“They began to go away, one by one…”

morethanwhatyousee

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

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

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

dirty-hands

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

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

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

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

sun-in

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

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

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

judging-others

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

fingerpointing

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

jerusalem-tattoo

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

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

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“All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass…”

Symbolism is so much a part of what we do and how we live. We I am scrambling to be sure we have our “spirit wear” all ready for the homecoming game tomorrow. It’s important to show team spirit by wearing our school colors! We clang cow bells painted the right colors and are sure to sit in the booster section, where we can yell without embarrassing our other children! Ha-ha! But we cannot wear colors that are from our opposing team, because that doesn’t show support to our players and cheerleaders. We have to have all the right symbols.

Football

I was recently in a discussion about wearing our wedding rings on the right or left hand. In the west, people wear them on their left hands. People in Eastern European cultures (and Russian Orthodox and other Orthodox Churches) all wear them on the right hand. But in America, it confuses the average person if you wear your wedding set on the right hand with people thinking you are divorced or widowed. The symbol isn’t right; it does not fit into their notion of how things should be. It can unsettle people, seeing the wrong image in the wrong place.

There are logos and symbols all around us. If you give most people quizzes on company logo recognition, they can name many corporations just by seeing their logos. That means their marketing team has been doing their jobs and doing them well!

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There are some images that people enjoy and some that make people uncomfortable. Some images can evoke such strong emotions. If you see something that reminds you of your childhood, it can bring back happy memories, or bring you to tears. Other images are quickly forgotten and we don’t give them another thought.

crucifix-2-flash

When many Christians see a crucifix, the image of Christ hanging the cross, they get very uncomfortable. I have had people say that it is like looking at photos of a murder scene over and over again. I can see that. I can feel that sort of emotion. For most Catholics, the crucifix reminds them of the mercy of God and of His great sacrifice for us. It evokes feelings of safety and comfort. There is a prayer called the Anima Christi that is often prayed while gazing at a crucifix:

Soul of Christ, sanctify me
Body of Christ, save me
Blood of Christ, inebriate me
Water from the side of Christ, wash me
Passion of Christ, strengthen me
O good Jesus, hear me
Within Thy wounds hide me
Permit me not to be separated from Thee
From the malignant enemy defend me
In the hour of my death call me
And bid me come unto Thee
That with thy Saints I may praise Thee
Forever and ever
Amen

It makes looking at that particular symbol not as gruesome as some would think. There are other symbols and ways of representing the Cross of Christ. And I have been pondering these symbols recently. It is easy to have a symbol mean something to you, but when others look upon it, they see something very differently. There are all kinds of crosses out there, and each means something to the culture they are associated with. For many of us in western society, these crosses confuse us, because they are not what we are used to seeing, when we associate them with our faith. This is a wall hanging I have in my home:

images. wall crosses.

I like it because it shows all different ways of looking at crosses. It’s made of metal and 3D. It has engendered many conversations. And some Christians do not have any crosses in their homes, nor do they display paintings or statues. Very few have icons. We are probably the odd-man-out but we have all of it. We have statues, paintings, crosses from all over the world, and icons. We have lots of icons. We have very little secular art, actually.

I have been pondering symbols in other ways, as well. Permanence is something that is not common in the corporate world, although many older companies are very recognized just by their logos!

apple microsoft  pepsi flag2

Each of these logos is very familiar and we all have an opinion about each of them. One of them is not a logo per se, but a symbol. There is a difference. A symbol is a representation, a pictogram, whereas a logo is a trademarked corporate identity that may contain a symbol. Like Apple’s logo with it’s iconic symbol of an apple with a bite out of it, and symbol of our homeland, the American flag.

The cross, of course, cuts through all the corporate hype and is not owned by one corporation or church. It is a universal symbol. For many it evokes comfort and peace, and for others it is a sign of divisiveness. For me, it symbolizes a part of who I am and what I believe. And my faith does not waiver, it does not fade, it does not change. I am a Christian woman. Where I choose to worship, the style of how I worship, may change. Those are externals. But my belief does not change or waiver. So the symbol of my faith, the cross, does not waiver. Which is why I am considering getting a tattoo of a cross for myself, for my birthday. It’s not really for anyone else. It is something that would remind me, each time I look at it, what I believe. But which representation, for me, do I choose? It’s had me up nights, because inking is permanent. Which is why it has also taken me this long to even consider it. And I have pondered this whole issue of logos and symbols, recognition and the emotions they evoke. And I am thinking and praying, and searching my heart. Who knows? Maybe it will be a new purse. I’ll let you know.

