An herb to help you not lose your head named for a saint who lost his.

Shrubby St. John's Wort native to PA
Shrubby St. John’s Wort native to PA

There is a genus of plants that consists of nearly 400 species with nearly worldwide distribution. It is kind of amazing. These plants all have bright yellow blossoms. Some of the plants are perennials. Some need to reseed. Some are shrubby bushes. Some are trees, growing almost 40 feet tall. They are almost all called St. John’s Wort, with other descriptors or qualifiers before it. it’s genus name, hypericum, comes from the fact that they bloom just prior to the feast of the birth of St. John the Baptist on the summer solstice, June 24. The faithful would take branches of the flowers and place them over the icons in their homes and in their churches for the feast day.  Some varieties continue blooming until the feast of St. John’s Beheading on August 29.

St. John's Wort - hypericum perferatum
St. John’s Wort – hypericum perferatum

The petals of the flowers contain hypericin which is an antidepressant. For millennia people have been using the flower petals for tea for this purpose. Now drug stores sell 300mg capsules of powdered, dried St. John’s Wort that one may take three times a day. It is the only antidepressant I know of that doesn’t list suicidal thoughts as a possible side effect. (Miscarriage is a possible side effect, however.) Doctors prescribe it as it has been proven effective. We have three varieties of St. John’s Wort growing here. The photo above is from our front yard. It is a close up of a blossom on a native PA shrubby variety.  We have hypericum perforatum by the driveway side of the house and Four-petal St. John’s Wort, a native of Florida, back by the barn.

Non-native St. John's Wort in front of Telford-Souderton Post Office
Non-native St. John’s Wort in front of Telford-Souderton Post Office

I find it interesting that our local post office has loads of St. John’s Wort in front of it. Our local postal workers all seem to be happy and well adjusted. They have a couple of native bushes and then loads of these woody stemmed perennials, with giant blooms. The bees only bother with the natives. It provides a graphic lesson in the importance of planting natives. Only natives provide food for the bees and insects, butterflies and birds.

Four-petal Florida St. John's Wort
Four-petal Florida St. John’s Wort

Last summer, our plants each had one blossom on them the day before the feast and burst into full bloom on the day of the feast. This year, our native bush had only one blossom open two days after the feast. It is just now starting to fill with blooms. I think it is observing Old Calendar, this year.

 

St. John the Baptist icon by the hand of Constantine Youssis
St. John the Baptist icon by the hand of Constantine Youssis

 

A Saint for Our Time

Verily, we celebrate the memory of thy Prophet Nahum. Through him we implore thee, O Lord, save our souls.

By the mid 14th century the Byzantine Empire had accumulated quite a few enemies both external and internal. They had forgotten to let their theology inform their economy and government as in earlier days and it had cost them the empire. They had lost most of their territory to the Ottoman empire and most of their people to Islam. Then there was the civil war with Serbia, where they lost most of the remaining territory to Stefan IV. 100 years later Constantinople finally fell. When it did, the nobles and church leaders could not even raise an army among their own people, because they had neglected them for so long. Why should they come to the aid of the elites? It wasn’t their war.

It was during this time that there was a significant devotion to Prophet Nahum in the rural areas of Europe, in areas that felt oppressed and neglected by the powers that were vying for dominance. St. Nahum wrote a beautiful prophetic song about Nineveh, the capital of Assyria. It came to pass very specifically then. We are told that the Old Testament is given to us for our admonition and instruction. There are lessons and warnings for us so we do not repeat the mistakes of those nations. The Byzantine Empire fell and it is not coming back, just as it was prophesied to Nineveh: “trouble will not come a second time.”

