Wednesday, July 28, 2010

"Taking Chance" and the Veneration of the Saints

“Taking Chance” is an HBO special starring Kevin Bacon about a fallen marine named Chance Phelps and the honor he receives because he is a fallen hero, having given his life to save his fellow marines. Watching that movie, seeing the solemn ceremony they bestow upon his remains- the hand salute rendered with slow solemnity-, hearing how Chance is spoken of with love and reverence, witnessing the special care they take on his remains- decking him out in a full dress uniform, perfectly placing each ribbon in its proper location- even though it was to be a closed casket and no one would see it- all of this, reminds me of the honor and respect Orthodox Christians give to the Saints.

Orthodox Christians understand the dignity of being made in the image of God and of the holiness God calls us to. But we are fallen and most of us look nothing like the Saints and do not reflect the Image of God clearly – but the Saints do! So not only is it proper to aspire to their holiness, it is correct to honor them for their life of sacrifice and dedication, just as it is proper to give full honors to a Marine who given his life for his country. This is what happens when an Orthodox Christian venerates an Icon, he is showing respect, love and honor to a person who has grown so close to God that their holiness is Luminous – How can we react otherwise?

Orthodox Christians have been accused of idolatry because of the honor they bestow upon the Saints; especially the special honor given to Mary – and this honor, they say, is worship. After all, they reason, right in the middle of the Liturgy there is the phrase, “Most Holy Theotokos, Save us.” This phrase, no doubt, scares a lot of Protestants. But they don’t understand. Fr. Aris Metrakosays it best:

Some Rebuttals to Those Among Us Who are Uncomfortable with Mary

Some modern Orthodox Christians don't like the words "Most Holy Theotokos, Save Us." They would prefer the words "intercede for us," reminding us that the exclamation "Save Us" is confusing to non-Orthodox. The veneration of Mary is not for the non-Orthodox. Once people have been fully converted to Christ, the love of the Panagia follows naturally. The pious believer knows firsthand that Jesus is his Savior, but the drowning man does not cry out to the lifeguard, "Intercede for me!"

And so we ask for the prayers of Mary and all the Saints because our journey towards Salvation should not be alone. We need the Saints to help us along the way, If I am weak and stumble while walking on a path, it is only natural that I would seek out the help of someone stronger than me to help me up and then, both together we continue on the path until we reach our destination. The prayers of the Saints will help me reach the desired destination.
Chance Phelps, the marine who gave his life for his friends, received proper honor for his actions. The Saints should receive no less.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

lots of answers!

Russian Orthodox Cathedral Worshippers
photo by Flickr user Mr T in DC, used under the creative commons license,
check out his work at:

Thanks to everyone who emailed me and posted comments on I have learned a lot. It seems that venerating icons is acceptable at alomst anytime in the service. I guess with my rigid, western mind, I saw this as a problem....

If you would like to check out all the comments regarding this question on the Orthodox forum, click below.... by the way, I may be going to an ethnic fair at the church this saturday and I am going to try to drag my family so they can meet all the people I have been blogging about...keep me in prayer! Anyway, here's the link...,28857.msg455121.html#msg455121

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Fifth Visit

I impulsivley took a picture of the church before I entered on my fifth visit...

Yesterday was my fifth visit to an Orthodox church. Turns out it was Sunday of the Holy Fathers, a feast I suppose but before I entered the church I saw the lady –sorry, I forgot her name- who always gives me the Litya, called to me and said, “Sorry, we won’t be feeding you tonight!” This she said with a big smile and I remarked that it was okay. Then as I entered the church I saw Ken decked out in his Deacon robe and he greeted me. I told him I had to leave right away after the service to pick up my son from work and his expression said, “You don’t owe me an explanation- You are allowed to leave!” but as I handed him a New Testament and Psalms for Orthodox Christians: military edition – and asked him to hand it to his son Bill for me, he understood why I was explaining my need for a rapid exit. I would have liked to have handed it to Bill myself and perhaps told him I was praying for him but I can tell him that the next time I see him. Bill served alone as Altar boy (is Altar Boy a RC term only, I wonder?).

