“…but with true love.”

Elder Porphyrios2As Elder Porphyrios reminds us, we need to remember that this war we are waging against the pull of the world, more often than not will be won with “true love.”  I admit that I am on Facebook to stay in touch.  I moved an inordinate number of miles away from all that is familiar to me, and while I settle in and make my way, I stay in touch with friends and family on Facebook.  I also belong to several online pages where we discuss various subjects, and offer prayers for one another.  And my journey of mileage has also become a journey of philosophy and theology…a journey of “theosis.”

Theosis is a term that many who study purely western theology and philosophy often disagree with.  As found on OrthodoxWiki: “Theosis (“deification,” “divinization”) is the process of a worshiper becoming free of hamartía (“missing the mark”), being united with God, beginning in this life and later consummated in bodily resurrection. For Orthodox Christians, Théōsis (see 2 Pet. 1:4) is salvation. Théōsis assumes that humans from the beginning are made to share in the Life or Nature of the all-Holy Trinity. Therefore, an infant or an adult worshiper is saved from the state of unholiness (hamartía — which is not to be confused with hamártēma “sin”) for participation in the Life (zōé, not simply bíos) of the Trinity — which is everlasting.”  This definition quite often frightens people because they think, that you think, that you can become God.  And that is not the point, at all.  The point is that we strive for the perfection that is God’s.  We cannot be God, because God is God.  But we can become as God when we strive to obtain that mindset, outlook, and philosophy of the attributes attributed to God.  Basically, we live the Ten Commandments.  And I mean really live them.

I have been reading several different sites recently and I have noticed that all of them seem intent on out-doing one another in their use of terminology and their “holiness” factor.  Personally, one of the reasons I find myself veering more and more to the East is the simplicity of it all.  God just is.  Forgiveness just is.  Love is love.  Prayer is to God.  We act, we live, we believe quite simply that God is LOVE…and we try to live that each and every day.

I read a blog the other day by a single dad. He was lamenting the treatment of a young boy in line, in front of him at Costco, by the boy’s father.  The man belittled his son and made him cower in fear of him.  And I could relate to that so much.  I do not believe for a moment in breaking a child.  I believe we need to guide them and mold them into the adults we see the potential of them being.  And words can be everything to a child.  In explaining the concept to my son, I explained that parents are like the bumpers in bumper bowling…we allow them to sway from side to side, but we keep them heading to the pins at the end of that alleyway.  They may bowl slowly; the may throw the ball; they might just push it to begin rolling.  Regardless of how that ball was put on the alleyway, the bumpers keep it safely on its way to the pins. (Unless it’s me bowling, and the people two or three lanes on either side need to be on guard…I am the worst bowler, ever!  Bumpers or no bumpers!!).

Reaching people with words and sermons and theology sometimes does not allow them to proceed where they need to be headed.  Sometimes our lofty terminology and theology turns them completely away from organized religion.  Sometimes our words make them walk out the door, and opt to never go back inside.  When I read some posts and I see things like, “There is no salvation outside of the Catholic Church,” I get a little “sideways.”  Mostly because people who say that often mean that unless you attend a Roman Catholic Church, are baptized, confirmed, and receive communion in a RC Church, you are going to hell.  There are those who feel that Catholicism brought Christianity to the world, so all Christian religions are tied to the Catholic Church. Protestant sects are ones that have “some” of the truth, but do not live in the “fulness” of the truth, but can find salvation.  Then they talk about the Orthodox as Christians gone astray through politics and governments running their Church, when in fact their theology was brought to them through seekers sent by Tsars and others to investigate Christianity around the world. They loved the Byzantine worship they came across the best and took it back with them to their homelands and there developed their version of it.  So it has some of the markings of the Church (apostolic? not so much) but once again, do not enjoy the fulness of the truth to be found in Catholicism.  See how hurtful words can be?  What is interesting to me is that there is no mention of all the Eastern Churches who are independent Churches but align themselves with the Bishop of Rome (sui juris).  People speak, using words that are often hurtful to those they speak about, without knowing what they are really saying.

We had a group at a former Latin parish that were very much a part of the exclusionary ideas of Fr. Feeney. (Feeneyism is a term for the doctrinal position associated with Leonard Feeney (1897–1978), a Jesuit priest and founder of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Fr. Feeney favored a strict interpretation of the doctrine extra Ecclesium nulla salus (“outside the Church there is no salvation” – Wikipedia).  They did not believe that anyone who, even if they led a good life but did not know Christ, would enter heaven.  It caused many heated debates, even though the Church excommunicated Fr. Feeney for his “opinions” in the late 70s.  Words can hurt.  Sermons and posturing can hurt.

