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!

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!