Sunday, April 27, 2008


Christ is Risen!

Tá Criosd ar éirigh!

A Blessed Pascha (Orthodox Easter) to all Orthodox Christians and Christians everywhere.  This marks the first year I have been able to attend the Resurrection Liturgy & Rush Service and what a privilege to share this joy with my 6 year old daughter!

The night began for us @ 10:30 pm, as we wanted to be sure and find a seat near the front of the church.  By 11:00 pm, the church was full as the faithful came out to worship in celebration the high-point and cornerstone of our Christian faith, the blessed Resurrection of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ!

Before leaving home, I prayed to God to help Josie & I endure the fatigue of the renew our energy and bless us through the liturgy.  Praise Him for his tender mercies;   our hearts and minds were blessed and it was my little girl who led us onward through the night.

For her sake, I was willing to go for only the Rush Service, to commemorate Christ’s death, His descent to Hell to free the captives there, and His glorious Resurrection.  But it was Josie who, although very tired, asked to stay to receive Communion during the Liturgy which followed.    

The atmosphere in God’s house was mostly sombre with a joyful anticipation quietly palpable.   We brought our candles from home, which the kids had made on Lazarus Saturday and at the appointed time, followed the faithful out of a darkened church - symbolizing the death and darkness of the earth when Christ said, “It is finished” - into a procession outdoors in front of the church.

The sweetness of loving, reverent voices on the night air as we sang the Trisagion Hymn and Troparion was otherworldly...angels must have hovered near to sing amongst us.  Truly, the human voice, that first instrument of praise to God,  shines like diamonds when united with the chants and hymnography of the ancient faith. 

After the procession we came round to the front door and watched as the service continued with the Bishop holding the long candlesticks while singing the liturgy and the priest knocking on the door of the church shouting, “Lift up your heads, O ye gates, yea lift them up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of Glory shall  come in!”  As we enter again into the sanctuary, all is lit and the atmosphere is charged with exultation and triumph!  The Bishop repeatedly says, “Christ is risen” and we joyfully reply, “Truly He is risen!”

The Resurrection Liturgy follows and soon Josie & I are in line to be received at the Lord’s Table.  What gifts He gives, what blessings flow from the King of Heaven, the Creator of all!  He has defeated death by death and we are welcome at the Court of Christ.  I might have stayed in that blessed and peaceful place for a very long time...

But, too soon it is over and we are invited to break the fast together.  I look at Josie, thinking she is all-too-ready to call it a night, but I’m wrong.  She wants to attend the church breakfast; it’s especially appealing since one of her friends is there, too.  What a feast!  We had scrambled eggs, thick slices of ham, fresh fruit and biscuits, cereal and Lebanese cookies.   We ate and visited with our church family for close to an hour and arrived back home some minutes after 3 a.m.    Josie was sound asleep by then, but I felt renewed, overjoyed peace.  We serve an awesome God; Praise Him for all things!

Truly He is Risen!

go deimhin tá sé éirithe!

*photograph shows our candles made on Lazarus Saturday during the Rush Service

*Check here to read and listen to Pascal greetings from around the world.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Hello, God? Can you hear me now?

“Wait a minute, I’ve got a call on the other line.    Ok, I’m back, can you hear me?  Wait...let me walk over by the window.   How about now?    Ohhh...someone’s at the door, please hang on for me. All right, *sigh* I’m sorry, I really need to talk to you.  All is calm now, can you hear me clearly?  Yes?  Good.  Lord, I need some help.    I’m tired and I just can’t seem to get all my tasks done.;  I need more hours in the day.  My friend has just had surgery and I’m asking if you’ll please aid her recovery...  And could you please make Jane more easy to get along with?  I don’t know how to deal with her....  God?  Are you still there?    ...and just one more thing, would you please give me some patience right now? The kids still haven’t cleaned their rooms and I’ve tripped over their shoes and that squeaky thing on the kitchen floor three times now.  I’m about to blow my top.    I’m sorry, I wish I had more time but I have to go.  I have an appointment and can’t be late...I’ll talk with you again later”


Of all the possible distractions in prayer and worship, I am chief among them.  

I wrote previously that when I was frustrated in our Methodist Church, “I wasn’t getting anything out of it anymore!”  Well, this frustration was only part of the problem.  The larger difficulty was my perspective of what worship should be.  

