“…nothing before His love…”

Ascension174 Today we celebrate the feast of the Ascension.  This is the day Our Lord ascended to His Father, Body and Soul.  This day should change how people think of eternity, and how they think of death.  As Christians, we believe Christ rose from the dead after three days.  We believe the account in the Book of Acts when we are told that He spent 40 days among His Apostles.

“The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen. To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God…” (Acts 1:1-3).

Ascension IconIn the Book of Acts, we hear of many of the “proofs” given to His followers that He had, indeed, risen from the dead, as He foretold.  We believe this because eyewitnesses tell us, through this written record, but also through faith.  In the west, bells are normally rung at the moment of “transubstantiation,” or the point at which Jesus becomes present, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, in the appearance of bread and wine.  In the east, we take the moment on faith, not delineating exactly when Christ manifests Himself on the altar, but we believe He is present.  We also believe He is equally present in His Word…which is why in the east, there is a procession before the Gospel is read, with the Gospel book held high and bows are made as the priest and deacon walk by with the Gospel, the same as when the Holy Gifts are brought to the altar. We also incense at both points in our Liturgy.  God is present in His people, in His word, and in His Body and Blood during communion – each is equal in many ways for those of us in the east. It is belief that what we do here on earth is mirrored in heaven.  We believe.  We believe it all.

The Ascension, as pictured in an icon above, is about so much more than what was written down.  Christ never set aside the fact or the reality that He was God.  He never set aside the fact or reality that He was Man.  He suffered for us in his Humanity.  He suffered just as we do, in all things except for Sin.  He was the “God made man.”  When He rose after the 40 days He spent instructing and being present to His apostles, He rose fully man, and fully God.  But He rose in the aspect of His Humanity, becoming the Risen Lord, the Lord of Hosts, in His Humanity.  We strive to be like Him.  As Christians it is our goal to become as Christ-like to everyone (and to ourselves) as we can be.  We believe that becoming Christ-like is the one true path to our eternity in Heaven, sharing it with God Himself.  Because we believe all of this, and we have written records of this event, and we have historical anecdotes about this and many of the events in the life of Christ (my minor in college was Biblical archeology – trust me, we have the proofs) we need to take a leap in our logical thinking here.  Take a leap of faith, if you want to call it that.  What is the leap?  It is called, “Theosis,” or becoming like God.  It is a progression we make in our spirituality in that we believe we will be present in eternity with God in our humanity.  That means that God, who resides in the heavenly realms in His Humanity, will welcome us to the same place, in our human bodies.  Christ deified His human form by rising into Heaven in His humanity; we will, as well, be welcomed into heaven in our human forms…we will be deified, too.

So many people freak out when you talk about this. But it is a thread of philosophy running through Christianity that has an actual name – Theosis.  It is such a huge subject and such a hard truth, that if you google it, you will be amazed at how many resources touch on the subject.  One article I enjoyed is linked here: http://www.antiochian.org/content/theosis-partaking-divine-nature

The goal in life is to be forgiven, to reach the heavenly realms and reside for eternity with God.  For me, if I am allowed through those “Pearly Gates,” I will be thrilled to just be allowed in.  Nosebleed seats work great for me.  The Ascension is a promise that our human nature can participate in the divine nature.  We will be among the saints who have gone before us.  People, just like you and me, who pursued heaven above all else.  In our culture today, that is not the popular thing to say or be a part of; certainly not the subject of any reality show I know of.  And most certainly not tweeting or twittering, instagramming or posting photos of those trying to become saints!  Our children’s heroes are not those struggling with their own demons and personal sanctity; most often they are sports or singing stars.  And we need to hold up the saints as heroes in our homes, rather than the other categories more prominent in our culture.

There is a movement that is based on “your body is a temple,” (and the western aspect of Theosis) and it is called, The Theology of the Body.”  (http://thetheologyofthebody.com/)  The Roman Catholic Church is trying to teach this premise, in order for our young people, and even us older folks, to have a more profound view of their/our bodies.  (http://catholiceducation.org/articles/sexuality/se0058.html)  Our bodies will be deified through our own Resurrection experience through death. And for many people these days, they do not respect others, let alone themselves or one another’s physical bodies.  Theology of the Body promotes this sense of the sacred in humanity, that within each of us, the spark of Godliness resides.  We are children of God and within each of us resides this essence of God (in the east we refer to this as the nous, or nesting place of God present in each of us).  We have the humanity of man before the Fall of Adam and Eve (Original Man); we have the struggle of man through the humanity of and sacrifice of Christ (Historical Man), and we have our own essence of self in the resurrected bodies we present to God in heaven (Eschatological Man).  If we take this theology of Theosis and the Theology of the Body and truly look at them, through the lens of the Ascension of Christ celebrated today, it should cause us to stop in our tracks.  If we become deified and perfected through our faith in the Ascended Lord, how much more should we respect our own bodies (for they will be with us through eternity) and the bodies of others?!  They truly are the Temple of the Lord.

Elder Porphyrios

 

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“…for waging war with the demons..”

cropped-header Abbot Tryphon of All Merciful Saviour Orthodox Monastery on Vashon Island, Washington wrote this blog post today.  He always seems to speak to the heart of issues I have faced, or am facing. I hope you will take a moment to read these words of his.

He also has a podcast on Ancient Faith Radio (http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/morningoffering/anger5) called the Morning Offering, where you can hear the Abbot read his blog posts.  His website is: http://vashonmonks.com/wp/  I hope that when holidays and birthdays, or other days of gift giving roll around, you will consider their delicious offerings of “Monastery Blend Tea and Coffee” (the coffee is amazingly yummy), available from their website.  This is the link to the Abbot’s Blog: http://morningoffering.blogspot.com/, where you can read the blog post below.  I hope it speaks to you as much as it did to me.

