A Sacrifice of Praise

An abundance of sweet-scented wisteria spill over the pergola, upheld and supported by its rough, wooden beams.

Let us lift up our hearts! We lift them up unto the Lord! ~Anaphora

From every cut springs new growth. However, there’s no one-size-fits-all in gardening, or life.

To encourage a profusion of fragrant blossoms and to thrive – shrubs, trees, and vines require careful tending to transform into ultimate splendor. They must first be reduced, in order to become more.

By deadheading and pruning our own spiritual debris, we are refreshed and ready for new growth! We are able to lightly and joyfully lift up our hearts unto the Lord!

Through God’s Mercy of Peace we thrive, and our hearts are transformed by being in God.

In the words of an anonymous saint (whose name escapes me at the moment), may we remember more often to: Prune wisely and clip with discernment.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. ~ St. John 15:1-2

Prayer is the flower of gentleness and the fruit of joy. ~ Evagrios the Solitary, 4th century

Riding the Thermals

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. ~ Isaiah 40:31

Yestereve I watched an eagle ride the thermals over local sea cliffs. Ignoring the inclement weather and taunting gulls, it persevered, soaring higher and higher, searching a broader scope and clearer vision of the tumultuous ocean below. It was hungry. It needed sustenance. It gently reminded me that when spiritually peckish or famished, we need to remember to unfurl our own little soul-wings… and seek to ride the Life-Giving Thermals of the Holy Spirit… Who uplifts us to sweet, incomprehensible heights, which our own little wings are much too fragile to attain, solely by their own power.

The cause of all preservation lieth in the Holy Spirit. If He think it fit to blow upon a man, He taketh him up above the things of the earth, maketh him grow, and settleth him on high. ~ Matins, Sixth Tone

Happy Feast Day! Today is also the Translation of the Relics of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker from Myra to Bari, Italy in 1087 AD. St. Nicholas’ other feast day is December 19/6.

Thomas Sunday & Mothers’ Day Greetings!

Happy Thomas Sunday and (coincidentally) Mother’s Day!

Today is also St. Basil of Ostrog’s day!

The feature image is our Pascha Basket. ☺️ We had so much fun decorating the iced Kulich with old-fashioned candied Pansies and Violets from our window boxes (done a few weeks before, to allow them time to cure). Evidently, one can also candy rose petals, carnations, borage and other edible flowers! The red eggs are made from a natural onion skin dye.

There are so many amazing traditions taking place today. This is also when the Artos Bread (which represents Jesus Christ, our Bread of Life, and always Invisibly Present with His Church) which stood all week in front of the opened Royal Doors, is blessed and distributed amongst the faithful. Like holy water, Artos possesses mystical properties. Eating the blessed Artos during the year, replenishes physical and spiritual energies of the Orthodox faithful. Like all other sacred objects, Artos is to be treated with respect and piety. For proper storage, Artos is cut into smaller pieces, dried, and put in a glass container and kept in one’s icon corner. A small piece of dried Artos may be eaten when needed for spiritual strength and consolation, preferably taken on an empty stomach, with a bit of holy water and prayer.

Today is also Radonitsa (Day of Rejoicing)… When we visit the cemetery to have the graves of loved ones blessed, and to sing Christ is Risen to them!

The first Sunday after Pascha, is dedicated to the Apostle Thomas who finally believed, when he was invited by the Risen Christ to touch Him. When we seek God, we touch Him, and we are touched by Him. He passes through the closed doors of our hearts and minds, and directs us towards the light of faith and understanding.

Jesus saith … blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. – St. John 20:29

That’s a direct message from our Risen Lord, to all Christians, throughout the ages! Christ bestows this verbal blessing and acknowledgment upon each of one us. Then. Now. Today. Saying… “blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” That’s us!

Special, loving greetings and gratitude to all mothers, grandmothers, godmothers, and matushki! Whether our own mothers are still with us, or have already passed on… there is always the joyous consolation that our Holy Lady Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary is always close by!

We are never alone! God loves us more than father, mother, friend, or any else could love, and even more than we are able to love ourselves. ~ St. John Chrysostom

The Most Holy Mother of God prays for us ceaselessly. She is always visiting us. Whenever we turn to her in our heart, she is there. After the Lord, she is the greatest protection of mankind. ~ Elder Thaddeus of Vitnovica

The Angel Cried to the Lady
(Special Hymn to the Theotokos, sung at Pascha and during Pascha-tide)

Rejoice!

Exalt!

Be Radiant!

Christ is Risen!

