Friday, May 30, 2014

Tis the Season... Letting Go of Pascha

Every Sunday is a celebration of our Lord's Resurrection.  During the Paschal Season, 39 days after Easter, there were a few things we did differently during Liturgy to celebrate the season.  Now that Ascension has come, those things are no longer done.  Have you noticed?  Will you see the changes?  Do you know what to look for when you go to church on Sunday to know that the Paschal Season is over? 

First you will notice that we no longer say or sing "Christ is risen."  This hymn and greeting are reserved for the Paschal Season; and I understand is also sung during funerals for monastics.  You probably stopped saying it weeks ago.  It can seem a little forced outside of the actual celebration of Easter, but you will notice it is no longer sung during Liturgies until next year.  I miss it already. 

The icon of Christ is hanging on the cross in the altar.   On Holy Friday when we were participating in the service where Christ is removed from the cross as part of the Gospel reading, the priest carried the icon of Christ into the altar (tomb) wrapped in a white sheet.  Later the cross was returned to its regular place behind the altar table and was left bare, that is until Ascension (yesterday.)

Following the consecration of the Gifts, we will return (I think) to singing the hymn, "Truly is it Meet." to the Theotokos.  During the Paschal Season we sang "The Angel Cried Out..." (that your Son is risen from the tomb.)

A few more things you might notice:  the priest's vestments will no longer be white (or red) and the Resurrection banner should be put away.  Just more signs that the Paschal season is over and it's time to move on to the next Feast... Ascension and then Pentecost*.  

Kontakion for Ascension,
in the Plagal of the Second Tone 
O Christ our God, upon fulfilling Your dispensation for our sake, You ascended in Glory, uniting the earthly with the heavenly. You were never separate but remained inseparable, and cried out to those who love You, "I am with you and no one is against you." 

* Although we stopped kneeling during the consecration of the Gifts, we will continue to stand until the Kneeling Prayers with Pentecost, June 8th. 

Monday, May 26, 2014

What I Think about Reunification- Reflection on the Pope and Patriarch

On Sunday, May 25th we had the blessing and joy to watch the online, live stream, coverage of the "prayer service" with Pope Francis of Rome and Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople while they were both in Jerusalem.   

It wasn’t a prayer service in a traditional Orthodox way… It was neither a Compline nor a Vespers. The clergy were not dressed in vestments. The Patriarch wasn’t wearing a miter and he didn’t carry his gold staff.   It was a simple arrangement of a greeting, the singing of “Christ is risen.” in Greek and Arabic, a Gospel reading in Greek and Italian, a statement from each hierarch and they all recited the Lord’s Prayer.  Liturgically, it wasn’t very impressive.  But the significance of the gathering was… amazing.

It was a historical event in a way that I can't even begin to understand.  It was a seed whose fruit I will never see mature.  And it doesn't matter.  It was a step in the right direction towards a unity that could take as many centuries to repair since the schism was declared. Up to the year 1054, we were the same church and now, in 2014 we are taking another step to be reunited.   (The math equals 960 years of separation.)

I had first understood the need for dialogue between the two churches when I became involved in the ministries of Metropolis of Pittsburgh.  I had worked in the metropolis for several years in the 1990's as a volunteer in their summer camp programs and later as the director of their youth ministries.  His Eminence Metropolitan Maximos was a humble and faithful employer.  Everyone knows of his dedication to the youth of the metropolis, monasticism in America and to the dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox churches.  As I now understand what his vision was (he is now retired), I see it as first, to educate and prepare the next generation to a fuller understanding of the teachings and expressions of the Orthodox Faith.  Second, to instill a love and devotion for prayer as we understand it to be our most basic expression of Orthodoxy.  And third, to experience our Lord's words to the Father, that those who believe in Him "may be made perfect in one."* These three legs (education, prayer and unity) are the support for the future of the True Faith. 

