Holy Chrismation Anniversary of Three Years!

25 06 2009

SYLVIA'A CHRISMATION 6-25-06art chrisnation 6-25-06

                a.S, F chrismation          

We had been searching for over 30 years for a more authentic New Testament church.  I can remember –starting as newlyweds coming home after church services and just crying.  Everything seemed so untouchable.  We hardly got to know anyone very well.  There just wasn’t enough time during occasional socials to form lasting bonds.  The few friends we had bonded with in college that went to that church were also newlyweds and no longer had the time to socialize as much. 

Jim and I always believed that the church should bring people together and not separate them.  The “aloneness” followed us through many church settings.  We even tried a “house church” for awhile.  Eventually, that too became a place for division and lack of real bonding.

We traveled to several different towns to be a part of what seemed like “on the edge” New Testament churchs.  Now to be honest , we did make friends in each of them.  We are still in contact with some people from most every church we were ever a part of.  However, we knew there was still a missing link.

Our youngest daughter who was going through a divorce had a very hungry heart, too.  She had been a missionary teacher in Ukraine for a year and remembered seeing the Orthodox churches.  In fact, she had been  given a list of Orthodox books to read to prepare herself to defend the Protestant faith!  She never really read  the books but remembers being in awe of the churches she saw as a tourist. 

Her grief was so bad that she cried out to God for some answers.  She believes that God reminded her of those books.  She ordered Becoming Orthodox,  A Journey to the Ancient Christian Faith by Peter E. Gillquist.  This book deeply impacted her life.  Faith challenged us to read it, too.  We also had a time each week where we listened to a weekly podcast : Our Life in ChristOur hearts were so thirsty and we drank these podcasts in like we were travelers who hadn’t had water for days and at last found a creek or river of clear water.

The next step was finding an Orthodox church to visit.  Vera located several but we decided to visit St. Ignatius in Franklin, Tennessee.  We knew that Fr. Gordon Walker had started this church and we hoped to meet him.  So on Labor Day of 2005 –we ventured over to Franklin.  We were met by a dear lady, Myrna, who later became one of our sponsors.  She took us under her wing and explained all that was happening during the service.

During coffee hour, we actually got to meet Fr. Gordon. Jim cried on his shoulder because he knew that he had found what he had been looking for all of his life.

Faith moved to Murfreesboro, Tennessee for a new job.  A mission church was just geting started there sponsored by St Ignatius.  Fr. Stephen Rogers from St. Ignatius was there off and on to help get the church going.  We decided to drive the 102 miles one way each Sunday to be a part of this parish.  They had a temporary priest.  We asked him about becoming catecumens–but we were all told to wait a bit. 

Finally, on Christmas Eve of 2005 –Jim ,Vera, and I were made catecumins.  Fr. Gordon Walker was also at that service.  It was so special to us. 

The culmination came for us on June 25, 2006.  Fr. Stephen Rogers finally decided that we could be chrismated.  We arrived very early that morning as we had to have our life time confessions.  What a special day that was.  Our grown children and our small grandsons drove the distance to share our joy. Myrna and her husband, Deacon Edward, from St. Ignatius became our sponsers. 

Three years have now passed.  We feel that the Orthodox faith has made our lives more accountable to the Lord.  Our faith has also had the depth to see us through some serious times.  I found out I had breast cancer in the fall of 2007.  As soon as I had time to recover and feel like a person again– Jim got very sick with his aortic condition again.  In October 2008 ,  Jim spent two weeks at Vanderbilt Medical center in Nashville.  After opening him up –it was determined that he was inoperable  They wrapped his aneurysms up in dacron and sewed him up.  After working all of his adult life–he was now disabled.  We would have never made it through such difficult times without the Orthodox faith.

Now we are blessed to be on the ground floor of a mission church in Clarksville, Tennessee just 30 miles from our home.  We also have a new priest after having guest priests for almost a year. 

Our hearts are full of joy and thanksgiving for all the Lord has done for us in these three years of being Orthdox christians. 

May God bless each of you!


