Reflection: spring

Alright everyone, Lent has been kind of crazy. All the focus on internal work and spiritual readings has left me exhausted. Every Lent there is always something to push you, either with kids or health, there is always some struggle for Lent that comes your way. 

New York has not been kind to us Californians with the weather this Lent either. First there was a snow storm that left a brand new huge patch of snow and now there are non stop showers. Cabin fever is real. The community here seems to be non stop sick so we have been avoiding all people, making it harder to just hang out with the kids all day. 

Spring weather always seems to show up at the right time around Pascha/Easter. Last year Pascha was in May, way different than the Western calendar but the weather seemed to still go with the Lenten season. It was in the 30’s until end of April last year. This year seems to be the same. As Holy Week will be soon upon us it is already in the 50’s creating hope for glorious Pascha sunshine. 

As I sit and contemplate the spring and try to gear my thoughts towards the end of Lent, I leave you with this thought from St. Nikolai Velimirovic:

Contemplate the Lord Jesus in death:

  1. How all of nature trembled when He gave up the spirit, as though to protest against this criminal act of the race of men;
  2. How the earth quaked, the sun was darkened, the rocks were split, the veil of the Temple was rent, and the graves were opened.
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Homeschooling: Lent

Here are some things that I try to do different for my family during Lent. We do have books we read throughout Lent some are pictured above. 

In the Candles Glow– Great story about a girl that says prayers in front of candles. Great illustrations. You can get it through Ancient Faith Publishing.

Saint Herman of Alaska- He is one of our favorite saints and this book is a favorite for kids showing them his life and devotion to prayer. This one is from SVS press

Monk who grew in prayer- Wonderful book about the hours of the church as prayed by a monk.

Joseph and his brothers- we found this one at the monastery I believe they are on Ancient Faith Publishing also.

Orthodox kindergarten- This book is great for 2yr olds, it is a lot of simple things that the child can identity in the church and different icons also. This one is from Ancient Faith also.

We are getting Pascha Passports this year here is the link:

https://lenten-embassy.myshopify.com/collections/lenten-journey-for-the-family

It is affordable, a great teaching tool and beautiful!

Most of my teaching will come from the Good Shepherd program. Our first presentation will be on the altar and then I am mostly going to focus on Jesus’s life throughout Lent. Using the geography presentations, the Good Shepherd presentation, Annunciation, then Holy Week. More on those later. 

I just wanted to mention a thought on simplicity. With kids, less is more, some parents feel like they have to do all these things for the child to “get it” or understand the importance of Lent. I get it, because it’s important to us as well. However, sometimes choosing less activities and simpler ones can make a world of a difference in how kids progress things. In a book Religious Potential of a Child, the author has many examples of kids having that want of a connection to their Creator, with many examples of kids with no knowledge of God having that yearning. In terms of simplicity and teaching I try to think about that and think of opportunities for living discussions not only activities. 

How are you doing Lent with your kids? 

Reflection: Forgiveness 

Today is Cheesfare Sunday for Orthodox Christians everywhere. That means Lent is officially here. We all have a special service to start the event titled Forgiveness Vespers. We all line up and face our community and ask each other for forgiveness. I personally love this service as it’s the perfect start to the Lent and the main focus of the season. Now is the time for reflection, quiet, peace, prayer and service to ones neighbors.

Every year as Lent rolls around I get sad about all the meat and cheese we will miss but joyful also because it cannot come at a more perfect time. I stand there and face the people I go to church with first. The priests that work so hard. I ask them their forgiveness and they as me for mine in return. My friends and neighbors follow. I know that I need to ask them their forgiveness because at some point during the year I did have bad thoughts or even said mean words against them. Lastly, I stand before my husband, I look into his eyes and ask him to forgive me for anything that I might have offended him for. He asks the same of me. We bow to each other and forgive one another. 

It is such a humbling experience to go through every year. I walk my overly tired kids back to the house and I try to keep my peace as long as possible. My sons loose it and I loose it on them. Bam. My peace is gone. I blame myself. All the wrong thoughts come into my head. My husband walks in and calms the storm. 

As I sing my goodnight song to my oldest son I know what I have to do.

“Buddy, I’m sorry I was angry just now. I will try to do better next time. Will you forgive me?” I say to my son.

“Yeah mama.”

Blessed Lent everyone.

Food: Lent


Let’s talk food and Lent. This blog is for all those people out there that have Great Lent some what on their minds. Yes I realize that it is Meat-fare Sunday this Sunday but before you know it Lent is going to creep in with all the extra services. In order to not loose my own mind with kids and husband that’s going to be traveling I thought I’d start planning earlier this year.

