Sunday, July 13, 2014

Visit #142 ~ Scott Pilgrim vs. The Fathers of the 1st Six Ecumenical Councils? Well, not really!

this is my ringtone

I've always been afraid that someday I would forget to turn off the sound on my cellphone and it would ring right in the middle of Vespers.  Happily, I came to the conclusion that I should just leave my cellphone in my car and, thus, helping me to "lay aside all earthly cares" I'd be able to concentrate on worship and not be as distracted as I could be.  Besides, helping me to concentrate, not having my phone go off at Vespers would save me some embarrassment considering I have strange tastes in ringtones.  You can listen to my ringtone above which is from a movie called Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. I know at 53 years old I should just have normal ringtones but, hey, I gotta be me! Besides, Scott Pilgrim was a fun movie to watch!

So with my phone safely in my car, I had nothing to worry about. I came into Church early and was happy to see Jim Martin whom I don't get to see all that much. I sat next to him and we did some catching up. It was good to talk to him.  Tami came over to talk to the man sitting behind us and Jim points to me and says to Tami, "So, have you met my heretic friend?" I gotta love Jim; he always makes me laugh. Of course, technically, I am not a heretic because from what I understand to be a heretic, you have to have been a member of the Orthodox Church who now teaches incorrect doctrine. That is not true with me. I guess I'm just an outsider, looking in!

Just before Tami was about to go to the other side of the Nave (because the service was about to begin), all of a sudden the phone starts ringing behind us. I don't remember the ringtone but it was some modern song. Immediately , Jim starts dancing in his seat and Tami, of course, laughs at Jim's antics. Meanwhile, the poor guy behind us (whom I haven't met yet) is frantically trying to turn off his phone. Apparently, he was having trouble finding the right app to shut it down. Finally, he gets it turned off and he is embarrassed.  Jim and I laugh with him, setting him at ease (I hope) and Tami remarks that at least he heard the phone because she remembers that once a phone went off during Divine Liturgy and some older lady, whose phone it was, didn't even know it was ringing. I guess she forgot to turn on her hearing aid.

From the movie, Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, where I get my ringtone
I remarked to the man that it could have been much worse. At least, it happened before Vespers started. 

Vespers started and Deacon Alexander began with a "Master, bless," and from there on in, it was all Psalms, hymns and prayers.  I love that, even though, my mind wanders during service, there is always something to pull me back in. I kept thinking about the Saints on the wall and how they are with us, praying for us. I was also moved by the thought, expressed in the hymns, how the Fathers of the Ecumenical Councils were praying for us. It's not just that they helped establish correct doctrine but also that they are concerned for our salvation.

Father Gary's homily echoed this thought. He talked about all the troubles in the middle east. No matter what our political views may be, he said, we pray for the Israelis and we pray for the Palestinians. And what we are praying for is their salvation. That is just what Christians do.  It was a very powerful homily - a lot of punch packed into five minutes! 

I wanted to stay and talk after the service and introduce myself to the guy who sat behind Jim and I but I had to leave while it was still daylight. I have been having issues with my headlights. I guess I will be at the mechanics this weekend. 

As a post script, above is the ringtone I use for when  a member of my family calls. I sampled it from a sermon from my protestant pastor who, as you can hear, gets very expressive when he is making a point. In his sermon, he was talking about how we should feel very blessed when we think about the family that God has given to us.  His style is quite the contrast to Fr. Gary who simply explains the Gospel with a bit less theatre. This is not to denigrate my protestant pastor. He has to be himself, as we all do and this is authentically him!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Peter and Paul ~ Great Apostles; Not two-thirds of a 1960's Folk Music Group!

My 141st Visit to my Orthodox Parish was a blessing.  I arrived early and was able to venerate the Icons before Vespers began. I know that most people who arrive a few minutes late to the Service, still venerate the Icons before they take their place among the Faithful but I was never really comfortable with that idea. I guess wants Fr. Gary starts the Service, I would feel too self-conscience to venerate the Icons while he is leading us in the Prayers. Someday, I hope to overcome that, People who are venerating Icons and, in a sense, saying Hello to the Saints and that seems proper to do.

