Present and in the moment

The God-Man, Mankind, and Creation | Orthodox in the District

The other day, my sister and I were shopping at a discount store. My sister asked the clerk, ‘what is the most popular item you sell?’. The clerk asked her to repeat the question and then proceeded to make a list of the places she likes to visit in our town. Hmmm. She was busy with an activity (ringing up our order, but it was just a cake mix and a package of cupcake wrappers… not at all complicated). It was not particularly noisy in the store so what happened? Was the clerk lost in thought during the conversation? Have we, through the use of technology, forgotten how to speak to one another? Whatever was going on, she was not present and in the moment.

I see this so often. People glued to their cell phones as they walk across the street. Dangerous, people! Aside from obvious physical dangers, and looking doofy when you are too distracted to follow a conversation, how does it effect us when we are not present and in the moment when worshiping or praying?

While God is everywhere present at all times, I am only in one place at a time. If I am rehashing what I said to people during the week, or what they said to me, I am not fully present when I come before the Lord. I suffer. I am too distracted to receive benefit from prayer. My soul is disquieted. I am in the presence of my mind, not God. My offering is incomplete because I am incomplete.

One method we can use to overcome the noise is by saying the Jesus prayer; ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God have mercy on me the sinner.’. Repeat, repeat, repeat. This little, but effective and in essence a huge prayer, has guarded my mind, calmed me and helped me to prepare for important meetings and moments. it has helped me to prepare for deeper prayer whether at temple or at home. It can either be used alone, or as a transitional prayer to take one higher and deeper.

We cannot be in two place at once. The best place to be is wherever we are at the moment. Try using the Jesus prayer to keep you grounded and in the presence of God. It can help melt away distractions & bring you closer to God as He becomes the focus of your prayer.

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365 days later… almost

The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

It has almost been a year since I came to investigate the Orthodox Christian church. I began my journey in September 2016 LINK.

My first blog post was not very wordy. In fact, it was a repost of a photo I had found talking about keeping a monastery in one’s heart.

The Dormition of Mary ends the Liturgical year for the Orthodox Christians. I have been a part of something amazing and I will remember this first year as being filled with struggles, the making of new friends, sorrows when a dear family member was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer, answers to prayer, family coming to check out what I was up to and now one is to be baptized this Saturday. My nephew and husband both have visited my temple. My husband is still attending on Saturdays. I get to spend a lot of time with my sister talking about the Orthodox Way. She and I attend services together regularly. It is SUCH a huge blessing to be able to discuss what is going on with someone who is also experiencing Orthodoxy for the first time and loving it.

It has, and continues to be a struggle. It is a good struggle. Orthodoxy aligns with what is in the bible in regards to guarding ourselves against sin. It is what I have been looking for for the past 30 years. Yes… 30 years!

I became Orthodox so that I could be changed and I have been. I have removed from my blog two earlier posts written when I was still a Protestant. They no longer represent who I am or what I believe. Do you go to church hoping to change, ‘the establishment’? Or do you attend church, read your bible and pray hoping your heart will soften and you will be changed?

I still have a long way to go in my journey as a Christian. One thing I now realize is why people used to post on social media how thankful they were to have another day on earth. In the Orthodox Church, it is so that we can have another day to work on our sanctification.

lord's day quotes | Thank You LORD For Another Blessed Day!! | IT'S ...

I love when we sing, ‘Many Years’ in church!

1000+ images about Orthodox Christian stuff on Pinterest | Orthodox ...

I have learned about the Ethiopian Orthodox Christians!

Ethiopian Bible is oldest and most complete on earth / OrthoChristian ...
As a Protestant, I never knew they existed.

I learned that cave churches were not just holes in the mountain. They were, and still are beautiful and full of icons and murals.

These Mysterious Cave Churches And Monasteries Totally Rock | HuffPost

... orthodox christian, painting, religion, sumela, sümela monastery

I have learned that there is such a thing as Holy Fire and it is a bona fide miracle that happens EVERY Pascha!

holy sepulchre jerusalem holy fire 5-crop

I learned that Easter baskets originated with the Orthodox Church but we call them Pascha baskets.

lit from the holy fire as thousands gather in the church of the holy ...

