Red Cups and Controversy

I am all torn up inside. I made a comment on my Facebook wall recently where I said that words can be harsh, but our hearts are soft… and that we need to be kind. In this world of media, most especially social media, we need to realize the power of our words.  And on media like Facebook, photos as well. Photos can be harsh to see, and sometime evoke memories we work hard to bury.

There was legislation pending about cutting funding to Planned Parenthood, and an article was posted by the local TV station on Facebook. Let me start off by saying that I am 100% pro life, from a NATURAL beginning of life, to a NATURAL end of life. That statement says a lot. That I truly value all life. Insofar as being fertile and successfully bearing children, I know from which I speak. And speaking of photos on social media, when I stated that I did not think abortion was the solution for any life endangering problem, I was assaulted with photos of anacephalic children; of aborted fetuses from ectopic pregnancies; of women dying from ectopic pregnancies. I know what loosing a baby is like. I did not have to see aborted babies to understand their point of view. I had nightmares about some of my labors and the babies I have lost. Thanks for that. But regardless of the pain I felt at the words flung at me, and the horrible photos sent to me, I still stand as 100% pro life and prayed our legislature would do the right thing. I think it is important to stand for what we believe as Christians. Abortion is murder. Period. It is my political line-in-the-sand and a stance I do not waiver from. I believe it is the point from which other character traits can be discerned and I use it to discern things about other people, be they friends, “Facebook friends,” people on social media I do not even know, and politicians in particular.

NoLaw.Abortion.Lincoln.

As if my day/week were not complete, and my tears not enough, along comes another assault. It is known as the Starbucks “Red Cup” controversy and conversation. Ad naseum. The remarks and photos have been hateful, to say the least. The creativity of the memes has been impressive, I will give you that. However, this discussion is so much more than the color of a cup. I just wish people would see where we are headed. I still say most people miss the point. I do not think that our faith is at all decided upon by the color of a cup used by a retail coffee seller. Supporting that company has far more implications than coffee. I had a great discussion with a friend (and she put me on speaker because her daughter was learning these concepts in school) about economics and the power corporations have in our government. Starbucks wields enormous power in the marketplace. They are the largest coffeehouse company in the world. They are one of the largest buyers of coffee crops – around the world. (In 2000, they bought 136,000 metric tons of coffee). If they stop buying coffee, economies are affected. Many countries depend on exporting their coffee to buyers like Starbucks.

800px-A_time_for_a_cup_of_coffee

I love coffee – coffee to drink; I eat roasted coffee beans; love coffee in ice cream; love Kahlua and coffee. I am a coffee lover! And when I discuss it, I feel pretty confident in the conversation, insofar as beans, brewing, the buying and selling of coffee worldwide, and all the different ways to brew it. (French Press is still my favorite method, although good, old, “Cowboy Coffee” is pretty wonderful, too). I learned more than 30 years ago all about importing and exporting coffee beans, reputable buyers, growers, etc. And I can tell you, once Starbucks came into being on the world-wide market, things changed. They have made a huge footprint into the industry. And they allow their economic health and power to impact our government. When we lived in Seattle, Starbucks was a huge presence. In neighborhoods, people purposely avoided them, preferring local coffee brewers to “give the little guy a chance.” Sort of like buying at a vegetable stand versus the grocery store. 

The corporation of Starbucks threw their weight behind Prop 8, the Defense of Marriage proposition. The CEO of Starbucks has made it plain at shareholder meetings and in the press that he defends and supports diversity in all its forms.  Here is a quote from a March 2013 article,

“At the Starbucks annual shareholders meeting on Wednesday, CEO Howard Schultz sent a clear message to anyone who supports traditional marriage over gay marriage: we don’t want your business. After saying Starbucks wants to “embrace diversity of all kinds,” he told a shareholder who supports traditional marriage that he should sell his shares and invest in some other company.”

Mr. Schultz, and Starbucks, also fund Planned Parenthood through their employee matching program. It’s an interesting way for corporations to subvert their funds to their pet causes. Employees get a list and the corporation tells them that if you give part of your salary (pre-tax) to one of these causes, we will match (or even double) your contribution.  Starbucks gives their employees a choice, and one is Planned Parenthood.

The rumors about their lack of support to our Military, both active and veterans, has shown to be largely false, and I admit that. My personal experience was working with Blue Star and Red Star moms, in trying to get them to donate to active duty, deployed servicemen and send coffee in coffee care packages. They refused. That was more than 10 years ago. They wanted to do it in a corporate fashion, ensuring a larger market share and brand recognition. I get that. At the time, it was hurtful. But at least they now supply coffee packets to our servicemen overseas. They took the idea from small, local support groups and did it on their large, corporate scale. At least it was done. For that I am grateful.

DunkinDonuts cup.

This is the new Dunkin Donuts cup. It’s nice. It’s a cup. It was revealed this week, in response to the Starbucks Red Cup reveal. I am not particularly fond of Dunkin Donuts coffee, and their cup doesn’t make me want their coffee, or a donut, more. It is a cup. 

Starbucks red cup

That’s the infamous Starbucks Red Cup. It is a cup. I could care less. The cup is plain. Their other cups used all year long are exactly the same, just white. It is a cup.

Gingerbread-Latte%5b1%5d

This is a holiday cup from 2010, I think. It’s red. It has snowflakes on it. It is a cup. Yippee.

The reason I showed all these cups is because the internet is on fire, and even MSM is doing stories on this cup controversy. Do I think Starbucks is trying to “dis” Christians or do harm to Christmas and the Holiday Season? Of course not. A new hashtag on social media has now popped up, “#Itsjustacup” lets us all know there are bigger issues in the world right now, than the color of Starbucks’ cups. Some people are saying it is just another way corporate America is taking the Christian aspect away from Christmas and making it just another shopping holiday; some particular day in the year in the wintertime where families get together and eat a meal and exchange gifts. For many people around the world, there is no such thing as Christmas, and for many in our own country, Christmas is just what I described – a day to get together, eat, and exchange gifts. And that makes me sad. Christmas, the word itself, means, “Christ’s Mass” – the celebration of the Birth of Our Savior. It is kind of a big deal to practicing Christians. As a Byzantine Catholic, Christmas is big. Not as big as Lent and Easter, but it is big. We have a Fast before Christmas, just like the Fast before Lent. It is called the “Philip’s Fast” or the “Apostles Fast.” Since the Council of Saragossa in 380 AD, the Church has been practicing a special period leading up to Christmas. One of increased Church attendance, reading of Scriptures, and other devotionals. The current St. Philip’s Fast was formally decreed by the Council of Constantinople in 1166 and the council decreed it would start on November 15 and last until December 24. It is called the St. Philip’s Fast because it begins the day after his feast day. The Apostle’s Fast (same fast, other name) is more lenient than our Lenten Fast, but it is a period of preparation. Typically, practicing Catholics do not attend Christmas parties and celebrations until after Christmas. Makes all the local celebrations with employers and well-meaning friends a little dicey, but it can be done. We prepare for the birth of Christ through increased Church participation and through fasting, so for most of us who keep this fast, we won’t be going to Starbucks anyway!

My point in all of this is that we are trying, valiantly, to keep our traditions alive and well. As Christians, we believe, for example, that marriage is only to be between one man and one woman. We believe in the sanctity of all human life. We do not support abortion or other ways to end the life of a pre-born human being. Fertilized human eggs are just that – human – from the moment of conception. They are 100% human and are a separate entity from the mother. They are not parasites; they are babies. Regardless of how they came to be created, they deserve life. Abortion should never be a form of birth control, or gender selection, or other methods of producing designer babies. Corporations who support Planned Parenthood should not be supported, if we can at all help it. It is difficult, and at times impossible, but it is a worthy challenge. I try to do everything I can to not give my dollars to entities who support abortion. Period. Up to and including the coffee I drink. And I was heartily slammed for it, by fellow Christians. I am finding more and more that if I do not fall in line, exactly, with other believers, I can be thoroughly trashed in social media. I had to lock down my Facebook page, as well as my Messenger page. It was painful and so unexpected. One particular series of comments was from a person I did not know, who was in politics, but a “friend of a friend,” who decided I needed an education. He was angry, mean, and hurtful and told me I was the one with the problem. I had asked for his prayers and understanding, and proceeded to be trashed even harder. I just do not understand some people. As I said above, this is about far more than the color of a cup. This is about our culture, our faith, and this country.

Rockwell-freedom from want

In our insane world of hyper-political correctness, we need to be concerned that while we are being so “correct,” we are allowing our own faith to be compromised. And yes, this is a Christian country. We were founded on Judeo-Christian values, by practicing Christians. By holding fast to our beliefs, I am not shoving my faith down someone’s throat. As a Christian, I am called to share my faith. “No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light” (Luke 11:33). Separation of Church and State means that the State cannot dictate which faith I practice. They cannot declare a “national religion.” The protection from a state religion does not, however, mean that Christian principles cannot be inherent in our laws. We have a Christian-based Constitution. Read it. Look at it. Absorb it. The principles inherent in it are Christian-based. We do not live “an eye for an eye” existence, as do the Muslims. We believe in a fair trial by our peers. These are all Christian philosophical stances; they come from nowhere else.

The coffee cup controversy is just emblematic of the inherent problems we are facing in our politically correct times. It is coming to a point where people are going to want to silence all of us who disagree, and we need to be prepared for that. I often have shared that to be a Christian, we need to be prepared to be that “stick in the river” that stands tall and does not bend with the flow. Just because Hollywood actors say things does not make them so. Why is their opinion worth any more than mine? Because they act in movies? Because they can sing? We need to say “no” when it is appropriate to do so. But I am finding that it is becoming more and more difficult to do that. People really do not want to know what you think, especially if it is different from what they are espousing. Be careful of this trend. It is socialist in nature, communistic in many aspects, and can be found in countries with little to no personal freedoms. It is certainly not Christian.

