Monday, February 15, 2010

Lent Begins

Here is something that I posted on my personal blog site for the beginning of Lent. Many of the ideas are basic, but if any help you in your lenten journey this year, Glory to God.

Lent began this afternoon with the Forgiveness Vespers Service. This is our first year in an Eastern-Rite Orthodox Church. I really enjoyed the service today and look forward to encountering more lenten services the weeks ahead.

The focus of lent is truly about fasting from sin, but fasting from certain foods, prayer, and almsgiving are avenues to this end. Here are some of my "tips" or getting through lent. Let me add the disclaimer that I am NOT an expert at fasting. These are just some things that I have found helpful.

1. Pray! Pray like you are really in a battle (it is more real than we know). If I begin the day praying, I have more energy to journey on and am less likely to despair. I suggest Met. Philaret's prayer for the beginning of the day, and the Lenten standard: The Prayer of St. Ephraim (see below). Really embrace the words and keep them with you throughout the day.

2. Go to the extra church services if at all possible. It is SO encouraging to remember that we (the Church) are all in this together. It is easy to get bitter if you feel alone in fasting. Truly, I have found that struggling through Lent with my fellow parishioners glues our community together in a way that nothing else can.

Since Luke doesn't do well at the night services in general, I am going to try to listen to Ancient Faith Radio podcasts during the season. We will try to actually make it to church too, but it may not always be possible. AFR is such a tremendous resource for families to bring the Church into their homes.

3. Have a project. If you are spending less on food, buy extra food for the local food bank, send money to Haiti, etc... Almsgiving really helps fasting make more sense to me. Volunteering works if you cannot give, just have a goal.

4. Find good recipes and recycle them. I always face the temptation of trying out all sorts of recipes and spending hours in the kitchen. As our priest in CA said, Lent is about simplification. The fast is to focus our minds on the spiritual, not on proper meal preparation., Orthodox Mother's Digest , and this site have hosted several fasting recipe swaps.

5. Have a baked potato night each week. Baked potatoes are great, and there is little prep time involved. I like to rub oil on the skins before baking them. They are 10x better this way and it encourages everyone to eat the skin (the best part in my opinion!). Vegans-serve with baked beans, chopped green onions, BBQ sauce, salt, pepper, grilled onions. Vegetarians- use cheese, cottage cheese, butter, sour cream, etc... Homemade pizza once a week is also good, and fun for a Saturday night.

6. Make breakfast easy. I like Emily's idea of having oatmeal every day. For myself, I know that the more I have to think about, the more distracted with food I become. I also like cheese or a homemade energy bar for breakfast.

7. Prep veggies and fruit and dips to have on hand. Tomorrow I will make hummus, ranch dip (160z sour cream + 1 packet dry ranch dressing mix), and cut up a bunch of carrots.

May God bless you all and multiply your efforts to His glory!

Lenten Prayer Of St. Ephrem The Syrian

O Lord and Master of my life!
Take from me the spirit of sloth,
faint-heartedness, lust of power, and idle talk.

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

Yea, Lord and King! Grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brother, for Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Presentation of Christ in the Temple

On February 2 the Church celebrates Christ's presentation in the Temple. In the Western Church it goes by the name of Candlemas and was traditionally the day to take Christmas decorations down. But I don't know much about the Western traditions other than that.

In the East, this feast commemorates Jesus' first visit to the temple (Luke 2:22-39) 40 days after his birth. It was custom to offer a lamb for sacrifice or two doves (if one was too poor for a lamb). Joseph and Mary brought to doves (they were poor) and Jesus--the Lamb of God. St. Simeon and St. Anna, both of whom were very old were there to witness Christ's entrance. The former's prayer (Lord now lettest thy servant depart in peace according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to enlighten the gentiles and the glory of thy people Israel.) is still a staple prayer in the Eastern Church being said at the end of every Vespers and when leaving the Nave.

In our home, we read this story and talk about how special it is to be able to go to church. We also read My Forty Day Blessing Book by Christina Kyriacou which talks about the blessing infants and their mothers receive when they are churched. We look at pictures of my childrens' churchings and talk about how special it is to be welcomed into our church family in this way.
We also bring a special offering to the church-whether it be money or decorations. I always read the kontakion as well as the scripture readings we will hear in church beforehand so that we can talk about their meanings before and after the service.

For a craft I suggest making a lamb and birds out of paper and cotton balls or other decorations. Coloring pictures of the feast's icon is also of value since it allows children to identify this story when they're looking around during church.