Monday, March 31, 2008

The Meaning of the Resurrection of Christ

Ok, I know it's still lent for us Orthodox Christians. But for the other half of Christendom, Easter has come and gone, leaving some souls asking the question: "So What?"

I offer the following words, not by me, but by St. John Chrysostom:

If any man be devout and loves God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast. If any man be a wiser servant, let him enter rejoicing into the joy of his Lord. If anyone has labored long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense.

If anyone has worked from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If anyone has come at the third hour, let him keep the feast with thanksgiving. If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings;

Because he shall in no way be deprived. Therefore, if anyone has delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing. If anyone has tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him also, not be alarmed of his tardiness; for the Lord who is jealous of his honor will accept the last even as the first; He gives unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has worked from the first hour. And he shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; to the one he gives, and upon the other he bestows gifts.

He accepts the deeds and welcomes the intention, honors the acts and praises the offering. Because of this, enter-all of you-into the joy of your Lord. And receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second.

You rich and poor together, hold high festival! You sober and you heedless, honor the day! Rejoice today, both you who have fasted, and you who have disregarded the fast! The calf is fatted; let no one go away hungry! Enjoy, all of you, the feast of faith! Receive, all of you, the riches of His loving kindness!

Let no one wail about his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed! Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave! Let no one fear death, for the Savior's death has set us free! He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it! By descending into hell, he made hell captive! He vexed it when it tasted of His flesh!

People: IT IS VEXED!

And Isaiah, foretelling this did cry: "Hell, said he was vexed when it encountered You in the lower regions."

People: IT IS VEXED!


It was vexed, for it was abolished.

People: IT IS VEXED!

It is vexed, for it was mocked!

People: IT IS VEXED!


It was vexed, for it was slain!

People: IT IS VEXED!

It was vexed, for it was overthrown!

People: IT IS VEXED!

It was vexed, for it was fettered in chains!

People: IT IS VEXED!


It took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered heaven. It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen. O death, where is your sting? O hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!

People: INDEED, HE IS RISEN!

Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!

People: INDEED, HE IS RISEN!

Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!

People: INDEED, HE IS RISEN!

Christ is risen, and life reigns!

People: INDEED, HE IS RISEN!

Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave!

People: INDEED, HE IS RISEN!

For Christ, being risen from the dead, has become the first fruit of those who have fallen asleep.

To him be glory and dominion unto the ages of ages!

People: Amen!

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs, bestowing life!

Christ is risen!

Indeed, he is risen!

-----


Now WHAT are the implications of THAT??????

Death is no longer something to be feared, therefore we can take up the cross, and follow Christ...and die.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Digging

The earth was wet this afternoon, after much heavy rain. The perfect time for digging. We garden-clawed four new holes: Two by the back porch and two to the right hand side of the yard if viewed from the back porch. What went in them?

Raspberry bushes!

Right now they are still wee little baby raspberry bushes, mere sticks protruding form the ground. But as well as all the weeds do back there, I have high hopes that so will these intentional plants.

It especially brought me great joy to see my two oldest daughters working together on this project, side by side. It was very peaceful and wonderful.

We are all learning how to garden together, each of us brand new to the knowledge and tasks required of us.

The baby spinach is coming up, too. Teeny little specks of two-leafed green peeping up through the ground.

I did not remain crummy-feeling all afternoon like I'd feared after that konk on my head and subsequent nausea. I'm such a whiner, really, when I ought just to be grateful.

Konk!

Putting away groceries.

I'm crouching down with the refrigerator door open, rearranging stuff to make room for the eggs we are going to blow, (freeze the innards) and decorate.

Suddenly from above, directly onto my head falls a can of Fix-A-Flat. Someone who was enthusiastically trying to help put away the cake mixes knocked it off to top shelf and onto my head. It was, of course, an accident.

Now I'm nauseous and I almost threw up.

Not how I wanted to spend the afternoon.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Don McLean - The meaning of American Pie (UPDATE)

Wouldn't it be neat to teach a class, or sit in a class called "20th Century American Transitions" or somesuch, whose syllabus was based around this song? ...Just dreaming, of course.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Annunciation


Today is the Feast of the Annunciation. God hinged His entire plan for our salvation on the will "Yes" of his handmaiden, Mary. And she said "Yes." "Be it done unto me according to God's will."

