Happy Easter Everybody

Well, it looks like I’ll need to keep blogging through Bright Week, just to finish things up. For now, a short post, quick and to the point:

Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!

Christos Anesti! Alithos Anesti!  Χριστός ἀνέστη! Ἀληθῶς ἀνέστη!

al-Maseeh qam! Ḥaqqan qam!     المسيح قام! حقا قام

Happy Easter Everybody!

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Down and Dirty – a photo gallery of food

I’m obviously way behind in posting pictures and recipes. And I want to write about the two church services offered today. Neither of which I was able to attend. And I want to complain about something. But the services and complaining will have to wait for another post. For now, here’s some yummy Lenten food (warning: some of these photos may depict non-Lenten items, for instance, meat I have served to my family while I eat the Lenten part of the meal).

this was lunch the other day. julienned (I used a mandoline) carrots, beets, zucchini, yellow squash and onion, mixed with hummous and topped with alfalfa sprouts, spread onto a slab of focaccia. This is the stuff baby! BTW, today, I julienned the same veggies, plus cukes and lettuce, and mixed it with half a mashed avocado. And spread it onto an olive roll. Mmmmmmmmmmm.

 here it is.

this is tonight’s dinner. the thing at the bottom is tandoori chicken. then to the left is a rice cake. basically riz b’sha’rii pan-fried like a pancake. The veggies are onion and garlic fried with cumin, cayenne and mustard seed, then baked potato chunks, squash and zucchini are added and when almost done, cherry tomatoes cut in half are added with a little water to steam it all. sauteed snow peas are in the middle. it was very good.

 fried cauliflower with tahini, beets and barley salad with grapes, ginger and lime vinaigrette.

This is tempura I ate when Peter took me to dinner the night of the Feast of Annunciation. Fish is permitted that evening, so we went out for some sushi. I’m unclear about whether or not you get to eat fish if you don’t make it to church. Clearly, I went ahead and ate fish, despite my ambivalence.

. . . .and here’s the fish. Pretty, ain’t it.

This is MY idea of a Happy Meal! rolled grape leaves, sauteed cabbage, hummous and baba ganoush.

cool tray, huh?!? refried bean tacos, tater tots, applesauce and salad with a cranberry/lime seltzer.

My kind of breakfast. The little jumble at the bottom is last night’s fried kusa and batinjan, aka, squash and eggplant. Served with aitoon, aka black, oil-cured olives and hummous, of course.

fancy vegan frosting! on top of a vegan chocolate-chocolate chip cupcake.

As you can clearly see, I have been eating well!

Posted in Meals, Recipes | 4 Comments

The first three services of Holy Week

I’m writing about Holy Week in parts, because there are a lot of services to cover. And I may not go into as much detail as I like. Bridegroom Orthos is the first service of the week and it is split into three parts. Now, I have to say that until I joined the church as an adult, I had no idea that Bridegroom Orthos even existed. Since rejoining the church, I haven’t been able to attend, and this year is no exception. I have this idea that when my kids are grown and we have no external schedule demands, I will be able to attend all the services of Holy Week. Insh’Allah.

Anyway, I’m doing a little research so I can tell you about these services.

Holy Monday – April 18, 7pm
Bridegroom Orthros (also called Bridegroom Matins)

Holy Tuesday – April 19, 7pm
Bridegroom Orthros

Matins means “morning” and therefore, Matins are usually served in the morning. The Bridegroom Matins (also called Orthos, meaning “straight or true”), are served in the evening the day before each Holy day. Therefore, Monday Matins is served Sunday night, and so on. There is a reason for this, and it has to do with the meaning of these services. I’m quoting here from the Orthodox Church in America (taken directly off the OCA website):

“The First Three Days of Holy Week

The first three days of Holy Week are referred to in the Church as “The End.” Jesus was walking into the very midst of those who sought to take His life. He experienced deep anguish within Himself (John 12:27). Despite the triumph of the Palm weekend, which had confirmed the outcome of His Passion even before it had taken place, the Lord had already told His disciples that:

…he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. (Matthew 16:21)

The moment of truth had arrived. No longer did Jesus speak to the people from boats or in the countryside. He spoke openly in Jerusalem itself. He confronted His enemies and publicly refuted them.

Judgment and The End

We see the sin and darkness which triumph in “this world” loom before us as we follow Christ as He approaches the Cross. On the first three “great and holy” days of this week, it is the Gospel read at the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, the “end” of each liturgical day – when “the light of Christ illumines all” – that the “theme” of the whole day is revealed.

On Monday the theme is quite simply the End: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away” (Matthew 24:3-35).

On Tuesday we are minded of the vigilance and care required of all Christians as we hear Christ’s parables of the ten virgins and of the talents, and we are filled with “holy fear” as we listen to Him prophesy the Last Judgment (Matthew 24:36-26:2).

On Wednesday we hear about the harlot who anoints Christ’s feet to prepare Him for His burial, and of Judas who judges her, mercilessly condemning her act of mercy (Matthew 26:6-16). Indeed, “The Light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). And this darkness brings judgment.

Judgment is the theme of the Gospel lessons read in darkness each evening at Matins.

On Monday we hear of the barren fig tree which Christ curses and causes to be dried up (Matthew 21:18-43); on Tuesday, of the blind and hypocritical Pharisees (Matthew 22:15-23, 39); and on Wednesday, of the final rejection of Christ: “now is the judgment of the world” (John 12:17-50).

The two themes of darkness and judgment are combined in the troparion sung at Matins on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday:

Behold! the Bridegroom comes at midnight, and blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching; and again, unworthy is the servant whom He shall find heedless.

Beware, therefore, O my soul, do not be weighed down with sleep, lest you be given up to death, and lest you be shut out of the Kingdom.

But rouse yourself, crying: “Holy! Holy! Holy! art Thou, O our God. Through the Theotokos, have mercy on us!”

Midnight is the time for us to keep vigil, to watch and pray. The nighttime of “this world” is when we look for the coming of the Kingdom of God. The parable of the wise and foolish virgins who went out to meet the bridegroom forms the basis of this special troparion sung at the beginning of Matins each day. Ten virgins went out to meet the bridegroom. They were not sure when he would come. Five took sufficient oil for their lamps, five did not. The five who came unprepared had to return to buy more oil. At midnight, while these are gone, the bridegroom came and the virgins who were prepared entered the bridal hall with him to begin the marriage feast. The bridal hall is the Kingdom of Heaven. The Bridegroom is Christ. He comes at an hour when we least expect Him. We must “watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:13).

In view of this special troparion, the Matins of the first three days of Holy Week are commonly called “The Bridegroom Service.” This service is customarily served in anticipation on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday evenings. Throughout the services we are never allowed to forget that Christ the Bridegroom who comes is God, the God who created man in the beginning and who now comes to do all things for his salvation in His love for mankind. He constantly demands that we return this love, and that we show to others the same mercy that He shows to us. On Great and Holy Thursday the last of the Bridegroom Services is celebrated, and there we see this vital Christian requirement of love put to the ultimate test. For the last time we sing the exaposteilarion which forms the only link between all of the services of the first four days of Holy Week.

Thy Bridal Chamber I see adorned, O my Savior, but I have no wedding garment that I may enter. O Giver of Light, enlighten the vesture of my soul, and save me.This special hymn, sung near the end of the Service, tells us, in effect, that in our present state we are not ready to meet the Lord. There is no room for pride, callousness, or the recounting of our good deeds. We must repent, i.e., have an inner change of mind and heart before we can enter the Kingdom.”

It’s a neat idea that the services of Holy Week lead us on a journey with Christ from the time He comes into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, hailed and praised by the people who cry out, “Hosanna in the highest, blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord,” until the time of His crucifixion and  resurrection. We contemplate our sin and the darkness of the world, and we look to Christ for Salvation and Mercy. Thank God that He “so loved the world.”

Holy Wednesday – April 20, 7:00pm

Holy Unction

“Is any among you sick, let him call for the presbyters of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed (Jas 5:14-16; see also Mk 6:13).”

