Diaconate, Uncategorized, unscheduled hikes, York River

The Diaconate & River

The Colonial Parkway between I-64 and Yorktown has always been one of my favorite places in the state. As a kid, my family would drive from Richmond to my Uncle Bill and Aunt Edith’s house in Gloucester for weekends of crabbing, fishing, and swimming.  Brenda and I spent a day of our honeymoon with a great drive and picnic.  Even today, I can’t help but admire the York River on a rough and windy afternoon.  Looking up-river from Indian Fields Creek, I am awestruck that such a body of water comes from a couple of smaller rivers that can be wadded across at the King William and Caroline County borders.

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I hadn’t planned and plotted this time in nature. It just seemed like a good place to enjoy in route to my church, St Basil the Great Orthodox in Hampton, to practice my role as a deacon during the Divine Liturgy.  My ordination to the Holy Diaconate will be Sunday, December 9th at the Hierarchal Divine Liturgy led by Bishop Thomas of the Antiochian Archdiocese of Charleston, Oakland, and the Mid-Atlantic.

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Like a tiny spring fed stream, my start in the Orthodox faith didn’t seem like much. I had inquired about it simply to add to my prayer life and was curious about the African saints.  Like the Atlantic, I have found myself in an incredibly deep ocean of Christian love, spirituality, and wisdom.  Leaving a secure African-American pastorate of 17 years to become a layman in a predominately white congregation was more than unheard of.  Martin Luther King Jr. bemoaned the fact that 11 o’clock Sunday Morning was the most segregated hour in America.  It seems to me that Orthodox Christianity with its ancient roots and other-worldly perspective and worship is the best place for that barrier to be broken down.

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I didn’t expect my pastoral credentials would immediately transfer from the Baptist denomination. As a layman, I immersed myself in the life of my parish; a motley crew of first and second generation eastern Europeans, Ethiopians, and Catholic and Protestant converts in a jurisdiction based in Syria.  I learned Byzantine Chant, devoured the wisdom of the desert fathers, found out that incense and icons were wonderful elements of public and private worship and expressions of faith.  As well as my personal prayer rule and study, completing the St. Stephen’s Certificate course with the Antiochian House of Studies has grounded me in the doctrine and prepared me for this chapter of my life.

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The essential faith that learned in the black church remained intact as I came into Orthodoxy. Constantly crying out, “Lord, has mercy?”  That was learned in the tobacco fields and whipping post.  The joy in the midst of great sorrow experienced under the Romans and communist is the same as what we dealt with during slavery and Jim Crow.  The power of the Lord’s body and blood in the Eucharist is what I love most when I think of my grandfather, Deacon Joseph Gresham, carefully cutting the bread and filling up the glasses every first Sunday of the month.  Prayer as a necessity of Christian life and serious study of the scriptures was instilled in me by my parents, grandparents, and other elders who raised me.   It was a bit painful to leave my former congregation and church experience.  But, because of the way I was raised, I flowed right into Orthodoxy.  And now, the flow continues as I become a part of the clergy.

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So, my journey in Christ continues to flow like the river I love. I can’t stop here.  There is more to do and a greater destination to reach.

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Hiking, Newport News, Noland Trail, scheduled hikes, Teen SOYO, Uncategorized, urban hiking

Noland Trail: The Good of Urban Hiking

Some hiking enthusiast turn their noses up to city parks.  They are not in wilderness areas, or even a rural county.  Except for somewhere like Pittsburgh or San Francisco (I guess), there are no significant elevation changes.  Urban and nature are two terms that do not seem to match very well.

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To those hiking snobs out there can continue to act that way about the City of Newport News that has two very good parks with great trails.  Yesterday, I took my Teen Society Of Young Orthodox (Teen SOYO) for a day outdoors at the Mariner’s Museum Park and the Noland Trail.  Firstly, the park is tucked neatly away from the main thoroughfares of I-64, Jefferson, and Warwick Avenues.  This area of the city is fairly quiet with Christopher Newport University, Riverside Hospital, and the Virginia Living Museum not far away.  In case of foul weather, the Mariner’s Museum is a fantastic place to visit.  It was raining off and on for most of the day.  Two of boys are Boy Scouts.  There is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothing.  We had rain jackets; the hike was on.

