Thursday, March 27, 2008

Presanctified Liturgy Revisited

I had enough yesterday. With Adora down for the count all three of the little ones are out of whack and there was constant screaming all day long (beginning at 1:00 in the morning for a half hour). It was really Tad's turn to go to Liturgy but he got home, took one look at my frazzled face and said, "You look like someone who needs to sit in a quiet church service." He couldn't see my backside go, my retreat was so hasty.

I got to Fr. Greg's house (nothing like Church in a Box revisited) and the ladies got to chatting about the new wall color and then Fr. Greg shooed us in to begin the liturgy and a few minutes into I realized I had to that pregnant sort of way. Problem is, I *love* the Presanctified Liturgy. The tunes are beautiful and they flow on and on through the psalms. I couldn't bring myself to leave the room and relieve my now aching bladder. I would look ahead and think, "Oh, I don't want to miss that" and then a few minutes later I would think, "Oh, this part is so beautiful. I'll go after this." And then it got to the point where if I left Fr. Greg would have no catechumen to call forward for the prayers for the catechumens so I had to stay at least that long. Finally, I could stand it no longer. The people went through the prayers for the catechumens, I stepped back into my place and Fr. Greg chanted, "Depart all catechumens!" So I did....(but I came back...)

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Blessed Wester to All

Since the Orthodox don't celebrate the Easter feast - Pascha - until next month, we decided to distinguish between the two by celebrating Wester with my family today. (East)er vs. (West)er - get it?! It was actually kind of nice to be able to separate our little family celebration from the larger family celebration. Our kids weren't already tired out, candied up and churched to death when we got to Muffy's house for the annual cousin's Easter egg hunt. It was a nice, laid back time - we did break our fast with ice cream for dinner. That was so tasty although the kids were a bit disappointed that they couldn't break their fast with some MEAT. We did call Tad's folks with our annual round of the Alleluiah song. The kids are getting much better at it and we now have enough voices to actually sound like a small choir. That's a tradition I've always loved and I hope at least one of our children will think to teach it to their family and call up their dad each Easter....

So for those of you on the Western calendar - have a joyous Easter season! For those of us on the Eastern calendar, we'll be slogging through 5 more weeks of Great Lent....

Friday, March 21, 2008

Orthodoxy Sunday

Last Sunday we had the rare occasion to have church canceled due to Fr. Greg's health. We enjoyed sleeping in a bit then went through the morning prayers together but it was a particularly disappointing occasion since we had been looking forward to our first celebration of the Triumph of Orthodoxy. We knew we were going to have to borrow some icons from church since we only have a small handful in the house but we wanted the children to at least experience processing with an icon and learning a bit of the Orthodox history. We had waffled a bit about going to a Pan-Orthodox Service in the evening but that was clinched when we found out we'd be missing out on our local celebration. So that evening we filled the van and drove about an hour south. We arrived a little late and ended up finding enough seats for all of us (sort of - we were still in two rows) right up front. This turned out to a be a real blessing since the children got an up-close look at the goings on.

There were about a dozen priests and a couple of deacons on the altar from many different jurisdictions. I didn't realize the import of this until afterwards when the hosting priest took the time to introduce each priest individually. There were representatives there from at least the Greek, Russian and Antiochian jurisdictions and others we can't remember. Of course, the Ukrainians would have been represented had Fr. Greg felt a bit better. The highlight was seeing each priest process around the perimeter of the church with their icons in hand. The procession was led by a couple of alter servers bearing candles and two altar servers carrying ornately decorated circular icons on poles - they looked quite a bit like iconopops to me but what do I know. I have to admit, though, that when I saw the back side of them as the procession climbed back up onto the altar I was literally left breathless at the cherubim pictured on the backs. The Orthodox think of everything.

One of these days I'm going to go to one of these services and not be either exhausted beyond myself or distracted by children for more than half the service so I'll eventually have a much better grasp of what is going on. But for this service I did gain a general sense of being surrounded by the great saints of the faith. When I saw those cherubim I knew something Heavenly and Holy was at play in the universe and I was awed and humbled to be a small part of it. The priests almost looked childlike as they carried their church's patron saints around in the procession. Their faces showed their love for the service and their gratitude that Orthodoxy and her icons have survived the trials of history.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Rite of Forgiveness and Cheesefare Sunday

We picked a doozy of a day for our first Sunday as catechumens. The children (well, most of them) enjoyed the attention it drew when we stepped forward during the prayers for the catechumens. They weren't sure which way to face (I'll have to tell them when in doubt in the Orthodox church, face an icon - it's bound to be facing east) but once we got all that figured out we managed to move in and out of our places fairly smoothly. Fr. Greg assured me on our way back to our places that we did *not* have to leave but could remain for the rest of the Liturgy. But the real focus of the day was yet to come. There were several things going on, not the least of which was the 1 hour time change which had us getting up earlier already. Also, since we rent space from a school, the school was in need of the room where we meet for Divine Liturgy and all had to be out and packed up by noon. This meant that Matins was canceled, and Divine Liturgy moved to a half hour earlier than usual in order to make room for Forgiveness Vespers and the Rite of Forgiveness.

