Monday, December 31, 2007

A Loss, Doubled

The man pictured is my cousin, Fred, known to me in my childhood as "Little Freddie." Today I learned of his passing. He was the son of my father's sister, Anne. Anne attended Our Lady of Vilnius as a child, as did my father. Fred's father, Fred Sr., was Italian-American, very much in keeping with the locale of Our Lady of Vilnius. Their family lived on Carpenter Avenue in the Bronx. A full 11 years older than I, "Little Freddie" always seemed a grown man to me. I remember my first vacation trip to a cabin in Dutchess County, which at that time was very rural. We toasted marshmallows around an open fire and he talked about the Aurora Borealis. I felt intimidated by boys and he always treated me very kindly.

His family moved to southern Maryland when I was 7, at first a great tragedy. We visited twice a year bringing Italian cheeses, bread from Prestano's and bagels. In return we enjoyed not only the company of family but oysters fresh out of the beds, grits, crabs that we caught in the Potomac, the opportunity to play slot machines legally and the pleasure of knowing a near-human Chesapeake Bay retriever named Web.

In the past, whenever anyone of significance passed on I would request a Mass at Our Lady of Vilnius. In the case of my cousin it would have been satisfying to have the Mass said at a church with ties to our heritage, his and mine. It would also have been fitting to have the Mass said by a priest that I think Fred would have really liked.

Every time someone passes now there is a double emptiness.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Speaking of smallness and beginnings...

Since the church was locked in February, our parish has seen the arrival of 3 new parishioners who will not be baptized in Our Lady of Vilnius. The young lady at left is one of them.

Klaudija is held by her brother, Kristupas. Kristupas was baptized in Our Lady of Vilnius in March, 2004.

Smallness: A Characteristic of Beginnings

In today's "Journal News," a Gannett publication serving Westchester and region, Gary Stern turns his gaze to Metropolitan Michael, hierarch of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church in North America, South America and parts of western Europe. The article, Ukrainian Orthodox leader, based in Buchanan, tries to revive church in America, describes Metropolitan Michael's efforts to gain adherents to his church in a secular society among 3 rival orthodox churches that mirror the political upheaval of the Ukraine.

What does this have to do with Our Lady of Vilnius?

The Archdiocese of New York cited poor attendance as one of the reasons for closing our church. This article describes a liturgy held in a small chapel at Graymoor: "This past January, he began leading weekly services at a small Graymoor chapel dominated by icons and candles. On one recent Sunday, two other priests, two deacons, seven adults and five children took part. Streaks of sunlight cut through thick clouds of incense." A liturgy attended by 17 people.

Smallness is often a characteristic of beginnings, the beginnings of great and wondrous things. The archdiocese of New York decided to view Our Lady of Vilnius through a different lens and cite our size in making a case that our parish is not necessary.

Maybe the intimacy of the space and the lack of grandeur of these liturgies is can help forge a an immediate and visceral connection between today's congregants and Christ and his apostles. Maybe this physical closeness to the Mystery and each other that a small space enforces is the stuff of which vocations are made. Maybe the archdiocese should examine the counterintuitive and provide settings like this that encourage passionate devotion to God and community.

A final quote from Metropolitan Michael:

"We face a hard journey," he said. "But we proceed. It's what matters in the eyes of God."


Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas from Our Lady of Vilnius, NYC

Linksmų Kalėdų

This picture was taken last year. As I stood outside taking it, 70 people sat at table for Kucios. This year our Kucios was symbolic and took place on the front steps of the building. Our little stable, which became a shrine after the church was locked in February, was dismantled and removed anonymously one night, not by our friends.

The building itself, old and unrestored, embodies the humility of the stable where Christ was born. It was a place where Christ was born in many hearts and the value of all men as God’s beloved creations was upheld.

Please help us to regain this irreplaceable spiritual legacy with your prayers.

Saturday, December 22, 2007


The days have shortened down to the solstice and now they have begun to lengthen again. I've been quiet, and so have my fellow parishioners.

At a time when nature leads us to our beds to rest and renew, our secular culture attempts to drive us into a frenzy of activity, burning the incandescent bulb at both ends. I've resisted that call.

We appear to have been napping, and we were. We've been following nature's imperative: resting, renewing, recuperating and gathering strength. We're there, just below the surface, listening.

In a few days "people in darkness will see a great light." In our gloom and shallow dream, we are joyfully anticipating this arrival.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Back to the Future

"While the modern Catholic Church is known for being hierarchical, the first parishes in New York were founded by ordinary folks, Shelley said. A group of immigrants would form a corporation and raise enough money to buy a piece of land and build a church. Then they would ask the bishop to send them a priest.

New York City's first parish, for instance, was formed in 1785, when 22 lay people organized St. Peter's Church on Barclay Street.

Where did early congregations meet until they had churches?"

Many parishes organized in stables," Shelley said.

"Often it was a very modest beginning."...just like Christianity, eh?"

These words are from Moving "Forward," Looking Back, a recent post in Rocco Palmo's blog "Whispers in the Loggia." Mr. Palmo turns his attention to Monsignor Thomas Shelley's history of the archdiocese, "The Archdiocese of New York: The Bicentennial History, 1808-2008."

Maybe it's time for history to repeat itself.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Well Worth a Trip to Larchmont

Sunday, December 16
3:00 PM
Larchmont Avenue
Presbyterian Church
60 Forest Park Avenue
at Larchmont Avenue
Larchmont, NY

presented by
Eugene Sirotkine, Conductor

Soloists:Dina Kuznetsova
Olga Andronikova
Daniel Clark Smith
Vladimir Shvets

The paradoxical place where passage from the profane to the sacred world becomes possible

"In his book “The Sacred and the Profane” Mr. Eliade writes that our lives contain privileged areas — the scenes of first love, the first foreign city we visit when we’re young — that reveal a reality beyond our ordinary existence. And because we experience different realities, thresholds — like those found between the street and the church — are of great importance. “The threshold is the limit,” he writes, “the boundary, the frontier that distinguishes and opposes two worlds — and at the same time the paradoxical place where those worlds communicate, where passage from the profane to the sacred world becomes possible.”

Our Lady of Vilnius is one of three such "privileged areas" in my life that are still standing. I cannot express all of the reasons why this church is so precious to me, but Eliade's words, above, come close.

These words appear in a movie review. In today's New York Times Manohla Dargis presents a thoughtful analysis of Francis Ford Coppola's film "Youth without Youth." A movie that I will most certainly see.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

"that smallness that Christianity fearlessly proclaims"

"...that smallness that Christianity fearlessly proclaims, in the teeth of a world that worships only bigness, and misunderstands it at that."

"That smallness that Christianity fearlessly proclaims,"

"...that smallness that Christianity fearlessly proclaims, in the teeth of a world that worships only bigness, and misunderstands it at that."

First Sunday of Advent

"poor enough, as we well see
by where you set your sacred burden down -
no better inn for hospitality."

(Purgatorio 20.22-24)

Anthony Esolen cites this passage from Dante's Inferno and references other passages that describe a woman nursing her child or tending her home, going on to say:

"What those scenes have in common is that smallness that Christianity fearlessly proclaims, in the teeth of a world that worships only bigness, and misunderstands it at that."

- from "Dante's Divine Comedy and Christmas" by Anthony Esolen in Magnificat, December 2007, Vol. 9, No. 10