Christ is Risen!

We finally made it to Pascha!! This entire past week and weekend have been filled with services, only 2 of which I was able to attend due to work. Jesse, however, was able to attend a few more, which was good (he filled me in on some stuff!).

Friday we “buried” Christ by decorating a beautiful funeral pier with flowers and making a procession around church. Friday night we had a “Saturday morning” matins (time is supposed to be all skewed up because of Christ’s death) wherein we morned Christ’s death by doing a candelight vigil/procession. The words and songs for this service are great because they manage to point everyone forward to his resurrection by reading the OT and NT prophecies while still acknowledging the full weight of the fact that God died.

Then, Saturday morning the baptisms started at 7:45 am with services going on all day long. Jesse was able to go to a few and then come home, wherein we both went to the 11:30 pm vigil/divine liturgy. It was great- 4 whole hours of standing until 4am!!! Okay, that was the very uncool/tiring part. The neat part was that we did more mourning with the entire church in complete darkness. Then we lit candles and walked around the church 3 times. When we re-entered the church, the funeral pyre had been put away and instead everyone was loudly singing the jubilant Resurrection hymns in at least 10 different languages!

The church was completely packed (around 500 people), seeing as the “once a year” ethnic Orthodox also managed to attend for at least the procession around the church. By the time the liturgy started at 1am however, it was just St. Seraphim’s few hundred faithful that were left standing. In the back narthax (the foyer) all the children were already asleep in their sleeping bags, only to be awoken by their parents at around 3:30am to take the Eucharist. The rest of us just kept awake by singing loudly:)

Afterwards, our bountiful Pascha baskets were sprinkled with Holy Water and blessed by Archbishop Dmitri. We dove in to all the meats and cheeses and icecream, while still managing to make and drink mixed drinks. One particularly popular vodka was “EFFEN” which is loved mainly for the chuckle-inspiring name. Ex: “Hey, would you like some effen Vodka?” You get the idea.

Today was the Agape Service where they read the gospels out loud in as many languages as they can find. We were unable to make it, seeing as we went to bed at around 6am, but Heather (who had to go since Josh was reading in Hindi) said that it was, again, mostly ethnic once-a- year Orthodox who came to get their Pascha baskets blessed. Archbishop Dmitri gave a gentle message encouraging them to come back regularly, but it seems that there will always be those who only attend Church for it’s “lucky charms”.

Tonight, Jesse and I joined Heather and Josh for some bountiful burger eating at Chili’s. All this meat….maybe THAT’S why my tummy hurts!

Until next time…

Christ is Risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!

Christos Anesti ek nekron, thanato thanatan patisas, ke tis en tis minismasin soin xarisamenos!

Hrestoss vosskrese ez mertvih, smerteeyou smert po prav, Ee suschem vo grobeh zhivot darovav!

Soy n’ Mac

On my way home from work today I stopped by Kroger to grab more tofu/soy food. Kroger is great because they have taken all the hunting and guesswork out of it- there is an entire section, complete with 6 mini-aisles and a wall of freezers completely set-apart for organic and vegan foods.

While I was there pulling “soy n mac” out of the freezer, there was a guy next to me who seemed completely confused. I asked if I was in the way and he said no, but added, “Geez, is this ALL they have here in the way of icrecream?? What a horrible selection!” I responded, “No, this isn’t it, this is just the soy icecream. You’re in the organic section.” He scurried away, relieved.

Cheezy enough, this whole thing got me thinking about Lent and it’s purpose. Last year, I heard lots of Orthodox Christians about how they felt “guilty” for eating all of these soy substitutes. The New Testament church didn’t have them when they fasted, and so why should we? Is it REALLY a sacrifice if we’re eating substitutes? It wasn’t until a few weeks ago when a visiting priest to St. Seraphim gave a homily about the PURPOSE of Lent that I realized what a misconception the West has about it.

Many Christians today look at Lent as a type of “punishment”. We should pick something that we rely on and then simply deprive ourselves of it in an effort to remind ourselves to pray every time we miss it. I have known people to pick things to “fast” from like coffee, chocolate, caffeine, even Myspace! This is no coincidence, as the Catholic church were the first to see Lent as a time of deprivation- a time to identify with Christ and suffer as he suffered.

