I find myself so often approaching the large icons at the front of our parish and just standing there, with my wonderful beeswax candles in my hand. If you have never had the opportunity to smell beeswax candles, combined with the scent of incense still in the air, alongside icons painted on wood, in a wooden church, in a damp or cold environment, you have been missing something. It is almost ethereal; the senses, if we allow them, share with us the Presence of the Divine in our Churches. God told us, “Whenever two or three are gathered in My Name, there I am, in their midst.” (Matthew 18:20). Very often these days, I find myself humbled before these icons, which represent Our Lord and the Theotokos, or Mother of God. In a Byzantine parish, we are blessed to see icons pretty much everywhere you turn. If you look up, there is Christ, Pantocrator, lovingly watching His people. Behind our altar, deep in the Holy Place, is an amazing icon of the Mother of God holding Our Lord. The iconostasis is full of icons and when the candles are lit and the incense is being distributed by the Deacon, accompanied by the tones of our faith, God feels with us; truly with us.
As I light my candles, I offer prayers. So many prayers. For ourselves and our lives, for my children and grandchildren, for friends, for peace. More often than I like to admit, I find myself quietly weeping, bringing all those concerns before God. The scent of the beeswax and the incense, the warmth of the wood and icons all around me, the quiet peace inside the Church, it all gives me a sense of peace. And a completeness, that this is where I need to be, to offer these concerns and prayers – at the foot of Our Lord.
I have been delving a little bit into some sites online that are purported to be of my same faith, although with varying degrees of fervency and varying styles of worship. But most are, at the very least, Byzantine, or Eastern in nature. I have steered away from the political “hot buttons” and pretty much left much of those sorts of pages or sites, because they seemed just so inflammatory. The anger level was palatable and I think I have enough stress in my life without adding politics to the mix. And, to be honest, I was hoping for some of the camaraderie I have found at our parish, on these Byzantine/Eastern sites. But to be completely honest, I was taken aback and felt assaulted with the same sort of angry rhetoric I found at political sites and pages. I was so surprised at how much anger is in pretty much everyone. I have found several hearts out there that beat similarly to mine and have enjoyed interacting so much with them. Many of these people I have met are monks and priests, deacons and readers, along with a considerable number of lay people. But the “hot buttons” of politics have been replaced by seemingly “hot buttons” in faith. I had no idea people were this upset and would strike in such mean and nasty ways at people they only know through the internet. One person said that the internet allows us to be ruder than we would be in a personal conversation, sitting down with another person. I think that is pretty right on. There is also very little respect for our clerics, be they readers, deacons, priests, religious, or monks. One person said they are “just people,” and “put their pants on, one leg at a time.” I found that sad, and very disturbing. I presumed that this person has no concept or honest experience of Holy Orders or the Divine in his life. I love knowing my priest and monk friends, and I love having them as friends. But I do treat them with the utmost respect. Mostly for the education they have that I do not, their treasure of knowledge that I love listening to. But foremost, I respect their ordination. I respect that my priest has “holy hands” because he brings me God in the Sacraments. I only wish that people would realize that we are gathered together, in the the guise of faith, to lift one another up. And if we approach the use of the internet and these sites and pages that profess to be ones of faith, knowing the Words of God, “there I am in their midst,” then perhaps some of this ugliness would disappear. I know my spirit feels like it was trampled upon and sort of beat up!
And tonight, as our family heads off to Divine Liturgy to celebrate the feast day of Our Lady, I will light my beeswax candles and I will do so with the hearts of these people in mind. We cannot be someone who draws others to this Divine Light of faith if we treat each others with contempt and disrespect. I personally quit several sites because of the vehemence with which others disrespected people, myself included. And I will pray that with this faith we are so rudely defending, that we actually act in a manner that shows that we are believers, that we love God, and believe in His Words to us:
““‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40)