2

A censor used to burn incense within the church.

My daughter brought her boyfriend to church yesterday.  It's a first for us.  First boyfriend and first time bringing him to church.  It was also a first for him - being inside an Orthodox Church.

She had to go to work right after the service so we didn't get to talk much about his experience, but during service I couldn't help but look around more and recall how I had taken in my surroundings of an Orthodox church the first time I ever visited one.  There's a LOT to notice.

The Incense -   If you are not used to incense, it could be a bit overwhelming.  I did find it a bit overwhelming my first few times inside an Orthodox church but have, over time, begun to truly love that the Orthodox worship services does appeal to all of our senses.  This incense symbolizes prayer which rises to God (like smoke) and the Grace of God which pours into our souls.  We sometimes burn incense in our homes as well, especially around the feast days.

The Icons -Being formerly Catholic I was used to figurines and various forms of pictures icon-540784_1280in church and homes, but I did wonder at the number of icons and the beauty shining from them.  The Icons are windows to Heaven.  We do not worship them, we venerate them; there's a HUGE difference but I'm sure it's quite confusing to a protestant entering the church for the first time.

Kissing -  What was the deal with everyone kissing everything?  This was unexpected for me as well.  I remember a very kindly old woman with nails as red as rubies grabbing my cheeks, pinching and leaning in to kiss them both.  WHAT?!  I went along with it out of sheer politeness but it sure did have me spinning in bewilderment.  A new visitor to the Orthodox church will notice we do indeed kiss a lot.  We kiss the icons upon entering church and before we leave (it's a sign of reverence, not worship, much like you would kiss a photograph of a deceased loved one).  We kiss the chalice and, in some churches, some kiss the priests hand after receiving communion. We also kiss each other before taking communion or as a simple sign of greeting (though in some parishes such as the OCA church I now attend do not do this nearly as much as other parishes).

Blessed Bred & Consecrated Bread -  This was a big eye opener for me.  Literally, I think my eyes just about popped out of my head as I totally did not get that the blessed

Communion in an Orthodox Church
Communion in an Orthodox Church

bread was not the same as the communion bread and I was shocked to see people taking handfuls of bread and walking around the church with it- giving it to others and watching crumbs fall upon the floor!  My stomach flipped- as I really thought this was the communion bread- the body of Christ- being stepped on by people in the isles. Needless to say I hope, I was WRONG and I was QUITE relived upon learning that the basket or plate of bread that people are able to partake of after communion is blessed, but not consecrated and therefore people can take portions for themselves as well as share it with others who have not gone to communion that day or are new visitors to the church as a sign of fellowship.

Music -  The music in the Orthodox Church is beautiful, but what made it noticeable to me right away was the lack of musical instruments.  Only the human voice is used in the Orthodox worship services.

I'm not sure what our daughter's boyfriend thought of all this yet, but I certainly enjoyed reflecting back onto my own first experience and all of my experiences that led me to converting to Orthodoxy.

What was the first thing YOU noticed about the Orthodox Church?  If you've never been in one, what is the one thing you are curious about?

Additional Resources on the above topics:

Incense in the Orthodox Church

No Graven Image:  Icons in the Orthodox Church

Music in the Orthodox Church

12 Things I Wish I Had Known

 

 

1

Today I write of Mary, the greatest woman who ever lived.  She is known to the Orthodox as the Theotokos.  I hope, even if you are not Orthodox, you will read this to find out why we Orthodox Christians highly honor this blessed lady.

A vast majority of Protestants are under the impression Orthodox Christians worship Mary (Theotokos).  This is simply not true.  She is honored greatly.  She is not worshipped.  Worship is for God. And while I know I am one person that cannot sway the mind of someone who has committed to this thought the majority of their lives', I hope that I can at least put a thought into their mind...that perhaps this idea is inaccurate and perhaps he or she could do a little further research before deciding to stick to this conclusion.  And maybe, just maybe, he or she will have a little better understanding of why we do honor Mary and why he or she  should as well.

Theotokos is a Greek term meaning 'birthgiver of God'.  This is the Virgin Mary.  This is the woman who was the first to accept Christ into her life. This is the woman who played an immense role in man's redemtion by her consent to bear Christ. This is the woman that leads us to Christ.  This is the woman the bible has shown us that we should honor. This is she who contained Christ, God who is uncontainable, within her womb.

The bible tells us that Mary was a virgin when the angel Gabriel appeared to her.   The prophet, Isaiah, predicted this conception.  It is written, "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign:  Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel" (Isaiah 7:14).

