“…do it alone, person-to-person.”

Saint_Innocent_Orthodox_Cathedral_Anchorage_Alaska

This is Saint Innocent’s, the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Anchorage. There have been some amazing stories about the influences here in Alaska from the Russian Orthodox Church. There are gorgeous onion domes all over this state. We just celebrated the wonderful, “Seward’s Folly” anniversary in March. The United States paid Russia $7.2 million in 1868.

Holy Assumption_Kenai_Church

The oldest Orthodox Church is Holy Assumption in Kenai, pictured above. It was built in 1840. I love that! And it is still in use today. We have so much to thank the Russian Missionaries for, here in Alaska. The combined Orthodox and Native cultures are such a blessing here. I love learning new things and have thought of learning a native language…just not sure which one I would choose, as there are over 20 of them to learn!

Alaskan Native Map

Our Alaskan heritage is rich, in both culture, foods, and also in faith. There are so many differing faiths in such a relatively un-populated state. There are more than 36 denominations of Christian churches in Alaska, which include the Orthodox. But there is no list that contains other faiths, such as Jewish or Muslim. The variation is amazing, considering this state only has about 600,000 year-round residents in 663,300 square miles. The population density, if it were to be placed in Manhattan, would have 14 people living there. Ha-Ha! Conversely, if Alaska had the same population density of Manhattan, then there would be 40,843,544,807 people in Alaska. Or approximately 5.8 times the current population of the entire world. It is fascinating to me that a state as large as Alaska, with as few people as we have, expresses itself so diversely. We have the top three most diverse high schools in the entire NATION. It is really interesting.

StAndrewsEagleRiver

Why bring this up? Well, we have started attending (fairly regularly) a parish, pictured above, very close to home. And yesterday, as I looked around the Church, I noticed this diversity. It was not only in race, but in gender and age, too. There were several families with handicapped children of various ages. There was this one couple where the husband struggled with his wife’s wheelchair, commenting to us, “Thank goodness the way back to the car is downhill!” One of the men helping to organize the upcoming Mass asked our son to assist in bringing up the gifts (something he’s been asked to do more than once before). And as they walked in with the gifts, I noted the diversity of those walking up. Two boys, two girls. One hispanic, one black, one white, one native. How cool was that?

And so we worship as a family…all of us gathered under that roof. We knelt as one body, in worship of Our Lord. The Russian Missionaries came to this land, not able to communicate with the native peoples living here, and yet they brought many to the Church. Our local parish offers us anonymity and yet allows us to share and be a part of something larger than ourselves. We come together, sharing a common faith, sharing at a common table. We come so very damaged, in search of the Divine Physician. Our souls ache with all the disparity and violence in this life, seeking a commonality with like-minded believers. We struggle, each of us, with our personal salvation. Each of us, when it comes right down to that last breath, have a personal salvation we need to work out. Each of us approaches our Lord a little differently, and He is there for each of us, in our differences and in our likenesses. But He encourages us to seek one another, to share in our life of faith. He encourages community, because “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.” (John Donne).

Racial hands prayer

When we chose to adopt outside of our race, we knew many on both sides of the issue would have problems with it. Most who did, had the problems because they were (1) unfamiliar with interracial adoption, or (2) had never interacted with someone of another race on such an intimate level before, or (3) were afraid it would not last and the child would be rejected because of the interracial communion within a family, or even (4) could not imagine one race wanting a child of a different race. Of course, for us, it was all unfounded. I love the son of my heart like I love my sons of my flesh. I forget he is of another race, because he is just my son. He shared that all this “Black Lives Matter” thing is messing with his mojo. He said people are afraid to talk to him, thinking he’ll get upset or something. And he says it is hurting the mixing of races, which is something he has never had a problem with until recently. He also told me, “Mom, we really are not different races. We are just the human race. The rest is just dressing.” We talked about how under the skin, we all look the same. All our parts are in the same place; surgeons don’t learn different procedures for different races. So why is there still so much separation? Anger? Hatred? Distrust?

