Tuesday, November 30, 2010

November Wrap-Up and December's Topic

Apologies are in order for sure.  I had such high hopes for this month and yet I could only muster up enough time to highlight three women who rock.  I had so many others in mind.  Truth be told, when you are a mother, your time is rarely your own and other matters had to take precedent over blogging. 

So with December knocking on the door in a few hours, it is time to release the much anticipated topic for the month (I know! It's been keeping you up at night!) and it is...Peace.

With just a mere 25 days until we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, I hope to be able to post quotes and ideas from people much more spiritually mature than myself that might just help us arrive to that silent and holy night with souls infused with peace, ready to take in the mystery of the incarnation of the Savior.

Below is a short 1 minute commercial that is shown during the holiday season here in America.  Perhaps to attain to the serenity of these sleeping babes in the video below is far-fetched, for we all know too much at this point, but nonetheless, it would be a wonderful thing to have.  Enjoy and see you in December.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Girl Named Katherine

Here's the 411 about our latest entry in Women Who Rock, a girl named Katherine. 
  • Born with a silver spoon in her mouth.  Family had status and cash.
  • Highly educated and especially skilled at debate. 
  • Stunningly beautiful.
  • And finally, she was well aware of all of the above and prided herself on it. 
Yes, our Katherine was that girl that made you green with envy because she was both valedictorian and prom queen.  And her parents got her a candy apple red convertible BMW for her 16th birthday. Okay that was an exaggeration, Katherine could not have received a BMW because she was born into late 3rd century Egypt. Maybe she would have gotten a really awesome chariot though. At any rate, Katherine was smart and pretty and rich and well, sort of ...um...full of herself.  When it came time for her to find a spouse her "only" requirements were that the gentleman had to surpass her in nobility, wealth, comeliness and wisdom.  Oh, is that all?  You get my drift here I think.

Thankfully though, she had a very observant mother.  She knew that her daughter possessed all the traits that were "valuable" according to the standards of the world, but Katherine's mom, a secret Christian, also knew that her daughter needed one more thing.  So, when the time was right, Katherine was introduced to her mother's spiritual father, a Christian monk who lived outside of town.  Her mother sent her there to get "advice" as to how to find this perfect mate, but also with the real hope that Katherine would soon realize that there was something missing from her seemingly perfect life and that was a true knowledge of God.  

Well, you can probably guess what happened.  Katherine becomes a Christian, her pride finally exposed to her and she becomes an even more incredible personality.   She's got beauty, she's got brains and now, most importantly, she has God's grace and power.  Seriously, there was no stopping her.  Katherine left the philosophers speechless in their debates in the public squares and converted them to Christianity through her irrefutable arguments.   She even converted the pagan emperor Maximian's wife, Augusta.  I told you she was good.

Ultimately Katherine paid the price for her belief in Jesus Christ.  The emperor couldn't take the humiliation and set out to torture and kill her.  Much to his chagrin, in the process of her martyrdom, which took some time because his methods miraculously failed at first, another 200 were converted by her fearless witness to the truth of Christianity.  Finally on November 24th, 310 AD, 1700 years ago today, Katherine finally received the martyr's crown and entered into her true Bridegroom's presence. 

Okay, I know...that was really really abridged.  For a more interesting and detailed version, click here.  It isn't very long, it may take 2-3 minutes to read but it is much more in depth than my little bit above.

So, as you can probably guess, this girl Katherine, is actually St. Katherine the Great Martyr.  She is my patron saint and that of many Christian women bearing the name Katherine or a derivative thereof.

This icon prayer card can be purchased from Come and See Icons.
 St. Katherine is one of the more popular saints, and since she lived prior to the schism of the Christian East (Orthodox Christianity) and the Christian West (Roman Catholics) in 1054 AD, she is held in high regard by both bodies of believers.  Probably the most famous Orthodox Christianity monastery on earth is dedicated to St. Katherine with her remaining relics residing there. St. Katherine's Monastery on Mount Sinai has been around since the 6th century and to this day is still fully operational.  Click here for more information on this incredible place which holds the majority of the Codex Sinaiticus, the most complete collection of the New Testament from over 1600 years ago.  Here's a fun fact for you...the head librarian at St. Katherine's Monastery is a former American Baptist from Texas.  Now an Orthodox Christian, Fr. Justin is the only American to have ever lived at St.Katherine's monastery.  
As one who honors St. Katherine as my patron saint, I have often contemplated her life story. Certainly there were many miraculous things that occurred (read the link for the juicy details) but I always wondered about her absolute certitude about Christ, even until a tortuous death. Mental arguments are not enough for one to die for, so there HAD to be something else, a complete transformation in her very core, and so much so that she could care less for her "perfect" life in this world. How many of us spend our lives in the vain pursuit of beauty, the acquisition of wealth and knowledge and/or hopefully fame and recognition? St. Katherine had it all naturally and counted it as nothing in comparison to knowing Jesus Christ.  That's a woman who rocks.

