Thursday, February 28, 2008

Transposzing Family Poet

Caution: Braggy Mom post to follow ...

Apparently, the Minnesota State Trooper's Association recently sponsored some sort of an Essay/Poem writing contest for drug/alcohol abuse awareness week (or some such-named period of time). Generally, schools are informed about the contest and teachers are to encourage their students to participate in the contest.

ElderSon's teacher did more than encourage participation in this contest - she made participation a mandatory assignment. So in thinking about what to write, (once he got over his indignation that for most kids his age in this state the project was optional) ElderSon took the La-Z-Boy route and wrote a poem, because (he said) an essay sounded like alot more work.

Well, ElderSon was informed last week that he and 5 of his classmates were winners in this contest, for which they each collected a check for $150 from the State Trooper's Assn. Here he is with a state trooper at the little awards presentation ceremony which was held at school yesterday.

How times have changed! Back in the stone age when I went to school, kids got an "A" for good work.

Oh, well, congratulations to ElderSon!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A Few Pysanky

I've done a bunch already and will try to get a group photo before I start giving them away this year. But these are my three most recent (as yet unvarnished and unblown).

I remembered a couple of weeks ago when I was having coffee with my former pastor that a member of his church raises chickens, and I asked him to snag me a couple of nice brown eggs from the next batch he gets - as I've never really done much with brown eggs. I was delighted to find when I visited Resurrection last Sunday that my chicken-raising friend had brought a whole dozen lovely brown eggs for me, in a wonderful and diverse palette of browns and tans.

These eggs are amazing! They are by far the nicest ones upon which I have ever written. In over 20 years of making pysanky, I've never used eggs which haven't seen a grocery store and the difference is like night and day, not only in size and shape, but particularly in hue and in the quality of the shell itself. These eggs absorb the dye so much better - the colors are deeper and richer. There are fewer bumps and blemishes in the shell, and the shell itself seems heavier and stronger than the eggs from the store.

I did share a couple of these eggs with a friend, and am guarding and using very judiciously the ones I have left, reluctant to go back to the plain old eggs from the grocery store now. But it's given me a whole new enjoyment in making pysanky and it's definitely got me thinking ...

Hmmm... 2 kids, 2 cats, a dog, ... and chickens?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Just in time for St. Patrick's Day

Here's a beautiful icon of St. Patrick, newly completed, written by my friend from church, Phyl.

She's graciously given me permission to share it in this forum.

Phyl and her husband are also new Orthodox Christians - even newer to the church than I am, having been received by chrismation on Holy Saturday last year.

I think this is the third icon she's written. What wonderful work!

"For the Refreshment of the Soul"

As I've said before, "You can take the Lutheran church musician out of the church..."

... but it's always troubled me a little to acknowledge my fear that you can't take the Lutheran church musician completely out of the convert.

One of the first things I thought about as I anticipated the fast last Lent was, "Thank God I'm not fasting from Bach - now THAT would be difficult for me."

In a certain way, it does refresh my soul.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Letting Go

Oh, there's still snow on the ground, but I know that winter is releasing it's icy grip on MN. I noticed the other night that it was still light outside after Vespers, the roads are merely wet during my afternoon commute these days and not icy, the sun is warmer and brighter. ElderSon's thoughts have turned to - baseball (instead of hockey).

I'm not naive enough to believe that we are done with either snow or cold yet, but I recognize the handwriting on the wall. This winter will soon be done. Whatever snow or cold comes won't stay for long.

I see as I look around the blogosphere that I am not alone in my anticipation of spring.

Our Prodigal Selves

From Fr. Thomas Hopko, The Lenten Spring - Readings for Great Lent

"From beginning to end the lenten services of the Church call us to return to God our Father.

The theme of the parable of the prodigal son runs through the entire season (1). We have wasted what our good God has given us. We have ruined our lives and our world. We have polluted the air, the water and the earth. The birds and the fish, the plants and the animals, grieve because of our wickedness. We have corrupted our bodies and minds. We have abandoned communion with God and the joy of His dwelling. We have gone off on our own, following our own ideas, enacting our own plans. And the result is that we are away from our true home, lost in a far country, living among swine. Through our reckless wasting of the gifts given by God we have stripped ourselves of our original glory, wisdom, beauty and strength: we have lost our divine legacy as children of God. And the whole cosmos suffers with us in our affliction.

