Perfection

All my life, I’ve been pushed towards perfection, to be the perfect daughter, the perfect wife, the perfect mother. I see articles about creating the perfect holiday meal or the perfect exercise plan to have the perfect body, oh, and the perfect hairstyle to complement my perfect make-up. The first question I have for these people is, who defines perfection?

So as always, when I have a question about a word, I turn to the experts. After combing through a number of websites, I have compiled the following.

Perfect as a verb; “make completely free from faults, or as close to such a condition as possible.”

Perfect as an adjective; “having all the required or desirable qualities.”

Perfect as a noun “something is complete without defect or blemish.”

Then there was an obsolete definition of perfect meaning ‘mature’.

So, who determines the faults, the qualities or the conditions of perfection? Okay, so some parameters are obvious, a perfect square, for instance. If all the sides are not equal nor all four angles 90 degrees, then it wouldn’t be a square.

But not everything is as well defined as geometric shapes. Does an artist compare himself to other artists or does he create his own work, being as perfect as he can in his own right. A musician may technically be perfect, but what emotion or feeling does he or she bring to piece? Perhaps technical perfection is not enough.

Do others provide the perfect standard for my own journey? When I compare myself to others, I am disillusioned, discouraged and distracted from the actual reason I was given to live, to become a human being. So what do I use to define perfection?

Matthew 5:48 “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Okay, so now I’ve gone from perfect makeup to, what, perfect infinity? How can I possibly be perfect the way God is perfect?

Eventually I began to realize perfection does not come all at once. When a seed is planted, it is perfect seed at its stage of development, the shoot is a perfect shoot, the sapling a perfect sapling, the blossom a perfect blossom, and the fruit is perfect at each stage of its development.

Of course, the development of the seed, the tree and the fruit are dependent upon outside forces. I have seen rotten fruit picked from perfect trees and perfect fruit picked from rotten trees. I have seen perfect trees produce no fruit. Every stage of development can be influenced.

The seed, the plant has no choice in its response to its circumstances, but I do. I can choose to be perfect in whatever circumstances, in whatever stage of development I find myself. I am to be perfect but I can only do that when keeping my eyes on Christ.

“But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto His eternal glory in Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a little, will Himself perfect you and confirm you and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10).

Perfection requires suffering. Any athlete will tell you that. Developmental goals are set, eachd one stretching the athlete a little bit more. Other activities are put aside as distractions from achieving the goal.

But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. ” (Gal 6:14).

As a follower of Christ, my ultimate goal is to become a human being and the only way I can do that is to keep Christ and Him crucified ever before me. By doing that, I am not distracted by the things of the world, nor is the world concerned with me. If I am successful, daily I should begin to see the fruits of the spirit,: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, modesty and self control, the signs of perfection emerge.

I can not expect to achieve perfection all at once, but to be only as perfect as I can at each step of my journey to full humanity. Perhaps the best definition of perfect is the obsolete one, the one meaning “mature”.

Stewardship

Back when I was single and had only myself to worry about, I was introduced to a fuller understanding of stewardship. I had always equated stewardship with tithing, giving to God one tenth of any money I received, 10% for God and 90% for me (which seemed fair enough since I was the one who had worked to make the money). But this understanding of stewardship went beyond tithing and opened me up to a whole new reality. Simply put, I was told, ‘everything we own belongs to God and he has given us the use of it for a time.’

This wasn’t entirely novel, it was something I had frequently paid lip service to but in all honesty, not something I lived in a practical way. This time was different. It was though a light had been turned on. Intrigued, I tried to put it into practice. After all the only thing outside myself that had claim on my time was my job, other than that I was free do whatever.

I drove those who needed a ride, helped those who needed an extra pair of hands trusting the Lord would arrange my schedule accordingly. This included panhandlers. I gave them money without assuming they would only use it for alcohol or drugs.

My thinking was changing. As a steward, 100% I had belonged to God. It was His to use and I was only there to managed it, to look after it, to maintain it so time, possessions and money were ready for use whenever and however God decided they were needed.

As time went on, actively acknowledging everything I had was loaned to me by God reduced the stress of daily living. If despite my best efforts, something was lost or stolen, I didn’t worry about it. I figured God wanted someone else to have it. I experienced a taste of, however briefly, what Paul meant when he said, “to live is Christ.”

