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.
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!