Tattoo

 

” but up to seventy times seven…”

Forgiveness – Matthew 18:21-22
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.”

For those of us who are Eastern Rite Catholics, yesterday was Cheesefare Sunday, because it is the last time we eat any dairy and today is called Clean Monday – the first day of the full “Great Fast.” Every year, Lent is prefaced by Meatfare (two weeks ago) and Cheesefare, but more importantly, we also refer to this past Sunday as, “Forgiveness Sunday.” Traditionally, on this day, we are asked by our priest to forgive him any sins he may have committed against us, and we repeat, aloud, “I forgive you.” The clergy on the altar seek forgiveness from one another. In some eastern traditions, this act of seeking and giving forgiveness is expressed in a more formalized, and public, way with a line developing wherein each parishioner personally meets with the priest and other clergy, then joining the line, until each parishioner asks and gives forgiveness to every other parishioner. It can take hours if the parish is large enough.

It was celebrated in our parish, the long way, yesterday. I did not attend Church. I am so hurt in my heart, that I just could not stand to have the hypocrisy of some people played out in front of my face, when I know they gossip disparagingly about my family and I behind our backs. Gossip is alive and well in my life. I was fearful I would say something that would make the situation far worse. For me, and for them.

north_door_of_iconostasis_v-2The icon above depicts the Temptation in the Garden and the Expulsion from Eden and the Shame of Adam and Eve. This icon is used on Forgiveness Sunday to remind us of the Original Sin of Adam. And we are supposed to contemplate our sin, in light of God’s justice in removing Adam and Eve from His Presence. We believe that when we sin, we take a step away, or remove ourselves from, the Presence of God. Depending upon the sin, that step can be minute, or it can create a chasm between us and God. God is consistently standing with open arms, waiting on us to seek Him out, in repentance. In the Eastern Rites, and in the Roman Catholic Church, we go to Confession (or Reconciliation). The Church asks us to go to Confession at least once before we celebrate Pascha, or Easter, and the Resurrection of Christ.

Since last week, I have been thinking long and hard about all of this. I felt that removing myself from this would be better for all of us. I have nothing to prove to anyone, nor do I think my presence should have a definitive affect on others, one way or the other. I have wronged people, I am sure, and need to seek forgiveness from them. But I do not need to do so in a public forum. Do I have anger and frustration in my heart? You bet I do. Do I need to let it go? Oh my, yes I do. And how am I to do that? Therein lies the heart of my moments spent musing over this.

I have been doing this study, which I referenced in my last post, and I quoted from it about the boulders we have in our lives that we need to move out of the way. I have lots of boulders that I need shifted. And I am working on them. I do not think I would have served anyone any good by being at Church. God is working on me. Hard. In the eastern rites, we have no “obligation” to attend religious services. In the Latin Church, there is the pain of mortal sin if you purposely avoid Mass. For us in the eastern Churches, we feel no pain of “mortal” sin; we do not delineate sin in that way. We view sin a little differently and it does not entail whether or not we go to Church. The philosophy behind it is that when you love someone, you want to be with them, above everything else. You will do whatever it takes to be with them. And if you love God, you will do whatever it takes to be there, with Him, at Church. Sin is seen as a step away from God – does your choice put you closer to God, or further away from Him? Does staying home from Church cause you to be further from God or closer to God? For me, I felt that being at Church would be a “near occasion of sin” for me, and for others. And so I stayed away, purposefully.

Today, well, today is Clean Monday. Today we begin the Great Fast in earnest. And today I did something I have never done – I juiced! We bought a juicer and today was its first run. I am now drinking it over ice and I must say, it is pretty darn tasty! With this study I am doing entitled, “The Holistic Christian Woman,” we are also altering our dietary intake and trying to purge our bodies of the stuff that impedes good health. So I thought I would coordinate that with the start of Great Lent. I made my son a smoothie today. It feels good to focus on our health and is such a great way to share Clean Monday and the start of Great Lent.

juicing

Back to why I started this post – forgiveness. It is a rough thing and a touchy thing. To truly forgive someone, you remove the hurt and take it out of your timeline, if you will. You live as if the hurt was never a part of your life. And if the pain is too much, you just give it to God. He has a better way to handle our hurts than we do. He died for our hurts. He hung on that Cross for three hours, taking on the hurts of the entire world. Just for me. Just for you. And He said, as He was being crucified, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34).  

