“…their fruit for food and their leaves for medicine…”

drop of oil into hand

I am often asked what type of perfume I use, because I always smell so yummy. I went to this meeting yesterday for my son’s schooling and I was a little nervous. It’s his senior year and all our schooling has come down to these last, two semesters! Arg! Stress! So I applied some of my essential oils. I wear a diffuser around my neck and have one for my wrist, as well. They are cute and I love wearing them. I placed several oils I love and asked the Lord to amplify His amazing Grace all around us yesterday. I do not apply oils randomly. I know the therapeutic uses of oils, but there is also our emotional/spiritual side of using oils. I was once told, “Never assume anything from oils, from medicines. There are chemical attributes associated with both, but always seek God’s blessings when using oils. Apply them with a prayer, or at least a prayerful attitude.” And I have taken that to heart. When I hear sirens in the distance, I always pray for all involved. The officers, the first responders, the victims. And in hospitals, I pray for nurses and doctors to use their skills at their highest quality, and to allow God to guide their hands in healing others. I don’t think anyone would be angry that someone prays for their health and wellness.

Spoken into existence

I come from a family who always relied on the standard medical practices in our lives. My dad worked in the healthcare field for most of my formative years. I was raised around doctors and hospitals. When my brother crushed his hand at my dad’s office, he rushed him – not to the local emergency room – but to specialized orthopedic surgeons he worked with at a hospital almost an hour’s drive away. Why? Because he knew their skill level, and he knew my brother would get the best treatment he could. In addition, they loved to experiment, and my brother was given a cast that the local high school football system accepted, so he could still play high school football, while wearing a specialized cast. The point is that I was raised to always look to doctors first. Always. I have been near death on two occasions wherein I was quite literally saved by modern medicine. And so my heart has always been with doctors and hospitals, learned from the inside out.

I discovered alternative ways of looking at my health years ago. One of my college roommates dated (and married) a man being trained as an osteopathic doctor. And their training teaches them to take into account the whole person. They are not focused on just one aspect of healthcare. It was my first close-up exposure to other types of medical care. Then I was exposed to Chiropractors and Acupuncturists. Learning about eastern medicine opened my eyes to how much we miss in our western practices. The introduction of herbs and supplements came to me in college. Especially vibrant in the sports world, supplements have taken on a whole universe of their own! My parents did not fully understand my interest in alternative medicines. Especially since my mom got breast cancer while I was still in college, and went the traditional route for treatment. The fact that I would melt an herbal tablet on my son’s aching gums when he was teething was something my parents laughed at. Of course, when I was young, they rubbed whiskey on my gums! I guess that would serve two purposes, wouldn’t it? Ha-Ha.

hylands tablets

Now I have a home that is chemical-free. I am using all natural products to clean simply everything. From my windows and floors, to our showers, bathtubs, toilets, dishes, and clothing, I have all plant-based products in our home. I have not purchased dish soap from the grocery store since February of 2015. And none of the products I use have MSDS data sheets, warning about poisoning. The worst offender (dishwasher powder) says to give lots of water to help with the flavor. But there is no poison control number. There is nothing that can harm my grandchildren under my sink. And I cannot tell you how that warms my heart. I was able to remove the baby lock from my kitchen cupboard, under my sink. And the peace of mind is just one aspect. The other aspect is that these things work. And they work just as good, if not better in some cases, than chemically-laden products. In addition, they are financially much easier on my pocketbook and our budget!

oils herbs pestal book

Historically, alchemists were looking for ways of creating gold out of nothing. There is a lot of lore about how they accomplished their goals (they did not, or that would be obvious…no gold ever created from plants) and the stories of witchcraft and other tales were woven about them. However, when humanity was still living simply in villages, the local chemist, or often, mage, was sought out for remedies. Some of these remedies were the basis for our modern medical treatments. Some became wive’s tales and we all chuckle at them. One interesting one is how during the plague, old Russian babushkas would cut up onions and place them in the rooms of the sick. The time spent sick was often cut down measurably. I learned of this and can tell you it seems to help. We use it when someone is sick and has an airborne, coughing sort of sickness. There’s another story from the plague about these robbers who would go into the homes of the ill and dying (or the dead) and steal everything they could get away with. When they were finally caught, they were asked why they were not getting sick. The thieves told of how their grandmothers would slather them in a variety of oils, to protect them from sickness. Out of this sprang an oil used today called “Thieves” oil. It is diffusing in our house right now, because my teenager has a bronchial infection. The scent is amazing and it helps our bodies fight these darn infections. Our bodies are equipped to fight their own battles and most of us do just fine, but occasionally we need a boost. And that is where the natural approach to healthcare comes in. I’ve never been one to rush my kids to the doctor over sniffles or simple coughs…I let their immune system do the fighting for them, making them stronger for the next time. And now I add the assist of essential oils.

drop oil bible

Oils have been used since before even biblical times. There were oils to anoint, oils to feed, oils to bless. “Along the bank of the river, on this side and that, will grow all kinds of trees used for food; their leaves will not wither, and their fruit will not fail. They will bear fruit every month, because their water flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for medicine.” Ezekiel 47:12 And here is another one: “And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick, and healed them.” Mark 6:13  And in his book, “Healing Oils of the Bible,” Dr. David Stewart says,

“Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odor of the ointment.” John 12:3

“This anointing that Mary lovingly gave Jesus was in preparation for his death. The essential oil she used was spikenard, a very precious and expensive oil. It is harvested by the crushing and bruising of the root of the plant to squeeze the oil from it, and then the oil is used for healing. This is significant, the oil used to anoint him prior to his death was crushed and bruised in order to be obtained for healing. In the same way, Jesus was bruised for our iniquities and our chastisement was on him so that our spirits could be healed and given new life.” (See photo of Spikenard seed below). At a class last night I learned that this Spikenard, in today’s dollars, would have been in the thousands of dollars for a hundred pounds of it. A “Kingly” burial, indeed.

Spikenard seeds

To me, it is almost as if our culture is coming full circle. Our intelligence has helped us to create a pretty amazing world. Our technology has brought us riches, an easier life, and in many cases, improved health and longevity. There does seem to be, however, a little backlash along with the benefits. We are much more sedentary. We are more obese than ever before (think fast foods and boxed mixes and side dishes) and I am guilty here. I also think that computers have helped, but also complicated our lives and made our work so intense and detailed, our hours in front of them has grown ridiculously long. Our world is insanely fast moving. And we are so very divided. We are hurtful and angry with our neighbors. And using more natural ways of healing, eating, living brings us to a more simple, natural level. It slows us down to apply an oil and say a prayer, rather than popping a complex chemical pill down our throats on the run. Simple, historical, and effective.

An interesting point made at the class I attended last night (which I loved so much) brought up the point that our ancestors, especially in biblical times, were not as backward or primitive as we may think. The presenter related that they had created a way of making roads out of the sands in the desert. Roads and pathways that are hard and still usable, and our scientific community has not been able to replicate them, using the materials on hand in those times. We lost so much knowledge and skills during the Dark Ages, or Early Middle Ages (5th to 10th Century) where much was not written, and even destroyed, following the decline of the Roman Empire. Many areas were not affected by this period, and in fact flourished, but for the areas of the Middle East it was a time of scarcity and little written knowledge. And skills that were passed down from father to son were no longer recorded in any way. We are now catching up to what our ancestors knew, and used.

frankinsence nuggets

For years, we have had Frankincense nuggets or resin in our home. Because my husband is an ordained Melkite Greek Catholic Deacon, he fell in love with the scent of Frankincense used on the altar. Some parishioners gifted us with a small bag of Frankincense from Israel. We also had this amazing lamp to burn in it and the scent would often waft through our home. Over the years, we fell in love with other aromatics and would often burn them in our home. An interesting fact about Frankincense is that it is referred to as the “cure all.” In ancient times, it was burned in the Sanctuary as an offering. It was used to anoint in its oil form. As a resin it was used to actually ingest. In many medical researches today, they are finding that Frankincense can be used to assist in curing cancers. And this is one of the gifts of the Holy Magi to the Christ Child at His birth….and as I learned last night, one of the most valuable given to him. “Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh…” in order from least valuable to most valuable. In our world, we value gold. In the ancient world, they valued the curative and spiritual properties of the plants the Lord gave us above the material wealth from gold. How appropriate for Our Lord.

