“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.

 

prayer-family

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.

Kneeling Prayer.Orthodox Church

 

 

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.

apostolic-tradition

[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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“…devious talk far from you…”

incline your ear

My son is entering his senior year of high school. He is our last child out of the nest. And bookkeeping, or maintaining his records, has become paramount because the next step is college/trade school/academies. He plans to become a fire fighter, we just are not sure which route he will take to get there. So we have to be prepared for any avenue he may choose to take.

I took this personality test, as I posted about before, and I am called an “Advocate.” One of the traits it spoke about was having a hard time choosing a career path, because I can see 7 of them in front of me. I chuckled at that because I changed my major in college 4 times and have had careers that are so disparate that you would not think the same person did all of them. And I admire my son for choosing to become a fire fighter. Once he chose this path, he has not wavered from it once. And now that we are looking forward, he is choosing the same path, but finding alternate ways of getting there. Me? I would have gotten all caught up on the many options, many pathways. But he is singular in that he sees his goal; his pathways all take him to the same place. Mine have had me all over the map.

light to my path

The one thing that has been consistent for me is my unfailing faith in God. I have meandered through methods of worshipping Him, but my faith has been steadfast. My path has been lit with faith since I was young. I sought Him out in my life, on my own initiative, since I was in grade school. I have been to so many denominations and faith experiences. It has made me who I am. My favorite (and enduring) major in college was Forensic Anthropology with a minor in Biblical Archeology. I learned the holistic approach to looking at peoples and cultures, and then I learned the physicality of our rich biblical history. As a people of faith, we are so blessed by our history, and the physical records of where we have been, as a people, as humanity.

Jonah's Burial place Bombed

The bombing of so many biblically important sites in the Middle East just breaks my heart. I do not need them as a proof of my faith and its history, but I cry each time one is destroyed. The photo above is of the aftermath of the bombing of the burial site of Jonah from the Old Testament. There are fewer and fewer sites that are intact and this strikes at all of our humanity, not just our faith. This was a record of our growth as people; it is part of the history of mankind. And it has been reduced to rubble.

I work diligently to be sure my children’s school records are accurate and complete. I may lag behind a few moms in turning my quarterly and year-end samples and grades in, but I am thorough and my teachers/advisors know they will get it and it will be complete. They have yet to have to badger me. I have been schooling my children since 1992 and I have gotten fairly decent at it! Records are important. Recently our son had his property surveyed. Survey lines determine how much we own. We know where we can plant trees or put up fences, or dig that pool. It also determines your property tax liability. Records are important. One of my many jobs was working for the County Auditor-Controller/Recorder in the Recorder’s office. It was so interesting. And keeping everything in pristine, exacting conditions was a requirement of my job. It was awesome to see titles and deeds dating back to the early 1800s, still being kept on record, and a reward of diligent record keeping.

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Records matter. What we say, matters. We can offer opinions and we can claim expertise, but we cannot/should not speak untruth about anyone, at any time. Choosing to live your life a certain way, always keeping to your path and the path of Truth, protects you from slander or libel.  Gossip can be such a hurtful thing, especially when it is repeated in the public square. Quite often there is a grain of truth in there somewhere, but it is so obsfucated by the flotsam and jetsam of lies, we cannot even glimpse it. Nowadays we record everything using our cell phones. The cameras in cell phones are much better than the stand-alone camera in my desk drawer – which is why it is in the drawer. We can record our voices and email them or text them to people. I love to sing Happy Birthday to my grandkids and send it via text for their parents to play for them. We can video chat with people thousands of miles away. We can record events happening in front of us. There are often thousands of photos of the same event, thanks to everyone whipping out their cell phones. (How did we survive before them???). But keeping things neat and orderly, keeping our records safe, has been something we have been doing for one another for thousands of years. Gossip and slander have been with us since man was created; it came right along with our free will. And the record of it began in the book of Genesis, in the Bible:

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’ “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.” (Genesis 3:1-6)

My husband and I go around and around on this because it is called the Sin of Adam, but he insists that Eve is the one who listened to the evil lies and acted on them. But the Church fathers always point out that Adam was the head of the family and the first one created by God; he had been with God a long time before Eve was created. He did not lead her; he followed her. So his sin was in that he did not say no to evil, but allowed evil to become a part of their lives, and consequently, our lives. Because of listening to lies, Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden of Eden.  When we listen to lies, share lies, and allow evil to win, we are sinning against God. And each and every time, we also sin against our brother. We can lead one another into a sinful state, a state wherein we exist outside of God, just by allowing evil to win.

