“Preach the Gospel at all times, and …”

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Communication is such a large subject. There are college majors – several of them – in communications. (Small group, interpersonal, etc). We all know the different types of media – we have TV, radio, internet. Then there is print media like books, newspapers, magazines. I have embraced “e-books” and love my Kindle Paperwhite. I read every day and carry more than 450 books in my purse on it. Love that technology. We communicate so much without even using words. The opening quote is from St. Francis of Assisi and the full quote is, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.” It is amazing how much we share without even speaking. Our clothes, for example, say a lot about us. I know as the mother of sons, I am often distressed at some of the fashions I see young women wear. But then I remember my parents having fits about my very tight fitting jeans, most of which were low riding bell bottoms worn with crop tops and platform shoes! Ha-Ha! Those were the days – the 60s and 70s (Think Saturday Night Fever). I don’t think I could walk in my old platform shoes these days! And what sort of car we drive also speaks volumes about us, especially when we splatter the backs of them with stickers. I’ve seen some pretty funny ones about stick-figure families on lots of vehicles. We share who we are, without speaking, for most of our lives and we probably don’t even realize it. Body language is now a science, too. We are told how to conduct ourselves for interviews and meetings. There are professionals who read body language for attorneys in cases with juries. And with our friends and families, we may have short-cuts to communicate, as we have grown together over the years. Twins are said to communicate in their own language as children and often still do, as adults. The way we look at others, the way we hold ourselves in public, the terminology we use, says more than we realize. I won’t even get into hair, make-up, and scents (to wear perfume or not?). I am an avid user of essential oils, and scent is a powerful medicine, as well as something that affects our mental health. My sons tease me that they get the benefits of the oils I wear just by hugging me! Truer words were never spoken, my son! Ha-Ha! Communication is something complex, difficult to grasp at times, and when there is an error in communication, it can cause all sorts of problems.

Within our faith lives, we have “buzz words” or specific terminology, as well as symbols we use and others of a similar faith get it, without explanation. I had a cross on my car in my 20s. I went to a gas station late one evening and the attendant (in those days you did not pump your own gas) asked me when I had been “saved.” He went on to tell me his story about his particular date and time. For me, I always felt I was “in process” and could not pin down one of those overwhelming moments when I turned around and life was different, and I was “saved.” So I told him my birthdate. He gave me a funny look and quit talking to me. I just chuckled and drove away. We communicated, but we also mis-communicated. I knew what he meant but I wanted him to see that some of us look at it differently and that words mean different things to different people. Within the large tent of Christianity, there are many words that offend, and many that gather; many that forgive and many that separate. Sometimes I think St. Francis had it right – we need to share our faith by how we interact with those around us, and then add words if they don’t get it. 

Don't compare

In Christianity, there are words used that would be unfamiliar to those who practice Buddhism or Judaism. And there are words used within Protestantism that are mostly unfamiliar to those who solely practice Catholicism. Within the practice of faith in the Eastern Churches, there are words we use that set us apart from the West. And these words delineate who we are. For example, we celebrate the “Divine Liturgy,” we do not have a “Mass.”  All forms of corporate worship are liturgies.  But there is only one Divine Liturgy. It is when we share the Word of God, as well as the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ in Holy Communion. Hence, it is a Divine Liturgy.  Our physical communication during the Divine Liturgy is different from the west. Every time we hear the word “Trinity,” or when the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are mentioned, we make the Sign of the Cross. The first time I shared our Divine Liturgy with some Roman Catholic friends, that was one of the things they noticed, how often we crossed ourselves. We also rarely sit. The explanation I was given was that because we believe Christ is as present in His Word as He is in Communion, we stand. When someone important comes into a room, we stand (a dignitary, or our superiors) and Christ present among us deserves our respect. So we stand in His presence. We bow when the Gospel Book is processed in, and when the Holy Gifts are processed in. We stand from the time the Gifts are presented until after they are consumed and the Deacon cleans the Holy Table. And this is an example of when I am using terminology that is readily understood. Because I am sure my Byzantine and Eastern priest friends and my deacon-husband are cringing, as it is not really a “Holy Table,” but you will understand that if I call it that, rather than its proper name of the “Prothesis” or “Table of Preparation.”  The Prothesis, or table, used by the Deacon and Priest is not the same as the side table used by Eucharistic Ministers in the Roman Church. We have an enclosed Holy Place, behind the Iconostasis. It is not a raised platform and altar area, as is common to the West. Only those who have been ordained in the Church are typically supposed to go behind the Holy Doors. In some parishes altar boys are permitted back there, but it is not the normative practice. I remember one year, preparing the Church for Pascha.  We ladies arrived on a crisp Wednesday morning (always before Holy Thursday) to begin cleaning. I was on a ladder (yes, I actually climbed a ladder) cleaning our beautiful candelabras, and as I watched one of the older ladies, trying to clean the Holy Place, entered on her knees, making the sign of the cross over and over again. She had a headscarf securely wrapped around her, and was continually praying as she scrubbed the tile floor (still on her knees and barefooted). She continued praying the entire time she was in the Holy Place, asking for blessings and praying for forgiveness for entering such a Holy Place, backing out on her knees as she finished cleaning. It made me tear up and realize how I did not respect it the same as she did, having gone back there on several occasions to speak to our priest or my deacon husband. I have not entered the Holy Place in any parish since. She communicated so much to me by her actions, and her bodily expression. I was humbled and awed, and I have never forgotten that moment.

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Communication is fraught with danger and pitfalls, and the use of our words is one of the biggest danger zones to misunderstanding one another. But words also can define who we are and give us our spiritual identity. They can give us a personal identity. Many women no longer take the last name of their husband upon marrying, and some couples take each other’s names. They wish to be known as both of them, rather than just the husband’s last name. It is an identity that is important to many of us. Quite a number of modern women hyphenate their names with their husband’s, and many eschew the use of the term, “Mrs.” in favor of “Ms.” I have had my married name much longer than my maiden name, and no longer really identify myself with my maiden name. More than a decade ago, I was a Roman Catholic and the language of Roman Catholicism is quite often forgotten these days, and not used, because I identify more as a Byzantine, Melkite Greek, Catholic. Our words and our traditions are different and unique and we should embrace them to assist us in identifying ourselves with the Church to which we belong, in my humble opinion.

Gerontissa Gabriella.2

Words help give us our identity and help define us, but still, our actions speak so much louder. Who we are remains into eternity, as well as what we say. I recall a saying that goes something like, “One hundred years from now, it won’t matter what car I drove, what kind of house I lived in, how much I had in my bank account, nor what my clothes looked like, but, the world may be a little better because I was important in the life of a child.”  We can take that and apply it to our souls. When we stand before God, how we conducted ourselves in this world certainly will matter. And our verbiage as we conducted ourselves definitely counts – it is part of our character. Even if you do not believe in God, there is nothing to lose by acting as though there is a God. (Also known as Pascal’s Wager – that’s for another post). 

I bring all this up because people seem to want to impose sameness everywhere. “We should all be the same.” No, we need to respect our differences and celebrate them. We need to respect the differences of others, and warmly embrace them. “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” (1 Cor 13:12) I am often angered when people want to impose their standards upon my reality. And quite often, at least for me, it is in my practice of being a Byzantine, Eastern Rite, Catholic. I am not a Roman Catholic. I speak a different liturgical language in many instances, and my spirituality, the spirituality of the east, is different. Not that we do not believe the same things, we just express them differently. And if you attend a Byzantine or other Eastern Rite Church and cannot tell the difference between a Divine Liturgy and a Mass, someone is doing something wrong. 

Apstls_Trips2

When Christ asked His Disciples to go into the world and to baptize the entire world, they were obedient (as far as they could travel in those days). The map above is hard to read, because it is so condensed, but here is what it shows: Bartholomew preached in Mesopotamia (Iraq), Turkey, Armenia and India. James the Lesser preached in Damascus (Syria), and was the first Bishop of Jerusalem.  Andrew preached in Georgia (Russia), Instanbul (Turkey), Macedonia, and Greece.  Peter was acknowledged as the head of the early Church and preached to Christians in Jerusalem, Judea (Palestine) and in Antioch (Syria) where he is considered the first patriarch (Bishop) of the Orthodox Church. He finally went to Rome, where he established the Roman Catholic Church and was its first Bishop. John preached mostly with Peter, but went into Asia Minor (Turkey) and was banished the the Island of Patmos, but returned to Esphesus (Turkey) where he eventually died. Thomas was one of the first to preach outside the greater Roman Empire and reached Babylon (Iraq), Persia (Iran), China, and India. He established the Church in India and was stabbed to death in Madras, India. James the Great (brother of John) preached in Iberia (Spain) and later returned to Judea at the spiritual request of the Mother of God. (His history in Iberia is amazing – Google “Santiago de Compostela”). Philip preached in Greece, Syria, and in Turkey and usually accompanied Bartholomew. Matthew preached in Ethiopia (Africa), Judea (Israel), Macedonia, Syria, and Parthia (northwest Iran).  Jude Thaddeus preached in Judea (Israel), Persia (Iran), Samaria (Israel), Idumea (near Jordan), Syria, Mesopotamia, and Libya.  It is believed he traveled and preached also in Beirut, Lebanon, and traveled with Bartholomew to Armenia. Simon the Zealot is believed to have preached in the Middle East, North Africa, Egypt, and Mauritania, and even Britain. 

Why did I share all of that? To demonstrate that our Church is universal, and made up of unique cultures, each one diverse and equal.  And each time an Apostle established a Church, it was established where they preached and where they were. What they did not do was change the cultural norms in the places where they established the Church. The beliefs are the same, but they were practiced in ways the local Church understood. One is not better than the other. They are different. We love our universal our Church is… Christianity is in itself a universal faith. If you wear a cross around your neck anywhere in the world, you are communicating your faith to others without saying a word. In the world of the Egyptian Coptic Christians, because there was such persecution, they took to having a small cross tattooed on their inner right wrists. It is a practice they still have, delineating themselves from other faiths in a very diverse culture. Even today, in the USA, Coptic Christians will be given a cross tattoo on their wrists, to let everyone know their faith. They speak volumes without saying a word.

Dostoevsky

I have been struggling with my anger when people do not respect the verbiage of the faith I practice, where they insert terminology that is not common to the practice of Eastern Catholicism. It bothers me when traditions are set aside because people are not familiar with them, coming from a western mindset. I majored in Anthropology and Biblical Archeology in college. I have a different mindset, in that I love learning new things, new cultures, new traditions. I love embracing new things. But I also realize that I am only a sojourner. I am temporarily on this earth. Even if I cringe when a term is used that should not be, a practice is done that should not be, clothing worn that should not be, I am struggling inside myself to offer up prayers and to also pray for understanding, while remaining silent. I have come to realize that essentially, we are all the same. It has been hard won, that knowledge. We are Christians and we want the same thing – we want to be granted an eternity with Our Lord. Our goal is to welcome and include, not to be exclusionary and isolating. Our words can have devastating effects when we say them in anger or out of frustration.

Arm around shoulder

So I am trying to guard my tongue. But I also pray that others will respect the differences, and perhaps want to learn about them. Let’s exult that we are different, that we worship differently, and that we are not the same as every other Church on every other corner. It is what draws us in and keeps us there – our unique expression of our Christian faith. So pray for me that I have more patience, a quiet tongue, and can pray for others rather than be angry with them for not coming fully into communion with our Byzantine faith.

St Ambrose

I know that keeping a Holy Silence is an honor to God, but I also know that not speaking right away also honors God. Because in keeping our tongues silent, we grow closer to Him and also gain wisdom. I will continue to feel blessed for discovering this wonderful Byzantine faith, this faith of the Eastern Church. And I will also continue to feel blessed that I grow closer to God each time I bite my tongue! Lesson learned.  Well, learning…

It is not easy being green…

 

kermit

Well, up here, spring sprung! It is amazing to barely be able to see through thick stands of trees, where two weeks ago, there were still “sticks.” It happens so quickly here. And now that we’ve had a drop in temp accompanied by some much needed rainfall, the greenery is all over the place. I was worried about newly planted flowers and some berries drying out, and now they’ve been flooded with water. We could not believe how hard it rained yesterday, which definitely put the damper on bar-be-queing. So we didn’t! Ha-Ha! They always say that if you don’t like the weather, wait 10 minutes because it will change. I think I’ve heard that about several places we have lived, but here in Alaska, the changes can seem almost quantum! We have had temps run from the the zeroes in the morning to well over 60 by the day’s end. And I have tried to explain about the sun here, but my SoCal buddies don’t get it. In SoCal, you look up and you can see the sun. If it’s not right overhead, you can find it in seconds. In Alaska, the sun is never over our heads in the winter time. There are days I never see the sun itself. We get the light from it, but do not see it.

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They call Alaska “the land of the midnight sun” and it truly is. But one thing that’s hard to imagine, is that we are situated so far north, and at a particular angle, so that there are areas that never actually see the sun, itself. We get the light from it, but do not see it. The above photo was taken here, but note that the photographer is north of where the sun is, and the pathway of it. It is never directly overhead. In the summer time. it never sets; not truly. We get a twilight effect all night. We can see without headlights at 2:00am, with twilight coming around 3 or 4 am and the sun is up again at 6 or so. It is quite something to get used to. (Love my blackout curtains!) And when the sun is up, it is very close to the earth. Sunburn is so easy!! I freckle right up. And temperature is different here, as well. When I tell my friends in SoCal it’s 70 or 80 and we are melting, I am not kidding. It feels like well over 100-degrees. And the homes here are built to keep heat in, not let it out! Ha-Ha! We’ll have all our windows open, have fans blasting the air through the house, and be wearing shorts and flip-flops and it’s only 70 degrees. It’s so hard to explain, unless you’ve experienced it. And now, with the temps climbing back up again later in the week, blooms will be everywhere. The sun is so bright for so long during the days, that flowers and vegetables go crazy up here. That’s why you see so many very large vegetables – they are exposed to almost constant sunshine during the spring and summer.

cauliflower

That is a cauliflower, holding a large tomato. It is hard to understand how large some vegetables can grow, or how quickly they get that big. We have undertaken a garden this year. We just need to get the soil loaded in it and we are off and running. I have 4 berry plants ready to transplant, as well as some bulbs for other veggies. We are excited.

And trying to make people understand that life is different up here and that because it is different, we live differently, can be so difficult.  And it brings home an issue I have had for years, trying to explain differences to people. We adopted our youngest son without thinking about it. He is of a different race than we are, and it can occasionally rear its ugly head for some people. Our son looks different than the rest of us, and when he is carrying around his niece or nephew (as happened recently) people will look at us 2 or 3 times. I want to shout, “Yes! We are different! And yes, it is OKAY to be different!”  But I usually just smile and nod at them, as they notice that I notice they are staring at us. And when I found the meme below, I had to share it with people:

Different color skin, same souls.

God loves variety. Look at the variety in nature. There are how many breeds of dogs, cats, horses? There are how many varieties of roses?  What about tomatoes? There are how many nations on this earth? My major in college was Anthropology, and so I feel like I am in tune with the wondrous variety of cultures around the world. I learned, young, to appreciate cultural differences, which is partially why I chose that major. My parents moved to the USA in the late 1950s. It was a different time. People were different. My parents came from New Zealand. It is an English-speaking country, allied with Britain and pretty socialist in political structure. My parents were only allowed so much money to come with them to the USA. It took over 5 years for their immigration to be approved. It was a long and difficult process. My dad came here to work in the space industry and was immediately caught up in the Cold War and the struggle to get man into space. My mom was content to manage the home front. When my mom went to the grocer, the butcher, the dairy, the dry cleaner (in those days, they were all separate establishments) to do her weekly shopping, many of the shop owners refused to do business with her “until she learned to speak English.” It wasn’t English she needed to learn, it was to drop her New Zealand accent. And she felt rejected by the local residents, because she was different.  It took years for her to feel comfortable here. I find it ironic that she turned to soap operas to learn an American accent (she loved “How the World Turns!”). Now in her late 80s and suffering with Alzheimer’s, some of her New Zealand accent and parts of speech are coming back – and I love it. She never could pronounce an “r” and instead it sounds like “aw” – and today it is thicker than ever. As a child, my mom would yell out to my brother and me, “Ja-aw-n, Maw-awk, dinn-ah.”  And the whole neighborhood would re-tweet it out, only make it worse by saying, “John, Mock, dinnah!”  Our names are Jan and Mark.  Ha-Ha. I grew up with feeling different. We did not dress like the other kids (my parents did not allow jeans to be worn) and we ate differently (Marmite, anyone?). So I learned early how to fit in, and to be like everyone else, so I did not stand out. I know different.

When it came to my faith, as I grew up, we were baptized each time my parents switched their church affiliation. I have 7 baptismal certificates. When I chose, as an adult, to become Catholic, our priest asked me names of several types of Protestant churches, going through my history of church affiliation, trying to find one that was trinitarian. When I told him I was baptized as an infant in the Americanized “Church of England” (aka – Episcopal) he jumped with joy and said, “We’ll take it – it’s trinitarian!” I laughed. Even when it came to my faith, I was different. But I appreciated the differences and have not stopped learning, even now. I have been Catholic more than 30 years. About 10 years ago, we discovered the Eastern Catholic Church (who knew??) and have been evolving ever since. We formally joined the Melkite Greek Catholic Church and my husband is an ordained Deacon. In Alaska, there are no Melkites, so he is on assignment with the local Ruthenian parish. And we are learning Ukrainian, Polilsh, Russian, and lots of eastern european traditions in liturgy and food. It has been so much fun. I love learning about new culture and traditions. I feel it makes me that much more “universal” in my approach to things, harkening back to my anthropological training. I am accepting of differences. I embrace them. I love learning about differences.

And here is my conundrum, and my impetus to post today:  Why can’t people accept that there are different expressions of the same faith? There are 23 rites (I think) within the Catholic faith. That’s 23 very distinct expressions of the same Catholic faith. They are largely cultural. Some are liturgical and cultural, all are very different. The world at large only really knows about the Roman Catholic Church, the Pope in Rome, and local Catholic customs. But our Church is truly universal, and a very large tent. We are all brethren under the auspices of Catholicism. Do I listen to the Pope? I do, after I check what my Patriarch says. I am loyal to Rome; yes I am. But I am Melkite first, Greek second, Catholic third. Melkite as in the traditions and riches of the Middle Eastern culture from which the Melkite Church took life. I am Greek in the style of liturgy I prefer. And I am Catholic, in that I am in union with the barque of Peter, the Roman Pontiff, and the teachings of the Church. I embrace my differences and I rest in them. I love them. It is sometimes, however, like trying to explain how I have the sunlight here, but not direct view of the sun itself. People just do not get it. 

Greek Catholic.

I wish we were all one Church. I wish there were no disagreements about dogma and theology. I wish we could all embrace and accept the differences we find in one another, and celebrate them, not try to erase them. Teenagers (I have one left, still in the nest) are pushed and pulled into trying to be the same. None of them wants to stand out in a crowd of other teens. The culture of high school is downright frightening. I am praying that because our youngest is already different, and proud of his differences, confident in himself, and proud of himself, that he won’t fall into the trap of trying to blend in.  

When we first attended the Melkite Church, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, and how drastically and significantly our lives would change. Our first visit was during Lent. We all sat in the back row, trying to hide and not stand out in the congregation. My eldest is tall and blonde, #2 is tall and dark haired, #3 is dark everywhere, I am overweight and my husband is bald. In a parish of relatively new Arab Americans.  We stood out like crazy. Then, we realized no one sat back there because it was the row where the bell pull was located. Each time they rang the bell, we had to move. They ring the bells a lot during Morning Prayer and into Divine Liturgy. We did not hide; we were not blending in, in the least. It was comical, later on in years as we chatted with parishioners and their comments about our first attendance at Divine Liturgy! But as different as we were, we were welcomed with open arms. The Melkites hug, a lot. We were different but we wanted to learn, and they welcomed us warmly, and plied us with Arabic food (oh my gosh, so yummy!) and did I mention the hugging? We became Melkite a few years later and have no desire to be anything other than Greek Catholic. Even now, we are embracing another change by becoming more eastern European in our approach to Liturgy and the celebration of feast days. I can now make perogis and I love them!

There are differences everywhere we look. Can we not appreciate and embrace them? Learn to cook from another culture (and to eat and dine in another tradition. It is so much fun!). Learn how to say hello in a new language. Welcome newcomers to your neighborhood and your church. Embrace change and growth and knowledge. Do not shuffle along in your routine, digging trenches for yourself so that you cannot see out over the top of them. There is a big world out there, it is in trouble, and we need to pray for each other and unite around our common faith in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There are very few Christians left in the Middle East because no one would just stand up and say, “NO!” “No! This is not right!”  We now will be welcoming more and more people from other parts of the world, fleeing because of their faith. Let us prepare to embrace them and meet them where they are. We need to embrace and shelter those who have left all for their love of Christ and His Church. Do not let language or liturgy stop you from loving people coming to America to be free from oppression. Welcome the influx of believers fleeing tyrants. Love the differences they bring with them. Try to understand them as Christ would – what would Jesus do? As Kermit says, “It is not easy being green.”  Well, it is not easy being a Christian, but we can do this!!

Christians in the world.

“…is not acceptable to God.”

My heart is so full of love.  But once in awhile, it is also filled with pain.  Pain comes to us from so many sources.  We can feel pain because it belongs to us, or we can feel pain on behalf of people we see being wronged.  We all have a variety of relationships in our lives, from many different areas, and one of them occasionally causes pain.  And right now, I am experiencing pain and it has come from my spiritual family.  Which makes me especially saddened; the pain that much more acute. The pain is mine, but it is also on behalf of those I see as being wronged.

Abba Agathon2In all communities, there are always issues with communication.  Sometimes we just do not communicate properly, what our hearts are trying to express, and we create difficulties. I often run into problems with the written word.  Words on paper (or computer screens) are lifeless. They are scratches on a hard surface, but they are not proper communication.  Proper communication is when two people can sit with one another, with no other distractions, and really talk with one another.  And in our world of all sorts of media and noise, that is becoming less and less a skilled or experienced occasion.  Often when we do find ourselves in a communication-rich environment, we forget about truly talking to one another.  Anger in communication does no one any good. In a past post, I spoke to my anger and that some anger is justifiable.  And it truly is. Our Lord was angry and overturned the money-changers’ tables in the Temple.  They had profaned His Father’s House and turned it into a market place; a place of lying and cheating, a place of selling things that should not be sold.  Quite often, we can metamorphose our faith communities into similar places when we allow anger and perceived inequities rule our part of the conversation.  We interpret words in ways they are not meant, and we often find our anger rising to the surface in record-breaking time.  There are so many people who truly do not listen, already forming their responses before the speaker has completely finished, presupposing the intent of the speaker.  And it damages entire communities when anger rules conversation and communication.