Mother Theresa

It’s funny that the organizations that purport to want racial equality are the very ones who are inciting unrest and violence. They are not fomenting peace when it is so desperately needed. They are not protecting the “least of these,” but rather further the disintegration of the society they are supposedly trying to save. When the Russian missionaries came to Alaska, they did not wait for someone to tell them what to do. They saw a need and they fulfilled it. Mother Theresa was like that. She did not wait for the government to act. She took children off the streets and cared for them. She took people no one else would touch, and washed their wounds and fed them, giving them her undivided love and attention. She did not care who they were, what their creed was, or where they came from. She cared for everyone equally. The communities that are the most downtrodden have the most violence. There is the most unrest where there is the least work. “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop,” was a saying derived from Scripture: “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop; idle lips are his mouthpiece. An evil man sows strife; gossip separates the best of friends.  Wickedness loves company—and leads others into sin.” Proverbs 16:27-29. Perhaps we need to encourage all that brain power that goes into organizing protests, into organizing their communities. Perhaps organizing clean ups or job fairs or child care options. Helping each other out of the conditions they are in, and making them better. Mother Theresa established her missions in the poorest areas of the world, and started by just picking up a broom.

Broom

We all need to stop pointing fingers, as I sort of was above, and put our shoulders to the wheel, as they say, and doggedly pursue peace and love throughout our communities. We cannot wait for leadership to show the way. We need to reach out, quite literally, to the people who live next door. I ashamedly met my next door neighbors this weekend. We have lived next to them for over three years, but quite honestly never see them. They had a garage sale and we went over, introduced ourselves, and purchased a couple of goodies from them. What a shame we wasted all this time, because we enjoyed them so much. It’s wasted because they are putting their house up for sale, and will soon thereafter move away. What could we have had, these past three years, had we met them sooner? We had an amazing soup kitchen, homeless program at our old parish. We were told it could not be done. So many in our own church told us it could not be done. It has been going on every week for over 10 years now, reaching out to the people who live around that little mission church, feeding them, bringing them in from the rain, counseling them, and being a presence in that very poor neighborhood.  It has to happen, one person at a time, one prayer at a time, one choice at a time. We cannot wait for directions on how to do this, we all just need to reach out…one soul at a time. Person-to-person.

one person at a time

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”

Aurora.1Sometimes the world can seem so vast. There is so much that we are not truly familiar with. And yet, we make judgement calls about the world all the time. Judges, meting out justice from the bench, are supposed to be using their knowledge of the law, and making a judgement based on the law. They are not supposed to make their own laws, but rather uphold the ones we have on the books. They spend years learning laws, learning ways to defend the law, or the person accused of breaking the law. Some people are called to be prosecutors, some defenders. It is a pretty black/white thing, taken in its pristine form. But, as with much of life, there seems to be ambiguity inherent with our law system. And opinion; one cannot forget opinion. Trust me; I have one, which is why I blog. I share my opinion, my thoughts, with those of you who are interested enough to actually read them.

Today I was confronted with attitude. From several different sources. I love that I was blessed to haphazardly find my way to Anthropology from my start as a pre-law major, morphing into history, and finally finding archeology. I learned to have a broader perspective about things, and I also learned to appreciate differences. To actually look for, and explore differences. I try to not accept things on the basis of the cover. I was accused of judging young ladies one of my sons was dating, simply by their clothing, tattoos, and wildly colored hair. And I admitted that I was prejudiced – in my head, a “normal” girl didn’t present herself that way. I was so wrong. I also have learned that there are so many things that are not truly known to me, or by me. The world is, quite honestly, more complex and varied than we think. There is such a variety in the way in which we approach things. There is such a variety in how God presents His world to us.

moon sky mountains

I was raised and lived in pretty much a 100-square mile area in Southern California. I know traffic. I know smog. I know crowds. I know the beach, the mountains, the desert. I can tell you how to get somewhere and the relative amount of time it will take you to get there. Malls – I know all the good malls in Southern California. I know where to get deals on pretty much anything. The good towns, the places to avoid, the amusement park deals. Parades and major league sports venues. SoCal is full of all of that, and more. I just never realized there was something more out there. I mean, who knew what seasons really were? I never understood the whole Fall/Autumn thing until we lived in Washington. Oh my goodness. Fall is glorious in the Pacific Northwest. I also found out I could plant and grow, successfully, my own tulips. I had no idea there were so many types of tulips. I did not get gourds (why do we carve pumpkins and devour pumpkin pies??) until I lived where they grow them. I never liked asparagus, either, until I could buy it fresh, for less than $1 a bunch and cook it in so many ways (I mean, garlic and butter pretty much makes shoe leather edible). Another experience was living in a snow state. It is a wet state (parts are considered rain forest) but it is also a snow state. I learned to drive roads that are almost verticle on all-weather tires in ice, and also learned to maneuver around all sorts of road construction in pretty awful weather. I LOVED it! And then we decided to have the adventure of a lifetime (while we were still young enough to do it successfully) and relocate out of the contiguous United States, to the very far north. I can honestly say it has lived up to my expectations, and outdone them in so very many ways. This land is something that I never expected, and something I will take the rest of my life learning about and appreciating.

