“…but with true love.”

Elder Porphyrios2As Elder Porphyrios reminds us, we need to remember that this war we are waging against the pull of the world, more often than not will be won with “true love.”  I admit that I am on Facebook to stay in touch.  I moved an inordinate number of miles away from all that is familiar to me, and while I settle in and make my way, I stay in touch with friends and family on Facebook.  I also belong to several online pages where we discuss various subjects, and offer prayers for one another.  And my journey of mileage has also become a journey of philosophy and theology…a journey of “theosis.”

Theosis is a term that many who study purely western theology and philosophy often disagree with.  As found on OrthodoxWiki: “Theosis (“deification,” “divinization”) is the process of a worshiper becoming free of hamartía (“missing the mark”), being united with God, beginning in this life and later consummated in bodily resurrection. For Orthodox Christians, Théōsis (see 2 Pet. 1:4) is salvation. Théōsis assumes that humans from the beginning are made to share in the Life or Nature of the all-Holy Trinity. Therefore, an infant or an adult worshiper is saved from the state of unholiness (hamartía — which is not to be confused with hamártēma “sin”) for participation in the Life (zōé, not simply bíos) of the Trinity — which is everlasting.”  This definition quite often frightens people because they think, that you think, that you can become God.  And that is not the point, at all.  The point is that we strive for the perfection that is God’s.  We cannot be God, because God is God.  But we can become as God when we strive to obtain that mindset, outlook, and philosophy of the attributes attributed to God.  Basically, we live the Ten Commandments.  And I mean really live them.

I have been reading several different sites recently and I have noticed that all of them seem intent on out-doing one another in their use of terminology and their “holiness” factor.  Personally, one of the reasons I find myself veering more and more to the East is the simplicity of it all.  God just is.  Forgiveness just is.  Love is love.  Prayer is to God.  We act, we live, we believe quite simply that God is LOVE…and we try to live that each and every day.

I read a blog the other day by a single dad. He was lamenting the treatment of a young boy in line, in front of him at Costco, by the boy’s father.  The man belittled his son and made him cower in fear of him.  And I could relate to that so much.  I do not believe for a moment in breaking a child.  I believe we need to guide them and mold them into the adults we see the potential of them being.  And words can be everything to a child.  In explaining the concept to my son, I explained that parents are like the bumpers in bumper bowling…we allow them to sway from side to side, but we keep them heading to the pins at the end of that alleyway.  They may bowl slowly; the may throw the ball; they might just push it to begin rolling.  Regardless of how that ball was put on the alleyway, the bumpers keep it safely on its way to the pins. (Unless it’s me bowling, and the people two or three lanes on either side need to be on guard…I am the worst bowler, ever!  Bumpers or no bumpers!!).

Reaching people with words and sermons and theology sometimes does not allow them to proceed where they need to be headed.  Sometimes our lofty terminology and theology turns them completely away from organized religion.  Sometimes our words make them walk out the door, and opt to never go back inside.  When I read some posts and I see things like, “There is no salvation outside of the Catholic Church,” I get a little “sideways.”  Mostly because people who say that often mean that unless you attend a Roman Catholic Church, are baptized, confirmed, and receive communion in a RC Church, you are going to hell.  There are those who feel that Catholicism brought Christianity to the world, so all Christian religions are tied to the Catholic Church. Protestant sects are ones that have “some” of the truth, but do not live in the “fulness” of the truth, but can find salvation.  Then they talk about the Orthodox as Christians gone astray through politics and governments running their Church, when in fact their theology was brought to them through seekers sent by Tsars and others to investigate Christianity around the world. They loved the Byzantine worship they came across the best and took it back with them to their homelands and there developed their version of it.  So it has some of the markings of the Church (apostolic? not so much) but once again, do not enjoy the fulness of the truth to be found in Catholicism.  See how hurtful words can be?  What is interesting to me is that there is no mention of all the Eastern Churches who are independent Churches but align themselves with the Bishop of Rome (sui juris).  People speak, using words that are often hurtful to those they speak about, without knowing what they are really saying.

We had a group at a former Latin parish that were very much a part of the exclusionary ideas of Fr. Feeney. (Feeneyism is a term for the doctrinal position associated with Leonard Feeney (1897–1978), a Jesuit priest and founder of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Fr. Feeney favored a strict interpretation of the doctrine extra Ecclesium nulla salus (“outside the Church there is no salvation” – Wikipedia).  They did not believe that anyone who, even if they led a good life but did not know Christ, would enter heaven.  It caused many heated debates, even though the Church excommunicated Fr. Feeney for his “opinions” in the late 70s.  Words can hurt.  Sermons and posturing can hurt.

