Saturday, January 24, 2015

Church #33 St. Michael's Ukranian Orthodox Church of Thrien.

It is amazing what you discover when you actually read the name plate on the front of the summer camp church you attended 5 summers in a row. I guess it is more then just "The Church" now. Who would  have thought it actually had a name?

I may be breaking my rules a bit, but the way i see it rules were made to be broken. This weekend i went out of the city and back to my home town. Partially for the goal of documenting the making of the ice cross and then attending of the church service. So sit back and enjoy 259  easy steps on how to build an ice cross for the Theophany or better known as the celebration of Christs Baptism. Lets begin.

Clear the ice.

Bring your brother,

Test your depth.

Mark your ice.

Second rule of Ice cross: Shoots of liquor on the tailgate of a pick-up truck.

Start cutting!

Break a block.

Remove first successful block! 

First rule of ice cross: Don't Hit Water!

Or you get this mess.....




Third rule of Ice Cross: FOOD!!!!

 Fun Ice Cross Facts!
Over in parts of Europe it is common to people to take that whole in the ice where they cut the blocks, lower  a V shaped pair of stairs into it, and people will pretty much "polar walk" these stairs as part of an act of purification.

In some warmer parts if the world, the priest will also throw a cross out into the water and  then often a large group of men will dive in. The first one to retrieve the cross gets a special blessing. Also bragging rights.

This was day one, now on to day 2.

Side note: The first year this church built an Ice cross was 1965. This actually pre-dates the opening of the summer camp that it sits on. 

As a kid i would have never thought that  this church ran like an actual church. Though low and behold, here I am. I am thankful at this moment that i spent the time i did at this summer camp.One of the reasons being is that I learned all the traditions and expectations associated with this kind of church. Compared to most, they are a complex bunch. So i walked in crossed myself the appropriate amount of times with the right amount of fingers, in the right order, kissed the cross, kissed the icon, and sat-down. I also noticed when i was walking in that there was a piece of paper and pen up on a pedestal with three sections. "Living", "Sick", "Deceased"
As you can image I filled my name under the "Living" section.This list was used latter to quickly name off all the people in the church to have them included in a specific prayer.

For any of you that don't know this church is notably tiny. Despite all i can not say it was the smallest. It likely falls neck and neck with Danish church i went to. Let's just say i know from my camp years, that this is not a good place for people with space bubbles. How we packed over 100 kids in here some days i will never know.

After kissing the icons there was also an option to walk over to the corner and lean your head onto a bible that was on a 5' stand, and have the Father put his hand/robe over your head, and also bend his head over and pray for you. There was a line-up so i decided to pass.

I think this church was also unique in the fact that there was literately no artificial light.The Only sources of illumination was the morning sun pouring in the right side windows and the extensive array of candles lit. I know sometimes at night they light the chandelier

The camp Father here now,is not the same one I remember. But After meeting the new Father of the camp church, I feel he is more then the right man for the job. Also the man to be credited with the new and very popular sport  of "Religion dodge-ball". You have my respect sir.

This Church had a surprisingly balanced family mix, but then again that is more common on major religious holidays. Around 40 people i counted. Most were sitting in the body of the church but there were other sitting in this back section called a, Narthex. I needed to look that up. Here is a diagram I found.

Its this section way at the back of the church.The door is still open and you can still see and here the sermon but this is pretty much the equivalent of  nose bleed seats. This section is traditionally reserved for people that are coming to the church but are not part of the "orthodox " faith or if for some reason that person has been in some way in trouble the church.

You know maybe ignorance is bliss, but sad to say i don't feel half as positive about this place as when i was a kid,. Now being at third done my mission, this whole idea of the Narthex really repulses me. If we believe that we are all gods children, we are loved equally, created equal,  and the second highest law is to do onto other as we would have done onto ourselves. I just can't see this being right. NO ONE deserves the nose bleed seats at church! I don't define myself as orthodox but never the less I gave no second thought to my choice to sit in the main body of the church.

However i was happy to see one of my favorite decorations. Three loves of kolach bread stacked together with a candle thru them.  Partiality because it symbolizes a celebration, and partiality because we get to eat it afterwards.

Our service contained all of the common key attributes of most orthodox services,  a choir of seniors, a lot of standing and sitting, crossing ones self  a multitude of times, and of coarse Father blessing the room with incense. Which normally involves swinging back and forth a smoldering incense holder on a chain that looks something like this.

