Saturday, December 12, 2015

Building a House upon a Rock

I was able to go to Great Vespers for the first time in a long time when Advent started in November. Our bishop was here, making his yearly visit to our parish, and my mom made it possible for me to be there to hear him speak and then attend Vespers at the end of the day.

As I stood there listening to the prayers, I was overcome with gladness. Joy welled up in my heart and brought tears to my eyes. The smell of the incense and the familiar words washed over me and filled my whole being with the understanding that THIS is what my life is all about: standing in the presence of God and worshiping Him is the only thing that I ever want to do for the rest of my life.

The smell of the incense wafting through the church brought back images of being in church as a child: dark Saturday nights in winter, bright Saturday nights in summer, the slowing down and quieting of the busyness of life in preparation for receiving Christ during the Divine Liturgy the next morning.

All these thoughts and feelings in my heart made very real to my something that I've known instinctively and read about extensively in my studying of education. Some call it poetic knowledge, some call it synthetic learning. I understand more than ever now how important it is for our family to be immersed in the life of the Church and living in the culture which exists there.

The experience, the whole body and mind understanding together what it means to live a Christian life can be had from infancy and throughout one's entire life. Dr. John Boojamra, in his book Foundations for Christian Education, says
First I do, then I learn about what I did! 
 As one ages and develops the experience takes on new layers and depth of meaning, ever growing, always enriching and transforming the willing and open heart. There is a time to learn about and to understand more analytically the ins and outs of our practices, the whys and wherefores of it all. But that understanding must build upon the initial gut-level understanding that happens when the experience precedes the teaching.

I was fortunate enough to be blessed with parents who gave me that experience of living first, and learning about it later. All those years of services impacted me at a level that is much deeper than intellect. It was my whole being which was affected, not just my mind. At the time it felt like the services were long and I can remember daydreaming quite a lot. My feet would be tired, I would wish I could be doing something else. But even with my mind wandering the physical presence of my body there, in the kingdom, did not leave me unaffected.

And so I am encouraged to give my children this same kind of foundation, upon which to build their lives in Christ. Liturgy on Sundays is a good start, to be sure, but there is more to do. I want them to experience to cycle of the fasts and the feasts. I want them to consider the extra services during Lent as essential to the fast and the weekday liturgies of the feasts as taking precedence over other obligations.

They are young and they sometimes do not want to go to church. But I know that this life founded in Christ is the one I ought to give them and no matter what happens as they grown older I trust that this foundation will be one of rock which will not crumble no matter how the storm rages.




Monday, November 30, 2015

Discipline in Prayer


(Sometime last year I posted a list of 55 Precepts for Christian Living by Fr. Thomas Hopko. I have seen the list circulated quite a bit since then and I recently came across the suggestion of journaling through each item on the list. I thought that was a wonderful suggestion and, as I considered doing it, I decided that I'd like to share some of my thoughts here.)

It seems to me that numbers 2 and 3 are tied together in a way:

2. Pray as you can, not as you think you must.
3. Have a keep-able rule of prayer done by discipline.

I think most of us are familiar with what it's like to impose things on ourselves that are more than we can actually bear, whether it be rules, expectations (both real and imagined), morality, responsibility or what have you. These self-imposed obligations have a tendency to become overwhelming and oppressive, leading to feelings of despair and helplessness. They can lead one into legalism and a false piety which can be dangerous steps down the path of pride.

So to say "pray as you can, not as you think you must", requires that I look closely at what is truly within my power and what is not. So often when I read about the lives of the Saints I imagine how wonderful it must be to be capable of such great feats of prayer as they are and I wish that I were in a place to emulate their lives more closely. However, the reality is that I am not in a situation in which I can spend hours at prayer. I have the responsibilities of a wife and homeschooling mom. I cannot shirk those duties in order to go pray just so that I can feel good about myself. That's pride, plain and simple. And it's foolish. I have been given responsibilities and I am called to fulfill them.

Since I do not have unlimited time for prayer I have to look at how much time I can actually set aside for prayer without wearing myself out with a long, drawn-out rule that makes me dread rather than welcome my prayer time.

The reality is that I am only able to do so much. There are a finite number of hours in each day and I can only fit into those hours what I am able to and no more. This actually ties right in to the third precept, "have a keep-able rule of prayer done by discipline". Because the hours in each day are limited, and because I have to make time for those things which are most important, it is necessary to be disciplined in all of my actions, including prayer.

It may sound like I am trying to find a way to box up my prayers and fit them neatly into a corner of the day so that I can check prayer off my list of things to do. I do not set aside x number of minutes for prayer and then go about the rest of the day without another thought for God (see post 1 in this series). But the discipline of having a time set aside for prayer is an essential thing, because if I don't make the time, then often it doesn't happen. Because the truth is that some times I simply don't feel like praying.

Sometimes I am distracted by other things.

Sometimes I am tired.

Sometimes I am angry.

Sometimes I am annoyed, or tired, or restless, or bored.

