Lent is fast approaching and I'm not 100% set on my spiritual goals, but of course I have more in mind than just following the Whole30 and working on health goals.

Lent  begins during Vespers on Forgiveness Sunday, also known as Cheese-Fare Sunday.  This year it falls on February 26.  LIke I said, it's FAST approaching!

Forgiveness Vespers is one of my favorite services of the season.   It begins with a solemn Vespers service and when the announcement of the evening Prokeimenon is made (usually symbolizing the end of one day and the beginning of another), it symbolizes  the beginning of Lent. At the end of the service, all of the faithful go up to the priest, one by one, and the parishioner and the priest  ask one another for mutual forgiveness, and, then, the person gets in line and will continue around the church asking each person present for mutual forgiveness.  It's a lovely service and is a splendid approach to bringing repentance to mind for the Lenten season.

Each Lent I make goals for the Lenten Season with the idea of focusing on my relationship with God even more than I do during the rest of the year.  Really the idea is to build better habits that will last throughout the year and the remainder of our lives.  Some years are more successful than others.  Last  year, I didn't fare so well.  Hopefully this year will be better.  My personal goals always involve reading -  I  started my  reading this past week to allow myself enough time to complete the book I chose: Thirty Steps to Heaven by Vassilios Papavassiliou, an interpretation of the Ladder of Divine Ascent for the ordinary layman.  My goal is five pages a day, and I reach that by not allowing myself to read anything else (besides my morning devotion and bible readings) through the day until I do.  I can probably achieve this on most mornings during my regular devotion time, a habit I just recently began in the last two months or so.

I have another goal that will be difficult.  I am going to try to steer away from the social media pull.  I admit I spend too much time with it as I easily get pulled into discussions and what not and catching up on the post of my friends and family.  While I still believe that this is a good thing in and of itself, it is also tempting to spend too much time with it.  So while I can't avoid it completely as that is my main source of communicating for this blog and my Lemongrass Spa business, I do intend to curb my time spent on reading post after post after post of others and commenting back and forth.  This is the goal I am most concerned with...as just jumping on there to post my latest Lemongrass Spa update or a quote on the blog Facebook page, I see headlines of posts and am just pulled in so easily at times. So I'm not aiming for perfection, but am certainly  placing more limits on myself.  I just haven't figured out how to do it yet...wish me luck!

Most of my other goals involve my youngest son.  He is 6 (almost 7- oh how the time flies!) and I would like to make this a year that really helps him learn what Lent and Pascha (the word Orthodox Christians use for the day we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord rather than Easter, a term that began to use much later in history) are all about!  I plan on using at least one of my books from my post on children's books for Lent with my 6 year old ( From I-ville to You-ville), and will have a stack of Orhtodox Picture books in the living room for my husband to read to him when opportunity knocks.  And of course, we will be extra vigilent to be sure that the bible and our lesson from The Law of God is read before any additional school work is done and hopefully will be done even on days we elect to skip the formal 'school' lessons, of which I'm beginning to do more of and feel less guilt as I travel between more of an unschooling method while still maintaining lovely concepts from my days of studying Charlotte Mason.

We will also be revisiting Psalm 50.  This will be the first for my six year old, but the rest of us memorized this psalm about 5 or 6 years ago during Lent.  I'm afraid most of it has escaped my memory, though "Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me" is a favorite prayer of mine and never far from my mind.

And most of all, we are striving to get back in the habit of saying our morning and evening prayers, something we do but is not at all a daily habit at this time.  Hopefully this season will reinstill that important habit of an Orthodox family life.

I will leave you now with the words of psalm 50 - perhaps you'd like to revisit it yourself for Lent.

What are YOUR goals for Lent this year?

Psalm 50 (51)

Have mercy on me, O God, according to Thy steadfast love;  according to Thy abundant mercy.      Blot out my transgressions.  Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.  Against Thee, Thee only have I sinned, and done that which is evil in Thy sight, so that Thou art justified in Thy sentence and blameless in Thy judgment.

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.  Behold, Thou desirest truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.  Fill me with joy and gladness; let the bones which Thou hast broken rejoice.

Hide Thy face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.  Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.

Cast me not away from Thy presence, and take  not Thy Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.

Then I will teach transgressors Thy ways, and sinners will return to Thee.

Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, Thou God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of Thy deliverance.

O Lord, open Thou my lips, and my mouth shall show forth Thy praise.  For Thou hast no delight in sacrifice; were I to give a burnt offering, Thou wouldst not be pleased.

The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart Thou wilt not despise.  Do good to Zion in Thy good pleasure; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, then wilt Thou delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on Thy altar.

