Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Hurried Pilgrimage and the Sacred Space Inside My Car

My oldest daughter and I went down to St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary in Yonkers, NY today.  Our plan had been to go down and venerate the relics of  St. Vladimir (one of my spiritual heroes) which were going to be at St. Vlad's for the weekend.  It was a trip of about 3 1/2 hours one-way, and we were going to stop to see my old roommate in Poughkeepsie on the way back.  I was planning on spending a little more time than we actually did, but things didn't work out that way. As a consequence, I'm still dealing with what I can only term as "buyer's remorse."  I don't regret going, but I do wonder what part of it was worthwhile.

The website said that Divine Liturgy was going to begin at 9 in the morning.  No chance we were going to make it for that, so we took our time eating breakfast and making our way south along the Taconic.  When I got to Yonkers and finally found my way through the streets to the seminary I nearly drove by it twice.  (Not a lot of signage present for a major theological institution.)  We found parking easily and the chapel was dead straight in front of us.  My little girl and I got out, stretched our legs, gathered our supplies, and made our way up the hill to the small roundish building that is the Three Heirarchs Chapel.  I realized about half the way up the hill that the liturgy was still happening.  Oh well.  Probably communion.

I wasn't just wrong.   I was very wrong.  We arrived smack dab in the middle of the Great Entrance.  They weren't letting people all the way into the nave, obviously, but I got to watch the bishop process through followed by about eight priests and at least as many deacons and subdeacons.  A very friendly man in a white shirt and dark suit coat started beckoning for those of us waiting around to make our way in and to the front.  The relics were right there in their little blue box.  The people in front of me were making prostrations.  I could only cross myself and bow.  (Holding a little one makes for a rather clumsy prostration, and I figured St. Vladimir would forgive me if I didn't go all the way to the ground.)  No sooner do I realize that we're now in the building and that it's going to be hard to leave in order to make our lunch date, but then I realize that (given the Heirarchical nature of the Liturgy) we were in for at least another 45 minutes with all of these people taking communion!  We left.  Lord's Prayer and everything going on around us, we packed up and went.

During the drive up to Poughkeepsie I was asking myself, what was all of this for?  Was it worth all of the effort for a very short time to spend before the relics and in the presence of God during the Liturgy?  All of this for a paper icon and $3.05 for gas?  Or was there, maybe, something I was supposed to get out of this experience that I hadn't yet understood or grasped in all the hurry of the morning and afternoon.  To top it off, I came home and both girls went crazy for about an hour and Felicity and I just stared at each other.  What had all of this been about?

I checked facebook when I got home.  My old priest had requested that I remember his wife and son while in front of the relics.  I was supposed to remember people?  I just crossed myself, bowed, kissed the box, and then left.  I don't know that I had really remembered to pray for myself let alone anyone else.  Why was I so stupid?  Why was I so forgetful?  Did I do the whole thing wrong?

I'm coming to realize, now, the sacred nature of the whole day.  From the time the alarm went off and I decided to take my daughter out for the day so that her mother could stay home and finish her projects uninterrupted to the time we got home and I tried to debug my brain from all of the clutter, I had been in a truly sacramental moment in time.  We made a special trip for the purpose of venerating the relics of this beloved saint.  We had taken part, however brief, in the worship of heaven during the Liturgy.  And even though I hadn't thought to say more than a brief "Holy St. Vladimir, pray for us" while at the relics, I know that I don't have to be there in order for his intercessions to play a part in my life.  God knows that Fr. C. tried to get in touch with me and is at work in the lives of his wife and child.  God knows the prayers that went unspoken.  Through some mystical union that I have yet to understand, all of my failures to "get it right" are all taken up and made right in the presence of an all-knowing, all-loving God.

Our little Chevy became the sanctuary.  Our hours of driving, playing, singing, walking, eating, laughing, and enjoying each other's company became our liturgy.  God blesses us even when we don't understand how He can get through the baggage we bring to the table.  Maybe the next time we'll plan things better.  Maybe the next time I'll realize that it's not always about the destination so much as the journey.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Surprised by the nomination

Eastern Christian New Media Awards: Voting is open!: "Please go vote here."

