Friday the 15th of November marked the first day of the Nativity Fast for Orthodox Christians.  This is the period of 40 days before the celebration of the Feast of the Nativity, or Christmas as most of the western society calls it, reminding us of the anticipation of the coming of the Messiah who was born in a cave in Bethlehem.  I just read this excerpt today from antiochean.org:

What is the meaning of the feast of the Nativity of Our Lord in our family life? How can we live through the preparatory period of Advent as a Christian family? Can this meaning be truly and naturally, unpretentiously, embodied in the experience of a family, a home with children, teenagers, adults and old people?

Of course, first of all, Christmas is a FEAST, a celebration, an occasion for joy. Understanding the real meaning of this joy (God coming to us to share our humanity) comes to every individual gradually, within the measure of his or her spiritual development, but the experience of joy, of rejoicing, of having a very happy time because it is Christmas is something that can be experienced by all members of the family, whatever their age, whatever their level of spirituality . . . if only there is someone within the family who remains a witness of the true meaning of this joy. The experience of a joyous celebration remains the foundation stone of understanding the meaning of the Lord’s Nativity.

Reading this and the rest of the article helped set my mind at ease.  Too often I worry about whether I am setting a right example to my children in allowing them to participate in the commercialism of Christmas.  We do the trees, Christmas cards,  shopping,  baking, and  tell tales of Santa. We do gifts on Christmas morning or sometime close to it if my husband's work schedule and the church schedule allow it to happen that day.

But I worry, are we missing the real point?  But what is that point? The point, of course is the birth of Christ.  And no, of course we know that most likely the actual birthdate was not December 25th.... but we do know it occurred, don't we?  And it IS a cause for wonderous joy and celebration!  God, Himself, came into this earthly world fully God and fully human within the womb of a virgin to share our humanity!  That is, indeed, a cause for great celebration!!

So  the shopping, tree decorating, and baking turkeys were not part of Christ's birthdays while He was alive here on this earth - it is something we do as part of the celebration we enjoy now in rememberance of this great event.  Where we need to caution ourselves is whether we are remembering the point of this celebration or are we getting so wrapped up in the commercialism that we are missing it?  Are we remembering why Christmas morning is significant?  Are we putting our worship time at church first, before the hustle and bustle? Are we being real Christians in our treatment of others while we are out in the midst of that hustle and bustle? Are we remembering the three kings and the symbolisms of their gifts or are we more concerned with the best deal of the shopping season?  Are we remembering the reason for this preperation is for the arrival of a babe lying in a manger, a babe that is Christ? Are we remembering the nativity fast when Orthodox Christians prepare for 40 days beforehand through praying, fasting, giving alms, etc?  After all,if one prepares by cleaning and meal preperation for a guest coming to their homes, shouldn't one also have even greater preperation in preparing for Christ?

          This Year For The Nativity Fast, I'm participating in an activity put together by   Adventures of An Orthodox Mom.  I love reading the psalms! It's being part of a large group of Orthodox women who are praying the psalter together.  Everyone reads a different part of the psalter each day so through the group of over 72 women,  each and every day, the entire psalter is read. Along with the psalms we read each day, we pray for the women in our group.

Our family is also trying once again to complete the readings that go along with the Jesse tree.  We don't have a tree.  Instead I draped a swag of greens over the kitchen window so we can see it during dinner which is when we do our readings.  For more on the Jesse tree project, go to this nice write up on Anticohean.org.

After we do our reading each night, we hang an ornament representing the reading onto the greens.  Then I read a small meditation out of Daily Meditations and Prayers for the Christmas Advent Fast and Epiphany by Presbytera Emily Harakas & Fr Anthony Coniaris.

This year, my husband's schedule is tight around the holy day.  He works the night of Christmas day... so our earthly traditions may need to change a bit.  Obviously church attendance comes first.  We will probably have a more simple meal so we can enjoy the day together as a family rather than worrying about preparing a whole lot of food and the clean up afterwards.  But on that day, and the rest of the days leading up to it, I hope that I can convey the importance of the celebration to my family.  I hope that the Christmas spirit comes into our souls and we remember what it's all about. I hope that all of you will know and feel it too.  The coming of our Lord... it's a great reason to celebrate!

God Bless you all!

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I was going to write about the Theotokos (Mary) today as I always find myself pondering over her... her role in Christianity...her role as Christ's mother.  But I think I am getting ahead of myself as I haven't really written much about the church itself just yet. (And perhaps I would be remiss if I didn't add a small segment about Halloween... a 'festival', not a holiday as a holy day it is not...  so I will mention it briefly at the end)

The Orthodox Church is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.  No, we are NOT the Roman Catholic Church.  The word 'catholic' means universal.  Therefor, we are the universal church started by Christ and the apostles.  This started in approximately 33 AD.

