Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Public Service Announcement. . .

I frequently see and hear this word misused. Normally, I could overlook it and substitute the word that was actually intended based on context, but then I heard Christ described as such. So here we go, brought to you by the Merriam Webster Dictionary:


Main Entry: pen·ul·ti·mate
Pronunciation: \pi-ˈnəl-tə-mət\
Function: adjective
Date: 1677
1 : next to the last
2 : of or relating to a penult
— pen·ul·ti·mate·ly adverb

Friday, April 15, 2011

Anna Karenina

I spent the last week reading Leo Tolstoy's work, Anna Karenina.  I had seen the 1997 movie with Sophie Marceau many years ago.  I found it to be tragic, riveting, and equal part uplifting and crushing.  I'm not certain what drove me to download it to my Kindle, maybe because it is free?  Probably.

It begins:  Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

It is painful from the outset in a way that you can't get at by watching the movie.  I knew the facts:  there are two central couples:  Anna/Alexy and  Kostya/Kitty.  My vague recollection was Bad vs. Good, Passion vs. Intellect, etc and then at some point near the end: Anna throws herself in front of a train and dies.  Reading the book, I was drawn in, I experienced real emotion -joy, grief, revulsion, horror- no longer a mere observer.

I was horrified by Anna's transformation from a good woman of society into a wretched wreck.  What was horrific was how much I have ever been Anna (no, not in adulterous sense).  I have been Anna in her rages and recriminations, with her jealousies and coveting.  I have been Anna.  Halfway through the book, seeing that she could not stop herself and knowing that there was a train coming, I began to flinch whenever Tolstoy would lead me back to the sordid disaster of an existence that is Anna Arkadyevna.  I would speed through her pages half urging her to just hurry the hell up and end it and other times begging her to just stop, turn around and go home to her son.  

It was the passages about Kostya, particularly as he and Kitty drew closer and closer together, that made it possible to get through the text.  Kostya's mental turmoil and judgements, fair or otherwise, were an oasis amidst the harsh environment created by Vronsky and Anna.  They reflect the best and most wonderful versions of me or rather there are shadows and glimpses of their love in me, in my marriage.  Their innocence and tenderness and even their ridiculous arguments transported me back to the first year of my marriage.  Kostya's struggle as an unbeliever and his wife's certainty that his love of neighbor made up for whatever disbelief he might actually have were sweet and touching.  I know what it is to struggle with belief and yet to be smacked flat with the fact of Christ, laid bare by the Church's truth.  I know the devil that teases and dances in the thoughts of Konstastin Dmitrievich.  How hard it is for him to surrender;  how hard it has been for me to surrender!  Yet, he does.  

Part 8 of the book was spurned by Tolstoy's editor and was first introduced when the author paid for the book to be published.  Had we been left simply with Anna's desolation, her despair,  the tragic triumph and defeat of her final act, the book would not be the masterpiece that it is.  It would have left us dull, cold . . . as hopeless as she.  I dare say the final paragraph makes the entire work for me something wholly new, hopeful, even lyrical.  Levin leaves us with these thoughts to ponder and reconcile:
"This new feeling has not changed me, has not made me happy and enlightened all of a sudden, as I had dreamed, just like the feeling for my child. There was no surprise in this either. Faith — or not faith — I don't know what it is — but this feeling has come just as imperceptibly through suffering, and has taken firm root in my soul.
"I shall go on in the same way, losing my temper with Ivan the coachman, falling into angry discussions, expressing my opinions tactlessly; there will be still the same wall between the holy of holies of my soul and other people, even my wife; I shall still go on scolding her for my own terror, and being remorseful for it; I shall still be as unable to understand with my reason why I pray, and I shall still go on praying; but my life now, my whole life apart from anything that can happen to me, every minute of it is no more meaningless, as it was before, but it has the positive meaning of goodness, which I have the power to put into it."