I have learned about fasting…

orthodox christianity orthodox icons vegan recipes roman catholic cure ...

…and feasting!

Home Ce gatesc azi ? Retete de post Retete Mic Dejun Sfaturi bucatarie ...

I have learned about icons… SO many beautiful icons!

Why do Christians not Celebrate Jewish Feasts? – Departing Horeb

Presentation of the Holy Virgin into the Temple

I have learned about he prayer rope, the Jesus prayer, the blessing of the waters, confession & repentance, the lives of the ancient fathers and mothers, and so much more.

Prayer Ropes from St. Paisius Monastery

As much as I have learned, I still have so much more to understand.

On head covering

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I don’t know of any other topic in all of Christiandom that is more talked about… or misunderstood. If there is any other topic that elicits such a range of emotional response as head covering, I do not know what it would be.

Veiled Christian Women - YouTube

First of all there is the confusion as to its origin. When my nephew came to church HERE he asked, ‘What’s with the head coverings? Is that a Muslim thing?’. Sigh… no it is not a, ‘Muslim thing’. Islam did not come around until 300-400 years AFTER Christianity got its start at Pentecost. The origins of head covering are found in Judaism. Paul had been a Jewish leader before his conversion to Christianity. He had intimate knowledge of every law and custom. While some argue that head covering was a cultural standard for women in ancient times and not for women today, it does have a place in modern Christianity.

I began my research on head covering about 4-5 years ago. I had read a comment on a blog about how Christians pick and choose which bible verses they will follow, and if we were against some things because the bible said not to do them then why did we not do other things, such as head covering, which the bible tells us to do? While it is clear the individual who wrote that comment had no understanding of free will, it did get me thinking about head covering, and there began my journey.

At the beginning of this article you will find a link to an article on head covering written by a Jewish Rabbi. I hope it opens for you. It contains information I have never found on any Christian website or video that talks about head covering. Also, I cannot find this article any more on the Net. Maybe you can. I downloaded in onto my computer years ago and it is an invaluable tool. I believe one of the reasons why the bible verse about it is so confusing is because we lack the oral history that pertains to head covering. Because it is something that, Paul had to tell Christians to do, I think it would be a logical conclusion to say that it was not widely practice among pagans which would have been the primary converts to Christianity at the time Paul wrote to remind women to cover and why. Head covering, and the reasons why, would have been a part of daily life for Jewish women. Most of them would have known why they were to cover. Where scripture falls off about it, oral tradition would have carried on like a torch passed down from mother to daughter over centuries. Let’s take a look at the scripture, see what it has to say about head covering and then try to figure out why, Paul said nothing more in regards to covering ‘because of the angels’.

KANDYLAKI: AN EXEGESIS ON WOMEN’S HEAD COVERINGS

1 Corinthians 11:5-

5And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for it is just as if her head were shaved. 6 If a woman does not cover her head, let her hair be cut off. And if it is shameful for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head. 7A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man 8For man did not come from woman, but woman from man. 9Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10For this reason a woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head, because of the angels…

Ok, Paul. What about the angels? I wonder if he left out details explaining about the need to cover, ‘because of angels’ because they were such a well known factor of everyday life at that time that what people needed to know was SO well known he had no need to expand upon his statement? I do see where science has convinced many people that such spiritual encounters are not what we should know them to be. We as Christians should be used to such things but many are still doubtful regarding spiritual encounters. They are dismissed or over looked. such things are explained away and if you believe in them then you are the odd ball. Clearly, Paul had personal experience and wise advice regarding angelic encounters. While the bible tells us that the kingdom of heaven is not about miracles, I do believe we would be wise in not dismissing spiritual encounters, or ignoring biblical advice on how to protect ourselves regarding unseen beings.