A Mission Trip, Our New Mission Church And Shadrack And Kibbles are Stars

16 07 2008

We drove Vera to the Nashville International Airport this morning for her flight to the Orthodox Christian Mission Center in Jacksonville, Florida.  She is training this evening and tomorrow for her overseas trip to Romania.  Friday morning , her team will be flying to Romania.  They will be spending three weeks working with older youth in camps.  Vera has been working hard for several months raising support for this trip.  She has put a great deal of her salary as a part time teacher towards her trip. Her parish, St. Elizabeth the New Martyr Orthodox Christian Church of Murfreesboro, Tennessee gave her about half of her support.  We have all sacrificed to make this mission trip a reality.  Vera is no stranger to missionary work.  After her sophmore year in college –she spent 8 weeks in Ukraine.  Then after she graduated from college she taught school in Ukraine for 10 months.  Vera married a a young man from Ukraine. The marriage became a bitter pill and her sorrow led her to learn about the Orthodox faith.  We were so impressed with the way her life changed during her search about the Orthodox faith–that we took the journey with her.  We were all chrismated in 2006 at St. Elizabeth Orthodox Church.  We will hold a prayer vigil for Vera and her team and for all the Romanian young people at the youth camps.  May God’s protection and peace be with each of them.

Several posts ago, I wrote about a new mission starting in Clarksville, Tennessee.  We have gone back and forth these past two years between the Orthodox Community at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky and St. Elizabeth in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.  In May we made our final decision to be a part of the new mission.  We have been praying for Western Kentucky and the Clarksville area ever since our journey to the Orthodox Faith began three years ago.  Jim took St. Herman of Alaska as his saint. ( You can read about St. Herman in my archives listed under the Orthodox faith. ) Many years ago while we were students at a Bible college–Jim desired to do mission work.  He is now 61 years old and that prayer is finally realized.

Fr. Peter  must have been working hard on the mission while he was in Iraq because when he came back to our community at Ft. Campbell, he had some very organized plans.  He already had a barebones budget ready.  There was already a community center in mind for the mission.  We had an official business business meeting.  Then someone told him about a chapel that might be available.  He checked into that and we had another business meeting.  This week the church that owns the chapel voted to let us rent their chapel.  So we will have a place to worship that is already a little church.  We are so excited.  The name of our mission church will be called: The Protection Of The Virgin Mary Orthodox Mission. We will be under the Orthodox Church In America. As far as I know now–there are only 4 Orthodox Christians in our Western Kentucky  town.  Now as we share about our faith, we can direct them to a mission within 30 miles of our town.  This is a wonderful answer to prayer.  And I almost forgot to add that Fr. Peter, who is being transferred to Ft. Knox, Kentucky will have no military obligations on the weekend.  His family is not moving from the Clarksville area.  So he will drive home each weekend and be our priest until a full time priest is assigned to our mission.

In the past three years we have seen people from all walks of life become Orthodox.  We have seen people who have had no church background at all seek out the Orthodox faith.  Likewise, we have witnessed  older people from different Christian backgrounds– learning about the Orthodox faith.  At St. Elizabeth several older couples were chrismated.  Their ages averaged between 60 to one man who was about 83.  Through newspaper ads–people found the Orthodox faith in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.  Now we are looking for the same kind of response in Western Kentucky and the greater Clarksville, Tennessee area. 

Jim is learning how to work behind the altar with Fr. Peter.  He has finished two Sundays so far. Fr. Peter gave him a three page single spaced list of instructions.  I had never realized how much responsibility goes into helping a priest.  Last Sunday after church, we went to get a snack and just enjoyed talking for a couple of hours.  We laughed as we remembered what a hard time Jim had with me when I was Lutheran.  We had a period in our marriage when we went our separate ways with our faith.  Jim went to a Baptist church and I went to the Lutheran church.  Jim did not like liturgical services at all.  He would give me lectures occasionally that I needed to be by his side.  I learned much about liturgical worship during my years as a Lutheran.  Now we are a team.  I never dreamed I’d see the day my husband would be working behind the altar to assist a priest.  God has been so faithful to draw us together these past three years to worship as a married couple in the same faith. So thanks be to God for our little mission church!

And now a little side note to a recent blog about Shadrack and Kibbles.  Shadrack, the dog, was found after being gone for 10 days.  Kibbles, her friend, was very sad.  Tomorrow they both become stars as the newspaper will be taking pictures of the two dog friends and will write a nice article about them.  I’m looking forward to reading that article! What a happy ending to what could have been a very sad story.

God bless each of you!

Shadrack, The Dog, A Heartwarming Story

14 07 2008

Maria, my daughter, loves her dog, Shadrack, a great deal. There is nothing Shadrack likes better than to run in the fields behind Maria’s home chasing horses or cows.    However, she has never been away for very long.  Just how did Maria find her little Shadrack?   Four years ago, after losing her dear dog, Osa–Maria found a home in the country that kept stray dogs.  There were three little puppies that she brought home.  She kept them for a couple of weeks until her husband told her that she had to choose just one.  Shadrack was the puppy who had a bundle of personality.  Thus, she returned the other two pups and kept Shadrack.  Now Shadrack is a mutt.  There is no definable way to even know much about what kind of mix she is.  However, she is full of bounce and personality.

