“…existing forever and always the same”

Unknown,_Iran,_mid-16th_Century_-_The_Rothschild_Small_Silk_Medallion_Carpet_-_Google_Art_ProjectThis is a photograph of a 16-th century Persian (modern-day Iran) tapestry.  Tapestries are incredible things.  If you have ever attempted any sort of work with thread and fabric (no, buttons do not count) you will be amazed at the skill involved in creating tapestries.  The Medieval Period saw a rise in tapestries and most castles had them hanging on their walls, depicting events from the lives of those living in these castles, or perhaps a heraldic tapestry explaining their genealogy and symbols of their families; some were religious, depicting scenes from Scripture; many were mythic, depicting scenes from famous myths.  I love tapestries.  I attempted crewel work, needlepoint, and cross-stitching, so I know how working with a needle and fabric can become obsessive, and how it is also tedious at times, but it also can be filled with moments of grace and peace.  The outcome is almost always worth all the moments spent creating it.  Well, for my works, never look on the back of them! They are a mess of knots.  True artists who created these amazing tapestries did so with no knots showing – front or back!

200px-PazyrykfullThis is the most famous tapestry still in existence, in that it was woven in the 5th century and is the oldest surviving tapestry in the world.  Even with it being so ancient, the colors and patterns are still visible and portions retain their vibrancy 1500 years later. I gaze at it and wonder who crafted it, what they wanted it to be used for, and a little about their lives.  “I love all things old..” I have a plaque with the complete saying on my kitchen wall…and I do appreciate things historical and ancient.  My college major was anthropology, so my heart has always rested in history, most especially physical history.

As I have been pondering things this week, I have been thinking about my Church, my faith, and my fellow sojourners on our way to our ultimate goal – eternity with our Creator.  And I have come to realize that our faith is a master-tapestry, created by Our Lord.  When we take a step back, or away, from the things we hold close, we sometimes are given a chance to view them differently.  Tapestries typically look better  the further you stand away from them, although quite often to appreciate their fine details, you have to alternate between closely viewing them, and then taking a step back.  For me, I found myself engaged in repartee with others on the internet, and in my personal life, and this repartee was sort of tearing away at my peace.  I found myself hurting at the words of others. So I have tried to take a step back, or away, from these conversations.  I have been praying about it, ruminating on it, and I have sought advice about this and one of the answers today made me realize how much of a “tapestry” life truly is.  All these threads, weaving together (and not meant in the eastern, Asiatic, or Eastern Indian philosophical sense) to create a pretty incredible tapestry we think of as Christianity. The vibrancy and life all around us, before us, and after us is being captured by God in an amazing array of humanity, and human expression.

I find it so interesting that those who profess to have this belief in Christ Jesus, and Him Crucified, are so ready to verbally crucify their fellow Christians for not saying, acting, or believing exactly as they do.  We do not represent the Body of Christ, His Church, well when we cut down our fellow Christians.  Christ told us to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34-35) and when He told us, His followers that, He meant it.  And how did Christ love us?  He allowed Himself to be sacrificed on a cross – for my short-sightedness, for my sinful nature, for my acts that contradict the teachings of Christ.  He did that for me – more than 2,000 years ago He did that for ME.  And He did that for each of us, whether we choose to follow Him or not; whether we opt to be truly Christian, He laid down His life for each of us.  We do not repay or acknowledge that sacrifice when we argue over whose method of worship is more authentic, who has the better translation or who has the most authentic liturgy.  We pride ourselves on being authentically “apostolic” Churches of Christ.  But how are we mirroring the teachings of the Apostles when we belittle our fellow believers?  How do we show that the teachings of Christ and His Apostles has reached our hearts when we belittle and disregard, out of hand, the opinions of others?  As I have posted online before, “My heart hurts.”  I am so very disappointed in some people who purport to have this incredible education and insight and yet use acerbic language to lash out at others and in very mean ways, put to shame opposing viewpoints. And so many of us pay lip service to the plight of Christians around the world, being persecuted for the selfsame faith we all proclaim.  How does that reflect the Word of Christ, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me“? (Matthew 25:31-46).

