Sunday morning, 24 January 2010
This blog series would be meaningless if I didn't acknowledge an event during today's Sunday Liturgy.
I came to St. Dimitri's with heavy heart this morning, not intending to take the Eucharist. Something had happened between priest Fr. John and me via email correspondence in the last few days that shocked and affected us both, which I had caused and which had not been resolved. I couldn't see myself taking those spiritual tokens while feeling as I did.
Knowing what had happened between the priest and me, Birgitta decided to come with me instead of attending her regular evangelical Christian Church service. When we arrived, the Liturgy was already in progress, earlier than usual. My regular place to sing the Epistle had been taken over by Seraphim who was visiting from the nearby monastery. I went to my regular place to sing as the Liturgy proceeded.
My voice felt powerful this morning and I sang with gusto and determination. Elizabeth, who typically tries to lead the singing, was often off pitch and dragging the pace. Things seemed out of balance and I sensed a sadness in Fr. John as he sang and pronounced the priestly parts of the Liturgy. It was unclear to me how it would all unfold and when the Liturgy came to the sermon phase, I wondered how Fr. John would handle it. The theme set by the OCA calendar was from the Gospel of Luke where Jesus speaks of the Pharisee and the Publican. Fr. John moved that parable into new levels of insight I had never heard before. I always enjoy his sermons, since they are generally extemporaneous and relevant to the moment. He is wonderfully gifted in this. Besides the sermons, his prayers for those in need and struggling, as well as for those who have recently gone on ("reposed"), are always timely and deeply felt. Today his special plea for God's blessing to be with the dead and dying and homeless victims of the earthquake in Haiti was especially appropriate. It lifted me out of my preoccupation with the far less important personal issue I had come with.
I wondered how this service would affect me in how I felt about this wonderful priest, who has so blessed my life these past three years that we have known each other, but with whom I was now out of tune and burdened. As the Liturgy singing proceeded toward the Eucharist, I began to notice anew the meaning of the words in the standard hymns we were singing. The Beatitudes spoke to me with new power. My voice in singing them with the rest of the congregation felt particularly strong and I resisted and fought Elizabeth in her attempts to drag the musical tempo. Was it my ego struggling to dominate the process? I think so now.
But then something unexpected and wonderful happened. Fr. John stopped the proceedings saying, "I can't continue until I do this." He then came over to where I was standing, embraced me and whispered in my ear, "Forgive me, my beloved friend." And there we both stood in a tight embrace for long moments while I burst into tears, asking him for forgiveness in return. Birgitta also burst into tears and, having forgotten her handkerchief and standing next to Fr. John's wife, accepted a Kleenex from Matushka Ana Lea. Before he let go of our embrace he whispered once more, "but we will continue to be irascible!" Sadness had turned to joy and good humor.
I felt the Light of Christ shining on and within us as we stood there in that long pause. The burden lifted and I felt again at one with my old friend as well as with all those gathered. The Eucharist was now accessible and alive for me in a new way, revealing to me its power to transform, heal, comfort and encourage.
Birgitta and I left St. Dimitri's this morning enlightened, rejoicing and in wonderment at what had transpired. My waning faith in my friend and Orthodoxy had been restored and strengthened. Later, as we prepared to retire for the night and reviewed the day, Birgitta described the changes she witnessed in her husband from the time days earlier that he had forwarded a certain email and the intense process it had launched. "Your face says it all", she said. "The hard, gloomy countenance you brought with you to St. Diimitri's this morning completely changed to soft warmth and joy during that embrace with Fr. John."
On Tuesday evening, January 26, Nicholas commented on his joke:
The joke email that started the whole thing has too much truth about hypocrisy behind it and I am gratified that Father John was able to come to terms with the nature of his reaction, at least enough to not let it ruin your relationship.
There are too many in his position of religious authority that hide the truth of their hubris and hypocrisy, and humor like this is one way of "working" with the "unspeakable" truth.
January 26, 2010 6:37 PM
On Wednesday morning, January 27, Eugene replied:
Thank you for putting a finer point of truth on this issue, son Nick. The joke need not be presented here, since it has already cut through the veneer of phoniness that so often lurks beneath outer ecclesiastical garments. I'm grateful for having gotten through to the real article of my friend.
On Sunday late evening, January 24, in response to my text message to examine this blog post, Fr. John wrote:
Blessed be God! Thank you for that beautiful blog! Sometimes out of darkness comes amazing light. The sorrow and separation which we both experienced has been replaced with that light and with joy. I don't know what I would do without those Wednesdays! With Love In Christ, Fr John H+
Fr. John is referring to what has become a regular conversation on Wednesday mornings. I echo his sentiments. We never know what will come into our discussions, but both of us typically leave each other joyfully exclaiming having learned something useful in our lives. Neither of us ever knows what the question, challenge, enlightenment or frequently jaw-dropping synchronicity will be. We can only say "Praise God!"
On Tuesday, February 2, Arseny Pavel said...
Prophet and priest are met in the Kingdom