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

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When the First and the Last Concur

Today is a paradox. It is a mystery. Behold, God is conceived. But also behold, God dies. Today, we as Eastern Catholics celebrate two of the most important feasts on our calendar, and they are a seeming contradiction when placed together. March 25 is always the Feast of the Annunciation, the feast of the Incarnation of our Lord. It is the day when we celebrate the visit by the archangel Gabriel to the Theotokos in which Mary learned she was to be the Mother of the Christ.

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

But it is also Good Friday, the day when we celebrate the Passion and Death of Jesus. We commemorate his brutal saving Passion.

“And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ Having said this, He breathed His last.” (Luke 23:46)

The two feasts appear to be contradictory. How can we honor the Incarnation of Christ and His Death at the same time? Our Roman Catholic (and certain Eastern Churches) brothers transfer the Feast of the Annunciation to another day. We do not. How can we do this?

Well, practically speaking, we haul out some special rubrics and we celebrate Entombment Vespers (my second favorite Byzantine service) followed by the Divine Liturgy for the Annunciation followed by the Procession with the Shroud and Veneration of the Shroud. It is beautiful. We have special books made. We pray for our clergy and cantors. It works. It is beautiful.

But why do we do it?

I could be sassy and say that we’re Byzantine Catholics. We like mysteries. (I mean, we do…) But there is more to it than that. We believe that feasts of the Incarnation trump solemnities. Also, in the early Church, the two feasts were celebrated together. (That’s also when we believe that a multitude of events occurred including Noah’s Ark coming to rest on Mount Ararat, Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, and the Destruction of the Ring of Power on Mount Doom.) We believe that they are inextricably linked as two of the three most important mysteries of our salvation. Together with the Resurrection, which follows on the 27th, these events usher in a new springtime or a season of new life. (Here’s a great article that looks at that in more depth.)

There is an odd beauty in this paradox. The immortal God becomes a human child in the womb of a teenaged woman and the immortal God surrenders his life for the salvation of all humanity. It is the ultimate feast of the Divine Condescension. On their own, each of these feasts allow us to see the love of God and the humility of God in a clearer way. Together, they are a formidable reminder of just how much God loves us and just how far he is willing to go to be with us.

The beauty of Christianity is that it introduces us to a God who loved us so much that he could not bear to be apart from us. Because of that, He sent His Son into the world (the Annunciation) so that the Son could die (Good Friday) for the salvation of all mankind. In many ways, it is meet and just that these two feasts should coincide.

In 1608, these two feasts overlapped, and the poet and future Anglican priest John Donne wrote a beautiful reflection on this. Donne looks at Mary who both becomes a mother and surrenders her only child on this joined feast. He looks at the gift the Church gives us by uniting these feasts and allowing us to contemplate Christ’s love for us and his humility.

This Church by letting those days join, hath shown
Death and conception in mankind is one ;
Or ’twas in Him the same humility,
That He would be a man, and leave to be ;
Or as creation He hath made, as God,
With the last judgment but one period,

This day is ultimately a reflection on the humility of Christ. God became man, as St. Athanasius said, so that man might become gods. He became human to unite us to Himself. He joined Himself to our lowly state so that He might unite us to His divine state. That is love. That is humility. And so, it is (to me) truly right that (when the calendar so allows) we celebrate the Annunciation and the Passion in one day. It is good that we are reminded of just how much our God loves us. And what better way to remind us of that than to give us what appeared to be the first and the last of the life of Jesus in one day?


(The publication time for this post was very carefully chosen. It is intentional.)

NB: I know that John Donne wasn’t perfect.

Advent Focus

It’s beginning to look a lot like Advent!

This year, I decided that I wanted a theme  or focus for my advent. I thought about and prayed with a few.

First, I thought about “In God’s will is our peace.” It’s beautiful, but it didn’t feel quite right.

Then, I thought about St. Augustine’s quote “O God, command what you will and give what you command.” I like this also. But something still wasn’t ringing right with me.

Then I found this quote from St. Teresa of Jesus, one of my favorite Saints. “Trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.”

I think that sums up nicely both of the other quotations. And I think that it speaks beautifully to where I am in my walk with the Lord. My goal for this Advent, for the next 40 days as we draw near to the celebration of the Birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, is to trust God more completely and to grow in the belief and knowledge that I am where he wants me to be.

Lord, You know all things.

On this, the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, most Catholics are inclined to think of Matthew 16 in which Christ changes Simon’s name to Peter and declares him to be the rock upon which He will build His Church. This is important, but it’s not my favorite verse associated with Peter.
That is, rather, John 21 in which Simon Peter who thrice denied the Lord is now asked three times “Do you love Me?” Christ tells Peter to “Tend My lambs,” “Shepherd My lambs,” and “Tend My sheep.” This is commonly called the restoration of Peter.
Then the Lord tells Peter that “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go…Follow Me.” St. John tells us that Christ said this to indicate the death by which Peter would die, and Tradition holds that Peter was crucified upside down.

