Here love truly does not seek its own, even if this be the salvation of one’s own soul.
Saint Marie Skobtsova of Paris

«— Karl’s Interview, Part II: Authority, Uniformity, Unity, and Communion
—» Icon Screen: Full or Not-so-much?

Karl’s Interview, Part III: H2B a Hacker

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3) How did you get involved with computers and web design?
My father purchased our first computer when I was 10. It was a Kaypro 4, and it ran CP/M. It came bundled with Microsoft Basic, and it included a Star Trek Basic game. I was doing fairly poorly at it: I always ran out of points. Then, I was looking at the Basic source code, and I recognized the initial number of points. It was 150 or something. I changed it to 999 everywhere I found it. After that, I was no longer Capt. Kirk — I was Q. No Klingon stood a chance against me.

This was my first experience hacking.

Eventually, the Kaypro was replaced with a Mac SE. This was the computer that I took to college. Although the Mac was cool — there is, of course, no cooler machine than a Mac — Macs of the time were notoriously difficult to hack. I missed out on a lot of BBS action because I could never find the Mac BBSes.

In high school, I took courses in Basic and Pascal, which have given me a better understanding, but I’m no programmer. I’m still mostly a hacker.

Towards the end of college, I ditched the Mac and inherited my dad’s MS/DOS-Windows 3.1 machine. Shortly thereafter, I upgraded to a 586-Windows 95 machine, and I got an internet dial-up account. At about the same time, I was taking a graphic design course and started playing around with designing web pages. Luckily, Tim saved me from creating a great many stupid web designs.

Since then, I’ve focused on web technologies, as most hackers have. That is what got me started using Linux — which is, ironically what brought me back around to the Mac. Apple rocks. I’ve also gotten thoroughly familiar with HTML and XHTML, CSS, and fairly proficient in reading and hacking — though not much with actually creating — JavaScript code.

Sorry, James. You can start reading again now. 😀

Future questions to be answered:
4) Do you think that God is calling you to the priesthood? Tonsured monastic life?
5) You attend a small Orthodox parish. What are some of the strengths and weaknesses of your parish?

Official Rules

  1. If you want to participate, leave a comment below saying “interview me.”
  2. I will respond by asking you five questions–each person’s will be different.
  3. You will update your journal/blog with the answers to the questions.
  4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview others in the same post.
  5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.
  6. I will answer reasonable follow up questions if you leave a comment.
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Filed under: — Basil @ 10:50 pm

«— More Dazzling in Lexington
—» Karl’s Interview, Part III: H2B a Hacker

Karl’s Interview, Part II: Authority, Uniformity, Unity, and Communion

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2) As a teen you were involved with, as you put it, “the popular format of Pentecostal, charismatic, and ‘non-denominational’ churches” but later realized that they were unable to create authentic unity amongst members. As a former Episcopalian, and Roman Catholic, how has your understanding of the importance of unity changed since becoming Orthodox?
Well, most importantly, church authority — especially accountability, having a “covering” — has always been important to me. Pure congregationalism scared the tar out of me even as a teen-ager. I was always very keen to find out who was in authority over my pastors. This was not to exercise some kind of control: I never even dreamed of pulling political strings in any way. I simply needed to know that if something goes wrong, there is someone who will make sure that we as sheep are not abused and led astray.

In my pilgrimage through Canterbury and Rome to Constantinople and Moscow, the necessity of being under authority has become even more precious. The covering that I sought is not only provided for me and my priest by a bishop, but for our bishop by his brothers in the synod of bishops, who in turn are covered by submitting themselves to the teaching that has been passed on to them from preceding generations. Thus, both the external form of the apostolic succession, and the internal charism of apostolicity, guarantee that the Church is submitted in all things to Jesus Christ, her Lord — the ultimate authority in all matters concerning his body, the Church.

But I also realized that something was missing precisely because of the need for ritual that has been discussed recently in two posts over at Juliana’s blog, Morning Coffee. Not that I realized it before being immersed in it, but anyone can tell you that beauty — in word, image, sacred music, and many other kinds of ritual action — is deeply important to me. A search of my blog for beauty will reveal how important it is.

Liturgical prayer as I first experienced it in the Roman Catholic Church was like a burst of fresh air. I think perhaps the most vivid memory I have is of a pizza party for the staff of a TEC retreat (see my bio for background information). Fr. Ignatius said, “Let’s bless the food.” Like a good Protestant, I bowed my head and expected Fr. Ignatius to go off extemporaneously at this point. Instead, everyone in the room started praying together, “Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts, which we are about to receive from thy bounty, through Christ, our Lord, amen.” Everyone said the same prayer, together! This fell outside the pale shadow of common prayer that I had known in the Methodist Church. For all the shock and awe it engendered in me, the room might as well have shook with thunderous prayer. Yet, it was not loud; it was just a room full of people — maybe 20-30 — saying their grace before a meal. It was the spiritual power of that unity that had me thunderstruck.

