Monday, June 30, 2008

Yesterday, part 2, wall-to-wall prayer

It began with a baptism. The child belonged to a couple from the "Old country"--actually two old countries, Palestine and Romania. In many times and places baptisms are strictly a family affair rather than a church community affair. I showed up in case Father Joseph needed any logistical assistance. I assumed wrongly that someone from the choir would do likewise. So it turned out to be my first solo choir gig. And it was recorded on video for posterity.

It is simple and beautiful service and I left feeling elated with the hymn "As Many As Are Baptized" on my lips. I sang this on the way over to Skylar's to tend the garden when we were stopped at a green light by a funeral procession. In a singing mood, I switch from the baptism hymn to "May His Memory Be Eternal" and reflected on the appropriateness of the encountering two services in a single morning. At one, a person died and was raised from the dead having put on the garment of immortality. At another, a person is being put to rest until the ultimate fulfillment of Baptismal Promise.

Saturday evening, the prayers continued as we commenced with the celebration of our patronal feast with Great Vespers, joined by or shepherd in Christ, Bishop BASIL. Towards the end of this service, I was summonsed to the center of the church with a new cassock over my arm. Bowing three times, I then went and knelt before His Grace and waited. And waited. And waited. Eventually he laid his hand on my head and read a prayer over me making me a Reader in the Church. He then tonsured me, clipping four small snips of hair from my head. I stood and he ordered me to put on my cassock. As I began, I could here Simon say "daddy shirt?" on the other side of the church. As I struggled with the buttons, His Grace reached around and grabbed the cincture attached to the back, pulled around to the front, and tied it.

He then took the brass-bound book containing the books of Acts and the Epistles of the New Testament, kissed it and said a prayer. He held it in front of him, spine facing up, found a random spot with his fingers, opened the book, and told me to take it to the center of the room and and read. He opened it to a passage from Paul's Epistle to the Romans, chapter 15. In it, Paul speaks about his ministering the Gospel of God--which I pray will someday be my vocation and profession. I am easily moved to tears and had done ok remaining calm to this point, but I think my voice trembled as I resisted being so moved that I would not be able to see the page. I returned the book to His Grace and he admonished me to read the Gospels daily and conduct myself in a worthy manner. He directed me to stand next to him.

A few moments later he whispered "begin Glory to God," meaning he wanted me to lead the Trisagion Prayers. We say this series of prayers at the beginning of every prayer service in the church or in our homes, so I have it memorized, but I don't trust myself enough to have ever said them in church without reading them off the page. Knowing that the fear would be a sure way to forget them, I had to concentrate on relaxing, opening my mouth, and simply letting the prayers come.

By the end of this service, I was on a cloud.

The cloud remained beneath my feet the next day. Now a Reader, I stood with the choir in my new cassock reading the occasional non-singing parts. Towards the end of Orthros (Matins (Morning Prayers)), the Bishop, in full regalia, and the priests exited the Altar and stood in the middle of the church. Because Father Joseph was going to be elevated to the rank of Archpriest, two other priests were also serving with us: Archimandrite Daniel, who is the Dean of our diocese, and Fr. Elias from our daughter parish in Overland park. In due time, I was summonsed again to bow before the altar, then kneel before His Grace, and wait. This was different than the evening before. His Grace stood in front of me and three priests stood to my left and right facing me--a well of red and gold brocade, satin, and embroidery. While the choir sang the praises, His Grace was reading a different set of prayers aloud and the priests were responding. These prayers were indistinct, but their tone and rhythm moving back and forth over my head was like the call and response of the angels. Over the top of this was the heavenly sound of our choir and even the background noise of the congregation with all its children. Mentally, if not spiritually, I felt lifted up and embraced.

When the praises were over, His Grace read the prayer for the ordaining (small "o") of a Subdeacon. I stood and was given a sticharion, which I slipped on over the cassock. His Grace then gave a white orarion to Archimandrite Daniel on my left. Fr. Daniel laid it on my shoulder, which was not what His Grace wanted and he said so, telling him to put it around my waist. With Subdeadon John's assistance, the wrapped the 15-foot sash around my waist, up over my shoulders, and down the front in an "X." Subdeacon John then gave me a small pitcher of water, a bowl and a linen napkin. Praying, His Grace held his hands over the bowl while I poured water over them three times. He used the napkin to dry them and then laid it over my neck. The ritual complete, I was told to go into the Altar and begin serving as a Subdeacon.

The only time Subdeacons do anything particularly special is a during Heirarchical Divine Liturgy. Our primary role during this is to accompany the bishop with a couple of special candlesticks called the Dikirion and Trikirion (or "trixie" and "dixie" as I have heard them called out of earshot of the bishop), hold his staff and miter, and do whatever else he may bid. At one point, this duty means walking through the Holy Doors, a priviledge normally reserved for clergy.

I also got to hold the Dikirion and stand on His Grace's left while he elevated Fr. Joseph to Archpriest. This time it was Father's turn to bow before the altar, kneel before His Grace, and wait. Then, putting his hand on Father Joseph's head, His Grace read the prayers of elevation in which we are reminded that as part of the proper ordering of creation, God gave us the priesthood. He then placed a heavy, ornate cross around Father Joseph's neck. This has been an honor a long time coming. We first discussed this elevation about 18 months ago when I suggested it be done while the Parish Life Conference was in Topeka. His Grace suggested that was not an appropriate time and wanted to wait until he would be here this year. It is a great honor for our Father Joseph, and one he is worthy of. It is also an honor for our parish. At some point during this service, dixie dripped hot beeswax on my fingers, which was also an honor.

I floated through the rest of liturgy. At one point I ritually washed His Grace's hands a second time, processed with the Dichirion, and received Holy Mysteries first. All the while I was constantly tugging and adjusting my orarion, which refused to remain crossed in front of me.

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