“…but experience.”

St. Nikolai

I have become a connoisseur of scents. I absolutely love to smell frankincense as we enjoy our Pre-Sanctified Liturgies. And because I am now involved with Essential Oils, my nose has become even more “excited.” The scents from a natural oil are amazing. I realized I am walking around smelling like a sachet packet or an old hippie. I let my hair dry naturally yesterday and it’s all wavy and gray, so I do look rather hippy-ish. Oh well! Today I have some frankincense, thieves, and lemon oils on, laced with a little melaleuca, and all floating in some olive oil. In addition to the great smell (and no longer dry skin), it helps me breathe and get over this darn chest cold thing I have been fighting. All I can say is that it sure smells yummy! In the kitchen I am running the diffuser with some purification oil and our home is starting to smell like spring. I am so glad I was introduced to Essential Oils and the loving way to apply them, with thoughtfulness and prayer.

When I walk into our Church, I can expect to be wonderfully assaulted by some amazing aromas. And once the Divine Liturgy begins, I can totally immerse myself in it, through all my senses. I see the beeswax candles and the glow they provide, while I can gaze on the wonderful Icons we have. There is a scent from the candles, too. There is a wafting, pale scent from the past use of incense. It all provides a wonderful environment. As the Liturgy progresses, we smell the incense filling our lungs and our minds with the Holy. The words of the chant can move your heart, even if the singing is not the best. The readings move your mind to the story of Christ and His suffering. A long time ago, a priest once suggested that as we listen to these readings, especially during Lent, that we try and picture ourselves as being present in the story. Imagine yourself as with Christ and the Apostles, walking with them on this journey to the Cross. It moves you in a different way when you place yourself there.

The entire experience of Divine Liturgy should overwhelm us. It should create in us a beautiful sense of faith and deep commitment to follow more deeply the journey Christ takes to the Cross. And I encourage everyone to immerse yourself in this wonderful time of year; a time of re-birth and re-commitment to our faith. It’s just so amazing and I feel so blessed our Church gives us this wonderful Lenten season each year. I know I need it!

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Blessed Lent.

St. Nikolai

“…in their midst.”

Candles sandI find myself so often approaching the large icons at the front of our parish and just standing there, with my wonderful beeswax candles in my hand.  If you have never had the opportunity to smell beeswax candles, combined with the scent of incense still in the air, alongside icons painted on wood, in a wooden church, in a damp or cold environment, you have been missing something. It is almost ethereal; the senses, if we allow them, share with us the Presence of the Divine in our Churches.  God told us, “Whenever two or three are gathered in My Name, there I am, in their midst.” (Matthew 18:20).  Very often these days, I find myself humbled before these icons, which represent Our Lord and the Theotokos, or Mother of God.  In a Byzantine parish, we are blessed to see icons pretty much everywhere you turn.  If you look up, there is Christ, Pantocrator, lovingly watching His people.  Behind our altar, deep in the Holy Place, is an amazing icon of the Mother of God holding Our Lord.  The iconostasis is full of icons and when the candles are lit and the incense is being distributed by the Deacon, accompanied by the tones of our faith, God feels with us; truly with us.

Priest at Holy DoorsAs I light my candles, I offer prayers.  So many prayers.  For ourselves and our lives, for my children and grandchildren, for friends, for peace.  More often than I like to admit, I find myself quietly weeping, bringing all those concerns before God.  The scent of the beeswax and the incense, the warmth of the wood and icons all around me, the quiet peace inside the Church, it all gives me a sense of peace.  And a completeness, that this is where I need to be, to offer these concerns and prayers – at the foot of Our Lord.

I have been delving a little bit into some sites online that are purported to be of my same faith, although with varying degrees of fervency and varying styles of worship.  But most are, at the very least, Byzantine, or Eastern in nature.  I have steered away from the political “hot buttons” and pretty much left much of those sorts of pages or sites, because they seemed just so inflammatory. The anger level was palatable and I think I have enough stress in my life without adding politics to the mix.  And, to be honest, I was hoping for some of the camaraderie I have found at our parish, on these Byzantine/Eastern sites.  But to be completely honest, I was taken aback and felt assaulted with the same sort of angry rhetoric I found at political sites and pages.  I was so surprised at how much anger is in pretty much everyone. I have found several hearts out there that beat similarly to mine and have enjoyed interacting so much with them.  Many of these people I have met are monks and priests, deacons and readers, along with a considerable number of lay people.  But the “hot buttons” of politics have been replaced by seemingly “hot buttons” in faith. I had no idea people were this upset and would strike in such mean and nasty ways at people they only know through the internet.  One person said that the internet allows us to be ruder than we would be in a personal conversation, sitting down with another person.  I think that is pretty right on.  There is also very little respect for our clerics, be they readers, deacons, priests, religious, or monks.  One person said they are “just people,” and “put their pants on, one leg at a time.”  I found that sad, and very disturbing.  I presumed that this person has no concept or honest experience of Holy Orders or the Divine in his life.  I love knowing my priest and monk friends, and I love having them as friends.  But I do treat them with the utmost respect.  Mostly for the education they have that I do not, their treasure of knowledge that I love listening to.  But foremost, I respect their ordination.  I respect that my priest has “holy hands” because he brings me God in the Sacraments. I only wish that people would realize that we are gathered together, in the the guise of faith, to lift one another up.  And if we approach the use of the internet and these sites and pages that profess to be ones of faith, knowing the Words of God, “there I am in their midst,” then perhaps some of this ugliness would disappear.  I know my spirit feels like it was trampled upon and sort of beat up!

