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“Well, I’m Back”

January 4, 2012

I don’t know why, but when Sam takes his leave of Merry and Pippin after their journey back from the Grey Havens, returns home and putting little Elanor on his lap says, “Well, I’m back.” I get a little choked up. I like the fact that the movie ended with the same line as the book and didn’t try to exercise creative license with it.

Like Sam, I am now “back home”. Home, to the Orthodox Church. I’m not back in a prodigal sense, but in a “back to the beginning” sense. On the 31st of December, 2011 at 4pm, just before the Vespers service for the commemoration of the Circumcision of Christ, I was received into the Orthodox Church by Holy Baptism and sealed with Holy Chrism. Ironically, I was received in with another man named Jeremiah who also had the Prophet Jeremiah as his patron saint. It was quite a way to end 2011 and begin 2012.

The decision to go with the 31st as the date of baptism instead of on the day after Theophany because I had vacation days from work already set for New Year and couldn’t switch the days. The date also allowed friends and family to be there that otherwise would have not. Even the decision to go with Theophany weekend was only made about a month in advance. I had to tell my girls that they would be receiving a period of instruction before their baptism and we would not be baptized together. They were very understanding, and even excited.

A few weeks before the baptism I prepared by doing a Life Confession. For more than two years I had dreaded the idea of confession, thinking that I would probably be shown the door. What a fool I was! I found confession to be a relief to my soul. I should have been availing myself of this all along, even if it wasn’t sacramental until baptism. Even though I was not given absolution at the time, I anticipated it in Baptism. While it was a relief, it brought up things I hadn’t thought of, and things I had forgotten at the time of the confession. At my second confession felt an even greater sense of relief and peace. I knew I would be going into the water with a clear conscience.

I also spent those few weeks reading through four parts of a series of lectures given my St John Chrysostom to those preparing for baptism and those newly illumined in baptism. One of the things that stood out was his emphasis to those preparing on the need to forget the past and look to the future. This emphasis was based on the fact that we are united to Him as soldiers and as a bride. His Mercy and Grace erase all our past, and we are give hope for the future. To the newly illumined Chrysostom reminded them of how earthly dignitaries behave themselves above reproach for the honor of their office. How much more aught we to act in a dignified manner because we bear the name Christian. I marked and underlined man, many other things and discussed them with Father Patrick.

The final week prior to the baptism was not without it’s trials. Not too many days before the biggest trial of the week hit, I was reading Hebrews 10:32-39. It speaks of the trials the Hebrews encountered after their illumination, and Paul’s encouragement to not lose courage, “for the just shall live by faith.” It was a great reminder and encouragement on that final approach to the Fount.

I began the day of baptism by attending the last half of Reader’s Matins, after which I went with my wife and a couple Orthodox friends to a local place for a kind of brunch. After that, I began my fast and tried to make the day as peaceful as possible, trying to prepare myself for the evening. As anyone with kids knows, that is easier said than done. I’m sure it’s hard without kids. All in all it was a peaceful day and while I’m sure no one ever feels “entirely ready” for baptism, I felt as ready as I could.

Thankfully I have a sponsor who is on top if it, because I didn’t have to worry about any details except being there. Our parish is smallish, so our baptismal was set up outside. Thankfully it was a very warm So Cal December afternoon/evening. The Archimandrite/Priest (Fr Nicodim) from the Romanian Parish nearby was there with a monk (Fr Ephrem). I have been to his parish several times, and was glad he came to share in the occasion. Seeing the three candles at the head of the baptismal, as well as the blessing cross, Gospel, Chrism, my baptismal cross and towel set on a table to one side was almost surreal. I had seen it set up several times for others, but today I was going in!

As friends and family joyfully gathered around the baptismal with “the other” Jeremiah and I, I was overjoyed. As the prayers were spoken, though I have heard them a number of times at other baptisms, it was powerful to hear them spoken over me. Speaking the Symbol of Faith and saying the words in unison with my sponsor “I renounce them” and spitting on the devil after the priest asks if I renounce all the works of the devil and his pride, hear the priest ask, “Do you unite yourself to Christ?” and responding “I unite myself” then, “I have united myself” was also very powerful. Surprisingly, I did not “feel” anything as I went under the water three times, hearing the words, “The servant of the Lord Jeremiah is baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” save the cramp in my foot. But later, remembering the prayer that my baptism would be unto the forgiveness of my sins, I thought back to my spiritual father telling me that my baptism would be my absolution. At that moment I thought how much more powerfully I felt my conscience cleared.

