Christ is Risen!

Christos voskres! Voistinu voskres! 

Khristós Anésti! Alithós Anésti! 

Christ is Risen!  Indeed He is Risen!

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We are home from what feels like a weekend Pascha retreat; a flurry of activity decorating the church, being surrounded by good food, dear loving friends, and multiple services filled with hymns, joyously loud exclamations of the Resurrection in many languages and lush beauty.

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Even though I don’t have good quality pictures to edit and share and I did not get photos of the shoulder to shoulder crowd or the hundreds of candles burning throughout the night, I did take a few of the beautiful flowers and festive white vestments.

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 We crawled into bed at about 5 am and after a few hours of sleep we joined 6 other friends for a lavish Russian breakfast – all fasting aside – meats, cheeses, eggs, lattes and sweet wine back on the menu.  There was a joy-filled Agape Vespers this afternoon followed by egg hunts for all ages, stupendous amounts of food at a potluck and loads of stimulating conversation.

I inadvertently started a mini sequence of posts with my Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday etc.  I didn’t think that through.  I can’t leave it hanging though without something about the great day itself, Pascha and the Resurrection in all its glory – Orthodox style. My creative writing powers are slim to none right now.  Must sleep. Perhaps more posts will be brewing in the near future.  For now rejoice in the glorious Resurrection with me.

Christ is Risen from the dead, trampling down death by death,

and upon those in the tomb bestowing life.

Holy Friday

Today He who hung the earth upon the waters is hung upon the cross.  He who is King of the angels is arrayed in a crown of thorns. He who wraps the heaven in clouds is wrapped int he purple of mockery. He who in Jordan set Adam free receives blows upon His face. The Bridegroom of the Church is transfixed with nails. The Son of the Virgin is pierced with a spear. We venerate Your Passion, O Christ. Show us also Your glorious Resurrection.  St. Cyril of Alexandria Lenten Triodion.

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You died.  You Who are the life of all – in order to revive me, the dead. You were laid in the tomb that I might rise from the tomb. You were brought to life again that I might believe in my resurrection…This You have done for me, Your servant, o my Lord!  St. Tikhon of Zadonsk.

Holy Thursday

Crucifixion

Tonight, in anticipation of Friday morning matins, we observed the Holy Passion service of the Crucifixion and the reading of The Twelve Gospels.  In these readings Christ instructs his disciples and prays, and the drama of the cross unfolds.

I am too tired to write much so I will let a few photos suffice. Time spent in church is nourishing and lovely. Hearing Mary’s lament quieted my heart with its poignancy. All is dark, Christ is crucified.

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Holy Wednesday

 Holy Unction

The Good Samaritan
The Good Samaritan

Holy unction is one of the sacraments of the Church and a great mystery for the healing of soul and body.

Like the thief, I shall confess You.  Remember me, O Lord, when you come into Your kingdom.  ~St. John Chrysostom

The Canaanite woman
The Canaanite woman

The mystery of faith and hope.

O all-seeing and most wonderful Witness of all the mysteries of heaven and earth, our gracious Creator and Provider, You alone see the weakness of each one of us.  Help us; oh help us, that we may discover that which is necessary to our eternal salvation.  ~Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic

The woman with the issue of blood
The woman with the issue of blood

Draw near to God, for by touching the hem of his garment in faith we may be healed. God’s grace, through the anointed oil, renews our body and cleanses our spirit. Glory to God for all things.

Zacchaeus
Zacchaeus

Holy Tuesday

In the hymns for tonight’s Bridegroom Matins I was entranced with the dance of words; the tension and juxtaposition of repentance and wickedness, mercy and denial. The sinful woman shed tears over her wasted, filthy life and found Mercy and healing, giving her very best, while the graceless disciple rejected Mercy and Life, embracing instead greed and wicked selfishness.

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The following are excerpts from tonight’s hymns, not the hymns in their entirety.

A harlot recognized Thee as God, O Son of the Virgin.

With tears equal to her past deeds, she besought Thee weeping:

 loose my debt as I have loosed my hair.

As the sinful woman was bringing her offering of myrrh,

the disciple was scheming with lawless men.

She rejoiced in pouring out her precious gift.

He hastened to sell the precious One.

She recognized the Master, but Judas parted from Him.

She was set free, but Judas was enslaved to the Enemy.

Oh, the wretchedness of Judas! He saw the harlot kiss the footsteps of Christ,

but deceitfully he contemplated the kiss of betrayal.

She loosed her hair while he bound himself with wrath.

He offered the stench of wickedness instead of myrrh.

The harlot spread out her hair to Thee, O Master,

Judas spread out his hands to lawless men:

she in order to receive forgiveness;

he in order to receive some silver.Bridegroom-e1332714715110

Holy Monday

Behold, the Bridegroom comes in the middle of the night, and blessed is the servant He shall find vigilant; but unworthy is he whom he shall find neglectful. Beware therefore, O my soul, lest you be weighed down by sleep, lest you be given over to death and be closed out from the kingdom; but rise up crying out: “Holy! Holy! Holy are You our God; through the intercessions of the Theotokos, have mercy on us.”

Christ the Bridegroom
Christ the Bridegroom

Christ the Bridegroom is the central figure in the parable of the ten Virgins (Matthew 25: 1-13) and the subject of this lovely icon. On Monday evening of Holy Week we participate in the service of Bridegroom Matins, a time of watchfulness commemorating the last days of our Lord’s life on earth. This service has many readings from the Psalms as well as rich hymns.

IMG_8358 All is quiet and somber allowing for time to mourn and experience sorrow for our sins and to think about Christ’s voluntary submission. We have time to ponder the sorrow of Adam and Eve when they lost their communion with God and were separated from Him.

We are reminded to not only hear the word of God, but to put it into action.

Being mindful of the hour of the end, O my soul, and fearing because of the cutting down of the fig tree, labor diligently with the talent that was given thee, O hapless one, and be watchful and cry: Let us not remain outside the bridal chamber of Christ.

For the true death of us all is our separation from God, the broken unity we once knew in the beginning. There is only one way to get that back.  Death itself had to be killed, trampled down.  We were in the grip of death forever until Christ put an end to all death.

Thou art more beautiful than all men, O Bridegroom.  Thou hast invited us to the spiritual banquet of Thy bridal chamber.  Strip me of the ugly garment of my sins as I participate in Thy passion.  Adorn me in the glorious robe of Thy beauty that proclaims me a guest in Thy Kingdom, O merciful Lord.

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The vestments of the Priest and the altar clothes are black or deep purple to symbolize mourning and remembrance of sins.

How shall I, the unworthy one, appear in the splendor of Thy saints? For if I dare enter Thy bridal chamber with them, my garments will betray me; they are unfit for a wedding. Cleanse the filth of my soul, O Lord, and save me in Thy love for mankind.

So much preparing of our hearts will happen this week.  For before the Feast of Pascha and the thrilling joy of Resurrection comes the fasting, the mourning, the sorrow. These services are among my favorite of the entire year.

Let us love the Bridegroom, O brethren. Let us keep our lamps aflame with virtues and true faith, so that we, like the wise virgins of the Lord, maybe ready to enter with Him into the marriage feast. For the Bridegroom, as God, grants unto all an incorruptible crown.

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O Full of Grace

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​Good morning.  Today is the celebration of the Angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary ​​​that she would give birth to Christ.  The Annunciation of the Incarnation.  (Luke 1:26-38)​​ It is one of the great feasts on the Church calendar.  I’m looking forward to the service tonight and a nice meal afterwards with our parish.  One of my favorite hymns has this line: He made thy body into a throne, and thy womb He made more spacious than the Heavens.  Her body contained God, the uncontainable, which is purely amazing to my mind.  Through her flesh, God became man and took on flesh. Now our bodies, through the Holy Spirit and by partaking of the Eucharist, also contain God and we can become holy vessels.  She was the first to say, “Yes” to God in that way.  The Church calls her Champion Leader.

All of Creation

All of creation rejoices in Thee, O Full of Grace,

the assembly of angels and the race of men.

O sanctified temple and spiritual paradise, the glory of virgins,

from whom God was incarnate and became a child.

Our God before the ages, He made thy body into a throne,

and thy womb He made more spacious than the Heavens.

