“Open your mouth for the mute…”

I am constantly amazed how people can say one thing, purport to be one thing, and yet are completely different. When the “real’ person comes out, it can be so shocking. We have been experiencing this over the past few years, over and over again. I just wish people would be exactly who they are. I know so many people who change their faces, even their voices, depending on their audience – they have a work self, a homebody, a person for their spouse, and another type for their friends. That must get confusing. I have always been the same, regardless of my audience. I suppose that can be good, or bad.

I’ve always been told to put on clean underwear in case you’re in an accident. So I do. (My mom should be proud I still do that! I almost hear her when I am dressing! LOL!)  I can wear clothing appropriate for situations. And as I have gotten older, I choose comfort over style most of the time. But that does not mean I change the person I am, nor the values I believe in. It just means I dress appropriately for the occasion.

There are people in our larger faith community who dress a certain way, wear their hair a certain way, and always wear a symbol of faith on their person. For them, it symbolizes their modesty and simplicity, and their beliefs. (My sons referred to it as my “Little House on the Prairie” days! LOL!) However, many of these same Christian families do not allow their children to interact with “public school children,” nor do they allow them to play sports on public league teams, or have friends outside of their strict faith circle.  Some do not allow their children to interact with anyone who does not attend their same church. But we are exhorted in the scriptures to live in this world and to deal with others. We cannot learn, being hidden away. “My child, if sinners entice you, turn your back on them!” (Proverbs 1:10)  It is biblically, and scripturally, incorrect. We are not called to be separated from our neighbors, but rather we are called to participate and be the “light” and the “salt” in this world.  The godly are called to be as bold as lions (Proverbs 28:1) There are so many instances where we are asked by Our Lord to involve ourselves in our communities and neighborhoods, for the good of everyone.

We are not instructed to alienate or shame, either. When parents are teaching their elementary-aged children to speak to adults/neighbors like the “Inquisition,” there is a problem. Pre-teen children should not be telling their neighbor adults that they are going to hell because they do not attend a particular church. That is learned at home. When adults act like they reside on a higher plane because of their religious beliefs, they are not being Christ to others, or when they act superior because of their careers and income levels, they are not being Christ to others. When they wear crosses on their chests or the back windows of their cars, but yell, shout, and belittle their neighbors, they are being a false witness to the faith. When they don’t like something their neighbors are doing, and threaten law suits, or offer monetary rewards to make it go away, they are being dishonest and are actually being a briber. And that is not a Christian act. At all.

When we act a certain way in front of our children, we are teaching them. They watch our bodily actions and they listen to our words, and they pay attention to how we treat others. And unfortunately, quite often the adage, “Don’t do as I do, do as I say” ends up falling far short. Children are great imitators. They will act and speak just like their parents. If you want to know everything there is to know about a family, talk to their 10-12 year-old. You will know it all. So people ought not to fool themselves into thinking they are making a certain impression in a community. Their false-face is there for all to see. And when they parade through their parishes, the hypocrisy is unnerving.

“Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all the unfortunate. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.” (Proverbs 31:8-9)

The Lord asks us, so many times, to care for others. For those who cannot care for themselves. I have thought about this a lot lately. What does it mean that someone cannot care for themselves? Quite often we look to the easy example of the poor, the handicapped, the elderly, and the pre-born baby. But as I thought of this, caring for ourselves can often be beyond some of us. We simply don’t know how. And caring for myself means I make sure I have food and shelter; I help myself become more skilled at what I do; I work constantly to grow in wisdom and love. But what if I can’t really do that? What if I am hurting inside and cannot help myself? What if I have never been taught the love of Christ and His forgiveness, and all I am exposed to and see is my neighbor? What if I am one of those who cannot care for myself, one of the needy? What if my neighbor, who says they are a wonderful homeschooling, Catholic, Christian family, is my only exposure to those things? Then my neighbor becomes my school. I learn from watching you, and from interacting with you, just as your children do. What it is to be those things, I learn from watching you. And when you belittle others and exclude the neighbors because they don’t “measure” properly, what sort of example are you? You are a false one. And you are causing people to stumble. Some of those people are your own children. And I am angry. I admit it. I am royally, beyond the pale, mad.