It seemed to me that we were whipping through the Divine Liturgy. I don't know if Fr. Greg and the choir intentionally moved a bit faster or if the time constraints were weighing on people - or, maybe just maybe the Liturgy no longer seems as long to me - but it seemed like no time at all before the end of Divine Liturgy. We shifted directly into Forgiveness Vespers which is usually said in the evening but, as I said before, we were short on time and space is limited for this church in a box. It was difficult for me and for the kids to shift our focus to this short service since it occurred at a time when we would normally be heading for the bathroom and a snack. They were about half way through it before my mind made the shift and I was able to focus on the service.

Vespers was followed by the Rite of Forgiveness, a wonderful tradition that actually manages to allow time and ceremony for every member of the church to seek and grant forgiveness to every other member of the church. We were instructed to form a line and then stand in front of each person, beginning with Fr. Greg and his family, make the sign of the cross and a metania (sweeping the hand towards the floor in a semi-bow) then ask for the person to forgive any offense committed by you against him in the past year. They (hopefully) offer forgiveness to you and then repeat the process in reverse at which time you grant forgiveness and move on to the next person.

It was a beautiful time. JT and Ben participated reluctantly but made it through just fine. We waffled about whether or not we would require their participation and when it came down to it, I just silently prayed and gently guided them into the line in spite of the looks of desperation they were shooting me. Noah and Nate wandered around until somebody picked them up and carried them from person to person. John Michael and David tried to stick with it but I think the whole thing seemed very odd to them. Ruth was completely traumatized by all the expectations and did little more than stand next to me with "the stare" on her face. Miriam was precious. She stood on the other side of me and asked over and over again with great sincerity "Will you forgive me?" I just can't think of much she could possibly need forgiveness for and she was so full of the Spirit. Philip was the only one who latched on to the entire routine, down to the metanias (which he executed with quite a bit of grace I thought). We had it a bit easy (I hope) since we've only had but a couple of months to offend these people. Since this is done once a year, the ritual was to include any offenses committed over the past year. Many people came to us and asked, instead, to forgive anything over "the past two months", or "since the short time you've been with us". One friendly man used it as a learning opportunity to teach the kids to cross themselves like Orthodox instead of Romans (push, not pull). Unfortunately I think that got a bit confusing since most of them were confused anyway and he was facing them, so getting them to do his opposite was a losing battle. It seemed like such an intimate family time and I was so blessed that our family was included.

This also marked Cheese Fare Sunday and the last day to consume dairy before the Great Lent fast began today. Unfortunately, as a church we didn't celebrate Cheese Fare as we had Meat Fare - with a great feasting upon the impending forbidden foods - so we had our own celebration that evening, wiping out the remainder of our supply of Breyer's ice cream. I'm not too sure with what we'll replace it during Great Lent, maybe fruit salad.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Bible Study

After months of trying I finally made it to a bible study the other evening. The first time I went it had been canceled and we weren't on the notification list (that has since been fixed). Then we all got sick and then it was Tad's turn to try and then...and then...and then...our life seems to be filled with and then's. So finally I was able to go. Even at that, there were enough "and then's" to make me about 1/2 hour late but, well, it is an Orthodox bible study...I didn't miss that much I don't think. There were five other people sitting around the dining room table with our brand spankin' new Orthodox Study Bibles. One of the five was our hostess' grandmother who only spoke Ukrainian but had a wonderful, warm smile and wasn't happy until she had refilled my glass with water. At one point she was consulted in Ukrainian about an old Ukrainian proverb that Fr. Greg remembered but she didn't quite get the gist and shared a sung prayer about her guardian angel instead. I was just glad someone could speak with her and understand. I really love being in an ethnic community when their ethnic is showing. It made me slightly wistful (again) to think of my own PA Dutch heritage passing slowly away.