To me, Peter is a great example of living for Christ. He is not perfect. He falls. He denies knowing Christ on the eve of the Passion. But when mercy is offered, he eagerly accepts it. Yes, he is frustrated by the repetition of the question “Do you love me?” He is human. He gets frustrated. He does things that aren’t the wisest. Honestly, sometimes, Peter is a loudmouth idiot. But he is also an amazing example of repentance, of humility, and of faith. He loves God. He believes in God. After Pentecost, he is filled with an incredible passion for the Lord and for preaching.

And that should be an example to us. St. Peter loved God ardently and wanted to share Christ with others. We should imitate that. St. Peter accepted love and mercy when they were offered to him. We should do likewise. St. Peter followed Christ regardless of the cost. We should do likewise.

St. Peter, pray for us!

My Advent Adventure

I’m Byzantine Catholic. I don’t know if I’ve ever said this explicitly on this blog, but if I haven’t, there you have it. This means that while my Church is in communion with the Pope, I’m not Roman Catholic. My Church (the Byzantine Catholic Church) has its own traditions that might look or feel or smell a little different than what my Roman Catholic friends are used to.

And I had the privilege to be raised in a family that honored those traditions. My parents did a really great job of incorporating the liturgical seasons into our family’s prayer life especially when my brother and I were young. However, as an adult, I’ve often let many of them slide because I’m single. I haven’t made a concentrated effort to observe and celebrate things because I have no one to share these traditions with at home. However, over the past few months, I’ve come to the realization that just because I can’t share my traditions with others, that doesn’t mean that I can’t develop these traditions for myself so that I can share my family if I ever have a family.

This means that on August 14 before I went to church for the vigil Divine Liturgy of the Dormition (Falling Asleep) of the Mother of God, I went to the store and bought a bouquet of flowers for the priest to bless. This is one of our traditions, and it’s something that’s easy for me to honor.

This also means that I’m trying to actually celebrate the Fast of Philip this year. This is what my Western friends call “Advent.” But their Advent looks and smells a little different than mine does. For example, while my Western friends are used to a four week Advent, my Advent, which we actually call the Fast of Philip, begins on November 15. November 15 is forty days before Christmas. (November 14 is the feast of St. Philip, hence the name.) The use of the word “Fast” implies what you might suspect-that it is a season of sacrifice and trying to draw closer to the Lord whose birth we’ll celebrate in 40 days.

There are a few things that I’m trying to incorporate into my life this year during Advent. One thing that I’m doing is choosing to fast “Byzantine-style.” In other words, I’m trying to live as a vegan as much as possible. (I will however celebrate American Thanksgiving as well as the feasts of St. Nicholas and of the Conception of St. Anna.) I’m also trying to fast from music that doesn’t encourage me to focus on the coming of Christ. This means that you’ll probably hear most of the beginning of Handel’s Messiah if you’re around me much during the next six weeks. (But that’s okay with me because one of the themes that I’m trying to work with is the “He shall purify the sons of Levi” section and the larger meaning of Malachi 3:3 for my own life.)

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Another thing that I’m doing as an Eastern variant on the Advent wreath. While the Advent wreath isn’t an Eastern tradition, I’m adopting it as a reminder of the idea of “light” in connection with Christmas. Christmas is four days after the darkest day of the year, and it is a celebration of the One who is is the Light of the World. So I want to use the candles as a reminder that no matter how dark our lives or our world may seem, there is always Christ.

(And if you’re wondering why the wreath is in front of images of three female Saints, it’s because I wanted my Theotokos of Vladimir icon with the wreath and because that’s where my St. Catherine icon and my St. Cecilia engraving fit.)

In short, I’m trying to focus during the pre-Christmas season on developing my relationship with Christ and on developing traditions that I can potentially transition into family traditions if I ever have a family. (Feel free to check out the Pinterest page where I’m trying to organize ideas.)

Next year, by the way, I want to add in a Jesse tree. I really want to add in a Jesse tree to this. And I need an icon of the Nativity of Christ. And I want an icon of the ancestors of Christ that I can use especially during Advent.

Holiday Traditions-Christmas and Otherwise

It’s fifteen days before Christmas, and we’ve put the Christmas tree up in this house. Normally, we wait until it’s a bit closer to the holidays, but I’m going to be out of town next week, so Momsy decided that it would be easier to do it this weekend rather than waiting until right before Christmas.

In this family, it is a tradition that “the girls” decorate the tree; as the picture above evidences, “the girls” includes the cat. It’s been this way since I was a teenager, I think, maybe a little longer than that. I remember when I was a little kid, we would all go to a tree farm together on a Saturday in December, get the tree together, get hot chocolate and candy canes, and then we’d take the thing home and decorate it as a family.

When I was about seven, we got our first artificial tree, but decorating the thing remained a family affair-minus the hot chocolate and candy canes.

And then, somewhere along the line, my brother and my dad dropped out of the tree-decorating “festivities” and it turned into a “ladies-only affair.” In fact, this year, Momsy and I even got the tree out of the garage ourselves.

