For YOU Are GOD

Over the past several months, I’ve been struck time and again by one prayer during the Divine Liturgy. It’s a prayer prayed by the priest. It’s intended to be spoken softly. It falls at the beginning of the Anaphora, and I suspect that it is easy to overlook. But of late, I’ve found myself hearing it time and again. The prayer becomes clearer and clearer each time that I hear it. (All added emphasis is mine.)

It is proper and just to sing to You, bless You, praise You, thank You and worship You in every place of Your dominion; for You are God ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible, ever-existing and ever the same; You and Your only begotten Son and Your all Holy Spirit. You brought us into being out of nothing, and when we fell, You raised us up again. You did not cease doing everything until You led us to heaven and granted us Your kingdom to come. For all these things we thank You and Your only begotten Son and Your Holy Spirit; for all things that we know and do not know, for the manifest and hidden blessings that have been poured out upon us. We also thank You for this liturgy which You are pleased to accept from our hands, even though there stand before You thousands of Archangels and tens of thousands of Angels, Cherubim and Seraphim, six-winged, many-eyed, soaring with their wings…

For You are GOD…as I prayed through Liturgy one day, I just found my mind hooking onto that phrase. This is God who has brought us to this Liturgy, to this Altar. We are here to worship Him. And what kind of a God is this whom we worship? A God who is invisible and incomprehensible. We can’t see him. We can’t fathom the depths of His very Being. He’s ever-existing and ever the same. He is boundless, eternal, and changeless-all claims that no mortal could ever make. You and Your Only-Begotten Son and Your All-Holy Spirit: We worship the Trinity, one in essence. We are drawn to this Altar, to this Supper by that God.

And what has this God done for us? He called us out of nothingness into being. He didn’t need us. He chose to make us. He chose to want us. When we had fallen, He raised us up. Heck, He created us knowing that we could fall. He called us into existence at a total risk to himself. And then he kept going-the Cross, the Tomb, the Resurrection, the Ascension, Pentecost, the Church, and the promise of the Kingdom to Come. He has done so much for us out of an absolute love for us.

And what is our response? Boredom, frustration, anger, and so on; we humans too often ignore and neglect these amazing gifts. We have so many blessings manifest and hidden, as the prayer says, and we choose to overlook them in favor of our own desires or our own emotions.

But what is God’s response to our rejection? He continually seeks after us. He continually loves us. He pours out His love upon us so richly, and we ignore it. But He continues to love us. He continues to seek us. We may forget that He is God, invisible, incomprehensible, ever-existing and ever the same. But He will not forget us. He will not abandon us.

We must return to Him from wherever we choose to wander. We must give Him right worship for all that He has done for us both manifest and hidden. For He is God. He is inconceivable, incomprehensible, ever-existing, and ever the same. He is also the Lover of our souls, and the One who desires and deserves nothing but the sacrifice of our humbled, contrite hearts in His service.

Rublev’s Trinity via Wikipedia

I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.

-John 14: 18-20

Happy Pentecost!

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Behold, How Good!

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brothers to dwell together in unity!

It is like the precious oil upon the head,
Coming down upon the beard,
Even Aaron’s beard,
Coming down upon the edge of his robes.

It is like the dew of Hermon
Coming down upon the mountains of Zion;
For there the LORD commanded the blessing—life forever.

-Psalm 133

As someone who belongs to a minority group within the Catholic Church, I often see room for improvement or the negative side of things. However, I recently had a few really positive encounters, and I think it’s important to highlight those.

I’m going to Pittsburgh for the weekend. Pittsburgh is kind of like Mecca for Ruthenian Catholics in the United States. Our Metropolitan Archbishop is in Pittsburgh, and we Rusyns have deep ethnic roots in the greater Pittsburgh area. So, there are at least a few Ruthenian parishes in Pittsburgh.

But I’m not going for Rusyn-related reasons; I’m going to visit a Roman Catholic friend. I asked her if it would be possible for me to attend a Byzantine parish on Sunday. I’ve gone to Roman churches in Pittsburgh before, and my friend is a part of a really cool church community. But it’s the Sunday of the Fathers of the Nicene Council, and I’d like to embrace that. Plus…I like going to Divine Liturgy whenever possible. My friend responded to my message by saying that it should work and sent a link to the website to a parish that’s near her home.

Now, that might not seem like a big deal, but she knows how much being Eastern Catholic means to me. She knows that I love going to Liturgy. So she put forth a bit of effort to let me know that I could attend Liturgy in my own tradition. I could celebrate the Lord’s Supper with my people.

To me, that’s an act of love. It’s an act in favor of unity. It’s an act that seeks to support a sister in the Lord in worshipping according to her tradition. I believe that the Lord is pleased when we support one another in our faith traditions. I believe that He wants us to love one another because of our differences. He finds it to be good and pleasant when we embrace our differences and support one another.

