Archive for April, 2005

From yesterday’s high, crashing back into reality. I will not be able to attend any more services until the Agape Vespers on Sunday — and even after that, I won’t be able to stay as long as I’d like.

I drove back, that whole 40 miles, this morning, just so I could be at the Royal Hours. That was good till about 11:00 a.m., and then I had to come back home, in theory, so I could bake kulich (but I didn’t. I did some laundry, then spent a lot of time on a prayerbook I’m making for myself). And I’ve spent the afternoon kicking myself for not having hung around for the Vespers of the Unnailing, which took place at 3:00. The Greeks do something very beautiful — my former ROCOR parish didn’t do this, so I don’t know if Russians have this custom — the Greeks have a structure that represents the Tomb of Christ, and right after the Royal Hours, they decorate this Tomb with flowers and set it on the solea in front of the Royal Doors. At the Vespers of the Unnailing, they take the icon of the Body of Christ down off the cross, process around the church with it, and place it in the Tomb. Then, at night, everybody goes up to venerate the shrouded Body, and during the Lamentations the Tomb is taken off its stand and paraded out into the street, while the entire church follows it holding candles and singing, “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.” The Tomb is processed around the church, then held high above the door so that everybody can pass under it. At the end of the service, everyone gets a flower off the Tomb.

I could have stayed and helped decorate the Tomb. I could have had Orthodox fellowship with people I really enjoy. Instead, I was Conscientious and came home, and have been wallowing in isolation ever since. This Lone Orthodox business is FOR THE BIRDS. I want my Pascha! I want fellowship! I want to be with other people who know how beautiful an Orthodox life is!

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A comment from a new subscriber (Hi, Mimi!) reminded me — oh, yeah. There’s a world of blogs out there, from which I have been noticeably absent lo these past two weeks. Hello, time to rejoin the human race.

Well… No, that hasn’t been my problem, exactly. My problem has been more, the Dative Case in Russian, followed by the Instrumental Case, and the attendant humongous vocabulary lists. Tell me, who in their right mind starts to study Russian when they are pushing 60?!?!?!

And Holy Week hasn’t helped. In fact, neither has Great Lent. It’s just been the most mixed-up, squirrelly Lent I think I’ve ever experienced. Nothing earth-shattering, apart, of course, from having my son’s Significant Other explode in my face because of the comments I posted about my son’s situation on the OrthWomen’s list. (Still haven’t heard from her, BTW.) But you know how, when you wake up late, you spend all day trying to catch up? That’s how all of Lent has been. Now it’s Holy Week, the Bridegroom is at the door, and never mind running out of oil, I can’t even find the dratted lamp.

Fortunately for all of us, but especially a scatterbrain like me, God is God; and being God, He is so phenomenally merciful and doggone good. I went to Liturgy this morning in a parish that’s 40 miles away, which I attend every other week (the parish that’s closer has Liturgy every other Sunday, so it works out). This particular parish is in Saco, ME, right on the southern shore of the state, and it’s about an hour’s drive from where I live in Rochester, NH. I like the priest because he is very conservative and very aware of the need for a spiritual life, as opposed to some of the Greeks I’ve met who truly believe the Church is about preserving Greek culture.

For reasons I have yet to fathom, this parish has Holy Thursday Liturgy at 6:00 a.m. Not too big a problem for me, since I’m a morning person anyway, except that I do have to be up at around 4:30 a.m. so I can leave the house by 5:00, to get there by 6:00. That didn’t happen today, but even so, I only missed about the first 15 minutes. So I get there, they’re just reading the Epistle, and then that long, long Gospel (just think of Christ on the cross, if you want to think in terms of long — must have seemed like all of eternity to Him), and then comes the Cherubic Hymn.

