Category Archives: Jim Forest

by Jim Forest

A Letter from the (Retiring) Editor

the OPF newsletter in 1991
The OPF newsletter, The Occasional Paper, in 1991

This is the last issue of In Communion that I’ll be editing. Pieter Dykhorst, an old friend and long-time member of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, is taking over the job. After this issue goes to press, I’ll be joining the community of people helping as associate editors.

It’s not easy to stop doing a work that has been so significant to me, but – after twenty-one years at the job – it’s time. I’ll be turning seventy in November and want to clear more space in my life for reading, writing and wandering.

Books, newspapers, journals and magazine have figured in my life since I was in the very early stages of literacy. Would that I still had a copy of a one-page family newspaper I made by hand using an alphabet of my own design. A year or two later, having become reasonably literate, mother gave me a set of hard rubber type in several fonts and sizes plus a tiny rotary press with which I turned out a midget publication that could be read by others. By the time I was ten, there were afternoons when I hung around the local daily newspaper, The Red Bank Register, watching several men set type from molten zinc on linotype machines. Occasionally one of them set a headline with my name – an instant treasure. In seventh grade, I started a school paper that was christened The Flame. In high school, on the staff of a monthly student newspaper, I was aware how lucky we were to have as faculty adviser a man who had been a journalist for The New York Times.

The first publication of real consequence that I worked with was The Catholic Worker. Its monthly print run was about 90,000 copies and its circulation was international. Encouraged by Dorothy Day, I acquired enough experience eventually to be appointed managing editor. Later on I was assistant editor of a monthly magazine called Liberation, whose focus at the time was on civil rights and whose authors included James Baldwin, Bayard Rustin and Martin Luther King.

first issue of In Communion
First issue of In Communion, February 1995

Since then I have been involved with many other publications – newspapers, business journals, press agencies, news services, magazines – but none of these meant more to me or involved me for so long a time as In Communion.

I’ve seen the journal move from a simple two-page newsletter called The Occasional Paper (launched in 1987 by Mariquita Platov and Jim Larrick) to something more substantial after they asked me, late in 1990, to take over the job. It remained quite an occasional paper until 1995, when the newsletter became a quarterly journal named In Communion. (You hold the 61st issue in your hands.)

I don’t recall anything that, on reflection, I wish we hadn’t published. Articles have covered a very wide spectrum – the prevention and ending of war, the making of peace, hospitality, the protection of life at every stage and circumstance of its development, aspects of spiritual life, biblical studies, nonviolent alternatives and the lives of the saints. (Our year-after-year attention to the life and writings of Mother Maria Skobtsova may have played a part in her canonization.)

Thanks to the web, most of what we have published over the years is available at the click of a mouse button via the OPF’s much-visited In Communion site.

I’m delighted Pieter Dykhorst will be my successor. He has experience in all the key areas that the editorship of In Communion requires. It was during a two-year stint Pieter had in Albania that I first met him – I was then writing a book about the resurrection of the Albanian Church and he was working closely with Archbishop Anastasios, a member of our advisory board. Pieter was born in South Africa. He is now in the last stages of completing a master of science degree in international/inter-cultural conflict resolution. As it happens, he lives in Washington, DC, and thus is in the same area as Alex Patico, OPF’s secretary in North America, making face-to-face collaboration between them not only possible but easy.
I’m looking forward to the Fall issue.

– Jim Forest

❖ IN COMMUNION / issue 61 / July 2011

The Real Saint George

by Jim Forest

illustration by Vladislav Andreyev for Saint George and the Dragon (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press)

True stories become streamlined into legends and legends are compressed via symbols into myths.

The real Saint George never saw a dragon nor did he rescue a princess in distress. We are not even sure he had a horse or possessed a lance or sword. It is even possible he was a farmer. The name “George” means tiller of the soil. For this reason Saint George is a patron saint of agriculture, herds, flocks and shepherds.

A Christian convert who was born late in the third century after Christ and died early in the fourth century, Saint George was one among many martyrs of the early Church. What made him a saint among saints was the completely fearless manner in which he proclaimed his faith during a period of fierce persecution when many other Christians were hoping not to be noticed. According to one ancient account, George went to a public square and announced, “All the gentile gods are devils. My God made the heavens and is the true God.” For this he was arrested, tortured and beheaded in the town of Nicomedia (in the northwest of modern Turkey). His courageous witness led to the conversion of many and gave renewed courage to others already baptized. The probable date of his martyrdom was April 23, 303. His body was brought to his birthplace, Diospolis, later known as Lydda (and today as Lod in what has become Israel).

Saint George was one of the early victims of the anti-Christian persecution ordered by the Emperor Diocletian that began in February 303. Churches were destroyed and biblical texts burned. All Roman subjects were ordered to make ritual sacrifices to Rome’s gods. Those who refused risked severe punishment. Many were sent into exile as slave laborers in quarries and mines in Egypt and Palestine. Thousands were tortured and many executed. The attack finally ended in 311. With Diocletian in retirement and the emperor Galerius ill and close to death, Galerius published an edict of toleration allowing Christians to restore their places of worship and to worship in their own way without interference, provided they did nothing to disturb the peace.

Persecution ended, but the memory of those eight years of suffering would never be forgotten. George was one of the saints whose witness remained fresh. His icon hung in more and more churches. As centuries passed, he became patron saint not only of many churches and monasteries but of cities and whole countries.

In icons made in the centuries before the legend of the dragon became attached to George’s name, we see him dressed as a soldier and holding the cross of martyrdom.

Perhaps he was in the army, but it may be that George is shown in military gear because he so perfectly exemplifies the qualities that Saint Paul spoke of in his letter to the Ephesians in which he calls on Christ’s followers to wear the helmet of salvation and the armor of righteousness, to be girded with truth, to clad their feet in the Gospel of peace, to possess the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God, and to protect themselves from the devil’s flaming arrows with the shield of faith.

Such symbolic use of a soldier’s equipment of war does not rule out the possibility that George was a soldier. People from every class and profession were drawn to the Gospel, soldiers among them. George may have been one of these.

It was only in later centuries that the dragon legend emerged. It has been told in many variations, but in its most popular form it concerns a dragon living in a lake who was worshiped by the unbaptized local people who, in their fear, sacrificed their children to appease the creature. Finally it was the turn of the king’s daughter, Elizabeth, to be sacrificed. While she was going toward the dragon to meet her doom, George appeared riding a white horse. He prayed to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, then transfixed the dragon with his lance. Afterward Elizabeth led the vanquished creature into the city.