“If anyone causes one of these little ones–those who believe in me–to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Matthew 18:6)

I am angry because you are being this poor example to my children and grandchildren. You are turning them away from Church. You are turning them away from learning to be good neighbors. They are becoming exclusionary because it is safer that way. When they let you in, or allow you to come closer, you hurt them, again. They are not excluding your children, because this was not caused by them, but they are no longer happy to see them walk up the driveway. They no longer really want your children teaching and interacting with their children. Why? Your children tell them everything you say in your home. They know how you really feel. They share freely what your opinion of my children and grandchildren really is. And this is just wrong. So very wrong. And you are hurting others. You are hurting my family.

When we will be honest with one another? When will we learn to grow and become better people? Just because you want things to be a certain way, does not make them that way. What is, well, it just is. Some things we can affect a change on; others we have to accept. Wisdom is knowing the difference. Temper tantrums, in front of the children and the entire cul-de-sac, cannot change what is. Shame on you. Shame.

I am struggling to not go barging in to situations that are not about me. Being a parent does not stop when they leave your roof. You are always going to be protective of your kids. When my oldest son went into the Army, in my mind, all I could see was my 5-week preemie. In my head, he was not well over 6-feet tall, but barely old enough to be born. And even though my kids are all adults now, I still worry about them. And when others array themselves against them, this mom goes all “shield maiden” on them! (I love the Viking stories and lore surrounding Shield Maidens. They were so awesome!). It is also like being a mother-bear…watch out!

The Christian in me longs for peace. I long to be able to share with these people the error of their ways, in a godly, Christian way. But I have been the victim of these sorts of Christians for more than 25 years. And it pretty much follows a pattern. It is ugly, it is predictable and I am thankful beyond thankful that I was able to extricate myself and my family from that environment and be more of a presence in this world. But I never lost my faith, nor my values, nor myself. Dante says, “The darkest places of hell are reserved for those who remain neutral in a time of crisis.” He is telling us we are not to abandon the world when it needs us the most. We need to insert ourselves into everyday life, as Christians, bearing a true witness of the love of God. If we are to be that “light” and “salt” in this world, we cannot bear false witness. We will lead others to hell. Proverbs instructs us to be people of character, above bribes, and to be honest in dealing with everyone. It is laced all through the Book. Because, “If the godly give in to the wicked, it’s like polluting a fountain or muddying a spring.” (Proverbs 25:26)  We cannot become like the world. And we cannot sit back and allow evil to muddy our springs. Sometimes we have to speak up…or in my case, vent!

“So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making His appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” (2 Corinthians 5:20)

And how are we doing? Have we truly accepted the Word of God for our own lives, thereby being an honest witness of a believer? Is this posturing? Make believe? Are we charlatans? Or are we modern-day Pharisees, praying on the street corner for all to see??

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.” (Matthew 6:5)

I am done venting. I am retiring to my chair where I can drink a cup of tea, and cuddle with my cat, enjoying our spring mix of rain and snow. And I will pray for these people, to be honestly who they are, to be kind before all else, as well as to be a Godly witness and not a false one.

I feel like I went off the rails a little bit in this post. Maybe I did. But sometimes I just want to shout it from the rooftops: ENOUGH! STOP!  And so, proverbially speaking, I have done that. Back to normal, now!

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“…grant me to see my own sins…”

The readings at Mass last night were some of my favorites. They reminded us that God wants us to trust Him. That worrying cannot add a day to our lives. (Matthew 6:26). Our priest spoke about his early days, as a new driver. He was so concerned with staying in his lane, he would focus on the lines, often missing what was around him, and even what was in front of him.

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From this example, I readily laughed at all the times I, too, get so concerned about lines, that I am missing what is around me. Every year, I endeavor to keep all the rules of the Great Fast – during Great Lent. One great quote I love is an exchange between two people. One asked the other, “How do you plan to keep the fast?” And the other replied, “By paying attention to what is on my own plate.” Sometimes I get so concerned over thoughts like, “Am I doing this right?” “Am I fasting enough?” “Did I remember my prayers?” “Are my kids doing it right/enough/with the right attitude?” And somewhere in there, I am forgetting that I need to prepare my heart.

“You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” Matthew 5:21-23

The Book of Matthew exhorts us to leave those Pharisaical ideals and be simpler. How can you fast and do prayers and make prostrations, when you are in a long-standing fight with your brother? Your friend? Your boss at work?

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This Great Lent, which for those of us who practice in the Eastern Catholic/Orthodox Churches, began today with “Clean Monday,” I am trying to pursue different sorts of Lenten practices. I am going to get rid of behaviors that are not good for me, and I am going to foment those that help me. The lines I follow will probably not look like your lines, as in Father’s story last night about driving.

