“Be reconciled and then draw near…”

ON ForgivenessAs we prepare to enter into the full fast and the start of Great Lent, we end this preparatory time with Forgiveness Sunday (Cheese Fare Sunday) or the Sunday of Forgiveness. The Church gives us this opportunity to reconcile ourselves to our fellow parishioners, as well as with others we may have a disparity with, and to further prepare us to enter more fully into a prosperous and healing Lenten period.

“Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent.” Matthew 5:23-28

This was brought to an enhanced, and very clear, meaning in a homily of St. John Chrysostom: ” As it is not to be imagined that the fornicator and the blasphemer can partake of the sacred Table, so it is impossible that he who has an enemy, and bears malice, can enjoy the holy Communion.… I forewarn, and testify, and proclaim this with a voice that all may hear! ‘Let no one who hath an enemy draw near the sacred Table, or receive the Lord’s Body! Let no one who draws near have an enemy! Do you have an enemy? Draw not near! Do you wish to draw near? Be reconciled, and then draw near, and touch the Holy Thing!’

As I have gone through a spiritually-changing journey (which is why I write this blog in the first place) and have come to see things a little more clearly in my life, I have been enabled to let go of things that have hampered my spiritual growth – issues in my life that have kept me nailed to the place I was, the person I was.  There is a great book I have quoted from many times by renowned Catholic author Peter Kreeft, where he deals with Heaven.  He talks so many times about what we bring with us to our own, personal judgement.  He talks about our baggage, literally contained in a suitcase.  They are full of past sins we have not forgiven ourselves for, whereas God has gone back into our personal timeline and ripped those sins out of it, so when He looks at us, it is as if those sins never occurred.  It is us, us feeble and weak humans, full of pride and free will, who drag things with us that God has let go.  He also talks about true forgiveness and things in our lives that we cannot handle.  He says to create a “God closet” with shelves with little shoes boxes on them. In these boxes we place issues that are too hard for us to deal with.  And we label the boxes, shut the lid, close the door, and offer them all to God.  I am tempted at times to open that door, get into a box or two, and wallow in those issues.  But I remind myself that I gave them, truly gave them, to God.  And I find that peace once again, and I close the door and walk away…out from under the onus of things best left to God’s care and attention.

Forgiveness is like that.  We often say we forgive.  We have cry sessions, we yell, we stomp our feet in our tantrums, and then we tell the offender that we forgive them.  But quite often, when the time is “right, ” (or ripe) we pull that old hurt back out and we sling it at the offender.  Husbands and wives, siblings, parents and children, good friends – all fertile territory for such things to happen.  But what if forgiveness is something that we just cannot seem to manage on our own?  What if we’ve left that hurt festering for years?  What if we have secretly been waiting to whip it out and sling it into the face of our offender, still hurting as badly as when the offense took place?  If that is true, how can we approach the Altar of God?  How can we even begin to tackle our spiritual issues that we want to focus on during Lent?  How can not drinking coffee or eating chocolate, or fasting for 40 days, do us any good when that hurt is still festering deep inside of us?  We can’t – it taints everything.

Many, many years ago I suffered a hurt in my life. That particular event has colored my decisions in my life since it took place in my 20s!!  It was, for many years, a festering wound deep within me. It was not what I had pictured for my life; it was not the storybook fairytale I had envisioned for my life, then or now.  It ruined my life – to my way of thinking.  It changed how I looked at “forever.”  And I use to fling it out in times of hurt, and anger, and frustration.  Many times it was flung at the wrong people, at the wrong time.  And then I would seek forgiveness from them, for that erroneous spurt of anger.  The vehemence of it often took those around me by surprise.  And one day, after reading Peter Kreeft’s book, and praying, praying, and praying some more, and then after seeking spiritual guidance, I actually forgave those who hurt me. And I totally gave the entire issue to God, in its own box, in God’s closet, in my heart.  I cannot fully express to you the weight that was lifted from my back.  I did not realize that the hurt and pain I had carried for years was felt in my physical reality, in the physical realm, because I had assumed it was an emotional pain.  It is, it was, but I also carried it like an extra pound or two of weight on my back.  It was a tangible thing.  And once I spoke the words, allowing forgiveness to enter in…and I mean honest, sincere, real forgiveness, it is like God lifted it off of me and I felt light-headed from the release of the pressure that hurt and pain had been in my life.  God took that annoying backpack of issues off of me!  And when I think of those involved or the situation and things that happened around it, I feel nothing – a cool breeze and still that lightness of being in my heart.  I finally feel free of it.  And I truly, honestly forgive.

Getting to the core of who we are, and releasing the “ick,” the “sludge” of all those negative feelings of hurt, pain, betrayal, anger, etc. really makes a remarkable difference inside of you.  And it shows on your face, in how you embrace the day, in how you love other people.  This Sunday, as we step into Great Lent, the Church, in her wisdom, asks us to forgive everyone who has wronged us, and to let the pain of that betrayal go.  But also in Her Wisdom, the Church asks us to seek forgiveness from those around us, and from those we perhaps are not standing next to in His Temple, but those who live miles from us, those who have passed into their Eternal Rest, and even those we are most close to….we need to seek their forgiveness and ask them, “Please forgive me if I have wronged you in any way.” (The response is usually something like, “God forgives you; I forgive you”).

From a blog called “Voices from Russia”:

On Forgiveness Sunday, the priest reads a special prayer after the conclusion of the Vespers service that beseeches God to assist the faithful in the keeping of the fast. After it is read, all the clergy, starting with the priest, request forgiveness from all the faithful present in the church, and the laity request forgiveness from the clergy, and from one another personally. One says to another, “Forgive me”, and the traditional answer is “God forgives. Please, forgive me, as well”.

