Forgiveness is Mandatory

I’ve been thinking a lot about prayer and our relationship with God and how the written prayers of the Church offer us insight to who God is, and not who we’ve created Him to be… because the written prayers (and Psalms) give us the jargon that properly define Him.  It is also a guidepost that keeps us focused on where we want to go.

… and then I looked at the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer Jesus gave us.

The Our Father

Pray then like this:

“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
10 Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread,
12 and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

This perfect prayer given by our Lord.    Matthew 6:9-13

And I remember what I was taught.  That in this prayer, Jesus gives us permission to relate with God as Father/Child. Never equals, but no longer as servants.  He opens a door to a more personal relationship.  Provider, protector, the perfect parent.

In this prayer we are reminded that God is sacred and even His name is holy.

We are instructed that our will should line up with God’s will, so that we might experience heaven on earth.  We are no longer separated from Him because we’ve invited Him into our awareness and our will.

We can only worry about this one day before us.  We can’t fret for tomorrow nor can we fill ourselves with regret or anger from our past.  Jesus wants us present in today.

But the key element to this prayer is that of forgiveness.   Jesus instructs us to ask for forgiveness and to forgive one another.   He even reiterates this in the verses that follow the prayer:  “14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

So what then is the main point of this sacred prayer?  Calling God father?  Asking for the day’s “daily bread?” Aligning our will to God’s?   All of these, but most importantly, it is forgiveness.  we must be able to acknowledge when we need to be forgiven and that we need to forgive.

We often talk about a Christian’s responsibility to be charitable, to attend the sacramental and prayer services.  A good Christian will read their Bible and say their prayers.  A successful Christian will be kind and even tempered, and an example of hospitality.   But more so, as defined in the prayer we attribute to Jesus’s actual word, a Christian MUST be forgiving, and not as much as we are forgiven by one another, but as much as we want to be forgiven by God.

Let forgiveness be our beacon in the days and nights ahead.


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Today’s JAR: What God Wants You to Know

Today’s JAR. just a reminder.

Do not fall for the random comment “Today, God wants you to know…”  Is the writer a prophet? An angel?  A “messenger from God?”  These types of introductions always leave me cause to be suspicious.

It’s better to say, “we have experienced that…” or “we have been taught that…” and then let the reader/listener discern.

We are all called to engage in a personal, vulnerable, intimate relationship with God. The Orthodox Church offers us examples of healthy and trusted tools to make this possible; tried and true expressions to grow the relationship.

Look at the Liturgy… the priest is often telling us what to do: bow your head, give thanks, lift your heart. He tells us what to pray for: good weather, a Christian end to our lives, for the bishops and clergy.” And he even instructs us how to pray and approach communion: in peace, in fear, in faith and love…

In my experience, I have heard a priest speak on God’s behalf in the context of confession when he says “you are forgiven.” But at the moment I can’t think of an other time.

I’ve heard clergy explain what God is teaching, doing and saying and what we should do to be better listeners… but rarely are we instructed on what God is thinking.

Imagine the level of intimacy we must have with someone before we know what they are thinking. And still we never really know.

So if you are reading something that starts off with “Today, God wants you to know…”. Ask yourself how such a random comment can be true and look up to God and simply pray, “Lord, what do you want me to understand today?” And then listen for His reply.

In my experience, He always has something to say. We just have to sit quiet enough to let Him speak for Himself.

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Today’s JAR Truth, History and the Eraser.

Today’s JAR   Just a Reminder

We can’t allow truth to be erased because we are only thinking of our temporary part of history. 

If we allow people to erase historical connections by removing them, we might try to rewrite history from our limited perspective. We lose the thread that keeps us anchored in the truth of what was vs. what we want to hear.

Years ago I mentioned to Metropolitan Maximos of Pittsburgh that the Patriarchate of Constantinople should move to a safer location like the US and that I didn’t understand why they insist on staying planted where they are.  I’ve never seen him disappointed in me before that moment. He looked so sad that I didn’t get it.

But today I read a headline regarding the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award and I think I’m beginning to get it.   It’s still not completely clear, but the fog is lifting.

In the Washington Post article titled, “Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name stripped from children’s book award over ‘Little House’ depictions of Native Americans”  they report that “Now, after years of complaints, the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, says it voted Saturday to strip Wilder’s name from the award… It’s now the Children’s Literature Legacy Award.”

