As I grasp this medium, you will witness all sorts of flailings and false starts. As with any new mode of communication, experimentation provides the best learning. To set the stage, it seems a short bio might be in order. This is the first of several parts. I will attempt to include a gem from the Holy Scriptures or the sacred writings of the Fathers of the Church with each post.
I am a native of New Jersey, USA. I grew up, second of seven children, in a typical post WWII suburban large family. Unfortunately, my father died young, leaving my mother with the seven of us, 1 month old up to 11 years old. That led to a state of affairs consisting of general familial chaos, out of which I survived to seek my way in life. Having been raised Roman Catholic and attending Catholic school up through the 9th grade, I was unprepared for the cultural decadence which struck in 1967: the “summer of love” in San Francisco, the full-on effect of the reforms of Vatican II desecrating the old Roman Mass (who wants to go to church anymore?), the Six-Day War in Palestine, along with all of its apocalyptic portendings, and that lining up with adolescence and coming-of-age. Yikes! I actually lived through that. To be continued…
photo break for the family: The lady next to me in the picture above, Christina–properly, Khouria (see NOTE below, on this title) Christina–is my beloved wife, with whom I have journeyed in this life for now approaching 33 years in marriage (our anniversary is on May 31st). By the way, rejoice with us: our only son, Christopher (Reader John) O’Grady, of Boise, Idaho, is engaged to be married this summer!
NOTE: “Khouria” (Arabic, with no direct equivalent in English), pronounced “hoo-REE-ah” (a heavy initial H sound), is the title appropriate for the priest’s wife. So, in Orthodox Christianity, we call the priest “father” and his wife “khouria.” In our sister churches, the Greeks call her “presvytera” [prez-vee-TEH-rah], and the Russians, “matushka” [MAH-toosh-kah].
“We do not seek conquest, but rather the return of brethren, the separation of whom is tearing us”–St Gregory of Nazianzen (4th century).
I was eight years old and it was a typical evening at home, probably a school night. As was typical in those days, the late 50s, in another cultural world now all but gone, a Catholic family would place a crucifix in each room of their house. I had one over my bed and could easily look at it to my right, as I lay in bed preparing for sleep. We were never taught to pray at home. In fact, my family was not at all religious beyond the Sunday mass attendance in common practice. In fact, I never saw my parents pray outside of Mass (the Roman Catholic nickname given to their liturgy). My father would attend the parish church for morning prayers during weekdays in Lent–as I remember in my small boy’s memory, since he would arouse me from sleep to accompany him there before going to school.
So, there I am, the 8 year old, awaiting sleep. I sensed being called. What is this? Who is in the room with me here? Who is summoning? I lay there, aware of a presence. Again, a call. The heart is a mystery; it breathes for, aspires to, and does not rest short of,the Voice. The ancient Hebrews called it the Qol Yhwh: the Voice of the LORD. When God speaks, “let all the earth keep silence before Him.” Everything in the mind and heart trembles and grows still: “the Voice of the LORD is upon the waters, the Voice of the LORD shatters cedars,… grinds the cedars of Lebanon to powder, the Voice of the Lord cuts through fiery flames; … shakes the desert of Kadesh… and in His temple, everyone says ‘Glory!’” (Ps 28). I lay there in fear and wonderment, perplexed as to how to respond. What answer can I give? What is His Name?
I rolled out of bed, dropped to my knees and took up these words, “Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou, and blessed is the Fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” Ok, so that is what the nuns who were my school teachers taught us to pray. It was awkward and I felt embarrassed. The moment passed. I lay in bed and fell asleep and did not awake again for 11 long, painful years. But I said the NAME; Jesus. She taught me to do that, “whatever He tells you, do it!” (Mary to the servants at the wedding in Cana, the first of Jesus’ miracles: John 2: 5). And that ONE who carries the Name of salvation, Jesus, would call me again, for keeps…
In the Orthodox Church, we use the angelic salutation as a way to stand with the Virgin and share in her holy moment when the uncreated Master of the Ages overshadowed her. With these words, the Angel announced the conception of God to become man. Heannounced it: Annunciation, Evangelismos, in Greek. The event and the feast is the Evangelism of God-become-man! Mary is the select vessel: pure, obedient, ready to serve God. “The angels offer a hymn; the heavens, a star; the Magi, gifts; the shepherds, their wonder; the earth, a cave; the wilderness, a manger; and we offer Thee a Virgin Mother. O Pre-eternal God, have mercy on us!” (prosomoion for Vespers, Feast of Nativity).
