Wednesday, August 29, 2018

† The Beheading of the Glorious Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist John

Today is kept as a strict fast day, on whatever day of the week it falls. Because the holy Forerunner's head was brought to Herod on a platter, it is a pious custom not to eat anything from a plate or platter today.
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Troparion of St. John the Baptist

The memory of the just is celebrated with hymns of praise but the Lord's testimony is enough for thee, O Forerunner, for thou wast shown to be more wonderful than the Prophets since thou wast granted to baptize in the running waters Him Whom thou didst proclaim. Then having endured great suffering for the Truth, Thou didst rejoice to bring, even to those in hell the good tidings that God Who had appeared in the flesh takes away the sin of the world and grants us the great mercy.
Kontakion of St. John the Baptist

The beheading of the glorious Forerunner was a divine dispensation that the coming of the Savior might be preached to those in hell. Lament then, Herodias, that thou didst demand a murder despising the law of God and eternal life.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Melkite Musings: The problem with Catholics

"Let me tell you a small personal story. For years my spiritual father was trying to make me understand that I had doubt in my heart, that I had fear and wasn’t showing real faith in God. Of course, being spiritually blind as a mole, I could not understand what he was saying. I mean, I was a Catholic! I went to Liturgy, prayed, went to Confession, occasionally gave a few dollars to homeless people, and got outraged about all the right things to be outraged about on social media. WHAT is my spiritual father talking about?!
And then it happened. Crisis of faith. The biggest one I’ve had in years, probably actually the biggest I EVER had. However, even there God was waiting to open my eyes. In doubting His existence so painfully and strongly, I finally started to understand what real faith should look like… and that for years I have had almost none!"

Monday, February 26, 2018

more Magdalena: thoughts on being a Byzantine Catholic priest's daughter

How has being a Catholic Priest's kid affected/influenced your relationship with God?
Because I have never not been a priest kid it is a little difficult to say, but I think that it has brought me closer to God. I am in constant contact with faith-based things, so God is never far from my thoughts. 
A friend is the son of a minister-  they were watched regularly by the congregation, and their father was criticized for their behavior. I wonder if you also feel the same expectation? 
I would say yes. My actions reflect on my father, and my dad is well known enough in our community that there is always a chance that the person I am speaking with knows him, either through the hospital or the church. Not that I would ever misbehave… ahem…. We are very involved in my father’s ministry, so there is a pressure there to live up to him. Usually it s the old-country parishioners who would report any misbehavior and criticize, but as there are fewer and fewer of these fine people left, it hasn’t happened as much lately. 
What is the strangest thing you've learned about as a priest's kid?
Because I am a priest kid I have met very many strange people and have been in many strange situations (like the time a lady let my father know that her son was of a similar age to me and she would be happy to arrange a marriage between us. I was four at the time.) The strangest thing I have learned would have to be 
Do you feel any pressure being the child of a priest; and what have you, and the rest of your siblings done to ease whatever pressure may be felt, at times; and have you had to defend your father's vocation? 
There is pressure there, but I have felt it all my life, so it feels very normal. I can clearly see the value in what my father does so I am never ashamed of who I am. I do explain why it is ok for married men to become priests in the Byzantine tradition to help people out, but I try not to hang out with the kind of people who would attack me on this. If people are hostile about it I refer them to my dad for further explanations and then I leave. The people who are vehemently against the catholic church are difficult to handle sometimes (I usually meet with these people at my community college), and I feel like the ex-Catholics are worst of all. Usually they take the perspective that I am a naïve little girl who will wake up to the real world of science and truth, but then I enjoy flooring them in the next exam. Kindly, of course…. I don’t start religion-based arguements, but if someone else wants to discuss religion I don’t say no. I usually quote Maccabees or Tobit 😉. 
Do you have a funny story about being a priest's kid?
Sooooo many…. Many times I laugh at the blank look given by people to whom I tell I am a priest’s kid. They kind of double take and say “but you said you were Catholic…” In Romania it is always very nice because it is usual for the priests to be married. However, the priest families are VIPs, and because we are from America we are seen as very important and rich (they don’t seem to factor in the cultural difference). Whenever we went to our grandparents church in Romania people would help me with my coat, offer their seats, serve me food (I didn’t have to do the clean-up!), it was very fancy. 
Being a priest kid also puts me in weird situations. Sometimes when my dad is invited to dinner, we are invited too, but they kind of forget that there are six of us. This has resulted in a Thanksgiving spent inside the kitchen of our host, where the turkey leftovers, no mashed potatoes or stuffing, and one piece of pumpkin pie for me and my 3 siblings were our feast. People just don’t expect us. 
Would you prefer if your future husbands entered the priesthood after you are married? Why or why not?
If he did, it would mean that I would never be in a position where I would have to forsake my Byzantine traditions, something very important to me. I think hat I am pretty well-equipped to deal with being married to a priest because of my mother and other role models, so it wouldn’t be a shockingly different lifestyle. However, it is a huge commitment. Once a priest, always a priest, and never home on Sundays. There are so many difficulties, but also a huge joy in the vocation of priest family. I definitely want my husband involved in the liturgy, maybe as a deacon or even an acolyte. In other words, I am definitely open to it. 
Do Roman Catholic children with whom you are acquainted struggle with the fact that your dad is a priest?
Yes, but luckily my Catholic bubble is pretty well-educated. Most people definitely don’t hold it against me, but it does make events at my house very interesting. I was hosting a high school literature seminar not too long ago, and it was amazing to see my friends try to relate to my dad as a priest and as a normal man, and try not to call him Mr. It can get pretty funny. 
Do you have a favorite saint (Latin or Eastern)?
All the saints are inspirations to me in different ways, so it is difficult to tie it down. I think it depends on my situation. St Jude is for tests, St Anthony for everything that I lose, St. Mary Magdalene for her powerful conversion and holiness, Mother Mary for pretty much everything, and St. Irene for her virtue are just a few.  
What is your favorite feast day?
Easter is just incredible. The excitement is building up all through Lent, and it is such a beautiful Feast. I love the music, the service, the joy, and the symbolism of light. The food is also amazing, and I love how it doesn't end, just keeps on going for forty days, as well as every Sunday. It is the day when I am the most happy that I am Byzantine. 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