What great blessings have I forsaken, wretch that I am?
From what kingdom have I miserably fallen ?
I have squandered the riches which were given to me.
I have transgressed the commandments.
Woe to me when I shall be condemned to eternal fire!
Cry out to Christ, O my soul, before the end draws near:
"Receive me as the prodigal, O God, and have mercy on me."

I hid my face in shame, a wretched man.
I have squandered the riches my Father gave to me.
I went to live with senseless beasts.
I sought their food and hungered, for I had not enough to eat.
I will arise, I will return to my compassionate Father.
He will accept my tears. I fall before Him crying:
"In Your tender love for all people receive me as one of Your servants and save me."

People feel unhappy and they don't know why. They feel that something is wrong, but they can't put their finger on what it is. They feel uneasy in the world, confused and frustrated, alienated and estranged, and they can't explain it. They have everything and yet they want more. And when they get it, they are still left empty and dissatisfied. They want happiness and peace, and nothing seems to bring it. They want fulfillment, and it never seems to come. Everything is fine, and yet everything is wrong. In America this is
almost a national disease. It is covered over by frantic activity and endless running around. It is buried in activities and events. It is drowned out by television programs and games. But when the movement stops and the dial is turned off and everything is quiet... then the dread sets in, and the meaninglessness of it all, and the boredom, and the fear.

Why is this so? Because, the Church tells us, we are really not at home. We are in exile. We are alienated and estranged from our true country. We are not with God our Father in the land of the living. We are spiritually sick. And some of us are already dead.

Our hearts are made for God, St. Augustine has said, and we will be forever restless until we rest in Him. Our lives are made for God, and we will be unfulfilled and dissatisfied and frustrated until we go to Him. All of God's creatures, as Francis Thompson said in his poem "The Hound of Heaven," are His "loyal betrayers." They do not satisfy His children and cannot bring them peace. He alone can do that, because He alone is our home. And we are His.

The lenten season is the time for our conscious return to our true home. It is the time set aside for us to come to ourselves and to get up and go to the divine reality to which we truly belong.

I have wasted in evil living the wealth which the Father gave me,
and I am now brought to emptiness,
filled with shame and enslaved to fruitless thoughts.
Therefore I cry to You, O Lover of man,
"Take mercy on me and save me!"

I am wasted with hunger, deprived of every blessing, an exile from Your presence.
O Christ, supreme in loving kindness,
have mercy on me now as I return, and save me as I sing Your praises, O Lover of man.

Our purpose, O people, is to know the power of God's goodness,
for when the prodigal abandoned his sin
he hastened to the refuge of his Father.
That Good One embraced him and welcomed him.
He killed the fatted calf and celebrated with heavenly joy.
Let us learn from this example to offer thanks to the Father
who loves all people,
and to the Victim, the Lord Jesus Christ,
the glorious Savior of our souls

1. The third week before Lent begins is liturgically dedicated to this parable. The theme continues through the entire season. See Luke 15,11-32.
2. Sunday of the Prodigal Son Vespers.
3. Ibid.
4. Sunday of the Prodigal Son Matins.
5. Ibid.
6. Sunday of the Prodigal Son Vespers. The expression "save our souls" recurs often in the prayers and hymns. This does not mean that some "spiritual part" of a person is valuable, and the body, or the material generally, is not. The word "soul" stands for the whole person and for life itself.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Sunday of the Prodigal Son

The Sunday after the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee is the Sunday of the Prodigal Son. This parable of God's forgiveness calls us to come to ourselves" as did the prodigal son, to see ourselves as being "in a far country" far from the Father's house, and to make the journey of return to God. We are given every assurance by the Master that our heavenly Father will receive us with joy and gladness. We must only "arise and go," confessing our self-inflicted and sinful separation from that "home" where we truly belong (Luke 15:11-24).