St. Anthony the Great

 

 

Spring has sprung… I think.

ItsSpringMinions

 

Well, it supposedly happened.  Spring sprung.  Up here, near to the Arctic Circle, things happen a little slower.  But truly, our winter was so very mild, in comparison to friends on the East Coast of the USA, in the “lower 48,” as they call it.  We are all happy to see longer days and more sunshine. I find it so humorous that because we now are getting longer days, that people assume it’s acceptable to whip out their shorts and flip-flops.  I did have to wear sunglasses, because the sun was so bright, but it was only 10-degrees outside.  Still, I saw a man wearing his shorts and flip-flops as he ran into the store.  Determined that it was Spring!  Ha-Ha!

ItsSpring.Nope

We were told to not get too excited with the sunshine, and that the weather pattern is changing, again.  Two weeks ago we all got blizzard warnings on our phones, warning of 15″ – 17″ of snow overnight.  We barely got a covering of frost.  So people don’t trust the TV weather people too much. Over the next 10 days, we are supposed to see a change from our 20s and sunshine to 40s, clouds, and rain.  Oh bother – just when I wanted to take down my Christmas lights! Ha-Ha!  They are some days not frozen to the roof, but most days they have been.  It’s interesting, living in the Last Frontier… weather is certainly never dull.

LakeMountains.AK

I am blessed to live in one of those places where honestly, I think God stood on the 7th Day and said, “It is good.”  The views here are truly breath-taking. The sun moves in a cycle that we can actually watch.  It is so different than anywhere else, it is hard to explain. I can watch the trail of the sun as it rises on the east side of my house, is over the hills to the south around noon or so, and goes down to the west of us.  It is never over my house, regardless of the time of year, nor is it ever in our front yard.  Ever.  Which, growing up in SoCal with the sun over your head all day, is a little disconcerting.  We can actually watch the moon move across the skies, too.  It is pretty amazing.  Up here, we can see the curvature of the earth.  What a blessing.

In this environment, it is not a good thing to be unhealthy or out of shape.  In fact, for people who are heavy, there are very few places to buy winter gear.  I guess the manufacturers just assume fat people (a) don’t live here, or (b) don’t get cold.  It cracks me up.  I love Amazon Prime!  So many of us live with Amazon because the shopping selection for some things is not the same as the Lower 48.  And with winter gear for us “fluffy” people, that is the case.  And I also have a hard time finding jeans.  Just jeans. I mean, come on!  All of this was starting to really annoy me.  When we lived in WA, this feeling was started.  Not because I could not find fat-lady clothes there, but because I wanted to be out and about, moving in the beauty that surrounded me. And I tried and totally blew out a knee.  The doctor told me I needed to loose weight before he could recommend knee surgery.  Then I had heart palpitations.  Went to the ER and then was sent to a cardiologist.  All sorts of expensive tests were run.  I am, and seem to always be, healthy as a horse…. I am just overweight.  The cardiologist told me I would die of complications from being overweight before my heart gave out on me.  And those experiences began an internal nagging.  One I am finally listening to.

Minion.EOSMy family and I were introduced to Essential Oils. I cannot fully express to you what a change that has wrought for all of us.  My son now uses a special blend on his forehead when he does school.  It is really helping him.  My husband had a bad shoulder, he is now able to hold his grandchildren.  I was having recurring chest colds and bronchitis… and I am now cough-free.  We diffuse them in our home, we apply them to our skin, we ingest them with carrier oils, we drink a drop or two in our water.  I even cook with them (the basil oil made amazing spaghetti sauce).  They have become an integral part of our lives.  And through the exposure to EO’s we have been introduced to a more natural, healthy way of living.  We are slowly replacing cleaning products with natural ones.  We are now using natural deodorants (that truly work) and I am using a natural face cream.  Slowly but surely we are detoxing our bodies and our home. And it feels so good.

Iworkout

We have finally made the ultimate step.  Our family has changed from one that reads, to one that now works out.  We joined a family health club.  I have worked out twice and I can honestly say I am excited to keep doing this.  I was not at all intimidated because the staff was so very nice.  Even though I am clinically obese (sounds horrid, doesn’t it?) I wore my sweats and a t-shirt and tried all the machines. I found several that I really liked. I could feel my spine stretching and it was awesome.  To be honest, I feel like I am waking my body up from permanent couch potato status.  And after a couple of times of working out that induced sweat, I am a little achy.  Okay, it hurts.  “But it’ a good hurt,” right? Ha-Ha.  Who are we kidding? It flat out hurts.  But because it does, I am feeling; I am getting in touch with my body after a 30-year lag.  It took me that long to get this way, so I know it will take time and effort to improve.  The secret for me to want to keep going back is that I am doing it with my entire family, including my married son and his wife.  She and I work out together and quite honestly we have laughed so much, it has made the pain and sweat not so bad.  For example, on our first attempt at working out using an automated leg press machine: “You want me to put these legs up there, in that machine?”  And then we tried.  Oh my goodness, we laughed so hard.  A very nice gentleman was across the way and was laughing so much his head was red.  He walked over and kindly showed us how to move the seat, so getting my legs up there was actually possible! Leg presses used to be so different in the 1970s when I last used them! Ha-Ha!  My married son met my husband and our 16-year old at the club this morning at 5:00 am.  They all worked out together.  And my son actually started school by 8:00 am.  You have no idea what a victory that is (try homeschooling a night-owl teen boy and getting him up and moving before 10:00 am!!).

In addition to all of that, we are trying to eat better.  We are making better choices with our food.  We are adding more smoothies.  We are eating fewer carbs and more protein and vegetables.  We feel better for it.  Stimulating our bodies to move, adding in better nutrition, helping to stay healthy with oils, and preparing for Pascha – it all fits in with our Lenten journey.  For our family, this Lent has been life-changing.  We have not attended an over-abundance of Pre-Sanctified Liturgies.  We have not added many extra hours of prayer.  We have not fasted as strictly as we have in the past.  But we have gone through a reformation that we are mostly not even aware of.  As I type, my shoulders ache, but I am in touch of where that ache comes from.  I am diffusing Citrus Blend and the air is alive with scent, and it gladdens my heart.  I am reading a stimulating book entitled, “The Oola Life” and it is spurring me on to get my 7 F’s of Oola in order (check it out online under Oola Life or on Facebook).  Simple ways to get your life aligned in 7 areas that affect us all.  And Fitness and Faith, Family and Friends are right in there.  And it seems to fit.

LupineSpringAnd so we wait, here in the North, for the Springtime to actually bloom.  This year, we are actively preparing for the warmer weather by getting ourselves and our house in order.  We are actively waiting for Holy Week. I cannot believe it is just two weeks away! So many eggs to prepare, bread to bake, and baskets to get ready! Ha-Ha!  But I am smiling. I am feeling so good about how we are looking forward to the Resurrection of Our Lord, and the promise of Eternity in Christ.  We are first preparing our hearts, then our bodies and minds, and finally our homes.  It will be so wonderful to have an open window again – which reminds me that much Spring Cleaning awaits me!

Prayers for a holy and happy, healthy and uplifting remainder of Lent.  And for a gorgeous Spring!

“What does it profit if…”

 

In the Eastern and Orthodox Churches, Great Lent is upon us.  For those in the West, Lent will start tomorrow, with Ash Wednesday.  Great Lent is when we stop and take a good look at who we are, who we have become, and who we truly would like to be. It is a time for reflection, yes.  But Great Lent is when we embark on a renewed road to God.  It is when we embark upon a time of renewed and vigorous re-conversion.  The Church gives us these weeks every year to re-evaluate ourselves in light of the Teachings of Christ and His Church.

I love some of the questions in prayer books, that we can ask ourselves as we approach confession. In the book, “Holy Things for the Holy” published by the Eparchy of Newton in 2006, there is a list of questions to ponder under several categories: “On the Love of God” – Have I had any doubts concerning the Faith or the teaching of the Church?  Have I taken the Name of God in vain, or spoken disrespectfully of Our Lady, the Saints, or of sacred things or religious matters?  Have I neglected to attend the Divine Liturgy on Sundays and Feasts?  “On the Love of Neighbor” – Have I done my duty toward my family?  Have I watched over my children and the company they keep, the books they read, the entertainments they engage in?  Have I been guilty of hatred or vengefulness?  Have I injured anyone by word or deed?  Have I been immodest in my dress or conversation so as to be an occasion of sin for others? Have I neglected to help the poor and needy when I could have done so?  Have I deceived anyone in business transactions? Have I purposely failed to pay my debts?  Have I given false testimony against anyone or passed judgement on anyone?  Have I gossiped or harmed the reputation of others? Have I wished for things God has not given me and been discontented with my lot? And on “Confession in General” – Is there anything that troubles me that might be a sin?  Do I really intend to avoid my sins in the future?

These are a few of the questions under each section, under each of the Ten Commandments of God.  And just these few should bring most of us up short, should we honestly look in the mirror and contemplate them, myself included.  They are a place to start, when we take these initial days of Great Lent to plan our re-conversion, our re-imagining of ourselves into truly the Sons and Daughters of God.

