Tonight, Great Lent begins. In Orthodox tradition, it always begins with forgiveness vespers. It is one of the most formative services of the entire Church calendar. During the service, the tone of the calendar shifts. The altar cloth is changed from blue to purple, the lights are halved and the priests change into black vestments ushering us into the Lenten season of repentance. And for 7 weeks, we begin the period of bright-sadness, the march to Great and Holy Pascha, the celebration of the Resurrection. This is our 4th Lenten as Orthodox and every year it is more reflective and by God’s help, more transformative. The joy at Pascha every year is compounded and greater than the years prior combined; it is better than literally anything. It is better than a wedding or a child being born or any comparable, significant life event. It is better than the best meal you’ve ever had or any other pleasurable experience. Nothing even comes close to touching it.
And so we begin, and the priest come forth from the altar and ask our forgiveness of them. And then we come to them and ask their forgiveness of us and a line is formed and every parishioner present asks forgiveness of each other until it is complete. We go out into the cold late-winter’s night and the fast begins: no meat, dairy or alcohol until Pascha. No tv or other entertainments either. Why these severe behaviours? If we do not fast, we cannot deny ourselves as Christ commanded; fasting is the beginning of self-denial. We fast, we pray, we give alms all for the sake of being united to Christ and the more we do these, the more we become one with Him and hope to attain our salvation.
The most wonderful time of the year is here. Let it begin!
Ten years ago today, me and Je’m squeezed into the GTI and headed west on the PA Turnpike. It was a warmish February day and sun splashed the Southside when we arrived in Pittsburgh. We sat in the beehive and drank Americanos out of Mason Jars. I’d spent about a month apartment hunting and finally settled on a little one bedroom right off Carson Street that was $450 a month. The same landlord had a similar place on the Slopes for $325, but there is no parking on the slopes. Some of the roads there are still dirt. Some of them are only stairs.
That night we slid the GTI sideways on the slush into a parking space.
It barely seems real that ten years has passed since then. The past decade is so vivid in my mind. Everything seems as if it just happened a few minutes ago. The loneliness of living there the first few months was excruciating. It was relieved only by a regular exchange of emails and only when I could pick up wireless from the neighbors across the street! I couldn’t even afford internet! If I got really desperate, I’d go to the beehive and pay $1 for 15 minutes on the shared use computers.
Moving to Pittsburgh was a metaphor for growing up. I did it at 26 and I should have done it at 18, or at least 22. When I moved there, I finally had to be responsible and make decisions. After all of my moving expenses and utilities were paid, I had $100 left. I knew I had a few photography checks coming in the next month, but that was not going to be enough. I got on craigslist and found a few drywall jobs. I emailed the guy and he called me the next week. I called Dad and asked him to UPS me my tools. They came the next day and I had to pick them up on the North Side evening facility because they wouldn’t leave them on the steps of my building. My first day for Shawn Taylor was a repair job in Houston. I over slept that snowy day, woke up in a panic and still got there in time. He paid me $15 an hour, I put in a strong 9 hour day and he wrote me a check for $135 at the end of the day. I more than doubled my bank account! Zoey from Philly mag called me that day and gave me a shoot in KOP which I drove back for a week or so later. But drywall… It paid a lot of my bills in Pittsburgh. When I got my 1099 the next year, I was stunned to see that it was over $12,000.
Gleaner’s hasn’t changed one bit. The same pleasant barista works there as in 2009 and she is still just as pleasant. There is still no wifi. And everyone still knows everyone. In an enormous city full of constant change, the mundane consistency here is a magnificent reprieve. I think this is my favorite coffee shop ever.
I did some painting yesterday in an apartment I drywalled with my dad in the summer of 2010. The stocking of the drywall was an impressive feat. Because of union regulations, the delivery guys were not allowed to go up any stairs. So, he craned that drywall up three stories and thru the window with just a little remote control. I took those photos on my iPhone 3! I got a bunch of paint at C&R Building Supply for way less than you’d get it anywhere else. $54 for Aura Bath & Spa? Insane.
Philadelphia has changed so much since I moved away in 2012. I barely recognize the place. My old neighborhood on the edge of the Italian Market is crammed with cars (I almost never parked anywhere but on my block back then) and new things keep being built. If you can’t go sideways, go up.
I am only writing these things today because I am home sick. This is the second sickness I have had in the last 6 weeks. I hate missing the Divine Liturgy. Because of being sick and taking Callie to the hospital on a Sunday, I have missed 3 this year. That is more than I’ve probably missed in the last 2 years total. It is painful to be away from those glories that show themselves on earth.
Lent begins in two weeks. It is always so difficult transitioning from non-fasting to fasting. But it is worth the great struggle without which we cannot be purified and in the end, saved. Glory to God for his Church.