I have many relatives who are not Catholic.  They believe that I am going to hell; that my husband, children, and now grandchildren will go to hell with me.  They have talked to me, my children, and extended family members about my family’s terrible predicament.  They have never accepted that our faith is true, and honest, and real.  One family member is a former Catholic, who left the Church as a young adult, with an 8-th grade-confirmation-class-understanding of the faith.  Making adult decisions based on knowledge gained at 12 or 13 is not the wisest road to choose.  And words can hurt.  They have hurt – for years.  Non-acceptance is hurtful.  Using words to try and drum-home a point of view that is contrary to the one you are talking to, can hurt.

Elder Sophrony of EssexWhen my heart is heavy, and words become a noisy gong in my life, I tend to retreat.  I know that a cup of tea, as Elder Sophrony shares, can be a great reliever of stress and despair.  And I quite often retreat to enjoy a hot “cuppa.”  But my mind is still rolling over words.  I am finding myself more and more put off by strong rhetoric, be it in the marketplace (the mess with Target and identity theft comes to mind), sports (a previous post when I addressed the NFL playoffs), politics (so much, SO MUCH, comes to mind there), and even my faith.  Why is it that we have to resort to harshness when GOD IS LOVE?  WWJD?  Indeed, what would Jesus do?  He sat with sinners; He laughed with them and dined with them, and He loved them.

The Church is not a place for those who have “made it.”  It is not for those who “are saved.”  The Church is a huge tent, in which there are many rooms: “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way I am going.” (John 14: 1-3).  Christ tells us that there are many rooms and that if we believe, He will come for us and receive us “to Myself.”  It like a previous post when I spoke about the grace and healing we find in confession – the mercy that envelopes our whole self, all of who we are, all at once.  God is mercy; God is forgiveness; God is love.

Why cannot our words reflect that? Why cannot our methods of reaching one another reflect that?  Why do we strike out at those who are different than we are? If it is not exactly what we think it should be, it obviously has to be wrong?  Why do our perceptions of the Divine Truth separate us from our families, our friends, or even fellow believers, who are also seeking the Divine Physician in His hospital, the Church?

 “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. Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.” Matthew 10:34-40

We come into this world alone; we leave this world alone. The very least we can do is to be kind to each person we touch, every day we come into contact with others.  We need to begin in our homes, in our families, with our friends, and in our parishes.  God is Love!  True Love!

Eph 5-8

“…a whisper of the Divine….”

Warriors of Christ fite best on kneesI love this photo.  Roughly translated it means that the “Warriors of Christ fight best on their knees.”  What a thought!  Someone commented that there is a lot of black in their vestments.  Yes, there is.  But it is worn as a sign of mourning or sadness, during Lent.  And I love how beautiful the entire thing looks.  I long to be there…instead of….

My house!  I am decidedly going crazy right now, with the hectic pace of our moving looming over everything.  My husband has 5 or so days left on his job, then we seriously pack up and move.  We have one room upstairs almost totally empty; our poor son has no dresser or night stand in his room, and his bed is going soon, too.  We have odds and ends to be rid of and we are all about cleaning out to the bare bones.  The hectic, chaotic mess of a house torn apart, well, it really gets to me. I did not realize how much I like having everything in its place. Not necessarily white-glove clean, but neat.  Having to step around and over things is getting to me.  Right now, all my dishes (and I mean all) are on our counter top, waiting to be packed or sold.  I cannot move in my kitchen.  The bathrooms are great, so that is a place to hide away! Ha-Ha!  My office is in total chaos and I still have to either pack or burn all the papers in there.  We are trying to get rid of a large oak roll-top desk, so I need to empty it.  So much in process; much done, but oh so much left to do!

And I find myself looking for solace and peace.  The opening post photo is exemplary of what I need to be doing…fighting this battle on my knees.  All of this is in God’s hands and I need to stop taking it back from him. Surrendering in prayer is what I need more of, not struggling with these things I need to pack, choices I need to make, and space bags to fill and flatten.  I am not disposing myself to complete surrender, to just sit and wiggle my nose like Jeannie on the old TV show, and expect that everything will magically be packed and we will be on our way.  It is more of a surrender to the Will of God in all things.  This move included.  All things.