In the East, we celebrate Forgiveness Sunday. This practice was strange to me, and a trifle intimidating, when I first was exposed to it. But you know how things can build up and you don’t even realize you are carrying around a sack of rocks on your back? The stress that builds from anger, hurt, jealousy, unfulfilled dreams, and many human disappointments?  It is amazing how Forgiveness Sunday can relieve all of that.  Even if the subject or focus of your issues is not present.  There is a Latin Term for priests called “in persona Christi” (forgive me, son, if I said that wrong) and it means, “in the person of Christ.”  Our priests are there, representing Christ for us.  They do not become Christ; they are there for Him, like a “stand in.” (If any theologian reads this, please forgive me for my simplistic explanations).  In the same light, we can look at our parishioners as standing in for those who we are having issues with.  When you hug someone and seek their forgiveness, and they forgive and seek yours in return, it is like you dropped that bag of rocks at the altar. You feel lighter, and much more peaceful. It is almost as good as the feeling you get after a good confession, or a deep heart-to-heart with a trusted friend or counselor. Whew. I love it.

The sad part is when people go through motions, but it is nothing more than skin deep.  When people are insincere.  When they laugh behind your back or smirk at you behind your back after something like Forgiveness Sunday is shared.  And that is the crux of the impetus for my post today.  Insincerity.  Deception.  Dishonesty.  When you purport to be a person of God, a Christian, we all make presumptions.  We all do it.  If you say you are a fireman, we presume you put out fires.  If you say you are an attorney, we presume you know the law.  An engineer fixes things.  A mechanic can get your car running.  A nurse can soothe your pain away.  A secretary can organize the heck out of things.  A plumber keeps the water flowing and the toilets flushing. A chef can make you an incredible meal, as a baker makes divine pastries.  We all presume, or profile, about others based upon our perception of their title, or their category/classification.  When you say you  are a Christian, I presume you follow Christ. WWJD?  What would Jesus Do?  Hmmm…sometimes I think He would cringe at what goes on in our churches.  At how un-Christ-like Christians can be towards one another.  Presuming you know Christ and love Christ, and follow His teachings, we all presume certain characteristics about you.  First of all, and for me foremost, is that you are trustworthy and honest.  Christ abhors a liar, as do I.  Being false in any way is not a Christian attitude. “Have I been guilty of hatred or vengefulness? Have I injured anyone by word or deed?”  We’re supposed to contemplate these words before confession.  And we are supposed to live them.  During Lent, we are offered 40 days to reflect on how we are progressing as Christians, and how we are towards our fellow man.  How does dishonesty or deceitful behavior fit into our perspective as Christians? Do we see these as our attributes when we contemplate our own reflections?

Please know that I realize so deeply how far from the mark I, myself, fall.  And I am so very thrilled that the Church offers me these 40 days each and every year to fix myself.  It is an incredible opportunity that so very many of us do not fully utilize.  In the book of Matthew it says, “They give me lip service but their hearts are far from me.”  It is just a sad state of affairs that so many of us Christians do not take advantage of the healing salve of faith our Church offers to us.  The Church offers us countless opportunities to reconnect with our God.  We have prayer times during the week, in our homes, in our cars, on a break, while driving. I have friends who automatically start the Rosary each and every time they are in the car.  People who stop, cross themselves, and acknowledge Christ in the Tabernacle at each Catholic Church they go by – and they know all the ones in their town and the areas around them, so are constantly crossing themselves.  I love that.  They bring the Divine into the every day, in a physical way.  During Great Lent, that can be so enhanced. We can re-focus our energies into our own personal walk with God by re-doubling our efforts at fasting, at praying, at attending weekly services, of reading holy books and books by the early Church Fathers (my favorite Lenten readings are “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives” by Elder Thaddeus, and “The Ladder of Divine Ascent” by John Climacus).

We are personally suffering right now; our hearts are aching.  The little world we inhabit is upset and things are awry.  It makes for a rough start to Lent.  But, as I mourn the Coptic Christians beheaded for our Faith this week, and all those who suffer for our faith, I also feel lousy about complaining and reacting. I feel like crap (excuse me) for being down in the dumps.  People will ALWAYS disappoint you. People will ALWAYS let you down.  People will ALWAYS deceive you.  It is part of being human.  God never deceives, nor disappoints, nor lets you down.  That all belongs to us.  All of that is squarely on our human shoulders.  And that bag of rocks I thought I had left at the altar last Sunday? Well, it’s back up on my shoulders.

I need to remind myself that some people who purport a faith, well, they are not that faithful.  They “Talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk.”  It can be for a multitude of reasons.  Life might just totally stink for them.  They could have horrid jobs and even worse home lives.  Divorces, drug abuse, teen issues, their health may be poor, they could have mental issues; they could be facing financial ruin.  I don’t know, nor is it my place to know.  The lesson I have learned is that Lent, Great Lent, is totally about me.  About me and my God. Where I stand with my Creator.  It does not matter where my neighbor stands.  That is between them and God.  It is not my place to judge.  A great man, a Saint, once said, “Let the mouth also fast from disgraceful speeches and railings. For what does it profit if we abstain from fish and fowl and yet bite and devour our brothers and sisters? The evil speaker eats the flesh of his brother and bites the body of his neighbor. ” ― John Chrysostom.  Deceit and deception, dishonesty and insincerity may be present because there is evil in this world, too.  There is the pressure that evil puts on us when we try to be better Christians.  There are a multitude of things that pull us away from God. I need to always focus on my walk with God, on my personal salvation. And I need to be sure that I am not deceitful nor dishonest, nor insincere.  I need to pray always, for myself and everyone around me. My issues are petty and minor in comparison to the lot of our fellow Christians around the world.  We need to gain some perspective.  A good place to start is from the Foot of the Cross.

There is so much wisdom to be found in the writings of the early Church Fathers.  So much caution about fasting from meat but devouring our neighbors.  “I must keep my eyes on my own plate,” as St. John Chrysostom was fond of saying. As we dive into this Great Lent, my prayer for myself and for everyone is this:

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

This year will be epic!

Lately, it seems as though there is less and less respect, respect about a great many things.

I don’t want to glamorize or give more air time or credence to the new porno movie coming out today, but that is one example of no respect.  The man has no respect for the womanhood, or humanity, of the woman.  I remember how privileged it felt to share in the Divine process of procreation.  Becoming a mother is the one time you cooperate fully in the procreative process with God. God creates all life and He created a life in me..my children. How awesome is that?  This new round of Hollywood madness (and now literary madness as well) has cheapened the physical relationship between a man and a woman. Unfortunately, due to this “success” in the book world, there is now a lot more of this style of writing.  In all genres, and it still has no respect, most especially for women and for the union of man and wife.

I just read an article about Tabernacles being desecrated.  So much so that the local Bishop has ordered all of them in his area closed.  No more adoration.  No more keeping the light on because we know Jesus is home, and we can walk in and chat with Him.  We can even drive by and know He is present.  No more serenity and peace, just being in the same room with Him in a chapel.  Once again, because no one has respect.  I don’t mind if you do not believe in what I believe in. I do not mind that you even dislike what I believe in.  But I offer you the respect of your beliefs and I just want the same in return. I’m not here to shove my beliefs or opinions down your throat.  I just want to practice my faith.  There is no need to destroy the property of a church, or desecrate the Tabernacles within one.  You can voice your opinions in so many other ways, that would perhaps be even more fruitful and cause more people to stop and think.  Even those of other faiths decry the desecration of another church, be it in their belief system or not.  Radical actions by a radical few do nothing to bring others to their point of view.  Please stop.

There are also people out there who share so much, we sort of wish they would not.  Sharing things that should be kept within their family, or their faith family, at best.  Far too much blatant reality and sharing, from my point of view.  Which brings us to blogging.  Some people share far too much on blogs. I have been guilty a time or two myself, and have tried to rectify that trend in my writing.  I feel that when you hope to share your faith and when you hope to bring others over to what you believe, you put your best foot forward.  You don’t disrespect fellow worshippers with poor descriptions of events, sharing your dislike of what happened and continues to be a point of irritation for you.  That does not make anyone want to join you on your journey.  It turns people off, and turns them away.

In our faith tradition in the east, we have lots of opportunity for worship.  We have (in most parishes) evening Vespers, morning prayers, and we have Divine Liturgy. In most eastern parishes, there is one Divine Liturgy a weekend, because we want all our faith family together, worshipping at the same time. In lots of churches, there are so many services offered, you would never have to see the same people twice.  Nor hear the same music or chant twice.  Never have to scurry for the favorite pew seat, because it changes so often.  (We all have people we know who sit in particular places all the time. And heaven forbid someone should come and take their spot in Church…knowingly or unknowingly. I move around all the time, just to keep people on their toes).  We have so many opportunities to live our life of faith, with our community, that we should be so very grateful.  And there are plenty of times when we can worship as a family outside of formal worship, as well as with friends outside of Church time itself.  But we also need to attend and respect the times we are together.

For our tradition, a feast is always prepared with a fast.  And there are readings galore for every feast.  If you attend regularly and read outside of Church, no Saint’s feast day or Holy Day should ever catch you by surprise.  We always lead up to it with readings and fasting.  There are many days we fast in our tradition, and many days that we celebrate with fervor, for long periods of time. We believe a feast begins at sunset the day before.  So we start, for say, Easter Sunday, in the afternoon of Saturday.  We come together in the evening and we stay together until the sun rises and we share our first taste of meat together.  In fact, for the three days until Easter, called the Triduum in the West, we are rarely apart.  Lots of people plan vacation days from work for Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Saturday night prior to Easter Sunday, and then a day of rest for Easter itself.  Many of our friends also take the following week, Bright Week, off work to recuperate and enjoy Easter.  In the Melkite tradition, it is my favorite time of year.  The Lenten evening services are incredible and I have felt God so closely during those moments of total prostration and prayer, enveloped by the sound of my priest’s voice and the cloud of incense over all of us.  The Presanctified Liturgy is, for me, like a moment of Heaven on Earth.  Very special moments for me.  Getting into the habit of spending time in the presence of God can change your outlook on time, itself.

