Archive for the ‘Church Life’ Category

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My Baptism – part I

March 2, 2009

Anyone who would doubt my tendency to be emotionally driven need only spend a few minutes with my wife who could attest via first hand experience to my over reaction to just about–well–everything. She could tell you, though I doubt she’d be so forthcoming as to dissect me to that extent, of the often times I have turned mountains into molehills or climbed upon my imaginary soapboxes pounding my fists over some hidden moral agenda in the latest new television programing.

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It is I’m afraid a Feliciano family trait. I recall with fondness the first time I brought a high school sweetheart home to experience her first Feliciano family meal. As we passed around the food and the conversation “revved” up, I noticed that my friend was looking very concerned. When I asked her what was wrong she looked at me puzzled and asked in all sincerity why we were all fighting. I laughed and explained to her that we were merely conversing and that this was the way we normally talked around the Feliciano household, each with the impassioned, fervent voice necessary to convey what was on our heart at the moment, even if all that was were the events of the day just passed. She should have bolted for the door then and there.

It is this propensity to over reaction that has kept me from writing about my recent Baptism and conversion into Orthodoxy. I have wanted to allow my initial flood of feelings to flow into a more rhythmic, daily stream of life before I attempted to put my experience in writing. You see I am learning to keep silent. Far to often I come out of the oven half-baked, only having to come back at a later date to apologize and confess that something I was all worked up about had turned out to be very unimportant. For a Feliciano, keeping silent is VERY HARD.  Besides which,  two of the three people who actually read this blog, have asked me again to express what has transpired in me. So I will do my best to do so in a way that makes sense, but that won’t be easy, because very little of what I am experiencing in all of this makes any earthly sense at all.

The days leading up to my baptism and our Chrismations (my wife, our best friends, their 4 kids and several other new friends) were filled with a great deal of agitation. I specifically choose this word because I was awash with so many different feelings that it seemed the most appropriate way to describe what I was experiencing. I don’t want to try to speak for any of my other comrades but for me, converting to Orthodoxy was a decision of huge import, made at the expense of a great deal of sweat and not a small amount of angst. You see I had been on a very long journey, and by that I don’t mean my journey towards true Christlikeness, I believe that is a journey that all true believers share. Since my early twenties I had been on a secondary journey as well; at least, at one time I saw it as such; That journey was a search for the Church of the Apostles, and believe me when I say; in my minds eye it looked nothing like Orthodoxy.

This is not a journey common to all believers. If it were, I believe today that the roads of most would eventually lead to this very intersection. Many people in the Church are far to content to look at their church life as somehow separate and apart from their “personal relationship to Jesus.” Worship becomes a matter of preference and not a shaper of life. But I have never viewed the Church in this way. To me the Church has always been something mystical yet concrete. A BODY if you will, that is formed for the very purpose of making visible the invisible Christ. A mystical Body yes, but one that like Christ himself can be touched, held and seen. A Body not formed by personal preference but by the will and love of God Himself.  To me this meant by definition a group of people whose walking out of the life of Christ could not be separated from another, could not be walked out independent of each other.

So becoming Orthodox for me meant something huge. It meant a converging of my journeys, it meant that I was saying that these two journeys I had been on were really all about one and the same thing. It meant coming to grips with many things in the scriptures and the writings of the early Fathers that over the years, I had been indoctrinated against. It meant I was saying there was value in things that I once held as detrimental to my life and spiritual well being. It meant coming to grips with Baptism, something I had grown up despising. Not in the sense of hatred but in the old english sense of looking down on something. I didn’t need to be dunked to believe! After all, St. Paul seemed pretty pleased he had not baptized anyone from the Corinthian Church. It meant coming to grips with the body and blood of Christ. Eating my flesh? Drinking my blood?  For me, it was not like deciding where to hang out on a Sunday morning, it was like turning my life in a completely different orientation to the light.

So there I was with all this convergence happening in me. I had seen the import and mystery of the Church rightly, but my world view had kept from seeing the Church in any other way then through these post reformation clouded glasses that had allowed me to throw out the bath water AND the baby.

This is getting a bit longer then I had anticipated to I’ll split it into a two parter here.

