My Alaskan Caribou

There was a reason I chose the picture of the Caribou that heads this page. I searched the internet for something that represented how I feel about nature and much of what life means to me. I love the outdoors and pretty much everything in it. This love was instilled in me by my father who had it instilled in him while accompanying the late Bishop Orestes Chornock on many of his hunting trips to Sharon, CT. The bishop was a man who loved the outdoors and a man much in the tradition of the old country. It was his love for nature that my father passed on to his three sons and we are very lucky he did.

Over the years my brothers and I have hunted white tail deer in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia and New Jersey. We’ve also hunted black bear in Canada, both in Quebec and Ontario, and many types of small game from squirrels to rabbits to Ringed-neck pheasant. My father has had hunted deer in New Hampshire, wild boar in Pennsylvania and buffalo in South Dakota. He’s pursued caribou in Newfoundland and moose in New Hampshire. In doing so, we have experienced something refreshingly new, adventuresome and total independent from the claustrophobic wiles of society.

Whether it be in Canada or the US, hunting always afforded my family, quality time individually or together. Even my mom, a good sport if there ever was one, has been on the receiving end of this passion of ours. Being the youngest sibling growing up on an Upstate New York farm, she was well disposed to the rigors of the outdoors. She had the rare quality of waking up, brushing her hair and greeting the day with beauty and earthly grace. While she also enjoyed the ‘civilized’ aspects of life, she fully understood and lived the values she wanted her sons to inherit, love of God, country and family. It was the natural familial bond found in camping, fishing or hunting that she, my dad and her three young sons cherished so much, an independence from the rush of everyday life.

I still remember looking up at a star filled heaven, so clear that we followed satellites crossing overhead or seeing a great grey heron on a New Hampshire lake with my Uncle Nick or swatting millions of hungry mosquitos and gnats in the back woods of Canada while fishing for Walleye and Northern Pike. These experiences, big and small, have all contributed to mosaic of our adventures. Each richly filling us with awe and respect for the world that we both know and don’t know. There are many memories, many thoughts and many feelings that rightly accompany our love for nature.

My Caribou represents this. Both the physical beauty found in nature and the beauty found in life.  It is my intension to share these here and in so doing share with you one of the great blessings of my life.

SGMJr
9/13/2014

When Tough Times Hit

I have always have a special place in my heart and mind for nature. As a child, my father spent many of his vacations hunting deer, caribou, bear and moose in either Canada or the United States mostly with his longtime friends or close family. I remember his jaunts late at night coming back from Vermont or New Hampshire and the excitement of learning if he or one of his friends would arrive with a monstrous white-tail buck or bull moose.  Hunting has always been a part of my life as far as I can remember, and necessarily too, a profound respect for and love of nature. To this day I am mesmerized by the intricacies of the woods, the independence, the power and raw beauty that exists in so many parts of her. I have always found peace in her and a normalcy that can easily and rightfully be applied to our own sometimes confusing and existential human world. With God’s nature there is no confusion. Life is not just simplified here, it is made real, pure and true.

It has always been this way for me because my father introduced me to the wonder of the environment, the trickling streams where trout spawn, the deep woods of Canada where meandering black bears searched for food, on North Eastern farms where the beautiful White-tail deer live and breed. Nature was more than just something to look at. It was more than just a pretty postcard picture, it had an odor, a taste, possessed moisture, echoed loudly and moved with grace and ease. For me it was a love and a part of my life that continues to this day.

My father was a simple, yet complicated man. He had a remarkable ability to reflect and wonder, to ask questions especially about nature, this earth, why we are here and how all this fits into our own lives. As much as my father was a hard headed attorney with a reputation of no-nonsense savagery in the courtroom, he was a good and gentle man, a loving and forgiving soul. He was the bets man I have ever known. He, like my Mother, taught us to live as close to Christ’s life as possible. Moral and strict, he cut through the meddlesome confusion of ifs and buts with a sharp wit delivering no-nonsense responses to fool hardy questions. My father did not suffer fools lightly. He was always been a ‘rock’ standing for what he believed in despite the odds, much like his own father before him. If it wasn’t right he would say so. He was from the ‘old school.’ God, how we need more of that now.