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Up here in Alaska, the lines in the roads are pretty much blurred, at best. We have snow. Then we have ice on top of snow, with some more snow on top of that, just to make driving more interesting. Last night we had some thawing, along with some amazing road plowing, and we could see the roads, and the lines. About 7:00am today, it started with icy-fog and crystals floating around. By 8:00 am, we had falling snow. It wasn’t even swirling; just falling straight down. It has been doing that for the past 4 hours. We have at least another inch or so on top of that morning ice fog. The lines are gone, again. So we make our own lines; our own lanes. And so it goes until Spring Thaw (which is looking more and more like May). You learn to ad-lib and be flexible while driving. And I am taking this analogy about snow driving without lines to my approach to Lent. I will be flexible and learning to adapt to new ways of looking at it; looking to my own plate, so to speak.

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I have had priests and spiritual fathers caution me over the years to try adding something, rather than giving something up. Yes, we should curtail our diets and definitely fully fast on specific days the Church requires, but generally, we should work at adding things to our lives that we normally leave out or ignore. How often do we spend time in silence, perhaps reading a book by one of the Early Church Fathers? How often do we sit in silent prayer, perhaps praying the Rosary or the Jesus Prayer? Have you read through the Psalms and made notes? One Orthodox writer I love suggests keeping a journal of everything we are grateful for. And also one on our readings of the Psalms and other spiritual works each Lent. It helps to journal, to see how we grow. Each year we can give up chocolate or sugar or coffee…we can abstain from foods, but what about behaviors? In the words above, there are ideas of things we can abstain from during Lent.

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But what can we add, to make Lent more meaningful? Have we forgiven those who have wronged us? Have we sought forgiveness from those we have wronged? Do we repent for the evil in our lives and what we have done to add to it? Do we abstain from harmful music or movies or books? How can we develop a culture of true, Christian love for one another when we read “50 Shades of Gray” or go to those types of movies? How does a book like that generate so many sales? And it is just the first in a series. People laud it as a love story. Really? (The book sold 29 million print and 15 million digital copies in 2012. It topped the 2012 best-seller lists in the categories adult fiction and romance). What sort of love are we sharing with others? I’ve often blogged about that hole in our hearts that only God can fill. I believe this example shows us where people lack spirituality in their lives. For those of us who identify as Christians, how are we presenting ourselves to others? Do you know that today, you may be the only “Christ” people see – perhaps ever? Especially during Lent, we need to turn inward and focus on our personal relationship to our Spirituality and our core beliefs, so we can present ourselves to others.

“Ever the lawyer, Tertullian the apologist subscribed to the view that the best defense is a good offense. His treatises To the Gentiles and Apology directly attacked pagan beliefs and practices as superstitious and immoral, and argued that the Christian life as taught in Scripture and practiced in the church was morally superior. He imagined pagans looking at Christians and saying, “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).” (Tertullian, as quoted on the website, Christianhistoryinstitute.org)

Can you imagine if people knew we were Christian just by watching us? How we drive? How we shop? How we live in our homes? How we treat others in the workplace? In our families? And all the other interactions we have daily? How can we make Lent a time for us to reconnect to our base in our faith?

This year, for the first time in many years, I am going to participate with the Roman Church and try to attend some Lenten offerings at our local parish. I haven’t see the “Stations of the Cross” or prayed those prayers in decades, literally. I haven’t participated in a lot of things over the past few decades. I dearly, dearly miss our Liturgy of the PreSanctified Gifts. And I dearly miss our prostrations during the Prayer of St. Ephraim. I carry that prayer with me always. Our Eastern practices offer us so many opportunities to reflect and repent. Almost daily services, like Vespers, where we can pray the prayers of the Church with others who are working on their own salvation. Salvation is not an event; it is a process. And one that the Church offers us to work on over and over again. We are blessed with the words of the early Saints and Martyrs; those closer to the time when Christ walked the earth; simpler ages. I love the stories of St. Ephraim, the Syrian. And the writings and prayers he left us are priceless. “Lord and Master of my life…” is just a magical way to address God in prayer.