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Another Must Read

February 17, 2009

As an ex-evangelical pastor I know first hand the damage often done to persons and church due to misused and/or misdirected authority. Being in the Orthodox life has been like a breath of fresh air in this regard. Being under the care of a Father whose goal is emulate the care and love of the Father of All has been a wonderful, freeing experience as we’ve watched that lived out in the Parish over and over again.

Today Father Gregory Jesen posted a must read regarding Orthodox Church life and authority. More specifically “What doesn’t work”. I just want to say a hearty “Amen”.

http://www.palamas.info/2009/02/what-doesnt-work.html

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What is Worship…

January 7, 2009

In my many years as a worship leader first in Calvary Chapels then later in the Vineyard movement it was an almost constant struggle amid my fellow leaders and Pastors to define what worship truly is. I confess from the outset that I was never satisfied by any of the modern ways in which worship was expounded or defined. I had my own pet definition that, for me at least, attempted to go into something deeper and more mystical about the Man/God interaction we hoped was taking place, but in the end my own words fell horribly short as well.

Today I read one of the most powerful expositions I have ever read regarding worship. Please head over to the blog of Father Stephen Freeman <here> Read it, and please let it seep deep.

At the Vienyard I had a Pastor/Friend who was in our area meeting which met monthly who used to say: “If it’s old, it’s gold.” My Brother Jim, you were sooooo right!

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A Must Listen

September 18, 2008

I just listened to a Podcast that I would highly recommend to anyone who is going through the Life of the Church series Fr. Patrick is doing on Tuesday nights. Or anyone interested in an Orthodox view of tradition and the Bible.  It is an interview by Kevin Allen of the “Illumined Heart” Podcast on AF Radio, with Fr. John Behr, historian, theologian and Dean of St. Vladimir’s seminary. This is a wonderful discussion of the necessity of Tradition, Apostolic Authority, and Scripture in the forming of the Body of Christ. I’ve read a great deal on this subject and I think this is the best and most concise explanation I’ve ever heard. It will give you a whole new perspective as you look at Church History with Fr. Patrick. Go, NOW and listen. It is called “As the Apostles Taught”. GO!

http://audio.ancientfaith.com/illuminedheart/ih_2008-09-13.mp3

Plus Fr. Behr just has one of those cool N.T. Wright english accents! Go!

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What Have We Become

September 5, 2008

Oh sweet spirit of John Wimber; What have we become? Or, perhaps the real question is: What are we becoming? Lord have mercy and may it be so much more then we are today.

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A Followup Report

August 2, 2008

A couple posts back I was bemoaning the fact that I spend so little of my usable day given over to God. (See: Really? 6.25%) So I wanted to follow up and report on my attempt at making some changes.

Some background is necessary here: Because Barb and I live in a mobile home, we can be a bit pressed for space. When we got married the family room that was located directly south of the kitchen was turned into a bedroom and is currently my office from which I run my business. That made a two bedroom coach into a three. As the kids got older and Caleb and Jen needed separate rooms we closed off the dining room north of the kitchen into another bedroom. That gave us plenty of rooms, but left us with no place to have a table to sit down to eat, so it just became our routine that I would prepare dinner and everyone would eat as they became hungry and wherever they wanted to grab a spot. So about the only time we get to eat all together is if we go out to share a meal as a family. Not my favorite solution but it’s what we have.

The upshot is that Barb and I usually end up eating our meal sitting on our huge California King bed watching the news or some other mind numbing programing. So, as part of operation “God TIme” (just made that up) I decided to shut off the TV at least between the hours of 6-7 and devote that time to spiritual reading, either scripture or as Barb and I are currently doing together, reading some Fr. P. suggested catechuminate material. It has been really wonderful and the quiet has made me realize how much we leave the TV on just to fill in the void. We are so NOT comfortable with silence as a culture. It’s like we need the incessant droning of the voices, laughter tracks  and car commercials set to classic rock tunes to remind us we are not alone. Funny, but it is in the silence we avoid so eagerly that learn we are truly NOT alone.