Isn't this what every Christian wants to learn how to say, all the time? I know it is for me, and yet I so often find myself saying it, and yet chafing against the will of God at the same time. God have mercy.

In Orthodoxy, Mary is not considered the "great exception", but rather the great example. Where she goes; in saying yes to God, in becoming the tabernacle of Christ himself, in being the "God-bearer", the Theotokos in Greek, aka "the mother of God"...so we become as well. She is our mother, since we are called brothers and sisters of Christ, adopted by God, co-heirs. And she is his mother, so our mother as well.

Imagine the cleansing and purifying capacity of carrying God Himself in one's own body for nine months. Yowzers!

And yet, this is not something we don't participate in, for we receive Christ's body and blood in the Eucharist. And therefore we become God-bearers as well.

I can't help but think of this prayer by St. John of Damascus:

"You have taken me captive with longing for you, O Christ. And you have transformed me with your divine love. Burn up my sins with the fire of your Holy Spirit. And make me worthy to take my fill of delight in You. So that dancing with joy I may magnify your two comings."

And so, it is because of what we celebrate on this day, the Annunciation, that we have Christ's incarnation, that we have his offering of Himself on the cross, that we have death trampeled down by death and His resurrection, that we have his glorious ascension, that we have the descent of the Holy Spirit...who fills us, who burns up our sins, so that we can become participants in the life of God.

Our salvation, dependent on a teenage Virgin.

"My soul doth magnify the Lord and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my savior..."

So, what did we end up doing? Vigil last night at my home parish and then Divine Liturgy at the Greek Orthodox Church this morning. And then a history video on the seven wonders of the Ancient world, and trip to the library, a big bowl of popcorn and a Harry Potter trivia game...along with some FRIED FISH for lunch...Glorious Feast Day!

Thoughts on Fasting

HandS asks:

So are you saying that one can't partake of the Eucharist unless one has kept the fast all morning? (I'm not Orthodox - yet!) Yikes! I get extremely faint and dizzy when I don't eat breakfast.

Answer:

That's the standard: The Eucharistic fast starts at midnight the night before, if liturgy is served in the morning, or for an evening liturgy, such as presanctified, the fast starts at noon. If you have health problems, need to take meds with food, hypoglycemia (dizziness and fainting), etc, you talk with your priest and get permission to take care of your physical needs. If the fasting will keep you from driving safely, you eat something so that you don't crash your car, etc. The point is to do it under the direction of your priest, and don't go making up excuses for yourself by yourself.

For years I had permission to eat something before liturgy. Then I went to a service of holy unction (healing service) last Nativity Fast, and since then, I've been able to fast for the most part. God did it! Wow! But it's still hard. I certainly did not go to that healing service expecting the ability to fast to be the result.

Part of it is a learning process. I think many Orthodox know that it's a smart idea to have a late night bowl of chili or some other high protein food on Saturday night, and a BIG glass of water so that one does not start the fast ravenously hungry and thirsty. (During lent I make fishstix for the kids and that tides them over fairly well.) Avoiding sugar or alcohol the night before fasting also makes it easier. And of course prayer...don't forget prayer.

Physical Hunger becomes a reminder of, an icon for, our very real spiritual poverty and we approach Christ empty...always empty...so that He fills us with Himself. If our view of personhood, one's spirituality and physicality, is holistic, how can it be any other way? What is going on spiritually is so very intertwined with our physical bodies that the two cannot be separated. At least this is the eastern view. This is why we do "body prayers" called reverences, great prostrations, and the sign of the cross. We do not hold a dualism between the spiritual and the physical. Fasting is not a form of self-punishment, but rather a tool four our healing, so that we learn how much the saying "their god is their stomach" applies to us so that we can repent.

There are numerous documents of the early Christian Church that document the fasting practices of that time. I remember in Seminary thinking: "Wow, such asceticism! How much have we lost!" Well, physiologically the human being has not changed a bit in 2000 years, and neither has our spiritual condition changed. What was good medicine then is still good medicine now. What was possible then is still possible now. And the Orthodox Church has been trundling along doing the exact same fasting that it's always done, for 2000 years. And it's still just as hard now as it was then, and still just as worth it. Speaking personally, it brings me down to the depths of myself, and I am more aware of where I need the grace of God. I wake up in the morning, and I say to myself: "This day, I will do this." And it really is one day at a time, to get trough a time like Great and Holy Lent. And I probably talk about it too much. I probably ought to just shut up about it, both on this blog and in real life, but I've never been good at the being quiet part. I tend to talk about everything. So my non-Orthodox friends know all about it. Sigh. It would be better to quietly skip the brownies or the chocolates or the sausage gravy, than to have people watching me skipping the brownies, milk chocolates or sausage gravies, or watching me nab a cookie that most likely had butter in it. But that's part of the point, that fasting pulls us to the point grace where we know, without a doubt that we cannot save ourselves but must rely wholly on the grace of Christ. That's what keeping the fast is ultimately about.

