What The Hell

Oil-painting-The-Hell-Fresco

If you ask people what hell means to them, you’ll get a variety of answers.

Some people might say it loosely resembles the animated depictions in classic cartoons:

cartoon of hell.jpg

Other people might say it’s a cold place far away from God:

cold dark cave

Then, there are people who think hell is a myth:

myth of hades

Lastly, a few people think Heaven and Hell are one in the same:

bright light

Personally, I see hell as the latter.  Saint Isaac the Syrian (my favorite Saint) describes it beautifully:

“I also maintain that those who are punished in Gehenna are scourged by the scourge of love. For what is so bitter and vehement as the punishment of love? I mean that those who have become conscious that they have sinned against love suffer greater torment from this than from any fear of punishment. For the sorrow caused in the heart by sin against love is sharper than any torment that can be. It would be improper for a man to think that sinners in Gehenna are deprived of the love of God. Love is the offspring of knowledge of the truth which, as is commonly confessed, is given to all. The power of love works in two ways: it torments those who have played the fool, even as happens here when a friend suffers from a friend; but it becomes a source of joy for those who have observed its duties. Thus I say that this is the torment of Gehenna: bitter regret. But love inebriates the souls of the sons of Heaven by its delectability.”

Why do I choose to see hell in this way?  Because it makes sense to me.  God is through all and in all, and He is a consuming fire.  God is warmth and light.  So, in understanding this, the next step in my thought process is that because of free will given to us by God, we make choices daily and therefore, I choose to follow God or reject Him.  In my decisions, I decide my fate, my own judgment.  I’m the judge of my own destiny.  God honors my choice because He can’t impede on my free will.  He can’t go against Himself, as Father Thomas Hopko of blessed memory would say.

All of this is contingent on whether I truly know God or have just been told or read about Him.

Back to God being a consuming fire.  When I repose this life, I enter into His Light because He’s everywhere.  Nowhere is He not.  And the Light is bright and warm, and it brings me joy and peace if I love Him as best as I was able to truly understand and give love to Him and others.  If I knew Him intimately and chose to sever my relationship with Him, I’d feel His Light and Joy as a burning, tormenting fire.  This is why God revealed He is eternal and why the Apostles speak of those rejecting God as being eternally tormented.  He’s always there.  God loves every human who’s ever lived and will live until His Second Coming.  He wants us to be with Him.  That’s why we were created.

I made a choice to follow Him twenty-three years ago, and I hope to continue to choose Him daily until I pass this earth and am standing before Him.  I hope to hear the glorious words akin to what God told the thief on the cross:  “Truly I tell you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise,” (Lk 23:43) (NIV).

sunshine

 

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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!

 

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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Humanity’s Power

Success

How much power do humans have in this world? Well, it depends on your beliefs and worldview. This is my attempt at sharing my musings on this subject.

From what I’ve observed, here are two beliefs from opposite sides of the spectrum.

Group One: People have the power to change the world through fighting for social justice, cleaning up the environment, and can achieve anything by believing in themselves. It’s through this concerted effort to transform the world into a nonviolent, loving place to live that they believe can truly happen on earth. They don’t need a higher being/God to do this. They just have to desire it and take action to achieve it.

Group Two: No one has any power of his/her own. They go through life relying on God to design their lives, and as long as they follow God’s designs for them, their lives will be good and spared hardships.

Neither of these takes into account natural disasters, wars, sickness, famine, etc. You know the litany of problems people face on this earth. If I add this issue and question the two groups, here’s how they might see this:

Group One: Just about everything can be fixed if humans will just do the right thing mentioned earlier. The natural disasters can be lessened if we took care of our environment and quit using toxic chemicals, relied on clean energy, etc. Wars and famine and sickness would stop because people would unite for the common welfare of all. If enough people do this, we can finally live in peace and love.

Group Two: Things happen for a reason, and that reason is God’s punishing those people who sin and will feel the wrath of God in the destructive winds of the tornado or in the drowning waters of a powerful tsunami. God’s Hand is in all of these actions to make us repent. BUT . . . natural disasters can also just be earth doing its thing, too, because there’s no such thing as climate change.

tidal wave tsunami

Let’s factor in the whole subject of suffering and dying in whatever capacity. Group One would probably see these as cruel, senseless events caused by lack of education, equality, love, and action on our part to stop them from happening.  But sometimes, they have no real answers because death is a part of life. Group Two might respond that it was those people’s time to leave this world. If they’re asked, “What about victims of a massacre or individual murder?” Generally, they don’t have an answer, and for the most part, they’ll be honest and say they don’t.