Yes, here I am, without the luminosity of my wife. Now you can offer a prayer for the unworthy presbyter, Patrick!
Here is my wife, without whose loving, patient, and enduring friendship, I could not become something more than I am. We endured many trials and afflictions and the Lord delivered us out of them all. Christina is the accompaniment to the song of love for God in my soul.
When I am full of myself, she gently points me out, away from myself.
When I am depressed, she brightens my eyes and delivers me from my greyness.
When I am lonely, she takes me by the hand, and we go for a walk.
When I am confused, she shows me what to focus on.
As we approach our 33rd wedding anniversary, I say to my bride: God grant you many years!
Life can be hell for teenagers. They aren’t children anymore; and neither are they adults. It is interesting that the very term, teenager, is of very late invention. Before the onset of the Industrial Age, under an agricultural or traditional economy, children “came of age.” Boys entered into their craft or estate and girls became marriageable. This coming of age was usually marked with some kind of cultural event. In fact, in Mexico, they still have the quincenero: the party for a 15-year old girl, setting her out as of marriageable age. But in our day, in our urbanized, technological, post-industrial society, the delay of marriage for the purpose of lengthened schooling is the norm.
The body wants a wife or husband long before school is out, in the early to mid 20s! And, with the state of public schooling is such disrepair, much of the discipline needed to sustain this delayed gratification has fallen down. Teens get a bum rap out of all this. When I was a high-school teacher, one student told me, “high school is a warehouse for teenagers until we (society) can figure out what to do with them.” You say that is cynical? Of course it is. But I didn’t say it; a high schooler did, to many an ”amen!”
I started high school in a fine Jesuit preparatory school, after having completed K-8 at St Cassian Elementary School, where I was schooled by Dominican nuns. Sr Mary Joseph was the principal. Few applicants were accepted at St Peter’s where I went. There was a sense of being select, special, elite. The 9th grade curriculum was 1st year Latin, Western Civilization, English, Advanced Algebra, Religion. Since the school was located in Jersey City, I had to ride a train and a bus every day, starting very early and coming home just before 5 PM. The stink of the Secaucus meadows and the air heavy with raw pollution from burning garbage piles prefaced every school day, as the train crossed the delta of the Passaic River. St Peter’s Prep was located near the west bank of the Hudson River, just a couple of blocks from the Colgate-Palmolive factory. Imagine learning the 1st conjugation to the overwhelming odor of toothpaste in the making! Laudo, laudas, laudat, laudamus, laudatis, laudant; did I brush my teeth this morning?
Life at St Peter’s was old-school jesuit discipline. The Jesuit fathers trace their roots back to the outbreak of the Lutheran revolt, in the early 16th century. There, in Germany, especially the southern portions: Bavaria, the Rhineland, these “the Pope’s shock troops” took back many areas from Luther and restored them to Rome. The Jesuits, members of “the Society of Jesus,” found their strength in intellectual achievements. They would practice the Counter-Reformation by out-smarting their Protestant rivals. We teens at St Peter’s would certainly be marked by that spirit. So, our teachers were dead set on showing us just who was in charge. There was a rule that frosh (freshmen, 9th graders) could not cross the street to the corner store during lunch or breaks. That was for upper-classmen only. A few of us put that to the test. We entered the store and purchased orange sodas. There, standing on the corner and swilling our orangeades and enjoying the sun, all seemed promising. We would finish our sodas and return to classes. All this fear-mongering by the upper-classmen was of no account. Until the black robe appeared. The father crossed the street, and without a word, seized our drinks from us and poured their contents into the sewer by the curb. We were duly detained after school for discipline. Yep, they meant what they said. Tow the line, or else. I took a late train that night…