There was a cult of the Prophet Nahum as the Byzantine Empire was waning and that is interesting. The parallel is not as compelling as it is to the USA today, however. The Byzantines were basically enjoying their privileged position and trying to hold on to the vestiges of a bygone era without understanding and applying the elements of the faith that had given them that greatness. The US, through its corporations, its banking, and its massive military presence and 10 to 15 active military engagements at any given time, controls, colonizes and oppresses an overwhelming majority of the world’s population and consumes the lion’s share of the world’s natural resources. The US likes to think of itself as bringing freedom, but it does not. In Yugoslavia, we brought death and elimination of most of the Christian population. In Iraq, the Catholics and Orthodox and Jews who had been living and worshipping there safely and undisturbed for generations have been killed or driven out and their temples burned. In Afghanistan, the heroin producers are the only ones who have benefited by the US occupation. In Syria, we are supplying arms to massacre Christians. Our plants in India and Africa pollute and kill the ground. We export death in our GMO seeds and Round-Up. We are the only nation that openly discusses and approves of torture methods. Internally, we incarcerate more of our own people than any nation in history, with a strong racial bias against blacks and Latinos. Income disparity is well beyond the tipping point at which other empires (including the Byzantine) have fallen. Upward mobility has vanished. Elections have become a sham due to gerrymandering and dirty tricks and corporate ownership of lawmakers. So-called Christians have been more concerned with being blue or red than being Christian, so have lost effective witness.

We have become a pariah state.

Judgment is coming.

Nahum 3

Woe to the city of blood, full of lies,
full of plunder, never without victims!
The crack of whips, the clatter of wheels,
galloping horses and jolting chariots!
Charging cavalry, flashing swords and glittering spears!
Many casualties, piles of dead,
bodies without number,
people stumbling over the corpses—
all because of the wanton lust of a prostitute,
alluring, the mistress of sorceries,
who enslaved nations by her prostitution
and peoples by her witchcraft.
“I am against you,” declares the Lord Almighty.
“I will lift your skirts over your face.
I will show the nations your nakedness and the kingdoms your shame.
I will pelt you with filth, I will treat you with contempt
and make you a spectacle.
All who see you will flee from you and say,
‘Nineveh is in ruins—who will mourn for her?’
Where can I find anyone to comfort you?”
Are you better than Thebes,
situated on the Nile, with water around her?
The river was her defense,  the waters her wall.
Cush and Egypt were her boundless strength;
Put and Libya were among her allies.
10 Yet she was taken captive  and went into exile.
Her infants were dashed to pieces at every street corner.
Lots were cast for her nobles, and all her great men were put in chains.
11 You too will become drunk;  you will go into hiding and seek refuge from the enemy.
12 All your fortresses are like fig trees with their first ripe fruit; when they are shaken,
the figs fall into the mouth of the eater.
13 Look at your troops—
they are all weaklings.
The gates of your land  are wide open to your enemies;
fire has consumed the bars of your gates.
14 Draw water for the siege,
strengthen your defenses!
Work the clay,
tread the mortar,
repair the brickwork!
15 There the fire will consume you;
the sword will cut you down—
they will devour you like a swarm of locusts.
Multiply like grasshoppers,
multiply like locusts!
16 You have increased the number of your merchants
till they are more numerous than the stars in the sky,
but like locusts they strip the land
and then fly away.
17 Your guards are like locusts,
your officials like swarms of locusts
that settle in the walls on a cold day—
but when the sun appears they fly away,
and no one knows where.
18 King of Assyria, your shepherdsslumber;
your nobles lie down to rest.
Your people are scattered on the mountains
with no one to gather them.

19 Nothing can heal you;
your wound is fatal.
All who hear the news about you
clap their hands at your fall,
for who has not felt
your endless cruelty?

A Woman Saint on a Deacon’s Door?

St. Marina Altar Door

We customarily think of icons of Archangels or Archdeacons for the deacon’s doors on our iconostases, but during the Middle Ages in the Balkans, there were several churches who opted for St. Marina for one of their deacon’s doors. They chose her because of her power over demonic forces and those possessed, so she could be there always to protect the altar from intruders.

