“…Place your rest in Him.”

2Thessalonians3-3This morning, our youngest son is off to do some service hours, more than likely lasting all day, working with his Scout Troop at a Salvation Army Food Bank.  This year it is falling on Holy Saturday.  Normally, in our family, we keep from Good Friday through the Easter Vigil, a quiet, contemplative time.  We try to keep the quiet, somber mood of Good Friday going, until “Christ is Risen!” is shouted late into the night on Saturday night (really, Sunday morning!!).  This year, however, is slightly different.  Our focus is different, and our practice is different.

We will be attending Divine Liturgy, and the community here celebrates the Resurrection tomorrow morning, whereas we are used to a rather robust all-nighter at our old parish.  It sort of fits with our lives right now.  Yesterday was a major step in faith for our family, in that we formally announced that we are relocating. We have set dates and we have made plans….we are moving on in our lives, totally relying on the promises of faith.  We are striving for a better life, a better environment for our family to thrive.  But it is mired with risk; much risk.  We are willing to take that step, however, because we all feel God is calling us to this decision.  It has been many years in the making.

The service our son is doing today, on what would normally be a quiet day for us, is emblematic of the direction in which we are going – we are stepping out of our comfort zone to make a stand in faith.  It is uncomfortable to take a stand.  It means being different.  It means being risky.  It means doing something that people like us never do!  We always plan everything. We never just go for it. Until now.

All Merciful Savior Vashon Island

All-Merciful Savior Orthodox Christian Monastery

Abbot Tryphon wrote another wonderful blog this morning. He titled it “Hopelessness; When you feel Hopeless” and this is what he said:

“It is easy to resist taking care of yourself if you run at full speed as though you are the only one who can get things done. We all need to set priorities, making sure we focus on Christ and not let that which is transitory rule our lives. If you pay attention to your health, family and spiritual life, everything else will take care of itself. Don’t let your life be so full of work that you don’t have time to focus on the things that bring you joy. Pay attention when the Lord is calling you to slow down and place your rest in Him.

If you focus only on the things that haven’t been done and ignore the little things that bring joy to your life, you’ll find yourself in a rut. If you are constantly thinking of where you’d rather be living, or the job you’d rather have, or the work that still needs to be completed, you’ll wake up one day and realize all you’ve needed for happiness has been right in front of you. Don’t wait to enjoy what you already have.” (Abbot Tryphon, All Merciful Savior Orthodox Christian Monastery; Vashon Island, WA).

This commentary on modern life sums up almost perfectly the conclusions my husband and I have come to, which in turn motivated our step-out in faith.  My husband realized that he has been missing life; it is passing him by; we both stopped and realized that so many years have gone by and we somehow feel like we missed something along the way.  When we relocated to the Pacific Northwest, so many of our friends were concerned for us because of the different weather pattern, most especially all the days of darkness and wetness.  My husband noticed no real changes.  He told me that even in SoCal, weather really wasn’t a factor in his life.  He never noticed missing the sunshine.  He said he would drive to work in the dark, and drive home in the dark – up here or down there, it didn’t make much difference.  And that gave us both pause to think: why did he not notice there was no sunshine in WA?  He worked so many hours, he rarely saw it anyway!  Because he was missing the sun, what else was he missing? What were we all missing?

Both of our older sons’ wives are expecting babies right now.  One of their wives is due in May, the other in October.  For our older son, this is his second child.  Our youngest son, aged 14, came downstairs the other day and we just stopped what we were doing and looked at him.  He had just showered and shaved and he looked – well, he looked a lot older than he had the day before!  When did our 5-week preemie grow up to be a father, expecting his second child?  When did my curly-mopped blondie become a college graduate, married man, and expectant father?  When did our 14-year old start regularly shaving?  Time passed has us by and we did not notice.  Our lives have been “so full of work, that you don’t have time to notice the things that bring you joy,” to quote Abbot Tryphon.

We have allowed the ‘busy-ness’ of life to interfere with living our lives.  We’ve created this bubble around us of habit.  Early mornings and late evenings, living the demands of life.   And we are sort of grabbing onto the shirt-tails of our youngest son.  Don’t misunderstand, our children’s younger days were a joy. We homeschooled both our older sons until they went to Catholic High Schools, and they have been involved in Little League, and Ice Hockey leagues, High School sports teams, and even Rugby.  So we did a lot with them.  We used to go hunting with our Springer Spaniels regularly; we had many wind surfing weekends and times spent traveling across states to spend vacations with extended family members.  Our youngest son is still homeschooled and he is involved in Scouting as well as the Civil Air Patrol, so we do a lot with him, as well. It is just that when you finally do stop and re-evaluate your life, it is surprising to realize that it has been 30 years, the kids are grown and wait a second – we want to slow this process down a little!

Now we are taking deep breaths, praying, and we are moving 2600+ miles to be near our oldest son and his family.  We want Sunday dinners and grandchildren running around the front porch.  We want the chaos an extended family living nearby brings.  We want more hours of the day invested in these last precious years we have with our youngest son at home.  We want to take the time to know our adult children as adults, to enjoy their company, and to relish those moments of being grandparents.  We want to slow this ridiculous pace down and be able to languish in the long coffees we share with our children, and the cookie-making-moments with our grandchildren.  We want to hold onto and relish life, realizing that “all you’ve needed for happiness has been right in front of you. Don’t wait to enjoy what you already have,” as Abbot Tryphon is warning us.

And so we’ve prayed and begged God to give us direction and if He has to employ a 2×4 to get our attention, to please do that.  We believe our prayers have been answered, as so many things are falling into place.  There are some major gaps, but that is where we step out in Faith.  The Holy Fathers posted this quote today, “You cannot learn to see just because someone tells you to do so. For that, you require your own natural power of sight. In the same way, you cannot discover from the teaching of others the beauty of prayer. Prayer has its own special teacher in God, who ‘teaches man knowledge’ (Ps. 93:10). He grants the prayer of him who prays. And He blesses the years of the just.”
(St John Climacus)  We firmly take hold of the promise that, “He grants the prayer of him who prays.” and we step out in faith, clinging to Our Lord.

The next few weeks, we will be outside of our comfort zone.  We will begin this new era of life by changing how we celebrate Holy Week and we will move on from there.  My husband is with our son, at the Scouting event, sharing time with him.  It is one tiny step in faith towards a life lived, keeping these words in the forefront, “Pay attention when the Lord is calling you to slow down and place your rest in Him.”  We rest in His promises and we move forward in prayer. I think it’s good to shake things up a bit now and then; and I am eager to explore this non-comfort-zone part of our lives and see where it leads us. As we prepare to shout, “Alithos anesti” “He is Risen”! “Haqan Qam”! “He is Risen”! we also prepare to take a step out in faith.

Joshua 1,9


“The indifference of believers…”

40 Days logoToday, for those of us who observe the Western Calendar, is Holy Thursday. It is hard to believe Pascha, or Easter,  is upon us and our Forty Days of preparation and renewal are coming to a close. Tonight, in our tradition, our priest washes the feet of many of our parishioners.  It is done as a symbol, not just as the recreation of the biblical story:

“The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.  He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”  Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”  “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”  Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”  “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”  Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.”  For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.  When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”  (John 13:1-17)

In our tradition, this simple, humbling act is symbolic of the servant’s nature present within our priests, but it is also supposed to remind us that nothing is too humbling or difficult for us to do, when serving our neighbor.  Even the Old Testament says, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:18).  I have a neighbor who makes it very, very difficult to even be gracious towards him.  He is one of those finicky people.  His yard, his car, his home, his personal appearance (never a hair out of place) – always perfect. At first, I thought it was me; perhaps we just clash?  But no, after having tea with a neighbor, I was told he inserts himself and his wishes for the neighborhood, upon everyone.  At least I am not alone! Ha-Ha!  He will smile at you, while chastising you for not picking up dog poop often enough, not mowing as often as he does, not trimming your trees back enough (I heard a noise out front one day and there he was, on a ladder, trimming the tree in MY front yard!!).  And when I deal with this person, I try very hard to remember the words of Leviticus and to not bear a grudge; to realize this is the way the man is and to always try and bear him good will; and at the very least, a smile.  If I cannot manage to love a surly neighbor, how am I supposed to love an actual enemy?  And if I cannot love those who hate me, how can I love my Father in Heaven?