As of late, life has not been easy for many of us here in my family and, I assume at times, has not been easy for a few of you who might be reading these words. We all go through tough times, but as of late, I can draw a clear parallel to a part of nature, which to some may seem foolish or funny, yet I find to be quite remarkable and good. To do this I ask you to bring to minds to a most formidable creature of the great Northern Tundra – the Muskox.

These mighty creatures can weigh nearly half a ton and, with their formidable horns and massive bodies, are quite imposing. While individually they are remarkably strong, it is not the individual creature that I refer to here, but their natural response when one of them is sick, injured or as a group are attacked. It is not the act of one bull or cow, but the actions of the herd that matter as each stands shoulder to shoulder creating a circular wall of muscle and bone held in place with all the brute strength, resolve and determination these mighty beasts can muster. Here the Muskox draw a clearly imposing boundary between themselves and that which they perceive as a threat. Together the bulls, cows and young simply refuse to budge on. They have made a decision and that decision is to stand together come what may.This instinct of self-defense and communal preservation has kept the Muskox alive throughout the centuries as hungry wolves and other predators lurked but a few yards away. It is this same instinct I found my family practicing when one of us, any of us,  including myself, becomes sick or injured as we rush to protect each other and when truly tough times come. This is as natural and necessary for us as it is for the Muskox and, I am sure, for many of you. For as mammals our actions together are far more effective than our actions alone.

While some may consider this a strange comparison, I do not for there are many times I see nature as a very accurate and insightful reflection of ourselves. We are, in the end, a part of nature and while we may want to place our ‘civilized’ selves above it, we cannot, nor should we. This is nothing more than the arrogance of man. There is no room for arrogance if we, like the Muskox, are to survive. There is so much to learn from this wonderful world. If we are wise, we will always seek the similarities. In so doing we must also stand shoulder to shoulder together in defiance of our common enemies as this is nature, and us, at our best.

SGMJr
9/13/2014

 

In Their Footsteps

In Their Footsteps

 

Friday night Lenten services always bring back memories for my mother and father always made it a point to take their three sons to church. It was difficult not to attend for on those quiet nights before Easter as my grandfather, Father Joseph Mihaly, needed altar boys to serve. It was usually both Billy and Sergie Bilcheck and I who would dress in our white altar boy cassocks and wait patiently for the service to begin as the sound of rushing trains occasionally filled the night air.

 

As we stood quietly under the watchful and saintly eyes of our beloved ‘Aunt’ Helen Rowland, we could see the congregation slowly fill the church, walked up the aisle to a small stand called the tetrapod, bless themselves, kiss the glass covered icon and find a seat in one the pews. As the church began to fi where a large icon sat. There, before the tetrapod, each man, woman and child would bless themselves and kiss the glass that protected the Holy picture of a saint or Christ Himself. After each parishioners would sit quietly in the simple wooden pews or light candles while placing coins or wrinkled dollar bills into wrought iron candle stands.

 

Soon Billie, Sergie or I would help prepare a chalice, called a cadillo, held by a series of a plated metal chains, holding it just high enough so my Grandfather could place a spoonful of incense on a burning charcoal, lit but a few seconds before. My Grandfather would then take the cadillo and walk through the church praying and incensing the icons and everyone. With each swing of his arms you could hear the gentle rattle of the cadillo chains as the pungent incense lifted itself around and above our heads in a meandering cloud of sweet mist. With each swing of the cadillo the people would bow their heads and bless themselves, forehead to chest, to right shoulder to left in Eastern Orthodox fashion.

 

Looking back now, I was mesmerized by the older men and women of the church, those who attended these Friday services, the men with their buzz cut cut hair and the women with colorful babushkas. Few knew English and those that did, practiced it with a strong Slavic accent. Many of the men worked in local factories, many in businesses that supported the large General Electric plant in Bridgeport, CT. Many shaped cold rolled steel with lathes and milling machines. There was humble, quiet strength to these people, strength I have always admired. It was this strength, too, that brought them to our church tonight and to hundred’s of Orthodox Greek Catholic churches around the nation on this quiet Friday night in observance of the Lenten season. But why were they really here?