St. Marina was born in a pagan household in Pisidian Antioch. When she heard of Jesus Christ when she was twelve, she immediately converted and determined to live her life totally committed to Christ as a virgin. Her father disowned her for this. The governor, Lopharius Ebrotus, wanted to take her for his wife. When she refused, he tried to persuade her to sacrifice to idols. She refused to honor any but the living God. So the governor tortured her by having her body scraped and combed with iron combs and rubbed with salt, vinegar and lime, then threw her bleeding into prison. She was miraculously healed and encouraged by a resplendent vision of the Cross with a dove on it. At night, a demon came to tempt her and she exposed him and bound him with the sign of the Cross and cast him away. The next day the governor was amazed that she appeared totally unharmed. Instead of being convinced, he had her thrown into a cauldron of boiling lead. She asked that it be made like her baptismal waters and blessed it in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and was unharmed. Her tormentors were so enraged that they finally beheaded her. At the moment of her beheading the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to receive her, as witnessed by many who were there. She suffered in the year 270, during the reign of Diocletian. One of her hands is preserved in Vatopedi Monastery on Athos. There is a St. Marina Monastery in Albania, where more of her relics continue to work wonders and healings.

This Icon is tempera on wood and woodcut. It is an altar door from 17th century Bulgaria. Margaret is an English translation of the name Marina.

O glorious Marina betrothed to God the Word, thou didst abandon all things earthly and contest victoriously as a virgin. For thou didst trample on the invisible foe when he appeared, O holy trophy-bearer, and thou dost now bestow gifts of healing on the world.

New Icon Corner

Bright CornerI finally finished our new icon corner. The two things in a house that a man should make himself, even if he makes nothing else, are the front door and a proper bright corner. A bright corner is a special place for prayer for the family. It is called the bright corner because it faces the rising sun and because it is where the icons are. Icons are windows to heaven, hence “bright”. It is either in a corner or along a wall, if possible toward the East. As Orthodox Christians, we face East to pray, because Christ was called the Sun of Righteousness in Malachi 4:2. We orient (face East) toward the rising sun as we anticipate Christ’s second coming in glory.

The bright corner is where morning, noon and evening prayers are said. There are many variations on the bright corner. Ours is not to be taken as typical or normative, but it works for us. Our bright corner is in the East corner of our den. There is a Cross on the wall near the corner. To its left is an icon of the Theotokos. To its right is an icon of Christ. This is the same basic arrangement as the iconostasis at church. This immediately connects us to church. Next to the Theotokos is an icon of the Conception of the Theotokos showing Ss. Joachim and Ann embracing. My wife, Bethann, has St. Ann for her patron. To the right Christ is the Epitaphios, because St. Joseph of Arimathea is my patron and it was the Burial Service and Lamentation Matins that really converted everyone in our family. Around this central cluster are arranged, in no particular order, icons of the patron Saints of our children, grandchildren, godparents, parents, godchildren, a couple of good friends, nieces, great nieces & great nephews. Some icons do double or triple duty as multiple people share the same patron. We chose to do it this way so our bright corner forms a very visual, permanent prayer list. As we see each person’s patron Saint we are reminded to pray for him or her and ask for their Saint’s intercession as well.

A vigil lamp is hanging from the ceiling, in front of the Cross and the icons of Christ and the Theotokos. This is to honor them. It also calls us to prayer. Our lamp was made by Nick Papas. The icon of St. Nicholas is on our wall as it his his patron and one of Fr. Bonifaces’s patrons, as well.

What I just made, was the cabinet below the icons and lamp. It is made of no VOC melamine from recycled materials, no VOC wheatstraw board, locally harvested and milled poplar bead board and stone tile. This was my first attempt at stone tile installation. Some of the tiles are partly upended. This is to form a plate rail to hold festal icons and prayer cards. The back boards are engraved with daylilies. I took a photograph of one of our daylily blooms and my neighbor and I used his Shopbot to carve it into these boards. There are open spaces around the daylily medallions so we can use 12 Gospels ribbons to tie palms and willows to the icon corner during Great Week.

I chose the daylily motif, because it is especially meaningful to us. This is an excerpt from an entry that I wrote on shoutforjoy.net:

Daylilies are amazing. They put forth a beautiful bloom and it is gone in a day, only to be replaced the next day with another glorious bloom. Jesus told us to consider the lilies of the field in order to encourage us to have faith in God’s provision for us. This in turn is to encourage us to share what God blessed us with today with others, knowing that God will have new blessings for us tomorrow.

Daylily Detail

To be reminded of this as we say our daily prayers is encouraging.