I have been blessed with a pretty amazing journey to get to where I am.  Life has had many ups and downs, and many interesting, if erroneous, side trips.  But as I look back on all of it, I can see God’s hand, gently guiding me to where I am now.  And because I was taught to see the “big picture” through the study of anthropology, history, and cultures, I feel blessed to be given glimpses of these “larger pictures” now and then.  And recently I became aware of how divergent our Church truly is; how “universal” is such a true statement.  When Christ instructed the Apostles to “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” (Matthew 28:19) the Apostles actually did what they were told!  They went to “all nations!”  In the world at the time, the Apostles reached amazing geographical goals.  They covered an amazing amount of territory for the time in which they lived and traveled.  Any of us would be hard pressed to equal some of their journeys, even with all the conveniences of today.  The countries they visited included India, Japan and China (some dispute whether or not St. Thomas made it to China, but recent developments suggest he did), the entire Middle East, and portions of Europe, including Spain (St. John).  Wherever these Apostles went, they established Christ’s Church on earth.  We Melkites jokingly tell our Latin Rite friends that we had St. Peter before Rome did, as he established the Church in the Middle East (Antioch) first!  He traveled extensively and he preached to the people in the ways they could understand (which is a simple way to explain the differences between the Church of Antioch – where the term Christian was first used – and of Rome).  Each of these Churches reflected the cultures the Apostles came across.  And these churches are still alive today! All of them!  We have many Churches in communion with Rome, who recognize and acknowledge the Pope as the “first among equals.”

We in the East love Vatican II.  We were allowed our Liturgies in the vernacular and are still encouraged to worship as we were handed down the faith, from the Apostles and Church Fathers.  Most of us in the East use the Divine Liturgies of St. John Chrysostom or St. Basil.  There are other variants that are equally as beautiful.  We have a friend who is a priest of the Syro-Malabar Rite and the liturgy he celebrates is pretty amazing; different from what I am used to, but equal and amazing in its own right (or rite!).  Each of the 22 or so Churches (or rites, as some prefer to call them) in “communion” with Rome have their own Divine Liturgies, with 7 of them (including Rome) having their own Patriarch, and all professing the same Christian faith.  But each Church is different.  And that is part of the tapestry of our faith.

I love being Byzantine and I have become enamored of my Byzantine traditions and the teachings of the early Church Fathers.  I loved learning Arabic at our Melkite parish, and learning to cook some amazing Arabic dishes.  In fact, for our potluck at Church this weekend I will be bringing majedra (spelled many ways) – a wonderful dish of lentils, rice, and onions I was taught by my Arabic friends in California.  And recently I have discovered the foods of yet other cultures (Ukrainian and Polish) and love pyrogies (so many ways to spell that!!) and other delicacies that I wish I had known much sooner!  (The languages may have to wait a bit! LOL!)  I have dipped my toes into many teachings of the Orthodox and thoroughly love so many Orthodox saints.  St. John of Kronstadt is my all-time favorite and he is Russian and decidedly not Roman Catholic.  His wisdom crosses imaginary “boundaries” of culture, tradition, and religion and he shares Truth in any language; a Christian Truth.  I was raised in an English immigrant household, who sort of swayed into Protestantism.  In college and my early 20s, I dated quite seriously a Jewish man and spent two years exploring Judaism (drove the Rabi crazy!!). As a 20-something adult, I chose to become Catholic.  From there, some 20 years later, my journey brought me to the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. And because of a geographical move almost 6 months ago, now I attend a mostly Polish/Ukrainian/Ruthenian/Byzantine Parish.  My experiences in life are a tapestry in and of themselves.

cropped-church.jpgThe photo above is one of my favorites.  It is the ceiling of a Russian Orthodox Church.  It exemplifies the tapestry of faith.  Every square inch is covered in iconic expressions of our faith.  I find it comforting and inviting.  And this is what I am trying, poorly, to convey.  We need to welcome an extra thread to our growing tapestry.  There is definitely right and wrong; there are absolutes.  I am not arguing that we forgo holding fast to the teachings of Christ Crucified.  I am not saying that we allow for heresies to flourish without objecting strenuously to them, and defending Truth when no one else will.  What I am trying to convey is a spirit of tapestry; a spirit of love and welcoming to those we come into contact with who may have questions, who may have thoughts divergent from our own.  We cannot pretend to be missionaries in our own backyard when we speak angrily or nastily to those we come into contact with, who even attend Church with us.  I agree that the Church is a hospital for the sick, but it certainly is not a place were the patients attack one another.  It is a place where we all seek healing and love and safety.  In order to illustrate my emotions on this, I will share my favorite part of the Divine Liturgy, the prayers of the Anaphora:

It is proper and right to sing to You, bless You, praise You, thank You and worship You in all places of Your dominion; for You are God ineffable, beyond comprehension, invisible, beyond understanding, existing forever and always the same; You and Your only begotten Son and Your Holy Spirit. You brought us into being out of nothing, and when we fell, You raised us up again. You did not cease doing everything until You led us to heaven and granted us Your kingdom to come. For all these things we thank You and Your only begotten Son and Your Holy Spirit; for all things that we know and do not know, for blessings seen and unseen that have been bestowed upon us. We also thank You for this liturgy which You are pleased to accept from our hands, even though You are surrounded by thousands of Archangels and tens of thousands of Angels, by the Cherubim and Seraphim, six-winged, many-eyed, soaring with their wings, singing the victory hymn, proclaiming, crying out, and saying:  Holy, holy, holy, Lord Sabaoth, heaven and earth are filled with Your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna to God in the highest.”