Something that I heard mentioned on a podcast happened today. I forgot which podcast but I remember hearing how it might be a good idea to come to church early so you can reverence the icons and light candles before the beginning of the service so that you don’t have to do it during the service. Well, in the middle of the service a couple came a did exactly that, kissed icons and lit candles. Can any of you Orthodox leave a comment and tell me about this. Is it considered rude and distracting or is it just part of normal everyday Orthodox life? I would really like to know so leave your comments below or email me at

Fr Gary mentioned, during his homily, how the church has a new icon over the entrance of the church. I had noticed that before he mentioned it because I remember on my second or third visit, I looked to see if they had an icon over the door because Fr Peter Prebble of the Shepherd of Souls podcast said that many churches have icons of the last judgment over the entrance as a reminder to think about such things as we exited the church. This icon was not the last judgment but rather the Protection of the Theotokos. He explained how it was good to remember how we are protected by the Theotokos as we entered into the world.

Speaking of the Theotokos, my mom told me when I was 16 and starting to get involved in a Pentecostal church, not to forget the Virgin Mother. I told her I wouldn’t but I really had no special devotion to her at the time. I get the feeling that the Theotokos is responsible for my desire to enter the Orthodox Church. After years of listening to Roman Catholic podcasts, I still had intellectual reservations about praying to Mary (during the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, which I would pray on my own, I would always replace the Hail Mary with the Lamb of God) But then I just started praying the Hail Mary and although I wouldn’t call it brain washing, it just seems to make sense now. I guess in anything, you have to pass from the intellectual to the actual doing. A doctor who spends all his time studying medicine but never once practices any first aid is kind of useless, don’t you think? My mom told me that one day I would return to the Catholic Church; Well, she was sort of right, I mean Orthodox is Catholic, right?

Friday, July 2, 2010

Fourth Visit, expounded upon!

This is a picture of the interior of the church I visit. John explained all the icons to me

St. Peter and St. Paul’s feast day was last Tuesday so I went to vespers the night before, making it a total of four trips to this Orthodox parish.

I did hang around a bit and talk to people after the service and they were, as Ken promised, a chatty group. I am glad I stayed because I learned something. They smile…one thing that I found a bit disheartening when I first started going to Vespers is that everyone looked so serious when they were worshipping. Granted, this is coming from a person who likes to laugh a lot and has on more than one occasion, had to suppress laughter during a Sunday morning worship service because of a funny thing he saw or heard during the service and I must say that there were times I looked for these opportunities to find something to laugh about during the service (maybe I was that bored?)…but at Vespers? With the Incense, the bells, the icons, the beautiful chanting, the constant invocation of the Trinity? How can I even think of looking for something to laugh at when the important work of Worship is going on?

But after Vespers, when they were just hanging about, they laughed, the smiled, they told corny jokes (After I was introduced to everyone in the circle and each gave his name, someone said, “they’ll be a quiz later”) just normal people- who happen to connected to a 2000 year old church, started by Christ Himself!

I also talked with Ken for the first time, as we walked out of the Sanctuary, he says, “Mister Jim Dude!” That is my screen name of and he went on to tell me that is how he found my blog. (To be honest, he kinda freaked me out when he posted a comment on this blog, telling of specific events that were to happen at the parish – I didn’t tell anyone about this blog? How did he find it? Ken said it was the Holy Spirit. )He had went on to the forum and saw a post called “My first visit to an Orthodox church” and I referenced my blog where I talked about meeting a reader named John. Ken thought. I just saw a person who had his first visit at our parish and we have a reader named John. Could that be “Mister Jim Dude” Of course, it was.

I also had a short chat with Ken’s son Bill who is very interested in the Air Force. He is a nice kid who is interested in being a chaplain. The conversation was a bit awkward at times because he seemed shy but, hey, I can’t blame him. He gets called over by his father and is told to have a conversation with a complete stranger. I hope he does join the air force; we could use more Orthodox chaplains.

I did learn something about Icons that day. After Vespers, before I joined the “chatty group” John the reader explained all the icons on the Iconostas, explaining all the different feasts they represented throughout the church year. Basically, the entire Orthodox faith was explained in pictures. He told me that for a specific feast the icon is removed from the Iconostas and placed on a special table in the sanctuary so people can venerate it.

As of right now, I don’t venerate icons, but give me time, give me time!

Look forward to my next visit. I don’t know if I will be there this Saturday because of the Fourth of July barbeque at the in-laws but Ken says, “You don’t have to post on your blog, every time you miss Vespers and the reason why you didn’t make it. We are just glad you are here.” Okay, maybe it is just some residual Roman Catholic guilt kicking in.