According to the Legenda Aurea written by Blessed James de Voragine about 1260, the wounded monster followed Elizabeth “as if it had been a meek beast and debonair.” Refusing a reward of treasure, George called on the local people to be baptized. The king agreed, also promising to maintain churches, honor the clergy, faithfully attend religious services and show compassion to the poor.

From the point of view of journalism, the dragon story is a literary invention. Yet when you think about it, what better way to symbolize the evil that George actually confronted and defeated than to portray it in the form of a fire-breathing dragon? George fought and was victorious over an adversary which enslaved and terrified most of the people of his time.

The white horse George rides in the icon, a graceful creature as light as air and as fearless as his rider, represents the courage God gave to George as he faced the power of death. It is the courage God gives to any Christian facing martyrdom.

In many versions of the icon, the lance George holds is shown resting lightly in his open hand, meaning that it is the power of God, not the power of man, that overcomes evil.

Notice how thin the lance is and that, in many Saint George icons, there is a small cross at the top of the lance. The icon stresses that it is not with weapons of war that evil is overcome but with the power of the Cross, the life-giving Cross that opens the path to the resurrection.

Similarly, George’s face shows not a trace of anger, hatred or anxiety. His tranquil face reminds us of Christ’s commandment that, even in conflict, his followers must love their enemies.

In many versions of the icon, the hand of the Savior is extended from heaven in a sign of blessing. This detail is

a reminder that whatever we do bears good fruit only if it is God’s will and has God’s blessing.

In more detailed versions of the icon there are scenes before and after the battle with the dragon. Sometimes a castle is in the background from which Elizabeth’s royal parents watch all that happens.

Following George’s victory, icons sometimes show Elizabeth leading the wounded dragon on a leash made of her belt – a victory of life over death similar to Christ’s resurrection.

Bringing a wounded but still living dragon back to the town provides us with a powerful image of the conversion rather than the destruction of enemies. The final fruit of George’s combat with the dragon is not victory over a monster nor financial reward for successful combat but bringing unbelieving people to conversion and baptism.


Finally, as is the case with any icon, the Saint George icon is not a decoration but is intended to be a place of prayer. It belongs in the icon corner of any home where courage is sought – courage to be a faithful disciple of Christ; courage to fight rather than flee from whatever dragons we meet in life; courage to prefer the conversion rather than the death of our adversaries;  courage to live in such a way that others may be made more aware of Christ and the life he offers to us. ❖

This text is drawn from the afterword of a new children’s book, Saint George and the Dragon, due out in September from St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press. Jim Forest is international secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. His most recent book is All Is Grace: A Biography of Dorothy Day.


 

Paschal Hospitality

by Jim Forest

Louise and Nathon Degrafinried

Above: Louise and Nathon Degrafinried

“The essence of sin is fear of the Other, which is part of the rejection of God. Once the affirmation of the ‘self’ is realized through the rejection and not the acceptance of the Other — this is what Adam chose in his freedom to do — it is only natural and inevitable for the Other to become an enemy and a threat. Reconciliation with God is a necessary pre-condition for reconciliation with any ‘Other’.” – Metropolitan John Zizioulas

Thinking about Metropolitan John’s words, a particular story came to mind. It involves the sort of fearful encounter that no one would wish for – the invasion of one’s home by a convicted murderer armed with a deadly weapon. This is a true account of what occurred in one American household in February 1984.

At the center of the story is Mrs. Louise Degrafinried, 73 years old at the time, and her husband, Nathon. They lived near Mason, Tennessee, a rural community northeast of Memphis. Both were members of the Mount Sinai Missionary Baptist Church.

The other key participant is Riley Arzeneaux, a former Marine sergeant who was serving a 25-year prison term for murder. He had escaped from Fort Pillow State Prison several days before along with four other inmates. Once on the run, Riley had gone his own way. Somehow he had obtained a gun. The police were in active pursuit both in cars and helicopters — a massive manhunt. Riley had been sleeping rough. It was winter. There was ice on his boots. He was freezing and hungry.

Having come upon the Degrafinried home, Riley threatened Louise and Nathon with his shotgun, shouted, “Don’t make me kill you!”

Louise responded to their dangerous guest as calmly as a grandmother might respond to a raucous grandchild. She started out by identifying herself as a disciple of Jesus Christ. “Young man,” she said, “I am a Christian lady. I don’t believe in no violence. Put down that gun and you sit down. I don’t allow no violence here.”

Riley put the weapon on the couch. He said, “Lady, I’m hungry. I haven’t eaten in three days.”

Louise calmly asked Nathon to please get dry socks for their guest while she made breakfast. Within a few minutes she prepared bacon and eggs, toast, milk and coffee, setting the table not only for Riley but for Nathon and herself. A striking detail of the story is that she put out her best napkins.

When the three of them sat down to eat, Louise took Riley’s shaking hand in her own and said, “Young man, let’s give thanks that you came here and that you are safe.” She said a prayer and asked him if there was anything he would like to say to the Lord. Riley couldn’t think of anything so she suggested, “Just say, ‘Jesus wept.'”

Later a journalist asked how she happened to choose that text. She explained, “Because I figured that he didn’t have no church background, so I wanted to start him off simple; something short, you know.”

The story crosses yet another border, a confession of love. After breakfast Louise held Riley’s hand a second time. She asked about his family and learned of the death of his grandmother. Riley, trembling all over, said that no one in this world cared about him. “Young man, I love you and God loves you. God loves all of us, every one of us, especially you. Jesus died for you because he loves you so much.”

All the while the police had been searching for Riley and the other four convicts. Louise had been on the phone when Riley arrived. As a result of the abrupt ending of the call, her friend had alerted the police. Now they could hear the approaching sirens of police cars. “They gonna kill me when they get here,” Riley said.

Louise told Riley to stay where he was while she went out to talk to the police.

Several police cars had surrounded the house. Guns ready, policemen had taken shelter behind their cars in expectation that Riley might open fire on them. Instead they were face to face with an old black woman, Louise Degrafinried.

Standing on her porch, she spoke to the police exactly as she had spoken to Riley. “Y’all put those guns away. I don’t allow no violence here.”

There are people who have a voice-from-heaven authority. The police were as docile in their response to this determined grandmother as Riley had been. They put their guns back in their holsters. With their arms around Riley, Louise and Nathon escorted their guest to one of the police cars. He was taken back to the prison. No one was harmed.