The "church" was not founded by man as some would have you believe.  The Church is God-given.  "I hope to come to you soon," writes St. Paul, "but I am writing these instructions to you so that, if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth."  1 Timothy 3:14-15.  The whole universe is God's Church. The Orthodox Church is, indeed, the first Christian Church.  It is founded by our Lord Jesus Christ just as it is described in the New Testament.  The history of the Orthodox Church can literally be traced back all the way to Christ and the 12 apostles. For the first thousand years, there was only this ONE church until the Great Schism in 1054.  (Perhaps I'll write more on that another day.)

The Orthodox Church is not merely a building.  God doesn't need the building we call a church.  We, the people, do.  We need places to go that are very specifically made to be dedicated to God.  This is where we gather together  with the one sole purpose of worshiping God and dedicating our time to seek His will.   Is that the only place we can worship and seek His will?  No, of course not.  But that is the central place we can always count on that is full of others who also seek to Worship and to be in God's presence. This is where He speaks to us through Scripture readings and offers Himself to us through Holy Communion.  Entering this 'building', one cannot help but know you are in His presence as your senses are filled not of earthly things you leave outdoors but of the Heavenly realm.

The church is also not merely a building because it is not just the physical structure that is the church. The people are the Church.  The clergy and the laity together build this part of the non-physical structure of the church. "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light".  1 Peter .  Therefore, the Church is not to be identified with a mere building but with the people, God's people, in whom He dwells.

There are over 225 million Orthodox Christians worldwide.  I bet you had no idea.  This is because, despite its size, the Orthodox Church seems to be America's best-kept secret!   This is a shame.  The Orthodox Church has deep roots and is steeped in a rich biblical tradition that many thirst for.   The Orthodox Church maintains its original New Testament tradition.  There is a joke about how many Orthodox does it take to change a lightbulb... the answer is none because Orthodoxy doesn't change.  It's true.  While the Catholic and Protestant churches have changed many many things over the years, Orthodoxy does not change.

Well, I think that may be enough for one day.  But some may be wondering what it is we, Orthodox, believe in.  So I will leave you with this.  It is the Nicene Creed:

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible,  And in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages.  Light of light, true God of true God, begotten not made, of one essence with the Father by whom all things were made for us men and for our salvation, came down from Heaven and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man.  And He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate and suffered and was buried and the third day he rose again according to the scriptures.  And ascended into Heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father and He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, whose Kingdom shall have no end.  And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the giver of life who proceeds from the Father who with the Father and the son together is worshipped and glorified who spoke by the prophets. I believe in one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.  I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins.  I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.  Amen.

 

And in regards to Halloween.....

The Orthodox Church does not support the celebration of Halloween.  There are some Orthodox Christians that do allow their children to participate in festivities, seeing it as a harmless activity, as surely they are not worshipping any form in such harmless activities.  I, myself, up until recently, still had a few of those 'harmless' decorations that were 'cute'.  I actually just put them away earlier this week and do not plan on resurfacing them other than for perhaps a garage sale.  We have decided to continue handing out treats at the door, at least for the time being, to be neighborly... as we rarely see our neighbors (we live in the country).  Though this activity may change at some point.  I put these decorations away after reading several articles written by priests/bishops of the Holy Orthodox Church.  I will share the links to the articles as I don't feel confident enough to relay their message quite as eloquently and am only adding this on at the last moment this morning.  So if you care to know the whys behind the nonsupport of these so-called 'harmless' activities, you can read here:

Bishop Kyrill of Seattle  On Halloween  October 2012

The Greek Orthodox Church on Halloween

Halloween  OrthodoxWiki

Ancient Faith Radio

 

 

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Our story is a personal story.  Why anyone chooses to homeschool always is.  There could be a single or mixture of reasons given:  religion, health, curriculum choice, academic failure in the public schools, and school violence just to name a few I hear the most often.  But each  makes a decision that is personal to them.

We pulled my daughter out of the public schools in her 5th grade year. (We kept our son in public school for the rest of that year, despite his yearning to be home with us to try to meet our daughter's needs at that time.  The following year, we were glad to keep him home with us as well.) She desperately wanted to be homeschooled at that time for various reasons.  It was a decision that changed our family....  little did I know at that time how much it would and that I would be truly grateful for God leading us to do that.

Our family is closer.  We talk often. Not just at meal times, though our family dinner hour is always sacred, but here and there throughout the day.  It's an advantage most families don't have. And we spend lots of quality time together - time we simply wouldn't have if we had to obey the public school schedule and our children were whisked away by a bus early in the morning and not brought home until late afternoon with their backpacks full of homework for their evenings.

