Golden moments stolen out of time…

baby-feet8

This month, my 5-week preemie turns 30. I am blown away. When I concentrate on solely that one life, I am filled with memories, like a kaleidoscope of short films. My pregnancy was a difficult one and I was hospitalized for most of it.  Once the doctor sent me home, still on bed rest, I waited. It didn’t take long; just 5 days and my water broke. My husband was so funny, prepping in that new-father sort of way. He laid large, black, yard-sized trash bags on the seat of our car, with a towel on top of that – just in case. Our drive was uneventful, but about 30 minutes in traffic, with me sitting on plastic trash bags!  When I arrived at the OB’s office, they tested me and said that yes, my water had broken and to walk down to labor and delivery. I took a few steps outside the office door and grabbed onto the railing and went to the floor – my first real contraction! After he was born, I shared with my husband how tired I was. I asked him the time and he said, “It’s 4:30.” I replied, “Wow! 4:30 in the morning! No wonder I am so tired.” He corrected me, “It’s only 4:30 in the afternoon – you were only in labor 4 hours!”  Ha-Ha.  Felt like forever; I was taken, for 4 hours, out of time; I had experienced kairos. And so began our life as a family, 30 years ago. I just cannot believe that little boy is now a married dad himself. So much has happened. But every so often, time stands still and we are given moments of insight and memory. This morning, when I gazed at the foggy trees in our yard, I was swept back in time to a precious moment with my newborn son, and it seemed like I was there. I could smell him and feel the weight of him in my arms. And my heart was swollen with renewed love for him.

Hand on baby's back

I was thinking on this today and was brought up short when it hit me – this is exactly how Church is sometimes. Chronos versus Kairos! Our firstborn seemed to love being in Church. He would pay attention and was quiet when we needed him to be. Our middle son was so funny as a baby/toddler, because the moment we would enter the Church, he would get drowsy. He always slept on the pew, through the entire Mass. I was worried he would never participate in the Mass, that he would not know what was happening. One early morning on the freeway traveling to Church, he started saying the entire Eucharistic Prayer I, in Latin, from the back row of the van. He was about 4 years old, I think. I guess I was worried for nothing! Our youngest regularly slept on the floor under the first row in Church, while I sat in the second row with the other deacon’s wives. He would awaken in time for the end of Liturgy, happy as a clam. I was worried he had no concept of being in Church, but when he began serving on the altar, he required very little instruction. He’d been mystically as present as his older siblings, absorbing the things of God, even in sleep.

Orthordox Church.interior

The Church offers us “other” when we attend Divine Liturgy. An opportunity to leave chronos behind – the worries and pressures of our lives, our day, our hours. We enter fully into kairos – the moment, the perfect experience of God. The ancient Greeks gave us these words for time – chronos and kairos. We still use chronos, when we measure the passage of time, in words like chronology, anachronism – when we do we speak in seconds, minutes, hours, years, centuries. Chronos is quantitative, whereas kairos is qualitative. Kairos is something apart from chronos. It specifically speaks to moments; to the perfect moment, the right moment, the opportune moment. It is when the world stops and takes a breath and life is changed. Forever. As I mentioned in my post yesterday, in Ecclesiastes, “to everything there is a time” and kairos is this moment in time; it refers to the perfect moment of God. In Church, we are transported into the moment of worship with our Supreme Being, surrounded by the Heavenly Hosts. This is from the Anaphora of the Eucharistic Canon:

“For all these things we give thanks to Thee, and to Thine only-begotten Son and to Thy Holy Spirit; for all things of which we know and of which we know not, whether manifest or unseen; and we thank Thee for this liturgy which Thou hast found worthy to accept at our hands, though there stand by Thee thousands of archangels and hosts of angels, the Cherubim and the Seraphim, six-winged, many eyed, who soar aloft, borne on their pinions, singing the triumphant hymn, shouting, proclaiming and saying:

Holy! Holy! Holy! Lord of Sabaoth! Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory! Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”