Records are important. Our words are important – the records of our words are important. Our words define who we are. The recorded words we speak or write give our record to others for eternity. Think about that for a moment.

Proverbs 18:21 tells us that “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” The cross-reference in the New Testament is: “For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned;” which is found in Matthew 12:37. The corresponding commentary says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue – This may apply to all men. Many have lost their lives by their tongue, and some have saved their lives by it: but it applies most forcibly to public pleaders; on many of their tongues hangs life or death.”

power of words

The power of our words can assist us, or it can deter us from our goals. We have a record that remains even after we become silent. As many politicians know (public pleaders, as in the commentary above) and have known for ages, our words can kill our career, our public life. Records can be blown up, as many of our historical records have been. But God sees all of this. He is waiting for us to choose a path that leads straight to Him. A pathway filled with love, determination, honesty, and goodwill. He asks us,

“My son, give attention to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Do not let them depart from your sight; keep them in the midst of your heart. For they are life to those who find them and health to all their body. Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life. Put away from you a deceitful mouth and put devious speech far from you. Let your eyes look directly ahead and let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you. Watch the path of your feet and all your ways will be established. Do not turn to the right nor to the left; turn your foot from evil.” Proverbs 4:20-27

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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

I have not come to bring peace…

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how God challenges us. Well, challenges me. I tend to be a little bit of a stickler about certain things. I guess what it boils down to is that I like rules. I prefer being in a box, rather than free ranging it. For years, I always felt my children operated best when they knew the limitations of what they can and cannot do. Borders. Edges. Limitations. Expectations. I realize that as a person, I am not the one to stand at the podium and give the speeches. I am not the one to be in charge. I am basically a background person. I can make you look great. I can help anyone, by working “back stage,” as they say. I do not need to be the leader. Although because of my personality, it is often thrust upon me, it is not where I am best, nor is it where the best in me is played out for others.

And I believe it is this tendency within myself that led me to love organized religion. I am a historian at heart and an anthropologist by training. I love getting to the roots of things. One of those things is that I love knowing that I belong to a religion that has come down to us, unchanged, from the Apostles themselves. There are no surprises, nor am I expected to be in charge. And I have loved learning about how our faith came to be, how it works, and has worked, for thousands of years. And I don’t need to change, edit, or alter a thing. God gave us His Church through His Son, and His Apostles. Done. Each time someone disagrees with how the Church does something, they leave. When someone gets angry at a priest or deacon, they leave. Many are upset at the caliber of the men in the Church. What they forget is that they are just that – they are men. No one claims to be a Saint or Christ Himself. There has only been one “Perfect Man” and He died for each one of us, on a Cross, over two thousand years ago. We all strive to be good, but no one is perfect, except for Christ Jesus.

ChristPantocrator

This past week, with the increased violence and the shootings in San Bernardino, California, the realization that people are not perfect came to a dramatic head. This shooting touched me personally, in many ways, and through many relationships, past and present. My heart hurt. My spirit was heavy. And I was soooooo angry. And I immediately jumped on the anger train and was unsympathetic to anyone who did not share my anger and my hurt for those who were killed, and their families.

