Saturday, August 24, 2013

Pray for Persecuted Christians in the Middle East



But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed— always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus' sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 
2 Corinthians 4:7-11


Music: Procession (The Trisagion) by St. Symeon Orthodox Church Trio "Antiphony" from the album Their Souls Shall Dwell With the Blessed: A Service For Those Who Have Fallen Asleep

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Constant Sorrows

Wikimedia Commons

Life can be painful enough without being sick all of the time. Unfortunately, I am sick. All.of.the.time. It's called Fibromyalgia and a short list of symptoms are as follows:

  • Pain all over
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Brain fog
  • Morning stiffness
  • Muscle knots, cramping, weakness
  • Digestive disorders
  • Headaches/migraines
  • Balance problems
  • Itchy/burning skin
"Pain all over" can range from a dull, annoying throb to the sensation of being stabbed with shards of glass. It's random, so on a given day, you just never know what you're going to get. Too much activity will trigger pain. And by too much activity, I really mean normal, day-to-day activity, such as doing housework or yard work or taking a day trip to the beach.

"Fatigue" and "Sleep difficulties" mean that I never feel like I've gotten a good night's rest. I wake up every morning feeling as tired as when I went to bed, as well as stiff and achy. I push myself all day to do the things I need to do, and with the help of caffeine, I get through it. Then at night, I lie in bed, exhausted, but unable to fall into a deep and restful sleep. One does get used to it, but some days it is absolutely crazy-making.

"Digestive disorders" means I never know if my body will decide to happily digest my food or if my gut will just give up on me part-way through the day. This is very painful and frustrating. It's also embarrassing to have to explain to someone that you have irritable bowel syndrome. It's just not a very glamorous condition to have.

"Brain fog" means that people might think I am inconsiderate or don't care about them because I forget important things, or forget things right after hearing them. I can come off as a bit of an airhead and this is also embarrassing. I often feel like my mind is just swimming and I cannot focus. I am constantly worried that my career will fail because of this, but so far I have be able to keep my head above water.

Hopefully this will give you a basic idea of what it's like to live with this chronic illness. I could go into much deeper detail, but I won't bore you with it.

It took me many years to come to terms with this illness and accept that I would probably just have to deal with it for the rest of my life. I came to eventually feel thankful for my illness, at least for how it has challenged me and pushed me. It has taught me about humility (not that I am humble, but I do know what it is like to be humbled) and it has taught me that there is a lot more to life than just comfort.

So many people in this world suffer constantly; they suffer way worse than I do. Every day I have a short walk to get to work from where I park my car and I often see some interesting people along the way. One person who often crosses my path is a lady who appears to be an alcoholic. She is thin and weathered and usually has a look of pain on her face. With her eyes barely open, she walks as if on a tightrope, carrying a bottle of wine in a shopping bag. It's 10 am and she is returning from a trip to the wine store, evidently greatly in need of a morning drink. Once I didn't see her for several weeks and then, at last I walked past her again one morning, although I barely recognised her. She was dressed neatly, her eyes were open and her face was radiant. She had perhaps been through rehab and looked like a completely different person. Sadly it wasn't long before I saw her as I had previously known her, making her wobbly shuffle down the sidewalk with her face contorted to block out the morning sun. I can't imagine how she must suffer.

This is just one example, but I'm sure you could list many of your own. Some people suffer from physical or mental disabilities, some suffer from mental illness or simply the pain of being unloved or rejected. Far too many people suffer from disease, poverty, abuse, homelessness and injustice.

When you pray, when you stop to give thanks to God, or to ask him for help in a struggle, think of the ones who suffer daily. Maybe it's your neighbour with diabetes, or your grandma with arthritis. Maybe it's that kid with all the food allergies, the couple who are unable to have children, or the single mother whose child has autism.

It's hard enough in this life to be a witness to Christ, to show others the joy and peace that come from faith without being sick all of the time. But like it or not, this is part of my witness. How on earth am I supposed to minister to others if I can barely function like a normal person? How am I supposed to show joy when the feeling which is most common to me is pain?

It's a mystery; it's Christ's love; it's mercy; it's repentance. To be able to give thanks in any circumstance is a grace of God. That means that although it feels impossible, it's actually the opposite of that. Nothing can come between us and God's love.