The story of what happened to two of the other escaped convicts is a familiar tragedy. They came upon a family preparing a barbecue in their back yard. The husband, having heard about the escaped prisoners on the radio, had armed himself with a pistol. He tried to use it but was himself shot dead. The men took his wife hostage, stole the family car, and managed to drive out of the state before they were captured and the widow was freed.

Another of the five, Ronald Lewis Freeman, was killed in a shoot-out with police the following month.

The story of the Degrafinrieds does not end with Riley’s return to prison. Louise was asked to press charges against Riley for holding her and Nathon hostage but refused to do so. “That boy did us no harm,” she insisted. Both she and Nathon refused to testify.

Thanks to the Degrafinrieds, Riley’s life was not cut short, though twenty more years were added to his prison sentence. Louise initiated correspondence with Riley. She asked for his photo and put it in her family album. Throughout his remaining years in prison — he was freed in 1995 — Louise kept in touch with Riley and he with her. Louise actively worked for Riley’s release.

“He usually called on her birthday and around Christmas time,” Louise’s daughter, Ida Marshall, related to a journalist after her mother’s death in 1998. It was Ida Marshall who wrote Riley with the news of Louise’s death.

Louise had enormous impact on Riley’s life. “After looking back over all my life in solitary, I realized I’d been throwing my life away,” he said in a 1991 interview.

Riley remembers praying with Louise Degrafinried when she came to visit him in prison. “She started off her prayer,” he recalled, “by saying ‘God, this is your child. You know me, and I know you.’ I realized that’s the kind of relationship I want to have with God.”

In 1988, Riley became a Christian. “I realized,” he explained, “that meeting the Degrafinrieds and other things that happened in my life just couldn’t be coincidences. After all that, I realized someone was looking over me.”

Louise was often asked about the day she was held hostage. “Weren’t you terrified?” She responded, “I wasn’t alone. My Savior was with me and I was not afraid.”

It’s similar to a comment Riley made when explaining the events that led to his conversion. “Mrs. Degrafinried was real Christianity,” he told mourners at her funeral. “No fear.” Riley sat in the front pew at the service and was among those carrying Louise Degrafinried’s coffin to its burial place.

Riley Arzeneaux now lives in Nashville where he works as foreman of a tent & awning company. He and his wife have a son.

The story is not over. The consequences of that extraordinary encounter in Mason back in 1984 continue to unfold.

There is a lot of implicit theology in what happened that day. A large part of the Gospel is woven into this story.

One of the main elements in the narrative is hospitality. One might even call it paschal hospitality – an act of fearless hospitality that reveals the resurrection. The Degrafinrieds received a desperate stranger into their home as a welcome guest. They put clean, dry socks on his feet. They put out their best napkins. They cooked for him and ate with him. They held nothing back. He was addressed in caring terms — Louise prefaces much that she says with the words, “young man.” They prayed with their guest and invited him to pray. When Riley couldn’t think of a prayer, Louise proposed a Gospel verse that connected Riley directly to Christ’s sorrow: “Jesus wept.” Indeed Jesus weeps for Riley and all those like him, people who have lost their way in life and become a hazard to themselves and others. Riley was made safe in the Degrafinried home and then his hosts protected him from the police.

Even when Riley was back in prison, the hospitality continued. Far from thanking God they had survived his visit and hoping never to see him again, the Degrafinrieds came to regard Riley as a member of the family. His relationship with Louise and Nathon has even been taken up by their children. Riley was given a place of honor at Louise’s funeral, was called on to speak, and joined family members in carrying her body to its final resting place. In 2004, Riley was a guest speaker at the Mason elementary school whose principal is one of the Degrafinried children. The hospitality that Riley experienced 21 years ago continues to this day.

Hospitality is at the core of Christian life. The church is a community of eucharistic hospitality. In receiving communion, we experience nothing less than the hospitality of Christ.

Hospitality has to do with our willingness to make room in our lives not only for those who in some way are related to us – spouses, children, relatives, friends, neighbors, co-workers – but for strangers and even people we prefer to avoid.

Every act of welcoming engagement with another person is an act of hospitality. In marriage, hospitality becomes a vocation: a man and a woman commit themselves to a lifetime of welcoming each other. Parenthood is hospitality to our own children. The circles of hospitality are small at first but gradually widen. The front door of one’s home acquires a sacramental significance: the place we welcome others.

Christ calls us toward an extremely difficult level of hospitality: the love of enemies, a love that is like the sun shining on both the just and the unjust, love that does not depend on affinity or affection, love that struggles to protect the life of the other and even hopes to assist in saving the soul of the other. The “other” is the stranger, the outsider, the person who irritates us, the competitor, the enemy. “Love your enemies,” Christ commands, “and pray for them.”

Our salvation depends upon communion — with God and with each other. Christ doesn’t often speak about the Last Judgment, but when he does, it is in terms of mercy. He says that mercy will be given to those who were merciful. The hospitality of heaven will be given to those who offered hospitality. “I tell you solemnly,” he says, “that what you did to the least person you did to me.” He gives a series of specific examples: food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, clothing for the naked, welcoming the homeless, caring for the sick, visiting those in prison.

These are all very concrete actions that Christ speaks of — not very “theological,” if we think of theology as a realm of intellectual activity. Many Christians would prefer a Last Judgment that concentrated on their professed beliefs rather than their actions. We would rather the doors of heaven open to us because we had recited the Creed correctly and had an excellent attendance record at church services.

Hospitality is at the heart of Louise and Nathon’s response to the arrival of Riley Arzeneaux at their door. Equally striking is their freedom from fear. No doubt they had heard via radio and TV that five armed men had escaped from prison and that a manhunt was underway. For several days local people had been repeatedly warned about five convicts being at large and advised to take precautions. A good many people understood that to mean that they ought to keep their weapons handy. America has a well developed gun culture. Many own guns just for such contingencies. But there is no trace of reliance on guns in the Degrafinried household. As Louise said to both Riley and the police, “I am a Christian lady. I don’t allow no violence here.”

Fear locks doors. The Degrafinrieds had been freed from fear by the depth of their conversion to Christ. If the resurrection of the dead refers not only to our final rising but how we are living our lives here and now, the Degrafinrieds are people who had already risen from the dead when they met Riley Arzeneaux. I don’t mean to say they were strangers to fear, only that fear clearly was not the driving force.