dyslexic days: the real world bumps into our homeschool demi-paradise

This was a few days ago- Daughter 8 1/2, smiling in triumph because she successfully completed her work on a short vowel 'U' book. 
In glorious Finland, she might be just one year behind the majority. In the United States, she is two years behind the 'standards.' She has an IEP (finally- it took 2 years) which entitles her to 3 hours of tutoring per week, and we are meeting another tutor for an additional 2 hours per week. She dabbles in (love it!) every day as her only screen time. We read aloud (finishing up the original Pinocchio) and listen to audio books in the van (finishing up Anne of Green Gables).  And we work on sing spell read write  together (just like her siblings- just a year or two later). She was premature, she is left-handed and she has dyslexia going on. 

Today, her smile was wiped from her face when she was repeatedly accused of "lying"  and being a "liar" when she told someone that she couldn't read something that most 3rd graders can read. Now, she is taking a nap to gird herself for literature and choir with our homeschool group. And I am blogging, wondering how to get her spark back.
her home for the first 5 weeks...sometimes I still see her as this little, so forgive me for my mama bear-ness- actually- don't forgive me 

Monday, February 19, 2018

meet Magdalena: scholar, crafter, Byzantine Catholic priest's daughter

How does your faith inform your day-to-day life?
Being Catholic is the most important thing about me, and being a priest kid only emphasizes this. I am always ready to have a theological discussion, and I am usually singing a byzantine chant under my breath. I try not to flaunt my faith, but it seems to leak out pretty quickly… If I am smiling and daydreaming, it is probably about Divine Liturgy in the Hagia Sophia! Ahem…. So yes, my faith is important…. You were saying? 
What is your greatest challenge in practicing your faith?
There are so many challenges… I try to keep God before me at all times, but there is a definite need for a growth in virtue. Judgmental thoughts are an issue for me, but I am really trying to work on my mercy for others. 
Favorite Bible verse?
It depends on my mood, but I love the simple petition, “Remember me when Thou shalt come into Thy Kingdom,” from the good thief during the crucifixion. It reminds me of what I am constantly asking God and my need for His mercy. It is so simple and trusting, it brings tears to my eyes. 
Favorite spiritual writing besides the Bible?
I love me some Lewis! His essays on the evil of subjectivity and the essay “Men without Chests” are so amazing. I love Perelandra, it is my favorite interpretation of the Creation Story. I also really like Chesterton. 
Favorite saint and why?
I am close to St Mary Magdalene obviously, but I also turn to Saint Jude quite often (the SAT in particular, if you must know. Thanks again buddy 😊) St Anthony has helped me out so many times that it would be the height of indecency for me not to mention him. And, of course, my lovely Mother Mary is one of the most important influences on my life. 
What is your ministry in the church?
Everything….. Pretty much as long as it is not on the altar I had something to do with it. Of course I help arrange the altar. And make the bread. Most importantly though I am a cantor, the welcoming committee, and a catechist. 
Favorite movie, book, music, and why?
The Lord of the Rings will always hold a special place in my heart, both books and movies, because of the magic, wisdom, knowledge, and virtue inside. I also love Austen and Jane Eyre. I really like fantasy books, books with magic and mystery in them. For me, books are a good way to escape real life for a little, and I love the immersive qualities of a book about a magic land. Classics are generally really great as well, I feel better connected to the characters than I do in a lot of modern fiction. 
I started to crochet when I was 11, and it still captivates me today, though I am happy to say that my more recent projects have been a tad more professional than my first hat (I wonder why my mother never wears it?). More recent hobbies are peg doll painting, which is really fun. I recently finished a knight and his lady for my friend, and they look rather dashing, if I do say so myself. Other than that, I love dancing and singing and I never lose an opportunity to do either, despite the embarrassment it might cause my companions. 
If you had $20 and an hour, what would you do?
I must confess, I do like window shopping, but that would not necessarily use up my $20. If you put me in a used bookstore, however, I would be one happy person. Up in Oregon there is a store called the Book Bin, the perfect place to spend time and money. 
Thanks for sharing, Magdalena!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

memento mori - remember we are dust and to dust we shall return

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the altar fasts when we fast: The Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts

What is the Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts in the Eastern Churches? Why do the Eastern Churches refrain from a Divine Liturgy (Mass) during the weekdays of Great Lent? 
"The Eastern Churches will not have a full Eucharistic service on major fasting days. There is no consecration on these days. Some will say - the altar fasts with us. During the Great Fast this applies to all weekdays. In order to have a communion service during the week, extra bread is consecrated during the Sunday Divine Liturgy. These pre-sanctified gifts are set aside for use during the week. The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is therefore a fasting event. The tone of the chant changes to one which is more somber; the pacing slows down a bit; the readings are mostly Old Testament. In the Divine Liturgy, we are raised up to heaven and stand in the presence of the Divine. In the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, we prostrate ourselves with Adam at the gates of Paradise, so close that we can taste what we are not worthy to receive." Father Brian Norrell 

Pray with St Ephrem this Great Fast

O LORD, Master of my life, grant that I may not be infected with the spirit of slothfulness and inquisitiveness, with the spirit of ambition and vain talking.
Grant instead to me, your servant, the spirit of purity and of humility, the spirit of patience and neighborly love.
O Lord and King, grant me the grace of being aware of my sins and of not thinking evil of those of my brethren. For you are blessed, now and ever, and forever. Amen.
Lord Jesus Christ, King of Kings, You have power over life and death. You know what is secret and hidden, and neither our thoughts nor our feelings are concealed from You. Cure me of duplicity; I have done evil before You. Now my life declines from day to day and my sins increase.
O Lord, God of souls and bodies, You know the extreme frailty of my soul and my flesh. Grant me strength in my weakness, O Lord, and sustain me in my misery. Give me a grateful soul that I may never cease to recall Your benefits, O Lord most bountiful.
Be not mindful of my many sins, but forgive me all my misdeeds. O Lord, disdain not my prayer -the prayer of a wretched sinner; sustain me with Your grace until the end, that it may protect me as in the past. It is Your grace which has taught me wisdom; blessed are they who follow her ways, for they shall receive the crown of glory. In spite of my unworthiness, I praise You and I glorify You, O Lord, for Your mercy to me is without limit. You have been my help and my protection. May the name of Your majesty be praised forever. To you, our God, be glory. Amen.

give alms to our Byzantine Catholic monks this Great Lent & Pascha

Christ is a light for Angels, Angels are a light for monks, and monks are a light for all lay people.” St John Climicus in his The Ladder of Divine Ascent 

Holy Resurrection Monastery (
300 S. 2nd Ave.   PO Box 276
St. Nazianz, WI 54232

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Are Byzantine Catholics Bible Christians?

we sing, pray, and read Holy Scripture in the Divine Liturgy

Opening Doxology [“Blessed is the Kingdom...] Mark: 11:10; Luke: 22:29-30, Matthew: 28:19; Revelation: 7:12.

The Great Litany – Philippians: 4:6-7; Psalm 51:1 Luke: 18:13; John: 14:27; 1 Timothy: 2:1-2; 
1 Hebrews: 13:7; Psalm 109:26; Luke: 1:42.

The First Antiphon – [“Bless the Lord, O my soul”]. Selected verses from Psalm 103.

The Second Antiphon – [“Praise the Lord, O my soul”]. Psalm 103.

The Hymn to Christ Incarnate – [“Only- begotten Son...,”]. John: 1:1, 3:16, 17:5, 19:18; Luke: 1:35; Hebrews: 2:14; Matthew: 8:25.

The Third Antiphon – [The Beatitudes] Matthew: 5:3-12.

The Little Entrance – [“Come let us worship..,] Psalm 95:1-6; Revelation: 7:11-12.

The Trisagion – [“Holy God, Holy Mighty...,”] Isaiah: 6:1-5; Revelation: 8:8.

Prokeimenon – Psalms 12:7,1; 28:9,1; 29:11,1; 33:22,1; 47:6,1; 76:11,1; 104:24,1; 118:14,18.

The Epistle – readings change daily, from the Epistles or Acts of the Apostles.

The Allelulia – Psalms 113:1; 135:1; 146:1; Revelation: 19: 1-6.

The Gospel – readings change daily. The Sermon – 1 Timothy: 4:13.

The Cherubic Hymn – [“Let us who mystically..”] Colossians: 3:12; Pslam 24; Revelations: 19:1-6.

The Great Entrance – Psalm 43:4; Matthew: 5: 23-24; Hebrews: 5:1.

The Peace – [“Peace be unto all...”]. John: 20: 9,21,26. 1 John 4:7; 1 Peter: 3:8; Philippians:2-2.

The Eucharistic Canon – [“Let us stand aright”] Leviticus: 3:1; Hebrews: 13:14-15; Hosea: 6:6; Psalm 49:19; Matthew: 9:13; Corinthians: 13:14; 2 Timothy: 4:22; Lamentations: 3:41.

