“But let our speech and petition when we pray be under discipline, observing quietness and modesty. Let us consider that we are standing in God’s sight. We must please the divine eyes, both with the habit of the body and with the measure of the voice.” St. Cyprian of Carthage
“In church, sincere Christians can forestaste the future Kingdom that has been prepared for them from the day of creation: future liberation from all sin and death: future tranquility and joy.” St. John of Kronstadt
I am so blessed to have “Facebook” friends that are part of monasteries and other cloistered communities. I find the most wonderful photos and quotes and these are some I have run into over the past few days. Thanks to them, I am once again “pricked” in my deepest heart’s thoughts, to reconsider how I approach my faith.
So many other sects within Christianity spurn religious artwork and practices, such as candles, incense, icons, and bells. They have replaced much of that with stark meeting halls where loud music plays and “pastors” offer latte bars and people can come “dressed as you are” – no pressure. I read an interesting article the other day by an Evangelical author, bemoaning the fact that less than 10% of Evangelical youth stay in Church. They leave after high school prayer groups are over, youth groups and beach parties are over, and 90% of them do not return. He was thinking that it is because they have no substance to their faith; no dogma; no instruction in basic truths of who Christians are and what Christians believe. They learned how to behave as Christian youth, but not the whys and wherefores, and once confronted by the world, chose something else to follow. A couple of years ago I read an article about an Orthodox Church in a beach community of Southern California that was getting so many new parishioners, they were having a hard time keeping up. When the priest was asked why he thought this was happening, he said something to the effect that they required these kids to strip off their beachwear, dress appropriately, comport themselves with dignity, and to listen and absorb the faith around them. They were instructing them in the Scriptures and the ways of the Church, that has been handed down, intact, for the past 2,000 years. They could literally walk off the beachfront “boardwalk” and into an Orthodox Church filled with icons, candles, incense, prayers, and the beauty of the “other-worldliness” of the interior of an eastern Church. The new members were mesmerized; they were overwhelmed at the beauty; they were overwhelmed by the prayers and the truths they were hearing for the first time. In Catholic, Byzantine, and Orthodox Churches, a good portion of worship is spent listening to the Word of God. The prayers are taken from the Psalms and Scripture. The songs are the Psalms set to tones. The priest bases his homily on the Scripture read that day. God is present in His Temple….and in His Word, and in His people. It is quite a different experience.
I was raised in many different Protestant expressions. As a young adult, I found myself a member of the Geneva Presbyterian Church. I loved the smell of the Church…it was a replica of an old castle and the walls had a wonderful aroma to them of stonework. I know that sounds weird, but it drew me in. I loved the reenactments of the Last Supper; the formality of the services; the music that seemed ethereal. I met my husband at this point in my life and had already begun attending the Roman Catholic Church. I had begun RCIA instruction about the same time we began dating seriously. I also used to go sit in an Anglican “High Church” parish down the block from my office, during lunch. I preferred the ambiance there; the artwork alone kept me mesmerized for an hour at lunch! After being married a few years and practicing Roman Catholics, we met someone who gave us a flier inviting us to a Tridentine Mass. Well, I felt like “finally – a real Mass” and was in love. I loved the Latin and the vestments, the candles and incense; the formality of it made sense to me. From there, we eventually drifted over, through our oldest son, to the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. (A much more convoluted tale is involved, but basically, this is how we got there!)
My first Divine Liturgy will stay with me forever. The smells, sights, and sounds were overwhelming, to say the least. I felt transported back into the desert with our Lord. I could totally imagine myself in the early Church and when the Deacon intoned, “Sophia, Orthoi” I thought I was in heaven. I felt home. And as our faith grew, and through my husband’s seminary experiences for the diaconate formation, we were drawn further and further into the East. We began reading the “Desert Fathers” and the works of many Orthodox theologians. When we first relocated to WA, we tried to go back to the Latin Rite Catholic Church, but it was clearly a case of “round peg, square hole” and we just did not belong there any longer. As we have searched for our faith home, I have personally been drawn over and over again into the Eastern European, Orthodox spirituality. I find it so comforting and I am finding myself challenged in my faith as never before. On the eastern side of the Catholic Church, there are almost as many rites as there are cultures in the world. Each place an Apostle went in the world, He established the Church. But they each did so, cognizant of the local culture. Which is why the Byzantine, or Eastern, rites are much like choosing what cultural tradition makes you the most comfortable. Because St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil gave us the Divine Liturgies we all use – it is a matter of tone, cadence, and tradition. But it is a far cry from the big-box, plain-walled, jumbo-tron, rock-band style of Evangelical Protestantism…and it is sometimes a chasm that cannot be breached. I only wish more of my Protestant friends could put aside their disagreements with Catholicism and just experience the worship; it truly absorbs you. And many of my Catholic friends and family still believe we left the Church and are now Orthodox, and are confused and angry about their own Church, not realizing what makes up the Eastern rites within it and being misled about us and how we worship. (Like it would be a bad thing…..I just do not get that!!) Even if I choose to worship in an Orthodox manner (Greek-style) and/or Orthodox Church, I know I am still in the Church of God…He is present there, in His Word, His Sacraments, and in His people. It makes me sad, knowing how much misunderstanding and confusion can lead to faith disagreements, disappointments, and chasms that cannot be breached.
This Lent is going to be a rough one for so many reasons I am not sharing on my blog, but suffice it to say that I am being challenged in so many areas. And my decision to focus on keeping a Holy Silence and to controlling my thoughts, as they “determine my life,” is being sorely tested…and today is just day #2 and it is still before noon! When I reviewed some of the recent additions to my collection/computer folder of “Words of the Holy Fathers” I saw that I am also being challenged to remove some of the roadblocks between myself and simple prayer. I must have “faith like a child;” I also recognize that, even at home, being with Holy Icons, perhaps having some incense lit, and praying while eying the Lord watching me, is a good thing. He sees all that I do, all the day long, but most especially when I approach Him in prayer. The “measure” of my voice and the “habit of my body” are as important as “praying like a child,” and bring me closer to the “future tranquility and joy” of the “Kingdom prepared for me since Creation.”
I pray we can all take these 40 days, as we prepare to remember the sacrifice Christ made for each of us, to deeply experience our faith and perhaps even return to a more dedicated practice of it. I pray our children never leave their faith and that they come to know the truths of a Christian faith, through pastors who liberally share the Word of God with them, and through the intercession of the Saints who have gone before us, and by fully imbuing every aspect of their life with their faith.