Sunday, November 25, 2007

A Tale of two families .....

Some nine years ago, when I was still a Lutheran pastor, a family who lived just down from that church began coming. George and Maria, with daughters Elena and Anna, and George's mother, Glenda came under my care. They were separated from the Orthodox church years before, had attended Baptist churches, and their daughters were enrolled in Lutheran Schools.

I remember catechizing them on Saturday mornings, all five -- and there were some interesting discussions, to be sure! At that time, remember, Orthodoxy was still "out there" for me. (But I must admit, some of the things that George shared piqued my interest!)

Over the years, our families did grow closer. I "designed" and participated in two "Lutheran" Quincieras -- a Mexican tradition for young ladies as they came to age 15. We had many discussions -- at one point, Glenda and I, who had some differences, had a rough spot (she had not become Lutheran).

So, the four were under my spiritual care as a Lutheran pastor.

But over the last several years, as my journey east narrowed, George and I had many discussions -- and in the last three years of my pastorate, my teaching very much followed Orthodox truth. And in those years, when George looked to return to the Church, I could find no reason to council him otherwise.

Pascha of 2005, George was received once again into Holy Orthodoxy. Maria and Elena and Anna were still under my care. In February of 2005, my coming home was no longer an "if," but a "when." In September of 2005, with George, Elena and Maria, I met Fr Dumitru at GreekFest at Sts Constantine and Helen GOC -- and he and I "clicked." In fact, after that meeting I emailed him, telling him that I felt stronger ties to him after that brief meeting than I did to most of my Lutheran colleagues.

On more than one occasion in 2005, George said, "You are Orthodox. How can you continue serving at a Lutheran altar!" Then, in October of that year, I began the process of resigning, not only my parish, but the Lutheran ministerium, and finally Lutheranism.

Around Thanksgiving, Maria and Elena were received home in Holy Orthodoxy. Anna remains Lutheran. Glenda had remained Orthodox.

At Theophany in 2006, Fr (with George) came for our house blessing. At that time he suggested February 4th for our Chrismation -- when I question regarding additional catechesis, his reply was, "You are Orthodox!"

And so it was that on February 4th, George and Maria, my former parishioners, became our Godparents as we came to Holy Orthodoxy!

Glenda said, "You finally saw the light!" She was right, and we are brother and sister in Christ

Of course, all of them were present for our canonical marriage in October, George and Maria as our Godparents!

I think it was Elena (eldest daughter) who said once that she thought that God had this all planned!

You know what?

I know she was right!

And that is the story of two families ...

Glory to God in all things!


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Visiting around ....

Katherine and I recently traveled east to see our daughter and her family in Goldsboro, NC. On that trip, we visited parishes in North Carolina and Tennessee -- well, we joined in Divine Liturgy in Raleigh, NC -- and visited with delightful priests in Tennessee.

Holy Trinity in Raleigh is a growing Greek Orthodox parish. They seem to be literally bursting at the seams, and will soon be building a new Temple in the process of their expansion. We joined them in April, also -- both Fr Stephen and Fr Paul remembered us, as did their Deacon. Because of our unique story, many of those at Holy Trinity recalled us, and all offered to assist and support our daughter and family, since she is seriously seeking Orthodoxy (although there are no Orthodox parishes or missions in Goldsboro --- yet! As has been our experience in these last two years, we were immediately at home, and felt part of the family.

As we traveled home, we made a point to stop in Oak Ridge, hoping to meet Fr Stephen (Glory to God in All Things). St Anne is located in a small building on a bustling thoroughfare in Oak Ridge. As we entered, we immediately knew we were "in church" with the smell of incense and the "ambience" of the place. To our right was the nave and sanctuary -- simple, but obviously the home of the faithful. We met Fr Justin, the assisting priest, and then Fr Stephen! What a joy. Although we had just met, we were family. We were indeed blessed to be there -- and Father Stephen had time to speak a bit to my lovely bride, who struggles with the spiritual welfare of our children (common plight of parents, God-given). Fr Stephen is indeed a gentle priest, and he is what he writes on his blog! We hope to join that parish in Divine Liturgy one day n our travels! We pray that God will bless the people of St Anne as they look to expand and build a Temple on adjacent land -- they are the Church in Oak Ridge!