Many who have written on the spiritual life have emphasized the necessity of overcoming fear. The monk and author Thomas Merton wrote, “One of the things we must cast out first of all is fear. Fear narrows the little entrance of our heart. It shrinks up our capacity to love. It freezes up our power to give ourselves.”

Fear has its function in life. It’s something like an alarm clock. It’s a helpful means of rising from sleep on time, but not something that you want ringing 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Unfortunately for most of us the alarm clock of fear is ringing much too often, too long and too loud. Most of us are still prisoners of fear. We make many choices, small and large, because of fear. Most of us take great care not to do things that involve grave risks, especially the risk of being in the company of potentially dangerous people. They frighten us. Fear stands in our way — fear of death, fear of the other. When things we sought to avoid happen despite our best efforts to avoid them, we tend to be paralyzed. If a young Riley Arzeneaux armed with a shotgun were suddenly to appear at our door, not many of us would find space within ourselves to worry about his freezing feet or his empty stomach. Probably we would feel like people on an airplane about to crash.

St. Seraphim of Sarov

“Acquire the Spirit of Peace,” St Seraphim of Sarov would sometimes say, “and thousands of people around you will be saved.” For many years Seraphim lived as a hermit in the Russian forest but had many visitors. Hospitality was a major aspect of his life. Most of his visitors were pious people seeking advice, but not all his visitors were safe. A bear sometimes came to visit him. Seraphim explained to a terrified nun who once happened to witness Seraphim sharing his bread with the bear that he, after all, understood fasting but the bear did not. On another occasion Seraphim was visited by several thieves who heard that was a treasure buried in his log cabin. Not finding it, they nearly beat him to death. In portraits of Seraphim in later life, you see him stooped over, supported by a walking stick, his back permanently damaged. He saw the robbers as “unfortunate ones,” a term Russians in former times often used in referring to people we tend to refer to in harsher, more condemnatory terms: criminals, convicts, pathological killers, etc. Seraphim’s attitude was not unlike that of Louise Degrafinried, who assured Riley Arzeneaux that he wasn’t by nature an evil man, only one who had fallen into bad company.

Shaped as we are by what I sometimes call The Gospel According to John Wayne, we tend to think of many people as being genetically evil. Either the evil is somewhere in their DNA or they were so damaged early in life that they have became unchangeably dangerous and need to be either permanently isolated or simply executed. But the Christian view is that each person, as a descendent of Adam and Eve, bears the divine image and that no one, even the most demon-possessed person, is incapable of repentance and conversion. “Never confuse the person, formed in the image of God,” said St. John of Kronstadt, “with the evil that is in him, because evil is but a chance misfortune, illness, a devilish reverie. But the very essence of the person is the image of God, and this remains in him despite every disfigurement.”

St. John of Kronstadt was not a person who had any illusions about human beings and our capacity to commit serious sins. Kronstadt was a naval base not far from St. Petersburg, a place of much drunkenness, prostitution, and disorderly behavior. The people St. John met in daily life, and whose confessions he often witnessed, were frequently men who had committed acts of deadly violence.

Like St. John of Kronstadt, Louise and Nathon were able to glimpse the image of God in Riley, seeing in him an angry, lonely child who had lost his way, someone who urgently needed to be cared for. In their response to Riley Arzeneaux, they provide us with a model of loving hospitality and of a life not ruled by fear.

If the essence of sin is fear of the other, the essence of our healing is love of the other.

* * *

Jim Forest is international secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship . Hismost recent book is “All is Grace: a biography of Dorothy Day” published by Orbis.

Note: The most detailed account of the story I’ve come upon was “Bless You, Mrs. Degrafinried” by William Willimon, published in Christian Century, March 14, 1984. I have found additional details in Memphis newspaper accounts published in 1998 after the death of Louise Degrafinried as well as in a recording of a talk by Riley Arzeneaux given at the Northwest Elementary School in Mason, Tennessee, whose principal (now retired) was a daughter of Louise Degrafinried. The photo of the Degrafinried was provided by their granddaughter, Faith Marshall.

* * *

❖ IN COMMUNION / Pascha/ Spring 2011/ Issue 60

 

If it Bleeds, It Leads

by Jim Forest

St. Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai (minaret in the foreground)

Above: St. Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai (minaret in the foreground)

Love is caring for the needs of another person even though you wish you didn’t have to and even though you have no reason to think he would do the same for you. If a mother fails to feed a child because she is too tired or irritated but then says “I love that child,” who would believe her? Love is first of all how we care for each other, not how we feel about them at the time. Feelings are secondary. Love is communicated by merciful actions. We saw a powerful example of this a few years ago when the Greeks responded with breathtaking generosity to urgent needs in Turkey, the historic enemy of Greece, after an especially devastating earthquake. When Greece was struck by a major earthquake a year or two later, the Turks were inspired to reach out in a similar way. In the process, Greek-Turkish enmity, though certainly not ended, was significantly reduced.

We see an example of this kind of reaching out to an adversary at St. Catherine’s Monastery, located in the Sinai Desert, an area under Muslim domination since the year 639, only a few years after the death of Muhammad. St. Catherine’s has been a place of uninterrupted prayer and worship since its founding in about 550 in a region already long populated by many Christian ascetics. If you look attentively at photos of the monastery, within the wall, adjacent to the monastery church, you will notice a bright, white tower. This is the minaret of the only mosque within a monastic enclosure. The Fatimid Mosque, which I’m told is still used by the monks’ Bedouin neighbors, was originally a hospice for pilgrims, but in the year 1106, more than nine hundred years ago, it was converted to its present use. It must be one of the oldest mosques in the world. No doubt the monk’s hospitality to Muslims helps explain how the monastery survived all these centuries in what became Muslim territory and also how it became the safe harbor for a number of the oldest icons and biblical manuscripts to survive from Christianity’s first millennium. The irony is, it was thanks to being in the Muslim world that the icons survived. In the Byzantine world in the iconoclastic periods, countless ions were destroyed at the emperor’s command. The monastery, with its many generations of monks, offers a continuing witness to a genuinely Christian response to conflict in a non-fear-driven manner. By their act of hospitality, the monks give us a lesson in how Christians can make enemies, or potential enemies, into friends. It’s something like the miracle at Cana at which Jesus converted water into wine.

