Tag Archives: koliva

When suffering and death come.

I almost broke out of my “cage” last week to visit my husband’s grave. My priest would meet me there, and we would pray on the memorial of my beloved’s repose, five years ago. But we changed our plan and had a virtual gathering with him praying in the church and more of us praying along via Zoom than would ever have been able to come to the cemetery. Before we had conceived the graveside plan and given it up, we had planned for me to bring a koliva to church to serve after a service there. I know people everywhere have been accomplishing many and various quick-change feats lately.

The Zoom meeting/service was a little odd; I’m certain it was the first prayer service ever held that way in my parish, but under the circumstances it was the best, and I was really glad we did it. More than 21 people were able to be with me that way, and some of you were among them. I could see that 21 devices were tuned in, and some of them represented couples or families.

Most of us had our microphones turned off, but even having two or three people singing or praying together on Zoom confuses the audio stream. I was thankful to all of those who were willing to listen above the superficial distortion to the beauty of the memorial, for the sake of praying with me and for my husband. It was sweet to see their names and/or faces, and after the hymn “Memory Eternal” more people turned on their mics to say it individually.

That was a blessing of the current version of normal, and a good alternative to standing in the rain six feet away from my priest. But when I do eventually feel free to visit the cemetery, that real and physical resting place (I will choose a sunny day), I can see me with my face in the grass, smelling the earth, feeling the breeze blowing over me and over all those waiting for the Resurrection of the Dead. Until then I am sharing a few pictures of events featuring more concrete, material remembrances, the sorts of gatherings which we will be less likely to take for granted in the future — I hope!

Today as I write, it is Saturday, which is the Sabbath, as we were reminded in our (streamed) morning prayers from church. The day of rest. But most of us don’t rest ourselves on this day. Rather, the church remembers those who are resting in death, waiting for the Resurrection, Resurrection Day, which we both celebrate and look forward to on Sundays, as Sunday is the Eighth Day.

When I “came home,” which meant coming downstairs, I read the passage from I Corinthians appointed for the day, and it is on the on the same theme, a topic on the minds of many in these days of a world pandemic, a time when death statistics are in nearly every news article one comes across. I keep thinking about Ivan in Tolstoy’s story, and how it was only in suffering that he began to get understanding. I will quote from my own blog post, written only a month ago, so soon pertinent to our moment:

“It is the disruption of Ivan Ilyich’s pleasant life, the pain of his illness, and the growing realization that he is dying, that make him pay attention, and even pray. His prayer is along the lines of, ‘What did I do to deserve this?’ but nevertheless: ‘Then he was still, ceased weeping, held his breath, and was all attention; he listened, as it were, not to a voice uttering sounds, but to the voice of his soul, to the current of thoughts that rose up within him.'”

It is always a good thing to realize that one is dying. Those of us who will survive this recent threat and go on to live many more happy decades are no less under the sentence of death than those who will die from Covid-19. The realization can lead to repentance, and that in turn, to life.  Here is the epistle reading for today:

Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

“O[Death, where is your sting?
O Hades, where is your victory?”

The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. -I Corinthians 15:50-57

Let’s not only pray that we and the people we love be delivered from physical suffering and death, but also that when suffering and death come, as they will, we all will be able to hear the voice of God in our hearts. As it was for Ivan, for some it will be the beginning of true life.

For Thou are the Resurrection, the Life, and the Repose of Thy servants who have fallen asleep, O Christ our God, and unto Thee we ascribe glory, together with Thy Father, who is from everlasting, and Thine all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, now and ever unto ages of ages. Amen.

-From Prayer for the Departed

In us the dead still belong.

Today, about a week before our Orthodox beginning of Lent, is Saturday of Souls, or Memorial Saturday. In Divine Liturgy we commemorate all those who have “fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection and life eternal.” Father Alexander Schmemann writes in Great Lent:

To understand the meaning of this connection between Lent and the prayer for the dead, one must remember that Christianity is the religion of love. Christ left with his disciples not a doctrine of individual salvation but a new commandment “that they love one another,” and he added: “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Love is thus the foundation, the very life of the Church which is, in the words of St. Ignatius of Antioch, the “unity of faith and love.”

