“…You are praised by the Seraphim …”

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I absolutely love angels.  I love reading fantasy novels which pit good against evil.  Most of the time, good wins; sometimes evil is just too powerful in the face of purity.  But I am drawn to that sort of literature. I mostly read the Young Adult genre because there’s not much profanity, of language or situation, in them.  And I love battling evil. I believe it is what all Christians need to do.

I read a great article on Thursday. “Why Orthodox Men Love Church” by Frederica Mathewes-Green (Here’s a link: http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english.42390htm. I think if you click on the word, Orthodox, above, it will direct you there, too).  I have loved her writing for years and years.  There were some great insights into the spirituality of men in the article and I highly recommend it.  This is one of her quotes, “A convert priest says that men are drawn to the dangerous element of Orthodoxy, which involves “the self-denial of a warrior, the terrifying risk of loving one’s enemies, the unknown frontiers to which a commitment to humility might call us. Lose any of those dangerous qualities and we become the ‘JoAnn Fabric Store’ of churches: nice colors and a very subdued clientele.”  I love this because I happen to adore JoAnne’s Fabric Stores, and my husband hates stepping inside one. He says it’s a “woman’s domain.”  Although he is crafty, he would prefer to shop at Home Depot or Lowe’s for his crafting supplies, as would our son.  And I get that, I truly do. I feel that one of the reasons we were drawn to the East was because we were challenged in what we knew, what we thought we knew, the historical context in which the Eastern Churches arose, and where we, as Americans, all fit in.

Luckily for us, we found the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. Our pastor, Fr. Justin Rose, ensured that we would know to what we were committing ourselves.  We went through some wonderful faith development and enlightenment around the tables in our hall.  We had wonderful shared meals with other journeymen of faith; we shared bottles of wine and some amazing bar-be-ques and hookahs. We loved every moment of that experience. The Melkites are a church of the MIddle East. Most of our parishioners did not speak English as their primary language, nor did they speak it at home. Our Liturgies are sung in Arabic, English, Greek, and occasionally, a little Spanish. I was blessed to learn the tones in Arabic as well as English. I will clarify that for those of you who know my singing ability and say that I can “follow the guy in front of me” pretty well.  Heaven forbid one of the other deacon’s wives and I sat too close together, because she is as bad as I am.  Fr. Justin told us we sing in Tone 10 – deacon’s wives tone! (For those of you unfamiliar with tonal singing in Church, there is no Tone 10!). For another quote in her article, “As Leon Podles wrote in his 1999 book, “The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity,” “The Orthodox are the only Christians who write basso profundo church music, or need to.”  It is wonderful to hear good, clear, tonal music from men’s voices in Church. I love it.Male Cantors

And one of the things I get most from Eastern-styled worship is a sense of safety and comfort. The faith is not watered down; there is no ambiguity about what I need to do to strengthen my relationship with Jesus Christ. I need to not sin. Period. I need to place my complete faith in Jesus Christ. Period. “The prayers the Church provides for us — morning prayers, evening prayers, prayers before and after meals, and so on — give men a way to engage in spirituality without feeling put on the spot, or worrying about looking stupid because they don’t know what to say.” The same holds true for women. We love that we can come to morning prayer, even a little late, and just join in. No surprises. We always know what comes next and there is comfort and a feel of protectiveness in that.

Our world is careening out of control these days. There is wantonness everywhere you turn. Sex sells. It sure does. And it saddens me that promiscuity is now rewarded. How many times do we hear, “So and So were just engaged and plan to marry after the birth of their first child, due next month.” Wow. There’s even hedonism  – it is defined as seeking pleasure as the highest good in life (think of Herod and the licentiousness of the late Roman Empire) – and even when seeking to have children. There’s an up and coming trend these days among women who make a living in the public forum and who don’t want to look “bad” in the press or in their business suits, so they are hiring women to have babies for them.  Because they don’t want to mar their bodies with the glories of stretch marks, or appear to be fat. Oh my. There is an over-importance placed on the purse you carry, the car you drive, even what clothes your children wear, which restaurants you frequent. How can all of this come into line with an Orthodox, as in right-thinking, life of faith? It just doesn’t. Pretty simple, really.