ANGER
In every way we must strive to restrain anger

Abba Evagrius the Monk said that, “Anger is by nature designed for waging war with the demons and for struggling with every kind of sinful pleasure. Therefore angels, arousing spiritual pleasure in us and giving us to taste its blessedness, incline us to direct our anger against the demons. But the demons, enticing us towards worldly lusts, make us use anger to fight with men, which is against nature, so that the mind, thus stupefied and darkened, should become a traitor to virtues.”

The Fathers tell us that whenever anyone takes God’s name in vain the ramifications reverberate throughout the entire cosmos. However insignificant we may think our uttered angry words may be, they impact the whole of God’s universe. Redemption is not just about us, but the whole of the universe. My salvation and your salvation are interconnected. When a Christian falls into such sin it is especially tragic, for there are many non-believers who guard their words better than many who profess Christ.

We must strive by every means to preserve peace of soul and not allow ourselves to be disturbed by offenses from others. In every way we must strive to restrain anger and remain attentive to the mind and heart. We must make every effort to bear the offenses and insults of others, and accustom ourselves to such a disposition of spirit that their offenses not concern us. By guarding our thoughts, we can give quietness to our heart and make it as dwelling for God Himself

Abba Nilus said, “Prayer is the seed of gentleness and the absence of anger.” If we truly be of Christ we have the means to change, for it is because we have Christ in us that victory over the passions can be ours. There is simply no excuse for a Christian to lose his temper.

“Do not let the sun go down on the anger of your brother (Ephesians 4:26).”

Love in Christ,
Abbot Tryphon

 

“…ever this day be at my side…”

ArchangelOne of my favorite genres of literature is the paranormal. I know I’ve spoken of it before, but I do enjoy a good read.  I enjoy stories about fighting evil and having angelic assistance, or supernatural beings helping you.  The funny thing is that when you tell people this, they think you’re a little off.  But interestingly enough, angels and demons are very much a part of who we are, and the world in which we live.  We accept the Good News of Christ, and He warned us over and over about the “evil one” and there is more than one mention of angels in the Bible.  The Angel Gabriel came to Mary to announce that she would be the “God-bearer,” or “Mother of God,” the Theotokos.  She was uncertain but not fearful of the angel…just a little taken aback by his announcements to her and was more than puzzled at how God would accomplish His task with her, as she “did not know man.”  But she did not run and hide from an angel.  We should not, either.

I used to tease my sons that we had an entire troop of angels guarding us whenever we drove our van. I used to get them giggling when imagining the angels hanging onto the front of our van, or holding onto the luggage racks on the top, with their wings helping them balance and keep us safe through the crazy traffic that is Southern California (not to mention my heroic driving skills).  We would all ask our Guardian Angels to be with us as we drove those congested highways and byways.  We would pray our angel comfort someone in need, or call the angels of the doctors treating a sick person to nudge them to perform their best, and to help heal our friends and family.  Conversely, we would have our home blessed to keep out evil.  If we know and accept angels, we should know and realize the fallen angels are everywhere, too.  Each choice we make that takes us away from God was a nudge from an evil, fallen angel, working for the evil one, trying to win a soul away from God. We need to block those nudges from evil by counteracting them with prayer, and with actions.  For example, in addition to our priest blessing each and every home in our parish once a year, we would have parish-wide car blessings every year!  Every year!  Father would bless and anoint with holy water each and every vehicle, inside and out.  He would pray over them and ask the angels to watch us as we traveled.  It made us all feel better, and safer, invoking a blessing and the action of our angels.

Archangel.2There are jokes about cars and driving that have to do with angels, and one of my favorites is, “Don’t drive faster than your guardian angel can fly.” Ha-Ha! I’ve always imagined my angel to be a very old, very wise, and a very strong male angel.  I don’t think a shy, young, woman would have been able to keep up! But perhaps I am wrong. I only know that there have been times when I have reached for my angel and felt a strong, protective presence. And that is something I cling to some days.

My reading of paranormal literature also keeps me on my toes. I read about all these battles and it reminds me that my life is a battle, too.  I am constantly waging a war against my worse self, reaching for my best self.  I feel nudges that push me away from God – and I have to fight those, too.  We all do.  The battle is for our eternity, for our soul.

I posted yesterday about my hurt with my community and the realization that our battles are in our community, too.  I used to tease people that sloth sits on one shoulder, gluttony on the other.  Those are rough companions.  There are many other sinful traits that people cling to because they have become habit, and are part of our comfort zones.  I know some of the issues facing us as a community revolve around the sin of pride..and part of that is the fear, I think, of being of non-importance to the people around you.  How scary to think that if you were not prideful, no one would pay attention to you.  So to cling to your “position,” you hold on to pride.  Humility and being humble in a group is the flip side of pride.  Being truly humble does not mean you allow others to walk all over you. Rather, it means you think of others, and you value others above and before self.

HumilityI do not think pride is at the root of all the issues our community faces, but it sure plays a big role.  And we are all battling the sin of pride when we allow ourselves to become more important than our faith, than our Church, than our community, than anyone else.  Who cares who does what? Get in and serve, shoulder to shoulder, with your fellow believers.  Serve others, first and always.  Do not think of self…lay self aside. I think it is amazing how much room in your life you have for others when you take yourself out of the equation.  Serving the poor in our community came to define who we were as a community in my former parish. Before we took that on in earnest, truly committing to it, we were wanderers, getting lost in the world.  We put our actions where our beliefs were and we served the poor all around us.  We got out of our own way, and we began to live what we believed.  We battled the evil all around us and we prayed…man oh man, did we pray.  We offered our time, talents, and treasure to helping those around us with less.  There was a push to not serve by many…once we talked and once they saw our commitment, they slowly joined in.  Fear kept them from diving in and helping.  Fear of the unknown.  Fear of germs.  Fear of having those less fortunate “rub off” on them.  And you know what? Pride was less and less in the forefront and humility and service began to flourish.  Peace was slowly creeping into our community.

armor_of_god_modernMy prayer today is that we somehow find a way to extinguish the flame of pride and become the light of Christ.  First we have to love one another, but then we need to put our love to work, helping the poor around us.  Because our poor are always with us.  God gives us ample opportunity to serve them, we just need to stop blocking our view of opportunities to serve, with our thoughts of self, and our pride.  The healing can be incredible.  So let’s all put on the angelic armor of God, fight this ugliness, and win hearts and minds for Christ.

Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God’s love commits me here, ever this day be at my side, to light, to guard, to rule and guide.  Amen.

“…is not acceptable to God.”

My heart is so full of love.  But once in awhile, it is also filled with pain.  Pain comes to us from so many sources.  We can feel pain because it belongs to us, or we can feel pain on behalf of people we see being wronged.  We all have a variety of relationships in our lives, from many different areas, and one of them occasionally causes pain.  And right now, I am experiencing pain and it has come from my spiritual family.  Which makes me especially saddened; the pain that much more acute. The pain is mine, but it is also on behalf of those I see as being wronged.

Abba Agathon2In all communities, there are always issues with communication.  Sometimes we just do not communicate properly, what our hearts are trying to express, and we create difficulties. I often run into problems with the written word.  Words on paper (or computer screens) are lifeless. They are scratches on a hard surface, but they are not proper communication.  Proper communication is when two people can sit with one another, with no other distractions, and really talk with one another.  And in our world of all sorts of media and noise, that is becoming less and less a skilled or experienced occasion.  Often when we do find ourselves in a communication-rich environment, we forget about truly talking to one another.  Anger in communication does no one any good. In a past post, I spoke to my anger and that some anger is justifiable.  And it truly is. Our Lord was angry and overturned the money-changers’ tables in the Temple.  They had profaned His Father’s House and turned it into a market place; a place of lying and cheating, a place of selling things that should not be sold.  Quite often, we can metamorphose our faith communities into similar places when we allow anger and perceived inequities rule our part of the conversation.  We interpret words in ways they are not meant, and we often find our anger rising to the surface in record-breaking time.  There are so many people who truly do not listen, already forming their responses before the speaker has completely finished, presupposing the intent of the speaker.  And it damages entire communities when anger rules conversation and communication.

Gerontissa Gabriella.2Our words, and the way we choose to use them, stay with us for all eternity, as Gerontissa Gabriela says so well above.  (Gerontissa is a Russian word for Elderess, the female in charge of a women’s monastery).  And recently words were said and actions taken that disappoint and hurt.  There are growing pains and then there are pains that only “family” can inflict on one another.  When you are part of a faith community that is undergoing big changes, there can often be things said/actions taken that are not a part of the best interest of the community, but are taken/said out of hurt and misunderstanding.  Change is always difficult, especially in a community that is growing and changing in ways that are not familiar, with many members new to their faith.  And becoming a part of a community that is different from the mainstream, with loads of traditions and a differing spirituality, is a difficult sort of change, all on its own.  Throw in becoming a part of a community undergoing change itself and you have a recipe for all sorts of disasters.

candle.priestoutoffocusOur first step into the Byzantine world was through a friend who invited my husband to take an Icon class with her, under the tutelage of a master icnonographer.  At the time, we were devotedly Roman Catholic. My husband has an artsy side of him and had done some gorgeous tole painting on wooden and cloth projects for gifts for me, and for our family and friends, and so my friend thought he would love to learn this “technique.”  My husband thought “painting on wood” and having a religious subject could be something fun to learn.  The iconographer, at the very beginning, took the entire student class to the local Byzantine parish, to have their hands blessed.  It was our very first exposure to Byzantine spirituality.  And it was mesmerizing and unforgettable – the Holy Oil smelled so strongly of roses! It was beautiful.  And it turned discovering another way to “paint” on wood into “writing icons” and learning to pray every step of the way, changing our prayer life. It also changed our world, and we did not even realize it fully at the time.

A few years later, we stepped further into the eastern world by attending our first Divine Liturgy at a Melkite Greek Catholic parish during Lent.  “Sophia – orthoi!!!” Oh my…oh my.  The sights, smells, and sounds captivated us and we were drawn to truly enter into the eastern way of Lent…we were hooked.  Our first exposure to the East was to fast for 40 days!  It was an explosive way to become Byzantine!  The ways and means of experiencing eastern spirituality through the lens of the Melkite world changed our lives forever.  We became deeply Melkite, deeply Byzantine, and rejoiced in this discovery of faith, becoming re-energized Christians.  And we loved every moment of Divine Liturgy, learning ways and traditions so ancient, the origins of them went back to Apostolic times.  We learned prayers and tones that were already considered ancient when put to paper.  We learned recipes only handed on from mother to daughter, orally, for generation after generation; many of which were served only once a year or on specific occasions (like at funerals, for example).  We learned to love the gift of life, and we learned how to truly mourn the loss of life.  The Melkite tradition of mourning for the dead is like no other. (Except perhaps the Irish, who are from Ireland- they know how to mourn!!)  We also learned to celebrate after we mourned.  And we also learned the apex of the liturgical life in the Byzantine world is EASTER.  It is not Christmas.  We would fast during Lent, we would prepare for Pascha, and we would mourn the Death of Christ.  But then the Resurrection happens!  It is the sole reason we are Christians.  Christmas would be meaningless without Easter.  Easter is what defines us; it is what makes us followers of the Risen Lord!  And at the Easter Vigil, from around ten o-clock in the evening, until around three o’clock in the morning, we walked through Christ’s travels in Hades; we shared his becoming Our Resurrected Lord.  And we sang His Resurrection with loud joy: CHRIST IS RISEN FROM THE DEAD; BY DEATH HE TRAMPLED DEATH, AND TO THOSE IN THE TOMB HE GRANTED LIFE.  We sang it so loud, it rattled the rooftops.  We sang it in Arabic, in English, and in Greek, and we would even throw in some Spanish!  The chandeliers swayed as the Holy Spirit made its way through our entire temple. It was a glorious experience and we loved every moment of it.  Most times, by the end of the Easter Vigil, many of us had lost our voices!  It was glorious. We would make our way over to the hall at 3:00 am and then we feasted! Gloriously feasted!  We laid children on the floors as they slept right through the feasting, but we would feast on until the sun was almost in the sky again.  CHRIST IS RISEN!