I love that our Liturgy reflects the action of the angels and that while we enter into the sanctuary that is Church and the Divine Liturgy, the angels are surrounding us, constantly singing to Our Lord, in Divine Worship. And I love to lose myself in Liturgy. I’ve had people experience a Divine Liturgy for the first time and one of their reactions is usually to the length of the service. (And the singing and the incense…) And for me, it passes in a moment. As the mother of young children, it can take much longer. Getting children to experience kairos only happens when we expose them to it on a regular basis. It’s hard to expect infants, let alone adults who have never been to a Divine Liturgy, to not have questions or get antsy because of the foreignness of it all. Babies are just short adults; we need to be present to their senses in how we share our worship. It can be confusing for all of us and we ought to encourage the experience of kairos for others. So many adults are annoyed by the noises and wiggles of infants in Church. Personally, I rejoice with the angels, because those children are our future.

St. Nikolai

There is a beauty to experiencing kairos. Chronos ages us. Chronos makes us tired. Chronos gave me gray hair! In mythology, Chronos was always depicted as evil, or as Father TIme and an old, decrepit man walking with a cane, barely escaping the Grim Reaper. Kairos is always young, handsome, and full of love and happiness. Kairos brings joy to people. Kairos lives in the perfect moment. Our souls soar in kairos, when we give ourselves over to the experience of God in His Liturgy. And God gives us glimpses of those perfect moments, moments of kairos, throughout our lives. It is just hard to recognize them sometimes. As I typed this, I remembered the first time I felt my firstborn son move in my womb. I recall placing my hand over him and reveling in the gift of life. I cried with an overwhelming sense of gratitude, that I was allowed this divine gift of life. And that moment was a kairos moment. Time, as chronos, stopped for me, as I felt my child wiggle in my womb. 

Miracle baby toes

So I pray for more perfect moments in my life. I pray that I can stop, be still, and experience more perfect, sublime moments. God moments. Time loses its hold when we step into karios and live with God. The angels are singing, miracles are happening, and life will never be the same. The world holds its breath in kairos. Eternity is glimpsed. The miracles all around us are a part of the complete experience of God. We can find those kairos moments, and we want to treasure them. God gives us kairos to raise us up, for those perfect moments, moments we forget time itself and live fully in that golden moment.

Trust me, moments come and moments go. Some are hard to get past and cause us intense misery. Those are the moments when we live in chronos, hoping beyond hope that they are over and done with. With a moment of kairos, we are transported outside of our own timeline and we come truly alive – for the sole moment. I related in a previous post how I cried at the Phantom of the Opera – that is a kairos moment. I completely let the angst of the traffic, of feeling harried, fall away in that moment of bliss. That moment of bliss erased all the other chronos I’d spent getting there. Those are golden moments. Golden moments that are not repeatable, nor should they want to be. We relish them because of their uniqueness. Spending time, outside of chronos, in the presence of God, refreshes us and quite often brings us to our knees. We are separate, we are apart. We are alone, and yet with the choirs of angels, worshipping God.

BVM Laundry

When I look at my dirty laundry, I long for those moments of kairos.  And yet I know that if I dedicate myself to the task at hand, even washing clothes can be golden moments, if we use them to pray and offer our labor for the good of those who need it. And I can often lose myself in menial tasks, being transported in memory to those moments that spur me on, that guide me in my chronological march through life. Kairos is our gift from God, but it is also His invitation, to seek Him out.

Kneeling Prayer.Orthodox Church

 

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“Preach the Gospel at all times, and …”

images.talking

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.

images.talking.words

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

Gerontissa Gabriella.2

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

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

Apstls_Trips2

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

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

Dostoevsky

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

Arm around shoulder

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

St Ambrose

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

This year will be epic!

Lately, it seems as though there is less and less respect, respect about a great many things.