I am feeling so out of control about how this world is affecting my friends, my kids, my church family. There have been seemingly innocent kids caught “sexting” at a high school in Colorado (click on the word and it should take you to a CNN article about it). Some of their nude photos were taken on campus. Literally hundreds of students were caught with hundreds of photos. There is an app kids can get for smart phones that looks like a calculator on their phone but is really a “secret” file sort of like Snap Chat, where kids can hide their nude photos from their parents. And there was a game involved – who could collect the most photos of fellow students – nude photos – was the winner. Now many of these teens face felony charges and life-long registry as sex offenders. How do we combat this? It is NOT okay to send nude photos of yourself. Things on the internet never die. Ever. Someone has a record of it somewhere. Every, single, keystroke or attachment, file or photo is stored in the great internet “cloud” of information somewhere. A friend’s son is going through the process of becoming a fire fighter, which is something my youngest son aspires to. There are intensive background checks, as well as lie-detector tests, health screening, and psych exams you have to pass, above and beyond the skill set of firefighting, itself. If a 14-year-old kid made stupid statements on FB, or posted inappropriate photos of himself or others, 8 years later, as a college graduate, he could not get a job because there’s a record of that idiocy on the internet somewhere, that some expert in unearthing stuff, will find. How do we stop it before it begins?

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Orthodoxy preserves and transmits ancient Christian wisdom about how to progress toward this union, which is called “theosis.” Every sacrament or spiritual exercise is designed to bring the person, body and soul, further into continual awareness of the presence of Christ within, and also within every other human being. As a cloth becomes saturated with dye by osmosis, we are saturated with God by theosis.

A catechumen wrote that he was finding icons helpful in resisting unwanted thoughts. “If you just close your eyes to some visual temptation, there are plenty of stored images to cause problems. But if you surround yourself with icons, you have a choice of whether to look at something tempting or something holy.

Do we surround ourselves and our families with things that bring us into the “Presence of God?” Do we watch our speech? Is what I say life-giving? Is it destructive? Do I harm others by my speech? Are others better because of knowing me? Or do I bring others down? Are my actions reflecting what I believe in? Do I allow abhorrent behavior to continue around me? Do I associate with others who reflect what I believe? Do I allow my children to associate with others who are not good for their character development? Will I be able to stand before God, when He asks me, “What have you done for the souls I have entrusted to you?” Will I answer, “Lord, I prayed for them; I sheltered them; I fed them; I instructed them; I set them on the path to You?” For my children, I pray I did this for them. And they then made their own adult choices and decisions. We can only “lead a horse to water, but you cannot make them drink.” Each person’s faith is specifically that – their own. As parents, we try to lead our children to a life of faith. In the world, at times we are the only Jesus a stranger, even a friend, will ever know. So how do we conduct ourselves, even at the grocery store, on the highways and byways of life, with our own relatives? Are we Christ to them? Do we lead by example? Are we the light and leaven in this fallen world?

Christians in the world.

I have been feeling so out of control of the things around me. It seems like nothing I can do can affect a change, especially an immediate one. I feel hamstrung some days. Thursday was a particularly trying day. I was trying to affect movement and change in the world of business and was thwarted at every turn. I was trying to help my children and some friends. But the Lord decided I needed some fine tuning today. He wanted me to learn patience and utter reliance on His Word in my life. He wanted me to learn that stopping, taking a deep breath, and praying is more often the valued path to choose. Sometimes my words are not what others need to hear. Sometimes I cannot effect change in the timeframe my brain had settled on. Some things have to germinate and take forever to change. But God truly has my life in His hands. I truly believe this world is a fallen place where I am to work out my salvation for the next. We are tried again and again. Sometimes we fall. The trick is to always get back up, ready to battle evil again.