In addition to the church ritual, believers request forgiveness of all those in their households and of all their friends so that they may enter the Great Lent with a good spirit, without holding anger in their heart against their neighbor. The Gospel of Matthew tells us, “If you shall not pardon the sin of your brother, neither shall the Father forgive you your sins”. The custom of mutual forgiveness before starting the Great Lent arose in the very first centuries of Christianity. In the early monastic abodes in Egypt, the monks gathered together, they prayed, and they requested forgiveness of one another before they departed into the desert. Some of them did not return.”

ON Pillars of LentAs we begin to enter deeply into these 40 days of Great Lent, I do ask forgiveness from those I may have wronged.  I do not pretend to be a great theologian or historian, but a person who expresses herself through words.  And if my words, here or in person, have caused injury, anger, or pain, I seek forgiveness from you. My intention is to share, not to disrupt, or anger, or divide.  I pray that these next days be days of forgiveness realized, and an increased closeness in a simple relationship with God, with our loved ones, with our friends, with our fellow journeymen along this path to our eternity; the beauty of eternity in the presence of God.

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“…weep for your children…”

The Holy Family

Holy Family IconI am thinking about family today.  Two years ago today (2012) my father-in-law (memory eternal) passed away, with my husband and middle son sitting at his side.  It was a very sad event for all of us, because he was relatively young and the disease of cancer took him so very quickly.  It was important to my eldest son and his wife that they be there, to introduce their newborn son to his great-grandpa, even if it was on his deathbed.  It was a transcendent moment in so many ways. I remember about 28 years ago when my son, around the same age, was sitting with his great-grandfather as he lay dying.  And it was repeated a generation later.  We mourn the loss of my father-in-law today; my husband most especially.  But my sons feel the loss deeply, as their grandpa was such a big part of their childhood and growing up.  We have so many wonderful memories spent together as a family.  Memory eternal, Joe.

In today’s reading, Christ speaks to the women who are following Him on his way to the Cross.  “Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me; weep instead for your children, for indeed the days are coming when people will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed.'” (Luke 29:28-30)  Today, as I was contemplating our family and our losses, when I read this, I also mourned all the children we have lost to miscarriage (there are seven in all). As I lamented the loss of my babies, I also feel blessed for not having a lot of children. That sounds odd, but being barren for most of my marriage has given me a heart for other women who cannot have children; a heart for those who have lost children in miscarriage as I have; a heart to adopt (which we did); and a heart for those mothers who lose their children later in life, and who go before their parents (disease, accident, war).  It is difficult to comfort a mother who grieves the loss of a child.

Today online there has been much chatter about Ukraine and Russia.  What is going to happen?  Who is going to do what? The Russians moved troops?  And I could not help but think of the grieving families in Ukraine, but also in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, Africa, and in South America.  There are so many “hot spots” around the world right now ( if I missed one, apologies).  We mothers never stop being mothers, regardless of the age or independence of our children.  And I worry for all those who must put on a uniform and bear arms against others.  I do not want mothers to grieve over the loss of children to war, or any other cause.  Is it truly the time when we will be happy we have never had a child, as Christ predicted?  A friend sent me a link today to a Catholic organization (or movement or group…not sure how to categorize it) dedicated to just that, the “final battle.”  And I thought, “Wow.  Has it come to this?  Are we really preparing for that last war?”

Great Lent is just about upon us.  For me, Lent is a time when I come into a more simple, basic relationship with God. And for me, that works best when I strip away things that keep me from focusing my attention on God.  During Lent, I work extra-hard on taking down those things that place a sort of blockade between me and God.  The Church has us focus on food during Lent – why? Some far better bloggers than I am have tackled that today.  What I took from them is that food is our original passion:  Adam and that darn apple.  What we choose to consume feeds a baser desire within us.  Food and eating is an intimate act for a person.  We have desires for food and quite often we are unable to separate our desires for satisfaction in our lives for satisfaction with eating habits. I am overweight, and for me, that means I have issues somewhere within myself that cause me to turn to food, when I should turn to something else, like prayer.  So for me, Lent is an opportunity to tame a disordered part of my life and bring it into order.  I try to really fast.  This year my husband and I are digging in our heels and being stubborn.  Last night he chose to not get dessert for the family while at the grocery store.  A small, fasting-led, victory over our base-passions.  (We will take all the victories we can get!).

Abbot NazariusDuring Lent, we are also asked to participate more fully in the life of the Church.  We will be dedicating ourselves to attending as many prayer-evenings, parish functions, and community get-togethers as we can.  We are also dedicated to simplifying the technology in our lives.  Not as much TV, computers, music, iPods, and iPhones.  We will be substituting spiritual reading in place of technology; or just being together, quietly, as a family.

And with all of this paring-down, cutting-back, and increased periods of quiet, I will think of those I miss of our family. I will pray for all our family members who are no longer with us; I will pray for my babies, already in heaven and waiting for me. I will pray for all those lost because of war, famine, and other disasters around the globe.  And in the quiet, I will pray that this is not the “final war” that is spoken of in whispers.  I will pray that my daughters-in-law will not weep for their children, nor I for mine.  I pray that God will grant the world a respite from all the ugliness that is encompassing it.  And when I see those first buds of spring flowers poke their heads over our snow-covered yard, I will once again smile.  Spring itself seems like it is God’s promise of tomorrow.  Perhaps all the quiet, the simple fare eaten, the time spent in prayer and reading, will lead me to a greater love for God and His desires in my life, because I think I can hear Him much easier in a quieter, simpler, less-cluttered life.

BlessingEasterBaskets.RussiaAnd this year, for the first time, I am organizing and really planning our family Easter Basket.  The tradition of a family basket is shown in the artwork above; a Russian village is waiting for their baskets to be blessed. We will be preparing the foods and other items to go into our basket and I am so very excited – I ordered and received our basket cover! (It is so pretty – thank you Matushka Anita, for making it for me). I am looking forward to the preparation and assembly of our basket.  And, rather than argue about what each person does, what they eat or don’t eat, I am focusing on my own spiritual renewal and re-commitment to my faith during Lent, and the plans for a joyous Easter celebration.  Perhaps there will come a day when I weep for my children, or my grandchildren:  I pray that it is not in my lifetime.  For me, now, there is much to look forward to, and this time of Lent is preparing us for our future, our moment of Spring and sunshine, flowers blooming and birds chirping, and a nice roast cooking for dinner!