A steward is a manager of someone else s belongings. Psalm 24:1 says “all the earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, the world and those who dwell in it.” Seems fairly straightforward, everything belongs to God and since God is love then whatever I have was given to me so I can help others in love.

However, practising stewardship was lost once six other people demanded my time and energies. But gradually, over the years, the concept has reasserted itself. My children belong to God and have been given to me in trust, to raise them up for Him. My husband belongs to God and I have been given to him to help him in his stewardship as he helps me in mine. My time is not my own and I need to stop wasting it. I am not my own and I need to stop worrying about what happens next and just ‘let go and let God’. He is the ultimate organizer. But this only works so long as I am serving God in love and not myself. Sometimes, it’s still very hard to do.

Daily, I have to believe everything will work out according to God’s will even when everything seems to be going wrong. Daily, I need to ask that my eyes be opened to see where I am needed, to see His works and to participate in love.

Proverbs 3:5,6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”

I am astounded, at times, how everything in a day just works out without any planning on my part. As I trust in God, He gives me what I need to become fully human and to help build His kingdom in prayer and in love. I have no desire to be the lazy steward who is afraid to use his talents to increase the Master’s possession. Nor do I want to be the unjust steward who uses his master’s possessions for his own ends.

I want to be the good and faithful steward by daily remembering;

All that I have belongs to God….

ALL that I am… belongs to God.

Christ Crucified

 I’ve often heard the phrase, ‘when life gets back to normal’. I’ve said it myself over the years. After a move, or some major change, I always had my eye on the time when everything would settle down and we could get back to normal. The thing is, nothing ever went back to ‘normal’. Instead we settled into a new normal, a new normal requiring a new direction and new goals.

Like most people, I was taught to set goals; short term goals and long term goals for every aspect of life including education, financial, and relationships. Once I had a goal, I created a plans to achieve it. But the plan had to be fluid to accommodate the unexpected like an accident or illness, things that could even change the goals. But no matter the circumstances, there was always a goal, a destination to aim for.

I was taught to stay focused, to keep ‘my head in the game’, ‘my eye on the ball’ and ‘nose to the grindstone’. In the world’s eyes, my value as a member of society was apparently determined by my income and, since money could help me achieve many goals, the ultimate goal was, and is, to make money.

The problem is, pursuing money is frequently depressive, its realization is often illusive, and its success is never certain. Despite all my plans and goals, I can only be certain about one thing in this life; I’m gonna die.

For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” 1 Cor 2:2

Paul (aka Saul) spent his life studying the Jewish scriptures. He probably knew them inside out and backwards but, despite his great learning, was unable to see their truth. Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of the law and the prophets and yet, Paul with his intimate knowledge of the scriptures, was not able to recognize the one of whom the scriptures spoke.

Paul had to have a close encounter of the Christ kind on the road to Damascus before his eyes were opened, both physically and spiritually. After a few years off to re-evaluate his understanding of everything he had been taught, his paradigm shifted and nothing was ‘normal’ again.

Only in the light of the passion of Jesus Christ was the truth of the scriptures revealed to Paul. He realized everything, all the stories and the law and the prophets spoke of of Jesus Christ and him crucified.

Paul’s life turned upside-down. The scales fell from his eyes, the veil was lifted and the scriptures were opened. Paul had eyes to see and ears to hear and he saw all of life by the light of the crucified Christ. Everything Paul wrote to the early Christians, and to us, contains this theme.

In the light of this revelation, like Paul, my world is also turned upside-down. The foolish weakness of a man dying on a cross conquers death and reveals the wisdom of the ages. The more I admit my inadequacies, the more I can accomplish because God’s strength is made perfect in my weakness. My life leads to death and my death leads to life.

My goal is no longer to be successful by worldly or material standards. (In fact, I would suggest there are many popular elements of worldly success which are the very antithesis of Godly success.) My goal now is to follow the path of Christ, the path of sacrificial love, to have the scales fall from my eyes, and to see the Kingdom of Heaven all around me.

To this end, I abandon the frenetic pursuit of worldly financial success and stop asking God to bless my ‘wise’ decisions. I want to always see His way straight before me and to view all of life in the light of the Crucified Christ.

This is my new normal, ‘letting go and letting God.’ I try to live as though all that comes to me throughout the day is part of God’s plan for me to live in the Kingdom of Heaven. I may never achieve the goal of worldly success, but then, in the veiled eyes of the world, neither did Christ. 

