“…nor any other created thing…”

addiction

I am seeing more and more addictions, of many types. And I read something yesterday that brought it home. It was in a novel by Victoria Dannon and the character replies to a demon that he is not an addict and this demon, who is trying to extract payment on a debt says to him, as he laughs at him, that basically, he does not care what you are addicted to, addiction is addiction, whether it is to alcohol, drugs, gambling, shopping, plastic surgery…you get the idea. And the demon laughs as the man realizes that his addiction is just that, an addiction. He actually had no idea he was living his life around his addiction. In the storyline, his particular poison was horse racing. And he was willing to risk even his life, to continue betting.

I have seen comments from addicts who say they are not addicted to a particular thing (alcohol, drugs, porn) but rather are running from, or trying to turn off from, life. And that, to me, is sad. We are repressing our inner thoughts by an activity. I know many of us have developed an addictive relationship to social media…Facebook is worth billions of dollars. How? They do not give me a product, but they allow me to communicate with people I would not normally see. I joined to stay in touch with my kids all over the world (literally) and some friends who had moved away. It has become a life-line to many relationships and I have made wonderful friends through Facebook. But what is social media costing us all? Have you actually looked around at restaurants recently? Everyone is on their phones! People are not communicating with that warm body sitting next to them. They are preferring that alternate reality of social media. People text to break up. Don’t even bother to see the person in real life, real time, but send a text. People declare they are “in a relationship” and yet they never see one another. It is totally online. It is just one of the ways we are losing our humanity to technology.

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There are many other addictions and some of them are far more costly. Do we surround ourselves with stuff to cushion us from the world? What is it about accumulating each thing we collect? I have seen women who have more shoes than I thought possible. I have seen men with tools that take over their garages so they cannot park in them. I have seen women collect cooking utensils – how many strainers do we need? (Okay, I have 3…) But why do we spend money on all this stuff, until we are busting out of our homes, when we complain about being broke? How can we spend on stuff and have no savings? How can we wear all those shoes? Ugh. How much make-up or plastic surgery does one woman need? How many cars are enough for some men? Collecting is one thing, whereas hoarding is quite another. And many of these addictions/obsessions are shielding us from a host of other things.

It is not the stuff itself that people need. It reminds me of a scene from a cartoon movie my kids used to watch (they watched it so much I knew the dialogue by heart!) where this bug cannot stop heading into one of those zappers that has a bright light to attract them. One character says, “Don’t go into the light” and the other responds, “But it’s so beautiful!” And that bug is then zapped. We always laugh at that and have used that line (“But it is so beautiful”) often to express our concern for people who go toward something that is not good for them. In the movie, “Percy Jackson, The Lightning Thief” they find themselves in Las Vegas at this “Lotus” hotel. They lose days in this hotel, because there are no windows or clocks (typical for casinos) and they are fed these Lotus Flowers, which drug them. They finally snap out of it and leave. How many days have I gone through, not remembering what I accomplish? Do I numb my mind with thoughtless activities like cruising social  media or watching endless TV programs or movies? Do I thoughtlessly eat? Do I mindlessly read junk? How do we “snap out of it”????

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We are an inherently spiritual being. Each of us. We are created in the image and likeness of our Creator. We long for that intimate love relationship with the God of all Creation. And we all have this “God Hole” that we try to fill with things. Sometimes the world is a cruel place and humans are cruel to one another, creating individuals who are damaged and seek relief through drugs, alcohol, overeating, shopping, and other behaviors. All the while, people are trying to fill this gaping hole inside each of us. You cannot own enough shoes to fill that. You cannot buy enough leggings or tools or toys for yourself or your children, and expect to find fulfillment and contentment. You cannot drink enough alcohol to fill this wound, this hole, that only God can fill. And it saddens me greatly. Because I am just as guilty as many, in that I acquire things and have behaviors that are not, arguably, the things and behaviors of a Godly woman, wife, and mother. Because quite often, I lack the fortitude to persevere in my faith walk. It is much easier to plop on the couch with a cup of coffee and an Oreo in my hand, and check Facebook, than it is to accomplish something meaningful, like prayer. Or comforting a friend or loved one. Or doing the duties I have acquired from my station in life – a housewife and homeschooling mother. Being lazy is much easier than being accomplished, but the rewards are definitely not the same.

I read an article this morning about why millennials don’t go to Church and how the American Church is losing people faster than they are gaining them. The article spoke to all the ways the American Church could act, to attract these young people. And as I read the article, several things struck me. It was not about any of the mainstream Churches in America. It certainly was not about the Eastern Catholic or Orthodox Churches. Much of what they were proposing Churches do, most of the mainstream Churches offer already. One of the complaints is that the American Churches need to adapt to the world around them. I took great offense at that. I love my Church specifically because it has NOT changed. I see lots of young people in there every week. I am seeing more women dress more modestly and even wear veils. They prefer that their faith remains steadfast, strong, and unchangeable. It offers them comfort in a crazy world. It helps them fight their addictions by remaining the same – unmovable, unchangeable, and steadfast. “And on this rock I will build my Church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:18 This is where millennials, and whoever is hurting in this world, needs to come to be filled with God. It is a place for the broken, the hurting, the sinners.

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It is not easy to fight addictions. At all. There are attractions, tempting us almost 24/7 into sin and deviant behavior. We make almost hourly choices towards good or towards evil. And with Great Lent soon upon us, it is the perfect time to slow down and focus on these many addictions, and to seek God’s Grace to help us fight them. To help us overcome them by filling our empty lives and hearts with Him, instead of stuff.

One great suggestion given to me was to do the “40 bags over 40 days” purging project. Definitely doing that this year. The timing is perfect for our family. Another suggestion I saw was to spend 1 day per week with no electricity in the evenings. Instead you light candles and read, pray, play games together. But nothing you do can be supplied by electricity. The author of the blog about it noticed some immediate benefits.

(Here is the link to the article:

http://www.ncregister.com/blog/jennifer-fulwiler/8-reasons-to-turn-out-the-lights-during-lent#.WK3C5oWG7FI.facebook)

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Here in the wintry north, sunset comes early. But I still think this could be a valuable Lenten aid, in that it quiets our lives. It calms us down. It helps set a mood, a tone, in our home of quiet reflection. As one who reads by Kindle at night, going to bed without reading will be weird, but maybe it is time I took a break from that habit. We would have to turn off our phones (agh! We’d have to talk to one another!). And there would be no TV or computer. My son does his Spanish totally online, so I would have to be sure he’s on top of his lessons before we unplug! My Instant Pot dinners would have to be completed on time. No late night laundry panics. We would just sit in the candle light and be together as a family. I think this may assist us with some of our addictive behaviors.

Please consider slowing down and coming more into the Presence of God. Rededicate yourself to becoming closer to He Who created the world. Closer to He Who commands the seas and sets the sun on its rounds every day; Who holds the stars in His hands. He is so much greater than anything we try to substitute for Him.

But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

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“Do not conform to the pattern of this world…”

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I am sort of all over the place today. My hubby is off on a business trip again. He is gone 2 weeks of every month. Lately he has chosen to take them back-to-back so he has more of a steady time at home. The house felt sort of empty this morning. Getting old is weird. Hormones are all over the place. Squirrel. My hair is gray. I am trying new products to tame the frizzes. I tried the method where you wash just with conditioner. Not pretty. Tried for a week and could not stand it. Discovered my hair needs keratin. Who knew? Conditioning today. We got 18″ of snow the past 3 days. We are using either our wood stove or floor heating and it makes the air so dry. And my hair flies all over the place. Lovely when you add wool scarves and sweaters. Not. See? All over the place.

