Category Archives: church

Now you are light in the Lord.

The Monday after Pentecost Sunday, we Orthodox celebrate Holy Spirit Day.

When He came down and confused the tongues,
the Most High divided the nations;

but when He distributed the tongues of fire,
He called all people to unity.

Therefore, with one voice, we glorify the most-Holy Spirit.

(Hymn of the Feast)

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord.  And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret. But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light. Therefore He says:

“Awake, you who sleep,
Arise from the dead,
And Christ will give you light.”

(From the epistle for the day, Ephesians 5)

The sun and a spider mite.

The sun up above does feel like the ball of fire it is, today when the thermometer stands at 100 degrees. Summer caught up with itself and arrived with stored up (solar) energy!

It was too late to take a walk, on a day like this, but I did it. Maybe it was the heat that made the phrase “ball of fire” come to my mind as I watched a spider mite racing around on a blackberry flower, never stopping. What can a mite accomplish if it never pauses? It’s the little smudge appearing in a different spot in each of the shots below.

I also looked at the bees and flowers. I saw a syrphid fly and had to learn all over again when I got home that it was not a bee. In the process I learned that in the United States alone there are 4,000 species of bees. Here is another insect I don’t know… Is it a wasp or a fly? At least, I know it’s not a bee.

I also can’t remember what this shrub is that all three insects are posing on. [So fast! My first commenter reminded me that it is cotoneaster.] Maybe I never have known. But I didn’t really want to spend today doing insect or plant identification. I need to wash the dishes and strip the bathroom floor! So if any of you know about my insect or shrub perhaps you can tell me.

syrphid fly

Most of the salsify have scattered their seeds, but some flowers are still opening.

Mustard plants eight feet tall are growing out of the drying-up creek, along with lots of thistles. What is that orange spot that catches the eye…? Not a piece of trash, surprisingly, but California poppies! I’ve never seen them down there before.

All of this life, in many colors, pushing forth. I wondered… if I focus my camera on one small part of the very ugliest thistle, might I see something pretty? I did:

Last night at church we had a thanksgiving service for a couple celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. When the husband retired from being a professor and a full-time Orthodox priest in Michigan, they moved from Michigan to California to be near their children. The wife said it was as though she had died and gone to heaven. 🙂 Since then they have been part-time participants in three parishes, and from all three of them people came to congratulate and rejoice with them.

I had been to only one other Moleben of Thanksgiving ever before, which was prayed for my husband and me in thanks and praise for God’s faithfulness during our 40 years of marriage. That was already seven years ago! This service was a joy – I was so happy to be part of it and to pray with them.

I had mixed up the time and arrived an hour early, which was kind of nice because I got to chat with the husband and his son a bit. The son was getting the barbecue ready for the party that would happen after the service. We were enjoying the shade of this beautiful catalpa tree whose flowers smelled like the fancy dessert was baking in the oven nearby. But this picture shows what my daughter told me about iPhone cameras, that they distort the sides of the image. Do you see how the buildings on the sides are both leaning in? Okay, now go back and enjoy the tree.

Before I go to my housework, I will have a tall glass of water, and before that, I’ll give you a little lotus weed in warm summery tones. I’ll meet you back here on a slightly cooler day.

The almond, the light and the glory.

christ forgiving resurrection 2Until a recent vocabulary expansion, I knew little Italian beyond pizza and zucchini. Now I know mandorla, which means almond. In the language of iconography, it means a background shape, often an almond shape but not always, which conveys meaning having nothing to do with the nut.

In this article “Within a Mandorla” I read that “Revealed in the context of a mandorla is that which we know by the revelation of Scripture but which might not have been witnessed by the human eye – or – if witnessed – somehow transcended the normal bounds of vision.

“Mark says that [Christ] was “carried up into heaven and seated at the right hand of God.” This last formula is a creedal confession – but not an eyewitness description. That Christ was taken up and that He is seated at the right hand of the Father is the faith and dogma of the Church. But the Church knows this in a mystical manner and not in the manner of a newspaper reporter.”

And from a different source:

“Sometimes a star – but the usual elliptical shape gives it the name mandorla, which is Italian for the nut. The almond tree is the first plant to flower in Greece, sometimes as early as mid-January, and as such is a symbol of new life and fertility. Ancient Greek myths also link almonds, and the almond-shape, with new life; yet preceding all these in time, and succeeding them in importance, is the story of Aaron’s rod, which blossomed forth not only flowers, but almonds (Numbers 17:8)”

The mandorla can represent light that was actually seen by those present at an event, but it often also symbolizes the majesty and glory that is beyond our earthly vision or ability to put into words.

From Wikipedia: “These mandorla will often be painted in several concentric patterns of color which grow darker as they come close to the center. This is in keeping with the church’s use of apophatic theology, as described by Dionysius the Areopagite and others. As holiness increases, there is no way to depict its brightness except by darkness.”

The story of what the disciples of Jesus saw with their own eyes is told in the first chapter of the Book of Acts:

“So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.  While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them.  They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’”

  This year we Orthodox celebrate the Ascension of Christ on June 6.

The Lord has ascended into heaven
that He might send the Comforter to the world.
The heavens prepared His throne, and the clouds His mount.
Angels marvel to see a Man high above them.
The Father receives Him Whom He holds, co-eternal, in His bosom.
The Holy Spirit commands all His Angels:
“Lift up your gates, ye princes!
All ye nations, clap your hands:
for Christ has gone up to where He was before!”

It was tangled up all through her, too.

In this article “Science fiction, and what Jesus said to the woman at the well,” Fr. Jonathan Tobias discusses the possibility of extra-terrestrial life, what human nature is like, and the meaning of worship.

My favorite line is, “Wherever there is beauty, Christ the Word is speaking to your heart of the Love the Holy Trinity has for you.

Many portions of the article are to me extra-rich soul food, but I will share just a little here. I hope you will like to read more on Fr. Jonathan’s site.

It is interesting that everyone “worships.” You can’t help worshiping some god or another one. If it isn’t the true God, then a human being will construct his own version. He may not call it “god” and will probably even deny that his invention is a “god,” but it occupies the place of “god” in his thoughts and emotions. The very people that claim that God does not exist, but that there is only stuff that you can scientifically observe are the people who have ended up making this “stuff” their god.

Human beings cannot get away from their human nature. Worshiping “god” is a necessary part of what makes us human (and I suggest here that “worship” is the highest act of being human). You and I are going to worship something: “You’re gonna have to serve somebody,” as Dylan once sang. You can deny the true God, but you cannot deny worship. Worship is tangled up all through your psychology: seeking god is not part of your consciousness … it is your consciousness.

Let me say that again.

Seeking God IS your consciousness. It is the essence of your rationality. Seeking God is your life. Seeking God is the air that you breathe.

Let’s just hope that the “god” you seek is the true God, the Holy Trinity, of Which Jesus is the only Word.

-Father Jonathan Tobias

The Samaritan woman at the well. Mosaic, 6th century, Ravenna