Orthodox Writers and Readers Series: Christy Pessemier

Christy PessemierYears ago, as a teenager, I became disillusioned with the Orthodox Church and decided to stop attending. When certain events led me back to the church as a young mother, I was hungry to learn more about the faith I took for granted. I devoured as many books as I could find. One of them was Father Arseny.

Part of the reason I left the Church was because I couldn’t find that personal connection of what Orthodoxy meant to me. I wanted to do more than just show up on Sunday and go through the motions. I needed something more, and somehow I just wasn’t finding it.

When I came back to the Church, Father Arseny was a comfort to me. Added to the icons and the hymns and sacraments of the Church, the book gave me a sense of the life and sufferings and amazing selflessness of a not-yet-canonized saint. I read in awe about a highly educated man who became a priest and was imprisoned in the Russian labor camps during the Communist regime under Stalin. Somehow, Father Arseny managed to stay alive by the grace of God while dodging starvation, bitter cold temperatures, regular beatings, and an inhuman workload designed to kill prisoners. In the midst of all this, he often gave up his food rations to other prisoners, cared for the sick, and never stopped praying and glorifying God.

Crossing myself openly in church, or anywhere for that matter, took on new meaning. Kissing the icons hanging throughout my house brought me a new sense of gratitude.  I didn’t have to worry about Communist prison guards beating me, or about being turned in by someone who I thought was a friend. Instead of skimming a collection of short paragraphs on saints, I was reading about real-life accounts of an amazing man who turned to God under the worst circumstances, and blessed and touched countless other lives. Suddenly, I felt so much more aware of how blessed I was to pray and live freely as an Orthodox Christian in this country.

Reading Father Arseny was a part of my journey back to Orthodoxy. It made everything so much more meaningful for me. Recently, though it had been many years since I had read it, I found myself referring to it often when talking with my children about spiritual miracles. One day, I picked it up off the shelf and started reading it to my thirteen-year-old daughter. Soon, the stories started coming back to me. The hardship, the struggles, and the amazing Christ-like love that Father Arseny shared with so many.

Now, when I go upstairs to kiss my daughter goodnight, she gives me that familiar inquisitive look and asks, “Father Arseny?” which means she wants to read another chapter. And so I read one chapter, and then I find myself turning to the next page and saying, “OK, just one more chapter.”

Christy Pessemier is an award-winning freelance writer who has written numerous articles for South Sound Home | Garden | Life magazine.  She also worked as a reporter for the Eatonville Dispatch Newspaper, and continues to work as a copywriter for local businesses as well as 425 Magazine. Christy lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, two daughters, and their Beagle-Basset, Scout.

Keep an eye out in Western Washington bookstores for Christy’s latest article on an eco-friendly home in Issaquah in Premier Media Group’s 425 Magazine. You can find some of Christy’s articles at: http://christypessemier.wordpress.com/christys-published-articles/

“Orthodox Writers and Readers” Series Launch: Molly Sabourin

It’s 9:38 am on any given Sunday and I’m at church–or rather, I’m physically present at St. Elizabeth’s but not yet “there,” if you know what I mean. Ideally, I’d have spent the previous ninety minutes or so in quiet prayerful anticipation of the communal worship I was about to enter into, as opposed to yippin’ and yappin’ at my younguns with the hair in need of brushing and sometimes surly attitudes in need of adjusting.

And it certainly would have been lovely to have arrived ten minutes early and caught a bit of the matins service preceding Divine Liturgy, instead of screeching into the parking lot with but 30 seconds to spare before our priest kicked things off with, “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit!”  But my life as a mother of four rarely caters to my preferences, thus here I stand in a cloud of incense reciting the Beatitudes, still trying to harness my wandering and frazzled thoughts (“Did I turn the iron off? Oooh, chicken stir-fry sounds good for dinner. Maybe that missing library look is in the back of the van!”).

It’s really, really hard to ignore them, to not engage them. It takes everything in me to tune out the noise of my runaway mental impulses and digest the enormity of what is taking place all around me: Christ is in our midst!  And that truly is my ongoing, overarching battle – to somehow cut through the fluff and fog buffering my body, my spirit, my mind from the intensity and demands of a life lived fully for Christ, Christ as Love. I’d drift unknowingly into a comfortable lukewarm state of blasé-ness without the Church. Without the Church and Her sacraments, mystery, iconography, hymnology, antiquity, martyrs, saints to help lift my gaze up from the media-driven, materialistic mire, I’d merely pass the time instead of seizing it – making every second count.

We are about halfway through liturgy when our priest comes out from behind the altar reverently carrying the gifts, the bread and wine that will become the body and blood of Christ. He bows to us and we bow to him, singing, That we may receive the King of all who comes invisibly upborne by the angelic hosts. Oh my gosh, I think then, this is so much bigger than my fears, selfish desires, dinner plans and unsightly shortcomings.  What’s happening right here, right now is unequivocally more real, more important, more fulfilling, more victorious, more consequential than absolutely any and everything else.

