Monday, April 28, 2008

What Do You Do ...

... when life gives you red eggs?

Why, make pink egg salad for lunch, of course!

At the end of the Pascha liturgies on Holy Saturday/early Pascha morning and at the Agape Vespers service late Pascha morning, it is traditional for the priest to give worshippers a red egg when they come to venerate the cross after liturgy. Well, by the time Agape Vespers came along, we were very low on red eggs. Though a member brought a few up at the last minute, I was toward the end of the line to receive a blessing and we had apparently run out. So I got a pink plastic egg filled with Dove chocolate eggs - plus a shrug and a smile!

Thankfully, we had dyed plenty of red eggs for our basket, so that the kids would have some to play the "egg game" with, and so we had a bunch left over anyway.

I'm thinking that we will have enough left to make a few pink deviled eggs, too!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

On the Icon of the Resurrection

Christ is risen!
Here's a favorite Pascha post from Kh. Frederica Mathewes Green:

Jesus is standing on the broken doors of hell. The massive portals lie crossed under his feet, a reminder of the Cross that won this triumph. He stands braced and striding, like a superhero, using his mighty outstretched arms to lift a great weight. That weight is Adam and Eve themselves, our father and mother in the fallen flesh. Jesus grasps Adam’s wrist with his right hand and Eve’s with his left, as he pulls them forcibly up, out of the carved marble boxes that are their graves. Eve is shocked and appears almost to recoil in shame, long gray hair streaming. Adam gazes at Christ with a look of stunned awe, face lined with weary age, his long tangled beard awry. Their limp hands lie in Jesus’ powerful grip as he hauls them up into the light.

Behind Christ, King David, King Solomon, the prophet Isaiah, and the prophet Jeremiah stand in gorgeous robes, clustered tightly like a standing-room-only crowd to see this marvelous event. There is an air of joy, even conviviality, among them. St. John the Baptist is in the throng, still clothed in camel skin, now in full repossession of his head. Behind them are ranks and ranks of the righteous dead who are dead no more, for Christ has set them free.

Beneath Christ’s feet, there is a black receding pit with floating silver shards of metal, chains, locks, and ominous instruments of pain. These instruments are broken and shattered, and the locks are unhinged, except for one set, still intact and in use. These locks bind the body of that vicious old Satan, who grimaces in his captivity, bound hand and foot and cast into his own darkness.

When you think of images of the Resurrection, what do you think of? Probably not this traditional image used in the Eastern Orthodox Church. In the West, our first image is usually a graceful one: women who had been trudging toward the tomb on a misty Sunday dawn stand stock-still in astonishment. An angel is sitting on a round stone with one hand raised in the air.

The image conveys a sense of silence and the stillness of caught breath as the moment on which the whole world turns is revealed. Colors are muted. The dew wets the hem of the women’s dresses, and, for a moment, all is still. This garden-tomb image answers the question at the end of the three days, "Who rolled away the stone?" But there is another question, "Where did he go?"

"Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?" Jesus might ask us once again. In Orthodoxy, we believe that the central meaning of the Resurrection is victory. Thus our traditional image is more vibrant and noisy, and it rings with a victorious shout. The Resurrection is a victory over sin, death, and the devil, and a victory over the dark forces that enslave us, despise us, and wish to destroy us. Thus we cry hundreds of times between Pascha (Easter) and Pentecost, "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tomb bestowing life!"

For long millennia, the righteous were trapped in the lair of Satan. "And all these, though well attested by their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had foreseen something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect" (Heb. 11:39-40). Even those who were not righteous heard the ringing voice of Christ in the grave: "For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah" (I Peter 3:18-20). It was to the spirits in prison that Jesus went and defeated that cruel jailer and set them free.

When we turn to the biblical story of the Resurrection we find that, in Matthew at least, it’s not as silent as our imaginations suggest. As the women arrive at the tomb there is "a great earthquake" caused by the descent of an angel. "His appearance was like lightning," an image that succeeds in astonishing because we cannot visualize what it means. He is dressed in robes white as snow, whiter than any fabric could be in that era.

