“We give thanks to You, invisible King..”

 

Food Thanksgiving

We give thanks to You, invisible King. By Your infinite power You created all things and by Your great mercy You brought everything from nothing into being. Master, look down from heaven upon those who have bowed their heads before You; they have bowed not before flesh and blood but before You the awesome God. Therefore, Master, guide the course of our life for our benefit according to the need of each of us. Sail with those who sail; travel with those who travel; and heal the sick, Physician of our souls and bodies. By the grace, mercy, and love for us of Your only begotten Son, with whom You are blessed, together with Your all holy, good, and life giving Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.” (Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom)

This week is hectic. It’s Thanksgiving here in the USA. So many ways to celebrate; so many ways to give Thanks. Each time we attend Divine Liturgy, we continually beseech God for mercy, and we constantly give thanks, “to You, invisible King.” This holiday season is one where tensions fly with family members and friends, alike. Everyone has a plan in their head of what the “Holidays” are supposed to be. For whatever reason, they ALWAYS fall short. Why is that? I remember a conversation between two siblings, wherein they were recalling incidents in their youth. One of them remarked, “Were we even raised in the same family?” It was because their memories were vastly different of the same events. And I know that is what happens each year. We have fond recollections from our youth, but they are quite often not what truly occurred. We laugh and laugh as our boys retell certain instances in their lives, because to the mind of a child, it happened a particular way. But, we, who experienced it as adults, have a far different recollection.

kidsthanksgiving

Hosting the holidays has been stressing me out. It’s because I have a very tiny house and there will be a lot of grown-ups trying to cram into it. I do mean a tiny house, with a one-butt kitchen. (If you have one, you know what I mean). There are other reasons, too. Like trying to live up the expectations of a family feast for my kids, grandkids, and extended family members. We also have many, many subjects that will naturally be taboo at our table. (A varied belief system, political system, and even agnostic/atheistic tendancies). There will be football! Ha-Ha! But even that can be heated (we all like different teams). The food is coming in from a variety of people, so all I have to worry about is the turkey (they don’t stress me out – just a big chicken), stuffing, cranberry sauce, and sweet potatoes. Should be simple. We will have far more food than we can eat but hopefully everyone can taste something they like. My kids have already said that since they are now adults, I can’t make them eat what they don’t want to eat. So if all they eat is stuffing, gravy, rolls, and pie, washing it all down with a beer, I need to deal with it. Ha-Ha.  Well, okay then.

I am missing the days of attending Divine Liturgy and feeding the homeless, as we did in previous years. Our current parish is hosting a meal after the Divine Liturgy and I will miss it this year; perhaps next year we can hop from place to place, enjoying the company of a variety of family and friends. Perhaps sharing our previous experiences in helping the less fortunate will be something I can share around the table, maybe even inspiring an openness to giving to others. Who knows, maybe next year our family (extended as it is) will help to feed the homeless? One can always hope. One particularly happy Thanksgiving was shared with friends in Washington State a few years ago. My god daughter flew up for the weekend and we went to a friend’s house. They had invited a lot of disparate individuals and their table conversation was incredible. We had such a wonderful time. It was nothing like we had experienced in the past and to this day, it is one of my favorite holiday memories.

Hand held table

Thanksgiving, or Turkey Day as I like to call it, is a peculiar holiday to America – and I like the idea of it. But with all the political correctness going on, we don’t really focus on the Pilgrims being grateful for a harvest helped by their interaction with the native peoples, and with them sharing their bounty. We instead are focusing on our own small families (in perspective) and on what time the stores are having their “Black Friday” shopping hours! People are boycotting lists of stores who are opening on Thanksgiving itself, and many who are already set up for Christmas. Don’t get me wrong, Christmas is my second favorite holiday. For most of my life, it was my favorite holiday (I have been converted to Pascha. I adore the whole environment of Lent and Easter, especially learning all the new traditions here). In recent years, it seems like more and more that the marketing world leads us from Labor Day in September, right through to Thanksgiving and Christmas – all at once. The ads and the deals; retailers trying to get your money. It is taking away from the “thankfulness” of the season. I wish we could return to simpler, quieter, and slower days and years. We just seem to be rushing through all our days lately. Perhaps it is because I am getting older and I notice it more. And I truly wish we could get over this attachment to all the “stuff” we need to buy. Remember the old saying, “You can’t take it with you?” Seems so appropriate. We should stop and be content, be grateful for what we do have.