So that’s it, it’s just a start, but it is a start. Change comes only with much effort and the amazing grace of God. As a culture we have become addicted to entertainment. We seem to need the constant sounds of what our culture wants us to believe is real life. But the one who is real life needs our attention to speak that life into us. It’s hard to fill a soul that is brim full already.

Now if you’ll excuse me I’m off to see the new Batman movie with my wife. I know, ironic isn’t it?

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Patron Saints

July 29, 2008

Wow, being a life long Nikon camera devotee, imagine my excitment when I found out there was actually a Saint Nikon from Greece. I just might have to change my Patron Saint. Just kidding Fr Patrick.

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Really? 6.25%?

July 16, 2008

Now is the time.” I heard Father Patrick speak those words during a homily over 5 months ago and I knew in an instant, in the blink of an eye, they had been said by the Spirit and I knew I was one to whom they were directed. I don’t mean that Father intentionally spoke those words to me directly that morning, I just knew in the deepest place in my heart that he might as well have.

Last night Father was over to our house to meet with Barb and I for our normal Tuesday night Catechumen sessions. Being that it his first visit to our home, he walked around the living room taking in the various photos we have of family hanging about and remarked how quickly time goes by; “It’s a vapor” Father said. Then sitting down close to me and looking right into my heart he said in the most serious of tones once more “…so now is the time, now is the time!” And just as those words had hit the center of my being some five months earlier, so they did again, and so the question remains: how will I respond this time?

There is no doubt in my mind that I took the first utterance of that phase very seriously. In fact I made some difficult, real changes to several aspects of my life that were completely out of control, and by God’s grace and mercy have seen wonderful, fresh glimpses of the life of Christ being formed in my core. But I also know that God wants to give me so much more of himself. His life laid down for mine so that I might lay down mine and gain His.

Father gave us more then a few recommendations last night regarding some things he suggested we should read and also some things we could do to prepare ourselves for our first confessions as Catechumen. Honestly, at first, I was slightly overwhelmed, internally searching through my regularly scheduled life in search of an extra minute or two in which to add the additional activities. But it was echoing in me: “NOW is the time!”

So this morning I did a quick little estimate of the time I actually have available and the time I intentionally give to God. Presently, not counting those days I spend in worship with the Church, Saturday night and Sunday Morning, I manage to give to God approximately 10 minutes in the morning for prayer and then about 5 minutes at the end of each day in examine of my day before praying Psalm 50 (that’s 51 to all you evangelicals out there) and closing my eyes. Now I’m not saying that I don’t consider or ponder the things of the Spirit at other times, I do, I’m just talking about time I set aside ALMOST everyday. That’s out of a 24 hr period.

Now I can hear some of you saying, yeah but you sleep for 6-8 hours of that. Ok, I’ll give you that, so now I’m down to 15 minutes out of a 16 hr period. I feel way better. Some might argue, wait, surely you can’t count the time you’re at work. We obviously need to work and often our minds are so occupied between the hours of 9-5-well surely I can’t count that time? Ok, I’ll give you that one as well so now I’m down to what I do with my eight remaining waking, non working hours. Wow, now I’m almost off scott-free. In fact I might just be a spiritual giant!

6.25% of my 8 hours are set apart for God. I’m actually surprised that it’s that high, but I did ask my CPA wife and she gave me that number. I’m not trying to beat up on myself or saying that number needs to 10% or 50% or whatever! The number isn’t the important thing, it’s my heart and I’m just saying that I’m hearing the still small voice again, and it’s not in the thunder, the earthquake or the wind. No, it’s meek and soft, almost a whisper; “Now is the time.”

The bottom line is that I make plenty of time for those things I really love; My Macs, my Nikon, my TV shows, my photography books and magazines. God wants to give me so much more, but it seems that I’m already so full of everything else. Lord have mercy on me. Help me to love you at least as much as these other things, at least that would be a start. “Now is the time.”

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The Question

June 16, 2008

Yesterday was Pentecost, Father’s Day, and a wonderful and unique day for Barb and I as well. Yesterday we were officially accepted as Catechumen at St. Peters Orthodox Church. Just today Debbie Z. posted a cool blog about what it was like from her perspective and I don’t want to simply revisit the occasion, what I really want to do in this post is write about the why and how.