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I will always pray that prayer. This year, I will revisit some other prayers I have long ago treasured. It is beautiful to know our Church is truly universal and we can gain from all her rites and prayers, songs and chants, and places of worship. This year, I am praying for enlightenment and a different approach to life that will stay with me. And perhaps I will find my own lines in the snow. And perhaps I will look up and see what is right in front of me, keeping my eyes on my own plate and not the plate of others. I think that is a good start, here on Clean Monday.

“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.

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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. 

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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.

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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…

Double rainbows, Beluga Whales, Oreos, and the Pope

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We feel blessed to live where we do. There are so many amazing sites and so much we have not seen. Witnessing the Aurora Borealis in person is something I wish everyone could see. As I was explaining to my dad, it makes you feel so miniscule and humble. In the next few days, they are supposed to be so busy and so close, you can hear the sound of them when the colors cross over themselves. I never knew you could actually hear the Aurora, so I will let you know. 

Rainbow on ground.2015

The above photo was taken this past Saturday, while riding in the car (no, I was not driving). It is part of a double rainbow, and if you look you can see where the rainbow touches the ground (middle right of photo). Now I don’t know about you, but I was looking for my leprechaun and his pot of gold! I did see a Chevron station, which is much the same thing, I suppose. But the weirdest thing that happened is that we drove through the rainbow! And as we did, we passed through the different colors. I turned around and looked, and sure enough, there was the rainbow, behind us. How spectacular is that??? As we ventured further towards home, we saw Beluga whales in a pod, spouting water and surfacing with their babies. I mean, how much can you take of the exceptionalism that is the creation of God, in one day? Oh wait, I forgot! An American Bald Eagle flew directly over our vehicle, while hunting, and swooped low enough that we could see its belly as it flew over our sunroof! With all of these things happening, and with all the news this week, it takes your breath away at times.

eagle15

How can all this amazing stuff surround us, who are mere creations of God, and we can not feel overwhelmed with joy, thanksgiving, and humility? But rather, we attack one another and we beat each other up over trivialities.  The Pope is visiting the USA this week. In fact, he apparently is here, arriving in New York today. Trust me, homeschooling a high school student takes a lot of energy and patience. This morning we were tackling fractions as expressed in percentages and decimals, and solving for “X” – I hate that letter! Ha-Ha! Just writing this brings back my headache… where’s my coffee? I rarely turn on the TV or listen to the news. I have little free time until this time of day and I have begun to love football practice! (It’s every afternoon, Monday – Friday!). As I was catching up on the news and the pope’s arrival, I noticed there are memes, and photos, floating around Facebook about the pope marveling at our “plenty.” There was a joke about him taking back his comments about capitalism when he saw and held the variety of Oreo cookies available at the local supermarket. Ha-Ha. I cracked up. Lots of other people took offense. I am obedient to his teachings on things regarding faith and morals. I respect the office of the Pope and his position within the Catholic community and the world. But it does not mean I have to agree with his teachings on anything else. Thanks be to God for a universal church. And I am allowed, even while still being a good Byzantine Catholic, to laugh at a joke about the Pope marveling over Oreo cookies. I am also allowed to comment.

I do not think that we are all on the same page about a great many things. Diversity is part of humanity. Once we were afforded free will, uniformity became obsolete. No one person is exactly like the next. And isn’t that the beauty of being alive? Yes we can categorize creatures and nature into orders and phylum, genders and races. But as Ben Carson once stated, “You see, when I take someone to the operating room, I’m actually operating on the thing that makes them who they are. The skin doesn’t make them who they are.” We are all fundamentally the same, but our free will has given us our individuality. And the Church knows this. Why do you think the Apostles preached to the people “where they were” and did not try to make them all like they were? It is why we have all the different Churches united with the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Pontiff is the Bishop of the Roman Church. He is considered the “first among equals” and I respect this particular pope specifically because of that. I don’t agree with him on much, but I respect him as the Pope of Rome. I also heed my Patriarch, one of the pope’s equals. I happen to listen to him before I listen to the pope, because I belong to one of the many churches united with the Roman Church; I am Melkite Greek Catholic.

Different color skin, same souls.

