Saint Paisius, pray for us

When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.”  Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!”  The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.  Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!”

 

I had an event in Safford, Arizona scheduled today for work.  Knowing that Safford was home to a Serbian Orthodox monastery, I gladly told the guys I would drive to Safford and meet them.  Afterwards, I planned to stop by St. Paisius and spend some time there.  On my drive down to Safford I was listening to the Gospel of Luke from the Truth and Life New Testament.  Luke is my favorite Gospel as it contains the infancy narrative and since this is the Pre-Nativity season, it seemed like great travelling music.

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When the 7th Chapter of Luke was read, the story of the widow of Nain was played.  During the funeral service of the Byzantine rite, as the casket it being taken out of the church, the procession stops in the Narthex and the Gospel reading of the widow of Nain is read.  I have heard this many times at funerals at my church, but it was especially real for me this year.  I know how powerful these words are.  I can only imagine what it would have been like to have Christ present, touch the bier and say rise!  Yet, through the communion of the saints, in a real way He did say rise!

When I got to St. Paisius, I went to the bookstore and looked at all the great things they had to sell.  Afterwards, one of the sisters took me over to the main church and gave me a tour.  The church is dedicated to St. Anastasija and is setup in an Orthodox cathedral style.  There were many icons, a beautiful iconastasis and chandelier.  The sister spent much time with me answering my questions and showing me around.  Sister asked me if I was Orthodox and I told her no, I’m an Eastern rite Catholic.  She asked where my parish was and the name.  When I told her, she said yes, I know your parish.  They have ordered from our gift shop several times.  She said, I believe I’ve spoken to Theresa during the order process.  I smiled and told her that Theresa reposed in April.  She dropped her eyes, crossed herself and expressed her sorrow.

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She asked if I had children and if it would be okay to add Theresa to their prayer intentions for the deceased, along with Ryan and I to the prayer intentions for the living.  She took down the information and said that for the next 40 days, all of us would be included in all of the services of the church.  At that time, Fr. Dorotheos the spiritual father attached to the monastery came into the church.  Sister asked if she could share my story with Father and she did.  He was so understanding and full of joy.  He took out his “little black book”, added the names of Theresa & Dad to the deceased he prays for, as well as Ryan, Mom and I to those left behind.  He wanted to know about me, what my spiritual life was like and to offer up words of wisdom to me.  He invited me to come back to the monastery for a retreat, which I will gladly take him up on.

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Sister gave me an Akathist to Jesus Christ for a Loved One who has Fallen Asleep.  She walked me around to a few of the original chapels on the property.  There was a beautiful spot under a bright yellow tree near the chapel.  I told her that I was going to sit for a while and pray the Akathist she had given to me.

The 4th Kontakion reads: The tempests of life have passed, earthly sufferings are ended, the enemies with their malice are powerless; but love is strong, delivering from eternal darkness and saving all, for whom with boldness it raises a song to Thee: Alleluia!”

As I was praying that Kontakion, the wind picked up and the leaves that had fallen on the ground swirled around me.  This went on for about two minutes.  And just as quickly as the wind came up, it went away.  I’ve had this experience many times when I’ve visited the Columbarium in Phoenix, the last time being December 4th when Ryan visited for the first time.  Each time I experience it, the hair raises on the back of my neck and I know that it is a sign of the hope of the resurrection.

When I finished up the Akathist, I reflected on the words that Fr. Dorotheos said to me, and I had another moment come to me, much like the experience I had at the seminary in June 2015.  That is going to require some time to understand, but it was powerful none the less. I left St. Paisius full of joy and reflecting on the verse listed at the top of this post.  While Jesus was not bodily present in the Narthex on April 21st and there was no earthly miracle that day, God did speak the word Rise and gave Theresa back to her Mother..The Holy Theotokos.  Truly God has looked favorably on his people.

 

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Thank you O Holy Trinity for good and holy monastics, priests and bishops!

A Year of First Moments

First Moments

              On December 6, the Eastern Church celebrates the feast of St. Nicholas.  Our parish holds a St. Nicholas celebration on the Sunday before St. Nicholas day.  It is always a good time and seeing the joy on the face of the kids is powerful. This was the first St. Nicholas day that Ryan knew that the person in the bishop outfit wasn’t the real St. Nicholas.  It was also the first St. Nicholas day without his mom.