mount-baldy-3-2015-07-10-3.jpg.910x680_q95_upscale-False

One of the things I have learned is that I DO NOT KNOW EVERYTHING. (Hope those close to me, who know me well, didn’t just have mini-strokes, or heart attacks at that declaration!). And I love to experience new things. I am so interested in everything. I try to expose my mind to new things all the time. I try to not be closed off or to place walls between myself and new discoveries, knowing there is just a vast amount of knowledge I do not have. I’d like to chip away at acquiring more, the rest of my life. I want to constantly embrace new things and fill my mind, and my soul, with all the things I can learn. I am trying to leave words that hamper this desire out of my vocabulary (never, can’t, won’t, no). And I am working on not pre-juding people, situations, or even places and/or experiences.

I get frustrated when people say things like, “I would never…” or “I can never do…” when they have never ventured, never tried, never gone there (insofar as experiences). It is like a judge, who has the law before him, making a decision based on an opinion gained by reading the newspaper. We may think we have all the information we need, we may have dipped our toes in the water, but the ocean is not the beach. Saying all that, I KNOW I could never jump out of a plane. I can barely manage flying in one, let alone stepping out of one. My son used to do it for a living and told me, years afterwards, that he hated jumping, but got a kick out of landing, successfully. Adrenaline rush, etc. Not me. I am a scaredy-pants, just like my elusive cat, Rosie. So I do understand not taking certain risks, or do life-endangering antics, for the kick of it. And I do not judge those who are able to entertain those ideas, and even to act upon them. So, for the sake of my musings here, I am discounting that section of participants.

From the Book of Wisdom 7:21-25 (Douay-Rheims):

“And all such things as are hid and not foreseen, I have learned: for wisdom, which is the worker of all things, taught me. For in her is the spirit of understanding: holy, one, manifold, subtile, eloquent, active, undefiled, sure, sweet, loving that which is good, quick, which nothing hindereth, beneficent, gentle, kind, steadfast, assured, secure, having all power, overseeing all things, and containing all spirits, intelligible, pure, subtile. For wisdom is more active than all active things: and reacheth everywhere by reason of her purity. For she is a vapour of the power of God, and a certain pure emanation of the glory of the almighty God: and therefore no defiled thing cometh into her.”

I believe we all need to learn as much as we can. I don’t want to just grow older. I am praying that I also grow in wisdom. We need to make bucket lists and check those awesome experiences off, as we do them! I think we need to be brave, to embrace those roads less traveled and to not fear the new, the untried, the unfamiliar. Yes, there is danger around every corner. Sometimes there are no guarantees.

Looking back

I am the biggest chicken insofar as trying much that is new. I have the same clothes I have worn for the past ten years. I re-read the same books, over again, two or three times. I listen to music I listened to in high school. But about three years ago, as I was speeding down this very deserted highway (in a foreign country no less) at around 75 mph, on all-weather tires, on about a foot of ice and snow, I thought, “What are we doing?” My husband was trying to follow me, as I saw him through my rearview mirror, reaching out to manually wipe the accumulating ice and snow off his windshield. He was doing whatever he needed to do to stay wtih me. How blessed was I? Of course, he was also yelling into our walkie-talkie, telling me to “Slow down, woman!”  Ha-Ha. Good times. I doubt quite often the choices we have made. We plunge into things, thinking we’ve corned the market on all the possibilities. We try to really think things through, but inevitably, something comes out of left field that we had never expected. We got snow the week after we moved here – in June! I discovered icicles on my house and fell in love with them. (Now I totally understand icicles on Christmas trees, and those Christmas lights for your house that mimic real icicles!). What a bonus! I learned how to take out laundry in sub-zero temps. I can now cook moose and it tastes good! I can manage a sweater as my only cover in 20-degree weather. I have learned to make Ukrainian dishes for the different feast days. Me?! I am British, as in pot roasts and pots of tea! Ha-Ha!! I learned how to make Pascha cheese, in panty hose, in my shower (trust me – it really works!). But I am learning, still. I am experiencing new things. Still. I am trying to remove “no, can’t never” from my vocabulary. I am trying to not prejudge something I have no honest, direct, knowledge of. Please, let’s keep one another in prayer over the pursuit of Wisdom. Over the experience of the new, the unknown. The Lord has given this immense land to discover, filled with unknown adventures and a myriad of different people, traditions, and faiths. Let us approach these differences with an eye to this immense knowledge, and wisdom, of God. And let us at least try, one step at a time…