 

My parents brought me up to be proud of our heritage, both ethnically and spiritually. I have learned that there is a real and profound passion to being an Orthodox Christian, a passion that goes beyond anything I have ever experienced at this or any other time of the year. For me, Lent is the most moving and most beautiful times of the year as I struggle to come to grips with my sinfulness, of how far I have fallen short in this world, how much I have disappointed God. In the midst of my sinfulness just the thought of a good, just, loving, all-powerful and forgiving God overwhelms me. How One so innocent and loving and perfect could have been betrayed and then crucified for our, my, sins always moves me to tears and enough so that I find it hard, if not impossible to sing.

There is no more poignant time of the year for me. On these holy nights we turn out the lights and sing a very moving Lenten hymn. As a child I attended many such services week after week, enough to have my grandfather’s voice beautifully echo within me as he sang the Preterpe. This is a good time of the year, as well, as beautiful and cherished memories of deceased relatives and friends fill me with memories of laughter and joy. Of love and faith. How blessed I have been to have known them all.

 

Our faith is more than prayers and holidays. It is more than just sermons. It is a faith of all the senses as Father Peter and other priests have said many times. We are called to give to the Good Lord, our total and undivided love. It is on these Friday nights that I have realized more than ever, the nature of our faith. It is humble and irrepressibly strong, a strength that can never be denied or defeated. I find it hard to express the feelings I have when I think of our ultimate relationship to God, His gentle and loving nature, His all-powerful essence and immutable presence. For me, to sit and think of my relationship to God, Jesus Christ, as a mortal and imperfect creature, I am overcome with emotion. I, like many, have seen the miracles of the tearing icon and have my own personal experiences from which to draw my belief from. For me He is very real and will always be.

 

The trains still rush past our church on those Friday nights, as do the same cars using Broadbridge Avenue as a short cut to some unknown destination. I am older now, much older and church and family and God mean much more to me now than it ever did. I do not know if those older members of our church with their short cut hair or babushkas felt or thought the same way as I did or do now. What I do know is it is their unconquerable faith and strength that has guided me as an Orthodox Christian, been a role model for me, has moved me, like so many others, to preserve our Orthodox Christian faith. It is in their footsteps, the footsteps of our ancestors, that I try to follow, footsteps of those who joyously and steadfastly sacrificed so much that we too might know the Blessings of our beautiful Orthodox faith and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

SGMJr
9/13/2014

 

A newer article.

The Little Paths to Christ

3/2/14

Serge G. Mihaly Jr

 

 

During a trip several years ago with my brother Luke, niece Stasia, nephew Nick and a few Orthodox friends, I had the great fortune to visit an orphanage in a town called Medzilaborce, Slovakia. It was a land of rolling hills, pristine forests, the legendary Carpathian Mountains and quiet little villages with streets that often ran on both sides of a small trickling brook. In Slovak cities a 100th the size of our own Bridgeport, we visited Bishops and cantors, toured large ornate Orthodox churches and a Carpatho-Rusyn Orthodox seminary that featured some of the most beautiful icons I have ever seen. It was very satisfying to see our faith so firmly anchored and practiced here.

 

Even more wonderful was the warmth of the people we met, who welcomed us for a few brief days. I will never forget the cherubic little faces of dozens of parentless gypsy children, forgotten and cast aside, alone and cared for by the grace of the Orthodox Church. You could see twinkles of happiness in each child’s eye as we played with and shared a few small gifts we had brought to them. Little ones barely able to walk watched over by girls no more than 12 or 13, were mesmerized with toys so primitive by our wealthy American standards. Soccer balls, badminton nets, crayons, yo-yos and dolls were just some of what made them over joyously happy, yet despite this it was the time we spent talking to and getting to know them that was the most valuable and moving. Over the few short days we spent together we developed a deep bond with these children, a bond I will and can never forget.

 

Everything was valued here in this strange new land from simple friendships to humble foods, which greeted us every morning, and at every home we would visit. No matter where we went full plates of homemade bread, cheese, horseradish, homemade pickles and other fresh cut vegetables were laid before us. Every day conversations had to be translated from Slovak to English and then back again, but it was the universal language of love and friendship that would matter the most.

 

After settling in our rooms, visiting with the children and attending dinner we began to plan our adventures outside the town. My brother had local priests to visit, but not before celebrating liturgy in the local church filled with babushka clad women, stout men, wiry teens and young adults. All passionately sang our beautiful Orthodox hymns beneath icons clothed in pungently sweet and smoky incense.