But some traditions are not used to this glorious yelling about Christ’s Resurrection, because it is “over-the-top” and not dignified enough.  Don’t you think the Apostles sang and yelled with joy when Christ appeared among them in the Upper Room, where they were hiding in fear of the Jews??  A miracle in their lifetime – the Messiah being truly present among them.  Christ rose from the dead, just like He promised.  It is why we believe He is God – the Triune God – the Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  If not for that fact, He would be regarded much the same as any other Prophet.  The Islamic faith, although scary and very violent, does much more in honoring our faith than the faith of other religions.  They do more to honor our faith than most Protestants do.  They acknowledge and love the Theotokos, the “God-Bearer” or “Mother of God.”  Most Protestants don’t like to follow that to its logical conclusion.  If you discuss it with them, they sort of dodge that part:  “Do you believe Christ rose from the dead?”  “Yes, I do.”  “Do you believe Christ was the Son of God, come to save Man?”  “Yes, I do.”  “Do you acknowledge Christ is one aspect of the Holy Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – three in one?” “Yes, I do. ” “Do you acknowledge that Mary was the mother of Christ?”  “Yes, I do.”  “Well then, since you acknowledge Christ is the Son of God, part of the Holy Trinity, and He is the Son of Mary, She is therefore the Mother of God.” “Well, no….”  Ha-Ha!  Logic doesn’t follow through! The Islamic faith, however, regards Jesus Christ as one of God’s many Prophets, because they do not accept the miracle of Easter! They do not believe He rose as He promised!  They do not celebrate Easter!

As Christians we are called to believe the whole shebang.  We cannot pick and choose which comfy things we want to believe in, and throw those uncomfortable things away.  “Sometimes we need to swallow the entire pill because chewing it is not recommended.”  When you pick and choose what to believe, you are creating your own faith – Pro-test-ant (one who protests).  It is also often termed, “cafeterianism”  and is one of many illnesses striking our faith.   Just as you walk down the line in a cafeteria, choosing what to place on your plate, and what to exclude, many pick and choose what to believe from the offering of faith.  Only we believe, that with God, you chose to become a Child of God…the whole God, not just the parts you can deal with.

God died for us on a cross. It was disgusting; that method of killing was meant to be as degrading and painful as it could be.  The person being crucified was meant to be an example to the rest of the community and it was supposed to frighten others into not breaking the law – a deterrent.  And the Romans were very good at it. If you ever have a chance to go to a course on the Shroud of Turin, or to learn what it was like, physically, for the person in that shroud to die, trust me, you will never go through Easter the same. Even if you do not believe it was Christ in that shroud, it was a man who suffered a Roman Crucifixion, and it will only enhance your understanding of what Christ suffered for each one of us. A great book is “A Doctor at Calvary” (http://www.amazon.com/Doctor-Calvary-Passion-Described-Surgeon/dp/0912141042).

Once Christ went through this horrible death, for three long and very lonely and frightening days, His community huddled together, praying and keeping one another strong, in that Upper Room.  We do that, too. It is called Holy Week and Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil Saturday are all a part of that.  At the end of our deep prayers and mourning the lack of Light in our world, we welcome Pascha.  We celebrate the Empty Tomb.  We celebrate the Gift of Life.  And we shout about it, because without it, we are all doomed to the earth…to rot away to nothingness.  To have this life be just this life, with no more, once our eyes close, and our last breath is taken.

Easter Divine LiturgyWe decorate and we feast – we celebrate as the photo above shows, by greening up our Church…we decorate the empty tomb, we process through the streets and into our churches with a gloriously empty tomb. We celebrate life!  This gift of life freely given to those who just believe.  And once you have gone deeply into Lent and spent an entire Holy Week at every service and spent hours in a quiet Church after the Death of Christ, weeping for the loneliness of a planet without its God, that first glimpse of everlasting life will take your breath away.

Life is what we, as Christians, celebrate.  We do not mope, we don’t let this world take ahold of us, because we have Christ our Lord, and Savior.  We need, in this horribly decadent world, to share the Good News with everyone we meet.  We need to shout, “CHRIST IS RISEN! HE IS TRULY RISEN!” from the rooftops.  We need to give others hope; we need to evangelize by how we live our lives and how we treat those in our community.  We have no hopes of bringing others to Christ if we treat each other with derision and contempt.

