Monthly Archives: April 2011

Sabbatical destinations

For those not familiar with Google maps: click and hold your mouse button to move the map around in its frame.

Use the plus (+) and minus (-) buttons on the left to zoom in and out. Or just double-click on the map itself, near the spot you want to zoom in on, and you’ll zoom in there. You can zoom in really, really close and see some interesting details.

Double click on the blue place markers for a brief description of the location.

If you click on the “View larger map” link that’s directly underneath the map, it will take you to the Google map page, where you’ll get a really big map to play around with, and use some really cool features. E.g., switching between satellite and map views (and Google Earth views, if you have Google Earth installed), and clicking on the “photos” option in the upper right corner, which will call up any pictures people have taken at that location; click on them to get a ground-level picture taken at that spot (the pictures taken at St Panteleimon’s Monastery on Mt Athos are really spectacular; check ’em out!)


Bright Week or No-longer-Lent?

Christ is risen!

My friend, Sherry Weddell, over at the Intentional Disciples blog asked this question. She went on to say:

Here we are at the 4th day of the Easter season or Bright Wednesday as it is known in the Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic traditions.  The whole week after Easter Sunday to the following Saturday is called Bright Week and is considered to be a single continuous day.

But are we living this week as Bright Week or just No-Longer-Lent?

According to the Council of Trullo: “from the holy day of the Resurrection of Christ our God until New Sunday (i.e. Thomas Sunday) for a whole week the faithful in the holy churches should continually be repeating psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, rejoicing and celebrating Christ, and attending to the reading of the Divine Scriptures and delighting in the Holy Mysteries. For in this way shall we be exalted with Christ; raised up together with Him. For this reason on the aforesaid days that by no means there be any horse races or any other public spectacle”.

In pre-revolutionary Russia, the taverns used to be closed during Bright Week, and no alcoholic beverages were sold.  Hmmm, that would cramp the average Catholic’s No-Longer-Lent style.

OK.  Singing.  Rejoicing and celebrating Christ.  Delighting in the Holy Mysteries.  No horse races.  Got it.

Ouch. Sherry’s got it, and she’s Catholic; I’m wonder how many of the people I hang with can say they’ve got it.

Look, for one week out of the year the altar in the church stands with all the doors wide open and the curtain drawn back, showing the empty tomb of Christ and the fact that “middle wall of partition,” as St Paul has it, has been broken down, that the cherub’s “flaming sword no longer guards the gates of Paradise,” that the new life in Christ is flooding into the world. Who among our faithful know that the altar stands open like that for all of Bright Week? Or what it means? Or cares?

As a Priest, I freely admit that I’ve scarcely got steam left in me for Agape Vespers, much less Liturgy on Bright Monday, and Bright Tuesday, though I always celebrate Liturgy on Wednesdays, so Bright Wednesday isn’t a problem. But it’s the only day in Bright Week I celebrate Liturgy. And Great Lent plus Holy Week is a long time to go without three square meals, adequate sleep, and … other things.


After Communion at the Divine Liturgy do we Priests not say, “O great and holiest Pascha, Christ; O Wisdom, Word and Power of God, grant that we may truly partake of You in day without evening of your Kingdom.” Well, dear hearts, Bright Week is The Day Without Evening Of His Kingdom that we pray about. If we don’t honor it here in the type, will be be able to honor it there in reality?

Is Bright Week the time to forget about church until next Sunday, forget about weekday services until next year, eat the leftover lamb, and relax? If we “forget about church,” then surely how much more have we forgotten about Christ? I’m afraid we’re far from “repeating psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, rejoicing and celebrating Christ, and attending to the reading of the Divine Scriptures and delighting in the Holy Mysteries.”

Alas, I don’t think it’s Bright Week for many of us. Rather, Sherry is right: it’s just no-longer-Lent.

I confess I miss the rigors of Great Lent and the daily services of Great & Holy Week. I’ve no place to put the pent up energy I’ve got, nothing much with which to channel it. I think I’ll quit sitting at my desk for a while and sneak back over to my quiet, empty church, where the doors of the altar stand wide open and inviting, where cor ad cor loquitur, and where, just maybe, my own heart, hearing the call, will open up a little bit in response.

Indeed He is risen!

Itinerary (T minus 19 days)

The itinerary for the sabbatical.

15 May. Last Liturgy at St Innocent’s. After Liturgy, the sabbatical officially begins.

16-24 May — Fly to San Antonio, TX. Week at Lebh Shomea House of Prayer near Sarita, TX.

24-26 May — Time with family & friends in Clute, TX, my home town.

26-28 May — Time with my parents in Comfort, TX.

29 June – 19 July — Home with my family.

(14-17 June, attending Acton Institute’s Acton University in Grand Rapids, MI, where I will be lecturing on an Orthodox approach to environmentalism. This is not part of the sabbatical, but it is something of significance that I’ll be doing.)

19 June — Fly to London.

20-28 June — Week at St John the Baptist Monastery in Tolleshunt Knights by Maldon, Essex,  England.

29-30 June — Thessalonica & Ouranoupolis, Greece.

1-7 July — Xeropotamou & St Panteleimon Monasteries, Mount Athos.

8-11 July — Thessalonica & London.

11-17 July — Home with my family.

18-25 July — Week at St John of Shanghai Monastery, Manton, CA.

25 July – 18 August — Vacation with my family in CA, NV, UT, WY, MT, and WA.

19 August — Return home.

21 August — Back at St Innocent’s, the sabbatical finished.

What would make your heart sing?

The basic question which Lilly Foundation asks you when you want to apply for a grant is simple: what would make your heart sing?

