“…outside the Body of Christ…”

Abbot TryphonCOMMUNITY
There is no salvation outside the Body of Christ ~

“Orthodoxy is all about community. The fierce individualism found in much of what claims to be Christianity is in opposition to the Orthodox understanding of faith. The Church as the Body of Christ is where we are united in Christ, becoming part of community. The ancient Greek word Ecclesia literally means to be called into authentic community.

It is within the Church that our personal transformation is intimately connected with the interaction we have with others and runs side by side with our fellow believers. Ecclesia in modern usage refers to the Church and her role as a spiritual hospital, a place wherein we receive the healing that comes from Christ.

This truth is demonstrated by the fact that we are called by the scriptures to be at peace with our brethren before receiving the Holy Mysteries. We are asked to forgive others as we would be forgiven. We are even called upon by Christ to love our enemies.

Our Christian faith can not be lived in a vacuum. Our personal transformation requires working out our salvation within community. Even the confession of our sins takes place within this community, for each time we sin, we sin against the whole of the Body of Christ.”

With love in Christ,
Abbot Tryphon – All-Merciful Savior Orthodox Monastery – Vashon Island, WA

After reading the Abbot’s post this morning, I had to share it with all of you.  He usually has something very worthwhile to say, pretty much every day.  I get his posts on my Facebook page and they usually are accompanied by a wonderful Icon.  Today I thought I would add the Abbot’s face, as his words just seemed so wise to me.

I have been thinking about this for quite a while now, because we have been floundering in finding a spiritual home, here in the Pacific Northwest.  The words of the Abbot ring true for me, because although my faith has not wavered (and in fact, I think it is has grown stronger due to adversity in the situation we find ourselves) I do miss that rudder, that stability and confirmation you receive when you worship within a community.  As a homeschooling family, we are more isolated than most families, in that we do not have the intrusiveness of the local school and its schedule invading our lives.  It is also a reason many homeschoolers find themselves part of a larger homeschooling group.  When our older sons were home, it did not seem so isolated, because there were three children running around.  Now that we are down to just our youngest son, things are much, much quieter!  I miss the interaction of weekly (and because of our schedules, quite often also during the week) time with our faith community, praying, worshiping, and helping the poor in our area. We used to attend twice weekly Evening Prayer, and one night a week we assisted in serving the poor in an evening meal.  It was a joyful time…in our mind’s eye.

One of the vagaries of human nature is that man will quite often act one way and believe another.  When we relocated, people we had been close to, seemingly so, were in fact what is colloquially termed, “fair-weather-friends” in that once we were “out of sight” we were most definitely “out of mind.”  I believe that feigning friendship because of proximity is a form of falsehood. “Falsehood – and only falsehood – separates us from God … False thoughts, false words, false feelings, false desires – Behold the aggregate of lies that leads us to non-being, illusion, and rejection of God.” (St. Nicholas of Serbia)  Within our faith communities, which is the place where we are “united in Christ” and where “our personal transformation is intimately connected with the interaction we have with others and runs side by side with our fellow believers” we work out a personal, and highly intimate, salvific journey.  If this connection is a pretense, or a falsehood, this can have disastrous effects on our fellow parishioners, and ourselves.  It would seem to me that if we are false with our “neighbor,” then the salvation we are working on is also based on being false; therefore our salvation itself is at stake.  Trust me, the empty feeling you have when you discover people have been false, were asking, “How are you?” because it is the socially correct thing to do, makes you less likely to dive into another community.  We are supposed to head to this Eccelsia, or Body of Christ, for respite, healing, love, and a sense of belonging to the Body of Christ.  If we find falsehood where we thought was sincerity, then it deeply affects all of us.  Because “each time we sin, we sin against the whole Body of Christ.”

And I mourn what I thought was a faith community, because there was very little “community” actually present.  I treasure the friends I have, who have stuck with me as I have made this salvific journey, a journey for me that is a daily progression toward that goal we all seek – heaven; the “Beatific Vision,” the place where our intimate relationship with our God is finally, and totally, fulfilled.  And I mourn those I have lost along the way, due to time, distance, or falsehood.  And I mourn, also, those faith communities who struggle with people who prefer pretense to honesty, because it truly tears against the fabric of our universal Church, the Body of Christ.

Some of the most intimate encounters I have had with Christ have been in the presence of a priest or monk, and a community; more-so than I have experienced solely.  One time, when a priest blessed me on the feast of St. Thomas and blessed my throat, I actually felt momentarily blinded and my throat burned. It was pretty awesome.  Another moment I will always treasure was during Lent, during the Presanctified Liturgy, when our Pastor processed in with the Presanctified Gifts and the incense was strong, the singing incredible, and his vestment wafted over me, as I lay prostrate on the floor. The moment his vestment touched me, I felt an electrical shock go through me.  I dared not look up, but rather, just enjoyed the “Presence” of Our Lord.  The sights, sounds, and smells of faith.  Later on, in fact it was weeks later, this particular priest asked me about that incident and we both fell to talking about the experience, because he had, too, felt a jolt as he processed by me.  The Lord was present in His Sanctuary, in His priest, and in His people. And I miss those moments of clarity and sanctification, because I know God allows moments like those to touch us, to allow us a glimpse into His unfathomable grace.  And it helps us to long for it, more fully.