But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.…” (1Tim 7:6-8)

My prayer for my family and friends is a grateful heart and spirit. Silence, peace, and loving kindness to everyone. Being sated by what we already have and being able to recognize our wealth – in things, yes, but in our family, friends, faith, country. Enjoying those around us. Feeling the blessings God has laid before us in our lives. God is good and He knows what is best for us. Hosting Turkey Day is good for me. It lets me work on my “Martha” and learn to be more “Mary.” God is working in me, even in the week of “Thanksgiving,” as I am learning to redefine my essence of “family” and being grateful for those who darken my doorstep and gladden my table.

11122015_DawnCamp_ThanksgivingThankful

From a wonderful site, “(In)courage ~ Home for the Hearts of Women” and an article entitled, ” A More Mary, Less Martha Thanksgiving”  by Dawn Camp, came the following WONDERFUL advice:

If you’re an anxious holiday host, I hope these thoughts help you, too:

Don’t experiment with new cooking methods or recipes on crucial dishes unless you have a backup plan. Delegate, delegate, delegate: ask other guests to bring bread, sides, or desserts. More Mary, less Martha: spend more time enjoying your guests and less time cleaning; use paper plates! Let your guests help you set the table and get the food ready to serve; they’re thankful you’ve opened your home and want to assist you. Enjoy the people you’re with; you probably don’t see enough of them. Thanksgiving is about being thankful; make it the focus of your holiday.”

I plan to take her advice to heart. I am about to sojourn to the store with my youngest son. I plan to get paper plates and lots of napkins, even plastic silverware and cups. I want this to be an easy Thanksgiving; a joyful and thankful day. And I hope by simplifying things, we can enjoy one another more (and I will even help myself destress a little bit) and truly be in the mindset to give Thanks.


HappyThanksgiving

It is not easy being green…

 

kermit

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

midnitesun.2.2015

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

cauliflower

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

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

Different color skin, same souls.

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

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

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

Greek Catholic.

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

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

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

Christians in the world.

“…shall not prevail against it.”

*Before reading my post, please know I agonized over posting this. It is a part of my personal growth and is written with no ugly intentions.  Please do not read it if you feel you will be angry. It is not my intent to anger or hurt anyone, it is just a discovery I made about my walk with God. It is about where I am and where I am going, which is the whole point of this blog.*

Hand prayer incense

Blog Post Begins:

There’s nothing new under the sun, as the Scriptures tell us. (Ecc 1:4-11).  And sometimes it feels like nothing can surprise you.  And then something does, and it can be a life-altering surprise, or it can be God, whispering to you.

Trust GodA life with no surprises can get to be pretty dull.  I’ve had some surprises lately and I kind of like it; sort of like it. I’m dealing with it! Ha-Ha!  This Lent has been a pretty topsy-turvy Lent.

Coming to a realization can be a surprise, in an of itself.  And that has occurred with me.  I realized that when I left the Roman Church and embraced the Eastern Church, I did so by jumping in with both feet.  I embraced the philosophy, theology, and practices of my Eastern Church wholeheartedly.  I found repose, sweet and quiet repose, in the teachings of my eastern faith.  We had a pastor who inculcated us fully in the philosophies and traditions (both types of traditions) of the eastern Church, and he also showed us the whys and wherefores.  We were blessed.  The theological tenets of eastern practices and traditions were fully explained and made perfect sense to us.  We completely embraced it all – culture, foods, traditions, practices.  All of it – hook, line, and sinker.  Our catechesis in the faith was truly remarkable.  Now that we are away from that community, we see it even more fully.  We miss it very much.

St. NikolaiI distinctly remember a huge turning point for me and it was during a Divine Liturgy.  The incense was pretty heavy and the light played just right through the windows…during the procession, the vestments just glowed and the sights, sounds, and smells just filled me.  And then our Proto-Deacon intoned, “Sophia, Orthoi”!  And I was transported to the times of the Apostles and the early gatherings of the nascent Church.  And it was a transformative moment for me.  I experienced my faith.  And I was hooked – for eternity.

As I have learned more and more about Eastern thought and philosophy, a part of myself that had been empty began to be filled.  And I did not even realize there was an empty space; a part of me unfilled.  I do not need much of the traditions of the western church any more because I’ve become consumed by my faith, my experiential faith in the eastern Church.  There are things called sacramentals in the west and two examples are scapulars and rosaries. You do not have to wear a scapular or recite the rosary to be fully Catholic. Those are things outside of dogma that enhance your faith experience, but they are not necessary to believe, to be in a state of grace.  They are externals. They are almost “trappings” of our faith.