There is quite a bit being written about head covering. I personally believe that there is a great deal of confusion about it with most of the confusion centering around the verse pertaining to the angels. First let us clear up one important misconception about head covering… head covering is NOT about the oppression, and subjugation of women, by their husbands. Head covering is about revealing the God-given authority of women; to the world around them, their husbands, other men, and the angels.

Women have the right to pray and prophesy publicly. Their head covering shows those around them, seen and unseen beings, that they have been given this gift by God who protects them through their head covering. Yes, it is right for women to head cover when praying at home alone, but it is especially important for us to do so when in public. In his article, Ye’hosheba tells us that when Paul talks about the angels he is talking about good angels, and bad angels. The good angels see the woman praying with her head covered and listen all the more attentively to her prayers because they see her as a woman who understands her God-given authority. ‘She means business how can we help her more?’ Evil angels, those who are the minions of Satan, see a covered woman praying and avoid her. ‘This woman knows her authority! We cannot prevail against her she is too strong. Let us go find one who is weak (uncovered) and see if we can destroy her.’.

Ladies… head covering is a big deal. Do not allow anyone to talk you out of it or try to embarrass you because you practice this important, outward expression of your authority. Once, when I was still a Protestant groping in the dark and trying to figure out head covering, I wore my cover to church.  The pastor of that church did not pull me aside to discuss privately why I covered. Instead, he stood right in front of me and preached a sermon against the practice of covering. Subtle. I hold no grudge against him for it. What he did only served to help me find a place where the practice of head covering would be more readily accepted and encouraged. Hello Orthodox Christianity.

Head covering is part of the armor that I put on when I pray and worship. I would feel, ‘out of uniform’ and unprotected if I were to enter temple without it or pray uncovered. I have had many strange, and wonderful, experiences through head covering. Each one serving to solidify my understanding of the importance of covering.

My dear sisters in Christ, if you have been struggling with head covering you are not alone. If you would like to have a safe place where you can discuss the struggles of head covering, please consider joining this Yahoo group that I have created: OCWWC. I believe head covering can heal, empower, show leadership, and in many ways enrich the lives of women. It is uniquely our weapon given to us by God. So-much-so that even the priest must remove HIS head covering before carrying out certain rites and rituals during liturgy. Please, do not allow head covering to be the thing that trips you up as you walk out your sanctification.

God grant you many years!

You are your own thief when you come to church late

cassianus:
“God, be merciful to me a sinner! Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me! Many pronounce these brief prayers with great haste, caring only to say the required number of them. By this manner of praying, they do not allow the...

cassianus:

God, be merciful to me a sinner! Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me! Many pronounce these brief prayers with great haste, caring only to say the required number of them. By this manner of praying, they do not allow the prayers to penetrate the heart and produce their inherent effect, which is tender feeling. The holy Fathers justly note that whoever prays thus prays to the wind, and not to God. Why do we get bored in church? Because we have not felt the effect of prayer. Why do we rush to a lavish table? Because we know the meaning of material food from experience. Why do we not rush to church, but try to come a little later, when a significant portion of the Divine services are already over? Because we do not know from experience the meaning of prayer, which is food for the soul, and which imparts spiritual strength to the soul. We do not know from experience the meaning of prayer because we pray hastily, superficially, and without attention. The effect on the soul of long but inattentive prayer is like the effect of copious rain upon a metal roof, from which all the water runs off, no matter how much it pours, without having any effect at all upon the roof. In contrast, attentive prayer can be likened to a beneficial rain that waters a planted field, giving nourishment to the growth there, and preparing a rich harvest.

The disciples of prayer who lean upon its breast—the holy Fathers—correct a major mistake that deprives the praying ascetic of all the fruits of his ascetic labor. They instruct us to pronounce the words of short prayers and of all kinds of prayer without haste, observing scrupulous attention to the words of the prayers. When the prayers are read unhurriedly, it is possible to have such attention, while hurried reading leaves no place for attention. Prayer without attention is like a body which the soul has left: it has no fragrance of humility, it does not ascend to God. Stricken and deadened by dispersed thoughts, it crawls along the earth of corruption and foul smell, imparting this corruption to those who pray carelessly and coldly. Mental attention at prayer is reflected in the heart by blessed grief over sins, which is that very repentance that God commands us to have. When the heart is filled with a feeling of repentance, it in turn draws the mind to increased attention. Once there is attention and tender feeling, all the gifts of the Holy Spirit enter into the soul, making it a temple of God.