So on this day, the 1700th anniversary of St. Katherine's death, I'm going to try to keep my mind and heart, where she kept hers, focused on Christ with the hopes that I too, may assimilate my spiritual life to one she acquired. 
"Let us praise Katherine the radiant bride of Christ, guardian of Sinai, our helper and supporter. By the power of the Spirit, she silenced the arrogance of the ungodly. Crowned as a martyr, she now implores great mercy for all."
This is St. Katherine's hymn which can be sung today, her namesday, on every continent in the world. 

Monday, November 15, 2010

40 days to a new you!

Georgian Icon of St. David the King and Psalmist. This icon is by the hand of Ilya & Michael Balavadze and can be purchased here at Come & See Icons.  The great King David's psalms testify to his intimate dealings with sin, repentance and ultimately the joy of God's love. 
An interruption of "Women Who Rock" to bring you this important announcement...

Today marks the beginning of the Nativity Fast for Orthodox Christians in America. Not only is it 40 days of keeping a primarily vegan diet, and but also a time of increased prayer, self-reflection leading to repentance, almsgiving and especially an increase in Bible reading apart from the normal daily readings we read together as a Church.  We use the 40 days to prepare ourselves for one of the biggest feasts in the Orthodox Christian Church, the Birth of our Savior Jesus Christ, the very incarnation of God's Divine Word ( John 1:1-5 ).

Although to most people, the food element of the fast seems like it would be the hardest, but for me it is the easiest.  The much more difficult part is taking a long honest look at myself and routing out all the junk that resides in my heart and making time for increased prayer. (I have heard that fasting without prayer is called a demon's fast, because demons neither eat nor do they pray. That's scary and not something you want to do!)  It's the pulling myself away from life's daily distractions, like the Internet and TV, and making the time for God that I struggle with the most.   I have to force myself to chose God and the kingdom of heaven and not the world's ephemeral delights.  The Scriptures speak to this very idea here: 

12 And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force (Matt 11:12)
From my own personal experience I KNOW that this 40 day time period is absolutely essential to my spiritual health.  I have found a spiritual lightness and true joy (Godly joy is not happiness or some sort of emotional "Golly I feel good" rush by the way, it is something completely other) that I have not been able to attain by any other means.  This divine joy is truly inexplicable.  To quote the Psalmist David the King who exhorts (Psalm 34:8-9):

          8 Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!
9 Oh, fear the LORD, you His saints! There is no want to those who fear Him
Taste and See!  I can't taste and see for you, it's something you have to do for yourself.  I teach my children this very thing about Christ and His Church.  I can tell them about my own experiences but at some point they must let go of my hand and taste and see and trust in Him for themselves.  It's a deeply personal experience that transcends words.  Again, it's not emotional or happy, it's something else, and it stays with you for as long as you allow it.  The world is transfigured, life is somehow different in an awesome way.

I realize that many of my Christian readers are not Orthodox, but that shouldn't stop you from treating these 40 days prior to Christmas a little differently this year.  Perhaps increase the time you spend in prayer, spend more time with your Bible, be a little more merciful with others and maybe even try to take an honest look at the things that separate you from God and make an effort to eradicate at least one of those things.  Participating in these sorts of spiritual exercises is never a bad idea for anyone! Of course, if you are Orthodox, then I'm preaching to the choir for you know that our church "has no want for those who fear Him". (see psalm 34 above) The healing sacraments of confession and communion and our beautiful worship services leave no one in want if one truly desires it.

Oh, and there just one more thing to remember, and it's kinda important.  The most essential part of fasting and all that goes along with it is that it is must be done in love and for love.  Love for God, love for humanity and even love for yourself.  It is not something one does to "get favor" with God, that's something for the Big Bully Deity believers.  God doesn't need your fasting to love you.  He desires your fasting because it will be during this time that you turn to Him and seek Him more diligently.  Remember the Apostle Paul's words to the Corinthians:
1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
That is "the catch" you could say.  All of this will profit you ZERO, NADA, NOTHING if not done in love.  I guess I should have disclaimed that at the beginning of the post.

And so my friends, my desire for you is that your days preceding the celebration of the Birth of Jesus Christ be ones filled with Godly endeavours and once you have arrived to this marvelous feast day that you truly understand the Lord's words (John 15:11)

11 “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may   be full."

Oh that joy, that joy!  If everyone would chose this joy and remain in it!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Mother Maria Skobtsova, A True Human Being

Mother Maria Skobtsova
My next selection for this month's "Women Who Rock" is Mother Maria Skobtsova, an Orthodox Christian nun who is best known for toiling ceaselessly in the German occupation of Paris and subsequently dying in the Ravensbruck concentration camp gas chambers in 1945.

