Gratitude Day 413
Fri., Feb. 28, 2020
Deuteronomy 13:4: You must follow the Lord your God alone! Revere him! Follow his commandments! Obey his voice! Worship him! Cling to him — no other!
It was a day that I had been so looking forward to. And it did not disappoint.
Yesterday, I had a planned event in the afternoon in Boscobel, WI. Years ago, I heard of an orthodox place outside of Boscobel where icons are made. It’s a place that I longed to visit. It made sense to visit the orthodox place in the morning before the book study in the afternoon.
I asked my friend Mary Ann to tag along. This was her first visit there as well.
The place is called St. Isaac of Syria Skete. It is located off the beaten path. We took a lovely country drive off the beaten path to get there, following a GPS. Good thing we did as I’m not sure we would have realized that we had arrived without GPS.
Upon arrival, we parked in front of an Orthodox church. Mary Ann and I ventured inside where we found oodles and oodles of icons. Quickly, I remembered how this church would worship God in a very different manner than I am accustomed to.
Let me explain. In 1054 AD, schism upset the Christian church. Until this time, all Christian churches were held loosely together. In 1054 AD, for various reasons, the “east” churches or Orthodox churches split from the “west” church which became known as the Roman Catholic Church. This was a watershed moment for the church. Excommunication between the two groups lasted until 1964.
Worship at an Eastern church vs. a traditional Western church are different. When you walk into an Eastern church, the first thing that you notice are the many icons scattered throughout the worship area.
My first experience of an Eastern church happened over 20 years ago when I lived as a missionary in Kazakstan. Kazakstan was part of the former Soviet Union. Russian Orthodox churches had been built in Kazakstan; however, they were basically closed during communist rule. After the break-up of the Soviet Union they were eventually reopened, and worship celebrated once again.
There was a beautiful Russian Orthodox church just a few blocks from where I lived in Kazakstan. I usually walked by the church on my way to work and would venture inside. It was the first time I had ever seen icons.
Icons are pictures of Jesus and other holy figures from the Christian church. Typically, they are painted or reproduced onto wood. Icons are not worshipped but used to aid people in their devotion to God and worship.
When I saw the icons at St. Isaac, it took me back to the days I lived in Kazakstan. While this church is considerably smaller that then church I would stop by when I lived overseas, both churches had a panel of icons in the front of the church. Mary Ann and I found lots of different people represented in the icons. Some we could quickly figure out. Some were bishops or other holy people from the Orthodox church that we were not familiar with. Their names were written in Greek or Russian. Sometimes we could read the names; sometimes we couldn’t.
Currently, St Isaac has two Fathers who are their order. We met both of them and discovered more about the church and their order. Their monastery makes Orthodox Byzantine Icons which they sell around the world. We poked through their store, looking at the various icons and saw just a bit of where they make the icons.
Traditionally, icons were painted. Today, most icons are made via reproduced pictures that are laminated and secured to wood. With only two priests, people are hired to aid in the production of icons at St. Isaac.
For me, visiting St. Isaac was a wonderful way to begin this Lenten Season. It brought back memories of when I went to the Russian Orthodox church in Kazakstan for Easter Vigil. I remember the Russian grandmothers who were sitting either inside or outside of the church. The icons reminded me of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem which is considered as the crucifixion site of Jesus by many.
Lent is a time of personal growth in our faith. This can happen many different ways. Yes, we can and should spend time in prayer and meditation with God. We can read a meaningful book and challenge ourselves to look inward. And, we can visit places that maybe celebrate the Christian faith differently from how we do and discover and explore a little bit about their faith traditions.
I encourage you to find a place that would be interesting and meaningful for you to visit during this Lent. Maybe worship at a church different from your tradition. Visit a church different from your experience and drink in their faith traditions. When we do these things, it provides an opportunity for us to become clearer about what we believe and how we celebrate our faith. Possibly through such an experience, you might meet God in a slightly different way than you are used to. Let this touch your heart and soul and bring you closer to God and faith this Lent.
For on opportunity to celebrate faith at an Orthodox church, I am grateful.
Holy God – It becomes so easy for us to assume that our way of worshiping You is “right.” Yet, you celebrate and encourage many different ways to worship You. May we honor and see these various faith traditions as ways to grow deeper with You. Place it upon my heart a way that I can experience a tradition different from my own this Lent. Amen.
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