Let me give another example of how the walls of enmity can be pierced in unexpected ways. A few years ago my wife and I decided to celebrate Pascha in Istanbul, home of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople. On Friday of Bright Week, the first Friday after Easter, we took a ferry to one of the nearby islands, Buyukada, where we walked to St. George’s Monastery on the south end of the island. It wasn’t clear from the map, but this involved a long uphill climb along a cobblestone path. We were surprised by how much company we had along the way — not crowds, but we were far from alone. We were puzzled – Orthodox Christians are a rarity in modern Turkey. All along the path there were pieces of fabric and napkins tied to the branches and lots of colorful string and thread running branch to branch. We were reminded of the prayer flags in Tibet. The higher we got, the more beautiful the view. Finally we reached the top only to discover the monastery was not currently occupied and its church was locked. But the biggest surprise was that the monastery was still very much a place of prayer, not inside but outside. Candles were burning on every available ledge. Women, men and children stood around the church, often with their hands extended and palms up. It took a few minutes before it dawned on us that we were probably the only Christians present. Everyone else was Muslim. This is one of the many places in the Middle East where Muslims pilgrims worship at Christian shrines. Beyond the church, families, having completed their prayers, were picnicking. We learned that day that we had more in common with Muslims than we dared to imagine. Their prayer inspired our prayer, their devotion our devotion.

But generally speaking we mainly hear unsettling news about Muslims and they about us. “If it bleeds, it leads” was one of the first proverbs I learned as a young journalist. If you are looking for good news, skip page one. We hear about people driven to homicidal rage or despair or both who, in the name of Allah, blow themselves up while killing others, abuse of women in Muslim countries, people being stoned to death after being condemned under Sharia law, etc. In the Muslim world there is a similar concentration of news that fuels hostility — American bombs that have fallen on innocent people, people held indefinitely without charges or trial on suspicion of being terrorists, reports of torture, attacks on Muslims, the burning of Muslim schools, plans to burn Korans, etc. On both sides, events that justify enmity are well publicized. It isn’t that the reports are untrue, only that so much is left out.

This is an extract from a recent lecture, “Remaining Christian in a Time of Conflict,” given by Jim Forest at Orthodox parishes in Tennessee and Kentucky. The full text is posted here: http://www.jimandnancyforest.com/2010/10/20/remaining-christian-in-a-time-of-conflict/

❖ IN COMMUNION / FEAST OF ST. ANASTASIA OF ROME / FALL 2010/  issue 58

St. Maria Skobtsova Resources

Mother Maria Of Paris: Saint Of The Open Door by Jim Forest

Taking Up the Cross by St. Maria Skobtsova

The Asceticism of the Open Door by Mother Maria Skobtsova

Books About St. Maria of Paris

Icons of Saints Maria (Skobtsova) of Paris and those canonized with her

Mother Maria Skobtsova, Martyr of Sobornost by Matthew Franklin Cooper

 

Mother Maria on the Internet: In Various Languages

Related:

A cloud of witnesses

Impressions of a Canonization

Types of Religious Lives

Father Dimitry Klepinin

Becoming the Gospel: the example of four saints

Love Your Enemies As Yourself

Silent as a Stone: Mother Maria of Paris and the Trash Can Rescue

Becoming the Jesus Prayer

Three days in August

Yeltsin on a tank in front of the Parliament Building on August 19th, 1991

On August 19, 1991, two months after Boris Yeltsin’s election as president of Russia, a junta led by KGB chief Vladimir Kryuchkov made a nearly-successful effort to suppress the democratic movement that had emerged during the Gorbachev years. The junta announced formation of a “State Emergency Committee” that was “taking supreme power.”

Gorbachev, still president, was under house arrest, but president-elect Yeltsin remained free, having taken refuge in the Russian Parliament, a modern building on the Moskva River known, because of its white tiles,  as “the White House.” First using fax and telephone, then radio and television, Yeltsin summoned the citizens of Moscow to defend democracy. At 1 PM on the day of the coup, Yeltsin stood on one of the tanks the junta had placed around the White House, calling for public resistance. Muscovites streamed by the thousands to the White House, forming a human shield.

The news that ten of the tanks had gone over to the White House defenders quickly became known “ a defection that encouraged other in the military to side with the democratic movement. Elements of three army divisions sent to storm the White House were now supporting Yeltsin, including the elite Alpha Unit.

Yet the outcome remained in doubt. The junta still had the support of entire armored divisions plus much of the state bureaucracy. If the human shield was attacked, thousands would die.

Part of the credit for preventing a bloodbath that never happened belongs to Patriarch Aleksy, elected in June the year before to lead the Russian Orthodox Church.

One of Yeltsin’s first actions had been to appeal to Aleksy for his support, “The tragic events that have occurred throughout the night have made me turn to you,” Yeltsin said to Aleksy by radio broadcast. “There is lawlessness inside the country “ a group of corrupt Party members has organized an anti-constitutional revolution. Essentially, a state of emergency has been declared inside the country due to the extreme gravity of the situation. The laws and constitution of the USSR and of the sovereign republics of the Union have been grossly violated…

“At this moment of tragedy for our Fatherland, I turn to you, calling on your authority among all religious confessions and believers. The influence of the Church in our society is too great for the Church to stand aside during these events. This duty is directly related to the Church’s mission, to which you have dedicated your life: serving people, caring for their hearts and souls. The Church, which has suffered through the times of totalitarianism, may once again experience disorder and lawlessness.

All believers, the Russian nation, and all Russia await your word!”

Aleksy threw his full weight behind Yeltsin and against the coup.

Father Aleksy

Father Aleksy

As tanks filed into Red Square, Aleksy was on the other side of the Kremlin walls, in the Cathedral of the Assumption, where he was presiding at the liturgy for the Feast of the Transfiguration.

During the service Aleksy made his first gesture of opposition to the coup. In a litany which ordinarily would have included a prayer for the “authorities” and “the army,” he prayed instead “for our country protected by God and its people.” All those present, noting the changed text, instantly understood its meaning. Patriarch Aleksy had sided with Russia’s infant democracy.

The following morning, Aleksy faxed a letter throughout the country challenging the junta’s legality:

“This situation is troubling the consciences of millions of our fellow citizens, who are concerned about the legality of the newly formed State Emergency Committee. … In this connection we declare that it is essential that we hear without delay the voice of President Gorbachev and learn his attitude toward the events that have just taken place.

“We hope that the Supreme Soviet of the USSR will give careful consideration to what has taken place and will take decisive measures to bring about the stabilization of the situation in the country.