When our children were very young, in fact we had just two children at the time, we were blessed to go on a personal tour of the Church and grounds in San Juan Capistrano, CA.  Our tour guide was a friend who attended school there.  We were about to enter the Church proper, when we were stopped, as the Norbertine priests were there, and had just ordained a new priest.  Our tour guide, also being friends of the Norbertines, asked if we could slip in and just sit in the Sanctuary, as the ceremony had concluded.  We were granted permission and in we went!  We were lucky to sit in the first few rows and my sons were mesmerized by the incredible altarpiece and all the carved statues, the gold trim and candles glowing everywhere, and just the atmosphere of the Church.  While sitting in the pews, the Norbertine choir, situated above us in an unseen Choir loft, started to chant…in Latin.  My eldest son looked at me, his eyes so wide, and asked me, “Mommy, is that the angels singing?”  What a precious memory that is for me.  Experiences like that do not happen in a spiritual vacuum and I am blessed to have had these wonderful moments, fully feeling the presence of God.  I do not mock, nor do I downplay personal prayer time, time spent solitarily communing with God.  Not at all.  Many ascetics have preferred caves and remote places over the centuries since the time of Christ.  I remember hearing about the Stylites, who sat atop pillars! [Stylites (from Greek stylos, “pillar”, Classical Syriac: ʼasṯonáyé) or Pillar-Saints are a type of Christian ascetic who in the early days of the Byzantine Empire, stood on pillars preaching, fasting and praying. They believed that the mortification of their bodies would help ensure the salvation of their souls. The first stylite was probably Simeon the Elder, who climbed on a pillar in Syria in 423 and remained there until his death 37 years later.]  I do appreciate those who feel the need to remove themselves from culture as a whole, in order to reach a more intimate relationship with God; that is completely different from someone who just doesn’t get off the couch to attend Church in some format, and opts to live their faith in a vacuum, outside of consultation or direction of a Spiritual Director of some sort, and definitely separate from a faith community.  For me, having someone to consult with, who will be honest with me and tell me I am leaping off some spiritual cliff or something, and whose wisdom I value and appreciate, is a valuable aid to my spiritual journey.  I just feel that I cannot do this alone.  My friends keep me grounded; my spiritual adviser keeps my soul on track. I also truly believe that the Church is a spiritual hospital, where we all go to be healed of our soul’s infirmities. God grant me the wisdom and blessing to find this place, once again, where my soul and spirit will be nurtured and where my family can find welcome and peace, without falsehood and pretense!

Orthodox monastery


New tires; renewed confidence!

John of KronstadtWe got new tires on our front end last night.  Having a front-wheel drive lets you add new tires 1 or 2 at a time, which is nice for your checkbook.  We looked at the back tires and they actually have quite a bit of life left in them; thanks be to God, because it was wicked expensive!  I cannot believe how different the car drove when we left the tire store.  It was actually amazing.  I did not realize how much we’d been slip-sliding through town. There were times in downtown Seattle (it is SOOOO hilly there – like San Francisco!!) when I had to slide up or down a hill because of the damp streets, and bad tires!  A week before Christmas we had a night of snowfall.  The next morning, I got down the hill, sliding sideways, but could not get home again until the late afternoon, after the sun had melted our snow.  The forecast is calling for snow in the month of January, so we opted to get some new front tires, just in case. I did not realize how badly worn those front tires were…no coin, no matter how tiny, could have stood in those grooves! It was almost completely without tread.  Wow.  I am glad we did that.  It is amazing how much a difference two tires can make to your sense of safety, your confidence in driving, and the pleasure driving a car that is running correctly.

I received a late Christmas book last night from my brother-in-law and it is a book about one of my all-time favorite saints, St. John of Kronstadt, Russia.  I love his words of wisdom and quote him quite often.  It was incredible to read about his life and his struggles.  As a child, he had such a difficult time reading and learning. He prayed constantly for intercession from God and one morning, after a long night in fervent prayer, he awoke with the ability to read, and to understand, his lessons.  He was thereafter first in his class, exceeding the expectations of his parents and teachers alike.  He was a very poor man, and very humble, too. He is credited with many, many miracles during his lifetime, as well as since his death.  He was present when the Tsar, Alexander III, died.  He was holding the Tsar’s head in his hands.  The Tsar said to him, “When you place your hands on my head, I find such relief.  But when you take them away, I suffer much – don’t take them away” and he held them until the old Tsar passed from this life to the next.  That was in 1894.  St. John was so popular, and so many people wanted to have him pray for them or to hear his sermons, or to hear him pray during Divine Liturgy, that quite often Liturgy would take 4 hours or more, because so many came to receive Communion.  He once held a Divine Liturgy outside for 60,000 people on July 20, 1890 in Kharkov.  He built a combination of school church, workshops, and orphanage in Kronstadt called the “House of Work.” He also founded in his own village of Sur in the province of Archanfesk, a convent and a large stone Church.  St. John was was buried with great honor in the convent he founded in Karpovka, an area within St. Petersburg, but the communists, whom he had predicted were coming to power, were so afraid of him and his legacy of faith, they blocked off the area and no one knows for certain where his relics are now.  Faithful still come to the site to pray for the intercession of St. John and many swear to feel his sanctity nearby, and so many believe his remains are still in Karpovka, but just kept out of sight of the people.

In the brief story of St. John’s life, he talks about keeping the faith handed down by our ancestors and relying on faith, rather than men, for our present lives, and for our salvation.  He said of his nation, before his death, “We are in need of a general moral purification, a deep national repentance, a change from pagan to Christian morals; let us purify ourselves, let us wash ourselves with the tears of repentance, make peace with God and He will be reconciled to us.” He died in 1908 on December 20th, after having foretold the date of his death.