About the Iconshowing that Christ’s redemption transcends time and space. This is an act that happened in the past, is happening right now, and will happen in the future. Christ is always in the state of redeeming and setting us free!

…Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice. ~ St. John 18:37

For our Orthodox Pascha is not just a festival, but the Festival of all festivals, an event for exceeding all the events of this world. Pascha shakes the whole cosmos: the sun, by our faith, dances and becomes iridescent with every colour of the rainbow, and all of creation rejoices. Some observe a magnificent silence, lacking the strength to express the inexpressible feeling of Paschal joy which fills their souls. Others hasten to share their feeling of the Paschal triumph. All people and all things begin to move, the tedious vanities of this world are cast aside, and all are transfigured. Pascha is, first of all, in us ourselves, in our hearts. God’s gift of the feeling of love penetrates our whole being, and we love each person and all things. This relates not just to the animal kingdom, but to the whole of creation, extending to the smallest blade of grass and the smallest flower. Nothing escapes our loving attention. May the Lord help us all to keep ourselves like this, for as such did the Lord create us… ~ Paschal Epistle excerpt of Metropolitan Vitaly – May, 2000; The Two Thousandth Pascha of Christ.

🎵 Paschal Tropar English sung by Parish 2024 (1:17)

🎵 Paschal Tropar Greek sung by Parish 2024 (2:15)

🎵 Paschal Tropar Slavonic sung by Parish 2024 (0:35)

Happy Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday Pussy Willows await blessing at last evening’s Vigil Service.

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. ~ Zechariah 9:9

God is the Lord, and hath appeared unto us; make ye a feast, and with gladness, come, let us magnify Christ with palms and branches, with hymns crying aloud: blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord our Saviour. ~ Ode 9 of the Feast

We celebrate Palm Sunday today with festive joy. Yesterday’s Lazarus Saturday and today’s Palm (and Flowers) Sunday are a bridge we cross over from Great Lent, into Holy Week.

They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel! ~ St. John 12:13

Hosanna in the highest! Means: O be favourably inclined – in the highest heaven! O Lord, save! While Hosanna in the Highest initially seems like an enthusiastic cheer of welcome and joy, it’s also a deep invocation for protection and salvation from tribulations.

Tomorrow, we begin to wend our way throughout Holy Week’s poignant thoroughfares, until we reach the bright and shining shores of Holy Pascha. The Greatest Feast of all. Pascha… the dawn of the new and unending day… the Holy Resurrection of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ.

…the Lord is always sitting at the gates of the Heavenly Jerusalem waiting for us to allow Him to enter. He is patiently standing at the door of our heart… waiting for us to open it. ~ Unknown

May your Holy Week be Blessed, Glorious, Peaceful and Fruitful!

Practical Tip: Treat your blessed palm branches and pussy willows respectfully, because they have been blessed. Keep them carefully in your icon corner. If you currently have any old palms or willows that are deteriorating, either compost, bury or burn them, but never put them in the garbage.

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Blossoming in the Next

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

When St. Gavrilia was asked if she feared death, she responded:

That’s what I don’t fear – not a bit! Every year till Ascension Day I love the Funeral Service to include the Hymn “Christ is Risen.” …It seems to me that when the time of my departure comes, it will be something very simple, because Death does not exist. It will be like closing one door and opening another! I remember a fine painting showing two rose gardens separated by a wall. A twig, from one of the rose bushes, had worked its way through a crack in a wall and a beautiful rose had bloomed on the other side. That’s how it is with our life. We leave this world and go to blossom in the Next. ~ St. Gavrilia (The Ascetic of Love)

Memory Eternal, Julia – who left today to go blossom in the Next… Where there is no more pain, sickness, sighing, nor sorrow, but Life Everlasting!

Icon of St. Juliana

Today’s Two Great Feasts!

From Vigil Service for Veneration of the Holy Cross and The Annunciation

Greetings on the Feasts!

Today we’ve reached the halfway point of Great Lent, and this year there are also two large Feast Days which unusually fall together! It’s quite exciting!

We celebrate the (movable) Sunday of the Holy Cross, also known as the Veneration of the Precious Cross and the (set) Great Feast of The Annunciationthe Announcement of Glad Tidings! (Apr. 7/Mar.25)

The troparia (hymn) for the Feast of the Annunciation is: Today is the fountainhead of our salvation, and the manifestation of the mystery which was from eternity. The Son of God becometh the Virgin’s Son, and Gabriel proclaimeth the good tidings of grace, wherefore, we also cry to the Theotokos with him: Rejoice, thou who art full of grace, the Lord is with thee.