Quiet

Do I forgive? Oh, I sincerely do. I really, truly forgive anyone who has ever wronged me. It is as though those things, those words, were never said. And I am completely at peace with that. Do others forgive me? In the same way? Perhaps; perhaps not. But all I can do is seek that forgiveness; how they forgive is between them and God. Forgiving is freeing. I still retain the memories of the hurt, but the pain is somehow removed because I truly let it go. But it does not mean I am stupid. I am not going to consistently, regularly, bang my head against that same wall. Albert Einstein is widely credited with saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”. I am adult enough to realize that repeating errors is just wasting my time. And it is honestly okay to just walk away….

Nonsense

So I will continue to embark on this Lenten journey. I am focusing on becoming healthier in many ways – emotionally, spiritually, and physically. I do forgive others and I pray for their forgiveness, as well. I read a great blog today by Joel L. Miller enttitled, “The Trouble with me – and  – Jesus Christianity” on Ancient Faith blogs. He talks about the story of the blind men each touching an elephant and describing it to one another. One touches a leg and describes the elephant like a tree trunk; one touched the trunk and described a snake…you get the idea. It is the same with Church, with our faith – if we only see our own interpretation of Jesus, we may only know Him as a tree trunk or a snake. We will not see the entirety of our faith. We cannot be Christians in a vacuum or as islands. Salvation comes in community. We celebrate our faith, we share our faith, we grow in our faith in the presence of other Christians. We listen to the preaching of our priests and deacons; we listen to the Fathers of the Church, who guide us in “orthodox” or “right thinking.” We cannot do this alone. We cannot seek salvation alone. Yes, our faith is between us and our Savior. But the Apostles sought one another and lived in community. We, too, should seek other Christians. So to not attend Church is not the best approach to growing in our faith. However, sometimes removing ourselves from situations that are not life-giving, nor healthy, is the best we can do for everyone. I’m not advocating avoiding communities that help us build and grow in our faith. But I am advocating an intelligent perspective on, as St. John Chrysostom said above, “Let us always guard our tongue; not that it should be silent, but that it should speak at the proper time.” And I believe removing ourselves and spending time alone is a healthy thing to do.

Alone time

This year’s Lenten journey should be amazing. I am working hard on listening more and talking less. On watching less TV and reading more. On making better choices in so many areas. I am working on becoming more fit in my physical, emotional, and spiritual self. This time, set aside each year, is given to us to reflect, repent, and start again. I feel blessed. Working to prepare myself in order to really welcome Christ with Palm branches and shouts of “Hosanna in the Highest.” See you on the other side…

Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Procession_in_the_Streets_of_Jerusalem_(Le_cortège_dans_les_rues_de_Jérusalem)_-_James_Tissot

“Here’s your sign…”

Church spire

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

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

Byzantine Cross

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

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

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

Intent to reply

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“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.”

Bright week….

I am laughing on the inside, because I have no voice to express it on the outside! God is having a great time with me. This is Bright Week! The week after Easter, where we in the Eastern Churches continue our celebration of the Paschal Divine Liturgy. There is no fasting allowed. Most who keep the strict Lenten fast don’t even want to see a vegetable in the house! Ha-Ha! This week is the week we keep celebrating the Risen Lord.  We greet one another with “He is Risen! He is truly Risen!” We smile, we laugh, we feast.  Because Our God has done what He promised us He would do.

