Saturday, April 19, 2014

Letting the Words of Scripture Wash over Me at the Holy Unction Service!

The Words of Sacred Scripture washed over me
at the Service of Holy Unction
The Service of Holy Unction which I attended last Wednesday marks the 131st time I attended a Service in my Orthodox parish and it was a marvelous blessing! Protestants talk a lot about the importance of the Bible, but in this particular Orthodox Service I heard more Scripture in one night than I have in six months in my Protestant parish.  It was great to stand there and let the Words fill my heart and mind. It felt as if the Words of Sacred Scripture were washing over me, as I stood among the Faithful.  It was truly a blessing that I find hard to put into words.  I think that the fact that the words are chanted instead of just read, help them connect to my soul. It becomes more than just an academic exercise of listening to the Bible. Instead, the Word of God Himself can touch me as much as my wayward heart will allow.

When I first arrived in the parking lot, I noticed a lot of cars. The last time I saw that many cars it was because an AA meeting was happening at the same time. I had mistakenly thought all of those cars were of worshipers. (You can read about it here) This time, though, it was worshipers and I was glad to see a full Church. I stood right behind Jim Martin and it was good to see him again.  We had an exchange on Facebook a few days back in which he remembered the show "Then Came Bronsen" He invited me over to watch some old episodes. I plan on giving him a call sometime after Pascha to set that up!

Fr Gary's homily was short yet right to the point! He said that while many will come up and receive the Holy Oil for healing of their body, that it is more important to have a healing of the soul. What good is it, he asked, if your body is whole, only to sin some more? I confess, I longed to receive some of that oil for myself, both for body and soul. My back has been hurting really bad and I had to sit several times during the service. I also wished I could receive the Oil for my soul's sake, but, alas, I am not (yet) Orthodox, although I pray for it almost daily.

I did notice a subtle difference in what Fr. Gary said after the Scripture Readings.  If someone had just chanted a lesson and was in a black robe (because they were a Reader,) he would say, The Lord bless you, reader but if the person was a simple layman, (or lay woman) he would say, The Lord bless you who have read.
It may be a small thing but I like how Orthodoxy wants to get things right.  If someone is not a Reader, they should not be called a Reader. Yet, they is room for all to participate in Worship. Liturgy, after all, is the work of the people.

I was a bit late arriving in Church because I had been in my protestant parish, filming a missions minute video.I timed it just right so that I could make the short video and then drive to the Orthodox Service but a stranger off the street walked into the protestant church and started asking questions about the bible studies, ect. Kathleen, (who does the videos) spent some extra time making her feel welcome and invited. That was nice but it made me late for Holy Unction! But I really couldn't complain. Perhaps that lady really needed to connect with my protestant church. I remembered the prayer attributed to St. Philaret...

.In unforseen events let me not forget that all are sent by You.

I certainly didn't want to "waste time" with this lady but I realized that this was one of the unforseen events that made up this very day. I prayed for patience.  Here, by the way, is one of the videos I make every week called Missions Minute.  Kathleen puts these scripts together and I just film and edit them. I do enjoy making them.

Well, it's late Saturday afternoon and after I wash the dishes and pick up my son from work, I plan to sleep till 10pm. Yes, tonight is the Pascha Vigil and I am looking forward to it! I hope all who read this blog are blessed as they celebrate the Risen Christ who, by His death has conquered death! Although, I have had a horrible lent in terms of any works of fasting and alms giving, I hope that tonight, God, in His mercy, will reveal the Risen Christ to me!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Visit #130 ~ How a bus will help me!

Public Transportation to the Rescue!
photo by Dennis Tsang, 
used under the creative commons license.
check out more photos here:

Last Wednesday night was the last evening pre-sanctified Liturgy of Great Lent in our parish.  I remember that last year I was able to make two them (You can read about that here and here ☺) and I wanted to make sure that I went at least twice this year as well.  There are two things that make my participation in Divine Services a bit challenging. First, with my new job I get up at 2 am and that means by 7 pm I am very sleepy and second, my son has a new job as well and his schedule was different as well. During the winter, I didn't want to make him wait for me in the cold to pick him up because he would get out of work exactly the same time the Service was starting. So I would forgo the services . But, because it was warm last Wednesday, I told my son that he would have to wait for me to finish with Church because I really wanted to attend. My son is "special needs" and some common everyday  activities are hard for him but to his credit, at 7pm he decided to walk to the bus stop and take a bus home.  He was home by 7:30pm! So, now, I will be able to attend Vespers more consistently, since he is okay with taking a bus.