Sometimes I am not in the "mood" to pray. But if I can have the self-control it takes to dedicate a set time every day to prayer, then regardless of my current emotions I can still grow in my relationship with Christ. Because that's how relationships develop: they are built upon time spent together. It's really not possible to cultivate a deep relationship if one is not willing to dedicate the time it takes. What matters is that I set aside the time for prayer regardless of how I feel.

Sometimes the time spent together is wonderful and exhilarating. Other times it's more mundane and ho-hum. Sometimes it's difficult to be together, and other times it's wonderful. Sometimes it's comfortable, other times is very uncomfortable. But the feelings are not the important thing at all. What is important is that I keep the discipline and say the prayers.

I have to keep it real. I have to know my limits and accept them in order to work within them rather than against them. I must have a rule of prayer that I am able to keep regularly and without burning myself out and I must stick with it whether I feel like it or not.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A Day in the Life

Sometime last year I posted a list of 55 Precepts for Christian Living by Fr. Thomas Hopko. I have seen the list circulated quite a bit since then and I recently came across the suggestion of journaling through each item on the list. I thought that was a wonderful suggestion and, as I considered doing it, I decided that I'd like to share some of my thoughts here.

First on the list: Be always with Christ and trust God in everything.

Most of the time I am not aware of His presence. Most of the time I'm thinking about other things. In fact, most of the time I forget about Him altogether. But sometimes I do make an effort to remember, and I do make an effort to pray, and He has blessed my efforts tremendously. I can't say that I am always with Christ, but I am trying to learn how to be with Him, looking forward to the day when I really can be always with Him.

I've always thought it would be fun to do a "day in the life" kind of post. So I've done that below and tried to show what my efforts to be with Christ look like most days. I lose my temper, and I often forget about prayer for hours on end. But the following is fairly accurate snapshot of my days:

___________________________

6:00am: Wake and glance at the clock. Everyone is still sleeping and I contemplate getting up to say my prayers.

6:01am: Thump, thump. Pitter-patter. Pitter-patter.

"Mama! Can I lay with you?"

Lord, have mercy. "Yes, come on this side."

Rustle, rustle. Squirm, squirm. Whisper, whisper.

"Mama, is G awake?"

"No. Lay down or you have to go back to your bed."

Silence.

6:35am: Rustle, rustle. Whisper, whisper. Baby G starts squirming. I roll over to nurse him and hope he'll fall back asleep. Rustle, rustle. Now it's both of them. J and I smile and coo at G, while he squirms and smiles. I notice that the sheet is a little wet. I guess that means I have to change a diaper.

6:50am: I get dressed and light a candle to say my prayers. 

O Heavenly King, O Comforter, the Spirit of Truth....

Thump, thump. Pitter, patter.

"Mama, can I lay by G?"

"Yes, M. Go ahead."

Our Father, Who art in  Heaven...

"M!!!!! I WAS PLAYING WITH HIM!!!!"

"MAMAAA! J is hitting me!!!!

Lord, Jesus Christ...
"You can both be next to him. Be gentle."

Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

7:03am: I finish my attempted prayers and pick up G to get ready to head downstairs. I barely make it from my bedroom into the hallway before I have to break up another fight.

Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. Help me to make it through this day. Give me strength. Give me grace. Lord, have mercy.

7:55am: After opening the blinds, starting breakfast and many interrupted attempts to check email, breaking up more fights, facilitating dressing and chores among the girls everyone is finally sitting down to breakfast. G is playing somewhat happily on the floor, but I can tell he's still tired - he hadn't been quite ready to wake up yet.

Thud, thud, thud, thud, thud. 

"Good morning, S."

"Morning."

8:00am: S sits down to breakfast. I take a few bites of my own oatmeal and try to quickly read the Bible readings from the lectionary for the day.

"ROAAAAR!"

"S!!!!!!!!! STOP IT!!!!! AHHHHH!!!!"

Lord, have mercy. 

"S! Stop right now! Leave her alone. Are you done eating? Go get your chores done.

For once there's no whining and complaining.

8:15am: S is doing his chores and we have a short interval of relative quiet. I try to get dishes done and have M do her kitchen chores. I have to call her several times, but she finally comes and wipes the table.

"M. Come back and sweep please."

Whine, whine, whine. Stomp, stomp, stomp. 

Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. Give me patience. 

8:30am: S is back downstairs and I inform him and the girls that they have about an hour of free time before we'll be starting school. I wrap up G, who's clearly ready for a nap, and try to get him to fall asleep as I move about, starting laundry, checking done-ness of chores, and getting ready for the school day.

Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. 
Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.
Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. 

9:00am: I try to sneak in a few minutes of time online. G is almost asleep. Once he's all the way sleeping I lay him down in his crib.

Crash! 

Lord, have mercy! 

I rush downstairs and to find out what the noise was and angrily tell everyone to be quiet because G is sleeping.

9:20am: G is awake. I go get him out of his crib, nurse him and then gather everyone for morning prayers.

"O Heavenly King..."

