I had not been able to go to church for just over a week. I went to Gr. Vespers last night. The joy in my heart at being in church felt as though I was greeting a friend I had not seen for months, not days. There is so much joy, peace, and refreshment waiting for me in church.
There was a young man there last night; attending for the first time. I’m nosy. I asked him what drew him to the church. I knew it was his first time because of how he was dressed and because he was carrying his bible. I’m not saying Orthodox persons do not, or cannot dress up for church. He just looked more like a deacon in a baptist church than an orthodox parishioner. He struggled a bit for his words when I asked him what drew him here, to Holy Theophany. I think perhaps his first Orthodox service was a bit overwhelming? What I did hear was that he was not raised in a religious family. He had not grown up going to church (so sad!). He was looking for more substance, more sobriety in worship and reverence in interaction with God (I’m paraphrasing as I do not recall his actual words but it is the same kind of thread I see running through many converts to the Orthodox faith… we’re fed up with the circus that many churches have become and yearn for piety. Piety from our leaders, piety from other congregants, piety within ourselves. More dogma, less foofoowawa.). I pray he finds what he is looking for, Lord have mercy.
Today is the 32nd Sunday after Pentecost. One of the persons being honored today is; Hieromartyr Ignatius the God Bearer. Cool name, huh? Yeah, he was eaten by lions. Yikes!!
The link I just provided is to another church’s bulletin from 2012 explaining about Ignatius. After last night’s mini-sermon given by Ft. Moses, and seeing this icon and reading about Ignatius, I have to wonder- what do we consider to be suffering to we who are present day Christians? Fr. Moses was talking about Orthodox fathers being held in prisons and internment camps. They endured great suffering and many would have gone back (some prayed to be sent back!) so that they could continue to suffer. Why? Why would someone pray for something that seems so crazy? Suffering and persecution on purpose? They said it was because Prior to, and after their captivity they never prayed the way they prayed while in prison and felt closer to God in that setting.
When our lives are going well, how much do we really pay attention to God? When our lives are going through storms, do we not find ourselves praying more, and more fervently? I hope I never have to endure what these fathers and monks went through in order to have a deeper and more meaningful prayer life. I have, however, found comfort and encouragement from the stories of the martyrs and now, I have St. Ignatius to add to my mental library when times are tough. I’ll say, ‘hey, this is hard but at least lions are not chewing on my bones!’.
My prayer for you, for all those who are seeking something more substantial is that you will give the Orthodox church a try. At least for a year. Cycle through all the feast, and fasts. Learn about the saints, ancient fathers, martyrs, and everyone else in this wonderful, amazing mix of people who make up The Church; past, present, and those who are yet to walk through our doors but whom God already knows are on their way.
Lord have mercy.