Tag Archives: faith

I return joyful from San Francisco.

My godmother Charity and I took a trip to San Francisco yesterday, to the Orthodox cathedral affectionately called “Joy of All Who Sorrow.” I have mentioned visits to this holy place a couple of times before. The relics of St. John (Maximovitch) of Shanghai and San Francisco reside here, and draw pilgrims from around the world.

We wanted to present our petitions to the Lord with the help and intercession of St. John.

As many of my prayers have to do with my children and grandchildren, I was touched to see this icon near the front of the cathedral soon after I came in:

Being so large, the church has lots of space for iconography, an overwhelming number of images to take in, in one visit. This sweeping 360 degree tour of the cathedral might be interesting to give you an idea of the whole of the interior. It starts with the exterior and you have to click on the little square picture at the upper right of the frame to see the interior.

A photo of my companion hints at the feeling of being in the space:

Since my last visit here, I have become familiar with the traditional depictions of various saints and can recognize more of them, even if the names on them are in Cyrillic script. But I didn’t know this couple, whom Charity guessed to be Ss. Peter and Fevronia, and which the man at the candle desk in the narthex confirmed:

I have only recently learned about this royal couple, but they have long been famous in Russia, because:

“The Day of Saints Peter and Fevronia since the days of Kievan Rus and until 1917, was broadly celebrated in Russia because it is believed that the Saints Peter and Fevronia are the patrons of marriage and family, as well as the symbols of love and fidelity. On this day it was common to go to church, where the people asked for love and family grace.” (Wikipedia)

Their holiday has been revived in this century, now celebrated every July 8.

On the west wall I was surprised by a very large icon of Elijah in his chariot of fire:

One icon that blessed me very much was of the Holy Myrrhbearing Women. I am always especially interested in them because one is my patron saint, but this is the first time I have been so touched by their expressions, which seemed more emotional than is typical. (I really don’t know much about art, so take anything I say with a huge grain of salt!)

Just today I was reminded that icons are re-presentations of those depicted, an opportunity for us to engage further with the saints whom we know and love in the Lord. I offer one excerpt from an article by Fr. Lawrence Farley in which  he explains why we ask saints to pray for us:

“If the living and departed are both united to Christ, they are by virtue of this union also united to one another.  Even while on earth all Christians are united in a bond of mutual prayer and intercession (Ephesians 6:18)—how much more will our departed brethren pray for us when they are closer to Christ in heaven?”

In the huge Holy Virgin Cathedral full of saints re-presented to me, made present in a mysterious way, I experienced that reality which was also expressed by Bishop Dimitri (Royster) at the glorification of St. Herman of Alaska:

“The Church on earth lives in a loving fellowship with the saints who have already run their race, who have fought the good fight, and have received their crowns (2 Timothy 4:7) (James 1:12). This is what the Apostle means when he says that we are compassed about or surrounded by the witness-martyrs or saints. We are assured both of their presence and their interest in us. In fact, they are concerned about the whole world and its salvation, for ‘there is joy in heaven over the repentance of one sinner’ (Luke 15:7).”

It encouraged  my heart to be with so many, many saints at the cathedral. I know that the ones presented in icons are only a few out of the great Cloud of Witnesses who are examples and friends for us, who love and pray for us. Their faith is like a magnet that draws me in to the Kingdom, and keeps me from getting discouraged. Their love is a comfort to my heart, and no wonder, for I was in the cathedral named for her whom we know to be the “Joy of All Who Sorrow.”

The ethics of Paradise.

From a church bulletin:

THE ETHICS OF PARADISE

“…In the age before Constantine, Christians were able to be the salt of the earth without losing their flavor. They lived in close-knit community with one another without closing themselves off from their neighbors. Theirs was truly a way of life, not merely a religion. Their experience of God was metaphysical and meta-political. It was rooted in the ineffable revelation of the infinite, transcendent God Who kenotically [self- emptying of Jesus] irrupted into His orderly creation in order to cast out chaos and perfect human nature. He descended so that mankind, in Him, may ascend. We must recapture this orientation. Every thought must be taken captive to obey Christ (2 Cor 2:5).

“Becoming his disciple is ever a radical choice in a world filled with egotism, for faith propels us toward the other as we discover a universe in the soul of each person. In self-denial, we open ourselves up to eternity. Indeed, we only discover life once we are willing to lose it. In community we discover the love of the Father.