Babysteps

I have not come to bring peace…

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how God challenges us. Well, challenges me. I tend to be a little bit of a stickler about certain things. I guess what it boils down to is that I like rules. I prefer being in a box, rather than free ranging it. For years, I always felt my children operated best when they knew the limitations of what they can and cannot do. Borders. Edges. Limitations. Expectations. I realize that as a person, I am not the one to stand at the podium and give the speeches. I am not the one to be in charge. I am basically a background person. I can make you look great. I can help anyone, by working “back stage,” as they say. I do not need to be the leader. Although because of my personality, it is often thrust upon me, it is not where I am best, nor is it where the best in me is played out for others.

And I believe it is this tendency within myself that led me to love organized religion. I am a historian at heart and an anthropologist by training. I love getting to the roots of things. One of those things is that I love knowing that I belong to a religion that has come down to us, unchanged, from the Apostles themselves. There are no surprises, nor am I expected to be in charge. And I have loved learning about how our faith came to be, how it works, and has worked, for thousands of years. And I don’t need to change, edit, or alter a thing. God gave us His Church through His Son, and His Apostles. Done. Each time someone disagrees with how the Church does something, they leave. When someone gets angry at a priest or deacon, they leave. Many are upset at the caliber of the men in the Church. What they forget is that they are just that – they are men. No one claims to be a Saint or Christ Himself. There has only been one “Perfect Man” and He died for each one of us, on a Cross, over two thousand years ago. We all strive to be good, but no one is perfect, except for Christ Jesus.

ChristPantocrator

This past week, with the increased violence and the shootings in San Bernardino, California, the realization that people are not perfect came to a dramatic head. This shooting touched me personally, in many ways, and through many relationships, past and present. My heart hurt. My spirit was heavy. And I was soooooo angry. And I immediately jumped on the anger train and was unsympathetic to anyone who did not share my anger and my hurt for those who were killed, and their families.

But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.…” Matthew 5:44-45

Boy, is that a rough lesson to learn. And it cuts deep and close to what we consider our faith. I have experienced, in the past, being excluded. When my children were very young, I attended a weekly bible study. It was called non-denominational and everyone attended different churches. There was a local school that many of the teachers of the bible study, and many of the attendees, sent their children. It seemed like a great school. I applied for a position for our eldest son to attend Kindergarten there. I received a very awkward phone call from the principal who told me that although we were all Christians, our practices differed substantially and it would be a falsehood to deny our differences. He also said that as of that time, they did not accept students who were not their particular type of Christian and our family worshipped too differently for us to be accepted at the school. About the same time, our bible study spoke about Mary and I found myself standing up to defend Mary. Standing and speaking was to defy the rules of the bible study, which stated you did not interrupt nor give opinion during presentations, only during private classroom time. I could not stop myself. They were promoting heretical notions. I could not let it stand. I found myself unwelcome and I was forced to discontinue my membership in this women’s group, and pull my children from their program. It was disheartening and I was so very sad. I lost friends over it. Faith can be so divisive. (Politics, too).

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10: 34-39).

evangelical-divide

We are becoming a nation, a world, of factions. It is historically significant that Christians (aka the Catholic Church) have been pitted against Muslims for centuries. The times that are the most famous are those surrounding the Crusades, when the Pope sent armies to defeat the Muslim invaders; to stop them from coming into Europe and decimating the Christian populations. The Muslims acknowledge Mary as the Mother of Christ (and are actually more accepting of her than most Protestant denominations) and believe Christ was a preacher sent by God. They do not, however, believe He is the Son of God. They believe Mohammed is equal to Christ, even slightly more important than Christ. We agree with Muslims that there is but one God, and there is no other God before Him (they refer to Him as Allah).

I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things.” (Isaiah 45:5-7).

But apart from that, our essential belief system is extraordinarily different. Our value systems were formed through adherence to our belief system, and those differ vastly in some very basic precepts. In our Christian world, the Lord Jesus Christ calls us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. And I agree with that; I struggle with it on an almost daily basis. He also called us to arm ourselves:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” (Ephesians 6:10-18).

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And yet, how do I reconcile my feelings of being apart and separate from other believers, because of the differences in how we worship? Not to mention the theology of the Holy Eucharist and the Blessed Mother? There are many aspects to highlight how we are different, but how does that help the cause of ecumenism in our world? How do we battle what we have been fighting for generations, if our faith is not united? Yes, as Americans we feel united against terrorism on our lands, much as our recent family members felt during World War II. We feel united. Much of the Judeo-Christian world feels united against a common foe. In some ways we truly are. We value human life, for the most part, differently than those from the Muslim world. Females are not valued at all. Abortion, rape, genocide…those are all common in the Muslim world. But how can we, as Christian Americans, judge our Muslim brothers when we kill babies in the womb? When we fight one another over religious differences, here at home? No, the Muslims do to want to convert me; they want to erase me from existence. I truly understand that, and I struggle with those realities in light of the Gospels. I recall that as an aware child I knew that our country was horrified that President John F. Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, had been elected President. He simply could not be a good president because many felt his loyalties would be divided – “What if the Pope tells him to do something?” That statement, alone, explains how little our Protestant brothers understand about Catholicism. There are more Catholics who serve in governmental positions, but how many of them live by the tenets of their faith and are good examples of Catholic Christians? (As in not supporting funding abortion or supporting anyone or any legislation that is not pro life). Misperceptions still persist, even today; many Christians are Christian in name only; many because it’s sort of cool at the moment to declare your love of God, even if you don’t treat others “as yourself.” My country is not as united as we like to think we are. When we face a common enemy, we stand together. But when that enemy recedes, how do we love one another?

I started this post about living in a box, within rules and limitations. I spoke to how my faith reflects my love of order, and even rules and responsibilities, and behaviors. I believe we should all be free, free to choose which Church we want to worship in. I do not believe law should reflect any one religion, which is the basis for our Constitution. Sharia Law does not belong on American soil. But I am still saddened by the vehemence with which people who are “Christian” treat one another. Yes, I am determined to gird myself with the “belt of truth.” Oh yes, I believe in eternal truths. I also believe God, through His Apostles, spoke that truth throughout the world, establishing His Church around the world. Men have taken that Church and torn it into pieces; into “denominations.”

Denominations. A denomination is defined in this Encyclopedia as an organized aggregate of worship centers or congregations of similar ecclesiastical tradition within a specific country; i.e. as an organized Christian church or tradition or religious group or community of believers, within a specific country, whose component congregations and members are called by the same denominational name in different areas, regarding themselves as one autonomous Christian church distinct from other denominations, churches and traditions. As defined here, world Christianity consists of 6 major ecclesiastico-cultural blocs, divided into 300 major ecclesiastical traditions, composed of over 33,000 distinct denominations in 238 countries, these denominations themselves being composed of over 3,400,000 worship centers, churches or congregations.” (World Christian Encyclopedia, 2001).

A denomination refers to an actual name, or the naming, of something. That means that there are over 33,000 “names” for Christianity and Christian in this world. The Church that Christ established with just 12 Apostles, their families, and the early community established after Pentecost, grew to be over 3,400,000 “worship centers” throughout the world. Worship centers that are not united around one faith, one Church, but are made up of communities by someone who disagreed with the tenets of the established Church, and started their own “brand” of Christianity. It’s sort of like those of us who opt to homeschool and not participate in a national indoctrination program, called public education. We start our own little community, at home around the kitchen table, and call it “Bob’s School.” Well, in that same vein, there are all sorts of “Bob’s Church”(es) around this world. How do we fight the one or two Muslim denominations who are determined to wipe us off the face of the earth? How do we unite, truly unite, down to our most basic units (the family) when people continue to disagree about fundamentals of our faith?

Mother Theresa.Peace
The only thing I can come up with right at this moment is to just LOVE. Overshadow all we do with LOVE. The Love of God for our fellow man. Our priest gave an excellent homily last week about loving others. He said that we open our arms, tell God that we love Him, embracing everything that is Him. We truly do. Then God asks us to “love your neighbor as yourself” (“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31). But that’s where it all falls apart. That guy over there? You want me to love that guy? Oh, I can’t do that. We don’t get along. I can’t love someone I don’t get along with. Or we say  – I can love my husband(wife) and my kids, but my sister? My brother? My parents? We had a disagreement years ago; they hurt my feelings. I can’t love them; I don’t even like them. If that is the case, how can we truly love God? How can we expect to get along with everyone if we do not start right at home, with our own families? If we cannot love our co-workers, those who even attend our same Church but with whom we had a disagreement? How can we conquer something like the Muslim faith with LOVE of God if we cannot love those most known to us? How can we, as a country, continue to survive as a nation, without love of our neighbor?