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It is proper and right to sing to You, bless You, praise You, thank You and worship You in all places of Your dominion; for You are God ineffable, beyond comprehension, invisible, beyond understanding, existing forever and always the same… We also thank You for this liturgy which You are pleased to accept from our hands, even though You are surrounded by thousands of Archangels and tens of thousands of Angels, by the Cherubim and Seraphim, six-winged, many-eyed, soaring with their wings

I try to imagine Heaven, where all the choirs of angels are constantly singing praise to God. Where they are flying to and from His Throne, ministering to their charges. And I pray that some day the sweet sounds of their eternal song will be heard by me, for eternity. I pray I can greet my family members and friends, who have made the journey before me. All the angels and saints, greeting me as I approach the Throne of God. And I wondered, with all the stress of the day I had yesterday, the chats continuing on today, the many conversations and actions throughout my life, if I have done enough – for others. We are called to love those who persecute us; to love our enemies; to pray for those who hate us. Have I, honestly, done that? What have I done for the souls entrusted to me? I pray that all of us, as our world continues to careen out of control, that we stop; we all just stop, take a deep breath and pray to God. Stop and notice those hurting around you. Re-evaluate the words you use with others; the actions you take with others. If each of us were to truly be Christian in this fallen world, we could affect a change. A real, authentic change. We are called to be the “light and leaven” in this fallen world. And not because of what we do, but how we believe, take that belief of Christ Jesus living in us (Theosis) and turn it into love for one another.

For indeed He was crucified because of weakness, yet He lives because of the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, yet we will live with Him because of the power of God directed toward you. Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you– unless indeed you fail the test? But I trust that you will realize that we ourselves do not fail the test.…” (2Cor 13:5-8)

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“He’s trying to change your heart.”

Didache.Two RoadsWe recently decided to try a different approach to our health.  We started using a new kitchen gadget and way of eating.  It was really strange, because nothing was added to our diet that was in pill or powder form, neither was it a medicinal addition.  We ate all natural foods, and very simply, too.  For me, I felt clear-headed.  I also was happy.  My mood had definitely felt elevated!  And I also had more energy, more drive.  And it seemed like this was a good idea.  Some friends came to stay this weekend, a way of sharing some time with us before we relocate thousands of miles away.  We have been close friends for about 27 years or so. Over the weekend, though, we made (my husband and myself) some very poor nutritional choices, veering about as far away from our chosen path as you can get.  We had burgers, fried mushrooms, onion rings, sodas, Mexican food with too many chips, a late evening drive through Dairy Queen for some Blizzards, and then bacon and eggs breakfasts…on and on it went!  Decadent, not fasting at all (our friends are Protestant and do not keep the fast at all), and definitely not good for us.  By Sunday afternoon, I felt miserably sick.  My stomach was roiling, I was tired, and cranky, and felt wiped out.  I slept miserably on Saturday night, as well.  And I could not help but think that our step back into our former habits was completely to blame.  Our new habits had just begun last Tuesday….it will just be a week tomorrow…and we failed miserably at keeping our new ways going, in favor of accommodating some dear friends.  The interesting thing was that the male counterpart in this friendship is diabetic and his numbers stunk so bad, and he knew it, so he did not even want to test his blood!  The four of us knew we had been very, very bad!!

White Tulips Best PixIt is such a glorious day today!  Spring is here and the sun is out, and I am drinking my morning “Berry Blast” and determined to right my wrongs of the weekend.  I realized that my wrongs, although dietary, are significant.  These wrongs were gleefully carried out, with barely a nod to my resolutions about my diet. Our friends had also made great strides in their approach to eating and were feeling much healthier.  We get together and bam!  We are eating bad foods again, being decadent, and it was obviously not in our best interests.  How did this happen so easily?