First let me just say how incredibly grateful I am to our great God for bringing us to this point. When I look back at several of my posts from even a few months ago, I would have never believed we’d be where we are today. In fact as recently as my post of March 3rd this year I wrote about the dark place I had been in for the last year or so. I wrote of how God had challenged me in Father Patrick’s Homily of Forgiveness Sunday; Now was the time, Father Patrick said over and over, and oh my was it ever.

When I first approached Orthodoxy I came with so many questions and so many self-made objections that needed to be addressed. But in very typical “God fashion”–at least for me–He did not address them in any way I would have typically looked for them to be addressed. Give me a book to read, an authority to question! I’d spend so many nights locked in a struggle with myself, in my mind, running through every possible scriptural objection I could find, waiting for the next encounter with that “authority” so that I could stump them and send them crying home to the monastery!

Funny, those objections now seem so unimportant.

When Barb, who was completely resistant to Orthodoxy from the beginning, began to soften her heart to God and stepped out and began to follow me to St, Peters, I actually found myself afraid of going forward. I knew my wife was a person who, once she feels something was right to do, would run after it with everything she had–and she has. (See my post “what have you done with my wife?”) When she decided that God was calling her forward and that the time to change her heart had come, I began to realize that our becoming Orthodox might actually become a reality. All my objections, questions and fears of my families interrogations suddenly became overwhelming to me and I felt like doing what I have so often done before: that’s right, the ole’ cut and run. But then over the course of a many days, very gently and almost imperceptibly, a question began to take shape in my mind that made all the difference and finally dispersed all my remaining objections. The question? Simply this: If not here, then where? If not now, then when?

I found myself feeling very much like the Apostles when our Lord asked them if they would desert him as so many others were doing after he spoke pointedly of drinking his blood and eating his flesh. Do you remember their answer? “Where else can we go, you have the words of life?” It seemed I was at an impasse. What could I do? Where could I go? When would I finally decided to lay it all on the line as I had challenged so many others to do before me. Since my early twenties I have sought and longed for the Church of the New Testament. I have hungered after a church life that would hold me accountable to those with whom I was in communion. I think I rightly saw many years ago that a call to the Person and therefore Body of Christ was not a call to individuality but a call to lay down one’s life for the sake of his friends. I knew in my heart that when St. Paul said, “when one member suffers all members suffer” was not just a pretty platitude for a refrigerator magnet. Paul did not say “We SHOULD suffer, he said we DO!” No, it meant that for the Body to function properly ALL members are needed and my weakness did not simply effect me as an individual, but it effected all those with whom I was in communion. Now here I stood amidst a people who believe that too, and I was scared. I have longed for a Father figure to whom I could confess the deepest darkness of my heart, but now that the figure stood before me in flesh and blood, I could touch him and see him. I was afraid.

If not here, then where? If not now, then when?

I think we sometimes read the scripture I just mentioned and think that the apostles declaration meant they believed in Jesus without question or doubt. Had everything suddenly come into focus for them? A cursory reading of the story as it follows shows they were far from it, but this one thing they “knew”–He had the “words of life”, and so they followed. Do I still have questions? Yup, sure do. But if not here, then where? If not now, then when?

Lord Jesus Christ Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. Bring me to your table and let me feast upon you. Your life for my life. The knowledge of YOU for my questions. Praise be to the Eternal Father, Son and Holy Spirit, may we never be the same! Amen

And thank you to my Son David who so kindly walked with me through it all and to Rico Monge to whom I owe a huge apology for the way I assailed him and his character. May God be forever glorified in my weaknesses.

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Matins at 6

May 28, 2008

Those who know me best know that I am at my best after the sun has set and night has fallen. I have often noted to family and friends that I was really “designed” to be a road musician. I am built for late nights, strange places, new hotels every night and–and this is what is germane to this post–sleeping in until at least 10AM. So it was with more than a little angst that I learned that Saint Peter’s holds weekday Matins at 6AM. Being new to the Orthodox Way, Barb and I are having a wonderful time immersing ourselves in as much of the Orthodox experience as we can make time for in our schedules. But there has to be a limit somewhere; doesn’t there? 6AM?