Cheesefare WeekHappy Wednesday of Cheese Fare week.

Memories eternal to Joe and Frank, our fathers who left us for their blessed repose.

“Hey, Jude, don’t be afraid…”

“Beloved, although I was making every effort to write to you about our common salvation, I now feel a need to write to encourage you to contend for the faith that was once for all handed down to the holy ones. For there have been some intruders, who long ago were designated for the condemnation, godless persons, who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness and who deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”  Jude 3-4.

This was the reading for today.  It actually calls for Jude 1-10, but these two verses really struck me today.  Whenever I think of Jude, who was the brother of James and not the same person as Judas or Jude the Apostle, but who was a man in the background, an obscure person of the early Church (as the bible tells us in the introduction to the book of Jude) I think of the Beatles’ song, “Hey Jude.”  One of the verses to that song is:

“And anytime you feel the pain, hey Jude, refrain
Don’t carry the world upon your shoulders
For well you know that it’s a fool who plays it cool
By making his world a little colder
Nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah”

And I often wonder if one of the Beatles actually knew of Jude, what his life was like, and was familiar to his very short book in the Bible, nestled between 2John and Revelations.  What a place to be nestled!!  And I thought about Jude’s warning to the early Church, his statements about intruders and godless persons and how he was trying to warn the early Church of people coming among them who long ago were destined for this condemnation, trying to thwart the teachings of Christ.  Jude was not a well known person in that he was not an Apostle, but the brother of the Apostle James, and many attribute the book of James to Jude.  He is here, warning against people who come among us, trying to pull us away from the faith we have.  In verses 24-25, Jude says, “To the one who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you unblemished and exultant, in the presence of his glory to the only God, our savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority from ages past, now, and for ages to come. Amen.”  What a contrasting statement he makes.  The others who would tear us away from our faith he destines to condemnation, whereas those who keep us from stumbling are given glory, majesty, power, and authority! Wow. He was definitely not “playing the fool,” by “keeping it cool.”

800px-Anastasis-chora1024The last few days on the internet have been pretty wild.  We’ve had what they call “trolls” on many of the sites.  People are designated a troll when they deliberately join a group that they disagree with, to plant inflammatory statements or, in other words, to inflame the group until it degenerates into stone throwing at one another, which makes everyone look bad.  And that is what the troll wants.  He/she wants to disrupt anything good a particular group is accomplishing.  As you become familiar with various groups online, a troll is fairly easy to spot.  And from their first post people are usually calling on the administrator of the site to block them or pull their statements, often asking the troll be blocked from the group.  There have been lively discussions, to be sure!

One person lamented about people setting the bar high for lenten practices, especially when the discussion turned to fasting.  I think some people felt that ideas and examples being shared were somehow meant to be instructions in the vein of “I am so holy, and I do it this way, so follow me” and Pharisaical, at best.  But I do take umbrage with that view.  Partly because I am one of the people who innocently gave fasting ideas, even things that have worked for me.  Lent in the East can be rough, I can assure you!  It is hard to go from our basically hedonistic diets and practices (we are a gluttonous group in the USA) to the lean diet and strict practices of the Eastern Churches during Lent.  I thought the Melkites were the tough guys, abstaining from what they do, and having all the many services they have during each week of Lent, but after reading up on it, the Ukrainian Catholics also have a strict Lenten fast and practices, as do many of the other Eastern Churches.  There are some that have taken more of a western approach and fast only on Wednesdays and Fridays, and not adding more services during the week.  And that is laudable, and often difficult, living where we do (the USA).  We are certainly not outwardly encouraged in this culture to go without…to do without anything…let alone attend more services during the week at Church.

We began to see, as our children aged, a practice that was so frustrating as a parent.  The kids would sign up for soccer, or baseball, or ice hockey, even rugby, and for our fee we got a t-shirt, a team photo, and a trophy.  For our fee.  Not because our children had earned it by winning a tournament or working hard in play-offs, a trophy was a part of the fee we paid to have our sons participate.  Just by paying and showing up, you were guaranteed a trophy.  What lesson in competition, in showing up, in trying your best, was learned? Well, it wasn’t!  And it seems like if we just show up nowadays, we get the trophy.  What is wrong with setting the bar a little higher?

I think that in regards to fasting, we should all consult our priest (or our spiritual director, or both) and discuss Lent and the practices common to our particular Church.  And after that, we will see what we can accomplish during this special time of year.  If others are trying the suggested fasting practices, and can share how they were able to do so, I do not think that sharing that is a bad thing. It is something to strive for.  Our pastor used to tell us, “Hey, I’ve been at this for years. I keep the strict fast. I have worked hard to get to where I can do that.  To begin, try to keep the fast for all of the 40 days; try fasting from just meat for 40 days.  Then next year, add something else to take out of your diet, like cheese or dairy.  Each year, make your own progress to a place where you can feel the accomplishment of your efforts. No one does it the same.  But just take the first step: try.”  And I think that is encouraging.  I try to lead my family (as the main cook and meal-provider) to keep the fast, but it is difficult. Today, as we discussed our dinner menu, my teenaged son said, “Mom, are you sure?  It seems like Jesus was just born!  Are you sure it’s time for us to talk about His death already? Are you sure we have to fast now?”  And I reminded him about Meat Fare Sunday and the readings, and that this Sunday was Cheese Fare, which is why we are gorging on Macaroni and Cheese from scratch tonight (and why I did not want him making himself the boxed stuff for lunch).  Groaning, he just shook his head at the thought of the next 40 days…but we try; we really try.