The angel rolls away the stone and, in a closing gesture of command, sits upon it. That settles that. The terror-stricken guards, whose training had not covered this situation, are so frozen with fear that they "became as dead men." The women are not much less terrified, but they listen as the angel tells them not to be afraid. He gives them instructions: Go tell the disciples to meet Jesus in Galilee.

As they depart, "with fear and great joy," they meet the Lord himself, fresh from his triumph over Death. As the women fall at his feet, he repeats the angel’s message: "Go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee."

This version of the story differs from that in the Gospel of Mark, and that perplexing version is even more intriguing. As Mark has it, the women go to anoint Jesus’ body, but instead find in the tomb "a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a long white robe." He tells them that Jesus is risen and instructs them to tell the disciples, as above. But here we are told that they are terrified and flee the tomb. "And said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid." The earliest versions of this, the earliest Gospel, end abruptly at this point.

It’s an odd gap between that small vignette of fear and retreat, and all that came next: the Apostles’ relentless courage unto death, not ascribable to mere fond memories of a really nice dead guy; the preaching of the gospel across the Mediterranean bowl, the persecutions and martyrdom, the establishment and rise of the church, and finally, the disintegration of Christendom in these times, perhaps a prelude to full-circle persecution and martyrdom.

But at one mesmerizing moment, the news of Christ’s resurrection was held by a handful of women who were too scared to tell anyone. But tell they did, and the story went on unreeling, till half a world away and two thousand years later it rings out with loud joy. Hundreds of times in the season of Pascha we will sing: "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!"

Say Cheese!

My favorite grocery shopping trip all year is the trip to shop for food for our Pascha basket!

I am not the grocery shopper at our house. I mean, I would do it if I had to, but why bother when there's someone in the house who actually likes to do it? So I rarely tag along on the Saturday sojourn to the grocery store.

But THIS annual trip to the store is one I wouldn't miss.

Our grocery store opened a cheese bar full of wonderful international cheese since last Pascha - and I confess that I was fairly trembling there during this trip - like a kid in a candy store! And I was hard pressed to nail down only a few favorites - it all looked scrumptious. I managed to keep it to about 4 varieties.

We try to keep our Pascha basket pretty simple: a nice hunk of sausage of some sort, a little variety of cheeses, a traditional bread (which we rarely eat, but which every basket should have - our bread is usually something disguised as kulich. This year's imposter was prepared yesterday), a few boiled bright red eggs, a nice bottle of wine for us (and a sparkling beverage of some sweet juice for the boys), some chocolate, a few newly budded greens from the yard, and a few pysanky to give away to those who visit our table at the agape meal after liturgy.

Assembing our Pascha basket is apparently an art form - and DearHusband is our Pascha basket artist. He spends much time on Holy Saturday evening arranging and re-arranging, getting everything placed just so - making sure all of its contents are visible and strategically placed to be visually appealing - sort of like Pascha basket Feng Shui. He's just completed it - now all we have to do is hope that the altar boys are careful with our basket as they bring it out for blessing at the end of liturgy, so that they don't disrupt the basket's chi.

Paschal Vigil

Who would believe that the weather for Eastern Easter Vigil was just about as bad as the weather for Western Easter Vigil - a month ago!

We awoke to snow showers, gusty winds and temps in the 30s this morning, but that didn't dampen our spirits as we left for the Vesperal Divine Liturgy this morning - one of my favorite services of the year. Four people were chrismated this morning at this festive service and I always enjoy seeing this rite - feels like only yesterday that it was me standing barefoot before the priest.

My favorite part of this liturgy is the announcement of the Gospel, at which point clergy come bursting out of the altar with baskets of rose petals and bay leaves and quickly walk through the whole church, flinging them all about as we all sing "Arise, O God and judge the earth, for to you belong all the nations." As the clergy returned to the altar, I looked around and was amused to see all of the worshippers with bay leaves and roses in their hair and on their clothes.