He is risen.languagesMany in our community think in their own minds, our clergy is “over the top;” clergy were too loud and noisy, and undignified, during Easter and during this incredibly joyous Easter season.  Making derisive remarks to others does nothing to share the Kingdom of God – it tears it apart – and it does not build you up, even if talking trash about others makes you feel superior.  Tearing down priests and clergy who are shouting “Christ is Risen” at the top of their lungs, sharing their joy at the Resurrected Christ, does nothing to build our community.  Tearing down priests and clergy is not a Christian act.  Going behind people’s backs and talking about them does nothing to build the Kingdom of God, or our little community.  Gossip kills community. It works to create rifts and tears in our lives as a Christian family.  Because we are family.  We share Christ with this specific group of people and it is a bond we do not always share with others.  For a great majority of us, we are trying to share our faith with our children and family and friends, but many do not feel comfortable with our traditions and perhaps we are even misunderstood in the community at large.  Being Byzantine is not for the faint of heart and not for those who prefer “the status quo.”  Being Byzantine is not mainstream; it is not normal – it is unique.  The spirituality we share is very different.  We have specific ways we worship…and imposing standards from other traditions upon the Byzantine/eastern Churches is something Vatican II saved us from. We are free to be who we are, and we are not Latin Rite Catholics.  We are Byzantine Catholics…and there are 22 other Churches who are also Eastern and/or Byzantine Catholic and not Roman Catholic. We do it all a little differently.  We share a common faith, but our faith expressions are vastly different. And choosing to belong and to work through changes means biting the bullet now and then, and being patient.  It took Christ 40 days to do battle with Satan.  It took the Jews 40 years because they were not obedient to God’s word, to find their way out of the desert…an entire generation had to die off! The world held its breath for three long days, while Christ was dead to this world, before the Good News of His Resurrection saved us all.  We can choose to be a part of what is happening now, or we can choose to stand on the sidelines, offering snide remarks and hurtful comments.  But standing on the sidelines is not being a part of a wonderful tradition, one that is undergoing change, trying to recover from some very rough times.  And I am hurt by the words of many and hurt by the actions of a few. Hurt for myself, but mostly for our clergy, who love our community.

Clergy and their wives and families have put themselves out there to serve their community.  They have gone to Seminary, many at their own expense, with time spent away from their own families for YEARS, so that they can serve their Church and their communities, being fully trained and educated in the faith.  The lay people, and those who posture as experts, are nothing more than “im-posters,” many being self-educated and many not being educated in the world of Byzantine spirituality at all. They have not received the vocation, the laying on of hands, the education, or the blessing of the Bishop.  They often think to lead a community when they are not even of the same faith tradition.  We may lose people when their posturing becomes more important than the truth; when being right in their own minds trumps the good of the community.  And we must all “gird our loins” and dig in and do the hard work, the work that brings about positive change and a strong family community of believers.  Right now, the pain I am feeling hurts me, but I hurt for our clergy, too, and as the wife of clergy.  They have dedicated their lives to service; they are working to make a difference, and in the case of my particular knowledge, they are good, good people.

Christ told us, Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Luke 12: 51-53) And so those who serve understand there will be divisiveness; there will be factions; there will be gossip; there will be those who diligently work to mess things up.  It is the nature of who we are as people; we easily rise to be our worst selves. But there is also knowledge in the Glory of God, the love of forgiveness, and the peace found in a community sharing in the love of God.  In an earlier post, I spoke of Tertullian’s writings and how he once said,  Look . . .  how they love one another (for they themselves [pagans] hate one another); and how they are ready to die for each other (for they themselves are readier to kill each other).”
I fervently ask that we become that community, like our early Church, who put their love for one another on display, who were willing to share the Love of Christ with all people.  Become a community known for their love of everyone, even to lay down one’s life for their faith.  God grant me the strength to be such a Christian.

Jean-Léon_Gérôme_-_The_Christian_Martyrs'_Last_Prayer_-_Walters_37113

“To everything there is a season…”

Blessed SeraphimI was reminded again this week of the fact that life passes away.  We lost an old friend of ours and at the Divine Liturgy last night, we all prayed for the repose of his soul. And I found myself weeping…just weeping over the loss of a friend, yes, but the loss for his wife and children, and grandchildren.  They will never have him again in their life.  And it overwhelmed me.

Earlier in the day I was working on arranging for my mom to come and visit us. It is a 5-hour plane ride (non-stop, thank goodness) and I have to plan far in advance, to be sure all the arrangements are made, because my mom has Alzheimer’s and Dementia.  She gets confused very easily, and being in an airport will overwhelm her.  My step-sister, who has become my friend over the past few years, lives very near my mom and does so much for her.  We were discussing how odd it is to make the same sort of arrangements for her, that we make for an unescorted minor flying across the country.  I will be doing the same thing very soon for my 15-year-old son, who will be attending summer camp on the east coast.  Every detail has to be looked at and gone over.  It is frightening, actually, to have my mom (and soon my son) flying pretty far, all alone.  But she needs to see her great-grandchildren, her grandchildren, and her children. We are family and we need to stay connected.  With Alzheimer’s and Dementia, time becomes the important factor in all of this, because one day soon she will not know any of us.  Another one of those life-cycles exerting itself.

Yesterday was also the first birthday of my oldest granddaughter.  What a joy she is in our lives.  And she was so very happy with her little cupcake yesterday – as she was wearing a goodly portion of it!! The joy on her face was enough to bring tears to your eyes.  I thank all the brainiacs out there who invented video and Face Time and Skype; it makes us feel so close to each other and not the 1000s of miles apart that we really are. Knowing that I will be seeing her, and her soon-to-be-born little sister, made it all the more poignant.  Today, I was on the phone with my sister-in-law who shared she is expecting baby #10 in October, and I was just marveling at the gift of life all around me.  My friend who recently died was the father of 14 children, and grandfather to something like 5 or 7 children (I have actually lost count!).

handsLife is just such a blessing.  And it is a cycle.  Old and new.  Comings and goings. Cycling, always cycling through. All the tripe sayings they have out there are somehow showing themselves to all have a grain of truth in them.  Dontcha hate that? Ha-Ha.  “To everything there is a season,” as it says in the book of Ecclesiastes.  And as I age and head closer and closer towards my final destination, I am finding that there are, indeed, seasons.