On top of the icon corner are a candlestick, an incense burner, a prayer book, a box containing charcoal and matches. In the top compartment of the cabinet is a box of incense, a lighter, a New Testament, a Festal Menaion (hymns and prayers for the 12 major feasts), a service book and a supply of wicks for the oil lamp. We burn incense in our home as this also calls us to prayer. Incense is present in every prophetic vision of Heaven and was used in the Tabernacle and the Temple and has always been used in the Church. It is always associated with prayer. Using all of our senses in worship and prayer helps us to focus on eternal priorities.

The lower shelves of the cabinet holds other spiritual books and festal icons.

Of course, it does not matter how beautiful or well appointed a bright corner is, if no one stands before it to pray. Lord, teach us to pray!

That’s My Valentine!

Nick Papas' icon of St. Valentine
copyrighted icon of St. Valentine

Last Saturday morning, I received a phone call from Jabra Tannous in Cypress, Texas. He had gone on a double date to Valentine’s Day: the Movie on its opening night. There is a scene in the movie where a school teacher is telling the story of St. Valentine. Taped to the chalkboard behind her and with a second copy in her hand are prints of the icon to the left. Jabra said, “Oh no! Somebody owes Cranford money!”

Jabra recognized the icon from my business website for “Come and See” Icons, Books & Art. He assumed that permission was not obtained for this use, so he called me. He was correct, except that they owed Nick Papas money. Artwork belongs to the artist for his lifetime plus 70 years to his heirs and assigns. If one buys an original piece of art; one does not own any right to copy it or control over the copyright, unless that right is specifically purchased from the artist.

I immediately called Nick Papas to let him know about the use of his icon in the movie and he confirmed that he had not given permission. I tried to call Constantine Nasr, whom I got to know when we were in the House of Studies at the Antiochian Village ten years ago. He produces and directs documentary films, so I figured he would know about copyrights in Hollywood. His phone was out of order, so I got a busy signal. I continued to research the movie and found that the icon was on the website, as well. It’s in the classroom shot in the gallery. I called Constantine again on Monday morning. This time, he answered his phone. It had been repaired just five minutes before. As I described the situation to him, he kept saying, “Oh no!” and “This is not good!” and the like. He told me some stories of how other, similar copyright issues were resolved, and offered to call one of his colleagues who worked in Warner Bros. copyright clearance department.

On Tuesday, I received a call from Warner Bros. The negotiation began. I researched Warner Bros.’ and New Line’s case histories for resolving copyright violations; both for when they were the plaintiff and the defendant. Nick and Patty saw the movie on Thursday night. He called me from the lobby of the theater to tell me that his icon was right at eye level on the movie poster (by the second N). By the end of Friday afternoon, we had a signed copyright agreement with Warner Bros. / New Line whereby they agreed to pay Nick $5,000 for the use of his St. Valentine icon in connection with this movie.

It was a fun negotiation. I probably did leave some money on the table, but the point wasn’t to be nasty or to make a killing. It was basically found money for Nick, but we did want it to cost the studio enough to send a message to their set decorating people to be more careful. Five or ten minutes on Google would have let them know that this was not in public domain. Warner Bros. was very willing to do what they needed to do to correct this oversight quickly. Nick said I missed my calling; that I should be a lawyer. I replied, ” No thanks. I like sleeping at night.”

In the Orthodox Church, the main commemoration for St. Valentine is July 6, as that is the date of his martyrdom. However, there is ancient precedent for a February 14 commemoration. In 496 AD, Pope Gelasius set February 14th to honor St. Valentine to counter the pagan “love” festival that Valentine had originally interfered with. St. Valentine was a priest near Rome. Feb. 15 was the pagan feast of Lupercalla. On the eve of the feast, the young men of the village were allowed to take any of the young maids for the night. To protect the young people from this promiscuity, Fr. Valentine held an all night vigil in the church for all the young people that night. This so enraged the local, pagan authorities that they sought for a way to eliminate this troublesome priest. Emperor Claudius Flavius banned marriages of any young men, because he felt that married men did not make good soldiers. Fr. Valentine continued to conduct marriages secretly. This was found out and brought to the attention of the emperor. Claudius valued Fr. Valentine as an intelligent man and a respected leader in the community. He had General Asterius try to persuade him to become a pagan. What happened instead was that Fr. Valentine healed Asterius’ daughter of blindness, and he and his whole family converted to Christianity, being baptized by St. Valentine. They were all martyred together on July 6, 269.

