Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Go to church, say your prayers, remember God

I don't remember whose mother told him this when he left home, but I'm trying to make it the direction of my life.  Going to church: easy.  I'm probably a religious addict, and I need to see someone about it (maybe...).  I love being part of our little chapel community, saying prayers, worshiping with the community, and trying to learn how to think, act, and truly be Orthodox.

Saying prayers I'm really bad at.  I do say prayers, but not the way that I should.  I picked up a Psalter at the monastery for free, and I'm trying to start reading the Kathisma schedule, but that's also hard.  Easier is just saying morning and evening prayers, but I have trouble waking up Felicity first thing in the morning when the little ones are still sleeping so soundly.  Still...we do try.  Mostly, though, I'm trying to make this my discipline without imposing it on my family in a sort of dictatorial way.

Remember God.  I'm trying.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Getting to Know You

Now that I have music from the King and I running through my head, I'd like to begin this post by saying that I have intending to talk about my topic for a while now, but just haven't had the chance yet.
When we started this journey six months ago one of the most uncomfortable aspects of Orthodoxy was the whole Mary thing, followed closely by icons and saints in general.  I once played the part of Mary in a Christmas pageant.  My role consisted of walking demurely across the stage, and sitting beside a token pile of straw while the choir sang and an angel pantomimed to Joseph behind me.  And, like most protestants, my church growing up had plain walls (except for the occasional wreath around Christmas), a bare cross up front (sometimes) and not much else in the way of depictions.  Aside from occasional references to C.S. Lewis or a nice quote from Mother Theresa, the only people we quoted were in the bible or the latest Christian author.
Needless to say, I was starting from scratch, and skeptical and suspicious scratch at that.
As the months have passed however, I have had  the opportunity to get to know a number of saints, as well as the Theotokos.  I say "get to know", but I feel like my relationship with these people is analogous to being introduced to people at a dinner party.  I know their names, and a bit of background, and I think we'll get along prodigiously, but we haven't actually spent a lot of time together yet.  Of course, the process of getting to know a saint is a bit backwards from getting to know a live person: instead of starting with small talk and working back into their history, you start with their history and work up to small talk and normal conversations.  
There are a number of saints that I've had this sort of connection to, namely Christina, and Ruth, but I've felt this most with the Theotokos.  Perhaps it's because I felt close to her through my pregnancy, or maybe its because she knew how weirded out I was with the idea of her identity as Theotokos and all the reverence she is given for that and has graciously helped me out.  Either way, whenever I hear a story of a miracle that's attributed to her, or how she's stepped into someone's life I find myself thinking "That sounds like something she would do" the same way you hear about a sibling or a friend and say "that's so them."  I'm getting to know her character, her manner.  I haven't had any crazy supernatural encounter, like St. Mary of Egypt or St. Silouan of Mt. Athos, but I can say that I know her.  It's like we're facebook friends, and we're planning on getting together in real life, but haven't yet, but we know we will.
It just occurred to me that this whole entry may come across as rather irreverent.  Perhaps the idea of being friends with the Mother of God is ridiculous.  If so, feel free to chuck this whole thing in the "crazy convert" bin, I'll figure it out eventually.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Considering this Orthodoxy Thing

I've got some time on my hand at the moment.  I'm sitting in a Barnes and Noble in upstate, NY; watching CSI:NY; and feeling slightly introspective.  I had a disturbing dream the other night, and I think I may still be dealing with the after effects of that experience.  Maybe I'm just coming to grips with my own complacency.  I'm not sure why all of this is coming to the forefront on this cloudy afternoon.  It is, though, and I'm trying to figure out where I'm coming from.

I dreamed the other night that we'd just given up.  I dreamed that my wife was finished with all of this trying and struggling and just wanted to stop the process.  I saw this Orthodoxy thing as one more string in a list of stuff that I've tried in my life in order to live out a more authentic faith--not as the Truth that I now know that it is.  I give up on so many thing, and I'm afraid that this is going to be one more of those things.

