Archive for the ‘American Orthodoxy’ Category

Oh, Has It Been That Long?

November 15, 2010

Yes it has.  I didn’t know anyone read this blog until a parishioner and friend asked me this morning before Divine Liturgy when I was going to post again.   So at least one person noticed my long absence.  No excuse for not blogging – I just didn’t feel like it, so there.

Well, what shall I talk about?  Hmmm, Metropolitan Philip seems like too easy a target (but it sure is tempting).   How about some religious news of the weird – is or isn’t Naomi Campbell going to become Orthodox after she gets hitched  in the Temple of Luxor?  Guess if you’ve got money you can get married any darn place you like.  

Locally I was interested in the report of the Russian Church Outside of Russia accepting the Western-rite practicing parishes of the Holy Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church of America .   Never heard of ’em before this, which is surprising since their entire Texas presence is found in my home town of San Antonio not 5 miles from my front door.   It appears to be a small house church in a nondescript neighborhood on the northeast side of town.  I haven’t driven by yet, but did do the modern equivalent with a Google street view (forget the Germans and their privacy issues,  I love this feature).

In the big scheme of things, I don’t think this will change the course of Orthodoxy in America since all ten parishes of this group couldn’t possibly contain more than 1000 souls.   But hey, the soul of 1 or 1000 doesn’t matter to the Lord.  The angels rejoice when just one person is saved, and we should too.  Prayer for these folks is needed – they are coming out of the strange land of non-canonical Orthodoxy, bringing whatever baggage that might entail.  Making a switch like this can’t be easy or done overnight.   I’m reminded though that several of our strongest parish families came out of a local Old Catholic church many years ago.   We’re not talking huge numbers either but what a benefit their witness has been for our Church and Orthodoxy as a whole.

Advertisements

Paschal Message of Metropolitan Jonah

April 6, 2010

Christ is Risen!  Indeed He is Risen!

I’m a little slow on this, but I’m passing along the Paschal message of his Beatitude  Metropolitan Jonah.  The excesses of the Feast of Feasts got to me yesterday on Bright Monday.  Too much rich food, too little sleep, too much busyness and activity.  It’s been my usual practice to take this day off work and recuperate, but I couldn’t do it this year, and was really feeling lousy.  In a way, I’m relieved the day of Pascha has come and gone.  It’s a hard Feast to really connect with because of the busyness that accompanies it.    The extras that attach to Pascha – the Pascha basket, the parish picnic, the baking, the cooking, the clothes to buy for the kids, the rushing and fussing – they seem to overwhelm the Feast and my simple enjoyment of it.  It’s the same problem we have with the Nativity.  How do you just stop the frenzy?  Going to the services and not participating in any activities seems a bit extreme.   There must  be a balance somewhere, but after 19 years I still haven’t found it.  Nor have I found a way to indulge my food cravings in moderation.  Before the holy water has dried off the blessed Pascha baskets, I’m diving two-fisted into a pyramid-shaped Pascha and a side dish of sausage and eggs, washed down with wine.

Enjoy and meditate on the Paschal message of Metropolitan Jonah.  He seems to have been writing it specifically for me and my festal gluttony.  (Is it really possible to fall into sin so soon after the end of the Paschal Liturgy?)

Having passed the course of the Fast, let us feast soberly, giving thanks to God. Let our feasting never obscure the Feast of Grace, the experience of the Presence of Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord, in our midst, the Host of our Feast.

The Bridegroom Cometh at Midnight

March 29, 2010

Today is the first full day of Holy Week, the finish race of our lenten marathon.  Beginning Sunday night, Orthodox churches started Holy Week  with an evening service called Bridegroom Matins (don’t ask me why a Matins service is served in the evening).  The service is based upon the parable of the ten virgins who went out to meet the bridegroom with their lamps.  Only five were ready with sufficient oil in for the sudden appearance of the bridegroom, Christ.  The other five were messing around with unlit lamps – unready souls –  scrambling at the last minute to find oil to fuel their light.   Matthew 25:13.

