(a.k.a. thinking about orthodoxy – part 2)
The bishop is regal-looking, very tall in his black robes with wide sleeves and hat with the long opaque veil hanging behind his shoulders and down his back. A large pendant icon of the Theotokos with Christ as a child is hanging from his neck and he walks with and leans on a long staff. He commands attention, respect, before even uttering a word. And yet, he speaks with gentleness, humility, simplicity, even including a joke about people who chew gum in church that makes the priest’s 3-year-old giggle out loud and the rest of us smile. And when we wander next door from church service to potluck lunch, he is accompanied by a gaggle of children, with whom he willingly converses and exchanges greetings, even hugs. In Orthodoxy, there is no shortage of spiritual leaders and spiritual parents to look up to.
The bishop explained in his morning homily that, although there is a Bible verse saying that we are to call no man father, we address the priests as “father” because we recognize them as bearing Christ’s icon or image in a unique way. In reality, we call them “father” only because of their sacred role in the life of the church, ministering in the name of the Trinity. Perhaps I am not explaining this well and I may have gotten it wrong somewhat. But that is what I understood.
It is a busy weekend with the bishop’s visit. Liturgy this morning at the mission church, then choir practice and vespers tonight at the main church and then morning prayers and Divine Liturgy again tomorrow at the main church. I had a brief conversation with myself this afternoon: “You don’t have to go to vespers,” I said. “I know,” I replied, but I kind of want to go.” “Why?” I asked. I had no answer to that question, but I went anyway. And I enjoyed the vespers service more than any of the services I’ve been to so far. I think I enjoy it because I can participate in the entire service, rather than participate in building up to taking Communion, and then not being invited to receive the elements. But there is also something sweet about the evening prayers in a dimly lit sanctuary.
In all of this, I am a spiritual tourist. Just visiting, just passing through, just trying to find a place for my heart to rest while I live here in this city. I am curiously and terrifyingly drawn to Orthodox practice and faith, yet afraid of it at the same time. (Why is this? Perhaps that is a question for another time.) Fortunately, I have the excuse of my husband’s absence to avoid needing to come to any conclusions right now. I can just listen, participate, ask questions, learn, wonder, struggle, be. And of course continue to pursue spiritual depth in my life through every possible means.