Now, there are three people standing at the Chanter’s Stand, but it’s pretty obvious none of them have a clue what to do next. So yours truly, former choir director and person-who-sang-before-she-could-talk (according to my aunt), started singing. Great Entrance occurs, and the next Big Hymn comes, as we all know, right after the Epiclesis: “In thee rejoiceth.” By this time, I’ve figured out that apart from the two priests celebrating, I am the only person in this building at this time who knows the music, so I sing a bit more strongly. Finish that hymn, and about five minutes later, I feel a tap on my shoulder. It’s one of the people from the Chanter’s Stand: “Could you please come over and give us a hand?”

OH SURE. YES! ABSOLUTELY!! Ask me if I want to breathe! The only reason I wasn’t there faster is that I haven’t learned to fly. After Liturgy I received several comments on how nice my voice was, and why wasn’t I singing in the choir, to which I answered, quite honestly, “They sing too low for me.” And they do. Last time I tried to sing that low, I got nodes on my vocal cords and had to stop singing for two years before they healed. But you know — it was so nice to sing again as a cantor, something I haven’t done since Fr. Dean left in 2001 (I acquired the nodes under his successor).

Thank you, God, for letting me use this particular gift today. I appreciated Your heads-up that maybe this Lent wasn’t the bust I feel like it’s been.

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Church in Maine today, one of the two parishes we visit regularly (the other parish is very small, and only has services every other week). During the sermon, the priest mentioned that it has been a very tough Lent for him, and that got my attention, since every Orthodox Christian I know has said this has been an unusually tough Lent. I wonder why?

Afterwards, we drove to our daughter’s house for lunch. Our daughter became a Catholic a year or two after her marriage, so for them Easter is long over, and she had — meat. Just meat. Around 3:30, just as we were thinking of getting underway, she trotted out the strawberries she’d been saving for dessert. That’s the kind of Lent it’s been. We did have a nice visit, if you ignore the counter-cultural Orthodox bits — and the fact that the Orthodox “bits” are your whole life, somehow gets lost in translation. I’m still trying to figure out how to get that across.

Anyway, after a truly lovely afternoon we drove home our usual way. As we took a turn-off onto a side road, a van shot past us and one of the passengers yelled something at us. A mile or so later, we were on another highway — also part of our usual route — and the same van pulled up hard on our bumper, then passed, forcing us into the breakdown lane to avoid getting our bumper clipped, and gave us the finger once it was in front of us — sped off down the road, having narrowly missed oncoming traffic. I hate warm weather, it brings out all the nuts. (I should add that my husband was driving the speed limit, which was 55 mph.)

Three or four miles down the road, we pulled up to a traffic light, right behind the green van. The light turned, the van didn’t move, and my husband tapped the horn. The driver started up — came to a dead stop so that we were smack in the middle of the intersection — then took off with a roar, and a few hundred yards down the road, made a left into a gas station. I didn’t like the look of that. Sure enough, shortly thereafter, who do we see in our rear-view mirror again. This time, we were close to a State Police barracks, so my husband pulled into the parking lot, giving Tootsie a chance to get a decent distance down the road. And that was the end of that — we thought.

We get all the way into Sanford, which is about 15 miles from where all this started, and whom do we see in the left-turn lane? Fortunately (we thought) we were going straight, so we did, and Tootsie made her left. Suddenly my husband pulls hard into a side street and heads down, glancing into his rear-view mirror — this chick had made a U-turn after making her left, and was pursuing us down the main road out of Sanford. Can you say “stalking”?

The side street seems to have done the trick; we got back onto an intersecting main road, and got home by another way. I just hope this idiot isn’t roaming the streets of our town, looking in each and every driveway for our car.

What is it with female drivers, anyway?! I used to get so offended when I was young, and men would make remarks about Female (or Women) Drivers; but so help me, they were right. All the worst drivers around here are women, and I don’t understand why.

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For the time being, since I seem to have a whopping two subscribers, both of whom know my situation, I think I can discuss it fairly freely here.

Thanks to both of you for your insight and comments. If it were a question of sinfulness, yes, being made aware of it would be a very good thing, painful though it might be. What’s more painful is the frustration, as one of you so accurately pinpointed, of having to apologize for an offense inadvertently given — that’s nothing, we all do that — but not having it accepted, and also, the notion that the remarks I made were a deliberate attempt at character assassination. Once people put their own spin on your actions, nothing you say or do makes any difference; and as you both know, this is an important relationship in my life.

