Sunday, June 29, 2014

Peter and Paul ~ Great Apostles; Not two-thirds of a 1960's Folk Music Group!

My 141st Visit to my Orthodox Parish was a blessing.  I arrived early and was able to venerate the Icons before Vespers began. I know that most people who arrive a few minutes late to the Service, still venerate the Icons before they take their place among the Faithful but I was never really comfortable with that idea. I guess wants Fr. Gary starts the Service, I would feel too self-conscience to venerate the Icons while he is leading us in the Prayers. Someday, I hope to overcome that, People who are venerating Icons and, in a sense, saying Hello to the Saints and that seems proper to do.

As I sat down waiting for the service began, Tami made her way over to me and said, "I'm not much for Facebook, I'd rather just see the face!" I laughed, knowing my friend was not much for computer stuff. You see, I had checked a box on my LinkedIn account that sent out an invite to everyone in my email address book and Tami responded to the email asking what it was all about. I told her that LinkedIn was like Facebook, a sort of  social media for job seekers.  Tami, however, is not one for social media. She'd much rather sit down over a cup of coffee and talk to friends in person. There is something to be said for that!

Today was the celebration of the Feast of St. Peter and Paul.  All during the hymns, I was able to look at their Icon, both in the center of the Nave and at the larger Icon on the Iconostasis. The choir reminded us of their work and how by their preaching, the Gospel spread.  Fr. Gary's homily echoed this theme.  That very afternoon was a Church Growth Conference at St. Peter and Paul Church in South River, NJ. How fitting that Church growth should be discussed at the parish whose patron's were great evangelizers. Fr. Gary read a couple of passages from the book of Acts which described how the Church grew by the thousands.  He said, today, it seems like the world doesn't want to hear the Message because there are no mass conversions as recorded in Acts. Yet, it is our responsibility to preach that Message. The world needs to hear it! Fr. Gary was very passionate in his homily and you could tell that he really believed what he was saying.  I had to fight off the urge to yell Amen!, squashing down my Pentecostal roots!

At the end of the service, Tami came over to me and said how she was really looking forward to her brother's birthday. You see, along with the rest of the Church, she had participated in the Apostle's Fast and was eagerly looking forward to meat! I smiled saying that she should make sure she had some prime rib. Tami said, she'd settle for a hamburger.

I was pleased that Fr. Ken was in attendance.He stood among the Faithful and did not serve in the Altar this evening.  Every since he was ordained a Priest, I don't see him much. Talking to him after the service, he said he had spent a lot of time doing yard work and it was nice to come to Church this evening, just to pray. We chatted a bit a more and he finished up our conversation by saying, "Having heard Fr. Gary's message, it's time to GET ON BOARD!" Fr. Ken punctuated the last three words with friendly pokes to my chest.

GET ON BOARD! Yes, it sounds great!

Remember me in your prayers!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Enemies are our Cruel Friends!

St. Nikolai of Orchid
Love this prayer by Nikolai of Ochrid...such profound wisdom

"Lord, Bless My Enemies" (Nikolai of Ochrid)

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them. Enemies have driven me into Thy embrace more than friends have. Friends have bound me to earth, enemies have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world.

Enemies have made me a stranger in worldly realms. Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an unhunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by enemies, found the safest sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath Thy tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

They, rather than I, have confessed my sins before the world.
They have punished me, whenever I have hesitated to punish myself.
They have tormented me, whenever I have tried to flee torments.
They have scolded me, whenever I have flattered myself.
They have spat upon me, whenever I have filled myself with arrogance.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Whenever I have made myself wise,
they have called me foolish.
Whenever I have made myself mighty,
they have mocked me as though I were a dwarf.
Whenever I have wanted to lead people,
they have shoved me into the background.
Whenever I have rushed to enrich myself,
they have prevented me with an iron hand.
Whenever I thought that I would sleep peacefully,
they have wakened me from sleep.
Whenever I have tried to build a home for a long and tranquil life,
they have demolished it and driven me out.

