Monday, October 5, 2015

Visit #185 ~ Celebrating Mary's Protection and getting a New Book!

A Service book for Sale in the Narthex!

I was able to go to Divine Liturgy on a weekday so I made sure I made it to Church last Thursday. It was great to be there to celebrate -

The Protection of our Most Holy Lady the Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary.

Now I arrived early because I had my sights on a Service book of the Divine Liturgy that I wanted to purchase. It is true that I owned a Divine Liturgy Service that was gifted to me by Tiffany. It was her Father's book and it meant a lot to me that she gave it to me (You can read about that here.) . But, even though that book had the entire Liturgy used on Sunday mornings, it really was very big to hold, like holding a text book. That's because it had English, Church Slavonic and Serbian translations, all in one book. But that was just like Jim Martin to get a big book. He had a Go Big or Go Home approach to life. That is why he embraced Holy Orthodoxy so wholeheartedly ! I figured it would be more practical to get one of the smaller books that I see the faithful holding in the Nave. 

I wanted to ask questions about the book and who should show up but the ever graceful Tami. I immediately started in with my question about which book to buy but she would have none of it. Instead, she greeted me warmly with a Glory to Jesus Christ and I could tell she was very happy to see me there.  We chatted a bit and then I asked her how much the book cost, ect and she said I should ask Fr. Gary. I did end up asking him after the service was over and found out the book was $11.  There were actually two versions of the book in the case and he recommended I get the older, out-of-print one and not the new version because he used the older one during Liturgy.  So I am a happy camper now!

And speaking of Liturgy, as I was standing with the faithful, right before the chanting of the epistle, Tami pulls me aside, tells me to leave my book on the chair and follow her. She quietly tells me that she wants me to put the Gospel Lectern on the top step next to the Royal Doors so that Fr. Gary can proclaim the Gospel and then give his homily.  You know times are tough when you've got to get a Protestant to do your heavy lifting! 
(Just joking) I was happy to help out.

The Gospel Lectern that I carried!
I grabbed the Lectern at the appropriate time and turned out to be a bit heavy. It was, after all, all solid wood. Tami had instructed me to make sure the Let us attend signage was facing the congregation.  I told her I could handle it.  Of course, I stumble a bit as I picked up the Lectern but at least when I placed in on the top step, I didn't fall.  After Fr. Gary read the Gospel he motioned for me to remove the Lectern. Apparently, he wasn't going to use it for the homily.  

It was a great service, even though lightly attended. But it's not about numbers; it's about worshiping God! And I definitely  felt like I was in worship and it made me think of heaven where worship is happening all the time.  The Divine Liturgy is a good place to get ready for the coming Kingdom! 

At the end of the service when we all venerated the Cross that Fr. Gary was holding, Fr. Gary made sure to thank me for my help! There was no coffee hour afterwards but I was glad to talk with some people briefly after everything was over. 

It's always a good thing to go to Divine Liturgy! 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Visit #184 ~ Love Those Anitphons!

We Sing the Scriptures in Liturgy!
photo by Ben Sutherland,
 used under the creative commons license
check out more of his work here:

I hadn't been to a Sunday Divine Liturgy since August. As I've said before, I have been having trouble getting someone to cover my Sunday morning shift. Pray for me that, when my schedule changes in November, that I'll be able to get Sundays off! Is there a patron Saint for Schedule Changes? If so, tell me so I can get them to work! :)

I really loved the Antiphons and I couldn't help but compare them to the choruses we sing in my protestant parish.  While the worship leader in my protestant church is very thorough and thoughtful in the songs he picks out, nothing compares to actually singing Scripture! It was truly a blessing to sing Psalms...or even the Beatitudes! Below is a video of another parish singing one of the Antiphons! It don't get any better than this!

Once a month, Fr. Gary has a children's homily. That is when the kids of the parish pull up a rug and sit down near the front and Fr. Gary speaks to them directly, although us adults in the congregation can listen in and learn as well. He spoke about Pope Francis, probably because he is all over the news anyway and he spoke about how our own Bishops take time to talk to their people and to pray for their people, just like Pope Francis did.

