To all my family, friends, fellow bloggers, and followers:
As I sit in my bedroom and stare out at my neighbors’ snow-covered backyards, in the midst of the time of year commonly called “The Holidays,” I remember this special, wonderful season when I was a child. Thoughts and discussions about the word community have bounced around our media waves and public venues for the past few years. Some talking about the loss of community in our day. Trying to resurrect what has been lost behind 6-foot-tall fenced in homes, tiny front porches, and neighborhood sidewalks and streets devoid of people.
I’ve been pondering these changes over the last thirty to forty years in communities. If you were a child in the 1970s like I was, you may relate to what I’ll be expressing here.
I grew up swinging on leathery-type seats with rusty chains to hold onto, pumping my legs to reach the sky so that I could jump out of the little seat, feeling the joy of that wisp of a moment of flying before my feet hit the ground–a ground of simple dirt.
I remember climbing up the huge metal slide’s ladder to its tower-like top. To my ten-year-old eyes, I had to be up at least twelve to fifteen feet from the ground. And being a fan of Mary Poppins, I opened my umbrella and jumped from the tower, waiting to glide gently down from the heights to land with a smile of triumph and contentment.
Instead, that joy of flying lasted about two seconds before I came crashing down like a lead weight, hitting the ground hard and falling over on my side. I wasn’t hurt, though. But having learned that experiment didn’t work, I never tried the umbrella jump again. However, it still was a lot of fun. I had such a fantastical imagination back then.
Every year, I looked forward to going trick-or-treating with my friends. And most every house, we knew the families that lived there. I knew these homes because the kids that met me at a mutual friend’s front yard would become acquainted with me, and soon, we’d all be playing together, the streets filled with kids playing ball, hide and go seek, ghost in the graveyard, and bloody murder (some folks don’t know this one, but it’s like the opposite of hide and go seek. The murderer hides and jumps out, surprising the group of kids going around looking for him/her, and the first kid tagged by the murderer had to be the murderer the next go around), etc.
We stayed out after the street lamps came on, and dove behind bushes, climbed trees, and hid behind anything we could find, while the person counted in the dark, then set out to find us. I distinctly remember one night, I hid up in a tree, and the kid never found me. I was such a monkey. So much so, my mother used to call me μαϊμού (Greek for monkey).
So, Halloween was lots of fun with the whole neighborhood participating. One year while we lived on Rhein Main Air Base in Germany, my mom dressed in black, painted her face white, and took residence in a makeshift coffin in the lobby to our stairwell (apartment building), so that when children came in, she’d sit up in the coffin, both terrifying and surprising them before they could scramble to the first apartment’s door. But it was all in fun because everyone knew everyone.
So, it was in the past several months to year that I realized how important Halloween is because of its communal aspect. It was ruined in the mid 1980s and after due to sick people putting razor blades in apples, and other poisonous things in pieces of candy, followed by the disappearance of families’ cats (especially black ones) for other sick individuals who’d torture the poor creatures and kill them. When I was a senior in high school, a friend of mine lost her kitten Halloween night to some warped-minded teens who drowned her kitten in the local pool.
The communal aspect of Halloween splintered during and after this time out of fear and a new mistrust of fellow neighbors. I think this was also the time when privacy fences became popular. You no longer could see, wave, or converse with your neighbors while sitting in your backyard.
Back to my childhood memories when I recall community was strong. I remember with great joy the few weeks before Christmas, in the evenings, the faint but melodic voices of carolers outside our apartment on Rhein Main Air Base and off base housing in the suburbs of Virginia and Illinois at that time. I distinctly remember opening our third-story window at Rhein Main that overlooked the patch of cement below, and seeing a group of cheerful carolers, singing, despite the bitter cold evening. It made the coming of Christmas even more special.
But I’ve not seen any carolers since the one Christmastime at Fairchild Air Force Base back in either 2005 or 2006. It was both surprising and exciting to have encountered that, bringing a rush of sweet nostalgia through me.
