The Jewish Roots of Mary, the Mother of Our Lord

A few small notes before I begin. As most of you know, we’re back in the States after several months in Ethiopia, on the recommendation of a number of people whose counsel we value. Please join us in praying that we can return soon, i.e., that both the U.S. and Ethiopia recover quickly from the impact of COVID-19 itself and from both governments’ attempts to implement policy that will help.

Last summer, I began to explore a book entitled The Ethiopian Orthodox Täwahïdo Church, by Ephraim Isaac. Shortly thereafter, we had baby number four, and my intention to work through this book fell to the wayside as we navigated our new addition and our move to Mekelle. That book is now on my shelf in Mekelle, awaiting our return, at which point I will endeavor to astound you with the insights I glean from Chapter Two. In the meantime:

When Kristen and I began attending Orthodox Church services (at All Saints in Chicago) in 2009, there were many aspects of worship that stood out as vastly different than anything we had experienced in the churches of Christ or other non-denominational (broadly Evangelical) churches with whom we had worshipped in the past. Incense, chanting, icons. . . it was a lot to take in. The most challenging characteristic of the Orthodox Church’s worship for us, however, was the attention given to Mary, frequently referred to as the Theotokos (Greek for “God-Bearer”). Her icons were prominent throughout the church, and prayers and honor were given to her at all services (though in hindsight, the proportion of prayers to Mary compared to prayers to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is quite small).

This was Kristen’s greatest challenge as we inquired into the teachings and practices of the Orthodox Church, and it was only through seeing the role of Mary lived out in the faith of other Orthodox Christians (especially mothers) over the course of the next two years that Kristen was able to reconcile her discomfort with this new way of understanding and approaching the Mother of God.

I recently finished a book entitled “Perception and Identity: A Study of the Relationship between the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and Evangelical Churches in Ethiopia,” in which the author, Seblewengel Daniel, describes the history of encounter between these two entities. In this book, she asserts that the two greatest points of contention between Orthodox and Evangelical Christians in Ethiopia are 1) the way that the Scriptures are approached and understood; and 2) the place of Mary in the life of the Church and believers. The author asserted that the Orthodox Church’s veneration of Mary is often perceived as unbiblical and even idolatrous.

Her description of the difficulties that evangelicals have with the Orthodox Church’s treatment of the Theotokos reminded me of a book that I read earlier this year, published in 2018, called “Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary: Unveiling the Mother of the Messiah” by Brant Pitre. This book does an incredible job showing how the ancient church’s understanding of and approach to Mary is rooted in Scripture, especially when read in light of the way that Jews read the Scriptures at the time of Christ (i.e., the way that Christ and the Apostles read the Scriptures).

Recognizing that how we approach Mary can be a stumbling block for Protestant Christians (and others), and having recently encountered this outstanding resource, I’ve decided to work through Pitre’s book on this blog, which may be of interest to some readers, but which will also help me better retain the wonderful biblical themes and connections found in Pitre’s work.

I should note up front that Pitre is a Roman Catholic scholar, and there are a few places where the Orthodox Church’s approach towards Mary differs from the Roman Catholic understanding. However, the premise and goal of the book make it well worth examining in depth despite these differences.

Pitre begins the book by discusses how, although he grew up a devout Roman Catholic, praying the rosary as a child and teenager, in college he was challenged by his then-girlfriend’s Southern Baptist pastor to examine the Scriptures for indications that Mary should be honored as she is in the Catholic Church. He struggled to find any Scriptural indications, and while he remained in the Roman Catholic Church, his devotion to Mary essentially dwindled to nothing.

However, when he began his doctoral studies at the University of Notre Dame, he discovered three key things that completely changed the way he understood the place of the Mother of God in Christian life. First, he discovered that doctrine about Mary, including approaching her for intercession, was both very ancient and found everywhere throughout the world where Christ was worshipped. Next, he learned about the direct and absolutely necessary connection between the Church’s teaching about Mary and the Church’s teaching about Christ. Mariology is part and parcel with Christology. Finally, and most importantly, he discovered ancient Jewish and early Christian methods of reading the Scriptures that demonstrate how ancient Christians actually received their understanding of the person and role of Mary from the Old Testament.

The rest of the book shows various ways in which the Old Testament reveals teachings about Mary. Pitre shows how we find these teachings by reading the Bible typologically – looking at Old Testament prefigurations and New Testament fulfillments (like how in 1 Corinthians 10:4, Paul tells us that the rock in Exodus 17:6 was Christ). He argues that “You simply cannot understand Mary without looking at her in her first-century Jewish context,” and that this is where the Church gets its teaching about Mary.

I plan to do a blog post about each chapter:

  1. Introduction (discussed above)
  2. The New Eve
  3. The New Ark
  4. The Queen Mother
  5. The Perpetual Virgin
  6. The Birth of the Messiah
  7. The New Rachel
  8. At the Foot of the Cross

I welcome your thoughts and feedback, either where I share my posts on Facebook or at my email address (found here).

The Name Game

I’ve been interested in names since I first saw Pulp Fiction in the theater. There’s a scene where Bruce Willis’s character, Butch, is asked by a woman what his name means. His reply: “I’m an American, honey, our names don’t mean shit.” Being familiar with many instances (especially in the Bible) in which names were given intentionally, purposefully, and meaningfully, Butch’s comment has always seemed unfortunate and regrettable to me (especially because there seems to be some truth to it).

When we joined the Orthodox Church, I was delighted to learn that choosing a name was essentially a prayer. We give the child a saint’s name, and in doing so, we are asking that person to pray for our child in a special way. However, we are also asking God to guide our child so that they become united to Christ is ways similar to their namesake. There is, of course, an aesthetic motivation as well. This is where Kristen has often held me in check, keeping me from getting too weird or obscure. For all of these reasons, we’ve taken the process of naming very seriously.

Given the arrival and naming of Titus Ulysses on June 2nd, I thought that perhaps a few folks would be interested to hear about why we’ve chosen the names we’ve chosen for our boys.


Charles Maximus

Charlie was named for my dad’s dad, Charles Gus Lee Coatney, and for Maximus the Confessor, a seventh century Greek saint.

At 94, my Paw-Paw is my last living grandparent. I spent a lot of my childhood with him and my Maw-Maw, and my introduction to Jesus and to the Bible are essentially due to the two of them.

Charles is the French form of the German name Karl, which means “man” or “free man.”

I could do a whole blog post (or 10) about Maximus the Confessor. He’s most well known for his defense of dyothelitism – the existence of both a divine and human will in the person of Jesus. This articulation allowed for the resolution of a major dispute in church history at the Sixth Ecumenical Council in Constantinople in 681. Prior to this council, most of the leadership in the Church argued that Christ had only a divine will. When Maximus spoke out against them, the Emperor and Patriarch had his tongue cut out and his right hand cut off. This earned him the title “Confessor,” one who holds to the truth in the face of torture. Maximus died in exile in 662, roughly 20 years before he was to be vindicated at the Sixth Ecumenical Council.

Maximus is the Latin term for “greatest.” I’ve had more than one Latin scholar jokingly point out that while Charlemagne (Charles Magnus) means “Charles the Great,” or even “great man,” Charles Maximus is “Charles the Greatest,” or “the greatest man.”

Judah Severus

Judah was named for Judah Maccabee; his middle name is a little more complicated, but there are several Severuses (Severii?) that led us to choose it.

Judah Maccabee was one of the sons of Mattathias the Hasmonean who led the revolt in 167 BC against the (Greek) Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Briefly, the kingdom of Israel split in 931 BC after the death of Solomon, and the southern kingdom of Judah fell to the Babylonian Nebuchadnezzar in 587 BC. The land of Israel and Judah then fell to the Medes and Persians before Alexandar the Great swept through in 332 BC, initiating the Hellinization (aka “Greekification”) of the Middle East. The Jews were never at peace with this arrangement, and were a thorn in their Greek rulers’ side. Antiochus, frustrated with the Jews, pushed back too hard, leading to the revolt led by Mattathius and his sons. Judah was the very successful military leader of the rebellion, earning the name Maccabee (“Hammer”) for his military prowess. He is responsible for the rededication of the Temple and the institution of Hanukkah. He was a man of action, and little of his speech is recorded, but in one speech he gave before a battle he is quoted as stating, “They trust in arms and acts of valor, but we trust in the Lord our God.” He ultimately died in battle in 160 BC.

Judah comes from a Hebrew word for “praise.” Because Judah was the patriarch from whom David’s line of kings would come, it was an extremely popular Hebrew/Jewish name. The name Judas comes from the Greek form of Judah; this name became understandably unpopular after the betrayal of Judas Iscariot. When the New Testament was translated into English, translators shortened the name to Jude for the biblical letter (the one right before Revelation), to distinguish it from the unpopular Judas. We decided to stick with the Hebrew form.

We will readily acknowledge that the name Severus came to our attention by way of Severus Snape. As I began to learn more about ancient Christian history, I continued to encounter names that I’d known previously from the Harry Potter books; names like Hermione, Nymphadora, and Severus. There are several saints named Severus in the Orthodox Church. The most well known Severus in church history, though, is Severus of Antioch, who is a saint in the Oriental Orthodox Churches, but is considered a heretic by the Eastern Orthodox Church. He argued against the wording of the two natures (divine and human) of Christ. His writings, however, have been very useful as the Oriental and Eastern churches have sought to reconcile their Christology over the last 50 or so years. Ultimately, Judah is baptized as Judah Maccabee, but is also named Severus as a nod to the various saints given this name as well as to the hope of reconciliation between the Oriental and Eastern churches.

Severus is a Latin term meaning “severe.” To date, Judah Severus lived up to his more exactly than any of the other boys.


Easton Elias

Easton was given his first name by his biological parents; we chose Elias as his middle/baptized name after the prophet Elijah.

Easton is an Old English name meaning “east-facing settlement.” We never questioned changing Easton’s first name, since he was three when he was placed with us and nearly four by the time he was legally adopted. In the Orthodox Church, we traditionally face the east when we pray. There are a number of reasons why this is the case, the most well known being based on Matthew 24:27, “For as the lightening comes from the east, and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” Saint Basil the Great wrote in the fourth century that this was an ancient practice even at that time.  We therefore take Easton as our prayer that he will grow to be a man of prayer as well.

After Moses, Elias/Elijah is arguably the most celebrated man of God in the Old Testament. He lived in Israel the ninth century BC, and was called the “troubler of Israel” by the King, Ahab, against whom he spoke and acted out against regularly (along with Ahab’s wife, Jezebel). His stories are contained primarily in the first book of Kings (III Kingdoms in the Greek OT). We chose him for his courage, and for his ability to speak truth to power. If you’ve never read the story of his challenge to the priests of Baal, I highly you take a few minutes and read 1 Kings 18:20-40 right now.

Elijah comes from the Hebrew term “My God is the LORD (YHWH).” Elias comes from the Greek form of Elijah.

Titus Ulysses

Titus was named for the recipient of Paul’s pastoral letter, and for the hero of Homer’s Odyssey.

Church tradition tells us that Titus was born on Crete, but traveled to Judea upon hearing that a great prophet (Jesus) was teaching and performing miracles. He encountered Christ, witnessed his crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, and was present at Pentecost. He was later baptized by the apostle Paul and was one of his closest disciples. He traveled frequently with and for Paul, and was eventually made bishop of Crete. He died peacefully at the age of 97.

The name Ulysses comes from the Latin form of Odysseus. The hero of Homer’s Odyssey is a total boss, and overcomes adversity against all odds. Ulysses is the middle name of Park and Recreation’s Ron Swanson, and Scrubs’ Dr. Perry Cox. What really got us thinking about the name, though, is the eponymous song by Josh Garrels:

The song got me thinking about Ulysses as a type of Christ, overcoming all adversity to win his bride back from her wicked and unworthy suitors. At the end he sings,

So tie me to the mast of this old ship
And point me home.
Before I lose the one I love,
Before my chance is gone.
I want to hold her in my arms.

In the Odyssey, Ulysses ties himself to the mast of his ship as it passes by the sirens, whose song draws sailors to their doom. His soldiers had plugged their ears as the shipped passed, but someone needed to be able to tell them when the sirens’ song had ended. I’d never thought Christologically about the story of Ulysses being tied to the mast of the ship before I heard this song, but the idea of tying ourselves to the cross to prevent being drawn to our doom by temptation comes across powerfully when I hear it.

There is a saint Ulyssses/Odysseus the New Martyr, but I haven’t been able to learn anything about him, other than that he exists.

There’s some serious irony with the name Titus Ulysses, because both names have unclear meanings. We simply don’t know what either name means, and given the importance of names having meaning, this seemed problematic at first. However, we’ve come to a point in our understanding of naming that we so closely connect the name with the person for whom the child is being named, that the meaning is found in the person. Titus means disciple of God; Ulysses means one who overcomes adversity; who ties himself to the mast in order to overcome temptation.

Marriage is Hard, Guys

Before we get started: We have been thinking that, for our 11th anniversary, we want to write about how hard marriage is. We want to be vulnerable. We want to write about what we believe marriage is for and why we’re determined to stick with it, in spite of how difficult it is. What we don’t want, in any way, shape, or form, is for someone to read this as a judgment against them. We’re writing from our particular context. Our marriage is not anyone else’s marriage, and if you or someone you love is divorced, we do not presume to judge your decision or the reasons behind it. We love you, and we hurt with you for what may have been lost. Please know that the purpose of this post is not to pass judgment, but to share our reasons for being/staying married, and, God willing, to encourage others.


At DoubleShot last month.

Today, we celebrate our eleventh wedding anniversary. Last year, we wrote about our celebration of the sacrament of marriage on our tenth wedding anniversary, when we were crowned. This year, we decided to sit in our favorite Tulsa coffee shop (thanks, DoubleShot!) and write about how difficult marriage can be, and how, because of what we believe marriage is, those difficulties are actually an important part of what marriage is, and will potentially (God willing) lead us closer to Christ and to one another.

We met at the Church of Christ University Center in Stillwater, OK, while Kristen was working as a hairstylist and John was in vet school. We got to know one another through a mutual group of friends, and spent time together, but neither of us wanted to have a serious relationship. John graduated in 2005, and was subsequently stationed in Vicenza, Italy; in the fall of 2006, Kristen moved to Chicago to work in a salon there. We stayed in touch during this time, but shortly after Kristen moved to Chicago, John realized that he wanted to spend his life with Kristen, and spent the next six months convincing her that this was a good idea. We got engaged in March 2007, when John was in the States for training. Kristen visited John in Europe for two weeks that fall; this was the only time we were able to see one another during our engagement. We did marriage counseling with an Army chaplain, over the phone. We met in Copenhagen, Denmark on May 29, 2008; Kristen had arrived two days early, but John arrived that morning, in his Army dress blues. We met at the hotel, stored our luggage, and headed to city hall, where we were married. We spent the next three weeks making our way south by train to Vicenza, where John finalized his move from there to Naval Station Great Lakes, just north of Chicago.

We both remember the first six months of married life in Chicago as going well. We were learning how to settle disagreements, and to reconcile when things got heated, of course, but everything still had that newlywed glow. At least, that’s how we remember it 11 years later. However, in the fall of 2008, John was informed that he would be going to Iraq for a year, and that he had three weeks before leaving. He left on November 29, on our six month anniversary.


Seeing They Might Be Giants in Chicago shortly after returning from Iraq (2009).

It would be difficult to exaggerate the impact that this deployment would have on our marriage and our lives. John was a veterinarian, taking care of military working dogs; he was not a direct combatant. Still, being apart for that year was extremely difficult. When we did speak on the phone (Skype/FaceTime weren’t readily accessible), we often got into arguments over what, in retrospect, were usually silly things. When John returned in the fall of 2009, we felt extremely disconnected.

This was compounded by the fact that John had been exploring the Orthodox Church in Iraq, and becoming more and more convinced that it was the best place for us. Kristen was not at all comfortable in the Orthodox Church. The year following John’s return from Iraq was incredibly difficult. We fought about everything – how we spent time; how we spent money; whether to drive or take public transportation; where to go to church; whether and when to start being open to having kids…


Hiking in Iowa on our eighth anniversary (2016).

We didn’t fight well, either. We have very different ways of dealing with conflict, and while it’s gotten better over the course of 11 years, we still struggle with this. The first few months after John’s return, during particularly heated arguments, Kristen would ask if John wanted or was thinking about divorce. At some point during that time, at a time when we were not fighting, we sat down and agreed that we would not allow divorce to be something that we talked about or considered, either individually or together. We agreed to unequivocally trust one another’s commitment to our marriage. This was probably the single most important conversation we’ve had as a married couple.


At a friend’s wedding, November 2018.

Meanwhile, our growing involvement with the Orthodox Church (including Kristen’s slow but steady acceptance of and appreciation for it) led us to a deeper understanding of what Christian marriage is. We discuss this in part in last year’s post, by examining the prayers found in the crowning service. In terms of learning to work through (and even benefit from) our struggles, we’ve been thinking a lot about marriage as martyrdom. Ultimately, the mystery of marriage is tied to the mystery of Christ’s relationship with his church, as Paul explains in his letter to the Ephesians. We are called to imitate Christ’s love for his church in our love for our spouse – to be willing to give up everything for the other, who in all honesty does not deserve this sacrifice on our part. We do this in order to participate with Christ, to become ever more like him; to be ever more united to him. This is the true purpose of marriage: salvation.

Marriage is still hard. We still fight about lots of things – how we spend time, how we spend money, how to raise kids… We still have very different ways of dealing with conflict, and we continue to strive to learn how to navigate conflict and to reconcile in service to one another, and to give ever more selflessly (something that having children has helped us learn, without question). However, as we continue to struggle, and to discover new struggles, we do so with the understanding that the struggles are opportunities for us to learn how to die to ourselves every day (usually multiple times a day), to love the other selflessly, and (by means of his grace) to unite ourselves to Christ.


Veterinary Antimicrobial Usage in Central Ethiopia

In this post I’ll summarize a recently published paper out of Addis Ababa University’s College of Veterinary Medicine on one of my primary areas of interest in veterinary research: antimicrobial stewardship and resistance. But first, an exciting update:

Welcome to the Party, Easton Elias!


On Friday, May 17th, Easton officially joined our family, as Easton Elias Coatney. He will be baptized Elias, probably at the same time as boy #4 (aka Quartus). Elias is the Greek form of Elijah, who (after Moses) is arguably the most faithful and powerful prophet in the Old Testament. Two of my favorite stories concerning Elijah are his role in God’s victory over the prophets of Baal, and God’s revelation of himself to Elijah when he was hiding from Ahab and Jezebel, the wicked rulers of Israel.

Easton is three years old, and will turn four in August. He enjoys sharks, singing, and basically anything that his big brother Charlie is interested in. We’re grateful to God for the opportunity to add Easton to our family, and for what he is teaching us as adoptive parents.

The finalization of the adoption removes one of the major hurdles keeping us from moving to Mekelle as soon as possible. Now we can begin slogging through the process of obtaining the necessary documentation to prove that the Easton is ours for visa purposes in Ethiopia.  The other major hurdles are the birth of Quartus and completion of the month-long training that we had to cancel in April due to the passing of my father.

Veterinary medicinal product usage among food animal producers and its health implications in Central Ethiopia

I’ve decided that I’ll summarize these veterinary papers utilizing the research paper format, so that (hopefully) my summary is easy to follow. My intent is to distill each section such that someone with only a basic understanding of veterinary science (i.e., can tell the difference between a cow and a horse) can understand what they’re reading.

This article (see the photo at the top of the post for bibliographic information) was published in BMC Veterinary Research by researchers at Addis Ababa University’s College of Veterinary Medicine (commonly referred to by it’s location, Bishoftu in Oromiya, or Debre Zeit in Amharic), Utrecht University and Wageningen University in the Netherlands, and Kansas State University.

The abstract states that the purpose of the study was “to assess knowledge, awareness, and practices related to drug use and resistance in food animals among the farmers in and around Bishoftu town.” Questionnaires and visits to local pharmacies were the primary means of investigation. The abstract concludes: “there is a general lack of awareness among food animal owners about the correct use of antibiotics [drugs to combat bacterial infections] and anthelmintics [drugs to combat parasitic worms].”


Here the authors explain why it matters whether or to what extent local livestock producers understand the relationship between antimicrobial stewardship and resistance. They discuss the fact that most antimicrobials (this is the catch-all term that includes antibiotics, anthelmintics, and any other drugs that fight bacteria, viruses, and parasites) used in animals are also used in humans, and that the development in resistance in livestock can result in resistance in humans as well.

The article assumes an understanding of how resistance occurs. For those who aren’t clear on this and who are interested, here’s a very brief (and, necessarily, oversimplified) primer: Every antimicrobial drug has a “mechanism of action;” that is, it kills the microbe in a specific way. Maybe it attacks the cell wall, or it stops the microbe’s DNA from replicating, or prevents the microbe from producing the proteins it needs to live or reproduce. However, some microbes may possess the means to “defeat” a particular drug’s mechanism of action. For example, if a drug that attacks the cell wall needs to bind to the cell wall in order to attack it, then a bacteria that is able to prevent that binding can’t be attacked, and is therefore “resistant” to that drug.

Bacteria may inherently possess this resistant characteristic, or it may be the result of a spontaneous genetic mutation, or the gene responsible for the resistance could be easily transferred between bacteria (for example, on a piece of genetic material called a plasmid). In any case, when a drug “works,” and kills off all the susceptible bacteria (maybe 99% of the total population), and the signs of illness/infection disappear, that one percent of resistant bacteria that are left reproduce, filling the void that the susceptible bacteria left, so that when the signs of illness/infection reoccur, the drug that worked previously no longer works.

Understanding how resistance works in reality is much more complicated than it is in theory, particularly because there are so many variables. Every drug works differently; every species of bacteria/virus/etc. might respond differently, and different means of resistance will occur even within the same species. Every drug and every microbe will potentially act differently in different species of animals, so that we really can’t understand how resistance to a specific drug in a specific type of bacteria in a cow will affect resistance to that drug in that bacteria in a human without studying that specific combination.

We do know enough to be concerned about these interconnections, though, such that we recognize the need for good antimicrobial stewardship, and that we do all that we can to minimize the development of antimicrobial resistance – particularly in drugs that are important in human health.

Materials and Methods

The authors interviewed 120 dairy, beef, and poultry owners around the city of Bishoftu. These farmers were selected randomly and interviewed face-to-face in the local language. Another 100 animal owners were interviewed at veterinary clinics or pharmacies in the area.


A lot of interesting data was collected in this paper; see the paper itself for the details. The most significant results include the following:

80% of the respondents were unable to define what an antimicrobial is or its purpose. Only 14% of respondents were aware of the existence and consequences antimicrobial resistance, and of that 14%, only 9% were aware that irresponsible use of antimicrobials in animals could lead to resistance in humans.

66% of those purchasing antimicrobials received counseling on usage from animal health assistants; 10% from veterinarians; 6% from non-animal health professionals, and the remaining 18% received no counseling on the proper use of antimicrobials.

70% of owners did understand the information they received from drug dispensers, and were unable to read/understand the drug labels, which were in English. Often the farmers identified the drugs they used only by color.

Antimicrobials were used indiscriminately, without adequate diagnosis, and treatment failure was extremely common. Withdrawal times (allowing for the drug to leave the animal’s system before its meat or milk is consumed by people) were ignored. Antimicrobials were frequently sold without prescription papers, and illegal drug vendors who improperly stored drugs were common.


The primary public health concerns based on the results of this study include the failure of medications, development of antimicrobial resistance, and occurrence of drug residues in food animal products (which may cause hypersensitivity/allergic reactions, damage to genetic material, or increase the risk for certain cancers in humans). The authors encourage the Ethiopian Veterinary Drug and Feed Administration and Control Authority to improve its surveillance of illegal drug vendors, and to raise awareness among livestock owners about the need for better antimicrobial stewardship.

This paper is useful to me as a researcher because it gives me support for potentially creating programs that will improve antimicrobial stewardship in Ethiopia. A key part of any veterinary college’s research program is extension: the application of cutting-edge research among practicing veterinarians and producers.

I’m excited to get started helping the Ethiopian veterinary community in whatever capacity I’m able.

Origins of Ethiopian Civilization (Ephraim Isaac)

As I mentioned last time, I’m going to be providing more frequent updates here, followed by a summary/commentary on books/articles concerning either the Ethiopian Orthodox Church or veterinary medicine in Ethiopia. I’ll use headings so that readers can quickly skim the portions that interest them (if any). 🙂


We were notified this morning that we have a court date where E.’s adoption will be finalized! I’ll definitely be giving more details in my next post! The baby’s still due June 13. If the baby comes early enough, we’ll try to get into the summer session of MTI in Colorado Springs, but it seems unlikely that the baby will come early enough (although you never know) and that there will be an opening (these courses tend to fill up pretty far in advance).

Meanwhile, I’m spending a lot of time at DoubleShot Coffee, trying to write and keep up with the day to day recurring tasks associated with our work. I rarely spend a full day working on these things, though, as doctor’s appointments, E.’s counseling appointments, and Charlie’s pre-K schedule require lots of breaks most days. I try to take advantage of this time in our lives in which I’m able to spend this much time during the day with the boys, and with my mom. Honestly, though, my first reaction when I’m pulled away from my “work” is usually to be grumpy and resentful. Thank God that Kristen is patient and willing to put up with me.


Ancient stelae from the Axumite empire. 

Chapter 1: Origins of Ethiopian Civilization

As I mentioned in the last post, I’ll be working through Ephraim Isaac’s The Ethiopian Orthodox Täwahïdo Church, published in 2013 by Red Sea Press.

Front Matter

Before I summarize the first chapter, I’ll mention a couple of things about the front matter of the book. In the preface, Isaac states that the book is “a modest attempt to give a brief and purely objective description of the interesting history of the Ethiopian Church, its beliefs and practices.” Now, I’ve spent enough time studying hermeneutics to know that there’s no such thing as a purely objective description. It’s apparent in how Isaac approaches his topic that it’s driven by his interests and priorities. There’s no problem with this approach (in fact, it’s unavoidable), but it shouldn’t be called purely objective.

Isaac writes a personal note along with his acknowledgements that sheds light on his credentials in terms of writing about a church of which he is not a member. He discusses how, when growing up in Nedjio, Wallaga, Ethiopia, Orthodox clergy would often visit his father (a Jew from Yemen) and offer praise and admiration for his Jewish heritage. He goes on to say that as an adult, he was blessed with close relationships with a number of Ethiopian Orthodox clergy, many of whom he worked with in a professional capacity (as a Semitic language scholar), and that he even served as a mediator when a number of bishops disagreed about an administrative matter. He also emphasizes the doctrinal, liturgical, and historical unity of the Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox Churches, and indicates that nearly of what he writes applies to both.

Chapter One

Isaac’s goal in this initial chapter is to demonstrate that while Ethiopia and South Arabia share a “common cultural sphere” since prehistoric times, the assumption made by many Western scholars that Ethiopian civilization is the result of South Arabian influence is based on “erroneous historical, linguistic, and archeological assumptions.” He then goes one to address five areas in which these assumptions have been made.

First, he argues that it cannot be assumed that Semitic languages (the language family that includes Arabic, Aramaic, Hebrew, and several Ethiopian languages) originated in the Near East. There is an assumption that the Ethiopian Semitic languages were brought to Ethiopia from South Arabian conquerors. He states that some, including Russian Assyriologist Diakonoff, propose an African origin for Proto-Hamito-Semitic (from which Semitic languages hypothetically derive), and that it is therefore possible that some Semitic languages may be indigenous to Ethiopia.

Second, he claims historical difficulties in the suggestion of a South Arabian migration into Ethiopia – primarily that during the time period in which this is suggested to have happened, there is clear evidence that different languages were spoken on the eastern and western sides of the Red Sea. If there had been a mass migration, the language would have been the same.

He also discusses here an important term in Ethiopian (and Eritrean) culture and history: habasha. This term refers to Ethiopians and Eritreans who share a number of cultural features, including Semitic languages (today, primarily Amharic and Tigrinya), religion (the Orthodox Täwahïdo Church), and food (e.g., injera). Habasha is word that gave rise to the Western term Abyssinia. There is a popular hypothesis that the name “hbst,” which appears in some ancient Sabaean scripts, is the name of the South Arabian tribe that migrated to Ethiopia; Isaac argues that this hypothesis is purely speculative. Interestingly, I was told by a tour guide in northern Ethiopia that the term “habesha” actually means “the color of coffee when milk is added,” indicating that Habesha have a lighter skin color than surrounding peoples (which tends to be true).

Third, he addresses evidence gleaned from ancient inscriptions found in both Ethiopia and South Arabia. Essentially, he argues that while these inscriptions share “a common cultural heritage,” there is no evidence that this indicates a South Arabian origin for the inscriptions found in Ethiopia.

Fourth, Isaac addresses the nature of the Ethiopic script, which he says is “a cursive form of monumental Sabaean.” His key point for this argument is that while South Arabians did not adapt and adopt the Sabaean script, adopting instead the Arabic script after the rise of Islam, “the manner in which the Ethiopians used Sabaean, with freedom and originality, hardly betrays the behavior of borrowers.”

Finally, Isaac spends the second half of the chapter addressing ancient literary references to the Sabaeans, especially the Biblical story of the Queen of Sheba. I don’t have space to discuss the significance of the Queen of Sheba for Habesha culture; for those who aren’t familiar, take a look at this. The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary states that the most plausible location for Sheba is the southwest corner of the Arabian Peninsula (present day Yemen). Isaac argues that this does not preclude the possibility that the Queen of Sheba was African. He provides arguments that show that Sheba may have been in the Horn of Africa from the book of Genesis. He points out that Yemen was “an Ethiopian domain over two thousand years ago,” noting that Homer’s Odyssey refers to Poseidon’s journey to “Ethiopia, divided in two” (i.e., by the Red Sea). He suggests that the mention of “all the kings of Arabia” in 1 Kings and Jeremiah suggest that there were no queens in Arabia at this time (one of my least favorite of his arguments). He points out that “Josephus, a number of the Church Fathers, and the Ethiopians themselves” claim that the Queen of Sheba was African.

He concludes: “serious methodological questions must be raised concerning theories that seek to reconstruct the origins of the Ethiopian civilization from South Arabia. . . . we would prefer to view, at least hypothetically, South Arabia as a common cultural sphere with Ethiopia from prehistoric times, and nothing more.”

Don’t Read This Post (Vol. I): An Exercise in Hubris

When I started this blog, my intention was that it be a place where we can 1) answer Frequently Asked Questions; and 2) provide more timely updates than are allowed for in our monthly prayer letter, which is written about three weeks before it is published.

I’ve come to learn, though, that once the FAQ’s have been written, and now that we are in waiting mode (i.e., waiting for E’s adoption to go through, and for the birth of Quartus), the need for updates beyond what’s included in the monthly prayer letter have been minimal, and do not really warrant a new blog post. I’ve found that I’m hesitant to write, in large part because I’m concerned that I’ll be wasting my friends’, family’s, and other likeminded folks’ time.

However, my desire to stay in contact with those of you who are interested in doing so, and to provide more frequent, smaller updates, has overcome my reluctance. My plan is to write more frequently, beginning with any updates followed by my summary, followed by commentary on books and articles addressing one of two topics: veterinary medicine in Ethiopia and/or the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Hopefully it’s interesting to some of you, and for those who aren’t particularly interested (I get it), you can read the updates without having to slog through my ramblings.


The most significant update is that my stepdad, R.E. Peterson (I called him Pete) passed away on April 14th. I’ve known Pete since I was six years old, when he and my mom started dating. They married when I was 12, and we moved in with him at that time. To say that my world changed is an absolute understatement. Whatever work ethic, self discipline, and commitment to family that I have, I owe to him. Words cannot express how grateful I am for his unconditional love for my mom, my sister, and me.


Mom, me, Pete, and Crystal, Christmas ~1993

His funeral was held on April 27th, when the Orthodox Church celebrated Holy Saturday this year. The vigil for Pascha (Easter) began at 11:30 pm that evening, and we got home just before 4 am Sunday morning. Holy Saturday celebrates Christ’s time in the tomb, whereby Hades was destroyed and he emerged victorious on Sunday morning. What a blessing that Pete’s funeral will forever be associated for me with the death and resurrection that gives such hope.

Pete’s death meant that we left Colorado Springs the day that we were supposed to begin our month-long training at Mission Training International, and that this (mandatory) training has therefore been postponed. It looks like Quartus will be too young for us to attend the summer session, and that we will therefore have to attend the fall session. This means that we will likely leave for Ethiopia in October at the earliest.

Meanwhile, we will stay busy with the adoption, the arrival of boy #4, the logistics of moving to Ethiopia (still working on the most cost-effective way to get my library over there), and curricula planning (Kristen with homeschool; me with infectious diseases and biblical languages), among other things.

The other item of note is the interview my friend Scott Elliott did with me on his blog, Resurrected Living:

Kristen says it’s probably worth watching; I can’t watch myself talk long enough to know if it is or not. Many thanks to Scott for his kind interest and consideration. His ministry is truly a blessing to me.

Intro to Isaac’s The Ethiopian Orthodox Täwahïdo Church


I’ve decided that for the next few posts, I’m going to alternate between some Ethiopian veterinary articles I’ve recently read, and Ephraim Isaac’s book, The Ethiopian Orthodox Täwahïdo Church. Here, I’ll introduce this book, and in subsequent posts, I’ll work through it one chapter at a time.

Ephraim Isaac is an extremely well-known (especially in his Ethiopian homeland) and erudite scholar of ancient Semitic (particularly Ethiopian) languages, culture, and religion. He holds a bachelor’s degree and a PhD from Harvard University, and was the first professor of the Harvard University Department of African and Afro-American Studies. His translation of the the Book of Enoch (1 Enoch) is found in Charlesworth’s edition of the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, arguably the most popular edition used in graduate studies.

Isaac himself is the son of an Ethiopian mother and a Yemeni Jewish father; he is not a member of the Ethiopian Orthodox Täwahïdo Church (EOTC). The book reflects this in its emphasis on the uniquely Jewish character of the EOTC – something that certainly warrants elucidation and discussion, but is more thoroughly discussed by Isaac than in any other source I’ve encountered.

As a sort of preview, I give here the table of contents:

  1. Origins of Ethiopian Civilization
  2. Brief History of the Ethiopian Orthodox Täwahïdo Church
  3. The Judaic Character of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church
  4. Teachings of the Ethiopian Church
  5. The Bible in Ethiopia
  6. The Role of Fasting in the Ethiopian Church
  7. The Ethiopian Liturgy and Calendar
  8. The Church and Education
  9. Ethiopian Church Music
  10. The Church and Its Institutions
  11. The Church and Writing
  12. Church and State
  13. Church and Society
  14. The Ethiopian Church and Other Religions
  15. Ethiopianism – Significance for Africans and Afro-Americans

I read this book several years ago, and I remember then encountering a number of things that I questioned, and a few that I was fairly sure were incorrect. Hopefully we can explore these items as we take our time moving through this book.

Updates: Advent 2018

So much has happened in such a short time! We’re quickly learning how challenging it can be (and in Ethiopia, it likely will be) keeping folks updated throughout this immense transition. I’d intended to write this update shortly after I’d arrived in Ethiopia, but I’ve found a number of things have either distracted me from doing so or have made it difficult. In any case, I’m determined to get an update written this beautiful Monday morning (every day has been sunny, with the temperature hovering around 70*F).

Big news first: as the photo up top suggests, Kristen is pregnant! The baby is due June 10! This blessed surprise alters our planned schedule slightly, but not too much. As of right now, our plan is that I return to the States in March, at which point the family will make stops in Chicago and Ames on our way to Colorado Springs in April/early May, where we’ll attend a month-long cross-cultural and language learning course. We’ll return to Oklahoma and have the baby and leave for Ethiopia one to two months later – that would be the end of July or early August.

Per the court hearing last week, the adoption is technically scheduled for June. However, we’re told that it will likely happen sooner than that. That’s really all we know. It has been a profound exercise in patience.

Kristen and the boys are splitting their time between Tulsa and Stillwater (and a little bit in Edmond). Kristen’s found a gym with two hours’ daycare per day included in the membership, and swim lessons for the boys, so she can (hopefully) get a little break and the boys can burn off some energy (although, of course, they have plenty in reserve). Charlie loves pre-K at Jenks Southeast Elementary.

I (John) arrived in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, on Thursday, November 29. I spent the weekend visiting folks in and around Addis; coincidentally, my boss from Iowa State was visiting at that time, so I was privileged to visit Addis Ababa University’s veterinary college in Debre Zeit/Bishoftu, as well as the African Union’s Pan-African Veterinary Vaccine Center. On that Sunday I attended the Divine Liturgy at St. Frumentius Orthodox Church, which is part of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa.


Divine Liturgy (the Great Entrance) at St. Frumentius Orthodox Church in Addis Ababa.

I arrived in Mekelle on Monday, December 3, and was greeted by some ex-pat friends I’ve come to know during my travels. In fact, one ex-pat is currently in the States, probably for several months, and I’ve been blessed to stay in his house at an extremely reasonable rate while he’s gone. They’ve been a huge help to me as I’m learning where to buy groceries (and everything else), general procedures for food safety (e.g., uses for tap vs. filtered vs. bottled water, bleaching produce, etc.), where to set up a bank account (there are so many banks!), and a million other things that one wouldn’t think one needs to know. I believe that this preliminary trip will be immensely helpful for many reasons, but one especially noteworthy reason is that I will be much more comfortable with the little things when I return with Kristen and the boys, which should make the transition significantly smoother.


My first attempt at roasting my own coffee. Note the amateur’s uneven roast on the left, and the teacher’s much more even roast on the right.

I’ve met with personnel at the veterinary college and at the seminary, and we’re all excited that years of planning are coming to fruition. We’ve begun working on Memoranda of Understanding, outlining the details of our work agreements in order to manage expectations (on both sides) to the greatest extent possible. I’m also doing due diligence to get visa issues worked through, which has been largely a waiting game (which is what I expected).

I’m quite grateful for the many obvious (and some less obvious) blessings that have been revealed as this adventure unfurls. The people, whether at the vet school, the seminary, or my ex-pat friends, have been the biggest blessing. I’ve grown unaccustomed to living alone, and I’m quite ready to glam on to anyone who gives me even a sideways glance. The food, the coffee, the weather, dipping my toe into the language(s) and liturgy, have all been delightful.

I’m struggling with the challenges associated with trying to stay connected electronically, and navigating both intermittent power and internet access (which is both intermittent and often agonizingly slow), and trying to become accustomed to my new normal. This is true in terms of the work I’m trying to accomplish (including writing blog posts!), staying connected with friends and family, especially Kristen and the boys (we’ve come to really like the Marco Polo app), or simply coming to realize what creature comforts will simply not be part of life here (I’m looking at you, Netflix). Again, some blessings are more obvious than others.

My current morning routine has me waking with the sun, saying morning prayers, and reading from Isaiah, Revelation, and Luke. Isaiah is a book I’d love, love, love to have more time to dive deep into. I feel like I know it while it yet remains an immense mystery (which is, of course, true for all of the Scriptures, but it’s more amplified for me with Isaiah). I’m currently in what’s referred to as “deutero-Isaiah”: chapters 40-55, which begins, “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from theLord’s hand double for all her sins.” Words of intimacy and comfort follow, originally intended to encourage exiles in Babylon that it is time to return to Zion (Jerusalem). 2,500+ years later, it has been wonderful to read a bit of this message every morning as I adjust to a new way of life, as well as to prepare to celebrate the birth of the Messiah.

I pray that all our friends and family find comfort in knowing that we are invited to return home out of our (self-imposed) exile thanks to the One who became one of us in order to make it possible.

John Prine, the Opioid Epidemic, and the Death of My Sister

Recently, my friend Scott Elliott, pastor at La Grange Church of Christ, shared a new music video for the song Summer’s End by John Prine, which I recommend you watch all the way through before reading further.

Scott, with his typical eloquence and pastoral acumen, offered these comments:

This video from John Prine is heartbreaking. It is a reminder that we live in a broken world, and we all long for everything to be made right. We long for home, and not just our imperfect understanding of home. We long for home as it should be. We long for a home where that which has been lost is restored. We long for a home where sin and death are words that mean nothing to us because they no longer exist.

If you are struggling with addiction, you are not alone. If you are depressed, you are not alone. If you are hurting, you are not alone. If you are lonely, you are not alone. There are people all around you who love you and care for you. Reach out to someone and find help. We are on this journey together.

“For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” (Hebrews 11:14-16)

Scott’s post, and Prine’s video, completely hijacked my day. I started weeping in a corner of Doubleshot Coffee. I’ve revisited the video countless times since, and I weep harder every time I see it (at this point I’m just ugly crying). I’m ashamed to admit, however, that I didn’t figure out why it had such an impact on me until the third time I watched it.

My little sister, Crystal Ann, died of an opioid overdose on January 16, 2011. She was 28 years old. Crystal was 14 months younger than me, and my only biological sibling. Apart from being siblings, though, we had very little in common. The majority of our interactions (at least the ones I remember) involved fighting – often physically. In high school, due to a part-time job and my music, I was rarely home (she wasn’t either, for that matter), and we saw each other less and less.

As adults, our interactions became more and more rare, so that we saw each other two or three times a year, tops. I knew from Mom that Crystal was struggling with substance abuse and addiction, including several hospital stays and multiple attempts at rehabilitation. The Sunday that she died, she left a voicemail for me, which was relatively rare. Even more surprising (given my poor record at returning messages), I called back and left a voicemail, in which I told her that I loved her.

I have no way of knowing whether or not she heard that voicemail. I hope so.

At Crystal’s visitation, with the help of my Aunt Janet and my granddad (Paw-Paw), I prayed the Psalter over her body; it took a little less than four hours. Later, when I began to include the lighting of candles as part of my prayers, I began to pray for God’s mercy regarding Crystal when I lit those candles. As Charlie and I (and now E., and soon, Judah) light candles when we enter the church, we pray for Aunt Crystal first, every time. In the Orthodox Church, prayer for loved ones who have died isn’t about time in purgatory, or indulgences, but is first and foremost an expression of love for our deceased. It is founded on a belief that while God cannot be bribed or manipulated, he certainly hears our genuinely impassioned pleas for mercy on behalf of those we truly love.

In any case, although I pray regularly for Crystal and think of her frequently in the context of my boys’ relationships with one another, I didn’t realize that I was weeping for her (or, to be more precise and honest, for us) until I’d watched Prine’s video a few times. I didn’t realize how powerful the concept of home is for me, and how much my little sister plays a role in what “home” means to me. I think that I’ve wept more, and harder, for Crystal in the last couple of days than I did when she died.

The loss of my sister has absolutely impacted how I think of death, what death means, and the significance of Christ’s victory over death by means of his crucifixion and resurrection. I hear and contemplate the many versions of the Paschal Troparion (“Christ is risen from the dead/trampling down death by death/and upon those in the tombs bestowing life”) year-round; I am frequently reminded of the words of St. John Chrysostom’s Paschal Homily; I hear the Christ’s victory proclaimed loudly in the music Johnny Cash made at the end of his life:

I hear these hymns and songs, and I am filled with hope – hope in God’s mercy, in Christ’s faith, and in his perfect love. My prayer for those who have fallen asleep is that taught to me by my Church:

O God of spirits and of all flesh, who hast trampled down Death, and made powerless the Devil, and given life to Thy world: Do Thou, the same Lord, give rest to the soul of Thy departed servant, in a place of brightness, a place of verdure, a place of repose, whence all sickness, sorrow, and sighing have fled away. Pardon every sin which she hath committed, whether by word, or deed or thought: for Thou art good, and lovest mankind; for there is no man who liveth and sinneth not, and Thou only art beyond sin, and Thy righteousness is to all eternity, and Thy law is truth. . . .

May the immortal King, who hath dominion over the living and the dead, and who rose again from the dead, Christ our true God, through the intercessions of His all-immaculate and all-blameless holy Mother; of the holy, glorious and all-laudable apostles; of our venerable and God-bearing Fathers; of the holy and glorious forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; of the holy and righteous friend of Christ, Lazarus of four-days, and of all the Saints, establish the soul of His servant, departed this life, in the dwelling-place of the righteous, give her rest in the bosom of Abraham, and number her among the righteous, and have mercy on us, and save us, forasmuch as He is good and loveth mankind.

May thy memory be eternal, O our ever-memorable sister who art worthy of blessedness.


A Veterinarian’s Prayer

As many of you know, I was blessed to have the opportunity to study historical theology and biblical exegesis at Wheaton College from 2010 to 2013. I followed that with a research position at Iowa State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, where I was blessed to be able to pursue a PhD in Veterinary Microbiology and Preventive Medicine.

As I transitioned from focusing full-time on biblical and theological studies to focusing full-time on veterinary infectious disease research, I felt compelled to articulate the relationship between the two: between what it means to be God’s co-worker (as articulated in passages like 2 Corinthians 6:1; 1 Thessalonians 3:2; and Romans 8:17) and to be a veterinarian (and, in particular, a veterinary researcher).

I wrote the following prayer as a result of my preliminary thoughts on this topic, to help me begin to articulate some of these ideas, and to enable me to ask God’s help in better realizing and implementing them.