Everybody has dreams — even clergy — and like most people, clergy have to put their dreams on a shelf in the closet when they’re young so that they can get on with the business of getting an education, starting a family and landing a job. But the dreams never go away, do they? And there’s never enough time, or money, or freedom to make many of them real.

Lilly determined that one of the best ways they could help a large number of people in a community would be to help their clergy to get a little rest and to be able to pursue one of their dreams, to do something that would make their heart sing. Renewed and refreshed pastors would bring new life back to congregations, and everyone would benefit. That’s the idea behind the grant.

So, what would make my heart sing? Forgive me if it takes me a bit to put it into words and if the words come up a bit short of the reality: we’re dealing with heart and song here…

I suppose the 25-words-or-less answer is that I feel the need for some spiritual direction and haven’t found yet what I’m looking for. So I’m going to go look for it.

What do I mean by “spiritual direction”? I don’t want to find some holy staretz who will take responsibility for my life, to whom I can go running every time a problem comes up. That may be fine for monks, but not for me. If anything, I need to have some responsibility thrown back in my own face. I’m not looking for somebody who will make my life “easier” or “more spiritual” or “answer all my questions”. I’ve been through enough to appreciate that life is hard; that “spiritual” looks more like blood, sweat and tears than like sunshine and well-performed liturgies; and that questions are often better than answers. I’m not in quest of the “warm fuzzies.” Quite frankly, I hope — I expect — to be terrified by being questioned, most especially by God. I suppose I want to “find myself” in a way, but the way I’ve been framing that question lately is, “Lord, who do You say that I am?” I hope to have the courage to keep on asking that question and to have the courage to stand up like a man and hear the answer when it comes. As someone once said, “Truth is not always a polite tap on the shoulder; sometimes it’s a howling reproach.” However Truth comes to me, I hope to have eyes to see and ears to hear and the heart to take it, even if my knees knock.

But more than that, I’ve noticed a trend over the last few years, that a few people have begun to come to me — even from outside the parish and outside the Orthodox Church — looking for much deeper counsel than I’ve been asked to provide in the past, and I’d like simply to be more adequate to their needs than I am now. So, I’m hoping to be able to ask better guides than myself how I can be a better spiritual father to the people who come to me.

(For those in the knee-jerk crowd, no, I’m not out to get my bona fides as a geronda or staretz. Whom God sends my way, He sends my way. I’m not hanging out a shingle saying, “The Elder Is In.” I’ve no delusions about that. On the other hand, I have to admit that it’s been hard finding good counsel in tough times in the circles in which I move. Somebody needs to be able to provide that kind of support, and I do think it’s perfectly reasonable and praiseworthy to want to be a good enough spiritual father to my flock and to those who seek my counsel. If you have problems with that, we’ll agree to disagree.)

So, on my sabbatical, I will be looking for counsel for my own heart and counsel on how to be a better spiritual father to others. In addition, I’ll have almost a month of vacation with my family, and a few weeks’ time just being at home with nothing more than a “honey do” list to keep me occupied.

In my next post, I’ll detail where I am going to find this counsel, and why.

So why a sabbatical?

Well, a couple of years ago, a dear friend of mine, Fr John Reeves, who has known me since before I was a catechumen, suggested to me that I look into taking some time off from my parish by applying to the Lilly Foundation for one of their grants through their National Clergy Renewal Program. (You can read about their program here.) Fr John, who has always been something of a mentor to me, had seen in me clear signs of ministerial burnout and figured I needed a break for some R&R. The Lilly Foundation provided a possible way to do that.

Fr John had applied to Lilly for–and won–a sabbatical grant for himself. He took his sabbatical last summer. He decided to follow the route of St Herman in coming from Valaam Monastery on the Russian-Finnish border, across European Russia and Siberia, to Alaska, and to serve for a while in an Alaskan village church. This is the blog he wrote for his sabbatical.

It sounded like a good idea to me. As those of you who know me well know, the last three years or so have not been easy for me. Without going into details, I’ve had personal issues, health issues, family issues and parochial issues, not one after the other, but one on top of the other. Of course, I am not alone: other people who are close to me, and some  for whom I have pastoral responsibility, have been through the wringer themselves, and I have helped them to bear their crosses. I have been a poster-child for midlife crisis, parental angst, compassion fatigue and clergy burnout all rolled into one. It ain’t been pretty…

So, with the blessing of Archbishop Job (of blessed memory) and with the help and support of my parish council, I wrote up a grant proposal for a 3-month sabbatical from my parish and submitted it late last spring. In November, we received word that Lilly had approved our proposal, and the parish & I were awarded a grant of $38,698. Here is the press release for all of this year’s winners.)

That’s how it all got started. In the next post I’ll say what I’m looking to do on my time away.

Already I’m in trouble…

Haven’t been blogging here for 6 hours and alreadyAndy Morriss I have committed a sin of omission. Photo credits for the fine picture of Y’r Humble Serv’t which graces the header of this blog was taken by my good friend Andy Morriss when we were hiking in the Gallatin Canyon, near Big Sky, Montana, in September 2010. (Just like a law professor to point out this sort of thing…)

T minus 30 days

Not that I’m counting, by the way…

But I thought it would be well to start the habit of blogging about my sabbatical before it even starts, to say what it’s all about, how it came to be, where I plan to go when I’m away, and what I plan to do while I’m there, all that kind of stuff.

It is an auspicious day to start the blog, not only because the sabbatical begins in a month’s time, but also because I received today the evlogia (blessing) from the Ecumenical Patriarchate to visit Mount Athos, which will be one of the places I will visit.

But more about that in due time. The important thing is that I’ve begun to blog. There will be plenty to follow.