Maria’s next door neighbor has an older dog named Kibbles.  These two dogs became fast friends.  They are so close to each other that Maria and her neighbors actually work together each day in planning food and snacks for the two friends. 

A couple of years ago, another neighbor complained about Shadrack coming on her property and scaring her cats.  She threatened Maria with the animal control people.  That began Shadrack’s life on a running rope when Maria had to be away from home.  However, the neighbor quit complaining as much, so Maria gave Shadrack a little more freedom.  She began putting Shadrack on her runner only at bedtime.  Shadrack has a beautiful dog house that she can sleep in despite the fact she is on her runner.

Shadrack has been known to follow Maria to church. She waits patiently until Maria comes out of the church door. Then she hops in Maria’s truck and gets a ride home.  She has also been known to follow Maria on her bike rides.  Shadrack is savvy! Her navigating skills are in good shape.  I guess that is why Maria and KIrk didn’t think anything about Shadrack being gone when they returned late the night of July the 4th.

Jim and I had hosted a birthday party for one of our other daughters, Vera.  They stayed at our home until about 7:30 p.m. and then went over to my son’s house to shoot fireworks.  They didn’t get back to their home until 10:30 p.m.  Maria didn’t want to put Shadrack on her runner all day and into the night, because there were no previous bad experiences to cause Maria to feel cautious that anything bad would happen.

The next morning Shadrack was nowhere to be seen.  She didn’t respond to being called.  Her neighbors told her that Shadrack seemed extremely frightened by the fireworks.  Apparently, a family not to far away was putting on quite a display of fireworks.  Maria’s neighbors told her that Shadrack came and gave Kibbles plenty of kisses–then took off in a streak.  They had no idea that Shadrack wouldn’t return.  Kibbles and Shadrack are such a team.  Kibbles is quite old and has arthritis.  Shadrack is always hovering over him.  She is constantly licking and kissing Kibbles.  So this family was beginning to feel some grief, too.

A couple of months ago, I gave Maria a small icon of St. Seraphim of Sarov.  St. Seraphim loved the wild animals in the forests of Russia.  He is known to have the ability to feed wild bears from his hands.  Since I’ve become an Orthodox Christian–I have always asked St. Seraphim to pray for our family pets.  Likewise, I ask him to pray for pets in general.  Often on my walks, I have noticed dogs on their chains who never get any exercise.  I ask this dear Saint to pray for those hurting animals.   I gave Maria the icon because at the time–Shadrack was seriously injured by another dog who was on their property.  It took many weeks for Shadrack to heal.  Now, I encouraged Maria  again to ask St. Seraphim to pray for the return of her dog.

Likewise, our family kept a prayer vigil for Shadrack.  In my heart, I knew that Shadrack had the skills to get home.  The only reason she wouldn’t be able to make it home would be if she had a serious accident or was attacked by another animal.  She had all of her identification on her collar.  Maria and Kirk spent hours looking for her.  The visited all of the Mennonite farms.   All the Mennonites know Shadrack.  However, none of the families had seen Shadrack on their farms.

Kirk had to get back on the road as he is a truck driver.  Maria was left with the lonliness of seeing that empty doghouse.  Maria didn’t neglect any of her responsibilities in her grief.  However, we could see the pain written all over her face.  She told me that last Friday night, she cried herself to sleep.  It had been one week since she had seen her dog.  She was about to give up hope.

I talked with her last night.  She was telling me how sad Kibbles has been.  Her neighbors have been very sad, too.  Shadrack liked to follow them around when they were out in their yard.  This morning Vera and I prayed once again that Shadrack would find her way home. We also prayed that if Shadrack had died–that at some point Maria would know how her dog died.  Thus, she could have a closure.

I missed the 8:00 a.m. call from Maria that Shadrack had been found.  I was across the street visiting with a neighbor.  She called again around 10:00a.m. telling me that Shadrack had made her way to the vet clinic 10 miles from home.  Shadrack is used to going to that clinic for checkups, emergency medical care and for her grooming.  The vet found her asleep on the stairs of the clinic this morning. 

Another strange thing happened before Maria got the call.  Kibbles would not leave Maria’s back porch.  She hovered near Shadrack’s dog house.   I personally believe that Kibbles knew that Shadrack had been found.  Maria went to get Shadrack.  She told me their reunion was so sweet.  Shadrack was so happy to see Maria.  The reunion back at the house was even more wonderful.  Kibbles and her owners were so happy to see Shadrack.  Maria took many pictures of the homecoming. 

