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An Anniversary… Of Sorts

August 8, 2010

Last Friday, August 6th marked an anniversary of sorts for me. As most who read this blog probably know, August 6th is the day that the Orthodox Church commemorates the Transfiguration of Christ on Mt Tabor. This story is found in Matthew 17: 1-13, Mark 9:2-13 and Luke 9:28-36. One of the verses we sing at the Divine Liturgy and the service the precede and follow it, goes something like this:

“When, O Christ our God, Thou wast transfigured on the mountain, Thou didst reveal Thy glory to Thy Disciples in proportion as they could bear it. Let Thine everlasting light also enlighten us sinners, through the intercessions of the Theotokos, O God Thou Bestower of light, glory to Thee.”

I really like that verse. There is a lot of theology packed into two sentences. If that was all I could remember from the service, I think that would be enough. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself.

The significance of this day to me personally, is that on this day last year I attended the  chrismation of the children of my friends Jonathan and Susan at Holy Angels Eastern Catholic Church in San Diego. I had only discovered Orthodoxy a month or two prior to that. I was very motivated to learn all I could, but still very much unsure about whether or not I believed it. It was my second liturgy ever. This time I knew a little more what to expect, and enjoyed it a lot more. One of the things that sticks out in my memory above everything else I saw that evening, was the chrismation itself.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with what a chrismation is, I will tell you what I have learned so far in brief. When a person is received into the Church after the catechism, they are baptized, then chrismated. This is basically a sacrament of the baptism in the Holy Spirit, and of entry into the priesthood of believers spoken of in the first Letter of St Peter. Having been baptized, the person takes off their shoes and is anointed with oil on the forehead, eyelids, nose, ears, lips, hands and feet. The thing that struck me immediately as I watched this was that it reminded me of the anointing of a Levitical Priest in the Old Testament. The anointing I witnessed was, of course, minus the sacrifice and blood prescribed in Leviticus. After this, they received the Eucharist together as a family. It was a beautiful thing I witnessed. I remember thinking that I wanted to experience the Eucharist myself. It was one of the many hooks that the Holy Spirit would begin to draw me to the Church with.

A year later, I find even more significance in this season of the year. A year ago, I had just learned about fasting, this time I am participating in it. This time of year is the season of the Dormition Fast which precedes the commemoration of the Dormition (falling asleep) of the Theotokos, Virgin Mary. Participating in the Church as a catechumen has helped me to soak in more of the importance, beauty and holiness of this season. Last year, I completely missed the real significance of the Transfiguration, but this year I have been able to take a bit of time to ponder the words of the verse above.

A couple of meaningful things happened for me this first week of the Dormition Fast, and Feast of Transfiguration. One was the passing of an elderly friend. She was a long-time friend who was like a grandmother figure (in fact she was the grandmother of some close friends of mine). She passed in the midnight hours following the Feast Day. I thought it interesting that she should enter into eternity the day after we celebrate the momentary glimpse into the coming Kingdom. I was privileged enough to sit by her side for about a hour, a couple days before she passed. She was conscious just long enough for me to say hello, and for her to recognize me and say hi back. It was interesting to participate in an act of obedience to the words of Scripture that exhort us to visit the sick. It was a moment mixed with grief, compassion and hope. I whispered some prayers from the prayer book, and read Psalm 50 (51 in Protestant Bibles). In that short time I got to slow down enough to recognize the presence of God. Nothing as obviously powerful as seeing Christ Transfigured, with Moses and Elijah at His side, but I suppose the uncreated light of Tabor was present, though not visible.

That night, when I got home, I had another meaningful moment with my two older girls. As we always do, bedtime business is followed by evening prayers, and story time. Instead of story time, Hailey (9) and Shea (5) asked questions about the Bible. I don’t remember all of their questions, but I remember thinking how glad I was that they were thinking about spiritual things. They were doing like Mary, and contemplating the things they have heard in their hearts. The trick is to make sure the answers don’t go completely over the head of Shea, but are not too simplistic for Hailey. I have also been trying to ask them more questions to see where their understanding is, and draw out what they know. Just as we were winding down the question time, Hailey told me that since I had started “doing this Orhtodox thing” she has learned a lot. When I asked what she meant, she said that she learned a lot from the Bible stories and such at the Presbyterian Church, but the Orthodox have more details about it. She then told me she was glad we go to the Orthodox Church. As you can imagine, it was a pleasing moment for me to see her embracing the teachings of the Church with such a mature attitude.

