Monday, August 25, 2014

Visit #146 ~ My Two Sons go to Vespers to Meet the Bishop around a Campfire

A Talisman in my son's pockets?
I almost didn't go to Vespers Saturday because I was really tired but, on my way home from work, I get a call from my son,Justin,  who recently moved out, saying he wanted to go to Vespers with me. I said, "Sure," but it may be a long service because the Bishop is visiting.  The last time the Bishop was here, the Saturday night Vespers included a matins service as well so it went on for a while.Justin said,  no problem. When I arrived home I took a power nap and Justin arrived. When my other son, Daniel,  found out that the Bishop was going to be at Church, he said, "Wow, a Bishop, I can't miss that!"   I don't know what he was expecting to see....being a Protestant, he might have had visions of papal pomp and circumstance surrounding Bishop Michael, along with numerous attendants and, perhaps, angels? :)

In any event, both Justin and Daniel thought it appropriate to bring a chess piece of a Bishop and stick in their pockets to bring along with them to Vespers, since they were about to see a real, live bishop.:)  The service turned out to be an average length Vespers service and I realized they probably didn't have the longer version because Bishop Michael was going to attend our campfire after Vespers to meet and greet his flock.

Worship was great, as usual. My sons decided not to follow along with a service book but just listen. Bishop Michael's homily was very good. He preached about how we, as Christians, must read the Scriptures and live the Scriptures and then he gave St. Cosmos as an example. That Saint's story was very inspirational to listen to.  After service, the Bishop gave the blessing and the Faithful approached Bishop Michael to venerate the Cross. My sons opted out but I went.

We went to the campfire for a while and I talked with Jim Martin about Project Mexico. He said it was a great experience and I was happy to hear his stories. My son Justin roasted a marshmallow for me and it was great to be around the campfire but we couldn't stay long because Justin had to work that night and I wanted to leave before the Bishop began talking. I thought it would be rude to walk out just as he began to speak.

It was great to have my two sons with me at Vespers and I hope they can come again soon. As it turned out they didn't "meet" Bishop Michael (and neither did I, really) but they did get to see him and hear him.  It is something, I think, to listen to a man who can trace his ordination back to the Apostles.  

Bishop Michael and those who served at the altar 
Justin asked if I had an extra Orthodox Bible because he was interested in reading the "extra books." I told him I did not but, the very next day, I ordered him an Orthodox Study Bible from Amazon. It should arrive Tuesday and I will give it to him the next time I see him!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Visit #145 ~ Reflections on Jesus' Mother and Ketchup on my Shirt

ketchup messy photo: ketchup anigif_enhanced-buzz-30763-1340284481-4.gif
It wasn't quite THAT bad....
I had to stop and eat something before Vespers so I drove into Wendy's and got a burger and fries. I thought, I shouldn't get ketchup for the fries on the off chance I miss my mouth and drop some on my shirt. I am, sad to say, a slob.  I figured if I am very careful, I would finish my dinner without a mess. Well, I was wrong and didn't discover it until I was a few blocks away from Church. I contemplated just sitting in the back without any Icon veneration and then sneaking out afterwards and avoiding any contact with anyone. But I figured, what the heck, and just pretended the ketchup stain wasn't there.

Excellent worship as always. It was good to see Fr. Gary back from his trip to Project Mexico. We were, of course, commemorating the Dormition of the Theotokos so she was on my mind throughout Vespers. Sermons I have been listening throughout the week came to mind which highlighted Mary's exalted position. And with all the Icons in the Church, I couldn't help but think about her and ask for her prayers. Fr. Gary's Homily mentioned how he could see how our "non-Orthodox friend," could get the wrong idea and think that we worship Mary. The truth is we don't but other's believe we cross the line. But think about it? Jesus is fully God and fully HUMAN. How could He not but honor His own mother. Should we not do the same? Protestants miss out on so much by not asking for the prayers of the Saints who have gone into heaven.

I chatted with Patty after Vespers. John and Tami were absent and they NEVER were so I asked her about it and she said they were at a celebration up north for a priest who used to be Pastor at our parish.  That's good. I wanted to ask Tami how her week at camp was. (She goes every year to an Orthodox Summer camp and works in the kitchen. It was at that camp that I got Orthodox Jam back in my 8th Visit to the parish.) I also asked about Fr. Sergious who served Vespers last week and this week had to have a pacemaker put in.Prayers for him, for sure!

I think back on my journey towards Orthodoxy and see how much I've changed. When I first started, I began with returning to my Roman Catholic roots and used some of their prayers in my own daily devotions, especially the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy which I still think is a beautiful prayer but I understand how it's not quite Orthodox. In the beginning of this prayer you are supposed to say a Hail, Mary, which, at the time, I could not, in good conscience, do so I would replace the Hail, Mary with the Lamb of God prayer.  And look at me now! I along, with the Church, ask for the prayers of the Theotokos on a daily basis.

