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…