I had attended several Sunday morning Matins services at St. Luke’s before coming over to St. Peter’s, but those services began at a reasonable 9AM. Heck, even I can do a 9AM. I remember when I was on staff at the Vineyard and our Senior Pastor Tom, wanted to begin having two services on Sunday mornings. My first thought? Well it wasn’t, O how convenient for the congregation. No, my first thought was how in the world am I going to be able to wake up at 6AM in order to get to the church by 7AM in order to be ready to sing by 8AM? Anyone who is reading this and is a singer knows what a scary thing singing at 8 in the morning can be, let alone 6, but that’s a different story. My wife on the other hand closes shop around 9PM each night and springs out of bed to do her devotions and exercise before 5. That’s right 5AM! …I have no idea.

Last Monday was Memorial Day and as I usually do I began on Friday to look forward to a leisurely time lying in bed with Barb enjoying a holiday off and talking our time to enter into the day busying ourselves with activities. On the Sunday before the holiday I awoke feeling very odd. We’d been passing around some type of stomach aliment and I was beginning to wonder if perhaps we’d eaten something that was biting back. So, for the sake of all those in our Parish, I decided to remain at home and only share my discomfort with Minnie Mouse our Rat Terrier. As the morning bloomed I was surprised at how strongly I missed being with the Church that morning. I felt an emptiness as I laid there at it was not the result of the malady. So much so, that when Barb finally came home I blurted out “Maybe we should get up and go to Matins in the morning?” All right this has just gone too far! How deeply is this Orthodox thing going to infiltrate my mental faculties? Next thing you know I’ll be giving up Battle Star Galatica to pray Compline. Ha!

Well, Monday morning came and I dragged myself up, something I have to force myself to do even at 7 or 8, and we drove down to the Church wondering if perhaps Father Patrick might be taking a Holiday as well. Thankfully he was not and when Matins began there were exactly six of us and only three of us were congregation. As Matins began something was rousing my thoughts. I couldn’t quite pin it down, but something was not quite right. Oh the singing was wonderful and the prayers as rich as ever, but something seemed so strangely odd to me. And then just as we stood and Father began to cense the Church I began to sense what it was that seemed so puzzling, so odd. You see in all of the ministries in which I had been involved over the years, I dare say that had three people shown up for a “service”, well I doubt there would have been any service at all. I mean, three people, it’s hardly worth the effort. And then it hit me–WHAM–it wouldn’t have mattered one wit to Father Patrick or to Doug or to whom ever was serving the Matin prayers and reading the Matin Psalms because nothing, absolutely nothing we were doing that morning had anything to do with US, it had everything to do with doing unto God. I have been so indoctrinated into a way of doing church that is all about the attendee. The music caters to the taste of the attender, the sermon is delivered for the sake of the hearer, the decor and comfort of the building are geared to attract the “seeker”. But the seeker of what? The True, Mighty, Holy God before whom we should fall on our faces as though dead? Or are we seeking a our selfish notions of what a god is and what he can do for ME?

Yes, if it had been Father Patrick alone, Matins would have been “served” and it would have been man, serving the God of all, as should be; as it must be; as it WILL be. Lord have mercy!

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What is Salvation

May 13, 2008

Tonight we began a six week class at St. Peter’s on the subject of salvation. What it is, how we get it, and what is its point.

As I sat there listening to Fr. Patrick speaking it was like having someone standing along side of me and my wife whispering in my ear: “See, you’re not crazy, you’re NOT crazy!” As he spoke about the Churches roll in our journey of salvation it was like a glass of cold water on my parched throat and I began to cry. I’m sure he probably thought I was yawning or falling asleep when in fact I was feeling so…grateful. I have always believed that it was Jason’s and my teaching at a Wednesday night group we started at the Vineyard, where we first began to expound some if the “new” concepts we were learning, that eventually led to our being asked to leave the church in favor of new leadership. What an amazing joy it was to hear someone saying this has been the teaching of the Church from the beginning. Not because it made me feel right-after all these weren’t our concepts or some new theology we’d invented-but because it made me feel home.