I had to leave a bit early from the Liturgy because I was going to meet my wife at an early Oktoberfest, sponsored by the Elks Club so they called it Elktoberfest! Clever, huh? I left right after the Faithful received the Holy Mysteries.  So many people there know that I am not Orthodox so many go out of their way to make sure I receive the fellowship bread.  (I forget what that is called.) I make it a point never to turn down anyone who offers it to me, even if I think I've had enough. I figure it would be rude to refuse. If someone is going to go out of their way to give me some bread, I won't say no! I'm am always so grateful that they are thinking of me!

Below is a video of some of the music my wife and I saw at the Elktoberfest! Sadly, I had missed taping the polka version of Funky Town, but I assure you, it was a hoot to listen to!  It was a fun time with great food! Gotta love those Germans.

So, remember to pray for me that next schedule change I am able to get Sundays off! And if you can think of any Patron Saints that might be helpful along those lines...... :)

Monday, September 14, 2015

Visit #183 ~ Panikhida for James Patrick Martin....and then Vespers!

It's been a year since my friend Jim Martin reposed so I wanted to make sure I made the Panikhida being served for him last Saturday before Vespers.  Tiffany was there, along with others of the Faithful and it was a very emotional time, especially when, towards the end of the service, Fr Gary the very mournful tones of May his memory be eternal! It was good to remember my friend and I continue to remember him (and his family) in prayer.

It was good to stay for Vespers. My work schedule has made attending service a challenge at times and completely impossible at other times.  I was happy because, today for the first time, I went up to light some candles and say some prayers without feeling self-conscience.  The other times I did that it was hard to concentrate on praying because I felt so self-conscience. But, this last times, I lit three candles - one for Jim Martin and family, one for my family and one for myself - and I was actually able to pray without feeling "a thousand eyes staring at me." It was good.
fr Gary and Jim's Godfather, reader John

I felt like I didn't want Vespers to end.  The prayers, the psalms, the smell of incense, the beauty of the icons all pointed me towards the Kingdom of Heaven.  It was a good place to be! Hope to be back soon!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Visit 182 ~ Vespers with a Bishop!

His Eminence, Arch-Bishop Michael
So, talking with Bishops is good! That's what I got to do Saturday night.  I have first seen Arch-Bishop Michael "up close and personal" last year at a campfire on Church grounds, complete with 'smores!  He had come for a pastoral visit and was then, I believe, just a plain, old Bishop until he was elevated to Arch-Bishop.  You can read about that visit here.  At that time, I did not actually talk to Bishop Michael but this time I did!

The Vespers service was good - I don't think I've been to a bad Vespers service yet! :) I arrived a bit late and didn't feel right about venerating the Icons during the prayer because Bishop Michael was sitting by the Iconostasis in his chair and I would have felt uncomfortable about "invading his space," as I made the rounds. So I just sat in the back. Marko saw me and gave me a warm greeting! I remember I really enjoyed Bishop Michael's homily but, I am embarrassed to say, I cannot at this time recall what it was about! Oh, my! I guess that is why frequent Church attendance is good because it is a way to keep the Faith always before us!

After Vespers, there was to be a small reception in the Church hall.  As we waited for Bishop Michael to enter, I chatted it up with Jack Hayford and I asked him, "What is the proper way to address a Bishop?" He said, in Bishop Michael's case, it would be proper to say Your Eminence, because he was recently elevated to Arch-Bishop.  So I asked, "If I said, Your Grace, instead that would be sort of an insult, since that title is for your every day Bishops? " Jack said, he'd hope that a Bishop would not be insulted by something like that. Humility and all.... Well, when I did meet Bishop Michael his humble spirit was evident. Jack also said Vladika would be proper. I get the sense that Vladika is an informal title of respect much like papa is to the term Father.  You guys, correct me if I am wrong, okay?

One of the reasons I made sure I went to Vespers on this particular Saturday is I had met with Fr. Gary last week and we had a talk about my spiritual progress and whether I should "take the plunge" into Orthodoxy.  We discussed what was hindering and Fr. Gary strongly suggested that I meet Bishop Michael. Indeed, he said, "I will introduce you." I suspect one of the reasons Fr. Gary wanted me to meet the Bishop is so that Bishop Michael could pray for me.