So for those of you that do not know about Lent in the Orthodox Church we give up all meat and dairy until Pascha/Easter. I believe the Catholic calendar with Easter is the same as Orthodox so we will be sharing in the celebration. This year my husband is also traveling a lot going to different parishes all over the East Coast here for the extra services. So enough of that let’s plan…

Lenten Pantry List

Dairy substitute 

  • Nut milks such as coconut or almond

Proteins 

  • Dried beans such as garbanzos and black beans (also get canned versions for quick prep sometimes dried beans take a long time to cook)
  • Cashews, almonds, walnuts
  • Quinoa 
  • Nut butters

Egg substitute 

  • Chia seeds
  • Stores have egg replacement nowadays 

Grains

  • Oatmeal 
  • Rice
  • Pasta

Fats

  • Vegan mayo
  • Avocados
  • Olive oils
  • Coconut oil for cooking 
  • Sunflower oil

Flavor Enhancers

  • Salsa
  • Curry sauce 
  • Dijon mustard 
  • Nutritional yeast
  • Soy miso
  • Enchilada sauce 
  • Pizza sauce 

So you got your pantry stocked what to do now? Plan meals with them. There are a lot of vegan recipes out there online on Pinterest or with recipe books. Find a recipe book that works for you. Not the most popular one but one that works for you. Look at the list and see if it’s honestly doable for your family. If you have homeschooling on top of meal planning and a crazy complex recipe that might stress you out. Choose easy meals that you can do for service days and then rotate them for each week like good ol pasta and sauce. Also veggie pizza is a good one. Have your recipes ready.

Make a meal plan for the week for the month, all of Lent if that is what works for you. I personally make weekly meal plans. I look at all the services I’d like to attend, plan the meals around that. Also make extra batches and put them into the fridge for lunch or starters for the next day. If you go shopping with your kiddos know where your beans are in the store, know where your vegan stuff is so you don’t have to wander the isles with crazy kids. Save your sanity. I went to the store the other day and just looked at where this stuff was that I would need to buy later.

Lent is for our spiritual benefit. It’s not about the food and crazy prep time. With a little bit of planning it could be a lot of stress off your shoulders. 

Blessed Feast!

Blessed Fest everyone! Today marks the day that our Lord and God and Savor Jesus Christ came into Jerusalem to be crucified. This Feast always makes me ponder how the people that welcome Him as a king later were the same people that said “crucify Him!” Here He is, the only sinless one. Final stretch. Time when we might as well be spending the night at church because of all the services and preparation for Pascha.

“for Thou art Holy…

always now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen”

As we gear up for the end of Lent and the beginning of Holy Week I think about how fast Lent went by this year. Maybe it is because it is true what they say about being a parent, life just moves faster once you have children. Maybe it is the lack of sleep and getting up every hour to comfort my son that  is having a difficult time that made the days and nights blend in together. Whatever the reason I am glad that it is almost over and also sad. Glad because it has been a hard journey but sad because it has been spiritually refreshing. As my brother in law is getting ready to be get baptized this Lazarus Saturday I ponder on how he is just beginning his spiritual journey with Christ. Aren’t we all just beginners?

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“And not to judge my brothers”

Let compassion overcome your timidity…Give something however small to the one in need; for it is not small to the one who has nothing; neither is it small to God, if we have given what we could. And if you have nothing, give of your tears. Great is the comfort to the afflicted of the sympathy that comes from the heart. St. Gregory of Nazianzus

I recently started thinking about compassion and how am I going to teach my child compassion in the midst of this world that seems to lack it more and more everyday. First thought that came into my head is that our home has to be a compassionate environment from which he can learn by example. I am trying more and more each day to be mindful of my actions and how I can correct them to live a more Christ centred life. There are plenty of opportunities everyday that teach me to be compassionate and not judge my brothers. But in the middle of our everyday struggles compassion is something that sometimes gets less attention then other things.  Something so simple such as saying a prayer for someone in need or giving a helping hand seems to have gone out the window for me as of now since in my own opinion I am too busy. How dare Christ ask me to be compassionate in the middle of this busy and restless time in my life?

That is what I find myself asking as I try to make it daily through my own sins. Lack of compassion for me seems to also bring on judgement. I see someone in need and don’t help them and make a judgement towards them as some sort of justification for my lack of compassion. To not judge our brothers is hard for many people it seems like. It is so easy to do in this society that has talk shows and TV shows that do just that, judge. Talk talk talk, intellect, intellect, intellect. We are told by society that we should have an opinion about even the smallest things. How can we even begin a fight against judgement?

When asked how we inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, Christ replies with the parable of the Good Samaritan. For me is seems like compassion leads to less judgement. Such a simple recipe but a tough thing to put into action. Ready here we go, my challenge. To stop and be compassionate towards people either something small like a prayer or something bigger like actually taking the time to listen to someone in need. And here is the biggie…No judgement. One, two, three…GO!

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“Yes Oh Lord and King grant me to see my own sins”

To see ones own sins is both a blessing and a curse. It is really hard to know the truth about ones self. To be fully shown how by my own sins drag me down and affects me. It can also be a blessing since once we see our own sins we have the ability to repent and try to live a better way of life. I never like going to confession but once I go and receive absolution I feel like a brand new person that is able to continue the good fight. There is a reason why confession in the Orthodox Church is a sacrament. It is a mystery that I do not even want to know an answer to just like the Mother of God and the Incarnation, there are some things that I really do not want an explanation for. To see my own sins is what we ask God to grant us during Lent so that we can repent but the process of it and actually experiencing it is a different story.

