Church incognito; from darkness into light, my experience at St. Athanasios Greek Orthodox Church

On April 11th and part of April 12th I attended St. Athanasios Greek Orthodox Church to usher in Pasha, or Easter. I first noticed that for a 11pm service the parking lot was packed! I almost had to park on the grass on the property, but thankfully I didn’t have to. As I approached the entrance I heard some chanting, which sounded live (until they cut it off midway). There weren’t any seats in the sanctuary, so I and a lot of other people were directed to the overflow seating arrangement in their dining hall, in which we caught the service in the form of HDCS (high definition church service) played via projector and projection screen.

It was a bit on the noisy side at first, not in a bad way but one of hopeful anticipation. A bit of cantoring based upon the scripture reading from the gospel of Mark, first in Greek followed up by English, all the while signing the cross was done in homage. And after the gospel reading it got dark, really dark, they actually made it even darker in the building by unscrewing light bulbs for a brief time.

The priest had a lit candle and altar boys and girls came forward and had their candles lit, and from there they lit all the other candles in the church. It was beautiful! I have never been part of a candlelight service that moved from darkness into light. I was left in awe at this practice because I find it to be the nature of things; the darkness before dawn, the bad that seems to prevail in the world and yet God…and good, is pushing forward all the more.
People were leaving at a quick rate and so I moved from the overflow seating arrangement to the sanctuary.

When I got there I took time to take in the icons; I appreciate iconography (I have a few) and to see the host of saints, the holy family, Jesus, etc. was beautiful and I took it in with all my senses. The pine resin incense took me back to my first time attending a Greek Orthodox service, also on Pasha, many years ago with my father. These things are not common in the Protestant tradition, but I appreciate them nonetheless because it resonates with me the mystery of faith and certainly the unknown-ness of God that I will never fully grasp while I am living but striving to learn more but never know all (not that it is humanly possible in the first place).
I left shortly after 1am and there were still a lot of people gathered to worship and celebrate Pasha together. It was good to be a part of this service, I enjoyed it greatly for it nourished my mind as well as my soul.

~Nathanael~

I see resurrection all around me

Disclaimer; I am exhausted but want to convey resurrection in my writing. I admit that my writing today isn’t fluid, but I still want to write so please forgive me for any standard I’ve set up in my writing when this piece kinda flies in the face of better-ish writing. If you benefit from it, well, I guess I did something right. 🙂

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Resurrection. Life coming forward out of death.  I’ve seen a lot of it as of late; in tattooists making something beautiful out of a regretted tattoo, of the sacrifice of selves and transition into mutual submission in the context of marriage, and so many other examples.

And it overwhelms me to the point of tears. It shatters me to my core and instills in me a sense of where I am and where I am going and what I honestly and earnestly want for myself, and yet how all too often I get in the way of myself. Time and time again in my prayers and in my meditating I ponder and question in silence as well as out loud, “how long O Lord”. I won’t get into details here why that’s on my mind and heart, but it does in fact have to do with resurrection of self.

I am happy to be a part of life, I’m still an ambivert (between extrovert and introvert) by nature but still I enjoy the duality of being empowered by being around others as much as I do when I am by myself. I find that when it comes to my outlook on life, I am more of an optimist than I’ve ever been in my entire life. The cup is half full and it is constantly getting filled.

***

My bro and friend got married the other day, it was a joyous occasion and I enjoyed the vows, and from my perspective as a groomsman I saw from the side the love in his now wife’s eyes for him. Having worked with him and been in his life for a while I know some of his story, and there was just so much resurrection. I kept my shit together but I admit I was on the verge of crying (I am okay with displaying my emotions, even tears of joy). Resurrection…sweet sweet resurrection, and in many ways it will be a constant in my life; in the viewing, in the partaking, in the giving, and in the receiving. It knocks me hard and deep, and slips me off my feet…and I am okay with that. I am okay with countless innumerable times I have “died” and “risen” in issues in my life, in problems, it ethical/moral/spiritual issues. Some times I have laid dormant for longer than others, but God has seen me through it all and God will continue to do so every time resurrection needs to take place in my life.
I have hope even when I am hopeless, I have to some degree strength in times when I am weak, I have power in my powerlessness, I love even when I do not feel any love myself.

Thanks be to God for resurrection time and time again. In seeing it firsthand, but also experiencing it as well.

I have seen, and I believe.

~Nathanael~

Do you live in light of the crucifixion or resurrection?

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I think it is good to have spiritual “checks and balances” in our lives. To examine our lives, and how we exude the love of God; are we doing “good things” or even “bad things” because we’re fearful of the wrath of God or are we doing good things because Christ was crucified, died…but 3 days later he rose again? Is that how we conduct our lives?