Poke. Pinch. Giggle. Squirm. 

Lord, have mercy. 

"Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal..."

"Mama, will you hold me?"

"O Lord, save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance..."

"Mama, she pushed me!"

"Rejoice, O Virgin, Theotokos..."

We settle down to do our Morning Basket time. About every couple minutes someone interrupts or complains, or says they're hungry.

Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. 

10:15am: We finish Morning Basket and everyone scatters while we have a break. G is back asleep and I try to clean up the table a little bit so we have room for other books and papers.

Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. 
Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.
Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. 

11:00am: G is asleep again. I start working with X on her school work, and remind S that he ought to start his list too. I go back and forth between helping X and M, while J quietly plays or sits on my lap and S is busy not doing his school work. I remind him several times that he needs to start too.

Lord, Jesus Christ....

12noon: Before we know it it's time for lunch. G is awake and everyone is hungry. I send them outside for a few minutes while I get lunch ready. J wants to be my helper. We make some sandwiches and call everyone in for lunch.

Our Father, Who art in Heaven...

Lunch is eaten. Children talk and tease. I try to steal a few minutes of quiet.

"AHHH! S, STOP RIGHT NOW!!!

"Mom, I wasn't doing anything!"

Lord, have mercy. 

"Mama, M is trying to dip her sandwich in my milk!!!!!"

Giggle, giggle. 

"That's not funny!"

"Stop, M."

Lord, have mercy. 

The day continues. We finish school work, G takes another nap or two. I try to find time to sit and snuggle with J and M. I try to listen while X tells me about her newest drawing. I try not to criticize and nag at S, even though he constantly seems to be trying to push the girls' buttons. Every so often there is an interval of quiet. I try to stop and take a breath.

Breathe in, Lord, Jesus Christ

Breathe out, have mercy on me. 

Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. 
Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.
Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. 

3:00pm: School is done, my husband is getting ready to leave for work. Everyone gives him a hug and kiss goodbye and goes back to what they were doing.

Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. 

Laundry needs to be folded.

Lord, have mercy.

Dinner needs to be started.

Lord, Jesus...

6:30pm: Dinner is over, the kitchen is cleaned. Many more fights have been broken up, much screaming and general rowdiness has prevailed. It's almost bedtime.

Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. 

8:00pm: J is asleep. G is almost asleep. S is quiet in his room.

8:10: G is asleep. I lay him down and think that maybe I'll be able to read a little bit before I'm too wiped out to think.

"M!!!! Stop talking!!! I want to go to sleep!"

Giggle, giggle.

"You girls better be quiet up there! Don't wake up G!"

"Mama, M won't stop whispering!"

Lord, have mercy.

"M, no talking, no whispering, no noise at all."

"Ok, Mama."

10:00pm: I realize it's getting late and I should probably get in bed. I shower and enjoy the silence.

Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. 
Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.
Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

10:30pm: I'm finally ready for bed. I try to say my evening prayers, but I'm half asleep already and I hardly know what I'm saying. I blow out the candle and crawl into bed.

Into Thy hands, O Lord, Jesus Christ, I commend my soul and my body. Do Thou, Thyself, bless me, save me and grant me eternal life. Amen. 

Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.
Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.
Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me... 









Monday, November 9, 2015

We Who Mystically Represent the Cherubim

I was standing in church not long ago, singing along during liturgy, and I happened to be paying attention to the words for a brief moment while all my children were still. We were just beginning to sing the Cherubic Hymn, before the Great Entrance.

We, who mystically represent the Cherubim, and who sing the Thrice-Holy Hymn, let us now lay aside all earthly cares. 
I wondered why it is that we represent the Cherubim and promptly concluded that it must be because we sing the hymn,
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord of Sabaoth... 
I had my pat answer and was ready to move on, when I happened to look at the icon of the Theotokos, which is behind the altar and I started to think about how she became the living Mercy Seat and the abode of God.

And I was suddenly aware that we too become a dwelling place of God when we partake of His precious Body and Blood. And the passage from Exodus came to my mind, in which God commanded Moses to make the Mercy Seat and to place the Cherubim on either end: 
Then you shall make a mercy seat of pure gold; two cubits and a half shall be its length, and a cubit and a half its breadth.  And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end; of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be. And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark; and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are upon the ark of the testimony... 
Exodus 25:17-22
My absentminded question led to a connection far deeper than I have words to describe, and I am in awe at the mercy and loving-kindness of our Lord.

Glory to Thee, O Lord, glory to Thee!





Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Born Again

Our little boy was baptized last weekend. He has been born again, only four months after he first saw the light of day.

There has always been feeling of relief which has accompanied the baptisms of my children. The time between a baby's birth and his or her entrance into the Church seems somewhat unsettled in my mind - as though the arrival of this new family member is not quite complete until he is a member of the Body of Christ. Each time I receive Holy Communion between the baby's churching and his baptism, I always feel a little sad that my baby is not yet able to be in communion with the rest of us. He is not yet a Christian. 

