Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Last May, I received a phone call from my nine-year-old son, Elijah, but I couldn’t understand him due to his intermittent sobbing between just about every other sentence, “I’m in trouble,” he was whispering (at least I think that’s what he said), “but I’m not sure why.”

I am forever on a quest to make the abstract more accessible, particularly in areas of faith where miracles lose their significance, their capacity to wow and woo, over time. But maybe that’s just me, which is all the more reason to spend my years fighting, praying for the discipline to understand and absorb what is holy but hidden from the loud, the extravagant, the rational. In giving birth you preserved your virginity, in falling asleep you did not forsake the world O Theotokos, we were singing as a family a couple of weeks ago in preparation for the Feast of the Dormition, when the Orthodox Church commemorates the bodily ascent of Mary into heaven at the end of a fruitful yet often excruciating life. I chanted the Troparian slowly, so my children could make out clearly the words, which, as usual, I believed in but had a difficult time making penetrate my present circumstances.

Mary, Theotokos: there is so much I simply cannot comprehend about her multi-faceted identity as the Mother of God.

Elijah’s teacher got on the phone, “Mrs. Sabourin, we’ve had an incident.”

My chest tightened, my heart rate quickened, “What’s going on?”

After Columbine and Virginia Tech - in the aftermath of too many horrific occurrences involving senseless brutality and young people in our public schools, strict rules were set in place and uniformly followed through on. “I really don’t think that your son meant any harm,” purred Mrs. H, “but unfortunately, we didn’t have a choice. It is school policy that if any student makes a threat of any kind, that threat will be taken seriously and the student evaluated by a counselor. “Its just protocol,” was the underlying message I was receiving, as in, “Your fears about the darkening of your son’s reputation sound awfully paranoid for the situation at hand.” I was assured that the episode had been investigated and deemed innocuous. But Elijah, still raw with inexperience, was only beginning to come to terms with the shame and confusion accompanying those accusations, accusations of a type of violence he’d never previously been exposed to in either thought or word or deed. “If only you knew him like I did,” I’d briefly contemplated mentioning but just as quickly decided against it lest such a sentiment be interpreted as biased, overly meddlesome, or spitefully ignorant.

“Can you believe he stayed with her?” they probably asked amongst themselves, maybe whispered in her presence.

The moment she willingly accepted would mark the dawn of her public demise. From that day forth, her morality, convictions, and pious character would be called into question. She would have been isolated enough, both raising and being raised by God, without the added stigma of having her selflessness couched within nearly impossible to defy innuendos suggesting Mary was but a slave to her own base desires. “Let it be to me,” she said, ”according to your word,” and the bar was set for all of us who’d dare to swallow the Fire, the passions-searing inferno that is Christ.

“Would you mind if I shared your story?” I asked Elijah, “Because when I think about it, when I remember how agitated I felt as your mother when you were so grossly misunderstood, I can relate just a sliver to the sadness felt most certainly by the Theotokos as she observed helplessly the abuse of her own Son at the hands (and slanderous tongues) of His creation.”

“That’s fine,” he said. “But first let me tell you exactly what happened,” and I listened with rapt attention as before, he’d felt uncomfortable opening up to me. “At recess we’d play tag, boys against girls,” Elijah began. “This one kid, Stephanie (I will call her in this piece for the sake of anonymity) is a really fast runner and we would tease each other about whose team was better, hers or mine. I like Stephanie, she is funny – she is my friend. I should have been paying attention in music class but I got bored and so, to be silly, I doodled on a handout, Destroy Stephanie, and showed it to the person next to me who laughed and then passed it down the row. Stephanie giggled too but then my teacher grabbed the paper and then ran and got another teacher and then they both took me out into the hallway and had me sit in a desk for like an hour waiting to talk to a lady about my threatening behavior. I was so confused, mom. I felt yucky and really embarrassed. I cried, but I don’t think the other kids saw me.”

“Is this Mrs. P?” I asked, all anxious-like and edgy, “I am Molly Sabourin, Elijah’s mom.” And I was ready to defend with a vengeance my tender, squirmy, and verbally precocious child until the counselor cut me off with just a hint of irritation in her otherwise calming demeanor:

“Oh my goodness, Mrs. Sabourin, this whole situation is just nothing but ridiculous. I have three boys of my own and they are forever destroying each other and their fictitious enemies. Yes, we have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to threats against the school, but in this case it was obvious that your son had no intentions of hurting anyone. He was horrified, quite frankly, and I did my best to help him realize that the entire affair was just a huge misunderstanding. I’d advise you not to question Elijah unless he brings it up himself. I promised him that it was over and not worth fretting about.”