What do new tires and St. John have in common?  Well, the tires are a concrete, tangible example of a thing showing us what it takes to feel safe and confident.  St. John, on the other hand, was living witness to what it takes to feel safe and confident in our spirituality.  And reading the lives of the Saints, and for me, of St. John of Krondstadt, has given me a renewed confidence of faith. St. John never demanded of anyone, what he did not practice himself. His diocese once suspended his pay because as soon as he was given any money, he gave it all to the poor.  Once, a merchant handed him an envelope and he immediately, without opening it, handed it to a beggar. The merchant said, “Batushka! That contains a thousand ruples!” And St. John replied, “His good fortune!”  He was not concerned with temporal needs and often only slept 3 hours a night;  and quite often no sleep was in his schedule.  He is a living example of one who gave all he had, and all he was, to his people.  He did not concern himself with money or material wealth and considered it a hindrance.  He did keep clothing given to him, because he realized he needed winter coats and good boots to walk among the Russian people in the winters.  But he kept no money for himself.  He was married to the daughter, Elizabeth, of the local Archpriest of the Kronstadt Cathedral, where he later became the priest.  He and Elizabeth lived their entire marriage as brother and sister.  He said to her, ” Lisa, there are many happy families, even without us.  Come, you and I, let us devote ourselves to the service of God.”  He was a remarkable man, a role model, and a saint.

My tires help me feel secure as I wander the roads of the Pacific Northwest.  I now know I can face the trials of inclement weather and come out victorious! I can make it up the hills by my home, and I may even survive the hills in Seattle this January!  But my faith in God, my life as the wife of a deacon, they give me the foundations of security that enable me to drive out on the streets of Washington.  I take my faith wherever I go.  And now, I can feel more secure in the mode of travel with which I share my life with others. St. John reminds me and helps to keep me grounded with so many of his wonderful writings and I hope someone will be urged to read about him.  Les Schwab provided me with some awesome tires and service, that keep me safe on the roadways.

I leave you with this quote from St. John of Kronstadt:

“We must love every man, both sinful and shameful.  There is no need to confuse the man, who is in the image of God, with the evil that is in him.”

800px-Orthodox_Church_in_Karpovka,_Nizhny_NovgorodBurial Site of St. John of Kronstadt ~ Karpovka Cathedral, Russia

“..if ought death part thee and me…”

Holy Table

This is the Lord’s Table…the altar, in an Orthodox Monastery.  Pretty much what all Byzantine altars look like.  It fills me with joy to know that my husband and I walked the altar in our Crowning Ceremony for our 25th Anniversary.  When we initially married, we were Roman Catholic and opted to have a Crowning Ceremony as Melkite Greek Catholics.  That was three years ago and it seems like there has been so much mileage since then!!  Life has unalterably changed since 2009.  We have a son who is now a teenager.  Another son returned from war (Thanks be to God) and had his first child (what a blessing).  Our other son graduated Magna Cum Laude from college and the following month was married, and is now expecting his first child.  We relocated from Southern California to Washington.  That has been a huge change for us.

Many years ago, I told my husband that whatever he wanted, wherever he wanted, I would go with him.  I read several times the story of Ruth, and she became sort of a pilot for me.  If something came up, I would think back to the many choices Ruth had before her and how she chose to always follow her husband’s people.  Even after his death, she stayed with his mother, Naomi, and followed her to Bethlehem-judah to be with her family.  “Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.” Naomi and Ruth returned to the land of the Hebrews, where Ruth later married Boaz and was the great-grandmother of King David.  Her decision to go with her mother-in-law and to utter those words, “..if ought death part thee and me…” have become a staple in many Christian marriage ceremonies. And it was, and is, so for my husband and myself.

When my husband was ordained a deacon, he chose the name of “Joseph.”  It is perfect for him and he chose Joseph, the Worker, as his mentor.  My husband is such a hard worker! And he loves to serve his community, especially on the altar.  His vocation as a deacon has only grown over the years. His opportunities to serve have been severely limited in the past few years, but his desire is still uppermost in his heart.  And I ache that he has no altar to serve, at the moment.  And when he was ordained, our pastor asked us if I would also like to take a name, as a Diaconissa in the parish. I immediately chose Ruth, because we had traveled from Rome to Constantinople and it seemed fitting that our community would call me Diaconissa Ruth.  It is a title I love. The little Arabic ladies would always greet me and speak mostly Arabic, but I could always discern, “Diaconissa Ruth” in their chatter and hugs and ways of loving me.  They are so grateful for the service to the Church!  And I love how they loved us for wanting to be closer to Our Lord on His Altar, and his community.

Up here, in the Pacific Northwest, we have yet to really find our place.  But I still feel like Ruth, faithfully following her husband wherever that may be. And we both know that God called us here.  There have been so many times when we have uttered these statements, “It is so beautiful here.”  “Did you see all those colors of green?”  “Oh, look, you can see Mt. Rainier” “It’s snowing and so pretty.”  And we have even pinched each other, to the other’s startled amazement, and have said, “Can you believe we live here??”  It is that beautiful.  We also feel a tremendous contentment at the life we have had and the future before us.  I am so blessed to be married to my best friend.  We’ve been a couple for 30 years this year; married for 28 of them, and it gets better and better.  We are content with the wrinkles and gray hairs (or no hairs, in some cases – tee-hee!), and extra pounds we have gained over the years.  We are in love with our children, our beautiful daughters-in-law and our amazing grandson and soon-to-be-born granddaughter.  God has blessed us immensely and we are so grateful.