In my own life when I was younger life holistically was a bunch of do’s and don’ts. Even to some extent the don’ts, whether I don’t or we as a family don’t was a grotesque badge of honor. It set us apart, the “in the world but not of it” mentality that pervades some minds to this day. It was a bit of a wrestle for me personally because it limited my experiences, whether by fear or just the I-don’t-do’s, and in that kind of mindset I can imagine that it must be like living with Christ still on the cross. Christ still suffering and going through pain still suggests there’s this gap between God and man. There’s a train of thought that suggests that when Christ did in fact die that when the temple curtain was split, it showed that God was not contained to only the temple AND also that divide between God and man no longer existed. That, Jesus in his final words of “it is finished” did in fact make it so…

I also look at living in light of the crucifixion to be one of atoning for what we’ve done. Sure we’re no longer offering up grain and birds and livestock as a burnt offering, but thinking about prayers of “God if you do A, I will do / I won’t do B ever again”. To people who pray like this I ask this; why? Was not Jesus the last sacrifice mankind ever needed? Was “it is finished” not enough? Because such actions do point to “not enough” and for the person who lives under guilt- self-imposed or otherwise, lives a life of Christ still on the cross.

It is in light of the resurrection that I choose to live. That the gap between God and man has been restored, and if I am to take these theological extrapolations to the next level, it is in light of the resurrection AND the ascension that I live. That Jesus’ death on the cross brought healing to humanity, and so I must “go and do likewise” and so many other things that Jesus lived out in word and deed, so I too wish to conduct and live my life in BEing and DOing those things to best of my ability.

Granted you can’t have resurrection without crucifixion, you can’t know healing until you’ve been hurt, you can never truly admire the beauty of Spring without having gone through the hardships that winter brings. It is a difficult journey of faith for me at times, and yet one thing I keep in mind is that I will keep walking when I don’t see the road in front of me because God is there. I will keep enduring hardships because God is there. I will grow tired, lonely, disillusioned, and even doubtful…but God is there in the thick of it with me. I keep walking in light of the resurrection and ascension because I know with some of my heart some days and all of it at my end of days that because of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection AND ascension I can live freely and fully.

~Nathanael~

In memory of Arlene

The other day was the day that I help out with the local soup kitchen at Trinity Episcopal Church in my hometown of Aurora Illinois (which I love). I was excited to see that the church that was helping us was that of one of my favorite people I’ve gotten to know through that soup kitchen, Arlene (a photo of her and I is below).

As I stepped inside Trinity and started prepping for serving others, I asked the guy who normally takes Arlene how she was doing and he informed me that she passed away in her sleep 3 weeks ago. That hit me hard, I asked a few questions pertaining to the service and then I stepped outside to be alone with my thoughts and emotions. I didn’t cry, but the tears might come later, but anger rose to the top of me because no one let me know that she passed away and some people who know me and my interaction with me could have called me. I would have wanted to pay my last respects to Arlene by being there, so I guess this’ll have to do because that opportunity is not afforded to me, so here it goes…

***

I met Arlene a few years ago and instantly I knew this old[er] lady had spunk. Arlene was of Irish decent, and it didn’t take long for her to let other people know this; There are two types of people in the world – those who are Irish and those who wish they were she’d tell others. It was essentially “love at first fight” with Arlene, she had torts, I had retorts, and she had reretorts…but it was good natured and nothing she said hurt me and vice-versa. I would occasionally help her outside of Trinity and spend time with her as she’d smoke cigarettes, telling me tidbits of her life and her family, she really loved her grandsons and was proud to tell me of their latest accomplishments in life. Arlene had a lot of stories, it was interesting to hear about the days of Alaska before it was Alaska (The Yukon Territory). There were times I sensed that her family, though local, kept themselves busy with their lives and didn’t spend as much time as she would’ve liked with her. She wasn’t lonely, but she was one who appreciated family and just wanted to be there for them where she could.

Arlene was a sweet older woman who would let me know, “Despite what everyone has to say, I think you’re something special!” I would quip, what everyone has to say? I don’t believe you! and she would quip “I don’t believe me either!”
It was sad to see her fraility at times, her slow gait and her frustration with it all, but she was good at what she did; primarily she would work at the end of the soup kitchen line and hand out cookies and fresh fruit to whomever wanted it. I was quick to replenish her supply as it went quickly, and she was pleased that I did this, telling others I was her guardian angel…she knew how to make me blush in this circumstances, I was just glad to serve her as she served others.

Hot summer days kept her away from Trinity, cold winter days did too, which made autumn ideal and I was hoping to see her again but that didn’t happen this year. It was her time to go and God wanted her home, I can’t be stingy about it nor can I complain, she had a good run and I’m glad to have known her.

RIP Arlene, I hope you’re not causing too much trouble in Heaven for God and others 🙂


~Nathanael~