Conversely, my father is praying that we do.  This isn't really a gripe session about my family and their inability to deal with our decision to move into Orthodoxy.  My parents seem to think we'd be happiest as Missouri Synod Lutherans.  I think this is so hard because we're also so alone up here right now.  Our parish is tiny, and pretty widespread across the region.  Our priests are monastics (something completely different than Fr. C. was) and have a calling all their own.  Where do we fit into all of this?  What are we supposed to do, small family of four with two young daughters and a low paying job in a start-up school somewhere in New York's Capital District?

How easy would it be to walk away?  How hard would it be to just give up?  What would it take to just call it quits and try to be Protestant again?  Could I bring myself to a) take the icons off the wall b) find another church c) re-read the Westminster Confession d) reject the Tradition I'm trying to fit into?  I don't even know where I would begin!  What would motivate me to turn my back on the Church like that?  Peter's words keep coming to mind again and again: "Lord, if we leave, where are we supposed to go?"

Maybe all of this is impatience?  Maybe I'm just suffering from new catechumen syndrom as per my post a couple of weeks ago.  Catechism Breeds Impatience.  I'm excited and scared about what comes next--when the gloves come off and the real boxing with the devil begins.  I've realized that we'll never be done with the struggle.  I didn't realize that the struggle would feel like such a struggle.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Moving towards a beginning

This Sunday was our second Divine Liturgy at our new parish.  It was our third service, unless I miss my count.  I love being part of a community that has regular, daily services (Matins and Vespers) as well as midweek liturgies for major feasts.  Sad that I couldn't make it to Holy Cross day, but we celebrated the feast in high fashion on Sunday, marching around the church in procession with the cross, deep prostrations, the whole bit.  Beautiful service.

Fr. S. brushed the surface of beginning our catechesis.  I think a lot of this is going to require being proactive on our parts.  I don't think I was expecting that, though I'm not sure what it was I did expect.  There aren't really formal classes, per se, and we're being encouraged to ask a lot of questions.  I don't even know what questions to ask.  Felicity's idea was that she wants to know the nitty-gritty: how do you live out a sacramental life day to day.  She's thinking of her life's confession, and she wants to be prepared.  I feel the same way.

What do I want out of this catechesis?  I want to learn to fast.  I want spiritual direction.  I want to be ready to make that confession, enter the Church, and receive the Eucharist.  Whatever that looks like.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Making Transitions

This past month has been a rough for me (Felicity) - mentally, emotionally, physically, financially and spiritually.  Probably in other ways too.
Five weeks ago our second daughter was born.  This alone would account for stress in all the aforementioned areas, but we also moved across the country, Peter started a new job, I spent two weeks with my parents in Ohio, and my sister got married.  Just writing that all out is exhausting.  Honestly, I don't know how we managed to do all of that without completely losing our heads (or, maybe that's the only way we were able to do it); but we did it, and now we can breathe again.
I've been taking a lot of deep breaths since we arrived here.  At our first Sunday at the monastery, I walked into the chapel and spent a long time just breathing it all in.  We were early (one of those Protestant habits that's proving hard to break), and the room was still dark.  Old incense lingered in the air; icons glinted and winked in the sun light peeping through skylights and windows.  The room was sleepy and peaceful.  For me, it was like finding the surface after too many somersaults in the pool.  I hadn't realized how close to drowning I was until I went to venerate the icons.  Standing in front of the Theotokos, I felt my soul gasp for air as the stress of the birth, the wedding and the move begin to melt away.  I nearly wept, and probably will one of these days as we continue to settle in.  Even now, after another Sunday and a week of our new normal in between, I still feel short of breath.  Like we aren't really here that long, so I should get as much in as I can while I can.  I guess that's what uncertainty does to you, after a while you can't believe in things like routine and normal.
Yet, I feel it's important to relay that in the midst of the jumble, I haven't completely lost it.  I have been able to find my center, to be relatively calm, and to take care of the things (and people) who needed taking care of.  Also, I'm grateful that, in some strange way, we were prepared to deal with all of this.  It's like we passed the test.  Our marriage, our family, our faith are all intact - safe on this side of the madness and stronger than they were.  We were asked to step out, repeatedly, into the unknown, and we did.  I can only hope that we can continue to be faithful, even as we relax in this new home.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

