Places to go and things to see by Gypsy Bev

Archive for the ‘Spiritual’ Category

Blessing the Orthodox Easter Basket

Veselenak family at Easter

The Veselenak family continues the Easter tradition followed by their grandparents and great-grandparents at St. Michael’s Orthodox Church in Robins in the early 1900s.

Traditions often bring families closer together. An old Czech tradition being carried on at the Christ the Saviour Orthodox Church in Byesville involves an Easter Basket. This year, the Orthodox Easter falls on April 8.


When the blessing of Easter Baskets likely began back in the 1700s, people faced stark times without meats or fats in their diets for the 40 days of Lent. Being able to return these items to the table was a big part of the Easter celebration.

Most Orthodox celebrate Lent as a time to do without meat and cheese or something that they especially like. They want to make a sacrifice that is meaningful.

Slovak Inside Church

Christ the Saviour Orthodox Church in Byesville is filled with light during the Easter service.

On Holy Saturday evening before Easter Sunday, they gather at the Byesville church to create a service of resurrection. The darkened church becomes filled with light after circling the church three times to indicate the three days Jesus stayed in the tomb.

Slovak priest

Easter baskets are blessed by Orthodox priest, Father Benjamin Johnson.

After this service, early on Sunday morning, the priest then blesses all the Easter baskets that have been brought to the church hall. Then there is a bountiful feast, as they once again enjoy the taste of meat, cheese, and their favorite food that they haven’t had during the weeks of Lent.

Slovak Basket

These beautifully filled baskets contain everything expected and even more.

Each item in the large Easter basket holds special meaning:

  • Bread symbolizes Jesus, the Bread of Life.

  • Easter eggs represent our new life in Christ.

  • Salt reminds Christians they are to “season” the Earth.

  • Meat stand for Joy and Abundance.

  • Candles signify Christ as the Light of the World.

  • Ribbons symbolize Joy and Celebration.

Other items they might add are chocolates and desserts.

Slovak Bread

Bread has various designs on the top with this using the symbol of the cross.

The Pascha Easter bread is a sweet, rich bread filled with eggs. milk and butter…the foods that were not eaten during Lent. The bread is often braided to represent Christ’s crown of thorns.

Slovak Easter eggs

Every basket is certain to contain intricately decorated Easter eggs.

A red egg plays an important role in the Orthodox Easter. Legend says that when Mary Magdalene told the emperor about the empty tomb, she held an egg as a symbol of it. The emperor said the empty tomb was just about as likely as the egg in her hand turning red. The egg did turn red and has ever since been part of the Easter tradition.

Slovak Basket cover

A traditional embroidered cover is placed over the basket.

Some of the men make smoked kielbasa for this special Easter Basket, while the women might prepare cirak, a special Slovak Easter Cheese. This homemade cheese is very mild and often served sliced with baked ham and beet horseradish. A great sandwich treat!

Traditions like this Easter Basket bring families together as they create and share the contents, while celebrating the meaning of this Holy Easter Season. Their church bulletin states: “May God reward your good deeds and preserve the spirit of devotion to Him every day of the year.”

Photos were provided by Nicole Veselenak Caslow. She is the daughter of Rick and Chris Veselenak. I’m proud to say the pictured, dedicated men – Mike, Rick and Gary – are my cousins. Our grandparents, George and Mary Veselenak (Dede and Baba to us) attended the St. Michael’s Orthodox Church in Robins in the early 1900s.

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St. Michael’s Greek Orthodox Church

St Michaels Orthodox Church

St. Michael’s Orthodox Church served as worship center for many Slavic immigrants.

Orthodox Christians from central and eastern Europe petitioned Archbishop Platon for a priest in Robins back in 1912. In the beginning, worship services were held in the Lodge Hall, which was remodeled and converted into St. Michael’s Greek Orthodox Church.

Baba and Dede 001 (2)

My grandparents, George and Mary Veselenak – Dede and Baba to me, were active at St. Michael’s Orthodox Church. George Veselenak was president of the United Orthodox Brotherhood of America for over thirty years.

The church sat against a bank in Robins, which is today known as Trail Run. During an Easter service there at midnight on Sunday morning many years ago, the church fell into total darkness. Everyone left the church to follow the priest around the church three times to indicate the three days Jesus stayed in the tomb. Then everyone stepped back inside the church to find it brightly lighted with many white candles. The Resurrection had occurred.

