Tuesday, April 28, 2009

If Jesus Drove a Car

No, it's not "What would Jesus drive?"....Would He put this license plate on it?

It's true. The State of Florida plans on offering this plate to consumers. The letters are where the numbers go. Jesus is backed by the sun, and instead of INRI, "FLORIDA" is above His head. At least they had the dignity to not rename the state "SON-shine State". There is no word if they are planning on offering Thor, Pan, Buddah, Mohammed (oops, can't do that, they're iconoclasts), or "the homeless guy on the corner of Main and Stapley that thinks he's God" license plates.

Of course this IS a free country and Christians who wish to express their faith (or non-Christians who wish to buy them as a campy kitzch piece to make fun of Christians) can decide to buy them or not. In that sense the State is not promoting religion, just profiteering on its fringe adherents. But...is this any more or less offensive than Jesus bumper stickers, license plate frames, hanging a rosary or prayer rope on your rear view mirror, using an icon key chain, wearing a cross or "faith based" T-shirt? In that sense will the license plates make Christianity any more offensive than it really is, or will it just further affirm what non-Christians already think, that Christians are just plain weird. And is there a difference?

St. John Climacus Diagram

This is funny but actually a great diagram of the Father's teachings on the inter-relatedness of sins. (It makes the rounds on the net now and then, it is from HERE) Of course, I wish I'd thought of this, but I wasn't good at math.

HT/Fr. Sean for reminding me of this

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Whole Story of St. John's Church in One Place

Here is the (short) story of the history of and building of the temple for St. John the Evangelist Mission in Tempe.

We began the Mission four years ago in Bill and Cathy Gould's living room with 4 families. After a few weeks, we moved from there to a chapel at a mortuary rent free for about 6 months. Management changed and told us we couldn't meet there any more. We moved back into the Gould's living room again.

We found a house in a residential area and after a year the neighbors complained, so the City Planning and Zoning people went after the owner and we got evicted. We spent the next two years in a delapidated strip mall behind two bars and a Chinese restaurant and next door to a ballet school. The walls were thin and we spent most Vespers and evening services chanting to a tinkling piano and the thumping of heavy footed ballerinas. We were constantly looking for affordable space zoned for "assembly". At every turn the city nixed occupancy due to some city code. And we couldn't afford enough space to grow into.

Our priest, Fr. Damian, had an opportunity to meet with the Mayor of Tempe and had a frank discussion about how hard his staff was making it for us to establish an Orthodox Church in his city (one of the largest in the U.S. without an Orthodox Church.) A month later the head of planning and zoning called and referred us to the owner of a manufactured home display. It has four houses, a park-like setting on two acres. The owner was looking for a tenant to rent the land to cover his taxes. He said we could do anything we wanted to the buildings because he was planning on bulldozing them down in the future anyway if he ever developed the land for offices (not likely in the near future since the economy tanked). The City Planning and Zoning department were given a directive to work with us, and they bent over backwards to get us into the property and obtain permits for building etc.

When we looked at the property it was a scary prospect and a stretch for our small group. Our Bishop said, "Step out on faith, but don't walk off the edge of a cliff..." It was all a risk, the cost was counted and we decided to step into the arena. The worst case scenario was we lose all of our savings and move back into a store front again. As we moved forward there was a blessing at every turn. Even things that went wrong ended up being "right" and working out better in the end than we could have imagined.

One of the buildings on the property was an unfinished two story mountain chalet. We met in the living room of the front office building while we set out to transform the chalet into an Orthodox temple. Our goal was to be in by Pascha. We obtained our permit on Feb. 3, 2009. We moved in on Lazarus Saturday, 58 days later.

This is the chronological blog and photo record of the building of the Church and the stories of the donations, help, and miracles that made it happen.

(Additional pictures of our Mission and its history can be seen at our Mission's website's galleries HERE)

The Permit Demolition and Framing
Starting the Dome Framing the Ceiling
Dome Update
Beginning Sheetrocking
Dome Plastering
Drywall Rookies to the Rescue
Detail Work Framing the Arches
Looking Like a Church Removing the Loft
Drywall Finishing
Painting the Ceilings
Necessities and Frills Handicap Access and Gingerbread
We're IN! Inspections Passed
Finishing Touches, the Race to Holy Week
Move In Day, Finishing the Iconostasis on Lazarus Saturday
First Divine Liturgy
Videos of Our First Services
Holy Week and Finishing Construction Details
Palm Sunday and Bridegroom Matins Video
Our First Holy Week
First Pascha and Traditional Potluck Feast
Agape Vespers and Barbeque

Glory to God for Fr. Damian and the parishoners and catechumens of St. John who worked, donated and prayed for the past three months (and past four years!), Pastor Gary and the men of the Tempe Christian Resource Center, Dale Martin's Air Conditioning company, Matthew and his technical high school's electrician's class, the electrical supply house, the plumbing supply house, the concrete company, Atko Drywall Supply, the insulationand door companies and so many others who donated or sold us materials for pennies on the dollar, and to Eleni's parents in Chicago who donated the chandelier... anyway, you get the idea.

May the future generations know we did this in faith for them.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Agape Vespers BBQ

As much as I love Lent and Holy Week, I'm glad it only comes around once a year. We finished our feast at 5:00am and gather again at 1:00 for Agape Vespers and our Paschal Picnic. Most of us got up early to make lasagne, stews, etc. for the picnic. Melania waits for Vespers to begin. I feel your pain...
But the kiddos are ready to go again.
After Vespers we fire up the grill. The "Meat Kings" go into overdrive. Fr. Damian brought his grill. He and "Slim" from the Shelter do the whole burnt offerings.

30 pounds of tri-tip roast about medium rare. They grill whatever else people brought. I told Slim this is about the most beautiful thing I've seen in 54 days...
Pastor Gary brought his men from the Shelter over for Agape Vespers and we all set up tents and we shared our feast with them. Some local homeless people wandered in off the street into the party and we fed them too. A couple of them played volleyball and hung around and helped clean up. One of the homeless women said, "Gee, I haven't played volleyball since I was in prison, that was fun!"
The white haired guy in the middle is Pastor Gary with some of his men.
At 6:00 the grill is gone, tables are being taken down and the kitchen if being mopped.
It was a good day, a fitting end to our Lenten building project and reaching the goal of holding Holy Week in the new Temple. Thanks for following our building and first services. I'm taking a break (until our Bright Week services...).

Pascha 2009

Miscellaneous pictures from Pascha.
Come recieve the light!
The light of Christ illumines all.
The Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom. After spending probably the worst Lent I've ever had, yeah, that's how I felt too...

Gratitude for all God has done these past couple months among us.
At 3:00am we begin the feast. Nothing green on THIS table (except the plant...no danger of being saladized here tonight!)

The gazebo picnic area. Our property fronts a major city street. I wonder what people thought driving by at 4AM seeing us all lit up (some of us in more ways than one...) and having a picnic on the grounds.

I arrived home at a little after 5:00am. And I wasn't the last to leave.

Holy Week

These are more miscellaneous pictures of our first Holy Week in our new building. This is the Epitaphion decorated on Holy Friday.
The vigil, reading of the Psalter Friday night until Saturday morning at the tomb.

Holy Saturday baptisms in the gazebo.
Our seven "about to be newly illumined"...
O Happy Day...
The newly baptized.

My new godson, Joseph (the Betrothed) and his wife, two children (James hiding behind mom is the one who wasn't enjoying the Bridegroom hymns in the video), and Joseph's Mom who came for his baptism....awaiting chrismation on the "Group W" bench. (If you get that, you're old.)
The reading of the Gospel on Holy Saturday morning (if you peek between the icons you can see we got our IKEA wardrobe cabinets built and installed during Holy Week. No more open shelves and hanging vestments in the altar area.)
Sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


"Neither will I give Thee a kiss as did Judas", we promise every week. And yet...
LISTEN HERE. Blessed Holy Week and Kalo Pascha to all.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Total Guy Thing

These guys have a "dream job"... unlimited resources to do junior high guy stuff. I confess I dig it. (The high speed slow motion at the end is just plain cool.)

H/T to Abe

Monday, April 13, 2009

Bridegroom Matins

We begin our first Holy Week services in the new Church...and little James is not all too happy about it. The acoustics are amazing.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

More Details and Holy Week Services

We are still finishing details on the temple and embarking on Holy Week services at the same time. This is my beautiful wife and my director in matters "choir". While I build stuff, she creates the beauty of the service's hymnography. She spends hours marking the texts of the services so the choir can chant them in unison.

This is Matushka Joanna and Mary decorating for Palm Sunday.

And Alexi and Timothy trying to figure out IKEA cabinets for the altar/sacristy. We bought a closet and cabinet set up to hide all the vestments and sacristy items from view. We sacrificed a sacristy closet to change the Church design to what you see now.