I am sick over all this violence. I will not lower my awareness and just blithely give into it.  But I am so tired of the energy it takes to hate someone or be angry with them. My heart aches over the shootings in San Bernardino and the loss of life there and around the world. But I cannot hope to solve this problem of hatred around the world if I cannot love the guy next door who drives me crazy, can I? How did those 12 Apostles do this? How diid they spread the LOVE of God around the world when it does not exist around my block, in my parish, my family, or in my little corner of the world? Some days, my heart just aches, thinking about all of this. And so I blog…

World PEace

It is not easy being green…

 

kermit

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

midnitesun.2.2015

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

cauliflower

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

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

Different color skin, same souls.

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

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

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

Greek Catholic.

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

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

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

Christians in the world.

“…we hear them in our own tongues…”

 

12247844751816776100wsnaccad_feather-pen.svg.med For some reason, I have been having “writer’s block,” or at the very least a “dry spell,” in regards to my blog.  I have been reading like a crazy woman, spending time with my son and husband, and some special time with my extended family.  But I haven’t felt the urge to write much.  Not sure what is up with that.  The sunshine is glorious and things are growing, so maybe I’ve been hit with Spring Fever! Ha-Ha!

I was reading a post about a family who’s been trying to have their daughter receive communion at a local Roman Catholic parish and the priest has been denying them.  Their daughter is an infant and was baptized, chrismated, and received communion at a Melkite parish some distance away.  For their local church attendance, it seems like they are going between RC and Orthodox, as there is no Byzantine parish nearby.  It is such a hard place to be.  I have lived it.

When we relocated from So Cal to WA State up near Seattle, we were not worried about attending a Church.  We had been spoiled in So Cal by having 3 parishes, Melkite parishes, within an hour of our house in 3 different directions.  There were other Byzantine parishes within the same distance, and I lost count of the number of RC parishes around us.  But we never had to attend a Church that we were not familiar with.  We did not have to expose ourselves to other rites, or comments by other parishioners in these rites.  We were not “causing scandal” by exposing other rites to the ways of the east, or visa versa. We were safe in our own little world.

When we moved to WA, there were no Melkite parishes.  There was a Melkite mission that was more than an hour north of us, and a local Monastery (Romanian) whose pastor was a retired Melkite priest, which was about an hour south of us.  An hour in WA weather can seem an eternity; trust me!  Locally, we tried to attend an RC church. They did not know what to do with us.  We were eastern rite Catholics and the RC hierarchy just did not know where we fit in, to worship with them.  To be fair, the pastor loved our input and loved eastern Catholicism; he joyfully welcomed us.  But the diocese, some of the diocesan hierarchy (although not the Bishop) and most of the people, were not familiar nor comfortable, with us.  We then began to explore the Byzantine world there. There was a parish in the downtown area that we tried to attend. But my husband was not welcomed there by the pastor. He was uncomfortable with us.  We tried, but my husband was frustrated.  He’d spent 4 years in the seminary,  preparing to serve his community.  And no one wanted him on their altar.  He was not welcomed to even receive Our Lord with the other clergy.  His vestments were not acknowledged. It was a very dispiriting time for us.

We then relocated, yet again, to an area with just one Byzantine parish to serve the entire state.  Once again, not Melkite.  The initial pastor, when we arrived, was also flummoxed.  He just did not know how to make use of my husband.  Our Bishop corresponded with the Bishop for this parish, loaning my husband indefinitely to the parish.  The pastor still did not know what to do with us.  Then he was transferred.  We got a new priest, from Ukraine, who is not the same rite, either.  It is like the UN up on the altar these days…a Ukrainian, a Melkite, and a Ruthenian…and the parish is full of all sorts of nationalities.  But isn’t that what Church is supposed to be???

I laughingly commented on this post today that the family was truly “universal,” and isn’t that what our Church is supposed to be?  Christ instructed the Apostles to go to all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  And they did!  I’ve mentioned this before, but it still amazes me how exclusionary we can be to each other.  Look at all the diversity of people who followed Christ.  And when the Church was founded on Pentecost, what happened to the many different languages? Everyone could speak to each other and everyone understood one another.  What has happened?  Has our Church become so insular that we can no longer understand or speak to each other?  It makes me sad.