For our anniversary, we are buying new tires for the car.  I know it sounds overly romantic, but we need the tires and it will mean we are safer on the roads, as we travel the year as a married couple and family.  We may grab a bite to eat while we are out…or even just a cup of coffee.  But we are together and we are in love – and I am so happy it is our anniversary!

At the Wedding ceremony’s end, the priest recites parting blessings upon the newlyweds. To the groom he may say: “Be thou magnified O Bridegroom, as Abraham, and blessed as Isaac. Walk in peace and work in righteousness, as the commandments of God.” To the bride he may say: “And thou O Bride, be thou magnified as Sarah, and glad as Rebecca, rejoicing in thine own husband, fulfilling the conditions of the law, for so it is well pleasing unto God.”  And it has been for 28 years; God willing, another 28 years!!!crown50_view1_lg

(A close up of our Anniversary Crowns)

“..what sustains our present life…”

St Maximos the Confessor 2

I have used this quote before, but it seems appropriate to revisit it, in light of the heavy giving season upon us.  Many years ago, we tried to opt out of Christmas.  We had “Santa” gifts for the kids, but gifts between family members and friends were reserved for the Epiphany, or “Little Christmas.”  It didn’t take, probably because our kids were too old and on the cusp of teenage-dom where the world had taken a firmer grasp on their sensibilities.  I loved the switch because I took advantage of the awesome after-Christmas sales and was able to do more for my family, for less.  And as I have pondered that, I came to some harsh realities.  Hence, my blog….

What sustains me is sometimes vastly different from what sustains others.  There is a question it is fun to ask friends, “If you were stuck on a desert island and could have (1) item, what would it be?”  Many in the teen-age-group would say their cell phone or iPad or computer, obviously never having seen the Disney version of “Swiss Family Robinson”!!  Many people I know cannot survive a day without social media, or at the very least, their cell phones.  I am often guilty of that, as well.  And if we look inside ourselves, at least when I look, I think of many things I would want with me.  Since it is a question of things and not people, I quickly choose and discard many items as being silly and useless in that situation.  And I think of places where I would feel sustained, and what items would help me feel sustained.  Places I would hate to be stuck would be a desert island, as I am not a hot-weather person and much prefer mountains, trees, and snow!  And what would sustain me, if I were to find myself in a place I did not know, with a specific group of items?

This has actually, and is still, happening to us.  After 25 years of married life in Southern California, we found ourselves relocated into the Pacific Northwest, and in a very short space of time.  We packed up all of our things and relocated to a place we did not know, without the comfort zone of home school groups, parish communities, and people we had grown accustomed to.  We felt, and still somewhat feel, like fish out of water.  But we both feel God brought us to this place, because He has a plan for us.  We brought a lot of stuff with us, too!  And this past summer, we divested ourselves of quite a lot of it.  Keepsake items I miss here and there; dozens of books we gave away; tools we sold because we never used them and now could use (of course); and many old clothing items (especially “California coats” that are useless in this climate).  We tried to give away what we did not sell at our garage sale, giving out of what we had and perhaps could still use, but did not “need.”  What sustains us?  We found out we could do with much less than we had when we moved up here.  It is freeing, in many ways.  We have to pack up and move again, and now that there is just the three of us, the manual labor is going to be far more intense.  For the relief of too many things, I am grateful! And still, what sustains us?

We had family arrive from out of town this past week and it was interesting what they needed to sustain them, that was not familiar to our needs.  We still have some of it in our refrigerator, but our youngest son will make short work of it, I am sure.  When people travel away from home, they bring with them the things they will need to sustain them on their journey.  Fortunately, no one crashed or was forced to choose a single item to sustain them on a desert island!  But when you travel, you try to just bring “necessities” so you can “travel light.”  Could I, if I had to fit everything on the back of a donkey and walk to Bethlehem, take what I needed to sustain me?  Mary and Joseph had no idea their walk would continue on, into Egypt, and last for decades.  Can I pick up and go just as easily? What would I need to sustain me?  Were the things we gave and received at Christmas items that sustain us in our need, or do they add to our life’s clutter?  Do we grow and learn from them, or do they clutter our desktops and lives?  Personally, I am thrilled with what I received.  The number of items was limited and I could tell that thought went into them and I was touched.  Touched more by the effort and thought than many of the items, themselves.  The gifts moved me and I think that is what giving is all about.  We want to move the receiver and let them know how much we love them.

I think about what and where I would be sustained quite often.  Because I have been lacking in “sustenance” over the past couple of years, it has become more apparent to me.  And I know my sustenance comes from the Lord.  From my life of faith.  If I were to be placed in a situation of crashing onto a desert island, I think that I would be wearing my Jesus prayer bracelet, so it would go with me automatically, wherever I landed, but I think I would want with me either a Bible or my Byzantine Prayer Book.  Because what truly sustains me is my faith.  Without my faith, or a place to practice my faith, my interior self begins to wither.  We all need to feed our faith.  And one of the most important things the Lord and His Apostles left for us, was the “deposit of faith” and the instruction that we are to worship as community.  (Yes, individual worship and quiet prayer build and sustain us, but so does a faith community).  “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him…If he refuses to listen…, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church…Amen I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Mt 18: 15-20).  Even though, when we are on a desert island, we cannot have our community with us, we take with us the deposit of faith and our prayer life.  I think that celebrating the giving of gifts, the beauty of the Christmas trees and all the decorations and all the feasting, if you celebrate the Birth of the Savior and have no faith, it becomes an empty celebration and that is where our over-gifting comes in.  We are compensating for that “God-Hole” that exists in humanity, that only Faith can fill.