By her prayers and of all the Saints, may I be drawn closer to Christ and to His Church.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Thinking about Duck Dynasty Beards at my 144th Visit

Will the real Phil Robinson, please stand up?
Fr. Gary and a small crew from the parish, including Jim Martin, are away for the week for Project Mexico so Fr. Sergio stepped in to lead us in Vespers.  I noticed another clergyman in the Sanctuary and I knew right away he was a deacon because he had a censor and walked out the royal doors to sense the people and the icons.  And he was beardless! Scandalous! :)

That got me thinking about beards and the Orthodox. Why are beards such a big part of Orthodoxy? Is it part of Holy Tradition or can that be relegated to small "t" tradition? In the Church of the Nazarene, the protestant denomination to which I belong, they make a big thing about birthdays of the Pastor. It is publicly acknowledged, there is a gift given to the pastor during the service and many times a "coffee hour" party to celebrate. But making a big deal about birthdays is not essential Nazarene doctrine. Can the same be said about beards and the Orthodox? I'd love to hear people's thoughts about this. I mean, to be really holy, does one really have to look like Phil Robinson of Duck Dynasty? I certainly hope not.

As the deacon began leading us in the prayers, I realized that the voice sounded an awful lot like our own Deacon Alexander. I think it was him but you know how some people look completely different when they shave off their beards? Well, it that was deacon Alexander than he'd be one of those people who look completely different. If he did have to shave it off, I wonder why? I didn't get a chance to stay after Vespers to talk to anyone so I guess I'll have to wait till next week to find out.

I remember one of my facebook friends (or, former, for some reason he unfriended me....but I'm not bitter :) )....He is a convert to Orthodoxy, from Judaism and he had a full beard. He shaved it off and lamented that "for some reason you can't get a job around here unless you are a shaved down pagan" So, I see that beards are a big thing in Orthodoxy and highly treasured. I'd love to know why so please comment below.

Deacon (Alexander?) gave the homily and it was excellent. He talked about the contrast between light and darkness and how that is made much of during the feast of the Transfiguration. He quoted:

On the mount Thou was transfigured, and Thy disciples, as much as they could bear, beheld Thy glory, O Christ our God; so that, when they would see Thee crucified, they would know Thy passion to be willing and would preach to the world that Thou, in truth, are the Effulgence of the Father.

All and all, a great service and I was happy that I went especially since I contemplated staying home because it has been a rough week at work but making the effort was sure worth it. It is a job to worship God with His people.

Now, about those beards, please comment below.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Hanging out at the Beer Tent at the Ethnic Fair!

Jim Martin at his post
 I had a very relaxing time at the Ethnic Fair at my Parish.  I almost didn't make it there because the road was closed off on the route and there was a detour causing major delays. I almost turned around and just went home. I am glad I made it there, though.  I saw my friend Jim Martin manning the beer tent and I spent some time talking to him and also to other people who came by.

The whole afternoon was very relaxing. We talked about a variety of topics ranging from Church, the Tour de France to music and old-style records. Speaking of music, I liked the music they had playing. A lot of old stuff; I believe I heard, Peter, Paul and Mary and Woody Guthrie. I like that they were very selective with their music, not playing anything from the regular radio because, for the most part, you don't know what kind of lyrics you are going to get!

As the afternoon winded down, I helped clean up and was really enjoying the song "All by Myself," (all the while thinking of the opening scene in Bridget Jones' Diary) but then they turned it off because the music was being shut down and I thought, Man, I was just getting into it!   So, here for your listening enjoyment (and mine) is the entire song:

The food was great! I can't believe the prices. The foot long hot dog was only $3. They also had a gift basket auction. I tried to win a Spa treatment certificate that I was going to give to my wife and also a Thomas Kinkaide painting, but, alas, I lost.

my dinner
So I am really glad I showed up. I got to speak to Fr. Gary, Fr Ken, his son Will. Also Reader John and Jack and I met some new people. A good afternoon it was!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Vespers before the Ethnic Fair!

Yesterday's Vespers was, as always, spiritual fulfilling. I say always because even when I am not feeling it, I know that Christ is being glorified and I edified when I attend the Divine Services. When I drove into the parking lot, for my 143rd Visit to my Orthodox Parish, I noticed that everything was set up for the ethnic fair. The chairs, the food tent and the signs were all in place, ready for Sunday's event.  It seemed that Vespers was well attended last evening and I was pleased with that. I have heard that many times people who are involved in ethnic fairs were unable to attend the Divine Liturgy on Sundays because of all the last minute preparations needed to be done. Maybe that would account for the higher attendance.

Fr. Gary made mention of the fair in his homily but not as an advertisement but, rather, as a need for an attitude check. He quoted St. Paul in his passage to the Romans how the strong need to bear up with the failings of the weak. Perhaps, we feel we are among the strong because of our Orthodox faith and those who do not go to Church are the weak. We should be very careful not to sit in judgment on them, saying to ourselves, Well, you guys should be going to Church. Instead, we are to be humble examples for it is only in humility that we grow in Christ.  Fr. Gary went on to say that there will be a lot of visitors and we must keep our attitude of humility.

Well said, Fr. Gary!

God willing, I hope to be at the fair later on today and I will give you a full report! :)

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!