If this was the Orthodox view of fasting, then I would be wrong to be buying all of my not-as-good substitutes at Kroger today. But this priest was able to put into words the message behind an Orthodox Christian’s view of Lent. The first is that instead of seeing it as deprivation or punishing ourselves, the Orthodox Church sees Lent as a time of setting ourselves apart, a time of beating it into our thick skulls that we are “not of this world”. Every time we have to ask for weird food at Taco Bell, every time we have to pick a restaurant that serves at least one or two vegan items, every time that we have to turn down pizza or burgers being offered to us for free by random strangers(it happens to us, and only in Lent! Go figure), we are reminded that we shouldn’t live like those here because we- well,- DON’T live here! We are just visiting.

This falls right in line with why the other vegans I know make the dietary changes that they do. They want to be different, either for a cause or because they are sick of the obesity rate in the US. They want a daily reminder of their decision to be different, and they want to convince others to join them.

Funny enough, this philosophy conjures up bad and scary memories of my old church and how legalistic it became before the big split. When I hear “setting ourselves apart” or “not of this world”, I immediately think of shapeless ankle-length skirts and long uncut hair. I think of all the women who told me that I was going to hell because my parents were no longer homeschooling me. I think of the time I was condemned for being one of the girls with pierced ears, or how my mom was judged on the basis that she had ONLY FOUR children.

I know now that their primary purpose in doing these odd things was so that the WORLD would know that they’re different. They wanted people to stop in the grocery store and think, “Woa! Those Christians aren’t like all those other slutty girls who want a career someday!” In other words, they purposefully tried to stick out like sore thumbs. At best, it was part of their plan to evangelize. At worst, it was an effort to convict others only in order to promote themselves.

The Orthodox Church’s mandate to set one’s self apart is nothing like this, simply because it’s not about other people noticing. The only one that should be saying, “Woa!” should be the one fasting, NOT those around you. In other word, it’s not so that others will stare at you in the grocery store- it’s so that you will stare at yourself and the selfish thoughts and sins going on inside of you when while passing by the “REAL ICECREAM” aisle.

Setting ourselves apart will require deprivation, but always in an effort to set ourselves apart and reveal our own sins, not those of others. This is the second reason that the Orthodox Church views fasting the way it does. Whenever we remind ourselves that we are set apart, surprisingly enough, our hearts rebel. We like being part of the world, and so when things are taken away to make us different, our inner child throws a tantrum. This kind of fasting is like pulling a mask off of all our inner selfishness. Priests tell parishioners to watch out for all sorts of selfish thoughts and feelings to surface the moment one starts fasting. When these things surface, we are confronted with our sin and are able to begin the process of eradicating it. The more encumbering sin we eradicate, the easier it is to focus on Christ. The more we focus on Christ, the more Christ-like we become.

And there it is- you have to set yourself apart in order to be handed the first real opportunity to re-pattern your identity after Christ. This is why Orthodox Christians don’t reserve fasting for just Lent- we fast 2 days a week the entire year, not to mention the Advent, Apostles’ and Dormition Fast. We want to always be reminded that not even our decisions about our food are our own. When control is taken away, we get to the REAL root of what drives us and discover what really causes us to make the decisions that we do.

So the next time I’m at Kroger and I’m only able to shop in my tiny corner of the store, it’s not necessary that I feel deprived in order to keep with the spirit of Lent. All I need is to be reminded that I’m different. And get ready for the chain reaction becoming Christ-like requires.

Beautiful Texas

So, it’s quite beautiful here in the springtime. Today it was 60 degrees and sunny with a slight breeze, so Jesse and I decided to take a walk on University of Dallas’ campus. It’s hard to believe that this small university, with it’s outdated and semi-ugly buildings holds 225 acres of wooded hills and walking paths. If you don’t believe me, take a look!

Here you can see one of UD’s outlying workshop buildings, along with Las Colinas (our northern section of Irving) in the distance.

It was pretty windy……

The other reason we went was because I had convinced Jesse that in order to successfully write his paper tonight, he needed to play a little catch first:) We brought both a baseball and a softball, becuase Jesse realizes that the next league he’ll probably play in will be a Men’s Softball League- it kinda took all the fun out of it once I mentioned this fact!

Jesse’s cool. I’m tough.

How Does Your Garden Grow?

For teachers, springtime means a variety of things. Finals, bad grades to students (well, only at “Flexing Poplars”…), and, for music teachers: recitals and musicals.

