Category Archives: church

The death of death, and wildflowers.

“Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs bestowing life.”

This is one of the Paschal hymns our little groups sang over and over today, as we walked among the graves at several cemeteries, rejoicing with those who wait in hope.

It is called the Day of Rejoicing, or Radonitsa,
and is always the second Tuesday after Pascha.

 

Today the wind was blowing, so we could not keep our candles lit. The sun peeked out from behind clouds from time to time.

More wildflowers than I’ve ever seen were blooming in the non-endowed cemeteries. This must be because of the very wet winter and spring we have had.

 

 

 

 

 

The rattlesnake grass was blowing in the breeze and making a graceful and wavy dance.

I knew that Scarlet Pimpernel was a flower, but I didn’t know it was this flower
growing among the lupines. My godmother told me.

My husband is buried at one of the cemeteries we visited, and my goddaughter at another.
We sang and burned incense and sprinkled holy water over the graves of dozens of others
who are resting in the earth, awaiting the Resurrection of the Dead.

This year I remembered to bring the shells from our red Pascha eggs
to sprinkle on the graves, and flowers from my snowball bush, too.
We were all so happy to be there!

“We celebrate the death of death, the destruction of hell, the beginning of eternal life.
And leaping for joy, we celebrate the Cause,
the only blessed and most glorious God of our fathers.”

Flowery and Bright Week

When I walked up to the open doors of the church this evening of Bright Thursday, the flower scents streamed out and welcomed me to Paschal Vespers. Inside, the altar doors are wide open all this week, and after the service the decorated bread called Artos was placed before them. It stays in the church all through Bright Week, representing our risen Lord, the Bread of Life. This Sunday we will cut it up and eat it together.

Pots of lilies and bouquets are all over the place, and many icons are draped
with flowers carefully and lovingly arranged.

I want to back up and show you some scenes from Pascha, starting with the midnight service and our procession around the property, after which we arrived back inside the church to sing “Christ is risen!” by means of many words and melodies. We did this for a few hours, ate our joyous agape meal, and got to bed about 4:30 in the morning.

I was battling a cough that kept me from many services last week, but I managed to come back for Bright Monday Liturgy. This service always has a lighter and sweeter tone than Pascha, perhaps from the daylight that warms our bodies and reveals the beauty of the church. And of course, we are rested a bit, and not so wired as we were Saturday night.

Tuesday I drove a couple of hours to “Silicon Valley,” to attend the funeral of a dear uncle. I spent that night with an old friend, and we walked in the afternoon along the Guadalupe River Trail, a refreshing green space in the middle of urban and suburban sprawl.

Hummingbird Sage
Flannel Bush

Wednesday I was heartened to spend some time with my husband’s cousins and pray at the grave of a man of prayer. He had included me and my family in his prayers for decades.

Now I am back home, and taking care of my garden again.
Flowers are bright here, too, of course!

Christ is risen!
Indeed He is risen!

Holy Friday and our own holy bodies.

On Holy (“Good”) Friday we Orthodox keep vigil next to the “shroud” icon of Christ all night through, until noon on Saturday, remembering our Lord in the tomb.  From the time of His death until His Resurrection on Sunday, we don’t go about our “usual business.” In my parish, parishioners take turns reading or chanting Psalms at a small lectern, with the aid of a candle during the hours of darkness.

This vigil is something we also try to do, if at all possible, for any mere human from whom the spirit has departed, as each one bears the image of Christ. And as He blessed Creation and the material world by becoming part of it in His Incarnation, so each body of flesh is holy and precious.

(I don’t know if I wrote here previously about how we were able to honor my husband this way two years ago, between the time of his death and his burial, as his coffin remained in our house until the day of his funeral, and many people came to pray the Psalms nearby over the course of three days.)

Even if you are not a Christian, or a worshiper of any kind, the body is that aspect of your person with which you have exerted your will to live and love — to stand up, to feed yourself, and even better, to embrace those you love and to express thanks and kindness. All these actions and behaviors build a heritage and a history attached to your physical self, a unique life given by God. It’s not a “shell” or a thing to be discarded as unimportant. You are honorable, every part of you, because of Who made you, and because of His love.

Christians have the added motive to honor the body, that we want to follow the example of our Savior in every way that we can. As His body was lovingly prepared for burial, so we want to do when it is in our power.

I was gratified to read the following explanation of some of these things that was included in a funeral program last summer, when we were saying goodbye to one of our parishioners and laying his body to rest:

“…we believe the body to be an honorable and even a holy thing. For us the body is not something which is dishonorable or defiled, or to be hidden away or hurriedly disposed of. It is less than the soul, and we know that, deprived of the soul, it will dissolve into its elements, but we believe also that on the last day, whether the deceased were a Christian or not, it will be raised up again. We believe that it was part of that person who has died and is therefore to be treated with reverence….

“The body of an Orthodox Christian is a holy thing. It is that body which was washed in Holy Baptism, anointed with holy Chrism, which partook of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, which was anointed with holy oil, which received the tonsure at Baptism, at Ordination or at monastic profession, which was crowned in marriage, which made the sign of the Cross, which looked at and kissed the holy icons, which reverenced and touched the sacred relics, which stood in prayer, which made prostrations, which listened to the chants and readings, which read the Scriptures and prayers, which smelled the incense and fragrances, which went on pilgrimage, wept, suffered illnesses and pains, suffered in child-birth, which struggled against the passions, which gave alms, which fasted, restrained itself, tried to keep itself pure, indeed which participated in the true worship of the True God.”

Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit? (I Cor: 6:19)

More on this subject is in the article online from which these paragraphs were taken.

Christ Who is offered, and to Christ the offering.

On Holy Thursday one of the events the Orthodox Church commemorates is the institution of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist at Christ’s last meal with His disciples; on this occasion I thought to share a post from Abbot Tryphon on the topic of this mystical sacrifice:

The Orthodox Church believes the Eucharist to be a sacrifice, in which Christ himself performs the act of offering, and is both priest and victim. This sacrifice is offered to God the Trinity, and not just to the Father, but also to the Holy Spirit and to Christ Himself. It is Christ Who is offered, and to Christ the offering.

Our Orthodox theology also teaches that the Eucharist is a propitiatory sacrifice, offered on behalf of both the living and the dead, and is not a mere figure or symbol but a true sacrifice. It is not the bread that is sacrificed, but the very Body of Christ. And, the Lamb of God was sacrificed only once, for all time. This sacrifice at the Eucharist consists, not in the real and bloody immolation of the Lamb, but in the transformation of the bread into the sacrificed Lamb.

All the events of Christ’s sacrifice, the Incarnation, the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, and the Ascension are not repeated in the Eucharist, but they are made present. The Eucharist is both symbolic and mystical, and is understood to be the genuine Body and Blood of Christ, precisely because the bread and wine are the mysteries and symbols of God’s true and genuine presence and His manifestation to us in Christ. It is a mystery precisely because the Eucharist defies analysis and explanation in purely rational and logical terms. For the Eucharist, as Christ himself, is a mystery of the Kingdom of Heaven which, as Jesus has told us, is “not of this world.” The Eucharist, because it belongs to God’s Kingdom, is truly free from the earth-born “logic” of fallen humanity.

Saint John of Damascus tells us, “If you enquire how this happens, it is enough for you to learn that it is through the Holy Spirit … we know nothing more than this, that the Word of God is true, active, and omnipotent, but in its manner of operation unsearchable”.

With love in Christ,
Abbot Tryphon

From Abbot Tryphon’s blog