The beauty of being born again, and putting off the old man is brought out wonderfully in the prayers of the baptism:

O Lord of Sabaoth, the God of Israel, who healest every malady and every infirmity: Look upon Thy servant; prove him and search him, and root out of him every operation of the Devil. Rebuke the unclean spirits and expel them, and purify the works of Thy hands; and exerting Thy trenchant might, speedily crush down Satan under his feet; give him victory over the same, over his foul spirits; that having obtained mercy from Thee, he may be worthy to partake of Thy heavenly Mysteries...
...deliver also this Thy creature from the bondage of the enemy, receive him into Thy heavenly kingdom....
Expel from him every evil and impure spirit which hideth and maketh its lair in his heart...
And make him a reason-endowed sheep in the holy flock of Thy Christ, an honorable member of Thy Church, a child of the light, and an heir of Thy Kingdom; that having lived in accordance with thy commandments, and preserved inviolate the Seal, and kept his garment undefiled, he may receive the blessedness of the Saints in Thy Kingdom....
Wherefore, O Lord, manifest Thyself in this water, and grant that he who is baptized therein may be transformed; that he may put away from him the old man, which is corrupt through the lusts of the flesh, and that he may be clothed upon with the new man, and renewed after the image of Him who created him; that being buried, after the pattern of thy death, in baptism, he may, in like manner, be a partaker of Thy Resurrection...


I am thankful that we Orthodox practice infant baptism. The mystery which unites us as one body in the Church includes even the smallest members of our community. Each child is considered a real, complete, actual person. Personhood is not limited only to those capable of expressing rational thought through speech, rather personhood is something that each of us is born with. Therefore a baby person can be just as important a part of Christ's body as an adult person. 

A baby does not have to wait until he is older to begin his walk with Christ. He can start now, as soon as his parents and god-parents help him by making him part of the life of the Church. The common bond we all share as we seek the kingdom does not consider age a factor. We are all warriors, aiming for the crown of life. 


He who hath put on thee, O Christ our God, boweth also his head with us, unto thee. Keep him ever a warrior invincible in every attack of those who assail him and us; and make us all victors, even unto the end, through Thy crown incorruptible.

The prayers at the blessing of the waters are full of powerful words. One could easily spend years meditating on these words, line by line:  
...Let all adverse powers be crushed beneath the sign of the image of Thy Cross... 
 Make it the fountain of incorruption, the gift of sanctification, the remission of sins, the remedy of infirmities, the final destruction of demons, unassailable by hostile powers, filled with Angelic might; that those who would ensnare Thy creature will flee far from it. For we have called upon Thy Name, O Lord, and it is wonderful and glorious, and terrible unto adversaries.
 But do Thou, Master of all, show this water to be the water of redemption, the water of sanctification, the purification of flesh and spirit, the loosing of bonds, the remission of sins, the illumination of the soul, the laver of regeneration, the renewal of the spirit, the gift of adoption to sonship, the garment of incorruption, the fountain of life. 

 My favorite part of the service is the sacrament of Chrismation, where the newly baptized Christian receives the Holy Spirit. The priest anoints him with the Holy Chrism, saying,"The Seal of the Gift of the Holy Spirit", while the godparents and the people present respond by saying, "Seal!". Even my three year old daughter was able to participate in this confirmation, gladly welcoming the newest member of our church family with the exclamation of delight and joy.

Then comes the new Christian's first communion; his first partaking of the Holy Eucharist, wherein he gives thanks to God by his taking into himself the Body and Blood of Christ. He is now truly a member of our Body.

And now we can settle in, and begin the intricate dance of modeling and imitating that makes up the life of a family. We will have hard times and wonderful times and plain old every-day times. But the life in Christ has begun. May it continue through eternity!





Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Wednesdays with Words: Les Mis

I'm about two thirds of the way through Les Miserables. Victor Hugo is truly a masterful writer. I am enjoying this mammoth of a book so much that I think I'll be sorry to finish it. 

Here are a some words that especially struck me:
He could say the loftiest things in the simplest language; and as he could speak all dialects, his words penetrated every soul. 

"Man has a body that is both his burden and his temptation. He drags it along and gives in to it. He ought to watch over it and keep it in bounds, repress it, and obey it only as a last resort. It may be wrong to obey it even then, but if so the fault is venial. It is a fall, but a fall onto the knees, which may end in prayer."

....nothing is more dangerous than discontinued labor; it is habit lost. A habit easy to abandon, difficult to resume.  
 


Thursday, August 6, 2015

At the Beauty

I would like to write about the Dormition Fast that takes place during August. About how we set aside this time - the end of the liturgical year - to honor our beloved Mother. But I don't currently have the brain power to put the words together. So instead I am sharing this hymn with you. I suppose it's not exactly for the Dormition (more appropriate for the Annunciation), but it's what I have.

I usually have a hard time singing this without choking up, but somehow I managed to make it through at least this once:







Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Flames of Creation

Now that our sweet boy has finally arrived we are learning to live with a new normal. I am forced to slow down and rest more. This slowing down and taking time to recover from birth has been so good for all of us. There is a peace in our home at this time that is precious.