After the Polyeleion at Matins, we first hear the lenten hymn "By the Waters of Babylon." It will be sung for the next two Sundays before Lent begins, and it serves to reinforce the theme of exile in today's Gospel.

Friday, February 22, 2008

What is it About an Election Year

that brings out the worst in people?

Not sure what one of my (former) regular reads has against Obama the candidate (except that he's a Democrat, and a liberal, and young, and popular, and not Catholic) but it seems to deeply affect how she feels about Obama-the-person-she's-never-even-met-and-actually-seems-to-know-little-if-anything-substantive-about. For some reason, it seems particularly problematic for this particular writer that Obama's father is a Muslim. Oh, and she doesn't have a civil word in her head for Hillary Clinton, either.

Also ironic, it seems, is that while this particular blogger (I'll not even bother linking to the blog) has all sorts of rumor-mongering, gossipy, name-calling and otherwise childish things to say about the candidates she does not support, she offers not one positive word about any candidate she thinks might be a better choice.

If one were to remove these most recent posts, the blog might seem like it is the writing of a faithful, liturgy-loving conservative Roman Catholic Christian ... which is what drew me to it in the first place. But now, it seems, it's a forum for hate.

Lord, have mercy.

Why do I hate election years? Nobody seems able to behave themselves.

God bless America, indeed.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus

Though there's a bit of a sarcastic tone to (especially the end of) this post, I thought it was an interesting read for any who are curious to know why we stand for worship. While I might suggest that a less snarky approach might have been more appropriate from such a source, I found it interesting, anyway, and would also note that after having sat my bottom in a pew at worship for half a lifetime, I have found not sitting in a pew at worship to be incredibly freeing. It just feels right (but it does take a little getting used to).

“Are pews, which we borrowed not so very long ago from the Protestants and the Roman Catholics (who borrowed them from the Protestants) a liturgical accretion without consequences? Or, do pews (and pew-like rows of chairs) make a significant difference in the life of the Church? Or is the idea they do make a difference perhaps only the bothersome complaint of reactionaries who want to obstruct the progress of Orthodoxy in the name of a false traditionalism? Asking ourselves these questions, we came up with the following painful observations. They lead us to the inescapable conclusion that pews and rows of chairs make a significant difference, a big difference, in our Orthodox Christian lives. That has absolutely nothing to do with jurisdictional differences or with shades of opinion in the Church, or with labels like “traditionalist” and “modernist.” It has everything to do with the Orthodox understanding of the Body of Christ, and the nature of liturgical worship.

Whether we want to believe it or whether we don’t, pews (or rows of chairs) influence the way we think about the Church. Pews mold the way we think about the Liturgy itself. Pews affect the way we think about ourselves as Orthodox Christian lay people. Pews directly influence our spirituality and our behavior. The use of pews is shaping the future of Orthodoxy in North America.

Here are just some of the remarkable things a “mere addition” to Orthodox worship like pews accomplishes. A few of the following comments may come across as sarcastic. They are not. They are simply an open expression of what possibly a majority of lay people, and maybe even a few clergy, think in their “heart of hearts.” These ideas have taken root among us in large part because pews have taught us to think them.

1) Pews teach the lay people to stay in their place, which is to passively watch what’s going on up front, where the clergy perform the Liturgy on their behalf. Pews preach and teach that religion and spirituality is the job of the priest, to whom we pay a salary to be religious for us, since it is just too much trouble and just too difficult for the rest of us to be spiritual in the real world of modern North America. Pews serve the same purpose as seats in theaters and bleachers in the ball park; we perch on them (even during the Litanies which are the specific prayer of the People) to watch the professionals perform: the clergy and the professionally-trained altar servers, while the professionally-trained choir sings for our entertainment.