But what if she hadn’t, hadn’t promised him or appeased me? What if someday Elijah, or his siblings, or even Troy and I are pegged as a threat to peace and democracy - not for a foolish mistake, for crossing a line inadvertently, but rather for purposefully adhering to our Orthodox Christian beliefs at the expense of evolving American values keeping time with dangerous whims born of self-enlightenment. I worry for my kids; this world is changing rapidly, growing increasingly hostile towards Truth. There will come a day when opportunities are lost, freedoms restricted, reputations tainted by a refusal to compromise or espouse what was once viewed as sin but has now been gussied up and repackaged as open mindedness. It is highly possible that when such a day arrives, justice will elude our “bigoted” family. So, what then?

Imagine. Can you imagine being a witness to the torturing and the murder of both your son and supposed savior? The despair would be immeasurable, unfathomable, unbearable. After all she’d already surrendered to play a part in the restoration of man’s communion with the living God, her burning hope, which had kept her focused on the bigger picture, was inexplicably snuffed out with Jesus’ final declaration of “It is finished.”

“So, what now?’ she must have wondered in misery.

Not too long ago, I’d felt justified keeping Mary in her place as but a shell whose flesh was pre-ordained to house temporarily the incarnate God-man who alone was worthy of all my praise and reverence. As far as I knew, there were only two options: either ignore Mary or commit heresy by exalting her to the same level as Jesus and by doing so, deflect from His salvific work on the Cross. Knowing what I know presently, however, what I’ve been privileged to discover through Orthodoxy concerning a third choice, (one so sound and logical and compelling that every other alternative now seems to me to be lacking in fullness and substance when viewed in light of it) it makes perfect theological sense that the continual remembrance of Mary’s faithfulness to her Lord, throughout trials more straining and demanding then any other human being has ever encountered, is absolutely necessary for a complete experience of the Faith as was originally lived out by the apostles. Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas and the South wrote the following concerning the veneration of Mary:

The Orthodox Church honors and venerates the Virgin Mary as "more honourable than the Cherubim and more glorious without compare than the Seraphim.........." Her name is mentioned in every service, and her intercession before the throne of God is asked. She is given the title of "Theotokos" (Greek for "Birth-giver-of-God), as well as "Mother of God". She has a definite role in Orthodox Christianity, and can in no way be considered an instrument which, once used, was laid aside and forgotten. … The Virgin Mary in the Orthodox view is not regarded as a mediatrix or co-redemptress. She is an intercessor for us, and the content of prayer addressed to her is a request for her intercession. The Orthodox concept of the Church is the basic reason for the invocation of the Theotokos and all the saints. The Militant Church on earth and the Victorious Church in heaven are intimately bound together in love. If it is proper for one sinner to ask another sinner to pray for him, how much more fitting it must be to ask the saints already glorified and near the throne of God to pray for us. Surely, they know something of what goes on here, for else how could there be rejoicing in heaven over the conversion of one sinner? (Luke 15:10) The saints in heaven are equals of the angels (Luke 20:36), who are used by God in the accomplishment of His purpose (Acts 12:7).

There are many lovely hymns in the Orthodox Church; my favorite is sung to Mary during the Paschal Divine Liturgy. For three days she mourned, for the whole of her life she remained obedient in the midst of ridicule, prejudice, and persecution. I get chills when the time comes to travel with the angels to our grieving Theotokos, to share with her the glorious news of our triumph over death through Her Son’s Resurrection:

The Angel cried to the Lady full of grace
Rejoice! Rejoice! O pure Virgin!
Again, I say rejoice!
Thy son is risen from His three days in the tomb!
With Himself He has raised all the dead.
Rejoice, rejoice, O ye people!
Shine! Shine! Shine, O new Jerusalem!
The glory of the Lord has shown on thee.
Exult now, exult and be glad, O Zion.
Be radiant, O pure Theotokos,
In the Resurrection, the Resurrection of thy Son

I am forever on a quest to replace fear with courage, doubt with assuredness, my own agendas, for both myself and for my children, with the exact same pliability and submissiveness the Virgin Mary displayed when stepping up to embrace a role that would open for everyone one of us the door to redemption, eternal life, and freedom from the hell of our own transgressions. I am determined, but awfully impressionable, dependent upon a community of believers both in heaven and on earth to stay the course. As a woman, I am thankful for my newly acquired intimacy with femininity in its purest form, with an example of sacred nobility that in every possible way outshines the dullness inherent in vanity, insecurity, and self-gratification - with the righteous, victorious, and most honorable Mother of Christ Jesus.

