Sunday, November 27, 2011

42 ~ The Meaning of life and also the number of Services I've attended.

Life, the Universe, and Everything Texture... or in other words, 42
photo by Patrick Hoesly, used under the creative commons license.
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Yes, I liked Hitchhikers Guide to the Universe and one of my favorite parts is when the Super computer spends millions of years figuring out the answer to life, universe and everything. And the Answer, according to Douglas Adams, is.....42!

Well, 42 is also the number of times I have been to the Orthodox Church. It was good to be in a place where Worship is taken so seriously! Fr Ken was leading us in Vespers with no Fr Gary in sight. This is the first time I have seen Fr Ken lead Vespers as a priest, although he did assist as a Deacon. Also, serving with him was his son, Bill. Since I am the eternal observer, even when I am "lost" in worship, I did notice that Bill, who was the lone altar server that evening, wasn't kidding when he told me, "I'm not going to kiss his hand." When he took the censor out of his father's hand, he just took it~ no kiss. Hey, that's okay! I bet it has to be a little weird for him.

That is one thing I like about Orthodoxy~ it's not about the rules, even though they are very strict.

Fr Ken gave a very short homily and it is the first I ever heard from him. He preached on the Gospel reading to be read the next morning but I was very familiar with the story. An old lady hunched over for 18 years and Jesus heals her but the pharisees are upset, of course, because the healing was done on the Sabbath.

I guess, in Pharisaical Judaism it is about the rules...and nothing else!

I liked that the homily was very short. In my protestant parish, although they do spend time in singing songs and their is a spirit of Worship, the main focus is the sermon! And although my pastor is very good, there are times when the illustration/story he tells becomes the centerpiece of his sermon, instead of just a simple explanation of the Bible. But, on this point, I will not judge. Others seemed to be very moved by his sermon and for that I am glad.

I had to rush out of there to get my son who was waiting to be picked up from work so I scooted right out of there. Next week, my wife and I are visiting relatives up north so no Vespers for me. I have been in contact with my pastor regarding Vespers and he said he hopes to go with me on "Orthodox Christmas". I think he is going by what he knows and he thinks that all Orthodox celebrate Christmas in January. That's old calendar, right?

Anyway, keep me in prayer this advent season, as I keep all of you!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Just for Fun...and a question, while I am at it.

This is a video I made for the youth group I run at my protestant parish. We usually meet once a month and we play group games, have a time of prayer and a devotion from the Bible....and we have, from time to time, thrown the occasional pie in the face of a willing and eager kid. So this girl Shellie had been begging me for weeks to throw a pie in her face so I promised that at the next meeting everyone would see her get a pie in her face but as you can see from the video it didn't happen exactly like she thought it would. (I kept my promise~ everyone at the youth group saw Shellie get hit with a pie but it was on this video instead of "Live"). The look of surprise on Shellie's face is priceless because she NEVER expected her mom to throw the pie in her face...anyway, watch the video, it's cute.

Now something I have been wondering. Protestants, especially Evangelicals, are very good at having different ministries for specific groups. I, myself, am involved in Children's minsitries and a lot of resources are given towards that in order to provide an atmosphere where kids want to come to church, providing them with spiritual input and fun. My own parish does this well. We have a fantastic Bible Quizzing program where kids compete and learn a book of the Bible. We have a Christian Scouting program that teaches life skills and, again, spiritual things.
We have Children's Church, which takes place during the regular Worship time but, I confess, I dislike the idea of kids leaving the service to "do their own thing". I would rather have the kids participate with the whole church instead of segregating them.

This idea of targeting and giving special attention to the youth of our congregation comes from a very real desire to keep our children interested in church and making it a place kids want to come to. It seems to work. On the whole, the kids of our congregation are not "being dragged to church" but are eager to attend. In fact, I have heard stories of children waking up their parents so they wouldn't be late for Sunday Morning Worship. Our parish seems to be able to put "fun" into church without, I believe, sacrificing any spiritual formation. Evangelicals, from what I can see, have been willing to adopt from pop culture, all in an effort to keep kids interested.

I have an annual event which is very much adopted from pop culture. It is Messy Game Night
which borrows from games and antics on the Nickelodeon television channel. Yes, there is slime, Yes, it makes a big mess and, yes, the kids absolutely love it.

