Idealism v. Reality

It’s January. So much of my ideal vision of motherhood and Orthodoxy is wrapped up in what was my normal for the last four years as well as goals I have for our family spiritual life. I mean, I’ve been researching and writing a book, non-fiction, that is sort of an encyclopedia of various feast day practices throughout the year for the last few years so I definitely have a lot of ideas, whole Pinterest boards of them, but the execution both in actually writing the book and in our personal lives is often lacking.

In my ideal January we’d start off the year sharing Vasilopita with friends and all the excitement and anticipation of who get’s the coin and the blessing of St. Basil for the year. I’d make the cake from scratch from someone’s centuries old family recipe. It would be perfectly dusted in powdered sugar and the year.

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On January 6, which fell on a Saturday this year, we would be having Liturgy for Theophany (the feast of the Baptism of Jesus), heading out to bless the Kern River as we have in past years and then house blessing and food all afternoon.

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On the weekend nearest January 15, our dear Ethan’s birthday, we would have that Pinterest perfect “How to Train Your Dragon” party that he has planned up in his mind. We’d have the amazing Night Fury cake with candles coming out of the dragon’s mouth, Popsicle stick catapults and “sheep” marshmallows, games, a picture perfect tablescape, a photo booth set up with viking and dragon themed props, a clever party hashtag, the works.

On January 17, we would spend some time talking about St. Anthony the Great, our schoolwork patron saint, and try learning that Troparion (hymn) for his feast day yet again.

Lent and thus Pre-Lent comes early this year, so on Sunday January 21, we’d sing the silly Zaccheus song and go to Hart Park to climb Sycamore trees on Zaccheus Sunday.

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And at the very end of the month, we’d be gearing up for St. Brigid (Feb. 1) and Candlemas/Meeting of our Lord in the Temple (Feb. 2) getting supplies to make Brigid’s cross and candles.

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In my ideal our home would function as a little monastery in some ways, in the mornings we’d do prayers before starting our day, we’d do the full fast on fasting days, and in the evenings we’d either do evening prayers or Compline as a family.

It’s nearly midway through January and what my month has looked like so far:

Dec. 31 was a Sunday this year. Ever since our mission closed public doors, we’ve done Typika (a shorter version of the typical Sunday services that laypeople can read through) at our home with another family and more recently an inquirer that has been coming for about a month. That morning I woke up early, bought a boxed spice cake mix from the closest grocery store and made it just before we started the service. I frosted the cake and put number candles on it because sifting powdered sugar to make the year is messy and not my thing. I was surprised the cake even turned out because my mantra has been “I can’t bake” for quite some time. I got the coin this year after we all stuffed ourselves on too much cake.

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January 6 was filled with the lows of my husband’s grandmother’s memorial service where we were gutted by bagpipes (she was very proud of her Clan Sinclair Scottish heritage) and bittersweet memories.

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That afternoon was followed by the highs of the birth of Christ late that evening on Old Calendar Nativity. Death and Birth all in the same day. An emotional rollercoaster, and yet fitting, since Christ’s coming allows us to “rejoice in the Lord as we tell of this present mystery. The middle wall of the partition has been destroyed; the flaming sword turns back, the cherubim withdraw from the tree of life, and I partake of the delight of Paradise…” (First Stichera, Vespers of Christmas Eve).

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Christmas on January 6/7? Old Calendar? A brief history lesson: In the 1500s the Pope of Rome decided to change the calendar which is 13 days “behind” to correct some dating issues and slowly much of the world followed suit, except some Orthodox holdouts because the job of calendars and dating events had always belonged to the Church of Alexandria, an ancient center of learning. Eventually some Orthodox switched to the New Calendar, with the date of Pascha/Easter still ascribing to the Old Calendar date so that all of Orthodoxy celebrates on the same day.

On January 10 we were just getting around to reading the our favorite children’s book on the Life of St. Catherine (Nov. 25) and making our liturgical journal entries for her, because that is how far behind we are on those. Though I did manage to make from-the-can cinnamon rolls on her actual feast day.

This weekend will be spent sewing a couple paraments (fancy Liturgical cloths that cover stands, tables, etc.) for a special Liturgy we’re having on Monday to celebrate Theophany kind of halfway between the dates on the Old and New Calendars and all of our usual pomp and procession, river splashing, and house splashing that comes with it.

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Monday also happens to be Ethan’s birthday. I got wind of his party plans only a week or less ago and struck up a compromise that I’d bring a cake with plastic dragons on it to our homeschool co-op at the end of this month. I always feel bad for the kid because we’re usually so wiped out after Christmas and his birthday just becomes an afterthought like this most of the time.

As for my other lofty spiritual family goals, ha. Our mornings are not started with prayer, like ever. And I hate putting kids to bed. We had a good two month stint where I was boring my kids to sleep by sitting on one of their beds and chanting Compline and an Akathist to the Saints of North America. But honestly, it started to make bedtime take even longer, which I already hate, and I wanted to do other things besides taking an hour or more to chant. The kids joked that they were giving me “a holiday break, just like for school,” but honestly I don’t really wanna anymore. Last night I kept popping in their darkened rooms to put away laundry and Henry would say, “Prayers?” every time I came in with a new pile and I said I was busy and he knows the “Our Father” so can’t he pray himself?

But I think real life and our faith and having an Orthodox home is lived somewhere in between this idealism and nothing at all, just like my real month has looked. We stand up, we trip, we fall, we get up, we brush ourselves off, and repeat.

“What we should bear in mind is that every type of work on earth and in all the universe is God’s work, and as such it should be performed from the heart, without reservation. When we do so, we can free ourselves from our interior resistance. Every action of ours will then help our neighbor, beginning with our family, wherever we may be… We must learn how to live a heavenly life. And that is not easy, because up until now we have led a life of resistance and opposition. Take, for example, a family man who has a home and a family and who knows how to do his job well but is doing this job against his will. That is how inner resistance builds up… For we have acquired the habit of always opposing one thing or another, as there is always something that is against our will. We have not learned to be obedient to the will of God but always want our will to be done… Therefore, let us be thankful to God for everything. He knows why He has put us in the position where we find ourselves, and we will get the most out of it when we learn to be humble. We should always remember that whatever task we perform here in this life is for Him.” –Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica, Our Thoughts Determine our Lives

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