The Eucharistic Prayer – [“Holy, Holy, Holy...” through the Consecration]. Isaiah: 6:3; Mark: 11:10; Matthew: 21:9; Corinthians: 11:23-24; Matthew: 26:26-28; John: 6:51; Luke: 22:20; Mark: 14: 23-24; Corinthians: 29: 14, 16; Romans: 21:1.

Hymn to the Theotokos – [“It is truly right...”]. Luke: 1:28, 42, 48.

The Concluding Eucharistic Prayers – 2 Maccabees: 12:44-45; 1 Timothy: 2:2; 2 Timothy: 2:15; Romans: 15:6; Titus: 2:13; Revelations:22:21

The Litany before the Lord’s Prayer - Ephesians: 5:2; Philippians: 4:18; 1 Peter: 3:15; Corinthians: 5:10; Ephesians: 4:13; Philippians: 2:1.

The Lord’s Prayer – Matthew: 6:9-13; Corinthians 29:11.

The Elevation of the Holy Gifts – [“Holy things are for the Holy.”] Leviticus: 11:44; Philippians: 2:10-11.

The Communion Hymn – [“Praise the Lord...”] Psalm 148:1.

The Eucharist – 1 Corinthians: 11:27-29; Matthew: 16:16; 1 Timothy: 1:15; Mark: 14:45; Luke: 23:42- 43; Isaiah: 6:7; 1 Timothy: 1:14; James: 4:8; Psalm 118: 26-27; Psalm: 34:8; 1 Peter: 1:19; John: 6: 32-35, 48-58; Psalm 116:13; Psalm 28:0.

Hymns after Holy Communion – [“We have received the true Light..”]. John: 1:9; Rev.: 3-14; Psalm 71:8; Chronicles: 16:9; Ephesians: 3:9.

Litany after Communion – Judges 18:6; Colossians: 3:17; Mark: 11:9.

Prayer behind the Ambo – [“O Lord, who blesses those who...”]. Genesis 12:3; Psalm 28:9, Psalm 26.8; Psalm 138:81, 1 Timothy: 2:2; James: 1:17.

“Blessed be the name of the Lord, from this time forth and for evermore!” Psalm 113:2.

“The blessing of the Lord…”. Psalm 129:8; 2 Corinthians 13:14.

The Dismisal – 1 Timothy: 1:1.

—Compiled by V. Rev. John J. Matusiak St. Joseph Russian Orthodox Church, OCA, Wheaton, IL

Monday, February 5, 2018

meet Rachelle: meme maker, cat lover, scholar, Melkite Catholic

How long have you been a practicing Catholic?
I am a cradle Catholic, baptized in the Melkite Catholic Church. I was raised in Lebanon, a country with a large Catholic population. While I practiced some aspects of the faith throughout my life, I consider myself to have truly reverted to the Catholic Church around 5 years ago. Due to poor catechesis, I didn’t know much of my faith before that!
Care to share your conversion/reversion story?
Talk about the work of the Holy Spirit! A few years ago, I met a family on facebook who attended the Traditional Latin Mass in the United States. They encouraged me to attend one near me in Montreal. I first found the Society of Saint Pius X, and fell in love immediately with the reverence and beauty I experienced (though now that I know better, my attitude towards the Society is that of the Church). A year later I found a Fraternity of Saint Peter parish to which I transferred. Through the influence of the wonderful people there, as well as the holiness and charity of the priests, my whole life started to change. I fell in love with Beauty, with Love Himself. When one truly encounters Divine Love, all else becomes a detail, a means to acquire the fullness of that Love, but also to be transformed and lost into it… or Him! Again, through facebook, I started encountering the Byzantine Churches and their traditions. With all the persecutions going on in the Middle East, I decided that I should perhaps re-explore my original Church, the Melkite Church, rather than turn my back on what others have shed their blood for. This newfound interest turned to love when I spent 6 months in Lebanon after my BA, during which I attended the church within the Melkite Patriarchal Complex. God indeed works in mysterious ways, and He doesn’t always take shortcuts. I had to leave Lebanon and the Melkite Church, go through the Latin SSPX in Canada, then the FSSP, to finally return to the Melkite Church in Lebanon. Here I have found the fullness of the faith rooted in tradition and the Church Fathers.  

How does your faith inform your day-to-day life?
I’d like to quote one of my favorite poems for that, written by one of the nuns of Christ the Bridegroom Ruthenian Catholic monastery:
“I need not even think of where Your love is.
When I cry, it is in Gethsemane.
When I laugh, it is in Cana.
There is no part of my life outside of our love.”

What is your greatest challenge in practicing your faith?
The constant temptation to compromise and be unfaithful to the One we call Lover of Mankind. The West is very hostile to Catholicism, the Middle East full with brutal persecution, and every part of the life in the faith is constantly questioned. In fact, even back in Lebanon, Cultural Catholicism questions and mocks Living Catholicism, and these two are very different things. I think, however, the sacrifice that so many of our brothers and sisters have done and still do is a witness and an encouragement to persevere. In that sense, they literally die for the faith so that we may learn to live in and for it. We all fantasize about dying on that Libyan beach with the Copts, in some illusion of glory with “Even Unto Death” by Audrey Assad playing in the background. However, let us first learn to be faithful in the little sacrifices. In all those little chances of martyrdom, I have apostatized and denied Christ a thousand times. 

Favorite Bible verse?
“Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you: Do not awaken Love until He so desires.” -Song of Songs 8:4. 

I think this verse speaks deeply to the dark night of faith in which we all pass. When we are faltering under the burden of some physical, mental or spiritual pain, we often immediately ask for relief, for some consolation, for some proof that God is with us. Like the Apostles, we choose to awaken the Master when He seems to sleep during the storm. This verse however talks of a soul that chooses to let Him sleep and to take the path of complete, naked and soul-wrenching trust in His mercy. Let Him awaken when He wishes to. Let Him choose when to fill the soul with Uncreated Light, when to allow the action of Grace to finally be perceptible! It is my favorite verse precisely because the virtue of faithfulness is one of, if not THE greatest, of my spiritual struggles.

Favorite spiritual writing besides the Bible?
This is a very difficult choice to make. However, the following quote is particularly beautiful, especially in Arabic. It basically speaks of the encounter with Christ that happens once the darkness is lifted and His face is revealed to us. It is a soul that is not able to bear the glory of God, and like Elijah covers itself before the “gentle whisper” in which God’s presence is revealed: 

“Hold back, my dear Jesus, the waves of Thy grace, for I am melting like wax.” –Elder Joseph the Hesychast

Favorite saint and why?
Right now Saint Maryam of Jesus Crucified (Melkite Carmelite mystic and stigmatist). I’m a fanatical fan of all things Carmelite and all things Melkite, so she’s the union of both. I just finished reading her biography, but she has been very visibly working in my life for the past year. On her feast day she obtained a great grace for me. It is a textbook case of a saint choosing you. She also chose my goddaughter who is named after her. 

However, I think St. Therese of Lisieux will always have a special place in my heart. What a living school of the knowledge of God she is! No wonder the Church glorified her with the title of Doctor. 

What is your ministry in the church?
I work with the youth at the Melkite Cathedral. 

Favorite movie, book, music, and why?
And the Mountains Echoed, by Khaled Hosseini
A Thousand Splendid Suns, also Khaled Hosseini 

>> His writing style is very similar to Tolkien’s, whose work I also admire. Hosseini speaks of very difficult topics and life experiences like abusive marriages, the Taliban’s rule, the jealousy of a sister, the absence of a father, etc… However, he writes so beautifully in style and content that his work always gently wounds the heart. Even the sorrows he speaks of are breathtakingly approached. The depth of human misery he embraces in his works seems often misunderstood by Western authors. He understands pain, he expresses pain very well, and in the end shows you the beauty and dignity of human life even through such sufferings. 

Story of a Soul, by St. Therese of Lisieux

>>Does this really need an explanation? I can’t tell which is the truer case: that St. Therese’s simplicity hides the heights of spiritual knowledge she reached, or that her unrivaled holiness hides the raw realism of her worldview? Without leaving her Carmel, and most probably due to that Carmelite vocation, she encountered the magnificence of the Living Fire and Uncreated Light in the perceived “insignificance” of a “boring and wasted” life. 

Everything based on anything by Tolkien: His work is magic. 

Passion of the Christ, especially the “Mary Goes to Jesus” scene: Again, the topic of realistic yet unfathomable holiness is beautifully portrayed. Mary’s humanity is so perfectly depicted in Her running to pick a young Jesus. I have witnessed these very same hands pick me up time and time again. What breaks my heart the most though is the gaze that happens between Christ and Mary. They both, more than anyone else to have walked the Earth, truly saw the beauty of the person at whom they were gazing. Christ knew the extent of Our Lady’s immaculate soul, and Mary was so perfectly united with Her God and Son. At the end of the scene Christ tells Her, like a child proudly showing his work to his mother, “Behold, Mother! I make all things new.” He then rises and embraces the Cross with such love on His face. It is almost unclear in this scene who was carrying whom. Did Mary lift up Christ, or did He lift Her?  

All the 20 film versions of “Story of a Soul”: because it is the movie of one of the most groundbreaking spiritual writings.

Music: a bit of everything, as long as isn’t sinful. 
What languages are you fluent in? What language do you pray in outside of Church?
English, French and Arabic. I mostly use English for memorized or read prayers such as from the Byzantine Horologion (Book of the Hours). However, when I’m praying with my own words, I usually use Arabic. I try to include what little Greek I know as much as I can, because it is such a beautiful language of the Melkite Church.
Writing, reading, playing the piano, going to the movies, driving alone on beautiful roads with some good music. 

If you had $20 and an hour, what would you do?
Go horseback riding at night far away from civilization. I’d love to have a chance to go away in solitude, and I’ve always loved sitting alone and looking up to the stars. As for the horses, they’re just magnificent creatures.  

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Christian marriage isn't all ladyfinger cookies & honey.... (a re-post)

Today is just a day in late January; I thought I would re-post this 'oldie but goodie' for my Wednesday marriage series (has anyone noticed how organized I am this year-hahaha)...

It is just a Monday in October, nowhere near our wedding anniversary. Simcha Fisher reposted a reflection on her wedding and marriage over here, and I just had to respond with our own story. 
my parents' Roman-rite parish- our wedding was Byzantine-rite, however- courtesy of our bishop, a future bishop-then-priest and a third priest and us cantoring...
We were as poor as church mice. No- really. When the travelling priest asked my future husband to buy toilet paper for the church mission where he was bunking, he bought the paper and lived on eggs and peanut butter for a few days. We bought gas with change, but not even quarters.  He was in the states for almost 9 months with just a 'religious volunteer' visa (his Master's degree program didn't have enough credit hours per semester to qualify for a student visa with a right to work), so by the time we were married, we were really poor. The bride's maids' dresses above were just $25 at JC Penny! The photographer was a friend from church. The calla lilies- not really my favorite flowers, but now they have to be- were in season and free in various neighbor's yards (my son just read the text above, shocked that we were poor when we got married- "but mom- look at your dress- it is such a rich, beautiful fabric!" Poverty is very, very relative, son- and grandma and grandpa bought the dress!).
Because of visa and money probems, none of my husband's family from Romania was there. There would be a Romanian couple to sing "Dance, Isaiah," but we would be missing so many of the traditions important to a Romanian family. I was determined to find the ladyfinger cookies to dip in my father-in-law's honey, a symbol of life being sweet in a holy marriage.
I did not get my hair done. My fingernails were unbuffed and bare. My make up was basically mascara and lipstick (ladies- you know that is nothing for a wedding!). I was nervous, knowing that I would have to cantor the wedding with my becoming-husband because our planned-for cantor decided to convert to Orthodoxy the week before. But I had one mission- to find those ladyfingers.
And after a few stores, in the hours before our wedding, found them I did. After a long, all-sung wedding ceremony and potifical Divine Liturgy on Pentecost Sunday, we shared the ladyfingers with honey and the common cup. And life is sweet, even when we are running around, distracted by the mundane. Marriage is about giving your all to the spouse, and we attempt to do that even in our sinfullness. I could have-should have bought the ladyfingers earlier, but I didn't because my future-husband got it into his head the day before that this was a tradtiion that he wanted to uphold. He didn't know that Ameria is a ladyfinger-cookie-limited-place. But we make it work, then and now, even through the limitations. 

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

how a combat medic uses the Jesus prayer to stay close to God in traumatic circumstances

"I thought I would share some thoughts on the Jesus prayer as for many of us in the East it is the bedrock of our devotional lives. This is only how I use the devotion currently after nearly 20 years of trial and error. Not that there's a wrong way to say a prayer.

In the mornings as I'm waking up, I begin the regular beginnings from "Heavenly King" till the "Our Father" with the blessing of layman "through the prayers of our holy fathers, oh Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on us."
I'm a medic currently in a combat zone, so depending on the chaos level of the day, I grab a prayer rope and say the long form of the prayer "Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, have mercy on me the sinner." For about ten breaths. Each breath is about six seconds in coupled with the prayer and six seconds out coupled with the prayer. So that's about twenty times saying the prayer in a "focused" manner. I was a volunteer in a PTSD clinic years ago and this is an adaptation of that. 

At this point someone is usually "encouraging" me to get breakfast before the cook throws it out. As I go through the day I'll continue to say the prayer. As I dress I put on my prayer rope. (I have one I keep on me everywhere that I don't get wet that was given to me by a local on the first day I responded to an incident where four women were kidnapped and two killed and two men killed by a group of terrorists in a supply raid. So I often walk around with one rope on each wrist.) Throughout the day I will see the prayer ropes and be reminded to pray.
At some point in the day, I'll either go for a walk or find a corner where I'll use the rope and "breath match prayers" for a full loop. My ropes are 200 knots so this takes some time, about 20 minutes. I'll then do a loop not worried about breathing. This is followed by "most holy Theotokos, strengthen my weakness" for a loop. At night I'll tie a few dozen knots as I say the prayer as well. Then some short prayers before bed.

The purpose of the breathing is to help with the regulation of the emotional sections of the brain. Further, this creates a psychological anchor similar to what a hypnotist would use. As something unpleasant comes up, a deep breath "starts the prayer" and serves to calm the mind and control the stress hormones including adrenaline. 

It's important to set this anchor free of "negative" emotions. Don't allow the brain to wander into things that anger or frustrate or depress. Nor is it a good idea to allow "positive thoughts" to interfere with the prayer. I'm looking for God not casting a spell. 

I hope this helps those of you coming from the West to understand why we in the East have so few other "short" devotions. This is really the bedrock of our personal devotions. Everything else takes time. Paraklesis, hours, psalms, gospel and epistle reading... The only other "short" devotion I have is Bible memory work, chip by chip memorizing the epistles and Gospels." 

Thank you,  "Iubitor al lui Dumnezeu, " for sharing this snapshot from your prayer life! 
I recommend the book below written by an anonymous believer who used the Jesus prayer to remain close to God 

Monday, January 29, 2018

more Joe: polyglot, physicist, cantor

Joe is "a nerd who somehow tries at this Catholic thing" 
Favorite saint and why?

I don’t know if I can limit the heavenly choir of saints to just one, so I won’t, I’ll talk about my 3 favorite Saints.