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It was well worth the almost 5 mile loop (we took the short cut as I was a little pressed for time).  The bridges and overlooks offered serene vistas of Lake Maury.  The foliage was not in full peak.  But, evidence of the coming autumn color was all around us.  There were great blue heron active as well as Canada geese.  The Lion Bridge made for a great contrast between the quiet lake and a white-capped James River.  Naturalist that I pretend to be, I found the stand of juvenile long leaf pines to be very interesting.

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The hike was more of a bonding hike for this motley crew of teens.  Of the half that live in Chesapeake, two are priest kids who play basketball with one of the Greek Orthodox Churches in Tidewater.  Another plays saxophone in the marching band.  A pair of brothers from the peninsula include our president and Eagle Scout with his lady friend.  His brother is following his footsteps and has published a book of poetry.  I could have easily bombarded them with my outdoor educator’s volume of knowledge.  Taking and reading “Prayers by the Lake” every quarter mile would have been another option of overkill.  Instead, I let them enjoy the trail and themselves; sharing a few things about nature and prayer.

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No, the weather was not what I wanted it to be.  The last time I took a walk with someone was with Mother Katherine Weston, a Serbian Orthodox Nun from Indianapolis.  We had great weather.  But, we walked along a 4-lane road to a very small trail in from of a school in Columbia SC.  Conditions of the natural world are not always the picture perfect as a hike on the Appalachian Trail or Back Bay & False Cape.  What matters most is that you step out and, when possible, have someone to walk with.  The same can be said for prayer, in a way.  Make the step and you will always find someone walking with you.

Uncategorized

Cold Mountain: My First Backpacking Adventure

A classic story of my love for hiking

Baystride Images Journal

I had always done day trips.  I had imagined an overnight excursion somewhere like False Cape or kayaking to camp one of the barrier islands on the Eastern Shore.  But, a mountain hike and camping trip?  What the heck.  It would earn me a little “street cred” among my co-workers around the state.  The Chesapeake Bay Sierra Club had a trip to go along with a class I attended a month or two ago.  The group seemed friendly and the leaders knowledgeable.  So, everything would go like clockwork.  Right?

Anyone who knows me or read my last entry knows that nothing goes like clockwork for me.  I was lollygagging in Charlottesville waiting to buy a map from Blue Ridge Mountain Sports.  Then, I wasted more time looking for a Route 51 off of Route 60 (directions given to me by an online map and seemed to be the best way…

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Arsenius, Fr. Seraphim Rose, Hiking, monasticism, Uncategorized

Church, Home, & Trail: A Trinity

As a devout Christian, I attend worship services every Sunday and mid-week when possible.  Sadly, some believers have begun to shun church membership thinking that it is better not to be surrounded with others who may be hypocritical sinners.  Not going to church because it is full of flawed people is like not going to the gym because it has too many out of shape people.  We are all struggling with faults and failures.  A good church is a hospital for sick souls.  I know my spiritual illnesses.  So, I get my medication every week from God with my brothers and sisters who love me, and I them.

Taking spiritual medicine only at church on Sunday is no different than following doctor’s orders only in the hospital.  Real healing and growth comes from being consistent in nearness to God every day.  So, I keep a daily rule consisting of prayers, scripture, and the writings of early Christians.  I confess that I am better at keeping this in the mornings than evenings.  But, having a standard regimen is very helpful to be repentant, avoid pitfalls, and feel the love of God and others.

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I have found that spending time in nature works in concert with my time in church and home.  The building and portion of my house where I worship are all man-made.  The tiny stream and mighty river that greet me every workday morning were not made by contractors.  Even though the trails were created by hard working staff and volunteers, no one makes trees and shrubs.  The outdoors is its own cathedral.