Father mentioned that the Sunday previous to our stopping by that Russian priests with little English had concelebrated -- Father mentioned that the Liturgy flowed smoothly --in two languages! :) Oak Ridge has a sister city in Russia: they are connected by technology. You may remember that Oak Ridge was "the lost city" or "the hidden city" in the 40s and 50s -- nuclear development went on there, and those inside lived inside, those outside couldn't easily enter. You still pass through and see remnants of one of the gate houses.

From Oak Ridge, we traveled to Nashville, where we had lunch at Alektor Cafe. Fr Parthenios is priest at St John Chrysostom Mission, which until recently met on the campus of college connected with Vanderbilt University. The little coffee shop and Orthodox bookstore are near the campus and have been mentioned in the paper -- and when they recently served Divine Liturgy in their new church, it was televised! The mission, under the authority of the Greek Orthodox Church, is totally, I believe, English speaking. Father bustles about serving food in the Cafe -- and he and Presvytera share the love of Christ with the many who frequent the Cafe and Bookstore. You eat listening to the music of Orthodoxy, surrounded by the works of Saints, Monks, Theologians! Katherine and I would like to plan a trip to spend time with these fine people, and to enjoy and receive the Divine Liturgy in their new building.

So why write this? We Orthodox are joined in a way that goes beyond my describing. Whether in the developed large Holy Trinity in Raleigh, or in the smaller communities in Tennesee, there is a life, a joy, The Church -- those gathered and joined in the Blessed and Holy Trinity. It is a joy to know that one is "in church" even in the smallest of parishes, as rooms and buildings are transformed as we experience "heaven on earth." And my observation, limited though it may be, is that first things are put first: small communities have a certain patience, assuring that the spiritual life of the community is not overwhelmed by physical concerns. I've noticed a certain humility present, a willingness to truly wait on the Lord. Perhaps it is characterized by Fr Stephen in Oak Ridge, who said that someone who keeps records said, "We have 150 people here," to which Father said something like, "Really? I didn't realize that!" He isn't so much concerned with the statistics as he is with the souls.

Now, I know that you will find places where such things not be true, or where people have lost their way, to be sure. But this is true: the Church is the pillar and ground of truth. It is the Body of Christ -- and Holy Mother Church seeks those who are lost, and we are redeemed in Christ our God. Or to put it another way: In Holy Orthodoxy, if you are lost, if you stray, you have a home, a Mother to return to, and that is a singular blessing!


Saturday, November 10, 2007

Giving thanks for .... modern technology

Katherine and I are at our daughter's in Goldsboro, NC for a few days. On the way down, we read books, but also have been able to join in the Hours, thanks to Ancient Faith Radio. As we began each morning, we "prayed" Matins, and the 1st, 3rd, and 6th hours. As the sun set on Thursday, and as we neared our first night's destination, with the setting sun in the rear view mirror, we "prayed" Vespers, the 9th hour and compline!

During the week, when I'm commuting to my job, I listen to various things, the appropriate hours included. What a joy to be taken up to heaven while on the road!

But there were other things, too.

Katherine and I listened to Deacon Gregory Roeber, Christopher Orr, Father Gregory Hogg, and Father John Fenton (some more than once!) Although we couldn't be at the recent Colloquium in Detroit, we could certainly participate in Spirit, joining in the conversation!

Technology can at times be a curse -- but what a blessing to be "present" for things we couldn't physically participate in, to read blogs like "Glory to God in all things" saving files written and audio for meditation and sharing.

And what a blessing to be able to copy some of these things, leaving them with friends and former colleagues, that they might see the ancient faith.

Tomorrow, we plan to join the community of Holy Trinity in Raleigh for the second time this year -- a drive of just under an hour and a half, but worth every minute to expose our daughter and her family to the Church!

Glory to God in all things!