You could say that today then is the “namesday” of this blog – Cometh at Midnight.  When I started writing an Orthodox blog more than a year and a half ago, the first thing I noticed about other blogs was that they all had catchy names.   I spent more time trying to come up with a name then it took to write the first post.  I have no idea why the words of the Bridegroom Matins tropar came to my mind, “Behold, the Bridegroom cometh at midnight…”, but it fairly summed up the way I felt as an Orthodox Christian. 

We are all servants of the Lord but it’s the attitude and the way we spend our lives that distinguishes us from each other.   Some spend their lives living as if Christ will return at any minute – in prayer, repentance, and charity.  Others take a ‘tomorrow will do just fine’ attitude.  Life is to be lived now, with as much fun as you can cram into it.   Can you imagine their surprise when the Bridegroom returns?  But for many of us, our lives aren’t so clear-cut between readiness for our Lord’s return and a life of spiritual neglect.   We have days of intensity and attunement to our faith; when we feel like Christ is right their beside us.  Other days, the worries of living, the pursuit of our own hobbies, interests, and passions, the busyness of our lives just takes over everything.

I must make a confession now that is contrary to what you’d think about someone who spends so much time writing about faith, religion, and Orthodoxy.  Who is fascinated with the religions of the world as they relate to the Orthodox faith, and who loves to tell everyone how much I love the Orthodox Church.  My confession?      I am not a good Orthodox Christian. 

What is a ‘good’ Orthodox Christian?  Have I murdered anyone?  Well, not physically, but didn’t Christ say we can commit murder in our hearts with a single thought?   Have I gone to church and communed regularly?  Yes, but did I prepare to receive Communion properly?  Do I pray the morning and evening prayers?  Do I read the Bible daily?  Do I practice charity?  Did I fast properly during Lent?   No.  

It’s Holy Week and I have to admit to myself and to the piddling few readers of this blog, that I’m one of the servants who frittered away Great Lent and am now faced with the fact that the Bridegroom is coming and I am that servant with the unlit lamp.  I have spent more time thinking about my Orthodox faith then deeply practicing it.

You want to know the kicker about all this?  God still loves me even when I ignore him, even when I procrastinate in my spiritual life.  Holy Week is a fresh start, and as the old tent preachers say, ‘the time has come to get yourself right with the Lord’.   The Bridegroom tropar is a warning, but it also tells us what we have to do to get right with the Lord.  This is our spiritual awakening at the midnight hour – “…rouse yourself, crying:  Holy, holy, holy art Thou, O our God.” 

Behold, the Bridegroom cometh at midnight, and blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching:  and again, unworthy is the servant whom He shall find heedless.  Beware, therefore, O my soul, do not be weighed down with sleep, lest you be given up to death and lest you be shut out of the Kingdom.  But rouse yourself crying:  Holy, holy, holy, art Thou, O our God.  Through the Theotokos, have mercy on us.

 

An Unusual Visitor

March 17, 2010

There’s no reason for this post, I just thought it was really interesting.  This kind of conflict is becoming an increasingly common problem in the Northeast.  It’s good to have a resurgence in wildlife, but humans just haven’t left them much room to find food and shelter.

The Spirituality of Church Architecture

March 12, 2010

The citizens of Victoria, Texas, are sure getting a lesson in Orthodoxy these past few weeks as the news articles and media coverage continue for the newly constructed All Saints Orthodox Mission.  As a follow-up to his sermon preached during the dedication service on March 6th, the Very Rev. Fr. Dimitri has an article published today in the Victoria Advocate  outlining the spirituality of Orthodox church architecture.

Fr. Dimitri’s article focuses, as it should, on the spirituality of Orthodox Church architecture.  But I can see another secondary effect of a traditionally constructed Orthodox Church – it’s evangelization potential. 