Maria decided that she better keep Shadrack on her runner while she is in town today.  After she gets done with all of her business in town this afternoon–she will celebrate by eating supper with us.  Junk food always seems wonderful for celebrations.  So we will have pizza, salad and ice cream for supper tonight.  What a happy day it has been knowing that Shadrack is safe and back home again. 

All of God’s creation is good.  Animals are special to our Lord, too.  We are thankful  prayers were answered for Shadrack.  Now that Maria  knows how afraid Shadrack is of fireworks–I think it is a given that she will be on her runner next July the 4th.  Our celebration will continue for a long time to come!

God bless each of you!

Intimacy or Marketing–What Do You Want In Your Church?

27 06 2008

This morning I read an article in the June 13th edition of The Wall Street Journal entitled: Inspired By Starbucks by Alexandra Alter.  The content of the article talked about how the pastors of Mega churches are now using satellites, DVDs, and franchise marketing to promote their churches all over the world. 

The idea came from the marketing stategies of Starbucks.   Evidently Starbucks  opens four new franchises a day.  The mega churches feel like they should have a similar plan.  The marketing strategies of the mega churches are working.  People are attracted to the more modern approach to going to church.  They seem to like the coffee house atmosphere of worship. 

I am aghast to such an approach.  I don’t go to church to have fun.  I go to church to worship God.  In the Holy Orthodox Church–we worship God through our Divine Liturgy. Our priest chants the  prayers and we follow with our “Lord have mercy” or our “Grant this o Lord.”  We affirm our faith by reciting the Nicene Creed. We say the Lord’s Prayer.  We make sure our hearts are clean by saying pre- communion prayers.  Lastly, we take the Holy Eucharist –which is the true body and blood of Christ.  This is our medicine for daily living.  In closing our service–we sing songs of thanksgiving for having partaken of the Holy Eucharist and the Priest closes by giving veneration to the saints who have gone on before us.

My point is that the Holy Orthodox faith is full of intimacy.  Nothing could be more intimate than having one’s priest spoon the Holy Eucharist into one’s mouth.  And when we finish our service– we line up again to kiss the cross which our priest is holding.  We also kiss the priest’s hand.  We have two very direct face to face encounters with a our priest.  And if one attends the Holy Matins service prior to the Divine Liturgy–then one gets another encounter with a priest by lining up to kiss the Holy Gospels and the pries’ts hand.  That make three wonderful face to face encounters with a priest.

It is a tradition in the Holy Orthodox Faith to enjoy eating a small meal with each other before going to our homes.  We have coffee, juices, tea and snacks or sometimes a full meal.  It is a wonderful time to get to know each other better.  I know I used to feel so empty just walking out of church in my protestant days.  In the Holy Orthodox Faith- one does not have to leave the church feeling alone.  This intimacy of sharing a meal has bonded our hearts further with our fellow parishioners and our priest. It is a beautiful tradition.

These mega churches that are marketing their faith rely on dvds, literature, or satellites.  The new franchises are full of people who have no flesh and blood priest or pastor.  So what do they do when a crisis hits?  Do they listen to a dvd on how to deal with death ,  a financial loss or marital stress?  Or does a slick brochure sooth the wounds?   What about weddings, funerals or baptisms?  How can they be truly special?  I know when Jim was near death almost three years agao–we wouldn’t have made it without the intimacy of the Orthodox faith.  A priest came up to the hospital twice to pray with us.  On the last visit–the priest annointed Jim with Holy Oil.  Likewise, when I found out I has breast cancer–I couldn’t have made it without the support of our priest.  We had quite a few talks prior to my surgery.  I also had two confessions because I didn’t want to face surgery with any dark clouds in my heart.  And finally, when I had my surgery during Christmas week of 2007- – my very special Fr. Peter from Ft. Campbell came and prayed with me.  My own priest from Murfreesboro was not able to come 100 miles because he had a house full of company.  Fr. Peter not only prayed for me –but on the final leg of my journey– when I was just about to be put under anesthesia–he came and talked to me once again.  He stayed with my family and talked with them.  It was such an intimate time for all of us. 

In the Holy Orhtodox Faith–we have confession with our priests.  Our priest get to know the strengths and weaknesses of each parishoner.  Our weddings are second to none.  They are very ornate and detailed and last a long time.  Then the receptions are usually full of whatever tradition a particular parish follows.  I know the Greeks enjoy having a great deal of dancing at their weddings.  Our baptisms are long and detailed with great celebrations afterwards. And for converts who are chrismated –the service is very special and intimate.  We have sponsors.  The sponsors provide our candles, icons and baptismal crosses.  The sponsors make a commitment to be a part of the lives of the newly chrismated.  This is another beautiful example of intimacy.

Thus,  I choose the more intimate path for my faith.  I want to first and foremost worship our Lord.  I have a Trinitarian faith.  That is why we make the sign of the cross.  That is why we pray The Trisagion Prayers. 

The Trisagion Prayers are a set of ancient prayers that begin each service of the Daily Cycle. They are also commonly used to begin one’s private prayers. (http://orthodoxwiki.org/Trisagion) (the + means to make the sign of the cross)

+Glory to Thee, our God, Glory to Thee.

O Heavenly King, Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere present and fillest all things, the Treasury of good things and Giver of life: Come, and abide in us, and cleanse us from every stain, and save our souls, O Good One.

+Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal: have mercy on us. (3 times)

+Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

All-Holy Trinity, have mercy on us. Lord, cleanse us from our sins. Master, pardon our iniquities. Holy God, visit and heal our infirmities for Thy name’s sake.

Lord, have mercy. (3 times)

+Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

For Thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory, of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

So what do you choose?  I personally want a deep intimate faith with my Lord.  I also want to know my priest in a personal way.  I want to participate in each step of the Divine Liturgy of our faith.  I don’t want a dvd or a booklet in place of a priest.  I don’t want to be bribed to attend a service by being offered tickets to the movies or a a free cup of coffee.  That is my personal choice.  What is yours?

God bless each  of you!

The Joy Of The Children and Getting Ready for Vera To Return Home

17 12 2007

I just went through our church directory and counted that we have about 33 children at St. Elizabeth the New Martyr Orthodox Christian Church.  The Orthodox faith believes in keeping the children in the service.  What a joy to see children as young as 3 making the sign of the Cross and singing: “Lord have mercy”.   Yesterday, my friend Mary sat on the front row.  She attracted several children.  What a delight to see them worshiping with Mary.  One of these children was about 7 and he was able to repeat the Nicene Creed, almost from memory.  These children are so attuned to participating in the Divine Liturgy.  If a younger child gets restless–parents are welcome to take them out of the service for a bit. One of my greatest joys is seeing whole families partake of the Holy Eucharist together. 

In our parish, we have a tradition where the children take the offering.  It is so sweet to see them gather up front. One by one they kiss the cross . Then they begin to take the offering up.  I always look forward to this.  I taught Sunday School for several months last spring and was amazed at the knowledge these young children have about their faith. 

One of the key reasons why Jim and I converted to the Orthodox faith was because we had participated for over 30 years in churches that were constantly changing.  The Orthodox Church never changes.  They have been using the same service written by St. John Chrysostom for hundreds of years.  In the course of our service ,our priest prays for so many needs of the world. We then as a parish sing out: “Lord have mercy”.  There are other little songs we sing in reference to his ,but the mercy theme is the most predominant.  We pray for our president, for people who are sick , for all who are traveling , for the earth to be full of plenteous food. We also pray for those who are held captive and persecuted for their faith.

I especially love the Grand Entrance where our priest and all of the alter men and boys walk down the aisles of the church with the Holy Eucharist.  We can reach out an touch our priest’s robe.  Then when he reaches the front of the church–he has a list of very special needs that he prays for. 

Near the end of our service–we walk up front to receive the Holy Eucharist.  We cross our arms–placing our hands on our shoulders.  We step one by one up to our priest where he gives us this sacrament personally.  After I return to my sit–I  enjoy seeing others partake of the Holy Eucharist.  We sing the beatitudes.  We also sing Christ’s words from the Gospel of John , Chapter 13:35: “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” I love this quote from St. Elizabeth the New Martyr: “If you do not love the brother whom you see, how will you be able to love God whom you do not see?”  I have written a little post about St. Elizabeth that is listed under “Orthodox Saints”.  She went from a life of royalty –to a life of complete self sacrifice for others. 

We are all excited that Vera will be moving back home this Friday.  On recent Sundays,  we have been carting a car load of her possessions home. Hopefully, she will be able to get the last of her stuff in her car.  One of her adult students is bringing a car load of things also.  Maria  went through her home looking for extra furniture for Vera.  In our enthusiasm to clean our house out last spring and summer –we let go of almost everything upstairs.  So Maria loaded her pickup truck with a desk, a bookcase, a table, a clothes rack and a beautiful mirror.  Her neighbors helped her load the truck.  I helped her cart all of this furniture upstairs this morning.  It really exhausted me.  However, I’m glad that we have at least this good start for Vera.