I pray that I may never get stranded on a desert island (and I stave that off by never being near one!) and be required to sustain myself with just one object, but I know that my faith will sustain me wherever I find myself.  I also know that being part of a faith community builds me up and helps me face whatever is in front of me, and that without it, I tend to wither.  Our Church communities help us to walk the path God has chosen for us; they help us keep our faith at the forefront of our lives.  And the Liturgical Life of the Church and following the Church calendar keeps our lives moving forward in Faith and our walk closer to the “walk” the Holy Family took so many centuries ago.  And so, for this next year, I pray we find our “faith” home, along with a new place to call “home,” and we absorb and enjoy all the prayers and “community” we have available, to further enrich our lives.  In my mind’s eye, I would rather be in the woods and snow, and so I pray I won’t be challenged by a real desert, as living in a spiritual one is hard enough! And all the gifting in the world cannot replace a moment spent in the Presence of God, among the Faithful of His community.

AllMercifulSaviorOrthodoxMonasteryOur Merciful Savior Monastery, Vashon Island, WA

“and the journey goes on…”

12609_10200091194552403_932593593_nIt was eerily quiet as I descended the stairs this morning.  It was dark and I could hear the gentle plopping of the raindrops on our skylight.  The house is so quiet early in the day; even our dogs are still asleep, although my cat is quietly following me down the steps.  As I step off the last stair, I reach for the switch and turn on the lights of our Christmas tree.  The room seems so bare and empty now.  The presents are gone; all given away and stashed in the arms of their receivers.  The room holds our son’s remains of college along one wall (I covered it with a red and green Christmas tablecloth) and our boxes of books line another wall (also covered in tablecloths of the season) but other than those things, it is filled with our tree.  And I sighed as I looked at the sight. The lights reminded me, once again, of the Star over the Stable in Bethlehem, which guided the Wise Men.  And I recalled snippets of conversation, smiles on the faces of our family, and the pitter-patter of the feet of four dogs, running around their owners, along with the smells and color of Christmas.  And I smiled.

Last night we shared a meal at the friend of my husband’s brother.  It was at a little Italian restaurant in a city north of us, owned by his friend’s father and mother.  It was interesting, in that it brought together such a disparate group of people and yet, all you heard was laughing and story-telling, and the delicious aroma of some amazing pizza and bread sticks!  I could live there very contentedly! We all so enjoyed one another’s company and some excellent food.  And then we had to say our goodbyes to my mother- and brother-in-law.  It was strange; we were all quiet on the drive home. The pounding rain also made it hard to hear one another, but there was silence as we contemplated the ending to our sharing Christmas Day with our family members.  We continue to celebrate Christmas through to the Epiphany, when the Wise Men journeyed across the desert sands in search of the Newborn King.  When they arrived, they knelt in worship before Him and gave Him gifts….that is when our Christmas is at its peak! The first recognition by the world that our Sun of Righteousness is here, as New-Born Babe! Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

Troparion (a Type of Byzantine Hymn)

Thy Nativity, O Christ our God,
Has shone to the world the Light of Wisdom!
For by it, those who worshipped the stars,
Were taught by a star to adore Thee, The Sun of Righteousness!
And to know Thee, the Orient from on high.
O Lord, Glory to Thee!

Kontakion (a Type of Byzantine Hymn or Refrain)

Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One,
and the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable One!
Angels, with shepherds, glorify Him!
Wise men journey with the star!
Since for our sake the Eternal God was born as a little child!

Nativity Icon AntiochanAnd even though our family members are flying home today, they share a journey with the Wise Men, who sought Him Who would save us all.  Although they are not physically with us, just as the Saints who have gone before us, they are with us in Spirit and in Prayer.  We all await the moment the Wise Men walk to the Cave, to honor and worship at the the Bed of the King.

King Size Bed

I am sad that things are winding down.  We still have the New Year to ring in and share with some dear, dear friends who we treasure.  So I will not “clean up” Christmas until well after the First of the Year.  But as I stood this morning, looking out across the wonderful view I have of the golf course, the reality of time moving on hit me.  Because when I put away all the lights, the garland and the bows, when our tree is removed from the house and cut down to be used as firewood, the task before me will be to pack up and move our family to another home.  And it will be, once again, in keeping with the Seasons of the Church and our Liturgical Calendar. It is so weird, odd, freaky, and at the same time so incredible, awesome, and wonderful, how our lives mimic the movement of time within the Church.  Because when we relocated here two years ago, we traveled with the Holy Family as they made their way to the Manger in Bethlehem.  And this time when we move, we will be traveling with them, as they made their way to safety in Egypt.  We will, quite hopefully, be relocating and starting a new life as did the Holy Family.  This time, I am praying we can set down some sort of permanent roots, where I can really unpack and stay a while.  We all get to that point where we live in the house we will die in.  And with all the celebration of the Birth of Christ, it is hard to think of the Death of Christ, but without His Death, His birth would have been just another Baby in a Stable, born to homeless parents.  Even though the Holy Family had to cut short the joy of celebrating the Birth of Christ, the Adoration of the Shepherds and Magi, they ventured out to a new life in Egypt.  Thanks be to God, our journey is not that far, but a journey it is, nonetheless.  I pray for an Angel to whisper the will of God to us, so we choose the path he has laid out for us.  As I wind down Christmas and relax a little bit, in the quiet of a dark and rainy morning, I contemplate these things and I am filled with joy and hope, and even longing….God is good and we are Blessed.  And the lights on my tree are there, twinkling their glowing message, showing me still, the Star above the Stable….