But last night, I was thinking about this. This is probably my last Christmas at home. And eventually, I’ll (hopefully) get married and have my own family. And when I have my own family, I want to have traditions. Christmas is important to me because a) it’s the celebration of the birth of Christ (which, yes, I am aware probably actually took place in April and was put in December because of a pagan feast but that’s not when we celebrate it in the Catholic Church, so deal with it) and b) it’s a family holiday and I happen to like family holidays.

When I have my own family, I want us to have traditions. And I hope that decorating the tree is a family tradition in my own family. I don’t want it to be just something that “the girls” do. I want it to be a family activity, so that my kids can experience some sort of ownership of the tree. Now, maybe my kids will think that I’m pathetic and won’t give an att’s rass about decorating the tree. But I love Christmas. I want my kids to grow up celebrating Advent. We don’t really do Advent in this family; we haven’t since I was about ten or so. And I think that takes something away from decorating the tree. A few families I know make decorating the tree a gradual process throughout Advent. (I also think that religious Advent calendars and Nativity scenes can also help celebrate Advent.) If decorating the tree becomes a part of celebrating Advent, then it makes it more of a family thing, at least to me.

I want to have my kids experience Advent. And I want to create lifelong traditions that can last long after my youngest kid turns 10. I want my kids to grow up celebrating the feasts of their patron saints. (Even if this does mean that I’ll potentially have to find a patron saint for an Elinor-St. Helen, maybe?) I have an incredible bond with my patroness, and I want my kids to have something similar. I want them to know why we do what we do.

So I want them to decorate the Christmas tree together-and yes, I’ll give them hot chocolate and candy canes as bribes. I want them to value Christmas and family. I want them to realize that Christmas is about more than presents. Maybe I’m crazy. Maybe I’m asking for too much. But I want them to see the Christmas tree as more than just a thing we put up to decorate the living room. I want them to see the point of Christmas.

P.S. The other two Magi are still hiding off to the east of the stable. They’re traveling from Persia; it’s a long trip.

Jack and Cecilia

Forty-eight years ago today, the world lost three men-Aldous Huxley, John F. Kennedy, and C.S. Lewis.

Now, as you might have guessed, I love C.S. Lewis. (Hi, there’s a reason I named my blog after one of his quotes. And yes, I’m drinking tea now with plans to read a large book this weekend.) And Lewis preferred to be called Jack, so we’ll call him that for the duration of this post.

Now Jack is one of the strongest voices of reason in my life. I’d always loved him, but while I was in Europe three years ago, I grew to love Lewis even more. I was listening to some podcasts by Dr. Peter Kreeft and Kreeft loves Lewis. And I fell hardcore in love with a man who died about twenty-five years before I was born.

But he spoke Truth without fear, and I love that about him. His books, especially Mere Christianity and The Weight of Glory have been some of the strongest influences in my life. The quote below, which is from The Weight of Glory, has shaped the way that I view others in a profound manner.

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations-these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit-immortal horrors or everlasting splendors…Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.”

Jack was wise and holy. He had an incredible imagination. (See The Chronicles of Narnia and The Space Trilogy.) Today, in fact, I had the opportunity to discuss my love of Lewis with a few of my colleagues over lunch when one of them mentioned that today was the 48th anniversary of Lewis’s, Huxley’s, and Kennedy’s deaths. I wasn’t the only one who knew that, and in discussing that fact (and my love of Lewis) I reminded of how important, how holy, and how wonderful Jack was-and continues to be 48 years after his death.

Also, Jack died on the feast of St. Cecilia, my patron Saint. I’m not sure why, but that makes me love him more.

Now on to St. Cecilia. She’s my patron Saint. She lived her entire life about eighteen centuries before I was born, and as far as I know, she died in her early twenties. I have no great soundbites (or really any at all) from her like I do from Jack. She was martyred by the Roman government for being a Christian. She is the patron saint of music. And I was named after her.

Three years ago, I spent November 21-24 in Rome. On November 22, my hosts took me to the Basilica of St. Cecilia in Trastavere  for the Vespers service that is held annually on the feast of the Saint. Being in the church dedicated to the honor my patron saint and having the opportunity to spend a few minutes in prayer in the crypt below the church where part of the saint is buried really strengthened my bond to my patron saint. For example, I want to have the flowers (white lilies, red carnations, and white daisies) that were on her tomb that day in my bridal bouquet if/when I get married. I was almost like meeting her; we were together and now it’s like I know her.  She is irrevocably part of me.

Jack and Cecilia remind me of one of the greatest things about being a Christian. We are connected to the Communion of Saints, to all of those who have gone before us in the Faith. Jack died 25 years before I was born. St. Cecilia died more than 1700 years before I was born. And yet, they are irrevocably part of me. We are joined by the Body of Christ, which transcends time and space and unites us all.

So, I’ll give Jack the final word.

“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

And St. Cecilia, pray for us.