Sunday, April 10, 2011

Great Lent: It's All About Keeping the Faith (recipes at the end of the blog)

Australian Rescue workers in Christchurch

Out here our minds have been dwelling heavily on the Tsunami in Japan, as well as the earthquake in Christchurch New Zealand.  There was nothing that I could write worthy of your attention in the wake of those tragedies, so I waited, out of reverence for those who were sufferring. The photos here are from various internet websites.

Ad campaign for Christchurch fund raising

Japanese Red Cross
Canon Corp. Makes Large Donaiton

Soon after the tsunami, I would see Japanese store owners with such long and tearful eyes.  I could only say little things like, "we are truly sad for you and your people". We could of course pray for them, and it once again became clear how intensely important it is for us to be in the church, ever ready as soldiers, to pray those prayers of "Lord have mercy" and " Grant this O Lord", when Greek Orthodox priests and deacons everywhere are beseeching God on behalf of the whole world.  

We are getting a better feel for the geography of this part of the world. I really never knew where Singapore is. Malaysia is a place people talk about like we would talk about Mexico or Canada or Jamaica - close enough to wonder what's going on there.  I originally thought we would be nearer to Japan geographically here than when we were living in New Mexico. Yeah, a whole 200 miles closer. Culturally, we are definitely closer just because there are so many Japanese here, and there's Sushi everywhere.  The most prolific and popular Sushi place in Auckland...owned and operated by Greeks.  Really!

Raphaela goes to an inner city school, with many international students. She says the girls aren't quite sure what "Greek" is, but they are very sure they know what "American" is.  She was intrigued seeing the girls there cautiously approaching the baklava she made for the International Club fundraiser for the tsunami victims in Japan.  It wasn't until all the other snacks were gone, that some brave ones were willing to try it.  Then some girls were buying 4 at a time!

It isn't always so much fun that we are so far from home, but if we accentuate the positive with prayer and the joy of the Lord, the sense of adventure begins to seep into our daily activties. Getting to try different ethnic foods is fun too.  A lot more places to get vegan dishes here so that we can keep the fast.

Our Greek women frequently remind me that we are on the edge of the world.  The Greek women who came here in the 1950's and 60's came when they were still very young. They understand the exile that we feel at times. They are quite the lanterns of faithfulness and survival.  They teach by their examples, the value of living one day at a time, and the art of living as a guest in another people's country. 

There is a lot to learn about the personal histories of these women and their families.  They make immigration look simple, although it is not.  I have heard stories of the tears they shed, not only for having left their homeland, but also because it was a painful adjustment.  While most people tell us that it takes at least a year to adjust to a new place and new circumstances, I have heard our women say things like " Oh yes Presvytera, the first three years were the hardest". Of course for them there was also a language barrier.

Book Cover
The Lord was indeed merciful and sent them very good husbands, from England, or Europe, or Kiwi men who came to call. Some found Greek spouses. They all lived together as one community long before there ever was a Hellenic Organization. One woman tells of how she left Greece so that she wouldnt burden her parents with finding her a husband after WW2. Another talks of how she was orphaned in her early teens as her mother died at the age of 42. Another put herself in the restaurant business just after her husband died, her sons were still in school.

Lieutenant Haddon Donald,
22nd Battalion
His story  and others can be found at:
As AV tells her story, Greek families harbored Kiwi soldiers during the Battle of Crete, that pivotal battle of WWII which kept the Nazi armies from attacking Russia before its hard winter hit.  One such Kiwi (not the one pictured) veteran went back to Crete to marry into the family whose support had kept him alive against all odds. Our parishionner knew this family well.

New Zealand soldiers and people of Galatas, Crete
After his return to New Zealand, he was instrumental in persuading the New Zealand government to offer a new start to women from poverty stricken families. In essence to repay New Zealands debt to the heroic Greek resistance which had sheltered them. The little ladies who came were offered jobs to earn their living. It was a government program that brought them here to the edge of the Earth.

They raised their families with love, and faith and tried with all their might to give them a proper taste of Greek culture through their housekeeping, language, and the art of Greek cooking.  It was all they had to give, but it was huge. They tell me how all their strength came from above, how protected they felt in this strange land. They were  the first to fill the church for the Akathist to the most Holy Theotokos this year. They came with a deep sense of purpose. They brought their husbands too.

When I consider how these women came here in their teens, or early twenties, and I taste their cooking, I can't imagine how they remembered those flavors, those recipes, those cullinary presentations which let you know that the food you are eating could only come from a Greek kitchen.  Even more impressive is the fact that for many of them, when they first got here, there were no olives, goat cheeses, spices, olive oil, vineleaves, filo dough, lentils, broad beans, dandelion leaves, chamomile tea.  Nothing to remind them of home.

One of our Kiwi members said that when he was young there was only one kind of cheese here. I asked "what was it called?"  You can guess his answer..? "Cheese." 

In many ways they remind me of Mother Gavriilia of the book called The Ascetic of Love.  She left her homeland and lived in India where she was completely separated from her home culture, and she maintained her faith in all its aspects, and even grew in it, so that she could come back to Greece and encourage others. 

Our women here show their love to God through their labors. When they come to church to do a job, they come together like a well oiled machine, like a seasoned well-trained team.  They know each other's talents, and show respect for their individual gifts. They work, and clean, and make everything that they touch better than how they found it. Although we have witnessed great Philoptochos chapters in the USA, and other organizations, I have rarely seen women so intent to show their community their love and faith through such simple service, and with such sureness of spirit.