As I sat down waiting for the service began, Tami made her way over to me and said, "I'm not much for Facebook, I'd rather just see the face!" I laughed, knowing my friend was not much for computer stuff. You see, I had checked a box on my LinkedIn account that sent out an invite to everyone in my email address book and Tami responded to the email asking what it was all about. I told her that LinkedIn was like Facebook, a sort of  social media for job seekers.  Tami, however, is not one for social media. She'd much rather sit down over a cup of coffee and talk to friends in person. There is something to be said for that!

Today was the celebration of the Feast of St. Peter and Paul.  All during the hymns, I was able to look at their Icon, both in the center of the Nave and at the larger Icon on the Iconostasis. The choir reminded us of their work and how by their preaching, the Gospel spread.  Fr. Gary's homily echoed this theme.  That very afternoon was a Church Growth Conference at St. Peter and Paul Church in South River, NJ. How fitting that Church growth should be discussed at the parish whose patron's were great evangelizers. Fr. Gary read a couple of passages from the book of Acts which described how the Church grew by the thousands.  He said, today, it seems like the world doesn't want to hear the Message because there are no mass conversions as recorded in Acts. Yet, it is our responsibility to preach that Message. The world needs to hear it! Fr. Gary was very passionate in his homily and you could tell that he really believed what he was saying.  I had to fight off the urge to yell Amen!, squashing down my Pentecostal roots!

At the end of the service, Tami came over to me and said how she was really looking forward to her brother's birthday. You see, along with the rest of the Church, she had participated in the Apostle's Fast and was eagerly looking forward to meat! I smiled saying that she should make sure she had some prime rib. Tami said, she'd settle for a hamburger.

I was pleased that Fr. Ken was in attendance.He stood among the Faithful and did not serve in the Altar this evening.  Every since he was ordained a Priest, I don't see him much. Talking to him after the service, he said he had spent a lot of time doing yard work and it was nice to come to Church this evening, just to pray. We chatted a bit a more and he finished up our conversation by saying, "Having heard Fr. Gary's message, it's time to GET ON BOARD!" Fr. Ken punctuated the last three words with friendly pokes to my chest.

GET ON BOARD! Yes, it sounds great!

Remember me in your prayers!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Enemies are our Cruel Friends!

St. Nikolai of Orchid
Love this prayer by Nikolai of Ochrid...such profound wisdom

"Lord, Bless My Enemies" (Nikolai of Ochrid)

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them. Enemies have driven me into Thy embrace more than friends have. Friends have bound me to earth, enemies have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world.

Enemies have made me a stranger in worldly realms. Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an unhunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by enemies, found the safest sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath Thy tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

They, rather than I, have confessed my sins before the world.
They have punished me, whenever I have hesitated to punish myself.
They have tormented me, whenever I have tried to flee torments.
They have scolded me, whenever I have flattered myself.
They have spat upon me, whenever I have filled myself with arrogance.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Whenever I have made myself wise,
they have called me foolish.
Whenever I have made myself mighty,
they have mocked me as though I were a dwarf.
Whenever I have wanted to lead people,
they have shoved me into the background.
Whenever I have rushed to enrich myself,
they have prevented me with an iron hand.
Whenever I thought that I would sleep peacefully,
they have wakened me from sleep.
Whenever I have tried to build a home for a long and tranquil life,
they have demolished it and driven me out.

Truly, enemies have cut me loose from the world and have stretched out my hands to the hem of Thy garment.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Bless them and multiply them;
multiply them and make them even more bitterly against me:
so that my fleeing to Thee may have no return;
so that all hope in men may be scattered like cobwebs;
so that absolute serenity may begin to reign in my soul;
so that my heart may become the grave of my evil twins: arrogance and anger;
so that I might amass all my treasure in heaven;

Ah, so that I may for once be freed from self deception, which has entangled me in the dreadful web of illusory life. Enemies have taught me to know what hardly anyone knows, that a person has no enemies in the world except himself.