O Holy Theotokos, pray to God for us!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Photo Opportunity

Well, it is time for my quarterly Handmaiden plug as the Summer 2008 issue, focusing on Miracles and Pilgrimages, is due to arrive in the mailboxes of subscribers any day now. Again, I want to encourage you to find out more about this phenonminal publication containing faith inducing, soul strengthening articles designed to address concerns specific to Orthodox Christian women, if you have not already done so. Below you will find my own latest Handmaiden contribution enititled "Photo Opportunity," which can also be heard as a podcast on Ancient Faith Radio beginning sometime on 8/19.

It began with an invitation from a cyber friend of mine to join an online photo-sharing group called “People with Icons,” which was inspired by a lovely set of photographs entitled, “Women with Icons,” created by the photographer Jocelyn Mathews. The idea being we would all take a picture of ourselves with an icon of our patron saint and upload it for others to look at. After viewing some touching contributions from my fellow group members, I was inspired to submit something of my own and so I walked upstairs to our prayer corner to find our image of the holy prophetess Anna. Upon approaching the far wall, however, adorned liberally with heavenly reminders of what truly represents the “one thing needful,” I looked her square in the eyes and then not without shame, retreated. I wasn’t yet ready, I discovered, for such a project.

When we were joining the Orthodox Church, my husband and I were told to choose a saint, a patron saint whose name we would take as our own, whose identity we would try our best to emulate. We felt drawn to Saint Simeon and the Prophetess Anna; I liked that they’d met the Christ child simultaneously and it was special to me to have an icon featuring both of them together. These patron saints would pray for us, a concept that was new to me yet intriguing. I was at a loss, however, as to how to form a more intimate relationship with mine in particular. For the past ten years, I had heard St. Anna’s name when I went forward to receive the Eucharist; I closed my nightly prayers with, “through the intercessions of the prophetess Anna” …and all the other patron saints connected with our various family members. I revered her - I believed wholeheartedly in her dedication to all of us on earth trying to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, but at that moment, standing face to face alone in our second story hallway, the idea of posing with her for a photograph such as I would take with my best of friends, my mother or my Aunt, seemed inappropriate. I was long overdue in putting forth a concerted effort to better understand this most pious individual and through that acquired awareness, become more Christ-like. Thus began my mission to both uncover information and then meditate on its relevance to my life. I began to seek a way that I might soften the formality a bit and close the gap between us I had created through a lack of communication. Who are you, Anna? Which of your traits can I imitate and draw strength from? It would be well worth my time to find out.

The most obvious place to start were the Scriptures. In the book of Saint Luke I found the following summarization of Anna’s life:

And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, and had lived with a husband for seven years from her virginity; and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And coming in at that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem. (Luke 2:36-38).

When I explain to you what struck me immediately upon combing that passage like a detective searching for clues, you will accurately assess that I am, unfortunately, somewhat pessimistic and in need of a faith infused backbone. At a relatively young age, Saint Anna lost her first and only husband to death. This is beyond significant to me as I waste a lot of energy being afraid of that very scenario, at times to the point of emotional paralysis. “What would I do?” “How would I go on?” I wonder, blinking back tears during a bout of insomnia while watching the chest of my own beloved spouse rise and fall steadily with sleep. Anna was once a wife, as I am a wife. It is probable she loved with the same intensity that I do, the partner whose identity had fused together with her own and whose unexpected absence ripped a throbbing and open wound within her heart. Anna grieved, I am sure, she was most likely nervous about the future but notice that the sorrow was not, by any means, the end of her story.

“Oh Holy Prophetess Anna, you endured my greatest of fears, yet through the grace of God were not crushed and beat down ever thereafter. Please pray to Christ that I might take courage in your resilience and trust with all my soul in the wisdom of His plans.”

It is hard for me to imagine, with all the breeziness and comfort I’ve grown accustomed to, being married to the Church, spending every waking moment suppressing the urge to forget that I am called upon to be perfect, just as God Himself is. Anna prayed, we are told, and fasted with fervor unknown to me. Her unrestrained commitment is like a mirror revealing the chasm between what I currently am and what I could be. But rather than taunting our weaknesses the Prophetess Anna provides a respite from mediocrity, beaming like a lighthouse that leads away from the dangers of blindness and into safety.

“St. Anna, I am tired, so very drained from fighting impulses to lie down and rest, to wallow in self-pity. Teach me, by your example, how to weather the tumultuousness of my passions until at last I find the peace achieved through sacrifice.”

My neighbor is depressed about finances, her moody children, and she and her husband’s strained marriage. And what do I have to offer her? A lot more than I actually give, which is usually a nodding head and a sympathetic expression. It’s always sitting there on the tip of my tongue, the conversation about love--Christ’s love specifically--and how it transforms even the grimmest of situations. But what would she think of me if I unleashed that un-neutral bombshell? I suppose it shouldn’t concern me, and in all actuality should probably spill from my lips because my spirit cannot contain it - my gratitude and joy at having found the sacred pearl of great price (Matthew 13:45, 46). How can unashamed convictions and impartiality walk hand-in-hand? Why am I so timid about openly speaking the Truth? The Prophetess Anna, my holy namesake, was defined by her enthusiasm, her message about God and the imperativeness of repentance that never wavered, never fluctuated, never watered itself down to appease the masses.

“I need words and motivation, I want to share with others what I’ve experienced through the Church in terms of clarity, mercy, and a sense of purpose. You, O Prophetess Anna, were a mouthpiece until your last days on earth for what was and still is the very crux of all creation… for God. May your zeal get under my skin like a splinter that persistently irritates the normal goings on of my daily routine. May I never settle for “good enough” when before me shines your tirelessly impeccable standards so bright that anything less than a total commitment to the Faith I am trusting to save me feels only dull, cloudy, and unsatisfying.”

How fortuitous, don’t you think – that I was linked for all eternity to one whose spiritual muscle’s bulge where mine hang soft and limp and in need of some serious weight bearing? Or is nothing coincidental when it comes to salvation? Here’s the honest truth – I need all the help I can get and praise be to God for the tools He’s set before us including Eucharist, confession, and the earnest intercessions of His saints. Can I afford to take for granted any one of these pulsating lifelines through which nourishment is provided like a cord attaching a baby to the sustenance of his mother, before labor and delivery finally free him from the flesh restricting access to his source for all security and satisfaction? Well there’s a no-brainer…I think not. So how do I proceed in my quest for friendship and closeness with someone who’s journeyed onward from out of this life and into another beyond it? I suppose with her Troparion - the hymn sung in Saint Anna’s honor on her day of commemoration, February 3rd:

In the Temple thou didst embrace as an infant God the Word Who became flesh,/ O glorious Elder Symeon, who didst hold God in thine arms./ And also as a Prophetess the august Anna ascribed praise to Him./ We acclaim you as divine servants of Christ.

I should know this, I should recite it on a regular basis; I should anticipate our Name’s Day instead of scratching my head two days after its passing asking, “H-m-m, now when was that again?” I should maintain an ongoing conversation, sharing my thoughts and insecurities along the way. I should remember that she is watching and witnessing my progression from a spineless observer to what I pray will be a bold and obvious beacon for Christ’s glory. I should remember her utter joy at having met her God incarnate and be stimulated to likewise rejoice. Pray unto God for me, O Holy Saint Anna, well-pleasing to God: for I turn unto thee, who art the speedy helper and intercessor for my soul (antiochian .org).

I’ll have my mother come over to give me a hand, to hold the camera while I position myself in such a way that will visually, artistically represent my forging of a connection with a reality that binds heaven to earth, sinners to saintliness, me to an ancestor who has completed her race and now stands at the finish line compelling me to press onward. I will feel within my grasp the painted wood, a very touchable representation of that which blows my mind if I think about it too logically, instead of mystically or innocently like a child. I will use this opportunity, this invitation as a springboard to dive ever more deeply into the mysteries of the Church, into Her bosom of magnificence and righteousness. I’m a slow yet willing learner who admits to a habit of feet dragging but is now quite good and anxious to get started.

Holy Prophetess Anna, I implore you to bring my burdens, all my baggage and my blunders before the exact same of Son of God that you held with such reverence in your aged arms. Please beseech of Him that my vision be enhanced, that the scales on my eyes be lifted, that I might see you, know you, venerate you, and be wiser, braver, more confident because of it.

Forgive me for not asking this of you sooner.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008


It is difficult to recreate the relationships made in those late teen/early twenties years, when there was plenty of time and opportunity to pour your energy into developing friendships. The bonds I formed in college were tight and sturdy. My friends and I lived together and affirmed one another no matter what the real truths may have been (“He totally still has feelings for you,” “That haircut is perfect for your face shape,” “Your professor is way too demanding!”). We were loyal and invested and aware of every minute detail in each others’ personal dramas. Sure, there were squabbles and painful periods of miscommunication but overall, the permanent impact our indelible connection had on each of us was overwhelmingly positive and fortifying.