2) In teaching us to sit back and relax, pews give us the impression that any inconvenience, much less suffering no matter how slight, is foreign to the Christian life. Aren’t you supposed to enjoy church and have fun as a Christian? Church is one of the few times we can take it easy and avoid real life. We don’t come to church to work. (But doesn’t the word liturgy mean precisely, “the work of the people”?) How many American Orthodox today have the “legs of steel” of old world Orthodoxy? Pews teach us to be spiritual wimps. “Could you not watch with me one hour?” asks the Lord. Would we who shrink from standing one hour, be willing to suffer for Christ, as millions of our Orthodox brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers in this very century have had to suffer?

3) Pews destroy the traditional feeling of freedom in church. With the installation of pews, we are no longer “bothered” with all the moving around which used to take place. You know, grandmothers lighting candies, children kissing icons, and the worshippers gathering around their priest like a family gathered about their father.

4) Pews fill up the open space in the middle of our temples, where the clergy and the people used to join together in a sort of sacred dance as the clergy, censing and processing, moved amidst the constantly changing configuration of the Laity.

Today this is reduced to the priest and servers marching in and marching out. How can we dance with pews on the ballroom floor? Pews transform worship for us into the merely formal and frosty affair that it has become in mainline American religion. The colder worship gets, the less attention we must pay to the unreal demands that religion, as our forebears knew it, puts on us. Certainly we can’t allow our religion to become our way of life, if we expect to get ahead in the real world.

5) If children must be brought into the Church, at least they can play under the pews, where they won’t be distracted by the ceremonies going on up front. Do kids understand all that anyway? Wouldn’t they be better off in Sunday School coloring pictures and playing games, where they don’t bother the adults while they sit back and enjoy the liturgical music concert?

6) Although pews are admittedly not a feature of the Orthodox liturgical tradition as our ancestors knew it, we’re in America now, and here things are different. We need to be relevant. The more we can be just like the big and important religions in America, the more influence Orthodox Christianity will have. We can’t afford to lose our big chance to mold American thought, and we will lose it if we cling to silly traditions with a little t, like pewless temples. And besides, is it not crystal clear that if we look too different we won’t be able to achieve prestige, success and power in our society? Isn’t that what life is all about?

7) Thanks to pews, on the weekdays of Lent we no longer have to endure those humiliating prostrations. Other [Christian groups] don’t do that kind of thing in church, not even the Catholics. Why should we? And during funerals, pews spare us from gathering around the casket like we used to. Isn’t the function of the modern funeral to shield us from the unpleasantness of death? The accepted modern American view is that we never really die—we just fade away.

These blunt observations are not meant to offend, but to hammer the point home vividly. The Liturgical Movement and the Orthodox liturgical tradition are both absolutely right: what we do in liturgical worship molds our thinking, attitudes and behavior. That’s precisely why the issue of pews is so critically important. We hope this call for renewal will not be dismissed out of hand as “off the wall extremism,” for this is not a “party” issue; it is a matter of life and death for American Orthodoxy. Pews are a spiritual carcinogen. Like Social Security in politics, pews may be an “untouchable” issue, but in spite of that, Orthodox America must begin renewal in this regard.

The pews in our churches are a much bigger problem than the use of foreign languages, for pews silently speak louder than words. Pews outshout the greatest of preachers and the most effective of teachers. Pews skillfully contradict the most excellent administrator and the most caring pastor. Pews drown out the words of our greatest scholars. A parish priest can brilliantly teach his flock about the place of the Laity as members in the priestly Body of Christ and co-celebrants in the Divine Liturgy, while the pews his people are sitting in, with the subtle dynamics of liturgical drama, insidiously whisper the very opposite. “Psst … all you really need to do is pay your dues, call yourself Orthodox, watch the Liturgy, and leave the full-time practice of religion to the paid professionals.” Neither unknown languages, nor choirs, nor even operatic compositions, could ever deprive the Laity of their active participation in the Divine Liturgy as members of the priestly Body of Christ. For they also serve who only attentively stand to pray. But when the Laity, as a mistaken gesture of kindness, were given pews so they could sit back, relax and watch the show, it was as if they had been deposed from their Sacred Ministry.

