Sunday, July 29, 2012

Oh, Most Holy Theotokos, Save us!

Last night at Vespers, all the scaffolding in the front of the church was gone and this is what we saw:You see, for a while now, as part of an ongoing Icon project, our worship was in the midst of this icon project so in someways our church looked like a construction site. But that is all gone now and the results are beautiful!

Because of the Icon's completion, I couldn't help but think of the Theotokos during Vespers last night. I used to be very scandalized as a protestant for what I perceived to be the worship of Mary. I got more of a sense of that as worship when I was in Roman Catholic circles but, as usual, the Orthodox got it right in terms of balance and honor. During Vespers, there is a time towards the end, when Fr Gary comes through the Royal Doors and faces the small Icon of Christ and says a prayer, then he turns to the small icon of the Theotokos and says, "Most Holy Theotokos Save us," and we immediately go to the More honorable than the Cherubim Hymn and from there Fr Gary turns back to Christ where we commend ourselves to Him.

Yes, the Orthodox may honor Mary but it is always in relation to Christ and Christ is first!

And I tell you what, isn't it a good idea to ask for the prayers of someone who is Holy and close to Christ? So when we pray, Most Holy Theotokos,Save us we are asking her to save us by her prayers.

Last night at Vespers, at the end, the altar servers always leave the altar area through the side doors and stand in front. I had noticed only one Server last night and he came out a little bit earlier to lead us in the Trisagion Hymn but at the very end when the servers take their last position in the front of the church, a young boy came out the side door, robed as a server and stood up front. I had wondered what he was doing there and I figured that he was "a learner" and was probably instructed to stand at the altar and watch what is going on so that he, someday, could serve. I don't know if I am right about this but it's a good guess. Later, I saw the boy stand by Matthew, a man I met at the Coffee hour back in February so I think that it is his son, James. You can read about me meeting Matthew here

Last night Tiffany gave me a card to give me to my daughter. It was a congratulations card for Sara's new car. (In the card, she put a small bag of coins that Sara is supposed to throw in the back seat so that if she ever needs toll money, it is there....nice idea!) Jim Martin wasn't there last night and I missed seeing him. I should see him today though because he is working at our parish's ethnic Festival. (He is cooking for a couple of hours and manning the beer tent for a couple of hours!) The only reason why I wouldn't want to go today is the food is probably excellent and I get weighed in tomorrow for Weight Watchers. (You can listen to my progress in losing weight; there is a link to my podcast to the right).

But, maybe, I should risk it! Jim, after all, is a fantastic cook!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Fr Gary Preaches about Heaven!

Heaven is for Real.
...but we don't need a book written by a kid who has died to tell us that!

In Fr Gary's homily at Vespers last night, he mentioned how the book which is about a young child who had experienced a "near death experience" is making the rounds in his family. And while Fr Gary did not discount anything that may have happened in the book, he reminded us that in the parable of the Lazarus and the rich man when the rich man saw that "Heaven was for real" and he wasn't in it, he asked Abraham to send someone back from the dead to warn his brothers that heaven was real and they should prepare themselves for it.

"They have the law and the prophets, if you brothers don't believe that, they won't believe even if someone is raised from the dead!"

When I was a young christian and, as a teenager, I first read those words, I thought they were wrong. Certainly, if someone saw an actually resurrection then they would be forced to believe! Well, turns out Jesus is right! (of course). I have been hearing a lot of sermons/podcasts lately from Ancient Faith Radio on how belief is really an act of the will. Proof in the scientific sense is never enough to force faith. An act of the will comes first, a leap of faith, if you will and when that happens faith follows.

I'll give you an example. When I was first being beckoned to the ancient faith I used to listen to a podcast called the Rosary Army. It was a Catholic podcast and they shared the belief with the Orthodox about Mary being the Theotokos and an intercessor. Well, as a protestant, I had problems with that. But, after a long time of mental wrangling, I decided to just "let go" and "take a step of faith" and I started praying the Rosary. It was as I prayed the "Hail Marys" that I started to "get it" and asking for Mary's intercession just made sense in my faith life. The act of the will on my part came and faith followed.

So when Fr Gary reminded us of the words that they have the law and the prophets, it reminded me how God honors our actions. When we move just a little bit towards Him, He comes back at us in full force. But God asks us to believe first.