Gerontissa Gabriella.2Our words, and the way we choose to use them, stay with us for all eternity, as Gerontissa Gabriela says so well above.  (Gerontissa is a Russian word for Elderess, the female in charge of a women’s monastery).  And recently words were said and actions taken that disappoint and hurt.  There are growing pains and then there are pains that only “family” can inflict on one another.  When you are part of a faith community that is undergoing big changes, there can often be things said/actions taken that are not a part of the best interest of the community, but are taken/said out of hurt and misunderstanding.  Change is always difficult, especially in a community that is growing and changing in ways that are not familiar, with many members new to their faith.  And becoming a part of a community that is different from the mainstream, with loads of traditions and a differing spirituality, is a difficult sort of change, all on its own.  Throw in becoming a part of a community undergoing change itself and you have a recipe for all sorts of disasters.

candle.priestoutoffocusOur first step into the Byzantine world was through a friend who invited my husband to take an Icon class with her, under the tutelage of a master icnonographer.  At the time, we were devotedly Roman Catholic. My husband has an artsy side of him and had done some gorgeous tole painting on wooden and cloth projects for gifts for me, and for our family and friends, and so my friend thought he would love to learn this “technique.”  My husband thought “painting on wood” and having a religious subject could be something fun to learn.  The iconographer, at the very beginning, took the entire student class to the local Byzantine parish, to have their hands blessed.  It was our very first exposure to Byzantine spirituality.  And it was mesmerizing and unforgettable – the Holy Oil smelled so strongly of roses! It was beautiful.  And it turned discovering another way to “paint” on wood into “writing icons” and learning to pray every step of the way, changing our prayer life. It also changed our world, and we did not even realize it fully at the time.

A few years later, we stepped further into the eastern world by attending our first Divine Liturgy at a Melkite Greek Catholic parish during Lent.  “Sophia – orthoi!!!” Oh my…oh my.  The sights, smells, and sounds captivated us and we were drawn to truly enter into the eastern way of Lent…we were hooked.  Our first exposure to the East was to fast for 40 days!  It was an explosive way to become Byzantine!  The ways and means of experiencing eastern spirituality through the lens of the Melkite world changed our lives forever.  We became deeply Melkite, deeply Byzantine, and rejoiced in this discovery of faith, becoming re-energized Christians.  And we loved every moment of Divine Liturgy, learning ways and traditions so ancient, the origins of them went back to Apostolic times.  We learned prayers and tones that were already considered ancient when put to paper.  We learned recipes only handed on from mother to daughter, orally, for generation after generation; many of which were served only once a year or on specific occasions (like at funerals, for example).  We learned to love the gift of life, and we learned how to truly mourn the loss of life.  The Melkite tradition of mourning for the dead is like no other. (Except perhaps the Irish, who are from Ireland- they know how to mourn!!)  We also learned to celebrate after we mourned.  And we also learned the apex of the liturgical life in the Byzantine world is EASTER.  It is not Christmas.  We would fast during Lent, we would prepare for Pascha, and we would mourn the Death of Christ.  But then the Resurrection happens!  It is the sole reason we are Christians.  Christmas would be meaningless without Easter.  Easter is what defines us; it is what makes us followers of the Risen Lord!  And at the Easter Vigil, from around ten o-clock in the evening, until around three o’clock in the morning, we walked through Christ’s travels in Hades; we shared his becoming Our Resurrected Lord.  And we sang His Resurrection with loud joy: CHRIST IS RISEN FROM THE DEAD; BY DEATH HE TRAMPLED DEATH, AND TO THOSE IN THE TOMB HE GRANTED LIFE.  We sang it so loud, it rattled the rooftops.  We sang it in Arabic, in English, and in Greek, and we would even throw in some Spanish!  The chandeliers swayed as the Holy Spirit made its way through our entire temple. It was a glorious experience and we loved every moment of it.  Most times, by the end of the Easter Vigil, many of us had lost our voices!  It was glorious. We would make our way over to the hall at 3:00 am and then we feasted! Gloriously feasted!  We laid children on the floors as they slept right through the feasting, but we would feast on until the sun was almost in the sky again.  CHRIST IS RISEN!

But some traditions are not used to this glorious yelling about Christ’s Resurrection, because it is “over-the-top” and not dignified enough.  Don’t you think the Apostles sang and yelled with joy when Christ appeared among them in the Upper Room, where they were hiding in fear of the Jews??  A miracle in their lifetime – the Messiah being truly present among them.  Christ rose from the dead, just like He promised.  It is why we believe He is God – the Triune God – the Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  If not for that fact, He would be regarded much the same as any other Prophet.  The Islamic faith, although scary and very violent, does much more in honoring our faith than the faith of other religions.  They do more to honor our faith than most Protestants do.  They acknowledge and love the Theotokos, the “God-Bearer” or “Mother of God.”  Most Protestants don’t like to follow that to its logical conclusion.  If you discuss it with them, they sort of dodge that part:  “Do you believe Christ rose from the dead?”  “Yes, I do.”  “Do you believe Christ was the Son of God, come to save Man?”  “Yes, I do.”  “Do you acknowledge Christ is one aspect of the Holy Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – three in one?” “Yes, I do. ” “Do you acknowledge that Mary was the mother of Christ?”  “Yes, I do.”  “Well then, since you acknowledge Christ is the Son of God, part of the Holy Trinity, and He is the Son of Mary, She is therefore the Mother of God.” “Well, no….”  Ha-Ha!  Logic doesn’t follow through! The Islamic faith, however, regards Jesus Christ as one of God’s many Prophets, because they do not accept the miracle of Easter! They do not believe He rose as He promised!  They do not celebrate Easter!

As Christians we are called to believe the whole shebang.  We cannot pick and choose which comfy things we want to believe in, and throw those uncomfortable things away.  “Sometimes we need to swallow the entire pill because chewing it is not recommended.”  When you pick and choose what to believe, you are creating your own faith – Pro-test-ant (one who protests).  It is also often termed, “cafeterianism”  and is one of many illnesses striking our faith.   Just as you walk down the line in a cafeteria, choosing what to place on your plate, and what to exclude, many pick and choose what to believe from the offering of faith.  Only we believe, that with God, you chose to become a Child of God…the whole God, not just the parts you can deal with.

God died for us on a cross. It was disgusting; that method of killing was meant to be as degrading and painful as it could be.  The person being crucified was meant to be an example to the rest of the community and it was supposed to frighten others into not breaking the law – a deterrent.  And the Romans were very good at it. If you ever have a chance to go to a course on the Shroud of Turin, or to learn what it was like, physically, for the person in that shroud to die, trust me, you will never go through Easter the same. Even if you do not believe it was Christ in that shroud, it was a man who suffered a Roman Crucifixion, and it will only enhance your understanding of what Christ suffered for each one of us. A great book is “A Doctor at Calvary” (http://www.amazon.com/Doctor-Calvary-Passion-Described-Surgeon/dp/0912141042).

Once Christ went through this horrible death, for three long and very lonely and frightening days, His community huddled together, praying and keeping one another strong, in that Upper Room.  We do that, too. It is called Holy Week and Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil Saturday are all a part of that.  At the end of our deep prayers and mourning the lack of Light in our world, we welcome Pascha.  We celebrate the Empty Tomb.  We celebrate the Gift of Life.  And we shout about it, because without it, we are all doomed to the earth…to rot away to nothingness.  To have this life be just this life, with no more, once our eyes close, and our last breath is taken.