We have flexible schedules.  While my years of teaching in the public schools have lent their dent on me in still trying to maintain a bit of a 'typical school day schedule for academics', my kids don't have to get up in the morning until the public school kids have already been on the bus allowing them more sleeping time and they are typically finished with their work before these kids get back on the bus!   And if we are sick.  or want to go somewhere?  We just don't have school. (Yes, we DO fill the 180 days required by law, but we do it according to OUR schedule, not someone else's.) And if we want to take a full week off for PASCHA?  We do!  We can attend more church services, more field trips that are of interest to us (not another entity) and visit family a little more leisurely.   Now this flexibility IS harder in the higher grades with more inflexible choices we make such as volleyball, piano lessons, gym classes with the local homeschool co-op, online classes, etc. but it still remains more flexible than the public schools schedule.

Flexible Curriculum/Classes: Naturally we teach reading, writing and math but we are not held to the rigidity of particular curriculums or particular classes for particular years.  If my child would rather study zoology in 8th grade rather than general science, he can.  If he wants to take Russian rather than the typical French or Spanish, he can.  If he wants to do two histories in one year, he can.  If he wants to take an online class or even an online college course or a college course at a local university, he could!

We teach our children according to OUR beliefs. We teach them God is first, ALWAYS.  We are human, of course, and sometimes fail in demonstrating this.  I have. in the past, missed attending a feast day at church or other event because we are behind in academics.  But in this too, we are teaching God forgives.  But we must always, ALWAYS strive to do better.  This year I blocked out the feast days first on the calendar when I planned school days. So we teach them our faith.  We teach them the teachings of the Orthodox Christian Church.  And we teach them to love and forgive.

We maintain our HEALTH. My family has completely eradicated illnesses that conventional medicine claims there is not a cure for through eliminating MSG, other neurotoxins, and artificial additives and preservatives from our diet.  Because of homeschooling, my children were an integral part of our conversion from the Standard American Diet (SAD) to a more whole foods approach and eliminating dangerous toxins from our daily consumption in food products and other sources.  They enjoyed finding new recipes and trying new foods.  They learned to read labels and make determinations on what to consume and realized the detriment these food products had been causing us.  Because of homeschooling, my children were able to delve deeply into our learning process and do not need to be fed nonsensical information in a public school health class.  Nor do they need to fight school policies on school cafeteria food that is full of the very toxins we avoid.  (More on our food habits and our food choices in posts to come!)

These are the highlights of why we homeschool.  I wrote this, I have realized, as though I'm still homeschooling both my older children.  It's a hard habit to break.  My daughter is actually not at home this year because she is attending college at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. (Yes, homeschoolers CAN go to college - this in answer to an actual question my husband received recently from a well-educated man.)  Currently, it is only my older son that is being homeschooled.  Of course, while he's only 3 1/2, my youngest is also being educated...but in a much more relaxed, fun approach and not really 'school'.  We are enjoying just exploring his world and teaching the concepts that come up as they come up.  He actually has learned a few words already!  Nothing like GOOD BOOKS to captivate a child and give the desire to find out what those letters on the page are doing!

My older son is in 9th grade... his first year of 'high school' and keeping track of credits.  It's a challenging year but he's keeping up well and still active in Scouts and got a doe while hunting the other day (while public school kids were confined in a brick building).

So again, these are the highlights.  I'm looking forward to sharing more about what we do and what we have learned.  There's so much to tell!  🙂

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Well, it's been awhile since I posted anything. This past week has been rather busy with our Church schedule during Holy Week and Pascha. And we all seemed to come down with some minor cold symptoms (which is rare but then I realized we have slacked off on our vitamins and then had more contact with the outside world than we usually do so ......) But it wasn't anything major and didn't stop us from attending services so that's good.

I finished my books that I was reading towards the end of Lent. Now I have FINALLY read Twisted, a book by Laurie Halse Anderson that I've had on my Amazon wishlist for over two years. So I finally bought it for myself and read it in just over a day. It is my third book to have read by her and I am a huge fan. Her characters totally pull you in. I have also started a book about anger. I think, after this Lenten season especially, that I have dealt with a lot of my anger issues - and boy did I use to have a lot of them - but someone close to me was reading this book and expressed a lot of interest in it (Dancing With Anger) and so I thought, why not. I always cringe at self-help books because they can sort of go against a lot of Orthodox Teachings and obviously stress too much SELF SELF SELF....but I thought I'd give this one a shot and I try to just glide over the whole part of putting yourself completely ahead of others part of it and see what she has to say about dealing with anger.....I'm only into the second chapter so far, so we'll see. I'm also reading One Thousand Gifts...it's written by a woman with some sort of protestant background but is being read by a lot of Orthodox people. She seems to have some major Orthodox percepetions and I can't help but wonder how her life would be even more complete if she were to find the Orthodox Faith. Besides, these two books I have a huge stack of books in my room that I have not read yet of all varities and it's so hard to choose which is next. Which is why I'm usually reading at least three if not 4 or 5 books at a time. Sometimes even more. Nuts, I know, but it works for me most of the time. I haven't decided on what my current Orthodox book will be yet....I have several calling my name...