But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.…” Matthew 5:44-45

Boy, is that a rough lesson to learn. And it cuts deep and close to what we consider our faith. I have experienced, in the past, being excluded. When my children were very young, I attended a weekly bible study. It was called non-denominational and everyone attended different churches. There was a local school that many of the teachers of the bible study, and many of the attendees, sent their children. It seemed like a great school. I applied for a position for our eldest son to attend Kindergarten there. I received a very awkward phone call from the principal who told me that although we were all Christians, our practices differed substantially and it would be a falsehood to deny our differences. He also said that as of that time, they did not accept students who were not their particular type of Christian and our family worshipped too differently for us to be accepted at the school. About the same time, our bible study spoke about Mary and I found myself standing up to defend Mary. Standing and speaking was to defy the rules of the bible study, which stated you did not interrupt nor give opinion during presentations, only during private classroom time. I could not stop myself. They were promoting heretical notions. I could not let it stand. I found myself unwelcome and I was forced to discontinue my membership in this women’s group, and pull my children from their program. It was disheartening and I was so very sad. I lost friends over it. Faith can be so divisive. (Politics, too).

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10: 34-39).

evangelical-divide

We are becoming a nation, a world, of factions. It is historically significant that Christians (aka the Catholic Church) have been pitted against Muslims for centuries. The times that are the most famous are those surrounding the Crusades, when the Pope sent armies to defeat the Muslim invaders; to stop them from coming into Europe and decimating the Christian populations. The Muslims acknowledge Mary as the Mother of Christ (and are actually more accepting of her than most Protestant denominations) and believe Christ was a preacher sent by God. They do not, however, believe He is the Son of God. They believe Mohammed is equal to Christ, even slightly more important than Christ. We agree with Muslims that there is but one God, and there is no other God before Him (they refer to Him as Allah).

I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things.” (Isaiah 45:5-7).

But apart from that, our essential belief system is extraordinarily different. Our value systems were formed through adherence to our belief system, and those differ vastly in some very basic precepts. In our Christian world, the Lord Jesus Christ calls us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. And I agree with that; I struggle with it on an almost daily basis. He also called us to arm ourselves:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” (Ephesians 6:10-18).

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And yet, how do I reconcile my feelings of being apart and separate from other believers, because of the differences in how we worship? Not to mention the theology of the Holy Eucharist and the Blessed Mother? There are many aspects to highlight how we are different, but how does that help the cause of ecumenism in our world? How do we battle what we have been fighting for generations, if our faith is not united? Yes, as Americans we feel united against terrorism on our lands, much as our recent family members felt during World War II. We feel united. Much of the Judeo-Christian world feels united against a common foe. In some ways we truly are. We value human life, for the most part, differently than those from the Muslim world. Females are not valued at all. Abortion, rape, genocide…those are all common in the Muslim world. But how can we, as Christian Americans, judge our Muslim brothers when we kill babies in the womb? When we fight one another over religious differences, here at home? No, the Muslims do to want to convert me; they want to erase me from existence. I truly understand that, and I struggle with those realities in light of the Gospels. I recall that as an aware child I knew that our country was horrified that President John F. Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, had been elected President. He simply could not be a good president because many felt his loyalties would be divided – “What if the Pope tells him to do something?” That statement, alone, explains how little our Protestant brothers understand about Catholicism. There are more Catholics who serve in governmental positions, but how many of them live by the tenets of their faith and are good examples of Catholic Christians? (As in not supporting funding abortion or supporting anyone or any legislation that is not pro life). Misperceptions still persist, even today; many Christians are Christian in name only; many because it’s sort of cool at the moment to declare your love of God, even if you don’t treat others “as yourself.” My country is not as united as we like to think we are. When we face a common enemy, we stand together. But when that enemy recedes, how do we love one another?

I started this post about living in a box, within rules and limitations. I spoke to how my faith reflects my love of order, and even rules and responsibilities, and behaviors. I believe we should all be free, free to choose which Church we want to worship in. I do not believe law should reflect any one religion, which is the basis for our Constitution. Sharia Law does not belong on American soil. But I am still saddened by the vehemence with which people who are “Christian” treat one another. Yes, I am determined to gird myself with the “belt of truth.” Oh yes, I believe in eternal truths. I also believe God, through His Apostles, spoke that truth throughout the world, establishing His Church around the world. Men have taken that Church and torn it into pieces; into “denominations.”