 

The next day after finding a van we finally set out. As each day passed, a friend of one of the local priests accompanied us. He served as our driver and guide as we traveled over busy highways and bumpy back roads. We found relatives in villages described in stories told to us as children. We watched strange little cars scampering to work and small trucks transporting food and other goods from Slovak factories and farms. Sometimes we drove for hours stopping only to photograph the ruins of hilltop castles, Orthodox roadside shrines or the site of a bubbling natural spring. We visited many churches one of which was the home to a distant cousin of my Aunt Kathy’s, the World War II Marine hero Michael Strank; one of the brave men who helped place the American flag on Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima. He and his fellow marines have been immortalized in that American icon of military history known throughout the free world.

 

While our entire visit lasted only about a week, we would spend much of our time traveling. On this trip, however, I will long remember one excursion far away from the cities. Tucked away amidst the mountain villages were numerous tiny ancient churches, many built anywhere from the 16th to the 18th centuries. Often no more than the size of a small barn, there was one church that particularly stood out. It was a rugged structure hidden in the small hillside in which it was built, its exterior roughly clad with 8’ to 12’ crudely cut boards, colored almost black by centuries of harsh winters and bright sun. Hand hewn by Carpathian woodsmen, its architecture was both simple and beautiful. Large wooden planks, fitted with old steel locks, most likely fashioned by the local blacksmith, were used to build a pair of heavy wooden church doors.

 

At first we walked around the outside of the church carefully inspecting every nook and cranny of the amazing structure. As we did we immediately noticed its large wooden cupola, decorated with hand cut wrinkled shingles that stood below a tall wooden triple bar cross. After a few minutes with gaping jaws, we were eager to view the inside of the church. We gathered together as the village elder, an older man in baggy pants, suspenders and close-cropped hair, opened the front doors. As we walked inside, he quickly began lighting candles. Soon their flickering light would gently expose dozens of beautifully and primitively painted cherubic-faced Rusyn icons, which, I would later learn from my brother, were uniquely characteristic of the Carpathian culture. As I quietly sat in one of the pews in awe, I noticed high above and around me, even more icons all centuries old and priceless. In the front of the church the images of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, St. Michael and St. Stephan adorned a hand cut wooden iconostas.

 

There was something very different here, something that evoked a peculiar emotion inside me, something raw and mysterious, something I couldn’t quite capture with words, yet I could feel immediately. As I look back now it was not very different than what I felt as a child when my mother and I visited my Great Aunt Teta’s home. She was a woman who barely spoke English, but was proud of America, who had immigrated to the US from ‘the old country’, who worked two jobs to help pay for her son’s Medical school tuition, whose home smelled like moth balls, decorated with strange antique furniture filled with warm blankets.

 

After a few minutes we found ourselves sitting silently, studying the old beams, the icons and the flickering candles. This was a crown jewel of Carpatho-Rusyn Orthodox faith and one as valuable as any glistening cathedral we had ever seen. It was remarkable. I could not help but compare this ancient little church to those of the more populated cities. There the churches were much newer, larger and much more ornate, most had comfortable pews, towering and brilliant icon screens and glistening gold crosses, yet they could not surpass the simple majesty of this one little church. It would be the small, humbler churches scattered throughout the Carpathian villages, especially this one, that, to me, revealed the true nature of our ancestor’s faith. With Christ-like humility and unquenchable strength these were the pillars of our ancestors Orthodoxy, pillars that our forefathers and mothers struggled to bring and build here in America with their sweat and blood so many years ago. It is this church, and many like them, that reminded me of so many of our own.

 

I am home now, but I would like to travel to Slovakia again visiting those orphans, seeing even more churches and walking deeper into the great Carpathian forests. I enjoyed my time there and will always remember the sincere and faithful people, and the sincere and innocent children who greeted us with open and loving arms. Most of all, I will remember those ancient little churches. If I learned anything on this trip it was that our Orthodox faith has not changed and thankfully so. It is the same faith that nurtured and strengthened our ancestors and it is the same faith that nurtures and steadies us. It is indeed a constant, the only true constant in an often tumultuous and troubled world and will always be for me the greatest of gifts from God.

 

Here is the first article.

Articles, by default, appear in reverse chronological order.

so this one will go to the bottom of the page.

 

 

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