Then there are the people who fall in the middle who believe disasters and suffering are sometimes of God and other times just nature doing its thing, like the earth’s natural cooling and warming.

earth

Do people have much power to do anything about these catastrophes in the world? I believe there is nature doing its thing and us doing ours and sometimes they are intertwined.

It all starts and stems from where life began—in the Garden when Adam and Eve were created, whether a representation of humanity, or truly a male named Adam and a female named Eve. God gave us free will. It is a loving and crucial gift for us that gives us the ability to reason and make decisions on everything in our lives, including whether to love or reject God. It is my understanding and belief this was the main purpose God gave us free will—for us to freely choose to love Him or not.

God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit represents Love, Peace, and Relationship. God wants a relationship with us. We are not robots or marionettes to which He pulls strings or programs us to act or do something every moment of our lives. No, we have the freedom to choose just about everything in our lives except choosing to not die. We all will. We have to go through this because of the consequences of sin and death that entered the world that is known as the Fall.

adam & eve expulsion from eden

I believe whatever a person does, good or bad (in the sense we humans understand good and bad), it affects all the world and universe. I liken it to the example used in the chaos theory of the butterfly that flaps its wings, and that act of flapping its wings reverberates and echoes through the cosmos, affecting all things in it. Therefore, when a person does something bad, such as kill someone, this is felt throughout the universe.

There is no utopia on earth because earth isn’t God’s Kingdom, as Christians and most non-Christians know. Adam and Eve fell into the temptation of wanting to be just like God, and through pride (arrogance) and disobedience, that caused everything to change for humanity and all of God’s creation.  Making a decision seems to have a lot of power to change the world, doesn’t it?

When humanity sinned, it took the creatures and plants and all down with it to earth, separating all from God’s closeness and grace. This separation was reconciled through Christ’s incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection.

Getting back to the issues of suffering, wars, and killings. It is my belief that this all springs from two things:

  • Free Will
  • The Fall

Therefore, killings/murders, wars, and whatever things happen in our daily lives are a result of the choices we make good or bad, through God’s gift of free will. We choose to steal that coat at the department store, shoot and kill people, eat more than our stomach  can hold (gluttony), be mean to the person ahead of us in line at the supermarket, etc.  We choose to start wars because of our greed and desire for power over others, anger, etc.

Having said all of that, this does not include people suffering from mental illness because the chemical balance is off in their brains, and unless they’re being treated effectively by psychiatric medications, their brains aren’t functioning correctly.

pink sunset one person free will

God cannot impede on our free will. Father Tom Hopko used to say this in many of his podcasts on Ancient Faith Radio, for which I’ve listened to several.

Then there are the dilemmas of natural disasters, sickness, and famine. Two reasons:

  1. All of humanity is spiritually ill in need of healing, which for me, is found through Jesus Christ, so that we can be made whole and healthy again as we first were made to be.
  2.  We live in a broken, fallen world.

Remember the butterfly example from the chaos theory? Think of that butterfly as a person, and that person does something that separates him/her from God–misses the mark, sins–that sin reverberates through the cosmos because humanity is the conduit between the material and spiritual worlds.   Likewise, if the person does something holy/good, such as loving his/her enemy, or giving food to a starving person, this, too, spreads throughout the universe.

stardust blue

So, if you look at the world from this perspective, you can see through free will, humans do have a great deal of power, and what we are able to do in this fallen world is a result of what we choose to do daily that sends the waves of holiness or sinfulness throughout all existence in the cosmos.

 

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A Guardian Angel’s Warning

Orthodox guardian angel for women

 

In the summer of 1993, Deanna drove her gray hatchback around the unknown neighborhood for a third time, seeking out a friend’s house.  After the past three years of a tumultuous and painful relationship with Kyle, she desperately desired a man who would fiercely love her back. She wanted to take a chance with her good friend, Patrick.  They had been fellow classmates in their sociology class at the local community college four years before and had kept in touch.  She knew he liked her more than just as a friend, so she believed her efforts to pursue Patrick would be worthwhile, as she struggled to unshackle herself from the dead end that was Kyle, the golf enthusiast.

The gray cloudy sky veiled the afternoon sun, as Deanna rolled down the same street for the fourth time.  Panic and worry settled in her chest as she faced the realization she didn’t know which house was Patrick’s.

As her hopes fell, the car rumbled to a stop in front of a modest, two-story house.  She checked her watch and found it was already after four o’clock. Anxiousness took hold of her, and the thought of calling Patrick flooded her mind.  The insistence grew so strong that she turned off the engine and exited the vehicle.

Walking up to the porch, ideas of what she’d say to Patrick floated through her mind.  Since she’d lost the chance to surprise him at his house, she’d have to surprise him with a call.  She knocked on the door with anticipation of the soon-to-be conversation.

A minute later, the door slowly opened, and a middle-aged man in a bathrobe eyed her with a mixture of irritation and curiosity.

“Hi, can I borrow your phone?” she asked with an impatient smile.

He hesitated for a moment, still staring at her, but then said, “Just a minute,” and retreated from the doorway, leaving the door cracked.

Eagerness and excitement bubbled inside Deanna as the imagined conversation with Patrick danced in her head.

Suddenly, a voice neither specifically male nor female squelched the talking in her head.

“What are you doing?”

Deanna froze, hearing this unexpected and unfamiliar voice.

“Leave the porch, get in your car, and get out of there.”  The tone was firm but not cruel.

Fear laced through her stomach as the realization of nearly entering a complete stranger’s home shook her.

Deanna bolted from the front of the house, got in her car, and fumbled for her keys, trying to shove the car key into the ignition.  As the vehicle hummed to life, she glanced at the house, where the man stood there still in his robe, behind the screen door, peering at her with a stony expression.

Heart pounding, Deanna flicked a wave in his direction and sped off.

 

(This story is based on my true life experience, with change in names for privacy)

 

 

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The Unique Ancient Christian Perspective in Fiction Writing

santorini sunset with church

In our Western world, we are accustomed to works by Christian authors of the Protestant and Catholic faith communities, but we’re lacking a voice for the rich and beautiful traditions of Eastern Orthodox (Greek, Russian, Romanian, Serbian, etc.) Christian faith in the fiction publishing realm and bookstores.

This reality struck me in the past two months, but only compelled me to the point of writing about it today.  Readers could learn so many fascinating aspects of the Orthodox Christian culture, traditions, and way of life with access to these writers’ works present in the fiction writing arena in the United States, especially.

I guess it was only natural that I, being an Orthodox Christian, would come to this realization eventually.  I only wonder if any of my Orthodox Christian brethren have thought about this and wished there were fiction books out there that delved into the traditions and beliefs of their own.

theophany cross dive

As a rather new writer in the past three years (coming back to writing after a nearly eighteen-year hiatus…you can read my writing history in a few of my previous blog posts, like my blog post “A Lifelong Dream Unfolding”), I’m still trying to get down the skills of writing, grasping good plot, and character development, but I felt compelled to share my thoughts.

You see, we Orthodox Christians don’t really fit into the tight guidelines of the evangelical Christian publishing, or completely in Catholic publishing.  Our beliefs are a bit different from the Western mindset, and our traditions are unique.  Wouldn’t it nice to have a venue to share these types of stories with you readers out there?  Maybe readers would find the cross dives done in a body of water nearest to a community’s church, why we make St. Basil’s bread, wear prayer rope bracelets, fast, wear crowns/stefana at our weddings, or wear wedding bands on our right ring fingers intriguing.  These traditions and beliefs may be refreshing interwoven in a fiction novel of a character of Eastern Orthodox faith.

stefana marriage crowns

While googling Orthodox Christian fiction writers, I found one from 2011 under a Facebook friend’s website.  With regards to fantasy (which is the genre of the story in the link), in my own personal opinion, I’ve not really been into fantasy about people with supernatural powers because they already truly exist in those who become holy in Christ–Saints.  There are plenty of stories of them in the Orthodox Christian world, but hardly known in the United States, my home country.  Incidentally, Ancient Faith Publishing has started accepting women’s fiction and other fiction by Eastern Orthodox Christians, and I hope other publishing companies follow…at least a few…because it gives us EOCs an outlet for our work.  🙂

I believe opening up this Eastern Orthodox Christian mindset in the Western World’s fiction publishing world would add a unique, fresh, profound, and brilliant expression of Christianity that’s so needed.

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