I was able to attend Liturgy this morning, and many things contributed to my great joy in participating. Saturday morning is not an “easy” day to make it to church, and I probably could count on one hand the number of these memorial Saturdays that I have attended over the years. They are celebrated often during Lent, and other dates on the church calendar.

Today many of us had offered our contributions to the list of names of the departed that were read aloud as we all prayed. My dear godmother was present with me this morning, which made me feel more complete 🙂 and it happened to be the exact date that my uncle was killed in a plane crash long before I was born — the uncle I wrote about once here.

Today we were also praying especially for two men who more recently fell asleep in Christ, one just 40 days previous. George and Nikolai, memory eternal! Romanian women brought koliva, one made of barley instead of wheat, and other commemorative foods.

Just to stand in church, to stand in Christ, to stand with my departed loved ones — it was awfully sweet. Because of this reality that Metropolitan Anthony speaks of in Courage to Pray:

The life of each one of us does not end at death on this earth and birth into heaven. We place a seal on everyone we meet. This responsibility continues after death, and the living are related to the dead for whom they pray. In the dead we no longer belong completely to the world; in us the dead still belong to history. Prayer for the dead is vital; it expresses the totality of our common life.

Not random but various.

Not infrequently the feeling of unreality comes upon me: It doesn’t compute that I am living a full life without my husband. He has not lent his strength to the shovel, or played music while I made dinner, or given me an opinion about one single thing. For three years. Really?? My mind does its best to go along with my body as it sleeps alone, and wakes up alone, walks alone, and makes always unilateral decisions. But occasionally it says, “Wait a minute! I’m confused… Who are we…? I don’t like change!”

I think that’s part of the reason I act as though every little thing I think and do must be documented here or in my bullet journal, or my garden journal, or a letter to someone. I am watching myself, noticing that this strange woman does get up every day so far, and worships, and comes up with new ideas for the garden; she has friends who act as though she is as normal a person as can be.

Of course I mostly go with that assessment without thinking about it. My, do I have friends! They are the greatest. Since Mr. and Mrs. Bread gave me a new Chapel Birdfeeder for my birthday, I also have blue jays enjoying my garden like never before.

Book friends! Several women readers at church have started a reading group. They read Jane Eyre first, but I didn’t join their ranks until this spring when they are giving themselves six weeks to read Work by Louisa May Alcott, a book I’d never heard of. How can I even finish Middlemarch and write about it, much less finish Work? It does seem that I am testing the limits of this new life I am creating, and I act at times like a silly crazy woman. Would I rather spend time on Work or housework? I don’t even know!

My friend “Mr. Greenjeans” and his wife gave me a tour of their garden the other day, and quiche afterward. He is an encyclopedia of plants and loves to experiment with exotic seeds in his greenhouse. This year he has potato towers that have an upper storey that will be for melons!

I was interested in his mystery tree, which he thinks sprouted from one of the seeds in a packet that was a South American mixture. I was thinking “Africa” when I went home and searched online for some tree from that part of the world that had these green-tipped narrow trumpet flowers, and the same kind of leaves. I couldn’t find anything. (My friend Father C. in Kenya said they have this tree, but he doesn’t know the name, and his pictures didn’t look very similar.)

Soon Mrs. Greenjeans clarified that the source was likely South America, not Africa.

Update: Lucky for me Anna in Mexico saw my post and in her comment below she identified it as nicotiana glauca or Tree Tobacco, originating in Argentina.

My farmer friend has also been successful in growing several seedling trees of Red Mahogany Eucalyptus, which makes great lumber, and the Australian Tea Tree, which puts on a gorgeous display of white blooms, and from which he explained how I could make tea tree oil, if I would accept one of the trees he was offering me. But I took home a lovely columbine instead, which I know can find a small place in my garden.

Mr. Greenjeans also makes dough at least half the time for our Communion bread baking teams at church. For some months I have tried to pick tiny pink specks out of the dough as I am rolling it; today I heard that they are from Himalayan salt that he uses! So now I am happy to see them.