When we, as a people of Christ, recite these and many of the other prayers of the Divine Liturgy, let us also pray with the intention to live our lives as Christians who believe what we pray.  We believe that there are a myriad of angels around the altar, we proclaim His coming, we acknowledge that He picked us up when we fell, created us out of nothing.  With tongues we proclaim the love of God; let us also with our tongues praise and pray for our fellow Christians, regardless of which tones they sing, what translations they use, which “rite” or Church they belong to.  Let us truly weave the tapestry of “the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.”

Cross sunlight rocks

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“…in their midst.”

Candles sandI find myself so often approaching the large icons at the front of our parish and just standing there, with my wonderful beeswax candles in my hand.  If you have never had the opportunity to smell beeswax candles, combined with the scent of incense still in the air, alongside icons painted on wood, in a wooden church, in a damp or cold environment, you have been missing something. It is almost ethereal; the senses, if we allow them, share with us the Presence of the Divine in our Churches.  God told us, “Whenever two or three are gathered in My Name, there I am, in their midst.” (Matthew 18:20).  Very often these days, I find myself humbled before these icons, which represent Our Lord and the Theotokos, or Mother of God.  In a Byzantine parish, we are blessed to see icons pretty much everywhere you turn.  If you look up, there is Christ, Pantocrator, lovingly watching His people.  Behind our altar, deep in the Holy Place, is an amazing icon of the Mother of God holding Our Lord.  The iconostasis is full of icons and when the candles are lit and the incense is being distributed by the Deacon, accompanied by the tones of our faith, God feels with us; truly with us.

Priest at Holy DoorsAs I light my candles, I offer prayers.  So many prayers.  For ourselves and our lives, for my children and grandchildren, for friends, for peace.  More often than I like to admit, I find myself quietly weeping, bringing all those concerns before God.  The scent of the beeswax and the incense, the warmth of the wood and icons all around me, the quiet peace inside the Church, it all gives me a sense of peace.  And a completeness, that this is where I need to be, to offer these concerns and prayers – at the foot of Our Lord.

I have been delving a little bit into some sites online that are purported to be of my same faith, although with varying degrees of fervency and varying styles of worship.  But most are, at the very least, Byzantine, or Eastern in nature.  I have steered away from the political “hot buttons” and pretty much left much of those sorts of pages or sites, because they seemed just so inflammatory. The anger level was palatable and I think I have enough stress in my life without adding politics to the mix.  And, to be honest, I was hoping for some of the camaraderie I have found at our parish, on these Byzantine/Eastern sites.  But to be completely honest, I was taken aback and felt assaulted with the same sort of angry rhetoric I found at political sites and pages.  I was so surprised at how much anger is in pretty much everyone. I have found several hearts out there that beat similarly to mine and have enjoyed interacting so much with them.  Many of these people I have met are monks and priests, deacons and readers, along with a considerable number of lay people.  But the “hot buttons” of politics have been replaced by seemingly “hot buttons” in faith. I had no idea people were this upset and would strike in such mean and nasty ways at people they only know through the internet.  One person said that the internet allows us to be ruder than we would be in a personal conversation, sitting down with another person.  I think that is pretty right on.  There is also very little respect for our clerics, be they readers, deacons, priests, religious, or monks.  One person said they are “just people,” and “put their pants on, one leg at a time.”  I found that sad, and very disturbing.  I presumed that this person has no concept or honest experience of Holy Orders or the Divine in his life.  I love knowing my priest and monk friends, and I love having them as friends.  But I do treat them with the utmost respect.  Mostly for the education they have that I do not, their treasure of knowledge that I love listening to.  But foremost, I respect their ordination.  I respect that my priest has “holy hands” because he brings me God in the Sacraments. I only wish that people would realize that we are gathered together, in the the guise of faith, to lift one another up.  And if we approach the use of the internet and these sites and pages that profess to be ones of faith, knowing the Words of God, “there I am in their midst,” then perhaps some of this ugliness would disappear.  I know my spirit feels like it was trampled upon and sort of beat up!

And tonight, as our family heads off to Divine Liturgy to celebrate the feast day of Our Lady, I will light my beeswax candles and I will do so with the hearts of these people in mind.  We cannot be someone who draws others to this Divine Light of faith if we treat each others with contempt and disrespect. I personally quit several sites because of the vehemence with which others disrespected people, myself included.  And I will pray that with this faith we are so rudely defending, that we actually act in a manner that shows that we are believers, that we love God, and believe in His Words to us:

““‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  (Matthew 22:36-40)

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