Tuesday, December 31
Monday, December 30
We painted on canvas today... I found a good deal on a package of them and so they became our little Twelve Days of Christmas treat this afternoon. It was fun! They are currently drying on our kitchen counter and I am looking forward to hanging their artwork up. Canvases are more satisfying than a crinkly piece of paper, that is for sure!
I have been greedily watching episodes of Sherlock the past few nights. It is an interesting show and keeps me occupied while I knit. I've developed a bad habit of needing something to listen to/watch while I knit and this is filling in for all of the shows that are on hiatus for Christmas break right now.
A few week ago, I noticed a sweet little terracotta Nativity set on my sister's bedside table. She told me that my godmother (who generously sends us all Christmas presents all the way from England!) gave it to her last Christmas. Imagine my delight when I opened our Christmas parcel from Aunt Sarah last night and found the same set in my package! Hooray! Now I am copying my little sister and have it next to my bed. It will have to be moved though because it has captured the attention of a certain three-year-old who promptly tucked it into his sleeper for safe keeping (??). Luckily he was caught before it was crushed.
Tomorrow's a big day! Sweet dreams!
Saturday, December 28
So far it has happened that we have had a quiet day for every busy day that we have had this Christmas. I love that it worked out like that! Today is a quiet one. The best part so far today is that I finally got to eat bacon this morning! Yum! I have really been waiting for it!
Today will be spent getting ready for the Christmas brunch and caroling we are hosting at the rectory tomorrow after Liturgy. I cannot wait! Aside from giving our children the gift of music (!), this is why I wanted a piano... we have a talented pianist friend and she will be doing the honors tomorrow. It will be beautiful.
My Christmas candle is lit (with Christmas matches!), the kettle is whistling, and my yarn is waiting. I'll be sure to share photos from the party tomorrow!!
Friday, December 27
Thursday, December 26
Today was a quiet one. The little ones seemed to just know that was what they needed too, and so they spent the day with new art supplies (three new favorites: a huge set of art supplies from Grandmama and Grandpapa and two new books from our good friends: Nature to Color and 200 paper Plane to Fold and Fly).
One of the things that we did differently this year was presents and I hope that I remember to do it again in future years. We always give a stocking full of goodies and three gifts to each child on Christmas Day. We also exchange gifts with grandparents, godparents, and several friends and that adds up to a lot of gifts! This year, I left all of the gifts from faraway friends and family in a large box in our closet and only put out the gifts from Mama and Papa. The children opened up their stockings before Liturgy and then their gifts from us in the early afternoon. Last night before bed, they each opened up a gift from our friends and then this morning they received a gift from my parents, one from their godparents and one from generous parishioners. It has been so lovely to open things slowly and really savor the things that they receive. We still have two more small gifts to open in the coming days, so it should really spread things out nicely.
There is still so much to celebrate... I can hardly believe that Christmas is really here! I hope that you are having a wonderful Christmas too!
Wednesday, December 25
Thy Nativity, O Christ our God,
Hast shone to the world the Light of wisdom!
For by it, those who worshipped the stars,
Were taught by a Star to adore Thee,
The Sun of Righteousness,
And to know Thee, the Orient from on High.
O Lord, glory to Thee!
Tuesday, December 24
Other than the stress of present buying, this Christmas Lent has been so low key. We've stayed home a lot and have not done all of the things that we normally do, but now the frenzy starts. The little ones and I had well-visits to the doctor today and a massive grocery shopping trip to two different stores. Once we stumbled home at about 2, I made a bowl of popcorn, plugged in the tree, lit a fire in the hearth, and popped in Little Women. We just lay there for two hours.
Once I got my second wind, the children and I did a very quick run through the house vacuuming, mopping, and scrubbing. They had a little dinner and were dispatched off to bed just a bit later than usual and I commenced cookie baking. I am not great at baking cut-out cookies and normally I just skip them, but I really felt like trying them this year and so I did. Two pounds of butter later, I have a tidy stack of chocolate sugar cookies shaped like angels and a tin full of Danish butter hearts dressed up with colored sugar. Plus, the dough for gingerbread cookies all ready to go in the fridge!