My friend who passed was from the season in our lives when we were all having babies.  We were homeschooling our kids; we attended Church together; we shared parenting and marriage, financial and other woes with each other.  We supported one another through those rough phases all young marrieds go through, in addition to some wonderful bottles of wine and steaks cooked to perfection.  I have such clear memories of summer days spent under the stars, contemplating our lives.  Wonderful memories filled with so much laughter.

My grandma used to tell me, “Well, you can’t put old heads on young shoulders.” I used to laugh at her many adages, and trust me, she had volumes and volumes of them!  But she was right. There are things I can see from where I am standing, that I cannot really communicate to my children’s generation.  Many times it is because they just don’t want to hear it from me, but mostly it is because they know what they are doing for them is right (haven’t we all been there??).  And I acknowledge that and I respect that, very much.  It was not often afforded to my husband and myself and so I want to be sure my kids know I respect their choices; I just wish I could give them some of my wisdom. But I also know the deepest wisdom is gained through living life, not being given some adages to ponder.  We have to live for those tripe sayings to mean something.  As St. Seraphim said above, we are given choices.  We can choose to be of this world and outside of God, or we can choose for Whom our heart hungers, which is God, the God of life.  Everything eventually passes away.

I saw a funny meme today about books:

Read something goodIt is one of my guilty pleasures – I would rather be reading than pretty much anything else. (Especially if I can drink a nice glass of wine or nibble on something chocolate at the same time! Heaven!).  I often think that for me, loosing my sight would be the most horrible thing. Because of missing the faces of my loved ones, yes, but I would no longer be able to lose myself in a book.  And what we read, what we contemplate, becomes a portion of who we are.  I love paranormal books and stories of good versus evil.  Love all the witches and spells, potions and demons and the heroes that defeat them. Always makes me feel good.  I have often mused why I love this genre so much, when I was always reading historical novels in my younger years.  And I realized that for me, it is my way of getting in the fight.  It is my way of confronting the evil in the world, and always choosing to be a “good guy.”  Why is that? Because I know, deep in my bones, that this world does truly pass away and only God remains….everything passes away.

Some day, all that will be left of me will be a pile of bones in a grave, and the legacy of genetics and memories I leave for my family. I pray that their lives will have been better because I was a part of them. I pray that everyone I touched was left with a positive feeling in their hearts when they think of me.  I know there are those who I hurt in my wild and rambunctious days.  I cannot go back and undo what I have already done.

byiO4laAnd this saying keeps me focused on what is ahead.  This cycle of life we are living keeps moving. We choose to participate or sit it out. What a waste to spend life angry, sitting on the sidelines pouting.  Or mourning those who have gone before us, while missing the blessings of new life in front of us.  Perhaps it is because I am older and life is a little quieter, but I am seeing God’s hand in so many more things than I ever have before. I know He is present and active in my life and the lives around me.  And when I start seeing these things over and over again, I feel so blessed.  To know something so clearly is so peaceful, and it brings such contentedness. I may not control it all; I may need to still buckle up and gird my loins – all of that may still hold true.  But I also know that “God’s got this.”  How totally cool is that??

Miracle baby toesBlessings to all my fellow miracles out there, who touch the miracle of life each day, by living and choosing life through the Grace of God.  And my continued to prayers for those who perhaps are not as certain of God’s presence in your life, or the love He has for you – I’m becoming certain enough for both of us.

 

“See how they love one another?”

2Thessalonians3-3Sometimes in life, we have to step out in faith.  And sometimes we are called to go a little further in our steps than we are comfy with.  I know it’s happened to me more than once.

I had an awesome conversation with a friend I have known since I was 14 years old the other day.  My son sort of freaked when I talked about how long ago that was! (My 40th HS reunion???  Agh????   When did that happen???).  My girlfriend and I can chat and it’s like we’re back in the bathroom at her parent’s house and sixteen years old, shoving each other aside for mirror space, or arguing over a curling iron, as we get ready to go to “the game.”  We giggle insanely at things that happened more than 40 years ago.  She is one of the few people in my life who I hold up on some sort of pedestal (which I know she would totally hate me to do) because life has been incredibly cruel to her, insofar as her health (and love-life) have been.  We joked about her hearing aids and remember our parents yelling at us to turn down our music.  But we laughed.  She hates the disease that has changed her life, but we can still laugh with each other.  She is in between church homes and she is lonely. She wants a vibrant faith experience and something that will equal her excitement about God, and she has been unable to find it.  She is looking, and even though she cannot drive, I admire her for still seeking ways to be out and about and engaged in life.  I admire her because regardless of what is handed out to her, she keeps moving forward; she keeps loving everyone around her, and she maintains her joy.  She is always and ever stepping forward in faith.  I love her so much and mourn the fact we are literally thousands of miles away from each other.  But she encourages me in so many, many ways.  I know I am blessed because one ugly day in my life more than 40 years ago, she reached out to a shy, new girl in a high school gymnasium and literally took my hand and dragged me out into girl’s field hockey!  And we have been friends ever since.

FriendsFriends, family, and our faith community are who we reach out for when life hands us conundrums and conflicts.  And when those steps we need to take are big, we do reach out and we try to learn before we leap. I believe that when you step out in faith, you need to do that with your eyes fully open. Being an informed person does not mean you don’t trust God or trust that people have your best interests at heart.  What it does mean is that you do your due diligence in seeking all the facts before jumping in with both feet. This can be applied to pretty much everything.  There’s a saying I wish I would have heeded more times than I have and it goes like this, “Just because someone says you can, does not mean that you should.”  Boy, if I would have listened to that a few more times, I am sure my struggles would have been fewer!  And even though the decisions we are facing do entail someone telling us we can, we need to be sure that we should.