So I have learned that being surrounded by all this creation of God, still in its pristine form, that I am a speck. I am an insignificant thing compared to what God has created. But I am His insignificant speck; His humble servant. I love Our Lord with all my heart and I respect His servants who are in the public arena, such as our Pope. I am respectful of his office, but I still giggle at some of the jokes and I truly believe that is okay. “In the  grand scheme of things,” this Pope will be a blip on the timeline of the Church, and I won’t even get an honorable mention. My opinions are, however, just as important to God and He loves me equally to the Pope. That’s what is so awesome about our God and our Church! Christ died for each and every person who believes in Him. Be respectful, be loving, be Christlike. But revel in your free will that drives you to seek the holy, the sublime, the beauty of this life. Drive through double rainbows, cry when an eagle soars overhead, smile like a child at a pod of Beluga whales breaching beside the roadway.

belugawcalf_usarmy

And if you want to, giggle about the pope and some Oreo cookies. It’s okay.

pope-oreo-300x169

Is it really Monday?

Minion Monday Quote

My grandma liked to say, “You can’t put a old head on young shoulders.” She had so many great sayings that got me through the early years of parenting. I could not help but think of this as my teen and I struggled with homeschooling today, a Monday.

And today, well, today is “such a Monday.” We had Daylight Savings time kick in yesterday, and when you get an hour stolen from you, it takes days to get yourself right again. I am not sure why this is so, but I think the days are past when we even need to have Daylight Savings time. Several states opt out; other countries think we’re nuts; most people I know think it’s stupid, too. Our state legislature was discussing it and I even think something may have actually made it to the voting stage, but once again, the government wheels grind ever so slowly. Which annoys me most particularly, on the type of Monday where I just want to crawl back into bed. But that is not what this post is about.

Today I struggle with ideas regarding authority. And I blog because I find it a wonderful way to sort my thoughts out, and have a chat with myself. And if I annoy you with this particular post today, chalk it up as a particularly nasty Monday!  Because, today I struggle with authority in so many areas within my life and living circumstances, so even on a Monday like today, I still need to sort things out. For example, today I had a chat with my father, who is 88 years old. He has always been an authority figure in my life; I have always respected him and honored his decrees in my life. As I have aged, our relationship has tweaked itself a little bit. I am no longer a youth under his direct authority, but he tries to reenact that sort of dance between us now and then. Today we had a chat that I would like to think friends would have, although some mention of the disparity in our ages came up (he loves to say how young I am, but at 58, I’m not feeling it! Ha-Ha!). We sorted through some things, and as we said our goodbyes, I was smiling. The smile was because we communicated today – he didn’t pontificate and I listen – we talked to each other. It was sublime in its simplicity. The authoritative relationship I had with him has changed. Sometimes aging does that to you; sometimes you just get older.

My teen and I had a little difference in opinion today regarding the work accomplished over the past two weeks. I was explaining how he holds his future in his hands. What he becomes tomorrow is predicated on what he learns today. I cannot give him a career. He has to gain that for himself. And our world has to have some sort of measuring stick. For most professions, it is a certain skill set you have to obtain, either through a hands-on sort of training, or book learning, or a combination of both. No one simply decides they want to be a neurosurgeon and they hand you gloves and a scalpel. It requires years of dedicated study, practice, and you have to perform with a certain amount of competency in order to practice on people. There are lots of jobs that are like that; many career paths take years and years. And there is always a governing authority in regards to careers. It may be someone in an HR capacity who allows an application to get through; a resume review that someone feels says the right thing and it gets passed to the person hiring; it could be an entrance exam for a college or trade school; it could be passing exams to graduate from high school so you can begin your journey towards a career. Again, an authority figure determines who passes and who fails; who moves on and who remains behind.  He doesn’t like me very much today.  The joys of parenting.

Orthodox Protest.Ukraine

I saw this meme posted on Facebook today. I commented that I thought it was amusing that we would show a picture of the Ukrainian Orthodox protesting in Ukraine, and caption it with a saying by the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. First of all, I mean no disrespect to the people who put this together, the Pope of Rome, or the people in the picture. I just found it amusing. My amusement was not appreciated. Once again, I was struck with the issue of authority. I am certainly not denigrating the comment the Pope of Rome made; the sentiment is wonderful. It is especially wonderful during Lent, as we approach the week of suffering wherein we remember in detail Christ’s hours on the Cross for each of us. It is also appropriate for the events pictured. Nor am I not cognizant of the world-wide implications of the actions of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, as well as the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, during these tense days in Ukraine. I was struck by the stance against governmental authority in light of the Gospel Message of Christ.