Later, I learned of the Rosary and other formal prayers and how they are prayed in common. This gave me a vision of unity that was rooted in a typically Western identification of unity with uniformity. As I progressed through the Episcopal Church, USA, and the Roman Catholic Church, I never lost my yearning for that unity via uniformity. It was only as I became Orthodox, faced with the nearly untenable situation in America of as many translations of the Church’s common prayer as there are jurisdictions, that I realized that unity — that is, communion of persons and churches — is something very different from the superficial uniformity of the West.

In the Episcopal Church, I could kneel for holy communion next to someone, who has recited with me the words of the General Confession, “Most merciful God,we confess that we have sinned against you / in thought, word, and deed, / by what we have done, / and by what we have left undone,” yet lives in unrepentant sin, and I was supposed to accept this diversity as a wonderful, beautiful thing. In fact, the diversity within unity of the Episcopal Church is often extolled as their greatest virtue.

In reflecting on these two situations, I have realized that true unity — communion — is something far different that the superficial uniformity imposed from without by any kind of ultramontanist hierarchy. I still believe that having common prayers can be a very powerful thing, and I pray for it everyday, “for the union of the Churches,” etc. Yet, real communion is much sweeter than a superficial similarity that wanes immediately as we leave the doors of the Church.

And, in the end, it is a severe mercy to the unrepentant sinners.

Future questions to be answered:
3) How did you get involved with computers and web design?
4) Do you think that God is calling you to the priesthood? Tonsured monastic life?
5) You attend a small Orthodox parish. What are some of the strengths and weaknesses of your parish?

Official Rules

  1. If you want to participate, leave a comment below saying “interview me.”
  2. I will respond by asking you five questions–each person’s will be different.
  3. You will update your journal/blog with the answers to the questions.
  4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview others in the same post.
  5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.
  6. I will answer reasonable follow up questions if you leave a comment.
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Filed under: — Basil @ 12:07 am

«— Karl’s Interview, Part I: Choosing a Patron
—» Karl’s Interview, Part II: Authority, Uniformity, Unity, and Communion

More Dazzling in Lexington

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Here’s an update on a past post about a non-canonical parish in Lexington: Priest gets new start in new parish.

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Filed under: — Basil @ 2:33 pm

«— ESOB Now!
—» More Dazzling in Lexington

Karl’s Interview, Part I: Choosing a Patron

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I thought, being an egotistical maniac who likes to hear himself talk, that I’d ask Karl to interview me, too. Actually, I think this is a really great way to get ideas for blog posts. Because most of these questions are looking to be fairly long on answer, I’m going to “think outside of the box” and post each answer separately. Besides, it may be weeks before these things get answered otherwise.

1) Why did you pick St. Basil as your patron saint?
Well, I talk about this elsewhere on my site, but I realized that the full story of being given St. Basil as a patron was not revealed there.

=deep breath= =pause= =Cheshire cat grin= 😀

As you may know, the Evangelical Orthodox Church grew out of evangelicals trying to patch together a truly catholic, orthodox, and apostolic Church. The historical realities of this means that, before submitting ourselves to the Orthodox Church, there were lingering traces of practices that make Orthodox sort of screw up their faces and say, “No, no, no. It just is not done that way.” It reminds me very much of the story of St. Athanasius pretending to be bishop and baptize his friends. Except that, with Athanasius, the real bishop said, “That is, indeed, how it is done, and I see no reason not to accept these baptisms as valid.”

It was common in the EOC for the community to pray extemporaneously over the newly-illumined after they had been baptized and/or chrismated. These prayers ex tempore sometimes included what charismatics would recognize as “prophetic utterances,” in which a new name was given — without warning, mind you — to the newly-illumined. I laugh to think of it now.

Understand that this comes from the belief that the work of the Holy Spirit in the early Church involved a lot of spontaneity, a lot of ecstatic religious experiences. Many charismatics, indeed many Protestants, believe that all of the first century Churches looked pretty much like Corinth — that Corinthian liturgical practices were how the Holy Spirit worked universally. What is more likely the case at Corinth is that the Christianized Jewish liturgies of the early Churches (e.g., the Agape meal and Eucharist which borrowed heavily from Jewish meal liturgies), which inherited a basic order and structure from Judaism, were existing side by side with pagan Corinthian practices. With a compassionate hand, St. Paul worked to eventually establish the order of Christian prayer as preeminent, while allowing the preexisting practices to remain, so long as they did not interfere with the orderly assembly of the Church. A textbook case of missiological compassion with a view toward the eventual supplanting of pagan practices that are not entirely healthy.