Most Roman Catholics own at least one rosary, even if they do not use it.  In the mainstream church, very few people are even aware of what a scapular is, let alone wear one.  I had a scapular in pretty much every color, using them for many reasons.  They enhanced my spiritual life and I loved them.  I always wore a miraculous medal, for example.  Because I loved the story and loved the Mother of God.  My middle son and his wife were laughing a couple of weeks ago, because they recently moved into their own space and were unpacking (finally) all their wedding gifts and they realized they have a crucifix for every room in their home, plus some to spare!  It is part of our Catholic identity.  It is a demonstration of who we are.  People used to come into our home and ask where the altar was, because gradually all our artwork was religiously-oriented, with a crucifix in every room.

Byzantine CrossWhen I became an eastern Catholic, I left most of those western things behind me.  I embraced the Jesus Prayer and wear a prayer rope on my wrist most days.  I no longer wear a crucifix, but an eastern or Byzantine cross.  I love learning about all the food traditions in the east; how certain foods are served only once a year on a particular feast day.  I love that!  And there are so many flavors of eastern Catholicism.  Within the eastern grouping of Churches, there is such difference, but the same Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.  Some eastern Churches will only use certain types of candles and incense and it becomes a part of the experience of who they are.  Being so fully immersed in my eastern faith is, at times, hard to maintain.  And I will explain why…

I feel that being an eastern Catholic identifies me first as being a part of a free-standing, independent Church, that happens to agree with Rome on many issues. It does not mean, however, that I embrace Roman theology or practice.  I listen first to my Patriarch, and then check in on what the Pope has to say.  I listen to my local ordinary before I ever pay attention to what the local Roman church or diocese is up to.  Roman Catholicism does not affect my life.  It is not part of who I am.  I am also a Greek Catholic…that is another aspect that is different from the Roman Church.  Greek versus Roman in many areas; it is just an area of influence and I prefer the Greek influence.

All of that being said, I know many will be angry with me because I am somehow “dissing” their beliefs. Not at all. Please do not think that way. I have children and grand-children who are Roman Catholic. It is a matter of preference and taste.  I just discovered that I am really, and truly, eastern.  A woman I just met did not understand how I did not know the movers and shakers in the local Roman Catholic scene.  When I said to her, “But I am not Roman Catholic, I am Byzantine Catholic, why would I know them? I have no reason to attend a Roman church.”  Her response was, “Well, it doesn’t really matter because we are all Catholic.”  And therein lies the crux of my problem.  I was surprised because I realized I am really not Catholic, in the sense she inferred.  I am not. I used to be, but I no longer am.  I am a Melkite Greek Catholic, blessed to have been catechized in all things Greek and Byzantine.

There are little “t” things within eastern expression that I love and value. When I see the western expression coming in and being used in preference over the eastern ones, I get a little testy.  I apologize for that.  But once you immerse yourself in all things eastern, the western insistence on superiority or preference gets tiresome.  It is the classic tale of David and Goliath.  We easterners are David.  If you are eastern, embrace it. Learn of all the richness of being a Byzantine, Greek Catholic.  Learn about the physical history of how the eastern churches came to be.  Live as an eastern Catholic. I can find fulfillment and riches enough to keep me learning for the rest of my life, if I read and study and learn from just the eastern philosophical/theological side of the aisle.

This is a touchy post because so many of my friends are Roman Catholic, as are two of my sons, and grandchildren.  My Protestant family and friends will only be flummoxed by this post, but it is an issue and it is what I am dealing with. And I want people to know that different is not a better/worse sort of thing…it is just different.  What I expect is that when we seek the mysteries for our children, when we want the blessing of the Church on our lives, we should live totally as if it were the most important thing in our lives. We don’t drop in for Chrismation or Crowning, if we do not plan to live that life.  We could get Confirmation or Marriage instead.  Leading our children to God should be the supreme emphasis of our lives as parents.  A long and winding road, full of contradictions and contradictory practices can be awfully confusing for the faith development of our children, and not having a firm foundation can lead to a young person having no place to stand where they feel safe.

TipToe WalkingI remember feeling that I was tip-toeing around when we had a major upset in our lives. By tip-toeing I mean I had no safe, solid place to stand. It was a “the ground was moving under my feet” sort of feeling. We were no longer welcome in our home parish because of an incident with a son of ours.  People we thought were friends, were not.  We were spiritually floundering because of the actions of some priests and religious in our lives. Our children were floundering.  Our church had let us down in a profound way. And then we were led, by our son, to the east and to our pastor (who became a life-long friend and spiritual adviser).  I believe God brought us to the east to save us, and to enhance the faith we thought we were loosing.  The deepest wounds were being healed.  The deepest longings were being met.  That moment of “Sophia, Orthoi” became the life-line I was waiting for.  And from that moment, I dove into the font of love I found in the eastern Church. Perhaps I am so eastern because of the pain and hurt experienced in the western Church. I can see that.  But I also know that the theology of the East fills me.  And the more I learn, all these years later, the more I want to know.

