Tag Archives: Orthodox

The Nourishment I Need

In my daily life I have to be extremely careful about what I eat.  I have to avoid all traces of gluten and soy.  If I am accident-ly exposed to gluten, the consequences are unpleasant and life disrupting.  I have embarrassing gastro-intestinal problems, I am too weak to even climb stairs at times, and I get bad headaches.  This is a consequence of my body not being able to properly absorb nutrients following gluten exposure.  I eat, but what I eat doesn’t make it to my cells.  So, taking vitamins and making sure I get proper nourishment is essential for me to function.

But what about my spiritual nourishment? I have to eat, neglecting food for too long leaves me grumpy and weak.  Too often I forget that neglecting God for too long leaves me grumpy and spiritually weak.  I need daily, hourly, nourishment from Him.  It is easy to brush off prayers in the morning, saying them while doing other things or neglecting them entirely.  It is also easy to be “too tired” in the evening to spend time with God.  But, like my body eventually noticing lack of food, my body eventually notices the lack of God.  In His grace and mercy He is always there, waiting for me with open arms, welcoming me back to His presence.

I take this continuous presence for granted sometimes.  God is always going to be there, to be “out there.” There will be time for Him later, on my terms, when I can sit down and take a break.

But God won’t be there forever.  At some time in the future, maybe even in the next day, (or the next hour!) I will be called before His judgement seat.  What will I say when I get there? Will I have been so busy with the rest of my life that I don’t recognize Him? Will I be ashamed to stand before Him and give an account of myself? Most importantly, will I be able to respond with love to His loving call to me?

This season of Lent is supposed to be a time of increased discipline, of increased prayer.  I have failed.  And in that failing I feel even more keenly the call of My Father.  He’s there, waiting for me with open arms, if only I stop being self-absorbed and un-disciplined, and instead slow down and worship Him.  It’s an easy thing to say, but not an easy thing to do. But God, in His grace and mercy, always calls to His children, the entirety of the human race – even those that do not yet know Him, or those that are too busy for Him.

In a little more than a week we will again hear the Paschal sermon of Saint John Chrysostom:

… If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in nowise be deprived therefor. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing. If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first; he gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour. And he shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; and to the one he gives, and upon the other he bestows gifts.

It’s never too late. I come at the eleventh hour, but my Lord, who is Love, awaits.  If only I take the time to nourish my body and respond to Him.  Glory be to God.

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OCN’s response to the video “Why I hate Religion but Love Jesus”

Check out the Orthodox Christian Network at www.myocn.net
h/t A day’s journey

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April 1, 2012 · 7:41 pm

“Today is the beginning of our salvation,

The revelation of the eternal mystery!

The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin

As Gabriel announces the coming of Grace.

Together with him let us cry to the Theotokos:

Rejoice, O Full of Grace,The Lord is with You!”

– Troparion of the Feast of the Annunciation

Today we celebrate the first instance of the Incarnation of Christ! Today is certainly the beginning of our salvation.

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Head Coverings

Why do I wear a head covering when I pray?  

I have been considering this question once again.

It started with a blog post and comments, here.

Then, I found a lovely explanation on the side bar of the blog “Morning Coffee,” here.

Every now and then, someone will ask me, and I can’t come up with a logical reason.  To me, it just feels “right.”

So, what are my reasons for wearing a head covering whenever I pray?

How do I answer this question? The reasons are numerous and somewhat nebulous.

I wear a head covering because I feel compelled to wear one. This is perhaps the main reason why I wear a head covering.  Some years ago, before I became Orthodox, but when I was re-discovering Christ and returning to a life in him, while praying, there was a compulsion to wear a head-covering.  When I pray, I am standing in the presence of God. For some reason, I feel like I dare not approach him with my head uncovered.  I don’t know why, maybe it’s “for the angels.” Maybe it’s because God sees everything, even the secret parts of me, and wearing a head covering is like keeping those parts of me that God sees for God alone.  When I pray without my head covered, I am more distracted in prayer, I start worrying about what I’m doing or how I look, and I lose that connection with God.

I know that in the Bible women are called to modesty.  Many times the reason given for modesty is so that we don’t distract others, especially men, and so that we don’t seek attention.  But, maybe it has to do with being secret as well.  In the Orthodox Church, many of the explanations of our faith are shrouded in mystery – the Trinity, the Eucharist, our salvation.  In the Divine Liturgy, the most important acts, the consecration of the bread and wine, and the changing of that bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus by the Holy Spirit is a mystery, something done that we don’t need to (can’t) comprehend in order to participate in.  I think this element of mystery can be applied to women as well.  We are creators and nurturers, and the act of growing life in our wombs, is a secret act, a sacred act.  It sets us apart from men.  The Theotokos, the Mother of our God, was set aside from all humanity in this way.  So, in dressing modestly and in wearing a head covering, we continue that secret, that mystery, reserving parts of ourselves for God alone.  I don’t know – this is just my train of thoughts.

