Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Under normal circumstances, I would drive ten miles out of my way to avoid the store nearest our home, which happens to provide mammoth sized shopping carts resembling racecars to its shorter, more demanding clientele. But this day was different, these circumstances were anything but normal, I had a grocery list burning a hole in my purse, or more accurately my purple Care Bear back pack, filled with dairy heavy ingredients for making meat laden recipes. I was jubilant, I was drooling, I was unusually permissive, declaring “Yes Ben! Yes Mary! We will stay here in town and I will awkwardly wield any obnoxious racing car cart of your choosing! It was time, really time, to begin celebrating.

In the wee hours of this past Saturday evening with Sunday poised to explode with heavenly brilliance, our choir at St. Elizabeth’s sang slowly and liltingly these words of anticipation:

Do not lament Me, O Mother, seeing Me in the tomb, the Son conceived in the womb without seed; and then, with voices swelling, they, we, declared Christ’s unbreakable promise, for I shall arise, and be glorified; and, as God, I shall unceasingly exalt all who extol Thee in faith and in love.

“Why is it so dark?” asked five-year-old Benjamin who had forgotten from a year ago the order of this sacred service, “When will they turn on the lights?”

“Watch,” I instructed as our priest and deacon came forward from behind the altar with candles lit, passing those two flames on to wicks being held by parishioners until the tiny glow doubled, quadrupled, covering the room like a warm and spreading blanket. “Get your coat on, sweetheart, we are heading outside; when we come back in, it will all look different. Just follow me and you’ll see what I mean.” Hand in hand we merged quickly into the newly formed procession circling our small parish once, twice, three different times before stopping outside the front door. And then officially we affirmed as a congregation, including men, women, and the smallest of children, that the ultimate victory had been procured, that Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life! Feeling the heat off our excitement, Benjamin and his four-year-old cousin, Isabelle, roared this Truth loudly and boldly, absorbing wide-eyed and with fascination the significance of an empty tomb. We re-entered, as I said we would, to white, to light, to shouts of exhilaration and assurance bouncing off of walls with reverberation.

What strikes me every Pascha is the purity of my joy - elation totally free from inhibitions. For when you think about it most good things in our lives come dragging along with them certain morbid possibilities, potentially grave outcomes outside of our control. The giddiness of a pregnancy is linked inexorably with worry over missing limbs, genetic defects, or a complicated delivery. Better paying jobs can mean an increase in responsibilities, stress, or working hours. The titillation of a budding relationship gives way all too soon to anxiety about the other person’s level of commitment. Our mortality has a tendency to poke holes through dreams and plans, deflating blown-up and idealistic notions of what will make us happy and invincible.

They don’t witness it as much as I know they should, the “no strings attached” type of bliss and tranquility I confidently displayed all through the weekend. Our home was filled with fellowship, festivity, and laughter which they ravenously and enthusiastically devoured, my four sweet kids. It makes me second-guess my reactive decision to hold all of my many, many blessings at an arms length lest their unforeseen removal cause me pain- pain I would feel regardless if I'd enjoyed them to the fullest or not. “Oh, I get it,” said nine-year-old Elijah, in reference to the Paschal Troparion, just last week, “by being crucified, Jesus destroyed death.” H-m-m, let’s be honest now, do I understand that in a way that alters noticeably how I function?

As I've often said before, I take courage in the fact we are saved as a body, that presently you might also be questioning that third piece of pizza, finally feeling caught up on all your lost sleep, or humming “The Angel Cried” while going about your business. We fasted, we prepared, we despaired of our unworthiness, and then we stood outside at midnight in front of various Orthodox Churches all over this nation, all over this ever shrinking world, announcing with a mixture of gratitude and relief that Christ lives, forgives, and loves us. It wasn’t just me who heard it, saw it, tasted and believed, every one of us present were witnesses of that miracle. In my periods of spiritual famine, your robust faith fills my growling and persistent hunger; when mine overflows like a rain soaked riverbed, God willing, it will help to quench your own thirst for something solid, perfect, and unfailing. We are tongues and grooves made whole and complete by our Trinitarian inspired cohesion to one another. We are individual sparks pulling together our resources to illumine and revive what is dim and cold and dead.