I should add this end note: Fasting, in the Orthodox tradition, is not a total abstinence from food except for the Eucharistic fasts, which last less than a day. We definitely down-shift, and fast from Meat, dairy, eggs, olive oil and wine (alcohol), but are permitted shrimp, shellfish and insects(and many American Orthodox include cheapo fish like fishsticks and tuna in this category, with the blessing of their priests because it's SILLY to spend twelve bucks a pound on Lobster just because its technically a big ol' bug and wasn't considered high eating by the ancients.) and of course all the vegan goodies such as bread, fruit, nuts, legumes, vegetables.

Forgive me, a sinner. I'm writing this on an empty stomach and I hope I have not mis-spoken in any way.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Complicated



Tomorrow is the feast of the Annunciation, and I'm having trouble deciding what to do. "Go to Church, of course!" Well, yes, but that's the problem. There is much collegiality between the various parishes in our area, as many folks who attend my home parish work in Lexington, and some of us live here, too. So, we pretty much have a blessing to go and worship at any of the parishes we want to for the weekday/lenten services, as long as it means we are keeping the feast somewhere.

So, should I go to Vespers at the OCA parish (my home parish, which through rush hour traffic means an hour long drive to get there), or at the Greek Church (nice and close), or Vesepral Liturgy at the Antiochian parish (not quite so close as the Greek parish, but not as far as my home parish) tonight?

If I decide not to go to vesperal liturgy at the Antiochian parish tonight, then should I go to Divine Liturgy tomorrow at my home parish, or at the Greek parish (unless of course, I've gone to vesperal Liturgy tonight with the Antiochians)? I could drive down to my home parish tonight, and go to the Greek parish in the morning. Or I could go to the Greek parish tonight and drive down to the OCA parish tomorrow. Or I could do both services at the Greek Church, or both services at my home parish. Or I could go back to square one and just do vesperal liturgy with the Antiochians tonight.

Ei-yei-yei! I shake my hands to the heavens, roll my eyeballs and sigh.

One could ask, why, as Orthodox Christians, we don't just be members at the nearest parish...well, at this point its about relationships.

I love my fellow parishioners so very dearly and can't take the thought of leaving them at this point. Relationships that go back 20 years, or so. It's a novel thing in this day and age, but there's a depth and a goodness to sticking around through thick and thin with people for the long haul, who have loved us warts and all, and in whose eyes we have looked at Forgiveness Vespers for all these years. So we continue to make the drive.

And then throw in the prospects of going to a "play date/craft time" this afternoon with some new friends, and the decision just gets more and more complicated.

At least I know what to wear when I do go to Church. Now, if only I could decide where to go....

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Silk Baptismal Gown


Here it is!


This silk was so fine that I had to leave it plain lest I ruin the perfection of it. This baptismal gown is fully lined, and I did the teeny tiny buttonholes by hand. I think I shall do ALL buttonholes by hand from now on.

...And the wee plain bonnet...sigh...

Shivers of delight and joy!

(I get somewhat attached to my sewing projects...)

Friday, March 21, 2008

This is what happens...


...when I read good books: The pile is actually much bigger than it appears in the picture, but the good news is, these clothes are clean. And the sunlight slanting on them like a beatific vision just adds the right touch, don't you think?

And I've stuffed some of Fr. John Meyendorff's ideas into my brain.

Now where did I put my house elf?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

History in the details

Check out the opening line of the Paris Peace Treaty of 1783:

"In the name of..."

And don't get me wrong. I'm SO not a "The Light and the Glory" type.

Reading Lists

I recently finished up reading _Russia and the Soviet Union_ by John M. Thompson.

I read this just for fun, because I love history. I also wanted to learn enough about Russian history so that I could read Dostoyevsky and have it make sense from a cultural standpoint. I do know it's possible to pick up an awful lot just from inferences and references, but there's something foreign enough about Russia to make it worth delving into.