Someone once told me that as a parent you will truly see yourself and know who you really are. I am beginning to see what they were talking about. I look at my impatience as a new mother and really try to correct it everyday but I get more impatient with myself because things never go the way I want them to. So the battleground that is in my heart has become a fight between pride, because I want things when I want them, and patience which the Lord teaches me every day with my son. The Lord by His great mercy allows us to see our sins one at a time it seems like. Like an iceberg if we were to see the whole bottom part of the iceberg it would be scary to even travel near it. Same with our sins, if we were to see all of our sins at once we would just fall into despair and never look back. “Oh look at all my sins and my inability to do anything holy” I complain to my spiritual father. “Yes and look at Gods mercy as He works out your salvation.”

Grant me to see my own sins. Probably the hardest thing we can ever ask God. It is this part of the St. Ephraim prayer that I struggle with most of all because truth is I do not want to think of myself as a horrible person. Part of it is because in this society we are told to feel good about ourselves the majority of the time and if we don’t then fill in the blank for a quick fix remedy that is prescribed by your TV, food, games, shoes, lattes, etc. I do not want to see my sins because that means I am doing something wrong, how can that be? Is there such a thing as perfection?

Recently my quest for perfection has made me realize many things about myself. It made me realize that my quest for perfection is based on society’s standards and not the Churches teachings. It is when I try to be perfect that I fall into other temptations such as judging and end up being the Pharisee. It is hard for a new mom such as myself to not look at other moms and wonder how they are raising their children and judge them. Yes, to see my own sins is a blessing and a curse. It is in seeing my own sins that I realize more and more that there is no such thing as perfection for me right now. I may never be a perfect mom or a perfect wife. As long as I continue to strive towards Christ and follow His commandments that is when I can somehow someway begin to transform my life into a better one. A perfection that is in Christ alone not some idea of perfection. It is a hard and narrow road but well worth it in the end.

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Feast of Annunciation

Troparion — Tone 4

Today is the beginning of our salvation,

The revelation of the eternal mystery!

The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin

As Gabriel announces the coming of Grace.

Together with him let us cry to the Theotokos:

Rejoice, O Full of Grace, The Lord is with You!

Today is the Feast of Annunciation! Today is when an event fulfilled God’s promise to Abraham, completes the Law of Moses and fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies concerning the coming of the the Messiah. If only more people understood what it means that God became man for us, this feast would be as important as Pascha! Blessed feast everyone enjoy the fish we are allowed to feast on today during this great and Holy Lent.

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“Before Thy cross we bow down in worship oh Master…

And Thy holy resurrection we glorify.”

Most Christians wear crosses around their neck as a necklace to show that they are followers of Christ. This Sunday of the Cross in Orthodox Christianity symbols for us that first off we have somehow through great suffering not only made it half way through Lent but that we also have a cross to bear if we want to follow Christ. I wear a cross around my neck to remind myself of the cross that I must bare as a Christian. My little bundle of joy got a cross when he got baptized as well since he also will bear his own cross in life. The good thing about the cross is that not only does it mean that we have to bear a cross in life but also the resurrection of Christ as well. This got me thinking about the cross and the resurrection and about the everyday woes in my own life that have happened and how by the cross they were conquered.

During our recent trip to the pediatrician’s office we got the news that most new time parents dread. “Well it looks like your son has eczema AND is teething.” What happens now we wonder? This is a whole new experience that we do not know how to handle just when we thought that things were somehow beginning to fall into place. Hmmm teething, that explains the restlessness and sleepless nights then. Talk about feeling like a bad parent when you get frustrated with your child about waking you up more often at night and being mad and then realizing that they are in a lot of pain and are itchy, what a bad combination. It made me think about the cross that he has to start bearing in life even while he is so young and how he has to start having to deal with things that are unpleasant for him. As he becomes more and more restless and we try to deal with his painful and itchy problem I start to realize that his little cross affects us as I am sure his decisions he will make in life will forever impact us in some way as parents. For the first time ever I start thinking… Are we all connected?

My spiritual father once told me that community is very important in our lives. Community that understands what we are going through that are striving for the same things in life. He also talked to me a lot about how my own sins effect others just like my accomplishments effect them as well. We are taught by Christ Himself to pray for each other to love one another to the point of even loving our enemies. How can we not be connected right? We begin each Lent by asking forgiveness of one another. We suffer through Lent together side by side and try to encourage one another in this spiritual life.

So as this Sunday of the Cross marks the middle of Lent and we brace ourselves at our home here for more waking up during the night to deal with an itch monster I start to realize more and more that my sins do effect my family, my friends, my church community. I have to bear my own cross and deal with my own set backs in life just like every person, even my little 4 month old has set backs he has to start dealing with now.  All I can do now is hope in that cross and love it and know that by it death is concurred and it is the Resurrection we glorify.

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