St Therese: She lost her mother at a young age, and is someone I truly relate to having experienced that myself. I’m quite stubborn myself and she had her moments of stubbornness as well, many people like the flowery St Therese, I don’t. I love the stubborn imperfect soul who through God’s grace was able to do great things. I’m no where close in holiness, but I’m trying.

St Tatyana of Rome She was martyred for the Faith during the time of the persecutions, She also is the patroness of my favorite mathematics teacher during High School (As well as co-patroness of my blog). The One of my favorite parts of her story is when the angels beat up her torturers….always making me think of the Easter Troparion…God arising and scattering His enemies.

St Cyril brother of St Methodius….St Cyril went into a land he was not familiar with and translated the Gospel into the local language of the people The Cyrillic alphabet is named after him. I happen to love the Russian language which is based much from what was developed in the Old Slavonic. I can only hope to be half a missionary of such a stature.

What is your ministry in the church?

At my parish where I attend, I’m probably known for my singing, I have taught Roman confirmation class before at roman parishes, as well as having been lead cantor at a parish before moving parishes to where I am presently. I’m heavily introverted and really don’t like the whole attention thing, I do me, whatever comes off, so be it.

Education and job?

At present I have two occupations. My first job is a teacher of physics and mathematics in the public school system via an online classroom. I also tutor students individually after my day job is up so most of my days are pretty long. I studied physics and mathematics via CSUF and MSAC. Though my running joke is I learned more physics via my high school math teacher than I ever did during my 6 years of college. (But sadly, the joke has a grain of truth to it….I’m very thankful to my HS math teacher Mrs. M, for taking the time to explain to me many of my curious thoughts)…I am in the process of making a permanent move to Las Vegas and look forward to taking up my position there.

Favorite movie, book, music?

My favorite movie, oddly not about cats, but definitely the Star Wars series (We don’t count the prequels )….But sometimes my favorite movies are hard to watch because I over analyze the physics in them.

My favorite book is definitely Principia by Isaac Newton, I got myself a copy after I graduated college, and absolutely enjoy the intuition that he showed throughout the text. Yes, I’m a total nerd, I also enjoy Spirit of the Liturgy and the Philokalia :)

My musical taste is rather strange, you can find everything from Evanescence to Beethoven. Lately I’ve been on a Dutch/Mexican rock kick. But I’m also known to “blast” the music from the MCI site from times as well. My classroom is also known to have Lady Antebellum playing from time to time. (A tech wizard I am not, but I know a few things)


Free time, whenever I get such a thing is often spent with my niece and nephews, spending time with my fiancé, playing basketball, baseball, and soccer. I’m a huge Liverpool FC fan, I also love driving places and getting lost for no apparent reason :p.I have both a blog and a youtube channel (both of which I should update more often)….…where you’ll find all sorts of things. I’m also a lover of all things feline, and canine. I love spending time in empty churches….

What is 'cool'/interesting about you?

I suppose a few things can be said, When I once gave a rant in 7 languages….Spanish, Russian, French, Latin, Greek, Church Slavonic, and English. I love languages I suppose that’s one of my hobbies as well….But you probably want to know more interesting things….So, here they go:

I’m heavily introverted, but you’ll nearly never find me at home, I’m always at various things when I have the opportunity….

I’m probably one of the few people that I know that can get hit by a car at 70 mph and say that I’m living.

I’m a huge Russophile, and something you can blame the Russians for authentically is my love of math and physics :p

I’ve always made the sign of the Cross correctly since I’ve learned (from right to left :p)…I suppose I always was Eastern even though canonically I was raised Roman)

If you had $20 and an hour of free time what would you do?

Since right now I’m hungry, I’d go buy myself a burrito, and probably give another person 5, as well as of course spend my time in an empty church. It’s one of my favorite things to do. (I shouldn’t fill out a survey on an empty stomach)

Thanks, Joe, for sharing! Click on "I'm a Catholic series" for more profiles 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Building Christian Marriage: words from Tertullian

"How beautiful, then, the marriage of two Christians, two who are one in hope, one in desire, one in the way of life they follow, one in the religion they practice.
They are as brother and sister, both servants of the same Master. Nothing divides them, either in flesh or in Spirit. They are in very truth, two in one flesh; and where there is but one flesh there is also but one spirit.

They pray together, they worship together, they fast together; instructing one another, encouraging one another, strengthening one another.

Side by side they face difficulties and persecution, share their consolations. They have no secrets from one another, they never shun each other’s company; they never bring sorrow to each other’s hearts… Psalms and hymns they sing to one another.

Hearing and seeing this, Christ rejoices. To such as these He gives His peace. Where there are two together, there also He is present, and where He is, there evil is not."

from a letter by Tertullian, an Early Church Father, to his wife, ca. 202 AD, showing the great esteem for the sacrament of holy matrimony in the days of the early church

Monday, January 22, 2018

meet Joe: polyglot, physicist, cantor

Joe is "just another sinner along the way here."
How long have you been a practicing Catholic?

Well, I was baptized into the faith a day after I was born. So I guess that’d make me quite literally a Catholic from just after birth. I have been going to church since I was little, and while some days were easier than others.

