Thursday, April 28, 2011

...Now, about that Sunrise Service...:)

I said I would tell you a funny story about the Sunrise Service....

As I said in my last post, my son, who just turned 18 a couple of weeks ago, said he wanted to go to the sunrise service. So, I came straight home after the Pascha Vigil and arrived home at 3:30am and set the clock for 5:10 Am....If my son wanted to go to the Sunrise Service, I wasn't going to be the reason why he couldn't (He doesn't drive yet so I would be his ride).

I woke up at 5:10 AM and shook my soon awake and then went to make my coffee. He comes out and says, "Oh, I am so tired; I don't think I'm going." He went to the bathroom and I continued making my coffee. I figured he would be alright as soon as he splashed some water on his face.

He came out and asked, "Is there going to be food there?"

"No," I said, "There never is. We have it at a park and we stand around for an hour as we sing songs and listen to a sermon. No food."

"Oh...," he said quietly., "Are you sure there is no food there?"

"Yes, it's a sunrise service, not a sunrise breakfast."

Then, abruptly, he said, "I am going back to bed."

He left me there, with coffee brewing which I now could not drink because I was going back to bed to and I thought, "I wish you would have told me you weren't going before I woke up with only an hour and a half of sleep."

But, I smiled; It was just like my son to be ruled by his stomach.

Christ is Risen!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Great and Holy Pascha ~ My First Divine Liturgy on my 28th Visit!

I was in this crowd!

First of all, Wow! Wow, is the only word I can think of to describe the three plus hours I spent at Church Saturday night into Sunday morning.

It was up in the air as to whether I would be going at all, at first. Not that I was really opposed to three hours of church for such a special occasion but, due to my usual sleeping patterns and my work schedule, the night would be ending by the time I usually am just waking up for work. (Yes, I am in bed by 9pm and up by 3am!) so I was afraid I would be wiped out and, um, grumpy. But I have been receiving encouraging words all week long from you kind people who read my blog, entreating me to make the effort and what finally cemented it in my mind (and will) was a message from Deacon Ken's son, Bill who, besides being my Facebook friend, is also an altar server. He said:
You really should go tonight since it is the entire reason every Christian church celebrates. If you come tonight i can asure you that you will be in pure amazement at the beauty and love in the service. Even growing up in the church it still fills my heart with joy to see people so devout and caring gathering to celebrate the Ressurection of our savior.
It made perfect sense that I should not miss the "Feast of Feasts." Pascha was the zenith of Christian Worship and, unlike some Christians who say every Sunday is special (thus making no Sunday Special), it really is true that Pascha is a special day, Bill promised I would be amazed and he was right.

I arrived there just before 11:30pm and grabbed a candle on the table in the Narthex. As I sat down, I noticed at man off to the side in the front, just reading out loud but not really in a "proclaiming voice", as if it were meant for God to hear and not us. He was reading the Passion story from the Gospels, I think. I wonder how long that had been going on. Tammy noticed I had made it and came over to greet me warmly. Reader John walked over to the man and motioned for him to stop because it was time to start.

The Church was almost pitch black, except for the light coming from the Narthex and choir loft at first but as the service progressed, the light grew as each of our candles were ignited by ushers. Then, when all the candles were lit, Fr Gary started a line, followed by those bearing icons and we parishioners processed out of the building, with loud bells ringing. As I stepped out I thought, "Man, the neighbors must love this!" (I really should keep my sarcastic thoughts down to a low roar when I am in church). And we circled the Church. As we made our third trip around, i was wondering how many times we would do this. But three is a favorite number for the Orthodox so the third time we stopped in front of the closed church doors and the bells stopped. Fr Gary said some prayers. In fact here is a picture below from my phone.

After the prayers, the doors were opened and the church was full of light! And the bells started ringing, faster and faster, to accent the urgency of the news that Christ is Risen! I was so overwhelmed, I almost started to cry. We walked in and stood in the church as Fr Gary incensed the icons in the front, incensed the people and proclaimed loudly, "Christ is Risen!" We replied, "Indeed, He is Risen!" All the time the choir was singing a triumphant Hymn of Resurrection.

I've said before that Orthodox take worship very seriously and don't smile much in Worship but this is the one time I saw Father Gary crack a smile. You see, "Christ is Risen" is proclaimed by him many times and, to show the universality of the Message, he proclaims it in different languages. At one point, he stumbled, clearly not sure if he was remembering the correct pronunciation for whatever language he was attempting. He smiled and he muddled through. Instead of us all yelling the response in that language, one lone voices from the congregation belted it at the top of his lungs in that particular language!