Father also went and carried a bible around the room holding it high and allowing people to kiss it all while saying " Christ is Born" in English and Ukrainian. There is a lot on chanting done in this church. As is typical of the orthodox faith. Always in Ukrainian and then in English. However i did notice substantially less English in this service then the one i remember as a camper. It is always hard to pray when you cant understand what you are praying about due to language barrier.

Another interesting thing i noticed is that during the sermon father turned to the congregation and said "Forgive be brothers and sister for i have sinned before you"  and then the congregation replied back "we forgive you".

As you saw there is a back section  to the church where only the priest an maybe the alter boy are allowed. It always felt like there was something more back there that we were not allowed to see. But even at the age of 11 I knew, rules were made to be broken, so I  snuck back there ( Sorry Uncle Buck! ) to see what was so dam special.  What i found behind everything was a beautiful painting of Christ laying in his burial tomb, covered in a linen  and surrounded by angles. A truly beautiful piece.

The reading today as Luke 18:35-43.

35 As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. 37 They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”
38 He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
39 Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
40 Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?”
“Lord, I want to see,” he replied.
42 Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” 43 Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.

The explanation given after by the Father spoke of how "People that are speaking Christ  are often told to be quite." And how Christians need to stand up for them selves! I spoke to father after the service to get some clarification on this. Cause mattering on how a person might interpret this, it could mean anything. Including getting up on a soap box and yelling to the sky while all the drunk college kids pass by. Me and Father mutually agreed that is a very poor tactic. What he was referring to is that Christians need to not be ashamed about the fact that they are Christians. Because sometimes its hard. Story time. 

So one night i went out to see my buddies band play at a local venue, and i know some of you will recognize this place. 
Yep, good old Wunderbar Hofbrauhaus. Tiny, dirty. hole-in-the-wall venue with beer you have never even heard of, the best bands and people piled out the door to see them (cause there is no dam room in there!!!!)

Anyhow I'm at this show and the room is packed and the lead singer in the band is going on some brief angry rant and  he blurts out something to the effect of.  "Is there anyone in this room who actually still believes in GOD!!!????" and from what i could see, me and  and two guys sitting by the window raised our hands half way embarrised. The singer kind of slunk back, not thinking anyone would actually raise their hand, and went onto the next song. Faith ain't easy some days.

And of cores with it being the day we celebrate Christs baptism, we spent some time mentioning John the Baptist. aka. Jesus's second cousin. aka Nature Boy. We were told today that John the Baptist was "raised in the wilderness by angles" in preparation to meet Christ. I am not sure how exactly he broke away from his mother (Elizabeth), but i guess god had a plan for him. I found this information kind of refreshing cause I know some very earth connected spiritualists.I found it hard to believe that these people to be considered pagans and blasphemous, considering the bible mentions a few times that i know of, where man is encouraged to go deep into nature to help improve ones spiritual consciousness. ex, John in the woods, Jesus in the dessert, etc.

So eventually we did get around to speaking of the reason why we spent numerous house cutting ice out of the lake yesterday. Celebration of the Baptism of Christ and the Blessing of the Waters. John knew Jesus was coming. He knew more then well, in fact he was pretty much was prepping people by telling them to get a head start on repenting and being baptized. What he didn't see coming was this great man coming before him and asking John to baptize him. That is  pretty much like being a a Catholic priest of a poor and small church in the middle of nowhere, and having  Pope Francis show up at your door and asking you specifically, to give him communion. In-fact John looks back at him and says "I have need of you to baptize me! and yet you come to me!?" But Christ replies “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” so John agrees and as he dunks him in the water.

Matthew 3:16-17
As soon as Jesus was baptized, He went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on Him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.”

 Communion was offered, I know how they did it here was kind of interesting. It of coarse involved a cup of wine, which Father had covered with a fancy cloth and said a very complex blessing before beginning the ritual ( with a little assistance of a neon colored sticky note on top of the cup-cover). I was just about to walk up when my brother stopped me. I asked him why and he explained that in this church taking communion was a process that required a special fast the day before, prayers and a list of other things i don't remember. So i ended up without communion.

The way they do communion is that they  put the pieces of bread directly into the wine cup and then spoon feed it to you.  they also hold up a cloth between your mouth and the cup. Because in the orthodox faith if the communion piece falls to the floor, the priest is literately required to cut out that spot in the floor where it feel, bless the spot, and burn that little piece of the flooring. They apparently have a listed set of guidelines on how to do it mattering on what type of flooring it is. ex. hard wood, carpet, linoleum. etc.

