Posts Tagged ‘Orthodox Church’

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.

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Orthodox New Year’s Resolutions

December 30, 2008
San Antonio New Year's Celebration

San Antonio New Year's Celebration

I’ve never been big on New Year’s resolutions, usually because they are doomed to failure and really seem a bit unrealistic and almost superstitious.  The only one I seem to fall into is the “loose 10 pounds” resolution.  Ironic that I’ve been gaining and loosing the same 10 pounds for 20 years.

If I was to make a list of resolutions I’d like to commit myself to Fr. Thomas Hopko’s 55 Maxims on the Christian Way of Life that have been circulating around for a while.  If you want to hear them click here  and scroll to the bottom of the page.

  1. Be always with Christ, and trust God in everything.
  2. Pray as you can, not as you think you must.
  3. Have a keepable rule of prayer, done by discipline (every day).
  4. Say the Lord’s Prayer several times each day.
  5. Repeat a short prayer when you mind is not occupied.
  6. Make some prostrations when you pray.
  7. Eat good foods in moderation, and fast on fasting days.
  8. Practice silence – inner and outer.
  9. Sit in silence 20 to 30 minutes each day.
  10. Do acts of mercy in secret.
  11. Go to liturgical services regularly.
  12. Go to confession and Holy Communion regularly.
  13. Do not engage intrusive thoughts and feelings.
  14. Reveal your thoughts and feelings to someone regularly.
  15. Read the scriptures regularly.
  16. Read good books, a little at a time.
  17. Cultivate communion with the saints.
  18. Be an ordinary person, one of the human race.
  19. Be polite with everyone, first of all family members.
  20. Maintain cleanliness and order in your home.
  21. Have a healthy, wholesome hobby.
  22. Exercise regularly.
  23. Live a day, even a part of a day, at a time.
  24. Be totally honest, first of all with yourself.
  25. Be faithful in little things.
  26. Do your work, then forget it.
  27. Do the most difficult and painful things first.
  28. Face reality.
  29. Be grateful.
  30. Be cheerful.
  31. Be simple, hidden, quiet and small.
  32. Never bring attention to yourself.
  33. Listen when people talk to you.
  34. Be awake and attentive, fully present where you are.
  35. Think and talk about things no more than necessary.
  36. Speak simply, clearly, firmly, directly.
  37. Flee imagination, fantasy, analysis, figuring things out.
  38. Flee carnal, sexual things at their first appearance.
  39. Don’t complain, grumble, murmur or whine.
  40. Don’t seek, or expect, pity or praise.
  41. Don’t compare yourself with anyone.
  42. Don’t judge anyone for anything.
  43. Don’t try to convince anyone of anything.
  44. Don’t defend or justify yourself.
  45. Be defined and bound by God, not be people.
  46. Accept criticism gracefully and test it carefully.
  47. Give advice only when asked or when it is your duty.
  48. Do nothing for people that they can and should do for themselves.
  49. Have a daily schedule of activities, avoiding whim and caprice.
  50. Be merciful with yourself and with others.
  51. Have no expectations, except to be fiercely tempted until your last breath.
  52. Focus exclusively on God, and light, and never on darkness, temptation and sin.
  53. Patiently endure your faults and sins peacefully under God’s mercy.
  54. When you fall, get up immediately and start over.
  55. Get help when you need it, without fear or shame.

This is the kind of list we all think we cannot possibly fulfill.  I could quote the famous passage, “with God all things are possible”, but do we always believe this promise?  I’m more inclined to fall into the doubting category.  Experience has shown me that humans are either pathologically cynical or hopeless defeatists – traits of our fallen nature which fuel so many failed New Year’s resolutions.  And it’s for that reason I suspect Fr. Hopko puts in #54 – “When you fall, get up immediately and start over”.   The Apostle James didn’t see failure as an impediment to our “success” as Christians, but as a spiritual aid.  In Chapter 1:2-3, of his Epistle he advises,

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials [temptations in the King James version], knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.