For over 30 years I have studied and searched for the “New Testament” Church. And trust me, in my mind it didn’t look anything like this at all. Only to have God turn my world on its head just to find out that it has been right here all along. I don’t mean that to sound elitist or sectarian in any way. It’s not that I believe that the Orthodox Church is the sole purveyor of all truth and that no one else has access to it, that’s is not what I mean at all. It is just so hard to put into words how it feels to finally sense the discovery of a treasure you have been hunting for 3 decades and I just feel..grateful. Very, very grateful.

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Worship in the Church

May 10, 2008

I really love Fr Stephen “Glory to God” blog. Where he gets the time to write as much as he does is beyond me. He doesn’t just fill his blog with trite sentimentality’s like some people I know (ME!!), but his words are so often like soothing salve on my soul. As a former Vineyard Worship Pastor, where hey-we knew worship, I am constantly amazed how little I really understood of the nature of true worship. Below is a snippet of what Fr. Stepehen wrote today, I encourage you to click the link to read the complete text.

“But the Church does not gather to rehearse bare facts: it gathers to worship. In its worship it affirms as much of the fullness of the faith as has been given to us – in Scripture – in doctrine – in the whole of Tradition. The Church does not stop with the facts for the facts point beyond themselves to eternal truth – and it is this eternal Truth that the Church proclaims.

Thus in Orthodox worship, Christ is almost always mentioned together with His Father and the Holy Spirit, for now the Church proclaims the fullness of the Trinitarian faith. We can do no less. We cannot speak of the Cross without at the same time saying all that the Cross has accomplished.”

May it be ever so.

Amen

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My Greatest Fear

May 9, 2008

There is a profound difference between being a person who is smart or educated – a person who has learned what to do in a given situation, and being a person who is wise – a person who has become someone who acts rightly out of true character. Some of the smartest people I’ve know in this life, proved by their actions to be very unwise. Up to this point in my life I would unfortunately have to place myself into the latter category as well. Not that I am particularly well educated, I was within one or two classes of obtaining an A.S. in Horticulture in college many moons ago, but to be honest I’m really more of a “Jack of all trades master of none” kind of guy. I know a great deal about many things, but have mastered very little, expect the uncanny ability to return to the Pig Pen God has rescued me from over and over again in my 53 years.

It matters little that while entrenched in the slop of my sin I have cried out to God as a slave cries out for his freedom; the memories of the cold and stench seem to fade so quickly. And once I am warm, dry and safe and have a belly full of the goodness and fatness of living in the land of promise, I have found myself either in a place of forgetting the stench and prison that is the pig pen – “Was is really that cold, that smelly, that confining?” Or, I find myself complacent about continuing on and getting as far from the slop as God will take me. I find a clean, warm spot and settle into mediocrity, far from the Theosis the Fathers spoke of.

I have said often that when we left the Evangelical church I discovered to my amazement that my spiritual life was like a lake 5 miles wide but only 2 inches deep. Oh it looked good on the surface, deep and blue, but I found that the actions of doing “ministry” accounted for most of my feelings of well being spiritually speaking. Instead of knowing God, I was doing FOR God the things I substituted for relational knowledge. Very little wisdom there. And now here I am, far away from the slop of the pig pen, praying that this time, I will neither return as a dog returns to its vomit, to the sin that so easily enslaves me, nor remain content to substitute the liturgy, the prayers, bowing, crossing and veneration’s for what they all meant to point us too, a true relational knowledge of the one who can fill us with the true life of the very God of gods. “Wisdom. Let us attend!”

That is my greatest fear as we approach Orthodoxy. That I will simply return to old unwise patterns of living and substitute “smarts” (what actions I learn to do) for true wisdom (what the actions are meant to help me become).

Lord have mercy upon me and neither allow me to forget the stench of the pen and return to my sin, nor let me become content with who I am. No Lord, let me not rest until I behold like in a mirror, Thy likeness.

Amen

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Thomas

May 4, 2008

We are coming to the end of Bright Week and although I must confess the break from 3 services an hour was nice, it was also wonderful to go to Great Vespers last night. It was nice to see those we hadn’t seen in the week past and wonderful to bask in the prayers of the victory of Christ.

