Today was the first time that the daphne scent got my attention all on its own, as I came back from errands and was unlocking my front door. Before today, I had to kneel down on the mulch and get my nose right up to it, but now there are more blooms, and they are more fully opened. If the weather warms up a bit that should make them even more noticeable.
This highly aromatic plant was introduced to me my a neighbor when I was in labor of childbirth with my daughter Pippin – Gayle brought me a vase of the flowers that were in bloom then, around Valentine’s Day, and the sweetness in the air highlighted the divine atmosphere that I always feel when we are waiting to meet a new baby.
I always understood that daphne is hard to grow in our area. I don’t remember why that is, but I never attempted it. Then last summer Landscape Lady suggested it for this spot in my front garden, and I was thrilled at the possibility. Originally we thought to have a whole row of them under the living room window, but her fellow designer cautioned against that much investment in a risky business, so I just have the one. And it is healthy and making lots of flowers so far!
I’m posting it here in honor of Saint Bridget of Ireland, whose feast this is, but also for the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, which is tonight/tomorrow — and also for dear Saint Simeon who took Jesus in his arms and knew immediately that He was the Christ. The Lord had told Simeon that he would not die until he had seen The Lord’s Anointed, so as he was cradling his infant Savior he said, “Lord, now let Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people: a Light to enlighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel.”
Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb,
Now leaves His well-belov’d imprisonment,
There He hath made Himself to His intent
Weak enough, now into the world to come;
But O, for thee, for Him, hath the inn no room?
Yet lay Him in this stall, and from the Orient,
Stars and wise men will travel to prevent
The effect of Herod’s jealous general doom.
Seest thou, my soul, with thy faith’s eyes, how He
Which fills all place, yet none holds Him, doth lie?
Was not His pity towards thee wondrous high,
That would have need to be pitied by thee?
Kiss Him, and with Him into Egypt go,
With His kind mother, who partakes thy woe.
This morning I had to wait around to take my walk, until the dawn lightened enough. When I went outside the first time to check the visibility, the feeling in the air was thrilling. The combination of the light and the humidity and everything was something you don’t get to experience if you are in the house smelling the coffee.
I’m not usually outdoors before 6:00, though there was one summer when for a few weeks at least Pippin and I would go to the high school track so that she could run, while I walked, in the dark — because it was the only time we had.
When I did start out a little later, the sky was filled with beautiful clouds. All the plants along the path were breathing into the space where my face was coming along with its nose. It was very intimate; I wanted to stand a while in the middle of the path and breathe with them.
I’ve been walking the same path almost every day, and getting to know some landmarks, or seeing how they have developed in the last 26 years. I feel that I didn’t notice them before…. or I forgot, is more likely. I am not the same person I was, and some of them are also more grown up, if they are still there.
When my tires were getting rotated the other day I took a walk in that neighborhood and it had its own scents and views. With fennel! I know I am always talking about the wild fennel, but it is everywhere, and giving off that sweet licorice smell as it makes its seeds and dries up. The banks of the creek are full of it — my summer is full of it — and this field is decorated, too.
Today I will go to the funeral and burial for the young man who fell asleep in the Lord last week. His casket was brought into the church this week and while we were commemorating the Beheading of John the Baptist yesterday morning it was in the middle of the nave. After the Liturgy we had more prayers for him, and koliva.
We have sung these prayers as an adjunct to every service that has happened since he died, and this week there has been a service every day. I wasn’t present for every one.
A new icon of the Forerunner of Christ was recently commissioned for the church, showing several scenes from his life. It was finished just in time for this feast.
Yesterday we heard words from St. Justin Popivic’s homily on this feast, about how St. John the Baptist had been the Forerunner of Christ not just on earth, but also into Hades:
The glorious Forerunner also entered into the kingdom of death as the Forerunner of all of the true Confessors of Christ in the world, all of the true Prophets in the world, to announce to all of the souls in the kingdom of death: Lo, death is defeated, the demons destroyed, the kingdom of death will be destroyed when, in a little while, the Lord appears here, and you will be led out of this horror and into heavenly joy, into the Kingdom On High. …. Thus, for us Christians today is like unto Great Friday. Just as for the Savior, the Resurrection follows Great Friday, so the Forerunner joyously dies and enters into death, for he sees the victory over death, and knows that the Lord has prepared for him as well eternal life and resurrection from the dead on the day of the Great Judgment.
When the Lord was crucified, He descended into the nether regions, into Hades, into the kingdom of death, with His human Soul. His Body lay in the tomb, but His Soul, the fullness of his Divinity, descended into death’s kingdom. And how astonished must have been all of the human souls in Hades, on seeing God in a human soul, shining with ineffable light, light impossible for a human being to imagine. Who would not come to believe in Him? Who, when He appears in the kingdom of death so filled with Eternal Truth, Eternal Life, Eternal Justice?
