Archive for the ‘Great Lent’ Category

The Last Week Is So Hard

March 30, 2010

Well, it’s Tuesday of Holy Week, and only 6 days to Pascha.  Are you like me and trying to switch your brain from visions of meat and eggs to the joy and peace of the Resurrection?  

Yesterday afternoon I went to my all-time favorite country meat market to get the requisite Pascha sausage.   I’m born and bred Texas Deutsch, so that doesn’t mean kielbassa.  I had to get my sausage fix at Penshorn’s in Marion (217 W. San Antonio Street, aka FM 78), about 20 miles from San Antonio, close to my Mom’s house.  It’s an old-fashioned meat market, still hand-cutting everything and the makers of, I swear, the best local German sausage you’ll ever eat in your life.   The market’s future was in jeopardy in 2008 when a fire destroyed the original building.  They’ve re-opened with a new, larger market and are better than ever.  Penshorn’s makes the two traditional types – a dry beef sausage (garlic or regular, often made in the winter with venison), and a garlicky, peppery beef ring that’s sort of akin to a bratwurst, and unique to the German Hill Country of Texas. 

Do you know what your car smells like with 16 lbs of smoky, garlicky, German sausage on a warm day?  After 45 days of Great Lent, do you know what kinds of thoughts were going through my head with 16lbs of German sausage sitting on the seat beside me?   I’m telling ya, the devil was riding in that car and he didn’t have a pitchfork; he had a bottle of brown mustard and a pot of sauerkraut.

The Bridegroom Cometh at Midnight

March 29, 2010

Today is the first full day of Holy Week, the finish race of our lenten marathon.  Beginning Sunday night, Orthodox churches started Holy Week  with an evening service called Bridegroom Matins (don’t ask me why a Matins service is served in the evening).  The service is based upon the parable of the ten virgins who went out to meet the bridegroom with their lamps.  Only five were ready with sufficient oil in for the sudden appearance of the bridegroom, Christ.  The other five were messing around with unlit lamps – unready souls –  scrambling at the last minute to find oil to fuel their light.   Matthew 25:13.

You could say that today then is the “namesday” of this blog – Cometh at Midnight.  When I started writing an Orthodox blog more than a year and a half ago, the first thing I noticed about other blogs was that they all had catchy names.   I spent more time trying to come up with a name then it took to write the first post.  I have no idea why the words of the Bridegroom Matins tropar came to my mind, “Behold, the Bridegroom cometh at midnight…”, but it fairly summed up the way I felt as an Orthodox Christian. 

We are all servants of the Lord but it’s the attitude and the way we spend our lives that distinguishes us from each other.   Some spend their lives living as if Christ will return at any minute – in prayer, repentance, and charity.  Others take a ‘tomorrow will do just fine’ attitude.  Life is to be lived now, with as much fun as you can cram into it.   Can you imagine their surprise when the Bridegroom returns?  But for many of us, our lives aren’t so clear-cut between readiness for our Lord’s return and a life of spiritual neglect.   We have days of intensity and attunement to our faith; when we feel like Christ is right their beside us.  Other days, the worries of living, the pursuit of our own hobbies, interests, and passions, the busyness of our lives just takes over everything.

I must make a confession now that is contrary to what you’d think about someone who spends so much time writing about faith, religion, and Orthodoxy.  Who is fascinated with the religions of the world as they relate to the Orthodox faith, and who loves to tell everyone how much I love the Orthodox Church.  My confession?      I am not a good Orthodox Christian. 

What is a ‘good’ Orthodox Christian?  Have I murdered anyone?  Well, not physically, but didn’t Christ say we can commit murder in our hearts with a single thought?   Have I gone to church and communed regularly?  Yes, but did I prepare to receive Communion properly?  Do I pray the morning and evening prayers?  Do I read the Bible daily?  Do I practice charity?  Did I fast properly during Lent?   No.  

