Tag Archives: St John Chrysostom

Happy as flowers and peeps.

There is not one word for the way so many of us Orthodox feel when we have come to the end of Lent and Holy Week, and are finally standing in church on Pascha night, exhausted, brain dead, dizzy from sleepiness, feeling a little (or a lot) out of whack from keeping strange hours and eating little. Parents of young children have been dealing with toddlers crying from fatigue and their older siblings longing to go to the day’s special service at church.

We wouldn’t have it any other way. We know we need Lent to prepare us to receive the fullness of Resurrection joy, and Holy Week passes so quickly, each of the many services unique in the entire church year. You don’t want to miss one. But – you must; your body is still earthy and not transformed. The whole process seems to be divinely designed to make us feel our utter dependence on Christ Himself to bring us to Pascha, and we are made aware of the bits of extra grace that are as good as blood transfusions for the dying.

I think the sensations are like being on a river, a river of Life. You know you aren’t a good sailor or swimmer, but you also know that God and His Church are the vessel in which you travel, and they will carry you.

In the end, Pascha comes to us, and comes for us, as the hymn exultantly proclaims, “A new and holy Pascha has come for us!” And we hear the homily of St. John Chrysostom once again:

O death, where is thy sting?

O Hades, where is thy victory?

Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!

Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!

Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!

Christ is risen, and life reigns!

Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in a tomb!

We have just about the best choir ever, in my parish, but they are only a few of the voices singing the great song of God’s love and Christ’s victory. This song doesn’t ever stop playing, but it’s at this season of the year we are given the gift of its wake-the-dead resounding in our hearts.

Today at our Bright Monday agape meal, I could tell that even the silly peeps wanted to hop out of their basket, so I brought them home to be a visual kind of bunny song on the windowsill. My garden has been putting on its spring show and until now I haven’t had time to collect all those images here; today I offer a profusion. Still, not nearly as many as our greetings of:

Christ is risen! Truly He is risen!

On behalf of Eve she repaid the debt.

I don’t think many of us will be reading blogs on Christmas morning, so I offer this meditation a little early, from a Christmas homily of very long ago, found here.

It was fitting that the Giver of all holiness should enter this world by a pure and holy birth. For He it is that of old formed Adam from the virgin earth, and from Adam without help of woman formed woman. For as without woman Adam produced woman, so did the Virgin without man this day bring forth a man. For it is a man, saith the Lord, and who shall know him [Jer. 17:9]. For since the race of women owed to men a debt, as from Adam without woman woman came, therefore without man the Virgin this day brought forth, and on behalf of Eve repaid the debt to man.Nativity.0

That Adam might not take pride, that he without woman had engendered woman, a Woman without man has begotten man; so that by the similarity of the mystery is proved the similarity in nature. For as before the Almighty took a rib from Adam, and by that Adam was not made less; so in the Virgin He formed a living temple, and the holy virginity remained unchanged. Sound and unharmed Adam remained even after the deprivation of a rib; unstained the Virgin though a Child was born of her.

+ St. John Chrysostom, “Homily on Christmas Morning”

Do you wonder where Joseph is? Orthodox icons don’t show him in the typical western setting of the birth of Christ. You can find out about any unfamiliar elements of this picture from Iconreader in his post about the Nativity icon.

Love is real and it maintains.

mrg&G 5-11 yellow Butte lgFather Alexis Trader in another article on grief, excerpted and linked below, discusses not just the memories we hold of those who are departed, but the love that binds us to them even after our former connection is gone forever. Notice that it is not the loved one who is gone forever, but the nature of the relationship.

That the relationship one has with those who have died can continue to change is something I haven’t given much thought to in my own case, though I have heard of a person asking or offering forgiveness at the gravesite of someone with whom they didn’t have “closure.” Not knowing back then that it would pertain so closely or so soon to my experience, a few months ago I printed out an article from the Internet on the subject of “Dostoevsky and Memory Eternal” but didn’t read it until after my husband died.

I always love the hymn “Memory Eternal” that is sung at the end of every Orthodox funeral service, and I was eager to read what conjunction the writer Donald Sheehan found between it and The Brothers Karamazov, a novel that I also find very meaningful. About half of his article discusses the theology of Fr. Pavel Florensky and conditions of personhood, but it was the second half that most affected me so far, where Sheehan describes the events of his life and how they led to him becoming Orthodox. His father had been the cause of chaos and suffering for his family, but after he died, seemingly in response to his son’s own efforts at reconciliation, the father gives him a great gift.

Thanks be to God, I could not relate to the kind of pain that Sheehan lived with, between me and anyone I’ve known. It was the love he had for his father, of a kind that would not give up even after death, that resonated with me in the first days after my husband died. In his article on Grief and Human Bonds Fr. Alexis quotes two church fathers on this topic:

As Saint John Chrysostom once wrote to a widow, “For such is the power of love, it embraces, and unites, and fastens together not only those who are present, and near, and visible but also those who are far distant; and neither length of time, nor separation in space, nor anything else of that kind can break up and sunder in pieces the affection of the soul” (Letter to a Young Widow). That love was real, is real, and leaving it free to maintain a bond with the beloved is a healthy, real response to grief. When Saint Ambrose of Milan’s brother died, he wrote “My relationship with you is not lost, but changed; before we were inseparable in the body, now we are undivided in affection; for you remain with me, and will always be with me” (Book 1 on the Decease of his Brother Satyrus). In the same spirit, Saint John Chrysostom once consoled a parent who had lost his son, “I beg you, do not say ‘I am no longer called father,’ for why would you not be so called while your son remains? For you surely have not parted with your child or lost your son, but rather obtained him and have him safe.”

At the cemetery this week Fr. Michael exhorted us about the ways we can continue to love those who are no longer present in body. His words, “Do good deeds in their name,” reminded me of the broader concept of living the kind of life that honors the one who has died, and that will keep me on the road that leads to the great rendezvous at the end time. (The thought of that meeting causes me to wonder: Do you suppose we will hug with our new bodies?)

In the words of St. John Chrysostom, I may have my husband safe, but does he have me safe? I am still on my journey, and my love for him will help me to stay on track.

“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8)

 

(Photo credit: Pippin)

the Bright side

GL rose geranium 4-18-16
rose geranium

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 Iris paper 2she 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 tryGL snowballs crp 4-18-15 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.”

GL aloe saponaria close 4-18-16
aloe saponaria

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!

GL bells wisteria crp 4-18-15

 

 

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.”

GL aloe sap w red valerian & snowball 4-18-15

 

 

 

 

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).

bells 2+ wisteria 4-18-15This 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!