Sunday, September 19, 2010

One Step Closer

The days, one by one,  are bringing us closer to New Zealand and Fiji.

Our security clearances from FBI are in, and we are putting together the final pieces of our visa applications this week.  There are a few details that are missing yet.  If we haven't told you, we needed to be cleared by the FBI before we could apply for visas. But we do have to wait for signatures from medical professionals, and such before we can send the applications. We should have it done soon and then we wait once again for someone (NZ consulate) to say "okay".

We would like to know when we will leave just as much as our friends and family would.  Until then, we make the best of what we have now.  We are so blessed to be able to see family and friends that we haven't seen for a long time.  We are blessed that we get to have some time to breathe and rest mentally. We are so blessed that we can take our time to downsize even further in a calm and easy manner instead of the way we were before we left Albuquerque.  We are also blessed that we get to contemplate and pray about what we will be doing when we get to the southern hemisphere. 

Seeing old friends and family has been a real gift to my heart.  Whether old school friends or old teachers or people from church, seeing them makes me feel like each day and each moment with them is a gift.  At this time especially because we are unencumbered from the usual pressures of life, everything looks a little different: they all look so beautiful in my eyes, that I can't imagine the world without them, or my life without their beautiful presence. I can't help but to see them as miracles, and in a way to feel unworthy of this vision. 

Father Paul Nikitaras
 Father Paul,  has been editing the translated text about the life and counsels of Father Paul Nikitaras. Many of the items in the book are eulogies that were spoken about the monastic elder.  He was a monk from the island of Patmos at the monastery of Saint John the Theologian. He reposed in 1999.  It turns out that both Father Paul and I met him. I for a just a few seconds on the island of Lipso. Fr. Paul met him when he was 17 and visiting Patmos.  From time to time Fr. Paul P interrupts our daily activities so that we can hear a story about Father Paul Nikitaras.  I remember seeing him as if it were yesterday, his fuzzy white beard and his youthful way of speaking, as if he had all the optimism of a high school graduate.  His step was lively and his conversation was intended for my benefit as he asked me about my love for my parents.  I was 19 that year. 

One of our favorite stories is about a woman who very much loved Elder Amphilochios Makris, of blessed memory, who had promised to always care for her even from Heaven.  It was after his repose, in a state of despair,  that the woman cried out to the elder saying, "Where are your promises now?"  The very next day, Father Paul Nikitaras, who also knew Elder Amphilochios, called her on the phone and asked to see her. The moment he arrived, before she could tell him anything, he handed her a photo of Elder Amphilochios and said "Don't worry, Father Amphilochios is praying for you from Heaven." 

I like that story in particular because it not only describes how easily one can lose sight of God's love due to thoughts or circumstances, but also how easily little reminders can help us along. Perhaps a photograph of a beloved elder, or recounting a favorite childhood story, being in an old familiar place, or hearing of a person in need, or conversing with an old friend can be the thing that recalls us to that blessed remembrance of God's love.  I wonder sometimes when I see old friends, as I have been these days, how is it that so much love is maintained throughout the years of separation?  All it takes is a simple moment of eye contact or a kind gesture, and there it is, a love that belongs to the human experience, a unique exchange of personhoods, two worlds interacting.

Stories of faith and of tenderness and spiritual living from this book are keeping us focused on positive thoughts during these times which can feel so uncertain, although they are not at all.  A train that is running on its track cannot be going to an uncertain destination.  Neither can people who pray.  When we pray, our destinations are the right ones. The prayers of our friends and family have been keeping us steady, and especially those of our elders like our parents and spiritual fathers, especially Gheronta.  Now of course this train is a metaphor for the life to come, but also for our temporary destinations in this life.  After all in the case of this family, it is easier to get cold feet than it is to stay on the track.  We each have our day of doubt.  However, with the help of your prayers, we have boldness that we could not have on our own.

Sometimes we will watch a video from the New Zealand Archdiocese website, and again we are greatly encouraged. Archbishop Amphilochios was in Fiji for several months until last week.  I would love for you to see the footage for yourself at the mission house where he was greeting these two Fijian girls who had just come back from having been in Greece for 5 months at the monastery at Ypseni, in Rhodes. They are shown with their parents, Father Bartholomeos and Presvytera Lydia, the first ordained priest and Presvytera of Fiji.  I am always impressed by the beautiful way they enjoy each other with so much dignity and such open heartedness.

Archbishop greets young guests

The hospitality is so simple and so sweet.  I love seeing the joy on the faces of these girls who respond as if they are at home in His Eminence's gaze.  Father Paul and I truly believe in this kind of experience, that people can find rest and sanctuary in each other. 

I think about all the obligation and all the pressure we put into our lives.  Contrast that to the simplicity and the genuineness of the people in the video.  Father Paul has told me of similar things from his experiences in Calcutta and in Kenya, always saying how he wished that I could experience it too. A moment to sing songs together is nurturing to the heart.  A moment to smile and to be together peacefully makes us more human. 

We have a lot more family to see.  In the weeks to come we hope to see two more of my sisters, and some of Father Paul's siblings and their families.  Also we are eagerly awaiting for Father Paul's parents to return from Greece.  There is another miraculous icon to see at the monastery in Saxonburg PA.  It is a copy of the icon that is in Iveron Monastery in Mount Athos.  Another "blast" from the past for Father Paul.  He saw the original Portaitissa icon on the Holy Mountain.  

Blessed week to you. 

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