“All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass…”

Symbolism is so much a part of what we do and how we live. We I am scrambling to be sure we have our “spirit wear” all ready for the homecoming game tomorrow. It’s important to show team spirit by wearing our school colors! We clang cow bells painted the right colors and are sure to sit in the booster section, where we can yell without embarrassing our other children! Ha-ha! But we cannot wear colors that are from our opposing team, because that doesn’t show support to our players and cheerleaders. We have to have all the right symbols.

Football

I was recently in a discussion about wearing our wedding rings on the right or left hand. In the west, people wear them on their left hands. People in Eastern European cultures (and Russian Orthodox and other Orthodox Churches) all wear them on the right hand. But in America, it confuses the average person if you wear your wedding set on the right hand with people thinking you are divorced or widowed. The symbol isn’t right; it does not fit into their notion of how things should be. It can unsettle people, seeing the wrong image in the wrong place.

There are logos and symbols all around us. If you give most people quizzes on company logo recognition, they can name many corporations just by seeing their logos. That means their marketing team has been doing their jobs and doing them well!

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There are some images that people enjoy and some that make people uncomfortable. Some images can evoke such strong emotions. If you see something that reminds you of your childhood, it can bring back happy memories, or bring you to tears. Other images are quickly forgotten and we don’t give them another thought.

crucifix-2-flash

When many Christians see a crucifix, the image of Christ hanging the cross, they get very uncomfortable. I have had people say that it is like looking at photos of a murder scene over and over again. I can see that. I can feel that sort of emotion. For most Catholics, the crucifix reminds them of the mercy of God and of His great sacrifice for us. It evokes feelings of safety and comfort. There is a prayer called the Anima Christi that is often prayed while gazing at a crucifix:

Soul of Christ, sanctify me
Body of Christ, save me
Blood of Christ, inebriate me
Water from the side of Christ, wash me
Passion of Christ, strengthen me
O good Jesus, hear me
Within Thy wounds hide me
Permit me not to be separated from Thee
From the malignant enemy defend me
In the hour of my death call me
And bid me come unto Thee
That with thy Saints I may praise Thee
Forever and ever
Amen

It makes looking at that particular symbol not as gruesome as some would think. There are other symbols and ways of representing the Cross of Christ. And I have been pondering these symbols recently. It is easy to have a symbol mean something to you, but when others look upon it, they see something very differently. There are all kinds of crosses out there, and each means something to the culture they are associated with. For many of us in western society, these crosses confuse us, because they are not what we are used to seeing, when we associate them with our faith. This is a wall hanging I have in my home:

images. wall crosses.

I like it because it shows all different ways of looking at crosses. It’s made of metal and 3D. It has engendered many conversations. And some Christians do not have any crosses in their homes, nor do they display paintings or statues. Very few have icons. We are probably the odd-man-out but we have all of it. We have statues, paintings, crosses from all over the world, and icons. We have lots of icons. We have very little secular art, actually.

I have been pondering symbols in other ways, as well. Permanence is something that is not common in the corporate world, although many older companies are very recognized just by their logos!

apple microsoft  pepsi flag2

Each of these logos is very familiar and we all have an opinion about each of them. One of them is not a logo per se, but a symbol. There is a difference. A symbol is a representation, a pictogram, whereas a logo is a trademarked corporate identity that may contain a symbol. Like Apple’s logo with it’s iconic symbol of an apple with a bite out of it, and symbol of our homeland, the American flag.

The cross, of course, cuts through all the corporate hype and is not owned by one corporation or church. It is a universal symbol. For many it evokes comfort and peace, and for others it is a sign of divisiveness. For me, it symbolizes a part of who I am and what I believe. And my faith does not waiver, it does not fade, it does not change. I am a Christian woman. Where I choose to worship, the style of how I worship, may change. Those are externals. But my belief does not change or waiver. So the symbol of my faith, the cross, does not waiver. Which is why I am considering getting a tattoo of a cross for myself, for my birthday. It’s not really for anyone else. It is something that would remind me, each time I look at it, what I believe. But which representation, for me, do I choose? It’s had me up nights, because inking is permanent. Which is why it has also taken me this long to even consider it. And I have pondered this whole issue of logos and symbols, recognition and the emotions they evoke. And I am thinking and praying, and searching my heart. Who knows? Maybe it will be a new purse. I’ll let you know.

Tattoo

 

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“…stand your ground courageously…”

Fried Chicken

Today I am dealing with more stomach issues. I hate when nothing seems to be helping. And then I realized that I made and ate fried chicken in celebration of National Fried Chicken Day. The family loved it. I guess my tummy did not. I am working on a smaller and smaller range of foods that do not upset my stomach. Earlier this year, I went through a great book called, “The Holistic Christian Woman” (you can get it at Ancient Faith publishers) by Cynthia Damaskos, and throughout this book, I looked closely at my lifestyle and my food choices. And how we treat ourselves; this “Temple of God” that we have been gifted, relates to so many things. We dove right in with “First Things First” and this quote:

“…giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  2 Peter 5:1-8

This was the springboard for this book, this look into ourselves. And into how we treat our bodies, our minds, our souls. And I discovered other ways of looking at food. And then the study ended, and I fell back into old habits. Boy oh boy – the lure of the familiar and the less-challenging!