Last night many of our prayers centered on one of my favorite of the Disciples: Thomas. Over my life I have gone from being what my Mom used to call a “chronic pessimist”, to a fledgling skeptic, to a complete cynic. It not something for which I am bragging; in fact it is one of my greatest hopes to change, rather it just means I can relate to Thomas and his “doubts”. I take great comfort in the mercy Jesus showed to him. He didn’t turn away from him and say “After everything you’ve seen, if you can’t believe then leave! ” instead he gave him his hands and bid him to thrust his hand into his side. What must that have been like? To touch the God/Man’s very wounds? Not with the hands of strength and faith, but with the quivering hands of doubt and skepticism. Why didn’t he drop dead at touching the Holy? Oh the mercy of God. The Creator of all, wonded for our failings, allowing the failure of faith to touch for itself the very power of creation. “My King and my God!”

Thank you for your mercy oh Father, may I believe yet having not touched. Amen

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Where is the Devil when you need him?

April 27, 2008

Well my 2nd Pascha service was even more wonderful then my first. That’s not meant as a comparison of St Luke’s to St. Peter’s, it’s just that this year I was so ready and expectant of God’s presence and I was certainly not disappointed. If you’ve never experienced Orthodox Pascha, all I can say is that it is truly an amazing time. Being at St. Peter’s this year allowed me an interesting vantage point from which to view the happenings.

We meet in a building that is above a parking garage with the steepest staircase in the universe! I kid not. To go up the stairs my wife literally places her hands on my rear and gives me a gentle shove to get up every step. As much as I like having her hands on my butt, it is still a very difficult climp. What this means is once I’m up stairs, I don’t go down again unless were heading home. Since there are several times during Holy week when the faithful follow the Cross and the Gospel out and down the stairs, I hang out and just watch from the balcony.

During the Pascal service there is a pivotal point that comes fairly early; a hinge pin if you will, where the faithful are transformed from the solemnity of mourning the death of the Hope of the World to the celebration of His New Creation. It begins with the church being plunged into almost complete darkness; the prayers are quiet and pleading. Then a single candle is lit at the altar and soon that one flame spreads throughout the entire room; The light of world is coming. The congregation then follows the Cross and the Gospel out of the Church and down the street singing (at 12 midnight) of the hope of resurrection. Once everyone has gone out the transformation in the church begins. People are running everywhere so that when the faithful return, they come into a transformed church of light, color, flowers– of life. It is truly an wonderful thing to see.

And now everything hinges on one important exchange. The Priest, who represents Christ to the congregation after leading several songs and prayers outside bangs hard upon the doors of the church exclaiming “Open wide ye gates. Be lifted up ye Everlasting Doors that the king of Glory may enter in!” At this point someone from inside has to play the part of the Devil and shout back “Who is this king of Glory?” Only one problem… no one inside knows who is the Devil this year! In years past this has apparently been done by a very nice, large brother with a “manly” voice by the name of Barry, but Barry is now where to be found. Panic is beginning to set in, Where is the devil? I can see the look in the faces of the women who are following along in the liturgy books. It’s almost here! who is the Devil this year? I don’t know! What if Father Patrick calls out but and there is no answer? Where is the Devil when you need him?

At the last moment in strolls Barry seemingly calm and unaware of the panic that had been taking hold of those inside. He steps up to the door with only a moment to spare. BAM! BAM! BAM! Just in time. Wow, was that close. The doors fly open and in come the Faithful having gone from the darkness of sorrow to the light of hope fulfilled! “Christ is risen!” “Truly he has risen!”

The remainder of the service is very difficult to describe. It’s almost like orchestrated chaos. Several different small choirs singing, the Priest stepping out from the altar shouting “Christ has Risen!”; in several different languages, while the choirs are singing and the people shouting back lifting their candles in the airs Truly he has risen!” Wow! Easter as it should be.

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Pascha at St. Peters

April 26, 2008

Here are a few quick images I caught with my iphone. Sorry for the noise it was REALLY dark in there. Oh yeah and awesome as well.  Click to enlarge.

