Sunday, October 12, 2014

Vespers-lite; Half the Calories and All the Nourishment!


So Fr. Gary was out of town last night and the Faithful gathered anyway.  Deacon Alexander led us all in a Readers service which included all the regular prayers contained in a Vespers Service, only with some modifications. Whenever there was a Trinitarian invocation which was normally said by Fr Gary, Deacon Alexander would instead say, Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen or something along those lines.  It was good to be back to Orthodox Worship since I've been absent for a while. Indeed, the last time I experienced a Divine Service was at the Funeral of my friend, +James Patrick, and while it was a blessing of sorts, it was also very somber and sad. Attending service last night (which marks my 152nd visit to a Divine Service) was spiritually nourishing. Hearing and praying the Prayers among the Faithful helped me tremendously. It didn't matter that Fr. Gary could not be there, the Holy Spirit was still among His people.

I arrived early and, at the recommendation of some of my faithful readers ☺, I lit a candle and offered a prayer.  While I was upfront at the Candle Stand, about to light the candle, Tami came by and told me how today is 40 days since +Alexandra reposed. She wanted to let me know how Fr Gary was to lead a service after coffee hour in commemoration of our departed sister and encouraged me to offer my own prayers for Alexandra. I would gladly attend the service but I have something else going on in the early afternoon today.

one dollar? such a bargain!
I then turned to the business of lighting my candle. At first I thought that the wick was too short but, after holding it under the flame for a while, it lit right up.  All the time I was doing this, my phone was ringing.  I glanced at it and it was my wife calling. Since I was in the Nave, I did not pick it up but lit my candle and offered a short prayer.  I decided to sit up front by my candle so I could watch it burn during the service.  I usually sit in the back so this was a change for me.  

Deacon Alexander did give a short homily in which he talked about the hymn "O Gladsome Light," and how the Bishop of Jerusalem would take light from the tomb of Christ make a procession around the Church into the Altar.  It was a very good homily.

As I said, it was good to be back again.  Next week, I start a new schedule at work and that means I will be working Sundays so I will no longer be attending my protestant parish. Vespers will be more important than ever.  

See you next week!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Final Goodbyes ~ Memory Eternal, James Patrick

Jim arriving to the Church with a Motorcycle escort
photo by Tami, from the Bell tower!
(she rang the bells as Jim entered into the Church)
My 151st time at my Orthodox parish was a solemn time. I hadn't thought I would be able to attend Jim Martin's Funeral because of work but, through a help of a friend, I was able to swap my days off. I especially wanted to be there because on Sunday, when Tiffany gave me Jim's Icon, she also mentioned how her mother, Judy, had specially asked if I could be a pall-bearer. I am grateful that I was able to get off work and honored to carry Jim, along with his other friends, into the Church.

I arrived very early to the Church and was greeted by Daria who now goes to another parish because she moved but it was good to see her here. She, of course, had tears in her eyes. (It seemed everyone I talked to had tears in their eyes ~ Jim was only at the parish a very short time yet he made such an impression.) I also talked to Fr. Gary's, Mary, who told me she was happy to meet my wife last night at the viewing.  She joked that if she if came into the Church, she would let her sit in her row. (if  you want to  understand that "inside" joke, you can read about it here ☺) Sitting there for a while, I realized, I needed to be outside to greet the hearse  from the Funeral home. I can't be a pall-bearer if I'm not near the coffin. So, I waited outside.

Soon after that, I heard the roar of motorcycles.  It was then I remembered that Jim, in his former protestant parish, had belonged to a Christian motorcycle club. His friends had provided an escort! I was all choked up as I saw these "Heaven's Angels" (as opposed to Hell's Angels, that is ☺) make sure that Jim got proper honors in his final ride. ( The name of the group is "Trinity," not "Heaven's Angels, by the way.) The funeral director gathered us around and gave us instructions on the best way to proceed. The coffin was very heavy. I used to be stronger when I had my other job, because I did lift things but it seems to me now I have to start working out more.  We carried him in. Reader John, his godfather (sponsor) was one of those who carried him in. 

After we brought Jim in, I took my place on the left side. The coffin was in the center and the lid was open but, sadly, the lid was open towards me so I really couldn't see his face, only an open lid.  The service was beautiful and Father Gary's homily was excellent. He talked about how he first got to meet Jim and said he was impressed by his humility. Also, he talked about Jim's mission trip to Mexico and, when asked what he wanted to get out of the trip, Jim stated, quite emotionally, that he just wanted people to see Christ in their actions and lives.  

