Sunday, April 28, 2013

Visit 97 Brings me up to Palm Sunday!

Pussy willows
Why they use pussy willows for Palm Sunday, I have no idea...
photo by Ed Gaillard, used under the creative commons license.
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I arrived early and had a chance to venerate the "Lazarus" icon before the service started.  Then I sat down next to Jim Martin and he said, "One more week." What he means is, next Saturday, he, Tiffany and Ben get christmated into the Church.  I am really looking forward to that. I am also glad I spoke with Jim because, for some reason, I thought he'd be christmated at the Easter Vigil but it turns out it will be Saturday morning so I might have missed it otherwise. One of the things that Father Gary has to fit in is Ben's baptism. Tiffany and Jim were baptized already but not so for Ben.  It's going to be a full service and I wonder if I'm allowed to take pictures? I'll have to ask.

During Vespers last night, Fr. Gary "switched out" the Icon for Lazarus with the Icon for Palm Sunday - on the table in the center of the Nave (What is that table called again? I keep forgetting)  This was done with a simple elegance. One thing I love about Orthodoxy is it has a humble pageantry about it. Let me explain:  There are certain ways of doing things in Orthodoxy that is ritualistic and ceremonial.  This adds dignity to Worship. Yet, a humbleness abounds. For example, last night before the homily, Reader John took the Litya into a side room in order to cut it up for distribution later. When he was done, he put it on the table and sat down. Well, that table was in front of Fr Gary who was giving a homily. In a more "High" church atmosphere, Reader John would have felt compelled to stand aside while Fr. Gary preached. Yet, in our parish, he quickly and quietly placed the Litya on the table and then sat down to listen to the sermon.  That may not seem like a big deal but, to me, it is.  I love that we worship Christ in all manner of respect and reverence and yet, are not full of ourselves as we do so.

Talking to Jim, we also discussed confession, something I had been meaning to ask about. I wondered when a catechumen would receive the Sacrament of confession because, technically, isn't that supposed to be for "the Faithful" and he would not be  Orthodox until he is christmated. And yet he should confess before receiving the Eucharist, right? Maybe, I am being too legalistic about this. Turns out confession for him will be on Great and Holy Friday. I said to him that confession isn't something I'd be looking forward to. He joked it might be easier just to give Fr. Gary  a list of the sins he didn't commit!

I am looking forward to next Saturday. It will be Vespers with Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great at 10am. That is when the catechumens become part of the faithful and then, later on that evening it's PASCHAL Matins and Divine Liturgy.  I better get a long nap in that afternoon so I can be fully awake for the celebration of Jesus' Resurrection!

As I drove away, I met Jim at a red light. He rolled down his window and said, "How's it going you Nazodox. (For those keeping score that would be half Nazarene -my protestant parish- and half Orthodox). He also asked if I was any closer. I said, soon. The light turned green and we parted. And I repeated to myself, "soon."

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Akathist to the Theotokos or "Stand up, Stand up, for Mary?"

Cadillac Walk
I've could have used something to lean on last night, with all that standing! :)
photo by flickr user zilberbat, used under the creative commons license.
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We have all heard the expression, If I've heard it once, I've heard it a thousand times! Well, that can be said for the phrase, O Most Holy Theotokos, Save us! which I may not have heard a thousand times last night at my 96th visit to my Orthodox parish but it certainly seemed like it. I guess it is appropriate since the Akathist to the Theotokos is a service of the Church that honors Mary in her role in Salvation.

When I first arrived five minutes before the service, I only saw two cars in the parking lot and I got nervous. Maybe I got it wrong and they are not having the service tonight. But people started showing up. I walked in the nave and thought, should I sit in the comfy chairs with the cushions or the steel chairs in the back row. Steel chairs seems more penitential but I realized that it didn't matter. Reader John told me last week that Akathist means literally to stand. So I really wouldn't have a lot of time to sit, anyway.

Yes, we said, O Most Holy Theotokos, Save us, a lot - and by save us we mean save us by her prayers - but in reality the whole service is about Christ. Almost every phrase about Mary was connected to her role in the incarnation. Of course, we venerate Mary. With no Mary, there is no Christ taking on human flesh! Her part in Salvation is crucial, she deserves the honor.  That being said, I wouldn't recommend the Akathist to the Theotokos be the first service an inquirer attends, especially a Protestant. They would be scandalized in what they perceive as Mary Worship.  It isn't and I believe the Orthodox have a more balanced view on Mary than our Roman Catholic brothers but for a Protestant, it wouldn't be something they understand. The veneration of Mary (and all the Saints, now that I think about it) is something you really don't get until you are part of the Church.  Now, I know I'm not (yet) but I've been hanging around the Orthodox for over two years with almost a hundred visits under my belt and I guess I am coming to understand the mindset of the Church. Yes, I'm not an insider yet but I'm working on it!

A beautiful line I heard during the Service went something like this: We see this strange birth; let us be strangers to the world. Pretty profound, eh? Since we witness the virgin birth and God's strange dealings with humanity, let us be strangers to this world and long for the heavenly kingdom.  The Akathist was chock full of nuggets like that.

I have not been getting to as many services during Great Lent as I wanted to but I am grateful for the ones I do attend.  It seems if people are doing spiritual battle with a lot of fasting and extra prayer,then the additional services are really needed for the Faithful. God bless Fr Gary as he leads them!

Now I wonder if some zealous new convert would ever re-write the old hymn "Stand up, Stand up for Jesus" and make it about Mary and try to get it added to the Akathist? I'm sure that wouldn't be a good idea but you know how people are :)

God grant you strength during Great Lent!


Thursday, April 11, 2013

I Made it to another Pre-Sanctified Liturgy!

My favorite part of the Presanctified Liturgy!

It's got to be said: The Presanctfied Liturgy is beautiful! On my 95th time at my Orthodox parish, I was just as moved as before with the beauty of the Psalms and prayers of the people as they (we) prostrated ourselves during Great Lent.  Fr. Gary was joined by Fr. Sergious so when it came time for "Let my prayer arise" part, the mournful, longing psalm was chanted in harmony.  If this ain't worship, I don't know what is!

The video of the song for those who have never heard it is above. It is not from my parish but the song is the same.
When I first walked in (early for a change) I noticed the Cross in the center of the Nave, beautifully adorned with flowers and there was a rug before it. A thought occurred to me as I approached to venerate, that I should do prostrations first. But, I didn't.  I guess I am still a bit too self-conscience about things.  I felt a bit rebuked when, after I returned to my seat, a kid came in, on his own and did three prostrations. Oh, for the humility of a child!

Speaking of children, it was funny to see one little girl go around and venerate the Icons.  She opted for metanies instead of full prostrations before the Cross and when she got to St. Kathrine's Icon, she couldn't reach it so she kissed her fingertips and jumped, trying to touch her crown, it seemed. She gave this several attempts and a lady was just about to go over to her (and pick her up, I believe) when she reached St. Kathrine's crown on her own. The lady and I looked at each other and started chuckling.

I was very touched when during communion, a young man seemed to be hanging about, waiting to go last and I wondered why. He approached Fr. Gary and the young man covered his mouth and said something to Fr. Gary. Fr Gary then presented the Chalice to the man, who reverently kissed it.  I almost started to cry. Here was a man who for some reason did not commune. Maybe he wasn't Orthodox, maybe he didn't feel himself sufficiently prepared to receive the Body and the Blood. Yet, he wanted to show his devotion so he approached the Chalice. Such humility and yet such devotion!

Fr Gary's homily was good. I appreciate his direct and humble style in preaching. There is no theatrics but rather a humble sharing in a straight forward way. He mentioned that even though we may feel unworthy to approach God at times, we shouldn't hold on to that opinion. After all, God thinks differently about it. He sent His Son so we could commune with Him.

I liked how at the end of the service, we leave we go up to Fr. Gary, who gives us a piece of blessed bread.  Because people have been fasting all day, I am sure they appreciate it. After service, I actually stayed for the agape meal. I didn't eat anything, though, because I had eaten dinner already. I had a very good cup of coffee (without milk, of course) which Tammy had made. She confessed that it was half regular/ half decaf and she said she scooted out of the service at a particular time just to plug in the coffee pot. If she had put the coffee on before the service, the coffee would have been overdone. As it was, I am glad she took the trouble. I love a good cup of coffee.

I had a conversation with Jack Hayford about something that has been troubling me lately about praying for the departed but I'll save that for a separate blog post. I do appreciate Reader Jack taking the time to talk to me before the Agape meal, considering he must have been very hungry.

I hope to make it to another presanctified liturgy again before Great Lent is over. The problem with me going is that the service is very long and I don't like to keep my son waiting for me to pick him up. I feel it's unfair to him. He took off last night.

But I"ll tell you, going to a pre-sanctified Liturgy is worth the trouble!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Under-dressed and feeling out of place on Visit number 94.

Model railroad hobo
Feeling like a Hobo last night at Church!
photo by Sean Lamb, used under the creative commons license.
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Did you ever walk into a place and think, "Man, what am I doing here?" That's exactly how I felt last night when I went for what I thought was going to be an Akathist as scheduled on the parish calendar. Well, I forgot that Fr. Gary sent out an email telling us of a member of the parish falling asleep in the Lord and last night was the burial service for her.

I usually like to dress nicely for Vespers and all services of the Church but yesterday was a bit hectic. Since I've seen some people attend with jeans and sneakers in the past, I just contented myself with a nice shirt. And usually, during Vespers, the lights in the nave are very low so I don't feel like I am on display.   It turns out as I walk in Fr. Gary is saying some prayers over a casket and there are a bunch of people I don't know.  I sneak in quietly in the back and that's when I remember the email.  I saw immediately that I was under-dressed but I decided to stay if only to assist the newly departed by my prayers, feeble as they are.

I did recognize a few of the Vespers regulars and was touched by the devotion of one of them (the grandmother I mentioned last post) for she solemnly crossed herself at every opportunity and seemed to be in deep prayer.  Seeing her devotion, helped me forget about how I was dressed and join in the prayers myself.  There were three priests there. Fr. Gary, Fr. Sergieos and another priest whom I did not know and he chanted in a higher tone, tenor I think and it was nice.  Reader John was there and I have always been impressed how he would chant Psalm 50 (51) straight from memory! He did that last night, of course.  I also loved how during the prayers of the priests, the choir sang alleluia  not as a refrain but as background music.  It truly was beautiful.

Reader John read from the letter of Paul to the Thessalonians where we are urged not to mourn for those who die as the world mourns.  And, that sad joy that Paul talked about was very evident last night.  There is nothing but Hope for those whose Hope is in the Lord!

At the homily,  Fr. Gary told us how the newly departed  taught us by her departure to trust in the Lord.  He said it was ironic that her death (or any Christians death, really) is a testament of life for that is what we have in Christ.

I hightailed it out of there right after the homily.  Yes, I stayed to pray for the departed but I still think it was a bit disrespectful for me to show up dresses as I was so I had no intention of staying for the "coffee and cake" I noticed was set up in the parish hall. I wonder, how much "service" was left after the homily? Did I miss much?   Next time, I go to Church, I am going to make sure I am dressed up.

May God grant rest to Olga Romanofsky and may her memory be eternal!

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

More of the Same and That's Okay with me!

Same Old, Same Old
It may be the "Same old, Same Old" at Vespers but it sure ain't Boring
photo by Tim Cummins, used under the creative commons license
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Saturday night marked the 93rd time I worshiped at my Orthodox Parish.  What a right thing to do, to just spend time praying the Psalms, chanting the Hymns and focusing my attention upon the Holy Trinity! Worshiping at Vespers is something I may not always want to do at the time but when I set my heart to do it, I am always glad I did. And isn't that why people were put on this earth, to commune with God? So I am glad that after all this time, I have not "dropped out" of going to Vespers, even though my life would be so much easier in many ways if I just perused "The Protestant Path."

One delightful thing I did notice at Vespers....If you remember, I once wrote about how a grandmother kept making the sign of the cross on her grandson. You can read about it here. Well, She was back and right before Vespers began I saw her pointing to the ceiling at each corner , as she held her grandson in her arms, saying, "Matthew, Mark, Luke and John." Yes she was teaching her grandson about the Four Evangelists. How wonderful that Icons can be used to teach the little ones! Later on, the toddler was asleep on the chairs. One good thing about the Orthodox, since we stand so much for worship, the grandmother wasn't using the chairs anyway!

This Friday, I hope to make it to the Akathist and I'll, of course, blog about it!

I hope everyone is having a blessed Lent. I have tried to increase my "spiritual activities" and have been making good use of the chotki that Fr Ken gave me when he was just a lowly deacon. :)  He gave that to me back in August of 2010, over two years ago and I am only now using it pretty consistently. Better late than never, eh? Here is where you can read about that!

See you next time and thanks for reading!