We’re not calling for fanatic “pewoclasm.” Liturgical renewal must not be divorced from loving pastoral concern. But we do need to face it: the use of pews and rows of chairs in our churches is a liturgical distortion which powerfully distorts our self-understanding as Orthodox Christians. We need renewal in the Orthodox teaching that we come to church not to be entertained but to work, to do together the Work of the People, the Holy Liturgy. Perhaps we could begin that renewal by removing several front rows of pews, inviting the faithful to stand before the iconostasis from the Great Entrance through Communion. Then let us progress back as fast as is pastorally feasible to the traditional practice of having seats only around the periphery of the church interior for the elderly, the infirm, for mothers with babies, for the weak and for the tired. That practice is not “merely traditional.” It expresses a vital and fundamental aspect of Orthodox liturgical teaching.”

From the Pascha, 1995 issue of DOXA, the quarterly publication of St. Michael’s Skete (OCA), P.O. Box 38, Canones, NM 87516. Few people know that pews are a rather recent innovation for Protestants and Roman Catholics as well.

HT: Mind in the Heart

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Hymns in Eight Tones

Grace at This Side of Glory is pitching a CD that her choir recently recorded. If you go to her post about this recording, you can hear some samples. The CD is a fundraiser for her church.

I think I just might be the first in my parish to own one (actually, DearHusband owns it. I got it for him for Valentine's Day). But I'm hereby giving it a positive review, and encourage any interested readers to get a copy for themselves. The music is lovely (in Byzantine style) and the cause is a good one.

Publican and Pharisee

The Sunday after the Sunday of Zacchaeus is devoted to the Publican and the Pharisee. At Vespers the night before, the TRIODION (the liturgical book used in the services of Great Lent) begins.

Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee who scrupulously observed the requirements of religion: he prayed, fasted, and contributed money to the Temple. These are very good things, and should be imitated by anyone who loves God. We who may not fulfill these requirements as well as the Pharisee did should not feel entitled to criticize him for being faithful. His sin was in looking down on the Publican and feeling justified because of his external religious observances.

The second man was a Publican, a tax-collector who was despised by the people. He, however, displayed humility, and this humility justified him before God (Luke 18:14).

The lesson to be learned is that we possess neither the Pharisee's religious piety, nor the Publican's repentance, through which we can be saved. We are called to see ourselves as we really are in the light of Christ's teaching, asking Him to be merciful to us, deliver us from sin, and to lead us on the path of salvation.

* * *

Our priest was sick this morning and so we had a reader's service at church today. Our Deacon led the service and shared a fine message with the parish. One comment he made regarding the Pharisee in the Gospel lesson particularly struck me (it's also noted above). He said that it's easy for us to condemn the Pharisee as a self-righteous figure whose thorough knowledge of and faithfulness to scripture and tradition do not lead to repentance and humility - and in this story, that's true enough. However, as we consider the Pharisee, it's also important to note that unless we have paid as much attention to the Scriptures and traditions of the Church, unless we know them at least as well as the Pharisee, we have no right to stand back and condemn him.

OK, I heard the sermon before I read this description of the day from the OCA website. But it's an important concept: "We who may not fulfill these requirements as well as the Pharisee did should not feel entitled to criticize him for being faithful."

In my own history of learning about Pharisees, they were always depicted as the bad guys. But our Deacon's words this morning and this brief reflection give me pause to think of the Pharisee in a new way. Sadly, the Pharisee, with his abundance of knowledge, misses the point. But this doesn't make him the bad guy, only the misguided guy. And if we would obtain the spirit of repentance and humility of the Publican, it means that we cannot condemn the Pharisee...or anyone else. True humility and repentance does not mean checking ourselves against the likes of others, comparing how we measure up, whether we are doing better or worse than our neighbors. Rather, it is "seeing ourselves as we really are in the light of Christ's teaching, asking Him to be merciful to us, deliver us from sin, and to lead us on the path of salvation."

I like these pre-Lenten weeks, and they are important as they help us "prepare to prepare" - giving us the tools necessary for a truly joyful fast and a fruitful Lent to come.

Reading 101

I have a distinct discomfort about reading at church.