Easter TableI prepared SOOOO much for Easter. This was my first year in preparing for Easter with a Slavic or Eastern European flavor/style to it. In the Eastern or Slavic nations, each family has a basket and each thing you put in the basket has special significance.  The particulars can vary by country and by ethnic tradition.  First of all, I hunted and hunted and hunted for the perfect Easter basket; it turns out I should have gone with the larger size, because I also prepared quite a lot to go inside it: (1) I prepared Lamb Butter (molded two, actually) by softening butter and placing it in a mold shaped like a lamb – lamb butter!; (2) I dyed 5 DOZEN Easter Eggs using all natural ingredients (brown onion skins, turmeric, and paprika);  (3) I made Easter Cheese called Hrudka (it’s called a custard cheese and from my point of view, as I was stirring it, I wanted to add some raisins and make a proper custard pudding); (4) I also made the traditional Easter bread called Paska or Paskha (2 loaves!!); (5) I made this spread by grating fresh beets, adding horseradish, and then adding a dash of sugar – my husband loved it.  There was also a shaker of Kosher salt in the basket, a small ham, some polska kielbasa, and a “rasher” of uncooked bacon (actually, it was more like several rashers, as a rasher is just a slice of bacon, but I love that word).  I decorated our family candle with crosses and bows and some pearls. It looked so nice!! And I ordered this hand-made cover off e-Bay by this wonderful Russian woman who hand-embroidered it with “Christ is Risen” on it (it was only $10 including shipping and I love it!! It was perfect!!) But, as Easter morning dawned, I knew I was sick.  And I mean SICK.  I did not even make it through the entire morning of prayers and Divine Liturgy. I did not even receive Our Lord in Holy Communion on Easter morning. I was passed out at the table by our basket. Ugh.  Our parish has this lovely tradition of setting the tables up in a “u” shape in the hall and everyone displays their baskets.  Their lovely covers are taken off the basket and laid in front of it, draping over the table.  As the priest walks by, he incenses and blesses each basket with holy water (in our case, it was a waterfall! Father was having so much fun – it made it very special). After the blessing, we share our food with one another, walking around the room, enjoying the Pascha celebration.

Easter Basket 2014On Holy Saturday evening, we attended our granddaughter’s Christening at the local Episcopal Church for their vigil services.  It was supposed to go from 8:00 – 10:00 pm but lasted until after 11:00 pm.  We enjoyed ourselves. They had the lighting of the fire outside, a procession indoors with everyone holding lit candles.  We had some lively music (a blue grass band was there and they were good) and sermon, and then they christened everyone who was prepared. Our granddaughter looked adorable in her Christening gown complete with matching bow and blinged-out cross (I loved it).  I have some wonderful photos of my husband holding our granddaughter after she was christened and both are smiling so big! It fully expressed our joy in the evening.  Then I started getting hot; as in “experiencing my own personal summer” sort of hot. And then my voice dropped a couple of octaves (whatever that is…I started to sound like a man, and I knew that was not good). We scurried home as soon as we could and I knew I would not have a healthy Easter morning.

He is risen.languagesEaster morning dawned and I was ill.  I was so looking forward to our first morning, sharing our baskets and having fun, at our new parish.  I had to leave Divine Liturgy because I started coughing and sweating, and feeling like I just wanted to curl in a ball under my blankets at home – I made it to our basket in the hall and just collapsed.  The rest of the parish processed to the hall and Father blessed our baskets amongst song, incense, and a waterfall of holy water. It was so much fun. He then called all the “littles” into the center of the tables, along with their baskets, blessed them and then the kiddos started to really have fun.  (In our tradition, no one can touch the contents of their baskets until they are blessed.  It takes a great deal of willpower for the kiddos; and for the adults.  There is usually lots of candy and meat!!)  I got myself a large coffee and plopped down by the basket. I didn’t want to get too close to anyone, but I had to crack some eggs, which I joyfully did.  My “warrior” egg was finally demolished by this lovely older woman (at least 80 years old) who promptly confiscated it!  We left before it was all over, because I was dead on my feet.

Basket blessing.2014We got home and I went to bed.  I’ve been mostly in bed since. I took naps most of Monday and just existed yesterday. Today I am so over being sick, but am still hacking and have no voice, and still feeling pretty lousy.  No voice is what my husband says is his Easter gift! Oh ha-ha!  But all this enforced quiet and stillness has been good for me.  Because I realized that all the prep, all the worry, all the hoopla did not really make the day any better – at least for me.  I was too sick to enjoy it all.  But HE still rose. HE still came for me.  HE touched me and has shown me that He is risen! Easter came because He promised us it would; nothing I did or did not do changed the fact of the Resurrection. He is Risen! He is truly Risen!

Holy SepulchreWhen I think of my paltry issues in comparison to people around the world, I am sort of pathetic to even complain. I read an article about the Palestinian Christians denied entry to the Holy Land.  The expression of difficulty they have being less than 50 miles from the Holy Sepulchre itself (pictured above) and not being allowed in by the Jewish authorities just broke my heart.  Several instances where mom or dad would get a permit, but none of the rest of the same family.  It’s just so sad.  However, there was a bit of good news, actually, from Lebanon. I watched one of those “flash mobs” start singing in a mall in Lebanon, the words to “Jesus is Risen” in Arabic.  Reminded me of my days of celebrating at our old Melkite parish!  The video is from 2011, but it is still amazing it exists!  (Watch it here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o0ZS9o6NLnM#t=87).  There was an article yesterday by the Melkite Patriarch about the Churches that were destroyed in Syria.  He is asking the world to acknowledge it as war crimes.  My Church is still standing.  Is yours?  Not to mention all the churches in Egypt that were destroyed.  And still the people come. They come because of what Christ promised each of us.