“They were amazed and astonished, saying, “Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.”  (Acts 2:7-11)

I am offering prayers that this Pentecost, for all of us, the Holy Spirit once again cleans things up and removes these barriers to communication, sharing, and being Christian to each other!!!  Sharing Christ with one another….not excluding our brethren from receiving anything they should be allowed to, and welcome to, receive! Allowing the burning fire of faith instill us all with the sense of community, that “communion” brings with it.  (And for my Pentecostal family and friends, can I get an AMEN??)

Pentcost Icon 2

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“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.

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“…the Beloved of all…”

Memory eternal…my stepdad looked up at my mom, while she was gently speaking to him, and breathed his last, yesterday afternoon.  This illness was as sweeping as it was brief.  We are all thankful he suffered very little and was peaceful until the end.  My mom and his other family members are now struggling with all the details that come in the wake of the death of a loved one.  I pray for peace, some moments of laughter, and the comfort from grief shared by family and friends.

Couple.memories

I mentioned in a previous post the prayers wherein we ask God to assist us in the various surprises that come our way; thanks be to God I have faith so that when these little occurrences are thrown my way, I can deal with them. I honestly do not know how people can go through life without a strong faith; a belief in something stronger than themselves, and a reason for existing. I am not referring here to the death of my stepdad, but rather, the other things that come along and throw a kink into your life.  I was prepared for his passing, and I prayed for a peaceful death, surrounded by those he loved.  And it was….many family members, as well as many friends, were surrounding his bed yesterday.  It was a blessing.  Following a different vein, I believe, as I have stated before, that God is laughing at me and my plans, and I am down here, feverishly signalling a “time out!!!”  It is a compliment, I suppose, that God believes I can handle just about anything, and all those things He is throwing at me in rapid succession.  I must say that it pretty much hamstrings me at times.  My grandmother (Memory Eternal) used to laughingly say to my husband and myself that she didn’t think we’d have to wait in any sort of line, nor endure any sort of “purgatory” time, because so many things were always happening to us. We had so much to deal with in our lives on a daily basis, that she said we would be on the fast track to heaven – no waiting at all – we would pass “go” and collect our reward!  I hope she is right, because some days, I feel weighed down by some of the things rushing at me.

God has made so many promises through his Old Testament Prophets, His time preaching directly on this earth, and through His Apostles and Disciples, and I take claim to each and every one of them.  I was told by a Protestant friend once that we waste so much of our faith by not claiming God’s help in our lives, and His many promises to be with us until the “end of the age.” (Mathew 28:20)  And although I may feverishly be signalling “time out,” I am also reaching out…to God in prayer.  I am quieting my heart and listening for his quiet whisper.  Yesterday I quoted some scripture where God promises us a “way out” of our troubles, a path we can choose, that will help us with everything that comes our way.  I choose the path God gives me, and I lay all my cares at the foot of His Throne.

Comfort my heart

I believe that most days, especially these reflective days of Lent, are given to us to reach out to God; to know and acknowledge our inability to do this alone.  As Elder Thaddeus told me in his book, God does not need our prayers; He wants our prayers. He is waiting for us to call on Him to help us.  Someone close to me told me that they had survived many of life’s trials with no one to help them, no Church community had come to their aid; they were inferring that they were fine and they were okay with making it on their own. They also told me that they had “heard it all before” and did not really appreciate the quotes I use in my blog from the Church Fathers.  Because they had “heard it all before.”  I have been thinking about that.  This person is a Protestant, a Protestant who has “heard it all before.”  I find that along my journey to heaven (where I am praying I will eternally reside) I am continually surprised by a new aspect of the truth, laid out for me.  These truths, of course, are eternal ones and have not changed since Our Lord presented them to His Church more than 2,000 years ago.  The Disciples, who learned at the knee of a Master, have shared these with us in writing.  Their disciples, in turn, have also shared these insights and bits of wisdom with us.  Don’t you also believe that with a slight turn of phrase, or different wording or emphasis, that something very old can become new again?  I know that I can sit through a boring lecture on anthropological linguistics (which, trust me, I did on many occasions) and not pick up a thing.  Or I can be engaged by a professor who loves language and shares with us how one word can be traced from the arctic regions of the Siberian outback, clear down to a remote Indian tribe residing at the tip of South America, further sharing each stop and mutation that word made along its 1000-year journey!  Quite often, when I have discovered someone from antiquity, who has made my faith new, I share it.  I have recently found so many Saints I did not know existed, and they have changed and rejuvenated my faith, without changing the truths they are sharing, just the way they are expressed.  I love that about a faith that can trace its lineage back to a specific Apostle, or Christ, Himself.  Yes, there have been stops along the way, but the Word was not mutated on its journey, and yet it has arrived, for me, 2,000 years later, intact through the words of a Saint.

