“…Do not let your hearts be troubled…”

winterroad

Oh do we have snow! Not as much as they have been warning us about (although it’s not over, yet) but everything is white. You see the world in whites and grays in this winter wonderland. The light from the sun weaves its ambient presence among us and the world is much more quiet and serene. Even the local dump is pretty, covered in beautiful layers of snowy goodness! As we wander into the last days of this incredibly wild year, I have pondered what my next days will be filled with. I am not good with “resolutions” and even the word sounds so final. I rarely keep them. I intend to, which is the main thing, but my follow-through for an entire year is usually weak. And since I know that about myself, and am “of an age” where I can readily express that with no embarrassment, I do! Ha-Ha!

2017

I do wish everyone a blessed and happy New Year. I pray that 2017 is a year of profound peace and prosperity, in whatever ways mean that to you. For me, I am seeking a return to what I somehow laid aside. I am anxious for inner peace – moreover, an inner contentment. It has somehow escaped me and I spend many nights tossing and turning, many days exhausted from a lack of good sleep, and an overall feeling of impending doom. That is no way to go through life. I am working on my health and my supplements! I know I need more vitamin D! I am working on that. We had a very successful experience trying the Whole30 elimination diet and we did so for 49 days, until Thanksgiving. Since then, we have both seen our overall health tank. The old aches and pains are back, some new ones cropped up, and we have an overall feeling of just plain, well, “yuck.” So in 3 days we will back at this Whole30 experience. You can google it, if you are unaware of what it is, and you can also look back at some earlier posts, when I explained in more detail what we are up to.

This year, we met a lot of new people and I can honestly say, our lives are the better for it. Our perspectives have broadened, and we have found areas that we want to grow in. It is wonderful, too, to find a group of like-minded individuals. While many of them have younger families, we have found a group where we are among our peers. And we both love being with people our age and life experiences. It is fun. And so in the coming year, we hope to strengthen these relationships, make many of these people close friends, and grow and learn many new skills. Living where we do, we are deeply intrenched in the seasons of the earth. Right now, in deep winter, we are all hunkered down and only occasionally getting together. I cannot wait for spring and summer – more opportunities to mingle, lots of new things to experience, and more people to get to know. And, we get to try our hand at a better garden this year!

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One of the things I have learned this past year is that social media, while it can be a good thing, can suck you dry. It can pull you in, because perhaps you are lonely. It can take over your day. You can be so caught up in checking Facebook and emails, tweets and pins, that you forget to be present to those around you. You forget to live this life in the here and now. I do believe our computers aid us (I am typing this on my gorgeous, and purple, MacBook) but I also think that the ease with which they purport to make our lives, also complicates them. I can’t recall the last time I went days without checking things on either my computer or my phone. I deleted a bunch of apps off my phone the last few days. I decided it was just too much. Facebook Messenger was insane. Ugh. My phone beeps and tweets and sings to me all day long. Even when I turn off my notifications, something beeps at me. And I came to the realization that I sit far too long, looking at the activities of other people, and not having enough of my own. How silly is that?

So I am trying to keep a sort of “resolution,” in that I have deleted apps from both my phone and computer, and I am simplifying. I mean, for instance, I am down to 1 Angry Bird app. Period. And I am down to 1 solitaire game across all media platforms.  That is progress my friends! I am seriously thinking of deleting my aquarium app, as I have 6 tanks and if I don’t feed those darn fish…well, you know. (Gross). But seriously. I am 60 years old. And I play Angry Birds. What is up with that?? I feed make-believe fish in make-believe aquariums. I think I knew I was going off the rails when I started breeding sharks in amongst the angel fish. I mean, how sick is that?? And what am I NOT doing whilst feeding imaginary fish and  defeating imaginary pigs? I am not praying. I am not reading. I am not becoming a better me. Does Angry Birds help me get closer to God? Uhm, no. I think He is probably shaking His head at my silliness.

We are all called to be His children. We are all called to share the Word of God with those around us. We are all called to help our fellow man. Angry Birds does not do any of that. I spent an afternoon canning with some new friends this fall. In a very out-of-the-way place (where there was not even navigation in my car or phone reception, and yes, I got momentarily lost as I journeyed home) with some wonderful new people in my life. The conversation was great. We shared stories and we laughed. The skills acquired were really a re-introduction to canning, as I had not done it in years. But the skills shared, the wisdom in that cabin, has stayed with me. And I hunger for more of the same. These were some real people and I felt so welcome and so “at home.” We shared, with one another, the gist of who we are in the simple tasks of washing black currants, and boiling water, of making coffee, and slicing and blanching carrots. What a simple joy that afternoon was. And it profoundly struck me. That is what I want more of.

