Sunday, May 26, 2013

Looking for that Eternal Moment!

photo by Flickr user, Newtown Graffiti, used under the creative commons license
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As I arrived at Vespers for my 103rd visit to my Orthodox Parish, the words of Fr. Evan of Orthodoxy Live came to mind. He explained that there are times in our life where we seem to be outside of time. That is, we are hanging with friends and then we look up at the clock and can't believe that three hours has gone by.  He said this to explain what it is like for God who is outside of time. He also said we sometimes experience this in Worship.  I don't know if I have experienced this in worship; well, maybe a little. There have been time when I've been at Vespers that I've been very aware of the communion of Saints and felt a part of something bigger than myself. Perhaps that is what Fr Evan is talking about.

I know it's a bad idea to attend worship and look for experiences. If I wanted to do that, I should have stayed a Pentacostal.  But I do want to actually worship God, in Spirit and in Truth and being part of an eternal moment would, I believe, help rid me of the distractions that constantly bombard my mind as I sing hymns during Vespers.  I guess it's all about preparation, when possible. On my way to Vespers, I usually spend the 30 minute drive listening to podcasts form Ancient Faith Radio or some Orthodox Hymns.  Last night, however, I listened to Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Neil Diamond -not exactly theologically correct, although the music is soothing.

Fr Gary, in his homily, made reference to Pope Francis' statement that Christ died for Atheists. This statement by the pope caused a lot of stir in the news but Fr. Gary said, probably, Pope Francis was taking the same view as the Orthodox, that Christ died for everyone even though not all will accept. Jim Martin wasn't there last night, although I did see Tiffany and Ben. Tiffany remarked, "I've been seeing you all over the place." That is true. We ran into each other at Surf Taco a couple of weeks back and I saw Tiffany and Ben in Walmart last week.

Next Saturday I will not be at Vespers because my wife and I are driving south to my daughter's college graduation.  So, who is the patron Saint of traveling so I can ask for prayers? ☺

Friday, May 24, 2013

Cool Video!

  St. Innocent Orthodox Church, Macon, Georgia, USA from Ted Liedle on Vimeo.

My facebook friend, John Henson who is also a Catechism teacher, shared this video and I shared it on my facebook status. What I love about this parish in the video (which is in Macon, Georgia) is it is so very similar to my own parish in New Jersey. It's all about Worshiping the Trinity! Gotta love Orthodoxy!

Here is the status I put when I shared this video on Facebook:

As many of you know, I usually go to an Orthodox Church on Saturday nights (for the Vespers service). This video, which is of a parish down in Georgia, shows the same beauty, simplicity, depth, fullness, humility and Christ-centeredness that I experience when I worship on Saturday evenings. :)

Sunday, May 19, 2013

So you were Twenty minutes late because....?

Gas purchased
Happy, even though they ran out of gas; same as the couple who ran out last night!
photo by Greg Andrews, used under the creative commons license.
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You might think that only catching half of Vespers is a good reason to stay home but I decided that I should go anyway. (Yes that means I count last night's visit as 102 times in my parish and not 101 1/2.)☺  This is my wife's Birthday weekend or, rather, the weekend before her birthday. In the past, when she had no job, we'd just go out on her birthday but now with her working it is a little more difficult. So my plan was to do something with Karen last night but she was tired and said "Go to Vespers." By the time all of that was decided, it would have put me ten minutes late.  Then it turns out, there is traffic on a main road due to a stalled car. I passed by that car just as a couple was pouring gas into the gas tank from a gas can. They were laughing and taking their predicament in stride. It's hard to be mad at people for making you even more late to Vespers when they are so joyful about their own trials.  In the old days, when I was a Pentacostal, I would have just blamed the devil.  Now, I don't know, it's just one of those things.

I am glad I went.  Worshiping is always a good thing to do. I stood in the back and located (finally) where the St. Mary of Egypt Icon was. I had read on the Church website that St. Mary of Egypt was one of the Saints that was recently added to the Nave but I hadn't been able to locate her. I love St. Mary of Egypt, only because she seems so American. I mean, she was a hedonist for the first half of her life.