 

 

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O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth forever

-   Psalm 136:1

 

Consider This:

As many know,the book of Psalms were written by David.  But did you realize how many of those psalms were written while David was in agony and moments of extreme distress? Yet David continued writing of giving thanks,   praising and singing to the Lord!  This is the perfect example of having deep gratitude.  Surely if David can find reasons for gratitude,

I can.

You can.

Photo by Waldryano/Pixabay
Photo by Waldryano/Pixabay

David certainly had good reason to give thanks to God. God did, afterall, choose him to be the king over Israel while he was just a young  boy.  David was king over all of Israel and its people! Furthermore, his first victory, killing Goliath, occurred long before that-  when he was just a boy! David owed all of his  triumphs over all of his enemies, including Goliath,  to God.  We may not have quite the same blessings as David (kingship, heroship and more) but we all have our blessings.  Many Many blessings!

And yet...  just like you and I....

David sinned.

And while God forgave David's sin, he was not spared from paying the price of sin. He was not spared from the challenges of the human life and the sadness and grief that is part of our lives.  He had to witness the unwanted pregnancy in Bathsheba. His first child died. His own son  pursued to kill him. He army was defeated.

Even so, David knew that God had not left him. In fact, God declared, according to the Apostle Paul, 'I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do' (Acts 13:22) .

Why?

Because David sought God in times of his needs.  He was GRATEFUL for all of the mercies he received from God, giving thanks and recognition to the God that gave those mercies to him. And David  continued to sing unto the Lord! When we show gratitude on a daily basis(such as writing in our journals!), this is one way that we too can sing unto the Lord.

The thanksgiving that David offered to God was not just because he knew it was the right thing to do or because he thought he'd get away with more...David was relieved from troubles and his sorrows through his gratitude and it was in offering thanks for His mercy that he called upon the LORD and God answered his prayers!

Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles;

Praise Him, all you peoples,

For His mercy rules over us;

And the truth of the Lord endures forever.

~Psalm 116 (117)

Have and show gratitude.  It will set you on the right path. It will bring forth blessings. May God bless you forevermore.

Gratitude Sharing:             2016-06-21 15.04.14

  1.  The way my sons enjoy wildlife and see God's glory in it all.
  2. Creativity and fun that was held at the Crayola Factory this week!
  3. Invitation to get together from a friend.
  4. The sense of accomplishment & freedom at seeing clean open spaces.
  5. Finding messages in scripture that speak to my heart.

WHAT'S IN YOUR GRATITUDE JOURNAL THIS WEEK?

 

 

Peaceful Reflections.....for those times you just need some quiet time to sit, read a short bit and reflect.

Could the leaves exist without the tree, and could the tree exist without the earth, air, water and warmth?  Likewise no soul can exist without God, without His Son, without the Holy Spirit.  God is my being, my breath, my light, my strength, my drink, my food.  He carries me as a mother carries her infant in her arms.  More than this.  Carrying me, my soul and body, He dwells in me, and is united to me.  ~  St. John of Kronstadt

"If you want cure your soul, you need four things. The first is to forgive your enemies. The second is to confess thoroughly. The third is to blame yourself. The fourth is to resolve to sin no more. If we wish to be saved, we must always blame ourselves and not attribute our wrong acts to others. And God, Who is most compassionate, will forgive us...There is no better teacher than death. Have death before your minds: the time when you will leave this unreal world and will go to the other one, which is eternal."
(Saint Cosmas of Aitolos, 18th Century Greek evangelist)

The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold    ~  Psalm 18:2

 

Lord,  Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

 

 

 

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Last week I wrote about how reading some uplifting words of our saints or spiritual fathers can bring peace and reflection for those days I don't have time to sit down and read a whole chapter. I enjoyed the comments from last Monday's Peaceful Reflections and decided to add a few more for this Monday.  Perhaps it will turn into a routine... we'll see!

"Though God knows all our needs, prayer is necessary for the cleansing and enlightenment of our soul.  It is well to stand in the sunshine; it is warm and light; likewise, when standing in prayer before God, our spiritual Sun, we are warmed and enlightened.  It is necessary to wash ourselves from dirt, and prayer is washing ourselves from spiritual filth, that is from sins."   ~St. John of Kronstadt

"Let not one think, my fellow Christian, that only priests and monks need to pray without ceasing and not laymen No, no; every Christian without exception ought to dwell always in prayer."  ~ St. Gregory of Palamas

"He who busies himself with the sins of others, or judges his brother on suspicion, has not yet even begun to repent or to examine himself so as to discover his own sins..." ~ St. Maximos the Confessor

"Do not be irritated either with those who sin or those who offend; do not have a passion for noticing every sin in your neighbour, and for judging him, as we are in the habit of doing. Everyone shall give an answer to God for himself. Everyone has a conscience; everyone hears God's Word, and knows God's Will either from books or from conversation with other people. Especially do not look with evil intention upon the sins of your elders, which do not regard you; "to his own master he standeth or falleth." Correct your own sins, amend your own life."~St. John of Kronstadt

"You heard me when I called, O God of my righteousness.  You strengthened my heart when I was in distress;  Have mercy on me, and hear my prayer."  Psalm 4:1-2

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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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Holy Week is almost over and I am actually not wanting it to end. This Lent has been the most fulfilling for me. That’s because I chose to make it that way and probably took the season more seriously than in years past. I need to make a concentrated effort not to let my steps up the ladder of ascent slip away.