Christ Is Born!! Glorify Him!

Nativity of Christ

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

It’s Christmas Day and I am not spending much time at my keyboard.  Our youngest son is gleefully enjoying his new video game console, my husband is reading up on his new phone (so he can use it!) and the dogs, being fed, are happily content at my feet. I am psyching up to start cooking!  Gotta get my first pie in the oven, then plan for preparing and cooking “the” dinner.

Sometimes it does not pay to procrastinate, as there were no turkeys left at the store!  So, I am being flexible and creative – it’s a pork loin roast instead. I think I want to start a new tradition of lasagna!  Several friends have posted about how easy a meal it is to prepare and much of the work is done, once it’s in the oven.  I may try that next year!  This year, I am peeling potatoes and preparing meat, baking pies, and getting some of my favorite hors d’oeuvres ready – brie cheese with melted butter and slivered almonds, with freshly baked french bread for me! Yum!! Braunschwieger with crackers for the husband, and salami, cheese, and crackers for our son! I am excited for family to arrive. More importantly,  I am overjoyed that Christ has arrived, for each of us!  He is here!

I am in love with my husband, my children, and grandchildren and feel overwhelmingly blessed at the life Our Lord has given to me.  There are blessings around each corner, if we choose to look for them!!  My friends are special and have enriched my life beyond measure.  My family, small and extended, are a source of joy, love, and blessing for us.  And as I look to our future, I am smiling.  A new grand baby is due to arrive on Pentecost Sunday! They are 90% sure it is a girl and my son joked about his daughter being a chatty one, with being born on a day we celebrate “tongues of fire”! Ha-Ha!  He is so witty! I look forward with anticipation at the years that lay ahead and I seek the Lord’s blessing on all of it.  I walked with Mary and Joseph in my heart last night, and now I look forward with them, as they prepare to flee to the safety of Egypt.  I pray that our families, our country, will be safe this year, and that we will all follow Our Lord on his journey of healing and preaching and eventually, sacrificing.  But today, I look at a little baby….waiting to take my hand and lead me to the “promised land.”  And I think I will start with a heart-felt prayer of thanksgiving, and then a hearty breakfast, as I prepare to welcome our family into our home with a scrumptious meal! God bless us, everyone (Tiny Tim in a Christmas Carol).

“The Giver of every good and perfect gift has called upon us to mimic His giving, by grace, through faith, and this is not of ourselves.” St. Nicolas of Myra

St. Nicolas

“…is on her way…”

Mary and Joseph“Today, the Virgin is on her way, to a cave where she will give birth….”  It is finally upon us.  We are all making that traverse with the Blessed Mother, as she prepares to give birth to the Son of God Incarnate – Christ, Our Lord.  Tonight we sing so many wonderful hymns, celebrating this amazing occurrence.  For most of us, it is comforting to know we believe and celebrate something that took place, at a specific time in history, and we’ve been celebrating it for centuries.  Of course, the scientist in me is thinking, “She did not have Christ on December 25th; it’s really a pagan holiday the Church stole…since people were celebrating anyway, they decided to use this holiday and make it a Holy-Day.”  Also, “Well, it has been proven now that Christ was probably born about 3 or 4 years earlier.”  The calendar dates we use all start at 1A.D. because there is no zero year- of course, they changed that now, too.  It is no longer the “BC” and “AD” we are all familiar with.  It is now “BCE” – “Before the Christian Era,” and “C.E.” or the “Christian Era” in some circles, or “Common Era” in others.  Some scientists don’t want our calendar to reflect faith, so they use BCE to mean “Before the Common Era” and CE as the “Common Era.”  Whatever.  To those of us who can see with the eyes of faith, science is nice, but it doesn’t determine faith.  Science gave us electric lights for our Christmas trees and our homes, but it does not tell us how to use those lights!  As Elizabeth Gilbert said, “Faith is belief in what you cannot see or prove or touch. Faith is walking face-first and full-speed into the dark.”

As a believing Christian woman, I feel very connected to the Mother of my Lord in the sense that she went, headlong into the dark of the night, preparing to give birth to the Son of God…and “she knew all these things and kept them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19).  She was a woman of deep faith and that faith guided all her decisions, all her choices.  She went with St. Joseph to Bethlehem; and when he told her Angels had warned him in a dream to flee (Matthew 2:13) she followed him without question. Oh, to have that faith, to share in that complete devotion to the Word of God!  I try; I really do.  Each and every day, when I get up, I INTEND to have a day, devoted to God; so many of us start each day with good intentions….

 The day that Mary said her “Fiat” or her “Yes” to God was a day that she began an incredible journey, a journey of faith, to bring God to us, in the form of a baby.  Imagine if we all could start a day like that, just climbing up onto that donkey and heading off into the night.  Today, I am walking with Mary and Joseph, as they head into that Cave.  My preparations are not as taxing, but they do intimidate me just a bit.  I am heading to Safeway, to push the crowds out of the way, to get my Turkey.  Reminds me of the movie, “Christmas with the Kranks” where Mrs. Krank wants that “Honey-Baked Ham” for her daughter, even willing to bribe a lady in the check out line for that last Ham.  So funny.  Me; not that desperate.  I did admit to my husband’s Uncle Bill that I am a little intimidated, cooking for he and Uncle Don, the gourmet cooks.  He laughed when I said, “I chose Turkey because it is just a big chicken and how hard can it be??”  I know it is almost sacrilegious to compare Mary’s journey and Her birthing Christ to my trip to Safeway and baking a Turkey, but the point is we need to unite all we do to that of the Holy Family.  Whether we acknowledge the year as AD or CE; whether we have faith or we don’t and we see those Christmas lights as that Star above the Manger, or just pretty lights, we can all unite ourselves to God’s commandment, “Love one another as I have loved you.” Tonight and tomorrow, I will do that in cooking and preparing for my family; in providing a Christmas meal and place to relax where I can love them with the Love of Christ, which is far more perfect than my own attempts at loving.


