Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Do you know?

Do you know that feeling you get when you pick up a book you have read several times before? That feeling of easy familiarity now that the tensions and worries of plot are gone. And yet, as you delve into it, the intensity of your feeling is startling. You care just as much about the characters. You thrill, you laugh, you weep, just as you did that first time. And at the end, when you leave them for the moment, knowing that when you return they will be waiting for you, there is the same feeling as after a spring storm--a feeling of being housecleaned, of being gently scoured. But above all a feeling of infinite space and peace, a feeling that makes your heart beat a little faster and the days ahead seem not quite so barren.

Do you know that feeling?

I feel rather serious

NOTE--If this post offends, hurts, or annoys you, I'm sorry. I do not intend to do so.

Suffering. It is one of the hardest things in the world to talk about, especially when it is our own. In the online Christian world this is especially apparent—in general we do not want to talk about our real life problems. Why? As I see it there are several reasons. (This is not an exhaustive list, merely what I thought of.)

First, our problems are just that--ours. We may be grateful for the support, advice, and consolation we receive, whether from our friends and family, or even those online acquaintances we have, and they may even help us immensely. But in the end our struggles are between us and God and the input of others can only help so much. Sometimes it can even hurt.

That is the most commendable reason. The second is that we are kept from admitting faults because of our pride. “It’s impossible that I should be having this particular problem. Maybe if I ignore it and don’t tell anyone it will just go away.” Our pride may not take this particular form, but it probably still exists. We want to be thought a good Christian and if we were really a good Christian, we would have any problems, would we?

Would we? I happen to think this very muddled thinking. Even a brief examination of the life and writings of some of the holiest people in the history of Christianity show that they felt that they were sinful, even while everyone else recognized the great grace they had been given. A more “Protestant-friendly” example is Corrie TenBoom. In The Hiding Place she tells of the time when, after she had been traveling and lecturing on forgiveness for years, she met a former guard who had been particularly cruel and she felt that she could not forgive them. She did, in the end, through the grace of God, but she struggled with herself mightily before she reached that point.

Another reason, closely related, is that we are afraid. Our sufferings are among the most personal and private things of our lives and it is hard to share any part of them, especially with such a wide audience as you find online. We flinch from exposing wounds that are still raw and sometimes still bleeding. This feeling is understandable—believe me, I have felt it—but I’ll examine a few thoughts on why we should share something (and also why we shouldn’t share everything) in a minute.

The final reason that I see, also closely related, is that there is often an unconscious pressure in Christian circles for us to be perfect, or else appear to be perfect, and for some reason that idea of perfection often includes the idea that we will never have hard times. Again, to my mind this is muddled thinking. Whatever happened to John Donne and “Tribulation is the currency by which we reach our home, which is heaven”? We will have tribulations whether we are Christians or not. We will have tribulations whether we are “good” Christians or not. The “currency” comes in our response which may not be an easy acceptance. There may be times when we honestly don’t feel that God will take care of us and when we therefore have to reach towards him more than at any other moment. We don’t necessarily sin by thinking that God has abandoned us; we sin when we allow that thought to remain and take root in our hearts. The bar is set high. We may be judged. But there will also be others who know our struggle and who we can support and be supported by.

Now why should we talk about whatever troubles we have, especially online? And what should we say exactly?

Well, first of all, pretending that we have no troubles at all usually creates thoughts, not of a perfect being, but of someone pretending to be what they are not. We wear the mask that grins and lies, but should we? I trow not.

Second, it is quite possible that non-Christians are exposed to your thoughts, especially if they are in a public blog setting. A lot of anti-Christian prejudice has occurred over the years because we are too apt to paint ourselves as beings of an entirely different order. Of course in one sense we are. But we are also human beings, striving and living on earth, though longing for the heavenly homeland. If being honest about struggles I have helps someone else to see that Christians are not really the cookie-cutter, shallow people we are often thought to be, then I believe that is reason enough to talk about them.

Third, it can provide support and comfort to other Christians. We do not struggle alone. I know the knowledge that there are other young women out there striving for and struggling with the same things that I strive for and struggle with has been a great encouragement to me.