The whole church was jubilant. The choir continued to sing. I saw Reader John joyfully hugging his fellow parishioners. I saw parents bringing children up to light candles. And all the time the choir is singing, the incense is rising and Father Gary is proclaiming. It could have went on for hours more and that would have been fine with me.

Fr Gary read a letter from Bishop Michael who sent us Pascha greetings but one of my favorite readings of the evening was the reading of St. John Chrysostom's Easter Vigil Sermon. He exhorts all to come to the feast. Drawing imagery from Jesus'' parable about the workers in the vineyard, he says it doesn't matter if you began working at the first hour, or the third, or the sixth, or the ninth or even as late at the eleventh hour -

And those who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let them not be afraid by reason of their delay.

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
The Lord gives rest to those who come at the eleventh hour,
even as to those who toiled from the beginning.

That man who came at the eleventh hour, that is me! I am 50 years old and only now am really drawn towards Orthodoxy, towards the Church founded by Christ Himself. Yet, I am not to dispair. Christ recieves me... Forgive me for drawing upon my Evangelical roots but, "Praise God!" :)

The Service continued and I saw the reverence in which the Faithful received the Body and Blood of Christ. I, of course, did not receive but at least two people handed me some bread of fellowship which the faithful consume after they partake of the Eucharist. Some day, God willing, I too will receive.

All in all, the service was just as Bill promised; it was awesome and really beyond description. I am so glad I did not miss it.

After the Vigil, there was an Agape feast next door but I knew if I sat and rested, eating and talking, I would get very sleepy. Plus, I promised my son I would take him to the Sunrise service our church was participating in. And I really needed some sleep.

It's kind of a funny story about the sunrise story but I will share that another time. I can see I have gone on a long time...but, oh, what a night it was.

Christ is Risen! Indeed, He is Risen!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

3pm Vespers of Holy Friday makes it Visit #27

Listen to this before you read below...If the above player doesn't work for you try this link....

Here is the Icon that greeted me as I walked in to the Church

I have to tell you, as a Christian, I have never been in love with the Psalms. I liked all the Narrative portions of Scripture - stories of adventures of King David or exploits of the Apostles in Acts - but, the Psalms never really resonated with me. As I studied Orthodoxy, I learned that the Psalms play a big part in Worship and that scared me a bit. After all, who wants to be bored in Worship? Well, I have slowly been being cured of this defect and last night I absolutely loved the Psalms. We started off with Psalm 104 and all the prayers that followed were either outright quotations of the Psalms or allusions s to it. The culmination for me was Psalm 22, "My God, My God, look upon me. Why has Thou forsaken me?". I love how before each Scripture reading The Prokeimenon is chanted which is simply a portion of a Psalm. It really softens the heart to be attentive to the Word of God.

The church was beautifully adorned with flowers and a large Cross in the center with Jesus affixed to it. During the readings I was surprised when, during the portion of the Gospel where Jesus is taken down from the Cross, the altar server walked over to the Cross in the center of the Church and removed Jesus. I thought, "Wow, that makes it real for me!"

Another very moving part of the Service is when Fr Gary processed with Gospel Book under the Shroud. They walked over to the table in the center of the church where the now body-less Cross stood and they placed the Shroud on the Altar.

Orthodox take Worship very seriously. At the end of the Vespers service, beginning with Fr Gary and Fr Sergius , all made three prostrations before the shroud, and kissed the Gospel book and the shroud. I had wanted to do that also but, I confess, I felt awkward doing that as everyone watched. You see, only two or three people at a time could venerate and it seemed as if everyone was watching. I know my attitude should have been, so what? But, I am still a bit self-conscience. I'm still afraid I will do it wrong. (You have no idea how uncoordinated I am!)

Also, I needed to leave because I was the Pizza getter of the family and they were all waiting for me to return with dinner. So I slipped out. Before I left, Tammy (by the way, every Parish should have a Tammy, someone who is friendly, welcoming and helpful) gave me a "Vespers of Holy Friday" to take home, provided I returned it soon. (Come to think of it, Tammy gave me her book as I entered about 30 seconds late and she went and got another one for herself - she is a perfect hostess) . So today, I plan on reading all of it, God willing.

Now, the big question, will I be awake enough to attend church tonight? Keep in mind, it ends at 2:30am, followed by a feast and I have a sunrise service to go to with my son....Many prayers, Please!

Oh, by the way, after pizza our family went to our protestant church (church of the Nazarene) and the service was good. I am in charge of changing the church sign messages and I did that after the service. Before it simply announced the time of the Good Friday Worship. Now it says something I borrowed from the Latin Rite. I cleared it with both Pastors and they liked it. Here it is below.