And that's just the point. Constant sorrows may follow us in this life, but we can take heart, for Christ has overcome them all. And so daily, we must take up our cross and fight our way from death to life - all of us, together. Pray for me and I will pray for you.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Pulling Weeds



The past two months have been a bit of a blur for me. This week I feel as if I have woke up from a long and troubling dream. So much work around the house has been neglected, especially the yard work. Friday night some friends were visiting and we were hanging out in the back yard for a little bit. I looked around and realised, to my mortification, that I had not done any weeding since the spring. I considered hiding myself in the tall grass to escape the shame of it, until my friend told me that his yard was in a similar state. All the same, having another person see a hidden mess did motivate me to do something about it the next morning.

I filled a garbage bag full of weeds and trash, swept the patio and wound up the garden hose that had been lying in a pile on the ground. As I worked, I meditated on the fact that my garden was not the only thing I had left untended for a while. Just as weeds can overtake a lawn or a flower bed, sinful thoughts can overtake a person's mind. 

Now the goal with weeding is to keep on top of it and to pull the weeds while they are still young. If we wait too long (as I had done with my yard) the weeds grow deep roots and are hard to pull up whole. And if a remnant remains, that weed will just grow back up again. So it is with our sinful thoughts: if they are allowed to take deep root in our minds, they can be very difficult to "weed out."

I also noticed that, as I cleared away the weeds, I was making room in my flower beds for more flowers and for other plants to flourish better. I thought of people who keep lovely gardens and grow their own fruits, vegetables and herbs and how much hard work and dedication this requires. The only edible plant I grew this year was rhubarb.  I grew enough to make just one pie, but how delicious that pie was, and how wonderful it was to share it with my friends. So, I decided that I will have to fill the bare spots in my flower beds with something new, to replace the ugly weeds with something beautiful.

St. Paul said: 
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.
Philippians 4:6-9
In order to tend the garden of the mind, we must first weed up the wrong thoughts "through prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving" and then we must plant the right kind of thoughts: thoughts which are pure, lovely, virtuous and praiseworthy. Finally, we need to do the things the apostles taught us and passed on to us by Christ's authority ("...teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you..." Matthew 28:20). If we follow these three steps, God's peace will be with us.

My yard is finally pretty tidy, but I know that if I just leave it, it will be overgrown with weeds again before I know it. I need to tend to my mind, just as I need to tend to my garden. There are always some weeds in there that need to be uprooted. If I catch them while they are small, I can weed them out by turning to God in prayer. I need to always keep my prayer rope on my wrist as a reminder that whenever I am faced with temptation, I already have an antidote ready to defeat it. Now, if the weeds have taken a firm hold in my mind, I can go to confession to have them extracted. This may be a bit painful at first, but the sense of relief is incomparable. Once the weeds are dealt with, my mind is freed up to embrace beautiful thoughts, thoughts which bring the mind down into the heart, where the God of peace dwells.

It's not as simple as I have made it sound. This process of weeding the bad and planting the good happens over and over on a daily basis. With much diligent care, a Christian will become godly and bring forth the fruit of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control will emanate from such a person.

On Saturday night I went to church for vespers only to find it had been cancelled. A bunch of us were there and one man pointed out how many weeds had grown up around the church. We grabbed the rake and broom and a garbage bag and went outside. Six of us got to work digging up weeds, raking the grass, sweeping the walkway and tidying up the flower beds. As we were working I turned to my friend and said "this is also a good way to pray." So it was that when we were all done, we stood back to look with satisfaction on our work. Why had we allowed the church to start looking so neglected in the first place? Whatever the reason, we had set things right...at least a very little bit more right. We did it out of love and so our work brought us joy.

May we tend to our souls in this same way. May we never neglect how precious they are and by God's grace and through His strength, may we keep them free from "the sin which so easily ensnares us" (Hebrews 12:1).

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Give Until It Doesn't Hurt

Photo: Ed Yourdon

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.  
2 Corinthians 8:9

There is one who scatters, yet increases more;
And there is one who withholds more than is right,
But it leads to poverty.
The generous soul will be made rich,
And he who waters will also be watered himself. 
Proverbs 11:24-25

In 1997 I spent a summer in Vancouver. I crashed with a friend (ok, ex-boyfriend, but never mind) in a very cheap bachelor apartment at Davie and Bute.  It had no furniture, but it was a short walk to English Bay and everywhere else. I was 20 years old and fearless. I was reading the Bible for the first time; I was engrossed in St. Paul's writings. I was a passionate, if still quite naive dreamer and I had my whole life ahead of me.

