“…children are a heritage from the Lord…”

Children are a heritage from the LORD, offspring a reward from him.  Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court. Psalm 127:3-5

Family can mean so many, many different things. Some of us, me for example, have very small families. My parents immigrated to the USA. Both of them are only children. So I have no aunts, uncles, or cousins. And I have just 1 brother. Any other relatives I have are living in other countries. My paternal grandparents came to the USA, because they did not want to be away from their only son. So for me, 6 people at the table was big. I married into a large family. My father-in-law was the eldest of 10 siblings. My mother-in-law is the eldest of 3 siblings. They are all “Germans from Russia” or “Volga Russians” and they all married within their culture. Until me. Our wedding  was filled with literally hundreds of people I did not know, and may have only seen that one time.

When we got married, we wanted a large family. We decided on 6 kids. Well, biology and God chose to make that number 2 and then we adopted, which brought us to 3 boys. My oldest son has two kids (although I think they may be thinking more might be fun) and our middle son has three girls (and we think there will be more!!). Our youngest is not married yet, so we will see on him. My sister-in-law, however, decided to keep up with her paternal grandmother (Grandma Kaiser) and is the mother of 10 children. They are vacationing with us with 9 of their 10. It has been so exhausting but has brought so much joy and laughter. I will miss them terribly when they leave. And when they leave, I leave for 10 days! LOL! Our lives are insanely crazy right now, but as my head hits the pillow each night I am so grateful for these many moments with family.

When you live so far apart, relationships have to be re-established and sometimes there can be mis-communication and missed opportunities for healthy communication. It is a tightrope and/or a tap dance. But if you work at it, you can enjoy such a wonderfully full life.

Her children rise up and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
“Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all.”
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Give her the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the gates. (Proverbs 31: 28-31)

The crown of marriage (quite literally in Byzantine/Orthodox weddings) is our families. Some of us have to adopt to have a family; some of us have friends who become our families. However you gain a family, it is what we pivot our lives around.

In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence,
and his children will have a refuge. (Proverbs 14:26)

I truly feel that when we surround ourselves with the love of God and instill this love in our families, we are doubly blessed. But oftentimes we worship differently and this causes issues, too. In order to keep the peace we sometimes have to be silent. And being a silent witness to your beliefs can challenge even the greatest theologians. And above all, we need love. And love translates to some of the most sublime moments we will ever experience in our lives. This week, we have had some of the most precious moments in our lives, so far. And it is through “smushing” all this family together around a single table; into a motorhome and SUV and trudging through rain and wind and enjoy the beauty of where we live, that we are forging a stronger family. We are blessed.

 

 

 

“..struggle together toward sanctification…”

15565012-dictionary-booksmaud·lin

adjective \ˈmȯd-lən\

: showing or expressing too much emotion especially in a foolish or annoying way

I was doing long-overdue laundry yesterday and I mistakenly thought my back was healed enough to lift a full laundry basket. Stupid-stupid-stupid.  But I took charge and immediately took 1/2 a Vicodin and put my feet up.  Everyone was gone here and there for the evening, and I was all by myself.  My middle son (they live in CA) was sending me current photos of my grand daughter (she is 10 months old and growing so fast) and some videos of her crawling around.  My eldest son’s wife sent me St. Patrick’s Day photos of my two grandies up here (aged 4 months and 2 years) to my phone while I was video/texting with my other son, and I just started to cry.  I was boo-hooing like a crazy woman.  Partially from Vicodin and pain, I am sure, but also because I love my family so much, and I miss having them all around me. The hen’s chicks were scattered and she was not happy about it.  And then I realized I was being rather maudlin.  I looked it up to be sure, and yep, that was me!

St. Anthony of Optina.2

Emotions are good things, but they can run away with us.  We always need to get ourselves together.  Last night, I started printing some photos of my grandies that my kids had sent me, and I re-arranged my refrigerator magnets so I could update what I had up there.  My world had been looking so colorless with our recent snow storm and white all around us outside, and I had removed the last twinkling lights (credit where credit is due – my husband took them down for me) and our house looked sort of blank.  So printing my new grandies’ photos and putting them up made me smile. They are so stinking cute!  By the time they were up and my refrigerator’s outside was clean and organized, I felt much better.  I was filled with a thankfulness that threatened to overwhelm me into babbling again, so I sat down and read a book!  But I know, deeply, that I am blessed and that the love I feel for my family just keeps growing and growing.

cropped-archmandrite-karelin-family1.jpgA wonderful Orthodox comment on marriage is: “…marriage affords us the opportunity to become a part of something more than ourselves. From this God-given institution, a new relationship is formed, and from this willful joining together, two lives are prayerfully bound together, families emerge, and life continues.”  There is something so sublime and sweet in that perspective.  Our lives are bound by prayer.  In the Orthodox/Byzantine wedding, no vows are exchanged.  The couple does not marry each other, rather, the priest confers the mystery upon them, through faith.  The Orthodox have this to say, “From an Orthodox perspective, this liturgical action (the prayers said and the rings given) serves to seal the couple’s commitment. No vows are requested or required. The couple’s silent participation in this rite presupposes their commitment, and from an Orthodox perspective is a more than sufficient witness of their dedication to one another.”  At one part of the Orthodox/Byzantine marriage ceremony, the couple is escorted by the priest, in the company of their sponsors, around the outer table three times: “After the couple drink from the Common Cup, the priest, couple and sponsor will process around the table. In earlier times, this procession took place from the church to the couple’s home. Today it takes place round the table in the center of the Solea that is located in front of the Icon Screen. Holding the Gospels in his right hand, the priest will guide everyone around the table three times while three hymns are chanted. As the couple follows the priest, their journey together begins, but it is not a journey that they will take alone. The Gospel Book that the priest holds, as well as the presence of their guests, serves to remind them that they have chosen to walk through life with the Holy Trinity and other faithful like themselves.” I also love the symbology of the three times around the table – to remind us of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

cropped-crown50_view1_lg.jpgWhen we were going to celebrate our 25th anniversary, we chose to have a crowning ceremony.  (That is a close-up of our actual crowns above). I told my husband that it was the last time I was marrying him because we were married by a priest 25 years ago (at that time), we had a blessing by a priest when we got back to SoCal for family and friends who could not join us in Colorado, and on our 10th anniversary we journeyed to Nevada with our kids and renewed our vows in a Church with a dear friend, who happens to be a bi-ritual Syro-Malabar priest, attending us (It was so nice, just us, our children, and Fr. Jose Isaac).  I figure we are so married, there is no getting out of it, right? And then we began to delve into the Byzantine/Orthodox view of marriage.  I fell in love all over again. “Above and beyond the legal, psychological and sociological dimensions of marriage that society typically identifies, the Church expands the definition of marriage and describes it as a holy union whereby a man and woman struggle together toward sanctification and eternal life within a community of faithful.”  We struggle toward our sanctification together.  We hold hands through all of it.  That sort of commitment could never be undertaken through the capriciousness of emotion.  Emotions, like my being maudlin last night, come and go.  They are fueled by our minds, how we react to stimuli around us, and from our spiritual perspective.  If we base something like eternity on emotion, we are in for a very rocky ride.

250px-IIWdD015(Probably wildly inappropriate here, but I am a Star Wars fan and I love this scene…love the old-fashioned dress with the lace and veil! And boy, did they have a rocky road based on mis-placed emotions! So it is somewhat appropriate…)

There have been many who have spoken to marriage and its whys and wherefores recently, especially in light of same sex initiatives on ballots, bakers not baking for same sex weddings, and demonstrations even yesterday in New York, of people wanting to use the St. Patrick’s Day Parade to push their agendas as they paraded by onlookers. It’s up-front and center in many political debates recently.  And I believe (which means it is my perspective so if you disagree, I apologize now) that it partially comes from our disordered view of what marriage is.  From the Roman Catholic perspective, according to Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, “Everyone knows in their right mind that the whole purpose of marriage is to have a family.  It’s not about making people happy. It’s not about love.” and he also said, “It can’t be the condition (love), otherwise you can sanction all the kinds of things I’m talking about.” (This was quoted from an interview on CNN regarding same sex marriage).  The interviewer, Chris Cuomo, made a point I would like to ruminate on when he said, “You do not own marriage. It was not developed by Christians. It is a civil situation. It’s secular,” he added.”