After the service was over, we drove to the grave site some 30 miles away. Reader John rode with me and we had a nice talk about Ancient Faith Radio.  At the graveside, Fr. Gary said the final prayers and we all took some dirt to throw on top of the casket.  It was a blessing to see Judy talking with others, declaring, how much of God's Grace was upon her during this difficult time.  She was seeing the Love of God in His people.  That is exactly the way it is supposed to be.

We went to a restaurant afterwards and that was nice.  The highlight for me was when Jim's son, Chris, who was sitting on the opposite side of the room, came over to me and asked, "Do you drink?" I answered honestly, "No," and he looked disappointed and told me how he wanted to have a drink with me (in the bar) in honor of his father. I said, "Sure, you can buy me an O'douhl's", a non-alcoholic beer which I developed a taste for over in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf war. He had a pint of beer in a glass and I kept mine in the bottle. We toasted Jim and then Chris and I caught up on each other. I really haven't seen him since he was a teenager and now he was a young man with a wife and a career in Air Force. We talked about his concerns for the future, his plans and, of course, we talked about Jim.  I was especially touched on how Chris said he wanted to model his life on his dad's by being a better person. (That's not an exact quote but that is the general gist of things)
Drinking with Chris, reminded me of Jim manning the Beer tent.  I  wonder who is going to man in next year at the ethnic fair? Our conversation at the bar was cut short because dinner was now being served so returned to our seats.  It was a good couple of minutes. It is always sad how, sometimes, the only time we get to meet with old friends is at funerals. That, of course, should change.

Dinner being over, I said my good byes and headed home.  It was a good day....and a sad one, too.  I felt strength from other people who were living out the Love of Christ. I found Joy in sadness and hope for the future.  When I came home, I had a shared all of the happenings with my wife. Sadly, she could not be at the funeral because of work. But I am glad both of us got to pay our respects the night before at the wake at the funeral home.

Grant eternal rest, O Lord, to your servant, James Patrick!



Monday, September 22, 2014

Visit #150 ~ Third Day Panhida for Jim Martin

On the day, Jim entered into the Church
My heart has been full these past couple of days. I am very much shocked by the sudden passing of my friend, Jim Martin and I was glad to be able to attend the Third-day Panhida for him. It was right after the Divine Liturgy.  I woke up feeling sick so I didn't make it to my protestant parish for their worship service but only arrived for the coffee hour. While there, I spoke with people who knew Jim (for he had been a member there with me for many years) and everyone was in disbelief.  It was good to share some memories of Jim with them.
 

Here is the announcement of Jim's Repose at my protestant church; also a prayer for his family

I scooted out of there to make it to the Panhida.  I walked into the Narthex and Tami was standing in the back.  She greeted me warmly, knowing that I had lost a friend. Jim and I go back a long way. Back in our Church of the Nazarene days, we led Children's Church together. He would sing songs on his guitar and lead the kids in singing. He was a licensed minister with the Church of the Nazarene and, for a time, I was pursuing that as well so we would go to "minister's meetings" together.  That was then. Now I can say it has been  a joy  for me to see Jim embrace Christ in the Orthodox Church. I am happy I had a small part in that. (Jim noticed that on Goodreads, which is like facebook for book lovers, that I had been reading the Orthodox Study Bible and he asked my opinion. After I gave it, I directed him to my blog so he could get the full story. Well, he read the entire blog in one weekend and he ended up attending Vespers and the rest, as they say, is history! You can read about Jim's first visit to our parish here)

I arrived at 11:30 and Communion was just finishing up. I stood in the back and I did notice Tiffany was in the back with her husband, Andrew.  Glancing at the Icons that are painted on the wall, I noticed that Tiffany was standing right by the Icon of St. Patrick, enlightener of Ireland. That was Jim's baptismal (or, rather, Christmation) Name.  I don't know if she planned it that way but it was cool to think that she was standing by the Icon of the Saint who meant so much to her father.

Jim's Icon of St. Herman
The service, which lasted about a half hour, was beautiful.  To hear the name James Patrick being prayed for was a bit surreal but I joined in as much as I was able.  It was a bit emotional me when, towards the end, Father Gary chanted, rather slowly, "Let his memory be eternal."  When the service ended, I was, of course, going to greet Tiffany but she was talking to some  people and I waited in the back. I came across Reader John, Tami's husband, who was very emotional and gave me a warm hug, with tears in his eyes. He was especially broken up about Jim's passing because John was Jim's sponsor in the Church.  (I guess that makes him a Godfather, right?) Later on, I greeted other people who were just as much in a state of shock as I was in regards to Jim.  People knew that Jim and I go back a long ways and they were very kind to me.  One person said that he will be very missed. That I know is true. Jim had a presence about him and you knew when he was in a room.