Christ preached an important sermon we refer to as the “Sermon on the Mount.”  At the very end of this sermon, wherein we get the wonderful Beatitudes, He says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5: 43-48).

From this verse alone, I am called to love my cranky neighbor, as I love myself.  I need to pray for him, perhaps to soften his heart.  I once commented to him, when he was complaining about us not trimming our bushes (he has to look at them out his window) that, “We will never be good enough for you.”  My husband got angry because I said that, and my neighbor’s wife (who is the nicest woman!!) chastised her husband because he was being rather nasty that day.  He later, in a way of apology, told me that he often speaks before thinking about what he says and that he means well. He also said this house is a huge investment for him and he wants it to look good all the time.  We live on a golf course with no fencing – at all – between our houses (or at the back of them), so you do see everything about your neighbor (I actually keep my blinds closed on that side of the house unless it is a blaringly sunny day, because I feel like I live in a fishbowl!!) and noticing bushes, etc. is an obvious thing to do.  I am called to do an over-abundance of prayer for my neighbor; he has no faith life.  He asked my husband one time “what” he was, because he saw us leave for Divine Liturgy and Melkite Deacons wear the long habits most people associate with priests or monks, along with some funky hats.  It is very noticeable. It was a good conversation and our two families benefited from it; he smiles more these days!  And I am hoping we are being a positive example to him of living our faith.  And for our part, we are trying to trim bushes more often and get the dog poop that somehow gets too close to his property line!  I think we are making progress, albeit slow progress!

As a servant of the Church community, being a Deacon is something that my husband loves so very much. He is happiest at the altar, and as happy serving the people he cares so much for when he can.  At our parish, he would remodel the bathrooms, repair the kitchen, and serve the Lazarus Meal we hosted weekly.  Being the wife of a deacon is interesting and I love it.  In our old parish, it was so very special.  The community called me “shamaseea”, which roughly translates to “deacon’s wife.” (Please forgive me if I misspelled the Arabic). The older ladies, especially, would always come up to me and cuddle me and hug me and speak in a language (Arabic) I did not understand, but the translation was not necessary – they appreciated the fact that we were there to serve the community and they appreciated the years of schooling my husband had gone through to serve them, and the sacrifice our family made for them. In our Melkite tradition, you don’t simply just “become” a deacon.  If the calling is there, you approach your priest; you attend some meetings with him in the discernment process and learn the extent of your calling.  Once the priest is convinced you have the call to be a deacon, he then asks the community, “Is he worthy?”  And the community shouts, “Axios! Axios! Axios!”  – “He is worthy”!  And when the deacon is ordained, as the stole is placed on his shoulders, again the community shouts its approval with, “Axios! Axios! Axios!”  What an incredible feeling to know that your community supports you in this service to them.  I wept as my husband received his stole and he stood there, amongst the shouts of our community.  It is a day I will never forget. One of my favorite photos is of my husband standing with our Bishop and parish priest at his ordination.  What a blessing.

Axios!  We are all worthy to serve.  As our priests wash the feet of their parishioners this evening, as Pope Francis did earlier today in Rome, we are reminded that we are called to serve each other and we are, each of us, worthy of that call.  We can serve by helping feed the homeless (or underemployed) as we did at our old parish. I can honestly say it was one of the most humbling, but most exciting things I have ever done. I miss the days of packing up my kids (they were all still at home then) in our Suburban, driving to the local food bank that provided almost no-cost food to homeless kitchens, and loading that suburban to the rafters.  We would then drive across town to our parish and unload the car, deciding how we would feed the 100 or more people we would see that evening, with the food we had just bought.  I loved the preparation with all the Arab ladies in the kitchen; I even loved the clean up afterwards!  We laughed and they told stories in their broken English and it is a treasured memory for me.  After we prepared the meal, we welcomed those waiting in line to get in (sometimes it was overwhelming, the number of people who needed our meal) and then we would seat them just like at a restaurant, and then serve them.  We enlisted the local Catholic High School to help us as a service project for their kids, and each week dozens of teens came to serve the poor and homeless.  Afterward, we would walk to the Church itself and have Vespers.  We were sweaty (SoCal is hot most of the time) and stinky, but felt so very good at the labor and effort we had just put forth, to serve our community.  Quite often we had the poor and homeless join us for prayer, just to see what we were all about.  I miss that ministry the most out of moving up here!  This operation was small in comparison to many out there. We survived on donations from our parish, and the generous people at the food bank.  But we “fed” our neighbors, none of whom were Melkite.  We even got the Coptic Church involved, and they would come once a month and prepare Egyptian food for the homeless.  It was a glorious thing to see.  There are so many, many opportunities just like that, if we but look around and notice the needs of our neighbor! Sometimes it is praying with someone, or a conversation; sometimes it is assisting the elderly; sometimes it is donating instead of selling our old things; sometimes it is just noticing someone who is hurting and quietly offering a prayer for them.

Fr. Alexander YelchaninovI think the lesson I take from Holy Thursday is that it is up to me to be the difference in the world around me. If I affect, in a positive way, every person I bump into along my day, I have made great strides for the Kingdom of God.  I may be the only “Jesus” a particular person sees that day, or ever.  Up here, where we live, less than 6% of the population is churched, so it is a distinct possibility!  I am called to roll up my sleeves and assist when I see a need. Think how the world would change if we all washed the feet of our neighbor!  Do not be afraid of the thief who comes in the night (cf John 10:10 or Luke 12:1-7) but rather afraid of our own indifference to the suffering of our neighbors.  Holy Thursday is the beginning of an intense three days (the Holy or Easter Triduum) culminating with the Resurrection of Our Lord on Easter.  What a wonderful contemplation of service to our neighbor, to begin these Holy Days! Praise be to God!

“…for the egg you hold to turn red…”

Ukrainain Egg Wraps 3So much of what we think we know when we are young, is completely dashed on the rocks when we get older.  My middle son, when a freshman in High School, put us in an awkward position.  He was barely in high school and we had our youngest son, who was 4 or 5 at the time, and in kindergarten. It was nearing the Christmas holiday season.  To give some background, our family always celebrates the Feast of St. Nicolas by putting our shoes in the hallway, and in the morning, gold-foil-covered coins would be in our shoes.  (Our middle son and youngest son also share their same birth date with the feast day of St. Sabbas, December 5th, the day before St. Nicolas). The story of St. Nicolas of Myra and his generosity always brought such joy to my husband and I, and we shared that with our children.  We often also shared that there were many years that Christmas should not have happened, and that we believed St. Nicolas interceded for us.  St. Nicolas always made an appearance at our parish, bringing chocolate treats to the kids dressed in traditional Bishop’s clothing.  When we were asked by our children if “Santa Claus” was real, we sort of side-stepped it by telling them that we definitely believe in St. Nicolas of Myra. In his memory, through the centuries, Santa Claus was developed, in keeping his sainted memory alive for each generation. We reminded them that we also believe that the Saints are with us always, in the Church Triumphant.  Those are the words we used, but our children heard, “Yes, of course, Santa is real!”  As I said at the beginning, our middle son was in that space between boy-man, and a very naive high school freshman.  (We homeschooled him until he entered a local, Catholic High School).  We asked him to help us hide some Christmas gifts for our youngest son in his closet, and he was devastated.  We had no idea he still believed in the mystery of Christmas morning; he totally bought the whole “Santa” idea and he was crushed.  He then questioned us about the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and Guardian Angels.  What a conversation we had with him.  Now in his late 20s, a college graduate (degree in Ancient History – of course!!) and a married, and imminently expectant father, he still remembers this event.  It made us feel like we had perpetrated a hoax on him and ruined his wonderful childhood memories. Our youngest son, we think, has a handle on it.  But we also think he likes to believe in the miraculous, and also uses it to his advantage.  This past Christmas, at the ripe age of 13, he shared with us his lists – birthday and Christmas.  He said what he didn’t get for his birthday (on the 5th of December) he would love to “get from Dad…oh, I mean, Santa, or St. Nicolas,” at Christmas.  I let it slide, but I think he gets it.  This weekend is Easter…and with that comes preparing for the Easter Bunny…goodies, foods, baskets, and all that we celebrate with it..and there has been so much on the internet and Facebook.  One posting that bothers me greatly is the picture below:

Silly RabbitI firmly believe in the Resurrection of Our Lord, for without that, our religion would not exist; without Easter, Christmas is meaningless.  That being said, I think that the traditions that have sprung up around these Holy-Days (aka Holidays) bring an added dimension to them.  Yes, there are those who ONLY know about the Bunny.  They ONLY know about chocolate eggs and dressing up and hunting for candy eggs. Religion does not enter into the equation at all.  I get that.  Perhaps it is because of my education in Anthropology and History, that I love all the traditions (small t) that surround these Holy Days of ours.  (Why do we hunt for eggs at Easter? Hmmm…hint: someone was missing from the Tomb and was being sought).  Some pessimists posted under pictures like the one above statements like, “It is a pagan holiday anyway; the Church stole it.” and “Christ wasn’t born in wintertime; they stole that pagan celebration, as well.”  Yes, the Church stole those dates.  It was easier as the Church was growing, to incorporate the local traditions and cultures and expound on them, using what was in place to further explain our faith.  St. Patrick is famous for using the 3-leaf clover to explain the Trinity, and it became “lucky.”  The Church used holidays for new birth and coming forth in Spring as the perfect time for Christ to emerge from His Tomb, the Risen Lord. It made sense.  Slowly, over the centuries, many traditions (small t) grew around these Holy-Days and only enhanced the wonder and joy of them. Re-birth, spring flowers, sunshine emerging from a dark winter (why do so many Christians gather for “sunrise services” on Easter Sunday?) and empty crosses…all symbolic of the emergence from Hades (for 3 days), from death, from His tomb – of Our Risen Lord.

One of the most profound things I love about the history of our faith is the history of the construction of our Churches. Western, Catholic churches, first and foremost, are in the shape of a Cross.  Also, in European, western culture, very few people could read.  So the builders of our oldest Cathedrals, at the instruction of our Church Fathers, incorporated incredible stained glass windows to tell the story of Christ, the Church, and its Saints.  Statues were made, depicting episodes from the life of Christ.  The Pieta is one of my very favorites.  There is a saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”  The early Church builders and Fathers of the Church, knowing the poor education of its people, created a special place where the tenets of the faith could be shown in picture and statue form.  A person would walk into a Church and be in a different realm, a heavenly realm, a place where God would be present in his people, in His temple. And their senses were enveloped by the sights, sounds, colors, and smells of their faith.

In the East, the tradition of the Icon was developed.  The beginnings of iconography are in the Catacombs themselves.  One of the first images shared by Christians is of the Fish, emblazoned on the walls of the Catacombs, guiding believers to the liturgies being held in secret in pagan Rome.  The first Icon by St. Luke is an incredible story.  (http://www.stlukeorthodox.com/html/iconography/iconhistory.cfm) The Byzantine and Orthodox believe that Icons are the window to the soul and tell a story.  Everything in an icon is symbolic; they are not meant to look realistic in the sense of a Raphael painting. We do not paint icons, rather, we write an icon.  The icons fill the Eastern Churches with an other-worldly sense of the sacred.  With the colors on the walls and ceilings, the candles, incense, and icons, you enter into a deeply reverent, heavenly experience while still here, on earth.  Most Orthodox and Byzantine Churches do not have pews.  The meaning behind it is pretty profound.  We do not kneel – we stand in the Presence of God.  For example, when the President or other dignitary enters a room, everyone stands.  How much more should we greet Our Lord, Who is present in His Temple?  The western tradition of kneeling comes from (this is what I love about learning history) the way a knight would kneel in the presence of his lord and master, often for the first time when being knighted.  This is a medieval tradition, carried over into our western liturgies.  In the older, western Cathedrals, there are no pews, either.  The pews came in slowly, for the royals, and were boxed-off from the regular people, to keep the peasants away from royalty, as they worshiped.  Slowly, pews were extended for everyone.  In the Anglican Church (and many Episcopal and Lutheran churches), boxed pews are still reserved for those with higher status in the community.  In the East, the kneeling and sitting aspects of common worship did not wend their way into our liturgical tradition.

Icon wall

These traditions, which surround our Holy Days, are ways the Church, in Her profound Wisdom, has helped us to preserve what we believe.  Songs, hymns, prayers, eggs, and certain foods, drinks, and attire – they are all a part of our celebrations.  I believe that if we destroy them, in a rush to be politically correct, we will loose far more.  It is our job as parents and educators of our children, and evangelists in our own communities, to share where these traditions have their roots; the whys and wherefores can be profoundly moving.

One of my dearest friends and I were talking yesterday and we spoke about friendship.  One of the fallacies that we allow to perpetuate in our children is that concept of “best friends;” or even the term of “friend,” itself.  We truly have very few friends in life. We have fellow Christians (I am grouping all of us together), co-workers, neighbors, relatives, acquaintances; yes. I do not think, any longer, that I have to maintain relationships after their expiration date. God brings people into our lives for a time and a purpose and when that is over, it is okay to let that relationship go.  This is another of those traditions that we carry on, but our Church Fathers tell us that we need not cling to people.  Scripture certainly tells us about keeping others away who do not believe as we do.  An earlier post of mine dealt with this (Avoid Conversation with Him), so I won’t dwell on it here.  But as my friend and I spoke, we shared so many things that unite us as friends.  We have history together (we’ve been friends for more than 20 years) and we have a common faith; a faith we use to hold one another up when we cannot be in the same room, or even the same state!  The traditions of the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus, those are much the same thing.  They are acting as magnets to a greater truth. My friend stimulates me to be a better woman of faith; acting as a magnet, as it were, to my better self.

A saying keeps popping into my head – “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”  And I cannot help but apply that to our commercialism surrounding Easter (and Christmas).  I always buy my kids summer outfits, water pistols, kites, swim trunks, flip-flops and t-shirts, etc.  They symbolize our walking into a new Season, a Season of Light and Faith…a summertime!  Celebration and fun!  The fast is over! Christ is Risen! Glorify Him!! I rarely buy chocolate Easter bunnies, but usually find a chocolate Cross…my insertion of a visible Christ into these Springtime traditions.  So many things about Easter – baskets, eggs, green grass, hot-cross buns, etc. are rich in tradition and I choose to keep them in, being perhaps not as correct as some of my fellow Christians. For those of us who are steeped in the traditions of our faith, we have tiny reminders all year around, of this faith to which we cling so mightily.  The ones we celebrate with each season only enhance our faith; they do not detract from it.  I love these traditions and I love celebrating Easter and all our other Holy Days, with all the traditional hoopla involved.

We brought a new tradition to a Latin Rite, Roman Catholic parish one year and they absolutely loved it.  We introduced them to red Easter eggs; they also were treated to onion-skin-dyed eggs (an Estonian tradition I learned as a child) as well as intricately designed Ukrainian-wrapped eggs.  It is an amazing thing, to bring our faith to others…and I love everything about it. To share just one of the myriad of traditional Easter celebrations, I will leave you with an interesting insight into the Byzantine and Orthodox tradition of Red Easter Eggs.

Red easter egg.2

“He’s trying to change your heart.”

Didache.Two RoadsWe recently decided to try a different approach to our health.  We started using a new kitchen gadget and way of eating.  It was really strange, because nothing was added to our diet that was in pill or powder form, neither was it a medicinal addition.  We ate all natural foods, and very simply, too.  For me, I felt clear-headed.  I also was happy.  My mood had definitely felt elevated!  And I also had more energy, more drive.  And it seemed like this was a good idea.  Some friends came to stay this weekend, a way of sharing some time with us before we relocate thousands of miles away.  We have been close friends for about 27 years or so. Over the weekend, though, we made (my husband and myself) some very poor nutritional choices, veering about as far away from our chosen path as you can get.  We had burgers, fried mushrooms, onion rings, sodas, Mexican food with too many chips, a late evening drive through Dairy Queen for some Blizzards, and then bacon and eggs breakfasts…on and on it went!  Decadent, not fasting at all (our friends are Protestant and do not keep the fast at all), and definitely not good for us.  By Sunday afternoon, I felt miserably sick.  My stomach was roiling, I was tired, and cranky, and felt wiped out.  I slept miserably on Saturday night, as well.  And I could not help but think that our step back into our former habits was completely to blame.  Our new habits had just begun last Tuesday….it will just be a week tomorrow…and we failed miserably at keeping our new ways going, in favor of accommodating some dear friends.  The interesting thing was that the male counterpart in this friendship is diabetic and his numbers stunk so bad, and he knew it, so he did not even want to test his blood!  The four of us knew we had been very, very bad!!