I was able to do all these kneading-rolling-cutting things because my sprained finger is finally better! Here is our team leader putting some prosphora into the oven this morning:

Team Leader and my friend (Nun) Mother S. have invited me to go walking or hiking a few times lately. Once we went to the same park I last visited the day of Jamie’s birth, the day after my husband’s funeral! Because of a downed tree blocking the trail …

 

… we weren’t able to take the shady route by the creek, and the sun was hot, so I lent Mother S. my hat.

Not as many wildflowers caught our attention in May as three years ago in March, but I did find a few.

Back home in my garden, the red poppies have opened, later than the pale yellow by a month. My skirt blew into the frame for contrast.

 

The last time I walked by the creek – at least a week ago! – I cut these roses, which because of the way they naturally fall over a fence are curved all funny and do not work very well in a vase, unless you put them on the top of the hutch the way I did, so that they hang down above my head as I sit here at the computer. Sweet things!

Last weekend son Soldier and his family were here, which made for a splendid couple of days. Liam is nearly six years old. He reads everything, and I saw him poring over a few books from my shelf…. That was a new thing, and a little sad, because he never asked me to read to him, but he did help me cut up my snowball clippings. He is good with the loppers or rose pruners.

P1000485Tomorrow I’m showing one elderly lady from church my India pictures. The next day I’m visiting my friend E. who is 102 now and who gave me the knitting needles that her mother-in-law gave her when she got married! This weekend my friend O. has engaged me to feed his cat Felafel while he is on a trip, and give him thyroid pills in tasty pill pouches. I met Felafel tonight and he is very friendly and agreeable.

For Soul Saturday I’ll make a koliva because my goddaughter Kathie’s 3-year memorial is near. And Holy Spirit Day, the day after Pentecost, is the same as Memorial Day this year; we have a prayer service at a cemetery. It’s quite a week, busy with various good things. And this is really me!

Eternal Memory

gl P1030780 koliva 3-24-16With my family and friends I have memorialized my husband in many ways in the last couple of weeks. The evening of the day that we decorated the grave, we had a short memorial service for him at my church. Ivy stood right by me holding her candle straight and steady for the whole fifteen minutes. After we sang and prayed together, we ate koliva together in his honor. “Eternal Memory!”

I’m not going to post a picture here every time I make one of these bowls of ceremonial boiled wheat, but this first anniversary was the Big One for me, so it bears telling about. I wanted to use blue Jordan almonds to decorate, but they were not to be found in the usual candy stores, so I put M&M’s instead, along with white almonds. Maggie helped me with the tricky job of placing candies on a bed of powdered sugar.

On the following weekend the agape meal I had committed to was accomplished. When I mentioned it two weeks ago, in the same post I put a photo of a big pot of soup I’d made, which I think was confusing; that soup had nothing to do with the agape meal that was to come. My menu for the meal that needed to feed about 100 people was: (What I call) Greek Beans, Cottage Fried Potatoes, Cabbage Salad with Tarragon and Toasted Almonds, and vegan Chocolate Carrot Cake.gl P1030804

I used about 15# of cabbage and 50# of potatoes, 20# of Great Northern beans, and about 10# of carrots for the cake. Six dedicated and necessary friends from church helped me both Saturday and Sunday, out of love for me and for my late husband. It was the first time I’d ever organized something like this, and the project filled my mind for many hours over the preceding weeks, as I scribbled my recipes and math problems and gl P1030815 Greek Beansshopping lists on a sheaf of papers I tried to keep all together.

Several things didn’t work exactly as planned – when dealing with large quantities not only the quantities have to be adjusted, but cooking times and methods. Now I know!

Too many finely grated carrots were accidentally put into the cake batter, we couldn’t tell exactly to what degree, so I just gave the four sheet pans longer baking time and we had delectable brownies instead of cake.

In the morning before we started cooking I was jittery, and glad the day was finally here when I could start this last big effort. As I expected, once I got to the church kitchen and my crew began to execute my plans, the whole event was a lot of fun. The food got rave reviews, too!gl P1030833crpAnd now the big One Year milestone has passed. These various commemorative events and tasks have helped me so much to focus my grief and prayers in a community-oriented and practical way. Can you believe that I had joy as well as grief? I didn’t have a minute to spare for brooding, but at the same time I was not distracted from the anniversary, but rather able to keep it in the most satisfying way — I’m very thankful.