I have many relatives who are not Catholic.  They believe that I am going to hell; that my husband, children, and now grandchildren will go to hell with me.  They have talked to me, my children, and extended family members about my family’s terrible predicament.  They have never accepted that our faith is true, and honest, and real.  One family member is a former Catholic, who left the Church as a young adult, with an 8-th grade-confirmation-class-understanding of the faith.  Making adult decisions based on knowledge gained at 12 or 13 is not the wisest road to choose.  And words can hurt.  They have hurt – for years.  Non-acceptance is hurtful.  Using words to try and drum-home a point of view that is contrary to the one you are talking to, can hurt.

Elder Sophrony of EssexWhen my heart is heavy, and words become a noisy gong in my life, I tend to retreat.  I know that a cup of tea, as Elder Sophrony shares, can be a great reliever of stress and despair.  And I quite often retreat to enjoy a hot “cuppa.”  But my mind is still rolling over words.  I am finding myself more and more put off by strong rhetoric, be it in the marketplace (the mess with Target and identity theft comes to mind), sports (a previous post when I addressed the NFL playoffs), politics (so much, SO MUCH, comes to mind there), and even my faith.  Why is it that we have to resort to harshness when GOD IS LOVE?  WWJD?  Indeed, what would Jesus do?  He sat with sinners; He laughed with them and dined with them, and He loved them.

The Church is not a place for those who have “made it.”  It is not for those who “are saved.”  The Church is a huge tent, in which there are many rooms: “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way I am going.” (John 14: 1-3).  Christ tells us that there are many rooms and that if we believe, He will come for us and receive us “to Myself.”  It like a previous post when I spoke about the grace and healing we find in confession – the mercy that envelopes our whole self, all of who we are, all at once.  God is mercy; God is forgiveness; God is love.

Why cannot our words reflect that? Why cannot our methods of reaching one another reflect that?  Why do we strike out at those who are different than we are? If it is not exactly what we think it should be, it obviously has to be wrong?  Why do our perceptions of the Divine Truth separate us from our families, our friends, or even fellow believers, who are also seeking the Divine Physician in His hospital, the Church?

 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.” Matthew 10:34-40

We come into this world alone; we leave this world alone. The very least we can do is to be kind to each person we touch, every day we come into contact with others.  We need to begin in our homes, in our families, with our friends, and in our parishes.  God is Love!  True Love!

Eph 5-8


“Let my prayer rise…”

Candle Book IconI added a simple prayer to a web prayer group yesterday. The comments that followed have been interesting.  I posted, “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  This is known as the Jesus Prayer.  No one is positive about when it was written or how long it has been prayed, in just that format.  But it has been around eastern Christianity for centuries.  Instead of using a rosary, in the east we use a prayer rope.  On each knot we recite that prayer.  The hope is that we can pray it unceasingly, all day and all night long.  It is a cry for mercy and forgiveness.  The mercy we seek is not that of a master over his slave, but rather the loving arms of a Father, gathering in His hurting child.

Prayer RopeOn the page I added my prayer to, some of the comments were strange to me.  But then I realized that it is a site for lots of denominations and rites.  Many people on that site would not recognize the prayer.  The one comment that got me thinking was, “The bigger the sin, the bigger the forgiveness.”  Now, I can take that as comforting.  It implies that no matter the size or content of the sin, forgiveness is waiting for me.  This denotes a demarcation or ranking of sins.  In the west, the common theology is venial and mortal sin.  Venial sin is something that moves you away from God, but does not remove you completely from His Grace.  A mortal sin, as the word implies, kills your relationship with God; you are separated from God totally.  The usual “biggies” are murder (including abortion), adultery, stealing…you get the idea; one of the “Top Ten;” The Ten Commandments.  So the bigger the sin, the bigger the forgiveness.  And when you go to a priest in the western Church, he will give you penance that is appropriate for the sin you confessed.  It may be, for example, 10 Hail Marys, 4 Our Fathers, and 2 full Rosaries (that would be a pretty hefty penance).  If you committed a more grievous sin, the priest may ask you to “do” something in atonement.  He may ask you to return a good you have stolen and offer to work at the place you stole from, for no pay.  He may ask you to turn yourself in to authorities (which could be law enforcement, parents, teachers, school authorities, work place management, etc). He may ask you to volunteer at a homeless shelter or pray at an abortion clinic.  He may ask you to seek someone you have wronged, and make it right. Most Catholics will attend weekly confession, if they can.

