A Visit to Tarpon Springs

A Visit to Tarpon Springs

June 3 – Tarpon Springs

When we are out of town and have a bit of time, we like to visit other Orthodox churches. We enjoy that experience of celebrating the Liturgy a little differently and with different people.  Over the years we’ve been to many Orthodox churches in the areas we’ve visited.  In Pinellas County Florida, where my husband’s family has a home, we usually visit St. Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Church.  But, this time we decided to travel up to Tarpon Springs and visit St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church.  St. Nicholas is central to a thriving Greek community originating  from Greek sponge divers who settled here around 1900. Today, there are four + generations of Greek families that live and work at the eateries, sponge docks, and shops in this bustling central Florida town.

Now, saying that you are going to visit a church 45 minutes away while on holiday and actually doing it are two different things!   In vacation mode now, I was dreaming of a stiff caffeinated beverage at 7:45 am when my husband said, “We’ll be taking the Eucharist up there.”

Regrettably, I walked over and unplugged the full, steaming pot of coffee my mother-in-love had just brewed.

“I didn’t realize ya’ll weren’t having coffee this morning,” she said.

“Well, we can save this for tomorrow and turn it into a big jug of iced Jo, ” I offered, mustering up some energy and a smile.

By the grace of God, we managed to get everyone, even the surly 18 year old, into the car and we were off, husband at the helm.   A fairly quick drive up the retail corridor of US 19 brought us to downtown Tarpon Springs.  Then we turned the corner and there she was, a beautiful, ochre brick building accented with white marble, and a statue of a Theophany diver near the front.  We really didn’t dally outside as it was already 9:05, and like any good Orthodox Christian, we were running a little late!

Inside the small narthex, families were lighting prayer candles and reverencing the icons.  There was a buzz about this area with many parishioners entering to worship.   As we stepped inside the sanctuary, we were in awe at the beauty of the marble, icons, columns, and generally the vast size of the church.  Women were dressed handsomely and men wore jackets. Settling into our pew, we began to hear chanting that was so beautiful and even though I didn’t understand about 65% of it, it resonated peace and strength and Christ.

The readings were said in both Greek and English as was the homily, which encouraged us to become more saint-like through our participation in the fast.

Apart from the Czechoslovakian chandeliers and the Hagia Sophia inspired dome, the one distinctive thing I noticed was the sheer number of worshipers.  We walked into the sanctuary at 9:10 and it was about 1 / 3 full.  By 9:20 it was 1/2 full and by 9:35 it was at capacity.  At 9:50, the aisles were crowded with parishioners standing, leaning on columns, clutching service books or bowed in prayer.  This is a church that is bursting at the seams, its congregants seemingly alive with a fervor for God.

After communion, we witnessed a memorial service and a recognition of recent graduates and then it was off to a much needed coffee hour.  Thankfully, I slipped out to the St. Nicholas bookstore and met Bill, my new bookstore mentor.  He readily shared his wealth of publication and vendor information with this bookstore newbie.  Then, he sent me out the door laden with a box of goodies and pointed me toward the sponge docks and the Greek eateries.

The streets down at the docks are vibrant with people, shops, food, boats for hire, and entertainment.  We chose Dimitri’s Restaurant, right on the water, where we were greeted by a painting depicting that scene which occurs here every Theophany, January 6, also known as the blessing of the waters.  Here, in the springs, the bishop tosses the holy cross into the wintry waters and a swarm of young men dive down to retrieve it.  As tradition has it, the one who surfaces first with the cross in hand, will have a year of blessings.

An afternoon in Tarpon Springs wouldn’t be complete without a quick visit to the shops and a look at the sponges and the boats.  There were a thousand wonderful photographic moments in this town, but a rain storm popped up and sent us running back to the truck.  Still, this was a Sabbath made memorable by the warmth of our Greek brothers and sisters in the faith.  The delicious food was a bonus as was the salt air and that feeling of being in a coastal village somewhere near Cyprus.  I hope we can do it again next year.

Tuesday Slice of Life Story Challenge

 

 

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Boyhood

Boyhood

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When you think about it, boyhood is fairly short.  There’s little kid-hood, that time when you are out of diapers and you can feed yourself, but you’re pretty reliant upon your parents.  Then, there’s boyhood, those years when you are mostly independent, but not yet bogged down with academic and social pressures.  It’s a time to create, dream, talk a big game, emulate, and be.  We’ve had three boys accomplish boyhood here.  Now, we are onto the fourth!  This is a powerful, exciting, wonderful time in a kid’s life!  As the observer – mom, I am enjoying all that evolves from these boyhood days.