I just reconnected with a friend from High School. She and I were so close, for so long. I am not sure why we stopped being in touch. Perhaps me getting married and having kids and she was seriously in school and having a career…and we moved away from one another, too. But it is so good to get connected via Facebook, and to relaunch our relationship. I was so excited!! It gave me a spring in my step today.

So I blow dried my hair and it is still so fly-away-ish. Had to re-apply the leave-in conditioner. We will see how this formulation works for me. Gray hair is so picky.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2

My hubby and I have been dealing with issues regarding our parish and the practicing of the faith we have come to love (and were so well instructed in, by an amazing priest and many friends – priests and monks among them). And it has caused a little friction. Nothing like damaging to our relationship, but in our 34 years together, our faith journey has always been a joint one. Perhaps friction is not the right term. It’s more like there was a pea in our mattress and we just were not comfortable. We always walked together in faith. Our journey has amused many, and confused even more! And over the past 6 months or so, we have sorted of marched to a different drummer. And that is never good. I was always cautioned to not marry outside of my faith practices because people who are “un-equally yoked” do not work out. And I experienced it once, in a long term relationship. I was even engaged to him. He was Jewish. (Reform, not Orthodox, or it probably would never have happened in the first place). But eventually, especially after having developed such an amazing relationship with his rabbi and knowing I was firmly a Christian woman, his cultural adherence to many Jewish traditions, and me not fitting in well with his family, caused me to call things off. He was a great person and I did not wish him ill. I just realized we could never work. His rabbi and I remained friends, up until his death, often meeting for coffee and chats, long after my relationship had waned. I knew I needed a good, strong, Christian man in my life and was wise enough to call the wedding off. And when I met my husband, he lit up my life. And the more I got to know him, the more I wanted his faith. I wanted that relationship he had with God. I used to watch him pray, and while kneeling next to him, prayed that I could be like that. He has been good for me. I often tell him that he saved me from my worst self. He dragged me into a more pious life and I loved it. Over the past 6 or more months, that has waned. And I admitted to him that I miss it. At this same time, my husband realized our relationship with our faith practices needed to change. We spoke and realized we felt the same way about things. About some pretty important things. Whew. A good talk is sometimes all you need to realign your northern star – in my case, that is my piety and sense of faith permeating everything; my relationship to Christ and His Church.

 

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I have taught my kids that it is better to be that lone person, standing for what is right, rather than going with the majority. I believe that to be so in pretty much everything. You can apply it to your chosen career – be the best you can be at whatever it is you do, even if you are not a part of the crowd. In politics, for me, I rarely follow what the majority is calling for. I am conservative – socially, financially, spiritually, and pro life. Period. It permeates even the voting booth. In my faith, I prefer historically connected, profound, and deeply rooted worship. Throw in beeswax candles and icons, and I am there! I was raised next door to Russians, whose parents immigrated from Russia. They had such an interesting spin on life. From the father of the family, I learned to fence, using rapiers from the Royal Court in Russia. I learned to drink Russian tea made in a Samovar. And I learned about Russian tales and foods, traditions and history. I fell in love with Russia, reading everything I could find on it. The old, the traditional, the historically connected has always grabbed me. As an adult, I found myself learning all about my faith at a secular university, funnily enough. I converted to Catholicism as an adult. Coincidentally, about this time, I met my husband. (When I was dating my Jewish boyfriend, I was Geneva Presbyterian – until I converted to Catholicism at age 27). Over our 32 years of marriage, as we have journeyed through a very “orthodox” Catholic life, we discovered the Eastern Catholic Church. It was then that I truly began to breathe with both lungs. I was hooked. We moved over to the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, which is culturally Arabic, but Byzantine/Greek in worship style. My husband became a Deacon, after attending the Melkite seminary. We made life-long friends we dearly miss, during this time period. I literally fell in love with Church. I was there 2-4 days every week. I helped with our homeless kitchen and soon found myself transporting donated food weekly in my suburban, dragging my homeschooled kids with me. I loved working in the kitchen with all the Arab ladies. We had so much fun. And they taught me Arabic traditions, histories, foods, clothing styles, and how they raised their kids and the many faith traditions they held precious. When we moved to Alaska, we discovered there was no Melkite Church up here. We have been adapting. Our youngest son found a youth group he loves, at the local Roman Catholic parish. We support him in attending their “young men’s bible studies” and trips, and youth group every week. (He is well-known in the local parish and usually brings up the gifts on Sundays at Mass. He’s quite the popular teenager. We joke that he knows more people in Alaska than any of the rest of us does). We attend there as a family and it has been good. It is not our beloved Eastern tradition, but it is Church.

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We’ve adapted to this culture up here. (It’s cold and white everywhere these days, because we have so much snow!!) We have become sort of bland. Ha-Ha! And I got pulled away from the practice of what I love, into a rather generic sort of Christian expression. Even in these posts, I was more inclusive, even of the photos I would use to illustrate my posts. I have stopped explaining about my faith practices, letting people just assume I am a generic “Christian” woman. Which I am, but I realized that I have been compromising myself. It is not all of who I truly am. I cannot please the public; I cannot continue to “pose” as something I am not. And I was caving into the pressures I had warned my kids about all these years. I was not being true to who I really am. I am an Eastern-rite Catholic woman. I love the smell of incense. I love the Divine Liturgy. I love chant. Not Gregorian, but old world, eastern chant. I love icons. I love being in a church where you can scent the incense from a previous Liturgy, and light the beeswax candles and be transported to a holier place; a place of oneness with God. It eases my soul. And even if I am “all over the place” and a tad bit scatterbrained today, I am also more at ease because I have realized these things about myself. And it comforts me.

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I realize that many of you do not worship this way, nor understand why people would. Our democratic ideals have permeated our styles of worship, and that is okay, if it sits well with you. I have always been a history-oriented person. I majored in Anthropology and minored in Biblical Archeology. History – church – faith. It has alway been a part of who I am. When I walked the parapets of a castle in Wales as a 16-year-old, I felt those walls speak to me. I would run my hands down them, marveling at how ancient they were and how connected to that antiquity I felt. I was walking the lands of my ancestors and I felt truly at home and very welcome, in among all the artifacts and tapestries, old walls and artwork. Walking through Churches and Cathedrals while we visited England, I constantly had a backache because I spent the entire time bent over, looking at all the engravings on the stones. I took so many rubbings. I felt rooted. I could really breathe at some of these places. It is the same for me in the way I choose to worship. I love tradition and the fact that I can historically trace my Church back to the Apostles. We have songs that are so old, there is no written record of them, just references to them by the Church Fathers, talking about how old they were back in the Apostolic days. Those of us who are Melkite like to tease our Roman/Latin Rite friends that we had St. Peter before they did, because he established the Church in the east before he meandered his way to Rome (wink-wink). And so I have decided that I am not going to hide who I am any longer. I am not going to water things down. I am not going to represent an American Jesus for the palpability of my newer friends. (And those in my business world). I believe in Jesus Christ and I do that in communion with them. However, I also believe in the traditions that brought Protestantism its lifeblood. We had the traditions long before they were put into a book – the Bible – the same one we all read, before all those pesky books were removed out of it. And we were an oral people – sharing our faith and our traditions with others through the practices passed on to us from the Apostles themselves. This is not a haughty or conceited viewpoint, nor is it meant to put people off. But it is the Church I choose to worship in; it is the tradition which gives my lungs breath. It is part of who I am.

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[By the way, my hair feels amazing right now. The blow drying has cooled and it feels like silk. Still gray, but not so much frizziness. Maybe this stuff is working!?!?! Keratin – who knew??]