In the eastern Churches, we believe that the moment you step into the Church you have left the world of Chronos (looking at your watch) and into the world of God, Kyros.  It is in Kyros that we loose ourselves in the worship of God and time as we know it ceases to exist.  We flow through the worship services, surrounded by chant and incense, and are quite often amazed at how much Chronos passed us by while in the Temple with God.  If you are current on the readings leading to these longer services, and you understand the whys and wherefores of the Liturgy itself, Chronos has little to no affect on you.  If you drag the world in with you, constantly worrying about what is going on outside, fussing over worldly details, Kyros will become lengthy and bothersome, and in fact, you won’t really have entered into an authentic experience of Kyros.  You will loose the essence of God’s time and be stuck in the world. Of course, sometimes the world intrudes (diapers need changing, little ones need comfort, or you just have to use the restroom!!) and they cannot be helped.  I recall a father of many, behind me in the pew one Sunday, handling a variety of upset kids.  Criers, fussers, generally cranky kids.  And I turned around at one point and saw him cradling a baby, eyes closed, swaying to the movement of the chant, reciting the prayers right along with the priest. His face was one of utter contentment.  He was in Kyros, while dealing with the world’s problems in the person of a crying baby.  It can be done, but it requires a determination sometimes to shut the world out.

This viewpoint is not respected by lots of people.  They view church as some sort of hour-long drive through where they can get their sacraments and get out, to get on with life.  They complain about lengthy services, about times, about requirements of participation.  My thoughts are, keep shopping.  There is bound to be a church that will cater to your whims and wishes.  Which is not very Christ-like! However, God only asks us to worship Him for an hour a week.  Anything we do over and above that is gravy to our souls.  One lousy hour.  Okay, on a feast day, it may be 3-4 hours.  It is truly not much when you look at the many hours we waste in traffic or in lines for things like coffee.  It comes down to your devotion and your priorities.  And you can complain, yes.  Feel free.  God listens to our joys as well as our sorrows.  But respect the faith that you are sharing.  Don’t turn people off or away by not respecting the very place you turn to for your “God time.”  Perhaps investigate the workings of the Liturgy itself and try to get into the movements of what is happening each week. You would be amazed at what you thought, versus what is.  And if your life just does not have this sort of time available in it, there are places that are faster, simpler, cleaner.  I just find it a shame someone would miss out on the beauty of worship that is relatively unchanged for 2,000 years in favor of a few extra minutes of Chronos.  Giving up the Kyros moments with God?  Not me.  I’m so excited for Great Lent and all the Lenten devotions.  I respect the chosen faith, that for me, fulfills my needs so much more than I can ever properly share.  A Church that has prepared for me for millennia; a Church who knows I need these times to keep my life on track.  I am so blessed, and as I said, so excited for Great Lent.

This year will be epic.

The Rhythm of the Seasons… the Cycles of Life and Liturgy

Things can be so weird sometimes.  And God is always, and I mean ALWAYS, a part of everything.  One of the things I love about being a part of the Church is the rhythm of life is mirrored in the rhythm of the Church.  We have moments of sorrow, moments of joy; moments of deep reflection, and moments of celebration.  And God walks with us through all of it.  His Hand is in all we do, whether we want to deal with it or not.  And for me and my life, it seems like just when things are reaching another apex, the Church in her wisdom, gives us another opportunity to share. And here we are, approaching Great Lent, and this past Sunday we had Meat Fare wherein we give up all meat for the next 40 days. This Sunday is Forgiveness Sunday and is also Cheese Fare Sunday, where we have our last opportunity to eat dairy and chees through Great Lent. And it is one of those sublime times in my life where it all clicks.

My husband and I have been married for 30 years, and together for 32.  Honestly, we did not even check with those calendars that tell you what to give for what year.  We renewed our vows on our 25th, with silver everything! Ha-Ha.  This year, we spent a wonderful evening with another couple who believe like we do, and celebrate like we do. It was perfect and the evening out was our celebration.  The gifts we gave each other? We gave each other the gift of health.  This year we are promising to invest our time and efforts, and our days, in search of premium health.  We have grandchildren we want to share time with, and three amazing sons and their families (potential family with the youngest son) we want to celebrate life with.  We want to dance at our grandchildren’s weddings.  We want to grow much, much older together.  Our parents are all aging.  My father-in-law has passed away and my mother-in-law is facing more surgeries and poor health.  My mom is getting deeper in Alzheimer’s and my dad recently joined her on the same journey.  We do not want our “Golden Years” spent in ill health!  This past year we were faced with health insurance choices and we chose to participate in a health care co-op.  What that means is that we pay a monthly premium, it goes into a large pot (which grew by over 100,000 members this past year) and when someone has an illness and has expenses, the money is taken from the pot and we all support one another.  We put our money where our faith is.  In the early Church, all believers shared property in common (sort of like a modern commune environment).  They all took care of one another.  The program we joined is Christian based, and in addition to sharing our money with one another, we commit to pray for one another.  What a blessing, and even with the Obamacare option, that is what we chose to do.

We also chose to pay attention to our health – honestly and daily.  We started using Essential Oils and it has been an incredible experience.  My husband, the engineer, was the biggest skeptic but has become convinced because of the effect the oils have had on him.  We are convinced, as a couple moving forward.  And we have begun to include oils as a part of our daily life.  But as a family member says, “Oils won’t make much difference if you’re still drinking dozens of sodas a day.”  And she is right (even though we specifically gave up soda years ago, I get the point).  And so we are approaching our diet and exercise commitment/component of our gift of health.  My son and daughter-in-law have an elliptical machine they are going to loan us.  When you live in Alaska, that is a good thing!  We had snow again today and it is a little chilly out there.  We will be able to walk inside our home and this activity will help us to become more limber and able to tackle the great outdoors, when the temps are slightly better. Alaska is the “last, great frontier,” and trust me, it is a rugged place to live.  This elliptical machine will allow us, especially me, time alone and in silence, to build some endurance and flexibility.  The next thing we are tackling is our diet.

When you start using Essential Oils in earnest, they affect your body in a myriad of ways.  Being so pure, they are working against all the toxins we’ve accumulated over the many years we’ve been ingesting them.  Petrochemicals are in almost everything.  And so the toxins have to work their way out.  I’ve caught every bug walking by. My oil consultant even drove in the snow to bring me relief in oils I did not have.  And we spoke today of purity of content in the oils and the foods we eat.  It all is intertwined.  Our conversation only further cemented my desire to change what and how we eat.

Enter Great Lent.  Part of our focus on health has been to control what we eat, how and when we eat.  We’re making our way through boxed mixes and carbs, to get rid of them all.  We are aiming for more simple, pure eating.  We will be trying a program that helps you detox and eat in proportions that are meant for us.  (Do you remember how much smaller plates used to be? How much smaller proportions used to be?).  This program encourages few simple carbohydrates, lots of vegetables and fruits, healthy grains/complex carbs, and clean proteins.  It also allows us the use of pure oils in our cooking and seasoning.  Great Lent means diligent fasting.  What a perfect sense of timing!!!  It all fits into a wonderful flow and movement.

During Great Lent, in the Melkite tradition, we refrain from all meats and fishes, all dairy, all olive oil, and liquor (especially wine) for the entire 40 days of Lent.  In other traditions, they have moderated the strictness of the Fast and only fast, for example, on Wednesdays and Fridays. It’s just a matter of tradition.  Fasting is not new.  Why do you think McDonald’s has their fish sandwiches and offers specials during Lent?  They get it.  Fish sticks and salmon steaks are featured items in grocery stores.  Why?  Because big commerce likes to earn money from our fasting traditions.  I remember the cafeteria at school had “fish-stick-Friday” when I was in HS, over 40 years ago.  The world at large is aware the Church fasts now and then, it’s just that a lot of people haven’t been doing it at all, or just remember to eat fish on Fridays.  Great Lent gives us a chance to dive into fasting, in earnest.

And the Church also gives us this time of 40 days to reflect, to clear ourselves of the junk in our lives.  It can be diet, yes, and the Church helps us to get rid of the stuff that is making us sick. We can cut back and cut out.  We can change.  You only have to do something for 21 days for it to become a life long habit.  We can add things, as well.  We can make more time for silence and for prayer.  We can dedicate our evenings, devoid of media, to attending Lenten prayer services, or Vespers if offered.  We can gather our children around our icon corner (or our paintings or statues) and we can pray as a family.  We can spend time pouring over Scriptures, discussing the themes throughout Lent.  Our parish is planning inserts into our bulletin, highlighting ideas to share with our kids and Scriptures to read with them, as an aide for families.  Great Lent is a time for great change, as we prepare to share in the single most life-changing event the world has ever known – the suffering, death, and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Great Lent is upon us and we are at the apex of great change in our lives. I love how God has made our world (our little world of our family) spin to the point where we are very ready for great changes.  We are poised to leap into a different way of eating and growing. We are paying attention to how we eat, and how we treat our bodies.  Our youngest son hits the weights every morning, without prompting.  The oils are coming along with him (another skeptic in the family) and we’re working out recipes we can all live with. We are adding scent and silence, prayers and fasting to our lives and it could not come at a better time. I just smile, as I drink my lemon oil in water (a purge) and smell the Thieves oil, decontaminating our house.  I think this Lent will be amazing and as weird as it may sound, I am excited for it to begin.  Praise God.

Blessings.

“Pressed down, shaken together, and running over…”

So, as I posted before, “What do we do with it?”  I am still trying to share as much as I can of what I am given; especially with my faith.    When we move around in life, we have the opportunity to learn from our environment and the people we meet.  We can choose to disregard these opportunities, or we can embrace them.

bumpers I came up with a theory for myself years ago and it is based on the old-fashioned pinball machines.  (I guess that sort of dates me!). There was this awesome pinball machine at a pizza place our sons’ soccer teams always went to for parties, etc.  It was an outer space-oriented game and I could actually play it. Once the games started getting more computerized, I lost my touch! Ha-Ha! Anyway, the point is that we are like those silver-toned balls in the machines.  We are launched into life and we bang into people and places along our way.  Some of these interactions score big points, others we would prefer to have avoided.  They are hazards or bumpers!  Occasionally, we get to start over, if we are lucky, and still amass our points.  But regardless of how we are launched each time, we keep on banging into all sorts of different hazards and blessings.

attackmars2 Once we get to a certain age, we sort of feel like we’ve got the hang of this thing called “life.” We make decisions and choose things in life based on our understanding of where we fit in all of this. Sometimes our choices look stupid or erroneous to those around us, and we often do make mistakes.  One of the things that has become more clear as time has moved along is that these choices we make are solely ours.  We cannot blame how we were launched, how many tries we got at this, or who launched us.  Basically, we are responsible for our own misery or happiness.  We cannot continue to blame others and to rest on paltry excuses.

pinball_machineI believe the idea is to gain perspective, like looking at this pinball game from the perspective of the player, where we can see the whole board.  Peter Kreeft, in his oft-quoted book about heaven, tells us that God is like a master writer.  And a writer knows the story in his head; he knows the beginning, middle, and the end; he has created a timeline.  The goal in life is to stand outside the “Timeline” with the Author of Life, looking at our individual timelines.  We will understand fully, when we stand with God.  (ref 1Cor 13: 12). And He is the master-player, knowing all the players and options, knowing which hazards to avoid.  Sort of like that song, “Pinball Wizard” – “He ain’t got no distractions;  Can’t hear those buzzers and bells…”

And that is where faith and our prayer life come into play for us. We rely on God and try to “listen” to his promptings in our lives. Sometimes it is hard to hear Him because, unfortunately (and to carry this theme even further – sorry, I couldn’t help it!) we hear and see all “those buzzers and bells” in life.  And for most of us, we don’t realize how much noise there is, between our hearts and God. We get distracted!

Candles.littlephotoQuite often we need the quiet, the silence, the alone-time to re-connect to God. He is waiting for us, ever-patient, ever-understanding, ever-on our side.  We are the ones wandering all over the place.  Like I said above, moving around in life can be a positive, growth experience, sort of thing. Or it can be something that hinders us. It is all a matter of choice and free will.  I am discovering through this Lenten period of reflection, that I have brought lots of things with me, emotionally, psychologically, and theologically, from all the places and people I have run into through my life. It has created within me the fabric of my “prejudice” – the place from which I view life.  We all have it.  We all make decisions based on our own worldview or prejudice.  And it colors my world – and sometimes not for the better.  When our own worldview becomes too entrenched, we are unable to learn.  We feel conflict unless people have our exact, same, viewpoint. And trust me, with the myriad of options in life, not to mention the endless combinations inherent in genetic make-up, there is no exact match to any of us – it is part of the beauty of creation! Individuals, each with free will, trying to get along.  And each of us trying to make our way through this life, to our eternities.  I am praying my eternity is one shared with God.

Kneeling Prayer.Orthodox ChurchTo carry this pinball thing as far as I probably can, God allows us to fail.  We bang into one too many hazards and are relegated to start over.  What an incredible gift that is!  Do we all realize how incredible it is that Our Lord offers us the same thing He asks of us?  “Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18: 21-22). Each and every time we fall and get up again, it is as if the Lord has said to each of us:

“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. “Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. “Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. “If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. “If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

      “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned. “Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” (Luke 6: 27-35)

Can you imagine if those words were applied to each of us, by God?  Do we judge? Oh, pretty much all the time!  Do we love those who hate us? Not so much.  Do we expect nothing in return when we give?  Most times, no, we don’t.  And what does that say about us? About me?  That I have so much work to do on my salvific journey!  Thanks be to God for Lent.  Thanks be to God that the Church gives me this time every year, every year, to realize that I have fallen again and that I need to raise myself up, to be more in the likeness of God. And each time I realize this, it is as if that little ball on the pinball board hit a flapper – something that hurls me back into the game, just a little bit wiser!  Just a little bit less prejudiced because I have (hopefully) grown.  Isn’t God and His Church just so amazing?  We think we are such intellectuals when we have the Church and the Church Fathers, who have gone before us perhaps 1,000s of years ago, and they’ve already laid this all out for us. From Ecclesiastes, Chapter 14, verses 11-12:

 “What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.”

My continued prayers that this Lenten period be one of growth and prosperity in seeking a closer relationship with God.  I am blessed and I appreciate this time each year so much.  For me, the trick is to keep moving forward, keep learning, and to not repeat old patterns once the Great Fast has completed itself.  Fasting is a time for quiet reflection, and not just a time when we leave food habits aside, but a time when we take on new, and better, traits worthy of a child of God.  Blessed Lent!

KeepCalm.Pascha

“Behold, I am making all things new…”

handsAnd He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Rev 21:5)

I had a nice chat with my mom today. She is 83 and lives in a retirement facility in Southern California.  I always get, “It’s so pretty here. The sky is so blue and not a cloud in the sky! It’s going to be a gorgeous day today.”  I am loosing my mom a little more each day; she has Alzheimer’s and the progression is inevitable.  Sometimes we have a fruitful conversation and we don’t repeat for, perhaps, 10 minutes.  And then it’s back to, “It’s so pretty here. The sky is so blue…”  Today she kept saying, “It doesn’t matter where you go, you pay a price for where you live” at every opportunity she could wedge it in.  She gets on kicks like that and we just have to talk it all the way out, so she can move on.  She told me at least three times that she was getting dressed for lunch.  And, “Well, I could have it worse. It’s a pretty nice place. But of course, you pay a price for where you live, you know.”  Ha-Ha.  I love her so much.  At least she is happy and seems content.  Gradually, as with all Alzheimer patients, you just stop thinking about what you forget and it eventually becomes lost in a haze forever.  Even now, as my mom is at lunch with her friends, she does not recall we spoke today. It is a horrible disease.

And as God is good and would do something for my happiness, I no sooner hung up with my mom than my daughter-in-law came by for a drop-in visit with my grandchildren.  It made my day.  And as I sat holding my 4-month-old grand daughter, I reveled in the marvelous relationship building with both her and my daughter-in-law. (Actually, I am blessed with two amazing women who married my sons.  They could not have found better mates! I feel like I now have two daughters, but more importantly, two friends).  And as I held my grand daughter and watched her giggles, drools, and smiles, I fell in love all over again. I thought of the wonderful thread of lives, all the generations, in fruition in my grand daughter.  “And I make all things new.”  God re-energizes our family each time it grows and expands.  And each time I am presented with a grandchild, my heart expands again, re-energizing me and filling me with love.

I told my mom this morning that I think I was born to be a grandmother.  This particular time of my life, right now, and in the coming years, are my best.  I love some of the early years when my boys were young and we lived on a dairy farm.  Those days are precious to me, and I look on them as my “good old days.”  It was carefree in a way I haven’t had since.  All that taken into consideration, I think I have grown to be a better person over the years and am disposed to my grandchildren much better because of the times gone by.  Of course, I still have a 15-year-old at home, so I am also still raising a young man, and that helps me relate to my older sons and their wives in a way I never thought I would have.  It is a difference and it’s like we’re becoming friends, and I love it!

“For everything there is a season…” Ecclesiastes 3 has so much wisdom to share.  We all have times in our lives where certain things are appropriate.  We grow to fill the time we occupy.  For example, one of my mom’s favorite sayings is, “Children are for the young.”  I didn’t fully appreciate that until I grew into my late 50s. And now I have patience and time for children, but even more so, I have boundless patience and time for my grandchildren.  I know I am blessed!

“…a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
(Ecc 3: 2)

Tulips in snowIn our lives, the cycles move…and they don’t stop because we would like them to.  They keep on moving; that clock keeps ticking.  I like to explain it as a “generational shift.”  One day you look around your life and realize you are now your mother; she is now your grandmother, and your children are now you.  Your place and perspective have changed; you moved up a rung.  And it feels odd sometimes, because you feel like a teenager in your head, but when you look in the mirror, the gray hair and wrinkles remind you that you so are not.  (Even if you still secretly feel like you’re still “cool” and can rock it! Ha-Ha!!).

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live;” (Ecc 3:11-12)

As I struggle through Great Lent this week, I keep my eye focused on the prize: my eternity. God and His Church gives me this time every year to stop and re-focus my energies and my daily life onto my eternity.  It is a time for reflection, for prayer, for penance, and for almsgiving.  For me, almsgiving has always been something more of the heart than of the wallet.  Some of the most satisfying days I have ever enjoyed were shopping at the local food bank and buying food to make for our homeless and needy population, who surrounded our parish in SoCal.  I would go to the local foodbank and fill my suburban to the brim and load up my two boys still at home, and off we would head to the parish.  I would set them up with a table and chairs to do their schoolwork (homeschooling mom here) and then I would head to the kitchen. I loved the afternoons of chopping, slicing, and dicing with the other ladies of our parish.  We had such a great time.  And that type of almsgiving, to me, is just so satisfying.  We were making a difference in our community.  I miss those days.  And during Lent, the people who came to be fed knew we fasted, and they loved how we made fasting food that tasted good!  They often stayed to listen to Evening Prayers (Vespers) we had after we had cleaned up.  The candles, the incense, drew them in and gave them a respite from the ugliness out there.