Much has been written about how important it is for the mother of a newly arrived baby to lie in and take time to recover and get to know this new person to whom she has given birth. The Church, in Her wisdom, has always observed this. For forty days after giving birth a mother does not attend church. Thus I have not been to church since the baby was born. In a few weeks I will go again for the first time.

The practice of churching is about the awe and mystery surrounding childbirth. A woman who has brought a child into the world has been in a holy place. The emergence of a new human being from another is truly an "awe-full" event. As one of my friends put it, a new mother has come close to the flames of creation and the effect of the purifying fire of those flames takes awhile to fade.

Those words, "the flames of creation", have been rattling around in my head over these weeks. There is something powerful there. The primal, earthly, raw energy and physical grit and grime that attend birth go hand in hand with the transcendental, heavenly and otherworldly experience of bringing forth life. Heaven and earth are united in this event. It's incredible and so humbling to be a participant in this act.

A new mother, having been in this holy place, is still covered in this glory, this radiance. I think of how Moses had to cover his face after coming down from the mountain where he had been privileged to see the back of God as He passed by. He had been so close to the Uncreated Light, without even seeing Him face to face, that the Israelites could not look upon him.

Now I am not shining with light. People can still look at me without needing to shield their faces. However, the point I'm making here is that, to much lesser degree, something holy has been experienced and touched and this time spent away from the communion of church and from the Eucharist is not necessarily a punishment or a penance. It has more to do with the blessing that comes with childbearing and the joy that attends it.

Most importantly, we mothers are called to be imitators of the mother par excellence - the Most Holy Theotokos. She followed the Mosaic Laws and presented Christ in the temple at forty days, and so we follow her example. The word Theotokos literally means "God-bearer". She is the one who bore God. Think about that for a minute. We say the prayer

Rejoice, O Virgin Theotokos
Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with Thee. 
Blessed art thou among women
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb,
For thou hast borne the Savior of our souls.

She is "full of grace" - so full of the grace of the Holy Spirit that she bore God Himself. What an example she sets for us! What a model for us to try to imitate!

Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, through the prayers of Your Most-Holy Mother, the Lady Theotokos, save me a sinner. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A Mother's Prayer

O Lord Jesus Christ our God Who didst come into this world not to be ministered unto but to minister and to give Thy life as a ransom for many: help me, I beseech Thee in my ministry of caring for the children Thou hast given me. 

Enable me to be patient in tribulations, to instruct with a meek and gentle spirit, to reprimand with inner tranquility and a sober mind, and to serve in humility of heart with love. 

May I thus live in Thee alone, by Thee alone and for Thee alone; showing forth Thy virtues and leading my family upon the path of Thy saving commandments.

That we may glorify Thee together with Thine unoriginate Father and Thine all-holy and life-giving Spirit both in this world and that which is to come.
 Amen.


Friday, June 12, 2015

Waiting...

I sat down to write this post with the intention of complaining. I wanted to vent about how I have such a hard time at the end of pregnancy waiting for labor to begin. I wanted to write about how every minute feels like and hour and days seem interminable. Distraction doesn't seem to work well and I feel irritated and uncomfortable and frankly, I feel annoyed that I'm still pregnant! 

You'd think that by the fifth time around I'd learn to accept this. That by now I would know that an estimated due date is just that - estimated. A particular day on the calendar does not determine when this baby will arrive. I could potentially be sitting around being pregnant for another week or so. 

As I think about all this, I have begun to realize that this waiting time is actually a gift. Waiting provides me with the opportunity to live presently, and to be aware of every passing minute. If I can let go of the annoyance and the discomfort that comes along with late pregnancy, I can really take the time to enjoy and revel in these last days that I have with my other four children. If I am willing I can give them a bit of extra attention and let them know that they are still special to me. I can continue with our normal day to day life without having to deal with the upheaval that a new family member brings along with them. 

So perhaps, by the grace of God, I can take these last few days as a gift. I can let go of the impatience that I've allowed to enter in and just be thankful for this quiet time. After all, the next thing I know I'll be wondering impatiently when I'll next be able to have any quiet time at all! 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Wednesdays with Words: Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives


Words that have been soothing and appropriate for me these days from Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica:


We must be prepared to accept the will of God. The Lord permits all sorts of things to happen to us contrary to our will, for if we always have it our way, we will not be prepared for the Kingdom of Heaven. Neither heaven nor earth will receive those who are self-willed. God has a Divine plan for each one of us, and we must submit to His plan. We must accept life as it is given to us, without asking, "Why me?" We must know that nothing on earth or in heaven ever happens without the will of God or His permission. We must not become too engrossed with our hardships but concentrate on preserving our inner peace. Even when we are praying for something, we are trying to force our will instead of accepting God's. All hardships and sorrows that God sens us are necesssary for us, but we do not understand this when we are young. When we are older, then we understand that htis is the way God shows His love for us. 