In the Church Hall, I talked with Mutushka Mary a while about the All-American council. I had listened to all 6 sessions on Ancient Faith Radio and Mutuska Mary had spoken as a lay delegate a couple of times. I also spoke a bit with Marko and Tammy.  But then it came time to meet the Bishop.  Fr. Gary said, Are you ready? since the Bishop seemed to be free.  You can imagine a lot of people wanted to talk to him.

Fr. Gary said "Vladika, I want to introduce you to Jim Vivanco." Arch-Bishop Michael put down the plate he was holding and immediately grabbed my hand to shake it. It made me uncomfortable because I know you are supposed to kiss his hand.  But such is the humility of our Arch-Bishop! A true and good Father to his flock!  Fr. Gary went on to tell him about my blog and, when Bishop Michael learned from me that I post an entry after each visit, he asked me, "How many visits you up to?" Of course, I went blank! I said, Well, I am nearing 200 which is true enough.  Bishop Michael then said he hoped I would continue to "come and see" until the day I was received into the Church.  Fr. Gary gave a fuller picture of my situation when he said what was really an issue was my wife's aversion to the Eastern Orthodox Faith.  Bishop Michael asked for my wife's name and then promised to pray for both of us!  

The whole conversation didn't last more than two minutes but I was so glad to meet His Eminence, Arch-Bishop Michael and I am grateful that Fr. Gary introduced me.  I am, believe it or not, very shy at times and I really hate to talk about myself (although, as you can see, I am not opposed to writing about myself :) ) but it was great to meet such a humble Shepherd.  

I hope I can meet him again soon! 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Visit 181 ~ Question: Why do kids line up first to receive the Mysteries?

I haven't been in Divine Liturgy since June 30th, mostly because I've had trouble getting someone to take my shift at work.  Well, I was happy to be at Church yesterday. I wasn't able to stay for coffee hour because I was wanted to meet my wife and we had lots to do with the dog (It's dog grooming day!) but, of course, the main reason to go to Church is the Divine Liturgy. It was great to participate in the prayers of the people, singing Psalms and Hymns once again.  

I actually was able to pray the hours before the Liturgy and below is a link to a 15 second video of that. Reader John leads us in those prayers. Yes, I know we're all sitting down but, give us a break, we're old!!!! :)

 I love the order and structure of Orthodox Worship. It doesn't matter how you "feel" but you just have to show up and participate.  I've been in many Protestant services where the leaders try to "rev up" the crowd so that it "feels" like church but that isn't necessary in Orthodoxy. Things are done decently and in order, as St. Paul said in his first letter to the Corinthians.  One such example is the blessing the Reader gets before he reads from the Scriptures.  Reader Tim left the choir loft during the Trisagion prayers, walked through the side doors into the Altar. There, Fr. Gary gave his blessing to Reader Tim. Tim kissed Fr. Gary's hand and the Scripture book and then exited out the side door to the center of the Nave, ready to read from the Epistles.  This is great that it happens each and every time before the Scripture reading. It reminds everyone about proper order and, I believe, keeps us humble.  And, without humility, no one sees God.

During Communion, of course, I do not go because I am not Orthodox, not yet part of the faithful. Something I've been thinking about for a while and have kept forgetting to ask.  I notice that right before the Mysteries are distributed to the Faithful, all the kids line up first and they receive first. So This Question:

What is the reason the kids receive communion first? Is it a theological reason?

I'd love to know the answer to this. Are things done differently in other parishes? Keep in mind, that all of my "Live" Orthodox experience has pretty much just happened in one place so I am not sure how things are done in other places.  Please comment below if you know the answer.