The dash between the dates

My mother died recently. My sisters and I ordered the marker and I was confronted with the dash between the dates, the dash in place of 84 years of living. We gave up trying to write an obituary for mom, she did so much in her life, it would never fit within the allotted space. She needed a longer dash.

I asked her once why she did so much and she answered, “I don’t know yet what I want to be when I grow up.” Like most of us, mom resisted getting old. She tried to delay the onslaught of time by constant learning and experiencing new things. In her own way, she fell victim to the vacuous obsession our society has with youth. ‘Sixty is the new Forty’, is the latest meme to pop up on Facebook. Popular entertainment speculates about immortality. TV shows, magazines and advertisements promote ways to stay young and alive for as long as possible. Rejuvenating products are hawked along with exercise, food, vitamins, make-up, all in an attempt to extend our lives… but to what end?

The week before His own crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. This put Lazarus on the Jewish authorities hit list. According to church tradition, Lazarus fled to Cyprus where later Paul and Barnabas ordained him as Bishop of Kition. Lazarus spent another 30 years teaching others about the good news of Christ defeating death, even though he knew he would die again. First hand experience taught him physical death was not the end. In Hades, he saw the captive souls who would be freed when Christ, a week later, broke down the gates of Hades, defeating death’s hold over every person. Because of Christ, death is now a gateway to eternal life, not a prison nor black hole snuffing out existence.

My dash, my life from birth to death is my time of salvation, a time to grow in humility and prayer, a time to love. If only I didn’t live in a world filled with so much to experience.

Every secular thing around me screams “Look at me! Live young! Pay no attention to the world’s 100% mortality rate.” People endure workplace hardships and drama to be able to afford entertainment. Bucket lists, food, voyeuristic TV shows, concerts, novels, cat videos, sports, any distraction from facing the reality of death. I’m as guilty as anyone of ignoring death but now death has slapped me in the face.

Will ignoring death change my life? Some who deny anything exists after death want to selfishly suck every drop of pleasure out of life no matter the cost. Others may live altruistically. Those who believe something exists after death may live more cautiously if they believe there are possible consequences or rewards for their actions.

Orthodox Christianity teaches the life lived now will determine the place in eternity. The dash is the time given to us to become part of the body of Christ, to the fullest extent each of us is capable. By joining with Him, we can begin to emulate His humility, His sacrificial love for others and above all, God, and thus achieve the humanity which is Christ’s.

I need to face Christ at all times which means, I need to face death. By remembering I will die and focusing on the big picture, perhaps I will be less inclined to overreact to small disturbances, instead developing patience and empathy, becoming more inclined to a life of prayer and love through God’s will.

As I walk, run and stumble my way closer towards the end of my dash, I have fewer obligations in my life. I can fill those spots with distractions or I can run my race, focused on the finish line, determined to run straight and true. The time may come when I rely on others to care for me. Then I will have more opportunity for prayer.

My mother’s life touched a lot people and helped many, I strive to do the same. When my dash finally comes to an end, I pray I may hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant…. Enter into the joy of your master.”

The Gospel according to me

Recently I was asked to take a survey. What I found interesting was not so much the topic of the survey, but rather the questions asking what would influence my behaviour regarding the topic. Would reading books or articles incline me towards deeper involvement? Would watching videos or listening to speakers be an effective way convince me to join in? I truthfully answered these things would moderately alter my behaviour. But when the survey asked if being invited to participate with others in the activity would influence me, I had to answer most definitely yes.

I couldn’t help but think of Andrew when he told Peter about Jesus and Peter just scoffed. Instead of arguing, Andrew said “come and see.” And Peter did, and saw someone he wanted to follow.

I was presented a gold New Testament by the Gideons in grade seven. I kept it for years, but I don’t recall ever reading it, which was probably just as well since I had no one to explain what was inside. Years later, I met someone who greeted me as though I was the most important person to her in that moment. Bethany was different and I wanted to know why. She was the first Gospel I understood despite my years of church attendance. Because of her, I went and saw.

Unlike Bethany, I usually greet people with the restraint and suspicion which comes from my British background. Even so, I have been involved in a number of secular activities over the years and have been asked more than once if I was a Christian. Apparently, there was something more in me enabling others to see past the coolness of my greeting.