I’m glad, too, to have the input on silence not being a good thing, since the description of “bad” silence — a prison — is exactly what this is becoming: a place to be stuck in, where my letters are not answered and my phone calls not returned, and I just don’t know where else to go from here.

The answer, I guess, is patience, the hope that over time, being distanced from me will get to be more of a disadvantage than an advantage. I do have one ace in the hole: my son’s favorite recipes. (The way to a man’s heart…) I used to share them, but have by no means given them all out, so when he gets sick of having the same five recipes over and over, maybe then I’ll hear from his Significant Other. But at this point, as things stand, I don’t see what else I can do for these people, and racking my brains for a solution is wearing, to say the least.

Thanks, ladies — your input was a big help.

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Recent events, which I would prefer not to discuss publicly, have had me thinking about the possibility of observing an overall silence — including shutting down my blogs. In looking back over my life, one consistent thread has emerged: It seems I can’t open my mouth without somebody taking offense. I can say the most innocuous thing, such as expressing an admiration for German culture, and in somebody’s mind, this automatically turns me into a Nazi. (Yes, this actually happened.) Sort of like me telling my mother-in-law that I hoped my kids would get to spend junior year abroad (they didn’t), and her telling my husband that I was planning to throw them out of the house when they turned twenty.

So it’s a serious temptation just to say nothing. Not nothing offensive, since that seems to be impossible: Nothing. Just my prayers. It’s radical, it would almost certainly lead to isolation, which is never good, but then, neither is offending people, so who cares?

And then I opened my e-mail Inbox, and I read this:

The Spiritual Senses: St. Mark 7:31-37, especially vs. 34: “Then, looking up to heaven, [Jesus] sighed, and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’” Read here of a man who could neither hear nor use his ordinary physical organs of speech. However, the man heard the command, “Ephphatha!,” and “…he spoke plainly” (vs. 35). After that, there was no silencing the man nor his friends.

Who has not encountered terrible seasons when the spiritual senses are closed off to God? The Prophet David knew such inner silence and darkness: “And now, what is my patient endurance? Is it not the Lord? Yea, my hope is from Thee. From all mine iniquities deliver me; Thou hast made me a reproach to the foolish. I was dumb and opened not my mouth, for Thou hast made me. Take away from me Thy scourges…” (Ps. 39:10-13 LXX). (From the Bible study Yahoogroup Dynamis)

I’m not sure what exactly to think about this. But it was plainly the will of our Lord that this man be able to speak; in other words, not speaking was not a good thing, and He made it possible for this man to speak.

So, I guess this is also His will for me, considering that this particular reflection came into my life on the precise day I was seriously considering giving up speech; also considering that I still have the use of my vocal cords. After all, if He didn’t want me to speak, I could have developed laryngeal cancer or something. As for giving offense, though — I’m not sure there’s much I can do about that, other than shutting up permanently. I can’t control what people choose to read into what I have to say. I do my best to keep it non-offensive as it is, so total silence really does seem to be the only alternative; and since that’s evidently not the Will of God, well…. Chill. Stop putting words into my mouth, and thoughts into my head, that aren’t there. You know who you are.

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To Be the Tree

If you ever get a chance, try to locate a recording of Krysztow Penderecki’s “St. Luke Passion.” Penderecki is/was a very modern composer (I’m not sure if he’s still alive), so this particular Passion is a chaos of some of the most god-awful sounds human voices can make. But I recommend it because of the very, very last chord of the piece, when three four-part choirs come together for the final “GLORIA!” — a masterpiece of harmony, when you suddenly realize that the piece had to be chaotic, because the Crucifixion was a triumph of chaos — but God’s perfect harmony is still more triumphant. What genius.