It’s Holy Week and I have to admit to myself and to the piddling few readers of this blog, that I’m one of the servants who frittered away Great Lent and am now faced with the fact that the Bridegroom is coming and I am that servant with the unlit lamp.  I have spent more time thinking about my Orthodox faith then deeply practicing it.

You want to know the kicker about all this?  God still loves me even when I ignore him, even when I procrastinate in my spiritual life.  Holy Week is a fresh start, and as the old tent preachers say, ‘the time has come to get yourself right with the Lord’.   The Bridegroom tropar is a warning, but it also tells us what we have to do to get right with the Lord.  This is our spiritual awakening at the midnight hour – “…rouse yourself, crying:  Holy, holy, holy art Thou, O our God.” 

Behold, the Bridegroom cometh at midnight, and blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching:  and again, unworthy is the servant whom He shall find heedless.  Beware, therefore, O my soul, do not be weighed down with sleep, lest you be given up to death and lest you be shut out of the Kingdom.  But rouse yourself crying:  Holy, holy, holy, art Thou, O our God.  Through the Theotokos, have mercy on us.

 

Orthorobics – Fitness in 50 Days

March 3, 2010
presanct

A quiet moment during Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts last night

I originally posted this on March 19, 2009 after a Pre-Sanctified Liturgy that seemed particularly strenuous.  Tonight I just got home from a 2010 Pre-sanctified Liturgy.  My joints are one year older and really feeling it.  There is something so right though about worship that requires hard physical effort.  The psychological effects of prostrating yourself before God reminds you how humbling it is to be in His presence.  

We are almost at the halfway point – I pray you all persevere in good spirits looking towards the joy of our Lord’s Resurrection.

Orthorobics – that’s what my friend and fellow parishioner Jamie A. called it after we climbed back up off the floor for what seemed like the hundreth time during the Liturgy of the Pre Sanctified Gifts last night.  Well, actually four sets of prostrations with the Prayer of St. Ephraim and the entry of the Pre Sanctified Gifts, a couple of kneeling sessions, and various metanias (bows from the waist).   My knees aren’t what they used to be, but there’s nothing like a little orthorobics to keep you fit and awake for a long Lenten service. 

I think the Liturgy of the Pre Sanctified Gifts, more than any other Orthodox service, emphasizes the physicality of worship – the active participation of your body in praising God.  Orthodox worship reflects the heavenly worship which is also active.  The angels and saints are active in their movements as they surround the Throne of God.  Here on Earth in your unresurrected body, the pain in your joints, the stiffness in your back, only reminds you that worship is real hard work. 

My kids complain all the time that Church is boring, their feet hurt and they’re tired from standing so much (mind you, they make a miraculous recovery as soon as they go outside after services to chase their friends for an hour).   I used to worry about their complaining and feared they weren’t connecting with their faith, until I remembered that sometimes all the other grownups, me included,  feel just the same way.  Liturgy is not easy.  It’s not meant to be completely still, passive or comfortable.  Yes, there are quiet, meditative moments, but on the whole, an Orthodox Christian acknowledges and dedicates himself to God and the Church in both his body and soul with physical signs.  And, in my opinion, if something doesn’t hurt by the end of a service, you might want to take it up a notch.

To understand the Orthorobics of the Church more fully, I am excerpting  a great primer on Orthodox worship below, courtesy of an unknown contributor at OrthodoxWiki.  ( http://orthodoxwiki.org/Worship)

Standing –  One distinctive feature of Orthodox worship is that the faithful generally stand at all times during the service. This varies somewhat based on local custom, but historically the people have stood in Church in hopes of maintaining an attentive posture at all times. Sitting is practiced by some at various times in the services and is recommended for those who feel physically unable to stand. Most churches accommodate these individuals with chairs or pews along the sides of the church interior. Some churches have pews or rows of chairs that individuals stand in front of.

Bowing  During services, a bow is often made by the inclining of the head and neck (also called a reverential bow). It is more than a mere nod of the head. A bow at the waist (also known as a deep bow or profound bow) is also practiced with the metania.