White Tulips Best PixIt is such a glorious day today!  Spring is here and the sun is out, and I am drinking my morning “Berry Blast” and determined to right my wrongs of the weekend.  I realized that my wrongs, although dietary, are significant.  These wrongs were gleefully carried out, with barely a nod to my resolutions about my diet. Our friends had also made great strides in their approach to eating and were feeling much healthier.  We get together and bam!  We are eating bad foods again, being decadent, and it was obviously not in our best interests.  How did this happen so easily?

In life, I have been patiently shown, over and over again, that we have paths to choose from.  One is good for us, one is not. One path is towards God, one is not.  One is towards life, one is towards death.  Life is about choices.  We make them every day about a multitude of things.  I chose very poorly this weekend and felt the physical remorse of doing so.  What else am I so easily willing to compromise?  Well, none of us went to Church.  Our friends are Protestant, so we did not push attending Divine Liturgy, even though it was Palm Sunday on the western calendar, and we are now in Holy Week.  How did we allow the pressure of visitors cause us to compromise our path to God?  Our culture pressures us every day to compromise our walk towards eternity with God.  I had a conversation with my son last night about raising his son, how he wants to rear him, what values are important for him to share with his son, and how he does not want interference with the process from others.  It was an enlightening conversation and another facet to that conversation was it got me to thinking about God, Our Father.  How much He wants to share with us, without outside influence, without anyone interfering with that process.  And it made me just stop.  Here we are, at the end of Lent, and I feel once again like I failed miserably.  I have, yes, made some wonderful strides and have learned so very much.  Elder Thaddeus has become, for me, like an intimate friend and spiritual father, and I feel blessed he is in my life.  Keeping silent has also had a profound influence on my life, my heart, my head, my soul.  I am blessed in that, as well.  I discovered something that is working for my betterment in health, and that is also a blessing (as I take another swig of my morning “Berry Blast”!!) But how easily that wide, decadent path to death enticed me back in.  How weak I am and how much I need God, in every aspect of my life, every day. I need to develop a stronger backbone, a way of saying “no” in a loving manner, when situations or people entice me away from the person I am choosing to become.  My “Berry Blast” this morning is more than a healthy alternative to bacon and eggs. It is a rallying point for me and as I look at it, sitting here on my desk, I am inspired to pick myself back up and re-enter the race.  Christ Himself promises us that He is waiting for us. There are innumerous examples in Scripture where God welcomes those “late to the Supper.”  The one I love is where He pays the workers in His vineyard the same wage, regardless of when they show up to work.  Some of the workers, having been toiling all day, are jealous the late-comers get the same wage and He tells them:  “Friend, I am not treating you unfairly. Didn’t you agree with me to work for the standard wage?  Take what is yours and go. I want to give this last man the same as I gave to you.  Am I not permitted to do what I want with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?  So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Matthew 20: 13-16) And I cling to that promise, that although I may be late, I will still be paid the same – salvation.  I work and work on myself, and am continually finding myself at the short end of the stick and yet I am comforted by knowing that I am still participating.  And I am also comforted by the fact that I knew, within hours, that I had lost my will and caved to the pressures of being with friends.  I had not insisted that we go to a salad bar!  I caved and went to a ’50s burger diner, had miserable food (horrible service, as well) and then paid for it for two days afterwards!  But I knew; I realized exactly where my error was and it has not left me since.  I also knew, with a sinking heart, that we should have invited them to participate with us, rather than worry that it would drive them away, on Palm Sunday.  We lost an incredible opportunity to share our Byzantine faith with some very dear friends.  The remorse is palatable today.

God is changing your heartToday, I choose to step into the Light of the love of God once more. To strap on the armor of God, and to battle my weaknesses and the wiles of the enemy.  God is working so hard this Lent to change my heart.  I know that change is happening, because my awareness has grown!  I knew when I slipped – I knew it.  Before my challenging Lent, I simply would have fallen and not really noticed, because I would have been back in what has been a “comfort zone” for years and years.  I think that one of the lessons from this weekend is that I need to stop trying to please other people. I need to focus, instead, on living this Psalm:  “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14). This is basically telling me that only what is pleasing to God should concern my heart, my behavior, my actions.  I also believe, and have shared before, that if I can entrench deeply into my heart these precepts of God; if I can live according to His Word, emblazoned on my heart, then all these other things will also be a blessing to God.  My interaction with friends, family members, parishioners, strangers I meet along my way, will be so very different because they all will feel the light emanating from me; the Light of Christ.  And all will be well.

Eph 5-8

“He’s the one you’re following.”


“A proud man, at the time when other people are speaking of any other person’s virtues, is wickedly afraid lest this person should be superior to him in virtues, and should eclipse him, for the proud man considers himself above all, and does not think it possible to find similar or higher virtues in others. The rivalry of others is a great misfortune to him.”
(St John of Kronstadt)  This quote of St. John was posted on the Brotherhood of the Holy Cross’ Facebook page earlier, and it’s been eating away at me.  Dostoevsky’s quote seems to go along with this quote from St. John, too.

I have struggled most of my life with trying to win the approval of others.  I always feel like I fall very short because their scales, their method of measurement, are so very different than mine.  I have tried to approach things with their perspective, but just cannot seem to do so.  At various times in my life, I was far removed from religion.  I certainly did not practice the Christian virtues in any way.  In those times, I was more in step with those who judged me, because their perspective seems more in tune with worldly values and accomplishments.  When I chose a different lifestyle and chose to become a different person in my life, it became apparent we lived very disparate lives.  As I have aged, and hopefully matured, I realize that comparisons are rather silly. I can never be those who look at me; those who judge me….they are on the outside of the person I am and they are pursuing their own desires, their own answer to the same questions we all have: “Who am I?” “Why am I here?”  “What is life for?”  “Is there a greater power guiding all this? “Is there a God?” And I recently have been able to reflect, and to let it all go.  I am no longer comparing myself to others who seem to be exceeding their own expectations.  I am no longer in the same race; I took a step back and stepped out of it!  And that is a humongous difference and a huge weight off my shoulders. I can honestly say that since I have become more in tune with the peace of God in my heart, deeply felt within me, I have given up participating in their race.  I run my own race; my personal race to eternity.

Don't compare

We keep the goals we are after in front of us, always, to spur us on in our journey.  For example, we are relocating near our oldest son.  I keep a photo montage on our refrigerator of his family and my visit with them in January.  When I get down or disgruntled with how this move is progressing, I go and look at my grandson, at my son and his family.  It keeps me focused on where we are going and why!  Our mantle had family pictures on it.  As we decorated for Christmas, I packed them away.  Once Christmas was over and that was packed up, my mantle was bare.  So I relocated our Icon corner to front and center on our mantle.  For me, it keeps my eye on the prize.  And quite honestly, the noise, the clutter, the chaos that others bring to my life through their judgements and their opinions, are fading away.  They no longer concern me, guide me, or inform me, because I realized that it is just…opinion. Using their methods of judging me, I will never measure up.  I will never be the perfect daughter, sister, mother, friend.  But I can be the perfect Child of God, because God loves me no matter what, and uses no scale to measure me against other Christians.  The only measuring I am concerned with is how God perceives me, how God wants me to be.  And I believe that if I can mirror the message of Christ effectively, all these other scales and issues will fall by the wayside, because Christ’s message is of perfect love for others.  (“This is my commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:12)  He gave His life for me, and for each of us who heed His message.  He did not come to save everyone, because many, many people choose not to heed His message.  For those who opt to live their lives for the moment, for the fullest enjoyment that this life can offer, that is what they can find – here.  I pray that when they meet Christ at their death, their repentance is sincere and they choose wisely; they choose eternity with Christ.

ON Forgiveness

“As for me and my house, we shall serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)I know that many of my extended family and some of our friends feel that since we have become Melkite Greek Catholic and have embraced an eastern viewpoint on theology, that we sort of “went off the deep end.”  Still others appreciate the insight, the “breath of fresh air” we share with them, breathing through our eastern, Byzantine lung.  Still others do not accept what we share or what I share here, because it is old, and it is Catholic or Byzantine, or Orthodox.  They do not accept the authenticity!  All of that makes me sad.  Christ came 2,000+ years ago and the “deposit of faith” is so immense, there is room for all these wonderful things to be shared.  There is also room in the House of God for many viewpoints.  Christ’s message of forgiveness should reach to other points of view, but quite often, in matters of faith, it does not. Today I am sharing that I have been illuminated in a profound way, that what I am being shown is making me a better person and I believe that light can be shared with others, and they, in turn, will be lit with this Divine Knowledge, and changed; changed for the better.  This is not said out of pride, out of some haughty place where I think I am correct and feel sorry for everyone who does not think like I do.  Far, far from it.  I have been told over and over again, by a protagonist in my life, “I know I am right; prove me wrong and we can discuss it. Until you do, you need to accept that I am right.”  And for them, it is for every subject you can broach with them.  Every subject.  That is a very difficult position to deal with, because with their own personal scale, I can never be right.  Empirically or emotionally!  And so I am choosing to step away from the argument, the contest, or whatever it is supposed to be and I am allowing myself the Peace, the Grace of God to comfort me.  I acknowledge my own ineptitude, my own weakness, my own lacking in certain areas, and I opt to forge ahead, as poor a specimen as I am.  I choose to allow the Grace of Christ to inform my conscious, to form my spirituality, and to be the sole judge of who I am. I let go of the rest of it.  Whew….such a relief.  I truly cannot express how incredibly freeing this viewpoint is.  I feel like I can choose for me and mine and there are no repercussions, because my sole judge is God.   I leave you with these thoughts, expressed so well, by St. John of Kronstadt:

“Our soul, as a spiritual, active being, cannot remain idle; it either does good or evil, one of the two; either wheat grows in it or tares. But as every good comes from God, and as the means of obtaining every good from God is prayer, those who pray fervently, sincerely, from the depths of their hearts, obtain from the Lord grace to do good, and, before all, the grace of faith; whilst, those who do not pray, naturally remain without these spiritual gifts, voluntarily depriving themselves of them by their own negligence and spiritual coldness; and as the wheat of good thoughts, inclinations, intentions, and works grows in the hearts of those who labor and pray fervently to the Lord, so in the hearts of those who do not pray, the tares of every evil grow, smothering the small amount of good that has remained in them from the grace of baptism, chrism, and subsequent penitence and communion.
Therefore, we must most carefully look after the field of our heart, lest the tares of evil, slothfulness, luxuriousness, self-indulgence, unbelief, avarice, envy, hatred, and others, should grow within it; we must daily weed the field of our heart–at least, at morning and evening prayers, and refresh it by salutary sighs, as by healthful winds, and water it with abundant tears, as by early and late rain. Besides this, we must by every means implant in the field of our heart the seeds of the virtues, faith, hope in God, and love for God and our neighbor, fertilize it by prayer, patience, good works, and not for a single hour remain in complete idleness and inactivity, for in times of idleness and inactivity the enemy zealously sows his tares. “While men slept, the enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way.” We must also remember that it is impossible to do good works without efforts. Since our voluntary falling into sin the kingdom of God cannot be taken otherwise than by “violence, and the violent take it by force.” Why is it that only the narrow way and narrow gate lead to life? Who makes the way of the chosen narrow? The world oppresses the chosen, the devil oppresses them, the flesh oppresses them; it is these that make our way to the kingdom of heaven narrow.”

180px-Ioann_of_KronstadtSt. John of Kronstadt, Russia

“…We cannot fight on our own…”

Spring droplets

Spring is trying to break through.  Spring is a time of rebirth, or rejuvenation.  In its wisdom, the Church gave us Lent to prepare for the glorious day of the Resurrection, when rebirth, the rebirth that matters, takes place.  God overcomes the world, the sting of death, and grants us eternal life.  Wow.  Every year, we are given this gift.  Every year.

We have been endeavoring to keep the fast each day.  We have not been as successful this Lent as we have in the past.  Things are so upside down right now, that keeping the strict fast has fallen by the wayside.  And it shows. I think both my husband and myself have gained weight, eating junky meals and not paying attention to our overall health.  We have decided to change that.  One of the reasons is that we are feeling older than our years and we have all these new grandchildren we want to keep up with!  We want to be the fun grandparents who play with their grandchildren.  And we still have a teenager in the house!  To that end, we have opted to eat a more raw, simple diet.  Today is day #2.  We got this new thing called a NutriBullet and what it does is pulverize your food to a drinkable liquid, the texture of which you choose for yourself (more water, less thick, etc).  It is like a smoothie, only everything you put in there is dissolved to its molecular level, making it more “bio-available” to your body (stems, leaves, seeds, skins, etc).  This morning I had (all fresh) spinach, blueberries, blackberries, banana, flax seed, and water in my “Blast.”  It is filling and tastes so good!!  Yesterday’s “Blast” had strawberries instead of blackberries, but I am a blackberry lover, so I changed it up!  Tomorrow I might try peaches and pineapple!  It is changing how I shop and what is in the cupboard and refrigerator.  And it is also making our nutrition simpler, fresher, and basic.  The teenager is balking a little bit, but I am sure I can win him over!!  Taste and texture are everything, not to mention drinking something green goes against his better judgement! Ha-Ha! Today I added a little organic vanilla to his and he’s drinking it up.

The point of this is that I am working at overall change during Lent. I am refocusing my prayer life, my internal core of spirituality, and now the body that houses all of this.  I think that it is time I took my life and how I approach it, in a different direction.  I was shown so clearly through reading Elder Thaddeus, that we need to separate ourselves from the world and become more in tune with God and His plan for our lives.  We are a cluttered, noisy, overweight, poorly nutritioned, hedonistic society; a culture lacking in the serenity of the peace that only God can give us.  “If it feels good, do it!”  I think that by cutting back, turning off, and tuning out, we can work towards the best relationship to Our Lord that we can, while still being in this world.  Most of us were called to the married, family life and we are not monastics.  But we can try to live as closely to it as we can. We can turn off the TV, we can back away from media influences, and we can spend more time in simple pursuits.  We can read a spiritual work rather than watch some inane program where we tune out emotionally anyway!  I am praying that when we move I can grow these fruits and vegetables we eat, that we can hunt and fish for the mainstay of our diets, and we can get in shape – physically, as well as spiritually.  Today, I am high on the hope scale!  Today my cup is a little more than half-full.  Today I am optimistic for the future I can carve out for myself.  Little steps, little changes, and a re-direction of priorities can make all the difference. (I am smiling).

We need to acknowledge that we are in this world….I keep reminding myself every day, that I am not special, not different, but that I can choose to live differently; I can choose to approach all things in my life in a simpler, more direct manner. Elder Thaddeus reminds us that: “A materialistic person cannot understand a spiritual person. Anything that a spiritual person says is fantasy to a materialistic person, because heavenly logic is completely different from the logic of the world.  However, when one talks to a materialistic person one may bring him to the conclusion that there is, after all, something that moves the world, and that there is harmony in the universe and disharmony on the earth.”  He goes on to say, “We Christians have been called to spread upon the earth the atmosphere of heaven, eternity, love, peace, truth, and stillness.  But it is very difficult, since from our youth we have learned anger and disobedience; we have become accustomed to returning blows and to approaching everyone with distrust and reserve.  We have accepted much evil into our hearts, and now we need to get rid of it.”  Elder Thaddeus, once again, speaks to me and my life.  I am so blessed to have been able to learn from his wisdom.  Using his lessons, I have been able to allow others to get angry with me; I have been able to let things happen, which are outside my control, and not get upset about them.  I still feel that initial pain, that hurt or that anger, but I am able to calm myself and remember that all things happen for God’s good. (“But we do know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to purpose.” Romans 8:28).  I am also learning that these little hiccups in life are sent by a loving God Who wants what is best for us, and is training us for His plan in our lives.  I have mentioned this before, but a priest friend used to tell me not to pray for patience, because that was when all hell would break loose….because God had to teach us patience. It is not a gift that descends upon you and you automatically become more patient; rather, it is a learned attribute or characteristic.  Taking that idea and applying it to other areas of my life, I know that these little kinks in our plans, the things we think are going to happen but often do not, these are all ways the Lord is reaching out to me, trying to hone me into a better child of God. And what better time to focus on improving myself, than Lent!

“There is a constant struggle between good and evil.  We wish to be good, but the spirits of wickedness do not want us to have a single good character trait, only bad ones.  This is why we must fight.  We cannot fight on our own, but the Lord is our Protector, for as soon as we ask Him sincerely to help us, He will immediately come to our aid.” (Elder Thaddeus).  And it seems that when we focus in a strong way on improving ourselves, that is when we are beset with troubles.  Because I have taken these lessons to heart and am earnestly trying to apply them daily, the hiccups seem to go away a lot quicker.  They just need that “spoonful of sugar” to help them go away – they require my earnest prayer, my sincere supplication to Our Lord.

John of Kronstadt

Once again, St. John of Kronstadt perfectly states what I can take 1300 words to say!  I also wanted to share that this journey continues on, through and past Lent.  Because in the light of the Resurrection, our heightened experience of the Risen Christ will only inspire us to a greater, stronger, truer relationship with Him. There are tones, refrains, and sayings that are reserved for the days immediately following Easter.  I cannot wait to sing them, to say them, to think them.  This weekend is Palm Sunday for us on the western calendar.  This weekend is the weekend Our Lord was led into the city a hero, someone the crowds adored.  How quickly the tone changes; how quickly the adoration faded.  It is through the Church that we are given the opportunity to annually re-apply ourselves to our faith, to our personal journey, so that we are not led astray by the change in tone, by the crowds around us in this wacky world.

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” Ephesians 6:10-18

Armor of God

“He is ever present…”

We are like the weather: now the wind is blowing, a storm is raging, there is thunder and lightning and rain – but then the sun comes out and we feel well.  Then another storm comes and so on…”  (St. John Kronstadt)

LighteningI sat in my car last evening, during a pretty amazing rain storm, and was reading Elder Thaddeus’ book, “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives,” when I came across that quote above, in Chapter Twelve – Inner Peace.  I found it so perfectly timed for me to be reading this particular chapter, at this particular time.  God works through the instruments He provides us – people, places, situations, even things. The Lord prompted me to begin this Lenten journey with a desire to find peace.  And the instrument He provided for me was this incredible book.  It seems like each time I reach for it, my spirit is waiting for more illumination, poised and ready to grow in faith.  And every time I read this book, God speaks to me through His instrument, Elder Thaddeus.  My husband is the one who bought it and he originally found the book at a shop we were visiting, looking for a gift for our future daughter-in-law, and an icon for the first home she and our son would share.  God lead him to this book and finally brought the book to me; we are blessed.

Today, we had an amazing weather pattern in this area.  We had a downpour quite early this morning, around 7am or so.  Then we had the most beautiful skies.  Within an hour, the sun was gone, and huge, black clouds had moved in, and the wind was howling. Before we knew it, the rain began to pelt the house.  It was so loud, we stopped what we were doing and went to the patio – it was hailing!  In less than an hour’s time, we were graced with sunny skies and these gorgeous, puffy, while clouds.  Well, it’s been about three hours since then and we have seen it all – sunshine, incredible rain, howling winds, flying branches, more rain, and a drop in the temperature to the low 40s; the winds have not let up, yet!  This weather prompted me to remember this particular quote by St. John Kronstadt (one of my favorite saints) and to recall my Lenten journey, as well.

I spent some time yesterday going over past posts.  It is interesting to see where I was just a few months ago, and where I have journeyed.  My experiences have certainly been similar to today’s weather, and to what St. John stated above.  In this same chapter, Elder Thaddeus quotes, “St. Isaac the Syrian says, ‘Preserve your inner peace at all costs. Do not trade your inner peace for anything in the world. Make peace with yourself, and heaven and earth will make peace with you.”  

Elder Thaddeus further states, “We must always be vigilant. Vigilance and discernment are the things we need.  The Lord said to Joshua, son of Nun, ‘Whatever you do, think it over carefully.’ (Joshua 1:8)  If at first we believe that what we are about to say will be to someone’s benefit, but then, after we use our discernment, we decide that our words will only hurt the other person, then it is better to remain silent.  Everything should be done with discernment.  When one uses one’s discernment, then one is also vigilant.” I believe this to be some of the best advice I could hear.  So many sayings over the years urge us all to more silence, and I know this has been one of those areas in my life that has always needed work!  I am a woman and we tend to gab more often than our male counterparts, but keeping silence instead of jumping in with both feet, can quite often be the better play.

Lent is a time when we take ourselves a further step away from the world around us.  We step back from gluttonous behavior in all aspects of our lives…in eating, socializing, media “ingestion,” unhealthy habits, etc.  The goal is to replace those things with things that encourage our spiritual life.  Elder Thaddeus tells us that, “You should learn to love little things.  Always try to be modest and simple in everything.  When the soul is mature, God will give it peace.  The Lord looks upon us and is pleased when we yearn for His peace.  Until such time as the soul is mature enough to receive the Lord, He will only sometimes allow it to see and sense that He is present everywhere and fills all things.  These are moments of indescribable joy.  But after that, the Lord hides Himself from us once again, in order that we might yearn for Him and seek Him with all our heart.” I think this is what St. John Kronstadt was alluding to in his quote at the start of this post.  When we look at the times when we felt further away from the Lord, our lives were in turmoil!  The Lord granted me a glimpse of Him one day, and I believe I shared this in an earlier post, but it occurred during a Presanctified Liturgy one year.  At the procession with the Presanctified Gifts, as Abouna (Melkite Greek Catholic/Arabic term for “priest,” which means more like Daddy or Papa – it is a term of affection) passed by me carrying the Presanctified Gifts, a corner of his cloak rubbed over me (I was prostrate at the time) and I felt like a jolt of lightning had passed through me.  Later on that same week, when Abouna and I were having a chat about something else, he mentioned the moment to me.  He had felt that same thing.  It reminded us both of the Scripture that said, “But Jesus said, “Someone deliberately touched me, for I felt healing power go out from me.” When the woman realized that she could not stay hidden, she began to tremble and fell to her knees in front of him. The whole crowd heard her explain why she had touched him and that she had been immediately healed. “Daughter,” he said to her, “your faith has made you well. Go in peace.” (Luke 8:47-49). It has become, for us both, a moment of sublime faith.  And left me wanting more!

Holy Cross MonasteryHoly Cross Monastery

God is leading me on an incredible journey and the one thing I can say that is different, is my core.  You know how the fitness experts tell us we need to exercise to have a strong core?  That is what this feels like.  As if I have been doing spiritual exercise to build my inner core, and it is getting stronger.  The other day I felt derailed, like my foot had been ensnared by evil and I was being dragged down but today I am feeling pretty good.  And I do believe the difference in my growth right now is my inner core, my soul, has been getting stronger.  You know what they say? “No pain, no gain”!!  I have been tested and I have still felt this inner calm, this peace, that my “bumps in the road” have not shaken.  I have felt put upon and lost the quiet I love having inside, but I quickly pray and it is back, again, stronger than ever.

“We must give ourselves over to the Lord. We must commit ourselves and all we have to Him, for He is ever present.  He wants us to be quiet and at peace…”  Elder Thaddeus

God is good

“…a shield to all…”

There’s a great writer who posts regularly on Facebook and today he posted this:

“Second thoughts are often wiser than first thoughts…more virtuous, too.

Silence can be powerful.
Scripture doesn’t record one word from St. Joseph.” Mark Hart (the Bible Geek)

I found his words prescient in so many ways, and also mirroring my current dilemma.  I feel so strongly that God works in our lives in so many ways, always trying to get our attention.  He uses people, places, and events to get our attention.  I have seen billboards while driving that are completely black, with small sentences in white on them that say simple things like, “We need to talk. -God,” and “C’mon over and bring the kids! – God,” and “Let’s meet at my place before the game. – God.”  He is constantly looking for our response to His Word in our lives, and always ready to be with us, console us, comfort us, and talk to us.  I know that in my own life, in my own home, sometimes it is just too loud and too busy.  We are loosing our sense of quiet.  And quite often I find for me, the quiet is where God speaks to me the most often, and speaks the loudest.

Today, Abbot Tryphon, in his Morning Offering, spoke about Fruitless Discussions and said, “Better to demonstrate truth by holiness of life, patience, and kindness in our response. Entering into heated words most often leads to a standoff, where only the demons win in the end.” He went on to further state, “Responding to the embittered man, the angry man, or the stupid man, while hoping to win him over, does nothing for him, and eventually gives power to the demon who would devour the man’s soul, and consume your own. Thinking you have to prove the correctness of your point of view does nothing for truth, but only gives power to the demons of pride, anger, and stupidity. The power and influence of good deeds always wins out in the end.”  Thanks be to God I have such wonderful examples in my life, people and sources who further illuminate this precarious pathway I am taking, on my way to eternity!  I know that God speaks to me through people, places, and situations, and today rocked!  And when you come to a realization in your life, not only do you feel like a huge light bulb went off, but you relax and feel peace.  It’s an “aha moment” with a spiritual blessing added to it! I almost feel like doing a “happy dance”!

I have struggled most of my life with trying to forge my way on my own, using my own attributes, trying to please.  I have often felt alone in my quest to better myself, in that those who I wish would praise and support me, are usually silent.  I see others in my life praised and honored for things of this world.  I often felt like the brother of the Prodigal Son, always there, plugging away, and not being noticed.  But I heard a homily once on the Prodigal Son that made me look at it differently.  The good son, always at his father’s side, was prideful and envious, and angry that his brother could go out and do what he chose, squander the gifts he had received from their Father, and yet be welcomed home.  How often I have felt exactly that…and how wrong I have been.  I now realize, more than ever, that I am the Prodigal Son, in need of repentance and forgiveness; I am also his envious brother.  My spiritual house is certainly in disarray and I have no foundation from which to be critical of others, in their struggles.  We all need forgiveness and each of us has our own path to walk to God.  I cannot judge my brother, while struggling with the plank still stuck in my own eye.

Canon of St. Andrew3

Last evening, and this morning, I came to a realization that the peace I seek and the quiet I long for, are already here.  I am the one, standing outside, tapping on the glass, and asking to be let in.  It is within me and my relationship with God that I find my peace and serenity; it is not to be found in this world.  Too many people in my life have let me down; so many have disappointed.  I only ask that people treat me honestly.  Do not tell me what you think I want to hear; do not treat me one way in my company and speak of me to others in a completely different light.  The truth will always come out and then relationships can be irrevocably damaged.  Forgiveness is always there, but along with forgiveness often comes a scar – things are never quite the same.  There is a funny saying that goes something like, “Leave her alone. She is happy in her world; everyone knows her there.”  Quite often when the blindfold is removed or the truth unveiled, we long for “ignorant bliss,” and want to return to our “own little world.”   For me, when things like this occur, I normally “react” in kind.  But thanks be to God, I can now react in peace – and silence; praying for those who hurt me.  It is useless, as Abbot Tryphon stated, “Thinking you have to prove the correctness of your point of view does nothing for truth, but only gives power to the demons of pride, anger, and stupidity.” The most incredible thing for me is that I have realized I am able to turn from this sort of knee-jerk reaction, choose to change my “normal,” and become something different.  I can choose to follow the quiet, the peace, the silence of communion with God. I can choose to truly, honestly, and whole-heartedly pray for those who cause me pain.  What an incredible lesson!  What an awesome experience!  It has kept me thinking and reveling in the power God can give us to overcome this world and its disappointments, because it is showing me that my total reliance is on Him, and He alone it is who grants me total acceptance and love. The relief in my heart is almost palatable and I know God is gracing me in my journey, He is guiding me, feeding me, and protecting me.  Glory be to God!

2samuel 22,31

“…and have a cup of tea.”

Elder Sophrony of Essex

Sometimes, even with the best of intentions, I can loose sight of those simple goals I was striving to work on during Lent – peace of mind and a closer relationship to Our Lord.  Today I read about the banks in Cyprus closing until Thursday, and 6.75% of people’s savings accounts were “requested,” which is a nice way of saying “taken without their permission.”  Gun laws are changing and for those of us who own them, it is causing concerns.  North Korea is arming itself and aiming at the USA.  The Defense Department announced they are setting up missile defense systems in reaction to North Korea, in Alaska, but that it will take until 2016 until they are ready (so comforting).  This past week, a friend’s sewage system backed up and caused some major damage to a newly-finished basement.  Their frustration and anguish was felt as much as if it happened to us!  We’re still packing up and moving, but now are looking to other options as to when and where, because things we had planned have taken on their own twists and turns.  This past Friday, we buried my stepdad.  I spoke to my mom this morning and she was surly and very terse with me, which tells me she is struggling.  This weekend, my husband suffered a debilitating migraine – his first.  I so need to step back from the brink and have a cup of tea!!!

Our Orthodox brethren celebrated “Forgiveness Sunday” this week and are now on our Lenten journey with us.  So many wonderful things were posted about forgiveness.  And it is helping me to re-focus myself on keeping a clear head and keeping the peace of God reigning in my heart, and not the world.  Here is one that caught my eye and gave me pause: “The soul must watch and anticipate carefully so that it is not even for the twinkling of an eye taken captive by the devil’s power. Even if only one part of an animal is caught in a trap, the whole animal is held fast and falls into the hands of the hunters; and the same thing is liable to happen to the soul at the hands of its enemies. The psalmist makes this quite clear when he says: ‘They prepared a trap for my feet and bowed down my soul’ (Ps. 57:6. LXX).St Symeon Metaphrastis ; Paraphrase of the Homilies of St Makarios of Egypt.

I think this explains how we can strive for peace and keeping God uppermost in our thoughts, and when the world creeps in; those pesky details of life seep in; we loose our footing and realize that one foot was ensnared by the devil.  And because I had been snagged just a little, I was completely derailed.  What a tenuous grasp we have!  This is where I disagree about the whole “salvation” outlook many of my Protestant friends and family members have.  They have told me that they believe in “once saved, always saved.”  And I think that we, who truly believe in God, we struggle (Christians of all types).  We are tripped up constantly, and we are constantly snared by the evil in the world.  Some Protestants refer to it as “backsliding,” still believing in the fact that salvation, complete, 100% salvation, took place once and for all.  Whereas we Byzantine Catholics believe we fall, and we loose sight of God, and we become angry sinners, but we can choose to get back up again….we can choose to seek forgiveness once again.

St. John Chrysostom2

I keep finding myself going over scenarios of things that perhaps took place, and because I wasn’t there, I am guessing.  My husband gently reminded me that Elder Thaddeus teaches us that if we do that, we are not keeping our focus on God, but allowing ourselves to be derailed. And he was so very correct.  (Inhale) “Lord Jesus Christ, (exhale) Son of God, (inhale) have mercy on me (exhale) a sinner.”  That gave me the moments I needed to bring Peace (“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” John 14:27) back into my heart and enabled me to tackle an issue with a more serene outlook, and to deal with the issue with a better mindset.  Today, once again, I realized that I was not being the person I should be to others, because I was grasping at that same serenity I had yesterday, but I left a key component out of the equation – I was neglecting to ask God for help.  I was trying to do this more as a breathing exercise, rather than an opportunity for prayerfully communing with God.  (“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. Philippians 4:13).

