Monday, February 28, 2011

St. Mary of Egypt

St. Zosimos taking Holy Communion to St. Mary of Egypt

The life of this great saint is commemorated during Great Lent and as such, I find it fitting to read her story at this time of year. Handily, Frederica Mathewes-Green included the Life of St. Mary in the Appendix of her book, First Fruits of Prayer: A Forty-Day Journey Through the Canon of St. Andrew.

Mary’s life is fascinating and one that inspires us toward repentance and holy living. As her story goes, while in her youth during the sixth century, Mary indulged in sexual perversions, not accepting payment as a prostitute, but readily giving her body up to every kind of sexual experience. “I held in honor every outrage to nature” she tells the priest Zosimas, who finds her many years later living in the desert outside of Jerusalem.

As her youthful experience continues, she learned of a boat sailing to Jerusalem to attend the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (the cross St. Helena had uncovered in the 4th century) and offered her body as payment for taking her aboard. Upon arrival, a crowd fell upon the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Mary joined them.

As Mary made her way through the throng, she tried repeatedly to enter the church, but an invisible force prevented her from crossing the threshold. Exhausted from her efforts, she removed herself to a small corner where she says, “little by little I began to understand the reason why I was being prevented from looking upon the life-bearing cross of the Lord. The word of salvation gently touched my heart, and revealed to me that it was my unclean life which barred the entrance to me.”

Shame gripped Mary and in humility, she repented of her sinful life and prayed that she might be able to enter the church, promising afterward to renounce worldly temptations and follow where God would lead her.

This is how she came to dwell in the desert beyond the Jordan river. For 47 years she lived as an ascetic, overcoming her passions and being blessed with Divine gifts. Zosimas was astonished to meet her, recognizing he was in the presence of a saint by her gift of clairvoyance and seeing her levitate during lengthy prayers.

A full version of her life may be found here or here as recorded by St. Sophronius.

St. Mary of Egypt reminds me in a blessed way that the healing Light of Christ shatters the most depraved spirits. She inspires me toward perseverance, knowing that her struggles against sinful desires were overcome. It took many years, but she did not give up, she did not give in... she ran the race well and kept the faith.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Healing Silence & the Balm of Friendship

Vocation to Solitude -- To deliver oneself up, to hand oneself over, entrust oneself completely to the silence of a wide landscape of woods and hills, or sea, or desert; to sit still while the sun comes up over the land and fills its silences with light. To pray and work in the morning and to labor in meditation in the evening when night falls upon that land and when the silence fills itself with darkness and with stars. This is a true and special vocation. There are few who are willing to belong completely to such silence, to let it soak into their bones, to breathe nothing but silence, to feed on silence, and to turn the very substance of their life into a living and vigilant silence.

~ Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude

† † †

It’s cold here today. Rainy, cold and gray. The kind of morning when, if left to my own devices, I’d curl up on the couch by a roaring fire with a good book and wait until spring to emerge. But responsibility calls and so I continue on my way, sometimes with a stern word here and there to keep the children on track, to arrive at school on time, to make sure all papers are signed, fees paid, lunches in tow. I smile and greet the friendly parents and teachers I encounter in this daily routine and yet, somedays, it’s very much a struggle to go through these pleasantries. Anyone who battles depression knows exactly what I mean.

I might blame it on the weather, circumstance, international news or the virus I’ve battled for the past week, whatever the cause, my outlook has been dour lately. It’s in times like this that I have a tendency to isolate myself and brood. I probably don’t have to tell you this is most unproductive, unhealthy and a great waste of time. I know it’s true...I just have to get up again.

And so it is that I said my dry prayers, went out into the gray rain for a visit with Jack, my horse of 28 years, after taking the children to school. I stopped to pick up some apples and carrots, the usual treat for my noble friend. The rain fell in a steady downpour and formed large droplets which fell from my hood in a rhythmic way. The brisk 45º air felt good in my lungs and the gratifying aromas of hay and fresh mud brought gladness to my heart.

The farm where I board my horse is a place of quiet retreat. Although the owners live on the property, their home is a good walking distance from the barn and so, often I go out, unseen, to enjoy the quiet. No, “enjoy” is the wrong word...

I think of Thomas Merton and his many writings on silence... I cannot find the exact quote now, but I believe it was him that said something like, [paraphrase] ‘ I often go out in the forest, early in the morning just before sunrise, and let the silences do their work in me’

Let the silence do its work in me...

That’s exactly what I experience at the farm. A healing antidote to all the negativity swimming in my mind. A place where God’s voice is clearly heard and all is put into proper perspective. Not for the first time today do I wonder, why do I only seek places of healing silence when I’m at my wits end? Why do I not make a habit of such care for my spirit?

On this morning, another blessing awaited me there: my friend Laura who owns the property. Coincidentally ... as was meant to be, she had taken the day off from work which afforded us the opportunity to catch up. Standing in the barn, with rain beating down on the tin roof and listening to the horses munch hay, we shared concerns of the heart a few laughs and encouraged one another. It had been too long since our last visit and considering that we struggle on the same path at times, we were a balm for each others soul today.

Glory to God for all things. †

* painting of Thomas Merton hangs in Corpus Christi Church, found here.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Gospel in Chairs

A concise video by fellow blogger, Steve Robinson, illustrating general differences between a common Protestant view of salvation and an Orthodox view of salvation.

I found this very interesting, mostly because Steve's words on the Orthodox view included events from the Bible that I've thought about, but not in light of our salvation. And, with an understanding of the Calvinist view in particular, it's a good explanation of what faces us in
a study of Genesis, and original sin, from these two different paradigms:

Either God abandoned His "wholly defiled" creation as stated in the Westminster Confession of Faith, ( chapter 6 article 2) until the Advent of Christ to atone for our sin,


He loves us so much that not only did He never abandon mankind, but has throughout history, beckoned us near for the restoration of our soul twisted by sin.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Lord's Table

Just pondering some discussion from our adult class at church.
I've become aware of a viewpoint I had never considered before: that, for some, communion is only received once or twice a year. Some of the older generation view frequent partaking of the Lord's Supper with curiosity. Some believe if it is received too frequently, it may become casual or taken for granted. And, honestly, are the communicants really prepared?


Oddly enough, one of the reasons I found such joy in the Orthodox Church was because at each service, in every Divine Liturgy, we celebrate Holy Communion! I often felt in my Protestant church, that relegating communion to once a month and at that, frequently at nighttime services only, was to seriously miss an important part of church life.

Just as our prayer before receiving Holy Communion says at the end:

" May the communion of Thy Holy Mysteries be neither to my judgment, nor to my condemnation, O Lord, but to the healing of soul and body. Amen. "

Being received at my Lord's table is for my
nourishment of soul and body!
Medicine! I need that as often as its available to me.

Lord have mercy if I ever take for granted that which is
offered for my spiritual health.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Boy, a Kitchen, and His Cave

Written by Catherine K. Contopoulos, illustrated by Chrissanth Greene-Gross, published by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press

Hardback, 32 fully illustrated pages

God bless the authors and illustrators who utilize their talents to touch the life of a young person in a positive and godly way. I’m always glad to find children’s books about the Church or her saints to add to our home library. This book is no exception; it’s a beautifully written tale about the life of St. Euphrosynos, a 9th century monk of Greek origin.

Illustration by Chrissanth Greene-Gross

Even though I was familiar with his icon from church and the homes of Orthodox friends, I was mostly unaware of Euphrosynos’ (Ef RO’ see noos) story. The author begins with a glimpse of Euphrosynos as a small boy, tending the gardens and animals on his family farm in the northern mountains of Greece. Although poor, his family raised him with an abundance of love for God. We follow his journey as he grows into a young man, finding his own way and eventually discovering the monasteries of Mount Athos.

It is in this setting that Euphrosynos’ character & virtue come into full bloom, as God’s grace allows him to transform hurtful insults into great lessons of faith, humility and gratitude. His work as the monastery cook, tending the fruits & vegetables and preparing food for his fellow monks enables him to practice an uncommon appreciation for simple things.

Euphrosynos working in the kitchen; illustration by Chrissanth Greene-Gross

I particularly like the Troparion (hymn) and historical note found at the end of the story, as it provides context for how this saint is remembered in the Orthodox Church.

The story flows easily, which has made this another favorite on our bookshelf. The recommended ages are 4 -8 years, but I’ve found it to be a story for any age. Our teenage son loves the story as much as I do.

Incidentally, I realized just how much Euphrosynos’ life had touched my son when he made reference to this saint recently in an unrelated conversation. My son said:

“I think the happiest people on earth are those who live simply.... just like St. Euphrosynos. He was happy just working in the garden or preparing food for people..”

Icon of St. Euphrosynos. Feastday, September 11

Monday, February 7, 2011

Women to Women Program - Hormonal Health part VI

Thirty days have past since I first began the Women to Women program and all seems well enough. It’s probably not the best 30 days to evaluate this program as I’ve had an unexpected factor to add to the equation - some personal difficulties that brought excessive stress. Although some might say that would prove an excellent test. Any thoughts I had of a ‘super supplement’ delivering me from the pain of emotional turmoil was dashed. I know, how silly.

The truth is, prior to my upheaval two weeks ago I was doing pretty well. The recommended dose is two packets of the vitamins and two Herbal Equilibrium per day. One dose with breakfast, the second with lunch. Starting on January 5th, I only took one packet per day because I wanted to ease into the new routine and test the waters slowly. When I discovered my body was agreeable to the supplements, I gradually increased to two packets per day beginning around January 19th. I’m in a good habit now. Leaving the vitamins on the kitchen counter where I see them first thing in the morning has helped.

So far I’ve noticed that I laugh more and am not so overly sensitive to the niggling little things that usually bother me. Brain fog/lack of focus comes and goes. Being snowed in doesn’t help and we had a significant number of snow days in January. Most often I feel like hibernating through the winter and so, lack of motivation almost seems normal. On the upswing, I can say with confidence that my times of sadness/feeling overwhelmed have been helped. This may sound odd, but my thought patterns are different. Instead of descending into a negative vortex of unfounded thoughts, my outlook is brighter. Instead of feeling overwhelmed with the intensity of circumstance, I can know that even though stress is present, it’s manageable and it won’t last forever -- this too shall pass.

"If I can endure for this minute
Whatever is happening to me,
No matter how heavy my heart is
Or how dark the moment may be

If I can remain calm and quiet
With all the world crashing about me,
Secure in the knowledge God loves me
When everyone else seems to doubt me

If I can but keep on believing
What I know in my heart to be true,
That darkness will fade with the morning
And that this will pass away, too

Then nothing in life can defeat me
For as long as this knowledge remains
I can suffer whatever is happening
For I know God will break all of the chains

That are binding me tight in the darkness
And trying to fill me with fear
For there is no night without dawning
And I know that my morning is near."

This Too Shall Pass, by Helen Steiner Rice

After being snowed in for a time, I got off my schedule of regular walks and hikes and I can feel the difference. Eating well, taking my supplements and exercise have been very helpful tools in working toward hormonal balance. Prayer, meditation and spending quality time with friends are equally important. In fact, I cannot overstate the positive impact friends have on emotional health. I am blessed by my friends. From the encouraging notes that come my way, to their prayers, to phone calls and personal visits --true friends are medicine for the soul.

For those who may continue to be interested in this series on women’s health, please let me know. I am committed to doing the Women to Women wellness program for 90 days and would be happy to post an update at the end of the 3 months.

Blessings to you on your own journey toward health and healing, in mind, body and spirit. †

Friday, February 4, 2011

Secretariat (2010): A Movie Review

As you long time readers will know, I’ve shared my life with horses since I was 6 years old and consider the horse God’s most noble creature. I’ve written about Secretariat before and have just watched the new Disney production of his amazing life.

Having watched some interviews with Penny Chenery beforehand, I learned that she was consulted during production and gladly endorsed this film. That meant something to me as I have a concern for biographical films to remain as true as possible to actual events.

Diane Lane, as Secretariat’s feisty owner, Penny Chenery, delivers an outstanding performance along with John Malkovich’s portrayal of unconventional trainer, Lucien Loren. There was much of the story surrounding this incredible horse that I was unaware of such as the sacrifices made and circumstances surrounding his birth. Big Red, as he was most often called by those who loved and cared for him, lived a beautiful life and inspired millions with his athletic ability. No less inspirational is the warm tale Mike Rich created to share the story of the Chenery family.

The prologue and initial scenes brought me right into the film; horse lovers everywhere are probably familiar with the passage spoken of in the book of Job (chapter 39) from the Old Testament:

"Hast thou given the horse strength? hast thou clothed his neck with thunder? . . . the glory of his nostrils is terrible. He paweth in the valley, and rejoiceth in his strength: he goeth on to meet the armed men. He mocketh at fear, and is not affrighted; neither turneth he back from the sword . . . He swalloweth the ground with fierceness and rage".

Is there anything more thrilling than hearing and seeing a horse at full speed, thunder over the ground?

I liked this film, but was very disappointed in the soundtrack as well as a lag in the middle of the film. Instead of fleshing out Secretariat’s training and Lucien Loren’s relationship with him and the jockey, Ronnie Turcotte played by Otto Thorwarth, there is a lull of scenes with Diane Lane that didn’t add very much to the story. I guess for those who are just being introduced to the greatest racehorse that ever lived, it’s not a bad start. I wanted more depth. I kept comparing this film to Seabiscuit (2003) directed by Gary Ross whose racing scenes were superb and story intricate. Mr. Ross directed in such a way as to bring Seabiscuit up-close and personal; at the end of Secretariat, I felt I was still at a distance admiring him.

The soundtrack accompanying Secretariat is the worst match I’ve ever seen. Most of the time, the music isn’t that memorable on the first go-round because it blends so well with the subject matter. In this case, during a few significant scenes, the music was so out of sync, so incompatible with the setting, that it brought my free flowing high emotion to a screeching halt.

I hoped for an engaging epic, but got a warm & fuzzy lightweight Disney to cherish Big Red’s enduring memory.

3/5 Stars

Please, someone make an epic so we can savor a moment in racing history we’ll never witness again.... please...Mr. Ross?

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