I had with me a DVD on the life of St. John of San Francisco  He also is a favorite of mine.  The Russian Orthodox podcast sent it to me as a "prize" and I am so grateful to them for it. Check out their podcast here. What a holy man he was and it was so cool to see photographs of a real live Saint! God truly is glorified in His Saints and I can't understand how anyone would think that they detract from His Glory.  Everything about the life of St. John points to Christ and I was truly blessed by watching the DVD. So I brought the DVD with me to see if Tammy wanted to borrow it. It turns out she already owns it and said, next week, she would lend me a book about him.  After little chat, Tammy brought back into the Nave and pointed out St. John's Icon. She pointed out that it said, St.. John of Shanghai  which, of course, is accurate but she had wished the iconographer had put San Francisco instead.  "But, he was Russian," Tammy noted, "He probably didn't realize." Thank you Fiona and Terrance of the Russian Orthodox Podcast for your generosity! May God continue to use your ministry.

I did see Jim Martin along with Ben and Tiffany.  Recently, Karen and I ran into Ben and Tiffany at Surf Taco. It turns out that is a favorite haunt of theirs as well. Tiffany used to go to my protestant parish when she was a teen (her parents dragged her) and Karen hadn't seen her in about twenty years.  We all had a nice chat then.  When Tiffany introduced Ben, she joyfully commented, "He was just baptized " My wife replied that she had seen the pics on Facebook.  Gotta love social media!

So although I recommend everyone show up on time for services, I say, it's better to come twenty minutes late than to miss it altogether.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

101 visits; Not Dalmatians!

The Dalmation Family
not exactly 101
photo by Brian Timmermeister, used under the creative commons license.
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It was great to go to Vespers the Saturday after Pascha! Although, I love the solemnity of Great Lent, nothing tops the joy of the resurrection. Fr. Gary, I must admit, looked a bit tired but I understand that Great Lent is hard on a priest, not to mention the services of bright week.  But he was full of joy. After the service, I spoke to Tiffany and Ben and asked, with a chuckle, "So, do you feel newly illumined?" Yes, came Tiffany's reply and look at Ben, he's like a blushing bride!!  That made me laugh.

I got to Vespers five minutes late because it was the eve of Mother's day and I wanted to go to the store so that I would have my wife's mother's day gifts all set up for when she came home from working all night. You can see the gifts here.  But, even though I was late, I was able to get right into the spirit of things. The Psalms have a way of putting me in the right place. It didn't always used to be that way but Orthodoxy has taught me to acquire some different tastes. I am glad of it; It will get me ready for heaven where stuff like this happens all the time! ☺ 

One thing I really like about worship is it's orderliness  This is done for God so we want things to be right, even in the little things. For example, Fr Gary only had one server with him last night so when the time came for him to process during the great entrance, the server went before with the candle and Fr Gary had his incense. So who is going to close the door of the iconostasis? Well, it was arranged that Tom would do that. He quietly went to the door before it opened and shut it after Fr Gary passed through. A small thing, I know and it would have been no great tragedy had it just remained opened during the short procession yet since all of this is done for the Lord, why not do our best? And that is exactly what "right worship" in Orthodoxy is all about!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Christ is Risen! Pascha Vigil makes this my 100th time at this Parish!

Fr Gary proclaims, Christ is Risen!
Yes, I went home after the liturgy in the morning and took a nap! I was glad I did so that I could be awake for the Pascha Vigil! I loved that I got to sit next to Jim Martin (or Patrick, as he is now named.) In fact, sitting next to him at around 1130pm and chatting a little bit, I learned something. Someone was reading from the book of Acts but what Jim told me was that they have "Grave watch" in which, from Friday night on, people come into the Church and "stand watch" by reading from the Scriptures. I hadn't realized that!

