Monday, May 30, 2011

the 30th visit - Great worship and Good conversations!

It is always good to step into Church, smell the incense, see the Icons and know that for the next hour I shall be focused on, as much as possible in my limited attention span, the Risen Christ and the worship due Him. I felt that way as I arrived early (for a change) for Vespers. I greeted Tammy and grabbed a service book before I entered inside. It was only after I sat down I realized that the book, although the same color as the regular Vespers service, was actually for Burials. I thought, that is an odd theme for the season of Pascha. When I returned to the nave where Tammy was still straightening things out and asked her about it, she said that there had been a funeral here earlier and these were left out by mistake. So I grabbed the correct service book and returned to my seat as I awaited Father Gary to open the doors. Tammy, in the mean time, scurried to a side door in the front, with a bunch of the burial books, apparently putting them in it's proper place.

The choir was uplifting, the prayers, although very familiar by now, were uplifting and the Vespers service progressed as usual. Hymns were sung about the healing of the blind man, entreating God to heal us of our spiritual blindness. During the homily at the end, Father Gary read a "sneak peak" from Sunday's reading from the book of Acts where a demon possessed girl followed the Apostle Paul around shouting positive things about Paul - "They are preaching the Good News," or something like that - Father Gary said about the demon possessed girl - right message, wrong source! Father Gary applied that to Harold Camping, who predicted the end of the world on May 21st (and was wrong, of course). It is true that Christ is returning but when you are outside the church, there is no telling what nonsense will come out of a person's mouth. (That's my paraphrase of a more sophisticated, nuanced homily).

Deacon Ken was anxious to speak to me about my last blog post. He had read about breakfast with Pastor Del and wanted more details. It was good to be in conversation with Ken. I especially liked when the conversation took little turns into his work as a funeral director or the very good movie by Robert Duval called The Apostle. Then the conversation would come back to my present status as a seeker. I asked his advice about "what I should do" and he encouraged me to continue as I am. I am going slowly, not wanting to "rock the boat" too much at home since my family is less than thrilled with me embracing Orthodoxy. (As a quick aside, I wonder how they are going to like it, when I set up an Icon corner on the East wall of the dinning room?)

I have been on this journey now for about three years. It started solely as an internet preoccupation and then my study of Orthodoxy turned from academic to practical when I finally got the nerve to walk into an Orthodox Church a year ago. I am at the point where I am feeling less and less comfortable at my protestant church, knowing it doesn't have the fullness of Orthodoxy, even though they are godly, holy people, and I long for more of the Church, knowing, if I may put it crudely as I did in my conversation with Deacon Ken, that the Orthodox Church has better tools for my spiritual growth then what I am experiencing at my Nazarene church. It is good to know that my protestant pastor has encouraged me to go where the Lord is leading me and it is also good to know that Father Gary is there to help me on that journey. After Vespers I went home to my computer to find that Father Gary sent me this short email, after reading my last blog post:

Dear Jim,

Christ is Risen!
I will be happy to meet with you anytime, anywhere (IHOP inclusive). Good to see you tonight.
In Christ,
Father Gary

So I guess the answer to the question I asked in my last blog post, I wonder if Father Gary likes IHOP, is yes.

This Thursday is Ascension Thursday. That is my liturgical anniversary because it was the first Orthodox service I attended a year ago. I will not be able to go to Vespers this Wednesday night because my wife and I are driving south to pick up my daughter from college. Now that will be a good thing and I am looking forward to spending time with my wife but, sadly, I will miss Vespers Wednesday. Sometime when I get back I will give Father Gary a call and set up a breakfast or something with him.

I think we have a lot to talk about.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Meeting with Pastor at IHOP, eggs and Orthodoxy!

pastor Del

I was on vacation this week so I decided I would spend the morning with my Pastor. We met at the International House of Pancakes - a fitting place to discuss Orthodoxy since it is world wide :) - and we had eggs and chatted.

First, we talked about how my life was going, generally, especially how my son Justin's move back into the house is affecting the family. And we talked about all my kids. (although they are "kids" no more - the youngest graduates High School in a couple of weeks).

Then we switched the conversation towards Orthodoxy. Back in February I met with my Pastor to talk about my Eastern Orthodox leanings and in March I blogged about that conversation (which you can read about here: Orthodoxy or Bust!: Visit number 21...coming of Age!) In February, Pastor Del gave me a phone number to a Religion professor at our Denominational College. She is an expert in church history (especially the early church) and a good friend of my Pastor.