Man, I love synergy!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Nudged into going to Vespers

So my wife asks me just after I walked into the house whether I was going to Vespers tonight. That had been my plan but my kids and I had been running around all day looking for a new car and truthfully, I did not feel all that up to going. I was tired; I was feeling unsettled like I just needed to relax so I got in front of the computer and went to facebook to check out all the cool status' of my friends :)

Sitting there, in front of the computer, I did start to relax and my mind did stop racing in a thousand different directions so the thought came to me, Maybe I should go to Vespers after all!
But, in order to do that I'd have to rush so I was pretty much settled that tonight I would not be going....

Then I got a Instant Message pop up on Facebook,

Hey, you are supposed to be driving to Vespers.

I glanced down to see who it was from and I read the last name, Martin. For some reason I didn't look closely and I thought the one doing the Instant Messaging was Tiffany Martin, Jim's daughter who has been attending Vespers as well. So I replied,
So are you.
After I sent it, I realized it was not actually Tiffany but Jim's wife, Judy. She has not been joining her husband on his journey towards Orthodoxy which is why she put (and I can picture her chuckling as she typed it)

No I'm not but good try.
So the only thing I could come back with is one of those little smiley face emoticons. What can I say, I am speechless sometimes.

Now, I took this as a sign that I should get off the computer, quickly get dressed and head out out to Vespers. I told my wife, "I think I'm gonna go after all"

I did arrive ten minutes late but I am glad I went. It turns out, I wasn't as distracted as I thought I would be and all the time during worship I am thinking how God gently nudged me into going to Vespers. In the end, it was my decision and I still could have said No but if I hadn't, it sure wouldn't be God's fault!

So, Thank you, Holy Spirit and thank you, Judy!

And since, as is frequently the case, the Holy Spirit leaves me speechless, all I can say is:

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Missing Friends...Who are There!

A tough day at work didn't keep me away from Vespers last night. (The week before was another story. My wife had been away and I hadn't seen her really all week so I stayed home.) So even though I was a bit tired, I showered, got dressed and drove to Church. When I got there, I looked for Jim Martin's motorcycle and didn't see it. Well, I thought, I guess he couldn't make it tonight. I then thought about how he had recently gotten a job again so I thought, well, maybe, it was work commitments.

As I took my place towards the back- yes, I was a bit late and Fr Gary was 3 minutes into the Vespers Service already- I started thinking about a sermon I heard from Fr. Josiah Trenham from The Arena podcast. He had preached on how we are members of the Body of Christ and when one of us is missing from worship, we feel it. At that moment, thinking Jim (and now also his daughter Tiffany) wasn't there, I felt it. When we gather to Worship God, we do it together and when one of us is missing, it really does feel like something is not right. I then wondered if the same was felt about my absence last week. I hope so. I don't think it is egotistical to think that. It's just that we truly are part of One body and "we are all in this together."

So I refocused on Worship and started chanting the Psalms with the choir. It is a great thing to pay attention to the words as we worship. One thing I like about Orthodox Worship is it is not an appeal to the emotions. At my protestant parish (and to a much larger extent at my old pentacostal Church), songs are selected that appeal to "feelings" and my own pastor is subject to emotional elucidations - certainly nothing too wild but I believe he feels that if such emotions are expressed (and he is a very shy man) then "truly we met with God." Perhaps. But I like hearing the Psalms chanted and I find that the Orthodox way does not focus on how I am feeling at all. And that is good because sometimes I feel horrible!

So all of this worship going on and I glance a couple of rows up from me and I notice a man with a women standing right next to him. She is wearing a scarf on her head and I figure it's just another Russian worshiping at Vespers. Only it isn't! Upon closer inspection, I realize it is Tiffany and standing next to her is Jim. I couldn't believe it. Tiffany surprised me the first time she was there she was crossing herself and now, weeks later, she is wearing a scarf just like they do "in the old country."

Jim and Tiffany (with Scarf!)

Later on, when Fr Ken was in the back greeting everyone I overheard him say to Tiffany, "Every time I see you, you look more Orthodox." Tiffany asked me to take a picture of her and her father because she was going to send it to a friend who she is trying to convince to come to Vespers with her. She readjusted her scarf; I took the picture.

I also asked Fr Ken about his son Bill who turned 18 that very day. He was home with guests at a pool party. Since we had experienced a big storm during vespers that evening, he was hoping they had enough sense to get out of the pool. I am sure they did!

As I was leaving to pick up my son from work, Jim, kidding me, called me a "Nazodox" ( Half Nazarene- Half Orthodox) I said, "I don't think I like that very much! "Well", he said, "You should do something about that."

Yes, I should!