Over here, on the eastern side of the aisle, sin is taken a little differently.  And so, when I saw that response to my post, I also examined it in light of my understanding of sin and forgiveness, from my Byzantine (but formerly western) perspective.  In the eastern tradition, sin is sin.  The action or thought either drew you closer to God or placed you further away from God.  The distance is part of the sin itself, but it is still regarded as just a sin.  The experience of confessing in the east is dramatically different than in the west. In our tradition, you stand with your priest in front of an icon of Christ.  He wraps his orarion (or stole) over your shoulders and you bend at your waist in a low bow.  He then begins to pray for you as you confess your sins to Christ, in the presence of the priest.  The priest is just listening and praying for you, all at the same time. It is intimate, and yet you are in the front of the Church, confessing to Christ. He will then speak with you quietly and bless you.

In the east, the priest will not give you 3 Our Fathers to pray, although he just may!  More often that not, he will, instead, ask you to perhaps read a verse from Scripture that holds special meaning for that particular sin; he may ask you to recite a common prayer (like the Jesus Prayer); he may further ask you to commit to regular Divine Liturgy attendance and perhaps to assist in an area that will help you recover and grow from your sinful act or thought.  He may also suggest more frequent confession.  But most importantly, forgiveness is offered as a salve on a wound.  It is offered as a warm, all-encompassing hug from a passionate Father who cares for each of his children. God’s mercy envelopes each of us in its warmth and healing forgiveness.  When we ask for mercy, this is what we seek.

So as to the idea of larger sins requiring more forgiveness, I disagree.  God’s forgiveness is like a huge, down quilt you can wrap your whole body in.  He is wrapping all of it (our sinfulness) in the same garment.  He is forgiving all of what you have done in one moment, covering all you have done.  Believe this or not, but I am a person who is fond of silent retreats. They do the most for my soul.  At a silent retreat many years ago, a priest asked me, as I was partway through my confession, if I would like to come back later and have a “life time” confession.  I had never heard of that but he instructed me and we made an appointment for later that day.  Poor man; I don’t think he realized what he was letting himself in for!  But over about 45-minutes, I laid bare every slight I had committed, every wrong deed done, every bad word uttered, every commandment laid to waste in my life to that point.  And my penance?  To go and sit in the Adoration Chapel and to just be in His presence, in prayer to God.  No formulative prayer.  No memorized, rote words.  Just open myself before God and seek His forgiveness in my soul.  I did as he suggested and just sat in that chapel, silently weeping.  God touched my life in a moment – all of my life, all of my sinfulness, all in one confession.  And His forgiveness was complete.  It was not larger or smaller – it just was.  I don’t think it took God any more effort for a simple prayer of forgiveness or for my 45-minute recap of every sin I could remember committing, back to an extra pack of Frito-Lay Bar-B-Que Chips I took when I was 9 years old and for tripping my brother when he was 3 and I was 5 years old!  Forgiveness was just that – forgiveness.

IncensorLet my prayer rise before you like incense, 
And my hands like an evening offering.–Psalm 141:2

I believe in the power of prayer, in the corporal prayer of our community when we gather, and in the power of God to hear us, to forgive us.  God is good; He is omnipotent, omnipresent, and all-encompassing.  To discuss a hierarchy of sin and its equivalent forgiveness puts God in a box He does not fit in.  It is man-made and our own perception.  God forgives. Period.  The scope is unfathomable and I bow in thankfulness each time it touches me.

“Rejoice with the man whom you envy…”

“You will be able to check envy if you rejoice with the man whom you envy whenever he rejoices, and grieve whenever he grieves.”

St. Maximos the Confessor

Troy PalomaluNo, that is not St. Maximos, the Confessor! It is a photo of a Pittsburgh Steeler football player, Troy Palomalu.  He had this quote on his Facebook page the day of the NFL playoff games.  I thought it was rather insightful and wanted to share it.

I have been contemplating the role sports play in our lives, especially in light of the impending Superbowl game.  So many people in the world barely understand American football, let alone bother with the players.  For our house, we all love football.  My husband is an avid Denver Broncos fan, and I have been a Kansas City Chiefs fan since I can remember, and recently fell in love with the Seattle Seahawks, as well as other Seattle teams.  My oldest son has labeled me a “bandwagon” fan and accuses me of leaving my team.  He often says it in such a way, that it is, rather hurtful, even if said in fun and teasing.  In fact, for Christmas, my daughter-in-law (his wife) made me a reversible blanket; one side is red with Chiefs’ logos all over it; the other side is blue with Seahawks’ logos all over it.  She told me, “That way, whoever is playing, you can show that side.”  It was pretty funny; even if it was teasing me (and I love it – it’s so warm and cuddly!).  Right now, the Broncos blanket hangs over my husband’s recliner, and the Seahawks’ side of my blanket shows atop of the couch where I sit.  All that being said, a Bronco-Seahawks Super Bowl should be interesting!