I wear a head-covering because Christian women through-out history have worn them, and I want to emulate the saintly women who have done so.  Wearing a head covering in a Christian church is not new, it’s a 2000 year-old tradition.  Until the 1950’s, in the United States, women who went to church wore a head covering.  In most parts of the non-Western world today, women wear head coverings when they pray.

I want to continue to draw closer to God and deepen my relationship with him.  I want to emulate His mother, the Theotokos and virgin Mary, Saint Mary Magdalene (my patron saint), Saint Matrona, Saint Brigid, and all the saintly women throughout history who have prayed while covered.  I look up to these women, and want to model my life after them, hoping to pray to God as they have.

I wear a head covering as a symbol of obedience to God. In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul states that women should have their hair covered while they pray.  The exact meaning of his words is open to debate, but for me, it is a commandment from God.  It doesn’t matter how self-conscious I am initially, my own opinions about male/female equality doesn’t matter.  What matters is that God commands this. My body is not my own.  I need a constant reminder of this.  I cannot act out of my own will or self-interest, though many times in my willfulness I do.  I want to always be striving to draw closer to God.  I fail at that, a lot, and I need a reminder while I am in prayer to be humble and obey God.  There have been times in my past when I have turned my back on God.  I don’t want that to happen again, and if this little act of obedience will help me remember God, then I will do it.

I do not think every woman should wear a head covering.  That is a decision made between her, her husband (if appropriate) and her spiritual father. I need to wear a head covering as a reminder of humility and obedience, I need a part of me to remain secret for God.

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His Grace is Sufficient – 2

“I have sinned, O Savior, yet I know that Thou art the Lover of men. Thou strikest compassionately and pitiest warmly. Thou seest me weeping and runnest towards me as the Father recalling the Prodigal.” – from the Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete

The first week of Great Lent is hard.  We attend church everyday, and fast rigorously, as much as we can according to our own strength.  On Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday of the first week, “Clean Week,” we read the Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete.  (Read about it here.)  This glorious canon of repentance sets for us the tone and timbre of the rest of Lent.  Although one of the main themes of the Canon is repentance, another theme running through it is one of God’s grace and mercy.

On these first days of Great Lent we are weakened by the fast.  Our bodies are weak from lack of food, our minds unfocused, and our souls tempted by Satan.  We are reminded that it is only by God’s grace that we even attempt this journey towards the Risen Lord.

On Tuesday of this week, I came home from work tired and bone-weary.  I was hurting, and did not have the energy to stand in church.  But God’s Grace meets me where I am.  I didn’t make the prostrations or the bows at church, and I didn’t sing along with the choir.  It was enough to stand and sit and absorb the words, offering them up to God in my heart.  If I don’t have the health or energy to attend all the services this Lent, I will be at home, praying and absorbing the words of the prayers, knowing that others are supporting me through their prayers at church.

I am going to fail during the fast.  I am going to reach the limits of my physical strength and will-power.  I am going to fall down, but I am also going to get back up and keep moving towards God.  That is the point of the fast.  We are not fasting to give up a bad habit, or to develop self-discipline, or even to allow ourselves to see the sinfulness and brokenness inside of us.  We are fasting to see God’s Grace more readily, and allow it to act in us.  We fast to pray. We fast to move towards theosis, becoming united with God in His divine energies.

And we do it together.

Every single one of us in the church is fasting.  My fast may look different than yours’, but we are all fasting together, giving up meat, dairy, and oil as much as our strength/weakness will allow us to. We’re supporting one another through prayer and actions.  Because it’s only as we are more united to each other that we are united to God.  This is comforting to me.  Fasting isn’t about legalism or trying to “do right by God” or trying pray our way to some desired end, fasting is about growing together as a community growing closer to God.

His Grace is sufficient for all of us, and we respond like the Prodigal, moving towards Him as He moves towards us.  Glory be to God!

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His Grace is Sufficient

“His Grace is sufficient for all.”  

This is the statement that keeps running through my head during this first week of the Great Fast in preparation for Pascha.

