Tag Archives: memorials

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.

A day for a funeral, and great beauty.

gl8 cloud IMG_3123This 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.

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giant eucalyptus tree by the creek

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.

gl8 IMG_3071 creek

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.

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fennel in field with fog

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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.

 

 

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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.

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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.
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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.

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It’s my love language, too.

remembering the departed in Orthodox Chrisitian Church - offering bread, boiled wheat and red wine that are blessed by the priest

I want to share an article that is a kind of conversion testimony; it was published earlier this year with the title For the Love, on the blog Persona. The author well conveys the gratitude I also feel for the Church that encourages us above all to love people, and gives us tools for doing that. Tools? What am I saying? The Church gives us The Holy Spirit, a Person of the Holy Trinity Who live in Love, who are the source of any love.

Soon we will be remembering my goddaughter in prayer and song, on the one-year anniversary of her repose in the Lord. These days it is natural for me to think often about the dead, and not only my husband. For that reason I also appreciate what what Fr. Stephen Freeman has to say about our relationship to the departed, and  how, “With the radical individualism of the modern world, the mystery of communion and true participation (koinonia) have been forgotten….” 

The witness that follows is of someone who is discovering koinonia. I join with the writer of Persona in thankfulness for the ways the Church helps me to continue loving my dear Kathleen.

FOR THE LOVE

I attended my first service in an Orthodox Church in December of 2010. In April of 2012 I was chrismated (confirmed) in the church. What I don’t know about the Church could still fill several books, and I’m not very good at being Orthodox.

It’s a tradition that appears confusing and Byzantine to outsiders, with all of its incense and strange pictures, its standing and prostrating and crossing oneself. It seems legalistic, with all of the fasting and written prayers and candle-lighting. Praying to saints and the Virgin Mary? To Protestants, these things are often red flags, warnings of impending Catholicism.

I was frightened when I was first exposed to Orthodoxy. I was educated in a Protestant seminary, where I took classes on the theology of Martin Luther and the spiritual development of women as my electives (I have layers). I found it much easier to read about spirituality than to actually pray. I calmed my doubts with well-reasoned arguments, and I weighed and measured every sermon I heard to assess the soundness of its doctrine. I loved God with my mind.

Yet what drew me to Orthodoxy was not, ultimately the soundness of its doctrine or the reasonableness of its apologetics. From my earliest exposure to the tradition I acknowledged that it was quite likely the oldest expression of Christianity. But what ultimately brought me into the church was not a well-reasoned argument on the merits of prayer to the saints or an articulate defense of the use of icons and veneration of the Theotokos (the Virgin Mary). What ultimately brought me to the church was, quite simply, love.

As I participated in the life of the church, I was moved again and again by the love of the people. Yes, I was attracted by the love shown to me by the priest in my parish, and the new friends I made there. But what changed me, what won me over was realizing that at the root of all the practices that I didn’t understand, that seemed superfluous or legalistic, was love.

The Orthodox do not pray to saints because they feel that they cannot go directly to God. They don’t venerate the Theotokos because they feel that Christ alone is not enough. They don’t prostrate or light candles or fast because they feel they must earn their salvation. The Orthodox Church does what it does because they love – the Trinity, each other, the departed, saints – the Church loves them all. More than that, the church understands that we all love, and it gives us concrete ways to express ourselves.

For me, this all became very real a few months before I became a catechumen and began my (formal) journey towards Orthodoxy. When I was a teenager, someone very close to me passed away. The anniversary of her death approached, and I was sad. When I told my priest, he told me that the Church gives us a prayer service that we can pray on the anniversary of a loved one’s death. I went to the church and we lit a candle and prayed for her, and those of us who loved her.

koliva with roses 4-15

The Orthodox Church understands that we love people. It encourages us to love deeply. And then, when they’re gone, to be comforted by the love the Church has for them, and for us. At the death of a member of the church, listen to how they are spoken of – in glowing terms, seeing only the best, most beautiful parts of the brother or sister in the faith.

The Church invites us to look upon the saints with a similar love. They are not only examples to follow, but as beloved family members. Prayer, lighting candles, keeping their feast days are the ways that we express our love across time, across the chasm of death.

I told my mother recently that Orthodoxy speaks my love language. In Orthodoxy, faith moved from an intellectual proposition that I accepted to a radical love that changed me. I want to love in the way that the Church loves its people. I want to look at others and see the beautiful image of God and love them with fire and determination. I want to feel the genuine affection that I see for bishops and priests and monks. I want that love to move me outward, to serve and pray and be a better version of myself. I want others to know that they are loved.

I fail all the time. I’m not very good at being Orthodox. But I’d rather try and fail at this than succeed at almost anything else.

–from the blog Persona

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.