I have a friend who is a public school teacher.  She once remarked that the bar has been lowered so many times, that most of the kids who graduate high school cannot pass English or Math tests when they get to college.  The tests the districts require each year to fund the schools makes it difficult to do anything else but teach to pass the tests.  And the tests have been dumbed-down over and over again.  It is sad.  Why should we not strive to the highest, rather than settle for lessor accomplishments?  Nowadays colleges require remedial English and Math for most freshmen.

Again, I think this is sad; changing our traditional practices, dumbing-down Lent, so to speak.  We now take the lofty ideal of abstaining…from all meat, dairy, olive oil, and wine…for the entire fasting period of 40 days, and instead ask people to just eat fish sticks on Wednesday and Friday.  Why can we not strive to do better? Why can we not deny ourselves our cushy sustenance and lavish lifestyles, and give things a rest for just 40 days?  Why is talking about that such a bad thing?  A gentleman chastised me in a comment about our legislators who vote for and promote abortion.  I said they should be called out by their Bishops and they should anathematize themselves out of pure guilt.  Pro life is the stance of the Church.  I suggested that we just, as voters, say “no.”  He felt that our faith cannot influence our government, or our legislation, or legislators.  I completely disagree.  We are slip-sliding down that slope, the one we’ve been warned about.  Jude tells us there are those among us who are there to “pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness.”  Does this not apply to everything to do with our belief in Christ Jesus?  Even our government?  Even fasting?

390px-OrthodoxCross(black,contoured)

Fasting is not supposed to be easy.  The Cross was not easy:  “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me, still, not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42).  Today’s readings also took us to the betrayal of Christ in the book of Luke.  The apostles could not even stay awake to pray with Him, but were overcome with and were “sleeping from grief.”  Peter denies Him three times “before the cock crows.”  He was alone to face his detractors, those who come among us, “long ago designated for this condemnation, godless persons who pervert the grace of our God…”  And I cannot help but think these readings were selected for us, on Cheese-fare Tuesday, the feast day of Tarasius, Archbishop of Constantinople, who was known as the opener of the 2nd Nicene Council and was called the “father of the poor,” to encourage us to stay the course.  To show by example that there will always be those who try to whisper in our ear, and lead us astray.  It’s like having a commercial from Satan himself, playing in our ear, telling us that if we just “show up” we’ll get our trophy.  Christ paid for our admission, right?  We get the spoils – the t-shirt and the group photo opportunity.  But isn’t it much better to cross the line, to make it to the play-offs, and to win through our own efforts?  To know that we have given it our best and if we fall down, well, Lent is 40 days.  We have the chance to get back in it tomorrow.  If my family grumbles enough, we may sneak in a burger here and there, but for the most part, we will abstain from meat.  As for cheese, well, we are definitely dairy people (lived on them for 20 years) and giving up all dairy is a huge struggle.  My kids really hate tofu, regardless of what I try to disguise it as, but we try to go without dairy.  If we fail, we may attend an extra Vespers or go without TV for a longer period.  The point is to always try.  To be in the game, and not on the side lines.  To put forth our best because Christ was nailed to that cross for each one of us.  He’s paid our admission price.

But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following after their own ungodly lusts.” These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear…” Jude 17-23

sunrise easter

Meat Fare – Cheese Fare? Fasting? Lent? Really?

Yep, it’s started. That gradual pulling away from meat and cheese and wine and olive oil.  Great Lent.  This past Sunday (yesterday) was Meat Fare.  It is where we eat all things meat.  From here on, for the next 40+ days, we abstain from meat.  And this week, we enjoy the taste of all things dairy.  This coming Sunday is Cheese Fare, when we eat all things dairy and abstain fully thereafter, because next Monday, the full fast begins.  The Church, in her kindness to those of us in the East, gradually brings about the Fast.  We refer to this period as the Great Fast or Great Lent because it is a full fast, for the entire time.  We have other fasting periods throughout the year, but the Great Fast is a more intense time of fasting, praying, and attending Church services as we prepare our hearts for Pascha, or Easter Sunday.  In the Western or Latin Church, Lent is begun on Ash Wednesday (March 5th, this year).  We always begin our Lent a couple of days before the Latin Church because of Meat Fare and Cheese Fare.

I have had so many questions about these traditions from my western friends and so I thought I would share them with those who read this blog.  We are different from the west in that when we fast during fasting periods throughout the year, we fast every single day.  In the west, during Lent, the fast is Wednesdays and Fridays.  We in the east fast from meat on Wednesdays and Fridays all year long. Lent is especially strict for us.  It does not mean more, nor does it take away from, the fasting practices of the west, it is just different.

There have been quite a number of chats online recently about the possibility of reunifying the Church, Orthodox and Catholic. (I find it interesting that we don’t even mention Protestants in these discussions, but I am sure it is because there are just so many denominations that you cannot enter into dialogue with so many different entities. That is for another day and another blogger to tackle).  In the discussion of Orthodox and Catholic let me state right off that I am no theologian.  I am not versed in the mighty tomes written by the great theologians of history. I am not familiar with verse to verse of the various Councils, nor the validity or non-validity of them.  I am, however, a mom who muses over things; who reads when she can; who studies history when we she can; someone who is trying to live out her faith in the world, as a wife and mother.  And I offer this blog as a place where I ruminate on these things that affect my life and my faith, and in charity, to share those views.  And it is why I subtitled it the way I did.  A professor? No.  A theologian? No. An expert? No.  A wife, mother, sister, daughter, friend and fellow-sinner? You bet!