“What did he say?” mouthed the kindly cashier when Benji went on and on about all the special food we were buying for Pascha. So I explained the best I could that we were Orthodox and this was our Easter while she nodded her head approvingly before responding with, “well, now, isn’t that interesting.” But to me, to you, to us who were shopping on that exact same day for many of the exact same items, who were Feasting because hell no longer has dominion over those who cling expectantly to the Cross, the word “interesting” was as appropriate as wearing flannel to a lavish ball. Come now; let us clothe ourselves in the opulence of our Savior’s Resurrection and live it, rejoice in it, proclaim it like we mean it:

Christ is Risen!

The photo above is of my daughter, Mary, and my niece, Jane, "feasting" on cheesecake during our family's celebration of Pascha.

Click HERE to listen to this post. This is a service of Ancient Faith Radio.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Pascha 2008

Christ is Risen!

May His Resurrection bring you joy, peace, and courage.


The Sabourins

Thursday, April 17, 2008


Now I’ll be the first to confess, that I am a card carrying “Lord I believe, help my unbelief-er.” It takes a great deal of concentration for me to thread my spiritual convictions in and out through the patchwork of my assurances and doubts, joys and sorrows, disgust and fascination with our culture. “What if none of it's real?” asked my nine-year-old son, breaking through the watery surface of his cool and muffled innocence into the heat and blinding clarity of reason, intellect, and political correctness; The exact same “in the know” environment I, myself, have been steeped in for decades. “We can’t see God,” he went on. “We can’t hear him. What if we die and then nothing happens. What if we end up nowhere?” Quickly I rigged up some sort of confident expression in order to quell his disturbing reservations. “I know, babe” I said honestly, “that it is difficult to comprehend.”

Sometimes, when the earthly addiction of seeking one soothing pleasure after another becomes too thick of a buffer between the awesomeness of a Final Judgment and my own pacifying expediency, I worry that my devotion to a cross and a Savior is but a habit, a hobby, or an inherited gene. Yet I show up, regardless, in front of icons bearing faces, bearing lives whose unashamed commitment to radical repentance prick uncomfortably at the halfhearted existence I’ve grown accustomed to. Yet I pray, trying my best to ignore the seasons of dryness and the sometimes overwhelming suspicion that the teachings of a sandal clad, wood-working God-Man may not be apply, at least in a literal sense, to a less extreme modernity. Every Sunday morning I arrive hungry at the Divine Liturgy, anticipating the moment when my undeserving spirit and aging physical body will receive through holy Eucharist a supernatural link to the unfathomable Kingdom of Heaven without which I would surely yield completely to the persuasions of a society I can touch, taste, feel, inhale and gawk at. “The squeaky wheel gets the grease,” isn’t that what they say about those who are paid attention to by being louder and more obnoxious than their softer spoken counterparts?

If they told us that we couldn’t, without severe and frightening consequences, worship any old way that we desired, we’d have no other choice than to become all for or against something. But as it stands, there’s an awful lot of wiggle room right here smack dab in the middle. With Reverend Oprah as our guide promoting god(s), morality, and personal fulfillment, as more and more individuals settle down contentedly with their borderless and genial religiosity, as some well intentioned proponents of Christianity attempt to broaden its awfully limiting definition, we end up with a message sounding hauntingly familiar in a slithering and deceitful sort of way: “Eat it up kids! This won’t kill you. You’ll find nothing but enlightenment if you follow wholeheartedly your own agenda.”

Faith, said Flannery O’Connor, is what someone knows to be true, whether they believe it or not. So while admittedly, I’m no poster child for sacrificial piety and though I may continually struggle to absorb the foreign tenets of a Tradition based on losing your life in order to gain it, as a prodigal daughter who has experienced too many times the inexplicable satisfaction of being cherished and known and forgiven by Christ…that’s right, you heard me say it – Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Immanuel, the Prince of Peace, I know deep down in my soul that Truth exists. I cannot shake, even in the midst of uncertainty, the unpopular notion that only one Trinitarian path can lead to my Salvation if I cooperate with the plan God has provided.

I heard this week a half hour interview with a prize-winning novelist and literary scholar who had recently been honored by a prestigious University on the occasion of his 75th birthday. “I know,” said the host, “that you have never been religious, but now that you are older and that much closer to death, do you ever wish you had it in you to believe in eternity?”

“No,” he answered hurriedly with just a hint of exasperation. “I have absolutely no desire to be delusional.”

