Courting Disaster

Disaster is about the only thing that gets courted these days. Men no longer court women, nor do the ladies expect to be courted. Instead, young men and young women engage in flirtation, dating and sexual conquest, much of the time postponing marriage well past their youth. The sex drive is greatest in young people, especially in young men. To ask them to wait until they are in their late 20’s to wed is truly courting disaster. Sex outside of marriage is called fornication, which carries the connotation of filthiness or uncleanness. This is not an outdated label to make us feel guilty. Sin is called sin because it is something other than love and it gets in the way of love. TV sitcom dads tell their kids that sex with no thought of marriage is OK if two fifteen year olds “love” each other; just use protection. This attitude robs adolescents and young adults of an opportunity for great joy and weakens marriage.

We learn in Orthodoxy that there is no feasting without fasting. This discipline of our eating habits is instructive for chastity and fidelity. I can’t count the times I have heard people say about Thanksgiving or Christmas something like, “Yeah, we have to eat turkey again.” In this land of plenty, with meat served for breakfast, lunch and dinner, every day of the year, turkey and ham have become commonplace. There’s little special about a feast for most Americans. On the other hand, if you are part of an Orthodox community that keeps Great Lent and Holy Week, then breaks the fast together after the Paschal Liturgy; you understand how truly exciting cheese can be; let alone turkey and ham! The Apostle Paul pointed out the connection between fasting and chastity by quoting a pagan folk proverb that used eating meat as a metaphor for sex. “Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body.” [1 Cor. 6:13] Some modern versions of this pagan proverb are: “If it feels good, do it.” and “It’s only natural.”

Sex is supposed to be the seal or consummation of a mutual covenant and pledge of love between a man and a woman who are part of something larger than themselves: a family, a community, a society, a culture. Practically, it is the means by which new humans come into being. As Orthodox Christians, if we truly believe our stated theology that every human being bears the image of God and is a unique, unrepeatable reflection of his Glory; then we need to do our best to respect, honor and protect the potential of sex.

With all of the world’s casual attitudes toward sex along with its temptations and pressures to conformity, it takes more than a three word slogan like “True love waits” to equip young people to make the hard choices to avoid fornication. We need to be transformed in our thinking and approach, as a community, to provide more appropriate settings for socialization of adolescents and a proper framework for courtship that recognizes natural urges, yet protects chastity and love.

(to be cont’d.)

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!

How to Throw a Wedding Without Breaking the Bank

I have four daughters and very little, make that no money. When two of them decided to get married exactly three months apart, several years ago, we had to be creative to send them on their way with memorable celebrations without breaking the bank. This wasn’t the first time we were involved in this. Our own wedding was a budget affair with over 300 guests. Plus we had assisted several others with their weddings and receptions through the years. I thought it would be useful to create a handbook of how to throw a great wedding on next to nothing, with options for enhancements without being fiscally irresponsible. These low budget weddings have always been our favorites, much more enjoyable than those $50 per plate, professionally produced affairs.

In recent years, even when the number of weddings was going down the wedding industry kept growing. The average cost of weddings kept increasing to more than offset any decline in numbers. According to costofwedding.com: “On average, US couples spend between $14,366 – $43,098 for their wedding, while their budget is typically 50% less. This does not include cost for a honeymoon or engagement ring.” This means that most people spend twice what they budget for their weddings. It is very easy to overspend. The pressure to be extravagant can seem overwhelming.

It seems the entertainment industry works hand in glove with the wedding industry to program our daughters to expect huge productions on their wedding day. From Disney’s Cinderella to Steve Martin’s Father of the Bride, weddings are over-the-top productions. Celebrity weddings are so popular that some famous couples have turned them into actual productions to which they sell exclusive video and photography rights. The biggest celebrity wedding of them all, Prince Charles and Lady Di, is now on DVD and you can rent it at video stores. The wedding was absolutely amazing. I remember watching it live. Too bad the marriage didn’t work out so well.

There are social pressures that bust the budget. There’s the age old problem of keeping up with the Joneses or even trying to go one up on them. One doesn’t want to appear cheap, especially when it may be perceived as an expression of the value of your love. There are customs and traditions that no one understands anymore, but must be kept to be proper. Why are wedding invitations double enveloped and have that starched tissue liner sheet? There’s the guest list that gets out of hand because it is more about business networking than it is about loving families and community. Some people expect that they will buy a gift for the couple and expect to have dinner, dancing, wine and maybe an open bar that will validate or maybe even exceed the value of their gift. These people don’t say this in so many words, but we all know some of them and they will be heard from one way or another if expectations are not met.

If we don’t have a complete list of what we need before we start spending, we won’t plan on it in the budget. There are always some things that we do not anticipate. This handbook will try to help you anticipate more. An easy way to bust the budget is by not systematically keeping track of what you are spending on what when you are ordering and paying for it. It is easy to lose track and get off track. Logistical problems come into play, especially if the groom and/or the bride does not live close to where the wedding is taking place; or any of the attendants, for that matter.

During the course of this series of articles, we will address these issues and many more. Eventually they will all be stitched together into a cohesive handbook to guide you through the joy of a wedding that will hopefully begin a wonderful marriage in which the bride and groom live happily ever after.