So there I stand. I’m being received into the EOC from the Roman Church. No one has spoken to me about taking a new name, and I haven’t known when exactly to talk about it. I’ve been thinking about taking Ignatius, because of a Roman Catholic priest who was influential in my youth, but I haven’t mentioned it to anyone yet. Then Fr. Joseph starts praying over me, and all I remember is that he said — doing that charismatic thing where you are speaking for God — “I give you my friend, Basil, to pray for you. And you may take his name, if you wish.” Whoah. Talk about a bolt from the blue.

Now, I had already been in and out of the charismatic movement, and my psychology of religion had a nice little box for this kind of thing, but it hit me. I mean, it really hit me. Fr. Joseph didn’t really know me all that well yet, did he? How could he know about my deep interest in both theology and liturgy from the few times we had met? The math didn’t add up. It just didn’t all fit down in the box. The Spirit rarely ever fits into our boxes.

So, I accepted St. Basil as patron saint. And I thought about whether to take the name. It just seemed like a good fit. Not because I arrogantly thought of myself as being like Basil — though, arrogantly, I do — but because he seemed to be a good man to ask for prayer. It seemed like he would understand the struggles that I would face in my life. So far, that has seemed on the mark.

Of course, it was immediately pointed out to me that it had not been made clear whether my patron was St. Basil the Great or St. Basil the Blesséd, fool-for-Christ’s-sake.

Future questions to be answered:
2) As a teen you were involved with, as you put it, “the popular format of Pentecostal, charismatic, and ‘non-denominational’ churches” but later realized that they were unable to create authentic unity amongst members. As a former Episcopalian, and Roman Catholic, how has your understanding of the importance of unity changed since becoming Orthodox?
3) How did you get involved with computers and web design?
4) Do you think that God is calling you to the priesthood? Tonsured monastic life?
5) You attend a small Orthodox parish. What are some of the strengths and weaknesses of your parish?

Rules

  1. If you want to participate, leave a comment below saying “interview me.”
  2. I will respond by asking you five questions–each person’s will be different.
  3. You will update your journal/blog with the answers to the questions.
  4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview others in the same post.
  5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.
  6. I will answer reasonable follow up questions if you leave a comment.
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Filed under: — Basil @ 12:56 am

«— A Charge to Keep I Have
—» Karl’s Interview, Part I: Choosing a Patron

ESOB Now!

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MeanDean, I know you’re reading this. Ecumenical Synod of Orthodox Bloggers now! Forget all the silliness; an Orthodox category on blogs4God would really be nice, whatever you call it.

—Subreader Basil the Hairless

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Filed under: — Basil @ 6:57 pm

«— Witness to the Gospel
—» ESOB Now!

A Charge to Keep I Have

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Recently, the subject of scripture translations came up, and someone I know mentioned a version for which I have very little respect: The Message by Eugene Peterson. Although in that same conversation an Orthodox friend defended the Reformers’ removing of books from the Bible when it didn’t agree with their novel opinions — an outrageously unorthodox opinion in itself — that has not consumed me in the intervening weeks. Rather, it is articulating what bothers me about Peterson’s version that has gnawed at me.

In the prefatory material of his Bible, Peterson explains that he does not wish to replace serious Bible study. He only wants to make the Bible readable. I sympathize, of course, with the desire to make the Bible readable. In fact, there is a great tradition of saints who desired the same — Jerome, Cyril, Methodius — plus a host of others who have not been glorified — Erasmus, Wycliffe, Tyndale, the translators of the Authorized Version (King James Version). Many of these suffered for their desire to make the Scriptures readable for their people. It is especially sad that their suffering was at the hands of other Christians and that it became — out of sinful pride in both the Romans and the Reformers — an occasion for further schism and fragmentation.

However, translators of the Scriptures have always tread a fine line between translating and paraphrasing. It is especially important to be mindful of this distinction when dealing with passages which have a direct theological bearing on the everyday life of the Christian reader.

Compare, for example, two passages with a direct bearing on the life of the Christian, John 6.51-58 and 2 Peter 1.4. I will quote first from a fairly literal translation, the NASB:

“I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.”
Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?”
So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves.
“He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.
“For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink.
“He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.
“As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me.
“This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.” (Jn 6.51-58 NASB)

Compare that with this, the same passage from the The Message:

“I am the Bread—living Bread!-who came down out of heaven. Anyone who eats this Bread will live—and forever! The Bread that I present to the world so that it can eat and live is myself, this flesh-and-blood self.”