Born Elizaveto Pilenko in December 1891, "Liza" as she was known prior to becoming a nun, fled the political turmoil of Russia and eventually found herself, along with her mother, her second husband and three children as refugees in Paris in 1923.    Her eldest child was born in Russia to her first husband, a marriage that ended in divorce, and the second two children were born "on the run"  between the years 1920 and 1923. Her new life in France was one of  many hardships and deprivations, and to make matters even worse, the youngest Skobtsova child, Nastia, became extremely ill and died at the tender age of 3 in 1926.  Here is a note written by Liza at the time of Nastia's death:

For years I did not know, in fact I never knew the meaning of repentance, but now I am aghast at my own insignificance [...].  At Nastia's side I feel that my soul has meandered down back alleys all my life.  And now I want an authentic and a purified road, not out of faith in life, but in order to justify, understand and accept death [...]. No amount of thought will ever result in any greater formulation than the three words, 'Love one another', so long as it is [love] to the end and without exceptions.  And then the whole of life is illumined, which is otherwise an abomination and a burden. [from papers collected by Mother Maria's mother Sophia Pilenko]
Her life in Paris continued on after Nastia's death, and over the course of the next several years, her second marriage more or less fell apart and Liza, in her sufferings, drew closer and closer to God. Finally, in 1932, following her heart's longing, she entered the monastic ranks of the Orthodox Church and became Mother Maria.

Mother Maria was what you would call an "unconventional" nun.  She was known to have a beer and a smoke and she did not always keep to the prescribed schedule of services of the monastic life.  Additionally, she was still raising her son Yuri and her eldest child, a daughter, made the poor and worrisome decision to return to Russia where she soon succumbed to disease.  Because of these worldly matters and cares, a few people believed that she should not have taken on the monastic life, and she was making "light" of the serious decision to live as a nun.  Whatever the opinion, ultimately it was the monastic robe that opened many doors for her.

Upon becoming a nun, Mother Maria worked day and night scraping up money and food to help the needy in Paris.  She slept in the basement or in a closet so others could have a bed.  She opened a school and she sought out the homeless.  Mother Maria never accepted "no" for an answer and always managed to find whatever it was that was needed at that given moment. For eight years, she toiled serving humanity in this manner. However, it was during the fall of Paris to the Germans in June 1940 that her efforts became even more courageous.

From 1940-1942, Mother Maria, along with her son Yuri, Fr. Dimitri Klepinin and Ilya Fondaminsky, continued not only to help the Russian refugees but now the suffering Jews as well.  In July of 1942, there was a mass arrest of 12,884 Jews where a little more than half of those arrested were brought to the Velodrome d'Hiver, a stadium for bicycle races, which was not far from Mother Maria's charity house located at 77 Rue de Lourmel.  Mother Maria, using her monastic robes as an excuse to get into the stadium, was able to comfort the Jewish children and their parents and she distributed any food she could bring in.  The children's book Silent As A Stone chronicles Mother Maria's rescue of a few of these children by smuggling them out in trash cans.  After 5 days in the stadium, all the Jews that remained were sent to Auschwitz, and now Mother Maria became an person of suspicion with the Nazi occupiers.  Mother Maria and her companions courageously continued their work until their own arrests for aiding the suffering Jewish people in 1943. Yuri and Fr. Dimitri were sent to a camp named Dora, and Mother Maria was sent in a sealed cattle truck to Ravensbruck.

Mother Maria spent the final two years of her life in this concentration camp supporting those around her.  She was described by a fellow prisoner as "never downcast, never.  She was full of good cheer, really good cheer.  She was on good terms with everyone.  She was the kind of person who made no distinction between people no matter what their political views might be or their religious beliefs."  [from the afterword of Silent As A Stone, see below for details]  Finally in March 1945, a month before Ravensbruck was liberated by Soviet forces, Mother Maria, prisoner number 19,263, was executed in the gas chambers. 

Soon after the end of WWII, Mother Maria's essays and books became public and in 2004 Mother Maria was canonized as a saint in the Orthodox Church along with her companions. Mother Maria is also honored as being among the "Righteous Gentiles" in Israel.

There is SO much more to her story.  I recommend both the children's book Silent As A Stone written by Jim Forest and the biography Pearl of Great Price: The Life of Mother Maria Skobtsova 1891-1945  written by Sergei Hackel.   Both are found at SVS Press and Amazon. 

What I love so much about Mother Maria is that she was a regular person who had lived, at least to society's warped standards, an imperfect life.  She was twice married, she liked to drink beer and smoke cigarettes. Additionally, she was a woman who suffered.  She was forced to leave her homeland, two of her children preceded her in death, and she was under the constant eye of the Nazi authorities. Can you blame the woman for wanting a drink or a smoke?  Some of her written spiritual reflections actually have cigarette burns on them. 