Egyptains prayingThere’s a wonderful tradition about the Holy Fire at the Sepulchre itself wherein a priest (different one each year) enters the tomb and his candle is lit – all by itself – every year. This “holy fire” is then shared by thousands of people, lit one candle at a time.  The photos this year were amazing.

israelfireinternal151So for me, sitting here feeling miserable, my heart still sings. My heart still knows.  I know that Christ is Risen! He is truly Risen! And He did that for me, for each of us, regardless of how we prepare to receive Him, or if we even noticed what day it was, or even if all we know about is Easter Egg hunts and pretty baskets and dresses and hats.  He still came; He died; He Rose.  I find such joy and comfort as we recite in the Nicean Creed:  “… who was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried; who rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and is enthroned at the right hand of the Father; who will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead; and of whose kingdom there shall be no end…”  (*cough-cough; sniff-sniff* ). Regardless of how I prepared, of how aware I was of what was going on; how prepared so much of the world is or is not, it still happens.  He keeps His promises.  Always.

Tomb of Jesus Christ Jerusalem

 

“From an infant into an adult…”

PreciousJewelsLast night a dear friend asked me to accompany her to the local hospital’s NICU ward.  For those of you who have never been to one, or know what that acronym stands for, it is a little slice of heaven where gifted doctors and nurses care for those least able to care for themselves, our newborns and preemies.  (Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit). My friend and her husband are foster parents and we were visiting with the newborn they will soon be bringing home.  She was there to outfit him with a car seat small enough to hold and protect him, and attend a class for parents on germs.  I opted out of the class and made my way to the waiting area or, “family room,” to wait for her to finish the class.  While in the “family room” reading the newspaper, I met a man who was there from South Carolina, visiting his newborn twin granddaughters.  The babies each weighed a pound.  He shared photos of them with me, showing him holding one of the girls.  She completely fit in the palm of his hand.  I cried.  I cried for the miracle of that photo.  When I was birthing my babies, and loosing so many of them, a baby that size would not have survived.  Science has changed so much in the past 30 years, especially in the care of premature babies.

When we were finally able to go and actually see the baby, we first had to de-contaminate ourselves.  That process was interesting!  Once we finally got on the baby’s floor, it was so quiet!  We walked into that room and when I saw that little isolette with that tiny baby in it, tears just rolled down my face.  That little man weighed barely 5 pounds and was already more than 2 months old.  The interesting thing is that he was not due for another 4 weeks, yet.  It was wonderful to meet the nurses caring for these little babies. They love what they do.  They have a heart for these most vulnerable among us, and they are kind, gentle, and loving to all of them.

Hand on baby's backMy friend was able to change the baby’s diapers and then settle in to feed him a bottle.  I sat next to her, and I started to quietly weep.  I have lost babies that size.  I have mourned the loss of my babies, and I think because of that, I just felt so connected to this little guy.  When he smiled, my heart just melted.  Here he was, still supposed to be tucked safely inside his mommy, holding my finger and smiling at me.  What a miracle of life, and modern medicine.  And my heart started to race when I realized – it is still legal pretty much anywhere in our country, to abort a baby this size.  My friend looks at me and says, “Don’t you start crying, because I will, too.” And we both smiled at this little gift of life from God.  How could anyone hurt a baby this tiny?  He was no lump of tissue; he was no “inconvenience” in the life of his mother.  He was born far, far too soon; at least his birth mother chose life for him.