Do you know I have only been shopping in our one, large mall here 1 time? Guess what? I have no desire to go there. At all. I’ve never been a shopper, and I am really growing to hate crowds of people. But you know what I am anxious for? What I want to do? What I am excited for? Getting together to cook and  make some scrumptious recipes with some of my new friends. We’ve been teasing each other with recipes! I am looking forward to some shooting lessons. I desperately want to feel more confident in my basic skills in regards to being prepared for our next “snowmaggedon” or our new volcanic eruption, or the next big earthquake. Learning to freeze foods; learning to dehydrate foods. Canning, in all its glory. Planting a well-thought-out garden. These things excite me.

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As we age, our dreams change. I no longer foresee a house in a development, or master-planned community. I envision a place with space around it. It doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s home; it doesn’t have to please anyone else. But I would like it to to be simple, serene, and away from the “maddening crowd.” I dream of a log cabin, although I am aware of how much adjusting and upkeep they require. I don’t need my own lake or river, but it would be nice to have one close by so my dear husband can grab his fishing gear and walk down to the water, and relax while challenging the salmon. I would love to have space so he can hunt if he wants to, without having to drive miles upon miles to do it. And I want a space where others feel welcome and want to come and hang out. Even if it is simply for some card games and coffee. I would like my forever home. Because I am so very tired of moving. I want my roots in this land to go deep. I want a home where my grandkids will someday say, “Remember grandma and grandpa’s house in the woods where we got to fish and run around?” I want to make those memories with my grandchildren, and with my children, and my husband. I want inner serenity. I want peace and contentment. I certainly don’t want millions of dollars and all that it requires to take care of it. I want to be safe and comfortable, in a space where I can host others, and share some peace and laughter with them.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

And so for 2017, I wish for you the same. The peace the world cannot offer; the peace of Christ. I wish for all of us, to have fear leave us and for contentment to find us. I pray the world will calm down and we can each find this peace in our own little corner of it. For some, it will be an apartment in the middle of a vast city, driving to and from on complicated highways and byways. For others, it will be on farms and rural homes. Still others in suburban hideaways, where they can escape the madness of their commutes. But at least once a week, I pray we can all find our way to kneel before the One Who created us, to give thanks, to be humbled, and to enjoin with Him Who gave us life and breath, and hearts to love. “Our thoughts determine our lives” (Elder Thaddeus) is something I try to live by. If we all have thoughts of peace and we share them, peace will emanate from us and fill those around us. One way to find peace is to seek the quiet and serenity wherever, and whenever, we can. For me, I think I will slowly unplug from the rat race. I may still play a round or two of Angry Birds, but I am trying to rein that in, too. I know that waking early, spending some time reading the Word of God and having a chat with Him, starts my day off right. I also love to enjoy a quiet cup of coffee, and a little time with my husband before he is off to his day. These good habits that ground us are often hard to come by, and hard won. But they give us peace and prepare us as we enter into the work the Lord has given us for this day. And for me, I will take these “resolutions” and tackle each day, one at a time, as I resolve to find peace, contentment, and work on all these new things and new people in our lives. “…Do not let your hearts be troubled…”

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God’s blessings on you and yours as we wade into this new year – 2017.

“…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.

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Feast of the Dormition? Feast of the Assumption? Feast!

Dormition IconIcon of the Dormition of the Theotokos

Being a Byzantine, or Eastern Rite Catholic, specifically a Melkite Greek Catholic, carries some interesting things with it.  One of them is the celebration of the various feasts within our faith.  Most Protestants do not celebrate today’s Feast; most are not even aware of it.  There are many reasons for that, mostly because the theology surrounding the Mother of God (in Greek – Theotokos) is so very misunderstood.

Today’s Feast is the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos, or the “falling asleep” of the Mother of God, Mary, for those in the east.  In the west, the celebration is called the “Assumption of Mary.”  There is a a slight difference in the emphasis, but not the event.  In the west, the focus is on Mary’s body, after death, being assumed wholly into Heaven.  Mary, being this perfect vessel, perfect Woman for Our Lord, was assumed totally and without corruption of Her Body into Heaven at the end of Her days on earth. We believe that God created His own Mother to be perfect.  A cute explanation of this was told to me once: If your little son brings to you the flowering weed he yanked from the yard, don’t you offer him your most beautiful vase in order to display his gift to you? How his face glows with the honor you have given to his gift to you?  How much more would God choose a perfect vase for the most perfect Rose, the Mother of God?! The most incorrupt womb in which to house the “Seed of Perfection” itself; Christ Our Lord?

In the east, the focus is on her “dormition,” or “falling asleep.”  The difference is explained in the Icon above.  We see Our Lord holding a baby, wrapped in white linens.  That infant is the soul of Mary, in all its perfection.  The white linens are the purity of her soul, shining forth in radiance.  The many stories handed down through the Apostles of this event are incredible to read. Most Protestants do not count this event as an historical fact and rarely speak of Mary, except at Christmas and perhaps some small mention at the Crucifixion of Our Lord.  But in the many apocryphal writings that survived through the ages, the stories of her Dormition are amazing.  Some relate how the angels were surrounding her home singing hymns of praise; how St. Michael the Archangel accompanied Christ Himself into her home, and stood with the Apostles around her bed.  She then offered herself, again, to the service and glory of Her Son and He welcomed her Immaculate Soul to His Sacred Heart. It is a beautiful, beautiful story and is an example for us all to aspire to.  At our last breath, we, too, should offer ourselves once again to Our Lord and await His presence in the Heavenly realms and prepare to attend His Banquet.  I have often stated that I am praying for nosebleed seats in Heaven; I do not require front row or even mezzanine.  I just want to be at the banquet.  I will even clear tables and take out the trash, so long as I am there!