When Tiffany was free, I, of course, gave her a hug and told her how sorry I was. She said, "Come here, I have something for you."  She then took me into the Narthex where she presented me with Jim's Icon of St. Herman.  Although Jim took the name Patrick, he had a special bond with St. Herman because Jim loved Alaska so much!  Tiffany said that her father would want me to have this because I was the one who got him here.  I accepted the Icon, with tears in my eyes and with a full heart.  I was honored to have a small part- and yes, it was small; I just pointed the Way- in Jim's entrance into the Church.

Today, will be the viewing at the funeral home. My wife and I will go.I am trying to make arrangements to attend Jim's funeral tomorrow. Even as I type this, I am in communication with someone who is seeing if she can take my shift. As a Federal officer at the Airport, it can be difficult for me to get time off but I am hopeful.

Jim, Tiffany and Ben on the day they entered into the Church
Becoming Orthodox
Memory Eternal, Jim.

Sorry, but I can't get one line from the movie Ghostbusters, out of my head. Towards the end of the movie when, in order to save the City, the heroes had to risk death, Bill Murray says, "See you on the other side, Ray," 

So I say, "See you on the other side, Jim."

Friday, September 19, 2014

My friend, Jim Martin ~ May his Memory be Eternal!

Jim and Jim!
In the Narthex of our Orthodox Parish
I was shocked when I came home today at 7pm to learn that my friend, Jim Martin, passed away in his sleep.  I learned it by way of  a short message in my Facebook inbox from his daughter, Tiffany.  Never has a one sentence Message stunned me so much! . "My dad passed away this morning," the message said . I could hardly believe it!  It seemed like it was only yesterday that I was talking to him at the Ethnic Fair as he cheerfully manned the Beer Tent. How I enjoyed our conversation that evening, as he talked to me about his love for the Liturgy, his feeling of  peace now that he had found the Church and how unworthy he felt in partaking in the Body and Blood of Jesus each Sunday.  His humility during that conversation was an inspiration to me. 

I will miss him.  May his memory be eternal and may his soul dwell with the blessed!

Jim and his daughter Tiffany being
received into the Church



Sunday, September 14, 2014

Visit #149 ~ Lifting up the Cross of Christ!


It was good to be at Vespers last night! It was also good that my son, Justin visited with me. Today was extra special for him because, before Vespers official started, he got to see the Icon of the Cross (which was adorned with flowers) brought out to the center of the Nave while we sang hymns. Also, later on, he got to see a Litya service for the first time.  Justin admitted to me later that he was a bit distracted during service but I can totally relate to that.  The important thing is to keep coming to the services, enduring the "hard times" when it is difficult to pay attention. I know it is spiritually uplifting when we attend Divine Services and that is why I keep coming back!

By the way, is there a special word for when, before the Vespers service begins, when they switch out the Icons that are in the middle of the Nave? Comment below and let me know, please!
Russian Orthodox crucifix
photo by Jim Forest,
used under the creative commons license
check out more of his work at:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/jimforest/

Fr Gary talked about Joy being associated with the Cross. At first, it is not obvious that would be the case because the Cross meant death and pain for Jesus. But Joy is the result of the Cross because our relationship with God is restored. For this reason, we bow before it, worshiping God for the Cross.

Justin and I arrived early because Justin wanted to light a candle and say a prayer before the service began. It turns out that there was a service remembering the repose of a boy who died ten years ago at the age of 12. (Tami told me about it, just before Vespers.) It was so sad to hear how this family had to watch a young boy die because he contracted meningitis and died within a couple of days. How does a family get over that? With Alexandra passing away last week and the memorial service for this boy this week, it certainly does put things in perspective. May the boy's memory be eternal and may God grant comfort to his family. Also, may the memory of Alexandra be eternal!

I had always been reluctant to light a candle. I think I always thought I'd wait until (if ever), I became a catechumen but, I think, I shall light some candles in the near future and let them be as a prayer to God. I spoke with Deacon Alexander with whom I was supposed to meet but, because of our busy schedules, haven't done so yet. He said to contact him next week so we can set up a time.  He also said he is going to grow back his beard! Now, that sounds like a very Orthodox thing to do, don't you think?