We hear, almost daily, of the atrocities being committed by ISIS against Christians in the MIddle East. If you do not hear it daily, it is because your are not tuned in to what is happening there. You are not aware of the very real possibility of an entire ethnic group being removed from the lands they have inhabited for generations upon generations, as Christians. The atrocities are being committed against men, women, and children. They are not only killing men who can fight against them; they are killing women and children so no one else grows up to fight them. In those situations, who has the authority of life over death? ISIS believes it has supreme authority, given by Allah, through the Koran. But who has the ultimate authority?  God.

In the Muslim faith, they recognize and acknowledge God. They call him Allah, but they believe it is the God of Moses and Abraham, the God of the Jewish people, and of those who follow Christ.  They do not acknowledge the right of people to believe in these other faiths, but they believe it is the same God. They just believe their version of God is correct and the rest of us are wrong.  Which is where they derive their authority from.  We, as Christians, believe God has given us authority when we trample the rights of those who disagree with us, and go to war in the name of our God.  It is hard to hear those sorts of things, but we Christians have been doing it since the time of the Apostles.

Jihad.crusade

See why I struggle with authority? There are instances all through history where different factions have acted against one another, both believing they were correct, both believing God was on their side. Who wins? Or rather, who loses? In the case of ISIS, a complete ethnicity may lose it all – their homeland, their lives.

We had to choose to play with the current administration this year in regards to healthcare. We chose not to play. We use an alternative to standard insurance, and we went with a cooperative, religious approach (that was approved by the Obamacare writers as a valid alternative). We choose to educate our kids at home, and have done so since the 1990s. We are now facing being complacent and allowing something to take place in regards to our son’s education (something the current state/local government recently snuck in on us) or to standing up to the authority the school district has over us. Do we comply? Do we acknowledge their authority over what my son learns? Do we allow their data mining of our son to begin and the recording of said data to follow him through to his career choices? Or do we stop playing?  Sometimes I hate being the grownup. And that is another issue today with authority.  Mondays can be so cursed. Ha-Ha!

Today, I just wanted my teenager to take responsibility for his actions, and to accept my authority over him, as his mom and home educator.  I don’t want to slay dragons. I don’t want to overturn governments.  I just want schoolwork to be completed. Today, well, today I was able to fast and feel good about it, obeying the authority the Church has over me in decreeing fasting during Lent. I believe in the precepts of the Church, and so fasting is not a burden for me. It is sometimes hard to make work, but not a burden. And I accept the authority Christ gave His Church over me, as a believer in Him. I don’t buck it; I don’t complain about it. Sometimes I do question aspects of it, but I usually accept it. I am not what you would call a “cafeteria Christian.” I accept the whole of it, even if I do not understand it.

Authority is such an interesting concept/construct in our lives. When we are young, everyone is in authority over us. We buck it; we protest it (heck, I lived through the 60s and flower power! Far out! Cool!), but eventually we become it.  How freaky is that?  Eventually, we all go through that generational shift where we realize we are our parents and our kids are us! This government we have? It’s all on me. It’s my generation who is the authority in the world. And what a mess we have. What a mess.  It’s not just stupid Daylight Savings time. We have people beheading people; burning children alive in cages. We have millions of unborn slaughtered every day. We have millions of people starving all over the world while tons of food is thrown away, wasted, daily. We have people dying of illnesses in the Third World that have been eradicated here. We have thousands of acres of fallow land because our government is controlling agriculture and the amount of food available for harvest, when we could feed the world – and still have grain to store against famine (just ask a farmer).  Who has authority over us and why?  When can we say “no” to this authority and make changes for the good?  Boy oh boy my head is spinning today.  Maybe I do just need to call “uncle” and ask for a “do-over.”

Fast.Chrysostom

“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.”

cropped-archmandrite-karelin-family1.jpg

 

“…shall not prevail against it.”

*Before reading my post, please know I agonized over posting this. It is a part of my personal growth and is written with no ugly intentions.  Please do not read it if you feel you will be angry. It is not my intent to anger or hurt anyone, it is just a discovery I made about my walk with God. It is about where I am and where I am going, which is the whole point of this blog.*

Hand prayer incense

Blog Post Begins:

There’s nothing new under the sun, as the Scriptures tell us. (Ecc 1:4-11).  And sometimes it feels like nothing can surprise you.  And then something does, and it can be a life-altering surprise, or it can be God, whispering to you.

Trust GodA life with no surprises can get to be pretty dull.  I’ve had some surprises lately and I kind of like it; sort of like it. I’m dealing with it! Ha-Ha!  This Lent has been a pretty topsy-turvy Lent.