I don’t want to glamorize or give more air time or credence to the new porno movie coming out today, but that is one example of no respect.  The man has no respect for the womanhood, or humanity, of the woman.  I remember how privileged it felt to share in the Divine process of procreation.  Becoming a mother is the one time you cooperate fully in the procreative process with God. God creates all life and He created a life in me..my children. How awesome is that?  This new round of Hollywood madness (and now literary madness as well) has cheapened the physical relationship between a man and a woman. Unfortunately, due to this “success” in the book world, there is now a lot more of this style of writing.  In all genres, and it still has no respect, most especially for women and for the union of man and wife.

I just read an article about Tabernacles being desecrated.  So much so that the local Bishop has ordered all of them in his area closed.  No more adoration.  No more keeping the light on because we know Jesus is home, and we can walk in and chat with Him.  We can even drive by and know He is present.  No more serenity and peace, just being in the same room with Him in a chapel.  Once again, because no one has respect.  I don’t mind if you do not believe in what I believe in. I do not mind that you even dislike what I believe in.  But I offer you the respect of your beliefs and I just want the same in return. I’m not here to shove my beliefs or opinions down your throat.  I just want to practice my faith.  There is no need to destroy the property of a church, or desecrate the Tabernacles within one.  You can voice your opinions in so many other ways, that would perhaps be even more fruitful and cause more people to stop and think.  Even those of other faiths decry the desecration of another church, be it in their belief system or not.  Radical actions by a radical few do nothing to bring others to their point of view.  Please stop.

There are also people out there who share so much, we sort of wish they would not.  Sharing things that should be kept within their family, or their faith family, at best.  Far too much blatant reality and sharing, from my point of view.  Which brings us to blogging.  Some people share far too much on blogs. I have been guilty a time or two myself, and have tried to rectify that trend in my writing.  I feel that when you hope to share your faith and when you hope to bring others over to what you believe, you put your best foot forward.  You don’t disrespect fellow worshippers with poor descriptions of events, sharing your dislike of what happened and continues to be a point of irritation for you.  That does not make anyone want to join you on your journey.  It turns people off, and turns them away.

In our faith tradition in the east, we have lots of opportunity for worship.  We have (in most parishes) evening Vespers, morning prayers, and we have Divine Liturgy. In most eastern parishes, there is one Divine Liturgy a weekend, because we want all our faith family together, worshipping at the same time. In lots of churches, there are so many services offered, you would never have to see the same people twice.  Nor hear the same music or chant twice.  Never have to scurry for the favorite pew seat, because it changes so often.  (We all have people we know who sit in particular places all the time. And heaven forbid someone should come and take their spot in Church…knowingly or unknowingly. I move around all the time, just to keep people on their toes).  We have so many opportunities to live our life of faith, with our community, that we should be so very grateful.  And there are plenty of times when we can worship as a family outside of formal worship, as well as with friends outside of Church time itself.  But we also need to attend and respect the times we are together.

For our tradition, a feast is always prepared with a fast.  And there are readings galore for every feast.  If you attend regularly and read outside of Church, no Saint’s feast day or Holy Day should ever catch you by surprise.  We always lead up to it with readings and fasting.  There are many days we fast in our tradition, and many days that we celebrate with fervor, for long periods of time. We believe a feast begins at sunset the day before.  So we start, for say, Easter Sunday, in the afternoon of Saturday.  We come together in the evening and we stay together until the sun rises and we share our first taste of meat together.  In fact, for the three days until Easter, called the Triduum in the West, we are rarely apart.  Lots of people plan vacation days from work for Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Saturday night prior to Easter Sunday, and then a day of rest for Easter itself.  Many of our friends also take the following week, Bright Week, off work to recuperate and enjoy Easter.  In the Melkite tradition, it is my favorite time of year.  The Lenten evening services are incredible and I have felt God so closely during those moments of total prostration and prayer, enveloped by the sound of my priest’s voice and the cloud of incense over all of us.  The Presanctified Liturgy is, for me, like a moment of Heaven on Earth.  Very special moments for me.  Getting into the habit of spending time in the presence of God can change your outlook on time, itself.