Jim had a candle in his hand waiting for the time Fr. Gary brings out the light. It turns out though that the newly illumined was called upon to process with the Icons so Jim, Tiffany and Ben didn't get to hold candles as we marched around the outside of the Church three times.  It was much windier last year and candles didn't last but three seconds but this year I actually made it around three times with my candle still lit. I did have to cup my hand over it though because there was a slight breeze. When we were done and Fr Gary was in front of the front door, I noticed that some of the faithful needed a light so I offered my candle. Well, one girl accidently  put my flame out and said, "Oh, I'm so sorry!" but I just chuckled. ☺My phone doesn't take the best pictures so Fr. Gary looks all a blur in the front door but it kind of looks cool. I mean, he is all white, an almost angelic figure, proclaiming that Christ is Risen!  I love how the bells chime as we make our third trip around the Church and this is the first time I noticed all four bell ringers had ear protection. I guess that makes sense. The bells are louder than a rock concert, no doubt. I wonder if the neighbors mind?

When we came back into the Church some ushers collected our now extinguished candles. I did notice how during the entire service, there was one girl who had her candle lit. She kept leaving the nave for the narthex. I think it was to get another candle because her short candle was lit for the entire two and a half hours! I guess some people like their candles.

The service was beautiful and I thoroughly enjoyed it although I must say that some of the admonishments I heard in sermons on Ancient Faith Radio rang true. You see, all during Great Lent I heard sermons on how we should keep the fast in order to make the Pascha Celebration more meaningful. Even though I am not even a catechumen, let alone Orthodox, last year I did some form of fasting and last year's Pascha celebration was truly inspirational. This year, I confess, I didn't even try and I "felt" the difference.  I'm not saying I was depressed or anything - How can anyone be depressed when all I see are joyous faces proclaiming Christ is Risen- how can I be depressed when, with great joy, I saw three of my friends partake of the Eucharist along with the rest of the Faithful? Yet, I could tell the difference- I wasn't as prepared as I should be. 

This Pascha celebration marks the 100th time I attended an Orthodox Service I have to wonder, which number service will be the one in which I am a received as a catechumen?  I ask for your prayers regarding that.

Christ is Risen; Indeed, He is Risen! 

Saturday, May 4, 2013

God's blessings on the Newly illumined Herman, Patrick and Anastasia!

Jim and Tiffany with Fr. Gary
Yes, it was a very long service this morning. We started at 10am and I didn't leave until 1:17pm.  But that's okay because we had a lot to do today!  Ben received the Sacrament of Baptism and Jim Martin and his daughter Tiffany both were Christmated! It was  a beautiful morning!  I arrived early and sat (stood) in the back. Matushka Mary came to me and, with a big smile said, it was because of my faithfulness in coming to this Church and my blog that brought these three into the Church. I said, I was happy about that.  And I truly am.

We began the service with Ben,dressed in white, in the doorway of the Nave. He is a quiet man but he had a really loud, booming voice as he proclaimed his commitment to Christ, his renunciation of Satan and his recitation of the Creed. Because of where I was situated, I didn't get to see him spit at Satan (and I couldn't really hear it either) but you have to love a Church that literally spits on Satan! When it came time for his baptism, we moved outdoors.  Tammy said that they were boiling water in the morning so the water would be bearable for Ben who took the name Herman as his patron.  Later on, when he was processing with Jim and Tiffany, he had a big smile on his face. It was a joy to see!

Ben in the Waters of Baptism!
Later on Jim and Tiffany (or Patrick and Anastasia) stood to receive the oil of Chrism.  I actually sat behind Jim Martin in the very beginning of the service and as I glanced down, I noticed he wasn't wearing any socks. I thought, "how odd" and then I remembered that his feet would be anointed with oil as well. I guess he just wanted to make it easier. It would slow down the service a bit if we had to wait for Jim to take off his socks.
Anointing of Oil!