All of creation rejoices in thee,

O Full of Grace, glory to thee!

The scripture readings for the I today all point to the Theotokos and her role in the Incarnation.  Everything about her always points to Christ and there is no worship of her in any way.  She always leads us to her Son and prays for us.

Genesis 28: Jacob’s ladder.  Mary is Jacob’s ladder, supplying the flesh that God incarnate takes upon entering our human world.

Ezekiel 43:  “The gate shall be shut; it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter by it, because the Lord God of Israel has entered by it.”  Mary is the closed gate who alone among women bore a child while still remaining a virgin.

Proverbs 9: Wisdom has built her house.  Mary provides the house Christ the Wisdom of God takes as His dwelling and Wisdom (Sophia) refers to Mary as well.

Exodus 3: The burning bush.  Just as the bush burned and did not burn up because God was in the bush, Mary contained the holiness of God as a fire and it did not destroy her and she remained a virgin even though she was with child and contained God. The bush is a picture of Mary.

Proverbs 8: The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his way.  I have been established from everlasting.

Last year I wrote a blog post about it too.  Here is the link.  I’m still pondering and marveling at it all.

https://shille.wordpress.com/2014/03/26/pondering-mary/

Into the Wild

Running is a quiet friend and teacher who meets me in the still, frosty morning or in the sunset of a busy day.  It takes me as I am, moving me along the way with a hug at the end no matter how far or how fast I moved. Running never judges.  It just lets me travel through time, along the path, being me.

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The simplicity of running appeals to me.  The only special equipment needed is good shoes. Off you go, out the door and into the world.

FB_IMG_1424132375584It’s a well-worn cliche to compare running to the journey of life. So many things we do everyday in life are a microcosm; a miniature representation of something bigger. Human beings are microcosms, a little world within a big universe. We are each a small-scale model of the variety and contradiction that is humanity and the world.  Christ is in us and we are in Christ; His body in the world. The Holy Spirit is everywhere present and fills all things. The universe is within our frail human frame.  Mind blown.

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Last Saturday I took on the Rock Candy Mountain Hillbilly Half Marathon in Capitol Forest. It’s a tough course; steep climbs for the first 4 miles, technical trails (which means lots of rocks, roots, stumps) mud puddles that are too big to go around, and lovely views.  You have to dig deep and work for this one.

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I started off with a couple of friends.  We all felt the potential in the air, each one of us stepping up to the start of the race with different expectations, different abilities.  We move off into the wild, each one of us fighting our own individual monsters inside: doubt, nerves, questions.  At first we are together, walking the tough parts, getting warmed up and figuring out how to breathe. We waited for each other, chatting along the way until we each found our own rhythm.  When I found my own comfort zone I was able to focus and find the inner strength and will to just move forward.

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Each step must be carefully placed on this course.  There are too many hazards to treat it like a walk in the park.  There is a lot of mental focus as well as dogged determination and will power in play.  Running through the forest with my heart pounding and the endorphins surging through me was fantastic. I prayed, repeated Psalm 23, said The Jesus Prayer, asked for God’s protection, guidance, strength, ability, safety, and help.  I felt thankful to be alive and full life. I also had moments of doubt and there was pain.  Not pain like I was injured, but the pain of doing hard things and pushing through it.

I looked up endorphin in the dictionary later and it gave a bunch of sciencey words that explain how something happens in your brain to block the sensation of pain.  That explains why runners keep doing this kind of thing.

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Was I nervous?

If I had just read the description of the race and didn’t know these people and these kinds of trails (trials?) I would have been scared to do this thing.

If I had been hoping to place in the top 10 or be competitive against other people instead of with others, I would have been nervous.

If I was afraid I might get seriously injured then I would have been nervous. It’s not like I was repelling off a cliff, after all.

If I was not physically able to move my body along a trail then I would have been unsure with good reason.

The reality is that I am a healthy 52 year old woman who thoroughly enjoys being on a forested mountain trail, moving my body along by hiking and running.  I like struggling for something worthwhile, getting dirty, working hard, and being with others who enjoy the same.  I know when to push and when to slow down.  For these things I am grateful and not over-confident.  I am aware of my limitations.