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Easter with Meaning

April 20, 2008

Well, Holy Week has begun and I am already overwhelmed by the depth of the services we are experiencing. Having grown up in church, I have been to over 50 Easter worship services and I can honestly say that I left everyone feeling as if we had missed something. I can’t really explain it much more then that. We said the right things and sang all the right songs but, for me at least, the true meaning of the death and resurrection of the Lord of Glory almost seemed like just another Sunday. I am so loving our Pascha experience this year. The prayers, the music, the readings, are all so full and so overflowing. All I can say is that I this year I know

I won’t leave the season having missed a thing.

Great Vespers

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End of the Day

April 14, 2008

Well Barb and I just topped of a wonderful day of worship and fellowship with a nice dinner with Jason and Debbie. Since Jason started working out in Whittier with my Son David, we don’t see nearly as much of the Z’s as we would like, so it was so nice to be able to sit down and share notes over where we are in our journey to explore Orthodoxy.

After Divine liturgy this morning we had a really nice time sitting down with Father Patrick and getting to know him a bit and letting him get to know us. How cool to have a man like Father Patrick so available and so open to our questions. The more we learn the more we are enjoying our time here. It is early in our inquiry but God seems to be fitting so many things together for us all.

Yes it was a wonderful Lord’s Day today. Thank you Lord for the Church, for good friends and for a wife who is willing to share in this crazy journey I’ve been on for the last 30 years.

Peace be to all

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What’s in a Name?

March 23, 2008

Stmark
I know that I am light on details and I probably have made the telling of the story into some large cosmic happening in my mind, but for me the story of how I was given the name Mark has always held deep spiritual significance. As far back as I can remember my Mother often reminded me of it and how it was important to her and to my destiny in Christ as she believed it would unfold. I’m not quite sure the timing nor the circumstances leading up to “The Naming Event”, (to cosmic?); but at some point late in the pregnancy which eventually resulted in my birth, my parents were apparently having trouble deciding on names. Of course, being the age I am this was well before the advent of Ultrasounds, Sonograms or even hospitals or indoor plumbing for that matter, so those names would have included both boys and girls.

The year was 1954 and my parents who had professed Christ just shortly after moving from New York City’s West Side in 1952 one morning woke to find themselves in the presence of a would-be prophetess. This particular morning my 10 year old sister had risen from bed having had a very memorable dream. In her dream she saw that our Mother’s child was to be a boy, that the boy was to be named Mark after the writer of the earliest Gospel and disciple of Peter and, that one day he would grow up to be a preacher of the Word. (Imagine being reminded of that every time you got into trouble for the first 45 years of your life.) They all decided right then and there that it must have been a dream from the Lord and in obedience, the as yet unborn baby boy was given the name Mark after the good one. Even more unbelievably, for a time at least, he was a preacher of the Word as well.

My point in all of this – and you knew I had one – was really to bring the true significance to light of something that happened to me just last night. I was given a gift. A gift that was far more meaningful to me then I’m sure my gift-or, Father Michael, really understood. I celebrated Great Vespers at St. Luke’s like I often do, and was presented by my Son David with my very first icon. An icon from Father Michael. An icon of my name sake, St. Mark. I know that to Father Michael he was just clearing out an office, happened upon the Icon and seeing the name thought of me and decided to bless me with it. But he then took the time to bless it, anoint it with Holy Water and to seek God for my healing in it; No small thing to the Orthodox. I was so completely touched and appreciative of his heart and kindness toward me. When I saw that the Icon carried the image of the very man I was named for, well, I wanted to be sure that people knew just how much his “simple” gift meant to me and to know that every time I look upon this icon, I’ll be reminded of God’s mercy, faithfulness, kindness and love. I’ll be reminded of a dream and the obedience of my parents and the type of heart I seek to cultivate: A heart like the Son. Thank you Father for men like Father Michael who continue to show me what a true human heart is like.

-Mark

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A Must Read

March 11, 2008

I just finished reading the Glory to God for All Things weblog of Fr. Stephen Freeman. If you have a few minutes please follow my link and read it. It is worth taking a bit of time to really let it “seep deep”.

<Click Here>

You can find Father Stephen’s regular weekly podcast at Ancient Faith Radio and it is a must listen too as well.

<Click Here>

Peace be to all