After I was dry and redressed I once again stood before the priest and beside my sponsor, as well as fellow initiate. My 6 year old (my middle daughter) was so happy, she came up behind me and gave me a hug, not knowing it wasn’t over yet. The huge smile on her face and enthusiastic embrace brought an even bigger smile than the one I already had. Hearing the priest say, “The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit” to which the gathered respond in unison,”SEAL!” was a joyful moment. Singing the words, “All those who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ, Alleluia!” as we circled the fount three times was the most joyful song in the world to me. Father even asked the visiting clergy to sing it in Romanian after each English singing of it.

When we moved into the Church Nave and stood before the table with the sponge for removal of the Chrism and the tonsure, by the cutting of four points of my hair in the sign of the Cross. At this point my youngest daughter (2 years old) came over and snuggled up to my leg. It was sweet to have her there with me. As I watched my hair burn in the flame of the candle, I knew I was now in the service of the Church. Once the service was complete my girls came running up to me for a hug and to say how happy they were for me, along with my wife. The time of fellowship with my friends and family afterwards was a great joy. I embraced my fellow initiate as well. It was quite a moment for me to finally be in the Church. I know many others have had far longer journeys, but I felt the tremendous relief of being home.

For me, the most powerful moments were yet to come. Being as the service was followed by Vespers and not Liturgy, we would not receive Holy Communion until the next morning. As I spoke the preparatory prayers for Communion the night before, and the next morning, I suddenly realized that I was no longer praying the prayers in anticipation, but was preparing myself for the “real deal”. There was a sense of nearness as well. Instead of feeling like I am praying to God, who is “Up There” I was praying to God who is “nearer than my own breath.” There no sense of tingling, levitating or anything else, just a sense of nearness and being present. The next morning, as I prayed with the Faithful, I was finally praying AS one of the Faithful. One of the customs our parish has is that of touching the vestments of the priest as he goes by with the Elements in the Great Entrance. It’s a symbolic way of saying, “This is my offering too.” I normally abstain, since I have not before been truly able to participate, but this time I reached out. Nothing magical happened, but it was powerful all the same.

Praying the words of the final preparatory prayers for Communion, “I believe, O Lord and I confess that Thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the Living God, who didst come into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief… of Thy Mystic Supper, O Son of God, accept me today as a communicant, for I will not speak to Thine enemies of Thy Mysteries, neither will I give Thee a kiss as did Judas, but like the Thief will I confess Thee, ‘Remember me, O Lord, in They Kingdom.'” was the most striking of all the moments I had in the course of the 24 hours surrounding my baptism. This was it! I was really going to go forward and receive His Immaculate Body and His Precious Blood. Even the Our Father, which I have prayed a thousand times before, seemed more vibrant and real than ever. What a joy it was as well to pray the Post-Communion prayers of thanksgiving.

What a joy to finally be home.In a couple days I will experience the Feast of Theophany for the first time as a fully Orthodox Christian… Feels good to finally be home! I know my journey has really only just begun, but it really feels like a homecoming and a settling in.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. January 4, 2012 3:16 pm

    Awesome.

  2. January 17, 2012 1:00 pm

    I am so glad for you! Even I am from Romania, so far away, when I read last December about your story I was so excited.
    On 31th I was thinking for many times”What is he feeling now? Is he glad? What thoughts he have in his mind?”.
    God will help you in this new start.

    • January 18, 2012 4:30 pm

      Thank you very much. It’s amazing that from so far away I can share this experience (so to speak) with an Orthodox brother in Romania. I feel very glad to finally be home in the Church. Sometimes I stop and think, “This is great! I’m an Orthodox Christian!” While many things are still the same, I find a new sense of freedom from the burden of guilt that I had before. It’s hard to describe how free I feel after confession, baptism, and receiving the Body and Blood of Christ.
      I will try to share more as I find the time. I look forward to hearing from you again.
      God is indeed helping me in this new start.

  3. February 22, 2012 11:49 am

    Congrats, congrats, congrats!

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