By Twinkle Lights We Shall See Light

As Christmas looms on the calendar I indulge in my annual pre-season rant, grumbling about mindless consumerism, cheap sentimentality, and society-driven busyness. Bah, humbug. But when the first Christmas lights sparkle in the winter darkness, my cynicism vanishes. Colored lights, white lights, C9s and C7s, blinking or steady, thousands upon thousands of twinkle lights. Oh, the magic of it all. Especially on a dark and bitterly cold December night, the glowing trees…

Slouching Towards Bethlehem

As predictable as a pile of unwanted catalogs in my mailbox, November brought with it an ad for a community “Holiday Celebration.” Which holiday? Is it possible that my Denver suburb will be celebrating Pancha Ganapati, the five-day Hindu festival in December honoring Ganesha? Possible, but unlikely. A choir probably will not be singing pagan Yule or Saturnalia songs at the event, although they might devote a tune to Hanukkah amid the…

A Family of Faith, Spiritual and Real

A few years ago my friend and her family were received into the Orthodox Church. When our priest prayed for the Luceros they did not stand by themselves. In fact, if they wanted to join the Church on their own, they would not be allowed, because the Church is not a gathering of individuals; it is a Eucharistic community. In a beautiful practice birthed in the ancient wisdom of the Church, each…

Little Plastic Cups and Motley Communion Experiences

At our Southern Baptist church, I knew “transubstantiation” was a non-starter. But did we perhaps believe in Martin Luther’s “consubstantiation,” the idea that the substance of the Body and Blood of Christ are present alongside the substance of the bread and wine…er, grape juice?

Smoke Signals: The Fragrance of Prayer for Church and Home

On a recent weekday I was walking from my church’s fellowship hall into the nave to light a jar candle and pray for a friend in need. My thoughts were pinging around as usual, and I wasn’t feeling particularly spiritual. But when I opened the door to the narthex, my heart registered a sacred truth well before my mind caught up: I had entered a holy place. The signal came not from…

Remembering the Cross, Again

Have you seen anyone recently with a golden electric chair hanging from a chain around his neck? How about an elegant, elderly woman showing off a diamond guillotine brooch on her dress? Or maybe you spotted a buffed-up guy at GNC, buying a protein supplement while wearing a sterling silver noose over his tight workout shirt.   No? Me neither. Even in our depraved modern world, instruments of violent death aren’t used…

A Different Kind of New Year’s Day

The Church considers September 1st to be the beginning of the new year, called the Feast of Indiction. But the first sign of fall for suburbanites can be summarized in three letters: PSL. This acronym shows up in late August, signaling the appearance of the pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks as well as pumpkin spice everything else—candles, muffins, potpourri, desserts.

The Sign of the Cross: A Neglected Weapon of Prayer

I saw it happen on television and in movies, but never in real life. The characters, male and female, young and old, and often in period costumes, hurriedly tapped themselves—forehead, sternum, left shoulder, right shoulder—during moments or fear or confusion. The presence of a dead body was often involved.   These people who crossed themselves were often portrayed as ignorant, possibly uneducated, and definitely superstitious. They were secondary characters—not the heroes, and…

Brief Sayings from the Holy Fathers on Liturgy and Life

  This week I am on a much-needed vacation with my husband. So, in keeping with the past few months’ journey through the Divine Liturgy, I want to share with you two wonderful quotations. First, something to remember each time we enter into worship in church:   Following His Ascension, the Lord sits with his Heavenly Father in the heavens and at the same time, He is present with the faithful Christians…

Liturgy Survival Guide: The Liturgy after the Liturgy

To this day Orthodox Christians continue to eat together after the service, but the ongoing liturgy involves more than a communal snack. Some have called the post-liturgy period, from coffee hour through the rest of the week, “the liturgy after the liturgy.” It encompasses our whole lives, both inside and outside the walls of the church building.