New places, new experiences

Finally moved in!  Felicity and I will get back to regular posting now that things have settled down.  Daughters are both doing wonderfully.  The new house is a wonderful place to live in a tiny town that's so easy to get around in!  I've been doing my job for the last couple of days and really enjoy teaching.  The OT class that I teach is much more enjoyable than the Latin, but that's because I get to teach only one class at a time instead of two.

We've also started moving ourselves into our new parish home.  There's a small monastery nearby that we've been attending.  I say "Small" being completely ignorant of the regular size of Orthodox monasteries.  Without disclosing too much information, we've landed ourselves in a place highly recommended by some (including our priest) and irritating to others.  Not because they aren't in communion, and not because they don't love Jesus, and not because they aren't Orthodox; but because they have the blessing of the Holy Synod to be a sort of Liturgical testing ground...or maybe an archeological site for the more historic form of public worship once found in Orthodoxy.

All of that said, we have started making ourselves at home in the parish community there.  We are one of the only families from our city, so when we showed up last night for Vespers for Holy Cross most people were pleasantly surprised to see us there!  We love the brothers and sisters we met so far, and they all love our girls (naturally).

The service is slightly different than what we're used to.  Rather than start with the three traditional antiphons after "Blessed is the Kingdom..." we move right into the Trisagion and the Little Entrance, which actually functions as an entrance of the Bible into the temple!  The huge book is then placed in the center of the Nave and we gather around it to hear the three readings: yes, three.  We have an Old Testament, New, and then Gospel reading.  Following that the priest(s) make (their) way into the altar area--not an iconostasis per se, but a lo railing with icons around it that surrounds the sacred space of the altar.  At the end of the service, we were slightly confused, but having talked with Fr. S and calling our priest in North Carolina we felt a lot more secure about our growing relationship with the community up the hill.

Please keep us in prayers as our catechesis begins in earnest within the coming weeks.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Happy Church New Year

For a long time I was following the Western calendar which starts the Church's year at Advent week 1.  It's a little weird to think about the Church year beginning September 1 (regardless of when Advent begins).  On one level, I'm incredibly excited to be beginning our new Church year: so many feasts, so many fasts, so much still to learn.  On another level, I'm struggling to focus on the coming year in the midst of so much other confusion.  With that preamble passed, let me tell you about my weekend.

I went back to the wonderful church on the east coast this past weekend!  My dear roommate E. told me that his old calendar parish was celebrating the Dormition of the Theotokos this weekend!  Seeing that our daughter was born on new calendar Dormition and we miss ed the services, I was over the moon about the opportunity to go and celebrate the translation of the Mother of Life into Life.  What an incredible service!

I'm still getting used to seeing the Theotokos and the other saints as a regular part of my life and spirituality.  I don't understand her, and I don't understand how people can be so caught up in their love of her...but I'm getting there.  The lamentations at Vigil were both beautiful and profound.  She is so loved and so mourned, and the wonder of the early Church is so easily felt in the words of each hymn.  It was a lovely funeral service: both dead to this world, but more alive than ever before having passed over into the Kingdom.  Hope was the word of the night in my mind, and she is such an image of that hope we have in Christ.

The next morning during the liturgy, I thrilled to hear the hymns again.  Her icon was beautiful with the light from the stained glass window reflecting off of it and the light blue cloth decorating the stand.  I don't even know how to express what I felt during those hours in church.

I want to love Her like that.  I want to know what it means to follow Her example and say yes to God.  I want to experience the love and grace that so many people have at Her intercession.  I don't know what that even means or looks like, but the love of God poured out on a human being gives me hope.  If a young, Hebrew girl can receive God into her life constantly point to Him, then we can do that too.  God be merciful.