When the aforementioned boyfriend was at work, I would wander the city centre, often making my way down Granville St to see if I could make some friends among the homeless who were most prevalent there. Vancouver has a very mild climate and attracts homeless people from across the country, as it is far less harsh a place to live year-round than, say, Toronto, or Winnipeg.

I grew to love visiting my friends on Granville St. and it was there that I forced my way through the barrier of fear and stigma that stands between homeless people and the rest of the population. I saw them as friends, as no different than myself.

What do you do when a beggar approaches you? Do you make an excuse? Do you hand him some change and keep moving? Or do you stop, look into her face, introduce yourself and engage in conversation?

I'm not telling you this story for any reason other than to (I hope) inspire you to take even the smallest step outside of your comfort zone.  People are a treasure, made in the image of God. When we meet anyone, it is as if we are meeting Christ. We need not fear the person who, for whatever reason, has fallen to the edge of society, who struggles to maintain a stable life.

Here is what you can do: ask God to help you with your inhibitions so that you may fulfill his command to care for the poor. Do what you can, when the opportunity presents itself and even create the opportunity if you have the time and means. Give what you can. Don't be afraid that you might spoil the person by simply handing him money. Trust God with your offering; give as if you were giving it to God Himself.

An alcoholic may need to use that money to buy a drink. He may truly need that. Do not fear giving him comfort in this way. Listen to the person's story and believe her. Don't assume she must be lying or trying to manipulate you. Give as much as you have to give. I'm not saying to give away your child's college fund or your family's grocery money, but give with generosity and trust God to provide for your needs.

Learn your new acquaintance's name and share yours. Let the love of Christ open your eyes to see him as a person no different from you; a person in need of love and friendship and encouragement.

If I stop to talk to a person who is asking for change, I usually will give him or her my church's address and my priest's name and phone number. Of course, I know my priest well and that he is perfectly fine with this. I met some ladies today and invited them to liturgy, letting them know that it was a place where they would be welcomed and cared for. They may never come, but even an invitation is nice to receive.

If you do these things, you will be greatly blessed. The devil wants to destroy people and put walls up between people. He wants the downtrodden to believe they have been forgotten. He wants the rich to believe they are superior. He wants the working poor to believe there is nothing they can do to help others. Stand in defiance to such lies. Push the barriers of ignorance and fear out of your way and allow God's love to guide your actions. God gives courage and strength to anyone who is lacking. Look! Your cup is overflowing; there is so much that can be shared.

The beggar stretches out his hand not to ask, but to give you the kingdom of heaven, and you do not notice!
Elder Arsenie


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Dear Grandpa

Grandpa holding Eloise, March 2006

Dear Grandpa,


I am really not ready to say good-bye to you.  I will always need to have you in my life. From my earliest memory, you were there: my warm, loving, strong grandpa.  

My favourite thing always was coming to visit you and Grandma. The house you built for your family was a place of sublime happiness for me, whether I was running around in the big yard with my brother and cousins, or racing downstairs on Christmas Day to see the beautiful tree and find what goodies had been set out in fancy dishes.  I have endless happy memories of my grandparents' house. Thank you Grandpa, for giving these to me.  

As I grew older, we grew even closer. When we lost Grandma, we all needed each other that much more. And as I became an adult, your care and affection for me never waned.  I made some silly choices at times, but your love was always there supporting me. Quietly and with few words, you taught me a lot. You showed me how a man should love his wife, how a man should take care of his family and how a man should hold steadfastly on to his faith.  

When I started my own family, you embraced my husband and delighted in my children.  Still, you never failed to be there for us - like a father, a father of fathers, a truly great grandfather.  

I'm not ready to say good-bye to you Grandpa, so if you don't mind, I'm not going to. You will continue to be a very special part of my life and I know you will continue to keep a watch over all of us.

~ Your loving granddaughter.


Maurice John Publuske
1932 - 2013

May His Memory Be Eternal!




Saturday, July 20, 2013

God, Our Father

Michael L. Baird, flickr.bairdphotos.com


Parenting is hard. Actually, it may be the hardest thing out there. As a mother of three growing girls, I can attest to this. Parenting can be as grueling, demanding, exhausting, heart-wrenching and exasperating as it can be wondrous, joyful and rewarding. My husband and I embraced parenthood enthusiastically; we did our reading; we had every intention of being perfect parents to our darling children. But you know, children, as darling as they are, need a lot of time and attention and patience. The physical effort alone that is involved in rocking a crying baby for 2 hours, or chasing a toddler while pregnant, or lugging a stroller, a diaper bag and a 5 year old around a shopping mall is exceptional. Add to that all the stresses that can take an emotional toll on young parents and you get an often very overwhelming life.

