Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Angel of the Lord Sat Under the Fir [Oak] Tree, and Other Tales

I was reading Judges recently. Haven't taken a tour through that book of the Old Testament in a number of years, alas.

Coming back to the tale of Gideon, at this point in my life, I was refreshed and found the old story one of wonderment:

"And an angel of the Lord came, and sat down under the fir[*] tree, which was in Ephratha in the land of Joas, father of Esdri; and Gedeon his son was threshing wheat in a wine-press in order to escape from the face of Madiam. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, The Lord is with thee, thou mighty in strength.

And Gedeon said to him, Be gracious with me, my Lord: but if the Lord is with us, why have these evils found us? and where are all his miracles, which our fathers have related to us, saying, Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt? and now he has cast us out, and given us into the hand of Madiam. And the angel of the Lord turned to him, and said, Go in this thy strength, and thou shalt save Israel out of the hand of Madiam: behold, I have sent thee. And Gedeon said to him, Be gracious with me, my Lord: whereby shall I save Israel? behold, my thousand is weakened in Manasse, and I am the least in my father's house. And the angel of the Lord said to him, The Lord shall be with thee, and thou shalt smite Madiam as one man.

And Gedeon said to him, If now I have found mercy in thine eyes, and thou wilt do this day for me all that thou hast spoken of with me, depart not hence until I come to thee, and I will bring forth an offering and offer it before thee: and he said, I will remain until thou return.[**]

And Gedeon went in, and prepared a kid of the goats, and an ephah of fine flour unleavened: and he put the flesh in the basket, and poured the broth into the pot, and brought them forth to him under the turpentine tree[***], and drew nigh. And the angel of God said to him, Take the flesh and the unleavened cakes, and put them on that rock, and pour out the broth close by: and he did so. And the angel of the Lord stretched out the end of the rod that was in his hand, and touched the flesh and the unleavened bread; and fire came up out of the rock, and consumed the flesh and the unleavened bread, and the angel of the Lord vanished from his sight.

And Gedeon saw that he was an angel of the Lord; and Gedeon said, Ah, ah, Lord my God! for I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face. And the Lord said to him, Peace be to thee, fear not, thou shalt not die.

And Gedeon built there an altar to the Lord, and called it The Peace of the Lord, until this day, as it is still in Ephratha of the father of Esdri."

From Judges Ch. 6 - LXX as translated by Sir Lancelot C.L. Brenton

*Some trans. this as a "Terebinth," many as "Oak." The translation to "Fir" found in Sir Lancelot Brenton's LXX translation is unusual.

**The NETS translations of the LXX [variants A & B] read: [A] "And he said 'I am he; I will stay seated until you return.'" [B] "And he said, 'I am he; I will sit down until you return.'"

***"Turpentine" tree as translated here is consistent with the Terebinth trees, part of the cashew family, one of which is indigenous to the areas of Palestine, and a source of resin for turpentine.


The angel of the Lord comes and sits down under the tree. Gideon hastens out and talks to him. It is only after he makes his offering and it is consumed that he realizes fully with whom he is speaking. Nevertheless, he seems to have some inkling of this, or else to whom was he offering sacrifice? If devout, Gideon would only have made sacrifice to the Living God, the God of Jacob.

In the NETS translation the significance of the words "I am he" are telling. Brenton's parallel Greek text has the words [roughly transliterated] "Ego Eimi." In Exodus 3:14, the Lord tells Moses: Ego Eimi Ho On, which Brenton translates, not unrightly I think, "I am THE BEING." As our priest says "Christ our True God, the Existing One."

Gedeon sees the pre-incarnation manifestation of the Word, the Second Person of the Trinity, and is afraid, for no man may see the face of God and live. But the Angel of the Lord brings the words he brings to the disciples in the upper room: "Peace be to thee."