Linking up with Dawn, for Wednesdays with Words.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Pentecost






Blessed art Thou, O Christ our God.
Who hast revealed the fishermen as most wise,
Having sent upon them the Holy Spirit.
And through them Thou hast fished the universe.
O Lover of mankind, glory to Thee.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Glory to God

It's been awhile since I posted anything. I'm finding my time and my physical resources limited more each day as I near the end of this pregnancy. But there are many things to be thankful for.

Glory to God....

.... for finally being able to wake up before everyone else!
.... for a morning walk - alone.
.... for nice weather
.... for growing and learning children who constantly amaze me.
.... for good books to read.
.... for blooming flowers and nesting birds.

And most of all, Glory to God for my mother, whose birthday it is today. Happy birthday, Mom!


Sunday, April 12, 2015

O Death where is your sting?

O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen


From the Paschal homily of St. John Chrysostom


Christ is Risen!!!

Truly He is Risen!!!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Today Hades cries out groaning

Today Hades cries out groaning:
“I should not have accepted the Man born of Mary.
He came and destroyed my power.
He shattered the gates of brass.
As God, He raised the souls I had held captive.”
Glory to Thy cross and resurrection, O Lord!


Today hath Hades groaned, crying: 
"My power hath vanished, because I received a dead Man as one of the dead, 
but I could not hold him completely.
 Rather, I lost with Him those who were under my reign. 
From the beginning of time I have held control over the dead, but this One raised all." 
Wherefore, glory be to Thy Crucifixion and to Thy Resurrection, O Lord.


Today hath Hades groaned, crying: 
"My power hath been swallowed up; for the Shepherd, crucified, hath raised Adam; 
and those whom I had possessed I lost. 
Those whom I had swallowed by my might, I have given up completely; 
for the Crucified One hath emptied the graves, and the might of death hath vanished."
Wherefore, glory to Thy Cross, O Lord, and to Thy Resurrection.




Tuesday, March 31, 2015

In Him the dead are made alive





I shared the words to this hymn last year at the beginning of Holy Week. Now here we are again, in the last week of Lent, getting ready to participate in the beautiful preparations that take us to the celebration of the Feast of Feasts We begin this coming Saturday, Lazarus Saturday, with the raising of Lazarus from the tomb.

I hope that the words and the melody of this hymn will bring hope and great joy as you listen.



Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Wednesdays with Words :: The Light of the blind

I am thrilled that I was able to make it to Pre-Sanctified Liturgy today. I felt well, all the kids were cooperating and we finally made it. Glory to God! The following words are from one of the hymns we heard tonight:



Today the unapproachable by nature approaches me, and frees me from passions by enduring the Passion. The Light of the blind is spat upon by sinful men, and gives His back to scourgings for the sake of the captives. When the pure Virgin Mother beheld Him on the Cross, she cried out in pain: Woe to me! What is this Thou hast done, O my Child? Thou, Whose beauty was fairer than that of any man, appearest lifeless, with no form of comeliness. Woe to me, O my Light. I cannot bear to look upon Thee sleeping. My being is wounded, for a sword has pierced my heart. But I praise Thy Passion, and I bow before Thy compassion. O long-suffering Lord, glory to Thee. 

~Theotokion for Wednesday of the Fourth week of Lent




Linking up again for Wednesdays with Words

Sunday, February 22, 2015

More Musings on Fasting

Keep in mind that many people have died for their beliefs; it's actually quite common. The real courage is in living and suffering for what you believe. 
~ Christopher Paolini in Eragon 


I read these words as I was re-reading a book that I'd pulled of the shelf just for fun. Eragon is not a deep, philosophical book, but it does offer lots of food for thought, and the above words really jumped out at me. Perhaps they gave me pause because I had the news of the recent martyrs of Libya fresh in my mind. At first I wasn't sure what to make of the above statement. Is it true that dying for one's beliefs is a common thing? Is it more courageous to live and suffer for one's beliefs than to die for them? 

I'm not convinced that Mr. Paolini got it quite right, but he did make one great point: it does take courage to live and suffer for what we believe in. I would amend his words by saying that those who are willing to die for their beliefs are the ones who have already lived and suffered for them. 

Tomorrow, on Clean Monday, begins the Great Fast. We spend the period of time between now and Pascha (Easter) abstaining from certain foods, and increasing our time spent in prayer and alms-giving. This is a time given by the Church for us to live the faith and suffer for it. We have the opportunity now to reject those things we cling to for comfort instead of God and to put our focus where it should be in the first place - on our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The life of repentance is a life of suffering. The way to Christ is the way of the Cross.

Fasting is a way to learn how to suffer. But we do not fast to punish ourselves for our sins, or to focus on how sinful we might be. The self-denial that comes with fasting is what forces us to turn toward our God and His mercy. It is painful to let go of those habits and indulgences that we hold dear, sometimes without our even being aware of it, but it is precisely in letting go of self that we become able to turn toward God and our brother.

