Entries with tag living tradition .

Life Lessons from "This Is Us" - Pop Culture Espresso Shots

My wife and I are huge fans of NBC’s new show, This is Us. We love it so much, that we are even willing to admit that Mandy Moore isn’t annoying in this particular show. Seriously. She isn’t.

The show follows a family of five. Jack and Rebecca Pearson are the parents of three triplets, two biological (Kevin and Kate) and one adopted (Randall). This is Us does something unique with its storytelling, however, by splitting the narrative into two timelines. One focuses on the life of the family when the kids were children (usually when they are 8 years old), while the other focuses on the lives of kids as adults, after Jack has died and Rebecca has remarried.

Each episode is full of joy, pain, struggle, and reality as we follow these people’s lives and come to understand the unique issues that each faces. Almost every episode has made me cry at some point. Of course, it really isn’t too hard to make me cry, but still, I think it’s worth noting the emotional honesty of This is Us.

Even though Jack Pearson is dead in the timeline that follows the adult Pearson children, it is clear that he has made an indelible mark on his family. They love their father, and his family has been shaped by his optimism, his humor, and above all else, his utter dedication to them.

In the Thanksgiving episode, we learn that the Pearsons annually recreate their best Thanksgiving, which involved a 3.4 mile hike (to a convenience store), roasting hot dogs against an open furnace flame, and of course, a pilgrim’s hat. Behind each of these traditions is Jack’s unwavering faithfulness to his family, his devotion to ensuring that they are seen, loved, and cared for.

As a father myself now, watching this show resonates with me deeply. I look at how Jack has shaped his family’s life, and I can’t help but hope and pray that my children remember me as fondly as his remember him.

I hope that I leave a mark on my kids.

Jack’s mark, however, is not necessarily based in anything that he says. He doesn’t just have the right words at the right time for his kids, but rather, his impact is based on who he is. It is not so much the issue of Jack’s parenting, but rather it is the issue of Jack’s character.

I’ve talked with my wife a whole lot about how I want our girls to know and love the Lord, how I want them to feel brave and resilient, to have self-control and to be humble. We’ve discussed how we want them to stand up for goodness and truth but to be kind and merciful.

In watching This is Us, however, I increasingly realize that if I am to have any hope of my children learning these lessons from me, it has to be because I demonstrate them myself. You can’t share what you don’t have.

If I wish my children to know and love the Lord, then I must decide today that I am going to relentlessly pursue knowledge of and love for the Lord myself. If I want them to be tender, compassionate and merciful, then I need to demonstrate tenderness, compassion, and mercy in my dealings with them.

Above all else, This is Us has made me look at my own life and my own heart and realize how desperately I need to work on orienting myself toward Christ before I even dream of having an impact on my children. Both parenting and following the Lord are not just about saying the right words, but rather they must be about becoming the kind of person who has the right words instinctively, as a second nature.

St. Seraphim of Sarov is frequently quoted for saying, “Acquire the Spirit of peace, and a thousand around you will be saved.” I guess “a thousand” must start in my own home, with my own wife and my own children. But even before them, it starts with me, with my own acquiring the Spirit of peace.

This Nativity fast has been trying (and not because of the food). I have continually been presented with opportunities to see myself clearly, to admit that I’m quickly frustrated and extremely defensive/offensive when people disagree with me. It sucks.

But if I’m going to teach my children to repent, it means I’m going to have to model repentance in my own life, it means that I’m going to have to see myself clearly, that I’m going to have to model self-understanding and then the humility it takes to admit that I was wrong.

This is Us has been a fantastic show. It has given me an image for the kind of husband and father I want to be. Jack Pearson isn’t without his faults, but he is committed to his family, and that’s a commitment he passes on to his family.

My hope and prayer is that I, too, can become a man of commitment, first to the Lord and then to my family. Instead of just talking to my kids about Jesus, I’ll be able to talk to them as someone who knows Him, trusting that His grace will fill my words and kindle the fire of love for Him in their own hearts too.

Photo credits: Depositphotos

Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, podcaster, and CrossFitter. Christian has his first MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.