Is worship for the believer?  If I’m not moved by the sermon or inspired by the choir, does this mean “real worship” has not occurred?   If the pastor was “off”  in his delivery and motivation, do I just shrug my shoulders and say he was having a bad day?  What am I suppose to “get out” of worship?

In truth, I should be on my hands and knees in worship praising God for His awesome mercy and love in my life.  My face should be on the ground at His feet!  It isn’t about me.  It isn’t about my preferences in worship music, church decor and the length of the sermon.  It’s about praising our Creator, the blessed Trinity in one God, the Father of Lights!    The question isn’t what do I “get out” of worship, it’s “what am I giving?”   

Praise God for His mercy and patience with me.  

As I can recall the first few months of worshipping at St. George Orthodox Cathedral, I distinctly remember the impact of hearing but not seeing the choir (the choir is located in the rear balcony above the nave) and watching the priest raise his arms upward in a gesture of worship to Christ our King with his back turned to the congregation.  This was worship like I had never experienced it before; worshipping with the priest, the clergy, the chanters, the readers...all of us, facing East, looking upward at those beautiful icons, smelling the heavenly incense and nothing in mind save Christ our King and Saviour.  Everything in the church, all that you see, hear, touch, taste and smell point to Christ our Redeemer...everything.   This is the worship described in Holy Scripture; praise God for healing in His house.  For as we give of ourselves in worship, as we empty our self-centeredness, so we receive His abundant grace.

God is always present.  The question isn’t “God, can you hear me now?”, it’s, “Amy, are you listening?”

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Path of Circumstance & Healing

“...we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance;  and perseverance, proven charter;  and proven character, hope...” from Romans 5:3,4
How beautiful is the path that strips away our facade and shines a light on what is real in us.  But truly, how many willingly choose this path?!  None of us want to relinquish our comforts, our secure beliefs and relationships and yet, for all of us, there comes a time when all that feels safe and right, is shattered.   It may come through the loss of a loved one, a betrayal by someone at work, a severed deals some tough blows.  Where do we go to re-group and find strength... and peace?
The church had been a comfort in the past, as it was a place to learn about God’s Word, to be inspired by a moving sermon, to be with kindred minds and hearts.  But these were the days when my husband & I found ourselves in a very loving Methodist Church, but sadly, it was also void of growth and more importantly for me, ....children.  Since our two little ones were the only children in the congregation, that meant there was no sunday school and no one to watch our baby & toddler during morning worship.  Hubby & I took turns entertaining them downstairs in what used to be a lively nursery.  After a few years of this, I was weary and frequently frustrated,: Why am I even going to church?  I don’t get anything out of it anymore!  
This unrest and developing apathy toward church life coincided with a season of private emotional pain for me.  I wondered why God was giving me so much to carry.  I wondered if God even heard my prayers and pleas....I wondered if I was losing my mind.  There may be a time to write more on this dark chapter, but not now.  It’s enough to share the remarkable lessons learned through brokenness. 
I believe every christian goes through dark valleys where the sun seems very distant and pale...”time in the desert” I call it.  What took me many years to learn though, is that these places afford doorways to growth that you cannot find elsewhere and so, I am thankful for the desert.
One such doorway discovered was concealed with vines and dense brush, the evidence of pride and self-righteousness.  The thick growth was not removed slowly, bit by bit, but was obliterated in moments by a truthful word.  It came through a counseling session.  My counselor pinpointed a vice in me that proved to be transforming.  After listening to me for a time, he replied with two simple words:  “You’re jealous”.  Those little words, what may seem so little and trivial, became the beginning of a flood that washed away the walls I had built to preserve my “justified, righteous anger”.
It’s no fun looking at the raw deal - to catch a glimpse of your heart as it truly is- and yet, without doing so, there is no hope for spiritual growth.  Unless we recognize our sins, how is it that we can overcome them?  Oddly enough, it was also during these counseling sessions with a Baptist minister that I came to understand the vital link between confessing our sins and being healed of them.  In voicing our faults, our sins, in the presence of another is to know shame and to be accountable for it.  When we confess to God alone, in our private times, we cannot understand the full impact our sins have within the Body of Christ.  This is one reason we are told to confess to one another. (James 5:16)
This path of pain and spiritual awakening slowly merged with my reading of the ancient Celts, of Saints Columba and Patrick, with my study of church history.  I devoured books, seeking an answer to my foremost questions, “How can I find peace in troubled waters?  How can I be healed of emotional pain?”
My paradigm began to shift....the church, as I had always know it, was a resource for learning and evangelizing.  Now, I was looking to the church as a hospital.  I wanted to be healed, I longed for true worship - whatever THAT meant - that left me with a peaceful heart rather than critiquing the pastor’s sermon.  I wanted to find a place where the sanctuary was regarded as a sacred space rather than a social gathering room.  I wanted to get away from all distraction in worship and realize the heart of it...I wanted to be lost in prayer and thanksgiving.  I wanted to receive the Lord’s Supper each and every time I entered God’s beautiful house.   I was seeking the faith of the Apostles, of St. Patrick and Columba, knowing that I would find “home” when I found the roots of the church.

