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!

 

 

 

Writing Away From Home

waiting room

I’m a creature of habit and tend to do the same things every day.  Spontaneity visits me on rare occasions.  With regard to writing, I prefer to write in the morning hours.  But sometimes I write in the evenings.

At home, I usually listen to some music quietly in the background.  The music often is instrumental relaxing piano or jazz.  Sometimes it’s just old pop rock favorites from my youth.  Whatever the music, it’s set at a low decibel so that I can concentrate on my story and what scenes and words are formulating in my mind to be transcribed by my hand scribbling with a pencil onto paper.

Last Wednesday, I did something I’d never done before.  I took my notebook to the waiting room of the dentist while my son had his teeth cleaned and a couple tiny baby teeth removed for the start of upcoming orthodontic work.  My iPhone was dragging at a low battery level, so I’d left it in the car to charge (I don’t think it really charged much, though…unfortunately, it’s just about time to upgrade my phone).  I brought my notebook and a positive attitude of putting down words in sentences for my next chapter, but when I got into the office and checked in, I wasn’t sure I could do it.  There were three people sitting kitty corner to where my son and I sat, and were chattering up a storm, at a loud volume, and the country music (not a fan, by the way) practically blaring through the speakers in the room challenged my ability to concentrate.

Nevertheless, I immediately opened up my spiral book where I’d left off with my last notes and started writing two or three words, and it took off from there.  The talking, the music all faded away as I delved into my characters’ lives and the conversations they were having and the thoughts they were mulling over.  Three times–twice by the hygienist and once by the dentist himself–said my name, which brought me out of my fictional world to answer them and discuss my son’s cleaning and then the extractions.  In that hour and twenty or so minutes, I managed to write up a chapter and a half.  I had to close up my notebook when my son’s dental work was done and head home.

writing on the grass

I am amazed by the amount of writing I got done in such din and in a spot I hadn’t thought I’d be able to focus to write anything.  On the contrary!  I accomplished more, it seems, at a waiting office than I have on average in the comfort of my own home! I need to do that more often!  Maybe next time I’ll go to Barnes and Noble, find a cozy spot, and write to my heart’s content.  I can’t imagine what glorious dialogue, scenes, etc. I’d write at a beautiful vacation spot!

I’m guessing you’ve already written outside, or in other places than your home.  I’m just late to the party.  Questions:

1) Where do you usually write?

2) Do you write outside of your home?

3) Where do you write outside of your home?

4) Do you feel the outside atmosphere a good creative writing space?

5) What have been your experiences?

If by some odd chance you’ve not ventured outside your home to write in some other building or out in nature, do give it a try!

What a fabulous discovery! You learn something every day. 🙂

 

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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!

 

Summer Memories in April

love of books pic

Last November 2017, I entered three writing contests FOR THE FIRST TIME IN MY LIFE, and was selected one of twelve finalists in one of them.  I am very excited and proud to have one of my short stories published in Scribes Valley Publishing’s anthology.  I can’t wait to see my story in their anthology! It comes out next month. Here’s the link to their website that shows the cover of the book in which my story will be printed, and the list of twelve winners. I, a newbie, am among seasoned, professional writers! What an honor!

 

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The Wood’s Song (3 Minute Video)

semantron pic

I never tire of watching this video and thought I’d share it with you. I love traditions from different countries and religions. I find them fascinating. Perhaps you do, too? I hope so!

Pictured above is a wooden board called a semantron used in Eastern Orthodox Christian monasteries where monks use mallets to bang against the wood, making a cool sound that is used as a call to prayer (like bells are used at churches). Here’s a history of the use of the semantron via Wikipedia:

The portable semantron is made of a long, well-planed piece of timber, usually heart of maple (but also beech), from 12 feet (3.7 m) and upwards in length, by 1 12 feet (46 cm) broad, and 9 inches (23 cm) in thickness.[2] Of Levantine and Egyptian origin, its use flourished in Greece and on Mount Athos before spreading among Eastern Orthodox in what are now Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republic of Macedonia. It both predates and substitutes for bells (first introduced to the East in 865 by the Venetians, who gave a dozen to Michael III),[3] being used to call worshipers to prayer. 

