A Treat for Halloween…with a Feast To Follow

“Night on Bald Mountain,” Disney’s Fantasia

Last week’s post opined that what we eat and–by implication–listen to, watch, and read can have an effect on the both the material and non-material aspects of us as human beings, giving us more (or less) substance: making us ontologically weightier or ontologically lighter. As a way of edifying our humanity, then, shared here are two works (comprised of something to listen to, watch, and then read) both of which are highly substantive, enriching, and edifying. They are in keeping with this Blog’s theme of seasonality and, therefore, concern themselves with the observance of Hallowe’en (All Hallows Evening).

First, the viewing of “Night on Bald Mountain” from Walt Disney’s Fantasia has become something of a Halloween tradition for us; it’s the last thing we watch together on Halloween Night before retiring. This final chapter of Fantasia is actually comprised of two pieces which, taken together, are a visual feast of the profane and sacred, of chaos and harmony, of dark and light. Before clicking on the link to watch this masterpiece, allow–if you will–this interpretation of what you’re about to see unfold in these two musical-visual scores, artfully juxtaposed against each other: It’s Halloween Night in the sleepy village at the foot of Bald Mountain. It’s the bewitching hour (3 a.m.), when the ghouls and gobbins, disembodied spirits and the souls of the damned are conjured by some dark potentate. A macabre revelry ensues, unchecked, until the church bell tolls six times; it’s 6:00 a.m: daybreak and the traditional hour that Lauds are prayed by priests and religious, the hour that the Magnificat was prayed by the peasants in the field. All Hallows’ Eve has past; it’s daybreak on the Feast of All Hallows,  and the Faithful journey, lanterns in hand, to some great cathedral to solemnize the day. [Please click here to watch].

Second, and in the spirit of All Hallows (November 1st), I offer something written by the ancients about one such hallowed man who, along with the whole host of Holy Ones, is celebrated today. His name: Phocus, a gardener and, as you’ll see, the consummate host. He’s a man to whom I was introduced by Karen Lubbers while touring Lubbers Farm this summer. Lubbers Farm houses Clowslip Creamery, the producers of Phocas cheese. As far as I can tell, the inspiration for this cheese came from the following panegyric (poetic eulogy), penned by two other ancient and hallowed men: Sts. Asterius and Chrysostom. Like Cowslip Creamery, we–too–find in Phocas an embodiment of the ideals to which our Company aspires. The use here of the original manuscript is quite intentional: it’s poetic, elevating the spirit; it’s also sophisticated both in terms of its form and content, elevating the mind. And so, with that, bon  appetit!:

“ST. PHOCUS dwelt near the gate of Sinope, a city of Pontus, and lived by cultivating a garden, which yielded him a handsome subsistence, and wherewith plentifully to relieve the indigent. In his humble profession he imitated the virtue of the most holy anchorets, and seemed in part restored to the happy condition of our first parents in Eden. To prune the garden without labour and toil was their sweet employment and pleasure. Since their sin, the earth yields not its fruit but by the sweat of our brow. But still, no labour is more useful or necessary, or more natural to man, and better adapted to maintain in him vigour of mind or health of body than that of tillage; nor does any other part of the universe rival the innocent charms which a garden presents to all our senses, by the fragrancy of its flowers, by the riches of its produce, and the sweetness and variety of its fruits; by the melodious concert of its musicians, by the worlds of wonders which every stem, leaf, and fibre exhibit to the contemplation of the inquisitive philosopher, and by that beauty and variegated lustre of colours which clothe the numberless tribes of its smallest inhabitants, and adorn its shining landscapes, vying with the brightest splendour of the heavens, and in a single lily surpassing the dazzling lustre with which Solomon was surrounded on his throne in the midst of all his glory. And what a field for contemplation does a garden offer to our view in every part, raising our souls to God in raptures of love and praise, stimulating us to fervour, by the fruitfulness with which it repays our labour, and multiplies the seed it receives; and exciting us to tears of compunction for our insensibility to God by the barrenness with which it is changed into a frightful desert, unless subdued by assiduous toil! Our saint joining prayer with his labour, found in his garden itself an instructive book, and an inexhausted fund of holy meditation. His house was open to all strangers and travellers who had no lodging in the place; and after having for many years most liberally bestowed the fruit of his labour on the poor, he was found worthy also to give his life for Christ. Though his profession was obscure, he was well known over the whole country by the reputation of his charity and virtue.

When a cruel persecution, probably that of Dioclesian in 303, was suddenly raised in the church, Phocas was immediately impeached as a Christian, and such was the notoriety of his pretended crime, that the formality of a trial was superceded [sic] by the persecutors, and executioners were despatched [sic] with an order to kill him on the spot wherever they should find him. Arriving near Sinope, they would not enter the town, but stopping at his house without knowing it, at his kind invitation they took up their lodging with him. Being charmed with his courteous entertainment, they at supper disclosed to him the errand upon which they were sent, and desired him to inform them where this Phocas could be most easily met with? The servant of God, without the least surprise, told them he was well acquainted with the man, and would give them certain intelligence of him next morning. After they were retired to bed he dug a grave, prepared everything for his burial, and spent the night in disposing his soul for his last hour. When it was day he went to his guests, and told them Phocas was found, and in their power whenever they pleased to apprehend him. Glad at this news, they inquired where he was. ‘He is here present,’ said the martyr, ‘I myself am the man.’ Struck at his undaunted resolution, and at the composure of his mind, they stood a considerable time as if they had been motionless, nor could they at first think of imbruing their hands in the blood of a person in whom they discovered so heroic a virtue, and by whom they had been so courteously entertained. He indirectly encouraged them, saying, that as for himself, he looked upon such a death as the greatest of favours, and his highest advantage. At length recovering themselves from their surprise, they struck off his head. The Christians of that city, after peace was restored to the church, built a stately church which bore his name, and was famous over all the East. In it were deposited the sacred relics, though some portions of them were dispersed in other churches.”

Phocas

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