I’ve realized over the years, the Gospel is not a collection of words trapped on paper, the Gospel is alive. Despite my sinfulness, the Gospel flows through me and anyone else who strives to live and die according to teachings of Jesus Christ.

Written or spoken words may provide knowledge but knowledge does not equate to understanding. St. Paul was a pharisee who had spent his life studying the Jewish scriptures. He knew them inside out and backwards but had no understanding of their true meaning. Even though the Jewish scriptures are all about a coming saviour, Paul did not equate them with Christ until he met the risen Lord on the road to Damascus. His eyes were opened and he could finally comprehend the scriptures in the light of Christ and His people. Paul then spent fifteen or so years reassessing his understanding of scripture before beginning his ministry. Along with others who joined the Body of Christ, Paul became an embodiment of Gospel of Jesus Christ years before anything was written down.

Even those who faithfully followed Christ for three years did not recognize Him as the fulfillment of the scriptures. They had their “Ah ha” moment after His resurrection when the scriptures finally made sense as they recognized the love of God in the person of Jesus Christ.

I am a member of the living Body of Christ as are all those who follow Christ. As such, I have to realize I am the Gospel to the world, what I do or say matters since I may be the only gospel someone may ‘read’. Am I perceived as loving or judgmental? Do I draw people to Christ or scare them away? Do people see me and think, ‘if that’s Christianity then I don’t want anything to do with it’ or do they want to know more. I need to be the best Gospel I can be and that can only be achieved n conjunction with the whole Body of Christ, worshipping and praying together, humbly serving others and living my life in humility and love.

People are rarely introduced to Christ through reading. They can’t be shamed, scared or guilted into loving God. Only by meeting the risen Lord, embodied by His disciples as they humbly serve each other and their community, will people be drawn to Him. As a member of the Body of Christ, all I can do is prayerfully live my life in love and if anyone asks, tell them to “come and see”.

What does Christianity look like?

What does Christianity look like? That’s a question I’ve asked myself over the years as I’ve encountered groups/churches/cults all purporting to teach true Christianity. I’ve heard those who want to implement the Old Testament laws as the law of the land, a sort of ‘Christian’ Sharia law. I’ve met those who hold to a visible morality, eschewing various levels of modern culture while judging those who don’t live as they do. So many books, TV shows, movies and evangelists all paint a picture of their version of Christianity, ofttimes in opposition to each other.

So what is Christianity supposed to look like? Most recently, I was pointed in the direction of 1 Corinthians 2:2:

“For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”

For Paul, Christianity was suffering, sacrificial love and he lived that life.

God so loved the world, the whole world, not a select few, that He chose to die for it. Death would no longer hold any of us captive, instead each of us could take our place in eternity before the heavenly throne. My distance from the throne is determined by how human I have become at my death.

Christ is the first fully completed human being. He lived His life for others and He died on the cross so that the world could be saved. He put others before Himself. He lived and died as a martyr and if I want to become fully human, then I, too, have to live my life as a martyr.

Martyrdom is not weakness, it is strength. Martyrdom is not sacrificing in order to gain leverage over others, it is love. Martyrdom doesn’t have to mean being persecuted for beliefs. Martyrdom means replacing selfishness with selflessness. It means trusting God with loving humility no matter what the circumstances.

Christ died as a the martyr, so how do I live as one? Every day and in every circumstance, I have an opportunity for martyrdom.

I am married. I constantly have choices to make, choices which can strengthen or erode my relationship with my husband. If I truly love God, then I will lovingly and willingly sacrifice my own own sense of selfish entitlement to consider my husband. He does the same. In an Orthodox wedding ceremony, both the bride and groom wear crowns representing their martyrdom. They each die to self so they can live for, and draw closer to each other, and by doing so, draw closer to God.

Daily I need to compare my marriage to Christ on the cross.

I am a parent. I had to give up a lot when we decided to have kids. For instance, staying home would reduce our income and all the hardships that would entail, but we were sort of prepared for that. What I wasn’t prepared for was lack of sleep and privacy, the ability to use the toilet, telephone or read a book without interruptions, the strain children placed on our marriage, and so many other things.

How did, and does, my parenting compare to Christ on the cross?

When I’m out and about doing errands, or if I’m at work, do I serve all those I encounter with grace and love even if I don’t agree with their lifestyle or in the face of vitriolic complaints? Do I help others to succeed or do I ignore them or push them aside in order to get my own wants met first?

Am I able to kneel at the foot of Christ’s cross when I interact with others? Or do I hide my face in shame?

My time on this earth is the only opportunity I have to become fully human. This is where I am formed and developed. This is where I make the choice to ‘look out for number one’, or to ‘love my neighbour as myself’. This is where I can choose to give up my own pleasures, my own so-called rights so others can also live in safety and comfort. If I can not see the presence of God in every suffering, lonely or angry person then I will not be able to see the presence of God when I come face to face with Him in eternity.

This is the image of Christianity; every Christian a martyr, dying to self and living for others. We are Christ’s body crucified on the cross.

Pascha Time

We are creatures of linear time, always moving forward, only glancing back imperfectly at the past. We dream of travelling at will along our time line. Whether it is Superman reversing the spin of the earth, the Enterprise creating slingshot effect around the sun, wormholes intersecting with solar flares or the time vortex contained within a blue box, we have imagined a multitude of ways to visit our past, interfere with theoretical parallel time lines or recreate our future. If only…., we muse. Always the plot line involves changing something in the past or adjusting the present to affect the future, to make it better or worse depending upon whose hands controlled the time machine. Rarely, if ever, has there been a story where something in the present or future has affected the past. That’s because we believe time only flows one way. Are we sure it does?

We live in Chronos time, but there is also time-outside-of-time, Kairos time, God’s time, eternity. What would happen if Kairos intersected with Chronos?

That happened with the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; the pivotal point around which all of space and time revolves, a fixed point in time and space, in all of creation.

All of history begins and ends at this point. Christ’s entry into creation caused a ripple effect along linear time affecting all of the past and the future. Think of a pebble dropped into the middle of a still pond.

All so-called pre-incarnate theophanies of God in the Old Testament are actually Christ, the second person of the Trinity. All the world’s stories and myths concerning resurrected gods are just remembrances of the resurrected Christ. All hints, all OT prophecies and all foreshadowing relayed prior to the birth of Christ had actually been fulfilled at the time they were given. Christ’s resurrection affected the past, present and future of all people everywhere.

When the Orthodox celebrate Pascha, the Orthodox Easter, we experience a taste of eternity. Time has no meaning for us during the services, we enter into God’s time and worship with the angels and the saints who are with God. Pascha becomes a touchstone for all of our lives. We experience Pascha with Christ.

As Protestants, my family tried many things to make Easter more meaningful, for us and others; Easter pageants, passion plays, sunrise services. No no matter what we did, the effect was little more than a well planned party and lasted about as long.

After our first Pascha as Orthodox Christians, we realized we had never before celebrated Easter. At Pascha, we had the sensation of joining with the apostles and Christ’s friends crying at his crucifixion, mourning at His burial, celebrating His resurrection. Every Pascha since, we’ve relived these events, the fixed point in time skewers the our linear time as it spirals towards eternity allowing eternity to bleed through.

Pascha is the time when God sanctified all of creation by becoming fully man, allowing man to re-unite with God. “God became man so man could become god” says St. Athanasius. When Adam sinned, God in his mercy, took away eternal life so mankind would not forever be separated from God. Christ’s death and resurrection took away the power of death, enabling mankind to be restored into God’s presence. We taste that presence every Pascha.

Pascha gives us the chance to be blind to the differences that set people apart. It clears our eyes to be able to recognize the image of God in every single person who has ever been born and fills us with the strength to treat each person as we would God.

Pascha is the eye in the storm of life swirling around us, a place of calm where we meet eternity, where time stands still, a breathing space allowing us to catch our breath before entering the fray once again.

Pascha is eternal life… for now.

Forgiveness

We have entered the days of pre-Lent has started. These are the Sundays when we remember Zacheus, the publican and the pharisee and the prodigal son.

When I was a trainee in the military, I had an instructor who was on everyone’s case. He was particularly obnoxious to the female students. He treated us as though we were useless who needed to sit at the feet of those wiser and more experienced who were ordained to fill us with the knowledge we required. We called him Motormouth.