And so my friends, from here on out, I will be sharing honestly about who I am. I will share through an Eastern lens, through the faith I practice. I am ecumenical because I believe we all hold the same God in our hearts, but I won’t apologize or hide that I prefer icons and a Jesus prayer, Divine Liturgy and incense, the iconostasis and beeswax candles, confession in front of an Icon of Christ the Pantocrator, and cantors with no musical accompaniment, to pretty much all the rest of it. It just fits me and I will no longer apologize nor hide it from you. It is part of what makes me, me. And it is part of who I am when I communicate with all of you, on this blog. I hope you will continue to read, if you do. I am still who I am! It’s just me going back to the me I was a few years ago.

May the Lord grant you many blessed years.

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“They began to go away, one by one…”

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Many years ago, my then-teen-aged son admonished me for making snap judgements about a girl he was seeing. I did not think she dressed very well. She looked, to me, to be “easy,” to put it in words from my generation. And I have never forgotten that conversation. He will be 31 next month, he’s been married for 10 years this week, has a wonderful wife and two kids. And that admonition came to the forefront recently. Judging a book by its cover!

“But Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with His finger. When they continued to question Him, He straightened up and said to them, ‘Whoever is without sin among you, let him be the first to cast a stone at her.’” John 8:7

I have always loved that passage. Christ taught us in that moment that we are not all how we seem. If we take a moment to explore that passage, I think it is interesting to note that the Pharisees were trying to trip up Jesus, and he caught them at their own game, reflecting their accusations back on them!

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There is a saying that goes, “Remember that when you point at someone with one finger, three more are pointing back at you.” And lately, more than ever, I have noticed judging. From me, yes, and towards me, yes.

“When they continued to question Him, He straightened up and said to them, “Whoever is without sin among you, let him be the first to cast a stone at her.” And again He bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard this, they began to go away one by one, beginning with the older ones, until only Jesus was left, with the woman standing there.…” (John 8:8-10)

I find it interesting that when the “pebble meets the pavement” there is not much left. When people yell and shout, most often they are the ones with dirty hands. When I criticized the young woman my son was seeing, I now realize I was seeing me in her. When I was young, having parents from England and New Zealand made my teen years interesting. “Dungarees are for farm workers. You will not wear those kind of pants.” They were talking about jeans. Took me until my junior year to be allowed to wear them. I recall days of pants worn so low, I had to be careful my backside did not hang out (hip huggers! LOL!) and how my parents would not allow me to wear that style of pant with crop tops. At the time I thought they were being stuffy Brits, not used to American culture. But they were concerned for the image I was putting out there. And I just did not get it.

Image. Perceptions. All this relates for me, to the issue of tattoos. As I said in a previous post, I was considering getting one for my 60th birthday present to myself. And I got one! I will show you a photo later in this post. It did not hurt. It is healing nicely and looks amazing. But not everyone is pleased by my choice. I had someone tell me that I have “defiled the temple of the Lord.” This person was so upset, they could not continue our chat, getting off the phone with “I love you” and such, but still quite upset. Another person close to me said, “Welcome to the world of the stigma of having a tattoo.” And that really got me thinking. And since I now have one, I see tattoos everywhere. And I am noticing the stigma.

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Tattoos were what “merchant marines,” sailors, and military had. It was what bikers and prisoners had. Good girls did not have tattoos. They were a sign of loose morals in all areas of your life. Pierced ears! Wow! Those were only allowed after I was a teenager. And only one piercing per ear, and no dangling earrings. Those were what strippers and dancers wore. Coloring your hair? Well, we could use lemon juice or “Sun In” on our hair, but no dying your hair. Only old ladies dyed their hair, and it usually turned purple. And if you did dye your hair, no one was supposed to know it. And you never had roots (they call it “ombre” now!) because that meant you were not keeping up on your personal hygeine! Tacky!

Smoking is pretty much a social taboo these days. I used to smoke, as did my husband. When we were in high school, there were designated smoking areas! In high school! My husband took up smoking while he was active duty Navy because smokers got breaks! He had to stand in a painted circle by a trash can, but he got a break! I started smoking when I was around 21 or so.  As I melded into the workforce in the late 70s, I smoked because I was so stressed (accounting) and everyone in my office smoked. Later on, after I was married and our oldest kids were still not quite teens, I was smoking a cigarette one time outside our home and a neighbor’s daughter came up to me and said, “You smoke? But you go to Church!” That really made me stop and think about the image I was projecting. I haven’t had a cigarette in almost 20 years, partially because of her comment, which reflected her view of me. “Out of the mouths of babes,” as they say!

We look at styles, fashion, social trends and we see all sorts of things that were not permissible when we were younger, but seem okay now, and visa versa. I am not trying to justify my choices, at all, I am just noticing things because I am now forced to, because of those choices. For example, smoking is certainly one of those things we used to think was okay. Science finally caught up to our habits! Hairstyles…we go around and around with our son. In my youth, hair was long. Sometimes too long. Now it’s all over the map. But how we present ourselves still matters. And it is sad, because we are not often who people see when they look at us. Perceptions are so fascinating and I am as guilty as the next person of prejudging others based on the image they present to me, or their attitude in my presence. I still struggle with weird or too numerous piercings, but that is on me. And now I am seeing this stigma happen towards me. And it is for many reasons, not just my tattoo. Being a part of the aging population (so many people think my youngest son is my grandson because I do not cover my gray hair!!!!). Being overweight. My license plate that announces I am a grandma, and the looks while driving down the road. Preconceived notions are everywhere.

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And I get it about tattoos, I really do. “You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the LORD.” This is from Leviticus 19:28.  And it is the quote many Christians will whip out when confronting someone who has tattoos, or recently got one. The chapter quoted was in regards to the process for preparing the dead, “cuts in your body for the dead,” and reflected the pagan rituals around marking one’s skin to show to whom you had an allegiance. People would cut and tattoo themselves at the death of a loved one. Slaves were marked for their masters. They would also tattoo images that would be considered pagan, and the passage is warning those of Israel to not participate any longer in these pagan rituals. The same passage also forbids shaving your beard and other practices that are now commonplace. There are literally dozens of articles discussing this passage on the internet. An apologist, Jimmy Akins, writes, “There is no reason why one cannot color one’s skin, which is what tattooing amounts to. One can apply color to one’s skin by make-up (as is common among women), magic markers (as is common among children), press-on tattoos (as are common in Crackerjack boxes), or with real tattoos. The mere fact that the ink goes into the skin in the latter case does not create a fundamental moral difference.”

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And so what are we to do? Keep on judging one another? Selectively eliminating those we feel do not reflect well upon us from our circles of friends and family? As in pointing our fingers at others, while not seeing the three fingers pointing back at ourselves?  Remember that when the Pharisees were convicting the woman of adultery, that when Christ admonished them with, “Whoever is without sin among you, let him be the first to cast a stone at her” that they all slowly walked away because they all had sins? We all have sins. Some of our sins are visible for all to see and comment on. Gluttony is visible on my body. My sin that I carry around in my grandma jeans and big shirts. And now I am adding a tattoo to that! Ha-Ha! I must be a glutton for punishment. Many Christian theologians caution against permanently marking your body because of the witness to others. It taints their opinion of you and perhaps you are not being the best witness of the faith. Which is interesting, because it is a reflection of our upbringing and prejudices that we have been taught. Trust me, when my oldest son accidentally showed me his first tattoo, I was not happy with it. It was a crown of thorns, and an ugly one. To which he said to me that the crown of thorns was indeed, ugly, because the Crucifixion was ugly. But, it reminded him of his faith, and he liked it. And now, my perceived witness to others is something I am grappling with, every day, now that I have gone ahead and permanently marked my body. I have to keep reiterating that it is permanent, because so many of those who know me are in such shock over this, and keep thinking I am pranking them. I am not pranking anyone. It is real. And here it is…

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When I went to get the tattoo, the tattoo artist had a long and wonderful conversation with both my husband and myself. Don, the tattoo artist, said that people will negatively comment, and some I have known a long time will not understand and be upset with me. He has experienced it for years (he had more tattoos on his body than I had ever seen on a person, in person. Seriously). And when I showed him the photo of my desired tattoo, he delightfully commented, “Oh, it’s a Jerusalem Cross! On my many pilgrimages to Israel, I saw a lot of them.” You could have knocked me over with a feather. Then he said, “Now I’m not a religious guy, but I’ve been to the Holy Land more than once, and if anyone gives you grief, use it as an opportunity to teach. Share with them the meaning of the cross. And quote them Revelations 19:16 – “He has a name written on his cloak and on his thighs, “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” If it’s good enough for Jesus Christ when He comes again, I figure a tattoo is okay for me and you, too!”