He appears as conqueror over death. And as death’s kingdom could not hold God Who was in Jesus’ soul, as it could not hold God in its hands, it fell apart because of Christ’s Divinity, because of His Most-holy Soul, in which was the fullness of God. And the Lord led out of death’s kingdom all those who had earlier come to believe the Forerunner, and those who had come to believe in Him, the Lord Jesus Christ, to believe that in truth, He was True God in Heaven and on earth.
During the Kneeling Vespers this afternoon I did not kneel, because I was sitting on a bench along the wall of the nave, with my little goddaughter Mary on my lap, and she had just fallen asleep. When a child falls asleep on my chest I am always astounded, and consider it the greatest honor, as though she were speaking right to my heart, “I feel safe and at peace with you, so I will give my warm body with its quiet breathing into your care.”
Today is Pentecost, or Holy Trinity Sunday, because not only do we remember that the Holy Spirit was given to us, and fell on the disciples 50 days after Christ’s Resurrection, but He was sent from the Father, by the Son, confirming the unity and will of the Holy Trinity, God in Three Persons.
The photo of the framed icon above is reflecting the Pantocrator fresco in the dome above. If I squint hard enough I can see the face of Christ superimposed on the icon that depicts the Holy Spirit falling on the apostles.
The Holy Spirit is also remembered tomorrow, the day after this feast, on Holy Spirit Day. And today we had the Kneeling Vespers to prepare for that Liturgy; it’s the first time we have kneeled since Pascha, and the only time all year that we pray these particular prayers. I had brought a very little kneeling pad, cut from an old blue backpacking pad – our priest suggested we bring something like this – but as I didn’t need it, I offered it to a woman nearby and she was happy.
Because I had both arms around a dear baby, I wasn’t able to take a picture of her serene face, or to take out my notebook and write notes about the content of the seven long and poetical prayers, in three sets, or the hymns of that service….one normally wouldn’t want to do that anyway, but I felt that I missed so much that I would like to ruminate on further. We won’t hear these again until next year. I did look here just now and read a little about them:
Each set ends, sealed as it were with a lovely capstone, with one of the ancient vesperal prayers for light, from the Great Church of Holy Wisdom, in Constantinople. That much makes sense: praying for light as we re-enter the world from the heady days of Pascha-Pentecost, and enter “ordinary time” in our cycle of the church year. We need the light of Christ in the dark paths of this world, as our Gospel for the Feast proclaimed.
It was a day full of sunlight, and perhaps that added to the calm joy I was feeling, along with a certain amazement at the huge blessing of being in the Orthodox Church. This recent heightening of my awareness began last Sunday, when we remembered The Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council who in the 4th century labored body, soul, and spirit on behalf of the Body of Christ, to hold us fast to the Apostles’ teaching.
After the homily that day, I exchanged silent but knowing looks and hand-squeezes with a couple of people near me — we were all glad to be in this together, responding to the comforting words of our priest about how we don’t have to make up our faith as we go. If we also hold fast to the truth that has been given to us, we can give our energies not to intellectual debates, but to fulfilling the commandments of Christ.
Today’s feast is a celebration of the reality of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives, helping us to do just that, giving us Christ and His love to share among ourselves and with everyone in our lives. Really, God’s plan of salvation is impossible to fully comprehend…. One important point was brought home to us in today’s homily: Our purpose is to acquire the Holy Spirit.
A few months ago a lecturer asked a group of us, “What are the most fundamental doctrines of the Church?” How would you have answered? The answer was that the first doctrine is The Holy Trinity. So this feast is most important!
Lots of women and children were wearing green skirts or scarves. Some parishioners brought extra armfuls of birch branches into the church this morning, to hand out freely, or to prop up in corners here and there. I brought home a big blooming branch and stood it near my icon of The Holy Trinity.
In the Church, I live in a place where all the nourishment and medicine and support I need are available in the sacraments, and in the love and care of her saints poured into her over thousands of years now. They love and pray for us still.
Mary woke up just after Vespers was over. Her eyes opened and looked at my eyes, and then she sprang to life and was ready to go forth in her calling to grow in knowledge and grace, into the likeness of Christ. I want to rest in my Father’s arms in that childlike way, and be about my work in the strength that comes from His rest.
O Heavenly King, the Comforter,
The Spirit of Truth,
Who art everywhere present
and filleth all things;
Treasury of Blessings
and Giver of Life,
come and abide in us,
and cleanse us from every impurity,
and save our souls, O Good One.