Sunday, August 29, 2010

Ninth Visit - Great experice and getting gifts!

My Ninth visit to an Orthodox Church was wonderful!

Today I sat in the back on the left side of the church, instead of my usual front on right side. I did this because I did not want to get into a rut. I arrived early and noticed that Litya was on the table. In past visits, I was too afraid to go up front to receive it and, instead, Tammy would graciously bring some to me. Well, I determined I was going to participate so I went outside where I saw Deacon Ken, who was making some business calls, and I asked him about the proper protocol for receiving the oil upon the head and the bread of fellowship, ect. He explained, I listened and I returned to my seat.

Before Worship began, Ken came in and sat down, his business call done and said he noticed on my blog an entry from Maria had posted in response to my question, how could I incorporate the Liturgy into my daily life…

Maria said...
into daily life? How about the Jesus prayer? Perhaps you can ask
for a chotki/prayer rope?
August 25, 2010 1:01 AM
So Deacon Ken handed me a chotki, (pictured above) and explained how to use it. He says he himself uses it during the Divine Liturgy - listens to the sermon with his mind and prays with his spirit. He said he gives me this chotki “with my blessing”…A blessing from a Deacon from a church that spans 2000 years! Not too shabby.

When the service began, I was really able to enter in. I was less self-conscience and more concerned about worshiping the Triune God. It was this that made Worship so wonderful. Not being concerned on how I look or what others are doing can really help a person have Communion with God.

This wonderful worship experience happened despite three mistakes that transpired during the service. At one point when Fr Gary was reciting a long list of saints, (asking for their intercession) he paused, evidently losing his rhythm but he quickly recovered. At another point when the altar servers were chanting The Trisagion Prayers, they fumbled when they were not sure who was to take the next part, but again, they quickly recovered and lastly a young lady in the choir (who, by the way, has the most beautiful, sweet voice I have ever heard! and when she chants a psalm or a reading, her melodious voice really helps expound the text for me...) Well, she belted out a “Glory to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” but evidently it was a mistake because she stopped before the entire Trinity could be praised. She had an embarrassed smile and the choir director had a smile that says, “Oops, things like this happen.” Again, they all quickly recovered and Fr Gary continued with the prayers.

So why didn’t these mistake distract? I believe it is because I am beginning to be less of an observer and more or a worshipper. It is, in fact, endearing that people can stumble but quickly recover and continue on with worship. I have been to some services where mistakes like that would destroy the whole mood of the congregation but not so here!

A word about the choir before I end. I stand in awe that a group of only six people can produce such a quality, euphonious sound! They are wonderful.

When everyone else went up to receive the Oil from Fr Gary and the Litya from the Altar Servers, I went up, too. I was a bit nervous but as Fr Gary anointed my head with the words "Enjoy the Feast" (or something like that), I kissed his hand which is something that takes getting used to.

After the service ended, Tammy greeted me and asked how I liked the jam. I told her I couldn't open the lid. She told me to bang it with a hammer because it was sealed air tight to preserve it. so I guess I have to find my hammer....

I had to pick up my son from work so I could not stop to chat with everyone.

Now, I have to start using the chotki.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Eighth Visit - Orthodox Jam!

Attendance was sparse during my eighth visit to Vespers. I think it is because we are in the middle of August and people tend to go away on vacation. (I know Deacon Ken is away via Facebook). But the spirit of the worshipers was as focused as if we were among thousands. I stood, bowed and crossed myself in front of the Icon of the Dormition of the Theotokos, which stood on the table in the front of the Sanctuary. (That table has a special Orthodox name that Ken told me but I forgot so if someone can tell me….)

There is a constant chatter in my head during worship and I would really like it to stop so I can concentrate on worshiping. I have to constantly stop myself from observing and making mental notes and try to focus on Christ. This would happen in Protestant churches, too, but at protestant churches where there is no liturgy they give you more occasion for your mind to wander. Sometimes, at a protestant church, there is almost a feel of I am in the audience and you must hold my interest by entertaining me. You get none of that at Vespers but still my mind tends to wander.

Maybe that is why Orthodox worship is so physical - so you can be so involved both body and mind that you stay more focused. I know that Reader John is very much an inspiration for me on that front. I usually sit in the same place every time I am there , John sits in front of me- Well, whenever in the liturgy is says:
Calling to remembrance our all-holy, immaculate, most blessed and glorious Lady
Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary, with all the Saints, let us commend
ourselves and each other, and all our life unto Christ our God.

As Father Gary says this (or words like this), John looks towards the Icon of the Theotokos and when Father Gary says with all the saints John scans his eyes over the whole iconostasis (the front of the church with all the Icons on it) and he seems to thank each saint individually. He does this each and every time.

So maybe the more I involve myself in worship physically, the less the chatter will annoy.
Speaking of John, his wife Tammy talked to me a bit after Vespers and sold me some Jam. (see picture above). It is a fund raiser to support a camp which she worked at. I figure you can never have too much jam so I bought two. Here is the website about the camp:

When Vespers was ending and everyone venerated Icons before they exited, I placed myself as last and took my time in front of each Icon, crossing myself and doing a threefold Lord have Mercy in my head. I need to learn about St. Katherine and some other saints depicted so I can have some knowledge associated with my veneration.

Now, when will I have enough nerve to kiss the Icon?

I’ll keep you posted.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Orthodoxy is spilling over into my Protestant life

It was my turn to pray for the Pastor.

In our protestant church, before we begin the service the two pastors kneel at the altar and those from the congregation who would, gather around them and pray for them, asking for God’s presence and our obedience. One person is handed a microphone to lead the prayer while the others silently assent.

It was my turn to pray.

I was on the schedule so I grabbed the microphone and led in prayer. I don’t remember the particulars of the prayer - I know I did ask for His Presence and our obedience - but one thing I do remember: In referencing the Holy Spirit I said, "He is everywhere present and fills all things." It would appear that my one year of private Orthodox devotions and my seven visits to an Orthodox Church are rubbing off on me! Orthodox prayers and hymnography are filled with such great content and meaty prose that it is hard not to reference them when you are offering a "free style" prayer. Why should I not call upon such great words to help me in my prayers? They say things better than I ever could.

Now, if I continue the way I am going, the next time I pray, I might accidently call upon the Theotokos to intercede on our behalf and, at that point, I will never be asked to pray again!

Oh, well, I’ll take my chances.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Seventh Visit - Joining in!

I stood before the Icon.

I did not bow. I did not kiss.
I just stood there…and crossed myself.

And that is how I began my seventh visit to an Orthodox church. In the last post, I said I was going to send an email to Deacon Ken and ask him, over a cup of coffee, to what extent I should participate in Worship, since I am not Orthodox. Well, I never got a chance to send that email because he read my post and emailed me first. It was a very encouraging email. While I felt that I had to “declare my intentions,” in order to have the right to worship, Deacon Ken said:
You don't really need to make a declaration - by your own count, you have visited six times, and each time have walked away with a positive feeling and a prayerful experience. I believe that is already declarative of your intentions to worship in the Orthodox fashion, even though you are not yet Orthodox. You are to the point that you are recognized when you are in the midst of the parishioners, and asked about when you are not there. You are already one of "us." If this is the closest you wish to come to Orthodoxy, you are welcomed with open arms. Each step further you take, as a seeker, then a catechumen, then a received member of the Orthodox faith, know that you already have a parish family who will walk with you each step, and be there to welcome you home. **

What an encouraging email! I truly feel welcome and unpressured. While I have been to churches in the past where they were almost predatory in nature, seeing me as fresh meat -to be hunted until converted- at the Orthodox Church I am welcomed just as I am. (As an aside, my wife and I visited a Lutheran Church once and the Pastor welcomed us warmly but as soon as I made it clear that I was already a member somewhere else, he totally ignored us!). So if Vespers is as far as I go in my journey into Orthodoxy, that is fine with them…but I plan to go much further.
Ken went on to say in his email that I should do only those things I am comfortable with but he remarked that I might find it “freeing” to participate so that is why I began crossing myself in the Vespers service and , to be honest, I did like participating. Now, in a conversation with Ken after the service, I asked him the proper way cross myself. It turns out for the last year, in my private devotions, I was doing it wrong. I was using my Index, middle and ring finger as the three that did the crossing but Ken said what people do is use the thumb, index and middle finger. He assured me it really didn’t matter and I could do what I wanted but I want to do it the right way…after all, Orthodox = right!

I showed up in my Air Force uniform because I came right after duty and a man with a cane walked up to me, as Vespers was dismissing, and gave me a sincere, hearty hand shake, telling me, “Good Luck.” That was nice.

Well, even though Ken answered my question via email and in person, we are still going to do coffee.

I’ll let you know how that goes…

Monday, August 2, 2010

Sixth Visit - Prostrations galore!

Okay, I’m officially freaked out!

I went to Vespers Saturday and, even though I was very tired from working for the Air Force that day, I am glad I went. The Worship was beautiful, as usual and the incense, candles and bells help transport me to a different realm BUT when it came time for some Icon veneration, -It was the Icon of the Cross- Father Gary and several others did full prostrations on the ground. Others just dropped to their knees. I didn't know what to do. I felt out of place and I did what I have heard described as a “profound bow”, that is, I bowed from the waist down. And of course with the Orthodox, if it’s worth doing once, it’s worth doing three times! So every time it mentioned bowing down within the liturgy, they did.

What freaked me out is, really this type of Worship –using your whole body, soul and mind to Glorify God – is something that is foreign to me. I am used to singing some worship songs –short little “ditties” that lack the rich content of Orthodox Hymnography- and even when I sang those, the most demonstrative thing I have ever done is perhaps raise my hands but this…! Pentecostals have nothing on the Orthodox! I was struck by the lack of emotionalism that I have witnessed in other places. No Worship leader had to beg, plead to “let yourself go” and worship. Rather, the Orthodox just worship, with their mind, body and will. They don’t have to get “pumped up!”

All of this leads me to a question. Shouldn’t I be more engaged in Worship? In my own private devotions, I will cross myself (the Orthodox way, of course from right to left) and I will do a few bows but if I am going to worship in an Orthodox church, shouldn’t I be doing all they are doing? These past six times that I have been at Vespers, I have not crossed myself or done any metanies. I have just stood when everyone else stood and I have bowed my head a bit. I think the reason I don’t fully participate, is I believe (whether rightly or wrongly) that I should receive some instruction first. I feel I have to make my intentions clear, some declarative statement on my part that I intend to be Orthodox, almost like receiving permission because, after all, I am not Orthodox, just a seeker. I think I should shoot an email to Deacon Ken and set up a “meet and greet” or a cup of coffee at a diner or something and talk it over with him.

So what do you guys think? Should I be crossing myself, doing prostrations, kissing Icons, ect., even though I am not even a catechumen, let alone Orthodox? Leave some comments below; I’d love to know your opinion.

After Vespers ended, I had to rush out of there to pick up my son from work.