The sun was shining today.  How wonderful after days of drenching rain.  I was able to get our dogs on a good walk.  Our walks have become fewer since Jim started his new work schedule around Thanksgiving time.  They were so excited to get out in the rich sun light this afternoon.  Then we curled up for a nice nap.  There is something very comforting to me about having my little dogs curl up with me.  To some folks that would be gross.  However, to me it is one of life’s little delights.  At night–Rudy, our twelve pounds of trouble, always sleeps under the covers.  I don’t know how she breathes ,but she always manages to wake up –full of vitality and ready to start her little trouble making antics.  Ticky likes to sleep close to my pillow.  Sometimes,  Sam, the cat, joins us.  What a comical team we all are.

So thank the Lord for the joy of the children and the joy of His wondrous creation.  Most especially–we are thankful that Vera is coming home!

God bless each of you!

My Prayers and Desires As A Cancer Patient and Tickie, The Dog

24 11 2007

Since I’ve become an Orthodox Christian, I’ve learned to read the Gospels more.  They just were not emphasized that much in my Protestant faith.  My particular background viewed the Gospels as part of the “Kingdom Age” and thus not important for doctrine.  The Lord’s Prayer was never uttered.  I don’t mean to act ugly about this–it is just plainly sad.  I used to spend most of my time in the Epistles.  Now my heart is so hungry for the Gospels.  I read them each day.  I say the Lord Prayer at least twice a day.  When I feel stuck in knowing what to pray in a difficult situation–I always say the Lord’s prayer.

I used to mock people who fasted.  I would tell them that fasting was from the “Kingdom Age” and not appropriate for our present day.  We fast a great deal in the Orthodox Church.  We fast on Wednesdays and Fridays and for long periods during The Navity Fast and during Great Lent.  However, we are never to judge anyone by whether they actually keep the fast.  We are not to interrogate our brethen.  This is something we do quietly and in obedience to our faith. ( Our fasting consists of voluntarily giving up all animal products)

Over the past year, I’ve seen how God has quieted my heart by voluntarily giving up some of my desires.  I don’t claim to understand how this has all come about , but I know it has.  Last winter, I really had issues with one of my Orthodox sisters in Christ.  I made her life fairly miserable by bringing up all of her faults.  Through the winter and spring months-we were totally disconnected.  Through reading the Gospels and the works of St Theophan  the Recluse, –I realized that I was indeed the one who needed cleansing.

My friend was so bitter against me that she didn’t want to even talk to me –when I begged for a meeting.  Finally, in early June–she came to my home and talked this situation over with me, on my front porch.  She told me that I had “put her through hell.” Furthermore, she told me that even though she forgave me—-she didn’t want to be my friend.  I felt very sad that she didn’t just instantly have the emotions of loving me again. It took months for her to want to even acknowledge me. 

Finally, little by little she seemed softer towards me.  She came by labor day weekend to show us pictures of her Alaskan Missionary Trip.  I even was restless one night and prayed for her continually.  Later, I learned that she was back East with her father who is close to dying.  She was in deep crisis that night.   Mary , my other close Orthodox friend, had related to this lady how I was sleepless and concerned for her.  That really touched her and she opened up a little more.

She came to my open house and gave us some Holy Oil that she has gotten in Alaska.  She also gave us some incense.  Last week, she asked us to stop by her apartment in Clarksville, Tn on our way home from church to pick up a television she wanted to give us.  Our set had so many reddish tones in it.  Mary had told her how awful our television was.  So she gave us an extra one she had. 

On Tuesday of this week–when I found out I had cancer, I immediately called Mary.  She then called this lady.  She called me immediately and told me how much she loved me and that she would be there for me.  The long journey of distance between us was over.  I know we will walk many a mile together during my cancer recovery. 

What I’ve learned most of all through all of this, is that we are to keep our own hearts clean and to let go of our petty grievances against others.  The Beatitudes give a clear prescription of daily medicine for our soul.  I’ve lived so long with the “judge and jury” view of the church of the West.  In the East, we view the church as a hospital and that we are all sick to a greater or lesser degree.  We get well by keeping obedient to the Church and faithful to things like keeping our fasts, daily prayers and almsgiving.  We also go to confession and get prescriptions from our priests.  Our confessions are not like the ones viewed on television or in the movies.  We don’t sit in a little box and whisper things to a priest who can not see us.  No! Our priest stands with us before the icon of Christ.  We talk to him about the cancers of our souls and he gives us help.  This has been a wonderful sacrament to obey.  Always, my priest can push me in a direction…that maybe I can’t see for myself.  There is no condemnation.  When we finish, he puts his sash over my head and gives me absolution.  It is a sacrament of spiritual healing. 