Let us provide our prayer with two qualities: attention and repentance. Let it fly up to the heavens with them as upon two wings, then appear before the face of God, and intercede for us to gain His mercy. The blessed publican’s prayer had these two qualities….

~St. Ignatius Brianchanivov

If you are in the habit of arriving late to church, perhaps this is the year you take your prayer life more serious and arrive early to pray, and venerate the icons?

Leave your protestantism at the door

Christ Almighty, Orthodox Mini Icon - at Holy Trinity Store

In September, at the new year according to the Orthodox calendar, I started visiting my local Orthodox church. Exhausted by heretical teachings of churches whose pastors had never seen the inside of a seminary, pastors and congregants who embraced anything written as long as it contained the proper buzzwords, and fed up with, ‘movements’ I needed something more but I wasn’t sure what it was… until I found the Orthodox church.

What I found, what I did not realize I was looking for until it was in front of me, what is lacking in so many ‘modern’ churches, is dogma. I already believe in miracles. I’ve seen miracles, I’ve seen angels. Even witches believe in angels. What’s the dogma? Who does your church say Christ is? How does your church approach, Christ? How do they approach the worship of the Uncreated One? Do they even worship Him or do they entertain the flock then have a ‘rah-rah meeting’, also known as a sermon? After almost 50 years of sermons, I’m all sermoned out. I need to be at the feet of God worshiping Him, loving on Him and being loved back.

I believe that the best way for I, or anyone one else for that matter, who is interested in exploring the Orthodox church, is to do so wholeheartedly. Yes, it can be a bit daunting at first to enter an Orthodox Church and to see all the icons, candles, murals, to hear the chanting and watch the deacon cense the icons and people. it can be especially unsettling if the last church you attended before coming to an Orthodox Church was barely identifiable as a church. One, puny cross against a large, bare white wall (so that the announcements can be played while people find their seats no doubt) no more hymnals- who reads music anymore? No vestments. Nothing really to make it stand out from the other cubes/stores in the strip mall with which it shares space. Do I sound snobby? I don’t mean to, I’m just over the blending in that so many churches do so as not to offend. To be inclusive. However, we as Christians are not to be one with the world. We are to be one with God. Set apart and different with a purpose. Purposefully different. I no longer wish to worship in a space reminiscent of office space. I don’t want to pray in a white cubicle that looks worldly. I wish to pray in a space that looks ‘other worldly’. A space that looks like something God would occupy. A space that is grand and opulent. A space that prepares me for an eternity in the presence of God.

When I’m having a difficult time focusing in prayer, looking at a saint’s icon helps. The candles help. My beloved prayer rope helps. Keep your prayer closet. I need a prayer temple. Quiet… mostly. Reverent. A temple which engages all five sense in prayer, and worship of God our king.

One thing that I’ve noticed that I cannot do while in an Orthodox Church is, I cannot look at it through protestant eyes and understand the importance of the mystery set before me in the form of vespers or Div. Liturgy as being a mystery and letting it be a mystery.

It’s ok for us not to understand everything that is going on around us in a spiritual setting. Spiritual things are supposed to be mysterious. God is suppose to be mysterious. In my church travels through the years, I’ve noticed that many protestants believe that they have God all figured out. They do not seem to understand that the moment you think you have God figured out should be the moment you realize whatever it is you’ve been studying was not God or else you would not be able to understand Him. How can you understand His uncreatedness? His wonderment? His divinity? And it is HIS divinity not ours.