Years later, I started a new posting in Ottawa. Soon after, I saw Captain Motormouth in the hallway. I turned around and walked the other way, regressing back to the cringing cadet under a barrage of constant criticism. How was I supposed to deal with this man who was now my co-worker? How could I face him with resentment boiling up inside of me? Fortunately, he worked in a different section so any interactions I might have with him would be few and far between.

Then I went to the workplace gym. Captain Motormouth was a dedicated daily gym user.

Forgiveness has the power to heal the world.

When my own children were growing up and a ‘conflict of interests’ occurred, I would insist the participants hug each other and say sorry. Though this wasn’t true forgiveness, and I knew darn well plotting and thoughts of payback were still percolating in young minds, I had this vague belief that just saying the words and acting as if they were sorry even if only for a minute, would have some positive effect on both their relationships and on their development. Seeds of forgiveness needed to be planted early and I was beginning to learn as my young children forgave me as well as each other.

Forgiveness is the very basis of the Christian Faith.

This is becomes more apparent to me as I grow within the Orthodox Church. Like everyone, over the years, I have taken offence. Whether it was given purposely or accidentally makes no difference. The hurt has become part of me and sits there attracting other ‘offences’ and preventing me from moving on. Any sympathy agreeing ‘I’m right to feel as I do’, suggestions of ‘righteous anger’ just feeds resentment, increases anger and puts up shields, to avoid future hurts.

Forgiveness is very hard to do.

I truly want to forgive others and be forgiven, but every time I feel the slightest bit of satisfaction at someone’s failure; whether a family member who could do no wrong or an abusive former boss, or I secretly resent someone for their success as though it is going to diminish my own, I know I have no forgiveness. Even reading tantalizing bits of celebrity gossip with a degree of satisfaction shows I have a long way to go.

I try to see Christ in everyone and knowing His forgiveness is fully available to me, I need to fully forgive everyone, believer or not.

“Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” Matt 25:45. When I forgive, I am forgiven.

During Orthodox Lent, our daily services include the Prayer of St. Ephraim;

“O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power, and idle talk.

But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.

Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions, and not to judge my brother, for blessed art Thou, unto ages of ages. Amen.”

It is where I need to begin for true forgiveness to become part of me. Every time I think uncharitable thoughts about the driver who just cut me off in traffic, let me remember my own driving rudeness. Next time I’m impatient with the person walking too slowly in front of me, let me remember the times I have held up others. When I become exasperated with the tone of a conversation, let me remember the number of times I have offended others with my forceful opinions.

Chastity, humility, patience and love are my goals. My signposts are joy in other’s successes, empathy with their failures, and listening carefully and without offence to what they say.

And so I begin; please forgive me.

Remembrance

I’ve attended a few funerals, over the years. I’ve always felt awkward since I was there to support a friend in their time of loss and never really knew how to behave. Often there wasn’t a body, just a picture which we stared at while family and friends shared stories, showed slides and maybe sang a favorite hymn or two. I’d convey my condolences, eat the sandwiches and make small talk with other attendees awkwardly standing around. Someone was here and now they’re not. Now we need to get on with our lives.

I’m convinced our society doesn’t really know how to deal with death. We try to ignore the inevitable but when it slaps us in the face, we try to deal with it as quickly and as painlessly as possible.

Since becoming Orthodox, my understanding of death is gradually changing. Every single one of us is born to die and when that happens, within Orthodox circles, we sing “Memory Eternal.”

At first the phrase seemed to be fairly self-explanatory and consistent with traditions of days gone by. America had a springtime tradition of Decoration Day where families would have a family reunion at the graves of loved ones complete with picnic. Graves were tended, stories told and children learned about family history.

Eventually, this tradition was rolled into Memorial Day, known as Remembrance Day here in Canada, a day set aside to remember the soldiers who had died fighting in battle. The non-war dead are left to be remembered by family friends and their religions.

The Orthodox remember the dead every day. Every day is dedicated to specific saints, people who have died while serving their God. The church will hold memorial services for any family requesting one, usually 40 days after the death of a loved one and then annually after that. And at every service we sing, “Memory Eternal”.

As I said, I assumed the term ‘memory eternal’ was for us, the living and our descendants, to remember the dead. I have since learned it is more than that. It is a prayer to the eternal God on behalf of the departed. It’s like saying, ‘may this person forever be in God’s memory’.

Creation exists only because it has a relationship with its Creator. My love and respect for creation shows my love for God.