And for a moment my foreground reality consisting primarily of instantly gratifying distractions fell impotently by the wayside revealing a surety that I didn’t have to fight for. The ridiculous and grim assertion that we are here for nothing, that we live for nothing, that our affection for one another is of no lasting significance actually solidified my previously soft resolve to proceed otherwise. There are two kinds of people: said C.S. Lewis, those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, "All right, then, have it your way." With independence comes the burden of our choices. Will I move forward as the foolish girl I am, participating despite my weaknesses, or lose my relevance as a Christian by watching, waiting, critiquing from the sidelines? No one, nothing, will force either option upon me for what is love without the freedom to refuse it? “He was in the world, we read in the Gospel of St. John, and the world was made through Him, yet the world knew Him not. He came to His own home, and His own people received Him not.” What if the sum of all my days adds up only to a lifetime of wasted opportunities? It is possible, way too possible of a scenario to take lightly.

Act first, surrendering a dependence upon logic, then feel the shifting of your priorities confirm that God, as He revealed Himself through the Church, is indeed with us. Come cynical, come starving, come weary and disappointed, come trusting just a little and you’ll understand why there is more, thank goodness so much more than what is force fed down our throats as acceptable, as preferable to the rigors of self-denial, by a civilization living solely for the present. Hope in Christ instead of fluctuating emotions and find meaning and purpose and peace in the midst of chaos.

Click HERE to listen to this post. This is a service of Ancient Faith Radio.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


It used to be, in the not so distant past (as in yesterday), that when my eldest boy, Elijah, was chastised for a series of questionable decisions, such as employing his selective listening skills or hiding uneaten carrots in his desk drawer, he would respond with a most frustratingly pathetic grimace and a phrase guaranteed to push my buttons:

“I’m just stupid I guess,” he would grumble. “You probably don’t even want me as your son.”

“Oh, Elijah, not this again,” I’d beg of him.

You’d think that I’d prefer this type of penitential narcissism to five-year-old Benji’s technique of adamantly denying the indisputable evidence of a crime smeared generously across his face or shoved deeply into his front pant’s pocket truly believing, while being punished for his deceitfulness, that the wrong guy was nabbed and now he is unjustly paying the price for it. Yet as maddening and irrational as such blatant defiance can be, it points back to a sturdy constitution and a rugged, youthfully dauntless sense of worthiness that will keep dear Ben, God willing, from being crushed and irreparably damaged by future heartaches. I can work with a strong foundation, chiseling away at those knee-jerk, self-protective habits, inspiring all sorts of various takes on cheating, tattling, and slothfulness, through prayers for wisdom and discipline. But what I cannot sculpt or create with is material that crumbles to pieces the moment that pressure is applied to it; this world does not cater to fragility.

As the first-born, Elijah knows exactly how to get to me- that swollen eyes and a pained expression can slice clean through my often shaky resolve like a razor blade swiped effortlessly through Jello. If the day is getting away from us and I’m stretched too thin to be logical, his emotional degradation can double masterfully as a cover-up keeping Elijah and me both overly focused on rescuing his wounded spirit rather than nipping inappropriate behaviors in the bud. But when I am prepared, when my morning has been offered up to Christ instead of dumped haphazardly on my shoulders, I can separate myself from the drama and explain clearly, calmly, why his despondency is unacceptable, even offensive to this adoring mother. “I carried you in my body,” I tell him. “You were fearfully and wonderfully knit together with a purpose and placed precisely in my womb, in my life. To give up on your ability to grow and mature spiritually is to negate our Lord’s benevolence and compassion. To insult yourself, is to insult the one who bore you and that, sweetheart, happens to be me – the mom who sees potential oozing limitlessly from every fiber of your passionate being.”

“What I hear in confession during Lent,” said our priest last Sunday, “is that ‘Father, its not working! I am behaving worse than ever!’” And once again I was uncomfortably caught off guard by his insightful candor. Because lately it’s been one bad decision after another, a vicious cycle of impulsive and unintentional reactions gaining speed and momentum like tumbleweeds in a windstorm, revealing loads about my character and lack of restraint. “Can you ever just not stand yourself?” I asked my husband on the phone when the ugliness of my sinful nature became too obvious to ignore. “I’m just stupid, I guess” I grumbled pitifully to the Holy Trinity, “You probably don’t even want me as a disciple, as a follower, as a daughter.”

