Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Crowded House on my 82nd Visit!

a fad from the the 1950's
It was crowed at Vespers tonight! Okay, maybe not as bad as what is pictured above but, nevertheless, there seemed to be more people than usual for a Saturday Evening.  I wonder if, because we are so close to Christmas, that people make an extra effort to attend Vespers the Saturday night before the celebration of the Nativity? Maybe, they were all staying for confession afterwards. I don't know because I had to rush out and pick up my son from work but it looked like people were hanging around as I was leaving.

Before I left though, I had a nice conversation with Joann. But before I get to that, let me say that Vespers was beautiful this evening.  The choir sounded great and at one point a lone voice cried, "Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord." To hear the Psalms sung like that really touched my soul! Thank God for the faithful choir members in our parish who lend their talents so that all may benefit.  I know that when the Psalms are chanted as they are, it helps me grow closer to God.

So as I was leaving, Joann grabbed my attention. She thanked me for sharing something on facebook, a link which I now cannot even remember doing. That means either I am getting old or I am posting too much on facebook; maybe both!  That led to a conversation about some old time Jesus music people. People like Barry McGuire, the 2nd Chapter of Acts and Andre Crouch.  These people really inspired me in my young life. I am happy to hear they are doing well. In fact, Joann shared a youtube video on her facebook page which I will share here. It's a great song; hope you enjoy.

I was glad to go to Vespers tonight. I missed last week because our protestant church had a Christmas dinner that our whole family went to. I was actually asked to to attend a youth Christmas party tonight so I could lead devotions but I said "no" because I knew I wanted to go to Vespers. Also, it doesn't look like I will be at the Orthodox Church either Christmas eve or Christmas day. But, God willing, I will go to the Divine Liturgy that is on the Thursday after Christma for the Syn-axis of the Most Holy Theotokos.

Have a Merry Christmas, dear readers and thank you for your constant prayers, kind thoughts and kind words!

I know it's early yet but.....Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Learning about Humility on my 81st Time at an Orthodox Church.

The Nave on St. Herman's Day!
St. Herman's Feast Day was yesterday and I was able to attend the Divine Liturgy. They also had Vespers the night before but my wife and I went to a prayer service at our protestant parish.  I arrived early but instead of waiting in silence, Reader John was leading us in The Hours. I was happy to see my friend Jim Martin standing in the next row and he gave me a "fist pound" as a greeting.  Jim has a special devotion to St. Herman, one of the reasons being his fascination with the beautiful State of Alaska. That is a place I would like to visit someday.

I was especially moved in the beginning of the Liturgy when Fr. Gary turned to the congregation, after some prayers, and said, "Forgive me, my brothers and sisters." There is a humility in such an action which lets me know that we are all in this together.  Fr. Gary may be an ordained priest but he understands that he is a servant.  I know there are other Christian communions who have humble servants in them but what I like about the Orthodox is they write the humility right into the liturgy.  It's hard to be a proud man when you ask an entire congregation to "forgive me" before you serve the Mysteries.

The humble theme carried right over into the homily about St. Herman. He was a humble priest, with soft, compassionate eyes who served the Alaskan people. Such men serve as examples and help put things into perspective. May we all obtain the humility of the Saints who are just mirroring the humility of Christ.

St Herman of Alaska

After the Liturgy, Jim Martin pulled me over to the Icon and said, "Take a close look." I did. He then showed me a helicopter depicted in the Icon.  "This is probably the only Icon in the world that has a helicopter in it." That is probably true. One of my friends from the parish sent me a link which tells the fascinating story of the helicopter and St. Herman.  Take a read; it's worth the time! http://groups.yahoo.com/group/OrthodoxNews/message/3682

The fact that Americans have their own Saints, Herman being one of them, proves to me that Christianity is not a dead religion. The Holy Spirit is still active in His Church.  Not only is that encouraging, it's down right inspiring. May we all advance in humility as we become more like Christ.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Teaching Orthodox Saints to Protestant Children!

This girl was a Christmas tree; kids taped ornaments on her
I run the youth group at my Protestant Parish. It's for kids ages 7 - 12.  With St. Nicholas's day coming up on Thursday and because of his association with Modern day Christmas, I thought it would be a good idea to use the story of the REAL St. Nicholas and share it with the kids during our time of devotion.

As usual, we have tons of fun, first playing some games and that's what we did. The kids had a race to decorate a human Christmas tree. They also choose two kids to do Santa makeovers  giving them a white beard with shaving cream. And we had Donkey races, in honor of Mary riding into Bethlehem on a donkey. (Not sure if that really happened, but all the pictures in modern lore tell us so.) The donkeys, by the way, were kids on all fours and an other kid rode on his back.