“We call upon all parts of the Russian Orthodox Church, the whole of our people, and particularly our army at this critical moment, for our nation to show support and not to permit the shedding of fraternal blood. We raise a heartfelt prayer to our Lord and summon all true believers in our Church to join this prayer, begging Him to dispense peace to the peoples of our land so that they can in future build their homeland in accordance with freedom of choice and the accepted norms of morality and law.”

The words “not to permit the shedding of fraternal blood” were understood by all as an appeal to the army not to obey orders to kill their fellow citizens.

By August 21, most of the coup leaders had fled Moscow. Gorbachev was freed and returned to Moscow. Yeltsin was subsequently hailed by his supporters around the world for rallying mass opposition to the coup. On November 6, 1991, Yeltsin issued a decree banning the Communist Party.

Yeltsin’s role will never be forgotten, and neither should that of Patriarch Aleksy, so often portrayed as a KGB agent.

“ Jim Forest (making use of Russian Orthodoxy Resurgent: Faith and Power in the New Russia by John Garrard & Carol Garrard; Princeton University Press, 2009)

❖

Spring 2009 issue of In Communion / IC 53

A Bishop who Stood in the Way

by Jim Forest

In 1941, after a period of neutrality, Bulgaria allied itself with Nazi Germany. This was a decision partly motivated by the Bulgarian government’s wish to regain neighboring territories that it had lost in previous wars. Early in 1943, the government in Sofia signed a secret agreement with the Nazis to deport 20,000 Jews. The deportations started with Jews in the annexed territories.

Between March 4 and March 11 of that year, soldiers rounded up thousands of Jews and prepared boxcars to take them to the Treblinka extermination camp in occupied Poland, where approximately 850,000 people almost all Jews perished.

Word of the planned deportation leaked out, triggering protests throughout Bulgaria. Opposing the deportation, Vice President of Parliament Dimitar Peshev managed to force its temporary cancellation; but it was only a brief delay.

On March 10, boxcars were loaded with 8,500 Jews, including 1,500 from the city of Plovdiv. The bishop of Plovdiv, Metropolitan Kirill (later Patriarch of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church), along with 300 church members, showed up at the station where the Jews were awaiting transport. Kirill pushed through the SS officers guarding the area his authority and courage were such that no one dared stop him and made his way to the Jews inside the boxcars.

According to some accounts, as he reached them, he shouted a text from the Book of Ruth: “Wherever you go, I will go! Wherever you lodge, I will lodge. Your people will be my people, and your God, my God!”

Kirill whose protest had the blessing of Metropolitan Stephan of Sofia, the highest ranking Bulgarian Church official during the Hitler years opened one of the boxcars in which Jews had been packed like sardines and tried to get inside, but now SS officers stopped him. However, when one door is locked, often another is left open. Kirill next walked to the front of the train, declaring he would lie down on the tracks if the train started to move.

News of Metropolitan Kirill’s act of civil disobedience spread quickly. Some 42 members of Parliament rebelled against the government. Leaders of all the political parties sent protests to the government and the King. The next day the Jews were freed and returned to their homes.

The struggle was not over. On April 15, King Boris arranged a meeting of the Holy Synod at his palace to persuade the bishops to support anti-Jewish policy and the Nazi deportation plans. “After all,” he said, “other countries have dealt the same way with the ‘Jewish Problem’.” He called upon the patriotism of the Church to accept the laws enacted by the Parliament, but his counsel was rejected by Metropolitans Stephan, Kirill and other Synod members.

In May, Sofia’s Jews received deportation orders to the countryside. The Jewish community’s two chief rabbis, Daniel Zion and Asher Hannanel, asked Metropolitan Stephan to shelter them and pleaded for the cancellation of the deportation order. Stephan sent a number of messages to the King, pleading for him to have mercy on the Jews. “Do not persecute,” he wrote, “so that you, yourself, will not be persecuted. The measure you give will be the measure returned to you. I know, Boris, that God in heaven is keeping watch over your actions.”

The sudden death of King Boris in September 1943 stopped the deportation attempts once and for all.

At the beginning of World War II, the Jewish population of Bulgaria was 48,000. At the end it was 50,000, making Bulgaria the only country under Nazi rule to end the war with more Jews than at the beginning.

Metropolitan Stephan entered eternal life in 1957, and Metropolitan Kirill in 1971. In 2003, the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem recognized both bishops as Righteous Among the Nations.

❖ Spring 2009 issue of In Communion / IC 53

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Fifty issues of In Communion

By Jim Forest

[Detail of a fourth-century mosaic of Sarah and Abraham in the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. The “Byzantine” style of iconography had not yet emerged. by Jim Forest Double-click to enlarge.

“Your father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day; he saw it and was glad.” The Jews then said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”

– John 5:56-58

In Communion isn’t fifty years old, only an adolescent thirteen, but we are, as of this issue, fifty issues old.

Fifty is a number that provides a moment to express surprise – those of us who launched the journal were far from confident it would last this long – and also gratitude.

In Holland, where the journal has been edited since its founding, fifty is a number that has a special resonance due to a local custom rooted in a Gospel verse. Jesus was challenged by his critics for speaking of Abraham as someone he knew personally: “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” The Dutch have taken this to imply that once a person is fifty, perhaps he or she is old enough to have seen Abraham.

Dutch fiftieth birthday parties are celebrated in ways that underscore the possibility. In anticipation of the upcoming event, a special Abraham or Sarah cookie is ordered from a local bakery. Using hand-carved wooden molds that in some bakeries are many generations old, spiced dough is pressed into the shape either of Abraham or Sarah. Almonds are used for decoration. Once baked, the cookie is put in a special box, wrapped and ribboned, to be solemnly presented to the one who has become old enough to see the biblical couple who hosted the three divinely-sent angels under the oak of Mamre.

It’s a large cookie – big enough to be broken into enough pieces so that everyone at the party has at least a taste. (Perhaps we need to order an Abraham cookie and have a little In Communion party sometime in the coming weeks?)

Why did we start In Communion?

From the beginning, it was obvious that the Orthodox Peace Fellowship needed an accessible way of sharing some aspects of the Orthodox tradition that have long been neglected. In the early years this was done on a smaller scale, a publication of much fewer pages, modestly dubbed The Occasional Paper. Indeed it was very occasional, perhaps two thin issues a year. Only in 1993 did we have enough economic support to move to a quarterly schedule and make the journal more substantial and give it its present name.

From the start, we had a fairly clear idea of what we wanted to do.

We Orthodox have remembered how to celebrate the Liturgy in a way that astonishes Christians of other churches; we refuse to make time-saving economies in the way we worship God. We don’t welcome clocks in our churches.

