Vespers last night with Eric, the godson in the picture below whom I've mentioned before. He made it up from Ft. Hood last night--something he normally does on Sunday mornings--and has stayed the night with us.
Having read some recent posts on other Orthodox blogs, I had in mind during the service how very unlike America and its prevailing culture of novelty these services are. One of the things that really struck me in particular was the refusal to "spoon feed" the theology or the worship to you; one must listen attentively to the hymns, one must join one's prayer with the prayer prayed by the choir and the priest, and let that prayer "pray you" until you "become that prayer." Perhaps this little rambling thought only makes sense to me--a kind of "you had to be there" moment--but I really did appreciate the fact that Vespers made me dig in my heels and follow along; I just kept reminding myself as we sang of Christ's resurrection (and how wonderful that singing--meant to be an expression of joy!--fills almost all of our services), of St. John of the Ladder, to "mean it...mean it...mean it..."
In my charismatic days, "meaning it" meant "singing loudly and 'passionately'" about whatever it was. Now it means, "slow down, concentrate, rid your mind of all but this." Grateful for that encounter.
Likewise, another encounter occurred (and I'm grateful that the Orthodox Church is (or should be) a Church of such encounters, where the divine and human constantly meet through all senses) after the service, when we went to venerate the icons. Ah, icons: that lovely stumbling block for so many of us converts coming into the Church. If any of you were like me, I analyzed this one to death before coming to terms with it. Probably drove my priest crazy. But as I approached the icon of Christ to kiss it, one thought came up: This is my God.
Now, earlier in what has yet been a short Orthodox life I would have made myself "be careful" to make a mental distinction between the douleia given the saints and the latreia reserved for God alone, to make a distinction between the image and the prototype, the honor passing to the latter through the former...but it seemed to just...not matter as much. Not that all of those mental pauses weren't used for good reasons, but...hmm. I suppose it's as if I was being told, "You've covered all this. You know what this is. Now dive into the mystery unabashedly and meet Christ. Greet your Lord and do not hesitate."
No, it is not Christ in the sense that it is not, in its essence, a flesh-and-blood God-man. It is an image of He who is. Yet it is, in and of itself, more than just an image. There's a presence there that's not "just anywhere." When an icon is blessed and used as a window to heaven, it ceases to be "just an image." It's a sacrament, a passage as Fr. Alexander Schmemman put it, to that Kingdom which is here, but still coming.
Grateful also for the encounter with that King and His Kingdom...may today bring yet another, ultimate encounter as we taste and see how good the Lord truly is...