Sunday, February 13, 2011

More comedy jokes and solemn Worship on the 20th visit.

If I ever had the idea that Orthodox Christians were always serious because they were always worshiping the Triune God, then I was wrong. Yes, Orthodox are very serious about worship and why not? The Lord is righteous, perfect and transcendent and worthy of all worship! But even Orthodox Christians like to crack jokes every now and then....but more on that later.

As to worship, I was impressed last night on the use of the Psalms. I have known for a long time that Psalms were an important part of ancient Worship. The early Christians, since they were jews, did what they knew to do and that was use the Psalter -and with 150 Psalms, there's a lot to choose from - and that practice is continued extensively in the Orthodox Church. My own Protestant Parish uses old Hymns (although going back to the 1800's is hardly old when you consider the Hymnography of the Orthodoxy Church which goes back centuries!) and they use choruses a great deal, what I have heard called "Worship ditties." While these choruses have some substance, they do not possess the richness found in the Psalms. After all, which is better, singing a song based on a Psalm or singing the Psalm itself? The Church opted for the Psalter and I understand the benefit of that more deeply now. Last night, singing Psalm 1, I was brought back to when I was a young man, in my teens, actually when I memorized the entire Psalm. True it is a half a dozen verses and not a great feat but committing that to memory helped me in a small crisis of faith I was having at the time. Singing that Psalm last night brought me great comfort and helped me to do what we all should do in Church - Worship!

Now, as to "More Comedy Jokes" - a phrase I stole from Steve Martin from a comedy album he did decades ago - Fr Gary was commemorating saints of the day and we came to Martinianos the Righteous, who, it turns out threw himself into a burning fire in order to calm his own lusts as a harlot was trying to seduce him...that would work pretty well, I think. Well, as Fr Gary mentioned his name, Deacon Ken whispered to me, "Martinianos, is he the patron saint of bars, alone with his sister Olive?" I must admit, even though I don't like martinis, I broke away from praying for a few moments in order to chuckle...:)

After Vespers, I gave Deacon Ken an Air Force Web belt and Canteen to give to his son Billy who is in the Civil Air Patrol. (He was not in Vespers that night). Also, I chatted with Tammy a bit who was happy to read about herself on last week's blog post. She had emailed me with a link to Ancient Faith Radio for a discussion with His Emminence Hillarion Alfeyev, Chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate for External Affairs, and Metropolitan of Valakalamsk about Icons. It was very good and I had responded to her email with a link to my blog.

I know, I know, I said I would write about my meeting with my Pastor...I will...just not tonight :)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Spending Friday night with an Icon...19th visit!

The Kursk Root Icon of the Mother of God came to our Parish last Friday. It was quite an event.

A molieben* service was to begin at 7pm but I read on the website to show up at 6, which I did. I was actually very early but it gave me a chance to socialize a bit which I don't often do on Saturday nights because I usually rush out to get my son from work. I walked into the parish hall where Tammy and others were preparing the coffee, punch and fasting foods for the reception afterwards. She was very excited not only because of the Icon but because Bishop Michael was to be there. Indeed, a host of clergy showed.

*a molieben service is a supplication prayer service in honor of
either our Lord Jesus Christ, the Mother of God, or a particular saint.

I met a man named George who introduced himself by saying his last name was the same as his first only he pronounced his last name in a different language. (Russian? probably...they abound around here). He was visiting from a parish up north and traveled over an hour to get here.

Deacon Ken was happy to see me. As we stood in the vestibule outside the hallway, he motioned for me to step outside. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out what he wanted but then he asked "How did your meeting with your pastor go?" I had forgotten he reads my blog and I mentioned last post that I met with my protestant Pastor. I gave him a brief account of what was said (next blog post, dear reader, I promise to detail it all!) but I cut it short because we were standing in the cold and I began to shiver. He had the benefit of a robe to warm him but, alas, as a layman had no such garb. :)

In the middle of our conversation, Father Gary walked by and greeted me by name, I yelled back, "Hello, Pastor....I mean, Father." Yikes, my protestant is showing!

The Service itself was beautiful. Above you see a picture. I stood in the back and am not seen.

I was struck with how even though this was a service that honor the Theotokos (Mary, Mother of God), it really was all about Jesus. Everything flowed back to Him. Protestants often criticize Catholics and Orthodox for worshiping Mary but if they only understood that all is said and done to glorify Christ then they would see that they, too, Protestants do similar things on a smaller scale. I used to attend a mega-church in Nebraska that had a huge youth/young adult group and the Pastor's wife, Sister J, was venerated almost as much as our Theotokos. They honored Sister J for her piety, love and dedication to Christ. (and rightly so, by the way- she was an amazing example). How much more should we honor a humble women who willing became the vessel to house the incarnate God?

I was also struck with how the Orthodox really know how to do reverent worship. The beginning of the service started with the ringing of the bells, the first time I have ever heard the church bells ring. Also, through out the entire service, the Icon itself was incensed non stop by two deacons (one, our very own Deacon Ken!) I enjoyed it all very much, even though my feet started to hurt but I was not about to sit down! I am not that old, yet!

At the end of the service we all lined up to venerate the Icon. We were instructed to please keep quiet and the only sound should be that of the choir singing. Of course, people chatted anyway and it reminded me of my protestant experiences where Pastors would entreat the faithful to have respectful silence but, alas, it didn't work. I guess people are the same all over.

Father Gary is second from the right

After the service we went to the Parish hall for a slide show (called a photo montage by the priest who presented it). Deacon Ken helped me from committing Orthodox social suicide by removing my hat inside the building. It turns out that only bishops and certain clergy have the honor of wearing headgear indoors. Who knew? Ken said, "people will say, Oh, look! A catechumen!" Hey, I've been called worse. Ken sat next to me during the slide show.

It was a great evening and I am glad I came. As I was walking out the Parish Hall, Father Gary, who was in a conversation, touched my arm and said, "See you later, Jim." I said, "Good bye, Father." ... I'm glad I got that right this time!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

18th Visit - Father Gary away and my views on greeting with a holy kiss

not exaclty greeting one another with a holy kiss but what I am used to!

I am getting to the point now where the "newness" of the Orthodox Worship experience is not new anymore and where attending Vespers is becoming routine. Now this is good and this is bad. Good, because, it shows a sense of belonging and comfort on my part but bad in that I can, believe it or not, become complacent and fall into a rut of "just going to church." One thing I like about keeping this blog is it forces me to engage myself in the Worship and to pay attention, although I don't have a lot to say regarding my 18th visit in the way of "new observations."

Father Gary was away on vacation so retired priest Sergius was conducting the service. He has a rich deep voice which is pleasant to hear as he chants. I did notice that during a particular prayer where "Fathers and Mothers" and "Brothers and Sisters" are mentioned, Fr Sergius opted to only mention the Fathers and Brothers, omitting the Mothers and Sisters as printed in our Vespers Service book. I wonder if he was going "old school" and the mention of only the masculine? Perhaps his was the original version and the Mothers and sisters were added for "modern Americans?" I don't know.

I also noticed that as Fr Sergius handed the incense to one of the altar boys that I did not see the customary "kiss on the hand." I immediately concluded that this honor was only for an active and not retired priest....but I was wrong. Later, when I had a better view and could actually see the altar boy (before his view was blocked by the doors) I saw, the second time, that he gave Fr Sergious an "air kiss" about a foot away from his hands. Now, what is that about?

Speaking of kisses, I am having a hard time feeling comfortable with the 'triple kisses' even if they are cool triune reminders! It just isn't part of my culture and although the bible says to greet each other with a holy kiss, I wonder if I wouldn't like a holy handshake instead? But I need to get out of my comfort zone.

I did meet with my Pastor on Saturday, right after the prayer breakfast. I want to give that due attention so I will hopefully blog about it in a few days.

Thanks for all your prayers!