We had the wonderful privilege of a visit from our Bishop this weekend, filled with fun activities and lots of interactive time together. His jurisdiction is tremendous–77 parishes–so if he visits a different parish every weekend, it takes approximately a year and seven months to get through all of them (!!).
So we were pretty excited to have him.
I had sort of a vision for what this would mean for my family. We’d educate our kids in preparation for the visit–this is what a Bishop is, what a Bishop does, and how we greet him and why. We’d cover things like why we have a hierarchy and how we can learn things about Christ and the church from him and how he leads.
Yeah, that didn’t happen.
Instead, we scrambled around the house, around town for weeks, doing things like getting everyone to therapy and practices, doing extra practice at home for Nora’s show choir, bouncing around a teething, screaming toddler, generally not sleeping ever, throwing together dinners that pretty much consist of mac and cheese and Craisins, and blurting “OMG STOP THAT” when William suddenly thinks it’s funny to splash his hands in the toilet.
I even had a vision of the conversation we’d have, how William would ask for a blessing. But no.
Instead, he had a meltdown right after we got to church on Sunday. He pulled it together long enough to begrudgingly stick his hands out for a blessing, but he had no interest in the Bishop. Like, if William could narrate what happened, it literally would’ve gone: ” ‘Sup, Bishop. Here’s my hands. Your pendant’s shiny. Poke. All right, see ya.”
Then we nodded awkwardly at each other, and then Sammy tripped and I ran off to grab him.
It was an appropriate and somewhat disappointing culmination for the weekend for me. I’m a mom, my husband’s a dad, and we’re outnumbered by our kids. There’s just not much room for a conversation with your Bishop. (Although, to be fair, Will is totally awesome and took the kids while I listened during a Q&A session on Saturday.)
Something happened later, right before he left, though, that surprised me. Nora, who’s 8, squeezed her way in and got his attention. When she had it, she very somberly asked, “When I make koliva, am I supposed to feel happy or sad?”
(Sidebar: for those of you who are unfamiliar with Orthodox customs, koliva is a special dessert made for the memorial of the dead. The symbolism is beautiful. It’s wheat berries mixed with almonds and usually raisins or some dried fruit. It’s topped with confectioner’s sugar and decorated beautifully. The wheat berries call to mind John 12:24 which says, “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” The combination of the sweet, savory, and slightly bitter ingredients remind us of the bittersweetness of death. The church recognizes the pain of loss, and doesn’t seek to diminish that, but also reminds us of the sweetness that is to come. During the preparation of koliva, we pray continually for our lost loved one and for ourselves in our grief. It’s a prayerful process. This is done for funerals, but also marks the memorial of their repose every year when prayers are said at the end of Liturgy for that person. It soothes us to know our loved ones are not forgotten by the church.)
You could see on his face that he thought it was a sweet question. His answer was long, but the thing he said that I remember more clearly than anything else was, “You can feel both. We’re never supposed to feel only happy or only sad about anything.”
At first I kind of went, “Oh wait, now…,” but then I stopped and thought about it.
In sadness, there is always hope.
In happiness, there is always awareness that the moment will end, and that at any point, we have the capacity to make a big mess of it by being selfish and prideful.
Somber, humble hope in Christ who loves us. That is our path.
Through somewhat bleary eyes, I glanced at William, who was lying on the floor in the middle of the room. Then, I heard the Bishop ask Nora, “Have you ever made koliva?”
“Yeah,” she said, in reference to Mary, who I miscarried in April. I thought she would explain, but she just rambled, “We used a stencil and poured cinnamon on top! Mom said ‘oh no!’ and we had to scrape some off. We never did it before so we didn’t know but it worked out. It was beautiful! It was a cross and it was this brown cross on top of a white sort of background and there was almonds in it. It was really beautiful. And it was yummy too.”
Somber, humble hope. Tears and laughter, co-existing.
Sums up our life pretty well.