All parents frequently make mistakes and fall short of what they truly should be. Some parents make mistakes more as a rule than as an exception. Many parents drop the ball all together; they give up and "check out" on their kids, either through emotional neglect or even physical abandonment. Sadly there are also many parents who are abusive to their children, teaching their children to be victims and and sometimes also to be abusers themselves.

As I get older, I realise I was one of the truly blessed ones, who had a mom and dad who loved each other and put their whole hearts into raising their children. My home was safe and loving. Many people are not so fortunate. I can't imagine what it would be like to be raised in a home with a volatile, angry father or mother, or a parent who is emotionally distant and neglectful. Many people grow up with a huge need to be loved, guided and affirmed by a father or mother figure because they did not get the parenting they needed as children.

The Orthodox Christian faith provides a way for everyone to have a perfect father. I don't want to sound trite when I say this. I understand that having a relationship with an invisible spirit is not the same as the relationships we have with our earthly fathers. But it is through this relationship we find perfect, unconditional love, which is revealed to us in Jesus Christ. Through Christ, we come to the Father, we see the Father, we call the God of the universe "Our Father."

“I will be a Father to you,
And you shall be My sons and daughters,
Says the Lord Almighty.”
2 Corinthians 5:18
And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!”
Galatians 4:6
When my father and my mother forsake me,
Then the Lord will take care of me.
Psalm 27:10
A father of the fatherless, a defender of widows,
Is God in His holy habitation.
Psalm 68:5
“If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him.”
John 14:7
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!
Matthew 7:7-11

God wants to be our father. He wants to be the father that will "never leaves us or forsake us," who will never fail to love us unconditionally, who will discipline us with absolute love and never out of frustration or anger. God cannot fail us as a father. People will always tend to let us down, but God, by his very nature is unable to do this.

I went to the Orthodox Church at first to simply find a place for my family to live out our life of faith, but I stayed because I felt and experienced there the fierce love of God. In the liturgy, in the faces of the icons, in the sweet aroma of incense I feel God embracing me, holding tightly on to me, just like a father. This is a mystical experience that is hard to describe in words. All I can say is that in the Orthodox Church, the Scriptures come fully alive, God is there and one feels and knows that He is very real and His word is very true.

For this reason, I know I shall never be alone. I don't just have a religion or as set of customs to follow; I am God's daughter. For me this is the bottom line, the true meaning of life.

For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we may boldly say:
“The Lord is my helper;
I will not fear.
What can man do to me?”    Hebrews 13:5b-6

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

What is the Eucharist?

Nikolai Kharlamov The Holy Eucharist
When I became a born-again Christian in the mid 1990s I knew nothing about Church history. It was at this time and in this context that I started reading the Bible with intense interest and studying it with others.  In my Lutheran upbringing, I had been taught the importance of communion, but my beliefs had never before been challenged. In my new church I was taught a radical Protestant form of communion, which treated the bread and wine as merely a symbol of Christ's body and blood and the partaking of communion as a memorial only. I adopted these doctrines and held to them zealously. I did not know a good reason to believe otherwise and was compelled by the passionate faith of those in my new church. About 12 years later I began a very slow movement back toward liturgical Christianity and Church Tradition. This transition took about three years and was completed when I was chrismated an Orthodox Christian. So you could say I came full-circle and then some.

Through this experience I have found that one of the most important rites of Christianity is also one of the most hotly debated topics between different Christian groups. I have seen the view from the Evangelical Protestant side, from the traditional, liturgical Protestant side as well as from the side of Orthodox Christianity.

As an Orthodox Christian who knows what it is like to be completely opposed to the Tradition of the Eucharist to which I now hold, I would like to appeal to Protestant Evangelical Christians with some passages written by the earliest Christian teachers after the Apostles.

We'll begin with words written by Justin Martyr in his 1st Apology (Chapter 66) around 155-157 AD, very early in the life of the Christian Church:
And this food is called among us Εὐχαριστία [the Eucharist], ... not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, “This do ye in remembrance of Me, this is My body;” and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, “This is My blood...”

