Did you grow up in the Orthodox Church, or did you convert as an adult? What was the beginning of Orthodox worship in your life?
I converted to Orthodoxy from an eclectic, basically Evangelical Protestant background. I was pregnant with our first child and had just moved back to my hometown after almost 2 decades away. We were considering becoming Anglican, but there was no Anglican church near us. All we knew was that we needed a church that served the Eucharist every week as we’d recently become convinced that it WAS truly the Body and Blood of Christ. We knew we didn’t want to be Catholic, all the Lutheran churches in our area were dying out, and so in desperation we wrote to a local Orthodox priest who graciously met with us at the church to discuss Orthodoxy. He decided to take us into the then-empty sanctuary before our meeting, and I will never forget my first impression of that place. I knew God was there. I knew it as simply and perfectly as I knew that the sky is blue. It both awed and terrified me. I knew we would end up Orthodox, though I was hesitant to admit it. How could we not attend a church where God is, even if it was very different from what we were brought up in?? We came back that Sunday for Divine Liturgy, and it was strangest, most ethereal experience ever. We had no idea what any of it was or meant and our legs hurt from standing so long. But I looked at my husband and he looked at me and we knew we were coming back. And we’ve kept coming back.
Describe Sunday morning. What do you do to prepare for and arrive at church?
Our Sunday mornings aren’t as hallowed or quiet as I’d like given that we have a toddler, but they are special. We each dress up particularly nicely, and my daughter has a small breakfast. My husband and I will have been fasting from all food or drink from midnight all the way through church in order to prepare our bodies for receiving Christ. Our daughter is too young to understand or safely participate in fasting yet, but we look forward to teaching her as she grows older.
We get into our car and drive about 20 minutes through rolling hills and farmland to church. It does my soul so much good to view God’s beauty in nature before we attend Liturgy. It helps to bring my soul closer to Him and begin cultivating a worshipful attitude.
When you think about the Divine Liturgy, what impressions are strongest? Describe them.
Gold and light. It’s rather hard to explain. If you open your heart and mind just enough during any particular moment, you might feel what I call a “spiritual veil” separating us in this world from the world of spirit, of heaven and the saints. I’ve felt this veil keenly at various points in my life during certain moments, giving me a sudden but brief awareness that there is something beyond me, an entire world where God is seen and known in His fullness. At every Divine Liturgy, if I’m paying attention, that veil feels very thin, as if you could reach out and touch it and pull it away to find yourself in the world beyond with angels and seraphim and saints and Christ in all His glory. Indeed, sometimes out of the corner of my eye I think I see a touch of light here or a glistening of gold there, but when I turn to take it in, there’s just the walls and icons as I’ve always known them. Yet, for just a brief instant, they’re more. The saints are among us. The angels sing with us. Christ is there upon His throne beckoning to each of us. Time is no more, and all is well. I can only grasp it for a second before I’m distracted or overwhelmed, but whenever I think of the Divine Liturgy, that sensation is there of being a part of something larger than myself, larger than the entire world, large enough to encompass all of time, space, and life. God, Himself. It’s something that can’t really be explained. You just have to be there and be humble and still.
What other services are a regular part of your life? What are they like?
We attend Vespers most Saturday evenings. These are shorter prayer services that also serve to commemorate the saint(s) of that day, but they mainly herald in the beginning of Sunday worship. We sing a song, “O Gladsome Light”, as the sun sets, heralding Christ as the Light of God. It is such a beautiful picture: though the sun is gone, the Son remains, and His light shall not fade. It will carry us through the night and bring us back to Him the next morning. I leave with a feeling of peace and anticipation, spending the rest of the night in quiet, stilling my soul for what is to come Sunday morning.
Choose a service or feast day that is especially meaningful for you and share about it.
The first major feast we ever attended was the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. If you’re Orthodox, you probably already know what I’m going to say because this service is so powerful. It commemorates the finding of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem by St. Helen, and, as part of the service, everyone prostrates themselves before a cross multiple times. I come from a background where bowing at anything is frowned upon, so this was quite jarring to me. However, on that one occasion, I looked across the aisle and saw a man kneeling on his hands and knees, head touching the floor as his little girl watched with a look of curiosity and wonder, and I realized just how powerful a message he was sending to his daughter right then. Her father, full of strength, power, and prestige in her little eyes, was humbling himself before the Cross of Christ and showing her that his power and strength are nothing without It. No words needed to be said. You could see it all in that one bow. If I were to leave my daughter with any image, that would be the one: humility and worship at the foot of the Cross. To this day, falling before the Cross during this feast remains one of the most powerful images of Orthodoxy I’ve ever seen.