Lessons learned from living for 52 years and, not coincidentally, from running half marathons:

  • Start at the beginning and keep moving forward on the designated path until you get to the finish line. Stay on the course.  Whatever happens along the way I will just deal with it as it comes along. One foot in front of the other, keeping the goal in mind.
  • All I can do is do what is in front of me.  Sometimes rocky, steep, and rough. Just dig in, be careful, shift down a gear, and plow ahead.  Breathe. Sometimes the course is level and even downhill. Enjoy the ride and look around at the beauty.  Say, “Good job” and “Well done” to everyone who passes you.  Smile.
  • Face life one step at a time. Sometimes it gets messy. Oh well. Find others to help you when it gets tough.  Pray and ask for prayer. Ask others if they are OK.10982425_10153120141564890_4384554501711046104_n 11024622_10153120142209890_4572396563041119625_n

Right now, during Lent, I am reminded that life is both hard and delightful.  It is messy, painful, and glorious.  I must work hard, press down doubt, and dig deep for strength.  I have to tell myself, “No.” Don’t indulge every whim and wish. I have to ask God for help.  And I must always be thankful and humble.

Do hard things and enjoy the rewards in their proper time.

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They handed each of us a beer mug at the end of the race.  That’s a useful award.  I tested it out after a long hot bath and found it to be in perfect working order.

Gifts and the Quest for Less

Have you ever noticed that the older people get, the more settled they are in their home, and the more financially secure they are the harder it is to buy them a gift?  Our parents and peers (including ourselves here) are getting older and it is getting harder to think of what stuff to give as gifts.  I use the word stuff on purpose.  Is it possible that it’s hard to think of gift items because we don’t really need anything else?  How much more stuff can our homes hold? Without getting rid of things in exchange for the new stuff, I’m afraid I might end up with bins stored in the garage for who knows what purpose.  Wait, that has already happened. How are those stored papers and things helping me remember and love a person or an event when I haven’t set eyes on the items for 10 years?  The sentimentality of keeping things is another topic I would like to discuss in another post.  I need perspective from y’all on that one.

weve-all-got-too-much-stuffSo, back to gift giving.  We have been talking at our house about ways to give gifts that are not things.  Like, how can we give an experience or even something consumable instead of just more stuff that takes up more space and needs to be dusted and washed and organized and accommodated?

We are trying to celebrate birthdays and Christmas with events instead of stuff.  Experiences versus possessions.  Edible versus stackable. Have you had any luck with this idea?  Please share your ideas in the comments.  Here are some of the things I am putting out there to my family.

1. Yearly passes for your local State Parks, National Parks, recreational areas and the like.  We have a Mt. Rainier pass and a Discover Pass for our parks, beaches etc.  They each cost $30 per year for as many people as you put in your vehicle and as many trips as you want to make to those places.  That would be a perfect gift for a lot of different people on your list.  They could use it off and on as they liked, all year long.

2. Same thing for amusement parks if you have one nearby.

3. We have the Washington Center for the Performing Arts.  They put on concerts, symphonies, plays etc.  Tickets to a show would be very welcome to me.

4.  There is a small theater in downtown Olympia for live theater productions.  I love that place.  For Christmas my brother-in-law and sister-in-law gave us 2 tickets to see a Hitchcock Play, The 39 Steps.  It was fabulous.  They gave us something to unwrap at Christmas and the play was in February.  We had something to look forward to.  What I found most impressive is that they live in another state and they found this place on their own, purchased the tickets online, and gave us a very fun evening.

5. Movie theater tickets and/or gift cards to a favorite restaurant.

6. Flowers!  I love receiving flowers.  They are beautiful and enjoyable and they go away when they are done.

7.  Bird feeders, bird baths, or yard art.  Make the view from your windows more enjoyable without taking up space inside.

8.  Homemade canned goods, baked goods, and food in general.  Yum!

Let me say, especially to those dear ones who have given me things.  I love them and I love you.  It’s not like I never, ever want another thing.  Just trying to think of other ways to give and receive.

Please add your own ideas.  I’m keeping a list so that when a family member says, “What do you want for Christmas?” I will be ready.