In life, I have been patiently shown, over and over again, that we have paths to choose from.  One is good for us, one is not. One path is towards God, one is not.  One is towards life, one is towards death.  Life is about choices.  We make them every day about a multitude of things.  I chose very poorly this weekend and felt the physical remorse of doing so.  What else am I so easily willing to compromise?  Well, none of us went to Church.  Our friends are Protestant, so we did not push attending Divine Liturgy, even though it was Palm Sunday on the western calendar, and we are now in Holy Week.  How did we allow the pressure of visitors cause us to compromise our path to God?  Our culture pressures us every day to compromise our walk towards eternity with God.  I had a conversation with my son last night about raising his son, how he wants to rear him, what values are important for him to share with his son, and how he does not want interference with the process from others.  It was an enlightening conversation and another facet to that conversation was it got me to thinking about God, Our Father.  How much He wants to share with us, without outside influence, without anyone interfering with that process.  And it made me just stop.  Here we are, at the end of Lent, and I feel once again like I failed miserably.  I have, yes, made some wonderful strides and have learned so very much.  Elder Thaddeus has become, for me, like an intimate friend and spiritual father, and I feel blessed he is in my life.  Keeping silent has also had a profound influence on my life, my heart, my head, my soul.  I am blessed in that, as well.  I discovered something that is working for my betterment in health, and that is also a blessing (as I take another swig of my morning “Berry Blast”!!) But how easily that wide, decadent path to death enticed me back in.  How weak I am and how much I need God, in every aspect of my life, every day. I need to develop a stronger backbone, a way of saying “no” in a loving manner, when situations or people entice me away from the person I am choosing to become.  My “Berry Blast” this morning is more than a healthy alternative to bacon and eggs. It is a rallying point for me and as I look at it, sitting here on my desk, I am inspired to pick myself back up and re-enter the race.  Christ Himself promises us that He is waiting for us. There are innumerous examples in Scripture where God welcomes those “late to the Supper.”  The one I love is where He pays the workers in His vineyard the same wage, regardless of when they show up to work.  Some of the workers, having been toiling all day, are jealous the late-comers get the same wage and He tells them:  “Friend, I am not treating you unfairly. Didn’t you agree with me to work for the standard wage?  Take what is yours and go. I want to give this last man the same as I gave to you.  Am I not permitted to do what I want with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?  So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Matthew 20: 13-16) And I cling to that promise, that although I may be late, I will still be paid the same – salvation.  I work and work on myself, and am continually finding myself at the short end of the stick and yet I am comforted by knowing that I am still participating.  And I am also comforted by the fact that I knew, within hours, that I had lost my will and caved to the pressures of being with friends.  I had not insisted that we go to a salad bar!  I caved and went to a ’50s burger diner, had miserable food (horrible service, as well) and then paid for it for two days afterwards!  But I knew; I realized exactly where my error was and it has not left me since.  I also knew, with a sinking heart, that we should have invited them to participate with us, rather than worry that it would drive them away, on Palm Sunday.  We lost an incredible opportunity to share our Byzantine faith with some very dear friends.  The remorse is palatable today.

God is changing your heartToday, I choose to step into the Light of the love of God once more. To strap on the armor of God, and to battle my weaknesses and the wiles of the enemy.  God is working so hard this Lent to change my heart.  I know that change is happening, because my awareness has grown!  I knew when I slipped – I knew it.  Before my challenging Lent, I simply would have fallen and not really noticed, because I would have been back in what has been a “comfort zone” for years and years.  I think that one of the lessons from this weekend is that I need to stop trying to please other people. I need to focus, instead, on living this Psalm:  “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14). This is basically telling me that only what is pleasing to God should concern my heart, my behavior, my actions.  I also believe, and have shared before, that if I can entrench deeply into my heart these precepts of God; if I can live according to His Word, emblazoned on my heart, then all these other things will also be a blessing to God.  My interaction with friends, family members, parishioners, strangers I meet along my way, will be so very different because they all will feel the light emanating from me; the Light of Christ.  And all will be well.

Eph 5-8