But the reason I am bringing all this up is that emotions have become very taut and strong over this.  There was an interview with a defensive player that went viral, because he spoke rather conceitedly about his talents and lambasted a player from the opposing team.  The loosing team is now accusing the ref’s of all sorts of mis-calls, saying the game was robbed from them.  It has created furor online and in the media.  Major media outlets are abuzz!  But why is that?  Why do we even care?  Why do we pay attention to it?

When we lived in the greater Seattle area, the Churches lamented sports’ seasons because the pews would be empty if a “big game” was on TV or being played in town.  If the sun was out, people were outside and not in Church.  The first snowfall, no one was in Church but out skiing or enjoying other winter sports.  Almost any excuse to not attend Church.  Lots of quotes about, “My church is nature,” or “I pray better outdoors.”  Pretty lame excuses to my way of thinking.  The Church we were married in, in Colorado, had windows all across the back and they would open the drapery if the snow was falling or it was a good view of the Rocky Mountains.  In Seattle, the local RC parish had an adoration chapel that was largely glass. It was very pretty.  But there was no sense of “church” or being in a place of worship…it was just greenery and trees, flowers and wildlife.  Yes, those are things of God, but they are not, to my way of thinking, God’s temple. Below is a photo of just the upper walls and ceiling of a Church in Russia.  That is a Church!

ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA FEDERATION - JUNE 29:Interior of Church Savior on Spilled Blood . Picture takes in Saint-Petersburg, inside Church Savior on Spilled Blood   on June 29, 2012.Troy was quoting St. Maximos the Confessor to show that he was rejoicing with his fellow football players, and not envying them or wanting to take their glory from them, but rather, to share it with them.  We all grieve when players are injured, regardless of the team they play for.  No one wants to truly, and honestly, see someone hurt.  But why all the emphasis on sports teams and/or players?  And why the heightened emotion regarding all they do and what they do, how they do it, and who wins?  What is being adored here?

There is an old saying, “Those who do not know history are destined to repeat it.” (Edmund Burke).  When I look at football stadiums, when I see crowds devolving into maniacs of sound and even witness fighting in the stands (I recall one soccer stadium actually falling apart and partially collapsing on the fans, as a result of fighting by the self-same fans) I am drawn back in time, back to the era of the Roman Gladiator.  The Roman Coliseum was developed to enhance the viewing pleasure of the Caesars in power.  They would hold all sorts of contests of skill and strength, and often to the death.  These forums were also the scene of untold horror for those who had lost favor with the ruling classes.  These coliseums existed throughout the Roman empire.  Some were small, some were very large, but all held the Senatorial crowds in thrall of the events carried on there.  Eventually, these stadiums became the scene of the torture and death of Christians, who refused the Gods of Rome and devoutly gave their lives for Christ and His Church. When you look at the historical events held in coliseums around the world, you cannot but note the similarities.  Our football, baseball, soccer, hockey, basketball players (and all the other popular sports) are held in the same esteem and fame as the gladiators were.  We root for them; we bet on their talent and the outcome of their “contests;” we fete them at banquets and we foist honors upon them (Hall of Fame, Super Bowl Champs, etc).  We hold events where all the people can come and watch one team, or one player, defeat another.  And the crowds that attend these things are boisterous and unruly, much like the Senatorial crowds at the coliseums in ancient Rome.  Because of the expense of attending these events, it has also become a rich-man’s (or at the very least, upper middle class man’s) event, just as in Rome when only the Senatorial classes could attend.  Even baseball games!  I remember days of getting into Angel Stadium (newly constructed) for $5 and having a hot dog and beer (bad college student that I was) sitting in the nose-bleed seats during a weekday afternoon.  My roommate and I would take our books and study up there, all alone, watching some baseball.  But no more.  A hot dog and beer can cost you $25 or more, let alone the cost of admission.  And where does this leave our culture? Where are our values?

Worth Christ dying forOne of the hardest things for me is to be able to just enjoy watching a sport without the vehemence of others ruining it; of having to be careful of what I say, what I post on my Facebook wall, or how I approach the fact that the team I’ve been rooting for has won.  Because the temperature got pretty darn hot in regards to these playoffs.  The vehemence is what has surprised me.  Trust me, it has nothing to do with having the Seahawks make the Super Bowl.  I truly believe the Broncos will win and I am not usually rooting for the Championship team, so am not accustomed to “backing the winning horse.”  I just enjoyed watching the games.  I can honestly walk away from it because I have security; I know sports and whomever is playing does not enervate my life.  My life is not lived for sports.  It is lived for salvation in Christ.  I love God first, my family second.  I am not even sure where a team would make the list of who I love, if at all.  It is ENTERTAINMENT only.  And not my sole source of entertainment, nor my major source of entertainment.  And even as I type this, I know of people that I could not talk with about any of this because they are so angry, so upset.  On the surface, all is fine. But if the subject would be brought up, the power behind their emotions is a little frightening; the quickness of turning to anger and hotly contesting the entire issue! I am frightened for the confrontation (another instance where silence, as espoused by Elder Thaddeus, gets me through the rough stuff) and so I avoid it at all costs.  And my fear is for their soul, because they are living without the guidance of a life of faith.  They love their families; they love their country; they pay taxes and are decent folks.  But they do not live for Christ.  They have no faith.  And so, sports teams, celebrities, and reality TV has supplanted, and become, their God.

