I love this photo! It was posted on Interfax News last week and simply titled “Meeting of the Honorary Guest”. No story or information of any kind, just a photo of a dog that showed up at some fancy Russian church function. I can’t imagine a cat getting the kind of smiles this earnest, jovial looking dog gets from the assembled clergy (and I’m a cat lover!).
This reminds me of a story that I heard about my own parish. I first showed up at the mission parish of St. Anthony’s in August 1990 (and just never left!). St. Anthony’s had purchased the rundown, ramshackle historic church building in 1982; a building that our long-time priest affectionately said had all “the charm of a VFW hall”. You had to really be called by the Holy Spirit to find Orthodoxy in that building. Cracked, green linoleum floors, a dropped and drooping suspended tile ceiling (covering the 17 ft. high barrel ceiling hidden above), and floors that were not supported by the rotted pier and beam foundation. This was after the initial, bare bones conversion of the historic Alfred Giles church from its years of neglect and decline. The previous owners, a holy roller, pentecostal group, had even covered up the walls and windows with cheap, painted panelling.
Anyway, the story goes that one hot evening during Saturday Vespers, all the doors and windows of the church had been opened up to catch any slight, cooling breeze. Mind you, this building was so old that it did not have any air-conditioning or heating aside from a couple of window units and space heaters that could not possibly do the job. On this hot, South Texas evening, in walked a lanky, stray dog that casually sauntered into the nave, walked around to all the icon stands, then just as casually walked right back out the open door. It seemed so natural that no one either had the presence of mind to shoo out the dog or stop him from venerating the icons. He was respectful and well-behaved and just stopping by to pay a visit.
This past weekend’s festivities reminded me of this story and so many more. I spent the past three days attending St. Anthony’s 30th Anniversary Celebration. It was 30 years ago, in the month of September 1979, that the first organized Liturgy was celebrated by the core group that formed our parish. I’ve been privileged to witness the last 19 of those 30 years, and there’s no end of the stories we spent reminiscing about this weekend – funny, sad, maddening, and inspiring. It was 19 years ago last month that I showed up at Saint Anthony’s for my first ever Orthodox Liturgy in that less-than grandiose space, but I knew immediately that God and his Holy Church were there. The Liturgy was the worship of heaven and no amount of VFW Hall character could hide that beauty. I was home and in God’s own time I will die in “my home”. There is no substitute for the peace of knowing where you belong in life.
God bless Saint Anthony Orthodox Church, its mission in San Antonio, Texas, its priests and the parishioners who have been my friends, my family and my examples of Christ-like behavior.