All of this comes with a disclaimer. I don’t think we ought to be entirely transparent, especially not online and more especially not on a public blog because, quite honestly, we don’t really know who is reading it. We make think that we do, but we could quite easily be wrong. We also ought to beware of the tendency to seek sympathy as sort of boost to our self-esteem. Well, I ought to, at any rate. Perhaps it’s just something I suffer from. And we also ought, I believe, to be delicate about the details we share. Just knowing that you are going through a hard time, without more elaboration, is, in my opinion, quite enough. If you wish to share more, that is your decision. However, as I said, on a public blog that sort of thing can be very tricky, especially if you want to retain any degree of anonymity.

It would be a mistake (and intellectually dishonest) to suppose that any of my thoughts occur in a vacuum. While I have been thinking about this for some time, a discussion on IDD and Natalie’s “Journey” series at YLCF prompted me to write this post at this moment, in this way. Thank you!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007


We had a beautiful time yesterday. Friends from church took us to a place they've gone hiking before and we spent the morning and part of the afternoon there. It was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. We hiked up the side of a hill along a river bank with wildflowers growing all around. I couldn't identify most of them but I did spot a wild iris growing by the side of the path. It was cream colored with mustard stripes--one of the most beautiful I've ever seen. We also saw wild roses and ferns. At one point we stopped by a huge old tree that had fallen across the path. Someone had cut the trunk so that hikers could walk through. I counted the rings--aproximately 326 years old. Think about that. That's 1681. Jamestown and Plymouth were about 60 years old. So much history contained in that tree's life--and it wasn't even a really big one.

We had lunch by a small waterfall that went streaming down to the river below. One of us read "Brothers Karamazov" (it wasn't me!) and the rest of us just enjoyed the day. Finally we turned around and hiked back to the cars where we returned to the city. It was one of those days that will remain planted in my heart. Nothing very exciting happened. I didn't get married, or die, or find a diamond in the ground. But it nourished my soul in ways I can't even express.

Friday, May 25, 2007

W.B. Yeats and Theodore Roethke

Two for the price of one today. Roethke because it's his birthday and you give people presents on their birthdays. Like posting your poems. Yeats because I've been on a Yeats binge this week and I feel like it.

An Irish Airman Foresees His Death

I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan's poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.

In A Dark Time
In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;
I hear my echo in the echoing wood--
A lord of nature weeping to a tree,
I live between the heron and the wren,
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.

What's madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day's on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall,
That place among the rocks--is it a cave,
Or winding path? The edge is what I have.

A steady storm of correspondences!
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,
And in broad day the midnight come again!
A man goes far to find out what he is--
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.

Dark,dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

More Roethke here, and posted by me here and here.

Thursday, May 24, 2007


Or, I suppose more precisely, embroidery.

I've enjoyed embroidery for years. I don't believe I have the first embroidery piece I ever did--very large and misshapen cross-stitch on gingham fabric, which actually was a very good method for learning. I don't remember exactly how the progression went, but eventually I started doing a bit more mature and neat work. (Neat in the real sense, not in then, "Oh that book/movie/card game is so NEAT!") Eventually my aunt and uncle gave me a kitt of samplers for Christmas or birthday. These were the first real challenge I had. Real embroidery linen, one strand of floss, four samplers, one measuring only about 2 1/2 by 3 inches. I loved it. I'm not sure exactly why I find embroidery so relaxing since, with work that delicate, you're all hunched over a square of fabric. But I do. Maybe it's the satisfaction of doing something with my hands, of making something lovely.

As the years have gone by, embroidery has been pushed to the side often. I go through fits and starts. I'll embroider every day faithfully for a month and then forget all about it for three. Of course, I do that with almost everything. (One reason why NaNoWriMo worked so well for me is that it's a concentrated month's worth of writing. But I digress.) So I hadn't embroidered in a while when a discussion at Aman-Valinor reminded me that I had a project lying around somewhere or other. I worked on it some yesterday and intend to today. The current project is the Schoolhouse Sampler from The Heart's Content. (I couldn't find it on the webpage, but you get an idea of the products.) It's a little less than half-way done and I've been working on it for several years, but in fits and starts, as I said.