We began the fast on Sunday with Forgiveness Vespers.  Over the years as I get to know more people in our church more deeply, this event has more significance for me.  For the previous three weeks of pre-Lent preparation we have been reminded to pray and fast as the Publican, that we receive God’s Mercy as we turn to him like the Prodigal Son, and that we will be called to account for our deeds at the Last Judgement.  Then, after a final Cheese-fare potluck, we gather once more in the church to ask forgiveness.  We ask forgiveness of God, ourselves, and our neighbors.

There is something humbling, beautiful, and reassuring about Forgiveness Vespers.  We line up in a line, and one-by-one go to each and every member of the church, look them in the eye, ask for forgiveness from them for any pain we have caused them in the past year, and humbly fall prostrate on our knees before them.  Then we get up, and are reminded that “God Forgives.”  At the same time, we forgive them for all the hurts, known and unknown, that they might have caused us in the past year.  It is deeply humbling and soul-nourishing to fall down before your spouse and ask forgiveness of them, knowing that all hurts, words spoken in anger, and all deeds are forgiven and forgotten. Likewise we ask foriveness of and give it to our priest, our friends, and the rest of our families.  You recognize that it’s only by God’s Grace that we continue living, that only by his acting in us that we are capable of forgiving (hence “God Forgives”) or receiving forgiveness.  In this way we receive and give forgiveness to every member of the church family. Our sins against one another don’t need to be numerated, by mutual agreement they are all given up to God and forgotten at that moment.   I watched children as young as 4, and men as old as 85 prostrate themselves, giving and receiving the grace of God’s forgiveness to each other.

Then, united, as one family and one body of Christ we go into the Great Fast together with a clean slate.  Because in that one service, all our relationships with one another have been restored.  By the Grace of God, we are united and cleansed.

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Preparing for the Incarnation

Into the darkness of winter, into the darkness of this world’s violence, hate, illness, war, and suffering, the Son of God, the Son of Man, comes, bringing us light so that through His light we may become Him.  Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

This is what the Incarnation of the Word of God is all about.  He comes to heal our broken world and unite Himself to us. Sometimes, I feel like we focus on the death of Christ, His atonement for our sins, and miss the Incarnation and the Resurrection.

Without the mystery of the Incarnation, without a sanctified vessel, the Theotokos, the Mother of God, the Virgin Mary, and her willing sacrifice for us, the Son of God could not and would not have been born.  All of creation, and all of time was waiting for this woman, this Champion of Christians, this first Christian, to be born, to reside within the temple, so that her body might be made the Temple of God.  That sacrifice, the indwelling of God was granted to a woman, a broken human being just like the rest of us.  She too was subject to the corruption and death of the world that came about through the sin of Adam.  But this woman, the Mother of God, was sanctified and chosen by God to bear Himself; she was chosen from time immaterial to be God’s Mother. No wonder “all generations shall call [her] blessed!”  She carried God in her womb for 9 months.  It wasn’t that the fetus “became” God at some point in development, it wasn’t that God dwelt in a child after the birth of that child, it was that God humbled himself so much that he became that ball of cells, that fetus, that baby.

I still can’t wrap my head around the mystery of the Incarnation, or the mystery of the Theotokos, the Mother of God.  To think that God himself loves His creation so much that He unites His nature to our own through the Incarnation is mind-boggling.  This is God, the creator and sustainer of the universe.  And he chose a perfect vessel, the Theotokos, as the temple in which to make His home here on earth!  And, He chooses each of us as His vessel in which to make His home here on earth, so that we might be sanctified, made holy, and through the working out of our salvation be brought closer and closer to God.  So that at our death, because of the Incarnation, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Christ, we might be united to Christ, sharing in His energies, united in love.

This is the mystery of our salvation, the Incarnation of God.  The death and resurrection of God was for the cleansing of the world from the corruption wrought by Adam, but it is in the uniting of us creatures to the Creator that we have our salvation.  As St. Athanasius said, “God became man so that man might become gods.”

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This Nativity Fast has been a struggle for me, many times my physical body has been broken, racked by pain and weakness.  My heart has been broken, turning away from God, trusting in my own strengths.  My intellect and all notions of myself have been broken when I’ve had to realize that what I thought were “my dreams” were not God’s plan for me.  But, in God’s grace and mercy, I pray that this brokenness bring me closer to Him, more like Him.

Fasting is hard, fasting is a spiritual and bodily struggle. I fail at fasting.  Like the Publican, sometimes all I can do is cry “Lord have mercy on me!” Like the Pharisee, I strut my stuff, thinking “I’ve got this fasting thing down, look at me being so good.” And then God humbles me, breaks me, so that I might slowly be sanctified.

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

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