…”Remember me O Lord…”

Communion Prayer

Well, the holidays are here; family arrived and are ensconced in their hotel room – we are waiting their arrival at our house, while the Steelers play football (youngest son’s favorite team) and a cinnamon loaf is baking.

I had a wonderful chat with my dad this morning and a great email from a dear, dear friend (miss you tons, too!).  My day started with my husband waking me in my chair downstairs.  All this cleaning and moving around, in addition to our rainy/snowy weather, has wreaked havoc with my arthritis and the most comfortable I could be last night was in my chair, with my heating pad, dog and cat, and a cup of tea to choke down some Tylenol.  I am blessed with a great chair my kids call, “The Throne.”  Ha-Ha…I do tend to get in place and stay there on Sundays, while watching football or reading a book.  The animals love to sit with me and the kids call it my “pet blanket.”  Anyway, I woke in a relatively pain-free state, which was nice.

As I slept in my chair, I was thinking about my post yesterday and the friends who commented or came forward.  I also had a wonderful chat with our oldest son last night.  Because of that particular chat, I dreamt about buying a new house (we have to relocate soon – a long and rather ugly story) and digging a new foundation with a bunker…no, I mean, basement! Ha-Ha!  With all the chatter about the violence and gun control, as a family of avid hunters and fishers, someone taking our guns is not something we support.  In a weird way, it reminded me of the scripture verse: 2 Corinthians 4:7-11 “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. Troubled on every side, yet not distressed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus might also be made manifest in our body. For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus might also be made manifest in our mortal flesh.”  And that may seem a stretch but not really.  Our lives are a matter of focus. We are earthen vessels; we are just bodies.  The power is God’s.  All that may take place (like the change in government or the change in laws) may trouble us on every side (and make us want to build bunkers) and some of the choices our government makes for us may perplex us, but we should not despair!  If our focus is on the sacrifice Christ made for us, we will remain cognizant of the manifest power of God.  A saying has been posted in social media recently that says, “No matter who is President, Christ is King,” and still others like “Countries may pass, but the Nation of God is eternal.”  These need to help us think and focus. Rather than getting upset with people who let us down, governments that change and seemingly oppress us, faith communities that perhaps disappoint us, God is Eternal; Christ is King.

Before we receive Communion in the Eastern Churches, we recite the prayer at the opening of this post – “Remember me O Lord, in Thy kingdom.” I will not pretend to be a Christian, claiming Christian ideals and then betraying “Christ with a kiss as did Judas.”  We should, rather, confess Christ like the thief.  I usually wear either a Jerusalem cross or the Cross of St. Andrew, and here is why:

The Orthodox, Byzantine or Russian (Orthodox) Cross is a variation of the Christian cross, commonly found in Eastern Orthodox Churches. The cross has three horizontal crossbeams—the top represents the plate inscribed with INRI (Iēsus Nazarēnus, Rēx Iūdaeōrum “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”, in Latin), and the bottom, a footrest. In the Russian Orthodox tradition, the lower beam is slanted: the side to Christ’s right is usually higher. According to Russian Orthodox tradition, when Saint Andrew was preaching in southern Russia, he used a similarly designed life-sized cross and tilted the footrest to show that those on Christ‘s right would ascend to Heaven, while those on Christ’s left would descend to Hell. Consequently, in the Russian Orthodox Church this cross is sometimes called the Cross of Saint Andrew.

390px-OrthodoxCross(black,contoured).svgIn our Byzantine tradition, the footrest to the right is pointing to the good thief, who confessed Christ on the Cross and went to heaven; the left side, which points to the other thief, the one who refused the Salvation of Christ and went to hell (which is why it points down).  This is another way of thinking about the scripture talking to the talents and the workers.  When the first workers show up to a field, the owner pays them a full days’ wage.  Late in the day, another worker shows up and he also is given a full days’ wage.  Some people think that it is unfair that those who “show up late” to salvation can still “get the good seats” in Heaven with Our Lord, even after a life of debauchery and evil.  Pascal’s wager (http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics/pascals-wager.htm) is another way of looking at it.

Where is all this leading me today?  I think that I cannot judge others.  I can barely keep up with my own spiritual miasma.  Who am I to say if a friend has let me down, that I need to just let go of that, rather than hang on to my disappointment or my pain? Christ told me on the Cross. Who am I to judge anyone, when I am still struggling myself, perhaps even a repentant thief on the “cross of life?”  I pray daily, “Jesus, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner;” the Jesus Prayer.  I continually beg for mercy and as I do, I beg mercy for all of us…good and bad alike; friend or foe.  Because really, all our lives come down to our last moment, our last breath.  “Accept me today, as a communicant…” and then, please, “remember me O Lord in Thy Kingdom…..”

” – only God remains….”