Sometimes we Christians forget our heritage in the outdoors. But, our places away from the hassle and hustle of the cities and towns have been quite inspirational.  The prophet Elijah fled to Mount Horeb to Jezebel’s persecution (1 Kings 19:1-18).  Our Lord taught thousands of seekers in a lonely place and fed them with a few fish and loaves of bread (Mark 6:30-43).  Arsenius left the imperial comfort and status of Rome to live silently in the desert.  In our times, Seraphim Rose found it far more beneficial to live in prayer and writing in the Platina, California forest than in San Francisco.

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Do we all need to become monks and nuns?  That is the calling of only a few of us.  Do we all have to take major hikes to remote places?  Health, time, urbanization, and other issues place limits on where we can go and for how long.  But, don’t let these things be excuses to not go anywhere and do anything.  Take a pocket New Testament on a city park bench a couple of free mornings.  Use your prayer beads and ropes while walking in a suburban green space after work every now and then.  Do what is in your tradition right where you are.

Your practice of faith outdoors need not be elaborate.  The earth is God’s footstool.  Footstools are not centerpieces of our furniture.  But, they do add comfort to the weary.  And sometimes that little bit of rest they provide is what we need for healing and becoming closer to the One who gives rest.

Uncategorized

Hiking Around the “Humature”

I am no fan of heat and humidity. This is a combination that only gives misery and discomfort.  Indeed, many people who like the outdoors dread this time of year because of temperatures in the nineties with enough humidity that it really feels as if it is 100+ degrees.  I remember one weatherman called this “humature.”

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Hiking in the early morning, or very late evening are the best ways to enjoy the natural world in such conditions. A mid-day hike during a heat advisory is foolhardy, even if one takes sufficient hydration.  To avoid hiking altogether during the summer is to cheat one’s self of one of the finest phases of the year with its lush greens and fragrant scents.  As said in the old Negro spiritual, “trouble don’t last always,” neither do 90+ degree temperatures and “humatures.”  If we make our way around the heat and humidity, being outdoors in the summer is a liberating and refreshing experience.

As in the rest of the South, slavery was a cruel and harsh existence for African-Americans in southeast Virginia and northeast North Carolina. A handful of bondsmen, led by Nat Turner, took up arms in rebellion against their lot.  They failed and he was hanged.  But to remain a slave was not acceptable and death seemed preferable.  A couple of them ran away from their plantations to the inhospitable Dismal Swamp.  In the midst of the bears, mosquitoes, snakes and wetland; they found freedom.  Slave patrollers figured that any Negro that went into the swamp would die there.  But, they didn’t.  Eventually, other runaways came there.  Over time, these African-Americans created a community of Maroons that lived and thrived in spite of antebellum America giving in to neither being slaves nor rebelling with arms.

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Our Lord would rise up early in the morning and go to lonely places to pray (Mark 1:35). By doing this, Jesus could focus on His purpose and continue his work (vv. 38, 39).  He would also separate Himself from the crowds, including friends in the late evening (6:45, 46).  Afterward, Jesus did what seemed impossible and gave comfort to the fearful in their darkest hour (vv. 48-51).  Of course our Lord prayed in temples, taught with great authority, and did wonderful miracles whenever and wherever.  But, we have been given an example of when to seek God where we can be alone; mountains and lonely places in the morning and evening.

Once when the faith became legalized in the fourth century, many people became Christians with worldly and wrong motives. Churches became numerous and filled in nearly every city and town.  This bothered some of the most faithful believers.  Among them was an African named Pachomius.  He and other Desert Fathers saw that staying in the “world” was spiritual suicide.  But, to live in harsh seclusion alone, such as Anthony the Great, was not for everyone.  So, Pachomius gathered together likeminded men and developed the first Christian monasteries with a shared rule of prayer and worship.  He avoided the extremes and found how and where he and others could meet God.

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Do not let the harshness of life keep you from the freedom to unite with God. Avoid the traps on the left and right.  There is a place to meet the Lord beyond the extremes most readily seen and surrendered to in the world.  Hike in the morning, if possible, when the temperature is at its coolest point.  Go for a walk, if you can, as the sun is not beaming down on you.  Don’t give in to waiting until the fall to get outdoors.  Don’t go out during heat advisories and the middle of the day if you can help it.  If that’s the only time available, don’t move too much nor too quickly for too long.  And drink plenty of fluids.  Find your path.