In the eastern Churches, we believe that the moment you step into the Church you have left the world of Chronos (looking at your watch) and into the world of God, Kyros.  It is in Kyros that we loose ourselves in the worship of God and time as we know it ceases to exist.  We flow through the worship services, surrounded by chant and incense, and are quite often amazed at how much Chronos passed us by while in the Temple with God.  If you are current on the readings leading to these longer services, and you understand the whys and wherefores of the Liturgy itself, Chronos has little to no affect on you.  If you drag the world in with you, constantly worrying about what is going on outside, fussing over worldly details, Kyros will become lengthy and bothersome, and in fact, you won’t really have entered into an authentic experience of Kyros.  You will loose the essence of God’s time and be stuck in the world. Of course, sometimes the world intrudes (diapers need changing, little ones need comfort, or you just have to use the restroom!!) and they cannot be helped.  I recall a father of many, behind me in the pew one Sunday, handling a variety of upset kids.  Criers, fussers, generally cranky kids.  And I turned around at one point and saw him cradling a baby, eyes closed, swaying to the movement of the chant, reciting the prayers right along with the priest. His face was one of utter contentment.  He was in Kyros, while dealing with the world’s problems in the person of a crying baby.  It can be done, but it requires a determination sometimes to shut the world out.

This viewpoint is not respected by lots of people.  They view church as some sort of hour-long drive through where they can get their sacraments and get out, to get on with life.  They complain about lengthy services, about times, about requirements of participation.  My thoughts are, keep shopping.  There is bound to be a church that will cater to your whims and wishes.  Which is not very Christ-like! However, God only asks us to worship Him for an hour a week.  Anything we do over and above that is gravy to our souls.  One lousy hour.  Okay, on a feast day, it may be 3-4 hours.  It is truly not much when you look at the many hours we waste in traffic or in lines for things like coffee.  It comes down to your devotion and your priorities.  And you can complain, yes.  Feel free.  God listens to our joys as well as our sorrows.  But respect the faith that you are sharing.  Don’t turn people off or away by not respecting the very place you turn to for your “God time.”  Perhaps investigate the workings of the Liturgy itself and try to get into the movements of what is happening each week. You would be amazed at what you thought, versus what is.  And if your life just does not have this sort of time available in it, there are places that are faster, simpler, cleaner.  I just find it a shame someone would miss out on the beauty of worship that is relatively unchanged for 2,000 years in favor of a few extra minutes of Chronos.  Giving up the Kyros moments with God?  Not me.  I’m so excited for Great Lent and all the Lenten devotions.  I respect the chosen faith, that for me, fulfills my needs so much more than I can ever properly share.  A Church that has prepared for me for millennia; a Church who knows I need these times to keep my life on track.  I am so blessed, and as I said, so excited for Great Lent.

This year will be epic.

“…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

“In the name of the Father…”

Cross sunlight rocksIn making the sign of the cross, believe and constantly remember that your sins are nailed to the cross.+ St. John of Kronstadt +

I was attending the Crowning (blessing their civil marriage of some 9 years) of some friends, who had invited lots of different friends to witness their committment. I ended up sitting behind the groom’s mom (as I was asked to do), in order to help corral some of the kids, and next to a friend of hers I had met at a birthday party earlier in the year.  In addition, her friend had her two children with her; her son was about 10 and her daughter was 4 years old.  Her daughter ended up on my lap most of the ceremony, and I spent most of the time leaning over, explaining a Byzantine Crowning Ceremony to these Protestant guests.  And the kids had so many questions about what they were seeing and hearing for the first time.  I loved every moment of it.