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I feel good about my tattoo, because it is part of my journey to my faith. Not everyone understands why I would choose to do this at my age, but that is okay. I am a good person. I believe in the Lord, and I try valiantly not to lead a life of sinfulness. Occasionally I will fall. That is the beauty of our faith – it allows us to get back up again and work at becoming better than we were yesterday, more committed to living a life pleasing to the Lord. Each time I put my organic coconut oil and Young Living’s Melrose Essential Oil on my tattoo, I reflect on it. I see the central cross, symbolic of Christ. I see the four crosses in each corner, symbolizing the four Gospels. There are other interpretations, but I love that one the most. And it reminds me that this cross was created when the Church, when our entire Christian faith and very way of life was under attack. It is one of my favorite times in history to read about. The Medieval era was one of growth in learning and architecture, and exploration and discovery, of gallantry and knighthood, damsels in distress, and one of so many saints. Don’t get me wrong, I realize horrors were perpetrated on the innocent, on both sides. But I also see it as a time when the world was galvanized to stay strong in the faith and defend it, to the death. They defended it at home and on foreign soil, against incursions by those who would deny Christ and opt to wipe out His memory and those who would not forsake Christ. They were not looking for converts, but rather were focusing on conquering the western world. And I feel it is still a battle we all need to wage, one person at a time, one family at a time, and one neighborhood at a time, until we take this land, and our faith, back. And so I witness that on my wrist. And I will share all of that when asked why I did this, and why that particular Cross. It’s not for everyone. Not everyone will understand. But between me and the Lord, I am feeling excited, almost giddy, about my new tattoo.

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“…do it alone, person-to-person.”

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This is Saint Innocent’s, the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Anchorage. There have been some amazing stories about the influences here in Alaska from the Russian Orthodox Church. There are gorgeous onion domes all over this state. We just celebrated the wonderful, “Seward’s Folly” anniversary in March. The United States paid Russia $7.2 million in 1868.

Holy Assumption_Kenai_Church

The oldest Orthodox Church is Holy Assumption in Kenai, pictured above. It was built in 1840. I love that! And it is still in use today. We have so much to thank the Russian Missionaries for, here in Alaska. The combined Orthodox and Native cultures are such a blessing here. I love learning new things and have thought of learning a native language…just not sure which one I would choose, as there are over 20 of them to learn!

Alaskan Native Map

Our Alaskan heritage is rich, in both culture, foods, and also in faith. There are so many differing faiths in such a relatively un-populated state. There are more than 36 denominations of Christian churches in Alaska, which include the Orthodox. But there is no list that contains other faiths, such as Jewish or Muslim. The variation is amazing, considering this state only has about 600,000 year-round residents in 663,300 square miles. The population density, if it were to be placed in Manhattan, would have 14 people living there. Ha-Ha! Conversely, if Alaska had the same population density of Manhattan, then there would be 40,843,544,807 people in Alaska. Or approximately 5.8 times the current population of the entire world. It is fascinating to me that a state as large as Alaska, with as few people as we have, expresses itself so diversely. We have the top three most diverse high schools in the entire NATION. It is really interesting.

StAndrewsEagleRiver

Why bring this up? Well, we have started attending (fairly regularly) a parish, pictured above, very close to home. And yesterday, as I looked around the Church, I noticed this diversity. It was not only in race, but in gender and age, too. There were several families with handicapped children of various ages. There was this one couple where the husband struggled with his wife’s wheelchair, commenting to us, “Thank goodness the way back to the car is downhill!” One of the men helping to organize the upcoming Mass asked our son to assist in bringing up the gifts (something he’s been asked to do more than once before). And as they walked in with the gifts, I noted the diversity of those walking up. Two boys, two girls. One hispanic, one black, one white, one native. How cool was that?

And so we worship as a family…all of us gathered under that roof. We knelt as one body, in worship of Our Lord. The Russian Missionaries came to this land, not able to communicate with the native peoples living here, and yet they brought many to the Church. Our local parish offers us anonymity and yet allows us to share and be a part of something larger than ourselves. We come together, sharing a common faith, sharing at a common table. We come so very damaged, in search of the Divine Physician. Our souls ache with all the disparity and violence in this life, seeking a commonality with like-minded believers. We struggle, each of us, with our personal salvation. Each of us, when it comes right down to that last breath, have a personal salvation we need to work out. Each of us approaches our Lord a little differently, and He is there for each of us, in our differences and in our likenesses. But He encourages us to seek one another, to share in our life of faith. He encourages community, because “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.” (John Donne).

Racial hands prayer

When we chose to adopt outside of our race, we knew many on both sides of the issue would have problems with it. Most who did, had the problems because they were (1) unfamiliar with interracial adoption, or (2) had never interacted with someone of another race on such an intimate level before, or (3) were afraid it would not last and the child would be rejected because of the interracial communion within a family, or even (4) could not imagine one race wanting a child of a different race. Of course, for us, it was all unfounded. I love the son of my heart like I love my sons of my flesh. I forget he is of another race, because he is just my son. He shared that all this “Black Lives Matter” thing is messing with his mojo. He said people are afraid to talk to him, thinking he’ll get upset or something. And he says it is hurting the mixing of races, which is something he has never had a problem with until recently. He also told me, “Mom, we really are not different races. We are just the human race. The rest is just dressing.” We talked about how under the skin, we all look the same. All our parts are in the same place; surgeons don’t learn different procedures for different races. So why is there still so much separation? Anger? Hatred? Distrust?

Mother Theresa

It’s funny that the organizations that purport to want racial equality are the very ones who are inciting unrest and violence. They are not fomenting peace when it is so desperately needed. They are not protecting the “least of these,” but rather further the disintegration of the society they are supposedly trying to save. When the Russian missionaries came to Alaska, they did not wait for someone to tell them what to do. They saw a need and they fulfilled it. Mother Theresa was like that. She did not wait for the government to act. She took children off the streets and cared for them. She took people no one else would touch, and washed their wounds and fed them, giving them her undivided love and attention. She did not care who they were, what their creed was, or where they came from. She cared for everyone equally. The communities that are the most downtrodden have the most violence. There is the most unrest where there is the least work. “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop,” was a saying derived from Scripture: “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop; idle lips are his mouthpiece. An evil man sows strife; gossip separates the best of friends.  Wickedness loves company—and leads others into sin.” Proverbs 16:27-29. Perhaps we need to encourage all that brain power that goes into organizing protests, into organizing their communities. Perhaps organizing clean ups or job fairs or child care options. Helping each other out of the conditions they are in, and making them better. Mother Theresa established her missions in the poorest areas of the world, and started by just picking up a broom.

Broom

We all need to stop pointing fingers, as I sort of was above, and put our shoulders to the wheel, as they say, and doggedly pursue peace and love throughout our communities. We cannot wait for leadership to show the way. We need to reach out, quite literally, to the people who live next door. I ashamedly met my next door neighbors this weekend. We have lived next to them for over three years, but quite honestly never see them. They had a garage sale and we went over, introduced ourselves, and purchased a couple of goodies from them. What a shame we wasted all this time, because we enjoyed them so much. It’s wasted because they are putting their house up for sale, and will soon thereafter move away. What could we have had, these past three years, had we met them sooner? We had an amazing soup kitchen, homeless program at our old parish. We were told it could not be done. So many in our own church told us it could not be done. It has been going on every week for over 10 years now, reaching out to the people who live around that little mission church, feeding them, bringing them in from the rain, counseling them, and being a presence in that very poor neighborhood.  It has to happen, one person at a time, one prayer at a time, one choice at a time. We cannot wait for directions on how to do this, we all just need to reach out…one soul at a time. Person-to-person.

one person at a time

“… a tempest of doubting thoughts…”

Russian Mary Mother of God Icon

“Having within a tempest of doubting thoughts, and wanting to give my children to drink of eternal life, I weep. Thus, having remembered Thy most rich mercies, I sing to Thy Son with hope and with a contrite heart: Alleluia.” (From the Akathist to the Mother of God, Nurturer of Children; Kontakion 4)

The Akathist To the Mother of God, Nurturer of Children, is probably my favorite form of prayer when I think of my sons, and now, my grandchildren, too (My daughters-in-law are prayed for as well, because I think of them as my children, too).  As parents, we are called to lead our children to a life of Christian prayer, service, and sacrifice. To put “other” before “self” and to enjoy the companionship of other believers, being a part of a community. To enjoy serving. To enjoy and celebrate a simple life; one that encompasses prayer to God and being a part of a church community. To enjoy praying with and celebrating within a community. And to push ourselves outside of that community “comfort zone” into serving our communities at large. The thought of having faith and being a part of organized religion often frightens people away. “I know what I believe; I don’t need some organized religion telling me what to believe and how to behave.”  That is such an American, democratic view of faith, also laid upon views about life in general. And I know it has caused umpteen disruptions of relationships, of churches, and of our Christian faith in particular. It is one of the reasons I am awakened in the night, being asked by God for renewed faith and renewed prayer.

An Akathist, for those of my friends who’ve never heard the term, is just another way of saying a Novena, or set of prayers (although it is not done like a Novena – over 9 days – but is more like a formal prayer used regularly).  This particular Akathist is concerned with raising our children, from a mother’s point of view. (I also love the Akathist to Our Guardian Angels). Within this Akathist, Kontakion 8 says, “Where will my children, wandering in the greatly perilous and stormy valley of the world, receive joy and consolation if not in Thee, O Most Pure One? Travel with them and teach them the true path, that they may cry to God: Alleluia.” This sentiment is on the mind of all parents, when their children venture more and more away from their homes and establish their own homes. (Ikon 9) “Deliver my children from association with falsely-theorizing orators, who speak lies about Thine all-powerful intercession, and look upon me, faithfully singing…” These prayers keep coming to my mind in all hours of the night. And I pray for my children, and my grandchildren. This world can be a fast, ugly, sinful place. We can easily lose sight of what really matters. (Ikos 10) “Surround my children with indestructible walls, O Heavenly Queen, that under Thy blessed protection, they may accomplish a multitude of good deeds, and that with them, I may cry to Thee…”

Sons shoes

I am at the point of seeing my nest empty. It makes me sigh with relief in so many ways, but it also makes me sad. I’m definitely tired. Raising three sons so far apart is like having 3 singletons, as they say. And as I near 60, I am looking forward to married life without kids underfoot, as we have never had that. But I love teens (as weird as that may sound) and I am going to miss our last son being here, most especially because he is the last (and also a great joy in my life). And I have reflected on what we have done, as parents, to set our sons on the path to God. In this great book by Peter Kreeft (Everything You Wanted to Know About Heaven but Were Afraid to Ask – available on Amazon), he talks about standing at the Throne of God. When God asks us what we have done with the souls He entrusted to us, I hope to be able to answer, “Lord, I set them on the path to You.” Because, truly, as a parent, that is all I can do. I cannot shove faith down the throat of my sons. They have to discover what it is they believe, as men, and how they choose to go about their lives. Will they share God with their kids? Perhaps not. And that is something I have to live with, which is also why I diligently pray for not just my children, but my grandchildren, too. I don’t think we are ever done being a parent. I just had a chat with my dad, reminding him that his dad (my grandpa) told him at 50 years of age, “Well, son, I guess you’re old enough for me to not have to worry about you anymore.” But I don’t think Grandpa ever did stop worrying. I don’t think I ever will, either. My dad, at almost 90, still worries about us!

Near the end of the Akathist is a prayer, “A Prayerful Sighing of Parents for Their Children” and I try to pray this each week for my children and grandchildren.

motherofgod.nurtererof children

 

“LORD Jesus Christ, Son of God, for the sake of the prayers of Thy Most Pure Mother, hearken unto me, Thine unworthy servant (name), O Lord, govern in mercy my children, Thy servants (names). Have mercy on them and save them, for Thy name’s sake.O Lord, forgive them all their transgressions, voluntary and involuntary, that they may be perfected before Thee. O Lord, set them on the true path of Thy commandments and enlighten their minds with the Light of Christ unto salvation of their souls and the healing of their bodies.
Bless them, O Lord, at home, at school, in their journeys and in every place of Thy dominion. Preserve and shelter them, O Lord, from flying bullets, arrows, the sword, poison and fire, from mortal wounds and sudden death. Guard them, O Lord, from all visible and invisible enemies, and from all danger, evil and misfortune.
Heal them O Lord, from all sickness, deliver them from every impurity, and lighten their spiritual sufferings. Grant them, O Lord, the grace of Thy Holy Spirit and a long life; grant them health and chastity in all piety and love, and to live in accord with all their neighbors, near and far.
Multiply and strengthen them, O Lord, in mental ability and bodily strength, given to them by Thee. Bless them to lead a pious life and, if it is pleasing to Thee, grant them married life and honorable childbearing.
For Thy name’s sake, O Lord, give me, Thy sinful and unworthy servant, a parental blessing for my children and Thy servants, both in this present time, morning, noon and night, and also in Thine eternal, almighty and all-powerful Kingdom.
Amen.

O God, Maker of all creation, Thou hast made me worthy to be the mother of a family, and through Thy goodness hast bestowed children upon me; and so I dare to say: these children are Thine, for Thou hast given them being, hast infused them with an immortal soul, and hast raised them to life through baptism.
And in accordance with Thy will Thou has adopted them and received them into the bosom of Thy Church. Send down to me Thy gracious help in raising my children, for the glory of Thy name. Bestow on me patience and strength to do Thy will.
Teach me to plant in their hearts the root of true wisdom-the fear of the Lord-that all their lives they may tremble at Thy words. Open to them the understanding of Thy law. Until the end of their days let them act with the sense that Thou art everywhere present.
Plant in their hearts loathing for every transgression, that they may be pure in their signs. O Righteous Judge, who punishes children for the sins, but sprinkle them with the dew of Thy grace.
O Heavenly Father, order the fate of my children according to Thy blessings, do not deprive them in this life of their daily bread, send down to them in due time all that is necessary for the acquisition of blessings in eternity.
Be merciful to them, when they sin before Thee; look not upon the sins of their youth and ignorance; chastise them and have mercy on them, but turn not Thy face away from them. Turn not Thy face from the in the day of their tribulation, that they may not fall into temptations beyond their strength.
Cover them with Thy mercy, that Thine Angel may walk with them and preserve them. Abandon not my children, O Lord, and give them that which is profitable for salvation.
Amen.”