The little ones are off to Grandma's tomorrow so that I can get as much of the Christmas cooking done as possible. I really don't want to be in the kitchen much on Christmas, so my menu is full of things that can be made ahead of time or slow cooked all day long. Exciting!
Monday, December 23
Cheese, Sausage, Pepperoni, and Crackers
Vegetable Platter with Bacon Ranch Dip
Green Beans and Sauteed Mushrooms
I can't wait!
Sunday, December 22
The Ugly Child sighed. "It's beautiful," he said, and his odd brown eyes twinkled deep in his crumply face. "Now, it must be time for the feast."
Saturday, December 21
Q. Is it an Orthodox practice to pray in one’s own words? Or do we only pray with prayer books?
A. This is an excellent question, and the answer is definitely “yes” as Orthodox Christians we should learn to pray in our own words. But before prayer in one’s own words can develop properly, one must first learn how to pray and what to pray for. This is why the disciples asked Christ to teach them to pray, so that they could pray in spirit and truth.
Now, as we know, prayer to God can take on a variety of forms, but as St. Basil the Great says there are four types of prayer which are absolutely necessary for the Christian to develop in order to have a healthy relationship with God: 1) petition – in which we ask for those things necessary for salvation; 2) repentance – in which we confess our sins and change our life by keeping the commandments; 3) thanksgiving – in which we offer to God our gratitude for all He has done for us; 4) praise – in which we glorify God, being enrapt in His divine goodness. Since the prayers of the Church include all four of these types of prayer, they help us become well rounded Christians. They help us not only avoid unhealthy types of prayer such as complaining or self-justification, but they also help us move beyond simply asking God for things in a selfish way, to giving Him thanks for everything, confessing our sins before Him, and praising Him for His great goodness.
These prayers of the Church which we find in prayer books were written by the Saints, those men and women who passed through all the stages of the spiritual life on their way to union with God. One could even say that the Saints have left us their prayers as a spiritual roadmap to the Kingdom, for they teach us not only how and what we should pray for on our Christian journey but also what our hearts should feel and how our minds should think. When we make the prayers of the Church our own through attention and feeling we put ourselves on that same straight and narrow path which the Saints themselves took, that path which leads from earth to heaven.
Now it will happen that after time, when we start to become accustomed to praying in the manner of the Saints, we will feel prayer taking on its own life within us, and even when we do not have our prayer books before us we will start to feel the need to 1) seek those things necessary for salvation, 2) ask the Lord’s forgiveness and repent, 3) offer Him thanksgiving, and 4) praise God. At these times, when we are moved by the Spirit, our prayer can take on its own words and be very pleasing to God.
Q. How should we pray in our own words?
A. Prayer in our own words should be simple and direct. There is no need for eloquence or verbosity. In fact, at times there is no need for words at all. God knows what is in our minds and hearts even before we have a chance to verbalize our thoughts and feelings. It is enough simply to say, “Lord, have mercy” or “Thank You, Lord”. Or to say the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me” or in the plural form, “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on us”. Whatever our pray is, it should be spiritual not intellectual, it should come from the heart, wherein resides the Holy Spirit who cries unto God, “Abba, Father!”
Q. What is the best way to develop this spiritual prayer?
A. Each person is different and no two peoples’ prayer life develops in exactly the same way. However, generally speaking we should apply ourselves to both prayer with books as well as prayer in our own words. In the morning and evening, and before and after meals, we should use the prayers given to us by the Church, those prayers which we find in Orthodox prayer books. And at all other times, whether we be at home or work, during the day or at night, we should seek to remember God through short simple prayers such as “Lord, have mercy” or the Jesus Prayer.
The more we apply ourselves to continual prayerful remembrance of God, the more we will start to see a change in our lives. We will become not only more sensitive to the Lord’s presence among us and within us, but also more sensitive to the presence of our neighbor and his or her temporal and eternal needs. We will begin to become more spiritual people, not in the prideful sense – may the Lord preserve us from this – but in the sense that we will start to realize are destiny to live in loving, self-sacrificial communion with God and each other.
Anyway, it is a daily struggle (for all of us) to put Him first, but the great thing about it is that when we do we are guaranteed that everything will turn out for the best (even if we can't always see it from our human perspective). Hard work in the spiritual life always is worth it.
