Thursday, October 28, 2010

Anointing the Sick

I’ve just read a book of interest by Paul Meyendorff, from the Orthodox Liturgy Series titled, The Anointing of the Sick. The author breathes life into the ancient ritual of laying on of hands and anointing the sick with oil. Most common in days of old, the oil of choice was olive oil, found abundantly in the Mediterranean. And notably, these practices predate Christianity as evidenced by Jewish as well as pagan customs. What makes these sacraments distinctly Christian is “their integration with prayer and thanksgiving, their inclusion in the life of the Church and of each of her members.” - Paul Meyendorff, The Anointing of the Sick, pg.32

I picked up this book from our church library, not on a whim, but because my niece, Izzy, has been anointed in several churches within the past year. She is battling a rare cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma and for those of us in the believing community, laying on of hands and anointing her with oil is an appropriate form of “medicine” for her mind, body and spirit.

This isn’t to say she evades modern medical practices. Izzy is well acquainted with chemotherapy, radiation, MRIs and PET scans....blood tests, immune-boosting shots, surgery and splints. She is familiar with the hum of machines, the beep of monitors and the myriad of distractions the friendly staff uses to divert her attention away from it all.

God does use doctors and modern medicine to heal us, without a doubt. I am thankful for them. It is the spirit, however, that suffers so much in our modern world of life-saving machines and, at times, conveyor-belt care. That essence within us that communes with the Almighty is often neglected when the body is suffering in an extreme way. Medical practices in the United States are advanced in extending the life of the body, in anesthetizing our pain, but true healing involves all three of our components: mind, body and spirit. It is toward this holistic healing that Paul Meyendorff focuses in his excellent book.

Through this reading and with godly counsel, I’ve been encouraged to do my part in the healing process, for all of us, not just clergy alone, bear responsibility in caring for the Body of Christ. A small bottle of holy oil was given to me in order that I, too, could anoint the sick and suffering. The oil is holy because it was consecrated as a prayerful offering, burning in the vigil lamp at the shrine of St. Panteleimon.

Izzy seems to be intrigued, but usually remains quiet during the times she has been anointed and prayed over. It’s a beautiful thing when congregations come together in a unified faith to pray over a child of God ...a sacred moment when the veil between heaven and earth is lifted.

Thank you, dear readers for your prayers for my niece. She continues her journey which began in December 2009. The most recent news is her surgery from a few weeks ago, performed in order to remove what the doctors thought was an ‘abnormal lymph node’, but turned out to be a recurring tumor. This was devastating news for the family, as she has been on a regular protocol of chemo with radiation for nearly a year. Her situation is rare, as this type of cancer is usually conquered after the course of chemo. She has wonderful doctors caring for her and several other specialists have been consulted to formulate a new protocol. She is now receiving a new type of chemo... and amputating her leg is now strongly suggested by several of the specialists. Her parents covet your prayers.

As November is fast approaching, it seems fitting to mention the Holy Wonderworkers and Unmercenary Physicians Cosmas and Damian, whose feast day is celebrated on November 1st. Like St. Panteleimon, they are called “unmercenary” because they received no payment for their services, taking to heart the Lord’s command, “Freely have you received, freely give.” (St. Matthew 10:8) Although their father died when they were quite young, their Christian mother raised them with love of God and by her example they grew to be virtuous men.

Icon of Sts. Cosmas and Damian of Asia Minor

May we all be of such example and by our deeds serve God in healing and edifying the Body of Christ. †

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Hours of Prayer

If you’re from a Protestant background like me, you are probably familiar with the Lord’s Prayer and the Common Doxology, ie, Praise God from whom all blessings flow/ Praise Him, all creatures here below.... and that’s just about it, as far as prescribed corporate prayer goes. The rest includes our petitions to the Lord, all those for whom we are praying.

As I make my home now in the Orthodox Church, I’ve been introduced to many, many more corporate prayers. There are prayers the church says together during Liturgy on Sunday, during various feasts and fasts and prayers we say at home, at designated hours of the day. Well, my daily office (prayer rule) begins on arising and concludes when I lay my head down at night. I’m working on the in-between hours.

A friend asked me once, “Why would you say a prayer that has been written down hundreds of years ago? What’s wrong with spontaneous prayers from the heart?” “Nothing is wrong with spontaneous prayers from the heart”, I said ...”but how is reading a prayer any different from singing hymns that the church has been singing for generations?”

I was recently reminded by Fr. Seraphim that our corporate prayers, those of the daily office of Orthodox Christians, serve an important purpose: to daily instruct us in our relationship to God in, who God IS. By saying them routinely, the words become easy to recall and, over time, they become prayer of the heart. If I am only bringing to God in my prayers a list of petitions, then how easy does it become to create God in my own image? And how easy is it to forget that I am a sinner...that I should be bowing down before my Lord in humility.

My prayer book, called the “Hours of Prayer” begins with the Midnight Office, or Prayers on Arising:

“In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Glory to you, O God, glory to you.

(Stand quietly for a few moments until mind and body are still; then again make three bows and begin:)

Through the prayers of our holy fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.

Glory to you, O God, glory to you.

Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of truth, who art in all places and fillest all things, Treasury of all goods things and giver of life, come and dwell in us, and cleanse us from every stain, and save our souls, O Good One.

Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us. Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us. Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, Now and ever unto the ages of ages. Amen.