Reading the psalms all the way through along with a study companion was a wonderful experience. I hadn’t read them all before, certainly not in order and studied the prophetic meaning of them. I intended to memorize psalm 50 and psalm one. I didn’t do so well with that goal. I memorized all the parts of psalm 50 but never was able to recite the psalm in its entirety without peaking a bit. And I only read psalm one a few times. I’m hoping to take each one now and study it further and memorize psalm 50, psalm one, and move on to others eventually. My favorite verse is in Psalm 50 - Create in Me a Clean Heart O Lord and Renew A Right Spirit Within Me. I think that's what Lent and all of our earthly life is about....continuously striving to have a clean heart and a right spirit.

I’ve eliminated fiction from my life for the duration of Lent (other than the read-aloud time I do with my sons) and have read several books related to Christian Orthodoxy. They have truly helped me to uplift my spirit and focus on what is important in life and helped me to strengthen my faith. My favorites were The Illumined Heart by Frederica Mathews Greene and the one I am bound to finish tonight - Surprised By Christ. This last one is a story by an Orthodox priest who was NOT always Orthodox. He was Jewish and found his way to Christianity and then on to Orthodoxy. While it’s not a gripping, can’t put this down book, it’s really very informative and puts Orthodoxy into a different perspective than most do. I am deeply enjoying the 3rd section of the book in which he speaks of many aspects of the Orthodox faith and how it differs from other Christian religions and how it compares to Judaism. I was totally engrossed by his writing of the Orthodox view on heaven and hell. I hope I continue to make sure that at least one book regarding Orthodoxy as well as the bible stays by my bedside in my pile of books to read. And I must make sure to pick them each up daily….even if it’s just to squeeze five to ten minutes of each.

We have attended nearly every service possible, even with my little guy, though I won’t be attending the 12 Gospel Service tonight. That would just be way too long for my little guy (It’s over three hours long). He is fun to have there, watching him imitate the priest and try to sing along with the hymns. He has the tunes down even if he can’t pronounce all the words just yet. He is distracting though, and it’s hard to hear the sermon. For today’s liturgy, we let our part-time nanny keep Alexander at home so that the rest of us could go and actually stay attentive during the entire service. This allowed him his play time too which I think is important this week when there are so many other services.

I’ve sort of enjoyed the fasting too. I really focused on cooking very healthy vegan meals and feel like my body is feeling the joy of being cleansed from those nasty animal products. (Yes…nasty…I firmly believe we should have some animal products in our diet but the American diet partakes way way way way WAY too much of it!)

We as a family have enjoyed several really good movies about Orthodoxy and our Christian faith. (Including Ostrov, The Jesus Prayer, The Case For Christ, etc. ) Not as often as I had hoped, but more than we usually would. Perhaps we can try to incorporate more of this into our regular schedule as well instead of watching all the crime shows and other things we watch for entertainment purposes. We were hoping to watch The Passion of Christ this week but haven’t fit it in yet. I’m not sure we will. I hope too. It’s been a few years since I have watched it and my oldest son hasn’t seen it yet. I believe my daughter saw part of it but not the whole thing.

We’ve had more prayer time and talked about humility, fasting, and what we believe and need to do on a continual basis to live a Christian life. I had hoped to do this on a daily basis but that was one thing that seemed to end about halfway through Lent….not enough time around my husband’s schedule and other things in life seemed to get in the way. I hope we can start this back up. Perhaps it should just be a once a week thing rather than daily. That might be more realistic. We haven’t been doing well lately at doing our morning prayers together recently either. That makes me sad. I did very well with this at the beginning of the school year. I really must make that a priority.

I’m not looking forward to the end. Okay, I am looking forward to the ham and the cheese. But I worry that I’ll let myself drift back out of my prayer life and Orthodox Christian reading and won’t make time for it. I think I’ll do okay for awhile…I just hope I can make it a permanent part of my life and not let the chaos of other things in life get in the way. I know my intentions are good but that’s not enough. And I need to make it a visible priority for my children. I must be a model for them. Too often I have been a poor model. I know we all make mistakes. But I need to at least be determined to model the right stuff too - for them and for myself….But most of all- for HIM.

Create in me a clean heart O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me.