Whitening the Table cloths
Hearty and Handy
Showing Father Paul fabric samples for Church Cloths
Tireless, Full of Joy to be Together

There is no program, no roster, no reward for their efforts, no one to chastize them if the job isn't done right.  It is just the best way they know how to keep the faith.  And they have kept this community  in their own way, through many years, 40 or 50, through all kinds of obstacles and deprivation of sorts. 

They may have a lot to learn about theology as there has been little catechism here for them.  They do, however, also have a lot to teach.  The theology they know is something rooted within them, that cannot be easily removed. Many of them, now in the winter of their lives, are sad that there might be no one to look after this precious piece of Greek Orthodoxy for their grandchildren, nor anyone to carry on the cullinary and other traditions that so kept their hearts hopeful and generous for so many years.

Keeping the faith ready for another generation is a beautiful and gracious act of love for God and love for man.  We get the opportunity for this honor every year during Great Lent when our own faith is renewed through extra prayer and fasting.  There are lots of books about that for us to study and learn. Simply speaking, when we do participate in the arena of the fast, we teach each other the very virtues that make us who we are as a group.  We grow in the very things that make Orthodoxy attractive to those who are seeking Christ and real worship.  We connect our children to our heritage in a very tangible way.  We fight the good fight in honor of those who did it before us. And in this generation those who did it before us, did it with less.
We have a great tradition to lean on, and so we don't have to reinvent Christianity ever.  We just have the blessed task before us to better ourselves through our traditions and our personal struggle. 

This year someone from our parish got beautiful yellow roses for the Veneration of the Holy Cross when we reached the half way point of Great Lent.  It reminded us of the first flowers of springime the daffodils keeping us in tune with the seasons of the very first Easter. We also did a procession around the church with the Icons on Sunday of Orthodoxy.  I was so happy for our parish.  It is hard to explain how such things help us to grow in the Lord.  These traditions are so simple that they can be ignored if we are not caring for them responsibly. However, when we are willing to embrace their simplicity, they reach very far into us and they are healing and motivating unlike things of the world.

One tradition that I was blessed to participate in this year was the decorating of the icon of the Most Holy Theotokos called "The Unfading Rose", referring to Christ, and to her being the only one who brought Him forth unto us.  I wish you could have seen Father Paul and I trying to come up with ways to keep the flowers on the icon. There were no pre-formed frames sitting around here. It was comical at first.  There were so many things we didn't think of. In the end we were so blessed and honored to approach the most Holy Theotokos to serve her memory, presence, and  example amongst us.

Flowers that havent faded
since 24,  March Vespers

Icon of the Annunciation

We had a wonderful Akathist that night.  The church was filled with joy and prayer.  So many of the participants were the women who came here long ago from Greece.  The Church was like a ship that took them back to their traditions and the meaningfulness of Great Lent.  Sure, when the service was over, they were still in New Zealand. We all were. But a little more of what they left behind was now with us all!

Now for a little fun...

We surprised Father Paul a little for his birthday......

Yes he was that surprised!

 So we bought a little nostalgia for him to make him laugh a little via a specialty shop called Martha's Back Yard. Everything you know you can find in the USA for twice the cost!
Stuff you just can't get in New Zealand
He really enjoyed the gesture even though he has a lot on his mind back in the States.  Father Paul's mother is still being treated for various illnesses that she incurred over the past 8 months or so.  It has been a hard, hard road for her. 

I will do my best to post again on or about Pascha.   With more photos of course.  Wishing you a blessed continuation of the fast,and Great Lent.  May the Love that envelops us during Holy Pascha be strong and vibrant in our hearts, so that no distance can separate us from the love of Christ neither from each other.

With Love in Christ

We thought you might like to try one of the recipes inspired by our time here, and our garden.  Both recipies below can be made without oil.

Near East Surprise

One can Coconut milk shaken well
One can tomato sauce
One can red kidney beans
Sweet potato or yams ( I made it with some pumpkin). Maybe one large or two small cut into cubes
Zucchini or Mexican squash, about one meduim/large sized cut into cubes
cinnamon, cilantro (or parsley or basil) , salt and pepper to taste.

4 cups cooked rice.  Brown rice is preferred, but basmati or jasmine works well too.

Combine coconut milk and tomato sauce with herb and cinnamon, and with Salt and pepper to taste in a medium/large pot and heat until it just comes to a boil.  Add potato and squash and cook until done about 15 to 20 minutes simmerring the whole time.  Stir to keep it from sticking.  Add kidney beans and heat through.  Stir.  Serve over rice.

Silver Beet a la Father Paul

One large bunch of Fresh Swiss Chard cut into one inch strips.
One large onion sliced into thin shreds
one can Kidney beans
Salt an Pepper to taste.
(lemon goes well with this too i just prefer my greens  plain with lemon )

Saute onion until soft in your preferred oil. Can be sauted in a small amount of water for stricter fasting.
Add Swiss Chard (called silver beet in this hemisphere) cook through about 15 to 20 minutes on medium heat.
Add beans, stir and heat through.  Serve with rice on the side or garlic/mushroom mashed potatoes.

1 comment:

CoffeeWithB said...

LOVE your eloquent depth of spirit!!