As always, keep me in your prayers as I remember you in mine.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory Forever!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Visit #180 ~ First a funeral, then Vespers!

at the memorial service of Seymour Levin
May his memory be eternal!
A friend of mine passed away last week. His name was Seymour Levin, an ordained deacon in the Church of the Nazarene.  He was a faithful servant of God and has a great testimony of being converted to Christ while in prison. He converted despite being raised Jewish. (As you can see from the pic above, he still had Judaism had a place in his heart)   I went to his memorial service last Saturday....well I tried to, anyway.  You see, I was so exhausted from work that I feel asleep at 3pm and didn't wake up till 5:15pm, thus by the time I got to the service, it was time for the last hymn.  The place was packed and, even though, I missed the service, I was able to join the receiving line and condole with his widow.  They had a light supper downstairs afterwards. I stayed a little bit and then made my way to Vespers.

My life has been a bit crazy lately and I haven't been able to get Sunday's off for Church so, thankfully, I attended Vespers last Saturday. It was great to be back in Vespers which is my "introductory" service into Orthodoxy.  I do love Vespers but when given the choice of the DL or Vespers, I of course, have to opt for the DL, which is why I haven't been to a regular Vesper's Service (not counting Holy Week or Pre-Sanctified) since February 3rd. (Read about it here.) But Vespers holds a special place in my heart.

I lit two candles as Fr. Deacon Alexander led in prayers.  One for my family and one for the newly-reposed Seymour Levin.  Fr. Gary spoke about St. Jacob of Alaska and the importance of missions.  You can read more about him here.

St. Jacob, pray for us!

It was good to be back at Vespers. Hopefully, I can attend the Divine Liturgy this Sunday, if I can get someone to take my shift at work.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Visit #179 ~ Being Uplifted by the Faithful!

Marko, smoking a Cuban 
(Don't worry; he was in Canada at the time so it was legal)
I was in a bit of a funk when I entered into the Nave on Sunday morning.  You see, I was still reeling from an argument I had with a close family member on (of all things) the issue of the SCOTUS ruling on Same-sex marriage.  It got very personal and things could have come to a permanent break, but, it didn't, thank God. What helped me focus in what was good about the world was being with the people of God.  I was especially helped by the cheerful, friendly disposition of Marko.  He entered into the Nave with his wife Amanda and in between venerating Icons, he'd greet people, sometimes with a smile, most times with a hug.  How can anyone remain down when they see joy like that walking around?

Another blessing is having Tiffany and Andrew with their baby Payton stand next to me during the Liturgy.  At one point, Andrew let me hold Payton and, of course, she tried to grab my glasses.  I am not a "baby" person. Indeed, when I first became a father, my wife was worried that I wouldn't bond well with my children because I never liked to hold babies, but Payton, in my view, is such a cute and beautiful baby!  (Just so you know, I did like my own kids, even when they were babies.)  Tiffany gave me a Divine  Liturgy Service book that belonged to her father Jim.  I started to tear up when I received the book. Next week, I'll bring it with me to service. It will take some figuring out on how to navigate through it so as to follow the service.  The book has English on the left side and Church Slavonic (& Serbian) on the right side.

The Service book belonging to Jim

Speaking of Jim Martin, he was honored today (along with some other people) at his former Protestant parish. Right after Divine Liturgy, I rushed out of there so I could attend the Protestant Service with my wife.  (Yes, I hated missing the coffee hour and fellowshiping  with the Faithful but I am glad to be sitting next to my wife in church.)  The Nazarene denomination has what is called a Memorial Roll where you pay a certain amount of money and the name of deceased loved one is put on a plaque. (Sounds like selling indulgences to me....just joking :) )The money is used to help missionary's health care.  There was a four or five people being remembered, along with Jim and Pastor Del said some nice things about each of the loved ones.  Below is what he said about Jim. It begins with Pastor Del talking about a lady who, before she passed, said she was ready to meet God. The whole thing runs for about one minute:

No doubt the peace that Jim had in his life at the time that Pastor Del mentions, is due to the fact that he was now a faithful communicant within the Holy Orthodox Catholic Church.  Jim found the peace he was looking for by being united with Christ in His Church!  Glory to God! 

The Divine Liturgy that morning was refreshing! Fr Gary had returned from vacation. Now that he is back, I'll see about setting up an appointment with him to discuss fasting (and other issues.) My daughter gets married in two weeks so it'll have to be after that.