Baby holding fingerEach of us has been vulnerable in our lives. Many of us still are.  But holding that little baby in my scrubbed and itching arms brought me back to the times when I needed the most care, when I was the most vulnerable, and I was thankful for the people around me, who cared for me.  Each day is a miracle because we woke up.  Father Justin Rose, a dear friend and our former pastor, has a saying and it is, “You are not guaranteed your next breath.”  That quote always brings me up short, because my days are definitely getting shorter. I’m no longer that crazy, young woman or little girl. I’m a wife, mother, sister, daughter, grandmother, mother-in-law, friend. But there are many things I no longer am…I am no longer someone’s grand daughter, because that generation has all been laid to rest and I’m certainly no longer a girl, or a teenager. I am still a daughter, but not for many more years.  Those things that I was, I will never be again.  And there are not many other things I will become, as I edge nearer and nearer to my last breath.  I read an article written by a woman who cares for the dying and in it she spoke to the 5 things you regret when you die:  Working too much; not living the life we want, but living what others want for us; wishing you had been able to express your feelings; staying in touch with friends; and letting yourself be happier (http://www.lifebuzz.com/5-regrets/).  The list seems simple enough, and yet, how many of us do these 5 things?

Miracle baby toesLast night, holding that little man in my arms, I thought of all the things in life I have not done, and I am pretty happy with the things I have done.  I try to live as regret-free as I can. I wish I had pursued the things I wanted, more than what my parents and others wanted for me (like choosing the wrong major in college, again and again!!). I think I should have taken the time to write the “great novel” or something along those lines. I realize, as I gain wisdom, how truly little I know.  Learning should never stop.  I am grateful for the love of my family and close friends, and I am extremely grateful for the gift of my faith. I know, without any regrets or doubts, that I am living the life of faith God intended for me.  I am content.  And I have realized that I can still be surprised at things, I can still learn things, and I can still love new people.  It is amazing, our capacity for love. I try to be open to the new things I see in life, the new experiences, the new life buzzing around me.  The oncoming Spring is bringing with it a sort of excitement.  The dark of winter is slowly being replaced by days of 12+ hours of sunshine. The snow is melting – I actually saw grass this morning! The world is turning and new life is all around us.  Lent is an amazing time of reflection and coming out of Lent is a time we run smack-dab into the promise of eternal life.  The Cross is born by Christ for us, and we all add to the weight of that Cross.  We all hoist our own cross on our shoulders and trudge through the winter to the Spring, and the promise of eternity.

Elder Paisios.2Seeing and appreciating the fragility of new life and how we all enter the world that way, reminded me that eventually, we all leave life in the same way – dependent on others for our care, perhaps even the very air we breathe.  We leave the world a shriveled vestige of what we once were. Isn’t it so interesting to think that we come in this world dependent on others and leave the same way? I know some are taken rapidly, without need for palliative or any other sort of care.  But most of us just sort of fade.  And as I look closer at the sunset, and realize that my days are truly numbered, I pray to look forward to it with peace in my heart.  I pray that nothing was left untried that I truly wanted to do and that I loved the best I could, loving everyone around me.

Infant BaptismThrough the grace of our Baptism, Chrismation, and reception of the Holy Communion, God is with us.  He is also there to comfort us with sacramental anointing when we feel weak and vulnerable.  This Lent, I am remembering my own vulnerability, praying for those among us who are completely vulnerable and weak, and daring to open my heart to all of God’s children.

Feeling a little vulnerable today in light of the miracles I witnessed yesterday.  Definitely humbled by those miracles and the working of God in that hospital and the dedicated staff seeing to those babies.  God’s blessings often overwhelm me with the sublime beauty of it all.  Blessed Lent.

St.Barsanuphius

 

“..an anchor for those who are tossed by waves…”

St.JohnChrysostom.PrayerToday I am seeking my anchor!  Often when my heart is hurting, I seek comfort in prayer. I light incense in the house, I look to my favorite icons, and I seek counsel from friends whose opinions I trust.  But I have to start my day on my knees (figuratively speaking).  And it is one of those days. The irony is that yesterday was a day for Gaga (the name my oldest grandson gave me) heaven! I babysat both my grandchildren for the entire day.  I was so thrilled. I got to play trucks with my two-year old grandson, and I got to coo at and cuddle with my 4-month old grand daughter. I even remembered all the words to, “I know an old lady who swallowed a fly”!!  That was my youngest son’s favorite song for me to sing to him while I rocked him to sleep for naps!  It was a great day…today, not so much.

Orthodox Notes.6There is an aspect to my life that some people do not understand. My parents did not really understand, and that is okay.  I always wanted a large family.  I came from a small one that spanned several oceans, and was scattered across three continents and was decidedly British in oh so many ways!  No aunts, no uncles, no cousins.  Which is completely the opposite experience of my husband! He comes from a very large, very close, ethnically-rich German-Russian family.  And both my husband and myself wanted a large family of our own.  We even tried to scare each other away while dating!  (I want six kids…how many do you want? Well, I want 8 kids! Ha-Ha!).  God had other plans for us.  From the very start, we had trouble conceiving and keeping our babies and have lost 7 children in various stages of miscarriage.  I longed for a full, noisy, messy, chaotic household and in answer to that, we became foster parents.  The training was intimidating, in and of itself. It makes you wonder how your natural children were still breathing and in one piece.  We prayed about fostering, and we worked on it, and finally we were licensed.  Fostering is a special thing. It is not for the faint-of-heart, nor for the unprepared.  We got our home ready, but it was our minds and hearts that were unprepared.  What were we unprepared for? This wash of completely unrequited love that just overflowed for these children left in our care. Most of their stories were sad beyond our experience.  For most, it was the first time they had ever experienced life in an intact family.  And they clung.  Boy oh boy, did they cling.  And to these kids, race was not even an issue.  I had care of two brothers once who called me, “Mommy” from the first moment I held them.  They were African American boys from the inner city. They arrived in the night, in footed-jammies and diapers, and that was it!  We lived in the suburbs, next to orange groves. They had no idea what oranges were.  They brought me one and said, “Mommy-mommy! Look! Orange balls that fell off that tree! Can we keep them?”  I had to show them that they were for eating.  They had never had a meal that was NOT in a paper sack until they lived with us.  The baby was used to drinking coca-cola out of his bottle.  For dinner one night, I accidentally cut up a slice of pizza for the baby and he had a fit! Screamed at me. He was used to the whole slice.  They both regressed into early infancy, wanting to be held and fed and diapered, rocked to sleep, and comforted; something common for most neglected and abused children.  They were soaking up all the cuddling, warmth, security, and love they never had as small babies.  And when they were wrenched from my arms, screaming, “Mommy, mommy, don’t let them take me!!” I about lost my mind from grief.  They were removed because the maternal grandparents saw us once, and saw we were white. From incarceration, the mother requested “no white families.”  It was so very sad.  In the area in which we lived, foster families of color were few and far between.  Fostering takes courage and fortitude, and learning to be an advocate for these kids.  We loved/hated it.  It messed with my older boys’ heads in that they fell in love with their new “siblings” only to have them taken away, and it was not something they wanted to repeat over and over again.  And so in the best interests of our family, we stopped fostering. We had been licensed for drug babies and small children and that darn phone rang and rang, with placement requests, for at least a year after we discontinued our licensing.

A couple of years later, through the grace of God and some amazing friends, we welcomed and fell in love with, and adopted our youngest son.  He was just a couple of hours old and in the hospital when I first met him, and when he was laid in my arms, the floodgates of love opened in my heart. He was mine…no one else would take him away. I cannot express the gamut of emotions that have come from having him in our family – for all of us.  Our older sons loved him so much, they insisted the three of them all be in the same room – late night crying of an infant and all.  The oldest of our sons took to sleeping with the baby when he was a toddler; they grew very close.  It was a beautiful thing to see. Our middle son had a few years with just he and our youngest at home (the older one had grown and left home) and they bonded something fierce.  It was so fun to see them together, the little one trailing after his brother.  And we have never looked back.  We never treated the son who was given to us differently than the sons we birthed.  He is ours as much as they are.

When we purposefully adopt a child, we become pretty darn protective of that child.  Even more so, I think, because they are adopted.  In our case, we are a different race than our youngest son, and it has always proved to be an issue.  The issue is for other people – not our family or close friends. Our older family members often questioned the wisdom of adopting outside of our race, but we never even thought about it.  I never think of it, until someone brings it to my attention.  A funny incident happened when my mom met him for the first time.  He was just 20 days old.  We brought him to Christmas Eve at my brother’s house.  I guess I had forgotten to mention his race when I was all bubbly and excited over the phone.  You “could have knocked her over with a feather” when she opened that blanket.  She said, “You forgot to mention he wasn’t white.”  And I looked at her, then at him, and said, “I totally forgot that part, I guess.”  We laughed but when you adopt, you just love. It doesn’t matter the gender or the race, it is a child who needs you. You just love.

DrBenCarson“You know, I was asked once by an NPR reporter why I don’t talk about race that often. And I said it’s because I’m a neurosurgeon. And she looked at me quite quizzically. And I said, ‘You see, when I take someone to the operating room and I peel down the scalp and take off the bone flap and open the dura, I’m operating on the thing that makes the person who they are.’ It’s not the covering that makes them who they are,” he said.