Many times during the Orthodox Christian Liturgy the presbyter or bishop, in the name of Christ, turns and stands forth and proclaims: "Peace be to thee." I have never thought of it in terms of the mortal fear of being in the presence of the living God and Gideon's story. For indeed, we stand in the throne room at that moment, and we need to hear those words, for we should be like Gideon and cry "Ah! Ah!"

Gideon's experience is very similar to Abraham's hospitality to the three men. Indeed, the interplay of conversation has many similarities.


I commend to any reader to read the more lengthy account of Esther found in the LXX, and of course, the tale of Esther is one worth reading many times.

more to follow . . .

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

More Miscellaneous Ramblings

My brother, when he graduated High School, and was bound for college in an Engineering discipline, was the proud recipient of a calculator that could add, subtract, multiple, and divide, and (I believe) do a square root function. It was a bit bigger than an iPhone and cost somewhere on the order of $50.

All of my brother's mathematics, through High School calculus, was done using slide rules.

To put that in perspective, I recall my mother and father paying something like $52 - $55 for a week's worth of groceries in the same time period.

About this time I learned about programming in BASIC on a teletype terminal to a mainframe school district computer. The terminals had that distinctive yellow paper and made a distinct chunck-chug sound.

As kids, my brother and I were quite the fans of Star Trek, and in 1977 I stood in a long line for the opening of Star Wars at a cruddy little theater than no longer exists. To say we were stunned and awestruck hardly does justice to the effect of that movie.

Some twenty five years now away from my own High School graduation, I spend a lot of time at the computer. Yesterday I dictated the text of a lengthy letter, told the computer to open Word, to copy my dictation and paste it into that program, and also verbally relayed instructions to my computer to send an e-mail.

My phone does more than Mr. Spock's tricorder and communicator in combination could every hope to do, and it has the capability to hold many, many times more albums and books than my father's LP collection and library.

One can play video games that are breathtaking for their realism and for which we would have slavered in my youth.

Yet for all of that, I find it largely restrictive, this "world wide web" of electronic capability. It is increasingly hard to be "legitimately" incommunicado, with friends, with family, or with business associates. The devices which are supposed to allow you the freedom to do your work on the move don't really accomplish the hype of a life of greater freedom - I do not look at the stars at night as often as I used to, for I always seem to be tied to the glowing screen for one reason or another. My ability to be present in the moment is robbed by the constant awareness of the communication and computing devices at my disposal, and my pocketbook is depleted by their repair, replacement, and upgrading.

I am no Luddite - Google Books has offered the opportunity to obtain old texts (in pdf form), and search them, in a way that would not have been possible. Information is far, far more available for fast research than was possible in the 1970s and early 1980s. I happen to like that.

But deep down, I might miss these new things if we were to suddenly lose them . . . but not that much; as long as I have a decent bookshelf.

So if reduced to a small library of real books, what would YOU put on it? Let us arbitrarily say 50-100 books tops.


So I'm down to the school the other day for one of my kids' music programs. Children doing their bit, proud parents taking pictures - you know the scene. It's elementary school.

But . . . the program was about "Healthy Choices" and the "6 Pillars of Character." This is part, I believe, of a statewide curriculum requirement to indoctrinate students, with the added benefit (if you do this music bit) of getting to have the children indoctrinate the parents.

Now, the 6 "Pillars" were, I suppose, something any parent could approve of: Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring, and Citizenship.

The national producers of this program describe it thus:

The nonsectarian and nonpartisan assembly programs entitled “CHOICES COUNT!”, “IT’S YOUR CHOICE!” and "START DREAMIN'!" feature an interactive educational format focusing on the nationally recognized Six Pillars Of Character. These six pillars are: Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring, and Citizenship and are presented as a counterbalance to the negative influences bombarding our children everyday such as bullying, conflict resolution, drugs, tobacco, alcohol, gang violence, and dropping out of school.

As basic ideas, not bad. However, the delivery was as muddied as anything could be. At one point, a little vignette is played out where children of different types
ask each other "why are you so small," "why do you dress like that," "why are you so pale," "why are you so brown," "why don't you go mass like us, we're Catholic" [to which the other replies "We're Jewish, we go to the Synagogue."