Good Pascha everyone!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Visit #26 - Holy Wednesday

Sacrament of the Anointing
photo by Paul Golm, used under the creative commons license.

If anyone claims that the Orthodox Church does not place much importance on the Bible, Wednesday's Service will prove them wrong. On Holy Wednesday there was a blessing of the oils, something that is new to me. There was a small container of Oil, surrounded by seven candles, each candle was lit after two sets of Scriptures and a Gospel reading were chanted...doing the math, that would make 7 Gospel readings and 14 Scripture readings! That's more Scripture than I usually get at my protestant Church. I Confess my feet began to hurt and by the sixth candle, I sat for a bit while the Scripture was read but I, of course, stood back up for the Gospel. It wasn't till I got home and looked up on Google that what I had participated in was called "Service of Holy Unction."

One thing I have been noticing regarding those who lead in Worship - whether the choir or the reader or the Deacon or the Priest- is when they are doing their part, they are not performing but rather worshiping. I am not saying that protestants don't worship but there seems to be more showmanship in protestantism in general. My church uses a video screen to display the lyrics to the hymns and choruses, my own pastor, who is a godly man, tends, in his preaching, towards the dramatic. But at Vespers, I see John the reader, leading us in Psalm 51 and doing metanies, and crossing himself along the way. I see choir members Crossing themselves at appropriate times when they could, by rights, just read the music. Father Gary, in his homilies, exhorts us in an undramatic way, to follow Christ. Again, I am not doubting the sincerity or piety of my protestant church, who, by what I can see, are closer to Christ than I, but I think in Orthodoxy it is easier to Worship because Tradition has shown us the best way to do so.

St James
photo by Fred Dawson, used under the creative commons license.

During the Service, there were prayers to James, First Bishop of Jerusalem, and I was reminded of something I read an Orthodox Forum regarding picking baptismal/christmation names- the forum writer recommended that converts stick to their given Christian name when choosing a patron because, he contended that the Patron had been praying for us since we received our name and could feel insulted if we look for a "fancier" name. If that is true than the Apostle James has been praying for me for nearly 50 years. I confess that I have always been on the look out for a saint to call a patron, trying to find a "hero" who I can claim but I am thinking that James will do fine. After all, being baptized in the Roman Church, I was given this name and being named after the first Bishop of Jerusalem isn't too shabby.

Fr. Gary reminded everyone that the oils were a sacrament of the church and only those who were in communion with the Church should participate. Those who were not in communion could venerate the cross, kiss the Gospel and, instead of being anointed with oil, could receive a blessing. Well, after I did that, I approached Fr Gary and he was about to apply the oil when I reminded him, "Father, a blessing." which he gave. Perhaps since he has been seeing me hang out for almost a year now, he forgot that I am not a member?

In the past being excluded like that would have really bothered me but, in truth, it made me realize that I have something to look forward to. It seems right that sacraments (or mysteries) should only be given to those in full communion and, God willing, that will be me some day.
After I received my blessing and I continued towards the icons to venerate, it made the veneration more special and more sincere.

I was one of the first in line so I exited right away and, on the way out, an older lady commented, "The knees, Father, the kness! I am glad Fr Gary anointed my hands but I could really use anointing on my knees," she joked. I then told her of my own arthritis in my knees which makes standing a challenge sometimes. She then said, "I have seen you at Vespers for a while, my name is Betty and this is my husband Dave." I then told her my story of coming to church after being inspired by Ancient Faith Radio and that I hoped to be Christmated soon. She said, "Well, we have been praying for Catechuemens."

Hopefully, dear reader, you can join them in prayers for me, as I do for you!

Today is Holy Friday and I intended to go the 3pm service...I will let you know how that goes!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Visit #25 - Palm Sunday - Protestant vs. Orthodox views

For Palm Sunday & St. Patrick's Monday
photo by Dave Gilbert used under the creative commons license,

I was glad to think that when I went to Vespers on the eve of Palm Sunday, I would be receiving a Palm. One thing about the Orthodox is they, like the Jews, begin their day the evening before so, in Orthodox thinking, Saturday night was Palm Sunday. That meant I would get a blessed Palm.

Now, how is a blessed palm any different from a protestant, non-blessed palm? If you would have asked me that years ago, I would have said no difference at all but, as I progress in Orthodoxy, I see that my thinking is changing. On Sunday, I went to my protestant church, where, at the end of the service, the kids handed out palms to all the exiting parishioners. The Palms were not used in the service at all as a means of worship; rather, handed out at the end as a sort of reminder or the day. This is in direct contrast to Vespers where, as part of the Worship service, Father Gary sprinkled holy water on all the palms, making them, I suppose, a vehicle of Grace. (If I got the theology wrong here, someone please correct me).

In my protestant church, after the kids handed out the palms, they had a lot of left overs so, kids being kids, started fashioning them into headbands, belts and whips, running around playing ninja and, to be honest, looking cute. The lady usher thought they looked cute as well and, smiling, she commented to me, "If this were a Catholic Church, they'd be having a heart attack."

I think sheis right and I believe they wouldn't look too kindly at it either at an Orthodox Church. The usher made her comment with the attitude that the Catholic Church would have been wrong (and dare I say, too stuffy) to prohibit such play. In one sense, she is right. Since the Protestant world view doesn't really allow for any matter being used as a means of Grace (Communion and Baptism are, to them, merely symbolic), it can be said that the kids running around playing with palms were... just playing with palms -They were not playing with anything Holy. How can they be blamed with handling sacred objects as toys if the sacred objects aren't sacred?

But, at Vespers, when Fr. Gary sprinkled Holy Water on everyone's Palms, I realized that this could be something on par with an Icon- something that could point me to Heaven. At least, that is how I am treating it. Again, if my theology is wrong, please let me know. So I imagine Orthodox kids weren't encouraged to play ninja with the Palms.

This is Holy Week and I am on Vacation. I have a lot of business to take care of regarding my son going to college next year but I want to make some time to attend some of the upcoming services. So, pray for me.

Just a note, on May 12th, it will be one full year that I started attending Orthodox Church services. (I began on Vespers of Ascension Thursday). It has always been a Vespers service and I hope to visit a Divine Liturgy soon.

Have a blessed Holy Week!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

24 - not Jack Bauer, but Visits!

Monday 24
photo by Tiffany Park, used under the creative commons license. check out here work at:

Yes, I can claim two dozen visits to an Orthodox Church. In a sense, they still feel like visits because Saturday nights around twice a month is not enough to become part of a community. I mean, really a part! Although I have made friends there and people see me as a fixture at Vesper's, I know from experience that to become connected not just to a few friends but to a whole community requires time spent working, laughing, crying and living together. To be sure, I already have this belonging in my Nazarene Church...but I have been a part of them for more than 15 years! And I am known by them and they understand my flaws, my bizarre sense of humor and, ah, quirks.

But all things in good time....

Yesterday, Vespers was at 5pm instead of the usual 7pm because the faithful there spent the day on a retreat which, according to reports, involved three clergy performing in skits...I wonder if that will end up on YouTube? I arrived early after a very un-Lenten stop at McDonald's to enjoy a burger and WiFi.

I can't remember if it was at the beginning of the service or a part of Vespers but there was an adorned Cross in the center of the room and, before the Icon was switched to St. John Climacus (of the Ladder), Prostrations were done to the Cross. Observing this, I can't help but feel that Orthodoxy and children are a great mix! There was this one woman in line who had a 6 year old daughter. She had a candle in her hand and was doing prostrations with a big smile on her face! Afterwards she rushed (reverently) to the front to light her candle.

Kids like to be doing things. I know this because I still run a youth group at my church (ages 7-12) and they are happiest when they are up running around playing games or doing something physical; they are saddest when they are sitting around listening to an adult preach to them. Well, Orthodoxy is very physical in it's worship so prostrations, bowing, lighting candles besides being more interesting to a kid, also involves the child in worship.

Speaking of kids, there was another Mother and child standing next to me. Being young, she had to leave the service a few times which is fine because the mother did the right thing by being in the back of the church where she would be less distracting. One thing that sticks out in my mind is during the "Our Father" prayer, I could hear the little girl's voice loud and clear. It was obvious to me that the Mother had done the right thing in teaching her child early basic Christianity.

This in a sense makes me sad that I did such a poor job in conveying faith to my children. If we would have stayed Lutheran, I, hopefully would have taught them the Creed, the Lord's prayer and other foundational Christian teachings. But, during the children's growing up years, we were (and still are) Nazarenes. They don't do stuff like that! They never pray the Lord's prayer, we have recited the Apostle's creed (never the Nicene) maybe once in the last five years and they have no formal catechism classes. Such structures would have been helpful in raising my children. Evangelicals tend leave us to our own devices and, left to that, I did nothing, save take them to church a lot.

Makes me wish I had discovered Orthodoxy a lot earlier...