Ignatius of Antioch c 35 AD - c 107AD
They [the Gnostics] abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again. Those, therefore, who speak against this gift of God, incur death in the midst of their disputes. But it were better for them to treat It with respect, that they also might rise again.
Letter to the Smyrnaeans Chapter 6
...........
Especially [will I do this ] if the Lord make known to me that you come together man by man in common through grace, individually, in one faith, and in Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David according to the flesh, being both the Son of man and the Son of God, so that you obey the bishop and the presbytery with an undivided mind, breaking one and the same bread, which is the medicine of immortality, and the antidote to prevent us from dying, but [which causes] that we should live for ever in Jesus Christ.
Epistle to the Ephesians, Chapter 20
Ignatius of Antioch was a disciple of Jesus' beloved Apostle John and according to Church Tradition, was the child whom Christ called to himself in Matthew 18:2. He was one of the first bishops of Antioch and a martyr for his faith. He was from the first generation of Christians and he believed and taught, as a bishop who was instructed in the faith by the Apostles themselves, that the Eucharist was the real body and blood of Christ and that it is for our salvation. He did not mince words on the matter.

Justin Martyr, 1st Apology Chapter 65:
But we, after we have thus washed him who has been convinced and has assented to our teaching, bring him to the place where those who are called brethren are assembled, in order that we may offer hearty prayers in common for ourselves and for the baptized [illuminated] person, and for all others in every place, that we may be counted worthy, now that we have learned the truth, by our works also to be found good citizens and keepers of the commandments, so that we may be saved with an everlasting salvation. Having ended the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss. There is then brought to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying Amen. This word Amen answers in the Hebrew language to γένοιτο [so be it]. And when the president has given thanks, and all the people have expressed their assent, those who are called by us deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and to those who are absent they carry away a portion.
This scene, as described by Justin Martyr is the very same thing you may see on any given Sunday in your local Orthodox Church. I have been told that the way we worship is "weird" and many newcomers from Protestant backgrounds (such as myself) have difficulty adjusting to how "foreign" Orthodox worship seems. However, based on the above passages, it would appear that the earliest Christians would not find the way Orthodox Christians today worship to be foreign or weird. And they would likely fit right in.

This is certainly not an in-depth examination of the Eucharist. For that I would suggest The Eucharist: Sacrament of the Kingdom or For the Life of the World both by Alexander Schmemann. The purpose of this post is simply to shine a light on how the early Christian Church viewed the Eucharist, as a challenge to those Christians who hold to different views.

And now the next challenge is to discover, if the Eucharist is more than just a memorial to Christ and if the bread and wine are more than just symbols of Christ's broken body and shed blood, what is it? And more specifically, what is it to you?

Monday, July 1, 2013

Orthodox Christian Modesty II

Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.
1 Corinthians 6: 18-20
I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.
2 Timothy 2: 9-10
I know, I sound like I'm harping on modesty. Forgive me for posting about this again. I just came across two things, a podcast and a video, which really hit home the need for modesty among Christians and I wanted to share them.

The podcast is by Fr Thomas Hopko. It mainly addresses Orthodox Christian priestly vestments, but he spends some time near the end to discuss the importance of how every person "vests" themselves when coming to worship God, and touches on the great importance of modesty.

Finally, I am including a video that has made its rounds on the internet lately. It is quite interesting because it contrasts modesty and immodesty with feminine power, or lack thereof.

I hope it is food for thought. It certainly was for me.

Vesting For Liturgy Part 2 - Worship in Spirit and Truth - Ancient Faith Radio

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Orthodox Christian Modesty

In our faith we take humility very seriously. One of our most common prayers is "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner." We praise the thief on the cross for his confession of faith and the publican who beat his breast and asked for God's mercy. We revere monastics, who give up everything to follow Christ and even more so, saints, who gave everything, even their own lives, for Christ's sake.

Our worship of God is solemn, to say the least. It is generally understood that there is to be no talking during the liturgy, that our every movement should be done with reverence and that our minds and hearts should be turned toward God especially at this time. Orthodox Christians will not even cross their legs in church, so as not to look casual and relaxed when they are supposed to be giving God their full attention.

All of this mindfulness is part of maintaining a modest and humble attitude. The Orthodox Christian faith teaches that in order to worship God, we must first put aside our earthly cares, vanity and pride. It is good to see Christian believers worshiping God reverently and also treating those who are worshiping with them reverently. I believe this type of humility reflects the love of God in Christ and the teachings of the Holy Scriptures.

