Sunday, March 13, 2011

Something Missing on my 23rd Visit...

I thought I'd be a few minutes late but I walked into the Church just as Fr. Gary came in through the doors. Deacon Ken was inhis usual place in the back so I stood next to him. (Interesting note, if this had been a protestant church I would have said, I sat down next to Deacon Ken - Gotta love all the standing the Orthodox do!)

The Service went on as usual and I enjoyed all the prayers, especially "The Lord is Robed in Majesty", one of my personal favorites! At one point, when Fr. Gary was walking around the Church censing the Icons, Ken leaned over to me and said, "What's missing?" I had already sensed that something was slightly different about the service which I couldn't quite put my finger on but as he asked the question, it came to me- "The censor had no bells," I whispered back to Deacon Ken. Okay, what happened? Was the regular censor in the shop and they had to make do with this hand-me-down model? I didn't think so; I figured it had something to do with Lent.

I could tell by the prayers that The Triumph of Orthodoxy was the Feast on Sunday. The choir sang all about Icons and how they revealed God. Then I looked all around the Church at the Icons. I remember how, on my first visit, they looked so foreign to me- almost scandalous to have images and make them a part of worship. But, it seems, like everything else in Orthodoxy so far, it all makes sense. I remember hearing on a podcast that Icons are deliberately made not to be an exact representation of a saint, but rather are "other worldly", something to make you think of Heaven, and not earth. This is in direct contrast to Roman Catholic Iconography. My cousin, a deeply committed Roman Catholic, shared some pictures on Facebook of a visit she made to a particular Church. The statues of Christ, Mary and all the other Saints were "life like" and, frankly, didn't raise my sights upward but the Orthodox Icons promise to deliver Heaven - and it seems they do! Every time I look at an Orthodox Icon, I feel transported- sorry to sound so flakey but it's true., disrespect intended to our Roman Catholic Brothers.

After Vespers, I talked to Deacon Ken a bit more about the bells. He told me that they are omitted during a penitential period i.e., Lent but can be used on Sundays, since that is always a day of celebration! We remember that Christ is Risen, even during Lent!

"There are twelve bells on the censor, representing the disciples," said Ken, "but one of the bells doesn't ring." Ah, I thought, "The Judas Bell." It's a wonder why they didn't replace it with "a Matthias Bell" after the fashion of Acts chapter one. Oh, well, the symbolism of the unringing bell is pretty cool and you can't argue with two thousand years of tradition!

At least, I'm not going to!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Visit # 22 - The Canon of St. Andrew


Listen to the Audioboo first, then read below!!!

I walked in a couple of minutes late; I guess I shouldn’t have taken the time to record the audioboo first!

I grabbed a service book (pamphlet really, made for the occasion) and sat in the back. Of course, since I was late I had no idea where we were so Tammy, helpful as always, walked away from the choir to show me the place in the book.

Fr Gary and Fr Sergious stood in the front and took turns reading/chanting from the book. All about repentance and all cries for mercy! I especially liked how, besides asking for the prayers from the Theotokos we also asked for prayers from Zosimas and, I think, Mary of Egypt. The prayers referred to Mother Mary but, from the context of the prayers, it seems to have been about Mary of Egypt. Can someone confirm that for me? Just email me or leave a comment below.

My back had been hurting the last couple of days. (due to my weight, my arthritis and the nature of my job) so I could not stand the whole time and I was a little worried about doing prostrations. Sure, I could get down easily enough but getting up wouldn’t be so graceful. In the past, the few times prostrations were called for, I would just drop to my knees while almost everyone else placed their faces on the ground. I just went to my knees, not because of physical limitations but because, frankly, I was uncomfortable “behaving in a such a way.”…I had decided that, tonight, no matter how I felt, I would do a full prostration.

The first time it was called for, I could only manage to get to my knees. By the time I got there, everyone else had finished and was standing up again. Okay, I’ll just wait for next time around. Well, I decided to just do it. Even if everyone else was finished, I was going to do the prostration. After all, I had been learning through reading/podcasts that there is a physical side to worship, it’s not all spiritual or “in my mind.”

When I went down and did a full prostration, I have to tell you. I felt like I was really engaging in Worship. I was in the proper posture before a Holy, Almighty God. I felt connected…I felt like I was doing the right thing. And, getting up wasn’t as hard as I thought!

I have to say the Canon of St. Andrew was a beautiful experience. I can see why the Church uses it every year to start Lent off. What I really like about it is every reference to our unworthiness or sinfulness is immediately followed by a cry for Mercy and, woven in and through the words, in an expectation that our Merciful God will grant us His Mercy!

Truly, we live in hope!

Here is the Icon that was in the middle of the church for the night.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Visit number 21...coming of Age!

If my visits were years, I could drink legally now!

Last Saturday marked my 21st Visit to an Orthodox Church!

I am at the point now where my "visits" are no longer that of an outsider but rather, not visits at all...I am just going to church. So from now on my posts will be less about observations I make in the service and more about what is going on in my life as it relates to my faith and journey towards Orthodoxy.

That being said, my 21st visit was a good one. I really enjoyed and was moved by the litanies. I like that the priest mentions a petition and the congregation responds with a "Lord have Mercy" or "Grant it, O Lord." Nothing, in terms of petitions, is left out. We pray for our families, country, President, armed service...basically everything that touches us, we offer back to God, asking Him for His blessings.

Let me switch gears a bit and talk about my visit with my Pastor some weeks ago. (Like I promised I would) First of all, I had meant to blog earlier about this but I have been working a lot of overtime on the weekends and I hadn't been in a writing mood -Note to Michael, that includes answering emails :) - but I am rested enough and shall proceed.

I met with my Pastor who is a caring shepherd and told him about my being drawn towards Orthodoxy. He said his first reaction is that I shouldn't leave because God, in his view, has called me to the congregation I am at now. That is where I am apart of. That is where my immediate family is. This is where I have a ministry. I acknowledged to him all of this. God is always in the business of drawing us closer to Him and He knew that at the congregation I am at now is where I could grow. So I am grateful for all my years in the Church of the Nazarene....but it isn't enough.

Pastor acknowledged that he very possibly was reacting the way he was because he was feeling protective of one "of his sheep." He does understand that God can and does lead people to different churches but he is concerned that my wife and kids do not feel the same. That to him is a red flag. (That to me, is a concern as well but maybe for different reasons),

Pastor went on to say that the Orthodox church had nothing that the Nazarene church didn't. (I had to repress a smile; I didn't want to be disrespectful). He misunderstood my search for the ancient church as a search for the perfect church. I understand the difference and know when, by God's Grace, I become a catechumen, I shall be with imperfect people. What I did not explain was that the Orthodox Church had "better tools" to work on our imperfections. I tried to relate some of that but did a poor job. I spoke of the Incarnation making physical matter "sanctified" and related that to Icons and how this is a means to Salvation and he, of course, called it idolatry.

I must say I left the interview knowing he cared about me and my journey. He truly is a descent man and caring shepherd. He gave me the phone number to a religion professor at our denominational college and asked that I speak with her. She would give objective information regarding all my ponderings. That, dear reader, I will tell you about next blog post!

I promise :)