Finally, the long-awaited pictures from our Chrismation! I've been quite busy trying to keep my rapidly swelling feet elevated which is not particularly conducive to blogging as that places my typing hands within an awkward position snaked about my very large girth and reaching toward the keyboard...
At any rate, the whole week last week was full of frustrations and doubts for me. It was obvious the enemy of our souls wanted to create strife in those same souls but Sunday morning did eventually roll around and find us all healthy and ready. Although, as we all walked out the front door in our neatly pressed white garments there was more than the usual sibling bantering and verbal battering. Even the 5 minute drive to where we hold services proved near fatal to a deer that lunged headlong in front of the (rental) van - an occasion never before witnessed by my husband who has been driving this road for nigh 20 years now.
We arrived at the church unscathed, however, and almost early by Orthodox standards of time (i.e. only a few minutes late). The first thing we did was take off everyone's shoes and line them up along the wall. Fr. Greg had promised the children that they could go through the whole service - including Divine Liturgy - unshod and so we abandoned the shoes first thing (of course this wouldn't be unusual for some jurisdictions but is not common practice in the Ukrainian church). If you're counting pairs you might notice one pair missing - David didn't even bother to wear his into the van...and, yes, we allowed JM to wear his new Cars "crops" to church since they wouldn't be seen anyway...Nathan suddenly decided he loves to wear his shoes and socks and it took us several minutes to mute his protestations at the injustice of us doing something to him which he would normally do on his own within moments of being shod in the first place (his miniature wing tips are in between Betsy's and Ruth's sandals).
To begin with, we gathered all the children in the back where Fr. Greg asked us Do you wish to enter into union with the Orthodox-Catholic Faith?I do! Here I got a hit over the head with a tremendous peace and calm. All my fears, worries and doubts were dispelled as I clearly stated the whole purpose of all our preparations. The YES of my children from a couple of days before settled once and for all within my own soul and the rest was a wonderful ride into the arms of the Holy Spirit.
Fr. Greg laid his hands on each one of us as he prayed for us O Lord God of Truth, look down upon Thy servants who seek to make haste unto They Holy Orthodox Church, and to take refuge under her shelter.Those words, under her shelter...Finally I knew that I'm safe, moored on a rock and no more shifting around in the sands of the divided church. In the CEC we talked about women finding shelter under the authority of and submission to their husbands, the bishops and the presbyters. In Orthodoxy it is the Living Church Herself who shelters the faithful - and has been doing so uninterrupted for 2,000 years....Yes, This is a safe place....
We then got to renounce the various teachings we'd followed. We'd had an extensive conversation with Fr. Greg determining which set of questions would define those teachings for us considering our meandering path through much of Christianity. We settled on a set of teachings, the most important of which for us was the opportunity to renounce our recitation of the filioque clause in the Nicene Creed. Those three simple words - and the Son - have proven to be the core of just about every conflict we had within the church to that point. It was so good to renounce them, put them behind us, recite the creed as a family without them, and truly walk into our new church home one with the Orthodox faith and teaching.
We were now ready to enter the church with the saints awaiting us. Fr. Greg offered up the part of his vestments called the Epitrachelion and each one of us held onto it as we walked into the temple reciting Psalm 66. He led us to the Ambon where had been placed a Gospel, a cross, and the Chrism. Fr. Greg urged us Stand aright. Stand with fear. And before the Gospel and the Holy Cross of the Savior affirm your vow and each one of us in turn from Tad on down to the Nathan then kissed the Gospel book and the cross.
Next came the fun part. Fr. Greg anointed each of us with the Holy Chrism announcing with each sign of the cross Seal of the Gift of the Holy Spirit to which the congregation responded each time Seal!
Each of us in turn was marked with the Holy Chrism on our Forehead - SEAL! Eyes - SEAL! Nostrils - SEAL! Ears - SEAL! Mouth - SEAL! Chest -SEAL! Hands- SEAL! and Feet - SEAL! Nathan was none too enthusiastic about this part but Betsy and Ben in particular were beaming with joy. I think Ginny took this picture just to prove to me that I do have feet at this point in my pregnancy. I was beginning to doubt...
After the oiling up, there was general sponging down on all the same spots for each one of us and that was the celebration of the Holy Sacrament of Chrismation. We paused here for a few photo opportunities. There were so many cameras lined up across the row in front of us that you can see none of us were looking at the same one at the same time. This picture is our family in our white garments with Fr. Greg and our dear sponsors Ginny and Joe.
The kids were then able to take their Chrismated, barefoot selves and have a seat while Tad and I received the sacrament of Confession - a much-needed catharsis as we had much to put behind us and now much more to which we could look forward. With my hand on the Gospel and the icon of Christ before me, this sacrament took on new meaning and touched me deeply.
We celebrated after Divine Liturgy - during which we all received Eucharist for the first time in the Holy Orthodox church - with a picnic at our house. It was a wonderful time during which we were really able to feel a part of our new church family. Their love and generosity was apparent throughout our whole catechumenate and especially during this special celebration. Tracy brought us a flower. She had carefully picked over each one, counting blooms, until she found one with 9 blooms and a couple buds carefully tucked under the leaves. We thought that was so neat. I'll try to water it, but it will be a challenge!
The parish photographer, Alex, and his wife presented us with a large, framed print of this picture which had been taken during the bishop's visit last month - yet another beautiful gesture that said to us clearly we are part of this family. We have been included in the family photo album, grafted into the family tree, adopted into this Church. The bishop himself had expressed a desire to be there with us for our Chrismation celebration. He spoke to Fr. Greg shortly before the big event and expressed his sadness that he would not be able to make it. However, he specifically requested that Fr. Greg send him all of our Chrismation names so that he could offer prayers for us during the Divine Liturgy in whichever parish he happened to be this day. One special gesture after another after another....
Ginny and Joe gave us an icon to add to our slowly building collection. This one got hung immediately on the partition wall facing the dining room. It had already been blessed by Father. Ginny and Joe also offered another tremendous gift of their time and talent specifically for JT, Ruth and Miriam. Ginny makes beautifully decorated cakes which those three have never been able to try due to their dietary limitations so Ginny, determined to make them feel loved and included, spent several days converting her own cake recipe to Feingold specifications. The cake was gorgeous, tasted fantastic and made three of our brood in particular very, very happy. They did, indeed, feel loved.
Pani Chris had crosses for each of the children and then Fr. Greg presented us with an icon that came with a story. It seems about 5 years ago one of the parishioners traveled to a parish where he knew he would be able to buy some special icons that he thought the parish could then use to give as gifts as needed. He came home with 5 icons - 4 of which were common icons of Christ and were, indeed, given as gifts as a couple of years passed by. The fifth one, Fr. Greg said, was just a little odd - not bad, just different - and he wasn't sure to whom it could possibly be given as an appropriate gift. His conundrum was solved, however, when our family arrived at the church door and became catechumens. It quickly became apparent that this icon had been sitting in his office for the past five years patiently awaiting the arrival of our family. Receiving this icon as a special gift was the final affirmation for our whole family that we had come home. God knew just how to welcome us into this new family and had had the mercy to show us once again that all things come together for His glory and that He does, indeed, have a plan for us.