Metania Another common gesture is the metaniaMetania(or metany) comes from the word metanoia (Greek μετάνοια). It is performed by first making the Sign of the Cross. Then, one bends from the waist, reaches toward the floor with the right hand open and facing outward, and touches the ground. It is used as the substitute for the prostration when it is normally prescribed, but not permitted by the Canons of the Church. The metania is often used when venerating an icon and when approaching a hierarch or a priest for his blessingWaist reverence (Slavonic: poiasnyi poklon), little reverence Prostration

Full prostration Also simply called prostration, is an act of distributing one’s weight on the knees, feet, and hands, touching the forehead to the floor, staying in the position as long as desired or necessary, then standing up. One usually makes the Sign of the Cross before or after the movement. This physical motion is similar to the Chinese kowtow (“bump head”). Interestingly, the use of the word prostration in this way is different than common english usage, where prostration means to pronate oneself or lay completely flat. The full prostration is sometimes called kneeling. Again, this word usage is different than the english usage of kneel, which means to distribute one’s weight on the knees and feet only.  The prostration is associated with penance, submission, and obeisance.  According to custom and tradition, a prostration is assumed (or not assumed) at different times in the services and church calendar. The twentieth canon of the First Ecumenical Council forbids kneeling on every Sunday and the fifty days between Pascha and Pentecost.

Kneeling –  Kneeling is also practiced by some Orthodox in their services.  The bending of one’s knees is also known as the lesser penance (metanoia mikra). Genuflection, or the bending of the right knee, is practiced in the Roman Catholic Church.

Great Lent 2010

February 7, 2010

The time is almost here – Great Lent 2010.  The thought of fasting, more church services, self-denial, spiritual reading, prostrations – I almost get as excited about these things as a kid does before Christmas.  I know that sounds twisted by modern standards, but I love Great Lent.  It’s a time to push yourself, to spend extra time in church and in prayer.  I didn’t say it was easy for me, but I actually am able to achieve more precisely because the Church expects these things out of me.  I know a lot of people object to these kinds of religious rules – they think they’re pointless and heavy-handed and feel they don’t have any connection to the real message of the Bible.  I couldn’t disagree more. 

It’s only by following the rules of the Church that we get the strength and the discipline to follow through on our spiritual journey.  Christ’s instructions to his disciples always included commandments to pray continuously and fast; are these things any less beneficial to us?  The Church from the earliest days has set out certain periods of the year for fasting and penance; other times for feasting and celebration.  These dates aren’t decided by an individual  believer, at their own whim and enforced by their own self-discipline.   Does it work?  Probably not well.    Just look around – if self-discipline and self-direction were so easy, 100 million Americans wouldn’t be obese, alcoholics, or compulsive gamblers.   Sometimes you can find a lot of freedom and comfort in letting someone else call the shots.   It’s not blind obedience when it’s a conscious choice.

If you’re looking for good companions to your lenten journey, check out the following links to Great Lent resources:

Greek Orthodox Archdioces of America

Antiochian Orthodox Chrisitan Diocese of North America

Monachos.Net

Recipes for Orthodox Fasting

Holy Friday and Saturday 2009

April 24, 2009

holyfri2

I realize it’s the end of Bright Week, but I just figured out how to download the photos on my camera.  1400 of ’em takes up a lot of room.  Now that I’ve figured that out, the quality of the graphics should improve on this site.

holyfri4

I won’t swear to the chronological order of these photos.  You know how it is after 6 straight days of lenten services – they all sort of start to flow one into the other, and it’s hard to keep them straight. 

"Kiss the Gospel, kiss the face, kiss the feet"   Fr. L instructing my 7 yo

"Kiss the Gospel, kiss the face, kiss the feet" Fr. L instructing my 7 yo

 

HolySat

Liturgy Holy Saturday

The Lamentations

The Lamentations

I always forget just how long the Holy Friday Lamentations services are.   9 year old still willingly served….not joyfully, but as you can see below, that is just not the look of a serious dedicated altar boy – that look says “my feet are killing me… when is this going to be over?…I’m bored”.

lamentations

"Mom....(insert whine here)...this is taking foreeeevvverrrrr!"

 

The length of Holy Friday Lamentations is only exceeded by the Holy Saturday Liturgy (add a couple chrismations and you’ve got 3 hours).  But it’s an important and special service that I think too many people neglect to come to.  They’re home sleeping in or getting their Pascha baskets ready or cooking, and they miss out on the message and spiritual benefit of the service, as Christ descends into Hades and releases the souls from their imprisonment by Satan.  It is the end of the Old Testament bondage and the beginning of the new life in Christ. 

holy-saturday

Great and Holy Friday

April 16, 2009

crucifixion

Today He who hung the earth upon the waters is hung on the tree.                                                                                                                                             The King of the Angels is decked with a crown of thorns.
He who wraps the heavens in clouds is wrapped in the purple of mockery.
He who freed Adam in the Jordan is slapped on the face.
The Bridegroom of the Church is affixed to the cross with nails.
The Son of the Virgin is pierced by a spear.
We worship Thy Passion, O Christ.
We worship Thy Passion, O Christ.
We worship Thy Passion, O Christ.
Show us also Thy glorious resurrection.
                                       from The Royal Hours

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crucifixion_icon

New Pascha Website

April 15, 2009

resurrection

Can you feel it?  Only 4 days to go before Pascha!  This is it folks; the home stretch.  We’ve almost made it to that great day of Resurrection.   It’s easy at this point to already start feeling we’re celebrating Pascha.   The power of that joyful day is so great it spills over, even into the sadness of Holy Week. 

In anticipation of the upcoming Great Feast or Feast of Feasts, the Orthodox Church in America and the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America have joined up to create a really nice website focusing on Pascha and the Resurrection of our Lord and Saviour.   The Feast of Feasts website  features articles by well-known Orthodox writers and theologians, photos, testimonials, and a lot more.  A really nice feature that is going to be added will be stories of Pascha submitted by readers.  Send an email with your story, reflection or memories of Pascha to editor@feastoffeasts.org and it may be chosen to add to the website.  Keep the length to 300 words or less (no photos, no PDF, text-only)

Telemarketing Confession with Soul Wow

April 13, 2009

confess

Does this kind of marketing  really work?  It seems kinda cheesy and pandering, but hey, it seems to have been a success for the Diocese of  Brooklyn, so more power to ’em.  The story has made all the news outlets, so strange must be a good marketing technique.

I’ll agree 100% that confession is good for what ails ya.   This past Saturday  I took my grouchy 9 year old to Vespers for Palm Sunday.  He needed to go for his Great Lent confession.  Well, he pulled one major attitude through the whole service – pouting and standing as far away from me as he could possibly get, even going out to sit on the front steps of the church in protest.    After suffering through Vespers he went to confession and was amazingly transformed into the same happy-go-lucky, reflective, sweet thing he mostly is.  On the way home he  tells me, “Mom, you know, I do feel better;  I feel really perky, like I’ve been reborn”.  

Son, that’s the power of the Holy Spirit!

Bridegroom Matins

April 13, 2009

bridegroom

You’ll no doubt have noticed the odd name of this blog, Cometh at Midnight.  When I was naming it I spent a lot of time working on cute and catchy combinations, something that would show off my wit, and make people think I was so much more clever than I really am.  They all just sounded stupid and nothing I really could stand behind as a personal conviction.   And at some point, this line from the Bridegroom Matins service jumped out at me.  

Behold, the Bridegroom cometh at midnight,
and blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching;
and again, unworthy is the servant whom He shall find sleeping.
Beware, therefore, O my soul, do not be weighed down with sleep,
lest you be given up to death,
and lest you be shut out of the Kingdom!
But rouse yourself, crying: “Holy, holy, holy, art Thou, O our God!”
Through the Theotokos have mercy on us!