I’ve been thinking recently about the many advantages with starting a mission in a smaller community.  Victoria has about 65,000 residents (about 115,000 in the greater county area); it’s the county seat and the nexus for shopping, medical care and college education in a 3 or 4 county area.  It has only one major newspaper that reaches a multi-county area.   Evangelization and advertising efforts are concentrated and not so drowned out by competing media and “every other game in town”.    All Saints’ new church, built in a distinctively eastern style has become a source of discussion and interest.  Everyone entering Victoria from Highway 87 sees the three-bar cross on a large domed roof and knows it’s a church with something different.   If that’s enough to draw the curious visitor inside, thanks be to God.  If they stay long enough to experience the Word of God preached and the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, Glory!

All Saints Orthodox Mission, Victoria, Texas

March 11, 2010

I’m posting some photos and video below of last Saturday’s road trip  to All Saints Orthodox Mission in Victoria, Texas.  

I was not prepared for how obvious and visible the new church was from the highway.  I was looking for the big water tower – a handy landmark when you’re  trying to find the church – but it was the starkly white and unusually shaped (for Victoria) church building that got my attention.   You just can’t miss it as you drive into town on Hwy. 87.  As I posted last time, Victoria has never had an Orthodox church.  It has a large percentage of Roman Catholic churches, but mainline Protestant and non-denominational are equally present.  There’s even been a Muslim mosque for several years, but never an Orthodox church.  Corpus Christi, 50 miles away, had the closest Orthodox church.

Can you spot the small water tower near the church?  This was about 10:30 a.m. as folks started to gather outside.  By the time the service started I’d guesstimate there were close to 75 or 80 people there, including several Protestant clergy and a photographer from the Catholic Diocese of Victoria.

The Very Rev. Fr. Dimitri Cozby, pastor of All Saints, and our own, the Very Rev. Fr. Leo Poore, begin the service of Thyroxenia or opening of the doors.  (And check out those doors – gorgeous!  An All Saints parishioner pointed out to me that the metal scroll work on the doors perfectly matched the filligrees on the 7-branched candlestick on the altar.  Not intentional but a beautiful coincidence.)

Now, I don’t think many people have ever seen this service performed so none of us knew what to expect, but the symbology of what is being done ties perfectly into the purpose of the service – the opening of the doors of a new church.  Up to this point the reading of Psalm 83, “How beloved are Thy dwellings, O Lord”, the litanies, the Epistle reading from Hebrews 3:1-4, “For every house is constructed by someone, but God has constructed all things.”, and the Gospel of Matthew 16:13-18, “…thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”,  pointed above all else to the founding of God’s Holy Church, both temporal and spiritual.  The climax of the service outside the church and the literal opening of the doors comes after another litany specifically for the raising of a new temple.  The priest then repeats three times a literal knocking at the door:

Lift up your gates, O ye princes; and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors, that the King of Glory may come in.

Stationed inside the church is a parishioner reading a response to the priest:

Who is this King of Glory?

And again the priest knocks:

The Lord storng and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle.  Lift up your gates, O ye princes; and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors, that the King of Glory may come in.

And the final response from inside the church:

Who is this King of Glory?

The priest’s final statement:

The Lord of Hosts, He is the King of Glory.

Below is a clip of Fr. Dimitri at this point in the service.  It was a pretty windy day and you can barely hear the exchange described above.

After entering the temple, Fr. Dimitri blessed the interior with holy water.   Now I’m sorry I didn’t get more pictures, but the interior is something else.  The nave is semi-circular with side areas that will be perfect for adding more space on crowded days.  The doors separating the narthex and nave are huge glass double doors, that when combined with all the clear  windows in the church and the windows around the dome, make the church feel almost like it’s outdoors.  The floors are stained concrete and the altar area is floored with the most satiny smooth exotic hardwood.  All I can say is the finished effect is simply beautiful.  Once the iconostas is in place and the iconography on the walls and dome, then this will be an example of the very best in “modern” Orthodox church architecture.