If you have not read the book, go get it.  And if you have, read it again.  Yes, I know I spoiled the ending for you, but honestly this is such a beautiful examination of people and their suffering.  Tolstoy truly knows the human spirit and I dare say you will see aspects of your life reflected in these pages.  

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Preparation for Confessionn

by St. John of Kronstadt

from our priest via the parish mailing list:

I, a sinful soul, confess to our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ, all of my evil acts which I have done, said or thought from baptism even unto this present day.
I have not kept the vows of my bbaptism, but have made myself unwanted before the face of God.
I have sinned before the Lord by lack of faith and by doubts concerning the Orthodox Faith and the Holy Church; by ungratefulness for all of God's great and unceasing gifts; His long-suffering and His providence for me, a sinner; by lack of love for the Lord, as well as fear, through not fulfilling the Holy Commandments of God and the canons and rules of the Church.
I have not preserved a love for God and for my neighbor nor have I made enough efforts, because of laziness and lack of care, to learn the Commandments of God and the precepts of the Holy Fathers.
I have sinned: by not praying in the morning and in the evening and in the course of the day; by not attending the services or by coming to Church only half-heartedly, lazily and carelessly; by conversing during the services, by not paying attention, letting my mind wander and by departure from the Church before the dismissal and blessing.

I have sinned by judging members of the clergy.
I have sinned by not respecting the Feasts, breaking the Fasts, and by immoderation in food and drink.
I have sinned by self-importance, disobedience, willfulness, self-righteousness, and the seeking of approval and praise.
I have sinned by unbelief, lack of faith, doubts, despair, despondency, abusive thoughts, blasphemy and swearing.
I have sinned by pride, a high opinion of my self, narcissism, vanity, conceit, envy, love of praise, love of honors, and by putting on airs.
I have sinned: by judging, malicious gossip, anger, remembering of offenses done to me, hatred and returning evil for evil; by slander, reproaches, lies, slyness, deception and hypocrisy; by prejudices, arguments, stubbornness, and an unwillingness to give way to my neighbor; by gloating, spitefulness, taunting, insults and mocking; by gossip, by speaking too much and by empty speech.

I have sinned by unnecessary and excessive laughter, by reviling and dwelling upon my previous sins, by arrogant behavior, insolence and lack of respect.
I have sinned by not keeping my physical and spiritual passions in check, by my enjoyment of impure thoughts, licentiousness and unchastity in thoughts, words and deeds.
I have sinned by lack of endurance towards my illnesses and sorrows, a devotion to the comforts of life and by being too attached to my parents, children, relatives and friends.
I have sinned by hardening my heart, having a weak will and by not forcing myself to do good.
I have sinned by miserliness, a love of money, the acquisition of unnecessary things and immoderate attachment to things.
I have sinned by self-justification, a disregard for the admonitions of my conscience and failing to confess my sins through negligence or false pride.

I have sinned many times by my Confession: belittling, justifying and keeping silent about sins.
I have sinned against the Most-holy and Life-creating Mysteries of the Body and Blood of our Lord by coming to Holy Communion without humility or the fear of God.
I have sinned in deed, word and thought, knowingly and unknowingly, willingly and unwillingly, thoughtfully and thoughtlessly, and it is impossible to enumerate all of my sins because of their multitude. But I truly repent of these and all others not mentioned by me because of my forgetfulness and I ask that they be forgiven through the abundance of the Mercy of God.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Pascha is Around the Corner

My 40 days landed smack in the middle of Lent.  As a matter of fact, it will end on Holy Wednesday.  If ever there was a woman who needed time to recover from childbirth, it is I.  Baby I. and I managed to catch what has been dubbed a "hospital acquired infection".  It has spooked me enough to wonder if I shouldn't just home birth next time.  Of course, I should point out that this is the first time in 7 births and 4 different hospitals (and 5 different practices) that I have even had a single complication.  Considering that nearly a quarter of the births in the state of Texas are via cesarian, I feel blessed.