One of the things I noticed, especially when I began explaining it to someone who had no previous experience in a Byzantine Church, was how often we make the Sign of the Cross in any Byzantine or Eastern Rite Liturgy.  The young boy sitting next to his mom, leaning over her towards me, kept asking me what I was doing.  I had to explain that we believe that whenever we hear the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, we make the Sign of the Cross. Whenever we hear the word, “Trinity,” we also make the same Sign of the Cross.  He asked me why.  And I thought about it, realizing mom and daughter were also listening, and I replied that I did it to remind myself of Christ’s sacrifice for me, and that He had died on the Cross for me, taking my sins upon Himself. And to remind me also that God is Father, God is Son, and God is Holy Spirit – Three in One – the Holy Trinity.  He saw my husband, who was assisting at the Crowning as a deacon, make the Sign of the Cross across his lips once or twice, and asked me why he “did it then.” I explained that he had made a mistake in the words he was saying, or the prayer he was praying, and signing his lips with the Cross was a way to ask for forgiveness for the mistake, and to seek a blessing from Christ for his efforts, and to protect him from making the mistake again.  The little boy asked me, “You can do that?”  I was surprised and answered, “We do it as often as we feel the need to do it.”  I also told him that God appreciates us turning to Him on the Cross and seeking His aid in everything we do.  We also make the Sign of the Cross as a protection against any evil, or bad things, we see or feel around us.  Sometimes we do it to remind ourselves that God is ever and always present around us.

My husband signs the cross on my forehead before he leaves for work, as I groggily kiss him goodbye and tell him I love him. I don’t think my day starts as well without his loving blessing.  We bless our homes this time of year in the Eastern Churches.  The priest comes, and in times past, he pokes into every nook and cranny, praying and sprinkling holy water, carrying incense.  (Talk about deep cleaning before someone comes to visit!!). I think it is wonderful that our parish priests come to the home of each and every parishioner, at least once a year, to bless our homes.  I love knowing my house is blessed.  I sleep better in a house that has been blessed.  Our priest has not blessed our home yet, but I have.  I always have Holy Water on hand!  There’s also candles and incense in our home, accompanying our icons, statues, and Holy artwork.  This past Sunday we celebrated the Presentation in the Temple of Christ, and the meeting of St. Simeon and the Prophetess, Anna.  As part of the celebration, we were all given lit candles, to remind us that Christ is our light.  We light candles at home, to keep the light of Christ in our homes. We light candles and burn incense when we pray, when we need comfort, when we need to know Christ is here with us. It gives us comfort, as well as reminds us that He is with us always, in all things.

Icon Corner.candlesAnd I thought a lot about making the Sign of the Cross.  I do it all the time, without even thinking about it. I bless my day, cooking, my kids, any project I propose to do. It especially helps me when the chores I dislike are due to be completed (the dreaded laundry or bathroom cleaning!!). It comes as easily as breath.  And I wear a holy object every day.  A Byzantine cross, usually, but I have a selection.  My favorite is a beat-up silver St. Olga cross I bought for myself in Los Angeles, years ago.  It used to have blue inlay, but that has long since worn off.  I love the feel of it around my neck, and reach for it often, when in distress. Most days I also wear a prayer rope, to remind myself to keep praying, “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  I say it over and over again.

IncensorThe little girl on my lap was pointing away to the area behind the Holy Doors.  She kept asking me, “What’s that? What’s that?”  I was naming off all sorts of things (icon, altar, fans, cross, Holy Bible…) but nothing was the right thing.  Then I noticed the incensor swinging its way back and forth, occasionally visible from the right side, behind the Holy Doors.  “Are you asking me about the smoke?”  “Yes! Are we on fire?”  Ha-Ha!  “No,” I assured her, we are not on fire.  That is called an incensor.”  She looked so confused. I asked her to close her eyes and to breathe in deeply.  She was so cute, as she squished her eyes shut and took quite a loud, deep breath. “Oooo, what is that smell?”  I asked her if it smelled good to her and she told me she loved that smell.  I then told her to watch the smoke, as it rose above the altar and made its way to the Icon of Christ above us.  She was so adorable as she moved her head and strained to watch the incense.  I told her we love to cleanse the Church of the everyday smells (she, of course, asked about what smells.  That lead to a whole other discussion about hot dogs and coffee – her questions – and lead to her question of, “How much longer is this? I’m starving!!” Kids!). But back to the incense. I explained that incense reminds us that there are angels all around us, that our prayers rise with theirs to God, and that our prayers smell sweet to God.  She loved that explanation.  And I loved that a little child, stopping me long enough to notice all those little details of our worship, caused me to not forget the whys of what we do.