After liturgy this morning, we stayed for a bit to help clean up the church (we used our leaf blower - in vacuum mode - to help suck up the petals and bay leaves from the rugs), then on to our Holy Saturday afternoon jobs: a couple of loads of laundry, a trip to the grocery store and the liquor store, and preparing our Pascha basket and other food for tonight's agape meal after the liturgy.

Well, right now it's 37 degrees - it has stopped snowing, but there are sustained winds of 40 mph. I'm guessing we won't be keeping any candles lit for our little midnight procession at church ... oh, and I will be dragging my winter coat back out for church tonight!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Great and Holy Friday

Today, is suspended upon the Cross,
He Who suspended the Earth upon the waters.

A crown of thorns crowns Him,
Who is the King of the angels.

He, Who wrapped the Heavens in clouds,
is clothed with the purple of mockery.

He, Who freed Adam in the Jordan,
received buffetings.

He was transfixed with nails,
Who is the Bridegroom of the Church.

He was pierced with a lance,
Who is the Son of the Virgin.

We worship Your Passion, O Christ.

Show us also Your glorious Resurrection!

- XVth Antiphon from the Matins of Holy Friday

Let Us Attend!

There's nothing quite like a good Maundy Thursday service to remind me just how out of shape I am.

Last night's service of Matins with the Twelve Passion Gospels was truly an exercise. In anticipation of her parish's service, one blogger noted, "we respectfully stand for all of the readings." At our parish, we respectfully kneel for them, which creates a tiny bit of anticipatory anxiety for this Christian with bad knees.

I remembered from last year that the first reading in this service was very long, and that the readings got progressively shorter from there. So I mustered all of my fortitude as I knelt for the first reading. "Crack, crack, crack, click, click, click," complained my knees. But once I was down and kneeling, I thought, "OK, whew - I'm down - that wasn't so bad...and it's all downhill after this one" (knowing that the readings would get shorter after this one). For about the next 20 minutes I remained kneeling during the first reading.

"Let us attend!" the Deacon exclaimed before each of the readings. Pay attention! Listen up! he was saying - and I did attend, for about the first 5 minutes. But then my mind wandered - not only during the first long reading, but also during most of the subsequent shorter ones. I found myself grateful that each of the 12 Gospel readings last night began with these important words, helping to direct my thoughts back to worship and to the business at hand.

When the first reading was over and it was time to get up, I made the sign of the cross and leaned forward to touch my forehead to the floor. And I realized just then that my whole body was sort of locked up - my back, my shoulders, my hips, and my legs. But I managed ever so slowly to touch my forehead to the floor and stand up. And as I looked around, I noticed that lots of people alot older than I am are able to do this with apparent ease. It was evident that they spend a little more time on their knees than I do, a sad and very obvious truth about my own spiritual condition.

And so it went for each of the next several readings, until the seventh reading. As I knelt for the seventh reading, amidst the cracking and clicking racket of complaining knees, a searing pain shot from my left knee right to the core of my very being and fairly took my breath away. I have no idea what the seventh reading was, I could not attend. I just remember thinking during the whole reading that once I got up from this one, that's it. I'm done kneeling for the evening. And I was. And I respectfully stood for the last five readings.

All of Lent is meant to be an exercise for us - and I was made painfully aware last night just how out of shape I am, both physically and spiritually. I have no more fortitude now than I did before this Lent began. What have I been doing with the past 40 days?

As I woke DearHusband this morning, I said, "What a wuss I am - I'm a mess this morning! My legs are like noodles and I'm creaking and gimping around here like some sort of a crippled old woman." He just laughed and made no comment to either support or contradict my self-indictment (he is a wise man).

But it's Good Friday, and I'm grateful that the opportunity for me to attend is not yet past.

I'm a worker in the vineyard who has come at the 11th hour.

(Photo respectfully nabbed from the website of St. Elizabeth Orthodox Mission)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Move Over, Bagels

Why do I always forget about falafel until the end of the fast? Middle Eastern food is just not what comes to mind during these seasons, I guess. (OK, what does come to mind is Timber Lodge Steak House and other such carnivorous destinations!).

But I'm glad that it usually does eventually come to mind - this chick likes chick peas! (Actually, seems I only really like them smashed or ground, in hummus and falafel - whole garbanzo beans are just another bean in my book. ho-hum).

Because I have afforded myself the luxury of taking a week of vacation this week, DearHusband and I made a trip to Abu Nadir Grocery and Deli yesterday noon for lunch, where we enjoyed a robust and delicious falafel sandwich.

I drive by Abu Nadir a couple of times most days, on my way forth and back to work. It's really just a little hole-in-the-wall - nothing to look at from the outside, that's for sure. And once inside? It's really nothing to look at either.

But the wonderful aroma ...

So - for any of my local readers (all two of you!) - you've still got a few days to hop over to St. Anthony Park neighborhood and try one! The baklava and tabbouleh were also delicious!

(While there, we picked up a package of homemade pita - which is a whole different breed of pita from that which is available at the local grocery. The boys love it!)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Behold, the Bridegroom Comes

As I returned from Bridegroom Matins this evening, I read two wonderful and timely posts from Fr. Stephen Freeman:

Behold, the Bridegroom comes at midnight,
And blessed is that servant
whom He shall find watching,
And again, unworthy is the servant whom He
shall find heedless.
Beware, therefore, O my soul, do not be weighed
down with sleep,
Lest you be given up to death, and lest you be shut out
of the Kingdom.
But rouse yourself crying: Holy, Holy, Holy, art Thou,
O Lord our God,
Through the Theotokos have mercy on us.

- Troparion of Bridegroom Matins

The journey to Pascha, which is made during Holy Week, is a liturgical action that marks the path to the greatest depths of our heart and to the heart’s true home. The deeply moving image of the Bridegroom, whom we address in the words of the hymn, manifest to us in His icon of humility, as well as the the open doors of the altar, inviting us with the words, “Thy Bridal Chamber…” all seek to take us to the place of union with God, which is indeed the deepest place of the heart.

On this journey every sin can be laid aside as well as “all earthly care.” On this journey every enemy can be blessed as the good God showers His kindness on all. On this journey we also pass all the places of darkness that we most fear, including the very gate of hell and death. With Christ we pass through them and discover that death has been trampled under foot and we may now walk in the light as He is in the light.

In this journey we learn to accept the wedding garment that has been provided for us: the righteousness of Christ, as we put off the old garment (our own righteousness) which is no more than filthy rags. Thus we learn to stand not on our own - not removed from God - but now made one with God - who alone can give us light and life.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Best Laid Plans

I decided several weeks ago that I would take Holy Week off from work, so that I could try to attend ALL of the Holy Week services this year. I know that this isn't a realistic goal for me most years, but I had really hoped to try to get them all in this your to at least see what this would be like.

As it turned out, YoungerSon came down with some ugly sore throat and fever thing (again!) on Saturday afternoon. By Saturday after Vespers, we knew he wouldn't be going to liturgy for Palm Sunday, which meant one of us was going to have to be home with him.

Because I had gone to Lazarus Saturday liturgy (DearHusband and the boys having had a prior engagement), it only made sense that he should go with ElderSon on Sunday morning.

Here's a shot of my church's Palm Sunday procession from this year, which YoungerSon and I missed. (But I promised Monica I'd try and post a shot of the completed palm fans).

YoungerSon's home from school today, due to the school's "fever-free for 24 hours" rule, but he seems better. Whether or not he and ElderSon will accompany us to Bridegroom Matins this evening is uncertain ... but I'm going.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Weaving Palms

Lazarus Saturday is always a busy day for folks from our parish. After Liturgy this morning, we gathered for a wonderful lenten lunch and then got to the work of making palm crosses for the liturgy tomorrow.

Most of us spent our time working on the small crosses which worshippers will take home from church with them tomorrow.

But the real palm experts spent their time making lovely woven palm fans for the Palm Sunday procession, which are normally carried by our clergy. I'm always just amazed at these - watching how they are made and at how beautiful they are.

Following palm weaving was choir rehearsal, a brief stop at home...then back for Vespers this evening at 5.

Lazarus Saturday

In a carefully detailed narrative the Gospel relates how Christ, six days before His own death, and with particular mindfulness of the people "standing by, that they may believe that thou didst send me" (John I I :42), went to His dead friend Lazarus at Bethany outside of Jerusalem. He was aware of the approaching death of Lazarus but deliberately delayed His coming, saying to His disciples at the news of His friend's death: "For your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe" (John 11:14).

When Jesus arrived at Bethany, Lazarus was already dead four days. This fact is repeatedly emphasized by the Gospel narrative and the liturgical hymns of the feast. The four-day burial underscores the horrible reality of death. Man, created by God in His own image and likeness, is a spiritual-material being, a unity of soul and body. Death is destruction; it is the separation of soul and body. The soul without the body is a ghost, as one Orthodox theologian puts it, and the body without the soul is a decaying corpse. "I weep and 1 wail, when I think upon death, and behold our beauty, fashioned after the image of God, lying in the tomb dishonored, disfigured, bereft of form." This is a hymn of St John of Damascus sung at the Church's burial services. This "mystery" of death is the inevitable fate of man fallen from God and blinded by his own prideful pursuits.

With epic simplicity the Gospel records that, on coming to the scene of the horrible end of His friend, "Jesus wept" (John 11:35). At this moment Lazarus, the friend of Christ, stands for all men, and Bethany is the mystical center of the world. Jesus wept as He saw the "very good" creation and its king, man, "made through Him" (John 1:3) to be filled with joy, life and light, now a burial ground in which man is sealed up in a tomb outside the city, removed from the fullness of life for which he was created, and decomposing in darkness, despair and death. Again as the Gospel says, the people were hesitant to open the tomb, for "by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days" (John 11:39).

When the stone was removed from the tomb, Jesus prayed to His Father and then cried with a loud voice: "Lazarus, come out." The icon of the feast shows the particular moment when Lazarus appears at the entrance to the tomb. He is still wrapped in his grave clothes and his friends, who are holding their noses because of the stench of his decaying body, must unwrap him. In everything stress is laid on the audible, the visible and the tangible. Christ presents the world with this observable fact: on the eve of His own suffering and death He raises a man dead four days! The people were astonished. Many immediately believed on Jesus and a great crowd began to assemble around Him as the news of the raising of Lazarus spread. The regal entry into Jerusalem followed.

Lazarus Saturday is a unique day: on a Saturday a Matins and Divine Liturgy bearing the basic marks of festal, resurrectional services, normally proper to Sundays, are celebrated. Even the baptismal hymn is sung at the Liturgy instead of Holy God: "As many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ."

Very Rev. Paul Lazor

HT: The Orthodox Church in America

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Getting the Ball Rolling

My family joined others from our church this afternoon for a fun afternoon of bowling. The event was well-attended, and lots of folks from our church came out for this delightful afternoon of fun, exercise, and fellowship.

It had been billed as an "End of Winter (We Hope) Bowling Event." And, ironically, it fell on the first really nice day we have had in a while. It was snowing outside only yesterday, but today was beautiful! Perhaps it really is the end of winter.

My score was not so hot, I'm afraid - but I had a ball (so to speak) not only bowling, but visiting, too. YoungerSon certainly had the most unique form of any of the bowlers I saw this afternoon!

It was a great opportunity for folks from church to spend an afternoon together before the rigors of Holy Week are upon us.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Quick and Easy Supper

It was a bit of a hectic week for the Transposzing family and we all landed at home hungry at about the same time late this afternoon.

There being little time to try and come up with something for supper, I took a shot in the dark and came up with this meal made of stuff we had around the house. For a last minute thing, it turned out to be pretty good!

For anyone interested, here's a sketchy recipe:

1 pound of your favorite pasta (we had penne on the shelf)
1 can of Rotel diced tomatoes with garlic and onion, drained
a handful of black olives, sliced
a handful of green olives with pimientos halved or whole if they are small
a little handful of chopped fresh basil
a little handful of chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
(I'd love to have had a zuchini on hand, but alas I did not. Some chopped green or red bell pepper might have been nice, too).

Cook the pasta and drain it.
Chop the olives, basil and parsley (and zuchini and pepper, if you have them on hand!)

In a skillet or large saucepan, saute the tomatoes and (zuchini and pepper) with a little oil and salt and pepper. When they've broken up a bit, add the basil, parsley, olives. Get it all good and hot and add in the cooked pasta, tossing together and stirring until everything is hot.

Serve immediately.

On a non-fasting day, I'd be tempted to top with fresh grated parmesan cheese.


Give me a break.

I am quite sure that the artist who painted this really WAS part of a cult and this was created to be subliminal advertising for his California-Christ cult (snark).

Sorry. I'm not buying it. While Archbishop Lazar raises some very familiar points about the differences between Orthodox iconography and western religious art, it is comparing apples and mini-vans. The point of such comparison is quite moot. Art and iconography are two completely different things, created for and serving two completely different purposes (I think any Orthodox icongrapher would agree).

This might be far-fetched, but could it be that Richard Hook was simply a western Christian? A Protestant, perhaps? If so, then he, like me until recently, might have spent a lifetime knowing nothing about icons or iconography at all. Christ's divinity was made most manifest to us less in his physical appearance than in his words and actions. This portrait does not deny the Savior's divinity, it merely portrays his humanity. Let's not read more into it than there is.

Could it be possible that Mr. Hook painted a portrait of the human Jesus to help us remember that he walked here on earth as our brother once upon a time? Or perhaps to help us see Christ in all people that we meet - even the very plain and ordinary looking people? Could he have painted the portrait for no other reasons than out of love for Jesus Christ? (how sinister!)

Come. On. Nobody's asking anyone to venerate this painting. It's art, not an icon. Orthodox Christians who call it "the anti-Christ" or "heretical" have simply gone a bit overboard here. We'd do well to stick to commenting on the genre which is part of our tradition. Art is subjective - icons are not.

I don't happen to care (stylistically) much for this portrait of Christ which hung in our living room all during my childhood. In fact, I never have, though I have a strange sort of attachment to it. It was there in our home all those years, reminding me that Christ was there, too.

That is not unimportant.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Life in the Fast Lane

Scouring the web this afternoon in search of a decent-looking vegan recipe to bring to potluck at church tomorrow evening I came upon several interesting vegan sites.

But as I peruse these sites, I can tell that the fast is wearing a bit thin for me. Little of what I see sounds or looks good at the moment (and I haven't even had supper yet). I'm fairly weary now of pasta and beans and rice and nuts and fruit and vegetables and most of the combinations which involve these things.

And glancing through the recipes online and seeing ingredients such as tofu, soy milk, miso, peanut butter, rice milk, margarine, nutritional yeast, seitan, and others reminds me why I almost always passed on the opportunity to attend a lenten potluck with DearHusband (before I was Orthodox myself). I just thought the food was way too weird. So now it's payback time for all of those judgemental comments about lenten foods for all those years, I guess.

Click: yuck, click: yuck, click: yuck.

What a spoiled and ungrateful brat I am.

Still - given the choice between a nice honey locust-leaf salad and locusts and wild honey, I'd take the salad every time.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Bonhoeffer on Suffering

My roots are showing.

But I found this Bonhoeffer excerpt to be compelling, as I do all of Bonhoeffer's writing. Wish I could find the book or material from which it came.

It is good to learn early on that suffering and God
are no contradiction,
but much more a necessary unity:
for me the idea that God himself suffered
was always one of the most convincing teachings
of Christianity.
I think that God is closer to suffering than to happiness,
and to find God in this manner gives peace and rest,
and a strong and courageous heart.

Jesus asks the Father
if the chalice may pass,
and the Father hears the plea of the Son.
The chalice of suffering will pass by Jesus,
but only in this way:
that it will be drunk.
Jesus knows this
when in Gethsemane he kneels down for the second time,
that the suffering will pass by
if he suffers it.
Only through the bearing
will he overcome and conquer suffering.
His cross is his surmounting.

~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

HT: Seasonings of the Heart