When we built the dome we didn't have anything to put in it. One of our members' parents in Chicago donated an antique brass chandelier. When they got an estimate to ship it, the cost was nearly 800.00. We had to decline because of the expense. One of our inquirers works as a flight attendant for an airline and got assigned a flight to Chicago on Friday. The donors dismantled and packed the chandelier and met her at the airport. She checked it as luggage and brought it back to us on Saturday morning. Seraphim takes on installing our donated chandelier. He is centering the chains that will hold the 80 pound chandelier in the dome.

He finishes reassembling and hanging the chandelier.

And we test it... Let there be light!

This is our first Holy Week service in our new building. It was our hope to be in by this time and we made it, though there are still details to complete.

On a side note... Last Saturday was my family's 10th anniversay of being recieved into the Church. When we were recieved we had begun a Mission in Tempe with four other famiies under the Antiochian Archdiocese's Department of Missions. That Mission ended up farther east due to circumstances beyond our control. After a couple of years of discussions, four years ago we decided to help the OCA start a Mission in Tempe. On the 10th anniversary of our reception into the Church, we moved into this temple in Tempe. This is our first Bridegroom Matins.

This is me (Subdeacon Steven Paul) and Reader Bill Basil (my co-host on Our Life in Christ) at the kliros at Bridegroom Matins.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Stand By Me

...like you've never heard or seen before, performed by street musicians. Simply beautiful.
(Thanks, Mitch.)

Stand By Me from David Johnson on Vimeo.

Monday, April 06, 2009

My Dream Library

Click HERE and let it load. Then just move your mouse around.
How cool is this???

Videos of St. John's First Services

This is Saturday evening. We had just completed the iconostasis and a dozen people had been working all day cleaning, moving everything from the old space to here and setting everything up. At Vespers we still had hours of work left, so Fr. Damian told a skeleton crew choir to do reader's vespers while we kept working. The last people left at 10:30 pm. and returned early in the morning to get everything functional.

The Great Doxology and beginning of our first Divine Liturgy (and a video tour of the Church). We still have to put all the icons on the walls and a few more details, but this is basically it.

At our announcements, we gave tribute to Xavier my helper for his work on the Church. We invited him to Church this morning and this is his first time to join us for worship. He has worked on the Church with me every minute I've been there. He knew it was not "paying work" but has never acted like he was put out, doing anything grudgingly nor asked for a penny (although I've been able to give him a few dollars here and there as I've been able to afford to.) He is very proud of what we've done for God. He is a good man. He stayed for coffee hour and before he left he said to me, "I like how you "convivo" (live together), I think I'll come here on Sundays." Glory to God.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Abandoned by God

You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths.
O Lord, why dost Thou cast off my soul?
Why dost Thou hide Thy face from me?
I have suffered Thy terrors and I am in despair.
Psalm 88 of Matins

Why? Listen here

First Divine Liturgy

We finished hanging the icons on the iconostasis last night. These are the temporary icons on our "temporary iconostasis" made out of used doors, some pine boards and a few dollars worth of moldings. This is our Mission's patron, Saint John the Evangelist and Theologian.
We had a lot of visitors today even though we didn't announce our "grand opening". There were 60 people in the building and room for twice that, easily. This is Fr. Damian's first homily.

This is the choir's side of the nave.
This is a close up of the Theotokos icon after the lampada and festal icons were hung.
I'm uploading videos of vespers and the beginning of the Liturgy. They will be posted soon.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Move in Day

After a couple days of interior finishing and construction there is tons of dust to be removed before everything is moved in.
While the cleaning is going on, I finish the "gingerbread" on the iconstasis... and of course create more dust.
The choir gets moved.
The Reader's stand (kliros) gets set up.
All of the icons are brought over.
The iconostasis gets painted.
I get a helper who is a real painter... Yay!
A short break before vespers begins.
We start on hanging the icons, but the altar area is still in process and there are hours of work left to do, so the choir does a "reader's vespers" while the workers continue to work in silence.
Several people are working on setting up the altar area and cleaning the outside of the building where all the tools, saws, painting equipment and debris is still strewn about. All the tools have to be put away, the trash hauled and the debris picked up. A couple of us finished putting up the Festal Icons on the iconostasis. Not bad for a bunch of used doors and moldings that came up to less than 200.00.
I left after 9 pm. Father Damian was still there with several people finishing putting up the curtains for the Deacon's doors and altar and a few loose ends. Stay tuned for a video of our Reader's Vespers and a video tour of the building.

Tomorrow we have our first Divine Liturgy in our new Temple.

Glory to God.