The second thing that struck me might seem a bit odd. I was perusing the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh’s website because I wanted to know if they’d moved Ascension to a Sunday. (Spoiler Alert: The website didn’t help me, BUT they didn’t move Ascension because they’re cool beans like that.) While exploring the site, I found this:

That link takes you to a list of all of the Eastern Catholic parishes within the geographic boundaries of the R.C. Diocese of Pittsburgh. It gives you addresses and phone numbers for those parishes. It even gives you links to parish websites.

That’s a great resource if you ask me. I happen to know the website for the Archeparchy of Pittsburgh. But if you’re visiting the greater Pittsburgh area and you don’t know how to find an Eastern Catholic parish for your particular flavor of Eastern Catholic, the Roman Catholic diocese has a list for you. Or if you’re Roman Catholic and you’re interested in visiting an Eastern Catholic parish but you don’t know how to find one, here’s a list.

That, to me, is beautiful. It’s a really cool act of love and unity. I’d love to see more acts like it.

Paschal Joy

In the Eastern Churches, we spend the forty days between the Feast of the Resurrection and that of the Ascension greeting each other with “Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!” It is my favorite of all of our liturgical greetings because it is the most joy-filled. No matter how you say it (Christos Voskros! Christos Anesti! al-Masīḥ qām!) it is a message of enormous joy. Christ is Risen. He has become the first fruits of the dead. The grave has been despoiled. Hades is in chains. Christ is Risen!

I think that after the first few days of the Easter season, it’s easy to forget that we are still in the midst of the season. It is easy to get on with our lives and forget to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ. To me, this is a mistake. It’s an easy mistake to make and one that I easily find myself falling into. But it’s still a mistake. We need to embrace the joy of the Resurrection.

Yes we have to go on with our lives. Yes, we have to go to work and school. We have to do the dishes and clean the bathroom. But Christ is Risen. We live in the world, and we must face the mundane realities of that. But we cannot allow cleaning a cat’s litter box or changing diapers to distract us from the fact that the Eternal Word of God is Risen from the dead. Death has been annihilated. Hades is in chains. Yes, we will still fall asleep in the flesh. But oh what joy awaits us after that!

And now, during these last days of the Easter season, embrace the joy of the Resurrection. For Christ is Risen!

Christ is risen! And you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is risen! And the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is risen! And the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen! And life is liberated!
Christ is risen! And the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power, now and forever, and from all ages to all ages.
Amen!

-St. John Chrysostom

Simeon and Thomas

As we approach the first Sunday after Pascha, what we in the East call Thomas Sunday, I’ve been thinking about the famed Doubting Thomas of the Gospel in contrast with another man who met Jesus much earlier in His earthly life.

On one hand, you have a man who had followed the Lord for three years, had heard promises of the Resurrection, and refused to believe it until “I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” (John 20: 25) On the other hand, you have the man to whom it had been revealed “that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” (Luke 2: 26)

It is, to me, a stark contrast. Thomas refuses to believe that the Lord is risen from death until he has physically seen and touched the Lord himself. Simeon does not require this; for him, merely holding the Christ child in his arms is enough. In contrast to Thomas’s demand to put his finger in the nail holes, Simeon tells the Lord that he can be dismissed in peace. Seeing the Christ child was all of the Lord’s salvation that Simeon needs. He can depart in peace because he has seen this Child who is “destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword shall pierce through your [Mary’s] own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:34-35)

Simeon is an old man near the end of his life. He has lived as long as he has with the promise of the sight of the Christ. He has seen what he was promised. He can depart in peace. He does not need to see the miracles that will come or the Lord’s glorious Passion. He has seen the Lord’s faithfulness to the people of Israel. He has seen the infant Light of the World, and it is enough. His soul is satisfied.

Thomas is not so easily appeased. Three years with the Master was not enough. The witness of his brother apostles (and the myrrh-bearing women) was not enough. The future evangelist to India is not satisfied by merely hearing the Lord has been raised from the dead. No, he wants to see and to touch for himself. He wants hard, tangible proof. And the Lord gives it to him. The Lord greets him with the offer to “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” (John 20:27) Thomas is one of the privileged few Christians who had the opportunity to touch the Risen Lord’s hands and know that this Man truly is the Son of God come down to earth, crucified, died, buried, and risen. In the approximately two thousand year history of the Church, few Christians have had that opportunity.

And Thomas, to his credit, is chastened by this moment. The Lord greets his lack of faith with mercy, with a moment of proof, and Thomas is humbled by this moment. He acknowledges Jesus to be “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28) His doubt is no more; he believes and accepts that this truly is the Christ, the Son of God who has come into the world to save sinners. This is the man who will go out after the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost to preach the Gospel, going ultimately to India. He has seen the Lord’s salvation. He has seen the Lord’s mercy. He has touched the proof. He believes.