Laura seems to have written an honest description of life and perceptions from a certain era, a specific moment in time.  And since this perception is no longer the norm… we’ve grown as a society since then… we should no longer honor her for her previous accomplishments.

Taking her name off the award seems to be a small step to burying a truth about ourselves we want to erase.

The Orthodox Church deals with this mentality all the time.  Society is constantly challenged with “modern day” issues and only looks at the current times to make decisions.  The Church on the other hand constantly looks looks back to see the bigger picture by referring to the Early Church and the writings of the Fathers.  this allows us to stay connected to the mission and vision of what Christ instructed His Apostles.  And although the Church has grown (enlightened by the Holy Spirit) over the centuries, She struggles to always keep a line connected to the truth of God’s Will and the Church’s place in history.   Even more so today as the topics of gender and marriage (and the Patriarchate of Constantinople) are discussed.

What happens to our perceptions of the Early Church if the Patriarchates are no longer in their Sees?  It’s bad enough the a majority of the New Christian Religions already think the Church established by the Apostles no longer exists?

So I ask you, what are the dangers of seeing reality through the lens of our temporary part of history?

 

And I am thankful I was able to get a post about the Apostles for the Apostles Fast ends on Friday.  

 

Christ is Risen! and Now We Wait

A Time to Weep and a Time to Laugh

Today, a season of joy is closing.  We call it the Leave-taking of Pascha.   And like the Apostles two thousand years ago, we might be feeling a little empty.  Perhaps there is a twinge of mourning knowing that we won’t be singing the triumphal hymn, “Christ is risen” on Sunday.  We will most likely miss the “Good News” greeting we’ve grown accustomed to.

In the forty days following Easter we greeted each other with the joyful news that Christ is risen!  The season of Great Lent and preparation ended and we were in the season of joy.

What difference does it make to say “Christ is risen!”? It’s a tool the Orthodox Church uses to remind us that we are a living expression of faith for today and not a symbol or a ritual associated to an ideology.  We are for the moment, not for a museum.  We celebrate things in the present tense. We are part of the “now.”

A Time for Everything

So why should we stop singing Christ is Risen?  Is He suddenly un-risen? Is He no longer in Heaven?

I think we stop because the church traditions acknowledge that we are living in a temporary reality where things are constantly changing,   We experience things in seasons: The moon waxes and wanes, the tides rise and fall, the weather heats and cools. And it isn’t just our physical environment.

Whether you’ve heard the “The Byrds”  hit song or read Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, you know wheat I mean:

A Time for Everything
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:  a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

And this is now the time to close the season of Pascha and prepare to welcome the Season of the Holy Spirit and the growth of the Church.

 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. (John 14:16-17)

And in Matthew 28:19-20 with the Great Commission

 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

So, in a way, it’s almost time to move forward and do something with the warm fuzzy feelings and inspiring moments we experienced during the Paschal Season.  It’s almost time to take our joy to the streets and get to work on making disciples and growing the church.  And I say “almost” because there is one thing I haven’t mentioned yet.

Waiting is a Lost Art

There is something to be said about waiting.   The time where you stop for a moment and let things stew.  Any Dr. Seuss fan who’s read The Waiting Place knows what I mean.  We are now in a waiting place, a ten day gap between Ascension and Pentecost where the Apostles waited.   It’s funny because although there are no outwardly expression in worship or hymnology that talks about this sacred time, we have to respect the waiting process.

It’s important to learn how to wait.  In waiting we guard our thoughts so they don’t work ahead of ourselves and turn to anxiety and fear.  We can use it as an opportunity for self reflection and growth.  But today our society and therefore our kids, who are so in-tune to her needs, have a heightened  tendency to push through the waiting process.   Waiting is equated to boredom and boredom is the curse of doom and despair.

Waiting can actually be the most exciting and thrilling time of the season.  It’s that repetitive clank you feel as the roller coaster reaches for its summit to be sure it has the momentum to get you to the end of the ride.  It’s those moments when the clay is still malleable as the artist plays with its form, and later hardens in the kiln to be sure it keeps its shape.

Now, imagine the Apostles and how they waited.   They didn’t know they’d only have to wait ten days for the Holy Spirit.   And now after 2,000 years, we are still waiting for Christ’s return.

So I encourage you to take advantage of these ten “waiting days” as we prepare for the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Giver of Life, the Spirit of Truth.  Use these ten days to prepare for Pentecost.  There aren’t any specially subscribed fasts associated with the next ten days, but there is a Saturday of Souls next week where we prepare koliva, memorial wheat, for those asleep in the Lord.

May you find peace and comfort in these “waiting days.”


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Prayer Inside reads:
With the Saints give rest, O Christ,
to the soul of Your servant
where there is no pain,
nor any sorrow, nor any sighing,
…but Life everlasting.
From Orthodox Funeral Service
Item #: 10-002

 

 

Motherhood, Raising Children of God

It’s that time again! The time we shop, I mean stop… stop for a moment and thank our moms, and allow our families to thank us. It can be a sentimental day, a simple holy day of thanks and awareness… a day where family comes together and rejoices in the grace that God has given us to take part in creation in a way that makes us aware of His unending love for us.

True Motherhood

Like love and marriage, motherhood is hard to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced it. Whether you gave birth and cared for your child, gave birth and offered your child for adoption or accepted the awesome responsibility to care for a child, you know that words could never convey the intensity that is motherhood. Even if you conceived a child but weren’t able to give birth, you know the awesomeness that carrying another soul in your womb means. You also know that no gift could ever compare in value to thank you enough because in your heart you know that motherhood in itself is a gift you are thankful for.

Saint Anna and the Virgin Mary

There are two women who can truly understand the grace and sacrifice of motherhood.  Saint Anna and her daughter, the Virgin Mary.   According to the tradition of the Church, Saint Anna was barren, and she remained without a child until old age.  In her desperation to be a mother, they prayed to God, promising that if He were to grant them a child, they would offer their offspring to Him as a gift.  This gift to God ended up being a gift for us because it was her daughter, Mary, who was raised in the Temple and who accepted God’s desire for her to carry the Christ, the incarnate Son of God.

And in Mary’s offering, she also offered her son, God’s Son, to be crucified and suffer a public death on the cross so that through death we might have eternal life.

Imagine for a moment how it felt to raise a child knowing He wasn’t yours to keep.  Anna gave up Mary.   Mary gave up Jesus.

But isn’t this what we are doing?   Aren’t we raising children that are God’s, and not ours to keep?  Are we not also caretakers of children of God?  We raise them, keep them safe, give them tools, teach them to be thankful only to let them go and live their lives, fulfill their calling.

What is Motherhood?

I want to share a quote from the St. Anna’s Retreat in Dumont, CO because I think it defines motherhood best. The plaque is mounted near a mosaic icon of St. Anna embracing her daughter, the Virgin Mary.

In this beautiful world, there is nothing more cherished, no duty more honorable, no responsibility more sacred, no task more difficult, than that of Motherhood.

I hope these are words of comfort and encouragement for the moms who are feeling weighed down by the many responsibilities of keeping everyone on track, fed, dressed, clean and loved… and in church on time.  It truly is an impossible job description, but the most important than any other in the world. Thankfully we have two Superstar moms in Saint Anna, and the Mary the Mother of God, to pray to and to ask for their intercession.

And a special thanks to my mom, who set me on a path and let me go to live it.  Thanks, mom.  I appreciate you more than you could ever know.

 

 

 

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Christ is Risen! (One Last Time)

This is it! After forty days of celebrating our Lord’s resurrection, this is the last week to joyfully proclaim the Good News!   Christ is Risen!   He has conquered death by death, granting life to those in the tombs and opening the doors of paradise to all.

Ascension is this Thursday.

And Ascension marks the Leave-taking of the Paschal Season, forty days after Jesus’ Resurrection, when He continued to teach and instruct His Disciples on God’s desires and plan for humanity.  (Luke 24: 45-54)

Jesus Appears to the Disciples

45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

The Ascension of Jesus

50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple,praising God.

Things you might notice in church after Ascension

  • We’ve stopped singing Christ is Rise, (Before Liturgy begins, at the Small Entrance, after Communion, and at the very end.)
  • The priest is not holding a candle.
  • We go back to singing “More Honorable than the Cherubim” after the Consecration of the Gifts.
  • The priest might be wearing a different color although any of the “bright colors” are an option outside of Lent.

Quick little trivia… Ascension is always on a Thursday.   Forty days after a Sunday is always a Thursday.  🙂 

Waiting for Pentecost and the Holy Spirit

One thing that wont change is the kneeling part.  We will continue to stand during the Consecration of the Gifts until the Kneeling Prayers that are read during Pentecost.

Worship protocol calls for us to always stand for the Consecration on Sundays  because Sunday is always a Day of the Resurrection.   But historically and for practicing purposes, most Greek Orthodox churches kneel for the consecration.

Yes, it seems people have stopped kneeling in personal prayer and no longer attend weekday Liturgies… so if we didn’t kneel on Sundays, when would we learn to kneel in prayer?  When would we experience this important posture in prayer?  This is why kneeling is permitted on Sundays while acknowledging it is not the best option.

So there it is!   You have 5 more days to sing Christ is Risen.  Then it goes back into the Treasure Box of Traditions until next year.  But don’t start kneeling on Sundays until the Kneeling Prayers on Pentecost- 50 days after Jesus’ Resurrection.

It’s not too late to send a card proclaiming the God News!

 

Folding Palm Crosses

One of my favorite memories is folding palms with our church youth group.  We were raised in a large community where thousands had to be made and we were the ones to do it.  It was nice to be part of something that was going to be blessed and offered to the faithful.  It was truly an honor.

There are many different ways to make a palm cross.   You can use one strand or two.   With one strand you begin by folding it in a right angle.  With two you can make a larger cross and you have to fold the two thick ends together.

In this video I have recorded parishioners of St. Nicholas Cathedral in Tarpon Springs, FL as they fold palms for Palm Sunday.

 

 

Greeting Cards for Easter “Christ is Risen!

 

Is Lent over yet?

Is Lent over yet?

This is the cry running through my head midway through the second day of Holy and Great Lent.

The second day!

What was happening?!

I love Lent! I love the yearly opportunity to regroup. I love the prayer services. I love the chance to focus on a healthier diet. I love the challenge of quieting down the world and working on the stillness for the sake of my soul.

But this year I am not prepared. My refrigerator is still harboring contraband. My pantry isn’t stocked with enough vegan ingredients to prepare anything more interesting than pasta or rice. And my house is a complete mess. This is not the way I wanted to start Lent.

And then I made the rookie mistake and went on Facebook first thing in the morning! I KNOW! What was I thinking?

Facebook can be a place of encouragement during the fast with recipes and inspiring quotes from the Bible and Elders… but not yesterday. Yesterday every comment was (or seemed to be) an attack on my senses. Unwanted advice, boasts of “holier than thou” comments, delicious vegan meals, and amateur debates on what the Fast really was had me in a tizzy. I must have replied to a snarky comment 20 times before I actually clicked send. And that’s when I realized it was me. I was a the mess.

Was it the detox from removing meat just a week ago? Was it my gluttony searching for a pathetic excuse to eat an egg? Was it my ego needing to be the only online expert? Probably more the last than any of the others.

I do like being a know it all. It’s comforting to think I have it all together.

But I don’t know it all. It’s not realistic. Imagine if the world depended on what I knew. YIKES!

I am, or I should say, I want to be a learner, a grower, a teacher, a friend. I want to be a faithful servant. I want to be a better parent. I want to be a better Christian. I want to use this time to face my challenges and my fears. I want to use this time to remember what I once knew and learn from those who forget less often. I want to show my soul that I value her and therefore want to nurture her so that she may thrive as well.

I am so thankful that Lent isn’t over yet. I have a lot of things I want to accomplish in the next 40 plus days left. It really is such a short time for this little boot camp of ours.  Our sacred time outside of time.

So, I kindly and lovingly remind myself. “Suck in that gut, soldier, and stop your crying.  You’ve got work to do.”

May God grant us a season for reflection, growth and tears- but may they be tears of repentance and not self pity.

Prayer of St. Ephraim

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Training Photo By: Sgt. Benjamin E. Woodle

In Honor of Forgiveness

Psalm 130

From the depths, I have cried out to you, O Lord;
Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplication.
If you, Lord, were to mark iniquities,
who, O Lord, shall stand?
For with you is forgiveness;
and because of your law, I stood by you, Lord.
My soul has stood by his word.
My soul has hoped in the Lord.
From the morning watch, even until night,
let Israel hope in the Lord.
For with the Lord there is mercy,
and with him is plenteous redemption.
And he will redeem Israel
from all his iniquities.

Have you ever stayed up, waiting for the sun to fill the earth with light as it rises?  There’s a sense of excitement.  Hope.  Newness.
Forgiveness is like that sweet joy you feel when you see the light fill the sky and you know there is a new day waiting for you.
Forgive.  Ask for forgiveness.
Don’t sit in the dark any longer than you have to.