In regards to all the online discussions, I will admit I let myself get angry at some of the postings and I often deleted all of my input in a string of one series of comments, because I was angry.  But after I simmered down and took a step back and thought about it, I know that getting angry is part of the problem of unifying our churches.  We all think that what we have been taught; what we know of “truth,” is the right way of thinking.  Coming up against opposing views can “get your back up,” as they say.  And I believe that is one of the main reasons true unity will NOT happen, at least in my lifetime.  We have disparity in the Catholic Church, the Latin Rite, itself.  Some want Tridentine Masses only; some want Novus Ordo; some even want women to be ordained…to the deaconate at the very least.  Then there are the differences between the Eastern Churches and the Roman/Latin Church. It is what sparked anger and controversy over the internet this past weekend.  How can we expect to welcome those who are not in unity with Rome, into our messed up family?  As one of my FB friends stated, we are the children (those of us in the Eastern Churches) of divorced parents…the Roman and Orthodox Churches.  And quite often the children of divorce suffer far more than the parents ever did, living a little in both worlds.  That is where the Eastern Churches in communion with Rome find themselves – united with Rome but different….Orthodox in thinking and liturgical expression, but not Orthodox.  It’s sometimes a messed-up place to be. (As I am the child of divorced parents, I feel the analogy is justified).

In the last few days, here in the most northern state in the union, the sunlight has begun to change.  It is coming in my windows during the day, and it is staying light until about 6:00 pm.  We still have Christmas lights up inside the house and outside the house! This weekend, we actually talked about taking them down, because there is so much sunshine!  And I saw something this weekend (well, it really started last week) that bothered me.  Dust bunnies….everywhere.  It is amazing what you don’t see in the dark.  We felt all warm and cozy in our snow-covered lives.  We had these pretty twinkling lights to add to the warmth and coziness, even after all the Christmas decor was removed (we forgot our hanging mistletoe ball, but I am thinking about leaving that hanging in the entryway…just cuz!) to keep us smiling and joyful during the long, cold, snowy winters.  But this weekend, I saw so many dust bunnies.  And as I wrote in my previous posts, I hurt my back chasing dust bunnies last week.  It is still hurt and it makes it worse because I really should not go after them for awhile, yet!  But man oh man, are they driving me nuts! And I am determined to get our shedding dog (English Springer Spaniel) completely shaved…so much dog hair everywhere.  What does all this have to do with Lent?  Plenty…

I realized that in climates and cultures that experience fully the four seasons, that Spring is a big deal.  And Spring Cleaning has taken on a whole new meaning.  Because of the increased daylight, I am encouraged to do more. I am loosing that winter lethargy that comes with just a few hours of daylight a day and mountains of snow.  And I want to get into all the corners and really clean.  It was amazing how much dust I could see in the light of day.  (Note: I clean my house, I do.  Each week I sweep and dust and clean.  But it is amazing how much you miss when you only get 4-5 hours of daylight each day!!).  Lent is like that for our souls.  We are encouraged to pare down the gluttony that overtakes us in the winter and to live cleanly and simply in the light of day, and in the LIGHT of Christ.  He is the Light.  If Christ were to look into all the corners of His home, my soul, would He find “dust bunnies” of bad habits and things I need to clean out?  Oh, most definitely!

And how does this work with mentioning the reunion of Orthodox and Catholic?  Well, in the Spring we clean our homes, we clean our souls, and we prepare for the greatest event in humankind, the death and resurrection of Christ, Our Lord.  We need to get our Spiritual House in order.  And to me, that includes our Churches as well.  There have been scandals and wrong-doing all over our Churches, east and west.  (Even more in Protestant churches, but again, for another blogger to tackle). Our clergy have not had an easy time, be they saint or sinner.  We can never unite two such large and complicated entities as the Catholic and Orthodox Churches if their people are not completely united – and in a state of grace. There’s this corny song that popped into my head:

“Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on earth
The peace that was meant to be.
With God as our father
Brothers all are we.
Let me walk with my brother
In perfect harmony.

Let peace begin with me
Let this be the moment now.
With every step I take
Let this be my solemn vow.
To take each moment
And live each moment
With peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth,
And let it begin with me.”

And even though it has been said and said, and we laugh at some of the corniness of it, there is a simple truth in it.  When we lay aside all the things that make us different and focus on what it is that is the same about us, regardless of our current affiliation, it all has to start with me.  Each of us has to choose to take that step towards peace and unity.  And the Church, both east and west, has given us this incredible time – Great Lent – in order to focus our hearts on getting right with God and our brothers and sisters in Christ.  We will “spring clean” our hearts.  The place where God resides in all of us who acknowledge and welcome His indwelling in our innermost self needs to be cleaned out, rededicated, and redirected towards allowing just God to be there.  Lent gives us this time to throw out all the things that get in the way of true unity with Him.

Where we live is unique with regards to sunlight. It is the first time that the pathway of the earth, and so the sun, is different for me.  Growing up in Southern California, I was bathed in sunshine almost all year long.  We relocated to Washington, in the greater Seattle area, for three years.  That is when I first experienced the differing angles of the sun, because of where we are on the earth.  How the earth moves and the sun is in a different place than where I was used to it being…directly overhead…was so striking for me!  We were exposed to shorter days, more rain, and snow (weather!!! A foreign concept to most SoCal people).  Moving an additional 3000+ miles north to the Last Frontier in Alaska, the sun is different, again.  Where we live, in the wintertime, if we do not go into town, we never see the sun itself.  We see the light from it, but the orb itself is behind the mountains.  Such a weird thing for me.  And now that the earth is changing and its pathway around the sun is changing, bringing us the new season of Spring, I am once again noticing where the sun shows itself.  It is only on the south side of our house.  It comes up on the eastern side, about 2/3 of the way south on our living room wall, and as the earth rotates, it moves to the kitchen and finally goes down about midway through our master bedroom wall.  We have no windows on the eastern and only 1 window on our western walls.  We have lots of windows on the northern side of the house, and many more on the southern side.  The sun never directly touches our front yard.  You can see it over the hill on the back yard side of the house.  But it is not directly over the northern side of our property.  And that is so weird for me.  It was always within a visual confirmation in SoCal.  I could always find the sun during the day.  But not up here.  And when that sunlight directs itself through my full-glass dutch doors in my dining room, across the kitchen floor, to the living room….well, let’s just say I am motivated to clean.

