Sunday, November 25, 2012

Visit #79 - Learning from Winston Churchill and JFK.

I arrived early last night and I went to grab a Vespers Service book in the narthex but found the Divine Liturgy books instead. What were they doing there? Oh, yeah. They were probably there since Wednesday, when we all celebrated the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple. And somebody forgot to switch them. No matter. I venerated the Icons and took my seat. I have found that I am able to "sing along" with a lot of what is going on without the books. That is something I am happy about it. I guess after two years of attending Vespers, I am bound to remember something!

My favorite part of the Vespers is the Kathisma, when we chant Psalm 2. Mostly, the choir sings all the verses but on occasion, reader Tim will chant the verses and the choir (and us) will respond with the "alleluia's." I love the way that sounds!

During the homily, Fr Gary talked about how Winston Churchill encouraged all to give thanks to God, even in the midst of war.  He went on to say that when President Kennedy was assassinated, Divine Liturgies were still offered the following Sunday and Thanksgiving was still observed the following Thursday.  So in times of trouble, we, His people, should give thanks.

Given my current work situation, that is good advice!

"O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good; and His Mercy endures forever."

Thursday, November 22, 2012

I Learn Being Unemployed has its upside on my 78th Visit!

R.I.P Twinkies, R.I.P., my job!
Yes, I am out of a job. Most of America has heard the tragic news that Hostess Brands, maker of the famous Twinkies is now out of business. Besides the Twinkies being "no more," Hostess Brands being liquidated means I did not go to work today! (Because there is no work to go to) but, on the positive side, if I am not at work during the week, I can go to Divine Liturgy on Feasts days! And that is what I did yesterday.

 Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple  was celebrated today and I got to go to Divine Liturgy even though it was on a Wednesday! It was a joy.  At a time of uncertainly it is truly great to lean upon God and on the prayers of the Saints.  Both Fr Gary and Fr Sergious were celebrating and Reader John served at the altar.
Mary, as the Mercy Seat in our Parish

Orthodoxy should never be considered in a passing, fleeting way. If you do, than you will always  draw the wrong conclusions.  When you walk into the Church you see on the back wall, a giant painting of Mary, (with Jesus depicted inside to show the Incarnation,) ~ If, you just went by appearances  you would think that the Orthodox  worship Mary! After All, there is a giant picture of her in the front.  But, as Fr Tom Hopko said in one of his podcasts, "that is not Mary, that is the Mercy Seat!" In the old testament, the children of Israel used to carry around the Ark of the Covenant and, between two gold statues of angels, was an empty seat. That was supposed to represent God, who could not be depicted because He is Spirit. So while their pagan neighbors had all sorts of "gods" they fashioned and  worshiped, Israel had an empty chair. Well, with the Incarnation, God could be depicted, because while we have no idea what a Spirit looks like, we do know what a Man looks like!  So, instead of an empty seat in the front of the Church, we see Christ who arrived as a Man through Mary.  Now, that's cool stuff!

I did snap a few pictures while in Church. I made sure that it was unobtrusive.  You can check out some of those pics on my other blog, My Daily Phone Pic .  One of the photos I took was of reader John, reading from, I believe, the letter to the Hebrews. In it, our course, we heard about The Mercy Seat!

After the Liturgy, I stayed for some coffee. Because the Orthodox abstain from all food beginning the midnight before, prior to receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, they are especially hungry by the time Church is over. So they had bagels, salmon, three bean salad~ a nice little feast! I had a nice time talking to people, some of whom I have never met before.  I met a nice lady who asked, "Who are you?" I explained that I have been going to Vespers for two years and she explained she could not drive at night anymore.  I also talked a little with Matthew (who I first met in February), Fr. Gary and with John and Tammy. Everyone was was sympathetic to my plight regarding me being jobless.

As for being jobless, yes, it is a bit stressful, but God has always provided for our family before and will continue to do so. His Mercy endures forever!

Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Arriving Fashionably Late, dressed unfashionably on my 77th Visit!

just about to open the side doors to enter the Church
Well, what a busy day I had Saturday. Yes, I lost my job on Friday (Good bye, Twinkies, Good bye Job) but I had forgotten that I scheduled myself to donate blood on Saturday morning so that is how my day began.  Then, my wife and I spent the whole day running around, doing errands and by the time it was time to go to Vespers, I had no time to change clothes. I really don't like to dress in jeans to go to Vespers because of the respect I believe we shall all show God when we enter His House but I remember what one of my facebook friends and blog reader said about that. It is better to go to Church than to not go because of who we are dressed. Lavena, my friend, went on to say how that sometimes the kids would be in soccer uniforms because they were out all day but it was better to be there.  Maybe you disagree and, generally speaking, I think every effort should be made to dress nicely but I think God, the Saints and all the Angels are glad to see us there!

Because I arrived late, I sat way in the back and found my self standing next to a fairly new Icon painted on the wall which depicted the marriage at Cana. Even though I have had seen this Icon before and have even had my picture taken next to it, I never really looked at it. 

me before the Icon of the Wedding Feast of Cana                            
I found myself staring right into the Face of Jesus and the Theotokos and I realized the importance of Icons in revealing Christ to us. Christ was depicted in art as a man because He really became one. He really had a mother and He really walked the earth.  This is all fact.  Then I glanced over at the center and I saw what obviously was the bride and groom at the wedding feast of Cana. They were depicted as wearing crowns. Now, we all know that they did not actually wear crowns but seeing the crowns reminded me that Icons are not supposed to show events like a newspaper story would but, should reflect the Spiritual meaning behind the actual event.  Icons show us Heaven and while we are still here on earth, we need them. Or, rather, they are just one more way that God reveals Himself to us! So I am glad I had a chance to reflect on the whole story of the wedding at Cana in the midst of singing hymns at Vespers.