For more on this idea, check out this episode of The Trench:


Finding Ourselves Within Tradition - Pop Culture Espresso Shots

I recently binge-watched the ABC musical comedy, Galavant. The show begins when the show’s eponymous medieval knight’s ladylove, Madalena, is forced to marry the evil King Richard. As Sir Galavant rushes to her rescue, attempting to stop the wedding dramatically, Madalena tells the romantic Galavant that she actually is now choosing to marry Richard, largely because she desires to be wealthy, powerful, and live in a castle.

Distraught, Galavant turns to drink and becomes a has-been hero.

The story is thus about Galavant’s return to being a hero and his desire to win back the heart of Madalena and overthrow the King. Of course, I don’t want to give too much of it away as there is a lot of fun to be had, but I highly recommend it to anyone who might be amused by such thing.

The show itself is very clever. It is a lot of fun, heart-warming, and delightfully silly, full of dancing knights and the like. What is most enjoyable, however, is that this show has quite intentionally chosen to place itself within a long tradition of musicals and other knightly stories.

Without taking itself seriously (whatsoever), the show makes unapologetic references to all kinds of stories: West Side Story, Les Miserables, The Princess Bride, Lord of the Rings, and Game of Thrones to name only a few. By doing this, the show has no pretense at all about being some kind of unique story, unique offering to the world of television, musicals, or medieval lore.

But in so doing, it actually emerges triumphantly as an entirely original and marvelously enjoyable show. It borrows (and some times flat out steals) from other stories, but Galavant nonetheless succeeds not only as an entertaining way to spend half-an-hour, but also as another comedy, musical, and knightly tale.

As I reflected on this, I considered the ending of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, in which he writes, “In literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.”[1]

Here, in Galavant, this proved to be entirely true. Galavant not only didn’t seek to make itself unique, it intentionally paid homage to the other stories it was almost exactly like. In so doing, it showed itself to be entirely original.

I think this rings true with our lives as well. Unfortunately, we so often spend our energy trying to be unique individuals, trying to express ourselves or live authentically. We don’t want to be “fake,” so we go to extensive lengths in order to “live our own truth.”

Usually, this involves deciding what kind of person we want to be, and then doing the things that kind of person would do, and so:

We shop at Abercrombie.

We only eat organic.

We start CrossFit and then never stop talking about it.

Yet a great irony occurs here: that by trying to be unique we actually end up being just like everyone else. We are not truly being ourselves, we are buying ourselves from people who want to sell our selves to us.

In trying to find ourselves, we lose ourselves – I think Jesus may have said something like that (Matt. 16:25).

Rather, instead of just trying to express ourselves, trying to be unique and individual, if we saw ourselves as being placed within a larger tradition of saints and sinners, people who have been brought to new life in Christ, we would see that we, too, might find a way to newness of life.

This is why it’s amazing to note that there have been all kinds of saints: doctors, lawyers, warriors, teenagers, married, monks…really, the difference among the followers of Christ is far and wide, while those of us who pursue authenticity according to our own desires, according to what we think makes us original end up looking like carbon copies of one another.

We may feel that following Christ is “boring,” or something that we resist because we don’t want to be told what to do. But if we seek originality by our own judgments, we are still likely to fail to achieve uniqueness as we are simply being branded by companies that want our money.

If we follow Christ, however, if we lose ourselves by following Him, by throwing it all in and giving ourselves to the long tradition of those who have come before us, we may be utterly delighted when we discover that by giving ourselves away in service, we find who we really are: persons made to reveal the image of God uniquely.

And since I’ve tried over and over again to write a brilliant (original) conclusion to this and have continually failed, I’ll let C.S. Lewis close for me:

Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will really be yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.[2]

[1] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1980), p. 226.

[2] Ibid., p. 227.


Photo Credits: Depositphotos



Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, podcaster, and CrossFitter. Christian has his first MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.


Christopsomo: An Ancient Christmas Tradition and a Modern Recipe

Bread has always been a staple of the Greek table, inexorably associated with life and substance, the staff of life.  For Orthodox Christians, bread has always had symbolic, sacred importance; indeed, Christ himself is referred to as “the Bread of Life.”  The convergence of these two currents in Greek Orthodox society produced a nearly two thousand year-old living tradition in which the preparation and baking of bread for holidays and other special occasions has functioned as a creative, expressive medium for celebrating faith and hope.  This tradition is most well known for yielding the annual appearance of Tsoureki, the renowned “Easter bread” found in every Greek Orthodox home at Pascha.  But just as Easter has its own traditional bread, so too does Christmas.