Then follows a brief lecture about being rude and how we should be kind and not make note of our differences in race, color, or religion - and then we are admonished as to how we should follow the Golden Rule in all things (I nearly chortled at that as this is most directly the command of a certain Jesus of Nazareth).

It included such rousing songs as "If it is to be it is up to me," where we parents were commanded to read the words as they sang in a sort of cheer/chant.

Thinking about the whole episode, I realized that what bothered me was that the ideas, not bad in themselves, were the product of convergent thinking. So that, at the margins, the values themselves may not mean the same thing depending on one's cultural and religious heritage.

For example, in being admonished that one is responsible for the consequences of one's own choices, and that therefore don't drink, smoke, do drugs, etc. A grand non-sequitur. If one is a peace loving pot smoker, he may find the consequences of supporting a certain governmental action to be more morally objectionable than sparking up a doobey. Thus, at the margin the idea of healthy choices takes a different dimension than the neighbor down the street who thinks all drink is of the devil and military action is necessary in some cases. Both sets of parents can agree on the slogans, but only because they loosely converge, not because their moral source is the same.

The reasons that certain cultural and religious viewpoints might converge on these "Pillars" suggests that, at the limits, the meaning of the same may grossly diverge, so that the Buddhist, the Hindi, the Muslim, and the Christian may see these things in a different light.

In the end, I felt like I was in some sort of State indoctrination class, devoid of any deeper content as to "why" I should be fair, trustworthy, or care. That this must come from the parent and the child's cultural and religious upbringing is obvious, but it obviously shows the lack of depth to which our public schools can reach to draw on such matters.

I get all my papers and smile at the sky, for I know that the hypnotized never lie.


[segment deleted]


I've planted broccoli, onions, lettuce and spinach in the garden. Rhubarb is coming along well, as well as grape buds, and the fruit trees. I have some red spuds to dig in, but need to get some tractor/rototiller attachment to dig the patch for my rows. I'm looking to get some 50+ lbs of spuds this year as it's my first year doing this.

I'd like to plant about 50 linear feet of grain, too, but I need a spot. Maybe next year. I'd like to mill a certain amount of my own grain.


For you readers out there that are trying to do smallholder farms - you might care to visit this guy's site:


This fellow obviously has some interesting ideas and has some useful kits.


If anyone is looking for raw fleece, I have some.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Misc. Bright Week Ramblings

We were joyed to see our newest ewe, Mariela, successfully deliver her firstborn, a healthy ram lamb, on Holy Saturday.

Sanctify unto me all the firstborn, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, [both] of man and of beast: it [is] mine. Exodus 13:2


Gardening is in order, but the rains have made it difficult to get out there and get some things in . . . Rhubarb is showing nicely, and the figs are starting to leaf.


Please offer prayers for Ochlophobic Owen's sister-in-law, Esther, who reposed this week. There are no words to comfort is such matters. We only have the silent witness of our Lord Christ, who never really seems to answer with "why" - but is there showing us that he has partaken quite fully of our sufferings, and the loss. His cousin was beheaded and he withdraws into the wilderness. He weeps at the grave of Lazarus before calling him forth. He is moved by the suffering of Martha and Mary. He commends his mother to St. John's care, seeing her grief.

There is great mystery to me in suffering and death - Jesus seems to teach us that it is in his suffering and death, this bearing of the cross, that glorification and partaking of life with him is to be found. It is a Narrow Way, to be sure.

Many will speak words of philosophy about evil and sin, using large derivatives of Greek words that I am sure have good and profound meaning. But more and more I think the mute witness of Jesus on the cross is the only answer we'll get - we must embrace and take up our cross of suffering and, through Him, be transformed.

The apostles speak of this:

2Cr 1:5 For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.