With this boy, there’s scootering (verb-noun) which involves hours a day grinding a bar and jumping curbs. And, there’s coolness. “Wait Mom!  I have to fix my hair,” is called out each time I try to leave the house. Or, “Where’s my black jeans?” he asks.  “Oh! The same ones you’ve been wearing for 4 straight days?” I retort, knowing he wouldn’t be caught dead in any other pair. So, we wash a lot.

Recently, I was able to spend a day with three boys that are all as I have described above. The day began as an adventure to find an old abandoned warehouse for shredding.  We found the warehouse and an underground pipe… all great photo locations.

There’s nothing like shredding on a bright early spring day, especially at a deserted warehouse with graffiti and weeds and railroad tracks.  An old plywood scrap was found for a ramp and the shredding began.  Graffiti words sprayed on a garage door provided a nice backdrop for a recount of the day’s activities and a moment’s rest.  The tube was a bonus and gave mom a chance to test out the new light sponge lens.  It worked.  These tube photos were taken in pitch black with the only light coming from the sunshine pushing through on either end.

These are lovely times and I’m savoring.  These boys are all growing up and I’m observing and admiring, along for the ride.  It’s really quite a good situation.

 

Loaves and Backpacks

Loaves and Backpacks

Part 5 in an occasional series about keeping our young people in the church

One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the LORD,  and He will repay him for his good deed.     –Proverbs 19:17

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My Kids Aren’t Perfect and I’m Okay With That

My Kids Aren’t Perfect and I’m Okay With That

Recently, I had a mom email to say, “My son will not be re-enrolling in your course next year. Thank you very much.”  Now, this was a terse and shocking email to receive from a parent that I had just spoken with a couple of days before.  This mom couldn’t say enough nice things about the writing her child was doing in my class.   After investigating, I discovered that during a peer review session the son had received both positive and negative comments about his fiction writing.

“My child was just so discouraged by the comments he received,” she explained. “I hope you will understand that he cannot continue in your class.”

I did not understand and this was not consistent with what I saw in the classroom that day.  I poured carefully through all the comment papers, looking specifically at the ones directed to this student.  I was expecting to find hate speech toward this child’s work.  Instead, the comments he received looked something like, “you might try adding a comma in the 3rd line” or “this is really good, but could be better with more descriptive adjectives.”

So, here we go…a discrepancy between what actually happened and what the parent perceived as a threat to her child’s ability.  This was a parent that wanted to protect her child from the pain of  negative criticism.  To me, this situation is demonstrative of a larger problem I see happening in our culture: People have it all figured out.  They’ve got paper writing, parenting, relationships, God, their life…. all figured out.  They don’t need any help.  “I’m good,” they will say.  Or, “My child is a fine writer or test taker or history student.”  Suggesting otherwise is an insult to the parent and the family.   “What do you mean my child made a 67 on her paper?  She followed every check point on the rubric.”  My response:  “If you would have looked at your child’s paper, you would have seen 5 misspelled words, 3 grammatical errors, 4 punctuation errors, two formatting errors and one content error.  This child has room for growth!”

What happened to the idea of everyone having “room for improvement”?  Or, what about the idea that mistakes are “opportunities to learn”?  As I was telling my youngest this week, “Did you think  you could just roll out of the crib and write an algebraic expression without any consultation?”  As humanity, most of us were not born with talent chips in our heads.  We must struggle and practice and perfect, even if imperfectly.   How can we grow if we are not willing to admit that we need help?   How can we become more like Christ if we have no hardships to test our character?

The first step, it would seem, is to admit that we don’t have it all figured out.

I struggle with how to gently combat these attitudes around me.  I’ve been reading about growth mindset and how it affects our approach to learning and receiving criticism from others.  The idea of a growth mindset was developed by Carol Dweck, a psychologist and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Dweck has been researching the concepts of  fixed vs. growth mindset.  In a fixed mindset, people believe their talents or intelligence is a fixed trait and that talent alone creates success, without effort.   In contrast, “in a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work — brains and talent are just the starting point.” (edglossary.org)  The outcome of a growth mindset is a love of learning and a resilience, to accept and use constructive criticism.

As a parent, I must resist the urge to butt in, “My kid needs to make an A on this assignment.”  Rather, I need to promote the notion that “You need to know this material,” and “it will help you to learn this concept.”  Making an A on an assignment is vastly different today than knowing the material.  Really knowing something, internalizing a concept means that you’ve spent time with it; you’ve chewed on it, like the end of a pencil and made it yours.  That kind of knowledge comes with risk taking and set backs.

As a teacher, I must find a way to show students that criticism is just the beginning.  Criticism and feedback force us to grapple with our choices.  Knowing that our work will be challenged, forces us to examine our choices along the way.