We can all struggle through Lent, or we can be joyous about it, while we struggle. Remember the admonishment in Scripture?  Matthew 6: 16-18 tells us:  “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

What screws us upWe are all called to make something of this time of fasting.  I have been shown so many wonderful things.  I have seen my blessings in the lives of the family we have gathered around us, and those we hold dear in our hearts who live far away.  I have been blessed with friends; some who I have loved for decades, and some new ones, too.  I have been taken to a land that has gotten under my skin and a place that I don’t see me ever leaving. I am not even anxious to vacation away from it, as there is still so much to see and experience.  My faith has been widened to allow for “other” and “different” to be accepted and even welcomed.  This Pascha will be my first one celebrating with Slavonic traditions and I am so excited!  The baskets, the covers, the red eggs…I am really looking forward to it and am loving all the prep for it!  One thing that is hitting me very strongly this Lent, and it is a great truth I am learning, well worth the “look-see” time of the fast, is this:

St Nikon of OptinaI am here, I am still me.  My zip code is really different than last Lent.  My entire life is upside down.  The view is drastically changed, as well as the environment I find myself in.  I left all that was familiar, and so many relationships.  I miss my friends, but I have also been taught the value of friendship and who are my true friends.  As my mom said today, “It doesn’t matter where you go, you pay a price for where you live.”  She is so right-on (‘Let days speak, and many years teach wisdom.’ Job 32:7) but I should not be surprised. Lots of people in my mom’s life chose to ignore her for her intelligence (she was usually eclipsed by someone else around her) but she always had wise things to say, if you but sat and listened to her.  Her tongue was sharp, as was her mother’s before her, but once she aged, she imparted more wisdom than vinegar!  And now I find myself listening to her today and thinking on her wise words to me.  She misses me because I am so far away, but she understands my need to go.  She left New Zealand to come to America with my dad; she knows what it is like to leave all you know for the unknown, and how to make a life where you are, still retaining who you are, while remaining open to new things.

For this Lent, one of the biggest lessons to me is that things are not what I had in my head; I am where I am and guess what? I brought baggage with me.  And now I am being shown all these blessings and learning the baggage is far less important to me, as I have opened myself to growth.  I am finding a peace that I never realized I lacked.  God is good, so good, if we just sit still and allow His presence to be the most important thing in our lives, allowing Him room to do His great work in us. I am still learning and I am more than halfway “home.”

“Behold, I am making all things new.”  (Rev 21:5)

Blessed Lent.

KeepCalm.Pascha

“…you are true heirs of His promise.”

I’m all about planning for Pascha this year. I am excited for it. I got my basket (huge step) and my basket cover (gorgeous), my Ukrainian egg wraps, a recipe for dying eggs red (my last attempt went so-so), and a recipe for Pascha bread.  I am still looking at cheese recipes!  A friend is getting me authentic sausage from back east, too.  I am hoping to get it all together soon.  There is quite a list of what you traditionally fill your baskets with in the Russian/Slavic world!  I took down the last of our interior lights last night (well, okay, I directed the effort as my husband took them down!) and all of our Christmas stuff is gone; our windows look naked!  I laughed because we feel like spring is approaching, but we had a surprise snow storm this week that dumped 14″ on us in one night.  We have a lot of snow, with more coming in the next few days.  So that part of planning for Pascha is rather ironic!  Ha-Ha!

SnowMarch14.2014My kids tease me about my window “jellies.”  I have them for pretty much every holiday!  And I took down Christmas and up goes Easter!  And when we got that snowstorm on Friday, this shot through the front window just made me smile.  There is an old saying that goes something like, “Give God a laugh; tell Him your plans.”  Here I am planning for spring, dealing with temps in the 40s and slushy, mushy rain, running to Pre-Sanctified Liturgy, only to come out about an hour later to a snow storm and temps down around 24-degrees!  I couldn’t believe it!  The drive home was so not fun! But I remembered that saying and know that God is in charge!

So today, I found some recipes for dying the eggs red.  And I thought about an experience a year or two ago, when we were attending a Roman Church in WA at Easter. We took a basket of red eggs to share, as that had been our tradition from years past as Byzantine Catholics.  No one had seen red eggs before.  I laid them at the foot of the altar in a basket and people just stared at me.  (We always stood out – my husband is a Melkite deacon and always dressed for “Mass” in his Sticharion [outer tunic] and hat, called a skoufus. We do not melt into the crowd anyway!) I had told our priest I was going to do it and he thought it was an excellent idea and gave me permission beforehand.  At the donut and coffee hour afterwards, he silenced everyone and handed me a microphone, where I explained the tradition and we passed around eggs to everyone.  Luckily I had made enough!  But no one had ever heard the story, nor knew of the tradition. I had some elaborately decorated ones, too, in the Slavic tradition, and those were also foreign to the parish community.

red_eggs_166w_170hAnd it made me sad.  Sad because it seems like we’re becoming a beige country. And also sad because very few people are aware of other traditions other than those egg dying kits you buy in the grocery stores!  I have gone that route, with the little tablets, vinegar in bowls…the dye leaching into clothes and carpeting when you want to hide them.  Naturally dyed eggs don’t run! Wrapped eggs aren’t dyed! How easy is that?  And, there is so much more out there. The traditions and expressions of our faith are as diverse as the countries Christianity is found in.  And it is NOT beige!

Ukrainain Egg Wraps 3No one wants to celebrate our ethnic diversity, unless of course, it is a PC ethnicity.  Today there are articles abounding over the controversy of Heineken, Guinness, and Sam Adams beers pulling out of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York because the parade organizers decided long ago that the parade is to honor St. Patrick and no other banners, except those honoring the Saint, can be carried.  Some LGBT groups wanted to be included and wanted to carry their own banners. The organizers said they can walk in the parade, but the parade is about the Saint. Period. Which happens to be a 1st Amendment right! So, because the parade is not inclusive enough, the beer companies pulled their sponsorship.  The Catholic League is calling for a boycott of those brands.

St.Patrick.iconI wish everyone would go back to the days when we could all be proud of where we were from, to acknowledge and appreciate those differences, and share in celebrating them.  Today, around the world, everyone wears green and is Irish, just for a day.  What’s wrong with having fun with that and learning to like corned beef and cabbage (not my thing, I have to admit)?  The traditions that make up who we are as a nation, and who we are as a Church, are to be celebrated, not boycotted.  We need to savor and hold onto our cultures.  The world is becoming beige, as races and cultures intermarry and people immigrate (legally) from country to country.  It is sad that some people have to use these tools like Ancestry.com to find out where they come from.  Our ethnic parishes, as it becomes the third generation after the initial immigrants arrived, are finding their youth moving away and marrying outside their ethnicity and religious practices.  Beige.  It has never been a favorite color of mine. We celebrate where we come from, but are ever mindful of who we are in faith:

“For now that you have faith in Christ you are all sons of God. All of you who were baptized “into” Christ have put on the family likeness of Christ. Gone is the distinction between Jew and Greek, slave and free man, male and female—you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, you are true descendants of Abraham, you are true heirs of his promise.” (Gal 3:28-26) 

Entrance of the Tomb One of my favorite traditions in the Melkite Church’s celebration of Pascha is when we sing, “Christ is risen! He is truly risen!” or “Al Masiah Qaam! Haqqan Qaam! / Al Massihu Qam! Haqqan Qam!” or “Christos Anesti! Alithos Anesti!”.  And we greet each other with “Glory to His Resurrection on the Third Day! We glorify His Resurrection on the Third Day!”  It becomes so loud and boisterous inside that Church – poor neighbors!  The photo above is of everyone re-entering the Church under the empty Tomb of Christ.  The song that then gets everyone going is, “Christ is risen from the dead and by His death He has trampled upon death, and has given life to those who are in the tombs!”  Boy, you have never experienced a Pascha (Easter) Vigil until you have experienced the ones celebrated in our old parish!  The lamps are swinging, it’s after 1:00 a.m., everyone is tired and their voices are hoarse, but they sing it as loud as they can, and everyone is laughing and Fr. Justin is running up and down the aisles swinging that incense!  It has to be one of the most joyous experiences I have ever had.  Am I Arabic? Nope! Scots/English girl here.  But can I embrace the spiritual, cultural, and social customs of an ethnic parish? You bet I can! I relish in it.  Because to me, we are sharing what makes our Church truly universal.  And there is absolutely nothing to compare to the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, a midnight Easter Vigil, Fr. Justin’s exhausted enthusiasm, and the smell of MEAT cooking just yards away – a smell no incense can wipe out after 40 days of fasting; trust me on that.

So this year, our first year up here in Alaska, celebrating in a Byzantine parish, I am learning all new traditions.  And I am loving it.  Why? Because my world just expanded again.  I didn’t boycott because they don’t use Melkite chant or the Arabic and Greek languages, nor fast in exactly the same way.  I am, instead, learning some Slavonic and trying hard to wrap my head around some Russian.  I am not leaving one behind and embracing one in its place, I am adding to my religious experience; my repertoire, if you will.  This process of Theosis, or my salvation, is a long one. It will take my eternity!  God will take us on some wild rides in our journey, if we allow it to happen. I may not celebrate wearing all green today, nor will I be breaking my fast with corned beef, but I sure can support those who do.