Wednesday's Service was beautiful, as usual.  Fr Ken arrived a bit late but he joined Fr. Gary at the altar. It was nice to see him again.  Sadly, because I had to work the next day, I left just before communion- about the time St. Ephrem's Lenten prayer.  I like that prayer because it involves all those prostrations and nothing helps you advance in humility like falling face down on the ground!

Lent is almost over and I did an abysmal job of it.  Oh, well, there's always next year!

Have a blessed Holy week everyone!

Friday, April 4, 2014

One of my Favorite Saints, St. Mary of Egypt!

When I first heard the story of St. Mary of Egypt, I immediately took a liking to her.  It seems that she would have fit in so well with our modern, sex-crazed society. That makes her dramatic conversion all the more inspiring and gives me hope that, even though I live in a very sinful world, I can become holy.

So I was very happy that yesterday I was able to mark my 129th visit to my Orthodox parish as we did the Life of St. Mary of Egypt- The canon of St. Andrew. I arrived really early because I was already out and about and it didn't make sense for me to travel the 18 miles home, just to turn around and go back to Church.  Fr. Gary was there and greeted me. We talked a little bit and my job came up in conversation. I told him how I wake up at 2am to go to work and I could tell by the way he rolled his eyes that he wouldn't have liked those hours.

At first there was only two people in the choir so I tried to make sure I would lend my voice as well just to give the Church a more full sound.  Tami arrived a bit late and joined the choir and that helped the complete the choir, although, even with just two people, they were sounding pretty good.

My favorite part of the whole service was when Fr. Gary read the life of st Mary of Egypt by St. Sophronius although I have to admit I started to doze off because, usually by 730pm I am headed to bed but I was able to rally myself and when Fr. Gary read the second half, I was able to be more attentive.  Because I had arrived early to the service, I was able to stand in prayer in front of St. Mary of Egypt's Icon which seemed appropriate since she was the subject of last night's service.

I did have to leave early because I had to get some sleep and I would like to get more than five hours if possible. On my way out, I noticed Tami, who must have slipped out of the service to tend to something in the fellowship hall. She asked if I was leaving and I told her yes. She then gave me a hug good night and quickly joined in the service as I left.

As I drove home, I thought about my trip to the Church. I had passed a Byzantine Catholic Church  which had posted on their outside bulletin board the following message:  "Google the Life of St. Mary of Egypt." Now that is good advice. I hope people follow it. I also hope that people ask for her prayers, as I do, almost daily.

St. Mary of Egypt, pray unto God for us!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Visit # 127 and #128 ~ Presanctified Liturgy and Vespers!

Let my Prayer Arise

Great Lent is a fantastic opportunity to attend many services and last week I was able to go to the Presanctified Liturgy on Wednesday and Vespers last night (Saturday.) The Presanctified Liturgy is beautiful and a great way to bring yourself to repentance. I really enjoyed chanting the Psalms but I must say my favorite part is the hymn sung, Let My Prayer Arise. The above video is a small sampling of what it sounds like (as sung by two girls, I believe) but what I heard in Church Wednesday night was so much better. It was the deep, solo, mournful voice of Fr Gary, echoing in the Church as we all are prostrated in the Nave.   If that doesn't say Great Lent, then I don't know what does!

Vespers last night, of course, kept the same spirit of repentance. We heard no joyful bells on the incense ball censer and by attending Vespers only three days after the Presanctified Liturgy, I was able to keep this week in proper focus. Besides the increased service attendance, I find myself reading more of Sacred Scripture. I confess I had let that lapse a bit but I am following a reading plan in a new prayer book I bought for my kindle.

You can purchase it for yourself  here. In fact, Amazon lets me loan the book out once to anyone I choose for 14 days so if you'd like me to lend it to you, comment below and I will get it to you.  First come, first served! ☺ I do love this prayer book. My old prayer book is falling apart which I suppose is a good thing, meaning it has gotten a lot of use over the last few years.

When I walked into the narthex last night, I noticed the icon of St. Patrick whose feast day is this Monday. Last night we commemorated Gregory of Palamas but I know that Patrick is near and dear to many, including myself so I am glad his icon was displayed. Here is a photo I took with my phone.

