Saturday, March 23, 2013

There's a First Time for Everything!

First Shave
There's the First Shave and then there's....well, read below!
photo by Marina Thompson, used under the creative commons license
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You would think as I approach a hundred visits to my Orthodox Parish that I wouldn't have anymore firsts. Well, on this my 92nd time I can say I attended my first Presanctified Liturgy. I had always thought that a Presanctified Liturgy would just be like Vespers with communion tacked on.  Well, I was a bit wrong.

I arrived a bit late because I was having a conversation on Facebook with my son.  It was a good conversation where we got to "share each other's heart." We both do better writing than talking so it was good. I picked up a service book in the Narthex. Well, it turns out it said Wednesday so after trying to find my place, I went back out to look for another book.  Nothing.  I went back to my seat (where I stood, of course- This is an Orthodox Church, after all) and I am ashamed to say I cannot remember the lady's name but she is always very nice to me, asking me how the job search is going. Well, she saw my lost look on my face and handed me her book and went back to stand next to her husband.

After awhile I found my place.  Psalm after Psalm after Psalm. I felt like I was at a monastery. At least, when ever I would hear podcasts about monasteries, they would always mentioned how they covered the entire book of Psalms in a week (I think during Great Lent).  I had always thought that would bore me.  But, it did not! The choir led us in an easy to follow chant and we sailed on through them.  I've said it before and I'll say it now: There is so much Scripture in Orthodox worship, it puts us Evangelicals to shame!

It was strange to hear no bells as Fr. Gary incensed the Icons and us.  But, that is just to draw our attention to the non-celebratory penitential aspect of Great Lent.  And speaking of penitential - Yes, we did prostrations. Last week, I was stuck in the middle aisle with chairs in the way but this time I moved out and did a proper prostration when indicated.

I was really moved during the service.  At one point, Fr Gary was chanting about Christ as Victor (if memory serves) and I almost expected Christ Himself to walk out the Royal Doors.  It was also very moving when he did the entrance with the Gifts.  We were all to prostrate as he did this so I didn't even see Fr Gary process  I am wondering, did he leave the Sanctuary with them or would all of the movement been within the Sanctuary? If you know, comment below :)

The most moving part of the service when Fr. Gary chanted in a slow, almost mournful voice, Let my prayer arise and we responded with prostrations.  This was truly worship! And I believe it captured what Great Lent is supposed to be: Joyful Sorrow!

We then had a string of intercessions. When it came to the Intercessions of the Catechumens, I remembered Jim Martin, Tiffany and Ben who will be received into the Church on Pascha! I wasn't even offended when Fr. Gary chanted  Catechumens, Out! And I didn't even make the joke to myself "I've been thrown out of better places than this," because the truth is, I haven't! :)

After the people received the Gifts, three people came to me and gave me the bread of fellowship. That's a great way to include people who aren't able to receive the Holy Mysteries yet.

Fr. Gary gave a very short homily because he knew that some people have been fasting all day! When I looked at my phone to see the time, I saw that nearly two hours had passed. That didn't bother me but my other son (not the one I chatted with on Facebook)  was waiting for me to pick him up from work since the service began so I scooted on out. But before we left, instead of kissing a Cross that Fr Gary was holding, he gave us all some blessed bread. That was very nice!

So this is my first Presanctified Liturgy. Hopefully, it won't be my last!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Using a canon to combat Sin...

Hamilton's Own
Not exactly the Canon of St. Andrew...
photo by Flick user, The U.S. Army, 
used under the creative commons license
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...St. Andrew of Crete's Canon, that is! On Tuesay night, I went to Church and our parish, like many parishes has services everyday in the beginning of Lent so I was fortunate to be able to make it on this my 91st time at my Orthodox Parish.

What first struck is as we prayed through the canon is how much Scripture is cited. By every petition a Scripture reference was placed so we knew where that phrase we were praying came from. I daresay I got more Scripture in one night than I have gotten from 6 months at my protestant parish.  Along with these Scriptures, which highlighted our own sinfulness, there were a lot of Lord, have Mercy's. And that is fine with me because I know I need His mercy.  I must say, my back did ache a bit from all the metanies we did. I guess I need to work out so I can be fit for Orthodox Worship! And the times we did prostrations was hard for me because I was standing in the middle and there were chairs in front of me so I ended up doing prostrations toward the side while everyone else did them facing front.  Jim Martin, who was next to me, wisely stood at the end of the aisle so he could move and not be hampered by chairs.

Fr Gary's homily was good. He said it was refreshing to hear the prayers of the Canon of St. Andrew because, in it, St. Andrew makes no excuses for his sin. Rather, he owns up to them. This is something we must do, even though it is much easier to just make excuses.

May God help me to confront my own sins this lent and may all of you forgive me, a sinner, of any offenses I have done against you.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Thrown out...of the Garden!

Thrown in a pool- lots of fun!
Thrown out of Paradise: Not so much...
photo by flickr user, popofatticus, used under the creative commons license.
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I didn't make it to the Video class last night but I did manage to get to Vespers, making this the 90th time I worshiped at my Orthodox parish.  We commemorated THE EXPULSION OUT OF THE GARDEN. I say commemorate for surely Adam leaving Eden is nothing to celebrate. In his homily, Fr. Gary talked about how, in the Church's hymnody, Adam is pictured outside the Garden, weeping bitterly. No longer would he live in paradise. No longer would he commune with God.  Yet Christ changed all that! During Great Lent, the Church offers us a way to get back with God.  Adam, did not fast- having eaten the fruit, he was expelled from the Garden. Moses, however, after fasting for 40 days, saw the Face of God. So maybe now we are, like Adam, weeping bitterly because we only see paradise from afar.  Yet, through Christ, we are restored!

Fr. Gary also mentioned how we commemorate St. Patrick, Bishop of Armagh, Enlightener of Ireland.   I had always thought the Orthodox celebrated this famous Saint on a different day.  But I guess I was wrong. He mentioned the story (probably a myth) of how St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland.  We should, he said, do the same thing during Great Lent. Only instead of driving out snakes, we should drive out our sins.  Good advice, I think.

Had a short conversation with Jim Martin (who started a new blog on fly-fishing, by the way. check it out here!) He said, since I'm not working, we should meet for coffee some morning. He is able to break away from the office whenever he wants to.  I'm looking forward to that. I'd really like some time to sit down and talk to him, asking how he feels about being only months away from entering into the Church.  (And I love that his daughter is, too!)   Coming into the Church certainly is the right step to take in reversing us being thrown out of the Garden! In Christ, Paradise is restored!


Monday, March 11, 2013

It's Judgement Time? Awesome!

I saw this Icon on Saturday
 Well, I don't think you will hear many people say  "It's Judgement time? Awesome!" But that is a phrase that came to my mind as I was venerating the Icons when I first enter into the Church. For the Icon of the day of this, my 89th visit, was called, "The Awesome Judgment." Nowadays, that word, Awesome, is way overused and has strayed from its' original purpose. "That Pizza was Awesome!" or "That tie looks awesome on you!" As you can imagine, when you use the word awesome in that context, it kind of loses its, well, awesomeness.

Instead, I know I should -as I contemplate the return of Christ and the onset of the Eschaton - reflect upon that day with a sense of awe and dread (another misused word.) In Fr. Gary's homily, he made it clear that Christ will return as is promised in the Creed.  It is a good thing to contemplate how that day will be filled with awe and as we pray in Vespers, , we hope to have  A Christian ending to our life, painless, blameless, peaceful, and a good defense before the fearful judgment seat of Christ. Yes, Christ is merciful but I certainly do not want to approach that day with any kind of flippancy. Because the world does and makes many jokes about it. I did a quick internet search and there are tons of "jokes" about the return of Christ.  Of course, so called Christian groups who drive around in vans like this don't help matters much.
oops, got that wrong!

Phony predictions aside, Christ will return and I want to be on the Right side of things when He does.This was a great thing to contemplate during Vespers and I am glad Fr. Gary elaborated upon that point during his homily.

Before all of that, at Five pm,  we went into the Education Building and watched the "What we Believe" series produced decades ago. I found out the teacher's name in the video, Fr Dave (if I remember correctly) and he was instructed under the famous Father Alexander Schmemann. We discussed the Fall of both Men and Angels. Interesting subject. After the tape and before  Vespers began, we continued our discussion on the nature of Evil. It was great to hear Jim Martin expound upon all that he has been reading lately.  With him entering into the Orthodox Church in May, he has been doing a lot of reading. He mentioned this one Russian theologian (whose name I forget) and he said that Evil is not anything or a thing. Rather, it is the absence of Good.  No one created Evil, just like darkness is not a thing but only the absence of light.

We continued our discussion into the nave, (quietly, of course, since people were praying before Vespers began) and Jim remarked, in our discussion about Christianity in general, how THIS was the Church.  He said it with such conviction it was like hearing a pentacostal preacher speak with certainty of the miracles of God! It made me smile.

I asked Jim, on behalf of one of my readers, Maria, whatever happened to his blog, 7 days till now and he said, "I don't know. I just don't have anything to say." I think part of the reason is, he is so immersed in Orthodoxy now, what with his reading, his catechumen class, his Vespers attendance and his Sunday Divine Liturgy attendance that he doesn't need to talk about it in his blog- it is already filling his life. As for me, I process things better if I write them down and, even if no one would read this blog (but I'm glad you do!), I would still do it because it helps me to solidify things in my mind by putting it into written words. Jim, on the other hand, is more verbal.

One quick question before I end this post. At the beginning of Vespers, Fr. Gary led the first set of intercessions from the Sanctuary behind the closed doors. Normally, he would lead this prayers in the nave with us, facing the closed doors but we'd see his back.  Is this some kind of Lenten Triodion  tradition or does this have to do do that no one was serving with him to open the side doors.  Five minutes into the service, someone did go into the sanctuary to serve with him and on the second set of petitions he prayed them in the nave as he usually does.  Just curious. If someone can elaborate on the "ins and outs" of praying with the doors open or closed, I'd appreciate it.

In the meantime, have a blessed Triodian!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A Reason to Rejoice!

Happy Dance
Doing the Happy Dance!
photo by Frank Peters, used under the creative commons license.
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I had a great reason to rejoice on my 88th time at my Orthodox Parish but more about that later. First, let me say, I went early to Church because, at 5pm Fr Gary was running an "Orthodoxy 101" class~ basically, an inquirers/catechumen's class which he opened up to the entire congregations so they could get a refresher course in the Faith.  He was using a taped class done decades ago (yes, it's on VHS, can you believe it?) I walked in just before 5pm and I really wasn't sure where to go. According to the bulletin, it was in the "Education Building" and I didn't remember seeing any building, other than the parish hall. It turns out, that the very small former parsonage was converted into an education building. So I found it and walked in.

Jim Martin was there, along with Tammy and John and others. I met a man named Robert.  As I sat down, Jim Martin, who was surprised to see me said, "Oh, you got a week-end pass!" Jim was always one who had a quick witticism to share.  The class was very good. I started to get some tea but because Fr Gary wanted to start the tape, I abandoned waiting for the water to boil and sat down. Tammy, ever the gracious hostess, gave me the tea later.  The class took some getting used to. It was simply a tape of a man (either a reader or a priest, not sure which) standing in a Church Nave with a blackboard, giving a lecture. But, it turned out to be interesting. This was the fourth class and only the first one I've made it to.

Later on as we were sitting in the Nave after the class, Jim Martin turns to me and says, "So what are you doing May 4th/? I said, "Huh?" He said, "That's Easter, the Real Easter" and he waved off the idea of March 31st -Sorry, Western Church:) - "Because, me, Tiffany (his daughter) and Ben (her friend) will be Chrismated at the Easter Vigil."

PRAISE THE LORD! (Sorry, I am slipping back into my Evangelical ways....)

But, seriously, This is fantastic. Jim and I have known each other for years. We served together in my protestant parish in different ministries. I have heard him preach from a pulpit (He's a great speaker, by the way). I have seen him dissatisfied with our church (Maybe that is why he left) and I have known his daughter since she was teen in the youth group (of which I led for a while)....So, to know now that they have both found a Home in Orthodoxy gives me great reason to rejoice. Yes, it made my day! :)

I am glad that I had a very small part in it. For those who have read my blog, you may remember that. But you can read about it here.  Briefly, Jim noticed I was reading The Orthodox Study Bible on Goodreads and asked me my opinion. I gave it and also told him how I was attending Vespers and I pointed him to my blog.  He ended up reading my entire blog and then ventured to our parish....and now, a year later, he is being received into the the Church, along with his daughter!

So it was a great evening at Vespers!

Glory to God!