After this was all done we were told to get our coats on because we were going outside! So along with a few people bearing some banners, icons and other worship items we all paraded outside to our Ice cross.
(there was also a quick run to get water because someone forgot to fill the golden vessel). And after that all the blessing started.
Pretty much the water gets blessed and then everything gets splattered with it! The books the cross, the icons, the people just everything!. For the ice cross Father had a bundle of evergreen branches prepared which he dunked in the water and then used to bless/splatter the ice-cross. After that it was  a smaller  brush type item used. He pretty much ran around in a circle spraying people with water outside on a -5 degree day in January. I think Father enjoys doing this blessing more then he will admit.

I also noticed that at one point he was holding a book entitled "The Book of Needs". I asked what this meant and he told me it was 1 of a series of 4 and it pretty much served as guide on how to do anything and everything that is more then just a regular Sunday service. He told me that when he was living out need that coast he had blessed winery's in the past and very much so enjoyed it. I also can recall a special ceremony done by a priest to bless my fathers farmland as part of the rituals at his funeral.

After this was all done people lined up with a verity of re-purposed bottles to take home a portion of the holly water. And for us that didn't for see this there was some extra jars on the side. We were also encouraged to drink some. Here is my lovely take home jar.

4th Rule of Ice Cross:
More food! Blessed with Holly Water!

Most specifically meatless food! Apparently it is required on this day. And also in the view of the church fish is still except-able at meatless meals. So we had shrimp!!! I was a happy girl.

I was able to ask father about his silver robes which he says he also wears during the Nativity and The Resurrection.

One thing i asked about was the incense. Because often there are notices at church not to wear perfume and i know this could be an issue. Father told me that he has not had too many issues with people being sensitive  to the smell. Apparently there is a wide verity of  different scents available, many are floral and he has had request by people not to buy incense made with certain flowers.

And my favorite quote of the day; "The Supper Substantial Trinity!" - Father Peter.

On a final note! The orthodox church has declared a new saint. Say hello to Saint Paisios!
Saint that wears a tuque. Best Saint ever!!!

Peace be with you.
I'm gonna go drink some holly water.... I wonder if it tastes like coco nut yet?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Pray and Fight for John Calvin.

There are certain things most of us expect to see in the roughly 75-85 years that we will spend in this earth. Some of us expect to fall in love and get married. Some foresee the birth of their child. But of all the things i could list, this would have to be one of the most deep and shocking.

On Jan 18 2015  in the evening I got to look into the eyes and pray over a young man that will likely be taken to a war torn country and brutally executed. His crime? Converting to Christianity, rebelling against terrorism and being openly gay. I believed that the rights and freedoms of my country would protect this man and make him an honorary citizen. I was wrong.

Canada how can you fail me like this? I thought i trusted you.

Here is what i ask.

Educate yourself, Share the story, and if you can, Donate and write your MP. And PRAY!


The story.

Here is how to find your MP.


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Church #32. Lendrum Mennonite Brethren Church.

Howdy friends! now i know what your thinking, i must have put on a cap and a 1800's dress and gone into the countryside. Ya, not me thanks. This place was pretty much in my neighborhood actually. Got the photo here...

I had zero idea what i was walking into as you can imagine. But what i discovered was a very nice building full of exceptionally friendly and accepting people. One of the first things i noticed was the cross they had at the front of the room.

Kind of a unique take on things. Certainly haven't seen one like it before. The pastor introduced herself to me right away, and made a point to say that there a lot of very artistically talented people in this church. If you take a look around this place you can see that to be very clear. It is pretty much impossible to miss them, everything from  the art, on the wall ( i personally feel a understanding with this piece. I really like it.)

 and this banner.

if any of you are wondering where this came from i found the bible quote for ya. It is referring to life in gods kingdom.

Isaiah 11:6
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.

I personally know some vegetarian Christians that feel this to be an important message. They relate this, as helping bring forth gods kingdom buy helping create a world, where one creature, does not need to harm another to eat and survive.

I also noticed this weird light that stood over the podium.

 It was a building design choice that didn't go fully as planned and now they just spending days making jokes about it. The speaker today said that he was afraid that if we went over his allotted time that he would simply be "sucked up into it".

