Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Monastic Veil

Afterfeast of the Dormition
Martyr Myron of Cyzicus (250)
August 17 Old Style

This is a lovely video. Enjoy!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Meanwhile, on the Other Side of the World

Afterfeast of the Dormition
Translation of the Image Not-Made-By-Hands of our Lord Jesus Christ from Edessa to Constantinople (944)
August 16 Old Style

Sometimes I dream about pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I love traditions and pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, the Jordan and other sights is one of the oldest Christian customs. Christians who did not have the privilege of living in the Middle East would save for a life time to make a pilgrimage before their deaths. I have cherished a longing to do the same for many years.

However, accounts like the one below make me wary of any tendency to romanticize the Holy Land. Our brothers and sisters in the Faith are suffering daily as they try to maintain their centuries old way of life. Traditions are made almost impossible to keep with the current situation in Palestine. As we continue to celebrate the feast of the Dormition, let us keep these members of the Church in our prayers.

(names have been purposely removed for reasons of privacy)

Greetings from Taybeh where today St. George Greek Orthodox Community celebrated The Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Old Julian Calendar, thirteen days later than the New Calendar.

… thousands of Christians who had permits for only one day were crowding the Qalandia checkpoint to get into Jerusalem either to pray or shop. Many Palestinian Christians have a tradition to venerate the empty Tomb of the Mother of God and light candles on the left and the right of the staircase leading to the crypt. The lit candles down a hundred steps is a magnificent site itself as people pass the tombs of Sts. Joachim and Anna on the right and the tomb of St. Joseph the Betrothed on the left.

…three days prior to the feast day for the Mother of God, as is also a tradition here in the Holy Land, I had the great blessing to be in the procession where the Greek Patriarch with all the faithful walked the icon of the Holy Mother of God from the convent next to the Holy Supulchre down the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem, through all the stations of Christ's passion to prepare for the celebration that took place today in the Church dedicated to the Ever Virgin Mary. It's an extraordinary and beautiful procession to attend before sunrise and listen to the chanting dedicated to the Holy Mother of God.

Not only do people come from all over the world to walk in this solemn procession in remembering the falling asleep of the Most Holy Theotokos but also bus loads use to come from all over Palestine. With the restrictions of only having a one day permit on the feast day, Palestinian Christians are missing out on these centuries old values and traditions that have maintained our deep Christian roots in the Holy Land.

…[With] the permits, the American passports and using an Israeli registered car, I tried to help [my son] reach Jerusalem faster via another checkpoint (Hizma). The soldiers, of course refused to let him or my husband…enter Jerusalem. I tried to plea with the soldiers that the day was ending and the permits were expiring at 10 pm so I really wanted to take my family briefly into Jerusalem. I said please, "they have American passports." "Please they have a permit" “Please conduct a random act of kindness" we identified ourselves and we are unarmed civilians.

Other than pure misery and harassment, I cannot understand why Palestinians who are also holders of a valid American passport and go to the trouble to follow the crazy Israeli regulations of getting a valid permit cannot use it at the Hizma checkpoint and must be confined to only one checkpoint that always has hundreds of people waiting and hours backed up. Why can illegal Israeli settlers enter the West Bank from any checkpoint they wish and Israeli products flood the Palestinian supermarkets from any checkpoint they wish? But it's pure discrimination and an outright violation of human rights for Palestinians.

I am thinking that on each and every holy day we constantly seek God's divine grace and love just to have the strength to survive in a land sanctified by Christ Himself but made violent and miserable by the occupation forces. Thus, as the Ever Virgin Mary was a source of consolation and edification to the Apostles two thousand years ago, may she continue to be so for the Christian community in the Holy Land so that we may keep our true hope in Christ our God.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Happy Feast!

The Dormition of Our Most Holy Lady the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary
August 15, Old Style

Reflection on the Feast from the Prologue
Each one of the faithful can learn much, indeed very much, from the life of the Virgin Theotokos. However, I would like to mention here only two things. First, she had the habit to frequently on Golgotha, on the Mount of Olives, in the Garden of Gethsemane, to go to Bethlehem and to other places famous because of her Son. At all of these places, especially Golgotha, she prayed on bended knees. By this, she gave the first example and incentive to the faithful to visit the holy places out of love toward Him Who, by His presence and by His passion and glory, made these places holy and significant. Second, we learn how she, in her prayer, prayed for a quick departure from this life that her soul, at the time of her separation from the body, not see the prince of darkness and his horrors, and hidden from the dark regions not encounter the power of Satan. Do you see how terrible it is for the soul to pass through the toll-gates [mitarstva]! When she, who gave birth to the Destroyer of Hades and, who herself has frightening power over demons prayed thusly, what then is left for us? Out of very great humility, she commended herself to God and did not trust in her own deeds. So much less should we trust in our deeds and even more we should commend ourselves into the hands of God, crying out for His mercy, especially for mercy at the time of the departure of the soul from the body.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Urge to Cover

Dormition Fast
Forefeast of the Dormition.
Prophet Micah (8th c. B.C.)
August 14 Old Style

I have been covering all or most of my hair for the majority of my adult life. There have been many reasons for this but religion has played the biggest role in growing this conviction in me. Now that I am an Orthodox Chrisian there is even more force behind my conviction. Ironically, I stopped covering when I entered the Orthodox Church. I wanted re-examine my reasons for many things in my spiritual life and practices to be sure that they conformed with Orthodoxy.

After four five years of praying with women who look like this

and this

and this

I feel that my conviction on covering has a place in my Orthopraxis. There is an almost tangible holiness about the women that I know who cover. The holiness that we experience at the Divine Liturgy and other divine services is mysteriously enhanced by our covering and modesty. It is only natural that the holiness should spill over into everyday life just as every other part of Orthodoxy does. The only challenges in my opinion is how to refrain from judging others who do not agree and covering in such a way that I do not draw undue attention to myself.

This is a topic that I plan to write about often. If there are women like me that scour the internet looking for others with this urge to cover their bodies including their hair, I want them to be able to find a likeminded soul or two through this blog.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

closing the year with fasting and feasting

Dormition Fast
Afterfeast of the Transfiguration.
Holy Martyr and Archdeacon Euplus of Catania
August 11 Old Style

The final fast of the year is quickly coming to a close. September 1 begins the Church new year and the cycle of feasts and observances. Renewal is a continual theme in the Orthodox life: Nativity, the coming of the light; Lent, with clean week and Pascha, the eighth day that belongs to the Kingdom to come. Even the weekly experience of confession followed by communion on Sunday (a weekly experience of the eight day) is both a cleansing and a new beginning.

The liturgical year ends with two major feasts in August which continue this theme of renewal: Transfiguration and the Dormition of the Theotokos. Transfiguration (August 6) commemorates the revelation of Christ's glory on Mt. Tabor to the disciples Peter, James and John "as far as they could bear it." It is a foreshadowing of the Resurrection and the renewal of all creation in its glory. "His face shone like the sun, and His raiment became white as snow." St. Nikolai Velimirovic says in the Prologue from Ochrid, "Up to this moment, the Lord had many times shown His divine power to His disciples, but on Tabor He showed them His divine nature." And it is to this divine nature that humanity and all of creation are called. We have become partakers of the divine nature and if we persevere our faces and garments will shine with the same brightness seen on Mt. Tabor.

The final great feast, the Dormition of the Theotokos, shows the faithful what we can look forward to when we meet the veil separating this experience of life and the next. The most holy Theotokos lays on her funeral bier surrounded by the Church, its material and immaterial members. Her body is censed and the viewer can almost hear the prayers and hymns rising to commend her soul to heaven. Behind the bier we can see what would have been unseen to those present. The Lord Jesus Christ carries the soul of the Holy Theotokos, born again as a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, to heaven.

What strikes me most is that after years of prayer, fasting and struggle, her soul at the time of death was at the developmental stage equivalent to that of an infant. And if that is true, I should not despair of my seeming lack of progress in things spiritual. The glorious Light of Mt. Tabor will surely shine in the meek, low, flawed and the stumbling. To God be the glory!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

I am

I am a peace loving Orthodox Christian devoted to the principles of social justice. I believe in God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit; simple essence and unity, worshipped forever. I honor the most holy, most pure, most-blessed and glorious Lady Theotokos and ever-Virgin Mary, with all the saints. I believe that salvation, conversion and the renewing of the mind is an ongoing process that involves my being (mind, soul and body), my family, my community and the world. I believe that every one of us and everything is connected. I accept that my path to becoming fully human includes struggle in general, bouts of veg*nism, a desire to cover my head along with the majority of my body, the rasta asthetic and worldview, visits to monasteries and radically caring for my fellow humans and the earth. I advocate for the right to dignity of human beings with a special focus on women and people of color. That’s it in a nutshell.