2Cr 1:6 And whether we be afflicted, [it is] for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, [it is] for your consolation and salvation.

2Cr 1:7 And our hope of you [is] stedfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so [shall ye be] also of the consolation.

Phl 3:10 That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;

Col 1:24 Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church:

Hbr 2:10 For it became him, for whom [are] all things, and by whom [are] all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.

1Pe 4:13 But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.

But to say "why" this is so, or should be so . . . I will not venture and I shall keep silent. It defies a neat "rational" explanation, and I cannot expect some equation on a chalkboard as school.

I thought about something Major Dick Winters, the CO of E Co. of "Band of Brothers" fame, said in an interview about men dying at the Battle of the Bulge - how they were happy for them because they looked so peaceful and were finally able to rest.

Och mentioned that perhaps in times past, where death was more common, the pious consolations of heaven were better balm. I suspect that the grief was the same, but nevertheless, he may have something in that we are so much now in a world where we do not see the pain and struggle of life playing out every day (conflict, starvation, struggle for shelter) (magnified in Dick Winter's case by those things present in a most horrific battle in the midst of numbingly cold winter), and thus we are immune to the pain and suffering of life, and instead wallow in our own existential ennui, afraid of life and death together but mainly just frustrated about everything and not satisfied with the blessing we have been given.

Nothing suggests this more than the odd death-defying desires of Ray Kurzweil. I stumbled across this [yet another] article about the man, and the Singularity movement, while reading these articles [(a) and (b)] about real-life Avatar dreams.

Many see the shape of the beast in RFID chips, etc. Me, I think this fairly serious desire on the part of some bright people to fashion a world where I will upload my "consciousness" to a machine is the insidious lie - you shall be like God! Live forever! Be immortal on your own terms!

I don't understand death, or even how we die yet Christ has trampled down death by death, bestowing life. Not really. How could I know, when I still haven't begun to grasp what it means to take up the Cross? I know the terrible loss of loved ones untimely. Beside the grave there is still weeping. Perhaps, in the midst of our weeping, we should walk among the graves shouting: "Christ is Risen!" What else shall we do?

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Rom. 12:15.


If I may make a couple of blog recommendations, please visit Romanos' blog and stop by Fr. Jonathan's blog.

Romanos (who graciously stops by here from time to time) has strong words for us that need to be heard. Not his words, generally, but what's given to him to say. You may be taken aback by what he says and does sometimes, but he does, I believe, to the extent God gives him grace to do it, attend to the mightier things of mercy, justice, and faithfulness, while not neglecting the tithe of dill and cumin, if you know what I mean.

He is a staunch Orthodox Christian, and defender of the Church and her faith in her Lord, but does not put his trust in princes, either. Yet his criticisms (which are rare - better to call them calls to action), are never in that political vein and weighing of the niceties of proprieties that plague a lot of us Orthodox bloggers.

I know that Romanos might be embarrassed by this post - nor would I wish this to go to his head. But if you want to read some things worth while - please drop by his site.

As for Fr. Jonathan - there are depths of clarity there and reflections of such subtlety to one, like me, who's not read Belloc or GK or any of dozens of writers and thinkers, that you can scarce take in half of what he is saying. But that half is nonetheless well worthwhile. When he speaks with authority, he does not speak on his own authority and it shows well. When he speaks plainly, it is as if a breeze blows the smoke out of a smoky room with a bad fireplace.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Great and Holy Friday Anno Dominus 2010

Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.

Today He who hung the earth upon the waters
Is hung upon a tree

He who is King of the angels
Is arrayed in a crown of thorns

He who wraps the heavens in clouds
Is wrapped in the purple of mockery

He who freed Adam in the Jordan
Receives a blow on the face

The Bridegroom of the Church
Is affixed to the cross with nails

The Son of the Virgin
Is pierced by a spear

We worship Thy passion, O Christ!

Show us also Thy glorious resurrection!

-From the Ninth Hour Service of the Royal Hours of Great and Holy Friday