One hates his enemies only when he fails to realize that they are not enemies, but cruel friends. It is truly difficult for me to say who has done me more good and who has done me more evil in the world: friends or enemies.

Therefore bless, O Lord, both my friends and my enemies.

A slave curses enemies, for he does not understand.
But a son blesses them, for he understands.
For a son knows that his enemies cannot touch his life.
Therefore he freely steps among them and prays to God for them.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them. Amen

Sunday, June 15, 2014

When Calendar's Collide! All Saints runs into the Regular Calendar.

Yes, it's ALL SAINTS DAY and that was a wonderful way to spend my 140th visit to an Orthodox Church! I arrived  five minute late because I had to work overtime today and, after my much needed nap, I quickly cleaned the kitchen and off I went to Vespers.  I enjoyed the intentional solemnity of the Worship and I found my mind wandered less than it normally does.

Fr. Gary's homily was Good. He talked about how it might seem odd to commemorate ALL SAINTS and still mention some individual Saints (like Augustine of Hippo); Doesn't that seem redundant? He pointed out that is what happens when calendar's collide. You see, always in the liturgical calendar, the first Sunday after Pentecost is when we remember ALL SAINTS but we still have the regular calendar to follow which states that on June 15th, certain Saints are commemorated.  Not to worry, Fr Gary says though because we become inspired from the lives of these individual Saints and when we hear their stories we learn how to become holy ourselves. This is most certainly true. Like everyone, I have a few favorite Saints who inspire me and whose stories motivate me.

When The Saints Go Marching In!
Oh, When the Saints go Marching in!

As I delve more into Orthodoxy, I find a special place in my heart for the Theotokos. I must admit that was an issue for me at first as it is for most Evangelicals. I just couldn't comprehend why so much honor and attention was paid to her. But, hanging around Orthodoxy and participating in her services, I come to understand what all the fuss is about.  It's not something I can really explain well. I just "get it" and know the difference between bestowing honor and worship.

One thing that I did like in Fr. Gary's homily is he said he believes that the individual saints mentioned today would have been just as happy to just simply been lumped into ALL SAINTS. Such was their humility.  Their goal in life was not to become famous in the Church but rather just to be united with Christ.  They are happy, though, that their lives can inspire others to embrace Christ.

May the prayers of the Theotokos and all the Saints, lead us unto Christ! Amen!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Visit 139 ~ My own Personal Incense!

The Censor at our parish isn't quite as big

Fr. Gary did not serve Vespers last Saturday. Instead, Fr. Sergious, the retired priest, stepped in.  I don't know where Fr. Gary was but he is entitled to a few days off a year so I hope he was on vacation! I am glad to be part of a parish that does not "shut down," just because the regular priest isn't there.  God is worthy of praise all the time so I am glad that provision is made for that to continue.

One thing I noticed that Fr. Sergious did which Fr. Gary did not do, has to do with Incense.  As the choir sings the hymns, Fr. Gary incenses the Icons around the Nave, which means he has to walk around the outskirts and do that. All the while, we, the people, are in the middle. When Fr. Gary makes his way to the front, he then incenses the people. Well, when Fr.Sergious made the same rounds, as he walked passed the people standing "in the pews," he would turn and incense them. Since I was standing in my own row, it was like I got my own personal incense! Of course, when Fr. Sergious went to the front, he incensed the people again.

I was glad Fr. Sergious did that because it helped me remember that I am incensed because I am an Icon of Christ, made in the Image of God! That is a good thing to remember about myself and others. It will change the way you treat people if you remember that they are Icons of Christ!

I start working full-time for the TSA, instead of part-time. Thankfully, that won't effect my Vespers attendance.

See you next time!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Ascension

Thank the Lord, I didn't have A.D.D. this Thursday
As I arrived to the Church to attend my 138th Divine Service, I was greeted by Tami with the triple kiss on the cheek and a Christ is Risen. She then remarked how this would be the last time we use this greeting until next Pascha. I asked her what is the appropriate greeting for Ascension. Tami remarked how, at her other parish up north, they would say something like Hold High the Feast which was taken from the Paschal homily of St. John Chrysostom. As far as Tami knew, there was nothing official, though, for the Ascension.

I meditated on the fact that Christ is Risen would be used for the last time as Fr. Gary incensed the Icon in the middle of the Nave and then removed it. I knew that later the Icon of the Ascension would be placed in the middle. In the meantime, as Fr. Gary led us in Christ is Risen, I for the last time this season, I paid careful attention and tried to let the fact of the Resurrection, enliven my soul.  I looked up at the twelve Major Icons on the Iconostasis and saw Icon of St. Demetrius was in place of the Icon of the Ascension, which would soon be brought out for veneration.  I remembered how Tami said that St. Demetrius "galloped across the Nave," as each Feast came upon us. You can read more about that here.

The choir was very good tonight.  Reader Tim who usually leads was not there and his second in command, Daria recently moved so there was someone else leading and she did an excellent job with the small group she had there. Yes, only five voices in the choir, including Deacon Alexander, yet they sounded great. I did notice as the lady was leading when we came to the point where we chant  Lord have Mercy, twelve times that she counted each one off on her fingers, except when she came to the last three. At that point, she crossed herself and then made a profound bow.  This just reinforces to me how, in Orthodoxy, it is not about performance but rather, it is all about worship.  It really blessed me to see this act of piety.

Fr. Gary's homily was very good and, of course the subject was the Ascension.  He was very passionate about how this was an important feast. "I'm not judging but the Church should be full," he said and there was not anger in his voice but, instead, disappointment. He knew that this feast is indeed important and he hurt on behalf of his people that they were missing out on something important.

After we partook of the Litya, we were dismissed. Before I left, Deacon Alexander came over to me and said it was good to see me and that he enjoyed my posts on line.  He went on to say how he doesn't really get a chance to see me since most of the time, he is serving at the altar. "If you ever want to talk, just let me know," was his invitation to me and I was grateful to receive it.  Yes, I told him, I would be willing to talk sometime.  It always nice to have a clergyman who is willing to talk with you.

I was glad I went tonight and the fact is I almost didn't.  Around an hour before I was supposed to leave, I got suddenly very tired and wanted to stay home and go to bed. After all, wake up time for me is 230am. But I am glad I went because celebrating the Ascension was a special time. I am happy that, as Jesus left this Earth to rejoin His Father in heaven, that He promised to come back again.

Maranatha, Come, Lord Jesus!

Hold high the Feast!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Visit #137 - In This Sign, Conquer; Discovering the Power of the Cross at Vespers

Going to Vespers last Tuesday was a blessing.  Even though I had just been on Saturday, it didn't seem like I was "overdoing it." Fr. Gary, in his homily, remarked on how we were celebrating the mid-feast of Pentecost. We were also commemorating St. Constantine and his mother St. Helen.  Constantine was famous for conquering his enemies with the sign of the Cross, which Christ revealed to him.  His mother was credited to finding the True Cross in Jerusalem and building many Churches in the Holy Land.  So mid-Pentecost, which comes in the middle of the Paschal season, draws us back to the Cross. It is just like the third Sunday of Lent- which is the Veneration of the Holy Cross- and comes right in the middle of Lent.  So whether we are remembering our repentance in Lent or celebrating Christ's Victory over death in Pascha, the Cross is right there in the middle, reminding us of Christ's work and our own duty to pick up our own cross and follow Him.  May God gave me the strength to pick up my cross and follow in all seasons of my life.

Christ is Risen!