The Thompson volume is very concise and readable. I recommend it, although the author has a very low view of the Orthodox Church. Oh well. It's full of sinners, what can I say? Perhaps I will read Brothers Kharamazov poolside this summer.

Currently I'm plowing through a little book by Fr. John Meyendorff called _Orthodoxy and Catholicity_, which is really a series of lectures, articles, essays...that sort of thing, compiled together into a rather oldish volume that explores some of the issues around the ending of the East/West schism. Complicated. Some of the chapters are so very very dry, and other are real page turners. Funny how that works out.

I'm also tackling an English language translation of the Greek classic _The Persian Expedition_ by Xenophon. Apparently this is the text (in the original Greek) that schoolboys of yesteryear slaved over. Personally, I'm glad I have the Penguin Classics version.

I really ought to be reading the Maccabbees books in my new shiny Orthodox Study Bible, since I'll be covering that period of history with my kids soon. Xenophon is a bit of a bridge, though, since we just covered the Persians, Cyrus the Great, and all that sort of stuff. If I can read Xenophon quickly, I will. But if I get bogged down, I'll takle all those Maccabees books first.

And if anyone can find me the sequels to _The Scarlet Pimpernel_, I'd be grateful. It's set in the French Revolution. High drama. Written in the 1800's, so it's interesting without all the smut of modern books.

Family Feud

Two girls were fighting at my house tonight. At issue: What are the rules pertaining to the usage of library books that are checked out on someone else's card?

Yes. This is a BIG QUESTION around here.

Needless to say, one girl was busy reading a book she had not checked out. The other girl desperately NEEDED to read THAT book that she HAD checked out, that her sister was currently reading.

A fight ensued.

(Setting aside the fact that the kid doing the reading was thereby setting aside a page turner of literary value in favor of something Amelia Bedeliesque and way below her level.)

Neither kid wanted to give in.

The one insisted that it was her book since she checked it out. The other insisted it was her book because she started reading it first.

Glowers. Frowns. Grimaces. ANGRY EYEBROWS!

And I'm tired. It's been like this all week long. Today in particular, I've been extra grumpy from not having an afternoon snack, and so have the kids. Glowers. Frowns. Grimaces. ANGRY (neatly plucked!) EYEBROWS.

Grace. It can only be the Holy Spirit, because it was too good for me to come up with on my own, but out of my mouth flowed this font of wisdom:

"Which one of you is going to start doing unto the other as you would have her do unto you?"

Shy grins replace the angry glowers. The look of conviction, although I could see on their faces that neither really truly wanted to be the one to give in, although just catching a glimpse of the vision of what was possible according to "Kingdom Values" instantly changed their countenances.

We talked through what doing unto the other would look like for each of them, and they quickly came to an amicable solution without me having to impose a motherly fiat.

Now, why don't I think of stuff like that more often?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

This is what happens when I don't blog....

I just can't stand it. Must. Blog! Feels like I'm going to burst if I don't.

Last week, of course, was exhausting, but good nonetheless. There are some things it's worth it to get worn out on. I won't say more. But I am happy to report fitness levels improved to the extent that Forgiveness Vepsers did NOT make me sore!

It seems that my special work this lent is at my sewing machine. I have a huge pile of projects that MUST be done before Pascha: White paraments for my parish, three easter dresses and a baptismal gown for a baby who is being baptized in a few weeks.

Oh, I just love baby stuff. Especially in delicate white shantung silk. Baby's mother gave me free reign to be creative, but I think plain as can be, with that yummy silk is going to be the way to go. The bonnet is TDF, so tiny, and so soft. No brim, no adornment, just plain white silk inside and out.

The gown of course will be fully lined, plain short sleeves, and an overly long skirt gathered at the raised waist. Buttons in the back. No ribbons, frills, or lace. The fabric is just so light and flowy. Dare I embroider a wee white cross on the skirt? We shall see.

I'll probably have it done by the end of today.

Seems like I've wanted to blog about cooking, but now I can't remember what about. The contrast between the cooking at common meal at our parish (a row of crock pots full of bean soups) versus at the Antiochian parish where we visited on Sunday night for pan-orthodox vespers, is profound. They have spinach pockets, they have hummus and foul (pronounce "full"), this fantastic middle eastern fava bean dip, pita breads, fruit galore, etc. We have crockpots full of beans. I must learn some of their recipes, and then get in the habit of actually using them. There's the rub.