St. Patrick, pray for us all!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Two Services in Two Days! How's that for making up for lost time?

services, 2 days in a row!
Last week I kicked off Great Lent the right way: I went to two services, back to back!! Yes, that makes #125 and #126 times that I have attended the Orthodox Church and, I know, it's been forever since I've attended. Way back in January was the last time I was in Service. Instead of dwelling on why I was absent for so long, let me tell you about the service. It wasn't easy to "get into it," if I may use that expression.  Way back  a long time ago when I was a Pentecostal, I used to see the devil everywhere. I used to blame him for all my misfortunes but I have since dropped that emphasis. But  maybe the devil was working against me going back to Divine Services after so long an absence.  During the entire service I kept thinking, "I can't stay for the whole thing because I get up at 2:30am for work. which is true but I couldn't let it go and I resolved that I would leave after the odes were done. But I stuck it out and actually did prostrations while we were praying the prayers of St. Ephraim. There is nothing like doing prostrations to get you out of a funk.  After that I was able to concentrate more on the service a little bit better. I did briefly speak with Tammi before the service and she said she was happy to see me again. I did explain that my work schedule makes it difficult for me to attend.

The second day, after I firmly fixed it in my mind I was going to service but I found things kept  annoying me and putting me in a foul mood. (The devil at work again? maybe!) The thought occurred, maybe I should just stay home and go to sleep early....but I've been listening to sermons on AFR on how Great Lent is all about struggle so I went even though I was in a foul mood, making my mood part of the struggle. I was using my son's car that evening and had to stop and get gas or I'd never make it the 30 minute hike to the Church. But, no worries, I thought, I left extra early.  Well, it turns out that his gas cap was broken and couldn't be opened so if ever I had a reason to not go to Church that was it. But, I got mad and frustrated and thought I should just drive back home and go to sleep. I was so mad that I uttered a ghetto version of "Get thee behind me, Satan," and I drove home to get my car which already had gas in it.  I made it to the Service just at 7pm so I missed nothing. Maybe, God was testing me to see how much I really wanted to go. Who knows, all I know is I am glad I went. I was able to "get into" the service more easily this time. I ended up sitting next to Jim Martin and his daughter Tiffany. It was great to see them again. 

I hope to take this time in Great Lent to increase my spiritual discplines, including more Bible reading and attendance at Divine Services. As far as fasting goes, well, that's another story.

Blessed Lent to you all and I hope to report back here soon.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Don't mean to brag, but....


Okay, I made this commercial for Children's  Bible Quizzing program in my protestant parish. I think it's pretty good. I mean, I can't quit my day job and make commercials for a living but I think it's a good amateur effort. Everyone had fun making the video at least! Enjoy and tell me what you think.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Vespers # 124 ~ Ordinary Struggles

I am easily Distracted; just like this man
photo by Michael Summers, used under the creative commons license.
check out more photos here:

I don't know about you but it seems that whenever I am at prayer time, whether at home or at a Divine Service, I have trouble concentrating. All good intentions of expressing piety and devotions can easily get swallowed up in distracted thoughts and plans for the future.   I recently reread a book by R. Leo Olson called Sojourning with Angels which is a novel that talks about angelic and demonic activities in a person's life. (and after death in the Aerial  toll houses) I love the way Olson depicts a Divine Service where the Faithful are gathered. Angels are there as well, praising God along with those who bear the Image of God, i.e., us people. Demons were there too trying to distract so perhaps that is what is happening to me.

The thought (just a passing thought) came to me last night in Vespers that I was just wasting my time.  I suppose that Satan's team is trying to get me from attending to spiritual matters.  This could easily happen if I let it. I could just seek comfort at home watching Netflix and I find that I don't really like to go out at night anymore. Thankfully, I remember (with the help of my guardian angel I am sure) that attending to Spiritual things is an important thing to do.  So despite not really "feeling like it," I attended service.

Fr. Gary was away so Fr. Sergious was leading us.  He has a nice, deep voice which I like to listen to. After the service everyone gathered in little circles to talk. I know I could have hung around and joined one of them but I decided to leave.

I highly recommend the book Sojourning with Angels but we warned, he uses profane language which comes from the mouths of people and demons alike in his book.  I liked it because it added a realism that I think helpped me accept the truth of spiritual matters.  If you end up reading, comment below and tell me what you think.

Blessings to you till next time!

Check out the trailer for the book below: