The Journey to Antioch (Part XII)

[Note: In preparation for continuing the series, I am reposting the “final” (and very slightly revised) entry to the series of posts I’d completed in March 2004 about our journey to Antioch (as part of my Pilgrim Essays). The previous version of this series of posts–up to this entry–is available in a single html document here. I will be adding subsequent entries which will be incorporated in a future revision. The entire series of these blog posts can be found here.]

3. Orthodox Encounters June 2002 to September 2003 (Part G)

The summer of 2003 was marked by one thing and one thing alone: the anticipation of Sofie’s birth, followed by its fulfillment. Of course, I still attended All Saints, this time more faithfully and regularly than before. Anna’s protests were much more muted and infrequent. Our discussions about Orthodoxy, and All Saints, were much more open and honest. They were discussions, rather than the repetition of entrenched positions.

Though unsurprising, the actions of the Episcopal Church’s General Convention–the ratification of the election of a divorced man in an open homosexual relationship, and the official permission to conduct same sex unions–brought into sharp focus the distinctions which the Orthodox Church offered. This was especially vital in relation to not merely the Episcopal Church but nearly all of the churches about which we had inquired or had visited.

Finally, 14 August came and Sofie was born. It was among the two or three most transformative experiences I’d been through in my entire life. Anna graciously acquiesced to my request for Father Patrick to come and say a prayer of blessing over Sofie. So, the next day, before Sofie was a full twenty-four hours old, Father Patrick and Khouria Denise arrived, with a beautiful gift of a pink dress, to pray over Sofie and share our joy.

For the next several weeks, I urged Anna to go with me to All Saints, trying to balance my desire to bring Sofie to church so as to stand before the icon of the Theotokos and offer my thanks, and trying also to not push Anna beyond where she was willing to go. I continued to go to All Saints, however, and Anna did not any longer give voice to her objections.

Then came September, the month when things turned the corner for the Healy household.

The Saturday before my birthday, the three of us had been running errands and were on the way back home. Out of nowhere, and a propos of nothing, Anna said, “We should make All Saints our regular church home.” I voiced a humble agreement, but wisely refrained from saying much else.

Sunday morning came, my thirty-sixth birthday, and, silently rejoicing within, the Healy’s got ready for worship, piled into the car and headed to All Saints.

I wrote about it at the time:

Today, my wife, Anna, and our daughter, Sofie, worshipped together at All Saints Orthodox Church. For Anna, it was her third worship at All Saints (her fourth Divine Liturgy all told). For Sofie, it was the first time she worshipped with her mommy and daddy at the Divine Liturgy. It was positively the best birthday present I could have ever received.

Sofie slept peacefully through the first part of the service. Then during the Litany prayed with the Procession of the Bread and the Wine, she took part in the blessing of the children. It is the custom at All Saints for Father Patrick to place the Chalice over the heads of all the children, one at a time, and pray “May the Lord our God remember you in His Kingdom, always, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.” Sofie woke then, as we took her slumbering self from the car seat, so that I could hold her for Father Patrick’s blessing. Anna then took her down to the nursery to feed her. Sofie continued to sleep through the rest of the service.

Then, when the parishioners went to commune the Holy Gifts, I took Sofie from Anna and headed forward to receive the blessing. It wasn’t until just before I stood in front of Father Patrick that I realized Anna had slipped out of the pew and followed behind me. Anna’s never done that before. So there we were, a family, each one at a time receiving from God’s priest the merciful blessings of our Lord.

From that first Sunday worshipping together as a family, Anna and I began to settle, as best we could, into the parish life of All Saints, though we were still inquirers, and with no immediate intentions as a family to become Orthodox. It is a great testimony to the parish itself that we were never made to feel second-class, or somehow less Christian than anyone else there. We could not, obviously, partake of the Sacraments, but we joined in as many of the services as we could. The young women and mothers of the parish enfolded Anna into their circle and became a very important support group.

The next three years would be a mix of drawing ever closer to Orthodoxy as well as experiencing some of the most severe forms of testing we could have imagined.

[Next: 4. Encountering Living Orthodoxy, September 2003 to November 2006 (Part A)]

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