And tonight, as our family heads off to Divine Liturgy to celebrate the feast day of Our Lady, I will light my beeswax candles and I will do so with the hearts of these people in mind.  We cannot be someone who draws others to this Divine Light of faith if we treat each others with contempt and disrespect. I personally quit several sites because of the vehemence with which others disrespected people, myself included.  And I will pray that with this faith we are so rudely defending, that we actually act in a manner that shows that we are believers, that we love God, and believe in His Words to us:

““‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  (Matthew 22:36-40)

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“..not theory, not philosophy…”

Icon wallToday it has been raining almost all day. It rained most of the night, too.  It was the sort of day where you want to wrap yourself in a cozy blanket, hold a cup of tea, and sit before a warm fire.  But we rarely do that on Sundays.  First of all, my husband is a Deacon and so we are obligated to attend Sunday Divine Liturgy.  But more than that, our Sunday would seem hollow if we did not get ourselves out and off to Church.  So off into the rainy day we went.  I have often posted photos of the interiors of Churches and I tend to favor those with candle-lit scenes.  The one above is one of my favorites; the Icon wall.  In our parish we are blessed with an amazing array of icons and our Iconostasis (the Icon screen that goes across the altar area) is beautiful.  We are also blessed with beeswax candles! Many parishes use the thin tapers, but they are not beeswax.  I feel blessed that we have them.  As I lit a candle each for the intercession of the Theotokos and Our Lord, I stood before their icons, bathed in the mystery, the awe, the solemnity of them.  But I was also awash in my other senses.  I could hear the rain spattering along the roof line and into the downspouts.  Everything smells wonderful when it rains.  And I could smell the incredibly aromatic beeswax candles.  Trust me, if you have never experienced them, they do make a difference.  The light they emit and the scent surrounding them is heady and enhances the whole experience.  So instead of snuggling on my couch with my blanket and cup of tea, I was surrounded by the essence of my faith in sight, smell, and once morning prayers and then Divine Liturgy began, the sounds of my faith.  It was truly a morning of heaven on earth!

St. NikolaiI have used the above photo quite often, too.  I truly believe that a large part of our faith is the faith we experience in our community.  As I stated in my post of the Dormition, we come to our faith in a corporate way, as part of a larger community.  Even if you have a “born again” experience as a Protestant, it is normally within a faith community; the community that brought you to that pinnacled moment in time.  I am often asked, “When were you saved?”  I have pondered it many times and have come to the conclusion that my salvation is a process.  Yes, I have come to know and experience Christ in my life. I am blessed to belong to a Byzantine faith where encounters with Christ happen quite regularly.  My personal encounters have been shocking, sublime, timely, and extremely profound.  And they keep coming.  Each time I am in contact with that moment where Our Lord touches me, I am deeper into my relationship with Him.  I am blessed in that.

Today, after Divine Liturgy, I met some wonderful women.  One of the women in our parish is an incredible soup-maker.  Today she provided the parish with broccoli soup that was so incredible, with warm bread to accompany it.  As we sat around and gabbed, enjoying our soup and the company, I realized how much I would have missed had I chosen to remain on my couch!  My faith was enhanced and I met some wonderful ladies, and enjoyed some incredible soup.  Our conversation was as edifying in many ways as our experience during Liturgy.  Because when you sit and talk with people and share your faith, you serve God.  His kingdom is solidified and strengthened when you share your faith with others.  There was so much wisdom at that table.  I find myself sitting with the widows and older women, rather than the younger moms with small children;  I suppose it is because they are closer in age to me, but I am not sure.  I do chat with the other moms who have children, as I have a teen still at home, but I sure enjoy sitting with these older ladies.  Today I shared the concept of “Holy Silence” and also the concept that “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives” and it generated a lively chat.  Since most of them have numerous children and grandchildren, keeping Silence is often not something they think to practice first!  I was praying the entire time we chatted and I loved their insight and wisdom and I think they gleaned something useful from me, as well.  Experience…it is truly a great teacher.

CandlesI am glad that I roused myself and went off in the rain to Church. I came away edified and strengthened.  Father’s homily today reminded us of our great responsibility for our own faith.  God waits for us; He does not force us to welcome Him into our hearts.  He invites us to experience Him in our Church, in our fellow Christians.  We may not all worship in the same style or the same environment, but we are all believers of the True Faith.  Our corporate experience of the Divine makes Our Lord more present to each and every one of us…together and in solitude.  Let us also remember those who gave up everything, and are still sacrificing for their faith.  They are part of our faith, too.

Egyptains prayingIn our Silence, which I do try to practice as much as I can (being a homeschooling Mom, I am often relegated to moments of solitude to keep Silence.  Those are the moments when I choose Silence over distractions or chatter and are sometimes the only quiet I may have in a day) we commune with God and are part of the Church Militant – those of us still here, combating evil and seeking the Divine.  We share in the state of this militant Church through our prayers, our actions, and our thoughts.  Let us hold one another up as we struggle to combat the evil in this world.  Let our common experience as a community strengthen us on our personal roads to salvation, as well as helping each of those we come into contact with on their own journey towards the Divine.  Some areas of our world are rife with war and violence; there is little of the Holy Silence available in places where gunfire is more common.  Let us all unite in our common faith, holding up the Church Militant and conjoining the with the Angels and the Saints in the Church Triumphant.

I know I am glad I got off that couch this morning and enjoyed Our Lord and our community, celebrating the gift of the Divine in our lives!!