Elder Sophrony1Spending a few moments in prayer is worth all the chaos that may arise because of being absent to the chronos of life, and spending some kairos time with God.   And those moments when you hear “a whisper of the Divine is glory beyond compare to all the content of a life lived apart from God.” This momentary interruption to having things in their place, and the quiet and contentment of living in your home where you feel like it is your place of solace, are all worth living in the light of God’s Will for us.  Life is not about those years we engrave on our tombstones, but rather about the life in between those dates.  A little chaos now and then makes the peace that much more sublime and rich.  And as my kids keep reminding me, “Keep your eye on the prize.”  Today, I am living that…God’s truly got this!

“…let him become a fool…”

Zosimas_and_Mary_of_EgyptSts. Zosimas and Mary of Egypt (April 1st)

Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seems to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He takes the wise in their own craftiness.” (1Corinthians 3: 18-19)

Today is April 1st, also known as April Fool’s Day. I find it interesting that it falls just after Easter Sunday this year.  As if to make light of the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ; that it never took place.  There are so many theories out there about the whole process. Historians often find things that happened just too uncomfortable to deal with, so they explain them away.  In recent history, the Muslims have said the Holocaust never took place – it’s all faked by the western countries; an elaborate hoax to woo favor for the emerging powerhouse of Israel. I personally know some Holocaust survivors, have spoken with them, have seen their tattoos, and have listened to their gruesome stories.  I believe.  But I believed before I met them; I saw pictorial evidence; I listened to eyewitness accounts from soldiers who rescued those left in the Concentration Camps. I believe.  There are other instances where people are taken in by hoaxes.  Stories abound of people whose life savings were taken by hucksters, selling them the dream of getting rich, quick.  To me, there is no scheme worth my savings.  Hard work and the sweat of one’s own brow!  Even after being taken in and feeling used or stupid, there is always a way to look at things with a positive faith, with trust.  Our faith is the same way.

There are so many detractors to Christianity.  There are even more detractors from under the masthead of Christianity who believe that organized religion is the “Bride of Satan,” most especially the most visible Church, the Catholic Church.  I find it humorous that the Church is the first one to be picked on by so many, especially the liberal media and Hollywood!  But when they need a religious expert, or some sort of icon to portray the religiosity of a scene in a movie, they trot out a priest in Roman collar, or show an iconic view of a Roman Catholic Church.  Why? Because it is the most visible faith; almost everyone has had some sort of interaction sometime in their life with something Catholic.  It is a visible, tangible symbol of Christianity.  And because it is all of that and more, it has the most detractors.  Being a Byzantine Catholic is an entirely different kettle of fish.  We are perhaps the most misunderstood part of the Christian, Catholic picture.  Many of our Catholic friends assumed we’d left the Church altogether, upon our switch to Byzantine worship.  So many people only know that visible Church; they do no realize the true ethnic and religious diversity of the Church they belong to.  So really, how could we of the Byzantine tradition ever hope that anyone would understand us, other than ourselves?  The Orthodox aren’t sure what to do with us, either!  We have the same Divine Liturgy, but we are aligned with Rome; they are not.  And I am sorry for that, because I identify much more with Orthodoxy than I do with Romanism in theological outlook and religious practice.  We Melkites have been laughingly referred to as the Orthodox of the West on more than one occasion, because we seem the most Orthodox of the Byzantine rites; perhaps we are.  Up here in the Pacific Northwest, there are more people from Northern climates across Europe, and the rites that geographically and socially come with them.  There are lots of Ruthenian and Ukrainian parishes, and many, many Russian churches.  Some of the Russian churches are Orthodox, some are Byzantine.  We even have a Romanian monastery nearby, who keep the Orthodox calendar, but are also in union with Rome.  All of this diversity, for me, is heaven-sent.  It gives me such joy to know the many manifestations of the Church around the world.  Wherever the Apostles and Disciples went, they established Christ’s Church on the earth, as He had mandated to them (“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Matthew 28:19)  One of the unique things about our faith is that these Apostles and Disciples reached the people where they were; they incorporated local custom, tradition, folklore, dress, music, and food into the formalized worship of Christ.  (And yes, the Church also incorporated common festivals, seasons, and dates, to further ease people into practicing their new-found Christian faith).  And because of the gift of the Holy Spirit, they did it without diluting Christ’s message, or changing a single word He told them.  We  believe the age of revelation died with the last Apostle.  God’s message was complete in the Apostles He sent forth. There is nothing new to be revealed to man.  That is a sticking point with Protestants and other sects that have branched off from Catholicism.  They believe their pastors and other mystics have been given prophetic powers, that there is still much God wishes to share with humanity, that is new and revelatory.  One of my favorite scriptures is the Old Testament book of Jeremiah. In Chapter 23, he pretty much lays it on the line insofar as false prophets go.  There are so many memorable quotes in that chapter and one of them is: ‘“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord.’ That is how the chapter opens and it goes from there.

