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!