Now I've been to..I don't know...a gobzillion bible studies in my life. But this one had me stymied. Everything about Orthodoxy is so different from anything I've encountered in the church before that I figured my insights on the book of Galatians would be a bit off the mark. So I kept my mouth shut...until I was asked to read, that is. Now at that point I was a a bit stuck. The Orthodox prefer to chant the readings during Divine Liturgy with as even a tone as possible so as to keep the reader from relaying his own interpretation of the scripture. But what about in a bible study? Normally I would gather up all my lectoring and dramatic reading experience and give the listeners a nice flow of verbiage and inflection to chew upon. But what do I do now? I chose to tone it a down a bit but just was not able bring myself to read it in any kind of flat manner. I'm sure I'm the only one who noticed and cared but it brought home to me just one more little aspect of Orthodoxy.

Then we came to the end of the book of Galatians and the end of the evening's study. Fr. Greg announced, "Let us pray" and everyone stood up. They proceeded to chat for a few more minutes and I thought perhaps I had heard him wrong - maybe there wouldn't be a closing prayer after all - until suddenly everyone turned around and looked, I thought, at me. Now this was an interesting turn of events. I stood there awkwardly for a moment until it occurred to me that maybe it was the old everyone's-actually-looking-past- me-at-something-else trick. So I also turned to see the family's icon corner toward which all were facing in order to face East to pray. Aha! I mumbled along as best as I could all the prayers that are beginning to sound familiar and feel more like home. It was a good evening but next time I think I'd like to bring Tad along. It's good to have someone else feeling just as awkward and new alongside me.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Catechumen Journey Begins

Well, we did it. We told Fr. Greg we are ready to become catechumens....big sigh.... I think I almost saw him do a jig step on his way out our front door. I suppose this will now involve various catechism sessions for us and for JT and Ben as well. This preparation will lead up to our chrismation as a family.

We're ok with the first part of the liturgy having to do with the catechumens. Each Sunday we will now be asked to step forward after the readings and the homily and the prayers for the deceased. I'm excited to have the prayers of the people as we go through this process and I like the idea of bowing our heads and praying... It's the next part that gets a bit iffy. When the priest begins to chant

All ye catechumens, depart! Depart, ye catechumens! All ye that are catechumens, depart! Let no catechumens remain! But let us who are of the faithful, again and again, in peace pray to the Lord.

Fr. Greg assured us we won't have to make a hasty exit into the parking lot not to return again until the following Sunday whence we can once again stay in the worship until we bow our heads and submit to the prayers of the congregation. This part of the liturgy was intended for the completely uninitiated, unbaptized folk but it has been the butt of many a private joke between Tad and me and probably the one thing that has kept us the most humble as we contemplate taking this step. I'll admit anytime the subject has come up one of us will erupt into a loud chanting of our own rendition ,"Catechumens must leave now! All catechumens will leave and not stay for another minute! There will be no catechumens remaining and we will chant this until all catechumens have left the room! Let there be not one catechumen remaining hiding under chairs or kissing the icons! There goes one now! Pursue the catechumen into the parking lot! In peace pray to the Lord!"

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Resurrection of Christ

I love this icon. There is a writing of it in the Orthodox study bible that I love even more than this rendering but the basic idea is the same. Honestly, I've never understood the crucifixion quite as well as I'm beginning to grasp it from the EO perspective. I love how this icon makes Jesus almost look like a Super Hero. In the rendering in the study bible, Jesus' robe is bit more fluid and his legs more sprawling over the chasm of hell - give him a cape and he looks like he could just fly off to anywhere he wants. Also in that rendering, Satan is deeper down in the pit and bound quite tightly - not so mobile as this depiction. That makes me think of the final scene of every episode of Scooby Doo I've ever seen which has the villain sprawled on the ground tied and gagged by the gang of do-gooders. Then they pull off the mask and say "Aha! We knew it was you all along!" This icon makes me think of that moment. Jesus has just pulled the mask off of Satan and is announcing, "See! He's the bad guy! I've saved you from him!" He's surrounded by his supporting cast of Old Testament heroes and saints who are now free to dwell in the Heavenly Kingdom with him. He has Adam and Eve by the wrists, pulling them out once and for all from the Chasm of Sin.

I've spent years trying to relate to the Stations of the Cross. I just can't glean a whole lot of anything out of that in spite of a lot of years of trying. But a few moments spent meditating on this icon and I get it...Jesus is my Super Hero. He's rescued me from the pit. His powers are above all else. Yes, in this life there is suffering and tribulation but just this once I want to try to think more like a swooning and helpless Lois Lane flying along in the rescuing hands of a caped hero....