Most importantly, for me at least, was that Mother Maria didn't use her past sufferings as an excuse for denying the small still voice of God that resounded in her heart to love every human being.   She carried on for the love of God and the love of humanity.  She wasn't scared or filled with any sort of doubts.  She wasn't a coward.  She was a true human being. 

And as much as I would like to say YOU ROCK!, I find myself feeling this phrase to be a bit disrespectful.  So humbly I ask you St. Maria Skobtsova, lover of God and lover of mankind, to pray for us here in this world that we may have your same tenacity and courage to carry out the Lord's desire for us to love one another.


Friday, November 5, 2010

Prayers for David

Dear Readers,

I humbly ask your prayers for a suffering teenage boy named David.

David is the eldest child of a former meth addict, lived in abject poverty and neglect for most of his young life and was abused by both his mother and her boyfriend. 

Thankfully, a couple of years ago, David and one of his siblings (he is one of five) was adopted by a wonderful loving family.  Unfortunately though, the abuse and neglect sustained by David from his childhood has manifested itself now during puberty with devastating effects. He is suffering with several psychological issues including Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome with Delusional Behaviour.  His therapists see years of therapy ahead for him to have a shot at a halfway 'normal' life.

Please pray for David and everyone in his family.  He is a fourteen year old kid who didn't do a damn thing to deserve any of this.  Thank God that this was caught though and he did not harm himself or others. God only knows how many more kids walk around everyday with similar issues.  

Thanks guys.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Lillian Moller Gilbreth, American Superwoman

Lillian Moller Gilbreth, pic from Wikipedia
 On August 26, 1920 the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America became law. This amendment finally granted women the right to vote.  One of the many reasons people opposed this amendment was the misconception that since women should be focusing their time on raising their children and taking care of their households, they would or could not be able to concern themselves in worldly matters.

Now, I don't disagree with this comment entirely.  Women should not ignore their children, and it is important for us to create an enviroment in our households that is loving, safe and generally happy.  But c'mon people, because women take care of their families they can't have a clue about their country?  Wrong.

Case in point, meet Lillian Moller Gilbreth.

Here's her brief bio, courtesy of Wikipedia.
  • Born May 24, 1878
  • BA, MA from Berkeley, 1900, 1902 in engineering
  • Married Frank Gilbreth, 1904
  • Had 7 children between 1905 - 1915
  • PhD from Brown University in Industrial Psychology, 1915
  • Had 5 more children between 1916 - 1922
  • 'First American engineer ever to combine a synthesis of psychology and scientific management" (quote from Wikipedia, see link below)
  • Advisor to Presidents Hoover, Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Kennedy & Johnson "on matters of civil defense, war production and rehabilitation of the physically handicapped" (quote from Wikipedia, see link below)
  • Wrote books, gave lectures
  • Did I mention she had 12 children?
  • 22 Honorary Degrees, some from Ivy League schools
  • Died at the ripe old age of 93 on January 2, 1972
Here's the Wikipedia link to her story.  It is simply astounding, almost unbelievable.  She was the founding mother of multi-tasking.  The books Cheaper by the Dozen and Belles On Their Toes were written by her children about their life as a large family. 

So today, let's remember Lillian Moller Gilbreth, wife, mother and an extraordinary American citizen who lived in the midst of the suffrage movement and was fortunate enough to have been granted the right to vote for most of her adult life.  Not all of us have the ability to emulate her life exactly, and we can't, we aren't Lillian.  However, it is evident that she didn't sit around and wait for things to happen.  She used her God-given intelligence and abundunt energy and put it to use. 

Congratulations Lillian, You Rock!

Monday, November 1, 2010

New Month, New Topic...WOMEN WHO ROCK!

A complete departure from the prior month's heavy topic on health, I'm shifting gears and going with some lighter fare...Women who, in my humble opinion, rock.  Some you will know, some you won't. Some are American, some are not.  Most will be from the past 150 years or so, however there will be at least two from 1500+ years ago.  All of them have one trait in common though and that is COURAGE.  Courage to speak up, courage to act, courage to carry on, the courage to listen to their hearts and not to the popular opinion of their era.   

This topic stems from a discussion I had with a woman a few weeks ago who was in the process of writing a book about the trials and hardships of our grandmothers and our obligation to honor their memories by living a life worthy of their sufferings.   My great-grandmother didn't risk life and limb on a ship that almost sank in the Atlantic with her young children in tow so her future great-granddaughter born in a cushy New York Metro area suburb could spend her free time getting her nails done and watch reality TV.  No my dear Anna Barna,  I owe you much more than that.   

First post will be tomorrow, November 2nd, which also happens to be election day here in the US.   So after you cast your ballot ladies, a right won by persistent women not so long ago, stop by here and find a woman who rocks.

See you then.