The Breastplate of St. Patrick

sgp07

March 17th
Troparion (Tone 3)
O holy hierarch, Patrick, wonderworker, equal to the Apostles and illuminator of the Irish people, pray to the merciful God that He will pardon our transgressions.

Patrick was British by birth, born about 373, the son of a deacon and the grandson of a priest. His first trip to Ireland was as a slave, having been kidnapped by Irish pirates. He managed to run away and eventually made his way back to England. He was then sent as bishop to Ireland around 435, setting up his see in Armagh. He had sincere simplicity and deep pastoral care and worked tirelessly to abolish paganism. He is often depicted with a shamrock which he used to explain the Trinity. His scroll reads: “I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity.” This is taken from his “Breastplate”, a prayer that he wrote and used for protection on his journeys.

This is by the hand of Nick Papas and is from St. George Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral, Pittsburgh, PA.

The Transfiguration of Christ

August 6thThe Transfiguration
Troparion (Tone 7)
When Thou wast transfigured on the mountain, O Christ our God, Thou didst show Thy glory to Thy disciples as far as they could bear it. Let Thy everlasting light illumine also us sinners through the intercessions of the Mother of God. Giver of Light, glory to Thee.

Like at His Baptism, all three Persons of the Trinity were revealed. The voice of the Father spoke to the disciples saying “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him.” The Holy Spirit appeared as the dazzling Uncreated Light. Christ is shown on top of the mountain surrounded by a huge sun-like design representing the Uncreated and Great Light. Moses, to Christ’s left, is holding the Law showing that Jesus is the Christ, the fulfillment of the Law. Elijah, to Christ’s right, is supplicating God. Below the disciples, Peter, James and John fall to the ground in amazement. They too will be transfigured by God and granted to gaze upon the Light of all. This should be our hope as well.  

God used earthly things to reveal the Trinity to us, thus reminding us that the earth is still holy.  Despite man’s corruption, the earth remains as good as the day He created it.  We must remember that and care for the earth, preserving the earth and the air that contains the light. 

This Icon is by the hand of Nicholas Papas. It is from St. Philip’s Antiochian Orthodox Church in Souderton, PA.

Mounted prints are available from www.comeandseeicons.com.

St. Joseph of Arimathea

St. Joseph of Arimathea
St. Joseph of Arimathea

July 31st 
Troparion
The Noble Joseph having taken your Most Pure Body down from the Cross, wrapped it in a clean shroud and anointed it with fragrant spices and laid it in a new tomb. 
But on the third day You arose, O Lord, granting the world great mercy.

Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin (the ruling council of the Jews). He was a secret believer after visiting Jesus by night with Nicodemus. (John 3) The two of them removed Christ’s body from the Cross and laid it in Joseph’s new tomb. (Matt. 27:57; John 19:38) For this public act of faith, the Jews fettered him and put him in prison. The resurrected Lord appeared to him there to confirm and encourage his faith. The Jews released Joseph, but banished him from Judea, driving him out. St. Joseph travelled to the ends of the earth to preach the Gospel. He spent some time with Apostle Philip in Europe, then he went to England. There, he was exiled to an island, where he fell asleep in the Lord after a long and fruitful ministry. He is depicted here with the burial cloth or epitaphios draped over his shoulder and arm.

St. Joseph is my patron saint. It was at Lamentations Matins of Great Friday that each myself, my wife and our four daughters each were drawn to the Holy Orthodox Church. It was over the course of several years, but particularly that service. I dare you to come and see if you don’t become Orthodox.

This icon is by the hand of Ilya Baladvadzhe. It belongs to C. Joseph Coulter, the owner of “Come and See” Icons, Books & Art and this blog. The inscription is in Georgian. 

Copyrighted icon courtesy of “Come and See” Icons, Books & Art, www.comeandseeicons.com.