One of my favorites I more recently discovered is St. John of Kronstadt. I only wish I could have lived in Russia in his lifetime.  It seems like every time I begin to read something that intrigues me, someone is quoting St. John.  He is used as a stepping-off point for so many wonderful posts, blogs, or articles.  And I love his wisdom and his turn of phrase. He has made my faith jump with refreshed vigor.  What is sad for me is that so many people reject his words simply because they are old, they are not in the Bible, and they are not Protestant or Roman Catholic.  The universality of our faith is lost on so many of my contemporaries and so very many people are loosing out on an important dimension to the words of Christ, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

I was told an interesting story by a priest (who later became a good friend) who happened to be bi-ritual. He was from India and he was Syro-Malabar, and Roman Catholic.  He was dispensed to say the Liturgy in either form and was assigned to a Roman Catholic parish we attended; he was an incredible confessor.  At dinner one evening in our home, he told us about the history of the Syro-Malabar Church, now in communion with the Catholic Church.  I do not remember the exact dates, and perhaps will get some of this brief synopsis incorrect, but the gist of the story went like this: St. Thomas the Apostle traveled to India and established the Church there, converting and baptizing as He went.  Those Christians were called, “Thomas Christians” in his honor.  The native Indian population had already erected places of worship to their gods and St. Thomas had the new Church simply occupy these buildings, already in place.  The content of the liturgy itself became driven by the local language and customs of the people, while following the typical format of liturgies around the world. The consecration has been kept intact exactly as St. Thomas had shared with the people of India.  Many years later (perhaps hundreds), some explorers from Portugal came to India, with their armies and their Roman Catholic priests.  They found only “pagan” temples (these original temples the Church had occupied) and the priests instructed the armies to demolish them all.  This was done, even though the Syro-Malabar priests were telling the Portuguese Roman priests that they, too, worshiped Christ and were a part of His Church, through St. Thomas the Apostle.  Well, the Portuguese did not acknowledge this and many, many years passed before their rite was formally back into allegiance with Rome.  (With much anguish and pain to this Church community along the way). This story illustrates the fact that the 12 Apostles took their instructions from Our Lord very seriously and they traveled the world, baptizing and establishing the Church, all over the world.  They also recognized and brought in the local languages and customs of the people they converted.  And this is why there are so many rites in communion with Rome.  (The apostles, however, did not establish the other sects that sprung up around the world, most of which came to be centuries after their deaths).  These are the Churches in communion with Rome still today. There are many Orthodox Churches as well, and we all long for the day when we can worship together.  As I have stated many, many times, I am drawn to the east, and most especially into the simplicity of Orthodoxy.  St. John of Kronstadt was a Russian Orthodox priest and his writings and his quotes are for me, as a Byzantine Catholic, resonating deeply with me, as I stand alongside my Orthodox friends.

My prayers today are for an increase in overt faith for me, in the clear practicing of the things I am learning from the Saints and Church Fathers who have preserved these innate truths for us over the centuries.  Elder Thaddeus, a Serbian Orthodox Monk, has so much to show me and share with me, although I am not Orthodox.  Many in our Byzantine community read all we can from the Church Fathers in Orthodoxy and we apply these lessons to our lives every day.  We believe in the true universality of Christianity and we are open to learning from those who have gone before us, either within the umbrella of the Catholic Church, or from our Orthodox brethren.

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I also pray for my friends and family who stand outside and peer into this life of faith, this struggle, this meandering path I am on to my eternal rest.  I pray that they will continue to support me, to love me, and to accept me.  Quite often I am rebuked and told that I am off on a spiritual tangent and I need to stop; I need to be more like they are.  And this grieves me.  It grieves me because I feel, for the first time in a very long time,  I can honestly say God is working in my life. My children have told me recently, that they, too can feel God working in our lives.  We all feel like we need to just stand back and watch God make it happen!  We all can feel His presence pulling us along; He is with our family as we make some hard decisions, as we face new obstacles.  He is our path, He is our salvation, and He comfortably rests in His Church.  And that is where I choose to be, where I derive my comfort, and where I will continue to always be.  And it is where our family resides.

Holy Gifts up close