frankincense removal from tree

Frankincense is still removed by hand from the tree. And there is only one source legally able to export pure Frankincense and I love that I can access that source through my essential oil company. We can use the oil and the resin itself. What a blessing! And as our science catches up to our history, I am so grateful for these moments of clarity and peace. I know I am using things that have been used for centuries, are safe, and are effective. And they do not harm the environment or my body, nor my family.  “In all instances of healing with oils it was through praying over people, confessing their sins, and anointing with oils.” We need to get back to that simple application and process. We take for granted our scientific, godless approach to medicine. Not that those who practice medicine are godless, but the science of it has become so. What a world we could have if science and God walked hand-in-hand and His blessings to us of these essential oils were incorporated into every practice, and every home, around the world. Of course, many hurdles in this country will have to be jumped for that to happen. But I can rest peacefully and emotionally, knowing I am reverting back to my ancestor’s practices, but also moving forward by sharing this knowledge of “wellness, purpose, and abundance” with everyone I know.  If you want to know more, contact me. I am blessed and want to share my health and wellness with whomever is interested. I want to share this abundance of knowledge with a broken, and spiritually starved world, hungry for the Word of God, and His immeasurable gifts to us in this world we find ourselves living in. Blessings to you and yours!

tree.lavender

 

 

“Please forgive me…”

Holy Season of LentForgiveness Sunday was yesterday; today is Clean Monday. In many traditions, these next three days of the Lenten Fast are among the strictest.  We try, during the first three days of Lent (in the Orthodox tradition) to take nothing before Vespers on Wednesday but water.  Well, I am just not that good.  My blood sugar would go all catty-wampus (as my grandma would say) and I would pass out or something.  It is not that I am unwilling, but the flesh is very weak! We are trying some new ideas with fasting this year and we are excited.  It is so fun to learn all of the many aspects of universality our Church has to offer.  Learning new ways of doing things and new traditions from other countries.  I love it – it adds immeasurably to my faith.

At Forgiveness Sunday yesterday, we had a wonderful parish experience.  We had Divine Liturgy, and then a wonderful pot luck meal together, followed by Forgiveness Vespers.  It is our first Byzantine experience, as we are Melkite, which is an eastern-rite Church, but with a decidedly Middle Eastern flair to it.  Our parish here is Ruthenian, and culturally eastern European.  During the Vespers itself, much was sung and prayed about forgiveness, and it was nice; contemplative at times, too. But the most touching aspect of it came at the end. Our Priest stood up there in front of the Holy Doors, asking us to forgive him, and through him, all the clergy. He mentioned several times that people often think clergy are angels.  He laughed and said, “I am no angel!”  And then he asked us to remember that none of us are angels!  He then had each person in the parish approach him and asked them to forgive him, and they asked him to forgive them.  They received the oil of Mirovanije and and then took their place next to him, forming a line around the inside of the church.  Each person, in turn, asked each person for forgiveness. I cannot properly do justice to what a moving experience this was for both my husband and myself.

anointing1I love the tradition of mirovanije and how wonderful it feels (and it usually smells good, too!) to be blessed and to share that blessing with forgiveness. It was so very moving.  Unfortunately for me, I was plagued with back problems yesterday…too much sitting on hard chairs, I guess.  After sitting through Divine Liturgy, then having the pot luck and then Vespers, my back had just had it (it was my second attempt at going outside the house since I hurt my back two weeks ago).  So I received the oil and blessing, exchanged forgiveness with Fr. Michael, and promptly went back to my spot.  By this time, I was actually weeping.  It was a combination of forgiveness, pain, and the fear my back was as bad as it was two weeks ago.  But as I sort of laid on my side in the pew, so many people came to me, wanting to exchange forgiveness.  They got out of line and came to me, hugging me and asking for forgiveness. I cannot even tell you how humbling and beautifully freeing it was.  Of course, being the mushy person I am, I cried all the more!

40 Days logoAs we take this journey together during Lent, I wanted to share once again how beautiful and freeing forgiveness can be.  And that we truly make no progress with the fasting, the praying, the attendance at prayers, if we have rancor, hatred, anger…any of those ugly, festering, emotions…deep in our soul.  Lent becomes meaningless, really, if we do not approach it with a clean heart; a heart ready and willing to be open to God working in our lives.

As Orthowiki defines it: Liturgically, Clean Monday—and thus Great Lent itself—begins on the preceding (Sunday) night,at a special service called Forgiveness Vespers, which culminates with the Ceremony of Mutual Forgiveness, at which all present will bow down before one another and ask forgiveness. In this way, the faithful begin Great Lent with a clean conscience, with forgiveness, and with renewed Christian love. The entire first week of Great Lent is often referred to as “Clean Week,” and it is customary to go to confession during this week, and to clean the house thoroughly (or to have it clean before the beginning of the Fast).

The theme of Clean Monday is set by the Old Testament reading appointed to be read at the Sixth Hour on this day (Isaiah 1:1-20), which says in part:

Wash yourselves and ye shall be clean; put away the wicked ways from your souls before Mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well. Seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, consider the fatherless, and plead for the widow. Come then, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: Though your sins be as scarlet, I will make them white as snow; and though they be red like crimson, I will make them white as wool (v. 16-18).”

So today, being Clean Monday, I am trying to get my home together.  Working carefully, and trying to prepare to enter fully into Lent.  It truly makes the entire “Spring Cleaning” philosophy completely different for me.  First, I learned about the desire to clean my home with the increase in daylight and, second, the impending blessing of our home (in the process of cleaning for the priest to come, I injured my back) and now with the start of Lent, yet another reason to “Spring Clean”!  Isn’t God and His Church awesome??  So many reasons to do what comes naturally.

I just wanted to share a short post on Forgiveness Vespers and what an incredible start it gave me for Lent. I will be fasting from media and noise this Lent, so postings will be sparse.  May your Lenten period prepare you for an incredible Pascha and may God bless you each of these wonderful 40 days!

Lenten Candle Stand Gold

“Be reconciled and then draw near…”

ON ForgivenessAs we prepare to enter into the full fast and the start of Great Lent, we end this preparatory time with Forgiveness Sunday (Cheese Fare Sunday) or the Sunday of Forgiveness. The Church gives us this opportunity to reconcile ourselves to our fellow parishioners, as well as with others we may have a disparity with, and to further prepare us to enter more fully into a prosperous and healing Lenten period.

“Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent.” Matthew 5:23-28

This was brought to an enhanced, and very clear, meaning in a homily of St. John Chrysostom: ” As it is not to be imagined that the fornicator and the blasphemer can partake of the sacred Table, so it is impossible that he who has an enemy, and bears malice, can enjoy the holy Communion.… I forewarn, and testify, and proclaim this with a voice that all may hear! ‘Let no one who hath an enemy draw near the sacred Table, or receive the Lord’s Body! Let no one who draws near have an enemy! Do you have an enemy? Draw not near! Do you wish to draw near? Be reconciled, and then draw near, and touch the Holy Thing!’

As I have gone through a spiritually-changing journey (which is why I write this blog in the first place) and have come to see things a little more clearly in my life, I have been enabled to let go of things that have hampered my spiritual growth – issues in my life that have kept me nailed to the place I was, the person I was.  There is a great book I have quoted from many times by renowned Catholic author Peter Kreeft, where he deals with Heaven.  He talks so many times about what we bring with us to our own, personal judgement.  He talks about our baggage, literally contained in a suitcase.  They are full of past sins we have not forgiven ourselves for, whereas God has gone back into our personal timeline and ripped those sins out of it, so when He looks at us, it is as if those sins never occurred.  It is us, us feeble and weak humans, full of pride and free will, who drag things with us that God has let go.  He also talks about true forgiveness and things in our lives that we cannot handle.  He says to create a “God closet” with shelves with little shoes boxes on them. In these boxes we place issues that are too hard for us to deal with.  And we label the boxes, shut the lid, close the door, and offer them all to God.  I am tempted at times to open that door, get into a box or two, and wallow in those issues.  But I remind myself that I gave them, truly gave them, to God.  And I find that peace once again, and I close the door and walk away…out from under the onus of things best left to God’s care and attention.

Forgiveness is like that.  We often say we forgive.  We have cry sessions, we yell, we stomp our feet in our tantrums, and then we tell the offender that we forgive them.  But quite often, when the time is “right, ” (or ripe) we pull that old hurt back out and we sling it at the offender.  Husbands and wives, siblings, parents and children, good friends – all fertile territory for such things to happen.  But what if forgiveness is something that we just cannot seem to manage on our own?  What if we’ve left that hurt festering for years?  What if we have secretly been waiting to whip it out and sling it into the face of our offender, still hurting as badly as when the offense took place?  If that is true, how can we approach the Altar of God?  How can we even begin to tackle our spiritual issues that we want to focus on during Lent?  How can not drinking coffee or eating chocolate, or fasting for 40 days, do us any good when that hurt is still festering deep inside of us?  We can’t – it taints everything.