The start of the St. Nicholas day weekend didn’t go so good.  I had a voicemail from school at 8:30am on Friday.  When I listened to it, Ryan was asking for other numbers to reach his Dad.  I called his teacher and she explained that Ryan was having a bad day, curled up in a ball on the playground and that he only wanted to talk to me.  She called back a few minutes later and Ryan was on the phone. He told me he was sad because his friends were asking about his grandparents from his Mom.  He knows they were not good people and that he was sad that they were mean to her.  He went on to say that he will never see or hear his Mom again and that made him sad.  We talked about that, he asked me to tell him a funny story about Theresa and he went back to class.

When he got home that night we talked about the day and he asked to read the blog that I had kept during Theresa’s journey.  I had reactivated it to download the website for archiving, so I let him read it. I asked him to read it from oldest to newest and he did.  When he finished, the tears and snot were flying.  He said some of the same things he said on April 17th.  It’s not fair that Mom won’t be there to see me graduate high school, graduate college, start an engineering company, get married and be a grandma.  After he settled down a bit he asked me to take him to Phoenix to see his Mom.  Saturday was going to be too busy, so I said Sunday would work best.

After church on Sunday we drove to Phoenix and he asked if we could stop and get some flowers.  He chose pink, I chose tulips as they were Theresa’s favorite.  When we got to the columbarium, we went over to the St. Nicholas section and he spent about 5 minutes holding the flowers, placing his hand on the marker and talking to his Mom.  He walked around the pathway a few times, each time returning to the St. Nicholas section and staring at Theresa’s marker.  He noticed that she was in the St. Nicholas section and said isn’t it neat that we came up here after celebrating St. Nicholas day at church.  That was a special moment and will probably become an annual tradition.  We left a prayer card of St. Michael that was given to me by a nurse in July.  On the back is a prayer for law enforcement and it seemed fitting to leave that along with the byzantine cross that I put on her marker on the same day I got the prayer card.

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He saw a bench and asked if we could talk.  When we sat down he said, “Isn’t it special that Mom didn’t want to leave us.  That she told Father she wasn’t at peace with leaving us”.  I said that she didn’t want to leave us and given the choice, she would never had left.  He looked at me and asked “If it was you lying in the bed instead of Mom, would you have wanted to leave?”  I told him my response would have been the same as Theresa’s.  I would have never chosen to leave them alone.  He said I believe that Mom will be a saint someday.  I told him she will probably never be a named saint, but that any just spirit brought to perfection is a saint.  I believe with all my being that Theresa is or will be brought to perfection in the Kingdom.  He told me that he understands why it happened.  I asked him about that and he said that we don’t know why God chose to take Mom, but it is his choice to give or take life and that we won’t understand until it is our turn.  There is a wisdom in my little boy that far surpasses most adults walking the earth.  How many people are mired in sadness or grief at the loss of someone to death, divorce or any other reason.  They can’t function, they won’t get out of bed.  Yet, here is my 10 year old boy explaining to me the Divine Kingship of God. After a bit, we got back in the car and drove home.

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Tuesday was the feast day of St. Nicholas.  I went out to the gym for some exercise and when I returned home I found a written page in Ryan’s journal sitting on my desk.  Before bed he wrote: “Dear Log, This is a rough part of my life. (The first Christmas without mom.)  These words pain me, even though they are true.  Brian and Breelynn are constantly yakking about what they are going to get their moms. I wish I could join them. At least I still have Dad.  There is a line in a Keith Urban song that says, “You and me gonna be all right”.  I feel that is true for me and dad.  I did not tell him this, but I say this to him: I love you.  These were his words, not something he was told to write, not something he copied from a book or page.  These came straight from the heart.

I went into his room and he was already falling asleep.  I laid down with him for a few minutes and told him, “You’re right.  You and me are gonna be alright…I love you Ryan”  He stirred, woke up for a minute and gave me a big smile.  He remembered that it was St. Nicholas day and sat his shoes out.  St. Nicholas brought him a Hershey bar, some M&M’s and a beautiful orchid with Theresa’s holy card.IMG_20161206_210308