At this, the Jews started fighting among themselves: “How can this man serve up his flesh for a meal?”

But Jesus didn’t give an inch. “Only insofar as you eat and drink flesh and blood, the flesh and blood of the Son of Man, do you have life within you. The one who brings a hearty appetite to this eating and drinking has eternal life and will be fit and ready for the Final Day. My flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. By eating my flesh and drinking my blood you enter into me and I into you. In the same way that the fully alive Father sent me here and I live because of him, so the one who makes a meal of me lives because of me. This is the Bread from heaven. Your ancestors ate bread and later died. Whoever eats this Bread will live always.” (Jn 6.51-58 MSG)

You can see that the paraphrasing in this crucial passage skews it toward a Reformed understanding of its content. Look at the first verse. Instead of “This bread is my flesh,” (NIV, NLT) Peterson tells us that what Christ really said was, “This bread is my self.” While it is indeed true that we do partake of the entirety of Christ in the eucharist, softening the passage like this removes the stumbling block of offense for Protestants. Then, the offending phrase is fully weakened by making it a kind of English idiom, “…my flesh-and-blood self.” When the Jews argue among themselves and say, “How can this man serve up his flesh to eat?” it is we, the modern readers, who are confused: We have no idea why they should get mad. There’s nothing left to be angry about. And, by opening this way, the clear language of the rest of the passage has been reframed as a metaphor. When the disciples leave over this “hard saying” which is not so hard anymore, we almost expect to see Jesus say, “You weren’t listening. I wasn’t really talking about my flesh, I was talking about my self, this flesh-and-blood self. See? Are we cool now?”

Now, let’s look at another passage that has vast implications for the life of Joe Sixpack: 2 Peter 1.4. We start again by looking at the NASB:

For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. (2Pt 1.4 NASB)

And again, Mr Peterson:

We were also given absolutely terrific promises to pass on to you—your tickets to participation in the life of God after you turned your back on a world corrupted by lust. (2Pt 1.4 MSG)

It must be admitted at the outset that this is a difficult passage to translate. There is some dispute about how the clauses interact. However, no translation save Peterson’s paraphrase exchanges the technical term “nature” (physeos/φυσεως) for some other word that the translator fancies more. Perhaps because this word is stained with blood. The Church, through martyrs and saints, fought to defend the reality for which this word stands. Perhaps because it was so central to the universal Church gathered together in a little town called Chalcedon, where the doctrine of the Incarnation was saved from oblivion at the hands of heretics.

The Church has ever prized understanding in her members. But the Word of God is expressed in precise, theological words over which our spiritual fathers have fought and bled, receiving tortures, being mamed, and even tasting death. In making it easier to understand, do not under such a pretense thereby whitewash over the bloodstains on our doorposts. Wake up! The Word of God is not your private property! It belongs to the whole people of God, from every moment up until this very hour — and it includes our children and our children’s children, until the end of time. As a colaborer with God, you hold in your hands a sacred treasure; you must take care to guard it.

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Filed under: — Basil @ 1:14 am

«— Spiritual Warfare, or Grass is Grass, Man!
—» A Charge to Keep I Have

Witness to the Gospel

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Sometimes, I worry about how to be a good ambassador for Christ and his Church, for the gospel. I worry about what I should be doing to share some of this “Feast of Faith,” as Archbishop Paul of Finland called it. Then, I read a post like this one by a dear sister so full of truth, so clearly witnessing to that personal experience of Christ crucified and risen, and I am again silent before the mystery.

Way to go, sister.

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Filed under: — Basil @ 11:14 pm

«— Talk About “Dazzled by Destroying Heresies”!
—» Witness to the Gospel

Spiritual Warfare, or Grass is Grass, Man!

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This is in reply to Seraphim’s post on depression and a followup post.

With regard to the quote from Fr. Alexander of blessed memory (and James’ question), it was in the context of a private journal that we don’t really know for certain that he would have wanted published. So there are some things that can be quite edifying (and I was certainly edified), but there are many things that are simply confusing or depressing. As his son, Serge, writes in his introduction, we must remember that these are, above all, the private thoughts of a priest who is human. A saint, perhaps, but still a man.

However, we should note that true despair — that is, not simply depression, a state that we often have little control over, but the volitional choice to believe that God does not always intend the best for me regardless of the circumstance: true despair — is sinful. And absolutely relevant in any discussion of depression in the context of confession or spiritual direction by a priest.