Yesterday brought me a certain joy...   Like when my dad would come home from a few weeks working on the road or the first time my sister returned home from college for Christmas break; when we returned to the way things were supposed to be and we were once again a family.  

Reunification is a joy the Church wants for us.  Unity is a must for the full expression of the apostolic faith.  Since the 4th century, the Orthodox Church has recited the Nicene Creed which includes the line: "In one, holy, catholic (meaning universal), and apostolic Church."  We are constantly praying and standing for this unity.  After 50 years, we have finally taken another step in the right direction. 

 It's time we fully responded to our Lord's Great Commission,** not only through evangelism but all the things He commanded. 

*John 17:20-23 “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word;   that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.   And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one:  I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.

**"And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.  (Matthew 28-18-20)

teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.

It's time for us to start talking... to be as siblings... as one family.

Brothers Reunited

And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen.  Matthew 4:17-19

There is an icon, that was commissioned fifty years ago showing the brother apostles Peter and Andrew in an embrace and with an inscription:  To His Holiness, the Pope of Rome, Paul VI [from] Athenagoras of Constantinople in remembrance of [our] meeting in Jerusalem, January 5, 1964. 

If you want more information to the weekend's historic event you can follow the blog Apostolic Pilgrimage to Jerusalem. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Weeding and Spiritual Struggle

Christ is risen!

Anxiously waiting for summer, we were finding a neglected garden surrounding our home. Weeds, fresh tree shoots and ant hills scattered throughout the yard have made our lot of paradise into a stressful environment.  What was once a lovely yard and trained garden is now a suburban jungle, of sorts.

The more we tended to the yard and garden the more I realized why many saints are often gardeners. There is a delicate similarity with a healthy garden and a healthy spiritual life. After all, we too come from the earth.  It makes sense that we should follow a similar pattern for harmony.

I'm sure a smarter person could write comparisons and prose on how people and gardens need sun and water to survive, are both susceptible to disease, have a limited life span and need care if we are to thrive in our surrounding.  We both have the ability to evolve with protective layers to keep us safe from predators... roses have thorns we have anger. 

But I was just hoping to write about the process of weeding in our gardens and in our souls to reveal a better way of life.

When I first looked out at the floral garden (the vegetable garden is torn down every year and replanted,)  I found a ton of weeds among the annuals... volunteers... invaders, if you will.  They are really just obnoxious.  They come uninvited and really take over the landscape choking every delicate plant in its path.

I went through with gloved hands and a trowel, due to the prickly stems and thorns, and got busy pulling the weeds, roots and all.  A yank here, a tug there. I swept across a section at a time and I pulled all the weeds that were interrupting my pleasure of the garden.  When I was done though, I was surprised at how much I missed.  Once I got the larger weeds out of the way, I saw a whole new level of invasion I didn't see before. 

And so I swept through the garden again.  And again.

And that's when it hit me that gardens, like our soul need constant attention and a few sweeps.  Sure it's easy to remember to guard against the sinful weeds of theft, murder and dishonesty.  But we can't stop there.  Then we have to look deeper into ourselves for the temptations of jealousy, pride and gluttony.  These are also weeds that interrupt our enjoyment and spiritual health.   There is also conceit, anger and fear.  And what about insecurity and doubt?  Are these things the little stuff we look over or ignore because we are only looking at the big stuff. 

It's so easy to say, "I'm a good person.  I don't steal or kill."  But in Matthew 5 Jesus tells His disciples we aren't called to stop there... we are called to look deeper into our behavior and remove ALL the weeds. 

I hope to do more weeding this year... in my garden and in my soul. 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

A Day for Mothers

It's that time again!  The time we shop, I mean stop for a moment and thank our moms, and allow our families to thank us.  It can be a sentimental day, a simple holy day of thanks and awareness... a day where family comes together and rejoices in the grace that God has given us to take part in creation in a way that makes us aware of His unending love for us.  But unfortunately, it's become a holiday that definitely needs a Charlie Brown Special inspiring us to get back to the basic truth of the sacredness of motherhood and what it is we are actually honoring.