That next morning they woke up with me in order to be at 6am Liturgy for the Transfiguration. They had requested to come with me the night before. They never complained once. I take that back. Shea did have a bit of a tummy issue towards the end of the Liturgy, and they were both cold in the Nave, but other than that, they were troopers. Hailey stood with me for nearly the whole thing. The thing that they had both wanted to see was the blessing of the summer fruits. This sprinkling of the fruit with blessed water commemorates the foreshadowing of the Coming Kingdom I mentioned earlier. Any time there is something that involves the sprinkling of water, they love it. And I love sharing those moments with them.

In this short season of preparing for the Falling Asleep of the Theotokos, and the end of the Liturgical Year, it has been nice to take in the blessings surrounding the Feast of the Transfiguration. All of these things are indeed for our salvation.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. Iustina permalink
    August 8, 2010 3:47 pm

    “The thing that struck me immediately as I watched this was that it reminded me of the anointing of a Levitical Priest in the Old Testament. The anointing I witnessed was, of course, minus the sacrifice and blood prescribed in Leviticus.”

    Yes! I didn’t make this connection until after my baptism/chrismation. I read about the process of being a Levitical priest in a class I was in last year, and it all made sense. I want to share the excerpt from the book (it’s not Orthodox, it simply clued me in to what was going on):

    “As the Old Testament priest was set apart as holy unto God, so the New Testament priest is also a ‘holy priesthood’ (1 Peter 2:5). The emphasis on holiness of the Old Testament priests, seen in the elaborate rites of consecration, is also evident in the sanctification of the priesthood of the church. These rites began by the washing of the whole body, symbolic of spiritual cleansing (Exodus 29:4). The New Testament believers likewise have their ‘bodies washed with pure water’ (Hebrews 10:22), an obvious reference to cleansing through the ‘washing of regeneration’ (Titus 3:5).
    “This negative preparation of cleansing was followed by a ceremony of robing (Exodus 29:5-6) with robes made of fine, shining white linen symbolic of purity (Exodus 28:40-41). The Fulfillment of this aspect in the New Testament is the robe of purity which the believer wears. Having ‘put on Christ,’ he is clothed in His righteousness.
    “Next the priest was anointed with oil made with four sweet-smelling substances. This act, symbolic of the communication of the Holy Spirit, finds its part in the New Testament priesthood anointing of the Holy Spirit received by each member of the church (I John 2:20, 27).
    “These preparations of the priest were followed by a threefold sacrifice: a sin offering, a burnt offering, and a modified thank offering—signifying their placing ‘into all the functions and rights of the priesthood.’ In the last offering the blood of the ram was sprinkled upon the altar, but also upon the priests, significantly upon their ear, thumb and toe, denoting their duty to hear the Word, to execute it, and walk in it (Exodus 29:20). Similarly, Peter speaks of the New Testament priesthood as ‘elect… unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ’ (I Peter 1:2 cf. Hebrews 12:24).
    “All of these consecration rites bespeak the purity demanded of the priest and his devotion of life to God. With similar thrust Peter calls the priesthood of the church to a holiness of life (I Peter 1:16) and walk which glorifies God among all men (I Peter 2:11-12).”

    (from The Church in God’s Program, by Robert L. Saucy, pgs. 40-41)

    I don’t know if you’ve noticed from baptisms/chrismations you’ve seen, but there is a cutting of hair that takes place. That is the sacrifice that is made (instead of the blood sacrifice in the Levitical priesthood).

    Also, about Transfiguration… yes! What a great feast, truly. I never even thought about this story in the Gospels all my life, and then I went to the vigil for Transfiguration last year (a week before my baptism on the Dormition) and was astounded at the depth of the theology! The troparion and kontakion of this feast are two of my favourites; the troparion mentions that the Apostles witnessed Christ’s glory in “proportions as they could bear it,” which is amazing and a good reminder that even we experience God in proportions as we can bear it, and the goal is to be growing always in those proportions as the nous in the soul turns to face God more and more. The kontakion points out that this event would remind the Apostles of Christ’s divinity so they would know that He died voluntarily–not from weakness but by submission.

  2. August 8, 2010 7:21 pm

    That last part about the the Transfiguration being a display of Divinity so they would know His death was voluntary was something I found very powerful too. I forgot to put it in my post.

    That excerpt about the priesthood was great. Thanks for sharing that.

  3. August 8, 2010 8:57 pm

    Jeremiah,
    Thanks for sharing that story. Glad that we both appreciate each other’s Churches, and I pray that we can come together as the years go on.

    My spiritual Father’s mother passed away nineteen years ago yesterday as well (Blessed Repose, Eternal Memory to her and your grandmotherly acquaintance!). The timing of things is strange as one becomes more acquainted with the calendar.

    Someone pointed out that the anniversary of the dropping of one of the two atomic bombs also occurred on the Transfiguration. They pointed out the stark contrast between human created light and the uncreated light of Our Lord’s divine presence. May we grow in being able to behold more of the latter!

    Blessed post-feast to you,
    Jonathan

  4. Darlene permalink
    August 11, 2010 6:40 pm

    Greetings Jeremiah! I was directed to your site through Father Stephen Freeman’s blog.

    I take great joy in reading about others discovering the Orthodox faith. I was received into the Church on Lazarus Saturday of this year.

    I, too, have begun to fast more regularly and find that such a spiritual discipline brings the concerns of Christ more readily to the forefront of my mind. Yet, I am learning that fasting without prayer is ineffective. One must do both.

    Continue strong and steadfast as you grow in faith, hope, and love.

  5. Darlene permalink
    August 11, 2010 7:04 pm

    Jeremiah,

    I went to the website of Holy Angels Eastern Catholic Church and a question arose in my mind. Are you aware that this particular parish is not Orthodox, but Catholic? At the bottom of the page it states that they “are in communion with the Pope of Rome.”

    I say all of this to clarify what might be misunderstood by some who come here to read your blog. The Byzantine Catholic Church is not the Orthodox Church.

    If you are baptized/chrismated into this church or one like it, you are not being received into the Orthodox Church, but rather, the Byzantine Catholic Church in fellowship and under the jurisdiction of the Pope of Rome.

    I’m not sure if you have been informed of the differences between the uniate churches and the Orthodox Church, but I think it might be helpful. Read about Alexis Toth who left the uniate church under the jurisdiction of the Pope of Rome and was joined to the Holy Orthodox Church.

    If none of this is news to you and you still want to be received into the Byzantine Catholic Church, then I suggest just one thing. Please realize that you are not becoming Orthodox but rather Eastern Catholic. The title of your blog then, should read “…Now He’s Eastern Catholic.”

    I do not say any of this to be contentious nor malicious. I had considered the Eastern Catholic Church at one point, but then came to the realization that I could not be subject to the Pope of Rome. If you respect Fr. Stephen Freeman or know another Orthodox priest, perhaps you could inquire of them further as to what I have said.

    If in any way I have offended you, please forgive me.

    Darlene

    • August 11, 2010 9:08 pm

      Hi Darlene,
      I have read some of your comments on Fr Stephen’s blog before. I appreciate what you have to say.
      I am indeed aware of the differences between the Orthodox and the Eastern Catholic. I didn’t put it in my blog, but before I attended the service, a priest did tell me that they are in communion with Rome, and not the Orthodox Church. Even though it was not technically an Orthodox Service, the thing I was pointing out was that it was on the Feast of the Transfiguration, I remember attending a service. The Orthodox celebrate it on the same day, with the same Liturgy, even though the two are not in communion with one another.
      I can’t remember what month I first discovered the Orthodox Church via podcast, but I definitely remember the Feast of the Transfiguration, which is the whole point. From that point in time, I have since become a catechumen in the Orthodox Church at an Antiochian parish in San Dimas, CA. THe priest in the videos on the right are my priest. I have learned quite a lot in the short year or so since I discovered the Church.
      I did enjoy seeing the chrismation of my friend’s kids. Even though we are not in communion with Eastern Catholics, the form of their liturgy, sacraments, etc is identical, and therefore I learned something from it.
      Thanks again for your concerned comment. I hope you continue to read along with my continued journey into Orthodoxy.

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