A very interesting weekend for the Healy household, to be sure. It began Saturday morning when I got up and prayed morning prayers. I prayed, as I have for a couple of years now, regarding Anna and I and the Orthodox Church. But I happened to include in my intercessions and petitions a request I’d only prayed a couple of times before, and one which had not been met with an affirmative response. I asked that Anna would accompany me to the Divine Liturgy at All Saints Orthodox Church.
Now, let me explain.
I have unfortunately led my wife around the spiritual block on my ecclesial adventures. When we first met, we were both part of my heritage (Stone-Campbell) churches, though I was on the proverbial “road to Canterbury.” For various reasons, we stayed in the Stone-Campbell churches for some three years or so, until a rather painful and devastating ministry experience (I was a young, inexperienced “senior” pastor of a small rural church that had a notorious history of “minister abuse”) led us out into a wilderness experience. A few months later I unwisely, if goodheartedly, went against Anna’s concerns and was confirmed in the Episcopal Church. That massive withdrawal from the trust account took years to repair. Eventually Anna supported me in my desire to seek discernment for ordination in ECUSA. In between, we had frequented Nazarene churches (Anna’s heritage), some community churches, some other Stone-Campbell churches, and spent some extended times without any church at all.
So, in the first six years of our marriage, I’d already proven not to be a very good husband–insofar as religious leadership in the home is concerned. So as not to bring offense to my blog-friends, I’ll not detail why I chose to abandon the ordination track (and eventually ECUSA altogether), but I’ll simply say that when things were at their worst for me (and for Anna), I encountered the Orthodox Church. The last three years has been a journey of experience, intense study, prayer and reflection, all leading to a solid, tested conviction that what the Orthodox Church claims about herself is one hundred percent true.
You can imagine that given my previous track record, Anna is less than impressed. May she, and God, forgive me.
So, the last time that Anna and I together went to an Orthodox service was almost two years ago to the day, when Fr. Patrick was elevated to the archpresbyterate. Ever since then my requests for Anna to accompany me have been turned down. A year ago, these things became a source of tension. So, I kept praying about the matter, praying for my repentance of my husbandly sins, asking the intercessions of Blessed Joseph that I might be a husband and father such as he is. And Saturday, I asked again, what I had not prayed for in a handful of months.
The rest of the day Saturday was spent shopping for this ever-growing person in Anna’s womb (and a most active person this baby is!). Anna’s biggest wish regarding the baby’s room came true: an Eric Carle “Hungry Caterpillar” crib set at the Carter’s Outlet fell within our price range. Other practical mommy necessities like an expensive breastpump. A late afternoon nap. A little TV. A lot of reading. Then, as the brief storm came in to Chicago, as we lay there trying to go to sleep, I got a strong impulse to ask Anna what I’d prayed for that morning. I said, “It’d be great if we could go to All Saints tomorrow.” And she guardedly agreed.
She was a bit grumbly about the matter in the morning, and best I could I absorbed the force of her irritation. Soon we were out the door, on our way, and standing for worship.
I could not have asked for a better set of conditions. Fr. Patrick and Khouria Denise were out of town (which was unfortunate as Khouria would be a great person for Anna to meet), so we had two guest priests, and some of the parish particulars were a bit different. Fr. Patrick’s slow and deliberate processions to cense all the worshippers was much truncated as our visiting priests did things a bit differently. But that meant Anna’s allergies didn’t go haywire. Unfortunately, Anna had a hypoglycemic spell, but in God’s providence, two women near her and the woman greeter all came to her aid. This resulted in extended conversations with four women after service. (Anna spoke longer with more people than I did–and I’m the semi-regular attender!) As I knew they would, the women of the parish came and enfolded her in love and welcome. Being Mother’s Day, the priest spoke on the Orthodox Church’s teaching, practice and history of women and their role in salvation and Church. What a marvelous foundation he started with in speaking of Our Lady! Glory to God.
This doesn’t remove the tension over the issue of the Orthodox Church, by any means. Anna and I will still have to negotiate these, for us, troubled waters. The consequences of my previous sins still visit themselves on us. But I continue to repent, and to pray. God willing, other prayers I’ve prayed, especially the intercessions of the Theotokos, will one day come to pass. In the meantime, it’s the God-given path of love and sacrifice to which us men as heads of our homes are called.