Icon Corner.candlesAnd when I see latinization creeping in to my Byzantine practices, I want to shore up the Church and enhance even more our Byzantine traditions, both large and small T.  There are things Byzantine parishes do not do, purely because it is not, historically, who we are.  We flounder with our identity because we are so small, and in recent years, made up largely of converts from the west.  Converts, many of whom want to bring their familiar practices with them, and have not been fully catechized into the richness of the east.  We have vespers; we have orthros; we have Divine Liturgy.  We have so many amazing things.  We do not have to inculcate Roman traditions into our parishes.  However, there are just so many little ways westernization is creeping into our eastern practices and I really just do not want to see that.  Otherwise, why be Byzantine? Why have Byzantine rites or Churches? If we are nothing more than a “different mass” with lots of incense, why bother?

And so when my little sheltered, Byzantine world is shaken, I blog! Ha-Ha!  I feel that if I partake here and there of different traditions of the west and the east, I become a hodge-podge of nothing. “A cafeteria Catholic,” if you will.  A mixed bag of things that do not mesh well.  Because their historical roots are so very different.  My minor in college was Biblical Archeology and I love all things historical and all things physically historical.  And when I dove into the east, I found history pretty much left alone, with artifacts intact.  The liturgy is free of things I was leaving behind in the west.  Many of the issues of the western church do not affect us in the east.  It is because our view, our perspective, is just slightly different.  And I love that difference; it’s what drew me east. And it is what keeps me eastern.  So the surprise that happened is that I discovered who I really am. I am a Byzantine Catholic.  I am a Melkite Greek Catholic. That identity is mine and it is not going away.  It is leading me along my own, personal, theosis track, where I will embrace my eternity.  And it is doing so, holding the hand of my spouse, for eternity. The surprise is that I really know it; I really own it; and I will do whatever I can to protect it.

Church.Savior of Spilled Blood. RussiaMatthew 16,18

“How do they know?”

St Theophan the Recluse 2I was out and about today, running errands with my daughter-in-law and grandbabies.  Any chance I have of being with them, I jump at it.  It had snowed since last night and was still snowing, so I was happy to not be the driver!  As I waited for them, I read my emails, read the news online, and looked at my very pared-down Facebook wall.  I had gone through my FB newsfeed (which is sort of like reading all the articles of a newspaper,  except they change all the time, based on who’s been selected to view.) and I’ve really taken it down to just close family and friends, and only groups that have to do with my faith.  Yesterday, we had some “trolls” hit some of my favorite sites and there was lots of scurrying around, trying to block and/or remove them.  They were posting awful comments and pictures.  Anyway, it all got sorted out this morning and I was happy to be exchanging messages with a dear friend, when my daughter-in-law arrived.

We ran our errands and as we sat in my driveway catching our collective breaths, she asked me, “So, what is Lent, anyway?”  She has had some faith in her life, but still, her question took me aback.  Like I thought, I guess, it was a common understanding.  But as I raced through my mind on how to explain things to her, I recalled that before I was taught the Catholic faith and traditions, I had just known that they got crosses on their foreheads before Easter (and all the kids always wore them to school as a point of pride) and ate fish sticks a lot.  I really did not understand it, either.  So I shared some Bible stories with her – like how, after Moses led the Jewish people out into the desert, they wandered around for 40 years.  When Jesus went out into the desert to pray, and he was tempted by the devil, he fasted for 40 days out there.  I told her that 40 is a significant number in the history of our faith.  And because Jesus fasted for 40 days, the Church, in its wisdom thought we should, too (I kept it simple).  She asked why we could not eat meat.  I told her that I believed that first of all, Jesus gave His flesh for me on the Cross, so I refrain from taking flesh in honor of His sacrifice.  But it’s also about the richness of the foods we eat, and meat is rich in content and cost.  She said, but fish is a type of flesh, right?  (Smart girl!!).  I said that, yes, it is a type of flesh, too.  I explained how different traditions started all over the world, trying to keep the Fast and that especially in areas in northern climates, fish is allowed.  The eastern and the Orthodox allow fish without backbones to be eaten. (Yay for shrimp!).  But we also do not use olive oil during Lent. She asked why and I explained it was, in many parts of the world, a delicacy.  And for us all to be equal before God, none of us consume it.  Sort of equalizing the playing field.  It is the same for dairy…it is expensive and we try avoid it during the entire 40 days of Lent.  She asked why some people only fast on Fridays (and why is McDonald’s running all these fish sandwich commercials?  As my son told her, it’s Lent! Which is one of the reasons this conversation started) and some on a couple of days during the week, and why your church seems so strict?  Are we vegans?  I explained it all to her, using history and tradition, bringing in our beliefs and trying to remove the “mysterious” from it all.  It was a wonderful conversation and I was smiling my head off that she even asked (and praying more of these chats will be in our future)!!