When walking into an Orthodox Church, one is to have the sense of leaving the world behind them, and walking east. East toward God, His divinity, and worship of this divine, uncreated Being in the most spectacular, colorful, and reverent way humanly possible. I, for one, am grateful it’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced as a protestant. ‘In for a penny, in for a pound’ is my current motto. I am walking out my Orthodox Church experience one service at a time. One prayer at a time, and doing my best to experience it with child like wonder and not pick it apart through protestant intellect. That’s not to say that the Orthodox mind is a simple mind. Not at all! I’ve met many amazing and intelligent people at my church. What I am saying is that I’m not going to go into this experience thinking I know all the answers. I am a stranger in a strange land. Just as I would not go to France and expect everyone to be an American, nor have I come to this new-to-me church expecting everyone to change for me and sing all my favorite hymns, paint over the icons, and stop lighting candles. If I wanted a protestant experience, I would not be attending an Orthodox church. I came to this particular church to have this particular experience. To learn what they know. To look at God through the philosophical eyes of the writings of ancient fathers. To learn about tradition (a word scorned in many protestant churches), to learn about saints and martyrs. To hear new prayers. To see the bible written on a wall in the form of an icon or mural. To have this ‘thing’ called Christianity show respect for our Creator and not take important ideas such as an eternity in the presence of God so lightly as I have seen some churches, and many Christians do. If being a Christian is suppose to change us, why are so many of us still the same year after year? Why is it becoming a crime to point out the need for repentance, the need to stop sinning, the need to forgive?

If you have come to the Orthodox Church because you were looking for something different, then BE different! Participate as much as possible. Learn how to venerate an icon. Light a candle, say a prayer, cross yourself and bow down. Submerge yourself in the wonderment, traditions, and the divine mystery of the Orthodox Church. If you end up thinking that it is not for you, at least you can say that you gave it your best shot. If, however, you’ve been attending an Orthodox Church all the while refusing to fully participate, how can you know whether or not it was where you were supposed to be if you were never able to fully put aside your protestant fears and doubts?

How about the next service at your church whether it’s vespers or Div. Liturgy, you fully participate? How about lighting a candle, venerating an icon, or asking Mary to pray for you before the throne of God? You never know, maybe you’ll find out that this is where you were supposed to be all along but you didn’t know because you were holding back? Christmas is just around the corner. What a great time to get over yourself and enjoy some genuine wonderment.

Lord have mercy!

A word on fasting

Epiphanius, bishop of Cyprus, called the abbot Hilarion to see him. A portion of fowl was set before them and the bishop invited the abbot to eat. The old man said, “Forgive me, Father, but since the time I took this habit I have never eaten anything that has been killed.”

And Epiphanius said to him, “And from the time I took this habit I have let no man sleep who has anything against me, and neither have I slept holding anything against anyone.”

And the old man said to him, “Forgive me, Father, for your way of life is greater than mine” (The Sayings of the Fathers).

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While I am not a baby christian, I AM a baby Orthodox Christian. None of the churches I went to really spoke too much about fasting because they took the, ‘don’t talk about your fast’ phrase a bit too literal. The Orthodox Fathers have quite a bit to say about fasting, among other important things, so let’s listen to their wisdom!

One of the denominations I explored oh-so-briefly during my spiritual travels was the Anglican church. It was here that I first heard about people fasting from meat because it was good for the environment and good Christians don’t eat meat (according to their bishop). What?!   God made all of creation for man to enjoy… even if that meant putting some of those created things into a stew pot to be eaten later.

For the holy fathers taught us to be killers of passions and not killers of the body. Partake of everything that is permissible with thanksgiving, to the glory of God and to avoid boastful arrogance; but refrain from every excess (The Monks Callistus and Ignatius, 14th c., Directions to Hesychasts).

As we approach the 40 day Nativity Fast, it’s a good idea to take a look at why we fast. Do we do it to boast of our devotion to creation? The created things, or do we do it with humility before God? Search your heart for your true reasons behind your actions. God knows everything. We can hide nothing from Him. Make sure your motivations are pure.