The sacrament of Holy Unction is the blessing of a person with the anointing of Holy Oil. It is a sacrament of healing and forgiveness.  If there is only one service of Holy Week that I am able to attend other than Pascha, I try to attend Holy Unction. I need healing and forgiveness. And I really like to share this service with my children. It’s hard to set time aside during the week, when we’re already so overwhelmed with school and family activities, but I cherish the times when we can enter the church in reverence and worship and connect with God in a special way.

“Thank you Lord, for these special services of the Church and for our opportunity to deepen our faith.”

Posted in Church Services, Prayer, Thoughts | Leave a comment

Weekly menu for the week of April 17th through the 23rd

We ate Palm Sunday lunch yesterday, and I thought nobody would want dinner (lunch was HEARTY!), and we would all fend (which basically means, bowl of cereal, pb & j, everyone eats whatever they feel like). But Vini and Joey were hungry. So Vini went to Popeye’s. I ate some popcorn shrimp.

So, what about the rest of the week? Well, I’m not sure whether or not you’ve seen my pattern, but in case you haven’t, here it is:

  • Sunday – Syrian food (which I’d eat almost every day, had I married a Syrian rather than Italian man).
  • Monday – meat or fish for the family, grain-based side dish and veggies (my main course), for example, polenta, brown rice, barley, quinoa.
  • Tuesday – bean-based main course (sometimes with a meat version for the family).
  • Wednesday – pasta.
  • Thursday – meat main course for the family and grains and veggies for me (and them).
  • Friday – soup.
  • Saturday – Asian food: Chinese, Thai or Japanese.
So, now I’m trying to cobble together this week’s menu, which is complicated by the fact that Joey has a baseball game at 4:30, Maddy has soccer at 5:00 and  I picked up a yoga class tonight at 6:30. Hmmm. Something simple tonight that everyone can eat on their own, whenever they’re ready. Looks like soup for dinner tonight. 
Well, I couldn’t pass up Syrian food this week, so I made lubee with riz. That’s green beans in a tomato sauce (usually lubee b’lahm, with meat), and rice (Syrian rice with orzo or angel hair pasta in it). I’ll definitely post a recipe for that!  Tonight was a quickie dinner with yesterday’s leftover rice, and it was sunny and warm so I was in the garden until 7 pm. (My poor husband, he never gets to eat dinner until Wheel of Fortune is on!). 
So here’s the plan for this week:
  • Monday – lubee wa riz
  • Tuesday – black bean and rice burritos (with turkey for everyone else)
  • Wednesday – pasta with puttanesca sauce
  • Thursday – tandoori chicken for the family, with dal and curried cauliflower
  • Friday – addis soup (lentil soup) – this will be at the church for Joey and I, we will stay following Lamentations. I’ll post the Holy Week schedule tomorrow.
  • Saturday – whatever I can get my hands on. I’ll probably make a sandwich for Vini. The kids will probably fend. I tend not to eat much on this day. I’m cooking and baking for the Pascha potluck, following the liturgy, and the party I’ll have here on Sunday.
I was pouring a glass of wine for Vini tonight and I was thinking that I’m looking forward to the end of the fast! I’m not sure I miss specific foods so much, it’s just the restriction in general that gets tough at the end. The thought of eating or drinking whatever I feel like, whenever I want, sounds so good.  But I’m so glad I’m doing this. I always am.
I’m reminded of something Father Alban says about the last week of Lent, about how it’s a sprint. The sprint at the end of the race. We’ve been running for a long time now, and we are tired, but here we are, right before the end, and instead of slowing down, or stopping, we push on, even gaining speed as we reach out for the finish line.
Posted in Meals, Thoughts, Weekly Menus | 2 Comments

Post Palm Sunday reflections or, why I love the Church

Well, as noted in my previous blog, yesterday was Palm Sunday. I had a totally awesome time and I feel really excited now to dive into Holy Week! But before I do, I’d like to share with you some thoughts about the Church, why I love the Church and how I came to be here. This is long, and perhaps somewhat rambly, but stay with me, if you will.

I was raised in the Orthodox Church. My parents are both Orthodox and so, I was churched after I was forty days old, and I was baptized and chrismated soon after (chrismation is the anointing of a person with Holy Oil and in our church, takes place at the same time as baptism). My parents were not big church-goers, but, like many people of all faiths, my parents followed Orthodox tradition, without really practicing or regularly attending services.

When my sister and I (some of you may fondly recall us as “the twins”) were six years old, we moved here, to Oregon. I will always be profoundly grateful (and I have tears in my eyes as I write this), for Bill Bitar and Kent Lucas, and their love for and dedication to the Church. Because they rented a school bus. Yes. Every Sunday, for several years, they rented a big, yellow school bus, and drove it all the way out to Gresham, to pick us up and take us to church. They started with me and my sister because we were the farthest away from the church. As we got closer and closer to the church, they picked up other kids along the way, bringing as many of us to church as possible. I don’t know how much time they spent doing that, but I suspect it took at least three hours, on top of the three hours or so that we’re at the church on Sundays. That’s a lot of love and dedication.

Anyway, had it not been for them, I may never have formed an attachment to the Church, or developed my faith. As it was, we sang songs and played word games all the way to church and back, and in the church we sat in the front, left pews, all of us in a neat little row, shushing each other when someone started talking, and trying to practice sitting up straight and listening to Father Anthony.

By the time the church bus was retired, I was firmly involved in the Church, in the sense that I personally, strongly and deeply believed in God and Christ. I enjoyed our church services and I wanted to come and worship every Sunday. When I think back on it now, it really amazes me, the pure beauty of the relationship I had with God. I really felt a deep relationship with and connection to Him. But now, I had to get there on my own. My dad drove me there every week, while my mom and sister stayed home. During liturgy, my dad would hang out with the guys and smoke, downstairs at the old church in the early days (when EVERYONE smoked EVERYWHERE), and later, outside on the front steps.

Sadly, in high school, everything changed. I started to question my faith, which in and of itself, is not a bad thing (in that it can ultimately lead to a deeper understanding of God), but at the same time, I started to be, well, a teenager. I was young, foolish, self-absorbed, and very, very arrogant. And so began the next phase of my life. We’ll call it, “I Don’t Need God, I Can Make Totally Awesome Decisions All By Myself!” A phase during which I made some very good decisions, all by myself. And really awful decisions, all by myself. And finally, ultimately, I smooshed myself down into a big, fat, blubbering mess.

But I don’t want to get into all that. Suffice it to say that through God’s Mercy and Love, I was fortunate enough to survive the big, huge mess I made out of my life, and move onto to the next phase in my life. We’ll call this one, “I Make Awful Decisions All By Myself, Hey, God, Wanna Help Me Out a Little Here?” We might categorize this phase as something akin to, “God is awesome and I’m so glad He’s here for me. I’ll ask Him for all the things I want and He will answer my prayers” (Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. No, Virginia, he’s not God). And hey, while we’re at it, I think I’ll worship Him in whatever way I want. Which certainly didn’t involve getting up every Sunday morning, and schlepping myself to church! (We could also call this phase, “Hey, it’s cool, God is everywhere. God is in the garden!”).

Then came Joey. Joey, my beautiful baby boy, the most miraculous thing that’s ever happened to me, and along with his sister, Madelaine, the greatest gift He could every give me. And Joey started talking. And when he talked, Joey started asking me questions. Like, “where did I come from Mommy?” and “where do we go when we die?” Now, I know that every kid asks those questions, but they are significant here because of what I learned about myself when I answered him. This is what I learned: despite my desire to make God into an image of MY choosing and to worship him in a way that pleased ME, it turned out that all the things I had been taught about God and worship as a child, were, nonetheless, EXACTLY WHAT I STILL BELIEVED! Regardless of what I WANTED to believe, I believed what I believed. So I hightailed it back to the Orthodox Church. Ha ha ha, I’m so funny!

My neighbors, across the street, neighbors and friends, attended a Baptist church. Hmmm, I’d never been to a Baptist church. I thought I’d better check it out (one last ditch effort to choose my own path of worship). Let me just say, Baptist churches ROCK! No, literally, they rock. That is to say, they have a full band, complete with electric bass and drum set. I’m sure they’re not all the same, but this one was AWESOME! First, you drop your kids off in Sunday School, that’s right, no keeping them quite during liturgy, carrying them out when they cry, shushing them all through the service, making them keep their hands and feet to themselves. They are in Sunday School, and you are blessedly freeeeeee to enjoy the service. Which starts with, PRAISE AND WORSHIP! And everybody sings, and there’s a band, and you can cry with the joy of it, if you feel like it. And it feels WONDERFUL! Then, Pastor picks a bible verse, and preaches about it – kind of like our homily, only he’s VERY EMPHATIC and most of us take notes. As an aside, I just want to give a big shout out to Pastor and Sister Martin, truly a man and woman of God! Anyway, we write down the lesson he’s teaching from the Bible, and I’m a happy student again, with my notes, Big A, Roman Numeral One, little a, little b, little c. Big B, etc. And once a month, the ushers pass around little plastic cups of white grape juice and those really thin wafers, that are made of I-have-no-idea-what. And we all take communion. I want you all to know that I am NOT mocking the baptist church, quite the contrary, I LOVED it there, I made a great many friends, and we all worshipped together and it was wonderful. But, it is VERY different from the Orthodox church.

So how did I come back? Well, whenever my parents came to visit, they wanted to go to church and see all their friends. So we went to the Orthodox church, and every time we did, I thought how nice it was to see Penny and Fairouz, girls I’d been in Sunday School with when I was young. And I enjoyed seeing the grown-ups too, people I said hello to every Sunday, and kissed on the cheek, Hi Aunt Mary, Hi Uma Khalil, Hi Sitto (any REALLY old lady), Hi Giddo (ditto). But now, they’re still grown-ups, and I’m a grown up too! That was interesting.

After awhile, I went to a Women’s Retreat in the Baptist Church. And while I was there, I asked God to show me His will and to help me align my will with His. Yes, I was finally ready to try to do this thing (living), His way, not mine. Try. Anyway, this is what I heard. “You say you want to do things My way, but here you are, trying to worship Me the way YOU want to, when I already gave you a church.” And so, I left the Baptist Church, and came back home.

Sorry, this is a REALLY LONG blog, but, hey, we’re talking about 38 years here. So here I am in the Orthodox church, and I am so full of joy! Particularly so because my children are here with me. And yesterday, Maddy and I helped Suzy with Palm Sunday Brunch. And I served the lunch with Penny. And I ate with Jane, a new and very dear friend I’ve made since rejoining the church. And every week, I see people who’ve known me since I was a child (I’m getting teary again), and I see people I’ve met since returning, like Kyrie and Ola and Majdolin and Robin. And we worship together, and our children go to Sunday School together and we drink coffee and visit, and cook and bake together for Palm Sunday and the Festival. We share our faith and we share our lives. And I watch their children grow in the church, just as we did. And now I really am crying, but they are absolutely tears of joy.

As we move into this week, the Church takes on a more somber, and reverential tone. As we contemplate the suffering and crucifixion of Christ, we think of our own sins and the need we all have for salvation. And yet at the same time, I can’t help but feel this current of joy running through it all. God and Christ bless us every day, in so many ways. Some we realize, and some we don’t. But in writing this blog, I become aware of some of the blessings I wouldn’t otherwise think about.

“Lord, thank you for all the blessings, seen and unseen. Thank you for showing me Your love in the Church and in the people of our congregation. Thank you for answering that prayer I made so long ago. With such a gentle, loving rebuke, you returned me to my church home. And thank you for all the people in my life that worship You with me. Thank you for the fellowship.”

Posted in History, Prayer, Thoughts | 2 Comments

The biggest holiday of the year? Palm Sunday!

I think that if you ask most people, they’d tell you that Christmas is the most important Christian holiday of them all. But I would beg to differ. I think that the general view in the Orthodox church is that Easter, or Pascha, as it’s commonly called, is the most important holiday. While Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ, Easter celebrates His resurrection from the dead. Of course, nothing that happened in the life of Christ could have happened had He not been born to begin with, however, it is His death and resurrection that define His purpose on Earth, and in fact, the very reason we worship Christ and call ourselves “Christian”.

And yet, while Easter and Christmas are both obviously important days in the Church, there is one other day that might be termed the “biggest” holiday of the year: Palm Sunday. Why? Because it is the one service of the year when the church is literally overflowing! Palm Sunday is a great holiday, and many people who don’t regularly attend services come for Palm Sunday. The little kids (and the ladies too), all come dressed in their prettiest Easter dresses. We decorate candles with flowers and after the liturgy (our church service) we process with our lit candles around the outside of the church singing,

“Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, Have mercy on us.

Glory to the Father, Son and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever and unto the ages of ages, Amen.

Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.”

We sing this in English and Arabic, over and over, and when we’re done, we stop in the courtyard and Father Alban reads from the Gospel.  He reads the part about Jesus coming into Jerusalem on an ass (and every year I would tell the kids in Sunday School that Father would say “ass”, and that “ass” meant “donkey” and they should try not to laugh). And when he’s done reading the Gospel, we go into the dining hall and we have a Palm Sunday luncheon. We get to eat fish on Palm Sunday, so there’s salmon and rice and vegetables and hummous and salad and bread and it’s a wonderful meal and we sit and visit with our friends and family!

There is only one week left until Holy Pascha. I will post this week’s menu, but also, I will post the most important thing of all about Holy Week; all of the services offered (there’s a lot of them!). I have never attended every service during Holy Week and I can’t this year either, but I try to make at least a few of them. I’ll do my best to explain the meaning and significance of the services (it’s really interesting!). So, I will get back to you after church tomorrow. Have a great evening!

Posted in Church Services, History, Thoughts | Leave a comment

If Lent doesn’t end soon, I’m gonna get fat!

So here’s my problem in a nutshell. No meat, no dairy. I want sugar! All sugar, all the time. Who ARE these people who become vegans and lose weight? How long, exactly, does that take? I mean, I’m fine with not LOSING weight, but it would be great if I could avoid GAINING it! Look, I’ve been doing really well with the moderation, and I normally do ok, but after the fourth week or so, I start having MAJOR sugar cravings! This time is worse than ever before. I think for two major reasons:

  1. I have cheated less than ever before. So no rich foods, so after awhile, more sugar cravings.
  2. I have discovered amazing vegan bakeries and now, oh Lord, help me! I have found incredible vegan cookie books.

So we are supposed to rein in the earthy passions. Like our over-indulgence in food. I am seriously having a problem with that right now, because all I want to do is sit down and eat a mountain of cookies. Also, I am working very hard on procrastinating. I am trying to avoid finishing our taxes. I HATE DOING THE TAXES!!!!!!! It will only take me another three hours or so to finish them, and I could have done them today. Instead, I made vegan chocolate chocolate chip cupcakes with vegan buttercream frosting, vegan chai cookies (there’s really no reason to ever put dairy in cookies, trust me), and MORE giant vegan chocolate chip cookies. In all fairness to me, I made the chocolate chip cookies because, after I had my heart set on making the chai cookies, I asked my husband what his favorite cookies were, and he said chocolate chip cookies, and then he expressed sadness and frustration over the fact that the kids scarfed down the last DOUBLE batch I made and he only got to eat two of them. So really, you can see that I had no choice but to make another batch. It was only fair. And I had to make the chai cookies, because I really wanted to. OK, even I have to laugh at myself now. I really should think about giving up rationalizations for Lent next time around! Well, what the heck, I may as well finish. I had to make the chocolate chocolate chip cupcakes because I already had vegan buttercream in the fridge from last week’s cupcakes (did I forget to mention those?). What else could I do? It’s just WRONG to throw food away, even buttercream!

Well, this totally blows the whole noble person fasting for Lent image, but it is exceedingly honest, so I’m going to go ahead and post this. Right now. Before I let my ego and embarrassment change my mind. Did I mention I am drinking a glass of wine as I type this. OK. Not my finest hour.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments