Slice of Life: Day 18

Slice of Life: Day 18


Radiant, joyful, beautiful!  One’s baptism day is very special indeed!   Today, we had a  baby’s baptism during our morning service which has me thinking about this very important sacrament. According to the Orthodox faith, baptism marks the entry of a person into the church and begins their walk toward salvation in Christ.  Traditionally, in the earliest days, a child was baptized on or near the 40th day.

Here are a few general observations about baptisms in our church…

First of all, the waters must be prepared.  Babies do not appreciate being cold so making sure the baptismal waters are comfortable is of vital importance.  Currently, we have a rather large metal tub that we use for the ceremony.  However, I’ve seen baptisms take place in copper, concrete and plastic vessels.

As the service begins, the godparents hold the child and prayers are read to renounce the devil.  This may sound odd, but it is a good thing!  The godparents renounce Satan and literally spit at him while they stand in the narthex.  Then, the Creed is read three times.

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Now, after this part of the service, the godparents bring the child to the baptismal waters.  All gathered witness the prayers of the priest asking for the cleansing and blessing of these holy waters.  Children and adults gather closely to observe.  Grandparents and cousins are often in the congregation as well. Sometimes the baby is quite content with all the attention.  Other times, not so much.



Once the waters are blessed, the child goes in with great joy and excitement from all the people present.  Each priest has a different technique in holding the baby and placing him or her gently into the water. One priest may set the child into the water, another may glide the child under.  All very young babies are baptized in the buff!  Older children and adults wear suitable clothing.  Once the baptism takes place, the choir sings and more prayers are read and all are glad at the entrance of a new soul into the church.


Traditionally, the newly baptized will wear a white robe symbolic of a soul, pure and clean.  Baptisms are glorious events to witness because they renew in each parishioner his or her commitment to serve and follow Christ.  If you ever have an opportunity to witness an Orthodox baptism, you will not regret the experience.

Children love baptisms

Orthodox practice invites children and all parishioners to get close and participate.

Slice of Life: Day 13

Slice of Life: Day 13


We have been homeschooling  our kids for 18 years and that’s a mighty long time.  Maybe it’s too long!  Maybe it’s not long enough because I still doubt myself sometimes.

I never had a burning desire to school my children at home.  Those people always seemed a little fringy to me and I definitely thrived more in the main stream.  I wanted to be a business executive, work in a high profile office park, and wear fashionable clothes that demonstrated my good taste.

All of those visions changed the day I met a homeschooling family dining at our local Chick-Fil-A restaurant.  I was in there having lunch with my three young children.  Back then, it was a financial stretch for us to eat at Chick-Fil-A and we did it rarely.  Somehow we were there and I had a baby on the hip and two more climbing on the indoor playground.  Around noon,  I noticed a family of four well-behaved, articulate school-aged children.  They were playing and interacting in such a delightful way.

Being an extrovert, I decided to talk to this mom.  Where did her kids go to school, I wanted to know.  School was just a year away, so that topic was continually on my mind.

I walked over and inquired boldly, “What delightful kids you have.  What brings you here today?  Did you have an appointment?”  I never considered that this family may not have their kids in any traditional school.

The mom responded with a welcoming smile, “We home school and today we took a little break down here to meet some friends.”

Now, that brief dialogue was all that was needed to plant a little mustard seed of possibility:  The possibility that people can do things differently and its okay.   I am sure that more words were exchanged with this nice mom, but these are all that I remember.  It was a providential moment in my life, a moment that has shaped so much of our days here.  I dare say that moment influenced our decision to have more children.  That moment changed the way I think about education and learning.  It changed the way we designed our current home.  And, it changed the way I viewed my own future. Somewhere in there, I began to embrace the idea of just being a woman, a wife and a mother.  In the course of all that, God gave me other little successes that I could not have imagined 20 years ago.

Don’t get me wrong!  It hasn’t been all roses.  It has been snails, beetles, skunks and praying mantis’s.  But, it’s been a journey worth taking.  At least my hubby thinks so, and I love that.

I bet many of us can pinpoint pivotal moments like this in our lives.  It is a healthy exercise to think back. In doing so, I realize that these crucial, paradigm-shifting moments often stem from a simple kindness given by another.  A smile, a simple response, or even just being present in the moment can affect those around us in a profoundly positive way.

Alright, enough of the melancholy nostalgia.  It’s time for lunch and time to mount our praying mantis nest outside before those little critters hatch in my kitchen!

Slice of Life: Day 11

Slice of Life: Day 11


Reflections on The Sunday of Orthodoxy

March is a busy time of year at our house, partly because it’s spring sports season, and partly because it’s Lent.  Lent is the 40 day season of preparation that precedes Easter (or Pascha, which is the Hebrew word for Passover). For Orthodox Christians, Lent is one of the most important seasons of the church year.  During Lent, the Orthodox faithful attend church frequently, fast, pray, and serve in their communities to prepare for Pascha, the day of our Lord’s Resurrection.

The Sunday of Orthodoxy is the first Sunday of Lent. It is a joyful time of tradition when the fast lightens and the people celebrate the restoration of the icons back into the Church.

Here is little bit of Church history:  In the 7th century, a controversy occurred in which the Iconoclasts, also called “icon-smashers” became suspicious of any art depicting God or humans.  These iconoclasts demanded that all icons be destroyed because they saw them as idolatrous.  A council met to determine what should be done about this controversy and it was decided by the 7th Ecumenical Council of 787 AD, that “having icons in churches and homes” was appropriate and considered “open books to remind us of God.”  Iconography became a way for people to “see the faith of Christ unfold before them.”  Orthodox people think of their icons the way a relative would think of a photo of a departed loved one, with love and reverence.

In our churches, the faithful come together on the Sunday of Orthodoxy bringing their icons and their religious imagery.  During the service, parishioners hold their icons all during the service, children stand at the front of the church with their favorite images of the saints of old, and all the parishioners process around the church with a large cross and pictures of Christ.

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Our most recent Sunday of Orthodoxy was just as vibrant a day as any I can remember.  In the choir we held our icons, our priest preached on the glory of the saints, and all held crosses or images for a procession.  That evening, we went to Holy Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral for a pan-Orthodox vespers service.  It was golden and grand, seeing our priests from all the different Orthodox churches in the metro area sharing in prayer and celebration.

The highlight of the evening… as we walked into the cathedral …was glancing up to see a gigantic Byzantine style tiled mosaic of Christ, looking down over us.  It was heavenly.




Slice of Life: Day 10

Slice of Life: Day 10


Janette was her name.   And when I met her, the very first words she said were,

“Isaiah 58: 6  – 8.”

“And tell me about that,” I said looking straight into her kind eyes.

At that prompt, she recited from memory these verses:

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness[a] will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.”

She said them without stuttering or pausing.

Then, she added,  “This is my personal ministry mission statement.”

“Wow,” is all I could manage to say.

Then, she told me that she had sold everything she owned and lived for two years among the homeless in Savannah and Atlanta so that she could minister to them.

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I was blessed to meet Janette while serving at the Loaves and Fishes Christmas Day Meal at St. John the Wonderworker Orthodox Church in Atlanta, Georgia.   This ministry feeds a hearty meal to the needy 5 – 6 days a week, every week.  Christmas is an extra special day in the program.  On this day, a sumptuous four course holiday meal of turkey, gravy, green beans, hot vegetables, breads, desserts, coffee and tea is served sit-down fashion.  A choral group comes from another church to sing Christmas Carols while the “clients” dine.  The vast majority of these needy and homeless people are men; but occasionally a woman will join.  These people live their lives on the streets and sleep under overpasses and in shelters. Most do not offer up their stories to us servers.  They have struggles and addictions and pasts that you and I could never imagine.

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During the meal, I like to walk among them, shake their hands and introduce myself.  If I am lucky, I can strike up a conversation with a few who tell me their names and where they are from.  One man said that he was a minister and another said he had a college degree.  There were several, who when asked how they were doing, said, “I am Blessed.”

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On the way out the door, we hand them backpacks full of food and hygiene items  to help them with the uncertainty of their lives on the streets.  Naturally, this was every client’s favorite part of the Christmas meal!

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As one of the last visitors was leaving, backpack in hand, Janette called out, “Hey Sam… have ya got a cigarette?”

“No,” he called back.

Janette looked at me, knowing somehow that I was witnessing this exchange and said, “The Lord told me that it was okay to smoke so that I could build a bridge with these people.”

Not knowing how to respond, I smiled.

She had a point, I figured.

Janette has found little ways, albeit unconventional, to connect with the needy here.  I am not sure if she is still living on the streets.  But, I can say that she makes herself available to serve and I am humbled by her generosity.

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The Myrrh Bearing Maidens of Oregon

The Myrrh Bearing Maidens of Oregon


(part 4 in a series about Keeping our Young People in the Church)

Mark 16:1-7  (NKJV)
16 Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. And they said among themselves, “Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away—for it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed.
But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.”

As a young lady, I always treasured the story of the Myrrh Bearing Women. Women, were after all, the first to receive the good news, that Jesus had risen from the dead.   In the Orthodox Church we learn that the Myrrh Bearing Women were the first to see the empty tomb and the Risen Christ!  These faithful women were bringing spices and ointments to prepare Jesus’ body when they discovered that He wasn’t in the tomb.  Instead, they saw an angel who told them to “go, tell His disciples.”  Jesus  had risen and the women were the first to bear the light of this news!  What an honor that He would choose these women to be the first to know!

Fast forward to Holy Week 2017.   During this week, I was chatting with a dear friend, Lia, who lives in Portland, Oregon.  I met Lia  years ago when she walked into St. John the Wonderworker Orthodox Church in Atlanta, Georgia. With four kids under the age of ten, she drew near to see and learn about the ancient faith.  I knew right when I met her that she was a person I wanted to know!  Eight years and 3,000 miles later we are still friends and I am blessed to be the godmother of her youngest child, Abbey.   On this day in April, she was telling me about Holy Week activities at their church out there in Oregon, St. John the Baptist.   Then, she mentioned the Myrrh Bearing Maidens.

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“What are the Myrrh Bearing Maidens?” I asked.  Her answer  is why I am writing this piece today!  When  I asked that question  I discovered a most remarkable tradition, handed down woman to woman, parish to parish.  This program invests in young ladies grades 3 – 8 and prepares them for a very important role to play during Holy Friday and Saturday services.  I absolutely love this parish tradition and I want to hand it down to you as well.

Myrrh Bearing Women

Just as the Myrrh Bearing tradition has been handed down parish to parish, so has my discovery of its origin at St. John the Baptist!  Lia connected me with Jennifer, who has daughters, 15 and 21, now graduates of the program.  Jennifer, who has organized the Myrrh Bearing Maidens since 2005, learned about the idea from two Arizona ladies.  They, in turn, participated in the program when their mother coordinated it.

According to Jennifer, the Myrrh Bearing Maidens are young ladies who serve during Holy Week by processing around the tomb of Christ on Good Friday.  As they process, they toss rose petals around the tomb, then they follow the tomb outside in the larger procession with candles.  The next night, at Pascha, they receive the first light from the priest to offer to the congregation and to the world.  From there, they process outside, just behind the altar boys and greet the parishioners with singing and joy as they reenter the church.   Jennifer shared with me last August, ” I  have always loved this way for our daughters to serve during Holy Week, and the girls and parishioners love it, too. They wear white dresses and gloves, and have several important parts to play.”

The young ladies rehearse two or three times before Holy Week so that they are ready.  Jennifer tells me, “On Lazarus Saturday we have a Myrrh Bearing Maidens retreat at my small farm, where the girls prepare a luncheon for their moms, hear a spiritual talk (given by Lia this year), and then play with the chickens, sheep, cats and horses outside.”  A couple of weeks after, they meet  to debrief on the event and eat treats.  At this meeting , the outgoing maidens receive a small icon of the Myrrh Bearing Women.  The cycle continues as some of the graduates serve as assistant coaches for the next season.

Here is what Petra Rich, 15,  had to say generally about her experience:  “For me, being a myrrh-bearing maiden was a chance to sacrifice a small amount of practice time for a special moment in the presence of God. It enabled me to connect with the young women of the church and I am now helping coach it with my older sister. Myrrh-bearing maidens bring the women of the church into light, which I believe there should be more of. Overall, this is a very special group, who join together each year to bring themselves before God. It is truly amazing.”

What I love about this story is how St. John the Baptist incorporates young women into the very sacred traditions of Holy Week.   Rev. George Mastrantonis of the Greek Archdiocese reminds us:…We are invited to enter the sanctuary of  Holy Week, not as spectators, but as participants in the commemoration and enactment of the divine Acts that changed the world.”  The Myrrh Bearing Maidens participate in this very important role as bearers of light to the world.  As these ladies age – up and assist the younger groups coming  through the ranks they maintain that light into the future.  As you can see, this is a wonderful parish effort and blesses so many people during the service and then years after.   Wouldn’t it be excellent, with the blessing of our pastors, to launch such a program at our own churches? And then, to hand this tradition down year after year, daughter after daughter?  I definitely think so and I hope our mission  can one day offer this tradition for our young ladies to participate and to remember.

abbey as Myrrh Bearing Maiden

2018 – Kitchen Table Reflections Prompted by iPhone Photos

2018 – Kitchen Table Reflections Prompted by iPhone Photos

Today is a rainy, February, gloomy sort of a day.  I am at my kitchen table letting the gloom settle in on me like loose silly putty on an upholstered couch, getting depressed about the weather and my blog and my to-do list.  My favorite green tea is out and Monday is the first day of Lent!  With perturbation, I open my blog page to see that the last post here was November 26. Ouch!

I love writing here so much; yet, I haven’t been here in months.  I have literally pages of topics I want to write about and explore and share here with you.  So, what have I been doing that has kept me away?  A million things in a million directions.  And, since I haven’t been able to get myself back here in months due to, well you know, life… I am just going to start again.  I’m dusting off these keys and jumping in. These nimble fingers will bend to my will once again.  It is time!

Winter weather, childhood milestones, marches, sickness and parish life: These are the themes so far this year.  These iPhone pictures show where we’ve been and what we’ve been about.

From the get go, on day ONE, January 1, change was upon us. We had only a few days at Christmas to say goodbye to Ben who left for the Hermitage of the Holy Cross Monastery on Jan 2.


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Then, there was getting the # 1 daughter set up in her new apartment at UGA.  Mattresses, a desk, and a succulent collection were all important things to be hauled into the shared space on a 27 degree day.


Then, there was a nasty sickness that managed to hang around our house for 2 weeks!  Coughing, sneezing, tissues, Tamiflu, ibuprofen, charting, and echinacea were all common vocabulary words around the fire those weeks.


Then the snow came.  These southern chickens would not go out into their snowy run, so I had to bring the water bucket to their covered space.  Of course, having multiple days below freezing meant this urban farmer had to haul thawed buckets of water out to replace the frozen buckets twice a day.  Somehow, in spite of the bitter 7 degree temperatures, these 10 chicks laid a half dozen eggs in one day!

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With snow, came our favorite snowy past time, sledding!!  By the way, if you don’t have a Zipfy, like the green one my husband is holding below, you need to ask Santa for one next year.  Zipfy is the best, safest, most resilient sled known to man!  It works great on pavement, hills, ice, snow, even pine straw.


Unfortunately, with the snow came a bitter frost that burnt the camellias and froze beer on contact in 20 minutes flat.



Somehow, we managed to get some school in during January, but it was difficult.  I had an idea:  Let’s see if these jade plants will revive if we use fertilizer!  I figured, these jades were on their last leg, so nothing to loose.  So glad we’re studying botany!


On January 19, with most people healthy in our house, we made our way down to the Atlanta March for Life.  So glad I phoned Father Tom to join us.  He represented the Orthodox clergy in the area and gave us an anchor as we walked the streets of downtown.

Atlanta March for Life

The first week in February, our Riley had his Eagle Scout Court of Honor! He’s in the middle, literally!  He’s our middle child, # 3!  So proud of his Eagle Scout accomplishment and glad that COH weekend is over!!

Eagle Court of Honor

Pinewood Derby is always a rowdy activity in the winter!  Especially when you make your Pinewood Derby car into a taco.  Note how this slightly dramatic competitor is putting hot sauce on his taco car to make it “go faster.”


Thank God Father Paul has come to bless our house yet again in 2018.  We always have him do a double blessing on the teenagers’ vehicles, which he is doing here with a flourish of holy water.

house blessingWhich bring us to last weekend, which had us on a college visit to Georgia College on another wintry day …


and Meat Fare!  Goodbye meat.  See you in April.

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So, you can see we’ve been pretty busy with all sorts of wonderful things and most of this business is just pretty typical at our house.  2018 is going by in a hurry as evidenced by these cell phone pics.   And since this is standard fare, I will just have to adjust my schedule slightly to get some more time at these keys.  That’s the goal, anyway.   See you very soon.


Paleo + Vegan = God Only Knows

Paleo + Vegan = God Only Knows

by Angie Nasrallah

Paleo and Vegan!  Can you say those two words together in the same sentence?  Well, let’s see… I’m mostly Paleo; but, right now I’m vegan.  That doesn’t sound right does it?

And, why do we call ourselves words that identify us with a particular diet?  While camping next to a middle-aged couple, you may hear the wife reveal as you offer a roasted marshmallow, “Sorry, we’ve been Atkins for ten years now.”  Somehow, we identify with the foods we eat.

A couple of years ago, my doctor put me on a strict Paleo diet to help with my digestive problems.   A Paleo diet is an approach to eating that focuses on reducing inflammation in the gut or body by eliminating known inflammation causing foods like additives, gluten, processed grains, industrial seed oils, dairy and sugar.  Inflammatory foods happen to be associated with a modern diet rather than the foods eaten by our ancestors. So, basically, Paleo is a way of eating that gets us back to vegetables, clean meats, most fruits, nuts and seeds. Think cave woman or early native American.  Think hunters and gatherers.

So, why am I writing about being Vegan and Paleo?  In the Orthodox Church, we strive to fast several times a year.  Whether you are Vegan or Paleo, South Beach or Whole 30, these prescribed  fasts ask us to stretch ourselves physically and spiritually by fasting dairy, meats, eggs, wine and olive oil.  Thankfully, the church fathers weren’t of any dietary persuasion and they knew in their spiritual wisdom that food consumption is directly related to our spiritual lives.  As my husband says, “Heavy stuff.”

Now, to the dilemma:  How does one keep the Orthodox fast and yet still keep the parameters of a healthful diet?  How does one, during Advent, hunt and gather?  If you were to set up a Venn Diagram with Paleo and Vegan as the two headings, the common foods in the center would be…vegetables!   Unless you are John the Baptist, eating locusts and honey, this is very difficult.

This past Lent was an interesting experience for me and I want to share with you what I’ve learned about merging these two seemingly opposite approaches to eating.  Perhaps this information will be of help as we enter Advent.

The first thing was to realize that fasting is about reconnecting with God and becoming the kind of Christians God wants us to be.  Fasting helps us toward that end, but it is not the whole equation.   “The value of fasting,” St. John Chrysostom says, “consists not in abstinence from food, but in withdrawing from sinful practices.” This reading from St. Chrysostom showed me something very important:  I’ve got to work on my inner thoughts and my sinful nature first!  It is actually easier to give up chocolate or coffee cream than to quit sinful habits.  The first week of Lent was difficult, fasting nasty thoughts and meanness.  Then, I had to work on replacing those destructive thoughts with prayer and kindness.  This was and is the real work of Lent.

The next thing I did was open up and start talking with people about my struggle.  After Divine Liturgy, during coffee hour, I would hang by the coffee pot and just talk with people about what I was going through with diet and Lent, etc. Surprisingly, what I discovered is that a lot of people struggle with dietary issues.  Here I thought I was all alone in this!  One mom I talked with said she struggles with a rare autoimmune disease that requires she cannot consume sugar, nightshades, gluten or dairy.  Another man mentioned that he was attempting to lose 35 pounds and get back to his prenuptial figure.  A friend shared that her thyroid disorder had her on a strict Paleo diet for life. Hearing these and more stories showed me that we are not alone in our struggles.  Everyone is dealing with something.

Thankfully, I read this during the fifth week of the Fast:  “He who prays with fasting has his wings double, and lighter than the very winds…nothing is mightier than the man who prays sincerely …But if your body is too weak to fast continually …. although you cannot fast, yet you can avoid luxurious living”  (St. John Chrysostom.  Homily LVII on Matthew XVII).  I may not be able to keep the Fast well, but I can at least cut indulgent foods like vegan chocolate death cake or the lobster bisque!

So, with the words of St. John Chrysostom  in my mind, I altered the way we served fasting foods at home.   Here is some of what I did:

  • veggie spaghetti – I made pasta for my wheat eating family and I cooked up spaghetti squash for myself (and whoever was brave enough to try it).
  • veggie chili – I served the beans on the side!
  • veggie soups were made with Qorn, a protein product made from fungi.
  • avocados were always kept on hand and served for breakfast, lunch and dinner
  • nuts of all kinds were always on a counter for eating
  • I kept a can of tuna or salmon around and put that on salads at lunch when I needed a protein hit.  By the way, the calcium in canned salmon is a good replacement for what you are not getting from dairy.
  • I could definitely keep the dairy and the alcohol fast closely.

If you are on a restrictive diet for medical or health purposes, there are still ways to participate  in  the church fasts. In attempting to reach beyond our comfort zones we can allow the Lord to work within us.  We can connect with people who are also struggling and offer encouragement.  We can fast destructive thinking. We can show our families that we are not perfect and that God uses broken vessels.  We can still step away from this world for a few weeks and deliberately work on our relationship with the Savior by purposely not indulging in the luxuries that are so abundant in our world.  That may mean different things to different people, but for me it was staying away from indulgent entertainment, gossiping , beef, dairy and sweets.

So, what does it mean to be Paleo and Vegan?  It will mean different things for different people.  But, as we trust that He can work out the details of a keeping a challenging diet and a fast, it will likely show each of us that we need Him more than we need food!!

May each of us have a blessed Advent and a joyous fast in preparation for our Savior’s birth!