St Michaels Parish

Families gathered to have Easter baskets blessed.

Easter baskets were blessed by the priest and a feast was held for those present to break their fast since Friday. Many had not eaten meat for the duration of Lent. It was a pleasant time as their soul had been filled with the Spirit and their bodies with the blessed food.

The interior of the Greek Orthodox Church, later called Russian Orthodox Church, holds many beautiful paintings, statues, and decorations.  The church building is centered around the altar table, The Banquet Table of God. The Book of the Gospels sets on this carved wooden table from which communion is served. Many candles can be found throughout the center of worship.

St Michael's Interior

The altar at St. Michael’s  shows the traditional Orthodox cross.

Icons of Christ and the saints play a large role in describing the reality of God’s presence with us. They can be found on the royal gate, over the doors, around the central gates, on walls and ceilings.

The cross is the central symbol for Christianity. The Orthodox make the Sign of the Cross by placing their first two fingers and thumb together to signify the Triune God. Then cross themselves from head to breast and from shoulder to shoulder. This is done several times during their services.

This ribbon badge has two sides. The red, gold and blue side was worn for all church services, while the black side was used for funerals. This badge belonged to Dede.

Incense is the symbol of the rising of prayers, of spiritual sacrifice and of the sweet-smelling fragrance of the Kingdom of God. The priest frequently swings his censor of incense over the altar area as well as the entire congregation as a blessing.

Robins Prayer cloth 001

Mom framed this prayer cloth that belonged to Baba.

Since services remain much the same from week to week, parishioners know the hymns and prayers easily as their chant is very repetitious. No organ or instruments are used as all words are from scripture or ancient Christian texts. Orthodox people generally stand for the entire service.

1914 First Children's Class at St Michaels

This picture taken in 1914 shows the size of the first children’s class at St. Michael’s.

St. Michael’s Orthodox Church in Robins had a large attendance, and children were well behaved. There was no nursery so children learned to stand quietly for the entire service. In its early years, services were conducted in Slovak, however, today English prevails.

Land for the church cemetery, now known as Robins Cemetery or Trail Run Cemetery, was purchased on the hill across the road from the church in 1918. The Bethlehem Cemetery is in Lower Trail Run. About twenty years later, the “R” Club (Fellowship of Orthodox Christians in America) was established.

Trail Run View with church by tracks

This is an overview of Robins with the Orthodox Church seen on the back right.

The parish home in Robins, burned down on two separate occasions. The first time in 1939 when it was rebuilt with lumber from vacated houses after the mines had closed. After the second fire in 1958, parishioners decided to rebuilt in Byesville, OH and purchased land for a future church building.

Christ the Savior Orthodox Church

Christ the Savior Orthodox Church celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2017.

In December of 1966, the first service was held in the new building in Byesville, where the church was called Christ the Savior Orthodox Church. Today this church is the only Orthodox Church in southeastern Ohio and covers an area from Columbus to the Ohio River and as far north as Canton. They celebrate their 50th anniversary this year.

Their church bulletin states: “May God reward your good deeds and preserve the spirit of devotion to Him every day of the year.”

Earth Healing Ceremony

Fog over Ohio RiverOn a rainy day at Grand Vue Park near Moundsville, WV, fog hung in the air making the valley below seem mystical. Through the mist you could see the bridge over the Ohio River. A celebration of our connection to the sacredness of earth was the focus of this Earth Healing and Water Blessing Day, but it seemed the rain had already performed the Water Blessing part.

Amanda DeShong and Mick Burk conducted the ceremony in a shelter at the park with help from many of their friends. This was a day of coming together for the healing of the earth and water, by participating in traditions of cultures from around the world.

Andy story teller

Andy Frankel, a multicultural storyteller, captured the group’s attention as everyone gathered around to hear this master narrator tell tales of other cultures and traditions. He told the story of Chief Seattle, who predicted that man’s appetite would devour this land. By request, he told a second story of a Jewish man looking for justice.