All holy Trinity, have mercy on us. Lord pardon our sins. Master, forgive our transgressions. Holy One, visit and heal our infirmities to the glory of your name.

Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Our Father, who are in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and forever. Amen.

Lord have mercy

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and forever. Amen.

Come, let us adore God, our King.

Come, let us adore Christ, our King and our God.

Come, let us adore and bow down to Christ Himself, our King and our God.”

It is called the Midnight Office, or Midnight Prayer, to commemorate the night on which Christ was delivered to the Jews. Originally, monastics would rise in the middle of the night to sing praises to God.

In these prayers, there is no room for my mind to wander or search for the right words. At the early hour of dawn, when I am struggling to wake from slumber, I am upheld by the strength and wisdom of corporate prayer. Standing in my prayer corner and lighting the candles, the cold darkness of morning is softly illumined by a visible reminder that Christ is Lord and all shall be well.

It’s an obedience that strengthens me spiritually, like nourishing rainfall for the garden.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Icon Festival

Yea! It's almost here!

If you are in the Charleston, WV area this weekend, consider stopping by the Icon Festival: Early Christian Art, held at St. George Orthodox Cathedral (across from Town Center Mall)

Saturday 10 am - 4 pm
Sunday 1 - 4 pm

Iconographers will display and demonstrate the art of writing icons. Paul Finley, Executive Director of Antiochian Village Retreat Center will also present "Icons, Not Idols: A Call to Christians to Give Their Sight to God" on
Saturday (11:00 am & 2:00 pm) and Sunday (2:00 pm).

The Hermitage of the Holy Cross will have antique Russian icons on display and for sale.

Free Admission & Parking ....refreshments will be served, too!

† † †

Check out today's article in the Daily Mail about the festival, "Images Godly, not graven"

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Anonymous Note

To the person who left the Post-It note on the entrance door at Wal-Mart on Tuesday, God bless you.

Your note, which said, “Smile. God loves you. For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes on Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”

On a day in which the gray skies and rain reflected the inner landscape of my soul, your hand-written note made me smile and gave my spirit a needed lift.

Thank you.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Of Roses, Mature Skin and Icons

A decade ago, I avoided rose-scented perfumes and body lotions like the plague. The smell made me sneeze, a whiff of it in a department store called to mind women with heavy make-up, long fake fingernails engaging in obnoxious gossip about the girl in the next cube over.

That was before I understood the difference between department store imitation rose fragrance and rose absolute -- aka, the real deal. Rose absolute is the concentrated oil extracted from the petals of the rose. There’s a world of difference that, once discovered, made me curious about other artificial scents my nose has become accustomed to. When the pure rose fragrance wafted up from that little amber colored glass bottle, little did I know that the pleasing aroma was only the tip of the iceberg.

I began studying and experimenting with aromatherapy about 12 years ago; I find it an amazing science and one that continually affirms my previous persuasion that God has provided innumerable remedies to our ills through nature, the lovely things that grow.

People have been celebrating the authentic heavenly scent of roses since days of old. I attribute the popularity of roses to the ancient Romans of the 3rd century, whose bathhouses boasted rich fragrant waters and were located throughout the city. I’ve read that Emperor Nero once used four million sesterces of roses (hundreds of thousands of dollars worth)* for one celebration, probably in honor of a military achievement.

In aromatherapy, rose absolute can be used in a number of ways: diffused into the air, mixed with base oils to create a tonic for the hair or skin or mixed with alcohol or sea salts to make a personal essence or luxurious bath. My favorite means of including the essence of roses to my daily routine is as a hair oil and skin tonic. All it takes to add a bit of warmth and long-lasting scent to your locks is to mix 6 drops of rose absolute with 1/2 ounce of jojoba base oil, put a few drops of this mix on your fingertips and run through your hair.

I’ve made various facial oils with rose absolute, although my current application is a product I purchase from Burt’s Bees, Rosewater & Glycerin Toner. I love this product. It feels heavenly on the skin and the subtle sweet aroma makes me smile. Now in my 4th decade, I’m realizing changes in my skin, such as dull and dry patches that call for attention.

The essence of rose is very gentle and a great help to that changing process. Rose absolute has been found to be tonic and conditioning to dry skin, as well as increasing blood flow and strengthening capillaries. It’s also considered an anti-depressant, anti-septic, aphrodisiac, and aids in female hormonal complaints. In other words, a great essential oil to have on hand, anytime.

Roses have their place in church & home altars, too. Last year when visiting Holy Cross Monastery, I was introduced to a new product in their gift shop, a distilled rose water made in Lebanon by Cortas. Fr. Sergius told me it was used for cleaning icons and after one whiff of the stuff, I knew it was made with pure rose water and none of that artificial stuff. I’ve had my bottle of Cortas Rose Water for 10 months now, using it only to dampen a cotton ball to clean my icons, and it still smells just as sweet and clean as it did those many months ago.

I could probably experiment with this lovely stuff, by mixing it with an equal part witch hazel to make my own skin toner...well, maybe if I run out of Burt’s Bees. Here’s a recipe I found if you’d like to try your hand at making your own rose water.

If you're interested in reading more details about rose absolute or otto, check out Eden Botanicals or Rose Otto.Com

* from Nikki Goldstein, in her book, Essential Energy: A Guide to Aromatherapy and Essential Oils

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