Yesterday, as I’m sure we all know, was the Feast of the Holy Cross. In typing up the material for this Sunday, I was struck by this Ode from Canticle Nine of the Canon: Let all the trees of the forest dance and sing, as they behold their fellow tree, the Cross, today receiving veneration: for Christ, as holy David prophesied, hath exalted it on high. Some years ago, I belonged to an Orthodox list, now sadly defunct, on which we encouraged one another to write poetry about specific events. This was my offering for September 14, the Elevation of the Cross:

To Be the Tree

“Cursed is he who hangs,” they say,/ as though there were nothing worse./ But I tell you, to be the tree,/ on which hangs the One Who created me/ — now that’s a curse.

No matter to me He rose from the dead./ I hide myself for shame./ Those others with me, on whom others died,/ in terror and trembling also hide,/ for fear of the flame.

Three hundred years I lay in the earth/ before I felt it turning./ Now, in the light of day I stand,/ exposed to all by a woman’s hand,/ and await my burning.

But wait! What does St. Helena say?/ “Behold the life-giving Tree/ by which salvation came to man!”/ Even I, it seems, was part of God’s plan./ Salvation comes — even for me.

Let all the trees of the forest dance and sing, as they behold their fellow tree, the Cross, today receiving veneration….

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I just realized that in these times of excessive Political Correctness, the final paragraph of my last entry may offend somebody; so I should clarify that the word “Polak” is simply the Polish word for a man of Polish descent. I grew up hearing about “good Polaks,” and never realized it was anything but a compliment until I was married and said that to somebody, who automatically assumed I was being facetious as well as anti-Polish. Some people assume too danged much.

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This afternoon, my husband and I drove to a local restaurant to celebrate my stepfather’s 90th birthday, which was yesterday. We had a wonderful time, and around 2:30 we started drifting out of the restaurant on our way home. As Jim and I left the restaurant, one of my brothers, on his way out of the parking lot, rolled down his window and said, “Turn on the radio when you get into the car — the Pope just died.”

This particular Pope is very special to me because he was Polish, and my stepfather (who’s really the only father I’ve ever known — mine died when I was two, and my mother remarried when I was three) is also Polish; his mother was a Polish farmgirl from the Lodz area, and his father came from a rather more cultured family in, I believe, Krakow, the Pope’s hometown. My grandmother used to refer to him as her “boyfriend,” and kept a large portrait of him — maybe 24″ x 48″ — in a place of honor on her wall. She was so thrilled when he was elected. Although I left the Catholic Church right around the time he was elected, I always felt that he was a “good” Pope, in the sense that it was obvious he truly cared for his Church and for his vocation as its temporal leader. It was never about power for him. I felt bad for him because it must have become obvious to him, as the years went on, that he would never be able to undo the damage caused by Paul VI; but he had to keep trying. Now he can rest from his labors.

My husband and I were just speculating about the next Pope, where he might be from and what direction he might take, and I realized: Religiously, it’s not going to affect me. For the first time in my life, the election of a Pope will have no direct affect on me. Will the new Pope choose to admit women to the priesthood, or reinstate liberation theology (Marxism in a cassock)? Or will he affirm the policies of John Paul II and continue to try to stem the liturgical abuses that have eviscerated Catholicism? I don’t know, and I almost don’t care, except that whichever direction he takes will affect everyone in the world — that’s the nature of being the leader of a large body of human beings. Whichever direction he chooses, he’s bound to annoy somebody; somebody, somewhere, will declare that “this is the final nail in the coffin of the Catholic Church.” What a very great shame, how sad, that people who are depending on this man to be their shepherd will continue to be buffeted about spiritually, just when and where they are at their most vulnerable. For their sakes, I do care.

Meanwhile, on a much more personal level, I’m dealing with the dichotomy between life and death: The 90th birthday party of one old Polak, and the death of another Polak five years his junior (John Paul II would have turned 85 this year). The old Polish song, “Sto lat,” “May you live to be 100 years,” keeps drifting through my head. It was sung so often for the Pope. It’s sung at every Polish celebration, and I heard it many times, growing up. Sto lat, Francziszek Swienty (not my maiden name, but close); may your memory be eternal, Karol Wojtyla — our Polish Pope.

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