I am sure that more then one of you are wondering what people were dressed like, and my answer to that would be very modern and professional. I don't think i have seen so many women in suit jackets and slacks in one church service as i have seen here. And there was only a few men with full beards.
There was about 60 people, i would say average age would be around 55. which is slightly lower then most places i have been. Once again i stand in a church where i cant help but notice, that a lot of the seniors looks exceptionally happy and healthy for their age.

For the service i was invited by a lady to sit and meet with her friends who were all lovely Jr.seniors. One thing i really noticed about this church is people like to be INVOLVED! I know a lot of places  where they have to scrape for volunteers and people that will actively contribute. Not here, these church member do an amazing job of steeping up! Beside all of the art, there is a lot of musical contribution. Instead of having your one token lady walk up to play the piano, we had a whole list of people stand up from the pews to contribute in their own way. I think this has to one of the few worships i have been to where someone preformed on the violin. 

The service started and announcements were made, when it was time to greet everyone. The pastor announced that because of so many people having colds and flu that instead of shaking hands, that we should all try fist bumping! The entire congregation laughed and started awkwardly attempting to greet all the people around them. I turned around to greet a man in his 80's he looked at me and asked, "how hard do you do this?" as we carefully nudged fists.

After sitting down we continued with the worship thru song. I normally do my best to stretch my vocal cords, but the lady who had invited me to sit with her, we just just say that girl can SING. I am saying that when the vocal part started in the song, the intensity of her voice almost knocked me over. Just like BAM! Definitely gave me a run for my money.

I was informed early that today was not a regular church service, but mostly a report on the workings of their mission and charity groups abroad. The fellow their spoke a lot about the work the Mennonite Central Committee and their goings on in the middle east. There was an extensive amount of information covered, i could not even begin to recap it. But i will mention a few things that stood out.

 One thing that was of interest was their organizations partnership with a Muslim agency to sponsor and help bring over a small handful of Syrians refugees to Canada. Another being that when asking local leader in these conflict filled regions what can be done to help end the violence toward Christians. There was a very distinct and shocking answer.  They were told repeatedly was that the middle east need to build a "Relationship" with the Church. And more so , the church in North America. I know they say nothing is impossible with god, but man, I'm not sure about this one.

The local people there don't seem to be overly surprised with the rise of ISIS. They are just used to waves of radical Islamist groups  flooding thru every so often. One very interesting quote that i believe was from an professor in Egypt, stated That Islam in the middle east constantly feels under attack by Christianity and globalization. Which taking a step back and looking at it i can kind of understand . But I also think it's silly. To think living in the global society makes you less of a good Muslim, is just down right ridiculous. If you come at it from a christian view that's like saying that we should all live like Hutterites and if we leave our farms and joining the rest of main stream society, that we are domed to immoral-ism and damnation. I personally believe that it is possible to very liberal and valid in ones faith. And to make my point let me introduce you to one of my favorite movies.
 I also suggest this link.
Its addicting, enjoy.

I must admit that one of the thing the spoke abut that really hit me was a  story about a young girl living in a refugee came who's family had to flee because of ISIS occupation. Her family was christian and knew that they would be killed if they did not leave. Her house was tagged with the famous "N" inscribed in Arabic.

This is the equivalent of making Jews wear stars in WWII. Except much worse. They will likely never return to their house, it is now inscribed on their outside wall that "this used to be a Christian house and now it is a ISIS house". They had picture of current state their house, and them mission worker asked them how they have them? And they replied, we asked our neighbor to take pictures and send them to us.Their neighbors are Sunni Muslims, who they have a very good relationship with. As this mission worker was told many times while he was there talking to locals, they say "We know how to get along."

When the offering was being given they said the prayer before and the pastor made a point of plainly saying "Thank-you for paying my salary".

There was a poem read today, which was a prayer saying thank you for the snow, and describing how it brings quite, beauty and tranquility to our world.

We had the children's time (there was around 8-10 kids today, more then most places)  and the talk today was on taking a moment to thank god for our friends and siblings, the people that we socialize, play with and support us.

After the service there was tea/coffee and "Sunday school"  which i was invited to. At first i declined because normally Sunday school is where they keep all the kids, but they clarified that there Sunday school  is where adults go after the service to share their thoughts and opinions on the message and  scripture that had been presented. Free thought is very much so encouraged here. And when it comes to opinions trust me when i say that some of these people really have their own opinions.

