Memory eternal…my stepdad looked up at my mom, while she was gently speaking to him, and breathed his last, yesterday afternoon. This illness was as sweeping as it was brief. We are all thankful he suffered very little and was peaceful until the end. My mom and his other family members are now struggling with all the details that come in the wake of the death of a loved one. I pray for peace, some moments of laughter, and the comfort from grief shared by family and friends.
I mentioned in a previous post the prayers wherein we ask God to assist us in the various surprises that come our way; thanks be to God I have faith so that when these little occurrences are thrown my way, I can deal with them. I honestly do not know how people can go through life without a strong faith; a belief in something stronger than themselves, and a reason for existing. I am not referring here to the death of my stepdad, but rather, the other things that come along and throw a kink into your life. I was prepared for his passing, and I prayed for a peaceful death, surrounded by those he loved. And it was….many family members, as well as many friends, were surrounding his bed yesterday. It was a blessing. Following a different vein, I believe, as I have stated before, that God is laughing at me and my plans, and I am down here, feverishly signalling a “time out!!!” It is a compliment, I suppose, that God believes I can handle just about anything, and all those things He is throwing at me in rapid succession. I must say that it pretty much hamstrings me at times. My grandmother (Memory Eternal) used to laughingly say to my husband and myself that she didn’t think we’d have to wait in any sort of line, nor endure any sort of “purgatory” time, because so many things were always happening to us. We had so much to deal with in our lives on a daily basis, that she said we would be on the fast track to heaven – no waiting at all – we would pass “go” and collect our reward! I hope she is right, because some days, I feel weighed down by some of the things rushing at me.
God has made so many promises through his Old Testament Prophets, His time preaching directly on this earth, and through His Apostles and Disciples, and I take claim to each and every one of them. I was told by a Protestant friend once that we waste so much of our faith by not claiming God’s help in our lives, and His many promises to be with us until the “end of the age.” (Mathew 28:20) And although I may feverishly be signalling “time out,” I am also reaching out…to God in prayer. I am quieting my heart and listening for his quiet whisper. Yesterday I quoted some scripture where God promises us a “way out” of our troubles, a path we can choose, that will help us with everything that comes our way. I choose the path God gives me, and I lay all my cares at the foot of His Throne.
I believe that most days, especially these reflective days of Lent, are given to us to reach out to God; to know and acknowledge our inability to do this alone. As Elder Thaddeus told me in his book, God does not need our prayers; He wants our prayers. He is waiting for us to call on Him to help us. Someone close to me told me that they had survived many of life’s trials with no one to help them, no Church community had come to their aid; they were inferring that they were fine and they were okay with making it on their own. They also told me that they had “heard it all before” and did not really appreciate the quotes I use in my blog from the Church Fathers. Because they had “heard it all before.” I have been thinking about that. This person is a Protestant, a Protestant who has “heard it all before.” I find that along my journey to heaven (where I am praying I will eternally reside) I am continually surprised by a new aspect of the truth, laid out for me. These truths, of course, are eternal ones and have not changed since Our Lord presented them to His Church more than 2,000 years ago. The Disciples, who learned at the knee of a Master, have shared these with us in writing. Their disciples, in turn, have also shared these insights and bits of wisdom with us. Don’t you also believe that with a slight turn of phrase, or different wording or emphasis, that something very old can become new again? I know that I can sit through a boring lecture on anthropological linguistics (which, trust me, I did on many occasions) and not pick up a thing. Or I can be engaged by a professor who loves language and shares with us how one word can be traced from the arctic regions of the Siberian outback, clear down to a remote Indian tribe residing at the tip of South America, further sharing each stop and mutation that word made along its 1000-year journey! Quite often, when I have discovered someone from antiquity, who has made my faith new, I share it. I have recently found so many Saints I did not know existed, and they have changed and rejuvenated my faith, without changing the truths they are sharing, just the way they are expressed. I love that about a faith that can trace its lineage back to a specific Apostle, or Christ, Himself. Yes, there have been stops along the way, but the Word was not mutated on its journey, and yet it has arrived, for me, 2,000 years later, intact through the words of a Saint.
