Monday, April 28, 2014

Visit #133 ~ Seeing Open Doors during BRIGHT WEEK!

Normally, during Vespers, the Royal doors are closed and the lights are dimmed in the Nave. However, if, during the service, Fr Gary opens the Royal doors, then the Altar servers turn on the lights as the doors are opening. They have this down to an exact science and it is always a smooth transition. But during Bright Week, the lights were on constantly and all the doors were open! I guess that meant the Altar servers had less to do.:)

I love how in Orthodoxy, all the senses are engaged.  The Royal doors are there to remind us that, behind them, is the Holy of Holies, the very Presence of Christ and, as such, you don't just barge in there like He is some high school buddy.  No, Christ is the Almighty God and we approach Him with the proper awe and reverence that He deserves. Yet, He is not cut off from His people. Rather, He condescends to our level and even takes our flesh upon Himself.

But during Bright week, the Doors are open, showing us how Christ has conquered death and invites us to Life! I did sense the continued Joy of the Pascha Service during this Bright week Vespers and it was wonderful to experience.  I am looking forward to my next service! It is truly a blessing!

So, tell me, do all Orthodox Churches have open doors during Bright week or is that just a custom in some places? Let me know by your comments below.

Christ is Risen!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Pascha 2014 ~ The Feast of Feasts!

This Pascha marks my 132nd time at an Orthodox Service
What can I say? The Pascha Vigil was amazing, even though I did little to prepare for it spiritually and was like the worker who showed up at the last hour but was happily surprised to realize I received the same wages as those who labored diligently. Such is the graciousness of our Lord!

Walking into the service a bit late, I arrived in near total darkness, listening to Reader John chant a Psalm.  The choir chanted more hymns and then I heard the beautiful solo voice of the choir director, Reader Tim, chanting "Come Receive the Light from the Light," and Fr Gary opened the doors with his single candle. The nice effect was temporarily ruined by a mistake of a young altar server who flipped on the electric lights in the Nave but a quick glance Fr. Gary and it was dark again.  (I can understand why the boy made the mistake. It is always the practice of this parish that when Fr. Gary opens the Royal doors, the light goes on.)

Before long everyone's candle was lit and we all processed outside and began the thrice walk around of our Church.  I walked quietly as I heard the choir chant as we made away around the building.  The second time around, the bells began to ring and by the third time around, Fr Gary proclaimed from the front doors that Christ is Risen! We made our way into the Nave and the joy of the people was palpable. Everyone giving each other Pascha kisses and proclaiming that Christ is Risen! The ever-gracious Tami was happily surprised to see me there and gave me a warm greeting!

It was a great night which I wish everyone could experience. I was able to make a recording of the evening. The battery in the recorder died two hours into the three hour service but I was able to put together a 9 minute excerpt of the evening which includes bells, hymns, the the catechetical sermon of St. John Chrysostom..  At the end of the recording you can hear us chuckle a bit. Why, you ask? Well, as is the practice, Fr. Gary announced that Christ is Risen in different languages and he awaits the reply from Faithful Indeed, He is Risen.  When Fr. Gary announced the Resurrection in German, only one person could be heard enthusiastically replying and to me, forgive me, it sounded like I was watching a pep rally in an old World War II movie.  It was funny. Here is a link to the nine minute excerpt.

It was such a blessing to worship with Christ's Church and celebrate His glorious Resurrection.

In a couple of days, I will blog about my Bright Week Service. See you then!

Christ is Risen; He is Risen indeed! Alleluia.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Letting the Words of Scripture Wash over Me at the Holy Unction Service!

The Words of Sacred Scripture washed over me
at the Service of Holy Unction
The Service of Holy Unction which I attended last Wednesday marks the 131st time I attended a Service in my Orthodox parish and it was a marvelous blessing! Protestants talk a lot about the importance of the Bible, but in this particular Orthodox Service I heard more Scripture in one night than I have in six months in my Protestant parish.  It was great to stand there and let the Words fill my heart and mind. It felt as if the Words of Sacred Scripture were washing over me, as I stood among the Faithful.  It was truly a blessing that I find hard to put into words.  I think that the fact that the words are chanted instead of just read, help them connect to my soul. It becomes more than just an academic exercise of listening to the Bible. Instead, the Word of God Himself can touch me as much as my wayward heart will allow.

When I first arrived in the parking lot, I noticed a lot of cars. The last time I saw that many cars it was because an AA meeting was happening at the same time. I had mistakenly thought all of those cars were of worshipers. (You can read about it here) This time, though, it was worshipers and I was glad to see a full Church. I stood right behind Jim Martin and it was good to see him again.  We had an exchange on Facebook a few days back in which he remembered the show "Then Came Bronsen" He invited me over to watch some old episodes. I plan on giving him a call sometime after Pascha to set that up!

Fr Gary's homily was short yet right to the point! He said that while many will come up and receive the Holy Oil for healing of their body, that it is more important to have a healing of the soul. What good is it, he asked, if your body is whole, only to sin some more? I confess, I longed to receive some of that oil for myself, both for body and soul. My back has been hurting really bad and I had to sit several times during the service. I also wished I could receive the Oil for my soul's sake, but, alas, I am not (yet) Orthodox, although I pray for it almost daily.