Lets see...what else is new in my life...? Jogging! I was out walking the other day and I leaned forward, and suddenly I was jogging. Did I mention that on another post? Sorry, I'm just so proud! And I sort of find my rhythm and keep going. Out of three miles, I'm only walking about four or five blocks.

I've lose 17.5 pounds so far on my current weight loss effort. Yes, I know, it's weight I gained last summer that I should not have gained, so it's not like it's a NEW 17.5 pounds, it's covering the same territory I seem to always be covering. Give me another few weeks and I'll be forging ahead towards some numbers I have not seen in over a decade. I can't even IMAGINE myself below a certain number that I must get below in order not to be overweight. And please, don't go giving me the "built this way, you look fine" speech. Just because people are used to me (heck, I'm used to me, too!) at a certain weight doesn't mean that's a healthy thing. So I forge ahead.

And all my ranting a raving against how much I hate Weight Watchers that I did last year or so...I totally take it all back. It's a great and wonderful program and it is really helping me.

Ok, enough about that subject.

Prayers appreciated about our health insurance company: They don't want to pay and they NEED to pay. They are just throwing up every roadblock in the book, trying to make our lives miserable and hoping that we give up. We won't give up. We will keep fighting them. Eventually they will pay. I guess their policies are beneficial to them in the long run because of all the people who don't fight back, but I can say that if ever I have a chance to NOT use Humana, I will. I'm not in love with the health savings account/high deductible situation, either, even though my dh's company pays into our HSA, because our current monthly medical expenses outweigh what's going in. The whole system is so broken and meds are so expensive to boot. I wish my family weren't so sick, but that can't be helped.

Ok, moving on.

We dug up some dirt, and spread around some gorgeous compost that we've been working on for a while now, and planted spinach seeds yesterday. We have tomato and pepper seedlings going indoors. I say we. I should say "B", my oldest. She's our gardener. The other kids helped a bit. I only offered suggestions about what needed to be done. I have visions of turning our wee little back yard into a food growing zone: Berry bushes, herbs, vegetables galore, and way less grass to mow. But this year we start with four small squares. It is a beginning.

If I had to think of some words to describe what I hope will be my lenten journey, it would be repentance (of course), humility, and joy. The repentance part, yes, lent is always about that. Humility...embracing the ordinary and finding God's presence there. And joy, because for the past year I've been experiencing depression, and I've finally identified it and am trying to fight back.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Hurt

I am the worst of sinners. And every once in a while, this becomes crystal clear to me. I thank God for the instruments who show me my sins. Please forgive me, as I sin constantly, and cannot avoid hurting people, even when it's not on purpose. If you, dear blog reader, read my blog, then there is a good chance that at some point I have hurt you. Please forgive me, a sinner.

And now, blog silence for Lent.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Meme

I lifted these questions from Carmen's blog over at momtothescreamingmasses.typepad.com

1) What is the last movie you saw in a theater? Was it good?

That would be Waterhorse, and yes, it was good. It featured Ben Chaplin, which is very good, water stuff (I have a thing for marine/submarine movie themes) and was set in the 1940's which i like.

2) What is your favorite tv show? Such a thing does not exist.

3) What is the last album you bought (or stole from the internet, or burned from a friend) that you loved?* That would be "Confessing Between the Lines" by Justin Matthews

4) If you were in charge of People Magazine’s Sexiest Person Alive, who would win? Impossible to choose just one....It's a tie between Keanu Reeves and Ben Chaplin, with Ben Chaplin edging out in the front because he can actually ACT.

5) Who is your favorite artist? (Like art artist) I hate art in general. Truly, it is a genre that does not speak to me. Monet fails to offend me the way some other artists do. And the earless schizophrenic has some interesting pieces...what's his name...Vincent Van Gough...or is that Gouge? I'm feeling pedestrian now.

6) What is your favorite musical/opera/play? I hate all three genres of these arts as well. The theater/opera/etc. makes my butt numb and my knees stiff and my neck achy. Although if Hamlet is done in a movie version with Mel Gibson it's not all bad. And I DO like Mercutio's death scene in Romeo and Juliet, and Much Ado About Nothing is brilliant. OK, so the Bard wins, with Much Ado about Nothing.

7) What do you think is the worst song ever recorded? Aside from Barney and songs of similar ilk, I'd have to say it's "Butterfly Kisses" and songs in the same genre as "Butterfly Kisses".