To be esoteric about it, the place of the sun is like the issues with the various Churches.  We all have sunlight (son-light) in Christ Jesus.  We hold the same tenets of the faith to be true.  We worship in many differing ways, and still the “son” will light our pathway.  Just like no matter where you live on the earth, you will get some sunshine. It may differ in quality, quantity, and heat shared, but you get the light from it.  Our differing Churches are like that.  What we can do is take note of the differences, as I have from living in different places and noted the sunlight changes, the seasons, the weather patterns.  But we should not focus on those differences and make erroneous decisions based upon what we see as different.  For example, I do not live in an igloo cut from blocks of ice; nor do I drive a dog sled.  I live in a housing development; I drive my same car; I shop at most of the same stores you do (most…I do miss some of them!!) and eat at many of the same restaurants you do (although I would love for my favorites to come up here – hint-hint to Del Taco, Miguel’s and Miguel’s Jr. and In-and-Out Burgers to name a few).  I don’t sit around my igloo “chawing” away on seal blubber or deer meat.  Misconceptions are rampant in the different Churches.  Yes, if you are a Roman Catholic, you can attend Divine Liturgy and it counts!  It’s the same sacrifice, the same faith….and it counts towards your obligation!  We celebrate the same sacraments, we just call them mysteries instead.  We administer them a little differently, but they are the same; they are just as valid.  My husband spent 4 years in the seminary and was ordained. He can serve in a Latin-Rite church (and has) and all of the Eastern Churches.  He is now officially on loan to an Eastern Church that is a different one than the one he was ordained in, because there is only one Byzantine Church in all of Alaska!  And it counts and is valid and licit.

This Lenten season, perhaps we can all try to see into the lives of those who worship differently than we do.  Attend Divine Liturgy at the local Byzantine Church.  Venture into an Orthodox Church for Vespers (you will be so glad you did – trust me).  Try and see, while you are cleaning up your soul, that some of the issues we all share in life are misconceptions about each other.  And as we clean our souls, our homes, our hearts, we can also clean our bodies.  We can abstain the 40+ days of Lent from all the things we over-ate through the Holidays and wintertime.  We can endeavor to find the simple, the humble, the Divine in life.  We can stop with the noise and turn off all noisy media (try not watching TV or listening to music 24/7).  We can delve deeper into our faith by reading the scholars and the theologians of our faith and of the faith of our sister Churches.  We can pray more.  And starting today, for those of us in the east, we will abstain from meat.  It is a start.  I will endeavor to read more, to pray more, to eat less, and to get those darn dust bunnies under control so the light of day can shine – in my home, yes, but in my heart, too!

“…the righteous into eternal life.”

Last Judgement IconFor those of us who are Byzantine or Eastern Catholic, this Sunday is Meat Fare Sunday.  What is that?  Well, from this Sunday until Pascha, we will allow no meat to touch our lips. And to begin the Great Fast, we start Meat Fare by listening to the Gospel of Matthew and looking upon the Icon of the Last Judgement.   The icon of the Last Judgement shows much about the coming Last Judgement of Christ.  I love this scriptural reference to the sheep and the goats that we will read and as we read the words, we can see it in this icon.  (Mt 21:31-46).

When our sons were younger and we were living on dairy farms, we had the supreme good fortune to belong to 4-H.  What a wonderful group of people we came to know and love!  We were encouraged to get as involved as we could, which meant we were very active!  I have fond memories of rushing our junior sheep to the State Fairgrounds in the back of a calf trailer.  Once we got them to their designated stalls, we then had to haul out all the hay and feed, watering dishes, etc.  We set up a mini-campsite and someone from our group was with the animals 24/7.  I can personally vouch for washing and grooming sheep – they can be every bit as stubborn as goats!  The goats moan a lot louder, and dig their feet in a little harder, but eventually, they can be persuaded to cooperate. Sheep and goats are so very similar that some people can confuse them.  Personality-wise, as I said, they can both be stubborn, but goats are a lot stronger and tended to be more “loners,” whereas the sheep tended to bunch together and be more fearful of everything.  The only thing they did not fear was their owners, their shepherd.  In fact, we had problems keeping them in their pens. They escaped numerous times, looking for my sons.  They loved the attention and they also knew the boys would always feed and water them.  Goats can be left in an enclosure but you have to give them something to do or they will eat everything…they have to be kept occupied or they would get into trouble. Sound familiar?

Our Lord used images to teach people and the people he most interacted with were usually connected to the land…farmers.  And they knew the ins and outs of farm life.  They knew the size of a mustard seed; they knew about the threshing floor; they were very knowledgeable about farm animals, especially sheep and goats.  So Christ used them as examples.  It is no different on Meat Fare Sunday, when we muse over the scripture references to sheep and goats, and gaze upon the Icon.  And being intimate with sheep and goats myself, I have always wondered why I identify more with goats than sheep.

The verses we read this week scare me, because of my tendency to be more goat-like.  And Christ does not mince words in these verses, either.  “Then he will say to those at his left hand, `Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”    I don’t know about you, but being cursed by Christ and told to enter into the eternal fire sort of scares me.  He is lamenting all the times He reached for us and we did not respond to Him. He gave us all free will, an opportunity to hear Him say to us, `Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;” I would personally much rather hear that,  than the cursing above.  He separates the nations!  On an international scale, that is also frightening.  The Last Judgement applies to EVERYONE.  No one gets to skip this part.  I was taught that we all have two final judgements – the one we experience personally upon our death, and the second one when Christ comes again, at the Final Judgement of the Nations.  It is FINAL. It is complete. It is just.