You can and should spend a lifetime following Fr. Hopko’s Maxims, but most importantly, our faith gives us an opportunity to fail and keep trying.   It’s not an excuse to live a life of conscious sin, but for many of us it won’t be our perfection that’s a testament to our faith, but our willingness to keep getting up and trying again when we do fall.   My prayer then is ‘God give me the strength and desire to keep getting up’.

Happy New Year!  Prospero año nuevo!  Prost Neujahr!

The People Have Spoken

November 5, 2008

obama

It’s 2 am here, the polls closed hours ago, but I suspect the partying will go on long into the night for many people.  I picture President Elect Barack Obama sitting in a quiet corner while all the frenzy goes on around him.  He’s calm, reflective and has a slight smile on his face, letting this all soak in.  He is pondering the past and takes a deep breath as he realizes the huge and awesome weight of responsibility that has suddenly settled onto his shoulders.  Inside, I hope he’s jumping up and down and shouting “Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy”, or at least something a little more emotional than his calm, beneficent demeanor has ever shown.   No matter how you voted, you just can’t help but appreciate what this means personally and historically, both for him and this country.

At every Orthodox Divine Liturgy we ask God to grant mercy and hear our petitions for many earthly concerns, including our government.  In the historically monarchial countries where Orthodoxy was formed, these petitions were for the protection of emperors, kings, and czars.  In America, we ask for the same blessing on our president and all elected officials.

“Again we pray for the President of this country, for all civil authorities…”

In response the people affirm the petition by singing “Lord have mercy”.   Now I’ll be honest – my response to this petition for the last eight years has usually been with the tonal emphasis and rolling of eyes that only one from the South can give to that phrase.  I asked a priest once about what it means to pray this petition for a president that you do not support.   He advised me it doesn’t mean you have to sincerely like the person in office or believe in their policies,  but you do have to pray that he or she will make wise decisions.  So for the past eight years it’s been very easy to pray for our president to make good choices in the same way I ask my kids to eat healthy and play nice.  (‘Dubya’ doesn’t seem to listen any better than my 6 year old though.)  I will certainly not be agreeing with President Obama on everything he does, in particular abortion and other socially conservative life issues, but I can say wholeheartedly that if ever a president needed our prayers Obama will have mine.   

At this point I feel I can disclose how I voted, and why my support of Barack Obama has been so divided.  This year has tested everything I thought I believed in about politics and my political positions.   For one, I have found myself acknowledging that I am more of a Crunchy Con than I thought.  But, I have never supported W and his cronies (is detest too strong a word?).  I believe in the depth of my soul the Iraq War is wrong and I believe Bush will leave office in 2 months still retaining the blind arrogance and self-delusion that he has been right about everything.  And yet, I have had reservations about Obama’s experience and age (at least I did until McCain the Bush Clone chose Sarah Palin).  I have no doubts now after seeing his obvious talent for rallying support and inspiring people to believe in something.   But rather my biggest remaining stumbling block has been his position on abortion and life issues.    So as I stood in that electronic voting booth on Halloween, I just didn’t know what to do.  I filled in all my choices but left the presidential box unchecked.  That red light kept flashing, ‘Vote, Vote, Vote…’  and all the months of indecision came down to one push of the button – vote conscience or vote politics.   I said a prayer and quickly pressed the button before I could change my mind, and just like that I had not cast a vote for either candidate. 

A wasted vote some would say.  But this time I felt I had to follow my conscience on the issue of abortion.  Did I have such an ethical urge four years or eight years ago?  No.  I’d like to think it’s because I have become more conscientious as a voter and as an Orthodox Christian.  Was it fear of the unknown and closet bigotry?   I pray to God it wasn’t.  But passing on the vote wasn’t something I’d considered before I read Rod Dreher’s views on the subject and realized it is an option, not a cop out.   There’s no political analyst out there who’s suddenly panicked because TinaG in Texas chose not to choose.  But God knows.   I just wonder if my principals would have been so cherished in a tightly contested race.  In Texas my choice to not vote had less consequence than in some battleground states, so thank you Lord for not testing me that much!