We honor Mary because she is the mother of Jesus Chrsit.  Mary was not just any random young girl.  Mary had found favor with God.  "Do not be afraid, Mary," said Gabriel, " for you have found favor with God"( Luke 1:30). Mary was chosen by God for an honor that will always be hers alone. And Mary accepted the task given to her.  Mary had free will.  Mary could have run and hid from the angel.  Mary could have protested.  But Mary was willing.  She answered the angel, "Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38).   In this action, Mary was the first to accept Christ into her life.

In accepting Christ into her life, accepting her role of the incarnation, Mary played an immense part of man's redemtion:

"Christ saves men, who have fallen through their own fault into the power of the devil, by breaking that power. He became Man for this purpose; He lived and died and rose again that He might break the chains by which men were bound. It is not His death alone, but the entire Incarnation, of which His death was a necessary part, that freed men from their captivity to Satan."           ~ Fr. John Romanides

The Holy Bible shows us that it is, indeed, fitting to honor Mary and that she is the mother of our Lord.  The angel Gabriel honored Mary,"Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you, Blessed are you among women"Luke 1:28).  Gabriel told Mary that God had found favor with her (Luke 1:30). Mary herself, in offering one of the most magnificent prayer of praise to God, "My sould magnifies the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.  For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;  For behold, henceforth all generation shall call me blessed." Her favor was further established upon meeting with her cousin, Elizabeth, when the woman, upon seeing her, exclaimed,                " Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord shuld come to me?" (Luke 1:42-43)

The icons of Mary you will find in Orthodox Christian churches and homes never depict an image of Mary alone.  All icons of Mary are with her son, Jesus Christ.  Mary is honored because of her son and the icons reflect that. The icons of Mary display the mother leading us closer to Him. She led us to him in her acceptance of her part in the incarnation and she lead people to follow him in her life (John 2:5) and she continues to lead us to Him in our life by her example.  She is often seen pointing in his direction or gazing adoringly into his eyes while holding the child out to us to behold with our own.

IMG_20131103_104722_173-1

Mary held our Lord and Savior in her womb for 9 months.  God, who is uncontainable, was contained within her.  For this and all of the above reasons given and so much more, Mary was the greatest woman who ever lived.  Mary was his mother, giving birth to our Lord.  He honored her and so should we.

Sources Used and Further Sources That May Interst You:

Books:

Other:

"He who is devout to the Mother of God will certainly never be lost."   ~St. Ignatius of Anticoh

1

One of the books I’m currently reading, Windows To Heaven by Elizabeth Zelensky and Lela Gilbert, is about Icons. Specifically it addresses how to present Icons to Protestants and Catholics. I always wonder what my Protestant friends think of our icons when they visit. They never say anything and I don’t usually either. But I always fear they have a wrong impression of these precious images of Christ and His Saints. Do they think we worship them?? Because of course we don’t. It’ s veneration. Much like we and they venerate the Holy Bible and much as one would kiss a picture of a dearly departed family member; that is what we do with our icons. And they are there as a constant reminder…. A Window to Heaven, a reminder of the Glory of Christ and how we should be living our lives.

Thus far the book has touched upon some basic symbolism and facts about the icons. One such is the use of number, colors, and how certain particular saints are always pictured. Three of something obviously represents the trinity, while six is for humanity, 12 is the apostles or the twelve tribes of Israel. John the Baptist is always dressed in rough garments from his years in the wilderness, St. Paul is always depicted with a high forehead and brown beard and St. Peter ha curly hair and a beard. And of course, the Theotokos (Mary) is NEVER pictured without Jesus. Those are just a few of the interesting tidbits I’ve learned thus far.


This is the Resurrection Icon. The Icon in my 'profile pic' is the Angel Gabriel.

7

I’ve got quite a variety of books going now. I’d thought I’d write a bit about my current ‘list’.

Book # 1 - One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp

This is one I actually started during Lent but did not get far into at that time. I was a little hesitant as I thought it may have a bit too much of a Protestant twist to it, but finding out that it is being read in quite a large Orthodox circle deepened my intrigue and I decided to give it a shot. I was impressed that she has quoted Alexander Schmemann. I am only into the third chapter or so of the book but really like her style of writing and am enjoying her thought process. While she does display some Protestant thought I am awed by her “Orthodox” thinking as well and wonder at how she isn’t Orthodox and think that her faith could be so much more were she to explore the Orthodox Church and not just read a bit of words by it’s theologians….. Her concept of a list is interesting and brings to mind the list I started a year ago. I wonder where it is. In a notebook with a brown cover I recall….but where is that notebook now? I have a feeling in the next day or so I may be searching for that notebook…or perhaps I may need to just start a new one.

