Monday, December 10, 2012

Icon - An Acrostic Poem

Image of
Christ in an

It’s simple, yet
Old, yet

I light a
Candle and
Observe the

I stand
Only one thing is

Monday, August 27, 2012

Reflections on an Orthodox Funeral

I will always remember Caryn for her glowing countenance and her love for everyone, especially the children. When I first met her, I didn’t even know she had cancer.  She never complained, even though I knew she suffered greatly.  Last week she breathed her last on this earth.

Caryn’s was the first Orthodox funeral I’ve attended.  It was sorrowful, but the service was so beautiful and reminded me of heaven. And there was such comfort in the ancient words, not only of the Scriptures, but also of the memorial service itself.  I knew we were using the same words that have been used at services for nearly two thousand years.

We began the night before at the funeral home with a “panikhida” or vigil (what some people might call a “wake”). The familiar Trisagion prayers (see a previous post) were followed by special prayers, psalms and hymns for the dead. Here are two of the hymns:

Thou only Creator Who with wisdom profound mercifully orderest all things, and givest unto all that which is useful, give rest, O Lord, to the soul of Thy servant who has fallen asleep, for she has placed her trust in Thee, our Maker and Fashioner and our God (Troparion).

With the saints give rest, O Christ, to the soul of Thy servant where sickness and sorrow are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting (Kontakion).

Father James reflected on Caryn’s life, and we sang “Memory Eternal.” Afterwards, we ate a small amount of Kolyva, or boiled wheat and nuts sweetened with honey and a powdered sugar covering. The wheat is a symbol of resurrection, as mentioned in John 12:24:  “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit."

Today was the funeral, which was held at the Greek Orthodox Church, where Caryn also attended. All three Orthodox priests in town officiated, wearing white to symbolize our hope of the resurrection. Once again, the service was beautiful, including the ancient Byzantine chants by the church’s chanter and two men singing the “ison.” The Scripture readings were about resurrection: I Thessalonians 4:13-17 and John 5:24-30.  Each priest gave a remembrance of Caryn, and we sang “Memory Eternal” in both Greek and English.

Afterwards a friend from choir drove our godparents, my husband and me to the cemetery in a small town north of the city. As we passed drought-stricken corn bordered by bright yellow late-summer sunflowers, we remembered Caryn’s life and recalled the love she showed to all.

At the casket was being brought to the grave, we sang the Trisagion Hymn--Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal Have Mercy on us"--and then our choir friend sang “Memory Eternal” one last time. Fr. Nick placed ashes on the grave, and we each filed past to place a bit of dirt on the grave.

Afterwards we returned to the church for a traditional feast of plaki (fish and vegetables) as a symbol of mourning and fasting. But we also had red wine and baklava left over from Saturday’s Greek Festival, and enjoyed conversation.The fellowship of good friends brings healing at a time like this, and there is nothing quite like the feeling of family at an Orthodox church.

“Give rest O Lord to the soul of Caryn, who has fallen asleep.”

“May her memory be eternal.”

This video gives a taste of what an Orthodox funeral is like:

Monday, August 20, 2012

Bishop Matthias Visits our Parish

Bishop Matthias visited our parish yesterday.  It had been five years since a bishop had been to our church. Several weeks before his visit, we held a church cleaning day, and we ended up painting the nave and rearranging the icons. The ladies “Saints Mary and Martha Guild” planned the lunch menu.

Because we are old calendar, we celebrated the Feast of the Transfiguration during his visit.  That meant we had him, not only for liturgy, but also for a very moving vigil the night before.  We had a meet and greet (he really is down to earth, with a great sense of humor.) before the vigil, and then the solemn--yet joyous service.  My photos are from the vigil.  The liturgy was too special to mar by taking pictures (besides, it's hard to take pictures when you're in the choir.)

My sister asked me on Saturday if the bishop was going to speak on Sunday. "I guess so," I responded.  I remember thinking, That's not the point.  It's just having him here.  But he did give the homily and it was amazing, as I knew it would be. He also made some special presentations: naming our long-time deacon as protodeacon, tonsuring a new reader (a new convert who was chrismated the same time we were), plus three unexpected awards to long-time church members who have given many hours of service to our parish.

It’s a cliché (and in this case a pun), but it really was a “mountaintop experience.”  It was hard to come down to earth again.

I’ve never been a member of a church that had a bishop.  I guess the churches I was a part of considered it too “Catholic” or something.  But the Bible mentions bishops several times.  The problem is, the Greek word episkopos  is translated “overseer” (or in one case “guardian”) in both the New American Standard Bible and the New International Version, the translations usually used in the churches I attended.  But if you remove the first letter and the last two letters of episkopos, you get “piskop,” from which we get the word “bishop.”  The good old King James Version and my favorite, the New King James, usually translate the word as bishop.  Let’s have a look:

Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Jesus Christ, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: (Philippians 1:1)

A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; (1 Timothy 3:2)

For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, (Titus 1:7)

In addition, the church history written by Eusebius in 325, lists the bishops of the early church from the time of the apostles. But then I’d never heard of Eusebius until I became Orthodox

I’m no expert on church government,  but I can see the importance of bishops for leadership and accountability. And this weekend I experienced something else--the excitement and sense of wonder when a bishop worships with us, especially during a feast day.

Click here for more pictures of the Vigil and click here for more pictures from the liturgy (from our church's website).

