“…for the egg you hold to turn red…”

Ukrainain Egg Wraps 3So much of what we think we know when we are young, is completely dashed on the rocks when we get older.  My middle son, when a freshman in High School, put us in an awkward position.  He was barely in high school and we had our youngest son, who was 4 or 5 at the time, and in kindergarten. It was nearing the Christmas holiday season.  To give some background, our family always celebrates the Feast of St. Nicolas by putting our shoes in the hallway, and in the morning, gold-foil-covered coins would be in our shoes.  (Our middle son and youngest son also share their same birth date with the feast day of St. Sabbas, December 5th, the day before St. Nicolas). The story of St. Nicolas of Myra and his generosity always brought such joy to my husband and I, and we shared that with our children.  We often also shared that there were many years that Christmas should not have happened, and that we believed St. Nicolas interceded for us.  St. Nicolas always made an appearance at our parish, bringing chocolate treats to the kids dressed in traditional Bishop’s clothing.  When we were asked by our children if “Santa Claus” was real, we sort of side-stepped it by telling them that we definitely believe in St. Nicolas of Myra. In his memory, through the centuries, Santa Claus was developed, in keeping his sainted memory alive for each generation. We reminded them that we also believe that the Saints are with us always, in the Church Triumphant.  Those are the words we used, but our children heard, “Yes, of course, Santa is real!”  As I said at the beginning, our middle son was in that space between boy-man, and a very naive high school freshman.  (We homeschooled him until he entered a local, Catholic High School).  We asked him to help us hide some Christmas gifts for our youngest son in his closet, and he was devastated.  We had no idea he still believed in the mystery of Christmas morning; he totally bought the whole “Santa” idea and he was crushed.  He then questioned us about the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and Guardian Angels.  What a conversation we had with him.  Now in his late 20s, a college graduate (degree in Ancient History – of course!!) and a married, and imminently expectant father, he still remembers this event.  It made us feel like we had perpetrated a hoax on him and ruined his wonderful childhood memories. Our youngest son, we think, has a handle on it.  But we also think he likes to believe in the miraculous, and also uses it to his advantage.  This past Christmas, at the ripe age of 13, he shared with us his lists – birthday and Christmas.  He said what he didn’t get for his birthday (on the 5th of December) he would love to “get from Dad…oh, I mean, Santa, or St. Nicolas,” at Christmas.  I let it slide, but I think he gets it.  This weekend is Easter…and with that comes preparing for the Easter Bunny…goodies, foods, baskets, and all that we celebrate with it..and there has been so much on the internet and Facebook.  One posting that bothers me greatly is the picture below:

Silly RabbitI firmly believe in the Resurrection of Our Lord, for without that, our religion would not exist; without Easter, Christmas is meaningless.  That being said, I think that the traditions that have sprung up around these Holy-Days (aka Holidays) bring an added dimension to them.  Yes, there are those who ONLY know about the Bunny.  They ONLY know about chocolate eggs and dressing up and hunting for candy eggs. Religion does not enter into the equation at all.  I get that.  Perhaps it is because of my education in Anthropology and History, that I love all the traditions (small t) that surround these Holy Days of ours.  (Why do we hunt for eggs at Easter? Hmmm…hint: someone was missing from the Tomb and was being sought).  Some pessimists posted under pictures like the one above statements like, “It is a pagan holiday anyway; the Church stole it.” and “Christ wasn’t born in wintertime; they stole that pagan celebration, as well.”  Yes, the Church stole those dates.  It was easier as the Church was growing, to incorporate the local traditions and cultures and expound on them, using what was in place to further explain our faith.  St. Patrick is famous for using the 3-leaf clover to explain the Trinity, and it became “lucky.”  The Church used holidays for new birth and coming forth in Spring as the perfect time for Christ to emerge from His Tomb, the Risen Lord. It made sense.  Slowly, over the centuries, many traditions (small t) grew around these Holy-Days and only enhanced the wonder and joy of them. Re-birth, spring flowers, sunshine emerging from a dark winter (why do so many Christians gather for “sunrise services” on Easter Sunday?) and empty crosses…all symbolic of the emergence from Hades (for 3 days), from death, from His tomb – of Our Risen Lord.

One of the most profound things I love about the history of our faith is the history of the construction of our Churches. Western, Catholic churches, first and foremost, are in the shape of a Cross.  Also, in European, western culture, very few people could read.  So the builders of our oldest Cathedrals, at the instruction of our Church Fathers, incorporated incredible stained glass windows to tell the story of Christ, the Church, and its Saints.  Statues were made, depicting episodes from the life of Christ.  The Pieta is one of my very favorites.  There is a saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”  The early Church builders and Fathers of the Church, knowing the poor education of its people, created a special place where the tenets of the faith could be shown in picture and statue form.  A person would walk into a Church and be in a different realm, a heavenly realm, a place where God would be present in his people, in His temple. And their senses were enveloped by the sights, sounds, colors, and smells of their faith.

In the East, the tradition of the Icon was developed.  The beginnings of iconography are in the Catacombs themselves.  One of the first images shared by Christians is of the Fish, emblazoned on the walls of the Catacombs, guiding believers to the liturgies being held in secret in pagan Rome.  The first Icon by St. Luke is an incredible story.  (http://www.stlukeorthodox.com/html/iconography/iconhistory.cfm) The Byzantine and Orthodox believe that Icons are the window to the soul and tell a story.  Everything in an icon is symbolic; they are not meant to look realistic in the sense of a Raphael painting. We do not paint icons, rather, we write an icon.  The icons fill the Eastern Churches with an other-worldly sense of the sacred.  With the colors on the walls and ceilings, the candles, incense, and icons, you enter into a deeply reverent, heavenly experience while still here, on earth.  Most Orthodox and Byzantine Churches do not have pews.  The meaning behind it is pretty profound.  We do not kneel – we stand in the Presence of God.  For example, when the President or other dignitary enters a room, everyone stands.  How much more should we greet Our Lord, Who is present in His Temple?  The western tradition of kneeling comes from (this is what I love about learning history) the way a knight would kneel in the presence of his lord and master, often for the first time when being knighted.  This is a medieval tradition, carried over into our western liturgies.  In the older, western Cathedrals, there are no pews, either.  The pews came in slowly, for the royals, and were boxed-off from the regular people, to keep the peasants away from royalty, as they worshiped.  Slowly, pews were extended for everyone.  In the Anglican Church (and many Episcopal and Lutheran churches), boxed pews are still reserved for those with higher status in the community.  In the East, the kneeling and sitting aspects of common worship did not wend their way into our liturgical tradition.

Icon wall

These traditions, which surround our Holy Days, are ways the Church, in Her profound Wisdom, has helped us to preserve what we believe.  Songs, hymns, prayers, eggs, and certain foods, drinks, and attire – they are all a part of our celebrations.  I believe that if we destroy them, in a rush to be politically correct, we will loose far more.  It is our job as parents and educators of our children, and evangelists in our own communities, to share where these traditions have their roots; the whys and wherefores can be profoundly moving.

One of my dearest friends and I were talking yesterday and we spoke about friendship.  One of the fallacies that we allow to perpetuate in our children is that concept of “best friends;” or even the term of “friend,” itself.  We truly have very few friends in life. We have fellow Christians (I am grouping all of us together), co-workers, neighbors, relatives, acquaintances; yes. I do not think, any longer, that I have to maintain relationships after their expiration date. God brings people into our lives for a time and a purpose and when that is over, it is okay to let that relationship go.  This is another of those traditions that we carry on, but our Church Fathers tell us that we need not cling to people.  Scripture certainly tells us about keeping others away who do not believe as we do.  An earlier post of mine dealt with this (Avoid Conversation with Him), so I won’t dwell on it here.  But as my friend and I spoke, we shared so many things that unite us as friends.  We have history together (we’ve been friends for more than 20 years) and we have a common faith; a faith we use to hold one another up when we cannot be in the same room, or even the same state!  The traditions of the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus, those are much the same thing.  They are acting as magnets to a greater truth. My friend stimulates me to be a better woman of faith; acting as a magnet, as it were, to my better self.