One of my favorites I more recently discovered is St. John of Kronstadt. I only wish I could have lived in Russia in his lifetime. It seems like every time I begin to read something that intrigues me, someone is quoting St. John. He is used as a stepping-off point for so many wonderful posts, blogs, or articles. And I love his wisdom and his turn of phrase. He has made my faith jump with refreshed vigor. What is sad for me is that so many people reject his words simply because they are old, they are not in the Bible, and they are not Protestant or Roman Catholic. The universality of our faith is lost on so many of my contemporaries and so very many people are loosing out on an important dimension to the words of Christ, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
I was told an interesting story by a priest (who later became a good friend) who happened to be bi-ritual. He was from India and he was Syro-Malabar, and Roman Catholic. He was dispensed to say the Liturgy in either form and was assigned to a Roman Catholic parish we attended; he was an incredible confessor. At dinner one evening in our home, he told us about the history of the Syro-Malabar Church, now in communion with the Catholic Church. I do not remember the exact dates, and perhaps will get some of this brief synopsis incorrect, but the gist of the story went like this: St. Thomas the Apostle traveled to India and established the Church there, converting and baptizing as He went. Those Christians were called, “Thomas Christians” in his honor. The native Indian population had already erected places of worship to their gods and St. Thomas had the new Church simply occupy these buildings, already in place. The content of the liturgy itself became driven by the local language and customs of the people, while following the typical format of liturgies around the world. The consecration has been kept intact exactly as St. Thomas had shared with the people of India. Many years later (perhaps hundreds), some explorers from Portugal came to India, with their armies and their Roman Catholic priests. They found only “pagan” temples (these original temples the Church had occupied) and the priests instructed the armies to demolish them all. This was done, even though the Syro-Malabar priests were telling the Portuguese Roman priests that they, too, worshiped Christ and were a part of His Church, through St. Thomas the Apostle. Well, the Portuguese did not acknowledge this and many, many years passed before their rite was formally back into allegiance with Rome. (With much anguish and pain to this Church community along the way). This story illustrates the fact that the 12 Apostles took their instructions from Our Lord very seriously and they traveled the world, baptizing and establishing the Church, all over the world. They also recognized and brought in the local languages and customs of the people they converted. And this is why there are so many rites in communion with Rome. (The apostles, however, did not establish the other sects that sprung up around the world, most of which came to be centuries after their deaths). These are the Churches in communion with Rome still today. There are many Orthodox Churches as well, and we all long for the day when we can worship together. As I have stated many, many times, I am drawn to the east, and most especially into the simplicity of Orthodoxy. St. John of Kronstadt was a Russian Orthodox priest and his writings and his quotes are for me, as a Byzantine Catholic, resonating deeply with me, as I stand alongside my Orthodox friends.
My prayers today are for an increase in overt faith for me, in the clear practicing of the things I am learning from the Saints and Church Fathers who have preserved these innate truths for us over the centuries. Elder Thaddeus, a Serbian Orthodox Monk, has so much to show me and share with me, although I am not Orthodox. Many in our Byzantine community read all we can from the Church Fathers in Orthodoxy and we apply these lessons to our lives every day. We believe in the true universality of Christianity and we are open to learning from those who have gone before us, either within the umbrella of the Catholic Church, or from our Orthodox brethren.
I also pray for my friends and family who stand outside and peer into this life of faith, this struggle, this meandering path I am on to my eternal rest. I pray that they will continue to support me, to love me, and to accept me. Quite often I am rebuked and told that I am off on a spiritual tangent and I need to stop; I need to be more like they are. And this grieves me. It grieves me because I feel, for the first time in a very long time, I can honestly say God is working in my life. My children have told me recently, that they, too can feel God working in our lives. We all feel like we need to just stand back and watch God make it happen! We all can feel His presence pulling us along; He is with our family as we make some hard decisions, as we face new obstacles. He is our path, He is our salvation, and He comfortably rests in His Church. And that is where I choose to be, where I derive my comfort, and where I will continue to always be. And it is where our family resides.