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During Pascha or Passover, my husband, children and I were soaking in some OLD Christian Traditions with a local Antiochian Orthodox church. I wanted to know more about this form of Christian Worship, so I went to the internet and started checking blogs that had to do with converting to Orthodoxy and blogs that talked about the Pascha services. I saw a comment by a lady and I decided to send her an email. That email led to another and another email and we found ourselves sharing our very similar stories of past Protestant church experiences. Her husband had been a pastor, my husband had been a pastor. We both have 4 children. We have both been through church break-ups. Her husband got interested in Orthodoxy, my husband got interested in Orthodoxy… Why? Because it felt like there had to be more to Christian life. Her husband is now a priest in a Greek Orthodox church. My husband is happy to just be in a congregation now.

This is one of our exchanges about changing to Orthodoxy.

I said, “We have tried to incorporate some Orthodox prayers and practices into our home church.”

She said, “I think that is the best possible way to come along together in this great adventure of finding out about our full Christian inheritance – because that is what I think the Orthodox church is.  Some of what you know from your past is God-given and you keep it.  Some of what you know from the past is probably just wrong, and you leave it behind.  But mostly, I think, Orthodoxy fills up the empty spaces and makes a whole fabric out of what used to be patches.” 

That got me to thinking about a quilt.

I had my quilt started, with all I had learned from my early church experiences and training, but there were still holes and gaps. About 1500 years of early church history and stories and Traditions were missing. And beyond that… the reverence that I remember feeling in church as a child, the feeling of being in a holy place, a place of AWE and respectfulness, was quickly becoming a distant memory. Would I only feel that “holy place” feeling in the mountains? At a retreat? At the distant sites of the HOLY LAND? Or are we supposed to set aside places of holy worship? I have many questions; many, many unanswered questions. But I am getting the feeling that the holes in my quilt are definitely getting filled up with beautiful fabric of great worth. Maybe, some patches are threadbare or rotten and they must be replaced. That is okay, because the replacement pieces seem to be gently and lovingly used and lovingly handed down. 

 

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Hello it’s me again. I found a blogger who is telling her story of journeying to the Orthodox Christian faith. I liked the part of the story that I have read, (Part 4) you can go to the link here or click on her name in my blogroll. She is Nichole3. I am just fascinated now with the stories of how other people have found Orthodox Christianity and how they describe their first impressions and encounters. I hope you enjoy reading her story too. 

Agape service

The Agape service at the Orthodox church was wonderful. It was yet another service that made me cry! I was not feeling sad or even repentant (those were other times that I cried). I was feeling joyful and blessed to be able to experience the universal aspect of the body of Christ, as several different people from the congregation stood in front of us, taking turns reading the same scripture in each of their own languages. The reading was from the Gospel of St. John 20:19-25. I think that we heard it read in Arabic, Mandarin, Laotian, French, English, Spanish, Russian, Greek(?) and Slavic(?). It was like the world was among us. And I felt so aware of God’s full presence in the world. It reminded me of Pentecost, when the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in tongues… and the people from all the different countries were hearing them speak in their native languages. Ah, sweet fellowship! I have included a picture of an Agape service at a Las Vegas Orthodox church. I found it on Google images, under Agape service. You can see that the doors to the Altar are wide open. I will include a link, below, to the Las Vegas Orthodox church’s page, so that you can see more of their pictures.                     Christ is Risen! Truly, He is Risen!

http://lasvegasorthodox.com/photos/Pascha_Agape_Service_200402.htmagape service

Both in good ways and in bad ways I am feeling overwhelmed by Pascha, otherwise known as Easter or Passover, for Orthodox Christians. 

Just for the sake of getting my whining out of the way, I will tell you the bad ways that I am overwhelmed. Mainly it is physical. We have been to so many services at the church that I have lost count,  lost track of time and lost track of what day it is. I have that jittery feeling that I get, after having stayed up too long, working too hard on some school project. My body hurts from my neck, down my back and all the way to my feet.  We spend a lot of time standing… and standing… and standing. See how whiny that sounds! Another “bad” way I feel overwhelmed is ,,, well it is hard to pinpoint … but I think it is mental. There is so much information to absorb, so many songs to learn, so many questions to ponder without having space to get answers.