Audience particpation, if you care to join in: What do you enjoy doing with your hands?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Reviewing a review

Since The Children of Húrin was published there have been many, many, many reviews of it, both formal and informal. I haven’t read it yet myself (on the waiting list at the library), but I’ve been tracking the comments which vary quite a bit. This review is one of the more interesting to me, on several levels.

"The Children of Húrin is packaged as a prequel to Lord of the Rings. It comes with lavish and lovely artwork by Alan Lee….and has its own trailer on the web. The action, however, takes place six and a half thousand years and one geological upheaval before Bilbo’s eleventy-first birthday. It’s a prequel in the sense that a book about Neolithic traders of the Dorset coast is a prequel to Persuasion."

Can I just say here and now that I love that last sentence, even while I disagree with it? Not entirely—he is making a valid point—but a book about Neolithic traders and Persuasion are separated by more than time. Húrin and LotR are part of the same vast mythology, created by one man. That’s not to entirely discount Boyce’s point: the two books are worlds apart in many ways. Perhaps a book about Neolithic traders of the Dorset coast by Jane Austen, would be a more apt example.
"It’s not supposed to be entertaining. There is no chance, for instance, of being surprised by the hero’s death when one of the chapters is called "The Death of Túrin." It is dry, mad, humourless, hard-going and completely brilliant."

Tolkien at his most…Tolkien-y.

But here’s where it gets really good:

"Tolkien is often paired with CS Lewis, but he disliked Narnia and worked hard to make sure that Middle Earth did not descend to allegory. Allegory makes fantasy dependent on real life. He wanted Middle Earth to seem separate and real. When he first started work on this story as a young man recovering from trench fever in Staffordshire [my note: he was recovering in Staffordshire, he hadn’t contracted it there], he was hoping to create a new British mythology that would replace wishy-washy Arthurianism."

*dances around* The guy gets it!! My head aches when I think of the countless people that insist, in the face of all the facts, on equating Narnia and Middle-earth. Much as I like Narnia, Middle-earth for me, thank you. And that is thanks almost wholly to that desire to make it “seem separate and real.” My only quibble here is that Tolkien’s mature vision was quite different from the earlier version. He didn’t regret that earlier enthusiasm exactly, but it was tempered with reality, at least on the surface.

"One of the things that distinguishes Lord of the Rings is Tolkien’s ability to suggest other stories yet untold, places yet unvisited."

I could be wrong, but I believe Tolkien himself says something about that somewhere or other. Something along the lines of, “The stories not told are sometimes the most fascinating.” Or maybe he never said it, or maybe someone else did. If anyone knows, tell me!

'Maybe it’s more than elves and hobbits. maybe ideas like the evil empire, and our current sense of a world in terminal decline, come also owe something to Middle Earth. It would be difficult to argue that his dreams of replacing our native mythology hasn’t come true, at least in part."

Christopher Smart

This really should have been posted yesterday, but it wasn't.

On May 21, 1771 Christopher Smart died while in the King's Bench Prison because of debts. He was an English poet and quite a colorful character. He was at one time in his life considered to be mad and put into an insane asylum where he wrote his two most famous poems, "Jubilate Agno" and "Song of David." He would often ask people in the street to pray with him, causing Dr. Johnson to remark, "I'd as lief pray with Kit Smart as anyone else." (Full Wikipedia entry.)

Excerpt from "Song of David":
Glorious the sun in mid career;
Glorious th' assembled fires appear;
Glorious the comet's train:
Glorious the trumpet and alarm;
Glorious th' almighty stretch'd-out arm;
Glorious th' enraptur'd main:

Glorious the northern lights a-stream;
Glorious the song, when God's the theme;
Glorious the thunder's roar:
Glorious hosanna from the den;
Glorious the catholic amen;
Glorious the martyr's gore:

Glorious--more glorious is the crown
Of Him that brought salvation down
By meekness, call'd thy Son;
Thou that stupendous truth believ'd,
And now the matchless deed's achiev'd,
Determin'd, dar'd, and done.

And here is a site with all of his poems (or so it claims).

