Holy Pascha

Christ's Resurrection

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.

swinging censor

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.

Pictured below:

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.

Christ crucified Annunciation GOC

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.

kouvouklion Annunciation GOC Holy Week 2018

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,

bestowing Life.

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.

cracking red eggs Orthodox Pascha.jpg

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:

Greek Pascha sweet bread.jpg

 

Christ is Risen!  Truly He is Risen!

 

 

 

Happy Easter to My Christian Friends and a Blessed Palm Sunday to My Orthodox Christian Brethren

palm sunday icon 1

Today is Western Christian Easter, and I wish all my Christian friends celebrating Christ’s Resurrection today a Blessed and Happy Easter.

Today is Palm Sunday for us Orthodox Christians.

palm cross 2

We Eastern Christians are on the Julian Calendar, whereas Western Christians follow the Gregorian Calendar.  If you are interested in learning a little more about this, click on this link.

Tonight (I think technically last night) starts Orthodox Christian Holy Week in which we participate and follow Christ through his Passion, Crucifixion, and Resurrection.  It’s the greatest feast and holiday of the year for us.  It’s also a very focused, holy, and busy week for us.  Reading my church’s bulletin, there are around sixteen services for Holy Week.

We call this celebration of Christ’s Resurrection on Sunday not Easter but Pascha.  This is the term that’s been used from the beginning, which follows the Jewish Passover (Pesach).  Here’s a couple excerpts of info on Orthodox Pascha and where the word originates from:

Pascha (Greek: Πάσχα), also called Easter, is the feast of the Resurrection of the Lord. Pascha is a transliteration of the Greek word, which is itself a transliteration of the Aramaic pascha, from the Hebrew pesach meaning Passover.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the center of the Orthodox Christian faith. Twelve weeks of preparation precede it. This is made up of pre-lenten Sundays, Great Lent, and Holy Week. The faithful try to make this long journey with repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation, prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and study. When the feast finally arrives, it is celebrated with a collection of services combined as one.

One of the hymns we sing on Palm Sunday:

Apolytikion: First Tone

By raising Lazarus from the dead before Your passion, You did confirm the universal resurrection, O Christ God! Like the children with the palms of victory, we cry out to You, O Vanquisher of death: Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord!

I’ll try to write a midweek post and one on Pascha to share the absolutely moving, beautiful, and profound services to give you a glimpse into what this week is like for us Orthodox.

Again, Happy Easter to all my friends celebrating today!

 

Pondering 2017 & Anticipating 2018

happy new year clock

 

This year started out rough.  My husband, Troy, had been searching for a job since November 2015, and by the time 2017 ushered in, our hopes were dwindling but not completely gone.  We still held on to our faith that God would lead us toward the right job for Troy and having survived the past year on his small military retirement and disability, God provided for us in our financial and familial circumstances.

In February, I worked for a temp agency to help our financial dilemma.  An architectural firm employed me for a month, and that was fine.  It had been about seventeen years since I’d worked outside the home, and that was a huge step for me and a good experience.  It helped a little when we needed some supplemental income.

But in those many months, I wondered what God ultimately wanted us to do.  What was His Will for us?  Well, it seems, in echoing our priest here at our church in Lancaster, God was teaching us perseverance, patience, and testing our faith in Him.

john 14 18 beautiful verse

And then God provided us a door that opened to the richest of blessings.  A couple weeks into May, the local school district hired Troy as Maintenance Director.  This truly was, as I said, a huge blessing because we had thought Troy would end up having to find work and commute from one of the big cities one to three hours away from our home.   Instead, his office is no more than ten minutes from our house!  God is good.

So, 2017 started rocky, but blossomed into a pretty awesome year.  We got to finally go back to our beloved Colorado for two weeks to spend it in the Rocky Mountains at Estes Park and visit our church family/friends in Colorado Springs.  After being away because of Troy’s schooling in Boston since 2013 and moving to Lancaster, PA in 2015, we didn’t know if our friends had just moved on.  We know how relationships and life can change with time.

Troy & I in Estes Park:Drake, CO June 2017

(Troy and I at our cabin in Estes Park, CO)

But we were pleasantly surprised, overjoyed, actually EUPHORIC, when we visited with our cherished spiritual father, his precious wife, our church family, and friend I have known for thirty-eight years.  My friend, KiMar, and I have managed to keep in touch for that amount of time, in separate states, moving about all those years since both our dads had careers and retired from the Air Force.  It’s the longest friendship I’ve had in my life, and it’s beautiful.