But not everything the apostolic Church meant to pass on to us has been given similar care and attention.

Over the centuries, many Orthodox Christians have made their peace with war in a way our early Christian forebears could not have imagined and would find scandalous. We are also much less noted than they were for paying attention to the needs of poor, neglected and abused members of the society we live in. Too often we are turned in on ourselves, not infrequently along ethnic lines. There are Orthodox parishes in which it must be embarrassing to hear Paul’s words read aloud about the followers of Christ being “neither Jew nor Greek.”

Our mission was not to invent anything, not to propose any innovations, but to jog our own memories, and the memories of our fellow Orthodox Christians, about what had been forgotten. It is mainly a job of dusting off what is already there. So many of the writings of the Church Fathers about our social obligations had been placed in boxes and stored in the Church’s attic, available to scholars but seldom heard of by the ordinary Orthodox believer. So many of the stories of those we see on icons in any parish church are hardly known to those who kiss those icons.

How surprised we are to discover our own past. There were saints who gave up their lives rather than kill in war? St. Basil the Great founded a “city of mercy” to care for the homeless, the abused and the sick that was regarded as one of the wonders of the world? St. John Chrysostom said we would not find Christ in the chalice unless we first found him in the beggar we encountered on the way to church?

If much has been forgotten, then In Communion should be a way of helping resurrect buried memories of forms of sanctity and patristic teaching that are desperately needed in our own day.

And why was the journal named In Communion? It was a suggestion of one of the first members of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship’s advisory board, Fr. Thomas Hopko, now retired but in those days dean of St. Vladimir’s Seminary.

“My task,” he wrote in the first issue of In Communion, “is not to decide whether or not I will be in relationship with you but to realize that I am in communion with you: my life is yours, and your life is mine. Without this, there is no way that we are going to be able to carry on.”

A revised, expanded, all-color edition of Jim Forest’s book, Praying With Icons, has just been published by Orbis Books.

 

Summer 2008 issue of In Communion / IC 50

Fr. David Kirk's Legacy of Hope

by Julia Demaree and Albert Raboteau

Fr. David Kirk, founder of Emmaus House in New York City’s Harlem, died last year on May 23 at the age of 72. His life was dedicated to service to the poor, to racial justice, and to the homeless. Toward the end of his life, after many years a Catholic priest of the eastern-rite Melkite rite, he was received as a priest by the Orthodox Church in America. He was also a member of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship.

We got to know Fr. David Kirk toward the end of his life, more than forty years after he founded Emmaus House, when his physical health was compromised by advanced kidney disease. Even then his spirit was still as strong as iron and as gentle as silk.

He was a large burly man whose speaking voice was surprisingly gentle but firm and tempered with a soft southern accent. His manner of speaking also revealed his southern roots. Contrary to our more northern linear style of speech, Fr. David spoke by circling around a topic as if we had all the time in the world. Sitting with him, though well aware of his debilitated state, we were amazed at the slow richness of his talk. With great expansiveness, he would delineate the actual event or person being discussed.

After his death, Emmaus House staff and friends shared many of their memories of Fr. David. We heard of his amazing ability to forgive, to forgive all and to forgive repeatedly even those who stole from him or betrayed him. He always forgave. He was always ready to open and reopen the door. Also, he had the ability to see the beauty and goodness in the down-and-out that they often could not see in themselves. It was recalled how Fr. David would often hang around the kitchen, always ready to offer some of his favorite southern recipes, and relishing Popeye’s fried chicken (Cajun-style chicken fried in cayenne pepper batter) whenever he could get it.

Fr. David would often speak of what a big influence Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement, had been on his life. It was she who had encouraged him to come to New York from Alabama and she who then encouraged him go to Harlem and start Emmaus House.

Fr. David recalled that, during his first days at the Catholic Worker, he simply followed her around, observing closely everything she did from peeling potatoes to welcoming guests. “I was determined,” he told us, “to model myself after Dorothy.” Finally someone observed, “Kirk, you don’t do any work.”

Fr. David frequently spoke and wrote about the need to recall the social justice tradition of Orthodoxy, a tradition that he observed in the Church Fathers’ adamant response to the poor – such towering saints as Basil the Great, who founded not just a house of hospitality but a city of hospitality. He saw both in Dorothy Day and St. Maria Skobtsova of Paris as models of sanctity for the church today. In our talks during the last days of his life, he would return again and again to his hope that something similar to the Catholic Worker movement would take roots in the Orthodox Church, perhaps along the lines of Emmaus House.

As you enter Emmaus House, there is a beautiful Orthodox chapel dedicated to Christ of the Poor. Fr. David’s large black cassock still hangs on a hook on the back of the door. Nowadays, another cassock hangs in that room, used by Fr. John Garvey when he comes on Thursdays to hold a Vespers service.

Although Emmaus House is still without a director, the community is carrying on. They continue to hold an early morning community meeting, do their daily chores, eat supper in common, attend evening education classes, and look for a “place of hope” on weekends. They operate a weekly food pantry for neighbors in need, provide a traveling kitchen to feed the homeless, and offer overnight hospitality or arrange referrals for those living on the streets.

For the time being, a kind of interim co-directorship has developed. The two of us work closely with three residents who have assumed various responsibilities for day-to-day management, community outreach and administrative business. They are a valiant trio!

Frequently we wish we could hang a sign from the clouds advertising for a full-time director! We pray daily for someone who is inspired by Fr. David’s legacy, a person who feels called to bring his or her own gifts to this communal life and mission to the poor.

Late in his life, Fr. David bought a plot for himself near Dorothy Day’s grave at Holy Resurrection Cemetery on Staten Island. It was fitting and touching that we were able to take one of the wreaths from his grave and place it on hers.

Julia Demaree and Albert Raboteau  are co-chairs of the Emmaus House board of directors. This is a shortened version of an article first published in Jacob’s Well: http://dcnyoca.org/jacobswell.html.

From the Pascha / Spring 2008 issue of In Communion / IC 49

The Original Oneness of Adam & Eve

by Jim Forest

While browsing in our parish bookshop not long ago, I happened to notice in a rack of cards a reproduction of an image of Eve being lifted by Christ out of Adam’s body – a colorful miniature that comes from a 13th-century illuminated manuscript. Adam sleeps peacefully while Eve is wide awake. The right arm of Jesus suggests his power to create and also offers a sign of blessing, while his left arm grasps Eve’s wrists in a gesture that reminds me of a midwife pulling a child from the womb. Jesus contemplates both Eve and Adam with a expression of wordless love.

