Tuesday, January 19, 2010

St. Arsenius of Corfu (? to 959)

It was a long, cold overnight ferry ride back in August 1991. Even though I had money for a cabin, my cousin, Freddie, and his friends insisted I get the full experience of sleeping on a bench with no bedding on an open deck and then waking up to the sun rising as we pulled into port at Corfu (Kikira), Greece.
They were right. Nearly 20 years later, I still remember the turquoise blue water and high cliffs on the lush island St. Arsenius called home.
He was born Jewish in Constantinople and later converted to Christianity. St. Arsenius was the first Bishop of Corfu. I cannot imagine what it would have felt like to change religions even though I came close myself.
When I was 22-years-old, I married a Jewish guy I graduated from college with. He was a friend of mine and back then it was kind of the thing to do whether you were in love or not.
I was raised Roman Catholic (baptized, made my First Communion, and confirmed) and something as simple as my mother telling me not to marry someone Jewish made me want to do it even more. My ex-husband's father told me if we got married in a Roman Catholic church he wouldn't go to the wedding. Out of respect for my then father-in-law, we got married by a Justice of the Peace. Shortly thereafter, I decided I wanted to be Jewish.
We met with Rabbi Rosenberg at the family temple. To this day I am grateful for his honesty. Here he had someone who wanted to convert and he said to me, "if you were confirmed a Roman Catholic, I guarantee, you'll never become Jewish. You'll take classes and, at the last one, you will say, 'I don't want to convert.'"
I was young and thought I knew everything. Each week, I went to the classes and learned about Judaism and, sure enough, at the end of the very last one, I told Rabbi Rosenberg I just couldn't do it.
Then, like a slap in the face, my former father-in-law went to the second wedding of my husband's older brother, two years after we were married. It took place in a Roman Catholic church. I confronted him on the front lawn of his house before the wedding reception (we didn't go the wedding) and asked him why he did that after telling me he wouldn't go to our wedding if it was in a Roman Catholic church.
"You didn't challenge me, Marilyn," was my ex-father-in-law's answer. Then, he went into the house.
There were guests inside and I waited a few minutes, then I went into the kitchen. I stood up on the table and announced, "now I know how Jesus felt. You're a bunch of Christ killers."
Within weeks, I decided to go to confession at St. Leo's Church in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. I wanted to start attending Mass again.
In the confessional, I told the priest I got married outside the church. He told me that I couldn't go to Communion until I had my marriage blessed. He said that if I did go to Communion, I'd feel guilty every night and I wouldn't be able to live with myself.
So, I listened to the priest. First, I had to take marriage classes. My Jewish husband learned all about the crucifixion. Class upon class, we heard how every time Jesus took a breath on the Cross it hurt terribly. He was being asphxyiated.
We had the marriage blessed and then, one month short of my fourth wedding anniversary, I filed for divorce. My dad encouraged me to have the marriage annulled. That way, he said, it never existed. Well, I was all for that.
But, first, I went back to the priest that insisted I have my marriage blessed.
"You got me into this," I said. "Now, you get me out of it."
He wrote the appropriate letter I needed to begin the annulment process.
I didn't care how much it cost. It was the paperwork that went over the top. To my estimation, I had to answer 10 essay questions per page and there were 50 pages. If I recall correctly, it took two years for a decision to be made. It had to go through the Diocese of Hartford, Connecticut and then to the Tribual at the Vatican.
I remember being really pissed off that a bunch of priests sitting around a table were going to determine my future. I still have the official documents. I got the annulment and I wasn't even a Kennedy!
Still, even though it was a success, I had to have a "closing interview" with the Diocese of Providence. It was 1993 and the person who spoke with me asked when I was getting married again.
"Married?" I asked. "What do you mean?"
I was told that 95 percent of people who got an annulment did it because they were going to get married again.
"I will never get married," I said. "Even if Jesus Christ himself came down from Heaven and asked me."
So, when I think about St. Arsenius, I'm thrilled that he had the nerve to follow through with being a Christian.
He died in 959, although some documents give a conflicting year of 800. His relics are in the cathedral in Corfu. St. Arsenius' feast day is Jan. 19.

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