The beach ball of Holy Week

DSC_0809I love Holy Week. I love Pascha and the longer I’m Orthodox, the more I like Lent (or grow to appreciate what it does for me).

Some years, I’ve been able to unplug from life during Holy Week, coming into a rhythm that allows the week to almost seamlessly merge into the celebration of Great and Holy Saturday and Pascha. Those years I’m usually with my sister, godson and their family at Holy Assumption Orthodox Church in Canton, and I’ve taken days off and am plugged into only the cycle of services and my family there.

This year is not that year. A new job and new responsibilities means less time off. Teaching made for a Lent without one Presanctified Liturgy (one of my favorite services). And life backed up into Holy Week this year, putting me in places other than the pews on days I would normally be in church.

I had a sneaking feeling this would happen. I usually care A LOT and my frustration of missed expectation causes an anxiety and frustration that are the exact opposite of the mindset I tried to cultivate during the Lenten season. I tried to do better this year, and it helped.

I finally got to church tonight, for Holy Unction. I missed the Bridegroom matins services earlier in the week (though I subjected Huntington University’s CO342 to a video of the hymns. My class, my rules.)

As I stood before Fr. Andrew, my palms open to receive the holy oil, I almost felt as if time closed in around me. The feelings I battled all week, like trying to keep a beach ball under the water while sitting on it, dissipated and nothing else seemed to exist.

I never wanted to leave.

Those who know me, know how much anxiety the current political situation is causing me. You know that, for someone committed to truth-telling, the constant lying, gaslighting and nonsense is beyond a challenge. I have not done a good job of keeping what matters in the foreground. I surrendered Lent in some very real ways to that which I cannot control. Another beach ball: something too big to keep under wraps, and too buoyant to keep under control.

I have three more days of services left in this journey: the Liturgy of St. James with the marathon service of Holy Thursday (the 12 Passion Gospels) that takes us to the Cross, and the Lamentations service of Holy Friday leading us up to the Feast of the Resurrection, Pascha.

There will be some work in there, a rubble pile, weather to complain about and distractions aplenty. If you’re thinking of it, I’d welcome your prayers for continued growth and focus during the remainder of this journey.

The beauty of the weeks leading up to Pascha–the Sunday of Mary of Egypt, Lazarus Saturday, Palm Sunday, etc.–is that I am constantly reminded that it is never too late, I am never so far gone that I cannot welcome the King.

After Fr. Andrew anointed my head, my throat and my palms with the oil, I kissed the Gospel book, the icon of the Theotokos and Christ, and I slowly left the santuary.

The journey of Holy Week continues.

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A massive rescue operation

It’s Great and Holy Friday. Christ hangs on the cross in the center of the church. I will go later today to sign hymns of Lamentations, to mourn alongside His mother and disciples. Tonight we will bury Him. Tomorrow night we will await His Glorious Resurrection.

In light of all this, I want to make sure you know something. I knew it, but I forget it all the time, because I live here, in the West, where Christianity is all about a God who is so angry at us being us that He had to sacrifice His own Son to appease Himself. (Ridiculous, isn’t it.)

This was never about that.

Fr. Andrew reminded me of this no less than four times this week, in a couple of homilies and in confession. And he didn’t use these words, exactly, but it’s how my brain is wired these days, so I’m using them.

THIS WAS ALWAYS ABOUT RESCUE.

Always. From the absolute moment we decided to do what we did, and every moment of every day that we do what we do, this has been about that.

It has been about Love. And Sacrifice. About Healing. And Wholeness. It is about Death, but it is, oh boy is it, about Life.

It’s about a Divine Hand, two actually, outstretched and reaching. It’s about moving heaven, earth and the gates of hell to free us from the rubble of our own brokenness, our own hurts, our pain, our shame, our loneliness and vulnerability. It’s about pushing the broken pieces of our lives aside to get us out.

I have a lot of friends who do not believe what I believe. And that is OK with me. I love them and I love the way they challenge me and walk alongside of me and talk with me about these things, regardless of our differences.

But if you do not believe what I believe, because you have distinctly chosen to reject the god of “substitutionary atonement” (doesn’t that sound lovely), the god who “hates F#%$” and leaves tracts in restaurants in lieu of tips, the god who worries more about what people do than what people are (icons, made in His image), it’s OK. I rejected him too. I had to. That other “faith” was killing me.

And this God came for me. He showed up on a commuter train in Washington D.C. when I was on the edge, in the words of a new friend. He carefully and methodically moved aside those broken pieces in my own heart, freed me from the traps I made and is gradually putting me back together. We’re not done yet, but this isn’t a simple process. It’s always been about healing. It’s never, ever, ever been about hell.

God is Love. He kept saying that. I choose to believe Him.    The Icon of Christ the Bridegroom (Ο Νυμφίος)

A new way

I know everyone says this, but I really don’t like change. I wish things could stay the same. Actually, no. What I wish is I could have new good things along with all the comfortable old things. I believe that is what is colloquially referred to as “having’s one’s cake…”

But whatever. Change gets my knickers in a bunch. Feeling a pull of two competing obligations makes me completely crazy and renders me totally incapable of enjoying anything. That means that, for example, if I am at a Holy Week service by myself, and my husband is at home eating a frozen meal (having an affair with Marie Callender), I will be feeling guilty for not being there. Or, conversely, if I am at home, eating a Lenten dinner of mixed bean salad, after having cooked him some chicken dish, I will feel guilty about not being at Church.

What’s a girl to do?

She’s to relax, and calm the heck down, that’s what.

Welcome to my first Lent, my first Pascha and my first four months as a married person. It’s also the first time I’ve not lived within a super-convenient 15 minutes from church. I’m 40 minutes from everything now, and while I just smiled a second ago when the rooster crowed down the road, I was struggling last night to keep the car on the highway as I wandered home from the late-night Lamentations service.

In 12 hours, we’ll be at Pascha. My poor husband, who had never seen or heard of Orthodoxy till he met me, will be experiencing his first Pascha — in which the church will be filled with about 70% of people we’ve never seen there before. There will be all kinds of “ritual” as he calls it that could not be more different from the country church he grew up in if you plunked him down on Mars. He’s quite the trooper. He had an Orthodox wedding in January, and in a week, we’ll be the godparents at the baptism of my nephew (a baby).

But for me, this has been this completely frustrating 50 days or so of trying to balance what I used to do with what I need to do. I told Fr. Andrew in confession the other day I wished I had fully enjoyed my single-life when I had it, spiritually-discipline-wise. I wasted so much time because I had it to waste. Now, I’d kill to have more time. (And be married…there’s that whole cake saving-eating problem again).

Fr. Andrew, because he’s smart like that, reminded me that this marriage is a sacrament. Being married works for my salvation, and A’s, as we figure out how to live together, build a life together, etc. Being a wife, a partner, one joined to another sacramentally works for my salvation, and A’s. I should not knock it, or feel guilty about it. I should, and am trying, to embrace this new thing, and all that it will bring me and us.

But it sure is different (good-different, in case you think I am griping. I am not).

So tonight, I’ll process around the Church and my hubby, who is so non-demonstrative, will help the men set up the inside of the Church for the Pascal liturgy. He will plug in in his way, while I do my thing. And then, together, we will say the portions of the service that he says every week–the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, etc. And afterward we’ll gather with our church family in the hall to eat, laugh, drink and celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord.

We will do so as a family — this new family, this sacramental unit known legally as the Knights.e367d08cb41911e282a322000a1f9709_7

To all, have a blessed and peaceful Pascha.

On missing Holy Week

I’m having a tough time disengaging from my Paschal party and the preceding Holy Week journey.

Even right now, during Bright Week for pity’s sake, I am listening to the Lamentations of Holy Week because I just love it so much. I miss the singing, the reflection, the knowledge of all that seemed lost then was found in Christ’s redemptive work.

I miss the mourning. I miss the soulful singing as we wait and watch. I miss the sadness turning into joy. I miss hearing the birds awake as we left the little parish hall at 4 a.m. Sunday. I miss my brothers and sisters, whom I rarely see but with whom I have shared this great Thing now two years in a row. I miss hearing Subdeacon Eusebius’ voice reading the Scriptures. I miss watching Elena direct the choir with such joy. I miss seeing Fr. Stacey grin from ear to ear as he blesses the parishioners with showers of holy water. I miss singing alongside my sister. I miss the darkness with candlelight peaking through as we leave the church for the procession.