“Thus says the Lord, Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; And you will find rest for your souls.” Jeremiah 6:16

*These few entries touch the surface of how I came to the door of the Orthodox Church.  For anyone interested in reading my earlier ramblings and disjointed thoughts, you can do so here.
It’s not a short response, but now, when someone wants a quick answer to, “So, why are you Orthodox now?”  I’ll just hand them a card with my blog address on it =-)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A Rough Road

Rocky, cold and steep.  That’s the path of John Calvin that I came to know.  It is not a road I would have preferred and yet, in hindsight, I can see it was the best way to not only reach the meadows, but to savour the rich fragrance flowering there.  This trail was essential in my spiritual walk because it exposed my theological weaknesses;  I wasn’t as sure-footed as I thought.

In 1999 I discovered internet message boards and by 2001 had found a new niche:  a Christian theology discussion board called Philosophia Christi (PC).   This place offered christian fellowship and lively discussions on a variety of topics related to christian philosophy and theology.  It provided a much needed connection for me since I was now a full-time mom and missing adult connections.  And what was more, I could entertain dialogue about such things as paedobaptism, atonement, justification, free-will, spiritual gifts, predestination, eschatology, demon possession....the list goes on and on....that I had never found an opportunity for in real time, face to face.

PC had several hundred members from various denominational backgrounds, but chiefly from a Reformed point of view.  The regular members were extremely intelligent and well versed in Scripture and logic.  This became apparent as atheists would join us from time to time in order to hone their arguments.  I was entertained and inspired by the way our resident christians would wear them out in debate.  PC challenged me daily  to read and understand Scripture, to recognize logical flaws in arguments, to become a christian apologist in a sense.   Participating in these conversations and debates was an intense period and much to the frustration of my husband, consumed me at times.  

These were the days that I devoured works by McDowell, Strobel, Kreft, Tacelli, Zacharias, Graham, Matthew Henry and several Strong’s reference books.  I started an apologetics notebook, kept index cards with favorite quotes and had many books opened with markers at all would have thought I was working on a thesis to see my desktop under a plethora of notes and reference materials.

A storm began to brew when I learned the terms “Calvinism” and “Arminianism”  at PC.  There’s no need for all the details here, but suffice it to say that a line was being drawn between these two theologies and I was trying to figure out where I stood, in theory and in reality.  My footing, my American Baptist theology, was being scrutinized and my arguments against the attack were weak.  Within a few months of this, I began to see that if Calvinism provided the correct “lens” with which to view Holy Scripture, then my situation was dire:   ...maybe I wasn’t really saved.  Maybe I wasn’t a true christian.

I can still remember reading the Westminster Confession of Faith, especially article VI: I - VI  in tears.  This was the influence of St. Augustine on the Reformer, John Calvin and to me, the statements of how man was created in the image of God and his subsequent fall were not only dreadful, but incorrect.  Certainly God did not completely abandon mankind after the fall, leaving a “wholly defiled” creation.  If so, man would not have been blessed with the covering of shame.  God would not have clothed our first parents and Eve would have been unable to acknowledge God’s help in the birth of her son.

On the surface, this path grew my knowledge of church history and prompted a fresh look at Genesis.  Closer to heart, it cemented my disbelief in Calvinism and commitment to understanding the root of the Christian faith.  “Further up and further in” as Lewis wrote.  I would say, further back and further down.  Reach back to the beginning of the faith, dig down deep to discover the roots.  That’s where I’ll find what I’m looking for, where the roots are deeply nourished and unblemished.

Related Posts with Thumbnails