O Lord Jesus Christ, only-begotten Son and Word of God, through whom God the Father created all things, both visible and invisible, Source of Life and Destroyer of Death

Blessed are you who allows me to witness and participate in the beauty of your creation; for every creature that awakens to new life and joyfully sings your praises in a thousand ways; for the birds and beasts that bear the imprint of your love.

In your great mercy and love for mankind, cause me to turn back from thoughts, words, and deeds that defile and afflict your creation; rather, cause me to be your co-worker in caring for and healing the birds and beasts over which you have given mankind stewardship.

You who have said, “apart from me you can do nothing,” grant me the wisdom, patience, understanding, and benevolence to honor the dignity you have bestowed upon my labor as a veterinarian, that by my participation with you in this work you would be glorified, with the Father who is from everlasting, together will your all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, both now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

The words in italics are taken from the Akathist of Thanksgiving, a beautiful prayer that magnifies the glory of God in the face of suffering, with a focus on the beauty of God’s creation.

I had the privilege of sharing this prayer with a group of veterinarians and veterinary students at Christian Veterinary Mission’s Real Life Real Impact conference in 2017. I spoke about what prayer is, why we do it, and then I discussed the components of my veterinarian’s prayer.

Ultimately, prayer is our sacrificial offering to God, as we see in Psalm 141:2 (140 LXX): “May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice,” and in Revelation 8:4: “The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand.”

Tertullian put it this way in the third century:

“It is an excellent custom to present, like an opulent offering, a prayer fattened with all that tends to dignify and honor God. For this is the spiritual oblation that has wiped out the ancient sacrifices. . . . We are true worshippers and true priests who, praying in the Spirit, in the spirit offer up prayer, an oblation fitting and acceptable to God, one, indeed, which he has sought, one which he has provided for himself.”

Regarding why we pray, I think it begins with the understanding that we are a “royal priesthood . . . that [we] may proclaim the excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). This concept of priesthood necessarily involves the concept of mediation. In the New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, in an article on the Hebrew word for priest (kohen), Philip Jenson writes:

“Perhaps the central concept of priesthood is mediation between the sphere of the divine and the ordinary world. A priest through his ritual actions and his words facilitates communication across the boundary separating the holy from the profane. The priests represented God to the people in the splendor of their clothing, in their behavior, and in oracles and instruction, while in sacrifice and intercession they represented the people to God.”

Prayer, then, is our offering to God on behalf of all of creation (including, but not limited to, our fellow human beings). Likewise, through prayer we act as God’s co-workers, allowing His grace to work through us via our praise and intercession.


In my veterinarian’s prayer, I begin with a brief reflection on who God is, which is intimately connected with what God has done. As I’ve said elsewhere, the most important question we can seek to answer is that of Jesus to his disciples: “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” (Matthew 22:42). I then give thanks for his call on my life, and for the amazing gift of the invitation to participate with him.

I move on to offer repentance, recognizing that as human beings, we turn away from God and seek to do our own will in contradiction to his will, and in doing so we distance ourselves from the source of existence and life, and draw closer to non-existence and death. As the priests of creation, when we do this, we draw creation farther away from God along with us. Elder Zosima makes the same claim in The Brothers Karamozov:

“But when he knows that he is not only worse than all those in the world, but is also guilty before all people, on behalf of all and for all, for all human sins, the world’s and each person’s, only then will the goal of our unity be achieved. For you must know, my dear ones, that each of us is undoubtedly guilty on behalf of all and for all on earth, not only because of the common guilt of the world, but personally, each one of us, for all people and for each person on this earth.”

Finally, I ask for wisdom, patience, understanding, and benevolence to enable me to move forward and enter into the invitation to participate with God in the work that I’ve been called to carry out in his name and for his glory.

I found this exercise immensely helpful, and having this prayer to remind me has been an absolute gift. I encourage all who have made it to the end of this post to consider composing a similar prayer, that you might spend some time working through what it means for you, specifically, to be God’s co-worker on earth.


These of Whom We Speak Are Not Dead

Last Friday, we said goodbye to the body of Betty Coatney, my Pawpaw’s wife of 10 years, whom he married some time after my Mawmaw died. As Charlie and I kissed her cheek for the last time, I couldn’t help but note that it was Charlie’s first time to see (and kiss) a dead body. (We had talked earlier that day about how a dead person’s body looks like it’s asleep, but that the only thing that can wake it up is when Jesus comes back from heaven.)
“Thank you for taking care of our Pawpaw. We love you. We’ll see you when Jesus comes back.”
Yesterday we celebrated the falling asleep of the mother of Jesus (the Dormition of the Theotokos, celebrated on August 15th each year) by attending the Divine Liturgy. As Charlie and I leaned in to kiss the icon of Mary, resting on her bier, I said to him, “See, she’s resting in her coffin, waiting for Jesus to wake her up.” His response: “Like Nana Betty?”
Yes; just like Nana Betty.
I’m so grateful for the Christian understanding and love for the bodies of the deceased. The priest at Holy Apostles, where we usually go when we’re in Tulsa, noted in his homily yesterday the words of St. John of Damascus from the eighth century:
In the Law, anyone who touched a corpse was accounted unclean (Num. 19:11). But these of whom we speak are not dead. Because Life itself and the Author of life was reckoned amongst the dead, we do not call these dead who have fallen asleep in the hope of resurrection and in the faith in Him.
What a gift! That which was once unclean becomes clean! That which we once were right to fear no longer has any hold over us!
Kristen, Charlie, Judah, and I waited graveside as the attendants lowered Betty’s casket and prepared to fill the grave. As I helped Charlie empty a shovel-full of dirt onto the vault, I heard the words that conclude St. John Chrysostom’s most famous Easter homily:
Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.

Let no one lament their poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed.

Let no one mourn their transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave.

Let no one fear death, for the Saviour’s death has set us free.
He that was taken by death has annihilated it!

He descended into hell and took hell captive!

He embittered it when it tasted His flesh! And anticipating this, Isaiah exclaimed: “Hades was embittered when it encountered Thee in the lower regions“.
It was embittered, for it was abolished!

It was embittered, for it was mocked!

It was embittered, for it was purged!

It was embittered, for it was despoiled!

It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!
It took a body and came upon God!

It took earth and encountered Ηeaven!

It took what it saw, but crumbled before what it had not seen!
O death, where is thy sting?

O hell, where is thy victory?
Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!

Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!

Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!

Christ is risen, and life reigns!

Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in a tomb!
For Christ, being raised from the dead, has become the First-fruits of them that have slept.

To Him be glory and might unto the ages of ages.