I believe that I tend to want to rip the reins away, and take control.  Humility is an attribute that allows me the perspective to realize how minute I am, and no matter the struggle I put up, I am so not in charge.  I quite honestly cannot do much of anything without God taking the reins.  A recently-recorded country-western song, made famous by Carrie Underwood, is entitled, “Jesus Take the Wheel” and this is the refrain:

“Jesus take the wheel
Take it from my hands
Cause I can’t do this on my own
I’m letting go
So give me one more chance
To save me from this road I’m on
Jesus take the wheel”

I realized today that I am such a “side-seat-driver” in that I love to bark directions, even when I am not driving.  (God bless my husband!!).  And for those of us who are used to doing things our own way, “letting go and letting God” is something that does not come easy for us.  I have had so many incredibly sublime moments when I knew God was present with me, in a particular place and time.  I know without a doubt Our Lord was right there, right then, fully present.  Those moments were so very incredible, I doubt I will ever forget them.  They left me in an incredible state of Grace and warmth, knowing my God loves me, and they also left me wanting more of them.  Which was partially the impetus for my struggles this Lenten period.  For those of us still on the western calendars, we are in the home stretch here, folks!  Lent is over in 12 days…less than 2 weeks! And I feel so very much like my toe is snagged and I am being dragged away from the progress made thus far, this year.  I feel anger, frustration, disappointment, and a deep sense of loss, which brings with it a renewed sense of longing.

“Have you sinned? Go into Church and wipe out your sin. As often as you might fall down in the marketplace, you pick yourself up again. So too, as often as you sin, repent your sin. Do not despair. Even if you sin a second time, repent a second time. Do not by indifference lose hope entirely of the good things prepared. Even if you are in extreme old age and have sinned, go in, repent!” …. “For here there is a physician’s office, not a courtroom; not a place where punishment of sin is exacted, but where the forgiveness of sin is granted.”  St John Chrysostom

Pope FrancisSo I pick myself up again, clinging to the promises Our Lord made to us, and renewing my desire to “get right with God.”  I also know in my heart that, as the old saying goes, “Those who try to get closer to God, the devil knows about and tries even harder to get their souls.”EphesiansAs I get nearer and nearer to the Resurrection, I know that evil will enter and try to dissuade me.  Because I know this and am aware of this, I think that consciously acknowledging it further empowers me to fight it off.  Let us all keep one another in prayer as we journey through this messed up world with all its temptations to despair.  I offer my prayers to the Lord, and also ask anyone I have offended to please forgive me, while praying for those I know I have let down.  “…Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”   — Ephesians 6:12-13

And as Elder Sophrony of Essex suggests, I think I will go have a cup of tea.

“I’ve come to say goodbye….”

elder epiphanios2Today, my stepdad is being laid to rest.  Memory Eternal, Frank.  He has been such a dynamic part of our family, affecting my own nuclear family, but also our family-at-large and our friends, as well.  He certainly will be remembered for his approach to life, his stories, and his desire to make us all have fun and to smile.  I smile when I think of him, even now.  I am not able to travel to his Funeral Mass or Burial and as I am writing this, it happening right now, in a different state.  I know God will give comfort to my mom and his family, as well as my brother (a pallbearer) and my son and his wife, who are also there.  The love my stepdad and my mom shared, they shared with all of us.  I truly believe that when you experience that “great love story” you cannot help but spread it around.  And that love between two people who are dedicated to one another, well, it rubs off on the rest of us and it is a beautiful thing to experience.  It is the joy of family, and friends who are so close to us, they become family, as well.  So, thank you, Frank, for loving us all as you did; we are blessed.

The love my stepdad shared is love we can all experience, and its being there does not diminish the love others have for us, or love we bear others, but only enhances it.  I do not believe that by mentioning this one relationship, others I share are diminished.  Like Elder Epiphanios says, “the initial flame remains unaffected; it doesn’t lessen at all.”  And I think that is something that makes the love God has for me even more real.  It is hard to philosophize on something so esoteric as our faith, without some sort of reality we can look to.  Quite often, we place religious fervor in a side category, or something that is reserved for Sundays, and the rest of the week, it is put on hold.  I used to be amazed at how fervently you would see people praying in Church, and how ardently they would fight a mere 20 minutes later to get out of the parking lot.  Or run to the hall to grab the best donuts (and the most donuts) while in line, without a thought to those behind you in that same line. For me, I am finding that I need to break down those walls that have set up these artificial compartments in my life, and allow it all to freely flow.  My faith should imbue all aspects of my life. One part should be enhanced by the other.  I heard someone recently say that “religion is religion and work is work,” meaning that they do not bring their faith into what they do for a living. In this particular case, it was an actor.  (I honestly do not remember which one said it; I only recall how disappointed I was in the comment).  And because this person compartmentalizes what they do for a living, they justify filming inappropriate movies for a Christian, apart from the “person” they are.  That, for me, is indicative of how our culture has fallen.

Elder Pasios

When people believe that they have been slighted because of your expression of admiration or love for others, that is their own insecurity speaking and perhaps not an accurate reflection of the true state of “relationship” with you.  Pride of place is something that has been a struggle for mankind since its creation.  God walked freely in the Garden with Adam and Eve; pride led them out of the Garden, where they hid in shame from their Creator.  The Apostles argued over who was the greater among them: “An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest. But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his sideand said to them, ‘Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.'” Luke 9:46-48.  In another verse He also chastises them: “James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, came up to Jesus, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.”  And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” They said to Him, “Grant that we may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left, in Your glory.”  But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” They said to Him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you shall drink; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized. But to sit on My right or on My left, this is not Mine to give; but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” Hearing this, the ten began to feel indignant with James and John. Calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:36-45).

Remember in Junior High when we used to fold notebook paper into those triangles, with notes written inside, and pass them to friends?  I had this one boy who wanted me to “be his girlfriend.”  He used to throw me these notes over the fence on my way to school.  Inside was always the same thing, “Will you be my girlfriend?”  I was 12 at the time and he was 14! An older man!  And this other boy also liked me at the same time, but he was far more direct…he threw his St. Christopher medal at me and told me to put it on! He was jealous this other boy was giving me notes!  When I look back on those things, I laugh.  We lived for years on dairy farms, and we used to get a kick out of the cows, juggling to stand at the highest point on the pile of manure.  It is not for the view!  They were trying to see who would be first in the herd.  It is the same with people. Petty jealousies do not build relationships; it tears them apart.  Not everyone hears the same message, even though the same words are said.  The Apostles James and John are emblematic of that very issue. These two men had walked with Our Lord and sat with Him, hearing from Him the lessons of the Kingdom to come.  And yet, here they are, juggling for “first place.”  Not everyone will be saved; not everyone can be “number one” in life.  But equality is something we can all aspire to share.  Equality before the Lord; equality in our love for one another. There is no “grade” of love, like there is with meat or eggs or any other food stuff.  “Grade A” eggs! “Grade A” beef!  Therefore, I opt to pray for those who feel slighted, and feel less “place” than others in my life.  If there is no opportunity to interact on a real level (minus social media) quite often the relationship withers on its own; others are bound by blood-ties and remain, even if somewhat strained.  The relationship with God is something we experience in our hearts and we can feel His presence, if we allow ourselves the quiet and calm time to commune with Him.  We owe God that quiet time and it is through that time with Him that we grow closer and more in-tune with His plans for our lives.

St. Nikolai

It is through constantly renewing and experiencing our relationships, that they are strengthened.  The same is true with our experience of God; our relationship with Him.  “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13).  I know that I ought to allow the strength of Christ to flow through me, erasing those artificial compartments, allowing all my relationships to feel His love, His strength.  Perhaps if those in my life who feel slighted were to feel this love of Christ through me, they would no longer feel slighted. It is something I am convicted to work on and work through.  It is part of this incredible Lenten journey we are all on.  The Lord allows these things to be brought to our attention, for our illumination and efforts at corrections.  What a merciful Lord we adore! “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

My stepdad, Frank, is being buried from Bl. Kateri Tekawitha parish and this is a quote from Bl. Kateri’s apparition shortly after her death: “I’ve come to say good-bye; I’m on my way to heaven.”

Memory eternal, Frank, and I am so blessed to have had you love my mom, me, and my family. Here is a Byzantine prayer for the dead, in honor of Frank:

“Eternal memory. Eternal memory. Grant to your servant, O Lord, blessed repose and eternal memory. Amen.”

Lastly, the prayer of the Roman Catholic Church, where Frank is being buried from:

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.