The Resilient Orthodox: We Come Needy


The morning light reflects off the gold of the icons and it is beautiful. The church is quiet, save footsteps walking up to venerate the icons. We are in community, yet we are alone.

We come needy. We come with hearts heavy with the burdens of the week. We come with anger and with pain, emotional and physical. We come with sickness and sorrow. We come with hearts longing for more, knowing that though we are created for eternity, we get mired in the clay of the every day.

And in this place, where Heaven meets earth in divine liturgy, we will glimpse the eternal. 

In any group of people, there are so many stories of life lived, good and bad,

We have children with autism and diabetes; foot problems and depression. We have bodies that betray us and hearts that are alternately hard and soft. We have tongues that choose to speak life-giving words or words that damage and destroy. We have children who weigh heavy on our hearts, ones who we pray will not lose their way. We have parents who can no longer move well, or speak well, or think well. We have burdens deep and wide. But in this space, we can place them before the altar of God’s infinite love.

We are humans made in the image of God, made for his glory and in this space we take time to remember that.

We come needy to the altar and hear the words of the priest as he gives us the Holy Gifts on a spoon. For a short time, we remember. We enter into the eternal and time doesn’t matter. We don’t try to solve the mystery of salvation, we accept it as the needy ones. 

We come needy, and we leave full. 

The Resilient Orthodox – Now Lay Aside All Cares


It comes at the perfect time of the service, after we sing the Beatitudes and the gospel is read. After the homily and during the service of the Eucharist. It comes when my mind has started to wander and the worries of the coming week begin to creep in.

The choir leads us in what is called the “Cherubic Hymn” and we sing this phrase “Now lay aside all cares.” It is part of a longer hymn but this is the phrase that challenges me, draws me in every time. It’s repeated twice – for needed emphasis. This phrase beckons me, calls me out, asks me if I can, for this short period of time, lay aside all those things that bother and irritate, all that causes pain and sadness, all that causes confusion and anger – can I lay all of it aside? Can I come to the Eucharist with body and mind fully fixed on the eternal?

Each week this calls me – Lay aside all earthly cares.

Some weeks I do this willingly, so glad to drop my backpack of burdens at the feet of Jesus. Other weeks I hold tight. Worry and earthly cares are clasped in my tight little fist like a child grasping tight to something that will hurt them. During the first time we sing I still want to hold on, but by the second the words soak in and I begin to release. It’s as though God takes that small act and works with it, accepting my paltry attempt at release and honoring it.

Lay aside all earthly cares – who else says that to me all week? Who else gives permission to rest, release, focus on the eternal? It’s a rhetorical question for the answer is obvious. No one. The only time that I am outwardly and verbally given permission to lay aside these earthly cares is Sunday morning when earth meets Heaven in the body and the blood of Christ. I would be a fool to hang on. And so I slowly release the tight grasp I have on all things temporal, on all worries and fears that haunt and threaten to destroy, I lay them aside for this time and a small sigh escapes my lips.

“Now lay aside all earthly cares” – it’s not a suggestion, it’s a command. And so I do.

When do you lay aside all earthly cares? 

A Lenten Meditation dripping with Kindness and Grace

By Robynn – Follow Robynn on Twitter @RobynnBliss

Holy Cross

Along with thousands of Jesus followers around the world, I began my Lenten pilgrimage yesterday. To me, Lent speaks of journeying toward the Cross. I look forward to it every year. We, the church universal, are invited to participate in His sufferings, to enter into a deeper fellowship with Christ.  We are asked to approach slowly, deliberately. Holding hands we travel together –weak, broken, tired—toward the Cross, the Burial, the Victory of Resurrection.

It’s a humbling opportunity. It’s a sober season.

But this morning I was reminded that it’s a commute covered in joy and we come out of it completely soaked!

The first century God-followers in Ephesus received a letter from St Paul ages ago. The first part of that letter is dedicated to Paul trying to convince them how very intentional God was about loving them.  Paul didn’t want there to be any doubt. He writes sincerely and passionately. He longs for them to understand these things deeply in the quiet corners of their souls.

God….has blessed us with every spiritual blessing…

Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us…to be holy and without fault in His eyes.

God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.

Just as soon as Paul tells them that God loves them and chose them and wanted them to be in his family so much that he went the extra mile and pursued their adoption. Just as soon as Paul is done with that delicious truth, he launches into another spiritual delicacy!

It seems the Heavenly pitcher is full and God is overflowing. He is so rich in kindness and grace that when God starts ladling it out it spills all over the place. He pours out his glorious grace on us! He showers his kindness on us, with all wisdom and understanding. We are left dripping and drenched; wet through with the kindness and generous grace of God! It’s a messy wonder. It’s a wet moment. We stand soggy and sodden, saturated with it all. Soaked to the bone, vulnerable as our own stuff, now waterlogged and redeemed, washes away. We may feel naked and exposed but for the clinging garments of praise and the clean coat of Christ’s righteousness that now clothes us. The holy ground is now mercy mud.

And it’s that kind of mud that Jesus swoops up and uses to bring sight to the Blind! Now we have eyes to see.

This journey to the cross climbs along the wet earthed path. He has rained down on us his grace and his kindness. Put away your umbrella. There’s no sense in trying to protect yourself. As wild as it weathers, he gently washes our faces, our wounded souls, our broken hearts. Kick off your boots. Splash a little. This wet dirt is a holy tromping ground, a soil suited for planting, a spot for seeds, a space for unending possibilities!

“A truly Eucharistic life means always saying thanks to God, always praising God, and always being more surprised by the abundance of God’s goodness and love. How can such a life not also be a joyful life? It is the truly converted life in which God has become the center of all. There gratitude is joy and joy is gratitude and everything becomes a surprising sign of God’s presence.” (Henri Nouwen, Show me the Way: Readings for Each Day of Lent)

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The Reluctant Orthodox – Volume 10 “On Bread & Wine”

Liturgy of Saint James. Russian Orthodox Churc...

I’ll admit it – I felt irritated, angry even. The little kid who had wandered through the service all morning had his hands full of blessed bread. He was enjoying every morsel – while I stood on the outside of the circle, not allowed in.

Of all the things that have made me reluctant to move forward in this journey towards Eastern Orthodoxy it is communion, the bread and the wine, body and blood of Christ.

Communion. Christ died for us, for me. Christ broken. Christ bruised and beaten, then dead in a tomb covered with an immense rock designed to keep any who would tamper with the body away. Communion – served only to those who are Orthodox, a closed table, a fenced table, designed to keep people away. At least that is what I felt.

I think back on churches I’ve attended in recent years. There were our ‘mega church’ years, the ones in Phoenix where church was a cool worship band swaying to the beat of guitars, drums, and a fabulous soloist. Those years had us begging for more fencing, longing for a closed table as we realized no change or transformation was ever expected of anyone who attended. It was just feel good and above all, Jesus wanted you to feel good. He wanted you to feel good about yourself, about your flaws and faults, and especially about who you had taken to bed the night before. No guilt there. Jesus is Love and we would prove it to the world by showing that no matter who or what we did or were, there was no need to change.

There was the church that brought a wagon down the aisle and served lemonade to all of us. That was cool – but of course, you could get better lemonade at a good restaurant and you wouldn’t have to tithe. Charlie Brown Christmas theme music filled the auditorium on Christmas eve, no candles or Silent Night here – that was too traditional.

The church that didn’t want to speak of the Resurrection on Easter, for fear that with so many visitors it would be unrelatable – What?!

With so many of these it didn’t matter what you believed — the point was to feel accepted and loved and so communion was for all. Communion was served once a month, unless it fell on Christmas or Easter and then there would be a break in the predictable schedule and we would wait until the next month.

So I don’t like the open table and I don’t like the closed table. What do I like? What do I want? 

In more recent years the church we attended had a gentle fencing, why can’t Orthodoxy “gently” fence the table instead of asking so much of me?

But communion is not about me and what I want or don’t want. And this is why I’m now glad that I haven’t been able to take it for the last year, despite seeing little kids grab blessed bread.

I’ve needed the time to read and find out what exactly Orthodox believe about the bread and the wine, about communion. And I find it differs profoundly from Protestant belief. For to Orthodox communion is not a symbol – it is the physical body and blood of Christ. It is not a ‘reminder’, it is a sacrament. Church centers, not around the sermon, or the music, but around the Eucharist, around the point where all Orthodox Christians are invited to partake of the bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ. This is the presence of the resurrected Christ in our midst, the central theme of Christianity. All of time stops in these moments, this is why it is Divine Liturgy. 

It is also about the Church, the Church as a community of believers and my willingness to submit to the authority of the church, to not go out on my own, but that is certainly material for another reflection.

In the book Facing East by Frederica Matthewes Green, the author speaks of being at a conference with many varieties of believing Christians. The discussion on communion came up and the Orthodox and Catholics, in arguing for a closed table, said that “open communion is like premarital sex – a premature sharing of intimacy without commitment”. She goes on to say that she thinks it’s a “good analogy”. 

I’m still working this through, I still have questions and struggles with all of this. But as with so many things in Orthodoxy, the Eucharist is not something to take lightly, it never was. And in it, like so many things in Christianity, there is deep mystery.

So I sit and watch others go and take communion, pondering the mystery of Christ crucified, resurrected, present in our midst. And my irritation with little boys and blessed bread dissipates, replaced by deep gratitude that I am in this place, worshiping the Christ, son of the Living God.