The issue, as I see it, is that we have this skewed view of marriage as only a contract.  And contracts can be broken. We have civil divorce and we have Church annulments.  (As an advocate for the Tribunal, I do understand much of this controversial subject).  There are things that make a marriage in civil court; there are things that make a marriage for a Tribunal, which enable a ruling of validity or non-validity.  Sometimes, actually, most times, these things are worlds apart.  The issue, as I see it, is that the idea that marriage is a contract, devoid of emotion and the process of sanctification, fulfills a worldly perspective on the institution, but devoids it completely of the sublime and peaceful, beautiful, sacramental thing we enter into through faith, in front of our family, friends, and faith community.

As the Crowns are placed on a couple’s head, their domestic church has been formed. They are the guardians of faith for everyone in their home. They impart their faith to family and friends alike.  A faith community grows through the interactions of these small, intimate, domestic churches.  God acts in individuals, but he also acts in couples.  The children born of this union are blessed because their parents have the grace imparted through the mystery of holy matrimony. In this sacred space, families experience all sorts of craziness, and all sorts of trials and temptations.  Through the grace of matrimony, they survive, and grow, and become sanctified.  This process of sanctification is lifelong. It is not bound by words on a page; by words spoken over me and my husband…it is bound by the grace of God in the prayers prayed for us. It is bound by our participation and consent.  Further comments by the Orthodox are, “...these prayers (during the crowning ceremony) communicate significant theological truths about marriage. They remind the couple that God’s love has brought them together, and will sustain them in “peace and oneness of mind” across the marital life cycle. They also remind the couple that they are standing before God, family and the Church pledging to enter into an “indissoluble bond of love.”

I was sitting the other day, looking at my husband, and this absolute well spring of love bubbled up for him. He asked me why I was smiling and I said it was because I realized I am not in this alone – ever.  We are together for eternity.  We are bound to one another out of a deeply held conviction that God had brought us together.  We emotionally bonded with one another, yes, and we continue to do so as the years just race by.  Those moments of deep connection are the glue that holds us together.  In the day-to-day world, we often forget this treasure we hold.  This magnificent gift of eternal life, holding the hand of our very best friend, our spouse.  And it eclipses all the discussion of contract and equality and rights.  It profanes one of God’s gifts to us, this sacrament, when we foul it up with contractual language and perceptions.  In this article I have been pulling from, the “goarch.org” website, the Orthodox say this:

“From an Orthodox perspective, sacraments are God-given gifts that have emerged from Holy Tradition, and have either been instituted by Christ or the Apostles. Orthodox Tradition also refers to them as mysteries. That is because a dimension of these experiences is tangible and can be explicated, and another part must be accepted by faith.  The sacraments are best understood as God-given points of contact, where God makes Himself available to us on a very personal level. Moreover, as we choose to faithfully participate in these mysteries, God’s life giving, life changing grace touches our lives and, by extension, makes us holy.”

We believe the Church bestows these sacraments, these mysteries upon us as a way of celebrating God’s institution of marriage.  In regards to Mr. Cuomo’s statement that we “don’t own marriage,” and that “it was not devised by Christians,” well I would have to heartily disagree.  Because the world has set God off to the sidelines, of course he would feel “it’s a civil situation; it’s secular.”  And for that and it being what it is, I agree with him.  For those of us who pursue a marriage in a Church and want that sort of “blessing” on the whole thing, we need, as a culture, to realize what that means.  There’s the rub…because God is on the sidelines and we only call Him in when we want to confer a sacrament (as in, “We’ve always been Catholic.  Even though I don’t go to Church, I need to be married in Church”…or “I need my child baptized because my family has always been Catholic. No, I don’t go to Church.”) we often feel like if we want it “un-done” we can do that, in a court of law.  Entering into a sacramental marriage requires foreknowledge and agreement with what you are about to enter into.  So many people, because God resides outside of their lives, do not live sacramentally at all.  And that is when I would agree that their marriages have become purely a contractual thing, with no vestige of the faith they claimed to have.

But if we delve into the beauty of the faith that we profess, when we live what we believe, then marriage becomes something entirely different.  It becomes a spiritual walk that we take with our beloved through eternity, in the arms of Christ. And along the way, we assist one another in our process of Theosis, of becoming, of knowing. I cannot express how comforting and what a sense relaxation came over me, when I realized this man I pledged myself to 30 years ago will ever and always be at my side. I will never be alone; I will always have him by my side…”even from now, until ages of ages. Amen.”

“I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” (Song of Solomon 6:3)

warkentin,Crowning1(Warkentin Crowning from Orthodox Wedding Crowns website)