Now on to the GOOD stuff.  I am overwhelmed by the people who have shown us so much kindness and Christian love.  We recieved a very nice gift basket of food last night. We have made new friends that have already trusted us to have their child over for a sleep over and who have taken all four of our kids with them to a family birthday party! People smile at us when something funny happens in church, like we are insiders. (That is a big deal to me, to feel like an insider, like one who belongs)

More overwhelming than the pain or the people or the ponderings that my mind has to do… is the powerful, all consuming story of God on earth. It seems like every song, every bible verse, every chant, every prayer is pointing us to this story of Christ the God-man. He walked earth to show us how to live a life of obedience, even unto death on a cross. His life, His death, His resurrection is now my life, my death, my resurrection. I am in him and he is in me. This has been a very intense weekend, starting on Friday. I see the impact of doing this intense celebration rather than just seeing a passion play and then leaving to go to an Easter Party or a giant egg hunt at the park. The pain becomes real. The exhaustion becomes a thing you live with as Jesus entreats his disciples to watch and pray. The pain of his dear mother at the trial, scourging, crucifixion and burial becomes, in a way, your own pain. You are feeling pangs of hunger from the fast you are going through, as Jesus cries out that he is thirsty, but they give him vinegar. It becomes hard to be a spectator. You really feel like a participant. You can’t stop the smile that comes as you sing out LOUD… “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!” 

I have so much more to say but we need to get ready for the next service which starts at 2 PM. Yikes! I only have half an hour to get ready. 

Christ is Risen!  Truly, He is Risen!

 

I wanted to tell you what camp was like and why I went and what I learned, but that will have to wait, so much other stuff is going on right now that I need to share… 

Our family has been visiting an Antiochian Orthodox Christian church for a few months now. 

At first it was so foreign to our ears and eyes and bodies. We were surrounded by icons of saints, candles hanging at intervals along the walls, the smell of incense and a roomful of strangers. The priest and deacons were in colorful robes or black robes. Some of the ladies wear scarves over their heads. They all seemed to know the words to tunes that were totally unfamiliar to us. It sounded like Jewish or Arabic chants or songs but the words were in English. (although I needed, and still need a dictionary for some of the words) They would cross themselves like Catholics but from right to left instead of left to right. There were times when they would reach down to the floor and then come up to cross themselves. They have the timing down pat but I felt like a newbie in an advanced aerobics class. All gangly and dorky. (hee hee, reminds me of jr. high)

It hit me all of the sudden that we would not be able to take communion with them. You must be a member to take communion. I was very sad.  I felt like I didn’t fit in with my old churches and I felt like I would never fit in at this Orthodox church and I was so sad.  I was crying and feeling like I would never know where God wanted me.

Then the sweetest thing happened. A lady came up to our family after she went up for communion and in her hands she had cubes of bread. She said, “This is blessed bread, Friendship bread. Would you like some?” We took it and said thanks.  I cried some more. It showed me that I might actually have a place here. They were reaching out in friendship just as God reaches out to those who are far away.

 

That’s all I have time for now… I will tell you more later.

 

I went to the Southern California Diocesan Antiochian Women’s Retreat (“camp” for short) on Saturday April 12th. We heard Mother Melania of the St. Barbara Monastery talk about Healing the Soul.

I just got a comment on my blog from Kyra, a friend that I was surprised to see up there at camp. So I am counting her comment as “a letter from a camp buddy.” Nobody really sends letters in the mail anymore, do they? And now my first new post (real post) on this blog is going to be my response to her. Hope you don’t mind.

Hi Kyra, I really enjoyed the Ladies Retreat this week-end. I always love to be in the mountains and smell the pine trees but the real joy was to hear Mother Melania speak words of Truth and of healing for my soul. Her manner of speaking was in perfect tune with my way of learning. I am always trying to come up with good word pictures to describe deep things. Mother Melania seems to be a pro at creating word pictures and making analogies that beginners can understand. I was also very glad to see you at the retreat. Thank you for taking time to talk with me there, I was feeling a little bit lost in a room full of strangers. Well, that is not true, I did know the ladies that came from St. Peter’s, but it was a happy surprise to see another familiar face.
I need to get my kids off to school now but I hope to write more about my “camp” experience since it was so rich and full.
A great and blessed Holy week to you, too.  In Christ, Debbie

 

Well, it is official.  I have moved from typepad to wordpress to blog. I hope to come up with some interesting things to say. Right now I don’t have time to really write something intense. But I wanted to see how this blogsite works. 

I’ll be unpacking soon. Thanks for checking up on me. 😛