 Maybe it’s the Lenten melody it’s sung to – serious, a little sad, contemplative, or just the images of our Lord appearing while we were so careless and unaware.  It makes me think of all the time I’ve wasted, all the opportunities missed.  Lent is almost over and what have I done with myself?  Am I truly ready for the Lord’s appearance out of the empty tomb, and would I be pleased to present myself to him in my current condition?   Or think of it this way.  If you were preparing for a big night out and your date showed up a few minutes early, would you go down to meet him with curlers in your hair, half-dressed, and no make-up?   I thought not.

There is still time, there is nothing stopping us from re-committing ourselves to the struggle even at the last week.   The Lord is always waiting for us to get our act together, so don’t be caught unaware when your date with Christ suddenly occurs. 

extremehumility-htm

Saint Mary of Egypt

April 5, 2009

zosimas_and_mary_of_egypt

This past week on April 1st (new calendar) Saint Mary of Egypt reposed more than 1500 years ago in the desert of Palestine.  She led such an inspiring life that she is celebrated with her own Lenten Sunday today.  Most Orthodox Christians know the basics of how such a great sinner became one of the Church’s most inspiring ascetics. 

A prostitute from a young age, she had no scruples about hopping aboard a ship carrying pilgrims from Alexandria to Jerusalem in approximately 475 AD, and “working”  her way across the Mediterranean.   The pilgrims were on their way to attend the Feast of the Exaltation of the Precious Cross, and on the day of the Feast, Mary found herself drawn to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Wood of the True Cross, but she was not permitted to enter the door with the other pilgrims.  Held back by an unseen force she repeatedly tried to enter the door.   In frustration she looked up and saw an icon of the Mother of God and appealed to her for an explanation.  Whether it was the Mother of God’s reply pointing out her sinfulness or a God-inspired revelation, she suddenly became aware of the course of her sinful life and repented on the spot. 

What follows is not your average salvation story – without hesitation she immediately left for the desert to live out her life in contrition and prayer, scavenging off the land, naked and alone for 47 years.   Her skin was blackened from the sun, her clothing rotted off her body and she became skeletal on a diet of three dried loaves of bread she’d bought on the day of her flight into the desert and whatever she could find in the wasteland.  She didn’t see or speak to anyone for 47 years until the priest monk Zosimus took a retreat into the desert during the Great Fast, improbably found her, learned her story and gave her communion and a promise to return the following year.  Saint Zosimus was good to his word and returned during Great Lent in about the year 521, but only to miraculously find her dead body, which he buried with the help of a lion to dig the stony ground.   Wow!   And I think I’m doing good when I fast successfully for one week and make it to confession before mid-Lent.   Do I regret and sincerely ask forgiveness for my sins?  Are my past indiscretions reason for repentance or fond memories of wild oats sown and harvested?

It’s sad and ironic that a depressed, raging alcoholic, one of the 20th century’s defining poets, and the son of a suicidal father, should write a contemplative poem about Saint Mary of Egypt.  John Berryman (1914 – 1972) lived with a lifetime of demons and never found the peace achieved by Saint Mary.  Sad and broken, he committed suicide by jumping off a bridge.

Dream Song 47:  April Fool’s Day or Saint Mary of Egypt

-Thass a funny title, Mr Bones.
-When down she saw her feet, sweet fish, on the threshold,
she considered her fair shoulders
and all them hundreds who have them, all
the more who to her mime thickened & maled
from the supple stage,

and seeing her feet, in a visit, side by side
paused on the sill of The Tomb, she shrank: ‘No.
They are not worthy,
fondled by many’ and rushed from The Crucified
back through her followers out of the city ho
across the suburbs, plucky

to dare my desert in her late daylight
of animals and sands. She fall prone.
Only wind whistled.
And forty-seven years with our caps on,
whom God has not visited.

maregypt