Coming to a realization can be a surprise, in an of itself.  And that has occurred with me.  I realized that when I left the Roman Church and embraced the Eastern Church, I did so by jumping in with both feet.  I embraced the philosophy, theology, and practices of my Eastern Church wholeheartedly.  I found repose, sweet and quiet repose, in the teachings of my eastern faith.  We had a pastor who inculcated us fully in the philosophies and traditions (both types of traditions) of the eastern Church, and he also showed us the whys and wherefores.  We were blessed.  The theological tenets of eastern practices and traditions were fully explained and made perfect sense to us.  We completely embraced it all – culture, foods, traditions, practices.  All of it – hook, line, and sinker.  Our catechesis in the faith was truly remarkable.  Now that we are away from that community, we see it even more fully.  We miss it very much.

St. NikolaiI distinctly remember a huge turning point for me and it was during a Divine Liturgy.  The incense was pretty heavy and the light played just right through the windows…during the procession, the vestments just glowed and the sights, sounds, and smells just filled me.  And then our Proto-Deacon intoned, “Sophia, Orthoi”!  And I was transported to the times of the Apostles and the early gatherings of the nascent Church.  And it was a transformative moment for me.  I experienced my faith.  And I was hooked – for eternity.

As I have learned more and more about Eastern thought and philosophy, a part of myself that had been empty began to be filled.  And I did not even realize there was an empty space; a part of me unfilled.  I do not need much of the traditions of the western church any more because I’ve become consumed by my faith, my experiential faith in the eastern Church.  There are things called sacramentals in the west and two examples are scapulars and rosaries. You do not have to wear a scapular or recite the rosary to be fully Catholic. Those are things outside of dogma that enhance your faith experience, but they are not necessary to believe, to be in a state of grace.  They are externals. They are almost “trappings” of our faith.

Most Roman Catholics own at least one rosary, even if they do not use it.  In the mainstream church, very few people are even aware of what a scapular is, let alone wear one.  I had a scapular in pretty much every color, using them for many reasons.  They enhanced my spiritual life and I loved them.  I always wore a miraculous medal, for example.  Because I loved the story and loved the Mother of God.  My middle son and his wife were laughing a couple of weeks ago, because they recently moved into their own space and were unpacking (finally) all their wedding gifts and they realized they have a crucifix for every room in their home, plus some to spare!  It is part of our Catholic identity.  It is a demonstration of who we are.  People used to come into our home and ask where the altar was, because gradually all our artwork was religiously-oriented, with a crucifix in every room.

Byzantine CrossWhen I became an eastern Catholic, I left most of those western things behind me.  I embraced the Jesus Prayer and wear a prayer rope on my wrist most days.  I no longer wear a crucifix, but an eastern or Byzantine cross.  I love learning about all the food traditions in the east; how certain foods are served only once a year on a particular feast day.  I love that!  And there are so many flavors of eastern Catholicism.  Within the eastern grouping of Churches, there is such difference, but the same Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.  Some eastern Churches will only use certain types of candles and incense and it becomes a part of the experience of who they are.  Being so fully immersed in my eastern faith is, at times, hard to maintain.  And I will explain why…

I feel that being an eastern Catholic identifies me first as being a part of a free-standing, independent Church, that happens to agree with Rome on many issues. It does not mean, however, that I embrace Roman theology or practice.  I listen first to my Patriarch, and then check in on what the Pope has to say.  I listen to my local ordinary before I ever pay attention to what the local Roman church or diocese is up to.  Roman Catholicism does not affect my life.  It is not part of who I am.  I am also a Greek Catholic…that is another aspect that is different from the Roman Church.  Greek versus Roman in many areas; it is just an area of influence and I prefer the Greek influence.

All of that being said, I know many will be angry with me because I am somehow “dissing” their beliefs. Not at all. Please do not think that way. I have children and grand-children who are Roman Catholic. It is a matter of preference and taste.  I just discovered that I am really, and truly, eastern.  A woman I just met did not understand how I did not know the movers and shakers in the local Roman Catholic scene.  When I said to her, “But I am not Roman Catholic, I am Byzantine Catholic, why would I know them? I have no reason to attend a Roman church.”  Her response was, “Well, it doesn’t really matter because we are all Catholic.”  And therein lies the crux of my problem.  I was surprised because I realized I am really not Catholic, in the sense she inferred.  I am not. I used to be, but I no longer am.  I am a Melkite Greek Catholic, blessed to have been catechized in all things Greek and Byzantine.