Altar area sans iconostas

Fr. Dimitri’s sermon at the conclusion of the service was particularly good.  He’s a very scholarly priest and I’ve never heard one of his sermons that didn’t expand my understanding of the Church.  All Saints is blessed to have him.  (You’re gonna to have to bear with me on the video – how was I supposed to know that if you hold the camera sideways the video would turn out sideways too!  Fr. Dimitri usually doesn’t preach in this position, but I think he’d be the first to say that his perspective on things is usually just a bit “off  kilter”.  That’s our life as Christians – off kilter from the world.   So turn the volume up, close your eyes and everything will be alright.)

 

The parish catered a wonderful meal by a local Greek restaurant (sorry I just can’t remember the name of the business).  Despite the wind and the cool tempertures it turned out to be a perfect day.  God is blessing this mission in so many ways and I pray for their success in this life and the next.

Orthodox Road Trippin’

March 6, 2010

T-minus 6 hours 45 minutes and I’ll be blasting off for a day trip down to Victoria, Texas, to visit All Saints Orthodox Mission.   It’s an OCA mission that’s managed to put down deeper roots in 4 short years then many parishes accomplish in 10.  In the last year they’ve built a brand new Orthodox-style church in a growing area of town, and planted 100 olive trees and pastured a flock of 150 sheep on their 90 acre church property.  That is absolutely amazing, and I’m not just talking  about the sheep.  (Clarification – the church itself owns 17 acres of the 90 acre property; the remainder is owned by a parishioner.)

Tomorrow’s trip is a parish lenten retreat for members of St. Anthony’s to join our brothers and sisters as they celebrate the  official entry into their new church, called the “opening of the doors”  or Thyranexia.  It is a blessing and prayer service, kind of a dedication service.  And of course we’ll have a lenten lunch afterwards.  Nothing is really “official”  in the Orthodox Church unless it’s finalized with a pot luck and lots of coffee.  All Saint’s priest, the Very Rev. Fr. Dimitri Cozby, was actually the priest who received me into the Orthodox Church almost 20 years ago.  He was St. Anthony’s longest serving priest for more than 20 years, then left and started this mission.  You couldn’t ask for a more wonderful and godly priest to serve a new mission. 

I’m also going to combine pleasure with pleasure.  The rest of the group isn’t as crazy as I am to leave at 5:45 am, but I’m going to be doing a little bird watching before the service starts at 11:00 am.  Victoria has got some great birding spots and it’s also going to be kind of nice to just visit around town.  My in-laws lived in Victoria for more than 25 years until they retired and moved to Corpus Christi a few years ago.   I think this is only the 2nd time I’ve been back since they left.  I tried to get my kids to go with me, even bribing them with a trip to The Texas Zoo (yes, Victoria even has a really great little zoo), but they just couldn’t be talked into it.

I’ll post more when I get back.  In the meantime, check out some of the great coverage the Victoria Advocate newspaper has been giving All Saints with this video and news article.

Orthorobics – Fitness in 50 Days

March 3, 2010
presanct

A quiet moment during Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts last night

I originally posted this on March 19, 2009 after a Pre-Sanctified Liturgy that seemed particularly strenuous.  Tonight I just got home from a 2010 Pre-sanctified Liturgy.  My joints are one year older and really feeling it.  There is something so right though about worship that requires hard physical effort.  The psychological effects of prostrating yourself before God reminds you how humbling it is to be in His presence.  

We are almost at the halfway point – I pray you all persevere in good spirits looking towards the joy of our Lord’s Resurrection.

Orthorobics – that’s what my friend and fellow parishioner Jamie A. called it after we climbed back up off the floor for what seemed like the hundreth time during the Liturgy of the Pre Sanctified Gifts last night.  Well, actually four sets of prostrations with the Prayer of St. Ephraim and the entry of the Pre Sanctified Gifts, a couple of kneeling sessions, and various metanias (bows from the waist).   My knees aren’t what they used to be, but there’s nothing like a little orthorobics to keep you fit and awake for a long Lenten service. 