It is God’s sacrificial love which encourages us to humble ourselves, to love others and fulfil our potential by being all we were meant to be and to have our names remembered by God Himself.

In Luke 10, the apostles came to Jesus rejoicing over their command of the demons. Jesus cautioned them not to rejoice over inconsequential things on earth but rather to rejoice that they are remembered in heaven. Later, in Luke 16, Jesus tells the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, a story which really illustrates the concept of “Memory eternal”. We know the poor man, Lazarus by name, but the selfish rich man will forever be nameless.

Elie Wiesel, a noble laureate, a holocaust survivor who just died this past July, wrote in his book “Night” (a biography about his time spent in the death camps) “To forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.” He, of course, was referring to the victims of the holocaust, but the sentiment can be applied to anyone who has died. Whether soldier who gave up his life for our country, the missing and murdered women, the lonely homeless person, our parents, our miscarried child or someone who had fame and riches in this lifetime. If they are not remembered, they die again. We need to remember them all, but this is a task virtually impossible for us who are trapped in time.

I can’t do it, but God can.

November 11 is a time to remember our heroes, those who made the ultimate sacrifice. They gave their lives so others may live. Let us lift them up to God and may their memory be eternal.

Advent

Advent is here. As an Anglican, Advent was a time of preparation prior to Christmas. Every Sunday in December, we lit a candle signifying some aspect of the coming saviour. Every day in December, I would open a little window in my Advent calendar, increasing my anticipation of Christmas, not that I needed any help in that area.

Upon marriage, I joined a Baptist Church where my husband and I introduced them to the December Advent wreath.

As Orthodox, Advent is so much more than a wreath.

Advent is known as the Nativity Fast and begins on November 15. It is a full vegan fast where we refrain from all meat and dairy, which makes it really hard trying to do any Christmas baking. The Nativity fast parallels the Paschal Lenten Fast.

During the Nativity fast, we prepare for the birth of Christ, to receive Him as the saviour of the world and then, thirteen days later, on the feast of Theophany, we celebrate His baptism, when He is raised to His full ministry. During Lent, we prepare for Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross and His glorious resurrection ,saving all of creation.

Christ was born in order to die. He was baptized in order to be raised. This season of Nativity is often referred to as the Winter Pascha. The Pascha of Christ’s resurrection was begun at the Pascha of His birth.

The Nativity fast incorporates other meaningful feast days. On November 21, we celebrate the Feast of the Entrance into the Temple of the Theotokos.

The Orthodox know Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, as the Theotokos, meaning God-bearer. Her entrance into the temple is not recorded in the gospels. Much of what we know about Mary, is found in the Book of James, known as the Protevangelion, which dates back to the second century.

Mary was born to an aged couple, Joachim and Anna, who had prayed to God for a child. When she was born, they dedicated her to God. They kept her as their own for three years until the time came to keep their promise, in part because they were nearing death. They formed a procession of the young girls of the neighbourhood to escort Mary. The girls danced in front of Mary, carrying torches. Drawn by the lights and the procession and a sense of destiny, Mary followed them joyfully to the Temple, not crying once as she was parted from her parents.

As she approached the Temple, the holy virgin ran ahead of the other maidens and threw herself into the arms of the High Priest Zacharias, (who was later father to John the Baptist). He had been waiting for her at the gate of the Temple. Zacharias blessed her saying, “It is in you that He has glorified your name in every generation. It is in you that He will reveal the Redemption that He has prepared for His people in the last days.”

Zacharias led Mary into the Temple where the grace of the Lord descended upon her, thus making her the living Holy of Holies, the living sanctuary and temple of God who would take His flesh from her and dwell within her for nine months. Traditionally, the Orthodox Church views this moment as negating the need for the physical temple in Jerusalem as the dwelling place of God, replacing it, instead, with the hearts of all those who love and serve God.

Mary remained in the Temple for nine years. When she was twelve years old, the time when young girls were to marry, Joseph was chosen by God to be her guardian and protector.

The Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple is the beginning of Mary’s total dedication to God and the beginning of her preparation to become Mother of the Incarnate Lord. This is a feast of anticipation and that is why it is celebrated during the Nativity Fast. As we show honour to Mary in her preparation, we are to emulate her dedication and preparations as we anticipate the incarnation of Christ, the saviour of the world who will be born next month on December 25, the Feast of the Nativity.