Truly, enemies have cut me loose from the world and have stretched out my hands to the hem of Thy garment.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Bless them and multiply them;
multiply them and make them even more bitterly against me:
so that my fleeing to Thee may have no return;
so that all hope in men may be scattered like cobwebs;
so that absolute serenity may begin to reign in my soul;
so that my heart may become the grave of my evil twins: arrogance and anger;
so that I might amass all my treasure in heaven;

Ah, so that I may for once be freed from self deception, which has entangled me in the dreadful web of illusory life. Enemies have taught me to know what hardly anyone knows, that a person has no enemies in the world except himself.

One hates his enemies only when he fails to realize that they are not enemies, but cruel friends. It is truly difficult for me to say who has done me more good and who has done me more evil in the world: friends or enemies.

Therefore bless, O Lord, both my friends and my enemies.

A slave curses enemies, for he does not understand.
But a son blesses them, for he understands.
For a son knows that his enemies cannot touch his life.
Therefore he freely steps among them and prays to God for them.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them. Amen

Sunday, June 15, 2014

When Calendar's Collide! All Saints runs into the Regular Calendar.

Yes, it's ALL SAINTS DAY and that was a wonderful way to spend my 140th visit to an Orthodox Church! I arrived  five minute late because I had to work overtime today and, after my much needed nap, I quickly cleaned the kitchen and off I went to Vespers.  I enjoyed the intentional solemnity of the Worship and I found my mind wandered less than it normally does.

Fr. Gary's homily was Good. He talked about how it might seem odd to commemorate ALL SAINTS and still mention some individual Saints (like Augustine of Hippo); Doesn't that seem redundant? He pointed out that is what happens when calendar's collide. You see, always in the liturgical calendar, the first Sunday after Pentecost is when we remember ALL SAINTS but we still have the regular calendar to follow which states that on June 15th, certain Saints are commemorated.  Not to worry, Fr Gary says though because we become inspired from the lives of these individual Saints and when we hear their stories we learn how to become holy ourselves. This is most certainly true. Like everyone, I have a few favorite Saints who inspire me and whose stories motivate me.

When The Saints Go Marching In!
Oh, When the Saints go Marching in!

As I delve more into Orthodoxy, I find a special place in my heart for the Theotokos. I must admit that was an issue for me at first as it is for most Evangelicals. I just couldn't comprehend why so much honor and attention was paid to her. But, hanging around Orthodoxy and participating in her services, I come to understand what all the fuss is about.  It's not something I can really explain well. I just "get it" and know the difference between bestowing honor and worship.

One thing that I did like in Fr. Gary's homily is he said he believes that the individual saints mentioned today would have been just as happy to just simply been lumped into ALL SAINTS. Such was their humility.  Their goal in life was not to become famous in the Church but rather just to be united with Christ.  They are happy, though, that their lives can inspire others to embrace Christ.

May the prayers of the Theotokos and all the Saints, lead us unto Christ! Amen!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Visit 139 ~ My own Personal Incense!

The Censor at our parish isn't quite as big

Fr. Gary did not serve Vespers last Saturday. Instead, Fr. Sergious, the retired priest, stepped in.  I don't know where Fr. Gary was but he is entitled to a few days off a year so I hope he was on vacation! I am glad to be part of a parish that does not "shut down," just because the regular priest isn't there.  God is worthy of praise all the time so I am glad that provision is made for that to continue.

One thing I noticed that Fr. Sergious did which Fr. Gary did not do, has to do with Incense.  As the choir sings the hymns, Fr. Gary incenses the Icons around the Nave, which means he has to walk around the outskirts and do that. All the while, we, the people, are in the middle. When Fr. Gary makes his way to the front, he then incenses the people. Well, when Fr.Sergious made the same rounds, as he walked passed the people standing "in the pews," he would turn and incense them. Since I was standing in my own row, it was like I got my own personal incense! Of course, when Fr. Sergious went to the front, he incensed the people again.

I was glad Fr. Sergious did that because it helped me remember that I am incensed because I am an Icon of Christ, made in the Image of God! That is a good thing to remember about myself and others. It will change the way you treat people if you remember that they are Icons of Christ!

I start working full-time for the TSA, instead of part-time. Thankfully, that won't effect my Vespers attendance.

See you next time!