Let us all pray that the next four years will be a blessing on this country.  Let us pray for our new President and the many difficult decisions and burdens that come with this office.  Let us pray for peace and security and the safe return home of our troops.  And let us pray that our new President’s heart and mind will be enlightened towards the unborn and the evilness of abortion.   Lord have mercy.

Thanks Martin Luther

October 30, 2008

Today is Reformation Day in the Lutheran churches and I would just like to take this opportunity to thank Martin Luther for making me Orthodox.  I grew up in the 60’s when the Lutheran Church was conservative and traditional.  We still had felt Jesus banners in the church, but you didn’t find women or sexually confused or theologically heretical clergyman, or for that matter, sexually confused, theologically heretical women.  You knew just where German pastors were coming from.  And they were the ones who shaped my beliefs and future life as an Orthodox Christian.  I am what the Lutheran Church first made me:

  1. I’m Catholic but not Roman.  Luther is famously portrayed as a man who did not want to destroy the Roman Catholic Church but to reform it.  He seems to have started out that way, though later on as things started to snowball,  he sure ‘nuf took to the idea pretty darn well.  Be that as it may, this idea struck very close with me.  Why wasn’t I Roman Catholic if Luther only wanted to straighten things up?  If the Roman Catholic Church was worth saving, why wasn’t it good enough for me now?  So I began to explore the Catholic Church, but quickly found that Martin Luther had already primed the anti-papacy pump.  I can buy first among equals, but not The Big Cheese.
  2. I’m sacramental.  Luther tossed most of the sacraments, figuring only two (or maybe three if you count reconciliation) – Baptism and the Lord’s Supper – were sufficiently biblical to remain.  The practice of those two, particularly Communion, was all I needed to see that something special was going on between God and me.  Communion rightly had a prominent place and at my first Communion class I was taught the Lutheran layer cake view of the Eucharist – bread and under that, Body; wine and ditto, Blood.  I was sufficiently impressed that the Body and Blood were sacred or at least sacred enough until the wine was unceremoniously dumped down a holy disposal sink.   Down the drain with our Lord’s Blood, but it wasn’t always Jesus’ Blood, only at the time of communion… Very confusing.  Jesus was just kind of sitting under the elements – take ’em out of context and Jesus wasn’t there anymore.  
  3. I’m liturgical.  Worship has an order and a flow to it and that’s just the way it is.  As a German I can perfectly understand the need for doing things just so.   Luther thought so too.
  4. I’m traditional.  Given that my religious education started only at the year 1517, I still acquired an  “older is better”  mindset.  At the time of my catechism, I guess I just never thought too much about the 1500 years before that.  It was all Roman Catholic to me.  First there was Jesus, then the Roman Catholics, then Luther.  It was only later I realized Luther hadn’t been too straight with me about the timeline. 
  5. I’m symbolic.  Thanks Luther for the Holy Pine Tree and it’s sacred symbols.  I can remember a big, whopping Christmas tree in the sanctuary of Christ the King Lutheran Church covered in white lights and shiny, white, glittery Christian symbols.  Doves, Chi Ro’s, fish, Alpha and Omegas, Lambs with a Cross.  It’s only one small step from accepting churchy symbols to accepting the greatest visual symbols the Church has ever produced – Holy Icons.  Now I won’t say I didn’t have some initial trouble kissing them, but it’s just like kissing that first boy when you’re thirteen; do it enough and you warm up to the idea.

So Happy Reformation Day today and this coming Reformation Sunday.  Sing a good rousing chorus of “A Mighty Fortress is our God” for me.   I have much to appreciate where I came from and the foundation it planted in me.  Thanks Martin Luther for putting me on the path to Orthodoxy.  I wouldn’t be here without you.