Luxuriating with The Theotokos, The Bard, and Tricky Greek Grammar

June 1, 2020

They may have reopened those all-important tattoo parlors in some places, but you won’t catch me venturing too far from the comforts of my condo to find one. I am happily hunkered down, buying scones at Whole Foods. I’m also becoming more meditative about the books that line the shelf in my office.

What I’m discovering is I am more eclectic in my choices than I first thought. I may have more books than Trump has doctors waiting backstage to replace the expert du jour who Trump fires because their medical opinions don’t line up.  

Since my retirement, I have developed this appetite for – no judgment, ok? – for romance novels. But keep that between us. Late at night, or even on my daily walk through the park, I’m turning the pages on titles from Nora Roberts. If we were still living like we were before the outbreak, I would bravely be reading in Dunkin Donuts, but with the book resting on my lap so as not to attract attention, particularly from oak tree-size construction workers who barrel in for their afternoon brew.

Pulp fiction selections or not, please don’t pigeonhole me. My collection includes Kahil Gibran’s classic The Prophet. Alongside it is Shakespeare’s Othello, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Then I uncovered the, um, Cliffs Notes version of The Odyssey. Again, keep that between us. I’ve read the real thing, plus the Iliad. 

Granted, it took me ten years to get through the first time, half the same length of time it took epic hero Odysseus to return to Penelope after the Trojan War. For the sake of accuracy, I should note that the war itself took ten years. We Greeks like to take life slow.

On my nightstand is a coffee-table size book called The Big Book of Fun Facts. I’m a sucker for reads like this, particularly if it bulges with eye-popping photos and graphics. I found this tidbit of interest: Women and children are barred from scaling Mount Athos. Even female animals are on the `No Climb’ list.  One more. Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher is where Christ’s resurrection and empty tomb are located. The caretaker of the church is a Palestinian Muslim.

I also have at hand a copy of Language and Literature. Published by the Oxford University Press, it’s a course book for students in the robust and rigorous International Baccalaureate program. It takes deep dives into conceptual constructs, encouraging students to expand their intellectual landscape. This quote stuck with me: “In a sense, all literature is a transformation of experience into the written word and, in another case, all literature can be said to be about transformation.”

My little reading library also has a modest treasury of religious resources. In Discipleship, author Spiros Zodhiates talks about how, as broken people in a broken world, backsliding is part and parcel of our fallen humanity. When Peter denied Jesus, he writes, “Peter repented and wept bitterly. And the Lord forgave him.”

I fished this one out of Gateway of Life: Orthodox Thinking on the Mother of God, by Mary Cunningham. She points out that there are liturgical texts and iconography contained in the Marion feasts of the church that aren’t mentioned in the Old or New Testaments. The apocryphal text, known as the Protevangelium of James, covers some of the more obscure aspects of Mary’s life. For example, one describes a three-year-old Mary “dancing on her feet,” on the third step of the altar in front of the Jewish temple. The future mother of the Creator kicking up her heels?    

Finally, I have rediscovered a book on Beginner’s Greek. It contains two audio CDs which I’ve been listening to. So why does Anna call Nikos ‘Niko’? Because when a name ends in ‘s’, the ‘s’ is erased when that person “is being addressed directly.” 

If this shutdown continues much longer, I might burst into the gig economy teaching Greek school. Now that’s more frightening than disagreeing with Trump. 


Before plunging into a controversial and polarizing rant about the pandemic, I’d like to begin with a couple of disclaimers: first and foremost, I am profoundly saddened by all the suffering the virus’ victims and their loved ones have endured.

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