Easter Divine LiturgyWe decorate and we feast – we celebrate as the photo above shows, by greening up our Church…we decorate the empty tomb, we process through the streets and into our churches with a gloriously empty tomb. We celebrate life!  This gift of life freely given to those who just believe.  And once you have gone deeply into Lent and spent an entire Holy Week at every service and spent hours in a quiet Church after the Death of Christ, weeping for the loneliness of a planet without its God, that first glimpse of everlasting life will take your breath away.

Life is what we, as Christians, celebrate.  We do not mope, we don’t let this world take ahold of us, because we have Christ our Lord, and Savior.  We need, in this horribly decadent world, to share the Good News with everyone we meet.  We need to shout, “CHRIST IS RISEN! HE IS TRULY RISEN!” from the rooftops.  We need to give others hope; we need to evangelize by how we live our lives and how we treat those in our community.  We have no hopes of bringing others to Christ if we treat each other with derision and contempt.

He is risen.languagesMany in our community think in their own minds, our clergy is “over the top;” clergy were too loud and noisy, and undignified, during Easter and during this incredibly joyous Easter season.  Making derisive remarks to others does nothing to share the Kingdom of God – it tears it apart – and it does not build you up, even if talking trash about others makes you feel superior.  Tearing down priests and clergy who are shouting “Christ is Risen” at the top of their lungs, sharing their joy at the Resurrected Christ, does nothing to build our community.  Tearing down priests and clergy is not a Christian act.  Going behind people’s backs and talking about them does nothing to build the Kingdom of God, or our little community.  Gossip kills community. It works to create rifts and tears in our lives as a Christian family.  Because we are family.  We share Christ with this specific group of people and it is a bond we do not always share with others.  For a great majority of us, we are trying to share our faith with our children and family and friends, but many do not feel comfortable with our traditions and perhaps we are even misunderstood in the community at large.  Being Byzantine is not for the faint of heart and not for those who prefer “the status quo.”  Being Byzantine is not mainstream; it is not normal – it is unique.  The spirituality we share is very different.  We have specific ways we worship…and imposing standards from other traditions upon the Byzantine/eastern Churches is something Vatican II saved us from. We are free to be who we are, and we are not Latin Rite Catholics.  We are Byzantine Catholics…and there are 22 other Churches who are also Eastern and/or Byzantine Catholic and not Roman Catholic. We do it all a little differently.  We share a common faith, but our faith expressions are vastly different. And choosing to belong and to work through changes means biting the bullet now and then, and being patient.  It took Christ 40 days to do battle with Satan.  It took the Jews 40 years because they were not obedient to God’s word, to find their way out of the desert…an entire generation had to die off! The world held its breath for three long days, while Christ was dead to this world, before the Good News of His Resurrection saved us all.  We can choose to be a part of what is happening now, or we can choose to stand on the sidelines, offering snide remarks and hurtful comments.  But standing on the sidelines is not being a part of a wonderful tradition, one that is undergoing change, trying to recover from some very rough times.  And I am hurt by the words of many and hurt by the actions of a few. Hurt for myself, but mostly for our clergy, who love our community.

Clergy and their wives and families have put themselves out there to serve their community.  They have gone to Seminary, many at their own expense, with time spent away from their own families for YEARS, so that they can serve their Church and their communities, being fully trained and educated in the faith.  The lay people, and those who posture as experts, are nothing more than “im-posters,” many being self-educated and many not being educated in the world of Byzantine spirituality at all. They have not received the vocation, the laying on of hands, the education, or the blessing of the Bishop.  They often think to lead a community when they are not even of the same faith tradition.  We may lose people when their posturing becomes more important than the truth; when being right in their own minds trumps the good of the community.  And we must all “gird our loins” and dig in and do the hard work, the work that brings about positive change and a strong family community of believers.  Right now, the pain I am feeling hurts me, but I hurt for our clergy, too, and as the wife of clergy.  They have dedicated their lives to service; they are working to make a difference, and in the case of my particular knowledge, they are good, good people.

Christ told us, Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Luke 12: 51-53) And so those who serve understand there will be divisiveness; there will be factions; there will be gossip; there will be those who diligently work to mess things up.  It is the nature of who we are as people; we easily rise to be our worst selves. But there is also knowledge in the Glory of God, the love of forgiveness, and the peace found in a community sharing in the love of God.  In an earlier post, I spoke of Tertullian’s writings and how he once said,  Look . . .  how they love one another (for they themselves [pagans] hate one another); and how they are ready to die for each other (for they themselves are readier to kill each other).”
I fervently ask that we become that community, like our early Church, who put their love for one another on display, who were willing to share the Love of Christ with all people.  Become a community known for their love of everyone, even to lay down one’s life for their faith.  God grant me the strength to be such a Christian.

Jean-Léon_Gérôme_-_The_Christian_Martyrs'_Last_Prayer_-_Walters_37113

“…My own personal flurry…”

The Easter prep is fully underway, and we are striving for a peaceful Easter.  Somehow I think it will be elusive this year.  There are so many little “peas in the mattress” of our lives right now that I am not sure how we will smoothly sail into Easter Sunday.  So I am burying myself in the preparatory portion of it.

St. Dimitri of RostovOnce in awhile (it seems to me) we need to regress to the simplest things.  We need to do away with the dross and the extras floating around us.  Sort of like one of those sensory deprivation tanks – we need to silence the chaos and we need to stop looking at the negative, and we need to focus ourselves on Christ.  For example, this week is called Holy Week for a reason.  We are preparing ourselves to welcome the Bridegroom.  It is the week of the ultimate sacrifice for each of us, death on a Cross.  And so I cling to the words of St. Dimitri of Rostov above and place myself with the Angelic Host, and I am praying, constantly praying, and I am clawing my way back to that peaceful place of Pascha prep!

Hand prayer incenseHave you ever experienced the sort of frustration where you shake inside? Where perhaps you are drawn to tears, but it’s not sad tears? They are tears of frustration and anger?  Well, I have.  Several times over the past week. I don’t think it’s good for my blood pressure or longevity!  Sometimes there are situations and people in our lives that make our stress levels just climb.  There are people who bring drama and chaos with them, because it is just how they operate.  And I seem blessed to have many of them a part of my life.  (Another occasion for prayer!).  Remember Pig Pen in the Peanuts cartoons?  He carried his own cloud of dirt around with him?  That can be a bad thing – like the stress and chaos and drama that just accompanies certain people.  Another way to approach it is like the snowman character in Frozen, Olaf. Princess Elsa makes him his own little snow cloud, his own personal “flurry,” so he can survive in summer – have you seen that? Olaf and his own personal snow flurry….

250px-Ownpersonalflurry!This character was so loveable.  He just wanted to experience summer, because he had never seen it.  He was so thankful that Elsa, through her snow magic, created a little snow flurry to accompany him wherever he went.  I was thinking about this (I have two grandchildren who both adore this movie – yes, we own a copy so they can watch it whenever they are here! And no, I will not expound on nor attach an audio file of any version of “Let it Go.” You are welcome). Olaf is happy that he can exist to see the flowers and the sunshine and not melt.  He is always smiling and laughing and looking for the good in everything around him.  Even though it is a cloud over his head, it is a cloud that keeps him alive, so it is a happy little flurry and a happy little snowman, Olaf.

