When I walked up to the open doors of the church this evening of Bright Thursday, the flower scents streamed out and welcomed me to Paschal Vespers. Inside, the altar doors are wide open all this week, and after the service the decorated bread called Artos was placed before them. It stays in the church all through Bright Week, representing our risen Lord, the Bread of Life. This Sunday we will cut it up and eat it together.
Pots of lilies and bouquets are all over the place, and many icons are draped
with flowers carefully and lovingly arranged.
I want to back up and show you some scenes from Pascha, starting with the midnight service and our procession around the property, after which we arrived back inside the church to sing “Christ is risen!” by means of many words and melodies. We did this for a few hours, ate our joyous agape meal, and got to bed about 4:30 in the morning.
I was battling a cough that kept me from many services last week, but I managed to come back for Bright Monday Liturgy. This service always has a lighter and sweeter tone than Pascha, perhaps from the daylight that warms our bodies and reveals the beauty of the church. And of course, we are rested a bit, and not so wired as we were Saturday night.
Tuesday I drove a couple of hours to “Silicon Valley,” to attend the funeral of a dear uncle. I spent that night with an old friend, and we walked in the afternoon along the Guadalupe River Trail, a refreshing green space in the middle of urban and suburban sprawl.
Wednesday I was heartened to spend some time with my husband’s cousins and pray at the grave of a man of prayer. He had included me and my family in his prayers for decades.
Now I am back home, and taking care of my garden again.
Flowers are bright here, too, of course!
On Bright Friday, that is, the Friday after Pascha, the Orthodox Church commemorates The Life-Giving Spring of the Most Holy Theotokos. Though I had heard of the monastery by that name, it seems I had never paid attention on Bright Friday before to get the backstory; this year I heard about it twice. The story of a miraculous pool of water and how it was rediscovered is well told here.
I also learned that women with the name Zoë might have been named for this feast of the Theotokos.Zoë means life in Greek. In his Prologue of Ohrid St. Nikolai Velimirovich relates the story of a St. Zoë and her family, who were slaves in the second century. On the same day’s entry St. Nikolai’s homily is on this pertinent scripture from Jeremiah:
Be amazed at this, O heavens, and shudder with sheer horror, says the Lord. Two evils have my people done: they have forsaken Me, the source of living waters. They have dug themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that hold no water.
From the homily:
The Source of living water is the Lord Himself: inexhaustible, copious and sweet. The cistern is every man’s work which is performed in opposition to God and God’s law, and from which men expect progress, happiness and satisfaction for their hunger and thirst….
….O Lord, Immortal Source of every good that the heart of man can desire and the mind of man can imagine, have mercy on us sinners and unworthy ones. With Thy powerful right hand, turn us away from our godless and vain works and quench our thirst with Thy sweet and living water.
Whether in her womb, or in a pool of healing waters, or in her example and exhortation to “Do whatever He tells you,” it is the life of the Lord Himself that His mother offers us.
This concludes my alphabetical posts. As in the first I acknowledged that Christ is Alpha and Omega, the first and last — according to the Greek alphabet — so here at “Z”, the last letter of our alphabet, we find that He is Zoë, Life itself.
Son Pathfinder drove down from Oregon for his job, so he stopped also to see me at the beginning of this Bright Week, and helped quite a bit by mowing the lawn that hasn’t quite died, doing a pool maintenance task with me, and listening/talking for a while about his father and how our lives have changed. My children are my favorite people to talk to these days.
He brought some mail, including a card from Granddaughter Annie with a gift tucked inside, this bit of seeded paper she had “made at Bible study to represent spreading God’s love.” She also wrote to invite me to drive north to their house next month to see the exhibit that includes some photography from a class she is taking. I am not making firm commitments that far ahead, but I feel the love pulling me.
The snowball bush is hanging over the pool, the wisteria over the patio arbor. It was all warm and welcoming when our old friend Ken came by this week – also in town for work – and we sat out there for a visit. He said he hadn’t been in our back yard since he was baptized in our pool….we didn’t try to figure out how long ago that was! I told him about how I am planning to have the pool removed, and he looked over the equipment and discussed the job I need to get bids for. He owns a pool himself so he is a good person to talk to.
In addition to family and friends who are ready with long hugs and all kinds of practical assistance, I’ve appreciated the writings of Father Alexis Trader, who recently posted a series on grief. His descriptions of the feelings of grief are true to my own experience, as he empathizes with those who suddenly find ourselves in “this disorienting new universe that no longer feels like home.”
Here is an example of how that is playing out here: I don’t feel like gardening. In my whole life I have only gardened as a partner with my husband, and it’s as though I don’t yet know how to do it as the person I am now. I haven’t planted a seed or a tomato start, and I’m just not thrilled about any of that. It’s a good thing that so much of the garden will keep going on its own and feed me with its beauty. All these photos are from this afternoon – I guess I still know how to take pictures on my own!
About the process of grief Fr. Alexis says, “…one thing is consistent: grief is a journey that if it is successful is resolved in acceptance. The fathers also use the metaphor of a journey referring to a longer, spiritual journey in which the briefer journey of grief can be situated.”
This image of a journey helps me to keep going. I know I am not at the end of my life’s journey, and I may be on the road for many more years. This short trail called Grief which I am facing now, though, is the steepest hike I’ve ever encountered. I wish I didn’t have to go this way, but it’s on the route my Father has laid out for me, so “best get on with it.” No doubt the trick will be the same old strategy: One foot in front of the other. More from Father Alexis:
Grief indeed is a journey but the holy fathers demonstrate that if we can learn to open our spiritual eyes, we will see that it need not be a solitary journey filled solely with darkness and pain, but it can also be a passage of transformation from death to life. After all, for the fathers, “death is not death, but only a kind of emigration and translation from the worse to the better, from earth to heaven, from men to angels, archangels, and the One who is the Lord of angels and archangels” (Saint John Chrysostom, Letter to a Widow).
Somehow the stages of grief, whatever they may be or in whatever order they may occur, need to be situated within the greater journey from earth to heaven, the journey that the departed in Christ have already completed. We are all “strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13). The experience of grief brings this truth home. When we accept it fully, we can look to “a better country, that is heavenly” (Hebrews 11:16), to “a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10), to that Jerusalem on high that has “no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof” (Revelations 21:23). That is the place where stages and phases are past, where acceptance is complete, and where we are truly at home with those who are departed, there where “Christ is all and in all” (Colossians 3:11).
This morning I attended Bright Saturday Liturgy and was freshly struck by some of the prayers that I have prayed every week for almost a decade now. Like the prayer that we might “complete the remaining time of our life in peace and repentance.” Yes, that is the journey I am on. One thing is needful.
As I went out the door afterward, Ambrose, who is a drummer as well as a bell-ringer, began to ring the Paschal bells with gusto, and their brilliance filled the air of the quiet neighborhood to remind all the humans and animals that it’s not just another humdrum day, because Christ is risen!
Here is this year’s Artos, the blessed bread that remains in the church all during Bright Week, one more reminder of the Resurrection and of how our Lord is The Bread of Life.
I’ve been looking at other photos of loaves of Artos and truly I think our parish has the most gorgeous! In a few days we will all get a piece to eat. I happened to go into the church kitchen last week while the dough was being kneaded, so I know it has olive oil and orange zest in it, but other than the wheat itself I don’t know what other flavors it holds.
The Gospel reading at the Bright Tuesday Liturgy told the story of the disciples meeting the risen Christ on the Road to Emmaus, and I was very moved by it. I seemed to feel as never before how their world had collapsed when Jesus was crucified and dead. How heartbroken they must have been, to be suddenly without the One who meant everything to them, who was their very life. And then to hear how He, not recognized, spoke to them, and “beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” (Luke 24) The drama of this well-loved story grew in my heart as our priest read the passage.
When they convinced Him to stay with them that evening, their eyes were opened as they broke bread and ate together, and they knew Him. Then He vanished from their sight, and they realized that even though they hadn’t at the time realized why, their hearts had “burned within them” as they had listened to Him on the road.
My heart was joyful, and I got chills thinking about the unspeakable gift of breaking bread with God, partaking of the Holy Mysteries and by that sacrament receiving a kind of knowledge that can only come by His grace.
And we are only halfway through Bright Week! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!