Paint Day

Some had just returned from the Festival of Colors at The Temple of Gold located nearby. The Festival of Colors is a family gathering of friendship, re-enacting a pastime of Lord Krishna with his devotees over five thousand years ago.  Bright colored powders are thrown on other participants until they appear to be in technicolor.

Water Purification

A water anointing was performed on the way to the Prayer Circle. Its intention was to generate energy to heal Mother Earth during this time of extreme turmoil and pollution. One young lady brought a bottle of water from Wheeling Creek to be blessed at the ceremony, thus beginning the purification process. She reported that when she poured the water into the creek that evening, the water in that area became clear enough to see the bottom of the stream.

The group then formed a circle around the Medicine Wheel to honor the Seven Directions Prayer. Everyone joined in the directional prayers, which were led by various people in attendance.

Prayer BundlesPrayer bundles were then made for a Despacho Fire Ceremony. A prayer request was written on a small piece of paper and placed inside a small piece of cloth with some special herbs. After praying over the prayer bundle, it was then tossed into the fire so prayers could ascend to the heavens.

Sunshine JonesSunshine Jones led the group in a session of drumming to connect with Spirit. Everyone had the opportunity to use some kind of instrument for participation in the event.

Deer Foot ShakerOne unusual instrument was the foot of a deer topped with a shaker ball, which made a delightful sound…and the foot was easy to grip.

DrummingMuch dancing and singing took place around the fire as people got caught up in the spirit of the afternoon of earth healing. That healing must begin within ourselves, so we can then spread our energy to influence everything we touch.

Druming

This was a great day for meditation and connection with like-minded friends. There was a feeling of peace on the hilltop that is not often found in our busy lives today. Everyone left looking for things to appreciate in the world around them.

 

Peaceful Hindu Temple near Pittsburgh

Sri Venkateswara Hindu Temple

Sri Venkateswara Hindu Temple

High atop a hill east of Pittsburgh, PA sets a beautiful Hindu temple, Sri Venkateswara. In such a far-off corner, you really wouldn’t expect many people on a winter day, but the temple was crowded with devotees of all ages worshipping God in their own way through prayer and meditation.

Beautiful Child dressed for worship service.

Beautiful Child dressed for worship service.

Sri Venkateswara is one of the earliest traditional Hindu temples built in the United States back in 1976. Their service involves much ceremony with many statues of their different Gods and Goddesses forming visual images of the invisible divine entities. Diwa lamps burning butter, or ghee provided by the sacred cows, passed through the people assembled. All wished to gather the light to be blessed with spiritual energy. Fruit and nuts were given by temple priests to bless and nourish the body, as worship nourished the soul.

In the small sanctuary, people showed humility by prostrating themselves before God as the bells rang out their invitation to join in the ceremony. This vast congregation of worshippers showed extreme dedication to their beliefs. Children also enjoyed the day swirling and dancing with smiles and laughter. One small girl captured my heart as she twirled happily in a beautiful yellow dress with embroidered vest and red scarf. Her smile lit up the room.

Women dressed in the most beautiful saris, and walked with grace and dignity. They attend temple services to give honor to their Hindu traditions, while receiving peace and energy from being there.

Car Puja

Car Puja

This beautiful building had three floors, two used for worship, while one was for social purposes. After the worship service, which was basically a time of honoring the dieties, as well as meditation, most adjourned to the dining hall for a light vegetarian lunch.

As we were leaving, smashed lemons appeared in the parking lot. Why would they be there? This area was designated as Car Puja, where new cars are blessed to rid the car of any bad influences. The tradition claims that if you run over lemons with all four tires, your car will be blessed and safe.

A long flight of steps led to the temple.

A long flight of steps led to the temple.

On the way home, a stop for a friend at India Bazaar completed the day with the purchase of chapati atta (whole wheat flour), jasmine rice, haldi (tumeric), and til (sesame seed) for them to use in future meal preparations. An extremely polite shopkeeper carried the purchases to our car.

India Bazaar was the perfect stop for Indian food.

India Bazaar was the perfect stop for Indian food.

Never say no to an adventure! You might be surprised at the interesting things found along the way. The beautiful day lifted my spirits because those attending were very kind and understanding to visitors, even if I was the only blond in attendance.

Sri Venkateswara Temple can be found on the east side of Pittsburgh, PA from I-376, Exit 80. Head to Route 22, Old William Penn Highway, and drive about three miles to Old Thompson Run Road. From there, follow the blue and white Temple signs as they are clearly marked.