The point here is that we believe. Period. We are believers because we heard the Good News of Christ’s love for us and we believe it all.  (eg. John 6: 48-59)  We received this message from those who heard it from Christ Himself, through Apostolic succession.  That means that once the Word was given to the Apostles, as they went around the world establishing the Church, they passed this Word onto their successors.  They passed this on directly to their successors through the laying on of hands, which was first described in the book of Acts:  “Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.  Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 8:14-17, ESV)  

Priests hands aloft incenseThis act of laying hands on an apostle so they could receive the Holy Spirit has continued since, unbroken.  For someone like me, who loves history, pomp and circumstance, and all-things old, it comforts my heart and my spirit to know my faith is an unbroken line or connection, back to the Apostles themselves, who learned at the knee of Christ, God made Man, on earth.  There can be no April Fool’s joke played on me when it comes to my faith. No false prophets can assuage me away from my God, my worship, my love of the Lord. It is a basic relationship that I wish others could experience, or see, or recognize.  So many get caught up in the externals that they do see.  The world wants a representation of religion and they trot out a priest….not a pastor, not a minister from an obscure off-shoot of Catholicism….they want a priest.  Because there is universal recognition in the person of the priest, that Christ is present with us, visibly, in His Church.  When a Byzantine or Orthodox priest walks about in his rason or tunic, people notice.  It does not look like a Roman collar, worn with a black shirt and normal slacks; it is a long, black robe, reminiscent of days gone by.  The visible sign of our faith is in our Priest.  And it is different; it stands apart from a Roman collar, and it is symbolic of the Church that is in the world.  We are diverse and we worship in a divergent manner from the Roman Church, but we share the same faith.  No April Fool’s joke, no manner of ill-speaking of our practices will make it untrue or non-existent.  The Muslims want the Holocaust to go away; they want Christianity to go away.  It is not happening.  “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28: 18-20)  Christ left us His Church, the Word of God, intact in His Church and He will be with us until the end of the age.  Thanks be to God. And there is nothing foolish about that.

Sunlight divine liturgy

“…when things unforeseen occur…”

Cross sunlight rocks

“Thou hast raised me from bed and sleep, O Lord; enlighten my mind and heart, and open my lips, that I may praise Thee, O Holy Trinity: Holy, Holy, Holy art Thou, O God. For the sake of the Mother of God, have mercy upon us.  Grant unto me, my Lord, that with peace in mind I may face all that this new day is to bring. Grant unto me grace to surrender myself completely to Thy holy will. Instruct and prepare me in all things for every hour of this day. Whatsoever tidings I may receive during the day, do Thou teach me to accept them calmly, in the firm conviction that all eventualities fulfill Thy holy will. Govern Thou my thoughts and feelings in all I do and say. When things unforeseen occur, let me not forget that all cometh down from Thee. Teach me to behave sincerely and reasonable toward every member of my family and all other human beings, that I may not cause confusion and sorrow to anyone. Bestow upon me, my Lord, strength to endure the fatigue of the day and to bear my share in all its passing events. Guide Thou my will and teach me to pray, to believe, to hope, to suffer, to forgive, and to love. Amen.” (A small portion of the Orthodox set of Morning Prayers).

I remember a cute saying that goes something like, “If you want God to have a good laugh, just tell Him your plans.”  And I try to keep that foremost in my mind as I plan, not just the day, but when we are planning our future.  I have had so many conversations with parents recently who have shared that their children are still dependent on them, in so many ways, even though they are perhaps married themselves.  With the new Obamacare, children can remain on their parents’ health insurance until they are 26 years old.  Some of our friends have children who have their own lives, are married, and live in other states, but whose cell phone is still paid by the parents, because they have a “family” plan and it’s cheaper for everyone.  Still other children, married and on their own, have their car insurance or portions of their rent, covered by their parents.  I even have friends my age, whose parents still send them the occasional infusion of cash, because for lots of us, we live pretty close to the “edge.” The cost of living is climbing at a pace that many young people, just out on their own, cannot afford to live without some assistance.  This has happened with our sons in differing degrees, and I do not begrudge them a cent, and feel happy that we can help them as they establish their independence.  It just seems like it is becoming the norm, as much as living with your parents when you are first out of college or newlyweds.  “Back in the day” people did not leave the family home – they enlarged it to encompass their children’s spouses and the grandchildren.  Large families, all living together, were the norm.