St Theophane the RecluseI had been mulling over in my mind how confusing this could be from an outsider’s point of view. I told my daughter-in-law that Lent is not easy, but we continually ask God for His help.  She had said, “Don’t you give up stuff that you like, like Facebook or your computer, too? Or even chocolate? Is that the same as meat or can you just do that?”  It is all about the mechanics, that people have all the confusion….and so many conversations (and blog posts) and memes popping up.  The east and west approach Lent a little differently.  It is so hard to explain to someone who has only seen what Roman Catholics do, so have nothing else to base an observation on.  Being an Eastern Catholic is different than what is portrayed out there, which is usually just Roman Catholicism.  And that’s something that begs for clarification for those on the outside, looking in, and even for many on the inside who don’t know about all the different Churches and our differences, and ways we are the same.

After I had been home a little bit, I noticed I had a notification of a remark on a photo I had posted…it’s the top photo above.  It was from a young man on a page I belong to.  I thought about it – his question was, “How do they know?” which I chose for the title of this post.  How do we know?  When I was explaining things to my daughter-in-law, we talked about tradition…the kind that starts with a small “t” and I explained to her that those are ways we find to keep our faith.  For example, all the different fasting rules in all the varying churches in union with Rome – there are almost as many traditions as there are churches (22 in all).  There are differences in how we fast in different parts of this country, let alone around the world. Those are all little “t” traditions…they vary.  The big “T” Traditions do not change.  They have come to us from the Apostles.  They have come to us from a very vibrant church, in practices handed on long before the books of the Bible were even codified, in 250 AD or so.  (Give or take a few years depending on whose history you prefer).  Those Traditions are the Church itself.  We celebrate the same Traditions worldwide, regardless of which brand of Catholic (Christian) or Orthodox you are.  (An example would be Christmas as the celebration of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary.  Another would be Easter, a celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ after three days of His death on a Cross…there are lots more).  These are the things received in Divine Revelation and they are immutable, the same forever, static and unchanging.  Once the last Apostle died, Divine Revelation stopped. Period.  Everything else is just (t)radition.  And it can (and does) change.

But how do we know?  Well, I gave a simple answer to the young man – Scripture.  It seems to help people unfamiliar with (T)radition and (t)radition if you use the Bible as the place where the buck stops, so to speak.  And in Scripture, much was said about fasting and prayer.  Much!  And Lent is all about fasting and prayer.  And to say that “if there is no fasting and prayer, there are demons” (to paraphrase) is to say pretty much what Christ Himself said in the Bible.  There are several verses to choose from, but the one I like is: “Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not drive it out?” And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you. But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”  (Matthew 17:19-21) This is the only verse, I think, that talks about “except by prayer and fasting.”  The apostles could not get a demon out, and the Lord rebuked them, saying that their faith was weak, but that this particular type of demon required special attention, and preparation.  They needed to pray and fast before tackling it.

The point of Lent is to grow closer to God by shutting out everything that gets in between us and Him.  For many of us, food is an issue.  The Church asks us to control our passions and we are a gluttonous culture, and so we fast from foods.  For many of us, prayer is inconsistent and weak; the Church asks us to attend Pre-Sanctified Liturgy and Vespers, in addition to weekly Divine Liturgy.  For many of us, we don’t know a lot about our faith.  We are asked to read along with the Church by embracing spiritual reading of some kind.  Many spiritual directors will have you read the Scripture for each day, the schedule of which the Church gives us.  There are additional prayers at certain times of the day to go along with our reading. It does not take much effort, trust me.  A total of maybe 15 extra minutes a day, to grow closer to God and the work of His Church.  And how do we know this? Our Traditions instructed us, and our traditions help us carry them out.

Happy Ash Wednesday for my RC brethren (a small “t” tradition like the Mirovanije from Forgiveness Sunday I posted about this past Monday). And prayers for a blessed Lent for all of us, making our way to Pascha!

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