Seraphim, I think mother is probably asking those questions to help you focus the attention of your energy on yourself and your beloved, and not on others. Just a guess. However, I think that her questions and your reflections on father’s counsel form an interesting interplay together. After all, they’ve both been drinking the same water for years, right? 😉 I think what she is getting at is that the only way to attack the spirit of discontent is to stand and fight — typical monastic wisdom. That spirit will always deceive you with advertisements for greener grass. THERE IS NO GREENER GRASS. “God is with us, through his grace and love for mankind, always, now and ever and unto ages of ages, amen.” That’s a typical concluding blessing. “Wherever you go, there you are.” That’s Buckaroo Banzai.

I think that whenever a change in locale presents itself as the answer to my problems, a red light should come on. Whether that means another job, another parish, another spiritual father, another place to live, another school… whatever. The list goes on forever, ad infinitum. Change my external circumstances, and things will be better. I’ll be happy. I’ll have more money, more time, more friends. In truth, it is myinternal orientation that is always the root problem.

I faced this very conundrum recently when I was considering whether or not to join the Navy. I finally decided that God knew what was best, and he might be willing to share this knowledge with me. So, I tentatively pursued this direction, continually asking God to close doors that should be closed, and open doors that should be opened. I believe that he did, and the rest is old hat.

Now that I’ve joined up, I am hunkering back down. Do what is necessary for today, and don’t try to look beyond the next few steps. After all, the lamp doesn’t shine much further than that anyway. Having made a major decision like that, it’s time to stick with it, until it is as clear as the writing on the Babylonian prince’s wall that something else is needed.

Now, I’m old enough to know that my experience may not hold any wisdom for you. In fact, you may not give a damn, and simply sharing may be quite intrusive, since you didn’t ask for my opinion. But I thought I would share anyway. I certainly don’t have anyway of knowing what you should do next. That’s up to you and your wife, of course, in the counsel of God and his people.

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Filed under: — Basil @ 6:02 pm

«— The Interview
—» Spiritual Warfare, or Grass is Grass, Man!

Talk About “Dazzled by Destroying Heresies”!

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This is a letter I just wrote to the editors of the Lexington Herald-Leader, after having read about this article on James’ blog.

Dear editor,

In your article “Roman Catholics excommunicate suspended priest,” datelined Friday, September 5, there seems to be some deep confusion between two entirely separate churches.

The Orthodox Church in America (oca.org) is the result of Russian Orthodox missionary activity on this continent. Missionaries were first sent to the native peoples of Alaska, and the fruit of that work is still studied in seminaries — Orthodox and otherwise — as one of the best examples of respect for indigenous culture by Christian missionaries. After nearly two centuries of missionary work across the continent, the Orthodox Church in America was made self-governing by the Patriarch of Moscow. It continues to be fully affiliated with the other Orthodox churches and to teach the fulness of the Orthodox Catholic faith that they hold together. In a word, it continues to be a local manifestation of the one Orthodox Church.

The Orthodox Catholic Church of America (orthodoxcatholicchurch.org), by the admission of its website, holds positions that are contrary to the teachings of traditional Christianity. The short space of this letter does not permit me to comment on each idiosyncratic teaching, but a simple and diligent search of their own material will reveal in their own words which teachings are contrary to the teaching of the Christian Church.

In the context of the article, you mentioned the parish of St. Mychal the Martyr, a Lexington parish of the OCCA. By contrast, the parish of the Orthodox Church in America for the greater Lexington area is St. Athanasius Orthodox Church (athansiusoca.org) in Nicholasville.

(NFP: It should be apparent from the above that a correction should be run, since this is clearly a mistake of fact.)

Much can be said about how the love and compassion of Christ and his Church towards spirtitually wounded persons differs from the deceptive, counterfeit acceptance carte blanche of spiritually wounding actions. Unfortunately, such a discussion falls beyond the scope of this short letter.

Finally, the Orthodox Church does not trace its roots to the Great Schism any more than the Roman Catholic Church does. Both the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church trace their roots to the life, crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and his establishment of the Church through his apostles. Each Church holds that the catholic fulness of Christian faith is present within her boundaries, while refraining from judgment on those outside her administrative jurisdiction. For either Church to trace its roots to any schism would be to admit that it was divided from the Church that Christ founded.

I realize that reporting on Orthodox Churches can be bewildering, and the AP Stylebook is not very helpful in the matter. I hope this helps clear up some things that seemed confused in the article.

Respectfully,

Kevin (Basil) Fritts
Choir Director
St. Athanasius Orthodox Church

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Filed under: — Basil @ 4:48 pm