Christ is Risen Mary Karr

Gabriel convened a plushie meeting a week ago Saturday night (attendees had to bring their “yes” tickets as proof of invitation) to discuss our plans, each of us, for the following day.

His were concrete and Easter-basket driven: get up and have a special breakfast (pancakes or waffles count); wait for daddy to hide the Easter eggs; find the Easter eggs; come back inside and see what the Easter bunny brought (his belief in the power of the Bunny still rooted and strong).

J went next. J, with his grown-into, contrarian, slightly depressive (particularly as the day wears on) nature: Easter isn’t about a reedonkulous Bunny! I want to read the story about Jesus rising from the dead!

G proceeds to crawl under his bed, feelings hurt. John tells G that J has a right to free speech, and that we need to honor that. Come out, he says. Don’t get your feelings hurt. G crawls back out and puts his head on John’s lap. I admonish J for being mean about his free speech; we are in his bed cuddling as all of this unfolds.

My turn. I say that what G says sounds great. That I’d also like to read the Easter story, as this Lent has been a wash in many ways, particularly churchwise. [Birmingham is the nearest full-blown church (we attend a reader’s service in nearer-by Moundville—a church where the priest fell asleep in the Lord over a year ago), but the drive isn’t an easy one and I’m too tired to do it most weekends or with any regularity during the week. The church itself is on the rigorous end of the Orthodox spectrum, and I dread shepherding the boys through it, particularly since they’ve become accustomed to a much shorter reader’s service on Sundays. I only go to Bham when the boys are out of town or sick. So much for my parental and Christian responsibility for their spiritual formation. Epic fail? Perhaps. While I’m OK with that for now—gentleness and patience with myself being my self-chosen spiritual practices this Lent around—I acknowledge a change need be made in the near future).] In the moment, I don’t verbalize that last parenthetical. Instead I add I’d like to get up and have my coffee in my room and rise slowly to the day. Every one seems to approve.

Your turn Daddy, says G. I just want what you guys want, he replies. To the uninstructed reader, this may sound like a cop-out, but G’s cool with the answer, and considering I earlier unleashed my “I-feel-like-a-single-parent” diatribe on John just hours before, having taken the boys to a wondrous creek of a nature preserve by myself earlier in the day, I know he’s doing his best to do what he barely finds himself capable of doing. Suffice to say, I don’t know what it’s like to live his life, and best as I can imaginestand (my just-now-made-up word to convey how I try to understand his particular way of being in the world), surrender to our wishes is a spiritual discipline he practices quite regularly, willingly, and graciously.

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The day itself comes quietly and peacefully. The sun couldn’t have been brighter. All progressed as most all of us wished: coffee in my room (served by John), check; waffles, check; egg hunt, check; Easter baskets, check; Mediterranean pieced-together feast, check. We didn’t get to the Easter story until Monday night, but we aren’t known for being timely. In the afternoon the boys and I vacuum up the spiders in their basement hideout, followed by my sweeping up buckets of pollen-laden fallen leaves and dried up blooms. Late in the afternoon I finish reading Lit, a book by Mary Carr about her journey to sobriety, community, and, in turn, the Catholic faith. The book ended up being my unexpected but welcome companion throughout Holy Week. As Bright Week progresses, I turn to Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved by Beauty, by Kate Hennessy (Day’s granddaughter). Though I have no plans for such, I may yet end up a Southern Catholic of a sort, that being what’s available in this Tuscaloosa of an Alabama. My true home is forever Orthodoxy, but considering my Mennonite Baptist Methodist Presbyterian Episcopalian road trip so far, well, the Lord only knows.

Around here, Southerners like to part with a kind of conversational benediction. Rather than “Have a good day,” they up the ante with “Have a blessed day.” Maybe it’s simply that the novelty of it hasn’t worn off, but I feel a true intention in their words, like a prayer being said over me.

Blessed may it be.

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Nicholas

Yesterday was the feast of St. Nicholas. Jonah and I attended Vespers Wednesday night, after which he was delighted to receive “the big holy bread and wine” (which he had earlier informed me would be his dessert). The bread was blessed in a service directly following Vespers called the Litiya—a fervent, prolonged prayer blessing bread, oil and wine on the eve of a major feast. In the prayer of blessing we ask our Lord that as He blessed the five loaves and fed the five thousand, to bless the loaves, wheat, wine and oil, and to multiply them in all the world; and to sanctify all the faithful who partake of them. Along with the bread, we were anointed with the blessed oil.

My boys love church bread, be it in the form of the Eucharist or the Antidoron (αντίδωρον, antídōron, i.e. a “gift returned” or “in place of the Gifts”), which is received both after the Eucharist and then at the end of Liturgy. Anyone can partake of this holy bread, and it’s fun to share—though difficult to keep the crumbs off pews and shirts and floors. I was very emphatically taught in my home Church that anything blessed should never touch the floor, including bread crumbs. I follow the boys around like a dog trying to catch their crumbs, instructing them to lick their hands, brushing the traces from the corners of their mouths and eating them myself. I know. Sounds a little weird, but we Orthodox take our sacraments seriously. If a thing is blessed, it’s holy dagnabit, and should be treated as such.

But as this holy bread tangent is taking over my post, let me return to St. Nicholas. He is beloved not only in our home (who wouldn’t love a saint who leaves gifts in your shoe in the night?) but across the world—for Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox alike. I like saints who bring the people together. A new friend of mine reminded me of a site (The St. Nicholas Center) pertaining to all things Nicholas, where I discovered these illustrations by Elisabeth Jvanovsky. They initially reminded me of the woodcuts done by Fritz Eichenberg for Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker (though significantly pared down). I profess no expertise in art whatsoever, but the simplicity of woodblock prints appeals to my sensibilities. Elisabeth Jvanovsky’s images show and tell as much as any story.

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[If you want to read more about the specific events represented above, go Here.]

The Apolytikion or Troparion (Hymn) of St. Nicholas
the Wonderworker and Archbishop of Myra in Lycia 

In truth you were revealed to your flock as a rule of faith,
an image of humility and a teacher of abstinence;
your humility exalted you;
your poverty enriched you.
Hierarch Father Nicholas,
entreat Christ our God
that our souls may be saved.