Monday, June 25, 2012

Jonathan Jackson: Orthodoxy at the Emmy Awards

Wow - An Emmy Award speech in which the winner starts by giving glory to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and ends by thanking the monks on Mount Athos, who are ceaselessly praying for the life of the world.

For more information on Jonathan Jackson, see this blog post and this podcast by Father Andrew Stephen Damick.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Christ is Risen, Even in a Tornado!

It was time.  The lights were turned off and the candles were all blown out, save one. Slowly we spread that one flame from candle to candle as we sang a solemn chant. Then, just as we walked out the front door of the church, an eerie sound joined our singing: the menacing wail of a tornado siren. A few people ran to the church basement, but most of us carried on, singing those ancient words:

Thy resurrection O Christ our Savior
The angels in heaven sing
Enable us O Lord
To worship thee in purity of heart.

We processed around the church, as we always do at midnight on Pascha, but our words were lost in the wind and the blare of the sirens. As we stood at the door of the church, our solemn chant turned into joyous song:

Christ is risen from the dead
Trampling down death by death
And upon those in the tombs bestowing life.

Christ is risen!
No, it wasn’t a normal way to celebrate this most joyous of Christian feasts, but somehow it was appropriate. After all, the procession commemorates Christ’s harrowing of Hades. We believe that when Christ died, he went down to Hades, the place of the dead, and preached to the souls there. My friend Ray Richards said that when the sirens went off, “it was as if Hades itself caught sight of Jesus and was shrieking out with terror . . . it was as if we were literally with the Lord during his descent and harrowing of Hades.”

Father James banged on the door of the church. The doors opened, the light streamed out and the bells rang, and we proceeded into the church. The joyous celebration that followed was punctuated by more sirens, but the choir kept on singing, even though half the congregation was out in the narthex, ready to run for the basement at a moment’s notice. And then Father Nick read those beautiful words from the Homily of St. John Chrysostom:

"Let no one fear death, for the Savior's death has set us free. He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it. By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive. He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh. And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hell, said he, was embittered, when it encountered Thee in the lower regions. It was embittered, for it was abolished. It was embittered, for it was mocked. It was embittered, for it was slain. It was embittered, for it was overthrown. It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains. It took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen."

How appropriate that we were facing the fear of death in the midst of this celebration.  Just as Christ’s resurrection drowns out the fear of death, our joyous singing drowned out the wail of the sirens. To quote Ray: “we were truly immersed in the experience and reality of the redeeming works of our Savior. For scream, kick, and resist as it might, nature, sin, death, Satan and his demons are no match for God and His True Church.”

Quoting St. John Chrysostom: “Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen."

In the end, no tornadoes touched down. Perhaps it was our singing that kept the tornadoes away.

In this video you can hear the sirens:

Here's a video of our choir singing excerpts from "Christ is Risen" and "The Angel Cried": No sirens in this one, just joyful singing.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

O Gladsome Light: The Earliest Christian Hymn

People like to talk about old hymns, but in truth, the oldest known Christian hymn, outside of the Bible, is a beautiful little song called "O Gladsome Light."

We sing this as part of vespers and also during the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts during Lent. Both the words and the melody are hauntingly beautiful, and it's a beautiful song of praise focusing on God.

I realize the song was originally written in Greek, but I love the English translation we use. Just the word "gladsome" sends chills down my spine.  And I love the archaic phrase "for meet it is at all times." And I love the idea of the "light of evening."  I believe it's talking about the wonderful time of twilight, when the light takes on a mystical, otherworldly essence.

Most of all, I love the way the song draws our focus toward God and not ourselves.

Here are the words we use in our church:

O Gladsome Light of the holy glory of the Immortal Father, heavenly, holy, blessed Jesus Christ. Now we have come to the setting of the sun and behold the light of evening. We praise God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. For meet it is at all times to worship Thee with voices of praise, O Son of God and Giver of Life, therefore all the world doth glorify Thee.

There are many melodies used, but this one comes closest to the one we sing in our church:

Monday, April 2, 2012

Why Do Orthodox Christians Sometimes Celebrate Easter on a Different Day?

This has long been confusing to people.  Some years the Orthodox celebrate Easter (which we call Pascha) on the same day as the west, and some years it is later.  It is never earlier.  Why the difference?

The first council of Nicea established Easter as the first Sunday after the first full moon that falls on or after the Vernal Equinox. But all Orthodox Christians use the old calendar to calculate the date of the Equinox.  (See my post on the Old Calendar.) This means that the Old Calendar and New Calendar Orthodox are united for the Paschal season (from the start of Great Lent through Pentecost), even though they are 13 days off for the liturgical calendar and the rest of the great feasts.

During 2010 and 2011 Easter and Pascha fell on the same day.  This year and for the next few years the dates are different.  Here are the dates:

2012April 8April 15
2013March 31May 5
2014April 20April 20
2015April 5April 12

Orthodox Response to "Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus" Video

Here's an Orthodox response to the viral video "Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus." This was created by the Orthodox Christian Network.


Monday, January 23, 2012

Photos of a Nativity Vigil

The Nativity Vigil is beautiful.  Click here for some some photos from the vigil at our church:

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

More Americans Joining Orthodox Churches

I'm not an anomaly. More and more Americans are converting to Orthodox Christianity. Here's an interesting article about the phenomenon: