I haven't written since Holy Week. Pascha and the feelings around celebrating at home kept me busy and off my computer and shorty afterwards I began working on my book again. I only have moments here and there to write and my focus has been on the book. Today I need to reach out. I don't have the energy to put into words all that is swirling around during this tumultuous time. The wounds of our country are wide open and the pain of racism and injustice is deep. Our parishes are suffering due to Covid-19 and more than anything I want to gather everyone together, to hold one another in suffering and in love. We can only get through this together, with humility, with patience, and with love. Pray with me.
Prayers in Time of Need
Almighty God, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, come to my help and deliver me from this difficulty that besets me. I believe Lord, that all trials of life are under Your care and that all things work for the good of those who love You. Take away from me fear, anxiety and distress. Help me to face and endure my difficulty with faith, courage and wisdom. Grant that this trial may bring me closer to You for You are my rock and refuge, my comfort and hope, my delight and joy. I trust in Your love and compassion. Blessed is Your name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.
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I found this recipe years ago on a blog written by fellow Orthodox American also living in Germany. Her blog is no longer up, but her recipe was really good. I've changed it a bit over the years and I'll do my best to share it with you here.
Red Eggs at Easter symbolize the blood of Christ and His resurrection. Many traditions have developed around the egg, such as dyeing and decorating the eggs, playful egg cracking competitions, as well as blessing them and receiving them on Pascha.
I love making red eggs with onion skins. I like the natural process and the thrifty New Englander in me loves reusing my onion skins and saving money. If you don't start collecting your new batch of skins like I do after Pascha (I fill a grocery bag as I remember throughout the year) you can go to a grocery store and ask for skins or pick some out of the onion produce bin. Get yellow onion skins, they work the best.
The ideal proportion is 1 cup packed onion skins per 1 cup water. My basic recipe is:
5 cups packed yellow onion skins
1/4 cup white vinegar (per 4 cups water)
5 cups water
4 dozen eggs. You can dye more or less but this is a good start. (I prefer starting with brown eggs, but white works too)
Start by putting your onion skins in a large stew pot or dutch oven. Put just enough water in so the onions are submerged. Turn the stove up to med/high. I like to place a plate over my skins (as pictured) to make sure they are fully submerged and all color is released. Boil for as long as it takes for the dye bath to turn a deep red/orange. I always strain and remove my onion skins as I find leaving them allows for lines and marks on the eggs. Allow the water to cool a bit and add the vinegar.
Next put as many raw eggs as fit into the bottom of your pot in the dye bath. Don't worry about adding more water, as you add eggs the level should rise and cover all the eggs. The eggs will cook as they dye. Bring the water to a boil and let the eggs cook for 8-10 minutes. I check my eggs at this point. Normally this is enough time and the eggs are a deep red. If for some reason they are not you can take the pan off the heat and let the eggs darken in the water for a few more minutes.
When the eggs are to your liking, remove them and let them cool on a plate. Once they are cool rub them with a paper towel or cloth dipped in olive oil. This gives them a beautiful shine and I like to think it helps to set the dye.
Repeat with the rest of your eggs.
If you want to save your dye for more fun, keep it in a jar with lid. Last year we collected a bunch of early Spring flowers and ferns. We used old tights to keep the greenery tight against the hardboiled egg. We made it simple and just put the individual eggs to dye in a jar. You could also put them in a pot together and heat the dye. Our dye was cold and we let the eggs sit for an hour. They were a special addition to our basket last year.
My heart is heavy today. I am feeling the weight of a month of being homebound and not seeing my community. I am sad that we had to go pick up palms and pussy willows for Palm Sunday from outside the church instead of being there for the blessing and celebrating with everyone together.
While there is much we can do to move sadness, sometimes the best thing for a heavy heart, is to feel. Sometimes we just need to be sad, and let ourselves mourn. Grieve. Let ourselves move past our feelings, by moving through the center of them. This is a good moment to pray from this place of deep feeling, and let God heal us.
If you are sad too, let yourself be sad for a time. Let yourself sit and feel sadness, "without moving to hide it or fade it or fix it" (the last line is from one of my favorite poems The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer). It captures so well how sometimes we just need to be where we are. So if like me, you're sad today, let's just sit for one minute and breath. If you're feeling something else, let yourself feel that too.
(Pause to breathe for 1 minute)
I hope that pause was healing for you. To help us move through our difficult feelings I want to share a reading from the Psalm Sunday service yesterday:
Epistle of the Holy Apostle Paul to the Philippians,
Brethren: Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say, ‘Rejoice!’ Let your moderation be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Fret not about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things which ye have both learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace shall be with you.
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Who could have imagined a few months ago that we would be celebrating Pascha separated, in our own homes, not able to attend our beloved services together? With this current situation I am trying to figure out what we will do to mark the days of Holy Week and to celebrate Pascha. Two years ago I was newly postpartum and did not attend the Holy week and Pascha services, but my family did. It made a huge difference that they were going, and my kids were getting to experience the services, singing, participating in Holy Unction and soaking in the beauty and grace of the feast. They came home smelling of incense and while missing being in church myself was hard that tangible aspect gave me great comfort.
