Golden moments stolen out of time…

baby-feet8

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

Hand on baby's back

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

Orthordox Church.interior

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

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

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

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

St. Nikolai

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

Miracle baby toes

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

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

BVM Laundry

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

Kneeling Prayer.Orthodox Church

 

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

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

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

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

pantocrator

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

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

Priest at Holy Doors

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

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

St. Nikolai