I, for one, already knew about recitals. I have already given 3 for my students back in LA, and they were all fairly successful. The first was small, seeing as I only had two students, and was held in one of their living rooms. The second was in the same living room, but the number had increased to six students. Last spring was my third with 15 students. Since I had been giving 80% of my lessons at Plymouth Christian Elementary, they let us use their church auditorium for the recital.

Looking at the growth rate of about 50% added students per year, the stats say that I should be looking at a recital for around 30 kids.

But for this year…let’s just say, that my FIRST recital will have 25. The second (on the same day, at a later time) will have 42. And this was only after passing off about 30 of my students to another teacher a month ago. Not exactly what I had in mind!

Finding over 60 recital pieces for beginning piano students is, to say the least TOUGH as nails. What this usually means is that I end up writing myself from scratch on pieces of music paper. The older kids got to actually “pick” their song, but for most of the younger ones I chose tunes that were easily recognizable, like Winnie the Pooh and Beauty and the Beast songs. I can’t TELL you how many requests I had for High School Musical and Hannah Montana songs, but I absolutely refuse to support that. For the very youngest-just-started students, I simply rewrote a song from their lesson book and let them rename it something personal- things like, “Adam’s Power Rangers”, ” “Snow Lollipops”, or “Riding in the Car with My Mom”.

But the biggest challenge, so far, has been the mini-musical I am supposed to put on for my Montessori preschool. My boss chose, “How Does Your Garden Grow”, a small 5 song production about planting good seeds in your life and weeding out the “bad things”. All in all, cute as ever, but there are certain songs….well…they’re hard to get through without laughing. I don’t know if I just have a dirty mind, but….well judge for yourself!

The third song is just for the “weeds” to sing. I divided up the girls and boys for some of these songs. The girls get to sing a waltz-like song called, “We Are the Loveliest Flowers” and the boys get to rap “We’re the Weeds”. Innocent seeming, until the boys start talking about “choking” the flowers and telling them to “beware”. Deflowering, anyone? Oh, and let’s not forget the part where they chant, “WEEDS RULE!” which quite often sounds like “WEED RULES!!” What am I teaching these kids?? Am I supplying “Flexing Poplars” with future drug dependent high schoolers?

The fourth song starts with the line: “Everybody grab a hoe”. Of course, they are referring to the “garden hoedown” they are about to have. But I’ll let you do the math on that one.

Just so you can see that I’m not making this up, here’s a clip I found of another school performing this “WEED RULES” song. Keep in mind that they are all a lot older than the 2-5 year old range I have to work with!! Agh.

We’re performing in 4 more weeks- hang on!

My Weather Instrument

When the weather is getting crazy bad here in Texas, I have the best indicator around.

If you think I’m talking about the weather channel, you’re wrong. Oh, there is one here, don’t get me wrong. In fact, for the first time in my life, I have been paying attention to the weather not just because I don’t want to be caught in a tank top in a random snowstorm or a wool sweater in a muggy-excuse-for-a-day greenhouse.

In other words, the weather channel is no longer about “what to wear”. No, people pay attention to the weather because their life depends on it, especially, from what I hear, in Dallas as opposed to other parts of Texas. We are located in a weird spot where we are subject to the humid/warm tropical winds from the gulf, the hot/dry winds from south/west Texas, and the “arctic chill” that sweeps down from Illinois/Wisconsin.

Normally these extreme elements sweep through one at a time, which explains the fact that during this winter we had a week where it was LITERALLY 80 degrees one day and then snowing less than 12 hours later. And for once, I’m not exaggerating. There was also an afternoon where we experienced a 50 degree drop within 2 hours.

And what happens when all of these elements converge at the same time on the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex? You get extreme weather, bigger-than-life Texas style. If you don’t pay attention to the weather, you could end up getting caught in hail as big as softballs (happened last year in Fort Worth) or getting struck by lightning (happened last week to one of my piano students’ house). We also are subject to out-of-nowhere icestorms and tornadoes.

But I am getting off track. Like I said, remember, I have the best extreme weather indicator around, and it isn’t a weather channel or radar from Radio Shack.

It’s Mirabelle.

Before the first roll of thunder is made audible to our ears, MIrabelle feels it. And, true to Mirabelle’s personal affinity for being afraid of just about everything but her own stupidity, she is terrified. It’s almost as if she says, “I knew that the monsters were real!” It explains why she exhibits open hostility to any “strangers” who enter our home- they could be “agents of the scary voices and low rumblings”.