Another way God reveals Himself to us is through the spoken word and Fr Gary's short but relevant homily did just that. He spoke about being thankful, especially with the American holiday of Thanksgiving coming up. He mentioned the many who were affected by Hurricane Sandy and how gratitude is still the way to go. I was easily able to apply that to my life. Even though I was not adversely affected by the  hurricane, I am still going through the storm of unemployment!  (You can see pics of my last day on my job by clicking here.)
But God will remain faithful to us!

my attire at vespers. Jeans, just this once!
So keep me in prayer, friends. I am sure God will continue His Grace in my life and I am hoping that this period of unemployment, besides being short :) would also be a time I can learn to lean more upon Christ!

Glory to Jesus Christ!
Glory Forever!

Monday, November 12, 2012

76th Visit~ Fr. Gary gives Kudos where Kudos are due!

The Church of Grace and Peace where many gathered to help!

Hurricane Sandy has disrupted a lot of people's lives Mine, however, I can say, thankfully wasn't really disrupted at all. We just lost electricity at our house for five hours.But, others have lost their homes and all their possessions. But people want to help, including the people of this parish.

On my 76th time in an Orthodox Church, Fr Gary used the time of his homily to talk about just how the people of our parish did help the victims of Hurricane Sandy.  Saturday morning, people gathered at a large Protestant Church called the Church of Grace and Peace which has become a central place for people to gather to help those in need.  I had wanted to gather to help, too, but a friend of mine needed help loading a truck since they were moving.  But there will be other opportunities for me to help, because there is still a lot that needs to be done. Fr. Gary remarked how great it was that people just wanted to help.

Also, in Fr Gary's homily, he reflected on the name of the protestant church where everyone was meeting to help.  Grace and Peace are two things we need to remember. It is true, he said, that you won't find an Orthodox Church named after that since we either name our Churches after a Saint or a Feast of the Church but, never the less, it is good to remember that Grace is the Energies of God and, really, His Presence to us. And Peace was something that Christ gives His people.

Not surprisingly what Fr Gary said was really something I needed to hear. Although I have not really been impacted by Hurricane Sandy, there are other things going on in my life right now that are a bit unsettling.  The major unsettling thing is not knowing if the bankrupt company I work for, is going to survive. So I have been a little anxious lately.  But even before Fr Gary gave his homily, I was experiencing the Peace of Christ as we all worshiped together. I guess one of the best things about Liturgy is that it takes the focus off of yourself and on to Christ and when you are focused on Him, things seem to be in the proper perspective.

I am grateful for the Presence of Christ in my life. As I turn to Him, may I become more like Him and may, He, in His Mercy, continue to lead.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

75th Visit~ Stealing Hats and Answered Questions

My 75th time worshiping in the Orthodox Church was, as usual, worshipful.  The Psalms were especially something I enjoyed. I can see why, in her wisdom, the Church uses the Psalms so much in worship.  Unlike the little chorus's we sing in my protestant church, the psalms have a richness which can't be compared with. Even the "old" hymns of my protestant church - which do have a certain dignity to them but can't really be called "old", even if some of them were written in the 1800's -cannot compare to the Psalms.  But why should that surprise me? The Psalms, after all, are Sacred Scripture.

After Church, I chatted with everyone, talking about Hurricane Sandy. It turns out, me only losing power for five hours, makes me one of the "lucky ones." Fr Ken, it turns out, still has no power plus the storm put a  hole in one of their windows, making the house a bit cold.  Fr. Ken told that news with his usual good cheer and then asked me if someone gave me an answer to the question I asked on my blog. Two weeks ago on my blog, I asked a question about something I heard while Fr. Ken was leading us in Vespers.  As the faithful chanted Psalm 2 (The Kathisma), Fr Ken was definitely saying something else and I had no idea what that was. Fr. Ken was about to give me an answer but we were interpreted-

"Who has Fr. Sergius's hat? 

Well, I looked down and figured, "I don't." I had my hat in my hand.  Upon closer examination, it turns out it wasn't my hat!  Fr. Sergius, a retired priest attached to our parish, has my hat in his hand. He smiles at me and makes a joke about him having a big head as we exchanged hats.  I had grabbed the wrong hat from the hat rack right after Vespers was over.  It is true that Fr. Sergius' hat was a bit nicer than mine but it really did look like my hat.  If I were a Roman Catholic, I guess here is where I'd insert the joke about having to spend extra time in purgatory for stealing a priest's hat, but I digress....:)

Fr Sergius
Fr. Sergius left with his hat and I returned my attention to Fr. Ken.  He explained that priests are supposed to say certain prayers sometime during service that are different from the prayers from the people. I got the impression from Fr. Ken that it really didn't matter when these prayers were said and just had to be accomplished sometime before Vespers was over.   He explained that Fr. Gary probably did these prayers while behind the royal doors which is why I never heard him say them. 

So that answers my question.  It seems that, in Orthodoxy  no matter how many questions you have, there are always answers. Yes, there is Mystery in Orthodoxy but some things really can be explained. 

I'm glad of that because I am the type of guy who likes to know things.