There were a ton of Scripture readings. At first, I struggled to listen but then I settled in and did what Fr. Gary said: "Let us attend!" I especially liked the story of Jonah and the story of Elisha raising the child from the dead.  So I didn't mind all the readings. In fact, I didn't mind the length of the service. Why? Because I wasn't there to be entertained (I wouldn't want to sit through 3 and half hours at a movie) but I was there to do the "work of the people," I was there to worship!

I so loved watching my friends take the Eucharist for the first time.  I even got a little choked up! Afterwards, Tiffany made her way back to me and handed me a piece of blessed bread. I was happy about that. Later on, Jim Martin came by too with a piece of blessed bread, gave me a bear hug and said, "Here, have two" So I ate two pieces. He then asked, "How long you always going to be a bridesmaid?" "But never the bride," I finished in my mind. And later on,   I went to congratulate Ben and he said, "Maybe next Pascha, it'll be you!"

Who know? He might be right.

Post Script: I fully intended to go to service on Friday night but a family commitment prevented me. So that makes this morning's visit number 99 which means that tonight, at the Pascha Vigil, It will be visit number 100!  Can't wait to tell you all about it.

I better go rest up now; it'll be a long night!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Bridegroom Matins, AT NIGHT or "Why are we praying, 'let us complete our morning prayers unto the Lord' at Eight O'clock in the Evening?"☺

1-2-3... JUMP!
A reason to rejoice; Looking  for the Bridegroom!
photo by Tina Vega, used under the creative commons licesne
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 My first Bridegroom Matins; Quite Nice! The only thing I am confused about is why are we doing a morning service at 7pm? Couldn't we be doing a Bridegroom Vespers? I guess such a service does not exist I am not complaining, though, because the service was beautiful. The hymnody, especially in contrasting Judas with the sinful women who anointed Jesus for His burial, was absolutely beautiful! The sinful women, cognizant of her sins, repented. Judas, in his pride and greed, did not. One met forgiveness; the other, death!

I was impressed with the flow of the service and I noticed how Orthodox worship is not about sitting around watching what the people in the front do.  We all have our parts. There were several readers last night who traded off on the different Psalms. With one exception, each "hand off' was flawlessly done. All these reading s took place while Father Gary was behind the Royal doors. To a Protestant, this would be really weird because, to them, there should always be someone in full view of the people, leading.  Yes, Father Gary, leads us in worship yet he expects us to do our part.  I was especially impressed on how this is "work" for Fr. Gary. I mean, we are all chanting a Psalm and he is about the place, incensing icons.  But it is work for us, too. I felt like I was fully participating in worship.  In my protestant parish, it's not as easy.

When I first came in, I found no service book to follow. So I took my place among the faithful and was all set to just pay really close attention.  But, the ever helpful Tammy, showed up with a book and handed it to me. Thanks, Tammy; that makes things easier! After the service, I chatted with Tammy a bit and I asked her about taking pictures during the baptism/chrismation. She said, as long as the camera didn't have any obnoxious lights or loud clicking, it should be fine. I asked her how Ben felt about being baptized because I really don't talk to him much. She said he was very excited and asking a lot of questions about the logistics of the thing.  I am really looking forward to this Saturday.

Before I chatted with Tammy, I asked Tom, who, by the way used to me a captain in the military, how long the service should last on Friday. He said, "about an hour" and the fellow next to him scoffed, "What service in this Church only lasts an hour?" I had to laugh! I guess to Tom, the services are so good they just seem to fly on by!

I asked how long it was because I wanted to attend but I don't like to keep my son waiting too long at work since he has to wait for me to pick him up. I guess I'll tell him to bring an extra book to read. It is Great and Holy Friday after all.

This Bridegroom Matins marks my 98th time  at a service at this Orthodox Parish.  If I go to Lamentations (as it's called) this Friday then on Saturday, when I see my first Orthodox Baptism, it will be visit 100! I thank God, that even though I am not Orthodox (yet), I still kept up with going to these services, despite the fact it would be so much easier in my life if I should remained a happy protestant.  Yet, I don't think I can remain one much longer; I hear the Bridegroom calling!