Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Ascension

Thank the Lord, I didn't have A.D.D. this Thursday
As I arrived to the Church to attend my 138th Divine Service, I was greeted by Tami with the triple kiss on the cheek and a Christ is Risen. She then remarked how this would be the last time we use this greeting until next Pascha. I asked her what is the appropriate greeting for Ascension. Tami remarked how, at her other parish up north, they would say something like Hold High the Feast which was taken from the Paschal homily of St. John Chrysostom. As far as Tami knew, there was nothing official, though, for the Ascension.

I meditated on the fact that Christ is Risen would be used for the last time as Fr. Gary incensed the Icon in the middle of the Nave and then removed it. I knew that later the Icon of the Ascension would be placed in the middle. In the meantime, as Fr. Gary led us in Christ is Risen, I for the last time this season, I paid careful attention and tried to let the fact of the Resurrection, enliven my soul.  I looked up at the twelve Major Icons on the Iconostasis and saw Icon of St. Demetrius was in place of the Icon of the Ascension, which would soon be brought out for veneration.  I remembered how Tami said that St. Demetrius "galloped across the Nave," as each Feast came upon us. You can read more about that here.

The choir was very good tonight.  Reader Tim who usually leads was not there and his second in command, Daria recently moved so there was someone else leading and she did an excellent job with the small group she had there. Yes, only five voices in the choir, including Deacon Alexander, yet they sounded great. I did notice as the lady was leading when we came to the point where we chant  Lord have Mercy, twelve times that she counted each one off on her fingers, except when she came to the last three. At that point, she crossed herself and then made a profound bow.  This just reinforces to me how, in Orthodoxy, it is not about performance but rather, it is all about worship.  It really blessed me to see this act of piety.

Fr. Gary's homily was very good and, of course the subject was the Ascension.  He was very passionate about how this was an important feast. "I'm not judging but the Church should be full," he said and there was not anger in his voice but, instead, disappointment. He knew that this feast is indeed important and he hurt on behalf of his people that they were missing out on something important.

After we partook of the Litya, we were dismissed. Before I left, Deacon Alexander came over to me and said it was good to see me and that he enjoyed my posts on line.  He went on to say how he doesn't really get a chance to see me since most of the time, he is serving at the altar. "If you ever want to talk, just let me know," was his invitation to me and I was grateful to receive it.  Yes, I told him, I would be willing to talk sometime.  It always nice to have a clergyman who is willing to talk with you.

I was glad I went tonight and the fact is I almost didn't.  Around an hour before I was supposed to leave, I got suddenly very tired and wanted to stay home and go to bed. After all, wake up time for me is 230am. But I am glad I went because celebrating the Ascension was a special time. I am happy that, as Jesus left this Earth to rejoin His Father in heaven, that He promised to come back again.

Maranatha, Come, Lord Jesus!

Hold high the Feast!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Visit #137 - In This Sign, Conquer; Discovering the Power of the Cross at Vespers

Going to Vespers last Tuesday was a blessing.  Even though I had just been on Saturday, it didn't seem like I was "overdoing it." Fr. Gary, in his homily, remarked on how we were celebrating the mid-feast of Pentecost. We were also commemorating St. Constantine and his mother St. Helen.  Constantine was famous for conquering his enemies with the sign of the Cross, which Christ revealed to him.  His mother was credited to finding the True Cross in Jerusalem and building many Churches in the Holy Land.  So mid-Pentecost, which comes in the middle of the Paschal season, draws us back to the Cross. It is just like the third Sunday of Lent- which is the Veneration of the Holy Cross- and comes right in the middle of Lent.  So whether we are remembering our repentance in Lent or celebrating Christ's Victory over death in Pascha, the Cross is right there in the middle, reminding us of Christ's work and our own duty to pick up our own cross and follow Him.  May God gave me the strength to pick up my cross and follow in all seasons of my life.

Christ is Risen!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Visit #136 ~ Loving Them Psalms!!!

What we sang at Vespers
Listen Here:

There are plenty of "catchy" and even reverent songs out there in the protestant world which are intended to glorify God.  I am sure God looks at the heart of each worshiper and receives their sincere praise. But what is great about Orthodoxy is their number one Hymnal is the Book of Psalms. Now, in my younger years, I was not a fan of the psalms. Nothing against Hebrew poetry but I just preferred the"catchy" tunes to the Psalter but thank God in Orthodoxy I have learned to appreciate the Psalms and now understand why the Church has directed its use in Worship.