But the Lord’s response to him has always touched my heart. Christ replies to Thomas’s profession of faith that “because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed.” (John 20:29) I’ve heard it said, and I believe this, that this is Christ’s reference to all Christians who will come after the Ascension. This is a reference to the men and women whom Thomas and his brother apostles will evangelize and all those who will follow after those first Christians. It is a reference to people like St. Helena, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Thomas More, Sts. Cyril and Methodius, Sts. Vladimir and Olga, St. Nicholas, St. John Paul II, St. Teresa of Kolkata, and so many more. It is a reference to you and to me. We have believed in the Resurrection of Christ without having seen His physical body or touched His wounds. We have not put our fingers into the nail holes, but still we believe. And I dearly love that on that night eight days after the Resurrection, Christ thinks of us, makes mention of all of us who will come after those first apostles.

Both Thomas and Simeon are given to us to encourage us. Simeon believed in the hope of a promise he had received from the Holy Spirit. He saw the Christ child, and he was satisfied. He had seen but a taste of the goodness of God’s promise; it was enough. Thomas doubted the Resurrection (after all, who had ever seen a man come back from the dead of his own power before?) until he had seen it for himself. But when he saw the truth of the Lord’s promises and the Lord’s mercy to his doubt, he embraced both the truth of who Christ was and the Lord’s abundant mercy towards us. I think that St. Thomas is intended to encourage and support us in our moments of doubt. May we also embrace both the truth of who Christ is and the Lord’s abundant mercy towards us. And may we cry out with him, “My Lord and my God!”

It’s Okay to Mourn

Every year, I have certain expectations of Easter. I don’t expect it to be perfect, but I do expect it to be A Certain Way. Usually, my Easter lives up to my expectations-at least in the spiritual sense.

But this year, real life intervened. Not only was Easter imperfect, it didn’t live up to my expectations. People were late for things. People were sick. Things weren’t where they ought to have been. There were miscommunications.

And Easter wasn’t what I wanted it to be.

Now, is Christ still risen from the dead? Yes! Absolutely, He is. Is Resurrection Matins still the Most Beautiful Thing in the Whole Entire World? Uh, duh. (I had a rough day; I didn’t become a different person.)

But I’m human, and in my humanity, I experienced disappointment. I had been looking forward to certain things, and I didn’t get to experience those things. I was sad.

But I felt bad about being sad because well…it’s still Easter and it’s still Resurrection Matins and even if it wasn’t perfect it still was the basic thing that I love.

(Also, I got to hold a cute baby for a few minutes of Liturgy; that was awesome. I love holding babies.)

Last night, I was sitting there beating myself up for being unhappy because things weren’t exactly as I’d wanted them to be. Resurrection Matins was lovely. Pascha is still the most beautiful feast of the year. Christ is still risen from the dead. Sure, I didn’t get to have the experience that I’d wanted, but that doesn’t change the essential fact of the Resurrection.

And that’s true. No matter how beautiful or ugly your Paschal celebration/experience is, that does not change the essential fact of the Resurrection.

But that does not mean that you’re not allowed to be unhappy or sad if your expectations aren’t met. That doesn’t mean that I’m not allowed to set expectations for what I hope Pascha 2018 is. We are human beings who were created with thoughts, feelings, and emotions. God wants us to have hopes and dreams. But He does not want us to get so caught up in our hopes and expectations that we miss out on what is happening in front of us. It’s okay that I was sad about some of my experience yesterday. But I can’t allow that to keep me from experiencing and embracing the joy of the Resurrection.

That’s not just Easter. That’s life. My life may not look like what I might have hoped it would look like by the time I was almost 29. (Spoiler alert: It doesn’t.) I’m allowed to be sad about that. But I should not allow my sadness to keep me from experiencing and embracing the place in which God has put me. I’m allowed to have plans and hopes for my future. But I should not allow them to keep me from seeking God’s will and living the life to which He has called me.

It’s the second day of the Paschal season, and I think that at this point, the Lord is showing me that sadness is not a bad thing, but I cannot allow it to consume me. I need to share my sorrow with Him and ask Him to show me what He wants to do with my life. I need to continue to be patient and open in my walk with Him.

Psalm 103

It’s been almost a year since I wrote my post about why you should visit an Eastern Church. As I’ve been preparing for Holy Week, I initially felt inspired to write a Holy Week-centric post. I intended to use the video below in that post, but the music and the psalm kept digging themselves deeper into my psyche, and….well, I just felt better equipped to write a blog post about Psalm 103. And maybe, it will inspire someone reading it to come experience some part of Holy Week in one of the Eastern traditions.