This uneasiness is not unlike the uneasiness I grew to feel about singing alone in church even when I was a Lutheran. Used to be - many years ago now - that out of necessity I could serve as cantor for the psalm or serve as an assisting minister at worship "on the fly." If someone was needed at the last minute, I could step in - and I often did, with little or no reservation.

Then in my later Lutheran years I began to feel a bit self-conscious about it. If someone was needed to sing a thing for worship, before I'd just agree to do it I'd look around and see who else was there that could likely do a better job. I felt, after all, that it was important that our worship be as beautiful as it could be. It was an offering to God and for it we must only bring the best we have. So especially in my last years as a Lutheran, I did alot of begging off. When it came time to complete the annual "Time and Talent" forms, I stopped checking the boxes for "Lector" and "Assisting Minister" because there were oodles of folks in my parish who were completely capable and who did a fine job with these things. So, in those late-Lutheran years, I checked the boxes on those less visible roles: Altar Guild, baking Eucharistic bread, singing in the choir, serving on a committee, and bringing coffee hour refreshments.

Very shortly after I became Orthodox, my family arrived at church early one Sunday, as is our carry-over custom from Protestantism. DearHusband was off doing something important and our sons and I were lighting the candles in the church. Our priest came and asked me to read the Hours before the liturgy - I was horrified! What did I know about reading the hours - or reading anything for Orthodox worship? I was new here. I wormed my way out of it by politely declining, telling him that I'd hustle to find someone who knew what they were doing, and I promised that I'd get my questions about reading the Hours answered and be prepared to read them the next time he asked. The spirit was willing, but the flesh had absolutely no clue about how to do this right or well.

Shortly afterward, of course, I did read the hours at church, but I made sure I had someone who actually knew the whens and whats of what was to be read close by, so they could direct me to the material I was supposed to read. "That wasn't so hard," I thought as I finished. And of course it wasn't - there was barely anyone in the church when I started reading, and it wasn't until I was finished and liturgy was just about to begin that I turned to see that the church was actually getting pretty full.

Whenever I read at church (whether it's the epistle on a Sunday morning or a little tiny Aposticha verse on Saturday evening at Vespers), I always feel sort of intimidated and thrilled and humbled and nervous all at the same time, the combination of which sort of makes me kind of sick to my stomach for those couple of minutes. While they aren't bad minutes, necessarily, they make me look forward to the time when reading at church will be more natural for me, as it seems to be for most others who read at church. Perhaps it's OK to not get too comfortable with it. Still, it's a certain self-consciousness I'd like to overcome - hopefully this will happen in time.

So how does one work on becoming less self-conscious?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Groundhog's Day on the Old Calendar

Follow a link which leads to a link and you'll often find treasures unimagined.
Well, I'm not sure that this is a treasure unimagined, but I thought it was cute.
Initially, I thought I'd have to stick it away until next February 2, but I see that today is February 2 on the Old Calendar - so I'll share it today:

February 2/15
Troparion of the Holy Ground Hog Basil - Tone 4

O holy ground hog, Basil,
Thou didst commence thy slumber after the feast of the Nativity.
And now on the fortieth day,
Thou doth awaken to predict for us the coming of spring.
For if thou wilt see thy shadow
Then thou wilt renew thy slumber for six more weeks.
But if the skies doth be full of gray or rain,
Thou wilt stay awake for the whole of the Fast;
And we will see an early spring.

At the Matins Service during the procession of the Great Doxology the ground hog, Basil, is carried around the church thrice, while the faithful sing this holy hymn. The service should be conducted so that "Glory to Thee Who hast shown us the light!" is announced precisely at sunrise, and the procession finisheth shortly thereafter in the out of doors under the sky.

A Roman Catholic blogger I used to read recently queried whether the Orthodox have a sense of humor.

Of course we do.

HT: The Byzantine Forum, via Mimi's combox

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

This Teacher Delivers!

YoungerSon's been home from school the past couple of days with his second strep infection in a month. He was pretty miserable over the weekend, but has been on antibiotics for the past couple of days and so is finally starting to coming around.