There are little “t” things within eastern expression that I love and value. When I see the western expression coming in and being used in preference over the eastern ones, I get a little testy.  I apologize for that.  But once you immerse yourself in all things eastern, the western insistence on superiority or preference gets tiresome.  It is the classic tale of David and Goliath.  We easterners are David.  If you are eastern, embrace it. Learn of all the richness of being a Byzantine, Greek Catholic.  Learn about the physical history of how the eastern churches came to be.  Live as an eastern Catholic. I can find fulfillment and riches enough to keep me learning for the rest of my life, if I read and study and learn from just the eastern philosophical/theological side of the aisle.

This is a touchy post because so many of my friends are Roman Catholic, as are two of my sons, and grandchildren.  My Protestant family and friends will only be flummoxed by this post, but it is an issue and it is what I am dealing with. And I want people to know that different is not a better/worse sort of thing…it is just different.  What I expect is that when we seek the mysteries for our children, when we want the blessing of the Church on our lives, we should live totally as if it were the most important thing in our lives. We don’t drop in for Chrismation or Crowning, if we do not plan to live that life.  We could get Confirmation or Marriage instead.  Leading our children to God should be the supreme emphasis of our lives as parents.  A long and winding road, full of contradictions and contradictory practices can be awfully confusing for the faith development of our children, and not having a firm foundation can lead to a young person having no place to stand where they feel safe.

TipToe WalkingI remember feeling that I was tip-toeing around when we had a major upset in our lives. By tip-toeing I mean I had no safe, solid place to stand. It was a “the ground was moving under my feet” sort of feeling. We were no longer welcome in our home parish because of an incident with a son of ours.  People we thought were friends, were not.  We were spiritually floundering because of the actions of some priests and religious in our lives. Our children were floundering.  Our church had let us down in a profound way. And then we were led, by our son, to the east and to our pastor (who became a life-long friend and spiritual adviser).  I believe God brought us to the east to save us, and to enhance the faith we thought we were loosing.  The deepest wounds were being healed.  The deepest longings were being met.  That moment of “Sophia, Orthoi” became the life-line I was waiting for.  And from that moment, I dove into the font of love I found in the eastern Church. Perhaps I am so eastern because of the pain and hurt experienced in the western Church. I can see that.  But I also know that the theology of the East fills me.  And the more I learn, all these years later, the more I want to know.

Icon Corner.candlesAnd when I see latinization creeping in to my Byzantine practices, I want to shore up the Church and enhance even more our Byzantine traditions, both large and small T.  There are things Byzantine parishes do not do, purely because it is not, historically, who we are.  We flounder with our identity because we are so small, and in recent years, made up largely of converts from the west.  Converts, many of whom want to bring their familiar practices with them, and have not been fully catechized into the richness of the east.  We have vespers; we have orthros; we have Divine Liturgy.  We have so many amazing things.  We do not have to inculcate Roman traditions into our parishes.  However, there are just so many little ways westernization is creeping into our eastern practices and I really just do not want to see that.  Otherwise, why be Byzantine? Why have Byzantine rites or Churches? If we are nothing more than a “different mass” with lots of incense, why bother?

And so when my little sheltered, Byzantine world is shaken, I blog! Ha-Ha!  I feel that if I partake here and there of different traditions of the west and the east, I become a hodge-podge of nothing. “A cafeteria Catholic,” if you will.  A mixed bag of things that do not mesh well.  Because their historical roots are so very different.  My minor in college was Biblical Archeology and I love all things historical and all things physically historical.  And when I dove into the east, I found history pretty much left alone, with artifacts intact.  The liturgy is free of things I was leaving behind in the west.  Many of the issues of the western church do not affect us in the east.  It is because our view, our perspective, is just slightly different.  And I love that difference; it’s what drew me east. And it is what keeps me eastern.  So the surprise that happened is that I discovered who I really am. I am a Byzantine Catholic.  I am a Melkite Greek Catholic. That identity is mine and it is not going away.  It is leading me along my own, personal, theosis track, where I will embrace my eternity.  And it is doing so, holding the hand of my spouse, for eternity. The surprise is that I really know it; I really own it; and I will do whatever I can to protect it.

Church.Savior of Spilled Blood. RussiaMatthew 16,18