Care to share your conversion/reversion story? (More like how a born Westerner found his inner Eastern which he always had)

I suppose the story begins something like this, I was baptized a Roman Christian the day after I was born. And I grew up going to Mass every Sunday, sometimes me willing, sometimes me, not so much….One of my favorite memories was midnight Mass…but more on this later.

Fast forwarding to my teenage years where I experienced the hardest thing that any person will have to go through, the loss of a parent. (My mom) it probably didn’t help that things were already in a funk, when I lost both my grandmother and my aunt in recent years before that. During that time, I felt that the world around me was falling apart, and things changed to where I don’t want to say I didn’t believe, but I had very heavy doubts.

After mum died there was some time that I didn’t go to church or have anything to do with church at all. It was during college when a 7th day Adventist challenged me, that I started researching the Faith. I really fell in love with the Eastern Fathers, St John Chrysostom , St Basil, St Simeon the new Theologian, I did nothing about this of course being I just wanted to get back on my feet and being able to answer the questions that the girl brought up. Around the beginning of Pope Benedict’s Pontificate I started heading back to Mass….However that spark for the East didn’t reappear for a while until a few years into college.

I finally had the change to go experience and visit different places. Now having a car, I searched for various churches to go to, I wondered what in the world was this Byzantine Catholic Church that I read about. I went on a Sunday for a Liturgy in 2007 and the rest was history. I wondered where in the world was this, the reverence the movement, the other-worldliness of the Liturgy that I never experienced as a child, and even as an adult with the Traditional Latin Mass. I’m a physicist and mathematician by training, so my approaches to things are quite linear and very much cerebral. At the Divine Liturgy, there was motion, and I could let go of the normal routine of things to see things in a very different light….

A few years later, I found myself in Roman Seminary, and I make no secret about the fact that I wished to serve both the West and the East at the time. But also during this time, there was an opportunity to experience the Divine Liturgy according to the Armenians, but there was some similarity to the Latin praxis and still wasn’t there. I’ll spare you the details of how my time in Roman Seminary was, I’ll just say it was “interesting”. Finally, I moved to Idaho, and found what I’ve been searching for. The Divine Liturgy, with all of the motion, and it was from that point I took this Eastern praxis as my own, and something I started incorporating into my thoughts and praxis. It was the interaction with a few of the parishioners at the parish that really helped bring out my Eastern thought. I’ve always been all right with diversity in opinion and thought, and never thought that we’re trying to train robots, or everything must be a carbon copy. Seeing this lived out in Eastern Christianity made me want more of this, and so I made this happen.

Also during this time I experienced the Faith at a Russian Orthodox Church during Lent. I had the chance to attend the Good Friday Liturgy and saw a very old man about 95 making full prostrations during the Liturgy. (Which for me is difficult at times), but that day I tried much more….I had been a rusophile for a long time, since high school, and to experience the Faith from the Russian perspetrivu brought a completion to what I try to live.

I guess you can say this is the summarised form of what could be written as a much more detailed version. I’m thankful for the opportunity to share this part of my story with you.

How does your faith inform your day-to-day life?

Everyday starts and ends the same, with the Jesus prayer in Russian (my preferred language to pray in these days)….Though I’m known to still occasionally throw out some words in a few other languages from time to time.

The Faith influences everything that I do, I don’t claim to be any good at this though I’m still trying to get this right, 32 years and I’m still not quite getting it :p….I try to keep things simple, Love God, love neighbour, don’t be a jerk…I try to live all these things out, but of course this is still a work in progress.

There’s a lot of play when it comes to the issues of the day; I’m glad that the Faith doesn’t make us approach things from the same way. We can look at different issues from different perspectives. I’m constantly making the sign of the cross, and invoking Our Lord’s mercy, because do we all need it collectively and individually or what? .

As far as me going further and getting ordained…only if God smacks me upside the head with a 2 x 4. My fianceé probably wouldn’t want such a life :p.

What is your greatest challenge in practicing your faith?

I think the greatest challenge in living the Eastern Faith is being surrounded by those that don’t. Its kind of hard to do all of the practices and praxis that comes with Eastern Christianity when one is surrounded by those that don’t. I always like to say that I do what I can within the means that I have.

Also quite a big challenge from time to time is of course all of the past that I’ve been through, it’s sometimes tempting to give up, but thou shall persevere until the end right :p…So we keep going.

Favorite Bible verse?

“Let God arise, and let his enemies be scattered, and let those who hate Him, flee from before His Face” (Ps 68, 2)

This is the opening verse from the 3rd antiphon at Easter, my favorite Liturgical celebration of the year, it really summaries my thoughts on pretty much almost everything and summarizes what we believe.

Favorite Spiritual writing (besides Bible) quotation?

“To have faith in Christ means more than simply despising the delights of this life. It means we should bear all our daily trials that may bring us sorrow, distress, or unhappiness, and bear them patiently for as long as God wishes and until He comes to visit us. For it is said, ‘I waited on the Lord and He came to me.'” --- St Simenon the new Theologian, (of course this is all easier said than done ;)

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