After graduation, we physically dispersed into marriages, full-time jobs, and various dingy apartment buildings. We spoke often and got together as much as possible. I longed for the security their comforting presence provided me – me, the new wife insecure in her role as an adult. We laughed mostly, at ourselves and the embarrassing debacles we all seemed prone to stumble into. They were my safety net beneath a tenuous transformation from a silly and self-indulgent girl into a woman with consequential responsibilities. I missed them fiercely when, after having a baby, I was sucked into the timeless abyss of motherhood where phone calls, lunch dates, and rented movies are near constantly interrupted and the attention required for keeping up and staying entwined must be conserved for meeting the needs of husbands and children. Although frightening, a break was necessary if I was ever to take ownership of the very isolation that would draw me into the totality of parenthood. I had to reconfigure a self-appraisal that read, “I am actually just like you, all ambitious and culturally relevant…only with a kid” until it accurately represented my irrefutable reality: I was first and foremost (as unromantic as it sounds) a “mom.”

Eventually, I let go - or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that over time, my restlessness was forcibly pried from out of me by way of countless frustrating scenarios involving trantruming toddlers, long and lonely afternoons, an insurmountable amount of chores, and sibling rivalries, all wearing down skewed expectations. Eventually, I accepted my life for what it was and in doing so found purpose and meaning within it. All was quiet for a while; we drifted off, my friends and I, into unexplored new challenges we could only take on solo. But in the aftermath, when we finally resurfaced after months and years of diving deeper, and deeper still, under shallow preoccupations, we were able to reconnect on a whole new level. We met again, ready to share and encourage, within the context of our strengthened faith, layered and tested. We knew, of course, the answers lay outside of us and so we pointed one another in the direction of Christ Jesus. I, who once reserved all of my public references to God for Sunday mornings, found His name in my mouth during most of my conversations, on random weekdays, and in reference to everyone and everything because everyone and everything I now viewed in light of our salvation.

Last Saturday, Kara flew in from Arkansas and Jen drove up from Indianapolis. My sister-in-law, Paige, walked on over from the down the street and Beth, sweet Beth, her hands and her heart filled with three tiny sons, joined us in spirit. It had been seven years since all of us were last together. We made a pilgrimage to our alma mater where antiseptic hallways, dorm room windows, and the smell of textbooks brought back memories sharp and lucid- unearthed emotions we’d left buried in that urban scholastic hotbed of stress, pie-in-the-sky aspirations, and an intensive sort of camaraderie never again to be duplicated in the bigger world outside. Later that night, we laughed hard like we used to. Time froze on my living room couch. We were nineteen and thirty-four simultaneously, taken aback by the swiftness of a decade-and-a- half passing right under our noses, while we were busy trying to make good on at least a few of the promises we had made to ourselves when we were refreshingly, naively, idealistic. After we hugged and they departed, I began looking critically at my past; feeling pleased with some parts and disappointed by quite a few others. I wrestled with the fragility and temporalness of my existance on this earth. “Why am I so doubtful, so skittish, so pensive? Why did I bypass so many chances to bring hope and encouragement to others? Why had I been vain and selfish and cynical? Why am I still frightened and unnerved by a mysterious future?”

When my priest, known and respected for telling it exactly like it is, started his homily with, “You have to be patient with yourself,” I nearly wept. I had been all bunched up and in a tizzy over my already committed and potential failures and I wanted, oh boy, what I longed for, was rest. I needed to accept for myself what I was more than ready to recognize in my dear and true companions, taking two steps forward, three steps back, then dusting off and starting all over again: that there is grace and redemption to be found in just keeping at it, regardless of our foibles along the way. Return O Lord: How long? And be entreated concerning your servants, wrote Moses in the Psalms. We are filled with Your mercy in the morning, and in all our days we greatly rejoiced and were glad; Gladden us in return for the days You humbled us, For the years we saw evil things. And behold Your servants and Your works, And guide their sons; and let the brightness of the Lord our God be upon us, and prosper for us the works of our hands. The notes in my Orthodox Study Bible reveal the following about these verses, so passionate in their entreaty for significance and substance within our transience:

Psalm 89 is a morning prayer designed to keep one focused on the Lord rather than on this temporal life and its hopelessness. For He exists outside of time, and is therefore our only refuge. Every morning is an opportunity to return to Him in repentance, and He is very patient, because a thousand years in His sight are like yesterday, which has passed, and like a watch in the night. He is very patient, because He does not will that anyone should perish. Therefore, when we focus on the Lord every morning, we look for His return at the Second Coming, and for His mercy, joy, enlightenment, and prosperity throughout each day.

You are patient, You are patient, life is fleeting. Be my refuge, my compass, my brightness. Amen.