Monday, June 24, 2013

Getting Pentecostal!

Altar Call
Typical Pentecostal Worship ~ emotional, sincere and spontaneous
photo by Richard Masoner, used under the creative commons license.
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Saturday was the 106th time I was at an Orthodox Service - we celebrated the feast of Pentecost. I like how the Orthodox follow the Jewish tradition of the day starting the night before. So Vespers on Saturday night was the beginning of the Pentecost Feast.  For ten years, back when I was a young man, I was indeed a member of the Pentecostal church, specifically the Assemblies of God denomination. I am grateful for those years because it was there that I learned the Scriptures.  This knowledge makes Orthodox worship so much more fulfilling because, despite what anyone might say, Orthodoxy is chock full of the Bible. So the worship was very familiar to me from the beginning, if not in style at least in content.

Fr. Gary's homily was great. He talked about how since we have "been saved" it is our responsibility to tell others about Jesus.  I almost thought I was at an evangelical church to hear him use the phrase "being saved" and "preaching the Gospel" to others.  This is one of the hallmarks of evangelical Christianity but, of course, the Orthodox had it first.  I love Fr. Gary's homilies.   They are simple, short, humbly delivered and yet he always talks about Christ.  I don't have to listen to a bunch of stories to "get the point across." I have, in the past, listened to sermons from others who told memorable stories but I couldn't remember the Bible verse they were preaching about.  Fr. Gary manages to stay focused on Christ and how we can know Him better.

For some reason I started thinking about clocks. In protestant churches, there is usually a clock in the back of the church. This way, the preacher will know when to shut up.  Orthodoxy, I suppose doesn't care about clocks on the wall (at least in our parish- I don't know if other Orthodox Churches have clocks.) I guess Orthodox Churches have the same philosophy as casinos, which also have no clocks on the walls. Casinos want you to "get lost in gambling" and not worry about the outside world. For them, the more you lose yourself to gambling, the more money they make. For Orthodoxy, we are to "lay aside all earthly cares" and concentrate on worshiping the Life-giving Trinity.  Who cares what time it is? Even when the Orthodox are done they are not done. "Let us complete our evening prayer to the Lord," is followed by 20 more minutes of prayer. Hey, that's okay.  It's a good idea to get "lost in worship" and not worry about the time. It seems appropriate on the Feast of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit is given to the Church, that we only concern ourselves with Worship.  That's good practice for eternity.

Hope everyone had a blessed Feast day.  I did, even if it was only participation in the Vespers service.  We did have Litya and that is always special.  Matushka Mary joked with us,saying now that Jim Martin (now known as Patrick) is Orthodox, he doesn't need her to give him bread anymore so he doesn't talk to her.  I had to rush out of there to pick up my son from work. Hopefully, I will be able to attend Vespers on Friday which is for the feast of Peter and Paul. If so, I'll be sure to blog about it.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Up, Up and Away or How attending Divine Liturgy on Ascension Thursday is, well, uplifting!

Ascending to the Sky!!!
photo by flickr user, Bee Chalmers
All rights reserved, used with permission
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I intentionally did not go to Vespers Wednesday night so I could spend some time with my wife who is working a lot and whom I don't see as often as I used to. Wednesday was her day off and we had a nice time running errands together.  But, I was able to make it to Divine Liturgy on Thursday making that my 105th time at my Orthodox Parish.

I arrived early but I thought they had started early because instead of encountering silence, I heard reader John chanting a Psalm. Then, I realized that we were praying the hours before the Liturgy. One thing I love about Orthodox Worship is worship happens all the time. One service can run into the next service. That's a good thing because it will get me ready for heaven where worship happens all the time.

Fr. Gary's homily talked about how we, in Orthodoxy, are always talking about ascension. Whether it's Jesus rising to the heavens or we lifting up our hearts to the Lord, we have a desire within us to rise to the top. As kids, many of us climbed trees so we could look down upon everything.  Yes, when we lift our hearts to the Lord, we are raised with Him!

After communion, Daria handed me a piece of blessed bread which is a great custom to help those of us who are not Orthodox, feel included. After the service, I saw one of the choir members (She was college age and clearly the youngest worshiper of the day!) who asked me to move out of the way. I was blocking some table she wanted to go to. She went there and picked out some ziplock bags and put some of the blessed bread into them. How nice! I guess she was going to share some of that with some absent family members. Speaking of absent, I was sorry Tammy wasn't there. Reader John said, she was working.

Since Orthodox are supposed to fast before they partake of the Holy Mysteries, I guess they always like to have some food after the service. I was able to stay a little while and Fr. Gary sat down next to me. I filled him in on my schooling progress and my TSA application status and he talked a bit about his week. He said he was trying to move an adult study for a week night during the summer but his schedule was pretty full. He mentioned how he had attend a parish council meeting at a parish an hour's drive away. I said, Isn't it enough for you to attend your own parish councils? He joked that he was a Parish Council junkie. Now, that's funny.

Our conversation turned to why I haven't converted yet. I initiated that talk, not Fr. Gary. One thing I like about the Orthodox is they are NOT pushy when it comes to a person's spiritual journey. "Work out your own salvation, etc"  I told him I thought it would create a big riff between me and my wife and that I don't think such disunity would be good, considering we do attend church together, albeit, not Orthodox but, still, it is a Trinitarian church with no major heresies . Fr. Gary said, he always counsels people not to make that move to Orthodoxy if would damage a person's marriage like that.  In a previous conversation with me, he said, of course, I have to make sure my own salvation isn't "at risk." So, it turns out my caution is something Fr. Gary agrees with.  That's not to say, I should settle. I still constantly pray to be received into the Orthodox Church someday but, I don't think it's the right time yet.

Maybe some of you disagree with Fr. Gary. I'd like to hear what you have to say, if you'd like to comment below.

Thanks for reading and Happy Ascension day!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

104th Visit ~ and still loving it!

My daughter's art Work
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I missed Vespers last week because my wife and I were in Georgia watching my daughter graduate with honors from Savannah College of Art and Design.  It was great to see my daughter start down a path of doing something she loves!  Now, all she needs is a job.  If you know someone who needs artwork done, let me know. She majored in Sequential Arts which is just a fancy way of saying comic books. She is fantastic, as you can see from a sample of her work above.

Whenever I miss Vespers, it seems God is always gracious to me and allows me to quickly "get back into the swing of things" and I find I can easily enter into worship. I decided, when I walked into the nave, that I wasn't going to take a service book. After all, I know most of the responses already and the hymns that are specific for the day, I'll just pay close attention to.  Today, we learned about the blind man healed by Jesus and the hymns talked about how the disciples asked who sinned? so that this man was born blind. Of course, the reply is, it was all for the glory of God!

Father Gary gave his homily on the epistle reading, or, more accurately, the reading from the book of Acts. It was about the demon possessed girl who gave a great deal of profit for her handlers, as Father Gary called them. Of course, after St. Paul cast out the demon, she was not profitable to her owners anymore so the disciples were in trouble. Fr. Gary pointed out that it is important the motivation we have when worshiping God.  This demon possessed girl was saying correct things about Paul, that is, he was from God. Yet, the girl did not say it from a good motivation so Paul, annoyed by her, cast out the demon.  We must make sure that  we have the right attitutde when we worship Christ and not our own agenda. After all, many televangelists say glowing things about Jesus yet it is clear they have their own agenda at heart.

Next week, I will be going to a graduation party of  the son of a very close friend so I won't be at Vespers next Saturday either.

A bummer, but, don't worry, I'll be back! I promise!