I shared this in its entirety because it is weighing heavily on my heart. I feel some mighty changes coming and I am praying I am prepared for them. I strengthen my heart and soul through praying, but sometimes we have a lesson we need to learn. I am ready. I know God has my best interests at heart, and I trust completely in Him. I also place my children within the mantle of the Blessed Theotokos, Mother of God, and continually ask her intercession on behalf of my children and grandchildren. I know this world is changing rapidly. People are becoming less and less concerned with their spiritual well-being and more concerned with the house they live in, the purse they carry, and what kind of car they drive. It makes me so sad, and frightened. My grandmother once told me that she was sorry for the world she left to me. She was born in 1903. She said that because of living through the depression, and a couple of horrible world wars, parents made the mistake of not wanting their children to suffer as they had, so they made life too easy for them. She told me that she had sheltered my dad in some ways, by always being on his side and praising him too much. She often thought he had an inordinate view of himself. And I believe that trend has continued. Kids nowadays get a trophy just for signing up to play a sport – not for actually trying or winning. Everyone is special and a hero. It is a disordered view of life and has created a generation of entitled young adults and teens. And it is getting worse every day.

A friend and I had a chat about recently about prepping.  You know, bunkers, laying up stores, ammo, water, a shelter. We reminisced about drills in school when we were young over the Cold War and Russia “dropping the bomb on us.” Now it seems more likely to come from a  much closer source and it is rather frightening. But how do we live our lives, knowing some of this? Her husband wants to go very prepper with  shelter, ammo, etc. whereas she prefers the approach of the movie, “The War Room.” I believe in an intelligent, happy medium. But I am not stupid, either. I know God has things in store for me, whether I am prepared or not. God is not done with His world, yet. To that end, I think it behooves us all to be smart. Learn something about living “off the grid” (Hey, earthquakes are real – they are something facing lots of us regularly; tornadoes are real; terrorism is real; our economy tanking is a very real possibility) and we all need to know how to take care of ourselves. One of the scariest things happened to me years ago when we took school kids on a tour of a dairy farm, “Where does the ice cream come out?” “Euwww…cows poop?” “That’s not milk; those cows are peeing out of their bellies.” “Yes, I know where milk comes from; it comes from the grocery store.” Although it might seem funny, are we prepared, as city dwellers, to take care of ourselves independent of the local market? Do we know where to get drinkable water in an emergency? Do we keep supplies in our garage? Car? Basements? Can we kill food for our families? Do we keep the Bible and family prayer ropes and icons where we can get to them in an emergency? Are we constantly storming heaven with our prayers?

(Ikos 9) “Raise my children to reject the deceitful teachings of the teachers of unbelief; raise my children to not accept the spirit of the sons of the adversary; raise my children to run from the world and the delusions of the world; raise my children to turn away from evil and to do good; raise my children to love their enemies and to pray for them; raise my children to be made worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven and make them heirs of eternal blessings.” And the following Kontakion 10, “Desiring to save the world, Thy Son came from heaven to call, not the righteous, but sinners, to repentance. For the sake of this, pray to Thy Son that having been saved through Thee, my children may call to God: Alleluia.”

And so I pray. I pray unceasingly (Ikos 5 – Having seen my diligent supplication rising like incense to Thy glory, turn not Thy face away from my children, though they turn away from Thee, but all the more, hear the cry of my lips, singing to Thee…”). No prayers are ever wasted; no time spent seeking the counsel of God is ever wasted. And I know of no other use of my time to be as wisely spent.  In all honesty, seek God in all things, but especially as an intercessor for those you love. Our Lord made us parents because He trusted us to care for these souls. We need to redouble our efforts, even when our children are grown, have spouses, and children of their own.

To God be the glory. He is Born. Glorify Him.

IconNativity

“Preach the Gospel at all times, and …”

images.talking

Communication is such a large subject. There are college majors – several of them – in communications. (Small group, interpersonal, etc). We all know the different types of media – we have TV, radio, internet. Then there is print media like books, newspapers, magazines. I have embraced “e-books” and love my Kindle Paperwhite. I read every day and carry more than 450 books in my purse on it. Love that technology. We communicate so much without even using words. The opening quote is from St. Francis of Assisi and the full quote is, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.” It is amazing how much we share without even speaking. Our clothes, for example, say a lot about us. I know as the mother of sons, I am often distressed at some of the fashions I see young women wear. But then I remember my parents having fits about my very tight fitting jeans, most of which were low riding bell bottoms worn with crop tops and platform shoes! Ha-Ha! Those were the days – the 60s and 70s (Think Saturday Night Fever). I don’t think I could walk in my old platform shoes these days! And what sort of car we drive also speaks volumes about us, especially when we splatter the backs of them with stickers. I’ve seen some pretty funny ones about stick-figure families on lots of vehicles. We share who we are, without speaking, for most of our lives and we probably don’t even realize it. Body language is now a science, too. We are told how to conduct ourselves for interviews and meetings. There are professionals who read body language for attorneys in cases with juries. And with our friends and families, we may have short-cuts to communicate, as we have grown together over the years. Twins are said to communicate in their own language as children and often still do, as adults. The way we look at others, the way we hold ourselves in public, the terminology we use, says more than we realize. I won’t even get into hair, make-up, and scents (to wear perfume or not?). I am an avid user of essential oils, and scent is a powerful medicine, as well as something that affects our mental health. My sons tease me that they get the benefits of the oils I wear just by hugging me! Truer words were never spoken, my son! Ha-Ha! Communication is something complex, difficult to grasp at times, and when there is an error in communication, it can cause all sorts of problems.

Within our faith lives, we have “buzz words” or specific terminology, as well as symbols we use and others of a similar faith get it, without explanation. I had a cross on my car in my 20s. I went to a gas station late one evening and the attendant (in those days you did not pump your own gas) asked me when I had been “saved.” He went on to tell me his story about his particular date and time. For me, I always felt I was “in process” and could not pin down one of those overwhelming moments when I turned around and life was different, and I was “saved.” So I told him my birthdate. He gave me a funny look and quit talking to me. I just chuckled and drove away. We communicated, but we also mis-communicated. I knew what he meant but I wanted him to see that some of us look at it differently and that words mean different things to different people. Within the large tent of Christianity, there are many words that offend, and many that gather; many that forgive and many that separate. Sometimes I think St. Francis had it right – we need to share our faith by how we interact with those around us, and then add words if they don’t get it. 