Monday, May 21, 2007


This was written about a year ago, but I decided to post it, slightly revised. I haven't seen the sunrise in awhile because I don't get up that early anymore, but I miss it.

I do love watching the sunrise. When I was little getting up at 6:30 or 7 was early, and seeing the sunrise was always something special. Now I get up at 5:30 on the weekdays and so I see it every day, but it's still a special time for me. I watch the sun rise every morning over the river as I'm riding the bus and sometimes I see the college rowing team practicing. Their movements are so beautiful--graceful and synchronised--and the growing light is reflected on the water. The trees are still black and form a delicate pattern against the sky that reminds me of tracery or lace. I usually say my prayers on the bus because I don't have time at home, and the dawning of the new day always inspires me. It is a time to be quiet and still, and yet it holds a promise of new life.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Bits and pieces

The Saturday Review of books is up.

According to the Quizilla What Dickens Character are YOU? quiz, I am Esther Summerson. I knew it!

I also took that "What flower are you?" quiz that's floating around. The first time I got Violets, which made me very happy since I love them. Then I got Snapdragons. Which is rediculous. I did not fit that description at all. So.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Emily Dickinson and Poetry Friday

I have finally gotten my act together and am participating in Poetry Friday again. Hah! I'm not quite sure what that was for, I just felt like it. We'll say the nasty tendencies of myself to be disorganized.

It was actually quite lovely to go searching for my poetry books amid the boxes. (Background--we made a cross-country move almost a year ago and still aren't totally unpacked.) I found Christina Rossetti, and both Emily Dickinsons, and A Pocket Book of Verse. I wavered for a bit, but finally settled on "We grow accustomed to the dark" by Emily Dickinson, partly because it's one of my roommate's favorite poems and I miss her. And partly because it's a good poem.

We grow accustomed to the Dark--
When Light is put away--
As when the Neighbor holds the Lamp
To witness her Goodbye--

A Moment--We uncertain step
For newness of the night--
Then--fit our Vision to the Dark--
And meet the Road--erect--

And so of larger--Darknesses--
Those Evenings of the Brain--
When not a Moon disclose the sign--
Or Star--come out--within--

The Bravest--grope a little--
And sometimes hit a Tree
Directly in the Forehead--
But as they learn to see--

Either the Darkness alters--
Or something in the sight
Adjusts itself to Midnight--
And Life steps almost straight.

I love the last stanza. That sly 'almost' which acknowledges that life can't step absolutely straight.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


I took a few pictures of some of the flowers around our yard.

Orange poppies


There are a few more, but those pictures didn't turn out well. We had lilacs earlier but they're now done.

Prayer of the Optina Elders

This is a beautiful prayer by the Optina Elders (brief, secular, overview of Optina here). I've grown to particularly love it.


O Lord, grant unto me that with Thy peace I may greet all that this day is to bring. Grant unto me grace to surrender myself completely to Thy holy will. In every hour of this day insturct and guide me in all things. Whatever tidings I may receive during this day, do Thou teach me to accept tranquilly in the firm belief that Thy holy will governs all. Govern Thou my thoughts and feelings in all I do and say. When unforeseen things occur, let me not forget that all is sent by Thee. Teach me to behave sincerely and reasonably toward everyone, that I may bring confusion and sorrow to no one. Bestow on me, O Lord, strength to endure the fatigue of the day and to bear my part in its events. Guide Thou my will and teach me to pray, to believe, to hope, to suffer, to forgive, and to love. Amen.

Image from the Wikipedia article

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

In This House of Brede

In This House of Brede
By Rumer Godden
A Review

This is, in my opinion, a most enchanting book. It is the story of a number of years in the life of Brede Abbey, a fictional English Catholic woman’s monastery, and the nuns who live there. The book opens very simply with Penny Stevens, the juniorest typist in a government office run by a Mrs. Philippa Talbot, who Penny adores. On this particular day Penny can tell that something is going to happen—namely that Mrs. Talbot has been given a promotion. She is called into Mrs. Talbot’s office where, quite to her surprise, she is told that Mrs. Talbot is going to be a nun and is leaving, for good.