I participate in (or maybe “cling desperately to” would be a more accurate choice of phrasing) the life of the Church to stay mindful of the fact I have a soul in need of saving. The Church is a hospital and I am sick. The Church is my ultimate source of healing. And as a very thankful member of the Church, the Body of Christ, I’m called to present to Her my first fruits, my God-given gifts, as a sacrifice.

Eric Henry Liddel, winner of the 1924 Olympic men’s 400 meters race, and inspiration for the movie Chariots of Fire, was once quoted as saying, “When I run, I feel His [God’s] pleasure.”  I totally get that. From the tender age of eight, I’ve been putting my ponderings down on paper. Writing has consistently been my ever-present hobby, and my primary method for coping with the good, the bad and the ugly.

When I write to be noticed, respected, appreciated, I find zero joy in it – only pride and insecurity (two troublesome sides of the same tired coin). When I write as a means of prayer, however, or with the singular goal of spreading light, love and hope, I too feel God’s pleasure – a deep satisfaction. Writing is what I know, is what calms me. Writing as a means of communion with the living God is my widow’s mite offered meekly in faith. That Christ can utilize my meager gift, despite my abundant weaknesses, to break through complacency or despair and pierce hearts with His mercy is nothing short of miraculous. It will take a concerted effort on my part, however, to keep my eyes on the prize to the very end. Get behind me doubts and self-serving intentions! I’m busy dying to myself in order to thrive. My computer keyboard and I have much significant and salvific work to do!

We have finally arrived at the pre-communion prayer. My head is lowered and my arms crossed submissively in front of my chest in anticipation of being fed by the Holy Eucharist. …of Thy Mystical supper, O Son of God, accept me today as a communicant, I pray aloud with my parish family, for I will not speak of Thy Mysteries to Thine enemies, neither like Judas will I give Thee a kiss but like the thief will I confess Thee. Remember me, O, Lord in Thy Kingdom. And I am fully here. I am fully present. I remember now from whence comes all enlightenment, grace, fortitude and yes, even my drive to write and create.

I may be a pen, but Christ is the ink. Only by emptying myself, of myself, can His Truth, His words, flow through me.

Molly Sabourin is a writer, podcaster and amateur photographer who reflects primarily on issues pertaining to family, faith and community. She is the author of “Close to Home: One Orthodox Mother’s Quest for Patience, Peace and Perseverance.” Molly blogs regularly at http://mollysabourin.typepad.com.

Final Countdown to “Orthodox Writers and Readers”

In bloom

One week from today, the Orthodox Writers and Readers series will begin on this blog. September 1 is the official start of the Orthodox church year, so it seems a good day for a new beginning.

I am thrilled to announce that our first guest in the series will be Molly Sabourin. Molly is a multi-talented woman. She’s an author, a blogger, a speaker, a podcaster, and a gifted photographer. I don’t want to spill all the beans before she gets here, but I do want to tell you a little story about her book and its place in my own life. To my mind, it’s the perfect introduction to the Orthodox Writers and Readers series.

Last year, one of my friends at church told me she had just read an incredible book called Close to Home by Molly Sabourin. My friend is a mom, just like I am, and we often talk to each other about our struggles to raise our kids the way our love for them and our faith in God inspire us to. We also talk to each other on the bad days, when we fall short. She gave me Molly’s book because she could identify with it so strongly she just had to share it. She said it made her want to round up all the moms at church so we could read it together. She knew it would help us talk to each other about our lives. I took the book home and started reading.

Close to Home blew me away. Over and over again, I would read a chapter and think “I do that! I think that! I felt that! Now I wonder how Molly dealt with it when she did it/thought it/felt it.” Then I would read on and find out.

The book is powerful because it’s so true!  I think my friend felt this also, and that’s why she had to share it with me. When I finished reading it, I wanted to share it, too.

Why did this experience stick with me? Because it was perfect. It’s exactly what should happen when you read a good book, and I’m sure it’s what every author hopes for. Books are such human things. Animals don’t write them. Ditto on birds, bugs, and machines. Books are an expression of us and our human experiences, and they are meant to be shared and talked about and passed around.

In the Orthodox world I have come to know and love, there are gifted people who are using their abilities and their faith to create beautiful books, podcasts, videos, curricula, blogs, and other works of art. I believe all of these creations should be shared as often as possible, with as many people as possible. And I believe we can all learn something about faith and creativity by learning about these people and how they do their work.

The Orthodox Writers and Readers series will launch in the same spirit that moved my friend to share Molly’s book with me. I hope you will enjoy hearing from the wonderful writers and readers who will be featured here. I hope you will respond to them with comments and by visiting them at their online homes and exploring their work firsthand.