Blessed Seraphim

I had such high hopes for my day yesterday.  I got some things accomplished that I wanted to, although there is a load of laundry in the dryer I need to re-dry and fold!  I made 6 batches of cookies and baked two loaves of bread.  My middle son was more interested in playing with his neighbor buddies (now on Christmas break and available) than in cooking and baking – he is 14, so I guess it should be expected. It is not as fun with just him and me as it was when his brothers were around.  We decided to wait until his “fun” uncle arrives to decorate the cookies.  We also have two gingerbread houses that he and his dad want to make with his uncle and grandma.  So all is not lost; but I am feeling let down and empty.

The feeling is also due in part to the profound disappointment I am feeling towards someone I thought was a friend; a mentor; a guide into my Byzantine spirituality.  I feel abandoned and it really, really hurts.  And I am close to tears about it.  And then I remembered this quote above.  Cookie decorating and friends being faithful is not what I am about.  I am about a walk in faith with my God.  The God who chose to be born a man; who chose to die on a cross for MY sins.  Just for me.  And it is selfish of me to put my faith, my heart, my belief in anything other than God.  As the old adage goes, “Don’t put your faith in men, they will always let you down.”  Or as Psalm 146:3 says, “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save.”  And even though I am 56 years old, it still hurts when someone you have placed your faith in, your confidence in, lets you down.  This is not cause for despair, as I keep reminding myself.  Jos 1:9 – “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

To that end, I am going to be joyful over the company of family arriving today; I am looking forward to those gingerbread houses coming together; the smells and sounds of the season.  I look forward to the Birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ, on Christmas Day.  He did all that for me – no man has done that; no man gave his life for me.  The Lord and My God did that for me?  How could I not have a grateful heart?  “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Col 3:15-17.

Gerontissa Gabrielia

The smells of the season are upon us…yummmm……

Facebook Fan Request: 3 in 1 Sugar Cookies

I just couldn’t do it! I could not stay in bed any longer! My husband left about 6:15am and I stayed up, in the dark and the cold….I am so excited because I am completely done preparing for Christmas! My house is clean from top to bottom – “mother-in-law” or “grandma” clean, as people teased me!  I attended a meeting for Scouts last night and everyone was teasing me because I was smiling the entire time (even though the meeting was slightly boring).  When probed, I admitted that my house was so clean, any of them were welcome to come on over, anytime now! LOL!  They then quizzed me about who was coming for Christmas, and I admitted my mother-in-law and they all said, “Ah-ha!”  And totally understood.  It is not that my mother-in-law looks at the nooks and crannies for dust bunnies or anything, but I really, really want to provide her with respite and rest from a harrowing year, and let her completely relax.  I love her son so much, and I know the pain he has felt at his dad’s passing; I cannot fathom loosing him like my mother-in-law lost her husband of 50 years.  Because of that, I want this Christmas to banish those sad thoughts from her, from my brother-in-law, my husband, and his two uncles (his dad’s brothers) who are also joining us.  So I have worked hard to be sure the house shines with a Christmas glow and that everything looks welcoming and warm and, well, like home.  And today, well, today I get to bake!

When I married my husband (28 years ago this year!!), I married into a family that cooks and bakes, in addition to sewing and crafting.  My poor mother-in-law…and her sisters! I really asked so many, many questions and I sat for hours, putting recipes on 3 x 5 cards when I visited with them in Colorado.  Everyone was telling me, “Oh, write this down, this is Eddie’s favorite recipe!!”  I have so many recipe cards (which I still have, in an old salt box a friend gave me about 25 years ago) that I still refer to.  And the funny thing is that most of them are for Christmas baking. So, today, it begins. In fact, I have cranberry bread baking right now.  I am also making banana bread and a cinnamon loaf today. I get the breads done early, because the rest of the day is the fun stuff!  I am sticking to just Christmas cookies this year.  We don’t really need the fudge, the turtles, the popcorn balls, pizzells (no waffle iron to make them with this year), peanut brittle, English toffee, and all the other family traditions I usually bake.  I took to baking with a vengeance and it is something I can do.

This year is the first year that it is just me and my youngest son.  It has really hit me this year that I am moving into a new phase in life: I am a grandma; my baby is 14 years old.  Life is speeding by and changing so quickly!  And today; today is just for him and me to spend together, laughing and decorating cookies!  We hang out every day because I homeschool him, but today is all about Christmas, my son, and cookies.  We have no other agenda items!  And you know what?  I feel so blessed.


I also love to bake mince pies.  Most people groan when they hear the word, “Mince” associated with pie, but it is an interesting history, in an of itself:

“The Christmas pie came about at the time when the Crusaders were returning from the Holy Land. They brought home a variety of oriental spices. It was important to add three spices (cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg) for the three gifts given to the Christ child by the Magi. In honor of the birth of the Savior, the mince pie was originally made in an oblong casings (coffin or cradle shaped), with a place for the Christ Child to be placed on top. The baby was removed by the children and the manger (pie) was eaten in celebration. These pies were not very large, and it was thought lucky to eat one mince pie on each of the twelve days of Christmas (ending with Epiphany, the 6th of January). (What’s Cooking, America? site).


My first bread is done and cooling off, and I am moving on to the banana bread.  I will also make my pies in the next day or two (I will also make an apple for those who just cannot handle mince!!).  I think that I have found an expression of the love I feel for my family, with food….because I cannot sew or craft, and you really, really don’t want to hear me sing!!!  Today, I am so happy to play with my youngest son and decorate cookies and start really “celebrating” this Christmas!

Blessings and happy baking!!

Christmas cookies