Experience the World of Krishna at New Vrindaban Temple

Temple Altar

Temple Altar

The spirituality of India comes alive in the mountains of West Virginia. After the visit to the Palace of Gold, the tour continued just down the road in their New Vrindaban Temple. Arrival happened just in time for one of their worship services, which are held seven times a day every day of the week. Before entering, shoes must be removed or covered, to pay respect to the deity within the Temple.

Stained Glass Ceiling at New Vrindaban Temple

Stained Glass Ceiling at New Vrindaban Temple

The inside of the Temple is where the statues of Krishna can be found in a golden setting. The statues are shimmering while the stained glass ceiling allows filtered light to fill the room. People from all over the world come here to worship their Hindu beliefs. Ladies were dressed in their finest saris to honor Krishna. Their fine dress also showed their affluence and success to everyone present.

This is a congregational worship service with all those in attendance chanting a prayer to their God. They also use prayer beads, a string of 108 – a special number for their faith. To say a full prayer, you must go around the string sixteen times, which usually takes about an hour. Basically, the prayer that is repeated says: Hare Krishna, please allow me to serve you.

Children chant and dance before the altar.

Children chant and dance before the altar.

But mainly going to the Temple becomes a place to receive Darshan – you are looking at Diety and they are looking at you for a transfer of grace and spirituality. A priest made and accepted offerings at the altar through fire, incense, and water. An offering tray filled in the center with their holy burning butter was carried through the Temple. Those who desired could receive a blessing connection from its fragrant smoke.

After the service, a vegetarian lunch was served in the courtyard of the Temple. Dishes included: Basmati rice; Chickpeas sauteed with spices;  Subji -sauteed mixed vegetables; and Halavah – a sweet dessert made with farina toasted slowly in butter.  Our table was honored to be joined for lunch by Andy Fraenkel, the wonderful storyteller, and even Jaya Krishna Das, the president of New Vrindaban Temple.

Andy Fraenkel, Master Storytaller

Andy Fraenkel, Master Storytaller

Back inside the Temple, listeners sat on the floor with Andy as he told stories of Krishna.  One, in shortened version, began with Krishna’s birth in a dungeon of a wicked king. They were imprisoned because the king wanted to be certain to kill the new baby boy, as he was the eighth son born on the eighth night of the month, and was prophesized to be the king’s slayer. But, he escaped with his father after everyone fell into a deep sleep and the dungeon door opened.

Krishna and his father were protected on their journey by a Divine snake. His father carried Krishna in a basket through the waters of a river that parted to ensure their safe passage. There they traded Krishna for a female child and his father took the female baby back to the dungeon before the king discovered the birth.  Eventually as years passed, Krisha came back to the city and killed the wicked king.

Many stories were told that day but you will have to visit yourself to hear more!  Many of the stories describe the many forms that Krishna took during his lifetime. Some of those include:  Butter Boy, Blue Boy, amd Lion Man.

Surrounding the Temple is the New Vrindaban community. Only a small portion of the believers now live on the grounds, but there is a group of apartments where devotees can stay. The basic teaching of the Krishna Consciousness is that we are all individuals and have a loving relationship with God.

Cows and Cabins

Statues of Cows with guest cabins in background

Where once only woods stood, now visitors can stay in a beautiful lodge built in 1981-82, or cottages along Swan Lake. Many families spend their vacations here to worship in a Hindu atmosphere. Around the lake are several gigantic statues honoring their faith: Sacred Cows, Elephant, and a pair of 30-foot-tall Sri Sri Gaura Nitai statues.

These Krishna followers are basically very simple people who enjoy serving God in the way they believe.   As Andy said, “If you can’t be satisfied with a little bit, you will never be satisfied  with a lot.”

Andy Fraenkel ( www.SacredVoices.com )  is an award-winning author and recipient of a WV Artist Fellowship Award. He is available for in-depth tours to small and large groups, and even student groups from elementary school to college level. For more info you can get in touch with him at afraenk@icloud.com

New Vrindaban is located just down the road from the Palace of Gold.  From Moundsville, WV take Route 250 South. Watch for signs along the road for easy directions.

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