This Sunday we begin to prepare ourselves for Great Lent by giving up the eating of flesh.  We call it Meat Fare, as I said before.  From this Sunday forward, until Pascha, no flesh may be consumed, but dairy is allowed on all days of this week, even Wednesday and Friday.  The following Sunday is Cheese Fare, and after that we keep the strict Fast of Great Lent, where we do not consume flesh, dairy, olive oil, or wine until the Resurrection on Easter Sunday.  During this preparation for Great Lent, we also celebrate the Saturdays of the Souls, beginning with last Saturday through next Saturday.  This is when we commemorate those who have gone before us.  It all ties in with the Last Judgement.  We pray for the souls of our departed, and pray we see them again, at the Last Judgement.

Mother TheresaSo, when you think of yourself, do you see the cute, little lamb or the cranky, old goat?  Every year I struggle with this because these verses are pretty explicit. And I usually think of Bl. Mother Theresa.  When Christ lists all the ways in which the goats have let Him down, I see Bl. Mother Theresa, out in the alleyways of Calcutta, taking care of all the lost sheep.  She fed, she housed, she clothed, she comforted.  How do I measure up? Not so well.  Now I realize we are not supposed to compare ourselves to Bl. Mother Theresa or any other Christian, we are only to look to Christ.  And I do.  I do look to Christ and when He exhorts us in these verses, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for the one least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mt. 25:40) and I tremble, just a little bit.  Am I doing enough?  Is my heart right with God?  Is He the center of my day?  Where do I lack? Where do I fall short?  Where must I rip out the goat and replace it with the sheep?

lastjudgementSo here I am, struggling with my identity, remembering that Christ was literally comparing sheep and goats.  And I remember some things about the animals we had.   Sheep hang out in groups.  Goats go their own way.  Sheep are meekly led where their master directs them.  Goats you have to chase down and collar them and drag them where you want them to go. Christ was revealing His true self to His Apostles, and “when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.”  He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”  He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” (John 21: 15-17).  Christ refers to us as His “sheep.”  It is not because we are mindless drones.  He gave us free will.  We need to understand that our free will can corrupt us until we are goats; we become stubborn and we choose not to follow Christ.  Christ will not drag us by our collars, rather, He will open the gates of Heaven for us, allowing us to meekly enter into Paradise with Him.

I learned something a long time ago that, for me, reminds me of the importance of things said in scripture.  Whenever Christ wants to be sure you get what He is saying, and that He means, unwaveringly, what He is saying, he says it three times.  For example, “Amen Amen Amen, I say to you…” or  “Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep.”  With the proper emphasis, He was telling St. Peter that the flock Christ was gathering to Himself was to be guided, guarded, and fed by St. Peter in His absence.  Christ left us St. Peter and the Apostles, and their wisdom in the form of His Church.  Their wisdom has come down to us over the centuries in the prayers and prostrations, in the exhortations written down for us, in the historical record left to us, all bound together in our traditions and in Holy Tradition; the unshakeable truth that is our Faith.

“This Sunday sets before us the eschatological dimension of Lent: the Great Fast is a preparation for the Second Coming of the Savior, for the eternal Passover in the Age to Come, a theme that is also the focus of the first three days of Holy Week. But the judgment is not only in the future. Here and now, each day and each hour, in hardening our hearts toward others and in failing to respond to the opportunities we are given of helping them, we are already passing judgment on ourselves.”

“The parable of the Last Judgment is about Christian love. Not all of us are called to work for “humanity,” yet each one of us has received the gift and the grace of Christ’s love. We know that all persons ultimately need this personal love—the recognition in them of their unique soul in which the beauty of the whole creation is reflected in a unique way. We also know that people are in prison and are sick and thirsty and hungry because that personal love has been denied them. And, finally, we know that however narrow and limited the framework of our personal existence, each one of us has been made responsible for a tiny part of the Kingdom of God, made responsible by that very gift of Christ’s love. Thus, on whether or not we have accepted this responsibility, on whether we have loved or refused to love, shall we be judged.”  (http://lent.goarch.org/judgement)  

On this day, we sing tones and prayers that have been handed down to us through the ages.  I find such comfort in that.  I also find that as I pray and ponder on this year after year, I am less inclined to be such a goat. I try, rather, to celebrate my uniqueness of self and soul, and to rejoice in the fact that my faith helps me to prayerfully hope that Christ will say to me, “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt 25: 33-34) 

The Kontakion for this Sunday is:
“When Thou comest, O God, upon the earth with glory, the whole world will tremble. The river of fire will bring men before Thy judgment seat, the books will be opened and the secrets disclosed. Then deliver me from the unquenchable fire, and count me worthy to stand on Thy right hand, Judge most righteous.”
Easter Divine Liturgy

“The soft life…”

I am pretty sure there is a lesson here for me, somewhere. I really dislike being laid up.  I injured my back (3 diagnoses, same treatment) and have been given 3 medicines, had a shot in my backside twice, been subjected to ice packs and heating pads, and prescribed bed rest for 3-6 weeks.  I decided to back off the pain pills for today, and have made it until 3:30pm, but I think I am going to have to give in and take them. I hate not being “present” and yet I know I need to be still.  It is hard to find a comfy position other than laying flat in bed or standing up.  So lucky for those who actually read this, because it will be short!!

Didache

“The Didache  (Διδαχή) or The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (Didachē means “Teaching”]) is a brief early Christian treatise dated by most scholars to the late first or early second century. The first line of this treatise is “Teaching of the Lord to the Gentiles (or Nations) by the Twelve Apostles.”  The text, parts of which constitute the oldest surviving written catechism, has three main sections dealing with Christian ethics, rituals such as baptism and Eucahrist, and Church organization. It is considered the first example of the genre of the Church orders.” (Orthowiki)

I have used this photo and quote in quite a number of posts, and it seems to be cropping up, again.  I am looking for the whys in my current situation and pretty much have decided that God is telling me to stop, allow what is happening to happen, and to trust in Him.

Without too much detail, I have had problems with my spine for years.   I felt a pop and experienced searing pain last Wednesday, and sought the advice of a doctor here in town (as well as the ER and a third visit for a second spinal injection).  A big, wonderful, and good thing that has come out of this was meeting a new doctor, whom I liked right away, and finding out why I have so many back issues.  When this acute issue has been taken care of, I now have a health plan to get me where I want to be, and someone to walk me through it.  What a total blessing.  As I left his office, he told me his entire staff was praying for me.  How often do we hear those words out of the mouth of a doctor?  Thrilled!

The other thing is that I have had to just sit and not allow myself to over-worry about things I have no control over.  I laughingly thought of a comic drawing of a mom, laid up, with the house running amok (dirty laundry, dishes in the sink, messy home).  And I seriously cannot worry that our clean clothes are almost all used up. I have a healthy teenager who is going to assist me with that. They will more than likely not be done according to my standards, but they will be clean! I can do this! I can let things go!  (And not go crazy looking at it all day long….I’m trying!!!).Elder PaosiosElder Paisios the Athonite, quoted above, knows that living a soft and easy life makes us all useless.  We need to have that struggle, and we need to work towards our sanctification.  There is no way I consider myself holy or sanctified, but rather a work in progress. And I think God is slowing me down a little bit so I can have my attention focused, and pay greater attention, to what He wishes for me in my life.  The world is such a loud, confusing jumble of noise, that many of us forget that God walks next to us throughout our lives.  At the very least, one of His Angels walks with us.  I often imagine what my angel must look like; I am pretty sure she is tired! LOL!

Orthodox Notes.4And so I can opt to use this time of quiet and isolation to still do battle for my soul and for the souls of those I love. I can choose to pray.  And I have been praying, in between naps brought on by medication.  It feels good. I thought of starting with my phone, looking at my contacts, and praying for each person in there.  And my Facebook friends; my email contact list; people who follow my blog.  These are all people I can diligently pray for.  Which makes being laid up and in pain useful for something!  And prayers are never wasted.  Pope Benedict XVI used his weekly General Audience to explain that there is no such thing as wasted prayer.  “We can be sure that there is no such thing as a superfluous or useless prayer. No prayer is lost,” said the Pope to over 8,000 pilgrims in the Vatican’s Paul VI Audience Hall Sept. 12.  “When faced with evil we often have the sensation that we can do nothing, but our prayers are in fact the first and most effective response we can give, they strengthen our daily commitment to goodness. The power of God makes our weakness strong.” (9/12/12).

Sometimes I think God has to hit us with 2 x 4’s to get our attention.  For me, it is the nerve cluster in my back! Boing! Pain can really get your attention, can’t it?  God has my attention and I am turning to Him for comfort, but I am also using my time for prayers…that’s all I can pull out of this for now.  Back to ice pack and meds!

Blessings….

St. Ambrose of Milan2

“In all things give thanks.” 1Thess 5:18

DidacheSo I had all these awesome plans for blessing our house.  I wrote a post for this blog about it.  As I ended that post, I mentioned ‘chasing elusive dust bunnies.”  Well, as I was reaching down to grab one by its ears, I heard a “pop” in my back and felt searing pain.  Oh boy. House blessing not happening!

I was able to get into a new Chiropractor my son is seeing, and that poor guy!  The first time he meets me, I am literally crying and screaming whenever he touches me.  We take x-rays, we massage, we do all these weird things I had never experienced before. This went on for about 2 hours and I was relaxing and actually pain-free!  Then he tilted the table so I could stand, and wowser! The pain was so intense I cried and cried, started to shake, and could not hold myself up.  I was literally sinking to the floor, if my husband and the doctor had not held me up.  They put a large “cinch” or “truss” around my waist, gave me an ice pack, and sent me on my way to the ER.  There are some things even a Chiropractor cannot handle…and me and my back last night was one of those things.

Off we went to ER.  Did I mention this was in a snowstorm (well, for here it was being called a “light dusting” of 1-2 inches)? The ER doctor had a completely different diagnosis than the Chiropractor, but their treatments were exactly the same…bed rest, laying as flat as possible, for the next 2-3 days.  Right.  As you can tell, I am not laying flat.  Been as flat as I could be in my recliner, for hours upon hours.  Standing is fine. Sitting is its own kind of hell.  Ice packs, heating pads, pain meds.  And I cannot move without something tweaking and hurting.

But I am giving thanks.  I had someone acknowledge my long, long struggle with back issues.  There are reasons for the intermittent issues I have with my back and trunk muscles (I felt vindicated for all my episodes and times of extreme pain; the times I could not work, let alone even move.  My husband said he always believed me, but to have a doctor confirm it and x-rays show it, made me feel justified somehow).  And I see options ahead of me.  This should have been dealt with years ago, but I put it off (not a big fan of doctors!).  I usually only see a doctor for an issue – not a very good preventative maintenance person.  (At least where my health is concerned). Through the pain, the way ahead seems clearer, somehow, like God wanted this to happen so I could just get on with it, and deal with it.

As I was in agony, I was able to pray.  I was able to surrender to what may lie ahead for me.  And I clung to my family.  My husband held my hand and tried to make light of it.  His concern and his love were obvious to me.  And I felt loved, from my family and my friends who I knew and know are praying for me.  My kids are kicking in and helping out with some things for my youngest son…driving him here and there in the falling snow; dropping off uniforms for CAP this weekend; dropping off my RXs, making us dinner…wow, I am blessed!

So I will give thanks…thanks that I have found a doctor in a new town.  Thanks that I am getting some medical intervention that I need.  Thankful my kids are close by and are wonderfully attentive.  And thankful for some down time.  Painful downtime, but I am still.  Picking up, once again, some favorite books but most especially, “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives,” by Elder Thaddeus.  As the Chiropractor was helping me into the car last night (in snowy weather) he kept telling me to think positive thoughts, and to breathe.  I wonder if he’s read Elder Thaddeus, too?

390px-OrthodoxCross(black,contoured)