember are part of our Church
  • Wisdom! Let us attend… to the road!
  • When in doubt, cross yourself.
  • Have you kised your Mother’s Icon today?
  • Your Mother Church — keeping the “Ma” in “dogma.”
  • Orthodoxy: If It Aint’ Broke.…
  • Orthodoxy: Pro-Life, Pro-Christ, Pro-Baklava!
  • Honk if you know what this means: IC XC NIKA
  • Being Saved
  • Universality, Antiquity, Consent
  • Orthodoxy: It’s a very narrow road
  • 51% Atkins-Friendly
  • Not so Close! I may need to do prostrations.
  • Orthodoxy: It’s like Ethnicity without the color!
  • “Uh … smoking, please.” Orthodoxy
  • The Orthodox Church: Not Only Standing for the Truth, But Never Sitting Down Either
  • Orthodoxy: Faithfully maintaining the tradition started at the Tower of Babel.
  • I’m so Orthodox I don’t even change my oil.
  • Orthodox Christianity: Not New, Not Improved
  • Orthodoxy Is My Doxy
  • Orthodoxy: Putting the FUN back in ‘fundamentalism’!
  • In case of rapture, can I have your car?
  • I (heart) Theotokos
  • Fish Sticks have NO BACKBONE!
  • Orthodoxy: Kickin’ it old school since 33 A.D.
  • I’d rather be censing.
  • Eat my antidoron.

Salvation in Now, Voyager

In this week’s installment of the “popcorn blog” project, we’ll examine salvation themes in the movie Now, Voyager (1942). Where last week we looked at salvation as a decisive turning point for almost every character—choosing good when it mattered—in this week’s movie we see ongoing choices—for healing, and for good.

Sadly, the only copy of the film I was able to locate was an ancient videotape that was in pretty bad condition. I could usually hear the sound, but the screen often descended into dancing patterns of lines and scratches. Rewinding and tightening the tape seemed to help, but it was a struggle. The second playing was a bit better, but I feel spoiled by the digital clarity of DVDs. I hope the others participating in the “popcorn blog” fared better. Speaking of others, be sure to read Huw Raphael’s comments (and part 2) about the movie.

The movie revolves around the transformation of Charlotte Vale, and to a lesser extent, Jerry Durrance and his daughter Tina. We first meet Charlotte at her mother’s house because Dr. Jaquith has come to see her. We learn that she was a “late child” and that her mother essentially controls her. Her mother calls her “my ugly duckling.” Charlotte has suffered under her mother and never been allowed to break out and grow up. She carves beautiful boxes in her room, but they are kept locked away. Like Charlotte herself, no one seems to appreciate her work until the doctor—Charlotte’s niece, June, makes fun of Charlotte as well the boxes when the doctor shows off the one he was given. Like Charlotte, the boxes are things of beauty that are hidden and damaged by her mother.

Charlotte’s story goes through these stages:

  • Imprisonment
  • Breaking free
  • Healing
  • Recognizing truth
  • Love


Charlotte’s mother is clearly controlling of her daughter, a grown adult woman. She picks Charlotte’s clothes, makes her wear “sensible shoes,” and dictates what she must do. When Charlotte dared to seek out love as a twenty year old on a voyage, her mother interfered and found fault with the man so that Charlotte stays alone. Charlotte lives behind locked doors and it seems she never leaves the house. Her family (other than her mother) is concerned about her mental state.

Breaking Free

Without the help of family members and a concerned doctor, Charlotte might never have escaped. She is allowed to go to Cascades, Dr. Jaquith’s “hospital” and starts to find herself. A supportive community is important for Charlotte and it helps her get on her feet. Still, she needs to do the hard work herself and we see her transformation throughout the film. We also see this connection between community and personal action in Orthodoxy.

There are several important symbols used in the film. When Charlotte meets Jerry for cocktails she wears an elegant dress and wrap. She’s gone from an ugly duckling to a beautiful swan. She suffers some embarrassment that her “wings are borrowed” when Jerry discovers the note pinned to her clothes, but the point is made that they suit her. There’s the added symbol of the butterfly—she’s broken out of her cocoon and is on her own. Early on Dr. Jaquith tells Charlotte that he helps patients by giving them road signs: “Not that way; this way.” We’re reminded of this when Charlotte and Jerry are thrown together as they take an unmarked shortcut road. Immediately after this, Charlotte has to learn to find her own road.


Salvation is about healing, about restoring relationships and bringing things back into their proper place. Charlotte admits that healing begins for her when Jerry takes an honest interest in her. “You were my first friend and then you fell in love with me and I felt proud.” Her choice isn’t perfect, however. She falls for a married man — “with eyes wide open,” no less — and struggles with the impropriety of that to some extent. This was also something that bothered me while watching the film. I somehow wanted a better, more perfect relationship for her. It’s good to watch how the imperfect leads to something redemptive as she helps Jerry’s child, Tina.

As with her breaking away from her mother’s home, her healing is facilitated by others’ help. Jerry plays an important role in her learning about love. Dora, the nurse, also helps her with her mother. Dr. Jaquith plays a new role as a confidant and helps keep her on the path.

Recognizing Truth

Part of healing is being able to identify and live in reality instead of desiring illusion. The biggest challenge for Charlotte is to go back home and interact with her mother once more. Remarkably, she is able to set good boundaries “I stick to my guns, but don’t fire” and strives to be considerate of her mother, despite the previous years with her. I fully expected a large fight, but instead she “doesn’t want to be disagreeable or unkind.” Despite her mother’s attempts to manipulate and to critique her, Charlotte stays mild. She is no longer afraid. We even catch a glimpse that they may enjoy being together as she arranges flowers. Her mother admits that Charlotte now does what she wants, which is a big step.

Charlotte is also able to make friends with others. She wrestles with marrying Eliot, but they eventually both are able to admit that it truly wouldn’t work out. She doesn’t want to quarrel with her mother and when she finally admits the truth that her mother didn’t want her, her mother is so shocked that she suffers a heart attack and dies.


Throughout her healing process, Charlotte is learning to love. The final chapter of the movie is her meeting and helping Tina work through similar challenges. Instead of closing herself up, Charlotte embraces the pain of not being able to marry—she tells the doctor that it is over with Jerry—and focuses on giving to others. Although her love for Tina is not entirely selfless, her heart goes out to her and she genuinely desires to help her. Jerry even is confused by her giving and doesn’t want her to have to do this, but recognizes that Charlotte’s motherly behavior has made Tina her child.

Charlotte has been healed. When she gives up on marrying Eliot she tells herself “You’ll never have a home of your own, or a child of your own.” By the end of movie, she’s been given the home she lived in all those years and is helping to raise Tina.

Tina asks, “Why are you so good to me?”
Charlotte responds “Because someone was good to me once when I needed it.”

Charlotte’s healing makes it possible for her to love Tina. In Tina we see a minor replaying of Charlotte’s life and a similar transformation. When one is saved, others can be as well.