“But it is working,” my priest continued, “bringing to light our hidden transgressions.” Which is true, of course, because mine have gone on to ignite themselves like fireworks, exploding violently against the all too placid backdrop of my own self-confidence. If I hang around long enough, allowing the oppressiveness of residual smoke to fill my lungs, burn my eyes, and cloud the heavens, I too, like darling Elijah, will stay anchored in place and all choked up by my failures, which is far easier, I daresay, than the arduousness of a repentance requiring the dusting off of oneself, the changing of directions, and the faith to start over from scratch.

Beware of despair, said St. Isaac the Syrian. You do not serve a tyrant, but your service is to a kind Lord, Who, taking nothing from you, he has given you all. And when you did not exist at all, He fashioned you so that you would be in that [state] in which you now are. Who is sufficient to render Him thanks for the fact that He has brought us into existence? O the immeasurable grace! Who can sufficiently honor Him with hymns? For He has given us knowledge of all things. And not only of those which are manifest, but also of hidden things. For we know that if there is anything we do not know, it is necessary for us only to ask this [knowledge] from Him.

But do I want to be informed? That, my friends, is the million-dollar question. Do I want to come to terms with my own helplessness not for the purpose of excusing myself from trying but to honestly assess my position, accepting my utter dependence on grace and realizing that in order to be used by Christ, I must release both puffed up and disparaging opinions about myself. We are loved, every single one of us without exception. Forgive me for doubting even momentarily that Truth, the Truth for which You willingly suffered.

Parents mess up too, you know - every day, just like their children. Look at me, Elijah. We need to quit wasting time on regret and journey forward, secure in the promises of our Savior. We must mourn our sins and then depart from them instead of wallowing in their filth, and tepid stagnancy. With Christ as our core, we can endure the pruning necessary for bearing fruit, without wilting into dry and comatose nothingness. With contrition should come action and determination to be better, more obedient, less selfish than we were an hour, a minute, or a second ago. As long as we are breathing and capable of thought, we are expected to confidently seek out righteousness. Keep moving son, keep hoping, keep believing in the goodness of our God.

Friday, April 04, 2008

True Belief

Last fall I had the privilege of joining the editorial staff of The Handmaiden, a quarterly journal for Orthodox Christian women published by Conciliar Media Ministries. This week for my Close to Home Podcast on Ancient Faith Radio. I will be reading the following article which I wrote for the latest issue (Vol. 12, No.1) focusing on the topic of True Belief. If you are unfamiliar with with this outstanding resource providing interviews, articles, reflections, poetry, etc., all geared toward the strengthening of our faith and the building up of our Orthodox community, I encourage you to visit the Conciliar website and give yourself or someone you the love the gift of a subscription.

An Impracticality Reconsidered

by Molly Sabourin

After graduating from college, many of my friends held on to their favorite textbooks, kept their research papers in a binder, and filed away their notes to mull over later. I admired this about them even while actively trying to sell every gently used memento I could gather from my own scholastic experience to underclassman for a little bit of pocket money. It’s not that I wasn’t grateful for being pushed and pulled, challenged and humbled, enlightened and indoctrinated throughout my four years of higher education; I was just so darn ready to spread my wings, still damp and fragile, and fly away into the sunset without any extra baggage, without a mind all strained and muddled, without kinking up my neck by looking back.

I’m a “deal with it and move on” kind of girl. A “let’s get this show on the road” type of student, mother, shopper, cook, etc. This explains why I get a good start on a recipe (one I didn’t take the time to read all the way through, of course) before realizing that I am out of baking soda, vanilla, or garlic powder. This is why I usually leave the grocery store having purchased all but three of the items on my list (“double-check?” What a drag!). This is why I make overly ambitious plans, like organizing the entire kitchen in 20 minutes flat, only to end up with a counter full of spices, cereal boxes, and canned goods impossible to put away again before my time runs out. And this is why after immersing myself for a solid year in Orthodox Christian literature, theology, and Tradition, in preparation for my imminent conversion, I took a ten-year study break to just live out the Faith by applying it to my every day circumstances, to grow accustomed to the rhythm of the Church.

Staying ever true to my character, I compiled throughout that time all kinds of uplifting books from various parishes, conferences, and catalogues, only to precariously stack the bulk of them on my nightstand, like a makeshift leaning tower of good intentions. Dog eared pages in the first or second chapters of each, reveal my impatience, my unproductive habit of getting easily sidetracked by new resolutions, by an “easy read” novel, or by sleep. I am genuinely appreciative of the Church’s teachings, but …how should I put this? My interest in creeds, counsels, and Orthodox catechism has been trumped by a desire for something more practical at this stage of my life - like instructions on meal planning, home organization, and discipline.

For example, you will rarely find me at coffee hour in the throes of a good-natured debate with seminarians, because jumping up every three minutes to head off an impeding toddler disaster is not exactly conducive for participation in intensive dialogue. So I stick with the “mom” table, where my fellow female parishioners pop in and out of light hearted conversation like fishing bobbers coming up for air when their line is free, before the weighty demands of their hungry children can pull them quickly out of sight again. This is the “hunker down and take care of the business at hand” routine to which I became accustomed - and which God had no qualms about shaking up a little.

This past July, my husband, Troy, and I celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary. All that day I counted down the minutes until I could break out a dress impossible to nurse in, and dust off my high-heeled shoes for an evening of good food (i.e. something with visible vegetables) and romance. We were giddy as we dropped the kids off at my parents for this was indeed a rare occasion – a chance to share, communicate, and confide in one another without interruption. It became quickly obvious, however, that we could not jump into such earnest discussion willy-nilly, without unwinding, warming up or switching gears. We both needed a bit of time to let our zooming thoughts settle, to slow down our breathing, to remember how to relate to one another outside the context of parenthood.

“Do you want to listen to something?” asked Troy pulling out the iPod he depends on for maintaining sanity throughout the daily, hour-long, commute he makes to the city.

“Sure,” I said, we had at least an hour to kill ourselves, a built-in pocket of rest before painting the town red, “what do you got?”

We decided on a podcast from Ancient Faith Radio, Clark Carlton’s three part series on Hell and Hades. Admittedly, I was fuzzy on the Orthodox Church’s view of the afterlife. It was one of those topics I had meant to look into but, unfortunately, had let all curiosity about fall to the wayside due to other, more pressing, concerns. “This should be interesting,” I thought to myself, closing my eyes to the tacky highway billboards promoting gambling, fireworks and strip clubs. And for the next 45 minutes I was riveted, I tell you, I was floored by the “abstract” Truths, Dr. Carlton expertly and methodically spelled out for his listeners. I became permanently altered by the “unnecessary” information drawing tears of thanksgiving from my overworked and underfed mind.

Let’s face it, the main reason I joined the Church (Her rock solid stance on what constitutes the “fullness of the Faith”) is the same reason why I got …let’s see, how shall I put this? Lazy. It felt so great not to have to carve out my own, shaky, position on the essential tenets of Christianity, to surrender to this Christ-sanctioned authority, that I stopped honing in on the foundational details altogether. I, eventually, would take for granted what the martyrs had given their lives for: dogmas that protected our “Ark of Salvation” from heresy, dilution, and erosion. It is feasible, I suppose, that too much head knowledge (acquired for purposes of pride) could be one’s downfall but that was hardly a possibility in my case. It is pretty safe to say that of all the ways I could potentially shoot myself in the foot, developing an unhealthy obsession with the history and minutiae of Church doctrine is not one of them. I am on the opposite end of that spectrum, filling my brain with, albeit seemingly innocuous, still secular information. It is hard for me to choose “Church books” over “mothering” ones. It is a stretch to seek out the answers to the spiritual questions hovering subtly amidst the everyday cares and concerns that eat up my time and energy. And yet a “God-send” of a car ride would reveal how acquiring an Orthodox understanding of death, for instance, (as a curtain behind which lies an extension of our relationship with Christ Jesus - one capable of continued growth and communion with the saints, those still on earth, and the Holy Trinity) could transform how I prayed for those who have already passed on, could instill hope, courage, and determination not previously known to me.

True belief is an organic whole in which faith, acts of selflessness, and understanding are woven throughout, like strands of yarn knitted and purled to form a sweater. To remove but one is, essentially, to unravel all of it. The more I know about what exactly it is I believe, the more likely I’ll become to put those convictions into action. It is a catch-22 worth getting caught in for any of us longing to sprout some wings and soar away into the joy of eternity without earthly baggage, without a heart all convoluted, without a soul too weighed down by irrelevant stimuli to take flight. There is no “one-size-fits-all” prescription for best rounding out our experience as followers of Jesus Christ. But I trust that opportunities for strengthening our individual weaknesses are made plentifully available to those who ask for them. Now if you’ll excuse me, I myself have an architectural wonder near the bed to whittle down. It is growing late and there’s much I’ve yet to discover. I pray I’ll change my tomorrow through the knowledge garnered today; I pray today I’ll love enough to learn tomorrow.