Many, many years ago I suffered a hurt in my life. That particular event has colored my decisions in my life since it took place in my 20s!!  It was, for many years, a festering wound deep within me. It was not what I had pictured for my life; it was not the storybook fairytale I had envisioned for my life, then or now.  It ruined my life – to my way of thinking.  It changed how I looked at “forever.”  And I use to fling it out in times of hurt, and anger, and frustration.  Many times it was flung at the wrong people, at the wrong time.  And then I would seek forgiveness from them, for that erroneous spurt of anger.  The vehemence of it often took those around me by surprise.  And one day, after reading Peter Kreeft’s book, and praying, praying, and praying some more, and then after seeking spiritual guidance, I actually forgave those who hurt me. And I totally gave the entire issue to God, in its own box, in God’s closet, in my heart.  I cannot fully express to you the weight that was lifted from my back.  I did not realize that the hurt and pain I had carried for years was felt in my physical reality, in the physical realm, because I had assumed it was an emotional pain.  It is, it was, but I also carried it like an extra pound or two of weight on my back.  It was a tangible thing.  And once I spoke the words, allowing forgiveness to enter in…and I mean honest, sincere, real forgiveness, it is like God lifted it off of me and I felt light-headed from the release of the pressure that hurt and pain had been in my life.  God took that annoying backpack of issues off of me!  And when I think of those involved or the situation and things that happened around it, I feel nothing – a cool breeze and still that lightness of being in my heart.  I finally feel free of it.  And I truly, honestly forgive.

Getting to the core of who we are, and releasing the “ick,” the “sludge” of all those negative feelings of hurt, pain, betrayal, anger, etc. really makes a remarkable difference inside of you.  And it shows on your face, in how you embrace the day, in how you love other people.  This Sunday, as we step into Great Lent, the Church, in her wisdom, asks us to forgive everyone who has wronged us, and to let the pain of that betrayal go.  But also in Her Wisdom, the Church asks us to seek forgiveness from those around us, and from those we perhaps are not standing next to in His Temple, but those who live miles from us, those who have passed into their Eternal Rest, and even those we are most close to….we need to seek their forgiveness and ask them, “Please forgive me if I have wronged you in any way.” (The response is usually something like, “God forgives you; I forgive you”).

From a blog called “Voices from Russia”:

On Forgiveness Sunday, the priest reads a special prayer after the conclusion of the Vespers service that beseeches God to assist the faithful in the keeping of the fast. After it is read, all the clergy, starting with the priest, request forgiveness from all the faithful present in the church, and the laity request forgiveness from the clergy, and from one another personally. One says to another, “Forgive me”, and the traditional answer is “God forgives. Please, forgive me, as well”.

In addition to the church ritual, believers request forgiveness of all those in their households and of all their friends so that they may enter the Great Lent with a good spirit, without holding anger in their heart against their neighbor. The Gospel of Matthew tells us, “If you shall not pardon the sin of your brother, neither shall the Father forgive you your sins”. The custom of mutual forgiveness before starting the Great Lent arose in the very first centuries of Christianity. In the early monastic abodes in Egypt, the monks gathered together, they prayed, and they requested forgiveness of one another before they departed into the desert. Some of them did not return.”

ON Pillars of LentAs we begin to enter deeply into these 40 days of Great Lent, I do ask forgiveness from those I may have wronged.  I do not pretend to be a great theologian or historian, but a person who expresses herself through words.  And if my words, here or in person, have caused injury, anger, or pain, I seek forgiveness from you. My intention is to share, not to disrupt, or anger, or divide.  I pray that these next days be days of forgiveness realized, and an increased closeness in a simple relationship with God, with our loved ones, with our friends, with our fellow journeymen along this path to our eternity; the beauty of eternity in the presence of God.

40 Days logo

“Hey, Jude, don’t be afraid…”

“Beloved, although I was making every effort to write to you about our common salvation, I now feel a need to write to encourage you to contend for the faith that was once for all handed down to the holy ones. For there have been some intruders, who long ago were designated for the condemnation, godless persons, who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness and who deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”  Jude 3-4.

This was the reading for today.  It actually calls for Jude 1-10, but these two verses really struck me today.  Whenever I think of Jude, who was the brother of James and not the same person as Judas or Jude the Apostle, but who was a man in the background, an obscure person of the early Church (as the bible tells us in the introduction to the book of Jude) I think of the Beatles’ song, “Hey Jude.”  One of the verses to that song is:

“And anytime you feel the pain, hey Jude, refrain
Don’t carry the world upon your shoulders
For well you know that it’s a fool who plays it cool
By making his world a little colder
Nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah”

And I often wonder if one of the Beatles actually knew of Jude, what his life was like, and was familiar to his very short book in the Bible, nestled between 2John and Revelations.  What a place to be nestled!!  And I thought about Jude’s warning to the early Church, his statements about intruders and godless persons and how he was trying to warn the early Church of people coming among them who long ago were destined for this condemnation, trying to thwart the teachings of Christ.  Jude was not a well known person in that he was not an Apostle, but the brother of the Apostle James, and many attribute the book of James to Jude.  He is here, warning against people who come among us, trying to pull us away from the faith we have.  In verses 24-25, Jude says, “To the one who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you unblemished and exultant, in the presence of his glory to the only God, our savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority from ages past, now, and for ages to come. Amen.”  What a contrasting statement he makes.  The others who would tear us away from our faith he destines to condemnation, whereas those who keep us from stumbling are given glory, majesty, power, and authority! Wow. He was definitely not “playing the fool,” by “keeping it cool.”

800px-Anastasis-chora1024The last few days on the internet have been pretty wild.  We’ve had what they call “trolls” on many of the sites.  People are designated a troll when they deliberately join a group that they disagree with, to plant inflammatory statements or, in other words, to inflame the group until it degenerates into stone throwing at one another, which makes everyone look bad.  And that is what the troll wants.  He/she wants to disrupt anything good a particular group is accomplishing.  As you become familiar with various groups online, a troll is fairly easy to spot.  And from their first post people are usually calling on the administrator of the site to block them or pull their statements, often asking the troll be blocked from the group.  There have been lively discussions, to be sure!

One person lamented about people setting the bar high for lenten practices, especially when the discussion turned to fasting.  I think some people felt that ideas and examples being shared were somehow meant to be instructions in the vein of “I am so holy, and I do it this way, so follow me” and Pharisaical, at best.  But I do take umbrage with that view.  Partly because I am one of the people who innocently gave fasting ideas, even things that have worked for me.  Lent in the East can be rough, I can assure you!  It is hard to go from our basically hedonistic diets and practices (we are a gluttonous group in the USA) to the lean diet and strict practices of the Eastern Churches during Lent.  I thought the Melkites were the tough guys, abstaining from what they do, and having all the many services they have during each week of Lent, but after reading up on it, the Ukrainian Catholics also have a strict Lenten fast and practices, as do many of the other Eastern Churches.  There are some that have taken more of a western approach and fast only on Wednesdays and Fridays, and not adding more services during the week.  And that is laudable, and often difficult, living where we do (the USA).  We are certainly not outwardly encouraged in this culture to go without…to do without anything…let alone attend more services during the week at Church.

We began to see, as our children aged, a practice that was so frustrating as a parent.  The kids would sign up for soccer, or baseball, or ice hockey, even rugby, and for our fee we got a t-shirt, a team photo, and a trophy.  For our fee.  Not because our children had earned it by winning a tournament or working hard in play-offs, a trophy was a part of the fee we paid to have our sons participate.  Just by paying and showing up, you were guaranteed a trophy.  What lesson in competition, in showing up, in trying your best, was learned? Well, it wasn’t!  And it seems like if we just show up nowadays, we get the trophy.  What is wrong with setting the bar a little higher?

I think that in regards to fasting, we should all consult our priest (or our spiritual director, or both) and discuss Lent and the practices common to our particular Church.  And after that, we will see what we can accomplish during this special time of year.  If others are trying the suggested fasting practices, and can share how they were able to do so, I do not think that sharing that is a bad thing. It is something to strive for.  Our pastor used to tell us, “Hey, I’ve been at this for years. I keep the strict fast. I have worked hard to get to where I can do that.  To begin, try to keep the fast for all of the 40 days; try fasting from just meat for 40 days.  Then next year, add something else to take out of your diet, like cheese or dairy.  Each year, make your own progress to a place where you can feel the accomplishment of your efforts. No one does it the same.  But just take the first step: try.”  And I think that is encouraging.  I try to lead my family (as the main cook and meal-provider) to keep the fast, but it is difficult. Today, as we discussed our dinner menu, my teenaged son said, “Mom, are you sure?  It seems like Jesus was just born!  Are you sure it’s time for us to talk about His death already? Are you sure we have to fast now?”  And I reminded him about Meat Fare Sunday and the readings, and that this Sunday was Cheese Fare, which is why we are gorging on Macaroni and Cheese from scratch tonight (and why I did not want him making himself the boxed stuff for lunch).  Groaning, he just shook his head at the thought of the next 40 days…but we try; we really try.