Book # 2 - Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner

I was hesitant on this one. Self-Help type books make me leery. I’ve been swayed entirely in the wrong direction by them in the past….of course, that was prior to my conversion to Orthodoxy and the wisdom it has granted me. With my faith in mind, I am sure to be less taken in by sheer nonsense of the self being more important than anything or anyone else, etc. but still remain suspicious of anyone lending help to perfect strangers when they do not possess that same faith. I was swayed into reading this one by the intensity of the description of the book by a loved one who is reading the book. It sounded like an interesting perspective of the anger concept that is so often experienced by many, if not all, of us. Some of us more so for various reasons. The first two chapters thus far have been touch and go. Interesting concepts mixed in with de-self talk that raises my eyebrows a bit. In the second chapter, I had to shake my head….the author tells of a ‘hypothetical’ issue between husband and wife who is seeking a job outside the home. The author assumes that though the husband says 'the children need you at home. I support your working, but I do not like to see the kids and the household neglected" that this is not the real issue? I don't know the couple she is talking of. It's probably a hypothetical couple. But the issue is not a hypothetical issue. I think it's wrong for her to assume that there is a different issue at hand. I KNOW that this is truly an issue in households and that it does NOT always mean there is an underlying issue rather than the one the husband states. I just dislike that psychologists ALWAYS seem to think there is an underlying issue. (I agree, there often is....but not ALWAYS) and this particular example irritates me. I think it is justifiable for a husband to be concerned about his children needing their mother at home, etc. and that it does NOT necessarily mean that his wife seeking an outside job puts him in touch with his dissatisfaction with his own job as the author implies.

The third chapter had me laughing the whole way through…but not from absurdity…because I was wondering when the author snuck into my home and hid in the corner watching my husband and I. The chapter described our relationship quite well! So I shall continue reading, staying leery but interested.

Book #3 From a Buick 8 - Stephen King

Stephen King has always been a favorite author of mine. Well okay, not always. Reading one of his books really irritated me and I actually stopped reading them for a period of time. I took personal offense to The Regulators in which he had an autistic boy be the evil character. I have a personal affection for the autistic. I couldn’t get past the ugliness of making such a person evil - not even from the great Stephen King. In time, I moved on and realized even a great talented writer can make mistakes. So while I still don’t like that book or his choice to use this disability for his writings, I still enjoy his creativity overall. This is a book that has actually been sitting on my shelf for quite awhile. I believe I recall hearing it was something that entered his mind while recovering from his accident while running (he was hit by a car). I’m not sure if that is true or not, but that’s my new just for entertainment fiction reading.

Book #4 Hatchet by Gary Paulson
This is the read-aloud book I am enjoying with my son. I read it a long time ago while teaching in an ‘inclusion classroom’. I’m enjoying it more with my son than I did the first time. J I love reading with my son.

Book #5 Windows to Heaven: Introducing Icons to Protestants and Catholics by Zelensky and Gilbert
This should be a good read. I am always struck senseless when I hear of Protestant thoughts on our icons. I don’t get it. I don’t understand why they don’t have visual images of our savior in their homes as a daily reminder of what we are to be grateful for and how we should be living our lives. I don’t understand why they don’t have a picture of the One we should love even more than the family members we picture and frame? While the book title addresses how to present these sweet images to Protestants, the book also addresses their misconceptions and why they struggle with understanding our veneration (NOT worship) of these images.

Book #6 The Pearl of Great Price: The Spiritual Journey of a New Age Seeker to the Light of Christ and the Eastern Orthodox Church by Veronica Hughes
This, I believe, is just as the title implies. I have only ready the introduction and forward thus far but am eager to get further into the story. I love reading about other peoples’ journey to the Orthodox Faith.

Yes, that’s six books. This is not unusual for me. Some of them may take me awhile…some may be done in a few days…perhaps they will all be done soon. It varies. It varies on how much they grab my interest and of course, my daily life. Sometimes I only get a few minutes a day that I can force myself to read. Sometimes more. I may put one on a shelf for awhile….I may add more to the list. I may just have this list for quite some time if life keeps me too busy. Of course, the only thing I can guarantee is that the book I will read almost daily but didn’t include on this list is the Holy Bible. And it WILL be read. Right now I’m working on three books in that one….Genesis(again) and Matthew (again) and ACTS (again….but with my family this time.) We hope to complete Acts before Pentecost.

Well---- that’s enough for now. Now it’s time to read…….