Don't compare

In Christianity, there are words used that would be unfamiliar to those who practice Buddhism or Judaism. And there are words used within Protestantism that are mostly unfamiliar to those who solely practice Catholicism. Within the practice of faith in the Eastern Churches, there are words we use that set us apart from the West. And these words delineate who we are. For example, we celebrate the “Divine Liturgy,” we do not have a “Mass.”  All forms of corporate worship are liturgies.  But there is only one Divine Liturgy. It is when we share the Word of God, as well as the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ in Holy Communion. Hence, it is a Divine Liturgy.  Our physical communication during the Divine Liturgy is different from the west. Every time we hear the word “Trinity,” or when the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are mentioned, we make the Sign of the Cross. The first time I shared our Divine Liturgy with some Roman Catholic friends, that was one of the things they noticed, how often we crossed ourselves. We also rarely sit. The explanation I was given was that because we believe Christ is as present in His Word as He is in Communion, we stand. When someone important comes into a room, we stand (a dignitary, or our superiors) and Christ present among us deserves our respect. So we stand in His presence. We bow when the Gospel Book is processed in, and when the Holy Gifts are processed in. We stand from the time the Gifts are presented until after they are consumed and the Deacon cleans the Holy Table. And this is an example of when I am using terminology that is readily understood. Because I am sure my Byzantine and Eastern priest friends and my deacon-husband are cringing, as it is not really a “Holy Table,” but you will understand that if I call it that, rather than its proper name of the “Prothesis” or “Table of Preparation.”  The Prothesis, or table, used by the Deacon and Priest is not the same as the side table used by Eucharistic Ministers in the Roman Church. We have an enclosed Holy Place, behind the Iconostasis. It is not a raised platform and altar area, as is common to the West. Only those who have been ordained in the Church are typically supposed to go behind the Holy Doors. In some parishes altar boys are permitted back there, but it is not the normative practice. I remember one year, preparing the Church for Pascha.  We ladies arrived on a crisp Wednesday morning (always before Holy Thursday) to begin cleaning. I was on a ladder (yes, I actually climbed a ladder) cleaning our beautiful candelabras, and as I watched one of the older ladies, trying to clean the Holy Place, entered on her knees, making the sign of the cross over and over again. She had a headscarf securely wrapped around her, and was continually praying as she scrubbed the tile floor (still on her knees and barefooted). She continued praying the entire time she was in the Holy Place, asking for blessings and praying for forgiveness for entering such a Holy Place, backing out on her knees as she finished cleaning. It made me tear up and realize how I did not respect it the same as she did, having gone back there on several occasions to speak to our priest or my deacon husband. I have not entered the Holy Place in any parish since. She communicated so much to me by her actions, and her bodily expression. I was humbled and awed, and I have never forgotten that moment.

images.talking.words

Communication is fraught with danger and pitfalls, and the use of our words is one of the biggest danger zones to misunderstanding one another. But words also can define who we are and give us our spiritual identity. They can give us a personal identity. Many women no longer take the last name of their husband upon marrying, and some couples take each other’s names. They wish to be known as both of them, rather than just the husband’s last name. It is an identity that is important to many of us. Quite a number of modern women hyphenate their names with their husband’s, and many eschew the use of the term, “Mrs.” in favor of “Ms.” I have had my married name much longer than my maiden name, and no longer really identify myself with my maiden name. More than a decade ago, I was a Roman Catholic and the language of Roman Catholicism is quite often forgotten these days, and not used, because I identify more as a Byzantine, Melkite Greek, Catholic. Our words and our traditions are different and unique and we should embrace them to assist us in identifying ourselves with the Church to which we belong, in my humble opinion.

Gerontissa Gabriella.2

Words help give us our identity and help define us, but still, our actions speak so much louder. Who we are remains into eternity, as well as what we say. I recall a saying that goes something like, “One hundred years from now, it won’t matter what car I drove, what kind of house I lived in, how much I had in my bank account, nor what my clothes looked like, but, the world may be a little better because I was important in the life of a child.”  We can take that and apply it to our souls. When we stand before God, how we conducted ourselves in this world certainly will matter. And our verbiage as we conducted ourselves definitely counts – it is part of our character. Even if you do not believe in God, there is nothing to lose by acting as though there is a God. (Also known as Pascal’s Wager – that’s for another post). 

I bring all this up because people seem to want to impose sameness everywhere. “We should all be the same.” No, we need to respect our differences and celebrate them. We need to respect the differences of others, and warmly embrace them. “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” (1 Cor 13:12) I am often angered when people want to impose their standards upon my reality. And quite often, at least for me, it is in my practice of being a Byzantine, Eastern Rite, Catholic. I am not a Roman Catholic. I speak a different liturgical language in many instances, and my spirituality, the spirituality of the east, is different. Not that we do not believe the same things, we just express them differently. And if you attend a Byzantine or other Eastern Rite Church and cannot tell the difference between a Divine Liturgy and a Mass, someone is doing something wrong. 

Apstls_Trips2

When Christ asked His Disciples to go into the world and to baptize the entire world, they were obedient (as far as they could travel in those days). The map above is hard to read, because it is so condensed, but here is what it shows: Bartholomew preached in Mesopotamia (Iraq), Turkey, Armenia and India. James the Lesser preached in Damascus (Syria), and was the first Bishop of Jerusalem.  Andrew preached in Georgia (Russia), Instanbul (Turkey), Macedonia, and Greece.  Peter was acknowledged as the head of the early Church and preached to Christians in Jerusalem, Judea (Palestine) and in Antioch (Syria) where he is considered the first patriarch (Bishop) of the Orthodox Church. He finally went to Rome, where he established the Roman Catholic Church and was its first Bishop. John preached mostly with Peter, but went into Asia Minor (Turkey) and was banished the the Island of Patmos, but returned to Esphesus (Turkey) where he eventually died. Thomas was one of the first to preach outside the greater Roman Empire and reached Babylon (Iraq), Persia (Iran), China, and India. He established the Church in India and was stabbed to death in Madras, India. James the Great (brother of John) preached in Iberia (Spain) and later returned to Judea at the spiritual request of the Mother of God. (His history in Iberia is amazing – Google “Santiago de Compostela”). Philip preached in Greece, Syria, and in Turkey and usually accompanied Bartholomew. Matthew preached in Ethiopia (Africa), Judea (Israel), Macedonia, Syria, and Parthia (northwest Iran).  Jude Thaddeus preached in Judea (Israel), Persia (Iran), Samaria (Israel), Idumea (near Jordan), Syria, Mesopotamia, and Libya.  It is believed he traveled and preached also in Beirut, Lebanon, and traveled with Bartholomew to Armenia. Simon the Zealot is believed to have preached in the Middle East, North Africa, Egypt, and Mauritania, and even Britain. 

Why did I share all of that? To demonstrate that our Church is universal, and made up of unique cultures, each one diverse and equal.  And each time an Apostle established a Church, it was established where they preached and where they were. What they did not do was change the cultural norms in the places where they established the Church. The beliefs are the same, but they were practiced in ways the local Church understood. One is not better than the other. They are different. We love our universal our Church is… Christianity is in itself a universal faith. If you wear a cross around your neck anywhere in the world, you are communicating your faith to others without saying a word. In the world of the Egyptian Coptic Christians, because there was such persecution, they took to having a small cross tattooed on their inner right wrists. It is a practice they still have, delineating themselves from other faiths in a very diverse culture. Even today, in the USA, Coptic Christians will be given a cross tattoo on their wrists, to let everyone know their faith. They speak volumes without saying a word.

Dostoevsky

I have been struggling with my anger when people do not respect the verbiage of the faith I practice, where they insert terminology that is not common to the practice of Eastern Catholicism. It bothers me when traditions are set aside because people are not familiar with them, coming from a western mindset. I majored in Anthropology and Biblical Archeology in college. I have a different mindset, in that I love learning new things, new cultures, new traditions. I love embracing new things. But I also realize that I am only a sojourner. I am temporarily on this earth. Even if I cringe when a term is used that should not be, a practice is done that should not be, clothing worn that should not be, I am struggling inside myself to offer up prayers and to also pray for understanding, while remaining silent. I have come to realize that essentially, we are all the same. It has been hard won, that knowledge. We are Christians and we want the same thing – we want to be granted an eternity with Our Lord. Our goal is to welcome and include, not to be exclusionary and isolating. Our words can have devastating effects when we say them in anger or out of frustration.

Arm around shoulder

So I am trying to guard my tongue. But I also pray that others will respect the differences, and perhaps want to learn about them. Let’s exult that we are different, that we worship differently, and that we are not the same as every other Church on every other corner. It is what draws us in and keeps us there – our unique expression of our Christian faith. So pray for me that I have more patience, a quiet tongue, and can pray for others rather than be angry with them for not coming fully into communion with our Byzantine faith.