There are many blessings that have touched our lives in the last few weeks, not the least of which has been in the form of sleep.  Mr. Flavius has tolerated and even encouraged me to get as much sleep as possible.  Our parish has once again showered us with love in the form of many meals and generous gifts.  Thank you!

In other news, Pascha is around the corner and I am slowly getting things ready for the big day.  Things like:  finding the cheesemold for the Pascha cheese, buying butter muslin and cheesecloth, locating a source for fresh cream to make butter for the butter lamb,  locating a source for fresh horseradish, setting out the Pascha baskets and covers, collecting bags of yellow onion skins, making or finding fresh kolbasi, mixing my curing seasons for the slanina, collecting my favorite recipes for the hrudka, kolace, and chrin.  But maybe you have no idea what I'm talking about.  Chrin?! Hrudka?!  Is this food or a foot condition?

My husband and I came to the East through one of her more Western doors, the Byzantic Catholic Church.    It is ethnically Carpatho Rusyn  They are a people without a country,  a slavic diaspora, who make up the Byzantine Catholic Church and the American Carpatho-Rusyn Orthodox Diocese here in the United States.  If you have ever celebrated St. Alexis Toth of Wilkes-Barre, you know a Carpatho-Rus.  They are most notably known for their unique and very beautiful plain chant (Prostopinije).  It was through these hymns and through these people that I began to learn to love the East.  Since we converted to Orthodoxy, we have kept those traditions close to us.  

The Pascha basket is something of a big deal in many Orthodox families.  Some people put in their baskets those things which they have given up for Great Lent (cheeseburgers, barbeque, and mead featured prominently in some of the baskets we saw blessed last year).  The Carpatho-Rusyn basket reminds me of a Christian Passover meal.  Our basket is decidedly Rusyn with a few extras.  I always add sweets, Archbishop Dmitri's Pascha, and charoset, a typical Passover staple, because it reminds me to pray for my sister and her husband, who are Jewish, and new this year will be a spare set of car keys.   

Oh, that's nice . . .  wait a minute, Svetlana!  Did I read car keys?!

Why, yes you did.  One of the most wonderful of all our Orthodox traditions is the Paschal liturgy. I like to think of Great Lent and its abundance of services as a sort of Olympic training program.  Slowly warming your muscles and strengthening your body for the greatest feast of the year.  The Paschal liturgy full of solemn beauty and eminently wondrous majesty begins upon the earliest moment of the day at midnight and it when it ends, we feast like it's going out of style.  Last year, our eldest daughter accidentally locked the keys in the car at 3 o'clock in the morning.  We tried everything in our power so as not to have to call a locksmith, but it was to no avail.  By the time the locksmith arrived, the revelry and feasting had been going for quite sometime.  Vodka and wine flowed freely (or as freely as it might within the confines of the church walls, anyway) and so he arrived amidst the shouts, "Christ is risen!" and singing, . . . trampling down death by Death! . . ., and children running through the yard loud and happy.  It was still pitch dark out.  I cannot imagine what he made of this scene.  Anyway, given the Flavius household history with key trouble, it seems warranted.

Here is a typical description of the affair:

After the midnight Paschal Liturgy, we all gather together to bless the Pascha baskets. These baskets have been carefully prepared with many of the foods from which we've been fasting for the past month and a half during Great Lent. There are several foods traditionally included in the basket. These are: a yeast bread, a bitter herb, wine, cheese, meat, butter, salt, and a red egg. Each has symbolic significance:
  • Bread: The Easter Bread (pron, paska). A sweet , yeast bread rich in eggs, butter, etc. Symbolic of Christ Himself who is our True Bread as well as a symbol of the New Covenant: the Jews made unleavened bread, and we, the Children of the New Covenant, make leavened bread. Kulich is the traditional Russian bread, and Tsourekia is the traditional Greek braided bread. The braided form of this bread is a display of the Trinity. Sometimes a round loaf baked with a golden crust decorated with a symbol indicative of Christ. Sometimes a cross of dough is placed on top encircled by a plait giving it a crowned effect, or Greek abbreviations for the name of Christ. The letters XB indicate the Slavonic for "Christ is Risen."
  • Ham: (Sunka - pronounced shoon-ka) The flesh meat popular with Slavs as the main dish because of its richness and symbolic of the great joy and abundance of Easter. Some may prefer lamb or veal. This is usually well roasted or cooked as well as other meats prepared in advance so that the festivity of the day will not be burdened with preparation and all may enjoy the Feast. Meat is included in remembrance of the sacrifice of the Old Testament Passover, which has been replaced by Christ, the New Passover and Lamb of God. This is directly from the prayers said, we see that the meats represent our Lord Jesus Christ as the Lamb of sacrifice, obeying the will of the Father, as did Abraham who was ready to offer his only son to the command of God.
  • Sausage: (Kolbasi - pronounced kol-bus-i) A spicy, garlicy sausage of pork products, indicative of God's favor and generosity
  • Bacon (Slanina - pronounced - sla-ni-na) A piece of uncooked bacon cured with spices. Symbolic of the overabundance of God's mercy to us.
  • Soft cheese: (Hrudka or Sirets, pronounced - hrood-ka or si-rets) A custard-type cheese shaped into a ball having a rather bland but sweet taste indicative of the moderation that Christians should have in all things. Also, creamed cheese is placed in a small dish and both are decorated with symbols made of cloves or pepper balls.
  • Salt: (Sol - pronounced sol') A condiment necessary for flavor reminding the Christian of his duty to others as well as a reminder that we are "the salt of the earth."
  • Butter: (Maslo - pronounced ma-slo) This favorite dairy product is shaped into the figure of a lamb or small cross and decorated as the cheese. This reminds us of the goodness of Christ that we should have toward all things.
  • Eggs (decorated / colored red): (Pysanky - pronounced - pi-sun-ki) Hard boiled eggs brightly decorated with symbols and markings made with beeswax. Indicative of new life and resurrection. The red egg is likened to the tomb or sepulchre from which Christ arose. As the egg is sealed, but holds life in itself, and that life in the shell breaks it open and comes out as a new life, so was the grave of Christ sealed, but it contained life eternal which burst its seals and gave to us a new eternal life. This is because of the miracle of new life which comes from the egg, just as Christ miraculously came forth from the tomb.
    The red coloring of the egg recalls to us that by the blood of Jesus upon the Cross we were freed from sin and death. Tradition also says that Mary Magdalene gave the first egg to the Roman emperor Tiberius, when she was brought before him and accused of being a Christian. She took the egg and by it demonstrated the belief of Christians in eternal life, and by her presentation, was able to persuade the emperor to stop the persecution of Christians.
  • Horseradish: (Chrin - pronounced - khrin) Horseradish mixed with grated red beets. This bitter herb ultimately serves as a reminder of the first Passover (horseradish is eaten as a traditional part of the original Passover meal) and of the bitter sufferings which Christ endured for our sake. Sometimes the herb is colored red with beets, symbolizing the Blood of Christ. The bitter herb is also to bring to mind the Jews' forty years of wandering in the wilderness.
  • Tomato / Vegetables
  • Candle
  • Wine: figurative of all the good things of life, wine reminds us of the earthly gifts that come from God.
  • Decorative cloth to cover basket
These articles are placed in a wicker basket and a ribbon or bow is tied to the handle. A decorated candle is placed in the basket and is lit at the time of blessing. A linen cover usually embroidered with a picture of the Risen Christ or symbol with the words "Christ is Risen" is placed over the foods when brought to the church. In some places a large Easter Bread (Paska) is made and brought separately in a large linen cloth. Thus each of the foods in the Pascha basket have rich meaning, as does everything in Orthodoxy. Glory to God!
What traditions do you observe around Pascha?