I miss it all. I love it all, what it brings to me, what it does to me and where it takes me. I love that when I leave on Pascha, I feel like a bright, new penny. I love that throughout Bright Week I don’t worry about what I’m eating, then laugh when I notice that I’m not worrying about what I’m eating. I love that all I want to do is be back at Church and NO one at work can make that happen.

But I love that this Sunday, like every Sunday, we will again celebrate the Resurrection, for every Sunday in Orthodoxy is a mini-Pascha. And this week we’ll get to sing “The Angel Cried.” And Fr. Andrew will say “Christ is Risen” in English, Greek, Slavonic and probably Ukrainian. And we will answer him in English, Greek, Slavonic and probably Ukrainian. The Ethiopians will do that thing that they do when they hear “Christ is Risen” that can’t be translated into words. And I will smile because of the universal-ness of God’s love for us because He came for us, died for us, arose for us and saves us in any language.

I miss Holy Week. I miss Pascha. But I love missing it. And I can’t wait for next year.

Christ is risen, everybody! Christ is Risen!!

Come forth

Today is Lazarus Saturday. I normally find myself in church for the liturgy, but felt that something else was needed today (family time).

My heart, though, is with the crowd gathered at Lazarus’ tomb, waiting in their grief to see what will happen.

We wait here too. We clench our jaws, hold back our tears and watch death unfold all around us. We busy ourselves in our digital worlds. We pack our schedules and fill our lives with so much nonsense, all in an effort to keep death (or at least the realization of death) at at least arms’ length away, further if we can get it.

But it comes anyway. It barrels through our defenses, like a bullet through a paper target. Our loved ones die. Our bodies fall apart. Our friends’ children are molested. Our neighbors are murdered by their spouses. We steal brief moments of joy with our families and our friends, knowing that those moments are not enough to stave off death and suffering.

I have said this before on the blog, and I will say it again. We don’t belong here and we know it. We know we were not designed for death, and so many moments of so many of our days prove this is true. And we hate it. It grieves us.

We stand with Lazarus’ family, now, waiting for our Lord to do something. We know He can and we want to believe He will.

For those who have been struggling pathetically through Great Lent (me), stand there in belief. For those who have been waging great personal battles against suffering, stand there in belief. For those who are nearing the end, stand there in belief. Wait for the victory.

We are also in the tomb with Lazarus. But for those who enter into Christ’s death and resurrection, we shall hear His voice at the end.

Come forth.

Have a blessed Holy Week, everyone!

Christos Vozkrese!

From the Paschal homily of St. John Chrysostom:

Let no one fear death, for the Saviour’s death has set us free.

He that was taken by death has annihilated it! He descended into hell and took hell captive! He embittered it when it tasted his flesh! And anticipating this Isaiah exclaimed, “Hades was embittered when it encountered thee in the lower regions.” It was embittered, for it was abolished! It was embittered, for it was mocked! It was embittered, for it was purged! It was embittered, for it was despoiled! It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!

It took a body and, face to face, met God! It took earth and encountered heaven! It took what it saw but crumbled before what it had not seen!

“O death, where is thy sting? O hades, where is thy victory?”

Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!

Voistina Vozkrese!

Imagine with me if you will…

Christ died. Every. single. year. I am struck by that. Christ, one of the Holy Trinity. died.

From the Lamentations (Matins of Great and Holy Saturday)

Let awe and wonder shake the heavens
and let the earth’s foundations quake
For He who dwells in the heavens is laid
within a dark and dismal tomb
And numbered among the dead…

Can you imagine this from the point of view of those long-dead? From the perspective of the demons?

The hymns we sang tonight talked about the chaos that likely ensued when Christ descended into hell and freed the captives. For like two seconds it looked like evil and death had triumphed, but then He-who-created-the-world showed up.

So for me, for those of us here on earth, Christ is dead and in the tomb. But there’s so much more going on.