This is part four of a six part series of blogposts on one family’s inspiring journey to the Orthodox faith.
Let me go back a bit to describe some of what we were feeling and learning those first four visits to St. Ignatius Orthodox Church. Vera had gotten on the internet to find Orthodox churches . After looking at several, we decided upon St. Ignatius. We were plenty scared upon our arrival, for we had no idea what to expect. Reading a book or an article about the Orthodox faith can’t fully explain to a Protestant what will happen during the Divine Liturgy.
Thankfully, a lovely lady came to help us. We entered the Narthex and saw Myrna lighting a candle. We told her we knew nothing about Orthodox services. She took us under her wing. First, she gave us a service book. Then we walked into a service called Matins. This is a service that precedes the Divine Liturgy. We didn’t try to follow Matins but got prepared to follow the book for the main service. There were no breaks. People quietly entered all through Matins and families were still lighting candles and venerating the icons as the service began.
The Orthodox stand through their services, except for the epistle reading and the homily. I had never experienced standing that long. Jim, Vera and I occasionally looked at each other as people venerated icons. We just didn’t know what to think.
The part of the service that almost scared me away was the Grand Entrance. There were three priests, about three deacons and some alter boys coming down the side of the church and up through the middle isle. People were touching the priest’s robes as they walked along.
The priests were chanting something. I couldn’t understand what they were doing. There was incense everywhere. Then when they got to the front of the church, the head priest started praying. I noticed he just mentioned names and didn’t elaborate on specifics. It seemed rather incomplete to us. Nevertheless, we knew we had to continue and find out more.
Another new teaching for us to learn that day was that Mary was called, Theotokos, which means the God-bearer. At the royal doors there was an icon of the Theotokos to the left. She was holding the baby Jesus. On the right side of the royal doors was an icon of Christ. Next to Christ was an icon of John the Baptist. Later ,we were to learn that all Orthodox churches have these icons near the royal doors. We didn’t understand why people were singing about the Theotokos. We kept getting lost in the service book. Along through the service there was a time of peace where people hugged and kissed each other. This lady hugged me and said:
“Christ is in our midst”
I didn’t know that I was supposed to say:
“He is and ever shall be.”
Instead, I told her to have a nice day. She looked at me with a rather odd expression on her face.
Father Stephen gave a homily that anyone of any Christian faith could understand. He was so down to earth. Later I learned that he had grown up in a Baptist home. After the service, Mryna, talked to us about the Orthodox faith. She looked at the icons and told us that those saints were more alive than we were. I will never forget her saying that. She took us to coffee hour and introduced us to her husband, Deacon Edward.
She made sure we had more material to read. Each Sunday that we visited, she made us feel so welcome.
Father Stephen made a lasting impression on me when he talked to us during coffee hour our last Sunday before Jim got sick. He told us that the church of the West was like a judge and jury. However, the church of the East was like a hospital. How true those words rang in my heart. I hated to be judged yet my whole Christian life was one of judging so freely. As a Protestant, it seemed like there was never any unity for very long anywhere. I was devastated over and over again to hear preachers say ugly things from the pulpit about other brands of protestants. At our little Bible college, we were always being warned to stay away from certain groups of Christians. Thirty years of that kind of thinking was all I could take. I learned that the Orthodox Church has never changed.
Peter Gillquist writes in his book, Becoming Orthodox, that as early as A.D. 150, Saint Justin Martyr, wrote on paper the pattern of Christian worship. It was a liturgical service. This service was refined through the next several hundred years. Since around A.D. 400, the Orthodox church has used the same liturgy, written by St. John Chrysostom. This service is used in all Orthodox churches worldwide.
I could visit a church in Russia and know what is going on in the service. So little by little we began to accept this service as a worship time that we could trust.
I was so taken with Father Stephen telling us that the church was a hospital that I promptly wrote one of my son-in-laws, and asked him to forgive me for all the judgements I had made against him. Our relationship began healing and to this day, even though he doesn’t understand my faith–we have a good understanding with each other. That was my first step in letting go of the judge and jury.
Now let’s step back to our coming home from Vanderbilt. Jim was very weak and just didn’t feel good at all. He constantly took his blood pressure. The cardiac blues had begun. However, when we listened to programs together on the internet , he relaxed. Our discussions were lively. Then he would get blue on me again. This was all new and frustrating to me. I had to have a break from Jim’s blues. I did this by kneading bread. Making bread for ourselves and for others helped me deal with Jim’s blues. Jim had never liked to read except for books about theology. I checked out novels from the library for us to listen too. Our favorites were: Moby Dick and The Call of the Wild.
Vera called us on a regular basis to tell us about how much she enjoyed the mission church. There were several others who came with Protestant backgrounds the same time she did. They all became fast friends. Fr. John Gunn was a part time priest at this mission. All the Protestants wanted classes to learn more about the Orthodox Faith. Jim and I knew we’d never be able to attend such classes. We depended heavily on the programs from , Our Life in Christ.Com. We were getting restless to visit with Vera at the mission church. We had one major problem. Jim wasn’t up to driving and I had refused my entire life to drive through big cities. If I was going to become Orthodox, I was going to have to make a huge leap of faith. We started back to Church in early November.
I drove until we got near Nashville, then Jim took over. I remember thinking:
“How am I going to ever learn to drive through Nashville?”
When coffee hour was finished, I knew Jim couldn’t help me with any of the driving. I took the plunge with much fear. I was so tense that my back hurt for several days.
This just wasn’t going to work. How could we continue on?
More to come.