This year, we do not have this opportunity. We streamed Divine Liturgy this morning and Fr. Spyridon's sermon struck a chord in my heart that sounded in the form of my tears. He said,
"Our hearts truly ache with great emotion and great pain. Because we are separated and this is a very, very difficult thing. The Greek word for church is Ekklisía and what it means is the congregation and gathering of people. The whole essence of our church and of our worship is through the gathering of the people and it is in being together and gathering together in the name of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ so then the power of God comes upon us and gives us renewal and renewal of life and renewal of heart and mind and renewal of unity in our Lord. And so it is materially we are deprived of this profound reality and yet spiritually we must believe with all our hearts all our souls and all our minds that we are together. We are together in the Holy Spirit and may God bless each and every one of you and may He quickly gather us together in the flesh so that we can celebrate as we are meant to celebrate."
The beauty of Pascha is that it will happen whether we are in church or not. Whether we are together or not. The great sadness of this time is that we are not able to be together when it happens: to embrace, to say, "Christ is Risen" and hear "Truly He is Risen" from a sea of voices. We are not able to be in our church home to pray, worship, and celebrate together. While the few who are able to be in church to preform the services have the blessing of worshipping in person, they too feel sadness and the absence of the Ekklisía.
So, to help my family feel our spiritual connection to the church and the Lord's Pascha, we will do a number of material things in addition to our prayers. I still plan to do the usual things I do at home during this time, decorating, dying red eggs, making a Pascha basket, and making Pascha cheese and kulich bread. As this is such a unique time for all of us, I am also planning some new activities and ways to read the Gospels, stream services, and connect with others during this time of being apart. I've listed below some of the things I will be doing and compiled a list of the resources I will be using to piece together our services and celebration.
For Each Day:
I also plan to go through the "my Book of Holy Week" packets that I made for our Sunday school class a few years ago and bring out every year. The packets contains a coloring page Icon of the day, bible reading, and blank page that can be used for notes or drawing about the daily services. It also includes a Good Friday Nature Walk activity.
Sites I am following and finding really helpful include:
Tending the Garden of Our Hearts
Sylvia at Adventures of an Orthodox Mom
Sasha Rose at Sheparding our Little Flock
Saints Sergius and Herman of Valaam Monastery
Reader Services for Holy Week and Pascha
Fr. John Whiteford
*** I will post my red egg recipe later in the week. For preparations you only need about 2 cups Onion skins (yellow preferred), 1/4 white vinegar, water and eggs. ***
Our community is coming to the end of week 3 of limiting our social interactions to our immediate nuclear families and staying home. During this time of change many of us may feel a bit in shock. Only a month ago life seemed pretty much to be flowing along as usual, and now many of our daily lives are completely different. Those of us staying home are starting to feel the walls close in, and those of us still out working in the world can't help but feel the eerie changes: people in masks, empty stores and restaurants, a sense of fear in the air and the very real stress of those of us on the front lines.
Aside from shock we may be feeling a mix of other emotions. Many of are grieving. We are witnessing loss all around us. There is the very real loss of our family and community members succumbing to illness and the grief from losing loved ones. We will be mourning the causalities of this virus for a long time to come.
For many of us, we are also navigating the grief from such drastic changes in such a short period of time. We feel grief for the loss of our daily lives and moments big and small. Loss of graduations and and weddings, birthdays and vacations. The loss of bumping into friends at the park, our daily commute with latte, staff meetings, music classes, library visits, family parties and so much more.
Many of us are afraid for our families, our parents and grandparents, and for the unknown that the future holds. We fear interactions with anyone or going out into the world. We fear getting sick.
We also feel guilt. Guilt for having what we need and access to food and care when so many are without and suffering right now. Guilt for not being able to do more for those quarantined alone. Guilt for being safe in our homes while armies of healthcare workers go to work without protection. Guilt for the effort and stress placed on the tireless delivery drivers, grocery store workers, utility workers, cleaners, postal workers and many others working overtime to keep our country running.
With all of these weighty emotions, it can be hard to feel a sense of gratitude for what we do have. Feeling grateful can help to relieve our stress and bring us into the present. It is a good practice and an important spiritual exercise to give thanks for our blessings and to stir a sense of gratitude within our hearts, especially at a time such as this.
Focusing on being grateful for what we have in our lives can help us to manage the feelings of fear, stress, and grief we may be feeling. Giving thanks for what we have and what is before us can help us to grow in strength, faith, and acceptance. It is very hard to understand why we are going through this right now, how this virus will affect each of us will play out over the next weeks, months, years, and decades. We will make our meaning over time, but in the here and now, we can understand what is before us and be grateful for the opportunity to love, grow, share, give, and suffer together.
Take a minute to sit and reflect. What am I grateful for right now? It has helped me to get some perspective by starting with the basics: food, water, shelter, health, medical care, loved ones. I am also so grateful for social media and connectivity right now. While I don't love being connected all the time or living life on a screen, I am so grateful that we have instant communication and I can call my mother and hear her voice rather than waiting weeks for a letter that might never make it.
Each day, we can find a few small things about our current situation for which we are grateful.
We can be active about it, write it down, share it with a friend, and say it in our prayers. Turn our face to heaven and thank God for the gift of life and all that we are given on our journey.
A Psalm of Thanksgiving: Psalm 100
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all you lands!
2 Serve the Lord with gladness;
Come before His presence with singing.
3 Know that the Lord, He is God;
It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;
We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.
4 Enter into His gates with thanksgiving,
And into His courts with praise.
Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.
5 For the Lord is good;
His mercy is everlasting,
And His truth endures to all generations.
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Source. God is love and the source of all that is good. The bounty and the beauty of nature, the light in our souls, and the beginning of dreams all flow from this goodness.