In facing cancer, I want to let loose of all pettyness and bitterness.  I want to keep my own heart clean.  I love how our study Bible describes the disciplines of the Beatitudes:“These disciplines help us find true wisdom, which consists of: 1. the love of God and pursuit of His righteousness by bringing our treasure (Matt.6:19-16) as alms to God, our worries (Matt. 6:22-7:34) in prayer and fasting to Him; and 2.  the love of human beings and pursuit of righteous reconciliation with them by submitting our judgments of them (Matt 7:1-6) to God’s severe mercy. For these difficult tasks we need divine discernment and guidance, which God provides to those who follow Jesus’ spiritual rule (Matt. 7:7-12).  Thus, our natural impulses are redirected toward their proper goal: the righteousness of God in His Kingdom (Matt. 6:33).”  These quotes were taken from The Orthodox Study Bible, page 13. 

Now for a less serious note.  Yesterday I talked about how we got Rudy, one of our dogs.  I promised to tell how we got Tickie.   Maria’s husband (my daughter) found Tickie on a country road.  It was apparent that she had been wandering for a long time as she was full of ticks.  Kirk brought Tickie home and spent about $300.00 getting her shots and medicine for having all those ticks.  Then later in the summer, he decided he didn’t want an indoor dog afterall.  Maria brought him to our home , hoping we would take Tickie.  Again, it seemed hard to say “No”.  So Tickie , a full blooded Shih Tzu joined the fun with Rudy.  They became fast friends and boy–can they ever be bad.  However, when I sit to read a book –they are right by my side.  When Vera lived with us last–we both got flu together.  We loved having Rudy right beside us in the bed.  Dogs are wonderful!  I didn’t grow up with any pets but my own children pushed the issue until I relented.  I was  34 before I ever had a pet in my life.  So now I’ve been enjoying them for many years.  We’ve had several dear cats who have died of cancer.  The last one was “Jackie” who we had to have put down last Christmas.  “Jackie”  had been a part of Vera’s life since she was in the sixth grade.  She considered “Jackie” her special cat.  Again, as Orthodox Christians , we take comfort that even our pets are considered very special to their Creator, Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.  Many of the Saints have had a special friendship with animals , particularly wild animals.  I have a little icon on my desk of St. Seraphim of Savro, feeding a wild bear.  St. Herman of Alaska also bonded with the wild animals.  Praise the Lord that all of creation is wonderful!   A good Psalm to explain this is Psalm 148.  It is one of my favorite Psalms and is quoted in our Divine Liturgy each week.

God Bless each of you!

My Journery to the Orthodox Faith, part 6

13 11 2007

    The very first Monday in January of 2006, I met a lady named Mary at an inner city Bible study.  I noticed that Mary made the sign of the cross during our prayer time .When the prayer time was over–I asked her about her faith.  Mary had grown up in California.  Her father was Catholic and her mother was Baptist.  She was never confirmed as a Catholic.  However, she gravatated to the Catholic faith more than the Baptist faith. 

     Mary had been a part of the Jesus movement on the West coast during the early seventies.  I had followed that movement as a young college student and even wrote a paper on it for my English 102 class.  Mary’s marriage didn’t work out.  She left California for LasVegas , NV.  Mary had various jobs–a clerk in a fancy department store and later working in the cassinos.  While raising one daughter, Mary managed to turn from her faith to a life of deep immorality.  Working and partying filled her life up.  Amazingly, she told  me that she continually read the Bible through a little each day.  It was like that spark deep inside of her towards God just would not die out.

    In April of 2005, Mary decided not to drive to work, but to take a bus.  She blacked out and suffered a severe Hematoma that day.  Every capilary in her brain busted.  The doctors told her grown daughter “to pray that she dies”.  So it was a miracle when Mary recovered.  The road back to health was slow.  She told me that for awhile she had three MRI’s a week.  Mary also told me that God finally had her attention.  From that point on, she began living a Christian life again.

     In November of 2003, Mary made a visit to our town to see some friends of her California days.  She liked our town a great deal and decided to move here.  In Janurary of 2004, Mary moved to Kentucky.  Having suffered from mild epilepsy all of her life–she now had a full blown case of this disease.  She qualified for social security disability.  Mary had made the rounds of churches in our town–only to still fill something was missing in her life.

     After meeting Mary, we connected very well.  Jim and I went over to visit her and she showed us all the prayers she had written.  She  was already practicing morning, noon and evening prayers.  She had prayer shawls, holy oil etc to go along with her prayer time.  Mary decided through the weeks of our sharing in January and February that she wanted to travel to church with us.

      It was the end of February that she first visited St Elizabeth with us.  On the way home, Mary told us she knew she had found a church home at last.  A real extrovert, she soon made herself known. 

      Meanwhile, I was taking care of a four year girl in January and February while getting to know my new friend Mary.  Jim’s disability pay was set to run out the end of February.  His cardioligist wanted Jim to try to work four hours a day.  Having been a substitute teacher off and on since l988, I knew I had to jump back into this profession.  I had only been away from teaching for three years, so it wasn’t hard to get started again.  My favorite high school was happy that I was returning.  I started back to work the last week in February.  My little girl was able to stay with “Nanna” who took care of my grandsons.  Jim also started to work when I did. 

     One of the advantages of working as a substitute in high school was the long planning periods that I could read.  This high school was on the block system which meant that the students had four 90 minutes classes a day.  The teachers would have three classes and a planning period.  I read one book after another about the Orthodox Faith. 

     In mid April, Jim finally went back to an eight hour day.  During my spring break, I visited with Mary quite a bit.  She kept begging Fr John and Fr Steven  to let her become a catachumen.  They kept telling her that she needed to wait and make sure that is really what she wanted to do.  The Orthodox Church never pressures anyone to join.  In fact, they ignore one’s request for the longest time.  Likewise, once a person becomes a catachumen,  it is a long journey to Chrismation.  The final result is that once a person becomes fully Orthodox, that person  is more likely to stay in the church and not drift around. 

     Our part time priest, who was also a high school principal, announced  that he would be leaving in late spring.  His family also drove 100 miles to be able to minister to us.  It was time for our little parish to start looking for a fulltime priest.  Fr. Stephen Rogers told us that Fr John Oliver and his family wanted to return to the mid South.  Fr. John and his wife, Kh Lara had been a part of St Ignatius before they went off to seminary.  They wanted to come to our parish.  We had a special time after the service one Sunday, when Fr. Stephen asked us to make a pledge of how much we could give the Olivers.  They needed a decent salary to support a family of six.  This was the first time in my entire life that I’d had ever considered giving a tenth of my income.  I whispered to Jim the amount I had in mind.  He was thinking the same thing.  We wanted  the Olivers to be able to come.  Our parish wanted a fulltime priest.  The pledges did indeed come through.  The Bishop gave his approval and the Oliver family was set to come in early August.

     Meanwhile, Fr Stepehen and the other two priests at St Ignatius rotated each Sunday for our Divine Liturgy.  Vera, Jim and I were restless.  We wanted be Chrismated.  In early June, we asked Father Stephen by phone for permission.  He granted our request.  Now we had to begin to work on preparing for our lifetime confession.

    We arrived early that last Sunday morning of June to our parish.  We each had our confession with Fr Stephen prior to the services.  Orthodox confession is so very personal.  We didn’t stand in a booth.  We stood with our priest before the Icon of Christ.  Fr Stephen would give bits of counsel as we talked.  It was a very peaceful and cleansing time. ( Each of our confessions were private).

       Our families traveled to see our Chrismation.  Our sponsors were with us.  We had beautiful candles.  It was a tremendous morning.  Finally, Mary also was granted her desire to become a catachumen.  She had her service before ours.  I couldn’t help pondering the miracle God had worked in Mary’s life, and in our lives. 

    For Jim and I , it was the culmination of searching our entire life for a Christianity that was not broken or fragmented.  We knew we could depend on the ancient church not to change and waver with the times.  We’ve never regretted becoming Orthodox.  Each day, we have new purpose and meaning.  Moreover, we take our faith extremely serious.  It is not something to  trifle with.  Yes, the Orthodox faith helped us even as searchers when Jim almost lost his life.  Now the Orthodox faith provides a solid foundation for the trials of every day life. 

     Mary was chrismated on December 17th,  2006 at Ft. Campbell , Ky. ( This is a long story in and of itself).  As far as we know this moment, there are only four Orthodox Christians in our town.  Just as surely as St Elizabeth  grew out of just a few couples, we are praying that someday there will be an Orthodox parish right here in our town and more springing up all over Western Kentucky. 

      For wonderful information on the Orthodox Faith , visit www.ancientfaithradio.com.  Our own Fr John Oliver has a regular podcast. Another good source of information is  http://www.ourlifeinchrist.com and I invite you to take a journey of your own.  Someday, we hope to read or hear your story.