During her life, the Virgin Mary (with discernment), actively participated and consistently said “yes” to God, and in St. Luke 1:26-38 we hear her humble response to the Archangel Gabriel, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word. And the angel departed from her.”

There’s an old custom on the Annunciation, of rising at dawn in order to watch the sun dance with joy. The only other time it does this, is at the Great Feast of Holy Pascha, the Resurrection of Christ! An old English name for the Feast of the Annunciation, was Lady Day, and nine months from today, is the Nativity of our Lord God and Saviour, Jesus Christ!

On the Third Sunday of Great Lent, the Holy Cross comes out for veneration by the faithful, and the kontakion (hymn) is sung during the service: No longer doth the flaming sword guard the gate of Eden, for a strange extinction has come upon it, even the Tree of the Cross. The sting hath been taken from death, and the victory from hades. And Thou, my Saviour, didst appear unto those in hades, saying: Enter ye again into Paradise.

The Cross is a fountain of holiness and strength, reminding us that our Lenten journey is one of repentance and preparation to receive the Joy of the Resurrection. When we see an icon of Christ stretched out upon the Cross… His Arms are opened wide – embracing the whole world with His Divine Love.

Let us hold firm to the remainder of the course set before us, as we sail across the Great Sea of the Fast. Four weeks from today, we’ll arrive at our destination… that beautiful shore of the Bright Resurrection of Christ, at Pascha.

Throwing Ourselves

Detail of the Christ Child in the Orans Icon

Let us open our arms and throw ourselves into Christ’s embrace. When Christ comes, we will have gained everything. Christ will alter everything within us. He will bring peace, joy, humility, love, prayer and the uplifting of our soul. The Grace of Christ will renew us. ~ Elder Porphyrios (Wounded By Love)

…Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. ~ St. Matthew 18:3

…And, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen. ~ St. Matthew 28:20

Pray like a child, in simplicity of heart, concerning all your needs and sorrows, and entrust yourself to God’s Will, for the Lord arranges our salvation. ~ St. Nikon

May we, like trusting children, remember (more often), to run with the outstretched arms of our soul – and hurl ourselves into the warm, comforting Embrace of Christ’s Everlasting Arms!

He’s patiently and lovingly waiting.

For us.

Right now.

Spiritual Springtime

Velvet Pansies and Shy Violets Peep Out From Our Window Box
How to Make Old-fashioned Candied Violets

…grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen. ~ 2 Peter 3:18

Lent is a spiritual springtime… The world of nature is coming alive round us during the Lenten season. And this should be a symbol of what is to happen in our own hearts. The dawning of springtime… We shouldn’t just have a negative idea of repentance, as feeling sorry, gloomy and somber about our failings. But repentance, rather, is new hope. An opening flower. How our lives can, by God’s grace, be changed. ~ Metropolitan Kallistos Ware

As the field is adorned by a multitude of flowers, so should the field of my own soul be adorned by all the flowers of virtue ~ St. John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ

If you do not shatter and empty your Ego, how will you make room for God?… God’s gifts to us blossom only if watered with the water of Love… Those who love can do only beautiful things. ~ St. Gavrilia

Heading towards the end of the second week of Great Lent, I’m hunkering down and holding fast (with God’s help), hoping to cultivate the spiritual springtime’s fragrant flowers of virtue, and to Blossom Forth!

Perceiving Divine Simplicity

Boulevard Snowdrop Flowers Signal the Nascence of Spring

Love all creation, the whole of it and every grain of sand within it. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. ~ Staretz Zosima; The Brothers Karamazov – by Fyodor Dostoevsky

…See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. ~ St. Matthew 6:28-29

All created things are marked with the seal of the Trinity... The contemplation of nature has two correlative aspects. First, it means appreciating the “thusness” or “thisness” of particular things, persons and moments. We are to see each stone, each leaf, each blade of grass, each frog, each human face, for what it truly is, in all the distinctness and intensity of its specific being. As the prophet Zechariah warns us, we are not to “despise the day of small things” (4:10). “True mysticism”, says Olivier Clément, “is to discover the extraordinary in the ordinary.” ~ Metropolitan  Kallistos Ware; The Orthodox Way

Even during a simple walk, it’s a mystery how easily the Great can be seen in the Small. Whether it be stoic flowers bursting through cement cracks, or a cheery family of four snowdrops, popping up like unexpected company – on a grassy boulevard.

God’s beautiful gift of nature is all around us.

All we have to do is to see what we’re looking at.

Happy Saint’s Day Zoe! God grant you many years!

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