I think the Liturgy of the Pre Sanctified Gifts, more than any other Orthodox service, emphasizes the physicality of worship – the active participation of your body in praising God.  Orthodox worship reflects the heavenly worship which is also active.  The angels and saints are active in their movements as they surround the Throne of God.  Here on Earth in your unresurrected body, the pain in your joints, the stiffness in your back, only reminds you that worship is real hard work. 

My kids complain all the time that Church is boring, their feet hurt and they’re tired from standing so much (mind you, they make a miraculous recovery as soon as they go outside after services to chase their friends for an hour).   I used to worry about their complaining and feared they weren’t connecting with their faith, until I remembered that sometimes all the other grownups, me included,  feel just the same way.  Liturgy is not easy.  It’s not meant to be completely still, passive or comfortable.  Yes, there are quiet, meditative moments, but on the whole, an Orthodox Christian acknowledges and dedicates himself to God and the Church in both his body and soul with physical signs.  And, in my opinion, if something doesn’t hurt by the end of a service, you might want to take it up a notch.

To understand the Orthorobics of the Church more fully, I am excerpting  a great primer on Orthodox worship below, courtesy of an unknown contributor at OrthodoxWiki.  ( http://orthodoxwiki.org/Worship)

Standing –  One distinctive feature of Orthodox worship is that the faithful generally stand at all times during the service. This varies somewhat based on local custom, but historically the people have stood in Church in hopes of maintaining an attentive posture at all times. Sitting is practiced by some at various times in the services and is recommended for those who feel physically unable to stand. Most churches accommodate these individuals with chairs or pews along the sides of the church interior. Some churches have pews or rows of chairs that individuals stand in front of.

Bowing  During services, a bow is often made by the inclining of the head and neck (also called a reverential bow). It is more than a mere nod of the head. A bow at the waist (also known as a deep bow or profound bow) is also practiced with the metania.

Metania Another common gesture is the metaniaMetania(or metany) comes from the word metanoia (Greek μετάνοια). It is performed by first making the Sign of the Cross. Then, one bends from the waist, reaches toward the floor with the right hand open and facing outward, and touches the ground. It is used as the substitute for the prostration when it is normally prescribed, but not permitted by the Canons of the Church. The metania is often used when venerating an icon and when approaching a hierarch or a priest for his blessingWaist reverence (Slavonic: poiasnyi poklon), little reverence Prostration

Full prostration Also simply called prostration, is an act of distributing one’s weight on the knees, feet, and hands, touching the forehead to the floor, staying in the position as long as desired or necessary, then standing up. One usually makes the Sign of the Cross before or after the movement. This physical motion is similar to the Chinese kowtow (“bump head”). Interestingly, the use of the word prostration in this way is different than common english usage, where prostration means to pronate oneself or lay completely flat. The full prostration is sometimes called kneeling. Again, this word usage is different than the english usage of kneel, which means to distribute one’s weight on the knees and feet only.  The prostration is associated with penance, submission, and obeisance.  According to custom and tradition, a prostration is assumed (or not assumed) at different times in the services and church calendar. The twentieth canon of the First Ecumenical Council forbids kneeling on every Sunday and the fifty days between Pascha and Pentecost.

Kneeling –  Kneeling is also practiced by some Orthodox in their services.  The bending of one’s knees is also known as the lesser penance (metanoia mikra). Genuflection, or the bending of the right knee, is practiced in the Roman Catholic Church.

Why Cool Should Not Rule

January 13, 2010

I’ve never thought of myself as particularly cool, or if I once was, a 47 year old mother who drives a Volvo and bird watches for a hobby has no hope of ever reclaiming that title.  I still might be considered marginally cool in my choice of music or my laissez faire attitude towards the horticulture of weed, but that’s just ’cause I’m an old hippie at heart.  These days I’m more apt to criticize the vanity and emptiness of trying to achieve ‘coolness’ – the pointlessness of a life lived in search of ‘the next big thing’.   It seems parenthood and mortality are the great equalizers of the hip and young. 

Recently a news piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer has been popping up across Orthodox message boards and news aggregators.  It’s the sad profile of an Eastern European neighborhood called Northern Liberties and its declining churches and synagogues, now gone to the dogs, literally, with its discovery by urban hipsters looking for things with “good bones”, dog parks and a critical mass of other like-minded cultural zombies.  The churches merely add to the neighborhood’s character.  While the more melancholy Inquirer piece gently laid out the shallow hipsters for some reproach, it was author/journalist Thom Nickels who cleanly gutted them with a  follow-up piece in the Philadelphia Weekly Press.  It was brilliant!  His commentary wasn’t merely about the loss of tradition in one gentrified Philadelphia neighborhood, but a profile of pop-culture-as-religion across the nation. 

But may I also say I agree 100% with Mr. Nickels when he rightly points out that the Northern Liberties parishes (or any Orthodox Church in the U.S.) are not without blame for their own decline.  The ethnic social club atmosphere that substitutes for real faith in some parishes has got to go.   Any Orthodox Church that preserves their Liturgy like a museum piece, is hostile to Christ’s call for evangelism, and is unwilling to adapt to the language and culture of America, is doomed and rightfully so.  I’m not talking about changing the Truths of our faith, or pushing novelty and political correctness,  but reaching out to potential converts in English, through new media, and through an active presence in the community.  And this doesn’t mean ethnic food festivals.  It means offering Inquirer’s Classes, Vacation Bible Schools, coffee house lectures on Orthodoxy, icon exhibitions during arts week, National Night Out programs to meet the neighbors, etc…   To be an evangelist is to be generous in sharing your faith.  Hipsters may not immediately come flocking in, but for those few who are looking for something deeper, they’ll recognize the real thing when they see it practiced.   The Orthodox Church doesn’t have to be ‘cool’, but maybe through a sincere desire to follow Christ and live a holy life we can change the definition. 

My Seventeen Year Journey with Saint Herman of Alaska

December 12, 2009

 

The last week and a half  has been particularly difficult – illness, financial strain, job problems, holiday overload – and there have been days when I just didn’t give a crap about anything.   It’s not too hard to understand why the sin of anger is a big part of my confessions.  But it was this evening when the fog of sickness had started to lift that I realized I had something to be happy and joyful about. 

December 13th is the feastday of possibly the most beloved of American Orthodox Saints – Venerable Herman of Alaska.  A monk whose simple life has had the most profound impact on American Orthodoxy.  I count myself blessed that seventeen years ago on his feastday I was  received into the Holy Orthodox Church through chrismation.  It was and remains still, the most important day of my life.  I was reborn into a new life in the Orthodox faith and Saint Herman has been one of those saints I have felt closest to. 

Some people might say that one day of  total spiritual devotion and happiness would be enough to satisfy them a lifetime.  That’s how many Orthodox converts remember the date of their baptism or chrismation.  It is that one special day that seems to be a fulfillment of long, difficult journeys and sacrifices to achieve truth and salvation.  In His mercy, God has blessed me with 6205 days since my chrismation, but I never fail to remember how miserably I have squandered all that time.  I have so often let the problems and stress of this world interfere with my spiritual life and left so many areas of sin untouched and unchanged.  I can only hope that through the prayers of Saint Herman I can complete my life in the same spirit of peace that he had.  

If you would like to learn more about the life and miracles of Saint Herman click here.

O blessed Father Herman of Alaska,
North star of Christ’s holy Church,
The light of your holy life and great deeds
Guides those who follow the Orthodox way.
Together we lift high the Holy Cross
You planted firmly in America.
Let all behold and glorify Jesus Christ,
Singing his holy Resurrection.