My university online courses have kept me busy throughout the year, and I’ve learned a great deal in those classes, such as nonfiction writing, context of writing, playwriting, literary theory, English language, and modern European history.  It’s been great.  It’s only strengthened my writing skills.

snhu logo 2

Then things started opening up for my writing. In the summer, I got back into revising my novel, Passage of Promise, that I’d written in 2015 and finished in early 2016.  I wrote a couple of short stories, and then I wrote a short play.  By December, as I’ve said in another blog post, that play and one I wrote in my creative writing class back in 2015 were read informally at the local theater.  It was the most wonderful experience, something I hope to never forget.  Thankfully, my dear son videotaped the readings so I can go back and watch them at any point to help raise my spirits if ever I’m feeling down or doubtful about my writing abilities, which happens sporadically.  The three actors who read my short play, “Falling Up Stairs,” will be performing it on the theater’s small theater-in-the round stage January 20, 2018, and I’m really excited about this…to be watching in the audience and getting to hear and see their reactions to this quirky piece.  I hope they like it!  I hope it makes them laugh!  I also began a new story December 7, and am still working on that.  What a way to wrap up the year!

DreamWrights Community Theater

Every New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day, it is in our Orthodox Christian tradition to make a vasilopita (St. Basil’s bread).  St. Basil lived in the fourth century.  He believed strongly in helping the poor.  Via Saint Basil’s Greek Orthodox Church’s website, here’s a little excerpt on the life of St. Basil:

During the fourth century, one of the  greatest Fathers of the Christian Church appeared on the spiritual horizon of the  Orthodox Faith. His name was Basil and he was Bishop of Caesarea, Cappadocia (Asia Minor). He was born four years after the First Ecumenical Council held in the year 325 A.D. Saint Basil was one of the three Cappadocian Fathers of the Church (the others were Gregory of Nazianzus, his best friend, and his brother, Gregory of Nyssa).

Saint Basil was the first person in human history to establish an orphanage for little children. He also founded the first Christian hospital in the world. His fame as a Holy Man spread like wildfire throughout the Byzantine world. He was considered one of the most wise and compassionate clergymen in the entire history of the Church. His Feast Day is observed on January 1st, the beginning of the New Year and the Epiphany season. The Church, therefore, in respect for his many contributions to the Church and to mankind in general, combined the joy and happiness of the New Year with the glory of the birth of Christ, and the Epiphany into what is known in the Orthodox Church as the Vasilopita Observance.

st. basil the great

This bread we make is a sweet bread named after St. Basil.  From the same website, here’s some background on why we make the bread and how its made:

Saint Basil the Great, who was a bishop, wanted to distribute money to the poor in his Diocese. He commissioned some women to bake sweetened bread, in which he arranged to place gold coins. Thus the families in cutting the bread to nourish themselves, were pleasantly surprised to find the coins.

This original event which happened in Cappadocia of Caesarea in the last half of the fourth century, is very much alive in our Orthodox homes each year the 1st January. According to tradition, special sweet bread (in some areas of Greece, it takes the form of a cake) is prepared both in the Orthodox homes and in the Church community which is called Vasilopita. Sweets are added to the bread which symbolize the sweetness and joy of life everlasting. It also symbolizes the hope that the New Year will be filled with the sweetness of life, liberty, health, and happiness for all who participate in the Vasilopita Observance. When the Vasilopita is prepared, a coin is usually added to the ingredients. When the bread is cut and the observance begins, the individual who receives that portion of the Pita which contains the coin is considered blessed.

vasilopita

(example of a vasilopita – St. Basil’s bread)

It is rare that I get this coin, and it is pretty rare for Troy, too.  In 2016, our brother-in-law got it and had the best sales record that year where he works.  Lo and behold, Troy got the coin for 2017, and we saw so many blessings spring forth from it!  Secretly, I’m hoping and wishing very much to see the coin in my slice of vasilopita for 2018, so this upcoming year will be the year my books are published, and I am fortunate enough to hear and read the reviews of my readers feeling hope, inspiration, and satisfaction after perusing my book(s).  God willing!  In any case, I’ve got much to look forward to 2018:

  • Finishing up revisions of my first novel and preparing it for a professional editor, submitting a query to a publisher, and hopefully getting a positive response, even though I know to expect a rejection letter!  It’ll be published in 2018, for sure. 🙂
  • Watching my play on the stage!
  • Finishing up my current work in progress.
  • Reading so many great books.
  • Four-day weekend in D.C. (tentative!)
  • Vacationing in Estes Park and Colorado Springs again! (praying!)

 

Here’s to a successful and blessed 2018!

~*~*~*~

 

 

The Day in Which the World has Joyously Changed Forever

the nativity of Christ

 

The birth of Christ God incarnate changed humanity and all creation forever.  The second Person of the Trinity condescended onto Earth and took on the flesh of the Theotokos, and through this, we Eastern Orthodox Christians sing many hymns celebrating this:

“Our Saviour hath visited us from on high…
And we who were plunged in darkness and shadows
Have found the truth,
For the Lord hath been born of the Virgin”.

“The wall of partition is destroyed,
The flaming sword is dropped,
The Cherubim withdraw from the Tree of Life,
And I partake of the fruits of Paradise,
Whence, for my disobedience, I was driven forth”.

“Heaven and earth now are united through Christ’s Birth!
Now is God come down to earth
And man arisen to the heaven”.

magi visiting Theotokos & Christ

“Today Christ is born in Bethlehem of the Virgin.
Today He who is without a beginning begins,
And the Word is made flesh.
The powers of Heaven rejoice,
The earth and her people are jubilant;
The Wise Men bring gifts to the Lord,
The shepherds marvel at the One who is born;
And we sing without ceasing:
“Glory to God in the Highest, And on earth peace, (God’s) good will toward men”.

Christ is Born!  Glorify Him!

Mary, Joseph, and the Christ Child Nativity

 

A Blessed Christmas to you all.  May Peace and Love fill your hearts.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Don’t Forget This Hidden Christmas Gem

sparkly boughs on Xmas tree

 

There are so many wonderful Christmas movies out there. Christmas movies, such as It’s a Wonderful Life, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, A Christmas Story, Charlie Brown Christmas, White Christmas, and the various Claymation-style kiddies’ movies like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, and Frosty the Snowman, are slid into our DVD players every other to every few years.

There are two, though, that we watch every Christmas. We can’t miss them because their messages are so beautiful (not that It’s a Wonderful Life’s message isn’t, but we’ve seen it so many times we have to take a couple years’ breaks in between). One of these two is The Bells of St. Mary’s, and the other one, which has quickly become our favorite that we just discovered only about three years ago when we first saw it—

It Happened on 5th Avenue.

It doesn’t seem to be as well known as the others, but it is quite a hidden gem that needs to be dug up and displayed every year for people to watch and fall in love with. It warms the heart and centers on the messages of love, family, charity, and compassion.

The synopsis of the story is posted below via IMDb:

Every winter, Michael J. O’Connor, the second richest man in the world, leaves his 5th Avenue mansion for warmer climes. Every winter, Aloysius T. McKeever, homeless man, moves into the 5th Avenue mansion. This particular winter, McKeever meets Jim Bullock, an army veteran who has recently been evicted from his apartment and offers to share the mansion with him. It’s not long before the mansion has a few more guests, including: Jim’s army buddies and their wives and children; runaway heiress Trudy; and even Michael J. O’Connor, himself.

It Happened on 5th Avenue 

If you’ve got room on your DVD shelf for one more Christmas movie, make it this one. It’ll make your Christmas just a little bit sweeter.

~*~*~*~

 

 

A Christmas Household of Many Different Tongues

Christmas scene of front door and tree

 

It was Christmas Day, 1980, at our home at Rhein Main Air Base, Germany, when a handful of my mother’s friends from all over came to visit and stay a couple of nights.  I was eleven years old at the time and brimming with excitement over the gifts from Santa and my parents.  But it only grew in fun and warmth through these wonderful people who stayed with us.  Below are the people who stayed with us around Christmas.

Bill:  A World War II veteran and friend of my mother’s (and eventually my father) before they married.

Marilyn:  A sweet woman from Belgium (lives in Greece) (her father was from Belgium and mother from Greece) who speaks French and Greek and only a few English words here and there.

Frida:  An energetic woman from Switzerland who speaks German and French and English.

Chantal:  Daughter of Frida who speaks German and French.

Anthoula & family:  A family from Greece that speaks Greek and German and lived in Germany when we were there.

*FYI: My mother is from Greece and speaks Greek and English.

Everyone got along splendidly.  The languages of French, German, Greek, and English  were like a symphony to my ears.  It stoked a special joy and magic to the Holy Day.  I only speak English and did my best to communicate with our guests.  They were all very kind to me, and all of them felt like part of our family.  So, you can imagine the conversations going on between Marilyn and my mother in Greek, Marilyn and Frida and Chantal in French, Frida and Chantal and Anthoula and her family in German, and Bill and my family in English.  My sister and I tried to chat with Marilyn (early 20s) and Chantal (approximately late teens/early 20s) as best as we could.  Gestures helped out a lot.  And I remember Marilyn spoke a few words in English that were enough for me to grasp what she was talking about.

foreign languages heart

As the large dining room table filled up with delicious Christmas foods, I was in the kitchen watching my mom running in and out of the kitchen to the dining room table to set out the dishes.  She looked frantic because, with the except of the turkey (mom had no idea about how to cook turkeys being Greek!) cooked up by my dad (which was always delicious), she did all the rest of the cooking and most of the preparing and serving!  Anyway, I don’t remember my question, but I asked her something, and she looked down at me with one of the dishes of food in her hand and responded to me in Greek!  I said something like, “Mom, I don’t understand what you said.”  Haha!  She then spoke to me in English.  🙂  With all the different languages floating inside the house, it was only natural that at least once, someone would lose track of to whom they were speaking.

BEST. CHRISTMAS. EVER.

Best Christmas 1980 in Germany

(Our gathering at the table for Christmas dinner. I’m on the left closest to the camera.)

What was your best Christmas memory?

~*~*~*~