Tummy ache

However, I have been struggling through something painful and consuming. My body, my system, is telling me that these same old pathways, the wide/easy ways, no longer work for me. Every time I decide to partake of the familiar, I realize my body is just saying “no”!! I really cannot do fast food. I will pay for days with stomach upset. And I really need to eat simply and clean. I need to avoid the “dirty dozen” of veggies/fruits and eat more of the “clean fifteen” instead. I need to avoid fatty recipes. Don’t get me wrong, fats are not bad. It’s which types of fats you use and how you use them. I prefer coconut oil and almond oil, occasionally adding pure olive oil or organic butter. I have to steer away from commercial-grade, generic “vegetable” oil, because it is just not worth it. And is why I am in such pain today. You see, I used generic vegetable oil to fry that chicken, because I did not want to “waste” my olive or almond oil. And so now I am paying for that decision in a very painful way.

I am a miserable failure when it comes to staying with something new, in most cases. I have committed, however, to using as pure ingredients as I can – I use Young Living Essential Oils and their entire product line – only. I have been able to lead a much simpler, cleaner life since being introduced to them a year ago. I have slowly but surely cleaned out from under my sink in the kitchen and bathrooms, replacing all the chemicals there for simpler cleaners made of simple, holistic ingredients (Young Living has an amazing line of products for your homes). I am amazed at how much better they are than all the different products I thought I needed to keep a clean house. I also use their Vitality Oils line in my cooking. It is amazing what one drop of Basil Essential Oil will do to a pot of spaghetti sauce made from scratch, using only fresh ingredients! I use simpler recipes, most of the time, and try to avoid the old standards. I juice when I think of it. (Love my juicer!!) I make my Bullet-proof coffee almost daily (1 cup of coffee, 1 tablespoon each of organic local honey, coconut oil, and organic butter – add them all together in your NutriBullet blender). It is yummy, believe it or not!! I do oil pulling (a teaspoon of coconut oil on a spoon – put it into your mouth and allow the oil to melt. Swish it in your mouth like mouthwash for 10 minutes. Spit into trash – not sink!) and my gums are happier and my teeth whiter. I will occasionally even brush my teeth with coconut oil. I have added supplements to my diet. Again, I use exclusively Young Living products. Their Ninjxa Red is an amazing antioxidant drink – 4 ounces daily. I also add other products to promote good health like Super B (vitamins) and Mindwise, which is full of all the supplements to keep our minds sharp. So many things.

Supplments

But then I eat foods I know do not support this lifestyle and I feel very, very ill. It is starting to scare me because when I deviate, thinking I can eat like I did at 20 years old, I react almost immediately and it makes me so ill. Today is a day of feeling frightened at how sick I feel after eating 2 dinners, two days in a row, that are not good for me. My body is in revolt. And I cannot help but think of cancer. My maternal grandmother died of stomach cancer…her polyps just took over. My mom had breast cancer and my brother had testicular and bladder cancer. So there is cancer in my family. And I am brought back to my Holistic Christian Woman book. Again. Such a treasure. From the last chapter entitled, “Self Control: – “Self control: it’s something we’re sure we don’t have enough of; we’re convinced the person next to us had more of it; and we wish we could buy it in a bottle.” And this quote from St. Thalassios the Libyan, “If you wish to be in control of your soul and body, forestall the passions by rooting out their causes.” And then she says, ” Let me put all this in a good news-bad news formula: the bad news is, we’re going to tempted and fail. The good news is, when we fall we can get back up. The best news is: God will forgive us, will never leave us, and if we want Him to, He will faithfully work with us! God is with us!” In order to get to the root of our problems, like my problems, the first step in exercising self-control is to examine ourselves. We journaled through this book and I learned so much. Today I am re-reading my journal. The author moves into areas we can control, through examining ourselves. One of the biggies is eating! Duh! Seems so simple, but is so hard because of the emotions tied to it. We need to control snacking and portion control. We need to work at stress management. For me, I get stressed when I don’t feel well and I don’t feel well when I allow my food choices to lapse from my better judgement. I am working on forgiving myself for these lapses in judgement, because I am doing so well in so many other areas. St. John Climacus says, “Do not be surprised that you fall every day; do not give up, but stand your ground courageously. And assuredly, the angel who guards you will honor your patience.” [Truly, this book is worth your time and effort reading. It is a life-changing, life-altering, necessary read. The author is also on Facebook, as is this book. Please check it out!!]

life-quotes-falling-down-is-a-part-of-life

And that is where I am at today…fighting the fear, learning from more poor choices, and getting back up and persevering through this. God is not done with me quite yet. And I am determined to overcome this…success takes work. Doggedly pursuing things. “Self-control does not fall from the sky; rather, it is something that through grace we work with God to exercise.”  Elder Ieronymos of Aegina reminds us, “The evil one cannot comprehend the joy we receive from the spiritual life; for this reason he is jealous of us, he envies us and sets traps for us, and we become grieved and we fall. We must struggle, because without struggles we do not obtain virtues.” And we need faith to persevere and push through days when all we want to do is pull the covers over our heads. And so I turn, once again, to “think-pray-act.” Prayer, conferencing with my God. God is with us!

Icon screen praying

“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

“…death before your minds…”

St Cosmas of AitolosHave you ever had one of those nights when you awake in a complete panic because you were realizing, in your sleep, that you have already lived at least half of your life?  That perhaps you do not have many more decades stretching before you?  I did.  And boy, was I in a sweat, breathing heavily, and completely panicked.  I sat there, realizing that I am in my “late 50s” and I doubt I will be living to my 100s!  My parents are both in their “late 80s.”  And the clock keeps ticking.  And there is not a thing I can do about that.  And I began to weep.  I wept for my children – how I love them so and do not want to leave them.  I wept for my grandchildren, because they are so new to this world and I want to get to know them, and have them know me.  I wept, and reached over and touched my husband (he did not notice through his rather exuberant snoring).  This man who I have spent my life with, loving and often disliking (I will always love him, but some days he’s not on my “favorites” list.  But that’s the reality of marriage!).  We just celebrated 29 years of marriage and I cannot imagine a life without him next to me.  And I know his life would be so much more difficult without me next to him, too.  We need each other to keep each other “our best selves.”  He is good for me, for my soul.  And I am good for him.  It’s why it works, and has worked, for so many years. But I wept at the thought of not being with him, next to him, loving him and feeling the warmth of him near me.

God tells us in so many places in scripture that we are not to worry.  One of my favorites is Matthew 6: 25-34:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

And as I sat there, catching my breath late last night, I tried to think of this, to think this way.  As St. Cosmas said in the first photo, “There is no better teacher than death.”  And I really think that when we put our very few days here on earth into a global perspective, we truly need to focus.  Life truly is short and the older I get, the shorter it seems.

There are so many little things I should be doing right now.  Why do I procrastinate?  Why do I waste time?  And no, for those of you who read these posts, I have not completed my office, yet.  My daughter-in-law offered to come over tomorrow and said that we can tackle it together. I bought a curtain rod for the drapes I have for the window (a very old wool blanket my parents brought from New Zealand more than 50 years ago hangs there now).  I have file folders ready to go. I even filed and labeled some of the stuff.  So why does her offer frighten me?  It’s almost like I won’t have anything to do if I do complete organizing that space.  And I thought about this and I realized that I am a big baby in many ways. I am afraid of what’s around the corner, because I know I don’t have that many corners left to go around!  And what do I have to show for myself?

St IrenaeusAs St. Irenaeus reminds us above, “The business of the Christian is nothing else than to be ever preparing for death.”  In this photo of an ossuary in Eastern Europe, the monks keep the skulls of their brethren who have passed before them. Their names are etched on the skulls and the monks often come to sit and commune with their fellow monks.  We believe that when we die, our souls rise to be with God. If we have lived a holy life, we know, and we expect, that we will be with God.  By looking to those who have gone before us, certain of their salvation, we can emulate their lives and make similar choices in our own.  We also believe that the Church Triumphant, filled with those in the presence of God who have gone before us, await our prayers and will pray for us and with us, the Church Militant, here on earth. There is great comfort in knowing our community is larger than we can even fathom.  At Divine Liturgy, we are reminded that all the angels, “six-winged, many-eyed and soaring on their pinons” are before us at the altar.  We are in the midst of the Holy Communion of God and His people.

We are called to have our own “domestic Church” in our homes.  Places of refuge, prayer, comfort, and safety, where we bring and welcome Our Lord, our family, and our friends. A place where the Word of God is commonplace, prayer is daily, and we have reminders of God and His Saints before us always. I re-arranged our Icons from a wall to more of a corner.  I mushed them all together and left a corner section bare, waiting on my husband to construct an icon corner shelf for me.  Our incensor is waiting, with our candle and an icon of Christ Pantocrator, to be placed in the corner.  I love seeing the Icons, paintings and statues we have around our home; they give me comfort.  On the wall next to our bed is a beautiful painting of the “Flight into Egypt,” a photo of modern-day Jerusalem and the Tomb of Christ from above, another of a painting of the Theotokos holding the Christ Child while the angels serenade Him, and many more, including icons of our patron saints, St. Joseph and Ruth.  And as I panicked in the dark last night, I knew these images were all around me and I took comfort. I offered prayers to Our Lord and I prayed for strength, comfort, and peace. And I laid back down and promptly fell asleep.

Psalm 25-4-5…and all night long, too!

“…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

“..not theory, not philosophy…”

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

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

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

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

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

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