To uproot the sins in our hearts we must step outside of self and learn to serve those around us. Fasting gives us the opportunity to practice putting God and our neighbor first, before self. The problem, though, is that pulling things up from the roots out of the soil of our hearts is not a pleasant task. It is hard, sweaty, dirty work. It requires the courage to face what we have allowed to grow in our hearts, and to see the weeds for what they really are.

But once we are able to see into our hearts more clearly, the work of true repentance can begin. The suffering we experience is not a morbid, debilitating or despondent suffering that leads to despair. Rather it is a joyful suffering, a "bright sadness" that leads us to joy instead of sorrow.

We say the Lenten prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian and we learn how to put our focus on the Lord and Master of our lives. This is where the focus of the 21 martyrs was: on Christ. Some of their last words were "O my Lord Jesus!" Their lives of faith in Christ led them to their deaths. And while the choice to take their lives was a truly tragic choice for those who made it, the martyrs' death was not a tragedy - for them the suffering led to Life.

As we begin the fast now, let us remember why we are fasting. Let us embrace the suffering that comes from turning away from sin so that we may keep our focus on Christ, in order that our suffering might lead us to joy!





Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Wednesdays with Words :: See thy speech be sweet and rare


I came across this beautiful poem in Charlotte Mason's fifth volume, Formation of Character. I don't know if these are Miss Mason's own words, or if she was quoting someone else, but this poem is a beautiful reminder of the duty that parents have in their behavior toward their children. I encourage you to read it slowly and carefully.



Weigh his estate and thine; accustom'd, he,
To all sweet courtly usage that obtains
Where dwells the King. How with thy utmost pains,
Canst thou produce what shall full worthy be?
One, 'greatest in the kingdom,' is with thee,
Whose being yet discerns the Father's face
And, thence replenish'd, glows with constant grace:
Take fearful heed lest he despised be!
Order thy goings softly, as before
A Prince; nor let thee out unmannerly
In thy rude moods and irritable: more, 
Beware lest round him wind of words rave free.
Refrain thee; see thy speech be sweet and rare:
Thy ways, considered; and thine aspect, fair. 


~ Charlotte Mason
Formation of Character

Linking up with Dawn for Wednesdays with Words

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee and some thoughts on humility and fasting

Today is the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee. It came up quickly this year and I have only just fully realized that Great Lent begins in 3 weeks!

I have been spending some time thinking about fasting recently, and thinking more carefully about it than I have in the past. There are many reasons given for why we should fast

:: fasting is an important way to practice self-denial

:: fasting helps to simplify our lives so we can focus on what's important

:: fasting helps us to learn self-control

:: fasting helps us to prepare for the feast

:: fasting helps us learn to depend on God

:: Christ expects that His followers will fast (Matthew 6:16-18)

:: fasting is a wonderful way to practice obedience

All these things are good and they are all true. I think though, that all too often when the focus is on the good things to be gotten from fasting, it's easier (for me anyway) to get caught up in talking about the reasoning and the rules and the final "product", so to speak, and I forget the underlying reason behind all the explanations. Paying more attention to the benefits of fasting leads to a utilitarian approach that begins to calculate and speculate on the ins and outs and outward manifestations of the practice. It becomes all to easy to forget that the why behind fasting is much more important than the how, and this can lead to fasting becoming an end in itself, rather than a means to something else. It can become a burden and an imposition and a legalistic "requirement" that leads us into thinking that we can save ourselves by our own efforts.

The focus therefore, should be on the reason why we fast. Once we truly understand why we are doing it, then the details become less burdensome and indeed can be welcomed rather than cast aside as too strict .

So, why do we fast?

When we are fasting we are deliberately choosing Christ over the other things that can take our attention away from Him. We are purposefully pursuing relationship with Him and by choosing to abstain from the foods we've been asked to abstain from, we can give more of our attention to being with Him.

When we fast we are more free to pray. Fasting is not a burden; it is a freedom.

What freedom to live in prayer and to be closer to God! What joy! What a wonderful gift God has given through His Church, when He asks us to fast. He wants to be in relationship with us and so He makes it possible. He provides the opportunity, and if we somehow forget, or refuse or simply are unaware of the fasts, He has been gracious enough to give us plenty more opportunities throughout the entire year. But if we know, there's no reason to wait until next time. Why not take advantage of His gift now? Why put off being nearer to Him whom we claim to hold dearest of all?

One of the problems with forgetting the why behind the fast and concentrating on the how, is that this can make us miss out on the crucial element that is needed during the fast: humility.

Humility involves allowing oneself to be open to receiving what comes. It is a state of being that is aware of one's fallen-ness and brokenness and that is present in reality - right here, right now. The reason that humility is so important is not just because it's a virtue, but because the awareness of who we are and Whose we are is what allows God's grace to come to us.

God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.    

Humility involves not only being aware of who we are, with all our flaws, but it also involves being open to what God allows in our lives. It is laying oneself down to be trodden upon and trampled, allowing the soil of the heart to be tilled so that it can bring forth fruit.