So now I thought I'd post a few more random things about me:

1. We just celebrated PASCHA. Pascha, to give an understanding, is Eastern ‘Easter”. I don’t really like giving it the name Easter because it does have some pagan connotations but I do use the term among my Catholic and Protestant terms simply so they understand what I’m talking about. We stayed up all night…or should I say morning? The service starts at 10:30 and ends around 2:30 with lots and lots of feasting afterwards. I’ve had a sleep deprivation headache most of the week but it is so TOTALLY worth it! I love the way we worship our Lord. The way we go all out for Him. The way we understand Salvation and Theosis!. I am so thrilled to have found Orthodoxy.

2. I LOVE LOVE LOVE to read. I read a vast array of materials too. I’m thrilled to have a toddler again so I have an even bigger excuse to read picture books and classic fairy tales and nursery rhymes again. And I’m looking forward to reading the Junie B. Jones series again someday. But I also love middle grade, young adult, and of course adult fiction as well. I love reading about Orthodoxy and learning more and more about my faith and its history, its saints and its perspective on today’s worldview. I also, of course, love reading Holy Scripture, though I prefer reading it with Orthodox Commentary so I have a better apostolic understanding of what I’m reading. I also read things on whole foods, natural living, and things that pretty much go against the usual American Diet. I sometimes read things related to history and science, but those are usually connected to our home schooling rather than a random book I select on my own. There’s other things too….but I’ve realized I could make this a whole blog piece on its own! LOL

3. I don’t do well with dairy. During the fast we gave up dairy of course. I was the most ‘congestion free’ that I have been in the last two years - since the last time I gave up dairy completely. This week already, after just three days of non-fasting, I have already awoken with some congestion and , I’m afraid, been having more digestive issues. I really should let the dairy go, but….it’s so yummy.

4. I have freckles. I use to hate my freckles. I mean, they are like, all over and I used to get picked on about them so I hated them. But then my sister got me this mug that says ‘These aren’t freckles, they’re just a whole bunch of teeny tiny tans.” I just love that mug and I love that freckle philosophy. So I’ve adopted it as my own and shrug off my freckles now with a chuckle.

5. Our dog is a Greater Swiss Mountain Dog. She is a cousin to the Burmese....most people know that one if they are a dog lover. But the Greater Swiss has shorter hair and, supposedly, sheds less. HAHA. She's a good dog, but is very hyper when people visit, which makes her not so popular with some of our friends. She's not mean, just jumpy and wants to be in their face. We have tried several tactics. But since we live in the country and don't have visitors so often, its sort of hard to do any type of real training method consistently. Well, we love her. She is a devoted animal, that's for sure. 🙂

That's all for today. I really need to figure out a schedule for me again and try sticking to it. I do much better with a schedule. There's just too many things pulling me in all kinds of directions and I really need to find a balance. I don't want to give up on the blogging. I love it so. But I need to find a way to fit it into a bunch of other things too.

My son will be two years old at the end of the month.

He is our first child that is 'cradle Orthodox'.  It has already been a wonderous experience....the baptism, chrismation and of course the first communion and all of those to follow.  He has wonderful godparents whom we feel very close to.

His favorite activity is playing 'church'.  It started over a year ago.  He waves his plastic links, chained together, as though they are a censor.  As time went on, he learned to kiss icons and crosses, so each time he sees one he must kiss it.  It doesn't matter where it is....within reach or not, so sometimes this is a challenge as he gets rather upset if he can't.  He also takes them off the wall or the dresser and walks around the house with it, holding the icon or cross, or yes, even the bible, high above his head, singing in a tone quite similar to that of the priest....Could it be? "Blessed is the kingdom......"

Now, in addition to bible and censor, we have vestments.  His trusty blanket.  This is the blanket given to him by his godparents on his baptism day.  This is 'blankie'.  This is the beloved item that goes everywhere.  It now rests gently upon his shoulders, tied in a knot at his chin or, in a rather funny fashion, clipped on with a Pampered Chef Twix It Clip,.....  But alas, it drapes across his shoulders hanging down past his knees in the back.  He lifts up his arms, sings (Blessed is the Kingdom) and proceeds to do prostrations and crosses himself.

It is dear. 
It is precious.

It is etched into my memory forever.