This special moment, recounted in the Book of Genesis, was a much-loved subject of Byzantine and medieval art. In churches, it is usually part of a cycle of wall images that begin with the creation of the cosmos and end with the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise. In each scene, Christ is the key figure. Though not yet incarnate, we see him as the man he was to become through the body of Mary. The Church Fathers saw the Second Person of the Holy Trinity as the one especially involved in the work of bringing matter into existence and shaping it into the vast array of life forms, with Adam and then Eve at the pinnacle of created beings.

While I found this illumination an especially fine version, just about any of the images that have to do with Adam and Eve fascinate me. Among the primary stories of the human race, there are few more primary than those revealing what our ancestors imagined the first human beings to be like. Remarkably, those whose memory shaped the Bible saw Eve’s creation as coming later than Adam’s. Her being called into being is the final great event in the creation narrative.

Such a story has almost nothing to do with what, these days, we think of as history. In fact we know very little about the first human beings. Much that we think we know is speculative. But the Adam and Eve story is profound. It stresses an original oneness in Adam and Eve, the two of them mysteriously sharing one body until the Eve is drawn out of Adam.

According to Genesis, before the Fall, Adam and Eve lived in a borderless paradise. They were not in competition with each other.

Was Eve made from one of Adam’s ribs? So the most familiar English translation of Genesis has it, but biblical translators point out that the Hebrew word in question, tsela, also means “side.” In that reading, Eve was one side of Adam. What is clear in either reading is that, before Eve emerged, she was an integral part of Adam. Adam carried Eve like a secret. Thus Adam’s maleness is coincident with his separation from Eve and the revelation of her femaleness. She is his other half, as he was her other half. Only in their complementarity, their actual oneness, are they whole. Both equally bear the image of God, and both equally bear the calling to acquire the divine likeness. As St. Gregory of Nyssa wrote: “One who is made in the image of God has the task of becoming what he is.”

At the same time there is the elusive but compelling memory that has long haunted the human mind of a primordial Eden – a paradise in which there was no conflict, no murder, no war. After Eve’s creation, man and woman live together in an unwalled oneness, a relationship with no trace of enmity. (The first murder, Cain killing Abel, occurs only after Adam and Eve have been expelled from Eden.)

But then comes the Fall. Eve is successfully tempted by a satanic serpent, Adam is tempted by Eve, and both eat the fruit of the forbidden tree. Suddenly they discover themselves not only naked but in a world in which walls are erupting all around them. In place of unity comes blame – Adam blaming Eve, Eve blaming the serpent, and neither repenting or appealing for God’s mercy and forgiveness. Ancient iconographic images of Adam and Eve often show them on either side of the forbidden tree, a wall-like barrier isolating them from each other. The unity they originally had is not altogether lost – it remains at the roots of human identity – but no longer is our original unity effortless. Men and women will in the future commit countless sins against each other. Men will even justify their domination over women as part of the punishment for Eve’s – not Adam’s – sin in Paradise.

Most of us live a long way from Eden. We live in a world in which “the war of the sexes” is the oldest war of all. The ongoing combat between men and women was touched on by a recent New Yorker cartoon. We see a newly married couple standing side by side next to a huge wedding cake. Each is holding a plate with a piece of the cake, while the bride says to the groom, “Your piece is bigger.” One wonders if this marriage will last through its first anniversary. Husband and wife are focused not on each other but on invisible scales: who is getting the better deal? At least, one assumes, the two cake-eaters have a carefully written prenuptial contract that will make their divorce slightly less complex.

Even so, it remains a great honor to be among the descendants of the first man and the first woman. An ancient Jewish commentary reveals our royal status by posing a question: Why was there only one Adam and only one Eve? The answer the rabbis gave is so that no human being could regard himself or herself as being of higher descent than anyone else.

The basic fact about all human beings is that we all belong to exactly the same family tree. More than that, we all bear equally the image of God and all bear the same calling to recover the divine likeness.

The human race has been far from paradise throughout known history. Who can guess in round numbers how many have been murdered down through the centuries? Most of the killing has been done by the sons of Adam, but often enough on behalf of Eve, if not with her fervent encouragement. These days, sadly, the daughters of Eve are increasingly joining the armed men on the world’s battlefields.

For Nancy and me lately, this image of Adam and Eve has acquired another level of meaning. On the last day of October, one of Nancy’s kidneys was removed from her body and implanted in mine. After five years of kidney illness and twenty-one months of dialysis, I now have a healthy kidney, my wife’s gift.

And what a gift it is. Renal failure had come on so gradually that I was barely aware of how sick I was even on the eve of the transplant. I knew in theory that each year on dialysis meant a life likely to be shortened by three years (which even so beats the rapid death caused by kidney illness without dialysis).

Now that the transplant has happened and has been a success, I suddenly realize just how much impact the illness had on me. I feel a little like Rip van Winkel waking up from a multi-year nap. Even in these first few weeks, while still recovering from surgery, I find I tire much less easily than was the case a month earlier. I was often sleeping eight-and-a-half or nine hours a night, and even then prying myself out of bed with a mental crowbar. Now seven-and-a-half hours is more than enough. The creatinine level in my blood, a key marker of renal failure, has fallen from 900, just before the transplant, to 120 or so. There are other markers. Food tastes are more vivid. The world seems brighter, colors more intense. I find myself looking at familiar things with an Adam-like sense of surprise. A friend told me how her brother, after receiving a donated kidney, felt like he was seeing the sky for the first time in ages. That’s a nice way of putting it.

All this is a gift from my wife, a daughter of Eve, from out of her own side.

Nancy and I have put this image of the oneness of Adam and Eve among the icons before which we pray morning and evening. It serves as a visual reminder of what God intends for man and woman: a mysterious unwalled oneness in which neither dominates the other but rather both collaborate – a partnership in which neither supplants the other and neither is complete without the other. This is the daily two-way traffic between the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve, a life of self-giving love.

Jim Forest’s most recent books are The Road to Emmaus: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life (Orbis) and a children’s book, Silent as a Stone: Mother Maria of Paris and the Trash Can Rescue (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press). He and Nancy have an online journal about the kidney transplant: A Tale of Two Kidneys: www.ataleof2kidneys.blogspot.com.

 

From the Winter 2008 issue of In Communion / IC 48