Christopsomo—bread of Christ, or Christ’s bread—has been used to signify and celebrate Christ’s birth probably since early Byzantine times, if not earlier.  Great care goes into the annual preparation of Christopsomo in many Greek Orthodox homes.  Only the most superior ingredients are to be used, and, according to tradition, no expense should be spared in making this mildly sweet, light, yet rich, spice-infused bread.  Reflecting its religious inspiration, Christopsomo is usually round in form, the loaf serving as a circle, symbolic of eternity, the passing of this life, and the hope of life everlasting through Christ.  Indeed, the prominent chef, author, and authority on Greek cuisine and foodways, Diane Kochilas, observes that “the very fact that the bread is edible folk art, consumed, after so much hard work, is itself symbolic of the ephemeral nature of life itself.”           

Although special Christmas breads are common to many Orthodox cultures and peoples (Cesnica among Serbs, Cozonac among Romanians, Kolach among Ukrainians, and Krendel among Russians, for example), the decorative customs associated with Christopsomo are unique to Greek tradition.  In fact, all such Christmas breads are meant to be decorated in ways symbolizing good wishes, hope for the future, and God’s grace through imagery that touches on the livelihood of the family.  In rural villages, the Christopsomo is adorned with ornate, sculpted dough figures representing crops, livestock, plows, farming traditions, and more.  In the region of Kastoria, villagers traditionally honored their animals by also making small individual Christopsomo biscuits representing each of their sheep, goats, donkeys, and horses.  In fishing or other coastal or island communities, the Christopsomo may feature images of boats, fish, or sponges.  Common Christopsomo symbols found throughout Greece include grapes and vines, olive trees, sheep, and daisies, the petals of which represent the number of family members.  Despite an abundance of regional variations, the most common symbol is the Greek letter “X,” the early Christian representation for Christ. 

The Christopsomo is broken by Greek Orthodox Christians in much the same way throughout the world, whether in Albania, Cyprus, Greece, Greek America, Turkey or elsewhere.  In the historic Greek world, Christopsomo was traditionally made the day before Christmas and eaten on Christmas Day.  In the Greek Diaspora we encounter both continuity and some change in this practice.  As Marilyn Rouvelas concisely points out in her wonderful and deservedly ubiquitous book, A Guide to Greek Traditions and Customs in America, “Some families attend church on Christmas Eve and return home for a meal that begins with the cutting of the Christopsomo by the head of the household.  Others wait until a main meal on Christmas Day.  The head of the house makes the sign of the cross on the bread with a knife saying, ‘In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,’ and then cuts a piece for each person with a wish of ‘Kala Christouyena (‘Good Christmas’) or “Chronia polla’ (‘Many years’).”

With characteristic generosity and grace, and in the spirit of Christmas, the talented Diane Kochilas shares gratis with the public a traditional Cretan recipe for Christopsomo from her website, “Diane Kochilas: Greek Food for Life,” originally published in 2001 in her superlative book, The Glorious Foods of Greece:



¼ ounce beer yeast

3-4 cups hit water

5 ½ pounds flour used for bread 

3 cups plus 1 tsp sugar

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 cup fresh orange juice

1 tsp mastic crystals 

1 tbsp ground cinnamon

1 tbsp ground coriander

1 tbsp ground fennel seeds

4 walnuts, in their shell

1 large egg, slightly beaten with 2 tbsp water

1 ½ cup sesame seeds mixed with ¼ cup sugar

1.  Make the starter: In a large bowl dissolve the yeast in 1 cup hot water and add 1 cup flour.  Mix well, cover the bowl, allowing the yeast to rise for an hour.  Add 1 cup sugar, ½ cup oil, the orange juice and 1 cup flour.  Mix with a wooden spoon, add more flour if necessary in order to make a soft dough.  Knead until smooth.  Let sit covered in a warm place until doubled in bulk, approx. 2 hours.

