Why Helen?

It was my second time in an Orthodox Church.

A week before, Courtney and I had visited St. Ignatius (now our home parish) for Vespers with one of my brothers and a few of Courtney’s siblings. I knew right away that I wanted to go back. There were so many connections I made during the service to the Old Testament sanctuary and to various New Testament verses. I experienced a sense of spiritual peace that I had never experienced in church prior to that. There were about 40 people there for vespers that evening, and a third to half of the women were veiled. We were Sabbatarians at the time, and were visiting a number of Seventh-day Adventist and Seventh Day Baptist churches in the area, trying to find a church home. I remember on the car ride home saying that I wanted to keep coming to St. Ignatius—my idea at the time was that we would go to an SDA or SDB church Saturday morning, and then close out the day with vespers at St. Ignatius.

Now, a week later, my plan was falling apart.

I was in Sturgeon Bay for the weekend for drill, and Courtney was staying with my parents in Neenah for the weekend. So we met at St. Matthew in Green Bay Saturday evening for vespers. We did not know that St. Matthew was without a priest at the time. We were 2 out of the 4 people that were there for Reader’s Vespers that evening. That was not the cause of my trouble, though. My trouble came from one of the readings.

As the reader read the below, I found myself thinking it was a bunch of fairy-tale hocus pocus:

Although the holy empress Helen was already in her declining years, she set about completing the task with enthusiasm. The empress gave orders to destroy the pagan temple and the statues in Jerusalem. Searching for the Life-Creating Cross, she made inquiry of Christians and Jews, but for a long time her search remained unsuccessful.

Finally, they directed her to a certain elderly Hebrew by the name of Jude who stated that the Cross was buried where the temple of Venus stood. They demolished the pagan temple and, after praying, they began to excavate the ground. Soon the Tomb of the Lord was uncovered. Not far from it were three crosses, a board with the inscription ordered by Pilate, and four nails which had pierced the Lord’s Body.

In order to discern on which of the three crosses the Savior was crucified, Patriarch Macarius alternately touched the crosses to a corpse. When the Cross of the Lord touched the dead one, he came to life. Having beheld the raising of the dead man, everyone was convinced that the Life-Creating Cross was found.

I was a little sad as I walked out of the church. Only one week since my first visit, and I still felt a longing to go back. But, I told myself, I couldn’t take my wife and future children to a place where such ridiculousness was taught.

The question hit me as I put the car in gear. It wasn’t a voice, just a question: Do you believe that the dead man who touched Elisha’s bones was resurrected? The answer was immediate and obvious: Yes, I fully and completely believed this. If you believe that touching the bones of Elisha made a dead man come to life, why can’t you believe that touching my cross would? I wrestled with this as I drove north. My first answer was that the story about Elisha’s bones was in the Bible, and the story about St. Helen, St. Macarius, and the Life-Giving Cross was not. But I instantly recognized this was a cheap cop-out. Yet I couldn’t change the fact that I believed the one and disbelieved the other.

I don’t know exactly how long I struggled with this, but I know that before I got to Sturgeon Bay I had reached that inevitable conclusion that my reaction to the story was a result of a lack of faith on my part. A lack of faith I could not overcome. I had nothing to fall back on but the prayer of Mark 9:24: ““Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” I repeated that prayer as I finished my drive, and I arrived at my hotel with more humility than I’d begun the day with.

I look back on that drive as the most pivotal moment on my path to Orthodoxy, although it would be another two years before I was accepted into the Church by Chrismation. And that is why, when my 3rd child was born, she was baptized with the name “Helen.”

So You Want to Buy a Freezer…

The first thing to consider is what you will be putting in the freezer. Do you plan to buy a whole (or half) beef once a year? Or do you plan to fill the freezer with venison in the fall? If either of these is the case you should consider buying two smaller freezers, rather than one large one. For example, I have a just over 9 cubic foot freezer, which I fill with venison every fall. We really need a bit more freezer space, because the kids are getting older and it takes more venison to last a year, but you can fit 4-5 good size deer in a 9 cubic foot freezer if you debone all your meat and have nothing else in the freezer. This equates to about half a beef. However, if I was to do it again, with a plan to either buy half a beef a year or shoot 4-5 deer a year, I would buy a 3 cubic foot freezer and a 7 cubic foot freezer instead of a 9 cubic foot freezer.

Having two smaller freezers would substantially reduce the energy cost of running the freezers. Freezers are most efficient when full, which is why many people recommend that you add jugs of water to the freezer as it empties. We would eat out of the smaller one until it was mostly empty, then move the remainder to the fridge freezer inside and shut off the smaller freezer. Then, we would eat out the larger freezer until it was about half empty, at which point we would shut off the larger freezer and move the remainder of the meat into the smaller freezer. This would be much more efficient than the current situation, in which our freezer is half or more empty for half the year.

Another thing to consider is how much variety there is in what you will be filling the freezer with. Are you buying a whole or half beef once a year, or filling your freezer entirely with venison? Or are you buying a quarter cow once a year, plus butchering 50 chickens and 15 turkeys, plus hunting for deer, duck, pheasant, and goose? If you are closer to the second situation than the first, you are likely to find that every time you go to the freezer to grab something, its underneath a bunch of other stuff. The solution in this case is to get an upright freezer and a chest freezer. Upright freezers are far less efficient than chest freezers, but they are very good at keeping multiple things separate and organized. You can have a beef shelf, a venison shelf, a chicken shelf, a duck shelf, etc. When a shelf gets empty, you can reload it from the chest freezer. This will greatly reduce the time you spend digging through the chest freezer, which often involves taking quite a bit of food out of the freezer and then putting it back in.

Often, you can pick chest freezers up for a good price on craigslist. However, if you decide to buy new, try to look at a few different brands. Figure out what you will use to keep things organized inside. I like milk crates. I can pull out the milk crate of ground venison quickly and easily to access the milk crate of roasts underneath. Also, when the freezer is getting empty, a milk crate holds 1 gallon milk jugs perfectly. You can refill these jugs with water and place them in the freezer to take up space and help the freezer run efficiently. However, some brands and sizes of chest freezer won’t fit milk crates. Find a brand that fits a convenient stackable storage container, because the last thing you want is everything loose in the freezer.