Denominations. A denomination is defined in this Encyclopedia as an organized aggregate of worship centers or congregations of similar ecclesiastical tradition within a specific country; i.e. as an organized Christian church or tradition or religious group or community of believers, within a specific country, whose component congregations and members are called by the same denominational name in different areas, regarding themselves as one autonomous Christian church distinct from other denominations, churches and traditions. As defined here, world Christianity consists of 6 major ecclesiastico-cultural blocs, divided into 300 major ecclesiastical traditions, composed of over 33,000 distinct denominations in 238 countries, these denominations themselves being composed of over 3,400,000 worship centers, churches or congregations.” (World Christian Encyclopedia, 2001).

A denomination refers to an actual name, or the naming, of something. That means that there are over 33,000 “names” for Christianity and Christian in this world. The Church that Christ established with just 12 Apostles, their families, and the early community established after Pentecost, grew to be over 3,400,000 “worship centers” throughout the world. Worship centers that are not united around one faith, one Church, but are made up of communities by someone who disagreed with the tenets of the established Church, and started their own “brand” of Christianity. It’s sort of like those of us who opt to homeschool and not participate in a national indoctrination program, called public education. We start our own little community, at home around the kitchen table, and call it “Bob’s School.” Well, in that same vein, there are all sorts of “Bob’s Church”(es) around this world. How do we fight the one or two Muslim denominations who are determined to wipe us off the face of the earth? How do we unite, truly unite, down to our most basic units (the family) when people continue to disagree about fundamentals of our faith?

Mother Theresa.Peace
The only thing I can come up with right at this moment is to just LOVE. Overshadow all we do with LOVE. The Love of God for our fellow man. Our priest gave an excellent homily last week about loving others. He said that we open our arms, tell God that we love Him, embracing everything that is Him. We truly do. Then God asks us to “love your neighbor as yourself” (“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31). But that’s where it all falls apart. That guy over there? You want me to love that guy? Oh, I can’t do that. We don’t get along. I can’t love someone I don’t get along with. Or we say  – I can love my husband(wife) and my kids, but my sister? My brother? My parents? We had a disagreement years ago; they hurt my feelings. I can’t love them; I don’t even like them. If that is the case, how can we truly love God? How can we expect to get along with everyone if we do not start right at home, with our own families? If we cannot love our co-workers, those who even attend our same Church but with whom we had a disagreement? How can we conquer something like the Muslim faith with LOVE of God if we cannot love those most known to us? How can we, as a country, continue to survive as a nation, without love of our neighbor?

I am sick over all this violence. I will not lower my awareness and just blithely give into it.  But I am so tired of the energy it takes to hate someone or be angry with them. My heart aches over the shootings in San Bernardino and the loss of life there and around the world. But I cannot hope to solve this problem of hatred around the world if I cannot love the guy next door who drives me crazy, can I? How did those 12 Apostles do this? How diid they spread the LOVE of God around the world when it does not exist around my block, in my parish, my family, or in my little corner of the world? Some days, my heart just aches, thinking about all of this. And so I blog…

World PEace

“Be kind to one another…”

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That quote is from the book of Ephesians, in the Bible. The above art is by Ramon Lo. It felt right, somehow. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Eph 4:32  I chose the art because even though it has these lovely swirls in it, I also saw it as being said in the midst of explosions. And quite rightly so, in the wake of all the violence we saw this weekend. Unfortunately, it was not just in Paris, but also in Beruit, Kenya, Lebanon… on and on it goes. The common thread? ISIS. Muslims.

I read the most fantastic article today. It appealed to me because it was full of history. I think it should be mandatory! “Christianity & Islam: Are We at War?” by Father Mitch Pacwa SJ (shared online by http://www.stmarkbeaman.org). It was full of information and perspective. I highly recommend it. I learned so much. And it fed my desire to write this all out.

I was chastised for putting up a meme on Facebook recently, by a friend. It made me think, and I am still thinking, and pondering the comment. The meme was posted by a site called, “Dysfunctional Vets.” Dysfunctional Vets Meme

I don’t particularly like violence. I abhor war, because I know up close and personal what being at war can do to a person. So I do not advocate violence. But as a country, a culture, a world, how do we stop a violent people? A people whose agenda requires them to obliterate their enemy? If one of theirs comes to know Christ and coverts, it is required that they be killed, and all those who allowed them to covert be killed. They do not consider Christians or Jews to be “of the book.” The article I mentioned above does a fantastic job of explaining all of the differences in the sects within the Muslim belief system. It is also very important to know that the Muslim faith has no “governing board,” no “ultimate authority” on what you have to believe and what you don’t. It is up to each independent believer to decide for themselves. So when they spout, “We are not a violent religion,” what they are saying is the particular Imam they follow, and the particular verses they believe in, do not espouse violence. But at least half of those who follow Mohammed are violent. And that is who is bombing, beheading, raping, killing, stealing, destroying… throughout the world. So how do we thwart this violence? Because I am fairly certain they will not stop until all of those who are not “of the book” are removed. And they do not believe in living side-by-side. They do not espouse co-existing. It is their way or death. And if you think they will allow a country to be Christian, to attend Christian Churches, have Christian artwork, books (including the Bible) under Muslim Sharia Law, you are kidding yourself. Ask someone in Syria… ask why they are fleeing by the millions.

The Syrian refugees who are trying to escape, the families ravaged by war, the Christians who flee because they know to stay means execution – those are the refugees I would help. Those are the people I would welcome. But has anyone looked at who is coming in?Have you watched in Germany? Switzerland? France? Have you seen the demographics of the refugees storming the borders in Europe? If you can peek through the political correctness and main-stream-media hype, you will see the vast majority are men and boys. Now, sit back and ask yourself why that is. I am not suggesting they are all militant jihadists. (But that does bear pondering over). What I am suggesting is that they do not bring their wives or daughters because women don’t count for much in their culture. They take care of their goats better than their daughters. A wife is disposable, tradable, and definitely replaceable. From what was once a matriarchal society to what the Islamic countries have now become, insofar as the rights of women and girls, it makes you sick to your stomach (especially to me, because I am a woman and a Christian).

In one town in Germany, home to about 100 people, they’ve had 1000s of refugees arrive.(Here’s one link: http://www.wnd.com/2015/10/german-town-of-100-must-take-1000-syrian-migrants/). It’s wreaking havoc as people across Europe try to deal with all these refugees. And Obama wants us to do the same here. And frankly, it scares me. We can barely manage to care for our own. We have homeless veterans who are not cared for. We have the mentally ill who are left to roam the streets. Runaway teens, drug users, the homeless for whom we do not care. We have joblessness already. How are we expected to take in more people, with no discernible job skills, into our already-broken and overloaded system? As a former welfare office manager, I can attest to how we are not ready to care for refugees. We can’t care for the people born here, or already living here. And we are a country that keeps raising its debt ceiling, printing worthless money, and hasn’t had a balanced budget in recent memory. I only wish the government would allow us citizens to balance our private debts and checkbook like they do!! This is a country that devalues human life so much, it is perfectly legal to kill unborn and recently-born children. How are we to care for these refugees? Who will care for them? Will you? Your church?Will you willingly house them? Feed them? Clothe them? What about that disabled veteran who fought for us over in the Middle East, who has to live on the streets or in shelters? Are you caring for him? If not, how can you expect to care for the hundreds of thousands of refugees Obama wants to allow in? Is your city, your town, your neighborhood ready?

“Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4: 4-6

I know my friend was surprised by the meme about violence. Because I am generally a Philippians 4 person. I really am. But historically, we have battled with these sorts of zealots before. Many times. As the parent of a veteran, my hackles rise when I am expected to bring in people to care for, when we don’t care for our vets, let alone people who have no discernible skill sets or ways to support themselves. There is so much deeply imbedded in how we divvy out our benefits; costs and Federal requirements no one has a clue about. Did you know that if a certain percentage of the population speaks a specific language, and English is not the primary language spoken in the home, the state requires that all documentation be provided in their own language? That each public entity serving that populace must hire workers who speak that language and are part of that demographic? That banks, landowners who rent, service agencies (even car dealerships, etc) have all documentation available in that language? And it is based on the most current census numbers. Except when the Federal Government sends in hundreds of thousands of refugees from Arabic-only speaking countries. Do you realize the expense incurred for having to translate everything into the various Arabic dialects? And having to hire Arab speakers at all government agencies? Banks? Doctor’s offices? Hospitals? On and on the burden goes.

No, I do not advocate violence. I truly do not. But quite often it is the sole way evil can be stopped. We’ve done it before. Read history. And do the other half of the Muslim believers, those who are bombing places like Paris, expect an outcome wherein they take over? Well, yes; yes they do. They actually think that by bombing, breeding, and otherwise infiltrating the Western World, they will take it over and the Muslim belief system and Sharia Law will rule the world. How do we thwart that, and stop it in its tracks? (Read some history on Vlad the Impaler).

I'll see you

I tend towards being a prepper, and even though we haven’t prepped much, we still believe the ideas are pretty good. Living where we do, it makes lots of sense just from a natural disaster point of view, let alone civil and/or international unrest. It may be necessary with weather, earthquakes, and now violence. And I do favor open-carry laws, and definitely defend the 2nd Amendment. I do not believe we need a national registry for gun owners, or that the government should come and take our weapons from us (look what happened in Paris, a gun-free zone). And I heartily support our troops who are serving and all those who have served before. (Thank you for your service). I do not want to harm the already-harmed refugee families fleeing the enemy – Islam in its ugliest forms. Most especially Christians fleeing from Islamic terrorism. But how do we fix this? Our country’s landscape will forever be changed with this many refugees coming in, all at once. It will no longer be Apple Pie and the American Way. It just won’t be able to remain what we all have loved.

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This weekend, I watched the TV coverage of the Paris attacks and I wept. Why? Because this world is nothing like the world I was born into, or even what it was 15-20 years ago. I cried because I lived through VietNam. The entire saga of the Middle East, historically, and in my time, the Hostage Crisis during the 1972 Olympics clear through to when Operation Desert Storm began in earnest, up to and including lives lost this week. We have a long history in the Middle East. They are against every thing we believe in and stand for. And I cried this weekend because I realized my 16-year-old was too young to remember 9/11 – this was his first view of an Islamic attack on a free people. He only watches YouTube videos from 9/11. I cried because I have no certainty for his future without bloodshed. And when I thought of my little grandbabies, I wept even more. What is the world we will leave to them? What will the world become, my country become, in the next 5-10 years? Will we recover from Obama? We will stop this modern Horde? Can we bring this world, this country, our culture back? I am doubtful. Historically, they were referred to as the Muslim Horde clear back to 710 AD.  [There’s a great article I tried to cite, but for some reason it didn’t let me.  The link is this: http://www.militaryhistoryonline.com/medieval/articles/muslimhorde.aspx  The article was written by Robert C. Daniels (I recommend it highly, too!)]. Hordes tended to come “en masse” and obliterate their enemies. It has been repeated over and over again, throughout history, back to Mohammed himself (570 AD – 632 AD).

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I still think we need to be a Christian people and that we desperately need to cling to the tenets of our faith. But we also need to be prepared to defend our faith, our freedoms, our culture, our way of life. Because if the sects of the Muslim faith who are perpetrating all these atrocities are allowed to continue unchecked, this world, as you and I know it, will no longer exist. Yes, pray for France, for Paris. But also pray for Beruit, Kenya, Lebanon, the entire Middle East… and our free world. Because I firmly believe these people “of the book” are determined that all those of us not “of the book” need to be exterminated. I don’t see a peaceful option out of this. I am so tired of the nice guys being trampled upon. But to my faith, I hungrily cling, as a man in a parched desert seeks water, “O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, In a dry and weary land where there is no water.” Psalm 63:1

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“Preach the Gospel at all times, and …”

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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.

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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. 

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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…

“Here’s your sign…”

Church spire

I have been thinking about signs. There are all sorts of signs in our lives. Sometimes we heed them, and quite often we obtusely ignore them. This will be a tired set of comments for those of you who know us, but there has been road construction in and around our house since July. They tore up the corner (we are not exactly on a corner, but there is not enough space between us and the corner for another house, if that makes sense) and the cross street adjacent to us in July. We live at a “T” intersection. They finally tore up the long part of the T, which is in front of our house, in August. We have had a huge hole in front of our driveway for the past month. They are replacing a sewer pump station, replacing poor storm drains, and putting in a paved trail area in the space between our house and the corner. Our town recently became part of the municipality and all these upgrades have followed. Apparently, there are curb requirements at intersections. We have never had a curb on our side of the street. And our side is where they pile the snow in winter, when they plow. So they are trying to put in curbs and also replace and flatten the dirt to repave the area. There have been “Road Closed” signs up for weeks. Apparently no one reads them. Each week, the crews flatten and grade this road. Each week idiots do their 4-wheeling best to tear up the grading and drive past the “Road Closed” signs. The only ones who do not have direct access to their home is us – and we’ve been taking the alternate route, adding considerable time to our commute. I was chatting with the work crew today, because I have to park our truck out on the graded dirt for the next three days while they attempt to pour cement curbbage in our area (did I mention it is pouring rain?). We spoke about ignoring signs. It is funny because it is only the convenience factor that has people ignoring the “Road Closed” signs; every single one of them can access their homes through the alternate route. In fact, at the top of our street (it’s a fairly decent hill) someone actually moved that “Road Closed” sign onto someone’s lawn, so they could drive through. It just amazes me. The workers and I discussed how it is taxpayer money (a state project no less) and grant money that people are wasting by 4-wheeling down graded roads and making them spend half their days redoing the roads. It was supposed to have been done a couple of weeks ago, but due to rain and traffic damage, they are way behind. They jokingly told us back in July that they hoped to be done by the first snows. And we all laughed. Perhaps they weren’t as far off as they joked. If only people would heed the signs.

And that brings me to reminisce on our feast day yesterday, “The Exultation of the Holy Cross,” as it is referred to in the Eastern Churches. We venerate and celebrate the Cross of Christ. Why would someone celebrate the Cross? Why would we even want to see a Cross? Many Christian sects around the world think it is wrong to celebrate and remember the Cross. Someone once told me a Catholic Crucifix is like wearing a photograph of a dead body around your neck. I guess I can see that. Somewhat. In the East and in Orthodoxy, we don’t normally wear a crucifix, but instead a Byzantine Cross.

Byzantine Cross

I am often asked why I wear this particular cross and what it means. People often assume it is some sort of Asian glyph. But it is not. To explain the meaning of it, the top cross beam represents the sign they hung above Christ, “Jesus Christ, King of the Jews.” The second cross beam is where they nailed His hands. The bottom one is where His feet were nailed. When they removed His body, the cross beam at the bottom slipped – the right side was raised, pointing to the Thief who obtained Paradise with Christ that very day; the left side, pointing downward, represents the thief who chose his fate in separation from Grace. It speaks volumes to me and is THE sign for me; THE sign that Christ gave His life for me.

There are signs all over, asking us to pay attention. My neighbors insist on ignoring the “Road Closed” signs and continue to “go around.” They cause ruin and lost time each and every time they ignore that sign. What do we ignore in our lives that also costs us? I know that God places signs all over the place for us to notice Him in our lives. Quite often they are small; but often they are 2 x 4s, slapping us up the side of the head. Have you ever been obstinate in something, continually seeking it, only to have it slip away? Or obstinate to the point of stubbornness? To the point where you throw caution to the wind and “do it anyway”? Have you ever ignored everyone’s advice (even when you asked for it) and gone and done something anyway? How did that work out for you? Most often, when I have pushed something, it does not end profitably for me. And profit is not just about money.

I dated idiots in my youth, thinking I could “fix” them. Yes, I dated some wonderful men who were great for me, but with whom I was not meant to share a life. But the proportionate of men who did not work out were “projects,” not dates. What was I thinking? Like I am some incredible woman and I know what’s best for them, so I can change them and make them better? Ha-Ha. I ignored every sign sent my way, all advice given to me. It is almost as if I was thinking, “I’ll show them! I know what’s best for me. But more importantly, I know what’s best for them!” Yeah. Stupid me. I have people in my life who consistently ask for advice, but they are not listening. They are preparing their response to me, in order to justify what they are going to do anyway. And hey, that’s just fine. More and more I give them lip service, because I know they aren’t truly listening, and are going to do what they choose, anyway. And that’s okay. But how often do we pray to God, seeking advice, while we’re already going to do something anyway??? How often do we go around those “Road Closed” signs and cause all sorts of damage?

Intent to reply

During the Exultation of the Holy Cross, we have some incredible prayers. There are several that I think apply to our world, and most especially to our Country. I only wish people would heed these signs, and pray some of these prayers:

Kontakion of the Cross: “O Christ our God, Who chose by Your own free volition to be elevated upon the Holy Cross, grant Your mercies to Your new people who are called by Your name. In Your power, gladded the hearts of our public authorities; strengthen them in every good deed so that Your true alliance may be for them a weapon of peace and a standard of Victory.

One of the Sessional Hymns for Orthros on this feast is: “O Lover of Mankind, we venerate the Wood of Your Cross, for You, the Life of all, were nailed upon it. O Savior, You opened Paradise to the thief who turned to You in faith, and You counted him worthy of blessedness when he confessed You by crying out, “Remember me O Lord!” Accept us, like him, for we cry out, “We all have sinned; in Your merciful kindness, do not reject us!

And we continually sing, throughout the Liturgy, “We bow in worship before Your Cross, O Christ, and we give praise to Your Holy Resurrection.”

How can we dismiss the signs Our Lord has left for us? We can witness to one another by wearing a cross. We can place stickers of them on our cars, hang them from our rear-view mirrors. We can offer them to others, as a sharing of this Sign from God. When we were first married, my husband had a wedding ring with a cross on it. He wanted me to wear one, too. At that point in my life, I realized I was not ready for the Sign of God on my hand.  I mean, what if I cut someone off in traffic? Used bad words in anger, while wearing a cross on my finger? I just could not do it. Nowadays, I feel naked if I do not have a cross on my person in some form, somewhere. I always wear one around my neck. For an anniversary my husband got me that matching ring with a cross on it, and when my fingers aren’t all swollen with arthritis, I wear it. Gladly, I wear it. Why? I need the reminder. I need the sign. I need it, whether anyone else does or not. Christ hung on that cross for three hours, for me. Whether or not there was another human being on earth, Christ would die for my sins, and mine alone. Each and every person, who believes in Him, was atoned because of Him. And His grace spreads… every where. We are so blessed with signs.

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Road Closed – Local Traffic Only. That’s the sign by my house. Which signs do you heed? Which signs do you ignore? Does your indifference to the signs you are given cause damage and cost those around you? Do you purposely thwart God and continually do it your own way? I saw a great little comment on Facebook this week:

“You cannot pray for an A on a test and study for a B. You cannot pray for a faithful relationship and still live an unfaithful life. Moral of the story is you cannot pray for something and act less.

Don’t question my God and His abilities when your actions don’t match your prayers.”

I love that. Don’t pray for something and act less. How often have I prayed for peace and been disgustingly cranky to everyone around me? How often have I brought peace to this world? How often have I begged God for something, but done nothing to help myself along? When we were discerning the radical move to Alaska, we sought sign after sign after sign. We asked that doors be not only closed, but removed and disintegrated. We asked that no other options present themselves to us, but to relocate. We sought peace in our decision. We sat in the presence of God and sought silent affirmation. We opened ourselves to His will. And we heeded the peace we found, the answers given to us. Just last night, on our drive home from Divine Liturgy, we thanked God once again for bringing us here. We are so blessed. We look consistently, and constantly, for God’s Will and His signs for us in our lives. We have missed a few, because He loves to whisper in this noisy world, but we have seen those errors and we try, fervently, to listen and watch for His will in our lives. It is the hardest thing I have ever done, being a Christian. But it is the most rewarding and peaceful thing, as well. As this world spins crazily on its axis and things get more and more insane around us, we cling to His Cross, to His Sign. We choose to listen to, and see His signs. We choose not to go around them. 

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