I did notice a subtle difference in what Fr. Gary said after the Scripture Readings.  If someone had just chanted a lesson and was in a black robe (because they were a Reader,) he would say, The Lord bless you, reader but if the person was a simple layman, (or lay woman) he would say, The Lord bless you who have read.
It may be a small thing but I like how Orthodoxy wants to get things right.  If someone is not a Reader, they should not be called a Reader. Yet, they is room for all to participate in Worship. Liturgy, after all, is the work of the people.

I was a bit late arriving in Church because I had been in my protestant parish, filming a missions minute video.I timed it just right so that I could make the short video and then drive to the Orthodox Service but a stranger off the street walked into the protestant church and started asking questions about the bible studies, ect. Kathleen, (who does the videos) spent some extra time making her feel welcome and invited. That was nice but it made me late for Holy Unction! But I really couldn't complain. Perhaps that lady really needed to connect with my protestant church. I remembered the prayer attributed to St. Philaret...

.In unforseen events let me not forget that all are sent by You.

I certainly didn't want to "waste time" with this lady but I realized that this was one of the unforseen events that made up this very day. I prayed for patience.  Here, by the way, is one of the videos I make every week called Missions Minute.  Kathleen puts these scripts together and I just film and edit them. I do enjoy making them.

Well, it's late Saturday afternoon and after I wash the dishes and pick up my son from work, I plan to sleep till 10pm. Yes, tonight is the Pascha Vigil and I am looking forward to it! I hope all who read this blog are blessed as they celebrate the Risen Christ who, by His death has conquered death! Although, I have had a horrible lent in terms of any works of fasting and alms giving, I hope that tonight, God, in His mercy, will reveal the Risen Christ to me!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Visit #130 ~ How a bus will help me!

Public Transportation to the Rescue!
photo by Dennis Tsang, 
used under the creative commons license.
check out more photos here:

Last Wednesday night was the last evening pre-sanctified Liturgy of Great Lent in our parish.  I remember that last year I was able to make two them (You can read about that here and here ☺) and I wanted to make sure that I went at least twice this year as well.  There are two things that make my participation in Divine Services a bit challenging. First, with my new job I get up at 2 am and that means by 7 pm I am very sleepy and second, my son has a new job as well and his schedule was different as well. During the winter, I didn't want to make him wait for me in the cold to pick him up because he would get out of work exactly the same time the Service was starting. So I would forgo the services . But, because it was warm last Wednesday, I told my son that he would have to wait for me to finish with Church because I really wanted to attend. My son is "special needs" and some common everyday  activities are hard for him but to his credit, at 7pm he decided to walk to the bus stop and take a bus home.  He was home by 7:30pm! So, now, I will be able to attend Vespers more consistently, since he is okay with taking a bus.

Wednesday's Service was beautiful, as usual.  Fr Ken arrived a bit late but he joined Fr. Gary at the altar. It was nice to see him again.  Sadly, because I had to work the next day, I left just before communion- about the time St. Ephrem's Lenten prayer.  I like that prayer because it involves all those prostrations and nothing helps you advance in humility like falling face down on the ground!

Lent is almost over and I did an abysmal job of it.  Oh, well, there's always next year!

Have a blessed Holy week everyone!

Friday, April 4, 2014

One of my Favorite Saints, St. Mary of Egypt!

When I first heard the story of St. Mary of Egypt, I immediately took a liking to her.  It seems that she would have fit in so well with our modern, sex-crazed society. That makes her dramatic conversion all the more inspiring and gives me hope that, even though I live in a very sinful world, I can become holy.

So I was very happy that yesterday I was able to mark my 129th visit to my Orthodox parish as we did the Life of St. Mary of Egypt- The canon of St. Andrew. I arrived really early because I was already out and about and it didn't make sense for me to travel the 18 miles home, just to turn around and go back to Church.  Fr. Gary was there and greeted me. We talked a little bit and my job came up in conversation. I told him how I wake up at 2am to go to work and I could tell by the way he rolled his eyes that he wouldn't have liked those hours.

At first there was only two people in the choir so I tried to make sure I would lend my voice as well just to give the Church a more full sound.  Tami arrived a bit late and joined the choir and that helped the complete the choir, although, even with just two people, they were sounding pretty good.

My favorite part of the whole service was when Fr. Gary read the life of st Mary of Egypt by St. Sophronius although I have to admit I started to doze off because, usually by 730pm I am headed to bed but I was able to rally myself and when Fr. Gary read the second half, I was able to be more attentive.  Because I had arrived early to the service, I was able to stand in prayer in front of St. Mary of Egypt's Icon which seemed appropriate since she was the subject of last night's service.

I did have to leave early because I had to get some sleep and I would like to get more than five hours if possible. On my way out, I noticed Tami, who must have slipped out of the service to tend to something in the fellowship hall. She asked if I was leaving and I told her yes. She then gave me a hug good night and quickly joined in the service as I left.

As I drove home, I thought about my trip to the Church. I had passed a Byzantine Catholic Church  which had posted on their outside bulletin board the following message:  "Google the Life of St. Mary of Egypt." Now that is good advice. I hope people follow it. I also hope that people ask for her prayers, as I do, almost daily.

St. Mary of Egypt, pray unto God for us!