I have a friend who is a public school teacher.  She once remarked that the bar has been lowered so many times, that most of the kids who graduate high school cannot pass English or Math tests when they get to college.  The tests the districts require each year to fund the schools makes it difficult to do anything else but teach to pass the tests.  And the tests have been dumbed-down over and over again.  It is sad.  Why should we not strive to the highest, rather than settle for lessor accomplishments?  Nowadays colleges require remedial English and Math for most freshmen.

Again, I think this is sad; changing our traditional practices, dumbing-down Lent, so to speak.  We now take the lofty ideal of abstaining…from all meat, dairy, olive oil, and wine…for the entire fasting period of 40 days, and instead ask people to just eat fish sticks on Wednesday and Friday.  Why can we not strive to do better? Why can we not deny ourselves our cushy sustenance and lavish lifestyles, and give things a rest for just 40 days?  Why is talking about that such a bad thing?  A gentleman chastised me in a comment about our legislators who vote for and promote abortion.  I said they should be called out by their Bishops and they should anathematize themselves out of pure guilt.  Pro life is the stance of the Church.  I suggested that we just, as voters, say “no.”  He felt that our faith cannot influence our government, or our legislation, or legislators.  I completely disagree.  We are slip-sliding down that slope, the one we’ve been warned about.  Jude tells us there are those among us who are there to “pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness.”  Does this not apply to everything to do with our belief in Christ Jesus?  Even our government?  Even fasting?

390px-OrthodoxCross(black,contoured)

Fasting is not supposed to be easy.  The Cross was not easy:  “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me, still, not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42).  Today’s readings also took us to the betrayal of Christ in the book of Luke.  The apostles could not even stay awake to pray with Him, but were overcome with and were “sleeping from grief.”  Peter denies Him three times “before the cock crows.”  He was alone to face his detractors, those who come among us, “long ago designated for this condemnation, godless persons who pervert the grace of our God…”  And I cannot help but think these readings were selected for us, on Cheese-fare Tuesday, the feast day of Tarasius, Archbishop of Constantinople, who was known as the opener of the 2nd Nicene Council and was called the “father of the poor,” to encourage us to stay the course.  To show by example that there will always be those who try to whisper in our ear, and lead us astray.  It’s like having a commercial from Satan himself, playing in our ear, telling us that if we just “show up” we’ll get our trophy.  Christ paid for our admission, right?  We get the spoils – the t-shirt and the group photo opportunity.  But isn’t it much better to cross the line, to make it to the play-offs, and to win through our own efforts?  To know that we have given it our best and if we fall down, well, Lent is 40 days.  We have the chance to get back in it tomorrow.  If my family grumbles enough, we may sneak in a burger here and there, but for the most part, we will abstain from meat.  As for cheese, well, we are definitely dairy people (lived on them for 20 years) and giving up all dairy is a huge struggle.  My kids really hate tofu, regardless of what I try to disguise it as, but we try to go without dairy.  If we fail, we may attend an extra Vespers or go without TV for a longer period.  The point is to always try.  To be in the game, and not on the side lines.  To put forth our best because Christ was nailed to that cross for each one of us.  He’s paid our admission price.

But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following after their own ungodly lusts.” These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear…” Jude 17-23

sunrise easter

“…the righteous into eternal life.”

Last Judgement IconFor those of us who are Byzantine or Eastern Catholic, this Sunday is Meat Fare Sunday.  What is that?  Well, from this Sunday until Pascha, we will allow no meat to touch our lips. And to begin the Great Fast, we start Meat Fare by listening to the Gospel of Matthew and looking upon the Icon of the Last Judgement.   The icon of the Last Judgement shows much about the coming Last Judgement of Christ.  I love this scriptural reference to the sheep and the goats that we will read and as we read the words, we can see it in this icon.  (Mt 21:31-46).

When our sons were younger and we were living on dairy farms, we had the supreme good fortune to belong to 4-H.  What a wonderful group of people we came to know and love!  We were encouraged to get as involved as we could, which meant we were very active!  I have fond memories of rushing our junior sheep to the State Fairgrounds in the back of a calf trailer.  Once we got them to their designated stalls, we then had to haul out all the hay and feed, watering dishes, etc.  We set up a mini-campsite and someone from our group was with the animals 24/7.  I can personally vouch for washing and grooming sheep – they can be every bit as stubborn as goats!  The goats moan a lot louder, and dig their feet in a little harder, but eventually, they can be persuaded to cooperate. Sheep and goats are so very similar that some people can confuse them.  Personality-wise, as I said, they can both be stubborn, but goats are a lot stronger and tended to be more “loners,” whereas the sheep tended to bunch together and be more fearful of everything.  The only thing they did not fear was their owners, their shepherd.  In fact, we had problems keeping them in their pens. They escaped numerous times, looking for my sons.  They loved the attention and they also knew the boys would always feed and water them.  Goats can be left in an enclosure but you have to give them something to do or they will eat everything…they have to be kept occupied or they would get into trouble. Sound familiar?

Our Lord used images to teach people and the people he most interacted with were usually connected to the land…farmers.  And they knew the ins and outs of farm life.  They knew the size of a mustard seed; they knew about the threshing floor; they were very knowledgeable about farm animals, especially sheep and goats.  So Christ used them as examples.  It is no different on Meat Fare Sunday, when we muse over the scripture references to sheep and goats, and gaze upon the Icon.  And being intimate with sheep and goats myself, I have always wondered why I identify more with goats than sheep.

The verses we read this week scare me, because of my tendency to be more goat-like.  And Christ does not mince words in these verses, either.  “Then he will say to those at his left hand, `Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”    I don’t know about you, but being cursed by Christ and told to enter into the eternal fire sort of scares me.  He is lamenting all the times He reached for us and we did not respond to Him. He gave us all free will, an opportunity to hear Him say to us, `Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;” I would personally much rather hear that,  than the cursing above.  He separates the nations!  On an international scale, that is also frightening.  The Last Judgement applies to EVERYONE.  No one gets to skip this part.  I was taught that we all have two final judgements – the one we experience personally upon our death, and the second one when Christ comes again, at the Final Judgement of the Nations.  It is FINAL. It is complete. It is just.

This Sunday we begin to prepare ourselves for Great Lent by giving up the eating of flesh.  We call it Meat Fare, as I said before.  From this Sunday forward, until Pascha, no flesh may be consumed, but dairy is allowed on all days of this week, even Wednesday and Friday.  The following Sunday is Cheese Fare, and after that we keep the strict Fast of Great Lent, where we do not consume flesh, dairy, olive oil, or wine until the Resurrection on Easter Sunday.  During this preparation for Great Lent, we also celebrate the Saturdays of the Souls, beginning with last Saturday through next Saturday.  This is when we commemorate those who have gone before us.  It all ties in with the Last Judgement.  We pray for the souls of our departed, and pray we see them again, at the Last Judgement.

Mother TheresaSo, when you think of yourself, do you see the cute, little lamb or the cranky, old goat?  Every year I struggle with this because these verses are pretty explicit. And I usually think of Bl. Mother Theresa.  When Christ lists all the ways in which the goats have let Him down, I see Bl. Mother Theresa, out in the alleyways of Calcutta, taking care of all the lost sheep.  She fed, she housed, she clothed, she comforted.  How do I measure up? Not so well.  Now I realize we are not supposed to compare ourselves to Bl. Mother Theresa or any other Christian, we are only to look to Christ.  And I do.  I do look to Christ and when He exhorts us in these verses, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for the one least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mt. 25:40) and I tremble, just a little bit.  Am I doing enough?  Is my heart right with God?  Is He the center of my day?  Where do I lack? Where do I fall short?  Where must I rip out the goat and replace it with the sheep?

lastjudgementSo here I am, struggling with my identity, remembering that Christ was literally comparing sheep and goats.  And I remember some things about the animals we had.   Sheep hang out in groups.  Goats go their own way.  Sheep are meekly led where their master directs them.  Goats you have to chase down and collar them and drag them where you want them to go. Christ was revealing His true self to His Apostles, and “when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.”  He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”  He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” (John 21: 15-17).  Christ refers to us as His “sheep.”  It is not because we are mindless drones.  He gave us free will.  We need to understand that our free will can corrupt us until we are goats; we become stubborn and we choose not to follow Christ.  Christ will not drag us by our collars, rather, He will open the gates of Heaven for us, allowing us to meekly enter into Paradise with Him.

I learned something a long time ago that, for me, reminds me of the importance of things said in scripture.  Whenever Christ wants to be sure you get what He is saying, and that He means, unwaveringly, what He is saying, he says it three times.  For example, “Amen Amen Amen, I say to you…” or  “Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep.”  With the proper emphasis, He was telling St. Peter that the flock Christ was gathering to Himself was to be guided, guarded, and fed by St. Peter in His absence.  Christ left us St. Peter and the Apostles, and their wisdom in the form of His Church.  Their wisdom has come down to us over the centuries in the prayers and prostrations, in the exhortations written down for us, in the historical record left to us, all bound together in our traditions and in Holy Tradition; the unshakeable truth that is our Faith.

“This Sunday sets before us the eschatological dimension of Lent: the Great Fast is a preparation for the Second Coming of the Savior, for the eternal Passover in the Age to Come, a theme that is also the focus of the first three days of Holy Week. But the judgment is not only in the future. Here and now, each day and each hour, in hardening our hearts toward others and in failing to respond to the opportunities we are given of helping them, we are already passing judgment on ourselves.”

“The parable of the Last Judgment is about Christian love. Not all of us are called to work for “humanity,” yet each one of us has received the gift and the grace of Christ’s love. We know that all persons ultimately need this personal love—the recognition in them of their unique soul in which the beauty of the whole creation is reflected in a unique way. We also know that people are in prison and are sick and thirsty and hungry because that personal love has been denied them. And, finally, we know that however narrow and limited the framework of our personal existence, each one of us has been made responsible for a tiny part of the Kingdom of God, made responsible by that very gift of Christ’s love. Thus, on whether or not we have accepted this responsibility, on whether we have loved or refused to love, shall we be judged.”  (http://lent.goarch.org/judgement)  

On this day, we sing tones and prayers that have been handed down to us through the ages.  I find such comfort in that.  I also find that as I pray and ponder on this year after year, I am less inclined to be such a goat. I try, rather, to celebrate my uniqueness of self and soul, and to rejoice in the fact that my faith helps me to prayerfully hope that Christ will say to me, “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt 25: 33-34) 

The Kontakion for this Sunday is:
“When Thou comest, O God, upon the earth with glory, the whole world will tremble. The river of fire will bring men before Thy judgment seat, the books will be opened and the secrets disclosed. Then deliver me from the unquenchable fire, and count me worthy to stand on Thy right hand, Judge most righteous.”
Easter Divine Liturgy

“God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

PubPharThis past Sunday (yesterday) was the Sunday we celebrate as “The Publican and the Pharisee.”  It begins our three week preparation for Great Lent. It is hard to believe all the fasting and all the preparation for Pascha are already upon us.  But let me tell you, I am excited for Great Lent! It is an opportunity to truly become simple in how we live, how we eat, and how we pray.  We pray more, we attend more services at Church (my favorite is Pre-Sanctified Liturgy. Absolute favorite part of Great Lent. Thank you, Fr. Justin Rose, for that!) and we watch every bite that enters our mouth. It is good for the discipline in our lives, for us to experience Great Lent.  I actually look forward to fasting.  If you could see all of me, I am sure you would find that laughable, because I am overweight.  But I also love silent retreats – by far my best retreat experiences have all occurred at a silent retreat. And since I blog, quite often rather prodigiously, most people find the thought of me being silent laughable.  It is truly a case where opposites do attract!!  I love Great Lent, and I love silence.  Who would ever have thought that???
Our priest, Fr. Michael, gave a wonderful homily this week on the issues brought up by this look at a publican and a pharisee.  Publicans were the tax collectors.  They were not liked by the general population, because they took their money – but quite often, they took more than what was really owed to the government, which is why they were usually very rich.  The Pharisees were seen as the upper echelon of the religious class. They could always be found near the Temple; they knew the law and they kept to the “letter of the law” very strictly.  One of the most famous quotes from this Sunday is “The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’”  He is pictured in the Icon standing, with arms outstretched to God, in a place of honor, and prays to God, looking down on the Publican.  The Publican, however, shows us in the Icon that he thinks of himself as a sinner by entering and remaining in a low place, inconspicuous to fellow worshipers, and the famous quote about him in this reading is: “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’”  Christ then exhorts us all to repentance by saying, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”  (Luke 18:9-14).  In the Icon, we can see images of how these two men leave the Temple.  The Pharisee is shown leaving the Temple unforgiven and still in need of repentance, whereas the Publican, who came to the Temple, knowing his sinful nature, is shown leaving the Temple, forgiven and exalted.  We are all expected to know our faith and to practice it to the best of our abilities, as the Pharisee.  And we are also expected to behave as the Publican; we enter the Temple and seek forgiveness, knowing how very much we need it.
One of the questions asked during Father’s homily was, “Who do you identify with more, the Publican or the Pharisee?”  And that question made me think.  So often, we preach to others, but we do not live what we preach.  How many of us tell people to fast, to keep Sundays holy, to pray, to keep a holy home, and yet we do not fulfill our own commands to others?  I know I fail miserably in so many areas.  And each Lent I pick myself back up and try it all over again. For me, Great Lent is the time I rededicate myself to my faith, sort of like New Year’s Eve, when people write lists of what they want to accomplish in their year.  For those of us who follow the Church’s calendar, Pascha is the start of our New Year.  Great Lent is when we think about how we want to practice our faith, share our faith, and live our faith.  We start from scratch, so to speak, when we limit food intake and extend prayer time and religious observances.  It is a time to reconsider how we will approach our next year.  I certainly never make resolutions that are life-long, because I know myself and know I am not strong enough to do that. I will let myself down.  So I only take little bites at this.  I resolve things that are doable, and not on some fantasy list.  Great Lent is my opportunity to be still, to listen more intently to what God is asking of me, and to begin to be the person HE wants me to be. I resolve every year to be a better person.  Honestly,  I can say that because I only take small bites, the changes I try to enact usually stick! And that feels pretty good. I am a far better person than I was in my 20s,40s, or even last year.  I believe Great Lent gives me this chance every year to opt to be better at the end of those 40+ days.  (When we add weekends, and exact starting and stopping times, Great Lent is really about 45 days or so).  For us in the Eastern Rite Catholic Churches, and for the Orthodox, Great Lent is kept every day, not just Wednesdays and Fridays.  The Church gives us this entire week to eat what we like – even on Wednesday and Friday, to prepare us for Great Lent, and to share with us that the Church knows this next period of fasting and abstinence is a difficult one.  More and more as the years go by, many of my friends and I do not just “give up” something like coffee or chocolate.  We add things.  We pray more.  We volunteer our time in our communities.  We resolve to spend more time as a family.  We read more and watch TV less.  There are so many ways to keep Great Lent as a special time, rather than solely giving up things.
Fifth Sunday of LentPart of Great Lent is facing ourselves, as the Publican did.  We beat our chests and we ask for forgiveness. We see those dark places that are a part of who we have become and we strive to allow the Light of Christ to enter in.  We pray more, we seek God more fervently.  And I am excited to get started!!!  This Sunday gave us pause, gave us a moment with some words from Christ, and a homily from our priest, to stop a moment and ponder – are we more like the Publican or the Pharisee?  The Kontakion for the day tells us:

“Let us flee the proud speaking of the Pharisee and learn the humility of the Publican, and with groaning let us cry unto the Savior: Be merciful to us, for Thou alone art ready to forgive.”

How do others see me? To them, am I the Publican or the Pharisee?  God gives us this coming time of Great Lent to work this out for our salvation.  I am looking forward to this opportunity to once again get my “house in order.”

Kneeling Prayer.Orthodox Church“Mine eyes are weighed down by my transgressions, and I cannot lift them up and see the height of heaven. But receive me, Savior, in repentance as the Publican and have mercy on me.”  (Doxastikon of the Aposticha, Saturday Vespers).

“Let my prayer rise…”

Candle Book IconI added a simple prayer to a web prayer group yesterday. The comments that followed have been interesting.  I posted, “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  This is known as the Jesus Prayer.  No one is positive about when it was written or how long it has been prayed, in just that format.  But it has been around eastern Christianity for centuries.  Instead of using a rosary, in the east we use a prayer rope.  On each knot we recite that prayer.  The hope is that we can pray it unceasingly, all day and all night long.  It is a cry for mercy and forgiveness.  The mercy we seek is not that of a master over his slave, but rather the loving arms of a Father, gathering in His hurting child.

Prayer RopeOn the page I added my prayer to, some of the comments were strange to me.  But then I realized that it is a site for lots of denominations and rites.  Many people on that site would not recognize the prayer.  The one comment that got me thinking was, “The bigger the sin, the bigger the forgiveness.”  Now, I can take that as comforting.  It implies that no matter the size or content of the sin, forgiveness is waiting for me.  This denotes a demarcation or ranking of sins.  In the west, the common theology is venial and mortal sin.  Venial sin is something that moves you away from God, but does not remove you completely from His Grace.  A mortal sin, as the word implies, kills your relationship with God; you are separated from God totally.  The usual “biggies” are murder (including abortion), adultery, stealing…you get the idea; one of the “Top Ten;” The Ten Commandments.  So the bigger the sin, the bigger the forgiveness.  And when you go to a priest in the western Church, he will give you penance that is appropriate for the sin you confessed.  It may be, for example, 10 Hail Marys, 4 Our Fathers, and 2 full Rosaries (that would be a pretty hefty penance).  If you committed a more grievous sin, the priest may ask you to “do” something in atonement.  He may ask you to return a good you have stolen and offer to work at the place you stole from, for no pay.  He may ask you to turn yourself in to authorities (which could be law enforcement, parents, teachers, school authorities, work place management, etc). He may ask you to volunteer at a homeless shelter or pray at an abortion clinic.  He may ask you to seek someone you have wronged, and make it right. Most Catholics will attend weekly confession, if they can.

Over here, on the eastern side of the aisle, sin is taken a little differently.  And so, when I saw that response to my post, I also examined it in light of my understanding of sin and forgiveness, from my Byzantine (but formerly western) perspective.  In the eastern tradition, sin is sin.  The action or thought either drew you closer to God or placed you further away from God.  The distance is part of the sin itself, but it is still regarded as just a sin.  The experience of confessing in the east is dramatically different than in the west. In our tradition, you stand with your priest in front of an icon of Christ.  He wraps his orarion (or stole) over your shoulders and you bend at your waist in a low bow.  He then begins to pray for you as you confess your sins to Christ, in the presence of the priest.  The priest is just listening and praying for you, all at the same time. It is intimate, and yet you are in the front of the Church, confessing to Christ. He will then speak with you quietly and bless you.

In the east, the priest will not give you 3 Our Fathers to pray, although he just may!  More often that not, he will, instead, ask you to perhaps read a verse from Scripture that holds special meaning for that particular sin; he may ask you to recite a common prayer (like the Jesus Prayer); he may further ask you to commit to regular Divine Liturgy attendance and perhaps to assist in an area that will help you recover and grow from your sinful act or thought.  He may also suggest more frequent confession.  But most importantly, forgiveness is offered as a salve on a wound.  It is offered as a warm, all-encompassing hug from a passionate Father who cares for each of his children. God’s mercy envelopes each of us in its warmth and healing forgiveness.  When we ask for mercy, this is what we seek.

So as to the idea of larger sins requiring more forgiveness, I disagree.  God’s forgiveness is like a huge, down quilt you can wrap your whole body in.  He is wrapping all of it (our sinfulness) in the same garment.  He is forgiving all of what you have done in one moment, covering all you have done.  Believe this or not, but I am a person who is fond of silent retreats. They do the most for my soul.  At a silent retreat many years ago, a priest asked me, as I was partway through my confession, if I would like to come back later and have a “life time” confession.  I had never heard of that but he instructed me and we made an appointment for later that day.  Poor man; I don’t think he realized what he was letting himself in for!  But over about 45-minutes, I laid bare every slight I had committed, every wrong deed done, every bad word uttered, every commandment laid to waste in my life to that point.  And my penance?  To go and sit in the Adoration Chapel and to just be in His presence, in prayer to God.  No formulative prayer.  No memorized, rote words.  Just open myself before God and seek His forgiveness in my soul.  I did as he suggested and just sat in that chapel, silently weeping.  God touched my life in a moment – all of my life, all of my sinfulness, all in one confession.  And His forgiveness was complete.  It was not larger or smaller – it just was.  I don’t think it took God any more effort for a simple prayer of forgiveness or for my 45-minute recap of every sin I could remember committing, back to an extra pack of Frito-Lay Bar-B-Que Chips I took when I was 9 years old and for tripping my brother when he was 3 and I was 5 years old!  Forgiveness was just that – forgiveness.

IncensorLet my prayer rise before you like incense, 
And my hands like an evening offering.–Psalm 141:2

I believe in the power of prayer, in the corporal prayer of our community when we gather, and in the power of God to hear us, to forgive us.  God is good; He is omnipotent, omnipresent, and all-encompassing.  To discuss a hierarchy of sin and its equivalent forgiveness puts God in a box He does not fit in.  It is man-made and our own perception.  God forgives. Period.  The scope is unfathomable and I bow in thankfulness each time it touches me.

…is the final act of love.”

Writing is such a personal, intimate thing. Authors are usually people who look inward and create fantastic worlds for us, report on the world around us, or help us reach back into the past and see the world as it was.  I have always thought of blogs like having your personal diary open on your desk and other people stopping by and reading it.  Each post added to a blog is like turning the page in that diary.  I write because it’s sort of like something that needs to come out.  Some days I write a lot.  Sometimes I have gone, quite literally, months between posts.  Most often, I write to get something off my chest, or to express something that feels like I have a need to share with others or I will burst!  It’s like my cell phone.  (Bear with me a little here).  My iPhone is so complete, I usually only use my computer for doing this blog or paying bills (I know the arguments against that, but it is just so much simpler!).  All my information about family and friends is in my phone.  I lost my phone for a few hours last weekend in the snow.  A kindly stranger turned it into a customer service desk and I cannot tell you how relieved I was…because I realized it would take me FOREVER to get the information back that I had stored in my phone. It has so many neat apps on it and one of my favorites is Notepad. I use it ALL the time!  Well, if you ask me someone’s phone number, email address, or house address, I’d have to excuse myself while I looked it up on my phone. I don’t have to remember things like this anymore, because my phone does it for me.  And when I write, after it is written, I am usually over the issue and I forget about it.  I am also one of those types who gets angry (hard to believe, I know).  I may yell or speak harshly (ask my boys) but once I do, I move on. I don’t harbor grudges or stay mad at people.  I blow up and then it’s done.  I use my writing as a way, sometimes, to ease the pressure…sort of like the steam escaping a boiling teapot.  Once you release the steam, the pot settles down.  That’s me.

And so I am musing over something that is really bugging me.  I have noticed that I am loosing my ability at times, to think clearly and remember details. It worries me because my mom has dementia and Alzheimer’s. And I realize that I forget things all the time. People say to me, “Oh, you remember when we….?”  And honestly, many times I don’t.  I’m not sure if it is because my brain gets lazy, if I rely on my iPhone too much to remember for me (gasp!?! Reliance on technology!) or I just get distracted.  Am I not giving the moment the attention it deserves and so I cannot recall it later on?

Abba AseniosIn our world of chaos and noise, I often think that adding to this noisy chaos by blogging is not helping the situation.  Computer usage really draws us away from others.  Computers can, however, bring disparate people together – those who are geographically separated can connect and it eases that separation somewhat. I do try, however, to keep more silence than aimless chatter.  I try to steer away from adding to gossip or just the noise around us.  So does my memory loss have more to do with going through them and throwing out the ones that truly don’t matter? Is it important I remember the color dress I wore 10 years ago, or if it was raining or sunny at some event I attended?  Perhaps not.  Someone with Alzheimer’s will know those details, though.  A person with dementia can’t recall yesterday, let alone years ago.  A dementia patient has short term memory and that is about it.  Alzheimer patients cannot recall what a fork is for, or remember to eat, but they know incredible details about years past.  So I am leaning towards a sort of mental evolution, if you will allow that terminology. A pattern of memory losses and gains, I guess!

I am learning that God is never through with me.  He allows me to trip up and make mistakes over and over again, until His lesson gets ingrained in me.  All of us come from somewhere.  We all have pasts that perhaps are not worthy of remembering.  I have let go of many things from my teen years and young adulthood that do not speak well of me. I have been taught, and I have learned, over the years to adjust my vision to things that are not so much “of the world” and tend to the more philosophical and theological.

2Thessalonians3-3

I was recently helping my daughter-in-law to make a memory book for my mom.  I have been told these sorts of things help them to cling to their own history, and to see their lives in snapshots helps to keep them grounded.  As I was going through the 84 years of my mom’s life, I was drawn back to memories I thought I had lost.  I realized I had put them “on a shelf” and let them rest there.  But when I wanted to, I could recall all sorts of details (my poor daughter-in-law had to sit and listen to them with me for over 6 hours earlier this week!  God bless her!).  And I so enjoyed remembering my life as a young child and the things my brother and I did.  I could pull them off that shelf and remember, fully, all the wonderful times of my childhood.  The Lord is good; He has allowed me to live in His light, in His love, and has guarded me from the evil one.  He has healed many of my memories and has allowed many others to just fade away, all while helping me retain what is good and positive about my life.

St Tikhon 3This is the season where we prepare to welcome the Son of God as a Child.  We should get our “houses” in order in more ways than one.  Confession is good for us and helps us become clearer-headed and hearted, as we wind our way to Christmas.  If you do not believe in confession to a priest or cleric, it is certainly priceless to sit and contemplate before God all your sins and seek His forgiveness.  I personally feel incredible after a good and holy confession. And I believe it is more important to prepare our hearts than our homes.  Decorating for Christmas is so fun and I love it, as you would know if you have read my posts before. I love pretty much everything about Christmas.  But I also know that my spiritual preparation is more important than baking cookies and buying gifts.  Christ smiles at us when we are clear and free in our hearts and spirits after confession.

There is a wonderful Catholic theologian and author, Peter Kreeft, who I quote quite often.  In one of his many books, he spoke about Confession and told this wonderful story (which I will totally paraphrase):  When we face the judgement seat of Christ, we can picture ourselves standing there, before the Throne, with nothing but a couple of suitcases.  Christ will ask us what we have brought with us.  Our response will be, “Lord, I brought my sins with me.”  And He will tell us that when He forgave us our sins, it was as if they never happened.  He will go back into the timeline of our lives and pull those sinful acts or omissions out of our timeline and it will be as if they never existed.  We are the ones who need to forgive ourselves and to let our sinful pasts be just that; our past.  And this is what I think is happening to me and some of my memories – they are memories that are best forgotten because I was (and still am) a fearful sinner and I lug these sins, over which I have sought forgiveness time and again, with me wherever I go.  I need to let them go.  As I am maturing in my faith, and I find holes in my memory, I am learning to be okay with that.  I trust God and I know He is guiding me in the way I need to go.  He is allowing me to forget certain aspects of my past, in order for me to have a better future.

And so I post now and then.  I blog. I add to the cacophony of sounds around me by tapping away on my laptop.  And I allow issues to come and go and I try not to cling to those things I need to let go. I get out of God’s way and allow His healing to reach deep into my heart and rip out the things I need to let go of.  And I am finding my way to that peace that knows no understanding, that peace of God.  (Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7)

My prayer is for forgiveness from past sinful acts or omissions. If I have offended you in any way, please forgive me.  I extend my hand to you as a friend and a fellow journeyman on the road to Divine Eternity with God.  I pray for company on this journey and as I ponder the things in my life, I extend an offer to join me by reading this blog.  Let us not judge one another, but love each other as God intended us to love one another: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35).

ON Forgiveness

“You therefore must be perfect…”

Gerontissa Gabriella.2I am so distressed today.  There are a lot of words being said, back and forth, across the social media sites today about the lack of media coverage of the abortionist who is being tried for murder.  One of the nurses testified that at least one infant screamed as the doctor severed its’ neck with scissors.  That in and of itself is a horrible thing to testify to, to witness, and to have done.  Wanton-less killing is evil; pure and simple.  And I am a pro-life person through and through.  I have learned, through the years, that being pro-life does not just mean that you are anti-abortion.  It does mean, however, that you believe in the sanctity of all human life, from a natural beginning to a natural end.

And the rhetoric that is being flung against this man, and against the mainstream media, is pretty strong.  I was invited to participate in a tweeting meeting…I have no idea what exactly that is, because I really haven’t figured out tweeting.  I guess it’s like instant messaging a whole bunch of people, all at the same time?  I am unclear on the concept or the need for it.  But I digress.  Part of this invitation included lots of comments from the pro-life contingency.  And that is where my upset stomach comes in.

We cannot say the sort of things that are being said about this man and consider ourselves Christians.  It is one thing to believe that someone is guilty of a heinous crime, and I in no way believe this man is innocent, and it is another to speak with such hatred and vitriolic commentary.  How can someone say they are pro-life and Christian, and wish upon a fellow human being the same atrocities they have committed against these babies?  One commentator said he thinks this doctor should be killed by scissors, without anesthesia, piece by piece until he is dead.  There were so many comments about an eye for an eye and so many Biblical quotes from the Old Testament.  The one most used is: “If two men are fighting and they strike a pregnant woman and her children are born prematurely, but there is no harm, he is certainly to be fined as the husband of the woman demands of him, and he will pay as the court decides.” (Exodus 21:22).  For one thing, this verse is talking about a woman being an innocent bystander when two men are arguing; they accidentally hit her and she miscarries.  Her husband can then demand recompense for the loss of her child.  This is not about abortion.  In the case of abortion, the mother is complicit with the decision to kill her child; she is no innocent bystander, but an active participant.

Christ came to change the world.  Yes, He came to cause division.  Yes, He certainly stirred the pot in the ancient world and tried to change how people viewed themselves and their neighbors.  He instructed us to, above all, love our neighbor and pray for those who persecute us.  He also taught us the value of life…of all life.  We are not to sit as judge, jury, and executioner; that is God’s prerogative.  Certainly, this doctor deserves to be punished by the law.  Pope John Paul II said that the death penalty is just in a just society.  Is the society we find ourselves in right now, a just society? I think not.  We have all sorts of standards, in all sorts of situations.  Very few people believe our judicial system is actually working.  We have more people in jail in America than total populations in some countries.  We house more criminals than any country in history.  But does this system work?  Recidivism, that subconscious desire to return to the world of the prison system, pulls hard at so many of our convicted. They prefer life on the inside versus life in the streets.  We have raised a generation who believe the world owes them everything and they don’t need to do a thing to earn it.  We have one of the most severely under-educated populations in the world, and yet we spend more per pupil than any other nation.

Most of the commentary about this doctor is so hateful and spiteful, and supposedly said by Christians, that it is frightening.  Now be prepared, because I am a person of eclectic tastes.  One of my favorite TV shows is called Supernatural.  The premise is these two brothers, working with angels, are trying to stop the apocalypse from happening. There is a lot more to it than that, but that is the basic idea.  In one episode, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are slowly escaping (the explanation for the whys of that take an entire season) and War has made himself known in a small town in Colorado. When one of the brothers is chatting with War, he asks him why is he poisoning the people?  What is he doing? Is it an incantation, a spell, a drug?  War simply answers that he needs none of that.  Lovely, complacent, Christians (many of the scenes take place in the Catholic church’s basement Hall, where a stunned priest asks, “Wait, you mean the Apocalypse?) can turn on their neighbor when you simply introduce doubt and suspicion into their minds.  He goes on to say that being War is one of the most simple things to be because humanity itself can war on itself, with nothing more than a little nudge from him.  That got me to thinking about the reaction to this doctor.  Hateful.  And the reaction in politics – it is frightening how our hatred spews from the same mouths that proclaim Christ as King.

Today, the vitriol made my stomach just churn in knots.  I grabbed a tums and sat down to write.  What we say and how we act shows where our hearts truly lay.  If we can so easily turn on another human being with such hatred, is it any surprise that things like the holocaust could happen in those quiet, German, suburbs?  Is there any surprise that Planned Parenthood can operate in our towns and cities with no reaction?  Where is the surprise at what a late term abortion entails?  Babies are born alive and then they are killed.  When my sons were born, they were crying almost right away.  Of course a baby will scream when you cut its neck with scissors.  What did we think happened?  But do we really want to impose that same thing on this doctor?  What happened to us that we think that is justified, while decrying ourselves as Christians?  Christ told us, quite specifically, “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:44-48)  The fifth chapter of Matthew contains the Sermon on the Mount.  Christ exhorts us to behave above and beyond what our culture expects of us. “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’  But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you,  leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.” (Matthew 5: 21-26).

St John of Kronstadt.love others

It frightens me, how easily the hatred and frustrations people bear towards their neighbor comes to the surface.  How can we possibly attract people to Christ when we behave like that?  If someone from the pro-abortion side were to read the comments made on this pro-life site, they would feel even more justified in their position.  They spew things about pro-life supporters, calling us names and telling us how false we are.  Perhaps if we show our underbellies like this, there is some truth in what our naysayers actually say about us.  I stopped reading the sites and went to prayer for these people.  We need to love the sinner, but hate the sin.  It is stated this way in Scripture: If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we have not seen? (1 John 4:20)  St. Augustine is thought to have expounded on that with the love the sinner but hate the sin statement.  There is more evidence that we should not judge our brothers: “Why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying, `Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log from your own eyes; then perhaps you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5).  Furthermore, Christ instructs us: “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful and endures through every circumstance. Love will last forever …” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

In no way do these statements of Christ I have opted to quote, nor my commentary, undermine or reduce the crime this man has committed.  In no way do I condone his actions. I believe abortion is evil and wrong, and a choice of convenience. In our hedonistic society, we are all about serving ourselves and not looking out for our brothers.  We think that we have the right of death over life, when in fact, that belongs to God alone.  My point is that the words we use do remain until eternity.  And because eternity is never-ending, our words are never-ending as well.  Do we want to be known for the vitriolic hatred spewed about this man, or would it be better to calm down this hateful rhetoric, push for a life-long jail sentence, and see to correcting the societal ills that approve of abortion in the first place? Let us not sink down into the miasma of hatred from which the desire to kill the unborn sprang.  Let us instead approach the situation with the love of Christ.  He quietly stood among those in a small community, calling for the stoning of the woman accused in adultery.  He alone caused that community to calmly walk away, by asking those without sin to cast that first stone. We can do at least that.  We can put down the stones and allow the man to spend his life in repentant jail time, and try to change the world that caused him to abandon his training as a doctor who saves lives, to one who takes life.

St Silouan the Athonite2

“He’s the one you’re following.”

Dostoevsky

“A proud man, at the time when other people are speaking of any other person’s virtues, is wickedly afraid lest this person should be superior to him in virtues, and should eclipse him, for the proud man considers himself above all, and does not think it possible to find similar or higher virtues in others. The rivalry of others is a great misfortune to him.”
(St John of Kronstadt)  This quote of St. John was posted on the Brotherhood of the Holy Cross’ Facebook page earlier, and it’s been eating away at me.  Dostoevsky’s quote seems to go along with this quote from St. John, too.

I have struggled most of my life with trying to win the approval of others.  I always feel like I fall very short because their scales, their method of measurement, are so very different than mine.  I have tried to approach things with their perspective, but just cannot seem to do so.  At various times in my life, I was far removed from religion.  I certainly did not practice the Christian virtues in any way.  In those times, I was more in step with those who judged me, because their perspective seems more in tune with worldly values and accomplishments.  When I chose a different lifestyle and chose to become a different person in my life, it became apparent we lived very disparate lives.  As I have aged, and hopefully matured, I realize that comparisons are rather silly. I can never be those who look at me; those who judge me….they are on the outside of the person I am and they are pursuing their own desires, their own answer to the same questions we all have: “Who am I?” “Why am I here?”  “What is life for?”  “Is there a greater power guiding all this? “Is there a God?” And I recently have been able to reflect, and to let it all go.  I am no longer comparing myself to others who seem to be exceeding their own expectations.  I am no longer in the same race; I took a step back and stepped out of it!  And that is a humongous difference and a huge weight off my shoulders. I can honestly say that since I have become more in tune with the peace of God in my heart, deeply felt within me, I have given up participating in their race.  I run my own race; my personal race to eternity.

Don't compare

We keep the goals we are after in front of us, always, to spur us on in our journey.  For example, we are relocating near our oldest son.  I keep a photo montage on our refrigerator of his family and my visit with them in January.  When I get down or disgruntled with how this move is progressing, I go and look at my grandson, at my son and his family.  It keeps me focused on where we are going and why!  Our mantle had family pictures on it.  As we decorated for Christmas, I packed them away.  Once Christmas was over and that was packed up, my mantle was bare.  So I relocated our Icon corner to front and center on our mantle.  For me, it keeps my eye on the prize.  And quite honestly, the noise, the clutter, the chaos that others bring to my life through their judgements and their opinions, are fading away.  They no longer concern me, guide me, or inform me, because I realized that it is just…opinion. Using their methods of judging me, I will never measure up.  I will never be the perfect daughter, sister, mother, friend.  But I can be the perfect Child of God, because God loves me no matter what, and uses no scale to measure me against other Christians.  The only measuring I am concerned with is how God perceives me, how God wants me to be.  And I believe that if I can mirror the message of Christ effectively, all these other scales and issues will fall by the wayside, because Christ’s message is of perfect love for others.  (“This is my commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:12)  He gave His life for me, and for each of us who heed His message.  He did not come to save everyone, because many, many people choose not to heed His message.  For those who opt to live their lives for the moment, for the fullest enjoyment that this life can offer, that is what they can find – here.  I pray that when they meet Christ at their death, their repentance is sincere and they choose wisely; they choose eternity with Christ.

ON Forgiveness

“As for me and my house, we shall serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)I know that many of my extended family and some of our friends feel that since we have become Melkite Greek Catholic and have embraced an eastern viewpoint on theology, that we sort of “went off the deep end.”  Still others appreciate the insight, the “breath of fresh air” we share with them, breathing through our eastern, Byzantine lung.  Still others do not accept what we share or what I share here, because it is old, and it is Catholic or Byzantine, or Orthodox.  They do not accept the authenticity!  All of that makes me sad.  Christ came 2,000+ years ago and the “deposit of faith” is so immense, there is room for all these wonderful things to be shared.  There is also room in the House of God for many viewpoints.  Christ’s message of forgiveness should reach to other points of view, but quite often, in matters of faith, it does not. Today I am sharing that I have been illuminated in a profound way, that what I am being shown is making me a better person and I believe that light can be shared with others, and they, in turn, will be lit with this Divine Knowledge, and changed; changed for the better.  This is not said out of pride, out of some haughty place where I think I am correct and feel sorry for everyone who does not think like I do.  Far, far from it.  I have been told over and over again, by a protagonist in my life, “I know I am right; prove me wrong and we can discuss it. Until you do, you need to accept that I am right.”  And for them, it is for every subject you can broach with them.  Every subject.  That is a very difficult position to deal with, because with their own personal scale, I can never be right.  Empirically or emotionally!  And so I am choosing to step away from the argument, the contest, or whatever it is supposed to be and I am allowing myself the Peace, the Grace of God to comfort me.  I acknowledge my own ineptitude, my own weakness, my own lacking in certain areas, and I opt to forge ahead, as poor a specimen as I am.  I choose to allow the Grace of Christ to inform my conscious, to form my spirituality, and to be the sole judge of who I am. I let go of the rest of it.  Whew….such a relief.  I truly cannot express how incredibly freeing this viewpoint is.  I feel like I can choose for me and mine and there are no repercussions, because my sole judge is God.   I leave you with these thoughts, expressed so well, by St. John of Kronstadt:


“Our soul, as a spiritual, active being, cannot remain idle; it either does good or evil, one of the two; either wheat grows in it or tares. But as every good comes from God, and as the means of obtaining every good from God is prayer, those who pray fervently, sincerely, from the depths of their hearts, obtain from the Lord grace to do good, and, before all, the grace of faith; whilst, those who do not pray, naturally remain without these spiritual gifts, voluntarily depriving themselves of them by their own negligence and spiritual coldness; and as the wheat of good thoughts, inclinations, intentions, and works grows in the hearts of those who labor and pray fervently to the Lord, so in the hearts of those who do not pray, the tares of every evil grow, smothering the small amount of good that has remained in them from the grace of baptism, chrism, and subsequent penitence and communion.
Therefore, we must most carefully look after the field of our heart, lest the tares of evil, slothfulness, luxuriousness, self-indulgence, unbelief, avarice, envy, hatred, and others, should grow within it; we must daily weed the field of our heart–at least, at morning and evening prayers, and refresh it by salutary sighs, as by healthful winds, and water it with abundant tears, as by early and late rain. Besides this, we must by every means implant in the field of our heart the seeds of the virtues, faith, hope in God, and love for God and our neighbor, fertilize it by prayer, patience, good works, and not for a single hour remain in complete idleness and inactivity, for in times of idleness and inactivity the enemy zealously sows his tares. “While men slept, the enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way.” We must also remember that it is impossible to do good works without efforts. Since our voluntary falling into sin the kingdom of God cannot be taken otherwise than by “violence, and the violent take it by force.” Why is it that only the narrow way and narrow gate lead to life? Who makes the way of the chosen narrow? The world oppresses the chosen, the devil oppresses them, the flesh oppresses them; it is these that make our way to the kingdom of heaven narrow.”

180px-Ioann_of_KronstadtSt. John of Kronstadt, Russia