Trust GodIn our culture, it is becoming more and more obvious that God is being thrust into the sidelines, if present at all. I recently read an article by a Protestant author who stated that “in the Bible, God points to several things that will signify the End Times, including a godless culture, senseless violence, rampant immorality, and falling away from a true faith.” (Jeff Kinley, “As it was in the days of Noah”).  And in speaking about the new Noah movie starring Russell Crowe, he said, “We’ve basically pushed God to the margins, we’ve shoved Him out to the edges of our society and in fact we’ve written Him out of His own story as ‘Creator,’ God’s not even allowed to be the Creator anymore. So there’s rampant godlessness, not just in our country but in the world as well.”   Just today there was an article about a TV show on HGTV being cancelled before it even aired because some pro-abortion activists described the stars as being “Anti-choice extremists” for espousing a Biblical view of marriage and life.  One man, one woman; abortion is murder.  And this is bad??  I wrote on my friend’s FB wall, “The world is truly going to hell. Gird your loins.”  And I believe that.

All Merciful Savior Vashon Island Abbot Tryphon (All Merciful Savior Monastery, Vashon Island, WA – photo above) posted on his blog today, “In this age where secularism is on the rise, and materialism has become a major distraction from spiritual pursuits, Christian friendship has never been more important. The pursuit of personal fulfillment, entertainment, worldly pleasure, and the acquisition of material goods, has become the dominant theme of our age. Families that once placed the life of the Church as the center of their week, have drifted away from God. Having made idols of worldly pleasures and pursuits, their family life has become focused on transitory goals, leaving them in a state of spiritual bankruptcy.”

He then further says, The life of a Christian has never been easy, but in an age that is proving to be hostile towards the things of God, Christian friendship is all the more important. We need each other. We need the encouragement that Christian friendship can give us, as we face a world that has rejected Christ. The unity we have when we receive the Body and Blood of the Saviour, during each and every celebration of the Divine Liturgy, gives us strength to withstand whatever may be coming. When all else has failed, and our culture, economy, and material world has fallen into ruin, only faith will have the power to sustain us.”

And ending with, It is only our faith, supported and strengthened by our fellowship in Christ, that will have the lasting power to keep us from falling into despair, as our world enters into a darkness that will seem unconquerable. Hiding from the reality of a world that has lost it’s way, will in no wise make the future brighter. Lifting each other up, as we share our faith in the Christ Who came to make all things new, is the only hope we have. Let us not waste this life God has given us, but let us move forward in faith, together, knowing that ultimately, the gates of hell will not prevail against those who love God.”

Abbot Tryphon has been a wonderful source of wisdom, for me and for all of us who regularly read his blogs or listen to his podcasts (Ancient Faith Radio).  And today he once again hit the nail on the head for the issues in our lives, and the choices before us. (The Abbot has a habit of articulating what is happening to me, or those around me.  God is awesome like that!).

Taking a step in faith requires having faith, or it is just a step.  Going headlong into an unknown is something anyone can do, and many often do.  If our forefathers had not ventured forth, wanting new trade routes and ways to get around the conquering Moors, we’d all still be in Europe.  Most went with the blessings of their country, their Kings and/or Queens, and in the company of the Church in the person of her priests.  We conquered the unknown through the blessings and reliance on the known – our faith.

Sail-Boat13It is good to rely on our faith and our faith community in all things.  The Bible is rich in stories of the nascent Church and how believers supported one another. (Galations 6:2) “Bear one another’s burdens, and so you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Acts 2:42-46)  “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.  Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart..”  (Acts 4L 32-25) “And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.”

In other works about the early Church and its history, there are many other examples and one of the most famous in the history of the Church are in the writings of the North African theologian, Tertullian (160-220AD). “Tertullian imagined pagans looking at Christians and saying, “Look . . .  how they love one another (for they themselves [pagans] hate one another); and how they are ready to die for each other (for they themselves are readier to kill each other).” (Christian History Institute, article on Tertullian).  There are so many examples of why we Christians need to maintain our Christian fellowship and how we should strive to keep within Christianity for many of the things in our daily lives.  We tithe to support our Churches, our priests and religious, and we work to ease the suffering of the captives and the poor.  It is what Christians have done for centuries. Our culture, unfortunately, is becoming less and less a place of Christian ideals or values.  It is becoming less and less a place we need to spend the majority of our time mixing in.

inground-sprinklers-toutXIn this era of modernism gone absolutely mad, I believe we are called to strengthen these ties with other Christians, and called to make our Church the center of our family lives once more.  Sunday should become, once again, the day of prayer and celebration with our families and our faith communities.  It is hard to remember how quiet it was when I was a kid.  On Friday evenings, the city shut down and did not open again until Monday morning.  The freeways were empty on the weekends (I remember when the freeways were empty after 9:00am and until after 3:0pm!!).  There were no traffic jams.  People were at home.  Malls were closed.  Most restaurants were closed (the fancy-schmancy ones were open on Friday and Saturday evenings, but no one was open on Sundays).  Movie theaters, live theaters, and drive-through dairies were open (the era of fast food was still an idea.  People did not eat out of paper bags – you ate off plates).  Perhaps a “mom and pop” market on the corner would be open portions of the weekend, but generally, business and public life shut down for two days every week.  You could hear kids laughing and sprinklers going on everyone’s lawns on the weekends, broken by the sounds of lawn mowers and birds chirping.  You could actually nap on your front lawn, under a tree.  But on Sundays, we had Church.  Everyone went to one of the Churches in town.  The parking lots were full.  And we spent more time with our friends, enjoying barbeques and good times in our backyards.  We worshiped together, we brought food to people who were sick, we watched friend’s kids when they were sick or needed our help, and we played and vacationed together.  It was a different time and I am feeling called more and more to re-engage in that sort of lifestyle. In a lifestyle where I trust in my faith community and immerse myself more in it, rather than in this craziness we call our world.  And taking a step in faith is almost easier, in some ways, surrounded by your community.