When I was in college, I gathered up enough courage to show a piece of writing to one of my professors.  “What do you think about this poem,” I asked?

“It isn’t very good,” he said.

A lump formed in my throat. This was not easy news to hear and at that point, I had to make a decision:  Am I going to throw my hands up in the air and say, “That’s it!  I’m a writing idiot. I quit.” Or am I going to use this as a motivation to work harder?  Thankfully, I chose the latter.  I’m telling my kids the same thing:   Be thankful when you get negative feedback.  Mistakes are opportunities to learn. Take the opportunity and grow with it.

Romans 5: 3 – 4

And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope;

 

 

 

 

 

Slice of Life: Day 26

Slice of Life: Day 26

An Apology

 

Forgive me…

I left the dishes in the sink,

the laundry on the floor,

and a pile of bills at the door.

 

There’s an iron ready to press your shirt,

Nerf bullets strewn about the stoop,

the chickens have escaped the coop.

 

But, the sound of an approaching rain

brought slumber to my brain.

My head against the pillow,

the patterned drops at my window —

I’ve been dreaming of fields and windy willow.

 

That nap was the one

accomplishment of my day;

do pardon the domestic fray.

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Slice of Life: Day 25

A Double Feast Day!

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A feast day is a day on the church calendar that celebrates a major event in the life of Christ or celebrates a major saint in the church.  Today was a double feast day!  It was the feast of Annunciation, the day that the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive a son.  And, it was also the feast of St. Mary of Egypt, a 5th century saint that repented from a life of great sin.  Both of these feasts came together today for a meaningful festival to brighten our Lenten fasting and to remind us that Pascha is just two weeks away.

Annunciation is that special day on March 25, exactly 9 months before Jesus’s birth, that the archangel Gabriel told Mary she would bear a child.  Some churches call this the Feast of the Incarnation.  On this day the fast is mitigated and everyone celebrates with fish and wine.

Lentils and dried dates were also eaten today to commemorate the food that was brought to St. Mary of Egypt by Saint Zosimas.  Zosimas was a priest – monk who lived in a monastery near the Jordan River.  It was the custom of his monastery to spend the entire 40 days of Great Lent in the desert fasting.  While Zosimas was in the desert, he found St. Mary, who told him her life story and asked that he return the following year on Holy Thursday.   When he returned, he brought with him the lentils and dates.

 

Many Orthodox churches read the miraculous story of Saint Mary of Egypt on this day during their services. After the dried fruits are blessed, the congregation eats them in remembrance and celebration.   The celebration of these traditions remind us that many Christians have come before us.  We have many role models in the church to encourage us in our journey.  I always love seeing our young people participating in the services.  They are participating in a tradition that has been celebrated every single year, in multiple countries for more than 1400 years.

 

 

 

 

 

Slice of Life: Day 18

Slice of Life: Day 18

 

Radiant, joyful, beautiful!  One’s baptism day is very special indeed!   Today, we had a  baby’s baptism during our morning service which has me thinking about this very important sacrament. According to the Orthodox faith, baptism marks the entry of a person into the church and begins their walk toward salvation in Christ.  Traditionally, in the earliest days, a child was baptized on or near the 40th day.

Here are a few general observations about baptisms in our church…

First of all, the waters must be prepared.  Babies do not appreciate being cold so making sure the baptismal waters are comfortable is of vital importance.  Currently, we have a rather large metal tub that we use for the ceremony.  However, I’ve seen baptisms take place in copper, concrete and plastic vessels.

As the service begins, the godparents hold the child and prayers are read to renounce the devil.  This may sound odd, but it is a good thing!  The godparents renounce Satan and literally spit at him while they stand in the narthex.  Then, the Creed is read three times.

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Now, after this part of the service, the godparents bring the child to the baptismal waters.  All gathered witness the prayers of the priest asking for the cleansing and blessing of these holy waters.  Children and adults gather closely to observe.  Grandparents and cousins are often in the congregation as well. Sometimes the baby is quite content with all the attention.  Other times, not so much.

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Once the waters are blessed, the child goes in with great joy and excitement from all the people present.  Each priest has a different technique in holding the baby and placing him or her gently into the water. One priest may set the child into the water, another may glide the child under.  All very young babies are baptized in the buff!  Older children and adults wear suitable clothing.  Once the baptism takes place, the choir sings and more prayers are read and all are glad at the entrance of a new soul into the church.

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Traditionally, the newly baptized will wear a white robe symbolic of a soul, pure and clean.  Baptisms are glorious events to witness because they renew in each parishioner his or her commitment to serve and follow Christ.  If you ever have an opportunity to witness an Orthodox baptism, you will not regret the experience.

Children love baptisms

Orthodox practice invites children and all parishioners to get close and participate.