Fasting does not make any one of us more deserving of God's grace than another. It does not make any of us more virtuous or more pious or more holy. Fasting, done with a spirit of humility, is a way for us to be raised up, not by our efforts, but by God's grace, to the heights of heaven. Humble fasting is a way for us to open the door of our hearts, so the the King might enter in.


Friday, January 23, 2015

A Mother's Feast :: Beginning with the Heart

I am linking up today with Lizzie from Strong Haven for A Mother's Feast. This linkup is to encourage mothers to take the time to pursue their interests and nourish their minds as they raise their families. I hope to write every so often about the things I do and the books I read to feed my mind and to enrich myself. But since I want all things that I do to have their foundation in Christ, I thought it would be appropriate to begin at the beginning - with the heart.

***************

I have a very clear memory of walking through my college campus, the year I graduated, and regretting the fact that my time in school was about to come to a close. On the one hand I was glad that I wouldn't have to take any more tests and make any more grades. On the other hand I looked forward to all of my classes and was sad that I would have to get a job instead of spending my time learning new things.

What I didn't realize at the time was that it was really only the beginning of my education. These years after graduation have been more fruitful than I could ever have imagined. I have grown and changed and learned so much.

I have begun to partake of the feast that can exist for the mind. The feast of Ideas. The mind must be fed as well as the body, and it especially behooves a mother who has taken on the responsibility of educating her children to feed her own mind in order that she might have some idea of how to feed theirs.

I think though, that if a mother wants to nourish her mind, she must first start with her heart. God must be first and the relationship with Him ought to take priority over every other pursuit that might catch her interest. Without that living relationship, the other things become meaningless and empty.

First must come prayer. A mother can get so bogged down in the day to day responsibilities of raising a family that days can pass by without a thought of God, let alone time spent with Him. Therefore the time for prayer must be set aside and protected so that the days don't run away without the sustenance that comes from daily interaction with God.

The prayers don't have to be long and drawn out, but they should be regular. Including the children is a wonderful thing, and family prayer is important, but I think the private prayers need to be prioritized as well.

But there are some days (at least there are in my house) where life doesn't allow for the quiet morning or evening time to spend alone with God. There are days where the punches start right from the moment my eyes open and I have to roll along with them until my eyes close at night. Sometimes it's only one day, other times it turns out that many days in a row are like this. And so I think that it's also important for a mother to be sure that she not only sets aside time for prayer, but also learns to pray throughout the day. Sometimes I have time to say a short version of the hours, other times all I can do is pray the Jesus prayer.
Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner
Another important part of prayer for a mother is praying for her children. It can often become discouraging when we cannot see the big picture because of the immediacy of the problems before us. Sometimes I become so overwhelmed with the difficult side of raising children that I feel like perhaps I am ruining them forever. But at those times, I need to remember that all I can do is my very best in the moment I'm living and the rest is up to God.

Of course, it always helps to have others praying for me as well. And who better to ask for prayers, as a mother, than the Mother of God? Who else could understand the joys and the sorrows that come with motherhood as well as she? And so I call on her to help me and to pray for my children as they grow. I beseech her with all my heart to pray for my children, and to hold them up where I let them down.

The last thing I'll mention here, in relation to the nourishment of a mother's soul, is the reading of spiritual books. First and foremost of course, is the Bible. Even if I only read a little bit every day, it is another way for me to be nourished and sustained as I go through the day. It's not easy to find the time to read for long periods of time, but I find that the lectionary readings are short enough that I can read them every day without trouble.

Reading about the lives of the saints, and reading the words of the holy fathers of the Church are true spiritual refreshment that should not be underestimated. The lives and words of the holy ones who have gone before are inspiring and bring hope and encouragement when the day to day grind begins to wear one down.

It's not always easy to take the time for oneself when there's a passel of kids to keep up with. But neither is it necessary to try to carve out hours of time in which to do it. I've written before about how God provides so abundantly when I think that I need more time to myself. All these things that I've written about here can be fit into the little moments of quiet that show up unexpectedly throughout the day. And sometimes, even if all I can do is cry out to God, minute by minute, He still sustains me and gives me the strength to push through and make it until the next resting time. And if I have put Him first, then I have a foundation on which to build, and the feast spread before me is no longer out of reach, but is real and present and truly nourishing.


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Wednesdays with Words :: What do your words say?

Today's words came from a rather unexpected place. I picked up a little book for beginning New Testament Greek from my church library on Sunday. It's compact and the lessons look like they're laid out simply. Since my other Greek text book has me dreading each new lesson I thought a change might be in order. I came across these words in the introduction:
Language is a reflection of the intellectual and spiritual habits of the people who use it.
The New Testament writers have used the common, living language of the day. But they have used it in the expression of uncommon thoughts, and the language itself, in the process, has been to some extent transformed.

I'll be thinking about this for awhile. I wonder what our language says about us. I wonder how and if our usage of language has changed it. Most of all I wonder what my use of language says about me.
Linking up with Dawn for Wednesdays with Words.