When it came time for Devotions, I gathered the kids into our prayer room. I am grateful that this protestant parish has set aside a room exclusively for prayer. We are able to teach the kids that places can be holy, if we invite God there.  And I told them the story of the Bishop from Myra ~ the most famous of his exploits where he rescues three young girls with no dowry.  I had to change them becoming prostitutes into slaves instead. They are just kids, after all and if you think about a life of prostitution is a sort of slavery.

The kids received the story well and I was able to tie it in to the Gospel of Matthew's account of Jesus saying to give in secret, not letting your left hand know what your right is doing.  I also gave the kids practical advice on how they could give in secret, shamelessly stealing the idea from the Ancient Faith Radio podcast, Raising Saints, where Elissa Bjeletich  suggests that putting away a siblings shoes in secret so they won't get in trouble is a great way to become little St. Nicholas's.  You can hear the excellent podcast here: http://ancientfaith.com/podcasts/raisingsaints/giving_in_secret

I must admit the evening went well. I think it did help that I arrived extra early and, after setting up all the props for the games, I went into the prayer room myself and asked God to help me. I also asked for the prayers of St. Nicholas asking him to help me convey his story to the children for the Glory of God. I think God heard Nicholas' prayers because it was an exceptionally good evening!

I ended the night having time trials races. Basically I timed each kid as they ran to put three separate Bags of Gold on to three chairs set up in the room. (This game was to  remind them of the gold St. Nicholas threw into the window to save the girls). I used the chocolate coins that come out this time of year; it only cost me one dollar each. After each kid ran the course, I gave the child with the second best time, a bag of gold coins. The kid who came in first received two bags. I told him to keep one bag for himself and give the other away to someone, in secret if at all possible. The kids really loved this game and the best time, by the way, was 10.4 seconds! :)

Chocolate coins for the race
I really did sense the prayers of St. Nicholas helping me and I can see, after reading about his life, why he is such a popular Saint.  May we all enjoy his feast day this Thursday. I may be unemployed right now but the good thing about that is I shall be able to make it to Divine Liturgy on his feast day. That is cool!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Visit #80, The Show must go On!

I'm sick.... by ~isatatoku on deviantART

I think Fr. Gary was sick last night. No, we didn't have a "replacement priest" lead us in Vespers. Fr. Gary was there but he was lightly coughing during liturgy and at two points, he made mistakes in the liturgy, small verbal stumbling . That is something he never does so I am thinking he was fighting a head cold. And I can tell you from personal experience, when you have a head cold, sometimes your brain gets foggy.

 Now I know what some of my evangelical friends are thinking. How do you know he was sick? After all, Orthodox never smile during Worship so his face really wouldn't reveal how he was feeling. :)

 There is actually some truth to that. Had Fr Gary not made those "mistakes," I never would have known how he is feeling.  I know in my protestant parish, if our pastor was under the weather but still leading us in worship, he would apologize for not feeling well and ask for our prayers, even as he led the service.  Of course it is not a bad thing to ask for prayers nor am I saying that someone should "pretend" to be well when they aren't. I am just saying that this shows a difference in emphasis between the protestants and the Orthodox.

 In Orthodoxy, the liturgy doesn't really allow for personal interjections during the service. It's all God focused and the business of the liturgy is to worship the Trinity.  There is less of a structure in evangelical worship so, consequently  there is room for any rambling musings that might come to the pastor's mind.  One of those musings may be, Hey, I'm sick; please pray for me!  But when you are leading in Great Vespers and, perhaps, you don't feel well, you soldier on. Why? Because the Church has gathered, with Saints and Angels in attendance, to offer God-pleasing Worship. And we are called to pay attention, subjecting our thoughts and will to God, as we sing Psalms of Praise.  Perhaps we aren't feeling one hundred percent well. Never the mind, we try to remain focused.

 The Show must go on.

 But, of course, it's not really a show.  It's what we were created for - to be in Communion with God through Christ.  It is one of the things that draws me to Orthodoxy. It is serious business to Worship Christ so just like when I may not feel totally great but I go to work any way (back when I was employed, that is), so, too, when I have gathered with the Faithful, and if I don't feel well, I do my best to remain attentive.  After all, as I have been learning through Orthodoxy all these years, "It's not about me!"

 And I am alright with that. As Jesus said, "Whoever loses his life, shall save it."