And it is about this Icon that I wish to speak today.  The only apostle you will find missing in the Icon is St. Thomas.  Often he is referred to as “Doubting Thomas.”  But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25)  The story about the Dormition tells us that all the Apostles were brought supernaturally (on clouds, in some versions) to Mary’s bedside, except Thomas, who was “busy.”  He arrived late, after Christ had taken Mary’s soul with Him, and after her tomb was sealed. He asked if he could gaze upon her and offer her worship and prayers.  So her tomb was opened for him, but when he looked inside, flowers and a beautiful fragrance were all that was there; she had been assumed into Heaven already.  He had missed out, again, on a big event in the Gospel stories.  And although St. Thomas missed out on the Resurrection, he was the first to proclaim, “My Lord and my God.” (John 20:28).

As a family, we are clock-watchers.  We are NEVER late.  We may be early, but we are never late.  On the occasion of our first Hafla (which is Arabic for “party” and was a dinner/dance at our parish) we arrived at the 7:00pm starting time. Only the “Americans” were there, sitting at the only table filled with people and completely decorated.  Everyone else was running around setting things up and still cooking.  Very few of the parish were even there.  We were told, “Well, everyone knows that 7 o-clock really means 9 o’clock!!”  We all laughed about it at the time.  But it also was a lesson for us in cultural norms and expectations.  Much like Thomas, many people arrive to things on their own timetable, irrespective of the schedule of others or starting times, etc.  There is a young man who works with my son who is late almost every day. He was told the next time he is late to not bother getting out of his truck, to gather his tools, and just go home.

In Scripture, there is a story about the workers in the vineyard.  The vineyard owner offers wages (two denarius – a form of money) for the workers who showed up bright and early, and also offers the same amount to the workers who show up late.  When the earlier workers complain, the owner explains that they were paid according to their contract and the later workers were paid according to their contract.  A fair deal was made in both situations and the earlier workers should not complain, but be happy with their day of working and the wages they earned.  The story is allegorical for our “coming to the faith.”  (Matthew 20:1-16)  Our Lord welcomes us equally, whether we begin to follow Him early in life, or come to know Him later in our lives.

And I cannot help but think of St. Thomas.  He later went on to establish the Church in India and the Catholics there are known as “Thomas Christians” and are eastern-rite Syro-Malabar Catholics.  He traveled the world, spreading the Good News of Christ, even though he was late and missed out on two important events in the Gospel story – the Resurrection of Our Lord, and the Dormition of the Theotokos.  He was filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and loved Our Lord and Our Lady so very, very much. I am pretty sure he wasn’t late for many other important events! Ha-Ha!

Why do we attend Church today, or for that matter, on any Holy Day or Feast Day, or even on Sundays?  I read a wonderful article about how we are people of a communal faith.  We do not become followers of Christ in a vacuum, but rather, corporately, as part of a community.  Celebrating these feast days, these Holy Days, these Sundays, with fellow believers allows us to pray with the Angels and the Saints (the Church Triumphant) as the Church Militant.  Our chorus is added to the “thousands of archangels and myriad of angels, cherubim, seraphim, six-winged, many-eyed, soaring on their pinons; singing, proclaiming, shouting the hymn of victory and saying, “Holy, holy, holy Lord of Sabbaoth, Heaven and Earth are filled with Your glory. Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord: hosanna in the highest!” (Divine Liturgy of St, John Chrysostom).  And sharing in this glorious praise of God is something I do not want to miss, nor do I want to be late for!!

A story was told about a teen who did not want to attend Church and her mother, a devout Catholic, was saddened at her teen’s lament, “Why do I have to go to Church? I can pray wherever I want to, whenever I want to; God is everywhere.”  She had no cognitive response to her teenager.  For me, it is about celebrating with my community of believers, these amazing Feasts and Holy Days, and even each week on Sunday.  We share the Divine Mystery of Holy Communion together.  We share corporate prayer and worship together. It is uplifting and so powerful.  We know that Scripture tells us, “Wherever two or more are gathered in My name, I am in their midst.”  (Matthew 18:20). So for me, I will not be late.  I will not miss out on some amazing experiences being shared around a common faith, with a community who believes as I do.  There have been too many sublime moments in my life when I have known the presence of God, my Savior, while in the midst of my community.  And today is no exception.  Today I will celebrate the gentle falling asleep of the Mother of God.  The moment where she once again offers herself to Her Son, and He takes her Soul in His Arms, wrapped in white linen, as she once bore her Son in white linen…to His manger and to His Tomb.

St. Nikolai