The story then switches perspectives and goes to Philippa Talbot as she prepares to make her entrance to Brede. For a large portion of the book the narration continues to focus on Philippa as she enters the monastic life but it occasionally switches to another character.

The pace of the story is gentle and slow, like monastic life itself. A fast-paced adventure story this is not. However, I would not call it boring. There are major troubles within the monastery and the conflict surrounding them was very gripping. Rumer Godden’s nuns live and breathe: sweet Dame Emily Lovell, stately Dame Maura, vivid Dame Colette, and steady Dame Catherine. A few of them will naturally become most dear, just as real people. Philippa herself, Hilary, and Dame Catherine were my favorites.

Godden’s descriptions of the monastic year are very striking and could be applied to any Christian liturgical tradition. “The Church is like a wise mother and has given us this great cycle of the liturgical ear with its different words and colours. You’ll see how you will learn to welcome the feast days and the saints’ days as they come round, each with a different story, and, as it were, a different aspect; they grow very dear, though still exacting.” (p. 60). As an Orthodox Christian, I nodded in agreement with every word of that sentence, not excluding the last bit (“though still exacting”).

My experience of monasticism has been different than the experience of Catholic monasticism that I gained from this book. Orthodox monasticism has developed differently than its Western counterpart, and there was much that was unfamiliar or that I disagreed with. Still, the desire to serve God and the world by retiring from the world is one that I can understand and respect. And again, the characters became so real with their struggles and triumphs that I felt I could count them as friends.

“If a place has been filled with prayer, though it is empty something remains; a quiet, a steadiness.” (p. 195)

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

I am ashamed

I have been a Bad Blogger. My apologies. Real life has been throwing some twists my way and so this poor blog has been sadly neglected for the past week. I hope to resume (more) regular posting very soon. In the meantime, here are some great posts from others to chew on.

A Dusty Frame on marriage, for a new bride.

Ruth on freedom from fear.

Melissa Wiley with a sweet post about her husband.

YLCF on Christian identity.

See you soon!


Monday, May 07, 2007


I love letters. I love receiving them, the fat envelope stuffed with goodness knows what, the thoughts and feelings of a friend you haven't seen in months. I love opening them and seeing what is inside.

I love sending letters. I love taking the time to make it more than a few lines scribbled on a piece of paper or a faceless electronic message sent off in a few seconds. Selecting the stationary, the enclosures, the decorations for the envelope all take time and require you to think about who you're sending the letter to. One friend might like bird stickers while the other likes ribbons.

And then the letter itself--what handwriting to use? (A friend of Tolkien's once said that he had as many handwritings as he had friends.) Which books to talk about? What have you been doing recently that would be interesting? A letter to my godmother looks and feels vastly different than one to my friend in Wisconsin.

Guess what I'll be doing tonight?
Picture from "North and South," edited by me

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Literary news again

This is everything I'd collected for about the past month, but most of it was repetitive (anyone noticed how the internet is like that?) so there aren't actually all that many links to post.

Charles Dickens

Two new Dickens adaptations in the works: David Copperfield and Oliver Twist. The last one is interesting--is it a requirement that the hype for every new adaptation says something about it being "new and updated?"

J.R.R. Tolkien

Tolkien's Christianity and the pagan tragedy. I think the first paragraph is interesting but it goes downhill from there, since, among other things, Tolkien himself said that Beowulf was a Christian not a pagan tragedy. Still, some interesting points to think about.

Sales are evidently high for The Children of Hurin. Not a surprise--Tolkien fans are many and geeky. I can say this, being one.

A roundup of Children reviews. For the record, I would include the accent, but I can't figure out how to. Technological illiteracy creates its issues.

Elizabeth Gaskell

Filming is starting for "Cranford."

And in non-literary news, an interview with the nun who runs the Vatican's website.