If we are listening to, or paying attention to history, we should all be a little afraid.  At the very least, we should be aware.  Our culture in comparison to Roman culture, and its demise, are eerily similar.  The patterns of despots is also similar.  The way our culture aggrandizes things our parents and grandparents would have abhorred is, in itself, frightening.  Yes, these things happened in darkened rooms and behind closed doors.  However, it was not on jumbo-trons or on big-screen TVs in homes for all to watch. It was not common for young people to adore sports figures and not know basic facts about God.  It was not common for families to steer their children away from vocations to the priesthood or convent life; it was an honor to have at least one child choose a vocation.   It was common for entire families, every Sunday, to attend Church – as a family.  Young people lived at home until they got married.  Young people expected to be poor and have lean years before success, not moving into homes their parents took decades to own.  People took their duty as citizens seriously – they were educated about issues and candidates and they voted.  What is happening?  Why are we so apart from our Christian roots and why have we walked away from our faith?

Abba Agathon

As Abba Agathon warns us, no other labor is as difficult as prayer.  The enemy knows this and is on the prowl for our souls.  Right now, our abhorrent attention the the things of this world has colored our attention to the things of God.  We have friends who have been married for 9 or 10 years.  They have 6 children in their home, all under the age of 12.  They are foster parents, right now caring for two who are definitely a challenge.  They were both married before, outside of Church, and in some difficult situations.  But the thing they wanted the most in life was to share the Eucharist together.  And so they have spent months regularizing their marriage in the eyes of the Church and this weekend, they will have a crowning, with all their children, family, and friends around them.  Why do I mention this? Because it is something bright, something positive, something Godly in a world going haywire.  Two people want to stand next to one another, in a Godly marriage, and receive Christ in Holy Communion.  And guess what?  They have no clue what teams are playing who, who is in what sort of bowl, and they are deliriously happy! They are letting God rule their lives, outside of the rhythm of this crazy world.  And I am so glad to be a witness to it.


So today, today I resolve to carry on in silence and not tempt the tempers by bringing up sports!  Today I resolve to pray for those who have lost their way and for those struggling to make their way.  I always taught my children to be “sticks in the river, standing strong against the current.”  I want to stand strong for my faith, to share how I feel and what I believe in a soft, gentle, loving way.  I want all of us to love God first, because if we can order things properly in our lives, we can all then enjoy these sporting entertainments, and keep them where they belong.  And they belong in context to a life lived in faith.  And then perhaps we can all live more according to how St. Maximos encourages to live, “You will be able to check envy if you rejoice with the man whom you envy whenever he rejoices, and grieve whenever he grieves.”

St. Maximos the ConfessorSt. Maximos the Confessor

“…death before your minds…”

St Cosmas of AitolosHave you ever had one of those nights when you awake in a complete panic because you were realizing, in your sleep, that you have already lived at least half of your life?  That perhaps you do not have many more decades stretching before you?  I did.  And boy, was I in a sweat, breathing heavily, and completely panicked.  I sat there, realizing that I am in my “late 50s” and I doubt I will be living to my 100s!  My parents are both in their “late 80s.”  And the clock keeps ticking.  And there is not a thing I can do about that.  And I began to weep.  I wept for my children – how I love them so and do not want to leave them.  I wept for my grandchildren, because they are so new to this world and I want to get to know them, and have them know me.  I wept, and reached over and touched my husband (he did not notice through his rather exuberant snoring).  This man who I have spent my life with, loving and often disliking (I will always love him, but some days he’s not on my “favorites” list.  But that’s the reality of marriage!).  We just celebrated 29 years of marriage and I cannot imagine a life without him next to me.  And I know his life would be so much more difficult without me next to him, too.  We need each other to keep each other “our best selves.”  He is good for me, for my soul.  And I am good for him.  It’s why it works, and has worked, for so many years. But I wept at the thought of not being with him, next to him, loving him and feeling the warmth of him near me.

God tells us in so many places in scripture that we are not to worry.  One of my favorites is Matthew 6: 25-34:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

And as I sat there, catching my breath late last night, I tried to think of this, to think this way.  As St. Cosmas said in the first photo, “There is no better teacher than death.”  And I really think that when we put our very few days here on earth into a global perspective, we truly need to focus.  Life truly is short and the older I get, the shorter it seems.

There are so many little things I should be doing right now.  Why do I procrastinate?  Why do I waste time?  And no, for those of you who read these posts, I have not completed my office, yet.  My daughter-in-law offered to come over tomorrow and said that we can tackle it together. I bought a curtain rod for the drapes I have for the window (a very old wool blanket my parents brought from New Zealand more than 50 years ago hangs there now).  I have file folders ready to go. I even filed and labeled some of the stuff.  So why does her offer frighten me?  It’s almost like I won’t have anything to do if I do complete organizing that space.  And I thought about this and I realized that I am a big baby in many ways. I am afraid of what’s around the corner, because I know I don’t have that many corners left to go around!  And what do I have to show for myself?

St IrenaeusAs St. Irenaeus reminds us above, “The business of the Christian is nothing else than to be ever preparing for death.”  In this photo of an ossuary in Eastern Europe, the monks keep the skulls of their brethren who have passed before them. Their names are etched on the skulls and the monks often come to sit and commune with their fellow monks.  We believe that when we die, our souls rise to be with God. If we have lived a holy life, we know, and we expect, that we will be with God.  By looking to those who have gone before us, certain of their salvation, we can emulate their lives and make similar choices in our own.  We also believe that the Church Triumphant, filled with those in the presence of God who have gone before us, await our prayers and will pray for us and with us, the Church Militant, here on earth. There is great comfort in knowing our community is larger than we can even fathom.  At Divine Liturgy, we are reminded that all the angels, “six-winged, many-eyed and soaring on their pinons” are before us at the altar.  We are in the midst of the Holy Communion of God and His people.

We are called to have our own “domestic Church” in our homes.  Places of refuge, prayer, comfort, and safety, where we bring and welcome Our Lord, our family, and our friends. A place where the Word of God is commonplace, prayer is daily, and we have reminders of God and His Saints before us always. I re-arranged our Icons from a wall to more of a corner.  I mushed them all together and left a corner section bare, waiting on my husband to construct an icon corner shelf for me.  Our incensor is waiting, with our candle and an icon of Christ Pantocrator, to be placed in the corner.  I love seeing the Icons, paintings and statues we have around our home; they give me comfort.  On the wall next to our bed is a beautiful painting of the “Flight into Egypt,” a photo of modern-day Jerusalem and the Tomb of Christ from above, another of a painting of the Theotokos holding the Christ Child while the angels serenade Him, and many more, including icons of our patron saints, St. Joseph and Ruth.  And as I panicked in the dark last night, I knew these images were all around me and I took comfort. I offered prayers to Our Lord and I prayed for strength, comfort, and peace. And I laid back down and promptly fell asleep.

Psalm 25-4-5…and all night long, too!

“Today – it’s my favorite day!”

Christmas living room

I am taking down Christmas today and it is making me sad. I am sort of avoiding it, actually.  I love Christmas.  I love the whole season.  I re-read the cards we received, made notes of new addresses, saved photos, and then tossed them.  As I did, I prayed for everyone who remembered us with cards, everyone we sent cards to, and everyone we know that we no longer stay in touch with.  I try to do that with our decorations, too.  I pray as I put them away for another year.  To me, Santa is so much more than a guy in a red suit. He embodies the Saint himself, St. Nicholas of Myra.  And the lessons from St. Nicholas are supposed to stay with us all the year long, as well as the lessons we gain from the Birth of Our Savior. We are blessed to attend St. Nicolas of Myra parish, so the icon of St. Nicholas, and one of his relics, is always with us.  He was a Bishop and he loved the poor and he loved his community.  Those are attributes we should keep in mind more than just in December each year.

I love being Byzantine because our Vespers, our Orthros, and our prayers keep our calendar busy, as well as all the wonderful feasts throughout our liturgical year.  There is a term called, “Ordinary Time” for the days between the preparation of the Feasts on our calendar.  People often get this confused and think it means that our time is “ordinary,” as in mundane or rote.  Not at all! The term relates to the order of the days, and the way in which we count them.  As in numerals or ordinals; it has nothing to do with the character of the days, but rather the ways in which we keep track of the days between feasts.  So as you take down Christmas and feel like your home is just “ordinary” until the next feast (for most of America that would be Easter) take a moment to think about that.  We are counting, or keeping track of our days, until we fast and feast!

BVM Laundry

I read a great blog on FB today about the art of housekeeping.  In the article, the author talks about the mundane – laundry, chasing dust bunnies, folding clothes, picking up toys, cooking meal after meal.  Sometimes in the eyes of the world, those of us who stay home and keep a house have nothing to do.  We are the dross, the extra, of our culture because we are not gainfully supporting it by working outside of our homes.  We have a boring routine and our lives are the same, day in and day out.  I have SO much to say on that, but I want to share just a couple of thoughts.

My life truly began when I was married 29 years ago.  We conceived our first child soon after we were married and he was born just 10 months after our wedding. I really do not know what it is like to be married without children around me, without being a part of a family.  But I feel like I truly found myself as a wife and mother.  I feel like the life I led up until marriage and motherhood was all preparation.  My father used to question how I could be satisfied being at home. He thought I was wasting my intellect and my time.  And I have always felt sad for him because he thought that way.  Each moment, each experience I had in life, every tid-bit I learned up until I was a wife and mother, was just preparation for my true vocation in life. I have the intellectual chops to have become pretty much anything I had wanted to.  I changed my major so many times in college, and was there so long, they used to ask my if my student ID number was legit, because it was so ancient (true story).  I never managed to be able to complete an area of study, because my intellect would be drawn to something else and off I would go, changing my major again.  And I learned so many odd, fun facts, that I know a lot about quite a few subject areas, but have mastered none of them.  (The old adage, “Jack of all trades, master of none” totally applies to me!!).  And I learned that all of that knowledge was gained to impart to my children.  To share with them as they were growing and learning. I would not trade a moment in a career with the moment I saw a concept click in the mind of one of my sons.  I know why teachers teach and why they love sharing knowledge. It is just so magnified when you teach your own child.  And my father thought my time would be better spent becoming something (he wanted me to be a doctor) and did not understand how I could stay at home every day.  I loved, and quite often miss, the chaos of having your children at home all day and teaching them everything they need to become adults.  My older sons attended high school, but my youngest is staying home for high school and I am so glad.  Time is racing by and there will come a day not too distant, when I will be alone all day long.  (Hopefully I will have grand children that need some babysitting!!).  But my days as a homeschooling wife and mother are the most precious thing I have, and can share about my life.  It is my vocation, to be married and a mother, and I would not trade away a moment of that “mundane” for a boardroom, the hectic racing out of the house each day to be on time to yet another meeting, the long evenings when homework came after a crazy commute home and dinner being prepared on the fly, while throwing in a load of laundry.  I am a wife and mother who stays at home, and I am so very blessed.

The other things I must face, in reflecting on the article I read, is that mound of laundry, the piles of papers I need to organize in my “office,” (I used quotes because my office is a mess and really can’t be called an ‘office;’ it’s more like a paper-storage area!) the endless dust bunnies moving around the corners of my hallway, the stupid stain I can’t seem to get out of the corner of my shower, the windows that need washing, the dishes that need to be put away, the dinner that needs to be planned.  All of these things are a part of my every day.  (And in addition to those mundane things, I also assist my youngest son in gaining knowledge through homeschooling). Each day I need to pull up my socks and charge into it.  And for some reason, I just could not find the motivation.  Until I read that article.  The author reminded me that the home is truly where our hearts are. She reflected that she had such fond memories of the sameness of her grandmother’s home. She would feel sad if furniture had been moved, or wallpaper had changed.  And I thought about that.  I loved the smell of my great-grandma’s house and the ticking of the clock on her mantle, the cherry tomatoes growing in the backyard, and the same tablecloth always on her dining room table.  I loved the smell of my grandmother’s house (the daughter of my great-grandma) and knew where every, single thing was in that house. She never kept us out of any cupboard or drawer as kids.  She even had a drawer of chewing gum and mints, but we had to ask to get into that one. I fondly remember the clothes wringer sitting next to her modern washer. I loved watching her wring the clothes out. Then she would pile them in her laundry basket and we would walk past her famous “Johnny Weismuller” swimming pool (he played Tarzan on the old TV show and afterward designed swimming pools) and out to the far back yard, where we would use wooden clothes pins to hang the laundry. The sound of her laundry cart is one of the sounds I will always miss.  Her mother’s mantle clock I loved? I own it and love the sound, still. I loved the sameness of their homes.  I loved that I could snuggle down in that same “eiderdown” comforter when I spent the night there.  I loved helping her cook and clean, and I use many of her pots and pans still, as well as a couple of her dishtowels!  And I thought of all of that today, and I realized I need to put that same love into trudging out through the ice on my front porch to move a load of laundry into the dryer. I need to apply that same love to chasing stains and dust bunnies, and finally organizing my “office,” because those are ways I express myself and my love for my family.

I have started to keep some “sameness” in our home for our grandchildren. My oldest grandson practically runs to the drawer I save for him in the kitchen, with all my plastic baking tools in it. He also has this box of wood samples my husband played with as a child, that were given to him by his grandfather.  He also knows what cupboards he can’t go into, but he still tries.  My sons are floored I allow him to play in the pots and pans and even encourage drum-playing with them.  Ha-Ha!  I’m the grandma now, not the mom, and I can enjoy the noise for the joy that shows on my grandson’s face.  But more importantly, I am sharing my love for him through banging on pots and pans, that drawer always having my cooking things in it, the same table, the same blankets thrown over the back of the couch…this is how I share my love with the next generation.  We rock and sing together; we cuddle and I am praying these times will become his memories of his time with his grandma.  My little grand daughter is only a couple of months old, but I talk to her about the fun times we will have baking cookies and making cakes…girlie-stuff! My husband is planning on sharing his love of woodworking with his grandchildren. These are all ways we share our love with our family.

cow walking down road

We used to live on a dairy when our sons were pre-school aged.  The dairy was not convenient to get to, and if you did not know how to get to it, you would not have known it was even there.  It was behind a horse ranch, down a long, dirt road.  But we used to get all sorts of visitors.  Friends would come to just sit and gaze out the kitchen window.  Once, a friend and I were drinking some tea and happened to notice a cow walking down our dirt road.  We did a double-take.  Someone had left a gate open and the cows were out! A quick call to the milking barn and there were milkers chasing them down our road.  What an afternoon!  But our home was never empty.  I loved those days.  I learned to cook from scratch and always had something cooking. I used to can fruits, vegetables, make my own jams, and at least two loaves of bread a day.  The smells were welcoming.  For Christmas, I got a “Sentsy” candle holder from my daughter-in-law.  Yesterday I burned some vanilla wax in it.  My husband told me he hated that scent because he kept looking for sugar cookies! Ha-Ha!  The scents of our home, as well as the things we have around us, say “Welcome” to our friends.  And I am re-learning that.  Today’s article has helped me re-focus after 29 years of doing this.  I had become complacent and jaded.  But now, along with our new liturgical year, I am setting goals for myself. I am going to attack my vocation as a wife and mother, and renew my dedication to it.  Sometimes we all need a kick-start in life and this article really has been good for me. I hope that if you read this, it will help you get yourselves motivated for this wonderful opportunity we have – today!  There’s a great cartoon of Winnie-the-Poo and Rabbit.  Rabbit asks, “What day is it?”  And Poo answers, “It’s today, my favorite day.”  And so today, my favorite day, I am tackling taking down Christmas and I put a citrus/mango scent in my “Sentsy” candle to rev things up a bit, even if it is still all ice and snow outside!

oranment storage

Theophany is the Holy Day we just celebrated.  In that special holiday, we commemorate Christ’s Baptism in the Jordan.  We also remember Saint John the Forerunner, who Baptized Our Lord.  And baptism ties in so perfectly to my post today on keeping a home.  Chasing the stains, the dust bunnies, and the laundry all have to do with keeping ourselves and our homes clean – as in washing.  I love the photo I used above of a piece of art depicting the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, doing laundry while the Christ Child played at Her feet.  We need to constantly be on guard to ward off the evil one, and one way we can do that is to keep order about us.  We can “clean house” in our homes, and in our hearts, every day.  I can opt to just close the door on the chaos that is my office, or I can face whatever demon is keeping me from diving in there and cleaning it up, organizing it, and keeping it that way.  What do we not want to face when we allow the dust bunnies to win?  When we pile the laundry and dishes?  When  we allow our homes to reflect the chaos that lives in our hearts and minds?  How do we find the peace, the clarity of mind, and the simple joys of keeping a home?  I think we find it in the seasons of faith we live in.  Today I have to face that Christmas and all the things that go along with it are well and truly over.  We closed out the season, liturgically, by the feast of Theophany.  This feast is often discussed as the feast when God chose to acknowledge His Son by speaking and the Holy Spirit coming as a dove to rest above Christ.  It is when God declared, “This is My beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him.” (Matthew 17:5).


So we have our faith showing us God in His Son, being cleansed of, not His sins, but our sins, in the Jordan River.  He submitted to being baptized to show each of us that we need to be cleansed, over and over again.  Yes, we are baptized and our lives become Christ’s.  But over and over again, we allow the world to get us grimy and stained, we are tripped up and we fall. We need to seek forgiveness and cleansing each time we fall.  And as a housewife, I can apply that to my home. I keep a constant vigil over my family.  I keep constant prayer for them as they go about their lives each day. I show glory to God in applying myself to my vocation – I school my son and I keep a clean, tidy house (well, I try!!).  God is smiling as we apply ourselves and learn His many lessons for us.  As I see the mess in my office, I reminded of my soul and the need I have to clean it out, air it out, and straighten it up.  And it makes me look forward through these ordinal days, until we welcome the Great Fast. 

Today? It’s my favorite day!

Home office