These are pictures of a kid getting slimed at Messy Game Night, used with the permission of Jonathan Fonner (The Photographer) and Sean's mother, (The kid getting slimed)

And, at the event, we do have a "messy devotion"; that is, we use an object lesson to teach a spiritual point. Granted, the kids are more distracted at this event and don't give full attention to the spiritual input as they do at other events but it is still there (as it is in every event we do for the children).

Now all the while I was running Messy Game Night this past summer I was thinking, "I can't imagine something like this happening at the Orthodox Parish I attend Vespers at." It just seems like a very un-Orthodox thing to do -I mean, do Orthodox let their kids have Chocolate syrup fights:) - Keep in mind I really am not involved in the life of the Parish at the Orthodox Church except by attending Vespers on a Saturday night. I don't know how they do Sunday School for the kids. I don't know how they do adult education for us older people, I don't know what they do for teens. I don't even know how they drink coffee at coffee hour because I have never been there. So all I am doing is guessing.

My question is this: Would the Orthodox Church see any value in having events like this? Or is it seen as too extreme? Messy Game Night is the most popular event I run all year and even kids who don't like getting messy like to attend just so they can watch the others. But, would that justify it in the mind of the Orthodox Church? Or would such a thing vary from parish to parish?

The reason I ask is I believe paying special attention to the youth and kids in parish life is essential to the vitality of the church. Maybe, the Orthodox agree with that statement but would see other ways to accomplish that. I do get the sense that events like Messy Game Night would be seen as wasteful and too extreme in Orthodox eyes who, are after all, very conservative. I too, believe it or not, am conservative but I like to do creative things that is outside of the norm. I think by doing that, you really get a person's attention. And when you get there attention, you hit with the Gospel.

So I would love all those who are in Orthodoxy to comment on this. Please enlighten me! What "out of the box" thinking do the Orthodox do to get the attention of their youth?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

41st time at an Orthodox Church and some questions about Incense, candles and Icons.

paschal candle
photo by Daniel Kedinger, used under the creative commons license.

I arrived just before Father Gary was to open the royal doors and begin with "Blessed is the Kingdom...." As is my practice, I venerated the Icon in the Narthex but because Fr Gary was about to start, I didn't want to be caught in the front of the church when the doors opened so I just sat down in the back, waiting for Vespers to begin.

QUESTION: Is it rude of me not to venerate the Icons?

I did notice that one lady came in late and stood in the middle section and waited for Fr Gary to finish incensing the icon in the middle and then she made her rounds around the church venerating the icons while Fr Gary was behind the royal doors and the choir was singing a Psalm. I guess I just feel like I am drawing attention to myself by doing that during the service. Perhaps I am still too Western in my thinking, like this is a "show" I am interrupting.

I also noticed that a lady and two children came in (also late) and after they venerated the icons they lit candles and placed them in the candle stand. I imagine this is cool for kids to do and one of the physical actions of worship that can really help a child to participate.

QUESTION: What is the purpose of lighting the candles?

I would like to know what they represent and is there a difference in understanding between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church regarding candles. Also, is lighting candles only for the initiated or can non-Orthodox light candles as well?

One of the things I love about Orthodox Worship is the incense. To me, the smell takes me to a different world and helps me realize I am in church. It is one of my favorite parts of Vespers to watch Fr Gary incense the icons, then to see him walk to the back of the church and incense the icons there as well. Then he always ends by coming back to the front and incensing the people as well. As Fr Gary is facing them, sending incense their way, the people bow.

QUESTION: Why do people bow when the Priest is incensing them?

I have heard it said that incense represents the prayers of the faithful. (from the book of Revelation). Does it represent anything else. And why exactly are the icons incensed?

I have been going to Vespers for over a year and I have thought about these things but never really taken the time to ask. I suppose when I become a catechumen, that would be a good time to get these questions answered but, I figured with all the knowledgeable people who read this blog, I could get a head start.

Today we remembered St. John Chrysostom. He is the Bishop whose liturgy is celebrated almost every Sunday in the East. Very impressive man. I could use his prayers.

St. Paul inspiring St. John Chrysostom
photo by flickr user, bobosh_t, used under the creative commons license.
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