Red easter egg.2The tradition of red eggs at Easter is explained above.  When two Christians greet one another at Easter, it is with an egg held in their hand (preferably hard boiled and colored/decorated!).  They clang eggs, symbolizing the opening of the Tomb, and they say to one another, “Christ is risen! He is truly risen!”  (The one whose egg does not break is considered the “winner” and goes on, cracking eggs with others in greeting until their egg is broken.  Then they eat that one and get another one!) I think sharing something with people that comes from another culture makes us better; it makes our faith more universal, or catholic.  And God came for all peoples, in all places, not just a select few. He came for me! And I am getting excited! Next try is dying eggs using yellow onion skins…I’ll let you know how they come out!!

Lent is a time

“Are you still sleeping?”

KeepCalm.PaschaI am learning patience in a completely new way and I think I like it.  I was raised in a place where we took the sun for granted.  It was just always there.  You could look up and always see it.  The seasons barely manifested themselves.  We would get a slight turning of the leaves when fall would approach, and then we’d get rain.  But I remember many a Christmas wearing shorts because it was so hot.  I also recall Halloweens when we did not want to wear a costume because we’d sweat to death.  And I also recall many, many hot, sweltering days during the summertime when even the air conditioning could not keep up with the heat.  I also remember cold mornings with fog during the summertime. I remember walking to the rec center with my brother and we’d have on shorts but would also be wearing sweaters because it was foggy and cold.  But by the time we walked home again, it would be so hot that the pavement felt hot beneath our shoes.  And the sun was always with us.  Always.  Even during the shorter days of winter we had sunny and hot days.  As I have moved north, I have come to experience the sun in such different ways.  I just never realized how different the days could be, or how different seasons can be.  And I must say, people who live in the more “warm, always sunny” climates are missing out on some beautiful days.

When we lived in the greater Seattle area, I experienced the oddest thing.  I experienced blowing leaves and rain that were both coming down so hard, the wiper blades got stuck.  I had to get out of my car in the wind, rain, and blowing leaves to unclog the blades so I could see where I was going. It was truly a fall experience. The leaves were a cornucopia of golds and reds, yellows and oranges. It was glorious!  And shorter days really became shorter days. It would be pitch black at 5:00pm!  And the smell of fall…it is so hard to describe, but it was simply glorious.  I also never really understood all that decorating in fall colors, the different styles of gourds (pumpkins are just 1 of zillions) and the drinking of hot beverages, until I lived in the Pacific Northwest!  I think fall became my favorite time of year when we lived in Washington State.  And it holds a special place in my heart. I will ever miss and long for those fall days in Maple Valley.

And now I live in the “far north,” the farthest north you can live and still be in America.  It’s the home of the Iditarod and mushing, snow machining and ice fishing.  It is called the “Land of the Midnight Sun” because during the summertime, we have very little dark.  The oddest thing for me was taking my husband to the airport at 2:00am and not needing headlights. Perfectly light outside. On my way home, about 3:00am, I put on my head lights.  And the other half of that saying is that it is the “Land of the Midnight Sun for three months, then the land of no sun.”  And that is where I am today.

Ice close upWe are in Lent.  At the end of Lent we have Easter.  Typically Easter means Spring.  It is also characterized by bright colors, flowers, and cute Easter dresses for girls, Easter bonnets, baskets, and little bunnies.  All bright pinks, yellows, greens, and blues!  Did I tell you have I grandchildren? Easter shopping for them is just so much fun!  Except that up here, it is still winter.  Today we have wind just howling against our house, shaking the little “Welcome to our Home” sign I recently got on clearance at Michael’s Craft Store (and which I am seriously thinking of taking down for awhile – it rattles against the house. Maybe that’s why it was on clearance!!!) and our combo screen/glass door rattling so that it sounds like someone is coming inside the house – which the dogs think they need to bark about and the cat needs to scurry away and hide from. We have snow in our forecast for today and tomorrow, as well as next week.  It is a whopping 27-degrees outside right now.  And we are preparing for Easter.  I put my little jelly clings on my windows, all eggs and “Happy Easter,” yesterday and it was blowing snow.  It is just such a difference from what I have ever experienced in life. In Washington, the tulips were coming up by now!  In California, it was already shorts and flip-flops, iced tea and A/C weather!!  But here, no here, it is still winter.  And it’s still Lent!

I am planning our family Easter Basket in the Slavic tradition and have plans for making lamb butter (just a mold – not made out of a lamb) and cheese, getting some real German sausage, coloring my eggs (I even got some awesome Ukrainian egg wraps), and making a bow for it.  And it is hard, trying to get excited about Easter, when it is all dark and gloomy.  And it’s still Lent.

Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, “Sit here while I go and pray over there.” And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.”  He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”  Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “What! Could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”  Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.” And He came and found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy.So He left them, went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words.Then He came to His disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners.” (Matthew 26:36-45)

And I feel so guilty that I cannot even “stay awake” with the Lord. He has asked us to pray with Him, to keep watch with Him.  Our watch with Him is Lent.  He has asked us to help Him when His heart was so distressed, knowing what was facing Him.  He wanted those who loved Him to be at His side. Christ, being also God, knew what was in the hearts of the three He had with Him. He even commented that He knew their “flesh is weak,” which I take to mean that God knows our trials are hard, but we are fleshy-humans with weak wills that succumb to our bodily weaknesses.  The Apostles didn’t truly understand what Christ was about to go through, or I am sure their fear would have kept them wide awake.  I always found it interesting that the deceit of Judas came in the dark, as most evil intentions do.  And here I am, living in a land with so much of the year in darkness.  The land struggles to find its way to Spring, just as we struggle to find our way through Lent.  From the darkness to the light.  From the Fast to the Feast.  From floundering with ourselves, to the Light of Christ in our lives.

Lent Strengthens a manWe all have demons and we all struggle with them. Our culture does not help us to tame our demons; it is a hedonistic society in which we live, in which esoteric struggles are met with “If it feels good, do it,” and other slogans. The idea of self-sacrifice is so foreign to most people.  People of faith, however, are more used to models of sacrifice; the ultimate model of self-sacrifice is Christ on Our Cross.  Because let’s not fool ourselves!  Christ died for me.  He came into this world to save sinners…and that is me.  Christ would have sacrificed Himself had I been the only soul on earth.  Because God deemed it right! “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16).  Christ came to save us, but we need to remember that He came to save ME.  It makes all of this far more personal, and salvation is, indeed, very personal.  We, each of us, has to come to a personal knowledge and thanksgiving for the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross…and that cross has each of our names on it.  Each time that hammer pounded on His Flesh, it was for ME.  Each time His skin was torn through His Flagellation at the hands of the soldiers, it was torn for ME – it was torn BECAUSE OF ME.  Each of us can personally share in the sacrifice of Christ, and each of us bears responsibility for that sacrifice.  What helps bring the Spring, and allow the Light of Christ to shine, is how we corporately prepare and corporately celebrate this Gift from God – our salvation.  We prepare together and hold each other up as we go out to meet the demons and the angels.  We mourn together during Holy Week as we walk, once again, along that Way of the Cross with a beaten and battered Lord Who willingly gave His life for each of us.  And when the clouds passed over His Cross, when the Temple’s cloth was torn asunder, and the sun shone brightly, we hold our collective breath.  As Our Lord is lowered from our Cross and laid in His tomb, we wait, breathless, for the sun to shine.  For that moment when He rises past all of it, to appear in Glory.

I believe that our passing through all these dark days, when we long for Spring and some warm weather, is the perfect time for Lent.  It is amazing how much the sun can change how you look at everything.  A couple of sunny days in a row and I am ready to redecorate! I want to paint and pull all the stuff off the walls and scrub! I want the light to come into a clean place.  And I get all excited.  And that is also the process of Lent.  We pray. We sacrifice. We live in the darkness, just waiting for the snow to melt around our hearts and the sun (Son) to shine in all the dark places we’ve allowed to go untouched for far too long.  And we can all feel it coming closer.  We start to see that light far off.  Occasionally the Church gives us a Feast Day in amongst all the fasting, and we get a glimpse of the full sunshine that is coming.

Ukrainain Egg Wraps 3It is all so awesome.  I will gladly not eat meat or treat myself to another movie, or read some incredible words penned by a Church father…because it is all preparing me for the day of the ultimate sunshine in my life, Pascha!  Easter baskets will be shared, foods will be eaten, eggs will be cracked against each other, and everyone will be smiling.  I KNOW that is coming. I KNOW God is working in my life and helping to prepare my heart for Pascha.  For now, I will do like this photo:

Weather the stormAnd I will do so with a preparatory heart, knowing that:2Thessalonians3-3Blessed Lent!

“Remember those who led you…”

f01d51451266a8a4dc5d8f3e9314a2c2One of the very best things about joining a large organization, is discovery. Who else is there, what their roles are, what the basic structures of the organization are, where things are done, how they are done – the local customs, so to speak.  When I was in college, I went through sorority rush.  This was quite a number of years ago, and so the things in the news about hazing were not really practiced, in the sense that when I was there, it was all about fun, afternoon teas, and belonging.  The sorority rush pattern was such that you were given a schedule of houses to visit, in what order, and at what time; also what attire was appropriate, etc.  After the first day, the sororities choose who to invite back a second time.  Each time you are invited back, you get a little bit more of a glimpse into other members, who they are and why they chose that particular house or chapter, what the sorority’s “theme” is (some have members who are all science majors, or PE majors, or teaching-oriented, which is the one I eventually chose) and the requirements and expectations of membership.  Eventually, you stop being asked back by some of the chapters, or it is narrowed down by natural selection to one or two houses.  Then there is the final night where you are invited to join a particular sorority and from those invites, you choose which house you want to belong to.  As long as it is mutual, you begin life as a pledge.  Once your pledging semester is over, you are initiated.  And once you are an initiated, full member, you are a member for life, and your daughters and granddaughters are called “legacies” and are given preference when they opt to go through sorority rush (or not!).  That was close to 40 years ago and I have friends I am still close to, who were in my sorority all those years ago.  We were in each other’s weddings, became godmothers to each other’s children, and now share (some of us anyway) grand-parenting tales and photos. That was a secular experience…however, we can use it to debate/discuss our religious experiences, too.