A saying keeps popping into my head – “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”  And I cannot help but apply that to our commercialism surrounding Easter (and Christmas).  I always buy my kids summer outfits, water pistols, kites, swim trunks, flip-flops and t-shirts, etc.  They symbolize our walking into a new Season, a Season of Light and Faith…a summertime!  Celebration and fun!  The fast is over! Christ is Risen! Glorify Him!! I rarely buy chocolate Easter bunnies, but usually find a chocolate Cross…my insertion of a visible Christ into these Springtime traditions.  So many things about Easter – baskets, eggs, green grass, hot-cross buns, etc. are rich in tradition and I choose to keep them in, being perhaps not as correct as some of my fellow Christians. For those of us who are steeped in the traditions of our faith, we have tiny reminders all year around, of this faith to which we cling so mightily.  The ones we celebrate with each season only enhance our faith; they do not detract from it.  I love these traditions and I love celebrating Easter and all our other Holy Days, with all the traditional hoopla involved.

We brought a new tradition to a Latin Rite, Roman Catholic parish one year and they absolutely loved it.  We introduced them to red Easter eggs; they also were treated to onion-skin-dyed eggs (an Estonian tradition I learned as a child) as well as intricately designed Ukrainian-wrapped eggs.  It is an amazing thing, to bring our faith to others…and I love everything about it. To share just one of the myriad of traditional Easter celebrations, I will leave you with an interesting insight into the Byzantine and Orthodox tradition of Red Easter Eggs.

Red easter egg.2

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“He’s trying to change your heart.”

Didache.Two RoadsWe recently decided to try a different approach to our health.  We started using a new kitchen gadget and way of eating.  It was really strange, because nothing was added to our diet that was in pill or powder form, neither was it a medicinal addition.  We ate all natural foods, and very simply, too.  For me, I felt clear-headed.  I also was happy.  My mood had definitely felt elevated!  And I also had more energy, more drive.  And it seemed like this was a good idea.  Some friends came to stay this weekend, a way of sharing some time with us before we relocate thousands of miles away.  We have been close friends for about 27 years or so. Over the weekend, though, we made (my husband and myself) some very poor nutritional choices, veering about as far away from our chosen path as you can get.  We had burgers, fried mushrooms, onion rings, sodas, Mexican food with too many chips, a late evening drive through Dairy Queen for some Blizzards, and then bacon and eggs breakfasts…on and on it went!  Decadent, not fasting at all (our friends are Protestant and do not keep the fast at all), and definitely not good for us.  By Sunday afternoon, I felt miserably sick.  My stomach was roiling, I was tired, and cranky, and felt wiped out.  I slept miserably on Saturday night, as well.  And I could not help but think that our step back into our former habits was completely to blame.  Our new habits had just begun last Tuesday….it will just be a week tomorrow…and we failed miserably at keeping our new ways going, in favor of accommodating some dear friends.  The interesting thing was that the male counterpart in this friendship is diabetic and his numbers stunk so bad, and he knew it, so he did not even want to test his blood!  The four of us knew we had been very, very bad!!

White Tulips Best PixIt is such a glorious day today!  Spring is here and the sun is out, and I am drinking my morning “Berry Blast” and determined to right my wrongs of the weekend.  I realized that my wrongs, although dietary, are significant.  These wrongs were gleefully carried out, with barely a nod to my resolutions about my diet. Our friends had also made great strides in their approach to eating and were feeling much healthier.  We get together and bam!  We are eating bad foods again, being decadent, and it was obviously not in our best interests.  How did this happen so easily?

In life, I have been patiently shown, over and over again, that we have paths to choose from.  One is good for us, one is not. One path is towards God, one is not.  One is towards life, one is towards death.  Life is about choices.  We make them every day about a multitude of things.  I chose very poorly this weekend and felt the physical remorse of doing so.  What else am I so easily willing to compromise?  Well, none of us went to Church.  Our friends are Protestant, so we did not push attending Divine Liturgy, even though it was Palm Sunday on the western calendar, and we are now in Holy Week.  How did we allow the pressure of visitors cause us to compromise our path to God?  Our culture pressures us every day to compromise our walk towards eternity with God.  I had a conversation with my son last night about raising his son, how he wants to rear him, what values are important for him to share with his son, and how he does not want interference with the process from others.  It was an enlightening conversation and another facet to that conversation was it got me to thinking about God, Our Father.  How much He wants to share with us, without outside influence, without anyone interfering with that process.  And it made me just stop.  Here we are, at the end of Lent, and I feel once again like I failed miserably.  I have, yes, made some wonderful strides and have learned so very much.  Elder Thaddeus has become, for me, like an intimate friend and spiritual father, and I feel blessed he is in my life.  Keeping silent has also had a profound influence on my life, my heart, my head, my soul.  I am blessed in that, as well.  I discovered something that is working for my betterment in health, and that is also a blessing (as I take another swig of my morning “Berry Blast”!!) But how easily that wide, decadent path to death enticed me back in.  How weak I am and how much I need God, in every aspect of my life, every day. I need to develop a stronger backbone, a way of saying “no” in a loving manner, when situations or people entice me away from the person I am choosing to become.  My “Berry Blast” this morning is more than a healthy alternative to bacon and eggs. It is a rallying point for me and as I look at it, sitting here on my desk, I am inspired to pick myself back up and re-enter the race.  Christ Himself promises us that He is waiting for us. There are innumerous examples in Scripture where God welcomes those “late to the Supper.”  The one I love is where He pays the workers in His vineyard the same wage, regardless of when they show up to work.  Some of the workers, having been toiling all day, are jealous the late-comers get the same wage and He tells them:  “Friend, I am not treating you unfairly. Didn’t you agree with me to work for the standard wage?  Take what is yours and go. I want to give this last man the same as I gave to you.  Am I not permitted to do what I want with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?  So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Matthew 20: 13-16) And I cling to that promise, that although I may be late, I will still be paid the same – salvation.  I work and work on myself, and am continually finding myself at the short end of the stick and yet I am comforted by knowing that I am still participating.  And I am also comforted by the fact that I knew, within hours, that I had lost my will and caved to the pressures of being with friends.  I had not insisted that we go to a salad bar!  I caved and went to a ’50s burger diner, had miserable food (horrible service, as well) and then paid for it for two days afterwards!  But I knew; I realized exactly where my error was and it has not left me since.  I also knew, with a sinking heart, that we should have invited them to participate with us, rather than worry that it would drive them away, on Palm Sunday.  We lost an incredible opportunity to share our Byzantine faith with some very dear friends.  The remorse is palatable today.

God is changing your heartToday, I choose to step into the Light of the love of God once more. To strap on the armor of God, and to battle my weaknesses and the wiles of the enemy.  God is working so hard this Lent to change my heart.  I know that change is happening, because my awareness has grown!  I knew when I slipped – I knew it.  Before my challenging Lent, I simply would have fallen and not really noticed, because I would have been back in what has been a “comfort zone” for years and years.  I think that one of the lessons from this weekend is that I need to stop trying to please other people. I need to focus, instead, on living this Psalm:  “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14). This is basically telling me that only what is pleasing to God should concern my heart, my behavior, my actions.  I also believe, and have shared before, that if I can entrench deeply into my heart these precepts of God; if I can live according to His Word, emblazoned on my heart, then all these other things will also be a blessing to God.  My interaction with friends, family members, parishioners, strangers I meet along my way, will be so very different because they all will feel the light emanating from me; the Light of Christ.  And all will be well.

Eph 5-8

“He’s the one you’re following.”

Dostoevsky

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

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

Don't compare

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

ON Forgiveness

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


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

180px-Ioann_of_KronstadtSt. John of Kronstadt, Russia