“It is for this reason that the Gospel cannot be reconciled with society and its false ideals of pride and power, comfort and pleasure. All of reality must be conformed to—or rather transformed by—the ethics of Paradise. Christianity is not a religion of self-actualization, nor a system of political and socioeconomic standards. It does not exist to affirm and fulfill our personal dreams or desires. Christ has come to save us from ourselves.”

—Father Joseph Lucas

I hear the doors clicking shut.

This morning I attended the memorial service for a dear woman whom I met on our first day in this county in which I still live. For some years our husbands were in leadership together in church, and in spite of a notable age difference we couples remained good friends for the whole 49 years leading up to now, when neither couple remains as a couple earthbound.

We used to make these friendship quilts.

Many of the people whom I saw today, I hadn’t seen in more than twenty years, back when we were in the same homeschooling community. In some cases, it took a few seconds for us to recognize each other’s faces that were so familiar, though mysteriously strange at the same time.

As I was driving to the event I began to feel the weight of the accumulation of changes among all of us, especially the losses. After decades of living, we have racked up disappointments, heartaches and traumas. The days we lived back then, whether happy or sad, are not to be lived again. The “loss” of my friend Martha seemed to my melancholic mind a sort of culmination.

But once I arrived it was impossible to retain that melancholy; Martha’s love for God and for us continues to encourage us. Everyone I talked to knows “that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28) Even the ones among us for whom heartaches are fresh and ongoing spoke of this truth, and of the increases in grace and mercies they have known, and of their Blessed Hope. The last hymn we sang together was “When We All Get to Heaven.”

Friends from back then who are grandparents now.

It’s only been two years since I first posted the poem below, but I wanted it again today. Of course Martha is not a loss. She is one of whom Christ said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.” And as for those heartaches, etc. — it’s not over till it’s over.

EVERNESS

One thing does not exist: Oblivion.
God saves the metal and he saves the dross.
And his prophetic memory guards from loss
The moons to come, and those of evenings gone.
Everything in the shadows in the glass
Which, in between the day’s two twilights, you
Have scattered by the thousands, or shall strew
Henceforward in the mirrors that you pass.
And everything is part of that diverse
Crystalline memory, the universe;
Whoever through its endless mazes wanders
Hears door on door click shut behind his stride,
And only from the sunset’s farther side
Shall view at last the Archetypes and the Splendors.

-Jorge Luis Borges
translated by Richard Wilbur

The increase of Pascha.

From our parish bulletin:

From the eve of the Ascension of the Lord (an event which we confess when we recite the Creed) until the following Friday, we sing this hymn:

Thou hast ascended in glory, O Christ our God,
and gladdened Thy Disciples with the promise of the Holy Spirit.
And they were assured by the blessing
that Thou art the Son of God and Redeemer of the world.

The Feast is always on a Thursday—Forty Days after the Resurrection (described in Acts 1). We are such materialists that it’s hard for us to conceive or understand this event. The Ascension is the vindication of the crucified, buried and risen Lord Jesus, the initiation of His reign— inauguration day—over all creation, and His power made present in us.

“Lo, I am with you, even to the end of the ages. Amen,” says the Lord as He ascends—that is, as He comes into His glory and sits upon the Throne at the Right Hand of the Father. He is with us—we are with Him too— because now, the One Who Is God AND man is in Heaven.

As St. Leo the Great, the Pope of Rome (+461) taught: “With all due solemnity we are commemorating that day on which our poor human nature was carried up, in Christ, above all the hosts of Heaven, above all the ranks of angels, beyond the highest Heavenly powers to the very throne of God the Father.”

This is simultaneously our ascension and our glorification, since we are united to Christ through holy Baptism as members of His Body. Therefore, St. Paul can further write: “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Col. 3:3) Out of our physical sight, we now “see” the glorified Christ through the eyes of faith.

St. Leo further explains how important this spiritual insight is: “For such is the power of great minds, such the light of truly believing souls, that they put unhesitating faith in what is not seen with the bodily eyes; they fix their desires on what is beyond sight. Such fidelity could never be born in our hearts, nor could anyone be justified by faith, if our salvation lay only in what is visible.”

The Feast of the Ascension is not a decline from the glory of Pascha. It is, rather, the increase of Pascha, and a movement upward toward the Kingdom of Heaven for those who are in Christ. It is the joyful revelation of our destiny in Christ.