In the portable wooden form, at the centre of the instrument’s length, each edge is slightly scooped out to allow the player to grasp it by the left hand, while he or she holds a small wooden (or sometimes iron) mallet in the right, with which to strike it in various parts and at various angles, eliciting loud, somewhat musical sounds (κροῦσμα, krousma).[2]

Although simple, the instrument nonetheless produces a strong resonance and a variety of different intonations, depending on the thickness of the place struck and the intensity of the force used, so that quite subtle results can be obtained.[5] A metal semantron, smaller than those of wood, is usually hung near the entrance of the catholicon (the monastery’s main church).[6] In the traditional monastic ritual, before each service the assigned player takes a wooden semantron and, standing before the west end of the catholicon, strikes on it three hard and distinct blows with the mallet. He then proceeds round the outside of the church, turning to the four quarters and playing on the instrument by striking blows of varying force on different parts of the wood at uneven intervals, always winding up the “tune” with three blows similar to those at the beginning.[3]

The video is three minutes in length.  I hope you enjoy it!

(Romanian monk hitting the semantron with wooden mallets for a call to prayer courtesy youtube)

 

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My Review Of A Fantastic Book

lovely book unlikely pilgrimage of harold fry

I’ll start out by saying, no, this book is not a newly published one, but came out in 2012.  I’ve just been behind on reading contemporary works until a few months ago because I’ve been reading so much for my university classes and nonfiction and spiritual books.  Now, on with my very informal and basic review.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce is one of the best books I’ve read in decades.  It harkens back to the classic literary fiction of the ages, meshed with contemporary life.  I hope that makes sense!

Short synopsis of the story via amazon:

Meet Harold Fry, recently retired. He lives in a small English village with his wife, Maureen, who seems irritated by almost everything he does. Little differentiates one day from the next. Then one morning a letter arrives, addressed to Harold in a shaky scrawl, from a woman he hasn’t heard from in twenty years. Queenie Hennessy is in hospice and is writing to say goodbye. But before Harold mails off a quick reply, a chance encounter convinces him that he absolutely must deliver his message to Queenie in person. In his yachting shoes and light coat, Harold Fry embarks on an urgent quest. Determined to walk six hundred miles to the hospice, Harold believes that as long as he walks, Queenie will live.

I love stories of the human condition, the human spirit, and ones that have flickers of hope in them.  They are beautiful, and this book is loaded with these elements.  Also, I am one drawn in by writing style, beautiful prose in descriptions, etc.  Some folks aren’t interested in that, but I am.  The characters are quirky, endearing, and so very human.

The main character, Harold, is such a broken, beautiful soul with a gentle spirit.  He decides to walk those six hundred miles to see Queenie, a former co-worker, with the belief that Queenie will live the months it takes for him to walk there and arrive.

Harold and his wife’s relationship is strained at the beginning of the book and little love is shown, and his wife experiences many different feelings dealing with his absence and her own thoughts of the past several decades.

Through the walk, Harold reminisces about his childhood and the past many decades, and encounters interesting people along the way.

Here’s a little review I wrote on it when I finished reading it a few weeks ago and posted in Goodreads:

The story is precious, touching, unique, and wonderful. It starts out at a good tempo and slows a little after a couple chapters in, but once you keep reading through those slower chapters, it continues to unfold like the blooming of a rose, with such sweetness and touching moments of the human struggle and spirit, that you become more and more drawn in. Lovely, beautiful, brilliant, and well worth the read and to own.

I highly recommend this book.  