Although there were people who didn’t celebrate Christmas in my neighborhoods growing up, they still seemed to appreciate the carolers and listened quietly with smiles. Caroling was another communal activity in our neighborhoods. I miss it.
I think I actually started realizing the closed up neighborhoods/housing units after we moved to Pennsylvania and lived in a rental home that sat on about a half acre of land with it partly fenced with criss-crossed logs in the backyard and open front yard. No privacy fences. Why? Because these homes were build in the late 1950s. There was so much more space between homes and you could see your neighbors out mowing their lawns, watering their flowers, filling their bird feeders. It was charming.
Before that time, as an adult, I’d believed in privacy fences, and keeping locked up in my house and didn’t make much of an effort to talk to our neighbors, except the ones right next door to us, like in Fountain, Colorado and Callaway, Florida. But besides those instances, there wasn’t much communal activities going on.
I also remember when I was a teen living in Fairfax, Virginia. We moved to the suburbs in a court/culdesac, and a few of the ladies from the houses next to us and a couple down from us actually knocked on our door. My mom opened it, and I watched curiously behind her, as the ladies welcomed us to the neighborhood and gave my mom a casserole dish of something home cooked.
At our court in Castle Pines North in Castle Rock, Colorado, in my last year of high school, the neighbors came together a few times in the summer for block parties. Don’t see those anymore.
We moved to Castle Rock, Colorado, October 11 of this year, and we’re in a nice neighborhood with large single-family homes close together, and paired homes (duplex/townhomes), in which we live. Obviously, we were here for Halloween. I went out and bought a moderate amount of candy, not sure if we’d have any children coming to visit our home, because the last two places we lived in Lancaster, PA, and West Roxbury, MA, we had zero children come around our neighborhood, which was, I must say, both surprising and disappointing.
Well, lo and behold, more than fifty precious children knocked on our door this year, asking for tricks or treats, and we had plenty of treats to give them. This experience brought back my childhood and the hope of community.
I walk this beautiful neighborhood and its nature trails as much as I can because I’m in my favorite state with its glorious Rockies towering on the horizon every day. And seeing children playing outside, climbing trees, riding bikes, skateboarding, riding their scooters, and congregating in their small front yards sparks the child in me and a wave of hope and joy wash over me.
Community is still here. I’d like to believe there are many other neighborhoods that mirror this one. Human interaction is needed so much these days, I’m cherishing this as long as I can.
What were your experiences in your communities growing up compared to now?
Let God Arise! Let His enemies be scattered!
When you take the journey with Christ from His entrance into Jerusalem on a donkey, praised and honored through the laying down of palms, through the grueling walk to Golgotha, wailing with His Mother, to experiencing the thunderous, earth-trembling from His death, His descent into Hades, breaking the chains and releasing those waiting in the tombs, preaching to those who did not know Him, to witnessing His glorious Resurrection, told to us by an angel at His Tomb, your body, mind, and soul are greatly and positively affected.
Your body aches from the hours of services, for which three quarters of the time you’re standing. Your mind is filled with the readings of his journey and what it all means. Your heart is torn into pieces listening, watching, and reading of the scourging, mockings, spitting, and especially the words “His blood be on us and on our children.” Lord, have mercy. *doing the sign of the cross* That line always gets you.
You take in the sweet smell of incense that reminds you of the realm of God’s Kingdom, the prayers of the Saints, and that you and your brothers and sisters in the nave of His Church are with Him through all of it. You’ve heard these passages hundreds of times, but something new and profound hits you every year this is read aloud. This time, you’re wishing you were the thief on the cross, hoping, praying, pleading, “Lord, remember me when you come into your Kingdom,” and you’re dying to hear Him say, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.”