The above video is of the beginning of Entombment Vespers on the evening of Great and Holy Friday. It’s from St. Elias Ukrainian Catholic Church where the psalm is chanted in Ukrainian. I know the text of the psalm that they’re praying as we sing it at my parish in English. I love the idea of beginning Entombment Vespers with this psalm. As we celebrate Christ’s glorious passion, we begin with our eyes fixed on the greatness of God. We will later pray through the sufferings He endured for our sake. But we begin by looking at His Majesty.

I found myself reading through this psalm and thinking about it in the context of Great and Holy Friday. “Bless the Lord, o my soul,” the psalmist begins. “Oh Lord my God, how great you are!”

That is the God we hail as great. Beaten. Battered. Bruised. Crowned with thorns. Crucified between two thieves.

Oh Lord my God, how great You are!

You stretch out the heavens like a tent. Above the rains you build your dwelling. You make the clouds your chariot, you walk on the wings of the wind; you make your angels spirits and your ministers a flaming fire. You founded the earth on its base, to stand firm from age to age.

The One who stretched out the heavens, who founded the earth on its base, who hung the earth upon the waters…he is slapped on the face by those whom He created. He is spat upon. He is mocked. He is hung upon a tree. He bears all patiently. He gives His back to those who beat him and His cheeks to those who pluck His beard. (Isaiah 50) For our sake, He bore it all.

Oh Lord my God, how great You are!

That is the beauty of Great and Holy Friday to me. We in the East do not ignore Christ’s brutal sufferings, but we look at them in the light of their broader context. Christ suffered and died for us because of His love for us. He became the sacrificial victim so that He might also be the Victor over sin and death. Christ’s Passion and Death are not only acts of love but also acts of victory. Christ took crucifixion, a brutal way of death, and turned it into an act of glorious victory. He trampled Death and despoiled Hades.

Oh Lord my God, how great You are!

Thoughts as Lent Ends…

Today, when the sun sets, my Church Tradition will consider Lent to have ended. Tomorrow, we will celebrate Lazarus Saturday and move into Great and Holy Week. Although we will continue to fast next week, the Great Fast that we began forty days ago will be at a close.

At the beginning of the Great Fast, forty days always feels like a long time to me. I’ve talked previous about how I disliked Lent as a child because I viewed it as some sort of horrible deprivation. I didn’t fully understand it. Now, I still don’t fully understand it, but I find more value in it. I have come to realize more and more each year how God can use those forty days (however long or short they may be) to help me to grow closer to him.

This Lent, I have primarily felt the Lord inviting me to trust Him more fully. In that invitation, I have been working through some anger and frustration that I have carried inside of myself for a long time. Last week, I was driving home from work and raging at the Lord. I was about to go staff a youth group retreat, and I was badly hurting from a hard week. I was struggling with some serious questions, and I just could not understand what I saw around me. As I raged, I felt the Lord answer me with the same answer He gave Job. “Hush, child. You couldn’t possibly understand.”

Hush. You were not there when I spoke the world into being. You were not there when I laid the foundations of the world. You don’t yet see the full picture. Yes, you’ve seen hard things this week, but you don’t know yet how all of these things will play out. Hush. You can’t possibly understand yet.

Now, I understand how that “hush” could sound harsh, but I felt an enormous amount of love in that. Hush, and trust me. You may not understand on this side of Paradise, but all will be well. Trust me. Trust my plans.

I went on the retreat. I was tired and still struggling with the baggage of the past week. But I heard the Lord through the talks and sharings. I experienced His love through people around me. Now, I was given no immediate answers to the questions, but I chose to focus on trusting those questions over to the Master of the Universe. I chose (and am still choosing because it is a daily process) to let go of those questions and trust them over to the Lord who knows the plans He has for me.

On Monday, I went to confession, and I told the priest that I was struggling with anger at God. He looked at me and asked me if I’d told God that. I said, in my usual delightful way, “Well, yeah, of course!” Now, God and I need to work through my anger. As I said in the above paragraph, I need to let go not only of those questions but also of my anger. Like Job, I need to say “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know…I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42: 2, 5-6) I need to surrender my pride and trust in God’s plan that is both better than mine and beyond my comprehension.

It isn’t an easy process. It won’t be done by the time Lent ends. It won’t be done by Pascha (Easter) morning. It is the process of a life. But it is worth doing. Will it be hard? Yes. Will it require sacrifice? Yes. Will it require grace? Yes. Will it be worth it?

I sometimes expect Lent to be more dramatic than it is. I’m not sure what I expected of it forty days ago, but this wasn’t it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, just an interesting thing. If I want heaven, if I want holiness, then it follows that I must be willing to make sacrifices. I must be wiling to change. I must be willing to surrender my pride and trust in the plans of Him who is enough for us.

For in His Will is our peace.

-Dante Aligheri