Alaskan Missionary Spirituality

That is the title of a very interesting book edited by Michael Oleksa I found in my school library. It consists mostly of primary documents from the Orthodox missionaries to Alaska. I have just reached that section, but the Introduction, written by Oleksa, was informative, interesting, and a very clear and (I thought) correct understanding of Orthodox theology and missions. I reccommend this book just for the Introduction. Here are a few quotes:

"Though the standard pre-1960s histories of Alaska portrayed the period of Russian colonialism as one of exploitation of the land and native peoples which ended only in 1867 when Alaska became a U.S. territory, the real story was far different. Yes, it is true that the colonial practices did involve a degree of exploitation but it is evident that they did not inhibit the growth of vigorous Orthodox missions. Those missions achieved a success that was unparalleled in the rest of North America. The native peoples often accepted Orthodoxy and saw the relation between it and their own world view. They acquired literary skills in Orthodox schools that instructed them in their native languages, and they blended far more harmoniously with the Russian colonists than ever did the native Americans to the South with the land-hungry English. With the imposition of Protestant missions and an English-only education policy inaugurated by Shelton Jackson after the U.S. acquisition, the real story of suppression of the native culture begins."
~John Farina, from the foreword

"The right and obligation of monastics to intercede with secular authorities on behalf of the poor and persecuted had been established in Byzantium and remained a permanent feature of medieval Russian society." ~p. 6

"[The Russian missionaries] came to Kodiak as representatives of a theological, liturgical, and missionary tradition....From the beginning the goal of the Valaam Mission to Alaska was to....establish an American Church, respecting and employing the languages and artistic culture of Alaska within the community of the Orthodox churches....Every successful Orthodox mission has had as its goal the creation of a self-governing "native" church, enjoying full administrative independence within the universal community of faith." ~p.7

"Before the introduction of written language, the invention of books, paper, and the printing press, human societies educated each successive generation in the ways of the world through a complex system of sacred stories, legends, songs, dances, artifacts, ceremonies, and celebrations. The goal of the educative process was to ensure that the next generation could carry on the traditions of The People and survive meaningfully. No society, no matter how "primitive," concerned itself exclusively with biological survival, but sought to give purpose and meaning to living humanly." ~p.8

"....the missionaries effectively communicated with the Sugpiaq in the Kodiak region, preaching to them the Christian Gospel without directly attacking the traditional shamanistic world view of the natives. They sought, as best can be determined from the archives, to present Christianity as the fufillment of what the Alaskans already knew rather than its replacement." ~p. 13

"Orthodox missionaries came to Alaska to announce and begin an eternal process of growth toward godlikesness, understood in Trinitarian terms. It was not therefore necessary or wise to inaugurate this infinite pilgrimage with lengthy condemnations of the insufficiency or corruption of "heathenism." Nor would it have been consistent with Orthodox theology or missionary practice to threaten potential converts with hellfire and damnation should they have refused the invitation to accept baptism. Salvation as theosis, acquiring godlikenss, is a positive transformation....Coercion and intimidation had no place in evangelization." ~p.32

St. Herman of Alaska

Image source

Friday, May 04, 2007

I apologize

For the lack of blogging in the last few days, that is. It's the end of the year at school and it's catching up with me. I'll try to post some more today but I can't promise anything. Sorry!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


Let me preface this post, as I will preface all in this series, by saying that I am far from any kind of an expert, in the academic or real sense, on Orthodoxy. I am quite probably mistaken about any number of things. I am not trying to provide a broad historical view of Orthodoxy, nor do I claim to have any or all of the answers. This post, as all others, is strictly from where I stand, one of many struggling to reach the Heavenly Kingdom.
Every year for forty days devout Orthodox Christians observe Lent. During this period we do not eat meat, dairy products, poultry, fish, or any by-products of these foods. It is a time of personal spiritual struggle and prayer. The church is decorated in dark purple and black rather than the usual gold or white. The tone of the services is more somber. There are are also more of them and they are longer. The Liturgy of St. Basil the Great is served, rather than the usual Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. These external changes are important, but it is even more important that each believer try to deny his or her will and labor more than usual.

After Lent we observe Holy Week. On Holy Thursday we celebrate the Last Supper and the Lord's betrayal. Holy Friday is the strictest fast day of the year. Those who are strong enough try not to eat anything for the entire day. Those who need to can eat a little after sundown. In the evening there is a procession with a bier which represents the tomb of Christ. Songs from the funeral service are sung as we walk around the church carrying the Lord's body. For the next twelve hours members of the congregation take turns watching over the bier and praying.