I told Pastor Del about that conversation, on how everything she said only confirmed my belief that Orthodoxy is the original church and, consequently, that is where I should be. The professor, when asked by me, conceded that all the doctrines of the church, and by church , I mean Protestantism and Catholicism, were clearly defined by the Orthodox Church. I pressed the professor more (this I did respectfully and didn't get a chance to tell this part of the conversation to my Pastor), asking her, if she conceded that there was only one Church in the beginning and that the Orthodox church seems to be that One church, why she was a Nazarene? She told me that she thought God wanted a place for everyone and that Orthodoxy didn't "fit" everyone so God had different denominations so that everyone had a home.

While I can appreciate God's patience and humility, in allowing for that, I think it's probably better to go along with His original plan.

We spent a great deal of time talking about how Orthodoxy is all about Worshiping God and he appreciated that. One thing that Pastor Del has always strived to do is cultivate a respectful atmosphere on Sunday mornings. He is totally repulsed by much of what he sees going on in Evangelical Christianity in regards to what is called "worship. Our conversation continued, and Pastor Del, who is a great shepherd and takes his job and calling seriously, listened attentively to me, on how I thought I should "join the Orthodox Church." He said, I should pray about it more and if that is how God is leading me than go with his blessing. He said, once I became a member, I would no longer be a member of the Nazarene church, I could no longer hold office or vote in business meetings. I said, as soon as I made a commitment to become a catechumen, I would send a letter to the board, asking to be released from membership.

Pastor Del encouraged me by saying no matter where I went, he would consider himself as my pastor. That is just like him. He is a person who cares about those whom God places in his life. I am greatly blessed to have Pastor Del as a friend and a Pastor. He has helped me greatly in the past in some, er, struggles I was having...but I am writing NOT about that here!.... Pastor/parishioner privilege :)

And the truth is, if I take the plunge and become a catechumen, I cannot sever all association with my protestant parish. My wife is a member there and I would attend when I could.

I invited Pastor Del to come with me to Vespers some Saturday. He said that would be a great idea and hopes to do so later in the summer.

Now, I guess I have to talk to Father Gary...I wonder if he likes IHOP?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Visit number 29 - Vespers after Pascha NOT a let down!

Listen to this before you read, if you like :)
or click below if the above player doesn't work for you:

Sometimes after a BIG EVENT, when there are a lot of good memories to be had and plenty of reason to discuss that which just happened, the time following is something of a let down. Maybe you have a big party with all your friends and family around and you are happy for a few days BUT then, the daily routine of work and the mundane practices of daily chores steal away your joy.

Well, that has not happened by me attending a Vespers service after the Great and Holy Pascha Vigil!

One reason is we are still in the Pascha season (and will be there until Ascension Thursday) so the Joy of the Resurrection is still celebrated. In fact, I had forgotten that the tri-fold "Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal One" is replaced with "Christ is Risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life."...and it took me by pleasant surprise. Hearing those words again brought me back to the joyful Pascha Vigil and reminded me of the centrality of the Resurrection in the Gospel Message- and, thus, should be central in my life.

I did notice when I arrived to the church that the attendance was a bit sparser than usual. I know this because, I usually arrive just at 7pm ( or just slightly after) and I have to park in the back of the church. Well, I got a parking spot right up front! The lighter attendance did not take away from the joy of the celebration.

I got a bit reflective, as I sometimes do when I am at Vespers and I thought about how the low attendance would have meant the death of the service in my protestant church. I did a count and, not counting the clergy, the altar servers, John the Reader and the Choir, those in the "audience" numbered seven. That's low enough to call for drastic action in my protestant church. In fact, we abandoned Sunday Evening Worship altogether because of the attendance dwindled down to like what I saw at Vespers. And, Wednesday evening worship was altogether revamped to make it more of an event for kids. (They have a Christian scouting program called "Caravan.")

But seeing the faithful gathered at Vespers, even though small in number, made me realize what we were doing. We weren't gathering (strictly) for our own edification nor were we assembled so "we could get something out of it" - and thus justify getting rid of it if our needs weren't being met- No! We were gathered to worship the risen Christ and no matter what the number in the congregation, that was going to happen!

Now I am not saying that about my church to sit in judgement on them. In fact, given the fact that they do not have the variety of services that there are in Orthodoxy, it might make sense for them to "change things" to make it more seeker friendly. In fact, it is a good thing that the kids have a Christian scouting program to attend and it is beneficial. But I like that the Orthodox are so focused on Worship. It's not to generate numbers, it's not to ensure high attendance but rather it is simply to worship the risen Christ!

To me, that is wonderful!

Christ is Risen!