Icon wallI was raised, basically, a Protestant. My parents just attended churches where their friends or business associates attended.  It wasn’t really a matter of faith or conviction, but more of a community experience.  We went from Church to Church, never really putting down roots.  As a young woman on my own, I somehow found the Geneva Presbyterian Church. I would drive quite a long way to attend services there.  My grandparents lived nearby and it became a habit – church and then a visit with them.  It was my minor in college that really grabbed me – Biblical Archeology. I began to share what I had been taught and started to give lectures at women’s bible studies in the evenings, all over So Cal (it was word-of-mouth and I was usually invited to speak in the evenings).  I was sharing an archeology series at a local Presbyterian Church when I noted that across the parking lot were people my age (young adults) having a very good time. I took in my surroundings: the group was made up of wives and mothers, and grandmothers,  all quite a bit older than I was and I felt very alone.  After my presentation, I wandered over to see what the young adults next door were up to.  I knew it was a church, but I discovered it was a Catholic church and they were a young adult group! I attended my first mass, all by myself, sitting way in the back and boy,  was I hooked. It was almost like a “love at first site” sort of thing.  My historical and archeological knowledge was alive, right in front of me.  I soon thought to myself, “Why isn’t everyone Catholic?”  But it took me the better part of two years to formally join the Church.  During that time, I met and became engaged to my husband, and we married 8 months after I was welcomed into the Catholic Church on Easter Sunday, all those many years ago.  That particular Easter changed my life, and it is continuing to change it, even now.

170px-Richter_window_Cologne_CathedralIf you compare the concept of sorority rush with RCIA, they are almost the same. It was a time of mutual discovery; a time of questions and answers, much like the ones I asked going through Rush, except during RCIA I learned to pray, and I mean really pray. You can look at organized religion just like you look at any large organization, using the same parameters I outlined above.  The key difference is God.  He is acting in our lives to bring us home.  Now, some would argue that joining a club is nothing like joining a church.  Somewhat true, on a theological level.  But on a social level, it is exactly the same.  Who does what around here? What is the expected attire? What time do I show up (when are the “good” masses?)?  Where do I fit in?  All of these questions are the same when applied to organizations…religious, social, business, professional.  Joining something is allowing yourself to be sucked into a larger entity than just “self.” The key difference is that religion focuses on God at its core, its center, its reason for existence, and the chief work of the Church is prayer.  Whether you join or not, worship will still take place, but the call was strong and I became a Roman Catholic, and remained so for more than 20 years.

Priest cutting holy breadGod called both my husband and myself many years ago when we discovered the Eastern Churches, specifically the Melkite Greek Catholic Church.  The Melkites originated in the Middle East (basically Antioch) and are pretty Orthodox in their theology and outlook, although maintain a communion with the Roman Catholic Church.  Per Wikipedia:

The Melkite Greek Catholic Church (Arabic: كنيسة الروم الملكيين الكاثوليك‎, Kanīsat ar-Rūm al-Malakiyyīn al-Kāṯūlīk) is an Eastern Catholic Church in full communion with the Holy See as part of the worldwide Catholic Church. The Melkites,  Byzantine Rite Catholics of mixed Eastern Mediterranean and Greek origin, trace their history to the early Christians of Antioch, Turkey, of the 1st century AD, where Christianity was introduced by St. Peter.  The Melkite Church has a high degree of ethnic homogeneity and the church’s origins lie in the Near East, but Melkite Greek Catholics are present throughout the world due to migration. Outside of the Near East, the Melkite Church has also grown through inter-marriage with, and the conversion of, people of various ethnic heritages. At present there is a worldwide membership of approximately 1.6 million. The Melkite Catholic Church’s Byzantine roots and liturgical practices are rooted in those of Eastern Orthodoxy, while the Church has maintained communion with the Catholic Church in Rome since a split from the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch in 1729.

When we first became officially a part of the Melkite Church, many of our western friends thought we had “left the faith.”  It caused a lot of heartache and misunderstanding with many of our friends, and even family members.  We had been active for many years in our Catholic homeschooling community and also the greater Catholic intellectual community, and so many of our friends disregard us because of this change. It made us sad because we learned so very much by becoming part of an Eastern Church.  We learned how truly worldwide and universal the Church is – it is not just Roman Catholic, but oh, so much more.  The richness of our faith brings a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes.  God has provided.

“And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.'” (Matthew 28: 19-20)

This is often called the “Great Commission” of Christ, when He asked that the faith be shared around the world, and He promised to be with us “always.”  And He is with His church, in all its many guises.  What is truly sad is many people just do not accept that.  Many people still believe we are outside the “true” or “real” Church Christ founded.  A little known fact is St. Peter founded the Church at Antioch before he got to Rome.  We like to tease the Roman Catholics that we Melkites had St. Peter first! Ha-Ha!

LastDL12(Deacon Joseph and Father Justin Rose)

My husband has felt called to ministry most of his life. He applied to the priestly seminary as a teen, but put it off.  He then applied to become a Deacon in the Roman church when our children were quite young.  They told him to come back when our kids were grown.  As we migrated to the Melkite Church, we both discussed the deaconate with our parish priest and we started, both of us, to meet with him and to learn more about the Melkite way, and expectations, and the requirements.  Much like I had in my sorority rush days!  We asked the parish to discern his worthiness, and when they all consented, he started on his 4-year seminary experience. We kept in touch with our Roman Catholic friends, and in fact, my middle son became re-acquainted with his now-wife about this time, and her family came to my husband’s ordination (We had met many years ago through a mutual, Catholic, homeschooling family). Many of our Catholic homeschooling friends joined us for my husband’s ordination.

There have been so many interesting things that came from his ordination.  A closer walk with God and His Church, a deeper religious life than we ever experienced (ask my kids about adopting the Melkite rules for Lent and Fasting and those first, few, rough Lents!) but at the same time, a loss of many close friends, due to a misconstrued knowledge of their own Church.  Several friends who attended my husband’s ordination (by Bishop Cyril Bustros) asked us where the nearest Catholic Church was so they could have “real” communion and meet their “Sunday” obligation.  Now mind you, he was ordained by a Bishop, there were numerous priests (an Archmandrite or two, which is the eastern equivalent to a Roman Catholic Monseigneur), monks from our local Monastery (http://hrmonline.org/ We miss you!!) and assorted deacons in attendance, so much so that the Holy Place could not hold them all.  There were so many varied and beautiful vestments there, I felt very under-dressed and far out-shined!  In spite of all of that, friends did not feel they had been to a “real mass” nor had they received “real communion” even after witnessing a Bishop laying his hands on my husband, with all the other priests, deacons, and monks surrounding him.  An Eastern Church, Melkite Greek Catholic Church, was not “real” enough.  I was stymied.

Looking back on that day makes me sort of sad.  I have learned so much and a big thing I learned is that God created His Church to be one, big tent!  We have lots of churches (rites) all united around the one faith, in communion with one another, with the Pope, the Bishop of Rome, as the First Among Equals. The sacraments are the same (we refer to them as mysteries, but they are THE SAME, although in the east the order in which they are received is a little different). We teach from the same Bible, celebrate the same sacrifice (although a tiny difference is that most of the east uses leavened bread)…still, we are all brethren.  Even today, many in the west do not accept the differences.  It is sort of like America insisting everyone around the world adopting their form of democratic/republic-styled government, with no regard for the history or culture of the people they are insisting “convert.”

Ukrainian Monks.war God is calling us to where we each need to be, but don’t sell God short.  He has expressions that may seem odd or “foreign” to us; those of us raised with a western mindset and education. But God cannot be contained in our box or our comfort zone.  He is out there, working in the lives of people in so many ways; God is working for the good of all people.  The outlook we have for those slightly different than we are can be helpful or hurtful.  We’ve all been praying for the people in Ukraine.  We’ve all seen the priests praying between the crowds of protestors and the police (as pictured above).  Those priests are Ukrainian Greek Catholic (or Orthodox) and most are married men.  They are Christian, but celebrate a little differently than we do.  They are not Roman Catholic priests and there was a lot of controversy online about the fact that they are priests and yes, they are married.  It is not common in the Roman tradition to have married priests, but in the 22 other traditions in communion with Rome, and in the Orthodox churches, it is the norm.  They are different than what we find here in the USA, but they are all a part of the family of God, and of His Church.

If I celebrate Lent a little differently, or wear a cross that looks a little different, it is not because I am not a Christian.  I just choose to express my faith and worship in a slightly different way.  But it is valid. It is licit.  It is the same Christ crucified. My prayer is that we can all be one, holy, catholic and apostolic – and mean it.

“Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 18: 8-9)

Byzantine CrossI was encouraged to pen this by someone who was interested in how I got here, why I got here, and some reflections on issues of my journey.  Thanks; it was good to look back and think on it.  I know I have grown immeasurably since first walking into a Catholic Church of my own volition about 30 years ago.  And I know God is still working on me. God has worked some miracles in relationships with people who don’t get where I am worshiping now, nor understand fully that the Eastern Catholic churches all belong and are all part of one, big, family of God.  I pray that with all the talk of ecumenism, that they will realize we are all brethren. I am just so blessed to have discovered that other lung Pope John Paul II spoke of.  I feel I am breathing more fully than I ever was.

Blessed Lent.