On Holy Saturday there is a Liturgy in the morning during which the cloths which decorate the church are changed to shimmering white and gold. The Lord is still in the tomb but the Resurrection is at hand. Baptisms often occur at this point as well. After the liturgy most people go home to rest and prepare. In the early evening the whole book of the Acts of the Apostles is read aloud.

About eleven o'clock the long service begins: Compline, Matins, Liturgy, and First Hour. When we first arrive the church is dark. At the door we are given an unlit candle which we will hold most of the night. The reading of the Acts is just finishing. Compline begins, quiet and subdued. At midnight all of the lights are extinguished. In a sense, we are in the tomb. The clergy goes into the altar, separated from the rest of the church by an iconostasis. There is silence as each one waits. It is pitch black. We can hardly see each other even though we are standing shoulder to shoulder. The whole congregation waits tensely for what they remember comes next. In these moments they feel more akin to each other than they ever have before. It is almost as though they are asking silently, "Will it happen again, the miracle I remember? Will I feel that jubilation as I say 'Christ is risen'?" We are waiting for the dawning of Pascha. Finally we hear a bell ringing and then the singing of the priests. They sing the troparion of Pascha, "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life." They light a single candle whose small flicker is reflected on the hollow above the altar. Then more candles are lit. The priests walk out and hold their candles for the congregation to light their own. They are giving us the gift of light, the symbol of life. We pass it on to those behind us.

Now everyone is singing and the church is full of light. The shadows flee before the candle flames as the wax drips down on the paper wax catchers. The feeling of the people has changed from tense waiting to utter joy. Christ is Risen! Soon the altar boys are forming the front of a procession, two carrying banners with icons on them. They are followed by the priests and deacons and then by the rest of the people. They lead the way out of the church where the entire congregation processes around the outside, singing:

"Thy Resurrection, O Christ our Saviour, the angels in heaven sing. Enable us on earth to glorify Thee with purity of heart." And our voices sound more like angels than they ever have.

Even when there is hardly any wind the candle flames try to flicker and go out, like the flame of our faith. We try to keep them alive.

The church where I celebrated Pascha for many years is at the corner of a busy intersection, even at midnight. I often wondered what the people going by thought. We often got odd looks but on Pascha no one cares. It is the day of Resurrection. Let everyone else think what they will.

Standing in front of the doors to re-enter the church an antiphonal (call-and-response) hymn begins. The clergy starts and the people finish. Even in spring the night air is chilly and most people are shivering. Still, we would not trade this moment for the world.

When we go back inside we see candles and flowers everywhere. The church is transformed. Matins begins immediately. During the canon everyone greets each other with the Orthodox 'holy kiss,' a kiss on the right cheek, the left cheek, and the right again.

"Christ is risen!"
"Indeed He is risen!"

The rest of Matins goes by in a blur of candles, light, singing, and joy. During the canon the priest or priests come out and give the Paschal greeting of "Christ is Risen" in as many languages as possible. The people respond. Matins gives way to Liturgy where instead of a sermon the Homily of St. John Chrysostom is read. We received Holy Communion. First Hour is sung. After the final blessing we stream out into the hall where a feast has been arranged. After over forty days of abstinence even the body is given reason to be joyful. We eat together, a community in the physical as well as the spiritual world.

But eventually we know that we must leave. We sleep soundly knowing that when we wake the Lord will still be risen.

Orthodox quotes, pt. 2

Don't worry, these won't be all I post.

"If we feel coldness, let us call upon God, and He will come and warm our hearts with His perfect love not only for Him, but also for our meighbor, and from the face of His warmth the coldness of the hater of good will be banished." ~Sts. Barsanuphius and John, Guidance Toward a Spiritual Life

"When something good is at hand, there warfare occurs. And thus, do not fear trials, but rejoice in them, because they will lead you to advancement...God will help and cover you." ~Sts. Barsanuphius and John, Guidance Toward a Spiritual Life

Sts. Barsanuphius and John

Image source.