A challenge we face is that our modern culture, especially in the west, is highly irreverent, overly casual and does not value meekness or humility.  Consequently, there is a lot of pressure, overt and otherwise, to conform to what is socially "normal." This affects us on many levels, but I would like to focus on how it affects the way we choose to dress and carry ourselves.

We can easily forget that certain clothing, although socially acceptable, is not appropriate for Christians to wear. And Christians really need to be careful not to compromise their morals for the sake of dressing fashionably, especially when they are choosing what to wear to church.

I have found that it is generally agreed upon by Orthodox Christians that wearing shorts to church is unacceptable. You just never see it. Therefore, even on the hottest days, the men in church will be wearing long pants. Now, we women have an advantage in that we can wear dresses and skirts.  The sad thing I see all too often is that women are not being mindful of the length of their skirts and honestly...they'd be better to just wear shorts in that case!

I know it's not the 1800's anymore and no one expects a woman to cover herself from the top of her neck to the tips of her toes.  Nonetheless, I think it is more than reasonable to expect a skirt to show no more than a woman's knee.  Ladies, I'll be blunt: we don't want to see your thighs in church. It's distracting for everyone. It's just as distracting as if a man were to show up in shorts and a tank top.

I've written about modesty before, and I wish to openly address this issue again. I beg you, Orthodox Christians that as you are being mindful of your life, to pray and fast and give alms, be mindful about letting the clothing you wear reflect a humble heart. Do it out of your personal desire to honour God, as well as out of respect for those around you.


© Photo: Borja Santos - http://www.rnw.nl/africa

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Pushed



You may say that I'm a dreamer. And you would be right. I could analyse blades of grass all day long. I could daydream an epic in an afternoon. I also like to play things safe. I like to take the path of least resistance, so long as it is also the path of least discomfort. Sure, some of my actions seem to contradict this; I have been known to do some pretty daring things, but I'll tell you a secret about those times: I was daring because I had been pushed, or even unceremoniously shoved out of my comfort zone.

It's a bit of a paradox actually.  I like to be safe, but I also thrive on being pushed. I grow when I am pushed; I learn when I am pushed; and I love to grow and to learn, as much as any other curious human being.

So, here's my story: I told myself there was no way I could bear another miscarriage.When I found myself pregnant, much to my surprise and joy after several years of hoping for such a blessing, I convinced myself that, should this child die, I would not be able to handle it. I just wanted to keep this baby this time.

I spent nearly 2 months after discovering my pregnancy worrying that it would not last, fearing it was all a false hope. Weeks after the first positive test, I took another to allay my fears. Thankfully it was still positive. My belly started to swell. I went through the requisite weeks of nausea and fatigue. Everything smelled weird. And I was overjoyed. 

Then in my 12th week I felt an uneasiness and asked my midwife for an ultrasound, just to check everything was ok. 

It was not. 

We discovered the baby had stopped growing at 7 weeks and was simply gone. I spent the next day in bed crying. No words could describe my bitterness. Then, a few days later, the process of my body physically letting go of the pregnancy began. I underwent a strenuous labour. It felt so unfair to go through it all and get nothing in the end. The ordeal took a toll on me and I had to visit the ER a couple of times. It also caused my fibromyalgia to flare up badly, so that I was eventually bedridden, immobilized.

Finally today, with the right combination of medication, I was able to get up and go back to work...for the first time in a week. I had to take my cane for the 1 km walk from my car to my building, as I am about as steady on my feet as the tin man. This evening, after my day was done and I was shuffling back to my car (and that 1 km was feeling like 10), I reflected upon myself. No longer the jubilant, pregnant lady, no longer the one expecting a new baby this year, I was slightly hunched and walking with difficulty. I felt old, and barren and a bit repulsive.

Nope, this is not what I would have picked. I liked the other story better.

But this is what happened. And I didn't chose it; I would not have chosen it. I was pushed. And you might say it was God who pushed me, as much as you would say that it was God who caught me when I fell. As we often pray, in the words of Metropolitan Philaret:

In unforeseen events, let me not forget that all are sent by you.

I thank God for pushing me. Now I see that nothing is too hard to bear with God's love. Now I know what that kind of pain feels like. Now I know more than ever what kind of love and concern my friends and family have for me. I tasted desperation, but hope did not fail me. God's light did not leave me. This world is full of sadness. It is, as my priest tells me, a veil of tears. And it also teaches us and makes us grow spiritually.

And I've decided that I would prefer to learn and to grow, even if it means being pushed every now and again.