Monday, December 27, 2010

People, Prayer, and Christmas

Have you ever attended the Royal Hours for the pre-Christmas services at Church? 

What there is to learn through the services never ceases to amaze me.  I am thankful to the Lord for all His ways, including the tradition of letting go of our worldly lives to listen to the teachings of Holy Scripture. 

As we read through the Royal Hours, the Psalms, the Prophecies, the Epistles, and the Gospel readings teach us and prepare our souls, so well, for the coming of Christ into the "world" of our lives. The words themselves attract the attention of the soul, where the love of God longs to be.  

On Christmas Eve, to end the prayers of each 'royal' hour we sang: "Today The Virgin is on Her Way...."  Each time the hymn was sung, the love of God, through those words, with all the beauty and meaning of everything we had read, moved, as if on a journey, deeper and deeper into our hearts! 

Christmas comes to us even when we think we are not ready.  His love cannot be held back, especially when we ourselves have made our own small human effort to receive Him.  He is just that good.

Some of our news from the past two weeks:

I flattened a tire this week on the curb stones. Yah, in this part of town the curb  stones are rather hostile. They are real stonr, not poured concrete. They are sharp. Made in another decade, maybe in another century, by prisoners, just like they used to make license plates in the USA. The city streets are lined with them. But people here don't necessarily drive on steel belted radial tires either. I noticed that there are lots of tire stores in this area... and over here it is spelled tyres.

Thanks to Father Paul, who braved rain and traffic to put on the spare, we made it to the tyre dealer before he closed for the day.  I'm so glad I was just a five minute walk, still on our street, when it happened!

There's lots here taking up our time these days...

The house where we are staying needs some sprucing up.  It is nice, and the Hellenic Community here rennovated plenty before we got here.  The kitchen is very new, and so is the bathroom...the one that doesn't have a toilet…lol. But the paint is peeling in places, and the curtains need a little perk.

We put up some of our own draperies: a roman shade for the living room. Because there is no central heating in many of the homes here, and in this older part of town the windows are drafty, there is the use of thermal draperies.  They reduce drafts, but don't necessarily keep the cold out.  No one expects to be warm in the winter here. They think that 80 degrees F. is super hot.  What they wear indoors is what they wear out of doors, so I hear.

Well, we will have to find our own alternatives for staying comfortable this winter because we have removed one set of drapes and, instead, put the shade with the help of parishioner JM.

Raphaela took this "after" photo so you can see our
 Christmas tree and petunias on the front porch.

We have met some fabulous neighbors here! I was telling them how some of the women  back in Albuquerque were concerned that we would be amongst head hunters living in this hemisphere, and that we would have to defend our family from cannibals.  Honestly, we are living in this country with people whose ancestry had such things going on  (but not necessarily for regular meals). Some are from the smaller islands around too: Solomon Islands, Samoa, Fiji; French Polynesia is't that far away.  But I don't know any of these histories well.

I have heard that there is a Maori term for white people: Pakeha.  I just read that it literally means "other people" in the Maori language, since before the arrival of the Europeans, they were the only ones here.  They didn't have a name for themselves.  It is a little like how the Navajo call themselves "The People", the Maori call themselves "people ordinary" as in the regular people. The white are the "other people". After awhile it just became the word for whites.

In these places, the Islands of Oceana, there are many Christians now.  Gracious and hospitable, the islanders here have their own special ways to show kindness and warmth, and they respond so kindly to smiles and gentleness.  I continue to look forward to living in this very intensely multi-cultural place.

Today, while at the airport, we met a woman who is married to a man who is half Greek and wants to come to our church.  She is Japanese. How nice it will be when she and her husband come and meet the nice people here.  No matter where we are people walk up to Father Paul and talk with him.  They see him in his clergy clothing, and they take courage and walk right up to him and ask questions.  This is how we met this woman.  May the Lord bless her search for Him, and for the truth that she needs.

Our neighbors are not all native Pacific Islanders as we have thought of them, however; they are also Kiwi's who have British ancestry of one kind or another. Their families may have been here for a long time. Two whom we have met were born in England, and they came here when they were still young. They love it here and would never want to go back. They are Kiwi through and through. Others tell stories of when their ancetors came. One Kiwi told us that his grandfather is a survivor of the battle at Galipoli.

Mr and Mrs "H. Hunter"
But we do have some very friendly neighbors. On our first day we met a couple who suggested we call them Mr.and Mrs. H. Hunter for the BLOG.  Here they are on their way to the beach with their daughter. They had us over for dinner last week. They eat mostly fish, so we are very comfortable at their table.   We had really nice conversations and our Georgios had a great time on the trampoline in their yard with their children.

We started looking for furniture this week, too, and found table and chairs to fit our very narrow dining room, and seating for the living room.  Not our usual Christmas preparations.

No, it doesn't feel like our traditional Christmas, summer weather, flowers blooming, but you know it did feel like Christmas at the just the right time: when we were in prayer in the Church.  Christmas has a way of meeting us where we are at, just like Christ came to meet us here as one created although He was not. Hearing the pre-feast hymns is such a comfort whether we are in the best of circumstances or the worst. I think so, anyway.  

This one goes straight to my heart everytime I hear it, year after year:

Today the Virgin is on her way to the cave where she will give birth
To the eternal Word of God
In an ineffable manner
Rejoice, therfore, O Universe
When you hear this news
And glorify, with the angels and the shepherds
Him who shall appear as a new child
God from all eternity

It is the time of year when we try once again to welcome the King into our hearts.

I think that this is the first year, in a long time, that there was Litugy on Christmas Day (as oppossed to the Eve) here at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Auckland. We prepared a little snack for those who wanted to break the fast with us after Liturgy.  By God's grace it was easy enough and food enough.  It definitely brought a little festivity to the day, and we could embrace our parishioners in the spirit of the holiday!
Father Paul addressing the congregation at
 Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church Auckland

Our garden is doing nicely. While some of the seedlings didn't make it, some of them are real survivors.  The garden looks happy today after four consecutive days of rain. It is like summer in Ohio.  And here there was a drought, so the people are very happy for the moisture. 

We hear that there are more baptisms happening in Fiji.  Tomorrow there will be a wedding too! They will soon need places to worship. The Church is becoming something there and it is happening so sweetly and so naturally with the gentle guidance of His Eminence.  He goes there regularly and lives there with the people that he is bringing into the church.  

In time we will be able to share our stories from Fiji as well.

His Eminence Archbishop Amfilochios with the newly
 baptized from the North Island of Fiji which is called Vanua Levu

But for Christmas he was back in NZ, and two days later back to Fiji to encourage the fledgling flock there.  We had the blessing to help him get to his flight today.  

We hope you had the very best Christmas ever, and that you will have a blessed New Year filled with Christ's love which is like no other. We ask for your continued prayers as we are now in the field, and we must be, with God's help, most faithful. 

Below is the Christmas message of His Eminence's to the faithful of New Zealand and Fiji. May it be a blessing to you all as well.

Greeting you all 'warmly',

Your friends and Christ's servants.

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