DearHusband (the parent who works from home and so is actually home with the sick one) sent an email off to YoungerSon's teacher before school this morning, asking about homework. He's been out for three days and certainly he's good and behind by now. I called home on my way from work this afternoon and offered to stop at the school and pick up YoungerSon's homework, but DearHusband said that his teacher hadn't returned his email. So we decided to go ahead and send him back to school tomorrow and let him pick up his mountain of homework then.

While we were having supper this evening, YoungerSon's teacher, Mr. Western, stopped by our house with the homework. Now our kid goes to a big school and is part of a big class. It's not we live all that far from school - only a mile, but still we thought it particularly - unusually - kind and thoughtful that he'd go out of his way and bring it over to us.

While YoungerSon was just sort of wierded out that his teacher came to his house, we were really impressed that he took the time to find the worksheets, papers, and books, find our address and our house, and bring the homework over for him.

Above and beyond the call of duty, we thought. So kudos to Mr. Western!

Monday, February 11, 2008

One Year Ago Today

Strangely, it feels like I've been an Orthodox Christian for much longer than this.

I have much for which to be thankful.

Glory to God for all things.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Now THIS is Pysanky!

Here are a few links to the work of some who take their Ukrainian Eggs seriously - and their work shows it! All are are wonderful and well worth a look.

Here's one:
Traditional Pysanky

and another:

and another: (as you can see, the photo for the post came from that site!)

and more yet: gallery

And there are many more than these out there - I find them inspiring!

I am lucky to live only a couple of miles away from The Ukrainian Gift Shop, one of the nation's main outlets for supplies for this art form. The lady who owns the store, Luba, does the most exquisite work I have ever seen, and displays her eggs at the store. I make several trips to her shop over the course of Lent, partly to pick up supplies, but also to get pointers from her - she is most generous in this way.

I'm certain I will post a photo or two (or 10) of some of my eggs from this season - but none of them will be as lovely as the work you see in these sites.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Eggs-tended Season

At least it is for me this year.

Each Lent my family spends a chunk of time making Ukrainian Easter eggs (we usually give most of them away at Pascha).

One nice benefit of this family tradition is that it gives me opportunity to see and visit with my best friend from high school - who only lives a little over a mile away. During the rest of the year, we talk a bunch and see each other some, but we both like to do this and so we get together sort of regularly during Lent to work on eggs together.

Last year our Lenten seasons were the same (she's a Roman Catholic), but this year, western Christians start Lent a LONG time before the Orthodox do - so what to do? Wait until my Lent starts? She'll be about done with Lent when I'm just getting started.

So in the interests of continuing to share this Lenten tradition this year, I've decided to extend the egg season considerably. We got together last night and worked for a bit.

(The photo is a bowl of eggs which my family did last year ... seems it takes about an entire Lent to get a good bowlful!)

Prayer Before Sleep

I have been blessed twice in recent months to hear a wonderful piece of music, "Prayer Before Sleep" from Robinovitch's Talmud Suite. It was sung in Hebrew both times, to lovely music, but I was glad an English translation was provided each time, as the text is what I found the most moving of all:

Prayer Before Sleep

Exalted art Thou, I my Lord
Who art God and King of the World,
Who weighs down my eyes
With gentle bonds of sleep,
And refreshes my tired spirit with slumber.

May it ever be Thy will,
Lord, my God, and God of all my fathers,
To lay me down in untroubled peace
And raise me up in peace once more.

Do not let dark imaginings disturb me
With thoughts of sin and despair.
O heal my fear and my suffering –
May my bed be enclosed in Thy care.

Give light unto my eyes
Lest the sleep of death o’ertake me.
For ‘tis Thou who breathes life
Into man’s slumb’ring soul.

Exalted art Thou, O Lord,
Who illuminates all the world
With His glory.

I was so moved upon hearing it, in fact, that I was compelled to consult my old friend, Google, to at least learn a little basic information about the Talmud, as I really know so very little about the Jewish faith. I did learn a little in my poking around, and I think it would be interesting to learn a bit more, actually.

But I thought it fairly profound to see the following words at at the bottom of one page of information from a Jewish site:

"Please note that this page contains the name of God.
If you print it out, please treat it with appropriate respect.”

Never really thought of that before - but it makes good sense to me.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Отче Наш

To sing this at liturgy is one of my favorite things. All of the embeddables of this music that I could find out there were concert settings of this Lord's Prayer (Kedrov), like this one - and of course I couldn't find any that were in English. But that's OK, it's lovely in it's native tongue (and helpful that we know what they're singing!).

I've certainly sung in my share of choirs over the years, so I obviously have no aversion to sacred choral concert music. In fact, it's rather a passion of sorts for me. But like so much liturgical music, hearing it at liturgy, and particularly singing it in liturgy, is so different from sitting in a concert audience and listening to it. Like the difference between watching a church service on a television and worshipping. The music is at it's best and has it's true life in it's natural habitat. But it's so lovely, I'll settle for posting this.

We don't sing this setting at our church all that often, so singing it at liturgy whenever we do is a special treat for me. I think I'd like to learn to sing it in Slavonic someday.

(YoungerSon sang along in English while I was testing the link. How lucky he is to know this lovely music as a ten year old. He'll have many more years to enjoy it than I do.)

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Mine, too

Loved this post from Steve Robinson at Pithless Thoughts

I Just Checked the Church Calendar

... and noticed that it's French-Silk Pie-fare Sunday.

DearHusband has graciously volunteered to go and get some.

Glad it didn't pass us by unobserved.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

On Speaking the Truth in Love

I recently read a post by an Orthodox blogger who listed someone's "15 reasons not to believe in a literal virgin birth." The blogger posted these 15 reasons with the invitation for those who do not agree with them to "Debunk. Enjoy." It seemed that this blogger was waiting for a feeding frenzy of sorts from like-minded readers.

I admit that I was incredibly put off simply by the tone of the post.

Enjoy? Enjoy publicly taking apart another person's beliefs? What is enjoyable about that?

I don't know. Maybe I'm a downright shoddy and wimpy Orthodox Christian. Maybe I don't deserve to be in the church. But for me the bottom line is, I don't want to fight and argue with anyone about church. Not those I love in my former tradition, not atheists, not other Orthodox Christians who have the need and the tools and the desire to debate essence and energy or the various doctrines of sanctification and deification. In particular, I don't want to fight with any non-Orthodox Christians about the errors of their beliefs (even if I believe they are errors), proving via scripture, etc. how they are oh-so-wrong and I am oh-so-right. I don't think that making a point of trying to debunk anyone's beliefs - especially publicly - is any sort of way to love my neighbor as myself.

I voiced my concerns about the divisive tone of the post in the blogger's combox, and was told that all Orthodox Christians are called to "defend the faith."

Really? Hmmm - no one told me that before chrismation. In fact, no well-meaning Orthodox Christian ever sat me down (while I was still a Lutheran) and gave me a blow-by-blow debunking of the doctrines of the Lutheran faith, either (even though some of those doctrines aren't held by the Orthodox). I knew several Orthodox Christians before I became one myself. Heck, I had been married to one for a dozen years before I converted. In all of those years, not once did any of them make it a point to take me aside and methodically dismantle my beliefs. Not my priest, not my sponsor, not my husband, and not any other Orthodox Christian. No one gave me any sort of a list of "why my church is better and truer than yours is."

What they did do, however, was welcome me to worship with them, and welcome dialogue with them about the Orthodox faith. They listened to my questions and answered them honestly. Not in a spirit of "why you are a heretic and I am a part of the True Church" - but compassionately and lovingly. They helped me to learn about the faith not by attacking mine, but by simply sharing theirs. And through their loving and faithful witness, and by the grace of God, this extremely stubborn, former-die-hard Lutheran became an Orthodox Christian.

So should we speak the truth? Certainly we should. But that is not all of this mandate. We are to speak the truth in love.

I was lucky, I guess, that the Orthodox Christians who spoke the truth to me, spoke it in love.

And that has made all the difference.