I love Dr. Ben Carson, and I love what he said above.  “It’s not the covering that makes them who they are.”  And I truly believe that. I have run into prejudice in all sorts of forms.  I personally have experienced it, and fairly recently, in fact.  Not to be too blunt about it, but I am an obese woman.  I could drop 100 pounds and still want to loose a little more.  (But I have a great personality! Ha-Ha!)  Seriously, I am heavy: I live with it each and every day.  And the world ignores overweight people; they generally don’t really see us.  I have experimented with hair color, length, style.  Only when I went from curly to straight, did people say anything.  And when I quit dyeing my hair and just decided to live with the gray, I only got a few comments (and they were mostly from people my age who are not ready to that, yet!)  For important events, I often wear make-up, and usually on Sundays, or when attending an important function.  No one ever notices.  No one notices when I plan and prepare and then wear a particular outfit that I think looks good.  People do not see me.  It is rather annoying and I long for the day of thinness to return.  But it annoys me, that to be noticed, I need to be thin.  “It’s not the covering that makes them who they are,” as Dr. Carson would say.  But in our culture, it very much is.  And that is a form of prejudice!

Which brings me to my need to cling to my anchor of prayer today. Our youngest, most precious, son is experiencing prejudice.  Now, sometimes you just can’t help stupid people; they are pretty much everywhere.  And I usually ignore prejudice born from ignorance and stupidity. When I get mad is when people purport to (1) be a Christian, (2) are in a position of leadership, (3) have the responsibility to be an example to young people.  Prejudice is most often one of race.  But prejudice exists in many forms.  My parents think I am going to hell because I am not a born-again Christian, who believes like they do and they are prejudiced against Catholicism.  Sad.  Other types are like what I experience being overweight. People can be downright rude about it.  It can also be about ability.  I have friends, and many who foster parent can relate to this, who have children who run the spectrum of FAS (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome) to extremely autistic, to pretty much everything in between.  There are children with special needs, who are not in wheelchairs or use crutches or canes, or who have amputated limbs, who operate pretty much like normal, until they are in certain situations (like formal state testing, for example).  They seem normal, so people do not expect issues with them and berate them for being  “slow” or “stupid.”  There are those who use such derogatory language around children, who soak it up like a sponge, that in turn learn to use it on other kids.  It is a big, ugly cycle.

Choose words wiselySo I am at this point of needing to deal with a situation that breaks my heart. We had such a great thing going for my son, and now it is all falling apart, and I am saddened.  For me, for those friends we dragged along to events that we all enjoyed, for family members who came with us, and the organization as a whole, because we are going to have to make big changes, and change is always hard.  We will walk away from this unless fundamental changes occur.  This is hard on everyone.  But how do you change people’s hearts, so that prejudice doesn’t become a part of who they are and how they operate in life?  And how do you keep it from affecting your own children? I start by praying for them. But I feel like I am against this mammoth thing.  *Deep breath here.*

And guess what? It’s still Lent!!!!  We have something like 25 days left.  And why did this all come to a head now? God placed it in this time and place for my benefit. Wow.  It’s pretty amazing.  Lent is an amazing time for all of us, and this Lent, He is asking me, leading me, to be a better person.

Lent is a timeSo I am examining and taking inventory.  Those little places inside my heart and my soul where I see strange lights seeping in need to be shored up.  Anger, frustration, frustration…all those negative things. Just 25-short days left in Lent!  (Remember when it began and we thought the end was so far off?). I need more reflection, more time, to fix myself so that when I do engage with others who have been cruel to my son, I can be fair.  I can be reasonable.  Because right now, I am not feeling so reasonable.  I am feeling protective.  It’s like I want to fill the moat with water, drop in some sharks, and pull up the drawbridge, keeping the world at bay.  But I know I need to bear witness to God’s love, even to those “who hate me.” In Matthew 5: 43-48, the Lord says this:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 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?

And so I wrestle with myself; I am doing a lot of deep breathing, and trying to relax. I return to my anchor among these waves of prejudice and poor example, and I drop to my knees and I pray. This affects my son’s future, it affects his now; it also affects every person involved, now and in the future.  And I know that I am not enough; I know I need God to handle this for me.  His wisdom, not mine. He must increase, so I must decrease. His words, not mine.  For God suffered prejudice on a Cross, for me.  Thanks be to God. Blessed Lent.

Cross.Sky.Hammer

“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.