Sunday, September 7, 2014

Visit #148 ~ Vespers again with my Son, dinner with my wife and Some Sad News!

a selfie with my son
Justin came back to Vespers with me Last night. But first we stopped for some pizza. What was really great is my wife, who was a work, timed her break so she could join us for pizza.  While we waited for my wife to arrived Justin and I chatted. He is up to to Exodus now in the Bible that I bought for him.I really discourage people from reading the Bible "cover to cover" because most of the time people run out of steam when they get to Leviticus~ all those laws and stuff. Pretty dry stuff for most people. Justin said he'd also like to attend a Divine Liturgy but that would require some "energy drinks" for him because he works the Saturday night before.  We'll have to make sure we go one Sunday.

My wife arrived a bit late because she got stuck at work but it was good to see her. She loves mushroom pizza and so do I.  Now that our children are grown, it is nice for us, as parents, to sit and talk with them around a shared meal.  Karen had to rush back to work and Justin and I went to Vespers. We arrived a bit late (How's that for being truly Orthodox ) and Justin was a bit disappointed because he said "I don't want to miss them swinging the incense around" We arrived at the Kathisma and only missed "one round of the incense.  Justin said he wanted to light a candle. That is something we can do next week. I have never lighten a candle before and I think it can be a bit tricky. I see people lighting the candle and then melting the bottom before they place it in the holder.  I think I'll have to call in Tami for some help next week!

dinner for Karen and I
I got some sad news.  One of the Choir members whom I have talked to a few times, passed away. She is the one whose name I could not remember in this blog post here. Alexandra Kulnyi is here name and I have been impressed by her piety on several occasions. I always observed how when she either sang or led the choir, it would be an act of Worship.  Alexandra's funeral will be Tuesday evening/Wednesday morning and I am afraid I won't be able to attend. I have a class I am taking for my job and it is on Tuesday evenings. I might be able to arrive late but I will see. Remember Alexandra in your prayers, if you will.

One question before I sign off. Tami fed everyone some wheat based "snack" which was blessed and it is somehow associated with the newly departed. Can some one tell me the significance of that? There are so many traditions in Orthodoxy, I don't think I am able to keep up. But I am having fun trying to!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Visit 147 ~ My Son at Vespers again and I have 3 seconds of fame on Sr. Vassa's Video podcast!

Justin, in our protestant church
Vespers was good last Saturday and, not least of which, because my son Justin came with me.  Since he moved out some time ago, I don't see him all that much.  So what he does is come to my house Saturday afternoon and then we go to Vespers. Afterwards, I drive him to work where he is on the night shift. Before Vespers we stopped at Wendy's for a quick dinner and we did a lot of catching up.  He is really enjoying the Bible I bought him last week and said he hasn't been this excited about reading the Bible since he was in high school. (Back then he was a fundamentalist Christian.) He is looking forward to reading all the books that Martin Luther excluded from the Bible. I am just glad he is reading the Bible and I am happy to help him on his journey to God, both by my prayers and my example.

When we walked into the narthex, I asked Justin if he wanted to follow along in a service book. He said no. He said he found himself just looking at the pictures (Icons) whenever he was distracted from the hymns. I guess that's a good place to go in your head. I know for myself, I sometimes don't pay attention to the hymns like I ought but the Icons help me remember the reason why I am at Vespers.

Fr Gary's homily was very good. He talked about the upcoming civil holiday in the United States called Labor Day and talked about how we must labor in our journey towards God. I especially like how he said that the work we do isn't to earn points for our salvation but, rather, is a response to our love for God.  

Because of work schedules, my wife and I don't see each other as much as we used to. That means that every other Saturday, I would spend with her instead of going to Vespers.  Well, it turns out, she has a new position at her job and, new days off. She'll be working every Saturday so I'll be able to go to Vespers every Saturday.

Please remember me in your prayers.  My shift will change in October and I may not be able to get the days off I have now which is good both for Vespers attendance and spending time with my wife.  Pray that it all works out.

I am a big fan of Coffee with Sr. Vassa. At the end of her videocast, she features "selfies" of people holding her coffee mug. My mug is shown below! If you click below, I have it cued up to start right where they start showing the selfies. I took the picture in my protestant parish prayer room and sent the message to Sr. Vassa that "even protestants love to watch Sr. Vassa." She responded to me, via email, "Thanks for watching, my protestant friend!" Wow, I rubbing shoulders with Orthodox celebrities now! :)


You can also watch the entire videocast from the beginning. As always, it is very interesting to listen to.