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The Counsel Of Elrond: Part 2

May 16, 2010

After my first Divine Liturgy, I attended the chrismation of my friend’s children, at an Eastern Catholic Church in San Diego, on the Feast of the Transfiguration. I was able to follow the flow of the service, which was nice, but I still had so many questions and reservations about the things I was seeing and hearing. For it only being my second Liturgy, it felt a lot more comfortable. Even having questions and reservations, I felt almost tormented with the truth I had been confronted with. I needed to find answers to the questions I had swimming around in my head. This stuff was keeping up at night, and the first thing that greeted my waking mind.

Another Sunday morning found me at a local parish for Liturgy. This was an Antiochian parish just up the street from my house. It mostly an arabic speaking service, so I had some difficulty following the liturgy. After the service, I wandered around inside the church looking at the icons, the layout and such. The deacon and his wife introduced themselves to me very warmly. I told them I was an inquirer, and this was my third liturgy. They quickly grabbed the priest and introduced us. His name was Fr George Ajalat. He was not the regular priest, but had come from the cathedral in Los Angeles to serve that Sunday. He graciously took the time to answer several questions that I had. Two things really struck me about that conversation. First was how kind and humble his answers were. I made sure that I wasn’t antagonistic, but even so, he was just a nice guy. Second was that the answers made sense. Not the way that I had encountered so many times before, where someone has to wrestle a scripture to say what they want it to say, just a simple appeal to Tradition and Scripture in conjunction with one another to answer my questions. And like I said before, it wasn’t even the answers themselves, as much as the kindness and grace that exuded from him. Although he did answer some questions…

He explained how the Saints, Mary and such are honored by virtue of Christ. What makes them “special” so to speak, is Christ’s life. In the case of the Saints it’s how their life reflected His. In the case of Mary it’s that she not only lived a virtuous life, but bore the Uncreated Son in her very body. Her place within the Church is based on her relationship to the Son. We can ask for their intercession to God on our behalf in the same way we can ask one another. It’s not a kind necromancy, but they being “In Christ” as we are, we can ask for their prayers. He also explained how the icons are representations of spiritual truth, and that we can use them because of Christ’s Incarnation. The veneration of the icons is not a worship of wood and paint, or even the person or truth depicted, but an honoring of Christ in them, and Christ in the Church. The kissing, he explained, is an ancient custom of showing respect still practiced in many cultures to this day. A lot of what he said went over my head at the time, but reflecting back on it, I can understand a lot more clearly now. I left with my head in a whirl from all the information, but also with a sense that I could move forward. Things were making a little more sense to me.

During Lent I had the chance to go down to the Antiochian Cathedral in Los Angeles, on Lazarus Saturday and see Fr George again. I had the chance to tell him I had become a catechumen and that our conversation was a big part of my journey continuing. I also had the opportunity to meet his wife, and get a personal tour of the cathedral.

A few Sunday’s after my encounter with Fr George, I went to another Antiochian Parish in San Dimas called St Peter the Apostle. I had found them during an internet search for Orthodox Churches in my area. I read that they were formerly an Assemblies of God Church that discovered the Orthodox Faith together as a church in 1996, much like the Evangelical Orthodox Church had done in the 1980’s. I thought it sounded interesting, so I checked it out. I decided to bring my two older girls with me. It was in an inconspicuous building, but the inside of the nave was beautiful. They had only chairs around the perimeter, which only a few older people were sitting in. The other parishes I had been to had pews or chairs in rows, but this was more like what I had read in the book “The Orthodox Church” by Timothy Ware. The thing I first noticed after the beauty of the nave, was that nobody had a Service Book. They were doing it from memory! And the whole congregation sang the hymns like they were an extension of the choir. It was quite amazing.

One of the conflicts in the background of this visit had to do with the schedule of services at the Presbyterian Church I attended, the schedule of the service at St Peter’s  and the fact that I had the kids with me. I had thought I could attend the Liturgy at St Peter’s with the girls, then book out of there in time to get them to the second service for their kid’s stuff. The kids were pretty antsy due to the length of the service (we didn’t even make matins), but were pretty good by kid standards 😉  After the dismissal, I made for the door but was headed off by the priest’s wife. I was anxious to not disappoint my wife, but my Chatty Kathy side came out. I was also taken by the fact that my girls seemed to blend right in with everyone. My middle daughter is a social butterfly, but my oldest is a bit shy. Yet both of them were enjoying themselves like they were with old friends. After we left, the girls told me they really wanted to come back.

Needless to say, I was late for second service at the Presbyterian Church. So late, in fact, that I missed the whole service. Oops!

I felt like I had found what I was looking for. This parish had something on almost every day of the week. They also had a “Sunday School” for the kids. They also had an awesome spread of food after Liturgy! I wasn’t 100% sure at the time, but now I am fully convinced that I have found my Church home. I have gone from a curious inquirer, to a serious catechumen here in this parish. Not only has the discovery of Orthodoxy and joining this parish been a joy, but also seeing my girls participate with me has been a blessing as well. St Peter’s is not only an active parish, but a loving one too. While I recognize that the people of this parish have a history together that goes back for a couple decades or more, they have made me feel like part of the family. Not only myself, but my whole family. Even though my wife has no desire to become Orthodox, they have shown her love without condition.

I have not even really gotten on my way as an Orthodox Christian, but it has been an interesting journey so far. A lot of “small world” experiences along the way have made it even more interesting. Finding out people I had met, been friends with, or friends of friends, etc, were becoming, or had become Orthodox and even Roman Catholic. It has been surprising and encouraging to hear so many are finding the Apostolic Church founded by Christ.

Even though I have given the gist of how things have happened, I would like to also try and share some of what I have come to learn about Orthodox doctrines and dogma, or at least how I understand them.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. christina d permalink
    May 17, 2010 9:13 am

    Two proofreading issues: In paragraph 2, change “perish” to “parish.” In paragraph 5, it’s not “naive,” but rather “nave.”

    And a couple nitpicky things: Also in paragraph 5, we’re in San Dimas, not La Verne, and the church was Foursquare, not Assemblies.

    The priest’s wife is really good at keeping visitors from escaping ungreeted, isn’t she?

    I am still amazed at how open this parish is to new people. I don’t know how a group of people who have been together twenty years can be so willing to truly welcome strangers when they arrive, but there have been many of us in the last three years, and you wouldn’t know it to look around. I’m still relatively new, but I sometimes forget that this parish hasn’t always been home. 🙂

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