2.  Using a pestle and mortar grind the mastic crystals with 1 tsp sugar.  In another bowl, large enough to fit all the remaining ingredients, mix the rest of the flour, 2 cups sugar and spices.  Create a well in the middle and place the starter there.  Start kneading working progressively and adding the rest of the water in doses until you get a firm, yet smooth dough.  Continue kneading, either by hand on a floured surface, or in a mixer with a dough hook (you might need to divide the dough mass to fit inside the mixer bowl).  Knead until smooth, about 10-12 minutes.  Add flour as needed to achieve the desired silky, non-sticky texture.  Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and leave to rise, about 2 hours, until doubled in bulk.  You can also divide the dough and knead two or four pieces separately, leaving them, if desired in the same oiled bowl or in separate ones.   

3.  Once the dough has risen, punch it down again gently.  Depending on whether you have kept one big piece or four smaller ones, divide so that there are eight equal balls altogether.  Shape these into ropes about 8 inches long.  Take two per loaf and shape into a cross, pressing to secure in the middle.  Let rest in oiled pans, covered with a kitchen towel, until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour or so.  Press a whole walnut into the middle and bake in a preheated oven at 390 degrees Fahrenheit.  Brush with an egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds.  Bake until golden, about 40 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack and serve. Wrapped well in cling film, the breads will last for about a week. Or, wrap well and freeze.

For a traditional round shape loaf, follow the directions above, except where the recipe calls for two 8-inch ropes of dough coil a 24-inch roll of the dough into a mounded circle (similar to a snail shell).  Of course, if you, like me, lack the basic skills for success in the fine art of baking, you can also use a very modern approach to enjoying this centuries-old custom: visit your local Greek bakery or other purveyor of fine breads and make off with several loaves of Christopsomo for home, family, and friends.

Whether you make your own Christopsomo or others do so for you, remember and take joy in the fact that when you break this bread at your Christmas table you are partaking in an ancient custom that connects you, in living tradition, to the community of Orthodox Christians past, present, and future, with whom you share this special bond in celebration of the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Merry Christmas.       


Dr. Alexandros K. Kyrou is Professor of History at Salem State University, where he teaches on the Balkans, Byzantium, and the Ottoman Empire.

What do we mean by "Living Tradition"?

We often say that the Orthodox Tradition is a "living tradition."  But what does that really mean? We have to admit that the definition might elude us.  This recent experience led me to think about the phrase and it led me to some kind of "working definition."

About two weeks ago, I arranged for one of my classes at Holy Cross to visit the St. Catherine’s Church in Braintree, Massachusetts. The iconographer, Mr. George Kordis, and his team were working to paint the icons for the church. Mind you, he had not painted on canvases in a studio and was now installing them on the walls (picture a very wallpaper hanging job!) but instead, he and his team were painting the icons (in egg tempera) on the walls themselves – the dome with its Pantocrator, Prophets and angels, the drum under the dome, the pendentives, and the sanctuary apse (the Platyera). In addition, other pieces were being painted as well. In about six weeks all this work would be done to be “unveiled” to the parish at its feast day on November 25.

The students had the opportunity to climb the scaffolding and get very close to many of the pieces. The students also had the opportunity to meet the iconographer, hear how he goes about his work, and his thinking behind it.

Kordis made an interesting observation, which I can only describe as the definition of “living tradition.”  He told the group that he was not just copying older icons and placing them on the walls. Rather he was “creating” icons, relying on the models of the past (Kordis has written and taught extensively about the art of the Church) but fitting the new situation of the new building in order to create a unified vision for the worshipping congregation. This new building had requirements that older buildings did not have, so a new approach to the icons had to be taken. On the trivial side he noted, how does an iconographer work around sprinklers, recessed lights, exit signs, and the particular placement of windows?  The drum supporting the dome created a unique challenge (he has painted miracles of Christ) On a grander side, the pendentives in this structure are enormous and more square than triangular, requiring the placement of other scenes (four scenes from the life of Christ). As he said, placing Evangelists in these four spaces would mean they would have to be so large that they would overwhelm the congregation, thus disrupting the harmony of the whole.

Living Tradition -- Being in faithful continuity to the past while meeting the needs of the present and thinking about the future.


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