There were lots of other questions about altar boys, what they were carrying, why we hold the Bible up and why we decorate it, why we bow our heads, why we pray the Lord’s Prayer more than one time, and what the priest and deacon were up to (consecration).  The young boy was especially impressed that women don’t go up there, but just boys and men.  He smiled pretty big to his mom!  I explained about communion and the mom quietly asked her daughter, “Remember when we get the little cups at Church? What is that for?”  She answered, “Jesus’ blood.” And then she asked her daughter, “And what are the little wafers we eat for, that we take out of the plate?” “Hmmm”….as she squished up her face and looked dramatically to the ceiling…”I know this. I know this….”  Her mom said, “Jesus’ bod…” And she smiled and yelled, “It’s Jesus’ body!!!”  The little one was so happy she remembered.  I told them they could come with me and receive a blessing if they wanted to, that the priest would place his hand on their heads and say a prayer for them. Well, that little child was not letting go of my hand for anything!  It was so beautiful…their entire family went up with me and received a blessing from our priest during communion and it felt so nice to have them walk with me, holding that little 4-year-old’s hand!

Holy Gifts up closeWhy do we keep all these symbols around us?  What is the purpose?  Why should we?  I think I have shared above some of the reasons, but like the family I sat with at the Crowning of our friends, there are always lots of questions of whys and wherefores, even among all of us who are of one of the many Eastern Churches, or Catholic, or Orthodox.  None of our Churches does it the same way; they just don’t.  I have been at enough of a variety of liturgies that I can attest to it.  And the Protestants are different than any of us!  There was a comment on a Facebook wall that said something to the effect of “Why don’t we all just become one, Eastern Church, then unite with Rome?”  And it is just so hard for me to even fathom that. Yes, we all want to be united in our faith, but our ways of doing things are just a tad different.  My son commented yesterday that automated driving, where you get into a car and give it your destination and it takes you where you want to go, will never happen.  He said it won’t because we are too independent and don’t want to give up our freedom that much.  I tend to agree with him.  It’s why carpooling is just not what it could be.  Or why more people don’t support mass-transit.  We are a group of individuals…and keeping our sense of self is so important to us.  God granted us free will.  We express ourselves to our God in our own ways…that’s why there are so many Churches “in communion with Rome,” and it’s also why there are so many denominations of Protestants around the world…that darned old free will.  We hate being told what to do, or worse, how to do it! Ha-Ha!

Personally, having been on a wild journey of faith my whole life, I appreciate the differences.  I love the differences. I respect the differences.  I think God loves variety; He created variety.  Not all the earth looks the same; plants come in an infinite variety, as do the species of animals, and mankind is an endless spectrum of varieties.  I think it makes God smile.  I would not expect a Latin Rite Catholic from say, Iowa or Arizona, to understand the worship of the little Ukrainian Catholic parish we found in Washington, where the Liturgy is only in Ukrainian.  Nor would I expect a little babushka from the heart of Orthodox Russia to understand the Liturgy of the Melkites, who hail from the Middle East and celebrate most of their Liturgy in Arabic.  And I would not expect a Protestant from a mega-Church in SoCal to understand the Byzantine Liturgy we celebrate up in Alaska.  We can all appreciate the differences, but we can also look to our sameness.  We all worship God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  The Roman Catholic may make the Sign of the Cross backwards to the rest of the Eastern world, but we still see it is the Sign of the Cross, and we can argue which side to start on, or we can just smile that we all make the Sign of the Cross.  Although, our Protestant brothers and sisters in Christ do not practice making the Sign of the Cross (or most of the other examples from our worship I cited in this post) we can still pray for them and they for us.