Many thanks to whoever nominated us. Humbled. But we're against Molly Sabourin, and there's no way we'll take that prize. :-)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Weekend plans

This is one of those personal/religious updates you hear so much about.  Come to think of it, the more that I look at and try to live out this Orthodoxy thing, I've discovered there's really very little difference between the two.

Good husband points: taking the oldest for a Saturday away!

Plan for the day: Drive down to St. Vlad's to pay our respects to the man himself (St. Vladimir, not Fr. Tom) and spend some time enjoying a warm Autumn afternoon before heading home!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Approaching Season

Yesterday, we experienced an interesting mix of precipitation which resulted in a light crust of ice and snow accumulating on the grass.  While meteorologically it may not have been significant, when coupled with the arrival of the first Christmas toy catalogs, I was suddenly faced with just how fast The Holidays are approaching.  I always seem to find myself being caught off guard by this time of year.  Perhaps this is because, for much of my life, October and November were a whirlwind of extracurriculars and projects which, after a quick breather in the first week of December, dumped me unceremoniously into Exams, end of the year dances (with associated drama), my birthday and then Christmas itself.  Needless to say, for me there's a heavy dose of dread entwined with the usual Christmas merriment.
This year, however, is quite different.  First, I'm not in school, so the rhythm of that life is gone (incidentally, I've been out of school for a while now, it's just a hard habit to shake).  Second, we have a toddler who will be able to truly experience the magic of the holidays for the first time.  Thirdly, and most significantly, we wont be celebrating Christmas (or Thanksgiving, for that matter) in the same way, and I have no idea how different things will be.  I'm excited to learn about the difference between western Christmas and eastern Nativity, but that old feeling of dread is still there, though perhaps tinged more by nervousness and apprehension.  I rather dislike the unknown.
This brings me back to looking out the window yesterday afternoon, watching the sleet turn into snow, and realizing that the next few months will be very different for us and, seeing as how these things tend to run into each other, our church life wont really slow down again until... May, maybe?  July?
I'm ashamed to admit it, but there is a [small] part of me that longs for the days when the church status quo was only interrupted for Christmas Eve and Good Friday.
The rest of me is ready to embrace this new aspect of our lives wholeheartedly.  Feasts, festivals, fasting - Bring it.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

No witty titles, just thanks

I once had a conversation with my mother that went something to the effect of: "Is it all just the externals? Crossing yourself, Jesus on a crucifix, candles, robes?"  I kind of stare blankly.  At that particular point in our year of exploration these things had stopped being externals and just part of Sunday morning.  I had a moment today that went something like, the one thing I would say that I really like about being Orthodox that is actually an external: The Cherubic Hymn.  I called it an external because, truly, it's just one hymn out of the thousands of available hymns that have been written over the past 8 millenia or so of worship.

We sing a very beautiful Cherubic Hymn at our parish.  It's very American.  I love it.  Lots of playing back and forth between the four parts.  Not to mention the echo created by the two not-exactly-domes we have in our Nave.  I love that moment.  We sing it through twice.  The way our service goes is slightly different than other parishes, and by the time the Great Entrance comes around we've finished it and need to go again.  It's my favorite part of the service.  No matter what parish we happen to be in, it will always be my favorite part.

A friend at our old parish once told me that the thing that got him convinced of Orthodoxy was this moment.  If that's not actually Jesus coming through the people, then why bother.  If we aren't actually welcoming the King of Glory, let's all go home.  I remember the first time this hymn had truly caught my attention.  That line, "Let us now lay aside all earthly/worldly cares," just arrested my attention.  I had been so distracted by the cares and worries of my life and then...reminded.  I still haven't taken communion--I'm not one of the faithful, yet--but I have been part of that heavenly procession.  I want to know this more and more.

One of the things I like about being Orthodox: The Cherubic Hymn.