That’s pretty much it: Wow.
But if you want more, go past the jump.
The preparations I’d given to the day earlier in the week were not what I had imagined they would be, nor what I intended them to be, but they were the best preparations I could do.
I had a good long talk with our Father Deacon Theophan Friday afternoon over “pints” at The Celtic Knot. That was a good time.
Spent way too much time struggling over trying to get past the anticipation of the experience and not enough time focusing on the Persons at the center of the experience. Thank God, that was finally, in God’s mercy, conquered through much prayer and wrestling.
Confession was different. I’d confessed before as an Anglican–rather regularly–and as an Anglican made a life confession. But the life confession I gave Saturday was, well, not what I imagined it would be. Father helped to focus by some pointed and distinguishing questions. But, again, not as I’d thought it would be.
Unlike much of my previous spiritual life, I had to learn to trust the Church, in the wise counsel of her man, my parish priest, and had to continue my lessons in grace versus human merit. Color me a former Restoration Movement Christian.
The service for our chrismations started pretty much the second we walked in the door. We weren’t late, though we were not as early as I’d've liked to have been on that day of all days, but we walk in the door and there is Father standing at the top of the stairs leading into the nave. We walk up the stairs and he says, “Take off your shoes and socks,” and away we went.
The chrismation ceremony was a bit of a blur. I’d read over the service in Hapgood a handful of times, but there I was in the midst of the rite and simply standing in the moment. We renounced some heresies, I know. We expressed our desire to be in the Church. We said the Creed. We vowed life obedience. We kissed the Gospel and the Cross.
The moment of absolution was upon me before I knew it. But you can rest assured that at that point my mind was focused. The declaration of forgiveness brought tears to my eyes. But not in an overly emotional sort of way.
The anointing took enough time that I could slow down and take things in. We were anointed on forehead, eyes, nose, lips, ear lobes, chest (or, rather, where neck and collarbone meet), hands (palms and top of the hand), and feet–signifying, if I understand correctly, the mind, the heart, the will and all the senses.
At the end of the rite we were introduced as the newest members of the holy Orthodox Church. There was polite clapping and then Father explained why it was that our daughters were not going to be baptized that day (essentially they were not quite comfortable with Father and a “dry run” after Vespers Saturday proved rather traumatic for them), so that will happen in due course.
Then the Divine Liturgy proper was under way and I was praying in the Liturgy for the first time as an Orthodox Christian.
For me at least, right or wrong, having been without the Eucharist for five years, the rest of the service was focused on being ready to receive God into my body and soul in my first Holy Communion. Due both to my new understanding of Communion and my experience of it, I will not say much about the Communion, but, rather, simply draw a veil over it. But I will say this: For the first time in my life I understand why all but the faithful were, historically, dismissed at the beginning of the transition to the Communion rite.
I know there are some misgivings about the use of the terms “conversion” and “converts” with reference to the experience of us who come to Orthodoxy as already in some sense Christian. Believe me, this side of chrismation, with the oil still wet, as it were, I see no problem with those terms whatsoever. I do have a sense of being “newly illumined.” Yesterday’s liturgy and many aspects of it, particularly Holy Communion, just really make sense to me in ways they did not before.
I’m not talking conversion in the popular evangelical sense where this is some marked point of transition with with some strong emotive content, or certain ecstatic experiences. I know I certainly had none of that. There were some tears, to be sure. There was a greater sense of reverence and holy dread than I’ve ever known before as I approached the Chalice. But there was no “ecstasy,” no “warm fuzzies,” no swirling emotions at all, really. But there was a very real sense of finally “getting it” about certain aspects of the Orthodox Faith and life. Things clicked because of the experience. And I have a sense that my troublesome mind-heart split, my “life of the mind” reclusion, is beginning now to be healed.
There is a greater sense of belonging, as well. This, of course, was bound to happen. But it’s not a though now we’re on the parish social committee’s speed dial (do we have a parish social committe?). Rather, it is a sense of really and truly belonging to the same Church, now, that all our parish friends belong to. All Saints has never ever done anything but made us feel most welcome and included, from the moment I first stepped through the doors, and from the moment Anna visited on the Mother’s Day when she was still pregnant with Sofie, we have felt nothing but welcome. And even, to some degree, part of a family. But that sense became even stronger after our chrismations.
More to the point, these patron saints who have been praying for me–well, now I am part of their Church, part of the Body, and a la John 17, I am now united to them in a way I have not been before. As I have invoked their prayers this side of the chrism, that kinship has been felt most strongly.
But one of the sweetest aspects of this unity is that between Anna and I. Anna and I have always had fundamental and deep agreement on the most central and basic questions of the Faith. But even though when she and I met we were both Restoration Movement Christians, she was more strongly identifying with her Nazarene background while I had moved on to Anglicanism. And she has always preferred “contemporary” styles of worship, whereas I wanted Liturgy. But now we are part of the same Church, the same Body of Christ and there is a new unity of Faith and life that God has given us in our common sacrament of chrismation.
All the above notwithstanding, one of the most glaring realities I now understand is my ignorance of Orthodoxy. What I know is not a little, but what I know is so very much less than I will come to know. As I said to Father Pat in answer to his question about how my first two hours as an Orthodox had been, “I have some questions.” He smiled and said, “I’ll bet you do.”