True Motherhood

Like love and marriage, motherhood is hard to explain to someone who hasn't experienced the it.  Whether you gave birth and cared for your child, gave birth and offered your child for adoption or accepted the awesome responsibility to care for a child, you know that words could never convey the intensity that is motherhood.  Even if you conceived a child but weren't able to give birth, you know the awesomeness that carrying another soul in your womb means.  You also know that no gift could ever compare in value to thank you enough because in your heart you know that motherhood in itself is a gift you are thankful for. 


Happy 100th Birthday!  Mother's Day!

Since the 1920's the holiday created to honor mothers quickly turned into another opening for marketers to tell you how this bracelet (or that flower arrangement) is the only way to let your mom know you are thankful. I read recently (via facebook) that Anna Jarvis, who worked to establish Mother's Day in 1914 later put all her effort into stopping it when she realized it had become a commercialized "holiday" for florists and vendors... and not the day of sentiment she had hoped for.  It only took 6 years for restaurants and florists to find a way to capitalize on the day and to put gratitude in a well wrapped box.   

So, in order to return this holiday to a moment of sentiment, I want to share this quote from the St. Anna's Retreat in Dumont, CO.  The plaque is mounted near a mosaic icon of St. Anna embracing her daughter, the Virgin Mary. 

In this beautiful world,
There is nothing more cherished,
No duty more honorable,
No responsibility more sacred,
No task more difficult,
Than that of Motherhood.


Thursday, May 01, 2014

A Reflection of Pascha

Each year it takes me longer to recover when I go off my schedule.  Trips, retreats. festivals, Pascha/Easter... they wear me out.  I spend too much energy reflecting on what happened than I do just moving on.  Did I prepare well enough?  Did I forget anything?  What could I have improved upon?  What would I do differently next year?  What did she mean when she said...?

This year's reflections include...  (in no specific order.)

  1. I was smart not to cook too much for Pascha dinner.  I served leg of lamb, spanakopita, oven potatoes and a salad.  For dessert we had a pound cake and baklava.  It was delicious and not overbearing.  I think next year I'll serve Greek style green beans in tomato sauce instead of the spanakopita.   (In case you were wondering, I had considered adding pastichio, Greek green beans, croissants with honey butter, tzantziki, and dolmathes.) 
  2. I should have practiced the hymns more.  I made a ton of mistakes because I waited too long to review the music. 
  3. My sister had a great idea of a Pascha Fleece for her daughter next year.  Knowing her daughter wasn't going to make it through the evening's services, she brought along a fleece blanket... with a Christmas d├ęcor!  An Easter quilt or pastel fleece is on her list of crafts before next year.  I imagine it will have an appliqued red egg in a corner.  (With the cold front that came through the North, I imagine this could be very popular up there.)
  4. I bought too much candy.  Our bodies had adjusted so well to the vegan diet, the sugar and chocolate really made my recovery harder than necessary.
  5. I need Lent.  I need the time to break away and see where and how I have gone off track, lazy in my spiritual life.  I had forgotten that I actually love church services and prayer.  I actually love our faith... I don't mean to do it because I have to.   I actually WANT to.  It's just a shame that I forget these things.  Thank God we have Lent twice a year (before Pascha and before Christmas) to keep me on track. 
  6. I am so tired of cutting onions.  :)  Having saved a large amount of onion skins for the natural egg dye, I have had my fill of onions. 
  7. Rice and potatoes are way better than pasta. 
  8. Coconut oil is a good substitute for cream in coffee. 
  9. I have officially eaten enough meat to make up for any deficiency caused by fasting.  :)
Have a blessed night dear readers.  I pray your Lenten experience was enlightening and fulfilling.  If not, there's always next year or advent, the Christmas fast.