When our communities really gel, and we all know where we are and who we are, then confident, we can reach out in faith and assist those in need, bringing them closer to God.  When we can come together regularly, holding one another up in faith and in our trials of life, we will truly be a Christian community.  I don’t think of it as going back to the glorious 50s or that I want to turn back the clock.  But I do believe our early Christian brethren were looking at life through the lens of faith more than most of us now do.  As far as decision making goes, in all things, I am going to trust God.  “See how they love one another?”

Problems big God

 

“Christ is risen. Well, so what?”

This was written in 2011 by Archpriest John Moses.  I read it today and it truly “hit me between the eyes.”  I think it speaks volumes upon volumes of truth. And so I reposted this blog in its entirety below.  I hope you enjoy it; I know I did.

 

johnmoses-200x200Christ is Risen.  Well, so what?

 

It’s the greatest message that humanity has ever heard.

Its also the most ignored message in the world.

I look out in the post-Pascha world and little has changed. The war goes on, gas prices continue to rise, and the rats are still running the race. A poor woman was just found in a basement with her children, and she had been a prisoner there for 25 years. Christ is risen. You might think it impious of me, but I must ask: Well, so what?

It’s one of the most amazing and perplexing passages of Scripture. “Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted.” (Matthew 28:16-17, NKJV)

“Some doubted.” Doubted? How in the world could this be possible? It’s like some of them are actually looking at the Resurrected Lord and asking, “Well, so what?” I am absolutely sure that if I saw the Resurrected Lord with my own eyes, I would believe. After all, I’ve heard that “seeing is believing.” I’m sure that I would believe and I would change. I would be faithful. Wouldn’t I?

Maybe not.

After all, despite the glory of Pascha, I am still an unrepentant sinner. I am worse than St. Thomas because he touched the Lord’s flesh once and proclaimed, “My Lord and my God.” Eventually, Thomas made it all the way to India. I touch the Lord’s Body and Blood every Sunday and have done so for over 12 years, and I’ve hardly made it out of my house.

So, maybe the world ignores the greatest message of all time because the witness of my life is that He is still dead and I remain a slave to sin. Why does the stone remain over the tomb for me? What power keeps the stone from rolling away?

In Hebrews, chapter 2, it says, “…through death He (Jesus) might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”

Now, this is interesting. So, it is the fear of death that binds me and blinds me and makes me a slave to sin. Well, I don’t spend most of my day worrying about my physical death, but I do worry about a lot of things. Yet, I thought it was the fact that sin was fun or pleasurable that bound me to it. No, to be honest, beneath it all is fear. As I think about the Lord’s life, how many times did the angels say, “don’t be afraid?” How many times did the Lord Himself say, “Be not afraid?” Am I afraid, really?

Yes, I am.

For example, I live to eat, not eat to live. Why do I eat so much? Am I afraid that I won’t get enough to eat? Perhaps, its because deep in my heart I am afraid-maybe I’m not really loved; maybe I’m ugly; maybe I really am a failure. I find I can eat and kill the this hunger and pain in a carbohydrate haze. After all, a bag of Oreo cookies and a tall glass of cold milk can make me feel real good.

Another example is that I judge others because it makes me feel superior to them. I need to feel superior because I am afraid that people will see what an utter fool I really am. I know exactly why the Pharisee was glad that he was not “like that man.” I’m glad too because it eases the fear that I am a fool and hypocrite. Afterall, I can’t be too bad when there are so many people who are obviously more sinful and more foolish than I.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. Fear permeates every aspect of life and it lies at the foundation of every habitual sin that plagues us. It was that way for our Parents. When Adam and Eve broke God’s commandment, they hid in the bushes because they were afraid. When you think that previously they had “walked with God in the cool of the evening”, how sad that they hid themselves from their Father. In the Icon of the Resurrection, Adam and Eve come from the shadows with great joy. Yet, some still hide in the semi-darkness.

Like Adam and Eve, I’m hiding because of fear, and it’s fear that binds me. Even though I proclaim with my lips, Christ is Risen, my heart is wrapped in chains. Is there no help?

Orthodoxy proclaims that Christ “trampled down death by death and upon those in the tombs, He bestowed life.” By trampling down death, he destroys the binding power of death, which is fear. He defeated the one who wields this power, the devil. This means that my fears, though real to me, have no real power. To know this, I have to be willing to open the dark corners of my soul to the light of the Resurrection. One way that I begin to do this is by confession which allows me to begin to come out from my hiding place in the bushes.

I remember hearing this story when I was young. Apparently, almost 10 years after World War II had ended, a lone Japanese soldier was found on a small island in the Pacific Ocean. He had spent a decade believing that the war was still going on, and so he stood his post and every day watched for the enemy.

I’m just like that poor soldier. Christ has won the war and the enemy has been defeated. The problem is, I haven’t heard the good news yet. Well, I’ve heard it, but I just don’t believe it. Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.

Maybe next Pascha, I will truly hear the Good News. The grave will open for me and the Risen Lord will stand before me and I will worship Him and not doubt. Maybe then I will know the glorious freedom of Christ. Maybe I will take the same hand that he extends to Adam and Eve and to the whole world. Then, I will proclaim the great message “Christ is Risen”, and those who hear it will believe because they will see that the message has transformed the messenger from a slave to fear into a slave of God.

The President was right-”There is nothing to fear but fear itself.” John the Revelator heard it from the Lord- “Be not afraid…I hold the keys of Death and Hell.”

Truly He is Risen!

Source: Ramblings of a Redneck Priest