*You probably have already read this one, right?  If you have, share your thoughts.  If you haven’t, maybe you’d like to share your thoughts anyway. 🙂

 

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Finish What You’ve Started

spiral notebook and pen

For the past three days, I’ve inched away from my notebook and pencil after writing up my latest chapter a few days ago.  It seems I’ve fallen into that familiar rut where you sit there thinking about your story for which you’re a quarter or half way through it, wondering if it’s really any good.  You look over the chapters and the storyline and wonder if it really is interesting enough to readers.  Would they even read up to chapter eight or nine or ten?  Where has this story gone?  And you find your fingers and ideas bound up in an invisible chain of nothingness filled with your inner critic telling you it’s going nowhere and what’s the point?  You can’t get your fingers to write what you’ve thought about writing the past week, the last month, as you’d been creating this story that started off so easily and with such grandeur and pizazz in hopes of something fabulous taking root and blossoming into an incredible, earth-shattering novel.

In my case, I’ve jotted down plenty of notes on where I want my work in progress (WIP) to go, but I’m feeling a bit like an old game system on its last flicker of electrical usefulness, or a pinball machine that’s tilted into a quiet repose.

writing's hard gif

In author, John Dufresne’s book, Lies That Tell a Truth, for which I’ve mentioned has been one of our reading materials for my current course in fiction writing, he talks about this sputtering along midway through your story, just before you end up running on vapors and quit.  He describes what we writers, I’m sure, have all done once or twice in our histories of writing novels/novellas, etc.  He says, “Perhaps you discover that you’re afraid to fail.  After all, you’ve failed at this before.  Your desk drawer is crammed with half-written stories, isn’t it?”  We writers can probably relate well to his comment.  I’ve had a few upstarts that crashed and burned and were forgotten in old, dusty notebooks sitting in stacks somewhere in the little bookcase in my bedroom.

stack of old notebooks

Dufresne says our real problem is wanting to write our first draft very well, or even, dare we admit, perfectly.  He says, “Every work of art is a failure.  No story is ever what it could or should have been.  You aren’t perfect, never will be.  Neither is your writing.  Get over it.” OUCH.  Ah, but you can read the truth in his words, can’t you?  And then the key to this mess comes out in his next words.  “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor.  It’s Mom or Dad or your professor or your critical self telling you you’re not good enough.  And the only way to silence this discouraging voice is to write.”  And that doesn’t mean writing it very well the first time.  Just writing it!  Dufresne says, “A good first draft is a poor first draft.”  Allow me to quote that again:  “A good first draft is a poor first draft.”  Oh, I think it may some time soon sink all the way into my gray matter.  Yes, let’s hope before my next feeble attempt at writing another chapter.

John Dufresne says another encouraging line:  “You’ve simply transcribed thoughts on paper.  This is taking dictation, not creation.  Expecting too much from an early draft is the most common mistake beginning writers make, and it leads to frustration and disappointment.”  But I thought I wasn’t a beginning writer, didn’t you?  I mean, I’ve been back at this since the fall of 2014.

tom hanks trying to write

And here’s the sharp sting of truth to the heart for me (maybe for you, too?):  “Or maybe you’ve lost faith in your material or confidence in yourself” (Dufresne).  Well, yeah.  I can relate to that….I mean, that’s me sporadically in creating my stories.

But Dufresne tells us, “You will experience that same uncertainty and uneasiness in the writing of every story.  This is how writing happens.  You bring that anxiety to the blank page.”  So, we are to relax and let whatever sprouts from ours head reach our fingers and move pen on the paper, or fingers on the keyboard.

writing

So, this blog post is about encouraging us writers to realize the first draft is crap and it doesn’t matter how it’s organized or written.  JUST WRITE.  And with this, I will sit down with pencil and notebook and scribble across the pages mediocre words that may give birth to a few stellar ones, creating a scene in which the characters are doing something that may or may not be more exciting than counting the brown blades of winter grass in my backyard.

 

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Works cited
Dufresne, John.  Lies That Tell a Truth:  A Guide to Writing Fiction.  New York:  W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2003.