Last night at Vespers my mind was troubled about some situations in my life but my mind was drawn back into worship as the choir sang Psalm 140 (that would be Psalm 141 for those of you using the protestant bible.) We sang:
Lord, I call upon You, hear me. Hear me, O Lord!
Lord, I call upon You, hear me; receive the voice of my prayer when I call upon You.
Hear me, O Lord.
Let my prayer arise in Your sight as incense and let the lifting up of my hands be an evening sacrifice
The words of the Psalter touched me in a way that no "catchy" hymn ever did and I can say that I was not just singing along. Rather, I was praying the Psalm.  I was able to identify with David's longing for God and his desperation which God alone could solve. The prayer of David became my prayer and for that I am grateful.

There are so many treasures in Orthodoxy. May my life be spent searching for them.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Visit #135 - Enjoying the Troubled Waters at Divine Liturgy!

 photo 32e0d9c0-16ba-4753-8752-c3089287dbc4_zpsd1fc606f.jpg
No need to wait for the Waters to be Troubled!
Christ is in our Midst, offering His Healing!
One great thing about attending Divine Liturgy after having gone to Vespers the night before is that I get to experience the theme of the weekend. Fr. Gary gave a hint of the Gospel reading the night before at Vespers but today, during Diving Liturgy, we got a full explanation of the story of the lame man healed by the troubled waters.  The Church has so much to offer if we avail ourselves of her treasures.

As I said in the last post, I had decided to go to Divine Liturgy today because I usually go to my protestant parish with my wife but she was out of town visiting our daughter.  I arrived a few minutes before 10am and Reader John was standing praying the hours.  The faithful were sitting, some were chatting with each other (I guess they should have done that in the narthex) and there seemed to be a spirit of real joy. People were wishing each other a Happy Mother's Day and I could sense a real love among these people.  They shall know you are My Disciples by your love, so says our Lord.  

I took a seat in the back and an older lady sat next to me. She was very pleasant and, from time to time, she would say something, in a low voice so no one else could hear, to the women next to her.  She seemed very happy to be in the Church, surrounded by the people she loved.  At one point, she stood up, along with everyone else, and almost fell. The lady next to her and myself helped steady her.  She smiled at me and laughed at her own clumsiness.  I like people who can laugh at themselves and don't take themselves too seriously.  Such humility is Kingdom worthy! At one point, the lady leans into me as asks, Do you sing in the choir? as she pointed to the loft above us where the choir was singing.  I said, no and she returned with Well, you should.  I smiled, shook my head and waved it off and we went back to singing. I guess I have a pleasant voice, certainly not solo worthy but good enough to be lost in a choir. I wonder, are non-Orthodox allowed to sing in the choir or is that just for the Faithful?

The homily was a more in-depth look at the Gospel reading which Fr. Gary touched upon in the Vesper's homily.  The man who waited for the waters to be troubled by the Angel hadn't expected to be healed in any other way, yet Jesus changed his way of thinking by healing him.  The homily went on for a little under 15 minutes yet I felt more feed by Fr. Gary's Gospel explanation than I would of felt from a longer sermon from any protestant, including my own protestant parish. No offense to my Pastor; he is a holy man who knows the Bible well but he doesn't have 2000 years of Holy Tradition to draw upon.

It is always a struggle for me to "pay attention" during Divine Services. My mind seems to want to race then. I guess I could blame the demons but the blame is more properly placed on my own undisciplined mind. As much of a struggle as it is, I do fight to stay focused upon God and, when I struggle through, I feel like I am participating in Worship with the Heavenly Hosts, both Saints and Angels. It's work but it's work worth doing.

Towards the end of communion, the lady next to me asked those around her if they were going up to receive. They said  no and she started walking towards the communion line and joked, It's free! As if that were the only reason she was going up to receive. I strongly suspect it meant much more to her than that! ☺ As she was progressing through the line, Daria came back and gave me some of the blessed bread and then immediately wished a Happy Mother's Day to the other ladies next to me. When my chatty neighbor returned to her seat she offered me some blessed bread, as well.  I took one and she said, Take more, so I did. Later on, my neighbor asked me if I were a visitor and I told her I was a protestant who usually just went to the Saturday night Vespers. I'm not sure she heard me but she smiled. 