Why can’t this be how we all operate? Even though it is a cloud that accompanies Olaf, it is a joyous one, because it keeps him alive.  Our cloud is the joy we find in Christ, in the Holy Spirit who enervates our very lives.  In the Melkite Church (and most of Byzantine worship) we have this amazing ceremony mid-day on Holy Saturday. It is about the “New Light.”  We light our new Easter Candle, which we will use the rest of the year; this is the beginning of our new Liturgical year. The first, tentative announcements about the Resurrection are made. I love thinking about the women who went to the Tomb early in the day and found the guards asleep and the Tomb empty.  It was very early in the morning; the towns around the Tomb, and the people in them, still slept.  The women ran back to tell the Apostles what they saw and heard.  They spoke to an “angel” and saw an empty Tomb, the cloth laying in a heap. Those are the first whispers that Christ has risen..that He is not in the Tomb.  That Liturgy is so beautiful.   It is the early Light of the Truth of Christ’s Resurrection that is being shared, one voice at a time, with the Apostles.

Hand cupped candleWe can carry this Light with us; we can choose to share the Light of Christ with others; we all carry our own personal flurry of goodness, peace, love, and light with us. Or we can hide our Light under our bushel basket of anger, frustration, hate, prejudice – all the negativity swirling around us.  We can choose how our world is, around each of us, by the way in which we approach our lives.  Elder Thaddeus, in his book entitled, “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives, ” tells us:

“Our life depends on the kind of thoughts we nurture.  If our thoughts are peaceful, calm, meek, and kind then that is what our life is like.  If our attention is turned to the circumstances in which we live, we are drawn into a whirlpool of thoughts and can have neither peace nor tranquility.”  He further shares that “everything, both good and evil, comes from our thoughts. Our thoughts become reality…when we labor in the fields of the Lord, we create harmony.  Divine harmony, peace, and quiet spread everywhere.”  He then tells us what the opposite things can do to us: “However, when we breed negative thoughts, that is a great evil.  Where there is evil in us, we radiate it among our family members and wherever we go.  So you see, we can be very good or very evil. If that’s the way it is, it is certainly better to choose good!  Destructive thoughts destroy the stillness within, and then we have no peace.” (Page 63).

250px-OlafsvenfrozendisneyLittle Olaf is just a simple example of how we often choose to be sad that our lives are so limited.  He was going to melt and his life would be over as soon as Spring came to their Kingdom.  Or, once he had his own personal flurry, he chose to relish the moments, smelling flowers and playing with his buddy, Sven, the reindeer.  We have our own personal flurry we can carry with us everywhere and in every circumstance, the Holy Spirit.  We have God.  We can choose to put our faith aside, to relegate God and our life of faith to only an hour on a Sunday, and relish in the angry moments, loosing our heads over them, so to speak.

250px-OlafrearanfeChrist calls us to our better selves, not our lesser selves. My prayer for the rest of this Holy Week is to embrace the better self Christ is calling me to be.  I will endeavor to be the wife, friend, sister, daughter, mother, grandmother, mother-in-law – all the roles of who I am called to be – to my utmost, not my least.  I will prepare to walk with My Lord down that horribly painful road to Cavalry, where He sacrificed Himself for me.  With my own personal flurry surrounding me – the Holy Spirit – I will walk to that empty Tomb with the women, quietly seeking He Who is Risen.

Tomb of Jesus Christ Jerusalem

“The rest really doesn’t matter.”

My “take away” from my day yesterday was my status on my FB page this morning:

“God, family, and friends are what make the world go ’round.  So blessed to have them. The rest doesn’t really matter.”

I had quite a day. First of all, I was reluctant to post my feelings about being Eastern Catholic, for fear of offending anyone.  Some of the comments, made publicly as well as privately, have engendered good conversations.  Those I had hoped would not take offense, did not, and for that I am grateful.  I also believe that by exposing some of my feelings about the process of becoming a Byzantine Catholic, it was helpful and reflective of the journey of many others.  And that is one of the main reasons I started this blog in the first place.

Kneeling Prayer.Orthodox ChurchFriends that I had prayed were friends, still are!  So God is good.  I also was concerned, as one of my fellow bloggers pointed out, that I would confuse non-Catholics or Catholics who had wandered away from the Church. Perhaps I did add to their confusion.  For that, I do apologize.  But it planted a seed for me, too.  Why do Protestants and many Catholics (cradle or convert) not know the history of this amazing faith we all share?  When I was in college, my brain was so excited at all the enormously new facts I was learning.  It’s funny to think how cocky you are when you are a High School Senior, knowing everything! It’s not until you to start to truly learn, that you realize how little you know. Your world is so small while in high school, many times being bordered by the confines of where you live and where you can drive. I remember going to drive on a freeway that had not been completed or open to the public, yet. They allowed Driver’s Ed programs to practice on it.  We practiced getting on and off the freeway, and changing lanes, slowing and speeding up. It was neat because there were no other cars on the road, except for us.  But what took me by surprise were all the other neighborhoods and shopping areas and schools I had not realized were even there! The elevated roadway showed me areas I had not seen any of, before then.  I did not know how small my world was.  Interestingly enough, that freeway became a major thoroughfare and I used it constantly while attending college, and well into adulthood.  And in college, my world view grew and expanded. My knowledge of history just exploded.  And as I got into my minor of Biblical Archeology, I wondered why the entire world was NOT Catholic.  It made perfect sense to me that the Catholic Church was the Church established by Christ through Peter…every Protestant sect could trace its origins to it.  And then I discovered the eastern world.  It is not something we are typically taught, as we are a western country, fully embracing western philosophy and thought.  When I discovered that the Catholic Church was all over the world, I was mesmerized.  But when I learned there were 22 other Churches aligned with the Roman Church, I was stunned.  Why did we not know this growing up? Why were we not taught the glorious history of Constantinople?  Why did we not know more about the Crusades and what really happened?  Why were we, as a country, and as a culture, in the dark?

Icons.lamp When Christ gave His great commission, did we think they would not do as He instructed?

“But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. 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: 16-20

And as I delved deeper, I discovered this treasury of faith that just enveloped me.  I did not throw off western ideology, per se.  I just embraced eastern thoughts, philosophy, theology, and practices in place of it. I found that it suits me and my personality so much better. But I live and deal with western thought and philosophy all around me, all day long. I operate in a western culture and live a western life.  I prefer to worship, however, in an eastern way.

cropped-incensor.jpgThere are some fun sayings that have become part of the lexicon of our speech. One of them is, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”  And I think about this often as it applies to our expressions of faith.  St. Peter stopped along his way towards Rome in the east.  He stopped long enough to establish a Church there.  We Melkites like to joke that we had Peter first!  But the Church he left us in the middle east is a Church that reflects the life of the nascent Church and the environment in which it grew up.  It is primarily Greek in orientation, and its Liturgy is that of St. John Chrysostom.  It was where the term,”Christian” was first used. The tones used in the Divine Liturgy of the Melkites are so ancient that when they were first written down, no one knew where they originated, they had been used for so long.  And when you hear someone who can sing the tones properly, intone the Divine Liturgy, it is as one commenter said, “Like being in Heaven.” It is Divine.  It is hard to explain if you have not experienced it yourself, but it is very different from the tones used in Gregorian chant, for example. The tempo and sounds are vastly different.  Not to mention the incredible infusion of beeswax candles and incense, adding to a total religious experience.  And I just happen to love the eastern style more. It harkens back, for me, to the ancient Church.  Not the early Church of Rome, but further back, into antiquity.

250px-Colosseum_in_Rome,_Italy_-_April_2007After Peter left the east, he journeyed to Rome.  And, as he and each of the Apostles did, taught the people where they were, to bring them to an understanding of Christ and His words, to facilitate conversion.  In Rome, society was structured, ordered, precise, militarily-oriented in ranks, so to speak.  And the Church grew up around that.  (Think of confessionals…boxes.  Roman culture had people in specific places, or boxes.  Their roles in culture were specific and immutable). The early Roman Catholics were renowned for how they loved each other, and shared all they had with each other. This was a foreign idea to a culture with castes (boxes) from which people did not leave. Born a slave, born a bread maker, born a soldier – die the same way. In the early Christian community, they changed that when they said (in Colossians 3: 11) “…a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.