You weep when you hear His Mother, the Theotokos, wail and say to Him as He plods to His voluntary crucifixion, “”Where are you going, my Child? Why do you travel along so fast? Would there perhaps be another wedding in Cana, and you hurry there, to turn for them water into wine? Can I not come with You, my Child? Or tarry with you? Speak to me a word; You, Who are the Word. Pass me not by in silence, You, Who kept me pure. For You are my Son and my God.” In your humanity and being a mother of two sons, the words slice through you, cutting you deeply, and you feel Mary’s pain.
But then the Panagia tells Him to hurry and rise on the third day so that she can see Him glorified: “O my Son, where has the beauty of Your form vanished? I cannot bear to see You unjustly crucified; hasten, therefore, and rise up, that I too may behold Your Resurrection from the dead on the third day.” You realize that the Theotokos knew and understood immediately what Christ had been saying before His crucifixion that He’d rise on the third day, whereas all but one of the Apostles fled in confusion, fear, and sorrow. Beloved Apostle John stood by the Cross with Christ’s Mother and the other women.
Christ crucified. Holy Thursday evening is the Twelve Gospels Service that follows Christ’s Passion and Crucifixion. Our bishop was present for this service, so instead of being three hours, it was four. This night’s service is the longest, but this was the longest I’ve ever encountered, but it didn’t matter. When you experience such profound, glorious, and heart-wrenching events, you’re undone, heart, soul, body, mind, but in a good way.
This is the kouvouklion — Christ’s Tomb — that the ladies of my church decorate each year ( took this picture personally on Friday. It is from my church). Gorgeous. It is carried around the church Friday evenings for the Lamentations service, where we join Joseph of Arimathea in carrying Christ’s body to the new Tomb.
Video taken by me at our “home” parish back in Colorado Springs, Colorado, (2011) that gives you a glimpse into Holy Saturday morning’s Divine Liturgy where Christ descends into Hades and destroys its chains and gates and opens the tombs. The pounding we made (and wish all Orthodox Churches did this) is to symbolize the breaking open of the gates and chains and the tombs. The priest throws basil leaves and flowers symbolizing Christ’s victory and that He is King and Lord. (It isn’t unusual that after the two and a half hour service the night before that this service is less attended, which is unfortunate because it’s such a beautiful and joyous experience).
Holy Saturday evening’s Resurrection Service is held around midnight with a vigil and then the Divine Liturgy.
Here’s a video from an Orthodox Church of a few years ago that shows what happens around midnight when the priest announces, “Come receive the Light,” which the candle represents Christ’s descent into Hades and darkness and through His Resurrection, the Light has come into the world and has trampled down Death by His death. After His entrance, you, along with your brothers and sisters in Christ, say joyously and triumphantly, “Christ is Risen!” and will chant this verse over and over again that early Sunday morning and the next several Sundays:
Christ is risen from the dead,
trampling down death by death,
and upon those in the tombs,
The Holy Fire descends on the Tomb of Christ inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem every Holy Saturday. The Greek Orthodox Patriarch receives the Holy Fire that miraculously lights his bundle of thirty-three candles each year). Here’s a video of this mystical and miraculous event from today:
At the end of the liturgy, you receive a red egg that symbolizes the blood of Christ, and Life. You gather with your family and brethren in the hall for some food and drink, and crack eggs with them. The cracking of the eggs symbolizes the cracking open of the tombs. If your egg survives the cracking contest, you are blessed.
It’s a blessing to return home each night smelling of sweet, heavenly incense, and body wrought from worshiping Christ God in body and spirit.
On Pascha Sunday, you attend the Agape Vespers Service where the proclamation of Christ’s Resurrection is read in several different languages. The most common languages spoken are English, Greek, Arabic, Latin, Albanian, Spanish, German, French, and sometimes Japanese and Swahili. Others also may be said if there are parishioners who know that language or come from the country that speaks that particular language. You enjoy hearing the Good News in many tongues, showing this message is universal.
You enjoy a Paschal picnic of lamb and all other types of meat, etc., and Pascha sweet bread, called Tsoureki in Greek. We got one this year from the women’s monastery a few hours away:
Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!