Whenever the thunder begins, no matter how far away, Mirabelle suddenly loses the ability to walk around standing up. Instead, she gets as low to the ground as possible, spreads all four paws out as far as they can reach, and slithers. Picture Gi-Jo in a trench somewhere in Germany, trying to get low enough to avoid any possible bullets or shrapnel. Now think of how a cat would look doing that, and you have captured what Mirabelle looks like. It’s absolutely hilarious.

At first, I wondered if she was playing charades with us. My guesses would have been, “snake!” or “gecko!”. But then the thunder and lightning came just a few minutes later, and I put two and two together. It’s also entertaining to pick her up during these times, because she hangs there like a limp ragdoll. It’s like she suddenly gets so scared that she loses all motor-control function and can only flop like jello.

In all fairness, the thunder and lightning here are pretty scary, and yet strangely fascinating at the same time. For instance, all the commotion outside woke me up at around 4am this morning. For a while I found it hard to fall back asleep, first, because it was kinda awesome to look out the window and see jagged forks of lightning split across the sky at a rate of 1-2x/per second (again, I am NOT exaggerating, it was a really really bad storm), and secondly, because a huge part of me was terrified as well.

Coming from living in California my entire life where it rains only a few times a year and I have never ONCE seen lightning fork across the sky, I felt as though I had just stepped into the scene in Bambi where all the animals are hiding and the lightning starts pulsating in time with the orchestra. Only, it seemed as if somebody had taken that part and was playing it over and over and over again with the fast-forward button on. The sky didn’t just light up- it was lots and lots of different neon colors.

And don’t get me started about the thunder- I felt as though an entire army of cymbals was standing right outside our window. Usually, thunder peals gain a little momentum as they play- the low rumble eventually crescendos and becomes a BOOM. But this was like BBBBAAAAAAAAAMMMMBBBBAAAAAAAAMMBAAAAAAAMMMMM!!!! the entire time. And since there wasn’t any pausing in between, it was just one overwhelming sound coming from all directions, like a few hundred trains roaring through.

I asked Jesse if we should wake up and turn on the tv and find out if we were in the middle of a tornado or hurricane. He, of course, rolled over and responded with something about fish. So I lay awake, terrified, with only Mirabelle’s trusty cowering and crawling to confirm my suspicions that were were about to be swallowed by this seemingly apocalyptic storm.

I always knew she was good for something besides destruction.

Busy Weekend!

Sorry that I haven’t posted in a while! We have been very busy this past week. On Friday evening Jesse and I were at UD where we hung out with Katie and Christiana, who were there for “highschool day”.

On Saturday, we went to our “marriage bible study” or whatever you might call it with Heather and Josh. We have it every Saturday (or we’re SUPPOSED to, but in Great Lent anything can happen!) led by Father John. The goal by the end of it is to have a ceremony to get our marriage blessed (it’s like a consolation prize for those who wish they had had an Orthodox wedding:) We are currently reading a letter on marriage written by the Holy Synod of bishops. It’s quite enlightening- did you know that they don’t have vows in Orthodox weddings? Sure, the couple gives their consent to be married (“..I do….) but they don’t say vows. The Orthodox Church does this because they believe that only God can keep vows and only He, therefore, should seal the marriage with HIS vows. Kinda cool!

Anyways, after that we went to Vespers and came home exhausted. On Sunday after church, we stayed for what seemed like HOURS talking to people (almost everyone had cleared out by the time we left!) and then went home to clean to get ready for company. See, during the course of the afternoon I had realized that this was the last Sunday that we would be free in a while and that we hadn’t spent any time with our group of friends in a couple weeks. So, without asking Jesse (who has huge papers due very soon!) I invited them all over;) He ended up being fine with it, so we went to Whole Foods and bought veggie rolls and soy sauce for serving and went home to clean the house.

It was great having everyone over, especially as it was a “wine, fish and oil day”- the Orthodox version of a fast freebee day. Most people take wine to mean alcohol, although there have been Russian dioceses that simply could not fathom telling anyone to fast from beer- I mean, what else were they going to drink?

Anyways, Heather and Josh definitely brought beer while Carissa had made a wonderful veggie/rice casserole to accompany her Lenten chocolate chop cookies. Jenny, of course, brought a fruit salad, while was nice since I never manage to eating the fruit I buy before it goes bad:(

I have one picture to show you why Jesse and I are waiting to have children. He had WAY to much fun setting Genevieve up for this.