light in monastery windowThe little boy and girl I shared a slice of Byzantine faith with, I tried to leave with positive memories of an afternoon at a Byzantine Church where they saw a Bible decorated with gems in a golden case, held up for all to see and venerate, explaining how we love the Word of God; that the wonderful “holy smoke” they smelled will be a warm memory of the enticing smells of an Eastern Church; that the fans emblazoned with images of angels with six wings will remain with them; the stories in the many icons will warm them some day; the kindness of our community and the blessing of our priest will one day be an impetus to join us again, or at the very least, to pray for us.  Perhaps if we all share our love of our traditions, the differences will be swallowed up by the warmth of the love of them, and only the things we have in common will be remembered.  And as I made the Sign of the Cross with those children, it renewed within me my own dedication to sharing what I believe with others.  I also have some more children to pray to God for…to help entice their guardian angels into keeping that loving memory of an afternoon encircled by “holy smoke” and crowns on the heads of their friends alive for them as they make their way in the world.

St John of Kronstadt.4,jpg

“…in their midst.”

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus.candle.prayer rope

“…Let us set aside the cares of life…”

Church Doorway.RussiaThis painting was posted on one of my favorite Facebook pages today.  The page is written totally in Russian, and there is no English translation, and I found it through an Orthodox friend of mine. They specialize in paintings and photos of Russia.  I have developed a deep love for Russia since my childhood, when we lived next door to some Russians – the Ivanoff family.  The father of the family shared his heritage with me and showed me all of the wonderful things he was able to save from his family’s escape during the fall of the last Tsar, Nicolas (of Blessed Memory).  His tales of Russia stayed with me and as I grew up, I read all I could on Russian history.  My husband is what is known as a Volga River Russian, or Germans-from-Russia.  Their history is actually German; their ancestors having been transplanted to Russia from Germany by the Tsarina, Catherine the Great.  When she arrived in Russia from Germany, she wanted to bring Russia some modern techniques in building and the trades, so she brought in talented German craftsmen and their families; that is who my husband is descended from.  In the USA, Volga Germans, as they are also known, settled together towns across the upper Midwest.  There is one large settlement in St. Peter, Kansas, where my husband’s family settled before moving further west in Colorado.  Being a sort of culturally boring Brit, I loved and absorbed all things Volga German from my husband’s family and enjoyed learning about all the foods and traditions.  When the time came, for me, it felt natural to become absorbed into an Eastern Rite Church.  I think we were always headed East, as the Divine Liturgy filled our hearts and we just could not think of worship in any other way.  As we have moved northward in the USA, we have drifted into a more northeast-European expression of our Byzantine faith, from Syria to the Ukraine; from Jordan to Romania.  It is still Byzantine and the Divine Liturgy is the same; it is just language, tone and custom that changes.  And I love that about the Church; so many expressions of the same faith.

cropped-church.jpgIn a Byzantine church, you pass through doors like in the first photo, and immediately feel that you have entered something other-worldly.  The narthex, or entrance hall, is meant to help you transition from the worldliness of your everyday life and lead you to Christ.  Usually, the narthex has icons of the Old Testament prophets all over it, who prepare us for our encounter with Christ.  As you enter into the main body of the Church, the nave, this space is symbolic of the body of believers.  The walls, the ceiling, all contain icons of saints of past ages.  This is to remind us that we are one with all believers of every age, who make up the Body of Christ.

800px-07Thessaloniki_Agia_Sophia05The iconostasis is a screen with icons on it, that separate the nave from the Holy Place, which represents the Throne of God. Heaven and earth are joined by Jesus Christ and that is represented by the iconostasis, filled with images of Christ and those central to the mystery of His coming.  The iconostasis above is from the Agia Sophia in Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece.   Behind the Holy Doors, which are at the center of the iconostasis, is the Holy Place, which is the altar.  Above and in front of the Holy Doors is usually a large icon of Christ, depicted as the Pantocrator, or Christ the All-Powerful, Who sits at the right hand of the Father.  This is to remind us that Christ is the Head of our Church, the One who presides at our worship and through Whom we live.  The Pantocrator is placed in an area (and on the ceiling) called the Soleas, which is where the priest stands, offering Holy Communion to the faithful.  The Pantocrator icon below is from the Cathedral of St. Seraphim in North Carolina.