Q. How do prayer and the keeping of the commandments actually affect our daily lives? Don't we say that everything that happens to us is part of God's providence? If so, what's the point? We can't really change our destiny, can we?
A. Though the Lord works in mysterious ways, arranging all things according to His Providence, we do actually have a crucial part to play in choosing our own destiny, both in this life and the next.
As the Scriptures teach us, just because God is all-powerful and always desires what is best for us, this does not mean that He will force us to enter into His Kingdom. He respects our free will so much that He even allows us to choose hell, both in this life and the next. Though He desires to shower us with His goodness in an infinite measure, in order not to infringe on our free will, He limits His goodness to us to the measure that we are willing to receive it from Him by working with Him - keeping His commandments, praying to Him, etc..
That's why when we keep the commandments or pray "Lord have mercy" we should remind ourselves that we are not trying to convince the Lord to be merciful to us - how silly would it be to think that we sinners can convince the Lord of infinite goodness, love, and wisdom to be more merciful or more loving. Prayer and the keeping of the commandments have their power to change our destiny not because we convince God to do something better for us, but because through prayer and the keeping of the commandments we become humbler and more open to His action in our lives - we allow Him to work wonders on our behalf - the greatest wonder being the gift of salvation. In the spiritual life, the simple rule is: the measure in which we change (repent, turn to the Lord, keep the commandments, etc) is the same measure in which we will receive God's mercy. I think that this is really what St. Anthimos of Chois was getting at when he said that "the Goodness of God is so rich in graces, that it seeks a cause to have mercy on a person."
Wednesday, December 18
It was lovely to wake up to a little dusting of snow this morning! It was a nice crunchy crust when we took a little walk this morning, but now that the sun has shone on it, it is all gone. I know that this is nothing to most of you, but it could be all we get where we live, so I had to document it!
Monday, December 16
I am out of yarn! Ack! I could easily get some more, but I have decided to lay aside my needles in favor of paper for this week. I made two enormous paper snowflakes for our playroom windows last night and have plans to cut out snowflakes from coffee filters and cupcake liners tonight. This is my favorite time of year!
I moved the furniture around again in our playroom and though I love where our feastday shelf is now situated, it is a dark corner... especially in the mornings. The Saint Herman books have been tucked away (until August) and now we are enjoying our favorite Christmas books. A year or two ago, Grace mentioned The Story of Christmas on her blog (she has lovely Christmas book lists!) and we bought it. It is such a gorgeous book with all of the illustrations done in cut paper. I love that The Mother of God is wearing red and blue and that Saint Joseph is depicted as an old man. Children's books are my favorite sort of book... I think that I will still have shelves full when our little ones are all grown up.
This week is relatively quiet. We have schoolwork to do, a little bit of cleaning, and lots of organizing/decluttering (I'm working my way through the house before Christmas). We will buy a tree on Saturday or Sunday and decorate it. There is also a a Messiah sing-a-long at a local church that we'd like to take the children to and then we are only a few days away from Nativity! I can't believe it! All I want for Christmas is bacon!
Sunday, December 15
Q. Why is the Nativity of Christ celebrated on December 25th?
A. There are two main explanations as to why the Church chose to celebrate the Nativity of Christ on December 25th.
The first says that the day was chosen to oppose the great pagan feast of the sun god, which was celebrated near December 22nd at the Winter Solstice, the time of year when the days started to get longer again (at least in the northern hemisphere). It is believed that the Church chose December 25th, because it ensured that Christians would be fasting during the pagan celebration and would therefore not easily be tempted to participate. And also because it would help the pagans to leave off worshiping the false sun god and instead celebrate the coming of the True God, “the Sun of Righteousness”.The second explanation says that the day was chosen in relation to the feast of the Annunciation, which was celebrated on March 25th commemorating the supernatural conception of the Lord in the womb of the Virgin Mary. The Annunciation was celebrated on this day because of the belief in the ancient world that great men died on the same day as they were conceived. Since the Lord was believed to have been crucified on March 25th, it also came to be believed that He was likewise conceived on this day. And since it followed that the Lord’s birth would be nine months after His conception, the feast of His Nativity was set on December 25th.