St Ambrose

I know that keeping a Holy Silence is an honor to God, but I also know that not speaking right away also honors God. Because in keeping our tongues silent, we grow closer to Him and also gain wisdom. I will continue to feel blessed for discovering this wonderful Byzantine faith, this faith of the Eastern Church. And I will also continue to feel blessed that I grow closer to God each time I bite my tongue! Lesson learned.  Well, learning…

“…and some are first who will be last.”

CharacterI have been pondering so much lately, but writing very little. I even stopped my poetry because life just, well, interfered, as life does.  One thing that has come through in so many areas recently is the subject of Character.  Now, I am not speaking to the idea of someone who makes you laugh and does funny things, as in, ” He’s such a character!”  But rather to the core of who someone truly is.  Because I have seen quite recently that the character that we put out there towards other people, and the character that makes up our very marrow, can be quite, quite different.

Gerontissa GabrieliaI wonder why honesty in our dealings with others is such a hard thing to do.  There are people we all know who change, depending upon the audience. There was a woman I worked with and she was in a position of authority and was quite intimidating at the office. I was invited to her home one Friday evening and came away from that so changed in my attitude towards her as a person. I had no idea she was so nice!  We laughed and had such a wonderful time. Back at work, she reverted to her office “persona;” I much preferred the other woman! Ha-Ha! But I understood her reasoning and I also came to know her better, so that we had lunch quite often and we laughed at jokes and could have a much better relationship at work.  But I asked her why we did not get to see the “real” her at work and she told me it was because she had so much authority and had to impose so much disciplinary action towards employees, that she needed to keep herself a little removed from everyone. She was also worried no one would respect her if she were too nice.  It’s been many years now, but I still always wondered why we can’t just be who we are, with everyone we interact with.

Recently, I was taken in by someone who pretended to be a friend, and who exhibited what I had thought were admirable qualities: volunteerism, camaraderie, leadership, faith, and a strong character.  I literally trusted this person with the lives of those I love. Literally.  And it has come to light recently that it was a huge sham. This person is nothing in ‘real life’ that was trotted out for all of us to see. It turns out the faith is something worn like a suit, but not practiced.  The character was barely skin deep.  The leadership, I devastatingly learned, was by intimidation and coercion, with lots of profanity thrown in for good measure.

Gerontissa Gabriella.2When we interact with people, they trust that “what they see is what they get.”  We implicitly trust others in lots of ways.  We trust our bank to do right with our money and not play fast and loose with our funds. We trust the grocery store to not sell us tainted or bad food.  We trust the gas station to sell gas that honestly is gas and not something watered down that damages our cars.  We trust that when the mechanic says he changed the oil, he really did.  We trust our doctors when they say we need surgeries.  We trust our children’s teachers, their leaders in organizations to have their best interests at heart – and when we leave them for the day (or event, or week, or whatever it is) we trust our children are safe and in capable hands.  We trust our friends to be honest with us; when we ask them to pray for us, we know they will.  We trust our priest – he brings us Christ through his ordination and holy hands.  There are so many people we trust in life, we just don’t think about it all the time. And when your trust with someone is shattered, it can be unraveling.  Like you have to physically take a step back.  And I have – I did.  And I sat down, amazed at the turn of events I had witnessed, and I am just pondering this whole concept of trust and character.

Orthodox NotesOur words and how we treat other people truly do become our actions.  And those actions can become habitual (which is another thing about Lent I am grateful for – a specific time each year I can turn inward and fix those nasty things keeping me from being a better person) if we do not stay on that.  And our habits become the character of who we are.  And that, in turn, determines our destiny. Am I a liar? Do I cheat people regularly?  Am I an honest person? Do I lie? Even silly, white lies, to cover a silly transgression? Or do I own up to who I am and what I have done, trying to atone for that and become better?  Has my character become infected with poor choices of words and deeds, habits that have taken me over?

“And He was passing through from one city and village to another, teaching, and proceeding on His way to Jerusalem. And someone said to Him, “Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?” And He said to them,“Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, ‘Lord, open up to us!’ then He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets’; and He will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you are from; depart from Me, all you evildoers. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being thrown out. And they will come from east and west and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first and some are first who will be last.” (Luke 13:22-30)

I love that Scripture verse. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.  God is among us.  In each of us.  And how we treat others affects His Kingdom.  Will you be known, or will the door be closed and He will know you not? I am thinking more and more about this as I have been shown how duplicitous people can be.  I still believe that honesty in all things is what God is calling us to. I believe He knows who we are, and He desires us to be more and more like Him in all things…that old Theosis philosophy.  And I truly believe that those who pump themselves up in the eyes of others, and who do so lying their way to the top, will be like those in that last statement, “And behold, some are last who will be first and some are first who will be last.”

And one of the most amazing things I have gleaned from this introspective time is that God truly has this in hand, and He has all things. I need to “let go and let God,” allowing Him to work in all things, for our good. Little by little, I see good triumphantly making its way forward.  Little things are happening that show me sometimes the bad is allowed for good to triumph.  And I am getting out of my own way, by learning to discern in silence all these things, for my own growth and betterment.

KeepCalm.PaschaIt is wonderful to know that during Holy Week, as we begin to gradually turn our attention to Our Lord and His lonely walk to Calvary, that things in our lives can mirror it in a cosmic, esoteric way (certainly not like Our Lord suffered).  We all go through our moments of intense suffering, of questioning everything, and having to walk through it, in order to get to the other side, clinging to our own Cross.

I still believe honesty, transparency, and character all count.  They are all characteristics of a person who truly cares for others and is honestly trying to be a Christian disciple.  And I still know that when I am hoodwinked and when someone turns out to be far, far less than I had imagined them to be, I will mourn. It is a physical loss of a friend and an emotional scar.  But I also know Christ allows these things for my edification and growth, for my own character development.

HolyOilCandle.HolyBookThe first three days of Holy Week are treated as sort of one day.  We focus on the Bridegroom and the preparation.  We read today of the virgins and their lamps and of the ten talents.  The gifts we are given and how we use them to best prepare ourselves for the Coming of the Bridegroom, Christ Our Lord.  And preparing for His Coming is something we do all the time, every day, in how we spend our days and our time.  We pray.  We reflect.  We attend services.  We seek confession.  We keep our lamps full and we use fully all the gifts (talents – a form of money, and not something you do well like sing or paint or dance) given to us.  Do we seek a return on our gifts? Do we hide them? Is our lamp filled with oil at all times?  Boy, that is hard to do in our everyday world.  I acknowledge my shortcomings and I pray for my healing – for patience, for character of a sterling quality, and for love for each person I come into contact with.  And I pray, so much, for the gift of forgiveness. Not for me, but that the Lord will help me give over this pain and disappointment and turn it into love and forgiveness for those who have so let me down.  And we keep our lamps full and patiently await the Bridegroom.

Eph 4-26 ForgiveAs I prepare this week to celebrate Pascha and the Resurrection of Our Lord, I am preparing my heart. I am enjoying the smell of our house as I dye our eggs using all these spices I am trying: turmeric, paprika, onion, and vinegar (I only wish our dinner would smell so good). And it is a wonderful way to seek silence in the doing of it, in the preparing of it. I can contemplate and await the Bridegroom through my humble service of preparation for my family and friends.  As I bake break and prepare the other foods and goods in our family’s basket, it is a time of reflection, peace, and prayer.  God is so good to us. He gives us these Holy Days of Holy Week to prepare, to come to Him ready and joyous for His gift of eternal life. I am blessed.

sunrise easter