pantocrator

The Holy Place is where Christ becomes present, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity through the consecration of our priest.  In the east particularly, it is common to kiss the hands of a priest when you greet him, as these hands bring us Christ; these hands bless us, baptize us, and welcome us – they are holy hands.  Most western, or Latin Rite, priests are not used to that and it can often make them uncomfortable.  When we first relocated up here and could not locate a Byzantine parish and attended a Latin Rite parish, we greeted the priest by kissing his hands. He was embarrassed, but told us he felt honored, too, and came to love it.  He felt it also reminded him of his obligations and extreme honor of the position he held as parish priest.  I believe that we need to keep reminding the priests in our lives how special they are and how lucky we are to have them.  In most Byzantine parishes, we are smaller in number and are so lucky to actually know our priests.  We have them in our home at least once a year (house blessings) and more often than not, invite them to our homes to share those special moments in our lives.  When my husband was ordained a deacon, our home afterwards was filled with priests and other deacons; what an honor it was for us!  How exciting to have all those holy men in one place!

Holy Cross Holy TableThis is the alter of the Brotherhood of the Holy Cross in New York.  The altar is where Our Lord becomes present to us under the species of bread and wine.  For those of us who believe in transubstantiation, this is the pinnacle of our Sunday worship.  We look forward to receiving Our Lord each and every week.  The Divine Liturgy itself takes us on a journey, as much a part of the journey we take as we step from the parking lot, and into the building of the Church itself.  We come from outside and noisiness, chaos and confusion, into the place of God.  We enter a quiet, candle-lit, incense-imbued, icon-filled space of tones and prayer and Love from God, present in His people and in His temple. I think one of the things I love most about being Byzantine is that it is different; it is other-worldly; it transports me out of myself and into a space, place, and time that stands apart from whatever is happening outside.

Priest at Holy Doors

There are no clocks in a casino; have you ever noticed that?  There are no windows, either.  They want you to loose track of time while you drop your money into their slots and onto their tables.  They do not want you remembering the world outside, they want you to become totally absorbed in gambling.  I think they learned this from Churches!  We don’t have clocks – we have windows, yes, but not usually in a place in a Byzantine church where you can gaze, disjointedly, to the world outside. They are usually to allow light and are way up high, far above eye level.  Most Roman churches have stained glass windows, where gazing outdoors is not really possible, either.  It is not to hold you prisoner!  Being in Church is when you lose yourself in God.  There are two Greek words for time: Chronos – that is chronological, or sequential time, and is what we use watches, clocks, and calendars to keep track of.  Then there is Kairos, or the appointed time in the purpose of God, which is when God is to act.  In eastern Churches, before the Divine Liturgy begins, the Deacon exclaims to the Priest, “Kairos tou poiesai to Kyrio” (“It is time [kairos] for the Lord to act”); indicating that the time of the Liturgy is an intersection with Eternity.

Some days I want to spend my time in pure Kairos, outside the demands and the time frames our lives place upon us. We have to schedule this and schedule that.  We keep our children busy with soccer and Little League, we have meetings and workout times to keep.  We have laundry to wash (Oooo..that reminds me! Ha-Ha!) and meals to prepare.  But sometimes, when I come into this space where I can ponder, muse, and blog, I loose myself in pure Kairos by thinking about and focusing on all things God, and I can loose my sense of the Chronos and completely forget the plans I made today. I enter into a room with icons and reminders of God, I look at the photos of my family, and I loose myself; what a pleasure and what a joy.  And it is fulfilling, but I still long for the days when I can loose myself in God, in His time, in His temple.  I love the sights, sounds, and smells of faith; I love being imbued with the Kairos of worship, lost in the love of God.

St. Nikolai