A comforting dream

Yesterday was a particularly difficult day. I was trying to decide if I should continue to attend my local Orthodox Church. I asked God for a sign to let me know that what I was doing was ok.  He sent to me a beautiful, comforting dream. I dreamt that I was participating in a Divine Liturgy celebrating Mary. Everything was covered in gold. In the in between spaces of the icons painted on the walls there was gold leaf. Everything that you would normally see as bare wood in a church was covered in gold. It was almost blinding. It was beautiful, warm, inviting and comforting. I’ve decided to continue to go to church.

(Update: I am to be baptized on Pentecost!)

Lord have mercy.

That we should no longer be children

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Ephesians 4:14-19 (Epistle)

14
that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting,

Wow, has my view of the Orthodox Church changed in the last few weeks since I have been reading upon it, listening to podcasts, and attending catechism classes as well as the various services offered by my church. The more I learn the more I realize how far off track modern church has gone from the original model of church. I feel as though I have gone from darkness into the Light… the Light of Christ. I’ve had so many, ‘ah-ha’ moments.

I went to vespers last night. I never thought I’d ever venerate an icon of, Mary and yet… there I was with tears in my eyes lighting a candle for my sister at our Icon of Mary. Now, when I do go to church and greet the icons, it’s as if I am saying  ‘hello’ to family members. I get so emotional. Every time I walk into church, it’s like a family reunion. I’ve missed them, missed being in church.

Last night, a 9 month old baby was a bit fussy. I don’t know what was going on, maybe he was teething. He was crying half heartedly and sounded as if he was in pain. When his mother carried him over to the icon of, Jesus that sits in the Narthex, he start bouncing up and down in her arms and making happy noises at it. I get it buddy… I get it.

Lord have mercy.

Speculation is the thief of wisdom.

C.S. Lewis wrote in The Last Battle,

“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now…come further up, come further in!”

romanianmaryicon

A favorite saying of mine is, ‘get your oats fresh’. This means to get your information straight from the horse’s mouth… from the source. Not through friends, family or well meaning lay people in the church.

Previously, in this POST, I wrote about my concerns regarding what I thought was, ‘Mary worship’. To better understand the Orthodox Church, I ordered, and received the book; Welcome to the Orthodox Church, an Introduction to Eastern Christianity written by, Frederica Mathewes-Green. Click LINK to purchase because if you’ve ever had any sort of question about Eastern Orthodox Christianity, I’m certain this book will answer it. I’m on page 55 out of 361 and already my eyes have been opened to the truth. Historical truths about the origins of the early church. Truths about the icons, Mary, and the saints. Wisdom casts out fear and ignorance. Two things about the Orthodox Church I had been unnecessarily carrying around. I’m so glad that I decided to investigate things further instead of just following the words of ex-Catholic friends and family who associate Eastern Orthodox Christianity with Catholicism.

As I read, Mrs. Green’s most excellent book, I feel as though I can ear her voice speaking to me with love and warmth about something dear to her heart. You can tell by her words, how she explains the ins-and-outs of Orthodoxy, that she truely has a deep, and abiding love for God, and His church; as well as a deep desire for others who are seeking to find the answers to their questions.

I’m new to the Orthodox ‘Way’. I grew up in churches without icons or murals. Yes, my childhood church had crosses on the walls and handmade banners commemorating feasts and holidays, but compared to an orthodox church it looked bare. I love that I can walk into an orthodox church and experience God without the priest saying a single word. There, on the walls are bible stories, and the saints we read about when we open our bibles. In this crazy world full of violence and death, the more time I can spend in the presence of God the better, and I’m not just talking about reading His Word, but experiencing it through visual reminders seen on the church walls and the icons presented on altars. His beauty, reflected back to me through the icons, candles, incense, etc., has given me a sense of peace and joy I have not felt in a long time. I’m sure I’m not the only person out there in need of some peace and joy. Some comfort please to help alleviate this deep set weariness that comes not from physical exhaustion but spiritual turmoil caused by what is going on in our world, in our nation, in our cities and in our neighborhoods.

If you are in need of spiritual beauty, perhaps it is time to turn off the news, go to church, and light a candle. While you are there, say a prayer for me? I’ll be praying for you.

Lord have mercy.