It has almost been a year since I came to investigate the Orthodox Christian church. I began my journey in September 2016 LINK.
My first blog post was not very wordy. In fact, it was a repost of a photo I had found talking about keeping a monastery in one’s heart.
The Dormition of Mary ends the Liturgical year for the Orthodox Christians. I have been a part of something amazing and I will remember this first year as being filled with struggles, the making of new friends, sorrows when a dear family member was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer, answers to prayer, family coming to check out what I was up to and now one is to be baptized this Saturday. My nephew and husband both have visited my temple. My husband is still attending on Saturdays. I get to spend a lot of time with my sister talking about the Orthodox Way. She and I attend services together regularly. It is SUCH a huge blessing to be able to discuss what is going on with someone who is also experiencing Orthodoxy for the first time and loving it.
It has, and continues to be a struggle. It is a good struggle. Orthodoxy aligns with what is in the bible in regards to guarding ourselves against sin. It is what I have been looking for for the past 30 years. Yes… 30 years!
I became Orthodox so that I could be changed and I have been. I have removed from my blog two earlier posts written when I was still a Protestant. They no longer represent who I am or what I believe. Do you go to church hoping to change, ‘the establishment’? Or do you attend church, read your bible and pray hoping your heart will soften and you will be changed?
I still have a long way to go in my journey as a Christian. One thing I now realize is why people used to post on social media how thankful they were to have another day on earth. In the Orthodox Church, it is so that we can have another day to work on our sanctification.
I love when we sing, ‘Many Years’ in church!
I have learned about the Ethiopian Orthodox Christians!
I learned that cave churches were not just holes in the mountain. They were, and still are beautiful and full of icons and murals.
I have learned that there is such a thing as Holy Fire and it is a bona fide miracle that happens EVERY Pascha!
I learned that Easter baskets originated with the Orthodox Church but we call them Pascha baskets.
I have learned about fasting…
I have learned about icons… SO many beautiful icons!
I have learned about he prayer rope, the Jesus prayer, the blessing of the waters, confession & repentance, the lives of the ancient fathers and mothers, and so much more.
As much as I have learned, I still have so much more to understand.
According to ancient tradition, the wonderworking icon of Tikhvin is one of several painted by Saint Luke the Evangelist. The icon was taken from Jerusalem to Constantinople in the fifth century, where it was enshrined in the Church of Blachernae, which was built especially for this purpose.
In 1383, seventy years before the fall of Constantinople at the hands of the (Muslims) Turks, fishermen on Lake Ladoga in the principality of Novgorod the Great witnessed the icon miraculously hovering over the lake’s waters amid a radiant light. According to an early sixteenth century Russian manuscript, “The Tale of Miracles of the Icon of the Tikhvin Mother of God,” the Theotokos herself decided that her image should leave Constantinople, perhaps in anticipation of the impending fall of the Byzantine Empire.
Shortly after its miraculous appearance, the icon was discovered in several neighboring towns, including the village of Motchenitsy on the bank of the Tikhvinka River, before it finally appeared near the town of Tikhvin. A wooden church dedicated to the Dormition of the Theotokos was built on the site of the icon’s final resting place. Miraculously, the icon survived a number of fires.
In the early sixteenth century, through the zeal of Great Prince Basil Ivanovich, a stone church was built to replace the original wooden structure. In 1560, by order of Tsar Ivan the Terrible, a men’s monastery was established near the church and enclosed with a stone wall.
In 1613-1614, the Swedish army, having seized Novgorod, made several attempts to destroy the monastery. The countless prayers offered to the Theotokos before the icon were heard, and the monastery was spared. On one occasion, after monks had been alerted to the approaching Swedish army, they decided to flee and to take the icon with them. But the monks soon discovered that they could not remove the icon from its shrine. Seeing this as a sign of the Theotokos’ protection, the monks decided not to abandon the monastery, begging the Theotokos to spare them and their beloved spiritual home. To their amazement, a large Muscovite army appeared to defend the monastery.
When the Swedes encountered the army, they retreated immediately. Word of this miracle spread rapidly, and imperial emissaries soon visited the monastery. Accompanied by a copy of the wonderworking icon, they set off for the village of Stolbovo, 33 miles from Tikhvin, where they concluded a peace treaty with the Swedes on February 10, 1617. Afterwards, the copy of the icon was taken to Moscow and enshrined in the Kremlin’s Dormition Cathedral. Later, the same icon was placed in the Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia) cathedral in Novgorod at the request of the city’s faithful, who also found themselves under attack by the Swedes. Once again, through the intercession of the Theotokos, the city was spared.
Over the centuries, the icon’s fame spread far and wide. Copies of the wonderworking icon began to adorn churches throughout the land. Some of these copies also proved to be sources of miracles, and it was not uncommon to find the faithful praying before the icon to seek healing for children who were ill.
No fewer than 24 processions with the icon were celebrated each year at the Tikhvin Monastery, where the icon was enshrined. A decorative cover, or “riza,” adorned the icon, exposing only the faces and hands of the Holy Virgin and Christ child. Numerous precious stones studded the riza, and many of the faithful, desiring to express thanksgiving for prayers answered through the Theotokos’ intercession, affixed precious jewelry to the riza.
Most miraculous is the fact that the icon was preserved from destruction or sale after the Russian Revolution, which ushered in a 74-year persecution of the Church. During the 1920s, the communist government demanded that the Russian Orthodox Church turn over countless icons and other precious liturgical items, which through the nationalization of private property were considered the property of “the people.” Many of these sacred items were sold, allegedly to raise money to feed the Russian and Ukrainian population which was afflicted by famine.
During the World War II German occupation, the Nazis removed the icon from the Tikhvin Monastery, from where it was taken to Pskov and subsequently to Riga, Latvia. When the city was evacuated, Bishop John [Garklavs] of Riga, in whose care the icon was placed, took the icon to Bavaria, where it was venerated by Orthodox faithful who had been displaced because of the war. While Soviet agents had spotted the icon, Bishop John was permitted to take the icon to the United States in 1949, under the pretext that the icon in his care was a reproduction, the work of a simple monk, and that it was of little historic or monetary value. Shortly after his arrival in the United States, Bishop John, who was later elevated to the rank of Archbishop, was elected to oversee the Diocese of Chicago, and the icon was regularly displayed and venerated in Chicago’s Holy Trinity Cathedral.
Bishop John frequently took the icon on pilgrimage to various places throughout the United States and Canada. After his retirement in the late 1970s and death on Palm Sunday in 1982, Archpriest Sergei Garklavs, Bishop John’s adopted son, became the caretaker of the icon. In 2003, over a decade after the fall of communism and the resurrection of the Russian Orthodox Church, the decision was made to return the precious icon to its original home.
The icon began its year-long journey to Russia at the 99th annual Pilgrimage to Saint Tikhon Monastery, South Canaan, Pennsylvania, May 23-26, 2003. His Beatitude, Metropolitan Herman, Primate of the Orthodox Church in America, together with members of the Holy Synod of Bishops and guest hierarchs, greeted the icon, which was available for veneration by the faithful.
The icon follows the “Hodigitria” model and is similar in style to the ancient Iveron icon of Our Lady. It differs in that the Christ child’s legs are crossed, while the sole of His foot is turned to the viewer. Several historic sources note that several other Hodigitria icons of the Theotokos had been brought to Russia in the 1380s, during the rule of the saintly prince Demetrius Donskoy.
Something amazing happened in Temple today. Aside from the usual wonderment that takes place when one is in the presence of, God.
I had stepped outside to see if my guest had arrived. I keep telling people to come early but… As I stood in the parking lot visiting with one of the men who help out in the narthex, two ‘older’ gentlemen- one that appeared to be in his 60’s and the other older but of an indeterminable age, came shuffling across the parking lot. I think they are monks. They did not carry signs that read, ‘Hey! We are monks!’ and I hate to admit it but when the high priest was talking about them I was asking someone about a mural on the wall. However, they looked like they could be monks, or priests but I’m pretty sure they are monks. The older man was shorter, a bit hunched and needed a walking staff and the other man to assist him in walking. He was very obviously suffering as he walked. Their progress was slow, my guest was late, service was starting so back inside I went. We get many visitors at our church so I didn’t think too much about it until they entered the nave.
Ka-whoosh! As they shuffled slowly into the room, the atmosphere physically changed. The room seemed unable to contain the presence that was contained within these two men. The spirit of God was so huge in these two, humble men; one shuffling, the other assisting, that you could feel the pressure in the room increase. So much so that my ears felt like they were going to pop. When my guest arrived, I asked her if she felt it too. She said she had. She was venerating icons, felt something behind her, turned and that’s when she saw them.
That’s how I wish to be. So filled with the spirit of God that His presence in me fills a room.
Unless they make a study of it, most protestants have no clue about what goes on inside the walls of a monastery. As our society becomes more and more casual in everyday encounters; people wearing their pajamas out in public, or wearing sweat pants to the opera and calling strangers by their first names instead of, ‘Mr.’ and ‘Mrs.’ visits to holy places (and this includes your local Orthodox temple) can easily become places where etiquette faux pas abound and flat out rude behavior may be acknowledge, by the offender themselves although not corrected, while the offender is in the midst of said behavior.
Before you head out to the local monastery, here are some things to keep in mind that will make your intrusion into the quiet lives of those within the hollowed walls easier for the monks and nuns you visit to endure. If you are not in a place in your Orthodox journey to where you can submit yourself to all of these rules, please refrain from visiting any monastery until you can be respectful enough to fully submit.
Dress appropriately. Long skirts and closed toed shoes, ladies. Also, headcoverings are mandatory as are long sleeves and high necks on your collars. Men, wear slacks not shorts and closed toed shoes. Long sleeve shirts, please. also for men and women, please no printed t-shirts with offensive words. Remember, just because it doesn’t offend you doesn’t necessarily mean it is not offensive to those around you.
BE QUIET! Speak in low tones. Think golf tournament announcer and then try to speak in softer tones than they do. 2b. SILENCE YOUR CELL PHONE. There is nothing more important going on in your life than what is going on around you when you are in the presence of God.
Call before you go to the monastery to see if your visit is coming at a good time for the residents of the monastic community.
Bring gifts; leave money. Monasteries run on outside support as well as what they can sell. many raise and grow their own food but they still need cash to pay their utility bills just like you do. On a side note; in December of 2016, I wrote an article; Leave Your Protestantism at the Door. It was originally intended for the protestant convert new to Orthodoxy but after a conversation with the Mother at the monastery, I’m addressing it to former protestants who find themselves in leadership and or priestly roles in Orthodox Churches. When I was a protestant, I sat through MANY sermons on tithing. One main themes was’ give bread where you’re fed’. Okay… for an Orthodox Christian, that can also mean tithing to a monastery, not just to church. You see, the bible never states to which institution one is to tithe, only that we are to tithe. The Lord may, and often does, move a perosn to tithe to a monastery. Monasteries, as I said, are a foreign concept to protestants so we may not always understand how important of a role they play in the development of a Christian’s spiritual life. IT IS VITALLY IMPORTANT THAT PARISHIONERS SUPPORT THEIR LOCAL MONASTERY AS MUCH AS THEY CAN!! Go to the monastery on work days and help out. Go when it’s not a work day and help however you’re asked. But whenever you go to the monastery, LEAVE SOME MONEY WITH THEM WHEN YOU LEAVE! Go with the intent to give a financial blessing. If there is a bookstore, buy something. You don’t always have to buy books off the internet. Call ahead and ask if you can bring any food or supplies. Be a blessing, not a burden.
Be obedient. Do what your told and ask permission always.
make sure your children are well behaved enough to be in a monastic setting. Many children are not taught to be quiet and respectful these days. parents let them get away with much too much. Churches and monasteries are holy places. Children learn how to behave in special settings from their parents. it begins by praying at home and making sure children understand that this is something different… something special. Children want to please those around them, especially their parents and they are eager to learn. Help them fit in a to be welcomed in new settings by teaching them how to behave properly right at home. Set a side a prayer time with your children where they must be quiet. In crease the time they must be quiet and SIT STILL. Reward and punish as appropriate.
Do not touch the monks or nuns. (I did this today and learned it’s a MAJOR no-no to hug a nun!) oops!
Don’t stay too long. Remember, monks and nuns live where they live to serve God, live in peace and quiet and to pray (they are even praying for you!). So make sure you do not take up too much of their time when you visit.
You may have come from a protestant background but that doesn’t mean your mind must stay there. Lay people as well as priests must put aside their protestant ways and fully embrace Orthodoxy if it is to work in their lives as it is intended. If you became an Orthodox Christian to ‘fix’ the Orthodox system, you’ve come into it for all the wrong reasons. You will most likely fail as an Orthodox Christian and if you’re in leadership, you will also fail your parishioners, as well as the monastery your church is supposed to be supporting.
When converting from Protestantism to Orthodoxy, I decided I would be, ‘in for a penny, in for a pound’. I would embrace it fully or not even bother. You cannot serve two masters. Trying to be a Protestant Orthodox Christian will not work. Your attempts at ‘kicking at the goads’ is not going to change a system that is over two thousand years old. They have come across tougher opposition than American Protestants… and won. Time and again they have won.
Visit the monasteries, tithe where the LORD tells you to tithe and be at peace with your decision no matter what opposition you face.