After the service concluded, Fr. Gary made some announcements about the Ethnic Fair during the summer and a missions trip to Mexico.  Also, he read off a list of names of people whose birthdays were being celebrated and we sang Many Years! We also sang Many Years for Bishop Michael who was celebrating 4 years in the Episcopacy.  As is the custom, the Faithful lined up to venerate the Cross before they left for the day. Two lines formed. One side of the Nave where Fr. Gary held a Cross to venerate and on the other side, Fr. Sergious, the retired priest who is assigned to our parish. I was in Fr. Sergious's line.  Before I approached the Cross he was holding, I noticed that Tami was in the other line and she gave me a warm smile. It was now my turn to venerate the Cross.  Fr. Sergious declared Christ is Risen, and I replied with Truly, He is Risen and went to kiss his hand but he moved the cross up so I'd kiss it first.  Oh, yeah! That's right. You kiss the Cross first and then the Priest's hands.  I still feel like such a novice after all these years.  Fr. Sergious said he was very glad that I could come today and I can say that I agree with him.

I wanted to stay for coffee hour but I needed to jet out of there because I had dropped off my son at the protestant church and he needed a ride.  As I drove there I kept thinking that I really felt like I went to Church, a full feeling, where I participated in true worship.  I know they try at my protestant parish but, really, it is not the same.  I am glad I went today.

Your prayers, my brothers and  sisters...

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Vespers ~ Visit #134 ~ The Show must Go On!

A small audience, no problem in Orthodoxy
photo by Simon Webster, under the Creative commons licence
check out more work at:

So I walk I get out of the car in the Church parking lot and I see nicely dressed people just leaving Church. Now, I know I am not late for Vespers but then I remember that Father Gary sent out a mass email stating that  there was to be a special service for one of the newly departed Faithful. As I remember it, it was supposed to start an hour before Vespers.

I walked into the Nave with only one minute left till 7pm. The place looked virtually empty. There was Reader John, some other man I didn't know and the choir director in his usual place without a choir. Yet, at precisely 7pm, Fr Gary opened the Royal doors and began with "Blessed is the Kingdom," I thought, where is everybody? After Fr. Gary finished chanting, the choir director alone responded. There seemed to be no one here but the show must go on, as the saying goes. Christ said, "Where ever two or three are gathered in my Name, there am I in the midst," and that reminded me what we were doing. We were NOT doing a show, that we could delay in the hopes of more people arriving in the audience. No, we were gathered to worship the Holy Trinity and the Audience wasn't in the Nave; the Audience is God!

Protestant churches would cancel services so poorly attended saying, rationally, that the service obviously wasn't meeting the people's needs because the people were not showing up.  But in Holy Orthodoxy, the focus is different. The Divine Services, instituted by the Church, aren't designed to be seeker friendly. Instead, it is all God-centered,  I quickly made sure that I added my voice to the choir directors and I also heard Reader John lend his.  I am happy to say, that minutes later, the choir grew by a few people and some other people joined in the Nave.  We were still a small group but not as much as when we began.

Fr. Gary's homily was excellent. Short and sweet. I didn't treasure it because it was short but rather because, after an illustration from his own life, he dived right into the Gospel Lesson.  It was about the paralytic who had no one to move him into the healing waters so, instead Christ healed him.  The invalid was asked a direct question by Christ- Do you want to be healed? - and he really didn't answer the question. Instead, the man went into excuses as to how it really was impossible for him to get healed because every time the water was troubled by the angel someone else got there first. To him, it seemed hopeless. Jesus healed him anyway.

Also, in his short homily, Fr Gary brought up a point that I had never considered before in my life regarding this passage. Keep in mind, that I have been familiar with this story since I was 16 years old (I am now 53) and I have read it numerous times. Fr Gary commented that as Jesus encountered the now healed man in the temple, He admonished him to Sin no more, less something worse happen to you. I had always thought, reading that, that Jesus meant that sinning would result in a worse aliment than just being lame- and I wouldn't be surprised if I heard a sermon or two saying that- but Fr Gary pointed out that Jesus meant the something worse would be that man being shut out of the Kingdom of God.  Sin will always leave us on the outs when it comes to the Kingdom.  Leave it to Holy Orthodoxy to teach me something new, even at my age!

Good news! It is now Sunday morning and today I plan on attending Divine Liturgy instead of my protestant church. My wife is visiting my daughter out of town and, since I really only attend my protestant parish because of her, I decided to go Eastern Orthodox today! I, of course, will blog about it soon!

Christ is Risen!