The cult of Christ grew up in an era of conflict and Christianity was a bastion of peace in amongst warring nations.  Even now, Christianity finds itself among warring nations.  And one of the cradles of the faith, Syria, finds itself being purged of its Christians.  Just today a new article came out stating that something like 1.5 million have escaped but another 4 million are in refugee status!  But that 150,000 have been killed in the past three years!  (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/10737682/Syria-civil-war-kills-over-150000-people-in-three-years.html)  Do we not see what is happening?

Icon wallI love being Melkite. I love being Melkite Greek Catholic.  Yes, it is one Church standing, with another 21 Churches, alongside and in union with, the Church of Rome.  But I am not Roman Catholic. My blood still bleeds red, my friends. I love my fellow Christians, and my fellow Catholics.  My expression is, however, decidedly Melkite Greek Catholic – it feeds my soul.  I have been shunned by many I thought were friends, accusing me of leaving “the Church.”  I realize their ignorance of this amazing Church is what caused them to behave the way they did.  Catholic is a term that loosely means, “universal.”  If people only realized how universal the Church as a whole really was, they would stand in awe, inside any “Catholic”, sui juris Church.  Our separated brethren in the Orthodox world have not been subject as much to some of the westernization of our sui juris Churches.  And I take great comfort in the spiritual treasures there, reading all I can from the Holy Fathers.  One of my favorites is Elder Thaddeus and his work entitled, “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives” and others are St. John of Kronstadt and St. John of the Ladder (St. John Climacus, whose feast we celebrated this past Sunday).  These Church Fathers and writers have enhanced my life immeasurably over the past few years and I treasure their wisdom and their words in my life.  And they are decidedly not western in thought or approach, and I feel greatly blessed by their eastern insight and philosophy.

StMarkCathAlexLike a person who commented about my embracing the Melkites said, “it is almost like when you walk into a Muslim (or Coptic – St. Mark’s in photo above) temple – you remove your shoes.”  That is pretty much what describes my immersion in the faith of the east. I am immersed in it and I love it so, and I really appreciate how my faith has grown because of it.  I am saddened that my total immersion has some questioning my choices and my sanity, but that is okay, too.  It also does not mean there is no merit in other faith expressions.  Frankly, if someone is attending Church at all in this culture, I am thrilled! Be fed where you can.  My father and my siblings are NOT Catholic, and I don’t think they understand it, either.  And that is okay, too. (Other than the fact that they think I am “married to the bride of satan” and going to hell part).  That being said, I somehow know in my heart that if they could but step into the many eastern Churches I have experienced, the overwhelming presence of God would affect them, too. (Below is a fisheye – camera view of a Russian Church).

Fisheyeview.churchinterior.russiaSo the term, “my take away,” is a neo-pop-psychology term meaning, “what I got out of it.” Yesterday was a test, and a testimony, to the power of faith, of God working in my life. It also demonstrated that none of us are immune from the uncertainty in life. We pray, we try to live as best we can, and occasionally life will throw you a curve ball.  Yesterday was a curve ball, in another area of my life.  I was able to stand my ground and defend my family and those I care about. I was not in the least intimated, and I was praying, “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner” the entire time.  It was good in that God presented me with a situation, I chose not to back down, and I felt the courage to speak truth in a room of lies and lying people.  And I felt pretty beat up by the whole experience (I have for some time).  But after dropping by some friends’ home, and then speaking with friends and family today, I am feeling how God is so good in my life. He has placed people in it who add to it and help build it up when it feels like the edges are folding in on me.  I was able, and have been able, to express myself regarding my faith through this blog and through some wonderful conversations.  It gives me strength to do what I need to do to ensure my family and friends are taken care of, taking comfort in their love and the love of God. And even with all the ugly going on around me, I know God has blessed me, truly blessed me.  Because, as I opened with,  “God, family, and friends are what make the world go ’round.  So blessed to have them. The rest doesn’t really matter.”

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“…you are true heirs of His promise.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lent is a time

Meat Fare – Cheese Fare? Fasting? Lent? Really?

Yep, it’s started. That gradual pulling away from meat and cheese and wine and olive oil.  Great Lent.  This past Sunday (yesterday) was Meat Fare.  It is where we eat all things meat.  From here on, for the next 40+ days, we abstain from meat.  And this week, we enjoy the taste of all things dairy.  This coming Sunday is Cheese Fare, when we eat all things dairy and abstain fully thereafter, because next Monday, the full fast begins.  The Church, in her kindness to those of us in the East, gradually brings about the Fast.  We refer to this period as the Great Fast or Great Lent because it is a full fast, for the entire time.  We have other fasting periods throughout the year, but the Great Fast is a more intense time of fasting, praying, and attending Church services as we prepare our hearts for Pascha, or Easter Sunday.  In the Western or Latin Church, Lent is begun on Ash Wednesday (March 5th, this year).  We always begin our Lent a couple of days before the Latin Church because of Meat Fare and Cheese Fare.

I have had so many questions about these traditions from my western friends and so I thought I would share them with those who read this blog.  We are different from the west in that when we fast during fasting periods throughout the year, we fast every single day.  In the west, during Lent, the fast is Wednesdays and Fridays.  We in the east fast from meat on Wednesdays and Fridays all year long. Lent is especially strict for us.  It does not mean more, nor does it take away from, the fasting practices of the west, it is just different.

There have been quite a number of chats online recently about the possibility of reunifying the Church, Orthodox and Catholic. (I find it interesting that we don’t even mention Protestants in these discussions, but I am sure it is because there are just so many denominations that you cannot enter into dialogue with so many different entities. That is for another day and another blogger to tackle).  In the discussion of Orthodox and Catholic let me state right off that I am no theologian.  I am not versed in the mighty tomes written by the great theologians of history. I am not familiar with verse to verse of the various Councils, nor the validity or non-validity of them.  I am, however, a mom who muses over things; who reads when she can; who studies history when we she can; someone who is trying to live out her faith in the world, as a wife and mother.  And I offer this blog as a place where I ruminate on these things that affect my life and my faith, and in charity, to share those views.  And it is why I subtitled it the way I did.  A professor? No.  A theologian? No. An expert? No.  A wife, mother, sister, daughter, friend and fellow-sinner? You bet!

In regards to all the online discussions, I will admit I let myself get angry at some of the postings and I often deleted all of my input in a string of one series of comments, because I was angry.  But after I simmered down and took a step back and thought about it, I know that getting angry is part of the problem of unifying our churches.  We all think that what we have been taught; what we know of “truth,” is the right way of thinking.  Coming up against opposing views can “get your back up,” as they say.  And I believe that is one of the main reasons true unity will NOT happen, at least in my lifetime.  We have disparity in the Catholic Church, the Latin Rite, itself.  Some want Tridentine Masses only; some want Novus Ordo; some even want women to be ordained…to the deaconate at the very least.  Then there are the differences between the Eastern Churches and the Roman/Latin Church. It is what sparked anger and controversy over the internet this past weekend.  How can we expect to welcome those who are not in unity with Rome, into our messed up family?  As one of my FB friends stated, we are the children (those of us in the Eastern Churches) of divorced parents…the Roman and Orthodox Churches.  And quite often the children of divorce suffer far more than the parents ever did, living a little in both worlds.  That is where the Eastern Churches in communion with Rome find themselves – united with Rome but different….Orthodox in thinking and liturgical expression, but not Orthodox.  It’s sometimes a messed-up place to be. (As I am the child of divorced parents, I feel the analogy is justified).

In the last few days, here in the most northern state in the union, the sunlight has begun to change.  It is coming in my windows during the day, and it is staying light until about 6:00 pm.  We still have Christmas lights up inside the house and outside the house! This weekend, we actually talked about taking them down, because there is so much sunshine!  And I saw something this weekend (well, it really started last week) that bothered me.  Dust bunnies….everywhere.  It is amazing what you don’t see in the dark.  We felt all warm and cozy in our snow-covered lives.  We had these pretty twinkling lights to add to the warmth and coziness, even after all the Christmas decor was removed (we forgot our hanging mistletoe ball, but I am thinking about leaving that hanging in the entryway…just cuz!) to keep us smiling and joyful during the long, cold, snowy winters.  But this weekend, I saw so many dust bunnies.  And as I wrote in my previous posts, I hurt my back chasing dust bunnies last week.  It is still hurt and it makes it worse because I really should not go after them for awhile, yet!  But man oh man, are they driving me nuts! And I am determined to get our shedding dog (English Springer Spaniel) completely shaved…so much dog hair everywhere.  What does all this have to do with Lent?  Plenty…

I realized that in climates and cultures that experience fully the four seasons, that Spring is a big deal.  And Spring Cleaning has taken on a whole new meaning.  Because of the increased daylight, I am encouraged to do more. I am loosing that winter lethargy that comes with just a few hours of daylight a day and mountains of snow.  And I want to get into all the corners and really clean.  It was amazing how much dust I could see in the light of day.  (Note: I clean my house, I do.  Each week I sweep and dust and clean.  But it is amazing how much you miss when you only get 4-5 hours of daylight each day!!).  Lent is like that for our souls.  We are encouraged to pare down the gluttony that overtakes us in the winter and to live cleanly and simply in the light of day, and in the LIGHT of Christ.  He is the Light.  If Christ were to look into all the corners of His home, my soul, would He find “dust bunnies” of bad habits and things I need to clean out?  Oh, most definitely!

And how does this work with mentioning the reunion of Orthodox and Catholic?  Well, in the Spring we clean our homes, we clean our souls, and we prepare for the greatest event in humankind, the death and resurrection of Christ, Our Lord.  We need to get our Spiritual House in order.  And to me, that includes our Churches as well.  There have been scandals and wrong-doing all over our Churches, east and west.  (Even more in Protestant churches, but again, for another blogger to tackle). Our clergy have not had an easy time, be they saint or sinner.  We can never unite two such large and complicated entities as the Catholic and Orthodox Churches if their people are not completely united – and in a state of grace. There’s this corny song that popped into my head:

“Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on earth
The peace that was meant to be.
With God as our father
Brothers all are we.
Let me walk with my brother
In perfect harmony.

Let peace begin with me
Let this be the moment now.
With every step I take
Let this be my solemn vow.
To take each moment
And live each moment
With peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth,
And let it begin with me.”

And even though it has been said and said, and we laugh at some of the corniness of it, there is a simple truth in it.  When we lay aside all the things that make us different and focus on what it is that is the same about us, regardless of our current affiliation, it all has to start with me.  Each of us has to choose to take that step towards peace and unity.  And the Church, both east and west, has given us this incredible time – Great Lent – in order to focus our hearts on getting right with God and our brothers and sisters in Christ.  We will “spring clean” our hearts.  The place where God resides in all of us who acknowledge and welcome His indwelling in our innermost self needs to be cleaned out, rededicated, and redirected towards allowing just God to be there.  Lent gives us this time to throw out all the things that get in the way of true unity with Him.

Where we live is unique with regards to sunlight. It is the first time that the pathway of the earth, and so the sun, is different for me.  Growing up in Southern California, I was bathed in sunshine almost all year long.  We relocated to Washington, in the greater Seattle area, for three years.  That is when I first experienced the differing angles of the sun, because of where we are on the earth.  How the earth moves and the sun is in a different place than where I was used to it being…directly overhead…was so striking for me!  We were exposed to shorter days, more rain, and snow (weather!!! A foreign concept to most SoCal people).  Moving an additional 3000+ miles north to the Last Frontier in Alaska, the sun is different, again.  Where we live, in the wintertime, if we do not go into town, we never see the sun itself.  We see the light from it, but the orb itself is behind the mountains.  Such a weird thing for me.  And now that the earth is changing and its pathway around the sun is changing, bringing us the new season of Spring, I am once again noticing where the sun shows itself.  It is only on the south side of our house.  It comes up on the eastern side, about 2/3 of the way south on our living room wall, and as the earth rotates, it moves to the kitchen and finally goes down about midway through our master bedroom wall.  We have no windows on the eastern and only 1 window on our western walls.  We have lots of windows on the northern side of the house, and many more on the southern side.  The sun never directly touches our front yard.  You can see it over the hill on the back yard side of the house.  But it is not directly over the northern side of our property.  And that is so weird for me.  It was always within a visual confirmation in SoCal.  I could always find the sun during the day.  But not up here.  And when that sunlight directs itself through my full-glass dutch doors in my dining room, across the kitchen floor, to the living room….well, let’s just say I am motivated to clean.

To be esoteric about it, the place of the sun is like the issues with the various Churches.  We all have sunlight (son-light) in Christ Jesus.  We hold the same tenets of the faith to be true.  We worship in many differing ways, and still the “son” will light our pathway.  Just like no matter where you live on the earth, you will get some sunshine. It may differ in quality, quantity, and heat shared, but you get the light from it.  Our differing Churches are like that.  What we can do is take note of the differences, as I have from living in different places and noted the sunlight changes, the seasons, the weather patterns.  But we should not focus on those differences and make erroneous decisions based upon what we see as different.  For example, I do not live in an igloo cut from blocks of ice; nor do I drive a dog sled.  I live in a housing development; I drive my same car; I shop at most of the same stores you do (most…I do miss some of them!!) and eat at many of the same restaurants you do (although I would love for my favorites to come up here – hint-hint to Del Taco, Miguel’s and Miguel’s Jr. and In-and-Out Burgers to name a few).  I don’t sit around my igloo “chawing” away on seal blubber or deer meat.  Misconceptions are rampant in the different Churches.  Yes, if you are a Roman Catholic, you can attend Divine Liturgy and it counts!  It’s the same sacrifice, the same faith….and it counts towards your obligation!  We celebrate the same sacraments, we just call them mysteries instead.  We administer them a little differently, but they are the same; they are just as valid.  My husband spent 4 years in the seminary and was ordained. He can serve in a Latin-Rite church (and has) and all of the Eastern Churches.  He is now officially on loan to an Eastern Church that is a different one than the one he was ordained in, because there is only one Byzantine Church in all of Alaska!  And it counts and is valid and licit.

This Lenten season, perhaps we can all try to see into the lives of those who worship differently than we do.  Attend Divine Liturgy at the local Byzantine Church.  Venture into an Orthodox Church for Vespers (you will be so glad you did – trust me).  Try and see, while you are cleaning up your soul, that some of the issues we all share in life are misconceptions about each other.  And as we clean our souls, our homes, our hearts, we can also clean our bodies.  We can abstain the 40+ days of Lent from all the things we over-ate through the Holidays and wintertime.  We can endeavor to find the simple, the humble, the Divine in life.  We can stop with the noise and turn off all noisy media (try not watching TV or listening to music 24/7).  We can delve deeper into our faith by reading the scholars and the theologians of our faith and of the faith of our sister Churches.  We can pray more.  And starting today, for those of us in the east, we will abstain from meat.  It is a start.  I will endeavor to read more, to pray more, to eat less, and to get those darn dust bunnies under control so the light of day can shine – in my home, yes, but in my heart, too!