Today, I am re-arranging my head and my processing of our future, because we had grandiose plans (that’s God you hear laughing) to relocate to another state, thousands of miles north of us.  We have been purging and taking down the quantity our “things” to try and fit onto a 14-foot trailer.  I have been giving things away and selling some things. Nonetheless, it has been a process of purging.  It’s been feeling good to have less, but “icky” at the same time.  We are still relocating, and still relocating to the same place, but God has given us more to deal with than we originally had on our plates.  And each day I pray that I can successfully deal with whatever God places in my life, and it has been no exception over the past few days.

I always try to picture things in my mind, ahead of time.  There seems to be a certain order to life….birth – life – death.  Sometimes we make assumptions about the order of things.  One assumption is that we will live with our own, nuclear, families and we will see our extended families from time to time (aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, etc).  Quite a few years ago, when all three of our sons still lived at home, my paternal grandmother became unable to live on her own.  I had been her custodial caregiver for years and was accustomed to running over to her place on a moment’s notice.  The time eventually came in her life when she could not longer care for herself, and she came to live with us.  God had blessed us with a home in the same town, that was large enough to house all of us, with a bedroom and bathroom for my grandma on the first floor.  It was good for my children to live with an elderly person, and to see their great-grandmother on a daily basis, in her time of need, and at her most vulnerable.  Up until then, my grandma had been a “force of nature” in all our lives.  My sons stepped up and were wonderful.  (My middle son still has nightmares about cleaning her dentures, but that is for another post! LOL!)  We all gathered around her as she passed from this life to the next, and it was a beautiful thing; something we shared as a family and have never forgotten.  And now we are going to relocate, and at the same time, incorporate an aging parent into the mix.

Bringing an aging parent to live with you is something most of us never had expected to do.  This morning, I was drawn to re-read the Scripture verses about worrying (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.”  These verses give me comfort; I will not worry about the million-and-one details about how we are going to pull all of this off (my parent lives in a different state; we have to sell their house, their car, their things and then get them up to us) but instead think of the blessings this will bring our family.

Once again, my children will be a light to an aging relative. We still have a teenager at home and my oldest son and his family will be living very close to us.  They will bring energy and love into the house, where an aging parent of mine can siphon-off some of that, to keep them aware and enjoying life.  My grandchildren will get to know their great-grandparent.  In this day and age, how many children know their great-grandparents?  I was blessed to know and love my paternal grandmother’s parents…they were a joy in my life that I feel so very grateful to have had.  My grandchildren will be able to learn to love someone like me, but also someone older than myself, who also is part of our family.  My plans have altered a little bit, but I am looking at the blessing of having an elder member of our family present every day, not just on holidays.  My daughter-in-law and I had plans to sight-see this summer and now it will be even more important, as we also take my parent along with us, to introduce us all to our new homeland. She and I also chatted about sharing this responsibility together, and I am blessed that she is looking forward to it!!

hands

I am putting a positive spin on this, because I am also feeling a tad bit overwhelmed.  You see, this parent of mine also suffers from Alzheimer’s, so there is quite a lot of this tandem-future of ours, that is a little cloudy right now (no pun intended).  The overwhelming experience of loosing a beloved spouse affects any person’s mental well-being, but most especially someone with Alzheimer’s.  The importance of assisting my parent, as their surroundings are going to change several times, until a familiar room is created with memories on tabletops and walls, to ensure there is some place they can call their own.  My heart is breaking with love and tenderness, because God has blessed us with this disease in the sense that there is no anger or hostility, but instead a kinder, gentler personality has emerged, with a quiet and peacful resignation (some Alzheimer patients are angry and difficult to be around).  For me, growing up with this particular parent was not an easy thing; I moved out the week after I graduated from high school and we do much better living apart.  Coming together could have been cataclysmic, but God has seen this coming (I believe) for years, and has been preparing us both for a future together.

This Lent has turned out to be quite a Lent for me.  I have been struggling with keeping peaceful thoughts and emptying my mind, as well as dealing with relocating so drastically, and the impending death of a dearly loved stepfather.  Now the implications of taking in my parent after so many years of living separately….added to the fact that this parent of mine dislikes “weather” and prefers the calm, sunny, days of Southern California!  There is a huge pile on my proverbial plate, but God is good. He does not give us more than we can handle (yes, that’s me, looking up to God and signalling a time out!!) and He also promised us that He would be with us always (Matthew 28:20 “…And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”).  So I choose to cling to those promises and seek His assistance, as we face an uncertain, but never dull, future.  Easter Sunday should be quite interesting; I wonder where I will be and what God will have in store for me.  Stay tuned.

after the rain