I was able to speak to the pastor latter and asked her how this church could possibly have any ties to the secluded plain dressing Mennonites that we often can identify, and she says that this church is just its completely is own thing and that their are many different types of Mennonites.

I noticed there was a lot of talk about member of this church going over seas to do hands on work. So i asked if the plain dressing Mennonites are known to do the same. She said generally no, but they do transfer financial support to the project of other Mennonite churches that do, including theirs. The last thing I pointed out was the Jewish starts i has seen in a few of the art pieces in the church. She said that they are just a bit of a small acknowledgement of the Jewish roots of our faith. It also should be precived as a act of goodwill considering that there can still sometime be bitterness between Jews and Christians.
I have decided that this church is like coffee. It gets you up in the morning and makes you feel all fuzzy and warm on the inside, and ready to face anything the world can throw at you. Even the -35 degree  windchill and a frozen  car windows.

Over all a great church, great experience. I would go back and visit any day. Peace be with you.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Church #31 Pleasantview United Church.

Well first let me say Happy Solstice! Our planet is officially tilting back towards the sun so it has to get brighter and warmer from here on out! ( the whole church applauded when the pastor announced it) . This is a little old church, looked like it could use a little TLC. However i didn't understand the full need of that until latter in the service.  There was roughly 35 people there, mostly seniors,with a few family with kids.
There was a choir of mostly seniors dressed in red and yellow, also with a hand-bell choir of your girls, that i found very enjoyable. We spoke  about the last of the Christmas candles. That candle is Love.

This a a very solom church service, there were prayer for families that might be feeling the pain of spending Christmas with out a loved one that has passed away in the last year. There was talk of the Christmas story. And how it is important to see the connection between the birth of David and the birth of Christ, indicating he is the savior. There was also mention of the fact that there is a instance of child abuse in the Christmas story that is often ignored. I actually had no idea what that was so afterwards i addressed my question to the pastor. Apperenly after King Herold hears that "the King of all Kings" has been born, he is afraid, afraid for his power and empire. So he orders all children under the age of 2 to be killed off. This is where it comes from.

Matthew 2:16-17
16Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.

We had our children's story of the day.  It was Called The Table Where Rich People Sit. And it outlines the life of a young girl and  her dislike of living very poorly in a cabin in the mountains. Despite her parents enjoyment of the lifestyle. Good book, i suggest checking it out. But it all comes down to the idea that sometimes we have people in our lives that see value differently as we do.

There was also continued talk on love, but also what indicates when love is missing. There was a verity of things listed, such as wars and killing but the one that stuck out to me was Insane asylums. I know that a lot of them are shutdown these days, but I had some slight knowledge of the workings of them because i have a old friend that used to have a job as a grounds keeper at one. Hi Ryan.

I knew from another family member that there was a very heavy stigma against people with mental illness especially back in the 60's. This fully came to light when Ryan was giving me a tour thru the grounds of his old work. It all seemed quite normal until suddenly we get to a small graveyard. I asked him what this was for. He said that back in the day, sometimes the mentally ill people would die and there families would not even want to acknowledge there existence, never mind their death. So the staff would have a small funeral  and bury them in the graveyard on the asylum grounds. I also noticed a mini excavator  and a grave dug up. Ryan explained to me that sometimes the family will start to feel guilty for what they have done  and occasionally they will disimtomb the body and rebury it with the rest of the family. I remember approx 50 tombstones.

Quote of the day
" the Church has never been judged for being poor, but it has been judged for acting poorly".

I wanted to talk to the pastor, but before i could do that the church was having a meeting about there budget. Lets just say it looks bad, There is nothing set in stone, but this church is in deep financial trouble, and likely doesn't have long to live.

Despite all of this doom and gloom i was able to find a few happy things. I must admit this really got my attention.

I'm not sure what your first thought is when you see this thing. It could be a 7 post candle holder or it could be a Menorah. I asked about it latter. And the pastor laughed. He said he never thought about it much but the do have this item sitting at the back of their church. I had to ask how this Jewish object ends up in a Christian church? He told me that it was given to the church in memory of a person that passed away and has just been there ever since.

And then there is this thing.

for the longest time growing up i swore that we were the only family that had this. As a child i understood that the only objects that were acceptable  to place on the top of the tree were ether a star or an angle. But we had weird wreath thing with a candle in it. And the crazy part is now, I kind of miss that funny looking tree topper. I guess that is growing up for ya.